Thursday, October 29, 2015

Time Marshes On...

You need to try everything on
I'm always amazed that something I enjoyed wearing one year can look so terrible the next.

It's closet switching time. Though still warm and muggy in south Texas, the days are shorter, turkeys are piled high in the supermarket, and Christmas ornaments for sale in aisle 6. There's not enough closet space in this little bungalow, so I keep half my things in giant plastic tubs behind a screen in the bedroom. Twice a year I haul out the containers and start the process.

A girl can dream

I never hang everything, because of course I can't fit into it all. I'm a firm believer that unworn wardrobe will shrink of its own volition while resting. Some things are hard to give up, but after a year I realize it will be "never again". Out they go— with a sigh.

But there are other things that made me happy just nine months ago. These still fit, but are the clothes for another person. Those ruffles? That full skirt? A bolero jacket? Some of it is Style. I'm as finely attuned to that as a sommelier is to wine. Maybe 20014 wasn't such a great year. Did I change that much? Did fashion? Who am I now?

As I try things on (and you have to do that) I ask myself: Is this appropriate for a 73-year-old woman? It's a bit like playing with a hang-nail. I can't resist the urge to inflict a little pain. It still surprises me I am how old???????????? I want to embrace this gift with dignity and a sense of fun but don't want to look silly. I have to ask the question, even if I am giving myself the answer.

A bunch of stuff gets donated and some taken for resale. The resale shop doesn't give much (not a consignment set-up), but I've found some goodies there myself in the past. I like the idea of giving someone else a chance to enjoy mine.

Don't worry; I'm not getting the least bit ascetic. I couldn't leave without hauling home an ankle length faux-fur black Mongolian lamb vest for $14.

Add 12 inches

Sunday, October 25, 2015

All Hail Halloween

If you have half a mind to dress up for Halloween this year, listen to that half. Halloween falls on a Saturday, a day most people can wear whatever they want.

These young ladies are pretty seriously tricked out in their witch costumes— so well in fact I wonder if this was the inspiration for American Horror's season, "Coven", about junior witches.

When I was a kid costumes were usually homemade and not very elaborate. Little boys were either cowboys (vest, six-shooters and a star were little-boy attire) or hobos in their dad's old clothes. Little girls wore stuff they wore for dress-up, a mishmash of mom's cast-off clothes and accessories with (for one night only) makeup. Store bought costumes were considered lame as well as dangerous. They were made from a highly flammable combination of paper and quasi-cloth. Not recommended for wearing near jack o'lanterns (yes, we put real candles in those).

"Retarded" may not be the same as "retardant"

One year I did coerce my mother into sewing an elaborate Queen of Hearts costume. I was hoping to replicate the outfit worn by Betsy in "Betsy and Billy", one of a series of books by Carolyn Haywood about a little girl first published in 1939 (and still not out of print).

Over the years I've dressed up in earnest, in companionship (Princess to a very small Darth Vader) and in irony (Coco Chanel at the Lovely Boutique Where I Work). I've suffered through full-on rubber masks and the indignity of having to wear a coat over my costume while trick-or-treating.

Masquerade balls were quite the thing in 17th and 18th century Europe. Aside from elaborate costumes, a mask was supposed to hide your identity. Wearing a mask also lowers your inhibitions. Who would you be if no one knew who you were?

Marie Antoinette hiding in plain sight

Coincidentally this year I'll be in New Orleans for Halloween. Since Nola is a combination of Halloween, New Year's Eve, Fourth of July, Christmas and Valentine's Day year round this should be fun.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Women We Love: Moira Shearer

If she only ever made one movie, "The Red Shoes", Moira Shearer would be unforgettable. If you were a girl in 1948— big or little— that movie was part of your life.

A movie-within-a-movie, the film centers on the romantic triangle of a young ballerina, a composer and the demanding director of the ballet company. The tale of the red shoes, from a story by Hans Christian Anderson, is about a magical pair of red slippers and a girl who can't stop dancing. It mimics the strains of her relationships with the men in her life. I didn't "get" any of that as a 6-year-old. I only saw a beautiful woman who seemed to be twirling effortlessly. Despite their bad ju-ju, my older sister had a pair of ceramic red ballet slippers formed as a planter on her bedroom wall.

