Saturday, July 23, 2016

Everyday Birthday Thoughts

I may need a few boxes...
While I joyfully celebrate what looks like trying to burn the house down (should all those candles actually be on the cake), I'm also aware of the implications of time passing. Here's a trick I use every year (and have used for years)— I tell myself I'd rather be a young old person than an old young person.

If that isn't obvious let me explain: nothing is so futile as trying to hold onto what isn't there. Unless you are well-practiced at deception, you are not even fooling yourself. Clinging to what's behind you is negative and paralyzing.

It surprised me to learn that legendary beauty Elizabeth Taylor wasn't bothered by aging. That's apparent in candid photos taken over the years by a good friend, Firooz Zahedi in the new book "My Elizabeth". What concerned her most was her health, and she had some cause to worry. I loved Elizabeth even more when I read that.  

You can do this with three Oscars
On the other hand there are great benefits to age (wisdom and grace for starters) that you will never realize unless you welcome it. As you discover you can say what you feel (with tact and humor of course) there is the most delicious boost to your self-confidence. When people actually listen? Over the moon.

Remember for a minute just how little you knew back when you thought you knew everything. It's a wonder any of us survived Youth!

Last, in the immortal words of Satchel Paige: How old would you be if you didn't know how old you are?

Hhmmm... I think I'd better re-read this every July 23.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Hanging On... and Up

A friend posted this on her Facebook page. It turned up in a closet of her late mother's home, long forgotten by the friend, obviously long treasured by the mother. Now it's part of her life, one of those things you just can't throw out though its original purpose is long past.

I realized I've been hanging on to a few hangers, too. This one belonged to my Aunt Sally. It's hand painted, but I don't know by whom. She gave it to me when I was about nine. It was my "favorite hanger". I hung only special clothing on it. As years went by I just displayed the hanger by itself as a piece of found art.

Another favorite is this blue hanger. Obviously old but no provenance that I can recall. "143" is scratched into the paint near the hook. Do you suppose there were 142 others like it???

Then there are the myriad hangers taken from hotels back when hangers weren't nameless and bolted to the closet rod. We didn't consider it stealing, more like taking a souvenir. I guess we assumed the hotel would appreciate the advertising. We used them for coats in the guest closet.

Besides being darn sturdy and an endangered totem, I grew to love the hangers for their graphic typography. Over time they made their way from my mother's house to mine.

Crocheted hangers were actually a thing back in the craft-crazy 1980s. Fortunately I realized that would be a lot of effort for little gain.

Athough they have a bad rap (from yours truly as well), wire hangers can become art.

There's not one wire hanger in my house. I drop them back off at the dry cleaner. Keep the plastic, take back the hanger!

"Leave the guns; take the cannolis"

PS A reader below wondered what to do with a collection of hangers. Why not hang them (on tiny nails) cheek-by-jowl on an empty wall? If you have one, that is.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Women We Love: Lois Lane

Noel Neill aka Lois Lane
She was only playing a role, but Noel Neill was my role model. She played Lois Lane in tv's (and to my mind never equaled) "Superman". Noel died last week at age 95.

Lois was a valuable reporter on the Daily Planet. Although there were never other women on staff, she was not relegated to the women's pages. Lois worked for the blustering editor Perry White, was boon companion to Clark Kent/Superman and benevolent mentor to cub reporter Jimmy Olsen. Please don't tell me the "great metropolitan newspaper" was meant to be anywhere other than New York City.

Perry White, Superman aka Clark Kent, Jimmy, Lois

Noel originated the Lois Lane role in the 1948 Superman movie serial. The first tv Lois (1952-53) was actually played by Phyllis Coates (still with us at age 89). Phyllis was very pretty in that 1950s-Ozzie-and-Harriet kind of way. Noel returned to the role for tv and stayed with it through 1958. They looked similar, but as if Phyllis had a spunk makeover.

Phyllis as Lois 1952

Noel as Lois 1948
There was always that twinkle in Noel's eye. She was up for anything and not afraid of danger. I'd have to re-watch the old shows to be sure of this— and I just might— but I remember thinking Lois knew Clark was Superman but liked him enough to keep his secret. She also realized it was foolish to think their relationship would go any further.

