Sunday, September 24, 2023

Quiet Luxury Bores Me to Tears

"Quiet Luxury" is Fashion's latest buzz-word. This laid-back ode to neutrals, simple shapes and luxury fabrics harks to a time when simplicity ruled. These were the days of Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Giorgio Armani and Helmut Lang in their prime and at their best. 

No surprise. Pared down looks often follow a period of over-the-top styles, be it the broad shoulders, sharp edges and brilliant jewel tones of the '80s or the silly-frilly "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" frocks of recent summers.  

Luxury should be rare and/or look expensive—precious metals and jewels, exotic furs (once upon a time), hard-to-get (or hard to work with) fabrics, hand-sewn details. You should be able to see and feel what you've paid for.

Quiet Luxury is all that, but it whispers. Colors are soft and often neutral—camel, gray, beige, ecru. If there's color it's muted. Fabrics are soft too—jersey, cashmere, fine wool, silk—and the shapes less structured. One brand, Bruno Cuchinelli, has been doing this for a while. It's quiet luxury and not in any sense sense affordable. This cashmere sweater is $3,000.  

One harbinger of the Quiet Luxury trend was the tv series "Succession" in Sarah Snook's character of Shiv Roy, who succeeds (or did she?). It may be an offshoot of last year's Coastal Grandma, retooled for any age or coast.

Sarah as Shiv in "Succession"

The problem with Quiet Luxury is it can be replicated down market. Today's fabric blends easily imitate cashmere and silk. Practically no one works with 100% wool anymore, even the so-called luxury brands.  

And therein lies the problem. Quiet Luxury is everywhere—on the high street in Britain or the mall here in the U.S. It's no longer the mark of a trust fund, executive position or sugar daddy. Anyone can afford it. What's more all that gray, ecru, taupe and camel is boring, boring, boring.

I predict Quiet Luxury won't be around for long. But if you insist (and I understand that for some it's a welcome return to sanity) I can suggest the way


> Everything should function. Avoid anything with purely decorative effects—fake pockets, extra trims, zippers for the heck of it. 

> Think of color in candlelight. Neutrals show off this look best but you can add color. Like the cinnamon sweater above, colors are softer, toned down, as if you were in a room lit with candles.

> Avoid prints. Woven tweeds or plaids or stripes as part of a weave are fine. Avoid anything but the most subtle of prints (a woven paisley perhaps).

> Feel the fabric. Even though today's blends can be amazing, it doesn't mean they all are. Is it soft to the touch? Does it hang well? How do you take care of it? Are you willing to baby it with hand washing or dry cleaning? If you don't follow care instructions you may live to regret.


> Less is more. Chanel was famous for saying to take off the last thing you put on, but then she liked to wear a lot of accessories. Quiet luxury should be telling you fuggedaboutit. Don't even think about layering necklaces and bracelets. Take off your earrings if you dare. One golden or silvery bangle. It doesn't even have to be real.

> Tone down your makeup. It should whisper as well. If you like a red lip, keep it, but go easy on eye makeup. Throw away your hairspray.

> Oh and carry a big stick. You know what they say about speaking softly. 

Sunday, July 30, 2023

What's "On 34th?"

Macy's flagship store in Manhattan is on 34th Street between 6th and 7th avenues. There are 503 others across the country since Macy's has been gobbling up ailing department stores and rebranding them as their own. Suffice to say there's probably "a Macy's near you". 

There's one near me too, in the Houston Galleria. I always park near the Macy's entrance and loop through the main floor just to see what's on offer. It's usually middle-of-the-road and not very exciting. There's Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Vince Camuto, Anne Klein, DKNY, Calvin Klein, Michael Kors, etc. These are not high-end offerings from the familiar names, just what the average woman might like.

Macy's has had and continues to have "private brands". Once the I.N.C. line was trendy and fun, now it's tatty and cheesy. Others are Alfani, Bar III and Charter Club. Not impressed. But rounding the corner I saw a new "shop", On 34th. Right away I was transported to Herald Square (the slice of concrete on 34th Street facing Macy's). So, how was Macy's channeling their famous location for the rest of America? Reminding customers that Macy's is a shopping behemoth and has been around for ages at its iconic address is a very smart move indeed.

