________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 15 . . . .April 1, 2005


The Big Night Out.

Jeanne Beker. Illustrated by Nathalie Dion.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2005.
80 pp., pbk., $22.99.
ISBN 0-88776-719-2.

Subject Headings:
Rites and ceremonies-Juvenile literature.
Parties-Juvenile literature.
Etiquette for young adults.

Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.

Review by Joanne Peters.

**** /4



While everybody seems to be much more fashion savvy these days, many are still quite content to "follow the leader" when it comes to getting dressed. While there's nothing wrong with being conventional and not wanting to particularly stand out from the crowd, coming up with your own ideas about how you want to look—especially for your first, big night out—is not only fun and exciting, but satisfying too. In the fashion world, creativity is the most celebrated thing. And while everyone can't have the genius of a Karl Lagerfeld (who designs for Chanel) or a John Galliano (who designs for Dior), there's no question that if you enjoy fashion, you should be encouraged to come up with exciting new ways to strut it. All it takes is a little imagination, and a little nerve.


So, you're fourteen (or older), looking forward to a graduation, a formal dance, a family wedding, or any other "big night out", and you're not one of those "fashionistas" born with an inherent sense of imagination, style, and nerve. And you want a one-stop guide to help you pull it all together for that big night (or day). Well, Jeanne Beker provides plenty of reassurance, practical advice, and ideas to help you develop your personal style and the panache to carry it all off on that big night, or day.

     Beker's credentials as an author are impressive: she has extensive involvement in fashion television and authors style advice columns both in the Globe and Mail and Inside Entertainment Magazine. But, equally important, she is the mother of two teenage girls, and she shows real insight into both a teen's need for self-expression and parental needs to have their limits respected (be they those of family and community standards, budget restraints, or of good judgment through life experience).

     The book is organized into 10 easy-to-read chapters, punctuated with quotes from the famous (and not), and illustrated with truly delightful nouveau-retro line drawings of young women of all shapes, sizes, and colours, finding their inner fashion diva. The Big Night Out begins with explorations of what it means to "be an original" and to find your own style by "looking for inspiration" in all sorts of places. Beker reminds her readers that those glitzy pop icons featured in ads, videos, and media events are the products of professional stylists. Photos "are tweaked digitally, or airbrushed. So some of what you're seeing isn't real at all! That's why it is foolish to ever compare yourself to any of these models or stars. . . . the fashion business is largely based on illusion."

     Any "big night out" will, at some point, involve the search for that elusive outfit, the one that makes every girl feel like Cinderella. Whether shopping is loved or loathed, Beker offers very practical advice not likely to be found elsewhere, including how not to be taken advantage of by salespeople, how to stay within a budget, and how to work with parents when fashion perspectives differ (especially when they are paying the bill). Both as a parent, and as a style maven, she offers a reminder: "mutual respect is key."

     Whether purchased, custom-made, personalized (lots of great idea on how to take a ready-to-wear item and give it a look unique for the wearer), or recycled, clothing makes a statement. After reading the chapters on shopping and accessorizing, would-be Cinderellas should have plenty of ideas about how to create the look they want. Although mainstream teen fashion mags such as Seventeen are chock-full of hair and makeup tips, The Big Night Out stays away from product recommendations, endorsing a "less is more" philosophy. Perhaps because of her television work, Beker believes strongly in advance preparation and advises making a trial run" to tweak final details (does that new hair style really work? Oh no, a stray thread or two has emerged from a seam and needs to be snipped) before the event. Finally, the big night arrives, and "It's time to shine, sweetie!" And with that special outfit, just the right accessories, perfectly applied make-up, and a little evening purse holding the essentials (including money for a phone call home or a taxi, if needed), she will.

     Although decades have passed since my first "big night out," as I read The Big Night Out, I certainly wished that a book like this had existed decades ago, when I was, well, you know.... Although I'm still no fashionista, I certainly appreciated Beker's fashion and grooming tips and found the book an enjoyable read. I think that teens from upper middle through senior high school will, too. The Big Night Out early-March publication date means that it's just in time to hit the market for proms, graduations, and early summer weddings. Whether you have a would-be Cinderella in your personal life, or your library has a wait-list for the "prom" issue of Seventeen, The Big Night Out is definitely worth acquiring.

Highly Recommended.

Joanne Peters is a teacher-librarian at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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