Tuesday, March 31, 2009

So soft and round

I have a stack of letters my father wrote to my mother when an Army major in the South Pacific during WWII. Because today is his birthday, I've spent a few hours peeking over his shoulder as he wrote to her from his tent, several years before my birth. He called writing their "date", and the thick stack of onion skin, 63 years later, bears witness to his longing to be home.

The letters are circumspect. My brother and sister were old enough to want to hear hers as well as the ones they received. A few times, though, he slipped in coded references to time they would share together again, "like October 7" (their wedding date).

He wistfully mentioned how "soft and round" she was.
I thought as I read these words how few women today would relish being called "soft and round"; some would be insulted.

My mother was never heavy; she had a curvy, petite figure. She got exercise from gardening, housework, and occasional golf and skeet-shooting. At one point she had apparently confessed that she was trying to give up smoking, and he advised her that "if a cigarette helps you relax and feel less worried, why give it up?" (And he was a doctor.)

How times have changed in 63 years!

Women aspire to be much thinner now; sinew on bone is the goal. Dad would have cringed, Mom would have been mystified. They wanted to be trim and attractive, but not "cut".

I'm grateful that he eventually returned home to his family, and I wish the frank admiration for womanly curves had endured beyond Dad's time.


Happy Birthday, Dad!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Scottish saint inspires heirloom bracelet

There's a great deal of 'pretty' jewelery out there. Some will please for a season, some for years. Occasionally I see something that transcends the term "accessory", and seems imbued with meaning and purpose- yet is decorative. This is one of those pieces.

From Scottish luxury goods site Thistle and Broom, the St. Magnus Bracelet, designed to evoke features of the St. Magnus Cathedral, on Orkney's Mainland.


Each bracelet is made to order with your choice, for the seven cabuchons, of Scottish agates, marbles and gems (amethyst, quartz) hand cut and polished by Renato Forno, and set into silver by Hamilton and Inches. Hand engraving is offered for inside the bracelet. Price, approximately £1430.

"The St. Magnus bracelet is powerful, it's sensuous, it is at once both timeless and modern, and it is almost heart-wrenching to take it from your wrist. The combination of precious metals, semi-precious stones and bespoke Scottish hand craftsmanship make The St. Magnus Bracelet unlike anything else in the luxury goods market today."
- from Thistle and Broom

Friday, March 27, 2009

Udeman: Daniel Lanois


Musician, producer, songwriter, open-hearted performer. Quebec-born, he started his business in nearby Hamilton, Ontario, but now ranges the world, and is currently producing an album with U2.

The recent documentary
Here Is What Is reveals his deep humanity and astonishing musicality. This video is of him performing the title song from that video on David Letterman's show.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Pick a perfect printemps pashmina

My friend Catherine recently showed me her new mocha pashmina, which she picked up for $15 in one of those luggage and accessory shops. "Look", she said, showing me the label, "cashmere!"

A quick snidge between my thumbs suggested the true content, acrylic. I told her my verdict; she was crestf
allen. I tried to comfort her, "The colour's pretty, so wear it and enjoy it while it looks good"- but that will be only weeks, till the acrylic pills under minimal friction.

How do you know what you're getting? Certainly not by the label, except for branded goods, and even they can cheat. (Last fall, New Zealand merchant Ezibuy unloaded nearly 4, 000 fake "70% pashmina 30% silk" shawls before getting caught and fined.)

A fake is made with acrylic, r
ayon, poly/cotton or less frequently, lambswool. (I enjoy a soft lambswool scarf, but won't pay cashmere prices for it!)

Coming to Terms

"Pashmina" means "cashmere" and comes from the Persian word "pashm", for "wool". The fibre is made from the undercoat of the capra hirus goat. In the West, however, "pashmina" is often used generically to mean a shawl which is usually a blend of wool and silk.

(Shahtoosh or "ring shawl
s" are made from hair from a Tibetan antelope, or Chiru; the animals were killed to harvest this hair. To protect the Chiru, the government of India banned the sale of shahtoosh shawls in the late 1970s, and it is illegal to import them.) The harvesting of pashmina does not require killing the wool-bearing goats.

100% Cashmere

A "100% pashmina" shawl is pure cashmere of a fine grade, a luxury piece even in India and Nepal. Expect to pay from $400 to thousands for a handloomed piece, depending on quality, and more for embroidered pieces.

For a look at just how exquisite pure artisan-created pashmina gets, see the web site of Trehearne & Brar, who sell the finest handwoven heirloom shawls.

