Project Runway is finally back on (although, stilts? really?) and summer is winding down and heading toward fall – it’s the perfect time to take stock of your wardrobe and make some updates. Need some help? Try these for inspiration.

Wear This, Toss That! by Amy Goodman. It’s fun to go through the pictures, comparing the “wear” with the “toss” (and sometimes cringing because you know you have a few “toss” items in your closet right now!) and figuring out why Goodman makes the recommendations she does. It’s a good education on learning how to recognize flattering styles for the average woman.

What I Wore by Jessica Quirk. To be honest, I like Jessica’s blog better than her new book, but you’ll still pick up lots of ideas here. I especially appreciate the styling – young and fresh without being out-of-touch or stupidly expensive. In fact, Jessica makes it a point to be able to use her clothes in multiple outfits and frequently gets her clothes from thrift stores and major retailers like Target. Fun and energetic and addictive (and be sure to check out the blog!)

Easy Closets by Joe Provey. Now that you’ve got your wardrobe shaped up, get your closet in prime condition. After all, if you can’t lay your hands on that perfect white blouse, it’s not going to do you much good. Easy Closets has lots of ideas for the perfect arrangement, covering everyone in the family and even the kitchen and garage. Neat and tidy.

I’m normally wary of anything that has too much hype surrounding it, because generally I feel like it can’t possibly be as good as everyone says it is.  I’m sure you’ve heard of Mad Men, as it is constantly hyped as one of the best shows on TV and has won multiple Emmys and Golden Globes.  If you’ve never seen it, it’s set in the 1960s in New York City, and it’s all about  the “golden age” of advertising on Madison Avenue and the glamorous life that the ad men led.  Last week I finally checked out a couple of episodes and I have to say, it really is fantastic.  What I’m enjoying most about the show is the look and feel of it.  Not only does it seem very historically accurate, it’s such a beautiful period piece.  Everything from the clothes and the hair to the scenery is lovely to look at.

The acting in the show has also been wildly acclaimed, and it is also superb.  Jon Hamm is fascinating to watch as Sterling Cooper’s morally-complex creative director Don Draper.  You want to root for Don because he’s so charismatic and such an advertising genius, but he is certainly no angel.  I’m also finding myself really interested in the storyline of Peggy, the naive new secretary to Don.  We’re learning about how things work at Sterling Cooper right along with Peggy as she is thrown into a world filled with double standards between the men and the women.  If you’re looking for a great drama series to watch and are especially interested in learning a little more about the past, I highly recommend checking out Mad Men.  Currently we own season one, season two, season three, and season four, so stop by any of our three locations to look for one today!

At the beginning of his award-winning documentary, America the Beautiful, Darryl Roberts explains that he had once broken up with a wonderful woman because he had believed he would find someone more attractive than her. Later, when she was happily married to another, he realized his mistake and set-off to make this documentary about what it really means to be one of the beautiful people and how much the beauty industry influences our desires and opinions. Much of the film includes what has been seen before: the truth in image retouching, sex in advertising, too-thin models, etc, yet the film keeps the material engaging by presenting it from the viewpoint of a man who once felt responsible for making women feel unattractive, but is baffled to how and why.

The film’s most emotional scenes are those which follow a 12 year old girl as she is pulled into the world of modeling, treated like a queen, and then called fat and put of a job before she turns 16. We see her sexily strutting down the runway and attending lavish after-parties, crying when her mom won’t allow her to wear a push-up bra to school, treated harshly by her school’s principal who disapproves of the fashion industry, and sadly watch her fall into a depression as she loses her career and her confidence. The film is harsh on the fashion industry, and although I still plan to continue enjoying the newest issues of Vogue, Elle, & Glamour each month, I was surprised and horribly disappointed in the lack of sensitivity displayed from the magazine representatives during their interviews.

Overall, I would recommend this documentary to women and girls of all ages (and men and boys as well) as everyone can benefit from America the Beautiful‘s message that each person’s beauty should be celebrated.

Devastated and haunted by guilt after the death of her best friend, Phoebe Swift breaks off her engagement, quits her job at Sotheby’s and starts over by opening a vintage clothing store in London in A Vintage Affair by Isabel Wolff.

Phoebe’s new shop soon takes off and she’s kept busy with customers and finding and purchasing new stock. This includes navigating auctions at Sotheby’s, assessing treasures her dealer in America finds, and meeting directly with owners of vintage clothes. Part of the fascination of this book is the peek behind the scenes – the work and skill and knowledge required to run such a shop from assessing the quality of fabric and workmanship, to understanding how an old dress can be fashionable again, with or without changes. Phoebe’s work brings her into contact with various people with a wide range of interests – vineyards to classic Hollywood cinema to Paris during World War II.