Basic basics, yes

The offering are Basics, capital B intentional, but I was happy to find they were basics I understand, like a $49.50 leopard midi skirt (my kind of basic). There was nothing tricked out about the displays, just racks with some vague kind of story to tell. A 100% cotton striped boat-neck tee with wide 3/4 sleeves was $39.50 and available in many color combos. The most fashion forward item (and highest price I noticed) was a heavyweight polka dot trench coat. 

$39.50 tee with style

$150 rain worthy trench

In this day and age of escalating clothing prices it's pretty refreshing to see this much quality at, shall I say, reasonable pricing. The fabric and composition is good. Things look well made with no (thank goodness) extraneous trims and gew-gaws. Plenty of offerings in plus-size too. I didn't see any petites.

$59.50 rugby mini—impressive

This has just hit the stores and maybe a little early in Houston as I did read about an August 17 launch date.

The only thing lacking might be a real focus. Who is this line for??? I think I figured that out too: everyone.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

2023: The Summer of Jackie

You could do worse than make Jackie Kennedy Onassis your Summer of 2023 Fashion Muse. She was always appropriately dressed with understated flair, but it's amazing how many of her looks are so right this year.

From my vantage point a lot of the fashions we see in magazines and on the red carpet are unwearable fantasies—fun to look at perhaps but totally impractical. Some trends do seem to be emerging as a mix of what the stores are offering and what is already in our closets. 

If many of us are buying less these days it's a combination of decent clothes becoming so expensive, understanding fast fashion is bad for the environment and those who make it and less formality in dress overall.  

Jackie's style was always a subtle nod to east coast Preppy, understated Boho or refined Ladylike. No logos on the Preppy, no far-out shapes on the Boho, no extraneous gewgaws on the Ladylike. For sure you can't go wrong with:

Preppy: The black t-shirt and white jeans with supporting players— sandals, tote bag, big sunglasses and head scarf. Leave off the scarf if you like. Make the pants skinny, wide legs, boot cut or flared. Choose the style that fits you best. 

Boho: Black top tucked into a midi skirt with a ruffle, worn with a wide belt, sandals, tote and sunglasses. Here's where the skirt has to flatter you too—maybe not so full or no ruffle. Try a wrap or an A-line. This one has buttons for more swoosh. Although I have a full collection of belts I've avoided wearing them since I lost my 24" waist. I should snap out of it.

Boho with Preppy: The button down shirt with a colorful summer skirt is a classic. Yes, it's a hat or a hairdo, but the straw hat acts as the third piece to make this an outfit. Subtle, but notice how the shirt blends but doesn't match any of the colors in the skirt.

Preppy and Boho: The colors make the difference. You couldn't get any preppier than red and blue unless it was red, white and blue. The oddball mustard-colored pants make the same shapes Boho.

Preppy with Ladylike: Jackie showcased oversized gingham in the early '60s. She took an American staple thought of as folksy and made it cool. There really hasn't been a summer when gingham something wasn't a perfect choice. Okay, you think you want sleeves. Will you accept a cap sleeve or drop shoulder? They are not impossible to find.

Ladylike: Obviously the white gloves are off the table, as is the matching bag and shoes. White shoes themselves have become "bone" or "neutral", but you can't go wrong with a simple silhouette. 

When she visited India as First Lady in 1962 Jackie went to great lengths planning her clothes to reflect and honor her destination. She didn't go for a wardrobe of saris, which might have been interpreted as cultural misappropriation (if we had thought in those terms). Instead she adapted the current silhouettes (which she also inspired) with fabrics and colors that would play well throughout her trip. Shouldn't you always think about where you're going when you plan a vacation?




Saturday, May 13, 2023

Women We Love: Dame Edna

Or shall I say "the late Dame Edna"? Word has come that Dame Edna Everage passed away at age 89. Virginia Graham, Patricia Routledge as Hyacinth Bucket and Dame Edna have always been my favorite "women so far-out they can't possibly be women". And one was not.

