Tuesday, April 15, 2014

As the Swallows Fly Back to Capistrano...

"Sorry I can't go out with you. I have to switch my closets."

...or the mosquitoes fly back to Texas, it happens every spring. I don't just mean Tax Day, April 15, which today is, I mean that great migration known around my house as The Switching of the Wardrobe. You may not be doing this yet, depending where you live. You may never do it, depending where you live (Alaska and Hawaii come to mind), but for most of us the shedding of skins (figuratively of course) is a twice-yearly event that is welcomed on the one hand yet dreaded on the other.

Why I welcome the great migration:

> Spring is coming/spring is here! I hate winter. At the very least I'm tired of it.

> As I'm tired of winter, I'm bored with its raiments. Enough already. Boredom thy name is woman.

> I can pack away all those things that need hemming or buttons replaced that are lined up at one end of the closet. And though I know I should have the sweaters and pants cleaned before I store them, I won't. It's painful to squoosh newly dry cleaned clothing into my storages boxes, and squoosh I must.

> I can reinvent myself yet again. My summer self is way different from my winter self. It's a lot more Bohemian-on-Safari. Hard to pull off floaty when you're freezing.

Why I dread the switcheroo:

> There are more summer clothes than winter necessitating more hangers (where did I put them???), but winter clothes take up more space in boxes. Who said I wasn't good at math?

> Last summer's pile of mending is facing me again.

> I am faced with the irrefutable evidence that there is a little more of me to love (no, clothes do not shrink in the storage box).

> I have too many clothes, both coming and going.


Nevertheless, it must be done. I will try to follow my own advice. Which is:

> Do the task in one fell swoop. You will make a mess, so give yourself plenty of time. At the very worst, do sweaters one day, pants another, then dresses, etc. And clean up after yourself. I've tried sleeping on a bed of hangers, and it's no fun.

> Speaking of beds, cover yours with a sheet or blanket before you start. We have cats. Cats have fur. Everybody has lint.

> Take everything out and lay it on the bed. IF YOU DIDN'T WEAR IT ALL WINTER make plans to GIVE IT AWAY. Many charity and thrift shops won't take what would be out-of-season merchandise so you may have to find another place to store it through the summer. Put it in a bag or box and don't look at it again!

> Once you have tidied that up, move on to your "new" clothes, most likely wrinkled beyond belief after their long winter's nap. If it needs cleaning, naturally this is the time to do it. Don't hang anything that isn't ready to wear. This is where a full-size stand steamer comes in handy, and I swear by my Jiffy Pro J2. It set me back $150 but was life-changing.

See how happy she looks!

> Suck it up. Try it on before you hang it away.

> If you haven't yet get some good hangers. Please, please no wire hangers or plastic tube hangers. They are useless and break. You can now get those formerly-pricey felt non-slip hangers at drugstores and metal skirts hangers are a one-time investment.

> Organize, organize! Ideally you want to do it by color then sub organize color by sleeve length. Some women prefer to separate work clothes from weekend clothes, dressy from casual. Organize however works for you, but do it and keep it that way.

> We all begin with resolutions to go minimal. We think this will make us better dressers. Space abhors a vacuum, and I can assure you that if you have too much space in your closet you will go out and buy stuff to fill it. So hang up a few questionable pieces you wonder if you will wear. Just be sure your closet is still "shopable", a nice retail term meaning the customer can actually reach in and pull an item off the rack.

I wish you good luck. I wish me good luck.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The List of Shame

Guilty! A very unofficial poll I've taken has revealed what it is we women do that annoys the hell out of us. We strive to be better shoppers and smarter dressers but are beset by a host of demons that lead us astray. They tend to fall into easily definable catagories. Herewith:

The Groundhog Day Effect

> We keep buying the same things over and over, whether we wear them or not.
These could be pencil skirts, white blouses or black turtlenecks— basic pieces that are basically boring but we Think We Should Own. I can't tell you the last time I wore a pencil skirt, which looks terrible on me anyways, but I have given them too much closet space. I also own many lovely white blouses that I won't wear because I don't want to get them dirty. Please tell me I am not the only one.

