Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sunny summer tops

Definitively spring/summer with subtle details, and not too short on the arm: tops for those of us not thrilled to wear cap sleeve or sleeveless. "Don't show off your Bingo Wings!" as my friend Clarissa says.

Blouses that sing

Henley cotton pleated shirt with flounces, €55, Eric Bompard, available in cork beige (shown), navy, white. I'd take every colour!

Dusty pink Bouquet Tunic, $78 from Sundance. Fresh, feminine and just enough cover.

Below, Simonas embellished blouse by Malene Birger, $230 from Net-a-porter.

Don't hate me because the some sizes are already s/o, just look for something similar: beading, pleating, 3/4 sleeve and a colour that pops against any neutral.

Diane van Furstenberg Key Print Blouse is also from Net-a-Porter but available elsewhere too. A wink to Hermès, at about a tenth the price, $200. The "key" to wearing this witty piece is the simplest bottom: linen jean, simple pencil skirt, or even denim.


Armed to the tees


Elbow-Sleeved Print Tee, Orvis, $39.

I don't usually wear the Orvis' kindly- birdwatcher esthetic, but this anemone print in black and white appeals. It's hard to find a pleasingly-printed tee and elbow-length sleeves.

Pima Cotton 3/4 sleeve boatneck from LL Bean, $24.95. Many of us know and love the 3/4 boatneck, a style that forgives without looking boxy. Bean offer an array of summery colours.


A fitted, 3/4
sleeve top that has several features to set it apart: a subtle shimmer fabric (50% cotton and 50% nylon), with doubled
f
abric on the front to give enough coverage. Fits sizes Small to Medium, $56 from Michael Stars.


L.A.M.B. Baby Elephant 3/4 sleeve top, $75, wittily presents pachyderms and Eastern motifs. Hand-washable, slightly sheer. Fresh under a jacket, cool with jeans. From Nordstrom.

Velvet's Aster Twist top has a romantic gathered neckline with a center pleat. The deep V is summery and flattering This appealing intersection of blouse and tee is the kind of tee you can wear out to dinner. Shown in coral; $76 from Garnet Hill.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Skirting the Truth

US First Lady Michelle Obama joined Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, among others yesterday to unveil a statue of abolitionist and womens' rights activitst Sojourner Truth in the National Visitor Center yesterday.

This upbeat occasion captures the essence of Mrs. Obama's style; she's in a striking shirtdress by young French designer Sophie Theallat.
(The price of the dress, $2,000; no J. Crew this time.)And on her feet, black ballerinas!

A woman in a dress looks so much more current than a woman in a pantsuit. Look at her above, compared to the '80s pantsuit-twins, Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton. Mrs. Clinton wore an unusual, gorgeous tangerine shade that in fact would look better against Mrs. Obama's darker skin.

Here's a good look at Mrs Obama's frock; I can almost hear Hillary thinking, "Dang! Gotta get me a dress!"

Jane Birkin's cashmere

Lutz and Patmos commissioned several designs by "guest designer" Jane Birkin in heather gray or mocha organic cashmere; this 3/4 sleeve sweater is $695 from Barney's.

I won't be buying, as largest size offered on the site is medium, but
I would love to try it, as it's a ringer for a Calvin Klein cotton interlock knit top I bought circa 1982. I think I paid $135 for it, a fortune then, but when I put it on, it was so magically cut that it changed my whole upper body. With that piece I learned the power of perfect cut on a deceptively simple garment.

It could be overpriced; you can find similar deep V's on a few cashmere sites, though the necks tend to be narrower, more masculine. Jane's looks harmonious and balanced. She designed it so it can fall off one shoulder. And zen zee French guy can kees eet. Or is it just that I love Jane in hers, and so idealize the garment?

She also designed a tank for the collection, and wears the two together. Vraiement belle, Jane!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Susan Boyle's makeovers

1. Susan Boyle au naturel

Her relatively ungrooomed look earned everything from catcalls to kudos, with plenty of people saying "You leave our lovely lass
alone!"

2. Daily Makeover's virtual attempt:

'We evened out her skin tone, groomed her brows and opened up her eyes with mascara and soft grey liner."

They also tried out two new hairstyles.
The 'original' Susan is at far left, and when I enlarged the photo to study her curly bob, I thought it suited her face far better than the limp makeover choices. She just needs to work in some Curls Rock Curl Amplifier, so her hair matches the fullness of her voice.

I'd say yes to the makeup tweaks and no to these utterly conventional hairstyles. Give her a shot of glossy hair colour, and the good will to keep that charming smile while the rest of the world debates how beautiful she is or isn't.


