99 on August 29

This is my mother, Evlin, who would have turned 99 today.

She's with my brother, Denny, who was visiting her when this photo was taken at his favourite Irish bar in Naples, FL. She is 98 here, and that pint has her name on it (though I doubt she finished it)

I hope this inspires anyone who wonders what's possible in advanced old age. She got into that bar under her own steam (with a walker) and very much wanted to be there, in the centre of things.
My brother called to recite their various outings and the list tired me.

She loved fashion, especially formal evening wear: I remember her emerald velvet evening coat, lace cocktail dress, lush fox stole, stacked hatboxes.

In her last weeks, she occasionally became confused. She asked one of her caregivers to help her change into her best dress, and put on her pearls. They did so, then asked why. "My husband is waiting downstairs for me", she said. "We're going out!"

My Dad had been gone 15 years by then, but stepping out on his arm was still her idea of heaven.

What's the deal with the Dolmans?

Since Le Duc has sustained a horse-riding injury (doing much better but still ordered flat on his back), I've had time to do more fall store-trolling.

Though I prefer boutiques, the big department stores offer a wider vista, and I discovered: dolman sleeves abound, from blouses and sweaters to jackets. The bridge lines that offer dependable business clothes (like Anne Klein, at left from Nordstrom) have cloned the dolman, to my dismay.

Who looks good in this cut? The extra fabric under the arm extends the bustline and bunches at the side of the garment.

Originally a feature of the hussar's jacket, worn over the shoulders, the dolman's wide armhole was practical for the field. Emphasizing a wide chest was probably prized.

The dolman sweater is often twinned with ballon sleeves, as in the white Laura Keats number. I can almost hear a designer shrieking, "Do something to it! Do more to it!" Belts just make Miss Dolman look like a linebacker.

Somehow the big batwings cheapen even this $1,200 Stella McCartney top:

This sleeve sabotage amounts to an enforced savings plan for me- blocky and sacky won't open my wallet.

I'd have to float up (helium balloon up) to Armani, offering stunning jackets this fall, to find that precise, fitted armhole that takes off ten pounds and flatters the whole upper body.

Fanciful rings in orders of magnitude

Fall calls for bolder rings- and they're more comfortable to wear when the days cool. Here's a wish list with various price points.

Sevan is one of my favourite jewel-lust designers. Istanbul-based, he maintains a tiny atelier where he experiments with engraving, intaglio carving, micro-mosaics and uniquely-cut gems to produce jaw-dropping pieces.

This MM ring from Barney's web site is one of his mid-range pieces ($9, 800). 24k gold and sterling, with a 7.6 ct aquamarine center stone and .53 carats of diamond accents.

For quieter luxury, I'd choose this eBay listing by Hampton Estate Buyers for a timeless Georg Jensen 18k ring, at $675 (Buy It Now price) a terrific deal. Sadly, the size (5 1/4 US) is way too small for my finger, temptation averted.

Finally, reality and one son's tuition prevailing, I scratched my ring itch by ordering this Cale ring from etsy seller thebeside, $65 in 18k gold plate; also available in silver. I was charmed by Bernice's etsy copy, "Goes great with a pint of Guinness" and the proportions of the classic design.

She's shipping my ring from Brooklyn tomorrow, and I know exactly where I'm going for a pint, my local, Murphy's Law.

The whys of writing Passage des perles

materfamilias has written a self-searching and straight-shooting post about her interest in clothes and style, and (as she often does) she has led me to think- this time, about why I write this blog, and what I intend. I created Passage des perles for two reasons.

First, I was annoyed at the lack of celebration of women fifty and over. I found us largely absent in the fashion press, given short shrift in retail (especially if over size 12), rarely addressed by journalists, or if so, given a has-kept-herself-up kind of backhanded compliment. The only people w
ho seemed to care were plastic surgeons.

I wanted to know how to age gracefully, realistically and vitally, and to choose clothes that reinforced that wish.

Second, I was frustrated by the cost of fashion, especially from the name designers. Even if I could afford a $6,000 coat (and I can't), it's not congruent with my values. But I had found some exceptional products and because these local, independent or small vendors don't buy advertising space, the world does not meet them.

I decided if I couldn't find what interested me, I would write it myself. If I could do anything I'd attempt Sartorialist-style posts: photos of women past fifty who look wonderful, and by that I don't mean just dressed expensively or in the latest look.

Along with that comes a certain amount of opinion. If I think Crocs make a woman look like a platypus, I'm writing it. That doesn't mean she's not a fine human being, it means she looks like a freakin' duck.