Light but not frothy, this charming book may be just the antidote for those “life changing” books on your list that we’re all supposed to be reading. Here, there’s a little romance, some mystery, interesting characters, history (nicely tied to the vintage clothing that Phoebe deals with) all in lovely settings in London and France. Just the ticket for something fun to read.

Need something to hold you over until Season 7 of Project Runway starts on Jan. 14, 2010? Check out Valentino: The Last Emperor, a documentary following around the iconic designer and his team as Valentino gives his final show and the label succumbs to takeover. At the heart of the story is the relationship between Valentino and his long-time business partner and companion, Giancarlo Giammetti. However, it is the fluttery Valentino seamstresses that really captivated me–how does one even learn to sew like that?! I wonder if they get a discount on the couture? The parade of glamorous gowns throughout the film kept me in constant awe (Oh! to wear a Valentino!) and seeing Valentino’s complete creative process was so inspiring, that by the end of the film I felt completely heartbroken about the separation of Valentino Garavani and Valentino, the artist and his creation, the emperor and his world.

Designer KnockoffDesigner Knockoff by Ellen Byerrum is the latest Lacey Smithsonian mystery. As a fashion reporter for a second-rate Washington D.C. newspaper, she investigates the disappearances of two young women. Occurring  decades apart, they begin to seem related as Lacey delves into the contemporary fortunes and World War II era history of the Bentley fashion empire.

Lacey’s Aunt Mimi left her a trunk of (now) vintage dresses, a “Bentley” suit, patterns, photos and letters from the 1940’s. These  provide clues to the mysterious fate of a talented designer who worked for the Bentley plant during the war.

Lacey continues to develop as a character – and to wage  her ongoing battle  against the monochrome suits that are the norm in Washington. Her relationship with her co-workers and a bevy of eccentric friends are a plus, as is insight into the strict clothing regulations during the war.

Coco ChanelToday is the birth anniversary of Coco Chanel, one of the most important and influential designers of the 20th century. The very epitome of effortless French style, Chanel revolutionized the fashion world when she introduced men’s clothing (slacks) for women’s wear. Her signature looks – comfortable and simple yet elegant – included the dramatic use of costume jewelry (notably ropes of pearls), sportswear, collarless jackets paired with simple skirts and the “little black dress”. She was the first designer to put her name on a signature perfume; Chanel No. 5 was created in 1921 and continues to be one of the most popular perfumes on the market.

Chanel’s life story is the stuff of Hollywood – born into poverty, orphaned at age 12, raised by nuns, she rose to wealth and status through talent and hard work. Find out more about this fascinating, controversial (both the Nazi’s and the Allies accused her of being a spy during World War II) woman through these great books:

Chanel: Her Style and Her Life by Janet Wallach

Chanel : the Couturiere at Work by Amy DeLaHaye

Chanel : a Woman of Her Own by Axel Madsen

Coco Chanel : her Life, her Secrets by Marcel Haedrich


Reminder to our Readers! Don’t forget to leave a comment on last Friday’s blog post about your favorite QC area Staycation destination! Someone’s going to win two tickets to the Putnum Museum and IMAX movie Kilimanjaro: To the Roof of Africa – might as well be you!

1) Garbage Bags. Forget your rain poncho? Grab a garbage bag (bigger is better), tear 3 holes in it – a big one for your head and two smaller ones on the sides for your arms – and you’re good to go! No, they don’t work very well if it’s windy, but it does keep you a little bit dryer. Don’t laugh – I actually worn this item, and was grateful to the guy who was handing them out!

2) Little lycra shorts. Everyone wears them, so who cares what you look liek? They actually are more comforatable. Plus, they come with secret padding and they air dry very quickly.

3) Helmet mirrors. Some people just can’t get used to them, but these little magnetic attachments can be a real life saver. Inexperienced riders tend to turn their whole bike (and possibly into oncoming traffic) when they move their head to look back. There are just too many bicycles (10,000 plus) on the road, so the only safe direction is straight ahead. Mirrors really help, even when you have no makeup to check…

For other tips on bicycles and gear, check out these titles:

The Ultimate Ride: Get Fit, Get Fast and Start Winning by Chris Carmichael

Bicycling by Peter Oliver