Tuesday, October 30, 2012

EOF: Blue Chambray Shirt

Shala Monroque rockin' the blues

I'd like to propose a new planet in the fashion universe: Equal Opportunity Fashion. EOF also stands for Equal Opportunity Flatterer. To become an EOF you must work for women of all ages, bodies and tastes. With tweaking perhaps but the basics must be there.

Hello, sailor...

What qualifies? Off the top of my head: pearl studs, black tights, denim jacket... Today's nominee? the blue chambray work shirt. It's been around a while— since the latter part of the 19th century as worn by farmers, factory workers and others in manual labor trades (thus the term "blue collar"). WWII- era sailors wore 'em with aplomb. And this year, it seems, women everywhere are wearing them— and looking good.

The J. Crew party look

Because the blue chambray shirt is not native to her wardrobe, a girl wearing it has consciously decided to go tomboy, which is already— let's face it— a little sexy. The idea is you've raided your guy's closet for a shirt in the morning as all your clothes are strewn about the house. The nature of chambray (or cambric as it used to be called) is going to be a little rumpled and worn-in.

If diamonds are a girl's best friend, 
chambray is her best boyfriend

It's relaxed structured dressing that knows no bounds in its ability to be customized. As a casual piece it's way more dressed than a t-shirt. Over a bathing suit it's more acceptable than a robe. As a third piece to finish a look it's less serious than a jacket. It keeps the pants or skirt from trying too hard. Paired with a party skirt it's an immediate fun evening. Unlike a wardrobe of jeans you probably need just one.

One shirt = many looks

Tomorrow is Halloween. 
If you're too old for a costume... 
Why don't you... chambray your own special way?*
*with thanks to Diana Vreeland of course

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Career Launched With "Lunch"

No, you have not stumbled onto a misplaced posting of Ari Seth Cohen's  blog "Advanced Style". This topographical joy of a face belongs to 97 year-old Italian actress Valeria de Franciscis. She plays Gianni Di Gregorio's mother in two wry comedies, "Mid-August Lunch" (2008) (also her first film role) and "The Salt of Life" (2011).

In this day of information overload, she is a bit of a mystery online. Even her Wikipedia page (once translated from the Italian) has little to say other than she was born in Rome of noble stock and her mother died when she was two. She was awarded the "Best Young Actress" prize at the Perugia Film Festival at age 93 for her role in "Mid August Lunch". The rapport between Valeria and Gianni is so natural it would not have surprised me to learn they are actually mother and son.
"Mother and son"
Actress and director/co-star

At first glance you may think the Mother is a character of fun with her Dolly Parton wig and too much makeup. But in both films you see she has an elegance and joie d'vivre that goes beyond half-finishing 100 euro-bottles of Krug champagne with her poker-playing cronies. Early on it's clear Mother has not lost her marbles by a long shot. She knows exactly how to manipulate with charm and has everyone eating out of her hand.

You soon grow to appreciate that keeping up appearances may be the fiber that holds her together and earns the respect of those even at her unwilling beck and call.

Should anyone be interested in a film about the later days of Coco Chanel, may I present Valeria, for your consideration.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Hello, Gorgeous

Duro and friends

The man in the middle is Duro Olowu. Okay, you've never heard of him... yet. This Nigerian-born, London-based designer of his own line of luxury loveliness will be designing a Spring 2013 capsule collection for J.C. Penney! Now that is reason indeed for an exclamation point. Is this not like Eric Ripert cooking up a dish for MacDonald's? I mean, really, how lucky can a gal get?

Another one of Duro's friends

Duro Olowu has been a special favorite to Google and drool over since I saw one of his dresses in Amanda Brooks' book "I Love Your Style". His influence is his native Nigeria mixed with giant gulps of dash and sass. Originally set to become a lawyer, he has only been designing since 2005. Michelle Obama is an enthusiastic fan.


There is no real word on what will be in the collection, though jewelry, shoes and handbags have been mentioned along with the apparel, each to sell under $100. The dress above may be part of it. The images below are from the high-end Spring 2013 collection.

This past September I thought about slinking past his atelier in Duke's Yard, St. James, in London to press my nose against the glass, but lost my nerve (and ran out of time). Fortunately my local J.C. Penney is only 9 miles from home, no passport needed.

With luck, this will be my Spring 2013 wardrobe

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Few Good Things

Can you have just one?

