Thursday, April 30, 2015

If it's Thursday it Must be TJ Maxx

Low prices are one reason...

Shop may be too active a verb, but I peruse my local TJ Maxx and Marshall's twice each week and make no apologies. First of all, they are both conveniently located a few doors from each other in a strip mall less than a quarter mile from my house.

Before we moved to Texas the nearest Marshall's was 20 minutes away, TJ Maxx another 10. I kind of sort of fantasized how nice it would be to live close to them, and now I do. Insert happy dance here. And the Marshall's is right below my gym— weights hitting the floor sound like thunder when you're in the store. I do have a strict rule: no shopping till after the workout.

 But why so often? As if a dedicated lover of the marketplace needs a reason, but I do have them:

For one thing, it's a time saver. These stores are big, and in the case of Marshall's (which includes a Homegoods), so big it's easier to spot what's new when you visit often. Merchandise doesn't just get moved around, it's restocked daily.  By shopping twice a week I can breeze through the store, stopping at what is newest. I've a trained shopper's eye, though I doubt that will win me a Nobel Peace Prize.

There is a limited quantity on offer. It's not a question of, "Do you have this in the stockroom in size 6?" What you see is itand you'd better grab it when you do. I've missed out on things and never seem to learn that she who hesitates regrets. I'm still looking for those black and white harlequin bath towels I passed on.

TJ Maxx/Marshall's are also the real thing. Although there are some "house brands" you will see nowhere else (Cynthia Rowley's stuff is not to be confused with her upscale designs), the majority is culled from manufacturer over-runs, merchandise not picked up in time after having been ordered by other store buyers, and things seemingly washed ashore from now defunct operations like Kate Spade Saturdays and C Wonder. A friend of a friend with a long-time high-level position at Ralph Lauren once revealed TJ's and Marshall's get the honest-to-goodness goods. The stuff shipped to their outlet stores has been made expressly for them with a lower standard of quality.

You never know what you'll find. While it's good to have focus on any shopping trip I'm often amazed by what I didn't think I needed till I walked in the store. I've refreshed my home decor or picked up some nifty kitchen gadgets by keeping eyes open and mind clear.

That's another thing: retail therapy. It's not to be taken lightly. When you find yourself mentally overwhelmed you may need a distraction to sort yourself out, thus returning a saner person to the situation. It doesn't matter if you end up buying nothing, retail therapy can help.

*     *    *

I'm not a big believer in having a zillion credit cards, but the TJ Maxx/Marshall's/Homegoods credit card actually delivers. It can't be used anywhere but the company's stores (so not for groceries or gas), but there's no annual fee, and you earn 5 points for every $1 spent. Earning 1,000 points gets you a $10 rewards certificate. Free money! Be warned though: pay your bill on time or get hit with a late fee.

...even lower prices are another

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The "In" Spots for Men

Camo (aka camouflage) is for men what leopard is for women— always there and never out of style, can be worn by all ages and should probably be worn in moderation (camo especially). Camo might have a masculine gender and leopard a feminine— not that cavemen didn't wear leopard, and gals in the military sport camo head-to-toe.

A little too much of a good thing

When a man wears leopard he's deliberately flaunting convention, probably has a lot of confidence and a thick skin. When a woman wears camo she's adding a little bit of "tough" to her wardrobe. That same man may contemplate wearing a leopard tux; no woman desires a camo wedding gown.

Rod Stewart, King of the Jangle

As anyone who shops for the man/men in her life has learned, one never knows. My husband's summer shorts are still in good condition, but I was getting tired of looking at the same two pairs of madras plaid and many pairs of chinos (all different but the same to me). I spotted (pun intended) a few pairs in camo the other day, took a smart phone photo, asked if he were interested and heard back what I didn't expect— "yes".

My husband pragmatically joined the Army Reserves at the time of the Berlin Crisis. He was never called up for active duty but fulfilled six years of monthly reserve training and two-week stints every summer at camp. He stubbornly thinks that didn't count but has never worn anything army green since his discharge. I was actually surprised that camo shorts would be OK.

