Thursday, January 29, 2015

Life's Lost Little Luxuries #8: The Housedress

Salesman's samples, not doll clothes

What? Consider something purposefully worn to clean the house a luxury? Think about it. Do you spend your hard-earned fashion dollars on a dress in which to dust? You might have an apron or two, if you're particularly strenuous in the kitchen and/or bake a lot. When was the last time you saw a housedress for sale? Even maids in the rich part of my town wear "business casual".

Wrap predating Diane von Furstenberg
 by about 40 years

My mother wore a house dress every day until she took up stenography and went back to work. I never remember her leaving home in one. A trip to the grocery store was considered an outing and one dressed accordingly. Her housedresses were very tailored, like she was. Light blue shirtdresses that buttoned or snapped down the front with short sleeves and an a-line skirt. Pockets. I can still see her handkerchief in the breast pocket. Her dresses couldn't all have been light blue, but that's what I remember.

And yes, there was a difference between a housedress and a housecoat. A housecoat was what we'd call a bathrobe today sans terry fabric, and it was just as slothful to spend your day in one then as now. A major difference between a housedress and a housecoat would be the length.

Dress left, coat right

My mother meant business too. Taking care of a house was an enormous undertaking in the '50s. Yes, we had a washing machine, but for many years it was a wringer type and the clothesline was outside. My sister and I were the automatic dishwasher (but only for dinner). Meals didn't prepare themselves either. Like anyone wearing a uniform, she was "on duty" and thus did not stop for breaks to check her emails like her house-cleaning daughter in 2015.

I just can't bring myself to wear anything nice to clean house, unless it were a Claire McCardell Popover. The legendary Miss Claire designed her first "popover" in 1942. It could be manufactured cheaply and sold for a reasonable price as it was considered a "utility" garment under WWII clothes rationing. The idea was to "pop" this "over" your work outfit when you got home to whip up dinner. This one sold for $6.95 including rather Neanderthal-like oven mitt.

She carried the idea throughout her career and reached perfection with this little number from 1956.

Top of the pops

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Parsing the Agora

Illustration by Lucinda Rogers

Agoraphobia is a disorder characterized by anxiety in large, crowded environments he or she feels are dangerous or uncomfortable. The word comes from the Greek "agora" meaning "gathering place". So far so good, unless you happen to be an agoraphobe.

I always took "gathering place" to mean "marketplace" as that's my preferred gathering spot. Thus I decided the opposite of agoraphobe must be agoraphile. As a bibliophile loves books, so an agoraphile must love the marketplace?

Not sure why, after years and years of using the word to describe my love of browsing and buying, I looked it up. As it turns out, I am very, very wrong. This is what happens when you love words and think you know all of them.

An agoraphile is a person who experiences sexual excitement from being outdoors.

I hate being outdoors, and this is not that kind of blog.

I don't have the strength or patience to dig into 3+ years of posts and make the necessary corrections. So if you've read somewhere I describe myself as an agoraphile, please know that what I meant to say was I am an agora-adorer.

That just doesn't have the same ring.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

In the Mood for Fashion

Diana and the mother of all mood boards

I've had mood boards way before they were called that. A collector of ephemera, I enjoy looking at bits and pieces ripped out of magazines or picked up along the way. I started small, with a bulletin board in my bedroom, but it grew. My workspace at art school was pretty awesome, inspiring the director to let me know if I didn't take it all down at graduation there would be consequences. As a graphic designer I managed to eek out a little space to pin up inspiration every place I worked. Once upon a time I had a whole spare bedroom for a studio and corked the walls. My mood boards then rivaled Diana Vreeland's office at Vogue.

Fashion designers have long used mood boards to pull together their collections. Any interior designer worth her salt carries around a portable mood board in the form of a notebook. I know Pinterest is touted as a digital mood board and can be very addictive. I fear that and am not taking the bait.

Nowadays I indulge my love for fashion with mood boards only this time, challenged for space, I use the insides of my closet doors. Thank you, lovely people who renovated this bungalow, for giving us a wall of closets with smooth white doors. And thanks to Scotch Brand for inventing Magic Tape.

