Monday, October 31, 2011

Sew What?

Sunday night's episode of The Amazing Race had contestants choose between two challenges in Malawi— make a toy truck out of milk cartons or finish a man's suit on a treadle machine (no electricity) at a tailor shop. I expected everyone to be making toy trucks and was surprised at the number of contestants who headed for the tailor. Each member of the team had to participate so the sewers consisted of several men as well, one a former pro football player. It also looked like the tailors finished faster than the truck makers, but that could have been editing. What surprised me most was that I didn't think anyone sewed anymore! I mean, there are quilters, and pillow and drape makers and tote bag constructors, but who sews their own clothes? Two of the women even described themselves as expert seamstresses.

I took advanced sewing as an elective in ninth grade. The year before was compulsory and totally spent on a dirndl skirt. Our grade in the second year would be based almost entirely on the projects we constructed and modeled for an end-of-the-year fashion show. I can't remember everything, but my piece de resistance was a bathing suit with matching skirt coverup. My grade was A-. When I asked Mrs. Finkel why I didn't get an A she said, "Michelle, you never used the electricity." So concerned was I for every stitch to be perfect that indeed I turned the wheel by hand from start to finish. I wasn't quick enough to ask her why she never bothered to tell me before. I'm also still trying to figure out the moral of that story. But when the Amazing Racers were given their choice of task, I knew which one I would have chosen.

Sewing became a necessary hobby. It was a hobby because other things (like school) obviously came first, but a necessity to create clothes that emulated what I saw in magazines. There was no "instant fashion" back then, no immediate knock-offs of the latest designer styles and practically no "bridge"market at all. Forever 21? Forget it. Plus clothes were expensive. A decent blouse was $3.98! And Egyptian cotton was 50 cents a yard! Patterns were 35 cents. Thread was a quarter for the big spool. But most important the color, pattern, trim, etc. was mine alone. Most of the time the thing came out. Perhaps I kidded myself that it was better than it was, but I don't remember any real disappointments, only some things that were loved a little less.

Sewing was a bonding experience (forget the pun) for my mother and me. I fondly remember entire weekends we did nothing but sew, taking breaks only for quick meals and leaving the sewing machine and ironing board up day and night. We would both have new outfits to wear on Monday. I sewed through high school and college and made one of the two dresses that were my wardrobe when I moved to New York (the other was a splurge from Bonwit Teller). Once I got to New York and had no sewing machine I was paralyzed. One weekend, desperate, I borrowed a Singer from a friend and lugged it both ways on the subway. The next weekend I bought my own on time ($5 a month) and had it for years. I'm trying to remember when I stopped sewing. The last project might have been when my husband was gone for two weeks on reserve duty. That was his last tour and my last dress for a generation. Nor do I remember when I got the urge to create again. By this time, however, patterns were $12.00 and even burlap was $6.95 a yard. I made a blouse the day Hurricane Ike was due to blow in. It took my mind off what was sure to be the end of the world. The resulting blouse was used to clean stuck leaves off the lawn furniture after Ike departed. Further attempts to sew were equally disappointing. At one point I made the garment in muslin first, but the real thing still turned out a disappointment.

Nevertheless, the urge has struck yet again! I felt it the other day as I accessed all the pattern companies online. Perhaps it's the need to have something tangible to show for this house arrest. Perhaps hope springs eternal. I will try again! Just how uncomfortable could burlap be, really?
Vogue 8763— Stay tuned

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Friends with Style: Ellen

When I asked Ellen Greene if I could interview her for "Allways in Fashion" she wrote back happy to do so but completely perplexed. She considers herself neither fashionable nor stylish. I hate to break it to you, Ellen, but you are not only that but unique and totally unaware of your beauty.

The first things you notice about Ellen are her smile and that she is giving you 100% of her attention. She has the rare ability to be both a great listener and a great raconteur. Ellen and I were co-workers with benefits— by that I mean we worked together for many years and also forged a lovely friendship in our down time at the office. Her work in the food department at Woman's Day put her in touch with readers all over the country. It's safe to say Ellen made friends in the thousands.

Ellen's style is Classic American— timeless and ageless. She has refined it to fit herself so seamlessly she doesn't even realize she's done it.

AIF: How would you define your style?

EG: What most defines my style is my shirt collars. I take all the standard collars off my shirts, then cut them down and re-insert them so they are Mandarin-style stand-up collars. I'm known for that. Sometimes my shirts come that way.

AIF: What are your earliest fashion-related memories?

EG: When I was twelve I had a dress I wore all one summer. It was an elasticized semi off-the-shoulder with a wide elasticized waist. I remember that dress more than anything else except a dark blue leather coat that my mother brought over when we left Germany. It had a plaid lining, and I wore it several years.

AIF: What trend, style or person has most influenced you?

EG: Katherine Hepburn, but I don't really try to dress like her.

AIF: What's your favorite everyday go-to outfit?

EG: Blue jeans and a work shirt or white shirt (of course with a reconfigured collar).

AIF: What will you never wear?

EG: Anything turquoise.

AIF: What's one item in your wardrobe you can't live without?

EG: Blue jeans.

AIF: What was your "best buy"? 

EG: I had a day of best buys about twenty years ago— a plaid Viyella shirt originally from Cache that had a straight line and fell below the hips (I fixed the collar). I bought it at a thrift shop for $10. I also found a very stylish polyester blouse that looks like silk at another thrift shop. It wraps around in a very unusual way. It was $12. I still wear both. I also bought a long yellow rain slicker. That is now gone, but it cost $20.

AIF: What was "the one that got away"?

EG: I don't have one. I'm not that fashion conscious.

AIF: What do you think when a woman says she's too old/doesn't have time for fashion?

EG: I do think clothes should fit, especially pants. Can't stand women in baggy ones.

AIF: If you had to pack a travel bag and could only bring 10 items, what would they be?

EG: First I would lay all my clothes and my money on the bed. I would take half my clothes and twice the money. The rest depends on where I'm going.

AIF: What's your beauty routine?

EG: I don't have one. I do take all my makeup off at night.

AIF: Where do you shop today?

EG: Zara, Daffy's and Macy's (because it's close)

AIF: How has your style changed/evolved over time?

EG: It's gotten more informal now that I don't work. However I'm trying to change that. I just bought some dressier daytime things.

AIF: How else are you updating your wardrobe?

EG: I saved about five pairs of boots when they were popular umpteen years ago.  There are two pairs of black, one dark brown, one pair of tan cowboy boots (bought in Cheyenne), and a pair of medium brown woven leather. They're perfect for now and still fit, so I'm buying slim pants and jeans so I can wear them again. I love them and feel so hip.

AIF: Do you have any advice for younger women as they grow into themselves?

EG: I can't comment because one of my failings is that I dress too young. I refuse to dress my age. Can't help it.

Just so you know, Ellen does not dress "too young". She is most assuredly not the dreaded "mutton dressed as lamb". She does dress appropriately for her figure (which is great) and to express her joie de vivre. She's never been shy about stating her age (now 78) which is admirable and inspiring to those of us who start to get hedgy about the subject. I know the idea is not dressing to fit a number but dressing to fit your self. I look forward to seeing her high-stepping in those boots.

Ellen (sans boots) and George at the beach

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Pecking Order of Magazines

I really don't subscribe to every magazine. There are the six fashion magazines of course. And the five shelter/food publications. And five quasi-intellectual journals (ok Vanity Fair is one). But I'm a magazine gal, always have been. I still have the magazine I invented, edited, designed and produced (one copy) for that girl scout author badge. I took French in high school specifically so I could read French Elle, which was then a weekly and available at Schroeder's foreign press newsstand for $5.00 ($39 in today's money). I once took an overnight boat trip from Provincetown (where I was working that summer) to Boston to pick up the new copy of Vogue Knitting (true story). And what's the first thing I do in an airport? Go to the newsstand.

