First admission — we brought with us an empty duffel bag to contain our purchases, which cost us an additional 70 euros overweight charges (about $85.)
But my suitcase came in five kilos below the weight limit on our way to Ireland for three weeks’ holiday while Jose’s came in .7 kilos over, thanks to a lot of heavy camera equipment. (He is a professional photographer, after all.)
When I travel, and knowing everyone has their own style, I prefer to dress well when in European cities, (and all cities, really.)
I hate “looking like a tourist” — I saw many women my age wearing T-shirts, thick-soled running shoes and hiking clothing in a stylish urban place. Because I work alone at home in sloppy casual clothing anyway, travel offers me a nice chance to dress up. So, when in town in Dublin, I wore skirts or dresses and flat shoes. I didn’t pack a rain jacket (I find them clammy) and knew I could buy one there if I needed it — we enjoyed the driest Dublin June in 40 years!
I also would come back to our hotel sweaty and tired after a day’s exploring, so always wanted to change into fresh, clean clothing for dinner.
Jose typically wore dress shirts and khakis or nice jeans, with a great pair of Vans denim sneakers or, in the country, hiking boots. He also brought a lightweight navy blue blazer for dinners out and brought two ties.
In the country, I wore yoga pants and long-sleeved T-shirts and sneakers.
Before we left, I scored some great clothing at the Canadian store Aritizia, whose clothes are affordable, stylish, simple, comfortable and washable, perfect for travel.
three dresses (here’s one of them, although mine is a deep burgundy, which I had shipped to NY from their Chicago store)
five cotton long-sleeved T-shirts (could have done with three)
a warm fleece (Patagonia)
one short-sleeved cotton T (for working out or hiking)
one dressy black T shirt
one black duster (long jacket)
one pair of flat sandals, one pair of light mesh sneakers (Merrells), two pair of black leather flats
bathing suit (unused!)
a small portable umbrella
a pair of leggings (worn for hiking, relaxing, golf)
two pair of yoga pants (dark gray, dark brown), worn as trousers
three light sweaters, (one cardigan would have been enough)
two purses, one dressy, one casual
two necklaces and other jewelry
five scarves (very well used!)
Binoculars, a headlamp (for reading in bed) and a very tiny pocketknife (which cut a lemon into slices for our in-room end-of-day gin & tonics!) I also brought a small sketchbook, pocket-sized watercolor kit, colored pencils, several brushes and a pencil.
Depending on your budget and sense of style, I love almost everything from this American, woman-owned company, Title Nine (nope, I get nothing for saying so), from great sports bras to bathing suits to sneakers to casual/comfortable/stylish skirts and dresses perfect for summer travel.
Because I’m a voracious reader, some unread Irish and UK newspapers and magazines, (lots of story ideas in there!), guidebooks, maps.
In Dublin, on sale, Jose scored two gorgeous blazers and two shirts; in Ardara, a thick wool turtleneck sweater. We bought two copies of a book illustrated by artist Pete Hogan — whose watercolor work we admired hanging from the fence around Merrion Square one afternoon. We had a great conversation with him and he allowed me to photograph his paintbox.
I bought little in Ireland, which is unusual for me (and I did hit the sales!): a pair of olive suede sneakers, (84 euros, made in Portugal), several books, five antique forks and an antique Indian bag and a purple wool sweater for a fat five euros at the flea market.
I also bought, (yes, weirdly), a pile of great/affordable lingerie at Brown Thomas, Dublin’s poshest department store and at Marks & Spencer. Much nicer quality and lower prices than here in New York!
This was a journey documented with many photos, some of which you’ve seen here, and memories and new and renewed friendships. Ireland has many very beautiful objects for sale — from wool scarves, hats, sweaters and throws to ceramics, glass and porcelain.
Getting in and out of these three cities, and around them while staying there, can feel overwhelming. It’s not. Download whatever apps work best for you (I am not an apps person!) or, as I do, grab a few really good maps, including separate maps of the bus and subway systems. Study them in bright light at your leisure — i.e. not in the dark/wind/rain when you look like a gormless tourist inviting thieves to snatch your purse, backback, phone or suitcase.
