Sunday, January 29, 2012

When Did Trendy Become Unfashionable?

Does this make my trend look too big?

The other day, at the Lovely Boutique where I work, a young woman was contemplating the purchase of a blouse. She obviously liked it; customers do not leave the privacy of their dressing rooms for a look in the communal three-way mirror if they are not liking what they are wearing. It was a silk black and white abstract print with wide black silk bands at the bateau-cut neck and shoulders. Open spaces where the bands crossed— an unusual, fairly dramatic piece that did indeed flatter her.

I rarely hear "Does this make my butt look big?" More often it's "Am I too old for this?" This young woman asked "Is it too trendy?" By the look on her face "too trendy" would have been a mortal sin. In any case her blouse was one-off enough not to be called trendy. I answered with "not if you call unique, sophisticated and fashion-forward too trendy." By her smile I realized this was the answer she was hoping for, but there had been a genuine fear of appearing "too trendy".

Interestingly, a fellow customer added her two cents to this brief encounter as she passed by. "No, it's not too trendy", she said. "Too trendy is when everyone's wearing it and most of them don't look good in it."
So true. So true. Skinny jeans, anyone?

So what are the definitions for "trendy"?

As well as

Something trendy can begin as weird until it is picked up by fashionable sources like models, celebrity stylists, fashion press and designers. Their endorsement trends it into the mainstream where it becomes less trendy the more people adopt it. Obviously not everyone chooses trends that are flattering to them (those skinny jeans again), and a trend becomes an element to be avoided by those who fear being labelled— well— trendy.

The designer Claire McCardell once advised if you are the first to wear a trend expect to be stared at and talked about. So the trendmeister needs to sport an air of confidence. It also helps if she loves the limelight and has a thick skin. 

Trendy is a slippery slope, a rutted road, a prickly precipice. It's worth the journey if you are are a true fashionista. For a trend setter, the journey is the destination.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Wallace Windsor's Secrets Revealed!

Wallis with her Prince Charming on their wedding day

There are two secrets Bessie Wallis Warfield Spencer Simpson Windsor carried to her grave. The first is why she looked so unhappy in many of the photos taken of her with her husband Edward, Duke of Windsor and formerly King of England. And there were many taken of them together. In the happy candid snaps, romping with the dogs and/or each other, they look relaxed and adorable (dogs included). It's in the many formal, posed portraits that Wallis adopts a far away gaze and less than happy countenance. In the wedding pictures especially the poor woman looks as if she feels the noose tightening as the yoke slips in place. Why would she not be ecstatic that at last she will be with the man of her dreams who gave up the throne to be with her (not to mention the baubles that kept on coming)?
Not much happier years later
It is because, according to a new book, "That Woman" by Anne Sebba, Wallis never expected her affair to go so far and certainly never wanted Edward to abdicate. He convinced her that if she left him he could not go on. Believing that suicide of the king over a love affair would taint the royal family more than the alternative, she agreed to marry him. This information came to the author by way of heretofore unpublished letters between Wallis and her second husband, Ernest Simpson. They were on more than good terms throughout Ernest's cooked-up affair to end the marriage and allow Wallis her freedom to marry Edward (also making this her second divorce). Wallis confided her thoughts to Ernest all the while making sure he was doing okay. The letters were kept in the family and only recently revealed by Ernest's now-elderly son with his wife after Wallis. The whole thing is so intriguing I have pre-ordered the book from Amazon and am waiting breathlessly for delivery in February.
That book
The second secret is one I have deduced myself. What was this woman's power over men? She was never a beauty. She was thin, I'll say that, but most men do not go for thin over— shall we say?— developed. She wore clothes well because she had the sense to know what looked good on her and have it tailored to perfection. Rumors abound she had gained knowledge of an erotic nature "in the Orient". What she did have— and she had it in spades— was confidence in herself. Whatever her private miseries over the affair that toppled a king, she never showed anything other than composure. She held her head high; she looked the picture of grace; she oozed it.

If the letters and Anne Sebba's conclusions are correct, Wallis spent almost fifty years in a role she had not willingly chosen and did not relish. Wallis played her part well. She could not have done it without being confident she had the resolve and resources to pull it off.

