Monday, September 17, 2018

Bye Bye Bendel's

Many notable New York stores have toppled since I moved to New York in 1964. Though I left the city in 2003 I will still be a New Yorker, wherever I go. Besides, I'm married to a boy from Brooklyn.

Best & Co. was already gone in '64, as was Russek's, an upscale specialty store most remembered today for being owned by photographer Diane Arbus' parents. Over time Stern's closed, then Ohrbach's, Bonwit Teller (of all places), Gimbel's (Gimbel's!!), then B Altman (unthinkable). A few years respite and even discount paradise Daffy's was no longer.

I still take each store closing personally and have had to mourn two big ones in the past year. In June Lord & Taylor announced it was closing 10 of its remaining 50 stores. Among them is the iconic flagship store on Fifth Avenue. I wrote about that here:

Now comes news of Henri Bendel closing all its stores, which is sad but almost a relief. For the past six years Bendel's has given its name to a collection of accessories stores that bears little resemblance to Henri Bendel on Fifth Avenue or the mecca that was Bendel's on 57th Street. I've written about that here:

I can't let Bdndel's go to the happy hunting ground without relaying one last story. I've been incredibly lucky in my career, most notably because I didn't get the jobs I was totally unqualified for. That was not the case with my very first job. You might think I would have learned a lesson, as I suffered there for many months before moving on to something I was better prepared for. Alas, I would still fall for what sounded exciting.

Geraldine under the Bendel's awning

Such was the case when a former editor at Glamour, a friend of Bendel's president Geraldine Stutz, suggested me for the position of Bendel's art director. Why I thought I could be the art director of one of the chicest retail outposts in Manhattan is anyone's guess. I had no retail experience, no training in visuals and still a rudimentary knowledge of publishing. I loved all those things, mind you, but I didn't yet know how to do them.

I was in my early 30s and somehow just thought I could do it—until I walked into her office. I don't remember being nervous before the interview. I should have been. I would have been today, for goodness sake. Geraldine had a large, bright office and sat across from me at a very large desk. I suddenly felt quite small. I showed her my portfolio of layouts and drawings. She asked a lot of questions and told me what the job entailed. I wanted to run screaming from the room shouting, "I'm not worthy! No, really, I'm not worthy." I didn't because it dawned on me that this very bright, very smart woman could see I wasn't qualified and was a class act. She was incredibly gracious and never let on that she knew what I knew.

I think I loved Bendel's even more after that.

The "Street of Shops" in the 57th Street store

Thursday, September 13, 2018

What I Won't be Wearing #1: The Prairie Dress

What do they say about a bad penny? It always comes back. As if the 70s and 80s weren't bad enough, we now have the return (revenge???) of the prairie dress. According to the NY Times, it's b-a-a-a-c-k,  with a vengeance.


I can see how this happened. Spangles and shoulder pads are hard to pull off, just adding to the circus-like atmosphere many of us feel we are in. Westward ho? Now that was a time when we were were all blissfully ignorant and physically overworked.

"Little House" love...

This season's prairie looks hark back to "Little House on the Prairie" as filtered through the tv show's popularity and late '60s hippies. They are, however, costumes, and I'm not buying it.

I'm already in costume, as a 76-year-old-woman trying to look chic, attractive and relevant while wearing flattering clothes that reflect my personality. They also say you should never wear a look from an era that you've worn before. I summered in the Summer of Love and had my fair share of prairie skirts, Victorian nightdress blouses and (non-combat) boots. Worn traversing the streets of New York City, I might add.

Batsheva Hay in a field of flowers
Just so you know, this reincarnation did not sweep down from the actual prairie. The wizard of the look is Batsheva Hay, a New Yorker and former lawyer with two young children who has always loved vintage clothes. Married to an Orthodox Jew, she had already adopted a modest style of dressing. Two years ago she wanted to remake a vintage Laura Ashley dress. Since that required the expense of making a pattern, she decided to have several made in vintage dress and upholstery fabrics she found on ebay. Once others start copying you, and the Times writes it up, this is fashion worth noting if not wearing.

Laura Ashley 1986

Please don't let me keep you from your prairie dress. If you are young (in my book that's under 50), go ahead and do it. Turn off your cellphone. Bake some bread. Smell the roses. Just don't call this one Fashion That Must Be Obeyed.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Hung up on Hangers

Have you ever bought a book for its cover? A bottle of wine for its label? A blouse for its hanger? Faithful readers of the blog know I have a thing about hangers.

