Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The Thrill of Thrifting

Two friends, both a Ms. D, have brought to mind the subject of shopping second-hand, one that resonates with many people in this time of too-much and too-poorly-made.

For many years fashion trends whizzed by at the speed of light. We're now in a traffic jam where anything goes. Who's to say it isn't fashion when no one plays by rules that don't even exist? Common sense would be the only one left. Sometimes even that seems in short supply.

"They just don't make them like they used to" can apply to anything from houses to Hot Wheels. This was never so true when high-end brands began selling polyester (at their high end prices). Where have silk and wool and cotton garments gone? To the thrift shop.

The Etro T

Then there's money. In what universe does a t-shirt cost $290? In the Etro universe, I guess. Why is this luxe Italian brand selling what once was a mall staple, the graphic t? Because someone will buy it? Well, that someone will not be me. I still don't get paying over $100 for pants or $200 for anything. I've long been a fan of off-price retail like TJ Maxx and will admit to making the rounds weekly.

The for-profit thrift shop (more properly called resale) is where I usually take my cast-offs. I wait anxiously, like Scrooge's housekeeper, while a millennial rummages through my stuff, looking for a brand she recognizes, only to receive pennies on the dollar for what that cost.

But I've found some gems at the thrift shop. For a time someone regularly dropped off Marc Jacobs in my size. I've bought brands I could never afford at full prince, like Vince. I've splurged on some sparkly stuff that, frankly, is still sitting unworn in my closet and some wonderful vintage pieces (a leopard wool swing coat, Pendelton high-waisted plaid pants) that I wear often.

Ms. D wearing a find. Photo by Richard Lewin

Now the first Ms. D not only has a thrift picker's eye herself, she volunteers in her local Village Improvement Society Thrift Shop. She says it's to get a first look at the donations, but she also coordinates the displays on the level of a professional visual merchandiser, AND she shops for me. I look forward to the box she sends on my birthday, full of personal picks, including—one year—a beautiful Etro dress.

Ms. D's new dress

The next Ms. D recently discovered her local church thrift shop and realizes her style is very much suited to the classic, well made pieces the local grandes dames are donating. She wrote me about the dress she just found—a dark floral shirt dress in a soft fabric that fits like a dream and somehow looks very Today. It's perfect for her office Christmas party and cost $14. She's not a grab-and-go kind of shopper and ultimately rejected a number of dreamy finds, but she'll be back.

So we've established thrift shopping is good for the planet and good for the wallet, and can be as much fun as Robinson Crusoe finding Friday. There's something else no one has yet to mention.

When you bring something home that has never been worn, it essentially has no life until you give it one. Your secondhand piece has gone places and seen things before you plucked it from the rack. I find myself thinking of that.

I wonder, "Why would someone donate this?", especially true of clothes that still carry original price tags. After the initial excitement of finding something brand-new in a secondhand store, I start to feel bad for the person who made the mistake. I understand; I've been there. It must have hurt to admit, but I'm proud of her for clearing it out, whether Marie Kondo told her or she came to that conclusion herself.

Did BB wear my coat?

I think about where my previously worn piece went. What was her life in that leopard coat? Did she live in Houston? It must have been a very different city then. She might have worn it one evening downtown, a place that barely exists today but once did. I've seen pictures. She wore it to death; the pocket lining was ripped when I got it. Why did she finally let go?

My previously worn clothes have stories I wish I knew.

Am I

the only one

who wants to

hear them?


Saturday, November 30, 2019

Girlfriend Gifts, the Stocking Stuffer Kind

Although my longest-standing friends and I decided not to exchange holiday gifts, there are people you would like to remember with a small token. These may be co-workers, the gals you volunteer with, members of your book club or yoga group. It's a great time of year to say, "Thank you for the pleasure of your company and the joy in knowing you".

These might not fit in a stocking, but we'll call them gifts of the stocking stuffer kind, less than $15.

We all declare we don't want sweets, but who could resist a perfect little treat from a fancy brand, imported or local?
Prestat chocolates, $10

A bar of beautifully packagedd fragrant soap is a gift that keeps on giving. I'm particularly fond of shea butter Mistral soaps from Anthropologie. They smell lovely and last forever—down to the tiniest sliver.

