Sunday, December 21, 2014

'Twas the Lanz Before Christmas...

... and all through the house the sisters were sleeping... dressed like extras in The Sound of Music.

Dreaming of a Tyrolean Christmas...

How did the fashion for Lanz nightgowns and pajamas get started? They always evoke Memories of Christmas Past, but love of Lanz took off only after WWII. Still in business today (though owned by the Eileen West company) Lanz describes itself as "epitomized by Tyrolean prints, cozy flannel, dreamily soft micro-fleece and lots of old world charm. Our sleepwear for adults and children is perfect for family photos and holidays at home."

In stock at the
Vermont Country Store

We always seem to want to return to a mythical past. The Lanz nightgown is ready to role play— from "Little Women" to "Little House on the Prairie". It takes on a life of its own at Christmas when it's "perfect for family photos and holidays at home." In my growing-up time of the '50s, if you didn't have a Lanz nightgown or pair of pjs, you wanted one. I had a friend who always found a new Lanz something-or-other under the tree every year. They weren't cheap, but they weren't out-of-range ridiculous. There were, of course, a lot of knock-offs.

"Lanz of Salzburg" is not known in Austria for pajamas. The Lanz family business (since 1922) located in Salzburg has always specialized in tracht tailoring— "tracht" being the elaborate costumes worn by farmers/peasants in the rural areas. An Austrian wishing to purchase a "Lanz of Salzburg" nightgown would have to do it online. One of the founders did open a branch of the business in New York in 1936 but decamped back to Vienna in 1939. Lanz of California was established in the 1940s and was totally independent of its European namesake.


If only to confuse the situation more, at one time there were two Lanz companies in America: Lanz of Salzburg for sleepwear and Lanz Originals for dresses. Those were very desirable— much in the way of Laura Ashley dresses two decades later. I had one as a young teen— a blue cotton dimity print— purchased at the Bonwit Teller on Boylston Street in Boston for $45. It was  one of "My Favorite Things", and I wore it till I was "Sixteen Going on Seventeen".

Lanz Originals, as coveted by teens

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Way to a Little Girl's Heart

Growing up... but not too fast

You know her. She could be your daughter, your granddaughter, your niece or your little cousin. She's a girly-girl, and she's— like—9. What do you give her that is age appropriate and will not reinforce the fantasy that life will be all cherry-flavored lipgloss and sequins?

Most important you will not want to dumb down your gift, i.e. no "child versions". It should not be mini me or imitation grown up. It should be as real as if you were buying it for yourself.

A good grooming kit. This is the age when a little girl actually has TIME to take bubble baths and fuss over little things. Why not put together a basket containing some lovely soap, a nail brush, bath sponge, bubble bath or bath bombs and a light (but real) scent (Yardley's English Lavender or the ever-popular Jean Nate)? Line it with a pretty hand towel and add whatever extras come your way.

A manicure set remains to this day my favorite holiday gift ever. I didn't ask for it, and my mother questioned its suitability. I loved all the little compartments that held tools and polish and felt the giver acknowledged the grown up I would soon become. You could pair that with a professional manicure date with you at a salon so she can see how its done. Please advise the technician not to cut her cuticles, as that's something you don't want her practicing at home! I feel girls this age are a bit too young for the whole salon mani-pedi thing. Pedicures can wait.

Likewise I disdain young girls wearing makeup, so you won't find that suggestion here. Some things are worth waiting for.

A piece of real jewelry will steer her towards the finer things in life. It will be small, befitting her age and your pocketbook unless you are Auntie Warbucks, but it could be a real gold or sterling silver locket or a necklace with a cultured pearl or tiny initial or a delicate bracelet. This is a way of letting her know that real jewelry is special and needs to be taken care of. You could present it in a small jewelry box too.

A scarf, a real silk one, from a real store and in the store's gift box. Make it small and pattern/color appropriate— polka dots, stripe, checks or plaids. Paisleys are too old. Animal prints are ageless.

