Thursday, December 28, 2017

Have We Had Enough of Online Shopping?

Some day my shoes will come...
One thing you don't have to do when shopping online is stand in line. However, I stood in line on multiple trips to the UPS store as I had the idea I could buy a nice pair of walking shoes online. I ordered— and returned— five pairs of shoes and ended up losing $37 in postage and restocking fees because not all online shopping is created equal.

It started innocently enough. We have a trip planned for late spring that will include lots of walking on variable terrain. There will be streets and surfaces of cobblestone and sand. I hate that look of American Tourist Wearing Sneakers, especially in towns and cities, so I've been giving myself plenty of time to find a nice pair of walking shoes— comfortable but sturdy, stylish but functional— without succumbing to that ever-practical athletic shoe.

It started innocently enough with a sale pair at my local DFS, but they were not in my size. A few pairs were available on the DFS website. I guessed what size I would need, but the choice was not there. Too bad; DFS is easy. My local store will take returns. No shipping fee and no restocking fee. Plus I can send my husband with the package. He works down the block.

It seemed possible to locate them elsewhere. Pair #1 was on Amazon. Free shipping for Prime members. Unfortunately I pushed the button and ordered a 40W, not comprehending W was wide and not Women. That shoe was way too big, so I reordered a 39 (pair #2). This was too narrow, so I ordered, available only from another store on Amazon, a 39W (pair #3). The shoe fit but was stiff and uncomfortable. I wore them carefully around the house that night and could hardly wait to take them off.

Meanwhile, another shoe had caught my fancy, but Amazon didn't have the size and color I wanted. I Googled and found a pair (#4) cheap, but I had to pay $8.95 shipping. It took weeks to arrive, but I was sure it would be perfect. Why? No idea. Hope springs eternal.

#4 was indeed attractive but didn't fit, or was it just flimsy? Maybe the wrong size?  It went back free of charge, but the small print let me know there would be a $6.95 restocking fee.

For pair #5 I returned to Amazon and found another size of attractive-but-didn't-fit. It wasn't part of Prime delivery, although shipping was free. I had a feeling this pair wasn't going to fit either and even avoided opening the package. You guessed it: right again, or rather wrong again. Not only would I have to pay for the shipping back, there would be a $9.95 restocking fee. UPS for that cost $11.

Guess who doesn't have shoes and is $37 poorer? This was an online shopping lesson to be learned, and I hope to heaven I have learned it.

Will it come to this?

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Busted! My UAL Secret is Out

I first discovered UAL about 10 years ago in New Orleans. Wandering around the warren of little shops in the French Quarter, I came across a storefront on Chartres Street identified only by the letters UAL.  What's a UAL? I thought. The clothes in the window were appealing, and a peek inside looked interesting. I went in, the first of many times. UAL (Urban Apparel Liquidators) has been my first, last and sometimes in-between stop on any visit to New Orleans.

Although not everything is "cheap", I once bought a Sachin + Babi dress for $8. It was the kind of dress you can only wear to a fancy wedding, and if I wore it just that one time it will be totally fine. I found a pair of Citizen camo pants for $10 that I have worn to shreds. There have been sweaters, t-shirts, a jacket or two, some fun costume jewelry... nothing that broke my piggy bank. Some things I outgrew (mentally and physically), but I've never felt guilty giving them up.

Naeem Khan $1449 was $4995

Shopping in high-end stores makes me uncomfortable. I feel it obvious to all the world (especially the world of sales associates) that I am there under false pretenses. I'm never going to buy anything but am there to enjoy the wonderful styles and lovely fabrics and admire the workmanship.

The Row $1225 was $9999

There is no pretense at UAL. Everyone is there because she (or he for the small selection of menswear) loves a bargain. And a designer bargain is the best of all. Even at 90% off many of the offerings are too much for me, but there can be decently or even amazingly priced finds as well. You just have to go with an open mind and be in the mood for a hunt.

Drew $39 was $276

UAL was founded in 1980 in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. It's grown, but slowly. There are 6 retail locations in only 4 southern states, but there is an online presence,

Victoria Beckham $792 was $2640
UAL's goal was to source high fashion brands and market them at 70-90% off retail. I get the sense that many are samples. Others may be store closeouts, though there don't seem to be retail tags. How merchandise gets to discounters is an interesting and convoluted story. Safe to say, the goods at UAL are the genuine article and not manufactured especially for outlets, as is often the case in the big outlet malls.

