Standing up, standing out

Welcome back to the Passage! This week's posts are about discovering life in Montreal, through a newcomer's eyes.

The move was as grueling as everyone warned, but here we are, enjoying the city's flavours and sights. Thanks for all your well-wishes, which carried me though long days.

On the train here, a young man in the seat behind mine spoke nonstop to his pretty seatmate. Because I didn't pack my headphones, I learned a great deal about him.

At one point he interrupted his monologue to ask how the woman had enjoyed her week working in Toronto, my former city. Her brief response was inaudible, but his boomed forth: "It's so sparkling there, everything's so clean. Montreal is dirty, but it's good dirty."

Fine with me; the superb people-watching is more valuable to me than a pristine streetscape. 

This is the home city of one of my oldest friends, Ruth, a consummate Montrealaise to this day. "French Canadian women can put on weight as they age", she told me, "but they really pay attention to their posture, so they carry themselves well." In my first week, through a haze of fatigue, this is what struck me among many 50+ women, from the fiercely fashionable to the comfortably casual.

A 50+ woman seems more apt to wear decolletage or tight jeans if she feels like it, despite body type, bien dans sa peau. Isn't that a wonderful physical attitude?

Gap white jeans
White jeans or skinny pants are everywhere; I've bought a pair. (Shown Gap jeans, $40. Why spend more when a splash of soy sauce lurks?) 

The love affair with tall boots continues, leather swapped for spring suede or high Wellies. 

Marinieres are cherished by both sexes. (Fantastic women's spring/summer-weight marinieres, size range US 4–US 20 by mail here.)
Galathee mariniere

The much-vaunted Quebecoise sexiness is on display at every price point. (A local story goes that a young woman congratulated for participating in the local Slut Walk protest march on May 29 said, "Alors, I'm just going to work.")

A certain type like mini dresses, the shortest shorts, and the five-inch heel.But what draws my eye even more is the diverse originality of personal style (at least in my neighbourhood and those nearby).

A woman might dash about in moto boots and a vintage full skirt, wrap her head African style, add mauve tips to grey hair (surprisingly pretty), or mash up plaids and prints: it's all here, sharing the sidewalk with religiously conservative women in black and baba cool college kids.
Future Classics dress

But more discreet looks abound, too with women in well-cut neutrals like Future Classics' LBD from the newly opened boutique Cahier d'Exercises.

To enter into the spirit, relative to my age and stage, I bought a French close-fitting dark denim pencil skirt with pyramid studs on the back yoke and a few on each side seam, quite daring for me.  Sussed out a top-notch salon where a stylist tweaked my cut and said next stop, colour: not quite so red: "Maintenant, c'est trop violente".

There's fascinating freedom and expressiveness in dress here in Montreal, and I'll show you some when my camera surfaces.

And where did I pack that garlic press?

Moving, back May 31

My last post vanished. I'm moving, and will be back in the Passage on May 31; see you then!


Christine at 50: I swear!

In the midst of moving chaos, we attended a sparkling birthday party for our beloved friend Christine, to celebrate her 50th birthday.


In the photo, I'm in a silk Chinese jacket, which I nearly donated before the party, and now that I've seen myself, will. The Versace fabric, sewn for me by a friend, is too much pattern for my current taste; time to say ciao.

Christine, by contrast, is wearing a soft grey long-sleeved tee and ice-blue capris. You can just see her famous vintage jeweled charm bracelet.

I think she's a double for Linda Eastman, Paul McCartney's late wife. That makes Christine shudder; but see what you think:

Linda Eastman McCartney


Christine made an intention on turning 50: she is going to stop swearing. Now, she's not the most explicit swearer, but has decided her behaviour is no longer suitable, and chose to stop– after the party. (I should add that Christine, a teacher, never swore at work.)

When you turned fifty, or any other significant "decade" birthday: did you resolve to make any changes?  

One friend vowed to run a marathon (and had not run since high school), another made a list of four places she wanted visit, cashed in all her air miles and made the trips over her 50th year. I know someone who decided to adopt a child.

Fifty was harrowing for me; I pretty much hid. Sixty was a breeze, no angst whatsoever. But I made no resolution either time, and wish I had. The setting of a goal, regardless of age, keeps us moving forward, learning.

Bokasana at 83!

Seventy is next, over seven years from now; how about me setting the goal of a birthday Bokasana (Crow Pose)? Bette Calman, the Australian yoga teacher shown in the photo, is 83. She says "Forget age, yoga keeps you young."

Christine practices yoga too, and swims in her school's pool for fifty minutes at lunch most days. A *%$**@# inspiration!

Physical deceptions

I had a physical today, just before the move. At going on 63, that's no small deal. 

A year ago, Dr. K., my family doc, barked at me. Me! Reviewing my lab work, she said my blood sugar was edging up, that I must curb carbs. No blueberry pancakes, no Lindt Fleur de Sel chocolate bars.

