Book Shelf: Maggie Alderson's Style Notes

Book Shelf: Maggie Alderson's Style Notes

Dedicated to her Good Weekend editors, Fenella Souter and Judith Whelan, Maggie Alderson's Style Notes (Penguin, $24.95) brings together the last collection of her columns for the magazine – a requisite bookshelf addition for fans of Alderson's humorous fashion prose and unfailing, no-fuss commitment to helping women sort through the sartorial clutter to make getting dressed less of a stressful experience, more a frivolous indulgence (life is short, is it not?).
It's a timely release with Rosemount Australian Fashion Week and the Costume Institute's Met Ball, and its accompanying Alexander McQueen themed exhibition, taking place this week. Alderson loves the spectacle of fashion and has been a keen observer, critic, participant and proponent her whole career. Her true gift is her ability to couple shoe suggestions with sharp social commentary; educated insight with personal anecdote; the everyday with the Land of Fashion Far Far Away.

To wit: "I have recently encountered a whole new phenomenon in relation to unwearable shoes – which are ones people really actually totally honestly can't walk in. Yet still they proudly wear them in public...I really believe such fashion extremes are deceptively frivolous traps to keep women down. Don't go there, girls."

Stand-out columns include a lighthearted, nostalgic trip down shopping memory lane, and piece on encountering Anna Wintour in Oxford ("like seeing a unicorn in a shopping centre"), which concludes with the observation: "Miss Wintour stood out so boldly in the context of 'real life', it made me realise just how insane the microcosm of the fashion show season really is. Because through that looking glass she looks quite normal."

In the chapter titled 'In Memoriam Mr McQueen' she notes how she was outraged by the designer's first show, which she thought to be offensively misogynistic. "It was fascinating over consecutive seasons to watch him explore and work out the confused feelings about women which seemed to be his dominant theme." A tribute to the late Isabella Blow, "a true English eccentric", can also be found within.

Alderson's feminist principles shine through further in 'Pretty Beautiful' in which she laments her six-year-old daughter's hyperawareness of female beauty ("already, she seems to be putting a higher value on it than the characteristics I would prefer her to appreciate"). Raging against the beauty machine, she also champions aristocratic big noses in light of Nicole Kidman's Oscar win for The Hours and calls for the abolishment of standardised clothing sizes: "It doesn't matter what your 'real' size is, let alone the size you wish you were – it all depends on the particular garment. In fact, I think it would be very helpful if shops dispensed with sizes entirely. Wouldn't that take a lot of unnecessary stress out of shopping?"

Ageing, food, diets, Martha Stewart and Cath Kidston's "cheesy bright colours and over-sized polka dots" are all fodder for Alderson's wry writing skill. She tackles the weight debate in 'Love Yourself Slim', a poignant psychological appraisal of the love/hate relationship women have with their bodies before trotting off to her treadmill:

"What I have just understood is that when I'm in Pig Face mode, I don't really like myself very much. My self-esteem tanks – and here's the thing – and somewhere deep down inside I don't think I deserve the joy of being slim me. So it's not as simple as having no willpower – I've got it in spades – but when I'm in the Hate Myself swamp I don't allow myself to use it. I'm a bad fat person and I don't deserve to be happy. So overeating is not so much a comforting indulgence, but a subtle form of self-harm."

In Sydney, home to Good Weekend, property is a favoured talking point, and Alderson uses a column to make a pointed argument about the value of sticks and stones after dining with a property developer who shifts his daughter from place to place in a quest to make a buck: "We are all so obsessed with what our houses look like these days, endlessly gussying them up with the latest fixtures and fittings, and it seems strange that we invest all that time, effort and money in the superficial effects, yet seem to place so little value on the emotional role these buildings play in our lives."

Elsewhere, we join her at her daughter's Careers Day, where she discovers her penchant for men in uniform; contemplate "cool" currency; unashamedly scoff down bowls of microwave popcorn; delight in the self-discipline of the cashmere twinset brigade; contemplate the harem trouser; boycott liquid soap; perk ourselves up with makeup; depress ourselves with Best Dressed ladies; chart the history of men's jeans (from bell bottoms to skinnies); and contemplate "Clooneymania" (drool).

Despite being in her early 50s, or perhaps because of it, Alderson maintains her mantle as the agony aunt for shopping enthusiasts, fashion lovers and every woman in between. Her motto could be summed up in the chapter titled 'Age Appropriate': "Whatever our age, size and skin texture, let's wear whatever we damn well like – and enjoy it." Or, perhaps, in the single sentence "'Fabulous' writes its own rules".

Visit Maggie Alderson's Style Notes blog or see her The Rules column in S in The Sun-Herald.

See also:
Maggie Alderson on assorted things: feminism, CLEO, royal weddings and her final column for Good Weekend 
Maggie Alderson to pen final Style Notes column
InStyle with Maggie Alderson

Girl With a Satchel