"So, how is it there?"

Montreal staircase in the Plateau
This is the question I'm asked by everyone, from close friends to Dave the Mac tech.

I've held off writing about Montreal, aware that my observations will be those of an impressionable newcomer. But... I love this city.

Le Duc had lunch with a colleague who has recently moved back from Toronto, and Olivier nailed the difference: "It is at once more dynamic and more laid-back", he said.

Charming bike panniers
The dynamism does not refer to the business dealings of the respective cities, but to the rhythm of human interaction, most noticeably on display via summer street life. The three colours of winter (grey, black, white) give way to bright skirts, mounds of market produce or accessories like commenter lagatta's flowered panniers.

The laid-back sense comes from the noticeably longer time people take to acknowledge and transact everyday tasks. It's the half-beat, the half-minute or half-hour, depending what's happening, that allows some breath and human contact.

A place for us

One film solidified what I was looking for with this move, Louis Malle's documentary, "Place de la République", in which he deftly captured the essence of an atmospheric but populaire part of Paris.

His film became my playbook. I knew, at 62, that I wanted to live–and would need to live–in a neighbourhood with life and colour, with a square in which to sit and a bus stop at my door. 
Scene from "Place de la République"
My father, a native Chicagoan, always said "When I get old, I'm going to live on State Street." By moving to a lively neighbourhood in the midst of a culture unique to North America, I've achieved his wish, which is also ours.

The bakeries!

Navarino bakery; photo by C. DeWolf
This is the City of Bakeries: from ethereal mille-feuille to hearty olive bread, bagels to cannoli; it's all here, vast, varied and fresh.

A bakery is a metaphor for the city, yeasty, open late, always beckoning, sometimes decadent.

Christopher DeWolf's photo of Navarino Bakery says "Montreal", with its French signage, bike at the curb and welcoming wide windows. (The photo was retrieved from his compelling blog about cities, Urban Photo.)

Photo by Christopher DeWolf
I have not set foot in a mall. (For those who like them, there are plenty, including about 25km of connected underground territory in the centre of downtown.)

There is a deep sense of neighbourhood, with local businesses doing okay, if not achieving prosperity, in sections of the city that have seen worse times.

I miss our friends in my old city, but have been delighted to meet what my mother used to call "shirttail relatives"–second cousins and such–of Le Duc's here, and my Toronto  friends have graciously introduced me to their Montreal friends.

I'm eagerly awaiting lunch tomorrow with bloggoddess Rubiatonta, visiting Montreal for a few days. Wonder what we'll get up to!

August Holidays

Passage des perles closes today for the month of August, as usual.

See you on Sept.1 with more style, culture and life. I wish you a glorious, sweet August, wherever you may be.

I leave you with Jean Leloup's infectious Franglish tune, "I Lost My Baby". You might get it out of your head by the time the Passage re-opens!

Over 80 and beautiful

That phrase was never an oxymoron, but lately I am noticing ever more beautiful elders.

This one I've even met: she's Kay, mother of my dear friend Susan. Is she not a goddess? Let's parse her style so we can emulate it: everything she's wearing could be worn by her daughter, also a beauty. There's no "little old lady" insipid pastels, no jewelry acquired before cars had seatbelts, no orthopedic shoes.

Best of all, that smile, and a presence suffused by joie de vivre.

Kay, age 89

Kay's ensemble is absolutely of the minute; I think that's the key to her chic.

The entire ensemble

Now that's a good-looking family!

Like mother, like daughter! Here's Kay with Susan, 60ish. Both wear vibrant colour and modern, bold jewelry– the same look flatters each generation. (I'm beginning to catch on that as I age, I could leaven my habitual neutrals with colourful accessories.)

People who refer to certain clothing items as "old lady" might meditate on these shots, and for good measure, consider this photo of her grandmother, kindly provided by Rubiatonta, originally posted on her blog Rubi Sez. Another elegant elder, she is 98 and, according to Rubi, able to make a racy double entendre with the best of them.
Rubi's grandmother

Mrs. B in Marni

Above, the ultimate in octagenarian chic, the renowned British fashion merchant Joan Burstein, "Mrs. B", over 80, in a Marni tunic, part of a fabulous feature showing what she wore for a month, in British Vogue. (Thank you Josephine, aka "chicatanyage", who writes the blog Chic at Any Age for posting the link to this.)

