Book Review: The One Hundred, by Nina Garcia

March has been a VERY expensive month so far, and it’s mostly thanks to my appearance challenge. I have been online shopping like crazy, trying to round out the things that I am learning are missing from my closet. There are a lot of things that I just plain never thought to buy (um, nice leather boots and skinny jeans? Oops), and while I’ve been mostly trying to find stuff that’s on sale, it all adds up!

Overall, I think my biggest fashion issues are a lack of some of those essential items, the fact that I never pay attention to fashion trends (like I said, I completely missed the boots/skinny jeans boat), and the fact that I don’t put my outfits together carefully. The first two are easily (albeit expensively) fixed, and I’ve added a lot of fashion blogs to my Reader for inspiration. The last one, though is the hard part. On Sunday nights, packing for the week used to take me 10 minutes. Now, it’s an hour-long process of trying an outfit on, scrutinizing, swapping the top five times, the bottom three times, and finally being ready to pack it. My friends keep reassuring me that it will get faster and faster the more that I do it, but for now, Sundays do not find me a happy camper. On the plus side, I do think I’ve been looking a bit nicer at work, and my outfits have been complimented by a few coworkers. No pain, no gain, right?

Since I’ve been reading a ton on fashion and wardrobe, I recently picked up a copy of Nina Garcia’s The One Hundred, which is billed as “a guide to the pieces every stylish woman must own.”

Each item featured has 1-2 pages of Garcia’s commentary on why this item is essential and what to look for when buying. However, despite the fact that I admittedly know nothing about fashion, I found myself questioning a lot of the items on the list. Some I don’t own for a reason – I don’t like them at all!

When I mentioned this to Blake last night while hanging out at her house, she decided that we should turn it into a game, and invited me to come look in her bedroom closet. For each item that I said I wasn’t sure about, she’d try to find it in her closet. This sounded like fun, and I was pretty confident that there would be some items that she would concede that Nina Garcia was wrong about.

But when Blake opened the door to her closet, I gasped. It was massive – seriously half the size of my entire bedroom in New York (and now I see why Blake is so happy to live in Texas). It honestly reminded me of Carrie’s crazy closet in the Sex and City Movie. Of course Blake was going to find everything – she’s a total fashionista and had the closet to match! (I realize I am losing any credibility I had for what I’ve learned this month by using the term “fashionista,” but that’s okay.) Sure enough, there was nothing that Nina Garcia listed that Blake didn’t have. In contrast, I probably only own about 20% of The One Hundred! Like I said earlier, this is quite an expensive month.

To go through the list in detail…

Things that I agree are essential, but I don’t yet have them:
Bangles and a statement necklace. In general, I have a very small jewelry collection and am not one for accessories. This isn’t something I can fix all at once, since it takes time to find pieces you like. But I think reminding myself to choose jewelry that goes with my current outfit, specifically, will go a long way. Before, I was definitely stuck in a rut of either pearls or simple silver necklace as my only jewelry; it’s time to add some fun stuff! I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned this month so far.
Cowboy boots. Before March, I actually didn’t own any boots aside from a serviceable pair of Uggs that I always wore in the winter. Now, I’ve bought a few pairs of flat-heeled riding boots, but I’m still in the market for both cowboy boots and a cute pair of wedge boots. Boots are expensive!
Striped sailor shirt. Actually, I disagree that this is essential, but Blake did her best to convince me otherwise, and I’ve now ordered a few versions from a huge sale Ann Taylor Loft was having this morning. We’ll see what fits when it arrives, but I do like that this is classy yet casual.

Things on The One Hundred that intrigue me but I probably won’t buy:
Camel coat. Sure, it’s nice, and sure, it’s elegant… but is it really essential? I am undecided on that last part, and am holding off on making such an expensive purpose until I actually feel a need for one.
Exotic skin bag. Missoni knit. How are these essential? To me, the purse is a fun accessory that only works with certain outfits, rather than a wardrobe staple. I now know that Missoni knits come in lots of different forms (full on dress vs a small accessory scarf), but I don’t think every woman needs a Missoni knit. What am I missing here?
Signet ring. I could see wearing this for certain occasions, but to me, it’s like a cocktail ring – fairly distinctive and only really wearable with some outfits. I like the idea of it, since it’s certainly an elegant piece, but again, I’m not dying for one.

Things I think are fine for other people but disagree that they are essential and definitely won’t buy:
Charm bracelet. Garcia made a compelling argument for a grown woman having one of these, but it seems like too much work to me to put together the perfect charm bracelet. Plus, I don’t think is a very versatile piece. Not essential!
Driving shoes. I actually had no idea what these were when I read the book, and it doesn’t help that the book has stylized illustrations instead of photos. Luckily, I had Blake to show me (since of course she had several pair), but… I am not a fan. And I don’t know what I would wear them with other than as slippers. Thoughts?
Old concert t-shirt. Although I’ve been to plenty of concerts, I’ve never bought the t-shirts. Honestly, my dressers are already far too packed with race shirts; I despise getting t-shirts from any kind of event, even if it’s free (which most concert tees are not). I was all set to write this one off, until I saw a post today from J’s Everyday Fashion on concert tees (thank you to several readers for recommending that blog). I see how it works, but I still don’t really care enough to start buying concert tees. (And I do recognize that this look will not work with a marathon tee, much as I would like it to.)
Safari jacket and tuxedo jacket. Both cute, both not my style. (If I even have style? Obviously this is still up for debate.)

