Saturday, September 26, 2015

I Wore a Scarf Today

Scarves of the world united against me
I wore a scarf today. Bad move. I'm not a scarf person.

I praise the genius inventor of the endless scarf, of which I have several. I like the way it frames the face, acting as camouflage for the less-than-youthful neck of not-a-spring-chicken. Plus it stays "tied".

Today's scarf was of the normal, oblong variety. I intended it as the "third piece" to pull together a grey-ish over blouse and teal-ish pants. It was a teal-ish/grey-ish color itself, a silk jacquard weave with fringed ends. It looked harmless enough. I looped and knotted it in a way that worked while standing stock-still in front of the mirror.

This scarf spent the day trying to kill me. The seemingly innocent fringe caught on everything because, of course, the scarf moved when I did. Three hours in I was ready to rip it off but had no necklace to keep me from feeling incomplete.

Mostly, I guess, the scarf just wasn't me. I suddenly felt "old". It was a matronly look, an '80s look, just not a "me" look.

It was only a scarf but emblematic of how we can feel when we try to adopt something that isn't really our style. For me that's a lot of things that are many women's wardrobe staples: a blazer, a white man-tailored shirt, a trench coat, pearls, jeans... It's a pretty long list. At this point I kind of know.

Add scarf.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Coming Attraction: James Dean

September 30 will mark sixty years since James Dean died in a car crash along a California highway. Of his three movies; only one ("East of Eden") had been released. I never saw it. But among the girls in my junior high school, his death was big news. The movie magazines were full of pictures of him, catnip to teenage girls attracted to his mix of the dangerous and vulnerable.

Certainly his performances in those films were equal to those of the young Marlon Brando. Fate determined we would never know if he could sustain or would squander that talent. James Dean not only played the loner, he looked the part and seemed like the real deal. Even today it's hard to put together a picture of who he really was. One thing for sure— he was an original.

Speaking of pictures, Dennis Stock, a young Magnum photographer who worked for Life and other publications, took a series of photos of Dean in New York City and on his family's Indiana farm in 1955. This is one of the best known:

James Dean and Dennis Stock

Since we're talking fashion here, James Dean is a touchstone for men's fashion. He didn't invent the just-got-out-of-bed look, but he may have been the first to get out of bed and go out the door with it. Tousled hair, rumpled shirt, white t-shirt and jeans, black turtleneck, horn-rimmed glasses, sailor t-shirt, black dress shirt and always nearby, the cigarette. He could wear work boots with a tuxedo jacket or a navy surplus overcoat with a dress suit. We need to remember these looks were very new for the 1950s. 

His "slouchy, artfully dishevelled way [of dressing] feels very contemporary", says Dan Rookwood, the US editor of the men's style journal Mr. Porter. It's inspired countless designers, most recently Marc Jacobs for AW15, with untucked shirts and too long trousers worn with workboots. 

A movie is in the works, called "Life", starring Robert Pattinson as Stock and Dale DeHaan as James Dean. By the looks of the trailer, I'll keep my fingers crossed. In some cases I don't think pictures need to move to tell the story.

PS  If you get Turner Classics on your cable or satellite, tune in tomorrow (September 25) for an evening of programs featuring James Dean in his early, pre Hollywood, television performances, starting at 8 PM Eastern.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Paris Report (not Fashion Week)

We just got back from Paris. Always ahead of ourselves, it was the week before Fashion Week. Honestly I don't think I could have taken the excitement. Paris is loco about Fashion, but in the way that drives the rest of the world crazy— natural yet calculated, easy yet disciplined, artful yet frivolous all at the same time. Fashion is so in the Parisian DNA it doesn't even rate a capital "F". Someone did ask if I was there for Fashion Week, and I can't tell you how that made my day!

This American always connects Paris and fashion to Jean Seberg in "Breathless." I intended to recreate the scene where she is hawking papers on the street and even brought my Herald Tribune t-shirt (a recreated homage), but the weather was chilly for the most part with showers if not exactly rain. I chickened out.