Mrs. B's earrings

The bags! The jewelry! If Mrs. B is your model, better start saving now.

There are women like this in every community, and don't for a minute think they don't care about how they look anymore.

A commenter pointed out on The Sartorialist that the elders shot by Scott Shuman were dressing snappily before we were born. Calling them "adorable" or "cute" (as other commenters had) infantalizes, neuters and diminishes their substance.

There is certain behaviour I have observed in a few elder women, an eye-batting coyness, a reversion to adolescent giggles and flirtatiousness. (I suspect this is a coping mechanism for loss of independence). But the vast majority of elder women are not cute.

La voie lactée by Geneviève Cadieux 

A final image: the sultry red lips of this mature woman hover over Montreal.

"La voie lactée" by Geneviève Cadieux sits atop Le Musée d'art contemporain; a version will appear in the Paris Metro at Saint-Lazare. The lips belong to her mother, a family friend; we will see the piece when it is installed in October. 

I applaud both cities for choosing this celebration of authentic age, with its distinct beauty and for once eschewing the easy allure of the unlined face. 

What to wear when you retire?

Thanks to Lisa of Privilege, Deja Pseu of Une femme d'un certain age and materfamilas of materfamilias writes for their insightful posts about identity, and in some posts, the intersection of wardrobe choice and identity.

One of Pseu's commenters, Carolyn from Oregon, wrote:
"... Though not a fashionista, in my work years I made the effort to put a look together, and focused my efforts and dollars on my work wardrobe, dressing very practically and casually off the job. That off the job wardrobe now leaves me feeling a bit dowdy and frumpy. I need a style for more casual, home-based living."

I too am mostly-retired, free from the requisites of a work wardrobe. Over the past two years, friends and I have discovered several principles. 

1. Get 'dressed'

The French word sortable does not exactly translate, but it means, roughly, that you are dressed to go out, not dressed up, but dressed. You can spend all day in sweats and an old t-shirt, but unless you're gardening, your attire will not add to your sense of vitality.  

"Why spend the money? I'm only wearing this around the house" is the first stop on the road to Frumpville. You know that saying "Work like you don't need the money, love like your heart has never been broken, dance like no one is watching?" Add "Dress like your house is somewhere special."

If you have justified good clothes because they were for work, and now you're not sure you "deserve" them, make yourself a nice restorative margarita and sip slowly till your attitude turns round.
Ooh la la!
If you still need to justify buying decent clothes, consider dressing nicely–not expensively, but with attention–as a small way of contributing to the community. It's like a windowbox I saw once in Paris, positioned so the residents of the apartment who installed it could not see it, but if a passer-by glanced that way, the flowers would delight the eye.

If you retired with a plump pension or simply have the dosh, I'd spring for this Queen of Cashmere long cardi with your monogram on the shoulder.  

2. You get to break the rules if you want

Yes, you can!
Purple tights? Shoulder-duster earrings? A little cleavage in your cami? You no longer have to follow a dress code. Have some fun! Put on your clanking charm bracelet and know you are not disturbing your colleagues.

There's a place for this
Some retirees trip out and dress in nothing but golf wear, but most of us get over it. If you were not a scarf woman for forty years, you will not become one now, so watch out for buying things because you think your style "should" change. Marian bought many pairs of shorts, which connoted lighthearted leisure–and now realizes she looks far better in pants.

3. The role changes, yet vestiges remain

Retired is you minus the symbolic attire. Donate the role-signifiers you had to wear, like the offend-no-one business suits I call Corporate Drag or "happy shiny teacher" sweaters (a term coined by Linda, a kindergarten teacher). 

Relaxed yet stylish
Your image is a palimpsest; make room for the new writing on your slate. Your taste is the pen you've held for decades. I now dress like I'm going to a decent restaurant; it's a standard that works. I got rid of many woven-fabric shirts and replaced them with less-formal knits that have some personality, like this Episode knit tunic.

