Fine balance

In yoga class, I fall out of Tree Pose. Our teacher, Sheila, says, You are meant to move, that's what trees do; my mind says, Balance, dammit!

All the students lurch, no one relishes the tippy, unfamiliar sensation. 

You can see the relief when Sheila moves on, treating us to a nice, feel-good Pigeon. Good, we say via eye contact, that section is over. We like to be in control.

But wait, we need those balance poses, and will need them more as each year passes.

Balance helps us reach for a jar off the top shelf, right ourselves when we miss a step crossing the street, catch a leaping grandchild safely. Without attention, balance steadily and imperceptibly erodes till a fall or injury delivers a hard truth: we've "lost our balance" and sometimes our confidence as well.

When we practice balance exercises we are actually maintaining two separate senses: equilibrioception, the sense of balance which derives from inner ear fluids, and proprioreception, the sense of knowing where your body is in space. Proprioception comes from the nervous system as a whole; it's how, for example, you can perform the critical task of eating popcorn while watching a movie without looking at your hand going into the box.

Outside of the yoga studio, few exercise classes devote much time to balance; gym trainers give it short shrift unless the trainer specializes in fitness for older bodies. There's the stability ball, which can be used for balance work, but most women I see on the ball are doing the strength stuff.

Balance is the fitness dimension most prone to neglect; women want to be strong, maintain a healthy weight, even be more flexible, but I have never heard one say, "I wish I had better balance".

How's your balance? Do you consciously maintain it? What do you do?

Longer skirts enchant Bill Cunningham

I posted awhile back on getting rid of some long skirts I thought were dated. Not so fast, I learned last weekend.

In the February 20th Styles section, the marvelous New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham featured the long skirts he saw among the crowd at Fashion Week in New York, noting that low- and mid-calf lengths were also on the runway. 

You can see them in his short video, "On the Street-Skirting" here; with the added treat of hearing Bill's delightful narration. His creaky voice, sounding quite astonished, is as old-school WASP as a Scotch in a Waterford tumbler.

Bill loves the long skirts, especially those with some transparency; he shot over a hundred examples of long. I won't choose a transparent number, but look forward to wearing my new Asian-print silk chiffon calf-length skirt by Citron Santa Monica that will bloom in spring with a pair of footless tights underneath.

Whether you can wear them this long or not, women are searching for a good length for their bodies, which for most of us is at least a hand's span longer than when we were in our 20s. (As I recall, my arms at my side were about as long as the skirt.)

What long looks like now

If lower calf isn't a silhouette for you, never mind! As Bill says "it's all about diversity". 

Here are three longer skirts, but in different moods and degrees of long.

The first is what I call a "long short skirt" by Rick Owens. It's a tie front silk-crepe skirt that drapes gorgeously. Price, $1,005 from Netaporter and no, I am not suggesting you buy it. But look, it's fresh.

Rick Owens

Moving lower: this calf-length Marc Jacobs gathered cotton skirt has length but it's not overwhelming for an average-height woman if worn with a heeled sandal. Price, $1,100 from Saks. (I also find this super-pricey, but again, we're window shopping.)

Marc Jacobs

A true maxi: the Elizabeth and James draped wool blend skirt. I'd happily wear it, as a tall woman, and it's not too voluminous. Shown with a flat boot: this is a look I've lived in for years. At $295 (at Netaporter), it feels absolutely cheap after the other examples but of course it's not. 

Elizabeth and James

I'm happy that designers are giving women choices other than super short, which looks less than smart on women who wore their first minis in the days when gas was well under a buck a gallon!

How are you liking long?

"Oh yes!" immediate response to this American beauty shot near Lincoln Center by Scott Schuman, The Sartorialist. Everything sings, effortlessly.

We might change a heel height, chose navy over grey, brick over camel, dots over leopard. Never mind. What stops me in my tracks is a timelessness that's also fresh, an ease wrapped in refinement, wit without irony and the evident quality.