In London and Paris, the lines have names; in Paris for the final destination, and in Paris they also have numbers. In NYC, they have numbers or letters — the L, the Q, the 4. The problem with NYC? Sometimes they go express and you’ll have to get out before the stop you had planned.
I was heartened in Paris and London to see sliding glass panels at some station platforms that open in concert with the train’s doors — which prevent the horror of suicide or homicide. In NYC, which has nothing so civilized, be careful.I can’t say this too strongly; people have been shoved onto the tracks and killed by mentally-ill people standing near them. Stand as far back as possible from the platform edge and be aware of who is near you.
Cabs cost a fortune in London, less so in Paris and are not terrible in New York. In NYC, you’ll see bright green cabs — they won’t stop for you if you’re in Manhattan as they are designated for the outer boroughs. You’ll also go crazy around 4:30 p.m. trying to hail a cab as that’s the time of shift change and many are racing to the garage.
Take the bus whenever possible. You’ll see so much more of the city and start to understand its geography. Buy a weekly transit pass in each city to save money and speed you up; in New York, you slide your Metrocard to enter the subway, dip it when entering a bus.
Remember that others work there and are weary/late/in a hurry. Don’t hog seats/space with your bags and packpack!
When walking do not, ever, walk slooooooooowly and in a large pack of bodies that spans the width of the sidewalk. It’s rude, dangerous and obstructive. Nor should you abruptly stop dead in the middle of the sidewalk or stairs or the entrance to the subway. We’re in a hurry, dammit!
It’s too easy to assume your default setting of hotel/Air BnB/couchsurfing. How about house or apartment-sitting? A home exchange?
As I blogged here earlier, I spent my three Paris weeks in two people’s homes, both of them professional photographers and photo editors, (hence, great taste!) It was so much more relaxing for me to lounge away my mornings at the kitchen table or dining table, reading the paper or a book. I was able to spread my stuff out, do laundry, cook my own meals — and listen to music as loudly as seemed prudent.
In short, I felt truly at home in a foreign city. I loved food shopping, coming home with my baguette and gooey hunk of Reblochon (cheese) and some fresh figs for breakfast. I bought several sorts of loose tea and enjoyed it as well.
Unless I can afford a really lovely hotel, I’d rather rent a place.
A whole set of blog posts on its own!
If you love antiques as much as I do, you’ll quickly suss out the best vintage stores and flea markets in these three cities; in Paris, I scored a gorgeous fedora and 80s earrings at Eponyme in the 11th and was deeply disappointed by the sky-high prices at the flea market at Clignancourt. In Manhattan, check out the East Village — East 7th and East 9th — for lots of vintage and some great indie shops; I just discovered Haberdashery on East 9th. Heaven! It has one of the best-edited collections of serious vintage I’ve ever seen.
All three cities offer boatloads of style from smart, savvy retailers, whether the fabric department in London at Liberty (swoon) or the jewelry in Manhattan at Barney’s (bring a Brinks truck full of money.) Pick a cool/chic neighborhood and spend a leisurely afternoon exploring it, whether Williamsburg in Brooklyn, Marylebone High Street in London or the 6th or Marais in Paris.
Don’t forget — you can, (as I did twice on that trip) — box and ship home your new things from the local post office or a bunch of your less-needed clothes/shoes to make room/reduce weight in your suitcase; mine weighed just one pound below the limit when I returned!
These are three of the world’s most stylish cities. Sure you can schlub around in baggy pants and white sneakers and bright pink nylon, but you might as well wave a flag shouting “Tourist!”
Many of their residents take serious pride and pleasure in how they present themselves, whether the hipsters of Willamsburg or the Sloanies of London. In NYC, assume that wearing black makes for good native camouflage; women favor a good, fresh manicure (easily acquired in many affordable nail salons), and haircut, with polish in cool dark non-frosted shades or pale.
