Thursday, October 8, 2015

Will Your Dress Have Legs?

The idea of wearing a dress with pants is not entirely foreign to me. Growing up in Ohio's frigid winters, my snowsuit was a padded jacket and padded pants, skirt or dress usually hanging out. Not too practical for frolicking in the snow, but there wasn't much frolicking. Don't let this picture fool you; I hated the cold even then.

"Time to go in?"

Footless tights under a dress have been a trend for so long, let's just call that a style. Certainly footless tights are a blessing for legs too pale, too bumpy or otherwise not ready for the light of day. Besides, the look has a sort of je ne sais quoi when worn with flats. Eternal ballet school.

The pants-under-a-dress look may have begun with Emma Watson as early as 2012:

Perhaps such a long incubation period is giving Emma too much credit. We are now seeing wear-it-for-real versions with skinny-leg or even flared pants.

Will I dress up my pants? I'm thinking yes. What about you?

If SJP can do it...

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Fashion Uniformity

Uniformly chic

Some of the most fashionable people on the planet pretty much wear a uniform. I'm not talking Pope Francis, but he does dress to impress. Think about Anna Wintour, who rarely goes through her workday not wearing a printed, sleeveless or short sleeved dress and a pair of slingback heels. Karl Lagerfeld's uniform may veer on the costume, but it works for Karl. And what would Giorgio Armani be without that t-shirt?

So not only do these fashionable folk have more time in their days, they are each easily identified.

President Obama revealed he either wears a blue or gray suit so he doesn't have to spend much time making clothing decisions. It's gratifying to know he does make even that decision. Life is not just all about world leadership.

So if it's okay for them, why not for us? Most of us haven't zoned in on our own images and stayed there long enough to have them stick. I for one am like a magpie, constantly rummaging around and coming up with the shiny bits. This is not entirely an exaggeration; if it glitters I'm all over it.

It's possible I don't have enough to do. I have the time to play with outfits and shop the stores, the internet, the magazines. It wasn't always this way. I do have more time now, but I kind of like doing that.

So if you have a signature look—
>  Make sure it's your signature.
>  Keep it tweaked and up-to-date.
>  Believe in it; don't just hide behind it.

If you haven't signed off on a look yet—
>  Relax in knowing you are in the majority.
>  Keep track of looks you wear that you really like; one day you may have an epiphany.
>  Get rid of what doesn't work, because if it didn't work once it's not going to work the second time.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Dusting off "Rags", the Magazine

"Cheap Chic", a guide to alternative fashion, has just been reprinted and reissued in a 40th anniversary edition. When first published in 1975 (later updated in 1978), "Cheap Chic" expanded on what hippie street-style had become— mainstream for the fashion-conscious young woman. In its review of the reprint,  The New York Times mentioned how "Cheap Chic" was written by one of the editors (Carol Troy) of a short-lived (1970-71), counter-culture fashion magazine called "Rags".

Fashion and counter-culture may seem opposite endeavors, but clothes are always a defining feature of who-you-are and what-you-are-trying-to-say. "Rags" was aimed at a New York or California gal, working but probably not "working for the man". These were the baby boomers, to be part of which I was born a little early. Though clearly working in the establishment myself, at "Glamour" magazine, I bought "Rags" to see what that noisy group was up to.

I didn't love "Rags" and don't remember reading any cover-to-cover. Nevertheless, I still have seven issues, from October 1970 to June 1971. Amazing that I held onto them while losing my good Tiffany earrings and unwittingly throwing out my wedding dress.

Clever name, that. "Rags" was printed on newsprint. Newspapers have long been nicknamed "rags". The "rag trade" is still shorthand for the Seventh Avenue garment industry. In the history of monikers, they picked a good one.

Inside "Rags" was everything from the expected reports on street style to articles ("A special RAGS report") on "Fashion Fascism: The Politics of Midi", an interview with Marshall McLuhan on "Mini Skirt Tribalism", five pages on "Pity the Poor Working Girl— a report on office dress codes", "How Ricky Escaped from the GTOs" (a group founded by Frank Zappa), an early piece by Jon Carroll (presently a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle) on how he looks like an unmade bed, a photo story with captions about waitresses at two west coast restaurants, how to sew a boho top, a page on camping gear, a spread on deciphering man-made textile fibers, a New York stylist revealing trade secrets and ten pages of shopping finds surrounded by ads like any other magazine back-of-book at the time.

