Saturday, February 17, 2018

Stripe Up the Band!

Fervent followers of fashion will be getting into lock-step to follow this trend, because it's everywhere. STRIPES. Mostly black and white, but colors and rainbows, thick and thin, horizontal, vertical, diagonal and every which-way.

Back in the day—not so long ago—trends would hit high fashion first and trickle down to the high street (aka fast fashion). Now everything erupts spontaneously at the price point you prefer. That was never so clear as yesterday's visit to the mall. Shopping choices range from Neiman Marcus at the top to Forever 21 grazing bottom.

Everyone not only showed stripes, many were flouting them in window displays and come-hither merchandising determined to direct you inside.  I haven't seen this many stripes in one place since the dance sequence in "Jailhouse Rock".

One could not help notice that stripes are attached to some last-year trends—ruffles, flounces and bell sleeves. They are so not going away. As usual I am torn between what I love (a nice flounce or modified bell) and not becoming a member of the pack. I like stripes too. It's a real "what to do?, what to do?" moment.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

End of the Carolina Herrera Era

Monday evening Carolina Herrera took her final bow as Creative Director of her fashion brand. She is NOT retiring. She is becoming Global Brand Ambassador (ie she can do whatever the hell she wants).

CH rather inauspiciously began her line in 1980. She was first viewed as a dilletante, a  well-dressed social butterfly without the stamina to head a fashion house. She has proven naysayers wrong many times over. The line is valued for its elegant but approachable take on fashion— clothes women can really wear, or aspire to. Full disclosure: her perfume "Carolina Herrera" is my absolute favorite.

At 79 Carolina has really nothing to prove. There is no question she won't retain a strong interest in the company, but when CH says she is turning the reins over to Wes Gordon as her successor, no one doubts she means it.

With Wes Gordon

Carolina is yet another departing the scene for various reasons. From Oscar de la Renta's death to Donna Karan (changing horses) to Ralph Lauren (gradually stepping back) to Diane von Furstenburg (stepping down), the "old guard" are leaving. As they go so does a certainty in fashion, a refinement and elegance we knew to expect. With the exception of Ralph Lauren the labels continue without their namesakes (and with varying degrees of success).

I have a feeling Carolina Herrera the company will be okay. Wes Gordon is a young designer with an "old soul". His past work would seem to honor Carolina's, and he has been collaborating with her since last spring. Industry scuttlebutt has noted a contentious two years at the company as CH rather dug in her lovely heels over changes initiated by the parent company, Puig. Bravo, Mrs. Herrera. As tough as you are beautiful. And buena serte!

Here are some looks from that last collection for Fall 2018:

An homage to Mrs. Herrera's personal signature look. Bravo!

Friday, January 26, 2018

What My Older Friends Know

Not only should we have younger friends as we grow older— even much younger friends— we should have older friends, too. I laugh because my older friends— women in their 80s and 90s— tell me at 75 I'm still a kid. I look up to them as if I were one. I am in awe of their energy, interests and outlook on life. When I grow up I want to be like them because...

They stay busy. More women are working longer at something they enjoy. It's about choice as much as possible. More time has given them the opportunity to volunteer. My mother-in-law decided to "help take care of old people" when she was in her 80s. They've mastered hobbies they might have dabbled in before. They are taking classes. They are burning through the 100 Greatest Books or putting the family history in order (creative scrapbooking included). They are visiting new places, revisiting old places and keeping up with children and grandchildren.

They stay current. They go to movies, concerts, the theater and museums. They are more likely to read newspapers, magazines and watch news programs because now they make the time.

They like exercise. It's a gift (to be able to do it), an insurance policy (as it does so much for you) and a pleasure (the feeling of accomplishment and well-being). They know a substantial part of good health is up to them; genetics and fate will of necessity sort out the rest.

They eat better. Less sugary treats, less alcohol, smaller portions. They don't consider this deprivation so much as reality. Metabolism has slowed. None of my older friends denies herself a cheeseburger or a chocolate chip cookie. Just not every day.

