Saturday, July 24, 2021

Nuthin' to Say Here

I have nothing to say, which is enough of something to say that it's worth writing about. Just when we thought our lives could start returning—we all know "back to normal" is an oxymoron—along comes the delta variant and out come those masks again. Ugh. 

We are beginning the dog days of summer, as I'm sure are most of you. Vacations are either done or so needed you are about numb with anticipation. The bloom may be off your summer clothes but no way do you want to think about a fall wardrobe. Good thing, too, because the fashion magazines seem to be treating fashion like avant garde performance art. Some stuff may be great to look at, but where/when/why would I ever wear it? The magazines, too, are still playing catch-up with the Me Too and Black Lives Matter movements. I get it, I really do, but basta.

However Dr. Jill Biden does look great on the cover of "Vogue".

I just love calling her "Dr."

What will the future hold for fashion? Madame's crystal ball is foggy, very cloudy. I do know many women seem to be cleaning out their closets. If it's true that millennials are way more into thrifting than buying new, I should be seeing some of my donations on the street anytime now. 

Retail, what's left of it, is already retooling. Nordstrom are expanding their idea of a storefront for pick-ups, returns and basic services like alterations. My mall location Nordstrom is stripped bare of any amenities. I swear they even took up the carpet. The Lovely Boutique Where I Work has told us to let customers know they better buy the stock coming in now as reorders will be thin. Companies are ordering less so as not to be stuck with unsold merchandise again. And online shopping is not going away. If anything more is being done to encourage it (look ma! no overhead!). What this will mean for the future of retail is anyone's guess.

No men need apply
All is not gloom-and-doom of course. I still dream about putting outfits together and finding the perfect (fill in the blanks). I've been going through my stack of vintage fashion magazines—old Seventeens, Vogues and Glamours from the '50s. I just re-watched "The Women" with its fabulous technicolor fashion show finale. "Funny Face" is always in rotation. Fashion, Paris, Audrey Hepburn, Gershwin—what could be bad? I still enjoy fashion history books. I've just been gifted with a goodie:

Worth-y reading

I also discovered that Trinny Woodall, of the original "What Not to Wear" duo, is alive and well on Instagram, Facebook and You Tube, carrying on just short of over-the-top but so mesmerizing you can't help but watch. And she still has some damn good ideas.

There's no stopping her for sure
So while I can't get all excited about the future of fashion, maybe the best way to make it through is by enjoying the past... 

Thursday, April 22, 2021

"Rags" Lives On

As today is Thursday I awoke and pulled the Style section from the New York Times before the paper disappeared with my husband.  There it was, the logo of Rags magazine in all its '70s glory, announcing a feature story inside, "The Bay Area magazine that invented street style." Little Nellie, famous at last.

I had 7 copies of Rags for years and years until I sold them to the San Francisco Museum of Art. I'm still not sorry I did, although it wasn't for a fortune ($100). So funny to think that until this month Vanessa Friedman, the Times' Fashion Editor, had never heard of Rags. Age does have its privileges.

I've written about Rags before, here:

And here:

Vanessa describes Rags as being "tabloid size", which would have made it 11" x 17". Not so. They were more 8 1/2" x 11", the size of an issue of Time magazine. Not very impressive in a day when many fashion magazines were still oversized and printed on glossy paper.


I agree on the possibility of one point she mentions. Rags called out the fashion industry for creating the maxi style in order to sell more clothes using more fabric. While the flower-child long cotton dress had been popular since the Monterey Pop festival in 1967, suddenly we were seeing wool maxi skirts and winter coats. I bought a maxi coat and remember dragging it along the slushy winter streets of New York City. It was quite the workout.

In case you're curious about the book Vanessa mentions, the deluxe edition costs $4,500.00 On thing I notice is the reprints seem to be printed on nice white paper. Rags was originally printed on—of course—newsprint rag.

Too much? There are also bites of the apple from $75 to $995.



Wednesday, April 7, 2021

More Fun Than a Barrel of Monkeys...

