From Publishers Weekly
Halpern, a 30-something writer for Marie Claire
, rehashes her life's pinnacles and pitfalls, epitomized by the clothing that marks seminal moments. Target undies constitute her covert economic side; the Vera Wang is her "breakup" gown, worn in solitude to buoy her spirits. Between these two extremes, each garment in Halpern's sartorial spectrum hooks to a stage in her life—from the Madonna-inspired do-rag that wowed her suburban high school to the hideous Lycra flower dresses in pre-Barneys Los Angeles, an omen that she's erred in moving there after attending college in New York. "Fashionista, I am not," she claims, but six-inch platforms, Fair Isle sweaters and Dolphin shorts induce torrents of memories relived in vivid, intimate detail. Prone to shopping benders, Halpern fixates on clothes to a frightening degree; her biggest romantic challenge is never to repeat a date outfit. Yet she has serious wit up her sleeve, belying her shallow posturing. Her shrewd eye for the image culture and its throttlehold over women, herself included, touches on the pressures of perfection. At times, Halpern overstates her points with an endless parade of anecdotal outfits. But her bubbly, sisterly writing glosses over any downers, freeing readers to bask in wardrobe nostalgia. (July)
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Formerly an East Coaster and now a West Coaster, editor Halpern tells the story of her love-hate affairs with clothing, from the very beginning in long-gone Philadelphia stores such as Bonwit Teller and Strawbridge & Clothier. Her story is recorded in chapters that each stand for every two years or so; for instance, 1982 is the year of LaCoste polo shirts; the tenth grade, an infatuation with Madonna; the makeshift prom dress; not to forget fake Pradas, six-inch heels, Target underwear, among many other items. Parallel anecdotes highlight her relationships with men--Adam, Evan, Pete--all of whom gravitate to her looks and, yes, overall appearance. What might resonate, in a morose psychological sense, is her dependence on style, not substance--a lesson for either gender searching for a long-term relationship.
Sullivan, on the other hand, applies a documentary-like examination to the indigo-cotton pants we call jeans, the ultimate in democratic clothing. Its origins were in Europe--well before San Francisco's Levi Strauss in the mid-1800s. Plus, jeans' history is detailed in tandem with American events: Teddy Roosevelt and John Wayne as proponents of Western culture; Rosie the Riveter, a symbol of female progress during world wars; Elvis and Brando, indicators of the glamorous rebel--all complete with photographs and interview snippets. Fascinating facts abound: $14 billion sold in 2004 in the U.S. alone and a suburban Illinois store with 14,000 pairs. Yet the bottom-line question, as always, remains: Do they flatten your butt? Barbara Jacobs
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