Monday, February 11, 2013

Wherein I Rave about "Tim Gunn's Fashion Bible" ...


I love all things style-wonkish, and I always want to read more, go deeper, and examine it all more closely when it comes to articles about fashion concept and theory. I want to find out what people are thinking or feeling when they design, buy, or style a particular garment. Tim Gunn's Fashion Bible ( by Tim Gunn and Ada Calhoun, published by Gallery Books, 2012) is a deeply satisfying dose of creative nosiness for inquisitive people like me. And I am such a Tim Gunn fan.



Do you remember the scene in The Devil Wears Prada when Miranda Priestly lectures the style-challenged Andrea on the design history of a cerulean blue sweater? (You haven't seen The Devil Wears Prada ? Seriously? Okay ... you can watch a clip of the scene HERE  .) This little book is about that, and a lot more. It's all about the fashion genealogy of every item of clothing we own, and that's a lot for one little book to accomplish.

Beginning from the year dot to the present day, right down to the contents of your very own closet, Gunn and Calhoun trace the forebearers of each item you own. You will learn whether your taste in dresses is more like Cleopatra's or that of Helen of Troy. You'll learn about the bodices, sleeves, waists, menswear, military boots and pointy-toed shoes of the past, and how much we owe to history for our contemporary style. The book details how, throughout the centuries, silhouettes have narrowed or widened, hems and heel heights have gone up and down, depending on war, famine, exploration, technology or just the whim of a king insecure about his height.

By the way, it's not just for women only. For a change, the authors include ample history of how men's fashion developed. How else can we fully consider the politics of gender without at least a brief look at how the adoption of men's clothing has changed the world for women? And who among us has not lost sleep fretting about the proper way to choose and wear a pocket square?

The pictures are on the small side, but what they lack in size they make up for in frequency. Every time I began to wish for an illustration of a particular historical example, the very thing would appear. The authors have successfully made this book entertaining as well as informative, and the illustrations are a big part of the book's appeal.

I think the name of the book is problematic, as it seems to me to suggest that it offers unbreakable fashion commandments, issued from somewhere on high. It really doesn't do that, but it does broaden our understanding of why the history of what we wear is relevant. It's certainly authoritative in that sense. There are concluding chapters that address the contents of most modern closets, and why it's useful, interesting and fun to consider the contents of your own closet in the context of fashion history. The book also touches on the modern history of the fashion industry, how it affects us as consumers and how to use that knowlege for a better shopping experience. Lovers of the new and innovative will enjoy this fascinating history, but recyclers, repurposers, thrifters and vintage collectors will adore it.

We are used to seeing Mr. Gunn in the role of fashion mentor (and former department chair of fashion design at Parsons) of "Make it work!" fame on Project Runway. His self-described, urban fashion nerdy-ness comes out here in his serious treatment of the resources needed to examine the subject. He and Ms. Calhoun have carefully footnoted and fully cited their source materials. That may not constitute biblical authority, but it is the proper way to present research, and it gives an interested reader direction for an even more in-depth study of the subject.  I really LOVE that a lot.


So, every time I pull out my trench coat, my blouse with Raglan sleeves, my Eisenhower jacket or choose from my Cowboy, Wellington, English Riding or Cavalry inspired Over-the-Knee boots, I will be more aware of what I'm saying about myself through my choices. If you are the kind of nerdy, fashion-wonk, history-loving kind of woman to whom this is important, you really need to read this book. (And if you have bothered to read this far, you just might be.)



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Please join me at the amazing Patti's (Historically Significant) Visible Monday !


39 comments:

  1. ha ha! So cool you illustrated yourself into the photo!

    He is knowledgeable but his attitude kind of drives me bonkers. He seems to have too stiff of an upper lip if you catch my drift.

    bisous
    Suzanne

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  2. Yup, I do get that. I really am a fan, but of late he's been a bit unyielding about what is appropriate for women of my advanced age. Not yet ready to give up my skinnies and highest heels just yet ... at least I HOPE I'm still managing to project a little taste!

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  3. Hi Jan, What a coincidence... Tim was just talking to me this afternoon. I was engulfed in tulle, attempting to make a petticoat, having moments of wanting to throw in the towel, or more accurately the whole dang mess of a slip; when I heard his voice telling me to make it work. I'm a pretty good sewer, but when I see what those designers can do in 24 hours, I'm pretty blown away. I think for the most part, {and I'm talking Project Runway here}, Tim imparts some real jewels of advice. I really like him.