Beautiful on her– and on a woman of any age.

Not a lot of words here today, just a heartfelt brava for the ensemble and the sunny smile!

Just get out

Deja Pseu's post on driver's phone use inspired this related post, which I could write in just three words: Just Get Out.

My real estate agent told me that she was a passenger in a builder's truck when he texted nonstop while driving to Home Depot–and back.

In a cab, the cabbie never stopped talking on his handheld mobile phone, while maintaining a second conversation with the dispatcher. 

A friend apologized that "just this once" she had to check on her child's test results, via a text sent while flying down a six-lane expressway.


We don't have to be all blaming and stroppy. Make a polite, neutral request, "Please, could you wait till we're there?" to start. If there's no result, make an immediate, certain exit. Tell them you care about their safety, too.

I'm doing it; it's the same tactic I use in cabs that have missing or broken seatbelts. (There is always an excuse that the previous customer "lost" or broke the belt.) I pay the fare to that point, no tip, and tell them why the trip's cut short.

Remember when we used to carry $20 in our wallets in case we had to get home safely from a party? Tuck a few Just.Get.Out. bills in there.

As I said to Pseu, I witnessed a death caused by driving and phoning, and it's one too many, a 24 year old young woman who passed me one rainy early morning, speeding and chatting, then missed a curve.



"But Will It Make You Happy?"

Does stuff make you happy? 

Stephanie Rosenbloom's nuanced analysis of the current research about the connection between consumption and happiness is here.

Her key points:

1. Do instead of collect.
Spending money for an experience– classes, travel, concert tickets– produces longer-lasting satisfaction than spending money on another bag or sweater.

2. Spend on leisure.
In one study, the only category of consumption that is positively correlated to happiness is leisure (vacations, entertainment, sports and equipment), because that spending typically strengthens social bonds, which in turn helps amplify happiness.

3. Make it last.
Remember the kid on the playground who made his jawbreaker last for all of recess? Longevity contributes to perceived happiness; therefore, experiences provide more happiness because you can't "consume in one gulp".

4. Look forward.

Anticipation increases happiness, so book that trip months in advance instead of buying a last-minute ticket.

5. Have less to enjoy more.
Having an embarrassment of riches reduced the ability to reap enjoyment from life's smaller pleasures, like eating a Lindt Fleur de Sel chocolate bar.

I don't see the possessions/experience choice as an either-or proposition, and feel a jolt of joy when I buy yoga classes, contribute to a charity I revere or treat a friend to a visit to Body Blitz with me. (Oh yes...and occasionally I buy pearls.)

I'm far less acquisitive than a decade or two ago; are you? The notion of having less stuff, more time (the life shift described by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin in "Your Money or Your Life") resonates.

And this 2004 TED talk, by Dan Gilbert, Harvard psychologist and author of "Stumbling on Happiness" challenges the idea that we won't be happy if we don't get what we want in an entertaining 20-minute video.

Are you happier now than you were five years ago?  What do you consume that contributes to your happiness?

Jewelry from India: Ethnic silver

This post is inspired by the Art Gallery of Ontario's exhibition, "Maharaja: The Splendour of India's Royal Courts", an enthralling time-trek to the days of the 18th to mid-20th centuries. (The event is sponsored by London's Victoria & Albert Museum.)

After seeing magnificent pieces like this emerald-tipped turban jewel, the  AGO's gift shop offerings of Indian-themed jewelry were uninspiring for this rani.
Watson Turban Jewels, Victoria & Albert Museum

Sapphires the size of a plum are beyond consideration, but I admire and can afford Indian silver, so I searched for some pretty, not precious pieces to add a touch of the exotic to a winter wardrobe.

Richly detailed pendant
Antique silver and coloured glass pendant, just under 2 inches across, to hang from a cord or chain, $44 from Old Beads. (Item #IND195.)

Indian tribal silver necklace, 16 inches long, from eBay seller Heritage Trading, for whom I'll happily vouch. Starting bid $125. This item is #60536662941; see listing for more views.