They sleep more. If they used to get by with 6 or 7 hours they know they feel so much better with 8. Some will even take a nap in the afternoon. One friend said she starting doing that with a visiting grandchild. She lay down to encourage him to rest and found she enjoyed a little cat nap so much she has no guilt taking one without her visitor. Come to think of it, my grandmother did that with me. And all this time I thought she needed a nap!
They still like clothes. Being trendy may be less important, but my older friends still want to look up to date while staying true to themselves. Once I may have thought them a little rigid, but I see now when you know what works it simplifies making choices. Oh, and shoes better be comfortable!

They don't complain. I never hear anyone moan about how they used to look. If their hair is thin, it's thin, not "Oooh I used to have beautiful hair and now it's so thin!" There's a difference. Without exception my older friends are philosophical about health issues. They are not worry warts or deniers but understand life's expected challenges. And when the outlook appears dire... well, that's where I've seen true grace. Bless you, dear June.

They have younger friends. And here we come full circle. My older friends have younger friends. I'm lucky; one of them is me.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

One That Got Away

There are many things I wish I'd said "yes" to in my shopping life. Nothing gives me quite the pang of regret as the one that I let slip through my fingers five years ago. We were spending a week in London. We've been many times over many years, always staying at the same hotel (which has changed names three times). A special treat is the day I leave my husband to fend for himself and go shopping.

This is not window shopping or finding an interesting little shop I may have read about. This is serious, I-am-buying-stuff shopping. Although I swore I'd never do it again, I traversed the whole length of Oxford Street. I went into every H&M, spent what seemed like hours in TopShop, Uniqlo and Primark, trying to bring back my favorite kind of souvenirs, the ones that hang on hangers. I did buy a jacket at Zara that I could have found at home, but I wanted something to show for my London trip, and it was getting chilly.
On the way to the hotel I left the tube at Kensington High Street. This was once the stop for Biba, both the original stores and Big Biba when it took over Derry & Toms department store. Biba is long gone. I think it's a Marks & Spencer now, but Kensington High Street has its own enclave of shops (including Urban Outfitters and GAP). There is also the British branch of TJ Maxx, called TK Maxx in the UK.

At this point my shopping had been just meh. I was discouraged and nothing looked interesting anymore. Then I discovered that TK Maxx had a Runway section like its US counterparts. Not much there either except... this... one... dress...

The label said "Vivienne Westwood Anglomania". It was $106. I am a whiz at calculating pounds into dollars when it comes to shopping. It was also size L (I'm usually XS or S), but I took it into the changing area to try. I can't tell you how long I debated over that dress. It was a little big, but the shape was so amorphous— it's called the twisted elephant dress— who would know? The photo print is of a Rubens painting, "The Rape Of The Daughters Of Leucippus". I didn't know that at the time, but something was definitely going on. Would I really want to wear that? Well, if Vivienne Westwood chose it, the answer would be "yes". So the rape scene didn't stop me.

What did? I can only think utter exhaustion and frustration. Sometimes I will buy five little things without thinking but shrink from making that one bigger purchase. I was afraid I would be sorry I had wasted my money.

Well, guess who's sorry now? I thought about that dress and went back a few days later. It was gone. But not forgotten. The years since I've searched for it on ebay and have gotten thisclose to plunking down two or three hundred dollars to scratch that itch, but I could never bring myself to do it.

I've learned a lot about Vivienne Westwood since then. Anglomania is her ready-to-wear line, still a bit pricey with t-shirts at $140 dollars. So I guess $621 is not too much for the genuine article. That's the going price on ebay for my lost love, now being offered by a lass from South Yorkshire who only wore it once. I'm thinking she wore it for a year and never took it off. Why else sell such a treasure? She lists it as THIS ITEM IS VERY HARD TO GET HOLD OF NOW AND NEVER COMES UP ON EBAY! THIS IS REFLECTED IN THE PRICE. You bet.

By the way, the wonderful Ms. Westwood is still creating beautiful havoc at age 76. I haven't given up hope yet.

Vivienne with husband Andrea Kronthaler

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Stylish Cinema: "Phantom Thread"

Read freely; no spoilers in this review.

Among other definitions, "phantom" can mean "a figment of the imagination". In the case of this new creepy romance starring Daniel Day Lewis and written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, the phantom is thread needed to stitch the film into a credible whole. That things don't quite turn out the way I thought doesn't make up for the fact I couldn't find any sympathy for the two principals.

He is a fuddy-duddy uptight English couturier working in a 1950s Britain that seems to have quickly recovered from the hardships of the recent war. She is a charmingly clumsy waitress from an undetermined European country. We know little about her background in the beginning and no more at the end.

