Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Some of the Newest Summer Trends

Well, it’s time again for the update that I do about once every month regarding what we’re supposed to be wearing. Yes, I gripe a lot about having stuff pushed on me, but there’s a fine line between taking an interest in what’s considered “in” and feeling like you must go out and buy what somebody thinks is a good idea. I’ve no problem checking out the fashion magazines to keep up to date, but don’t think that anyone must have the latest stuff in order to look attractive, feel pretty, or received totally warranted complements on her sense of style. Remember, as I do, that if you really want to sport new looks, it’s not necessary to spend a lot of money. You can re-style or make things to accommodate fashion trends, and even a piece or two will do. In fact, to make it simpler, I’ll offer motivation by telling you what I’ve done.

1. Dresses of all sorts: Sundresses, Blouson, Mini’s, Maxi’s, Off the Shoulder, and Draped…I finally got to a store over the weekend to get sundress for my daughter to wear as we attend a family function next weekend. There must have been thousands. It’s good to see that the fancier ones have built in bras and are fully lined, as well as the ever sturdy, A-line cotton. You can find almost every pattern and color known. I also saw just as many 50’s looking sundresses with soft little matching sweaters as 60’s bold and wild prints. (I bought a casual wrap-around dress for myself, with the one-side knotting that seems to be big right now.)

2. Brightly colored shoes want as much attention as the rest of a lady’s ensemble. It’s also good to see that closed toes pumps are back-albeit in colors far removed from neutral. To that end, I took an older pair of white sandals and applied some of my husband’s cordovan polish. They turned out a fairly pretty shade of purple, but not as dark as some of the purples I saw in stores. It seems that adding more will darken the color, but I think I’ll stop there. It’s easier to co-ordinate lilac than grape, as far as the summer clothes I already own.

3. Feathers apparently are going to be popping up on items, both as prints and as 3-D extras. Lucky Magazine’s June issue has a lovely tunic with a feather design stretching up one side, as well as a gorgeous bracelet based on a silver feather, and whimsical high heeled dress shoes, with feathers glued onto the instep straps. (I have a gold, single feather pin that was my mothers, and I think I’ve found a way to turn it into a pendant to be worn on a gold chain.)

4. Last week I mentioned the cluster necklace. I see that there are many versions of this, one that even refers to itself as “deconstructed”-but it actually looks haphazard, in my opinion. I don’t think wearing a mish-mash around your neck is easy unless it’s so artfully created it stands alone as the focal point of an otherwise plain outfit. There are some such versions which employ strands of chains mixed with pearls of all colors. I like some of those, and actually made a cluster necklace of my own by attaching several gold chain link necklaces together, then adding an array of a dozen gold pendants in 3 related designs…and even my picky teenager thinks it’s cool.

5. Rough gems are now in jewelry, but I was one step ahead. Some years ago, I broke apart some “gems” from a panning-type of outlet, found two of each kind that were similarly sized, and made them into post earrings by simply cementing on metal posts. I wore them a lot before they came apart, but they had the same quality of today’s stones set into rings and dangle earrings.

6. Apparently gals are supposed to wear huge, chunky watches now. That’s easy-grab your husband’s or boyfriend’s spare one.

I’ll bring you more of summer 08’s fashion tips next week, but until then, remember that a little ingenuity goes a long way in meeting today’s trends.

Do You Like Gingham and Plaid?

My daughter received a copy of Delia’s summer catalog in the mail recently, and I finally had the chance to look through it. My, my, my-the next few months appear to be awash with gingham and plaids. That must be great news for those that like it; have you been drawn to those patterns?

