Merry casual dress-up, for Marlene

Marlene called in a panic to say she had received an invitation that specifies "Casual dress-up". "That is an oymoron", she complained. She added, "I guess it means stuff you wouldn't wear to work."

For me, the request conveys something special, a piece to wear for brunches, open houses or informal dinners among friends.

She could, of course, wear a pretty dress, but in my city, that requires door-to-door transit and the assurance that she won't be seated near a drafty bay window.  

Also, since party attire is not likely to be worn as much, she does not want to spend major bucks. Though a dress it-up-or-down piece is the holy grail, let us agree Marlene will not buy yet another pair of dark pants. 

She also specified, "No red, no green, no snowmen." As if, girlfriend.

Hip and relaxed: a pieced Fair Isle sweater-jacket with a fur-trimmed portrait collar from Myco Anna. (The fur is recycled. Price, $215.) Not as heavy as it looks, with the collar opened and the neckline unzipped to the collarbone. They sell out of these every year and I can see why; the back is as merry as the front.  

I dutifully trekked to the Montréal boutique (what a friend!) and can report the cut is normal, not skinny like the photo shows; it must be pinned on the mannequin.

When I look for someone, I can end up buying! For daytime brunches and  country evenings, I chose J. Crew's jeweled Donegal sweater which was deeply on sale. It's surprisingly soft and though has to be dry cleaned, I wanted that sparkle.

Marlene could choose unusual pants and a simple top, of which she has "about four dozen".

The term "party pants" in my mind conjures clowns and balloon animals; however, I liked J. Crew's gold jacquard pants. (Sorry to say the gold ones are s/o in many sizes, but there are others on the site.) You'd think they might make you look bigger, but the idea, similar to an over-all print swimsuit, is to keep the eye moving, so they are surprisingly figure-friendly.

Marlene rejected them but said they got her mind open to something (as she put it) "kind of wild for me."

Glam in a quieter key means a subtler pattern like Boden's teal jacquard Bistro trouser, available in both a full and crop length (and up to size 22). These are lighter-weight cotton-poly blends, but washable. So wear tights if you live in the snow belt, and open the bubbly!

Price will depend on model, and ranges from about $65-$100 (plus shipping and applicable taxes.) The style is made in plains and patterns from wild to mild, but hey, live a little!

Some women will not wear this much embellishment, ever, and I respect that. 

But you still want to look festive, not like you just nipped in from the dentist's. For that woman (and I am one except for three weeks of holiday season), I suggest Poetry UK's Neat Fitting Velvet Jacket, on sale for about $220. (I'm looking at the UK site, which serves Canada; there is also a US site.) 

I see the jacket with Marlene's many dark trousers or a skirt, and masses of pearls, some on loan. The slate blue glows like moonlight on a Victorian roof, and the slate green is beautiful too, a colour that conjures a choir, holly leaf and verdigris candlesticks.

This is the top end of her budget but, since it is not as indelibly memorable as some of the other suggestions, she could wear it for a long time.

Whatever she likes, she has a day or two left to decide, as the holiday post is slower, and her parties begin in less than two weeks.


Scarves: Tying on photo prints

Take two minutes to enjoy this short and charming video, "How Do Parisian Women Wear Scarves?" in which Parisiennes apply insouciant ties to a Phillipe Roucou photo print scarf. Then we'll stroll through the Passage. 

Roucou, who also designs fine leather goods, creates his pieces from old postcards and found photos; see his web site for more scarves. Issued in small collections, each limited edition presents seven designs.

In an online interview in BeautyEditions, he said, 
“A scarf around one’s neck can create many different looks…that’s what I find interesting about this accessory. Each person can “build” a look depending on the manner in which the scarf is worn. One can express: a bourgeois side, Gypsy, bad boy, ‘dolce vita a Roma’.”

Roucou's cult brand is hard to find, but if your chic shoulders would like to try one, I've located more.

Temp des Rêves carries a French name, but is the work of Australian photographer Adrian Mesko; the scarves (in silk chiffon, silk satin and cashmere blend) are sold on the site, as well as at Barney's, Net-a-porter and Liberty. "Bond Street Jewels" in silk is $275.
Photo: Temps de Rêves

Lillie Toogod, an Englishwoman who now lives in Australia, founded Good & Company to showcase her photos on oversized rectangles of silk chiffon or carrés of silk. I'm getting great use of mine and find the chiffon surprisingly versatile, though do have to be more careful about flinging it over chairs than with silk twill.

