Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Dresses, Books, and Books about Dresses.......

I’ve always hated the phrase ‘Chick lit’. Originally I think it was intended to make reading women authors the new ‘rock n roll’ but to me all it does is tie up women into a ball off fluffy confused unintelligent material that conforms to the cliché of what women read and write. And anyway, there’s nothing wrong with the old rock n roll. To be engulfed in a genre which is dominated by your gender and not your material (it’s always Chick before Lit) is scary and overbearing. Women are pigeon-holed in a way that just doesn’t happen to men: how often do you hear anyone use the phrase ‘Dick Lit’? As a female writer you don’t just represent yourself: you represent everyone who doesn’t have a penis.

Similarly condemned as an awkward subsector of ‘Chick Lit’ (kind of like Chick Lit’s uncomfortable socially unaware cousins) are books about fashion. They are rarely reviewed; treated like Prince Phillips indiscretions and never discussed in polite company; dismissed as frivolous, picture heavy tomes of insignificance for vapid girls. What makes things even worse is that sometimes, more than sometimes, it’s true. That extra half inch by Victoria Beckham anyone? Perhaps if she actually lost that extra half inch she’d disappear, leaving only a pair of Louboutin stilettos and a cloud of make up. Maybe she could take everyone that bought the book with her. We can only hope.

Fashion is my passion (I’m a poet and I know it) but that doesn’t mean I want to read about how Trinny and Susannah would dress my body. (And no, I don’t want to be called pear shaped!) Those two creatures are constantly on the bestsellers list with their hardbacks full of insults and bad advice, and it gives fashion publications a bad name. Scouring through my local Waterstone’s (or any other reputable book store,of course!) for something fashion related and yet not mind-numbing to read, I was beginning to despair that fashion had finally forsaken me. And then I discovered Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution by Caroline Weber.

Don’t worry, this isn’t about to turn into a condescending book review (It was supposed to be another of my famous rants) but this book does represent everything a good fashion tome should be. Intelligent, historically grounded, interesting and beautiful! The book focuses on what the Queen wore from the day she left Austria to the day she put her head on the block. The attention to detail is a wonderful surprise with fabric, texture and pattern described in almost reconstructable detail. Her love of fashion and dressing up and dressing down and, well, dressing, is opulently documented and lusciously illustrated- Masked balls, high hair, faux country girl clothes: enough unintentional style tips to ‘do’ regency glam for a month!

Weber demonstrates that Marie Antoinette’s fashion obsession was for the sake of self assertion, and her unique point of view on the rise and fall of an original style icon is intelligent, well researched and exciting to read. She also asks some pretty key questions: Was Marie Antoinette more than elaborate dresses and very white powder? (The answer by the way is Yes) and do clothes make a woman? (I know the answer is no but secretly want it to be yes!). Maybe ask me next week once by brocade coat has arrived and I’ve perfected the high hair and powder look!

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