> We keep buying our personal weaknesses over and over— be it handbags, shoes, scarves or jewelry. This is the amassing of quantities of a particular commodity that far outnumbers the need. Don't you really wear the same two necklaces all the time anyways?

>  We keep buying it over and over— trying to get the RIGHT one. This is usually a basic item— like black pants— not a luxury piece like Swarovski-encrusted cardigans. Whatever the initial enthusiasm, after one wearing you've decided these are not the end-all, be-all of black pants. And you will start looking for them again. I personally have done this with blue chambray shirts and now have enough for a road company of "Oklahoma".

OK but not for me...

Fuzzy Logic

> We bought because it was a bargain.
It was so cheap you couldn't get it at Target for that price. You don't need it, but need is not the issue. You've thrown away more on a lunch. Truth: it is so rare to actually find a bargain, something that you need and love and wear ad infinitum. Rule of thumb: items found in the bargain bin usually end up in the dust bin.

> We bought because we wanted to shop and/or had money in our pockets. There is no worse feeling than going shopping and finding nothing. You will find something, which primes the pump to buy more— all of which should be returned pronto.

Wishful Thinking

> We try to replicate our favorite long-gone outfits. You may have divested in an orgy of resolution, but are not that resolved the next day. You are, however, too late and will have to buy it back from the thrift shop if you ever see it again. What follows is a prolonged— usually futile attempt— to repurchase it.

> We have happy memories. It reminds you of the dress you wore that summer on Cape Cod or the sweater your college roommate loaned you for the semester (and you hated to give back). It's not an exact replica, of course, but it's got you thinking— with a smile on your face. This can be an expensive (and futile) trip down memory lane.

> We bought in hopes of the occasion that never happened. Just because I have the right floaty sundress and rustic sandals does not necessarily mean I will spend my summer vacation on the Amalfi coast. Although it would be nice...

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Zara has Closed!

Panic not unless you live within 150 miles of zip code 77056. That's your closest Zara— in Houston.

Everyone else: breathe a sigh of relief.

The Zara Houston Galleria closed on March 29 to renovate. Great! Except they won't be open again until fall. No temporary quarters anywhere. Closed. Boarded up. Not even a sign, but word has it "fall" is the target re-opening. Extra bonus good news: the new Zara will be two stories thus two times bigger. Of course this will take six months; they have to saw through the ceiling!

I won't miss customer service at the old Zara; it doesn't exist. That's not the same as bad customer service. The associates do their jobs, but that consists of staff the fitting room, ring up customers, put away go-backs. No outfitting suggestions or personal shopping. I won't miss the fitting rooms either; they are freezing. Despite all this I can't helping thinking what are those folks doing about jobs in the meantime?

The first Zara opened in Spain in 1975 and was originally to be called Zorba, but a nearby bar of the same name objected. One of the earliest purveyors of "fast fashion", it manufactures all its own goods (all over the world) and never advertises (one of few retailers who do not). The differences between Zara and its competitors H&M, Top Shop, Forever 21, etc. is a fairly sophisticated style ethic that picks up on designer trends before anyone else (and quickly). Quality fabrication and manufacturing belie the reasonable price tags. Plus Zara has its own "cool" and doesn't try to mimic those high street or mall neighbors.

Zara is an international operation with 1808 stores from Algeria (2) to Venezuela (10) and everywhere in between. There are 324 in Spain, 126 in France, 89 in Japan, 71 in Russia, 2 in Bosnia-Herzegovina and 45 in the United States. Or is that 44?

And what will I do? Shop online? I've done it before, and Zara by mail is quite efficient. But I've only ever cyber-shopped when the store was out of my size. Feeling and fit are still two important reasons to get yourself into a bricks and mortar establishment. The nearest Zara is now four hours away— in Austin. Road trip, anyone?

See you in September...

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Cropped! A Short Story

Ever since Audrey Hepburn wore one in "Funny Face", I've tried to pull off the cropped top. With no success. Many moons have passed. There is no way to do it today. Or is there? Perhaps we need to re-examine this whole cropped thing.

