Lingerie: Secrets and spending

Victoria's Secret runway shows are legend; the catwalk Angels flaunt astounding physical gifts and great big...wings. The show, with models, music and spectacular sets airs on CBS next Tuesday evening, December 4th. (Happy to hear VS and CBS have donated $1M to victims of Hurricane Sandy, some of whom can probably use new lingerie, too.)

It's not often that unabashed sexiness meets whimsy, like the Crazy Horse, but here, you can buy the alluring ensembles!

Orchid wings, green opera gloves...

Flou meets tattoo...

...and a poppy walks the runway

But is VS a choice for grown women?

Years ago, I bought VS bras to coordinate with silk chemises. Then they discontinued the richly-coloured, reasonably-priced Second Skin Satin line, and I left. 

I logged onto the site to see if there might be anything to offer those of us who don't want a bra that feels like wearing a small stuffed animal on our chests. I found several saucy secrets, hiding among the push-ups and thongs.

Secret #1: A leopard can change its spots

VS might have done some scouting in Paris; the pyjamas are classic luxe. Deja Pseu has to have these! Pink and black leopard-print silk pjs; price $158. They also come in a refined grey/pink dot, subtle stripe and two solids. 

Secret #2: Lace for larger (and smaller) sizes

VS does skew toward asset growth, and if you like pushups, you'll be uh, amply served. Not needing to add two full cup sizes, thank you very much, I focused on the new full-coverage styles, because the intimates departments here never seem to have my popular size in both the bra and the panty. 

I adore lace, but if it stretches, a costly bra is in the bin. This Full-Coverage VS model is made with a thin, light Memory Fit foam lining that molds to the body, retains shape, and is seamless. Colours include classic black, soignée midnight navy, lemon-drop yellow, and piquant hot tamale. Women who usually can't find such colours in lace, like 32DDDs, can be caliente mamacitas! Price, about $50.

I also liked this Body By Victoria full-coverage bra in an elegant white lace on black, sized from 32-40, B to DDD, $50.

Secret #3: Longjohns and flannel in perky prints 

Seductive negligées dominate the sleepwear section, shown (barely) on lissome models. But women have lives beyond the boudoir, and a click on the "Snowed In" collection shows options for making pancakes in the kitchen or reading in bed.
I liked the Fireside Long Jane's colours and $50 price tag. Shown, red poppy print. 

And flannel!! Even my most-tailored friend can wear the red foulard-print flannel pjs for her family's Jammies Christmas brunch. Sized in short, regular and long lengths, too. Price, $50.

 What to buy: Luxe or mid-priced?

You can find more upscale lingerie online (Mary Green for luscious silks, Bare Necessities for hard-to-find brands like Freya, and luxury merchants like Fleur of England, who design raffish refinements like the high-waisted shortie with a leopard panel, shown above. 

There is a place for such gorgeousness, and some women are lucky enough to dwell there. But most of us are price-conscious, and if you crave a non-standard colour (VS' include dark charcoal, deep mint, arm-candy pink), live in an area not well-served by lingerie boutiques, or simply want to refresh your collection with a few clicks, VS provide a boost top and bottom for under three figures. 

Cheap scanties that fray and flop aren't worth the sales tax. At the other end of the spectrum, luxury lingerie can be fragile. (Don't save your best for special occasions. Time erodes elastics and spandex; perfume and deodorant degrade silk.) 

Like lipstick, you can pay a little or a lot, and sometimes a flirty treat for not too much money is just right. I believe in lingerie therapy, a mint green bra and tap pant lifts my February funk.

Whether a fresh 3-pack of cheery cotton bikinis or a sumptuous silk cami, slipping into fresh, pretty intimates is a particularly feminine pleasure.
Next Tuesday, I'll watch those angels sass the runway, and think not only of their heavenly perfection but also of VS, and whether to return for a few trial pieces.

What (else) retired women wear

I enjoy LPC's posts on her blog, Privilege, and, at her urging, eagerly clicked through to Pinterest some time ago to see contributions under the heading of "What to Wear When You're Retired".

