Monday, January 28, 2008

Hair’s Role in the Fashion World

Even after hearing about actresses shaving their heads, I believe that 99.9% of women would refuse to do so. I can’t think of too many good reasons for a woman to go bald, except for a multi-million dollar movie role, or in empathy for a relative facing chemotherapy. But I still don’t know if I could make that sacrifice. For, like most of you, I have an emotional attachment to my hair. Do you really think that any woman is more attractive without it? The look really requires a huge amount of confidence, as well as an exceptionally pretty face, and most of us couldn’t manage it. Let’s hope that baldness never becomes “fashionable”!

When my daughter was in 4th grade, there were kids already streaking or bleaching their hair. By sixth grade, some made trips to expensive salons for dual-processing applications. I’ve even known preschoolers whose moms regularly gel or mousse their hair. Are we becoming a society whose future inhabitants know more about hair products than the world itself? Hair fashions seem to influence people across more age groups than ever before, and this seems to be perfectly acceptable.

A couple of weeks after a trip to the salon, my daughter hacked off her hair with manicuring scissors for that jagged, choppy appearance. (Note that I did not respond by complimenting her desire for individuality, by the way.) Encouraged by hair magazines and internet photos, she also believes that there is no such thing as too much flat ironing and too much hair spray, and loves to cover one eye. This prompts even normally silent relatives to exclaim that we can’t see half of her face. We may as well talk to the wall, because, to her, it’s more important to follow fashion.

It amazes me how much we respond to the fashion standards of hair, and so often those standards are controversial. When I was young, I thought adults were too uptight over boys with long hair, but now I question green, pink and blue in kids’ hair. (It’s funny how that happens, isn’t it?) To me, the fashion of these unnatural hair colors looks bizarre, and I wonder why, if a person has that much time and creativity, they’re not doing more with it than dying the front of their hair black and bleaching the back blonde…It’s ironic how I struggle to cover my gray to make my hair looks as natural as possible, while an entire group is trying to look as unnatural as possible. The only consolation is that almost all of the women on the “most beautiful” lists don’t go the route of unusual hair. Artists have always depicted timeless beauty standards, as well as models who look good without appearing that they’ve fussed with nature too much.

A friend of mine once commented, “If your hair doesn’t look right, you won’t feel right all day.” I understand this. I remember a “Cathy” comic a few years back in which two women, jockeying for the attention of one man, came face to face. The only thing they were both thinking was, “How does my hair look?” You’ve got to give it to hair in that respect: a bad hair day cuts all other problems down to size.

From mohawks to mullets to shags to bobs to everything in between, we are a people who judge and critique hair, and have done so for decades. Some fashion followers change their style every few months, while others retain theirs for years. Their look becomes their individuality. Personally, I prefer that, since there’s a continuum in trusting that the person will probably look the same after months of absence, versus the feeling that the friend you’ve come to know may be replaced by a different person-at least on the outside. I’ve kept my hair pretty much the same for a good while, except that sometimes it’s a bit longer, and sometimes a bit darker. (I like to think of it as still me, with newer and improved versions!)

In any event, you have to admit that commenting on hair fashions keeps life a bit more interesting. Many people say “It’s only hair”, but I still believe hair has a power all its own. Think about it.

Are You Guilty of Fashion Mistakes?

You’re probably thinking that there since there are no firm “rules” when it comes to fashion anymore (like not wearing white shoes after Labor Day, or mixing prints), there can’t possibly be “mistakes.” Well, some things should be referred to as “offenses”, even though there really aren’t any fashion police!

Unlike some magazine articles that list what’s in and what’s out, I’m offering the following “offenses” for you to think about. The goal is that you don’t end up feeling uncomfortable, which is how any mistake usually affects a person.

The first offense is based on common sense, and that’s the failure of dressing for the weather. When you see a celebrity photographed on the Aspen ski slopes baring her midriff while wearing a ski jacket, what’s your first thought? Mine is, “Isn’t her stomach cold?” Trying to be provocative when it’s below freezing takes can be perceived as showing off. Since skin is not meant to be exposed to cold and snow, doing so takes the focus away from fashionable outerwear and places it on the woman’s intentions of why she’s doing it. Likewise are those who can’t wait to bundle up. Not long ago, magazines showed Tom Cruise and his family in New York in early October, donning scarves and gloves before the temperature dropped. The comments didn’t focus on their otherwise lovely attire, but on the absurdity of wearing winter accessories so early. The bottom line here is that trying to be fashionable should not make anyone unnecessarily hot or cold!

