Sunday, December 10, 2017

Let's Hear it for the Gift Card

The lowly gift card has been mightily maligned in recent years. It's taken on the mantle of "cop out" present, the thing to get when you want to get it over with. It's time to change that thinking. Gift cards can be great.

There is something delicious about having a gift card in your pocket. The anticipation! The careful decision-making!

To be sure, some gift card recipients run out and use one immediately. Others squirrel one away so well they forget they have it. I saw this many times at the Lovely Boutique. A customer would pull out a dusty, dog-eared slice of cardboard at the cash wrap and tell me with astonishment how she had just found it.

Where giving gift cards gets tricky is in their selection. I'm not a fan of generic Visa or Mastercard gift cards. Just too impersonal. In that case you might as well give money. Crisp new currency even smells better.

I'm also not big on grocery store gift cards (unless it's a fancy specialty foods place). Too easy to use on paper towels and such. Same with drug stores or fast food places.  I'm not a Starbucks addict as I'm too cheap but will admit to enjoying a Starbucks gift card.

One of my favorite gift cards was for $25 at Tiffany. That was when $25 could buy something. Today this would need to be $100. This gift gave me a great excuse to wander through the fabled Fifth Avenue store, and wander I did, taking note of what I might purchase. I think I bought a deck of cards. Okay, it was a double deck and housed in a lovely box in that beautiful shade of blue.

There is a whole world of gift cards out there. You don't have to think too hard— just a little— to match your intended with the perfect treat.

> A manicure or pedicure at her favorite place (or the best salon in town)

> Movie theater admissions. National chains make this easy for sending across the miles.

> Aforementioned fancy foods store (or macarons or chocolates or caviar or...)

> The Lovely Boutique in your town (that place you know she likes to browse)

> Books, books, books. You can do Amazon, but why not patronize your local bookseller?

> Restaurant gift cards. Take note, though. They may not include alcohol and tips. 

> Etsy even has gift cards for a "choose your own adventure" gift. Neither of you have to leave the warmth of your computers for that one.


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Madame Predicts: You Will Want One

Basket bags were a trend last summer. I wanted one; they weren't easy to find. It never happened. But I've been thinking about them since.

I need a bag that's big enough to carry all my stuff, most of which I shouldn't even bother lugging around. Habit is a funny thing; I am nothing if not "prepared".

There are small, tidy bags, some with leather trim, that are lovely, well made and cost a bit of of real money. Also probably not big enough.

J McLaughlin, $128

There are classic "French market bags" which have always looked swell. Being fully open they may not be the best choice for holding desirables like credit cards and cell phone.

LarLiving, $18.27

This is a nice shape with a sturdy finish and cloth drawstring liner, but I can't tell how big it really is.

Amazon, $39.99

These two oversized, inexpensive totes are appealing for their casual vibe and low price tags. I found them on an Etsy store but can't decide: round or oval? There's plenty of time for that between now and straw-basket-weather.

The Woven Basketry, $23.60
 The Woven Basketry, $28.00

Friday, December 1, 2017

Going into 2018 With Style

I hesitate posting this as several of my nearest and dearest will be receiving them. On the other hand this is too good to keep secret.

I usually think a calendar is such a lame choice for a gift. I avoid "calendar kiosks" at the mall lest even I get sucked into buying "365 Days of Kute Kittens" for myself. My own calendar, for dentist appointments and such, is strictly utilitarian and sits in the kitchen drawer. Even so I may be an old fuddy-duddy. Everyone under fifty seems to use their phone function.

Nevertheless I came across this in a museum gift shop and scooped up a bundle. It's fashion! It's history! It's pretty! It's even a calendar! It's "Daily Dress 2018— 365 Days of Fashion and Style", published through the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Those are street creds if ever. It's oversize, measuring 12" wide x 24" long when opened, so necessitates a generous hanging space. Mine is inside the closet door. Every day features a different fashion artifact from the museum's collection— apparel or accessory— with a brief description of what, who and when.  The pages are color-coordinated, so every month has a tonal theme. The items are photographed but placed on sketches of figures. Retail is $14.99.

