Saturday, December 17, 2011

I Dreamed I went to Work in My Pajamas

Pajamas Louis Vuitton-style with matching helmet

Wait; that wasn't a dream. I did go to work in my pajamas. To the store. In public. Just the top. Well, I mean, I wore pants, just not pajama bottoms.

Yes, I have latched onto yet another trend that may quickly go the way of harem pants: the pajama top as street wear. My first thoughts were how silly and this must be Louis Vuitton's idea of a joke. But no joke, this. The look has been all over the runway. Among celebs sporting the pajama top have been the stunning Ryan Gosling, the lovely Scarlett Johansonn, and the always au courant Sofia Coppola.

From the top: Ryan, Scarlett, Sofia

I usually avoid trends unless they strike me as a great solution (footless tights vs white legs) or tickle my funny bone. The pajama top definitely falls in the second catagory. I certainly don't need to wear my pjs for lack of other clothing choices. I usually have enough time to get dressed in the AM, and I'm not so forgetful yet as to forget to get dressed. No, I did this on purpose.
My choice was a beautiful black silk pajama top trimmed in light beige. The top is cut fairly short and is boxy, but was definitely part of a sleep set (pants sold separately). Originally priced at $110 but went home with me for considerably less. I paired it with tapered-leg silk pants by Corey Lynn Calter in black with an abstracted floral pattern. I never could figure out what to wear with those pants and now see they were crying out for a pajama top. Shoes, of course, (flats) and a chunky choker necklace. It's imperative to accessorize if you try this look and have not a hint of bed-head.

So what was the reaction to my embrace of such fashionable nonsense? Some compliments from co-workers along the line of "no one could pull that off but you". I am going to consider that a compliment no matter what it may imply. One gentleman asked if I knew I was wearing my pajamas. He was being purposely snarky so I answered back that I might take a nap on my lunch break. With a smile of course. One customer, bless her heart, called out to me across the room. She wanted to know where did I get that top, and when we pulled one for her she bought it. Now that gal has tremendous style!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Buckle Up

One of the most underrated accessories in the entire lexicon is the belt. True, there was a time when my neighbor, a belt manufacturer, couldn't give them away. In fact, he did give a bunch of them away— to me. There were some beauties— massive, chunky, all-leather and costing more to buy than I would ever spend. Having a small waist to show off (and divert the eye from the large hips and the no bosom) I've always appreciated what the right belt can do.

No matter what your shape (pear, apple, tomato, banana or bunch of grapes) you can't go wrong by defining your waist. And a belt will put your waist where you want it. The smallest part of a woman's silhouette is her ribcage— the area between the bosom and the waist. Thusly the lovely boutique where I work tends to stock a number of dresses that are purposefully a tad short-waisted. Not only does that accentuate the smallest part, it lengthens the legs.

Word of caution: when a dress comes with its own belt consider the belt that was provided as only a place holder— a suggestion that, yes, you need a belt. Most belts (or sashes) included with dresses are flimsy little things and need to be replaced by something substantial with a little style.

Belt fashions come and go, but unlike apparel, a belt is a belt is a belt. Rarely will one date itself. If macrame belts suddenly come back in style, you could wear your macrame belt from the '70s and no one would be wiser. But let's really truly hope they do not.

If you have pants or a skirt with belt loops either wear a belt or remove the loops.

A man's necktie makes a cool, prepster-looking belt. Be certain you have not absconded with his favorite tie (every man has one no matter how much he may hate to wear it). Audrey Hepburn once famously wore the canvas strap from a case of wine as a belt. A silk scarf can be folded into a narrow shape and worn as a belt.

Proof that belts are truly art: I have a small but well-loved collection of souvenir beaded belts that spell out place names in the beading. I used to pick them up on travels around the country. Alas belts and the souvenir plates we used to buy and hang on the wall have been replaced by souvenir t-shirts and baseball caps. Ugh.
What goes on in Vegas comes home with me

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Turtle and the Neck

Audrey + turtleneck = perfection

What's this about turtlenecks being back in style? Would someone please tell me when they left? I thought the turtleneck (especially black) was a wardrobe staple. Come to think of it, I haven't actually worn a turtleneck for quite a few years, but I assumed that was because we now live in Texas, the land of "eternal summer" (it's barely making 60 now at high noon).

Suddenly the turtleneck has peeked out from its shell and is being worn by Those Who Know and shown by those who will influence our fashion choices in seasons to come. Designer Rachel Roy wore a sheer nude Stella McCartney turtleneck with a long black skirt to the CFDA awards and remarked that she "didn't always have to show a lot of skin, but what I do want to show all the time is a lot of brains. And the turtleneck is strong, elegant and smart."
Rachel Roy looking brainy

Why the appeal of the turtleneck? It puts the focus on your face. It creates a blank palette to show off a beautiful necklace or earrings. You can dress it up or dress it down. It feels good against your skin (if it's cashmere). And— yes— it whisks away a wrinkly neck.

The turtleneck harks back to the 19th century when it first appeared on college athletes' underwear. It was later co-opted by the military, adopted by beatniks in the '50s (as Audrey was trying to be in "Funny Face" pictured above) and replaced a shirt and tie under a man's suit jacket in the '60s. Pretty soon it was worn by everyone in the family and became as ubiquitous in winter as was the t-shirt in summer.