I'll leave you to figure what it was all about and if you cared. My problems with "Phantom Thread" are more visceral. I hated the fashions. Reynolds Woodcock, the designer, is meant to be ultra-successful, with a white-coated retinue of seamstresses lined up each morning for his inspection. His atelier is also his home, a tony row house in a spiffy part of town. Affording its upkeep depends on the wealthy clientele he serves. But he's not struggling, again despite a Britain that in reality took many more years to recover.

Norman Hartnell and Hardy Amies were practically the only British designers with name recognition at the time. They were both long established by the 1950s and dressed the social upper crust and royalty. Hartnell especially was a favorite of the British royal family. Although influenced by Dior's New Look (as was everyone), their work was proper, stiff and a bit fussy. England did not catch fire as a design powerhouse until the "Swnging Sixties" of Mary Quant, Ossie Clark, Biba, et al.

Norman Hartnell
Hardy Amies
For me to care about Reynolds Woodcock his work needed to be so much more. His dresses should have been magical, as intricate as a Charles James or as dramatic as a Balenciaga. Our heroine, if we can call her that, was not transformed by wearing a Woodcock original. She didn't do much for any of them either. Woodcock's dresses were never wonderful enough, in my mind, to overcome his rotten personality.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Hi! Brrr-Nation

What do you do when the world as you know it is cold cold cold? That could be 10 degrees in New York City or 50 degrees in Houston. It's all relative, but NYC is not supposed to be like Nome and semi-tropical Houston is not supposed to be like a nice March day in NYC.

I write this from a Houston point of view. Feel free to change the city name to wherever you are and tired of living in this winter. When I wake up and see yet another grey day struggling to arise, so do I. Bears may not be the smartest in the animal kingdom, but they have the right idea: find a nice cave and settle in for the duration.

Take me with you

The only thing that perks me up is the sight of spring clothes in the stores. Yes, they are beginning to trickle in. The Lovely Boutique Where I Work has a little collection labeled "resort", for those lucky enough to be jetting someplace guaranteed by God and their travel agents as warm. It's warming to look at them, though as we say in the trade, they're not moving very fast.

Where I usually shop, the sales are still on. I swear Zara keeps replenishing because their sale never seems to go down.. Last time I was in the GAP the stock piled on tables was downright frightening. I've found some buys at Ann Taylor and Banana Republic that made me feel a little guilty, they were so cheap. But they are winter clothes. Enough said.

No gaps in this pile...

Even though I have coats and sweaters, wool pants and boots (even gloves, scarves and ear muffs), I'm not happy wearing them. This is the land of sun and banana plants. You should see my banana plants now.

The only apparel appealing to me are flannel pajamas, furry slippers and my terry cloth robe, the one that makes me look like a polar bear. Oh that's right; polar bears are supposed to like the cold. Shall we just call a moratorium on fashion until spring is in the air or at least in the stores?

Saturday, January 6, 2018

What is the Point of Jeans?

I've tried for years to get with the program. Jeans! Every woman needs a pair! Or several— dark dressy, faded casual, slouchy boyfriend, cropped, wide leg, skinny leg, flared, bell bottom, boot cut... I know them all. I've sold them all. I've tried them all. If jeans had never been invented, I wouldn't be bothered a bit.

We all know how Levi Strauss stitched up the first pairs for gold miners in the 1840s. Cowboys love 'em. Little kids find them practically indestructible. But why do grown up women think we need jeans?

I might feel differently if I ever had a pair that actually fit and were flattering. I do not have a good shape for jeans. As a typical pear, I have a small waist and bigger hips and thighs. I also now have my own built-in muffin top and have not seen a flat stomach since that bout of flu 8 or 10 years ago. The last time I looked good in jeans was here:


I think my older sister's girlfriends looked adorable because their jeans weren't meant to be fetching. Their look was strictly "stolen from the boys".

Nina and Phyllis
Somewhere between 1947 and the Calvin Klein, Jordache and Gloria Vanderbilt 1980s,  jeans became a wardrobe staple, more difficult to buy than a bathing suit but guaranteed— if you found the right pair— to be all you would ever want to wear.

Remember those jokes about women struggling to wriggle into a pair of jeans? Who didn't actually try this?

