Saturday, February 8, 2020

Why Styling Means Everything

Styling is not just what stylists do. They do it, of course, but "styling" means how things are put together. We style ourselves every day, with or without a stylist's help. How you style an outfit can make it sing...or sit in a corner.

That truth walked the runway in L.L.Bean's show at Men's Fashion Week in New York City.

L.L.Bean! The venerable sporting wear company founded in 1912, predictable as the day is long. The L.L.Bean look of classic, utilitarian gear sometimes veers close to fashion but usually is not. It's just there—dependable and never-changing.

Evidently L.L.Bean toyed with tweaking the brand before, but the results (mostly in fit) were barely noticeable. Burberry was first of the old guard to do it, hiring Christopher Bailey in 2001. Look at them now—major players in the fashion pantheon. And remember, once upon a time Gucci was just leather goods.

L.L.Bean hasn't thrown the baby out of the canoe, but their collaboration with Todd Snyder, shown this week on their first runway outing, looks freshandnew. Nothing is revolutionary so much as styled in new ways.

This is such a scrumptious display of sartorial splendor, I am going to let 42 pictures speak 1,000 words:

Yes, these make better postage stamps than style guides, but I urge you to cut-and-paste:
to view in greater detail. There are lots of ideas to steal.

If you love Gentlewoman Style (the sophisticated version of "Annie Hall"), you can put these styling tips to play with clothing you no doubt already own. Or you can rethink your existing wardrobe and give it a lift, especially during these late-winter doldrums. And I do mean ladies here. Whether the men will actually cotton to it will have to be seen.

A few points:
> Notice how pants are cuffed or "juusshed". Your socks become important here, and socks are an inexpensive way to have fun.
> Layers—a t-shirt, a turtle, a button-down—add pops of color and texture. We all know layers are the best way to keep cozy.
> Pattern mixing—there are THREE different plaids in this ensemble. They work together due to similar shades of green.

> Details that unite—The cuffs and sweater sleeve pick up the ochre. The shoelaces (shoelaces!) reflect the pattern in the sweater.

> A hint is sometimes enough—a bit of camo peeking out of the collar, a slice of graphic tee layered under.

The more you look, the more you see...

Why the fuss? Well, reliable sources (ie GQ magazine) predict Preppy is due for a comeback in a big way (though it's never really been gone).  According to their creative director, Jim Moore, "It has to be just the right preppy, but you can feel it coming." I know more than a few gals who will be very happy to hear that.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Women We Love: Aunt Jean

Every family has one—the black sheep, the rebel, who makes for the best stories but is always on the outs with the relatives. And every family has one—someone who finds in that relative a kindred spirit.

I found mine in Aunt Jean, the middle sister. My mother, Ida, was the youngest; Sally the oldest. Jean was always known for behavior no one else understood, and stories about her traveled the family grapevine.

Jean was a "handsome woman", often used to describe someone whose features were strong rather than delicate. She was an extrovert with style to beat the band. As far as I could tell, she was the only one who truly married for love.

Uncle Herb and Aunt Jean, 1927

Jean was my glamorous aunt. These few photos from the family album are of an Aunt Jean I didn't yet know. By that time she wore bright colors and leopard prints, pedal pushers, bathing suits with matching cover-ups and cocktail dresses. Her perpetual tan, pedicured toes in high-heeled mules with an ankle bracelet were movie star style. She clinked when she walked with arms of dangling bracelets. This was the 1950s. The only women I knew who dressed that way were my paper dolls. She was not as outlandish, of course, but she reminded me of Carmen Miranda, whom I adored.

Jean lived in Florida (thus the perpetual tan). Her husband, my Uncle Herb, had moved the family to Miami from frozen Ohio right after WWII. He started a construction company and prospered in the south Florida building boom. His success brought Jean the riches she desired—minks, fancy jewelry and latest fashions. Family stories would have her never satisfied with what Uncle Herb provided. I don't know how true they were. I'm guessing they might have been tempered with a little sisterly envy.