I've written about them before, waxing rhapsodic about the circa 1940s-50s wooden hotel hangers my parents brought back as trip souvenirs.I've looked back fondly on the set of flower printed quilted hangers that was a gift for my tenth birthday. I still use the skirt hangers I bought at Woolworth's for 10 cents, though their 60-year-old hinges are hell to open.

There are no wire hangers in my house, save the ones coming from the cleaners with my husband's shirts. Instead of returning them as I should, I enjoy twisting the little devils out of recognition before throwing them in the trash. Heaven forbid we should need to fish keys out of a drain or unlock a car door.

Some years ago I got rid of all the tube hangers (good for nothing) and retail-style plastic hangers  (too bulky) and invested in those black felted velvet skinny hangers called "Huggable Hangers". I never seem to have enough.

This hanger story is one of those I'm-sorry-I-couldn't-help-myself moments. TJ Maxx held its seasonal Runway Event this week. Certain TJs have a section devoted to high-end designer apparel. They are the real deal with offerings from Versace, Pucci, Valentino, etc. as well as high-end American brands like Diane von Furstenburg, Tory Burch, and St. John. The price points are not necessarily in my playing field, but I do love to look and feel and admire. Sometimes I will splurge on a piece. Occasionally I will even find a real bargain.

Lately I've been in a silk shirt frame of mind and did find a nice grey one by French brand L'Agence. At $69.95 it was not exactly a steal, though L'Agence shirts sell for between $250 and $350. It was a very nice shirt...on a spectacular hanger. Someone had put it on a glossy black hanger reading "SAINT LAURENT PARIS". It's a shirt I could use. I HAD to have the hanger.

At checkout I innocently asked the clerk if she would mind to leave it hanging. She did not and covered it (shirt and hanger) with a clear plastic bag.

I won't keep the shirt on the hanger. St.Laurent deserves something special (if I hide it away in the closet at all). And I won't return the shirt and keep the hanger. The hanger gods would not be happy. They are still annoyed at my parents.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Weighing in on the September Issues

If it's possible to judge one's health soley by one's weight, I'd say fashion magazines are ailing a bit. This year's September issues top out at 9.5 pounds, compared to last year's 10.6. My Fab Five are Vogue (the winner in pages by far at 646), followed by Elle at 412. Nipping at its heels are Harper's Bazaar (398), followed by InStyle (322). Marie Claire wafts in at a mere 226.

I've eliminated Glamour from the mix this year. Glamour has decided to rebrand itself for Generation Z. This may be the next wave of fashion (never say never, remember?) but right now it all looks anti-fashion—a sad step for what used to be the go-to what-to-wear publication for real women. Instead I added InStyle, which has become increasingly all-fashion-all-the-time.

Can I report on what's inside? No. I have a tradition of waiting till the meal is served (aka they are all delivered) before I start to feast. Elle was the last to squeeze into my mailbox. I caught it, half sticking-out, before today's next showers.

Subscription covers may vary from those on the newsstand, but not one of these screams FALL FASHION at me.

Beyonce on Vogue is in her best Mid-summer night's dream. Kanye West and his two kids on Bazaar seem to have been caught while waiting in the studio for Mama Kim Kardashian to finish up (at least she's not on the cover).


Jennifer Anniston, Vendaya and Emma Stone beg the questions Why do we still care?, Who are you again?, and What of your movies will be opening soon?

As I read this back I'm rather shocked for sounding so catty. Really it's just disappointment. I see fashion these days as too much about business and celebrity. It feels less aspirational, less interested in me as a person and how I can look my best. If anything goes (as it seems to) how long before we all decide just to go with anything?

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Bad Mood Board

While waiting for the resounding thud of the September issues to hit my doorstep, I have had a sneak peak of fall fashion, and it's definitely putting me in a bad mood. Fashion magazines—that includes advertisements and editorial—are increasingly taking me places I don't want to go, down ugly street, and I don't know why.

Fashion editorials have long indulged in some fantasy and interpretation. That's fine as long as what they show has even a hint of being wearable. Grace Coddington earned her well-deserved reputation as a stylist for Vogue by creating some of the most elaborate examples. Who doesn't want to be Alice in Wonderland at least once?

