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It's So You! Review by Kathy Gelzer

By Mary Sheehan Warren
Spence Publishing Company
111 Cole Street
Dallas, TX 75207

At first I thought this was just another fashion book, and that is not what I am focusing on right now in my life as a homeschool mom. Talk about a book that turned my thinking around! From the beginning of the introduction, author Mary Sheehan Warren had my attention: "What are you wearing right now? What does your outfit say about you? Is it you? What's in your closet? Do these items boost your self-confidence? Do they flatter you in the ways you had hoped? Most importantly, do you feel you have a successful style? Or is what you own just clothing?"

As a homeschooling, stay-at-home mom, I have to ask myself: Do I have any style? Should I have some style? Would it be a good thing for me to look sharper, more put-together? Then I remember my children recently making comments and offering tips about my personal dress habits. Time to take action for my family, myself, and as a representative of the homeschooling community.

Mary Sheehan Warren says, "Personal style is a wink at the fashion world. Your style says, I've got control over you, and you've got nothing over me." The overall tone of the book is refreshing: how to find a personal style that works for you, whatever you do, however you spend your time and your life.

This hefty hardcover book of 369 pages covers style, body type, fashion personality, color palette, wardrobe planning, accessories, shopping, poise, and your gift of style. Text is broken up with helpful line drawings that illustrate various styles and concepts and plenty of bulleted checklists. The author recommends reading the book through and in order, but this is not just a book to read--it's also a workbook full of questions and activities.

"My Style, Your Style, Their Style" talks about current fashion versus your style: your value as a person (not an object), your femininity, and realistic fashion choices. I love the way Ms. Warren addresses womanliness within the context of modesty: "Pretty early on in your life you realized that your body is different from a man's. And no, you're not weird for noticing. This difference has fascinated, inspired, and even frightened people since we ran to gather fig leaves. Men are attracted to this body, children cling to it, artists replicate it, poets admire it, society reinvents it (in vain), and clothiers cover it. Your body, by original design, is miraculously durable and efficient, aesthetically appealing, potentially life-giving, comforting, and nurturing. Yes, men love your curves. They love them because they speak about life and love."

Now the modesty part: "If we shouldn't give ourselves sexually to just anyone, our style must facilitate this. This quality, that is, the refinement that protects our sexuality from the eyes and minds of just anybody, is called modesty." And, "Modesty is a quality that helps us to respect ourselves, respect others, and help others to respect us. It also helps to simplify our lives by allowing us to fulfill our whole person on our own terms."

The chapter on body type not only describes the four basic body types many of us are already familiar with but gives you a specific formula for figuring out which body type is yours. Color, line, pattern, and fabric suggestions are given for each body type and illustrated "best styles" for tops, skirts, dresses, pants--even coats and swimsuits are included. There is a helpful discussion for purchasing underwear, and specific challenges such as a heavy-set figure, petite figure, thick ankles and protruding tummy among others are covered. The reader will find five pages on the best jeans styles per body type, an acknowledgement of the reality of our fashion lives. Two pages of swimsuit buying tips are also included.

In the chapter on fashion personality, four images are described: relaxed, classic, romantic, and expressive as well as some combinations of those. Included is a fun survey to determine which you are and ideas on looking your best, pertaining to the four types.

The chapter on color palette gives a basic overview of how to determine your best colors. The inside of the book jacket includes the four color palettes so you can analyze your wardrobe and shop wisely in this regard. At the end of these three chapters on body type, fashion personality, and color palette there is an exercise for purging your wardrobe of poor past choices.

The first chapter on wardrobe planning covers the many wardrobe types a person may need. There are thirteen specific wardrobes ranging from personal casual to active wear to business to evening. Sleepwear, travel, maternity, nursing, and seasonal wardrobes are also here. Interestingly, according to the author, more and more women are looking for advice not just on career wear but for their personal lives, putting more value on personal time and the people closest to them. A mother of five, Warren writes with an affinity for the various stages of motherhood.

The second wardrobe planning chapter describes three wardrobe design techniques as well as when to use each one and how to maximize your dressing options with a minimum of pieces. Worksheets for creating your ideal wardrobe aid you in the process.

Remaining chapters are about accessories, shopping, and poise. The latter includes make-up, grooming, hairstyle, and maintaining a gracious appearance, interview pointers, making the season switchover, plus a section for at-home moms. The latter is introduced with a realistic assessment of our fashion predicament: time and motivation.

I don't know if Warren comes from a Judeo-Christian background or not, but her book is well seasoned with traditional mores written in a logical, no nonsense way. For example, a recurring theme of the book is "your style should lead to your face." "Your face, especially your eyes, communicates the important things about you: your dignity, your intelligence, your attitudes, your talents, your feelings, your beliefs, your reactions, your loves, and your dreams. Your eyes are the windows to your soul. Those who look at you should be focused on this area without impediments or distractions because clear, direct communication helps to cultivate mutually respectful relationships. Your face should be the focal point of your style."

One of the best features of this book was one I did not expect to see: a chapter at the end called "Your Gift of Style" or passing on a legacy of style to your daughters. The author talks about good taste and modesty here as well as flattering styles and colors. She gives ideas for instilling good fashion sense from the early years on up to the teens. Again, the recurring theme of face as focal point is the guiding principle to help your daughter in her style choices. This is such a common sense guideline. There is plenty of room for allowing choices within the realm of parental authority. But the whole arena of personal dress needs to be within the context of knowing your daughter and having a healthy relationship with her.

Ms. Warren addresses these issues with practical ideas for parents. She demonstrates how to emphasize the value of humans over objects. She provides shopping tips--one of my favorites is to look over clothing catalogs together in the cozy, private home environment to discuss style, taste, and preference. She instructs us in the subtle ways we moms communicate negatively and positively about good grooming and womanhood. The reader will also find three and a half pages on the pros and cons of Barbie dolls here, which makes for fun reading.

I appreciate the way Warren talks about sexuality and teenage dress: "Clue her in to the fact that when she dresses in a sexually alluring way, she agitates the boys around her. (Mothers of sons count on the mothers of daughters to positively influence these girls' fashions.)" As you can see, this puts all sorts of issues, such as tight fitting clothes, bra choice, body piercing, tattoos, and amount of skin exposure, into perspective.

Bravo! I've never seen a more comprehensive, personally applicable book on style. I enthusiastically recommend It's So You! to three groups of people: women in general, co-op teachers (there is some great material here to form the basis of a style class for young teen girls), and mothers of daughters.

Product review by Kathy Gelzer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, May 2008