Sunday, November 30, 2014

Jump Start

Turning a sleeveless dress into a jumper is a trick that's been around forever. A black turtleneck never earned its keep better than this look. I might have switched to black opaque tights though.

The pussycat bow on this blouse helps further unify the two pieces, in this case a faux three pieces. Good job.

The other day shopping I came home with one lonely purchase. By the time I arrived it seemed desperation might have been doing the buying. I didn't need another blouse, but it had looked nice under the jacket I wore that day.

Lonely blouse sat around in its plastic bag for quite a while. I couldn't see another trip to the mall anytime soon. Do the words "black" and "Friday" also bring terror to your soul? So I played around with it instead and came up with 4 more ways to wear this quite attractive blouse (that came out of living in a bag for two weeks with nary a wrinkle).

Blouse from H&M
And as a jumper again

It's much too nice a day to stay inside playing dress-up on Blossom Dearie all afternoon, but you get the idea. And, yes, I am fortunate enough to have found a Wolf Dress Form Model 1951 in my exact size. She's called Blossom Dearie in homage to the artfully named cabaret singer and in tribute to a silent but important character in "I Capture the Castle", Miss Blossom. Honk if you've read the book.

The dear Miss Dearie

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Fly Me to These Sandals

Won't someone please rip these off and make them cheaper? How can I possibly shell out $125 for plastic jelly sandals (though jellies are incredibly comfortable) just because someone cleverly added wings? I mean, how adorable are they?

Here's the leather version at $230. Somehow not as adorable.

A year plus later I finally bit the bullet and bought these sandals. They were 80 euros on the Ancient Greek Sandals website with free shipping! 10 days later DSL dropped a package on my doorstep— from Greece. Still too much for 35 cents worth of plastic, but they are most definitely superior plastic. A little squooshy to make them comfortable, well constructed and just luscious. I bought the blue as seen above— surely must be the color of the Aegean Sea! Order yours true to size (I'm a US 8 and got the 39).

Sunday, November 23, 2014

When Fashion Was Flights of Fancy

And only $25!

I discovered a gem tucked away in a used book store — Harper's Bazaar dated December 1936. The Art Director was Alexi Brodovitch, Cassandre painted the cover, Man Ray, Munkacsi and Louise Dahl Wolfe took photographs, Herbert Matter turned photos into faux travel posters. Those names are pioneers in their fields of design and photography. They still had to pay the rent.

Slightly battered Bazaar

There are ads from Tiffany for an emerald cut diamond ring at $960 ($16,398 in today's money), a 16mm Kodak movie camera for $125 ($2,135), a 27-day cruise to South America on the Italian line, starting at $325 ($5,551 a bargain really) and a shiny red 1937 Cadillac for $1445 ($24,683). An editorial feature on affordable dresses ("I Don't Want to Spend Much") highlights a fabulous long black net gown with pussy cat bow and puffed sleeves for $25 ($427), a price I don't think of as affordable even today.

No question about it

Diana Vreeland wasn't on the masthead yet, but her "Why Don't You" column (two-page spread continued in the back) was in full swing. Diana became famous (or notorious) for this column that she wrote (she says) tongue in cheek. Those who knew Diana disagree. It would not be unlike her to "wash your blonde child's hair in dead champagne" (one of the most quoted and outlandish "Why Don't You"s). According to Diana, she questioned the advisability of publishing such frippery during what was still very much the Great Depression, but flipping through this Bazaar leads to the conclusion not everyone had lost everything.

Diana in the 1930s

Diana wasn't Fashion Editor yet. She'd been hired by Carmel Snow as Diana not only had style, she traveled in the society that was Bazaar's intended audience. Carmel made her the Paris Editor, which suited Diana just fine. She got sent to Paris to report and would continue to have her clothes made there until WWII changed everything. You might assume Diana would crumple having no access to her beloved Paris, dealing with clothing rations and general hardship in time of war. She not only turned lemons into lemonade, she swirled them in a silver cocktail shaker. Diana championed American designers, literally bringing many out of the back room for the first time. She paved the way for an American style of dressing— sportif, practical, comfortable, appropriate and always chic.