Parisian women, and men, are justifiably known for their style and it’s easy enough to fit in if that’s fun for you. Women rarely wear prints or leggings and many sport truly eye-catching accessories — an unusual hat, a terrific muffler, interesting shoes. I rarely saw anyone wearing high heels; cobblestone streets chew them up. Many men, of all ages, also wear mufflers or scarves to add a dash of color and texture. Look for unusual color combinations and flashes of wit — a lavender sock, a tangerine pair of gloves.
London men, especially, dress with care: narrow-toe, highly-polished leather shoes, narrow trousers, a great briefcase. Women dress more eccentrically and playfully there than in Paris or New York — all black in London and Paris just feels sad and lacks imagination, while the pom-pom-studded skirt I saw on the Tube in London would raise dubious eyebrows in much of New York.
Bring an umbrella to all three cities! In a month, (late December to late January), I faced a frigid low of 33 F to a high of almost 50. London was more humid. A small umbrella, (with a sealable Ziploc bag for when it’s soaked and you need to tuck it into your bag or backpack), is a must.
To stay warm, I’m a big fan of cashmere, even socks, mitts, scarf and/or hat. Light and silky, it’s super-warm but not bulky. Add a thin layer of polypro or silk beneath your clothes on the bitterest of days. Woolen tights aren’t easy to find in the U.S. but also make a big difference.
Eating and drinking
London will bankrupt you! I have little great advice other than…expect it and bring money. I save hard for my vacations and refuse to make myself miserable, so I mix up splurges, (a cup of tea at the Ritz in London [not the full tea!] for about $10) and a cocktail in their gob-smacking gorgeous bar for $30), with a quick cheap sandwich for lunch.
Keep in mind that museums and art galleries often have excellent dining facilities; I loved my lunch at Tate Modern,
Paris restaurants typically offer a plat du jour, always less costly than dinner. For about $15 to $20, you can enjoy a hot meal of two or even three courses. Wine can be a little as five euros a glass — about $7. Enjoy!
New York City has a terrifically wide array of options, from the hautest of elegant bars and restaurants to the usual national chains like Olive Garden, Friday’s, etc. The city excels at diners, old-school, all-service restaurants whose enormous laminated menus go on for pages. Few things make me as happy as settling in at the battered Formica counter, (look for a shelf or a hook beneath it to hang your purse or pack so no one can grab it and run), and eating there. Try Neil’s, at 70th and Lexington, or Veselka, on the Lower East Side, in business since 1954.
Whatever you do, flee midtown: boring, crowded, filled with tourists.
When you’re a visitor with limited time, it’s tempting to rush around all day and forget how tired, hungry and thirsty you’ll end up. Allow for a two-hour lunch or a glass of wine or an espresso sitting outdoors in a Paris cafe — which has heaters for the winter. Slow down.
And do not keeping staring into your bloody phone. Just….be there.
Read about your city!
These might be histories, or fiction or guidebooks. I always take my London A-Z, (a highly detailed set of maps), and my Plan de Paris, (ditto), both of which are small and slide into a pocket or purse easily.
There are, of course, dozens of great blogs written by savvy, stylish people living in each of these cities whose posts will be timely and give you all sorts of fun ideas; I like Small Dog Syndrome for London and Juliet in Paris (whose August 2014 posts about London were super-helpful and detailed.)
Pick up the local newspapers; in New York, compare the New York Times, New York Post and New York Daily News to get a real picture of this city’s diversity; in London, the Guardian, Times and Daily Mail; in Paris (if you read French), Le Monde, and Liberation. The letters to the editor, alone, offer some serious insights into what people all around you are thinking and care most about.
Yes, you can read online but don’t. Go old-school and savor it.
Gives you something to tuck under your arm, and look like you belong!
I arrived in Paris on December 20 with 30 days ahead of pleasure and business, spent in two of the world’s most stylish cities, including festivities like Christmas and New Year’s. I live near New York City, so already have a big city wardrobe with a lot of black, which I knew, from previous visits, would work just fine in Paris.
But which clothes for comfort and style?
For temperatures ranging from near 50 to a frigid 33?
For business meetings in London and long afternoons walking Paris streets?
To fit into local norms?
To be comfortable out walking for hours?