Leave it to today's designers to bring back the turtleneck with a little bite. Ikram Goldman, whose Chicago boutique is a Michelle Obama favorite, sees the turtleneck in a new light. "It hugs your body, your neck, your arms— it's like a mold. And that tightness on the neck is almost like bondage. What's not sexy about that?"

Monday, December 5, 2011

Who Speaks for Us?

Mary Portas is not sitting down on the job

Despite two months of steady blogging one thing is still gnawing at me. Who speaks for us? Where is that stylish guru who tells-it-like-it-is and is not about to see Baby put in a corner, even if Baby is rounding 50, 60 or 70?

Oh, yes, she's in England. I'm talking about Mary Portas who previously made an appearance here with her take on QVC shopping. Mary is to retail in Britain what Gordon Ramsay is to restaurants. She is known as Mary Queen of Shops for her ability to analyze why a retail operation is not working and re-tool it to fit the marketplace. She recently took the challenge to create her own shop in the venerable British department store House of Fraser for "grown-up style conscious women"— not girls or chicks. We're talking 40+. It might surprise Mary to know, since she's not there yet, that 60+ and 70+ are still sashaying fashion's byways as well.

Mary's philosophy is summarized in what she calls the Pret a Portas Checklist:
1) Avoid dressing like a teenager.
2) Edit your trends.
3) Work with your proportions.
4) Keep it low maintenance.
5) Don't buy crap.

May I suggest you cut-and-paste and access her website ( to read her style philosophy and take a gander at the goodies she has gathered in her House of Fraser sub-shop. There are basic pieces interpreted in interesting fabrics. Many of the dresses look to have some ease in the construction, and everything has a sleeve! She's not afraid of color or some pattern as well. The pieces look like they would play well with each other without being matchy-matchy. 
The collection also offers handbags, shoes, jewelry, hosiery, scarves, belts and a section of home, food and beauty products that Mary loves. Only a small portion of the clothes have a Mary Portas label, so think "curated" for her shop.

We in America are not being served. I have praised Chico's for hiring Diane Keaton (age 65) as their model/spokesperson this winter. The campaign works because she is more than just a token model. The ads, particularly on television, are a platform for her fashion philosophy as relates to Chico's and are both slick and believable. But she is not driving the company. On the other hand do you believe for one minute that Demi Moore (49) really shops at Ann Taylor and Julianne Moore (51) at Talbot's? They're attractive women, but we have no idea of their personal style beyond what we see on the red carpet (and that most likely styled by someone else).

I really hope someone with passion steps up to the plate. None of us are getting younger. One out of every nine Americans is over 50. Quick calculations mean 25% of American women are over 50. And some former baby boomer turns 50 every 8 seconds! 

Martha Stewart (70), were she not so busy cooking, gardening, crafting, entertaining, writing books and helming an empire could be our Mary. Think if Martha had decided that we were heading down Dowdy Lane and decided to do something about it fashion-wise. I think we all respond well to a little tough love when doled out by someone whose accomplishments we admire.  
Martha would tell us a thing or two

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Carbon Dating Your Look

There are three sure-fire, tell-tale age give-aways that can so easily slip through the cracks of your personal style:
1) Old style (not vintage chic) eyeglasses
2) A worn-looking handbag
3) Out of fashion shoes

It's easy to not see your eyeglasses. They tend to become part of you— too costly to buy in multiples or something you grudgingly need and would rather not think about. There are so many styles of glasses, you say, how could any look out of date? True there are cat's eye frames, big round frames, little round frames, even frameless frames— all considered au courant.
Carbon-dated glasses from the 70s
Strangely fashionable today

Eyeglass frames tend to undergo a sea change every four years. Of course you get your eyes examined more often than that, right? The only way to avoid this reassessment of one of your most obvious accessories is if you had adopted a unique look early on. The world may have caught up to you, Iris Apfel, but you hold the bragging rights.
Iris says, "The better to see you with"

I recently had to stop wearing my contacts. Bad enough the only glasses I had lying about were half the size of my face, my husband started calling me Uncle Junior after the character on "The Sopranos". I opted for a pair of small round tortoise shell and one that I hope evokes "sexy secretary". How, you may ask, does one choose frames when one can't see without glasses? Simple— take a picture. It's a wonder oculists don't offer this service, but that's why we have camera phones. Warning— even the Sears $99 Special may end up costing you $350. It's not the frames; it's the lenses.

Did you suspect Columbo gave the excuse that his worn-out trench coat had character because he was too lazy to buy a new one? It might have worked for Columbo, but it will not work for your handbag. You may have a wardrobe of purses but chances are you have one that is your daily friend. You know all its nooks and crannies and can thereby locate your keys in 2 seconds flat. You clean it out occasionally, really you do. But do you actually see it? Is the hardware tarnished, the leather scuffed, the edges mangled, threads hanging? Buying a new handbag is #3 on the Shopping Stress Scale, after jeans and bathing suits. The best time to find one is when you don't need it. But there comes a time when need is now.
If handbags could talk...