And the ads! Ads for long-gone and/or legendary places like Granny Takes a Trip, Abracadabra, I. Goldberg, Max's Kansas City, Betsey Johnson's Alley Cat and a full-page ad for the new album by Blood, Sweat and Tears.

That's just the October 1970 issue!

I realize now what a serious and thoughtful endeavor this was, laced with rebellion and a hint of sarcasm. There was some fine researching and writing, though not a lot of color. By the time "Cheap Chic" was published I too was wearing thigh-high boots, head wraps and French workingmen's smocks.  Purposefully out of sync, straddling commerce and commune, "Rags" couldn't last and didn't. But this pile of newsprint is really the bedrock of fashion-think that continues to influence today.

PS I've been the guardian lo these many years, but it's time to let this baby go. If you've an interest in my collection of "Rags", please get in touch and we'll talk.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

I Wore a Scarf Today

Scarves of the world united against me
I wore a scarf today. Bad move. I'm not a scarf person.

I praise the genius inventor of the endless scarf, of which I have several. I like the way it frames the face, acting as camouflage for the less-than-youthful neck of not-a-spring-chicken. Plus it stays "tied".

Today's scarf was of the normal, oblong variety. I intended it as the "third piece" to pull together a grey-ish over blouse and teal-ish pants. It was a teal-ish/grey-ish color itself, a silk jacquard weave with fringed ends. It looked harmless enough. I looped and knotted it in a way that worked while standing stock-still in front of the mirror.

This scarf spent the day trying to kill me. The seemingly innocent fringe caught on everything because, of course, the scarf moved when I did. Three hours in I was ready to rip it off but had no necklace to keep me from feeling incomplete.

Mostly, I guess, the scarf just wasn't me. I suddenly felt "old". It was a matronly look, an '80s look, just not a "me" look.

It was only a scarf but emblematic of how we can feel when we try to adopt something that isn't really our style. For me that's a lot of things that are many women's wardrobe staples: a blazer, a white man-tailored shirt, a trench coat, pearls, jeans... It's a pretty long list. At this point I kind of know.

Add scarf.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Coming Attraction: James Dean

September 30 will mark sixty years since James Dean died in a car crash along a California highway. Of his three movies; only one ("East of Eden") had been released. I never saw it. But among the girls in my junior high school, his death was big news. The movie magazines were full of pictures of him, catnip to teenage girls attracted to his mix of the dangerous and vulnerable.

Certainly his performances in those films were equal to those of the young Marlon Brando. Fate determined we would never know if he could sustain or would squander that talent. James Dean not only played the loner, he looked the part and seemed like the real deal. Even today it's hard to put together a picture of who he really was. One thing for sure— he was an original.

Speaking of pictures, Dennis Stock, a young Magnum photographer who worked for Life and other publications, took a series of photos of Dean in New York City and on his family's Indiana farm in 1955. This is one of the best known:

James Dean and Dennis Stock

Since we're talking fashion here, James Dean is a touchstone for men's fashion. He didn't invent the just-got-out-of-bed look, but he may have been the first to get out of bed and go out the door with it. Tousled hair, rumpled shirt, white t-shirt and jeans, black turtleneck, horn-rimmed glasses, sailor t-shirt, black dress shirt and always nearby, the cigarette. He could wear work boots with a tuxedo jacket or a navy surplus overcoat with a dress suit. We need to remember these looks were very new for the 1950s. 

His "slouchy, artfully dishevelled way [of dressing] feels very contemporary", says Dan Rookwood, the US editor of the men's style journal Mr. Porter. It's inspired countless designers, most recently Marc Jacobs for AW15, with untucked shirts and too long trousers worn with workboots. 

A movie is in the works, called "Life", starring Robert Pattinson as Stock and Dale DeHaan as James Dean. By the looks of the trailer, I'll keep my fingers crossed. In some cases I don't think pictures need to move to tell the story.

