Thursday, September 12, 2019

Madame Suggests a Refresh

Fall is coming at you...

Conspicuous consumption—not a Victorian disease but too much buying of too much stuff—is not in style. It's bad for the planet, bad for the pocketbook and too darn confusing when it comes to what-to-wear. Trends are not important anymore. They're more like sprinkles on an ice cream cone because anything goes.

Never has "shop your closet" been a clearer directive. The trouble begins when you discover you didn't hang on to your Gucci-inspired 80s looks. Who did?

Celine, Fall 2019
You can decide to "sit this one out", as many of us with bulging closets and a sense of our own style may do. Nevertheless it might be fun to see how you can add your own sprinkles with a little imagination and perhaps a purchase or two.

Here's what I've gleaned from the fashion press and some preliminary scouting around town:

> Belts are back, in a big way. Big and small belts. Should there ever be a "Madame's Book of Mantras" one would surely be "Never get rid of a good belt." We had a neighbor some years ago in the belt business. Belts were so "out" he was changing careers and let me have the beautiful leather belts that had been his samples. I feel very lucky to have held onto them. This year's belt sprinkle (aka trend) is wearing a belt with a jacket or blazer.

Bazaar says it's a must-have

> If belts are back, can skirts be far behind? Pull them out because they are indeed back, two styles especially—the pencil skirt and the pleated. Pencil skirts are longer, definitely below the knee (the better to meet those tall boots, also on sprinkle for fall). The newest are faux suede and faux leather, the faux-er the better. No one is trying to pretend these fabrics are anything but man-made.

> Pleats are not just those off school uniforms of yore. The newest are mid-length or longer micro pleats in polyester or faux leather. You may have sworn off skirts years ago depending how you feel about your legs, but there are many lengths and footwear choices to make them a viable option.

Say you've got belts and skirts but a disappearing waist? The thinking has always been you will look younger and slimmer showing/creating a waist. I used to have quite the small waist, which made my hips look even bigger. Now things have evened out. I'm getting used to it, and yes I will try wearing shirts or sweaters with a skirt and belt.

> If you have a hard time letting go of summer's Bohemian looks, deeper florals on dark backgrounds can make you a Winter Bohemian. Some days I still want to be a gypsy.

> Are you seeing spots, zig-zags and scales? There is a plethora of animals prints out there, again I might add. The newest way to treat them is as a neutral for texture and color. We might as well face it, leopard is forever. I don't mind that either.

> One look you may not have in your closet is the deliberate mismatching of pieces or pattern in one garment. Probably an extension of separates pattern mixing, this was shown by a few of the more outre designers. I bet it won't be long before there are affordable options (the nice way to say knock-offs). Looks like fun to me.

Roland Mouret at it again

Here's something I definitely won't be wearing except in my worst nightmare. I'm not embarrassing the designer with a credit, but I think the house's founder would not approve of what his sister did.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Mining Gold: Day 4

Day 4/Step 4/Week 4 of the Miracle 7 Day Glamour Course tackles a major stumbling block: money.
How to pay for all this fabulousness? A budget.

Curiously, these pages are pristine. The former owner of the magazine didn't attempt to fill in the 2-page "private fashion formula" to track your purchases month-by-month. Nor did she attempt to create a "basic budget" reflecting her lifestyle, what she has and what she needs (see Day 3). The task is daunting.

How many of us shop with need and/or budget in mind? You may need a new winter coat. You may not always find one on your "shopping trip", but I'd be surprised if you didn't find something else you weren't looking for, that clearly wasn't on your mind.

Another place Chapter 4 goes wacky is considering "girdles, slips, bras, nightgowns and stockings" as items to be budgeted for. Those are not clothes, girl. At least today we can eliminate three of those things, four if you like to sleep in an old t-shirt.

By the way, the basic budget in their example assumes you have $10 a week to spend on clothes, $520 a year. Before you laugh yourself silly, adjusted for inflation $520 in 1952 money would be equal to $5,034.60 today. I don't think I spend anywhere near that amount. Of course, I don't keep track.

Back then a suit was $50 and a coat $100. Dresses ranged from $20 to $25. Skirts and blouses $5. Shoes $8 to $12.  Stockings were budgeted at $1.25 a pair, the equal of $12.10 today. No wonder my mother went giddy when Higbees had their annual hosiery sale at 99 cents. She also put them on while wearing gloves.