Corollary: You are going to run into people who remember you in your old role. You no longer have to dress for that role, but you don't want to look like you don't care anymore, either. Attend to your grooming as if you were promoted, not retired. You finally have time to pumice your heels or use cuticle cream daily.

4. You need fewer clothes, but they need to be versatile and (mostly) washable. 

The workplace is a thinly-veiled fashion show, especially if you work with a lot of women. Now, if you want to wear your favourite skirt four days in a row, you can. Since you are not earning money, drycleaning is going to seem like a big expense, so search for washable but sharp pieces that reach the 'smart casual' level.

On and off the slope

Bogner's Ganna shirt, shown, the kind of chic sporty that's not "gym".

Washable cotton skirt
This Talbot's cotton skirt, in camel or black, $79, is washable, transitions into winter with tights and a sweater, and is definitely not you-caught-me-on-a-bad-day.
Barbour striped jacket
I'd like to run into a former colleague while wearing Barbour's striped jacket, and it would be my secret that I got it deeply on sale! 

If you'd like to see more ideas, Lisa at Privilege has a terrific post showing some cool Polyvores. It's titled "9 Ways Not to Look Like a Slob Even If You Don't Dress for the Office These Days".

5. Keep wearing what you love and adapt it

Julia's cotton pant suit
Some retirees don't dress much differently, they just tweak their favourites.

Julie wears mostly pant suits, same as when she was a sales manager, with fine cotton tees. (Shown, Talbot's cross-dyed chambray pantsuit.) She shortened the hems for flats, forsaking heels for good.

Mar's Thai silver belt
Marilyn, retired from IT consulting, has kept her wardrobe of soft Eileen Fisher separates, and now accessorizes with the exotic jewelry she's collected on trips to Asia, which she thought was "too much" for some of her clients.

She got a new hairstyle and colour that did not depend on costly high-and-lowlights and dumped the briefcase, but has kept 75% of her working wardrobe. 

Barb's tweed hacking jacket
Barb swapped tailored business pants for dark-wash denim but kept the cotton shirts she does not mind ironing, and adds her favourite tweed jackets (bought on trips to the UK and Ireland, the one shown is by J. Crew) or cashmere tees.

Liz' sailor shirt
Liz, who worked in the "very business casual" world of publishing, is a yoga pant devotee, and finds that a top with a graceful boat or vee neckline makes the difference between dash and drab. Liz collects longer-cut styles like this LL Bean French sailor's shirt and adds her pair of jade studs.

I've seen varied responses to retirement among my cohort, from delight to dread. When you retire, whatever your mood, you still have the task of determining what face you want to present to the world. 

You will feel best if that face is content, and wearing what pleases you enhances that contentment.

How to make your jewelry look new without buying (hardly) anything

How's that for a teaser?

1. Clean it

Sonic cleaner, about $35
Many of you endure far more rigorous grooming regimes than I would ever attempt: Clarisonic this, injectable that. But don't forget your gems! A sonic cleaner dislodges the grit that your eye can't see.

Your stones (but not organic materials like pearls or coral) will assume new vibrancy, with much more presence and sparkle. (Note to Marie-Laure: Taking a shower in your diamond earrings does not clean them.)

Dull silver is improved by a very light buff with a polishing cloth, not to mirror-shininess, but just enough to remove the dullness that obscures its lake-at-dawn glow. Think of it as microdermabrasion.

Restring pearls every 1 to 2 years, because the thread becomes dingy from body oils; this happens imperceptibly. Here's a gentle, easy method for cleaning pearls from Kari Pearls.

2. Mix it

Try new combinations. Dip into the box and see what comes out, or invite a friend with a good eye over for a nice G&T and some creative parallel play.

Her romp amid your jewelry might reveal the charm of vintage turquoise mixed with your mother's amber beads, an Art Nouveau ring tweaked by enamel bangles, pearls thrown against a 70s resin pendant. A retro brooch can live in bliss with a single feather on a chain.

Here are a couple of pins worn on my beret, one $2 at a church jumble sale, one fine jewelry. Which is which? And why not wear them together?

Plan B: Swap a few items with your friend, for two months.