...or a pile of magazines. This cache of catalogs arrived in the mail today, and I'm more excited to read them than any of the fashion magazines I get. And I get them all.

Bless their hearts (an old Southern expression that really means "poor them") the fashion glossies are trying to have something for everyone—to read, to wear, to think about. All very fine and well, but there aren't enough pages in any of them to do that justice. 

They are trying, but one thing missing is real coverage of clothes. Fashion fantasies have their place, but even everyday fashion is a fantasy to many of us, a fun game we enjoy playing while also trying to express ourselves, dress appropriately and comfortably and stay within our budgets. Whew.

When I was a little girl one of my great delights was going through my mother's catalogs page-by-page and choosing which item on each page I would order. They were not clothes for me to wear, merely to choose. That could keep me occupied for ages. I also thought this was a great pastime to share when friends came over. No one else stayed interested for long.

To some extent I'm still playing that game. I will surely never purchase nightwear from The Vermont Country Store, but it's nice to play "What Would I Order if I HAD to?" Life during Covid almost went that far. 

J Peterman still sends out copies of their "Owner's Manual", a paperback of short stories with clothes to buy if there ever was one. The clothes are timeless, beautiful and overpriced. Each item comes with its own tale that makes you long to possess it.  J Peterman uses only illustration, the better to imagine yourself wafting around Rick's Cafe. Despite "Seinfeld" the catalogs are no joke.

Some catalogs are the stuff of legend. " We LOVED The French Boot Shop" on Facebook has 102 members, all wishing they had kept their catalogs from the '50s through '80s.

What's different today is I'm really looking forward to seeing what's in the those catalogs I just got. It's Spring, I'm vaccinated, I want to get out and play, and I want something to wear.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

The Slippery Slope of the Muumuu

A few weeks ago I wrote about about the trend of tiers on this season's new dresses. I never noticed that sweats were busy joining forces with dresses to bring back that horror of my late teen years, the muumuu.

I love Hawaii as much as anyone. I can pack a bag in an hour if you tell me we're going. Post WWII America discovered the culture of the Hawaiian Islands. Though it wasn't easy to get there, Hawaii came stateside via the ukulele, tiki bars, the Aloha shirt, Elvis Presley movies and...the muumuu.

A muumuu is a shapeless dress that hangs (very) loosely from the shoulders and is worn by some native Hawaiian women. It's probably an offshoot of the "Mother Hubbard" dresses brought to the islands by 19th century missionaries. When muumuus became popular in the 1950s they featured the bright tropical prints of Aloha shirts. While they were never high fashion (see Sack Dress which tried and failed) muumuus were considered fun and we all got them—my mother, my older sister and I.

The problem with the muumuu is that, while they were certainly colorful and comfortable, they had as much sex appeal as a grocery bag and were universally hated by that eternal source of criticism, men.

The muumuu craze faded fast, although they've never truly gone away. Muumuus just joined the house dress brigade. 

No one will likely label this latest crop of dresses muumuus, but they are teetering in that direction, and I caution fashionistas young and mature (a fashionista is never "old"), to look before she leaps. The 2021 muumuu is definitely not an investment piece.

All those who hope to switch your sweats to something cooler but just as comfortable next season—tread carefully.

Friday, March 19, 2021

It Makes Sense...

Scent...Fragrance...Perfume... We call it many things. While not an addict—and certainly not a connoisseur—I would spritz daily. 

If I were home all day I'd use something light or cheap or that I was running out of. I'd give something a second or third try to see if I liked it any better. I hate to throw out a nearly full bottle of anything, even a mistake.

If I were going out—to work or volunteer or meet friends or run errands, I'd use my go-to-du-jour. I tend to like a scent for a few years then move on.

If I were really going out—dressed up, out for dinner, a special meeting or event—it would always be The Good Stuff. Over time that has varied too. I chose "Arpege" as my first grown-up fragrance when I was in high school and saved it for dates. The past dozen years or so I've gone with "Carolina Herrera" by Carolina Herrera. It's strong and assertive. I feel I can finally carry it off.

