Book Review: The Fashion File

Janie Bryant is the costume designer from Mad Men.  She studies movies, pictures, advertisements, and anything else she can get her hands on in order to make Mad Men as stylish, beautiful, and authentic as possible.  With fashion writer Monica Corcoran Harel, she wrote a book about finding and nurturing your personal style, called The Fashion File: Advice, Tips, and Inspiration from the Costume Designer of Mad Men.

Speakeasy style.

So this book is a how-to for, I’d say, gals who are newly interested in style.  There are tips on putting together outfits, on which three bras every woman must have, on the “five elements for looking polished,” and so on.  I was a tad disappointed in how basic this book gets .  For instance the authors earnestly explain that wearing a thong prevents unsightly panty lines.  As the kids used to say, duh.  Perhaps that’s a tad harsh, because if you’re really new to the style game, that could be news to you.  As, I guess, could the fact that you should have a good pair of jeans in your wardrobe…?

But it’s not entirely a wash for those interested in style.  As you can see, the watercolor sketches are incredibly vibrant and beautiful.  There are also some great photos of the cast of Mad Men, but not nearly as many as I would have suspected.  Here’s my problem: I came into the book thinking it would be a study in how the designer comes up with her costumes, or a sneak-peak into the behind the scenes of Mad Men fittings.  But it’s really just a general tutorial on developing one’s personal style.

Pearl and rhinestone necklaces.

Besides the sketches, my favorite part of the book is the section titled “Cocktail Chatter” at the end of each chapter.  It gives trivia on various style milestones.  For instance, on page 46, “In the 1940s, Lockheed deemed bras mandatory for their female employees because of ‘good taste, anatomical support and morale.”  That same decade, the torpedo or bullet bra, thought to be modeled after the nose of a military fighter plane helped define busty actresses like Jane Russell as ‘sweater girls.’  What a charming piece of trivia, right?  I also like all of the sections that focus on the history of fashion.  For instance, the authors give a run down on how icons Clara Bow, Louise Brooks, Jean Harlow, Rita Hayworth, Elizabeth Taylor, and Brigitte Bardot have inspired fashion.  Fascinating and fun.


So what’s the final verdict?  If you already feel fairly confident in your own personal aesthetic, this book may be too elementary for you.  If you feel like you’re still developing your style, and you’d like some basic pointers for wardrobe building, or dressing for your shape, this book will serve you well.

Check out a previous book review here.  Hey, read any books about style recently?  Tell us about it!

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