That particular Pinterest board reflected the taste of the pinner, which runs to skinny jeans and equestrienne looks (left). I do see 60+ women here in the narrowest pants tucked into boots, but they are a tiny (in all respects) minority.

The clothes didn't represent the range of what I and other retired (or semi-retired) women in my large city are wearing. One reason is our age, rarely under 55. (The majority of women in Canada retire between 60 and 64, with many working longer due to the recession.)

Style differences aside, there seem to be several requisites–what women seek when they no longer have to "look the part" for whatever occupation they had, regardless of where they live.

The Non-work Wardrobe: What Women Want

1. We want to repurpose still-wearable work clothes, merging them with more casual wear when we can.

We're making a transition in our wardrobes but not our personal style. The preppy sales manager does not go all floaty boho, the crisply-tailored banker keeps her immaculate shirts. 

This ensemble, one of those pinned by Laura Lewis, shows a number of pieces that could have been in a classic dresser's career closet and are still going strong (though I'd donate the boots, too high for me).

Not everyone is this classic. Many of my cohort prefer the softer lines of ethnic inspired wear or Eileen Fisher-type pieces, like this woman's jacket (from the Denny Andrews web site):

Those busy with boards and committees find a cardigan like White and Warren's Cashmere Curved Hem supplies enough "dressing", but feels cozy and comfortable. However, for those meetings, they will pair it with pants they once wore to the office rather than pale-wash jeans. Price, $320.

2. Our bodies have changed from tip to toe. If it didn't happen at 50, it's happened after 60! We are not necessarily bigger, but we have different proportions

We seek the ease of stretch fabrics and knits, and don't want layers that bulk up the torso or the widest horizontal stripes. We avoid accessories that evoke pain: high heels, oversized, heavy bags.

We are museum docents, breakfast-servers at schools, hospital volunteers. We do not dress like a Kardashian for such activities. The holey jeans below won't  work, and few will choose a plaid untucked shirt.

This outfit from J. Jill, ponte pants and a silk/poly/cotton sweater with flats, goes out or stays home gracefully:

I have nothing against the discreet use of elastic used at the waist, as a flat-front or side insert, and don't understand the venom reserved for it: what do you think is holding up those yoga pants? (The J. Jill pants have a tailored waistband and zipper.)  

3. Maintenance costs count

Nearly all of the 60ish women I've polled spend less than in their working years and avoid added expense.

The pale ensemble below, while undeniably elegant, says hi to the cleaner's after every outing.

Give us a long sweater-jacket that will see us through three seasons, in a gorgeous ethereal shade, in washable cotton knit. (From Poetry UK; price £119.)

4. Retired women bump utility up a notch or two on our list of criteria, and are less blown about by the vagaries of fashion. But we know a standout piece is a good investment. We don't want only stalwart basics.

My head is turned by a shearling cape by Poetry–it has what Janice of The Vivienne Files calls "whoppage". When I ask myself "What am I doing when I'm wearing this?" and the answer is "Oh, who cares? I would sleep in it!", I'm in trouble. 

Price? All right: £695. Feels better in pounds.

I might point out, too, that it will always fit.

Am I buying it? I think not, as where I live, those open sides would invite hypothermia. That's another joy of being more-or-less-retired: taking the time to think about a big purchase. 


A woman whom I shall call Anne was long in a discreetly unhappy marriage.
Several times a year, she, I and several other women friends would have dinner and often, after a few glasses of chianti, she would, in strict confidence, mention difficulties with her husband, James.

Hers, like a number of unions, looked successful. Anne and James had reared two remarkable daughters together, excelled in big, busy jobs, and cared devotedly for both sets of parents. They regularly welcomed us to their inviting home, where raucous evenings might end in dancing on the deck. But within the private life every couple has, where love is nourished or neglected, things didn't go so well.

James avoided spectacular marriage-busting behaviours like maintaining a second family elsewhere or dumping their life savings at the blackjack table, but had gradually devolved into a state of indifferent callousness. After years of hearing about Anne's increasing distress, I began to question the wisdom of sticking around.