This past year, though, you're lucky if I smell like soap. Getting dressed has not been the same and certainly hasn't warranted a spritz. Just taking the cap off the good stuff and having a sniff was a bittersweet gesture. It so reeked of "the before times".

I'd not given it much thought, but scent is as much a part of fashion as a good bra and a lot more fun. Fragrance evokes more memories than Proust's madeleines. I can still smell the strawberry-sweet little-girl cologne from a company called Milkmaid Cosmetics, long gone and not, as yet, to be found. Between Milkmaid and "Arpege" came "Evening in Paris", from the dime store. I assumed it wasn't a serious scent because of its provenance. Real perfume came from a department store!

Remember when all your dates wore Old Spice? I never liked any of them. Along came a fella who wore "Zizanie", and I fell...hard. I traced his cologne to the gift shop at the Eden Roc in Miami Beach and bought a bottle long after we'd broken up.

I have both my vaccines and passed the waiting period. Yes, I have been slowly, carefully, tiptoeing back to life AND adding fragrance along the way. It smells good.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

No Fun at the Agora

It was a red letter day—Day 357 of a lost year but the first day of the rest of my life. The two-week waiting period following the second vaccine was up. I looked forward to some Covid relief with my first trip to the mall in over a year. 

The Galleria Mall is very much a going concern. It's Houston's shopping hub, the largest such venue in a big parcel of urban sprawl. All the major chains are represented. If they're found elsewhere in the city, the Galleria is still home base and bigger. Tenants range from Forever 21 to Neiman Marcus, so there is something for everyone. Today there was nothing for me.

Mondays are usually quiet shopping days, so what I expected was a humming, if not exactly bustling, mall. I thought I'd see stores stocked with new merchandise. Despite our Arctic Freeze of two weeks ago, it will be 80 on Friday. Usually by this time they are full of Spring-into-Summer apparel. The fashion magazines and catalogues I receive have hinted at lots of ruffles, bright colors, bold prints, and funky tailoring. What I saw at the mall today was social distancing and sweats.

By social distancing I mean among racks. Like restaurant tables, many seem to have been removed to create more space. At first I thought this was to encourage safety between customers. I soon realized there was not enough product to fill them all. And what product was there fun. I have never seen so many iterations of sweat shirts and sweat pants and at the most unexpected of places like Banana Republic. 

Not what I saw today...

Gone was the work wear—the tailored jackets with a bit more style than a blazer, the frothy blouses or crisp shirts to wear under, the sweaters in an artist's palette of colors, the impossibly high heels and craveable ballet slippers, boardroom-ready dresses and garden party frocks, the inevitable leopard something and the 150th version of a trench coat. I wanted to see that stuff in their 2021 iterations. It would be a sure indication that life was returning to normal.

That was only Banana Republic, but lack of fresh and/or stylish stock was everywhere. I soon realized instead of my usual hours' long crawl through the mall, today would be a short visit. It was all too sad.

H & M is one of those hit-and-miss places I try not to miss because sometimes I find a hit, especially when they hold the designer collaborations. I actually had an online purchase to return, a black eyelet tunic that arrived too big. Perhaps a smaller size would work better? Alas, nothing in H & M came near to the sophistication of black eyelet. It was more sweats and $20 jeans and t-shirts. The only dresses were on the sale rack.

I had a return at Zara, too, and THERE WAS NO LINE, a sure indication all was not well. What I did see in one of my favorite stores looked more attractive online than hanging there. 

You know those annoying carts that sell horrid tchotchkes like personalized dog collars or freeze dried ice cream? Many were shuttered or covered with grey plastic shrouds. I never thought I would miss them before today.

Macy's is unavoidable because I always park my car by their door. The quick-bite cafe by the entrance was closed. Instead of grab-and-go snacks the shelves were filled with bottles of Macy's-branded water, free for the taking I presumed. They looked like so many IV bottles. Maybe that's where my head is lately. 

