Thursday, August 17, 2017

A Grim Fairy Tale

One of my favorite fairy tales as a child was "The Emperor's New Clothes". It would have been read to me from a volume of Hans Christian Andersen's stories. The book had few pictures, which was fine. I could easily imagine the pompous old emperor in his underwear, thinking he was outfitted in the finest cloth ever woven. I was always the child in the crowd who cried out, "But he hasn't got anything on!"

It's probably no coincidence that my other favorite Andersen tales were "The Princess and the Pea", "The Poor Little Match Girl" and "The Red Shoes"— all fashion-related in a way. What can I say? It started early.

For those not familiar with "The Emperor's New Clothes", the emperor was a vain fellow who cared more about clothes than running his country. He was convinced by two would-be swindlers (not named Bannon and Scaramucci) that they could weave beautiful cloth with magical properties. Only one worthy of his position could see it. The fabric would be invisible to the unworthy. The emperor dearly wanted a suit cut from this magical cloth. He paid the weavers their exorbitant fee and was assured by his ministers that the cloth was magnificent (though none of them could see it). The emperor couldn't see it ether but would never admit to that. In the end he parades before his people clad only in his underwear. It takes the little child to say out loud what everyone was thinking.

So here we are today. At this point many of us know the emperor isn't wearing any clothes; some of us have come right out and said so. It may even sound like "I told you he wasn't wearing any clothes." Others have finally noticed: "He's really not wearing any clothes, is he?" There will always be those who see clothes that aren't there. Very good imaginations or susceptible to suggestion?

His courtiers were afraid to tell the emperor what almost everyone else knew. There were no clothes. He wasn't wearing any. People were laughing at him. And when people are laughing at you, it doesn't matter whether you are wearing nothing or a long red tie and a boxy suit. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Boho Ho-Hum

Though it's only the first week of August, in the alternate world of retail it's beginning to look a lot like... Fall. This should come as no surprise to anyone trying to find a bathing suit (which are relegated to the nether reaches of the clearance racks). It's traditional to haul out the autumn offerings before one could ever need a pullover sweater or wool pants.

Retailers do not reveal everything. These are teasers to whet your appetite or coax you into buying something irresistible for fear it might be gone later. What I've seen en masse at the mass marketers (in this case Target) looks like Boho overload— racks and racks of ditsy prints, dark florals, lace, trim of every description, puffed sleeves and way too many kimonos. Stevie Knicks in a fun-house mirror.

Now I like a little luxe louche as much as anyone. A bit of droopy chiffon swathed in furs gets my Biba-addled heart all a-flutter. But Boho en masse in cheap synthetic fabrics just makes me go Boho, oh no.

Surely not there again! Haven't we revisited that look too many times already? Does this mean I have to put away my kimonos in order to stand out? Is there nothing truly new?

Think I'm going to let the dust settle before I settle on this.

When Biba was the real deal...

Thursday, July 27, 2017

How to Wear a Hawaiian Shirt

Rolled and tucked

It's Summer, and the islands are calling! I love Hawaiian shirts for their variety of patterns, casual vibe and cultural history. They are just not easy to give a feminine touch. Jimmy Buffett looks great in one; I just don't want to look like Jimmy Buffett. So what's a gal to do?

Hawaiian or "Aloha" shirts were popularized in the early '30s by Ellery Chun who sold them at his dry goods store in Waikiki. Locals (especially surfers) and tourists gobbled them up. It wasn't long before many Hawaiian manufacturers starting producing them, and they became THE civvies uniform of armed forces personnel in Hawaii during WWII. As tourists began to flock to the islands in the 1950s, so the shirts made their way back as part of leisure time culture.

In 1946 the city of Honolulu passed a resolution that allowed employees to wear sport shirts from June to October. This spread to other businesses and to a year-round "aloha spirit" that signified much of what island culture wished to express. If you want to know where "Casual Friday" started, my guess would be there.

Tradition has the buttons made of coconut shells. Avoid rayon when shopping for one. Instead choose cotton or a cotton blend to avoid droop and wrinkling.

Herewith a mini pu pu platter to up your Hawaiian shirt game:

> Give the sleeves a roll up.

> Go all Katharine Hepburn and wear the collar turned up, secured with a snap or hook if necessary.