But that's another story. In 1936 Diana was still tripping to Paris and tripping out on what she found there. No one but she could have written these "Little Ideas from Paris":

"Make a little Juliet cap of net and encircle its edges with a wreath of multicolored ostrich tips— but the tiniest, brightest tips you can find."

"A black velvet peasant cap embroidered brightly in silk like the cap of a little Norwegian peasant girl. To wear in the evening."

"Or while tennising or golfing or hiking, just for fun, tie a cotton hankie around your wrist— a nice wild decorative one. Or try a chiffon one for evening." 
Voice from 2014: that last actually sounds like a nice idea.

"A blue fox coat, soft and shaggy, over a gown of smoky, taupe paillettes with a tiny velvet cap, also taupe, perched on your head, and short green gloves."

"Choose a simple gown, and with it, a huge cabochon emerald in one ear and an equally large sapphire in the other."
Voice from 2014: another fun idea though my jewels will be faux.

"Tuck a bright velveteen scarf under your black evening coat and wear it all night tightly rolled in the high neckline of a plain black dinner dress."

Is it my imagination or was there more fun to fashion back then?

Little ideas from Paris

Friday, November 21, 2014

What to Wear to Your Own Party

Can you spot the hostess?

Oh, the slippery slope of party dressing! Unless you are invited to an Ugly Christmas Sweater party, most invitations deliver not a clue.

As in any fashionable situation there are three goals:
1) to feel pretty
2) to feel comfortable
3) to feel appropriate

Notice the emphasis on feelings. Something thought of as "pretty" may not make you feel pretty at all. Even pajamas aren't comfortable if they are made of crappy fabric that keeps riding up. And appropriate? There is no worse feeling that realizing you are the most over- or under-dressed guest.

What if you are the hostess of this event? You have a double burden because you set the mood for your party but can't be a dictator, demanding all guests reflect your mood board.

Not withstanding, if there's ever an excuse to over-dress, let it be the hostess. Dressing special shows you are serious about this party thing. Who hasn't encountered a hostess in jeans and a t-shirt when the doorbell rings? This implies our hostess is so frazzled she hasn't had time to think of herself. And I'm frazzled for her.

If what your guests wear is integral to your party's success indicate that you are, indeed, throwing a 1950s-Mad-Men-themed soiree or a Hayride Hoedown. You can't insist on compliance— the generous hostess cares about her guests and not what they wear— but you can play the part to the hilt. Entertaining is a theatrical event after all. You are the producer, director, set designer, caterer and— to some extent— the lead actor. Playing your part well insures that guests feel comfortable and pampered and in the mood to have fun.

Here are suggestions what to wear to your own party and why:

> Headband, jeweled or with a bow— keeps hair out of your eyes and/or the dip, can replace a dangly necklace or floppy earrings as adornment

> Velvet slippers (ballet or tuxedo)— most comfortable footwear on earth. Substitute delicate flat sandals if local weather permits.

> Long skirt or maxi dress (not too full)— essentially ends the footwear dilemma, is comfortable and lets you swish like Loretta Young (if reference is obscure YouTube "The Loretta Young Show")

> Palazzo pantsas above and for a more sportif look (try a brocade pair with a chambray shirt)

> Caftanbe the one who brings this back!

> Ethnic-minded outfitfrom a Chinese embroidered jacket with easy pants to a sari

Beware long and/or floppy sleeves, tops that need to be tucked, bracelets and bra straps. I'm not a fan of the "hostess apron" unless tongue is very much in cheek. A cute little apron protects nothing and a real one risks looking like you are wearing a hazmat suit.

This post brought to you by the Dry Cleaners Association of America.