What a feast of fashion history! As per the Met's blurb:

Each day features a stunning piece from every corner of the world throughout the centuries. From sumptuous seventeenth-century French gowns to stylish dresses designed by Dior or Chanel, from elaborate footwear to dazzling jewelry, this 2018 calendar highlights hundreds of years' worth of glamour, beauty and style.

Emphasis is on fashion from the late 19th century until today, so it's not a dry history lesson in winkles and panniers. What's interesting is how contemporary— and desirable— many of the pieces look. This may be a reflection on how eclectic our fashion sense has become. On the other hand, it does give new meaning to "timeless fashion".

The witty Geoffrey Beene

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Finding Fashion in the Strangest Places

Gertrude by Beaton, 1939

I never expected to discover an interesting tidbit of fashion history while reading about Gertrude Stein, but there it was.

"Love, Cecil" is a wonderful documentary by Lisa Immordino Vreeland, the filmmaker who gifted us with "The Eye Has to Travel" about Diana Vreeland. Cecil is Cecil Beaton, no slouch on the fashion scene as a photographer and designer of costumes and sets for "Gigi" and "My Fair Lady". In his long career Beaton photographed almost everyone who was anybody, among them Gertrude Stein.

Now Gertrude is not a fashion icon by any means, though she certainly had her own style. Sometimes, when I've gotten too short a haircut, I hope it doesn't make me look like Gertrude Stein. Fortunately hair grows quickly.

I've long been interested in Cecil Beaton. Inexplicably, his "The Glass of Fashion" was one of the first books I read on the subject. I was 11 or 12. Vreeland's film rekindled an interest in Cecil and his amazing talents. The book "Portraits and Profiles" by John Vickers pairs photos of his well known subjects with excerpts from the diaries he meticulously kept throughout his life.

There she was, between Winston Churchill and Colette, looking stern but softened by her nuzzling dog. An American who settled in Paris in the 1920s, Gertrude Stein's salon was the gathering place for Picasso, Cocteau, Matisse, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, etc. She was a writer in her own right and an early champion of modern art. Her constant companion was the somewhat mysterious Alice B Toklas. Alice said little but was a terrific cook.

Gertrude, Alice and another pet

Still no fashion... But wait.
In Cecil's diary excerpt is the story of how Gertrude and Alice, both Jewish, found refuge during WWII in the mountains of France. Quoting from the diary:

"During the years of cold and shortages Gertrude and Alice became friends with a neighbor at Aix, a simple young man named Pierre Balmain, with a taste for antiques and a natural bent for designing women's clothes. In fact he made with his own hands heavy tweeds and warm garments for Gertrude and Alice Toklas to wear during the hard winters."

After the war Balmain set up shop in Paris and became one of the leading couturiers until his death in 1982. His clothes were always sophisticated and elegant and worn by royalty and film stars. He never sold a ready-to-wear line, but did produce some memorable fragrances including one of my favorites, "Jolie Madame". Who doesn't want to smell like a "pretty lady"? Balmain also apprenticed at least two young men who went on to great things themselves, Karl Lagerfeld and Oscar de la Renta.

Typical Balmain elegance
Gertrude and Alice were guests at Balmain's first showing to the Paris press. They arrived in their usual states of un-fashion, Gertrude "in an old cinnamon colored sack and Panama hat" and Alice in "a long Chinese garment of bright colors". Beaton continues:

"Gertrude, seeing the world of fashion assembled, whispered 'Little do they know that we are the only people here dressed by Balmain, and it's just as well for him that they don't'."

Friday, November 24, 2017

Forever Edie

Why Edie Beale and Grey Gardens?  What is there about the person (or persons as there are two Edies) and the place, their once-glorious-then-ramshackle-finally-restored home in Easthampton, NY?

