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Category Archives: Style

It’s A Mall World After All

American chain stores are learning to ship internationally, and the world breathes a collective sigh of relief.  No longer will Parisians suffer the indignities of a couture wardrobe devoid of an Ann Taylor blazer.  The days of British men muddling through with authentic country apparel are almost over, J.Crew will be just a click away.  And the Italians?  Their long suffering over hand-blown Venetian glass is screeching to a halt; Crate & Barrel is coming to the rescue.

Hey, I’m all for an accessible and enjoyable shopping experience.  I love a good basic (in the form of ceramics or T-shirt) as much as the next gal.  But it strikes me as just a bit odd that we are exporting our chain stores to the most artistic and (at times) stylish parts of the world.  (By “most artistic” I don’t mean to suggest that other nations have a lock on talent, but they do have a culture of supporting the growth and success of artists.)

It took me a couple of years to understand the British love affair with the Gap.  They see it as a mid-scale product, where as we see it as a place to periodically peruse the racks jammed with markdowns ending in $.98.  But what the Gap lacks in ingenuity it makes up for in their branding of themselves as “American.”  Foreignness can be fun; in food and fashion.  Coveting a look for its “otherness” is certainly understandable.  But coveting goods which are unrecognizable as “American” is a bit confusing.  Many of the chain stores reformulating their software to accommodate international shipping are known for their blandness.  The ubiquity of white ceramics and housewares in Crate & Barrel can make the store seem like the set of Wonkavision.  The whole point of the design at Ann Taylor is for women to blend into the workplace.  It’s hard to imagine a French woman walking (on very un-American heels) along the cobblestone streets to her place of work; passersby stop and smile, one older shopkeeper puts down his broom, leans against his doorway and with a gauloises dangling from his lips, utters; “ooh la la, zee mademoiselle looks tres magnifique c’est matin, Ann Taylor, non?”  I just can’t picture it.

My romanticized naïveté is also to blame for my insisting that somebody made a mistake in research or a typo is at fault; but Lane Bryant simply could not be shipping to France.

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2012 in Cultural Critique, Style

 

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Spring Is In The Air

The first signs of spring can make the heart soar.  Spotting a crocus or blue jay for the first time, feels in fact, like the first time.  The air is rich with the scent of new growth and we envy the dogs their unselfconscious sniffing.  People walk with their heads up, faces tilted towards the sun, no longer hunched to gird against the wind.  The world feels hopeful, forgiving, on the cusp of new beginnings.

But (cue crashing car and shattering glass sound) like dirty snow on a daffodil, there is the debacle of dress.  Fluctuating temperature, clothes in storage, and winter weight gain, leave people floundering like newborn colts.  Granted, it is the only seasonal change that involves such radical rethinking.  We seem to ease into fall, and winter can often only be discerned by the calendar.  Once it’s cold, it’s cold.  The weight of a sweater is not nearly as daunting as the peeling off of layers.

If you find yourself a bit flummoxed, I offer these friendly little pointers:

  • Buy a thermometer, get a weather app, turn on the radio/tv.  We don’t live in a science fiction movie, we actually know what the weather will be during the day.  If it’s going to reach 70 degrees, leave the parka at home.  The same for the wool hat.  Wearing a wool hat on a nice day screams; “outpatient.”
  • Unless you have neuropathy (and my condolences if you do) you do not need to wear snow boots when there is no snow.  The same is true for fleece lined clogs (which have no business being a “thing” anyway, what is that? the front of your foot gets cold but your heel is made of steel?)
  • Dig out the ballet flats and keds, they’ve missed you and have been pining for this reunion.
  • Hemisphere dressing (in which the top half of your body seems to be from an opposite climate as the lower half) says to the world; “do not make eye contact” “the airline lost my luggage” “ask me about my cult.”
  • Have at least one pair of pants on hand that, well let’s just say is more generous than the others.  Presumably this is not your first time transitioning from winter to spring.  It can’t be a total surprise that those extra glasses of champagne or (boxes of) truffles actually took up residence somewhere on you.  It’s not the end of the world, it’s just a reminder to start moving, and moving away from the table.
  • A fabulous lightweight jacket (cotton, light leather, etc.) is key.  Slip a cardigan underneath in the morning, and a silk or cotton scarf.  By afternoon you can strip down a bit.
  • Do not underestimate the power of a lightweight sweater or jacket in disguising a bit of temporary bulge.
  • When it gets warm enough, and it will, reintroduce your legs to the light of day.  Do not slather them with orange self-tanner for that is a sin (which can be seen from space.)  Pale legs do not look odd in spring, fake tanned ones do.  If you do nothing else for humankind, I implore you to stay away from the self-tanning aisle.  If you are over 3 feet tall and do not have green hair, it is not a good look

Once you’re dressed, get outside.  Spend every moment you can just taking it in.  Soon enough it will be summer and the flowers will become a backdrop instead of the wonder they are at this very moment.  Taking a meal outside will become the norm versus the novelty it is today.  As adults we don’t often get to experience overwhelming feelings of newness.  This is one of those times.