Jean P. and Jean S. on the Champs

Once again, praise goes to The Sartorialist and Advanced Style for capturing street style. I find it nearly impossible to photograph that way, although it was a great excuse to sit in a sidewalk cafe and try. Just this gal shot from behind may give you an idea about Parisian style.

We did start up a conversation with a beautifully dressed couple. Alan and the gentleman eyed each other as they were wearing the same glasses. I was sure the couple were French; they were from San Francisco.

I would guess the woman below was the proprietor of the antiques shop, checking to see if the rain had stopped. I so fell in love with her, it was easy to run up and ask if I might take her picture. All I could think of saying was "Magnifique, magnifique". She must have thought I was nuts.

Note the hair bow

This incident has no pictures. A young woman was parading through the Musee D'Orsay— too much makeup, hair stiffly styled, strange outfit that included a very full, flowered skirt, ankle socks and sequined ruby heels. She was too conscious of her appearance; I refused to reinforce the cry for attention with a photo. Alan did stage whisper he guessed we weren't in Kansas anymore. A woman near us (not American) asked if that was how they dressed in Kansas. She understood when we explained the "Wizard of Oz" reference. We both agreed that wasn't Fashion.

Don't ask me how we got there, but we also agreed there were some things we just wouldn't wear anymore. It was a poignant moment (and I paraphrase) as she said "Many of my friends say 'Isn't it wonderful that we are so free now and don't have to worry about that stuff', but I think it's terrible. Getting old is not fun." I should send her to the woman on Rue St. Germain...

All the cliches about Paris style are true: 

* Most wear LOTS of black. Head to toe. Unrelieved. I can see where that would be easy-way-out dressing as the chicest of Parisians added pops of color or were studies in neutral.

* They are thin. Even thinner when you see how much bread, pastry and confections they have to avoid. Temptation is everywhere.

* Skinny black pants and ballet flats are worn by women of every age. And look great on all.

* European women in general know how to work a scarf. Parisians lead the bunch. Even my 91-year-old cousin, whom we visited while there, asked for her pretty scarf before I took a picture as it would "hide my neck."

Cousine Jill Benjamin

* There are more women who don't dye their grey hair than do, and the streets are full of very stylish grey manes that had me thinking...

Finance Minister Christine Lagarde
leads the grey charge

I spotted a new trend as well— many young women wore their hair in loose topknots a la Toulouse Lautrec. Delicious.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Fall Style from "The Street"

You would think the Wall Street Journal would not be your first choice to get some choice tips on fall style, but you would be wrong. The Journal (as it's usually called) publishes a monthly magazine called WSJ. September's issue is all about women's style. I've not seen this on newsstands. It may be delivered with your subscription to the Wall Street Journal newspaper. Someone at the gym has one and left behind his or her copy for me to enjoy. I don't want to say it's my new favorite magazine, but it's up there. I love each and every trend in the section "Market Report".

1) Wide-legged pants
WSJ means wide. Waist at the waist. Pleats. Mannish tailoring. Necessary to have: small waist.

2) Pirate shirt
Jerry Seinfeld may not have wanted to be a pirate, but I do. Note the tough jeans.

3) Cropped pants
Not so new, maybe, but I'm happy to keep the love going. This look was not as scary to pull off as I

4) Car-wash skirt
Haven't seen this for a while, have we? Now it's called a "deconstructed skirt" and comes in more ways than black.

5) Cable knits
I'm glad this one's back because I can just pull out my gen-you-wine Aran Islands pullover. Hopefully the moths didn't get it first.

6) Big red coat
If you get cold as I do, looking at this makes you feel warmer. I'm of the school that believes in a fun coat. It's what most of the world will see you in from October to April. And don't think I didn't notice the "two-headed coat" in the picture above. Nice to know Fashion still has a sense of humor.
Like a science project that sparks but may then fizzle, trends do not always stay trending. As always, pick the ones you love; forget the rest.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Women We Love: Joan Juliet Buck

I like her age...

She would never remember me, but I remember Joan Juliet Buck coming through the Glamour art department in my early, 1960s years of working there. She was something of a "wunderkind", a very young woman with a good lineage, good education and a real gift for observation and writing. She went on to many careers including novelist, actress and editor-in-chief of French Vogue. Please enjoy this smart, funny (yes I laughed out loud) and so true piece.


