The Little Black Book of Style by Nina Garcia

The Little Black Book of Style

Collins recently sent me a copy of The Little Black Book of Style to review; not one to turn down free books, I said "Yea, O Publisher, send unto me," and I was glad I did.

This gladness took the form most often called smugness, as the lovely and talented Nina Garcia agrees with me on all the important points of style, to wit:

"Your closet should be full of only pieces that look good on you and make you feel good about yourself" (see my post here)

"A stylish woman makes me want to walk up to her and say "Where did you get that? … I just have to find out where it is from. A flea market, her grandmother's closet, wherever." (see my post about clothes & stories here)

"Go a little crazy. Be a little dramatic. Have a lot of fun." (the 'crazy' skirt, here)

Now, I know, I know, Ms. Garcia is on The Television, and I am not (or, I am, but rarely, and never talking about fashion) so perhaps I should not be saying how happy I am that she agrees with me, but how glad I am to agree with a internationally-known arbiter of style. But if you have been reading this blog for a while, this is a book you won't get into arguments with, or mutter "What is she thinking?" on every other page. Instead, you will do a lot of nodding (when you aren't gazing lovingly at the Ruben Toledo illustrations).

The one point on which Ms. Garcia and I will have to agree to disagree is the necessity of having a faaaaaabulous handbag. I think that a Chanel 2.55 bag is quite possibly the most horrible handbag ever, totally boring, and expensive to boot. (And it doesn't have a pocket for my Treo, which tells you where I'm coming from.) Nor would I wait a gazillion years for a Hermés Birkin bag, even if I thought that kind of money was chump change. (In fact, I hate the whole handbag-industrial complex, and come the revolution I will cheer as they are driven through the streets in a tumbril.)

The fashion-advice bits (aside from the handbag stuff) are straightforward and sensible; the brief biography she allows herself is interesting and the quotations scattered through the book are apt (although one wishes they were SOURCED, but not everyone is as OCD about that as reference book editors …). Her what-to-wear-when advice is pretty good — I wish she had forbidden wearing black as well as white to weddings but I may have to silently resign myself to being the only person alive to follow that rule.

It's a small book, though, and it is padded with the plots of important fashion movies (!) and thumbnail 'who-dat?' sketches of fashionable rock stars (!!) and an incredibly brief timeline of 'fashion history', none of which is especially useful to anyone who was born before 1995. The paragraphs (one each) given to Africa and fashion and Asia and fashion were also a bit painful, and could have been cut without harm to the book or Ms. Garcia … there is also a series of Q&As with various fashion-y people, the quality of which is uneven. Some of them are funny, revealing, and generous, and some of them seem to have been emailed via a Blackberry from the back of a cab.

In short, if you want a petite, elegantly-designed, sensible book on style, this is for you. There's nothing groundbreaking here, but there's nothing stupid, either (except for maybe those Africa- and Asia-in-fashion paragraphs), and that's not to be sneered at. I recommend it!

0 thoughts on “The Little Black Book of Style by Nina Garcia

  1. Erin, if I may be so bold, I have to say I think my recent “Fashion 101” is a pretty darn good list of dos and don’ts, too! Only problem is I had to pare it down from about 50 to 10. Oh, well, there’s always next time! (I’m not a Gmailer, a Blogger, or an Other, so I chose Anonymous.) –Lisa S.

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  2. I know your irritation regarding black at weddings issue. Last time I went to a wedding, I think I was the only person not in black. Meanwhile, I seem to be the only person who wears black to funerals these days.–Lydia

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  3. I decided to buy a “fabulous” handbag a while ago. I walked up to the Coach counter and simply could not do it. Instead, I now own a very nice Liz Claiborne petite hobo. The sales woman insisted that I actually put all of my stuff in it before buying it (and she let me try out maybe 15 bags – so I sent in a nice note to the store). It’s leather, so it will last, and really the perfect size and style. And it’s really ok that it didn’t come in a linen bag tied with a Prada ribbon.

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  4. Thanks for the review! I’m partial to Genevieve Dariaux’s classic “A Guide to Elegance.” Written way-back-when and still in style!

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  5. From what little I’ve seen ( Project Runway ) of Ms. Garcia, I don’t know that she’s into what one might call ‘classic style’. The handbag endorsement cements that feeling. And I feel for someone so lost as to think that they might gain style by readiing a book by a trend setting magazine editor.That’s prpbably a little harsh, but there you have it.

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  6. Let me second Lydia’s comment. It has been some years since I attended a funeral (and I seem to go to a lot of them) at which I was *not* more droopily clad in black than the widow. I seem to be creating a whole new set of social solecisms by wearing black at funerals. Has anyone else seen the movie “Death at a Funeral”? A very funny movie–but what struck me first was that the grieving family was actually dressed in black. Maybe because it’s a British film?

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  7. My only problem with a lot of people insistence upon wearing black to funerals is that they’ll pull out any old black thing and call it OK, whether it’s a schlumpy black sweater and black jeans, or an incredibly short skirt and shiny shirt obviously more suited to a club. Yes, I’m pulling two examples from real life. I’d much rather see people outfitted in tasteful, appropriate brown, navy blue or gray than tacky, faded or night club black that they pulled from the back of the closet because it’s the only black they own.

