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