Grey Garden's estate sale last week by Durell Godfrey

The Beales and the house have been in the public arena for years. Edie Bouvier Beale and her daughter Edie, known as Little Edie, were Jackie Kennedy's aunt and cousin on the Bouvier side (Jackie's father). In 1971 Jackie stepped in to address complaints about the place from Easthampton's town fathers. Once a beautiful mansion in the tony summer enclave for elite New Yorkers, it had gone to rack and ruin along with its two inhabitants.

Last week the owner of the restored Grey Gardens, journalist Sally Quinn, held a sale that drew fans from far and wide. They weren't there for mementos of Sally or her late husband, Ben Bradlee. The draw was the house itself and items that had belonged to the Beales.

The Edies in somewhat better days

At the very least, Edie and Little Edie were eccentric. They were most probably mentally ill. But they were happy. As seen in the Maysles' 1975 documentary, it might have been a warped mother/daughter relationship, but the bonds were strong. They depended on and were dependent on each other. They never saw anything amiss in the way they lived— in perfect squalor with multiple cats and raccoons. When Little Edie was finally persuaded to sell Grey Gardens  in 1979 she declared all it needed was a coat of paint.

There are at least 8 books written about Little Edie and Grey Gardens. This one, "Edith Bouvier Beale of Grey Gardens", is one of my favorites. It's a sympathetic look at her life with many pictures. She obviously always loved fashion and had the tall, rangy figure of a "woman who wore clothes well". By the time of the Maysles' film, she had honed her style to what suited her and made her happy. This in itself is a lesson we can all learn.

That mink coat, worn oh so casually over everything (even a leotard). Those head wraps to erase thoughts of any Bad Hair Day. Her mixing of genres and patterns— not easy to do as anyone who's tried may have realized. She had the absolute conviction of a woman who loved to dress up, knew when she had gotten it right and acted accordingly. She put herself out there and totally forgot what she was wearing.

The documentary has always made me somewhat uneasy. We are never sure how to view them, though they are a fascinating pair. Showtime 's "Grey Gardens", with Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore, is such a good companion piece it might almost need to be seen first.


Monday, November 20, 2017

"I Have to Go to the Gym!"

How we feel has a lot to do with how we feel about how we look.

That's not quite as convoluted as it might seem. When you are feeling strong and healthy you look better, and when you look better you feel a whole lot better about this getting older thing. I can do it, you think, and you are grateful for the opportunity.

How I feel has a lot to do with how much exercise I get. I never thought once of going to the gym while sightseeing in Rome. Back home is another story. Unless you live in New York City or a few other large metropoles, we are a car-centric society. Walking is a deliberate act, not part of a daily routine.

So I belong to a gym. It's a very nice gym, within walking distance of my house (should I wish to walk). There are flowers and magazines and plenty of tvs. The equipment is always in good condition. The staff are friendly. I'm greeted warmly. It's not cheap.

But I need to force/psyche myself to go. I've tried going early before I do anything else and end up still in my bathrobe at noon. I've tried going at the end of the day and decide I'm too tired (from driving around?). I will use a visit to the Marshall's downstairs as a lure. Whatever I do to psyche myself becomes a little game.

Until I read, somewhere, that we shouldn't think at this point in our lives that we HAVE to go to the gym. We should be thinking, I'm glad I CAN go to the gym.

Makes sense to me, and it's made a difference. This will be short because I'm going to the gym. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Vintage for the Ages

Vintage for the ages of what???
How old is too old to wear vintage?
What exactly is "vintage" anyways? 
Those are the age-old questions in today's mash-up world of vintage/retro looks.

To answer the last question first: An antique is considered anything 50 years or older. That date for vintage is 20 years. Thus if it's older than 1967, it's an antique. But we are still calling fashion from the 60s, 50s, 40s, 30s and 20s "vintage". Likewise if it's older than 1997, it's "vintage". If it's newly made but in the style of a past era, it's called "retro". But you knew that already.

The first time I heard the term vintage given to what might be considered an "old dress" was the gown Julia Roberts wore to the Oscars in 2001. It was designed by Valentino in 1992. I have canned goods older than 9 years.