Many of us probably first laid eyes on gingham was when we watched the “Wizard of Oz” and got a look at Dorothy’s dress. Since that movie was made about 70 years ago, I venture that it’s gone in and out of style quite a few times, but I don’t think I’ve ever owned one item in gingham-unless you want to count a plastic picnic tablecloth. It’s not that I don’t think it ugly; I just don’t think of it at all, really. If given a choice of images to rest my eyes on at any one moment, I tend to opt for an image or an intricate design-something a bit more aesthetic than straight lines. I suppose that’s why I’m not a plaid person either. Plaid is also hard to wear, actually, unless you have several plain items to wear with it. Right now, I’ve a pair of black and white plaid shorts, and that’s it. I just threw away two old plaid-type shirts that had a woven gold thread throughout their plaid, and I liked that addition. Every so often, I’ll wear a work shirt in a small plaid, but I’ve never wanted anything with a large plaid; Madras does nothing for me, and patchwork of any sort leaves me cold.

Speaking of which, there is a strapless sundress in Delia’s that entirely patchwork, including a sash, and it may just generate interest by teenagers. There is also a plain white tunic trimmed with a band of red, navy, gold and white plaid that isn’t bad, especially since the two straps repeat the plaid material. They are also showing houndstooth and gingham cuffed shorts, a plaid woven straw bag (in fuschia, lemon and royal blue) and a hoodie that’s mostly turquoise, fushia and white plaid, save for a few stripes of gold, purple and sky blue. (I think wearing anything with that would definitely be challenging.) There is also something called a “bubble mini with fold-over waist” that may be attractive to some young girls; it’s about 9 inches long and a patchwork of squares in black and white checks and polka dots. What I can’t see my daughter (or any of her friends wearing) is a patchwork halter that appears to contain every color (except purple) that also sports a ruffle under the bust.

If you happen to like seersucker, Delia’s is also offering low-rise, short shorts-the blue and white is exactly what I happened to have worn in a summer office suit-and they also offer the same style in red, green and black gingham. Most of the plaids are your typical small types, but even I’d consider (if longer) a pair of shorts with white background showing from under a crossing of wide mint green and skinny pink stripes, topped off by little pink, heart shaped buttons at the waist... It’s plaid, but doesn’t scream out that it is.

Flipping further through, I see a pink and white seersucker sundress, fairly unique, and a gingham halter dress that comes in green or pink. (I think I’d feel like Maryann from Gilligan’s Island in that, but it’s cute.) I spotted a Juliet top in red, green and yellow plaid, colors which are definitely cheery, but its sporty-ness seems to clash with the girly-ness of the addition of white eyelet trim.

You can’t forget bathing suits; there are ginghams in one and two piece styles, but only in the colors of pink or black. Working on the premise of gingham is another design that places diagonal stripes of green, orange, blue, yellow and pink against white. The busy pattern looks better in a two piece versions than in a tankini, as far as I’m concerned, for the simple fact there’s less of it. Check it out for yourself, and let the rest of us know what you think: http://store.delias.com/browse.do;jsessionid=198E061637D1C7394EDC28FD42863AB7.worker5?categoryKey=seasonal&topnavTrack=seasonal&incmpid=TopNavSeas

Let’s Hear It For Decorated Shoes!

Do you know what I mean by “Decorated Shoes”? I don’t mean simply those models that have little bows, beads or sequins glued onto their toes; I mean shoes that are now sporting actual artwork. You can find them here and there, but I’ve a feeling that they will become more prevalent as time goes by.

Throughout my life, I have wondered about why shoes were rather unadorned with color, and figured that it was because 99% of folks wanted their shoes to go with various outfits, or remain in the background to allow their clothes to get the attention. There were occasions when I’d be dying a pair of shoes and be so tempted to add a little design or a bit of asymmetry, but decided it would be way too odd for the times. It’s rather nice to see that shoes are now not afraid to be a bit more artistic.