When I was 30, my necklaces were ironic. The single row of baroque pearls with the intaglio clasp that I wore along with my grandmother's double strand were a cheeky nod at Coco Chanel in her late-revival prime, say, when she was 78 or 80. Now that I'm barreling toward my mid-60s, the last thing I want to do is remind anyone of Coco Chanel at 78. Instead of being casually brilliant pieces of irony, the pearls now confer the gravitas of a mother-in-law, while my amber beads from pre-perestroika Moscow, which used to be a river of golden light, make me look like I teach poetry part-time while attempting a second career in hand-thrown pots.

Necklaces age me.
So do black jackets.
So do shoulder pads.
So do earrings. Any earrings.
So, alas, do printed scarves.
So does red lipstick.
So does smoky, sexy eye makeup.
And high heels I can't walk in.

Now that I'm a lady of a certain age, I have to drop the costumes. Everything that put me in the Best-Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1987 must be left in 1987, and the same goes for the Lartigue look of 1972, the dust-colored suits of 1991, and the rest. Fashion is a time capsule and becomes a time machine that only the young should enter. "Vintage" from your own closet carries too many old references. But we get attached to what we wore the day we fell in love, the day we found our style, the days we looked our best.

I hang on to the Saint Laurent smoking coatdress that I wore to a lunch in 1983 because I hadn't slept in my own bed, the Missoni camisole I wore to a magical dinner at Maxim's in 1974, the Hermès chestnut leather dress from 1996 that was the coolest thing in the world. But the world moves on, the Saint Laurent coatdress is a fashion history lesson, the camisole can't be worn with a bra, and the leather dress is oddly tight. I haven't gained weight, but things have moved around.

We find our style in our 20s and hang on to everything that makes up our look—hair, shoes, colors, shapes—through our 30s and 40s, at style cruising speed. But somewhere between 50 and 60, there are bumps in the road. Physical changes, social changes, contextual changes.

The face changes shape. From the age of 23 onward, I wore a particular expression in photographs until I saw evidence that the pensive, dreamy, three-quarter profile had turned grumpy. Now it's full face, with a smile, and as much light as possible.

When Lauren Hutton gave me an array of makeup from her line, she said, "We have to do different things now. Watch my DVD." I told her, a little huffily, that I didn't need to watch a DVD to know how to put on makeup, but she was adamant, so I watched and learned, among many secrets, that concealer now goes under the nostrils. Really? I thought, but it works.

At a certain age, more can be as good as less, but only if used in the right place.

The body changes. Elegance is refusal, elimination, and pitiless self-criticism. No matter how many times you salute the sun, the skin on those fine upper arms will drape toward the crook of the elbow in a gentle valance that would be a triumph executed in chiffon but is alarming in human skin.

Then there's that egregious puff of flesh at the junction of breast and armpit that I call the chicken because it reminds me of the more depressing cuts offered by Frank Perdue. It pops out between strap and arm, it makes itself known under a T-shirt, it wriggles out of armholes, it rises like yeast above a strapless dress.

The torso does odd things. Alcohol, pasta, cheese, and cookies—the basic constituents of sex-free fun—cause it to expand forward, which is why Geoffrey Beene cut his most ladylike dresses with a gather at the breastbone. Even if the waistline hasn't expanded, what's just below it begins to resemble a sofa, even if it's only a small part of a very neat sofa.

The tailored suit belongs in the boardroom, and then only if you're on the board. The pantsuit looks either so masculine that it signals a lifestyle choice, or it puts you firmly in human resources at a midsize Ohio company.

The crop top and the low-cut jeans have to go. So do the shorts for anything but sports, and the miniskirts. It's no use re-creating those cocktails on the lawn in the linen shift, or prom night, or disco dawns sweating to Barry White in tight sheaths, or pioneer strides in the prairie skirt with the wide belt as firm as a man's hands. Or those hot afternoons in ragged denim on the wooden steps of Mike's house somewhere in Florida in the 1970s, what was that place called?

If you're rich, you donate to charity. If you're famous, you sell for charity. If you're neither, you call the resale shop. What now?