Enamel and silver beads
Also from Heritage Trading, a green enamel and silver necklace, adjustable from 14 to 20 inches. The decorative slide at the back is just as pretty worn at the front. Starting bid $44.99; item #160537163317.

Detail, Aura of Purity necklace

Pearls were beloved of Indian princes, worn in multiple ropes by men as well as women to signify wealth and purity. Novica artisan Kalyani Gupta made this "Aura of Purity" necklace of pearls and sterling beads. The necklace part is 18.5 inches, and the pendant adds another 3.5 inches. Price, $174.95 from Novica. 

Details, Constellation pearl pendant

Here's another pretty pearl piece, a silver and pearl "Constellation" pendant from Novica seller Bhavesh. It's neither traditionally ethnic nor antique, but I find it gracefully pleasing. The pendant is 2.6 inches by 1.9 inches and comes with a 15 3/4 inch silver chain. Treat your friend, sister or self; price, $82.36 plus s&h.

Amulet and beads

An evocative amulet of Hanuman, the Hindu deity, paired with a coral bead and a detailed silver bead, hung on a leather cord. Price is $135 from Nomad's Journey.

One could wear an old silver amulet or spend the same for a piece of Banana Republic tat–easy choice! Antique pieces do not date like many contemporary designs; they evoke a past infused with mystery and artistic integrity.

Buy them now to feel like a queen, and enjoy a piece of history for years to come!

"I don't know what love is, but..."

Riding the streetcar, occupying two facing seats across the aisle, is a developmentally disabled couple, probably in their mid-30s. 

He is engrossed in his XBox; she sings "Good times, good times", words without a tune.

Then she speaks to him, so loudly that the car easily hears: "I LOVE you, honey." He replies, not looking up, but equally audibly: "I love you too."

She speaks again, not addressing him, more softly, as if voicing a thought: "I don't know what love is, but..."

At the stop, he descends first, then extends his hand to help her navigate the steps.

I turn to the natty young businessman in the seat next to me and smile. "Yep!" he exclaims, as our eyes follow the couple, now walking hand in hand down the street.

Pondering love, indefinable, mysterious, yet deeply felt, each of us heads into our day. 

Happy Valentines' Day!

Pearls: Big love

Note: Reader Paula wondered if she should buy Honora dyed red and denim-blue pearls. I don't recommend dyed pearls in unnatural colours. Skillful dying has its place when it makes, for example, a luminous grey from an unevenly coloured white, but the reds, lime greens, etc. are not what I'd choose.

This post about choices in large-sized pearls may be helpful, Paula.

My jeweler recently showed me a strand of white South Sea pearls she sold to a client for his gift to his wife, Beth. We cooed over the string of 12mm, perfectly-matched rounds, significant and luxe.

White South Sea pearls from Pearl Paradise
Beth's husband paid $18,000–what I'd expect for AA+ South Seas. I'd love to wear such a strand, but might not retire the debt in my remaining lifetime.

How to get lavish-sized pearls for less than the price of a car?

A graduated strand is less of an investment and still delivers the South Sea thrill. Shown above, an 18-inch strand of graduated whites, 12mm to 14.8mm, from Pearl Paradise; price, $11,000.

Some women adore the glamour of South Seas, and desire nothing else. To find SS strands below five figures, get on a flight to Manila but be prepared to spend at least $7,000-$8,000 with a reputable seller. (Many strands sold as "baby South Sea" are in fact freshwater pearls imported from China.) Sometimes I've seen SS necklaces at auction around $4500-$6000, but don't forget the auction house premium and taxes.

Since I firmly believe that a grown woman's pearls should be at least 9mm, let's look at some Chinese freshwater pearls (CFW) varieties, alluring when the pearls have thick nacre and very good lustre. 

