Monday, April 28, 2008

A Chair Can Be a Work of Art

Sometimes, home décor items are simply too pretty to use. For example, furniture is meant to be practical, but it’s still difficult to picture an outstanding piece withstanding the onslaughts of daily use. However, every so often, eye-catching furniture appears that people actually want to utilize, even at a high-end price. Inherent properties are aptly put to use by clever design, resulting in the item becoming more than just an ornament.

Take, for example, a chair available by ABC Carpet and Home. The inventor probably aimed for a finished product that was unique, but still perfectly adaptable to almost any environment. He or she also, in all likelihood, wished to provide a safe and user-friendly functionality while blending artistry pleasing to the eye. But, since millions of chairs already fit that description, what would make this particular one stand out from the competition?

The creator thus started by considering the chair’s basic use, with the realization that the best designs allowed easy access and just the right amount of cushioning. The decision was made to offer a wide, square seat and chair back of the equal dimensions, with no arms. This appears to be a wise choice, as such parameters can accommodate individuals of all sizes and shape, while still providing adequate back support. Keeping with a fairly bared-down body, the designer was then faced with question of chair legs. With this preliminary look, a typical base could easily duplicate it the look of a standard office chair, which is not something a high-end user prefers in their environment. The problem was solved with conceptual thinking that became as important as the chair’s upholstery…

The designer opted to repeat the square pattern reflected in the seat and back components, but with a strip of narrow, silver tubing. This became the base that rests on the floor, visually providing the sense of a firm and secure foundation, but without any heaviness or bulk. The lightness is compounded by the fact that the two ends of the tubing, in the rear, reach up and connect to the chair bottom. Lest anyone think this is an engineering impossibility, the designer employed a stroke of brilliance: he or she brought the tubing forward, with a slight leaning to one side, then leaned it back again, before attaching it to the exact middle of the chair bottom. The concept of streamlining, blended with a visual optical illusion, would make anyone rush to sit on it, if only to see if it feels like a “regular” chair.

But that’s not all. What kind of material should a designer use with a chair like this, with a goal towards ultimate versatility? Leather is common; high gloss would designate it to modernism, and wood wouldn’t be fanciful enough to match the playfulness of the base. Here is where true ingenuity took over…The creator researched the world for textures exhibiting durability, color-resistance and a plush, exotic comfort. These traits were found in the ancient art of suzani, a Pakistani style of embroidery done in conjunction with raised needlework. Suzani replicates mosaics in the sense of deep colors inside defined areas, which in turn contribute to a symmetrical pattern. Since its main purpose has been for wall tapestries, suzani was probably never used in a chair until now, but appears to work perfectly. With an eastern motif of flowers and sunbursts on the chair back, and similarly patterned, but different sized striping along the sides, the look is total cohesion. The addition of swirling, abstract designs on the seat commands attention with the boldness that comes from knowing that repetitiveness isn’t always necessary for sophistication. In the colors of wine, gold, burgundy and fuchsia, this chair is bright and elegant, but still a tad whimsical. The end result is not so unusual that most folks would shy away, but different enough to attract those who already own what’s currently manufactured.

To make full use of the creative process, it never hurts to do what this chair designer did: Consider every aspect of the job and question how each component can be made to reach the final goal. The concept behind most designs is usually good; doing research into structure and materials, and combining that knowledge with sensuously appealing touches, will help that concept succeed.

Summer UGGs

Not too long ago, I had the job of writing about UGG footwear for a client. In the course of my research, I was surprised to discover that those warm and comfy boots weren’t developed in the middle of some zero degree climate, but in the heat of a sunny day by, of all people, a surfer.

Now, that threw me for a loop. I still haven’t figured out how a person who practically lives in swim trunks (and not much else) would have thought that fleece boots would work in their lifestyle. But he did, and it apparently worked for many of his surfer pals as well. When this gentleman from Australia came to California, he brought several of his designs with him, and the rest is history. Now, I must mention that UGG’s popularity just didn’t weed its way into the mainstream through the surfing community; it was taken into the skiing communities as well (by some of the surfers, actually) and thus received attention in colder temperatures throughout the world.

Unfortunately, there is some debate going on regarding the use of the name, but it is safe to say that the term “UGG”, at one point, was fairly generic, and referred to the boots worn in the Australian outback by farmers who considered them, well, ugly. Who would have thought that an ugly boot to wear out in the mud and muck would become a hot fashion item, with upscale stores demanding high prices for various styles and colors?

To be quite honest, I’m not sure if UGG showed any summer sandals last year, but I see that they now have 5 designs carried by Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom’s at this time, with probably several other stores to sell them soon. When I first heard of an UGG sandal, my immediate thought was that it, too, would be filled with fleece. Since I read that surfers liked fleece for its sweat-absorbing properties, it seemed to make sense. So, one warm day last week, I dug out a pair of my daughter’s fleece lined clogs and put them on without socks. Then, I went outside for a bit. Well, even I, as someone likes the freedom of strappy little shoes for summer, thought that perhaps fleece-lined sandals wouldn’t be so bad after all. My feet were quite dry, and not anywhere near as hot and sticky as I expected. Just when I thought I could live with that, I happened upon an ad with photos.

Actually, the fleece is only on the part of the sandal that covers a person’s instep, at least on the advertised “Gypsy” thong. Slightly disappointed, I checked further…It was the same on the “Tasmina” suede thong model. The “Cannes” leather ankle strap sandal has a band across the toes, which also is fleece lined. None of these 3 designs use fleece anywhere else. However, the “Nomad” slide does have a round pad of fleece positioned for under the wearer’s heel as well as under the instep panel, but it’s hard to determine the Matala sandal’s fleece, if any. Somewhat frustrated, I then went onto the UGG Australia website and finally found something that I thought truly epitomized my idea of an UGG sandal-a typical rubber flip-flop whose sole was completely covered with fluffy sheepskin; in fact, it’s called the Fluffie. At $30, it’s a little pricey to wear around the house, but hey-it’s an UGG. I guess most people think along the same lines, though, because there is a large notice under this model, limiting purchase to no more than 5 per household. (I am again left shaking my head in wonder…) Yet, the mother of all flip flops has to be their Fluff Flip Flop, a standard style totally covered in sheepskin and available in turquoise, pink, lilac, white and black for $74. Now these should be something that should last through many a summer, but I’d never chance wearing them in the sand!

But, for those who want a lot of soft fur under their tootsies, UGGs does have several ladies’ wedges that appear to be fully lined, and of course many casual styles such as moccasins and ballet flats as well. Someday, I would like to own a pair-maybe next winter when I can really get my use out of them.

Hair Ornaments Aren’t Just for Little Girls

Almost every parent probably thinks their little girl looks especially adorable when she has little bows in her hair. When my daughter was a baby, I’d pull a tuft of hair up on top of her head (like Pebbles from the Flintstones cartoon) and put a baby barrette around it, which always evoked a chorus of “Aaah”’s, even from strangers. When she was a toddler, I’d buy those lovely hair bands covered with lace and and beads, and marveled at the angelic quality it gave her-for the 5 seconds before she pulled them off. By the time she got to school, my little girl had a box filled with hair accessories (we’d call them “hair ornaments”) that ranged from pony tail holders of every thickness and color, to barrettes of every shape, to clips that announced her name. Invariably, most were lost, but, she still has a box of fanciful hair extras, at the ripe old age of 14. I do believe that it doesn’t hurt grown women to add something to their hair every so often, either…within reason.

A few weekends ago, I was watching the old movie, “Amityville Horror”, and had a momentary shock when I saw Margot Kidder, portraying the mother, with a ponytail on either side of her head like a 2-year old. Now, this was filmed in the late 1970’s, but that was still no excuse for stylists to do that to her. (They also put her in clothes resembling private girls’ academies, such as plaid skirts and knee socks, but that’s another story.) Anyway, that look, in my opinion, does nothing to make a grown woman more attractive. One ponytail, on the back on a head, at the nape of the neck, or on one side is OK, but there’s something about that juvenile style on an adult that appears silly, at least to me.

