Coming to New York? Go here!

English: Interior of Oyster Bar Restaurant, in...
English: Interior of Oyster Bar Restaurant, in Grand Central Terminal, New York City, USA. Photographed by Daniel Case 2006-12-29 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve lived in New York since 1989, in a suburb just north of the city. Ironically, I often introduce my city-dwelling friends to places they’ve yet to discover there.

I spent the weekend in the city, borrowing a friend’s apartment while they are away.

It’s a holiday weekend here and the city is filled with tourists — maybe even some of you!

Here’s my short and highly personal list of things I think worth discovering, some well-known, others much less so; you’ll notice these are mostly adult-only.

Many are old-school, 100+ years old and still going strong.

Feel free to add your suggestions!

Bars

The Pegu Club: elegant, a long gorgeous wooden bar, delicious old-school cocktails, on Houston. (pronounced HOW-ston street.)

Temple Bar: been there forever, marked only by a small white lizard light in the wall. The best bar for a sexy first date, it’s tiny, dark, cosy, grown-up.

King Cole Bar: in the St. Regis Hotel, on Fifth Avenue. Do NOT arrive in jeans, hoodie, sneakers. Dress up and enjoy the fantastic mural by Maxfield Parrish behind the bar.

Old Town: I love this place. Opened in 1892, its wooden booths and super-steep staircase are a step back in time.

McSorley’s Ale House: Originally open only to men, this scruffy spot in the East Village has been around since 1854.

Fanelli’s: Cut glass doors, tiny tables, a back room, a mix of tourists, businessfolk, NYU students, this one’s been going since 1863.

The bar at Fanelli’s

Dublin House: Dive bar!

Restaurants

Brabant Brasserie: Why eat Belgian food in NYC? Because it’s delicious, well-served and well-priced. I ate there three times in three weeks after discovering it this year. The East 50s are a food desert, so this is a real find for the area.

Lucky Strike/Pastis/Schiller’s/Balthazar: All owned by the same man, and all sharing a stylish weathered charm. Settle in at the bar with a magazine and a cold beer and watch the beautiful people (at Balthazar and Pastis) in those oversized antiqued mirrors.

The Red Cat: One of my favorites. Welcoming, good food, a pretty room, an old-timer with charm.

Toloache: We love this place! I’ve been coming here since it opened and its chef not yet well-known. A two-level room with an enormous mural of tile, gorgeous cut-tin hanging lanterns, welcoming service and such great food. This is Mexican food at its delicate, small-portioned finest. Good before the theater; right at the corner of 50th. and Eighth Avenue. (pronounced Tolo-ah-chay.)

The Oyster Bar: In the bowels of Grand Central Station (see below,), sit beneath Guastavino’s curved tile ceiling and enjoy an oyster pan roast or fish stew. Check out the overhead lights with their fleets of boats — shown in the photo with this post. Born in Valencia, Spain, Guastavino invented this handsome form of curved ceilings, patented in the U.S. in 1885.

The Hungarian Pastry Shop: Fuel up here with hordes of Columbia University students with an espresso and strudel. Then cross the street and visit the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

La Grenouille: Oh, go on. It’s wickedly expensive, but this is one of the classic New York City experiences: quiet, slow, delicious. It’s set into a former townhouse and opened in 1962. Huge floral arrangements, waiters in waistcoats. The real deal.

Museums

The Tenement Museum: This is truly a don’t-miss, if you want to understand something of this city’s history, and how America came to be. Tenements were narrow apartment buildings with shared bathrooms where many working-class immigrants settled after arriving in New York, fresh off the boat from Europe. The museum re-creates the period look of three families’ homes. Moving, emotional, this place isn’t — like most museums — a celebration of wealth and power.

The Japan Society: I so love this place. The building has an interior garden and pond. Their current exhibition, of Japanese Art Deco, is fantastic — on until June 10. The block also holds the UN’s church, a stunning 1960s period piece right next door.