The next faux pas is in the same vein and concerns seasonal items. This could be in the form of too much holiday at one time, such as a Christmas sweater with a wreath pin, nutcracker earrings, and Santa charm bracelet…One focal point is always best. Remember that some “experts” say that a woman should not wear any more than 6 items of jewelry at any one time. (Wedding band sets count as one, as do a pair of earrings.) Plus, it’s good for those living in areas that enjoy 4 seasons to follow nature’s clues when it comes to dressing…warm, earthy colors in fall (not a pastel beach bag), soft colors in spring (save the brown cords) and footwear appropriate for winter snow. (The most fashionable shoes may not look or hold up well after a trek through slush, and your feet will feel like blocks of ice.)

And there’s the issue of co-ordination. Nowadays younger adults and teenagers vehemently eschew too much matching, and even gossip magazines have panned movie stars whose shoes are the same color as their dresses. (Although I think that’s harsh, considering the effort it must have taken to find just the right color-but that’s just my opinion.) Personally, I think a woman should aim for a level of co-ordination feels right to her. If you’ve grown up as a baby boomer, you’re probably used to matching shoes and purse colors, so if it makes you feel uncomfortable to forget this rule, don’t. If you love tying a dominant or favorite color into an outfit, including accessories, by all means do so. The thing you may wish to remember is that it may be worse to be off when matching colors, than to not match at all. In other words, if you want to wear a blue blouse with a blue sweater, it’s better if they’re the same hue instead of, say, royal and navy. The first will make the wearer appear that they’ve put some thought into how they chose their outfit; the second will make them look like they grabbed whatever was clean. Again, you may not really care, but it may be a bit jarring when you see yourself in a mirror, and that clashing could make you uncomfortable all day.

Finally, it should go without saying that wearing anything that’s stained, dirty, or unintentionally ripped is a clear fashion oversight because the wearer appears to be either careless or slovenly. This takes attention away from the clothing and puts it-negatively-on the woman's personal habits.

Consider fashion as a unique and fun expression of your personality, but do so in a manner that’s comfortable and flattering!

Can You Find Fashion in Dollar Stores?

It can be safely assumed that wherever you live here in the U.S., you aren’t too far away from one of those stores that sell everything priced at one dollar. C’mon now, fess up-don’t you just love those places?

I wish I could remember to visit more often, or plan trips into my agenda, but I usually end up running to a local drug store and paying more for the same item. But yesterday I got a shock: a beauty product I had purchased two previous times at a chain discounter for $10 was displayed at a dollar store for, you guessed it-a mere buck. It stopped me cold. I looked, looked again, and picked it up. I examined the package, and yes, it was a name brand, not a knock off with similar packaging. There was no expiration date, and nothing to reflect any damage or prior use. Looking at the display case, there were many, so it wasn’t as if they were trying to get rid of a few leftover stock items. Hmmm…

I approached the sales lady and mentioned my surprise. She looked at me like I was crazy to have paid 10 times the price. So, I ran into the grocery store next door to see if perhaps the product was discontinued or greatly reduced, but it hung proudly on its rack, with a good, firm price of $9.99, not even marked down as one of the weekly bargains. Hmmm again….

How does this happen? Almost everyone knows that, if you can wait two weeks before purchasing something, it will be probably marked down, or there will be some kind of coupon available. Dollar stores cut through all of that nonsense, and that’s why they’re popular.

In any event, I was able to get everything I needed at the dollar store, from famous name chocolate chips to major brand toothbrushes. It got me to wondering if a woman could purchase items there that could be considered “fashion”. I think, if a person searches hard enough, they can find a few whimsical items to spice up their accessory collection.

Some dollar stores have a pretty good variety of hair ornaments, just like mall outlet stores: Clips, barrettes, hair bands, scrunchies-even famous name brushes and curlers. Now, women probably won’t find too much when it comes to cosmetics or nail polish, but there may be a few such items. As far as jewelry is concerned, unless one is looking for fun or seasonal pieces, the pickings will probably be slim. However, a person may get lucky and find some great beads that they can restring with others for a unique necklace or bracelet. Plus, they always have basic chains or pendants that a person’s own beads or charms can be strung onto, saving a few dollars over similar ones in craft stores.

