Sunday, November 29, 2015

Look out— Black Lace Below


One of the trickiest styles to pull off without looking Kartrashian is black lace pants. Nevertheless I decided I really must have a pair this holiday season and forevermore. They've been calling my name, and like Ulysses I am tempted by the sirens.

And like Ulysses without a sextant I find little to guide me.  I could show you a thousand "don'ts" but barely any "dos".

Because I can't resist, here's a big don't, from Miuccia Prada no less. The itsy-bitsy black "modesty skirt" is practically yelling, "I'm covering this up because you're not supposed to look there, so why are you looking there?"

If you're going to lace up (or down) a longer tunic top will skirt the issue just fine (and you won't have to sit on the couch all night).

A safer bet are these pull-ons from J. Crew. The lace is backed with black. More subtle, perhaps, but saner and my choice. I only wish J and the Crew had shown it outfitted.

So here are a few outfitting suggestions if you're hopelessly smitten like me.

Black lace pants +

Silk cami in jewel tone (ruby, teal, electric blue) + jean jacket + black strappy heeled sandals

Crisp white shirt (try a high-low cut) + D'Orsay flats

White cotton t + black blazer + ankle booties

Striped French sailor t + ballet flats

You get the idea. Keep it simple and low-key with jewelry at a minimum. Pretend they are not the fanciest pair in your closet and wear them out. Literally.

These could be black lace...


Sunday, November 22, 2015

Pantyhose to the Rescue

Let's bring back pantyhose. What was once the chic and modern answer to a girdle or garter belt with stockings is considered old-fashioned and fussy and has been for years. Well, I'm tired of that. Pantyhose are a godsend for legs that are less than perfect. Pantyhose work like living Photoshop. What's not to love?

Way back when— in the middle of the last century (1953 to be exact)— pantyhose were invented in America by Allen Gant of Glen Raven Knitting Mills. His was the first, but not last, of the "combination stockings/panty". It wasn't until the early '60s (think shorter skirts and the youth revolution) that pantyhose really caught on—ie my mother threw away her girdle and started wearing them.

The iconic packaging of L'eggs (and its clever name) were invented for Hanes by graphic designer Roger Ferriter in 1969. As pantyhose were small enough to squoosh into a little ball, he realized they could fit into something the size of an egg. Thus the distinctive L'eggs container was hatched. Three years later the No Nonsense brand entered the market. The two (like Coke and Pepsi) have been fighting it out ever since (though L'eggs dropped their plastic egg packaging in the '90s).

A battle royal

It's been a losing battle though. Women gradually stopped wearing hose of any kind, even in frigid climates. New York City fashion editors were among the first to go no-hose, and it gets pretty cold in New York. I can imagine they were never too popular in the south. When we moved to Texas in 2003, sales associates at Nordstrom, where I worked, had to don them October 1 and could ditch them by May 1 (with great sighs of relief).

Anna does not cotton to hose

As a new Texan I wanted to look hip and not be labeled "old". As time goes by I dread showing my bare legs. In kindest terms, they have become a bit mottled. I don't tan anymore. Daily leg makeup is a pain to apply. Rub-on tan looks fake and needs to be tended. I'm happy when cooler weather comes around, and I can pull on opaque tights.

Sporadically, patterned hose come into fashion— tiny dots or textures. Some years fishnets are trashy, some years tres chic. I keep mine around just in case.

Kate Middleton wears pantyhose, but I suspect it's because her mother-in-law the Queen frowns on bare legs.  Kate has increased the sale of "tights" (as pantyhose are known in the UK) by 40%, but that new-found popularity hasn't crossed the pond.

I've started tip-toeing into actual pantyhose again. Mine are sheer, with little sheen, very close to my natural skin tone. I'm still a bit defensive but hoping maybe I can change the world— one leg at a time.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Women We Love: Jaqueline de Ribes

Jaqueline de Ribes, 1955
When this incredible image by Richard Avedon appeared in Harper's Bazaar, I had just become an ugly duckling (aka teenager). Among other things, I hated my nose. Hers didn't inspire me to love mine, but that confidence was mesmerizing. Perhaps I could learn something.

Jaqueline de Ribes floated through my high gloss fashion magazines during the '50s, '60s and '70s. I knew little about her other than she was a French countess, a member of the International Jet Set (before everyone flew jets) and one of Truman Capote's "swans".