I chose very few colors: black, cream, white, scarlet, purple.
My weapon of choice…
I see you eye-rolling at its cost, but cashmere can be found on sale, in thrift, consignment and vintage shops. It costs more than wool every time, but it lasts. It has the supreme value of being really, really warm but also light (i.e. not bulky) and, oh yeah, elegant.
So I brought a black cashmere T-shirt dress that hits mid-calf. The damn thing is, literally, 20 years old, and I have to keep sewing up little holes in it. But it’s the best investment I’ve ever made. A garnet-colored long-ish cashmere cardigan and a black cashmere turtle-neck.
I’m deeply regretting leaving behind several more cashmere turtleneck sweaters, (but whose colors didn’t fit the bill.)
My coat, (and I debated long and hard about the wisdom of this choice), is a black wool sweater-coat that I pin closed. Even at 33 degrees — which is damn cold! — I’ve been fine, wearing layers beneath it, a wool shawl, a wool hat and wool or lined suede gloves. I can shuck it off easily when on the Metro or stuff it into my carryall. It’s stylish, comfortable and adapts easily to any layers beneath it. (My other options were too bright and/or bulky.)
Also, two nylon T-shirts (warm but not bulky), one pair of black leggings.
Three skirts, black, scarlet and a dressier DVF one with those colors in it. Stockings in black, purple and scarlet. A black H & M cotton dress. Several pairs of comfy/warm yoga pants and a cotton sweatshirt for lounging and sleeping in. Two pretty caftans for when I’m a houseguest visiting friends in London.
Two pairs of shoes and one pair of boots, all black, all low-heeled, all comfortable and tested before I left home. I’ve been walking all day here, on wet cobblestones and pounding the Metro stairs, all good.
I did pack (hah) a set of clothes for working out, and very light gym shoes. Unused, so far!
My one concession to dressy is a very thin print silk jacket I’ll wear over my black cotton dress, add purple stocking stockings and a devore brown velvet scarf, nice for New Year’s dinner here in a restaurant.
I did laundry in the laundromat across the street — Charlie Chaplin-esque! Washing only one washer full cost eight euros, (about $12), so I skipped the additional cost of drying and used the clothes dryer, (the non-electric kind that is a rack across which you lay or hang all your clothes), in our borrowed flat.
There are sales only twice a year in Paris, in January and June. They start January 7 and I’m back here January 11 ready to run for it! I’ve already mapped out some of my targets.
French women do dress differently than Americans — a lesson I learned at 25 when I lived here for a year. They generally buy many fewer items than Americans do, take good care of them and keep them for many years.
I’ve been checking out some of my favorite shops already and you can have anything you want, as long as it’s made in black, white, camel or navy. You see, at least in better stores, few prints or clothing made badly of cheap fabric. So you buy less, spend a bit more and love it.
I also love the colors you find here that are much more difficult to find in the U.S. — navy blue, a soft neutral peach, deep emerald green and every possible shade of gray.
One of the other things that makes a long trip easier is how many shoe-repair shops line the streets here! Our NY town of 10,000 lost its only cobbler a few years ago necessitating a 10-minute drive to another town — here in the 7th arrondissement, an upscale neighborhood, there are four cobblers within a five-minute walk of this apartment.
Dry-cleaning is expensive here (which I knew) so I’m hand-washing anything delicate.
It’s been an interesting reminder how few clothes you really need and how many ways you can combine them to make a cool look.
A few wardrobe items worth buying here:
— Jewelry, especially costume. The French make amazing costume jewelry! I’m still wearing and loving pieces I bought here 20 years ago. Look for bold, unusual pieces. A trip to les puces, the flea market, (esp. Vernaison) at Porte de Clignancourt, offers fantastic options.
— Underwear. If you’re small enough! There are gorgeous colors on offer, and look for chains like Princesse Tam Tam. Much prettier than that old American standby, Victoria’s Secret. I’ve seen the most gorgeous jewel-toned lacy silks ev-uh!
— Vintage. If you’re a label-girl, you’ll find plenty of Hermes, Chanel, Issey Miyake, etc. Just bring a sack full of cash.
