Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Slippery Slope

The slippery slope can get you too...

Have I begun a descent into fashion hell, or am I already there? I've been off work for the past five days, the longest I can remember without an agenda (bed rest, vacation travel or looking for work). While that's brought its own special delights, I'm quite looking forward to picking up the routine again tomorrow.

I have, unfortunately, adopted a uniform this staycation that I'm beginning to enjoy: pull-on yoga pants, short-sleeve T, zip-up hoodie, sneakers. I wear makeup; I'm doing my hair. I look presentable, but I'm presenting myself to the world in a way I swore I never would.

I've long shouted from the rooftops: "Gym clothes are to be worn to the gym or the track! If I catch you at the supermarket, you better have that healthy glow only a good workout will give." While I have had every intention of getting to the gym this week, it's quite possible I may have only waved my hand in that direction as I've been too busy chasing around town.

As these five days of unabashed nothingness will likely not happen again soon (and I'm starting to miss opening my closet), I'll chalk it up to walking a mile in someone else's (very comfortable) shoes.

...Reese Witherspoon!

Monday, January 28, 2013

What to Wear to a Dog Fight

Every dog has its day-wear

Let's get this straight: I'm not going to a dog fight— ever. Or a rooster rumpus or any unsavory sporting event that is basically not sport. But what a great expression: "I wouldn't wear that to a dog fight". It speaks volumes. Not only do you hate it, this is a despicable garment that had no right to be manufactured.

There have been a number of home-sewn efforts which qualified. In this case "I wouldn't wear that to a dog fight" is usually muttered under my breath in the presence of no one. Hope springs eternal when it comes to home dressmaking. I try not to ruin good fabric the first time around so my eventual car cleaning rags will not be too much of a loss. On the other hand I'm usually bored with the thing to invest more time and real money. So if I were going to a dog fight, I'd have nothing to wear.

I may think "I wouldn't wear that to a dog fight" when I see an item of clothing that is definitely out of my comfort zone. It may break all the rules of color and design that I'm used to seeing. But it gets much better looking as time goes by. In my book, anything $39.99 and under deserves to be tried on. Quel surprise! It looks soooo much better then. But it's possible I still may not wear it to a dog fight.

The expression is also a very female form of being catty: "She thought she looked so good in that dress, but I wouldn't wear it to a dog fight".

Way back in the dark days when dog fighting was not frowned upon, it was indeed a social event— for sporting gents. And all the stops were out for what they wore:

What a relief! Since I'm not ever going to a dog fight, that's one less occasion to dress for.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

10 Years in Limbo

Dressing wasn't a puzzlement for Anna

No, that is not the title of a newly discovered manuscript by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. As observed from my perch in the fitting room at the Lovely Boutique Where I Work, those ten years between 40 and 50 can be a puzzlement.

The closer you are to thirty past, it seems, the more you worry about dressing too young. The closer you are to fifty future, you still worry about dressing too young plus you fret about dressing too old. And your body may be playing tricks on you that you never taught it.

I don't remember my forties in the '80s as being limbo land. Times were different (don't you just hate when someone says that). But it's true— a midriff top was for toddlers, and no one wore a mini skirt unless she were a professional ice skater. Celebrities might get some attention for what they wore, but it was usually in context with what they were doing. There also wasn't a whole sub-culture dressing them.

Today is different. Anything goes... only it doesn't. Anything goes only if you know when and how far to take it. There are still rules, but no one can agree on them. When you reach your forties you're old enough to know that but too young to opt out.

I usually hear "Am I too old for this?" when the customer does indeed look great in an outfit that may skew youthful. I will tell her "no" if she has the legs/arms/shape/style to pull it off, but ask does she feel comfortable? I will also point out there is nothing inherently "too young" about what she has on. I'm not a fan of fussy ruffles and bow-tied sashes, so they won't be there. Women in their forties seem to get self-conscious if they have good figures, as if they shouldn't have them. Rejoice if that's you!

There was an incident this week, though, and Sasha Obama is to blame. At the January 20 swearing-in, the President's daughter wore a dress sold at the Lovely Boutique Where I Work. While we did have increased interest in that dress, we also heard a lot of "Am I too old for this?" It's hard to answer "no" when your dress is worn by an 11-year-old.

Is Sasha (right) the best dressed pre-teen in America?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

How to Look Grownup

The late Charla Krupp, with whom I had the pleasure of working at Glamour magazine, wrote a book titled "How Not to Look Old". It addresses many of our fears with helpful tips for avoiding the "old lady" traps of elastic pants and forty-year-old hairstyles. It's a great wake-up read if you've been caught dozing.