You won't catch me sitting around Barnes & Noble with a latte and the latest issues either. If it looks interesting, I'll subscribe. Part of that is to support the industry that fed me and allowed me to breathe its magic those many years. I know magazines lose money every time they have to shell out the price of sending you the issue. I also know they want you as a subscriber to boost their circulation to support the going rate of their ads. I feel that's a win-win situation.

It occurred to me recently I have a fairly ingrained habit as to the pecking order I read the fashion magazines. First of all, I hate reading the November issue in October. I try to read them during the month they are dated. Lucky arrives for the next month fully three weeks early. So that's hard because Lucky is one of my favorite magazines. Nevertheless, I try to wait. Here is how it rolls and why:

1) Harper's Bazaar
I really like Harper's Bazaar. I feel they get short shrift next to the behemoth that is Vogue, but they give the reader what she wants— a lot of fashion. I particularly enjoy the "What to Wear at Every Age" feature. Reading Harper's Bazaar first is like the appetizer to the month's lineup of magazines.

2) Lucky
I usually can't wait any longer. I do think the magazine has lost some zip since the departure of Kim France as editor. I always liked knowing that Kim cut her fashion chops at the Galleria while growing up here in Houston.

3) Marie Claire
I loved Marie Claire when it first came out in America in the '90s as it had a broad age appeal, a good mix of stories aimed towards women and a true international feel. It sagged for a while. Since luring Nina Garcia from Elle to be their fashion editor Marie Claire has its mojo back (but is guilty of showing the most pie-in-the-sky priced goods).

4) Elle
Elle also waxes and wanes in my opinion but right now is chugging along as something like Vogue and Bazaar's younger, hip sister.

5) In Style
Too many celebrities! Ok too many celebrities I never heard of. But they still know how to have fun with fashion, and you sure get your money's worth in heft.

6) Vogue
Ah! Who doesn't save the best for last? This is dessert. Perhaps because I've been reading Vogue since I was ten (and it was a bi-monthly), it's part of my aspirational dream life to be sophisticated, classy, stylish and—well—rich. I once read that the average Vogue reader was a 28-year-old, single, working woman. I wish I didn't know that.

You may notice there is no Ladies Home Journal, More, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan or Redbook on my list. If you know me well, you may wonder why there is no Glamour. I worked at Glamour for 23 years. I was such a fan before joining the staff that I knew everything and everyone who had been in the magazine the previous ten years. But the Glamour of today is not the Glamour I knew and loved. I wish them well, but in this case you can't read home again.

Friday, October 28, 2011

What do You Wear Around the House?

An early photo of Pauline Trigere in one of her gardening frocks

I once read that the chic French-American designer Pauline Trigere hated the idea of getting rid of a dress just because it was worn or outdated and was known to garden in her cast-off evening gowns. While I can't imagine it's true, what a wonderful visual that makes. My own mother never wore slacks to clean house. Her pants were the palazzo type and reserved for travel on the cruises she enjoyed taking. As far back as I can remember she had special "house dresses", which, while quite attractive, were really one step before a maid's uniform. When I came home from school I changed clothes to go out to play, of course.

I don't remember when I went wrong and ended up wearing the rattiest bits of wardrobe around the house. It may have started as a teenager when I realized I loved fashion but had limited funds. I would much rather buy (or sew) something fun to wear out than spend any money whatsoever on looking good out of the public eye. This worked for a while because I was living at home or on my own in New York City. I once remember not letting my sister in my apartment, after she had just driven 550 miles from Cleveland, because I was still in house-cleaning garb. I sent her to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and told her to come back in an hour. She did too.

Once I was married it behooved me to wear cuter things around the house, so I went out and bought some little t-shirts and capri pants to change into after work (very Mary Tyler Moore). Inevitably I'd be running late and end up cooking and eating dinner in work clothes (sans apron). Then I would have to change because I'd inevitably spilled something. By that time it would be pajamas. There is really no such thing as lounging pajamas or a lounging robe. It's still pajamas and a robe with all its sloth-like connotations.

The one and only time I was fired I bought myself a rainbow-striped rib knit turtleneck to cheer myself up and wear as my-staying-home-till-I-find-a-job outfit. I hated being out of work so much that wearing the sweater made me feel worse. It headed off to charity resale before I cashed my first new paycheck.

Many years later I still have a rag-tag assortment of house wear. It mostly consists of tops in decent enough condition that I just don't love anymore (or may never have loved enough). Same with the pants. They've stretched, sagged or pilled too much to wear beyond the mailbox but good enough for the lawn guy. My favorite around-the-house pants are actually in good condition and even fit. But they are giant red strawberries the size of cantaloupes printed on a blue background with lots of nice green leaves. They are fabulous but even I know those pants are not going beyond the garden gate.

We really don't learn our lessons. Since I'd be home bound several weeks with foot surgery I went out and bought 2 pairs of knit pants in a pretty warm teal and a nice rust from a chic boutique. I put together some coordinating tops and made sure I had cute flats for the good foot. Now that I'm three weeks' into convalescing I hate those pants like poison and can hardly wait till they get their marching orders. Which will happen just as soon as I get marching myself.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

There are Still Some Rules

You can wear white after Labor Day (though winter white makes a nice change). Navy looks great with black (and even better with brown). Redheads can (and should) wear pink. You can wear black as a guest to a wedding (but not white). We've broken a lot of rules, and I say "hooray!" But there are still a few rules that make sense or that just won't give up.

1) You're either a scarf person or you're not.
Piles of colorful scarves tempt me as if my name were Salome, but call me Thumbs-alina when it comes to tying them. I can actually do a decent half-Windsor necktie and had lots of practice with a girl scout knot on the kerchief, but Fun With Scarves is not a book I'm writing soon. Once when giving one of my "Help! I Have a Closet Full of Clothes and Nothing to Wear" seminars I confessed to not being a scarf person. Suddenly an audience member volunteered to show us all how much fun scarves could be. There was no stopping her. I was amazed and even more convinced I could never pull off those tricks. I can however make the "European loop" seen above.

2) It's either a hat or a hairdo.
The reason ladies of the last century wore more hats (or wore them more) is that when you plunk down a hat, forget retrieving your hairdo. The phrase "hat head" needs no further description if you've had one. Even the soft, unstructured beret will impart a nice ridge around the circumference of the wearer's head. There's nothing wrong with a hat, but I think we have that problem about deciding. I do wonder with the choice of a hat an option would there be no more bad hair days?

3) If there are belt loops, wear a belt.
Or a length of grosgrain ribbon. Or something. Or cut off the loops if you can.

4) Three pieces make an outfit.
This is just a nice rule to follow. Adding one more element will tie things together:
> A shirt and pants plus a vest
> A blouse and skirt plus a cardigan
> A dress and jacket plus a statement belt

5) Untack the flap on the back of your skirt or jacket.
Those stitches were meant to keep the garment in shape during transit.

6) On the other hand don't necessarily untack the pockets on your pants.
Pockets on pants can add weird curves or lumps where you don't need them. Can't you stash a kleenex someplace else? Sometime I purposely sew down pockets that were not originally even tacked.

7) Alter it before you wear it.
This takes a lot of discipline if you're like me. I want to wear it right away. But "altering" hems and sleeves with tape is just lazy.

8) A statement necklace calls for simple earrings.
Likewise major earrings usually call for skipping the necklace.

