Jewelry: Exceptions

The ring that sparked the motto
 Lettered on a window somewhere in the Passage:

"If you're over 50, your jewelry should be real."

I first uttered this when a (30ish) colleague asked me if my emerald ring was "real".


There are several reasons for that belief:
1. A woman past 50 has the experience and bearing to wear jewelry well. The authenticity of genuine materials becomes her. And the inverse is true: like a Forever 21 dress, certain jewelry looks terrific on youth, but not on the mature.
2. Imitation materials have no soul or essence. Even if it fools the eye, it just does not deliver on an emotional level.
3. Fake is usually poor value. The "gold tone" bracelet wears to mottled patches, the gold bracelet takes on a burnished patina. Though you can sometimes salvage elements such as beads, you cannot recycle imitation gold or silver into a new style. 

"Real" does not imply costly. When I say "real", I include not only precious metals and gems, but also an array of organic elements, e.g., shells, wood, rock crystal, raffia, leather, an old bronze key on a silk cord.


However, there are exceptions, especially among vintage pieces, when  craftsmanship and materials were far superior to today's. (Below, gold and tortoise plastic necklace from Carole Tannenbaum.)

Among synthetics, bakelite and the modern resins are appealing, but the hard, glossy plastic of much current costume lacks character. In the '80s I had my armful of Madonna's durable, light, O-ring rubber bangles; did you? 

And for by-the-pool fun accessories, frank plastics like this wacky Aldo "Curl" ring for $12 make sense.

So despite that motto, I wear pieces of synthetic materials and admire some of it on others. Here's a selection:

Dress clip, ca. 1935, of gilt and plastic "shell", one of a pair my mother wore.

Ca. 1930s bakelite brooch; bought from a vintage dealer in Toronto when watching the entire series "Carnavale" on DVD renewed my love for Art Deco.

"Jade" (plastic) and genuine seed-pearl earrings, ca. 1930s, bought in Paris at a vintage jewelry store.

Big paste, strass and metal-chain necklace, bought for a New Year's Eve party, about $60 at Dillard's. An example of cheap, fun-to-wear glitz–but glad I didn't spend more.

Wide Italian plastic-laminate cuff, bought at a boutique; an example of plastic's ability to deliver vivid colour.

1950s gumball-sized metal knots, bought in London in the early '80s. I paid too much, but thirty years later buyer's remorse has faded and I still remember sunny Portobello Road that afternoon. The combination of their weight and the clip backs kill my ears after an hour, but I still have them.

The "sapphire" pin you found at a yard sale, the worn-down-to-brass "silver" ring you inherited from an aunt, the CZ "diamond" studs that make travel carefree: choose your own exceptions, and enjoy them.

What are your favourite fakes?

Sunday night street party, Little Italy, Montreal

Montréal's Little Italy prepared for Sunday's Euro Cup quarter finals, the long boulevard of cafés decorated and equipped with extra big screens.

Crowds fill every seat to watch with rapt attention...

and Italy wins 4-2 on a penalties. The street erupts! Young men pile into a truck...

Champagne is "served",

The mood is giddy, friendly, infectious.

But one had his own sweet dreams

and another was undeterred from his Sunday hobby.

But it never hurts wear a party dress

or a smile


when your neighbourhood turns into a raucous celebration on a soft summer evening. 

More on managing thinning hair

According to some health-related sites, 40% of women experience some hair loss during menopause. I'd estimate double that percentage will notice loss in the decades that follow. If you've maintained thick, healthy hair into your 50s or beyond, are you lucky! But if you always had fine hair and are now losing some, your heart sinks when you look at your brush. 

Fighting the myriad signs of aging isn't the best use of time, but we all want to look good, and hair is a very deep subject for women.

Since my initial post, I've observed hordes of women getting extensions at my new salon. My stylist says about half are mature women; the other half are 20-and-30s who want their luxuriant manes bumped up to unnaturally lush levels. I've seen so many applied that I no longer think "great hair"; I think, "$1,500 in extensions".

The problem is that extensions add volume only from mid-crown to mid-head, so if you're thinning on top or at the temples, they won't cover that. I don't have extensions, but if you do, please tell us how you like them.

I watched a soignée woman in a posh department store ladies' room casually take out a small compact that I thought was eye shadow and daub it at her hairline, near the part. She saw me staring (well, wouldn't you?) and showed me her DermMatch

Her bob looked just fine, but she had an area at her temple where her part revealed a receding patch, about the size of a quarter. DermaMatch is scalp makeup, designed to 'paint in' the bare scalp so it blends with the hair.  