A wallet with places for cards and change and moolah (don't forget to add a little jingle for good luck). This helps teach organizational skills and recognizes that she has important things to carry.

A sewing kit and a lesson in sewing buttons and doing minor repairs will come in handy forever. You can find small sewing baskets and add needles, pins, pincushion, thread assortment, small scissors, seam ripper, tape measure and #1 crochet hook (for fixing snags). Don't forget a needle threader!

A fashion craft kit to create her own accessories may interest a girl totally immersed in fashion. Choose a kit that allows her to make the most choices. Something ready to construct and matching a sample is not going to encourage originality.

A fashion history book. She's never too young to realize that fashion and history go together. Most books follow fashion timelines with lots of pictures. Any knowledge will lead a curious mind to learning more.

I observed the truth of "don't dumb it down" as an adult. Some years ago my department head (male) gave our son a Miles Davis cd for Christmas. It took a while to get up the nerve, but I finally asked Ben where he bought the album so I could exchange it for something a 13-year-old would like (preferably by Nirvana). Ben politely declined, saying "one day he will really appreciate it". When that day did come along, not only was Miles Davis deemed "cool", so was Ben.

Between a manicure set and Miles Davis, there's a lesson in gifting for you.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The 99¢ Stocking Stuffer

Or rather the thing to stuff stockings into

Do you live near a TJ Maxx? There are 1,079 in the USA and Puerto Rico. Mine is less than half a mile from home. It's all I can do to keep my visits down to once a week.

Today I found, and could not resist, this glorious coated plastic shopping bag for 99¢ hanging by the checkout counter. We're not talking a tote to carry lunch. This bag measures 20" wide by almost 18" high with a capacity of 8" deep. It's made of a substantial-weight coated plastic with the most charming reproductions of vintage fashions from the Victorian era through the '50s (both sides the same).

Yes, a giant TJMAXX is printed down the sides when the bag opens up, but for this beauty at a bargain basement price, I'll be happy to be their bag lady.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Service with a Smile

"How may I help you?"

For the first time ever I am avoiding holiday shopping in the stores or at least plotting how to get in and out with the least hassle. I've taken stories of traffic jams at the mall and no place to park to heart. The pragmatic side thinks, yes, this is a very good thing for the economy. The other side is loving no shipping fees at Target and J Crew.

I'm also aware and have been the victim of rude, uninterested salespersons who couldn't seem to care less all I've gone through to get there. This is a double-edged sword as I am also in the service industry myself, and retail is my bag. I know that whatever the service it needs to be delivered with a smile, eye contact, some positive chit-chat and a meaningful closure (not just a "have a nice day").

I carry out my duties sincerely and enthusiastically. A ham at heart,  I love the fact that all the world's a stage. The more my efforts to serve you are appreciated, the better I perform— the more balls I will throw in the air, the more cherries added to the sundae.

The other day at the Lovely Boutique Where I Work a customer remarked, "You've been here a long time, haven't you?". "Since you were in elementary school," I replied.

Not true of course. I might have been in college when she was in elementary school. The fact that she acknowledged I was even there endeared me to her as no other. Suddenly she was a friend. I gave her even more of my utmost attention. Although my shift ended, I ran about gathering camisoles and cardigans for her.

I know you've had a hard day. I know you blame me when the button is missing or your size is gone. I would blame me too. I know you've waited in line way too long for your sale t-shirt. I know you are second-guessing yourself on that holiday gift before it's even been rung up. But do you really have to check your emails while you're checking out? Or talk on the phone so our only contact is gestures and nods? Some interruptions are unavoidable, I know. But it's nice to know that you know that I notice.

There is a lot we service folk can and should do to make your experience outstanding and not merely tolerable. We are never off the hook on that. My suggestion is that this is really a dance that takes two to tango.

A little kindness to your local shop girl goes a long way. To riff on Sally Field, "You seem to like me, you really seem to like me". We will jump through hoops for that.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Bring Back the Four Seasons!

They had their seasons too...

The vocal group split up many years ago, about the same time I first came across "Color Me Beautiful"— the book, the theory, the game changer.