> Wear out, tying the ends in the front in a small knot. Tuck ends under.

> Hem to the top of hips, adding side slits for ease, and wear out.

> If it's long enough, wear out and belted.

> Wear as a jacket over a dress or skirt.

> Avoid man-tailored shorts or chinos. Instead wear with palazzo pants, culottes or skinny capris.

> Pair with espadrilles, strappy sandals or straw wedges, not boat shoes or sneakers.

> Forget necklaces but add hoop or chandelier earrings or bangle bracelets.

Oh and guys can wear them too.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

7.5 Fashion Tips for 75-Year-Olds

Happy Birthday to me! 75 today. In honor of that 3/4 of a century, here are 7.5 of my favorite fashion tips. You didn't really think there would be 75, did you? These are especially formulated for those of us who aren't getting any younger, although a good tip is a good tip whenever.

1) Learn how to divert, distract, disengage. Fool the eye. Make it look someplace else.  See #2.

2) Harness the Power of Accessories. Layers soften. A scarf, a really interesting necklace can be your focal point.  Accessories can stretch your wardrobe, are a quick pick-me-up and don't have to break the bank. Though if you've always wanted a Hermes scarf, this would be the time.

3) Feet don't fail me now! Without 'em you literally are going nowhere. Forget silly shoes that may be gorgeous but are killing you. There are plenty of high-styled flats wedges, slipons and lace-ups. Avoid anything that resemble Oxfords like the plague. 

4) Wear pantyhose again if your legs look better with them than without. You just might start a new trend.

5) Turtlenecks don't fool anyone. If you like them, and it's cold where you live, fine. But a turtleneck is not going to help you feel any less bad about your neck. 

6) Be easier on yourself. Accept that you have spent XX years on this wonderful planet.  See #7.

7) Dress for who you are and the life you lead today. They say when men look in a mirror they always see themselves at whatever age they thought they looked best. You are smarter than that. The trick is to realize every year is your best.

7.5)  Drink more water. Not exactly a fashion tip, but drinking water is good for you and they say will give you a trimmer figure.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Check Mate

Thanks to American Airlines I am now in the market for a new suitcase. This is what happens when a blogger doesn't take her own advice to travel carry-on. But it was a beach vacation at a place where people like to dress up! It was wonderful. I don't regret one minute of wardrobe planning or clothes changing.

The giant rip in the corner of the suitcase wasn't apparent until it got to my hotel. I then noticed my clothes were starting to fall out. It was a large rip, separating frame from fabric. No amount of hastily applied duck tape would keep it together for the trip home. The airlines rep assured me it would survive. He also let me know how to claim the damage after I landed.

I must say American Airlines was very nice. They have a system, though, which smacks of a little racket. They would exchange my suitcase for a new one of the same size. I would then leave behind the ripped one. Or I could come back (within 30 days) with the busted case to see if it could be repaired. If it could not, I would be reimbursed.

How much could I get for a ten-year-old cloth suitcase without a sales receipt? It didn't go that far. I stopped at the idea of coming back to the airport and took their replacement. The new one is not bad looking, but it's the luggage equivalent of $5 umbrellas sold on the streets of New York. It might make one trip without falling apart.

So now I need a new suitcase. It will be (drumroll please) one of those hard-sided plastic jobs with eighteen wheels. But here's my quandry and the reason this can even remotely be considered Fashion: Do I go for conservative black, grey or silver, or do I break out in song with something bright or even patterned?

It used to be one did not call attention to oneself with lovely luggage as that might indicate the contents were lovely as well. Nowadays all bags look like Tumis. How's a bag-napper to know? If I were one, I would assume the beat-up, soft-sided suitcase held the treasure.

Do I pick one in a subtle, sophisticated color to reflect the subtle, sophisticated person I wish to appear? Or do I get one so loud I can spot it from the instant it hits the carousel?

Any thoughts please? My next trip is only 10 months away.    

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Where Fashion Has Flown the Coop

No, I didn't see this at the airport during my recent vacay. I've long railed against the dumbing down of— not just fashion— but good taste while traveling. From jeans and sweatpants we have now digressed to Ready for Spin Class. Yoga wear— and not pristine high-end Yoga wear either— is literally taking off. And don't get me started on flip flops as foot gear. I've never seen so many sloppy looking women of all ages in one place. Have we completely given up? Is air travel so miserable that we must express our displeasure by wearing the worst our wardrobes have to offer?