"Why not leave?" I'd ask in that this-is-not-really-a-question tone. There were always reasons to stay, reasons anyone in that situation thinks about: children still at home, financial implications, the pain of a split for elderly parents.

Sometimes I'd question the validity of these excuses; Anne resented my pushiness and called me "opinionated". I retreated, same as the other friends, to a position of sympathy and support, feeling heartsick for her misery. Anne, stoic and contained, seemed in it for the duration.

One golden summer evening, Anne and James were invited to a friend’s home for dinner; appetizers were served in the garden. Anne lay back on a chaise, hand trailing in the grass.

She felt the unmistakable sting of a bee on her thumb. Blinking back tears, she fished an ice cube from her drink to apply to the spot– and that’s the last thing Anne remembers. The host, unable to elicit a response, wisely called 911. The EMTs who treated her severe shock reaction said she'd had a close call indeed.

Anne had no history of allergies and had been stung before without a reaction. 

By winter, Anne had moved out. When I asked why she finally acted, she said, "The bee. I realized, I can't live another 20 years like this."

That crisis evoked her will. Anne now lives an entirely new life. One daughter is completing graduate school in forestry, the other works in another city. (Anne is happy that she waited until the girls were old enough to live on their own.)  

The many details are being sorted out with James. Not all days are easy, but she's lighter, more relaxed. She has begun to see a man whom she first met over forty years ago, as a student, and with whom she's become reacquainted since the split.

Starkly, efficiently, the near-death experience shakes our sense of time. After potentially last moments, courage and clarity arise. As I said to Anne, "You went to dinner expecting a usual evening and your life changed forever."

Whether the difficulty is a marriage, job or other situation, there is a moment when everything shifts- but is has to be the right timing for you. Sometimes it takes a bee that finds your hand in the grass. Other times, it's just another day, but it's the day.

Gifts: For someone with everything

Those who give holiday gifts now enter into prime time. Though I give very few holiday gifts anymore, I enjoy that ritual–and ritual it is. Many readers worry; some send me e-mails. Rather come up with ideas for the 70-year-old aunt who lives on a ranch ("I was going to send her a gift card but I know what you think, so what are better ideas? She has everything."), let's revisit the principles.

I've mentioned Margaret Visser's book, "The Gift of Thanks" before; anyone wondering why a gift card is such a flat present is referred to her anthropological exploration. "We were a gift culture before we were a money culture" Visser notes, as she describes the mutuality of giving and receiving, across times and cultures. (The paperback is on sale on Indigo's web site for $16.50)

The gift card to someone who "has everything" is a truncated, dispirited gesture, a minor ennui of the heart. You are icing the cake, so, figure out the flavour. 

It's true that many people, especially elders, don't want more clutter. We asked our sons to only give us things we can use up, and my friends and I give to our charities on one another's behalf. But we still give, and receive, with pleasure.

From modest to lavish, here are some suggestions for the aunt or other loved ones.  

1. Biscuits, plain and simple

Materfamilias posted a photo of a breakfast Pater made, and I thought, staring, "I would rather have those biscuits than a diamond bracelet". Nice to present in a basket (dollar store, $2). If getting fancy, you could throw in a tea towel or a jar of preserves. 

You'd make them just before leaving your place and sample only one. ( There's Mark Bittman's excellent recipe, courtesy of The Practical Cook's blog, or you may have one of your own.

2. A warm hug
You want to hug the people you love. If you live somewhere where winter brings a chill, a soft scarf is a classic gift, but, in an unexpected colour or material, rises above the cliché. 

Big Mess scarf by String Theory, of 50% baby alpaca and 50% cotton; price, $140.

For warmer weather, a reversible indigo and cherry hand-dyed natural linen scarf from Etsy seller Hiroko Japan, about $75.

3. Merry socks
Socks are back as a style accessory, but never go away if you live in a place where boots are winter gear. All of us buy the drug or department-store brands, but how about giving a pair or two of something special? Whether thigh-or-knee-highs or soft cashmere crews, the pleasure is in giving something beyond the basic.