A mood board inside my closet

You shouldn't need a tutorial for a mood board. I actually found "24 Pro Tips for Creating Inspirational Mood Boards" while researching this blog. That sounds too much like scrapbooking. Mood boards are for you and should come from the heart. They should make you happy and inspire you. Should they be shown to someone else, they will be seeing you. Which is fine, except no one is seeing inside my closet.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Jonesing for Jackets

Iris knows jackets go everywhere

We've all got our fashion addictions. Shoes. Handbags. Fine Jewelry. Done, done and done. I troll the designer aisles at DSW Shoe Warehouse with the best of my sole sisters. Unless it's the world's most amazing flat, I'm not buying. My handbag has to be big enough and tough enough. Once found I tend to carry it to (its) death. My husband is sick of hearing how lucky he is I don't like diamonds.

But I do fall (often head over heels) for a couple things. One is jackets. Not the kind that keep you warm; the kind that make an outfit.* And the lumpier I seem to be getting, the more thankful that jackets can both hide and shout.

Prada's dream coat of many colors (right)

Although they have their places, I'm not talking basics like a blazer, a denim jean jacket or black moto jacket. I mean statement jackets. Sewn of fanciful fabrics. Often ethnic inspired—Mandarin, Mexican, Maharajah. You could travel the world on the jackets in my closet.

The jackets I love are long enough. Sometimes they are even called "short coats".

The fit is not too snug as they will be worn with something underneath.

You have the option of taking this jacket off, but it mostly stays on.

It may be a solid fabric in a beautiful color or beaded and embroidered within an inch of its life.

The collar is simple if not non-existent.

They often have pockets (an added bonus).

The fabric is not flimsy or it should be lined.

A jacket can express your personality (because it has a personality too).

You can dress up a t-shirt and jeans.

You can make an evening look with palazzo pants, dressy Capris or a long skirt.

Because each jacket is memorable you need a gaggle of them so as not to bore your audience.

Now that I've waxed rhapsodic about the Beauty of the Jacket, I think I deserve another one, don't you?

On its way...

* One of those evergreen and golden fashion rules: Three pieces make an outfit.

Friday, January 16, 2015

If the Glove Fits...

This week a little tempest in a teapot has been brewing about Amal Alamuddin Clooney's long white gloves. She's been getting flak about their being inappropriate for the occasion (hardly a tempest), ill-fitting (true) and the fact that she "sewed them herself that morning".

Long white gloves, aka "opera gloves", were once part of an elegant outfit and not relegated to debutantes or strippers. The long black gown she wore and the red carpet occasion were perfect foils for the gloves.  They make her great arm candy for black-and-white tux-ed George Clooney. Or is he arm candy for her??? Either way, not an issue in my book.

Why she would ever take the time and make the effort to sew them herself? She's a human rights activist and lawyer. Couldn't she help save the world a little bit last week? I notice the "Je Suis Charlie" button on her evening clutch. And the gloves don't fit. Scrunchy is one thing, but she could get George's hands in there with hers.

There is one thing that bothers me even more than the white glove controversy. Do you notice how thin— painfully thin— she is? We have been oohing and ahhing about Amal Style since George let us meet her. She looks great in clothes. Her wedding-weekend-in-Venice wardrobe was to die for. But at what price to look like a supermodel? Notice her upper arms in the photos and the hip bone jutting out in the picture below. Some women are naturally reed slim. I hope she's one of them.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Joy of Shopping

Photo by Durell Godfrey

There is nothing I can say about this picture that lovers of the marketplace don't know already. This is one happy lady. Why is she smiling from ear to ear? In the doldrums of winter she has scored two giant bags of treasure. Fortunately I was able to contact her— it helps to know the photographer who knows most everyone in town. The "she" is Randie, aka the Ultimate Shopper, and this is what Randie found at the East Hampton (NY) Ladies Village Improvement Society mid-winter sale:

"In the bag were... a beautiful vintage (mint) long black cashmere coat, a short Andrew Marc puffy red coat with fur hood, Tommy Hilfiger oxblood red riding boots, a luggage-color Faconnable tote bag, a luggage-color Cole Hahn tote bag, matching suede-like gloves from Henri Bendel made in France, a black Ralph Lauren v-neck sweater, black leather snakeskin Stuart Weitzman loafers and a cute leopard collar perfect for a black velvet jacket! All for $134.00!!!" 

