Like a greatest hits album, or a “Where Are They Now?” column, I sometimes tally up the best and worst outfits I’ve ever worn. I still feel shame about the patchwork-plaid maternity romper that a man at a bowling alley mistook as a costume.
And my high school social life might have been different if I hadn’t one day put on high-waisted yellow pants with a yellow and black-striped top. I was trying to impress a boy who had dumped me for a prettier, sportier girl.
“You look like a bumblebee,” the boy said, squinting as if he were staring into the sun.
The gray jersey top and skirt set that I bought at a Paris thrift store was briefly the best outfit I’d ever owned. When I accidentally tucked the skirt into the top of my control top pantyhose, and then walked through a crowded bar with my compressed bare bottom exposed (no, I didn’t have on underwear; additionally, there were holes in the pantyhose, releasing bulbous blooms of flesh), it became my worst-ever outfit.
There hasn’t been a decade since 1970 when I didn’t put on a jumpsuit. The one with fake patches from a gas company, as if I were filling up cars at the Shell station, surprisingly goes into the “best of” category. The jester-striped one that I wore with a gold gift-wrapping rope headband falls into the “worst of” category. I’m forever grateful there were no cellphones with cameras when I was college. My favorite outfit senior year consisted of pinstriped boxer shorts with blue plastic pumps.
It used to take days, or weeks, before you saw a photo of yourself in any particular outfit. Back then, the shame came as a flinch, and then a quick prayer that no one else noticed how ridiculous you looked. Now, with pictures being snapped and viewed instantaneously, I’ve suffered entire evenings of regret as a cellphone suddenly reveals that half my breasts are showing, or that my arms look so loose, the hanging skin could be used as a net.
I once got off a flight from California, went straight to a New Year’s Eve party in Homeland, and was horrified to see the guests dressed as if they were going to the Oscars. My husband, David, and I were both in jeans. “I’m going home,” I whispered to David. He found my desire to keep up with the Joneses appalling. Still, I drove away.
Here are five books that will safeguard you from being the sartorial fool I’ve been.
> How to Get Dressed by Alison Freer (Ten Speed Press, 256 pages, $16.99, paperback) shows you how to wear the clothes you already own. With tips on alterations, closet organization and which “rules” to ignore, Freer’s book will liberate you to be yourself, only more stylish.
> The Capsule Wardrobe by Wendy Mak (Skyhorse Publishing, 240 pages, $16.99, hardcover) will inspire you to reduce your hordes of (mostly unworn!) clothing into 30 individual pieces that you’ll actually wear. If you stick to the book’s plan, you can make thousands of outfits from those 30 pieces.
> The Curated Closet by Anuschka Rees (Ten Speed Press, 272 pages, $25, paperback) helps you identify your style, then guides you through the process of creating and maintaining that style with wise shopping choices and ruthless closet curating.
> Those who sew will love The Maker’s Atelier by Frances Tobin (Quadrille, 144 pages, plus a package of patterns, $38, softcover). The book has eight patterns that can be varied to create 31 unique pieces. The patterns are simple and easy to follow, yet the clothes that come out of them have a high-end-boutique sophistication.
> In Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore by Terry Newman (Harper Design, 208 pages, $30, hardcover) you can find your favorite authors and dress just like them. With 50 writers ranging from Samuel Beckett to Maya Angelou, there’s someone here for everyone. The book includes beautiful photographs, witty text and a passage from each writer’s work. Cover model Joan Didion is my style icon. I’d trade my entire closet for just a few of her sleek, sexy ’70s dresses.
All of these books can be ordered through Atomic Books or Ivy Books, both on Falls Road.