Not only was I fascinated with Aunt Jean's wardrobe and joie de vivre, I felt we connected. At 8 or 10 I couldn't articulate it, but I think she knew I loved fashion and all its trappings. I might have filled in for the little girl she would have enjoyed having. Happily in years to come her two sons each gave her a granddaughter.

I saw less of Aunt Jean once my grandmother died. There was no longer a tie to bind the sisters.  We did meet once or twice after I was grown. She still had her Aunt Jean style, adjusted to the times. I never thought to tell her she'd always been my style crush.

Yet again time churns up buckets of nostalgia laced with a tiny bit of insight.

Friday, January 24, 2020

The Genius Guide to Buying Jeans

Looking for jeans can be one of the most stressful chores in the shopping universe, worse than buying a swimsuit. 

I rarely wear jeans. All my weight lies below the waist. Adding a layer of heavy denim plus two more layers for the fly is not my idea of a good time. For obvious reasons, my favorite denim has always been a nice pair of loose-fitting overalls. At 77 this is no longer cute. Even my three-year-old grandson doesn't wear them anymore.

However, there are some times a nice pair of jeans are what an outfit needs. Breton t-shirts look great with jeans. A black turtleneck and jeans speaks French. I love a man-tailored shirt tucked into a pair with a terrific leather belt or with a shirt tied at the waist.

Jeans can go anywhere these days, even the red carpet. The Lovely Boutique Where I Work even allows staff to wear jeans. Let's face it, a grown up woman wearing a nicely tailored pair of jeans looks hip, with it and "young".

Heavenly Helen Mirren
Brooke and Calvin forever

Linda Rodin rocking some

I'm always ready to give jeans another shot as I continuously look for the perfect pair. Let these hints be your guide and you may have the jeans thing all zipped up.

Hint # 1: Don't give up. It may take a lot of searching and (sad but true) trying on, to find them.

Hint #2: Make it a jeans-only shopping trip. Avoid looking at anything else—new merchandise, 50%-off-sale—to concentrate on jeans. If you shop where there is more than one store, hit them all, for jeans only.

Hint #3: Don't go it alone. If there are actual sales associates (as there will be in smaller or more specialized retail) ask for help. She will know which jeans do what and give you clues as to how the various styles fit and wear.

Hint #4: Know your legs:
JEGGINGS are as close to leggings as denim will go.
SLIM are tapered to the ankle.
STRAIGHT will fall in a line from the hip.
GIRLFRIEND (or boyfriend) will be almost baggy from the hip with a wider leg (comfy but never dressed up).
BOOT CUT is closest to Straight with an extra flare at the ankle to accommodate wearing boots.
BELL BOTTOM gradually flares like sailor's pants.  
WIDE LEG begins to flare at the hip and can end up quite wide indeed.
TROUSER will hang comfortably from the waist and seem most like a pair of pants.
CROPPED is tricky to pin down (pun intended) as much depends on how tall you are. There are cropped wide-leg jeans that are almost culottes or those cropped two inches above the ankle. Think of cropped jeans as something fun to add, not your only pair.

Hint #5: Don't buy jeans too loose. 99% of today's jeans have from 2-4% Spandex woven into the denim. This allows the fabric to keep its shape. When you first put them on, new jeans should feel snug; they will loosen up. If jeans are comfy to begin with, try on a smaller size. Otherwise they may get baggy after a few hours and you will wish you had. Of course, you should be able to breathe, sit and button that top button.

Hint #6: We are too grown up for distressed jeans. Unless you have truly distressed them yourself over years of loving wear, leave overly distressed (torn, ragged, patched) jeans for the young and restless.

Hint #7: The darker the wash, the dressier they will look.

Hint #8: Almost all jeans are "high waist". Today's jeans are cut to hit the small of your back and dip just at little in front, following the natural curves of the body. The era of hip rider jeans is blessedly over. Let's take advantage of this rational moment in fashion. NB "Mom jeans", if you still have any, are still a fashion don't.

Mom's not the word...

