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Posts Tagged ‘Style’

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?

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)

The “What to wear to bed?” dilemma

In beauty, behavior, design, domestic life, family, Fashion, life on December 21, 2012 at 2:06 am
Nighties

Nighties (Photo credit: Pete Lambert)

The easy answer, of course, is nothing.

After another fruitless quest in the sleepwear department, I came home with one simple black nightshirt. Black? Seems a bit sad, really.

Josie Natori, one of the country’s top sleepwear and lingerie designers, got into this business in the 1970s when she deemed sleepwear “lewd or frumpy.”

That just about sums it up — still.

Here’s what a woman gets to choose from, at least at Lord & Taylor, one of the U.S.’s better department stores:

Slut city! Gah. The whole red/black lace, spaghetti strap, this-will-slide-off-really-fast thing. This takes a level of self-confidence I never had, even many pounds and decades ago.

Daddy’s little girl. Yes, if you’re 16, or you have no desire to ever have sex with the person who sees you in it. Every nightie is floor-length, only in white, pale blue or pink. It has a little lace, or a lot of ruffles. It covers up all of you. It will keep you warm. It will not get you laid.

– Granny called and she wants her muumuu back. I miss my maternal grandmother fiercely; she died when I was 18. She was loaded and a grande dame and a lot of fun. She lived in capacious silky, colored caftans like these. (I admit, this is the style I prefer, both modest enough to wear for breakfast when visiting others and pretty enough to lounge in.) Easily enough slithered out of, too.

Just leave the Taittinger and roses by the door. These are the real deal, gorgeous gowns in silk prints by Josie Natori, (a canny former Wall Street exec who has made kajillions designing and selling really pretty underthings for women) and Donna Karan. I would have killed for the Karan silk caftan, but $300? I think not.

– Pretty young thing. I was sorely tempted by a lovely little slip by Kensie, a label aimed at 20-somethings, in an unusual cream color with a cable-knit print. It was both affordable, unusual and pretty. Maybe I’ll go back.

— Dorm special. Any combo of sweat pants and hoodie/henley. Cute at 20, giggling til 2:00 a.m. with the girls. Less so beyond.

It’s not much better for men.

I went out to buy some pajamas for my husband and found:

– Duuuuuuuuude! Floppy, baggy, saggy flannel bottoms with a plaid so huge you could read it from the moon.

-- Where are my damn slippers? The final line of  “My Fair Lady” rings true when you consider the Henry Higgins-ish elegance of silk or cotton pajamas, a la Brooks Brothers. Veddy old-school, veddy debonair. Zzzzzzzzzzzz.

– Hand me my axe. The nightshirt thing. Thick flannel, manly, brawny, whatever.

So our default mode, for both of us, ends up being a T-shirt and some sort of bottom. Pretty boring but comfortable, warm and affordable. I wish I had the guts to wear some slinky little negligee but it’s just not me and never has been.

And if I can’t be comfortable in my own bed, the hell with it.

Here are 16 ggggggorgeous sets of PJs from (where else?) the October issue of Vanity Fair.

Fess up mes cher(e)s! What do you and/or your sweetie wear to bed?

Do you — or your bed-mate — love it?

A mini-van?!

In behavior, cars, design, domestic life, life, Style, urban life on December 8, 2012 at 2:38 am
2011 Dodge Grand Caravan photographed in Largo...

2011 Dodge Grand Caravan photographed in Largo, Maryland, USA. Category:Dodge RT Caravan Category:White minivans (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you had told me that in this lifetime I would be seated behind the wheel of a Dodge Caravan, I would have said you were mad. Mad!

But this week I was. For those of you not in the automotive know, it’s a fucking mini-van! The sort of thing that soccer moms drive, full of screaming, squirming kids. The sort of vehicle that ends up in heart-warming commercials. (I hate heart-warming!)

We don’t have kids.

We don’t need anything this big.