— Scarves. My weakness! I passed up a terrific wool piece with maps of the Megeve ski slopes at the flea market, but scored two pretty ones (so far) for $15 and $20 each.
— Shoes. I’m forever fascinated by what stylish Frenchwomen wear on their feet. My favorite pair so far this trip? Petrol green patent oxfords. You don’t see many women tottering along on stilettos, so you’ll find plenty of cool, stylish flat or low-heeled options. (I’ve got my eye on a fab pair of pony-fur desert boots.)
Sometimes work is sheer drudgery, the thing we can’t wait to flee at day’s, week’s or career’s end.
But sometimes, when we’re lucky, it’s pure joy.
A young friend of mine is traveling throughout SouthEast Asia for three months leading tours and photographing it all. She — yes, really! — fell off an elephant, and into the Mekong River in Laos recently. I awoke in suburban New York to her panicked email from the other side of world asking for my husband’s email; (he’s her mentor and a photographer.)
This week I covered three, all held in New York City, where I live — (and my feet are sore!) — interviewing their organizers and some of their many vendors.
The first show, Premiere Vision, brings together 300+ textile, lace, button and zipper manufacturers to meet the people who need their goods to make the clothes we will buy in a year from places like Marc Jacobs or Diesel or Tommy Hilfiger.
However unlikely, I spent 45 minutes at another show discussing…pockets.
As in: the fabric used to line pockets, specifically of jeans and jackets. I loved this pair of shorts, showing how creatively one can use these fabrics.
At PV, there’s a whole section of people selling their designs, some of which I now realize adorn my workout clothing — for $500 or $700 you buy their design outright and can use it in whatever way suits your needs. Another few vendors sell scraps of vintage wallpaper and fabric that end up used for pillows by Crate & Barrel and other major retailers.
As someone obsessed with textiles and a student of design, this is the most paid fun imaginable — getting to see and touch gorgeous fabrics, meet smart, cool designers and see how it all comes together.
Occasionally, I review a week in the life of a full-time writer, me.
That’s a whole week ago, so I can barely remember. Finished up a fact-checking job for another writer, someone I’ve never met who lives in Florida, whose book is a series of brief biographies. A story I’d written for the Wall Street Journal — whose income, as always, I rely on — was abruptly killed, an overnight loss of $600. Shit.
In an online members-only writers’ forum, I saw the plea for fact-checking help and, for $25/hour, jumped in. I made up $500 of that lost $600 with a week’s phoning, emailing and on-line research, even though I’d never fact-checked before. Much of my work now means jumping, without hesitation or fear, into media and projects I have zero experience with.
But now I have to let all the people I interviewed for the WSJ piece know they’re not going to get the mention they had hoped for. One of the problems of writing for a living that’s rarely discussed publicly is managing your sources, without whom you have nothing to write about. I hate wasting people’s time and now have to share this disappointing news with them. I fear it make me look incompetent, when a killed story happens maybe 1% of the time.
Off to cover a trade show in Manhattan, at the (ugh) Javits Center, the massive conference center at the western edge of the city. I hate Javits! This is the third year in a row I’ve attended the National Retail Federation’s Big Show, an annual event that brings every possible vendor of anything interesting to a retailer — scanners, training programs, scheduling software, PLM (product life management) software. It’s basically an annual arms race, in which one or several Big Box retailers adopts a specific system, the vendor touts their win, and competitors think “Hmmmm, maybe we need this as well.”
The center is so huge that even walking to the bathroom or coat check is a hike; one vendor wearing a pedometer tells me she walked 10 miles there in one day.
I run around the place interviewing the eight people I’ve been asked to meet. Some use acronyms I’ve never heard — PLM, RFID — and I’m dancing as fast as I can. RFID turns out to be, (to me anyway), fascinating, radio frequency identification, which embeds every paper clothing tag with a device that can be read from a distance without opening a box to check inventory. (OK, I guess I’m a systems geek.)
