Thursday, February 26, 2015

Give Confidence, Hope and Style with Talbot's

Funny how things happen just when they should. I've been volunteering at Dress for Success for about six months now. Volunteering at anything is worthwhile and rewarding, but I've been having such a good time I wanted to share the experience.

Unfortunately I don't think or write that fast. While my post is "in the works" along comes word that Talbot's, the women's specialty store with 425 locations in the United States and Canada, is spotlighting Dress for Success from February 23 - March 22.

If you received a catalog in the recent mail, you'll find a coupon for 25% off your purchase until March 8, an invite to a Spring Style Shopping Party on March 7, a request to donate nearly new wear-to-work items March 5 -8 or to make a monetary gift to Dress for Success through March 22. There is also a Q & A with the CEO of Dress for Success Worldwide and an inspiring interview with a Dress for Success client.

Don't just take my word for it, this is a wonderful organization. Meanwhile you might divest yourself of some unloved apparel and take the opportunity to join Talbot's in helping to inspire and empower women.

Notice how INSPIRING and SPRING just seem to go together?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

I Can't Hear You

Dana Perry's ball gown, left

Date: Sunday evening 
Location: Family room 
Players: Two male family members and me
Scenario: Oscars telecast 

When these two women took the stage to accept the Academy Award for documentary short subject, all we could do was talk about that dress. From remarks like, "the cats would really love it" to my wondering out loud why anyone would choose it.

The dress was worn by Dana Perry who accepted with her producing partner Ellen Goosenberg Kent for "Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1". Their film was about suicide hotlines, and in her speech Ms. Perry dedicated the award to her son Evan, saying, "We lost him to suicide. We should talk about suicide out loud. This is for him. Thank you."

I never heard that because we were all so busy tearing apart her dress. The New York Times reported on the incident because just then the orchestra "played the duo offstage". They had taken too long. The Times didn't mention the dress, but that's why we didn't hear her.

Like a few others' heartfelt moments, which included Alzheimer's awareness, salary equity for women, self-esteem issues and "call your mother", Ms. Perry spoke from the heart and wanted us to listen.

We certainly heard what host Neil Patrick Harris had to say right after. "It takes a lot of balls to wear a dress like that". Less said about the taste of that remark the better, but two of us were probably thinking that as well.

By all accounts Ms. Perry did take the joke in stride, saying she invited anyone to "feel my furry balls", which were really a shawl found in a family member's attic.

Which brings me to this: If your dress is doing all the talking, no one can hear what you have to say.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Closet Cleaning on a Very Small Scale

"The Dolls" by Edward Bawdens

It's too early for genuine closet cleaning of the switch-it-to-spring variety. But one closet needed cleaning for a very long time. That's the trunk holding all my doll clothes and paraphernalia— shoes, hats, bits of lace and fabric, even some tiny green metal hangers. I have all the dolls, in another box. The dolls are wearing clothes, but the rest of their wardrobes were jammed into this trunk. There they have remained, since the last time I played with dolls in 1952.

I've been meaning to straighten out that mess for years. Perhaps if I had a daughter or nieces I would have, but only boys in this family. No grandaughter yet either, but time marches on and that trunk was still a mess.


So I decided, on a rainy Saturday, to start ironing. First of all, it sure would be nice to have a teeny tiny iron. Those doll clothes' nooks and crannies were hard to get into with my jumbo steam-a-matic. I recall, once upon a time, having a toy iron that worked. It must have been handed down from my older sister because the fabric cord was quite shredded and just looked dangerous. It had one temperature: hot.  Imagine giving that to a child to "play" with today. No doubt I learned early on to watch my fingers.

It was amazing how well I remembered so many of those little garments! Some were favorites and some I didn't like to put on the dolls even then. I found the dress my mother lovingly made with her usual precision. I also have the $4.95 doll dress I bought at F.A.O. Schwartz in New York City with all I had saved for the trip. This one held up the best and still looks lovely. Something about buying quality, yes?

$45.00 in today's money

There is a bridal gown (had forgotten about that), a Brownie uniform and a Red Cross nurse's dress. The bride may have worn her dress down the aisle once, the Brownie did not attend many meetings, and the nurse soon became "Tina the Stewardess".

By far the most contemporary and fashionable clothes belonged to my Ginny doll. Ginny was a product of the Vogue doll company and was smaller than any other dolls. Wildly popular at the time, she was a precursor to Barbie, who is even smaller. She was also my last ditch as a doll player and the only one I treated like the juvenile she was. Perhaps at age nine I was becoming maternal?

