Gifts for elder friends and Mums

A dear friend, Marcelle, age 85, is recovering from a minor stroke. She's almost back to her capable self after a stint in rehab. I'm about to send a gift to celebrate her return to her gracious home on Cape Cod. (She doesn't read blogs, so my surprise remains secret.)

Here are some options, which may be useful to those shopping for Mother's Day, spring birthdays or other April occasions. 

My mother could sniff out an "old lady" gift faster than substandard gin in her Collins. Those were relegated, after perfunctory thanks, to the depths of her guestroom dresser. So I take it as a mission to find gifts that are kind to the challenges of mobility and vision but aren't dull or dispiriting. Tell me how I did!

Pendleton lake blue heather cardi
A washable three-quarter sleeve cotton cardi does up easily and makes a snuggly spring layer. Price, $98 from Pendleton.

Tagua nut bracelet
The organic shape and gorgeous colours of this tagua nut bracelet from the Art Institute of Chicago makes a chic spring accessory. It's a stretch style, so no fiddly clasps. Price, $72.

Silk marble-printed scarf

A 56" x 11" silk peacock marble scarf is less fabric to manage than a shawl, rich, elegant and so pretty with nearly any colour top. Also from the Art Institute of Chicago; price, $65.

Victorian print rain boot

Spring is rainy on the Cape, and my friend is longing to get outdoors again. These cheeky, cheery Victorian print rain boots will get her going. And I know her size, it's the same as mine. Hmm, rain boot twins? Price, $49 from

Frivolous Pink by Marcelle

A new lipstick will lift her spirits and her looks. Since it's her name and she likes the brand, I'd send her Marcelle's long-lasting Rouge Vitality lipstick in Frivolous Pink, $10.25. 

But for another woman, I'd pick lippie in a beautiful case: the Guerlain Jewel Lipstick Compact designed by Place Vendome jeweler Lorenz Baumer. One click opens the lipstick and mirror, perfect for restaurant touch-ups. (Not that the elder would refresh her make up at the table!) She'll get major powder room props when she flicks this open with one click. Price, $46 at Sephora. 
Guerlain Jewel lipstick compact

Hanro waffle-texture robe

An elder Mum appreciates beautiful loungewear as much as her daughter, but delicate silk requires too much upkeep, and she might not want to answer the door in it. Hanro's waffle knee-length robe wraps her in textured cotton with a pretty trim at cuffs and hem–and it's washable. Price, $160 from Bare Necessities.

Writing this on a drizzly morning, I'm leaning toward the rain boots (for both of us!) But I'll wait to hear your ideas, or your vote.

Clothes that get you noticed

Yesterday's post about the Advanced Style Eccentrics drew many comments about the intention of "not looking invisible" and "not wearing boring clothes". 

OK, nobody puts (50+) baby in the corner.

If you don't want to be invisible, here are some pungent, assertive choices. I would not wear all of these (that's me in the corner in the dove gray cashmere) but each garment carries the message that the wearer has not given up.

Most examples are on the expensive end; you can find cheaper, but quality is iffy. Check Zara if you want to be noticed for only a season and can wear narrow cuts and short lengths.

Joy: Fruits and flowers

Stella McCartney pleated silk citrus-print skirt, much photographed and actually owned by one of our blogfriends, the lovely Mardel. Expensive, yes, (£675 at Brown's), and recognizably Stella.

No, I have never starred in a film

Are peonies not the operational definition of joy? D&G stretch twill peony-print dress, $515 from Netaporter.

Did you remember to pack the champagne, my love?


Marc Jacobs woven-silk jacket, a precisely tailored silhouette tweaked by merry flowers that read as geometry till you look closely. Price, £819, from Brown's.
A cocktail after work?
Why, yes!

Wear art, but curate

More junk is sold under the "wearable art" label than "slimming". 

If you enjoy painterly effects, consider the Rochas jacquard sheath. Look at how the pattern flows to the hem; the eye travels to your pretty legs. Price, $1,645 from Barney's.

You'd like to take my photo, Mr. Cunningham?

Kiss of the Wolf's shibori top is arty, but a Japanese watercolour caress instead of an op-art punch. Each piece is handmade; contact Kiss for price.