For men, it seems, camo is one pattern you don't have to think about. It's innocuous, like plaid or pinstripes.  Camo is macho. It's for survival, protection against man or beast, though we shall not discuss hunting here.

Shorts are primo camo and made in several styles:
>  Cargo shorts are roomy with lots of pockets and are usually worn with a web belt.
>  Board shorts are cut narrower with few or no pockets.
>  Chino shorts are not as roomy as cargo or as slim as board but shorter than both.

Ordinary guy rocking it

It doesn't take much to pull together a good-looking outfit with a pair of camo shorts. Add a t-shirt, a polo shirt, a chambray shirt or a white shirt. Sandals, boat shoes or sneakers. No socks. Ever.

Of course, it's possible to take camo up to an entirely different level as worn by Nick Wooster and one anonymous man on the street:

Hard to hide in this camo

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Behind Closed Doors

The closet is cleaned out... I've done it. For once, I followed my own advice— tried everything on, made piles of keepers, losers and ????? Because I store out-of-season in giant plastic tubs behind a screen in the bedroom (thank goodness for that impulse flea market purchase), this requires a lot of hauling and lifting so counts as weight training. What, it doesn't?

Keeper of secrets... and necklaces

The keepers are things I really wear and are in good condition. The losers were a combination of "what was I thinking?" and "gee this really doesn't look as good as I remember". Sprinkled in were the tired, stained, spotted, pilled and plum wore out. Sometimes we can literally love something to death.

There are always a few ?????. Perhaps we shouldn't, but we do get attached to things for sentimental reasons. I'm always sorry about something I may have given away so tend to hang on a little longer— as long as there is room in the tub.

The giveaways were divided into donate to Dress for Success, sell for a pittance to a resale shop (a game I play with the rejects going to DFS) or chuck anonymously into that charity collection container behind Pier One. A few do go directly to the trash can.

I transferred the keepers for spring/summer to those narrow velvet hangers. They really take up less space than the nice plastic hangers I'd used for years. Those all went to Dress for Success after being rejected by other family members. Of course skirts still need skirt hangers. I've had mine since 1960.

The label says "Scott's 5-10  15¢"

I'm particularly proud of the shoes, now all organized and labeled, snug in their boxes. Why, please are shoe boxes all different sizes? Even the plastic ones have slightly different dimensions. Getting everything to fit was like a footwear Rubik's cube. Shoes are easiest to get rid of, as you can remember by looking at them if they hurt, just as you can determine by looking at them if they're too run down to repair or walk another mile.

I've bought a few things already for summer. We have some trips planned. I'd like to take my own advice again and not wear anything "new" so will have time to road test them. Or such was the rationale I used when it should be apparent I hardly "need" anything.

I will admit to now opening the closets occasionally as I pass by, just to admire my handiwork.

The challenge is not to buy anything else. The trick will be to "return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear" (to quote the old Lone Ranger shows), when we shopped sparsely and sparely. Honk if you remember only buying spring clothes in March, summer clothes in May, fall clothes in August, a holiday outfit in November. I never remember sales other than after Christmas and after July 4th. How did the stores stay in business?

Oh yes— it could be like this

Perhaps not everyone shopped like the Ruskin family? Sewing seemed to cheat the system. Buying patterns and material was a different kind of shopping so didn't count. We always had projects going to take up the slack between real shopping trips while satisfying creative urges and plugging up any holes in the wardrobe.

I have only two velvet hangers left and will not (as you are my witness) buy another pack.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

"Operation Cleopatra Whim"

The Duchess of Windsor, above, looks every bit the royal she never really was. The tale of Bessie Wallis Warfield Spencer Simpson Windsor is a long and winding one. Fascinating in so many aspects, the story continues to play out in books, films and essays that look at both her, the Duke of Windsor and the two of them together.

The public has been hardest on Wallis. She was "the other woman" who supposedly brought the uncrowned king of England to his knees by her conniving and wily charms. What could this golden boy of a prince possibly have seen in her let alone given up his crown for? She wasn't considered attractive; Grace Kelly she was not. She must have had something...

