Excerpt: 'The Look Book,' by Nina Garcia

And then I thought about my girlfriends. I thought of the hundreds, if not thousands, of calls I field from them (and they from me) a couple of hours before we meet for an event, each and every call boiling down to the same question, repeated over and over: "What Should I Wear?!" Everyone has made that call, had that conversation, and wailed this question to some poor soul who will probably have to ask it herself imminently. Everything from what to wear to a rock concert, a first date, a funeral, or a Yankees game, a trade convention, and even to brunch with each other!

I don't do fashion, I am fashion. -coco chanel

I firmly believe that 90 percent of the confusion that women feel when they are attempting to put together an occasion-specific ensemble is caused by fear: fear of breaking the "fashion rules," fear of violating some long-forgotten tradition, or the basic fear of looking bad. However, any undertaking based on fear is likely to fail -- or, at the very least, it won't be much fun. And style is all about fun. Getting dressed for an occasion should not induce anxiety. It should be an exciting challenge to communicate who YOU are to the world, without saying a word. The most fabulous style icons are those women who know what the rules are, and have the confidence to ignore them, push things to the edge, yet flawlessly keep within the confines of what's appropriate.

These overbearing, too-stringent rules are the enemy of true style. But there are clues, contexts, and a fashion language that exists in any given situation. We've probably all heard the cliché, "There is a right time and right place for everything." This is completely true for matters of style. Each moment calls for a different stylistic essence and a different sense of impact, and mastery of this balance is an art form -- a very learnable art form. The key to style success is knowing what this essence is, and knowing how to effortlessly communicate in the language of fashion. You don't have to be fluent, but you want to be understood.

Take, for example, one of my least favorite fashion rules: the precept that no woman over the age of twenty-nine should wear a skirt shorter than two inches above the knee. Ridiculous! If you've got it, flaunt it, no matter your age. However, it's equally important to know in what context to flaunt it. If you meet someone for the first time and while she's talking to you, you're wondering why a person would wear a micromini skirt and knee-high boots to her son's soccer game, well, she might be a fascinating, quirky, intelligent woman; she may up for a Nobel Prize; she may be a classically trained French pastry chef; or she could be the most loyal friend in the world (once you get to know her), but many people (including you) will never bother to try. They will dismiss her at hello. Making a good impression is about understanding boundaries, communication, social savvy, and my favorite factor: knowing thyself -- and then translating the unstoppable force of YOU into the style language of every event and occasion you grace with your presence.

A great social success is a pretty girl who plays her cards as carefully as if she were plain. -f. scott fitzgerald

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