If you'd like a featherweight 100% cashmere stole (85 x 180 cm or about 33 x 71 inches), I recommend Eric Bompard's Cashmere Voile, at about $155 US dollars (plus shipping), available in luscious colours (that sound even more so in French) via their efficient web site.

Choosing
your Silk/Pashmina Blend

A 70/30 pashmina-silk blend is perfect for light outerwear or as a comfy layer in air-conditioned buildings.

Fibre content: 70/30 is the standard ratio of pashmina (or cashmere) to silk, though I have seen 80/20. The silk content makes the shawl stronger, with a tighter weave, and gives a slight sheen. Beware the "100% Pashmina" label unless you are certain it is 100% cashmere, and remember there are many grades of cashmere.

Merchant: Avoid dealers from Asia; I'd choose the UK because of their strict cashmere labeling laws. In general EU countries and the US and Canada are good
. Make sure any online dealer has a return-for-refund policy.

I'd buy from Sunrise Pashmina in a heartbeat: an attentive, quality-conscious and fair-trade company. Based in Ithaca, New York, they ship their product from Nepal. I was impressed by the variety of options, including custom embroidery and beading, and hard to find jacquard weaves.

A Toronto Post reviewer is thrilled with her Sunrise shawl. The same product is available in the UK by QVC online dealer Pure and Simple. Shown above, a Sun
rise medium shawl.

Price: Expect to pay at least $125 (in US dollars) for a 28 by 80-inch shawl from a reputable online source. Prices are generally higher at a boutique (I am seeing decent product for around $US 200.) You might find a bargain, but don't pay $19.95 and expect anything but a fake. A hand-loomed piece (identifiable by the same pleasing, subtle variation in density you would notice in a hand-loomed silk wrap) will cost more than a machine-loomed version.

Price is determined by many variables, including wool quality (length, fineness, softness of fibres; proportion of rough guard hairs and overly short fibres), dye, production processes such as spinning and weaving (machine or hand-loomed); silk prices and overhead.

Feel: Go to high-end shops and feel their products; pet the piece with your hand and also tie it on your neck. Take time to let your skin pick up and store its impression of quality.

Here's a useful eBay Guide, "My Pashmina- Is It Really Cashmere or Is It a Fake?; see especially the section headed "How to Examine Your Garment". I haven't tried the fibre test described, but it seems like a good one.

A gorgeous marigold or robins' egg blue shawl provides a relatively reasonable wardrobe tweak and banishes the last of a winter-bleak landscape.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Frittata of Zucchini from M.F.K. FIsher

Our friends at Edible East End brought to light this simple, nourishing recipe from the legendary M.F.K. Fisher’s wartime classic, How to Cook a Wolf — a book that expresses the natural ascendancy and great possibilities of seasonal cooking during times of hardship.

It's not yet time to bring in zucchini from the garden, but the supply is plentiful in markets, and unlike March tomatoes, they need no careful ripening to taste good in this recipe.

Below is Fisher’s introduction to the recipe, with her 1951 additions differentiated in brackets.

Frittata of Zucchini

From How to Cook a Wolf, by M.F.K. Fisher (1942, 1951)


This frittata is a good dish. It can be made with almost anything: string beans, peas, spinach, artichokes. Cheese can be sprinkled over it.
[As an older and easily wiser frittata cook I almost always, these richer days, add a scant cup of good dry Parmesan cheese to the eggs when I mix them. Often I add rich cream, too. How easy it is to stray from austerity!]

Different kinds of herbs like sweet basil, summer savory, on and on, can change its whole character. And with a glass of wine and honest-to-God bread it is a meal. At the end of it you know that Fate cannot harm you, for you have dined.

3 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion or 3 green onions

1 clove garlic

5 small zucchini

1 large fresh tomato (or 1 cup solid-packed canned tomatoes)

1 tsp herbs, including parsley, sweet marjoram, or thyme

9 eggs

Salt and pepper


Heat oil in skillet and cook minced onion and garlic slowly in it 10 minutes. Add zucchini cut into thin slices. Add peeled and cut-up tomato, seasoning, and herbs. Cover, and cook until vegetable is tender. Take from stove and cool.


Beat eggs lightly, season, and mix with cooled vegetables. Pour back into skillet, cover tightly and cook over a slow fire until the edges of the frittata pull away from the pan. If the middle puffs up, prick it with a long sharp knife
[…or better yet, pull away from sides once or twice with large spoon, to let the soft middle flow outward].

