Sunday, June 29, 2014

Proud of Pride

My report from Houston's Gay Pride Festival and Parade, held yesterday, will not be a critique of fashionable attire— and what fashion it was! As befits the huge attendance of L/G/B/T and S (S for straight) anything went (including some tops that stayed home). When it wasn't hot it was raining and hot. No one was comfortable, but everyone looked happy.

To celebrate who you are, who you want to be, who you would be all the time if you could be— what a quintessentially American idea. Considering I was volunteering in a booth to collect names on a grass roots petition urging Hillary Clinton to run for President, the point was brought home with striking clarity.

So no pix from the parade other than this one of the lovely Emily (who is not coughing up a cigarette). If only that tail had been a rainbow snow cone...

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

'Tis Reunion Season

I haven't been to one since my one-and-only (the 30th in 1994), but 'tis the season. Reunion planners (bless their hearts), who work long and hard at it, realize summer is probably the best time to catch alumni with some time off and/or the need to scurry back to the old home place for family obligations.

Of course, at this point, anytime would be good for the class of 1960. So few of us are working we are now called "The Silent Generation". Nobody asked me, of course, but I'm more vocal than ever.

Why did I wait till the 30th to join in the festivities? Probably because I hated high school and dreaded a resurgence of that feeling that you want to run away or throw up. But A) my dad was not well, B) I had a great husband and son and successful career in my chosen field and C) no more braces.

I agonized over what to wear, as will you if you are going to a reunion. I ended up with a white linen suit encrusted with black beading and "Dynasty" shoulders (it was the dynasty of "Dynasty"). I made the mistake many of us do; I wore the suit for the first time that night and found the pencil skirt restricting, the jacket hot, and the whole thing wrinkled. I thought I looked good going into the hotel though, and that's what counted.

Tip to all reunion planners: we were given name tags at check-in with our high school yearbook photo attached. This was a good idea in a class of 550 and less humiliating than you might think. The women were all recognizable and for the most part looked smashing. Those that were gorgeous had kept their looks, those who just needed to grow into themselves had done so with great results, and those few who might have been lost causes had fixed what needed fixing and/or lost what needed losing. Because they'd come the farthest, they looked the best.

The men, on the other hand, at almost 50, were beginning to lose it— from hair to waistlines. Without a name tag I would not have recognized Mr X. Since I was chest height to him, I saw the name tag first, recognized that face and blurted out, "I had such a crush on you!" There was no way he could see what I was thinking, Yikes! Look what happened to you...

I left my lovely husband back home for this one. Why? Not because I wouldn't want to show him off (still looking good). Not because I was afraid he would find out nobody remembered me (not true as it turned out), but because I was sure he would be bored silly. In order to "arm" myself I brought a polaroid camera (1994 remember?) and played an early version of "street photographer". The camera was a crutch; I actually took few pictures, but it was good to carry.

What did I learn?
> Time changes everything. There were no butterflies, and I kept down dinner.
> People have short memories. A couple of times I heard: "Michelle! I remember you and your red hair." My hair didn't "turn red" until I was 40.
> We have short memories. I was reminded I used to wash my face religiously twice a day in school with some gook the doctor prescribed for my roaring case of acne. Like the acne itself, I had forgotten about that.

What started all this was reading Diane Keaton's new book, "Let's Just Say it Wasn't Pretty". This is not a compendium of Diane's fashion and beauty tips. Far from it. At 192 pages, triple spaced, it hardly qualifies as a collection of essays, let alone a book. But she does touch on what time has meant for some of her favorite dreamboat celebrities. They're still good looking, just in a different way. Men have always been able to get away with aging and most have done it successfully without the unfortunate intervention of Dr. Plastique (you know who you are, Arnold, Sly and Mickey). When plastic surgery goes wrong on a man it's just as wrong as on a woman.


I only knew the mature Gary Cooper and the middle aged John Wayne. I had no idea what they looked like as young blades. The discovery was awesome but didn't make them less handsome later.

The Coop
The Duke

If you go to your reunion— and you should— road-test your outfit, bring a companion (or a camera) and be grateful that Time Marches On— and you are lucky to be marching with it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Million Dollar Mermaid— for Less

The original Million Dollar Mermaid

Bathing suits are one topic I've never tackled in this forum. Like pony tail scrunchies, I just don't own any. Because:

1) I can't swim.

2) I should not be out in the sun.

3) I have a monster scar on my upper left arm reminding me I am lucky to be alive and that, really, I should not be out in the sun. The scar is from a melanoma, the skin cancer you most definitely don't want.

Nevertheless, a noodle float and SPF 50 have come to the rescue. Finding a bathing suit has been a challenge. Unlike Padma Lakshmi who pays no attention to her scar from a car accident, my scar does make me feel self-conscious. Okay, Padma has a few other things going for her that I do not.

