Thursday, July 18, 2019

Summer in the City: A Shorts Story

Who said it was okay to wear casual shorts as a tourist in a big city? Nobody. So why are you wearing them?

You know who you are. I estimate your age as between 30 and 60.

Women older than that left their gardening clothes at home and wore pants or even a dress. They (me too) were born in an age when "appropriate" was part of the dress code. Those habits die hard.

Younger women? My personal opinion about what to wear in a city will be irrelevant; I understand.

"What? Me worry?"

By shorts I don't mean “city shorts”, those to-the-knee-ish, tailored shorts. I never saw anyone wearing them. I saw instead a sea of full-on in-your-backyard short shorts.

City shorts never caught on.

Are you older than 30? It’s time to grow up. Shorts are fine at home. We live in casual times, and summer is a little hot for yoga wear. But a city is a city, and they don't get any more "city" than Washington, DC. 

For once men out-dressed the women. Men in suits were everywhere. And there were well-dressed women of many ages. Of course these people were all government workers or diplomats or presidential candidates. I could tell they weren't tourists because they walked fast.

I didn't see this guy.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Swimsuit Daze These Sunny Days

Fair and prone to skin cancers, I shouldn't be out in the sun in the first place. Of course I want to take advantage of summer water activities. I finally found a self-tanner that doesn't turn my legs citrus peel orange (not a plug but Tan Towel if you're curious). Armed with 50 SPF sun screen they are good to go (or show). The rest of me? That's a swimsuit challenge.

You might say I was an early adapter, but I've been swimming in a long-sleeve rash guard and boy-shorts for a few years now. I called myself "the world's oldest surfer", although there was no surf in the pool at the Richilieu Hotel.

Happily the rash guard has caught on and there are now many fashion-savvy styles to choose from. You may ask, "Well, aren't they hot?" They are not. And (bonus) the residual cool on your body after you come from a dip in ocean or pool is quite refreshing. They dry fast so cool doesn't turn clammy.

Land's End has the sanest versions

The rash guard eliminates all sorts of issues like flabby arms and muffin tops. If you need support you can wear a lightweight athletic bra. You can buy a smaller can of sunscreen. Just don't forget your legs. I haven't gone full scuba diver yet.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Stylish Read: IM

"IM" is a great title for an autobiography. That happens to be Isaac Mizrahi's initials, which could also stand for Irrepressible Mensch*.

Be apprised. "IM" is not a romp through Isaac's adventures in the fashion business (though there are some). He doesn't elaborate his design philosophy (other than there must be color and joy). He never kisses and tells if relationships went wrong. In "IM" he is coming to terms with himself, a work in progress.

He grew up in a family that followed Sephardic Jewish traditions in Brooklyn. Isaac had enough difficulty fitting into his own family let alone the neighborhood. Always a showman, he persuaded his parents to allow him to attend High School of the Performing Arts in Manhattan with hopes of going into show business. He loved everything about it, including making costumes.

Acting was hard; fashion was easy. I understand. For me writing (which I loved) was hard; art was easy. I became a graphic designer. Easy or not, the business of fashion is fraught with challenges. It's a wonder anyone makes it. It took time and has been a roller coaster ride, but Isaac Mizrahi is one of our best loved and most prolific designers without a regular presence on runways or in stores.

From 2002 to 2008 he was the first designer of note to produce a line for Target. Although he faced some flack from the fashion community for it, the line was a huge success. I only reluctantly let go of a faux wood-grained skirt I loved that must have shrunk while hanging in the closet.

Wood that it still fit!

In 2010 he launched another successful line with QVC, which continues today. While not particularly impressed by what I see, I think that A) it must pay the bills and B) it sells well because Isaac as a presenter is just so darn charming.

In between Isaac has had a talk show on tv, been a continuing judge on the "Project Runway" franchise, invented a comic character, had a one-man show, and a cabaret act. I get the idea that any future attempts at fashion design will be replaced by his true love, show business.

To this day he has issues with self image. Isaac's childhood photos are easily found on the internet, but he includes no pictures. I'm sure his editors tried to convince him otherwise. That there are none surely indicates resolve and a will of steel.

Isaac loves stylish women, but doesn't tell us how to be one. There's not one bit of fashion advice in "IM". For that I refer you to his  charming 2008 "How to Have Style".

There is, however, one great takeaway: We can never truly be happy unless we are our true selves. Like the hunt for the perfect pair of jeans, it's a lifetime journey. 