Although dressing too young (skirts too short, boots too tall) is a sure way to look old, there are some things I think are worth being grown up for:

Grownups can dress luxe. Velvets and silks and brocades and all the luxurious variations therein look truly smart on grownups. There is no chance you are playing dress up; you have the savvy to pull off the riches you have earned. The whole idea of a "theater coat" would have looked like a joke in my thirties. Now I have one and love it. And I wear it to the theater.

Your theater coat can be by Rei Kawakubo

Grownups are trendsetters. Not every fashion fad trickles up from the young. The most tasteful designers out there (Ralph Rucci, Oscar de la Renta, Ralph Lauren, Carolina Herrera) are not designing for club kids. Avant garde geniuses such as Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto need to be worn by a confident woman who can speak for herself without saying a word. 

Grownups are groomed. Remember when you were nine and could spend a whole afternoon taking a bubble bath and giving yourself My Little Manicure? I'm not saying you have that much free time now, but there just might be more of it. You may be working less or having less family to take care of. You may have finally realized the nice things you do for yourself are an investment worth making.

Grownups can wear makeup. And should. You owe it to your public to put on your best face, or at least one they will recognize. Beauty fades, but sometimes all it needs is a slick of lip gloss and a flick of mascara. Not long ago red nails were considered old fashioned. After a few years of rainbow manicures + neon + glitter, a simple red manicure looks— well— sophisticated.

Grownups have more to choose from. You've spent a substantial number of years amassing clothes. Hopefully you've made a few wise investments— fabulous pants that flatter or statement baubles that are pure fun. All those great pieces work with new finds to create outfits reflecting who you are.

Grownups have learned a few lessons. You know teetering around a party on heels that hurt does nothing for your evening. You've experimented with puce and know it's not your color. You've adopted many persona over time and have whittled it down to a manageable few. The trick is to learn the lessons and still be open. Fashion life is not about reaching the summit and staying there. It's about climbing the mountain and seeing where else you can go.

It's what's on the other side that counts

Grownups keep it real... If you hate fake fur (and I have to say I do) decide if it's worth the flak to wear the real thing. Have you reached the point where you'd rather have a tiny real diamond that a fake giant zirconium? Don't care about diamonds at all? Fine! I'm still going to insist on a real leather handbag...

...or make it fearlessly fake. I love plastic in all its colorful permutations and wash-and-wear wonder fabrics. What I don't like is plastic imitating leather or polyester imitating silk. Exception: "real" patent leather vs. ordinary patent leather. I know there's a difference, but it doesn't seem worth the $$.

Is there a patent on style?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Fifth Season

Lolling a la Slim Aarons

In fashion there is Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Resort. Resort is, of course, a state of mind. It blooms in January, as after-holiday sales trickle down to the last dregs. It peters out around the first warm day wherever you live. Resort is the stuff of dreams, but do those dreams ever get you through the night!

In the fashion industry resort wear (aka cruise wear) was originally targeted to the affluent customer in upscale stores for her post-Christmas travels to warm weather destinations. Although many of us live year round in warm climates, there's something invigorating about fashion announcing it's Resort season. This is really a preview of what we might be wearing down the road. We're not about to light off to a real resort, where one lolls about as in a Slim Aarons photograph. The temptation is to outfit a trip you haven't even planned or forget that summer in the city means hot and gritty with a cardigan at the ready.

It was ever so easy to pick up this darling embroidered tote to accompany my Vespa-fueled tour of Capri. I'm certain it will fit well on the handlebars. Not too sure about tucking the peasant skirt around my legs. Maybe I'll opt for the sidecar. I haven't actually booked a trip but have tote, will tour?

It's easy to forget the perfectly good summer clothes you already have, hibernating as they are in some kind of winter storage. Never mind last year's Herculean attempt to coordinate a wardrobe. How easy to be tempted by the super cool (and unlike anything you own) black and white Marc Jacobs.
Fashion is never black and white, except when it is

How to avoid making some of your worst fashion purchases in January and February?

> Buy fashion magazines. A few dollars invested and a few hours ingested might satiate your appetite for the new. Drool over the pages; cut out a few looks; pin them on an inspiration board.

> Go into the "field" (shopping mall) for "research" (browsing), but leave your credit card at home.

> Unearth last year's stuff and start culling. Winter is a better time to remember what didn't work and make promises to do better. Seriously consider ditching what you've held onto from two summers ago.