Occasionally, dollar stores will even carry sunglasses-at least those stores that carry items at prices higher than a dollar-but it’s important to check the styles carefully. Many are priced around $5, but probably won’t have the UV protection ratings of sunglasses in the $10-$20 range of drugstores. Yet, if you’re looking for a fun pair to wear just once or twice, you may be in luck.

Most dollar stores carry some socks and gloves, many of which are actually cute. But don’t expect them to last past the season; again, they may not be durable, but they may help co-ordinate a few outfits in a light-hearted way. You probably won’t find too many packages of pantyhose, tights, or underwear at most dollar stores, but you can find body lotions and powders, shower gels and bath products that may even be matched as sets. The stores may also have, on occasion, seasonal or sports articles, such as scarves or caps. Obviously, the quality is not excellent, but if you’re looking to change a look, or wear an attention-getting conversation piece, you may find something at a dollar store that inexpensively fits your needs.

These outlets allow the average person to try out different looks without breaking the bank. It may not be “high” fashion, but it can be a positive experience nonetheless!

Smells Versus Sensations

Sometimes I wish I could conjure up all of the smells that have meant something to me in my life, scents that would instantly bring back a former life and former surroundings…

There are the very distinct smells of different colleges, ranging from an antiseptic odor of a brand new facility, to a chlorine and floor cleaner scent of a workout room, to an unidentifiable one of a former auditorium turned into dance studio. In every case, the odors were mixed and saturated to the point where the final smell could never exist elsewhere. If I were to stumble upon such smells again, it would be within the confines of those specific walls, and I would be transported back in time, when life was simpler and a boundless future lay before me. A visit to any barn would revisit memories of riding lessons and odors that only a horse lover could love. Yet smelling it takes me back to a life long ago, when I had free time for the acquaintance of the noblest of beasts. In one of my favorite former jobs, there was a distinct odor of being in a facilities area, with its mishmash of machinery, oil, and wood. Smelling that combination now would put me into a very happy state, since that experience was as well. On the other hand, smelling the lotion that nurses applied to my mother as she laid in a coma before passing away causes an immediate and almost abhorrent reaction…

I have vague recollections of grade school smells such as tomato soup and cheese sandwiches in the cafeteria, and lilacs floating through the open windows every May. I think that if I ever came upon that mix again, I would regress to that uncomfortable state of pre-pubescence, especially if Love’s Baby Soft cologne was also around. And I can’t forget what my favorite people wore-the men who favored Polo and Grey Flannel, and the women who wore Estee Lauder and Channel. Should my path cross theirs again, I believe I’d feel an irrational disappointment if they no longer smelled the same, which they probably would not. This isn’t as horrific as it sounds though, because, when you think about it, a person’s scent should change, just as their life does.

There’s a magic connected with cologne that’s hard to define. It has an unexplainable power to create emotional responses. Most women should be able to take a whiff of certain colognes and remember a particular time of their life. I wore Oscar de la Renta while a working gal and Giorgio on my wedding day. I was a big fan of Beautiful and Gloria Vanderbilt because my mother was, and along the way I’ve worn Fire and Ice, Eternity, Passion, and dozens of vanilla blends. (One essential oil prompted folks in my office to question, “Who’s baking cookies in the kitchen?”) Each and every one of these smells is more of a scent-sensation than a smell. They defined me for several months or even years.

On Black Friday, I stopped in Saks and sampled a Bond St. #9 fragrance, where all in that line are named after different New York neighborhoods. It’s $195 a bottle, but, in my opinion, not as intriguing a scent on me as most others. A month later, I purchased Paris Hilton’s Just Me from a street vendor in Chinatown. It does not smell like the same scent purchased from Macy’s, and I wonder if it’s due to being outside in the heat, since it’s obvious the bottle was never opened. One of the strangest things about fragrance is that it’s easy to detect if something is one iota off, and that difference is greatly annoying, like in the imposter brands. (I keep sensing an overwhelming scent of celery in this Just Me. Perhaps I’ll mix it into unscented cream for a body lotion that won’t let me smell like vegetable juice.)

I’ll continue to use my special scents at special times. And even if it’s not really all that special of an occasion, just smelling Caswell-Massey’s Sandalwood will make it become so.

