Thursday, June 13, 2013


Yes, I read every book about fashion out there. I could probably write my own, except I already have. You're reading it. Call me the Dickens of fashion writing— installment chapters that may lack Dickens' mesmerizing plot arcs.

Not all books about fashion are strictly "how to dress". Right now I'm reading a doozy—"Shocked" by Patricia Volk. This is a memoir about her mother, Audrey Morgen, crossed with an appreciation of Elsa Schiaparelli, whose autobiography Patricia read as a youngster and which changed her life.

Schiap looking conservative (for her)

The same thing happened when I was eleven. I checked out from the library Schiaparelli's book, "Shocking Life" because of its bright pink cover. With only a vague idea who she was (my mother did have a subscription to "Vogue"), I'm not sure I understood most of it, but it thrilled cover to cover. I remember thinking I didn't know it was okay to consider Fashion as Art.


Patricia's mother, Audrey, may not be vain, but she does have a heightened sense of self. She knows she's beautiful, sets high standards for herself and proclamations for everyone else. It's funny and poignant because it reeks of the '50s that I remember, even if my own mother was no Audrey.

I'm only on page 84 and already have scooped out a few bon mots for you. As along the way we not only get a bio of Schiap and an autobio of Patricia, there are delicious fashion tidbits. Ready for a nibble?

James Laver was a fashion historian, arguably the first. He was described as "the man in England who made the study of costume respectable." He was also the Keeper of Prints, Drawings and Paintings for the Victoria and Albert Museum from 1938 to 1959. In his study of dress he combined art history with theories that defined the relationship between fashion and economic and social factors. While that is indeed a mouthful, the following, known as "Laver's Law" (from 1937), makes perfect sense:

Indecent10 years before its time
Shameless5 years before its time
Outré (Daring)1 year before its time
Smart'Current Fashion'
Dowdy1 year after its time
Hideous10 years after its time
Ridiculous20 years after its time
Amusing30 years after its time
Quaint50 years after its time
Charming70 years after its time
Romantic100 years after its time
Beautiful150 years after its time

Hard to think of 1963 as being "quaint", and maybe Laver's Law does not apply so much to the present era of fashion trends that regurgitate ad nauseum, but don't you love it?

Thanks, Patricia. This is fun.


  1. Shocked sounds like a good read!
    I've put it in my library hold queue.

  2. Most enjoyable. I'm at that point where I don't want it to end.