Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Giving Thanks...

...for good advice and bad jokes:

Before criticizing people, walk a mile in their shoes. Then, when you criticize them you will be a mile away and have their shoes.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Sunday, November 24, 2013


They weren't there,
but they could have been

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the wedding celebration of two young friends (all reception as the actual wedding was months earlier). Because my husband and I really knew no one else, we enjoyed seeing their many relatives and friends (bride had been a bridesmaid 28 times), admiring the couple's prowess on the dance floor, eating some good food and settling in for a bit of observation.

As this event was so close to the holidays, it's safe to say the ladies were wearing their best 2013 party gear. And they were wearing... a lot of... B L A C K. Lots and lots of black, and it looked lovely. There is something about a young woman in black that ups the ante. Yes, I mostly observed women in their mid 20s - mid 30s because there were so many of them and I considered it product research. The Lovely Boutique Where I Work carries party dresses expressly for this demographic.

There is something very fresh about a young woman dressed party-perfect in a sophisticated manner. She stands a little straighter. She's really well groomed for the night. In this day and very casual age, she looks like she gave her outfit serious thought. What can we learn from these beautiful young things as we dress for our own parties and celebrations? We've been to a few in our time; maybe the trick is not to be so jaded.

I'll bet you have at least one "go to" party outfit that you wear over and over because it A) looks pretty good, B) fits most dressy-up occasions and C) is comfortable. I'll bet anything it involves black velvet.  

There is indeed something to be said for a classic "party look". No one will question Carolina Herrera's variation on a white shirt with a ball gown. Isabella Rossellini looks notable (though a tad Pearl Buck) in her Asian inspired evening looks. I've previously mused about the "opera coat". Throw it over anything to look Fabulous. You do still have to make these looks your own, and you are going to be recognized in your "statement" time and again. There will be no surprise, "How lovely you look tonight".

Paul Poiret circa 1912

But guess what? It's time to go out and see what's new. There are the most intriguing combinations of metallics and brocades and lace at not-break-the-bank prices. And you don't have to go black if you don't want too. I'm beginning to think the more color the better the older I get. Just don't let me get a red hat and wear purple! Here are some personal favorites from a fast sweep through the offerings:

Diane Von Furstenburg (above and below)

BCBG (above and below)

To bare or not to bare? And it's a question of legs or arms or both. My legs are okay so far, but if you still haven't come to terms with yours go for a high-waisted palazzo pant— maybe with a short lace bolero and silk shirt. Puts the emphasis above the waist plus makes your legs look long. Or go long— not too full because you'll feel silly but some draping at the waist or a trumpet shape. Just make sure it's really long. Save tea length for a tea dance. And when was the last time you went to one of those?

As far as your upper arms— if you want to go bare DO IT. Absolutely nobody cares if your arms are not as toned as Madonna's, I promise you. The main factor in going bare-armed is your level of confidence. If you are going to self-consciously slink around all night, then forget it. I would be far more troubled looking at your arm tattoos. I am sincerely hoping that's a generation gap thing and you don't have any.

Do you consider walking in heels a walk on the wild side? Many of us have gotten quite used to—if not sensible (perish the thought)— shoes at least comfortable ones. Much as I wish, for parties even Dorothy's ruby slippers won't cut it. And who could resist a beautiful pair of party pumps or sandals? So what you need to do is practice. Heels higher than your usual will make you walk differently. I know we've all seen a Galloping Gertie at a party or two. Let's try not to be her...

Gertie, is that you?

Yes you need a little evening bag. In time honored tradition your fella would carry your stuff in his jacket pocket. I don't know about you, but I need to have that lipstick or iPhone at the ready. And Sir Lancelot may not even be wearing a jacket. Nothing looks lamer than a party dress finished with a street handbag. So invest a few dollars in an evening bag. It needed be one of those Judith Lieber extravaganzas. It's pretty easy to find success at Forever 21. Just remember— the less gewgaws the better. All-over black satin perhaps. Don't forget a wrist handle or shoulder strap. Unless you are one of those trusting souls who leaves her handbag on the dinner table, you want to carry it with you, unobtrusively.

Chanel— nice but not necessary

Makeup is indeed your finishing touch. Please don't get lazy and "touch up" what you've been wearing all day, even if the party is only cocktails for a couple hours. Enjoy the moment. I'm reminded of something I witnessed many, many years ago. While still in high school I was a "nanny" briefly for the grandchildren of one of my mother's friends. Evidently the regular nanny was on vacation. I actually enjoyed spending a week in her daughter's luxurious home. I had my own room (with tv!) and private bath and did no housework. My job was just to watch over and entertain the kids. Most of the time the mother was even there. This young couple (and remember we're talking mid '50s) went out almost every night. After the kids' early dinner, a beautiful, long-legged creature not unlike Megan on "Mad Men" would somehow sit cross-legged IN her bathroom sink— with a cocktail and a cigarette— and apply her evening makeup. She didn't mind visitors. I was certainly there and sometimes the oldest girl popped in to see Mommy making up. It was part of her day— and her life— as easy and natural for her then as it sounds foreign to us today. I knew I would never be her (nor did I aspire to be), but it's a fascinating recollection of how (some of us) lived once upon a time.