We can never underestimate the power of scent, so don’t hesitate to indulge in a wonderful scent as soon as possible-you’ll love smelling great.

Are You A Designer-Follower?

Heaven knows I’ve thought about this topic enough over the years; this may be a good day to pose the question to all of you.

Many moons ago, I found out that a co-worker had scrimped and saved for the tiniest Gucci bag, just so she could say she had one. As someone who grew up in a family devoid of name-dropping, I found it odd that a person would make such a sacrifice to impress others. I was yet to realize the impact and the emphasis our society attaches to names. I was about 18 at the time. Three years ago, my daughter’s 12 year old pal could tell the difference between a genuine and fake Louis Vuitton. Since the girl obviously couldn’t even afford a fake one due to lack of employment, I saw something wrong with this picture.

Does this strike you as somewhat sad? When little girls can recognize expensive merchandisers before being able to find their originating countries on a map, it’s says something about our focus and priorities.

Every time I visit an upscale store, I feel that there must be something wrong with me because I don’t feel an innate and immediate desire for that which sits in a hushed space, lit from above by a spotlight. I wonder how women can buy what’s often unattractive stuff, at its outrageous cost, if not to say that it’s “designer.” It can’t be because it lasts longer than non-name labels, because if one can afford it in the first place, one can probably afford to have several of everything and get rid of all every season. So it must be for appearances and the desire to impress others, concerns that are truly energy-wasters.

I’m well aware that there’s a psychological process at work here, where people feel that labels validate self-worth, and provide ego-security, but I still find it rather pathetic. Someone once told me that her grandkids “had” to have expensive tennis shoes to fit in, and I just shook my head…

I love it when I see celebrities eschewing designer labels for unknown artists, or better yet, home-made creations. (Doesn’t Beyonce’s mom make a lot of her clothes?) It appeals to my inner rebel to see those who can afford to buy anything say, “I’m doing it my way” instead. I want to stand up and cheer at their bold choice to step out in something other than a famous name gown, and the fact that they don’t need a label to have credibility as a well-dressed person.

Now, I must admit to owning one-exactly one-designer purse, but I bought it in my early 20’s when I was into that whole “impress the world with my success” mode. I’m glad that’s passed. I know that designers have to make a living too, so it works out that there are plenty of people who find it important to own those names on labels.

When I hear about people rushing to every season’s runway shows in hopes of being the first to wear certain designer’s offerings, it reminds me of something I learned in grade school. And that was, styles keep changing every season in order for the clothing industry to make money. How would the textile industry flourish if styles stayed the same? Looking at it in those terms, should the public feel like sheep being led to some kind of financial slaughter, especially considering the outrageous prices and even more outrageous looks of some designer clothing?

This isn’t to say that anything with a designer label is unattractive; it’s simply that the average woman’s lifestyle does not lend itself to spend a large part of her budget on clothes that can’t be comfortable being worn to the grocery store or PTA meeting. The term “fashion” covers a large territory, not the least of which is the ability to look great in ready-made clothes from regular department stores. Relying on one’s own sense of style and compatibility in selections says more about fashion than simply carrying a bag that, by its name and price, claims to advertise fashion savvy.

None of us should feel like we need designer names to validate our sense of fashion. In a way, we all are designers when it comes to wearing what looks good on us.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Are Bare Legs the Newest Fashion Accessory?

Have you noticed the preponderance of bare legs in the last year or so, even in colder weather? Here we are, with a multitude of styles in pantyhose and stockings from which to choose, and it seems that most women under 30 are shunning them…

Almost 2 years ago, a friend was telling me that she had attended a social event on a rather cool day, and she noticed that she was the only one who was not bare-legged. Until then, that was the kind of thing I would not have even thought about, but it’s become obvious, even to me.

When my daughter didn’t want to look “odd” by wearing anything on her legs at a semi-formal dance on a cold night last February, I chalked it up to reckless youth. But I’ve been noticing that all of the models now seem to be bare legged, and even the opening of “The Devil Wears Prada” shows fashion industry employees all donning shoes over bare feet. Has it been this way for years and I’ve been too stodgy to see it? Or is this a trend that goes with the discarding of coats and gloves for a California look, even when it’s 20 degrees and snowing?