And they were all
named Ginny

Sometimes it felt like I was ironing miniature versions of my own clothes— flowered pants, a striped robe, a peasant blouse, a dirndl skirt. Others were things I would like to own, including two adorable jumpsuits. There are four straw hats. I still love to collect straw hats! Is it possible our tastes are formed as early as the playroom?

As I finished what turned into a monumental task, I thought of those many hours of doll playing. I don't remember scenarios, but there was much changing of clothes. I recently read that childhood is when we are freest to imagine and dream and pretend. As I still do a lot of that, I would like to think I'm still a child, in a good way.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Dolman Dances the Night Away

Love, Liza

Remember when you'd never heard of a peplum? Now you are sick of them. Even if you loved the peplum, it's probably lost its pep. Make way for the dolman, as in dolman sleeve. This seems to be, by careful observation, The Next Big Thing. Madame is willing to go out on a limb for this.

A dolman sleeve is that very loose armhole, not connected at the shoulder if connected anywhere at all. This makes for a loose-fitting, drape-y top-half silhouette, depending how much of you is drapable.

The dolman flatters both the narrow-shouldered and/or flat-chested. Likewise it de-mphasizes broad shoulders and can flatter a large bust (hint— the garment needs to taper towards the hem for that to happen).

The dolman is an integral part of Greek-style toga dressing. It requires little in construction skills; the effect is in the cut. And I do like a nice toga-style summer dress with strappy sandals. Lately I've been seeing more "basic summer t's" with dolman sleeves, as well as a raft of dresses and cover-ups. NB The kimono is a cousin of the dolman but not a twin.

The Segment dolman tee—
  Anthropologie, $58

Dolman got its name from the Turkish for robe (dolaman). Although the short, braided military jacket wore by Hussars is also called a dolman, the popular reference is a wide, batwing sleeve. The armhole can be very low or almost nonexistent. The dolman was a popular feature in bias-cut looks from the '30s, appeared again in the early '50s but is forever linked with disco and Halston.

'30s chic
Madame, when she was mademoiselle,
sporting a dolman, 1952
'70s Halston chic

I hear that the '70s are back in home furnishings as well, although I've never heard of a dolman couch.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Fashion Week Again?

This pelt's for you

What you see are the sounds of me, hibernating. Although we haven't been cursed with the rest of the country's lousy weather, I am as sick of winter as anyone. The last—let me repeat, last— thing I am excited about is what to wear Fall/Winter 2015.

This post has no sneak previews of the latest mukluks or galoshes, fur-lined parkas or quilted tunic vests. If past F/W Fashion Weeks are any indication there will be plenty of "winter sandals" and maybe some velvet crop tops. They should concentrate on solar-powered outerwear and self-adjusting inner wear (always 98.6).

The whole idea of Fashion Week began with the practical. Manufacturers need to get an idea what might excite buyers so they can order fabric, cut, sew, finish and ship garments by mid-August. It was never such an organized event until 1993 when designers began to schedules their shows in tents in Bryant Park. Buyers and the fashion press could then see as many as possible without conflicts or getting stuck in traffic jams. The shows soon became spectacles and by now are pretty much a worldwide industry in themselves.

Okay, maybe I'll take a peek at what some of my favorite designers have up their sleeves, but I won't look up those sleeves long. Too cold.

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Vest Harry Houdini Would Love

This little story will prove— yet again— that life is a great and wonderful mystery.

Back around November, when things were cooling off enough down here to look at winter clothes without breaking into a sweat, I spied a burgundy faux fur vest at my neighborhood branch of that bastion of all things discounted, Marshall's.

While not a fan of faux fur (try saying that five times fast) or without much vested interest in vests (but I do like burgundy), I picked it off the rack. It was size L. I fall into XS or S territory. Nevertheless, I tried it on while standing there in the aisle. It was a very small large because it did fit. A tunic, not a weskit, but it fit.

It was $19.99, less than lunch at Neiman Marcus, and I put it back. Because... read second paragraph again.

Nevertheless that vest haunted me. I went back to Marshall's the next day, but it was gone. I scoured the racks and wandered around to see if it had been dropped off (or hidden) in another area. No luck. Stubbornly I kept checking back for that vest over the next few weeks, but it was still gone. Finally I let it go, muttering "may that be a lesson to you".

Fast forward to yesterday afternoon, a possible three months later. This time I am in TJ Maxx (which happens to be a few doors down from Marshall's), eyeing the new summer clothes. On the "Small" rack of t-shirts and tank tops what do I find but that same faux fur burgundy vest, still $19.99, only this time it is in TJ Maxx. Of course I buy it, assuming it must be a size small, and arrive home basking in Successful Shopper's Afterglow.