PS  If you get Turner Classics on your cable or satellite, tune in tomorrow (September 25) for an evening of programs featuring James Dean in his early, pre Hollywood, television performances, starting at 8 PM Eastern.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Paris Report (not Fashion Week)

We just got back from Paris. Always ahead of ourselves, it was the week before Fashion Week. Honestly I don't think I could have taken the excitement. Paris is loco about Fashion, but in the way that drives the rest of the world crazy— natural yet calculated, easy yet disciplined, artful yet frivolous all at the same time. Fashion is so in the Parisian DNA it doesn't even rate a capital "F". Someone did ask if I was there for Fashion Week, and I can't tell you how that made my day!

This American always connects Paris and fashion to Jean Seberg in "Breathless." I intended to recreate the scene where she is hawking papers on the street and even brought my Herald Tribune t-shirt (a recreated homage), but the weather was chilly for the most part with showers if not exactly rain. I chickened out.

Jean P. and Jean S. on the Champs

Once again, praise goes to The Sartorialist and Advanced Style for capturing street style. I find it nearly impossible to photograph that way, although it was a great excuse to sit in a sidewalk cafe and try. Just this gal shot from behind may give you an idea about Parisian style.

We did start up a conversation with a beautifully dressed couple. Alan and the gentleman eyed each other as they were wearing the same glasses. I was sure the couple were French; they were from San Francisco.

I would guess the woman below was the proprietor of the antiques shop, checking to see if the rain had stopped. I so fell in love with her, it was easy to run up and ask if I might take her picture. All I could think of saying was "Magnifique, magnifique". She must have thought I was nuts.

Note the hair bow

This incident has no pictures. A young woman was parading through the Musee D'Orsay— too much makeup, hair stiffly styled, strange outfit that included a very full, flowered skirt, ankle socks and sequined ruby heels. She was too conscious of her appearance; I refused to reinforce the cry for attention with a photo. Alan did stage whisper he guessed we weren't in Kansas anymore. A woman near us (not American) asked if that was how they dressed in Kansas. She understood when we explained the "Wizard of Oz" reference. We both agreed that wasn't Fashion.

Don't ask me how we got there, but we also agreed there were some things we just wouldn't wear anymore. It was a poignant moment (and I paraphrase) as she said "Many of my friends say 'Isn't it wonderful that we are so free now and don't have to worry about that stuff', but I think it's terrible. Getting old is not fun." I should send her to the woman on Rue St. Germain...

All the cliches about Paris style are true: 

* Most wear LOTS of black. Head to toe. Unrelieved. I can see where that would be easy-way-out dressing as the chicest of Parisians added pops of color or were studies in neutral.

* They are thin. Even thinner when you see how much bread, pastry and confections they have to avoid. Temptation is everywhere.

* Skinny black pants and ballet flats are worn by women of every age. And look great on all.

* European women in general know how to work a scarf. Parisians lead the bunch. Even my 91-year-old cousin, whom we visited while there, asked for her pretty scarf before I took a picture as it would "hide my neck."

Cousine Jill Benjamin

* There are more women who don't dye their grey hair than do, and the streets are full of very stylish grey manes that had me thinking...

Finance Minister Christine Lagarde
leads the grey charge

I spotted a new trend as well— many young women wore their hair in loose topknots a la Toulouse Lautrec. Delicious.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Fall Style from the "The Street"

You would think the Wall Street Journal would not be your first choice to get some choice tips on fall style, but you would be wrong. The Journal (as it's usually called) publishes a monthly magazine called WSJ. September's issue is all about women's style. I've not seen this on newsstands. It may be delivered with your subscription to the Wall Street Journal newspaper. Someone at the gym has one and left behind his or her copy for me to enjoy. I don't want to say it's my new favorite magazine, but it's up there. I love each and every trend in the section "Market Report".

1) Wide-legged pants
WSJ means wide. Waist at the waist. Pleats. Mannish tailoring. Necessary to have: small waist.

2) Pirate shirt
Jerry Seinfeld may not have wanted to be a pirate, but I do. Note the tough jeans.