Alas, I am guilty of hair faux pas myself by wearing scrunchies, those fluffy, round circles of material that my daughter tells me have gone out years ago. If so, I ask, then why do they still sell them? Those of you who read this column regularly know that I am a former dance teacher who still takes ballet class twice a week. Although it’s not mandatory that adults wear buns, we still hear about it if our hair happens to be loose, for the reasons I mentioned in my piece here about Clothes for Ballet Class. Well, to my eyes, putting hair up into a bun without anything around it looks rather…naked. Think of all of the pictures or performances you’ve seen of ballerinas; they all have something around their buns-glittery bobby pins, flowers or small snoods (netting that goes the over bun). Throughout the years, I’ve acquired quite a collection, and so I can co-ordinate my scrunchie with my dance skirt of the day (another no-no, but that’s one of those habits I can’t break). Someday, I tell myself, I will evolve past this, but by then I’ll be too old to move anyway, so it’s a moot point.

Anyway, my question to you today is whether you ever wear hair ornaments, or if you think they’re only for young girls and teens. It would be rare to see a 45 year old woman with a ponytail sporting a ribbon-much less a bow-but there is an astounding array of jeweled hair clips and combs that are lovely when used to pull or hold back hair. Once, for a fancy event, I used a comb decorated with pearls to pull back the hair on just one side, and actually felt rather glamorous doing so. (I’ve also mentioned here that I made my own fancy combs and clips when I was younger, and it’s a good project for girly-girls.)

A few years back, Paris Hilton was photographed wearing head bands, and, on her, they looked beautiful, and many high school girls don tiaras for prom night. Most of us probably wouldn’t feel comfortable following these examples, but there are still many hair accessories that may be a nice addition to an outfit if you’re in a fun and adventurous mood. Who knows? You may find others copying you…take it as a compliment.

Do You Prefer Summer or Winter Clothing?

The other day, I was with a friend, and expressed my relief that it’s time for summer clothes. She responsed, "How can you say that? I just dread this time of year!” I figured there was no harm in asking her what she had against summer clothes.

Well, these are my friend’s opinions:
1. Summer cotton shirts, skirts and shorts need ironing, and she does not have the time to iron. But, since she hates wrinkles, she has to go with polyester blends, which are not as comfortable in the heat. Well, I have to agree with her on that. It took me years to realize that nothing is as comfortable as cotton, especially not polyester. It tends to stick to sweaty skin and never looks as crisp, sharp and cool. (Although it does travel well, I’ll grant it that.)

2. Summer clothes are relatively flimsy, which means that they don’t last as long and are prone to rips or seam giving. Hmm…personally, I’ve never had a whole lot of trouble in this area; it seems to me that even long sleeved, heavier tops can pull apart just as easily.

3. Summer clothes are so lightweight that a woman always must worry about which undergarments to wear under them. Yes, I do think that she has a point here. With so much white and pastel, it does make one stop and think before getting dressed. One tip my mother taught me that has never been forgotten is to wear beige underwear under white clothes; the underwear isn't as noticeable. Perhaps it's because the
underwear blend into my skin tone...Try it for yourself so see if it works for you.

4. Summer clothes do not come in flattering colors, in her opinion; she prefers dark, deep colors. Now, this I don’t fully understand, because, with black hair and blue eyes, she should be able to wear variations of every color. I’m sure she’d look just as attractive in turquoise or pink as she does in navy and red, but she’s simply gotten use to a more dramatic wardrobe. Plus, nowadays there is plenty of vibrantly colored summer attire, just as there is pale winter wear.

5. Summer clothes need washed more frequently than winter ones. Yes, I agree about this. I don’t wash my winter corduroys after every wearing, but I do launder my shorts after a full day of sweating in them, sitting on dusty park benches, or throwing them over a chlorine-saturated bathing suit. Plus, with so much wool in winter wear, it is so much easier when they require dry cleaning. And, you don’t see tweed jackets needing any ironing!

6. Finally-the real reason I believe that my friend does not like summer clothes is that they don’t cover as much skin as the winter ones. On this count, I truly feel badly for her or anyone who has this opinion. It’s not good to feel that one must hide under clothes, and it’s probably not healthy, either. The body is meant to get a little sun and air and it truly is pleasant to be unencumbered by layers and feel the wind on one’s body. The problem isn’t that people don’t want to feel bare; they don’t want to look bare because of what others may think.

That is ridiculous, because no one has the perfect body, and rarely are people as critical as we are afraid they may be. The lady in question, like many females, believes that she should lose a few pounds although she looks just fine. She’s not 20, so a desire to wear mini skirts, tube tops and bikinis no longer exists, but she doesn’t need to resemble a model to wear skirts and short sleeved tops. It’s silly to be warm and covered up just for vanity’s sake. So, for everyone who thinks the next few months should be rushed in order to cover up their bodies once more, think again. The human body, especially the female one is beautiful. Relax and realize that. People come in all shapes and sizes, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Summer is a good time to be proud of however you are, even if you’re not stick thin. Really, who cares?

Out, Out Darned Stain

There are memories of Lady MacBeth’s lamentation of blood on her hands that come to mind when a stain suddenly appears on something that I happen to love. Because, as you all know, spots and stains never show up on items of clothing in which you’ve lost interest; they only make an appearance right smack in the front of a piece of apparel that fits perfectly, feels great and allows you to look fetching.

Throughout the years, I’ve tried many products to undo stain damage, and, not surprisingly, found that few, if any, that do what they say they can. Therefore, in this article I’m going to list some natural suggestions for spot and stain removal because perhaps they’ll work better than the vast man-made chemicals that seem to disappoint. This all came about because a few days ago, after washing my daughter’s brand new skirt, I noticed a strange stain a few inches above the front hem. She admitted that it was probably chocolate. Since the material is white with a black design, I figured good old bleach would do the trick, as it often seems to do on cotton, but no such luck. Vinegar, peroxide and heavy detergent did nothing, and placing the skirt in direct sunlight also failed to lighten the stain. Right now I’m trying ammonia, and if that doesn’t work, it looks like I’ll have to add a strip of lace or banding at the bottom to cover it, as re-hemming it would make the skirt slightly longer than her underwear, and that won’t work.

There are always ways to save an item if spot removal just does not work, but it takes a lot of creativity. You can always remodel the outfit by shortening the sleeves if the stain is around the wrist area, or shorten the garment if won’t be too revealing. Some kids don’t mind the addition of an ironed or sewn-on appliqué to cover an unsightly mark, and grown women have been known to use pins for that very purpose. We probably all have an item that we just can’t give up, so we make sure to wear it under something else, like a vest or over-blouse, and we can’t forget the option of dying it. (Although that may create even more stress.)

So, to help all of us in our struggle to get rid of spots and stains, here are a few at-home products, and the types of “accidents” they just may be able to help. My thanks to Mary Findley, of Mary Moppins Cleaning System, who is the source of some of this information:

1. Rubbing Alcohol-(Especially denatured) is good for removing ink.
2. Vinegar/Club Soda-Can be attempted to remove stubborn stains of various origins.
3. Hydrogen Peroxide-½ to 1 cup of hydrogen peroxide per washer load can return whites to brightness and perk up colored cloths. A mix of 50/50 solution of hydrogen peroxide and cool water may help remove cherry popsicle stain. It also does an unbelievable job of removing wine stains.
4. Liquid dish soap-a dab is cheaper and better than pre-wash sprays on dirt, grass and clay stains.
5. Foam Shaving Cream-Good for coffee, coke and mustard, or other stubborn stains-rub it in and wait an hour before rinsing.
6. Natural orange cleaner is good for removing grease; let it set an hour.
7. Toothpaste-Occasionally, it may lighten permanent marker stains.
8. Lemon-Squeeze onto a rust spot, sprinkle salt, and let sit for several hours, keeping the area damp with lemon juice.
9. Hair Spray-This is also good for removing ink stains.
10. Ammonia-Supposedly, it can help with removing chocolate stains.
11. Sunllight-Old Sol has been known to restore white’s brilliance, as well as cause stains to fade.

Plus, as I have already reported here earlier, a new way of removing under-arm stains is to throw an aspirin into the wash with them (but I still have not remembered to try this yet, so let me know if you have and what the outcome was.)
No matter how careful we try to be, stains happen, and it’s truly unfortunate.

Here’s hoping you are able to remove them and continue wearing your favorite clothes for as long as you like.

