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Interview With an Author: Véronique Hyland

Tina Lernø, Librarian, Digital Content Team,
Véronique Hyland, author of Dress Code: Unlocking Fashion from the New Look to Millennial Pink
Véronique Hyland, author of Dress Code: Unlocking Fashion from the New Look to Millennial Pink. Photo credit: Meredith Jenks Trunk Archive

Véronique Hyland is ELLE's Fashion Features Director and a debut author. Her work has previously appeared in the New York Times, The New Yorker, W, New York magazine, Harper's Bazaar, and Condé Nast Traveler. She is the author of Dress Code: Unlocking Fashion from the New Look to Millennial Pink and she recently talked about it with Tina Lernø for the LAPL Blog.

What was your inspiration for Dress Code: Unlocking Fashion from the New Look to Millennial Pink?

I wanted to approach fashion in the way a public intellectual might. I was inspired by books like Kennedy Fraser’s The Fashionable Mind, Alison Lurie’s The Language of Clothes, and Seeing Through Clothes by Anne Hollander.

How did the book evolve and change as you wrote and revised it? Are there any chapters that were lost in the process you wish had made it to the published version?

I got the book deal in March 2020, and the changes wrought by the pandemic, especially when it came to standards of professional dress and the question of who we’re dressing for, prompted some changes along the way. There wasn’t anything lost in the process, but the normcore chapter originally was more about these Space Age designers from the 1960s, like André Courrèges, and how they envisioned futuristic fashion. My editor encouraged me to bring it more into the present day, which I think was absolutely the right call.

I noticed the cover of the book is “Millennial Pink” (with “Cerulean Blue” text). Was that a conscious decision by you?

Wow, I did not make the cerulean connection until now! But yes, I wanted to riff on these colors that I write about in the book. It was important to me that the cover look aesthetically appealing to lure people into these more serious topics. Joanne O’Neill is an accomplished cover designer who’s worked on some of my favorite titles, and she did an amazing job with it.

Do you have a favorite color or color combination?

Much like Diana Vreeland, I adore red. When I was a kid, my room had red wall-to-wall carpet, curtains, and furniture. I distinctly remember a friend coming over and saying “this burns my retinas!” but I’ve always been very into the intensity of the color.

A favorite designer or era?

I’m a sucker for the fashions of the 1970s. I’m basically spending all my free time trying to source Alana Haim’s entire wardrobe from Licorice Pizza—if anyone has leads on that Virginia Slims baby tee, I’m all ears!

I have a friend who wore only the color red for an entire year. Would you ever consider such an extreme social experiment?

I do love red, but I would struggle to confine myself to any kind of uniform like that. I really enjoy changing things up when I get dressed and assuming new personas, so I think I’d get bored easily—but I salute your friend! That is not easy!

Do you have any words of wisdom for students currently enrolled in fashion schools or programs?

I didn’t go to fashion school and am honestly in awe of anyone who can create clothing, but my one tip would be to lean into what makes you different even if it’s not what you’re being encouraged to do in school. The most successful designers I’ve met ignored the feedback about what they were “supposed” to do and followed their own path, knowing that their customers would find them.

Did you know our library has the entire Vogue archive? Did you use the library as a source for your research?

I was hoping to use the library in person, but again, March instead, I availed myself of my library’s digital archive and was excited to see how much they had in the way of fashion magazines. I could pore over those old issues all day!

Fashion seems to have come a long way in becoming more inclusive. Do you think it’s hit a wall, or there's still more the industry should do?

There’s still far more the industry needs to do. I think we’re seeing some progress when it comes to all types of diversity, but it’s not enough. For example, just when it comes to body type, you’ll see a runway with zero curvy models or maybe just one, which has no bearing on how bodies look in the real world.

What’s currently on your nightstand?

Lucia Berlin’s Evening in Paradise and Welcome Home. I’m so excited about her critical re-appraisal.

Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors?

Vladimir Nabokov, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dawn Powell, Teju Cole, and John Cheever.

As a debut author, what have you learned during the process of getting your novel published that you would like to share with other writers about this experience?

I think it’s been a slower process than I’m used to because I’m used to the more instant gratification of monthly or even daily publishing. So I would advise patience and lots of deep breaths—the result is worth it.

What was your favorite book when you were a child?

I was obsessed with Emily of New Moon, who was like a more intense Anne of Green Gables. I also remember loving a book called The Hundred Dresses, by Eleanor Estes, and dreaming of owning 100 dresses. Very on-brand; not very sustainable!

Was there a book you felt you needed to hide from your parents?

Well, believe it or not, I wasn’t allowed to read The Babysitters’ Club series, so of course, I read those all covertly.

Is there a book you've faked reading?

My mom studied Proust and is pretty much an expert on him, but I’ve never even finished Swann’s Way in English. When I was younger, we went to Illiers-Combray, the town where it’s set, and I had to pretend I knew what everyone was talking about.

Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?

So many! I love those midcentury covers with swash type, so I recently bought a used copy of Lillian Hellman’s Scoundrel Time, which is a perfect relic of the genre.

Is there a book that changed your life?

Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire. I remember being stunned by what you could do with language and pushing the boundaries of format.

Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?

I always talk about this book by Hilary Thayer Hamann, Autobiography of an American Girl. It was such an influence on me in terms of what fiction can do and how it can represent real life.

Is there a book you would most want to read again for the first time?

Probably the above! I do re-read it from time to time but I’d love to experience it fresh!

What is the last piece of art (music, movies, tv, more traditional art forms) that you've experienced or that has impacted you?

I grew up studying music and have always been emotionally moved by it in a way that I am not by any other art form. I’ve been impressed by this wave of female singer-songwriters lately. I was so impressed by Phoebe Bridgers’s Punisher album and how she wrote about her own experiences in such a raw way. I aspire to be able to do that and not lose myself in hand-wringing over what people will think of it.

What is your idea of THE perfect day (where you could go anywhere/meet with anyone)?

Between my full-time job and writing and promoting the book, I have been burning the candle at both ends, so I would say anything, where I’m away from the computer and can hang out in nature, is ideal. Maybe a walk in the woods followed by tea and a good book.

What is the question that you’re always hoping you’ll be asked, but never have been? What is your answer?

The essay I enjoyed working on the most was Chapter 7, which is about the history of the “It” girl, and I’ve been waiting for someone to ask about the contemporary version of that archetype and how it’s tied to the media. I feel like now, with social media platforms, people have more control over their narratives and aren’t as dependent on outside media to tell their story, but I think there’s still a reliance on finding the “new, next cool” person at the expense of those who came before. Something I try to do in my own journalistic writing is to cultivate people long-term and see their careers as a full arc, not just a passing headline.

What are you working on now?

I’m going to keep quiet on that front, but I will just say it’s a complete departure and has nothing to do with fashion!

Book cover for Dress Code: Unlocking Fashion From the New Look to Millennial Pink
Dress Code: Unlocking Fashion From the New Look to Millennial Pink
Hyland, Véronique

"Whether you realize it or not, every outfit you choose makes a statement, telling the world who you are and who you want to be. With a rich sense of history and firm grasp on the current culture, Véronique Hyland is your fashion trend translator. Her debut essay collection—wry, thoughtful, and always provocative—is a must read for anyone who cares about clothes…which is to say, everyone.”—Nina Garcia, ELLE Editor-in-Chief and Project Runway judge