When it is solid, brown lightly under a slow broiler flame in a preheated oven, cut in slices like a pie, and serve at once.
Serves four.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

May-December's many climates

Bruce Willis, 54, just married lingerie model Emma Heming, 30. Harrison Ford, 66, announced his engagement to Calista Flockhart, 44.

Few relationships annoy women over 50 more than the May-December union where the woman is a generation (20 to 25 years, depending on the source) younger than the man.
The Demi Moore (47)-Ashton Kutcher (31) type of union is rare, and does not provoke as much censure as curiosity.

I've seen women with the perspicacity of a Supreme Court justice lose it when a 50-something man ta
kes up with a 30 year old.

Their response is often like my friend Jay's Jewish grandmother's when he was dating one Bridget O'Hara: "And you're letting a nice Jewish girl sit home?" They see the scarcity of eligible men in their age cohort, and are not pleased to see a guy pass over vital, interesting, lovely fifty-something dames for a "girl".

The assumption is that the man is displaying a trophy, chasing his departed youth or reveling in the sugar daddy role. By the time they are 50, women have seen these scenarios often enough to make their blood run cold.

But let's resist defaulting to the cliché.

Some couples I know tell me they fell in love with a person, not a birthdate, and the years between them simply dropped away. They are willing to brave differences in health or energy as the decades roll up; they navigate family or friends' approbation with good humour. One woman in her early 40s says her 70 year old husband is "the youngest man I know". Several have reared second families blended with first families, and that is some hard work.

And who cares what people think? Would you choose your partner by popular vote? As long as both people consider themselves lucky, who's to criticize?

The Younger Model

In the case where a man has chosen a new, much younger companion to bolster his status and flaunt symbolic virility, let him be as well. Would you want someone that superficial and insecure? Would you predict a fulfilling life for his partner?

The problem with relationships based on a "deal" is that you need your stack of chips piled in front of
you at all times, and if yours is mostly composed of the gold chips of youth and its lingerie-clad charms, it will erode before your eyes.

So May-December might look the same from couple to couple but it's not.

There are great love stories with more than a small measure of courage and devotion, calculated deals, and old (and young) fools who find each other across an age gap. To assume all couples are together for the same reason- a reason that does not flatter the mature person in the couple- is the same error as thinking tha
t a relationship has to be long to be significant.

Woody Allen, who knows a thing or two about intergenerational romance, will kick off the Tribeca Film Festival in late April with his new film on the theme, "Whatever Works" starring Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood, Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley. I hope he has the guts to address complexity, rather than presenting stereotypical characters like those of "Vicky Christina Barcelona".

A 50+ woman whose 48 year old buddy introduces her to his 23 year old girlfriend will need her full complement of good will and grace, because she's probably not going to respond with whole-hearted enthusiasm, at least at first.


Monday, March 23, 2009

Spring coats where the season is short

Spring coats where I live are what my mother called "a snare in a delusion".

The temperature bounced between -2C and 14C last week, but everyone's sick of heavy winter gear, even though there's still ice in the wind.
But if you buy a light coat, you could wear it shivering in sleet.

Since spring is so short, investing a lot does not make sense, unless it's a neutral you'd also wear in the fall, like navy or beige. But then it doesn't look exuberantly spring-like.
I think that's the case in warmer locales too: fall and spring cast a different mood.

Some solutions I've seen on our city streets:
- A powder-blue lighter-weight down vest over a an off-white cashmere sweater: Sporty and springy
- The lined raincoat: A classic solution, but most versions are not interesting
- The quilted jacket: Just enough warmth and, if in a colour, seasonal. Like them on others better than on me. (Shown, the Land's End Dory, on sale for $47.)

Two of my spring coats are from my favourite resale store: an Escada butter yellow wool topper that was pre-owned, and a "new old stock" Anna Maria Beretta pale taupe spring-weight wool. The third I bought at a local boutique, a Chacok trench in a shimmery burgundy techno-fiber.

That should keep me covered, but I would love the Pringle 1815 embroidered cotton trench, $595 from Net-a-porter. The colour and embroidery at the hem lift it from the mannish sameness of many trench coats.

A leather jacket is useful in cooler-climate spring, but not in heavy black. This, the iris blue Doma washed leather bomber, $505 (also from Net-a-porter) would be dreamy.


If buying a raincoat, an interesting finish makes the coat seasonal. This Hilary Radley coat from Bluefly is pearl double-faced linen. (It's is deeply on sale for $159, but only available in size 12). I'm showing it to illustrate how a slight iridesence lifts a neutral. If you find one, grab it; they are rare as rainbows.