At this moment I’m looking at shoes called “Suzie” by Not Rated that are definitely eye-catching. The are white canvas, with high yellow heels and trimmed in yellow, imprinted with red, yellow and turquoise hearts, and boasting a plastic pink cutout heart on a turquoise bow on the outer sides of the toe. (Can’t you just imagine them with a white sundress?) The same manufacturer also offers “Honey Bee”, a Mary-jane type of shoe with a wedgie/stacked heel, in three versions of flowers, buds and stems. I’ve seen several others which appear to have had an artist hand-paint their designs right on them, which always seems just a bit more fanciful than the best leather or fanciest extras. (However, it does seem rather sad to allow great art to get dirty and dusty, doesn’t it?) It will be interesting to see just how far this particular fad will go…

That leads me to anther slight change in shoe venues-the multi-colored tennis shoe or sneaker (or trainer, for those of you in England). Puma is selling a high-top model with fake snakeskin detail in white, orange and purple for around $80. Asics has a style in yellow, purple and pink for $65. Adidas offers a jogger in turquoise, baby blue, hot pink and neon yellow on top of white, and the Puma Rainbow has a white body with various colors of stripes for $50. Punkrose has basic black splotched with periwinkle blue, lavender and lime green for $54, and I understand Nike will be hitting the stores with new colors as well, if not already.

Have you ever worn shoes that have more than two colors? I can’t say that I have, unless I count a pair of black flats that had different colors of sequins and beads. Heck, it’s only been in the last year that I’ve branched out and worn leopard skin flats (they are my daughter’s, at her insistence that I try something “new”). I haven’t gone so far as to wear her skull shoes, but the black and white canvas ones with red hearts are rather fun. I think what I’ve learned about shoes is that younger women do tend to have more fun with footwear. I may have never tried such shoes on, much less worn them in public, if I wasn’t in the state of mind that shoes should be a little fun. You somehow lose that as you get older. I’ve even received compliments on my choices-but, inevitably, they are from other women who, although not considered chronologically “young”, have unbelievably youthful outlooks and personas.

It’s funny how shoes can send an image as well as generate a particular mindset. When I wear athletic shoes, I do feel a bit physical. When I wear fancy heels, I feel more feminine. Likewise, it should follow that if I wear bulky, practical shoes, I’d feel more safe, conventional, and yes-older. I’ve not yet progressed to those shoes just yet, but I feel myself drawn to the fashions geared to those more of a boutique than department store nature. Perhaps it’s having a teenaged daughter or perhaps it’s because shoes, for younger people, really generate a more vivacious and carefree attitude. It’s good to know that I may not still be young, but my feet will never know it!

What Speaks of the Twenty-First Century Fashion?

Today as I dressed I did the unexpected: after donning a black and beige, oriental print top, I reached for red slacks instead of the usual beige ones that I’ve always paired with that shirt. I don’t know what came over me. I attribute it to twenty-first century fashion style, meaning, it simply doesn’t matter; in fact, disconnect is good. That led to my next musing-how would we describe this decade’s fashion mindset? I’m not talking individual styles, but overall attitude. Would you say carefree or “thoughtfully mismatched”? How about planned dishevelment? Is there any phrase to sum up what makes this year any different from last, or from five years ago when it comes to clothing and accessories?

Personally, I don’t think so.

So then I started thinking about how the decades past did seem to have a certain image of their own, all fairly distinct and memorable. When I see pictures of women in the 1920’s, the words that come to mind include “glamour, parties, and wild”, although how much of that is actual clothing and how much is the whole flapper/talking picture/bootleg period, I’m not sure. But long necklaces, short skirts, and red lips seem to spell “fun” loud and clear. (Then again, since I wasn’t around then, what do I know?)

I’m not too sure about the 40’s and 50’s, regardless of the war effort, I tend to consider words like conservative, feminine and elegant, probably in line with the longer hems, tons of details in jewelry and accessories, and the whole image of domestic goddesses and femme fatales in movies of that time.

Not being active in the 60’s when it came to fashion, I can still only relate to pictures, television and movies, but I would venture to say that I’d use the words “psychedelic, avant garde and flowery”. The whole hippie look, with flowers in girl’s hair and wide bell bottoms, colored glasses and the like paved the way to where we are today. You have to wonder where we’d be without the fashions of the 60’s, just like the music of the 60’s…

When it comes to the 70’s, I don’t remember much, being still young then. But, I do recollect outrageous outfits worn by celebrities Elton John and David Bowie, sweater sets by Mary Tyler Moore, and clothes that, for the most part, simply weren’t that attractive. In my humble opinion, that decade doesn’t seem to have much of a theme, at least not to me. I can’t come up with one word that I think could cover it well.