    The book sounds like a fascinating read. I'm completely hooked on Downton Abbey, and I think it's ignited a deeper desire to learn more about the history of fashion.

    Sue xo

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    1. Say "hi" to Tim for me if he comes back. Hope the tulle sewing is going better. Funny you should mention it ... I've been lusting after a tulle skirt (because of the Teacups and Tulle meme that seems to be largely over.) But it's like how I feel about Hugh Jackman ... pretty to look at, but not really practical. The totally creepy thing is that I actually do have a place to wear it.
      I'm hooked on DA as well ... like the rest of the Western World and a good part of Asia.
      Glad you liked the post ...have a great week!

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  4. Thanks for this awesome review. Based on the title, I might not have bought the book. But I want to read it now!

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    1. Thanks Jean ... not sure book reviews always go over well in this venue, but I really got a lot of inspiration from this book... even my Huz is reading it.
      Have a great week, and thanks again for reading and your own blog.

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  5. Thank you for writing such an informative review on this book! As you say from the title I would have never guessed about the wealth of research and information that it has inside. I'd have thought it was Timm Gunn's style rules. It sounds right up my street, I love reading about the history of fashion and garment construction so I think I'll be ordering it!

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    1. I'm guessing that some of the info in the book won't be news to you, and certainly many of the photographs will be familiar, but overall it is fun reading on a topic we all like. Like so many non-fiction titles, especially those with properly footnoted research, the annotations are half the fun!
      Have a great week. It's good to think that I have a bloggy-friend in London.
      J

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  6. I really want to read this book! Sounds very good!

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    1. I had such a good time with it ... I read the digital edition on my new, larger format Kindle Fire, and the illustrations are really sharp. Hope you enjoy it if you do read it!
      Thanks for stopping by and for your great blog,
      J.

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  7. Sounds like a great book and one that I would love to inhale. Thanks for the review and for your always well written and clever post.

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    1. It's really good bedtime reading. For those of us who have actually seen several (ahem!) of the modern decades that he discusses, we can be authoritatively critical ... 'cause we were there!
      If you pick it up, I hope you'll enjoy it.
      With thanks for stopping by and for your own brilliant blog,
      J

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  8. I read this far! I need this book! : > I adore Tim Gunn, and mentioned him in my post today. Thanks so much for linking up to Visible Monday, and for this review. I am buying.

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    1. Yes! Yes, you do (I saw your mention.)! Really, I think you'd really have fun with it. My huz is even reading it and liking it. I'm not sure book reviews go over spectacularly well in this venue, but I just know a good portion of your grown up participants would really have enjoy this. Thanks for making it possible for me to show and tell, Patti.
      Have a great week...
      J

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  9. I had never heard of Tim Gunn before, so you can see I'm not a follower of the industry of fashion. This sounds interesting, though, because I'm interested in history.

    Mostly I wanted to stop by and say that I laughed out loud at your comment about my collar making you think of an edgy Mary Poppins! I should have had an umbrella!

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    1. Ye gads, Val ... I hope you took my dumb comment the way it was intended. I really liked your complete originality, and I almost always respond to/with referential ideas. That's one of the reasons I like this book. It really is for history buffs who apply their thinking to style!
      Have a great week, and thanks for stopping by.
      J

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  10. OK, now you've got me thinking differently about everything in my closet. Where did peplums originate? What about my beloved pencil skirt? And I so enjoyed your insights on the history of leopard today on my blog. This looks like a good read, I may have to pick it up.

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    1. I get so much crap from friends in academia about my blog. Giving some consideration to what one wears doesn't always amount to mental jello, and I've learned a greater appreciation for what I already own from this book. I'm an history junkie, anyway.
      I didn't mean the leopard comments as a lecture ... you surely already know your stuff. It was intended to poke fun at my own stolidness. I'm getting better, and what's true is that your good taste makes it easier for me to figure out!
      Now, if you'd just go after print mixing ....
      Have a great week, Lovely, and thanks for your notes.

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  11. I bought this book after Christmas and it looked so very interesting. I haven't read it yet because apparently my time management skills are deplorable. I either need to do things faster or convince time to go slower. Thanks for convincing me I need to move this up on my "to-do" list ;-)

    Spashionista (Alicia)

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    1. I haven't yet read most of what I buy! The Huz and I are both collectors, and we've gone completely over to ebooks on our herd of Kindles. This was forced because we've no more room for books. I have them stacked in my bathroom. Really.
      So read it when the spirit moves, and when you're so inclined.
      Thanks for reading and your own great blog.
      J

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  12. Jan, Thank you, thank you for the recommendation. I definitely fall into the category of nerdy, fashion-wonk, history loving woman so I'm thinking I should order my copy ASAP. By the way, 'Devil Wear's Prada', best girl flick ever made (in my humble opinion). Just this past weekend, I was on an overnight ski trip with some girl friends, we spent the evening all crammed in one room rewatching that movie and laughing to our hearts content. Thanks for dropping by my blog and your kind comments.

