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

Sunday, May 22, 2016

"Wait, Wait... There's More!"

No one has mentioned this... no one dares bring it up... but why are former fashion luminaries in the televised home shopping business and peddling dreck? So far none of them have urged me to keep watching by shouting out Ron Popeel's famous catch-phrase, "Wait, wait... there's more!", but I'm waiting.

I cringe whenever I watch Isaac Mizrahi on QVC (and he's on several times a week). I cringe because he presents the most common denominator basically boring stuff with an even more manic dose of Isaacness than is his usual. And I love Isaac Mizrahi. His couture years were great. His career-reviving ISAAC line was lovely (and affordable pour moi). His Target collaboration was fun. But the QVC line is just embarrassing. He might say, "You have to pay the rent, honey." And I would say, "Isaac, please find another way."

There's Lori Goldstein, a formerly hip and high-fashion editorial stylist in New York who worked for Vogue and Vanity Fair with famed photographer Steven Meisel. She's now selling t-shirts and stretch pants in simpering pastels cut to hide the jiggly bits on QVC. Lori's fun to watch as she bounces all over the place adjusting the models, and her New York accent reminds me of home. But the stuff looks flammable, not desirable.

Stephani on the right in the very wrong

The latest to emerge from a fashion pedigree onto the tv screen is Stephani Greenfield. A founder of one of the trendiest NYC boutiques, Scoop, she was the ying to Diane von Furstenburg's yang on the ill-conceived tv reality show "House of DVF". This show, Curations with Stephani Greenfield, purports to promote fashion inspired by her travels to exotic places. I tuned in to see the formerly high priestess of chic decked out like a bag lady you would cross the street to avoid. Would I buy what she was selling? Are you serious?

Is there even a place for fashion on tv? We all laughed at the idea of online shopping for anything you need to try on. Now we're all doing it. At the Lovely Boutique Where I Work half my day is spent processing returns from the online store. As much as we know it probably won't fit, hope springs eternal, and pushing the "buy now" button is easy.

The only person who seems to have gotten it a little bit right is the now 94-year-old Iris Apfel. In 2011 she debuted a line of jewelry— copies or in the spirit of the costume jewelry she loves. Much of the stuff is really fun. Some of it is overpriced ($499 for a beaded glass necklace). She needn't apologize for the jewelry, and I don't think less of her for selling it. But then Iris Apfel can do no wrong... 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Women We Love: Florence Welch

I'm usually pretty immune to the latest Flavor of the Month. That's why past subjects of Women We Love have all been seasoned players. Florence Welch (the Florence in Florence and the Machine), though only 29, hardly just fell off the turnip truck, but our paths crossed the other night when I saw her perform at an outdoor venue in Houston. I knew who she was, of course, but seeing her on television or in a magazine is way different from being part of a loving crowd on a beautiful late Spring evening.

Florence 5/17/16; photo by

What I saw that evening was a woman in complete command of the music, her musicians and the audience, but who nonetheless could have been that girl alone in her room dancing and singing as if no one were there. She performed barefoot in a beautiful long chiffon dress— more Valentino than Stevie Nicks. Her trademark red hair is worn long and loose— Alice in Wonderland with bangs. She wore very little makeup — probably a good thing because she worked up quite a sweat.

It had been many years since I'd been to a rock concert, and I'd forgotten about the crowd's anticipation, the burst of welcome and enthusiastic response to favorite songs. My companion thought Florence talked a little too much, but that's what made Florence no machine.

Florence Leontine Mary Welch is British (English father, American ex-pat mother). In 2009 her group Florence and the Machine released a first album, "Lungs", to wide critical acclaim. No real critic would make this comparison, but Florence is almost an English Taylor Swift— her songs are 100% personal and have broad appeal. Both are designer muses (Gucci and Chanel for Florence) but still have their own sense of style. It's easy to see how designers would respond to her pre-Raphaelite looks— strong and delicate at the same time.

Florence, upper right corner?
By Dante Gabriel Rosseti
Musing for Chanel
She describes her look as, "For the stage, it's The Lady of Shalott meets Ophelia...mixed with scary gothic bat lady. But in real life I'm kind of prim". Musical influences are Grace Slick and Francoise Hardy. It's easy to see that in her choice of stage attire as well.