One occasionally needs a bathing suit. My old standby is a Danskin short-sleeved dance leotard— old but still holding up. It hides the scar but flattens rather than flatters and camouflages nothing. I've tried a surfer chick look with a rash guard shirt as a top, but I feel like an aging Gidget and a surfer fraud. Besides, those things are hot and clammy.

On her it looks good

Annette Kellerman (1885-1975) was the original Million Dollar Mermaid. She was an Australian professional swimmer, vaudeville star, actress and writer who threw off the shackles of the cumbersome pantaloon bathing suit in favor of the first one-piece (neck to toe). She is also credited with inventing synchronized swimming in 1907 and popularized swimming for health and well-being.

Esther Williams (1921-2013) was my Golden Girl. She was a swimming champion headed for the 1940 Olympics when they were cancelled on account of war. Hollywood called, as they say, and Esther became one of MGM's top stars in the '40s and '50s. She played Annette in "Million Dollar Mermaid" and wrote an irreverent autobiography also titled "Million Dollar Mermaid". A smart cookie, she invested in a number of successful businesses, designed swimwear, endorsed a line of pools and made swimming look easy.

Million Dollar Esther

Well, thank you Badgsley-Mishka and T.J. Maxx. For $29.99 I just solved my bathing suit problem with a cocoa-grey swirled and draped hank of Lycra that covers the scar issue— the shoulder straps can be fanned out to form little cap sleeves. The other drapes and gathers give the illusion of both a bust and a flat stomach. I may never take it off.

$29.99 Mermaid

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Call Him a Fashionister

My father, John Ruskin, 1940

It's too bad my parents didn't live together long. They divorced when I was ten. Certainly they had one thread in common— they both liked to dress. Perhaps it was the times (the '40s) when dressing appropriately was taken for granted.

My father Dressed, whether for gardening, going to the beach, or the one-and-only time he played tennis on the neighborhood courts. He had many business suits, shirts, ties and handkerchiefs— somewhat to my mother's consternation. She was a stay-at-home mom and buying something new for herself was an epic battle or a sneak attack on the grocery money. Like I said, they weren't together long.

Although only 5'5", he was wiry and wore clothes well. Perhaps he was trying to "stand out" in a sea of taller men (including his father and brothers). He had a thorough knowledge of cuts and fabrics and was quite fond of showing off new purchases to me, his mystified younger daughter.

But I must have absorbed...

Though one would think my mother would be my greatest fashion influence, I don't underestimate that of my father. It affected how I "judged" my suitors. I spurned one who dressed like a dork, even after he let me take him shopping. I swooned over one who wore a pink button-down Brooks Brothers shirt with plaid madras Bermudas despite the fact he wasn't interested in me. And I first thought my husband (now of 46 years) dressed weird because he was from Brooklyn and wore cowboy boots.

Men of the world— listen to this:

> Clothes do make the man, but you shouldn't dress better than your lady.

> You never want to suggest she dress as your fantasy woman.*

> You never want to underestimate the importance of fashion in her life.

> You may as well accept she will always care about what you wear.

* The only fantasy woman she should know about is her.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Charles James and I

I don't usually subject you to this, but guess what I just bought at the fanciest/schmanziest store in town? And look how much I paid for it! Yes, $29. Do I need a leopard brocade bolero? No. Is it fabulous and was it a steal?

Yes... but the most interesting part...

My friend and I were on our way to the Menil Museum when we stopped in at Tootsie's. Despite its cutesie name Tootsie's is the place to shop in Houston. We visit this "museum with price tags" to ogle the Valentinos and finger The Rows. It's not possible to envy these clothes as they are way beyond reach even in dreams. The salespeople are friendly enough and aware that we are admiring but not buying.

I had wandered into a neglected corner of Special Occasion when I spotted this spotted beauty on a small rack of super markdowns. Truly I have never met a leopard I didn't love, but the unbelievable price tag had me doing a double take and a mental cartwheel. I sheepishly bought it and received a hanger and carry-bag possibly worth more than the bolero, and off we went to the Menil.

Welcome to the Menil

If you ever come to Houston you must visit the Menil. It's a stunning building and houses Domenique and John de Menil's collection of surrealist, African, Eskimo and Egyptian art. The Menils were also early benefactors of the artists making waves post WWII and commissioned this building to show their collections to the public— always for free. It's a magical place.

Domenique in a James and on a James

It should be no surprise that Domenique de Menil also championed the brilliant designer— nay couturier— Charles James. Not only did he make ball gowns and day wear for Domenique, he did the interiors of the de Menil's Philip Johnson-designed house in Houston (reportedly to Mr. Johnson's chagrin). This show is in tandem with a much larger presentation at The Metropolitan Museum of Art inaugurating the Met's Anna Wintour Costume Center. So Mr. James is very much of the moment.