Truth be told I've always enjoyed the ads as much if not more than the editorials. I'm a shopper, and I want to know what I can really buy. This year, though, I don't think I want any of it.

Last week the Sunday New York Times Style magazine unleashed its women's fashion issue. I don't want to look like this, do you?

The ads were not much better. I'm disappointed in you, Michael Kors and Calvin Klein, not the least bit surprised, Gucci and Prada.

Lighten up, you say? No one expects us to mimic these looks, but I can't help thinking, "What if we did?" Isn't there enough crazy disarray in our world today to welcome some pretty or at least some calm? I say let's try.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

How to Dress Up a Late Summer Outfit

The days of the chandelier earring trend may be waning, but don't tell that to the scads of women I've seen this summer sporting a pair. In fact they are the easiest way to up (as in dress up) your game during the last, lazy days of summer. You know, when you are enjoying all summer has to offer while counting the days till the September issues.

It's easy to get very, very relaxed, bordering on lazy. In south Texas it's that time of year when you open the front door and wonder who left the oven on. It's no longer possible to put on a "crisp cotton" anything. T-shirts and drawstring linen pants are what I'm grabbing.

It's amazing how a pair of beaded, feathered or fringed drop earrings turn this into something that looks intentional. This must be the sartorial equivalent of plating a dish. The elements may be tasty, but you have to present them cohesively. And I am not about to sprinkle myself with chopped parsley.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Would You? Will I?

Saw this pix of Victoria Beckham in one of my guilty pleasures, Grazia magazine. Not sold in the US, I get my fix from a British friend on her semi-annual visits. She knows how much I love seeing her!

I adore clothes with a sense of humor, and this shirt gets the joke. Leave-'em-open-blowing-in-the-wind! What a great summertime solution for the I-will-not-go-sleeveless set (that's me). And they always make the sleeves too long...

Obviously this top has been constructed with a seam to leave unstitched, not easy to find. But will I take an old shirt and a scissors to get the same effect? Will you?

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

One Fun Dress

Zuri dresses all in a row by Durell Godfrey
I have more than enough clothes to cover every possible occasion from washing the car to meeting the Queen. There is a better chance I will be at the car wash than the palace, but you never know.

I've bought little this summer and felt not the least deprived. It's not that I'm smart as much as stuck. Fashion today is a bit of a mish-mash. There is an overabundance of choices at all price points, and nothing seems to be really "in" or "out".

Zuri dresses from

When the Zuri dress popped up on a fashion website, I quickly recovered from my summertime malaise and decided I had to have one. I've always loved those bright African cotton prints but never found a dress that didn't look like a costume. Sure enough, Zuri dresses, made in Kenya, bill themselves as the one dress you need. Perhaps it's not the only dress you need, but it's certainly a fun and versatile addition to your wardrobe.


Here's a dress that flatters a crayon box of figure types (thanks to waxed cotton that has some life to it), comes in many patterns (big and small), a range of colors (bright to subdued), is beautifully made for a reasonable price ($145-$160), and is providing decent work and wages for workers in Kenya.

Fitted through the shoulders, a Zuri dress swings away from the body, has a stand-up collar, pockets and hidden buttons down the front. The Zuri can be worn as a dress, belted or sashed, worn as a tunic or a jacket or even worn as a skirt with a little artful tying. It totally defies an age-range and is pretty much the Sisterhood of the Traveling Dress.

This is the backstory: In 2016 a transplanted New York designer living in Nairobi, Sandra Zhao, created a dress she could shove into a backpack that would still look good when unpacked, be easy to wear, pretty and culturally correct. It's fast and cheap to have clothing made in Nairobi, and there is a huge selection of the fun designs we call "African prints." She so enjoyed wearing it she started living in it. Ashleigh Gersh Miller, another transplanted New Yorker, spotted her at a wedding, wanted one as a maternity dress, and the rest is history.

They began in just a few stores stateside, spread through ongoing pop-ups throughout the country, have a website ( with free U.S. shipping) and last year opened a brick and mortar at 363 Bleeker Street in New York City.

The name Zuri comes from the Swahili, mzuri, meaning good. Dresses are produced in a fair trade and ethical workshop and workers have benefits, including childcare.

