Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Dressed and Ready to Go

"I went on a trip and packed in my suitcase..."

Remember the memory game where you started with an "A" word (usually aardvark because it sounded funny) and packed everything down to "Z" while repeating the list? No one ever got to zebra, but it took up time in the car.

Here's a real question for you:

What do you put on in order to feel dressed?

I can imagine your answers, from "a smile" to "perfume" to "pearl studs", but I really want to know. Maybe your answers will be surprising. I know I surprised myself, because the thing I must put on in order to feel dressed is this:

It's that gold bangle which is not pure gold and sports a fairly visible dent in the side.

The bracelet has an unknown provenance. It was not my grandmother's, worn as a young woman when she escaped to America from the pogroms in Austria-Hungary. It was not my mother's, bought with hard-earned money from her first job or given to her by an early beau. I have no idea who owned it originally (or made that dent).

The bracelet was a gift from a boss, a man not known for being demonstrative. In fact, I didn't think he liked me much. It was the practice in this particular office to bring back little trinkets from one's travels. My gift was usually a communal box of salt water taffy from the Jersey Shore, but as a higher-up his vacations were more exotic. So let's say this came back with him from somewhere in Europe.

It's marked "14k gold filled" (hhhmmm... in English... must have been England) and is very lightweight. The bracelet slips on (no clasp) and was probably meant for a child. I have small wrists; other bangles slide right off. I used to think it was Victorian (because I wanted it to be), but probably it dates from the early 1920s.

So it's gold(ish), fits my wrist and was a surprisingly personal gift from a man I didn't think liked me. Would it surprise you to know that I thought more highly of that man ever since?

Although I wear a watch on the same wrist, I literally feel undressed without that bracelet. It goes with me everywhere. I think of the backstory and send a little mental "hello" his way (he mellowed over the years).

And then I'm ready for the day.

What do you put on in order to feel dressed?

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Still the Best

Private screenings are a guilty pleasure. Every once in a while I'll sit myself down, invite no one (except the cat who doesn't take no for an answer) and watch a pivotal movie, one that I either always wanted to see or one that meant so much (for one reason or another).

"The Best of Everything" is of the latter. I saw it multiple times (pre VCR, pre Turner Classics) at its release in 1959, read the original novel by Rona Jaffe and tucked it away for my future move to New York. That happened in 1964. A lot else was happening too. Anyone familiar with "Mad Men" can tell you 1964 was light years from 1959.

Don Draper reading Rona Jaffe

I'm sure there still were many, many secretaries working until Mr. Right whisked them off to suburbia. Fortunately I wasn't one of them. My mother had told me never learn to type; a caring professor gave me a ridiculously hefty dose of self confidence.

Nevertheless "The Best of Everything" recalls New York City of that time accurately and deliciously in Technicolor and Cinemascope. Exteriors were filmed on location. Interiors were not the Hollywood version of Manhattan. The girls' apartment is believable (if a wee bit roomy). What I really loved were the clothes. By the time I got there, no one (man or woman) wore a hat, but we gals still wore gloves (stockings and girdles too). "Street fashion" had not been invented. If you were a bohemian, you dressed like one. But you didn't work in an office.

Hats off... soon

You spent the most you could to fit in. "Fast fashion" hadn't been invented either. Some stores, such as Ohrbach's and Stern's, were known for better prices. Beloved Bloomingdale's had a bargain basement, but we all lived with less clothes because we had no choice. I don't ever recall anyone having "brand envy" or the burning desire to get the latest whatever. That all came in time.

The romances in "The Best of Everything" are not so outlandish either. Joan Crawford's married lover is never seen onscreen. Their plot develops in telephone conversations. She does a bang-up job. Diane Baker is little-miss-innocent. Her story is a bit melodramatic, but it plays to the all-too-real fear of "what if I get pregnant?".

Suzy... sleuthing

Suzy Parker is the gorgeous creature/spurned girlfriend, but she's very believable. Any woman who ever wanted to stalk an ex-boyfriend will live through her shenanigans. Totally underated as an actress, she retired from the screen in 1964 after a second serious auto accident. The star of the drama is Hope Lange, serviceable if a little stiff in the part. She actually has the most wardrobe revelation as she goes from college grad (with hat) to department head (with French twist). No, I'm not giving anything away. You knew that promotion was coming. What's up in the air is whether she finally gets together with the studly Stephen Boyd to save his character from a life of lonely martinis. Let's hope so, because Stephen Boyd, sadly, died in 1977 at age 46.

You know he's the one...

So "The Best of Everything" really has it all— romance, career, fashion and New York City. The best of everything.

Monday, May 12, 2014

What Do You Wear When You Are Going Nowhere?

More time for painterly pursuits!

So I just retired. That's pretty funny as I am almost 72 and people think I retired when I left New York in 2003. I've worked since I was sixteen and won't deny that I always felt defined by my work, so retiring was not an easy decision. Let's just say it was a combination of the little voice in my head and a Chinese fortune cookie.

I admit to using my last job as an excuse to feed my fashion addiction. I've never had so many wonderful clothes in my life. My job at the Lovely Boutique offered insanely generous discounts that were the equivalent of letting a child loose in a candy store.

