Category Archives: Book Review

Open and Clothed : Case closed, you need this book!

Browsing books, I never start at the beginning.  I want to know if the entire book will fascinate me not just the first page. Can I be drawn in from reading a snippet here and there?  Is what I am reading so compelling that I will want to cancel my plans for the day? (Assume it’s a good day, not one I already wanted to avoid.)   If yes, I buy the book.  Occasionally I find a book so different and so captivating I want to clear from a few days to a week off my calendar.  And then I blog about it.  But, let’s go back to the bookstore:

First of all, I was in the Style section of the bookstore and LAUGHING. That hasn’t happened before. I’d opened the book to:

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“…wearing linen implies a relationship with an iron that I just don’t have.”

Next I was being asked questions I’ve never thought to ask my clients or even myself:

“What sounds do your clothes make? What cloth sounds do you like best?”

I reflected. I only knew clothing sounds I disliked (velcro! high heels!). Then I realized I loved the sound of beaded garments where the beads are free to sway with movement, as in two of my Halloween costumes from the past. Yet I’d never thought to look for that experience in pieces I’d wear more often.

chainshrug

Yes, this would do nicely! To wear with my strapless top and dress!

What other delights have I been missing from my wardrobe?, I wondered, How else can I understand the beauty?

On the third random page I turned to, I was moved by a dialogue between clothing and owner (in the form of the author’s body) . When asked “What do you want to wear?” the body replies, “Well, there’s this. I like protection from unkind eyes, I like to hide behind pillars of clothes. I am not safe in this world, I am hunted and lusted for, I inspire extremes of emotion.  I do not feel safe. And I do not know how to see and find safety. So what I need is protection. Clothes that reveal nothing, clothes that obscure, clothes that dissemble my shape, my femaleness. I need to look like a modern eunuch. I need protection from hard eyes. This female needs a break from her intensity.”

I cannot even begin to find a photograph to illustrate that…but you can see why i bought the book!  It’s called Open and Clothed (Amazon link) and it’s written by Andrea Siegel.

I love the amusing quips and the great quotes scattered through out the book for the instant gratification they offer. “You must think of your clothes as if they were people. You introduce them to each other. If there is no bond between them, they simply won’t mix. “ Margaretta Byers

I appreciate the practical tips for actually being based on reality not theory : “Every clothing book I’ve seen provides a list of what to buy…so that four garments can provide you with 756 outfits. Don’t make yourself nuts trying to make everything into six different outfits. Finish unfinished outfits you love. Satisfy yourself.”   Furthermore, she is so thorough with advice: Test a fabric you’re not sure about for comfort by holding it to your neck for five minutes; cover a window in a closet so that clothing isn’t bleached by the sun; test new shoes out walking fast on hard surfaces. (Agreed. By law, all shoe stores should have some hard flooring!)

I thought I was up on eco-fashion but I learned about naturally colored cotton from her book.

naturalllycoloredcotton

The cotton grows colored and is boiled to further intensify the color. Washing the cotton later also causes brightening of it! Imagine: naturally brightening clothes!

However, it is the many anecdotes offering different mindsets,  the deeper questions posed and writing exercises suggested that will cause me to revisit this book time and time again.  In particular, the book will help me with “stuck” clients:  Clients that are scared to go try on clothes or scared to scared to buy them.  Clients that hoard or shop compulsively.  Clients that never feel beautiful.  (And of course if you relate to any of those, get this book for yourself!)  If my client is armed with color and style information, has time and money to shop and they’re not enjoying clothing more, then I want a better understanding of why.

And it might not be emotional support they need.  It may be these clients want their clothes to work a different kind of magic  than color and style harmony – from subtlety different to very different.  Thinking in terms of magic helps me understand a lot (thanks, Andrea!) though I still have lot to learn.  My own personal conclusions thus far are:

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Magic might be passed along genetically.  (Or be imposed on the very young, as above.)

Magical powers exist for us all in varying degrees.

And, magical powers may grow stronger with age.

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All photos link to their source. They are not in the book.

When I told Andrea her ‘Rate My Professor’ online reviews helped me find her (she teaches sociology these days) and that I saw her students ADORE her, she replied:

” I tell my students that I wrote all those rave reviews.  They give me a look of bafflement.  Actually, periodically I try to get Rate My Professor to delete all that stuff.  Students expect me to be hilarious, easy and nice.  I’d much rather they start out a little afraid of me.”

Her other job is to “turn the inside of an inner city Community College into an educational art museum.  Toward that end we have acquired over 500 works of art in the past three years. Many of the students have never seen art before, and they feel what comes from something new and wonderful.  This has inspired people to broaden their lives and their interests, and live with greater awareness. This gives them what’s called Cultural Capital, which is knowledge of a broader culture which will support them as they want to grow in their lives and careers.”