I gently ease that vest out of its non-biodegradable plastic housing (okay I rip it out of the bag) and see that, yes indeed, what I have bought is the burgundy faux fur vest in size Large.

Is the vest suddenly in a different store? And, yes, I do know that TJ Maxx and Marshall's have the same parents. Why was it on the Small rack? And why now, when winter clothes have been shunted off to the sale corner? Why me? Why? Why? Why?

Y is a crooked letter and life is very strange indeed.

The investment

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Gal Who Got it Right

The other day at the Lovely Boutique Where I Work, I checked out a charming young woman in her mid 20s. She was excited about her purchase (as we all should be when buying something new*).

She remarked, as she handed it over to ring up, "I love this! Some days I feel Bohemian, you know, and some days I feel Audrey Hepburn."

"How do you decide how you feel each day?", I asked, really interested.

"Well, if my hair is frizzy, I'm Bohemian. If it's nice and sleek I can be Audrey".

She had a beautiful head of shiny, dark hair that in Houston weather can probably turn frizzy (aka curly) overnight.

What a smart cookie! She has learned early on that we are more than one persona, even as we go through life trying to hone our style to a single coherent equation. And sometimes who we are is not determined by mere whim. We have social obligations, financial constraints, time limits and unruly hair.

Sure, every day is not Halloween, but occasionally we have to try on a new look. The faster you get rid of what doesn't work, the smarter you are becoming.

Becoming and becoming... now that is one word with two entirely different meanings...

This is about as close as Audrey may have gotten to Bohemian, but I bet she felt that way some days too:

* If you're not excited think twice, three, four times before you get to the cash wrap.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

"Careful Pruning is Key to Preparing for Spring"

Secondhand Rose?

I thought "fashion" before realizing this headline in the local paper was on the gardening column. Reading further, "Gardeners begin dismantling the winter look in February to make way for spring growth", I thought yes, indeed, I am ready to dismantle winter and make way for spring.

"It's pruning time, so sharpen and clean your clippers. Wear gloves to protect your hands and forearms." It's almost time for spring merchandise to appear in the stores, so sharpen your knowledge of the new trends, what worked for you last year, what didn't and what you need. Wear blinders so as not be distracted by end-of-season sales.

"If you're a risk taker and no freeze is in the forecast, plant tomatoes". If you're a risk taker snap up the early spring offering that sets your heart a-flutter. You may not be able to wear it right away, but you won't regret the possibility of losing it either.

"Plant shade and ornamental trees and shrubs to add structure to your garden". Your basic go-to pieces may need refreshing— pants, t-shirts, button-downs, cardigans, etc. They are the bones of your wardrobe.

"Pull winter weeds before they get out of control". I'll bet your closet holds a few unworn, unloved items you could weed out. And did you know that Old English for "garment" was "waed"? Enough said.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Empress Eugenie and the Life-Size Doll

Victoria, Princess Royal, 1855

This is why I love history. Always have. While into a corker of a good read about Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, "We Two" by Gillian Gill, I came across this lovely tidbit.

Despite the fact that France had been England's sworn enemy for eons, Queen Victoria was advised to make nice in 1855 with Napoleon Bonaparte III, a nephew of the first Napoleon who in 1853 had declared himself Emperor of France and was ruling with his beautiful wife, Eugenie. Victoria invited the couple to England for a state visit. They were treated royally. Queen Victoria was reportedly charmed by the charismatic couple. She and Eugenie remained friends till the end of Victoria's life. Fifteen-year-old Vicky, Princess Royal, was smitten by the beautiful Eugenie, and the two became friends as well.

Empress Eugenie, 1858

Empress Eugenie was the Jacqueline Kennedy of her day. That's how far reaching and important was her influence. Paris was the undisputed capital of fashion, and Eugenie was on top of the capitol. A Spanish royal, Eugenie had managed to fend off Bonaparte's legendary charms so the only way he could win her was to wed her.

Eugenie sympathized with Princess Vicky's plight that she had no stylish clothes to wear. Even then Britain had a solid reputation for stodgy and the Queen herself had questionable taste in fashion. Before the visit ended, Eugenie had Vicky's measurements taken for a "life-size doll" to be made. Eugenie then sent it from France with a wardrobe of Paris fashions for "the doll" to wear. And Princess Victoria had a lovely wardrobe of the latest styles without ruffling any royal feathers.

Lest you think all this history is just ancient, Eugenie lived until 1920, dying at age 94. Dowager Countess Violet of Downton Abbey might even have known her.