The Neue Galerie: I’m crazy for Secessionist art, which is what you’ll find here in an exquisite Beaux Arts mansion. Have a coffee or lunch in its lovely Cafe Sabarsky and read a newspaper tucked into one of the classic wooden reading rods. Heaven! (pronounced Noy-uh Galerie)

New-York Historical Society. Check out their current exhibition — on beer-making in the state, with samples at the end! — on until September 2. Here’s a review of it.

Stores

Bergdorf Goodman: Such gorgeous stuff. (The Men’s store is across the street) The Fifth floor is marginally more affordable. Great shoe department. Eat in the cafe and sit in one of their adorable balloon chairs with the ladies-who-lunch. Elegant, old-school, fantastic views.

Macy’s: Still has wooden escalators. This place is enormous and exhausting, but offers a tremendous selection. Its red star on every shopping bag is a tribute to R.H. Macy, the former 19th. century whaler who had a red star tattooed on his hand before going into the retail biz.

Who doesn’t need a pop-up ES Building and a few taxis?

J. Crew: Not a New York company, but well-loved by the classicists/preppies among us. Cardigans, ballet flats, great shirts and T-shirts in the softest of cottons. The flagship at 44th and Madison is worth a stop. Men and women’s clothing.

Chelsea Market: This converted biscuit factory at 15th. and 10th Avenue is now an afternoon’s worth of fun: fantastic food shops, bakeries, florists, chocolate, a bookstore, a flea market. Love this place!

Aedes de Venustas: If you love exotic and unusual fragrances, this is not to be missed. Christopher Street has lots of lovely shops and this one offers brands you’ve never heard of. (No idea how to pronouce this one!)

Grand Central Station: This glorious Beaux Arts building, from 1905, has a brilliant turquoise curved ceiling with the constellations painted on it in gold. It’s where commuter trains arrive from New York and Connecticut. Renovated in the 1990s, it now houses a terrific array of shops and an excellent food court downstairs with Italian, Mexican and Indian food, among others. Posman Books is a fantastic indie bookshop; Cursive offers lovely gifts and Papyrus has gorgeous stationery. Try the Junior’s cheesecake. Yum!

Paul Stuart: OMG. Stroll through, quietly humming “If I were a rich man”….Triple-ply cashmere in jewel colors, gorgeous jackets, shirts, shoes. I want it all. An affordable piece are their knotted silk cuff-links. Men’s mostly, some women’s.

Brooks Brothers: I’ve been shopping at B-squared since I used to smuggle their cotton shirts back into Canada. Classic, great quality, this is an old-school piece of New York. Nothing is wildly fashionable, but the look is elegant and understated. You can find almost anything you need here, from a great-looking umbrella with a bamboo handle to a dopp kit to a silk scarf or a polo shirt for your 8-year-old nephew. Men,women, kids.

Tiffany: Oh, all right. I never go there because the tourist crowds are insane. But the place is gorgeous and the upper floors offer more affordable options. A sterling Tiffany keyring, $125, is a pretty cool souvenir.

ABC Carpet and Home: Not cheap, but well worth a visit, if only to the main floor. Lots of lovely items, from candles to stationery to china.

Edith Machinist. Go! One of the city’s best vintage stores, on Rivington Street in Nolita. Tons of great shoes, boots and purses. I scored a silk Genny dress (from the 1980s) for $180 five years ago…That was a bloody fortune in my world, but I’ve gotten a ton of wear out of it. Love this place.

Fishs Eddy: So fun! Pick up some glassware or a platter decorated with New York designs. Cheap, great quality.

C. O. Bigelow Apothecary.  If you can’t find it here, you don’t want it. Founded in 1838, it offers lots of great fragrances, Roger & Gallet soaps, Marvis toothpaste, even lovely jewelry and headbands. But no photos allowed! The staff is a little ferocious, but go anyway.