Hint #9: Pull on jeans are not that crazy. If you hate the idea of a zippered fly front, try pull on jeans. Some even have faux fly stitching. If done right they can be quite flattering.

Pull on and fly not

Hint #10: You may be a petite...or not. Petites are generally cut for women 5'4" and under. If you are short-waisted and/or have shorter legs, try jeans in petite sizes. Remember they are usually cut smaller. If you wear size 8 in regular misses sizes, try a 10 petite. The reverse is true as well. If you have a long torso and/or long legs you may do better in misses regular sizes. These days jeans are available in plus and petite plus too. Thank goodness!

Bonus hint: You may need to alter. The most common complaint is if they fit your hips, they are too big at the waist. This is an easy alteration but for a pro to do. Trust me, I've tried to do this at home.

If jeans are too long, be sure to wash them before hemming. The 96% cotton part can still shrink, though they shouldn't if you hang them to dry (highly advised). Be sure to wear the shoes you will wear with them. Unless they are trouser jeans they shouldn't have a "break". Boot cut, bell bottom and wide leg jeans should be hemmed as long as possible—about 1/2" from the ground.

Really, she's wearing shoes...

Jeans have transcended their humble beginnings as sturdy pants for men hoping to strike it rich in the 1850s, although pursuit of the perfect pair may seem as elusive as finding that golden nugget.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Don't I Know You?

For a while now I've been randomly collecting photos I find, mostly on the internet, that surprise me by just how "modern" and "alive" they seem.

These jpegs spend some time on my desktop then get filed away. I've never known what else to do with them. I always think, "They look like real people!", as if that is some kind of miracle.

We often get caught up in the trappings of vintage lives. It's hard to sift through stiff poses, tortured hairstyles, and uncomfortable outfits to get to the living, breathing person who blinked after the shutter clicked.

The limitations of early photography are certainly responsible. Try looking lovely while your head and spine are being held in place for your Daguerreotype as was the case in 1840. I imagine the idea of having your picture taken in a studio was always daunting. I remember agonizing over my high school yearbook photo, practicing a smile in front of the mirror for weeks. 

An amazing film directed by Peter Jackson came out last year. "They Shall Not Grow Old" is a tribute to his grandfather, who served from New Zealand as a soldier in WWI. Jackson was able, through the miracles of technology, to slow down jerky b&w footage and determine what the soldiers were actually saying. Realistically colored with actors recreating the dialog on the soundtrack, "They Shall Not Grow Old" is moving cinematic time travel.  

The advent of the portable box camera, which turned into the Instamatic, then the Polaroid, then the iPhone makes taking pictures easy and immediate, but don't we all still freeze a bit as we say "cheese"?

These pictures are a wonder to me—a wonder that the person is revealed, and she lives just next door.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Does Everyone Need a Stylist?

Nightmare on Wilshire Boulevard
This is an odd time indeed. Everyone either wants to be a stylist or wants to have one.

Our first stylists were our mothers. We never questioned what we were given to wear, though there were things we mightily disliked. My mother railed against the black wool stockings she and her sisters had to wear far into spring. It was 1915.

I wanted a marshmallow fluffy, flounced dress for my Consecration at age 6, not (in today's eye) the stunning white crew neck sweater/white pleated skirt/string of pearls I was given to wear. I dribbled chocolate ice cream on the sweater at lunch that day. The end.

When my own little boy started dressing himself, a neighbor gave me some good advice: buy everything in red, white or blue, and he'll always look fine.

Would that the ladies of the Golden Globes red carpet had taken that hint. Their get-ups may be the portent for a dreadful awards season to come. As much as I'd like, I can't get the image of Gwneyth Paltrow in that brown Arabian Nights-inspired negligee out of my mind. What gets me is she seems so happy to be wearing it.

No one will blame Gwyneth for this frightful outfit. It has to be the stylist's fault! She lost her mind, had a cold or phoned this one in. Poor Gwyneth! Fiddlesticks... shouldn't Gwyneth have known better? Are we creating a society where no one trusts her own taste? And I mean NO ONE?

The question is: Do you need a stylist to be stylish? 