I would consider any one of those alone reason enough to venture out. Very few things these days, other than the usual obligations of work and groceries, are luring me away from the heat vents. A good sale would be one of them.

Weather extremes are sometimes a boon to shopping. A hot summer day and a sub-zero outlet mall are right up my alley. Sudden downpour + no umbrella + 99 cent store? No problem.

Wish I were this organized

I've convinced myself that shopping at thrift stores is doing a good thing to help others. No finer example is a woman I met who loves to shop and works near a mother lode of charity resale boutiques. She shops on her lunch hour for blouses and tops she then donates to Dress for Success. She says it relieves stress and gets her outside for a little walk. I call that the gift that keeps on giving.

Shopping is not always fun— like when you have to find something in a hurry. The other day I searched high and low for a space heater. Walmart, Target, Lowe's and Home Depot were all sold out. The local hardware store (wooden floors, nails sold individually) had plenty. And plenty of other stuff, too, I discovered.

Finding a dress for an event you don't want to attend is not fun. Never mind that 90% of the time you end up having a lovely evening.  Replacing a pair of favorite shoes that are plum worn out is frustrating as you can never find the same ones again. There are thankless items like trouser socks, jeans one size larger, a bathing suit.

Not everyone loves to shop. I don't understand it, but I acknowledge it. For serious shopping I prefer going solo. But I do have happy memories of friendships sealed with a shopping trip no matter what else we did that day. It's the joy that binds.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

What the Well-dressed Koala Needs

I don't want to make light of this because it's a very heartfelt appeal that I am taking seriously. Koalas can't help it if they are absolutely adorable even in their stressed out state due to summer wildfires in Australia. Seems they fall victim as the fires traumatize them, and they just wait around to be rescued. Thus many incur severe burns on their paws. Koalas also have weak immune systems, which doesn't help the healing process. The call is out for seamstresses (not much skill needed) to whip up koala mitten donations. You can read more about it here, including a link for a very simple mitten pattern:

Don't forget summer in Australia means winter, now, in the northern hemisphere. I've not been to Australia, but I've been up close and personal with koalas at the San Diego zoo. They do sleep a lot.

The thought of burn victim koalas needing mittens keeps me from thinking about needing mittens here in south Texas in this cold spell. So I'll stay inside and sew.

Thanks to Laura C. for passing on the call for help.

Photo by Trevor Brightman

Friday, January 9, 2015

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

Iris Apfel, late bloomer?

Thanks, Vanessa Friedman (head fashion critic at the New York Times) for giving credence to what I've been thinking.*

First a trickle, now almost a tidal wave, fashion is embracing the old, at least the older. But are we oldsters just fashion's playthings, the next "next thing"? The shock of the new? Attractive by our supposed higher buying power? Is fashion really catering, in any fashionable way, to the amazing, talented, creative, actively engaged population over 60?

The optimist gushes "maybe". The realist sighs "not yet". The pessimist mumbles "this too shall pass".

Vanessa makes some very good points. This whole business stems from the launch of Ari Seth Cohen's blog "Advanced Style" in 2010. The stylistas he chronicles are not just old, they are elderly and can be a bit eccentric. But all seem charming and have one thing in common— courage. "Advanced Style" spawned a book and a documentary but not much in the way of influencing fashion. A number of women (and men) have since become lionized for style they've had for ages— Iris Apfel, Betty Halbreicht and Nick Wooster among them. If Diana Vreeland were still alive she would be too.

