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Posts Tagged ‘Clothing’

Oh, just call us “husky”…or maybe, Your Highness

In beauty, behavior, culture, domestic life, Fashion, life, Style, women on October 11, 2013 at 12:03 am

By Caitlin Kelly

According to Urban Dictionary, that’s what moms tells their overweight sons to soothe them — “You’re just husky.”

20131009091610                      OMG. I wear an XL….in this brand.

Here’s a recent blog post about what fat larger women prefer to be called:

For the survey, Sonsi questioned 1,000 women. Among the most interesting findings: While the vast majority of plus-size women (85 percent) say they believe that beautiful bodies come in all shapes and sizes, fewer than half (49 percent) say that they embrace their own curves. That, Mongello added, signals “a confidence gap among plus-size women.”

Angela O’Riley, a longtime plus-size Ford model, stylist and fashion consultant, told Yahoo Shine that she wasn’t surprised. “It’s deeply ingrained, this fashion thing. We’re all socialized from a very young age to look at fashion magazines, but nobody looks like us, so it’s exclusionary, and it sets up a vicious cycle of ‘I’m no good,’” she said. “It’s a psychological study when you make clothes.”

Regarding terminologies, 28 percent of those surveyed said they most liked the term “curvy,” mainly because their curves help define who they are. “I actually prefer ‘curvy,’” O’Riley said. “It has such a positive connotation. If you used it to describe a friend, no matter what her size, you’d think, ‘Oh, she’s delicious!’ It’s empowering instead of diminishing.”

Still, 25 percent liked “plus size,” while another 25 percent went with “full figured,” with some great write-in choices including “normal,” “average” and “beautiful.”

I think a much better idea would be to stop obsessing about the size or shape of women’s bodies.

It’s really only a matter of concern between a woman and her physician(s.)

Calling a woman who is larger than a size 12 “plus-size” is really fairly bizarre — do we (yes, I’m one of them) call leaner women “minus” size?

How weird would that be?

Enough already with the normative shaming and labeling.

Some of us are bigger than others, whether temporarily, (post-pregnancy, injury, medication side effects,) or permanently. Some of us are leaner.

And thinner doesn’t equal better/braver/bolder/kinder, a quick default way to claim superior status.

It just means your clothing labels are a lower figure than those of us on the dark side of size 12.

In my world, the size and consistent use of a woman’s heart and brain (i.e. her compassion and intelligence) far outweigh the girth of her upper arms or the jiggle of her belly.

I’ve met way too many skinny bitches to be persuaded that the most important element of our value to the wider world lies in the size of our thighs.

Here’s one of my writing pals, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, a mother of two in L.A., writing in Ladies Home Journal:

So I’ve reached some uncomfortable conclusions: There is no future in which I lose weight and it stays lost. As that realization sinks in, I put my head on my desk. It stays there for an hour.

But why am I so despondent? Over the time wasted? The money thrown away? Yes, and more. I’m crying for the shame I’ve felt, the sins I’ve committed when I imagined my life to be a blinking light, on hold indefinitely until I looked the way I wanted to.

Here’s a smart post by one of my favorite bloggers — another Caitlin! — at Fit and Feminist, a woman I doubt is anywhere near overweight, and yet…

If you tallied up all of the time and energy I’ve spent thinking about my negative body image over the course of my teens and twenties, I probably would have been able to use it to earn myself a graduate degree.  And I have to be honest with you – my body’s “flaws” are just not that interesting.  In fact, those fake “flaws” are probably one of the least interesting things i can think of.  There are so many books to read and essays to write and conversations to have and things to try and skills to learn and social justice battles to wage and adventures upon which to embark!  This world is full of fascinating and miraculous things!

The cellulite on the back of my thighs – who cares about that in the grand scheme of things?  If I care at all about my thighs, it’s because I want them to be strong enough to do things like pedal me across Europe or help me run the Keys 50 ultramarathon next year.  I really cannot be bothered at all to care about anything else.

Here’s a recent New York magazine profile of Australian actress Rebel Wilson, whose new television show Super Fun Night, recently premiered, and whose lead character, Kimmie Boubier, is one of the few heavy actresses actually allowed on TV:

Between the creation of the pilot in 2011 and today, Wilson appeared in seven films, including Pitch Perfect, in which she played Fat Amy. Pitch Perfect made Wilson an emerging star: Her character, who may be the first woman in films to acknowledge her excess weight without complaint or unhappiness, is riveting. Fat Amy sings in a big, anthem-worthy voice, she invents her own mermaid style of dancing, and she is a glorious role model without being, as Amy would say, “a twig.” “Rebel is revolutionary,” O’Brien continued.

“Her weight is vastly overshadowed by her talent.”

As it should be.

Dressing like a French woman — and shopping less

In beauty, behavior, culture, design, domestic life, Fashion, life, Style, US on October 3, 2013 at 12:31 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Clothing in history

Clothing in history (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As the air gets chilly here in New York — and much of the Northern Hemisphere — we’re pulling out our sweaters and scarves, putting on wool and leather (or not, if you’re vegan.)

For some of us, that also means pulling out the same garments, shoes and accessories we’ve been wearing for years, maybe even a decade or more.

