Where oh where does one begin with Tim Gunn’s Fashion Bible? With the lavish illustrations depicting the history of fashion? With the fashion trivia? With Gunn’s own chatty, and sometimes acerbic, commentary? With the structure of the thing itself?
Okay, we’ll start with the last one. In his latest missive to fashionistas, the fashion-challenged, fans of fashion and history, and just plain Tim Gunn fans, Gunn takes the, if not unique, then at least logical, approach to fashion by taking his readers on a tour of their closets. Each chapter is devoted to a single piece of clothing or accessory the typical person might have in his or her closet (I say his because hey guys, Tim Gunn wants you to think about wearing something besides a wife-beater and a baseball cap). Gunn then breaks the chapter down for the reader—traces the history of the garment, talks about how and why the garment progressed and developed into what we know today, talks about how to choose the appropriate style for your body type, what to avoid at all costs, and how, when appropriate, to get the proper fit for you. That last part is especially useful, especially when he talks about pants and shirts—good tips there.
I loved this set up for several reasons. First, it made sense, especially for those who want to use the book as a reference for the future. If someone’s thinking about buying a new dress, or cleaning out a closet, it’s easy to go to the section on dresses and say “Okay, I should look for this style of dress because it’s what flatters my body type the most” or “Tim’s right, I should never have bought these cargo shorts, they make me look lumpy” (Incidentally, Gunn devotes some space to a truly hilarious rant against cargo capri pants that is nearly worth the price of the book itself). I also thought from just a reading standpoint that as he progresses through this virtual closet it was easy to get a bigger picture of a good, solid wardrobe—he starts with bigger pieces, like dresses, pants, jackets, and shoes before going on to other items. And finally, I just really appreciate something that is so beautifully ordered. Sometimes the writing within the chapters is a little jumpy or he doesn’t transition quite so well from one point to the next, and that’s a bit jarring, but overall, this book is well-organized, with useful little charts and a worksheet at the end that is quite functional. He clearly meant for his audience to actually use the book—it’s not just a vanity project. But it’s also pretty enough to use as a coffee table book. It’s an unusually well-made book for this day and age, printed on heavy, glossy paper, plus it has lots of pictures.
The pictures are especially useful in cases where Gunn’s descriptive powers struggle to describe a now outdated article of clothing, such as chopines or poulaines (both types of shoes; the former is the forerunner of the platform shoe, the latter the inspiration for the extreme pointy-toed pumps we see today), or when a famous couture piece defies description, such as Schiaparelli’s Lobster Dress. None of these looked exactly how I pictured them, so it was great to have the illustrations to hand.
As a narrator, Gunn is chatty and witty: he makes it clear from the introduction that he’s not out to write a complete history of fashion, but rather to hit the high points and trace the origins of what we find in our closets today and how they’ve gotten there. He also rightly points out that entire volumes have been written on such topics as shirt sleeves, denim, and how politics and social customs shape fashion. This book is much more of an overview, but that doesn’t mean it lacks detail. I learned all sorts of nifty things reading it, such as how the vest became popular during Charles II’s reign, why most tailored female clothing has its roots in Egyptian fashion, not European, and how Clark Gable nearly tanked the men’s undershirt industry single-handedly, and all of it was delivered in a voice that is somehow gossipy yet simultaneously learned. Once in a while Professor Gunn gets behind the podium and delivers a bit of a lecture (see the previously mentioned rant about capri cargo pants; there are also stern dictums delivered about the evils of pleated pants, wearing athletic wear in public, and women who wear tights/leggings as pants), but mostly he’s Uncle Tim the fashion guy who really just wants you to look your best, even if you’re just running out for a gallon of milk.
I found all of this quite enjoyable. I liked the historical tidbits, the illustrations, the useful charts about sizing, and the overall approach and tone of the book. In fact, I can’t think of a single thing I disliked about it, except that it ended. If you’re interested in this kind of thing, or want to overhaul your closet, by all means pick this up. It’s great fun.