Excerpt: 'The Look Book,' by Nina Garcia

Photo: Book Cover: Excerpt: The Look Book, by Nina Garcia: Project Runway Judge and Style-Expert Helps You Pick Outfits for Every Occasion

In her new book, Nina Garcia, fashion director of Marie Claire magazine and style expert for Target, tackles the question every woman has asked in panic before an event: What should I wear?!

Whether you're heading out for a crucial job interview, going out for a dressy dinner or looking for a travel-friendly frock to wear on an airplane, Garcia lays out the clothes and accessories that make the ideal outfit.

Garcia has written two other best-selling books, "The Little Black Book of Style" and "The Style Strategy."

Read and excerpt of "The Look Book" below, and then head to the "GMA" Library to find more good reads.

Introduction

Know first who you are; and then adorn yourself accordingly. -epictetus

One of the most magical places on earth is a small island in the Caribbean called Mustique. With brilliant beaches, warm water, and lush vegetation, this tiny green swath of land is my idea of paradise. I go there to decompress from the frenetic pace of New York City and all the necessary and unnecessary pressures I place on myself at work and in life.

It was on Mustique that the genesis of this book took place, sparked by a conversation I overheard while lounging late one morning under an umbrella by the beach. I was reading a novel that wasn't nearly as interesting as the dialogue taking place between two women sitting near me. I couldn't see them and wouldn't have known they were there were it not for their animated discussion, their tempers on the brink of flaring the way they sometimes can when women are at odds. The older woman, whom I presumed to be the mother (I met her later at the hotel bar and confirmed this), was scolding her daughter about the merits of dressing appropriately now that she had graduated from college.

"You can't go around wearing sandals and jeans 24/7 anymore," the older woman almost barked. "Every occasion requires thought about how you look. You know this."

"But I didn't think I looked bad," her daughter whined.

"You can't tell me there aren't jobs out there after I ask what you wore to the interview and you tell me you put on those jeans!"

Oh dear, I thought. Jeans to a job interview. She didn't.

I instantly thought of my own mother, a beacon of elegance who would have threatened me with incarceration for that kind of transgression. In Colombia, where I was born and raised, women like my mother considered their appearance and personal grooming a matter of principle. There was never an occasion where she didn't show up looking picture-perfect.

Although I was sure the sparring pair couldn't tell I was eavesdropping, and despite the fact that I was supposed to be "on vacation" and far away from all things job related, I could not help thinking that this exact sort of conversation was probably taking place between mothers and daughters around the globe. From Delaware to Düsseldorf, I could almost hear the sea of mothers and daughters, each up in arms about the other's recurring faux pas. Frustrated moms eager to vanquish tattered T-shirts, torn jeans, dirty sneakers, and old flip flops into a bonfire of oblivion. And reversely, desperate daughters insisting they will "literally die of embarrassment" if their mothers continue raiding their closets for skintight jeans and microminis in misguided last ditch attempts to regain the rebelliousness of their youth.

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

This book will lead you through the fashion lingo for some of life's basic occasions to ensure that your ensemble is always a flawless representation of you. You'll learn how to be appropriate without being prudish, creative without being too zany, and confident without being overbearing. Obviously, I could not include every single life event in this one volume. I pared the list to some of life's biggies; to the situations that cause most of our fashion stress. I've offered advice on the social graces of an occasion, factoids that have helped focus me and give me confidence throughout the years, and specific designers to seek out for specific looks. I've also named the garments that you really should own because I've found that some pieces do represent a recurring life event to its core. The outfits I suggest for each situation are just that, suggestions. I've given you my ideal ensemble to illustrate each look, but I never want you to forget that really authentic style comes from within, and you must always remain stylistically true to yourself. Don't be afraid to add your own flair to my recommendations. Fearlessness is integral to innovation. Just remember that whatever you wear, wear it with sublime confidence.

Life is dynamic, ever changing, and fluid, so too must our sense of style move and evolve. Every one of us should constantly be honing our style skills and adjusting them to a changing audience. I'm always acutely aware of what I'm wearing and who will be seeing me in it. Believe me -- there's pressure when you're deciding what to wear to a meeting with an iconic fashion designer or a member of the press. It can be terrifying. But instead of panicking, I stop, take a deep breath, and remember that I speak "fashion." And by the time you have read this book, you'll be able to speak the language of fashion too, at all the key moments of your life. True style is not about having a closet full of expensive and beautiful things, it is instead about knowing when, where and how to utilize your collection. Whether you're more Lady Gaga or more Lady Bird Johnson, there is always "just the right thing" for you to wear, anywhere. Your job, with my help, is to figure out what that is.

From Nina Garcia's Look Book: What to Wear for Every Occasion by Nina Garcia. Copyright (c) 2010. Published by Hyperion. Available wherever books are sold. All Rights Reserved.

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