Influenced by Francoise

Florence may be a style enigma (enigma Machine— get that?) as she obviously responds to her moods and can morph chameleon-like into what suits her. For two hours the other evening I was part of her world, and it was a lovely planet to visit.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

A-Dressing Home

"It's time..."

Sometimes I shut the closet door and start outfitting the house. It doesn't happen often, but we're doing a "refresh" (aka painting every room with total disruption to life as we knew it).  Repainting means moving the furniture and packing up the tchotchkes.

The first thought is always, "How did we get so much stuff???" Along with a little weeding comes acknowledgment of dingy lampshades or cracked plant pots that should/must be replaced. Seeing your home naked makes you think of new ways to dress it. Then comes a good long session at Homegoods or on I challenge anyone to repaint her rooms without replacing so much as a shower curtain!

My mother was a stylish but disciplined dresser. She decorated the same way. When it was finished, it was done. Her challenge came when we moved, which was whenever the lease was up. Mother didn't like the fact that landlords could raise rents. She always managed to rearrange the furniture seamlessly in the new layout and was only stymied once.

We moved into an older building with a fireplace flanked by extensive built in bookshelves. Talk about focal point! We were not a family of book owners. Library cards, yes. Hardbound books? Not so much. Mother's solution was to hit estate sales and buy books by the boxes. She took off whatever covers there were and recovered them in either turquoise or hot pink glazed paper. They were then assembled on the shelves in a pleasing abstract pattern. The books were not for reading; they were Art.

Over time I got curious what was under those papers and would amuse myself (if she wasn't home) taking a peek. No Hemingway first editions turned up, but I did read some 1940s potboilers like "Forever Amber".

My mother's very good taste in furniture has stood the test of time. I am fortunate to have her pieces by Harvey Probber (living room) and Paul McCobb (bedroom), as bright and stylish as they were when new in 1953.

I never understood the logic in going through the trouble and expense of moving to counteract a rent increase, but we had freshly painted walls and newly polished floors in one fell swoop. Now I see...

Harvey still looks good

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Madame Predicts the Summer Trends

This is what I see coming down the pike
on May 4th:

> Lace-up shoes
(ghillies, sandals, gladiators)

> Laces in general
(As in nautical not lacy) 

> Off-the-shoulder necklines
(a true vintage revival)

> Kimono jackets
(and dusters)

Kimono and fringe...

> Fringe
(on bags and hems and trims)

> Wide leg crops
(long enough and wide enough is key)

> Flowered dresses
(crisp or soft)

> Jumpsuits 
(or rompers if age appropriate)

* * *

In the Summer Hall of Fame:

> Chambray shirts
(wear with everything)

Chambray and laces

> Striped Sailor T
(heavily influenced by the Breton)

> Denim
(And more denim)

May the fashion forth be with you!

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Sleuthing for Style

Nancy Drew changed with the times
It never ends, this hunt for dressing as the "real you". I so admire those who know their style. The best I can say when asked about mine is "eclectic".

I always purchase something that is "my style" when I buy it. In the past that style could change from week to week, even day-to-day.  Putting out what-to-wear the night before could be an exercise in futility.

I used to buy what I thought I should, what was in fashion, irregardless of body type or lifestyle. I was that person always hoping to be "in style". Why else read all those fashion magazines? At first I tried dressing like girl crushes (Audrey, Grace, Diana). That ended when I realized the expensive Lady Diana Tea Party Dress was languishing in the closet, unworn and definitely unloved.

Not invited to her party

Over time I discovered bargain hunting, discount shopping, thrift shops and waiting for good sales. This gave me more more more with less self-control and less guilt. It didn't always make me better dressed. 

Minimalist Lyn Slater, the "Accidental Icon"

There was a certain woman that I didn't think I could ever be: the minimalist. Beautiful fabrics, simple cuts, understated accessories. Misappropriating Chanel, I felt the need to add one thing more before leaving the house.

"But can I stand up?"