Shoes are a slippery slope as feet get older. Nothing says old like "sensible shoes". There are some stylish ones out there, and I give props to those who make the effort while insuring their comfort as they usually don't come cheap. If your feet are not the problem, it's still easy to fall into the trap of wearing outdated shoes for the sole (pun intended) reason that they are not worn out. Dressy or dress-up shoes that languish in your closet could go on forever would that they didn't also go out of style. Shoe trends are just as fickle as trends in apparel. Last year's round toe becomes this year's winkle picker. It's not just heel heights, it's heel shapes— thick, thin, curved, angled, etc. And vamps! High, low and in-between. By the way, how interesting that "vamp" can mean both the upper part of a shoe that covers the instep and a woman who uses sexual attraction to exploit men. Toe cleavage, anyone? 

I wonder how much we will all laugh in years to come at some of the silly shoes we are seeing today. I haven't fallen for them because, of course, I will fall in them.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

You Can Never Have Too Much... Leopard

Andrea Martin as Edith Prickley

Edith Prickley aside, you can never have too much leopard. OK, you can wear too much at one time, but should you ever ditch a piece of leopard? Never. It keeps coming back, to the point today where it has never left (see below).
Bill Cunnigham's On the Street for November 27, 2011

Today I brought home my third leopard coat as if I were a 19th century Sportsman of the Raj, without a trace of shame, to add to my collection. This one, from Macy's, is part of a smart, cute, well-made and well-priced collection for Macy's by the not-very-well-known Giambattista Valli. It's blessedly simply— straight cut, collarless, bracelet-length sleeves in a faux silk brocade lined in cream faux satin. Well it is faux leopard... The leopard print has squiggles of shiny gold in the print. A tad Versace. I love the possibilities of it— from a white t-shirt and gold jeans (just remembered I have leopard jeans too) to a black silk blouse with pussy-cat bow and black pencil skirt. Good thing we've already booked a trip to Miami.
Giambattista Valli for Macy's $139 but $90 after sale and Macy's card discounts

The other two coats are an ancient circle coat from a resale shop and a leopard coccoon from Zara two years ago. We live in Texas. One does not wear coats that much. I own leopard gloves and earmuffs as well. There are numerous pairs of leopard shoes— silk slingbacks, flats (furry and velvetized), sensible suede oxfords and stretchy knee hi boots (which happen to be very comfortable). There are a couple of leopard skirts and a pair of pajamas with slippers to match. Oh, and a set of sheets when I want to disappear in bed. I've had my share of turquoise leopard or orange leopard but those spots don't last.

Leopard can be uber-trendy or evocatively vintage. You can wear it with a smile or a come-hither stare. Loving leopard is ageless, unisex and harmless to the animal population.

I take that back. Hidden away in the dark recesses of a drawer, is a genuine leopard belt of my mother's, circa 1955. She had it made at a furrier. It's about 2 1/2 inches wide with a simple square leather buckle. It may have cost $50 ($422 in today's money), obviously quite a splurge for a usually thrifty lady. I'm pretty sure it was a deserving purchase ("I deserve to own this belt") and thus served its purpose. She wore it, but I can't. Ever.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho, It's Off to Work We Go

Dear Reader,
I'm going back to work tomorrow. 

It's possible I've told you everything I know about fashion— how to enjoy it without guilt— how to avoid fashion pitfalls— how to embrace it and dance fearlessly on the center stage that is your life. But don't count on it. Certainly the opportunity to tell you what I believe, have observed and experienced did as much good for my recovery as all the potions and drops the doctors cooked up.

It's been a delightful challenge to write a daily blog. I actually believed I accomplished something that day when I pushed the button "publish post".  Now that I'm re-entering "the real world" I may not be blogging as often, but I am certainly not closing up shop.

P.S. I can also report for certain that cats sleep 20 hours a day.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

"I'm Gonna Buy a Paper Doll That I Can Call My Own"

The rest of the lyrics to  Paper Doll (written in 1915) are sad indeed. The poor fellow was jilted by his girlfriend and will settle for a girl made out of paper next time. But to me buying paper dolls was one of the sheer joys of having some jingle in my pocket.

As a little girl my allowance covered the purchase of orange Creamsicles @8 cents off the truck (summer only), comic books @10 cents (Little Lulu and Donald Duck), Nancy Drew mysteries (98 cents to buy but mostly traded with other girls) and paper dolls. By far paper dolls were the greatest love. They ranged in price from 25 cents for a book to $1.50 for sturdy cardboard-boxed dolls with clothes printed on glossy paper. My favorites were always the teenagers. I couldn't have been more than five when I had a book called "Teen Town". Another favorite was "Big Sister, Little Sister"— a teenager and her younger sister with matching clothes. This was undoubtedly a tribute to my nine-years-older big sister, Lonnie— though she would have died before wearing matching clothes. To me her teenage life was the nirvana for which I was drinking my milk and eating Wonder Bread.

Clothes from one of the Big Sister, Little Sisters

I always carefully cut out the dolls— no punching and leaving unsightly perf marks. I carefully cut out the clothes as well, using my mother's best manicure scissors (of which she was not pleased). I was impatient, though, and only ever left two tabs on the clothes at the top, just enough to keep them on. Funny thing is— I loved cutting out the dolls and trying on the clothes, but I don't remember actually playing with them much. I guess that wasn't the point for a budding fashionista.