9) Go easy on the eyes with red lips.
We're hearing a lot about red lips these days. If you like the look, tone down your eye makeup to a very neutral shadow and a flick of not-too-dark mascara. There is nothing more aging than a head of full-on makeup— eyes, lips, cheeks.

10) Don't safety pin anything; repair it.
Remember what your mother said about being in an accident?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Smile: You've Got Style

There's a pretty wonderful article in the September 2011 issue of Vanity Fair (above) about Consuelo Crespi and her twin sister Gloria Schiff. They were young American beauties who married well and lived a life of elegant privilege (Gloria is still alive). I remember them as being part of that beaut-pack in my mother's Vogue magazines of the 1950's - '60s. The piece is yet another example of lauding the gift of style without giving us a clue what that is. And it's true; style is tricky to define. It never follows a formula. It needs to appropriately reflect time and place. It mustn't be imitated or it isn't yours. It is observed by others, but if you have it you probably can't dissect it.

Everyone has style. Not everyone has "a style". The more you know about yourself, though, the clearer that style will become. Take the following quiz to see:

1) How many colors can you quickly name that make up most of your wardrobe?

2) What's the oldest thing in your wardrobe that you still wear, and how old is it?

3) Do you have new clothes hanging in your closet unworn as of now?
> If yes, how many pieces: 1-3? more than 4?

4) When a special occasion arises, which do you do first:
> Go to your closet to find something to wear?
> Go shopping?

5) What influences you most in your fashion choices?
> Magazines
> Television and movies
> People you know
> None of these

6) How often do you switch your handbag?
> With the season
> To coordinate with outfits
> When I'm in the mood for change
> Hardly ever
> What handbag?

7) Beside clothes which is the more important addition to your look?
> Hair
> Makeup

8) All costs being the same would you rather purchase:
> Clothing?
> Accessories?

9) Do you find yourself continuously buying variations of the same thing (such as jeans)?

10) How would you describe your wardrobe:
> Mix and match
> Simple ensembles
> Catch as catch can

11) How often do you regret wearing what you'd chosen for the day?
> More than once a week
> Occasionally
> Practically never

12) What period of history would you rather dress in other than today?



1) If you answered 1 - 3 colors you have a clear idea what looks good on you. If you answered 4 or more focus on what looks best and eliminate the rest to sharpen your style.

2) A good handbag can have a long life. T-shirts do not. Styles of most items change radically (proportion and fit) every three years (including eyeglasses). Even the best suit has to be turned out to pasture eventually. Good jewelry is timeless.

3) After a week you should know whether your purchase is something you need and/or still want. With the possible exception of things purchased out of season or for a special occasion, you should take the tags off and WEAR it.

4) Check out the fall-back special occasion items that should be there. Only then if you're not satisfied should you go shopping.

5) We are all influenced subliminally if not consciously by the world around us. It's best not to consciously channel one person's style or you will never find yours.

6) Most of us have great intentions and a collection of unused handbags.

7) Having nothing hair can make or break your look faster than no makeup. You know what I mean— hair that doesn't try.

8) If you have a well-thought wardrobe you can afford to have "fun" with accessories.

9) If jeans are your thing you may indeed need a whole wardrobe of them. But be honest if you are avoiding the big picture that is your wardrobe.

10) Your wardrobe style should match your life. "Mix and match" gives you the most variety in a work wardrobe, but there is nothing wrong with a few well-chosen dresses or other ensembles if variety is not primary.

11) You may not be giving yourself enough time to put things together. If you possibly can, try it on the night before, accesories included. Next day you'll have time-saved and a good outfit. At the other end, you may not be experimenting enough and are stuck in a rut.

12) Hopefully you chose an era that never dressed you. Rule of thumb: You cannot wear again, in the same way, anything you actually wore once in real time.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Your Trash may be my Treasure

Have you ever been to a clothes swap? This is serious fun. The few I've been to make me wish there were a National Clothes Swap Day. I would definitely be Neighborhood Block Captain. The principle behind a clothes swap is simple: You bring unloved, no longer wanted items from your wardrobe to exchange for someone else's cast-offs. Leftovers go to charity.

Those clothing swaps were held at work. We were about 50 (mostly women) magazine editors of all shapes, sizes, ages and fashion interests. We appropriated a conference room; the fashion department donated several rolling racks. Everyone brought her goodies on a specified day. Those of us who had volunteered to organize (and get a first look) doled out a "chit" for every item donated. The trade would be simple: one chit for one item. We then organized the offerings— like items hanging together, folded things neatly displayed. The fashion department worked their magic on creating a few "outfits" for inspiration (which were quickly cannibalized). When "shopping time" arrived we were all quite well-behaved— really— and had a marvelous time finding treasures in another's trash. My greatest find had to be a pair of black leather pants that fit like a glove. I would never have bought them for myself (and I wouldn't be caught dead in them today), but at the time... I never did figure out to whom they belonged (sealed lips are probably best at these events).

How about throwing a clothes swap yourself? What a great way to bring together all your friends who may not even know each other. You can work it around watching an episode of "Project Runway" or that guilty pleasure, "Fashion Hunters". Make it a real party— with invitations and refreshments.

Send your invitations three weeks ahead. Ask for RSVPs as well. The party rule of thumb seems to be 60% of invitees will accept and 80% of them will actually show. Bear that in mind when you're deciding how many will fit into your boutique-for-a-night.

Explain what the clothes swap is and name the charity that will receive remainders.

Suggest attendees bring a minimum of items (4 or 5) and explain that the trade will be one for one.

Set up guidelines. Do you want current season only? Are handbags, shoes and jewelry okay? How about men's items or kids' clothes? What's off limits? My guess is that might be lingerie, swimsuits and anything not in good, wearable condition.

Suggest a time for guests to arrive and set a time for the swap to begin.

Arrange an area where things can be tried on and seen in a mirror or okay the use of your bedroom.

You don't have to go overboard on refreshments. Offer wine and sparkling water, unfussy cocktail munchies or little sweets— nothing drippy or crummy.

Has this brilliant idea not lured you to accomplish the task that awaits? Clean out your closet!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Say Fromage

This is my favorite picture of myself. Like most people, I don't love getting my picture taken and am usually pretty unimpressed with the results ( but not as much as hearing my own voice). This photo was taken by my husband at lunch at a charming restaurant on a lovely vacation we were taking in France. This meets the criteria for a good picture in several ways:
1) Have it taken by someone who makes you feel comfortable
2) Be doing something you enjoy
3) Lean slightly forward
4) Have the photographer be on a higher plane than you
5) Be on vacation in France

In our social media age no one can escape having her picture taken. Just as you are curious what someone looks like, the other someone is just as curious about you. Business related websites, such as Linked In, report more traffic on profiles with a photo. With holiday season soon upon us you may see yourself "tagged" in more photos than you knew were being taken of you. Then there are all those photos from the past that show up when your childhood friends start getting nostalgic (and around to cleaning out their piles of polaroids).

What makes a good photo?

Research shows eye contact is key. The person in the photo should be looking at you. So let's call that "look at the camera".

It's easier to look at the camera when the picture taker is a friend, someone you trust and who relaxes you. That's why professional photos tend to look the way they do— stiff. It's a rare stranger who can garner your trust and relax you in five minutes. I remember practicing for hours before a mirror the months leading up to high school graduation photos. I perfected a neck angle and an Elvis-lip curl that I've not been able to duplicate since.

You do have a "better side". It makes sense to remember which one that is.

What to do with your hands gets more terrifying the longer you think about it. Use a book, a coffee cup, something as a prop. Try not use a pet or a child. This time you do want the attention on you. Don't make a peace sign.