What I don't know, of course, is exactly where Wallis got her confidence— from her widowed mother who encouraged her daughter to pursue society life with neither pedigree, funds or looks? Did she take from Edward's utter devotion the confidence to maintain hers? What I do know is any woman who exudes confidence inspires others to be confident in them. If you act brave, you will be brave. If you act gracious, you will be gracious. And if you act beautiful, you will be beautiful.

Okay, class, got the lesson?

Expect to see a lot more about Wallis as Madonna's movie, "WE", comes to the screen. Supposedly it has a modern twist and is not completely about the Love Story of the Century. It will certainly start the discussion rolling about what was Wallis' power. Now you know.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Life's Lost Little Luxuries #6: The Spring Coat

It was this kind of day.
Houston is either hot or cold. So it was a rare treat today that it felt like Spring— clear, sunny skies with a crispness in the air, weeds greening in my front yard. It brought to mind the Annual Purchase of the Spring Coat. This may have been fashion's way of shedding skins. We didn't know about layers then in northern Ohio. The winter coat was one garment that felt as if you were wearing another person. It kept you warm, supposedly, once you learned to walk in it. The spring coat was that transition piece between seasons. Of course in Ohio it could snow one week and hit 80 the next.

Although it was needed rarely, every Spring called for a spring coat. Because I wore it so infrequently, and then only for dress-up occasions, I really don't remember the spring coats of my childhood. I do remember one because it was such a horror. The shopping experience elicited a major battle of wills between my mother and me. I won but got what I wished for— a bilious green fluffy "topper" rather than the classically styled red wool "car coat" of my mother's choosing. Never mind that mint green is a hot color this year. I'll bet there's minimal bile in it. I wore the green monster (as little as possible) for one season. Mercifully my mother made it disappear. I've secretly lusted for that red coat since, and one spring day may indeed find it again.
It was worse than this.
The spring coat ritual stopped when the raincoat took over. By the late '50s - early '60s the toppers that begat car coats begat raincoats that begat (and are still producing) umpteen versions of the trench coat. Practical, flattering and long-lasting, the trench coat killed the spring coat. While the goal has always been to own the genuine Burberry article, I never have. My money has been spent on cheap imitations,  studiously avoiding the iconic plaid lining. If you were like me, an art student, you didn't clean it. The more beat it became, the more beatnik you appeared.

Audrey gave the trench coat her stylish stamp of approval.
Today the trench coat is still a wardrobe staple. It's available year round in a plethora of price points and style tweaks. It's still practical, flattering, long-lasting, and every gal should have one. But its purchase doesn't herald the earth's rebirth and the promise of daffodils.

The trench coat co-existing with daffodils

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Stocking Up for the Inevitable

Eight tracks are never coming back. We've gotten used to the idea that our favorite lipsticks and nail polishes will also disappear. It doesn't pay to hoard lipstick— I've tried and ended up with 4 sticky, flaky tubes of mess. A bottle of nail polish lasts so long I'm hoping to get tired of "Bling Dynasty" by the time I reach The End.

But I just received (and paid dearly for) two jars of Neutrogena Visibly Firm Night Cream from someone in Tennessee selling it through Amazon. Trust me, it wasn't easy to find. The seller posted "only 8 jars remaining". I did toy with the idea of cutting down on food and buying all eight jars. Then I realized sooner or later I will have to surrender and hope my face does not suddenly drop to the floor.

There is a story in our family about my Aunt Jean. With the approach of rationing during WWII she did exactly what the government cautioned against— bought a massive supply of canned goods and stored them in her basement. Supposedly all the can labels were washed off in a flood (which must have been of biblical proportions), and her immediate family spent the war years playing "What's in the Can?" at mealtimes. Aunt Jean was not the favorite sister. I've long suspected this story to be apocryphal, but the thought occurred to me as I stashed away the jars of Neutogena that I better secure them on a high shelf.