There were movie star paper dolls, bride and groom paper dolls, "educational" paper dolls of historic figures or national costumes, but nothing pleased me more than a new book of teenagers to attack with a scissors.

Of course I made my own. Only one. She was traced from a book called "Fun With Paper Dolls", taken out ad nauseum from the library. I named her Tina but have no idea why. Her clothes were made from pieces of wallpaper, gift wrap, colored paper, textiles I designed on paper and sections of printed magazine paper (for the fur and the lace). I used real pieces of leather for belts and glued on sequins or glitter and little feathers on the hats. It says something for Lepage's School Glue that those doodads are still in place 60 years later. Hindsight being 20/20, it should have been pretty obvious by age ten that I was destined for a life in Fashion.

And I have a paper doll of myself. Higbee's department store had a promotion where your head would be photographed and placed on a topless (!) little girl with a sheet of clothes to cut out— all in glorious black and white. It's six-year-old me alright with crooked bangs and a squint.

I still have Tina and all her clothes, neatly filed and labeled in envelopes from my dad's office (my closet should look so good). Alas the paper doll books were expendable long ago, but there exists a huge business online in laser reproductions of old books. Some are even printed on the crappy but memorable pulp paper of the originals. I have bought "Teen Town" and "Big Sister, Little Sister" (which I am cutting out with all the tabs using my own manicure scissors). I even found a copy of "Fun with Paper Dolls" on ebay. Fittingly enough, it's an out-of-circulation library copy.


Friday, November 25, 2011

Living with Style


So you think style and fashion are just about clothes? Of course not. Unless your entire house is one big closet (lucky you), you have a nest that needs feathering or fluffing. My friend Adele Segel, a particularly stylish gal herself, is a professional mistress of the three R's— Renovate, Redecorate, Revive. She's also a relocation specialist and works with clients who find themselves in a strange city with a houseful of furniture from another lifestyle. Adele believes the goal is to make your house your home. With the emphasis on both you and home, she analyzes her clients to discover how they really live. As any good consultant knows, the more understanding you have of the client the more successful the result.

Look at your surroundings with the same eye you use to inventory your wardrobe. Are there items that simply "don't fit" anymore? Have you put off repairs for too long? Do you long to renovate an unusable space to fill a need/want? Most importantly, is your house really your home? Adele has a series of questions she puts to potential clients with that emphasis in mind.

By the way, even if Adele were not my friend I would hire her as she presents herself in the most lovely, professional, feminine way. She is impeccably well-groomed (Adele— how do you keep your manicure looking so good?), beautifully coiffed, everything tailored to fit. And this is whether meeting for lunch at Neiman's or hostessing one of her many get-togethers for friends and families. Adele being herself reinforces her work.

Is Your House a Home?
Many of us inhabit our spaces but don't feel totally comfortable there. Take this quiz to check your cozy quotient.

1) Do you use the back or side door more than the front?

2) Is there a room/rooms you never use?

3) Is there a room where the door stays shut because of the jumble inside?

4) Do you only light scented candles, have fresh flowers, play background music when company's coming?

5) Is there no established place for mail or messages to other family members?

6) Do you forget to try different light bulbs (color and wattage) in your lamps?

7) Do you save the good china, glassware, silver, towels, soap for when you have guests?

8) Are there rooms where you are never warm/cool enough?

9) Is it difficult to name the focal point in each room?

10) Is there somewhere you won't sit because it will mess up the pillows?


O  Yes answers: Your home is your castle/palace/love shack.

1-3 Yes answers: You know the little extras that make a house a home. Time, energy, guilt or habit are holding you back.

4-6 Yes answers: You're stuck in a rut or don't know where to begin.

7-10 Yes answers: You're clueless and probably wonder why you'd rather be anyplace than home!

Colorful Tips from Adele

> In the same way color in your wardrobe affects the way you look, the colors in your home contribute to the way you feel.

> Take a look at your favorite scarf or tie, plate, painting and identify the colors you like best. Chances are they will be the same.

> If you are a high energy person who finds it difficult to unwind, choose calm colors (blues and soft greens) for your bedroom. 

> Likewise, if you need an energy boost choose bright colors for your kitchen and bath. 

> Avoid trendy colors on investment pieces like a sofa. You can achieve this with pops of color with pillows, accessories, area rugs, flowers, etc.

> You don't have to stick with neutrals on investment pieces. Certain colors defy trends, such as red. But choose a clear red, not the trendy brick, fuchsia or burgundy.

> Remember men see color and pattern differently than women. Many men like a sense of order and don't recognize subtle blends. Paisley in particular may not relate to their need for clarity and contrast.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Giving Thanks

Allways in Fashion has been a forum for me to carp a bit, gently nudge, reminisce a lot, put forth queries and celebrate all those delicious extras that make our lives as women, well... you know that song, "I enjoy Being a Girl"?