Style is not about
seeking another person's approval, so if you want to wear a green garbage bag when you're caught in a shower,or Crocs to the theatre (which I have seen here) you have that right.

What you wear communicates who you think you are.

I'm not going ponder whether this small dot in the blogosphere is superficial or not. "Superficial", like "appropriate" is one of those sneaky code words for I Get to Play God(dess). The question behind the question is, How do you want to spend the limited hours of your life?

I've long observed when women gather, given enough free time and perhaps a glass of wine, they will ask one another, "What should I do with my hair?" "Do the shoes go with this skirt?" Ornamentation is a human preoccupation, and women seem more interested than men.

And through this low-key blog, I've made friends, been incited to consider contrary ideas, and received occasional appreciation, all of which have meaning to me.

Real or faux? Can you tell?

The New York Times' Style magazine, T, is a great online read; click here to have fun with one article, "Real or Faux". You'll be shown a collection of aphrodisiac jewelry, some of which is fake.

You get to guess, then click on the images to see which is five-figure freight and which can be had for the price of Style Spy's left shoe.

Just to warm up: Shown, top to bottom: Tom Binns cuff (fake); Taffin brooch (real); two Verdura crystal necklaces (real).

Lots of other luscious features, and as usual I wonder who buys the ravishing evening gowns.

Beyond the blues: Depression

I recently joined a dear friend for long-overdue lunch at a charming outdoor terrace. As part of our catch-up, she said that, looking for a way to cope with a depression that reappeared last winter after a 10-year absence, she was taking medication, and that it provided significant and nearly immediate relief.

I'm grateful for this drug that lifts her so that she can see the sky, rather than the bottom of a trench. My sister could not overcome her depression, which began after the birth of her first child, at 23. After years of treatment, at 40, she took her life. This was before these drugs were available. I miss her to this day, thirty years later.

Anti-depressants have varying levels of efficacy and are not the sole answer. My friend is in therapy, takes care of her health, exercises and eats consciously. If you met her, a vital, beautiful woman, connected to her friends, family and community, you would not know of her struggle.

She's not my only friend affected. Ten to twenty-five per cent of women will experience at least one major depression in their lifetime.

And as we age, some of us who have rarely had even
a week-long case of the blues may encounter this formidable opponent. The World Health Organization predicts that depression will be the second most common cause of disability by 2010.

What can we do? I'm interested in absolutely everything that works. Early treatment can shorten the intensity and duration, according to The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAM-H), who offer an online tutorial.

The lifting of a depression may happen quite suddenly; for others, the shift is gradual.

Sometimes one event precipitates a turning point. A
teacher told me that she was in a depression that lasted several years. One day she walked in a park, desperate, wondering if she should live, when she heard faint voices from a distance. She wandered closer to the sound, and discovered a playground hidden by a hedge.

She skirted the hedge, sat on a bench, and became engrossed in watching children playing: their piping voices, their joy and vitality, t
heir beauty. She felt the depression lift as if a cape were removed from her shoulders.

Another woman called such moments "numinous experiences" and asserts that they were as healing as any pharmaceutical. In a deep depression after her husband's death, she chanted with monks, sang in a choir, volunteered in a day care, and taught sailing to teens.

Who knows what it takes? May the moments that heal find each of us as we need them.

Udeman: Ian Millar

Olympic silver medalist (for Canada) for team show jumping, at age 61... after nine previous Olympic appearances. Millar dedicated his medal to his late wife, Lynn, who coached him for 35 years, until her death from cancer in March.

"I had an angel riding with me, that's all I can say", he said, accepting his medal.

After his first Olympics, he was disappointed in himself. His wife told him not to worry- he was a late bloomer. Last year, at the age of 60, Millar said he believed he was at the peak of his career: "It sounds old but it's the right age for the sport, because so much of what happens out there is mental learning."

Considered one of the greatest equestrian athletes of all time, he is now preparing for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

Life glows on.

Recession riddle: What to buy for longevity and value

The tough retail environment, reflected in Macy's second-quarter posted loss and a somber US government outlook for retail, may actually be good news for shoppers. We'll learn (as my mother said about her depression years) how to be wise buyers.

As Cathy Horyn observed, in an interesting piece on the revival of Liz Claiborne,
"Can Liz Claiborne Get Its Groove Back?", "Today the goal for many is to be smart- smart with money, smart with time, smart about how you look."

Doesn't that just sound like an enduring, even noble wish? The key in a down time is not resorting to such obdurate basics that you look outdated even in the few new clothes you buy.

The cost-pe
r-wear formula has led me down many a pricey path, but now, some things are just too high-end even if I swear I'll wear them till the dawn of the next ice age. Each woman will define what "smart" is for her.