I loved this recent piece in The Guardian, by British designer Margaret Howell:

I think for someone to make something that’s going to last, there is undoubtedly an amount of love as well as skill that goes into that. And things that last are important. I’m happy to pay more for something if I see it as an investment. I would rather spend £80 on a saucepan if it means that I’ll be buying one that lasts. I’ve always felt that about things, rather than thinking something is too expensive. I’ve noticed that the French think like that about clothes – they’ll have fewer but better quality.

I agree with her.

I’m grateful for having grown up in Canada, a country whose consumer market was small enough that going shopping meant limited choice, (no Internet then). Canadians generally earn lower salaries and pay higher taxes than in the U.S., (where I now live,) so the whole notion of shopping-as-recreation never made much sense to me.

I also spent a year living in Paris when I was 25. That, and many visits back since then, also shaped how I view the buying/keeping/mending of my wardrobe.

I love beautiful things, (and have expensive taste), which de facto limits how much I can acquire. Keeping good things longer also lowers the CPW, (cost-per-wearing), a wiser use of limited funds. The CPW calculation essentially amortizes the cost of acquisition as the more you wear/use something, the less it costs you in the long run — if you buy a $30 pair of shoes that last six months, and have to go buy another pair — you’ve spent $60.

I’d rather find a $200 pair on sale for $120 and get many more seasons from them instead. I have limited time, energy and patience for shopping as well.

(Which is also why blowing $$$$$$$$$ on a white satin wedding gown you’ll wear only once is a crazy use of hard-earned coin.)

Like Howell, I’d much rather have one or two thick cashmere sweaters, (found in thrift or consignment shops for a fraction of their original prices), than a dozen cheaper ones that will probably shrink, pill or date.

Here’s one of my go-to high-end finds, found in a consignment shop, still cosy and warm after…five? years.

20130923105946

Like Howell, like French women, I prefer to buy fewer things and keep them in good shape for years.

– It saves money

– It saves time

– It helps the environment

– It’s a good practice to consistently care for your things — polishing your shoes and boots; using shoe trees to keep their shape; making sure your footwear has new heels and lifts so you don’t wear them out; mending your clothes; tailoring things to fit you properly. The idea of simply throwing something away because it needs a little work? Bizarre and wasteful.

– If you can make/mend your own items, even better!

– Doing so also employs skilled experts, like tailors and shoe repair shops

– It re-focuses our attention away from the hamster wheel of get-spend-get-spend-getmorenow!

– It reminds us to focus on what we have, and to savor it, not simply to greedily rush to the next acquisition

– Wearing vintage, thrift or consignment shop clothing is a smart and frugal way to recycle

– Vintage clothes are often better-made of finer materials like silk, cashmere or wool

– We tend to care more for things we plan to keep for many years, so shoe trees/polish/suede brush and a good sewing kit, lint roller and steamer, good-quality hangers and storage options all matter

I admit, I’m also enjoying a few new purchases as well: a thick new Patagonia fleece (half-price), a long black four-season dress and two cotton midi-skirts.

Of course, the stylish Cadence, author of Small Dog Syndrome blog — recently relocated to London — just posted about an amazing vintage shop she discovered there:

One of best aspects of quality vintage clothing is how well some of it holds up. I peered through riding boots that are decades old but look and feel more solid and better than half of what I could find new at a store for the same price.

If you haven’t read this book, it’s worth considering what an addiction to trendy/cheap/fast fashion really costs.

Here are her 10 simple tips to shop more frugally and mindfully.

And here’s a fun book I own on Paris street style.

Men Shopping for Clothing Accessories

Men Shopping for Clothing Accessories (Photo credit: epSos.de)

Are you a big shopper?

What’s the oldest item you’re still wearing and enjoying?

I’m still trying to figure out what an older person is supposed to wear

In aging, beauty, behavior, Fashion, life, Style on June 28, 2013 at 11:58 am

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s got to be tough to maintain standards if you were once the fashion director for both Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, as was Paul Cavaco, a New York City fixture in the stylish world.

Harper's Bazaar

Harper’s Bazaar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But I was struck by his comment, the headline to this post, as it resonates for many women I know, mostly those of us north of 40.  Good to know it’s a challenge for some men as well.

Bits of you head south. Bits of you are little less appealing, (upper arms, upper thighs), than they once might have been. The late Norah Ephron wrote a whole book, published in 2008, called I Feel Bad About My Neck.

Choices that are cute or fun in your 20s and 30s suddenly start to look cheap, tacky and weird in later decades. Grooming — hair, nails, pedicures and (yes, please!) trimming men’s nose and ear hair — becomes even more essential. Careless starts to look disheveled.

For years, I’ve loved watching the TLC television show What Not To Wear, and have learned a lot. But it’s ending next month. Noooooooooo!

So…what to wear?

Do you know about this terrific blog — Advanced Style? Ari Seth Cohen focuses his lens only on older New Yorkers with panache.

Have you heard of Iris Apfel? Now 91, the self-described “geriatric starlet” gave an interview to Harper’s Bazaar in April, 2013. I liked this:

If your hair is done properly and you have on good shoes, you can get away with anything. That and having a good attitude — try to keep yourself on an even keel. All the plastic surgery in the world isn’t going to help if you are unhappy.

