Imagining retirement

A commenter I'll call Ms. K. left a remark on a blog elsewhere; I will paraphrase. 

From her 40ish perch, in the midst of professional and parental responsibilities, she imagines her eventual retirement will be a rolling festival of trips, booze, crafting and living in a cool loft. (The photo at left is from the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, or CARP, the best association acronym ever.)

And, maybe she'll have that. But her vision made me laugh, as my own retirement is quite different—not only from hers, but from how I thought it might be. In my 40s, I too saw retirement as a calm harbour, but in fact it has demanded a vigilant watch instead of one hand on the tiller and the other on a tall G&T. 

Les gars
We stick to a budget, but there have been unanticipated expenses. One adult child needed ongoing support to change careers; the other embarked on a graduate degree in his second language, which took an extra year of study. We don't have to help out, but we wanted to, and the kids are doing their part by securing grants, working and stretching those dollars.

As for the booze: when my parents were in their 60s, I used to think, You could go out every night! Why don't you live it up? Now I know: any more than two glasses of wine in an evening and I wonder, Are they speaking Czech? 

I don't miss being a big deal (biggish, whatever) at work. I'm happy to help on the occasional project, but after brief re-immersion in the Sturm und Drang of the workplace, gratefully lean back again.

Retirement has served me not a bacchanalian banquet but a dim sum platter of bite-sized pleasures: time to learn new things, take walks, meet a friend in mid-day, write.

Women who said, "I can't imagine what I'd do if I retired" have found a middle path; they supply teach, volunteer their professional skills through organizations like SCORE, or work part-time.

Others are spending time caregiving. Several friends visit frail parents most days, and one is, along with her husband, raising a two-year-old granddaughter.

There is one group who are notably unhappy: women laid off two to five years before they planned to retire and who have been unable to find other employment. It's not solely the drop in income, it's the abrupt cessation of the identity derived from work. They feel differently when asked to leave the party before they chose.

Ms. K. may also find that, around retirement age, losses pile up. Your health or that of a partner, if you have one, may not be robust. One widowed acquaintance is wondering if the trips she and her husband dreamed of could be any fun on her own. There is death, divorce and also the shock of finding out your beloved's idea of bliss is 220 games of golf per year, scores recorded on a calendar.

For some, retirement means struggle. The Conference Board of Canada's report on Elderly Poverty says: "Although the current poverty rate among the elderly (defined as age 65 and older) is significantly lower than in the 1970s, the increase documented in the Statistics Canada data from 3.9 per cent in 1995 to 10.2 per cent in 2005 and again to 12.3 per cent in 2010 is troubling. 

Among the elderly, the biggest jump occurred in the group of elderly women. Between 2006 and 2010, 160,000 more seniors were said to be living in low income. Of that amount, almost 60 per cent were women."

If I were to give one piece advice to Ms. K. (a fellow Canadian): don't count on the government to provide the same benefits my cohort are getting now, by the time you are 65.

Summer closure

This is the last post for the summer; as usual, I spend this short, sweet season away from online life. I wish you a splendid season of strawberries, warm, starry evenings, and close conversations in lawn chairs.

The current forecast is for the Passage to reopen shortly after Labour Day, though posts could be sporadic during our burnished September. I'm becoming a foul-weather writer. The best way to hear of its opening is to become a follower, which encourages me, too.

Thank you warmly for reading; I'm grateful for your comments, stories, questions and links. You have made the Passage what it is!

Buying vintage jewelry: An expert's golden advice

I asked the delightful and deeply knowledgeable Nancy Revy, CEO and co-founder of the dream-inducing vintage jewelry site Beladora to answer three questions about buying vintage jewelry.

Nancy's detailed, forthright answers show why she's earned the trust (not to mention repeat purchases) of women around the world. All examples are Beladora pieces.

1. What should a woman consider when buying vintage jewelry besides "does it look good on me"?

The Value Proposition:
Fine jewelry, like many other luxury goods, have an immediate devaluation as soon as they are purchased at full retail price. As soon as you purchase a Mercedes and then drive it away from the Mercedes dealer, the value of the car goes down. 

The same goes for fine jewelry. As soon as you buy a piece of jewelry from Tiffany&Co. or another retail jeweler, the value of the item goes down. 

