Saturday, September 28, 2019

The Instagram Scam

The legit The Grey Layers
Whatever you may think of it (I have my opinions) Instagram is facing a new scam that is a serious reflection of who and where we are now.

Instagram Influencers are finding their identities stolen and others are receiving the free merchandise promoters generously give in hopes of receiving a boost. 

The suspicious The Spicy Cocktail

A bit of history:

The popular subjects on Instagram are food ("what I ate" and "what I cooked"), travel ("where I went"), decorating ("what I did" and "what I wish I could do") and celebrities. There are cuddly pets and adorable children, of course, and—now—way too many ads. There is also fashion, which fills a huge amount of Instagram's endless space. And there are Influencers.

Someone during Instagram's infancy decided to show the world what she was wearing. Many, many did the same. A term was coined, OOTD (Outfit of the Day). Even more began to "follow" them, perhaps asking, "Where did you get those cute shoes?" The Cute Shoe Company suddenly got a lot of requests. Instagrammers realized they had influence. Promoters discovered another outlet. A match was made, an idea hatched, and Influencers were born.

I would like to say I can smell a rat, but at first I was taken in. I was impressed some women were recognized for their style. I just assumed the coat one wore or the lipstick another liked were their own discoveries. Slowly I realized this could be their jobs.

Now, not every fashion-loving woman on Instagram is an Influencer. There are professionals I follow who have legitimate businesses as reporters or stylists, whose work and point of view I enjoy seeing. There are stylish women who aren't promoting anything, of course.

But Influencers, posters on Facebook with followings of 50,000 to 500,000, are big business. Millions of dollars in merchandise are allotted to wooing them in exchange for a photo and a mention.

The New York Times reported on the Instagram scam with this eye-opening example. Jeane Grey has posted as @TheGreyLayers since 2009. She's one of those Instagram professionals, an Influencer, with 460,000 followers. She must be catnip to a product hoping for exposure on her feed. She discovered that her identity had been stolen by a young woman (a minor) living in Spain. I'm not sure how it worked, but @TheSpicyCocktail started receiving gifts meant for @TheGreyLayers and posting them on her site.

The scurrilous Spicy Cocktail

I don't want to give her much exposure because what she's doing is wrong and stupid and sad. Jeanne Grey has alerted the Instagram community. @TheSpicyCocktail has victimized others as well. She denies it was anything but a simple mistake (highly doubtful).

The Times quoted a publicist who works with Influencers, saying that most people impersonating her clients were 9 to 15 years old. This fills me with alarm. What kind of message are we sending to girls growing up? What kind of pursuit is this? Why the interest in promoting oneself? What a horrible way to gather that approval we all wanted as teenagers. What values do these girls have? And who has taught them? Is it us as a society? Can we blame the girls' mothers for encouraging this? Do they even know? The horrid Spicy Cocktail has been on Instagram for a very long time. I found older pictures of her where she looks about 10.

Too too too young...

I'm left with a feeling of dread. What may have started as fun has become a terrifying endeavor that can not end well. For anyone.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Mining Gold: Day 7 and Graduation!

Nobody rests on the 7th day of the Miracle Course. This is where we learn How to Be a Fashion Expert.

The section's first two pages seem nothing more than a bunch of stock photos the art department had left over and the copy department tried very hard to justify. Titled "Fashion is a lot of little things", two gems are "When in doubt about a hat—wear a beret. Goes with everything!" and "There's something about a long skinny tightly furled umbrella that practically screams: 'she's fashionable'."

The Course then answers the question "What is this thing called high fashion?" I think we would easily say, "couture, runways, famous designers." In 1952 high fashion was that which was not yet accepted and worn by all. "It's a style that nobody wore yesterday—that very few are wearing today—and that everybody will wear tomorrow." Could this not also be the definition of a trend?

Some good advice: You have got to have the nerve and the "fashion bearing" to pull off anything brand-new as it (and you) will get attention. So, wear it with conviction. If you're not convincing no one else will be convinced.

More good advice: If you have a major purchase to buy, say you are replacing a winter coat, pick one in tomorrow's style rather than today's. Your investment will last longer.

Still more good advice: Can't afford high fashion? Pick up the colors, details or accessories of the new look and update yours in small ways.

