Gloss – teen romance, fashion and feminism in the 1960s

gloss marilyn kaye


‘Gloss’ by Marilyn Kaye follows the self-discovery of four interns at a fashion magazine for young girls. Get ready for a gripping, easy read that shines a light on sixties sexism!

I was in a bad mood, browsing the titles at my local library and oddly craving your cliché teen romance book.  I saw Gloss on the shelves, checked out the typography of the title and dived straight in to discover fashion in the early 1960s, the rise of feminism and some wild life lessons. This read is not just for fashion lovers.

I’ll shared what I learnt, but first, here’s a quick plot summary:

Gloss is a popular magazine of 1963 for young girls. A group of interns are heading to the HQ in Manhattan, New York to experience the workings of the magazine and help make Gloss perfectly perfect for its target audience.  The story is told through the perspectives of four diverse characters:

  • Sherry is your perfect Southern girl; she is neutral, near-engaged and plans to go to college before becoming a housewife. But don’t worry! Soon, she discovers her passion…
  • Allison dreams of the Greenwich Village life. But someone’s style is just their style, not who they are as a person.
  • Pamela is cheerfully labelled by all those around her as a ‘slut’ (see Mookychick’s article on slutshaming). She dreams of exciting affairs and having a sugar daddy.
  • Donna doesn’t even want to be at Gloss, but she also needs to escape a terrible life.

The writing style is fast, relaxed and appropriate to the time. Gloss is definitely an easy read that gives you satisfactory fluff moments and also gets you rooting for these young women!

Marilyn Kaye hops between multiple character viewpoints as you move through the book. This doesn’t stop characters becoming established individuals to the reader. By the end, you can tell which character you are from the first sentence of a flipped perspective.

So, what have I learnt from reading Gloss?

  • Don’t judge a book by its cover
    It’s a really over-used phrase but definitely applies to this book. As you get to know the characters, they’re not who you thought they were at the start. I was captivated by the smooth transitions between the sharply contrasting (and mooky) characters; normally when perspectives change in books I tend to get annoyed…
  • Everyday feminism
    To be a feminist you don’t have to admin an intersectional feminist Instagram. Feminism starts in how you react to being denied something with the obious reason being because you are a woman. It’s important to know that each small step counts. In Gloss this can be regularly seen in the treatment of the female staff at the magazine; assistants that shouldn’t be in management and being treated like pieces of meat. This brings me on to…
  • Being grateful for the rights we have gained – and to keep fighting till we reach equality
    I couldn’t get over the fact that for most girls in the 1960s the main goal was to become a house wife: this is what they were expected to be. Never do I want to imagine a day where I would have to quit my own passions. We have come so far and yet we have so far to go. We have to keep and fighting and remember that small steps are better than none at all.
  • Everyone has problems
    Each girl in the book has something they have to face, and the other girls don’t know this. Everyone you know could be putting a gloss on things. With Gloss you get to see how someone else faces the world.