So this 1950s working gal was in it for the job, not to meet Prince Charming. Although her character insisted on wearing hats a little longer than most women around me, I liked her no-nonsense tailored suits. I liked her even more when she stripped down to that white shirt and pencil skirt when the action called for it.

Business casual

Noel was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota to a journalist father. Although she showed early promise as an entertainer, her first job out of college was as a reporter (of all things) for Women's Wear Daily. She was a popular photographic model, whose "pin-ups" rated #2 among GIs behind Betty Grable. Small roles in movies followed, then the series of early Superman serials starring Kirk Allyn as Superman. Noel joined the tv cast in 1953 and stayed with the show through 1958, when it was cancelled due to the death of actor George Reeves, the tv Superman.
Noel as the #2 pin-up

Although acting roles became few and far between, Neil never shied away from her connection to Lois Lane. She had guest parts in several of the Superman cinema reboots (one as the dying wife of Lex Luther) and often appeared at Superman-related events— with a great sense of humor, stories to tell and more of that spunk. 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Do You Blend in or Stand Out?

This little gecko appeared in my garden the other morning. I was so happy to see him. Aside from that beautiful color, geckos are practically fearless and will stare you down before disappearing into a flurry of matching leaves. This guy preened and posed a bit before he took off. Green geckos are rarer than when we first moved to Texas. Most of them now are another breed— basic black (chic but boring).

So it occurs to me that we probably can hitch our paths to that elusive star, Style, by determining if we like to blend in or stand out. Trying to be one when you are really the other will get you nothing but a closet full of mistakes.

Something else about green geckos: When feeling threatened they can change color to a mousey brown and disappear in a flash.  Perhaps you like to stand out only when you feel confident or are in control? Is there something conservative that you wear when you're unsure how far to go but want to look fabulous? I own a very simple burgundy dress. Sometimes I wonder why I have it, but I know it's a go-to for that very reason.

I've mentioned before I once turned down an otherwise interesting job because the staff all wore uniforms. The job required me to be creative. I just didn't think I would be if I couldn't even pick out my own outfit. For that— and many other reasons— I wouldn't have made a good nurse, airline pilot or brigadier general.

So let's hear it for the green geckos, ladies who stand out (but not enough to be in danger of being ridiculed). And hurrah to stylish women who also know how to do it quietly. Kudos for anyone who puts some time and effort into figuring out who they are...

...or at least who they want to be that day.

Today I might be a leopard gecko...


Sunday, July 3, 2016

Granny Takes a (Shopping) Trip

Since becoming a grandmother-to-be some traits have developed. I've suddenly taken up a long discarded interest in knitting— so long ago that I gave away all my needles, yarn holders and stitch counters. I also give myself license to bill and coo over little babies. Okay, maybe I make a few comparisons for the future. I'm only human.

But what does a woman who loves the marketplace and loves to shop do when she has someone else to shop for? Go shopping, of course. What I've discovered, in the world of kids' clothes, is eye-opening.

First of all, they are expensive. I mean really, really expensive. Sure, a t-shirt for $10 is not much, but this t-shirt is 6" x 8". In other words, it uses 12 cents worth of fabric. Is shipping from China that expensive? Is it made from organic cotton? Make that $18.

Just for the record, organic cotton is "grown from non genetically modified plants... grown without the use of any synthetic agricultural chemicals such as fertilizers or pesticides." Are you trying to tell me that non-organic cotton means you are wrapping the baby in a bundle of pesticides?

I am reminded of raising my own child what seems like 150 years ago. The only thing we were cautioned about was making sure the pajamas wouldn't catch on fire. Just how that was to happen was always a mystery.

Small but deadly...

Realizing the cost of baby clothes I now head to the sale racks to stock up on out-of-season-greatly-reduced items for the future. However at this point there is no way of knowing how Baby will relate to the newborn, 0-3 months, 6-9 months, 9-12 months sizing. If I remember correctly, my child skipped 6-9 months entirely.