“I’ve always been interested in joy,” she says.  This hit home. Yes, of course. In her chapter Body  Acceptance she writes:  “The portion of this book is to help you escape the obsessive rut of feeling fat or yearning to be thin. Learn an alternative: feeling alive and good in your own skin. The goal is not “burning away fat”; the goal is uncovering your essence.”  “OOooooh,” I can hear you say.  “Mmmmmmm,” you hear me reply. It’s all about our essence.  Even the reason to exercise.  Essence and joy. Essence and joy.  Essence and joy. What a winning combination, even if it takes some exploration to be found.

Andrea’s masters thesis was about the Social History of Discount Shopping(!).  She taught Textiles and Fashion Buying at a college level and added, “I really should not have been teaching Fashion Buying simply because that isn’t an area of expertise, but when they said, “Teach it or else,” I chose to teach it.”  How can you not LOVE this woman?!?

In addition, to teaching and curating, she continues to write.  She’s on books number 4 and 5 now. One is a romantic comedy destined for Broadway or Hollywood (in my opinion) and the other is a nonfiction book to help children afraid of water learn to swim. I’m ready to buy both. I admire her Renaissance woman approach to doing it all. Did I mention she is also a lifeguard?

A bit more about Open and Clothed: There is a chapter called Help! My Body Keeps Changing! (Told you she was practical.) My favorite chapter is What Makes You Feel Beautiful?  because the answers have much less to do with clothes than you’d think.  This is not a how-to-get-dressed book, though her work would help those torn between different advice and get newbies off to the most interesting start.  This is a how-to-rethink-getting-dressed book.  It is funny, it is serious, it is historical, it is current, it is sad in places and bizarre in others, but mostly, I am writing this because it is eye-opening.

What does Andrea like to wear?  “Mostly jeans, pearls, black shoes, and sweaters, and sometimes a hat that makes me feel like Holden Caulfield.  But as a curator I can get away with anything:  they expect quirky.  I don’t disappoint,” and “one of the great things about being a teacher is they expect you to have bad hair and be, as one colleague put it, “endearingly disheveled.””

if you’ve enjoyed this book review with words from the author, check out my post about Joan Callaway, and her book The Color Connection, here and also my post about mother daughter team Arielle and Joanne Eckstut and their book the The Secret Language of Color, here. The only list of ten items I think every woman should own is here. I think Andrea would approve, with exceptions made for those performing acts of magic.

OpenClothedbook

Note taking is inevitable!

 If you’d like a signed new but but slightly discolored with age copy of her book (isn’t it comforting that books age too?) or want to thank Andrea for helping us think outside the box, you can email her at ASiegel@hccc.edu. Note: she only checks this email every few days AND (see comment following) she insists we buy copies we can find online cheaply first (and a bouquet of flowers with what’s left over!). If copies online sell out she has more for $24 plus shipping.

EDITED 4/4/14 TO ADD: 1) Wow, copies have sky rocketd in price on Amazon. Andrea will put copies on ebay as she can/is asked. 2) There is now a Facebook “Open and Clothed Book Discussion” group (which you can find here) should you wish to join in the conversation! (Thank you, kind Polly, for setting that group up!)

Joan Callaway, author of The Color Connection

A few months ago I googled “Author Joan Callaway.”  I’d bought a book by her, The Color Connectionand when I realized how fabulous it was I wanted to see what else she’d written, hoping for additional gems for my book collection. A book about surviving grief came up, It’s an Ill Wind that Blows no Good, and a short twitter feed with some political tweets. Photos made it clear this was the same woman despite the subject matter of her writing having changed.  While I was slightly disappointed there was no further mention of color or style, I was pleased to find that she lived less than two hours away and I could contact her. We became Facebook friends at once (fun!)  and I continued to devour the book. Then I had the incredible pleasure of meeting her last weekend.

colorconnection

From further reading, I knew that Joan had suffered the most terrible of losses when she was just a few weeks younger than I am now.  Her youngest son (of five children) and her husband had died from a fire in their home.  Surviving this clearly led to her more recent book , but I had no idea that it also led to the book that I cherished so much.  You see, after her husband died, she needed to support her family so she opened a store.

Well, actually, she tells me, she and a friend thought they’d become realtors but at the second or third lesson they changed their minds when Joan asked a question and was told, “You don’t need to worry about that, the broker will know.”  Joan explained to me, “I’m the kind of person that needs to know about EVERYTHING so that wasn’t going to work!”  Indeed, Joan’s must-understand-everything attitude is displayed beautifully in The Color Connection.  More importantly for the reader, Joan knows how to organize information and how to explain it clearly.