High fashion for $35

There is, however, a light bulb moment, one so simple I might even have thought of it myself:
You can put your $$$$$ into clothes...and stick to basic accessories or you can put your $$$$$ into accessories...and stick to basic clothes.

If you love the latest styles and color and prints and interesting details, stick to basic simple accessories (shoes, bag, jewelry, scarves) that will last and spend your budget on clothes themselves.

If you like to be "the firstest with the latest" and are a creative accessory maven go for simple clothing pieces and have fun with everything else—costume jewelry, belts, fun shoes, bags, etc.. Spend as much as you can on those basic clothing pieces so they will last.

Even at this point I haven't committed to which type I am, but it's worth thinking about.

To charge or not to charge? In our practically cash-less society, reaching for your credit card is second nature. Some stores won't even take checks anymore, and who carries that much cash?  In 1952 credit cards were barely in their infancy, but department stores did have a charging system. We are cautioned that there are advantages to having a charge account (convenience and notice of sales or special buys), but "if you have the idea that saying 'charge it' somehow magically gets you something for nothing" stay away from them with a ten-foot pole.

Day 5 is a biggie—how to shop. Get a good night's sleep.


Thursday, September 5, 2019

When Taxis Were a Quarter...

...and the subway was 15 cents.

It was 55 years ago this week that I flew to New York City on a one-way ticket to begin my career. Or, as I felt at the time, to begin my life. At last!

The plane was thanks to my wonderful Aunt Sally. When she heard I was planning to go by bus, she sprang for the ticket.

I came with one suitcase, which contained my entire wardrobe. Examining the closets and drawers today, I cannot believe I have accumulated so much "stuff". And this is just the tip of the landfill of discards that must exist somewhere.

Big enough to hold a life...

I had two dresses that I alternated wearing for weeks and weeks until I made friends with a coworker in my new job who had a sewing machine. I borrowed it one weekend, lugging that thing on the subway from Greenwich Village to my apartment on the upper east side. The something I ended up making was teal. That's all I remember. Finally I bought my own Singer from an appliance store on Third Avenue and paid it off on time at $8 a month.

Choose one from each column...

Because I wore them so often and they had such starring roles in my life, I will never forget those two dresses. One was persimmon colored cotton in a textured weave. A sheath dress, it had an empire waist with a narrow self tie, low pointed collar and short sleeves. It set me back $40, but I splurged and bought it at the Cleveland Bonwit Teller store because, well, it was Bonwit Teller. It felt very Audrey Hepburn in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" though she never wore a dress like that in the movie.

The inspiration

I made the second dress before leaving home. It was grey and gold in a Chanel-like flecked tweed, also a sheath, long sleeves, no collar but a neckline edged in braiding that tied in a bow. I'd completely lined it so the dress was incredibly hot. New York City in early September can also be incredibly hot, especially while job-hunting, carrying a big art portfolio, wearing heels with pantyhose, and don't forget the white gloves.


I arrived on Labor Day night. When I hadn't gotten a job by Wednesday I began to panic. By Friday I had two jobs to choose from. I took the wrong one. But that's another story.

How many dresses or outfits can you remember? Maybe if I set my mind to it I can come up with a list, but those two are on instant recall. Labor Day makes me think of my first week in New York. When I see myself on those first days of the rest of my life I am wearing one of them. And I know I'll be wearing the other tomorrow.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

COS, You Make it Hard to Love You

COS stands for "Collection of Style" and was launched in 2007 by the H&M fashion group as their more sophisticated, more expensive older sister. It's the kind of clothing that looks like nothing on a hanger but can look like everything or still nothing when it's on you.

Where to start?

The clothing tends to be oversized or undersized, as am I in various places. This requires a lot of trying on, and I was tickled radish-root pink when a COS opened up in a collection of shops near me. I will take piles of lovely fabrics in understated shades and undetermined shapes into the fitting room and come out with a piece or two that I will really wear.

Not everything works

Whenever I do wear something from COS, however, I feel sophisticated, smart and more like the woman I hope to appear than I usually feel wearing anything else.