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2012 in Style

 

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With One Look

Women in their forties are mustering remarkable courage and purchasing shopping carts.  They are willing to utilize the very same device that (gasp) elderly people use.  Perhaps I am just fashion clueless or far too much of a practical penguin to see how getting one’s groceries home has anything to do with age, and everything to do with geography.  Unless you’re putting tennis balls on the bottom of the carts and a crocheted carrying pouch on the front, I don’t think anyone would mistake it for a walker.  And what if they did?  So what?!  Recently a woman in her forties shared that she’s never worn a dress, because she fears her friends would tease her for trying to look like a grown-up.  Tease her.  For looking like a grown-up.

I was under the impression that the joy of adulthood (or aging past the 9th grade) was no longer caring what people were thinking of you.  (The truth is, they are not thinking of you at all.  They are far too concerned that the stroller they’re pushing makes them look fat.)   We are consumed with not wanting to look “older” yet do such an awful job of it.  We plump and lift and emulate the fashion of our teenage daughters.  We wear distressed jeans and black nail polish; not because we like black nail polish (does anyone actually like black nail polish?) but because we want to align ourselves with the under 30s not the over 40s.  We strategically place 6-7 varieties of yellow or honey stripes in our hair and like the teen (we were) in the 1970s, we want it long, long, long.  (Rarely is long hair flattering on a face and neck in a pas des deux with gravity.  But I suppose being mistaken for under 30 from behind – from the shoulders up – is worth it to some.)

If our thirties taught us anything it was (or should have been) what suits us.  By our 30s we learned what type of work (or at least style of working) suited us.  We learned which romantic partners suit us and started dating for the end game.  By the time we geared up to bid our thirties farewell, we also finally took a good look in the mirror.  We learned what great assets we had.  (Those legs people always commented on?  They are fabulous!)  Having two decades of adult dressing under our (perfectly accenting) belt, means we’ve learned a thing or two.   We know that those shoulder pads and MC Hammer pants were a mistake, and we’ve forgiven ourselves.  But we are also grateful that those (seriously unfortunate) choices taught us that just because something is being sold, doesn’t mean it’s right for us.  Torn/distressed jeans are not attractive in the abstract.  They add nothing to a look, but yes, they are being worn by younger people.  Those torn jeans are this generation’s MC Hammer pants.  What would you have thought if your mother had worn those ridiculous 1990 pants?  Would you have shown up for Thanksgiving and gasped; “Why mother, you look 20 years younger?!”  No, you probably would have taken your father or a sibling aside and asked; “Is mom okay?”

Looking as if we not only don’t know ourselves, but are in fact at war with ourselves, isn’t youthful.  A teenager doesn’t look youthful because of being awkward or self-conscious, she looks youthful because she IS.  Youthful style often in fact looks quite silly.  Looking gorgeous and sexy are much more worthwhile goals.  Gorgeous and sexy come from feeling and being confident.  The more gorgeous you feel, the more confident you’ll feel, and vice versa.  The circle of life if you will.  Perhaps it would help if we don’t think of it as “looking our age” as much as “looking our best.”

“There’s nothing tragic about being fifty. Not unless you’re trying to be twenty-five.” – Joe Gillis, Sunset Boulevard (1950)

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2012 in Cultural Critique, Style

 

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The Mad Men Guide To Life

Does anything more need to be said about the brilliance of Mad Men?  The production value soars above most cable series and the story lines have not faltered.  The series has benefited tremendously from continuously casting relatively unknown actors.  Above else, unlike most retro productions, they get very little wrong.  Credit the producers for perhaps having been alive during the early 1960s or at least having the good sense to hire people who were.  Mad Men is 99.44% anachronism free.

While much of the period perfect depictions seem quaint and distant, there is much that is timeless.  Every generation thinks they are covering new terrain and making new discoveries.  Every twist and turn in life seems unique and in need of a brand-new solution.  But there is much to gain from being reminded of the continuity of life and its annoyances.