3. Susan's real life choice

So this is where she landed. A less-curly coloured coif, groomed brows, makeup, a leather jacket and Burberry scarf.


Last Sunday's New York Times ran an article, "Yes, Looks DO Matter" by Pam Belluck, featuring Boyle. (The online version has at this point logged over 350 comments, providing an informal poll of just how much 'the book cover' counts.)

Commenters remarked that some of our most-loved singers (Ella Fitzgerald, Kate Smith, Edith Piaf, Judy Garland) were not conventional beauties, and that, if Abraham Lincoln had been televised, he would never have been elected.


At the same time, we are part of a culture that expects to be entertained and served by pretty people.

Susan Boyle's looks will evolve, though never to the strenuously botoxed and hair-extensioned level of today's entertainment icons. I hope nothing interferes with the twinkle in her eye and her resolutely independent air.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Maytrees: Meditation on marriage, loss, redemption

My friend Carolyn gave me Annie Dillard's novel, "The Maytrees", a book, the book, I too would give a friend in the midst of her mature years.

I read it while on a short vacation to the high peaks of the Adirondacks, and their wildness connected me to the Dillard's refined sense of the natural world.

"From a white lake of fog opaque as paint, the tips of dunes, and only the tips of dunes, arose everywhere like sand peaks that began halfway up the sky. Dune tops protruded from a flat fog line evenly as atolls. She could see every stick and pock on their tops against dark blue sky. These sand peaks lacked nothing but connection to earth and a cause for being loose. They looked like a rendezvous of floating tents..."


If Dillard's writing were a gem, it would be a silver-grey pearl, luminous, mysterious, ethereal.


The book takes some living to read and understand; though a love story (of all sorts), it is also a mediation on friendship, fidelity, art and death. Two death scenes witness the mundane and divine aspects of the end of life.

The plot won't be ruined by telling you that Lou Maytree's husband leaves her, then makes his way back under extraordinary circumstances. While you may not have faced such loss, by the time you are 50, you will have explored forgiveness.

"... She was wary. Conceding that there might be a point- merely granting it as a long shot- might lead to a mess. Both time's back wall and front wall fell open. As a mire in which to wallow, it had housework beat all hollow."

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Safe or smokin': The LBD

My friend Susan just scored a ravishing LBD from our favourite resale/vintage shop, Thrill of the Find. And I bought one just before the holiday season, so we're going out for a cocktail in our dresses.

There are books celebrating it, bands named after it, shops with nothing but LBDs, but some of us wonder, just like when you have a first baby: once I've brought it home, what the hell do I do with it?

LBD can become Little Boring Dress without TLC.

Jewelry
Safe:
Silver Small Organic Hoops in oxidized silver by Ten Thousand Things $190, from Ylang23. (Charming, but too sedate with the LBD.)

Diamond studs under 3 ct. tw will not pack the presence you need. Even if you have big honkin' skating rinks, I think you could wear more interesting earrings with your LBD.

Smokin:
Miguel As
es Coral Bead Chandelier Earrings with Oxidized Silver and 14K Gold Fill Beads $374 at Twist. You don't go to a party in these, you are the party!

Fion
a Paxton Sylvie Necklace in handworked beads and sequins with draping chain section, £140 from Kabiri.


Shoes


Though there are loads of killer heels out there, I'm going to assume you'll want shoes you can actually stand in, or walk from a restaurant to the theatre.


Safe:

Naturalizer "Endless"in black leather, $75 from Naturalizer. This shoe screams suit, and will take the fizz out of a festive dress.

Not quite Smokin':

When in doubt, wear slingbacks wit
h the LBD. Naturalizer's "Whitmore" is better, if you're looking for a lower-priced shoe ($75) that's well-balanced.

But it doesn't raise my pulse; still too Safe. For Smokin', we need lots more money! Yeah, baby!


Wait,
no we don't!
Sahhh-mokin':

RSVP's "Valorie" with cushioned foot petals has comfort features
and printed python, for only $89 from Zappos.

Or if you absolutel
y have to encase your heel, RSVP's "Dolly" in Geranium Masacra Patent, should get your feet in a party mood. ($110, from Zappos).

Available also in black, lemon yellow and linen patent.


The Coat

Safe:

A classic trench (shown, the Somewhere trench from Sears, $129), too utilitarian for the LBD's drama.

Smokin
':
T
his embroidered trench from Talbot's, $229, is not too office-y.

At a higher price, but so chic: A formal take on the traditional trench, the Celyn dress Mac by Erdem, in an ethereal dove cotton lined in printed silk, $1, 310 from Net-a-porter.