Monday, April 21, 2008

More About Feng Shui

Last week, I alluded to Feng Shui, an ancient eastern method of living in harmony with the environment and all healthful energies. It’s more than just a new-age fad, and it’s encouraging that it’s being discovered by today’s western society.

There are thousands of books and guides to this art, but research may be daunting at first. That’s because there are several schools of thought on the subject. Feng Shui can focus on compass directions, symbols, object placement, colors, or methods based on the bagua, an 8 sided shape. Most schools combine teachings, as well.

It is believed by those who practice Feng Shui that the area one inhabits can be beneficial or detrimental, and it teaches how to optimize the positive in order for necessary energies for peace and achievement to flow freely. When a person feels unexplained stress, anxiety or inattention when in a particular space, there could be many factors, according to Feng Shui. It could be do to a lot of clutter and disorganization, which distracts from the task at hand, or because the room is either too energizing or relaxing for its main purpose. In Feng Shui, these contrasting modes are referred to as yin and yang.

Yin is the environment for quiet relaxation and contemplation, such as in bedrooms or dens. It is best exemplified with the furniture against walls, low ceilings, carpeting, solid materials, muted colors, and specific lighting. Such décor would not be best for any place geared to quick action, fast results, or with an emphasis on efficiency. Yang is lively and conducive to movement, displayed in freestanding furniture, windows with depth of views, high ceilings, skylights, ceramic or wood floors, patterned material, intense lighting, and bright colors. Placing such amenities in a kitchen would be much better than having them in a restless child’s room. However, the ideal is to combine a bit of the contrasting element in any given area to provide some balance, as in life.

More complicated is the school utilizing compass directions. Basically, the theory is that the strength of each direction is positive for certain aspects of life. Much of this is connected to the favorable compass directions of elements, which, in turn, have anm unrecognizable but natural affect on peoplel. As an example, constructing a bathroom where it would coincide with a water element direction would be favorable for the aspect of life represented by that part of the house. It could also mean placing plants and wicker in “wood” areas, hanging pots in “metal” areas, candles in “fire” areas, and pottery in “earth” areas of rooms to attract good energies (and good fortune). Taken further, this application could involve moving one’s bed to the optimum location for better sleep, or repositioning a desk to face one’s “lucky” direction. These compass methods usually work in conjunction with the bagua, an octagon visualization of one’s home into 8 equal and distinct areas, with each relating to a component in life. Very simply put as an example, one’s “wealth” area (the southeast corner of the house) might happen to be their office. Therefore, to maximize money opportunities, certain decor should be used in the room that support the direction, such as greens, browns, woods and water.

However, the most fun Feng Shui applications are the study of particular items’ placement. Although they may seem to be purely whimsical, all have a basis in either elemental or color connections. Some examples would be: a picture of oranges and peaches in the kitchen, a dragon statue near the kitchen sink, a horse statue in an office, or a “wall of accomplishment” on a person's left as they enter their bedroom.

Feng Shui covers a multitude of other helpful and reasonable décor ideas, such as providing right-angled seating, live plants near computers (to balance electro-magnetic frequencies), creating a path to the hub of the house, and employing means of creating a welcoming exterior. It’s also very practical, like not placing shelves above sitting or sleeping areas, making hallways as light as possible, and not sitting with one’s back to a door.

Reading anything about Feng Shui can’t help but motivate a person to start ridding themselves of anything old and broken, and shifting what’s left to most auspicious locations! Feng Shui is never boring, and is actually quite intriguing. It may just open up many new decor opportunities!

Mosaic Stitching, Better Known as Suzani

Before I describe this lovely concept, I want to get credit to my source for some of this week’s information, the constantly interesting Lucky Magazine. I use several publications to bring you the latest ideas-and to prompt my own creativity-but this is my favorite right now. Pick up a copy if you get the chance. (I’ll provide my opinions about other glossies in the future.)

Anyway, this week I posted a piece about how eyelet has transcended from the linen closet into the clothes closet, and, coincidently, found a similar move of another product. It's a style of embroidery that's combined with raised needlework called suzani, but I like to call it mosaic stitching. With symmetrical patterning and detailed design, that's what it looks like to me.

Suzani originated in Pakistan, and was used in wall hangings and bed covers. It’s hard not to imagine royalty falling in love with the rich, exotic textures and unbelievable colors-which have now made their way into the fashion world of the west.

If you ever had one of those mosaic stone sets as a kid, you may have an appreciation for how special mosaic is. It’s the interplay of varying hues of certain colors within structured spaces, in conjunction with an overall regular design, that makes the result so stunning. I can’t imagine the time spent to create a large item utilizing the suzani process by hand. (If you find what part, if any, of modern day suzani fashion is done by machine, please post a comment here so that we all know.) The prices seem to reflect a high effort of man-hours for the creative process, but probably different companies have different methods of production. The costs range from $5000 for a short jacket to $3000 for a mini skirt (about 15 inches in total length) and $1800 for a purse (hard to tell how large). So, it’s clear that suzani items would be considered a high end luxury for most people.

But I will describe these items for you just in the event that you’ll be able to recognize the effect if you see it used anywhere. It appears to be somewhat heavy-as befitting most tapestry wall hangings, but the jacket, at least, does not appear to have the same coarseness, and when used in a skirt, it doesn’t give a “hard” look. In other words, instead of sticking straight out like you would think a tapestry would, this version seems to mold to the shape of the model’s hips and thighs.

The jacket actually could be considered a button-less sweater, and employs tan, olive, gold and burnt orange in 3-tiered patterning of large circles, smaller sunbursts, and comma-like curlicues. Oscar de la Renta expands on the embellishment even more by adding beading. There is no doubt in my mind that this could be passed down through generations; it seems to know no particular era.

As far as the black, white and red skirt by Derek Lam, it was paired it with a lime green crepe de chine blouse with embroidery on the upper chest and elbows which matches the skirt colors and patterns. Barney’s and Neiman Marcus are offering the set.

Now, every so often, I come across items that seem too pretty to actually use. You know, things that should simply be gazed upon, like statues or other works of art. I love the purse by Escada, but really can’t imagine exposing it to the elements, plopping it down on a theater floor, or stuffing my kid’s snack inside. But, if I had unlimited funds and wanted a showpiece handbag to brighten a monotone ensemble, I’d pick this one from Italy. It’s described as using the colors of “fuschia and camel”, but that doesn’t do it justice. The bag has a beige center, in which is a flower-like design of orange and wine, surrounded by swirls, curlicues and triangles in more of the same colors. This square of beige is framed by a band of tan (I guess that’s the camel), then finished off with another frame around the purse edge, which utilizes a beige flowers with wine centers, edged with orange, and set against a wine background, peppered with dots of more beige.

Check it out-suzani is magnifico!

If Your Problem Is…Figure Flaws

OK, ladies, I’ve decided to dedicate one whole article to camouflaging figure flaws with different types of styles. Most of you have probably seen such pieces in any number of magazines-or have been employing them instinctively for years-but for those who’d like a refresher, here goes:

1. If your problem is a lean figure-without a waist-gaining one is a matter of illusion. Dresses with wide middles or distinct waistbands are definitely best at providing definition, especially if the material poufs out underneath due to fabric type or pleating over the hips. Wearing a loose blouse tucked into pants or skirt and cinched with an extra wide belt also creates the look of an hourglass shape (more so if the skirt is full through the hips, like a tulip style). You can also wear jackets with vertical darts or seams, buttoned across your middle, to suddenly gain added curves.

2. If your problem is self consciousness about displaying a Marilyn Monroe-type hourglass figure at work, try wearing any V-neck top that's not deep enough to show
cleavage, or a cardigan buttoned halfway up with a tank top underneath, or any silky, draping blouse. (The first narrows the appearance of the upper torso, and the other two de-emphasize the bosom’s size.) Also, high waist skirts and dresses raise the focus higher and away from the hip area.

3. If your problem is having larger thighs than you’d like, wear unique tops that draw the eye upward, while staying away from any slacks made from any material that stretch and strain against your legs. Pants, skirts, or dresses with a high waist will appear to counterbalance any noticeable fullness in the thighs, again drawing attention higher. Any bottom, actually, that’s full and loose will provide coverage in that area, and if one’s thinner arms and legs are exposed, the effect is one of overall slimness.