History is revealing what most of the world couldn't guess. Edward was spoiled, headstrong and almost looking for a way out of being king. Wallis' plan to become part of his social set to advance her standing and that of husband Ernest Simpson backfired when Edward declared he couldn't live without her. He threatened to kill himself if she left him. Being the reason for the suicide of a king of England was too much a burden for Wallis. She chose many years of vilification by the press and public instead.

Time softened that, though she was never given the title "Royal Highness" Edward insisted she deserved. The Windsors became charter members of cafe society's Windsor Set, a rather louche and purposeless group of playboys and royals who had money or position (usually not both).

Anne Sebba's biography, "That Woman", paints a mostly sympathetic picture of Wallis without hiding the fact that having someone gaga over you and plying you with jewels can be very persuasive. Wallis was always ambitious and determined, but in the Duke of Windsor she made the best of a hand she didn't expect to get— softened of course by Mainbocher and Cartier.

So Wallis can't really be a Woman We Love, but ya gotta love this story. It appears in "17 Carnations" by Andrew Morton (of the Diana biographies). It's the latest in books about the Windsors, investigating if they were or were not puppets of the Nazis, Nazi spies, defeatist traitors, ambassadors for a negotiated truce or simply delusional about world affairs. One might think the latter from the tale of "Operation Cleopatra Whim".

After the abdication in 1936, Edward and Wallis decamped to Europe. They were living in France but had moved to Spain and finally Portugal in the wake of Hitler's rise to power. They were finally persuaded to leave the continent in 1940. Edward was to be installed as Governor of the Bahamas. This would get them out of harm's way— the harm they might do by any associations with the enemy, naive or otherwise.

The notorious swimsuit
Queen of the Nile
In 2012's "W.E."

Edward had asked German officials to watch over their properties in Paris and Nice and was given assurance they would. Wallis had left her "favorite Nile green bathing suit" behind in the Nice house and wanted it for the move to Bermuda. American diplomats were engaged to retrieve the swimsuit as Germany was at war with Britain and France. In secret correspondence the affair was dubbed "Operation Cleopatra Whim". We'll never know whether Wallis kicked up a big fuss or Edward made one for her. Certainly the swimsuit is attractive, and we all know how hard it is to find a good one.

Wallis actually aged well. She's credited with saying, "You can never be too thin or too rich", but that might have been said by others first. She certainly was thin and was never rich enough for her tastes. Always on the best-dressed lists, her husband may actually have had the more fashion flair. But he's not particularly a Man We Love either.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

When History Came Alive

The other day, I came across an album of old photographs that's been in the family for years. Only thing is— they're not our family. My sister and I found this album at an estate sale when we were kids. It dates from the 1880s (judging by the dresses) and holds "carte de visites" of members of a wealthy Cleveland, Ohio, family. We found it in the attic of this grand old home. I'm guessing it had been up there for ages, those particular inhabitants having departed this mortal coil many years previously.

The album, which once had velvet violets on its cover and a clasp that closed, was never full. The missing photos had been randomly removed. With the paper sleeves so brittle at this point I dare not rearrange anything, let alone pull out the cards to have a closer look.

At age ten this was the first time I sensed that history was about real people, who lived and breathed and did things and had their pictures taken. For a child this is quite a revelation-- the world does not revolve solely around her. Although babies just looked like babies, and many men were obscured by their facial hair, I began to see those faces as having had lives. The girls grew up to be women. What wonders must they have seen in their lifetimes— electric everything, movies, cars, airplanes, radio? Did they accept them as easily as we jump on the latest technology?

Who were they? What did they do? What happened to them? And— to take this in the direction I've been traveling since— did they really wear all that stuff?

The Victorian beauties

There are some beautiful women, in the style of cameos and Julia Margaret Cameron photographs. And one woman who was not. I remember feeling sorry for her as she did not look like the others. Now I imagine she was the one with real personality, and I'm ashamed at my younger self for ostracizing her. She is also the only one to have two photos in the album. In the second she's wearing a fancy ensemble shown almost in full. That one was taken in New York City.