Elegance personified
Starting today (until February 21, 2016), the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City will be showing sixty examples of her clothing, from haute couture lions like Yves St. Laurent and Valentino to creations she cobbled together for fancy-dress balls (of which the world is presently in very short supply). Rounding this out will be "photographs, video, and ephemera (to) tell the story of how her interest in fashion developed over decades, from childhood 'dress-up' to the epitome of international style."   

Party gal

At age 86, she is one of the few women still living whose claim to fame sprung from being born in the right place and possessing a certain beauty (hard to define but you know it when you see it).

Turns out there was always a lot more to her.  Yes, Jaqueline de Ribes was born into royalty through her father, a count and a banker. Her mother was a writer and translator of Tennessee Williams and Ernest Hemingway. Her husband Edouard was also from a family of "ennobled financiers". She became a countess when they married in 1948. Jaqueline was eighteen.

Mom... and supermodel

Since childhood she loved the fantasy and theatricality of fashion. She carried her interest in the arts into adulthood, balancing marriage, motherhood and the expectations of society with becoming a theatrical impresario, television producer, interior designer, and director and organizer of international charity events. This was not mere patronage but real work, which shocked and surprised staid Parisian society.

As far as being one of Truman Capote's "swans" she said, "It's a lovely word, and the idea of the woman as the swan with the long neck, sailing quietly on the water, is very elegant (but) the swans of the time of Truman Capote did nothing. They did not work. They didn't fight for life."

Working gal

She credits the indomitable Diana Vreeland for encouraging her drive by ordering her to follow her instincts "and you'll never be wrong". Although well received, her own design line begun in 1982 closed in 1995 when she fell victim to chronic back pain after surgery.

Returning to the swans, who I think are also very tough birds. Jaqueline de Ribes would seem to be one, in my book.


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Are You All Over This?

She would look good in a paper bag

Overalls. How I hated mine as a child. It meant I was still a baby and not considered old enough for a skirt. Yes, you do remember some things from when you were three years old.

Over time overalls took on an ironic chic. Fast forward to the 1970s when we bought a house in the country. I knew nothing about gardening, but in overalls I looked cute trying.

Overalls are, let's face it, really comfortable. They skim over tummy, hips and thighs and are not that hard to deal with throughout the day (as in jumpsuit). I still have three pairs hanging around— a well-worn and paint-stained pair by that Chanel of overalls Oshgosh B'gosh, a Ralph Lauren-brand high-waisted Rosie the Riveter look (ie dress-up overalls), and a brand-new-never-worn-still-with-tags pair picked up at an Esprit outlet store years ago.

Ralph's inspiration no doubt
I loved the periodic "clean ups" at Woman's Day when we took our own advice and the staff spent a day just throwing out stuff and making neat. We accumulated a lot more paper then. Naturally, I was able to dress the part.

All in a woman's day...

Overalls have been sneaking into The Lovely Boutique Where I Work for a while now, and at around $200 they are not cheap. I've seen some of the younger gals wear them, and they look adorable. But is this a look for everyone? I'll let you decide:

You too Heidi???
Alexa Chung designed her own
An overalls do (above) and don't (below)
Do girls have more fun in overalls?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Tied up in Ghillies

Yesterday I ordered 6 pairs of ghillies. Ghillies are not anything you need 6 pairs of, but when you shop online one is never sure of size or color. I have no intention of keeping them all.

Ghillies are— I am happy to say— back. At this point you may be asking, "What are ghillies?"

Ghillies are soft shoes, similar to ballet flats, worn by women in Irish dance, men in Scottish dance, men and women in Highland dance. Narrow leather laces criss-cross across the shoe and wind around the ankle. Traditionally black, fashion ghillies come in many shades (thus the multiple orders).

Ghillies in action: Irish dance
Scottish dance
Highland dance

There are some shoe trends I've not picked up. Oxfords aren't ironic on someone who might wear Sensible Shoes if she were less stubborn. As for shoes, I still believe that denial is a river in Egypt. Ballet flats have been my saving grace. Ghillies may go that one further— add trendy to comfortable.

Don't go shopping for "ghillies" though. They are called "sueded lace up pointy flats" at Old Navy ($29.94), "lace up ballet flats" at the GAP ($49.95) and "lace up flats" at Anthropologie ($178).

3 colors at Old Navy
4 colors at the GAP
4 colors at Anthropologie

Sunday, November 8, 2015

A Circle of Life

The last thing I put on is a gold bangle I've had for almost 50 years. It's older than that and came with a dent in the side. It's not real gold either. It was a gift from someone when no gift was expected at a time when I owned very few accessories. It fits my small wrist with enough room to jangle against my watch yet not fall off.

