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 dot.com 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.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

You're Going on a Trip and You're Going to Pack...

Are we there yet?

Remember the car game "I'm Going on a Trip?" The first person would start with "I'm going on a trip and I'm going to pack an armadillo." The second person would name something beginning with the letter "b". "I'm going on a trip and I'm going to pack an armadillo and a bicycle". The next person would add something beginning with "c". "I'm going on a trip and I'm going to pack an armadillo, a bicycle and a cantaloupe." And so on ad infinitum until someone got carsick or you reached your destination.

Packing for a trip in real life rarely calls for an armadillo, maybe a bicycle, but never a cantaloupe due to FDA regulations. Packing is fraught with its own ABCs: Aggravation, Bureaucracy and Confusion.

Packing is an aggravation because you're never sure what to bring. No one can predict the weather for certain. You really don't know exactly what you'll be doing. You don't want to forget anything important. You haven't left yourself enough time to pack.

Packing is beholden to bureaucracy on account of the TAA, the aforementioned FDA and the airlines themselves as they charge us for bags and charge more the heavier they are.

Packing is one big exercise in confusion as you mix and match, fold and stuff, squoosh and sigh as the last piece makes it in.

Are you sorry yet you decided to go anywhere?

Variety is the spice of life— when you're in one place.

> For someone who likes a lot of options and not a lot of black, I tend to travel mainly in black and grey. I almost feel as if I am a stagehand in the Japanese kabuki; I'm not there to be seen. For once it isn't about me. It's about observing and absorbing a new place. Black and grey work better in the city than in the country though. For casual vacations I think "safari"— khakis or jeans, t-shirts and jackets to mix it up.

> I hate the thought of losing jewelry so I take less than I probably should. I have some "second best" gold hoop earrings that are small and secure enough to wear all the time. I usually decide on one chunky necklace and wear it with everything. Conclusion: don't travel with family heirlooms or anything you would feel terrible about losing.

> I find my packing is far more efficient if I'm challenged to fly carry-on only or am otherwise very limited. I get in trouble when I can transfer the contents of my closet to the rack we put up across the back seat of the car. I've been known to fill a duffel bag with shoes alone.

Wear it again, Sam.

> Over time I've learned my lesson about bringing new clothes, especially shoes and underwear. Bringing well-broken in shoes should be a no brainer. Just because they are comfortable, though, don't plan to wear the same pair every day.  I once invested in paper underwear for a trip to Europe. OK, I was young and foolish and lazy. That paper underwear was as uncomfortable as it sounds. I threw it away on day 3 and spent too much time in France and Italy buying cheap pantaloons. Even the new sweater you bought for the trip may ride up or the collar of that shirt won't lay flat. Pieces you thought would work together somehow don't. In other words, don't travel untested.

> If you disregard this advice, at least take the tags off anything new. I know someone who travelled with new pieces from a fancy boutique chain. She had not removed the tags; in transit the clothes were stolen from her suitcase (only those). 

> I've read the suggestion you should wear your oldest clothes on a long trip and just throw them away. Let's not go there.

Create a battle plan.

> As uncertain (and thrilling) as travel can be, do your homework about possible weather conditions, what activities to expect and what your travel companions may be bringing. If "the gals" are thinking a dress-up night will be part of the fun, you need to include those options.

> Carry an inexpensive pair of synthetic material shoes with you in case of rain. It's no fun to sightsee barefoot so as not to ruin your Jimmy Choos. And if you bring a (small packable) umbrella on your trip it surely won't rain!

> Check any backpacks or purses for outside openings that you were unaware existed. If you are in the habit of carrying an open tote or bag, put the contents in a zippered inner bag to discourage sticky fingers or other loss.

> Likewise clean out your cards to only the essentials: credit card (or 2), driver's license, health insurance, AAA. Do you really need your Houston public library card in Seattle?

The value of plastic (not for credit only)

> Pack cosmetics in zip-lock plastic bags. When you travel with liquids you run the risk of something spilling.

> Lay a dress or blouse inside a dry cleaner's plastic bag and roll it up loosely like a sausage. No wrinkles.

> Dry cleaner's bags or a couple of those plastic newspaper delivery sleeves are great stuffed into the toes of shoes to help keep their shapes.

> Pack groups of similar items like workout gear, bathing suit and coverup, lingerie, etc. in plastic sweater storage bags (often given to you by the dry cleaner or a reasonable one-time investment). Makes packing and unpacking a breeze especially if you're living out of a suitcase.