Did this really work?
I grant you many women look great in jeans. Luck of the draw is all. Even if they do, I fail to see how jeans are such an indispensable wardrobe item. Victoria Beckham is beautiful, thin, rich and a fashion designer. I don't think these jeans make her look particularly great. It's as if she couldn't find the right pants for that shirt and picked the first thing available. Ditto the shoes.

The mystique— that women really, really want to wear jeans— still exists, as does my quest to find a pair.  Or did. A few years ago I decided to stop looking. On the rare occasion I need jeans— a hay ride?— I have a pair I can enlist. These are baggy, oversized Citizens that fit at the waist but nowhere else, shored up with a thick leather belt that may have been my husband's.

Now for the elephant in the room. Unless you are going full-out baggy, jeans should fit on the snug side. They are meant to hug your curves without enough fabric to grab and draw you to a standstill. Many of us find as we get older that we've lost circumference in the backside. What used to be firm and fully packed is, well... you get the idea. Here is another instance where clothing designers have let us down again and everyone needs a full-length mirror.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Markle's Sparkle vs. Grace's Grace

I remember (like yesterday) when Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier of Monaco. It was April, 1956. America had been agog since the previous Christmas when they announced their engagement. We had a lot of catching up to do. Who was this Prince Rainier? What was Monaco, anyways? Oh, it's where "To Catch a Thief" was shot. And that's where they met! We would have been happy snagging Cary Grant in the end, but, no, she had to go and get a prince! I still have a souvenir magazine from that time, which culminated in the birth of Princess Caroline in January, 1957. Wild horses or an astronomical ebay bid will not tear it from me.

Contrast that to the "Isn't it nice?" but not world-shaking announcement that Prince Harry will be marrying Meghan Markle in May of this year. What a difference half a century or so makes!

There are some undisputable differences. Prince Rainier was the actual ruler of a real country. Monaco is supposedly as big as Central Park. That's a nice big park but a very small country. Prince Harry will soon be only sixth in line to the British throne. It's highly unlikely there will be a King Harry and Queen Meghan, but the British Royal Family are about as royal as you can get, and she will still be a princess.

We knew little about Rainier let alone his principality. He looked like a shy, sweet confirmed bachelor. He was perhaps more of a wealthy playboy before he met Grace. I've only read innuendos. Grace was Hollywood royalty almost from the moment she first appeared onscreen. Her career had a meteoric rise, and she was at the height of her profession at the time of that fateful location shoot. We didn't know that perhaps Grace had, shall we say, a more involved romantic life than we knew at the time. It's also been supposed that snagging the prince secured her place at the top of a competitive family dynamic where she had never shined.

We've watched Harry grow from an adorable little boy to a devilish young man, who at times either didn't think things through or had some very bad advice. At 33 he seems to have reached the rungs of adulthood and appears to be following the humanitarian works path of his mother, Diana.

We don't know much about Meghan Markle. Just the bare facts would be amazing in an earlier era. She's American, divorced, bi-racial, an actress and three years older than Harry. Her claim to acting fame was a role on a tv drama, "Suits". She was hardly a household name or face, although both are quite pretty.

It will be interesting to see what and if the hoopla is about this wedding. Perhaps we are just overwhelmed with celebrity hitchings. We may have gotten too excited over minor events. Beyonce and JayZ! Are they even married? Shows how much I don't know.

Meghan will not be saving the monarchy from frumpiness. Kate has done that with an easy, every day way of dressing that may not shout but has plenty of polish. I think Meghan will follow her own style with royal boundaries (those hats), but I don't think we will be copying her every look— A) Because we are over that, aren't we? and B) Because it doesn't seem all that earth shattering.

What I truly like is that we are making so little to-do about her country of origin, her past relationships, her race and her talent. Love is a good thing, and it's about time we celebrate that.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Have We Had Enough of Online Shopping?

Some day my shoes will come...
One thing you don't have to do when shopping online is stand in line. However, I stood in line on multiple trips to the UPS store as I had the idea I could buy a nice pair of walking shoes online. I ordered— and returned— five pairs of shoes and ended up losing $37 in postage and restocking fees because not all online shopping is created equal.