My father just turned 84 and, when he dresses up, still sets a very high bar for elegance — navy blazer, polished loafers, a silk pocket square. My husband, in his 50s, is known around his Manhattan office for a splendid array of socks and ties. I bought him a great pair of fawn suede Lacoste sneakers as my wedding gift.

I see far too many women in their 50s and beyond who look like hell, as though they have simply folded the tent of style, (if they had one in the first place) and jumped the express train to schlumphood. No, I say!

I’m not arguing for the size-2-ropy-arms drama very prevalent in the wealthier precincts of America, as much a uniform as a diktat. But surely we have better options than crappy haircuts and dumpy clothes?

Russian VOGUE magazine - April 2011

Russian VOGUE magazine – April 2011 (Photo credit: jaimelondonboy)

Then what? Shop where?

For me, it’s a varied mixture of vintage, J. Crew, an H & M shift, a bit of designer, some classics: an Hermes silk carre or a pair of Ferragamo suede loafers or an Edwardian necklace.

Then something unexpected to shake the whole mess up. This week I did something utterly out of character, emboldened by a surprise check, and bought a big, blingy watch. I wear it loose, like a bracelet. It’s a hoot and I love it.

The worst sin we make as we age is to give up, to stay stuck in a style rut, to assume that color and wit and fun is something only enjoyed by the young ‘uns. There are several women on my apartment floor who are north of 80 and look great — sparkling eyes, make-up, coiffed hair, fab outifts. Bless them for being a role model.

And so I still read Vogue and Bazaar and Elle and Marie-Claire. I buy very little of what they suggest — both the sizing and prices shoving much of it beyond my reach — but I have fun keeping up, knowing what the cool kids are wearing, and sometimes snagging an H & M copy for $30 or $50 instead.

I’m more willing to invest real cash on great shoes, accessories and jewelry.

Ladies and gentlemen, how has your look changed as you’ve aged?

Any fab shopping tips/sites to share?

The price of cheap clothing — 377 die in Bangladesh factory collapse

In behavior, business, Crime, Fashion, news, politics, urban life, women, work on April 30, 2013 at 12:17 am

By Caitlin Kelly

As many of you know by now, more than 377 men and women making clothing for companies like Primark, JC Penney, Benetton and others, were killed two days ago in the collapse of a factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

JC Penney is one of the three department store...

JC Penney is one of the three department stores at the mall. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s part of the story from The New York Times:

Thousands of people surrounded the site on Sunday, watching the huge rescue operation, even as hopes faded that many more victims would be found alive. For nearly 12 hours, rescuers tried to save a trapped woman, lowering dry food and juice to her as they carefully cut through the wreckage trying to reach her. But then a fire broke out, apparently killing the woman, leaving many firefighters in tears.

With national outrage boiling over, Bangladeshi paramilitary officers tracked down and arrested Sohel Rana, the owner of the building, who was hiding near the Indian border, and returned him by helicopter to Dhaka. When loudspeakers at the rescue site announced his capture earlier in
the day, local news reports said, the crowd broke out in cheers.

The collapse of the building, the Rana Plaza, is considered the deadliest accident in the history of the garment industry. It is known to have claimed at least 377 lives, and hundreds more workers are
thought to be missing still, buried in the rubble.

The Rana Plaza building contained five garment factories, employing more than 3,000 workers, who were making clothing for European and American consumers.

It is worth reading the story because the accompanying photo is so heartbreaking, and one is horribly familiar to  any New Yorker — it is a wall with posters and photos of missing workers, posted by their loved ones, seeking them. After the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11, struck down by two jet airliners, there was an equally feverish, often insane, hope that the thousands of workers trapped in those buildings might have escaped alive.

Some did. Many did not.

But their posters were plastered all over the city. They were truly “Wanted” posters, but too often in vain. You could not look at them, even if you knew no one affected, and not want to weep.

Karwan Bazar, one of the most important busine...

Karwan Bazar, one of the most important business centres in Dhaka (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is hard to know what, if anything, one can usefully say about this Dhaka disaster, the largest (so far) such industry accident in history:

— That the workers were very far away from the people who buy and wear the clothes they make

— That they earn, on average, $37 a month

— That they are completely without political and economic power since this industry is essential to the nation’s economy

— That many of the owners of these factories are also politicians, further weakening any oversight or regulation of the workers so endangered

— That we, as people who buy the cheap clothes they make, are all complicit

Three very powerful recent books are well worth reading, if this topic also disturbs and interests you:

Where Am I Wearing, by a young American freelance journalist who traveled to these countries and factories to meet and speak to the workers there.

Cheap, by Boston University professor Ellen Ruppel Shell,  a scathing condemnation of what it really costs to produce some items we enjoy at low prices but hidden high costs, from frozen Thai shrimp to cultured pearls.

Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, by Elizabeth Cline.

As I write this post, I’m wearing a cotton Gap dress and cashmere Ralph Lauren cardigan; the dress was made in Indonesia and the sweater in China.

So, I too, am complicit in the use of overseas, sub-contracted, poorly-supervised labor. I know it. I hate it. I am not at all clear what (else) to do.

My clothes, probably like many of yours as well, no matter where you live, are made cheaply by people we will never meet or know or feel, possibly, much responsibility to.

Bangladeshi woman

Bangladeshi woman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Until they are killed making it.

What are our choices?