Not recommended by Dr. K.
She asked me how much alcohol I drink; I said, "I'll have a glass of wine, maybe two if we have company." That's a white (wine) lie: I'll count a cat as company.

She made a veiled reference to my weight: "If you keep gaining at this rate, you will be obese."

In other words, my dear nerdy doc was a total drag.

Fast forward 12 months. I show up again. "Excellent blood pressure!" she crooned, squeezing away. Reading the lab results, she purred. Weight down five lbs., to me an unremarkable variance, but it earned a tender pat on the arm.

But the fact is, nothing has changed significantly except that I'm a year older and Dr. K. is in a good mood. Just a guess: new romantic interest?

The patient-doctor relationship
From here to eternity, my family doc and I will play a cat and mouse game, where, if she is grumpy, she'll prod me to give up anything I remotely enjoy, and I'll try to slip evidence of joie de vivre under her radar, thanks to a genetically hardy system.

Men dispense with this charade by not seeing a doctor till they are in extremis.
Dr K. keeps me on the straight, but not entirely narrow, path. Thus absolved, I went home and enjoyed a martini at cocktail time. (Just one, so more accurately, a Martinus, after the classic Wayne and Schuster bit.)

In fact, I have altered longstanding habits over the past year, forsaking croissants for multi-grain, eating more fish, avoiding prepared foods, doing that plate-in-quarters-thing

What changes have you made? And which are you reluctant to make?

I am not, not, not giving up homemade blueberry pancakes with maple syrup!

Jewelry: Bangling for compliments

Spring means shorter sleeves (at least in this part of the world), perfect time to show a bracelet. In winter I'll wear one, but it's often hidden by a sweater or jacket. Now through summer, bangles come out to play.

Yes, they can clank, but to collectors, it's a sweet song. An arm full of bangles can recall nearly your entire life, if your collection began back when you did the Twist. Or you can wear a single, simple circle, your quiet claim to beauty– your pick. 

Bangles also make a marvelous gift; a woman doesn't have to do much besides slip one on and admire.

How to choose a bangle that fits

Measure your hand like this
1. Tuck your thumb into the palm of your hand as if you were going to put a bangle on, then measure around the widest point with a tape measure. Pull the tape measure snugly while doing this.

If you have a broad hand but a thin wrist, squish your fingers as closely in as possible, then measure, so that the bangle is not too big once it's on.

2. Take out your calculator and divide by 3.14.  The result is the inner diameter your new bangle needs so that you can slide it on easily.

For hinged bangles, measure the circumference of your wrist and add an inch for ease.

Plays nicely with others

I love mixing bangles, and Jane Diaz' matte silver rectangular cut-out bangle would be a crisply chic addition to a collection. 3/16 inch wide; interior diameter 2 1/2 inches. Price, $88 from Twist Online. A rather perfect gift for any woman, if this diameter (a standard size for bangles) fits.
Matte silver rectangle cut-out

A Bakelite-studded pink bangle set with pink sapphire and garnet would punctuate a more pedestrian stack. If you've got a slew of Madonna-homage rubber bangles, throw this baby into the middle and see how it gleams. Mark Davis Evelyn bangle, price, $1,640 at Twist.

Pretty in pink Bakelite
Three interlocking bangles of hammered silver jump-start a new collection or fill out an existing one by adding texture. Sterling Triangular Bangle Trio by Melissa Manning; price, $165 from Twist
Hammered trio

Wearers of gold bangles could add this 14k and ruby piece for a delicious polished detail.  Quarter-inch bracelet set with cherry red rubies; $995 from Beladora2.
Luxurious ruby and gold

Stand-alone stunners

John Iverson's minimalist grey bangle bracelet is a graceful shape that could stand alone. It's silver finished with a matte textured grey surface; site does not say but I suspect it's ruthenium, a durable dark-grey plating metal. Price, $190 from Twist.
Organic, graceful grey
Then there's... this. An splash of yellow sapphires, in shades from canary to mandarin, covering three-quarters of the surface of a gunmetal silver Stardust Bracelet, edged in ivory enamel. Very Louise Brooks, mysterious and glamorous. Interior diameter, 2 1/4 inches. By MCL at Twist; price, $1,515 and I'm calling it worth every penny.
Sensuous, mysterious sapphires
Alexis Bittar's python crystal bangle wraps your wrist in hand-panted lucite: soft shimmer and glow. Price, $375 from Bergdorf Goodman. A single lucite piece is pretty quiet to wear.

Python and sparkle
In the stratosphere, let us admire (fan self rapidly) a Buccellati ivory, turquoise and gold bangle from the 1950s, set in yellow gold. Madonna, didn't they make treasures? From 1st Dibs seller Nadine Krakov Collection; price, $12,500. Now step into your Aston Martin and roar off.

Timeless Italian chic

Remember the add-a-pearl necklaces of the '50s? Bangles are the 21st century version, a personal collection built over time. You can save for something special, hunt for flea-market finds, reroute from silver to gold and back again. But I still believe quality trumps quantity, so skip the throwaways and build a collection you can wear forever.