The crop top has appeared after seasons of tunics and flow-y. This makes sense as Fashion must induce us to buy something new or else why buy anything at all? Did I mention Fashion was a business? I seriously doubt anyone over 16 has the right to publicly bare her midriff off the beach. No matter your age, if you are hesitating over this trend, don't do it.

On the other hand, there are smart ways to wear cropped:

> Layer a crop top over a cami, tank, or shirt.

> You can pop on a cropped jacket. Just be sure it's a fuller cut so it does not say "bolero".

Yes, you can crop with cropped

> Dust off your "Chanel". The classic and classy Chanel -style jacket is short and boxy. Two out of three ain't bad. It can play cropped when layered over something longer.

> You can choose instead the crop top's saner sister— a dropped shoulder/wider body piece that hits at or slightly below the waist. Think of it as "square cut".

You've not outsmarted Fashion, exactly, but you've showed her who's boss.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Meet Me at the Mall

Once upon a mall...

A piece on CBS last week reported that the glory days of shopping malls are over, and the mall itself— at least as we know it— is on life support. And what fatal illness is befalling the mall? The internet of course.

From the Death of Downtown to the End of Shopping Malls, I've now seen it all. Did you ever think you would wax nostalgic about the Food Court? Musak? the Ten Acre Parking Lot?

Your food court = my food court

As a child the mall could be a treat— or a tortuous round of errands with mom. It might have been your first taste of independence. As a parent it felt safe to let the kids explore on their own and meet back at Sears, with only their Swatch watches to guide them. As a teenager you got your first job there— not the cool one at the candy store but at the shoe store, where you learned the true meaning of sorting socks.

Who could believe we would one day be so sucked into the internet as to buy shoes and wedding gowns not to mention husbands— online? Okay, including eharmony.com may be a stretch but nonetheless...

If malls are dead, where will the walkers go— their good intentions foiled by the wafting fragrance of early morning Cinnabon? And where will you be able to while away an hour or two— in any weather— when you had to get out of the house?

Just as Mark Twain said, "The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated", the American mall may not be history just yet. An Atlanta based developer turned a defunct mall outside the city into Plaza Fiesta, a recreated Mexican marketplace catering to Atlanta's growing immigrant population. Plaza Fiesta has become the place to go for those looking for a taste of home and a literal taste of home. A second Plaza Fiesta recently opened in a former mall in South Carolina. Viva la mercado!


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Glory be!

Happy 80th birthday to Gloria Steinem! 
She's celebrating in Botswana riding elephants.

This is a wonderful read. I couldn't have said it better. 
Thanks to Gail Collins I don't have to. 
(you will need to cut and paste)


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Cowgirl Up

Gee it's too bad if you don't have a rodeo where you live. What fun it is to play "let's pretend". Let's pretend we're on vacation/cowboys and cowgirls/on the ranch or the farm/not on diets. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is a crazy, wonderful thing because Houston is not a "cow town". Oil and gas is our bread and butter. But for three weeks in March we can all play the part of being Texans.

The rest of the year if I ever see a cowboy hat I do a double-take. If you go to the rodeo you just gotta strut your stuff, and it's a sight to see. Unlike Halloween, dressing the part for rodeo is a sign of appreciation— for farmers who earn their livelihood raising animals, for the performers (athletes really) who hone their skills and destroy their bodies on the rodeo circuit, for traditions that have been nurtured in our amazing country (a place we sometimes take for granted). It's pretty hard not to get a lump in your throat when you see that young woman charging across the arena, hair flying, at the conclusion of the "Star Spangled Banner".

Your own cowboy is the best accessory

So I do my best. I put on my beat-up cowboy hat from Target (worn in the garden most of the year), a ten-year-old western shirt from the Gap, whatever jeans happen to fit. I will usually fish out a pair of gold cowboy boots found at TJ Maxx, but this year— alas— I had to resort to sneakers. So I was cowgirl from the ankles up. Even my makeshift gear is enough to take me to that other place—you know— where the stars at night are big and bright, and the prairie sky is high and wide— deep in the heart of Texas.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Sweet Spring!