Sorry, back to make-up. Evening lighting begs for a heavier hand with pots and pats. And isn't that nice? You can conceal and plaster to your heart's content with no fear of looking overdone in the cold light of day. This is when to pull out red lipstick (especially if you are wearing black). Experiment a bit, because all reds are not created equal. There are blue-reds, orange-reds and true reds. You will look best in one. Supposedly blue-reds are better if your pearly whites are less than pearly. Lipsticks don't look the same on your lips as they do in the tube. That's why I've never bought a Chanel lipstick. It would be sad to throw away upwards of $35 in one fell swoop. Another consideration is it's lips OR eyes, not both. So if you'd like to emphasize one, play down the other, "Those Lips! Those Eyes!" not withstanding.

Chanel— some enchanted evening

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Suiting Up

The other day a lovely customer at the Lovely Boutique Where I Work asked me: Where in town could her daughter get a SUIT that wasn't— maybe— horrible. The daughter was applying to graduate school and would wear this suit ONCE (mother's words)— or perhaps as many times as it took to nail the admission. We don't sell business wear per se at the Lovely Boutique, and she knew that. Her question was really asked because she hoped I would have an answer.

The Suit has a bad rap. Once upon a time a black or navy pants suit or skirt suit was the logical choice for playing with the big boys. Add a cotton man-tailored shirt, and you're done. Yep, trussed up like a turkey. A stereotype.

Stereotype in triplicate

Practice! Practice! Practice! It's the way to get to Carnegie Hall or maybe a job at Carnegie Hall. Practice walking in those heels. They may be new; they might be the first pair of heels you've worn in a very long time. Practice sitting and what to do with your legs if you're in a skirt (crossed at the ankles with knees together).

Skirt vs. pants. What to do with your legs is another good reason to opt for pants. You can sit with your legs crossed at the knees and not feel like a hussy. There's no hose-or-no-hose debate. If you hate your legs, you can hate them less in pants.

You have a choice. In re-thinking the suit, think about the who and what. Who are you seeing? An HR rep or a corporate recruiter? The person you might ultimately work for? For what are you interviewing? Banking? Grad school? Primary school teaching? Media Public Relations? Google? As much as you don't want to come across all Bohemian for the bank, you don't want to appear cookie cutter and stiff for a creative endeavor.

You can still show some style. I'm happy to see more women going fashion forward in workwear with pants or a skirt and what used to be called a "dressmaker jacket"— unmatched to the other part and with some style on its own (as if whipped up by your little dressmaker whose name might be Chanel). You can also choose a simple sheath dress paired with a tailored cardigan or jacket. 

While black and grey are no-brainers, you can do color if it's understated (taupe) or rich (chocolate or hunter green or burgundy). Try to avoid navy; it comes across all policewoman/stewardess-like. You can add texture (tweed, houndstooth, checks) as long as they are subtle and in a restrained palette. The idea is to look tasteful and elegant but not bland and boring. 

Not the time to borrow from the boys

Alas there is still a time and a place for a traditional suit.  First— you must select components all from the same manufacturer and style code, ie the same fabric. It's useless to try matching one manufacturer's black with another's.

The jacket needs to fit. Shoulders, sleeve length, waist (try to have one). You may need a tailor. This is why it's not a good idea to buy a suit on Saturday for an interview on Monday. Oh and don't forget to cut open the protective stitching from the vent and pockets.

Daunted by the task? This is where you want to call in the help of a Personal Shopper. All the big stores offer one gratis as do many of the specialty shops where you might look (J Crew, Zara, Banana Republic). At the very least bring a helper. You don't want to be bouncing from dressing room to sales floor searching for sizes.

The suit has an afterlife. Whether you get in/get the job or not, don't let that suit sit a-moldering in the closet. Break it up. Wear the jacket as a blazer with jeans. Or throw it over a party dress (just over the shoulders is the newest way). Likewise the pants or skirt can become a wardrobe basic. They can always meet up when you need them together again.

What to wear with... Notice I haven't gone into that— the blouse/shirt/shell, the jewelry, shoes, makeup, handbag, etc. It's a blog, not a book.

A suit needn't be a prison uniform. In the end wear what gives you the most confidence. You should still be you, the one with your best foot forward.