Now, the 80’s evoke images of Dynasty and Dallas gals wearing wide, shoulder padding, big hats, and occasionally big hair. I would call the era sexy and athletic, considering the new push to work out gear and the whole disco wardrobe of shiny, slit dresses topped by lots of lip gloss, combined with Madonna’s influence of little gloves and heavy jewelry resting against lacy bustiers.

Did I sleep through the 90’s? I have difficulty establishing its identity; do you? Maybe because I was busy being a new mom I was out of the loop, but I can only say that it seemed to encompass “dressing down”, when not pursuing a preppie look. I wouldn’t claim it to be girly, motherly, sporty or anything specific, so you can help me out here.

That leads us to the new millennium, where we have body art, face piercing, and more choices than one can shake a stick at, encompassing a lot from the last 50 years. In view of that, where do you think we’ll be in the next decade?

We’ve all seen movies of the future, where people dress alike in the same unisex, one-piece outfits that seem to be comfy as all get out. Is that just a creative director’s image of what the future will hold, or does anyone else see us dressing so similarly? I for one can’t. As long as people have choices, there will be a wide range of applications and just as much refusal to comply with others’ fashion standards.

That’s good. Without that creativity we’d still be wearing what we wore at the turn of the last century…5 layers including petticoats and a bustle, and who needs that?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Mantels-And What to Do With Them

Mantels are one of those funny things: you really don’t need them (or the fireplace below them, actually) but if you buy a house that has one, it becomes a decorating focal point. For almost 40 years I lived quite well without a mantel, but once I acquired one, I suddenly had the chance to do all those things with it I’d seen in magazines. Some ideas have worked better than others, but I’ll share some of them and perhaps you can also add your own.

We probably all have vague memories of grandparents’ old houses with a big mirror on top of the fireplace; in my relative’s case, they also had some knickknacks on their mantel. I don’t think they varied them from year to year (except, perhaps to add Christmas decorations every December) but it seemed to me that their mantel was rather under-appreciated. So, since I first received my mantel in the month of November, I decided to place all of my Thanksgiving pilgrims and turkeys along its length, like little soldiers in formation. Nope; that didn’t look right at all. A little rearranging showed that many mantel piece items look much better-and more important-with groupings. Another finding was that seasonal items seem to gain panache when also grouped with candles that pick up the main colors. Whether you plan on lighting them or not, a group of pink candles against your white walls, in the midst of pastel Easter flowers and bunnies, looks so much better than standing on their own at the far ends of the mantel. In fact, anything at the far reaches of the ledge looks rather lonely, even if your pattern is symmetrical; it’s much more harmonious to leave a bit of space between a decoration and the end of the mantel.

What if you aren’t interested in the traditional candles, statues and knickknacks on your mantel? There are countless options that still look classic, elegant or whimsical, depending on your mood and/or general décor. Model ships, small baskets filled with flowers or greenery, small plants, glass vases filled with sea shells, colored stones or marbles, bud vases, ginger jars, small boxes, plates, bowls, wooden sculptures and personal collections add zest to any boring mantel.

Right now, in the center of my mantel is a pink and white flower arrangement in a pink wicker vase that my daughter made in tech-ed. It’s flanked on either side by three brass candleholders holding white candles, next to a grouping of photos in similar white and pink frames. It’s symmetrical over all, but because I’ve placed the individual items differently, there is a difference between the two sides which I like.

In the past, I’ve truly loved the look of many mantel arrangements, but the longest I’ve kept any has been about two months-after that, I feel a change is due. One of my favorites happened to be at Christmas, when I placed small trees (trimmed with red bows and gold and white ribbons), at either end. With a display of red and white candles in high brass candlesticks in the center, and surrounded by swags of pine boughs, the look was cheery and could be easily adapted for Valentine’s Day by removing the trees and boughs and adding vases of red, white and pink roses.