Mistral soap, Anthropologie, $8

I would never buy this for myself as it seems quite expensive for its one-time use, but I would certainly love to try one. Many bath bombs do not come wrapped, so get creative with tissue and a little bag.

Intergalactic bath bomb, Lush, $8

We may embrace the latest techno gear, but we are still sending and/or receiving hand written notes. It's tricky to find cards not pre-printed with "Thank You".

Marimekko cards, Amazon, $12

Everyone loves something with her initial, even if it's just a bookmark. When in doubt, the last name monogram is more formal, the first name more familiar.

FeltBerryUK bookmark, Etsy, $9

Everyone's sock drawer has room for one more pair, really.
Happy Socks, $14

The idea is not to give an empty one. Use your imagination to frame something meaningful to your relationship—a piece of text, a painted squiggle (a monogram?)

Michael's mini frame, $4

I found this selection of under-$10 books at Barnes & Noble. You could choose a different title for each person on your list.

Barnes & Noble, $10 and under

We all love to travel. How about luggage tags, travel bags or a travel candle?

Zazzle luggage tag, $12

Pick something glittery or crazy just for fun.

O.P.I. nail polish, $10

Do you have a wonderful tool you discovered and can't live without?

Strawberry huller, Williams-Sonoma, $8
Stork scissors, Amazon, $8

When in doubt give the gift everyone needs to accomplish all that stuff on the to-do list.

Round Tuit button, Etsy, $4

Monday, November 25, 2019

Vogue and Harper's Bazaar Have Merged!

It's the end of the world as we know it. Vogue and Harper's Bazaar have joined forces in publishing's evil new innovation, Doorfront Direct. Instead of being sent to your mailbox, magazines are dropped off with your newspaper (if you get one) or the vicinity of your front door if you don't.

Earlier this month, Country Living hit the stoop on a rainy morning. Our front step is down the sidewalk and outside the locked front gate. Although I'm sure the aim was in the right direction, most of the time papers land in the grass, the bushes or even the street.  Despite being enclosed in plastic, Country Living, like the papers, was soaking wet.

This morning, blessedly dry, Vogue and Harper's Bazaar shared a pouch on the sidewalk.

Note slit in plastic waiting for rain

I don't like this idea at all. What's to stop someone from making off with my magazines? How early do I have to get up to make sure that doesn't happen? I have long understood publishers lose money having you as a subscriber. Magazines are heavy; postal rates are high. They are only trying to survive. Fetching it from the ground does seem to cheapen the experience.

I love the way the insert describes this new service:
Doorfront Direct is a convenient new way for you to receive magazines and catalogs on your doorstep! Doorstep Direct saves you time since you don't have to walk out to your mailbox.
Convenient for whom??? Saves time how???

Fashion and publishing go hand-in-hand to me. My mother's Vogue was the earliest introduction to this new land of the fantastic yet aspirational. Magazines were their own world, and I wanted in. It happened, yes, but y'all know that already.

Vogue and Harper's Bazaar have always been the Hedda Hopper and Elsa Maxwell of their industries. The Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden. The Hatfields and McCoys. They share the same DNA and are courteous to one another, but rivalry exists.

Diana at Bazaar
Diana at Vogue

When Diana Vreeland was passed over to become editor-in-chief of Harper's Bazaar in 1962, she decamped to Vogue, bring famed photographer Richard Avedon with her. He never shot for Bazaar again. Vogue's photographers still do not shoot for Bazaar and vice versa. It's highly unusual for writers, editors or production staff to switch titles.

Vogue is more successful financially, with a greater number of ad pages. But Harper's Bazaar has its loyal share of readers. Vogue is helmed by the ice queen, Anna Wintour. The genial Glenda Bailey heads Bazaar. Everyone knows who Anna is; Glenda keeps a lower profile.

Anna at Vogue
Glenda at Bazaar

Although Harper's Bazaar is haute couture all the way, the tone is sunny. Vogue comes across a little stiffer. While I've sometimes thought about dropping my Vogue subscription, it's worth getting for the blockbuster fall fashion issue alone.