Last but not least

> Pack a small folding travel suitcase, especially if you'll be shopping. It's usually cheaper to pay for an extra bag than to pay overweight charges on the one. And remember: books are heavy!

> Make a master list of health and beauty essentials. I keep one on the computer and print it out. Tick the items off as you put them in your travel bag. I've expanded the list to include "airline tickets". Yes.

> Thanks to Ellen Greene for this sage advice: bring half as many clothes and twice the money. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Two out of Three Ain't Bad

Durell Godfrey, the girl Bill Cunningham shot three times (November 10), has just located two out of the three clips from the New York Times of the photos Bill took. They're pretty wonderful. Here's hoping she finds the third.
Durell turning the tables on Bill, 2005

Gifted Giving

When the Christmas cards at Marshall's start looking picked over and it's only November 13, you know it's coming! Yes, the time of year that starts out with the best intentions and ends with panic and wrapping presents in the bathroom Christmas morning.

Part and parcel to holiday festivities is the gifting— from the mulling to the searching to the deciding and finally the wrapping. It's the one time of year I switch gears from shopper with antennae all over the store to determined shopper with blinders. As both veteran inveterate shopper and savvy salesperson, I share these hints:

> Shop early and early in the week.
Mondays and Tuesdays are traditionally retail's slow days. If you shop in the morning right when the stores open merchandise is restocked, new products are out, and the sales staff is fresh and enthusiastic. If you go in right before closing even the sweetest associates will be looking at the clock. Try to avoid a shopping trip on Sunday. It's the hardest day for businesses to staff up so associates may be fewer, less experienced and more hassled.

> Buy them what they want.
If someone has specifically told you what she'd like, don't think you're not being creative by getting it for her. If your sister really wants those faux leopard gloves, buy them. She may truly be counting on it. Then do something fun like pack them in a box from animal crackers. Children in particular have curated lists and would prefer to accept no substitutes. On the other hand, if there is no list or no request, create away. One of the best gifts I ever got as a child (not asked for) was a real grown-up manicure set. Likewise as an adult one of the best gifts was a Be-a-Dress-Designer paper doll set.

> Look for generic gifts with a twist.
These are for people you don't know very well, like your child's teacher or a new boss.

Choose a luxury version of an everyday item, like gourmet olive oil, fabulous soaps or a beautiful blank journal. Think of things people might like but wouldn't buy for themselves.

Find something with the recipient's initial— a mug, a candle, a small purse. An initial makes even an ordinary item personal.

A magazine subscription is unexpected if you have an inkling of the recipient's interests, and it's the gift that keeps on giving.

Add on a little something to a gift card. If you are giving a restaurant card, wrap it with a menu. Or "frame" a gift card in a small frame that can be used again.

> It's okay to give money.
The service people you usually gift at the holidays (hairdresser, custodian, etc.) consider cash the best gift of all. As do the teenagers on your list. And cash is preferable to check. Personalize the gift with a small add-on— homemade goodies or a luxury chocolate bar or tuck the $$ into a fun pair of mittens (one-size-fits-all stretchy mittens sell for about a dollar). For a teenager you can wire bills onto a small table-top Christmas tree. Even ten one-dollar bills look pretty spectacular if the tree is small enough.

> It's a wrap.
You don't have to spend a fortune on fancy wrapping paper. You can buy a roll of butcher paper and rough twine that looks like straw (at a home supply or hardware store). Then slip a bit of fragrant greenery (thyme, rosemary or evergreen sprig) through the bow.

Use the cheapest dollar-store wrapping paper you can find for kids' gifts. The quality isn't great but it rips easily and noisily, which is all that matters.

Foreign newspapers (especially from Asia) also make gorgeous grapphic wrapping paper.

One family I know "re-gifts" the same Tiffany blue box year after year. Whoever gets it one year is beholden to give it to someone else the next, usually filled with a gag gift.

Speaking of boxes, don't seriously pack a gift into a box where the gift was not purchased. I've been on the receiving end of that as a sales associate. It's embarrassing for the recipient trying to return and embarrassing for the giver in absentia. You would never ever do that, right?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Bit of Biba

Anyone who knows me expects my eyes to glaze over and a far-away dreamy look to appear when I hear the word "Biba". I am being transported back to a magical time and place, all the more so because it was gone so quickly and not ever forgotten. Ask me about Biba and you'd better have six hours to listen. Before I get all angora-kitten-nostalgic let me give you the hard facts why Biba is so memorable:

> It began on a vision and a shoestring with no real business plan and was an immediate success.