Tiffany earrings
So, unless the jewelry is extremely rare or in demand, the advantages of buying pre-owned items is that the initial devaluation has already taken place and the price should reflect this.
(Shown, Tiffany pearl and rubellite earrings; price, $1,350.)

The Style Proposition:
Jewelry styles, like clothing designs, are always changing. One year tiny, delicate micropavé jewelry is in style, and another year, rose gold jewelry is in every jewelry counter.

If a woman is looking for a particular jewelry style that suits her unique look, it might not readily be available in retail stores. If this is the case, the items would likely be available in the secondary market, with estate jewelers.

18k three-colour gold bracelet
For example, I like to wear big bold yellow gold jewelry because it works with my style, not to mention that I look ridiculous in small delicate jewelry because of my age and my size. 

Few jewelers are making this type of jewelry now because the cost is so high due to gold prices. So the best place for me to find a big gold bracelet or pendant that I can actually afford is with an estate jeweler.
(Shown, ca. 1970 18k bracelet in yellow, rose and white gold; price, $3,850.)

2. What materials, styles or eras currently represent good value, and inversely, which are pricey?

Like with any other consumer good, supply and demand affects jewelry prices.

Edwardian, Art Nouveau, and Art Deco jewelry is always in demand, as is signed jewelry, especially by Van Cleef&Arpel, Harry Winston, Graf and Cartier. Jewelry by specific designers such as Boivan, Belperron, Cipullo, Marchak, LaCloche, Fouquet, Verdura and Flato (the old stuff, not the new) is in demand because the supplies are so limited.

All of the above sell at premium prices. In addition, natural pearl jewelry has become highly collectible and the prices have gone up exponentially.

Edwardian sapphire ring
In my opinion, the best values can be found, due to relatively large supplies and lower demand, in unsigned jewelry, especially from the Retro, Mid-century and Modern periods.  
(Shown, Edwardian sapphire and diamond ring; price, $695.)

3. What Beladora wisdom might you share with a woman just beginning to invest in 'real' jewelry, but apprehensive?

I am 100% against buying costume jewelry for personal reasons. Virtually every piece of costume jewelry that I have ever purchased has fallen apart and it annoys me to waste money in this way.

I broke my own rule of not buying costume jewelry last September when I went on my honeymoon to Italy. I knew that I would be staying in nice hotels and dining in nice restaurants and I wanted to wear some jewelry that I didn't have to worry about. Some of the costume pieces that I bought fell apart even before I unpacked in Rome!

Other items fell apart or lost pieces while I was wearing them. Looking back, I should have taken my own fine jewelry on the trip or taken no jewelry at all.

Fine jewelry is meant to be durable. With normal use, it should last for decades if not longer. Even a basic gold wedding band should last a lifetime.
(Shown, Mid-century lapis and diamond bird brooch; price, $1,550.) 
I can't afford to buy trendy clothes, accessories or jewelry. When I invest in something I need to be able to wear it for a long time. 

I have Hermès scarves from the 1970s that I still wear; I have Chanel jackets from the 1980s that are more chic than what I can find today at Chanel. I have lizard skin Gucci handbags from the 1990s that I still carry. My jewelry is the same. I invest in classic pieces so that I can wear them for years to come.

My everyday capsule jewelry wardrobe, aside from my wedding jewelry, includes a yellow gold watch (or two), a sporty two-tone gold and stainless watch, a good yellow gold bracelet and some simple yellow gold earrings.

My dressy jewelry includes a white gold watch with diamonds, Mid-century diamond earrings in platinum and a Mid-century diamond brooch in platinum.

Diamond and platinum bracelet
My next investment will be an important diamond bracelet in platinum. 
(Shown, diamond barber pole bracelet in platinum; price, $18,500. Nancy, here's your bracelet!)

And of course I have cultured Akoya pearl necklaces, bracelets and earrings, but hopefully I will soon be able to step up to a good South Sea strand and earrings.

My everyday capsule jewelry wardrobe, aside from my wedding jewelry,  includes a yellow gold watch (or two), a sporty two tone stainless and gold watch, a good yellow gold bracelet, and some simple yellow gold earrings. 

So I approach buying jewelry in the same way that I approach buying clothes: I invest in fewer but better quality classic pieces.

If a woman's style is buying the latest trendy whatever and then discarding it the next season, estate jewelry probably isn't the right investment for her.