The evil slippers

My crush on Moira fueled a life-long desire for ballet lessons. Unrequited love. I convinced myself that I would have made a great ballerina, until I got to know a real dancer and understood about the discipline, stress, hard work and bruised feet.

Moira Shearer was lesser known than— but easily confused with— two other redheads, Maureen O'Hara and Deborah Kerr. There was a sweetness about her that made the descent into ballet hell in that movie all the more believable.

Moira, Maureen, Deborah

Moira Shearer  was born in Scotland in 1926 and raised in Rhodesia. She returned to Great Britain to study in London in 1936, joining the Sadler's Wells Ballet in 1942. "The Red Shoes" gave her instant  stardom. Although she appeared in a few other films, including the ballet-themed "Tales of Hoffman" she is practically the film equivalent of a one-hit wonder for playing Vicky in "The Red Shoes".

She was a dancer who could act, as opposed to an actor who could dance (i.e. Natalie Portman in "Black Swan"). Her unstudied acting style gave the "Red Shoes" its authenticity but limited her future. 1960's "Peeping Tom" was a dreadful movie not helped by a wooden Moira. She made few films and had retired from dancing by 1953.  Married for over 50 years to Ludovic Kennedy, she died in 2006 at age 80.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

"Hump? What Hump?"

Those are the immortal words of Marty Feldman as Igor in Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein". For way too long I have refused to even recognize the possibility that I could have one. A hump. Often called— rather insensitively— a widow's hump or (only slightly better) a dowager's hump.

I'm not fat. My mother didn't have one (although she had other issues I'm thankful not to as yet inherited). For years I took a bone-building drug called "Fossamax"— until its effect was determined to be somewhere between useless and dangerous. I would think if I could remember to stand up straight the hump would disappear. That thought has now vanished. As Nora Ephron felt bad about her neck, I feel bad about my hump.

Of course it's osteoporosis of some degree. The image below is less frightful than others I uncovered. If not inevitable, it would seem to be very common. And I do so hate being common (something the Dowager Lady Violet would most certainly say). Avec le hump clothes fit differently. I look shorter and squatter and no longer have a swan-like neck. I'm more like a tortoise.

So here's how I make lemonade out of this lemon: I'm happy to have lived long enough to have developed a hump. And I didn't have to become a widow to get one. Then there's always Hump Day. A very small glass of lemonade indeed.

Friday, October 16, 2015

"The Origin of Fashion Magazines"

A bicycle rides through it...

What a delight to discover that one of the world's greatest art museums knew you were coming.

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam recently reopened after a massive 10-year refurbishing and is home to Rembrandt's "The Night Watch", a whole bunch of Vermeers, Van Goghs and thousands of other treasures. I soaked in quite a bit before landing at the exhibit hung especially for me, "The Origin of Fashion Magazines."  It's a precious jewel of a show, tracing the history of the fashion magazine from its 16th century beginnings to the early 1930s.

The more you look the more you see

Before there were magazines, there were fashion plates, single sheets sold to inform the wanna-be-stylish what were the latest trends. Think of paparazzi with pen and ink instead of cameras. They would gather where there were fashionistas (men and women both) and sketch away. The ink drawings would be meticulously transferred to engraving plates, printed, hand colored, then sold.

In turn single plates were bound in portfolios and further evolved into magazines with commentary. The first magazine published as such was 1785's "The Cabinet des Modes" in Paris, of course. London soon followed with its own interpretations of the Paris looks and attempts to best them. Rivalry between the two cities went on for centuries.

What became apparent is how important fashion was in the cultural zeitgeist. Today we may think of art, architecture, literature and music as defining culture. Once fashion held just as important a place. It signaled your status if you could afford to follow it. If not you could attempt to emulate it.

The mid 19th century saw the rise of fashion magazines directed exclusively to women. From these sprung Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and women's service magazines (featuring fashion plus subjects of interest to women) like Ladies Home Journal and McCall's.