Having worked retail for 2.5 years as an associate for The North Face — the subject of my book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” — and having to slash open huge boxes of clothing with a box cutter, (talk about inefficient and dangerous), I’m really intrigued by this efficient new system. But it’s expensive — 7 to 8 cents per tag — and I realize how much cost our clothing prices include that we never see or know about.
I leave Javits at 4:00 pm, into pouring rain. Of course, there are no cabs at the taxi rank and a long line of miserable people waiting. My feet are killing, me but I hoof it another four long, wet blocks to the bus stop to catch the crosstown bus to Grand Central to catch the train home.
So excited! Today I’m attending another trade show in the city, for the same editor, someone in a distant state I’ve also never met, (typical of my worklife). This show is a lot smaller, and a lot more fun, a combination of textile manufacturers and designers whose own paintings and digital prints designers buy, then use in their own collections. Glam-looking professionals, all in chic bits of black, cluster on the sidewalk clutching their coffees, waiting for the doors to open at 9:00 a.m.
Two dozen of us watch an hour-long video of spring/summer 2015 trends: pale colors, lots of mesh, netting, lace and transparent fabrics. Neon is out, kids! I run around the show until 5:00 interviewing the people on my list. Many are French, so I speak the most French I have in ages, which I love. I see spectacularly beautiful silk, lace, wool, mesh and satins and recognize the names of some Very Big fashion labels on the buyers selecting their choices. One designer of amazing patterns, which you can buy, own and use exclusively for $625, tells me that one of my favorite women’s activewear companies uses many of his designs.
I’ll never look at a piece of clothing quite the same way again. This is why journalism is so addictive. In one day, I’ve enjoyed: meeting a pile of highly creative people; gotten to use my language skills; learned a great deal about this industry and made some useful new contacts for future stories and projects. What’s not to like?
Time to bang out two 1,000-word stories, due this evening to my editor in California. No pressure!
I also call and email editors whose payments to me — as is now typical — have not arrived, even weeks later. While 30 days is normal, the pace of my production is much faster now, and waiting for a month for something I have to bang out within a day or two seems ridiculous. At this point, I have pennies in my bank account, bills are due and I have to start using my line of credit. (I have significant retirement savings and another emergency fund with six months’ expenses, but a short-term cash flow issue is not, in my mind, an emergency. I keep those funds in case, God forbid, I simply can’t work at all for a period of time, to be able to keep contributing the amount my husband relies on every month for our expenses and savings.)
A freelancer who can’t pay their bills on time is someone whose business, health and reputation are at risk. I’ve had a bank line of credit — $16,000 worth — for more than a decade. When I call and email editors, my tone needs to be breezy, relaxed, happy, not someone desperate for any assignment. (Even if it might be true!)
I email and call half a dozen editors, print and on-line, to check on the progress of my pitches to them. A pitch I’ve sent to one Marie Claire editor comes back, suggesting another editor there, and possibly a better fit for a competing magazine. I try the second MC editor and decide to give it a week before trying the competitor.
Exhausted. Between writing, blogging, tweeting and FB, I feel like my eyes are going to melt. I should jump at once into my next story, a long personal essay for Good Housekeeping, but I desperately need a day to myself and off the damn computer. I’m also physically spent from two crazy days of walking and non-stop interviewing.
I have an eye exam and discover — which I knew — I finally need reading glasses. The optometrist is a woman my age who tells me I’ve dodged that bullet a decade longer than most.
I get an email, out of the blue, from a source in California I’d interviewed last year for my (unsold) book proposal, asking me (!) to possibly speak at their annual conference. I give her an idea what that will cost and hope it will come through. I enjoy public speaking and it’s the easiest money I now earn.
I drive to Greenwich, a super-wealthy Connecticut town about 20 minutes east of us, to pick up a gallon of my favorite, spendy, British-made paint, Farrow & Ball. We’re having a new contact over for dinner — someone who might (!) send me on a very cool research trip for her organization — so we want the apartment spotless. I splurge on some gorgeous fresh flowers, white nerines, orange tulips and some greenery, and pick up the food for the dinner. I’d hoped to make filet mignon but at $29/lb. (!!!!) choose pork chops instead.