Likewise you never know what you may find on any given visit. It's wise not to get attached to something you see not in your size. That may be the only one. The sales staff are easy-going, knowledgeable and encouraging. They seem to be having fun. I'm only speaking of the New Orleans store. I've not been to the others*, but wouldn't a road trip be fun? 

* Brentwood TN, Nashville TN (2), Austin TX, Hattiesburg MS

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Let's Hear it for the Gift Card

The lowly gift card has been mightily maligned in recent years. It's taken on the mantle of "cop out" present, the thing to get when you want to get it over with. It's time to change that thinking. Gift cards can be great.

There is something delicious about having a gift card in your pocket. The anticipation! The careful decision-making!

To be sure, some gift card recipients run out and use one immediately. Others squirrel one away so well they forget they have it. I saw this many times at the Lovely Boutique. A customer would pull out a dusty, dog-eared slice of cardboard at the cash wrap and tell me with astonishment how she had just found it.

Where giving gift cards gets tricky is in their selection. I'm not a fan of generic Visa or Mastercard gift cards. Just too impersonal. In that case you might as well give money. Crisp new currency even smells better.

I'm also not big on grocery store gift cards (unless it's a fancy specialty foods place). Too easy to use on paper towels and such. Same with drug stores or fast food places.  I'm not a Starbucks addict as I'm too cheap but will admit to enjoying a Starbucks gift card.

One of my favorite gift cards was for $25 at Tiffany. That was when $25 could buy something. Today this would need to be $100. This gift gave me a great excuse to wander through the fabled Fifth Avenue store, and wander I did, taking note of what I might purchase. I think I bought a deck of cards. Okay, it was a double deck and housed in a lovely box in that beautiful shade of blue.

There is a whole world of gift cards out there. You don't have to think too hard— just a little— to match your intended with the perfect treat.

> A manicure or pedicure at her favorite place (or the best salon in town)

> Movie theater admissions. National chains make this easy for sending across the miles.

> Aforementioned fancy foods store (or macarons or chocolates or caviar or...)

> The Lovely Boutique in your town (that place you know she likes to browse)

> Books, books, books. You can do Amazon, but why not patronize your local bookseller?

> Restaurant gift cards. Take note, though. They may not include alcohol and tips. 

> Etsy even has gift cards for a "choose your own adventure" gift. Neither of you have to leave the warmth of your computers for that one.


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Madame Predicts: You Will Want One

Basket bags were a trend last summer. I wanted one; they weren't easy to find. It never happened. But I've been thinking about them since.

I need a bag that's big enough to carry all my stuff, most of which I shouldn't even bother lugging around. Habit is a funny thing; I am nothing if not "prepared".

There are small, tidy bags, some with leather trim, that are lovely, well made and cost a bit of of real money. Also probably not big enough.

J McLaughlin, $128

There are classic "French market bags" which have always looked swell. Being fully open they may not be the best choice for holding desirables like credit cards and cell phone.

LarLiving, $18.27

This is a nice shape with a sturdy finish and cloth drawstring liner, but I can't tell how big it really is.

Amazon, $39.99

These two oversized, inexpensive totes are appealing for their casual vibe and low price tags. I found them on an Etsy store but can't decide: round or oval? There's plenty of time for that between now and straw-basket-weather.

The Woven Basketry, $23.60
 The Woven Basketry, $28.00

Friday, December 1, 2017

Going into 2018 With Style

I hesitate posting this as several of my nearest and dearest will be receiving them. On the other hand this is too good to keep secret.

I usually think a calendar is such a lame choice for a gift. I avoid "calendar kiosks" at the mall lest even I get sucked into buying "365 Days of Kute Kittens" for myself. My own calendar, for dentist appointments and such, is strictly utilitarian and sits in the kitchen drawer. Even so I may be an old fuddy-duddy. Everyone under fifty seems to use their phone function.

Nevertheless I came across this in a museum gift shop and scooped up a bundle. It's fashion! It's history! It's pretty! It's even a calendar! It's "Daily Dress 2018— 365 Days of Fashion and Style", published through the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Those are street creds if ever. It's oversize, measuring 12" wide x 24" long when opened, so necessitates a generous hanging space. Mine is inside the closet door. Every day features a different fashion artifact from the museum's collection— apparel or accessory— with a brief description of what, who and when.  The pages are color-coordinated, so every month has a tonal theme. The items are photographed but placed on sketches of figures. Retail is $14.99.

