I like two different kinds of style books. The first gives you photos or images so glorious you don’t care what the author says. We’ll call those Inspirational Style Dreams. The second kind we’ll call, hmm, Useful Style Friends. Here we want to learn something we didn’t know. We want to hear a voice we recognize, to feel that we could be friends. with the writer. And we’d like the book to be accessible, so we can read, put down, pick up, review, browse, return.
Meet Style Forever: The Grown-Up Guide to Looking Fabulous by Alyson Walsh,
and Styled: Secrets for Arranging Rooms, from Tabletops to Bookshelves, by Emily Henderson.
Useful Style Friends at your service.
- Alyson’s a real friend, in that I’ve-never-met-her-but-we-email kind of way. She’s a very talented writer, and I love her slightly sardonic Northern humor, and no-hyperbole tone. Imaginary shared outing? Whiskey tasting into the wee hours.
- I don’t know Emily, but she writes like she’s a friend to everyone. Works for me and others, apparently, as her book’s a best seller. Imaginary shared outing? Morning cake and coffee.
In Time-Honored Tradition, Compare And Contrast
The books share the known traits of USFs.
- A recognizable, informal voice.
- Organization along the lines of a website — you browse, and almost “click” the parts that interest you most.
- Valuable images. Styled uses scads and scads of photos (the woman is a productivity machine), Style Forever nods to the tradition of fashion illustrations.
But they’re alike in other ways I might not have predicted. Each book:
- Helps you find a style “tribe” (That’s Alyson’s term, and I like its implications of community.)
- Style Forever suggests style archetypes ranging from Casual Glamourpuss to Ageless Rocker to the Gentlewoman. Leo Greenfield illustrates with a series of dressed characters both specific and generally inspirational.
- Styled kicks off with a scored questionnaire to help determine whether you’re Mid-Century Modern, Totally 80s, Traditional, etc.
- Uses and thus familiarizes you with the language and details that experts understand. Forever covers the Elements of Style — Proportion, Fit and Must-Have Pieces among others. Styled reviews Color, Scale, Balance etc., and her fundamental idea, Start With The Vignettes.
- Gives a good amount of practical and specific advice.
- Alyson offers The 10 Best Kickass Jacket Moments (in history), The 10 Best Shoe Styles, What I’ve Learned About Fashion (10 Lessons).
- Emily takes you through how to style all your rooms, from entry hall to bedroom to bath.
There are, of course, important differences in the books’ approaches, which can be traced back to the authors’ professions.
- Alyson is a journalist. She’s been writing and reporting on fashion for decades, and brings a sense of history and occasion. She’s also a woman over 50, and addresses – without venom – fashion’s changing attitude towards older women. And she’s interviewed a very interesting group, from Iris Apfel to the older model, Cindy Joseph, to the head of Matches.com.
- Emily is a stylist and interior designer. She communicates her creative process and on-the-spot resourcefulness with what, I assume, is her trademarked energy. She makes you want to just get going.
And So We Learn — The 3 Most Important Takeaways From Each Book
- Alyson gives excellent tips on the details that make an outfit. I’ve spent years thinking about style, and can be prone to thinking I know as much as I need to. Not quite, not quite.
- (Related, I need new sunglasses. Aviators.)
- Spend money on jackets.
- For the rest of her tips I’m going to recommend you buy the book. Alyson is a good egg. Smart, unpretentious, focused. Seriously.
- The cultural discourse on women and aging grows ever more robust. Progress.
- Women over 50 do well with a no-makeup makeup. Phew.
- High WASPs don’t usually style stuff, we live with it. Hate fuss. So for us the book is most useful in decorative areas, like a fireplace, or credenza top. I am never, ever going to “style” my entry hall. Unless paintings, a basket of garden tools, and the occasional bag of clothes for Goodwill count.
- (Related, books are for reading.)
- I am 100% going to get a tray for my dresser, on which I will arrange paired objects. Maybe something African. The un-Pottery-Barning continues.
- The effect of a drum shade on lamp modernization. Am moving forward with the guest room.
And here’s what I’m learning about how to benefit from style books in general. You aren’t going to agree with everything that anyone says. I’m prone to shaking my head, “No!” but I learn so much more via, “Maybe. Interesting,” and keep myself open to finding the “Hooray!”
Affiliate links may generate commissions. Alyson’s publisher provided a review copy of Styled Forever at my request.