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  8. Does anyone know where the “rules” about not wearing white or black to weddings come from, or how old they are? White for the bride isn’t as old a people tend to think. I know black for funerals (in western culture) is as old as the hills,but not wearing white or black for weddings isn’t. I think is 20th century (maybe 1930’s?).

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  9. I’m glad I’m not the only person irritated by the whole “fabulous handbag” thing. I got a perfectly acceptable burgandy leather bag from a shoe store, for about $120.00 Cnd. two years ago, and am still using it almost every day. People ask me where I got it, but it doesn’t shout “DESIGNER!!!”, it carries everything I need to carry, and it is good enough quality to stand up to constant use. On the whole, I think I prefer Tim Gunn to Nina Garcia.

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  10. I think I’m going to be the lone voice of dissent on this topic. Admittedly, there are a lot of vulgar monstrosities out there that, by virture of being hailed as the ‘must-have’ bag of the season, cost a ridiculous, unjustifiable amount. But not every expensive bag is like that hideous furry thing Erin posted earlier. Brands like Hermes and Bottega use artisans to make their bags, and I find their designs beautiful and enduring, while the craftsmanship is a thing of wonder in our mass-produced, factory-assembly line age. I know someone who has a Kelly bag that was passed down to her from her grandmother, who first bought it in the 1950s, and it’s still in excellent condition. Surely that longevity counts for something?

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  11. I completely wholeheartedly agree with your ‘do not wear black to weddings’. Its supposed to be happy. Black to funerals and black tie and everyday etc. etc.

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  12. Okay I’m worried. I knew about the rule for avoiding black dresses and white dresses to weddings but somehow it slipped my mind while shopping (well and desparation). I wore a black and white floral patterned dress to the two wedding I attended this summer. Did I commit a double faux pas or do I fall into the “acceptable” range???

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  13. Chiming in with another “Amen” for no black at weddings. I must plead guilty to wearing a print dress with black in it, but seeing as it was a peacock-feather motif and entirely inappropriate for a funeral I think I slipped by on that one.Sewing siren, white for brides became popular after Queen Victoria’s wedding in the 1830s, although it was quite a while after that before it became a standard. Black has been considered at least unlucky at weddings, however, for much longer, because of its associations with mourning. More here

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  14. The tradition of guests not wearing white to weddings came about as a courtesy to the bride, so she wasn’t upstaged on her special day. Possibly also came about during the Victorian era. My MIL asked permission to wear a tasteful black pantsuit to my wedding. Told her I didn’t care as long as she was there. She was an older lady, a little heavy, and in bad health so it was the most practical thing she could wear in December. My son’s MIL wore cream to their wedding last year. A little too close to white for me, and I wore a lavender top and jacket with black pants. (I wasn’t about to get into pantyhose in the middle of an Oklahoma summer!)

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  15. I’m afraid I have to go with the dissenters here on the “no white to weddings, only black to funerals” angle. I think these rules make about as much sense as the “no white after Labor Day” canard. It’s much more important to wear something appropriate to the occasion — dressy and festive to a wedding, serious and somber to a funeral — unless one has been specifically requested to do otherwise — than to worry about actual colors. I recall a longstanding in-law fight because one relative wore a — gasp! — red tie to a wedding. Ridiculous. (They’ve since kissed and made up, but it took 20 years!) –Lisa S.

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  16. While I myself would never wear black to a wedding, I have to confess to letting my 17-year-old son wear black to a wedding this summer. It was the dressiest, most appropriate thing he owns, and I think being a young man, he didn’t detract in any way. So, what are the rules for men? Most of them were wearing dark suits, so I figured my son was safe in black. Are there wedding rules for male guests?

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  17. The last wedding I went to ( ayear ago in December) all the bridesmaids were in black and many of the guests. It was going to a funeral a couple months ago though, that made me realize how much I need o get my wardrobe in order–I didn’t have anything really appropriate to wear. I think appropriateness is actually more important than the color of the clothes. Is what you are wearing subdued, modest and respectful?

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  18. My cousin’s husband wore a cream–very light cream–colored suit to their wedding: talk about upstaging/competing with the bride!! Need I comment that the marriage did NOT endure?I have strong feelings about appropriate attire, whether one is selling clothing in a large department store, where, presumably, bare hip fluff is NOT an inducement to buy, any more than it engenders a sense of incipient well-being or healing at the pharmacy when picking up medication.A festive dress in a black and white print seems fine for a wedding, but not a funeral. Many funerals and memorial services I have been to have been celebrations of life which may not require black attire, or may even specify wearing your own or the deceased’s favorite color, but that wouldn’t preclude “modest and respectful” choices.It seems to me that most of these rules of etiquette are designed to make life easier for us during stressful times, even the fun-yet- stressful times. No decent person would unknowingly want to draw attention away from the bride, just as she would not want to draw attention to herself because of her bright or inappropriate clothing at a funeral. I don’t quite know how or why this has become so obscure a concept to so many people, when it seems so obvious to me, and just common sense. Some of this inappropriate attire is sort of the sartorial equivalent of getting drunk and throwing up on the wedding cake, but our ‘culture’ has made that sort of thing into entertainment, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by what people wear.

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  19. Fashion is full of people telling & selling the same old, and basically not always the right people making the most money!The one who screams the loudest gets the deal. It’s not always fair. The ugly side of a beautiful world I reckon.

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