Now that I know I'm too old for some things, I also know I'm finally old enough to pull off simple and sophisticated. I will always add enough "me" to personalize it— interesting shoes, unusual jewelry, oddball color combos. I like feeling fashionable (and really really like being the first to try a trend).

I'll probably always be sleuthing for style, but I'm getting better at deciphering clues and coming to conclusions: Less is more, more or less.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Multitudes of Millies

I got to thinking about all the Millies I've known. None was a friend or relative, but I loved each one.

The first (and most fashionable) was Millie the Model, on the Marvel Comics team from 1945-1973, making her their longest running humor character. She was a New York model with a photographer boyfriend. The humor was broad (pun intended) and went completely over my nine-year-old's head. What I love-love-loved was Millie's appearances in the Sunday comics. "Millie's Fashion Pin Up" asked readers to submit their fashion ideas for Millie to wear. I never did because I was sure my designs wouldn't be good enough, and honorable mention would never do.

Millie on Sundays

Then there was "Meet Millie", the sit-com that ran from 1951 to 1954. It began on radio, starring the sultry Audrey Totter. Tv's Millie was the more wholesome Elena Verdugo. Millie was a secretary (what else?) in New York City (where else?) and lived in Brooklyn (of course). Her adventures were often around the kitchen table in the apartment she shared with her loveable-but-meddling mother (surprised?). Alfred Prinzmetal was the platonic friend who dropped in. Of course Millie had a very cute boyfriend (the boss's son) (natch). It all seemed original at the time...

Millie (right) on tv

Who could forget Laura Petrie's best friend and neighbor, Millie Helper on the "Dick Van Dyke Show"? Millie was played by the now 87-year-old Ann Morgan Guilbert. Laura was too perfect. I could identify with Millie.

Millie and perfection

First Dog Millie was a mother, a published author and a boon companion.

Millie with her posse

Designer Michelle Smith's ultra feminine clothing line, Milly is an honorary Millie— fun and pretty, just like all the Millies I've loved.

Michelle Smith of Milly
Milly by Michelle

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Would You Buy it Again?

Closet cleaning time is here. I have read (and written) umpteen articles about the twice-yearly try on-sort-cull-pack up and deliver ritual. It's not always fun because...

> You realize how much has gone unworn or under-worn and how little of your wardrobe you really wear.

> You may experience first-hand the phenomenon known as The Mysterious Shrink— how clothes laying packed away can grow smaller during their down time. This is why you must try on everything (more about that later).

> You get to judge what a poor shopper you may be, owning too much of one thing and not enough of another. I believe we women fall into two camps— those who buy too many basics and not enough pizazz or those who are pizzaz-overloaded with nary a basic anything.

> You will certainly come to the conclusion that you don't need more clothes. Remember, need is not the issue. It's in our nature to refresh and greet the change of seasons with our best foot forward. And what would the American economy be if we all decided not to go shopping?

Back to the job at hand. Try to do this in little bites. Tackle pants one day, skirts the next, tops then dresses, etc. Some things stay in the closet year-round of course (depending on where you live).

Once you've de-hangered everything, count the hangers as you shouldn't put in more than you took out (no room and probably not enough hangers).

Pull the new season's goodies from their winter slumber (ie giant tubs or underbed chests or whatever), and try on each piece. Some things may not fit. Has that happened for more than a year? It's time to toss...

I have a new mantra for deciding what's worth keeping:
So simple I can't believe I've not heard it before. If you took that piece back to a fitting room while shopping, would you say yes to the dress?

Take a good look in the mirror, from all angles. If you were to slap down hard-earned real money for it, would you? Or would you pass? Most of us are pretty decisive in a fitting room. We know right away if it's worth the spend or is better-looking-on-the-hanger. Don't see yourself as you were last year or many years ago. Everything has a season, and sometimes that is reason enough for tossing.

By "toss" of course, I mean give to a charity, feed those big bins you see around, try your luck at a resale shop, gift a friend with something special, donate to Dress for Success please if your town has one. You get the idea.

As daunting as this task may seem there is something exciting about thinking where your newly-in-place wardrobe will take you this year, whether it's across the world or across town. Happy Summer!