The show is fairly large, and the images — of immigrants arriving at Ellis Island in 1905, of child labor in 1915, of African Americans in the 1920s — are powerful, some of them very familiar. A former schoolteacher, Hine became the pre-eminent photographer of his era, capturing slices of life that were damning and which prompted social change. Yet he died broke and unknown.
I wonder what impels us to do the work we do, to care as deeply as we do, if this is to be our inglorious end.
Our dinner is a lot of fun; our guests have lived and worked in Europe, the U.S. and Africa, so we have lots of stories to share, from the White House (my husband was a NYT photographer there for 8 years) to Rwanda.
Pooped! A day to sleep, recharge, catch up with my husband, himself a busy, tired NYT photo editor, and read four newspapers — the WSJ, two days of the NYT and the weekend Financial Times.
I bang out this blog post, trying not to freak out about the coming week: bills due, no checks (yet) and a 2,000 word piece due on Thursday I haven’t had a minute to start work on.
Loved this blog post, from dressaday, by brilliant Bay area writer and dictionary editor Erin McKean, about why women don’t have to be pretty — unless they choose to:
You Don’t Have to Be Pretty. You don’t owe prettiness toanyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female”.
I’m not saying that you SHOULDN’T be pretty if you want to. (You don’t owe UN-prettiness to feminism, in other words.) Pretty is pleasant, and fun, and satisfying, and makes people smile, often even at you. But in the hierarchy of importance, pretty stands several rungs down from happy, is way below healthy, and if done as a penance, or an obligation, can be so far away from independent that you may have to squint really hard to see it in the haze.
And this essay from The Wall Street Journal by an Iranian writer, Marjan Kamali, about returning to her homeland, where every woman she meets urges her to pretty up:
The first thing we noticed as we strolled to a fancy shopping mall were the couples. Young women in bright tunics and scarves that slipped back to show their hair walked with guys in jeans and tight T-shirts. The women’s eyes were accentuated with eyeliner and shadow…Their nails were red and green and hot pink.
“I didn’t know they were allowed boyfriends here,” my daughter said. “I didn’t think they could do lipstick.”…
Later that evening, over a feast of jeweled rice and walnut and pomegranate stew at my aunt’s home, we caught up on family and politics. Suddenly my aunt said: “I can take you if you want.”
“Take me where?” I asked.
“To our best beauty salon.”
“I didn’t come here for a beauty salon.”
“As you wish,” she sniffed. “But what is this look that’s no look that you have?”
At another relative’s house, it was the housekeeper who pulled me aside. “Madam,” she whispered. “Those eyebrows. Please. You’re a mother of two. You need to be tweezed.”
My naked face stood out among a sea of lipsticked and glamorous Tehranis glowing under their hijabs. The surprise bordering on concern at my un-made-up ways was everywhere. “Why don’t you wear more makeup?” asked women whose cheeks were caked with foundation. “What do you have against lipstick?”
In Tehran, it turned out, the standards for fashion and appearance were extremely high. Women dieted and went to Pilates and yoga. Though by law they had to cover up outside their homes, many women rebelled, especially the young. They let their head scarves slip as far back as they could and wore tunics that, while not revealing any skin, were vivid and tight. And they obsessed about their faces, moisturizing and plucking and exfoliating.
And this, from Danish blog Rebelle Society, one I recently discovered:
Brace yourself, beautiful.
We’ve now entered the PhotoShop era, where a fanciful fiction of fairness leads to a fall down the rabbit hole of deception and discontent, all designed by an ad executive who will tell the world what your ass should look like in those $300.00 jeans.
If you’ve got time to watch it, this new British documentary about six extraordinary women — ages 70s to 91, including an active choreographer and the oldest woman in the House of Lords — is lovely. Each is stylish in her own way, from the Baroness visiting her hair salon of 30 years to the defiantly confident Bridget, who visits Vogue to see if they’d like to hire her as a model.
They each have terrific elan and confidence, and none is Botoxed or rolling in bags of cash. The film is 47 minutes long, and worth every minute.
