What Not To Wear:Book Review

   What Not to Wear

Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine of the famous British show What not to Wear  model all the photos in this pictorial illustration of how different design lines affect various figures.   Divided by “flaws” each chapter highlights one of the ladies wearing clothes that flatter, and most importantly for the home sewer, the authors’ also swallow their feminine pride and allow themselves to be photographed wearing clothes that bring out their worst figure attributes.   

A lot of style books rely on drawings to show right and wrong clothing choices but I always wonder if the drawing has been altered to support that individual stylist’s viewpoint, and actual clothing may not follow the same principles in real life.  I did feel somewhat manipulated that the “worst” choice pictures invariably show each woman slouching and scowling, but most of the time I would have to agree that Trinny and Susannah could be beaming with joy and still those “worst” outfits would be complete horrors on them.   The camera doesn’t lie. 

Let’s Get This Out of the Way First

What May Annoy you

That the camera doesn’t lie is both a strength and an impediment to the book’s message. Trinny and Susannah do appear to be a figure type opposite of the other illustrating a real-life compare and contrast.  But neither is truly plus size and heavier ladies might be annoyed by the complaints about arms that “could feed a family of six”, but just look womanly in the photo, or ankles, though not dainty spindles are not exactly elephantine either.  You may disagree that some of their “flaws” are not flaws at all and want to admonish them to relax a bit.  Additionally, if you are struggling to attractively present a body part that is far from the average you may wonder what these ladies have to complain about as neither’s figure has any extremes.  

Given these flaws this book is still a great browse for the home sewer


Here is Why

As failure can be more educational than success, it is the fashion frights that make this a good book for the home sewer to browse.  When we look at pattern books, sometimes the garment is pictured on a live model, but often it is drawn on the untypically thin and tall figure common to fashion illustration, but not common to the general female population.   As we often focus on the garment as a whole, instead analyzing the seams and edges that define that style, it can be hard for the buyer to correctly translate which of various similar patterns offered will look best on her figure.  

As a home sewer you know can take an average garment and make it outstanding with a custom fit.  However a custom fit will not cure the appearance of a garment when the design lines are truly not suited to our figures.   As a home sewer I know I have wasted time fruitlessly sewing clothes that no amount of perfect technique could make flattering on my figure.  Looking at the photos of Trinny and Susannah giving special attention to the seamlines and edges gave me a much better understanding of how various style details interact with my figure.   Now I am a much more decisive consumer of patterns.  Before I purchase I take a hard look at where the seamlines and edges cross the body, along with the ornamental details.  If a major component of that pattern is a design line that is not flattering to me I don’t buy it.  The result has been less time and money wasted on sewing “maybe-if’s” and fewer wadders.     


As What Not to Wear was written in 2002 it is already a bit dated as the authors make much ado about their hatred of 80’s fashion, but are now probably online shopping for leggings and day-glo ensem’s.   But the principles behind fashion design do not change and this volume offers a good look at some classic designs in relation to common figure attributes.  I haven’t seen the British TV show but have heard that the ladies have a reputation for brutal honesty.  The book does get snarky and uses irreverent terminology for the female form.   Don’t let that deter you.  Thankfully most of the work is in pictures.  I checked my copy out of the library and found it to be one of the few style-how-to books with information I could apply to my home sewing.

Worth at least a look.

Next Post: Saturday, May 8, 2010; The Last, and Easiest, of This Summer’s Simple Skirts


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Sister
    May 15, 2010 @ 00:12:33

    I should look into this, as I still look at the picture on the envelope and think, “she is beautiful in this shirt, so I will be beautiful too.” Sometimes I realize I just like something because the model has hair I wish I had and forget that my hips will look horrendous in this, etc. Very childish of me.


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