Porto Rico Coffee & Tea. I never fail to leave PR without a pound of Earl Grey tea or a mug or some allsorts or a pound ($9.99) of freshly-ground cinnamon or pumpkin spice coffee. Huge burlap sacks overflow with coffee beans and enormous battered tea tins line the walls. Pick up an iced cappuccino 0r, as I did this weekend, a fab string bag for your goodies, in a rainbow of colors, for a big…$5. Best part? Two large benches outside to sit on and watch Bleecker street parade by. This place has been in biz for 105 years. I hope it lasts another 105 more!

Don’t miss this one!

Yaso. Most stores in pricy Soho come and go with lightning speed — this one has been here since the 1980s. Women’ clothing only, the style is European, edgy, minimal, in linen, wool, silk. Clothing in neutrals: gray, black, cream, brown, tan with some great jewelery and scarves. Be prepared to spend — you won’t find much less than $175-350+ but these are investment pieces you’ll wear and enjoy for years to come.

Global Table. Run! If you love beautiful glasses, dishes, trays, anything tabletop.

Here’s a list of 38 indie stores here, 13 of which are in Brooklyn, from RackedNY. The list is brand-new. I have to confess, I don’t think I’ve been to any of them…But I’m not a huge shopper, have very specific taste and am larger than a size 12, which probably means a lot of their stuff isn’t for me. But accessories, yes…

My life in 10 objects

Have you heard BBC Radio’s The History of the World in 100 Objects?

I’m addicted!

It’s based on 100 objects in the enormous collection of the British Museum, and I’ve so far heard the fascinating backstories of a Mayan lintel, an Anglo-Saxon helmet and a Korean roof tile; you can download all of them from the link above.

If you’re as much a fan of history, global culture and design as I am, you’ll love it.

This series also made me wonder which 10 objects might somehow sum up my life so far, and how they have shaped or reflected my own history. These are not the only ones, certainly, but each reveals a facet of my character and what matters most to me in life..

1964

Olympic badges from Tokyo

My father went to Japan to make several documentaries and brought me back some cloth badges from the Olympics. I was only seven, but seeing them made concepts like foreign travel, Japan and the Olympics alluringly real to me. It also piqued my  insatiable curiosity about the rest of the world — the hallmark of the rest of my life, really. (I still haven’t made it to an Olympics or to Japan though.)

1966

My Canadian passport

I was maybe seven or eight when I first recall using my own passport, and my first solo trip I remember was flying from Toronto to Antigua. I love being able to move freely between countries.

1960s

Two bears and a bunny

And yes, I still have them…photo of two of them above! The bunny was a gift from my maternal grandmother one Easter and his battered remnants are in the back of my closet. He was so stitched and repaired by the end he was practically transparent. He saw me through some tough times as an only child with no sibs to commiserate with.

The tiny bear is perfectly pocket-sized and kept me lucid and sane through yet another boarding school church service. The larger white bear looks a lot like (!?) my paternal grandmother. Don’t ask me how. He just does. He’s been all over the world with me, even in recent years, and is a very good travel companion. I imagine he has much amused TSA agents and chambermaids.

1970

Acoustic guitar

I attended summer camp in northern Ontario and every Sunday we put on a talent show that anyone brave enough to step onto the stage — in front of the whole (all girls) camp — was welcome to try. Thanks to my guitar and some crazy self-confidence, I did it often and sang songs I’d written. The welcome I received taught me to not be so scared to try new things or in front of a crowd.

1974

Pentax SLR camera

Loaned to me by a friend of my father who knew I had a budding and passionate interest in photography. I sold three color images of the city — one of our garage! — to Toronto Calendar magazine, a monthly — while still in high school for $300, a fortune in 1975 and still a pile ‘o dough. Discovering so young that my work had some commercial value gave me the courage to start freelancing as a (self-taught) shooter and I sold a photo to Time Canada when I was still in college.