You can now pre-order the Autumn-Winter 2013/14 range, including the urbane Champs Elysées silk chiffon, a departure from touristic Paris views. Price (which includes postage), $AUS 229.

Photo: Good & Company

When wearing it, your photo print will read as a colour landscape or reveal only a partial image; here, as an example, is "Champs Elysées" worn as a headwrap.

To show the image more fully, wear the scarf long and relatively untied, in the manner of the rectangular scarf below, another street scene, this time clearly New York.

The cashmere/silk rectangle, "NYC Times Square Taxi" is by Shawlux, at Nordstrom; price $155. 

Notice, too, how a print on wool is usually less distinct than those on silks.
Photo: Nordstrom

Silk by Bryony is another line featuring the photographer's own work; here, a silk georgette wrap (54" x 54" or 137cm), "Cornfields", in dreamy yellow and blue. From Boticca; price, $385.

Photo: Boticca

Digital printing allows designers to combine the photo with other design elements, as in this 130cm square wool/modal/cashmere "Iceberg" scarf by Alva-Norge, also at Boticca; price, $229.

A double process (photo-plus-graphic) ideftly updates a wardrobe; these look very different from like the scarves of the past decade.

Photo prints speak of a place and time; an artful one lends mystery, richness and character. New printing techniques have placed them on bags, tops and even dresses, but a scarf seems to me a welcoming place to wear them.

Un-prissing your pearls: Part Two

Part Two continues the matter of how to take a simple strand of round white pearls and make them less conservative. Murphy's comment invited me to take out long-owned items and play; there is terrific value in shopping your jewelry box, or it occurs to me, maybe a friend's!

First, a reminder shot of the "base necklace", lustrous 10mm Chinese freshwaters. They are large enough to stand on their own, but I have not been moved to wear them like that for awhile, maybe because that feels too business-formal these days.

More ideas of how to tart them up without restyling:

5. Torsade

I wound the whites with a Tahitian strand and one of the gold chains from #1.

6. Nested

Play with your other necklaces alongside your pearls. It's worth removing pearls to make the base necklace a touch shorter if that allows you to wear them inside another favourite. I've combined the base with an amethyst, pearl and turquoise necklace made by Artworks Gallery, Toronto, of stones I bought in India.

7. Massed

Round whites loosen up when invited to a party!

Below, the base with 
- double rope of dove-grey Akoyas with vintage white clasp (Kojima Company)
- pendant of three fancy-coloured Tahitians (Kojima Company, custom-made), and
- pearl chain (2mm-10mm) from Montréal's Joanna Szkiela of Red Sofa
Surprisingly light and comfortable.

When I mixed the base with a different palette and variety of pearls, I found a more casual look:
- "Tin Cup" necklace of mixed-colour metallic baroques (Lucile, Paris)
- Blue baroque akoyas (a gift more than 20 years ago)
- 35-inch rope of pink freshwater keshis (Kojima Company)

8. On your wrist

Knot the pearls so that they wrap around your wrist twice, and wear as a bracelet. Shown with a '60s grey mabé pearl ring by Spanish designer Joachim S'paliu.

Except for the bracelet, you do need jewelry to mix with the pearls, but I'll bet  you have something, and a white strand will take nearly anything you throw next to it. 

Conventional wisdom is to not let anything touch the pearls except other pearls, but better they are worn with pleasure than languish with nothing but dim memories of the oyster bed to call a good time. 

There's a luscious world of reasonably-priced beads that you can string up to mix with those pearls: turquoise, garnets, agate, quartzes, onyx and more. 

For a start, check out Etsy seller Joyful Otter Beads. (Shown, 10mm emerald-colour onyx, about $9 for a 14-16 inch strand.)

If buying pearls to zhuzh that base, go for contrast, even if subtle. Kojima Company have pearls I keep drooling over: a 30-inch 6mm rope of natural colour tangerine freshwater pearls. (Price, $275.) Put these next to Auntie's strand and bang, sunshine all winter! (These are not big pearls, but the pungent colour is divine, so they have a lot of presence.) 

In case you wonder, I have no commercial interest there—or anywhere else—but truly love the pearls Sarah finds.

You can always wear that base necklace on its own, as Cornelia, who commented Tuesday, does: with skinny jeans and a white button-down shirt, for example, an amusing tweak. 

Or try yours with lingerie, or less. Also pleasing, and not only to you.