Dame Edna barely admitted to being Barry Humphries, the Australian comedian who created her in the 1950s. Or was it the other way around? At her death, Dame Edna's estate released an obituary of Barry Humphries that all us possums (as she liked to call her adoring subjects) will enjoy:

Drag goes back in my memory, from crazy Uncle Miltie clomping in heels across 1950s television to the fun of seeing Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon dolled up as flappers (albeit to escape Chicago gangsters) in 1959's "Some Like it Hot". Of course some of form of drag has been around for ages, and this post is not about drag history. What's clear is drag is now celebrated and enjoyed in popular culture as never before. And like everything fun, from Elvis to deep-fried Twinkies, there are those who say it's bad for you.

She charmed everyone...

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing a local production of "The Legend of Georgia McBride". Georgia is the drag persona of an affable, straight young man whose not just bad but terrible Elvis impersonation is getting him nowhere. Through plot twists only a playwright could concoct he is forced to replace a drag performer doing Edith Piaf and ends up, after a lot of determined hard work, creating the beloved Georgia McBride (with a little Elvis thrown in).

Georgia and Company

As could be expected, it's a fun show with many laughs and over-the-top routines. There are heartfelt revelations as the two long-time drag performers tell us how much drag means to them. Our hero struggles with why he avoids telling his wife what he's really doing and questions should he even be doing it. I couldn't help thinking this is a play for our time

Unlike Ru Paul who seamlessly morphs from Ru Paul to RU PAUL, I never thought of Dame Edna as anything but a delightful, eccentric grande dame, someone I would love to be if I dared and had lost all sense of dressing tastefully. Barry never entered my mind.

Barry as Barry and Dame Edna as herself

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Stylish Read: "Anna" by Amy Odell

If you think of Anna as the devil in "The Devil Wears Prada", Amy Odell's biography won't change your mind. If you've always given Anna Wintour benefit of the doubt—how could anyone be that self-centered and self-serving?—you may still. 

Amy Odell's tone is mostly reportorial, using positive quotes from co-workers, acquaintances and—yes—a few friends. So Anna likes dogs and tennis and can joke around? That doesn't a person make, and the facts pretty much speak for themselves.

Anna I as I think of her—very alone

I waited quite a while for my library hold to come up, and there were only five people before me. Some reader or readers had it for a very long time, and I think I know why. It's a bit of a slog. 

Though I knew a little about many of those mentioned, I still found myself Googling and going down tangential rabbit holes, slowing the reading even more. The author also makes no bones about using published sources, so if you've read your Tina Brown, Graces Mirabella and Coddington, Andre Leon Talley, etc., you will find them quoted here.

Hers was not a straight path to the top, now Global Chief Content Officer of Condé Nast, a position that didn't exist before Anna. Her ambition was always to be Editor of Vogue and she never hid that from anyone. During a job interview with Grace Mirabella (thenVogue's Editor), when asked what position she would like, said, "I want your job."

Looking uncharacteristically vulnerable

Anna is both hard to root for and hard to root against. Her determination and work ethic are admirable. No one has ever accused her of slacking, only a little shirking (getting others to do what she didn't want to). Her ideas of reporting fashion and style were often ahead of their time. Her armor-plating kept her from backing down from her beliefs. What she lacks (at least in public) is a sense of humor, the saving grace of someone like Martha Stewart or even Elon Musk, who can laugh at themselves while still forging ahead.

I've worked for people I liked and respected (the best), and I've worked for people I respected but didn't particulary like (a few). I've also worked for some I did not like and did not respect (that never lasted long). I've never worked for someone I was afraid of, and that would seem to be many of Anna's hires. No doubt this is no fault of her own as Anna's reputation always precedes her. 

"Anna" is also a sober commentary on the state of print publishing today. It's not my imagination that since 2012 magazines have gotten thinner and less frequent. The question is, are they also less relevant?With her continued influence across platforms of fashion, media and culture, that's clearly not a question to ask of Anna Wintour.

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Would You if You Could?

The other day at the Lovely Little Boutique Where I Work (which in fact sells moderately-priced casual clothing to a mostly mature customer) a client spent close to $2,000 buying two of everything she picked out.

Not that one should ever assume, but coming into the store she didn't exactly look like someone who would have duplicate closets. Not dripping with diamonds, no chauffeured limo waiting at the curb, she was lovely and undemanding. At first I thought she must have a twin and they still dressed alike. No, she has two homes in different states and likes to travel light.