A few days ago I introduced a friend to the brand. We both found dresses we liked, neither one of which was available in our sizes at the store. The sales associate was very nice in writing down the style number and letting us know we could order them online.

Could they order for us? I know that usually saves on the shipping fee and gives credit for the sale to the store's bottom line. No, they don't do that.

I was able to order my dress online, but my friend was not. Sold out in her size. As a favor (since I feel responsible) I called a COS store in another town, one of only 20 in the US. They had it! But would not ship it. Could we pay for it and come pick it up? They won't take credit cards over the phone and would only hold it for 24 hours. COS has the dress, but won't sell it because...???

News flash! This is 2019. Stores are shuttering right and left. Barney's is in bankruptcy! Forever 21 just filed! Brick-and-mortar stores are finding their bricks crumbling as online shopping takes over.

Window dressing you never want to see

I work in retail and have dealt over time with enough about-faces in company policy to make your head spin. Strategically a company hopes to keep pace with changes in the marketplace. This is necessary, however much a nuisance "new rules" may seem. We know it's for our own good, as in protecting the existence of said company and our jobs along with it.

What is to be made of COS's very, well, 1999 approach to business? 

Never one to shy away from letting my opinion be known, I did indeed speak with someone from customer service. She very politely told me they were "always looking for ways to improve". It really was all I could do to keep from saying, "you are already five years behind the times." Then I realized I was talking to the wrong person.

So, president of COS North America, if you are reading this, don't bother reading between the lines. Read the lines. Make it easy to buy something. If the dress exists, sell it. Ship it. Take my credit card number over the phone. I've been hacked too many times already to do more than whimper, "What, again?"

Friday, August 30, 2019

Mining Gold: Day 3

Day 3/Step 3/Week 3 of the Miracle 7 Day Glamour Course covers "how to plan your wardrobe" and starts with cleaning out your closet. Hope you had a good breakfast. Then, as now, closet cleaning is a strenuous activity, and the Course warns be prepared—it could take all day.

If you've ever read anything about cleaning closets you will recognize the info: Take everything out, try it all on and (in this suggestion) end up with two piles—things you love and things you will give away. "Your room will be a mess in no time, but it's in a good cause."

> Test for your life
Does it fit into your life or is there not a chance you will really wear it? I think we keep a lot of things hanging there for sentimental reasons (though this isn't mentioned). If you are "never going to wear a blush pink velvet hostess gown", chuck it.

> Test for your looks
Try every piece on and check every point in the mirror. If it flatters, okay. Otherwise, out.

> Check the shape that it's in
This is good advice as too often we neglect to notice pilling, worn or threadbare spots, loose hems, etc. If it can be mended or fixed, okay. Otherwise, out. Don't put anything that needs work back in the closet. If you're a procrastinator and know you'll never take care of it, better to let it go.

> Make a list
This might be more than you care to start. It would probably have been a lot shorter in 1952 when no one had so many clothes as we do now. Remember those headings: city, casual, date and home clothes? List what goes under which and how many "costumes" you need (yes they call it that) to complete the group The former owner of this magazine attempted to fill in her list but gave up after one entry.

> Add accessories
Line up all your accessories—hats, gloves, shoes, jewelry, scarves. Go over each piece carefully, determine what you need to complete those outfits, add them to the list, and discard the rest.

You will notice nothing is given the chance to "mix and match". Everything needed to be an outfit, complete with particular accessories to finish the look. No one yet thought of basic pieces that could cover many occasions or that were de rigueur to have.

The next 8 pages give examples of city, casual, date and home clothes. Not a pair of pants among them.

We can be grateful no one needs that city look anymore. A pea coat, sweater, skirt and hoop earrings are timeless. Minus the cigarette, you could still wear the date look. The special dress to wear at home after work never did catch on. It's still a good idea to change your clothes, if only to cut down on laundry and dry cleaning.


Can we go shopping? Not yet. You must make another list, this one to determine if you have at least one outfit in every category. We are told it's better to have one or two outfits in each and repeat them rather than have the full component in city looks but nothing to wear on a date.

Throughout the Course those dates hang over us like ice cream sundaes. One surmises women lived for date night.

The next chapter is called "What are you going to use for money?" I can hardly wait.  