1982

Carte de sejour

This little pink piece of cardboard, the official French document allowing me the legal right to live there for a while, was my ticket to the best year of my life, on a journalism fellowship based in Paris. I spent eight months living, learning and traveling on their dime (or franc!) and studied with 27 peers, all of us aged 25 to 35, from 19 countries, from Japan to Brazil to New Zealand. I’m still in touch with a few of them. That year taught me the true meaning of one of my favorite words — se debrouiller (to be resourceful, to figure it out on your own.)

1988

Green card

As the then unmarried child of an American citizen, my mother, I was able to apply for, and get, a “green card”, also known as an alien registration card.  I am a registered alien. That card gives me the legal right to live and work (although not vote) in the U.S.

2002

Softball glove

I started playing softball with a local group of fellow suburbanites, men and women ages 18 to 70-something, which includes a cantor, several psychiatrists, college professors, an orthopedic surgeon, a pastry chef and a retired ironworker. These people know me better than almost anyone here in New York. I usually play second base and can hit to the outfield.

I love having an activity that’s outdoors, social, athletic, fun, builds skills and is competitive enough to be energizing but mellow enough to be enjoyable.

Here’s my New York Times essay about my gang.

2009

A pink and orange polka-dot apron

I love to cook and to entertain and a big, pretty apron is a must! I bought this one, in such deliciously French colors, at one of my favorite Paris stores, BHV. If you visit Paris, check it out.

If you were to select a few items that could explain your life to those who don’t know you personally, what would they be and why?

It’s my body and I’ll change it any way I like

English: An ethnic Adivasi woman from the Kuti...
Image via Wikipedia

Loved this piece in The New York Times about women going seriously blond after chemotherapy:

A decade ago, the women who came to see Ms. Dorram, then at John Frieda, after chemo or radiation therapy did so furtively. They removed their wigs in the bathroom or booked early morning appointments so they didn’t have to be in a room with healthy clients.

“You feel vulnerable,” said Ms. Kreek, who met Ms. Dorram at John Frieda, when she returned to blond after her first round of chemotherapy in 2003. “You don’t want to come into a room with ladies with tons of hair, going, ‘I liked it when you did that last time.’ It’s like, ‘Shut up.’ ”

Now, for many women who have lost hair during cancer treatments, dyeing is empowering — and doing it in an open, chatty session makes it all the better. “They’re feeling good again,” said Alexis Antonellis, a colorist at Oscar Blandi who often sees clients who want hair colored after chemotherapy. “They want to go back to who they were. They’re so excited to sit back in the chair and get their life back. It’s really nice. You’ve got to see the smiles.”

I decided in December 2011 it was time to finally replace my arthritic left hip. I was, frankly, terrified of the whole thing. Four kinds of anesthetic? Three days in the hospital? A six-inch scar? Shriek.

A whole parade of strangers would soon be all over, and inside, my body. For a control freak like me, this was a little much.

So, after 20+ years as a (highlighted) blond, I went back to being a redhead — again. The last time I’d been red was in the 1980s, at the end of my crazy, fun-filled 20s.

Going decisively and suddenly red was also empowering.

I needed the surgery but I wanted a new look. When you’re about to face, or have just faced, a whole pile of medical intervention you really crave  doing something to your own body that’s fun and painless — and totally of your choosing.

(I’m not one for tattoos or piercings, so what else was left?)

I’m loving the new color, and have had nothing but compliments on it; a photo of me/it is on the “welcome” and “about” pages here.

Have you ever made a radical change to your appearance as a way to take charge — maybe at a shaky time in your life?

Did it help?

Light A Candle

Candle light
Image via Wikipedia

Do you ever wonder what life was like before we — in the more developed world at least — took electricity for granted?

Mirrors mattered, for their ability to reflect and magnify every available source of light. The crystal prisms of chandeliers amplified the glow of candles — chandelles, hence chandelier.

Candles were carefully trimmed and hoarded.

Traveling through inky darkness, whether by horse, carriage, boat or on foot, was a perilous undertaking as pirates, animals and highwaymen lay in wait. Not to mention perilous roads and conditions.