Yoga class will be held at Gate C26

This is a mystery, part of my quest to uncover where women wear all those clothes they are always shopping for. Personally, whenever I spend a lot of money on something, I like to look nice doing it— a nice restaurant or a Broadway show. That airline ticket cost plenty. It's the least I can do.

Looking better than average
On the other hand, what's to be done about the men??? Unless they are going to a business meeting and are forced to look respectable, men are ridding themselves of real clothes faster than women. They are not donning workout gear so much as throwing on a t-shirt and shorts. I'm going to say it right here, with my husband sitting in the next room: no man over 50 should wear shorts to travel on a plane. The old school end of the spectrum tuck in the t-shirt, wear a nice dress belt and add socks to whatever is on their feet. It's a skewed sense of decorum that some woman should have stopped from going out the front door. Perhaps it's not fair to pick on these guys as I bet they think this looks okay.

What's to be said for other men, especially those who know they will be noticed and possibly recorded for posterity? Channing Tatum, I'm talking to you.

Channing not charming


Friday, July 7, 2017

Women We Love: Angela Merkel

There are many reasons to love Angela Merkel— humanitarian, diplomat, politician... Chancellor Merkel used the full force of her (feminine) powers to stand out at the meet-and-greet for dignitaries at the 2017 G20 World Summit in Hamburg. She wore a bright red jacket and landed smack in the middle of the first row. No pushing required.     

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Come Fly With Me

"Come fly with me." That's what I said to my suitcase because I HATE to check luggage. The downside of any trip is standing around the carousel waiting for my bag to not appear.

I recently made another 5-day jaunt going carry-on only and realized I've found a little pod wardrobe that's served me well on short hauls. It's so easy I don't know why I ever stressed about it.

There are exceptions. You can't be doing a lot of sports activities or attending many formal events. Your hat won't fit if you're being presented to the Queen. But for the average trip this should serve you well.

Colors need to coordinate, of course. Choose your basic black, grey, tan or navy and work around that. Bear in mind I haven't counted pjs or underwear or all those lotions and potions you must squeeze into little 100 ml. bottles.

Pick one bag and add your...

4 tops
    > 2 shirts
    > 1 other top
    > 1 dressier blouse  
My shirts are tailored and in a soft synthetic fabric. They can be worn out or tucked in. The "other top" is a classic Breton T in summer or a pullover sweater in winter. The blouse has a bit of pattern, coordinates with everything and keeps me from getting bored.

2 trousers
I prefer a fabric that can look dressy or casual depending. One is not a pair of jeans, but yours might be.

This always seems to be a shirt dress, and I wear it on the plane. I really think a dress is more comfortable than pants, and I like looking a little nice for the trip. Synthetic fabric again, not linen or cotton that will wrinkle like crazy.

Blazer or denim jacket, depending on your agenda

"Coat" may mean lightweight, raincoat or down-filled according to your destination. I wear it to travel as obviously it won't pack.

Make it big enough to act as a shawl.

2 necklaces 
That's all you really need. One chunky, one delicate. Avoid packing a mess of earrings, rings and bracelets. Of course they don't take up much room, but keeping track of them is a pain.

3 pairs shoes
    > flats
    > walking shoes
    > plus one 

My flats are sturdy enough to wear all day, not those cute but floppy ballet slippers. I don't love trotting about in sneakers so have found some good walking shoe exceptions, but pack sneakers if you must. Make the "plus one" sandals or boots as needed.  Wear the bulkiest of the three in transit.

In addition I throw my actual purse into a soft-sided tote that will fit under the seat. This gives you a little more room for reading matter, snacks and a traveling Scrabble game.

Think of this as a Marie Kondo "Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" for your trip, where less may not be more, but it may just be enough.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Summmmmmmertime Style

Despite the heat here in Houston, I love Summertime. To me it's delicious, the more "ummmms" the better. Summer will also bring out the gypsy in you. And don't forget, this year recognizes the "Summer of Love", 50 years since the Montery Pop Festival and its quintessential Boho style.