It's here at last (though I've been told the first day of Spring was really yesterday). You may still have snow on the ground where you are, but isn't it nice to know that— soon— it will be gone? Who (or what) wants to stick around when it's not welcome?

Treat yourself:

> Buy ONE thing that you couldn't possibly wear now— sandals, a sundress, a floppy hat.

> Even if you never purchase them, pick up a March issue of a fashion magazine (soon, before they are gone). March has become as big a month in print as is September. InStyle does a good job identifying Summer's big trends to whet your fashion appetite. Since I get them all anyways, I indulged this month in British Vogue. At $12 a pop stateside I won't do it every month, but it was a mini vaycay over a cup of tea.

> Pack away the most annoyingly heavy of your winter gear. Weed out colors and fabrics you know are done— corduroys, dark paisleys, foulards, tweeds.

> Be brave. Try on some of last summer's staples (pants, shorts, bathing suits) to see if they "shrunk" while in storage. Nothing worse than slipping on those white jeans for the first time and realizing...

> Bring in some fresh flowers or a plant. Change the candle you burn for ambience to something lighter. Switch your sheets to the paler colors. Surround yourself with beautiful accessories in your home as you would wrap yourself in a new scarf or jacket.

> Most of all, smile. The worst is over!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Stretch and Tell

They followed me home

Whoa! How often have I cried, "no elastic pants— ever!" to myself and to you, dear readers. Over and over. Too numerous to count. Well, file this under another cliche, "Never say never".

The other day I came home with— not just one— but two pairs of elastic waist pants from a well known bastion of global chic. Yes they had its style stamp of approval, but that's not the only reason. Those darn pants are COMFORTABLE. One pair is a rich acid yellow; the other is black. They have a silky feel but are in fact an amazing polyester that would fool even a silk worm.

Here's the ticket: At this point I'm very careful as the front is not as flat as it once was. I don't tuck anything but instead choose to wear slightly longer tops or slim tunics. For all the world would know I could be sporting an elastic waistband. I have prided myself that I am NOT, but only I know it.

These pants, sometimes called Joggers or Track Pants have shown up on some very trendy types. They have the potential to be a DISASTER, as you can imagine, but do look kind of cool as seen here:

Celebs sportin' these sportin' pants

The differences between these pants and "I've given in" are the gathered cuffs and the super-chic styling. You should let the pants do the talking and keep the top simple. No sneakers ever! I would have passed them by entirely if I hadn't seen my friend Jeanne wearing a pair with a tailored blazer, crisp white shirt and large fringed scarf artfully draped at the neck. She sent me this pix of her in the pants looking cool and casual with a pullover and booties.

She's, like, adorable

Sometimes you have to see a look on someone whose taste you admire before you can begin to see its possibilities for yourself. Not being a blazer-kind-of-gal, I'll probably pair mine with a shell and a kimono style soft jacket or a simple boxy-shaped top.

Lesson learned yet again: Never say never because never is forever, and forever is a very long time.

Less track, more harem

Saturday, March 15, 2014

"The Master of Swish"

Giovanni Boldini (1842 - 1931)

Boldini— even the name conjures up the energetic brushstrokes that characterized his work. I'd always thought Sargent breathed life into his portraits of Belle Epoque ladies and gents. His contemporary Giovanni Boldini has them jumping off the canvas.

What a heady time that must have been— so many innovations from electricity to telephone to automobiles— all mostly for the very rich of course. And the rich, well, they were really rich. Portrait painters were the Richard Avedons/Annie Lebowitzs of their time. To have your portrait painted by one of the best...

Although Boldini painted theater, dance and opera stars of the day (most of their fame lost to history), his bread and butter were society portraits. Many subjects are not well known, though the Duchess of Marlborough (nee Cornelia Vanderbilt), certainly is:

Cornelia was a beauty. I'm not sure of some of the other ladies, but the man knew how to flatter. Amazing what a swish can do.


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Two Loves Have I

Madame Jekyl and Ms Hyde

BoHo, Minimal, BoHo, Minimal— my fashion self is a mess. As a sense of personal style gets clearer (about time), it's clear I am drawn to two totally disparate concepts: The Bo Ho and the Minimal. Believe me, these two can't meet. Toning down the BoHo dilutes it; ramping up the Minimal loses it.