4. If your problem is a large chest, you may think that it makes the rest of your body look large. Once again, a billowy blouse with loose material does wonders. When choosing necklaces, opt for those that hang almost to the waist instead of those with pendants that hit above the bust. Surprisingly, empire waists may also help in de-emphasizing the bust, but it depends upon the material or pattern-so be sure to try on in front of 3-way mirrors. You can also try interesting necklines that aren’t as low as cleavage) and various short sleeve styles to move the focus higher towards your face. Another option is ¾ length sleeves, which draw attention to a slim waistline.

5. If your problem is your shoulders, there are some pretty easy fixes. Should you think your shoulders are too narrow, try a summer top with racer-back straps, as these are closer to the neck than normal straps on tanks or sun dresses and will give the illusion of wider shoulders. Thin spaghetti straps and cap sleeves may also make the shoulder area appear wider. With wide shoulders, one way to de-emphasize them is to wear one-shouldered apparel. A halter may also help, depending on the thickness of the material that will be tied around the neck.

6. If your problem is your upper arms, one way to hide them may be with sleeves referred to as “batwings”, where the top is like a triangle, with the sleeve fabric connected to the material around the top’s hem, in the waist area. (Although it seems dramatic for normal daytime use, many elegant evening gowns utilize a similar version.) More practical ideas may be simply wear long sleeve blouses, rolled up from the cuffs, or any ¾ sleeve.

7. If your problem is your legs, there are 3 solutions. First, wear light hose, if your legs are too thin, and dark hose if your legs appear too heavy. Second, slightly shorter dresses and skirts will help thin legs appear meatier, due to the extra fleshiness of most gal’s thighs. But, knee length or slightly longer skirts may help the gal with heavier legs. Third, be careful of footwear: ankle straps or thick strapping up the instep can make the leg area above look thin, but a bare instep and lower heel tends to add weight to the legs. Finally, don’t forget the option of capris or cropped pants instead of shorts, as well as the wide array of feminine, longer skirts.

Oversized Eyelet-Fashion Newbie

If you currently don’t own anything with eyelet, I bet your mother or grandmother might. For those whose mind is blanking, it is material-usually cotton-that has a series of holes in an even pattern. It’s not as airy or delicate as lace, and each little hole is reinforced around the edges. Right now, it’s often used on the ends of flat sheets, on the part that goes at the top of bed and folded over under the pillow. It definitely imparts a sense of femininity, so its uses are fairly limited. Years ago, it was seen in white doilies, those furniture coverings to protect dresser tops or night stands, and eyelet still lends a touch of old-world charm to bedrooms.

Well, it appears that eyelet has been rediscovered by fashion designers and put to use in some of the newest spring styles. As I was flipping through my “research” papers the other day, I picked up the most recent Lucky magazine and noticed a page dedicated to this concept. One of the aspects of today’s eyelet is that it's not a throwback to the small holes of the past, but embraces oversized openings. In my opinion, this sort of coincides with clearly making a statement of “I’ve arrived.” Not content to be a small asymetrical pattern of holes that are merely a few notches up from lace, eyelet of 2008 demands to be noticed, which makes its placement and pattern more intriguing than ever.

To give you some ideas of how it is now used, here are seven ways oversized eyelet appears to work well when it’s taken off furniture and bed linens and moved into closets:

1. Picture a peasant blouse, with the traditional gathered neckline and waist. Yet, instead of the bottom just puffing out into a standard hem, the edge appears wavy, due to the eyelet pattern that extends ¾ of the way up towards the waistband. The focus, then, would be around a gal’s midsection, not only streamlining her waist but camouflaging her hips with a loose draping that allows the colors of her skirt or pants to show through.

2. Think of a cute little A-line skirt, but add a tier of extra material halfway down. On this, as well as on the bottom layer, imagine a series of eyelet holes about 5 inches high in a flowery pattern, all around. It would be quite fun for casual wear and flirty enough for nights. To work the best, though, it should be above the knees and worn with a very plain top, so the emphasis is on its intricacy.

3. Although not entirely practical enough for winter wear, an eyelet scarf consisting of nothing buy eyelet patterning would add pizzazz to any outfit. It may be just the thing for early fall days, when it’s not really needed for warmth, but would impart interest to an otherwise boring jacket or sweater.

4. One of the featured items in the layout was a longer tunic (or short mini dress) that utilized a circular pattern of eyelet over the entire front and down its ¾ length sleeves. The repetitiveness was relieved by wide bands of matching material around the neck, cuffs, hem, and front of the garment. This is the kind of thing that, if fully lined, would be wonderful for occasions that require more than jeans and a tank, but not fancy enough for a dress.

5. Probably my least favorite item was a silk blouse that was entirely done in an eyelet pattern of circles. Perhaps because it reminded me of something a school marm would wear, I couldn’t get excited about this particular choice. However, there’s no denying that it would garner more attention than a plain polyester blouse of similar design.

6. Last but not least was a dress that utilized eyelet stitching only along its wide, attached collar (almost a boat style, but extending down onto the shoulders). What made the positioning intriguing is that the bottom half of the eyelet pattern showed the white of the dress through the holes, while the upper half showed the tanned skin through the holes.

Clearly, eyelet adds interest in a way that nothing else can. It certainly has evolved from just protecting furniture and rightfully owns a place in fashion.

How to Sew a Simple Skirt-Without a Pattern

Now, don’t share this with any tailor or home-ec teacher, but I’m going to give you a quick and easy way to whip up a casual skirt that I got from a book many years ago. It was written by a designer who pared down steps involved with sewing to make the whole process more user-friendly than the experts would have us believe. She felt that the pro’s were pro’s because they had the time (and were paid) to do detailed work, but the details overwhelmed the average person. (Even so-called easy patterns still demand many steps that can be eliminated.) This is not to say that your garment will have the same quality as one done by a seamstress or one that is store bought, but it will suffice. Actually, it's perfect if you’re going someplace fun and casual and want something unique not found in stores…like something already in your closet, but in a different color, pattern, or material. It is really much easier than anyone would think to make a skirt by using an existing one as a pattern. Plus, it shouldn’t take more than one evening, easily done while listening to television.

First, visit a fabric store to see what grabs your attention; you probably will need only about ¾ yard of material that’s 45” wide for a shorter skirt-hold it to see if it will be long enough, using the 45” wide as the part that will go around your waist. (For the most part, cottons, denims, linens and blends work better than silky fabrics like knits or polyesters.)

Double the fabric length wise and width-wise, then lay on a firm surface. Turn a favorite skirt inside out and fold in half, width- wise, laying its length-wise fold along the length-wise fold of the fabric, about 3 inches of space down from the top-this will be flipped over for the waist band. Pin the existing skirt in place, all the way through. Now what’s needed is to cut along the side seam of the existing skirt, about 2” from it, all the way down. (Cutting right next to it will make the skirt too tight; the 2” are needed for seam allowance.) If you want it to be the same length as the existing skirt, cut across to the fold, about 2” away from the existing skirt hem as well. Last, cut open the top fold of the material to free the front and back.

Next, laying the “right”, or darker sides together, pin the 2 side seams 1 ½” inches or so from the edge, all the way down. Turn right side out and try on to see if it needs to be tighter or looser and thus re-pinned again, evenly for both seams. If it’s OK, turn inside out again, sew with a machine, and remove pins. Then, spread the seams open so the material edges lay flat against the skirt; a water spritzer and hand smoothing should suffice to keep them flat for the next step. Fold down 2” from the top around the skirt and pin for the waistband casing, keeping the seams open. Do the same for the hem. Sew the hem about ¾” from the edge and the waist about 2” from the edge, leaving an opening above each of the side seams. (This is where you’ll get the waistband elastic in.) Finally, push in a strip of elastic that’s at least 6 inches longer than your waist is around, and continue pushing (scrunching material with both hands to move it along) until it’s totally through and you can knot it. (Don’t knot it too much or it will be too hard to adjust if need be.) Pull the waistband from both sides so that the elastic gets distributed evenly around the waist, and you’re done.

This skirt should obviously be worn with an over blouse to hide the waistband; if you like to wear skirts lower on the hips, use more elastic than your waist measurement would ordinarily demand. Also, it will be easier to handle the elastic if you use tweezers to help pull it once it gets within 4 inches or so of each of the openings above the side seams.