Sure you want to throw that party?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

My Life on Paper

The drinkers

Paper Dolls are very much the fabric of my life. Back in the dark days BB (before Barbie) grown-up dolls were few and far between. Paper dolls, on the other hand, fueled that fantasy, whether for Hollywood stars, wedding parties, or the land of future enchantment (I was sure), the teenage years.

The wavers

The end of WWII brought on intensified marketing to teenagers. During the Depression many teens gave up dreams of college— even of high school graduation— and worked to help the family. They grew up fast. WWII saw great numbers of 17- and 18-year-olds shipped off to war, where they grew up fast. Prosperity and the promise of peace after 1945 signaled an optimistic future. Bobbysoxers became viable consumers. My sister was about 15 at the time, and she seemed to be having a lot of fun. I could hardly wait for my turn.

Original rough sketch— so cute

I've held forth about paper dolls in the blog before. I played with them; I made them; I was one. For years Merrimack reproduced original paper dolls— cardboard covers with die-cut dolls and newsprint pages of clothing. B. Shackman was a favorite store in New York City to carry them. Alas, Shackman on 16th Street and Fifth Avenue turned into an Anthropologie some years ago, and Anthropologie doesn't sell paper dolls.

Along came laser copiers and the internet. Vintage paper dolls became easier to find, though a laser-copy doesn't evoke the same nostalgia, I recently gave in to one as I was pretty sure this was the first paper doll book I owned, "The Coke Crowd" from 1946.

Coke was literally "it". I don't remember anyone in northern Ohio drinking anything else— not Pepsi, not Dr. Pepper, not ginger ale (unless you were sick). Coke was Coke. The orange or red stuff was "pop". The paper dolls were not sanctioned by Coca-Cola. Who knows if they even granted permission? Four of the eight dolls are holding bottles of coke (with straws). That was actually a little annoying as it meant their hands were permanently raised.

Moonlight serenade

I remember coming home from downtown with "The Coke Crowd" in a flat brown paper bag that perfectly fit its size. I would have been 5 or 6. I still see myself sprawled on the living room carpet, after dinner, cutting. This was as much a Norman Rockwell moment as I remember having. We were all there— my father reading the paper (or falling asleep), my mother sewing at something, my sister playing at doing homework, the radio on. It was a small apartment with a small living room. We were separated by no more than a body length.

I didn't punch out the dolls but carefully cut them from their cardboard placenta. I disdained those dull metal scissors with the rounded edges that were deemed appropriate in school. We had sharp scissors at home. I manicure-scissored the clothes as neatly as I could with no background allowed. For expediency I kept only the top tabs and felt rather naughty lopping off the rest.

Dolled up for the barbecue

Playing with them was secondary to bringing the dolls and their wardrobes to life. I may have dressed them a few times according to the scenarios in the pages— barbecue, school days, prom, the big game, movie date— or mixed and matched the outfits. Mostly they were cut out and set aside. I was always ready for another book.

And this is finally the point. I believe my life in paper dolls set the foundation for my relationship with fashion. It's not just about having clothes to wear, it's about the inspiration, the creativity, the curiosity, the search, the discovery, bagging the trophy... then repeat.

I just laser-copied my laser copy of the Coke Crowd kids. As I cut them out I see my style has really never changed or may be reverting. Below are clothes I would wear today! And who doesn't love a man in a tuxedo?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

He Ought to Know

Valentino was the subject of a film, "The Last Emperor". Although retired from design, he is still referred to as the Emperor. I'm not sure if it's the Emperor of Style of the Emperor of Fashion. Either way, Valentino rules.

An emperor seems a little too close to a dictator— imperial power and all that. One of the contradictions in fashion is that women can't simply be told what to wear. One size in Style does not fit all. Nevertheless Valentino comes across as a benevolent emperor with a reputation for creating beautiful garments to flatter the ladies who can afford them. He's also a charming, soft spoken gentleman of the old school. His reputation as a host with the most is further upheld by publication of a book, "Valentino: At the Emperor's Table". Methinks it will spend more time on the coffee table than the kitchen table. At $150.00 it's cheaper than dinner at many four-star restaurants and might even be tastier.