What a feast of fashion history! As per the Met's blurb:

Each day features a stunning piece from every corner of the world throughout the centuries. From sumptuous seventeenth-century French gowns to stylish dresses designed by Dior or Chanel, from elaborate footwear to dazzling jewelry, this 2018 calendar highlights hundreds of years' worth of glamour, beauty and style.

Emphasis is on fashion from the late 19th century until today, so it's not a dry history lesson in winkles and panniers. What's interesting is how contemporary— and desirable— many of the pieces look. This may be a reflection on how eclectic our fashion sense has become. On the other hand, it does give new meaning to "timeless fashion".

The witty Geoffrey Beene

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Finding Fashion in the Strangest Places

Gertrude by Beaton, 1939

I never expected to discover an interesting tidbit of fashion history while reading about Gertrude Stein, but there it was.

"Love, Cecil" is a wonderful documentary by Lisa Immordino Vreeland, the filmmaker who gifted us with "The Eye Has to Travel" about Diana Vreeland. Cecil is Cecil Beaton, no slouch on the fashion scene as a photographer and designer of costumes and sets for "Gigi" and "My Fair Lady". In his long career Beaton photographed almost everyone who was anybody, among them Gertrude Stein.

Now Gertrude is not a fashion icon by any means, though she certainly had her own style. Sometimes, when I've gotten too short a haircut, I hope it doesn't make me look like Gertrude Stein. Fortunately hair grows quickly.

I've long been interested in Cecil Beaton. Inexplicably, his "The Glass of Fashion" was one of the first books I read on the subject. I was 11 or 12. Vreeland's film rekindled an interest in Cecil and his amazing talents. The book "Portraits and Profiles" by John Vickers pairs photos of his well known subjects with excerpts from the diaries he meticulously kept throughout his life.

There she was, between Winston Churchill and Colette, looking stern but softened by her nuzzling dog. An American who settled in Paris in the 1920s, Gertrude Stein's salon was the gathering place for Picasso, Cocteau, Matisse, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, etc. She was a writer in her own right and an early champion of modern art. Her constant companion was the somewhat mysterious Alice B Toklas. Alice said little but was a terrific cook.

Gertrude, Alice and another pet

Still no fashion... But wait.
In Cecil's diary excerpt is the story of how Gertrude and Alice, both Jewish, found refuge during WWII in the mountains of France. Quoting from the diary:

"During the years of cold and shortages Gertrude and Alice became friends with a neighbor at Aix, a simple young man named Pierre Balmain, with a taste for antiques and a natural bent for designing women's clothes. In fact he made with his own hands heavy tweeds and warm garments for Gertrude and Alice Toklas to wear during the hard winters."

After the war Balmain set up shop in Paris and became one of the leading couturiers until his death in 1982. His clothes were always sophisticated and elegant and worn by royalty and film stars. He never sold a ready-to-wear line, but did produce some memorable fragrances including one of my favorites, "Jolie Madame". Who doesn't want to smell like a "pretty lady"? Balmain also apprenticed at least two young men who went on to great things themselves, Karl Lagerfeld and Oscar de la Renta.

Typical Balmain elegance
Gertrude and Alice were guests at Balmain's first showing to the Paris press. They arrived in their usual states of un-fashion, Gertrude "in an old cinnamon colored sack and Panama hat" and Alice in "a long Chinese garment of bright colors". Beaton continues:

"Gertrude, seeing the world of fashion assembled, whispered 'Little do they know that we are the only people here dressed by Balmain, and it's just as well for him that they don't'."

Friday, November 24, 2017

Forever Edie

Why Edie Beale and Grey Gardens?  What is there about the person (or persons as there are two Edies) and the place, their once-glorious-then-ramshackle-finally-restored home in Easthampton, NY?

Grey Garden's estate sale last week by Durell Godfrey

The Beales and the house have been in the public arena for years. Edie Bouvier Beale and her daughter Edie, known as Little Edie, were Jackie Kennedy's aunt and cousin on the Bouvier side (Jackie's father). In 1971 Jackie stepped in to address complaints about the place from Easthampton's town fathers. Once a beautiful mansion in the tony summer enclave for elite New Yorkers, it had gone to rack and ruin along with its two inhabitants.

Last week the owner of the restored Grey Gardens, journalist Sally Quinn, held a sale that drew fans from far and wide. They weren't there for mementos of Sally or her late husband, Ben Bradlee. The draw was the house itself and items that had belonged to the Beales.