> Biba appeared at just the right moment. The Beatles were at the height of their popularity, everything Swinging London was cool, young women of the 60s were far different from any other era. They were working; they had disposable income; fashion was meant to be fun, and Biba was cheap.

> It was the first time a designer, Barbara Hulanicki, took styles from many vintages, mixed them all together and showed them off with current hair and makeup. She raided Victorian, Edwardian, 1920s, 1930s and 1940s archives for her inspiration. The Biba girl was dreamy and a little sullen. She could be a vixen or a child-woman. There was never just one look but it was always Biba.

> Everything Biba produced was in the same off-kilter color palette. Black of course. Aubergine, old rose, puce, muddled cocoa, taupe, twice washed evergreen. Not only would everything work together it was as distinctive as if you wore (the very distinctive) label on the outside.

> As a merchandising concept Biba grew to brand everything— from blouses and skirts to baked beans and dog biscuits. You could go Biba from cradle to grave. That of course was its undoing.

The first Biba store opened in London in Kensington in 1964. It was the brainchild of Barbara Hulanicki and her husband Stephen Fitz-Simon. Barbara had trained as a fashion illustrator. Her first success as a designer was in selling simple, cheap frocks for young women through the newspaper. A second store in the neighborhood replaced the first a year later. There was only ever one branch, briefly, in Brighton, Barbara's home town. 1969 saw Biba move onto Kensington High Street in yet a larger store. In 1968 the company launched a mail order catalogue with iconic photography and graphics.
Illustrations from the mail order catalogue
A collection of Biba looks
You went to Biba immediately after throwing your suitcase in your hotel room. Jet lag? What jeg lag? And you went every day thereafter because every day meant new merchandise. It was stocked floor to ceiling. You could put together an entire look, head to toe, for what a dress alone might set you back elsewhere. The store was kept purposely dark, the rock music blaring. There were sales assistants who were living mannequins. They weren't really there to help you and would not speak unless spoken to.
Living mannequins aka salesgirls at Biba
A few things stand out that I bought: a rubberized raincoat in a lilac-tinged grey— cut high under the arms, puffed sleeves (imagine puffing rubber!), funnel neck, A-line. It was 100% waterproof outside and and a sweat lodge inside, a dirty pink jersey collarless coat and matching stovepipe pants, and a soupy green jersey jumpsuit. I learned early on that wearing a jumpsuit all day could be challenging. I brought back a pile of felted jersey cloche flapper hats for my office mates. 

Don't think we were running over to London every few months; we weren't. But I had a British friend who was kind enough to send me the catalogues. I selected what I wanted. She ordered them sent to her then shipped the lot to me in New York. It seemed to take months, but it was so worth it.

In the early 70s Biba struck a deal with Bergdorf Goodman to open a Biba sub-shop in the New York store. Far from the answer to my prayers, the clothes were disappointingly basic and priced as per Bergdorf's not Biba. However, I was able to restock my favorite Biba lipstick in Mahogany. I paid $10 a tube, equal to $46 today.

In 1974 Biba took over a 1930's era department store, Derry & Toms, also on Kensington High Street. This was a massive undertaking, from the basement to the roof garden. It featured children's and men's departments, home furnishings, a food hall, restaurant, etc. It became a celebrity hangout and, naturally, a tourist attraction. But it was too much of an undertaking. Managers were called in who ultimately deposed the founders and creative forces. While it didn't implode it might as well have. "Big Biba" closed in 1975. I was there once for about five minutes. It just made me uncomfortable, and I didn't understand why until many years later after my first trip to Disneyworld.

Barbara Hulanicki in the 1970s
Barbara today
Barbara Hulanicki is an interesting study. She didn't let the demise of Biba pull her down. She went on to become a successful interior designer, especially in Miami and the Caribbean. She hasn't been cooperative or too kind regarding various relaunches under the Biba name (none of which have involved her), but she continues to design clothing, home items, and interiors. She wrote a wrenchingly honest autobigraphy about her Biba experience. My guess is that for her too, it was a magical time.
The face of Biba in a photograph by Sarah Moon