Polished panache: Lady style

See by Chloe coat
I have noticed a return to a way of dressing, and I'll bet you have, too, especially if you have 30-something friends or children.

The lady look is back, sitting with crossed ankles amidst us.

(Shown, See by Chloe coat, Neiman Marcus, $545.)

Wonder Woman as lady
The newly-married Kate, Duchess of Cambridge personifies this consciously-groomed approach. So does Victoria Beckham (when wearing her own line), Michelle Obama and Lynda Carter.

Lady style favours dresses, skirted suits, structured bags, hats, nude stockings, classic cardis, perfect colourful lips, deliberate colour coordination.

Lady is unmistakably feminine; her innate propriety lends sexiness, but with the shades pulled. A lady need not flaunt her charms.

For years, lady style was something I watched from, say, across Bendel's tea room, admiring the composed possessors as if they were elegant canaries.

In the '80s and '90s, most lady dressers were my age or older. It was a look one earned, socially and financially. As if a skipping stone, "lady" flew over many 50-something women who were thrilled to get into Eileen Fisher and out of a girdle, to find new life in the current decade.

The Good Wife at work
Lady does not merely lunch; she goes to work: Joanna Margulies, playing lawyer Alicia Florrick in "The Good Wife" started the series as a navy lady, then added more colour as her character gained confidence and clout.

I've come to admire lady style, though have not worn the full-on version since the days when my mother bought my Peck & Peck suits. There is a control underpinning the style, and I feel like I'm in someone else's clothes, someone more well-behaved and composed.

And lady is typically svelte, able to inhabit a demanding cut like this Giambattista Valli gingham dress (from Barneys; price, $3,000), which she might pair with Prouenza Shouler lazer-cut orange pumps ($695 at Barneys), because sometimes the lady is a vamp.

Lady at the mall
Caroline Charles crombie
In the mid-range, Talbot's have staked a claim on lady, offering endless variations of slightly chaste ensembles, more polished in print than in the shops. They are mining the Kelly-Hepburn Lady Manual, but without really good fabrics, the clothes are not enchanting.

The best of lady can be coaxed into cool; Vivienne Westwood or Caroline Charles' impeccable pieces would take a sharp shootie and some funky jewelry. I'd love Charles' wool crepe Crombie jacket with its velvet collar (£695) to wear with jeans.

Once you meet her standards for fit and quality, lady style rewards you with clothes that last. I can't remember when I bought the few lady pieces (navy silk pants, Hermes shirts) in my wardrobe. But isn't that just like a lady?

She never tells her age.

Thrifters and pickers: A dilemma

I love thrifts, on the giving and receiving end, ever astonished by how much our culture has and donates. With patience and luck, practically everything a person wears flows through there.

Ev's skirt
Most of my forays were with my mother, in Naples, Florida, thrift store heaven. Think about it: so many estates whose heirs just send everything to charity. Mom braked for any thrift that might have a wraparound skirt, the clothing equivalent of the fondue set.This was her skirt of choice for casual daywear, worn with a polo or cotton blouse, from the moment she bought her first, ca.1960.

We had to sneak because my father forbade shopping at thrifts. We would have a "long lunch" or "nice drive" and I'd smuggle her skirt into the house in my bag.

Lately I've been on the donor end, divesting all sorts of gear before moving day. I've consigned a few high-end items (original Halston, Ferre) to a designer secondhand store and given some to friends–but bags have gone to charity thrifts. One charity, Windfall, prepares women to enter the workplace, but takes only unworn contributions, less than 2% of my pile.

Charities with stores–Goodwill, Value Village, Sally Ann and the like–are picked by vendors who take the best things to mark up and resell in their hip vintage boutiques. One of my friend's daughters worked in Goodwill receiving and was well paid by a Queen St. secondhand shop to skim things before they hit the floor.

Anyone can buy; the vendors know when the racks are restocked. I've seen shirts and skirts I gave to Goodwill fluttering from a boutique rack more than once, and yes, I'm absolutely certain. In one case, the price tag was higher than what I'd paid.

I'd hoped my donation would end up delighting a woman who couldn't afford the garment in a boutique, or someone like Frugal Scholar (among others) who values conscious consumption and recycling. When vendors make a buck on my donation, it sticks in my craw. 

Am I being unreasonable? Should I lighten up? 

Wonderful moment: Le Duc put a personal flotation device (PFD) on the curb. That's his method for anything decent: offer it to the neighbourhood. Someone picked it inside ten minutes. That evening I answered the phone, and a young man asked for our son, Jules.

When I replied that Jules was at work, the caller said he'd found the PFD and noticed Jules' name and number inked inside. He asked if we meant to give it away or was it lost?

I was touched by his considerate behaviour; we ended up offering him some camping gear.

I've also used our local Freecycle board to post office equipment; respondents have been friendly people who can use what we no longer want.

Giving feels good, but not so much when I'm stocking a for-profit shop.