The forgiving knitted tunic beckons. Ignore it, especially in tones called pebble, rock, stone, sand, and heathered versions of each. Furthermore, the forgiving tunic too often has bat-wing sleeves, which conjure up the possibility that the arm beneath is exactly the same shape.

The shawl is another temptation—a swath of softness, a bit of bravado for the shoulders, you think, forgetting that every grandmother in every painting since painting began is wearing a shawl. White crochet is to be feared (in general, white crochet should be avoided after graduation), but tensely folded black cashmere can make you look like a Sicilian widow. A shawl draped over the back is granny, but thrown over one shoulder, it's power.

All colors are good except maroon, and if you're Caucasian, yellow. Purple, which should be the color of wisdom, has connotations of witch and madwoman best left alone. Eccentricity is to the later years what vulgarity is to youth: a cheap solution.

Whether it's dyed or allowed to fade to the color of imported French sea salt, the hair on women of a certain age has a strange texture that requires daily professional blowouts to approximate the bounce of youth. You try a turban in the mirror at home; you imagine that it pulls up your features. It actually makes you look like a fortune-teller, but few will tell you that. I happily wore Middle Eastern cotton headbands as wide as turbans until hairstylist John Barrett said, "Good God! You need help," swept me off, and gave me a sublime renegade-priest cut. When it's growing out, I sneak on the turban headbands and resume reading palms.

A truly great haircut makes up for the fact that you're not in spike heels.

The hunt for shoes is as impassioned as ever, only you're looking for a different kind of shoe. As the fat pad under the feet shrinks, the shock of bone on leather becomes unbearable in heels. Some designers add layers to their insoles, but never enough, because it would ruin the curve of the arch. You discover hitherto-unknown brands of shoes lined in cork, Tempur-Pedic foam, inner springs, and angel food cake, and you succumb to comfort, but should you fall for the Velcro-strap Mary Jane, young women will laugh at you behind your back. Fear Velcro.

Even comfort follows the rules of fashion. When you find shoes you can stand in through an entire cocktail party, you must buy them in every color and multiples of black because the more perfect the shoe, the faster it will be discontinued. At a dinner, a beautiful Danish woman my age showed me her shoes; a perfect shape with a good heel, they had a little zip by the instep. She took one off to show me the name—"No one you know," she said—but she'd worn them so much that it had vanished.

Last fall I longed for the Saint Laurent silver boots identical to the gold ones I had in 1973. Missoni makes me as happy as ever, Uniqlo's collections by Jil Sander and Inès de la Fressange are beautiful, and I look forward to what Christophe Lemaire will do there this fall. The wardrobe now comes down to the essentials: black sweaters, good trousers, boatneck tunics, and dresses that are cut, shaped, and fitted to me. A good trench coat, and then a few more good trench coats. I found a silk one at Pamela Barish's shop in Los Angeles, with pleats in the back so that it can be worn as a dress, or thrown—the way I used to throw my pearls—over a plain top and trousers for that abstracted I-just-got-out-of-bed look that signals cool at any age. It's the ideal garment, but the one in my size was snapped up by some 30-year-old movie star, so I'm going to have to wait.

*Originally published in May 2015 Harper's Bazaar

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Call Me Crazy

This is what I do before a trip: I doodle my wardrobe on a sheet of dummy forms (that look amazingly like me).

I've been doing this for ages, finalizing the figures onto a template about 20 years ago, thanks to the Photoshop talents of a willing friend (WW you know who you are).

I refer to the pictogram during the trip as well. So often living out of a suitcase makes it hard to see what you've brought along.

All this "stuff" for a ten-day trip (wearing the bulkiest on the plane) easily fits into a regulation carry on suitcase, along with the prerequisite lotions, potions, pjs and underwear.

Since you're allowed to board with two items, I tuck my cross-body bag into a tote that fits under the seat and set my wheelie on course. Volia! Paris here we come!

PS  Since I will be traveling to cities where a Zara and/or an H&M may stand on every corner, I promise not to step inside. I can do that here at home. Unless, of course, the exchange on the Euro is really really really good.