Pretty is as pretty does.
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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.
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.”
Some days it seems everyone I meet is afraid of getting old — or at least of looking as old as they are. Occasionally, I see women who have had so many face lifts that they can barely move their lips when they talk, let alone smile.
Business is booming in the anti-aging market. Plastic surgeons who specialize in lifts, tucks and fillers barely noticed the recent recession. Cosmetics with anti-aging properties fly off the shelf, and new concoctions appear almost weekly.
I admit to supporting the multibillion-dollar skin care industry with my long use of night creams, as well as a slew of daytime facial and body lotions that purport to “smooth out” aging skin while protecting it with sunscreen. I also color my hair, which in its natural state is now about 80 percent gray.
But I draw the line at injectable fillers and muscle relaxants, face lifts and tummy tucks. I’ll do everything I can to stay out of an operating room.
I’m with her on that. I also really like her emphasis on who you are are as you age, not just the shape, size and condition of our bodies and faces:
Youthfulness is not just a question of biology. People are perceived to be younger than their years if they smile and laugh a lot (be proud of those laugh lines!) and are generally cheerful and upbeat, the kind of people who smile at strangers and wish them a good day.
People often guess me as 10 to 15 years younger than my true age, which is pleasant. This week, a NYC cabbie guessed me 13 years younger, and young people looking at me in broad daylight (i.e. their eyesight is fine!) do so as well.
If people perceive me a decade younger than some of my peers, it’s likely a combination of things:
— I’ve never smoked
— I get a lot of sleep
— I disconnect, often, from technology to meet people in person, read books in print, get into the real world
— I minimize my use of social media (however hip) to recharge and reflect
— I enjoy my life, and have a wide network of supportive friends
— I only drink moderately
— I exercise 3-4 times a week, often outdoors in nature
— I have much younger friends, some even in their early 20s, and love being part of their lives
— I’ve never hit rock-bottom, terrifying poverty, the kind where you have no idea where your next dollar, or dime, is coming from. Terror and 24/7 anxiety will age anyone quickly.
Here’s a great post from Emma Johnson, aka Wealthy Single Mommy, a fellow New York journalist, who is 36, about accepting and enjoying how our bodies change with age:
In the past year or so I’ve noticed other first, albeit subtle signs of aging: The large pores. A second glass of pinot grigio at night and I wake to extra-dark circles and creping under my eyes. The cellulite that has hugged the back of my thighs since I was 12 has spawned and now also covers the front of my thighs. After two babies and four decades, I don’t expect to see a flat tummy again. Everyone knows bodies age, yet are surprised when it happens to theirs. Here I am.
And yet for the first time in my life, I see something else that wasn’t there before. When I see pictures of myself smiling I notice the fine laugh lines, yes. There is something else in my whole face that is new. The same thing when I catch a reflection of my eyes in the rear-view mirror as I glance at my children sleeping in the backseat. I see the crow’s feet at the same moment and I see a pretty face. I did not see pretty before. It may have never been there, I’m not sure.
We now have a small army of male archetypes suffering sartorial midlife crises.
There’s the man still padding around dressed like the 28-year-old Silver Lake hipster—Vans, Daft Punk tee, thigh-hugging jeans—he was a decade ago. His proliferation is easy to understand, because his style requires no effort. Change nothing. No wonder he has numerous stuck-in-time siblings, like his urban-styled brethren.
Women, certainly in the U.S., are judged harshly when we’re not deemed sufficiently thin, perky and unwrinkled — which rules out plenty of us over 40, let alone 50.
It also focuses way too much attention on the size of our hips or ass when we really need to focus attention on the size of our paychecks and investments for retirement.
Active, curious,open minds and generous hearts are every bit as important — and generally far more within our control — as the inevitable ravages, and sometimes really lousy luck, faced by an aging body.
Some of the coolest women I know live in my apartment building, like M. who’s 80 — and feels about 60 — with fab clothes and a pompadour, a booming laugh and a spirit that still kicks ass.
I want to be her.
When you look in the mirror — especially those of you over 30 — are you happy with what you see?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?