Macy's was also missing the more stylish brands they used to carry like the BCBG shop or the Free People boutique. I never understood why they bothered when BCBG and Free People stores are also in the mall. I guess they figured that out, too. The best part of newly empty Macy's? Absolutely no one in the cosmetics department. I could walk the most direct route from parking garage to mall entrance without once being accosted by a sales associate eager to repair my eyebrows, skin texture, or lip color.

I feel for retail, whose heads must still be spinning from this Year of Our Covid. I understand they don't want to be caught with too much inventory in an uncertain world. I'm definitely adding to the problem. Like many of us I've been doing an awful lot of online shopping this year, of necessity if not always satisfactorily. What I saw in the mall today does not want to make me return anytime soon. 

Plenty of stuff at TJ Maxx...

This determined shopper was not about to be deterred. On my way home I stopped into a TJ Maxx near the mall, also a place I hadn't been since forever. There I found plenty of frippery to plow through, racks stuffed with the usual mostly misses, but the fun is always searching for gold. The Runway area was especially packed, which could only mean hands-wringing at the various corporate offices. I came away with a white silk shirt by the recently shuttered Thomas Pink of London (regularly $325 now $14.99) and a Tory Burch patched fabric tunic that satisfies all my fantasies for a summer that is more magical than the last one.

My grandmother used to bless every new outfit I had as a little girl with "Wear it in the best of health." May that be true for all of you and all your new outfits.




Saturday, March 6, 2021

Stylish Read: "Fashion is Spinach" by Elizabeth Hawes

Elizabeth Hawes is probably the best American designer you never heard of. That's not to say no one has heard of her. I found plenty of information doing research for this blog. Almost every entry begins "Elizabeth Hawes, the best American designer you never heard of".

Elizabeth Hawes' designs, though, are not the reason to read "Fashion is Spinach". She doesn't promote herself. There are no photos of her work, hence the research. Written in 1938, at the height of her career as one of a handful of American couturiers and (somewhat reluctant) designer of popular-priced apparel, "Fashion is Spinach" is written as both a memoir of her early days sketching and designing in Paris—she had moxie—and a diatribe against the American fashion industry. 

Elizabeth Hawes in 1938, age 35

Much has changed since the 1930s, but "Fashion is Spinach" helps to explain how we got to the fashion state we are in now—a general sense of dissatisfaction from not enough dependable retail, too many choices but nothing to love, poor quality fabric/workmanship and the unsettling feeling we still don't know what to wear. 

That doesn't sound like a jolly read, but while Hawes pulls no punches, she is smart and funny, opinionated but not obnoxious. She reveals some hard truths about the business of fashion—how it's designed, manufactured and promoted. We, the customers, don't stand a chance.

About that title: "I say it's spinach" was a New Yorker cartoon from 1928, drawn by Carl Rose and captioned by E. B. White. It hit all the right notes and has been used and referred to in many ways over time, even in song lyrics. Elizabeth Hawes wrote for the New Yorker about this time (dispatches from Paris), so she surely knew it. 

Right from the beginning Hawes declares that Fashion is not worth much; it's Style that matters. We tend to confuse the two, with "in style" meaning the same as "in fashion". Hawes feels they are very different. We should seek Style and not be manipulated by Fashion. Style didn't pay her bills, though, and she walked a tightrope between commerce and couture. Designing for the masses (manufactured goods) essentially kept the couture business afloat.

In "Spinach" Hawes believes that America would in time establish a system of couture like Paris—one-off beautiful clothing made to exacting standards and perfectly fitted on clients who could afford the time and money. In 1938 America was coming out of the Depression and not expecting another world war around the corner. WWII changed everything. With wartime shortages and no Paris couture to copy, American design found its true voice, but not in the way she imagined. 

Elizabeth Hawes closed her business in 1940 but reopened in 1948. That wasn't a success, as wasn't her next attempt in 1954. She's really best known for nine books of criticism that cover a multitude of topics including menswear and a tongue-in-cheek "digest of the rules for feminine behavior". She was the voice of reason for an unreasonable public. Think Dorothy Parker meets Oscar Wilde. But "Fashion is Spinach" is her best known and most personal book.

