The impact of Project Runway is not lost on the fashion industry: Shoppers are more savvy and knowledgeable than ever before, demanding high-quality construction and using words previously only found in fashion textbooks when sifting through a department store.
And while this phenomenon first surprised Project Runway workroom mentor Tim Gunn (when we met with him in 2010, he said, "Good heavens, I hadn't even thought that!" while talking about viewers becoming smarter shoppers), he seems to have embraced his role in educating the masses and making us better dressers.
His new book, Tim Gunn's Fashion Bible (Simon & Schuster, $28) , delves into the history of each and every article of clothing hanging in your wardrobe, and gives tips on making sure each item fits as intended (complete with illustrations).
We had the chance to catch up with Gunn, insightful as ever, and learned more about the past, present and future of fashion.
Why did you decide to write this book now?
Well, after the success of Gunn's Golden Rules [in 2011], Simon & Schuster came back and said, 'We'd love for you to do another book,' and I said, 'Well I have to tell you, there's been one book on my mind that publishers haven't been supportive of.' And they said, 'What is it?' So I told them. At the beginning they were dubious and they said, 'Write up a brief,' which was about 20 pages, 'and we'll talk it over.'
Did you learn anything new when researching for this book?
Oh, tons! Tons and tons! I mean, I don't think there's a single page of the book that doesn't reflect something new that I learned. And some of it was also a desire for corroboration, for things that you just assumed. I mean for instance, that draped garments really go back to ancient Greece -- yes, we were able to corroborate that; however, I really didn't know that the tailored garment went back to ancient Egypt. I didn't realize they were doing anything as sophisticated as tailoring. I had no idea!
What do you think is the most innovative piece of clothing in modern wardrobes?
I'm going to cite the wrap dress basically for its simplicity and for it's very clear nod to its lineage being the kimono, an ancient garment. But in this case it couldn't be made more modern and it's not all about bells and whistles. It's really so elegant in its simplicity.
What's your favorite garment that has fallen out of the modern wardrobe?
Some of my favorites are still hanging around.... As far as I'm concerned, whatever you want is out there. I think I love the classics. I love pea coats. I love shirt-dresses and wrap dresses. I love classic tailoring, but at the same time I'm very fit-aware, fit-conscious and believe that clothes should fit people well, so I'm not nostalgic for something that doesn't exist right now, that I really wish would come back.
Are there any truly "modern" pieces of clothing?
Truly modern pieces of clothing -- I'm waiting! [Laughs] When it comes to that, I always say, "If we knew what was ahead, it would already be here." And I will say, when we talk about what I say are the truly seminal moments in contemporary fashion, and they all happened in the last century, there are three of them for me. It's ... Chanel, then [Claire] McCardell and then Donna Karan. And those were, I believe, truly seminal moments because they were moments when women recalibrated their thinking about how they wanted to present themselves to the world, and it also altered lifestyle in a manner of speaking.
You describe two types of dresses in the book: draped Grecian "Helen" and tailored Egyptian "Cleopatra." What are the main things women should take into account about their bodies when deciding whether they're a Helen or a Cleopatra?
Well, on body type, ask yourself, "Are my shoulders narrower than my hips?" for instance. "Am I more of a pear?" Which is not to say that body type would exclude one type, a Helen or a Cleo, as I think it has to do with just body awareness relative to clothes. I think many people look at an item of apparel and think, "Oh, that's cute, I like it," but is that really appropriate for you? For instance, when your shoulders are narrower than your hips, you need something that visually makes them look wider, so you want to wear something sleeveless or strapless.
What are some of the biggest wardrobe mistakes people are making today?
For me it's all about fit. That's the wardrobe mistake, having clothes that don't fit you, having clothes that are too big or too small. And part of it has to do with time concerns, that we just don't have time to have things altered. But another part of it is this whole misnomer about what size we really are, and this is true for women and for men.
A man recently asked me for suit recommendations. I asked what size he was and he told me he was a 46. I looked at him and said, "Forty-six?! At the most you're a 42," and it turns out he's a 40, and that's a huge difference.
I find the same is true with women. I was working with a woman on, I'll call it a make-better as opposed to a makeover. I put a couple of dresses over the transom of the dressing room and she looked at them and said, "These are too small." I said, "No, they're not. Just try one of them on." So she tried it on, came out of the dressing room and said, "See, it's too small." And I said, "I have a completely different point of view here. From where I'm standing, this fits you perfectly!"
I mean, when clothes actually fit you, yeah, they're not going to give you all of that freedom that those larger-size clothes do, but also those larger-size clothes are not flattering; the more volume your clothes have, the more volume you appear to have. So for me, the biggest issue really is the size of clothes in people's closets.
What styles/articles of clothing are, and in your opinion will remain, truly timeless?
Oh, there are many. A style of pant that falls straight from the hip with no flare or taper -- I think that's a classic style that's always going to be around. The trench-coat style is always going to look great and be classic. A classic, tailored blazer is always a good item. Shirting that ... doesn't have bells and whistles on it that we know two seasons later is simply going to make it look dated. And for me it's more the stripped-down items.
What's the most important thing for readers to understand about their clothes?
It's not just an item that rolled out of a factory, that the clothes that we wear have a tremendously interesting lineage. And when we wear them, it's good to know that and to just be aware of it and to stand tall and proud.
You end the book by saying, "We can now head forward into what is always the most fascinating era of fashion: the future." What do you think it will bring?
Well, I believe we the consumer are going to be much more involved in the decision-making of what that garment is and we're finally choosing, because I think we're going to be involved prior to it's actual production and things are going to be much more customized as opposed to more homogenized.
And I've become a big fan of a men's store that started in the Netherlands and opened in New York close to a year ago and just opened in Washington and Chicago, Suitsupply. They're doing that and I've become a regular customer. They're also very affordable -- that's the thing to stress, and what I find so remarkable about Suitsupply because I was a die-hard and poor Bergdorf and Saks Fifth Avenue guy.
What might you do next?
Well, this fashion history is broad in scope and it's primarily about apparel. I'm already thinking about special-occasion dressing. Weddings certainly fall into that category. I'm thinking more about accessories. I mean any of these chapters could be expanded and I'm thinking about it, about doing something more comprehensive for several of these categories.