— Make all our own shoes and clothing, (not practical for most of us)

— Wear only clothing made by American workers, (if you are American)

— Look for the ILGWU label, if so

– Find out which manufacturers, (if possible), were sub-contracting work to Rana, and Tazreen, site of another major Bangladeshi garment factory fire that killed 112 workers and boycott all their products

— And spread the word through social media

Here’s a story about Aminul Islam, who tried to organize Bangladeshi garment factory workers.

He was killed.

Ideas?

Solutions?

Outrage?

Breathtaking beauty in NYC, ends March 30: Fortuny, go!

In antiques, beauty, culture, design, Style on March 10, 2013 at 12:13 am

Have you ever heard of Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo?

Robe de Mariano Fortuny. L'influence des arts ...

Robe de Mariano Fortuny. L’influence des arts de l’Islam (musée des arts décoratifs, Paris) (Photo credit: dalbera)

Likely not.

But oh, his talent! His designs — for lighting, color, textiles and paint — are still innovative, timeless and stunning decades after their creation; he lived from 1871 to 1949. If you are anywhere near New York City before March 30, get to 684 Park Avenue, $15 admission, and savor some of the loveliest clothes you will ever see in your life!

If you’ve been watching (?) the hit television series Downton Abbey, you might have caught a scene with Isabel Crawley wearing a very Fortuny-esque black silver-printed sheath. Fortuny’s timeless designs are a perfect period fit for a quirky, rich, bohemian Edwardian like her.

Fortuny Lamps, Venice, Italy

Fortuny Lamps, Venice, Italy (Photo credit: Andy Ciordia)

He certainly began his artistic life with some major advantages — his father and grandfather were directors of the Prado, the exquisite museum in Madrid. Coming from a wealthy background allowed him the time and means to travel widely and to find and cultivate rich women eager to wear and collect his gowns.

His images and references are from Africa, Morocco, the Middle East and earlier historic periods. His shimmering, softly draped fabrics look embroidered with gold or silver threads — but it is metallic paint pressed into silk velvet or cotton or linen with a carved block.

His secret for tightly pleating silk has often been mimicked, but never exactly duplicated. The hem of his Delphos dresses, simple columns of pleated silk, spill out onto the floor like the open petals of a flower. His attention to detail is exquisite: tiny Venetian beads edge his sleeves, satin cord lines his necklines and he included a pleated silk inset on the inside of a sleeve.

The clothes were considered too daring — uncorseted! — for daytime, outdoor use, but women who began wearing them in public were making the case for being beautiful and comfortable at the same time.

I first saw his work at a museum in Lyons, when I was 23 and traveling Europe alone for four months, and I still treasure a poster I bought there then. On that same trip, I went to Venice to Palazzo Orfei, his studio, whose windows are made of round circles of glass, like the bases of wine bottles. The space is filled with his textiles and in the corner is a small white porcelain sink, its edge stained — decades later — with the dried paint he casually smeared off his brushes. It felt like he’d just gone out for a coffee and might return soon.

Palazzo Orfei

Palazzo Orfei (Photo credit: TracyElaine)

I went to this show in Manhattan with a friend, a woman who is very slim and tall and elegant and who I knew would also appreciate his work. It felt like introducing her to some of my old and dearly beloved friends. What a delight to see them again!

As we were leaving the show, I began wrapping my throat in a cream-colored pleated silk scarf/muffler I bought at Banana Republic about 15 years ago — and realized, with a grateful smile, that I’ve been wearing a simulacrum of Fortuny all these years.

English: Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo

English: Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In praise of male elegance

In beauty, behavior, business, culture, design, domestic life, Fashion, life, men, Style, urban life, US, work on November 25, 2012 at 12:12 am
English: Lithograph of Brooks Clothing Store, ...

English: Lithograph of Brooks Clothing Store, Catherine Street, New York City, in 1845 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Loved this recent story about how (some!) American men are dressing better, in The New York Times:

Men are notoriously averse to shopping…

So why do men appear to be shopping for themselves in record numbers?

Men’s wear sales are surging at double-digit rates. Suits, sports coats and outerwear, nearly all bought by men themselves, are leading the gains, according to Steve Pruitt, founder of the fashion and retail consulting firm Blacks Retail. Blacks projects that men’s suit sales will be up 10 percent this fall and holiday season, and sports jacket sales will be up 11 percent, while women’s ready-to-wear sales remain flat.

“Men are the new women,” Bret Pittman, director of J. Crew’s Ludlow Shop in TriBeCa in Manhattan, told me when I stopped in recently for a tour of the new store, the prototype for a line that will feature men’s suits and tailored clothing.

As I write this, two gift-wrapped boxes await Jose in my closet, from Paul Stuart and Brooks Brothers, with more sartorial goodies en-route for Christmas. He went to the dry cleaner’s tailor today to get three pairs of corduroy trousers altered — after I insisted. (The tailor agreed.)

A well-dressed man is a rare and lovely sight. If this is becoming a trend, I’m all for it.

Madison in the mid-40s, in Manhattan, is where you’ll find Brooks Brothers on the south end of the block and Paul Stuart — a 74-year-old shop named for the founder’s son — at the north end…keep heading north and you’ll find 111-year-old J. Press, all shops with classic, elegant, well-made clothing.

