Jewelry value: From summer to seasonless

I began this post in July and stuck it in my drafts folder. But, since it examines value as well as jewelry design, I'm posting it now.

While much jewelry is seasonless, some pieces say "summer", and extend  basics like a navy tee, white shirt or camel sweater to three or four season wear. That's when an unabashed summer piece can be a wise buy.

Today, choices for summer and beyond that cost less than a weekend away.

This Kate Spade Park Guell necklace was $228 online at Dillard's last summer. I liked the aqua, Palm-Beachy bib, the adult-sized scale and 18-inch length. I thought of buying it to dress up an LBD or white shirt, but with tax, that rolled up to $250, plus shipping and import duties.

While unlikely to actually wear out, body oil, perfumes and lotions and sushi-sticky fingers would eventually attack the resin. "Well", you might say, "suppose I get 100 wears out of it, and so what?" I wouldn't disagree, especially if we were having a G&T on your deck, and you were wearing it becomingly.

I don't believe all jewelry should be eternal, but what else could you get for, say $400 or less?

At Beladora2, we find a coral and 18k gold bead necklace, 20 inches long; price, $395! You don't have the coverage of a bib, but you get gorgeous glowing colour (coral looks wonderful on both dark and light skin) and the richness of 18k.

If you have fab earrings, they can stand on their own, or you can supercharge the glam by adding rings and bracelets. The middle is indecisive. Your money may go farther, too, as earrings demand less material.

The Natasha Accessories Crystal Open Teardrop earrings (also at Dillards; price, $34) were a budget bargain. The classic and perfectly balanced design  could pass muster, especially with a good watch and rings. (Mix genuine and costume, but only if you'd wear the items together if everything were real.) They also came in a sea-hued blue/green combo. Lose a stone, though, and they're not so appealing.

From Beladora2 again, vintage turquoise and 14k gold mid-century button earrings; 3/4 inches in diameter, a tad over our budget at $476– but they make my heart race. 

It's worth shaking the piggy bank for such treasures. 

Here's another pair that you could make your year-round signature: aquamarine nuggets and 9mm Tahitian pearl earrings (price, $153 from Kojima Company).  The aquas say summer, and the pearls are deep enough to carry the earring through winter.

I'm always looking, learning and evaluating materials, workmanship and other factors I posted about here and here. Whether it's a mulit-carat precious gem or string of craft show beads, value is always on my mind.

What's on my ears as I write? A $35 pair of 14mm white baroque pearl studs, bought on a whim on eBay from a Chinese vendor, which turned out to have flashing green and pink overtones. My jeweller admitted she would sell them for ten times the price.

Pure luck, and I wish the same for you!

Leather details for fall

I can't recall a season with more more simple, clean skirts and tops made in leather, or with significant leather details.

The drawback to mixed fabric and leather pieces is obvious: specialty drycleaning. But, since nearly all are dark, they often need only a light wipe with leather conditioner. (I've only ever cleaned leather skirts that way for years, then finish with a swoosh of protector spray.) Wearing a cami under tops helps, too– but ultimately, there are pros who can return your piece all clean.

Hip tops

Phillip Lim combines leather and silk in a top; it can give you that Marianne Faithfull (sober, but still dangerous) vibe. Price, $745.

Danier, the Canadian mall chain, is mostly average, but every fall for the past three years they have slid in some simple, strict pieces. This year's entry is a bamboo stretch jersey and lamb leather sleeved top, available up to L (will fit 14-16, a lot of stretch in the piece) on the web site. (I have a similar one and wear it every chance I get.) Price is a grab-able $249.

Lafayette 148 design a leather line that always offers something extra. Leather can be too bulky for petites, so I was pleased to see this clever leather-front sweater, soft and well-scaled, in their Petites line. Price, $398. (Also in womens sizing P to XXL.)

Lafayette also make a lined travel-worthy jacket in tech cloth with leather patch pockets, the perfect layer for Portland or Prague. Price, $598, and available in women's, petite and plus.


Pencils up!

On your behalf, I've checked out dozens of leather skirts. Most are too short for women over 50, unless you want that Hey, Sailor effect. 

The winner for quality, price and cut is the "weightless lambskin" Lafayette 148 slim skirt. Big smudgy red lipstick kiss to them for offering it in plus (as well as regular and petites) and in a 24-inch length in women's and plus, 20 inches in petites. Price, $728; also comes in espresso, but can you imagine how the vermilion would make you feel in drab winter?

Runner-up: Danier classic pencil (Style # 113030099); though length is not given, you can tell it's not a mini. Price, $279 in espresso or black. A leather skirt is stellar, rollable travel piece, dressier than jeans and, worn with a jacket or sweater, goes to most work settings, especially if not in the tougher black.

