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Kings Mountain, North Carolina, United States
"A mind lively and at ease" is a blog by a first-generation Russian-Ukrainian immigrant Maria K. (Maria Igorevna Kuroshchepova). An engineer by education, an analyst by trade, as well as a writer, photographer, artist and amateur model, Maria brings her talent for weaving an engaging narrative to stories of life, fashion and style advice, book and movie reviews, and common-sense and to-the-point essays on politics and economy.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Book review: "Work it!" by Jesse Garza and Joe Lupo and "Dress Your Best" by Clinton Kelly and Stacy London

I read these two books back-to-back and decided to review them together, because, while quite good on their own, they work especially well in tandem with each other.

Work It! focuses on wardrobe perfection for working women. After much frustration from the traditional makeover shows ("How the hell am I supposed to maintain that hair and makeup without a group of stylists?!"), the authors make a point to address the challenges faced by working moms, women having multiple jobs, and those who have to run to a variety of engagements requiring a variety of looks on the same day.

The book might feel a bit like a textbook at the beginning, because the authors put you through a bit of homework: a range of questionnaires to determine your basics (like color palette) as well as the things you haven't thought about when getting ready for work (your personal style, your work environment, your role on the job). That part may feel a bit onerous, and I myself was tempted to skip it to get to the pretty pictures, but it turned out to be well worth it in the end, because the questionnaire results help address the issues of discomfort when transitioning from an uber-conservative to a younger, more hip work environment, or from home office to the cubicle. Ever felt like you "just weren't fitting in" at your new job? These little quizzes just might help you figure out why.

Because Work It! is about... well... work, the focus is mainly on work-related events and situations: off-site meetings, working lunches, presentations, product launches, etc. However, the looks suggested by the authors, when working with different women (real working women of various ages, colors and styles), branch out into other aspects of life: like a mom needing to pick up her little one from day care in the middle of her work day, or a wife who has a corporate presentation during the day but doesn't want to look stuffy and stodgy for her anniversary dinner with husband after work.

One of my favorite aspects of the book was the emphasis on sartorial responsibility. Yes, of course it's nice to have the designer workmanship and quality materials, but the authors display solid understanding that a single mom of two may not necessarily have the means to walk into a Chanel store and buy a suit. So, we are reminded again and again not to shun eBay and consignment stores - there is nothing embarrassing buying second-hand, as long as the items are in good condition, work with your wardrobe and look great on you.

Another thing I loved was the "pop" color discussion. It is really not that complicated: you want to have groupings of jewelry, shoes, maybe scarves or wraps and bags in similar bright color from your palette. So, when you have to resort to your classic gray pantsuit because you just absolutely have no time to think about what to wear in the morning, you can just grab, say, your turquoise pile: a bracelet, a bag and a shawl - accessorize in five minutes and be out the door on time.

My biggest pet peeve with the book was the models. While all the women were real working women, and I thought they were all beautiful, the authors Jesse and Joe clearly drew on their usual circle: New York fashion scene - when they picked and chose ladies for this book. Fashion designer... Makeup artist... Former model... Luxury lifestyle consultant... Fitness guru... These women were invariably above the average fitness level, very health-conscious, comparatively well-to-do and with much more access to more upscale second-hand sources than you would find, say, in Kings Mountain, North Carolina. I think the largest one in the book was size 12, maybe 14. So, while the outfit and color ideas would cover a variety of skin, eye and hair types, as well as a range of heights, we get into a tricky territory when it comes to body types.

This brings me very nicely to Dress Your Best by Clinton Kelly and Stacy London - the hosts of the American version of What Not to Wear. While this book doesn't cover nearly the range of work-related situations as Work It!, it has two huge advantages in its favor.

One, it has a section for women and a section for men. Considering how little there is out there to help men grow up sartorially, seeing a big "duds for dudes" chapter in Dress Your Best almost made me weep with joy.

Two, while Stacy and Clinton also drew on their circle of friends for their models, they made damn sure they covered as many body types as possible. This was one of my pet peeves with Trinny and Susannah's What Not to Wear books: fabulous advice, but hard to visualize, because they used themselves as models to demonstrate their points.

I applaud the brave men and women who ventured into the Dress Your Best project with the authors, because every one of them had to appear in a bathing suit at the beginning of each section. And you thought standing in front of a three-way mirror in a department store fitting room was bad! Seriously, these folks did an amazing job. "Short people do exist!" they say, "As do very tall people! As do chubby people! There are women with too much boob and no boob at all. There are men with more hip than Jenifer Lopez and there are men who have necks the size of an average tree. Let's get them all dressed - and make sure they all look good!"

And while readers might be tempted to just skip directly to the section that corresponds to their height and build, I wouldn't dismiss the other ones entirely. For example, while my figure fits most closely with the "petite curvy" section, I was able to borrow ideas from "petite bigger on the bottom" and "petite a little extra in the middle" sections as well.

Naturally, I was feeling very smug because style gurus such as Clinton and Stacy agree with me on some major fashion points: tapered pants are the root of all evil, pleated fronts can only be worn by very skinny people - they only make people with tummies look bigger, black is totally replaceable by gray and brown, color is your friend as long as it's the right one, there is no law against men wearing bright colors. So, there you have it - it's not just me telling you, I have some serious backup on the subject.

I truly, truly enjoyed this book and had a lot of fun with it, and will definitely go back to it soon, because I am going through a closet purge of my own and will be shopping for some new work duds. The only slight bit of discombobulation I felt was Stacy and Clinton's spin on "Evening wear". I suppose they should have specified a bit more clearly, that some of their evening suggestions would be more appropriate for a club outing or a more casual evening event, and some - for a black tie evening.

Other than that one hiccup, it was a profoundly delightful read I would seriously recommend to lads and ladies of all ages and sizes.

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