The closet: Taking classics to current

I stand, nearing year-end, with a beady eye on my closet. Everything is, as my mother would say, "perfectly good", but is it current?

Sisters, I was served a wake up call, thanks to a stranger.  I was in a shop last week when a woman about my age walked in in a 1980s fur coat, matching fur hat, and patchwork cardigan. She looked very well dressed...for 1990. That was "classic", once, and now it's old-timey as a lorgnette. If she feels good in it still, that's her business, but I don't wish to follow suit.

To consider how to work with what I have, I looked for classic pieces like those I own, worn by women who have a decidedly modern vibe. No weird or unwieldy proportions, nothing short, tight and "cute": adult clothes, skirts at the knee, shoes to walk in.

Photos left, right: The Sartorialist
Left: Turquoise coat over black tank and an at-the-knee knit skirt with appliqué detail; white sneakers. A coat in an unusual colour is an outstanding update; Mom again: "Your coat is the first and last thing people see." White sneakers keep the whole thing casual, you can walk in them, and they're cool. I have the coat for next spring.

Centre: Judi! Ecru! I can't wear beiges but never mind, I wanted a reminder that neutral, tonal palettes always look smart, and admired Dame Judi's supple bag with no visible logo, charms or clunky hardware. (To get around the ever-climbing cost of quality leather goods, try consignments.)

But since I saw the locally-made Casgrain leather bag, which converts from tote to backpack, displayed at Lowell, I am coveting its clean chic:


Right: Classic black/white plaid reefer over black denim and a basic black turtleneck, and then... the red boots. Option: swap in any solid bright, and choose a lower heel, but that coat is much livelier than all-black, my city's default. That's Yasmin Sewell, whom I always find inspiring.
Shown: Vince Camuto Chelsea bootie:



When classic hits the wall

I've written about the generational marker of coordination, and which is still seen in certain sartorial circles. So sometimes I collect What Not to Wear images. All of these shots feature a classic trouser or skirted suit, and the rigorous coordination takes the lead in making them look passé:


Bright coordinates persist in department stores, sold by the same vendors that wonder why they have lost Millenials' business. The jewel tones are harsh, yet often chosen for the camera—they make it hard to look away. For women in public life, that might be the goal—but it's not modern.

Clinton is dressing differently in her post-election life. Now that every outfit is not chosen to telegraph some kind of message, she can wear more sober tones, as she did for an appearance in Montréal this fall:


She wil probably still coordinate her trousers and tops, because the unbroken column elongates her petite figure, but the grey jacquard is far more current than the mans' suit in electric hues.

That hypercoordination gets little play beyond those roles and some mother-of-the-bride outfits, and not by women under middle age. Drop by a pub or coffee shop where young adults gather, and you'll see black-and-white houndstooth with citron yellow; sky blue with taupe and a shot of coral; red with a green-and-pink floral.

You may notice combinations you never thought of, and be warned off any incipient matchiness except for all-black—they do wear that.


Accessories don't save everything... but close

On The Sartorialist, Scott Schuman shoots eccentric colour mixes and pattern, usually on lithe young persons, but also shares his deep knowledge of fabrics, tailoring and fit. Frequent reading has warned me off some mistakes, and fanned my longing for reincarnation as a Milanesa.

"Modern" means neither the shortest or tightest piece you can get away with, nor the trendiest. (Schuman has never photographed a cold-shoulder sweater.)

Below, classic pieces, but each sparked by current, high-quality accessories.

All photos: The Sartorialist

Left: Classic trench in gray plaid with metallic boots and shiny charcoal bag: playing with a tonal palette, but also texture: a master class in detail.

Centre: Menswear checks tweaked by a bold graphic muffler, good sunglasses—and the 'accessory' of a great hair cut. I'm eyeing this should it go on sale:


Right: You might be thinking, What accessories? Look closely and you'll see her big ring, and two bracelets (one, woven cord on her right, the other, a thin bangle). You could wear a mid-scale earring, or even a necklace, if you prefer nothing on your hand or wrist. of All-navy needs a little tarting up, makeup-wise—she has red lipstick—but poppy or a deep wine would work too.
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Most women have more than enough clothes. As Janice of The Vivienne Files once said, "We tire of our clothes before they tire of us." We slip into a rut concerning how we wear them, so a single investment accessory can punch up any number of old favourites.

And, as I consider Fur Coat Lady, I realize that some "classics" have a dated cut that no accessory can modernize. Her sweeping fur could be renovated into a short jacket or vest.