If you can wear a 4 or 6 and seek a slinky departure from basics, Danier's site has a sale item, a python-printed leather skirt that would certainly jazz up a cashmere tee, no? Sale price, $119.

When I think of it, leather items are always among the lowest cost-per-wear and longest shelf life in my wardrobe, not that you will need that rationale if you fall in love with a simple, light piece!

Secondhand Rose on the road

The articulate and vibrant "Marina" recently visited Montréal, accompanied by her 21-year old daughter. We passed an afternoon trawling boutiques, from vintage to hipster to girly-girl, trading stories and observations.

At the end of the day, neither Marina nor I bought anything, but passed judgment on many pieces. AKA "Secondhand Rose", she looks impeccable in designer dresses she has snagged, sometimes for as little as $30, in consignment shops. Not everything she buys is secondhand, but she is an absolute goddess of that niche.

Like me, she keeps to a budget, and unlike me, has a serious job that requires her to look polished and professional. It helps that she's a lithe size 4-6, but she has several tips worth sharing, no matter what the size.

She will, for example, launch enthusiastically into restyling a find, removing, for example, the cap sleeve on this petrol cotton dress by Twenty8Twelve (shown in my blurry cellphone shot) to achieve a cleaner, more flattering line. 

She can cast her eye on a secondhand item and see possibilities: a skirt made from a dress, a dress from a long gown. She will check out the "markdown room" of a consignment shop to find gems others have passed by. In fact, the favourite part of the hunt for her is the opportunity to restyle.

Marina uses a tailor with the skill to handle designer pieces from makers like Ports 1961 or MaxMara.

Marina avoids large prints near her face, letting her tumbling auburn hair take centre stage. I had long wondered why I prefer long hair worn up or pulled back with prints, and she solidified it for me: visual clutter.

She observes runway design and looks for similar cuts in less stratospherically-priced goods, but would not compromise a millimetre on fit or quality. A friend bought Prada booties; Marina admired the style, but not the price. In Montreal, she bought this United Nude pair to wear to work with narrow, fitted dresses.

We were captivated by Tavan & Mitto's precise, refined dresses, and Marina thought she might return to order some pieces, high praise indeed. Their evident background working in European couture (Ferre, Chanel), delicious fabrics and reasonable prices put them on my "must visit" list for friends on the slender side of a 12. Once back in Toronto, she realized a recent vintage find was by them.

Our last stop was the ultra-girlie boutique 1861, spotted by her daughter, a sprite with a taste for romantic, flowy clothes, and the figure to show them to perfection.

Since I have no daughters, I can't remember when I'd sat in a pink-drenched universe, watching young women try on diaphanous,  femmy pieces. They might have walked in wearing cutoffs and a tank, but they were laying into Taylor-Swift-like embroideries and lace like nobody's business, and accessorizing with red gingham peep-toe stilettos.

The clothes are not hootchie-mama sexy (another popular Montréal genre); they convey a lush, fairytale effect. Even a royal blue crew-neck sweater takes on a girlie glamour when shot with lurex threads and peppered by tiny black bows.

The boutique is a decadent cupcake, sweet and alluring, but a visit more than once a month might require a dentist.

We parked on a ruby-and ivory striped settee to watch the try-ons, and noticed one woman assessing a black lace evening number featuring this summer's ubiquitous mini-under-floor-length-chiffon overskirt.

She was a good twenty years older than the rest of the clientele, the age of several mothers patiently waiting. Though she had the tennis-taut body the dress demanded, her face, lovely in its maturity, was an utter mismatch with the gown, a graceful Georgian row house paired with fake mullions. Marina and I whispered, No. It wasn't the black, it was the ditzy array of cutaways and flourishes, the sheer busyness you can carry at twenty, but not so well at forty-something.

She bought the dress. If I could, I would have whisked her to Tavan & Mitto to consider the option of dressing like a magnificent grown women, perhaps in this turquoise silk.

But there you go: to each her own.

Hair: Failing funky

My head was turned by new salon on my street: orange Vespa parked in front, orange and high-gloss white decor, retro bossa nova groovily wafting. Pitchers of water with fresh mint and orange slices, croissants, espresso bar. Nice people, cool place. 

And hey, the name is "The Redhead" in French. Was this not meant to be?

"Brigitte", a flame-haired stylist in a sequined t-shirt, told me I should have something "un peu plus 'funky'". I believe in letting stylists do their thing; my only stipulation was to be able to dab in some product and go, no hot irons or blowouts. Though shocked by the amount of (my) hair on the floor, I walked out happy– it was a change– but almost immediately began thinking "I need to get used to it." 