For a short rain jacket, I'd pick this elegant one from Babette's Spring collection. The rose will flatter everyone, and I prefer it to a wan pastel.

Friday, March 20, 2009

A fillip of frivolity

The economy has dealt a downturn, though not a death blow, to my business. I've gained more leisure time than I've had since I was fifteen.

At 60, I see that at some point I might not have the health to
enjoy free time, now I do. I feel like a visitor to a far-away country: so this is what it's like there. What do I notice?

1. My house is a lot grottier than I ever saw, despite our regular cleaning lady. Four adults can put grime in places a routine once-over can't reach.


2. I had too many clothes. Gave three trash bags to Goodwill, with more to come. I hadn't had time to maintain all that stuff anyway.


3. Too much food, too. Last night I threw away two pounds of moldy green beans we forgot to eat; don't think I even knew they were there. We've excavated prehistoric remains from the chest freezer.

Despite this new consciousness about consuming, I am not celebrating how lucky we are, now that we can learn to be frugal again as the self-satisfied Toronto Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente wrote recently. One doesn't feel so lucky when, as many people have had to do, you tell your kids they must drop out of college, or inform relatives who depend on your contributions that you can no longer help.

I don't think frugality confers wisdom, kindness, or any moral brownie points. It's just how you run your life, eithe
r by choice or (mostly) by necessity.

We've latched on to frugality as our salvation, but sometimes frivolity offers something too.

I once read an anecdote that's stayed in my mind. A woman was recalling her childhood in England during WWII. One evening, after a plain meal, she sat with her grandmother by a scant fire in a cold house. Her grandmother sent her to fetch the
sugar bowl, and the girl carefully carried the precious contents to the woman.

Her grandmother took a heaping cup of sugar and threw it on the fire, for the effect, a brilliant display of coloured flames. (My parents called this "fairy fuel".) The extravagance convinced them that joy and beauty were still relevant to their lives, that they were able to do something for the pure pleasure of it.

Frugality, from Wente to Oprah (and therefore to the planet) is presented as "the new normal", as at least a full generation brushes up on home economics. But taken too far, frugality squashes the juice out of life like a psychic tourniquet.

Frivolous is not the enemy of frugal, and need not involve spending. In the midst of a late night thunderstorm, when the whole house is awake anyway, get the kids up for a popcorn picnic and their favourite music, sensible bedtime be hanged.

Stage a kazoo parade for a friend's happy occasion.

Instead of a computer-printed birthday card (or even worse, e-card), haul out a stack of old photos and magazines and create a silly and sentimental collage.

And sometimes it does involve spending. The other week I gave $20 to a busker playing a soaring "Suzanne" in the subway, and it felt great. A dear friend turns 60 in May and I know what she yearns for... and I'm not saying more right now. Today we're buying a pair of great tickets to see Ricky Jay (appearing in my city this May), a steep price, but it will be special.

We need bright moments of levity to lighten the load and remind us that life is a gift, and not one wrapped in plain brown paper, either.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Flash in a flat

Those of us who reserve heels for state occasions, or don't wear them at all have a spring basketful of flats to tempt us.

You could go from sturdy winter footwear to sandals, but where I live you'd have goosebumps on your toes for at least the next six weeks. Lucky that shoe designers have given us a lot of great, decently-priced flats this season.


Aqua paisley ballet, J Crew, $118. If you can wear this flat, with no evident arch, they're fun.


Cole Haan Air Alexis Mary Janes in daffodil, $188 from Neiman Marcus, Blissful arch support, and a bit more heel.

Elie Tahari's Julia Driver in Sweet Lilac spins the driving moccasin toward the feminine with flower detail; $202 from Zappos.


Land's End Suede Tassel Moc. For only $34.50 you get a genuine suede upper and butterfly cotton lining. The spring colours (shown, Pink Coral) rescue it from being unbearably sedate.

If you need a little more shoe, Aerosole's Skip Town in this luscious purple nubuck is only $55 from Style Bakery. How often can you find purple flats?


After wearing flats all day, your feet can take a few hours out on the town in th
e adorable peep-toe Aerosole Benefit, with a 3" heel on a flexible rubber sole, and on sale for $71.20 at Style Bakery.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Suva: Spectacular graphics, versatile shirts

A sunny mild day, perfect time to pack away wintry sweaters and finally the right season to share one of my favorite items of clothing, Suva shirts.