I distinctly remember the struggle I faced in getting my mother to allow me to wear stockings; I think I had to beg. Perhaps I was in 4th grade, and up to that point, girls wore knee socks or anklets. But by the age of 10, we all thought that look was way too immature, and so the push began to look like young ladies. I will never forget how I felt when I pulled up those silky nylons and looked in the mirror-instant glamour! I was no longer a little girl! When one was finally allowed to wear pantyhose or stockings (garter belts were an option, too) it was clear that teenage privileges weren’t far away. When older, I also wore fishnets and lacy patterned stockings, as well as white pantyhose-in which a male friend confided as having a “thing” for. Obviously, growing up in the 70’s, I was accustomed to viewing pantyhose as de rigueur; to think of going without them seemed ludicrous!

Well, as I began my working career involving client visits, quality suits and dresses were expected, so I wore pantyhose and heels daily, year-round. Even while pregnant 15 years ago, I seldom wore pants because it was considered more prestigious to “dress up”, as it denoted position in my company.

How things have changed.

Currently, there are pantyhose for even the youngest girls, and tights in every color and design can make a fashionista out of every preschooler. Yet, older girls and grown women have been shunning leg coverings for the naked look. My brother-in-law, as an employee for a major lingerie/stocking company, provided me with dozens of samples. It was clear that they were feeling the pinch and were trying desperately to recapture their market with new pantyhose options.

Now, thanks to the trend of bare-leggedness, I have more to be concerned about. Before I would go to a formal function in such a state, I’d have to hit the tanning salon, do a perfect shaving job, and saturate my legs with body lotion…it seems like a lot of work.

So, although I do that in the summer months, I still haven’t followed this trend in the spring, fall or winter. (I do have the excuse of living in the cold northeast.) For my last two Christmas galas, I matched sheer stocking to a champagne-colored tea length dress, and light black stockings to another. I think my legs looked good, but more importantly, I felt good, versus bare, cold, and self-conscious.

In this writer’s humble opinion, fashion trends really should not create self-centered concerns. There are perfectly good reasons why stockings have been around for as long as they have been. They’re alluring, sensuous, and soften the look of discernable tendons, muscles, knobby knees, and-if the dress is short-cellulite. Sure, they may not be absolutely necessary, but, like many fashion accessories, if they flatter the woman, they’re definitely worth using!

Now, if they could only make them a bit more comfortable…

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Size Means Nothing

Yes, this topic really is about size-that number on an item of clothing that you look for before taking the things you like into a store dressing room-that irrelevant, undependable, rather contrary label that’s usually hard to find. (You know-the number that’s usually different than the one on the hanger because someone didn’t put it back correctly after the last try-on…)

You’d think that after years of shopping, a woman would have a pretty good idea of what size she takes, but it’s still a gamble to buy anything without trying it on first. There seems to be no uniform standard when it comes to sizing between merchandisers, let alone foreign suppliers.

Perhaps you’ve heard that more expensive clothing tends to be sized a bit larger than the norm. Do you think that’s a marketing ploy? After all, a woman who realizes that she fits into a size 4 dress may be so exhilarated by that finding that she’s ready to buy it, just to be able to say that she can wear a size 4. So that’s another obstacle to sizing: are we being tricked when it comes to size, to be buttered up for the sale?

Then there are those pants which are sized in terms of waist measurement-who has found any that really fit? And have you noticed that the way pants are sized is not the way jeans are sized? After decisions regarding denim color, style, pockets and seam finishing, we end up making choices based on the “I’m not that size” mentality, more commonly known as denial.

Recently I let my teenage daughter loose in a sea of denim with unlimited time and an open checkbook. We not only left empty handed, she had found exactly one pair to try on. Needless to say, they didn’t pass muster. But it was the way in which they didn’t pass muster that was amusing. Waiting outside the dressing area, I heard her say that she “accidentally” got a size 1, but really needed a 3. “Hah! say I, “You need a 5 at least”, but all the 5’s were gone. So I took in a 7. She tried it on grudgingly, griping all the while that “no way” was she a 7. She was right; 9 would have been better. But that fell onto deaf ears attached to the supposed size 3 body. The rationale that all styles are different, and all manufacturers’ size their clothes differently meant nothing. You’d have thought the size label was on the outside of her jeans for the entire world to see.