Finally, things on The One Hundred that I will not ever wear:
Converse. Vans. I think they look sloppy and rebellious, which is the exact opposite of how I would like to look. No.
Caftan. Garcia didn’t really explain how this is supposed to be worn, and I kind of don’t get it. Around the apartment when no one is going to see me? For the ten minutes it takes to walk across a beach before I strip down to my bathing suit? I guess it would be glamorous, but it’s also pretty shapeless, and I think it works better on older women.
Minnetonka Moccasins. To me, these are like driving shoes, but even more hideously unattractive. I just don’t like the look of moccasins, and would probably mock any of my friends I saw wearing them. (Sorry, Blake!)
Gentleman’s hat. I don’t even wear women’s hats, so why would I wear a gentleman’s hat? Aren’t (non-knit) hats a throwback to the early 90s? I can NOT see this looking good. No.

But to end this on a more positive note, and in case you were wondering about my top item from the entire One Hundred? Valid passport. Which isn’t really a fashion item :)

I’ll close with a funny IM conversation with one of my favorite style gurus, Theodora. I yakked her ear off about all these items on the list, but then reciprocated with some advice of my own:
Theodora: it’s really sunny on this bus
Theodora: and i am having a hard time seeing my laptop
Me: ughhh I hate that
Me: do you have a privacy screen? that can help
Me: mine has a glossy side and a matte side so sometimes flipping it helps
Me: failure in fashion accessories, expert in business accessories, right here!

What are your most essential items? What are your thoughts on my analysis of what I wouldn’t wear? Convince me to own more of The One Hundred!

Comments

  1. I’m not sure I would consider a sailor shirt or Minnetonka Moccasins essential. I do own a tuxedo jacket (that I purchased on sale from Banana Republic), but I wouldn’t consider it essential. It’s nice to have, but for the 1-2 times I year I wear it, I’m certain I could replace it with another wardrobe item. My essentials are a well-fitted pair of jeans (skinny or otherwise), a black pencil skirt, a good pair of heels (I like Cole Haan), and some type of top/blouse that can be dressed up or down.

  2. I’m sorry but I totally think a black blazer/tuxedo jacket can take your new skinny jeans from causal day time to nighttime in one swoop. It’s perfect for Spring/Summer too when paired with a neon tank! I also agree with driving shoes though now a days I beileve those can be Tory Burch/Cole Haan classy flats. Hugs!

    • Don’t be sorry! This is exactly the advice I need. Knowing that flats can be substituted for driving shoes is also valuable info to me, since I love ballet flats and have a lot of those.

    • A good tip for men as well. I recently discovered how a blazer with jeans, shirt and dress shoes can make quite a statement.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I don’t think any of these are essential. Also, the style is all over the place. You have to decide what kind of look you are going for.

    Cowboy boots are cute Texas, but will just look weird in NYC. I don’t know what a gentleman’s hat is so it is clearly not essential. I think Minnetonka Moccasins are hideous – they look like ugly slippers – and who wears a caftan, especially in NYC? I also don’t like Vans – they make your feet look huge and I am not a teenage boy.

    Old concert t-shirts just look silly at a certain age. Again, I want to look like a woman not a teenage boy. On the flip side, I am a fan of driving shoes but you have to be careful because they can make you look like an old lady. When I buy them, I tend to buy them in a color like green or tan rather than black. Black reminds me of what old ladies wear.

    The lesson here is that no one is going to agree on what is essential. It depends on the person. You have to first decide how you want to look and then figure out a way to achieve it.

    I try to stick with classic basics and work in trends in the form of jewelry, nail polish or inexpensive tops here or there. The easiest way to dress for work is to have what amounts to uniforms (like no wrinkle button down shirts and cardigans) and then jazz it up using inexpensive statement jewelry..

    • I like that we seem to have a lot of the same taste :) And I couldn’t put my finger on it before, but being afraid of looking like a little old lady is exactly why I’m not a fan of driving shoes!

      I definitely think I need more statement jewelry, since that is one area where I am really lacking. Accessories in general can go SUCH a long way!

    • I think I might write that last paragraph “…classic basics…” on a post-it on my wall. Pretty smart.

      I walked into a shoe store this weekend that specializes in European made/designed footwear. I have never put on shoes that fit my feet so well. I had previously always shied away from major shoe purchases because I didn’t think the fit justified the cost. I may have to look into what stores around me import European dresswear (is that a word?).

  4. Just ordered a used copy. I could use a guide like this!

  5. I have seen this book before and wondered if it was worth the buy. Thanks for the review and insight – very informative!

    • Naomi, you should check out Tim Gunn’s book – I read it a few years ago and am pretty sure it had a similar list, but I agreed with more of the items on it!

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