I realize that if I don't put that on, I feel undressed. I'll miss it throughout the day. That wrist looks naked with only a watch. Unlike pins, which you can't see yourself, you know you are wearing a bracelet. I wonder if this is what makes the connection.

Iris again... of course
Some women pile on bracelets as the works of art they are. I'm making less of a statement with just one; it feels like part of me.

Charming still

My aunt had a charm bracelet back when every souvenir shop sold pennants and charms instead of t-shirts and baseball caps. Hers was sterling silver, as were most of the charms. Some had moving parts and a few were enameled. I loved a colorful shield that said "Banf". That was a place I'd never heard of, and it sounded so exotic. Her bracelet must have been heavy, but she wore it all the time. I bet it was more fun to look at in a spare moment than the way we aimlessly scroll through emails.

Chanel has famously said in order not to over-accessorize you should remove the last thing you put on. That gold bangle usually is the last, and for me it seals the deal.

What do you miss if you forget to wear it?

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Scrubs as Streetwear?

"Where are we going for lunch?"
When I started hatching this post it was my intention to give female scrub-wearing members of the medical profession a big fat pass. I have compassion for any woman who wears scrubs to the supermarket to pick up dinner or runs one of those never-ending errands we women seem to have. From my decidedly female point of view, it's more complicated for a woman to change wardrobe than a man. She has to carry multiple items and accessories to put herself together.

It was the men who were going to get detention. How difficult is it for a man to thrown on a collared shirt and a pair of pants before he leaves the hospital?

I loved "Scrubs" but on television
Not all men wearing scrubs are doctors. Approximately 6% of nurses are male and a great many men are in lab/tech positions and wear them. And not all doctors wear scrubs. Those (male and female) I visit in their offices are in civvies with the occasional lab coat thrown on for good measure.

I can't help feeling our man in scrubs at the gas station is not just lazy, he's showing off. He thinks he is so important and busy that whatever he's doing outside the hospital, there isn't time to change before he runs back and does it some more.


I'm not thinking these same scrubs were just in the OR (too clean). I'm hoping this scrub-wearing man is not going to the OR. That would be frightening.

It's been remarked that wearing scrubs is like wearing pajamas. Though we've gotten perilously close to giving those the "ok", we're not there yet. From a fashion point of view scrubs don't have one.

But the subject has serious connotations that suddenly equalize the issue, goose and gander alike. What about the possibility of germs and bacteria hitching a ride on someone's scrubs and landing on your sandwich at Subway?

"In the 1980's when I did residency in NY, it was absolutely forbidden at my hospital... to be seen out of the OR in scrubs. You were to change in and out of and then back in again if you had to leave temporarily. 
Outside the hospital, residents who would sneak out their scrubs and wear them off hours usually did it to attract women by letting them know they were doctors. 
Fast forward to the present. Doctors, nurses, along with all sorts of ancillary medical providers like physical, respiratory and occupational therapists will wear scrubs all day long and then leave the hospital. I have little doubt that being around sick ICU patients with all sorts of infections can leave those bugs on the scrubs. 
... I would agree that the possibility of bringing hospital acquired bacteria and viruses to outside environs occurs." 
 – Dr. Charles Rosen, clinical professor of orthopaedic surgery at the University of California, Irvine, founding director of the UCI Spine Center, School of Medicine, and president of the Association for Medical Ethics.

So now I'm not just being cranky, I'm worried.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Time Marshes On...

You need to try everything on
I'm always amazed that something I enjoyed wearing one year can look so terrible the next.

It's closet switching time. Though still warm and muggy in south Texas, the days are shorter, turkeys are piled high in the supermarket, and Christmas ornaments for sale in aisle 6. There's not enough closet space in this little bungalow, so I keep half my things in giant plastic tubs behind a screen in the bedroom. Twice a year I haul out the containers and start the process.

A girl can dream

I never hang everything, because of course I can't fit into it all. I'm a firm believer that unworn wardrobe will shrink of its own volition while resting. Some things are hard to give up, but after a year I realize it will be "never again". Out they go— with a sigh.

But there are other things that made me happy just nine months ago. These still fit, but are the clothes for another person. Those ruffles? That full skirt? A bolero jacket? Some of it is Style. I'm as finely attuned to that as a sommelier is to wine. Maybe 20014 wasn't such a great year. Did I change that much? Did fashion? Who am I now?

