Friday, 27 June 2014

Book Review: The Fashion File

I'm embarrassed by how long it took me to join my local library. I talk big about ethical issues, and although I follow through pretty well on some of them, I've been slack on this. I've bought books rather than hunting them down. Now I'm having fun just browsing what's available and reading things I might not otherwise have found. When I think they might interest you, I'll share a review. We start with a vintage-skewed fashion advice book.

"The Fashion File: Advice, Tips and Inspiration from the Costume Designer of Mad Men"
Janie Bryant with Monica Corcoran Harel

There is a lot to like about this book. I've read quite a few books that give advice on finding your style and building a wardrobe, but this one still had a lot of unique approaches to offer. Within each chapter, the advice was broken down into many small separate sections, and there were many bonus facts dotted about the place, but the book still managed to be coherent and keep its focus.

That focus was always on how to immediately apply the lessons to your own life. Each chapter finished with a "checklist" that summarised the actionable advice.

There was a lot of discussion of vintage style, vintage fashion icons and fashion history, but it was all with the aim of incorporating that wisdom into your modern fashionable look. This might not be everyone's cup of tea, but I found it interesting and a fresh perspective compared to other books I've read.

The illustrations are gorgeous, and provided in great enough numbers to make browsing through the book a visually pleasant experience, to say the least.

The sections on style icons (there was one of these each for men and women) described each star's main looks and unique qualities, then honed in on the best style lessons to learn from them.

Similarly, the look at each decade described the trends of the era, then highlighted a particular vintage item to shop for and how to wear it. For example, the 1920s put the spotlight on beaded bags, discussing what to look for when shopping and outfit ideas to pair them with. This was probably my favourite part of the book, and if they had gone into the same detail for a few more key pieces in each decade, it would have been fantastic.

Some other features I liked were the section on promoting and maintaining postive self image, a costume designer's approach to closet arrangement, and advice on "playing dress-ups" at home to prepare looks. The idea of following that last piece of advice makes me feel silly, but the reality is that I never leave myself enough time to get ready, and if I haven't already worked out good pairings from my wardrobe, I end up wearing the same things and generally less daring outfits. I imagine that's true for others too.Maybe I should give it a try.

The main negative for me was the lifestyle blindspot. The author clearly lives a glamorous life in a glamorous world, and has very different wardrobe needs to me. So at times, particularly when talking about 'necessary items' to own, the advice was useless to me. I don't mind that as much, but I think it should be at least acknowledged that not everyone's needs are the same. Advice about work clothes that is suitable only to those in office-type jobs is extremely limited, and I need a lot more outfits for going out to a local restaurant for dinner than to a cocktail party or gala event. The other minor niggle, as a fanatic of ethical fashion, were the occasional moments when the values of the book clashed with mine. Neither of these points seriously detracted from what I enjoyed about the book, but I thought I should mention them.

Overall, I recommend giving this a read. I feel that while not every section or piece of advice would suit everyone, there is so much variety here that you are bound to find something that you enjoy and learn from.

If you've read this book, I'd love to hear your thoughts on it too. Or any other fashion books (vintage or otherwise) that you would recommend.


  1. I haven't yet had the pleasure of reading this book, but it's been on my "want to" list since the very first moment I heard about it - and all the more so after reading your lovely review. I agree though that it's a shame though about the author not addressing the needs and daily wardrobes of those who do not live in a world filled with nothing but swanky glamour, as is the case for the overwhelming majority of us.

    If you've not read them so far, two vintage fashion books in particular that I recommend are 1940's Fashion: The Definitive Sourcebook by and Forties Fashion - From Siren Suits to the New Look (both are excellently written and extremely informative, but would be worth it for the sublime wealth of images that they house alone!).

    Oodles of hugs,
    ♥ Jessica

    1. Thank you for the recommendations! I will see if I can sniff out those ones for some information and inspiration!

  2. It isn't a general fashion book as it is focused on one 'label' but I adore Horrockses Fashions: Off-the-peg style in the '40s and '50s by Christine Boydell.

    1. I remember you getting that book! I was less interested then but I'm sure I would now find it a fascinating read. I'm more interested in fabric prints now than I used to be too!

    2. More than happy to lend it to you.


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