Now you know all the answers

I found some early thinking on wearing separates. Try to remember that in 1952 dresses were numero uno. A suit was a suit, not two pieces that could be worn individually. So having a collection of blouses and sweaters and jackets to increase your wardrobe possibilities was pretty revolutionary. And it caught on. The dress has only returned, and then really in a diminished way, in the past ten years or so.
The models on a two-page spread are having a conversation, blonde and brunette. They are discussing the all-too-real conundrum that men have with how women look. Men like women who are a bit sexy as long as they aren't their women. So the trick is to have "a little sex-appeal in a lady-like way." Flirty skirts, hair that's touchable, "dainty little shoes to make their feet look bigger", a little glitter (but not too much), "swishy and pretty dresses". And then the girls compliment each other on their pretty dresses. By this point I think the staff were either reaching deadline or were so over the whole project.

Finally, on page 97, you are given permission to insert a little personality into your style. If you love hats, indulge yourself. If it's shoes, go for them. Have a trademark piece of jewelry? Wear it with everything. Adore scarves? Wear them unconventionally, around your wrist or on a handbag.  

* * *

What have we learned? Well, I learned that back in 1952 fashion was serious business. As happens so often when a decade turns, the early 50s were more like the end of the 40s. Fashionable in 1952 meant one way and one way only.The Miracle Course feels like a battle plan. There were rules to follow, and if you did you could expect success. The ego was pretty sublimated. There was none of this "dress for who you really are."

My report on the course was not meant to be a put down. I found still much go still to be mined. Good advice is good advice no matter the year. The revelation was how strict it all was. The idea one could become a "fashion expert" by taking the course might be a stretch, but I hope it helped some readers.

It's hard to believe three of our greatest fashion icons were barely a blip on the radar in 1952. Audrey, Grace and Marilyn were just beginning their careers. Audrey (the Original), Grace (the Lady) and Marilyn (the Bombshell) changed the way we saw fashion. By emulating our favorites we developed our own styles. I know; I was there.

A new day was dawning...

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Mining Gold: Day 6

Day 6 of Fashion: the Miracle 7-Day Glamour Course (in case you've forgotten what this is all about) will teach you how to get dressed—and not a moment too soon. Finally—what to wear when and where. Should you be reading in 1952 you might have flipped to that chapter first. I think I would. But it soon becomes clear only now is when the hard work of weeding and foraging pays off.

Much is made of "balance," making sure your if your hat is broad, your silhouette is narrow. A tiny hat calls for a full skirt, etc. Fashion as geometry.

Then there are accessories that are part of the look and those that "make" the look. Examples of the former are the right glove and bag for the occasion. Of the latter is the statement belt that makes an outfit. This takes up four pages.

The next four cover formal dates and informal dates. This leads me to believe the Course was directed towards women who were single and dating.

The definition of a formal date was a dance. Hopefully they still have them in high schools, but I can't remember the last time anyone invited me to a dance. Nevertheless we still have formal occasions, often known about months in advance, that fill us with as much dread as excitement. Some things are still relevant, dance card or not:

> Give yourself plenty of time to find the dress. The event might seem like ages away, but don't wait till the last minute to find your outfit.

> Don't let the dress wear you. Don't pick out anything so spectacular that it is remembered rather than you.

> Make sure you have all the underpinnings way before the big day or night. A fancy party outfit is not one you can necessarily road test before the big event, so be sure to try everything on and make sure they are comfortable and sit right.

> Ditto with shoes. If at all possible wear them a few times first.

> Figure out if you need a wrap or jacket and plan accordingly. Don't spend a lot here.

> Don't over accessorize. A little sparkle goes a long way.

> Take all the time to get ready when the big day arrives. That advice never gets old.

I wish you told me where were going...

Informal dates are anything else that isn't a dance. There are cautions about overdressing in case your date is just a movie and a hamburg or under-dressing in case it's a fancy party. Was it poor form to ask your date what you were doing? Some advice:

> Wear a tailored jacket over a fancier dress so you can whip it off should the date be just that. 

> Opt for flats if you are almost as tall as he is.

> Don't try any new hairstyle or makeup lest he may not recognize you.

> Three sure-fire date accessories are "a big smile, a honey voice, and a shell-like ear that knows how to listen."
Next comes How to Get Dressed When You're Doing Nothing. Besides saving wear and tear on your good clothes, having something glamorous to lounge about in is a boost for the soul. While I don't believe in hanging about the house in sloppy old duds, I never feel like spending real money on at-home clothes. Mine tend to be also-rans, things that never quite worked or that I'm just tired of wearing. In other words, not so good as to worry about messing them up, good enough to answer the door to Prince Charming—or the meter reader.

Lucy at home was the '50s ideal

The two-page chart of How to Dress Anywhere further reinforces what a battle plan dressing was back then. The "rules" have so many options—depending on the time of day, the company you're with (man or woman), and what everyone else is wearing:

> On a train, plane or cross-country bus aiming for wrinkle free dresses is pretty obvious, as is the omission of choosing sportswear.