She pulled back her bangs to show me the opposite, untouched temple hidden by her bangs– a dramatic difference. She said there was a little rub-off on her pillow but she'd changed to dark cases. Caveat: The product would not look realistic on large areas like a full part or thin crown.

She said if the bare spots grow, she will have a transplant, and is unwilling to take drugs like Propecia.

She has localized hair loss; there are other approaches for overall loss of fullness. Volumizing shampoos and conditioners are multiplying as cosmetic companies respond to boomers' dismay over hair you can see through.

You can drop double digits on fancy salon stuff, but Good Housekeeping gives top marks to two Pantene products, Pantene Pro-V Full & Thick Shampoo and Conditioner, each under $6 at most drugstores. These expanded strand diameter up to 9% and got top marks from consumers for making hair look thicker.

Dry shampoo applied at the roots to add lift from the scalp is another stylist's weapon. I like Klorane Gentle Dry Shampoo, also great for travel.

Another strategy is an optical trick: place some highlights or lowlights near the face to provide contrast, which reads like thickness. But, stylists counsel, don't carry those lights throughout the head, because if they dry out the strands, you can get breakage of that now-finer hair.
M., a pretty, 60ish woman in the beauty industry, told me that she teases to add volume. She lightly back-combs the under section only, beginning at around ear level (where one would normally add extensions) so the top layer of hair falls naturally over the teased underlayer. On the weekends, she gives it a rest by brushing it back, held by a scarf or barette.

She invited me to touch her hair; there was about half as much there as I would have guessed. M. had lightened her colour to several shades of pale blonde, because a high contrast (dark hair, white scalp in her case) makes hair look much thinner.

Helen Mirren has fine blonde hair like M.'s, and appears to have volume added either by restrained back-combing or a roller set, then relaxed by a blow-out. She could also use extensions; many actresses do.

And I hope you noticed Dame Helen's pearls.

When lost is found

From top hats to typewriters, the near past yields treasures, objects of patina and presence.

"Something old" makes an enchanting gift or accessory, not just for a bride. I'm thinking about what is nearly gone, and how it might be rescued without slipping into weird hoarding.

Lost object

I was in a housewares shop the other day, and overheard a man say plaintively, "Oh, I was sure you would have them". The clerk replied, "Yes, we used to, but no one bought them." He said, "I've looked everywhere..."

I couldn't resist asking what they were talking about, "Bookends" said the man, "I want to give them as a gift." Where would you suggest he look?

I found this '60s Italian pair, rich sienna marble eggs originally from I. Magnin on Etsyfrom the well-named seller OddlyEphemeral. (Price, $199.)

Lost jewelry
Once literally the jewel in the crown, the hat pin is now a quirky charmer. Daniele wears hers on jackets (like a stickpin) and displays them on a large cushion on a living room side table, like sculpture. A Victorian branch coral and 10k gold hat pin is only $75 from Ruby Lane seller True Treasures of Palm Beach.
Coral hat pin

Lost fabrics

Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe
Quality fabric is an endangered species. 

When Jill Taylor was costuming the '50s-era film "My Week with Marilyn", her team scoured vintage shops, auction houses and markets because, though she made some of the actors' pieces, she said it was difficult to find fabrics that looked as lush as those produced in the '50s. 

Sewers stockpile vintage lengths of satin or tweed, but the rest of us search for the exceptions that remain in fabricated items.

Pendleton tote
The great American textile mills have closed steadily since the 1960s, so even though they seem a going concern, I'd buy Pendleton. 

The City Tote shows off a lush piece of jacquard weaving, made of fabric still produced in the US. Price, $88. (Stellar gift for someone averse to carrying leather.)

A glimpse of stocking
I'm not suggesting genuine silk stockings unless you or the recipient would swoon. If so, lace-top silks can be worn with or without garters, and come in many sizes (though not always in stock at for about $65 per pair.

Whether under a wedding gown or 50th anniversary cocktail dress, silk feels delicious, and not just to your hand.

Lost artist

When we sold our house, one of the things I mourned was leaving tiles custom-made almost twenty years ago by Matthias Ostermann and installed in a wall.

The Montréal-based, world-renowned ceramicist died in 2009, so I had no hope of finding more.

Matthias Ostermann tile
Last week I walked by a Montreal gallery and stopped short, my breath suspended, my arms in goosebumps.