Although this is Thanksgiving, a time to remember how thankful we are for family and friends, for freedom to live without fear and speak our minds, for opportunities to seek knowledge and fulfillment and live with grace, I have a few thanks to give for the Hershey's kisses in our lives:  

Kisses and thanks to:

> Ralph Lauren for celebrating American icons and becoming something of an icon himself

> Diane vonFurstenberg for being herself in a very public forum

Betsy Johnson for still cartwheeling down the runway

> Issac Mizrahi for loving every one of us, whether we are couture customers or HSN buyers

Target for realizing we all love to be treated to something special (if we can get there early enough before it's sold out)

The New York Times for consistently good fashion writing and the best coverage of Fashion Week

Fashion Magazines in general for arriving all shiny and new in our mailboxes every month despite 24/7 fashion coverage on the web

The Internet for 24/7 fashion coverage

Ebay and Etsy and Amazon for delightful trawling on the web

> Any internet site that offers free shipping

Project Runway because we are in awe of so much talent and still believe you can win your way to success (Tim Gunn, Heidi Klum, Michael Kors and Nina Garcia— you're included)

The Oscars telecasts et al, because if we can't be on the red carpet at least we can look

> Lycra and Spandex and anything else that helps, gently

> Pink light bulbs

> 25% off all sale

Vintage finds (thank you for saving that whoever you are)

Spray tan because cadaver-white legs look awful, but the sun is worse

> The random stranger who tells you she likes your hair

Gloria Steinem for her retort to someone's comment on her 50th birthday that she looked good for her age, "This is what 50 looks like". Gloria is 76 and is proof that age is only a number.

Thanks, Gloria

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

How Now Casual?

Circa 1968: office of the future, dress code of the past

The men in our lives do not have much fashion fun. All the poor fellas have to choose from are variations on a pair of pants and a top.  Civilized society expects so much from them, declaring in fact, "Clothes make the man". They can't decide to channel Rudolph Valentino one day and Steve McQueen the next. "Suit" sounds like "straitjacket" to most of them, a contraption to be tolerated or avoided.

Savvy businesses were aware of this suitophobia and began to relax daily dress codes in many industries. They are now seeing "Casual Friday" morph into "Casual Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc." and have begun to rethink the whole casual business as it relates to employee productivity and company image. There are new catch phrases for what to wear. In doing some research on the subject I find a lot is up to interpretation.

Because our men know how important it is for us to have them looking their best (at least beyond the confines of home), they look to us for advice or approval. Even if they don't seek it they are not surprised when we give it.    

"Business Casual" is the nomenclature for dress shirt plus dress pants. This is what your father might  have looked like in the office if he took off his suit jacket to get down to business. The shirt can have a little more style— a thin stripe or check or even a medium-intense hue— but it is not a sport shirt. The pants are flannel or gabardine but not chinos. Tie requirements depend on the business: bank, yes, insurance office, maybe no. Sports jacket or blazer coming and going optional to tidy things up. Footwear? dress loafers, brogues or oxfords.

"Casual Friday" became popular in the 1990's as workers in the tech and industries had little contact with the public and were pretty much in California anyways. Not surprisingly, the trend gained popularity. Manufacturers saw an opportunity to promote their casual offerings, and GAP stock went through the roof. Casual Friday was meant to be khaki or other cotton pants, long-sleeve cotton shirt (a bit more vibrant or patterned but not from Hawaii), a collared polo or other knit shirt, casual leather shoes (slip-ons or boat shoes), sweater optional for the fashion-forward or the chilly. Besides dress-down trickling down to other days, the concept in some cases deteriorated to include jeans, shorts, sweats and sneakers— on both male and females employees. 

At this point it would appear HR has stepped in to anoint yet another dress code: "Smart Casual". To the best of my ability as a fashion de-coder, Smart Casual is what Casual Friday was meant to be. To take it out of the office, it's pretty much what every woman would like her man to wear at an upscale bistro on a Friday night— with local variations always. Here in Houston dark-wash, perfectly pressed jeans can go anywhere as can cowboy boots. In Hawaii, it's practically disrespectful not to wear a Hawaiian shirt.  Point of interest: Aloha Fridays at Honolulu businesses in the '60s may have started the whole business casual movement.

What about the tie and the hat? Both have become fashion statements, generally with men too young to have been forced into a tie or even remember men in hats. A loosened tie a la Justin Timberlake straddles between business and casual in a very hip way. It does show a little disrespect for what the tie meant for generations of men, so should be sported carefully, ie. not for a meeting with the big boss. Fedoras and newsboy caps are really not office attire (unless the office is a hip-hop record company or something just as entertaining). And baseball caps? Just plain rude. In fact, I'm getting tired of the whole baseball cap thing. The men must be also as they are now wearing them every which way but Sunday. I saw a man wearing one inside out and upside down the other day, with the bill in the back. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. And while I'm on my high horse— please can we get our men to tuck in their button-down shirts? If they can... 

So if your man would like to be smart when he's being casual at business, he needs to read the prevailing winds at work (with your help at interpretation), have some dapper role models— Cary Grant, Fred Astaire and George Clooney (in my book)— and if in doubt... don't.
George Clooney AND Hawaiian shirt

Thanks to Anthea Christie for suggesting we get to the heart of this matter.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Four Little Helpers

I'm sure there are more than four (and feel free to add to the list), but you will be surprised how these come in handy:
1) Top Stick
Top Stick is the brand name for the amazing double-stick tape sold at Sally Beauty Supply. If you're familiar with the product Hollywood Fashion Tape, Top Stick was there first. The clear 1" x 3" double-stick tapes were originally designed to hold a man's toupee in place. Wise stylists (or drag queens) discovered that the tape works miracles in keeping bra and slip straps in place, fussy collars straightened and gaps between buttons under control. It also works as an emergency hem keeper-upper. It won't harm even the most delicate fabrics or skin. The reason you should patronize your local Sally's, besides being a great store to explore, is Top Stick comes in a box of 50 strips for about $6.99, half the price of the other. Just remember to look for it in the "men's grooming" section.