Fashion photographers make their living (and reputations) on bringing out the best of even the lip-smacking beauties they photograph. One photographer in particular, Joe Polillio, is a genius at photographing what we called "real people". We worked together on many photo shoots for Woman's Day magazine. He has a real knack for putting people at ease and is generous in sharing some tips:

> Instead of just standing there, perfect the "model stance". Have your body facing at about a 20 degree angle from the camera with your left foot slightly ahead of your right. Turn your torso to face the camera head on. Your left foot gives you that pivot. Your hips are now 3/4 to the camera, a far more flattering place for them to be. This is easier than it sounds (try it) and is not an exaggerated pose when done correctly.

> Have the photographer be on a higher plane than you are. This is easy if you're sitting of course. The photographer will be standing, and you'll be looking up. Avoid having yourself shot from below (unless it is for a seventh grader's avant garde photography project). Everything will be out of proportion including the bags under your eyes.

> Lean forward slightly. This reinforces your interaction with the camera, ie the person you are looking at.

That picture of me in France is now three years old, and I wonder just how long I can use it. Time to plan another vacation?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Am I Psychic or What?

On September 8, I awoke with a start...

Overly dramatic. Start over.

On September 8 something compelled me to want a black plastic link necklace similar to the ones all over the place a few years ago, but I wanted mine choker length.

This is not the first time this has happened, an insatiable craving for no apparent reason, as all-consuming as a pregnant woman craving strawberries (that was me also).

I logged onto ebay and a few minutes later found the exact item, as if Sister Style had laid it there at my feet as an offering, for $9.95/no bids and only a few hours to go. I won it. I bought it. It arrived (beautifully gift-wrapped by the seller I might add) a few days later. I think I wore the necklace right away then put it in a drawer. It's great, but I have to work it into my wardrobe. For now I am just satisfied to own it.

So I'm reading the New York Times Style section from September 29 this very afternoon. I love this Thursday section in the paper, referred to by my husband as "Women's Sports". Somehow this edition got stuck in a seat cushion, because today was the first I'd seen it. And there on page E5 in the "Browsing" column is a picture of a plastic link necklace in choker length by jewelry designer Diana Broussard "inspired by the graphic gold chains of the late 1970s and made in Italy in lightweight plexiglass" for $250.

Let us do the math. I bought my necklace 21 days before Erica Blumenthal even wrote about it. Erica and I have never spoken or met, let alone discussed plastic chain necklaces. With shipping I paid $236 less than Diana's Broussard's offering (before tax).

These things happen— a lot. Unfortunately my husband has another expression too: "that and $2.50 will get you on the subway."

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Ode to the Dress

By now, to the complete surprise of octogenarian Seventh Avenue garmentos, the dress has fully re-established itself as an article of clothing that women buy, wear and want. How long ago was it that "dress departments" consisted of a lone rack stuck in the corner of the store? Remember when to "need a dress" meant you were partaking in some feudal ritual where no other garment had been allowed to infiltrate (i.e. wedding)? The whole idea of a dress was so hopelessly old fashioned that when dresses began to emerge out of the shadows four or five years ago, for some young women it was the first time they had ever shopped for one.

Dresses are not easy. For one thing, the top half and the bottom half both need to fit. There is no such thing as standard sizes in women's wear. One man's 4 is another man's 6 is another man's 2. Dresses start at size 0. Think about it for a moment; zero is nothing.

Dress styles will not universally fit all body types. While there is a style that will work for yours, it may not be the style de jour, the one you see in the magazines or on the mannequins.

Dresses also suffer from "looks-good-on-the-hanger-doesn't-look-good-on-you" syndrome. Likewise there are puh-lenty of dresses that look dreadful on the hanger. If a salesperson suggests you try something because "the hanger doesn't do it justice" she's probably telling you the honest truth.

Dresses are harder to personalize. Now that we've encouraged you to develop individual style we want to zip you into a dress and call it an outfit.

Nevertheless a dress can be your best friend. Once you've established the right accessories (belts or necklaces or footwear) a dress can go a million places seamlessly.

There is actually a nice security in not coming loose at the waist. Some dresses are even made to look like separates for that reason. It's nice to relax and revel in a beautifully cut dress that just cuddles up to your body, enhancing what it should and breezing over what doesn't need showing off.

You can give a dress an individual stamp if you want. Many dresses (tent dresses or flowey unstructured dresses) take on whole new shapes when cinched or tied where you want them. Changing out a belt or sash (dress manufacturers tend to skimp on the quality of belts) makes a huge difference.

Never let yourself fall into the size number trap. A savvy salesperson will always ask "What size do you need?" not "What size are you?" If you absolutely cannot bear that the dress of your dreams fits you in size 10, cut out the size tag! (wasn't there a whole Seinfeld episode about this?)

Resign yourself to the need for alterations. Unless you're buying couture (made for you alone) how unreasonable is it to expect that dress to fit you in every nook and cranny? If a dress almost fits, ask to try one or two others in the same size. You would be amazed how the same garment in the same size can fit differently depending on who sewed it or where the fabric was sitting in the giant pile that was cut out. Some alterations are easier (and less expensive) than others. Hems, cuffs and taking up shoulder straps are no-brainers; a dart here or a shoulder heist there can make all the difference. Anything involving taking out the zipper will start to cost you. Remember it's always easier to take it in than let it out.

The goal of a dress is to flatter, to enhance or tone down but not to hide. You can't go wrong when you establish a waist. It might not be your natural waist, but it will be the focal point to work with your curves. The ribcage is the narrowest part of most women's bodies. That's why some of the most flattering styles out there today hit somewhat higher than your tape-measured waistline. Don't be afraid to experiment and try different things (that's why the dressing room has a door).

Dress for Success has new meaning as does Say Yes to the Dress!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Hang of It

This is not my closet. Nor do I suspect is it your closet. It may be one of Iris Apfel's closets. The fabulous 90-year-old fashionista bought another apartment in her Manhattan condo to hold her goodies. If this were my closet, the world would have to come to me. Because I wouldn't leave it.

Can you guess what is the subject de jour?

I've just switched my closet from summer to fall/winter, an act of faith in south Texas where fall is but a state of mind and pumpkins at the supermarket. Like someone who has just had her teeth cleaned and vows never to eat again, I hauled, packed and hung all day swearing never to buy another thing ever.

While I am conscientious about this ritual (no space to be otherwise), it's fairly easy for most of us to shove a few more things in and "think about it tomorrow". Here are some opening volleys to get you energized:
> Research shows we wear only 20% of our closet 80% of the time.
> Clothes that hang in the closet over a period of time shrink of their own volition.
> Because you wore that particular piece in 1976 doesn't mean you can wear it again (even if the '70s are back in style).
> Cleaning your closet is the only way to find what really lives there.

> It's important to do this task all at once, so give yourself plenty of time. If time is not on your side, divide the project into segments, i.e. all blouses one day, all pants another.

> Cover your bed with a sheet. This is to protect your clothes from lint, dust and pet hair that may be on the bed.

> Consider your closet your personal shrine to getting dressed. Nothing should live there except clothes and accessories. Hide the Christmas presents someplace else.

> As you remove each item from the closet decide which of three piles it will go on the bed: KEEP, MAYBE or OUT.
Items in the KEEP pile will be things you know you love, look good in and really wear. You can bet this will be your smallest pile.
Items in the MAYBE pile look good on the hanger. You just can't remember how they look on you as it's been a while since you wore them.
Items headed OUT can then be put into a bag or box for charity.