The Edies in somewhat better days

At the very least, Edie and Little Edie were eccentric. They were most probably mentally ill. But they were happy. As seen in the Maysles' 1975 documentary, it might have been a warped mother/daughter relationship, but the bonds were strong. They depended on and were dependent on each other. They never saw anything amiss in the way they lived— in perfect squalor with multiple cats and raccoons. When Little Edie was finally persuaded to sell Grey Gardens  in 1979 she declared all it needed was a coat of paint.

There are at least 8 books written about Little Edie and Grey Gardens. This one, "Edith Bouvier Beale of Grey Gardens", is one of my favorites. It's a sympathetic look at her life with many pictures. She obviously always loved fashion and had the tall, rangy figure of a "woman who wore clothes well". By the time of the Maysles' film, she had honed her style to what suited her and made her happy. This in itself is a lesson we can all learn.

That mink coat, worn oh so casually over everything (even a leotard). Those head wraps to erase thoughts of any Bad Hair Day. Her mixing of genres and patterns— not easy to do as anyone who's tried may have realized. She had the absolute conviction of a woman who loved to dress up, knew when she had gotten it right and acted accordingly. She put herself out there and totally forgot what she was wearing.

The documentary has always made me somewhat uneasy. We are never sure how to view them, though they are a fascinating pair. Showtime 's "Grey Gardens", with Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore, is such a good companion piece it might almost need to be seen first.


Monday, November 20, 2017

"I Have to Go to the Gym!"

How we feel has a lot to do with how we feel about how we look.

That's not quite as convoluted as it might seem. When you are feeling strong and healthy you look better, and when you look better you feel a whole lot better about this getting older thing. I can do it, you think, and you are grateful for the opportunity.

How I feel has a lot to do with how much exercise I get. I never thought once of going to the gym while sightseeing in Rome. Back home is another story. Unless you live in New York City or a few other large metropoles, we are a car-centric society. Walking is a deliberate act, not part of a daily routine.

So I belong to a gym. It's a very nice gym, within walking distance of my house (should I wish to walk). There are flowers and magazines and plenty of tvs. The equipment is always in good condition. The staff are friendly. I'm greeted warmly. It's not cheap.

But I need to force/psyche myself to go. I've tried going early before I do anything else and end up still in my bathrobe at noon. I've tried going at the end of the day and decide I'm too tired (from driving around?). I will use a visit to the Marshall's downstairs as a lure. Whatever I do to psyche myself becomes a little game.

Until I read, somewhere, that we shouldn't think at this point in our lives that we HAVE to go to the gym. We should be thinking, I'm glad I CAN go to the gym.

Makes sense to me, and it's made a difference. This will be short because I'm going to the gym. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Vintage for the Ages

Vintage for the ages of what???
How old is too old to wear vintage?
What exactly is "vintage" anyways? 
Those are the age-old questions in today's mash-up world of vintage/retro looks.

To answer the last question first: An antique is considered anything 50 years or older. That date for vintage is 20 years. Thus if it's older than 1967, it's an antique. But we are still calling fashion from the 60s, 50s, 40s, 30s and 20s "vintage". Likewise if it's older than 1997, it's "vintage". If it's newly made but in the style of a past era, it's called "retro". But you knew that already.

The first time I heard the term vintage given to what might be considered an "old dress" was the gown Julia Roberts wore to the Oscars in 2001. It was designed by Valentino in 1992. I have canned goods older than 9 years.

A "Pretty Woman" alright
Since then "vintage" is practically anything not from this season. We no longer have old clothes in our closets. That stuff is "vintage". I don't take it seriously. It's like calling Target "Tar-jay".

Is there an age-limit to wearing vintage? I once read you can only wear vintage from eras you were not alive and/or actually wearing clothes. That means I can wear looks from the 40s backward. This dictum in itself has an age limit. I do not want to look like an old silent film star a la Gloria Swanson in "Sunset Boulevard".

Not ready for my close-up
How should a WOACA* tackle vintage? By now you know what looks good on you, or should. We all wore miniskirts back in the day or felt left behind. Today you can disregard anything vintage that is less than flattering.

Avoid vintage looks that are not on trend. No 40s or 80s big shoulders. A few years ago high-waisted "mom" jeans were totally outdated. Today you can wear them— with a great tucked-in shirt and cool belt— but no pleats, please.