The first store that she opened sold craft based art, and later beads too. One day Joan took a gamble and bought six pairs of earrings by Laurel Burch to sell though they were pricier than her customers might want to pay. They “flew off shelves” so Joan decided it was wiser economically for her to sell earrings than beads. She soon became known as the “Earring Lady.”  One of Joan’s assistants in her shop gave her the confidence later (and thank goodness!) to also sell clothing.  When clients came in with palettes, holding them up to clothes, Joan was intrigued.  This was the start of her quest to understand seasonal color analysis through reading, attending workshops and having her own colors analysed many times.

This is Joan’s Suzanne Caygill “Onyx Winter” palette on top.  It’s the first time I’ve seen a Suzanne Caygill palette presented in this plastic case format…

joanpalettesAnd, here’s the other side:joanpalettes3Below is a palette extension created for Joan later, by Dorothy Gietzen, one of Suzanne’s graduates.  It is this palette than Joan says she used the most.  Here she is with it.  Her hair was jet black when the palettes were made.

JoanCwpalettes Dorothy wrote, in beautiful handwriting, on the back of each card strip the categories that the colors fell into ( understated, dramatic, neutral, etc., and any additional notes such as how much of a color could be worn). JoanC1 If I could travel back in time I’d certainly want to shop in or better yet work at Joan’s store, Tarika.  Clients and sales assistants got free color and style advice and education.  Joan would record well dressed people on TV on tape to show her staff as a teaching aid!  She stocked garments in colors and styles that worked in seasonal harmony, making shopping in a way that would make Suzanne Caygill proud simply effortless.  Garments in summer colors were in summer styles, autumn colors in autumn styles and she and her staff understood the smaller variations too (that everyone wasn’t just one of four seasons but each had more differentiation).  Joan’s book has a concise chapter on “illusions” so no doubt her staff also knew about selecting the most flattering of garments within the s too. She had windows at the front and back of the store for good daylight and two changing rooms, one very romantic and feminine, one more masculine and ethnic.  Joan enjoyed watching clients choose which to use!

Joan mentions to me (and also wrote in her book) that she sees too many people online in style forums and, before, in her store, thinking they can only wear exact matches to the colors in their palette.  She would show people in her store how to open out their palette to see if the color or print in question blended with it.  She notes that fabric swatches are far easier to use than paint samples for this purpose.  Consider: I have approximately 3,000 fabric swatches to choose from for my clients.  The human eye, it is estimated, can discern 10 million colors.  An analyst can’t physically store and sort through that many swatches in a timely fashion even if we can discern the differences: it’s simply not practical.  (Though I admit I’d have fun having 10,000 swatches to work with or being able to magically alter my fabric samples ever so slightly!)  Clients therefore need to understand their palette and remember it’s the overall effect of an outfit that matters.  I’m so glad my teacher, Debra Lindquist, taught me this too and I’ve been passing “How to Use Your Palette” notes onto my clients when I send them their colors!

Joan suggests people add swatches to their palette when they find fabrics that fit between colors, whether from fabric bought for sewing a garment or a bit snipped from a seam if it’s a garment that was purchased.  It’s a nice way to add to your understanding certainly and, she notes that if it’s a print then having a snip in your palette in your purse will serve you well when shopping for coordinating items.

The most unexpected and genius tip I learned from The Color Connection has more to do with Slow Fashion and the wise purchasing of pieces generally.  Joan suggests that you keep a shopping wish list actually in your closet.  As items occur to you, you add them to the list and (and here comes the brilliant part), you also make a mark after the item each time you’re getting dressed and wish you had it.  When an item has lots of marks after it, it’s going to be a wise purchase and should go on your actual shopping list. 

wishlist

I asked Joan whether her book got the most favorable reception from consumers, designers or retailers (as her book has sections written for all three groups).  She laughed and said, “From color analysts!”  It wasn’t an answer I expected, but it makes complete sense. This sort of clearly written, all encompassing book was so needed!  I’m fortunate to now have a signed copy!

jcallawaysignedbook Joan not only wrote and owned her stores, but she also set up a Bereavement Outreach Group – the first of its kind-  and more recently set up a literacy program for at risk school children. I was curious which of her accomplishments she was most proud of. She had to pause to and chose co-founding All Things Right and Relevant a second hand store in Davis that provides work and job skills to those suffering from mental illness.  It’s part of a much larger support system for those with mental illness, providing everything from housing to counselling, so it was the big picture she was referring to.  After all, Joan doesn’t do things by halves.

Today, at her retirement community,  Joan leads a memoir writing group, and runs her own mini-library outside her front door.  joanlibraryAnd, due too demand, she’s working to get Color Connection republished!  It’s expected to be $48.  Whether you’re determined to find your best colors yourself (she has the BEST chapter on this), or you want to know more about style recommendations for the seasons, this is your book!  I’ll be sure to update you when it’s available. (SEE BELOW!)