I’ve only sat in a mini-van when I got into one that is a taxi.

Our ancient Subaru was in the shop for a $3,300 repair. Yes, you read that right. It took longer than our mechanic expected and — which is extremely classy — he paid to rent a replacement vehicle for us. But because of Hurricane Sandy destroying so many cars here when huge trees fell and crushed them, there’s been a local shortage of rental cars. So when I showed up to claim the Chevy Impala they had promised, there were four minivans and a huge truck.

Holy shit. Cars have changed a lot since 2001, the year ours was produced.

It’s new, it’s shiny, it’s huge. It tells me the temperature but I can’t find the clock. The rear visibility is a disaster — the window is too small and all those seats’ headrests block what’s left of it. I finally understand why women driving these things drive really slowly and cautiously and annoyingly. I started doing it too.

My Dad — at 83 — drives a black Jag. When I was 12, he had a gold Jag XKE, sex on wheels! My mother and grandmother drove sports cars into their 60s and I still mourn my beloved red two-seater convertible, a Honda Del Sol, that was stolen from our parking lot and pillaged for parts in 2003.

I saw my first super sexy sports car — a yellow Lotus — in my teens. That was it! I’m the girl who dreams of owning a Porsche Boxster, or maybe a Z4. I’d take a Mercedes or Jag if someone else picked up the payments and the maintenance costs.

But no econo-boxes!

I know, I know, it’s deeply shallow of me to care so much about what the car I drive looks like. Our Subaru is dinged and dented and gray and does its job well, for which we still appreciate it. But I am a total sucker for gorgeous, thoughtful design, whether in fashion, clothing, objects or cars. I was stuck in traffic a while back beside a Maserati — celebrity sighting!

Here’s Wall Street Journal columnist — and a fellow Tarrytown writer I see at Bella’s Diner all the time — Joe Queenan on how boooooring most cars have become:

Bond’s infatuation with his car underscores how little the average man has in common with 007 anymore. When the Bond movies first appeared in the early ’60s, the average guy might not own a Lamborghini or a Porsche or an Aston Martin, but it was still quite possible that he drove a car exuding a certain measure of style: fins, a convertible roof, a two-tone leather interior, fancy hubcaps, perhaps even wood paneling—inside and out. Because of this, he could deceive himself into thinking that there was a little bit of James Bond in all of us. Even if, like me, he was only 11 at the time.

But that was back in an era when men were men and cars were cars. Now all cars look the same. You can see it when the men come pouring out of the multiplex and pile into their automobiles. Honda Civics. Toyota Corollas. An assortment of vehicles that are putatively Ram-tough. And maybe, for the really daring, a Lexus. Which looks like an Elantra. Or a Sonata. Or an Acura.

But it doesn’t look like an Aston Martin.

don’t even get me started on the Priuses.

I myself am just as guilty of this failing as anybody. If Javier Bardem unexpectedly decided to rake my Sienna with merciless machine-gun fire, I’d say, “Be my guest. And strafe the Camry while you’re at it.” I feel the same way about the Nissan hatchback we used to own. A beige hatchback. Torch it, Javier. I’ll lend you the kerosene.

Do you love your ride? Or long for something dreamier?

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?

The armor of glamour

In aging, beauty, behavior, cities, culture, design, domestic life, Fashion, life, Style, women on October 17, 2012 at 3:38 am
Manolo Blahnik shoe (31 W 54th St - New York)

Manolo Blahnik shoe (31 W 54th St – New York) I wore Manolos on my wedding day, slingbacks like this. Divine! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you have a chance to see the new film about legendary Bazaar editor Diana Vreeland, The Eye Has To Travel, go!

You don’t have to care deeply about fashion or beauty to enjoy it, although for those of us who do, it’s a visual feast. Some of the people interviewed for this documentary include photographers Richard Avedon and David Bailey, 60’s model Veruschka, and designers Manolo Blahnik and Carolina Hererra.