Just good genes, I guess

Take it out in traffic

Lightweight foil lambskin Bradley jacket by Lafayette 148: light, versatile and not black. Wear it with shades and let people wonder who you are. Price, $998; wide size range.

No autographs, please

Try the cheek of traffic-stopping red in an absolutely classic cut. You won't want to toss it out after a year and it will last for decades. MacIntosh Kilmany coat, $950 from J. Crew.

Yes, officer, that is the correct age on my license

Merino confetti-stripe sweater: the mellow mariniere goes glam with scattered sequins. Definitely picks up a pair of jeans. From J. Crew, $148.

Could we have a table that's a little more private?

No item here is over the top eccentric, at least if worn with a neutral accompaniment. Each was chosen to get looks, to refute that dreaded invisibility. Post could be titled "Minimalist goes crazy".

I invite you to send links to what you'd pick, and never mind price. The Passage welcomes window shopping! 

50+ style: The eccentric, the elegant and the space in between

Nancy Friedman, the branding consultant who writes the sharp blog fritinancy, sent me a video made by Ari Cohen, writer of the blog Advanced Style. Watch it (running time: 2:33), see what you think.

These women dress in clothes I would consciously avoid, though I loved the leopard frames. That doesn't make them "wrong" or badly-dressed; they intend a different mode of expression.

I'm tolerant but not admiring; I understand the joy of unfettered expression.

The women in the video don't acknowledge their wish to draw the eye, but, having known a few Eccentrics, I've observed it's there. Eccentricity is not solely about self-expression, it's about attention, too.

My son's young art-school copine can pull Eccentric off. It's as if she's saying, in her striped laddered tights under four skirts and a ferret on her shoulder, "You are going to look at me, for if I'm not Somebody yet, I am Someone today."

When I see a grown woman in silkscreened Marilyn Monroe wristwarmers, I'm not as admiring. More often than the subjects might wish, there's a whiff of desperation when mature women affect carefully-curated unconventionality.

Am I advocating dull conformity? No; there's ample room between "dressing like a dreary old lady" and uh, expressive outfits. Regard Brown's founder Joan Burstein, aka "Mrs. B", age somewhere in her seventies, substance and style shining forth. (Photo by Scott Schuman, The Sartorialist.)

Mrs. B., muse
Or this anonymous Milanesa, also shot by Schuman, singular, even humble, but oh, the furl of her seashell-hued chiffon. She has drawn me to return the way a pair of pie-plate glasses never will.

Walking on Piazza Oberdan, Milan

How do you like Eccentric? Do you wear it?

Gold rings

Every time I see a handsome gold ring, I think of my friend Marta. (Shown, textured and polished gold dome ring from Beladora, price, $1,350.)

When we met in the early '80s, Marta had just divorced. Married for over 20 dismal years, she was then required to pay her ex-husband alimony while he tried to become employable.
She had never received nor bought a piece of good jewelery other than her wedding ring, and she wasn't wearing that anymore.

On a trip to Italy, after the alimony finally ended, Marta saw a timeless gold ring and bought it as a symbol of her perseverance and new life. Now in her mid-80s, she has worn it daily for over 30 years. (Shown, gold mesh ring from Ross-Simons, price, $350.)

I love gold rings, especially when high-karat yellow gold acquires patina. Fifty-something women can wear them with presence.

Below, a selection of substantial gold rings, pleasing choices for any jewelry collection. All have weight, quality and grace: the gold standard.

Ann Gérard "Sagesse" ring, with Chinese ideogram for wisdom, €1250 from Ann Gérard.


Henry Dunay Facets 18k hammered gold ring, price, $1,750, from Beladora; one of a selection of stunning Dunay pieces.

Tiffany Paloma Picasso Marrakesh ring, price, $1,050. Decorative yet not intrusive, this quiet beauty is also made in gold and enamel for those who must have colour.

Links of London "Hope" 18k ring: a graceful sweep, large enough for a cocktail ring but not too massive for day. Price, $1,650.

A.G. Correa's 18k hand-braided Turk's head ring is a New England classic; the motif has been used on wooden ships for millenia. Shown, the three-strand style; price, $1,100.