I've been thinking about this. Not only was that not an everyday occurrence, it was later followed by a customer who rudely declared she wanted no help and proceeded to tear up the place looking for some pants I could have found for her in ten seconds. 

That's a whole other retail rant. Why do some customers (and this is only the rare few) treat sales associates like lesser beings? Many of us have either been at our gigs for eons and know more what you're looking for than you do. The newbies may have been head of nursing at a prestigious hospital or a federal judge (among two of my recently retired co-workers). Like I said, one should never assume.

But would you, if you could, buy two of everything? Would it be worth packing a suitcase to have more variety? Or is it better to have a smaller wardrobe with less hassle? I know where I would land. If I could travel with a stand-up walk-in trunk, I would. It's that hard to decide what to pack because how will I know what I want to wear? What mood will I be in? What will I be doing? Where will I be going? When forced to I traveled carry-on for a ten-day European trip and forgot to be bored with my limited wardrobe, but that's not a scenario I relish. And if I had homes in two very different places, wouldn't my clothing choices be different too? 

I will, of course, never know the answer because the two homes I've had were never at the same time.

But would you, if you could???


Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Wise Words from Isaac

I love Isaac Mizrahi. You know who he is. If you don't, Google. Isaac was in Houston this week as guest speaker for The Jung Center's Spring Benefit. He presented "I.M. Enough: An Evening with Isaac Mizrahi" at the River Oaks Country Club.

Isaac in Houston

I've no doubt it was a boffo event, but at $150 for the Zoom attendance and $500 for the in-person, I wasn't going. Besides, I had "an evening with Isaac Mizrahi" one night in Bloomingdale's Manhattan flagship when he was launching an Isaac ready-to-wear line. It was free and even included a VHS copy of "Unzipped".

As I said, Google if this sounds like gibberish.

Before his appearance, Andrew Dansby, a staff writer on the Houston Chronicle, had a Q&A with Isaac. One of the questions went like this:

Q: You haven't cut ties with fashion entirely. But it's a much smaller part of the public persona you present.

A: What's funny, I don't always know how to put this. I love clothes. I love clothes the same way I did in my teens and 20s and 30s. Fashion? Not so much. I adore textiles, styles, people wearing wonderful things. Fashion? Not so much."

Isaac, you have hit the nail on the head. That's where the problem lies. I too adore textiles, styles, people wearing wonderful things. Fashion? Not so much. So that's why fashion reporting leaves me cold, fashion magazines leave me empty, but a museum retrospective leaves me wanting more! 

I think Isaac is saying fashion and style are not one and the same. You can have style without being in fashion and you can be in fashion without having style. I know what side I want to be on.

Thanks, Isaac. 


Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Good as Gold

When GAP shows gilded jeans, The NY Times catches the stylish-in-the-street wearing gold apparel, and designers start dipping their ware in gold, what are we thinking? Gold has never not been a thing, of course, from ancient Egypt to James Bond, but this is more gold than I've seen in a while.

Chanel, Gucci, Kors SS/23

I'll go out on a gold olive branch and say Madame predicts gold is the next big trend. Full disclosure: I just picked up a cropped golden jacket that I can longer wear (too warm), but I had to have it.

Will hang in wait of cooler temps...

Is it odd that coming off sweats 24/7 for a few years, the hip new look would be one of the world's most precious metals? Styling has to be ironic though—gold jeans for day, not so much gold spangles for night (that's always okay).  PS Those jeans are on back order till April 24. See what I mean?

The GAP jeans

Once upon a time I did have a pair of gold loafers. Eventually the "gold" flaked off. My carpet was something of a shiny mess. Today's gold fabrication is amazing. You could almost call it liquid gold.

So why not silver, you may ask? Well, no one minds looking like the Bond girl (despite her unpleasant demise), but who wants to look like the tin man?


Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Battles Royale I Have Won and Lost

Was I a difficult child? I never thought so until I looked at my childhood through the clothes I wore. Some would tell a different story. There is a point to this, readers, if you are good enough to bear with me. 