A "Pretty Woman" alright
Since then "vintage" is practically anything not from this season. We no longer have old clothes in our closets. That stuff is "vintage". I don't take it seriously. It's like calling Target "Tar-jay".

Is there an age-limit to wearing vintage? I once read you can only wear vintage from eras you were not alive and/or actually wearing clothes. That means I can wear looks from the 40s backward. This dictum in itself has an age limit. I do not want to look like an old silent film star a la Gloria Swanson in "Sunset Boulevard".

Not ready for my close-up
How should a WOACA* tackle vintage? By now you know what looks good on you, or should. We all wore miniskirts back in the day or felt left behind. Today you can disregard anything vintage that is less than flattering.

Avoid vintage looks that are not on trend. No 40s or 80s big shoulders. A few years ago high-waisted "mom" jeans were totally outdated. Today you can wear them— with a great tucked-in shirt and cool belt— but no pleats, please.

Look to classic vintage. I have a black turtleneck from B Altman circa 1965, which makes it "antique". That sweater is no different from one I could buy today. I scored a pair of plaid Pendelton wide-leg, high-waisted pants at a resale shop. The giveaway is the size label. Evidently a 14 was once the equivalent of today's 6. Chanel jackets, whether genuine or channeling Chanel are timeless, as are military jackets from Army surplus to Ralph Lauren. A cape is still a cape. A trench coat still has it.

Classy classics

Remember the icons. Marlene Dietrich's and Katherine Hepburn's man-tailored styles. Audrey Hepburn's capri pants and ballet flats. Jackie Kennedy's simple shifts. And my all-time favorite, Sharon Stone's GAP shirt and ballgown, another Oscar winner.

Berets are "in" this season, too.
Bridging the GAP

Ditch the trim. Avoid juvenile flounces and rick-rack, puffed sleeves and suspenders. Heidi was never a good role model.

Choose modern accessories. This is how vintage gets updated. I see chandelier earrings with t-shirts. If you like them, wear lots of bracelets. Go for on trend necklaces and au courant shoes. Accessories will make it yours.

Pin stripes perfected

Never do matchy-matchy. The only person who gets away with that is the Queen.

God save the touch of black.
*WOACA = Woman of a Certain Age


Monday, October 30, 2017

The Naughty, the Nice and the Nasty


Christmas decor is now in the stores before Halloween. That's the only excuse for the plethora of questionable holiday attire I spotted today at Target.


Target is not exactly a bastion of good taste, though it seems to me they used to try a little harder. Target is fast fashion for the masses and used to have a point of view. That was "You don't have to spend a lot to be stylish" and in parentheses ("as long as you don't care it's going to feel kind of tacky and fall apart in the wash"). Several of Target's collaborations with legitimate designers were very successful. I particularly liked those with Isaaac Mizrahi, Missoni and Victoria Beckham.


What I saw today was as frightening as watching "Friday the 13th" alone on a rainy night. Everything looked like a Halloween costume. These were not just Ugly Christmas Sweaters, though there were plenty of them. I fail to see the irony in Santa dresses and poinsettia prints, candy canes shaped like hearts and— so help me— a print of ugly Christmas sweaters.


Don't think Channukah gets a pass either. There were menorah prints and Ugly Channukah Sweaters too.


Forgive me, Tiny Tim, but, "God help us, every one."


Monday, October 23, 2017

For Magazine Lovers

Unless you have been enjoying magazines your whole life (especially the fashion glossies), this blog may leave you feeling "meh". You get a pass; I understand. Everyone else please ponder this: Why are so many top magazine editors suddenly leaving their posts?

In a very short space of time, Cindi Leive (Glamour), Robbie Myers (Elle), Nancy Gibbs (Time), Graydon Carter (Vanity Fair) and Alexandra Shulman (British Vogue) have given up the reigns for no reasons we've been told.

