Books About Finding Your Personal Style

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Elizabeth Bastos

Staff Writer

Elizabeth Bastos has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe, and writes at her blog 19th-Century Lady Naturalist. Follow her on Twitter: @elizabethbastos

Personal style books are seductive. We all want to express ourselves down to the signature socks. But, who decides what self expression looks like?  That elusive vixen “your personal style” might actually be an algorithm.


Book Style: 1984 by George Orwell

[For outfit details, click image]

The two biggest trends in books about finding your personal style are Minimalism, its competitor, Maximalism and everyone’s favorite Parisian fantasy, French girl chic. It’s a billion dollar business. [Bonus read: Books About Teens With A Passion for Fashion.]

Of course, books about personal style play on your fears. That you don’t know The Truth About Style. That you are dressing foolishly. Or perhaps even offensively.

Naturally, they seduce with the possibility that there is a smart, inoffensive you only better, in Paris, in sartorial splendor, in the Breton stripe. Or a you only better because you are high-church minimalist and have less, but better quality clothing, in your Soulful SimplictyProject 333 capsule collection. Sometimes the two trends even collide.

Jennifer L. Scott offers high-quality Minimalist-French lessons in Lessons From Madame Chic: 20 Stylish Lessons I Learned Living In Paris.

Karl Lagerfeld’s muse, perpetual gamine, Ines de la Fressange serves the Parisian Chic Look Book: How To Dress In Every Situation. She says a leather biker jacket is a Key Piece. Because how would you know if someone didn’t tell you that?

for CENTURIES Women have been being told how to dress

Dress like a woman. “Feel like a woman, wear a dress!” Diane von Furstenberg famously said.

De la Fressange says to wear a gray sweatshirt under a tailored suit jacket. I did that. I looked so dope at carpool pickup. OMG, maybe I do need to be told what to wear to Look Right as a Woman?

Roxane Gay calls foul. In the the foreword to the book of photographs Dress Like A Woman, Working Women and What They Wore  she writes that the furious debate about what women should wear (it was revealed in 2017 that “newly installed President Trump preferred the female members of his administration to  ‘dress like women’ in the office”) is about What Clothes Symbolize.

“What does it mean to ‘dress like a woman’?” Gay asks. Inscrutably, she answers that it means “Both nothing and everything.” Personal style for women is Zen koan?

Gay writes, “I wear clothes that make me feel comfortable and confident…Dressing like a woman means wearing anything a woman deems appropriate and necessary for getting her job done.” MIC DROP. That’s an empowering sentence.

From the Dress Like A Woman introduction, Vanessa Friedman writes “dressing like a woman means dressing however any woman wants to dress.” MIC DROP DOUBLE GOODNESS. This is another empowering sentence. But is is also loaded. Woman, it asks, however do you want to dress? What raiments are Appropriate and Necessary? What are you wearing to Feel Confidence?

Grrrrreaaaaaat. I still don’t know what to wear. So how about this  flowing female caftan?