> Make reservations so at least you'll know what you're shopping for.

Many thanks to Diane Oatis for reminding me how susceptible we are at this time for something shiny and new. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Women We Love: Beatrix Ost

Beatrix the Beautiful
Unlike other women I've written about who are blessed with more than just a good-looking facade, I knew nothing about Beatrix Ost other than she is a stunner.

As I'm a little behind in my reading, it took till now to catch her in the November 2012 issue of Harper's Bazaar. I have no idea (or interest) who is the redhead. A little bit of Googling, and it turns out Beatrix Ost is someone who has not relied on looks alone to create a fascinating, accomplished life. A writer, an artist, a designer, a theatrical producer— she would appear to be Renaissance Woman circa 2013.

Beatrix was born in Germany in 1940. "In My Father's House", about her childhood during and after WWII, has received very good reviews for its lyrical prose and insight about the period. Beatrix (Trixi to her friends) studied dance and art, modeled extensively, acted on stage and in films. She was a single mother with two children when she met her husband, Ludwig Kuttner, in 1967. They married and had another son together. Beatrix and Ludwig moved to New York City in 1975 ("out of a sense of curiosity and adventure") to raise their family.  
Is one secret to a successful marriage having a
coordinating husband?
My guess is Beatrix' sense of curiosity and adventure permeates her life. When their country house in Cold Spring, New York, burned to the ground in 1981, Beatrix (that sense of adventure again) swung a pendulum to determine their next move. The pendulum stopped at Charlottesville, Virginia, on the exact spot of an historic, early 19th century home up for sale. The house, called Estouteville, is furnished in an eclectic style that is also Beatrix's own.
Living the beautiful life
She claims not to be a "shopper", but to purchase what she loves and wear it for years, updating and refining, reveling in the new as it speaks to her. She has avoided being labelled an eccentric by personalizing her look with her eyes open. Yes, Beatrix looks great in a turban, but she rocks a fedora as well. Either way she is not having any bad hair days.
Adoring the fedora

Do we live up to our names? "Beatrix" derives from the Latin meaning "traveller" combined with a later spelling invoking "blessed". If there's one great lesson in admiring Beatrix, it's not to throw away the baby with the bath water. We are what we are, and the longer we've been at it the richer is that person. One's own life experiences— and all the observations we've had of life around us— clothe our person in a most colorful way.

Like to know what the lady herself has to say? Go to www.beatrixost.com

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Stuff Still Worth Knowing About

The average lifespan of a New Year's resolution is under two weeks. Because after two weeks (they say) it becomes a habit. So we'll call these tidbits that I've mentioned before "tips". Perhaps this time of year is better for gentle reminders and tiny nudges. It's tough enough to face the remaining months of winter.
> Top-Stick keeps lazy necklines, fussy lapels and squirmy scarves in place. Man's best toupee-sticker (available at Sally Beauty Supply) is cheaper, wider and 100% as effective as those fancy "tapes" made for ladies' garments. Just be sure to look for it in the "men's grooming supplies" aisle.

> Hangers. 2013 needs to be the year of the hanger! Time to divest yourself of all the flimsy plastic hangers you bought years ago and ditch the dry cleaner's hangers as soon as you get home (save the bags though— see below). The skinny velvet hanger I wrote about in 2011 is ever more available, cheaper and in more colors.
> Dry cleaning bags. Planning a vacation to sunnier climes? Dry cleaning bags are your friends. Slip a dress, blouse or anything wrinkle-prone into a dry cleaning bag and gently fold or roll to fit your suitcase. Something about the air trapped inside protects even the fussiest fabrics.

> Don't be afraid of the tailor. Altering something is not an admission of defeat or any indication that you are less than perfect. Every manufacturer cuts a different size. Don't not buy it because it needs a little tweaking. And just because you can turn under the too-long sleeves of that jacket, don't think you're home free.

> Be an angel. To err is human, to donate divine. Banish that bum purchase from staring you in the face when you open the closet. If you can't return it (one reason for not ripping off the tags absolutely immediately),  give it a chance for a better life and feel a little better about yourself.

> Paying full price is not a sin. The inveterate lovers of the marketplace among us will shopshopshop. That doesn't mean we will buybuybuy. However, when the (special) occasion requires, it can be penny wise but pound foolish to insist on a sale price. My friend Amy still regrets the "great buy" she found for her daughter's wedding. The dress needed a lot of alterations and still wasn't right (much as we love them tailors can't perform miracles). She wore it anyway and avoided the camera whenever possible.