One of my favorite movie scenes ever is in Cabaret, when Sally and Brian sit on the floor in a room exclusively lit by candles.

I often start these long, cold, murky winter days by lighting candles on the shelf beside our bed. It’s a gentle way way to ease into the day, without the sudden, harsh illumination — wake up!!!! — of simply snapping on a light.

It’s also a lovely way to soothe yourself after a crazy, beeping, buzzing, over-caffeinated day. I love the snap of the match, the delicate blue moment of a wick lighting up, the surprising amount of light a cluster of candles does offer, enough to read by — preferably something written in the 18th. century!

We light candles every evening as we sit down to eat, votives whose glow softens the room.

When I visited Stockholm in late November — where the sun rose at 8:30 and was gone by 2:30 — candles were everywhere, even on the restaurant tables at lunch, creating a wholly different, (softer, gentler), mood for even the men in their suits having business lunches.

There is something centering and calming about staring into the flickering flame of a candle.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes!

Approaching Thunderstorm on the Hudson River, ...
Image via Wikipedia

It’s about time!

In the past few weeks, I’ve ditched a whole pile ‘o stuff I’ve been hanging on to — for 20 years.

Books I never opened netted me $70 from a used book store. I’m planning to open up an Etsy site to sell antique and vintage items, many of which I’ve collected and want to get rid of.

I love the word that museums use — de-accessioning — for the necessary process of pruning and, if you’re able to, upgrading the quality of what you own. So much more elegant than “dumping stuff.”

I moved to New York 22 years ago, filled with ambition and hope and excitement about finally coming to the place my mother was born, the center of my industry — journalism and publishing — certain there was a place for me here. It’s been a sobering experience, and success proved much tougher to achieve than I could possibly have imagined. Three recessions didn’t help!

And, having been single, self-employed and penurious for six years after my divorce, (before meeting my now-husband, who moved in with me), I clung to the things I owned, not at all sure when, or if, I would ever be able to replace them. As Jose compassionately noted, I was in survival mode. Letting go of my things, no matter how old or worn out, I admit with embarrassment, isn’t easy.

But 20 years is a really long time to cling to a look or style or set of beliefs that worked for me (if they really did), in 1992, the year I got married to my first husband (who was out the door two years later.)

I’ve been blond for 20 years. Now I’m a redhead; new headshot soon to come.

In our one-bedroom apartment, we’ve ditched two deep, heavy armchairs, a folding screen, a corner unit holding media equipment. I’ve re-painted a low bookcase a pale yellow (from deep olive green) and bought a new tiny glass-base lamp from West Elm to add a bit of gleam.

I want more air and light in here. Ages ago, in a fit of DIY design, I had a piece of glass cut, beveled and frosted to use as a console table. I never put it together, but now it’s time.

It takes confidence in the future, and optimism about what will happen there, to let go of the old, making physical and psychic room for the new.

What changes are you planning to make in your home or life for 2012?

Decorating The Tree

English: A bauble on a Christmas tree.

I’m sitting right beside our tree as I type this and ooooh it makes me happy!

I love the smell and the temporary presence of a green, tall visitor in the corner. Sitting at the very top are two small bears, one white and very well-loved, who’s been a part of my life since I was about three. Another bear, brown, sits up there, and a white wool Arctic hare that Jose bought me for Christmas a few years ago.

We have the usual glittery glass balls, stars, a Santa (albeit with a baseball bat!). But our tree, like most people’s, has several items that are near and dear to us:

— a strand of papier mache chile peppers, testament to Jose’s New Mexico roots (his grandfather, Pedro Lopez, even started and ran a chile powder company in Topeka, Kansas)

— a small daguerrotype of a young man looking very serious, a tribute to our shared love for, and careers in, photography and my love of antiques

— several carved wooden airplanes — we love to travel!