So, I picked out a few size 5’s for her approval. Only one pair was deemed worthy, but sitting down in them-much less eating or drinking-looked darn near impossible. So, says the voice of reason, “I’ll get you a 7.” Well, you’d think I would have suggested she shave her head. The bottom line was that if she didn’t try a 7, she could not get the 5. This explains our leaving without a package to show for 60 minutes of frustration.

Kids are becoming obsessed at an earlier age than ever when it comes to numbers, even knowing that the numbers are baseless. I have vague recollections of such a mindset as an older teen and young adult, but by this point in my life, numbers mean little, especially those on clothes. It’s not the first time that I’ve thought life would be much simpler if I could just wear a loose fitting sari, kimono, or sweats at all times-preferably sized as extra small, small, medium, large, and extra large to reduce shopping time.

As we sat down to dinner tonight, my daughter said, “I’m going to stop eating 24/7 like I have been.” Amazing what a little thing like jean size can do in terms of motivation. However, if we allow the numbers on clothes keep us from enjoying them, we lose out. The whole point of fashion is to look attractive, and it’s hard to accomplish that if we’re squeezed into something, with a pained look on our face, because we think that’s the “size” we should take. When it comes to fashion, the size stamped on the label really does mean nothing!

Sewing Shouldn’t Become a Lost Art

Fabric stores seem to be getting larger than ever, but it’s mostly middle age or older women who are patronizing them. Some young girls display a passing interest, but in my experience, it fades. Is that another sign of the times in which there are always sales at the mall, and discounters offering really great buys? Or, is it that girls today place more priority on computer savvy than making their own clothes? Sometimes I’m amazed that my mandatory year of sewing back in eighth grade instilled such a sense of accomplishment, but I think that sewing satisfaction has a lot to do with an individual’s sense of creativity.

I have always enjoyed sewing, but in my own way. To be honest, those pattern instructions read like Greek to me-and that’s a language I’ve no desire to study. Even if I did rack my brain to follow the guidelines step by step, I would still feel that much of what is called for is useless. What I like is to see is the finished product, and see it quickly. Frequent basting and ironing seem unnecessary to me. Who has the patience for that? I didn’t when I was 12, and I still don’t.
Many years ago, I found a book in the library about condensing the steps of sewing, as well as simple ways to create usable patterns. It streamlined the process to where I was able to make a dress in one evening-albeit it a basic one without lining. Not only that, it gave directions on how to remodel existing wardrobe pieces by altering sleeves and necklines. As a young single person just starting to go out with my future husband, I decided to make a different outfit for each one of our dates. Granted, they weren’t the best quality, but they turned out fairly well, and being relatively inexpensive and easy, it made that summer more exciting. Eventually, as things progressed, I was able to make some of the outfits to take on my honeymoon. The process of actually creating items to wear for such a special time added to the overall fun of my big occasion.

More people should sew, and not just to have more choices in their closet; it really comes in handy when prolonging the life of clothes already loved. It seems that I’m frequently making revisions or repairs to my family’s wardrobe, and I can’t imagine not having a sewing machine.

There are 3 basic ideas to keep in mind about sewing: First, don’t let it become overwhelming or intimidating. It’s really not necessary to perform complicated loops or twists to sew on a button; it will stay on with less than 30 seconds of taking the needle in and out of the holes. Making sewing more complicated than it needs to be will eventually result in procrastination, and eventually, a discontinuation. Second, the adage “a stitch in time saves nine” is absolutely correct. Taking a few minutes to sew a small hole could possibly salvage a favorite garment and will be less noticeable than efforts to repair a large hole. If you love your clothes enough to have bought them, they obviously deserve this little bit of maintenance. Last, a sewing machine is invaluable when you find yourself between sizes. Rather than hoping something will stretch out or that you’ll lose a few pounds, it’s safer to buy the size that’s a little roomy and then take it in. Tops can be tightened by sewing an inch or so along the side seams down from the armpit, and pants can be made more form fitting by either sewing along the inside or outside seams-depending on how they fit around the hips. (Another advantage of doing so is that if the item should shrink from laundering, the stitches can be removed.)

However, many people, especially working moms, are so busy that sewing anything would probably add more stress to their lives. To spend time sewing when there are easer ways to get fashionable clothes, immediately, seems rather silly at times. Yet, there is that special feeling of wearing something that no one else in the world has. This is why the wealthy have custom-made creations, and why “designer knock off’s” don’t have the same panache.
Perhaps I have wasted too many hours of my life cutting and pinning “experiments” that didn’t always turn out the way I’d hoped, but I still enjoyed the creative experience, and think you may as well!