Aside from Graydon, a bigger than life character, I knew little about them except what they revealed through their stewardships. Nina Garcia, the new editor of Elle, is a familiar name. She's been a judge on Project Runway since its inception and is the author of 4 fashion books, all of which I've enjoyed reading. 

Nina, back at Elle, this time in charge

In my 38-year career in magazines, only two editors (and this is THE editor— the one in-chief) have left. One joined her new, recently retired husband back in his home state. The other left one magazine to join a rival; her replacement was an internal promotion and all was right with the world.

I can only imagine how these sudden departures can shake up staff, as well as loyal readers. New editors bring new views and positions. "Glamour" became more issue-oriented when Kathleen Casey Johnson moved to Ohio and Ruth Whitney took over. I suspect Nina Garcia will gift Elle with her fashion vision. There are mumblings that the Glamour and Elle shakeups are related to our age of Instagram, et al.

Are our attention spans too short to take in more than What to Wear or Who Wore it Best? Do we not have enough time to read about goals and challenges and what concerns our lives in the 21st century?

There will always be a place for magazines and the advertisers who support them. My eyes have gotten very good at glazing over the ads that intrude on my digital media. They are harder to ignore on the printed page and can even (yes) add to the enjoyment of what I'm reading. At the very least, as an old magazine hound, I know their purpose, and I'm okay with it.

Magazines can't exist without editors, and good magazines need good editors. As in any position of authority and power, the editor needs a clear vision and the skills to bring the team together. I wish the departed and the newbies good luck in their next ventures.

Anna probably doesn't have to worry...

Friday, October 20, 2017

A Day Late and a Dollar Spent

Has this ever happened to you? You have a mission to find something, be it a black cardigan, ankle boots, a nice trench coat. You buy what you think will be okay because you need it NOW. You wear it, of course, and then several days, weeks, months later you find THE one, the one you should have bought, the one if you had bought you would not still be looking for.

It has happened to me often. Only pretty recently did I start to ask myself, Will this purchase satisfy the need, and will I no longer be searching for it?

Then there's the lure of sale merchandise. Some people use the "Would I still buy it if it were twice the price?" test. This can help diffuse the incredible bargain you were never looking for in the first place. I tend to ask myself "Will (fill in incredible sale price here) really blow my bank account?" The answer is usually "no", but that doesn't always make it a good buy.

The sin-twister (as my Aunt Sally used to say) is another phenomenon I've noticed during this fall's closet switching. Why is it something you loved last year and maybe for several years before suddenly doesn't look as good? I don't mean it doesn't fit (another issue) or it appears threadbare, faded, pilled, etc.

It just doesn't have that je ne sais quoi anymore, that zip it once had in spades. These are the pieces I will shove back in the closet but never wear. It takes a lot of courage to let them go. Eventually I do. I just wonder why that happens.

R. I. P.
(I Loved You Once But No Longer)

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Copy Cattiness on Project Runway

Claire and Shawn
Those of you who still enjoy watching "Project Runway" know that the drama surrounding twins Claire and Shawn Buitendorf has been a pivotal story arc in Season 16. Claire and Shawn are indistinguishable but for Shawn's shaved head and Claire's Barbie dos. They both wear shades of too-bright lipstick and matching nose rings. Their annoying speech patterns are interchangeable.

It's okay to help each other... to a point

One didn't seem to be able to work without the other's help, and they faced suspicions of copying long before Claire admitted she had a tape measure in her hotel room and was measuring clothes she owned. Claire forfeited her challenge win (plus a $25,000 prize) and was banished from the competition. Shawn had left the previous week before completing a sister-to-sister sew-off. Although it was the tape measure that did Claire in, the other contestants were disdainful of their copying. The judges were more dismissive. "You all are influenced by each other", said Heidi Klum.

We know there is nothing original under the sun, or the moon for that matter. It's how those influences go through your brain patterns and come out in the creation that counts. Their "references" were just a little too twin-like.