Resale/vintage stores are often great sources for evening coats, because they don't get worn
much, and are generally well-kept.

This gold lamé and sea green 60's number is $115 from Chi Chi and The Greek.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Cautious at craft shows

Craft shows are catnip to a subset of 50+ women. I went to a huge one recently, to buy our family's favourite confection, Brook's homemade chocolate-almond brittle.

While I waited in line to enter, I noticed two specific types of patrons, among others:

1. Appleseedies: Women dressed like a come-to-life Appleseed's catalogs, in denim jumpers or elastic-waist pants, interlock turtlenecks, boxy cardigans, and no-fuss hairstyles. Carefully coordinated, dressed to walk many long aisles. Footwear: Mephistos or clogs. These are clothing choices I avoid, but to be fair, they were dressed (and groomed) for function, not fashion.

2. Artsies: These women have never met a craft show garment they didn't like, and therefore buy many, and seem to wear all of their purchases back to the show. Pieced, appliqued leather jackets, beaded necklaces, Western hats with peacock-feather bands, and a large tote bag with something silkscreened on it. Footwear: hand-tooled maryjanes with rainbows or nature theme. It's simply too much craft, even when the pieces are well-executed.

The women artisans, waiting for the onslaught at their booths, show more style. They wear simply-cut pieces as a quiet backdrop for their wares. They murmur rather than shout. A pair of fishnet tights under a vintage velvet skirt, a shibori scarf worn as a belt, or a beret with a jeweled pin. One distinctive piece is enough.

I once went there with a
chic friend, and asked her why some 50+ women seemed to gravitate toward this "walking craft show" look. Her theory was that, when younger, you'd throw on a pair of jeans and a cute tee and think, "I look pretty hot". One day, she said, you lose that confidence, and slowly add external reinforcement, item by item, so that eventually the busy clothes or overwrought accessories are like the frog in the water brought to a boil: you don't notice you're over-crafted.

I came home with the candy, a simple heliotrope and oyster leather change purse, and a conviction that after
50, I'd better be really careful about craft shows.

It's easy to get caught up in buying; some of the booths were mobbed. But an art glass necklace that looked interesting could morph into lumpy and earnest once home, and that appliqued mod-fabric tote bag will prove too busy to carry.

There are treasures to be found, like this screen-printed Yasmine Louis tee, perfect for my son's girlfriend, mais pas moi.

MeHoi's Crazy Jim ear studs are a cheeky graduation gift for the slightly subversive 17 year old.

And someone born well after the sixties may channel her inner Stevie Nicks to charm in this very well-made Gypsy Circus ensemble, but I'd look scary.

Craft shows require a discerning eye, whether buying for others or ones' self. I appreciate the many artisans who make one of a kind designs into which they've poured their personal vision. The goods offered are not mass-produced brands, but that doesn't mean they're right for me.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Holding On and Letting Go

Frugal Scholar wrote, in a comment re yesterday's post, "My question: how do we decide what's OK and what's not? Many years ago, Emily Toth--who writes as Ms. Mentor in the Chronicle of Higher Education--told me that after 50, I would stop caring if my stomach stuck out, etc."

My short answer: when you decide it's time. Not Emily.

I remember riding the bus when I was in my 20s and noticing that the 'old ladies' wore support stockings and those rectangular shoes. I used to wonder, What happened to their shoes? When did they give up their sassy heels? Why? I, of course, would never get 'like that'.

Guess who now wears support hose? Well, only the black ones that look like tights.

There comes a time in every life, if we get that far, when the years are evident. Greta Garbo commented once that "every 6 or 7 years, a hand passes over your face, and you look older." Sometimes you will see it in a friend's, but not yours; the phenomenon is not synchronized.

Or you don't see someone for eight or ten years, and think, "Oh! They look so much older."

We can control the physical effects of aging somewhat, accelerating by hard living, slowing by more careful habits, or through interventions. But eventually too much youth-chasing results in an unnatural, soulless face. I've often quoted Bobbi Brown, who said, "You don't look like an young person, you look like an old person with plastic surgery."

When is it time to be less concerned with youthful physical markers like a flat stomach or glossy hair colour? When you feel pressured or fatigued by the effort, or simply not yourself.

Over and over, I heard Weight Watchers leaders say "You don't have to weigh at 60 what
you weighed at 22"; this notion was abhorrent to some women.

Sometimes I get a shock: "What happened to my arms, I seem to remember they were OK last year", I thought awhile ago, when I put on the first sleeveless dress of the summer. In the back of my mind, I planned more hours at the gym. I thought of my friend A., who met me at a restaurant, blinking back tears of pain, encased in compression bandages after arm lipo.

