Become a diva in just 30 days.
On my first page-through, I was disappointed with this new book from Brenda Kinsel.
Kinsel’s earlier book, 40 over 40, is a little gem – packed with information on how to dress well at the age of 40 and above. But for much of the way through this one, which is constructed as a month-long ‘get yourself together’ manual, I felt that it was stretching itself a bit thin.
40 over 40 was packed to the gills with information, and suffered a little from only having illustrations rather than photographs, and not very many of those. One felt that really it could have done with a larger format and more colour. Fashion Makeover has been given the larger format and more colour, but sadly it still doesn’t have photographs.
It is a mistake, I think. A book of this sort is screaming for actual photography of actual people, especially before and after shots, of the kind used by Christopher Hopkins in Staging Your Comeback. This would make it much easier to visualise the concepts discussed. Some of the problem may be that Kinsel’s clients are real people who don’t want their pictures taken, but the publishers in this case should have suggested alternative subjects. It is hard to take people’s advice seriously when you can’t see the results – for all I know, they might look awful.
Also, although the text is all very whizzy, with lots of boxouts and style tips from supposed experts, the book seems overall to have less substance than 40 over 40. In short, the smaller book had more in it than I expected and this one had less.
However, about three-quarters of the way through, I began to warm to it more, and I also began to realise that some of the reason for my coolness is cultural – I am a European, and we are a jaded lot. I have no truck with this homecoming-queen, cheeleadery, let’s all go to camp kind of attitude you get in so many American books. I am not a clubbable person and the last thing I want to be is popular, so when I read a book I prefer a little more distance from my author. In this book, Kinsel gets right in the changing cubicle with you and dances around – in real life I would probably fetch her one. Going to ‘beauty camp’ is my idea of a nightmare, and I also very much doubt that you could do all this in a month.
So, what IS good about this book, since I have so far been so negative? Well, much of the ground is covered by 40 over 40, so if you’ve already read that, some of it may seem old hat. But when we get onto new things, they are really very striking and useful. For instance, the amount of contrast in your colouring is not something I have ever given conscious thought to, and it is like a lightbulb moment to suddenly realise that the REASON I look good in certain combinations of shades is because my skin and hair are low contrast.
I am fair-haired, with blonde streaks and I have paleish golden skin and freckles. My blue eyes, in monochrome, look about the same shade as my skin, as do my lips. So THIS is why, all these years, I’ve looked my best in low-contrast colour combinations – beige with khaki, taupe with cream, mushroom with pale blue. Aha. If I had Snow White colouring with black hair and white skin and red lips, I’d look better in combinations such as black and white, black and pink, white and red, but because of my low-contrast colouring, these wash me out. This is a very useful tip for future purchases.
Another good tip is to group your accessories by colour. I had never thought of this. All my necklaces are grouped together in one room, all my shoes together in another. I’ve never liked the idea of matchy-matchy accessories such as matching your shoes to your handbag, but grouping them in colour families in this way has shown up instantly where my gaps are – in coloured earrings, for instance (all of mine are variations on gold, silver and amber).
A third excellent tip is to create ‘beauty bundles’. I’m familiar with the idea of having a wardrobe of ‘star pieces’ and ‘support pieces’, because this is how you buy fabrics when you sew (one that ‘speaks’, two others that ‘listen’), but the beauty bundle is a new idea for me. A beauty bundle, says Kinsel, should contain at least three items, preferably more, and you need only then add one or two things to it to create a complete outfit. For instance, one of her bundles is:
* A caramel-coloured double strand of pearls
* Nutmeg-coloured suede boots
* A leather clutch in shimmery caramel-brown
* A nutmeg-coloured duffel coat with a satin-lined hood
* Blue-tinted sunglasses
* A big blue scarf
* Blue denim jacket
A beauty bundle can be made up of all accessories, all main items or a mixture of both, and it sounds like a great basis for creating several small capsule wardrobes – a subject I’ll cover another time.
The sections on hair and beauty are really very good. Your 40s and above, believes Kinsel, are the time when you’re going to have to get some professional help if you want to look your best and sadly (given my budget) I think she’s right. When your eyebrows thin out, for instance, a professional will get them into shape much better than you can yourself. If your budget doesn’t really stretch to having this done very often, my advice is to do it as a treat and then get yourself photographed in close-up so you can follow the line yourself at home in between salon treatments. This trick also works with hairstyles – pay good money the first time, then have yourself photographed front back and sides, and take the pictures to a hairdresser at a lower price point.
Her list of common makeup mistakes is bang on: visible concealer, too much blush, not enough blending, colour coding your eyeshadow to your outfit (like we were all taught back in the 80s, replacing the ‘match your eyeshadow colour to your eye colour’ school of 70s makeup).
She also makes the blindingly obvious remark that you shouldn’t get your makeup advice at the makeup counter. Doh – why did I not think of this? A 20-year-old sales assistant may know everything about the latest ranges, but she sure as hell doesn’t know how to deal with crow’s feet. Luckily, my makeup adviser (French pharmacies are wonderful…) is easily ten years older than me, and she knows whereof she speaks.
Kinsel also looks at how to make the day to night makeup shift, given that, as she points out, most of us are no longer spending our evenings under the strobe lights but are more likely to be in intimate situations where more subtlety is required.
After I’d read through the book once, I went back and filled in all the tic-tac-toe grids as suggested, which was far more instructive than I’d expected. I thought I’d done all this in 40 over 40 but certain things really leapt out at me this time – my love of quality fabrics such as cashmere and silk; my obsession with uniqueness (the words ‘unique’ and ‘hand-made’ came up again and again); my preference for texture over colour.
However, listing the colours that I truly love has also helped me to narrow down my needs for the future. Surprisingly, although I have a lot of black clothes, black doesn’t appear on the list, so maybe it is time to think of using less black in my wardrobe. But colours that did appear included ashes-of-roses, eau-de-nil, greige and pearl grey, which made me realise that over the years many of my most favourite items have contained one or all of these colours – a blouse I wore at school, the carnations at my father’s funeral, a scarf I made from a kimono. I am also mad for all things brocade, and subtle metallics like old gold and pewter, which echoes my love for raku ceramics – among the ‘favourite things’ I listed in one of the exercises.
So, having read the book again, I give it three and a half out of five stars. Not quite as punchy and energetic as 40 over 40 and it really does need photography, but, especially if you haven’t read the former book, certainly a worthwhile exercise if you want to hone your look.