Fair Isle camp socks, $18.50 from J. Crew:
or if splashing out, their Corgi cashmere colourblock socks, $88:

4. Glad rags
When Deja Pseu, who wrote of party pants' piquant possibilities, I thought, "There's another fun thing to give as a gift, say, to your sister or best friend." 

Talbot's Signature Fit velveteen pants come in Misses (including Tall), Womens and Petites, price, from $89.50; there's also a side-zip style with a narrower leg.

5. Good and plenty
This is a two-part gift:
1. A nice log of chevre, for your friend
2. The goat, for a family in need.

6. An unexpected treasure

Every once in awhile, we might thrill one another. Several years ago, Susan gave me a bracelet of multiple strands of big, translucent amber beads. It was over the top, and I felt truly special. I am touched every time I wear it.

Turquoise blue enamel half-hoop earrings from BeladoraII: tailored pools of perfection, set in 18k gold. Price, $395

 7. Lighten up

My Swedish friend Towe gave us a pair of these Orrefors "Ice Cube" votive candle holders, ideal on both casual and more formal tables, providing a low flame that doesn't require craning around the arrangement to see people. They mix well with other pieces, and hold those Ikea votive lights. $33.59 each from

8. Petits riens

Find a pretty box and fill it with treats: wrapped amaretto cookies, hip paper clips, a good  toothbrush, one of those tote bags that folds in your purse, a lipstick, a portable magnifier, a pair of emerald-green shoelaces, a new nail file... the ideas are endless. This is a version of the Christmas stocking, but need not be given at that holiday.

This gift can cost little; a friend gave me dozens of perfume samples she had collected, probably for several years, because she doesn't wear fragrance. Or the cost can soar; set a rough budget before you start assembling. 

(Shown, "French gift box 2" from Etsy seller HighTeaDesign.)

When do gift cards make sense?

It may be impossible for you to parse the deepest codes of teens or young adults: which surfer/goth/vintage/prep jacket is right, and which goes in the bin with an eye-roll?

Ask the parent for the name of his or her favourite local store and get a gift certificate there, rather than a corporate one. Similarly, one of my friend's goddaughters is studying at Juilliard; my friend will give a GC for the music store that strings and repairs her instrument.

Sometimes you need a little string along with that gift wrap. For example, you have an adult child living at a distance and know he and his partner are saving for a Pottery Barn sofa, but the dude has been known to  blast through gift cheques at the poker table. Give the GC until he handles money better (or ups his poker skills).

While that approach dilutes the open-handedness of giving, it's sometimes prudent.

But aunt-on-the-ranch? I think we could trust her. I'd send her a big, rich, oozy  toasted pecan pie in a wood crate, from Zingerman's; price, $50.

The department store: A farewell to charms

If you are over 50, you probably remember saying to a friend, "Meet you at (Burdines, Jacobson's, I. Magnin, Jordan Marsh, Marshall Field's)" and you'd spend the afternoon in a shopping haze.

We usually didn't have the cash for a department store lunch, decamping to the nearest Schraffts or Big Boy.

There would be The Girlfriend Purchase: two identical items– polka-dotted shower caps or Passionata nail polish. She swung her new belt in the trophy bag, you found a blouse on final markdown, down to the Magic Number, $14.49. (Anyone could spend $14.49 without feeling really bad.)

Now, we log on to Yoox or Lands End, surveying discount Prada or almost-trendy blue suede loafers. Click! and on the way from Italy or Arkansas. Nearly extinct is the glorious girlfriend-drifty, "Is this right for the Christmas party?" communion of real-time shopping. I see Nan's eyes glowing as I held a Donna Karan silk suit in front of her. "70% off!" No greater love than to offer an epic bargain to a friend.

Bow before the new queen in her moated castle, online shopping. No understaffed registers, no dressing room gulag, no endless returns process which requires another visit.