As someone who has long enjoyed vintage jewelry, I appreciate Nancy's expertise and thank her warmly for her advice.

From a sweet silver charm to a lavish diamond necklace, fine vintage jewelry is excellent value (given a reputable vendor like Beladora) and holds a mystique unmatched by most current pieces. 
Edwardian turtle pin in sterling silver

And you need not spend more than many costume pieces; this Edwardian (ca. 1900) turtle pin, $295, costs less than a costume brooch I recently noticed in a department store, with immeasurably more character.

Such workmanship and quality are hard to find now. That's why it's always my first stop when shopping for a heart-racing delight. 


Scarves: Folding down a carré for petites or summer

The day she received her Hermès scarf bought in the Passage, a woman I'll call "Rose" e-mailed me with a diplomatically-phrased message of buyer's remorse.

She found her scarf gorgeous, but thought the volume overwhelmed her petite figure. For a sense of what she meant, here I'm wearing "Jungle Love" 'big'. I have petite friends who wear it just this way, but they are happy with that silk swath and Rose was not.

This was Rose's first carré; I thought maybe she didn't know how to literally take it in hand, so sent examples of tying the scarf 'down', posted on MaiTai's Picture Book. (To find these, search "MaiTai scarf knotting cards" plus "Vol I", "Vol II" and "Vol III" to see three different posts; the link does not appear on her blog.) 

The elegant Mai Tai also has a few demos on her You Tube channel, MaiTai Collection (I especially like the "scarf as necklace"), or you could download Hermès' free app for iPhone and iPad.

Here's my favourite 'down' tie, a neat, much smaller effect: 


I tried the waist bag, more flattering than I'd guessed; filled with coin purse and phone, it felt comfortable and secure.


I tested these bag directions:

I think the example above shows a large ("GM") shawl, not a 35-inch carré, which folds into a size that would tote essentials out to dinner. (If you knot for long handles on a 35-inch scarf, the body will be small; I found the proportions better as a handbag.) For a little shape I inserted the nylon triple pouch that I use to transfer my stuff between bags.

There are other bag options; one from Martha Stewart uses bangles as handles.

Exploring the book, I tried a head wrap. For fairly brief outings, I'd prefer it to a hat—it doesn't blow off and stows easily in a bag when not needed. 

When you need a brim, you might use the scarf as a hatband, or tie it over the crown:

Rose replied with thanks. She said maybe she had been intimidated by her carré, and was experimenting with the ties. 

These ties work for any 35-inch square made with good weight linen, cotton or silk, but silk drapes best; just look it in the eye and show it who's boss!

Murals on "The Main"

Last weekend, a stretch of St. Laurent closed to vehicles for the Festival of Murals, one of Montréal's newer summer events. This is the second year of a festival whose purpose is "to celebrate creativity and democratize urban art".

Theatre perfomances, live music and a street-fair atmosphere (mercifully free of big brand hype) drew young families, students and tourists, who viewed the multi-story murals and installations, many still in progress on Sunday, thanks to rain earlier. The murals will remain in place over the next year.

An Escher-like effect by RR&DB:

The murals were of the fantastic, visionary and surreal school; below, a fantasy figure by Inti of Chile holds a beaker in a clawed hand:

A mural by Alex Scaner of Canada:

Visitors picked up chalk to make their own marks:

While local restaurants dished up paella, vegan burritos and sausages, cheek by jowl:

People watching in the sunshine! An eye-catching ensemble and hairstyle on an older woman:

And a rockabilly girl and guy in front of a vintage store: 

Nice installation, boys—but is it art?

A girl, balletic in her tee and white kitchen wear, with the pre-existing graffiti of a lane:

At home, someone has grafitti'd a poem directly across from our balcony:
(I will be there where you will not be/we will be in the space between us/we will be miserable.)

We, however, felt far from miserable, after a dinner of the astonishingly delicious arepas at Bocadillo, the Venezuelan bakery restaurant.

And for a heartening story of the positive outcomes of public art, see more about MU (Mural Urbain)'s work with Montréal neighbourhoods in this Toronto Star article.

Traveling with jewelry: Stylish, sturdy Sobral

If you don't already know the Brazilian costume jewelry designer Jackie Sobral, you're in for a carnival-sized treat, and just in time for summer holidays.

