Photograph by Neil Rasmus/BFA NYC
The cover of #Girlboss shows author Sophia Amoruso, Nasty Gal’s founder and chief executive officer, standing defiantly against a pale pink background, hands on hips, in a severe black dress that plunges below her rib cage. The hashtag in the title reeks of a terrible marketing idea (“Millennial-speak? Perfect, you’re promoted!”), but among the glut of leadership books featuring paunchy old men in power suits, at least #Girlboss has a shot at standing out.
Amoruso’s sexy outfit fits with the aesthetic of Nasty Gal, a popular online retailer that sells clothes, shoes, and accessories to an army of young women who refer to themselves, unironically, as nasty gals. The company had $100 million in revenue in 2013, a ton of money considering that no one older than 35 or male seems to have heard of it. Amoruso’s only 30 years old, and her personal story is a big part of the brand. She never went to college and held just a few menial jobs before starting Nasty Gal as a vintage clothing EBay (EBAY) store in 2006—she took the name from an album by funk singer Betty Davis, whom she refers to as the “patron saint of badass women.” By 2010, Amoruso had given up vintage and turned the business into what it is today, a trendy shopping site aimed at women who like to show a little (a lot of) skin.
#Girlboss’s mission is to empower those slightly rebellious twentysomethings paying $100 for Nasty Gal crop tops and sheer-paneled dresses. Amoruso defines a #Girlboss as “someone who’s in charge of her own life. She gets what she wants because she works for it.” She writes that the book “will not teach you how to get rich quick, break into the fashion industry, or start a business. It is not a feminist manifesto nor a memoir.” Instead, it will instruct you how to “project yourself into an awesome life where you can do whatever you want.” Sounds nice.
While I assume that Amoruso read and even wrote her own book, her characterization of it turns out to be all wrong. It is mainly a memoir, starting from when she was an oddball child with a knack for fashion, getting into her defiant young adulthood (she was into hitchhiking, dumpster diving, and shoplifting), and then going in deep on the formation of her company. There’s some work advice woven in—during interviews, don’t dress “like you’re headed to a nightclub instead of a job interview,” i.e., don’t wear anything from Nasty Gal—as well as interstitial first-person chapters by other #Girlbosses, such as the Man Repeller fashion blogger Leandra Medine and Refinery29 Editor-in-Chief Christene Barberich.
Amoruso is chatty and confessional. Everything is “bulls---” or “awesome” or “not my jam.” It’s clear why young women admire her: She turned her hobby into a successful company, she’s pretty, and she has a Porsche and nice clothes. She’s also relatable, admitting to constantly feeling overwhelmed and uncertain in business situations. “I felt like a fraud for a long time,” she writes. “As if there was no way in hell I was qualified.”
#Girlboss is targeting the same readers as Sheryl Sandberg’s updated Lean In for Graduates, which came out in April. Sandberg’s featured on the cover smiling warmly, her chin resting on her hand, and though she and Amoruso look wildly different, their message is basically the same. Work hard, girls, and your dreams can come true. Don’t let men stomp all over you. Most 21-year-olds will roll their eyes at Sandberg, in her tasteful white cashmere sweater. So buy #Girlboss for your daughter. And then try to keep her away from Nasty Gal.