Jackie with Lee on Capri

Icons have a way of making even popular styles their own, as did Jackie Kennedy Onassis in the summer of 1971. Her style, worn while visiting Capri, is classic Boho and would look perfect today— black scoop neck t, mid-length peasant skirt (with slit and ruffle), wide belt, strappy sandals, oversized shades. In fact Jackie looks more "today" than Lee does in her buttoned-up mod-Couregges outfit. I remember thinking how happy Jackie looked in these pictures, the first I did not think of her as "the grieving widow". At the same time, photos with new husband Aristotle Onassis somehow did not seem right.

But the style is still there, this time with chandelier earrings and fringe. The more things change, the more they stay the same. So true, so true.

Even Jackie's decidedly non-Boho outfit is not just timeless but 100% fresh and modern. I've been trying to pull this one off for years, but she's still the master.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Coming soon... the Audrey Hepburn Auction

Just wanted to get this out as I know there will be great interest— and coverage— in the coming months. Christie's London has announced that Audrey Hepburn's sons, Sean Ferrer and Luca Dotti, are making available for auction many items from their mother's personal collection.

The September 27 event will be preceded by a viewing at Christie's beginning September 23 with an online auction from September 19 - October 3. That sounds like two separate auctions, so I will need to clarify. Although the wish is to make personal items available to all her fans, it sounds like such treasures as hand-annotated scripts and THE "Breakfast at Tiffany's" dress will be very pricey.

A lavish catalogue with an August release is available for purchase now at $60 on Christie's website.

I wouldn't mind a pair of her colorful ballet slippers, would you?

Estimated price: $1900 per pair

Saturday, June 10, 2017

When Good Fortune Feels Bad

Yesterday I bought a dress at a well known retail chain that shall remain nameless because I feel that bad about my good fortune. I bought a dress originally marked $139 for the rock bottom price of $9.67. I mean, that's scraping the bottom. I can sew; I know how much fabric costs. It was a tailored shirt dress with self-piping and buttoned cuffs. A lot of detail. I didn't realize how inexpensive the dress would be as the last markdown wasn't on the ticket, and there was an additional 40% off sale. Instead of rejoicing at such luck, I felt terrible.

In my closet it's not been about need for a very long time. There are reasons there is no room at the "in". The price of clothes has gone down. There are off-price retailers a-plenty, fast fashion to suit every taste, so many sales and %-off-sales we get annoyed if we don't find one. Then there's the internet and that whole kettle of fish— copious options and the eternal promise of fabulous. I also work in retail and am aware of goings on in the marketplace from both perspectives.

I once bought a designer dress for $8, but it was at a deep-discount off-price retailer where such finds are celebrated. While yesterday's cashier did not make me feel any less valued as a customer, I did joke at that price I should buy two.

There is a blog I read called "Effortlessly with Roxy". Just this week the author posted this, and I couldn't agree more:

Time was that people bought new clothes once or maybe twice a year and then held onto that clothing for years. Over time, we’ve been sold the idea of new clothes for more occasions to the point where buying clothes is now a constant, year-round thing. As the USA has opened up to ever more trade and imports, the products we buy have gotten ever cheaper (in price, and yes in quality too one could argue.) Our money could go further and over time we spent ever more. At some point, this cycle had to become too much. Consumers are revolting against the over-consumption ideals being sold to us. It’s too much! No one needs new clothing every week and even those of us who want that (*raises hand*) are realizing that I may as well just light $20s and $50s and $100s on fire because it’s effectively burning money, pouring it down the drain.

Instead of reeling with happiness at my $9.67 dress, I feel  I am both the cause and effect of a retail climate change. It may not be a tsunami, but the tides are shifting. How and what we buy what we do and do not "need" has already changed.  Sooner or later we will wise up, retailers will give up or we will see just how long this little stand-off can last.

In the meantime I should look for a new raincoat to weather the storm.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Can Paris Wait?

The other day I went to see "Paris Can Wait", a frothy romantic comedy starring Diane Lane and many courses of beautiful French food. Diane Lane is beautiful too. This was not a movie on my radar, but a friend was curious about 81-year-old director Eleanor Coppola, long-time wife and creative partner of Francis Ford Coppola, mother of Sofia Coppola and aunt of Nicholas Cage. She's not exactly a novice filmmaker, but this is her first dramatic feature, supposedly based on an incident from her life.