Brooks has everything from a smart black umbrella with a real bamboo handle, (a reasonable $60), to suits, shoes, pajamas, cologne, hats and leather briefcases. Their small shoe department has wonderful things, from dressy to casual. Paul Stuart, whose styles and colors are far more European, is not for the faint-of-heart or thin-of-wallet — a pair of socks is $48 and their sweaters and jackets roam to the four figures. Their cheapest shoe, a stunning black suede Italian loafer, is $562.

But some things are affordable, and fun — silk pocket squares and their knotted fabric cuff-links for $12. I love the quiet, old-school atmosphere and the jewel tones, in virtually every item, that are their trademark.

Elegance is an acquired taste.

My father, at 83 exploring Hong Kong as I write this, still dresses with great style, as he always has, which gave me a decided interest in dating — certainly marrying — a man who appreciates it as well. I still remember exactly what Jose wore on our first date 13 years ago, very much enjoying that he had bothered to dress up for the occasion; when I see guys in their 30s or beyond still schlubbing around in sneakers and caps and hoodies, like a bunch of 12-year-olds with no dough and less imagination, I sigh.

Male elegance has a few basic, classic components:

Fit

American men seem to have no idea that tailors even exist, as so many wear trousers, (even on their wedding day!), that puddle hopelessly atop their shoes. Too many clothes, certainly the cheaper ones, are laser-cut in China, with little or no attention to proper fit. Read GQ or Details or The Sartorialist for examples of how do it right.

Material

Learn the difference between cotton, polyester, nylon, wool, cashmere and rayon, calf leather, cordovan, suede. Read labels and feel the materials under your hand. Once you can tell the difference between cashmere and merino, (and your budget has no room for new cashmere), hit consignment and vintage shops for affordable options.

Color

Many men have absolutely no idea what colors look well on them, or awful. The color of your hair, (or lack of same), eyes and skin tone should all affect your choices  — including hats, scarves and eyewear. If you’re very pale, a white shirt and light gray suit are probably not the most attractive choices. Jose, being Hispanic, has a skin tone that allows him to wear some fantastically bold color choices and look terrific in them. A decent salesman or woman in a better quality men’s store can help. Men whose wives or partners have a great eye could do worse than let us help you edit your choices.

Grooming

Huge. The nicest pair of leather shoes will look like hell if you let the heels wear down, (hence the expression, well-heeled), don’t polish them frequently and forget to use heavy, solid wooden shoe trees after each wearing. Regular haircuts — including nose, ear and eyebrow trim for the over-40s — make a serious difference. Keep nails short and clean, and hands moisturized. A subtle cologne is a wonderful lagniappe.

Footwear

Financial Times columnist Peter Aspden recently described the challenge of finding weekend shoes:

By far the trickiest part of weekend dressing is footwear. Look: there is no smart casual in footwear. Smart is what you wear to work. Casual is trainers: comfortable, fashionable. A chairman of the Royal Opera House once declared that he never wanted to sit next to anyone wearing trainers. He was ridiculed. It was a seminal cultural-podiatric moment. We are the generation that invented trainers, and now we had earned the right to wear them, whenever, wherever.

Joe Ottaway, personal shopping consultant at Selfridges, grimaces. “I’m not a great trainer [note: Britspeak for sneakers, running shoes] fan,” he says. He admits that weekend footwear can be a thorny problem. “What is important is to find something that is age-appropriate.” It seems, not for the first time, that I have missed a key trend in men’s fashion. “The age of the well-dressed, well-groomed man is coming back.” And it means, beyond a certain age, no trainers. What age might that be? “25,” says Ottaway.

Accessories

Have fun! These include gorgeous silk pocket squares, (this one is $8 in jewel tones), lovely knee-high colored socks, cuff-links, a sterling belt buckle, a slim (possibly vintage) watch, great eyewear, a well-made hat, a snazzy duffel or backpack or briefcase. Frenchmen almost always add a fab scarf or muffler to their outfits, and there are many options out there; I like this striped one from Barney’s, by Paul Smith.

Take time, if being stylish appeals to you, to browse a few high-end shops, on-line or in person, to see what’s available. The king of this is British designer Paul Smith; a visit to his Fifth Avenue shop is always fun and inspiring.

Ladies, does a well-dressed man catch your eye?

Do you — gentlemen — pay attention to such matters?

Do you sell oxygen with these? The joy of high heels

In beauty, behavior, Fashion, journalism, life, Style, women on August 18, 2012 at 12:06 am

After two years of agonizing pain, making every step exhausting, I have a new hip.

Time for high heels!

In the past few weeks, in an unprecedented spree, I’ve bought two pairs, one of which my husband urged me to do, one of them so high I asked the befuddled sales associate if they came with oxygen. The altitude…

I was never much of  a high heels sort of girl.

It wasn’t because I’m a feminist.

It’s because I’m a journalist, lived downtown alone in large cities for many years and have often traveled solo in some funky places — i.e. I wore flats so I could walk long distances and run fast, safely, when necessary.

Yes, a stiletto heel makes a nice weapon, but I never wanted any miscreant to get that close in the first place.