It’s not haute couture, but for a young girl or whimsical wearing, this works just fine. Good luck!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Simply Sensuous, Simply Vera

Yesterday I stopped in our local Kohl’s Department store for my daughter to browse in the Junior Department. I had to make a decision where I could best spend the next 20 minutes, and luckily, chose Purses.

If you’ve been reading my column since January, you may remember that I have been on a quest to find a special handbag-or shoulder bag. As of this date, I actually have bought a new summer straw bag that meets a good many of my needs, but still haven’t found the purse that I could consider absolutely perfect. By this point, if I have any free time in a store, it’s habit that I head directly into the purse section. A few weeks ago, I spent 3 hours in one day checking out bags in 2 different shopping areas; I was overwhelmed, to say the least. Wilson’s Leather had some gorgeous bags (albeit weighed down with lots of accoutrements) and Macy’s had what appeared to be hundreds, but none offered the particular features for which I search. Anyway, I think I’m getting closer by finding Vera Wang’s Simply Vera line.

Her purses definitely come closest to meeting my needs, although they still don’t have the organizational departments I want. But, at this point, I’m beginning to believe that what I want does not exist, so it may be that Fate is telling me to ratchet down my aspirations and go with something that may be better. In any event, I couldn’t allow my findings to go unshared. Let me tell you a little about Ms. Wang’s new spring collection, and why I just adore it.

First, as crazy as this may sound, her purses are sensuous. Yep, it sounds strange even as I type it, but “sensuous”, “touchable”, “soft”, or any other word that describes a force that makes you want to reach out and caress something would suffice. Perhaps it’s that women must constantly hang onto our bags, subconsciously we want the feeling to be comforting. Or maybe it’s that touching something silky evokes a luxurious sense, resulting in our feeling special…all I know is that I ran my fingers over each one of her bags, entranced. The leathers were exceptionally rich, and the man-made materials were just as luscious. She had a few canvas models that were a few steps up from the standard dry, itchy canvas and even her silky-finished styles defied competition by offering more than meets the eye. (One texture I’ve never even seen before, while others were also trimmed in the softest patent leather imaginable.)

The shapes and forms of her bags, in my humble opinion, are attractive and user-friendly, and some of the straps even seemed to be designed specifically for easy carrying. None appeared to resemble small duffels or suitcases, complete with chains and buckles; no, she strived and achieved simple elegance without stuffiness. But, any gal of any age would probably find a style they like, because none are overly girly-girlish, super sporty, or old fashioned. You could carry one of Simply Vera, Vera Wang’s purses anywhere without appearing either over or under-accessorized, and I like that. Another thing I like is that she’s confident enough to not emphasize her name all over her merchandise. (I never buy any such item; if a company wants to do such blatant advertising, let them pay me instead of the other way around.) On the material bags, her logo is the same color as the main body of the bag, and on the leather versions, I saw it once on the clasp. Understating is a good thing. What tickled me, too, was the way the magnets were used-one particular style, if held by both handles, slid open with gentle pressure outward, and snapped closed by just releasing the hold slightly. No chance of stuff falling out or fighting to get the thing open and I’ve a feeling that craftsmanship would last for the life of the product.

I also love that her bags are fairly lightweight, come in various sizes, and at prices that are within the range of an average working gal’s budget. During a 30-50% sale, the bags I saw ranged from around $50 to $100, but the difference between Vera Wang bags and almost all others of the same price is that Simply Vera seems to be simply better.

How Does One Look Like a Star?

OK-I admit it; I’m a huge “American Idol” TV show fan. (For those of you not familiar with it or the UK version, it’s a national singing competition, where viewers call in to vote for favorites. Every week, the least-voted-for contestant is gone. The winner is the one left after 16 weeks of whittling down from 24 semi-finalists judges select after thousands of auditions.) I haven’t missed one episode in 4 seasons, and that says something.

Anyway, last week, the irascible (and brutally honest) judge Simon Cowell stated that one gal should have a talk with “whoever is dressing” her because she wasn’t looking like a star. It’s at times like those I wonder if there is a quota of negative comments for every show…if not over song choice, execution, movement, choice of arrangement or emotional effort, then appearance. For the most part, the contestants don’t try to look like “stars” (especially the guys) and yet very little is mentioned. Occasionally, when someone does something noticeably different with their hair, they’ll receive acknowledgement, more in the line of Simon referring to it as “crazy hair”. Perhaps three times during the entire run of the season will a male contestant receive such comments, unless he wears something rather uncommon, like an orange or white suit. Every so often, someone will wear a hat or neck scarf, but they make it through unscathed.

In season 3, Jasmine Trias from Hawaii consistently wore a flower behind her ear as homage to her ethnicity (and marital status), and I’ve vague recollections of her hearing that it was becoming too predictable. This leads me to wonder how an older teen or early 20 something can handle being critiqued by over 30 million people every week. Needing to sound perfect and unique every week must be enormously stressful, and clothes probably take a back seat. The contestants don’t have the luxury of personal assistants yet, but are expected to keep changing their image so as to not get “old” (and never, ever old-looking) while supposedly retaining “who they are.” Who the heck can do that? One can be accused of either being phony or boring…

So, I asked myself, how could these average young folks make the transition from waitresses and carpet cleaners in December to looking like stars in February? And furthermore, do they have guidance? American Idol takes them shopping every week for them to choose their clothes-but does anyone advise them on color, style, or star-quotient?

Now, I’ve skimmed style sites and fashion publications, and tried to ascertain star quality. (It’s is decidedly different from celebrity quality, which apparently has no standards). It seems to be an overall level of confidence in posture, mannerisms, and, of course, dress. Think Diana Ross or Nicole Kidman. Can you imagine them slouching around and not exuding star quality, even in sweats? I can only ascribe it to choosing striking attire, in color or line, and always flattering to their figure-with just a bit of suggestion. Shiny, glittery, luxurious materials that catch the light and flow with the gal’s movements would probably be other attributes. Add attention-getting jewelry and, in my opinion, she starts looking like she could be famous. It doesn’t seem that anything baggy or bland offers the image to which Simon may be referring. Furthermore, hair does seem to make a difference as well. Obviously, fancier clothes need fancier hair. This is the one area women seem to have it easier than men when it comes to altering their image slightly.

It’s always nice when the judges make positive statements about contestant’s appearances, but if the very first thing they say is “You look great”, it’s usually followed with something unflattering. The whole experience has to be the most daunting that these folks will ever face. Those who are quick to criticize contestants obviously can’t imagine what the pressure must be like.

Would any of us trade our humdrum lives for that chance? You bet I would-if I was 20 again and could actually sing. And, I’d try to look like a star every chance I got. Do you think there’s a monetary limit for how much contestants can spend every week on clothes?

Fashion on Auto Pilot

It occurred to me the other day that a good deal of our personal fashion and beauty sense runs on autopilot, where we simply go through the motions without having to consider them.

What got me thinking along these lines was that it struck me as somewhat humorous that I have a set pattern when I log onto my computer at 7 AM each day. First, I check my email (including the bulk stuff, since my computer never knows where to send what), then general news, celebrity news, statistics on my article views, job ads, then finally the site where I claim jobs. (I do my actual writing later in the morning, when I’m fully awake.) Anyway, I made a conscious effort to track my procedures along the line of daily preparation as well, and found that I have a set pattern there, too. (I guess all those years of trying to hone the most efficient method of getting a lot done in a little amount of time has finally paid off; I’m now robotic.)

From the hands that I use to wash, grab, and apply those numerous man-made chemicals, to the actual step by step process of “getting ready”, it’s fairly routine on a daily basis. That’s good, because I can notice my stress level rise when I’m getting ready for fancy occasions or even casual social events with those I don’t often see. The extra steps I take for those events tend to throw me off schedule. Do you have the same problem?

Now, for women, there are usually some limitations as to how and when they do things. For example, some clothes can’t be pulled over certain hairstyles, so they must get dressed first, which can change the order in which they may usually do makeup. If any product is used that’s supposed to dry before applying another, then they need to allow time, which means jumping from one aspect of preparation to another. If teeth whitener, nail polish, eye drops or a multitude of other toiletries are also desired, they need to be fit into a schedule at just the right time so the gal can work around them. That’s not even including the fact that some makeup can’t go on before other makeup, or that jewelry and shoes need to go on last because those items almost always need changed. On top of all of this, if there’s a man nearby, he usually voices something along the line of, “What takes you so long? I took a shower, threw my clothes on, and I’m ready to go.” (Have you noticed that hostility makes everything worse?)