But then I figured, this is as good as it gets. I told myself, Wear the damn dress or get one with sleeves, because you're doing other things.

Holding on and letting go is not a duality. A woman might relax in certain areas and maintain her regime in others. I no longer run long distances, but am sure, through near-daily yoga practice, to use my full range of motion. Can't stand shoving myself into shapewear, but colour my hair.

Giving yourself a pass on grooming is sometimes a symptom of depression. If lack of interest extends to other areas of life, please confide in someone you trust, and address this immediately.


A sense of humour will help you grapple with your gradually gravity-afflicted face and figure. June Callwood wrote that her little granddaughter looked at her naked, and after some thought said, "I see that at seventy, your nipples point to your toes."

Where are you holding on, where are you letting go?


Monday, April 20, 2009

Micheline and Mary

I met the first woman via Fashion Magazine. Last week I took a fashion mag to bed for one of those mindless reads that marked the end of a grueling work project. After ten minutes, I could barely contain my disgust. The editorial content was devoted to "Ageless Style", yet the advertising exhorted women to "fight", "conquer", "turn back time", and "resist aging from the first signs".

The oldest model in the issue, Carmen Del' Orifice, above, looked suspiciously fresh in the photos, unlike the 76 year old women I know.


The next-oldest is this women, Micheline, who represents the 60s.

Her exact age, the profile says, "is an expertly maintained mystery". (Oddly, the magazine ran profiles of women in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 60s, but no 50s.)
I've seen her in the high-end store where she works, and she is an exotic, chic presence.

She said "You have to dress in what makes you feel good,” citing with pride her ability to pull off plunging necklines. “You don’t have to turn 60 and start wearing frumpy things.” I agree with that last statement, though her level of "makes you feel good" is very different from mine.

I'll never attempt the
amount of work required to achieve and maintain this effect. I'd require such serious surgical intervention that I might not survive the procedures. And life is too short to forgo blueberry pancakes.


It's relative, isn't it? One woman's flashy is another's frumpy. And if you feel good, whether you're wearing flats or stilettos, that confidence is evident,

I met the
second woman though her obituary.

Mary McCarthy Gomez Cueto, a Canadian, died in her home in Cuba on April 3 , 2009, at age 108, after a remarkable life. She died in her rundown Havana mansion after failing to get treatment for respiratory problems due to a shortage of cash, according to her godson and heir, Elio Garcia. "She had been suffering the embargo for 50 years," he said.

Her fortune was trapped in a Boston bank by the US trade embargo, and the money her husband left in Cuba was seized when Castro come to power.
McCarthy, born in Newfoundland in 1900, moved to Cuba in 1924 when she married a wealthy Spanish businessman whom she met in Boston.

She became a member of Cuba's high society, co-founding the Havana Philharmonic Orchestra and an orphanage for boys. She was known for her kindness, glamour, and equanimity about the changes in her fortune.


Her husband died in 1951, but she stayed in Cuba.
She was not able to touch the money her husband left her after the US imposed a trade embargo against Cuba in 1962, and lived in near poverty for years. In 2007, after a Canadian diplomat intervened, Washington allowed her to withdraw just $96 a month. Mrs McCarthy had to postpone medical treatment when the US did not transfer extra money allowed for medical purposes in time.

Although confined to a wheelchair after breaking a hip in 2002, she continued to wear a satin dress, silk blouse, chiffon scarf and lipstick for her stream of visitors, just as she had done in the days when she danced at the Havana yacht club. But she was reduced to wearing plastic pearls and earrings instead of the jewellery which, along with three gold rosaries, was in the First National Bank in Boston, and she was keenly aware that the joy had gone out of Havana, even if there was full employment.

Lively and outspoken into extreme old age, Mary McCarthy admitted to conflicting views about Fidel and his revolution. She conceded that the illiteracy and the poverty had ended, and was glad that her money had been put to good use. But she disliked communism, and was adamant that it was wrong to confiscate what belonged to her. "It's my money," she would insist.

Mary McCarthy was perhaps the best welder of the friendship between the people of Cuba and Canada," said the Canadian consul, Mark Burger.

(Sources: Reuters and The Telegraph.)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Pearls: Celebrating faux and genuine

Pearls? Did somebody say pearls?

Fond thanks to Deja Pseu, who told us about her new pearl necklace on her wonderful blog... so here's more on my favourite gem.


Picking Fab Fakes: Do As Pseu!

With her characteristic great eye, Deja Pseu scored a striking necklace, above.