Miss Personality

So one thing I know: she was as excited to go to New York as any of us and either wore her best or bought it there— immortalized for the ages at a photo studio.

Have you seen the pictures of celebrities matched to anonymous doppelgangers? Some of the resemblances are amazing. They do say everyone has a twin. I'm usually mistaken for a nurse or someone's teacher— totally not me. In the album I found my own celebrity look-alike. Doesn't he look like Ansel Elgort, the young model and actor?

??? and Ansel Elgort

Sunday, April 12, 2015

"Fabulous at Every Age"

Harper's Bazaar is often the underdog in the battle for which fashion magazine is on top. Vogue seems to think it owns the crown. The number of pages in an issue is the barometer of health in this industry, and Vogue usually wins.

The April issue of Harper's Bazaar gives us 322 pages compared to Vogue's 288. I'm sure there are smiles all around uptown at the Hearst building, and business as usual downtown at Conde Nast. Like the rivalry between Dallas and Houston— Houston knows it's better and Dallas says "What rivalry?"— Vogue will never concede anything, especially that Harper's Bazaar may be the better publication.

Vogue's sense of entitlement makes me feel I've been given admission to a tony club, one that I'll never be asked to join. I'm just lucky to be let in. Harper's Bazaar is welcoming and inclusive. The editor-in-chief, Glenda Bailey, genuinely seems to love fashion and people. I don't think Vogue's Anna Wintour loves anything.

Harper's Bazaar has a feature every issue called "Fabulous at Every Age". This puts a spin on fashion trends as suited to women in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60+. In reality many of the looks can be worn by many ages, but it's a nice hook. At least once a year "Fabulous at Every Age" becomes the theme of the issue, as it is this April.

And what a great issue it is— full of wonderful, personal pieces and sage advice on living, with style (comma intended). What is this about? I'm used to looking through my fashion magazines in one sitting, maybe tearing out a page or two. This one I had to bookmark and read. 

Carolyn Murphy, fabulous in overalls

There is a piece by the self-proclaimed "geriatric starlet", 93-year-old Iris Apfel ("Dress with a little humor and you can go a long way"). Designer Isabel Marant shares 24 hours in her life (a lot of weak coffee and too much to eat at night). Lisa Armstrong tackles "Dress Your Age" (cover up but reveal "all the places you'd wear perfume and would like to be kissed"). The elegant Carolina Herrera shows she has a great sense of humor, especially about herself. Chelsea Handler is funny and not her usual abrasive, and Amy Sedaris proves there is (and probably should be) only one Amy Sedaris. Three of the stars from "Mad Men" reflect on how their characters influence their fashion choices and vice versa. That's all before the editorial well featuring Julianne Moore, Morgane Polanski, Olympia Scarry, Carolyn Murphy, Shirin Neshat and Kim Gordon— all women from their 20s to their 60s.

Fabulous, Bazaar, on every page.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

On the Fringe of Boho

Here it comes again... Although we know Boho never really went away. When a trend is named THE guiding style of the season, it's pretty hard to ignore. Besides, Boho is fun, especially for us gals who like to play dress-up. It won't be fun for the JCrewish or Gapaholics except in small doses.

One can— and probably should— Boho carefully lest one look like a refuge from a road company of "Hair". Make that especially so if you are a WOACA (Woman of a Certain Age). The rule of thumb about vintage has always been: if you wore it once in its full flower, you can't wear it again. Thus anything before the '60s is fair game for me. After that would be deja vu all over again.

The Summer of Love officially began in 1969 with Woodstock, but the Bohemian look (calling it "Boho" came later), was being worn for some time by those whose lifestyle it reflected.

Talitha Getty has become the patron saint of Boho. Her delicate features and jet-set journeys (much time spent in Marrakesh) set off the look, though she took a tumble after her early death from a drug overdose. It was Look as She Looked just Don't Do as She Did.