This is not a book review, but a recent review of the book quoted him as saying being a guest of Jaqueline Kennedy's was the first he realized style is not just about fashion, it's about everything we do in life. Food for thought.

He also said he hasn't washed a dish since he was 22.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Something Fishy About "The Fund"?

I know reality tv is as real as, well, imitation crab. Not to be crabby about it, but how gullible do they think we are? "The Fashion Fund" has begun its second season on Ovation, and we already know the winner. That was announced at the CFDA's annual award presentation the day before the series' premiere episode.

In it's purest form, how much fun is it to watch a contest when you already know the winner? This is why my son strips black masking tape across the bottom of the television so he won't see results of football games he has yet to watch. Makes sense to me, and masking tape doesn't really hurt the screen.

Of course, all reality tv has elements of the surreal. Contestants on "Survivor" talk to the camera "in confidence" that they know will be revealed to all once the show airs. Some of them are unhinged enough to let everything fly anyways. That makes for good television and is why nice, normal people make up a very small number of players.

Contestants on "The Amazing Race" share the challenges with an unseen camera person, in the car with them as well as slogging across the Alps. I once unexpectedly glimpsed a cameraman in an episode and was quite taken aback— for a second.

"The Fashion Fund" dispenses with reality in a grander fashion. We are asked to believe that the ten finalists haven't a clue why there are camera crews in their offices the day the CFDA is due to give them good or bad news. What a surprise— they were all accepted! To tell the truth, I would have liked to see someone get bad news. That makes for good television.

And how do these ten contestants get picked out of the hundreds that must apply? It only ever looks like ten are in contention. Methinks they were chosen; then the producers back-tracked, following them to their homes, studios or offices. At least on Project Runway Tim Gunn visits the last few finalists before the penultimate runway show and not sooner.

One of the judges on "The Fashion Fund" is Diane von Furstenburg, a powerhouse of a designer and a personal favorite. Diane has her own reality series running concurrently on E. Alas, I smell some shenanigans on this one too, beyond questioning why do it all. The first episode had a group of young women (competing to become a DVF "brand ambassador"), let loose in her boutique, trying on accessories, twisting turbans into scarves and generally making a mess of things. They were, however, so self-consciously doing this, I could almost hear the off-set prompt to "mess it up more, girls!"

Only one real brand ambassador here...

I know who won The CFDA Fashion Fund Award, but I won't spoil the surprise for you. 

Judges with three of the CFDA finalists

Thursday, November 6, 2014

When Do You Get Dressed?

Proper attire for walking a poodle?

Not dressed up— dressed. As in real clothes. As in sleepwear doesn't count (even the kind you could walk the dog in). The act of putting on clothes often determines what we make of our day.

Oviously, you are thinking. I get up, maybe have time for breakfast, a cup of coffee, feed the pets, hug the kids, water the plants, make lunches, get dressed and go to work.

But what about the days you aren't working? And what if your non-work days far outnumber your work days?

The sooner in the day I get dressed, the more I will physically get done in the day. The later I dress the more I will accomplish mentally. Like writing this blog (am in my bathrobe). If I've given myself a "snow day" (a day to recoup mentally or physically from previously hectic days), it's much more fun not to get dressed.

In the past I've made promises to "dress before breakfast", "dress after breakfast", "dress before noon"— sometimes all in the same day.

Of course it matters what you put on. Changing from pjs to ratty old "junk clothes" may get you moving, but it won't get you out the door. Put on real clothes and don't you want to go somewhere? Once upon a time I thought the solution would be something nice to wear at home that would straddle a private and public persona. I may have been trying to emulate my mother's house dresses— neat and trim for the "business" of housekeeping, not worn to relax in or be seen in outside the home. So I bought a rainbow-striped turtleneck and black pull-on knit pants—cheery and comfortable but not very stylish. This swiftly became the fashion equivalent of purgatory: can't sleep in it/be seen in it.