Aware that some women prefer a finer ring, I want to show you this delicate yet substantial Lucie Heskett-Brem 20k Waterballet band. The gold is worked into long thin strands, then handmade into loops and twists to make a graceful chain ring. From Aaron Faber, price, $995.

A Victorian gold buckle ring symbolizes love and friendship. This floral-motif ring is an especially beautiful example from 1st Dibs seller Primavera Gallery. Size 8.5, 18k gold; excellent condition. Price, $2,100. 

Whether you choose new or vintatge, gold rings need minimal care. Just remove yours if you are working with materials (cleaning products, paints or solvents) that could discolour the gold, or when using a tool like a wrench that could bend softer high-carat pieces.

I don't like to see gold rings re-polished, as some jewelers offer to do. Let the patina come; the ring, like us, has earned it.

The world according to Françoise, with cards

Over this winter, one of my most pleasurable pastimes has been playing cards with my 84-year-old friend, Françoise.  Here she is last month, celebrating her birthday:
Françoise toasts her 84th!

Françoise taught me a card game from her New Brunswick heritage, called Blockage. (I can find neither rules nor references anywhere.)

It's a fast, fairly uncomplicated partner game; what was truly challenging was her instruction: "Here's your cards."

No run-down of rules, just the claim, "It's fun!" from someone who would play, given a soft summer evening, till 3 am. with her brother-in-law.

As a newbie, I got advice. Or should I say,
a hint: "Do you really want to use that card?" After three afternoons, I got good enough to spot her occasional lapses; at that moment my "coach" quit.

Hers was a generation of
competence and no complaint. They canned, they cleaned, they pitched out ne'er do well husbands without a dollar of support. They made sure their children were clean, clothed, hugged– and then, if they had a few spare hours, they might play cards.

Françoise on her long-ago marriage: "I loved him, but he loved lots of other ones."

On her career, managing a popular Montreal pub: "You never argue with someone's politics or what they're drinking."
On an unpopular customer: "He'd head for the loo when the cheque came, wait for his friends to pay. I stood there in front of the Men's and said, 'GO BACK to your table.' "

On fashion today: "Why do women want to wear so much black?"
On surprises: "Justin Timberlake, thought he was a flash in the pan. Very talented actor."

A game of cards is good, retro fun. Not so fast-paced you can't comment on the events of the day or sip a sherry; unplugged and connected, competitive yet friendly.

All you need is a deck of cards, a couple of hours, a plate of cookies–and a friend.

What's your game?

Bringing out your spring things

Spring's first moments
You know the moment when the seasonal axis tilts, when the street suddenly starts dressing differently? 

I thought that moment would come yesterday, escorted by 10C (50F), sunshine and breeze without ice in it. But the streets were still full of black parkas and winter boots, despite dry pavement. 

Youth gets there first. I saw kilted schoolgirls in bare legs and ballerinas, a couple of boys in shorts. Youth always insists it isn't cold, is the first to cast off sensible cover. But grown women are still huddling in long coats, leery of colour.

Dressing for spring is a wistful flirtation, advance and retreat, but one day we take a hint from the crocus and push forth.

I will take out a printed skirt to wear with tights, like this Parisienne shot by Scott Shuman, The Sartorialist, bridging winter and spring.

How to sneak into spring

But it's still chilly; cashmere in spring colours is cozy under a trench or leather jacket.
Out of storage, into the dresser
And scarves; this is perfect carré weather. With my usual simple, neutral clothes, the scarf provides colour, a light layer and a flag for the season.

Which to choose?

Roses, bees or the goddess of growing plants, Ceres?

Vibrant oranges piqued by leaf green or leopard?

Rabbits in hats, butterflies in branches, merry-go-round horses?

Flowers, birds or flâneurs?

The delicate feathers of the first hatchlings?

A nautical sextant in ochre, green and coral?

Isn't it a pleasure to say, "Oh! I can wear this again!"? 

What are your favourite spring things?

The O'Malley Sisters say sláinte!