Our mother-to-be has received heaps of lovely clothes, outgrown or otherwise not needed, from her friends. Thank goodness for that. I noticed some things still had their tags, other looked like they might have been worn only once.

And one more thing: Why do manufacturers think they have to add a ducky, a frog, an owl or a puppy applique to everything? If they've resisted the cutesy doodad, there is a good possibility we will get "Mommy's little devil" or "I need a nap" emblazoned across the front.

As a shopper with high standards and a budget, I have my work cut out for me.

Like the sentiment though...

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Bye Bye, Bill

Photograph by Durell Godfrey
Bill Cunningham died on June 25 in New York City. He had been hospitalized after recently suffering a stroke. He was 87 and the only New Yorker ever declared a "living legend".

To call him a street photographer would hardly be accurate. Bill Cunningham never editorialized, but his exquisitely trained eye told the story. He was self-effacing to a fault, almost ascetic in his personal life.

I can't do an obituary justice. A lovely one was written in the New York Times, where he photographed fashion and its foibles for over 40 years. A link is here. Sorry that you must copy, cut and paste:

Photograph by Durell Godfrey

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Come One Come Kimono

This summer the trend flying out of The Lovely Boutique Where I Work are kimonos. We call them that, but really these bits of frippery are shawls-with-sleeves, summer ponchos or wrappers (the "w" is important). They are not negligees or peignors or anything boudoir and not strictly Asian-inspired. The T shape is their unifying link. Think soft instead of structured. Most look like giant scarves until you try to fold one. They are hip-length or long but certainly not boleros.

A kimono is not going to keep you warm. It will barely stave off the arctic chill of air conditioning. Throw one on over practically anything and you've created an ensemble. If three pieces make an outfit, this would be three easy pieces.

Kimono in the city

The kimonosizing began about two years ago on the music festival scene. Coachella has nothing to do with the iconic leather goods emporium and everything to do with Coachella Valley in California. Yearly concerts there feature music (rock, indie, hip-hop and electronica) along with art installations. Dressing for the event has taken on a Woodstock vibe— deliberately Bohemian blessedly not encrusted with mud. There is more freedom and bare bits than we saw in the 60s. Back then you either wore clothes or you didn't.

The "Coachella uniform" is t-shirt, cut-offs, kimono, fedora and lace-up sandals. All of that has trickled down to the masses. So how does a WOACA* wear one?

> You can do white t-shirt and denim, but make yours skinny jeans and not shorts

> Go with minimal jewelry so you are not channeling Ming the Magnificent

Styled a little too Advanced

> Wear one over a jersey jumpsuit or a t-shirt dress

> Try with a close-fitting top and soft palazzo pants

> Make one your bathing suit cover-up. Who isn't always wanting one of those?

> You should look like you just threw this on. Don't make it all stiff and perfect. Thus it's not for dress-up occasions.

> You needn't break the bank either. Fast fashion versions are as decent as those at upper crust boutiques. This could be the first time you ever step into a Forever 21.  

* Woman of a Certain Age

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Friends With Style: Linda

Linda in the mood at Mood Fabrics

The first time I met Linda my reaction was, "Oh my gosh— it's Diane Keaton!". Sure enough, Linda has the bright, outgoing personality of Diane in the best of her rom-com roles. She has that quirky Keaton style of dressing (without the oddball gloves and ankle socks). Although her own style is Very Linda, Diane Keaton had a hand in it.

I haven't known Linda long, so my interview tries to put her style in context of its development with some tips on finding (and keeping) your own style.

AIF: How would you define your style?
LW: Creative classic with a twist

AIF: When did you know you had one?
LW: I didn't become comfortable with my style until my late '50s/early '60s. Before then my style was Corporate America. It wasn't an "aha moment", more an evolution as I was drawn to black and white with pops of color.

AIF: What do you say to women who may be timid or afraid to try something new?
LW: Try something on with a friend who will tell you the truth, really. And you need to feel good in it— like the way you look— or don't buy it.

AIF: How did your love of fashion evolve?
LW: As a teenager I used to design clothes in boring classes. My mother and grandmother always sewed. I did too, but I've never sewn anything since I got my first job.