When September comes along, they are going to have to make bigger bags.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Gone But Not Forgotten: The Bargain Basement

Typical scene in the basement

Back in the glory days of department stores an unloved stepsister lived in the basement. This Cinderella was known as the Basement Store. Though you'll have to read to the end, she actually did have her moment.

On the lowest level in all respects, the basement store carried the range of goods sold upstairs for less. The brands were obscure or no-name, sometimes even manufactured just for the basement.  This was not where unsold merchandise from upstairs landed. The bargain basement was designed for the customer not expected to venture up, the one looking firmly for a bargain.

One basement store, Filene's in Boston, was the stuff of legend and outlasted Filene's itself. Opened in 1908, the basement store held on until 2011, by that time a stand-alone discount store no longer in the basement. It was infamous for its annual $99 bridal event, a feeding frenzy of chiffon and taffeta.

If catching a husband were only that easy...

My mother was a frugal shopper, but it was a point of pride to bypass the basement in Cleveland department stores. The exception was a stop at Higbee's basement Frosty Bar for a frozen milkshake before heading home.

The basement store gave birth to the discount store which begat the outlet store, which heralded the outlet center. Anyone who's spent a day at Woodbury Commons in New York state knows this is a destination that needs no apology.

Next stop: Woodbury Commons

Following is a remembrance of a moment in the spotlight thanks to a basement store:  

Once upon a time, while not exactly Cinderella, I was a young working woman living in New York City. I had a rent stabilized apartment and a decent job for a green-at-the-gills graphic designer. I preferred subways to taxis and was always on a diet so budgeting for groceries was minimal.

What hurt the most was not being able to shop. In the mid 1960s Bloomingdale's was THE department store. Located then as now on Lexington between 59th and 60th, I never knew Bloomingdale's existed before I moved to New York. Unlike the shops along Fifth (Bonwit's, Saks, Bergdorf's, etc.) Bloomingdale's was a true department store. There was something for everyone, all very shiny and bright as were the '60s.

Bloomingdale's also had a bargain basement, which opened right into the subway. It was not as shiny and bright, but it was still Bloomingdale's. I would steel myself to the wonders upstairs. One had to see the model rooms on the furniture floors at the very least. Then I scurried to the basement store hoping to find something to satisfy my Bloomingdale's itch. I don't remember ever buying much, but I did get a Banlon leopard print top and skirt set for $10.95.

The best way to describe Banlon is a polyester knit with a little heft. That and its evil twin Arnel fell out of favor as selling points, but we still wear those washable, wrinkle-free, softly draping knits in tops, dresses and pants. Leopard has long been in style.

My job was junior assistant in the Glamour Magazine art department. Was it hard to dress on a budget and work for a fashion magazine? You bet. Most of the fashion editors were graduates of one of the Seven Sisters at the very least, if not also society girls and debutantes. When they decided what to show in the magazine, budgets were not foremost on their minds.

Kathleen Casey Johnson, Glamour's formidable editor in chief, was concerned things were getting too pricey for the magazine's audience. She was having none of their complaints they couldn't find things for less. Mrs. Johnson happened to be in the art department one day and saw me wearing my BBBBB (Bloomingdale's Bargain Basement Banlon Best).

She glanced at me working away and asked, "Where did you get that?"

"Bloomigdale's Basement" I said. You couldn't fib to Mrs. Johnson.

"And how much did it cost?" she asked.

"$10.95" I said.

"Come with me." she said.

I was then marched into the fashion department and paraded in front of the editors. Mrs. Johnson prodded me along the rounds of their desks, saying, "Look! If she could find this for $10.95, you can find some cute things too!"

Embarrassed? Ashamed? Not me. Proud as punch. Cinderella had made it to the ball.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

When Will You Stop Looking?

There have been many guides to shopping, articles and books dedicated to good decision making and getting the most for your money. I have read them all.