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    1. Do people come back and look for responses ... Trina, if you see this let me know. Or better yet, I'll let you know I didn't miss it completely. I SWEAR it wasn't here yesterday. No, I missed it.
      So ... thank you... hope your enjoy the book. Gotta go catch you at your blog.

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  13. What a well-written and insightful review, Jan - you've definitely made me want to,read this book, and learn moreminmgeneral about the history of clothes and style. You're good at this! xxxx

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    1. Aw, thanks. Hope you do read it,'cause I think you would get a serious charge out of more info about what I know you already own! I tend to look at style referentially ... " Hmmm, just what was she saying with bell bottoms, a Twisted Sister tee and a hand knit Sherpa hat?" I dress to "speak" way more often than not ... gotta watch that.
      Have a great week. I always look forward to your blogs, Lady.
      J

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  14. I will adore that book, clearly. As a nerdy fashion-wonk (?) it was clearly written just for you and me, and the rest of our tribe.

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    1. I'ts like all us older girls coming out of the woodwork to reclaim our fashion relevance. All the style nerd-wonks, old and young are popping out, too. It's a movement! Gunn has some interesting things to say about relevance in the first chapters. Hope you read it ... I know you'll *get* it.
      Thanks for your kind words, as always.
      Have a great week, kid.
      J

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  15. Hmmm, sounds interesting and like the others have said, I wouldn't have considered it by the looks of the cover or the sound of the title. Thanks for your great description.

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    1. I'm guessing that the title was needed to sell books. Not sure the word "history" is a great buzz word these days ... might insure that the book ends up on the Books-A-Million sales table. Frankly, the last chapter seems to be tacked on for all the Gunn fans that expect styling advice. Otherwise, a fun read. Glad to be of help.
      Thanks for reading, Pao. Have a great week.
      J

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  16. moreminmgeneral?
    Damn Ipad, I hit the m key more often than the space bar, it makes for some weird neologisms... Sorry! xxx

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  17. Dude. You KNOW I had to go look up "neologism". Flipping amazing word. Thank you.
    Am going to find a bluetooth portable keyboard for my Kindle Fire, 'cause I have thesam epr0b lem .

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  18. I love fashion books and have some with the "rules". Im always tempted to purchase, and have not bought this one yet! Love Tim tho.

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    1. Hey, Paula. Late reply (sorry!!) but perhaps better never late! Glad you liked the post, hope you take a look at the book next time you're in the store. I buy mostly Kindle editions, so it's easier and cheaper to buy most of what I want!
      Thanks for reading.

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  19. I Love him and what a great ideA for a book subject. I always wonder how people decide upon different styles. I am going to check this book out, great post. I have something to read over my 4 day weekend coming up.

    Xoxo,
    Carrie

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    1. Hope you see this way-too-late-reply. Sorry! Hope you read the book and had some fun with it. Especially hope you loved your weekend!

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  20. I can imagine that it is a wonderful, evening and weekend filling reading. I always think I should have such a dictionnary of fashion - equipped with a lot of pics - because I often do not know the right name of a special cut, fabric or style. I only can describe it with many words, but fashion has it's own vocabulary. I would be glad to know it, best in both languages in German and English.
    Lieben Gru├č
    Sabine

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  21. Hi Jan
    Thanks for visiting our new mother daughter blog & as a seamstress I love the show so this is a great review. I do not follow any fashion rules so usually avoid "fashion" books like the bubonic plague but I have studied the history of garments so this I will enjoy reading!
    Denise
    Http://silhouettedefemme.blogspot.ca

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    1. Hello, Denise! Hope you do at least take a look at the book. I still am a bit boggled that the title is so inaccurate. If you see this, hope you will forgive me for missing your reply. I'm a crazy woman right now, but am trying to catch up!

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  22. Jan, I have nominated you for the Liebster award. If you want to participate, the questions for you are on my most recent post.

    Sue xo

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    1. See... I'm acutally getting back to your post! Inch by inch ...
      Hugs,
      J

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