But I miss Carole, who reigned in the lingerie department and on the right slow afternoon would haul out her scrapbook of her days as a chorus girl. I miss the anonymous young saleswoman who said, "You have a beautiful figure" as I tried on a tight striped dress. Flatter the customer, yes–but also an intimate exchange.

They could put me in a dangerous state. Sitting in Bendel's tea room ca. 1988, I figured, What the hell, I just spent two weeks' wages on a single pair of shoes, what's $20 for a chicken salad sandwich? When department stores were good, they were little scented countries, each with its own culture.

From the first push of a heavy, brass-trimmed door, the monumental scale and cosseting weight of these buildings transmitted possibility. When in Paris, I return often to the Bon Marché, partly to worship its DVN boutique, but mostly to ride the escalator while ogling the Eiffel ceiling, a dinosaur riding a dinosaur.

Once radical, democratic challenges to restrictive, insular shops, now the remaining department stores are near-museums where the younger generation gather to check their sizes before buying on net-a-porter. 

Every now and then, a chain announces their revival of the fabulous fashion floor; the latest in Canada was The Bay's relaunch of its tony The Room in three cities. While there are indeed exquisite clothes there (L'Wren Scott, Jason Wu, Erdem), I usually count the browsers on one hand, and no one is at the cash.

Recently, I read that tiki bars were endangered. The young crowd mounted Facebook campaigns to save pupu platters and Hurricanes (or any drink featuring pineapple and umbrellas) from extinction. Yes, yes, young 'uns! 

And, save your local nice department store while you're at it. (Talbot's, you're on your own.)

Never mind that the sales staff are perfunctory at best– think of them as cranky docents. You're at an archeological site; make the most of your free tour.

Many of us go home, click and the box arrives from Bologna or Basingstoke in two days. No observable human hand at work, plenty of algorithms tracking what you consider, buy or return. Better? Yes, in many ways, but I miss the days of the girlfriend outing with its sociable scrutiny of the new season, a floor of Better Dresses flirting with you from the moment you stepped onto it.

Hail and farewell, chandeliers, revolving doors, Cobb salads, straight pins, perfume spritzers, three-way mirrors, the fizzy bustle of women gathered, looking at goods, at one another, engaged and alive.

Brooches, Deco-rative keepsakes

Some brooches, at Deja Pseu's (of Une femme d'un certain age) invitation– and I look forward to seeing yours!   

With the exception of the first, all are Art DecoI've spent a longtime in Deco thrall; when I was single, my house looked like a set for "Mommy Dearest".  

One Saturday in the early '80s, I found this Edwardian turquoise and silver brooch in a Toronto vintage shop called Divine Decadence, a contrast among sumptuous satin and velvet evening wear. Not sure if American or Mexican; I liked its roughness and black matrix.

Ca. 1930 coral bakelite hand with roses, found in a Toronto antique shop now closed. Some women collect hand brooches. I often pin them to scarves, because I wear so few jackets anymore.

A diamond and demantoid garnet lizard crawls up a sleeve; the garnet variety is one of Le Duc's favourite stones; this was a gift from him. A lighter brooch is comfortable year-round; heavier pieces need a substantial fabric to hold them, something to think about when choosing.

Use a bulldog (the same thingy that secures a stickpin) for extra security– clasps can work lose. A view from the back with the bulldog attached. (IRL I'd slide it on while pinning.)

Georg Jensen silver leaf-motif piece, bought 20 years ago from a formal, slightly eccentric Viennese woman who kept a miniscule shop for a short time. Such merchants seem to dwindle by the year; they are nearly always older persons when you find them. She also sold mother-of-pearl buttons so heavy you could use them as doorstops.

Worn with dove grey freshwater pearls with a vintage clasp; from Kojima Company.

More a pin than brooch; emeralds and diamonds set in platinum, a Mother's Day gift at least 20 years ago. Le Duc bought it at an auction. 

Any green stone is good for redheads. Above, a look at the lively little emeralds up close.