Day 1: Trying to make friends

Here's that cut. I am already questioning it in this photo. At my left, out of camera range, sits a largish glass of chablis.

Yesterday, Brigitte had casually achieved a Janelle Monae poof on the long side which I could not replicate. It's hip, but looks odd with my Hermès scarf. I remove the scarf; the cut is still kind of jarring. My hair is now loaded with a wax that leaves residue on my pillow.

Day 4: Party

A few nights later, I join three girlfriends with great hair. We are all over 60. Though Francine, at far left, looks grey, her hair is actually that sixteen shades of blonde thing.

R., on my right, and I have been close friends since '82. She said nothing, which said something, know what I mean?

I ask myself when, in the last three decades, I had seen this style, and the answer is, on me in...1985. I begin to have serious reservations. Like the Dorothy Hamill wedge, should this 'do come back?

I receive this party photo and like everyone's hair but mine.

Day 5: Seeking expert advice

After studying the photo evidence, I Skype another longtime friend, the forthright Susan, and ask what she thinks. She always looks terrific in a natural, breezy way and has worked as an image consultant. 

Susan does not hesitate a second: calls it dated and dreadful. We decide the cut is like a mullet rotated 90 degrees and about as current.

Day 6: Get this thing off my head!

The next morning, I take another chance at a different nearby salon, Blush. Totally different vibe: Femmy and formal, with crystal chandeliers like an opera house's. I simply enter on a whim and beg for book the first available slot.

The stylist, Maggie, is a calm, 50ish woman who handles my curls deftly, evincing thirty years of experience. Her first words are, "Passé", and "I can fix this".

The fix is more or less my usual style, if shorter over the ears. "We are going to get more length here", Maggie says, tugging down both sides like the 'do is a pair of misbehaving Spanx.

And this costs 30% less! No fancy bevvies, but I am offered samples of masques and a pen.

Someone might prefer the funky cut. If so, I have some Pat Benetar albums for you.

What did I learn?
1. Let a stylist experiment, but realize that you may not be suited to his or her idea.
2. Funky after 50 (OK, well after) is unwise unless you're maintaining your signature look. Think Suzanne Bartsch, Suzy Menkes, Lynn Yaeger.
3. Everyone needs a friend with a good eye and absolutely no qualms about being honest.

I suspect, the "If you wore it the first time, don't wear it the second time around" aphorism goes for hairstyles as well as clothes.

I'm not sorry I took a chance; you have to, if you wonder what you'd look like with something different. But I didn't return to Brigitte for the fix; her sensibility does not correspond to mine.

How wild a departure have you taken? Did it work out?

Late life heartbreak: Survivors, Part Two

Today, more tips. Come to think of it, this is useful  advice for any loss.

6. Ask for what you need, from those who care.
Your friends know you feel awful, but cannot divine what you need. Want to go for Thai? Redecorate your bedroom? Revise your resumé? Make a list of what you will do, and who can help.

If you don't know what you need, relax; notions come. If you decide that's a $20,000 year-long trip, like Paula did, do some calculations first. (She did, and went.) 

At the opposite end of the financial spectrum, Ros told everyone she needed a job, and began last  month as an office manager for a friend-of-a-friend's business.

7. Accept risk and the unknown.
Resist making absolute assertions like "No one will love me like Mark", or "He'll get tired of her". As long as you have a day to live, you have mystery and potential. You will also have searing pain and just getting thorough– but  everyone does at this point of life.

People mean well, so they predict, "Oh, you're so wonderful, you won't be alone for long". You are not in an interchangeable your-picture-here situation; who knows what will happen to anyone? As one friend said, "There are ways of living I don't know anything about, and now I can discover them." 

"Risk" is usually interpreted as downside risk, aka "awful things that could happen", but there is also upside risk, wonderful, numinous, completely unanticipated experiences. You will encounter both. Don't focus entirely on preventing the downside, or you may miss the upside. For example, Ros found that her relationship with her siblings changed entirely once she was not trying to maintain the facade of a marriage.

8. Choose a symbol of transition.
In 1982, during an excruciating divorce, I bought a pair of sapphire blue Tony Lama boots. Today, they sit atop my bookshelf reminding me of those scary, necessary steps toward another life. (And also, that your feet spread as you age.)

Laura showed me her new apartment, calm, elegant, feminine. She's proud of the "new" furniture she found piece by piece at garage sales and consignment shops.