Work is Demanding – Long before instant communication, Peggy was working nights and weekends.  Personal lives were impinged upon with after-hours work related functions.  Before technology companies put playrooms and free dry cleaning in the workplace (to keep workers at the office) companies had coffee carts.  Break rooms, sandwich machines and even office bars, were designed to keep workers in the workplace.  Work has never been fair or nice.  Meetings will happen without you, you will be left off of organizational charts and someone might just run a lawn mower over your foot.

Thin and Pretty Sells – There is nothing new about selling a female ideal. Media has been single minded in its affair with pretty, young thin women.  Before Spanx, there were girdles.  Creating a perfect form was a rite of passage for a young woman.  Pointed bras bore no more resemblance to the human breast than the wonderbra of today.  Before diet shakes, there was melba toast and cottage cheese.  Women carried lovely little boxes of (deadly) saccharin in their purses and smoked like chimneys to avoid eating.  Clothing was expensive and spandex wasn’t invented yet, so not being able to zip your dress meant not being able to leave the house.

Marriage is a Mystery – From a wedding guest’s perspective, do any two people really belong together?  Don cheats with the same woman, over and over again.  He craves emotional attachment with an intelligent, professional brunette, but married Betty.  Kitty is happily married to Sal, a man who doesn’t want Ann-Margret, he wants to be Ann-Margret.  Joan, in her early thirties, with a panic she feels deep in her bones, grabs what looks like a gold ring.  There is nothing new about making fear based choices and there rarely is anything good that comes from it.  Joan married beneath her on so many levels, and we wait for the “we regret to inform you” letter from the war department.

Fake it Till You Make It – The only people who don’t at one time or another feel like a fraud are sociopaths.  Everyone, regardless of achievement or talent has feared being found out.  Don struggles with that issue most of his adult life.  Joan, herself her greatest creation, visibly stumbles at times.  Peggy, a woman whose emotional sophistication belies her tender years, forces herself past those moments.  She gets the job, the haircut, the wardrobe, and the office, incrementally and with intent.  She always had the talent, if not the experience, but by the time she’s done with herself, she looks like a competent middle manager (at 23.)

Parenting isn’t Pretty – Glossy magazines aside, there’s nothing pretty about raising children.  Betty didn’t feel the need to self-censor when she likened the presence of her children in her car to that of horse poop.  The children misbehaved and developed strange behaviors, they refused to eat and sleep, they got sick at the most inopportune times and mixed a pretty lousy drink. But parenting was made a little easier, not just because of the drinking and sedatives, but because of a bit of emotional distance.  When little Sally ran amok in the house (with a dry cleaning bag on her head) her mother was concerned about the mess, but not enough to put out her cigarette and interrupt her adult conversation.

Experience Breeds Calm – There is much to savor in getting older, even during the youth revolution of the 1960s.  Bert Cooper is a sage beacon of calm during many a storm.  Sure, he knows firsthand how to succeed in business, but it’s more than that.  His Eastern sensibilities and embracing of modern art, speak to a man who is taking a big bite out of life.  He enjoys the fruits of his labor and has a deep generosity of spirit.  He takes his relationships as seriously as he does his job.  He is not feared but revered, a management lesson, yes, but also a life lesson.

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2012 in Childhood, Cultural Critique, Style

 

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What A Swell Party It Was

Do you ever play the lottery game?  You know, the one in which you fantasize about what you’d do with the winnings?  At every turn of this game, over countless years, my fantasies always take the exact same form.  It involves the requisite good works (anything else would be indecent) and the party.  The setting for the party has suffered some blows over the years.  It had to be relocated from the QE II to the Rainbow Room to now destinations unknown.  The event details are always the same; a small group friends, fabulous food, champagne and first-rate musical performances selected for dancing and swooning pleasure.

The real point of the lottery game is that it allows one to consider what makes one’s heart sing.  The party I dream of will most likely not become a reality, but I can approach my most meaningful friendships in the same celebratory manner.  I can also dream of an intimate musical performance that feels as if it is being performed just for me.  And on one cold winter night that dream came true.

A few years ago I was at the Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel to see Tom Wopat.  He is a remarkable performer; chock full of charisma and a love of ballads.  That winter night there were no more than 30 people in the audience and I was seated directly in front of Mr. Wopat.  As he sang his West Side Story medley inches from my table, my eyes filled and my mind raced; I was living part of my lottery dream.

My thoughts turn to that magical night with the news that the Algonquin Hotel will be shuttering the Oak Room for good.  When they docked the QE II I found it unsettling.  But when they closed the Rainbow Room and now the Oak Room, it was personal.  I know I don’t live in the most genteel of times, but when I step into these gorgeous time capsules I can dream.  And really, without a little sepia toned fantasy, doesn’t it all tend to get just a bit too dreary?

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2012 in Style

 

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