2) Crochet Hook
A fine crochet hook can be used to pull snags in knitwear to the wrong side, where you can tie them off or weave them through— such a blessing.

3) Clear nail polish
Clear nail polish can hold loose threads on a button in place till you get a chance to re-sew it. Just be careful not to paint the button or the cloth. If your eyeglass screws keep coming loose, try a dab to "seal" them in place. And the classic use for clear nail polish? It will stop a hosiery run in its tracks— won't cover it, won't fix it, but will keep it from getting worse.

4) Full length mirror
You mean you don't have one yet? 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sticky Sartorial Situation #1: Job Interview

The Devil cares what you wear

"You have only one chance to make a first impression." "You can't judge a book by its cover."(but we do) I've always heard you should dress for the job you want, not necessarily the one you're applying for. Then I think of the movie "Single White Female" and shudder. So, dressing for the job you want does not mean stalking the president of the company and maxing out your credit card on an Armani suit. Besides, the "business suit" is hopelessly out of sinc with today's manner of dressing.

Pants or a skirt and a coordinating jacket in a neutral color, texture or pattern are appropriate and can show a little style. And a skirt would seem to have an edge over pants. How much style to show really depends on what you know. You can't ace an interview for a loan officer in a midi skirt and boho blouse just as you won't score points at a design firm in a 1980's dress-for-success suit. Know thy industry and dress accordingly.

Let's take the idea of a black jacket, a black and white hounds tooth skirt (on trend again for fall), a third piece under the jacket, coordinating footwear and accessories and see how those pieces can score points for you at the interview.

Conservative industry (finance, law, administration)
> Hounds tooth pencil skirt— to the knee or mid-knee, very small checks 
> Fitted black blazer— fitted is key— a dressmaker jacket rather than part of a suit. Be sure to pair a wool jacket with a wool skirt or a crepe jacket with crepe skirt not mixing-matching
> Black jewel neck shell with sleeves if there's a possibility you would remove the jacket
> Nude hose
> Slightly chunky pump— this fall's loafer heel has business-style flair 
> Very simple jewelry— gold, silver or pearl stud earrings or small hoops, a brooch (low bling content) worn high on the lapel or a simple necklace that sits well on the shell

Casual industry (computers, education, corporations outside the big city)
> A-line hounds tooth skirt— mid-knee, medium size checks
Black boucle wool jacket— bracelet length sleeve, to the waist
Off-white silk or crepe blouse or shell with soft cowl neckline
> Black opaque tights— lightweight not sweater tights
Kitten or mid-high black heel— Mary Jane style or minimal adornment
Earrings no larger than 1/2" in diameter— pearl cluster, chunky hoop, simple bangle bracelet

Creative Industry (design, advertising, entertainment)
> Mid-calf length tailored hounds tooth skirt— worn with wide black belt with statement buckle
> Teal cashmere turtleneck tucked into skirt
> Black and white tweed sweater coat— mid thigh to knee length
> Black suede or leather boots— pointed toe, no ornamentation, tall enough to fit under skirt
> Large thin hoop earrings— belt buckle also acts as ornamentation

This demonstrates how the same basic pieces in concept will be very different in execution. But you won't need to create more than one look that works for you. Now if you get called back for a second interview...

Please note that there shall be:
> Nothing that jingles, clanks, blinds the eye, needs constant pulling up or pulling down
> No toe cleavage, sling backs, stilettos, peep toes, sandals, Toms, huaraches, running shoes, flip flops, clogs. If it's appropriate to your look and season to wear boots, no rubber boots, Uggs, or thigh-highs
> No jewelry with religious icons
> No obvious designer labels sprouting on clothes or accessories

Wear a watch even if you use your cell phone to tell time.

Hosiery should reflect local custom, though you can't go wrong with sheer nude hose. Don't wear hose with holes or fishnets or funky patterns.

Don't wear anything that reveals tattoos in revealing places (unless you are applying at an ink studio). It's a no-no to show too much cleavage. To reveal a tattoo at the same time is a double-dog don't. I would even go so far as to say the less body art an interviewer has to get distracted by, the better for you. That goes for multiple ear piercings (more than two) or piercing anywhere painful to think about (eyebrows, lips, tongue).

Jeans are not okay even if they cost $300, unless you are interviewing to be a ranch hand.

Your handbag should be large enough to hold what you would normally need in a purse but not so big it looks like you are moving in. Tote your laptop or other presentation items in a separate carrier.

You should never look like you are on your way to someplace else or have just come from somewhere else.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Life's Lost Little Luxuries #4: The Bed Jacket

"Will the meeting come to order?"