Eleanor, right, on set

The set-up is a little trite. Loved but somewhat neglected wife of successful film producer (Alec Baldwin) is given a lift from Cannes to Paris by one of her husband's business partners, a suave Frenchman (Arnand Viard) with every intention of taking the long route. The plot doesn't exactly go where you think it will, but I did find myself waiting for it to get there.

On the way we are treated to many lovely meals (including snacks and picnics), orchestrated and explained by the food-absorbed Frenchman (who also smokes a lot). Between meals, the film becomes a travelogue of highlights along the way— a Roman viaduct, Cezanne's favorite mountain, the former home of  pioneering film makers the Lumiere brothers, and a textile museum (of particular interest to our heroine).

Alec Baldwin, Diane Lane

Diane Lane plays Anne. She appreciates her good life but knows her celebrity husband takes center stage. She has a college-age daughter and just closed her "dress shop", presumably in Hollywood. Diane Lane, age 52, looks the part of a beautiful woman aging naturally and gracefully. There is no way you wouldn't want to look like her. Her makeup whispers not shouts; her hair is wonderful California stuff that falls back into place when tousled. Her clothes, for the most part, are not meant to be noticed, but I found myself studying them.

For half the film Anne wears a white silk shirt, untucked over a pair of beige pants. She adds a beige jacket and a beige tote. It's neutral on purpose. She's not really put together as much as just dressed.

When she arrives at the hotel, the first thing Anne unpacks is a beautiful and colorful silk kimono, which she carefully arranges on the bed. We don't yet know she loves textiles, so this struck me as odd. Personally I don't lay out my dressing gown on the hotel bed. I don't even travel with a bathrobe. I just hope the hotel will provide a nice terry one.

Anne changes into a rather stiff red dress for dinner. She looks pretty but not particularly stylish. When asked if it had been from her shop, she says, "No; it's French", but that's all we learn.

I did like what she wore the next day— a blue A-line midi skirt, worn with a white t-shirt and silver slip-ons. That skirt is a flattering choice for anyone tired of pants but not thrilled with her legs. It's a decidedly retro look. See my closing thoughts. She adds a short navy jacket and a baseball cap and looks adorable. We discover she is wearing pantyhose. Another odd note. For good or bad, we just don't wear pantyhose like we used to.

The Frenchman turns up in loafers without socks, and Anne is aghast. She produces a pair of her husband's socks for him to wear. My 2017 husband always wears loafers without socks, so I didn't see why the fuss.  There's a little bit of business with a necklace, a bracelet, a paisley shawl and a pair of killer heels. In a very sleight movie it's interesting that wardrobe plays such a big part.

"Paris Can Wait" reminded me a bit of "Two for the Road" with Audrey Hepburn and a bit more of "The Trip to Italy" with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon.  It was better than I thought but not quite good enough. 

The movie feels like it should have been made 30 years ago. Those pantyhose for sure.


Thursday, June 1, 2017

Women We Love: Dolores Hawkins

By Karen Radkai
I imagined her as the fantasy head cheerleader, prom queen, student council president and honor student who was also friends with everyone. Although she was tall, slim and beautiful, with a killer smile and hair to die for, you couldn't help but love Dolores Hawkins. I grew up with her. She was in ads and editorials in every magazine I read, and I read a lot of them— Seventeen, Mademoiselle, Glamour, McCall's, Ladies Home Journal, and later Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. Dolores had something other models of the 1950s didn't— a personality. And she just seemed so incredibly nice.

It turns out the real Dolores Hawkins Phelps truly is nice. I've had the amazing good fortune to connect with her, and she agreed to tell me about her incredible life as one of the first Supermodels (before that was ever a word).

Dolores Hawkins, born in 1931, grew up north of New York City in rural Orange County. She says she was a real country girl— loved horses and the outdoors, rode her bike everywhere. After high school she worked in a local department store. The owner didn't like it when she grew her hair long and wore it in a pony tail. In 1951, fed up with his teasing, she quit and joined a friend living in Manhattan. She found a job at Lord & Taylor (and still remembers what she wore on the interview).