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Mining Gold Day 2

Day 2/Step 2/Week 2 of the "Miracle 7 Day Glamour Course is all about "the clothes for your looks". Here you are asked to take a long, hard look at yourself for those good points and weak points. This requires a tape measure and two mirrors—full length and hand mirror. The accompanying chart to fill in asks you to assess and describe neck, shoulders, bosom, waistline, hips, legs, arms, side view and back view. The conclusion: it's not the numbers on the tape but how they relate in proportion to each other.

> Are you short? 5' 4" or less is considered short, but you will look taller if you are slim, shorter if you are stocky.
> Are you tall? 5'7" or more is considered tall and ditto from above.
> Are you top heavy? Yes, if your bust is 12 or more inches larger than your waist.
> Are you hippy? Yes, if your hips are 12 or more inches larger than your waist.

 ...if you're short
Everything should be tiny. No large collars or wide belts, no matter how tiny your waist. You are the "bite-size version of femininity and can wear perky, piquant clothes other girls can't get away with".  No blouse-y tops, no contrasting colors, no bold jewelry. In other words, you cannot let your personality or personal taste get in the way of your teeny-tiny cuteness. This is 2019; please disregard.

...if you're tall
You can wear all the latest styles, the bolder and more dramatic the better—double-breasted, peplums, capes, boleros. Ditto bold accessories. Lay on the chunky jewelry, giant earrings, big prints, "handbags like pieces of luggage". Toss all your small jewelry to your little friends as you should never wear anything tiny and delicate. Now, if you tower over everyone and have the nerve to not like this, wearing horizontal lines will make you look shorter. I wonder if you can ask for your jewelry back.

...if you have hips 
Don't feel too bad; having large hips makes your waist look smaller. Being on the hippy side myself, I've always been up for any tips and tricks. Wear modified fullness over your hips to "even out" the disparity. Draw the eye to your top half by wearing brighter colors, scarfs and necklaces. Even consider adding "gentle fullness" to the bottom so it looks like the clothes and not you. You can disregard two other tips: wear a good girdle and a bigger hat.

...if you're heavy on top
Stop slinking around; this is what made Jane Russell famous! However, to de-emphasize your bosom, wear diagonal or asymmetric lines on top, like a crossed-over surplice. And don't wear anything too tight. Choose v-necks, scoop necks, off the shoulder, sweetheart neckline, just no bateau necks. Tops darker than your bottom will help as will a good corsetiere. You will never ever buy a striped fisherman t-shirt.

Hey, that's Jane
The next section is a checklist of all the styles in fashion on collars, necklines, shoulders, sleeves, bodices, waistlines and skirts and which types they are good for. You are asked to memorize this list (as much as pertains to you) in order to become "a real fashion expert". The problem here is too often we know what we should not wear and buy it anyway. That is not discussed.

Finally is a page on color. It took until 1980 for Carole Jackson to publish "Color Me Beautiful", still  the definitive guide to what colors look good on you. But the Miracle Course does touch on the fact that it is not just your hair and eyes that determine your best colors. You are asked to experiment with holding up all kinds of swatches to your face and letting your reflection tell you what looks best. I was happy to see this early mention of yes, redheads can wear pink. All in all, not exactly helpful, but I can see this section would take some time to complete.

Now that you are thoroughly depressed by the list of clothes and colors you cannot wear, it's time to move on to Day 3. Join me when we have both recovered.  


Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Weighing in on the September Issues

Someone's been on a diet this year. At 9 pounds, the Fab Five September issues (Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Elle, Marie Claire, and In Style) weigh half a pound less than they did last year. My Fab Five are Vogue (the winner by far at 596 pages and down 50 from last year), followed by Harper's Bazaar at 396. Nipping at its heels are Elle (364), followed by InStyle (324). Marie Claire wafts in at a mere 210. Vogue was the biggest loser. Elle lost a few. Everyone else pretty much stayed the same.

The number of pages in a magazine says more about the economy than the state of fashion. Those page numbers equal ad revenue, and that's what's paying for your magazine—not your subscription or the $9.99 you paid on the newsstand.

What's so interesting is fashion, style and design are as hot topics as ever. Kids as young as six can go to "fashion camp" (in LA anyways). Decorating tv shows are ubiquitous, from to-the-studs renovation to pillow-fluffing. Instagram has yet to implode from too many influencers. We still want to know "Who wore it better?"