The bed jacket disappeared before I was ever grown up enough to want it. My mother did have one though. It was summer sky pale blue, quilted of the softest silk with a white satin ribbon tie. It was in pristine condition— because she never wore it! Wait, that's not true. I did see her wear it once. She had broken her ankle and was laid up in bed on the day of the regional girl scout leaders' meeting. Mother was the chairwoman, and the meeting was scheduled at our house. She held court in her bedroom and wore the bed jacket. It was truly one of her finest hours.

Even when we kids were sick and had perks like all meals in bed and playing with the ivory mah jong set, no one got to wear the bed jacket. It must be in bed jacket heaven now, with all its many friends— lowly and glamorous— as you never ever see a bed jacket anymore.

When you think about it, a bed jacket is a very practical garment. It's difficult to prop yourself up in bed on a chilly Texas night (yes we have them), get settled under a quilt and have your arms free to turn the pages of your book. Please don't tell me that's why the Snuggie was invented. You can't really wear a Snuggie into bed. The bed jacket's short length and roomy, almost cape-like cut makes it easy to put on and take off in bed. Not much history of the garment exists, though it would seem to originate from a practical need to keep warm. The bed-jacket was celebrated in movies of the 1930's, where it was practically a co-star with glamorous actresses in luxurious settings. The ostrich feather, swan's down, lace and tulle versions were mostly Hollywood conceits. But the bed jacket was always very feminine with bows, ruffles and lace. Here are some beauties from the costume collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, dating from the '20s through the '50s:

While we might re-think the dressing table (#1), take a bubble bath (#2), even sport a hankie (#3) my guess is life's lost little luxury #4, the bed jacket, will not take the place of my well-worn University of Michigan zip-up hoodie stashed behind the nightstand for those (yes we have them) chilly Texas nights.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Stop Me Before I Shop Again

Not as much fun as Bloomingdales, but...

Do you shop too much? I don't mean you have charged your way into financial ruin or even close. I mean, do you sometimes get the sneaky feeling that shopping— if not actually purchasing— in brick and mortar stores as well as online has become a substitute for doing what else you need to do? Do you suspect there might be more worthwhile pursuits? Don't worry, I'm not going to give you pointers how to break the habit. It is actually I habit that I do not want to break.

Tips for more efficient useless shopping:
> Find out when your favorite stores put out new merchandise and make those your target days to visit.

> Shop online, filling up your shopping cart to your heart's content. Then wait 24 hours before purchasing anything.

> Don't be afraid to return it. Even if you have to make up a reason— "The color doesn't match my jacket","My husband hated it". You could even fess up and say, "I changed my mind when I got home." There isn't a sales associate or woman alive who hasn't had that happen.

> Consequently don't shop "final sale" or "exchanges only" if you want to avoid buyer's remorse.

> When you feel flush, buy yourself a gift card to your favorite store(s). That way, if you must, the spree will be free.

> If you're a mall-aholic, limit your visit to a certain amount of time. Either devote yourself solely to one store or see how many stores you can hit within the time frame. You could also restrict your "shopping" to one product, i.e. shoes.

> I used to think a day without buying something was like a day without sunshine. It's the agoraphile in me. Then I realized I do enjoy shopping at the drugstore and the grocery store as well. You always need something from either of them.

> One can— and should— gift shop 365 days a year. Thinking of others is a virtue.

> If you get tempted easily to open your wallet, look at sale merchandise only.

> Don't deny yourself the pleasure of perusing the high-end stores. Just think of them as museums with price tags.

> If looking alone won't do, and your larder/medicine chest is full, shop at the resale or charity thrift shop. You are also doing a good deed!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Fashion Salad— Apples, Pears, etc.

Fashion salad with crunch

How awful to have been a child of the '50s growing into my adult shape. I bemoaned my long neck and skinny torso until Audrey Hepburn came along. Nowadays we have beauties to celebrate as diverse as Jennifer Lopez and Zoey Deschanel. Whatever your configuration, your shape needs to be coddled, flattered, celebrated, embraced or diffused as taste and fashion may dictate. Because there is not one right look for this or any season, fashion today is a strict taskmaster. When we all had to wear chemise dresses or be square, much was forgiven. That the chemise might be unbecoming was less important than wearing the au courant style. Today if that loosely fitted, slightly shapeless column is not a good look on you, it shouldn't be part of your life.

Everyone has a best feature and one to sweep under the carpet. I could love my long neck; you could hate yours. Legs, arms, tummies— they might have their own concerns. To make life easier there are four distinct body types we can all relate to, give or take a little adjustment for issues. They are: the apple, the pear, the banana and the hourglass. Not a tasty salad, but there is no fruit with a waist.

The Pear
The pear-shape has narrow shoulders, small bust and waist and is noticeably heavier through the hips and thighs. If you are a pear you know it— pants that fit your hips gap at the waist and buying a tailored sheath dresses would mean purchasing two, cutting them in the middle and sewing the smaller top to the bigger bottom. The pear shape loves separates.

Best wardrobe choices for the pear:
> Fitted tops with interesting necklines, pattern and color to focus attention above the waist
> Puffed sleeves or shoulder detail
> Emphasis on the waist, belts a plus
> Light colors on top, dark on bottom
> Accesories (scarves and jewelry) to turn attention upward

The Apple
The apple-shape has rounded shoulders, bust and hips of equal proportion and not a  pronounced waistline. Unstructured garments tend to hang from the bustline as if it were a shelf.