— small beaded ornaments made by the Maasai of Kenya, a place I visited when I was 26, one of the best trips of my life

— a homemade ornament with a sepia photo of skaters at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan. I love to skate and we live just north of the city

— a few of the many annual ornaments created of The White House; Jose served in the press corps there for 8.5 years, and covered Reagan, G.H.W Bush and Clinton. On one of our first dates (!) we visited the White House, took our photos while standing at the pres-room podium — and even saw the Oval Office, where the President works. Very cool.

— a small red set of identification papers belonging to a man whose life may or may not have ended around the time Jose found it — while photographing during Christmas 1995 in the mountains of Bosnia, in a former ski chalet that had been turned into a field hospital. We add it to our tree to honor this unknown man, and all war photographers.

What are the ornaments on your Christmas tree that have special significance for you?

Pleats?!

Clown trousers
Even worse! Image by Eleventh Earl of Mar via Flickr

It takes some kind of skill to totally piss off your husband with one word. And a word that’s G-rated.

But I did.

Poor Jose. The other morning my first word when I saw him dressed for work in beige gabardine trousers was the P-word, uttered in horror.

Pleats?!”

Shoot me. I’m shallow like that.

We live near, and work in, New York City, a place where the streets are filled with people whose style, income and devotion to looking good can be a little overwhelming. Every time I head into Manhattan, I have to up my game a little. People you hope to work with size you up within seconds.

So when I see my husband wearing a pair of pants that screams 1986, I scream too.

It made for a very tense day. No man wants to be criticized for his fashion sense. But Jose also runs a wedding photography business and some potential clients may see things as I do.

The sad truth is that every time we step out the door we’re being judged by how we look.

Whatever your style statement — including the fact you can’t be bothered making one — it’s saying something to others about you.

If you hope to compete, and win, it matters, (even you personally couldn’t give a rip.)

How much does appearance — yours and others’ — matter to you?

Second Thoughts On Style

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few addenda to how to achieve it:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


What style (re)sources have you found useful?

The Secrets Of Ageless Style

Emblem from Symbolicarum quaestionum.
However appealing, naked is rarely a practical option! Image via Wikipedia

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

What do I wear now?

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

Not so much.

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

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

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

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

A la francaise

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

Accessories

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

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

A tailor

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

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

Consignment shops

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

Vintage

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

Grooming!

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

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

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

Confidence

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

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

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

A personal shopper

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

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

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

What Decade — Or Century — Do You Smell Like?

A Horse With No Name

A woman ran down the subway stairs past me, leaving a trail of Anais, Anais, the first fragrance created by French fashion house Cacharel.

Boom. It’s 1982. and I’m living in Paris and that’s the scent my then-beau gave me, an intense floral.

If a man trails Kouros, my knees weaken. The guy who gave me the Anais, Anais wore it. Sigh.

The night I met Jose, aka the sweetie, he wore a red silk Buddhist prayer shawl as a muffler. It was scented with his fragrance, 1881, a wonderful cologne created in 1955, “recommended for evening wear.” At the end of our first date, he took off this warm, scented silk and wrapped me up in in. Double sigh.

Eleven years later, here we are.

The cologne I love for summer was invented in 1902, Blenheim Bouquet, by English house Penhaligon. And O de Lancome, from 1969, with all the zingy bright-green optimism I recall from those years.

I often wonder what the world smelled like in 1933 or 1868 or 1743. Or 1572, as I’m currently reading a biography of Queen Elizabeth I.

Gunpowder. Leather. Sweaty horse. (Horse dung.) Coal. Fresh-cut hay. Unwashed skin. Cold, dry stone. Wool. Woodsmoke. Ordure. Blood. Freshly-cut lumber. Mud. Peat. Tallow. Tar. The ocean.

When Jose took me to Santa Fe, New Mexico, his home town, I learned several new smells: hinoki (cedar), used by the amazing local spa, Ten Thousand Waves. Sagebrush. Pinon. Chile powder.

One of my favorite smells in the world is that of sun-dried pine needles, a scent I associate with my happiest times, up north in Ontario at summer camp.

What will 2020 smell like? Or 2086?