Perhaps most fascinating are the brief glimpses of Vreeland-as-wife or mother. One of her two sons says, to camera, he wished almost anyone else had been his mother. Vreeland’s own mother called her ugly, so so much for maternal warmth!

Vreeland was what the French call jolie-laide, with broad, flat cheekbones, a high forehead and a personal style she honed to a very sharp edge.

She was very much self-invented, and her boldness came from a sort of social confidence that comes, to many women, from being well-married and well-employed. One interviewee recalls her sending roses to Alaska for a shoot. What Diana wanted, Diana usually got.

I spent four hours the other day sitting at Saks, at the mother ship on Fifth Avenue, to sell copies of my book “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail”, which gave me a front-row seat to some of the nation’s wealthiest and best-dressed shoppers. It was interesting to watch how carefully some women put themselves together.

I grew up around two women who cared deeply about their appearance, their figures, their clothing and hair and jewelry. For my mother and stepmother, being beautiful, thin and well-dressed was terribly important, and they disdained women who didn’t share their values. My mother modeled for the Vancouver Sun as a newlywed in her early 20s and my step-mother had studied dance seriously.

Neither woman ever attended college, so their wit, smarts and style were essential to their success.

I still remember many of their clothes and jewelry, and very much wanted to have their female self-confidence. But I left my mother’s care at 14 and my stepmother was not someone eager to share her secrets. So I had to figure out this how-to-be-pretty thing on my own.

I was also bullied for two years in high school, called Doglin by a gang of boys, which severely dinged any desire to draw attention to my physical appearance. I was smart, verbally adept and confident, and that was what (and did) would carry me through the University of Toronto, filled with whip-smart men and women, in the late 1970s, a time when second-wave feminism was in full flush and women were a lot more concerned with being smart and listened to than decorative and appreciated for their physical beauty. Thank God!

But I’ve become much more interested in glamour as I age. After 40, it’s unwise to be quite so careless about your appearance — at least if you wish to be taken seriously by your professional peers, employers and competitors.

This is, clearly, influenced by region and industry. The sort of no-make-up asexual look favored in parts of New England, or the T-shirt and jeans schlubbiness of Silicon Valley, just looks weird and unsophisticated in places like Montreal and Paris, where defined personal style is (yay!) both expected and relished.  I lived in both cities in my 20s and 30s, which changed forever my sense of style — great accessories rule!

Details do matter — a high-cut armhole and a properly hemmed trouser, a silk pocket square, a highly polished boot, freshly-trimmed hair all send a powerful message. I thrive on visual beauty and, (beyond the hopelessly selfish and vain and the dreary label-whores), simply really enjoy a man or woman who has taken the time and thought to present an attractive appearance.

When I lived in rural New Hampshire, a man once chastised me (!) for my emerald green ankle high boots for mud season because…they were not black. I moved to New York within a few months after that dreadfully boring bit of bossiness.

I love glamour, and if I were rich, would stock up on clothes by Dries van Noten, The Row, Etro and Donna Karan, my favored mix of simple minimalism and lush bohemianism. Still mourning a pair of ruby red knee-high suede boots I tossed 20 years ago.

Ladies and gentlemen, do you arm yourself with elegance?

If not, why not?

Twenty reasons I (still) love my home, 23 years later

In beauty, behavior, domestic life, life, Style, urban life on August 25, 2012 at 9:32 pm

I’ve never lived in one home this long. Ever.

Growing up in Toronto, between the ages of 3 and 30, when I left, I lived in three houses and four apartments, none of which I owned.

Between September 1982 and June 1989, I moved from Toronto-Paris-Toronto (different apartment)-Montreal-rural New Hampshire-New York.

Enough!

I moved into this one-bedroom suburban New York apartment in June 1989. It was the absolute most we could afford to buy, assuming we’d be moving into a house within a few years as my first husband’s income improved.