* Yiddish for "person of integrity and honor"

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Gloria Vanderbilt: An Appreciation

Gloria Vanderbilt was a debutante often unfairly labeled a dilettante. She was creating collages, decoupaging and decorating in an inspired American Country Style long before those things were mainstream. Her art was whimsical, folk-inspired yet modern and very, very feminine. I loved what I saw in magazines yet still couldn't decide if she was a genuine talent. She was.

The Coopers surrounded by Gloria's art and design skills

Her 1976 foray into fashion (blue jeans of all things)* was a highly successful venture let alone feminist statement. Yet still I questioned her motives.

Odd publicity shot to say the least...

The years gave her the respect she deserved. She remained active as an artist and a searcher for all of life's gifts. Now that she has died—at age 95—it's time to recognize her as one of the most fascinating and creative of women.

Glamorous shot by Avedon

Gloria Vanderbilt's background and history are well-documented. I hope you investigate how she became the 1920's "poor little rich girl", shocking the world with her marriages—one when she was 20 to world renowned conductor Leopold Stokowski, 42 years her senior—and love affairs (including Frank Sinatra).

With Stokowski in 1950
She was almost always in the public eye but accepted the curiosity and notoriety even during personal tragedies (the suicide of her son Carter in 1988). In recent years her status as Anderson Cooper's mother may have been her greatest fame. The CNN reporter and anchor spoke of her often and produced a conversation, "Nothing Left Unsaid", for HBO in 2016 that is candid and loving.

Anderson and Gloria

How does Gloria fit in my universe of all things fashion? Here's where we begin to see how fashion is really a component of style, and style is where the art is. That makes us artists every time we get dressed, and it makes us admirers of those who have the art in their dna. That would be Gloria.

* The company still exists, but Gloria sold her rights and interests in it many years ago.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

So Right It's Sarong

I love nothing more than a good play on words, but that's not the only reason for this blog. Could the sarong be the next trend?

Sarongs, or variations on the name, are worn by both men and women in Indonesia, Malayasia, Singapore, Sri Lanka and the Indian subcontinent. Patterns, colors and ways of tying can vary, but the sarong is a single length of fabric that becomes a lower garment. We dare not call it a skirt.

On the road again with Bing and Bob

My earliest encounter with a sarong was the Hollywood version, popularized in films with exotic locales. I'm willing to bet it was one of the Bing Crosby/Bob Hope "Road" movies that often featured Dorothy Lamour wearing a sarong. She became known as "The Sarong Girl" following her 1936 movie debut in "The Jungle Princess", wearing a sarong designed by Edith Head.

The jungle princess

You will note that Dorothy's sarong covered top as well as bottom. I wonder what came first—Edith Head's sarong or the bath towel?

But I am getting off subject. 2019's sarong trend just may be a sarong worn over pants or worn as a skirt with a button down or blouse. Street-style not beach-style. I love the idea...

...and on Bella it looks good.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Survey Says...

About a year ago, my friend Durell Godfrey and I had the idea to create a book about fashion for Women of a Certain Age. We're both in our seventies and still interested in expressing our style and looking good. The book never took off for various reasons I've mentioned before:

To gauge interest in the project, it was suggested we poll a group of women to see how they felt about fashion, and we did just that. 100 women from their early 50s to mid 80s responded to the survey. They live on both coasts and in the middle, up north and down south. Some are still working, some retired, many doing a bit of both. Every one that came back via snail mail or email was fun to read and became part of our quasi-scientific survey.

Because we rarely talk about it, most of us think we are The Only One—the only one who hates her arms or that roll of fat around her mid-section or hates her legs or gets thrown a loop when dressing for a special occasion. Even those women who said they didn't care about fashion admitted they were frustrated with their inability to find things they liked at prices they could afford. Love it or hate it, everyone was interested enough to have an opinion.

It seems such a waste to let those surveys sit at the bottom of a box marked "Always in Fashion Book Proposal", so here are the questions and the results:

T H E   F A S H I O N    S U R V E Y  

1) Is fashion more or less important to you now than when you were in your ‘30s? 

a) more important 
b) less important 
c) the same importance 

About half said fashion had the same importance.

2) Do you wish you could branch out but are nervous to try new looks? 

a) I like to experiment 
b) I prefer what I know works 

Answers were 50/50.

3) Is it hard to clean out your closet and get rid of things you no longer wear? 

a) I try to do that 
b) I hate to give things up 

More than half clean out their closets. 

4) What’s your biggest challenge(s) when shopping for clothing today?  

a) finding clothes that fit 
b) finding styles I like 
c) finding items that fit my price range 

More than half are challenged to find things they liked.