Look to classic vintage. I have a black turtleneck from B Altman circa 1965, which makes it "antique". That sweater is no different from one I could buy today. I scored a pair of plaid Pendelton wide-leg, high-waisted pants at a resale shop. The giveaway is the size label. Evidently a 14 was once the equivalent of today's 6. Chanel jackets, whether genuine or channeling Chanel are timeless, as are military jackets from Army surplus to Ralph Lauren. A cape is still a cape. A trench coat still has it.

Classy classics

Remember the icons. Marlene Dietrich's and Katherine Hepburn's man-tailored styles. Audrey Hepburn's capri pants and ballet flats. Jackie Kennedy's simple shifts. And my all-time favorite, Sharon Stone's GAP shirt and ballgown, another Oscar winner.

Berets are "in" this season, too.
Bridging the GAP

Ditch the trim. Avoid juvenile flounces and rick-rack, puffed sleeves and suspenders. Heidi was never a good role model.

Choose modern accessories. This is how vintage gets updated. I see chandelier earrings with t-shirts. If you like them, wear lots of bracelets. Go for on trend necklaces and au courant shoes. Accessories will make it yours.

Pin stripes perfected

Never do matchy-matchy. The only person who gets away with that is the Queen.

God save the touch of black.
*WOACA = Woman of a Certain Age


Monday, October 30, 2017

The Naughty, the Nice and the Nasty


Christmas decor is now in the stores before Halloween. That's the only excuse for the plethora of questionable holiday attire I spotted today at Target.


Target is not exactly a bastion of good taste, though it seems to me they used to try a little harder. Target is fast fashion for the masses and used to have a point of view. That was "You don't have to spend a lot to be stylish" and in parentheses ("as long as you don't care it's going to feel kind of tacky and fall apart in the wash"). Several of Target's collaborations with legitimate designers were very successful. I particularly liked those with Isaaac Mizrahi, Missoni and Victoria Beckham.


What I saw today was as frightening as watching "Friday the 13th" alone on a rainy night. Everything looked like a Halloween costume. These were not just Ugly Christmas Sweaters, though there were plenty of them. I fail to see the irony in Santa dresses and poinsettia prints, candy canes shaped like hearts and— so help me— a print of ugly Christmas sweaters.


Don't think Channukah gets a pass either. There were menorah prints and Ugly Channukah Sweaters too.


Forgive me, Tiny Tim, but, "God help us, every one."


Monday, October 23, 2017

For Magazine Lovers

Unless you have been enjoying magazines your whole life (especially the fashion glossies), this blog may leave you feeling "meh". You get a pass; I understand. Everyone else please ponder this: Why are so many top magazine editors suddenly leaving their posts?

In a very short space of time, Cindi Leive (Glamour), Robbie Myers (Elle), Nancy Gibbs (Time), Graydon Carter (Vanity Fair) and Alexandra Shulman (British Vogue) have given up the reigns for no reasons we've been told.

Aside from Graydon, a bigger than life character, I knew little about them except what they revealed through their stewardships. Nina Garcia, the new editor of Elle, is a familiar name. She's been a judge on Project Runway since its inception and is the author of 4 fashion books, all of which I've enjoyed reading. 

Nina, back at Elle, this time in charge

In my 38-year career in magazines, only two editors (and this is THE editor— the one in-chief) have left. One joined her new, recently retired husband back in his home state. The other left one magazine to join a rival; her replacement was an internal promotion and all was right with the world.

I can only imagine how these sudden departures can shake up staff, as well as loyal readers. New editors bring new views and positions. "Glamour" became more issue-oriented when Kathleen Casey Johnson moved to Ohio and Ruth Whitney took over. I suspect Nina Garcia will gift Elle with her fashion vision. There are mumblings that the Glamour and Elle shakeups are related to our age of Instagram, et al.

Are our attention spans too short to take in more than What to Wear or Who Wore it Best? Do we not have enough time to read about goals and challenges and what concerns our lives in the 21st century?

There will always be a place for magazines and the advertisers who support them. My eyes have gotten very good at glazing over the ads that intrude on my digital media. They are harder to ignore on the printed page and can even (yes) add to the enjoyment of what I'm reading. At the very least, as an old magazine hound, I know their purpose, and I'm okay with it.

Magazines can't exist without editors, and good magazines need good editors. As in any position of authority and power, the editor needs a clear vision and the skills to bring the team together. I wish the departed and the newbies good luck in their next ventures.

Anna probably doesn't have to worry...