Monday, May 27, 2013

What Do You Wear When No One's There?

Would a uniform be a good idea?

Did your mother advise you to always wear nice underwear in case you were in an accident? Mine went further and abhorred safety pins for the same reason. But what do you wear around the house when you will neither have an accident or be seen by any other than your nearest and dearest?

I realized I have at least four categories of "second best": perfectly wearable but not my favorites (maybe from last year or before that), never liked 'em in the first place (the proverbial "bad buy"), funky and/or vintage stuff that I might wear "out" once or twice a year and the thoroughly pilled/stained/faded (for cleaning out the basement). So guess what I pick from when I'm around the house? Too bad we don't have a basement.

Why is it so hard to dress nicely for nothing? Is it because, once dressed, we have the urge to venture out? If we're "not dressed" we don't have to run errands or interact with other humans. Personally, I get a lot done between pajamas and real clothes and vice versa— like writing this blog.

"What a doll!"
(actually salesmen's samples of Princess Peggy house dresses)

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


The traveling Frances Patiky Stein
 in 1965— could be today

May is the month of possibilities. You may do this or that or go here or there this summer. May is the jumping off month to summer. Wherever you may leap you may be thinking "what to wear; what to pack". I know I do. Part of imagining myself on vacation is seeing what I'm wearing. If music is the food of love, then clothing is the fuel of travel.

At the same time, there is spring cleaning. The two intersected as I was culling my enormous collection of fashion how-to and history books (in order to make room for more). Some I've bought out of curiosity ("Designing Women: The Art, Technique and Cost of Being Beautiful" from 1938). Others I've had forever (the bible of my teenage self "The Handbook of Beauty" from 1955). I discovered one I've had since 1981 but hadn't yet read, "Hot Tips" by Frances Patiky Stein. I bought it mainly because I knew the author— from afar.

Frances Patiky Stein was a fashion editor at Glamour in the mid-60s and a particular favorite of the Art Director and my boss, Miki Denhof. Frances herself was way more sophisticated than the average Glamour reader she was dressing. If it were today she would be a young version of Carine Roitfeld. No surprise then that Frances soon decamped for Vogue and then Paris, where she briefly had her own accessories line and became Chanel's head jewelry designer for many years. Googling Frances Patiky Stein doesn't bring up much else. I would like to think, possibly in her 70s, she is traipsing about Paris with my ex-pat artist cousin Jill.

Back to the book. "Hot Tips" is full of them, and 32 years later they are still pretty hot. The book was designed by Rochelle Udell, who went on to make a name for herself as creative director at Conde Nast and is Senior Vice President/Creative Director of Chico's and Chief Creative Officer of Revlon, among other gigs. As we are going through a '70-'80s vibe in fashion now, even the illustrations look fresh and do-able. The cover photo, however, does not— socks with mocassins!

Lest you think I've gone of the track, flipping through this book to decide whether it stays or goes into cold storage, I read the chapter on Travel and found it succinct, refreshing and timely. I was happy to see tricks I swear by and new ones to try. Why oh why didn't I read this sooner? There's no mention of the 3-ounce liquid maximum for carry-on (of course) but many suggestions for the ultimate goal: a travel wardrobe that you can forget about to just have fun.

Long out of print, "Hot Tips" is still available online at sites such as, where there were several copies listed at the mind-boggling price of (wait for it) a dollar.

Here are a few of Frances' travelicious tips (with some 21st century updates):

> The keys to successful travel wardrobing are Organization, Pre-planning and Paring (to a minimum).

> Use non-descript luggage. Good luggage invites guesses that what's inside may also be worth stealing.

> Never put your name and address on your luggage tag. If you must, use your business address. Update: or your email or your cell phone. Once again, why advertise that you are away from your home?

>  Bag everything in plastic! Zipper plastic bags for cosmetics, drawstring bags for shoes (thank you to the GAP for the nice bags), large dry cleaning bags to insert then wrap or roll. Frances suggests keeping things on hangers inside the bags.

