Sunday, March 12, 2023

Weekend Review: Dress Code


Dress Code / Véronique Hyland
NY: HarperCollins, c2022.
288 p.

This is a book of essays by a fashion journalist, one which I picked up mainly because I was intrigued by the mention of "Millennial Pink" on the cover -- I hadn't realized that this journalist coined the term. It's a phrase that always makes me think of Connie Willis' novel Bellwether, about a fad researcher, in which "PoMo Pink" plays a big role.  

In any case, I ended up really enjoying this collection. It's broken up into four sections: 

  • Underpinnings: Why We Wear What We Wear (five essays on trends, themes in fashion, fads and influence etc)

  • The Top Layer: Fashion and the Wider World (four essays on how fashion shows up in everyday life, and how it's used in presenting the self in many settings)

  • High Heels: Dressing Up for the Patriarchy (three essays on the male gaze, fashion in women's lives vs in men's, and politics and fashion)

  • Moon Boots & Jumpsuits: The Future of Fashion ( three essays on how we are all dressing the same way, in life and in work settings, and musings on bodily expectations for women)
I found many of these intriguing, and the book was a lot more focused on the ways that fashion affects everyday life than I'd expected. From uniforms to dressing for court, she really digs into the way we can not opt out of "fashion" in life. There is also more political content than I'd anticipated, and it really brought up some great points. Patriarchy, sexual exploitation, equality -- lots of interesting conversation going on. There is also, of course, fashion oriented talk, like the discussion of how Millennial Pink started to appear everywhere (like on the cover of this book!) But even that has a deeper, societal meaning than simply being a colour fad. 

I enjoyed the way the book was organized, and thought the themes were developed well. There were one or two pieces that I found less engaging, but overall, there was something to discover in each one. There is history to back up her theses, there is discussion of contemporary events and fashions, there is politics and forecasting -- just about everything. I'd recommend reading this book bit by bit, not all at once, as it's easier to think about the essay you've just finished if you give it a bit of space. It's a good one to pick up between other books, to read one or maybe two essays. 

It is also very readable; the author is a journalist, not an academic, so her work does move along quickly and keep your interest. The essays are not very long so overall it's an accessible read that touches on topics that you don't have be a fashionista to understand and be interested in. It's more about fashion in many corners of daily life, so I think many readers would enjoy this one. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in how fashion threads its way through our lives. 

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