The Victorian proper lady could change her clothes upwards of 5 times a day. She had a wrapper to breakfast in her room, a morning dress for taking care of household matters, an afternoon outfit for going about, an ensemble for when she arrived home for tea and evening dress for dinner. Any sporting activity required its own meticulous get-up as well. No wonder she had help. All that dressing and undressing, putting away and pressing would be exhausting!

Anyone under that petticoat?

Think about it— when do you get dressed, and are you stressed about it?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Madame Predicts: Little Jacket Love

You can love a sweater jacket too

Flummoxed by what to buy this fall? Get in line. If there's nothing new, why do your clothes seem old? If you can barely wrench anything out of the closet, why do you feel compelled to squeeze in another something?  This is the quandry in which Fashion, the retail juggernaut, hopes you will find yourself. The compulsion to buy new at the change of season is deeply engraved, even though the seasons themselves are changing very slowly (still in the '80s in south Texas). Your better nature has no place in this equation if your fashion willpower is weak.

What to do?
While eyeing what goes into the closet and what stays in those cardboard boxes, I realized what excited me most were the little jackets I've collected. Some are pretty old; two were purchased last year. Each acts as a style maker— paired with a simple skirt or pants and something underneath, it's a finished look.

Reminder: Three pieces make an outfit, and a jacket is an easy piece.

I've never been a blazer kind of gal, so my jackets all have personalities. Printed, pieced, woven, tweedy, plaid— none of them are "basic". But the rest of my look can be. I like necklaces, so a number of my jackets have necklines that will complement one. The colors are those that look good next to my face. Thus no mustard jackets, but I do have mustard pants.


None of us need any more clothes. We know that. That's not the point. What is the point is that we scratch that "new clothes itch" with pieces we will wear at prices that won't rack us with guilt. A little jacket is a great excuse to go shopping as you'll have to do some hunting to find one you love. You'll also know when you see one, because your little jacket will speak to you.

The Chanel jacket is such a classic it's a cliche. There's a reason. It's easy to wear, doesn't look like it's trying too hard and signals you have good taste. I doubt even Mademoiselle Chanel would mind that her iconic design has been ripped off a zillion times. She cared about how women look, and not just her women.

One of the Originals

The "dressmaker" jacket is the feminine version of a man-tailored blazer. It has softer style details which rely on cut, not fancy fabric or ornamentation:


A little jacket can also be a coat, one that won't keep you warm but will still cover you. I pat myself on the back for snapping up this Giambattista Valli leopard number from his Macy's collection some time ago. A hundred bucks, and I feel like a million:

Valli of delights
Here's one I have my eye on for a better price. Note the hi-lo aspect of dress-up, dress-down. Little jackets are good at that:
Got my eye on you...

The statement jacket tells everyone you are quirky, artsy or well-traveled. This jacket can be a:
> Japanese kimono
>  Chinese embroidered jacket
> Appliqued Mexican jacket
> Pendleton plaid
> Ralph Lauren NA (Native American)
> Kantha quilted jacket.

Some statements are getting a little tired these days: the motorcycle jacket (moto style and the Happy Days variety) and the denim jean jacket. Give them a rest if you wish your statement to say you are not one of the pack.

Hard to find, worth the hunt
Super-sized Kantha jacket on
Supermodel Heidi Klum

Watch what you wear under.
> Simpler is better— a tank, a silk shell.

> Consider the sleeve length. You don't want shirt sleeves sticking out of a bracelet-length sleeve.

> Consider the weight. This jacket is meant to stay on. If you work in a hot office, forget the idea.

> If it's vintage, check for stains and moth holes. Just cause it's old does not give you a pass from good grooming.