3. Put it somewhere different

Pin the turtle with a few stones missing on the cuff of a jean jacket.(Destroyed jewelery looks at home on jean jackets.) Pin your aunt's flower brooch onto the belt of your shirtdress. Stick a lone button earring at the side of a v-neck. 

Blog-goddess Belle de Ville of Beladora commented (when I mistakenly posted this earlier) that her favourite trick is to wind a chain necklace around her wrist. 

Wear a ring on your middle finger, thumb, pinky... or all of them. If you feel overdressed, take off one thing, but start with six. (I've moved to Montreal, where women wear a lot more jewelry, and I like it.)

More modern separated
4. If you wear them, separate the ER/WR

Nothing is more stultifying than than the matching wedding ring and engagement ring set. Put them on different hands, wear one at a time, or stack in one more ring with the set to break up the match.

Plan B: Restyle entirely into one new band, but this strays from "without spending" topic.

4. Reno it, low rent version

A commenter wrote that while in bed with a head cold, she pulled apart several Czech crystal bead necklaces and restrung them on fishing line. Her total cost, I'm guessing, was about 40 cents plus the Neo-Citran, and she ended up with several long strands to twist or knot. Buy some real ribbon of silk, linen or poly (my favourite store is Mokuba) and let yourself experiment with the odd bits you don't wear.

You don't need fancy findings; knots and a pert bow at the end of the ribbon will finish the piece.

Here are directions from Martha Stewart Living for a semiprecious stone necklace with ribbon ties.

5. Move out the bitsy, blatantly-branded and busted

If you have things that are too young and girly (teddies, most hearts, hugs and kisses), no amount of finessing will make them look right, and they will drag down the things you really love. You must know someone fifteen to twenty.

What are the chances?
Please Return to Tiffany: is this not the most egregious brand slut strut in the world? Not to mention illogical; if lost, should it not be returned to you?

Give it to your friend's daughter, who is the right age to be a brand ambassador for a company that does not need it.

What's broken? If you have not repaired it in five years, sell it for scrap or repair and give it to someone. Just like your clothes, make room for only what works.

6.  Layer what's left

Sometimes what you have is just fine, but you're bored by wearing the same combos.

Layered lavishly
Start with a strand of coloured stones, beads or pearls.

Add chains, a locket, a charm or chains. Odd numbers work best. Don't heed metals, mix brass with gold, silver with costume, silver with gold.

Something formerly nondescript is bound to sing.

Stack rings, bracelets, necklaces. I am not a wearer of multiple earrings, but maybe you can carry that.

7. Buy a firestarter

Typewriter-key charm
There is spending here but it need not be precious or pricey. A firestarter is one piece that changes all the things you already own.

It might be a large-loop silver chain, a typewriter-key necklace from Etsy, a pungent purple glass cabochon ring, a souvenir locket you pick up in a Mexican plaza.
Leather and brass bangles

Seventy-three dollars for this set of twelve multicoloured leather bangles by Helene Giza could rev up your summer jewelry wardrobe.

eBay MOP ring

Here's an enormous grey Spanish mother-of-pearl ring in a heavy silver setting, bought on eBay for $90 maybe 7 years ago. I've had more compliments on this than pieces at many times this price.  

Yes, it's fun to buy, but you likely have lovely things just thrumming to be taken out and worn. That pleasure has already been purchased, make sure you enjoy it!

Seven tips for finding a new hair stylist

The move required a new hair stylist. (Eventually, a dentist and family doc, but first things first.)

In the neighbourhood adjacent to mine, I rented a temporary apartment for the moving week (via Airbnb, a great resource) and found my stylist, Laurie of LocalB, by peering through its large window daily and noting how good everyone looked, both in the chair and holding scissors.

If you're thinking of switching hairdressers, here are my ideas, and please, those of you who've done it, please add your own:

1. Go to a neighbourhood that echoes your style.
if you want classic, coiffed hair, check your business district; if you want something casual yet polished, cruise the upscale neighbourhoods, and if you want edgy, asked the tatted-up girl in funky bar where she goes. This is a good screen, because salons attract a certain clientele. 

Not 100% reliable, though: my Parisienne friend Daniele got a knockout classic bob–every hair cut with microscopic precision– at Toronto's Coupe Bizarre, from a girl with a half-shaved head and barbell studs in her face.