Suva was founded by Natalya Bagrova and Tim Showalter to extend their personal vision of the world into a fascinating line of casual tops.

Each shirt features one of Tim's evocative photos: espresso cups, Vespas, Buddhist monks, peacocks, old motels, neon signs. Elegant, mysterious, charming, political, graceful: each image has its mood and story. They wash and travel like a dream. You select a style (3/4 sleeve, short sleeve, tank) and image. The image is on the torso only (sleeves are solid); Suvas are actually slimming.

Your custom-made Suva is delivered in about two weeks; price is $50-$60, depending on style.


Suva's custom shirts are a mid-weight poly; I recommend them over the "spunrib jersey-blend" (also offered on their site in the ready-made section) because poly yields the crispest images. Normally I don't like to wear synthetics, but these are fine.

To view the shirt choices, click here.
O
r click on here to browse Tim's images on shirts.
(The lovely long-haired model is Natalya.)

I have nearly every image they've produced. People try to buy them off my back; I can't tell you how many times I've scribbled www.suvawear.com on a scrap of paper for admiring strangers.







The images above: Village Hollywood, Car Lovers, Flowers for Sale and Espresso.

All images copyright Timothy Showalter of Suvawear, used with permission.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Petals for St. Pat's, and more pretty pearls

Spring bumps my love of pearls to the next level, obsession. New offerings come to the market after the winter round of gem shows puts new material into designers' hands.

Designer Sara Canizzaro at
Kojima Pearl (based in Oakland, CA) offers unusual varieties. You can (theoretically) spend tens of thousands, but here's the ocean's allure and luster for far less.
Above,
Petal Pearl Strand: Chinese freshwater pearls (CFWP), a lavish 13x10mm per petal, $150 for the full strand. (Prices in $US.)

Left: Keishi Stacked Flat necklace: again, CFWPs in cream, rose, light pink, with a high lustre, just $60. Offhandedly elegant paired with a tee or in the collar of a shirt.


CFW "Pondslime" Pearl strand. Natural colours in an head-swiveling 11-12mm size, $359. Just gorgeous. Cool. I waaaant them.

Would you prefer to wear your pearls as earrings? These 18k gypsy hoops, left, set with small akoyas and faceted diamond beads are graceful yet hip; $395.

And finally, Happy St. Patrick's Day!


Here's how I'd like to wear my green: A lavish 15.8mm Kojima Tahitian pearl surrounded by natural colour green tourmalines, set in silver, $435.

I always try to recruit a GF for a drink in late afternoon, and this year's sidekick is my unemployed and authentically Irish friend J. We become the O'Malley Sisters, because what decent bar is going to turn away two middle aged sisters pining for their pint?

Sláinte Mhaith!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Homeless World Cup: Football gives a hand up

Sometimes the most stylish garment is... a football jersey.

The Homeless World Cup
, an annual, international football tournament, unites people from over 50 nations who are homeless and excluded. The organization has started grassroots football clubs world-wide since being formed in 2001 by poverty activist Mel Young.

What does playing do? Look at these stats from the
Homeless World Cup site: "Research 6 months after the international tournament demonstrates a consistent, significant impact.
For example, after the Cape Town 2006 Homeless World Cup, players report:

92% have a new motivation for life (342 players)

72% play football on regular basis (268 players)

89% have improved social relations (331 players)
73% have changed their lives for the better (272 players)

35% have secured regular employment (130 players)

44% have improved their housing situation (164 players)

39% chose to pursue education (145 players)

93 players addressed a drug or alcohol dependency


In addition, the site says, Homeless World Cup raises awareness of homeless issues and improves the image of homeless people to the public.

Want to meet someone who's been there? David Duke, in this 5-minute clip, "From the Bottle to the Cup" tells about the effect the organization's had on his life.


Toronto musician and sportswriter Dave Bidini's book, "Home and Away: Adventures at the Homeless World Cup of Soccer" about his travel to Melbourne with the Canadian team will be released shortly.



Thursday, March 12, 2009

Safe or smokin' for spring

Let's look at how one outfit, a spring staple, can be either safe or smokin'.

Left, J. Crew cashmere crew-neck and narrow, flat-front khakis, a basic combo that most of us have, in some version.
Easy to wear, maybe too easy for the 50+ woman to slip on without much thought, which is what I mean by "safe".

Jewelry:

Let's start here, it's so much fun!

Smokin':
R
aise the game with a statement necklace, the jeweled J. Crew Palm Leaf, $175, as shown on the model.