> Be ruthless about your mistakes. Here are seven reasons to get rid of a piece of clothing:
1) You spent tons of money on it, but you never wear it. This is a constant reminder of money wasted. Just seeing it in your closet makes you feel guilty.
2) It doesn't fit; it never fit; it might fit someday. Keeping something because it used to fit will murder your self esteem.
3) You already own multiple pieces of it and these are the ones you aren't saving "for good". There is no good; it's all good; good is right now.
4) The color is not right. You can't force yourself to look good in certain colors.
5) It was part of a fantasy scenario, a costume, a celebrity emulation— not you and not for your real life right now.
6) It itches, chafes, wrinkles like crazy, keeps slipping, makes you fuss with it or break out in a rash.
7) You love it; you wear it to death, but it's on its last legs.

> When you've cleared the closet and taken the OUT bags to the car, you must try on everything remaining. This is where some of those KEEPS might turn into MAYBES.

> Ideally everything in your closet should pass the 4F test: Does it FIT? Does it FUNCTION in my life? Does it FLATTER my shape, coloring, personality? Is it truly FABULOUS?

> Put the KEEPS back in the closet. There should be plenty of room in there now.

> Pack away the MAYBES. Stick them in an under-bed chest or empty suitcase. Make a list of what's in there for reference. If you haven't worn them in six months to a year, give them away too.

> Don't get rid of those wonderful items like your college sweatshirt or your first prom dress or anything else sentimental that is taking up space in your closet. Those deserve to be archived in a clearly labelled box. In a rash of attic cleaning I'm sure I threw away my wedding dress as the box was not marked.

> Of course no wire hangers! Invest in decent ones. I blogged a few posts ago about the wonderful skinny velvet hangers that actually hold garments without slipping. Some people prefer folded sweaters and t-shirts. I like to drape mine over the hanger's cross bar. Nothing beats clip hangers for holding skirts.

> Plastic or no plastic? I've always read that keeping clothes in plastic dry cleaning bags is a bad idea due to leaching chemicals from the plastic. Lo and behold I see that Rachel Zoe's Chanels and Oscar de la Rentas are all sitting in plastic in her closet. Nevertheless it's hard to see what's behind the plastic, so I opt to remove it, switch out the hanger and keep the bag for another use.

> Arrange clothes in a consistently logical way. For instance, arrange solid shirts and blouses from shortest sleeve to longest, lightest color to darkest. Then do the same with the prints. If you have multiple pairs of denim make a hang-tag for the hanger describing that pair (ie "dark wash bootleg").

> I prefer to keep my shoes in boxes and have p-touched a label for each. Otherwise I end up with a jangly mess on the floor.

> There is nothing fun about closet cleaning. You may learn some lessons about what you wore/didn't wear last season. It's possible you may unearth a treasure or two; more likely you'll be reacquainted with some unsound purchases. You may be determined to shop wisely from now on. What you can be is proud of yourself for accomplishing the task.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Reading About it

Reading books about fashion is a little like reading cookbooks. Some people enjoy descriptions of the ingredients and the finished product. Others don't see the point unless they specifically need directions for something. Still others don't read cookbooks or fashion books and pretty much get by with winging it. I think the results may be better in a dish than an outfit.

There are fashion books that scare me with titles like "How Not to Look Old", "Color Me Younger" or "Frumpy to Fabulous". There are books that sound like way too much work: "I Have Nothing to Wear: A Painless 12-Step Program to Declutter Your Life so You Never Have to Say This Again". I hope a stiff drink is included in those 12 steps. Some books are way too personal: "What I Wore: Four Seasons, One Closet, Endless Recipes for Personal Style". Isn't the idea, especially at a certain age, to embrace your own reality?

Fashion history is something else. You can never learn too much about the history of style and popular culture as told through fashion. I started by reading autobiographies of Elsa Schiaparelli and Cecil Beaton when I was 10. The covers must have appealed to me (Schiaparelli's was shocking pink), and I'm still a sucker for a good cover. Diana Vreeland's autobiography, "V", is a delight whether or not it's all true. I love finding vintage fashion and beauty books such as the 1947 "How to Maintain Beauty, How to Achieve Glamour and How to Improve Personality". Imagine all that information in one volume of only 128 pages!

The best fashion books speak to you in a voice you enjoy hearing. They whip you into a froth of closet cleaning or relight your fashion flame. Most of all they get you to observe, think and set yourself on a good path. I look through every new book that comes out. I pass on many of them. Some I don't think I can live without. Some I really can't live without. Here is that list:

"What Shall I Wear?" by Claire McCardell is pictured above. This will be nearly impossible for you to find. One copy is currently listed on Amazon at $199.99. I stole mine from the public library in 1957 and returned it 50 years later, anonymously, after shelling out an exorbitant amount on a copy to keep. In all those years I didn't regret my act of thievery. Surely one person was never so influenced by any book outside of the bible. If my writing sounds like hers, I apologize. I learned to think like Claire McCardell and see the world of fashion through her eyes. She was an amazing designer who died in 1958, way too young. She was Donna Karan when Donna was in grade school and lent her name and design skills to everything from sunglasses to car interiors. Her contributions still resonate with us today: twill, jersey, denim, gingham (in both dressy and casual fashions), easy wrap dresses, halter and cowl necklines and ballet slippers as street wear. But "What Shall I Wear?" is not about Claire; it's about us, the American woman. It's about dressing for the real life you live. The advice is both timeless and forward-thinking. I once xeroxed a copy for Isaac Mizrahi (a worthy successor to Claire in my opinion) and have done the same for other special people. A few years ago there were rumors this book would be reprinted— alas hasn't happened yet.

"The Pocket Stylist" and "Style Evolution" by Kendall Farr are to the point and full of great information (and illustrations). The highlight of the former is dividing what-to-wear into body types. A big chunk of book may not apply to you, but the better to amaze friends and family with your knowledge. You see, fit is everything. No matter how gorgeous or pricey, if it doesn't fit, it won't flatter. If it doesn't flatter... "Style Evolution" is the book I wish I would have written myself, directed towards us ladies who will not go gentle into fashion night (or day). Downside: you would need really big pockets to carry these around.

"I Love Your Style" by Amanda Brooks concentrates on style based on types (bohemian, classic, etc). There are wonderful photos (many not seen before) of style icons. A great manual of Style 101, along the way we share Amanda's quest for her own style (also with photos). She absorbs like a sponge and would be first to admit she has made mistakes in the past and will probably make more in future. What I love is that she is not afraid to try. We are lucky Amanda was able to write this book before she began her present job as Style Director for Barney's New York.

"The Little Black Book of Style" by Nina Garcia is the first of Nina's four fashion books. They are all concise, informative and fun to read. Nina is the acerbic judge on "Project Runway" and esteemed fashion director of Marie Claire magazine, but she comes across as charming and chatty. She takes her job seriously, but she loves the subject.

"Love, Loss and What I Wore" by Ilene Beckerman, a small book illustrated by the author, is less a fashion how-to than a memoir through clothes. Ilene forever remembers what she wore at pivotal moments in her life. You will start remembering too. The book has inspired a still running off-Broadway play.

"I Don't Have a Thing to Wear (the Psychology of Your Closet)" by Judie Taggart and Jackie Walker is everything you ever wanted to know about being well-dressed. There is so much good information it may be more than you can digest at once. Consider it the penultimate course in dressing, and bite off little bits when you can.


"What Not to Wear" by Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine
Though they've been quiet lately, at least on this side of the pond, Trinny and Susannah originated the "What Not to Wear" concept on British television (as well as the "tough love" hosting style). Their range of books, from "What Not to Wear" to "Who Do You Want to be Today?" are pithy and fun, especially as they use themselves for models and guinea pigs.

"Life Lessons Learned While Shopping" by Amanda Ford is less about clothes and more about the act of shopping— and its many psychological implications.