For me, an e
mbroidered silk Kashmiri jacket (on sale for $120) from the National Geographic Store could make the cut, a bargain if the fit is right.

For outerwear,
I like this A.P.C. double-breasted pea coat in mood-elevator marigold, ($390 at net-a-porter).

I wou
ld depart from my habitual black for a Tracy Reese Runway pleated skirt in in a nearly year-round fabric (about half cotton and nylon, with some spandex) in Storm, a slightly blued grey, $320 (at eluxury).

All classics, but with something extra to elevate the eye and spirit.

If we're
going to wear our clothes longer and more frequently, we have to love them madly.

Today's NYT Style section contains Horyn's own choices for recession buying, "Tiptoeing into the Stores".

Olsen, Owens and dressing after 60

Last Thursday's New York Times Style section noted the demise of the Sigrid Olsen label, now owned by the Liz Claiborne conglomerate. Olsen's aesthetic never did much for me; her seashell prints and beachy colours were just not urban enough.

But she was b
eloved by many women, and I recently admired a coral-and-white print cotton blazer on a gray-haired executive, then realized it was Sigrid Olsen. Olsen had an extensive Woman's line, which I applaud. She didn't use lesser fabrics and finishings just because she was making larger sizes, unlike Ralph Lauren, for example.

Apparently Olsen herself, who paints and owns a gallery in Edgartown MA, was whipsawed by the decision, even with the death knell sounded by the closing of Dana Buchman and life support for Eileen Tracy.

One buyer said, "This leaves a void in the 40-60 year womens' old market." Who is making clothes for the above-60s? Are they a separate market? Or did the buyer just not want to utter the word seventy? Or eighty?

It seems no designer or retailer will identify their market as past 60. Yet my friends' mothers, in these upper-digit decades, are as interested in clothes as they ever were, buying Anne Klein (apparently also floundering), Eileen Fisher, Lafayette New York or other bridge lines.

During our last conversation, my nearly 99-year old mother, anticipating my visit in a few days, said, "We have to go shopping."

I'd have lept at this Teri Jon for Kay Unger rich brocade coatdress ($470 at Neiman Marcus' web site), elegant for any age.

Claiborne has just hired Isaac Mizrahi to breathe life into that line; his work will show up in stores in February '09.

As for me, I love me some Rick Owens, and once I no longer need anything businessy in my closet, I'm headed there. I'd like to see Ricky make bigger sizes, even if only in his second Lilies line.

Wouldn't it be terrific to wear this at 75?

Fight, fight
against ever wearing anything remotely like the dispiriting number below. If I were rich I'd buy every one of these and recycle them as paper... or something.

Pearls: Three ways to restyle

Regular readers know that one of my 'things' is (all together now): Rehab your pearls!

Take 'em apart if they're too bland, too girlish,
or just if you'd enjoy a change.

Example #1 shows why I'm devoted to Pam Chandler and Don Collins of Artworks by Collins and Chandler Gallery (aka "Pam and Don") in Toronto.

These starte
d life as a 48-inch strand of lavender-to-pink 9mm ovals. Nice, but not interesting on their own. Pam styled them as bib, accented with big nuggets of aquamarine, amethyst, and Bali silver beads. People have offered to buy them off my neck.

Example #2 (middle): an 18-inch strand of keshis I bought on eBay for about $60 because of their shimmering orient. They arrived strung with one of those dreadful "gold" filigree clasps, but madly iridescent.

I sent them to Rosalind Wolchok, a Winnipeg-based designer I've known for years through craft shows. Rosalind makes her own findings and beads; she added a handmade silver clasp, silver circles (centre of bottom of strand) and one tiny amethyst bead (just above the centre on the right) that highlights the intense glow.

Finally, if your strand's mysteriously become a little tight, turn it into a wrapped bracelet (below). This one's from Rosalind's site; she can create a similar look with your pearls.

Freshwater pearls are nearly solid nacre, so last a lifetime and more with a little care.

I recently took a pearl-grading course, along with about 40 jewelers and one other civilian. When shown the current crop of big, gorgeous freshwaters in delicious natural colours, one jeweler asked, "Why would people buy saltwater pearls any more?" The instructor just shrugged.

You can buy a lavishly lustrous strand for the price of a pair of good shoes! Don't walk away from a beautiful strand that is not strung to your liking, just have it restyled by someone whose work you love.

The guest's eye can set you free

Have you ever had a friend "borrow" your closet? A house guest comes, for example, with the wrong clothes for the climate. ("I thought Canada was cold!?")