Sobral is the ideal carefree travel jewelry: lightweight, colourful, reasonably-priced resin pieces. My bangle (at left) is seven years old and looks great despite being thwacked hard on several continents—no chips or cracks.

It's not just for the road; Sobral perks up a basic jacket or polishes jeans for the bistro. 

The Sobral signature is the vivid swirl of colour, but it's also made in neutrals, and there's a range of scale, from small earrings to huge cuffs.  

In the early the '70s, Carlos Alberto Sobral and his then-wife Rita de Cássia sold their designs at Brazilian markets and fairs. Over the following decades, Sobral expanded the line but kept the Carioca vibe. He's collaborated with Karl Lagerfeld, and Sobral pieces are carried in several museum stores. Boutiques in Paris and NYC have opened in the past few years, but the brand is still unusual enough to not be ubiquitous.

The first five pieces shown are from Sobral's USA e-store; the last is from eBay seller squeaky1103 (The Funky Accessories Store, also online as Jackie Brazil World); great prices and sales! Though new collections are released often, an older Sobral looks very much like the current season's.

Metallique large silver bangle: clear and silver resin; $90:

Kandinsky collection dome ring; $55:

Inspiracao necklace of black resin "stones" with a single clear and gold accent bead, $175:

Plutao earrings; $48:

Retroz "carré" ring, $48:
Licorice "allsorts" bangle (from eBay seller squeaky1103); $36:

A Sobral piece also makes a great "conscious chic" gift; according to the company's website, its sustainable manufacturing practices and responsible employment policies and programs will reassure recipients of a Sobral piece that resources are not being heedlessly depleted for the sake of a bauble.

Bring on the caipirinhas!


Dover Street Market: "Unique"...comme quoi?

When in New York, I spent an hour at Dover Street Market, the latest outpost of the London operation created by Rei Kuwakubo of Comme des garçons, an assemblage of boutiques (or "landscapes") and a bakery stacked in seven small, see-through floors of a heritage building.

If a place can be so hip it hurts, Dover Street Market is Guantanamo Bay. DSM could make even Colette habitués feel out of it, never mind a 65 year old retiree in walking sandals, department store shopping bag under her arm, and, I imagine, a wary look.

Atlantique Ascoli blouse
But the young multilingual staff were sweetly polite. Then, they could be—the place was essentially empty on a Wednesday afternoon. They babysat brands like Atlantique Ascoli and CDG collaborations with the likes of Nike and the Beatles. (The cotton/linen blouse shown is over $650 and...dry clean only!)

If you just booked your first DJ gig, here is your boutique. So, what was I, who decided not to buy a store logo nylon shopper for $65—the kind local boutiques give away—doing there?

I thought I ought not crumple the memo from the arty edge and "see what they are wearing", as my mother would say.

Defying the normcore movement, where young adults flock to fleece and fannypacks, DSM showcases pricey, refined clothes (origami-fold dresses, sneakerhead-heaven shoes) and a few surprises like the exquisite classic leather bags from the French firm Moynat. ($3,000 for a small 'starter' bag.)

Second, the Market occupies a landmark building, the former New York School of Applied Design for Women and Touro College, now a seven-floor transparent tree house with one (slow, tiny) glass elevator. Drifting up and up, I decided during a weekend the space would be claustrophobic.

Open since late winter, the DSM has already drawn fire as yet another temple to high-priced posturing while designers like Donna Karan call it "unpretentious" and "so 'street'". But view it as an an art project; if you wanted a deal, you'd be at Loehmann's—if it were still open.

The point of such stores is to sidestep the safe and "nice", whether by American Apparel or Eileen Fisher. At some point in our lives, women want something a little different. Most of us left those days behind with our fringed vests, while a few eccentric dressers plunge in even further as they age.

On entering, I urged myself, Why be so conventional? Maybe buy something 'advanced'! 

Despite my openness, the clothes were too young or avant-garde (or both) for me, but I would have happily carried the Moynat "Pauline" travel bag on my homebound train ride!

This tee ($19 on sale), by Montréal's Bonnetier reminds us: "I'm unique, like everyone":

Aren't we just?

New York: From new to nostalgic

Regular readers may recall that I spent last week in New York; today, a report.

If you are young (or not, but welded to a personal trainer) the look of the summer is the waist or hip-length corset top. This is worn with high-waisted trousers or a soft, full skirt, not too short. The effect is out of time, slightly Victorian, and charming.