I love the romantic make believe of Dolce & Gabbana, Etro, Matthew Williamson... I love the clean, chic lines of Celine, Narciso Rodriguez, Ralph Rucci... Yes, I have a Zara/H&M/TJ Maxx pocketbook (literally). One can duplicate any look on a budget. However the Minimal, requiring beautiful fabrics and perfect tailoring, is more of a challenge. The worst part is a closet that looks Madame Jekyl and Ms Hyde.

On one side we have handkerchief-hem skirts and blouses stitched from handkerchiefs. Every color in the rainbow, including that of the pot of gold. In addition BoHo needs drawers of belts and scarves and ... oooh... jewelry! Necklaces and bangles and earrings tra la. Stuff that's fun to buy and collect— always room for one more.

Among items in the smaller end of the closet is a perfect crepe blouse, slightly assymetrical, in eggshell ecru. I've yet to wear it because I have to find the perfect pants, skirt, occasion, but in itself it is perfection. There are a few other pieces in grape jersey or grey flannel. Beautiful, beautiful, and I do wear them— with real gold jewelry or something bone on a leather thong. Shopping for the minimal look requires concentration and entails a lot of rejection. I feel like a free spirit in my BoHo looks, but I feel very centered when I pare down.

Who am I today? Or worse, who am I this morning and who am I tonight? Is it the eternal quandry of woman to wonder who she is? There are indeed women who have one style and stick to it. I admire but admit I don't want to be them.

Sometimes I will be inspired by an outfit I see on someone else or spot in a magazine. I will replicate it, often with items I already own, but not feel like me. I think that might be the answer. Be who you want to be, but make sure that someone is one of you.

If you wanna be a pirate, be a pirate

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Women We Love: Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton in a fashion blog? Well, she certainly rates "most improved". From this:

To this:

Methinks she had some advisors who said, "Lady, Bill's a dreamboat; you've got potential; you must put yourself in our hands." Over time we've seen her struggle with her weight, her hair, her pants suits. Let's face it; this lady is just too busy saving the world to eat right, exercise and go shopping.
On the occasion of putting a Hillary bumper sticker on my car, I'd like to share with you a Hillary story. Prior to this meeting I was Not a Fan, of her or of Bill. He had disappointed me big-time with the Monica Lewinsky scandal. I never knew what to make of her stand-by-your-man attitude regarding that and accusations of other affairs. I was only vaguely aware of her brilliant mind and the team aspect of their marriage. I felt sorry for not-so-pretty Chelsea always in the spotlight. I was, in other words shallow and uninformed.

In late fall of 2000 Woman's Day Magazine flew two of us— myself and the photo editor— to Washington to photograph Hillary Clinton for a piece she was writing. It was not a slam-dunk to get a sitting with her (we figured we'd have to use a stock photo), but the editor, new to the job, was a go-getter, pulled some strings and landed it. Needless to say, we all felt very special. Go-getter photo editor also enlisted one of Hillary's favorite photographers, Harry Benson. That may have influenced the request.

We were flying in for the day, went from airport to White House, had a brief tour of the state rooms (being readied for Christmas) and waited briefly for Hillary in a private garden. She came out accompanied by an aide and could not have been more welcoming, relaxed, gracious and charming if she had known us for 20 years. I think she did know Harry for 20 years so that helped. Her aide arranged for the obligatory "You-are-here" photos taken by a White House staffer. We presented her with a basket of American crafts. Then Harry set to work photographing Hillary in various settings in the garden. The aide disappeared. No hair-and-makeup people fussing about, Hillary chit-chatting with us all the while. We felt as included as Harry, but I have no idea what we talked about.

Apologies, dear reader: I would have included the photos we took that day, but I can't find them. And I was wearing such a nice coat!