I celebrate St. Patrick's Day with full rights. Though of Irish heritage every day, today I am one half of the celebrated, charming O'Malley sisters.
Aka Grace O'Malley
The O'Malley sisters were created about a decade ago, when I realized that it's impossible to get a seat in a good Irish pub by late afternoon on March 17. But if two middle aged women introduce themselves as your O'Malley sisters, Grace and Bridget, they will never, ever be turned away. I'm always Grace, and any willing female friend plays her sister.

So today, off to Ceili Cottage for a jar with my friend Jane who is actually of Lebanese heritage but does a grand job of being Bridget.

When luck runs out

A lighthearted outing seems incongruous in light of the tragedy in Japan. So many venues are available for giving. And here is one more: the gracious and lovely Belle de Ville of Beladora has written to say:

" and will be donating a portion of all March sales to the Red Cross Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami Relief Fund."

Tapadh leat (thank you), Belle. Here are a few glorious green ideas. 

Stacking enamel: tailored treat

From Beladora2: Hildago green enamel stacking rings, size 6 1/2. Price, $495.

Malachite heart

Show your heart: Vintage malachite heart pendant in many sumptuous greens on a twisted gold chain. Price, $295 from Beladora2.

Jade and pearl beauties

Vintage jade and mabe pearl earrings, set in 14k gold. Essence of chic. Price, $495 from Beladora.

Grace O'Malley: No weak sister

Grace O'Malley was a real woman, and what a woman: pirate, seafarer, trader and chieftain, a fascinating figure in Irish history. It is this woman of fire and adventure whom I honour when I request a seat, though Grace would have comandeered it.

If you've ever been tempted to visit the Emerald Isle, a company specializing in women's travel, WanderWoman, has a tour in her honour, "In Search of the Irish Pirate Queen, Grace O'Malley" on special till the end of today.

Strong woman of the island. We will see more of them in Japan, and may we help them with our resources, prayers and wishes.

Jewelry: Frugal baubles

March is fatal. Here, it's grey slush, too chilly to wear anything but wintry gear. But jewelry is wearable any time, so it's tempting to pick up a trinket to mitigate the icy blasts. That's not so smart if you're still paying for it by summer. 

There is a way to have your adornment and bank balance too. Designs of quality, made of noble metals and organic materials are available under $100, thanks to artisans free of the overhead of storefronts. Each would make a pleasing birthday, graduation, Mother's Day or "just because" gift.

Ammonite pendant
I admire the shape, grace and texture of ammonite, the fossil of an extinct marine mollusc related to the living Nautilus species. This Ammonite Statement Silver necklace comes with an 18-inch silver chain. One of a selection of ammonite necklaces from Etsy seller Splurge, $42.

Pearl and silver ring

Pearl for the price of plastic! Etsy seller sludlow's Oyster Ring presents a freshwater pearl in a sterling sliver cup; to order in any size. Price, $55. This ring will look even better as the silver oxidizes and wear adds texture.

A handmade necklace from Ghana, of glass and carved bone; $38 from Old Beads, item AF476. The necklace is just over 20 inches, the pendant is 1 1/2 inches. Wonderful with a white tee.

Black glass cabochon earrings

These vintage fancy glass cabuchon earrings from Etsy seller shipwreckdandy ("Fabulous jewels for peasants") captivate me. Set in oxidized brass, they are just under 1 1/2 inches, and have sparkly silver detail. Price, $22.

Operculum ring

Here's another natural wonder, an operculum ring. An operculum is a shell element that shows an ethereal, feathery effect. The shell is set with a sterling bezel on copper, with a substantial u-shaped sterling band. Price, $98 from Etsy seller thecuriousbead.

Hidden treat: the ring's back

I have to show you the inside of the ring, with its perfect spiral; the dime gives you an idea of the scale of the piece.

Turquoise with jet beads
This turquoise and jet Afghan necklace would add dash to a white shirt (or any shirt); 18 inches long. Price, $28 from Tribal Muse.

I'll give fine jewelry it's luxe due another time. If you're shaking our your piggy bank, these gently-priced pieces have grace, character and a tag less than than the tax on a precious choice.

Pleasure is not necessarily proportional to price; just keep an eye on workmanship and look for what coordinates with what you have. You'll be well-pleased by your modest treasure, and with the money you save, enjoy an unharried spring.