CFW Baroques

Chinese baroques from Kojima Company

Above, Chinese white 9mm baroques from Kojima Company, a far funkier pearl than Beth's, compatible with a more casual lifestyle. Well-matched, with glowing luster. Price, $72 for the temporarily-strung 16-inch strand; add about $50-$125 for stringing and a clasp, price will vary depending on clasp you choose. Stringing adds one to one and a half inches.

Pearl Paradise soufflés

Something new: the soufflé pearl, a Chinese variety introduced in the past two years. Instead of a bead or tissue nucleus, the pearl is cultured with some kind of organic material. When the pearl is drilled, this 'mud' exits, leaving a very large (13-17mm) baroque pearl with metallic lustre. The durable, light pearl is a boon for women who find a large pearl necklace too heavy.

These are hard to find; Pearl Paradise cannot guarantee supply after current stock is sold. The 18-inch multicolour strand shown is $600 (includes standard clasp). Pearl Paradise also offer a white soufflé strand; price, $1,100 and a pink and lavender strand ($1,300) that practically glows in the dark.

CFW Keshis

Pacific Pearls keshi strand

Detail: Overtone on the keshi

These are Chinese 10-11mm keshis, in a plump shape called "pillows". Solid nacre, with a smooth surface and occasional dimples, from Pacific Pearls. Price (temporarily strung), $130.

Look at the overtones! The closeup shows what's so wonderful about keshis (also spelled keishi).

Freshadama white rounds

If you've just got to have rounds, I understand; they are classic, serene, impeccable. Pearl Paradise's Freshadama pearls are a smart choice. These are pearls to sigh for, an example of the quality now possible in Chinese product; the 18-inch 9mm-9.5mm white strand is $1,130. (Also available in multicolour, $980.) I prefer them to Japanese akoyas, about five times the price.

Natural coloured rounds

Paula is interested in colour, so I wanted to show this 18-inch necklace of 9.5mm-10mm multicoloured rounds, on sale at Pearls of Joy; price, $424!  White, lavender and pink/peach, all natural colours. With a 90-day full return policy, perhaps a Valentine to yourself?

Your smaller pearls can enjoy a happy new life mixed with new pearls to make a rope, strung with other beads or converted to a bracelet–but at this point, when buying new pearls, choose a size to match your magnificence and experience.

And for you Tahitian lovers, I'll post a two-part series on Tahitians in a few weeks.

Safe or Smokin': Spring dresses

The stirring of dress desire is a sure harbinger of spring. Even women like me (for whom finding a ready-to-wear frock that fits is difficult), long for one once winter retreats. Now is the time to look, with new dresses arriving in stores and online by the day.

Talbots ponte

A safe dress is in the eye of the beholder, but I'll apply the standard I use for corporate attire: it stays put and offends no one. This Talbots ponte knit dress, $125, would qualify, and might serve well worn with accessories. Probably in a year or so, a few pulls in the rayon/nylon/spandex would relegate it to the recycle bin.

Milly ponte

Milly's Jenny ponte dress: loads more wit in its knit; $365 from Nordstrom.

We all need the safe dress, but also one that makes you sigh with pleasure every time you wear it. I had a black cotton full-skirted shirtdress with leaf-green piping. Cost the earth even on sale– and so what? I wore it for at least six years.

A smokin' dress fits your body and your soul. Here are some I'd choose, from expensive to less so. Make a least one of your dresses a goddess of the closet, presiding with grace and generosity.

Smokin' strategy #1: A striking print or pattern

Marina print
Akris Marina Grande-Print dress: this seaside print on Swiss cotton provides novel charm. The price, $2,990 is about the cost of actually going there, so I'm showing it for edification. You can buy it at Saks.

DVF silk jersey print

Diane von Furstenberg's Alexy silk jersey dress, with the same print in two colourways. I don't see only a thin woman wearing this, either, as the pattern keeps the eye moving. A modern, fresh dress and silk jersey travels wonderfully. Price, $325, also at Sak's.

Patterned shirt dress
Must show this Etro shirt dress even though s/o in larger sizes at mytheresa. But if you are choosing pattern, this is an object lesson in colour design. Price, $890; washable.