I now stand before closets bursting with clothes, but what do I wear now that there is no audience? Am I like the tree in the forest that falls without making a sound if no one hears it? I remember a (probably not true) story about the designer Pauline Trigere. She gardened in her cast-off evening wear so as not to waste a good gown. I also remember my grandmother Celia, who dressed to the nines for her daily trip to the market.

More time for housework?
More time for the gym?

What's in store for me, now that I'm not going to a store every day? Houston is fortunate to have a well-established branch of Dress for Success, the worldwide organization that provides a professional wardrobe to a woman in need entering the workforce. I'd like to volunteer. The very best part of my job has always been helping to outfit women without perfect bodies or unlimited checkbooks. It's never about the most expensive item; it's about the right one. And there is nothing more gratifying than seeing the confidence in a woman when she looks and feels good about herself. This is something we all know!

More time for picnics!

There are a million other things to do, of course— from the silly to the sublime. It may take some time to sort them out (the perfect mix of frivolous and serious being the goal). As for now, time is spelled "me" and "it". Sounds good.

More time for slumber parties!

Stop the presses! Retired has just become "retreaded". It's been decided I will still work at the Lovely Boutique two days a week. That still gifts me with time— and a reason to wear... there.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

I See You Hanging There

Genius jean jacket
... but not for me

There are five things always hanging out in my closet that I'll never wear... yet they'll always be there. Why? Because if they're not, I will buy them again. And history will repeat itself.


1) Black pencil skirt
Every woman needs one, right? No— not if a pencil skirt is the worst choice for a lower half that looks more like a kneaded eraser. No— not if you don't have a life in an office where said skirt, blouse and jacket would be de rigueur.

2) Jean jacket
Ah the jean jacket— staple of any modern woman's wardrobe, right? Every time I put mine on I feel like Randy in "A Christmas Story", encased in outerwear and unable to move. Perhaps it's not broken in and/or soft enough, but I've had many jean jackets over the years and they all act the same. So this latest one is going to hang there as A Reminder.

3) Black pumps
Medium heel, perfectly plain, never worn. Never mind that I can't take two steps without saying "no way". There isn't a reason to own plain, uncomfortable shoes, yet they will remain. So I don't buy them again. My shoes are fun and comfortable. Okay, they start out fun and maybe turn out uncomfortable. These black pumps are boring, but I think I should own a pair.

Charming chambray...
but not for me

4) Chambray shirt
I've bought at least four of them in the last year thinking I will find Mr. Right. I don't like blue, so why would I think I want a chambray shirt? Because I have the perfect J Crew-ish chunky jeweled necklaces to wear with one? Because they're "in"? Because because... Well, I'm keeping one hanging in the closet because...

5) Trench coat
Once upon a time I had a trench coat... It was back in my art school days. I wore it everywhere for years. Never cleaned it. The older it got the better it looked. Ah, if that trench coat could only talk. One day I must have looked at it with the cold eye of dawn and out it went. Ever since I have been trying to replicate said trench coat and no doubt every adventure it shared. Alas. Too new. Too stiff. See "jean jacket". I once even contemplated buying the gen-u-ine article by Burberry. Thank goodness that never happened or it would be hanging in my closet now like the one from Banana Republic that I did buy.

How come she always looked
so good in one?

There is another list to compile: I Don't See You Hanging There. On this list would be all the things I foolishly turned out of my closet thinking I would never wear them again. That list would be very long indeed.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

I Adora the Fedora

Finally a fedora has entered my life.

I am very late to the fedora party. It has taken me this long to find one I like that also fits. If the whole point of (finally) wearing a hat in the sun is protection, a cute little short-brimmed fedora would not cut it. What I needed was a fedora with a nice-sized brim that would stay on my head and somehow keep me from looking foolish.

The party started about 2007

I have at least a dozen other straw hats. Most don't do a thing for me. My favorite to date has been a straw cowboy hat from Target. Does not go everywhere.

Of course there are felt fedoras and straw boaters (see above) but the hat du jour would be a straw fedora with a prominent band. And if you don't think they can be worn in a variety of jaunty angles, see above again.

The fedora itself has an interesting history. Wikipedia tells all:

The word fedora comes from the title of an 1882 play by dramatist Victorien Sardou, "Fedora", written for Sarah Bernhardt... Bernhardt played Princess Fedora, the heroine of the play. During the play, Bernhardt, a notorious cross dresser, wore a center-creased, soft brimmed hat. It was popular for its stylishness and its ability to protect the wearer's head from wind and weather. 

Sarah in Le Smoking

The straw fedora arose from the popularity of Panama straw hats that were created in many shapes, from boater to trilby. From the 1920s until the hatless 1960s men changed their hats seasonally. The proverbial mad dogs and Englishmen in the noonday sun? At least the Englishman wore a hat. Suddenly, in the early part of this century, the straw fedora got hip. There's no real scholarly answer, but this quote from an online forum seems to nail it:

It could have to do with the fact that hats are sort of anachronistic to today's young people. The older generations sort of grew up with them (to some degree), and so over time they acquired an air of novelty. It also helps that the era in which fedoras were popular has been romanticized to hell.

Mad Men and Englishmen...

So this time I'm hardly a trend-setter, but for all the right reasons will be a mad hatter this summer.

Rachel Zoe:
Celebrity mom and good mother