Friday, July 27, 2012

Back to School Blues...

... and reds and plaids and sweaters oh my!

It's that time again, when a woman's fancy turns to thoughts of love— as in fall clothes and what to love. Despite Houston weather (think Sahara heat partnered with sub-continent mosquitoes), I love summer. So why does the first hint of transitional apparel in the stores get me thinking not only about what's to come but what was back-to-school shopping back when there was school in my life?

Not much changed in the land of the Liliputian Bazaar

The season began with the arrival in early August of Best & Co.'s children's catalog. This looked old-fashioned even in the '50s, with its finely detailed black and white illustrations of impossibly angelic children in stiffly traditional clothing. We rarely visited Best & Co. The store sold better women's and children's clothing that was somewhat aspirational but still affordable for a special occasion. It was also not downtown but plopped in a semi-suburban strip mall that held little else to entice. May have been the stuffiness of the actual catalog, but its appearance was a harbinger of doom and the official beginning of the End of Summer.

Take a deep breath...

On the other hand, the arrival of my nine-years-older sister's copy of August Seventeen got me shreaming— dreaming of shopping— for all those cute teenage outfits that I was nine years too young to wear. Oversized at a hefty 10" x 13", it weighed enough to hold open a door and was printed in full glorious color.  Little has been written about the olfactory factor in fashion, but the smell of Seventeen— a mix of better-newsprint pulp and rotogravure ink— was heady perfume.

The Hathaway girls were not from St. Trinian's...

Nowadays I see the advantages of school uniforms. What a time-and-stress saver! School uniforms are intended to diffuse any questions of whose parents can afford the trendiest togs (though I think shoes have taken over that function). When I was in school, a uniform meant the exact opposite— your parents were rich and Waspy enough to send you to private school, in my neighborhood that was Hathaway School for Girls.

You needed at least seven

By high school, the thought of a uniform would have been anathema. In the land of I-have-a-different-cashmere-sweater-for-every-day-of-the-week, I had one (usually worn on Monday). Junior year of high school Irene Parker, a popular cheerleader, promised she would only wear black-and-white for the next two years. Her declaration was not in the interest of flying in the face of cashmere discrimination but rather an attempt to "save up" her clothing allowance for college. And so she appears in all the yearbook shots I have of her— in a white shirt and black cardigan or black turtleneck sweater with her black pencil skirt. She looks pretty cool.

                              * * * * *

What prompted this post was my interaction with a customer at the Lovely Boutique Where I Work. She was looking for practical yet fun clothes to wear on the job as a kindergarten teacher. When I asked if she was ready to go back to school (schools re-open early in Texas), she lamented, with a smile, that "No, summer is too short, but at least there's back to school shopping!"

Monday, July 23, 2012

Take Your Marc!

Get ready... get set... Marc Jacobs has done it again. We all laughed (or cringed) at Grunge in 1992, but guess what? We are still wearing versions of it many seasons later.
Grunge on the grange 1992

Now we have Marc Jacobs in a happy happy, joy joy state of mind. Has he gone off in pursuit of his tribal roots in Japanese anime, or has he just had some colorful dreams lately? Well, it sure is fun.

Happy days are here again
Supposedly his inspiration was Cindy Sherman's clown photographs. But to me the look is as much as if Busby Berkely musicals were suddenly in color or if Henry Darger's work was not quite as disturbing. Surely Marc must have seen some of Duro Olowu's interpretations of African style with their lovely pairings of pattern and cut.

Just when you thought you had mastered color-blocking, here comes a Master Mixmaster to mix things up again. Sign me on!
Clown by Cindy Sherman
Is Marc clowning around?
Henry Darger's little darlings
Duro Olowu wows as well

Friday, July 20, 2012

Hello, Gypsy

"She was a gypsy woman..."

"Hippie" has not worn well in Fashion's lexicon. In the beginning it stood for counter-culture youth poised to take over America. Later "hippie" applied to anyone who appeared not to work or not to wash or both. When the "hippie look" inevitably trickled up from the young and strapped to the established and cashed, the correct descriptive was "Bohemian" or "Boho". As the style has been repeated in the years since Woodstock it has also been known as "Bohemian Chic", thus giving the green light to Oscar de la Renta for $4,000 price tags.

Woodstock never looked this good... or clean

Note: Boho never referenced the area around Bowery and Houston in New York City, just as it has no real connection to either Bohemia the country or La Boheme, the opera. "Bohemian" shares closet space with "Folkloric" and "Ethnic". Anna Sui has been referencing all three for years.