How fabulous do these chicks look?
(outside the office of course)

Marlene Dietrich
Katherine Hepburn
Photo by Helmut Newton

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A Down-turn for Downton Abbey

Lady Edith, the late Lady Sybil, Lady Mary

I nearly fell over the newly released Downton Abbey Jewellery (their spelling) Collection today, cleverly positioned near the mall parking garage doors of my local Macy's. These are "official" as annointed by Carnival, the producers, but they are not the real deal. Downton Abbey jewelry, copies of Edwardian and mid-twenties designs, are popularly priced (aka cheap) with a top price of $38. There were earrings (mostly dangly), a few brooches and some spidery necklaces stamped from black metal.

Interesting— The Great Gatsby never really took off style-wise. But Downton Abbey, soon to be airing here in its fourth season, still stirs the imagination and sets off trends. At the Lovely Boutique Where I Work, a customer was debating on a drapey overblouse in a deep forest green silk. She modeled it for her husband who questioned whether it was a little "maternity" (the kiss of death for many a mature woman). I told her to tell him it was "very Downton Abbey". She let me know he would probably go for that. Men like the show too.

Back to the jools. I love thinking that the era's fashions keep getting more respect. They truly were remarkable— liberating, practical, imaginative and more affordable through mass production. The jewelry, at least the pre Art Deco variety, usually read as a little fusty. Even the Crawleys couldn't afford the showier baubles. Don't forget, costume jewelry was only beginning to be accepted (thanks to Chanel). It was only okay to wear "paste" if the genuine articles were safely locked away.

In 2012 PBS developed its own line of Downton-inspired jewelry at a higher price point. With no permission from Carnival and no royalties traveling across the pond, they were soon ordered to cease and desist. The PBS website now offers the officially sanctioned stuff, all 153 items— quite a bit more than I saw at Macy's. Quantity never trumps quality (would the Dowager Duchess have said that?). The best thing about the Downton Abbey Jewellery Collection? The cardboard packaging— tasteful and elegant.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Why I Shop Online

I'll shop this way any day

I love to shop with friends, but I shop alone. The same can be said of late for shopping in stores: I love shopping, but I shop at home.

USA Today recently published a box of statistics titled "Why Americans Shop Online Vs. in Stores". The results:
Easy to comparison shop  47%
Access to far-away stores  47%
More convenient  42%
Items often cheaper online  41%

Agree. Agree. Agree. Agree.

I love nothing more than strolling through a shopping emporium— be it mall, souk or big box store. What I'm not loving these days is when I am actually looking for something. What I want is too often not there, or too much of what I don't want is all over the place. Despite the fact that it seems I am always shopping, I never set out without a need in mind. That isn't hard; I have a needy mind.

Back in the day, store window displays, if there were any, were used to show customers just how much was inside, to entice them with an abundance of offerings. It was hammers next to bonnets next to reams of foolscap. Harry Selfridge (of the famous London store but working at Marshall Field at the time) may have been the first to view store windows as a way to lure the customer with anticipation. His displays were evocative, constrained and left a lot up to the consumer's imagination. She was able to imagine herself wearing that beautiful fur and sitting in that roadster.

I'll have what she's having

Once inside, the better the store, the more goods were sequestered away. That required the assistance of a salesperson, usually wearing gloves, to bring out whatever it was you wished to view (touching discouraged). Harry Selfridge changed that too. Our stores today are overloaded with stuff for you to play with and trip over. Display windows continue to reel us in, but once inside most stores are a jumble sale from hell.

Yes, it's hard to "browse" through Amazon (although they are making that easier), but it's incredibly frustrating to visit an actual bookstore and find the book I just read about is not in stock. Perfume that's been around a while but is not the latest by a teeny bopper "designer"? Over-the-rim soap dish for my old fashioned but oh-so-chic claw foot bathtub? More than 3 pairs of size medium running socks? The comfortable flats I wore all last summer but in another color for fall??? I wouldn't even know where to look for the soap dish and refuse to run all over town for the socks.

My husband needs another pair of black cargo shorts. He wears them every day because WE LIVE IN TEXAS. The better stores? Replaced by fleece-lined sweats. So I suggested Walmart. Surely they must have everything, right? We were told they don't carry shorts either because it's winter.

You can add these to the list of reasons to shop online:
You don't have to worry about iffy driving conditions, braving the crowds or finding a parking place. In fact, every fender bender I've encountered over the years happened in a store parking lot or mall garage.
You can still find products deemed old or in too small supply or too new/popular. Don't bother looking for it; I bought up every jar of Neutrogena Visibly Firm face cream.
It's fun to get packages! Often it arrives before I could get around to fetch it dans le magasin.

There are, of course, downsides to shopping online: 
I like to touch and feel and learned to suffer trying on as a matter of practicality. Thank goodness for user reviews which have saved me from cheap plastic whatcha-ma-call-its and items running big or small. 
The cost of shipping can be prohibitive. I've labored long and loudly that shipping and returns should always be free with the cost factored seamlessly into the price. 
There is no thrill of discovery. As in finding something you weren't looking for. No mistakes either, as in buying something you didn't need just because it was on sale.