AIF: What was your worst fashion faux pas?
LW: I went through a very cliched red-white-and-blue period, even matching my husband!

AIF: Who has been your biggest fashion influence?
LW: It actually was Diane Keaton. When I found out she wore all her own clothes while filming "Annie Hall", I felt permission to be more quirky.  I met her last year and mentioned people often think I look like her. She didn't exactly agree but told me, "You look great".

The resemblance is uncanny

Even their fathers looked alike
AIF: What are your favorite places to shop?
LW: I love the treasure hunt of consignment shops and TJ Maxx' The Runway. It's not as much fun to pay full price. I also love to check out consignment shops in foreign cities like London and Paris.

AIF: I'm thinking you are an accessories maven. What are your favorites?
LW: Scarves, bracelets, purses and colored glasses. I have red, green, black and tortoise frames. 
(Note: Just the other day I ran into Linda in The Dollar Store where she had found an amazingly cool pair of black and white checked readers)

AIF: I mostly see you in black and white with pops of bright color. Am I right-- no earth tones and no pastels?
LW: No earth tones or pastels. My favorite pops are green, blue, coral and oddball citron yellow.

AIF: Carry-on or steamer trunk? Do you pack a little or a lot?
LW: Depends where I'm going. I'll do carry-on for New York City. I like the challenge to be creative with just a few pieces. But I'll pack a lot when it makes sense, and I'm not carrying the luggage.

AIF: What do you have too much of in your wardrobe?
LW: White blouses

AIF: What are you always looking for?
LW: Scarves

AIF: We live in an almost season-less climate here in Houston. How do you mark the change of seasons in your wardrobe?
LW: I just dress in more layers and really don't wear a lot of white after October. I think of black and white stripes as Summer.
(Note: Linda grew up in central Florida so is kind of used to this) 

AIF: What's your favorite everyday go-to outfit?
LW: Black pants, white shirt or blouse, pop of color in a purse, cardigan or shoe

AIF: What's your favorite special occasion outfit?
LW: I don't like dressing for special occasions, but I do have a red dress I like that I'll wear with a black shrug.

AIF: What trend will you never wear?
LW: Ruffles and lace

AIF: What was your "best buy"?
LW: A citron yellow Burberry skirt found at a department store sale. I've never seen another one like it. 

AIF: What are the fashion pieces you can't live without?
> oversized white shirt
> skinny black pants
> black Fly London wedges
> a black, white or citron skirt
> black and white polka dot Mary Quant scarf
> multiple bracelets or a big cuff
> black fitted t-shirt
> black and white checked shirt
> a flirty dress

AIF: If you could pick an era, other than one in which you lived, based on its style, which would it be?
LW: The 1920s as that was the break out to be free, flirty and have fun.

AIF: I could not resist this. How often do people think you're Diane Keaton, and how often do you let them believe you are?
LW: Once every week or two. I thank them but never let them believe I am.

AIF: Any last words of wisdom?
LW: Fashion is fun and became even more so after 50. Sometimes it's the most fun I have all day!

Art imitating life

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The 73-Year-Old Romper

As I never ruled it out, I won't apologize for buying a romper. I knew (hoped) that one would appear not too bare, short, frilly or young for this 73-year-old.

Sure enough I found it in the most unlikely of places when really wasn't looking. Sort of like meeting the man I fell in love with and married.

It was in Banana Republic while on a trip and avoiding a downpour (finding romper not husband). Okay so I will shop rain or shine, but I really was avoiding leaving the mall on account of the rain. Banana Republic isn't a place I would normally investigate on vacation as there are two in spitting distance of each other back home. 

Seek and ye may find...

As is sometimes the case, this Banana had different offerings. The romper, on the clearance rack for $29.99, was one. 

I'll try on almost anything for $29.99 and even convince myself I have to have it, but this was the real deal. I liked it on its own merits and would indeed pay twice as much (the classic test).

While researching for this blog I see that the very same romper is listed on the Banana Republic website for $119.99, reduced from $138. Depending what day of the week and what special offers are afoot, you could pay 20% or 30% less, but nothing like $29.99. 