Some folks like to add paintings or other art above their mantel, as I have, but the colors may clash with your mantelpiece choices-so if such a thing bothers you, be discriminating. Luckily, my prints have enough colors so I don’t have too much of a problem, but you can picture how autumn décor may conflict against a background painting filled with pink pastels, especially if that’s the first thing you see upon entering a family or living room.

Probably the worst thing a person could do with their mantel is to leave it totally empty, or stick one solitary small object in the center. Look around for prized possessions that match your room décor, trial different placements, and keep what appeals.

If you make good use of your luck in having a mantel, you will be rewarded by the lift it gives you every time you walk into the room and gaze upon it.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Oriental Rug Musings

Do you own any “oriental” rugs? I like to refer to those intricate and colorful creations as “oriental”, even though their home may be only as far east as New York. In fact, I’m annoyed by those who feel that, unless such a rug is dozens of year old and thousands of dollars, it shouldn’t be referred to by that name.

When I had my first apartment at age 23, I bought a lovely black and gold oriental rug at a retail store for what was a lot of money to me back then. One night, I a date took me home, and he looked at the rug and actually sneered, “That’s not a real oriental rug.” Needless to say, he didn’t visit long, and never again. As years went by, I bought another one but after even more years (and a few cats clawing at them), I cut the fringes off. The way I saw it, the rugs were pretty old by, and I figured the change may help. They looked OK, but I moved them upstairs and thus began a period without any oriental rugs on the main floor.

But I suffered from oriental rug withdrawal. So, you can’t blame me when, while at a home supply outlet to buy light bulbs, I spied another beautiful black-background creation and snatched it up. Again, it didn’t come from the Far East, but it was good enough for me. (By this time, my other two rugs were long gone, and I saw this one as the second generation.) My first thought was to put it under my dining room table on the hardwood floor, but it wasn’t quite large enough. Then I put it in the foyer, but hated the thought of everyone wiping their shoes on it. Placing it under the kitchen table wouldn’t work, either, since I have rolling chairs. So, I decided to rebel against Design 101 and lay it on top of my existing Berber carpet in the family room, with a large, round, wicker coffee table on top. The primary colors are perfect with the room, and the black background stabilizes the entire setting. (I never liked that Berber anyway.) My point here is that if you fall in love with an oriental rug, don’t feel that you can’t buy it just because you have no open, uncarpeted space. It obviously isn’t necessary when you already have carpeting, but if it adds something to the space, and you like looking at it, so what?

With a colorful oriental rug, it’s obviously best to have neutral colors of furniture and paint, or a monochromatic match of furniture and paint in a color that’s found in the rug. (How soothing would it be to always see a red, blue and gold rug against a gold couch, blue armchairs, and yellow walls? Even though the main colors are duplicated, it’s still a hodge podge.) Neutral colors will allow you to add accessories in the same colors found in the rug for cohesiveness.

Also, patterns can be used with even “busy” oriental designs, if they’re small and not too colorful. If you just can’t part with your flowered sofa, you can invest in plain furniture covers for about $100. Or, you can look for a rug that’s minimal in design, but possessing the same colors as your couch, and be analytical about the rest of the room. For example, my couch and love seat are a turquoise, pink and gold tapestry print and I’ve a turquoise armchair, black entertainment area, and light gold walls. The rug, as mentioned, is black, with scrolls of turquoise, pink and gold. I have no pillows other than those that match my set; my lamps candlesticks, vases, etc. are brass or very neutral, and my tables are natural wicker. My rug still commands attention, but in harmony with everything else.

If you’d like oriental carpets in your kitchen but hate the price, here’s another tip: go to a home supply outlet and check out long oriental runners, then cut in half or thirds with heavy-duty shears or knives. You won’t have fringes, but you’ll still have a luxurious look.

It may take some time and planning, but I’m sure you can achieve success in your goal of enjoying oriental elegance.