Early in the 20th century a few of the more avant garde magazines considered fashion an art form. These publications didn't thrive, and by the Depression and the advent of WWII were no longer. The examples in the exhibit from these magazines were gorgeous:

"The Origin of Fashion Magazines" closed a few weeks ago, but you can pick up the book on the Rijksmuseum's website (English edition available).

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

5 Minute Dispatch: About Last Night

Before I find out I'm not the only one to comment on Hillary Clinton at the first Democratic Presidential Primary Debate, let me say it, "Hillary looked great last night."

Aside from appearing rested and happy, her choice of structured but loose jacket, ditto blouse underneath, narrow pants and killer heels was spot on. You could best see the whole ensemble at the outset, but when she came onstage, I did a little gasp.

This is a woman who's been accused of being dumpy and frumpy, her choice of pantsuits mocked and tittered about. She's never tried to be a fashionista, but sometimes— frankly— she looks like she could have tried harder.

Well, not last night. She was dressed business-like but female, age appropriate and wearing nobody else's style. Whatever your politics, this look gets a thumbs up.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

I Have This Wedding...

Dear AllWays in Fashion,
I have this wedding to attend in early December. I'm even in the bridal party (Mother-of-the-Groom). It's a very small wedding, and the festivities will be at the couple's home. It should be lovely, but what do I wear???

What a minute! I can't write myself for advice, can I? If I could I would say, "Wear an understated and well shaped dress in a semi-dressed up fabric like crepe in a jewel tone. Burgundy or teal would look good on you. No black or too much glitter."

Great. I have enough glitter hanging in my closet to light up the darkest night, but nothing that really meets the criteria for a lovely dress.

So I went shopping today.

My day did start a little early. Around midnight I started trolling on line and found a dress by Ted Baker on the company's website at 40% off with free shipping. I sent for it because I liked the fabric and thought it looked a bit Michelle Obama-like. And we should always think, Would FLOTUS wear this? That woman never missteps. So I said "yes to the dress" and pushed "place order". My husband, on the other hand thought it looked like something Amy Schumer would wear, and that was not a compliment. As popular as she is, he's not a fan. Maybe it was the model.

Once in love with Amy...

Once at the mall things went downhill fast. Why is it when you have reason to buy one and money enough to throw at it, there is no dress calling your name? Any other time I can go through Nordstrom, Saks and Neiman's as if running the gauntlet, praying I won't fall in love with anything I see. I do like to look. I just don't like to fall in love. Today? Nothing.

I saved Zara for last because that's my go-to store. I know that may not make sense, but this was to be a special purchase— a treat— and Zara is just always in my wheelhouse. Of course I did find this understated and well shaped dress in burgundy crepe that way belies its price of $69.90. It may require a tiny bit of tailoring to make it mine, but it felt like the right one. Kind of like love.

In fact, even if Michelle Obama's dress turns up looking fabulous enough to make my husband forget about Amy, I think I'll keep this anyways. That's the kind of dress you are never sorry to own.

Now, what about shoes???

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Will Your Dress Have Legs?

The idea of wearing a dress with pants is not entirely foreign to me. Growing up in Ohio's frigid winters, my snowsuit was a padded jacket and padded pants, skirt or dress usually hanging out. Not too practical for frolicking in the snow, but there wasn't much frolicking. Don't let this picture fool you; I hated the cold even then.

"Time to go in?"

Footless tights under a dress have been a trend for so long, let's just call that a style. Certainly footless tights are a blessing for legs too pale, too bumpy or otherwise not ready for the light of day. Besides, the look has a sort of je ne sais quoi when worn with flats. Eternal ballet school.

The pants-under-a-dress look may have begun with Emma Watson as early as 2012:

Perhaps such a long incubation period is giving Emma too much credit. We are now seeing wear-it-for-real versions with skinny-leg or even flared pants.

Will I dress up my pants? I'm thinking yes. What about you?

If SJP can do it...