There are certainly some items no longer available I wish I'd bought more of:

> DKNY lingerie bodysuits— grown up onesizes that take the place of multiple undergarments. Mine are certainly growing thin with wear and washing.

> Coty Airspun Powder in the original 1930s packaging that was available until recently. Someone decided the box should now be plastic and ugly.

> Those gel bubble bath capsules that were a staple of drugstores and dime stores and now must be landfill.

> Danskin cap-sleeved leotards in an array of colors withOUT a snap crotch. These have been my bathing suits for eons. Thank goodness they wear like iron.

> A real terry cloth bathrobe— not this velour or French terry stuff.

> Milkmaid cosmetics— for little girls but I can still smell the toilet water.

I know, the list is long of wonderful staples that are still with us— from Minnetonka moccasins to Vicks Vaporub. There are certainly enough things I never want to see again— from garter belts to girdles and including eight tracks. But who decides what gets manufactured and what sees the chopping block? Could there not be a National Face Cream Board or at least a warning notice on the label? Could there really be something better than Active Copper Ingredients? Wait a minute... you heard what?... You don't say?... Sign me up for a trial sample!

Friday, January 20, 2012

The First Fashion Blogger?

As further proof (other than Downton Abbey) that privileged Englishwomen had little to occupy their time, here comes "A Lady of Fashion: Barbara Johnson's Album of Styles and Fabrics". Sounds like one of the housewives of Wisteria Lane, doesn't she? No, Barbara Johnson lived from 1738-1825 and during her lifetime compiled a scrapbook of fabric samples and descriptions for myriads of garments that had been made for her. The book is a facsimile reproduced at actual size and will set you back a cool $466.56 for a new one (used copies starting at $99.31).

Where did I see this? While trolling around under "Fashion Style". There are over 11,000 listings. This was on only the 25th page. Thank goodness. It is not a new book (as an old book) either, having been published in 1987. The editor, Natalie Rothstein, was affiliated with the Victoria & Albert Museum. Inside the "oversize quarto" (library speak for coffee table book) is page after page of fabric samples, illustrated clippings from magazines of the day and handwritten descriptions of the clothing. There seems to be an extensive introduction as well.

Miss Johnson began her lifelong project at age eight in 1746 and continued until her death in 1825. Natalie Rothstein was able to identify that Barbrara was the spinster daughter of a clerical family and moved on the fringes of London society. She spent time in London, Norfolk and Bath.

From "The Study of Dress History" (2002):

This is a curious object because it is simply an old accounts ledger, but one in which one woman pinned samples of fabric of all the dresses she wore and then noted alongside details of price, date and occasion for which the dress was made. Even more astonishing is the fact that Miss Johnson did this over a period of nearly eighty years... 

The album came up for auction at Christies in 1973 and after some desperate fund raising it was purchased for the Victoria and Albert Museum. Turning over the pages of this album is almost like hearing Miss Johnson's voice speaking about her clothes, whether they were for weddings, funerals, or visits to smart relatives in London and Bath. The note written carefully in black ink alongside a small sample of medium-weight cotton printed with a tiny speckled repeat design in grey and mauve, reads: 'A Stormont Cotten gown and petticoat, ten yards, two shillings a yard. April 1788, mourning for Aunt Johnson.' This modest little print is indeed in the exact etiquette-correct colours of half mourning. 

Another mourning fabric chosen twenty years later is described as 'a black Chambery muslin, seven yards, half a crown a yard. Made in Bath. June 1808, mourning for my dear friend Mrs. Wodhull.' This little note tells us that even when elderly, Miss Johnson was still keeping up with the latest fashion fabrics by turning to the lighter silk and cotton materials fashionable in the early nineteenth century." 

Oh please let there be a garage sale in my neighborhood where I will pick up this little treasure for a song!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

From the mouth of a babe...

Renee and her oldest babe, Zavier

I'm beginning to realize I know some very fashion-wise women. Years of experience has nothing to do with it.

Renee Lara is way too young to have become so smart. She must have been born that way. Renee is a fashion stylist in Portland. We were co-workers briefly at the lovely boutique where I work. She has a busybusybusy life and a beautiful young family but knows how important it is not to forget about oneself.