A few suggestions, other than buying the very same:


1. Choose something out of the ordinary

Pseu's have interest through
varied size and generous length. She can wear it as two strands (above), knot it, or wear one long strand flapper-style. Her Gerard Darel piece is composed of big baroques (I'm gonna guess 16mm to 20mm) with tiny pearl stations between some links. The chain makes the baroques "float" for a lighter, more modern feel.

2. Rock your frankly fakes
No pearl in nature (outside the crown jewels) grows to a 30mm perfect round. Have fun with your oversized "pearls" or audaciously styled strands, infinitely more interesting than sweet, perfect white 8mm beads.

Shown above, from Miriam Haskell's Legacy Collection: 16" necklace of glass pearls with a Swarovski glass crystal placed slightly to the left (the smart detail); $200.

Don't kid yourself that "you can't tell the difference", though.
Fakes are usually too lustrous and perfect, so there's something soulless about them; they're all surface. I have two costume strands: a long rope of giant pale gold gumballs on heavy "gold" chain, and Majorica 14mm "Tahitians" which I packed for business travel. They're pretty, but like wearing silk versus poly, fakes feel different.

3. Be fanatic about fabrication
If strung in the classic way, avoid "stringing" that is done with tiny beads between each pearl instead of a knot; they won't swing gracefully.

Look for a good solid clasp and snag-free, substantial findings. One modern option: 18" Majorica gold tone necklace with hammered links and baroque pearls, available from Bloomingdale's, $210.

Miriam Haskell's romantic three-row Pearl Statement necklace, with Swarovski crystals and European findings, was inspired by one of their vintage designs. On sale for $434, (reduced from $620) in the Sale section of the web site.


Genuine pearls

Funky, chunky fakes aside, I love real pearls and look for large, high-quality Chinese freshwaters in rounds, baroques (my favourite), keshis, sticks, and coins, perfect for casual wear.

When I resist a few costume pieces, I can afford genuine pearls, if not a strand of luxe South Seas. Look for character, iridescence (or orient), and charisma.
There is a certain almost breathing essence to a lovely pearl.

(Many) Pearls are surprisingly reasonable.

This month's special at Pearl Paradise is a Tin Cup Necklace of Tahitian baroque pearls with peacock overtones, on silver chain, for $185. Check Pearl Paradise's monthly specials, and act quickly if smitten.

eBay seller DruzyDesign (Carolyn Ehret), known for her unusual pearls, is currently listing this glowing strand of 8-8.5mm natural coloured pearls (no dye), the current price is $9.99, with several days to go.

Yes, you still have to have them strung, but here is an example of what you might buy for the price of a large pizza.

If you long for a Pseu-length strand, e-mail Care; she has the pearls. She and Jeremy Shepard of Pearl Paradise are ethical, service-oriented and knowledgable experts who truly want to delight you. (Pearl Paradise designs tend toward the classic; if you crave one of those Nancy Pelosi mixed-colour strands, he's your man.)

Or buy one perfect pearl and wear it all the time.

Shown left, Zara Scoville's stunning 14mm South Sea pearl pendants on gold chain. Contact Zara for price (which varies depending on the pearl) through her web site, Priceless Imperfection. I'm saving for a piece. Will declaring that bring it closer?

Or choose one exquisite pearl inlaid with diamonds: Erica Molinari 18k Gold Sea Pearl Drop Necklace with Diamonds from Fragments, $850.

Pearls are
hardy.

You can step on a pearl and it will not crush. You can restyle a strand by mixing your pearls with other stones, changing the design or making the necklace into a bracelet.

If you want extreme long-wear, buy freshwater, which are almost all nacre (the coating the oyster lays down around the implanted bead or piece of tissue).


Pearls are
worry-free (with the same care you'd give your favourite jacket).

Worry about wear and tear?
Store them in a pouch so they don't bang up against other metal-set pieces, and keep perfume away from them. If strung on silk, restring every other year. One shouldn't layer pearls with chains, but I do sometimes, because I don't own any Akoyas, which can have notoriously thin nacre these days, and I like that look.


Worry about being mugged?

I'd feel more vulnerable wearing branded jewelery like Tiffany or Gucci. I guess if one is really fearful, it's plastic all the way.

Worry about loss?
I've lost jewelry through carelessness, and it hurts. But unless you buy at the costly end, pearls are not more valuable than the best pieces of clothing you own.
If they do represent a significant investment, you'll take care of them (and that includes insurance.)

Le Duc once bought me an extravagant pair of sunglasses. When I protested that I'd only lose them, he said, "No, you won't; you'll know where they are all the time." He was right.


Don't let "what ifs" get in the way of enjoyment of such a glorious gift from nature.

Fake or fine, heaped or a single pearl, how can I resist this glorious bounty from the oyster?