"Why We Buy— The Science of Shopping" by Paco Underhill is for the inveterate agoraphile. Basically a business book (that's the section you'll find it), it's nevertheless fascinating. Did you not think we are being manipulated as soon as we enter a store? If you didn't, read this book and think again.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Possession Obsession

Every once in a while I will develop an obsession for something that must spring from my subconscious. There was no way I could have decided I needed a pair of gold jeans (other than if it's shiny and gold I love it). Of course need isn't the right word— try "want".

Sometimes I think I do it just to challenge myself. I haven't seen gold jeans on anyone here in Houston. I certainly haven't seen them in the stores. And the magazine advertisement from Joe Fresh will do me no good as there is only one store in America, and it's 1600 miles away. I don't even wear jeans that much myself. So where will I find them?

Thanks to ebay and some good timing I found a pair listed as NWT (New With Tags in ebay lingo) in size 6 petite for $19.99 plus shipping. The gold is a little burnished with black in a snakeskin kind of way. I plan to wear them with black ankle booties and a black turtleneck. I also have a short black leather swing jacket, very lightweight and a little shiny. Oh yes, and a great black and gold envelope clutch (that I found at Office Max) (I think it's a presentation folder).

So for $27 they are on their way from somewhere. Hope springs eternal that they will fit and look fabulous, because they are not returnable. Careful shopper that I am, why am I so willing to shell out $27 on what might be a very disappointing reality? Well, shopping hope springs eternal. My heart will indeed skip a beat when I find that package waiting at my door. I will open it carefully; I will try it on gingerly, breathe in just in case I was a little optimistic on the size, peer with one eye and...

Stay tuned.

The Best 50 Cents You Will Ever Spend

I just bought 130 black velvet hangers, and I'm as happy as a kid in a candy store. That may have cost $65 but for 50 cents, each item in my closet is perched securely and looking gorgeous in its uniformity. The velvet hanger phenomenon isn't new, but prices have come down to the drugstore level.

While the velvet hanger does indeed create a bit more space than its replacement, the clunky plastic hanger, its real conribution is that nothing slides or falls off, even the sheerest or slipperiest of fabrics. I use the crossbar at the bottom for pants, t-shirts or sweaters (all of which I hang).

Wire hangers have long been banished from the closet. Next to go were those plastic tube hangers that looked so inviting but were like hanging clothes on a greased pig, until they broke, which was soon. I did invest heavily in the clear plastic hangers you usually see in retail stores, but like a lot of things as time goes on, I was ready to trade up.

The velvet hangers have made me think twice about what is actually in my closet. If it's not worth 50 cents, out it goes!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Let's hear it for the boys

Love this photo of Josephine Baker. I imagine she is thinking, "Fellas, you may look good in your tuxes, but I look bananas in mine!"

This list discounts oversized boyfriend blazers or boyfriend jeans or throwing on your guy's shirt (one of the most fetching looks ever). We gals have reinterpreted these sartorial plums to make them our own. In no particular order they are:

safari shirt
white t shirt
newsboy cap
white linen trousers
French sailor t
man-tailored shirt
bell bottoms
duffel coat
denim jacket
lumberjack plaid
trench coat
polo coat
blue work shirt
cargo pants
cowboy boots
cowboy hat
bandana print
pocket square
thanks to the Duke of Windsor, king of mixing prints

Five Things You Must have in Your Closet

1) A WHITE SHIRT (if you're a shirt person) or a white blouse (if you're a blouse person). You can dress it up or dress it down. Wear it alone or as a layering piece under a jacket or sweater. It has long sleeves (with the option to roll up if a shirt) or 3/4 (bracelet) length. The shade of white is the one that most flatters you. For some that may be closer to ivory. It fits you perfectly.

2) BLACK PANTS in an all-season medium-weight wool or blend (yes you can wear wool in warm climates). They also fit perfectly and are of a current style. They are hemmed to the right length for the shoe/s you wear with them. There is nothing to stop your having multiple pairs of black pants from capris to palazzos, but you need one that is perfect without being a huge style statement on its own. Today I would say that is a flat-front, straight-leg style that falls comfortably from your hip.

3) A LITTLE JACKET has its own personality and doesn't "match" anything. For some it can be a tweed (think Chanel), for others a well-cut denim. You can pair it with separates to make an outfit. You can grab it for warmth as you run out the door.

4) One piece of REAL JEWELRY that you wear Every Day not just for Occasions— a string of pearls, a gold bangle, real diamond studs, your grandmother's cameo. When you put on real jewelry you immediately feel better dressed.

5) A PARTY DRESS— one dress (or outfit) that you can count on when an invitation arrives. It doesn't have to be black but can be a color that is season-less and looks great (teal flatters many). It's wardrobe security and will avoid panic if you do go shopping for that event and come home empty handed.

Bonus must have (if you wear them)— JEANS that fit. Simple dark denim in a current and flattering style. Jeans go in and out of style regularly so one pair will not last you a lifetime.

Five Things NOT to Have in Your Closet:

1) Anything you wore in high school or college, even if it still fits. Put it in a box. Label it. Store it away.

2) Any item of clothing that is really a costume— in other words, it isn't you. You bought it because you felt like Lady Gaga that day. Or your best friend. It was probably on sale.

3) Anything that itches, scratches, pulls, rides up, slips down.

4) Anything that is yellow but is meant to be white or that is gray but is meant to be black.

5) Anything that didn't fit then or doesn't fit now.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Out-ing the Outlets

What inveterate shopper doesn't thrill at the sight of an outlet center looming ahead off the freeway? Chances are you're on your way somewhere, with family, maybe the dog too, and they are not about to stop. So you drive on, looking backward with longing as you pass the Big Brand Names (hopefully you are not actually doing the driving). Better yet is the outlet center that comes to town (or a town near you). You may need to use half a tank of gas to get there and back, but you still never know what bargains may be in store. You should know because— guess what— there aren't any.

Outlet centers are Big Business. They act as tourist attractions and actual destinations. One of the most lavish is Woodbury Common north of New York City and fortunately (for me) about 45 minutes from where we used to live. Buses would pull up regularly full of tourists who must have run out of shops in Manhattan. It's common knowledge by now that outlet centers are just another form of commerce and not meccas of production over-runs and teeny-tiny defects hardly worth noticing. Nevertheless, we are still enchanted. So if you're going to turn into an outlet center drive anyways, be prepped.

There are three kinds of outlets:
> On-site factory stores are the ones that started it all. The Vanity Fair company in Reading, PA takes credit for being first in the '70s. The factory lured shoppers to make a day trip from Philadelphia or New York City and take away slightly damaged, slightly soiled, last season's unshipped merchandise at bargain prices. Goods would be heaped in bins or on tables in one room. No fancy merchandising but plenty of underwear, t-shirts, sleepwear. These were goods you needed, but they didn't need to be particularly stylish. The defects (or lack of style) wouldn't show. The VF Factory Outlet still exists in Reading but is now eight buildings big.

> Department store outlets were the next to arrive— Saks Off Fifth, Neiman Marcus Last Call, Nordstrom Rack. Over time the deals have gotten less and less. Today as little as 10% of the merchandise actually saw the inside of the mother store. 20% is manufactured expressly for the store, and the rest can be bought from well-known vendors who are also producing an outlet center version of their better known lines.

> Manufacturer's outlets (Ralph Lauren, Donna Karen, GAP) produce goods for their outlet stores that are never on Main Street using poorer quality fabric, buttons, less stitches-to-the-inch, etc. No one is trying to fool you. The label will indeed say GAP Outlet for instance. But we want to believe what we want to believe.