3) Cropped pants
Not so new, maybe, but I'm happy to keep the love going. This look was not as scary to pull off as I

4) Car-wash skirt
Haven't seen this for a while, have we? Now it's called a "deconstructed skirt" and comes in more ways than black.

5) Cable knits
I'm glad this one's back because I can just pull out my gen-you-wine Aran Islands pullover. Hopefully the moths didn't get it first.

6) Big red coat
If you get cold as I do, looking at this makes you feel warmer. I'm of the school that believes in a fun coat. It's what most of the world will see you in from October to April. And don't think I didn't notice the "two-headed coat" in the picture above. Nice to know Fashion still has a sense of humor.
Like a science project that sparks but may then fizzle, trends do not always stay trending. As always, pick the ones you love; forget the rest.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Women We Love: Joan Juliet Buck

I like her age...

She would never remember me, but I remember Joan Juliet Buck coming through the Glamour art department in my early, 1960s years of working there. She was something of a "wunderkind", a very young woman with a good lineage, good education and a real gift for observation and writing. She went on to many careers including novelist, actress and editor-in-chief of French Vogue. Please enjoy this smart, funny (yes I laughed out loud) and so true piece.


When I was 30, my necklaces were ironic. The single row of baroque pearls with the intaglio clasp that I wore along with my grandmother's double strand were a cheeky nod at Coco Chanel in her late-revival prime, say, when she was 78 or 80. Now that I'm barreling toward my mid-60s, the last thing I want to do is remind anyone of Coco Chanel at 78. Instead of being casually brilliant pieces of irony, the pearls now confer the gravitas of a mother-in-law, while my amber beads from pre-perestroika Moscow, which used to be a river of golden light, make me look like I teach poetry part-time while attempting a second career in hand-thrown pots.

Necklaces age me.
So do black jackets.
So do shoulder pads.
So do earrings. Any earrings.
So, alas, do printed scarves.
So does red lipstick.
So does smoky, sexy eye makeup.
And high heels I can't walk in.

Now that I'm a lady of a certain age, I have to drop the costumes. Everything that put me in the Best-Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1987 must be left in 1987, and the same goes for the Lartigue look of 1972, the dust-colored suits of 1991, and the rest. Fashion is a time capsule and becomes a time machine that only the young should enter. "Vintage" from your own closet carries too many old references. But we get attached to what we wore the day we fell in love, the day we found our style, the days we looked our best.

I hang on to the Saint Laurent smoking coatdress that I wore to a lunch in 1983 because I hadn't slept in my own bed, the Missoni camisole I wore to a magical dinner at Maxim's in 1974, the Hermès chestnut leather dress from 1996 that was the coolest thing in the world. But the world moves on, the Saint Laurent coatdress is a fashion history lesson, the camisole can't be worn with a bra, and the leather dress is oddly tight. I haven't gained weight, but things have moved around.

We find our style in our 20s and hang on to everything that makes up our look—hair, shoes, colors, shapes—through our 30s and 40s, at style cruising speed. But somewhere between 50 and 60, there are bumps in the road. Physical changes, social changes, contextual changes.

The face changes shape. From the age of 23 onward, I wore a particular expression in photographs until I saw evidence that the pensive, dreamy, three-quarter profile had turned grumpy. Now it's full face, with a smile, and as much light as possible.

When Lauren Hutton gave me an array of makeup from her line, she said, "We have to do different things now. Watch my DVD." I told her, a little huffily, that I didn't need to watch a DVD to know how to put on makeup, but she was adamant, so I watched and learned, among many secrets, that concealer now goes under the nostrils. Really? I thought, but it works.

At a certain age, more can be as good as less, but only if used in the right place.

The body changes. Elegance is refusal, elimination, and pitiless self-criticism. No matter how many times you salute the sun, the skin on those fine upper arms will drape toward the crook of the elbow in a gentle valance that would be a triumph executed in chiffon but is alarming in human skin.

Then there's that egregious puff of flesh at the junction of breast and armpit that I call the chicken because it reminds me of the more depressing cuts offered by Frank Perdue. It pops out between strap and arm, it makes itself known under a T-shirt, it wriggles out of armholes, it rises like yeast above a strapless dress.