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Fashion Uniformity

Uniformly chic

Some of the most fashionable people on the planet pretty much wear a uniform. I'm not talking Pope Francis, but he does dress to impress. Think about Anna Wintour, who rarely goes through her workday not wearing a printed, sleeveless or short sleeved dress and a pair of slingback heels. Karl Lagerfeld's uniform may veer on the costume, but it works for Karl. And what would Giorgio Armani be without that t-shirt?

So not only do these fashionable folk have more time in their days, they are each easily identified.

President Obama revealed he either wears a blue or gray suit so he doesn't have to spend much time making clothing decisions. It's gratifying to know he does make even that decision. Life is not just all about world leadership.

So if it's okay for them, why not for us? Most of us haven't zoned in on our own images and stayed there long enough to have them stick. I for one am like a magpie, constantly rummaging around and coming up with the shiny bits. This is not entirely an exaggeration; if it glitters I'm all over it.

It's possible I don't have enough to do. I have the time to play with outfits and shop the stores, the internet, the magazines. It wasn't always this way. I do have more time now, but I kind of like doing that.

So if you have a signature look—
>  Make sure it's your signature.
>  Keep it tweaked and up-to-date.
>  Believe in it; don't just hide behind it.

If you haven't signed off on a look yet—
>  Relax in knowing you are in the majority.
>  Keep track of looks you wear that you really like; one day you may have an epiphany.
>  Get rid of what doesn't work, because if it didn't work once it's not going to work the second time.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Dusting off "Rags", the Magazine

"Cheap Chic", a guide to alternative fashion, has just been reprinted and reissued in a 40th anniversary edition. When first published in 1975 (later updated in 1978), "Cheap Chic" expanded on what hippie street-style had become— mainstream for the fashion-conscious young woman. In its review of the reprint,  The New York Times mentioned how "Cheap Chic" was written by one of the editors (Carol Troy) of a short-lived (1970-71), counter-culture fashion magazine called "Rags".

Fashion and counter-culture may seem opposite endeavors, but clothes are always a defining feature of who-you-are and what-you-are-trying-to-say. "Rags" was aimed at a New York or California gal, working but probably not "working for the man". These were the baby boomers, to be part of which I was born a little early. Though clearly working in the establishment myself, at "Glamour" magazine, I bought "Rags" to see what that noisy group was up to.

I didn't love "Rags" and don't remember reading any cover-to-cover. Nevertheless, I still have seven issues, from October 1970 to June 1971. Amazing that I held onto them while losing my good Tiffany earrings and unwittingly throwing out my wedding dress.

Clever name, that. "Rags" was printed on newsprint. Newspapers have long been nicknamed "rags". The "rag trade" is still shorthand for the Seventh Avenue garment industry. In the history of monikers, they picked a good one.

Inside "Rags" was everything from the expected reports on street style to articles ("A special RAGS report") on "Fashion Fascism: The Politics of Midi", an interview with Marshall McLuhan on "Mini Skirt Tribalism", five pages on "Pity the Poor Working Girl— a report on office dress codes", "How Ricky Escaped from the GTOs" (a group founded by Frank Zappa), an early piece by Jon Carroll (presently a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle) on how he looks like an unmade bed, a photo story with captions about waitresses at two west coast restaurants, how to sew a boho top, a page on camping gear, a spread on deciphering man-made textile fibers, a New York stylist revealing trade secrets and ten pages of shopping finds surrounded by ads like any other magazine back-of-book at the time.

And the ads! Ads for long-gone and/or legendary places like Granny Takes a Trip, Abracadabra, I. Goldberg, Max's Kansas City, Betsey Johnson's Alley Cat and a full-page ad for the new album by Blood, Sweat and Tears.

That's just the October 1970 issue!

I realize now what a serious and thoughtful endeavor this was, laced with rebellion and a hint of sarcasm. There was some fine researching and writing, though not a lot of color. By the time "Cheap Chic" was published I too was wearing thigh-high boots, head wraps and French workingmen's smocks.  Purposefully out of sync, straddling commerce and commune, "Rags" couldn't last and didn't. But this pile of newsprint is really the bedrock of fashion-think that continues to influence today.

PS I've been the guardian lo these many years, but it's time to let this baby go. If you've an interest in my collection of "Rags", please get in touch and we'll talk.