The truest outlets we have now are the "off-price" stores such as TJ Maxx and Marshall's (owned by the same company), traditionally not found in outlet centers. Years ago a friend who worked for Ralph Lauren told me that's where the real stuff goes— the samples, pieces bought but never delivered, discontinued or past season. The goods are not all gold; TJ Maxx has their own "Willi Smith" line of affordable trendy fashion, but they also have "The Runway" with Dolce & Gabana, Prada and Missoni not for Target.

Outlets count on the fact that you are there to buy something and don't want to leave empty-handed. But be sure you really want/need it as going back to return can be a haul. Check the return policy as well; it may only be for store credit. If you're trying to complete an outfit, bring the item or color swatch with you. Do your homework at Neiman's or Saks (known to me as "museums with price tags") ahead of time so you can spot the trends and perhaps a real deal. A day of outlet shopping is a great girl-friend get together. The car ride gives you plenty of time to catch up. You can indulge in a chocolate coated pretzel if you're really pulling out the stops. Just think of outlets as outings and you won't wake up to a big case of buyer's regret.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Regrets— There'll be a Few

Who hasn't thrown or given away some wardrobe item only to regret it 2, 5, 10 or 20 years later?

To avoid the 2-year regret: box it, bag it, store it for two years. If you haven't hauled it out after two years, it was indeed past its date of usefulness. Some things just don't "wear" well. It may be that piece you bought out of desperation and the immediate need. It was okay for the occasion but you hardly ever looked at it again. It might be the uber-fashionable thing that lit up your life briefly but sputtered out quickly.

If regret sets in after 5 years, you are probably fondly remembering a piece that in reality may have been worn (as in worn out) or was just ahead of its (fashion) time. For the latter just congratulate yourself on your foresight and rest assured there was no way you could know chunky tunics would be in style this fall.

If it was in your closet 10 years ago chances are it would indeed be cut differently today. Ten- years-ago tweed pants are not today's pair. The waist! The leg! The length! Not to mention the fact that your body might not be the one you had ten years ago.

20 years plus should be the Land of No Regrets. The pussy cat bow blouse you had in 1980 is not the same blouse you might buy today. For one thing you will probably buy silk today rather than Banlon, Orlon or Virgin Acrylic. The armholes will be cut differently, the bow will have a different flair, the color will be decidedly less garish. It will in fact be a different blouse. Perhaps you have a giant, walk-into attic and don't actually get rid of anything, just banish it upstairs. That doesn't mean you can wear it again and call it "vintage". Old clothes on old ladies are just old. Ouch.

Two Stylish Sisters

The Sartorialist has asked for vintage photos for his blog. I sent him this some time ago. Though he hasn't used it, I think it's worth including in my blog now.
I love this photo of my mother Ida (on the right) at age 20 and her older sister Sally, not only because I see a young woman I never knew, but here are two decidedly middle class young women (Sally was a teacher and my mother a struggling commercial artist), dressed to the nines in the latest styles of the day (1927) without a touch of pretension or irony. How did they know to put that all together? This photo is from an album of deliciously happy young people wearing flapper dresses and raccoon coats and tennis whites. So people really did dress that way...

Cheers to the Ladies

Here are a few ladies I love. They are ladies all and prove that even a dame can be a lady. From the top: Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, Ali McGraw, Paula Deen, Julie Christie, Polly Mellen, Iris Apfel

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Why is it so hard to buy a purse?

So what is it about purses? The best time to shop for a purse is when you don't need one. When you have to have a little evening bag, every bag you see is awful. When you have no intention of ever needing an evening bag in your life, you find three. If you buy said evening bag without an evening in sight, you invariably can't find the bag on the evening. And that's just evening bags.

Most women I know hate to change purses anyways. It's usually the last thing you think about doing in the morning. It's always such a relief to carry the same bag for a few days or to latch onto a great "novelty" bag in color or style and just treat it as a neutral.

I have this thing about real versus fake. I don't mean fake or real Louis Vuitton because that kind of bag obsession leaves me cold. In fact I won't buy it if there is even a hint of a manufacturer's name or logo visible. I mean it has to be real leather or really fake. An example of frankly faux is what goes for "patent" leather. Real patent leather costs a fortune, but most patent leather looks the same whether it's $20 or $200. Same goes for "alligator", "python", "crocodile", etc. It's all fake, so if that's the look you're going for let your budget be your guide. Nowadays manufacturers have gotten so savvy about replicating hides that, yes, I am the lady sticking her nose in the bag and inhaling. Even if it looks real and only costs $20 I'm not buying fake cowhide. This is where the purse world starts going haywire. You can also pay $200+ for a fake leather handbag by Michael Kors or Donna Karan.

I love shopping for handbags at TJ Maxx because the bags are stocked, all within reach, in every possible price range and in no discernable pecking order of price. It's great fun to plow through and be surprised at what turns out to be faux leather (won't buy it) and shocked at how much is the genuine Italian leather number looking no better than the fake (won't buy that either). The purse section is also fraught with traps. Shoppers get possessive and start slinging them on their arms as if letting one go would have it snatched up by the shopper next to her. I've been snapped at by someone who accused me of not saying "excuse me" as I reached near her. I had someone politely ask if should I change my mind about one I was holding would I let her know? Turns out her story was pretty compelling. She was flying to Washington the next day to meet some Congressperson about something worthwhile and had only the scruffy handbag she was carrying. Truly she needed it more than me. Such a worthwhile sacrifice for fashion and humanity!

Scratch a woman far enough and you might find she may, despite need or reason, be looking for the "perfect" black bag. It will be big enough to carry everything but not so big it looks like a tote. It will be simple but elegant, casual yet chic— i.e. go with everything. And it will be the travel bag of dreams when and if you ever take a trip. It will rest comfortably on your shoulder or in your hands and will have a few "secret compartments" for security.

Digression for family story about handbags and sibling rivalry: My Aunt Sally was a school teacher and never married. Although she worked summers as well and was the soul support of our grandmother, it appeared (to my mother at least) that Aunt Sally always had money to spend on herself. She had her hair done every week for heaven's sake! Aunt Sally was that wonderful kind of aunt who would treat her nieces to grown-up events like the matinee of a real Broadway touring company. One Saturday lunch when I was about 12, Aunt Sally asked if I would mind stopping at Bonwit Teller so she could take another look at a purse she'd been eyeing. I just remember it as a structured black leather bag. It was $40! Now $40 in 1954 money equals $337 today. Nothing new in inflationary handbag prices, is there? She bought it. This was so unimaginably shocking and thrilling that I just had to tell my mother. Which was a colossal mistake. My aunt was smart enough to know information like that would fuel the sisters' rivalry. She just didn't count on my being so attuned to life in the agora.

Like a confirmed bachelor who has recently found the girl of his dreams, I did just buy the perfect handbag. I didn't really think she'd be out there (having searched for so long) and wasn't desperately on the lookout, but didn't have my eyes closed either (a good way to find any kind of love). There it was, perched tantalizingly on a shelf at Nordstrom. Hesitating, I checked the price (no full price bag at Nordstrom that I like is ever less than $800). It was $245— only $29 in 1954 dollars. Aunt Sally still holds the record.

Mutton Dressed as Lamb

What a horrid expression. Even before I knew its meaning the image I had was Tenniel's illustration of Alice rowing the Sheep in "Through the Looking Glass". But that was a sheep wearing clothes. "Mutton dressed as lamb" is far worse. The expression refers to a scurrilous practice of British butchers to trim and display ("dress") a cut of mutton (old and tough) to resemble lamb (young and tender), thus pulling the wool over the consumer's eyes. It's current use describes an ageing woman who is dressed and/or made up as if she was much younger. She's usually thought to be delusional.