Dolores had no intention of becoming a model, but she was spotted in a restaurant by the head of an advertising agency. At his suggestion she went to the agency, but they were reluctant to hire a total newbie. The agency arranged an appointment with the editor-in-chief of Mademoiselle magazine, who called photographer Herman Landshoff, who took Dolores' first photos and, well, she was a natural. Her first appearance was in Mademoiselle. By the second she had made the cover. Much editorial and advertising work followed. It became apparent she would need an agent.

The first cover, 1952
In the beginning... by Nina Leen for Life

Ford Models was new but already a top agency and run with an iron fist (in a velvet glove) by Eileen Ford. Dolores went to see her. Eileen declared she was "too fat" and should come back when she lost weight. At 5'7" and 108 pounds, Dolores was hardly too fat. She didn't even know what a diet was and went back a week later. Eileen took her on.  No contract, no signing— that was the way it was done then.

Hundreds of editorials, ads and covers...

Dolores worked full-tilt from 1951 on. She was on hundreds of magazine covers (in the US and Europe), in countless print advertisements and magazine editorials. It would have been impossible to keep track of all of them, and sadly a large quantity perished in a barn fire in the '60s.

By Herman Landshoff

If you look back at models of that time, most were little more than paper dolls displaying clothes. Their poses and expressions were studied and interchangeable. Dolores had a 100% natural look, one that said she was game for anything. She was the perfect model for the new more relaxed and realistic approach to fashion photography. Although I knew I could never aspire to look like her, I never "hated her because she was beautiful". She just looked like she'd be fun to be with and nice.

By Bert Stern

Dolores worked with top photographers of the era— among them the legendary Richard Avedon, Lionel Kazan, Francesco Scavullo, Allan Arbus, Jerry Schatzberg, Bert Stern and a personal favorite, William Bell. Yes, models did their own hair and makeup in the early days.

Lucky kitty

Avedon was the one who eased her into a more high fashion image in the early '60s. He would let her know the look he had in mind. She says, "He made you feel good. He made you think you looked wonderful".

By William Bell
By Jerry Schatzberg

She also traveled the world, with favorite jobs taking her to Japan, Europe and many tropical islands. While models were not the celebrities many are today, Dolores was always treated well and often recognized on the street. Once she was in the company of a well-known Hollywood heart-throb who was not recognized when she was and was a little miffed about it. Another time, when she landed in London for an assignment, she was totally surprised to be greeted at the airport by photographers and reporters.

The chop
I did ask how she was persuaded to cut off that beautiful mane of brown hair earlier in her career. It seems Eileen Ford had gotten a lot of complaints that Dolores' hair was touching the collar and "ruining the merchandise". Chop, chop, but fortunately it grew back fast.

Dolores moved to California briefly when Eileen opened a branch of Ford Models but returned to New York. In 1963 she bought a 167-acre farm 75 miles north of the city where she raised hunters and jumpers.

On location with Gary Cooper

Besides modeling she had a "very brief" career as co-host of a tv interview program and was the subject of a half-hour ABC special, "A Day in the Life of a Model". 

Although engaged twice, she hadn't married. Then she met transplanted Texan Stuart Phelps through a mutual friend. They shared a love for the country— and horses. Stuart and Dolores were married in 1966 and had three sons in 1967, '69 and '70. She still worked occasionally but the family left New York for Houston in 1977. Of course raising three boys and a husband is a full-time job, and Dolores retired from modeling.  She then decided either to learn piano or get a real estate license. She opted for the latter.

By Scavullo in Town & Country 1970
Family portrait by Skrebneski in Town & Country 1991

The Phelps family owned country property outside Houston, where they also raised horses. Dolores and Stuart moved there full-time about 20 years ago. They sold real estate out of a refurbished one-room schoolhouse and only recently closed the business. Today they have two grandchildren, two dogs, two cats and a 34-year-old retired race horse named Maxi. Dolores still keeps in touch with friends in the fashion world and enjoys visits to New York and Santa Fe. Amazingly most of her neighbors have no idea what a familiar and lovely presence she once was everywhere you looked.

Personally this has all been a kick...    

Still beautiful