Jewelry Quiz

Today I noticed an ad for a gold tone “cluster” necklace from a designer named Giunta, as part of a limited time collection. The piece, selling for around $60, is supposedly inspired by “art history and modern design”. Picture your typical chain, but with several other gold chains attached to either side, which cross the neckline in different lengths (almost as if you’re wearing 3 or 4 necklaces, but with just one connection). On these horizontal strands hang a multitude of round beads and flat, long shapes, in one big cluster-hence the name.

I wonder about things such as this; $60 is pretty pricey for costume jewelry, and for the same cost, a person can buy something with small, “real” gems or made from 14karat gold. It all depends on how a woman prioritizes her jewelry budget money. Would you rather have a few real items, or a lot of fun and inexpensive things? There are advantages and disadvantages of both, such as the luxurious feeling of possessing quality, versus having to get it insured. There is long lasting enjoyment and resale value, versus its upkeep-among other aspects. But every kind of jewelry has its drawbacks. What I thought I’d do is give you my opinions about ornamentation and rate them from 1-5 in my preference; hopefully this will get you thinking about your own jewelry style.

Pins-I’ve never really like wearing them myself. My mother was a big pin-wearer, and left me with more than I’ll ever know what to do with. Those that would never suit me have been given away, and others that are fairly timeless and unique, I've kept. Perhaps I may wear some day when I'm older. But I’m left with another pile which I’m not sure about, because they’re so kitschy they may come back into style and my daughter may get a kick out of them. (Do you may remember those big flowers and rhinestone clusters?) When news anchorwomen wear pins, they look so polished; when I wear them, I feel like they’re wearing me. I give them my lowest priority at#6.

Earrings-I can take them or leave them for the basic reasons that my hair is usually covering my ears, and they annoy me when I'm on the phone. However, for dressy occasions, I’ll go with small gemstones instead of hoops or dangles; I think that a hint of glamour, instead of in-your-face metal, is more alluring because it’s more of a surprise. I’ve also lost more earrings than I care to count. Therefore, they rank 5th place.

Necklaces-It seems that I am forever choosing necklaces whose lengths don’t go with whatever necklines I’m wearing at the moment, and so I end up changing them, or changing what may be hanging on them as pendants. I like the feeling of necklaces and the choice of styles, however, so I’ll rate them a 4. But I don’t like that some of the more delicate styles often break if they get caught on clothing, or become knotted. They rank number 4.

Watches-I don’t wear them at home, but always like to know the time when out. I’m not too picky, but I do prefer a mix of gold and silver tone for my watches. Since I see them as somewhat of a necessity, I’ll give them third place.

Rings-Rings used to be my favorite accessory until my fingers inexplicably swelled and I had to get my wedding and engagement rings cut off. They were resized, but now need a resetting, which I’ve procrastinated because my fingers continue to change sizes. This makes wearing rings more trouble than they’re worth, due to discomfort of one sort or another. Yet, I almost always wear at least one ring, if no other jewelry. They fall between the number 3 and number 2 spot, depending on how fat my knuckles are on any given day.

So that leaves, for my number 1 favorite-bracelets. I own many bracelets because I love having something around my wrist. I’ve some of my mother’s bangles, several beaded bracelets, a few with gemstones, and one that with inlaid turquoise that my husband bartered for in Mexico. They are the most user-friendly as far as I’m concerned, and rarely fall off. The worst thing would be the clinking when more than one bangle is worn, which annoys even me-so I no longer indulge.

What’s your favorite jewelry? Comment and share!

Are Models’ Poses Too Faked?

Here is wishing all of you moms out there a happy belated Mother’s Day! As I was going through the extensive Sunday supplements last week (it takes me awhile) something struck me much more than it ever has, and that is the preponderance of somewhat silly poses in which models are placed, probably per the photographer’s instructions. But the really funny thing is that it seems to depend on the store that’s sponsoring the fashion shoot.