The torso does odd things. Alcohol, pasta, cheese, and cookies—the basic constituents of sex-free fun—cause it to expand forward, which is why Geoffrey Beene cut his most ladylike dresses with a gather at the breastbone. Even if the waistline hasn't expanded, what's just below it begins to resemble a sofa, even if it's only a small part of a very neat sofa.

The tailored suit belongs in the boardroom, and then only if you're on the board. The pantsuit looks either so masculine that it signals a lifestyle choice, or it puts you firmly in human resources at a midsize Ohio company.

The crop top and the low-cut jeans have to go. So do the shorts for anything but sports, and the miniskirts. It's no use re-creating those cocktails on the lawn in the linen shift, or prom night, or disco dawns sweating to Barry White in tight sheaths, or pioneer strides in the prairie skirt with the wide belt as firm as a man's hands. Or those hot afternoons in ragged denim on the wooden steps of Mike's house somewhere in Florida in the 1970s, what was that place called?

If you're rich, you donate to charity. If you're famous, you sell for charity. If you're neither, you call the resale shop. What now?

The forgiving knitted tunic beckons. Ignore it, especially in tones called pebble, rock, stone, sand, and heathered versions of each. Furthermore, the forgiving tunic too often has bat-wing sleeves, which conjure up the possibility that the arm beneath is exactly the same shape.

The shawl is another temptation—a swath of softness, a bit of bravado for the shoulders, you think, forgetting that every grandmother in every painting since painting began is wearing a shawl. White crochet is to be feared (in general, white crochet should be avoided after graduation), but tensely folded black cashmere can make you look like a Sicilian widow. A shawl draped over the back is granny, but thrown over one shoulder, it's power.

All colors are good except maroon, and if you're Caucasian, yellow. Purple, which should be the color of wisdom, has connotations of witch and madwoman best left alone. Eccentricity is to the later years what vulgarity is to youth: a cheap solution.

Whether it's dyed or allowed to fade to the color of imported French sea salt, the hair on women of a certain age has a strange texture that requires daily professional blowouts to approximate the bounce of youth. You try a turban in the mirror at home; you imagine that it pulls up your features. It actually makes you look like a fortune-teller, but few will tell you that. I happily wore Middle Eastern cotton headbands as wide as turbans until hairstylist John Barrett said, "Good God! You need help," swept me off, and gave me a sublime renegade-priest cut. When it's growing out, I sneak on the turban headbands and resume reading palms.

A truly great haircut makes up for the fact that you're not in spike heels.

The hunt for shoes is as impassioned as ever, only you're looking for a different kind of shoe. As the fat pad under the feet shrinks, the shock of bone on leather becomes unbearable in heels. Some designers add layers to their insoles, but never enough, because it would ruin the curve of the arch. You discover hitherto-unknown brands of shoes lined in cork, Tempur-Pedic foam, inner springs, and angel food cake, and you succumb to comfort, but should you fall for the Velcro-strap Mary Jane, young women will laugh at you behind your back. Fear Velcro.

Even comfort follows the rules of fashion. When you find shoes you can stand in through an entire cocktail party, you must buy them in every color and multiples of black because the more perfect the shoe, the faster it will be discontinued. At a dinner, a beautiful Danish woman my age showed me her shoes; a perfect shape with a good heel, they had a little zip by the instep. She took one off to show me the name—"No one you know," she said—but she'd worn them so much that it had vanished.

Last fall I longed for the Saint Laurent silver boots identical to the gold ones I had in 1973. Missoni makes me as happy as ever, Uniqlo's collections by Jil Sander and Inès de la Fressange are beautiful, and I look forward to what Christophe Lemaire will do there this fall. The wardrobe now comes down to the essentials: black sweaters, good trousers, boatneck tunics, and dresses that are cut, shaped, and fitted to me. A good trench coat, and then a few more good trench coats. I found a silk one at Pamela Barish's shop in Los Angeles, with pleats in the back so that it can be worn as a dress, or thrown—the way I used to throw my pearls—over a plain top and trousers for that abstracted I-just-got-out-of-bed look that signals cool at any age. It's the ideal garment, but the one in my size was snapped up by some 30-year-old movie star, so I'm going to have to wait.