In the window were a half-dozen pristine pieces; the gallery owner was selling part of her personal collection. I bought two decorative tiles; the mermaid is nearly an exact match for one in the wall.

The owner wasn't in; moved to tears, I asked her assistant to convey my thanks. Their appearance felt like a gift from beyond.

What are the materials, objects or artists that you wish to conserve?

Brené Brown: The power of vulnerability

At lunch recently, my friend Marla, her friend Diane and I discussed life over crêpes and café au lait. They both recommended this TED talk by Brené Brown.

Though the last five minutes provide the 'punch line', the preceding fifteen establish Brown's research and she's so wise, funny and insightful that it's worth the time. And it is not often that an "expert" is so open about her own struggles.

A dress that fits, for all

At 5'10", buying dresses is an exercise in frustration. From mid-priced to designer, the dress is tuggingly short–and I'm only hoping for to the knee.

Bear with me, petite possums, this post might interest you, too.

Clothes: Parisienne sensibility, sized for real women

Designer Muriel Dombret of Clothes

I recently visited Belgian-born, Paris-trained designer Muriel Dombret, owner of the chic boutique Clothes, in Ottawa, Ontario. 

Clothes manufacture on site, so will custom-fit length, body or sleeve and offer various fabrics from a selection of Italian linens and wools, as well as offering ready-to-wear. Sizes run from 2 to 16.

(Larger sizes require specially-milled fabrics, which is why many small shops don't offer sizes above 16 or so.)

I chose the "Emma" dress in citron stretch cotton:

and a custom-fit version of "Lolita" in navy:

Orders via the website are for ready-to-wear only, due to the specifics of custom fit.

Men's outfitters have always offered custom tailoring or on-site alterations for ready-to-wear. Why have such services vanished for women? Why don't more designers address women's size diversity? 

This is not "to the knee"!
In the e-shopping world, Boden offer two lengths for Misses' dresses and skirts (but no Women's sizes) and J. Crew have quietly added some dresses up to 20– but would you call this dress "to the knee", as they do?

Standard sizing veers ever smaller, shorter and tighter and the higher the price point, the more the clothes are designed for mannequin figures.  

A peek into Clothes
This isn't just a strapping North American problem. The "Any Body Buenos Aires Team" claim that 70% of Argentinian women cannot find clothes in their size, and say:
"The largest size most non-specialty stores in the capital carry is about size UK 8/10, which leaves approximately 70% of Argentine women hard-pressed to find stylish clothes that fit, despite the size laws that exist to combat the problem."

Size 6, standard-proportioned women may be rolling eyes. But I'm thrilled to buy a dress that won't look borrowed from a friend.

Dobbin: Workhorse designs cut for grown-ups

Dobbin's Juliet stretch ponte dress, $168

Jessica Gold Newman and Catherine Doyle's just-opened online shop Dobbin promises "classic and vintage-inspired silhouettes made of designer-level European fabrics in flattering fits made for real bodies of all ages"– and free shipping both ways for US customers.

Check out their description of the "Dobbin Fit", which made me sigh with relief. More pieces will be added to the presently small line; Jess says they will offer more length options, too.

I only wish more designers would accommodate our various sizes and body shapes in luscious fabrics. If you've found any of these rare sources, please share your finds with us!

Prada's personal style: A primer

I so enjoyed the post by "Caryl" of Second Lives Club that I'm linking to it: "Miuccia Prada and Her 7 Elements of Style".

Prada's discreet yet wholly individual looks offer an antidote to the strenuously-supported effects that so many designers, makeup artists, etc. shove at mature women.

Can't resist adding an 8th Element: Oh yes, Prada wears pearls, as shown here, with her husband, Patrizio Bertelli:

She will wear those same stunning earrings casually, too...

and choose a bracelet with a large focal pearl:

Though I would not attempt all of her sartorial effects, Prada embodies an intelligence and sensibility that, at 63 (my age, too) inspires. Now, if only she made her designs in a size 14.

Thank you, Caryl, for your keenly-observed post.

Ethnic at market; sorbet at shop

In a sea of jeans, these women stood out in their African and Indian prints at Atwater Market.  I can't resist them either, but well-made examples are hard to find.

A colourful skirt with a peach tee, so pretty against her dark skin:

Deliberating seedlings in a beautiful turquoise, pink and black shawl:

A pensive young woman in an Indian wrap skirt:

Across town, a trio of fizzy sorbet-hued dresses in the window of the marvelous new dress shop Éditions de Robes reminded me of the Supremes:

Montréal in summer: endlessly fascinating people-watching.