> Pack skirts and dresses inside out; the wrinkles will show less. Likewise fold things lengthwise in thirds. Any wrinkles will follow the body line.

> Never take anything on a trip that you haven't already worn (and that goes double for shoes).

> Take along a copy of your prescription if you take prescription medicine. Drug sniffing dogs can't read, but their handlers can.

> Don't carry passport, tickets, money, credit cards all in one handy case. How handy will it be if it gets lost or stolen? I also keep my passport number and other essentials in my smart phone on a "Keeper" app.

> The hotter the place the colder the air conditioning will be. Pack cover-ups accordingly.

> As you are looking to pare down, take things you really love and won't mind wearing often.

I realize these are not actually What to Pack Tips. She's got them, though, and they're pretty specific. What's amazing is despite the passage of time (or maybe because of it) you could pack what she suggests and look fabulous. For example, this would be an evening look in a place "...where one dresses at night take high-heeled sandals, a pretty bag for night (gold), plus extra silk shawl for evening cover! Add pretty evening bits: strapless and bare camisoles, floaty chiffon pajama or tunics to wear over silk pants, one or two bare, silky, floaty dresses, one dinner dress (short, silky restaurant-looking)... Remember silk folds to nothing, takes no room!"

Look for me at that little boite near the Trevi fountain. I may not be Anouk Aimee, and my husband may not be Marcello Mastroianni, but we can pretend...

Viva La Dolce Vita

Friday, May 3, 2013

Still Jonesing for Jenna

Much has been written about Jenna Lyons, President of J. (stands for Jenna) Crew. The May issue of Harper's Bazaar has her speaking for herself, and here's what she says:

She loves the snooze button on her alarm but makes it up by 7:30 AM with half an hour to get dressed and get her son Beckett ready for school. She picks out his clothes. At six years old he has a fondness for cashmere. I'm thinking he probably doesn't know that cashmere is Super Deluxe. It just feels good, n'est pas? Beckett in turn picks out Jenna's shoes. Instead of breakfast she'll drink an iced coffee made up to replicate melted coffee ice cream, her favorite flavor (I'll second that). Jenna likes traveling light. She will carry a bag but prefers to use her coat pockets for wallet, glasses, keys, iPhone. She takes Beckett to school— in the car service. But hey, she can give him her full attention if she's not driving.

She's at work by 9:15 AM, checking the 200 emails and 100 texts she gets daily. Then there are the 10 to 18 meetings. Lunch is usually in a meeting, and it's something she's in like with at the time— a Cobb salad or tomato soup. She's home by 6 PM for dinner with Beckett, cooked by the babysitter (really? can't we call her the nanny?)

Work looks like fun...

She does go out on nights when Beckett is with his father (she's separated or divorced or something but didn't clarify). Her partner Courtney was only mentioned briefly, but honestly I don't care. The crux of Jenna Lyons is: How does she come up with the J. Crew look, handle all the attendant pressures and still come across like a real person? As in she says she was not genetically gifted with good skin and has about seven strands of hair.

We learn she's a late-night online shopper (check) and has a stash of ice cream in her freezer (check). Buy Jenna rose champagne (you can get me extra brut). She wants a dog but not the dog hair. She loves beautiful underwear but realizes most of it can't be worn under clothes. Jenna owns 300 pairs of shoes (I can't even imagine) and 800 J. Crew t-shirts to sleep in. Maybe she has a little more hair and a few less shirts, but I like the humor. She loves getting dressed, and the whole idea of wearing a uniform  is "like a slow and painful death".


Really good sheets changed her life. I think I know how she feels as being bumped to business class on one flight has ruined me forever. Really good sheets may be cheaper. She really, really loves her bed— a California king (remember Jenna is six feet tall).

Thank goodness Harper's Bazaar brought us back to reality (Jenna is not like you and I) by letting us know she has a gigantic sable bedspread ("the most decadent thing I own"). I'll say. Nevertheless, girlfriend, when can we have lunch?

J. Crew Spring 2013 for the uninitiated