*Originally published in May 2015 Harper's Bazaar

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Call Me Crazy

This is what I do before a trip: I doodle my wardrobe on a sheet of dummy forms (that look amazingly like me).

I've been doing this for ages, finalizing the figures onto a template about 20 years ago, thanks to the Photoshop talents of a willing friend (WW you know who you are).

I refer to the pictogram during the trip as well. So often living out of a suitcase makes it hard to see what you've brought along.

All this "stuff" for a ten-day trip (wearing the bulkiest on the plane) easily fits into a regulation carry on suitcase, along with the prerequisite lotions, potions, pjs and underwear.

Since you're allowed to board with two items, I tuck my cross-body bag into a tote that fits under the seat and set my wheelie on course. Volia! Paris here we come!

PS  Since I will be traveling to cities where a Zara and/or an H&M may stand on every corner, I promise not to step inside. I can do that here at home. Unless, of course, the exchange on the Euro is really really really good.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Behind on My "Advanced Style"

I avoided watching the documentary "Advanced Style" as I feared I wouldn't like those old ladies in outlandish get-ups. As a card-carrying WOACA myself, I would be embarrassed for those of us hoping to age gracefully, not glaringly. I was wrong of course. Like the dress you won't try on because it looks terrible on the hanger, and once on it flatters— the film was a treat.

First there was a blog (2008), then a book (2012), followed by the movie in 2014. Ari Seth Cohen, now 33, was new to New York from California and working in a bookstore when he  began photographing mature women on the streets. He admits to missing his grandmothers. He was also responding to popular blogs that tend to ignore those older than fifty. He discovered some gently stylish women and some quirky characters whose "looks" went hand-in-hand with their personalities.

A judgment call on my part, I lumped the quirky personalities with show-offs and disdained the whole dress-as-theatre thing. It's a fine line indeed— to express yourself through what you wear or to exist solely as a walking canvas for your creations. Iris Apfel and Beatrix Ost would be two of the former. I worried that Ari's "girls" might be of the latter.

Iris Apfel does make a brief appearance as an elder statesperson. She always has something wonderful to say. Beatrix Ost is only glimpsed briefly and not mentioned. Interestingly, the post I ran on Beatrix has been read far-and-away more than any other—3,220 views at this writing.

Iris and Beatrix: beyond advanced

"Advanced Style" is about women who are not necessarily on the highest tiers of fashion, design and art. They are New Yorkers, which makes them leading unique lives. As one says, "We walk a lot. That's why we stay in such good shape". Plus they go out. You can't live in New York City and not go out. Believe me, I tried it. Too much to do, too much to see.

Attention well deserved
He focuses on seven women from 62 to 95. None of them are donning wild get-ups only to attract attention, though they like it and are aware how they look. One does admit to wishing she had married and knows she treats her clothing like the children she never had. Another, in her 80s and legally blind, is still in the market for a nice man who likes to go out and is "rich of course."

A head for fashion...
Never too old to be a supermodel

One woman runs a vintage boutique while caring for an ailing husband and cheating death a few times. She knows when she can manage full makeup and hair, she's feeling great. This is most of the time. At one point Ari must ask her to tone it down so others can have their day in the sun.

No shrinking violet

Another, elegantly beautiful, needs only a little prodding to belt out an aria and relish center stage. It was fascinating to watch another, a Betsy Johnson look-alike, turn up with spiky hair in various hues from blonde to pink to purple and sport some amazing bracelets made from toilet paper rolls.

Those bracelets!

The most outlandish of the group, at first glance, uses her own bright-red hair to fashion long false eyelashes. She's the one I fell in love with and would scoop up to take home. She sings cabaret, dances, draws, paints and teaches. She leaps so much as walks with joy in her steps. Yet she knows, as we can see, all the pains of advanced (physical) age— so much so she "won't buy green bananas".

She leaped into my heart

As life itself is unpredictable this documentary has a surprise turn of events. I won't spoil it for you. "Advanced Style" won't show you how to put an outfit together, but it will teach you that much more about Life.