When you work as a news reporter, every day offers some fresh new hell interesting challenge as you’re sent off to cover whatever the editor thinks important, and in all kinds of weather. It’s not a job for gals whose wardrobes restrict them physically, or whose idea of outdoor activity — as American humorist Fran Lebowitz once joked — is stepping from the taxi into the restaurant.

Stories I’ve covered included:

– a bloody car wreck where everyone died in a head-on collision with a city bus. This meant running up a wet, snowy and muddy hill to reach the site

– racing to beat the press pack across a convention center hall to reach the Prime Minister after a speech

– squatting on the wet, slippery, bucking deck of an America’s Cup boat to interview crew members

– heading into the midtown Manhattan offices of a shady “baby nurse” firm for a quote, fully expecting to be yelled at, possibly hit, and needing to sprint back to safety

You get the idea.

Not only do serious reporters need to run/squat/climb things, we need to beat the competition.  Not that anyone really working it would show up in Louboutins, but knowing I could book it was comforting. On several occasions — back when the earth was cooling (the 1980s), before the Internet and cellphones — I had to locate, commandeer and race to the nearest pay phone before anyone else in the press pack.

(Watch a few 1940s movies to see what I’m talking about.)

It was no time for heels.

The week I got re-married, last September, a tad anxious as most brides are, I did what tends to soothe me at times of stress — buy shoes. I treated myself to my first-ever, full-price pair of Manolo Blahniks, burgundy sling-backs to wear with my (non-white) wedding dress.

Damned if I was going to head back into matrimony in boring old flats. Nope, this was a day for gorgeous, sexy heels. One of my favorite photos of that day is my Dad and the minister, each steadying me, as I slip into them before gliding down the aisle.

I was blond then!

Here’s a recent blog post featured on Freshly Pressed, about whether you can be a feminist and wear high heels.
How many of you dig high heels?

Second Thoughts On Style

In beauty, Fashion, life, Style on October 23, 2011 at 4:46 am
Styling...

Love that cowl-neck sweater! Image by Nieve44/La Luz via Flickr

What about a person’s appearance — (although a lovely soul matters most! — makes them attractive and memorable?

Personal style. Attention to detail. Self-confidence. Understanding fit, proportion, color and scale.

It isn’t easy, which is why so many fall into the snoozy ruts of khakis-and-a-blazer for men or those faux pinstripy “suits” so many women wear, as if by default. I read fashion magazines, but find their advice and choices often fairly bizarre and unworkable for my size, shape, budget and age. Other than that…

Websites like The Sartorialist now celebrate civilians who manage to radiate chic.

Working retail for a few years was a fun way to see how stylish people put themselves together. I still remember a woman my age who came in wearing a gorgeous turquoise jacket — with eyeglass frames that matched.

A few addenda to how to achieve it:

A high-cut armhole. If you’ve ever been to France and tried on their clothes, you’ll notice the difference in fit right away. The armhole is cut higher and tighter than anything created by American designers, and it creates a totally different line. Much more elegant!

Sleeve length, shirt shape and necklines matter! A cap sleeve is brutal on a woman like me with large and muscular upper arms. A boat-neck is fab on (my) broad shoulders. Focus on your best bits and camouflage the rest by drawing attention to the parts you’re happy receiving the most attention. I can’t tolerate people staring at my chest, so make sure to dress in ways that focus attention elsewhere.

Shapewear. Unless you are rail-thin, Spanx is your best friend, smoothing out the bumps under almost everything you wear. Bras need to fit really well.

Proper sleeve length and trouser rise. Men and women alike seem to overlook these basics, maybe because most of us buy off the rack now without the critical and helpful eye of a tailor.

Watch the break. Look at dozens of wedding photos and you’ll see men whose trousers are wayyyy too long. On your wedding day! Do they not know? Notice?

Scarves, shawls, mufflers. One of my favorite French male styles is the use of a colored scarf or muffler with a blazer or jacket. It adds such panache!

Feet first.  How many people even have a shoeshine kit (including a suede brush) or shoe trees or visit their cobbler regularly to make sure they are, literally, well-heeled? I see all sorts of people wearing costly clothes and jewelry whose footwear is a mess. Makes no sense to me.

Hang out and pay attention. I’m not a huge fan of H & M, but every single time I go into their store at Fifth Avenue and 42d Street I learn a lot about style just by watching the women who shop there. On my last visit to Paris I was most struck by a woman in her 60s with fabulous olive sneakers with burgundy laces. I’d seen the shoes in a shop but not with those laces, which gave the shoes a totally different look. Pick a fun neighborhood, take a cafe table and just watch the passing parade.

Customize and personalize. The lesson of the burgundy shoe laces. I admire the spirit that makes a woman, or man, make that extra effort to take a mass-produced item and make it their own. A hat-pin or pocket square. A bag you’ve stitched yourself of vintage fabric. A plain T-shirt to which you’ve added lace.

When you find something fantastic, buy multiples. Years ago, I scored four (!) silk scarves from Banana Republic: deep chocolate brown; creamy white; soft rose; deep fuchsia. They’re long enough to circle my neck three times and wide enough to wear as a shawl, with luxuriously fringed ends. They were $60 each (no, not cheap!) but I bought all four anyway. One of the best buys of my life, as I wear them year-round and love them. They easily fit into the smallest suitcase and change the look of almost any outfit. If, like me, you dislike shopping, make good use of your time and pick up several things at once. This year I bought two classic cotton Tahari shift dresses (black and blue) and two pairs of dark-wash, boot-cut stretch jeans (also black and blue.)