What about her own designs? She complained bitterly that anything she designed for the mass market was poorly made, so we can assume those examples have not survived. Her couture customers had to come to her townhouse/studio on East 67 Street in New York City. She railed against the stiff and uncomfortable get-ups men were forced to wear in the evening but felt women could look their most alluring and be the most comfortable in evening wear. She hated gew-gaws and trim, even belts, but she was a master of intricate cutting and piecing, oddball color combos and always chose beautiful fabrics. A few beauties follow, but please don't make me choose my favorite:



Monday, March 1, 2021

Girls of a Certain Age: A Lucky Blog

Honk if you remember "Lucky" magazine, especially "Lucky" in its glory days under the editorship of Kim France. She was the founding editor in 2000 and remained at the helm until 2010. Ahead of its time, "Lucky" was basically a shopping manual, a giant catalogue of all the newest in fashion, beauty and lifestyle, with no apologies. 

'Lucky" was an instant hit both for making its content easily available and its cool-girl style. I loved it. Over time "Lucky" morphed into an over-priced and snooty magazine. I was not sad to see that version of "Lucky" fold in 2015. 

Kim France at work some point Kim France started writing a blog called "Girls of a Certain Age".
I've only just discovered it, unfortunately, because here is "Lucky" in my inbox—short and sweet and decidedly shoppingcentric.

GOACA has everything the old "Lucky" had—fashion, shopping, home design, beauty, links to interesting stuff and a miscellaneous section, "But I Digress". 

I feel lucky.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Tiers Without Tears

Words mean everything. That would be "tears" as in an ocular emotional release, not "tears" as in  damaged fabric. 

Working as a layout designer for "Glamour" magazine, I was startled by a headline for a new column on home sewing: "Be a Better Sewer". It looked too much like a column for DYI plumbers hoping to improve waste drainage. The column was changed to "How to Sew Better". 

The English language is not easy, and either is fashion. Sometimes it has a life of its own, and I would say the trend for ruffles, prints and tiers is coming at us with gusto. Fashion has nine lives too, and this is at least the third go-round for tiers in my lifetime.

It all started last summer. While I was searching the internet for a caftan to loll around my pandemic-friendly 500-square-foot backyard, trendsetters had rediscovered the 1970s baby doll and christened it the Nap Dress. I laughed as I simultaneously kicked myself for giving away all those Laura Ashleys. Who would wear that? I thought. Certainly not I, today, when I would look less like an Austen heroine and more like my grandma.

The 2020 Nap Dress

The house dress

Something about the look—soft, feminine, flowy, comfortable, sweet—appeals to us in terms of rebirth and a fresh start. It's surely a damn sight better than more sweats, especially summer sweats. As a woman of a certain age* tiers, ruffles, flounces and flowers require some serious discipline. You can pull it off. At least I am going to try.

Madame suggests the following (I am madame if you didn't guess):

> Keep the patterns simple. Opt for geometrics over florals, but if you go floral, go big and not ditsy.

Floral "do"

Floral "don't"

> Solid colors are more sophisticated and odd-ball hues even more so.

But not the boots...
Better with slip-ons

> Put yourself out there. Let's face it; this look is a costume. If you are going to do it, don't be shy. Accessorize with earrings, strappy sandals, even a belt if you feel so inclined. Whatever you choose to wear, the idea is to wear it like you own it. Because you do.

Ulla Johnson should be very happy this year. She is one designer who has long embraced flounces and tiers in her work, and she creates some of the best. Dresses sell between $400 - 600. Expect to see many ripoffs. One caveat: these frocks demand a lot of fabric, and fabric doesn't come cheap.

This tiered look was such a favorite in Derek Lam's 2008 collection, I made a mental note and snapped up the McCall's pattern when I saw it the next year. It sat, however, unseen and unsewn, for these past 11 years.  Maybe it's time.

* Honestly I can't think of a better way to describe a grown woman who is no spring chicken yet hardly the old grey mare. All suggestions greatly appreciated.