'70s Socialite Talitha Getty in Bohemian Chic

Now, according to the New York Times, comes the great "let's call a spade a spade" moment. The newest incarnation of hippie is now being called—simply— Gypsy. That word would say it all: wild, romantic, mysterious, colorful and the polar opposite of Chanel's dictate to take off the last thing you put on. As to the gypsy look— more is definitely more. We've yet to see the full impact of the nascent rustlings of multiple bangles and layered scarves, but designers have embraced it full-force before (Giorgio Sant' Angelo and Yves St. Laurent). It's a look— or a lifestyle longing— that has never really gone away.

Oh, Giorgio...

I love it, of course. But "being of a certain age" one must steer clear of looking like a bag lady (from Bowery-Houston) by appearing to wear everything one owns all at once. The only woman who can get away with that is the magical Iris Apfel. The rest of us will have to show a little restraint.

The Iris of my eye...

Sunday, July 8, 2012

I Was a Glamour Don't

It's true; I was a Glamour Don't— and more than once, mind you. Lest you imagine I must have seen the error of my ways to result in my current state of fabulousness (irony), I will tell you it occurred when I was on staff at the magazine (from 1965 to 1989). We staffers often did double-duty as models or extras in shoots, and the story of Dos and Don'ts is an interesting one.

Glamour's Dos and Don'ts are hands-down their most popular feature. Though fashion is fickle, and one year's "don't" can be next year's "do", there will always be those who get it wrong or just don't get "it" at all— "it" being a modicum of good taste. The magazine started running a regular column of candid photos in the early 1960s. Redesigns and new editors have not eliminated the Dos and Don'ts feature, which keeps chugging along and has spawned two books: "The Glamour Dos and Don'ts Hall of Fame" (1992) and "Glamour's Big Book of Dos and Don'ts" (2006). In the early days all the shots were genuinely candid, with black bars superimposed over faces to protect the guilty. One of the junior photographers (not a big gun but perhaps his/her assistant) and a fashion editor would hit the New York City streets, parks or nearby beaches, with an agenda in mind. In summer it was surely bathing suits, but it could be undersized skirts or over-sized shoulders, too big hair, too much cleavage or jeansjeansjeans. The magazine started to receive letters from irate readers all over the country objecting to being labelled as "don'ts". One particularly poignant letter came from a mother in California who berated us for photographing her overweight daughter (in a skimpy bathing suit) as it was such a blow to the daughter's self-esteem. Despite the fact that the letter-writers were obviously mistaken, lawyers advised the column should be "staged", and so it was for the remainder of my time there.

Although I still have frayed and yellowing clips of Ali McGraw from her "Love Story" days, I failed to keep tear sheets of my published appearances. I did make "Hall of Fame" and am on page 25 enveloped in a fox fur chubby that I wore seriously and still do not think qualifies as a "don't". I bought it for the equivalent of $25 at an outdoor flea market in London in the early 70s, and that is an authentic Biba cloche on my head. I wore that jacket to death (well, its second death). I have no PETA-related regrets as it must have died the first time around 1930. I also loved those pants, though I see now they were too short. The point of the photo at the time was my carrying a straw tote bag in the dead of winter!
C'est moi

The current issue of Glamour still has a Dos and Don'ts feature. This time around the dos are celebrities (one is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth). The don'ts are still concealed with black bars and look to be celebrities as well but of minor wattage.

QEII rockin' a flower print
For some time the phrase "Dos and Don'ts" has been copyrighted. You can plainly see a register mark to the upper right of the second "s". This was brought to our attention rather pointedly when another magazine I worked at some years later included "Dos and Don'ts" in a fashion feature. There followed a frosty letter from then editor-in-chief Ruth Whitney chastising us for not noticing the register mark and cooly suggesting we refrain from doing that again.