Here are some wise words from a lovely woman:

Ever notice after waiting in line at your local coffee shop, the lady or man in front of you is buzzing with nerves of excitement to get that drink in their hand and start their day? It's like magic! They are validated, assured, that whatever they have facing them that day... they can handle it with ease/confidence.

As a fashion stylist... I look at making decisions with my wardrobe in the same light. When we are constantly juggling life, kids, getting to work on time... why not take an extra moment to reboot/recharge with how we dress?

So here's my tip for you ladies, heading into the New Year...
When you are about to rush out the door tomorrow morning to work... or busting out to the grocery store with two exuberant kids, take a minute to add on. Yes... ADD!

Remember that cocktail ring you only bring out on date nite? Ummmm... it's gorgeous... wear it Tuesday to work.

How about that lush red polish you have under your sink? Whip it on those nails like lightning. Who cares how perfect the strokes are?

Who says you can't wear Chanel to the market? I did... today. Sprayed on a spritz of Her Best before going to my two-year-old's gym class.

Do you own an incredible top you just love and cherish in your closet, yet never wear? Too special to touch? Girl, throw it on under your jean jacket and rock it!

My point... take a minute for you. You deserve it. And believe me... your day will thank you for it.

Renee, please forgive me for calling you a babe. I mean that in the best red-nail-polish sort of way!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Divine Ms. Diane

Diane, are you available for lunch?

How could I forget to include Diane Von Furstenburg in the list of Ladies We Love? What a personality powerhouse and fashion heroine! I guess it would be enough for her to have invented that iconic wrap dress back in the '70s (which unfortunately never flattered me), but she is still creating, inspiring, mentoring and happily living her own very glamorous life.

Diane has a great back story, which involves becoming a princess by marrying lesser royalty (Prince Egon Von Furstenburg of Germany). She jet-setted her way around the '60s as half of a Beautiful Couple and then— The Dress. That dress begot her design business which has morphed over time to include fragrance and home product as well as fashion. She and her current husband, Barry Diller, are involved with a lengthy list of charities. Since 2009 Diane has also been president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, promoting American design and mentoring new talent. At age 65 she is still her best model and spokesperson.

I have a gauge that decides how I feel about a celebrity. My favorites are someone with whom I would like to spend an afternoon lunching, shopping and generally shooting the breeze. Over the years that has included Bette Midler and  (yes) Roseanne Barr. Martha Stewart, for example, would be too daunting a prospect. I just know Diane von Furstenburg  and I would be great friends.
That dress— 2009 version
Barry and Diane— Beautiful Couple part 2

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Ab Fab Fabulous

Edina and Patsy,  forever fabulous

With trepidation I look forward to the return of Ab Fab on BBC America with three 20th anniversary celebratory episodes. By all accounts the women are as gritty, funny and— well— ab fab fabulous as ever. Has it really been twenty years since Patsy threw herself down the stairs into Edina's kitchen, high on something and non-plussed at her entrance? Is it possible Edina still does not have a clue there really is a difference between fashionable and wearable?

For those of you not familiar with Patsy and Edina (could you not be?), the two are on the periphery of London movers and shakers in the worlds of fashion and PR respectively. They think they are the cat's pajamas and way cooler than in fact they are. No matter how many times the two best friends are snubbed or mocked or how often their shenanigans fall apart, they pick themselves up (or more likely hoist and plaster themselves together) to begin anew.

Patsy dresses in fashion-editor-stereotypical all-black, is thin as a rail with a plastered blonde beehive and way too much makeup (though artfully applied). She is supposed to look like an overdone minimalist, but there is indeed something classic and sophisticated in the look. She dresses as if she is so sure of herself she hasn't needed to change a thing since the '90s. In any case she's been too busy with the business of debauchery to bother. Edina, on the other hand, gravitates to any and every fashion trend Couture sends down the runway. We're never sure of her shape as she is the Mistress of All Layers. She doesn't know how to edit, and that puts it mildly.