> For a formal wedding before and after 6 PM as well as an informal wedding there is no caveat about wearing white. I used to think wearing black to a wedding was taboo, but it's not mentioned here. Once again, maybe assumed?

> In a city hotel or resort hotel stay on the conservative side for the former, check with your booking agent for the latter.

> To the theater or a nightclub check with your companions for the former. Street clothes are okay if you are coming from work. Dress to kill if you're not.

> On a ship or a cruise wear street clothes the first night out then how fancy you get depends if you are first class or cabin class. Am thinking this advice was kind of aspirational. None of the women I knew took anything other than a ferry.

> To apply for a job there are two choices: a tailored dress or suit.

> For a funeral "dark clothes needless to say with no extremes of style or accessories."

Job hunting with a friend?

We conclude Day 6 with a Compatibility Test vis a vis your ability to put things together. The previous owner got three wrong, trying to match her accessories too much. Matchy-matchy is a hard habit to break.

Day 7 (How to be a Fashion Expert) and graduation are just ahead!


Monday, September 16, 2019

Mining Gold: Day 5

Liz Taylor and her mom did it
There have been entire books written about How to Shop. The Miracle Guide gives it 22 pages, a daunting number in a 98-page magazine.

Disregarding no mention of online, discount or outlet shopping, advice from 1952 pretty much rings true today.

> Shop when you have more time than you think you need. A mad dash on your lunch hour should be reserved for picking up a scarf or a hankie, not a winter coat. If you are a housewife, take advantage of slow hours during the week. Career girls should embrace the "new late hours" that may happen a night or two during the week. BTW, as late as the mid '60s, when I was a college student and part-time salesgirl in Cleveland, stores were only open late Thursday and always closed Sunday. Just look at us now!

> Don't go shopping when you're feeling blue. The term "retail therapy" wasn't yet coined, but it never works. You will end of hating what you bought because you will remember how you felt when you bought it.

> Always look your best when you go shopping. Get dressed; do your hair and makeup. Not only do you want to give what you try on a fair chance, you want to "impress the  salesgirl or at least get her cooperation...Somehow you always get better service when you are neat and tidy." As a salesgirl myself I've learned to disregard this or realize it's disregarded. Sometimes the customer running in from a workout at the gym ends up spending the most.

> Wear the correct underwear with no safety pins holding things together. Those salesgirls have eagle eyes. It also makes sense to try on strapless dresses wearing a strapless bra. I would say speaking from 2019's vantage point, if you do intend to wear Spanx with something, bring them along. Wish I had a nickel for every time I've heard "this will look great when I wear my Spanx". Maybe so, but just in case...

> Don't get distracted. If you have a blouse in mind, head directly to the blouse department. That's when there was a blouse department, of course. And don't let that pesky salesgirl convince you to get magenta when you really wanted black. "No buy is a best buy if it's a wrong buy".

> Know your favorite store (s). Know where the departments are located. Make friends with a salesgirl (still a good idea if it's that kind of place). On the other hand, don't be afraid to explore new departments or new stores. Many of today's department stores are organized by designer, possibly one of the most frustrating and time-consuming practices in all retail.

> "Buy your hankies at Swanky's." Just because there is a lovely store in town where you can't really afford to shop doesn't mean you can't pick up a thing or two—stockings (that we don't wear), hankies (that we don't use) or name brand cosmetics (that are indeed the same price at Macy's that they are at Bergdorf's). And while you're there, check out the latest styles to see what's new. My friend DeeGee calls this "visiting the museum with price tags." 

Can we stop for lunch yet?

There follows two pages on buying a dress and four on finding a suit, which must have been a staple item in the '50s, two pages on a coat, one each on hats and shoes.  There are two pages on finding your size range from misses to junior to "brief" (the early "petite") to the no-longer available "women's half sizes" (short and heavy). I can condense the two pages on buying bras and girdles to 1) have your bra fitted by someone who has been trained to do it, and 2) be thankful girdles are not holding us in (or down) anymore.

The section finishes with a page on fabrics—what are natural and what are synthetic. The '50s saw man-made fabrics promoted in a big way. Dacron, Arnel and my favorite, Virgin Acrylic, showed up on fabric labels but have pretty much disappeared. We have others though, and it really pays to read the label before you buy. I've found cottons that must be dry cleaned and wool that can be washed.

We will next tackle how to get dressed on Day 6. It's about time.

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?"