This is true for a few other items I saw: The Mixed Stripe Boatneck for $29.99 (was $55), in store for $8.99; the Geo Lace Midi Skirt for $129.99 (was $138), in store for $84.99; the Geo Lace Strappy Dress for $149.99 (was $178), in store for $39.99.

$29.99 or $8.99?
$129.99 or $84.99?
$149.99 or $39.99?
Why the discrepancies between what you see online and in store? Banana Republic is not the only one. It happens at the Gap and J Crew but not at Anthropologie and Zara. 

Does this mean you will be rewarded for shopping at a bricks-and-mortar but punished for shopping online? Sure, stores want to get rid of "online only" returns that may be clogging up the real estate, but is this not a little unfair?

The same can be said for shipping fees that are waived if you order above a certain amount or are in-store or call the store, restocking fees that turn free returns into not-so-free returns and price differences such as just mentioned.

Not long ago I read an article explaining why prices at retail keep going up. The reasons are almost all to cover costs associated with so much returning, shipping and restocking.

I'm happy to take my $29.99 romper out of the system to cut back expenses, even if I just wear it around the house!

$119 or $29.99?

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Giving This the Cold Shoulder

I'm giving summer's hot off-the-shoulder trend a pass. Reluctantly. It's a fun look— and new. We haven't seen many fresh trends lately, just lots more of the same sailor stripes and chambray and track pants and clunky trainers (Brit-speak at least sounds more chic than "sneakers").  Bill Cunningham has spotted enough bare clavicles on the streets of New York already to fill his "On the Street" column in today's New York Times. Every window in the mall shows the look in mutiples. It's arrived.

He saw one every six minutes

As a WOACA* my problem with off-the-shoulder is my problem with shoulders— lack thereof and/or morphing into an osteo-arthritis widow's hump (premature as I'm still happily married). In other words, I'd be looking rather too much like Mary Todd Lincoln in a shoulder-baring silhouette.

Mary Mary

It's a shame when we have to "call it" on account of age, but call it I do. I'd like the world to know that's the only reason I haven't latched onto the look, and the world should be grateful. I hope those of you with time on your side will opt in and wear one for me. Cheers!

Proenza-Schouler's shoulders

* Woman of a Certain Age

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Fads of '48

When my sister Lonnie died last year it was left to my nephew to comb through the collections of her life. And my sister saved everything. He was lovely to ask what I wanted. One memento meant the most— her Betty Betz "Things 'n Stuff" scrapbook. She had started it the year she turned 15, her freshman year in high school. I was not allowed into this teenage world as I was only 6, though I would sometimes be reluctantly dragged along on outings (her reluctance not mine). What I would do was pour through her scrapbook when she was out of the house, being very careful and always putting it back in its hiding place.

It looked like being 15 was the most wonderful thing in the world. Never mind what was the true outcome of that. Many years later, when I admitted to Lonnie how I would sneak peeks, she told me she always knew but had let it go. We were both then very grown up women, looking through the scrapbook again, this time together.

With "Things 'n Stuff" now in my possession, I relived not only my life but hers. One thing I had forgotten was a page she drew titled "Fads of '48". She obviously had every intention of making a record for all eternity.

"Fads of '48"

It's always interesting how fashion fads begin. Try to remember that in 1948 we may have had movies and magazines, but nothing was instantaneous, and there was barely any television. Even developing photos at the drugstore took 5 days. Nevertheless fads existed and, by the looks of my sister and her friends, were followed. Herewith:
"Dad's old shirt, washed out jeans, loafers"
* * *
"A long full coat with a hood" or in this case, a babushka. 
Note the "stadium boots", de riguer for winter wear
* * *

"A full skirt...or a pencil thin one"

Pencil skirts... with pearls
* * *
"A ribbon around your neck, peasant blouse, a very full ballerina skirt with some petticoat showing, ballerina shoes"
The ribbon (with cameo), the peasant blouse and full skirt as a dress, ballet flats. I'm on the left, squinting as usual