5) Are there things you absolutely-will-not-wear?  

a) cropped pants  
b) full skirts 
c) pencil skirts 
d) sleeveless anything  
e) elastic pants 
f) heels 
g) jeans
h) shorts 
i) bathing suits 
j) sandals 

Full skirts, cropped pants, sleeveless anything and shorts topped the list. 

6) What style of dressing do you feel most comfortable in? 

a) relaxed casual 
b) Bohemian 
c) simple tailored
d) feminine 
e) bold and dramatic 
f) I don’t have one style

Relaxed casual and simple tailored were most chosen. 

7) Would you occasionally splurge on a pricey item?  

a) jewelry 
b) handbag  
c) shoes
d) clothing 
e) I’m not even tempted 

Almost everyone would spurge on something, especially clothing.

8) How often do you make a special effort to get dressed each day? 

a) every day 
b) if I have someplace special to go 

More than half make an effort daily.

9) How often do you shop online?

a) most of the time 
b) about half the time 
c) sometimes
 d) rarely if ever

“Sometimes” and “rarely” were the surprising answers.

10) What do you most like about shopping online?
a) the convenience 
b) the variety 
c) the prices 
d) the fun of finding something unexpected 

Those that did liked the convenience.

11) Do you like to shop with friends or on your own?
a) with friends 
b) on my own 

Almost everyone preferred to shop alone. Even those who liked “social shopping” preferred to shop alone when on a mission.

12) Which are your favorite stores to shop? Circle all that apply. 

a) mid-range department store like Macy’s or Nordstrom 
b) high end store like Saks or Neiman’s 
c) trendy store like Zara or Anthropologie 
d) specialty store like Talbot’s or Chico’s 
e) classics store like J Crew, GAP or Banana Republic 
f) budget conscious store like Target, TJ Maxx or Marshall’s 
g) consignment or thrift shop 

Answers were pretty evenly divided, with trendy stores and budget conscious stores receiving the most.

13) Do you enjoy dressing for special occasions? 

a) I like dressing up 
b) special occasions throw me in a tizzy 

Almost 90% of respondents like dressing up.

14) Do you have a physical feature you play up? 

"The legs are the last to go" seems to be a truism among respondents. Others are still proud to show off small waists, nice bosoms or slim figures.

15) Do you have a physical feature you play down? 

20% of respondents are unhappy about their stomachs.There does not seem to be a body part someone doesn't like.

16) Who are your style icons (movies or celebrities)?  

Audrey Hepburn by far led the pack, followed closely by Diane Keaton and Katherine Hepburn. Audrey Hepburn is a natural choice for the demographic. Diane Keaton dresses unexpectedly and to the beat of her own drum. Perhaps that is part of the admiration. Kate Hepburn, also outspoken, mastered the tailored look many of our respondents strive to adopt for themselves.

How do these compare with your own thoughts? Designers, manufacturers, fashion editors and retailers please take note!

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Dressing by the Boards

13 Seven Sisters

When Cleveland's department stores announced their College Boards, they weren't talking about the organization formed in 1899 to expand access to higher education.

The College Boards were a predominantly 1950s-1960s marketing tool to attract college coeds, especially freshmen who were anxious to fit into their schools' particular fashion sense. The Board consisted of a dozen or so supposed authorities on what their particular colleges required in terms of wardrobe. They were hired to work for six weeks, from mid-July until late-August, peak off-to-college shopping time.

It was an honor to be a College Board member, I thought, not that far from being Miss America. Their names, colleges and photos would be printed in the department store ad under a fetching headline such as:

"Introducing our 1958 College Board!"

Members didn't represent just any college, either. They were almost all from the Seven Sisters— Barnard, Smith, Mount Holyoke, Vassar, Bryn Mawr, Wellesley, and Radcliffe. There was the odd local student from Oberlin or Ohio State, but who cared what anyone wore in Ohio? It was the Ivy League that mattered, and it was that preppy style we sought to emulate even in high school.

I never met a College Board member. They didn't seem to be "on duty" when I was downtown shopping. Instead I got my fashion advice from August Seventeen magazine and their "Back to School" issue or August Glamour's "10 Best-Dressed College Girls"*.

By the time I really was headed to college, to art school, in 1960, I'd put my circle pins away and laid my Peter Pan collars to rest. Instead I was buying opaque black nun's stockings to stand in for the black tights Beatniks wore. No College Board in that department.

I see why it's so hard to get dressed today. We don't have anyone telling us what to wear, how many shirts to buy, what styles are "in" or what will make us look hopelessly out of step. We have no one to please but ourselves. And when was the last time you looked in the mirror without hesitation and said, "Gee, I look good today."