It started innocently enough. We have a trip planned for late spring that will include lots of walking on variable terrain. There will be streets and surfaces of cobblestone and sand. I hate that look of American Tourist Wearing Sneakers, especially in towns and cities, so I've been giving myself plenty of time to find a nice pair of walking shoes— comfortable but sturdy, stylish but functional— without succumbing to that ever-practical athletic shoe.

It started innocently enough with a sale pair at my local DFS, but they were not in my size. A few pairs were available on the DFS website. I guessed what size I would need, but the choice was not there. Too bad; DFS is easy. My local store will take returns. No shipping fee and no restocking fee. Plus I can send my husband with the package. He works down the block.

It seemed possible to locate them elsewhere. Pair #1 was on Amazon. Free shipping for Prime members. Unfortunately I pushed the button and ordered a 40W, not comprehending W was wide and not Women. That shoe was way too big, so I reordered a 39 (pair #2). This was too narrow, so I ordered, available only from another store on Amazon, a 39W (pair #3). The shoe fit but was stiff and uncomfortable. I wore them carefully around the house that night and could hardly wait to take them off.

Meanwhile, another shoe had caught my fancy, but Amazon didn't have the size and color I wanted. I Googled and found a pair (#4) cheap, but I had to pay $8.95 shipping. It took weeks to arrive, but I was sure it would be perfect. Why? No idea. Hope springs eternal.

#4 was indeed attractive but didn't fit, or was it just flimsy? Maybe the wrong size?  It went back free of charge, but the small print let me know there would be a $6.95 restocking fee.

For pair #5 I returned to Amazon and found another size of attractive-but-didn't-fit. It wasn't part of Prime delivery, although shipping was free. I had a feeling this pair wasn't going to fit either and even avoided opening the package. You guessed it: right again, or rather wrong again. Not only would I have to pay for the shipping back, there would be a $9.95 restocking fee. UPS for that cost $11.

Guess who doesn't have shoes and is $37 poorer? This was an online shopping lesson to be learned, and I hope to heaven I have learned it.

Will it come to this?

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Busted! My UAL Secret is Out

I first discovered UAL about 10 years ago in New Orleans. Wandering around the warren of little shops in the French Quarter, I came across a storefront on Chartres Street identified only by the letters UAL.  What's a UAL? I thought. The clothes in the window were appealing, and a peek inside looked interesting. I went in, the first of many times. UAL (Urban Apparel Liquidators) has been my first, last and sometimes in-between stop on any visit to New Orleans.

Although not everything is "cheap", I once bought a Sachin + Babi dress for $8. It was the kind of dress you can only wear to a fancy wedding, and if I wore it just that one time it will be totally fine. I found a pair of Citizen camo pants for $10 that I have worn to shreds. There have been sweaters, t-shirts, a jacket or two, some fun costume jewelry... nothing that broke my piggy bank. Some things I outgrew (mentally and physically), but I've never felt guilty giving them up.

Naeem Khan $1449 was $4995

Shopping in high-end stores makes me uncomfortable. I feel it obvious to all the world (especially the world of sales associates) that I am there under false pretenses. I'm never going to buy anything but am there to enjoy the wonderful styles and lovely fabrics and admire the workmanship.

The Row $1225 was $9999

There is no pretense at UAL. Everyone is there because she (or he for the small selection of menswear) loves a bargain. And a designer bargain is the best of all. Even at 90% off many of the offerings are too much for me, but there can be decently or even amazingly priced finds as well. You just have to go with an open mind and be in the mood for a hunt.

Drew $39 was $276

UAL was founded in 1980 in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. It's grown, but slowly. There are 6 retail locations in only 4 southern states, but there is an online presence,

Victoria Beckham $792 was $2640
UAL's goal was to source high fashion brands and market them at 70-90% off retail. I get the sense that many are samples. Others may be store closeouts, though there don't seem to be retail tags. How merchandise gets to discounters is an interesting and convoluted story. Safe to say, the goods at UAL are the genuine article and not manufactured especially for outlets, as is often the case in the big outlet malls.

Likewise you never know what you may find on any given visit. It's wise not to get attached to something you see not in your size. That may be the only one. The sales staff are easy-going, knowledgeable and encouraging. They seem to be having fun. I'm only speaking of the New Orleans store. I've not been to the others*, but wouldn't a road trip be fun? 

* Brentwood TN, Nashville TN (2), Austin TX, Hattiesburg MS

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