like the boys

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I love me a good style guide. I Love Your Style by Amanda Brooks is a good one, and I actually enjoyed one of the Nina Garcia ones (I think it's The One Hundred) because it was full of good sense. I liked a Denim Story by the Current/Elliot founders because it was full of inspiring imagery, and Style Forever by Alyson Walsh is a recent one I picked up that didn't disappoint.

Yes, these books often trade in cliches and can be prescriptive, but the good ones are more than just a bunch of diktats about what to buy, pictures of Audrey Hepburn, and glossy spreads of perfectly tidy walk-in wardrobes. The good ones are little bit autobiographical or the author shares a bit of lived experience about his or her style journey. Or that of stylish people, preferably accomplished people that you until then had never heard of. They convey a sense of enthusiasm for fashion and the joy of being well put together. They organise the art of dressing into a few helpful, loose "codes" that have you going "that's me!" and there's a sense of coziness, knowing that somebody "gets it". They have a good mix of the imagery that inspired them and original content that was produced for the book. In other words, these books have coherent style and substance.

A few years ago, I picked up Tomboy Style at the library (I always pick these up at the library because so many of them are rubbish or books I will never read again), with great hopes. After all, I had followed the Tomboy Style blog and enjoyed it. And people have called me a tomboy all my life and here was a whole coffee table book about it. I was about to be validated for my style choices. 

But the book was disappointing. The pictures of Diane Keaton, Katharine Hepburn etc were things you could easily look up online, and there wasn't any good writing to pull it altogether and make a compelling argument for why such an aesthetic mattered. And then there was rather cheesy subcategories of tomboys: the "sophisticate",  the "naturalist" etc. It was like a collection of blog posts, and not even very good ones.

I was excited when I found out that one of my favourite bloggers Navaz Batliwalla of Disneyrollergirl was publishing her contribution to the genre: The New Garconne: How to be a Modern Gentlewoman. I'd always enjoyed her take on style and the fashion industry, and her breakdown of what "gentlewoman" style is all about is always spot on. Plus, this is a style tribe I feel like I belonged to. It was a no-brainer whether ti pick it up when I saw it in the store. 

It's a slim volume, and I got through it rather quickly - a bit like how long it takes me to get through the fatter editions of The Gentlewoman magazine - but this is not to say it was insubstantial. I love that the book comprises mainly of interviews with inspiring women, and women who aren't already featured to death, to boot. There were just enough visuals to draw the eye and convey a sense of what the book was trying to say, and the selection felt thoughtful.

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The book starts with an enjoyable essay on the evolution of the Gentlewoman, and I like the emphasis on women of accomplishment who also happen to be aesthetes. It has a section on the "hero pieces" of a gentlewoman (as you would expect, the perfect shirt, blazer, good watch) and caps off with an index of where one might buy these things and other recommended places to visit (parks, museums etc).

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The interviews with the women - Polly Morgan, Donna Wallace, Bella Freud, Lyn Harris, Phyllis Wang to name a few - set the book apart from other style books. I also like that, for a change, here was a book that is about something modern and actually unfolding now - rather than a retrospective of something already well-established or celebrated - but at the same time it's also celebrating the classics.  

I would have preferred Batliwalla's point of view to come across more strongly, not mention perhaps what this particular aesthetic means to her personally. But these shortcomings didn't really take away from my enjoyment of the book.

I'd also love to revisit this book in a few years, to see if the gentlewoman style still feels relevant. I love The Gentlewoman magazine, which has really driven this whole aesthetic in a big way, with COS helpfully providing affordable pieces to help live the whole look. It will be interesting to see if this style endures. 

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Comments

SA said…
Thank you for reviewing this book! I've been craving to read style books which have some 'meat' on them, if you know what I mean. I have been working my way towards a pared down wardrobe, though my style is far from tomboyish
lin said…
I've actually yet to find a perfect "style" book but the New Garconne was pretty good. Style Forever is not bad as well, if you're interested
Oooh thanks for the review! The last time I was at my sister's place I picked up her husband's GQ, it was an older one, with Norman Reedus on the cover. I actually really loved the editorials, and it's not too difficult to picture myself wearing versions of those outfits. Just take the brands out of the equation and it's kind of like a formula - suede chelsea boots + striped sweater + skinny scarf + leather jacket, etc., works for either gender.

I also like La Garconne's editorials, and shops like totokaelo and even ssense, even if I can't afford the stuff I like to see how they're styled. So much (too much?) stuff online now, which is probably the reason I haven't purchased as style book in ages.

Aïssa said…
Great review! I've never bought a style book actually, the latest ones from Ines de la Fressange, Garance Doré or de Maigret looked cute but I couldn't connect. Here the emphasis on "real" women is far more appealing.
Will look it up at my next UK library stop.

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