Un-prissing your pearls: Part One

I thank the reader known as Murphy, who said, in a comment about my post about Christine Lagarde's pearls, "I have a simple strand of pearls, and I have not worn them lately because I think they make me look matronly."

If you do not want to spend another dime, are indecisive about restyling, or made a vow to never touch Aunt Geraldine's pearls, here are five ideas that do not involve altering the strand. 

My most classic pearls: 10mm Chinese freshwaters bought 15 years ago from a beloved girlfriend who was a second-generation gem dealer and goddaughter of Harry Winston's, talk about pedigree. Sentiment has kept me from restyling  them. 

So, how to wear classic, round whites so they're not matronly? I grabbed some shots to show you some easy options.

1. With chains and/or pendant

Here, the "base pearls" with a two gold chains, a substantial link and a fine ball chain with pendant (Diane von Furstenberg for H. Stern). Worn with a French lace t-shirt; sometimes escaping matronly involves thinking of what's worn with the pearls.

2. With coloured beads

The pearls with an Edwardian coral necklace. Mixing any coloured beads with your whites leavens them. I like a smaller size, for the contrast and better drape; the pendant hangs below the pearls.

3. Pinned: Three versions

I've pinned my mother's enameled dragonfly brooch to the strand. 

If you have very fine pearls, this is not something to do as a habit, because frequent wear would abrade the pearls where the pin rubs them. But if they have already had a long, happy life, and show some wear, why not? (For fine pearls, have the pin made into a pendant and attached by a jeweler.)

Most pearl enhancers are staid; they make the pearls even stiffer, like spraying the heck out of an outdated coiffure. You can find much more interesting options in the world of pins.

To use a brooch as shown in the photo, the its clasp must be long enough, so that the bar of the clasp fits between the pearls (where the knots are) and fastens snugly. Check that the clasp closes securely, too, and have it replaced if not. 

You can also use a pin as a pendant; any pin with a vertical clasp will work. I tried an antique bee. 

You could also buy a pendant and use the pearls as the "chain"; for more examples, see this post.  This is a felicitous route if your pearls are a small-sized, graduated strand.

I tried the base pearls mixed with a long rope of faceted jet beads, and attached an Art Deco bar pin to three rows, at one side. The pin also looks good worn vertically at the center of the base pearls as a pendant. 

4. Twisted sister

Today's finale: the Christine Lagarde move, with the pearls wound into an Hermès pochette. (Everybody wants to try that, since we saw the photo.)

Hint: Put on the scarf first, then thread the pearls through. I liked this; a fun, light change. Maybe it will even improve my French!

Now it's time (well, at least for me, it's 6 pm.) to have a nice restorative glass of wine, and feel deeply satisfied that those lightly-worn pearls got a day out.

Please come back to the Passage on Thursday, for more ideas for the necklace everybody seems to own, but not wear.

Is size acceptance too generous?

Image by Edith Dohmen
I'm reading Lionel Shriver's "Big Brother", which led me to checking out some size-acceptance blogs. 

The amount and intensity of denigration the bloggers (nearly all women) recounted was heartbreaking: snide jokes, insensitive "advice", exclusion: an Artesian well of pain, endlessly flowing, often pumped and bottled by family.

The poster at left, by Dutch fashion stylist Edith Dohmen, is from her series, "Musthaves in fashion", retrieved from her blog, Style Has No Size.

I eat up the size-positive material out there, pun intended. When I see a voluptuous woman in a body-hugging red dress, I beam at her. Sorry if I seem judgmental; it's just such a relief to not see women castigated for their size.

But then, I asked myself, is there a limit to saying any body size is OK?

Being overweight (at least up to the point of Stage One obesity) will not affect mortality, according to a widely-reported study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). (Readers of the NYT's article on the study note some flaws in the methodology.)

However, when a moderately-to-severely obese woman hits late adulthood, she faces a reckoning. She is at increased risk for many illnesses and conditions, faces decreased mobility, and might endure minor but uncomfortable annoyances like chafing. Whether the reasons attach to lifestyle, genetics, or medical issues, a woman can hit her 50s or 60s carrying considerable extra weight.

One day, such a woman might say, that's it, I've had enough. 

I'd like you to meet her.

My friend, Connie, has lost over 150 lbs.—over half her heaviest weight—in about two years. 

When we met, she had dropped 100-plus lbs. by eating consciously, but her history of knee problems made her skeptical about exercise. We discussed how she might edge into brief walks; she was also inspired by her daughter, a marathon runner.