Fashion Camp, Los Angeles
The choice of cover models is always telling, and this year's September models are not all that (models that is). Christy Turlington, supermodel extraordinaire is on the subscription copy of Bazaar; Alicia Keys, sans makeup as usual and looking lovely, is on the newsstand.

That's Cara Delevingne and her bare back on the fold-out cover of Marie Claire. She was a model; now she's an actress. Maybe she's both. Is the lack of clothes meant to be an editorial statement?

Angelina Jolie is on Elle and Taylor Swift on Vogue. Joan Smalls, a model, graces the cover of InStyle wearing a dress designed by Rihanna. I wonder why Rihanna isn't wearing her own dress, but maybe she's just a fashion designer now.

I have not peeked inside. Labor Day is coming, and we usually stay close to home. I will crack them open on September 1. It will be a labor of love.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Mining Gold from 1952

"You can be the best-dressed girl in town." Who doesn't want that? Don't even think how large is your town.

This treasure was found at a flea market. I just love when ephemera has made it through the sands of time. Why was it never chucked after the original buyer became the best-dressed gal in town? Did she give up half way through this "Miracle 7 Day Glamour Course"?

Just think—1,000 fashion hints! 1,000!! 1,000!!! All for only a quarter! This magazine promises a lot. Does it deliver? Let's see...

At first glance you might think in seven days the secrets will be yours. In truth each "day" probably takes a week to complete.

The cover model looks a bit like '50s movie star Jeanne Crain (it's not). She has one of those unfortunate early '50s short cuts that were further tortured with a permanent. Ceil Chapman dress. The interior photos are credited to Butterick Patterns and an Eighth Avenue establishment called Millers. They are pretty standard in the I-am-a-model-posing school of fashion photography.

Why is she surprised?

But we're not here to judge the hairstyles, makeup, hats, gloves, girdles and hosiery. All that aside, many of the tips are as relevant today as they were in 1952.

FIRST DAY: The Clothes for Your Life

Right off the editors say, "We don't believe in 'typical' wardrobes. We believe in individual wardrobes." It's not such a bad idea to analyze how you live your life. There's a quiz to fill out and the final thought, "It's your life—dress for it!"

There are four kinds of clothes, and you need all four—date clothes, casual clothes, home clothes and city clothes.

Date clothes must be special and make you feel dressed up. They have to be different from what you wear during the day "otherwise it doesn't feel like a date!".

Casual clothes are for informal occasions. We are told they are also referred to as sportswear, but you would never wear them for sport.

Home clothes can be anything, but they must be relaxed and they must be comfortable. It's hard to believe that dressed-up clothes were not always comfortable, but it's true.

City clothes are for those times when you need to be "dressed" rather than casual but not really "dressed up".

The editors did consider they might have a wide audience as this spread shows you what proportion of clothes you need if you're a homemaker, a schoolgirl, a career girl or work in a uniform:

I actually never thought of determining what I need in my wardrobe by how I live. Note to self: Try figuring this out.

Day one concludes with two check lists—"must-haves" and "you-can't-go-wrongs". Editing for 2019 sensibilities, they still make sense. My thoughts for today are in parens.

>  1 raincoat (like for real, ie full length and waterproof, not just decorative)
>  2 umbrellas—"one to use and one to lose"
>  1 pair boots (as in rain boots or snow boots)
>  1 pair walking shoes (shoes you can really walk in) 
>  1 extra jacket—"when you don't want to lug a coat" (make that a cardigan or wrap)
>  1 housecoat, negligee or robe (in good condition—have you looked at your robe lately?)
>  1 pair slippers (see above)
>  1 apron (still need one sometimes)

>  1 basic full length evening skirt (or tea-length. This would make a nice change from pants and could be paired with a simple jersey top or man-tailored shirt.*)
>  1 perfectly plain dress-up top (You can go practically anywhere in a dressy top and jeans today. With black pants you can go even further.)
>  1 pearl joker (classic for a reason)
>  1 black beret (Don't you think this deserves a comeback?)
>  1 black sweater (what? only one???)
>  1 black skirt (duh)

* You sure can't go wrong...