Invited to choose, your guest plucks a skirt and pairs it with an odd tee... in this case, my chartreuse linen wrap skirt that never seemed very wearable with a teal tee. When she twists my forgotten silk ikat scarf around her neck, I'm surprised to see the clothes' colours echoed, the combination offbeat and fresh.

That gray silk piano shawl bought for a wedding and never worn again? She ties it over a white scoopneck tee and dark denim pencil skirt.

I cannot believe how great her choices look. I want that! Wait. She's wearing my clothes.

I resolve to regard my very large wardrobe with her eyes, instead of falling back on the familiar combinations. To no longer glance past an eight year old Gigli jacket, but appreciate its still-perfect cut.

So much buying is simply the result of the eye being stimulated by something fresh, instead working to revise what one already has. I've been easily seduced by the novelty of the new, and too lazy, blind or habit-bound to realize my closet's plenty.

Hunter Wellies for Anjela, Penelopes for all

Fall means even more rain (the wettest year on record where I live). When it's too soggy for shoes and too mild for winter boots, Wellies enter, and endure through slush season.

J. Crew now offer the classic Hunter Wellington ($115) through their web site, and I'm crushin' on the vibrant orange. The lilac is a surprisingly netural colour too, a gentler, romantic Welly.

I imagine Anjela in these with her ecru lace skirt.

There is tromp and there is sashay. The Penelope peep toe ($225) has to be named for Penelope Cruz; the colours right out of an Almodovar film.

Shoes of wit and character, shoes that wink on your feet.

Aye aye, caliente!

The New "New Face": How doctors are beating Deneuve's Law

Catherine Deneuve is known for saying that after a certain age, a woman chooses between her face and her behind.

About Face, by Jonathan Van Meter, in New York magazine, details how the new breed of face lifts, fillers (and demand from the clients of these services) are disproving her axiom.

The new 'volumized ' face is "like a down stuffed sofa with the cushions plumped up"; the article shows this arresting composite photo, melding Michelle Pfeiffer's brow, Madonna's plumpy cheeks, Angelina Jolie's nose and lips, and Demi Moore's jawline.
(I looked at this photo and thought, oh, Uma Thurman.)

One of the author's friends said, "there is a whole new class of women walking around with wiry little bodies and big ol' baby faces." When I saw Bette Midler recently on TV, she too had this oddly aerated face- not quite puffy, but certainly not the contours of a typical 63 year old.

There's a lot of good dish in the article, including a frank, funny lunch with Madonna's publicist, Liz Rosenberg.

"Instinctively, Rosenberg understands two things that many plastic surgeons agree on: One, people who start with amazing bone structure are the ones who often look better with plastic surgery. 'Like Sophia Loren,' she says. 'What is she? One hundred? Fucking fantastic.' And two, 'you will never look natural if you get shit done to your lips.' "

UdeMan: Sam Shepard

I've been a Sam Shepard fan since I saw a production of True West in London in the early 80s. Fool For Love is one of my favourite dramas.

His new play, Kicking a Dead Horse, stars Stephen Rea (one of my favourite actors), and just opened in New York after its premiere at Dublin's Abbey Theatre. He invokes his classic themes of the West, escape, greed and authenticity and is clearly honouring Beckett with this restless, compelling lament.

Handsome and charismatic, Shepard holds the stage as well as writes for it. I especially like Country (1984), in which he starred with his wife, Jessica Lange, and The Assassination of Jesse James (2007).

Rosamond Bernier on luck

Rosamond Bernier, noted writer, editor and lecturer, was profiled in Calvin Tomkins' article in the March 2008 New Yorker. Her last lecture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was on her "life in the French couture", and what a life she can recall, in and out of fashion!

At ninety-one, she is scaling back her commitments to spend more time with her husband, John Russell, former art critic for the New York Times.

Tomkins writes,

"Bernier herself seems impervious to time’s arrows. 'I don’t know why,' she said. 'I eat everything. I drink. I had T.B. as a child, so I’ve never smoked, but I don’t exercise regularly, and I wear the same clothes I had forty years ago.

Luck has been a big part of it. When I was at Sarah Lawrence, I went on a trip to Mexico. My father, a lawyer who was on the board of the Philadelphia Orchestra, had arranged for me to go to a rehearsal conducted by Carlos Chávez, and Aaron Copland was playing his piano concerto. Aaron and I became lifelong friends on the spot.

There were two other guests at the rehearsal, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. They said, "Come on, kid, you’ll go with us tonight." I was dressed in my best outfit, and Frida said, ‘That will never do.’ She fixed me up in a Mexican skirt, and did my hair in bows and ribbons, and off we went to a night club. What a way to begin!' ".