Talitha Getty in a Berber
wedding dress, 1971

I do remember debating whether my wedding dress in 1968 should be a riff on a Victorian nightgown (carrying daisies) or a Courreges-inspired mini-dress (with roses). I opted for the latter as the wedding was at The Plaza and not in Central Park. Bohemian was not yet for everywhere.

What sparked this return to the forest? I'm thinking the resurgence of festivals such as Coachella and Burning Man have inspired Bohemian group-think. It is a kind of uniform so one doesn't feel out of place.

Coachella "street style"

By the looks of the Bergdorf Goodman email I received this morning, "Start Your Journey in Boho Style" does not come cheap. With prices from a relative bargain $1890 for a Roberto Cavalli palazzo pants outfit, to a $7900 Valentino gown (can't just call it a dress), there must be gold in them thar Bohemian Hills. Thus anointed, you can be sure— Boho is back.

Cavalli $1890, Valentino $7900, Etro $4300,
Ralph Lauren $3185

Free People isn't free either, though that brand has been churning out Boho since 2001. Aimed squarely at the young with money (target age 26), Free People slices and dices Boho into mini skirts and thigh-high boots, midriff tops with ground-grazing dusters. Price range: $58 to $428.

Of course you don't need brand identity to create the Boho look. It really should be about individual expression and combining what you have. Thus 2015's Boho is all about balance: a t-shirt and jeans with an embroidered vest, beads and chunky sandals, a long skirt with a classic button-down, tooled leather belt and earrings that sway. It's a bit more mix-and-match, folkloric and tribal. Ixnay the head wraps lest you laugh your head off at the photos in years to come.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Neck and Neck

Once upon a time men's shirts were sold without collars. The man (holding down a white-collar job) would attach the starched or celluloid collar of his choice and suffer through the day with it. Would this be the meaning of "a working stiff"?

Some didn't bother with collars. Your average laborer wore no collar if he even wore a shirt at all. Only later did the blue chambray work shirt become the uniform of the working class (thus the term "blue collar").

This is all a complete aside to today's handy little tip. I am not a "collar kind of gal". Maybe it's my neck or my chin or something, but I just don't like myself in a man-tailored shirt. My always-well-put-together friend Ellen feels the same way and many years ago told me she customizes her shirts by taking out the collar, trimming down the points and ends, sewing back up, then turning and sewing it to the neckline. For years I've thought that was a great idea but never quite got around to it myself.

Fast forward to this morning. It was a bright spring day that called for something complelemtary. I love this shirt but knew if I wore it I'd feel like my mother. What if?, I thought, and ten minutes later had folded the collar down and tacked it to the inner band of the neckline with some basting stitches, being careful the stitches didn't go through to the right side.

Voila, a collarless shirt much more to my liking. Yes, I should have taken it to the tailor, but at least I didn't use tape.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Do I Have the Nerve?

SJP's closet of envy

One of these days, Alice... I am going to throw out every single thing in my closet that I don't lovelovelove. Gosh, it feels good just to write that. Whywhywhy do I keep hanging onto things that I never wear? I know why, of course: guilt.

Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick recently sold their Greenwich Village townhouse in New York City. Voyeur that I am, I flipped through the photos, drooling a bit, till I got to her closet. Oh, poor girl, I thought. She has so few clothes. Look at the space between the hangers! And then I realized every single thing hanging there was beautiful, and I bet she had no trouble seeing what to wear.

Betty Halbreich says, "If you aren't enjoying your clothes then you really are missing the point." I'm sure she means being happy when you open the closet door as well as the enjoyment of knowing you are dressed well. I'd be seriously afraid to have Betty over for a closet inventory. Methinks she would bark, "Get rid of it!", "You never wear those!", "Who are you kidding with that?", and I would comply. But Betty is not here. It's up to me.

Her hands
are tied

I do take some of my own advice, of course. If I never wear it but can't bear to let go, I will put it in a storage box. But I can't seem to divest myself of the contents of the box. I am, however, finally giving up a nice black leather bag that I haven't carried in 12 years. It had many adventures, including photographing Hillary Clinton at the White House. May it live long and prosper— in someone else's hands.

Au revoir, cherie