Paula got her first dog. Ros swapped her wedding ring for a Victorian opal; the gem symbolizes hope. Laurence got a facelift, which would not be my choice but she said it did wonders for her self-confidence.

9. Take the high road with children and in-laws.
Pam says her son, 27, "has had Tom's number for years" and does not need elaboration from her. Her mother-in-law, whom she loves, has Alzheimer's but remembers who she is. She does not tell her they have been separated for months.

Ros bleeds inside hearing of the kids' visits to her ex and his girlfriend (at the  property she had always thought they would share) but is careful to be neutral. I admire her (and am not sure I could do it); she says it's important.

10. Strength shows up in different ways, on different days.
Pam years ago fired two therapists who assessed Tom as a bully and told her that she was in a codependent relationship, and now she is returning to one, ready to face her fear of being alone. She attended her son's graduation with her sisters.

Ros told well-meaning friends that she did not want to take a holiday with them, and passed part of it at a retreat center. One woman found the strength to discuss reconciliation, sensing it was likely a hollow gesture mandated by her former partner's family. That turned out to be the case, but she learned some things about herself and the relationship that she values.

If I were to add something, it is to find a way to laugh. This might take a few months. I remember picking up a book of cartoons in a bookstore in the midst of that divorce. Suddenly I heard a strange sound: me, laughing. It felt so good, yet so alien, that I  bought the book on the spot.

Buy the book, see the movie, listen to a friend's funny story. Bolting down one's bitterness is a bleak and perpetuating proposition.

For this reason, I also avoided misery memoirs (except for "Heartburn" by Nora Ephron, whose mordant humour did me good) and extended evenings with women in the same boat who could not talk about anything else.

Do you have any advice? Your contributions will help other women going through a later-life breakup, or supporting their friends.

I will respond to comments left this week on Friday.

Late life heartbreak: Survivors, Part One

(I'm very busy this week, so will respond to your comments on Friday.)

This past summer, several acquaintances, all women 50 to 65 who were in relationships of 20 to 35 years, quite suddenly endured break-ups.

The end of an intimate relationship is always infused with sadness, but there's a particular tenor to the end of a union that spanned decades.

Aside from one blithe friend-of-a-friend who insists no man is worth mourning any longer than it takes an ice cube to melt, the women I've spoken with were unanimous that parting is more fraught now than in youth.

Here's the first five tips that concern coping during the first months of a devastating breakup. (All names have been changed.) The second set appears on Thursday.

1. Get legal advice immediately.
Even if you, like Laura, are wealthier than your partner, do not forgo this step.

"You may think you know how your assets are apportioned", she said, "but are you sure that's up to date? Do you know your rights as a common-law partner or a spouse? This is not a matter of taking him the cleaner's; it's my financial survival." Wills, investments and property may be the last thing you want to think about, but should be top of the list.

Paula said, "Take your time to consider the financial aspects of a settlement", pointing out that there are tax implications.  

The first thing Laura did when she heard Pam had separated was to write the names of three excellent lawyers on a piece of paper and charge me with giving it to her. (They have not met.)

If you late paying your own bills, your credit rating will be affected, and further down the road that can be crucial.

2. Refuse a demeaning stereotype.
Pam says she has decided not to see Louis because, as she says, she is triggered into either Angry Bitch or Abject Victim. Neither role leads to equanimity or, as she put it, "me as me". She communicates about financial matters via e-mail, and has found a measure of much-needed peace by not engaging in person, for now.

Laura said it was too easy and inaccurate to solely blame Tom. She found a therapist and said, "My primary goal is to make sure I take responsibility for my next relationship, should that happen."

3. Ratchet up your exercise– and eat.
Both Pam and Laura found that by increasing the frequency and duration of their workouts, they could sleep better and think more clearly. Pam was taking sleeping pills and found that a longer daily run allowed her to quit.

Paula had only walked back and forth from work and joined a gym when her strength dropped precipitously. 

Weight loss is common. You may rejoice that you can pour yourself into skinny jeans, but this is not a good diet. Eat well and regularly. If you drink, be careful. Alcohol does not numb pain, it just makes you marinade in your misery.

4. Seek some company, even if it feels like you want to shut the blinds and curl up in a ball.

Laura made a new woman friend who has not witnessed the difficult last few years of her union, and they are writing a book together!

There's no consensus about online dating. One has her profile up and had a few "okay" dates, one took hers down after some lifeless dinners, and several are not interested. 

My French-speaking friend Laurence loves the site On va sortir, where people post an activity (hiking, trying a restaurant, seeing an exhibition) and others respond. You don't necessarily go out with one person, and romance is not the purpose. The site has pulled her from isolation into a whole array of interests shared with enjoyable people.