I am a little fearful this time around as I hope their un-pc behavior and remarks never pass beyond satirical into the mean-spirited. And I hope Edina in particular does not remind me of how I may have looked one day last week. How many of us fear just a little, and maybe only in moments of the wildest bouts of self-doubt, that we may fall victim to the woman who refuses to see what everyone else knows— that she hasn't changed her look in eons or that she changes it at warp speed and willy-nilly to boot? Patsy and Edina's saving graces are that they are totally unaware.

Because we love them, and all their inappropriate behavior, we are happy for the bliss of their ignorance. I never want Ab Fab to end with the two of them waking up and realize what fools they were. Ignorance is bliss, and for sure Sunday night BBC America will be home to 40 minutes of bliss.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Life's Lost Little Luxuries #5: Playing Dress Up

We practiced a lot

New Year's Eve I had the opportunity to channel my inner Ida Lupino and attend a 1940's-style dance complete with swing band and request to dress "in the mood". I agonized over what to wear as I wanted to be a respectful homage to that era and not appear as if in costume.
The glamorous Ida Lupino
 I found a red jersey dress on the racks at TJ Maxx with interesting seaming around the torso and enough stretch at the shoulders to insert 1970s-era shoulder pads. Seamed stockings (ok they were pantyhose), some vintage costume jewelry and a feather fascinator with veil (thanks to the Royal Wedding for making that easy to find). A dainty evening bag. Red lipstick of course. Heavy on the perfume and pancake. A thrift shop persian lamb chubby with mink collar that has miraculously survived the decades intact. 

I had the most fun getting ready and spent an inordinate amount of time doing it. I couldn't stop thinking how nice it must have been to treat going out with such care. Nowadays we seem to vault from one activity to another and actually relish the idea of quick-change outfits that go from day-to-night and maybe back again. I changed into a "wrapper" (aka my bathrobe), stripped all the day's grime from my face and started spackling afresh. I used lots of eau de parfum, the Good Stuff, sprayed on to tickle my senses as I worked. Note to self: Use more of the Good Stuff on a regular basis. It's only going to evaporate, right? 

As I traveled back in time I thought about the night ahead. I know going out in the evening was a rare treat for my mother. It was impossible to pull my dad off the couch after dinner during the week. Weekend days were either chores or family events, then back to the couch. But sometimes my mom would have the opportunity to transform herself into another personage. I was excited to see how I would look as the star of my own B movie. In the end it was a bit like my mother, whose name was also Ida. But I also felt very Glamorous and ready to usher in a beautiful New Year.

And I wish you the same.

Sunday, January 1, 2012


So be it! Would that I could snap my fingers and all my resolves would be solved. I don't think there's anything wrong with the practice of New Year's resolutions. Occasional introspection is always a good thing, and the occasion of a New Year calls for a combination of resolve and solutions.

At this stage I don't need a list to remind myself of foibles that need fixing, and I won't treat the blog as a confessional in matters other than those of Fashion. In the spirit of the season, then, here are


1) Purge my closet of those items that stare at me with reproach as if to say, "Why haven't you worn me for six months?"

2) Purge the items that have been sitting in under-bed storage to make room for those newly purged from the closet.

3) Get rid of comfortable shoes that are worn beyond repair.

4) Ditto uncomfortable shoes that were never worn. Needless to say I have enough to shod a small third world country.

5) Wear the Good Stuff. Yes that blouse cost more than I should have paid, but I'm not taking it back, am I? So wear it already.

6) Try on the combination that works so well in my head before I have three minutes to leave the house.

7) Better yet pull it all together the night before.

8) End the nerve-wracking practice of packing at the last minute. How many times do I have to end up without key accessories at my destination?

9) Give more compliments. I know how nice it is to get them.

10) Stop looking for the perfect black handbag. I found it four months ago!

11) Stop buying clothes for occasions that are not in my game plan or social strata. I still have not worn that sparkly leopard evening coat (though we are still going to Miami this year).

12) Dress my age. That is, don't dress "old" but picture that outfit on my real self not the Satchel Paige age I've decided I am.

And the unspoken resolution? Don't be too hard on myself if this resolve... dissolves.