"Jessie" visited for a few days last week; we browsed through a large craft show, indulged in hot chocolate, and attended a late-morning concert of tango music in the hall atop Montréal's luxury department store, Ogilvy.
My friend of forty years has long preferred to spend on travel, her house or good causes. She buys inexpensive-to-moderately priced clothes deliberately, keeps her hair and makeup current, and pays little attention to which designer's doing what.
That approach works for her suburban, mostly-retired life, but when women entered the hall in chic coats and luminous scarves, she noticed, and murmured something about feeling underdressed.
Les Montréalaises d'un certain âge are a soignée lot when out for an I Musici concert, not a pair of running shoes or tired jeans in the crowd. We admired an artfully-seamed featherweight leather blazer, a furled butterscotch cashmere wrap and the quirky flair of a dusty rose sheared-beaver jacket, worn by a white-haired woman of about seventy.
Jessie began to develop avidity, especially when she saw the 40% off sales signs posted in every department. She agreed to a spin through the fashion floors.
She reminded me of another friend, R., who told me of traveling decades ago from Toronto to New York to spend the weekend with her chum Anne, a dancer in the chorus of "Cats". R. hit town thinking she looked pretty damn good.
Anne was performing, so R. had most of Friday evening to kill. As she sauntered up Columbus (then home to hip boutiques) she began to adjust her judgment: "pretty good" slipped to "out of it". At first she filed observations for future reference. Then, she wanted that.
By the time the houselights dimmed, "Memories" referred not only to the finale, but to R.'s bank account.
"When I met Anne at the stage door, I looked fabulous even by New York standards", she recalled. She got tout le kit: coat, dress, shoes, bag and earrings. R. wore those pieces for years–and paid for them for at least one.
R.'s story illustrates how, plunked into a different setting, you can be inspired to up your game. The key of course is to buy what you can also wear back home–otherwise you're hauling a very costly souvenir.
Jessie found a pair of sleek pants, an Italian sweater with more detail and verve than the one she'd been wearing, and finally, the pièce de résistance, this slightly iridescent Steilmann vest with a blurred python-print front and boiled wool back and sleeve.
(It looked far better than in this shot, matte and supple, with a subtle mauve undertone. Trust me, made for her.)
She slipped it over her grey longsleeved tee and suddenly her charcoal jeans were vaulted up several notches. The price point was about double her usual (but with the sale only about 25% more).
Jessie's a beauty in any brand, but I see once again that as we age, the lower end doesn't do us any favours, especially if a woman likes to wear colour. The dyes of the German and Italian tops she tried were richer, the colours more nuanced, the fabrics soft yet substantial.
The overall effect was that of a well-dressed woman who was not sacrificing style for comfort. I was delighted to see my friend in clothes that highlighted her enviable figure, taking her from "nice" to "wow".
I worry about the shape of the store, though. Two weeks before Christmas and all clothing 40% off–what's up? Founded in 1866, Ogilvy was bought in 2011 by the Weston family, who own Holt Renfrew, another luxury retailer. Rumours of a merger continue.
Ogilvy's famous piper skirled through at noon; Jessie tucked her iconic tartan shopping bag under her arm and headed for the train trip home.
Unlike R., she wasn't broke after her foray; she spent $300 on three pieces, in which she felt like a million bucks. I guess we've learned something as the years have passed!