2. Sit in a nearby coffee shop and see a few heads, before and after. Notice whether a woman leaves with that "looking gooood" bounce in her step. Maybe book a manicure there and take a good look around. If they're turning the chairs in 20 minutes you are likely not going to get personal attention and a precise cut.

3. Be wary about online reviews; there is a good deal of shilling and slagging in the gossipy, competitive hair world.

4. The time-honoured advice of finding someone with a great cut and asking who did it? Meh.

The stylist who's great for one may be only mediocre for you. Some stylists have biases, so everybody gets layered bangs. Others stylists can be inconsistent or simply lose interest in their work; some rest on their reputations. I prefer someone up and coming, not yet a star, who still has juice for the job.

Similarly, portfolios on the salon's web site are not perfect predictors either, or the creator may be long departed.

5. Make sure you see the stylist first, rather than booking by phone. If he or she has an unflattering cut or crummy colour, make any excuse to get out of there. Women with curls: if the stylist picks up thinning shears, run.

Some salons offer an initial consultation for a minimal fee; the cut is not done then, but you can discuss ideas and let your radar sweep over the place.

6. Pay attention to the product lines they sell. The better the products on offer, the more likely the salon benefits from regular seminars offered by these companies.

7. Finally, resist loading the stylist with too much baggage. It's OK to mention that you abhor short bangs or don't want your ears showing, but a good stylist is an artist first. Let him or her have some creative freedom; it's hair, not cosmetic surgery. As my stylist friend Ingrid said, "We've seen thousands of heads, you've seen one."

I only told Laurie that I don't want to blow out or chemically straighten my curly hair. She revised the shape, an improvement subtle to the world but appreciated by me. 

Isn't that what we all want: a great cut we can manage ourselves, rain or shine?

Heels: Height and health

Has your heel-habit changed?

In my large city, I rarely see a woman past 50 in the highest heels, at least by day. Most wear the moderate pump, kitten heels or flats. Women in their 20s and 30s, though, lope  along in four inches or higher.

Much as I admire their pretty pairs, I simply can't walk in heels without pain, and now I've learned why.

A kinesiology masters student, Danielle Barkema, had 15 women walk in flats, 2-inch and 3.5-inch heels. Using sensors, cameras and other equipment, she measured the forces acting on their knee joints and the shock wave traveling up their bodies from the heel strike.

As heels got higher, compression grew on the inside of the knee. Heels two inches and higher also changed joint positions at the ankle, hip and trunk.

"I tell my friends to wear high heels in moderation", Barkema said, "and if possible, to wear lower heels."

Heights of pleasure

How can bad girls go good? A few ways to mitigate the damage, below.

A wedge gives more stability than a thin heel. Nike Air Delfina Open-Toe Wedge with internal cushioning, cork platform, leather upper. Price, $198 from Zappos.

Palomino wedge

More heft to the heel creates less shock on the joint. The Charles Jourdan "Fae"  is still high, but the chunky heel is far gentler than a stiletto. Price, $225 from Zappos.
Camel architectural heel

Look for a padded footbed. You can buy inserts, but they can make the fit too tight. Kors calls his "MK-Flex"; his python pumps with 3-inch heel pack that secret soother. Price, $110 from Zappos.
Glazed python pump

Switch to flats, at least some days. Many women say they never thought they'd wear them, but then realized after trying a pair that their headache was gone. Aquatalia's studded patent "Ogle" flats prove flat isn't frumpy. You might have to re-hem your pants, but you'll be able to skip across town. Price, $225 from Zappos; also in red.

Studded flats

My heels stay in the box till I put on a cocktail dress. What about you?

A shot of cognac with an olive on the side

I love the colour cognac for accessories and garments. Nearly everyone is flattered by its rich, saturated hue, and it's surprisingly neutral. Cognac leavens black's depth, takes the starch out of navy, lifts ivories from quiet to interesting.

More classic than metallics, far easier to maintain than pales and not limited by season, cognac or olive is the secret weapon if you're traveling or don't want to house an arsenal of accessories.