Smokin' strategy #2: A neutral lifted by interesting detail

Navy knit
Catherine Malandrino's navy deep-v pointelle dress is discreet and alluring at once, a hard-to-find effect. It's lined to the lower thigh, and stretchy enough to fit closely but not cling. (If a knit is well-designed, one does not have to be superslim to wear it.) Price, $495 from Saks.

Faux wrap dress

Ann Demeulemeester's faux-wrap black cotton knit dress is unadorned, yet lightyears away from a stiff, safe sheath. Price, $259; from Barney's. Whew, I heart this dress!

Ecru jersey

In the pales, here's a See by Chloé ecru jersey dress with contrast details, boat neck and button shoulders, very Geoffrey Beene. Price, $396 from myteresa.

Smokin' strategy #3: Gorgeous fabric

The dress that shines by way of its fabric, perhaps "prettier" than you're used to wearing, but you'll get compliments every time.

Panne velvet from Peggy Lutz

Peggy Lutz' Cocktail Slip Dress in antique paisley panne velvet is a gorgeous dress for a wedding (perhaps with a pashmina), the opera or even the market if you are in a cheeky treat-yourself mood. In size XXS (12-14) to 5X; price, $480.

Cotton-silk floral

Anna Sui's floral-print cotton and silk-blend dress has a crepe-trimmed neck and hem. Channels the '70s but would never be mistaken for a dress you didn't throw out. I see it on a mother of the bride at a garden wedding, but it could just as well be worn for lunch on a patio. Price, $650 from Net-a-porter.

Luxe lace for day

Stella McCartney knows how to dress grown women, period. Fawn cotton lace, rounded neckline, slightly flared cut. Expensive, yes–but you don't find exquisite lace on the cheap. Lace Dress, $1,227 at myteresa.

You may not suit these exact choices (or they may be sold out, an annoying fact of life); I chose them to illustrate the smokin' dress principles.

Finding the perfect dress is somehow more challenging than finding good jeans or a just-right tee, and in its own category of triumph. I wish us luck.

Montreal and an old hat

Last week we made a quick trip to Montreal, greeted on Groundhog's Day by a blizzard that dumped over 40cm (17 inches) of snow, socking in the city.

Once of the great pleasures of the two day trip was an evening with son Etienne and his sweetie, Tash, at Liverpool House, for I had a gift for him. While cleaning out the basement as part of the prep for selling this house (staging a basement means it must look like you never kept anything in it), I found, sealed into a canister, a beaver hat.

Archie and Frances LaFreniere
The trapper-style hat was a gift to my Dad from a grateful patient, Mr. Archie LaFreniere of Beaver Island, Michigan, circa 1962; he trapped the beaver himself.

Beaver Island is one of the wild outposts, an island in Lake Michigan flung into the Straits of Mackinac. When I was growing up, few people lived there and fewer visited, but in the mid-1800s it was briefly home to an "American monarchy" led by James Strang, a Mormon leader.

Nearly fifty years later, supple and intact, it was a perfect fit on Etienne's head, plush and warm.

And so, fur

It's a fraught subject, with many rejecting all fur, even recycled, while others assert that it is a 'sustainable resource'. I'm in the middle, having grown up and lived in northern communities where the fur trade is a livelihood. One of Mom's best friends owned a mink ranch. 

Izzy Camielleri is a talented Toronto designer who specializes in leather and fur. She's recently launched Izma, a collaboration with fashion journalist Adrien Mainella. The complete lookbook is online. Izma uses Origin Assured pelts, which means that the fur comes from a country where regulations concerning welfare and production are in force.

A example of Izma's exhilarating style, a v-neck tunic in long-haired beaver:

A swing coat in natural muskrat:

 I wear fur, currently, a 12 year-old sheared mink duffle coat, a 26 year-old raccoon hat and a fox scarf made from recycled goods. I also wear leather and eat meat, with gratitude to the animals. 