It’s not just regular preparation that operates on automatic; it’s also our fashion decisions. You know-the ones that have been engrained in us from the age of about 16 that are so difficult to change. When I try to help my teenage daughter with an outfit, and make the great mistake of suggesting items that seem to go together (in my eyes, anyway) she’ll huff that “things aren’t supposed to match.” So I stare at the purple bracelet she wears with the camouflage skirt and red and black top and tell myself it doesn’t really matter in the big picture of life anyway. Without a moment’s hesitation, I’ll remove socks before donning flats, choose solid tops for patterned bottoms (and vice versa) and make sure that I’m not wearing colored underwear under white clothes, because those are my thought patterns after so many years. It’s been only recently that I haven’t been as bothered by combinations I’ve always found jarring, and I think that shows some broadening of views, or at least a reluctant acceptance of today’s definition of coordination. It’s kind of nice that we’re not too bound by a lot of fashion rules anymore.

Are there certain standards to which you find yourself adhering, even if there’s no real reason? In my mother’s generation, women never wore white shoes before Memorial Day or after Labor Day and usually matched their shoes to their purses. In my grandmother’s time, ladies rarely left home without gloves and hats. They probably never thought twice about any of that, either. I wonder what will become habitual thinking when it comes to fashion for the teenagers of today…


A Taboo against Women’s Attention-Getting Clothes

In a few past articles here at Fashion Blog, I’ve referred to clothing that was considered inappropriate by fashion experts for a number of reasons. Usually, it referred to showing an excess amount of skin (either bare or through transparent material or lace), or not wearing proper undergarments. These instances may or may not have been cases of the wearer consciously choosing to be attention-striving; she may simply think she looks good, or sexy. (Either that or she found herself without clean undergarments and decided what-the-heck.) But this particular article isn’t going to debate that issue; this one is going to be focused on clothes that are worn for the specific intent of drawing attention to oneself-along with a few reasons why that’s never a good idea.

There are probably equal reasons: what the stores actually offer and how the wearer chooses to wear what they have. I’m not sure which party is more guilty, but if pressed, I’d go with the individual, because the final choice for wearing or buying is always up to her.

Some of those t-shirts with sayings often cross the line from flirty to suggestive, with a few going all the way to obscene. Some souvenir shops are culprits of such tacky attire, but, with online resources, it’s easy to find almost anything printed across a person’s chest. Probably the worst I’ve ever seen was a long shirt worn by a fairly young teenage girl on a school picnic at a local amusement park. It had the saying “There it is” with an arrow pointing to her crotch. Considering that the park has a huge sign saying that offensive clothing was not permitted, it’s obviously a mistake that this chick slipped past the guards. (And how could a parent let a young girl buy, let alone wear that?) Even kids who couldn’t read couldn’t help but notice that arrow and where it led. I wondered if broadcasting herself like that resulted in repercussions, like a bad reputation or failure to find a respectful boyfriend. That kind of t-shirt, along with many other blatant clothing and accessories, seems to be a pitiful cry for attention that a gal doesn’t think she can get by her personality or brains.

Years ago, I remember seeing gals wearing different socks and/or different shoes. That is something else I never really got. After all, you buy that stuff in pairs to begin with, so, unless you’ve lost a mate and have absolutely nothing else available, purposely mixing things up is akin to shouting “look at me”. I’ve vague recollections of a famous actress becoming known for doing this (but I don’t wish to name her in case my memory is failing me) and it baffled me because this gal was more famous and beautiful than the majority of A list celebs, so it wasn’t that she needed more attention. I guess it was sort of a “creative” phase that she’d hoped would become her trademark, but, again, someone who is really confident should need not to resort to any kind of trademark, should they?

There have been some truly ugly dresses worn by famous people to award ceremonies or fundraisers, and they inevitably make the lists of “worst dressed”, if not for the year, then for the week. The majority of these are yelling out for attention, albeit negative. Many have totally contrasting tops and bottoms-perhaps a very businesslike or prim top, and a huge, fluffy, frilly bottom. Or, they may be at far ends of the spectrum in terms of materials, patterns or colors. They could possess dizzying asymmetrical lines. A lot of times, feathers are involved.

Such clothes do nothing to enhance a woman’s figure or allure. How can a gal feel comfortable when she obviously looks so different from everyone else, and not necessarily due to her natural beauty or an outfit that flatters her innate qualities? She has to know that it’s the clothes generating attention, and that’s cheating. It’s cheating herself of the attention that she deserves by being more true to herself and buying into the idea that any publicity is better than none. It’s not. Nor is it ever good to be noticed in a bad way-regardless of what women on the “worst dressed” lists say.

Alternative Uses for Sheets, Drapes and Tablecloths

If you’ve never realized that all sheets, drapes (and even tablecloths) are just pieces of cloth that can serve your needs in unique ways, you’ve probably never looked at them creatively. If you ever find yourself stumped with a décor problem, you may find the answer right in your linen closet.

Throughout the years, I’ve found numerous uses for these items, and have actually received compliments from folks who’ve said to the effect that the ideas were “clever”. Actually, I wasn’t trying to “clever”; I just wanted either color or style co-ordination, and sheets, drapes and tablecloths often provided enough material.

Just today I was thinking about my master bedroom, and realized that changes were needed. Since I started researching Feng Shui, I’ve been learning a lot about the use of color. My last article here on Décor Blog touched on Dorothy Draper’s view that colors should be clear and bright (actually copying the coordination of nature) and I’ve followed her advice for years. However, I misunderstood when it came to my master bedroom. I have wall to wall carpeting in fire engine red, with white walls, white bedspread, gold curtains, and a king size wall unit in medium cherry wood with gold, oriental etchings-in addition to a huge headboard mirror and windows on 2 sides. Yikes-talk about bright! No wonder I’d had problems sleeping; according to Feng Shui, the room is filled with yang energy (exciting and energizing), which is definitely not conducive to rest. The way to remedy it is to ground it with more yin energy to promote restfulness and an environment to slow down. This is achieved with cushioning, fabrics, soft textures, more subdued colors, more filling of space, fewer sharp shapes (such as triangles, diamonds or pyramids) and a slew of other aspects (which I’ll save for a Feng Shui article).

So, I grabbed extra gold curtains and folded one to fit on the headboard ledge, softening not only the appearance of bare wood but the mirror image of it. The other I used to cover my armoir. Then I closed all 3 window curtains slightly to diffuse some of the bright light. I removed all items with red, such as a flower arrangement and a few decorative boxes. Then I pulled out a double sized comforter in dark blue and gold and threw it over the spread. Since it was part of a set, I then took the fitted matching sheet and covered my sitting chair with it. One extra pillow case covered a square pillow which then was placed in the middle of the bed, and the other was folded, and placed on top of the gold headboard covering. (On top of that, I added some gold knickknacks previously in another room.) Last, I took the flat matching sheet and covered a side table, placing on it two pairs of gold candelsticks with white candles, and now the room feels more low-toned and softer, but still cohesive. (Feng Shui suggests using pairs of items in a couple's bedroom, instead of singles or trios.) All I need is either a matching navy rug or one with blue and gold to tone down the expanse of red rug and I’ll be set.

In the past, I’ve taken lovely, pastel flowered sheets, drapes or curtains and draped them over small nails above a bed as wall hangings. I’ve utilized pillow cases as decorator pillow covers against my daughter’s white spread, and plain colored sheets as swags over patterned drapes. Any of these cloths can also be table top coverings when the room needed a bit more color. In fact, for Easter, I folded a bright yellow sheet into a diamond shape, placed it in the middle of an ivory table cloth, and set upon it a centerpiece arrangement of small baskets of yellow daffodils and white carnations.

Even furniture covers can be used once you tire of their original use. They’re large enough that they can be folded to cover large spaces (such as a computer workstation) or used for chair cushions, curtains, or any of the uses mentioned above.

