Saturday, October 27, 2012

Review: The Truth about Style by Stacy London

Longtime readers of the blog will know that I am a big fan of What Not to Wear. Though I haven't watched the show as much lately (It never seems to be on when I'm looking for something to watch), I still love the idea of having a fashion guru who would help me find a great new look.

As much as I enjoyed The Truth About Style, it's not the book to teach you how to put all of the WNTW ideas into practice.  For that, you're probably better off with Dress Your Best: The Complete Guide to Finding the Style That's Right for Your Body, which is more of a how-to recipe guide for dressing your shape.

This new book is more of an exploration of the idea of style itself, and the barriers that, too often, get in the way and keep us all wearing jeans and hoodies (Three guesses as to what I'm wearing right this very moment, BTW). The nine women (plus Stacy, for 10 total) profiled in this book all have different style challenges, but I must have been reading too much BrenĂ© Brown, because I see them all as related to shame, the basic idea that "There's something wrong with me that makes me unloveable." This body shame is what all of the women have in common, to some extent.  Ashley's boyfriend cheated on her with a friend, triggering anorexia and then binge eating.  Ty was plus-sized from an early age, and though she loved fashion, never found her own sense of style. Stacy herself grew up feeling like a freak because of her severe eczema.  The one that triggered the biggest "a-ha" moment for me is Tracy, who desperately wants to shine but is sidelined by fears that she will be seen as attention-seeking, not stylish, and be harshly judged by others. She said that she has bought some stylish pieces but is gripped by a sense of "Who do you think you are?" when she goes to put them on. Where does this terrible fear of the smackdown come from if not from shame? It's just easier to blend in and play it safe than to counter this sense that if we seem like we are happy with ourselves, someone will be there to bring us back to earth.

I think that the real magic of Stacy's makeovers is not the style tips, though those are helpful, but the permission she gives women to show their sparkle despite the "flaws" that they think disqualify them from style stardom.  In this book we see women with all types of bodies -- plus-sized, petite, petite-plus, tall, older, exceptionally young-looking -- find great new looks.  Not one of these women look like a fashion model, but they all look terrific.  Stacy says the secret is to say "Yes...And?"  The "yes" part is taking an honest look at our bodies -- "notice, don't judge." Then, given that real body, the "and?" part asks how we can dress to accentuate our best features and camoflage anything we don't love. "Ignoring a problem doesn't make it go away."

Some universals, of course, are that we should all be wearing great foundation garments (Stacy is a fan of both {intimacy} and Spanx). She is a huge fan of high heels or pointy-toed shoes to lengthen the leg. And number one, most important rule, is that clothes should fit. Tight and baggy clothes are both against Stacy's style rules, and she's in favor of alterations when necessary to make clothes look great (and this book includes helpful tips about which alterations are inexpensive and which aren't worth it).

I read this book on my iPad and paid a little extra for the enhanced version. It had some nice little bonus videos that let me see the transformations in action. I think the book would have fallen flat without these videos, because it really helped to confirm Stacy's observations by seeing and hearing each woman talk about what was holding her back.  I wish that the enhanced book had also given us more pictures of completed looks for each woman profiled.  Most chapters have a black-and-white before and a full-color after, with a few tight detail shots. I would have liked to see three or four full-color complete looks for each woman -- I know this might have been expensive for the print version, but it seems like it wouldn't have been much more trouble to add these to the video segments.

Another thing that the book -- and especially the videos -- did for me is help make Stacy herself seem more accessible. If you watch WNTW and read her other books, it's easy to think that she has always been a tall, thin, self-assured fashionista.  The book details Stacy's own struggles with self-image, like eating disorders and severe childhood eczema that left her scarred and self-conscious.  In the videos, she even admits that she has struggled with some weight gain while writing the book.  She comes across as very vulnerable and authentic in the videos, something that doesn't always come across on the show or in her writing when she's using stylist slang ("totes adorbs," etc.) and nixing someone's beloved "comfortable" flats.  I liked seeing this side of her. I definitely recommend getting the enhanced iBook (available from iTunes but not from Amazon) if you buy this book. Print fashion books tend to seem dated quickly, and who needs more clutter?

I may not be ready to give up my hoodies on lazy weekends, but reading this book makes me feel more motivated to take more time with my workday look. Now if I could just get Stacy to go shopping with me...


  1. I've gone through the "I'm not one to pull this off" or the "who do you think you are?" mentality a lot. And strangely enough, I just thought that my personality was too loud to wear clothes any louder than a whisper. Cost has some factor in it too of course, but I always went for very plain, conventional, non trendy looks.

    The funny part is, the few exceptions I've made have gotten me more compliments than all of my other clothes combined. And they always start with me very serious minded in the dressing room, staring at the mirror thinking "I know this fits well, but this is pretty extreme compared to what I usually wear. If I'm going to get this, I have to commit to it. Am I ready for how this will change the way people see me?" And after all those dramatics and deep breaths, it's totally fine.

    Surprisingly, some of the compliments are of the "I love it! I could never get away with that!" type. Which is funny, because they come from some of the same people I thought of when I was trying the outfit on the first place.

    Go figure, it was all in my head. I didn't learn this until about two months ago.

    1. My favorite clothes tend to be the ones I wouldn't have picked for myself, but were suggested by a salesperson. I think I often need that extra push to try something new.

      Right now fit is a big challenge. Button-up shirts never fit right. Knits can be too clingy around my midsection. I have been wearing a lot of sleeveless shells with cardigans or jackets, which is fine but I'd like to branch out into other options. I bought a couple of shaping tanks to try to deal with the muffin-top issue.

      I am also trying not to buy too much now because I am still trying to lose weight, and anything that fits now will not fit me at goal. Stacy would disapprove of this attitude, I'm sure.

    2. Button ups never have a lot going for them. I think it's because they were originally designed for men and their flat chests. Any cheap button up is bound to have the buttons just spaced out enough to leave gaping peek-a-boob problems. Or there's just too much fabric at the bottom and I can't tuck them in right without getting saggy bottoms. But because they scream conservative work wear, I've bought a bunch of those shirts over the years, and now I've got to make them work.

      I've resigned to just leaving the top unbuttoned with a cami underneath. That makes kind of a V neck shape that works a bit better. And if the button up is too big, I do the same thing but cinch it with a fat belt and leave it untucked.

      I can get behind not wanting to buy new clothes now when you're steadily loosing weight. But at least make a mid goal weight and treat yourself then! Maybe for your birthday?

  2. It sounds like a wonderful book...real. Over the past few years I've gotten more comfortable in my skin and willing to try new things, clothes-wise, but I have to say that in the end, I do have a comfort zone and when I force myself out of it with something I think I "should" wear, that piece of clothing rarely, if ever, gets worn.

    And it's funny you should mention button-up shirts. Every time I have ever purchased one, I have NEVER worn it.


"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07