The monochromatic route works wonders, when done well. All black, blue, cream or camel can be a terrific look, especially if you mix shades and textures. Think: denim, linen, silk, rayon, cotton, leather, suede, charmeuse.

Combine interesting colors: navy and black, brown and black, red and gray, violet and gray. One of the pleasures of travel is seeing what other countries’ stores have to offer. I always find clothes I love in Canada, France and England, sometimes more easily (?!) than in New York, arguably a shopper’s mecca. I find NY filled with cheap basics (zzzzz) and super-costly designer duds I can’t afford or won’t fit into. One of my favorite dresses ever (wore it for my wedding) is by the British label Ghost. I bought it in L.A. and very rarely have found their goods here.

Great eyeglasses. I bought one of my two pair, grey multi-toned plastic,  on the Rue St. Antoine in Paris, a few blocks from the apartment we rented. They were no more expensive than they would have been in NY and every time I wear them — daily — I remember Paris. I get compliments on them frequently. A stylish pair of glasses makes a strong statement.

Well-chosen jewelry. When Jose and I began dating, he wore silver rings and even, occasionally, bracelets. I had never dated a man who wore jewelry, let alone was so attached to it as a style marker. It looks great on his brown skin and, within a few years, I had a ring made for him — agate set into a gold bezel, with a wide silver band — that I designed. He loves it. His wedding ring is hammered silver, found on Etsy.

I love great jewelry — whether costume, vintage or contemporary — and he has given me some beautiful earrings over the years. It’s one place I splurge whenever possible, and even the simplest outfit can shine with a touch of gold, silver, pearls or mosaic. Flea markets have offered some of my best finds — like Deco bottle green  glass earrings and a black ring with a deeply incised Gothic-style C, (the font of The New York Times).

Wit. I love juxtaposition, which takes wit and a bit of bravado. Something as simple as great socks — red, striped, violet — can add a style hit to the most basic man’s outfit. The night I met Jose, he wore a vintage gray wool overcoat and his muffler was a red silk Buddhist prayer shawl. That definitely left an impression. Even more so when, at the evening’s end, he took it off — scented with his fab cologne, 1881, and wrapped it around my neck.


What style (re)sources have you found useful?

The Secrets Of Ageless Style

In aging, beauty, Fashion, life, Style on October 21, 2011 at 3:16 am
Emblem from Symbolicarum quaestionum.

However appealing, naked is rarely a practical option! Image via Wikipedia

Any woman over the age of 40 (and it starts younger for many) knows the feeling of utter dread.

What do I wear now?

I  work in New York, surrounded by skinny, wealthy women with a lot more time and money to spend on their appearance, grooming, accessories and wardrobe. My mother was a model for a while and my skinny, elegant late step-mother had entire garment racks filled with very costly clothing, so I had beautiful and terrifyingly confident women around me as role models visually — but advice on how to look as great as they did?

Not so much.

I read all the fashion magazines for ideas and guidance, but can’t afford $1,500 handbags and $900 shoes. Nor am I a 15-year-old from Lithuania, on whom all clothes look amazing…

Here’s a video link to an interview with my favorite fashionista, Stacy London, of the TLC show “What Not To Wear”, who says, wisely: “Fear is a real detriment to great style.”

(She even has her own stylists. No wonder she looks so damn great!)

Here are some of the ways I dress well, at 54, on a budget:

A la francaise

French women think long and hard before adding something to their wardrobe. Is it chic? Flattering? Well-made? Americans have too many stores, are overwhelmed by too much choice and keep buying poorly made garments. Having lived in Paris and returned many times, I stick to French-style shopping — buying, and keeping for many years, fewer and better-made pieces.

Accessories

The simplest black T (well-cut!) and trousers (ditto) can look totally different, thanks to accessories. I look for sales, vintage, antiques and, when possible, buy the very best I can afford at the time. I shop high when possible (Hermes, Manolos) but often low. Two chain necklaces from a super-cheap store in New York have won me multiple compliments. I buy cord and ribbon to make my own necklaces with lockets and other things I’ve picked up along the way, from an Atlanta boutique to a Toronto flea market; this New York store is a treasure trove of gorgeous ribbon.

Men can always up their game with great socks, beautifully maintained classic shoes (penny loafers, brogues), a silk pocket square, a fabulous tie. Fit matters! Watch the break in your trousers and the length of your sleeves. Details, gentlemen!

A tailor

Never forget how much good a good tailor can do. When I needed a black-tie outfit, I scored a gorgeous teal taffeta floor-length skirt at Loehmann’s, a local discount chain, for $80. A tailor removed the waist and altered it to fit beautifully. Very few clothes come in the exact size and shape that we do, especially as we age.

Men, too! “What Not To Wear’s” male star, Clinton Kelly, swears by them — and is opening a new set of retail stores.

Consignment shops

Rich ladies (and men) wear their silk and cashmere for about 20 minutes. They get bored. Or they never even wear it once. I have a few shops in a nearby town that have helped fill my closets with Ferragamo loafers, triple-ply cashmere and never-worn sandals from Prada and Sigerson Morrison. No one needs to know where your clothes and accessories come from.