Also of another time is the exhibition we viewed at the Metropolitan, "Charles James: Beyond Fashion". Le Duc had never heard of James; he's not one of the best-known names of the era, like Beene or Norell, but to me, the most remarkable.

James' gowns and dresses are feats of architecture; a James pattern looks like a tipsy silkworm slithered across a bolt of charmeuse, then spun a breathtaking, deceptively refined gown. As James said, "Let the grain do the work."

CADCAM models of the pattern layout and an animated sequence of the piece's assembly delivered the full effect of his astonishing skill, something you would never see just by looking at the gowned mannequin. 

"Who designs such clothes now?" Le Duc asked. The James technique seems to have died with him despite his archived collection and notes. His black wool "Taxi" day dress, made in 1932, would look ineffably elegant today.

I glanced at the other women present, in flowy Eileen Fisher (why is this brand worn too large, so often?) and jeans-with-jackets, not a sophisticated turnout among us. True, James designed for long-waisted swans lunching at "21", but today, even the carriage-trade designers who serve middle-aged clients tend toward rectangular shapes. 
I could hear the couturier, a world-class snob, rolling in his grave. He said, in an Interview piece shortly before his death:
"All I can say about such (middle class) women is that they never did have any influence on fashion, responded to it, or set the pace; so it really isn't any different today than in my youth. Such women never really influenced any trend other than by being responsible for new trends; having made old ones seems trite and vulgar."

The exhibit set the tone for the trip: retro pleasures, the '50s and '60s nostalgia that NYC markets suavely: barmen in white jackets, huge silver bowls of roses, a view of the Chrysler Building's diadem from our suite, displays of delicate short kid gloves in spring pastels at LaCrasia (worn exactly when?)

Whether in boutiques or department stores, I thought of value, trying to understand the rationale for $390 for this rayon tank top.

One of the James pieces was bought at Lord&Taylor in '47 for $1200; about $12,500 today. That store, as well as Saks, were offering 40% off for even the loftiest labels, with free shipping. I bought a pair of store-brand linen trousers, and wondered, When the spring-summer line is reduced that much before June 1, what are the clothes are really worth?

Who were the best-dressed women during my week there? 

Japanese tourists (or perhaps locals who speak Japanese?), in soft cotton blouses (not shirts), box-pleated skirts to the knee or narrow ankle trousers, and impeccable leather sandals.

One 80ish woman lunching in what looked like an '80s Chanel suit, plush bouclé in a complex mix of blues; a young professional entering the Condé Nast Building, her black sleeveless dress kissed with just enough sheerness to herald the season. 

I also thought about service after fleeing several shoe stores (or departments) after clutching a display shoe and waiting nearly 30 minutes for even a greeting. Why don't shoe stores adopt the customer-accessible pick-yourself system that deep discounters use, or re-engineer the process? I saw at least five other customers bail during each futile visit.

Once home, I could order the shoes with one tap of my mouse, from another vendor.

Pearls: Beyond classics for June's birthstone

The notion that pearls are boring, a charge leveled by my stylish friend Christine, has led me to dress the Passage's windows with some unusual and beautiful pearls for June, the gem's birthstone month.

The romantic antique

Antique Victorian natural pearl and conch pearl pin from Beladora; price, $4,650.
I can hear her snort, "Well of course you can find interesting pearls for that much!" But I've seen that price for just one conch pearl the size of the center pearl. Add the exquisite natural pearls and you have an heirloom, a museum-quality piece (which is an in-joke between us).

The standout single

A little easier on the budget, a single pearl piece lets you splurge on quality.  

Pristine simplicity: a single Tahitian pearl floats on the end of a 14k wire cuff bracelet. By Mizuki; price, $770.

A deep blue 8.9mm Tahitian pearl ring set on a 14k yellow band, $342 from Kojima Company:

The stunner strand

Pearls are not all round whites! I doubt my forthright friend was thinking of eleven strands of Japanese keshis with a diamond-sprinkled clasp. (From Kojima Company; price, $2,300):

Or luminous, dramatic 15mm coins that would light up her face (from Pacific Pearls; price, $600):

If you look beyond the clichéd wedding strands—which are deliberately created to play second fiddle to the dress—the pearl's luminous natural beauty emerges, for this June, and many Junes to come. 

At least for some of us!