Let this be not only a motivation to take a good look at possible uses of your existing linens, and as a reminder to not throw such good material away too soon-you never know when it will come in handy.

Monday, April 7, 2008

A Designer Ahead of Her Time

Have you ever heard of Dorothy Draper? She was a well-known designer who styled many New York establishments in the mid twentieth century, and who is probably most famous for her renovation of the Greenbrier in West Virginia. Even though she did most of her work over 30 years ago, her concepts are still as fresh and exciting as they were when first introduced. Let me share with you my reactions to Ms. Draper’s work; it may just motivate you to do some research yourself to see if you can implement some of her ideas in your own space.

Years back I had the privilege of visiting the Greenbrier with my husband, who was there for a business seminar. Not having ever visited West Virginia, I imagined a homey, country-setting type of lodge, especially because the first night we were invited to a “Hoe Down Square Dance” in one of the meeting rooms. I never expected to pull up to what looked like a slightly smaller version of the nation’s White House, complete with 5 story columns stretching across the front, with carved archways and formal gardens gracing the front lawn. Little did I know I “ain’t seen nothing yet.”

The inside of the Greenbrier literally took my breath away. I’d traipse from room to room in awe, camera in hand, mesmerized with the décor. At some point, I heard the story of Dorothy Draper and became a fan. When I returned home, it so happened I visited a small town library and came across a book she had written in 1965 entitled “365 Shortcuts to Home Decorating”, and signed it out immediately. When my 3 weeks were up, I returned and asked if I could buy it from them. That stumped the clerks; apparently no one had ever asked them that before. The consensus was that I could buy it, once they figured out what to charge. I think I got it for a couple of dollars, but it’s worth about 25 times that, at least to me. I’m not a book collector, and seldom read anything more than once, but I’ve read this at least 4 times, and still refer to it.

The Greenbrier is actually a very high end, luxury resort that was once the summer getaway of the rich and famous. It was built around white sulphur springs (the city is actually named that) that supposedly had healing properties. Allow me to describe some of the rooms:

Imagine two double beds with snow white spreads against a wallpaper of white background with clumps of red flowers and lots of green leaves. The same green is seen in the carpeting and one quilt on each bed, and the same tone of red is seen in another quilt on each bed as well. There are two benches and one chair cushioned in white upholstery, with one bright red, cushy armchair.

A suite’s sitting room is outfitted with a bright red rug and a matching, curved sofa. On this red sofa sit pillows in black and white pattern. A black lacquered coffee table separates the couch from a blue divan with red pillows, while 2 armchairs upholstered in red, blue, white and yellow sit between the couches. Against the muted navy wallpaper sits a white armchair and anther black lacquered one, while white sheers and the same red, blue, white and yellow chair pattern is found in drape material. In the middle of the coffee table sits a huge arrangement of mixed yellow flowers.

Or, imagine an entryway with oversized black and white checkerboard flooring tiles, up against white waist coating, topped by 7 feet of bright red wallpaper. The doors, thresholds, crown molding and ceiling are all glistening white. A bench upholstered in yellow satin, and a small chandelier above a cherry wood side table adds to the grandeur.

You can see that one of Ms. Draper’s trademarks is to offer surprising mixes of colors that are clear, strong, and exactly matching or contrasting. Over the next few weeks I’ll bring more of her concepts to you through this site (along with others, of course!) so that you can see for yourself that classic decorating concepts will always stand the test of time.

Planning Your Travel Wardrobe

Several weeks ago, I posted a piece here about “Clothes that Worked for Vegas”. This article will help in planning a satisfactory travel wardrobe when away from home.

Some folks enjoy a trip more if they present a certain image of fitting in, while others can’t enjoy anything if they’re not completely comfortable. However, most of us want a compromise of both.

So, the first step is to create a diagram of blocks for each day of your trip, with each divided into 2 sections for day and night. In each block, write your planned itinerary, or at least what you think you’ll be doing. Second, write down your chosen outfit on each day, remembering that it is OK to wear the same pair of slacks, skirts or shorts on 2 different days. (Obviously, different tops each day will keep you looking and feeling fresh.) Do the same for nights. If you will be visiting someplace where casual clothes are the norm day and night, you may wish to wear something one evening and then wear the items again during daytime. The goal is to get as many looks from as few pieces as possible for efficient packing, but the trick is to feel good with what you’ll be wearing at all times so you’re not self conscious, uncomfortable, or feeling out of place.

Note shoes for your expected plans, in other words, comfortable walking shoes or fancier dress shoes. Once you find that you may only be using a certain pair of sandals once, you may decide they’re not worth taking, which means you’ll need to rethink your plan. If you have a good deal of suitcase availability-and you’ll have porters carrying your bags consistently-it’s no problem to take 7 pairs of shoes for 7 days; however, most of us have to schlep our stuff at least short distances, and the less we have to worry about, the better.

The next step is to jot on your diagram, the extras you’ll need with every outfit. (Men have this part way easier than women.) Belts, socks, hose, jewelry, scarves, hair ornaments, and purses should be included. When that list is made, see if there are pieces that can do double duty to cut down on these accessories. Now it’s time to consider underwear, swimwear, and sleepwear. (This is a good point to try to tough it out and replace bedroom slippers with pool flip flops, and otherwise streamline your choices.) If it’s winter and you’re heading towards the cold, don’t forget gloves, scarf, hat or boots, and a coat that can be easily worn everywhere. (In other words, ask whether your down-filled jacket will take you to a fancy restaurant.) However, if athletic activities beckon, it’s a good idea to put gear in a separate bag: clothes, shoes, equipment, eye protection, water bottles, etc.) Finally, list the rest of your essentials so that you don’t overlook even those. Grooming aids, hair products, hair curler/brush/comb, sunscreen, lotion/cologne, medication/vitamins, map, reading material, battery chargers, sunglasses, eye needs such as glasses or contact lens equipment, cosmetics, money, credit cards, checkbook, phone, and any other special necessity or desire. While packing, cross each item off the list as you put it in your bag, and try not to take anything back out.

Here are a few other, non-fashion minded tips to keep in mind: Try to find one compartmentalized bag for personal items that can be placed right into the hotel bathroom. Sections that can hold items such as tweezers, emery boards, pins, etc. keep small things separate, while making it easy to grab bottles. Remember that carrying anything heavy increases fatigue, so lighten your load, and try nylon shoulder bags if you’ll be out for the whole day. (Bags with organizational departments can save a good deal of search time and should be chosen over large, hobo-type totes, where everything gets jumbled together.) Last, don’t forget favorite, small snacks. You’ll be glad you have them.

When you get to your destination and find that every outfit is perfectly coordinated and appropriate for the occasion, you’ll agree that a little organized planning makes vacation even better. You’ll have exactly what you need to look and feel good, without overpacking.

Clothes for Ballet Class

Last month, I posted suggestions for modern jazz, modern dance, and yoga class clothing. Now I’ll give equal time to ballet. To those asking why any adult female would start, or return to, a discipline geared to teenagers or professionals in their 20’s, the answer is simple-it’s the most challenging physical activity. To succeed is to experience an incomparable sense of fulfillment. Plus, it’s good for both the inside and the outside of one’s body.

Some cities offer studio-based adult classes; those that don’t may allow a beginner to take with children. But, most adults feel better among other adults, even if the age range is vast. (When everyone is struggling to achieve a perfect pirouette, 20 year olds and 40 somethings have a lot in common.) However, college or universities offering a dance program and community classes at nights should be the first choice. The training may be better geared to adult’s needs. But, both venues will have some sort of dress code.

Ballet attire is the way it is for many reasons. Teachers need to see beginning students’ legs, especially knees. That’s impossible with thick leg warmers, sweats, jazz pants, or warm-up capris. Pink tights allow the working of the muscles to be witnessed, and if the color is close to the ballet slippers, the line of the leg appears longer. (But, very rarely will any studio prohibit an adult from wearing black tights.)