My mother had incredible taste if not much money. I was probably too well dressed as I never remember anyone with an outfit like this one, brown wool with brown velvet trim, head-to-toe. I must have appreciated its fairy-tale quality as this was not the cause for a Battle Royale.


Oh, but there were a few. Only one was a knock-down-drag-out tearful affair that I won but quickly realized I had lost. More on that later.

As a young child escalators in department stores frightened me, and zippers frustrated me. While I eventually learned how to go up and down the one, I couldn't master the other. I wore a snowsuit— heavy poplin jacket with matching pants, padded like a fat suit. Quasi waterproof, worn whether it was snowing or not. It was Cleveland. In the winter. 

Zipped up by my mother when I left for school, I could not zip it myself at recess or when it was time to go home. I tried; I watched how other kids did theirs. Unlike the escalator I didn't think the zipper would eat me alive, but I couldn't get the knack. Ultimately the teacher had to zip me. This became annoying enough for her to send a note home. 

Next thing I knew my clever-with-a-needle mother had gone to work. Where there had been a zipper was now a row of (just a little too) big green buttons. Teacher was happy. I eventually taught a jacket zipper who was boss, but to this day breathe a small sigh of satisfaction when it zips.

Thanks, Mom

Although I did have a pair of jeans, in my late '40s-early 50s childhood, girls mostly wore skirts. Mine always had matching shoulder straps. The jeans got a pair of suspenders. What I've never really had were shoulders, and you need those to hold stuff up. The straps were always slipping down.
This is a hold-up.

When you think about it, what were they really for? Those pants were not going to fall off my body. Either was the skirt, securely fastened as it was around my waist. Perhaps they were a conceit of children's fashion. But I know I lobbied for their removal for years, or so it seemed. I think the happy day arrived when we moved to the suburbs where no one wore straps. 

'Twas the fashion...

My mother followed a few rules along the line of you can't go swimming for 30 minutes after eating. Another was you can't go out without a sweater if it's under 70 degrees. I grew up in Cleveland, remember? Seventy degrees can be a long time coming. There was always a temperature check before leaving the house. Under 70? Must wear sweater. You would think I would play along only until out of sight then rip off the sweater, but I never did. I believed that mothers knew everything and could see beyond the block.

Consecration is a ritual in Judaism to celebrate the beginning of a child's Jewish education. It's similar in feeling to First Communion and usually occurs in Spring. Consecration perhaps lacked the gravitas of Communion but still called for a special dress, and it needed to be white. A true communion outfit would be out of the question of course, but 1940s dress-up frocks were over-the-top frilly. That's what I wanted but not what I got. 

Not me or mine

My mother not only had taste she was downright clairvoyant. In the age of dresses designed by the likes of Fifi LaRue she channeled Ralph Lauren, 40 years ahead of him. My Consecration outfit was a knee-length white wool pleated skirt worn with a short-sleeved crew-neck white sweater (think the pullover piece of a twin set), a string of pearls and white Mary Janes. Though no one asked, I was disappointed and felt out of place surrounded by the other girls, walking fire hazards in their frilly dresses. 

What followed was an act of passive aggression in the first degree, so unconsciously executed it took years to realize what I'd done and a few more to regret it deeply. No pictures exist of this outfit because I ruined it before they could be taken. 

The big treat after Consecration was lunch at our favorite restaurant, Stouffer's (and yes the same Stouffer's that lives on in frozen foods). There was chocolate ice cream for dessert. Did the spoon slip? Did I do it on purpose? The result was chocolate ice cream down the front of that white sweater. I could see the disapointment in my mother's eyes, but I only remember her saying, "Well, that will never come out." The outfit disappeared, never to be worn or spoken of again.
Twice a year we made the trip downtown to see Miss Alice in the children's department at Halle Bros. Mother always knew what I needed. That year it was a casual short coat. This was beginning to be called a "car coat" as I guess it was easier to maneuver behind the wheel. At age ten, since I wasn't driving, it would be called a "topper". The one she liked was cherry red wool, not too heavy, very tailored, with a little swing in it. Ralph Lauren again.

Think red...

I know I really liked it, but I was a bit unhappy. We'd moved again, this time without my father. I'd had to give up my bedroom and started a new school. I didn't have the words to express how I felt other than to reject that red topper outright. I insisted I wanted a fuzzy cocoon in the most bilious shade of boiled celery. It might have looked good on Shirley Temple in that movie where she played the poor little rich girl. It looked terrible on me. 