Vintage

This is a tricky area, as so much vintage clothing reads costume-y or fits poorly. But you can add a huge hit of style with the right choices, with styles, materials and workmanship often now priced out of reach. I love my fab black mohair hat from the 40s and a silk Genny dress I scored at this amazing Manhattan shop. It wasn’t cheap, but I’m in my fourth year of wearing it year-round and loving it.

Grooming!

Cut and color. Manicures and pedicures. I’m not fan of obsessive age-fighters like Botox or Restylane, but paying consistent attention to detail really matters as you age. I see far too many women my age simply give up, sliding into matronhood with horrible hair color, choppy cuts and dumpy, unflattering clothing.

Men — nose and ear hair trimming is crucial. Pluck those caterpillar eyebrows. Stylish women love the company of equally stylish men. My Dad, at 82, still dresses with panache and care, as does his partner.

Check out these photos from Seth Cohen’s fab blog Advanced Style, of super-stylish women in their 60s, 70s and beyond for inspiration.

Confidence

I’m a size 16, hoping get back to a 12. In the meantime, I still have toned legs, strong and shapely shoulders, pretty feet and a waist still clearly defined. That’s enough to keep me from despair.

I was recently photographed (!) for the cover (!!) of a magazine, (oh, all right, Arthrtitis Today),  with 750,000 readers, which was crazy. A crew of five people: makeup/hair, wardrobe stylist, art director, photographer and assistant came to my small New York apartment from New York City, Atlanta and Chicago to take my photo. It required four hours’ standing, posing, smiling, high energy.

But I was told my confidence was appealing and unusual. I know what they meant — for my size.

A personal shopper

Every department store has one, and you don’t have to drop a fortune. Having total strangers examine your shape and offer you some fresh new choices can boost your confidence and blast you out of your style ruts. This happened to me twice in the past six months, and it’s made a big difference in how I think about my appearance.

Here’s an interesting blog post on this vexing issue of how to change your style as you head north of 50 — although the comments are much more interesting! — from the British newspaper The Guardian.

And you, o stylish ones around the world — dish!

Four Hours In Line? Worth It For McQueen Show

In art, beauty, culture, design, Fashion, work on August 8, 2011 at 11:12 am
Alexander McQueen Oyster Dress

Who waits four hours to see anything? (Except maybe Disneyworld.)

I did, last week in Manhattan, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to see the show of Alexander McQueen, the late Scottish clothing designer who committed suicide in February 2010, leaving a bereft world of fashion editors, collectors and fans of his work.

I’d seen bits of it in fashion magazines. It was often shockingly weird, like shoe-boots so impossibly high that walking in them was dangerous. This was a level of brilliance un-knock-off-able, no watered-down mass-market versions likely to show up in next year’s competitors’ catalogues.

I knew it was beautiful and challenging. I had no idea how truly extraordinary his imagination until I spent 75 minutes with it. (The show has now closed, having become one of the most popular ever held at the Met; more than 600,000 people stood for many hours in line to see it.)

Where to begin?

Historic references. From chopines, the towering platform shoes worn by Venetian women from the 14th to 16th centuries, to allusions to Scottish history, in his collection, the widows of Culloden, which included a headpiece with a metal birds’ nest holding exquisitely jeweled eggs.

Materials. From burlap to paillettes to tulle to faille to chiffon to metal to feathers to silver to leather to….horsehair! One of my favorite dresses was made of burlap, over-embroidered with huge, almost childlike flowers in soft jewel tones, with an underskirt of tightly pleated gold. The contrast between humble and opulent, patrician and peasant, was much more powerful in opposition. Dresses made of clamshells and mussel shells? Yes, and gorgeous.

Borrowed ideas. A tailored women’s jacket…that wrapped like a straitjacket. He’s been described as misogynist for such designs, but I found it intriguing. So many demands of traditional women’s beauty force us into tortured postures as it is. Why not call it as you see it? A breathtakingly sinuous arm-cuff of sterling thorns recalled Christ’s crown. I loved the balsa-wood skirt (with leather tabs like a classic kilt) with cut-outs, that spread open like an 18th. century cut-ivory fan.

Daring. One of my favorite elements of the exhibit was the  chance to watch several videos of his shows. One had a model wearing a white dress, edged on two sides by white robotic spray-painters….whose streams of black and chartreuse spattered against the skirt (and the model) created the design in front of our eyes. A piece of body armor, ring upon ring of gleaming steel, that one might wear into battle, symbolic or otherwise. A jacket with mini crocodile heads on each shoulder. Women need protection. He got it.

Sorrow. One dress, for me, is unforgettable, a long pale column of white and gray, with a photo print of statues, two doves on each shoulder. How can a garment convey such melancholy? It did.

Nature, reconfigured. I adored a long, tight jacket of gold feathers, a burst of white, bead-embroidered tulle exploding at the hem. The last collection of snake and lizard and python-printed jersey, overlaid with bronze and turquoise and mustard paillettes.

I have to thank this blogger, a New York City costume designer, for finally getting me to go to this show. After he had seen it six times (!), I thought, right, worth it.

I will never forget some of these images and ideas.

Now I understand why his admirers feel bereft.

Have you ever seen a museum show that gobsmacked you this way?

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