Best wardrobe choices for the apple:
> Tops to cover hip area
> Flowing skirts rather than tailored
> Monochromatic outfit to create impression of length
> Shorter skirts with bare legs or fun legwear
> Boot or straight cut pants without much detail
> Avoid attention to waist or fussy details on top

The Banana
The banana shape is lean, wirey and athletic with small bust and hips and not a pronounced waistline. She can have strong shoulders (aka the inverted triangle) or not. While boy-ish looks are easy to wear, it may be challenging to soften and feminize.

Best wardrobe choices for the banana:
> U-necklines, tailored shirts, V-neck wraps to soften upper half
> Lighter colors on bottom, darker on top
> Knee length A-line, full and circle skirts
> Any style pant especially boot cut
> Avoid pockets or fussy details on top
> Accessorize with belts

The Hourglass
The hourglass shape is also known as the pinup and features curves paired with a definite waist. The challenge may be keeping those feminine attributes tasteful by not showing off too much cleavage or other va-va-voom.

Best wardrobe choices for the hourglass:
> Remember the C's— camis, cardigans and cinching
> cap or 3/4 sleeves, just not stopping at bust line
> Flared or draped skirts, emphasis on waist
> Skirts stop above or below smallest part of calf
> Bootcut or wide leg pants, not tapered or skinny, no crops
> Accessorize with belts, bright touches at neckline

Tips for all types:
> You can't go wrong establishing a waist, whether natural or moved higher (empire) or lower (hipster).
> Results are always better when you emphasis good features rather than aim to hide bad ones.
> Pant lengths should always be as long as possible (without tripping) to flatter the leg.
> The most beautiful outfit in the world is nothing if it doesn't fit you.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Your New Best Friend

No wonder Ethel and Lucy always looked so stylish

Make a personal shopper your new best friend. I don't mean the $$$-to-hire expert who will cull your closet and address your needs while re-dressing you. I mean the personal shopping programs available to us ordinary gals in many of our favorite shops and even online. This option is the store's way of offering enhanced customer service at no cost to you— in other words the customer service we used to expect in the days of Miss Alice at Halle's (see November 5).

A sample of department and specialty stores offering personal shopping:
Banana Republic
J. Crew
Neiman Marcus
Saks Fifth Avenue
White House Black Market

How to go about finding a personal shopper
> While it's considered advantageous to book an appointment in advance, it's not always necessary. A boutique may only have one person specifically trained as a personal shopper; a department store may have a fleet on call. It makes sense to book if you have something specific in mind— an outfit for a special occasion or jeans that really fit. This way the personal shopper can ask questions and have some items pulled together for your appointment.

> If there is a sales associate whose style you admire or with whom you've enjoyed shopping, request that person on a one-on-one basis. Even if the store doesn't have a "personal shopper" program in place they will love the idea you are a customer with a real desire to shop there and will surely accomodate your request.

What to expect from a personal shopper
> The best personal shopper can dole out tough love with a tender tongue. Her job is to make you look— and feel— wonderful. She doesn't want the responsibility of your leaving with a bad outfit. Your satisfaction is both her reward for a job well done and an invitation for you to return and shop with her again.

> If you and she have a chance to chat ahead of time, she will ask you specific questions about height, coloring, size, likes and dislikes. She will figure a way (or better yet you will tell her) your age range and your specific concerns ("I don't like my arms"). If appropriate she will ask your budget and/or time constraints. If you have $50 to spend and need it that day, let her know! By the way the bread and butter of personal shoppers is not the customer who blows in and spends a bundle. It is the woman who comes in regularly and over time has established such a pleasant, successful relationship with "her" shopper that she won't go anywhere else. Make sense?

> A personal shopper who gets to know you can look out for you in future and let you know when items that suit your style or needs come into the store. She can also give you a heads up when something pricey you admired hits the markdown rack. She will usually take personal charge of special requests, such as ordering your size from another store. And of course she will take the responsibility to sort out any mishaps that you both hope won't occur.

How to get the most out of the personal shopping experience
> Be prepared. If you are looking for a blouse for a particular suit, bring the suit.

> Bring heels if you are shopping for dresses. Not every store has a pair of heels available in the fitting room.

> Dress comfortably, wearing well-fitting undergarments, ie your best bra not the sports bra you might wear with a t-shirt. Wear makeup. In other words, be the person you won't mind looking at in the mirror.

> If it's okay with you for the personal shopper to be in the fitting room with you, let her know. The process can work more efficiently if you don't waste a lot of time trying on things that won't work.

> Try it on even if it doesn't speak to you on the hanger. There are items that look like nothing until they are on you.

> As I've mentioned in a previous blog, there is no such thing as standardized sizing in this country. If it doesn't fit in an 8, it might fit in an 10. Size is only a number. Don't let a number keep you from finding something wonderful.

> If you have only a limited time to shop, let her know. If you have all day, realize that she may have other appointments and be respectful of that. Besides, after two hours you should have found some degree of success.

How to reward good service
Store personal shoppers are strictly forbidden to accept tips, much as you might like to give one. A lovely gesture would be to send a note to the store manager or the home office singing her praises. Then tell all your friends and call her again next time.