Isabella too old at 44...
... at 61 and beautiful as ever

It's nice that Julia Roberts, age 47 (a youngster in my book), is the new face of Givenchy. It still rankles that Isabella Rossellini was fired from Lancome at 44 for being too old. It's lovely that Helen Mirren (69), Charlotte Rampling (68) and Diane Keaton (69) are muses and models. They are each fashionable in her own way. But Joan Didion, age 80, representing Celine seems a bit of a joke. She's always looked like a mousy librarian afraid of her own shadow. And I fear the Dolce and Gabbana grandmas peppering their ads are only comic relief.

"Is that book overdue?"
D & G's nonnas

Vanessa reveals that the movers and shakers in fashion today are not spring chickens or young blades. Karl Lagerfeld and Giorgio Armani are in their 80s, as was the late Oscar de la Renta. Ralph Lauren is 75. Donna Karen, Diane von Furstenberg, Anna Wintour, Carine Roitfield are in their 60s.

All this attention doesn't add up to change in what appears on runways, in magazines, in stores. Luckily we're going through a generous fashion phase. You can wear skinny pants if you wish (or should), avoid them if that's a better fit. Tunic tops are "in" and can deflect a multitude of sins, but it's not enough to throw on any old one and think you've nailed it. Fashion requires a bit of work. That's why looking good is such a nice accomplishment.

I've coined the term WOACA (Women of a Certain Age), though I'm the only person who uses it. Don't you think it has a nice ring?
We're here,
we're proud,
we're not going away,
and if you're lucky you'll be one too.

* "Respect Your Elders: Is fashion's love for older women, like Joan Didion, sincere?" by Vanessa Friedman, The New York Times, January 8, 2015

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Toe Show or No Show?

Garrance Dore's peekaboo Zara flats

The other day I complimented a friend on the lovely pair of ballet flats she was wearing. She said she liked them because of the color. I said I liked them because of the cleavage. I realize my favorite shoes have been the ones with toe cleavage. That's not every pair either. The vamp has to be cut low enough for little cracks of toe to peek through.

I figured I liked the look because it was the only natural cleavage I ever had. In researching this post I found that toe cleavage can be quite a fetish, part of the wide world of foot fetishes. Some of the visuals were a bit unsettling.

I came across a shoe manufacturer's discussion whether their new line should have cleavage or not. There was some question whether toe cleavage was in questionable taste, like the peep-toe. They opted for not.

I didn't mean to travel down this road. I thought toe cleavage simply made shoes look a bit more fun. Perhaps it's the illusion that one is light on one's feet and only a step away from flying off like Tinkerbell.

Will my cleavage send the wrong message, and if it does, what message is that?

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year to Same Old You

The easiest New Year's resolution I ever made was to resolve not to make resolutions. That was also the easiest to break.

Are you always looking to do better, do it better, make it better or become better at something? It's in our nature as humans not to be satisfied with the status quo. We are humble enough to search for answers and foolish enough to think we'll find them.

On top of which, we don't change as much as we evolve. Scratch me, and I'm the same little girl playing paper dolls at age 8 that I am today. There are just many more layers. You may not be the same person you were last year or last week, but you are still you.

WOACAs (Women of a Certain Age) will tell me that their biggest fashion fear is dressing too young. I don't worry about that because fashion itself has no automatic age restrictions. You just have to use your head. I own no crop tops, bikinis, strapless dresses, short shorts or mini skirts. Nothing that says "Hello Kitty" or "I'm with the band". My bling has good manners. I don't in the least feel fashion deprived.

I follow fashion according to what I like and what will look good on the way I'm built. I enjoy playing with fashion by scrambling patterns, pairing up odd color combos or breaking a few silly rules. Because fashion always changes, and I'm open, so do I.

What I think they mean to say is, "I'm afraid, as a woman of a certain age, to have fun because I don't want to look silly." The only person you should fear is the one who looks back at you in the mirror. She should be telling you if that look is not for you. And sometimes she will even say, "You know, you look good today."

Ask... and listen.
Happy New Year!

Gloria Sharp—
one of the women I watch