Style, Sex and Substance: A Book Review

Style, Sex and Substance. The title of the book caught my eye. Hey, I like all three of those things, I thought, and then, I am a Catholic woman. Should a Catholic woman even think that?

Um. Yes.

Yes, I think she should. And if you don’t believe me, look at the subtitle: 10 Catholic Women Consider the Things that Really Matter. These things matter. Whew. These things really matter.

The hook for me in the title was style. ‘Style’ is class. One definition is “an elegant and fashionable way of living”. Style is the antithesis of the image of the denim jumper so readily assumed to be the standard uniform of conservative homeschool moms like me. Yes, style interests me. I’ve been fighting the frumpy stereotype of homeschool mom since I first ditched my sleek pointy business heels and slid into slippers, stayed home, and then later started teaching my nine children more than 20 years ago. (I have never worn denim jumpers, for the record, but it is the assumption that most conservative homeschooling moms do, at least where I live.)

I certainly want to embrace style, and run far from the image of frumpy housewife stereotype, especially now that I am in middle age. Oops. Did I just admit that? Ok, so it’s true.  When I saw Style, Sex and Substance, I was intrigued by the idea of style combined with me, and thus this book, supposing a stylish, sexy and substantial modern me had a distinct advantage over other books on my nightstand waiting to be reviewed. I admit that’s why I picked it first.

The author/editor of Style, Sex and Substance, Hallie Lord, is a devoted Catholic wife and mother who strives, like a lot of us do, for holiness. Unlike most of us, however, she has a personal shopping business where she helps dress other women beautifully, modestly and within a budget.  How cool is that? Her example demonstrates we can be moms, strive for holiness and have style. Yay!

I started with the chapter entitled Style: Balance, Beauty and You. I was not disappointed. I read about stylish modesty (yes, this exists), the power of transformation, and wrestling with vanity, the latter of which admittedly can be a pitfall when paying attention to style.  This chapter offered wisdom on the balance of paying enough attention and paying too much attention to self and wardrobe, and it included a few checkpoints for self-evaluation:

“If you wake up in the morning and open your closet only to find that nothing fits but pajamas and sweatpants, that’s a problem… If you avoid intimacy with your husband because you feel unattractive, that’s a problem… If you are constantly tired because you never have time to exercise, rest or spend time alone, that too is a problem…”

The best thing about offering these checkpoints is that Hallie simultaneously offers helpful suggestions for improvement. I’d have taken notes to pass along to my own girls if everything hadn’t already been laid out nicely in the pages of the book. To be honest, some of what Hallie writes I already knew deep in my heart. Some of this I had already tried to live. But reading the words presented in a fresh and contemporary way reminded me of how and why I should take care of myself, and how and why I should dress in a pretty and stylish way.  It inspired me to press on amidst the daily temptation just to let style go. It was written so well and motivated so much. Thank you, Hallie!

Encouraged, I dug into the other chapters, which I found to be equally inspiring and totally relevant to a modern Catholic woman and her busy life.

The book is funny.  “I can’t write the marriage chapter. I have no business writing the marriage chapter,” begins Danielle Bean on page 117,  “My husband and I are just coming off a 24 hour stint of avoiding eye contact because… well, I kind of forget why…”  Oh my goodness, this is why so many women love to read what Danielle writes- frankness and humor combined is a lovely thing.

The book is brutally honest. “I’m in my late twenties now. I’ve been a bridesmaid eight times… every other woman contributing to this book is married. Am I jealous?  Absolutely,” writes Anna Mitchell in chapter five, Single and Seeking God’s Plan.  The reader will find the right perspective with Anna, as she offers advice on vocation, discernment, and dating. I suspect her vocation will be realized soon.

The book is profound. “A receptive woman is the most powerful creature in the world,” writes Simcha Fischer in chapter nine on motherhood, “…without her “yes”, nothing more can happen.” Her intriguing statement is explained in full. Her chapter may change the way you think about being a wife, and will definitely put a zip in your motherhood step and make you feel validated even in changing “poopy” diapers. Simcha is a mother of nine, an in-the-trenches, general of an army of children.  Her chapter will help you realize the power of your ‘yes’. March on, mamas, is the message. If she can do it, you can too!

The book is fun and flirty, substantive and serious, even all in the same chapter. I’m talking now specifically about Elizabeth Duffy’s chapter about sex.  I must admit I did not know that combining bible quotes and Church teaching with practical suggestions and funny anecdotes could mesh so well. Elizabeth’s chapter really makes a mama think, and yes, giggle. I think God approves.

I have to admit I loved the chapter Plugging in and Embracing Discipleship in the Twenty First Century contributed by Barbara R. Nicolosi, which deals with storytelling, television, movies and media, for a selfish reason. One of my (yes, practicing Catholic) children works in the thick of Hollywood and I’m tired of explaining to people that his work is important. I hope that media matters. After reading Barbara’s chapter you will know that it does. Barbara’s writing proves that devoted Catholic women can be brilliant, and she explains perfectly how engaging the culture rather than running from it can make the world a better place for all of us. Even if you live on a tiny farm in rural Kansas and only watch the Food Channel or HGTV, you will find this chapter compelling and relevant.

Style, Sex and Substance includes questions for reflection at the end of each chapter, which makes it just right for a Catholic woman’s reading group selection. I was going to offer my sample copy of the book for a giveaway on my blog but then I decided to be selfish. I have six daughters who will benefit from these wonderful entries in time. I’m keeping this one.

You will certainly want to nab a copy of Style, Sex and Substance from your local bookstore or Amazon. I think you’ll find after reading it you will be pondering more, complaining less, resolving to embrace your femininity, understanding your Faith, perhaps even signing up for an exercise class for self improvement, cleaning your closet and flirting with your husband. These are all good, relevant and delightful things that a Catholic woman should address and can enjoy, because these things are important. These things matter.

I’m grateful for the wonderfully talented sisters-in-Christ authors who share their insights in Style, Sex and Substance. I’m recommending you invest $14.95 in this gem of a book and begin integrating the thoughts, suggestions and ideas within its pages into your own joyful authentic Catholic life.


Theresa Thomas is the co-author Stories for the Homeschool Heart (Bezalel Books, 2010 & winner of About.com Best Catholic Book of 2010), family columnist at Today’s Catholic News and a contributing writer for the Integrated Catholic Life™.


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3 Comments

  1. Can you (well, and the 10 catholic women too) be my new best friends? Homeschooling, catholic, and sans jumpers!?!? Wha, wha, wha!?!? I thought I was the only one. Yes, I ordered the book before I got around to commenting. 🙂 Thank you for not only the book review- but also the camaraderie that is so clear in your writing (and thanks to IC for giving you the space).

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