Tim Gunn on fashion history, Minnesota 'Project Runway' contestants


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Known for his catchphrase "make it work," fashion expert Tim Gunn has become a fan-favorite as a mentor on the hit reality TV show Project Runway. For his latest project, Gunn has combined his love for fashion and history in his new book, Tim Gunn's Fashion Bible: The Fascinating History of Everything in Your Closet, a comprehensive look at fashion's evolution through America's past.


"This is a book I've wanted to write for 12 years, since I was appointed chair of the department of fashion design at Parsons," Gunn says. "I noticed then that there was a real dearth of relatable materials when it came to fashion history. The books were dense and opaque and quite frankly really boring. I thought, 'This is such a fascinating study. When you tell the story of fashion, you tell the story of our societies and cultures. There's no reason for these books to be a snooze-fest.'"

[jump] When Gunn was approached to write his first book, he says that Fashion Bible is what he wanted to write, but his publisher had no interest. After the success of Tim Gunn: A Guide to Quality, Taste and Style, Simon & Schuster asked Gunn to use his expertise to write about the history of fashion. Making the book fun was important to him, as he thinks all people should understand how clothing evolved in relation to historical events.

"They say you can't look forward without understanding the past," Gunn says. "Any fashion designer who hasn't taken fashion history courses or who hasn't done the homework themselves is, I think, a disabled designer. It's critically important to know the discipline of your field. To the layperson, it enriches the wearing of clothes and the understanding and enjoyment of it. I say to people all the time that at this moment we are making fashion history. One-hundred years ahead, people will look back at this time and talk about what was happening socially and culturally, and will look at the clothes we were wearing."

Reflecting on his own personal fashion history, Gunn says that his teenage and young-adult years weren't his most stylish time periods.

"I look back at those pictures and I think, 'Good heavens!'" Gunn says. "The '70s were not a good decade and the '80s were really bad."

His favorite period of fashion history is the 1960s.

"We were ushered in with Mad Men and the Kennedy administration and we exited with hippies. Talk about things that are polarities!" Gunn says. "In between those two bookends, we had the mini skirt, we had the clear vinyl dress created by Yves Saint Laurent, we had the paper dress; we really had a fashion revolution in a decade, the likes of which we can never see again. I don't think anything can shock after the '60s."

In addition to discussing changing styles in Fashion Bible, Gunn offers advice for shoppers.

"I will acknowledge that shopping can indeed be stressful. I'm always saying that if fashion were easy everyone would look fabulous -- and they don't. I'm very cognizant of that," Gunn says. "It's important not to take fashion too seriously. On one hand, there is a serious dimension to it and I'm always talking about how the clothes we wear send a message about how the world perceives us, but let's also lighten up a little."

Gunn recommends that people try things on and make no assumption as to how things will look. He also stresses the need to find the correct size clothing.

"Most people buy clothes that are simply too big for them," Gunn says. "Part of that is the comfort trap and part of that is a body image issue where we feel if we buy clothes that are bigger than we are, it will hide our actual size. In fact, the more volume your clothes have, the more volume you appear to have. Fit is very, very important."

When asked what fashion advice he would offer to Minnesotans this fall, Gunn suggested finding great outerwear.

"The one thing I'll say about Minnesota is that you live in a climate where it's worth investing in a good piece of outerwear. This is one area you shouldn't skimp because you know you'll use it," Gunn says. "You should have a classic item -- either a lined trench or a pea coat or a classic overcoat -- and consider it a staple in your wardrobe. Avoid trends because you want it to last a long time. I think the bigger the investment -- I'm not talking about thousands, but I'm certainly talking about a couple hundred dollars -- the more wear it will withstand and the longer life it will stand in your closet."

In addition to offering fashion advice for Minnesotans, Gunn had a few things to say about Project Runway competitors from our state. While he says all of the Minnesota contestants have been great to work with, he revealed that he affectionately refers to Season 10 competitor Raul Osorio as "Eddie Munster" and says he has a "soft spot" for Season 6 competitor Christopher Straub, whom he describes as "a doll" and a "lovely guy."

Gunn will sign copies of Tim Gunn's Fashion Bible tonight at Mall of America.


Tim Gunn book signing

7 p.m. Monday, September 17

Mall of America Rotunda

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