This humble wood pin is simple but sentimental; it's carved with my mother's initials; I think her brother made it. She pinned it to the lapel of a jacket she wore to shoot skeet. I also had the jacket, made with remarkable workmanship–a leather front and knit wool sleeves–until lost moving years ago. Worn with the green turquoise Rescue Necklace from my ill-fated foray into DIY.

These brooches are at least 50 years old. I've worn them decades and hope to pass them on when I'm unable to work the teeny clasps. (I noticed while  shooting this that they get fiddlier by the year!)

I've owned fun and funky costume, but in the last move nearly all found new homes. I'd buy a synthetic again, Bittar or some talented local artist working in resin, but fake metals lack soul and plastic (bakelite excepted) doesn't excite me.

And since we often wear them near our hearts, shouldn't a brooch should make ours beat faster? 

Rant: Small plates, big pain

We met friends at a trendy restaurant recently. The waiter explained that the plates were "sharing size". When asked to clarify, he said, stiffly, "Somewhere between tapas and a full portion. We suggest three mains and three starters per table."

We then entered into the tedious selection process, to ensure everyone wanted each dish, because we were sharing. Eventually we selected seven dishes.  

It's bad enough to negotiate with one person ("If you're having the duck, then I could have the lamb and we'll get a red, but if I wanted the oysters..."). 

Four or five people takes ordering into the foodie equivalent of fractals. My choice, salmon tartare, was approved. 

Two plates arrived; 45 minutes passed, then came two salads, then the other three all at once. Le Duc said, "I'm not having any salad." Others heard him say this. But he wanted a taste, then suddenly hoovered half the plate without noticing.  

When my salmon came, Le Duc and his Falstaffian buddy hit it like seagulls on a hamburger. I liked it, but the fragment I ate made a definitive opinion impossible.

Dessert was a tiny ramekin of something toffee. I left the restaurant thinking about where I could grab a slice. Our share cost the equivalent of four solid meals at a good Mom and Pop joint.

I want my meal, dammit. Small plates are fine in their original incarnation, as bites that tide you over until a later dinner or mitigate cocktails, but they are unsatisfying when shared four ways.

Before the small plates fad, restaurants provided a sort of Marxist menu that ranged from 22 oz. steaks to a nice light piece of fish: to each according to his needs. Your courses, chosen to accord with your appetite, came in a comforting, choreographed procession.

Now, a table is expected to share fitfully-appearing food that fits in the palm of a hand, served in whatever order the mysterious "The Kitchen" decides. Apparently The Kitchen likes long breaks, perhaps to catch an episode of "Girls".

And it's yucky, hygiene-wise. I'd rather swap microbes by kissing my friends than by commingling in communal plates for hours.

I've put my hungry foot down and told Le Duc that I'll share two ways, but that's the limit unless of course it's Chinese, but they give you lots.

Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis were dining there with their moon-faced baby; since they made the excellent documentary, "The Take", might they follow that with "The Plate", exposing this dining delusion?

PS. The style part

So, what did I wear to this non-meal? A Mongolian lamb-trimmed sweater-jacket, black jeans and a grey cashmere tee. No worry about jeans feeling snug after "all that food"!


Akoyas: Well-bred beauties

Loving pearls as I do, there has to be an overlooked variety in my collection, and that is the akoya.

Akoyas are the original Japanese saltwater pearl selected for culturing a hundred years ago by William Saville-Kent and successfully developed in the early 1900s by the Japanese innovator Kokichi Mikimoto. They are now also  grown anywhere pearls are cultured: China, South Korea, Vietnam and Australia.

While wedding whites prevail, akoyas also occur naturally as cream and pale or blue-grey. Black and other coloured akoyas are dyed; always inquire if greys or blues are dyed. 

Photo courtesy Mikimoto
Chances are, if you have a strand of 6-8 mm classic matched or graduated pearls that belonged to your mother or aunt, they are akoyas. 

Fine-quality akoyas have a sharp, mirror-like luster–you can see your reflection.

Whites are sold in pink or silver overtones (which result from industry-accepted treatment that is rarely disclosed, such as bleaching, buffing and "pinking", which is just what you'd think).