Think green bile...

My mother naturally pointed that out, thinking that would end it, but obviously this was not about the coat. I insisted, with tears, and not just whimpers. A therapist would say at that moment I was letting it all out and punishing my mother at the same time. In the middle of my meltdown I could see Miss Alice out of the corner of my eye, frozen to the spot. What could she say???

In the end I got the boiled celery fuzz ball, but it was not a triumph. My mother avoided all mention of the coat or the incident. I think I wore it twice, for the first and last time. We never saw Miss Alice again.

And last, dear reader...
Over time things greatly improved with my mother. I adjusted to a new life in a more citified part of town. My sister got married, and I had my own room again. At age 13-almost-14 I had begun to take serious interest in fashion. Amazingly I found my tastes more aligned to my mother's. But there was still a hurdle: the gentle battle of "that's too old for you". 

Seventeen was actually showing black sheath dresses for teens in their editorial pages. I'd found one that was not particularly slinky (sleeveless with a scoop neck and a red cumberbund). I was allowed to have it, but I knew my mother much preferred a baby pink sundress with a full skirt that I'd matched with a wide-brimmed pink sailor hat.

Audrey did do it better...

That summer she planned a vacation for the two of us, a week in New York City. I'd already fallen in love with Manhattan from afar and could hardly wait. This trip was predicated on some wonderful bargains she'd found—a summer rate at the Waldorf Astoria where kids under 14 were free*—and a clutch of coupons for buy-one-get-one-free dinners at Stouffer's restaurants (which had just opened in New York).

There was a problem. Although I didn't look very mature, I would have just turned 14 when we were due to arrive, and Mother didn't want to stir up trouble with the front desk. We decided I would wear the pink sundress and sailor hat to check in. I must have looked like an oversized Eloise, but no one questioned my age.

That night, as we left the hotel for dinner, I was wearing the black sheath. We both felt very proud of ourselves, my mother for surely pulling a fast one on the Waldorf and me for making my debut as a New Yorker wearing black.

All this meandering down memory lane has me thinking even as very young children we have strong ideas about clothing (though too young to think in terms of fashion). We know what we want or don't want but may be powerless to express that in even the simplest terms. While writing this I was reading Vanessa Friedman in The NY Times and came across a sentence in her review of the current New York Fashion Week:

A picture may be worth 1,000 words, but nine words can say it all.

* I dimly recall a time when hotel rates were dependent on how many occupied the room and when infants were free but children half-price.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

MOBs and MOGs: Help Has Arrived!

Janna and daughter, courtesy "Mother of"

In my twenty years' working retail, including a brief affair with upscale bridal, I've always said, "In my next life I'm going to be a mother-of-the-bride designer." There is such a need. Invariably, whether a woman likes to shop or not, this is one excursion looked upon with trepidation, fear or even dread.

Thanks to the wonderful Roz Chast and The New Yorker for this brilliant distillation of the terror:

At last here come two women in the Minneapolis area with a genius idea. They've launched a site called "Mother of", an online clearing house of resources, ideas, reassurances and true-life tales. Discover them at: 

Here you will find a plethora of suggestions for what to wear, arranged in categories of black tie, cocktail, daytime, destination weddings and suits. The price range is wide, the selections large, the models varied. Click on a photo; if interested click on "shop this dress" and you are linked to that item's website. From there you know the drill. This seems a most egalitarian way to host a website and quite a bit easier than scrolling through dozens of open tabs on your computer. They acknowledge they may receive remuneration if you make a purchase through mother of, but the site is totally free.  

There are sweet stories from real-life MOBs and MOGs, a section with answers to niggling questions like "Can a mother-of-the-bride wear white?" and "What about wearing pants?". 

Congratulations, ladies! You are brilliant! Do I wish I had thought of this myself? You bet. On the other hand, I can only imagine what hard work this is. I congratulate you for what I surely would not have knowledge or stamina to accomplish. 

Every woman about to join the bridal path of a daughter or son needs to know Cinderella wasn't the only one with a fairy godmother.