Well, how did you like Day One? Ready to move on? See you next time.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Basics are Boring

The clear-out-the-closet countdown is drawing near. Fall may not be in the air, but it's filling up the shops and my mailbox (as those September issues trickle in). Autumn is always a state of mind here in Houston, but it's hard to avoid, what with Halloween decorations already in Marshall's and trick-or-treat candy in Kroger's.

I swear they're bringing out last year's candy, but that can't be proven.

Everyone always says (a loaded statement) you need to have Good Basics to build a wardrobe. Without Basics you will never have the backbone you need, the pieces you can depend on and where being well-dressed begins. Following this declaration is always A List. And that list is boring. In fact, "basic" to me stands for Boring All Simple In Closet.

My basics are not your basics. I don't wear white t-shirts or white button-down shirts. I hate jeans. Blazers leave me blah. Athletic shoes are for the gym or trekking to Petra. Trench coats are so not "me" anymore. My little black dress is for funerals, and thank goodness it gets worn rarely.

I tried...

Let's rethink the whole Basics idea. If you need a label, call them Staples. Staples are what YOU need to get through your day (and night). Figuring out who you are is a life-long journey. It's pretty obvious we shed many skins along the way. You probably don't need much of what you wore at age 20 or maybe even last year. Consider re-evaluating your wardrobe a worthy exercise.

OK, maybe one you kind of dread too.

I now know (and this is just me) the staples in my wardrobe are black t-shirts. The shapes change over time. They used to be tight-fitting and from the GAP. Now they are looser and more like tunics from J Jill. But they are necessary to how I put things together. I love a black top with a patterned bottom or a bright color. Come autumn the black t-shirt staple turns into the black sweater. They are needed under a fun jacket or 3/4 coat (my answer to a blazer). Black pants are my "jeans". There are so many hanging in my closet I tag the hangers to know what the silhouettes are. Black flats are my footwear of choice. They run the gamut from ballet slippers to wedges to studded evening mules, but they're all black. I have a couple of raincoats I actually enjoy wearing. Not one of them is a trench.

Now we're talking...

These (and others) are the pieces I check on each season. I make sure they're in working order, not run down at the heels, not having shrunk in the closet (as those pants are wont to do). They are my basics.

For me, buying another perfect white shirt is a waste of money and a waste of the time it took to find it. You see where I'm going.

Your challenge, if you wish to take it, is to think about what you depend on. And before the season's new frippery gets you all a-flutter, make sure those pieces are the best they can be. They are fashion's foot soldiers and will take you far. 

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Why History Matters

The mother of a teen asked me the other day what her daughter should study to become a fashion designer. She was relieved when I said, without hesitation, "history, literature, biology, English and whatever languages she feels she can grasp". My friend was relieved because her daughter believed she only needed to study sketching and sewing. Motherly advice was not convincing. Hearing it from me might make a difference. We left it that I'd be happy to speak with or email the daughter. I haven't heard from her yet, but I'm hopeful.

I'm not a fashion designer myself but have been surrounded by fashion my entire working life (even now). Before that I gravitated to fashion and fashion history out of pure love and curiosity.

We are in an alphabet soup mix of style today. There are reasons, including nostalgia and a wish to return to a "better" (simpler) time. Back in the day young working women like me did not dress as hippies (though I admired the look from afar). Counter-culture kids were not wearing preppy in the commune. We wore what we were. Though we surely would not admit it, they were uniforms as much as anything. Today, not so much. It's all fashion, that starts with "Who do I want to be today?"

> So history is really important. Dior's New Look of 1947 was in direct contrast to the restrictions of fashion during WWII.

> Literature is history written with heart. Reading Jane Austen you can almost hear the rustle of silk or feel a less than cozy rough tweed overcoat.

> Biology because you have to know what we are made of—humans, plants, animals, the earth itself.

> English because you have to to express yourself. Sometimes a picture (or fashion sketch) alone is not worth 1,000 words.

> Languages because we are a very small world that still speaks many of them.

I left out math and science because there are only 24 hours in a day, but the more you know the more you have to digest and turn into Creativity—uniquely your own.

I worry that today's designers only skim the frosting off the cake. And it's pre-made frosting at that.