She's now walking for nearly two hours most days, dividing time between early morning at her company's gym and using the stairs, and after work in her neighbourhood. (Yes, she works full time, and then some!)

We have pondered the process of casting off shame, despair and self-loathing; she is funny, insightful, committed. We have celebrated the ability to wear out your dog or just stay outdoors on a beautiful day. Her knees are fine.

An avid cook, Connie swapped out some recipes for healthier versions and rarely even tastes the rich desserts she used to enjoy. Like me, she logs her calories and plans for treats like a Girls' Night Out, but she does not follow a specific diet, just "lavish on the vegetables and lowish on the carbs".

She says her journey was not about vanity, but rather about health; she felt that if she stayed so heavy she would truly jeopardize her time left. (But she looks pretty cute in her new jeans, about seven sizes smaller!) Her favourite new accessory is her Fitbit.

When I asked to tell her story, she at first demurred, saying lots of people have done it. And in fact, I have other friends who have achieved triple-digit losses. But I also know some men and women who have not yet summoned their intention, and are even gaining as the years roll on and they think they're too old to change so deeply.

Connie attained her goal without a personal trainer, meetings, diet books or supplements, not that there is anything wrong with those supports. She just made her choice and got on with it.

I am deeply grateful that she did. 

Ta-da! Here she is— and this photo is a gift, because she's humble and low-key. ("But Connie", I begged, "how else will people know you're a real person?") She's chic in an orange quilted jacket and black jeans,but what's more important is that Connie can walk about in that jacket for hours, without feeling exhausted.

That a plushly-curved woman in a mini feels good about herself, I like. I applaud campaigns that show women of all sizes and shapes, and fashion writers who speak against the cult of super-skinny. I wish people wouldn't beat up themselves or others about weight.

But at the farthest reaches of the scale, where the body has a struggle sustaining vitality, I hope a post-50 woman takes herself in hand, and loves herself enough to step on the road of change.


Christine Lagarde's power pearls

One of the most-photographed women in public life: Christine Lagarde, International Monetary Fund Director and major pearl-wearer.

She's a polarizing figure, in both her IMF position and her former role as France's finance minister (for which she was investigated and acquitted in a fraud probe last spring). 

Regardless of politics and philosophies, don't we all look closely at the style of any woman who reaches prominence on the world stage?

This is power dressing at its most elevated, on display by an ambassador of classic French style. She is known for perfectly-furled scarves or shawls—seen in nearly every podium appearance—and for stunning accessories, including a breathtaking assortment of pearls.

It is in fact not easy to find a photo of Christine Lagarde without pearls; she often wears multiple pieces.

In a classic white multi-strand:

In a big pair of South Sea drops, her most frequently-worn earrings:

  The South Sea earrings, worn with a SS bracelet:

She gives her pearls a twist—into her scarf:

In Tahitians at a meeting of eurozone finance ministers, in Luxembourg:

She also wears a mixed South Sea strand:

Sometime last year, Lagarde began to grow out her trademark short crop with bangs to a near-bob, and has kept the pearls.

In button earrings and an abstract floral bracelet: 

One of my favourite looks: arriving for a conference in the English countryside, in a pearl and black-coral sautoir with a black tee.

In a blush Chanel dress, big studs and a South Sea pearl ring:

Photographed in October in New York in a double strand, rings, studs:

At the UN recently, in a long chain studded with massive baroques:

Lagarde has spoken often about obstacles for workforce participation for women. I am always interested in what she says on that topic.

Speaking in September at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, she lauded the key role of women in bringing Iceland out of its recession. When its economy crashed, "the banks, the funds, the government—everything was taken over by women," she said. "So when it's messy, you get the women in. But when the mess is sorted, keep the women," she added, chuckling.

Now, that is a strategy I can support: mess sorted, women in significant roles, pearls.


Buying jewelry: Six pointers for avoiding mistakes, ever again

Several readers, in my two posts about simple living, said they regretted jewelry purchases made in the past.

It's one thing to spend money you need to save, but the error is compounded when you make a mistake which still sits tangled and unworn in a box longer than it took to go through a couple of bottles of Tabasco.

I made my share of blunders, but divested those clunkers when I moved two years ago, so you'll have to imagine pale-green plexiglass earrings encrusted with copious crystals, dangling like twin pastel disco balls. Crazily overpriced, as well as gawdawful.

