The saying goes that “when one door closes, another one opens.” It’s a comfort to us during times of uncertainty, that sometimes an unexpected change can take us in a new direction. That couldn’t be truer for the main character of Jihan Latimer’s book The Tale of Miss Berta London. When the Editor in Chief of a world-famous magazine commits a major fashion faux pas, it spurs her journey to find a new calling in life.
When we first meet Miss Berta London, she is a cutthroat businesswoman with no regard for the workers at Eloquent Fashion Magazine. But after her fall photoshoot goes disastrously wrong, Berta is at a complete loss. Her investors are pulling out, her employees quit and her finances are in shambles. Now blacklisted from the fashion world, Berta has no choice but to look into a new career path. When she stumbles across a newspaper ad for a nanny, she has no idea what she’s getting into with the Williamson family. The three Williamson children act out in an effort to annoy Berta into quitting. But Berta refuses to back down, and eventually, she and the children reach an agreement. They’ll follow the rules that Berta lays out, and Berta will help them learn to express themselves in a more positive way — through fashion.
Throughout The Tale of Miss Berta London, Jihan Latimer uses fashion as a clever plot device for Berta’s character growth. Everything Berta sees and experiences is through the lens of the clothing industry. So it makes sense that when she looks to connect with the people in her life, she uses that mindset as a way to bond. She hand-picks clothes for the three Williamson children, tailored to their taste. Later in the novel, Berta does the same thing when she helps a student named AJ build up his self-esteem. When Berta gifts AJ a new wardrobe, she can tell that it means much more to him than just a couple of new outfits.
Throughout the novel, Berta makes it clear that fashion isn’t just the clothes you put on; it’s the confidence you feel when wearing a style you love. In all her years in the fashion industry, Berta designed thousands of outfits, but they were always in her taste, to capture her vision for her magazine. Once she works with AJ and the Williamson children, however, she sees firsthand how important it is for the children to express themselves through their clothing. Giving the children this outlet helps Berta empathize with them and shows her the individual side of fashion that she had lost sight of.
The writing of The Tale of Miss Berta London is just as sumptuous as the clothing. Latimer brings the world of Berta London to life with her stunning descriptions. The elegant outfits of Eloquent Fashion Magazine are so detailed, it feels like you can reach into the book and touch the fabric. Even more important than the fashion, however, is the takeaway of the book. The Tale of Miss Berta London reminds us that wealth and status aren’t substitutes for human connection. The real riches come from sharing your love and taking the time to bond with others. Kindness, it seems, is always in style.