I knew during those 45 minutes I was changing my mind about Hillary. Now as she is gearing up for a run at the presidency, I hope some of you with negative opinions based on what you think you know can consider likewise. No matter the fantastic thought that FINALLY a woman President! Oh, and there are those who like this idea too:
As it turns out, I'm not the only one to have an epiphany. A new biography, "HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton", reveals that the usual initial reaction goes from "Oh no, I have to work with her" to great respect to real affection. My short time with Hillary had the same, totally unexpected results. It changed the way I've looked at her (and Bill) ever since. It proves we are not what we seem yet more than what we seem and capable of change— and not just changing a hairstyle. You can change your mind too.

So in case I forgot to say it:

And I leave you with this:

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Holding a Mirror to the Oscars

Sleep tight...

This is going to be a tough piece to write. Much has been said already about the Oscar telecast, Oscar fashions and Oscar fiascos, yet I feel I need to weigh in on three women— Liza Minelli, Kim Novak and Goldie Hawn— who may have gotten too much attention, and not in a good way.

But first, ladies and gentlemen, would someone tell me why the ethereally gorgeous Lupita Nyong'o, she of the impeccable style and taste (thus far), would decide to have an "I dreamed I went to the Oscars in my Maidenform nightgown" moment?


Yes, plastic surgery is bad. Okay, bad plastic surgery is bad. If I don't know you've had any it's obviously good. Phyllis Diller was first, but Joan Rivers has made her procedures a part of the act. You don't feel sorry for someone who laughs about it before you do and holds her head up high— because she can't lower it? Quick drumroll please.

I wish I'd never seen Liza, Kim and Goldie Sunday night because now I can't get them out of my head. Despite the crack being quite mean-spirited, Liza Minelli really did look like a male Liza impersonator, an amateur Liza impersonator at that. I know she's not well, fragile physically and perhaps mentally. I don't wish her ill. I feel terribly sorry for her, but I wish to heck she had not worn those shoes!!! They weren't even polished. Eeek. I'm so, so sorry, but those shoes really bother me.

Definitely not ruby slippers...

Poor Goldie Hawn. The hair, the dress— bad choices. But the plastic surgery was the worst choice of all. Too bad. In twenty years she could have played June Squibb's part in Nebraska II and won her second Academy Award. Not anymore. To add insult to injury, Goldie's daughter Kate Hudson looked every inch a movie star.

Smile tight...

This hurts the most. A Hollywood "ice princess" who bowed out of the movies early and has had a happy and meaningful life,  81-year-old Kim Novak doesn't need to be remembered as she looked Sunday night. It's not out of spite to show a picture of her from those movie star days; many younger people have no idea who she is. I'm actually relieved the photos appear this small.
No words needed

There will be no more about how awful is plastic surgery, how I wish no one, man or woman, ever had any (except when obviously needed in obvious situations and you know what I mean). It cannot, should not ever be done to make one appear younger. The older I get the more happy I am to be old! Crikey— think of the alternative!

Let me conclude with an Oscar winner from Sunday night. Unfortunately she passed away two weeks ago— at the age of 110, but her life story won an Academy Award. And it was a short subject.

Alice Herz-Sommer
"The Woman in Number 6: Music Saved My Life"

Friday, February 28, 2014

Madame Predicts the Next Big Trend

Franz Kline not all black and white

I'm going out on a limb here— or make that going out on a paintbrush— but I predict the next big trend in print and pattern will be: Abstract art. Okay, it's been done before— Yves St. Laurent with his 1965 Mondrian dress and the wonderful Sonia Delauney in the 1920s, who mixed art with fashion and has never been fully recognized for the fashion part of her art.

Yes St. Laurent's Mondrian
Sonia Delauney in the studio...
...and on canvas

I love the digital prints of recent seasons. Mary Katrantzou pioneered them and has taken hers to more and more abstract levels. Such prints are now everywhere—in many price points and infinite variety. As often happens in art (as in life) advanced technology begets the past. Cameras with real film! Calligraphy pens! The advanced printing techniques used to create photo prints are now capturing the beauty in abstract art to full effect. The Italians have a way with them:

Jill Sander 
Gabriele Colangelo 

What this leads to, of course, is my own recent purchase from Zara at the very reasonable $59.90:

And when I'm not wearing it
 I can hang it on the wall