There have been plenty of rules to avoid mistakes that end up unloved and unworn in your closet. I have broken every one:

> Don't buy it just because it's on sale.
> Don't buy the size you might be some day.
> Don't buy something last minute for a special occasion.
> Ask yourself if you would pay twice for it.
> Shop only with a list and stick to it. 
> Figure in how many times you will wear it to justify the cost.
> Don't buy something because it looks good on a celebrity or friend.
> Don't go shopping with friends.
> Take your friends shopping to give you advice.
> Don't shop when you're depressed.
> Don't shop when you're happy.
> Don't shop online at midnight or if you're bored at work.
> Don't shop when you have no money.
> Don't shop when you're feeling flush.
> Don't be afraid to return it.

No one has ever suggested one question to ask yourself while shopping: Will I stop looking for it?

I can go shopping with no real purpose. This is called "product research". I am shopping to be wowed, to be lured by an incredible find, to find the incredible, to get inspired to put things together in a new way or unearth something I'd forgotten I had.

By now I've bought a cartload of black turtleneck sweaters, at least two dozen pairs of black pants, jeans too numerous to count, a small trash can full of black handbags, myriad pairs of hoop earrings, 4 or 5 trench coats and more than too many bathing suits—all in search of the "perfect" one that means I will never have to shop for it again. Your tally may be different, but I bet you have one.

While shopping for nothing I may run across one of those things I'm always looking for. I now ask myself, Will this be "the perfect _ _ _ _ _ _ _  (fill in the blanks). Will I now stop looking for it??? Put that way, the answer is usually "no".  

There are still things I haven’t found yet:
> The perfect pussy-cat bow silky white shirt
> The perfect little black dress
> The perfect black evening bag
> The perfect black casual shoes
> The perfect travel umbrella

Oh, the list is long. Which is why I’m still shopping.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Woops! I Did It Again

We've all heard the expression, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." Well, shame on me because I did it again—ordered another piece of cute apparel from China selling for an unbelievably low price.

See here for the first debacle:

Why did I let that happen after vowing never to do it again? It rains a lot here in Houston. I'm always on the lookout for rain gear that is long enough, not too heavy and most of all stylish. Trench coats are out; I'm just not a fan.

This popped up on my Instagram feed from a store called Miracle228:

I want look exactly like her! From the jaunty scarf to the perfect leggings and waterproof slip-ons to the cunning juoosh of the sleeves. I wear my watch on my left hand. Otherwise that could be me, if only I had that raincoat!

Of course I knew it was from China. Of course I was wary, but then I saw this:

All the  buzzwords—Satisfaction Guarantee, 100% Money Refund, Shipping 3-10 days within 6 hours, FedEx Private Line (no idea what that even is) and all the symbols for Guaranteed Safe Checkout. What could possibly go wrong???

It was only $28.99 plus shipping, which came to a total of $34.98. I must have been feeling flush that day, because even as I pushed the button I was thinking, If it's really terrible I'll just keep it in the car as a spare.

I was willing to blow $35 on a bad choice, but I truly expected to have a raincoat. That was October 6. Miracle 228 took my money right away. On October 19 they sent an email with a tracking number that has never ever worked. I've written them twice asking where or where is my raincoat. Crickets.

In a week or so I will have to call Mastercard and hope I don't get the same representative I dealt with for the last China scam. This time I mean it though.

And wouldn't you know? It's raining today.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Where Oh Where Could I Wear Them?

Just in time for holiday dressing comes a collaboration between H&M and Giambattista Valli. Please let that name roll over your tongue a few times out loud. It's the essence of all that's beautiful and Italian. Would that I had a few fancy-dress engagements on the social calendar...

I first discovered GBV in 2011 when he was a rising design star and did a collection for Macy's Impulse brand. I picked up a silk leopard evening coat for $100 and have not regretted it for a second. It spends more time in the closet than on me, but I love looking at it.

GBV has since made a name for himself dressing the red carpet. His looks are ethereal, not meant for every day. The point of getting dressed up, after all, is to look special and GBV is a master at crafting the fanciful.

Personally my life is on more of a practical path. Saturday nights are likely to be at our favorite Mexican cantina or babysitting our toddler grandson in front of the impossible-to-operate Apple TV. We do go to the theater, but we volunteer as ushers and must wear head-to-toe black. Besides, I have more special occasion clothes in my closet that I could possibly have special occasions for.