Last month I bought one of those down coats that make everyone look like a walking sleeping bag. (And in case you think down is gathered from what's left behind in the nest, it is not.)

When wearing fur, I've had only two incidents of negative comments in forty years, one when wearing a sheared beaver swing coat that my mother owned for several decades, then passed to me. 

I asked the woman who accosted me on the steps of the library how many resources had been expended on the various coats she had purchased while Mom or I were wearing this coat over thirty-five years. (To be fair, I could only make this point with a long-wearing fur like beaver.)

The second incident happened when I was wearing a fake fur!

Montreal is an historic fur centre, and as expected, I saw more (mostly mink) on its streets than in Toronto and down-stuffed parkas on nearly everyone, infants to elders. There's less angst about animal products when temps dip below -20C.

Etienne in Gramps' hat
And that 50 year old hat? Warmed my heart and his head.

Glass jewels

When women dream of jewels, their thoughts turn to gems, precious or not. But if you love luminous jewels, don't forget crystal. Crystal refers both to the mineral, and to leaded glass.
(Shown, Lalique Dragon Celeste pendant, details below.)

Leaded glass from the best artisans yields a pristine pool of colour, and that's the quartz we'll admire in this post.

I'm not thinking of Swarovski, I prefer the great French crystal houses' refined and historic designs, rather under the radar in North America.

Glass jewels are a smart jewel treat. You can flash a mammoth crystal rock without worry. The colours are luminous and intense, the crystal is durable, with reasonable care. And best of all, here's a way to update your jewelry wardrobe for far less than most stones.

Below, a selection from renowned crystal artisans.

My favorite is Baccarat, who offer both timeless and modern pieces. Baccarat small Hypnotic ring, £250 from Howarth Gallery, the star of the house's edgy Spring '10 collection and still in production. Full-lead crystal set in sterling. The large size is £345, both are assertive, audacious chunks.

Baccarat Occitane Cross pendant in iridescent clear, £135, stands alone or layers audaciously with pearls to mix edgy and trad. If you love the extraordinary, intelligent Ruth in Spooks (MI5), this is your piece.

(Also from Howarth Gallery or Baccarat boutiques.)

Lalique's Bucolique pendant revives its renowned Art Noveau design, $410 from Crystal Classics.

Baccarat's Tentation line, featuring lush rounded beads, is one of its most desired. Peony pink earrings, $450 from Crystal Classics.

Daum make glorious cabuchon pools in mesmerizing colours; this Cabuchon Ring, set in gold vermeil, is $745 from Daum's USA site, or see Daum France for international vendors. 3cm. or 1.25 inches wide.

Daum's Goute de Roseé earrings are shown in light blue, $358 from RoyalArtglass, also available in deeper hues. Like wearing a sliver of sky.

Lalique's Masque de Femme would delight a woman celebrating a milestone. I keep returning to this piece, it's glamourous and refined.

From the Cashs of Ireland's site: "The Masque de Femme panel created by Rene Lalique in 1935 to adorn a fountain embodies the imaginative power of its creator who was fascinated by women and nature. Both vintage and avant-garde, it reveals the face of an enigmatic woman with delicate traits, surrounded by aquatic fauna." Price, $445 from Cashs.

Lalique's Dragon Celeste pendant in red: Asian splendour, French craftsmanship. I'd love to wear this with a linen shirt. The detail on the dragon is far more beautiful than you can see here. Price, $495; also from Cashs.

Store your glass jewel in a pouch, give it a gentle bath now and then, and enjoy its glow, especially by day.

Crystal is one of my favourite materials for jewelry of natural yet not costly materials. And it is a renewable, non-politically-fraught substance.

Glass jewelry is also offered on Etsy for reasonable prices, quality varies. You may also find local artisans with the skill to create translucent wonders. 

Today I've chosen to show fine pieces, even though their depth and full beauty don't show up well in photos. Once you admire their depths and design, you can choose these, or local treasures, with confidence.