You may also see natural pink and blue overtones in the same pearl, as shown in one lucky woman's tippy-top akoyas from Pearl Paradise:

A strand of the fine akoyas are like Carole Bouquet: beauty lent by both surface perfection and underlying mystery.

Even though this is the classic, original cultured pearl, misinformation abounds. One well-known eBay seller's website says:
"Akoya pearls are on average larger, smoother, rounder, and more lustrous than Freshwater pearls."

Complete oysterpoop! "Larger, smoother, rounder" are all qualities of any pearl (and pearls are graded on these qualities). Akoyas are in fact typically smaller than both South Sea varieties and the sizeable Chinese freshwaters harvested today.

Can you tell?

What they do have is spectacular lustre in the higher end grades. The hanadama designation is special certification for akoyas, indicating the finest pearls from any given harvest. (There can be some variation in visible quality within that designation.) They will deliver that headlight effect, so even a smaller strand can be seen across a room. But again, the finest CFWPs can give AAA akoyas a very good run. 

Here's a photo provided by pearl guru Jeremy Shepherd of Pearl Paradise; can you tell which are the Hanadama Akoyas and which are his Freshadamas, the finest grade of CFWPs)?
(Answer at bottom of post.)

Which are the akoyas, which are the CFWs?

Are akoyas an investment?

Akoyas are costly; the 7-9mm Mikimoto strand shown is $3,500 and is not their top (AAA) level, which is triple that price, at least. (Mikimoto, like other status brands, have been appealing to a broader market by offering several lines.) At one of my pearl grading courses, a jeweler was crowing about how she was able to markup lower-grade Mikimoto akoyas, reaping a big profit from unsuspecting customers "who just wanted that M", the logo charm at the clasp. 

Pearl Paradise CFWPs, $625
For my money, I'd buy a quality Chinese freshwater pearl, like the Freshadamas sold by Pearl Paradise. CFWPS will have much thicker nacre, so will sustain their gorgeousness provided you treat them nicely. Pearl Paradise's 8.5-9mm white CFWP Freshadama strand is $1,150, while the serene but less lustrous 9.5-10.5mm CFWP strand shown above is about $625.

Their 9-9.5mm akoya hamadana strand is $7,800, and even on a monitor you can see the intense, sharp luster. For any pearl, but especially akoyas, which can be rushed to market with very thin nacre, rotate and look at each pearl, checking for visible banded "moonstone" effect on the surface. These pearls, called "blinkers", are unacceptable.

As Jessica Rabbit famously said, "I'm not bad, I'm just drawn that way", and that's the problem with akoyas: their polite facade suggests wedding gowns and preppy twinsets. It's hard to find anything but the most traditional styles in akoyas; the hip designers head for freshwaters, drawn by the array of natural colours and lower cost.

A shimmering akoya, though, as a solitaire necklace, would please a woman whose taste is for the simple and beautiful. The one shown is $170 from Premium Pearl, a seller I trust. It's 8.9-9mm AAA quality on a 16-inch gold chain, so makes a classic, chic accessory.

John Iverson's akoya "Jacks" earrings show the refinement of akoyas to advantage; $5,250 at Gump's.

And akoyas also appear as keshis. (If keshis are new to you, see this post.)  Here's a a 35-inch akoya keshi necklace punctuated with yummy 9-10mm white South Sea baroques, $479 at Pearl Pardise.

At Kojima Company, a bracelet made for a woman who wears her pearls with tees as well as dresses: grey akoya keshis set in rosewood. (I'd have bought it if the wrist size were larger.) Price, $108.

When someone says "pearls are boring", I assume they are thinking of a demure strand of 7mm akoyas, perhaps with one of those granny filagree clasps. But they are the cultured pearl that moved the gem from dowager's jewel boxes to the necks of countless women. 

While freshwaters have largely trumped them for value and durability, if you have a strand, you might remodel them into a version of Kate Hines' white pearl bracelet, giving your akoyas a new life.

(ANSWER: the bottom strand are the CFWs.)