Books — What To Wear Where

Experts explain to know what to wear where

By Amy Diaz []

What I wouldn’t give for a good school uniform.

Sure, it’s uninventive. But that blue/green plaid would probably look OK on me and it would prevent me from, on a daily basis, asking one of the most painful questions connected with holding a job: what am I going to wear today?

Personally, I think pre-picked-out work clothes is the best feature of military service, one that they should publicize more often.

Sadly for military recruitment but luckily for me, there is a small industry of books aimed at the fashion-challenged, those for whom a trip to the mall is a fate more horrible than a trip to the dentist, where at least they give you pain killers.

For serious, no-nonsense advice check out: The Pocket Stylist, by Kendal Farr, Gotham Books, 2004, 197 pages.

This book is endlessly useful in part because much of it doesn’t apply to me.

Nor, for that matter, does it apply to you.

Farr has helpfully divided all the world’s people—well, really, all the world’s adult women—into six categories. Sure, it took me a while to figure out which category I was in but basically all it requires is to look in the mirror (or use a measuring tape, if you want to be super-precise). Once you determine your body type, she tailors her tips specifically for you. I, for example, am supposed to avoid double-breasted blazers, breast pockets, sneakers and toreador pants. Why? Beats me, but I’ll go with that advice—how does one find toreador pants anyway?

Farr offers sensible advice for how to find classic, non-trendy items such as jeans and even explains certain retail phenomena, such as bridge lines (the less-than-full-designer but more-than-your-average-mall-shop clothing brands such as Anne Klein, DKNY or Ralph Lauren Blue Label) and better lines (the not cheap but not expensive brands like Nine West, Banana Republic and CITY DKNY that are of a higher quality than, say, the Target skirt I’m currently wearing but will not require you to first take out a loan).

Her book is also full of other resources—from shopping web sites to how-to-dress-for-business web sites—and information on all those damned accessories that dressing like an adult requires (shoes, bags and the mysteries of make-up).

Most engrossingly, the book also explains the proper sizing, picking and wearing of all manner of under-garments—all the stuff you wanted to know about bras but never had the patience to ask those chipper girls at the Victoria’s Secret.

An invaluable aid to someone whose new job suddenly forces her to give up the college threads, Pocket Stylist doesn’t waste time with fashion but goes straight for class.

Of course, sometimes you don’t really want class, you want catty-nitpickery and snarky bitchiness that makes you feel a little better about your fashion backwardness. Enter the ladies of What Not to Wear.

What Not to Wear: For Every Occasion, by Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine, Riverhead Books, 2004, 160 pages.

Oh, sure, the ladies of the popular British import television show have useful information.

But, really, useful information isn’t the fun of this book.

Aimed at telling you what to wear to a school play, an office party, an interview, a wedding or even vacation, the book is at its best with its dueling what to wear/not to wear pictures.

Using themselves as models, Woodall and Constantine slip into the frumpiest, skankiest, most ill-fitting clothes in the hopes that you don’t.

In the what-to-wear-to-work section, the “don’t” picture features Woodall wearing a belly-bearing tank top and stiletto heels. What it says about her, according to the book: “I look available and I’ll sleep with anyone to try and work my way up. There’s certainly no other reason why I should ever be promoted.”

Damn, you gotta love the Brits.

Of course, as they are British, I wouldn’t consider their advice flawless. The book is very hat-positive—a good look for maybe 15 percent of the population. Though, honestly, people this straightforward deserve the benefit of the doubt: “Personal smells can be very off-putting to co-workers…Check your underarms, feet and mouth with a good friend if you’re getting dubious looks.”

- Amy Diaz

2004 HippoPress LLC | Manchester, NH