James at the Met

His genius was in construction. First a sculptor, then a milliner, his sketches look like something out of DaVinci's notebooks. The gowns were amazing creations, but the daywear too speaks of sculpture and movement.

1937 puffer jacket

Brilliant, he could also be exasperating. He would not do work for you if he didn't like you. He might take a year to finish a dress then decide it wasn't right. Christian Dior is said to have credited Charles James as the inspiration for his own 1947 New Look. James was a narcissist without a head for business— a recipe for disaster that led to his being almost penniless at the time of his death at the Chelsea Hotel in 1978.

Charles James in his heyday

The Menil show does not have the scope of the Met's of course. There are far less garments (and some are a tiny bit moth-eaten). His interior design is represented only by a few pieces of furniture. Domenique comes across as a lovely woman, who must have been to put up with him. Needless to say, if you are in Houston or New York City this summer, you have something to see.

Back to my bolero. Doesn't this Charles James evening jacket from the 1930s remind you of something?

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Never Say Never Yet Again

Something else to add to my file of "Never Say Never": (gee that file is getting thick...)


Yikes! The footwear of my enemy is now my footwear. For years I considered Tevas and their web-strapped, foam-soled cousins to be the arch enemy of stylish shoes. As worn first by hippies and then aging hippies. As purchased at Whole Earth Provisions or Outdoor World. Unless to buy mosquito netting I'm not going there.

Trippin' with Tevas...

Nowadays the rubber flip flop is my most comfortable shoe. The years (and three surgeries on the right foot) have taken their toll. Even if it was merely walking many happy miles on them, feet do tell you how old you are. Rubber flip flops, however, are not the safest things to navigate the planet. And, despite being gussied up with bells and whistles, do not a fashion statement make off the beach.

What to do? What to do? I've reported on the emergence of the "chineaker", the chic sneaker. I also told you my ears are deaf to the siren's call. But how to take the news that Tevas are Summer 2014's footwear of choice?

By trying on a pair, of course.

The Teva look as interpreted by Prada;
compression sleeves will stay home

Hello, new love of my life. Can I dare— dare I?— compromise my principles and adopt you? You betcha. Tevas, you are mine.

Come rain, come shine, come streets in Pompeii or sidewalks in New York City, this summer the word is "march"!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

On How to be Lovely

Some of you who read this are under 40— even under 30. I love that! It means I have a platform (heel) to stand on and let you know that someday:

> You may actually know what your style is (or isn't).

> You will look back at your "figure problems" and wish you still had them as those were small potatoes.

> You may wish you hadn't gotten rid of this-or-that, but you will also realize you can't keep everything.

> You may laugh at or envy your younger self, but you will know you are still indeed the same person.

I recently checked out "Betty Cornell's Teen-age Popularity Guide". Teenager Maya Van Wagenen found a copy and took the advice to heart. She wrote "Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek" about what happened after she put Betty's lessons into practice (happy ending). Now the original has been reprinted with an introduction by Maya. Betty herself is still around, and they met (photo included).

I never bought any teenage beauty books. By the time I was one, I just wanted it to be over. I hoped to be beautiful, of course, but I also wished to be a grown up. When you are a teen you assume beauty will lead to popularity. Both goals appeared unattainable. So if it took a while to become beautiful, I would then be grown up. And grown ups never seemed to worry about being popular. You are chuckling at my innocence, right?

My beauty bible was a Dell paperback called "The Handbook of Beauty" (35 cents) by Constance Hart, no doubt the Betty Crocker of authors. I still have it— pages yellowed and crackling with age, spine tender and coming unglued. Any resemblance to my current state purely intended.

I gave my old textbook another look and realized the emphasis is on eating healthy, drinking lots of water, getting enough sleep, exercise, posture and good grooming. What— no lotions and magic potions! No plastic surgery, botox fillers or Retinol! How could that advice for 318 pages lead to being beautiful? At least all the reading would take your mind off looking for secret formulas.

You might make better use of your time by renting "Funny Face" and fast forwarding to the duet near the end with Audrey Hepburn and Kay Thompson. Better yet, watch the whole thing.

Herewith, the (somewhat abbreviated) lyrics to "How to be Lovely":

On how to be lovely
You got to be happy.
When you can feel
light and gay
Then you'll be lovely
as a holiday.

On how to be charming
You got to be merry
If only to weave a spell
And you'll be lovely
As a carousel too.

I (I know you can) show how.
It's (it's all in the) know-how.
And (and once you know) oh how
The world looks good to you
As it should to you.

On how to be lovely
You got to be jolly
When you can be fancy-free
And flash a smile that
Folks come flocking to see.

You'll be as lovely 
As can be.

Can't (can't do it with) make-up 
You (you've just got to) wake up 
And (and startin' to) take up 
A life delirious 
Nothing serious.

Make sorrow incidental 
(Let joy be monumental) 
And you'll be lovely 
You'll be as lovely 
As can be!