The best, for last

Most of the women on my idea board are smiling, even Theresa May, suffering a grip-and-grin with Vladimir Putin. The open, natural smile is a free, magnificent accessory, so hang on to yours! It will lift and polish anything you choose to wear, and make you feel better, too.

"You don't need a thing", I tell myself, "except for a pair of metallic shoes—but it wouldn't hurt to smile more."












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Jewellery Reno: Mum's emerald had a secret

Miriam inherited her mother's ca. 1940 three-stone diamond and emerald engagement ring. She wanted to reset the emerald as a modern ring she could wear everyday and one day pass it on to her youngest daughter.


Miriam lives several hours from Toronto, so visited a jeweller I recommended, Pam Chandler of Artwork Gallery. Miriam liked their clean, modern pieces, and asked Pam for ideas.
Tip #1: Someone may recommend a jeweller, but it's essential that you like what you see when you visit, which reflects the artist's sensibility. Jewellers design within their style range; avoid one who says he can "make anything".

Two wax models

The jeweller made waxes of a three-stone modern band. This is the process for a cast metal setting, and gives the client and idea of scale and shape.

Left: The first model was an oval, slightly bombé band with rounded edges. Miriam thought this was not exactly it.
Right: Miriam chose the second version, a uniform, knife-edged band, designed to use all the original stones and recycle the 14k yellow gold. (That sapphire and diamond band is an Artwork ring they looked at as an example.)
Tip #2: If the first try is not your ideal ring, ask for more options. You'll want to be entirely happy and this is the stage to get the shape and scale right.


Trouble in paradise!

Though some jewellers set their own stones, often a setter handles this work. And at this stage, Miriam got a shock. When he examined the emerald, the setter found it was a doublet, which is a thin layer of emerald glued to another, far less costly substance, in this case, glass. Emeralds, opals, and other gemstones are sometimes made into doublets in order to lower the cost.

The process is not considered deceptive if the practice is disclosed. These are not fakes (such as glass or other material sold as an emerald); they are assembled gems. Triplets also exist; in this case an additional clear layer is added to the top of the gem, usually glass or clear quartz.

Did Dad know the ring he chose was a doublet? Did Mum? It was treasured—and whether anyone knew is lost to time.

The setter would not reset the doublet because of the risk of shattering. Setting an emerald, always an included stone, takes nerves of steel, and a doublet is even more finicky because the emerald layer is  thin. Miriam had a choice: take the risk (probably with a different setter), or replace the stone.

Pam suggested a green tourmaline, and sent Miriam a shot of it sitting loose in the setting, which was partially completed. Miriam liked this stone.



Tourmaline is fairly tough, but under a microscope this one showed many inclusions; therefore, the setter thought it might not withstand the force of the hammer. (A claw setting is much more accommodating.)
Tip #3: If you are willing to buy another stone, you might take a chance, but I have always respected an expert setter's judgement. There's an axiom that "Any stone can be set; it just depends how", but in this case the setting dictated the stone.

On the hunt for glowing green 

Back to gem shopping! Fortunately, Miriam was in the hands of a jeweller with very high standards and superb taste in stones.

Pam sourced a 5mm chrome diopside, a rich green gem that's slightly softer than tourmaline, but in this protected setting, and with Miriam's loving care, it will be fine. When well-cut, chrome diopside is an exceptionally vivid stone and the colour is natural, never enhanced.

A new and whole stone

Left: Pam sent Miriam a photo of the finished ring; Miriam had one more trip to make into the city!
Right: On Miriam's hand, a beautiful blend of old and new. The ring fits perfectly; the back of the band is slightly flattened to minimize shifting. As Miriam says, her daughter will have the new gem to connect her to her mother, and the diamonds to connect her to her grandmother.


Tip #4: Jewellery restyling is both art and science. If the science doesn't line up—the gem isn't what you supposed, or it is weakened by wear or internal flaws—be prepared to look at replacements. Fortunately, in sizes under about 6mm, there are many bewitching coloured gems at very reasonable prices.

Miriam was delighted not only with her new ring, but with the process, and that's a credit to her equanimity. She learned a good deal about gemstones with this project, and took her time to consider her options. Miriam's doublet could still have another life—it's very pretty—as a clasp, pendant or ring that accommodates its true composition.

Had she preferred the vintage setting, she may never have known its secret. Now she does, and has a story to tell, as well as a new ring to enjoy.