Stylists are there for everyone. Department stores have turned formerly exclusive "personal shoppers" into stylists for all. Every boutique chain has "clienteling" initiatives and encourages "appointment shops" at no charge to the customer.

Online styling is big business with pioneers like Stitch Fix sending "hand picked" clothing to men, women, and now (gulp) children. I wonder if those are all red, white and blue?

There is now an App called Wishi that connects you to a stylist who will personalize the conversation even further.

These stylists do not go into your closet and help you put together outfits from the overwhelming array of stuff already hanging there. You are encouraged to buy new, more, because—well—you picked that other stuff out yourself.

I'm not saying some of us can't use help. You may be at a life crossroads and a new you requires a new look. We all get lazy and/or bored. Fashion, especially these days, can be intimidating. There seem to be no rules. The old touchstones (fashion magazines, retail) have lost their authority.  We are left to depend on...ourselves.

I toyed with becoming a Stitch Fix stylist. With my experience working for fashion magazines and in retail, I figured this would be fun and a piece of cake. I was accepted into the program by passing an online test. After a training period (not specified where but probably at a Stitch Fix warehouse in a nearby city) I would commit to a work schedule when I would be available to pick items for clients from photos on my computer. My selection would be determined by what was available in her size at the warehouse at any particular time. There would be no ability to ascertain the quality of a garment by touch and no way to tell how it ran. I would be expected to complete a certain number of clients per hour. The reality of being a Stitch Fix stylist just turned me off, and I dropped out immediately.

A Stitch Fix warehouse

I appreciate fashion advice. I read a lot. I listen a lot. I understand not everyone has the courage of her own convictions. I wouldn't enjoy my job at all if I didn't feel I could help you, even just a little. What I'm not liking is this feeling that we have to throw ourselves at the mercy of someone who doesn't know us but Has All the Answers.

It's too Wizard of Oz, and you know what happened there.


Monday, December 30, 2019

Let's Talk About "Little Women"

“Little Women”, 2019 version

“Little Wonen” is having a moment. Again. Greta Gerwig’s adaptation is the fourth filmed version of Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 semi-autobiographical novel. They have been:

1933 with Katharine Hepburn as Jo
1949 with June Allyson as Jo
1994 with Winona Ryder as Jo
2019 with Saoirse Ronan as Jo

Jo March, based on Louisa herself, is the heroine and the one most girls claim as their favorite. She's the writer and reluctant proper young lady, always railing how unfair the world is to women. She has spunk and ambition and is fiercely loyal to her family.

We are all probably different combinations of the sisters—practical Meg, unbridled Jo, fanciful Amy, and shy Beth. That might be the secret to the book's staying power. It's never been out of print and can be downloaded for free.

As we are talking fashion here, I recommend seeing this new "Little Women" if for no other reason than to bask in the beauty of the sets, cinematography and costumes. The joy in the latter is that they are so well done they become what they should be—clothing, not costumes. The linen is wrinkled, the cotton unstarched, the collars come undone. If this film doesn't make you pull out your vests and prairie skirts, nothing will.

As "Little Women" progresses we see Meg wearing simple garments befitting her reduced status. She is goaded into buying 20 yards of fancy fabric for a new dress when she really meant to buy her husband a winter coat.

Jo resembles a Victorian "Annie Hall", especially when in the man's world of New York City.

Grown up Amy is seen in Paris tightly corseted in the latest fashion. It's a wonder she can breathe let alone walk. These styles seem designed specifically to keep women "in their place".

And I confess I couldn't stop looking at the delicate tucking and trim on Beth's white nightdress as she lay dying.

This is not meant as a movie review. If put to the task I will quibble with 2019's non-linear approach and casting Timothée Chalamet as Laurie. Every adaptation has its own reasons to watch: 1933 for Katherine Hepburn's exuberance, 1949 for Amy as played perfectly by a young Elizabeth Taylor, 1994 for the best Laurie in Christian Bale, 2019 for the pure pleasure of traveling back in time with the talented Greta Gerwig.