I don't know why they're so hard to find, but I tracked down several examples.

The French Sole Zeppa is cognac, in a snake-print suede, a hard to find colour in a shoe,  It's on a very low wedge, with a padded footbed and rubber sole. Price, $135 from Zappos. Also comes in pink, black and beige.
J.Crew hobo

J. Crew's distressed-leather Bronwyn hobo shows cognac's casual side. Also made in a pursette, if you prefer a small bag. Price, $268.

Crocolux Mini-Me
Speaking of small! This bijoux Italian crocodile wallet bag is a chic option to the fanny pack– the pricey accessory worn with everday basics is a favourite stylist's trick. Just enough to carry keys, credit card, bills and change...your window-shopping kit. In cognac (as well as many other colours); price, $610 from Crocolux.
Cognac perforated leather jacket

Tory Burch's Daniel leather jacket: supple, pocketed and miles ahead of a me-too moto. Price, $725 from Bloomingdale's. Because it's unlined, you could wear it as an indoor piece in cold climates. The rich, warm hue de-toughens leather and looks even better as it ages.
The other secret weapon is olive, sometimes called khaki and many other names, is in the same spirit: rich-looking, interesting, a bit offbeat. These are not the colours I'd pick for the tropics, but when navigating grotty airports, sticky buses or packed subways, they're wonderful.
Bompard suede jacket

Here it is in a melting suede jacket from Eric Bompard, a wonderful transitional piece that I'd spray like crazy if there is even a thought of rain. Price, 440 €.

Pilar platform heel

J. Crew's Pilar peep-toe packs cutaway style into a platform heel, most fetching in olive. Price, $250.

Himalayan green sandals

Flats lovers can find green in a shade J. Crew call himalayan, in a more-graceful gladiator; $148.
Brora summerweight wool scarf

Brora call the green in their pretty wool floral stripe scarf "lizard". Whatever; I see it as the ideal plane and cool-night piece, a gentle but not insipid palette. Price, £69.

In the hottest sun destinations, it's whites and brights, as the natives know. But for those traveling in temperate to merely warm zones, these two colours keep your bag light and your style breezy. And when the seasons or your locale shifts, they will continue to work wonders in your wardrobe.

Toys that declutter

The O. family, new owners of our big house, report their almost indescribable joy at cooking on an Aga. While I feel a pang at leaving it, I'm glad that the three-story home with two large gardens is now theirs.

We divested at least half of everything we owned to move into our condo; empty drawers and unsquished closets attest to our diligence. (Too good a job, I had to replace two or three small household items.)

Tech toys, which I always thought of as fun and frivolous, turn out to be terrific for keeping clutter to a minimum.
Clutter's little helpers

Though it took a month for me to unbox the Kindle I received for Mother's Day I've realized I don't have to accumulate many books again. The catalog isn't perfect, but here's a way to keep books, always a huge space hog in our place, from encroaching. 

The same with my iPod nano; I'm not such an audio buff that the sound difference between a CD and downloaded sound file bothers me; it's so small I have to make sure I know where I put it! Both were gifts, and while there are cost and obsolescence factors, I appreciate their remarkable storage capability.

Le Duc's library; partial view
Lest you think I'm missing out on the joy of books–their smell, visual appeal and psychic comfort–look at Le Duc's library, and it's just a section. Then there are over 40 boxes of his books still in storage, which he swears he will tackle "soon".

The bugbear of bags and shoes

Jaunty but shoulder-friendly

Like many women, I'd piled up bags, many rarely carried. Lately I've been using one, a Bensimon nylon and leather "Sac Seau" with a wide strap, almost exclusively. Weightless, it bears witness that my days of big leather on the shoulder are over.

Two bags per season are adequate, the rest were just for love of the style or a good buy.

Shoes are harder to purge. I began to pack in late winter, loathe to throw out summer sandals. Now I have several boxes labeled Shoes Not Worn Much, and isn't that the case for 80% of them? Worn by Sept. or out!

When I do consume, I've adopted the One In/One Out Rule. Le Duc is not fully subscribed; he threatens to stockpile incandescent light bulbs

But what's life without a few well-chosen grace notes, whether lightbulbs or pearls?