It's taken a long time to embrace the philosophy of Less is More. It will never truly happen. For the same price I'll probably choose a cafeteria buffet over one appetizer at the Ritz. Not that I wouldn't enjoy the Ritz... it just depends who's paying.

Likewise with things that surround me. Not that I don't love a beautiful object purchased at a great price— the decorative chachka bought at deep discount, the "find" from an estate sale, the end-of-season bargain ferreted out at my upscale clothing emporium of choice. I also cherish things I've held onto for no real reason, only to realize they are quite amazing— my mother's mid-century porcelain dinnerware by Eva Zeisel or her leopard skin belt (never wear the belt but use the china). I don't usually make a purchase that I know is pricey and live not to regret it.
In the  Museum of Modern Art and Chez Moi

Not lately though. In small ways I seem to be absorbing the "you get what you pay for" aspect of life— great theater seats (at a price), the best aged cheddar (at a price one used to see listed for gold), regular-priced clothing items bought in season and not for any immediate need. I (gulp) use my best perfume almost daily, even if it means I have to replenish it myself.

I'm also looking askance at "make do and mend". Love may be a battleground, but otherwise we are not at war. It was time to ditch the serviceable-but-not-lovely IKEA table and the comfy-but-rusty-chairs on the patio and get that French bistro set I've been eyeing in the Ballard catalogue for years.
Breakfast will now become Le Petit Dejeuner

Why? Is it because I just turned 70 and realize one can't see how many more corners there are to turn? I'm certainly not a fatalist. I do have good genes and avoid jaywalking. I guess I've reached the place where I realize, in the words of the immortal Fats Waller, "One never knows, do one?"
A little misbehavin' may be in order

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Do (Stylish) Men Matter?

The Mad Hatter: mad about style?

Do you dress for men or for other women? What a loaded question. The answer should be, "Neither, I dress for myself". You would, of course, be kidding yourself. Who we dress for is a cocktail of one part fashion magazine, one part _____________ (fill in the blank of someone whose style you admire), one part friends and/or co-workers, a dash of Mother (what she taught you or what she liked), one part you (the part you're sure of) and maybe, just maybe, a squeeze of the man in your life (depending on the day and the hour).

Who do men dress for? Ask one, and he'll say—unhesitatingly— himself. Men have an easier time than women with their attire requirements— from boy scout uniforms to business suits to working kit to sports gear (fan or player). He doesn't even think about them. You would expect my husband, an art director, would have enjoyed mixing/matching and coordinating outfits, but it was I who put his shirts, ties and suits together. Why? He dressed in a certain way because he had to, but he didn't really care.

That's not to say he doesn't have some major likes and dislikes. He hates button-down collars and crew neck sweaters (alas not a Prepster) but has always worn cowboy boots, even in Brooklyn (style with chutzpah). No doubt the men in your life have their own quirks as well. Chances are, however, they are not stylish.

Most women don't want to compete with a style-obsessed man. We want him to look presentable but expend more effort appreciating us than themselves. The exception: gay men seem to be able to do both. I also suspect we women look on dressing our man as a bit like marking our territory.

When men try too hard to have style it becomes their undoing and is not admirable. Look what happened to Jay Gatsby. We'll have a chance to see Leonardo DiCaprio's interpretation whenever the latest incarnation of "The Great Gatsby" gets released.
Robert as Jay (1974)
Leonardo as Jay (2012? 2013?)

Tom Wolfe has style. So does Hugh Hefner. This is style as a joke, and style is not a laughing matter.
Tom is not crying wolf 
Hugh knew?

Movie star style is hardly trustworthy. Movie stars don't just get dressed; they are dressed. Thus Jack Sparrow has style to spare. Johnny Depp himself? Maybe not so much.
Jack knows...
...but Johnny knows jack

The true test of a man's style is how he wears a tux. He should wear it; it shouldn't wear him. Cary, Fred and Sean pass the tux test.

My husband's style idol, when asked? Steve McQueen. Now I know why I married him.
King McQueen

Friday, October 19, 2012

It's That Time Again

The Holidays. Yes, I mean ThanksgivingChristmasHanukahKwanzaNewYear'sEve. That one. Does the thought of entertaining at this time of year strike terror to your heart? There is nothing casual about holiday entertaining. One can't call up a bunch of friends for a spur of the moment get-together any time between November 22 and January 1. Everyone has Plans, and if you're thinking of a holiday party, chances are you're planning it already.