My Glamour days were, in retrospect, quite glamorous (although it used to annoy me greatly whenever anyone punned that suggestion). Imagine doing exactly what you wanted to be doing five days a week and getting paid for it??? Later jobs may have expanded my intellect and stretched my creativity, but those 24 years as a cog in the fashionable wheel of Conde Nast are the stuff of stories. Like this one.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Workin' it with a Personal Shopper

Find someone whose style you admire

I've written before about the benefits of working with a Personal Shopper. Almost every store at any price point has one person or even a team dedicated to the task. The Personal Shopper experience can be a godsend, a problem solver, a confidence booster and an overall step up into the wonderful world of looking fabulous. Imagine someone whose sole purpose is to use her skills to enhance you. Instead of thinking Cinderella (you) and Fairy Godmother (her), consider this a partnership. Like any good working relationship, communication is key. Herewith to remember:

A Personal Shopper is not a fortune teller.
She may predict the future ("You are going to love dancing in this dress") better than she can look into your past to read your fears and foibles. So be honest with her. If you hate to show your arms or never wear brown, tell her. Then be prepared to just try a piece that cleverly bares-yet-covers your arms in a lovely shade of cocoa. Part of the Experience is the just try it part.

Give it time.
Don't run in last minute on your way to the dentist. Even if this is not a full-blown Personal Shopping Appointment, allow a stylist time to work with you— to read you and between the lines. It might fit, but you might not like it. You might like it, but it may not fit. There's a measure of give-and-take even in working with a Personal Shopper, so don't let that long list of chores get in the way.

Be realistic.
You shouldn't expect to emerge fully transformed from one styling session. This is not "What Not to Wear". You will still have your other wardrobe (and attitude therein) to deal with, as well as the new hair and makeup that often accompanies a transformation. Not to mention the ever-important new foundation pieces. You may think you are shopping for a look for just this one special occasion. The results may open up a whole new look at your closet and your style. Even if you're a butterfly already and are using the Personal Shopper in your favorite store to add to your fabulousness, she can't make you ten years younger or ten pounds thinner. She can make you look your very best with the magic of illusion, but the age and/or the weight will still be there. In the case of A) get over it. In the case of B) if they bother you so much... you know what needs doing.

Make an appointment.
Or call ahead if you can. The Personal Shopper may have a standing appointment or stylists may be busy helping other customers when you "drop in". Even a heads up call— "I'll be there in fifteen minutes; can anyone help me?" will allow management to organize floor coverage to welcome you. The more notice you give the more efficient will be your experience— a fitting room set up, items pulled in your size, etc.

Find someone you relate to.
It's worth trying to find someone whose style and/or manner relates to you. The Personal Shopper doesn't have to have gone to high school with you, but if your personalities mesh she may be twenty years your junior or senior. A good PS has the knack of relating to women of any age, but the ultimate connection is the one which makes you feel most comfortable.

Come prepared.
Wear or bring the shoes you will be wearing. Nothing looks good in the socks and athletic shoes you have paired with your workout clothes (which you shouldn't be wearing unless you are truly going to/coming from a workout)(even then why are you shopping??????????). If you are coordinating or finishing an outfit, bring the relevant pieces with you. Foundation pieces. Enough said.

Let's face it— we all have dreamy looks we've cut out of magazines or remembered from movies, celebrities whose style we like, fashion icons we cotton to. If you're more Stevie Knicks than Jackie Kennedy, let your stylist know. And a picture is always worth 1,000 words.

Be adventurous.
Of course you will try on something unexpected. It's practically a mantra that what looks good on a hanger may not look good on you— and vice versa. Just try it, just try it, just try it. 

Spend some moola.
This is not the time to pinch pennies for the sake of being parsimonious. Sometimes the right frock is just NOT on sale at 40% off with an extra 10% using your Macy's card. The right piece will never be a regret, even if it requires a little self-administered psychology to convince yourself. Although it's hard for this inveterate shopper to remember, it really IS better to have fewer pieces you love than a closet-full of ok things purchased because space abhors a vacuum.

If you have a limited budget, let her know what that is. No PS worth her salt is going to "ply" you with luxury goods— the sure way to lose a customer's trust, but if $$ are part of the equation, be upfront about it.

Don't be discouraged.
You may not get the results you expected. You may be more entrenched in the Usual You than you thought. You might need a little time to get used to new looks the Personal Shopper has suggested ("Jeans at my age????). Habits die hard (think habit in its most clothing-centric definition). There may not have been the right pieces in stock the day you visited (which will be as frustrating for the PS as for you). Your shopping session may have produced only one workable piece, but you can build on success. Try again, try again, try again.

Woo her back.
The Personal Shopper will woo you of course. Her job satisfaction and possible remuneration come from a satisfied and repeat customer. But it wouldn't hurt to let her know you enjoyed her services with a thank you or quick drop by to tell her you were, indeed, the belle of the ball. Don't even think of tips or gifts; those are no-nos under the tenents of her employers. But a note or a referral— priceless!