Not quite. Finally solvent after years of medical training, he left the apartment and the marriage within two years of our wedding. Sweet!

I stayed, damn glad I’d insisted on the pre-nuptial agreement that made sure I could.

I’m writing this on our balcony. The wind is blowing. A helicopter just buzzed straight overhead, low. I can hear crickets, and the low hum of traffic on the bridge a mile away.

Here’s why I’m still (surprisedly) happy to be here:

It’s been my emotional anchor. Since we moved in, ripping out all the ugly cat-pee-stinky carpeting, I’ve been married and divorced and remarried. I’ve had four surgeries, won and lost well-paid jobs, sold two books. Put my dog to sleep. This familiar space has comforted me with unchanging stability through it all.

The view. A tree is finally growing into our terrific view of the Hudson River. My next door neighbor and I are plotting how to trim it without having to plead hopelessly with the co-op board.

The breeze. On all but the hottest days, a delicious breeze blows through our windows, atop a high hill.

Top floor! 

The pool. I see its turquoise glimmer beckoning me through the trees. It makes me feel wealthy indeed to have access to a pool — and not have to take care of it.

Can you see it?

Wildlife. The other night a very large coyote stood barely 20 feet from me in our parking lot. Deer routinely graze on our lawn, and we hear raccoons often. We even have enormous wild turkeys on our street. All this so close to New York we can see the Empire State Building from our street.

Good neighbors. When you stay a long, long time in one spot, you get to know, like and trust — you hope! — a few of your neighbors. Here’s an essay I wrote in 2008 about my building for The New York Times.

A sense of history. I’ve seen tiny babies, once held football style in the hallways here, go off to college. I still remember, well, many of our older residents who’ve left, a few for nursing homes and far too many to the cemetery.

It’s my ever-evolving design lab. I studied interior design in the 1990s, and have changed the wall colors here many times. The front hallway began a brilliant lemon yellow, paled to a softer version, was coral for a few years and is now, best of all, a Farrow & Ball color, Gervase Yellow. My bedroom walls have gone from sponge-painted Greek taverna-wall blue to aqua to a soft gray. (If you want to make a serious, fantastic investment in your home, try F & B paint. It’s costly, but worth every penny.)

Our bathroom. Love it. I designed every inch of it — all 5 x 7 feet — from the curved wall-mounted wooden vanity to the mirror I had made by re-purposing an antique Chinese frame. Our new tub is 21 inches deep. Heaven!

Sunsets. They’re simply amazing, every one more beautiful than the rest.

An ever-changing weather movie. We see snow, hail, rain and even occasional tornados as they move south or east towards us across the Hudson River. Some mornings the fog is so thick we can’t even see our own parking lot. It’s a New York version of the classic 1857 woodblock by Hiroshige of a yudachi, a sudden summer downpour.

See what I mean?!

Low-maintenance. In the summer, our balcony plants need watering. But rarely do we need to spend for the plumber, electrician or a professional plaster and paint touch-up. I prefer having the additional time, physical energy and cash this allows.

Light! I thrive on natural light, and with large windows facing northwest, no tall buildings nearby and none ever likely to be erected, this is never an issue. Especially working at home, even the gloomiest days are not oppressive.

Less money needed for furniture/curtains/electronics/art. I’d rather own fewer, better things than inhabit a huge space that’s half-empty or jammed with junk. Living in a smaller space forces us to edit carefully, choosing only what we value, use and that truly delights our eye.

Seasonal decor. Our living room looks very different in summer than winter, as we switch out colors, designs and materials, (like a scarlet kilim rug for a white catalogne; red and yellow paisley pillow covers for white and emerald green.) It saves wear and tear on our things and gives us a fresh look to enjoy. We also move our art — photos, drawings, prints, lithos, paintings and posters — from room to room, sometimes (gallery style) putting some away for a few years so we can appreciate them anew.