> Subscribe to a fashion magazine. At least one. Be it the fantasy fun of Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and Elle, the practical punch of Lucky, Marie Claire and InStyle or the more traditional women's magazine direction in More and Real Simple, give yourself this treat in your mailbox. Subscriptions are way cheaper than picking up the occasional issue on the newsstand, and nothing beats curling up with a magazine in a comfy chair or in a bed with fluffy pillows.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

One Singular Sensation

Lately an amazing idea has crossed this threshold: Have one great piece as the end-all and be-all of your outfit. It's not news to me that a wardrobe of basics can be boring. A scarf or a necklace can only go so far. And juggling a wardrobe of mix-and-matchables every which way but Sunday can take more time (and coordination) than most of us have. No need to coordinate till the cows come home. That one piece will do the talking; the rest of what you wear is the supporting cast. And the bit players know better than to compete with the star. What's a good example of one piece-calls-the-shots, 2013 style?
Marc crossing the Chanel
Statement Jacket. Its structure/color/pattern separates it from a jacket just meant to complete a skirt suit or keep you from feeling chilled. Take the Chanel-inspired/Marc Jacobs elaborated jacket above. Skinny black pants or dark denim, maybe some gold hoops, a discreet black clutch— that's it.

Will never be called a little black dress
Major Dress. How lovely to have the dress back (biggest challenge: finding one that fits top and bottom). A dress can be a lifesaver, a go-to piece and indispensable, but how often do you choose the one that screams "basic"? Tempted you'll get tired of the print? Re-think and know you (and everyone else) will be happy each time it appears.

Print Pants and Colored Pants. We've seen both trouser styles this year. It doesn't take much for this look to hit the road. Anything more than the basics can put them in overdrive.

Toasty but for the legs of course
Gift wrap yourself. The only thing that got me through the long, cold east-coast winters was a great winter coat. If you're out and about in blustery weather, this is how people will see you. My favorite was a hunter green swing coat with a detachable Sherlock Holmesian cape. What happened to it is a mystery.

Boring to buy but...
Need a shopping excuse? January used to be the month for white sales, time to stock up on sheets and towels (which once upon a time were— sadly— always white). Take this opportunity to go through your closet staples (including tights and socks and simple footwear) to show off that singular sensation to its best advantage (ie no faded black t's or yellowy white shirts).

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Resolutely Resolving Again

What happens to old New Year's resolutions? I mean, what happens literally to the scraps of paper they were written on? Gone with the wind, probably. Well, no such luck if you are the proprietor of a blog. Said resolutions are still there, filed under "Published January 3, 2012". Though I clicked on the file with trepidation, I'm happy to report I did accomplish a few of them (though it took till mid-October for the one about hurtful shoes).

I had the temerity to resolve to (and what happened):
> Purge the closet of unworn finery (space abhors a vacuum).
> Send those dud shoes off to fit someone else (done).  
> Wear the Good Stuff more often (check). 
> Give more compliments (best advice I ever gave myself).
> Stop looking for the perfect black handbag (failed because I bought yet another).
There were a few more of course...

So what's on tap for 2013?

Stay out of stores where I don't really like to shop. It's depressing to visit Limited or Ann Taylor or Talbot's or almost every mall store. Don't even get me started on Loehmann's. Where they used to thrill me with promise, they are now just irritating.

Keep up the good work of buying less crap and buying less in general. Don't buy into fad purchases just because they're cheap. Of course, I've always wanted a lurex sweater vest... The latter will always be an challenge.

Get used to it. The lumps and bumps and sags and bags are going to happen despite my willing them not to. That doesn't mean giving up; it just means stop tilting at windmills.

Do some sole-searching. Why is it I never check the soles of my shoes until they are worn down to a nub? I must then cart them off to the shoemaker and sheepishly beg him to save them.

Don't let anything follow me home. Dropping off my tired and unlovely at the thrift shop should not mean dragging someone else's rejects home with me. Unless they are by Marc Jacobs.

If I want to get anything done, don't get dressed. Though lifestyle gurus would have us face each day fully dressed and looking our best, I find if I do that— shower, dress, hair and makeup— I want to go somewhere. The idea of then staying home (to clean, pay bills or read a good book) is anathema. I get the most done in my pajamas, with an unmade bed.

There are unfashion resolutions of course— from drinking more water to donating those VHS tapes (to a land fill?)— but I won't bore you with them, and I already forgot where I wrote them down.