The last thing you are planning? What to wear. You know you will have to get out of the comfy slacks and ragged t-shirt you've been wearing all day while cooking. You know you owe it to your guests to make an Effort, but that anything fluffy and pretty will be ruined. An apron will be too Mad Men, even if it's a cute one from Anthropologie. What to wear? What would Laura Petrie do?
Laura's parties looked like this
My parties never looked like this

That's right— Laura Petrie, Dick Van Dyke's wife on the "Dick Van Dyke Show". His name on the show was Rob Petrie, but he was always Dick Van Dyke. Laura was played by Mary Tyler Moore, but (at the time at least) she was just Laura Petrie. Laura was always ready for company. Though we never saw her preparing, I suspect she didn't own ratty cooking clothes. Her style, reflecting the 1961-66 time period, was a cross between Audrey Hepburn as Sabrina and Jackie Kennedy. Hers wasn't a trend-setting character a la Marlo Thomas in "That Girl". Laura Petrie's style personified the idealized young American wife— the one I expected to morph into whenever I found that Prince.
...to Laura
...to Laura

I've yet to solve the what-to-wear-to-my-own-party dilemma. I almost can't remember anything. There have been a number of ruined silk shirts and a few sweat-drenched black turtlenecks. I do recall a floor-length plaid cotton jumper worn with a shrunken t-shirt that was a success— sweat-proof and washable and no worries about the shoes. Let's hope the parties themselves were more memorable.

There is a solution, but it will require some fast planning on your part— Halloween. Then you can go (or stay) as anything, maybe even Laura Petrie.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Three Little Words

French Boot Shop. Oh my, those three little words conjure up a host of memories. The French Boot Shop was a twice-yearly mail order catalog from a store in New Rochelle, New York. It might have been Paris for all I knew back in Cleveland, Ohio.

Early 1960s catalogues

The catalogue was really a mini-mag of all the trends my fashion-obsessed young self coveted, with photographs of the clothes on my favorite models from the pages of "Glamour" and adorable drawings of other apparel. There were, as well, illustrations of shoes, specifically Capezios— another word that sends shudders up my spine. The copy was smart and pun-ny. The locales were often exotic— Italy! Bermuda!— and a fatherly figure always made a mystery appearance, Alfred Hitchcock like.*
* turns out Mystery Man was Murray Gerstein, the owner of FBS and mastermind behind the catalogues and the shop's popularity.

I read each issue from cover to cover and back again, picking out what I would order if A) I were actually old enough and B) had any money to spend. The offerings were not super high-styled or exorbitantly expensive, but I was twelve with an allowance of a dollar a week. The catalogues must have landed in our mailbox thanks to my older sister, but I kept them coming after she got married the next year.

The founding footwear
Polkadotta, Capezio's mascot

In my mind Capezios and the clothes went hand-in-hand, but in real life the two were not connected. Capezios have been around since 1877 as the footwear of choice for generations of dancers— ballet, jazz, tap, etc. They also produce multiple lines of dancewear from tunics to tutus. I have Capezio leotards from 1970 that I still wear as bathing suits today. Somewhere along the way (1950s?)  they started producing delightful street shoes— mostly flats and kitten heels. I'm deducing this ties into the popularity, thanks to Claire McCardell, of ballet-style flats as footwear during WWII.

Capezio shoes were softly structured and often made of kid. They were delicately shaped and only minimally embellished with a small strap or bow or two. There were sometimes floral-printed flats (called "skimmers"), which had to be the most impractical purchase ever. Capezios are still in business but directed towards serving the dance community.
Box top of champions

Shortly after moving to New York City I convinced a date to drive up to New Rochelle one weekend. There it was, a little non-descript store on a fairly deserted Main Street. Talk about uncovering the Wizard! Dorothy could not have been more disappointed than I. We didn't even get out of the car.
FBS in its New Rochelle heyday

The French Boot Shop and its catalogue remained in business through the 1970s. I am foggy about its demise and hope a reader may be so kind as to fill me in. It was one of those things you take for granted which are suddenly not there anymore. For the same reason that I had no idea how much I would miss them, I saved not one catalogue and have depended on the kindness of strangers for these images.
Covet was thy middle name

Lest you think I never got old enough or had two nickels to rub together, I did order something from The French Boot Shop: my wedding shoes in 1968. They were white satin "Louis heels" with a square vamp and toe— much like today's trendy "tuxedo slipper". They also had white cord appliqued in a fanciful manner, much like this season's embellished Czarina look. That's me— always a step or two ahead of my time!