But what is fashion if not to dream? These are dreamy clothes at prices a bit elevated for H&M but way below the market price of today's GBV. I've sprinkled a few of my favorites in the blog. The whole collection launches November 7.

Deepika Padukone on the red carpet in GBV

Friday, November 1, 2019

The Brooch is Back!

I don't know how to broach the subject without committing this truly terrible pun, but the brooch is back.

Brooches, often with matching earrings and necklaces, were a thing in the '50s:

The more sophisticated didn't go quite so overboard:

Small brooches, called "scatter pins" were prized by teens, and this pre-teen amassed a few. They were cheap to buy with my allowance and could personalize a wardrobe mostly decided on by my mother. Scatter pin sets were especially coveted:

Enough with the nostalgia. Brooches have had their moments here and there, most recently about ten years ago when I just didn't feel "dressed" without adding a pin. Fortunately I never got around to cleaning out that stash because they could be making a return.

This mannequin in a holiday mood greeted me in Macy's today. What at first looks like one bonanza of a brooch is really six pins "brooched" together. What a neat idea, and providing it doesn't weigh down my shoulder, I'm going to try it.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Stylish Read: "A Thousand Days of Magic"

"A Thousand Days of Magic" by Oleg Cassini was published in 1995, the year after Jackie Kennedy died. Cassini was a Hollywood costume designer turned fashion designer who died in 2006 at age 92. The son of a Russian count, he grew up in Europe and emigrated to America with his brother Igor, who became a celebrity reporter known as Cholly Knickerbocker.

Cassini, handsome and urbane, was his own best public relations team. He hobnobbed with society on both coasts and was married for a time to actress Gene Tierney. I first remember seeing him in the movie magazines on dates with Grace Kelly. He met Jackie through his relationship with the Kennedy family and became her designer-of-choice during the Kennedy administration, the thousand days of magic in the book title.

Cassini's life deserves a book of its own, which he did write ("In My Own Fashion"). He really was part of the White House "in crowd", invited to private parties in Washington, Florida and Cape Cod. There are "lampshade photos" in the book to prove it.

There is a little hyperbole—Cassini claims he was the first designer to be a celebrity in his own right and takes credit for almost all the clothes Jackie wore. He just doesn't mention her relationship with Chez Ninon, who copied Paris designs for her like the pink suit worn on that fateful day in Dallas.

Jackie probably would not have appreciated Cassini reprinting her letters to him (including her dress measurements), but they are fascinating to read, and he is kind and generous to her. She remains quite the heroine of "Camelot",  meticulous, articulate and fascinating.

Cassini designed over 300 articles of clothing for Jackie during that time—a staggering amount—but she was a very public First Lady and didn't like to be photographed wearing the same outfit twice. He also arranged for the accessories—shoes, hats, handbags and gloves—for each outfit.

While Cassini had his own ready-to-wear line, Jackie's clothes were considered couture and one-of-a-kind. They were constructed in Bergdorf Goodman's workrooms. The Nancy Drew in me uncovered a possible conflict. Cassini takes credit for the famous pillbox hat Jackie wore for Kennedy's inauguration. A recent documentary on Halston gives him the credit. Halston was Bergdorf's in-house milliner at the time. I see the real story being more of a collaboration...

What makes "A Thousand Days" special is that Cassini has arranged the book with his sketches for Jackie reproduced next to photos of her wearing the clothes. This is fascinating both to see how a design looks on paper versus the figure and how close the finished garments are to the original ideas.

Cassini had certain style tricks that are often repeated—big covered buttons, dropped waists, dropped shoulders, gentle A-lines, bateau necks (Jackie's favorite), a bow or beaded trim—all in the color palettes she preferred. Nothing looks particularly revolutionary today. In fact you could still wear everything, and I wish I had a few of those beautiful coats and dresses. What's important to remember is just how new it was for the time. Here was a beautiful young woman wearing the simplest yet most elegant things. The contrast between Jackie and any other woman in the photos is amazing.

Although mine was a library copy, I'm happy to say "A Thousand Days of Magic" is still in print. I know there are many tomes of a more serious nature on the Kennedy administration. This one captures its impact on the public and our fascination with Jackie from the beginning. Like the Kennedy saga itself, this book is one for the ages.