*Yes, Glamour actually called it that from 1957 until 1969, when the honor was changed to "Top 10 College Girls". It took a few more years for them to become Women. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

What the Cool Japanese Girls Wore

Along the beach at Waikiki, between shops
We were just in Beautiful Waikiki (pretty hard not to link those two words together). Waikiki is the beachfront resort of Honolulu, Hawaii's capitol, on the island of Oahu. Eight hours from our home in Houston, it's also eight hours from Tokyo. There were a lot more Japanese than visiting Texans, a lot. I would guestimate 80% of Waikiki's tourists are Asian, of that 80% are Japanese. It makes for quite an exotic experience, like visiting a Japan where everyone speaks English.

Shopping is stellar in Waikiki. There are four shopping centers within its four miles. One of them, Ala Moana, has 350 stores and is the largest open-air mall in the world. We're not talking Walmart here. From Harry Winston to the world's most beautiful H&M, Waikiki is a shopper's delight and people-watching heaven.

Japanese especially embrace the consumerism, wearing logos with abandon as well as the latest western trends. They don't waste time lying on the beach or lounging by the pool and are definitely not working on their tans. Covered up, at least during the day, is the dress code.

There was a Cool Japanese Girl Look I haven't seen before: the duster. A duster is a loose, lightweight (usually cotton or linen) summer coat with wide sleeves that ends mid-calf. This was worn not for warmth on Hawaii's 80+ degree days but to cover up and add that outfit-making third piece. I usually saw a duster paired with skinny jeans and a tee shirt or adding more volume to full cropped pants or a long, full skirt.

Important note: these dusters were not kimonos, those once-trendy toppers that have overstayed their welcome. The duster, in soft shades, added drama as the wearer moved down the street. I was also impressed all that volume didn't swamp the petite Japanese. The proportions were just right. 

Those cropped pants were also a trend. They were decidedly full and worn by both men and women. One man, in his navy linen crops and Breton sailor tee was a stunner, but my trigger finger froze when I tried to take a picture.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Snap! Crackle! Pop!

Lady Gaga arriving at the Met Gala
Something tells me the Metropolitan Museum of Art's annual Costume Institute exhibition, "Camp: Notes on Fashion" will be full of fabulous costumes but may or may not be worth a trip from anywhere.

Sunday's New York Times published an interview with six gay men who might know what exactly is camp— a professor at Columbia, two performance artists, a model, Ru Paul's costume designer, and a photographer. They tried to define "camp" and didn't exactly succeed. I agreed with 86-year-old James Bidgood, who said "I don't know what anyone's talking about!"

I've always felt the world of camp belonged to male homosexuals, and what was camp was up to them. Camp was almost a term of endearment, a so-bad-it's-good kind of thing, a crowning glory of bad taste viewed affectionately. Liberace might have been really awful, but he was camp.

What's the difference, you may ask, between kitsch, camp, pop and irony? I'm going to take a stab at this very murky gene pool. And I will do it with aprons.

KITSCH is a 1950's Betty Crocker-style apron:

CAMP is that apron worn by a drag queen:

POP is an apron referencing an Andy Warhol soup can:

IRONY is an apron referencing an Andy Warhol soup can but picturing Donald Trump:

All this can be debated, and that would be the problem. I wonder just how the Met has the chutzpah to take on camp and what they will do with it. While no doubt this will be a fun show, not only may it beg the question "What is camp?", it may ask "What is fashion?"

Will there be answers?

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Do You Spot a Trend Here?

TJ Maxx is not known for its visuals, so when my local TJ's received a huge shipment of cross-body bags, how else to display them? This was only a third of the length of wall; you can imagine what an impression those bags made. Like, is this a trend???

I think yes.

Cross-body bags are nothing new, of course. They started as the practical way to tote a  big old messenger bag around and save your shoulders.

What's the message?

Over time cross-body bags got smaller, the size of a normal handbag. This became a neat way to carry a bag while freeing up your hands.

A handy idea
I discovered the ease of a cross-body bag a few years ago. It was to be an on-the-go-no-lolling-around-the-pool vacation and required an adjustment to the giant, heavy leather tote I usually hauled around. My cross-body was strictly utilitarian, made of lightweight nylon with zippered compartments and two zippered pockets. This was a revelation. It was amazing how much could fit in such a small space (and how little I really needed).

Glad to be freed-up

The latest crop of cross-body bags are smaller still. What else do we need save a phone, a credit card, a lipstick and some Tic-Tacs?

As seen in Paris...

So while they're not new, this year they seem to be A Thing. I'll bet TJ Maxx hopes so.