Melissa at Shark Bites; photo by DG

I heard about a pop-up at Shark Bites in Montauk, Long Island, and asked my friend Durell Godfrey if she would check it out. Not only did she investigate, she found a dress for herself. And it's the same one I had chosen for myself. It's a good thing we live 1700 miles apart.

Durell at the pop-up
Me in my front yard

Monday, July 23, 2018

76 Trombones and a Birthday Cake...

That's 76 candles on the birthday cake today.

My doctor calls this "the bonus round". While at first I felt that was a little harsh, I see his point. One difficulty of growing older is realizing everyone doesn't.

So here's to remembering family and friends lost, celebrating with family and friends present (near and far), and to bigger cakes, not smaller candles.

Sunday, July 22, 2018


"Hey, Stella!!!"
That was the first thing I thought when I saw this mannequin in Neiman's window. I still can't get Marlon Brando's plaintive, tortured cry in "Streetcar Named Desire" out of my head. This outfit is sure calling Stella.

It's too early for the real fall looks, of course. Some retailers will show a line called "transition"—quieter tones but in lighter weight fabrics—as they know we are getting bored with our summer stuff and thinking ahead already. What I saw in mall windows the other day was surely not meant to wear now. It's 98 at this very moment, and my weather app says it feels like 104. It feels like Hades, that's what it feels like.

Aside from the layers and wraps, it was just all too much, and it appeared in Versace's windows as well as Prada's and Miu-Miu's. I just don't want to wear ankle socks with mules and those prints don't work together. Maybe the window dressers have suffered a bout of heat stroke?

Leave it to Ralph Lauren to opt for a little sanity.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Jackie Kennedy's Packing List

Four pieces of paper surfaced last week that have fashion historians and the rest-of-us-just-plain-curious examining their every detail. The papers are Jackie Kennedy's hand written notes of what to pack for that ill-fated trip to Texas in November, 1963. The lists were written on White House stationery and intended for Jackie's personal assistant, Providencia Paredes. Funny how a few small sheets of paper can tell so much about a person, a time and a place.

Jackie was a meticulous organizer. That much we know. How else could she have accomplished all she did as First Lady—arranging the many cultural events and restoring the White House itself along with orchestrating life as a wife and mother of two small children? In addition she loved fashion and used it to carefully construct her persona.

President and Mrs. Kennedy's trip to Texas was intended to shore up Democratic support in a state where it seemed to be slipping. Although Vice President and Texan Lyndon Johnson was a Democrat, as was the state's governor, John Connally, Texas was creeping towards its present Republican majority. None of that was apparent as crowds gathered to greet the Kennedys, stars in the firmament no matter what your political convictions.

Their short trip over a weekend was scheduled thus:

> San Antonio: Dedication speech at Brooks Air Force Base for the School of Aerospace Medicine
> Houston: Testamonial dinner honoring Congressman Albert Thomas
> Fort Worth: Arrive at Hotel Texas

> Fort Worth: Chamber of Commerce breakfast
> Dallas: Luncheon at Dallas Trade Mart
> Austin: Fundraising dinner at Municipal Audirorium
> Johnson City: Weekend of relaxation at Lyndon Johnson's ranch

It's a touchstone for those of us old enough to remember the day Kennedy died to never forget where we were when we heard the news. I was in the photography department at the Cleveland Institute of Art. A senior, I had fiddled away most of lunch in the studio and was getting ready to return to the afternoon's classes. I instinctively know reading the list today that Jackie never made it to a weekend of relaxation and horseback riding at Johnson's ranch (though she packed for it). 

While making notes of what to pack is not a surprise, the fact that these survived certainly is. The notes were found in 2015 in the possessions of the late Shirley Conover, who had once worked in the Department of Veteran Affairs. It was her wish to donate them to the Kennedy Presidential Library, but they were overlooked for some time.

Jackie's notes for that trip specified she wanted to wear a pink and navy Chanel suit, navy shoes, navy bag, and white kid gloves on Friday. Although originally designed by Chanel, Jackie's version was created by one of her dressmakers, Chez Ninon. Though she loved European fashion, Jackie was very careful to wear American. There is then some question whether the white outfit seen below is in fact by Chanel.

Although the museum has 95 of her dresses available for display, including the white outfit she wore the day before Kennedy's assassination, shown below, that pink suit will not go on display until 2103.

The day before the fateful day