As I try things on (and you have to do that) I ask myself: Is this appropriate for a 73-year-old woman? It's a bit like playing with a hang-nail. I can't resist the urge to inflict a little pain. It still surprises me I am how old???????????? I want to embrace this gift with dignity and a sense of fun but don't want to look silly. I have to ask the question, even if I am giving myself the answer.

A bunch of stuff gets donated and some taken for resale. The resale shop doesn't give much (not a consignment set-up), but I've found some goodies there myself in the past. I like the idea of giving someone else a chance to enjoy mine.

Don't worry; I'm not getting the least bit ascetic. I couldn't leave without hauling home an ankle length faux-fur black Mongolian lamb vest for $14.

Add 12 inches

Sunday, October 25, 2015

All Hail Halloween

If you have half a mind to dress up for Halloween this year, listen to that half. Halloween falls on a Saturday, a day most people can wear whatever they want.

These young ladies are pretty seriously tricked out in their witch costumes— so well in fact I wonder if this was the inspiration for American Horror's season, "Coven", about junior witches.

When I was a kid costumes were usually homemade and not very elaborate. Little boys were either cowboys (vest, six-shooters and a star were little-boy attire) or hobos in their dad's old clothes. Little girls wore stuff they wore for dress-up, a mishmash of mom's cast-off clothes and accessories with (for one night only) makeup. Store bought costumes were considered lame as well as dangerous. They were made from a highly flammable combination of paper and quasi-cloth. Not recommended for wearing near jack o'lanterns (yes, we put real candles in those).

"Retarded" may not be the same as "retardant"

One year I did coerce my mother into sewing an elaborate Queen of Hearts costume. I was hoping to replicate the outfit worn by Betsy in "Betsy and Billy", one of a series of books by Carolyn Haywood about a little girl first published in 1939 (and still not out of print).

Over the years I've dressed up in earnest, in companionship (Princess to a very small Darth Vader) and in irony (Coco Chanel at the Lovely Boutique Where I Work). I've suffered through full-on rubber masks and the indignity of having to wear a coat over my costume while trick-or-treating.

Masquerade balls were quite the thing in 17th and 18th century Europe. Aside from elaborate costumes, a mask was supposed to hide your identity. Wearing a mask also lowers your inhibitions. Who would you be if no one knew who you were?

Marie Antoinette hiding in plain sight

Coincidentally this year I'll be in New Orleans for Halloween. Since Nola is a combination of Halloween, New Year's Eve, Fourth of July, Christmas and Valentine's Day year round this should be fun.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Women We Love: Moira Shearer

If she only ever made one movie, "The Red Shoes", Moira Shearer would be unforgettable. If you were a girl in 1948— big or little— that movie was part of your life.

A movie-within-a-movie, the film centers on the romantic triangle of a young ballerina, a composer and the demanding director of the ballet company. The tale of the red shoes, from a story by Hans Christian Anderson, is about a magical pair of red slippers and a girl who can't stop dancing. It mimics the strains of her relationships with the men in her life. I didn't "get" any of that as a 6-year-old. I only saw a beautiful woman who seemed to be twirling effortlessly. Despite their bad ju-ju, my older sister had a pair of ceramic red ballet slippers formed as a planter on her bedroom wall.

The evil slippers

My crush on Moira fueled a life-long desire for ballet lessons. Unrequited love. I convinced myself that I would have made a great ballerina, until I got to know a real dancer and understood about the discipline, stress, hard work and bruised feet.

Moira Shearer was lesser known than— but easily confused with— two other redheads, Maureen O'Hara and Deborah Kerr. There was a sweetness about her that made the descent into ballet hell in that movie all the more believable.

Moira, Maureen, Deborah

Moira Shearer  was born in Scotland in 1926 and raised in Rhodesia. She returned to Great Britain to study in London in 1936, joining the Sadler's Wells Ballet in 1942. "The Red Shoes" gave her instant  stardom. Although she appeared in a few other films, including the ballet-themed "Tales of Hoffman" she is practically the film equivalent of a one-hit wonder for playing Vicky in "The Red Shoes".

She was a dancer who could act, as opposed to an actor who could dance (i.e. Natalie Portman in "Black Swan"). Her unstudied acting style gave the "Red Shoes" its authenticity but limited her future. 1960's "Peeping Tom" was a dreadful movie not helped by a wooden Moira. She made few films and had retired from dancing by 1953.  Married for over 50 years to Ludovic Kennedy, she died in 2006 at age 80.