If you want to read more about Joan, this is my favorite article about her.

Oh, and, last point. I also purchased Scientific Dressing by Marilyn Curtin, a book Joan recommends in hers. For anyone who loves to analyze the figure and wants to better understand style choices with regards to proportions, stance and head position (really!), this book has some interesting tidbits. I’m not jumping up and down saying, “Buy it!” as I didn’t love everything about it, but I’m glad I bought it as it made me think about a few new things.

UPDATE: The book is $52, a tiny bit more than anticipated but really it’s like three books in one.  GET IT, here.  And enjoy!

Decoding Color Exquisitely

The only kind of high that I like is a color high.  I’m coming down off one now and it’s a dreamy, soft descent.  It started with a gentle glow at a book reading on Sunday afternoon, amid an eager crowd, hearing women whispering of paint and clothing colors as I found a seat.  Then mother and daughter authors, Joann and Arielle Eckstut, took to the podium and filled the room with laughter, delight and many a gasp, as they shared favorite snippets from their their visually stunning book, The Secret Language of Color (officially on sale October 22nd but available for preorder here ).

With slides to accompany their talk, they confounded the audience with optical illusions; bookreadingwowed us with nature’s beauty and challenged our brains with the physics of color.  (For the record, that tree that fell in the forest without a sound?  It was colorless too.)  Our magical journey through the rainbow involved leaps through history, trips over seas and reflections on the sky; we put on robes of the aristocracy and the eyes of bees.

And, then just as I was getting the hang of flying through time and space, and inhabiting other species minds’, the color ride and indeed Q&A time was over and the pot of gold – the book itself – was at the cash register.  Legs moved fast and for a short while the vibe turned tense as there appeared to be a shortage of copies of books for sale. “That one is mine! But, yes, you can look!” I heard several times.

Outside, sitting in the sun (Book Passage in Corte Madera has the nicest set up), I dived into the book, then splashed around like a dolphin, frolicking in the sea.  I delved deeper at home.  The book  tantalizes, but more importantly, it satisfies.  It’s the kind of book you can enjoy for a minute here and there just as much as an hour now and then. The photos are glorious and seemingly never-ending, the graphics flawless and the writing is charming. And, for those of you who often feel cheated of intellectual depth in coffee table books, you can rejoice!  There is real substance here.  Spare yourself three years of color related research and read this.  (With the saved time, you might like to try out the recipe for tyrian purple (purple made the old fashioned way).  Warning: you need 1000 mollusks and good aim.)

Obsessed with color as it relates to the human body, my own favorite morsels include:

  • learning that humans are better able to discern shades of yellow than any other hue.
  • seeing Pierre David’s Human Pantone rainbow collage, comprised of (photos of) human skin.  (It is beautiful not macabre!) Enjoy that artistry here.
  • discovering that plants have small amounts of melanin too, evident in fruits that bruise!

Speaking of which, I knew that our color vision was thought to have developed to allow us to find the ripest fruits. But there is a new theory, did YOU know?  

  • Our vision may have evolved to being more complex  (though not as complex as a butterfly’s) to better understand other people around us! That leg is a bit blue, that face is turning green, that person’s chest and now neck and now face is going RED!  Respond!!!

No one, the Eckstuts will tell you, is an expert in color, yet you certainly feel a lot smarter with words from these women at your fingertips.  In addition to being authors, Joann Eckstut, founder of The Roomworks, is an interior designer and color consultant; her daughter, Arielle Eckstut is a professional Book Doctor and co-founder of LittleMissMatched.  Both predict annual color trends for the Color Association of the United States, Joann for interiors/environment and and Arielle for young fashion.

My hour at the reading was fabulous enough but then I had the additional pleasure (hence the sustained color high) to chat with these woman again the next day as I showed them how I find personal colors.  It was quite a treat.

. joann and arielle

Almost done…joannfinalfan


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Joann’s also has shiny silvers, some plums and more warm reds.

Arielle’s also has nearly stark whites, lucky-in-the-East yellows and a few more orange-reds. 
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The black and silver in the middle are shared.  

Now, go and get this book.  You can’t, in all seriousness, call yourself a Colorista, a Color Freak or a Color Nerd without it.  It’s also a great  gift for any of your friends who fancy themselves part scientist/social scientist/artist or trivial pursuit master.  Even a color blind, mathematician friend would probably love it.  It’s that good.  Really.  (Buy it hereor, support your local bookseller.)

The beautiful fabric swatches I use are part of Debra Lindquist‘s Color Profiles System.