If you are a friend to someone going through it, a coffee date might feel better for her than a long evening. Ros' friend Joanne invited her over for a casual dinner. Ros appreciated Joanne's sensitivity, because they had long done things as a foursome. "Instead of me seeing the empty chair at their table", she said, "we ate on trays on the porch, and it was really nice."

Laurence's friends made sure that at least one of them touched base with her every day during the first shell-shocked month. They also did two very graceful things: they did not press for details, and they did not give advice unless asked.

5. Welcome self-reliance.
Rather than looking at dealing with things your ex used to take care of as a pain, just do them. You can. You might notice when you look back that most partners with one foot out the door were not taking care of household matters  anyway.

Paula said she didn't want to call her son to perform her ex's handyman role. She took a home-maintenance course and showed off the door she hung herself. 

Self-reliance goes beyond household chores. You may now have to make difficult decisions by yourself. If possible, wait until you have had enough sleep and peace to think straight. You may be besieged by friends and family (and even people you barely know). It's OK to return calls later, or as Laura did, send a group e-mail asking for some time to find her balance before answering. 

If your mood turns dark and dangerous, don't gut it out alone. One woman, sensing limits to her self-reliance, got into a cab and went directly to the emergency unit of a mental-health center. She knew she needed attention from a doctor, not a friend.

This painful, acutely stressful period passes, though it doesn't feel likely at the beginning. As these women discovered, you can help yourself, even if you cannot change the situation.

On Thursday, Part Two.

Peter Pan for grownups?

When strolling through Montréal's grands magasins, I clocked the fall trends, that is, those styles ubiquitous at various price points– and therefore a signal for me to exercise caution, but you might think otherwise.

I left an afternoon's walk-through thinking: baroque, trompe l'oeil and Peter Pan collars. At home, an e-mail from J. Crew awaited, trumpeting the same Peter-positivity.

I remember them from seventh grade or so, and then again, for a brief moment in college years: the chaste collar obscured the merest hint of any Wendy's décolletage.

J. Crew offer it as an alpaca sweater, at $90 (and then, the drycleaning; that collar is not detachable.)

I can see it on a somewhat petite woman over 50 if she is the type to wear, say, a pencil skirt or skinny jeans and heels, but this is an almost juvenile sweater (pouf shoulders!) that would look silly on more strongly-built women. 

It occupies the same universe as tiny floral prints, ruffled or piecrust collars, velvet headbands and kitten heels: sweet, and flirting with twee on mature women, especially larger ones. 

Marc Jacobs does it on a graceful paisley, merging two trends, baroque and PP. A good career piece, and you can open it to relieve the clutch of that little collar. But Madonna, $585 for a cotton blouse you are supposed to dry clean?

I imagine someone with a grey bob, perfect flannels, tomato nails and this Markus Lupfer sequinned Peter Pan sweater, could make me eat my words about the primness being off-putting. (Price, $421.)

Annabel Dexter-Jones sticks a hot pink Peter Pan on her sheer lace blouse, which creates a burlesque of propriety, no?  You might have to raid Captain Hook's treasure chest: price, $545 at net-a-porter.

Eric Bompard's 100% ultrafine cashmere Peter Pan crew is about as adult as they come, with a trompe l'oeil collar that's really stitching and non-girlie colours like clover green, shown. Price, 195 €. Ask the Lost Boys to shake out their piggy banks, but it is washable!

A Peter like this is more than a flash in the Pan, and in supple, extrafine cashmere, leaps beyond the twee. I think that's at the heart of trends for grown women: finding a well-made, more sophisticated version makes the difference.

The Passage opens with...a tango

One of the most sensuous videos of the most sensuous dance, by choreographer Trish Sie. "Skyscrapers" is now being performed, with live versions of theses costume changes, in Pilobolus' new program. (I want all of Sie's colour-wheel ensembles, and check her shoes!)

A description of Pilobolus' exploration of tango is here

Every Thursday evening, a group of tango dancers gather in the park across the street from our apartment. All ages and abilities dance for abut two hours. A beautiful woman offers free lessons to novices who restrict themselves to the cobblestones, carefully learning the counts and weighting.

Tango teacher, left, with student

Experienced partners dance in the gazebo pavilion, a few steps up.

In the gazebo

Though not as stunningly attired as Sie and her partner, dresses prevail, and everyone has The Shoes, even the beginners on the paving stones.  My mother called this a "Cuban heel", and it's one of the few places I see this solid, built-to-move shoe.

Tango takes a wide heel

I long to give it a whirl; the langorous grace is irresistible. Do you tango?