Champagne under the bridge, honeybunch—but what about today?

Below, six principles to duck the ogre of obsolescence, with examples.

1. Put on a little weight

Now is the time for presence, in one stunning piece of estimable scale. Precious metal prices have soared beyond inflation; if you see yourself golden-aged in gold, sell unpleasing pieces, then check out vintage.

Wide 18k link bracelet, ca. 1970, from Beladora: ideal scale and weight in that mellow high-carat gold; price, $4,750. 

You may be better off swapping metal for other materials!

When asked what piece would serve her to eternity, my Parisienne friend Huguette nominated her jade bangle. She wears her fine-quality beauty alone or with several Swarovski crystal flexible bracelets to funk it up.

Leaf-green jade and 14k gold bangle from Gump's; price, $1,750. (You might find them for less at an antique jeweler's.)  A hinged bangle would be easier to put on one day.
2. Avoid the utterly generic

A chain is the hardest-working necklace you can own, but a plain version is not the smartest, in both senses of the word. I see men susceptible to this error when they buy gifts. Thrumming with anxiety, they choose the blandest, safest option.

Marie-Helène de Taillac's multitudes of sequins gold chain  (detail shown) is refined yet assertive, with movement and shimmer. At 18 inches, lavishly hung with 2mm 22k gold beads, it will layer sinuously. Price, $4,370.

No, you don't have to spend thousands! Another example:

Jane Diaz' hammered link chain is gold-plated. To get 25 years' wear out of it, store in a jewelry bag and keep perfume and makeup off your neck. I like the scale, texture and price, $120.

3. Scout secondary gems of first quality 

The family of quartzes provide gemmy, pungent colour.

Rosa Maria's smoky quartz grace ring combines a faceted 10mm smoky quartz with grey diamonds set in silver—a fresh yet classic vibe. I think it will go the distance. Price, $1,978.

I would also consider a strand of richly-hued beads, new or secondhand, in a colour that sings to you. The bead need not be huge—these are 8mm—but intensely-hued. 

Shown, detail from a 55-inch Lena Skadegard aquamarine and gold-bead necklace. (Aquamarine is beryl, the same family as emerald.) Many readers could make their own; if so, you could skip the clasp, but not the knots. The crucial factor is the quality of the material.

4. Reset an outdated diamond (or other precious stone) ring

Decades of hard wear beat up a ring, and, like clothing, jewelry styles change; you're no longer wearing that Flashdance top, right? The stone might need recutting to repair; diamond is hard, but chips.

Example: a very '80s ER for sale on eBay:

If still wanted, that marquis diamond could delight for decades, restyled like Rebecca Overman's marquis solitare; the example is a yellow diamond, but the stone above would look beautiful, too:

Or make a band (recycling your old gold, too) like Deszo's rose gold and diamond piece:

Both will look spectacular on either hand, so, not just for spouses.

5. Go so old that age ennobles

Look for ethnic, antique or vintage, of graceful design.

Two examples: 

An Edwardian (ca. 1910) diamond ring set in 14k gold; notice how the claws are integral to the mount, a beautiful antique setting. The old-cut diamond is .3cts; the price, $795 at Beladora.

The problem with some ethnic pieces is the weight of necklaces, which many of us can't handle anymore. 

Sudha Irwin's pieces are made today but reference antiquity. Her Indian-influenced multi-strand turquoise and silver necklace will please those drawn to organic, casual pieces. Price $495.

6. Zhuzh a quintessential classic 

Despite helping a friend shop for unusual pearl earrings, I still melt for a big sexy stud. A pearl pair mixes well with your costume pieces or, well, everything

Baroques are more casual and unusual than rounds; find a pair with evident  orient, like this pair: 18 x 13mm white pearl studs from Gump's, $300.

Equally passepartout are diamond studs, or a facsimile thereof. Fine diamonds will sparkle from across a room, poorly-cut ones look liked dried spit. 

Better a high-quality simulant than a so-so diamond, and why not choose  an interesting cut like the Loyal Asscher by Carats

Price for 1ct. each, set in 9k yellow gold, $203. (Resist the temptation to go too big if you want them to look real, unless you hang with big-stone babes.)

These pieces should go the distance. If not, you can send them to me!

Use these principles for costume too, except, buy real pearls— I'm begging. The argonite crystals that form the genuine pearl's nacre create glowing depth; nothing else replicates it. Glass pearls are like kissing without touching: can be done, but not nearly as pleasurable.