Lanvin 1939 and 2017

The New York Times Style Magazine ran a piece in its September 24 issue that fits nicely into this.  "The New Old Look" is about the "heritage brands" of French couture (Balenciaga, Dior, Paco Rabanne, Chanel, Lanvin, etc.), how they preserve their histories and how the designers working under those labels interpret and/or reinvent them. It's a very interesting read with evocative photographs by Annabel Elston that I have mashed together for space in this blog (forgive me, Annabel).

Balenciaga 1964 and 2017

There are many fine stitches between honoring, copying and throwing the baby out with the bath water. Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel has perhaps achieved the most success. We still love Chanel bags and tweedy "Chanel" jackets, but he's been at it the longest (since 1982). It's a challenge the new designers for heritage brands acknowledge and seem to treat respectfully.

Paco Rabanne 1967 and 2017
Dior 1947 and 2017

Monday, October 9, 2017

My (Not a) Dinner With Andre

Cherie Flores & Lynn Wyatt with ALT
There was no dinner with Andre Leon Talley Sunday afternoon, though I imagine that would have been fun. In his opening remarks at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Andre graciously thanked the assistant who fetched his espressos from Hotel Zaza ("very important to the work") and pimento cheese or egg salad sandwiches from Picnic ("I like to eat, you may have noticed"). For Andre Leon Talley, Fashion is the staff of life. This is what he lives on. He may have talked for an hour, but he could have gone on into the night.

Clifford Pugh with ALT at the MFAH

ALT (as he shall be known hereafter) was a protege of Diana Vreeeland. He's best known as former editor-at-large of Vogue and Friend of Anna, but he seems to know everyone who is anybody in the worlds of fashion and celebrity. He may have begun his career as a journalist but has far-reaching opinions and a true gift of gab.


Houston is hosting a retrospective, "The Glamour and Romance of Oscar de la Renta", through January 28, 2018. ALT curated the show, which is a version of one that previously appeared in San Francisco at the De Young Museum. Houston socialite, fashionista and friend of the arts, Lynn Wyatt, got the ball rolling.


There are dresses from the de la Renta archives, MFAH collection and loaned from Houston socialities and other celebrities. Amal Clooney allowed her wedding dress to be shown exclusively for this exhibit (ALT can be very persuasive). There have been festivities for weeks (a ball, a runway show, a luncheon), but Sunday afternoon belonged to Andre.

He is 6'6" and sat on a sofa plumped with additional cushions. All in black and wrapped in black velvet, he did indeed look like the "fashion god" he has been called. Although he came out with notes, he never referred to them. He didn't need to.

The host, Clifford Pugh, writes about Houston cultural goings-on and has known ALT for years, so it was an easy conversation. ALT told how he met Oscar through Diana Vreeland. He was volunteering as an assistant at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute. Here he explained that even as he became friendly with myriads of accomplished and well-connected people, he was "never arrogant". To this day he refers to her as "Mrs. Vreeland". Oscar, it seems, was different. He was always "Oscar", loved to have fun and make you feel at home.

ALT told a story how Oscar came unannounced to his house in White Plains, New York. Though only 25 miles from Manhattan, White Plains, an unassuming residential enclave, is not a celebrity haven. Oscar told him he must start taking care of his trees. ALT, who was raised by his grandmother in North Carolina, thought trees just grew in the yard. They didn't need to "have the canopies pruned back", which Oscar insisted he do at $2,000 a clip. But he now has beautiful trees that he cherishes.

He also graciously called Laura Bush "one of the two best dressed women in the world, along with the Queen". That was a nice thing to say and proved he knew he was in Texas.

Laura and Oscar

When it came time for questions, ALT didn't miss a beat, from explaining the mannequins' footwear in the show— artfully tied ribbons or lace or suede leg coverings— to the choice of white or black evening gloves for the ball gowns ("always white— only showgirls wear black"). He really stepped up when a young woman commented on fashion being one of the great polluters of the ecosystem and what did he think of that? "Honey", he said to a round of applause, "that's not why I'm here."