We've all seen women who are still dressed from the '80s although they're in their '70s. Those women have just given up and probably aren't reading this. Many women go to the other extreme and try so hard to avoid looking dressed too young that they suck all the fun out of new fashion and shopping for themselves. They are paralyzed they'll make this most horrid of fashion faux-pas. As mentioned, this is the number one question I get whispered in the fitting room. My answer of assurance is to point out that there is nothing inherently "young" about a beautiful color, a new and sophisticated cut, a perfect fit and/or a darn nice figure. Usually a woman knows if something looks good; it's the reassurance that's needed.

However there are some youngish details to avoid. As with all things Fashion there are Exceptions.
> Short puffed sleeves. A long puffed sleeve can be drapey and sophisticated, but a short one is little girl.
> Peter pan collars. They're back and— yes— they're very ironic on a sheer black Stella McCartney. But peter pan collars per se (especially on a puffed sleeve blouse in a ditsy print) are as ironic as lead.
> Ditsy prints. Ditsy prints are those twee little flower designs that used to be on your granny dress. Need I say more?
> Sleeveless. A lot depends on your arms. If you really want to invite envy show off your toned arms. Actually I wish you would; I love to see a woman with toned arms. If they're just "okay" and you feel okay about it, go for it. If you want to try a bit harder, find an armhole that has just a slight drape or extension onto the shoulder. You will look a bit better and probably relax a whole lot more.
> Length. Once again, your legs will tell you. But no one's knees are beautiful no matter your age. There is not one ideal hem length; it depends on the cut of the skirt. What you need to do is add the right leg covering.
Short pencil skirts worn under tunic tops, short flippy A-lines and fluffy party skirts need to be short enough to work the outfit but not higher than the lower third of your thigh. Knee-length (just at the top of the knee) is the standard ideal for daytime or dressed-up pencil and A-line skirts. The midi length is just below where knee meets leg (longer is just old). This is the length of the Mad Men pencil skirt, a softly full pleat or a walk-in-the-country tweed A-line. Today's long length can be a skinny sweater knit, a slight A-line silk or a full-blown ballgown. Your leg will still show as you move so coordinate with the shoe or boot you've chosen.
The rest of your leg needs tights (textured or plain) (color if you like that) for day and sheer or sheen colored hose (black or neutral) for evening. I'm so happy that sheer hose are back for day as well (supposedly we have Dutchess Kate to thank for that). Like a great face foundation, the right hose will just make it all look better without screaming cover-up. Modern day hose does have a bit of texture or shimmer. Let's all try it.
> Bows in the hair (think Sally on "Dick Van Dyke") or sashes tied as bows. Knot or obi-tie them instead.
> Overt sexuality (ie too much cleavage). Is your cleavage pleated? Think again.
> Screwy proportions. A short back pencil skirt with dark patterned hose? Check. With sky-high stilettos? No. Try a chunky strapped mid-high heel instead.

Chances are if you're fearful of looking age inappropriate you won't, but don't paint yourself into a "safe" corner. Harper's Bazaar has a great feature, "Fabulous at Every Age" anchored by a celebrity in her 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s or 70s+. She looks terrific, and the choices the editors select for each age are great, but I laugh because there's not that much difference in many of them. It's about putting together the right proportions for your body, never skimping on getting the perfect fit and wearing it like you own it. Because you do.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

W, W, W, W, W & H— Explained

WHO: I was born a distinctly pre-Beatles Michelle on July 23, 1942. You do the math.

WHAT: Allways in Fashion is a little riff on always being fashionable, in all ways— despite your age for sure. Notice there is a little "sin" in there. No blogs seem to address those nagging questions: "Is it okay to read "Lucky" at age 69?", "If it still fits me why can't I wear it?", "Just because I remember before there was tv, do I have to start wearing that?" These questions bother me more than the one I hear most frequently at the lovely upscale boutique where I work: "Am I too old for this?"

WHERE: Here. I'm not going to Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook or App you. I'm not going to get into fancy graphics either. That is a slippery slope for a former professional graphic designer.

WHEN: I'm starting now because I am under house arrest awaiting foot surgery when my shingles-of-the-face-and-eye clears up. I am indeed wearing my Halloween mask. I will write when I can and hope you will read when you can.

WHY: Like many Leos and recipients of Girl Scout Author badges, I like to share my thoughts and think I may finally have absorbed, observed and percolated enough to send them out.

HOW: I am a one-finger typist. Mother said, "Never learn to type so you won't become a secretary." She was a great typist, and a very smart lady.

Always Loving Audrey

The mother of all icons for me is Audrey Hepburn. She alone saved my adolescence. If Audrey could be considered "beautiful" when she wasn't even "pretty", there was hope. I still have piles of Audrey clippings dating from 1953. "Funny Face" was the movie that changed my life. I knew for sure I would move to New York and work for a fashion magazine. Which I did.

Digression for story to illustrate youth's determination and naivety: Audrey's character in the film, Jo, the shy bookstore clerk, work black stockings with her tweed jumper. I was driven to own a pair but had no idea where to find bohemian black stockings in 1957 Cleveland, Ohio. I could have tried a dance supply store but certainly had never seen any ballerinas in Cleveland. There were, however, plenty of nuns. So I took myself to the convent department of May Company. I bought a pair of opaque black cotton stockings that rolled around elastic garters. The saleswoman was very sweet and wished me luck in my calling to God. I am Jewish and was 15.

I once stopped a VHS tape of "Sabrina" at all the costume changes to sketch what Audrey was wearing (and try to replicate). I bought every book about her, until they proliferated without end. There are still fine new ones, especially Julia Demos' lovely picture book for children, "Being Audrey".

Over time, of course, I realized Audrey was more than a beautiful image. Her voice, manner, talent and real-life good deeds placed her into the stratosphere of icons. I just can't imagine there isn't a woman who doesn't find in Audrey something she would like to find in herself.

I still love Audrey. She protected me in those bittersweet moments of youth. To look like Audrey may be unattainable; to be like Audrey might be possible. She didn't coin it, but the journey is indeed the destination.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Myth of Mix & Match

There was a time great fashion minds wanted us to believe all our wardrobe woes would disappear with a carefully curated collection of staples— 2 pairs of pants, a cardigan, 2 blouses, tailored shirt, a skirt, two pairs of shoes— all in a basic color range: black or gray, white or beige. Maybe they'd give us a pop color to throw in. Everything had to be the best quality you could afford and fit like a dream (still good advice). There would be imperious equations with unlimited combinations to prove you would never again need worry what to wear. I went on a quest for those "perfect pieces", but was never satisfied. I was always buying another black cardigan or another white shirt or another pair of pants that would be more perfect. I ended up with a closet of clothes to wear when I wanted to disappear. Lesson learned: I'm not a basic kind of gal.

But what to do if you have a limited budget and a one-outfit-a-day lifestyle? The next advice I latched onto had me making sure any lovely piece I bought went with at least four other items I already owned. So the sheer butterfly-printed blouse did go with the green tweed skirt and the purple herringbone trousers and the brown cords and of course dark denim. But I only ever wore it with the green skirt because that combination looked dreamy. Each time I wore that outfit I either gave myself a compliment or received one during the day. Oh, I'd switch out tights and shoes and jewelry, but it was basically the lovely butterfly blouse and green tweed skirt. Lesson learned: Having one outfit that works is okay.

One outfit that works is not only okay, it's a problem solver, a time saver and a morale booster. It saves money because it won't be necessary to purchase further items to expand its wearability. In time the butterfly blouse may fly out of my radar (I tend to get bored after a while) or the green skirt may not suit the season (tweed in south Texas has a limited run), but while they work they work hard and make my outfitting effortless.