The Allure of Lipstick

Chances are you either love lipstick unconditionally, or just consider it an accessory for special occasions. At least, that’s been my findings among friends. I have to admit I’m a lipstick addict.

I once took a quiz along the lines of, “If you could only have one cosmetic, what would it be?” Many women said eyeliner, because they felt it made their eyes larger and more expressive. I had to go with lipstick, because I believed that the right shade livened up a girl’s face to make her look more “finished.” I think I was 13 at the time. I still feel the same way.

My mother had a huge collection of lipstick tubes, and I remember thinking how badly some of them smelled and tasted. They fascinated me, however, and the change they made to my mother fascinated me as well. She tried to match her lipstick with her clothes, and sometimes even put different colors on top of each other, which I thought was rather wild for an “old” person. I had a small collection of Bonnie Bell products as a preteen, and graduated to Cherry Chapstick in high school. At some point, the in-thing was to get little tubs of gloss to spread on with your fingers, and the popular girls wore either very pale tones or bright red. After I began working, I realized that a shimmer lipstick was the most flattering on me, and probably went through dozens of tubes of the stuff. Then, around the time of my wedding came the super shiny gloss, but it never seemed to stay on; I guess I either spoke too much or too often. It was just when I began to worry about my attachment to lipstick that I met another woman who felt the same as I did; not surprisingly, we became good friends.

We discussed our lipstick problems; we bought various colors to mix our own unique blends. We tried various forms of gloss before, in, and after regular lipstick application. We thinned the thick versions down with Vaseline. We were lipstick gurus.

You’d think that real life, marriage, and motherhood would have put my addiction on the back burner, but it didn’t. I still love it enough to wear it when at home, and to go out without it would make me feel stark naked. Even now, decades after my first practiced pout and tissue blotting of my tinted lips, I still blend my own colors. You’d think by now I’d have it down to a science, but I don’t. It’s always a new experience, and I’ve found that the way a lipstick looks in the tube isn’t the way it looks on my mouth. I’ve also found that mixing two colors before applying gives a completely different hue than applying two separate layers directly to my lips. I’ve no idea how many hours I’ve wasted in attempts to get just the right shade, and how many times I’ve wiped lipstick off in frustration, but it’s always a joy to hit upon just the right one.

Let’s face it-lipstick these days isn’t cheap. Quite often, mixing inexpensive brands, then applying the result with a lipstick brush, offers a professional result that is more flattering than one attained from dragging a tube over your mouth. Overly deep colors can be diluted with petroleum jelly or used with lip gloss, and if a brighter, darker, orange or blue tone is needed, simply buy another such color and mix it in slowly. Test the result on your lips in different lighting until satisfied. It may take several attempts, and quite a few tissues, but you’ll have the satisfaction of a truly individualized lipstick that’s the best for your coloring.

Who knows why some women get attached to certain forms of cosmetics? Some won’t leave the house without nail polish, while others must have blush or eye shadow to feel complete. I tend to side with a recent ad campaign of a famous designer, who had his group of 20 year old models display the new season’s line without a drop of face makeup, except for-you guessed it-red lipstick. They looked classical, sophisticated, and intriguing. That’s the power of that particular cosmetic, at least for those of us who feel life is too short to not look your best!

The Drama of a Cape

As I glance past my computer screen, there are thousands of snowflakes dancing around; it’s not too much fun to drive in them, but rather nice to watch from inside. I smile because it’s that time of year that I can finally drag out one of my favorite articles of clothing-a long, wool, gray cape. It’s old, ridiculously heavy, and prone to becoming unbuttoned, but I still love it…for many reasons.

The first is the sheer novelty of wearing it, at most, 5 times a year. This cape has seen several such years. But one thing about capes, coming from someone who does not buy a new wardrobe every season, is that they pretty much always look the same. And, that’s if one even sees them at all. Furthermore, this isn’t something a person can get much wear out of until January or February, or at least until it’s cold enough to wear boots. (I’ve always thought the cape “needs” boots to balance out its weightiness.) Plus, even if it may be cold enough for a cape in April, there’s a little incongruence between wearing it and knowing that pastel spring blooms are right around the corner. Maybe those are the first two reasons why I love my cape; it’s different without being totally outrageous. And due to its inherent qualities, the rarity of when it can be worn makes it even more special.