Discovering my color palette based on skin tone, hair and eye colors was such a lightbulb moment. I remember literally saying "Duh!" when I realized why my favorite color— shocking pink— never looked good on me. I bid a fond adieu to shocking pink (next to the face) and carried the chart of flattering colors in my wallet.

Buy the bottle not the blouse

For me (pale-skinned redhead and an Autumn) no blue tones, ivory or ecru instead of stark white, greyed notes of bold colors, ixnay pastels. Teal is the one color that flatters everyone. Black is not my friend. I also learned I am a rule breaker; it's not been possible to say goodbye to black.

"Color Me Beautiful", first published in 1981, was the brainchild of Carole Jackson, a color consultant with a little art training who had briefly worked for a color separator in the printing industry. She never claimed to have originated the concept. Similar color theories were part of the Bauhaus school in the 1920s as practiced by Johannes Itten and Josef Albers. But she made it fun and relatable. "Having one's colors done" became something of a cottage industry in the '80s. You could choose to ignore it, but a few passes with scarves or color cards next to your face in a mirror, and the evidence was pretty compelling.

Look familiar?

I could be a dear and reproduce the other seasons for you. But the book, available on Amazon, is worth reading, the theory (obviously) holds water, and Carole Jackson deserves to reap some rewards.
(Many thanks to M.H. for the suggestion)

Sunday, December 7, 2014

By Bye Barbie?

"Normal Barbie" on the right

At The Lovely Boutique Where I Work, petite sizes are called "petite", and the others are called "standard" instead of "normal" or "regular". You could still interpret "petite" to mean "sub-standard" or "below normal" if you wanted to take offense. No one has.

Make way for "Normal Barbie". Her real moniker is Lammily after her creator,  Nickolay Lamm, a Pittsburgh-based "artist and researcher" (also a man). She is based on the average proportions of a 19-year-old.

When shown to a group of seven-year-old girls, some of the girls said the difference between Lammily and Barbie was Lammily was "wider", though some did say she was "fatter". She does wear less makeup, still has incredible Barbie hair and that weird pelvis.

Lammily is quite pretty. I would never have complained if I looked that good at 19. There is plenty of room to have many different styles of dolls. What bothers me is that Barbie is being trashed in the process.

Has anyone seen high fashion models in the flesh? I certainly have. Many are young and haven't sprouted the womanly attributes that show up later. They really do look like colts or giraffes or gazelles. Perhaps in another age we would have felt sorry for them. They are real women, just not like the rest of us. And right or wrong we've all gotten used to seeing clothes modeled on very thin forms.

The gazelle Giselle with her
sister, Patricia (left)

Barbie's not real and to think that's not obvious is a little unfair— to her creators at Mattel and to little girls who have loved Barbie for generations. They know she's not real as much as Rapunzel's hair wasn't twenty stories long and Cinderella couldn't wear glass shoes. Barbie is fantasy fun. Poor Barbie has been blamed for all kinds of self-esteem issues, including anorexia.

Barbie has had over 130 careers in her 55 years, from a doctor to a rapper. As befitting the times, perhaps, her latest incarnation is "entrepreneur". She's had a boyfriend and a wedding dress but never been married.

Too much bling for an entrepreneur?

Think of dolls throughout history. They were totems, not meant to be mini-mes. There were rag dolls, china head dolls, impossibly delicate bisque dolls, cartoon characters, even "church dolls" fashioned out of hankies so they wouldn't make any noise during the Sunday service.

Hanky doll
"Poor Pitiful Pearl" doll arrived
 dressed in rags

I would have loved to have played with Barbie (born too soon). I don't think it would have warped my expectations of adulthood. Instead I drafted the most sophisticated of my "little girl" dolls (she with the upswept hairdo) to be a grown-up. She was alternately a WAVE, a stewardess, a nurse and an archeologist. I became none of these and have no regrets.

As for Barbie's fate in this PC-world—in the immortal words of the late Joan Rivers, "Oh, grow up". And little girls will do that, just fine.