The Bombshell Manual of Style

The Bombshell Manual of StyleI’ve carried this book around with me for more than ten years, back and forth from the West Coast to the East Coast (and back. . . and back again). I’ve given it as a gift a few times. It contains a message that, as far as I’m concerned, cannot be repeated often enough to the American woman: It’s okay to dress up.

Unfortunately when women in this country think about looking sexy, they think Kim Kardashian, Victoria’s Secret, and applying foundation with a trowel. Our mainstream attitude toward feminine beauty is in my opinion not particularly sensual or feminine. We want to see ribs, we want to paint every inch of our face into submission, and we want to inject something somewhere. This Allure approach is almost militaristic, resembling an arms race more than a personal exploration of self-embellishment.

The worst part is that when a woman believes Kardashian is the goal, she quickly decides it’s an unobtainable goal and abandons any self-respect in favor of Uggs, sweats and a ponytail.

Bombshellism, on the other hand, is a surprisingly kind and gentle alternative. Yes, Jayne Mansfield’s breasts were large enough to host barbecues on and yes, Marilyn did have plastic surgery early in her career. Not exactly realistic role models for the rest of us. But even if you don’t want to get your jaw professionally broken and re-set (and I don’t want you to, either) the rest of the philosophy can totally be applied to any woman.

I repeat: any woman can be a bombshell.

As explained in a charming way in the book, the bombshell ethos was a lot more au naturale than people tend to think. Many of these actresses skipped bras or panties whenever possible, did not wear foundation or blush, and most importantly, they wore what they found sexy, not what they thought someone else might find sexy. These women were stars because they could identify what worked for them, what gave them confidence, what made them look their best. Whether that was a little black dress that forced a wiggle when walking, or a hairstyle that was just a little bit more undone than the current trend, the style choices of a bombshell were all based on, “Does this make me feel fantastic?”

This attitude often led them to create trends rather than follow them. We’re not all trend-setters but we are capable of paying more attention to what makes us feel yowza-hot and less attention to what is trendy.

Illustrations by Ruben Toledo
Ruben Toledo’s illustrations, which you may have seen before on Daily Candy or in the New Yorker, capture the bombshell’s confident but whimsical spirit perfectly.

Marisa TomeiAlthough The Bombshell Manual of Style maintains a totally contemporary focus on how this attitude could be applied today, it’s also full of fascinating bits of trivia, such as the fact that Marilyn kept dumbbells handy to tone up and that Kim Novak had to defend her right not to wear a bra when playing a character she felt would not wear one. Alongside that are cute anecdotes about modern-day bombshells such as Marisa Tomei (left) and one of the author’s coworkers–proof that they still exist.

Long, long ago in a country far, far away (okay, actually it was just in Eastern Washington about ten years ago, but it does feel that distant) an overweight, uninspired version of myself shuffled into the local library and took this book off the shelf. I checked it out and took it home because I wanted to admire the purty pitchers. But once I started reading it I discovered it contained an important clue that I would use to crawl out of that dum-dum life into the adventures that I later wound up having. . . and the person I’ve since become. That clue was that it’s okay to wear heels for no reason. Funny thing is, doing so makes you want to find a reason.

I don’t think any of us aspire to Liz Taylor’s 42 marriages, Marilyn’s unhappiness or Jayne Mansfield’s early death. And looking fantastic won’t necessarily fix any other aspect of your life. But feeling fantastic helps more than you might think, and this book is full of inspiration to feel your hottest.

Hey, even if you’re already on top of your beauty game and you don’t need any inspiration, check it out anyway. For the purty pitchers.

2 thoughts on “The Bombshell Manual of Style

  1. The same author also wrote Bohemian Manifesto, which discusses the life style and fashions of modern Bohemians. I absolutely loved it, because I discovered that there is a whole sub-culture that I unwittingly fit into! It was very comforting to know that other people think the way I do, rather than valuing the mainstream.

  2. I used to put makeup on in the morning knowing I was going to spend the day installing sheet rock, in baggy pants and a sweatshirt that recorded the history of my life in paint, so that when I went to the hardware store I’d feel beautiful. And yes, men looked at me like I was the sexiest thing they’d seen all week. Funny eh?

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