Now, wearing a cape, especially this one, has definite limitations. For one thing, it’s not too comfortable if driving for any length of time since it’s somewhat bulky. (I am 5’7” and it almost reaches my ankles, so its length and heaviness become noticeably uncomfortable on my shoulders the longer it’s worn. Therefore, it’s not the coat to wear if one will out and about for most of the day.) And, because the wearer’s arms are exposed, she must either wear a heavy sweater underneath, or keep her arms inside, which isn’t easy when carrying a large handbag or packages.

So, why even purchase one when the stores are full of down-filled jackets of every type?

Well, I bought mine at a time when it struck me as unique. To be quite honest, I don’t know if I’d purchase one at this point in my life because it isn’t the most flexible or practical of garments. But it has given me many happy memories.
The first time I wore it was during a January trip in New York. Not only did it keep me warm on those windy, wide avenues, I could wear it everywhere. I wore it to dance class, Broadway shows, and nice restaurants-and felt good about it. I would shove everything into a lightweight tote, and wear it over my shoulder, under the cape. Then I’d cross my arms under the cape, pulling the sides together. Even though I was visiting during one of the city’s worst snowstorms in history, that coat did me a fine service. In fact, one night on the news I caught some midtown scenes, and saw a grey, caped figure walking on 60th street near Central Park. Since I was there earlier, I think it was me. A cape is hard to miss! So the next reason a cape can make a woman feel special is that it really is memorable and recognizable.

And finally there is that quality that is hard to define, but is attempted with the terms “elegance”, “sophistication” or “romance.” Wearing a cape, at certain moments, made me feel that I was from another time, an era where fancy dressing was the norm and not just for special occasions. As I would leave a warm and cozy place, I’d put my hood up and snuggle my arms under my cape, knowing that I was protected against the elements. I could easily imagine when grand ladies wore such attire, and were helped by gentlemen into their horse-drawn carriages awaiting them. I don’t know what it is about capes that bring such a feeling of femininity, but a parka or “car coat” just isn’t the same.

Just the other day I wore my cape for the first time this year and still received compliments on it. Guess what-I’m really not surprised.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Four Things To Note Before You Buy Wool

Contributed via our Submit An Article to page.

1. Heat and water shrink wool.

Fact or fiction?
You know how it is. That wool sweater fitted you perfectly before you put it in the wash. Hot soapy water got rid of the dirt. But now, that sweater is far too tight. Did you gain weight or did the sweater shrink?

The truth is, wool felts, not shrinks.

Wool appears to shrink because of shingles. When wet and exposed to heat, these shingles or scales on the surface of the wool fibers will overlap and lock together, causing the impression of shrinkage. Wool that has been chemically 'descaled' to allow safe machine wash without shrinkage are labelled super wash. Basically, chlorine is used to burn off the scales so it wouldn't appear to shrink.

2. Preshrunk wool can safely be machine washed.

Hey, preshrunk means the wool has already shrunk and can't get smaller, so it can be tossed into the washing machine without fear of shrinkage right?

Back to the technical aspects of wool processing. Preshrinking the wool means wetting the wool and then rolling it along a steel tube and having it pounded with wooden clappers. This causes the fibers to lock up. This is the fulling process which gets the wool in the optimum thickness for warmth, breathability and ability to repel water.

Machine washing the wool is at your own risk as it affects the balance reached in the fulling process. There is a chance it could shrink further in the wash.

3. Wool is scratchy.

That statement is both true and false. It depends on what kind of wool. The shorter fibers, like the ones used in woolens are not usually combed to lie flat. When you think of scratchy wool, army blankets come to mind.

Not all wool is scratchy. Wool fabrics made of longer fibers of combed fabrics are a lot more comfortable.

Merino wool is an interesting type of wool as it is far finer than regular wool. The scales are hence much smaller. The larger scales on regular wool can scratch the skin like barbs. With merino wool, the scales are much smaller, hence merino wool is more comfortable, less scratchy to wear. In fact. It even feels like silk.

4. Wool repels water.

True and false. The outer part of wool repels water. That is true. The inner part, however, absorbs water. Still, compared to cotton, wool is absorbs less moisture from the air, hence wool blankets are far better than water-thirsty cotton blankets in damp places.

You will find wool clothing and home essentials at