Prefer earrings? The Blue Shower chandelier from Matta, at Novica, a lush fall of turquoise for only $68.

Or Fragments Silver and Pink Enamel Large Flower Ring, below, $90.

Any one of these (a
nd I will stop myself here) would twist the clothes from old-school preppy into a definite presence.

Safe
:

Small, classic shapes
A bit
sy pair of ball studs or that fine gold chain your Aunt Emily gave you for high school graduation. Yes, it's real gold, and maybe sentimental. But it's time to leave them in the jewel box, give them to a beloved girl, or recycle into something that's "you" now.

I find the traditional engagement ring set also conventional, and jarring with sportswear. Wear just the band. For a fresh look, wear the band with a second, thinner band, a coloured-stone guard band in emerald, amethyst or tourmaline; this is a less aging style.

The Bag

Safe:
Dark leather in spring screams "practical". Still, I see them all the time, as if a woman just grabbed what's there in the hall closet. Hobo leather bag, $65, from Appleseeds.

If there's one thing that makes or breaks a spring look, its a seasonal bag.


Smokin':

J. Crew Magazine tote in orange, $78. A shot of colour sure tarts up the neutrals!


Shoes:


Safe:
Durable and plain slip-ons; Regal Loafers, $88, from Appleseeds. Oh god, I hope I never see these in person.

Smokin':
Jack Rogers leather loafers, tan with pony hair top, $135 from SandalWorld.

You don't need all these accessories. Any two will do the trick.

Colour
and risk- fleeing the too-practical- are the keys to a fresh, vibrant wardrobe, even if the clothes are dependable basics. I'll be bringing out some favourite spring accessories, and buying just a few more as I greet the return of light, birdsong and no winter boots.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Women who will not spend on themselves

I've had this thought rattling around since Funny about Money commented (on my post about Mother of the Bride dresses, February 19, 2009):

"
Where on EARTH do people get that kind of money to spend on clothes????? If I had that much laying around, I'd get some French doors installed in my house...or maybe stop worrying about whether & when I'm going to be laid off."

My first thought was, Same place they got the money for the invitations, reception, and wedding dress, I guess.

My second was, I love French doors too, but this is your child's wedding, one of the most special occasions you'll ever attend. The point is to look as joyous on the outside as you feel inside.*

Few of us have "that much laying around". So shop sales, buy resale, rent, find a reasonably-priced dressmaker, or make your dress the wedding's "something borrowed".


My thoughts about wedding attire led me to another matter.

I have observed that some women I've known will not spend on themselves even when they have money.

I was once browsing in a posh neighborhood of a large city, and chatted with a boutique owner. "Women here will spend on clothes," she told me, and women in (neighboring upscale suburb) will spend it on their houses."

A woman who spends on the house but not on herself may believe that:
1. More people will enjoy the house purchase; buying for yourself is "selfish"
,
2. The home-oriented purchase endures (you might even leave the item to your children), or could enhance the value of your asset; the dress is gone in a few years, or
3. Buying for yourself is va
nity (a vice), but buying for the house is "making a lovely home" (a virtue).

Or maybe there are other reasons.

I once spent a weekend in New York with a woman of this bent. We visited a flea market where she fell in love with a small antique turquoise and gold locket, for $100. She would not buy it, though the cash was in her handbag.

We later went to Barney's, where she spent well over four times that for table linens that I thought were seriously overpriced. And I could tell she really, really wanted that locket. I asked if her partner would disapprove; she said no.

She practiced the same economy when we ate in restaurants (no wine, the cheapest items), but would commission, for example, a hand-crafted custom door. The house was where she fulfilled her desire for beauty.

Was she making a wise choice? I can't
say. But they sold that place, and the door stayed behind. When she came to my house for dinner in a faded sweater with a conspicuous hole in the front, I wondered once again about women who will not spend for themselves- and I'm not talking about luxury, just averagely nice things.

She was an extreme example, but not the only one I've seen.

So I say, look splendid for the wedding, the anniversary, the graduation- life's bright moments. Roll up that rug, the one with the wax that never quite came out on the fringe, and dance in a dress that lifts your heart.

Which wedding photo photo would you like your daughter to show her children: you in a smashing coat of beautiful fabric, or you in a just-okay jacket? Would you like your child to say, "There's your grandmother, her napkins always matched her table setting?" or "Look at your grandmother, wasn't she something?"


(The embroidered coat shown, by Toronto designer Alexia von Beck, about $400.)

* Exception: my mother, at my first wedding. She wore black and wept nonstop. At least her attire matched her mood.