Best of the bunch: Bree bags

I'm hard on bags: nicked corners, torn straps, scuffs from kicking them under airline seats. Every time I buy one, I mentally classify the buy as a one-season, a couple of years or, rarely, bulletproof.

Problem is finding a stylish bulletproof bag, one that takes winter slush, travel
torture, or whatever they do in coat checkrooms (I've always wondered where they keep the tank that rolls over bags).

The Lifetime Winner, Bulletproof category:
Bree, especially the vegetable-tanned leather models like the iconic woven Shopper (shown above)- though I would deviate from vegetable-tanned for it's head-turning cousin, this green Obra gloss clutch.

Where else do you carry your honey-aged Shopper into the brand's store and the saleswoman says with excitement, "How old is that? Let me see!"

The nicks and scratches polish out with a dab of leather cream, the leather deepens to deep butterscotch, and the bags look mellow, not ratty, as they age. I suppose you can wear them out, but you have to work at it. The stitching is extra-strong and bags have solid brass feet on the bottom. (Almost unheard-of anymore.)

Bree also produces handsome linen and leather or canvas and leather luggage, on my Someday List.

The company is devoted to longevity of its products and will repair a bag. I'm lucky to have two branches of Taschen, a Bree dealer, here. You can find Bree in some department stores and boutiques; unfortunately their web site does not have a mail-order option.

Fall dresses: Objects of desire

My friend M. spent last weekend in New York. When I asked him what he enjoyed most, he said, "All the hot young chicks in summer dresses." His wife R. agreed. She said, "That's all anyone wore, dresses!"

This American Beauty from The Sartorialist's must-read blog embodies the charm of a sundress.

Like Monarch butterflies, pedi-cabs and ice cream stands, dresses are abundant and delightful in season, and notably absent the rest of the year. So, to the designers who read this (I can hope): fall and winter dresses, please!

Years ago I bought a bias-cut, belted gr
ey fine woolen dress with a shawl collar and sweeping 50's skirt from a now-defunct British designer. One of my favourite pieces ever, it was supple and flattering. Think I could find anything like that in the last decade?

This Derek Lam dress (from net-a-porter.com, $890) replicates the mood, but (of course) instantly sold out in all but size 40.

The trade who could save me is called dressmaker for a reason, I think. If only I'd kept that
grey number as a pattern.

If I fell upon the right winter-season dress off the rack, I'd whip out my card and sign for it without checking the price.

I adore this aptly-named Aquascutum "Divine Bodice Dress" dress (from net-a-porter, $1,500) but it's not for winter, at least in Canada. Aaaand only in stock for size 0.

Boot-y call: La Canadienne

In a country where winter can easily last five months, we do boots especially well. It's not just the snow, it's the slush. Your boots can cause either clammy, sodden misery or a rule-winter insouciance.

La Canadienne, the Montreal-based company, is on my hit list when I'm there next week. (I might break my no shopping before Paris vow, but Montreal is a French-speaking city, so it's practically the same, non?)

The price point is mid, the shoes, boots and bags excellent quality, with touches like all-leather linings and waterproofing- but what I love most is that they address micro-niches:
footwear you just can't find.

For example: Here's a fall shoe called
Gabriella, (top left) a spectator pump in an extremely hard to find combo: navy/taupe or brown/taupe suede. With a 73mm (2.8 inch) heel that looks eminently wearable, these could get me back into heels, a minor miracle.

Ever try to find a
flat boot that doesn't look mannish and boring? Notice the sleek Gia's refined vamp and deep cuff (top, near left).

What about a
boot that's fun, a jaunty cherry red? Here's the waterproof, chisel-toed Blanche, in crinkle (also in grey or black), so you won't look like a little kid, just a happy adult. A removable padded footbed adds extra warmth. like a zip-in liner in a coat.

And it's hard to find a
really tall, flat-heeled boot that retains sophistication. Voila! The (waterproof, natch) Secret, with its convertible high cuff.

Finally, there are times (at least here) when you need a sturdy lace-up boot: visiting a friends' cabin, spending a weekend a country lodge or just helping your kid, who's moving yet again.

The Trista, available in raspberry (shown), olive, brown, coffee or charcoal suede, is a sport boot with attitude. I love it's retro 1940's Winter Olympics look.

Online dealers include
Zappos, Nordstrom's and Ron White (who ships internationally). (Note: these fall models are not on all online retailers sites yet.)
The La Canadienne web site lists a directory of retailers in Canada and the US.