A good layout. I should be sick of the same four walls. But with six discrete areas in 1,000 square feet — seven in summer with the 72 square foot balcony — I very rarely feel cramped.

We’re not “underwater.” We’re not making out like bandits, but we have equity in our home and a fixed mortgage rate that’s decent. It’s deeply un-American to stay put, and not keep moving up into larger, costlier housing.  I do sometimes long to inhabit a house again. But knowing we can weather almost every financial storm and not lose our home to some toxic mortgage or sudden jump in property taxes offers comfort in these times of such financial insecurity.

Our stone walls. The property once belonged to a wealthy land-owner who built deep, thick stone walls with jagged edges facing the street. When covered with a layer of snow, they look exactly like a row of teeth!

It’s affordable. While our monthly costs, of mortgage and co-op fees combined, might seem high to some people, they’re crazy low for New York, where $5,000 a month or more is fairly normal for a mortgage, even some rents. I was single and freelance from 1996 to 2001, and could still handle the cost, with the added benefit  of never facing a sudden rent increase or forced sale.

How do you feel about your home?

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?

Going once, going twice…the allure of auctions

In antiques, art, business, life, Money, Style on June 10, 2012 at 12:09 am

Score! Total cost $110.

Just went to my first small-town auction in ages. Score! The photo above shows my loot: a folk art horse, two Victorian transferware platters, an early Oriental rug, an early mixing bowl and a handmade wooden box.

Did I need them?

Need!?

How could I resist?

I saw in the front row with my Dad, (who scored a pile of picture frames, a lovely wooden side table and a double bed — a great wooden bed-frame for $20.) There was a serious bidding war over a set of china — that went for $2,100 — but many items went for crazy-low prices, like a gorgeous Victorian wicker rocker for $5.

You can’t buy an hour of street parking where I live for$5!

The lady behind me was thrilled to nab a Victorian platter in her great grandmother’s pattern for $20. A dealer came with her 13-year-old parrot, Winston and he hopped happily onto my hand. The woman beside us beat us out for a pair of Victorian silver plate candlesticks for her daughter’s wedding gift.

I’ve scored many of my favorite things at auctions, whether in Bath, England, Toronto, Stockholm, New Hampshire or rural Nova Scotia.

In Bath, in the 1980s when my mom lived there, I got a lovely little hand-painted pottery jug, (which perfectly fit a Melitta filter holder and became my default coffeepot), for $18. In Toronto, a gorgeous brass bed. In Stockholm, a huge black metal tray with elegantly curved edges and in New Hampshire, all sorts of things, from a senneh kilim for $50 to drawings, etchings and funky objects like early wooden candleboxes or tool trays.

I still own, use and love three painted, rush-seated chairs I bought at a Nova Scotia rural auction (and shipped home to Toronto by train.) Their original paint is alligatored, their rails and stiles weathered and worn.

My most recent major auction acquisition is a lovely teal-tinted armoire, said to be 18th. century, which — including shipping from New Hampshire to my home in New York — still cost less than junk-made-in-China-on-sale from a mass market retailer. I bid on it by phone, having only seen a small-ish color photo on their website. Talk about a blind date!

It arrived with a few unexpected scratches and cracks, but I love it.

At yesterday’s auction I saw its twin, and a lady standing beside me said, “I have one just like it. It’s really old.” So maybe mine is 18th century after all…

When I lived for a while in a small town in New Hampshire I had no friends, family, job or other distractions so for amusement I began attending a local regional auction house every Friday. I learned a lot:

what’s a marriage (two pieces of different origin, materials and/or period that have been recombined)

what local dealers wanted (early American furniture) and did not (rugs and drawings)

how to make super-quick decisions

how to trust my gut (after doing my research on periods, materials and construction)

how to decide on my top price and stick to it (buyers usually pay an additional 15 percent premium, easy to forget if you get into a bidding war)

Have you ever bought at auction?

Snag anything great?

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