Today’s lovely colors, fabrics and designs will ensure that anyone can find a flattering leotard. Although professional academies often insist on traditional black, adults seldom face such rules-but many opt for black because it’s slimming. A good sales gal in a dancewear shop can recommend the right neckline, style (high waist, wrap, etc.), straps, and thigh cut for one’s particular body to increase confidence. Yet, most adults still feel a bit naked with so much of their figure showing. This is where short, gauzy dance skirts are a lifesaver, and they make everyone feel beautiful. Unlike a bathing suit, in which a woman just walks, tans or floats around with her body underwater, a dancer moves every part of her body in a leotard-a lot-while being closely watched. So, it’s important that it fits perfectly, and nothing gets exposed. Wearing little dance sweaters or shrugs is possible, but eventually they become hot and uncomfortable. Some ladies may wear non-ballet clothing such as t-shirts or sweatshirts, but usually they are experienced dancers and will shed layers as they feel specific muscles warm.

Hair is worn up and secured (bun, pony tail, French braid or short hair held back with a band) to keep it from whipping around during turns and to elongate the line of the neck, keeping emphasis on posture and artistic movement. Students must make sure that clips, pins, hair ornaments and earrings are secured so they don’t fall off and pose a slipping hazard.

Flat ballet shoes (versus pointe shoes, which adult beginners will not be using) come in either canvas or leather. Dancers should visit a dance supply store and try on several styles to see which brand and model are the best for their feet. The arch, instep, toe length and heel width must all be properly accommodated in order to support and provide balance during the demands of class. After finding the right shoe, students can save money by ordering it from a discounter; it’s necessary to remember that brands are sized much differently than American street shoes.

Leotards don’t require special laundering. Some gals prefer to air dry their tights if they are higher end models which are sheer and seamed. Dance skirts are best hand washed and air dried. Canvas shoes may be machine washed, but may be tight when first re-worn, and leather ones simply need wiped with a wet cloth occasionally. Both types of shoes will require the dancer to position and attach the elastics where they give the most support. Many dancerss like to have two, crossed over the instep. Even though the initial cost of ballet clothing seems high, they offer years of wear.

The greatest thing about ballet clothes is that they represent reality in a world that was once only a fantasy. Finding that one can actually dance is a nice bonus.

Closets and Our Dependence upon Them

When I was growing up, we lived in a very small house built in the 1950’s; each bedroom had one relatively tiny closet. They were so small that if you reached in, your arm would probably hit the back wall. There was just enough space in my parent’s room for my dad’s work shirts to keep from getting wrinkled; I believe his workpants were kept on a horizontally banded hanger. Sweaters and casual clothes went into his bureau drawers. My mom had to buy a free standing, metal closet that was even smaller, but it held her dresses well enough. Her sweaters and tops had to go in the dresser. I think of these things even today, especially when house-shopping in older neighborhoods. The fact that many generations did not have the luxury of walk-in closets is one of those things we rarely think about until we become frustrated with our own.

Once I gave up a daylight office job, my wardrobe dwindled and morphed into casual wear which takes up less room than my husband’s business attire and large collection of leisure clothes. I go through phases on keeping my t-shirts hung up, then transferring them to my armoire, along with my nightgowns and robes. You see, we’ve been fortunate to have had large walk in closets in 2 of our houses, and it’s easy to see how folks can get spoiled by them. People probably hang up a good percent of what used to go in drawers, which is kind of ironic when you think that, years ago, women ironed much more than they do today, even those who swear by cotton. Plus, it seems that now there is an entire industry built around storing our precious garments. There are umpteen companies providing built-in closet organizers; there are untold numbers of organizing bins and containers in any retail store, and never before have so many types of hangers been available. (Once I bought beautiful satin-covered hangers as a luxury touch for my mother-in-law’s closet. She took one look, rolled her eyes and commented that now she had something to hang her ball gowns on. Some people just don’t understand finesse…)

Anyway, my closet stores more stuff than it does clothes, at least for me. I keep my sewing machine, ironing board, luggage, and seasonal wreaths and flower arrangements in there. I know I could probably keep that some of that stuff in the basement, but it’s just easier to have it handy instead of lugging it down and up steps. There is enough unused hanging space that I could actually keep everything I own hanging up all year around, but I just can’t abide looking at winter stuff during the summer. (Funny, the reverse isn’t true.) So, every year around this time, I fold up sweaters, turtlenecks and corduroy pants and shove them in dresser drawers, leaving me lots of room to spread out the cotton items that do require ironing. At times like those, I am glad to have the space, and I wonder how families ever managed with tiny little closets. This subject of close space continues to haunt me whenever I have more than a couple of guests over. Eventually I realize that everyone’s front entryway closet is way too small, no matter how large the rest of the house is. Closet size is also noticeable when I go on vacation. No matter how nice the hotel may be, they are always-always stingy when it comes to closet space and hangers. Plus-what’s the deal with those round-topped hangers that don’t come off hotel closet rods? They’re a pain in the caboose. Are hotels really afraid of guests stealing wire hangers, or are they viewed as some kind of safety hazard? At one point I decided to start traveling with my own, but I always forget and never did get around to that. Why would a room with 3 guests for a week provide a total of 7 hangers?

It’s maddening, just like keeping our fashionable items from getting squeezed, falling off hangers, or acquiring indentions at the shoulders. That’s not even considering whether it’s worse to have a garment stretched out by hanging, or de-wrinkle a folded one before wearing. Maybe someone can invent something to keep our prized possessions stored to our satifisfaction-hopefully soon.

What’s Considered “Street Style”?

Not long ago, I read an article about street style in a fashion spread, and it did nothing to remove the cloud of confusion I often find myself in after reading what “experts” say regarding what to wear and not wear. “Street style” to me, is very relative to what street one happens to be on, and where they are headed. An average housewife who’s running out for paint is a bit different than a celebrity strolling down Rodeo Drive or any high-fashion boulevard in a sophisticated city. In any event, perhaps I, you, and an untold number of other middle class women can learn a thing or two from the gals who “accidentally” get snapped by paparazzi…

There is, for lack of a better description, the eternal preppie. She usually has a vest over a nice blouse or polo shirt, conservative pants, and fairly low heels or loafers. Do you wear, or even own vests? I have one, and I must say they are a rather interesting touch, but mine buttons instead of being a pull over. Would that make me less of a prep, do you think? But, all in all, I’d say that this look would work for practically anyone, anywhere, and its simplicity makes it a winner when it comes to wearing and maneuvering.

Then there’s the eternal hippie. This can include almost any retro item, hobo bag, sandals or boots, flowing sleeves, wide bell bottoms or wild flowered prints. Hmmm…I was still rather young during these pieces’ first go-around, and I’m not so sure I want to start up with it at this time. I know that flowing sleeves can be annoying because they catch on things and in food condiments you'd rather wish they didn't. Also, since a lot of gals can never find anything in a hobo bag, I give this the thumbs down for really busy and active street wear-especially if they're dealing with small kids.

Next is the eternal fashion plate. This lady won’t even run out to Rite Aid without 3 inch spike heels and the latest (or most vintage) garments. But I must be more generous; chances are such a gal is not just going to the drug store; she probably is on her way to someplace much fancier. So I won’t hold her sense of style against her-we’ve all been there. I really respect anyone who takes the time to think through her ensemble. Yet, if you’ve been following my column regularly, you know that high heels make me miserable, but to each their own. I actually strive to be the eternal fashion plate, but sadly, I rarely have time to change before I need to “run down the street”.

We can’t forget the eternal biker/party chick. She’s got the motorcycle tank and the leather pants or the miniskirt and midriff or tube top. Regardless, she doesn’t look she has ever, or will ever, be doing the kind of things the rest of us spend a good part of our day doing. These looks appear to be uncomfortable. If this is worn on the street, I hope the woman’s on her way to someplace fun.

Finally, there’s the fashion-forward model type, the kind every female secretly wishes she could be. Big shirts make them look tiny instead of making their hips look big. Long, flowing scarves waft in the breeze instead of blowing into their eyes and mouth. Hats or caps set off their perfect hairdos instead of smashing them down and adding static electricity. In other words, these gals could look good in a paper bag. When the rest of us see them on the street, it’s hard to maintain our own self confidence.

However, we must not let that happen. Reality reminds us that the majority of folks either don’t possess perfect looks or perfect clothes. One glance around any crowded street reflects a huge range of ages, backgrounds, and places in life. For many women, their appearance takes a back seat to more important things in life, and as we get older, we should find ourselves more understanding about the outward image we, and others, present to the world. It’s great to look good, and even better to look fashionable, but even famous people have off days.