For example, what rubbed me the wrong way-repeatedly, I may add-was Macy’s circular. It’s bad enough that they used girls who barely looked 18 in their Mother’s Days ads, with 4 year old kids placed next to them, but some of the poses looked just too extreme for anything a “mother” would undertake. First was a gal whose right hand was resting on her bare upper chest while she balanced on her right leg with the left bent at the knee and her foot sort of glued to her calf. Her head was tilted to the left, and, although not an outside scene, her long hair looked to be flying in the breeze. Um…OK. On the same page was a girl who was standing in a rather knock-kneed position (but with her feet separated), leaning to the right, with both arms sort of wrapped around each other and held along her right side. Now, I can’t even imagine doing that kind of contortion in dance class, let alone to show off a dress. Next I came across a lady standing with her right knee completely turned out to the side, with the foot of her toe on the floor, left hand on her hip, and right arm bent at the elbow, palm up. Actually, this isn’t too bad, but just think about it-when’s the last time you stood this way? What took the cake was the pose with two models that was probably as difficult to hold as it is to figure out. The one lady is leaning backward at least 30 degrees, supporting herself against the other model’s back. The one leaning had the added responsibility of keeping her knees bent, and, it appears, keeping all her weight on one foot as her one knee is lifted higher. The other model, for whatever hilarious reason, has both hands covering her mouth as she, also, balances on one leg with the other bent higher than knee height, with the foot actually wrapped around her other knee.

Have you ever in your life seen two grown women stand like that? It’s somewhat bothersome, to tell you the truth, like the ads are trying way too hard to promise gleeful happiness if only we buy their stuff.

So, curiosity peaked, I turned my eagle’s eye to the J.C. Penney’s magazine. Now, this was much more normal. Their models are either standing still, in positions we mortals can relate to, or in the midst of walking somewhere, sometimes even carrying shopping bags. I rather like that. It makes me feel that they’re really living their lives instead of just leaning on each other or standing on one leg.

From there I went to an Eddie Bauer magazine, which just showed up in my mail. OK; now we’re getting more reality. These models looked older, and a few even had some crow’s feet (although still very beautiful). It probably has to do with their audience and the price of their items, but I must say, they present their selections quite authentically. I saw a couple of models pulling ropes on their sail boats, one riding her bike (with the mussed hair and determined expression of a true bicyclist) and others who simply presented having a good time in a very unaffected manner. Three cheers for the folks in Eddie Bauer’s marketing/sales/advertising department-they got it right.

Women don’t particularly want to see cutesy poses, mirthful laughter, or arrogant stares. That does not put us in the mood to part with our money to have what the cutesy, mirthful, arrogant models have. Give us reality that we can relate to, but just a slight bit better. We’ll be much more apt to picture ourselves wearing what’s advertised.

Fashion Eccentricities

Last week, I mentioned the term “fashion eccentricity” with regard to my filing all of my nails down after breaking just one. I also mentioned that everyone has them. Today’s column is going to pursue this topic a bit further so you can all ask yourselves about your own particular fashion eccentricities, and perhaps even share them with the rest of us.

Here are some that I have come to realize concerning myself and others:

Well, in addition to the one I spoke about earlier, I have other quirks, but it’s anyone’s call if they fit the term “eccentricities”. First, I hate wrinkles, so yes, I iron. Now, I’m not as bad as those who iron jeans or sheets, but certain cotton tops, if not ironed, look like rags, in my opinion. There have even been occasions when I’ve ironed–gasp-even while on vacation. (That was, until I found out about spraying stuff with a large plastic bottle that you usually use for plants. You lay the item down on a flat surface, spritz with water until the item is lightly but uniformly misted, then smooth with your hands. Repeat on the back and voila-no more wrinkles! Someone told me that a big name manufacturer produces a liquid in a bottle to be used the same way, but I doubt it does more than plain old water.)

Next, I must have an absolutely orderly closet and perfectly organized drawers. I’m a neat freak anyway, but to me, this is more of a practicality than quirk, since I usually need to find clothes quickly. Clean clothes are hung or arranged by type, with off-season garments either put away or folded on shelves. (There were occasions when I even arranged things by color or by ensemble, but since there’s so much variance, I gave that up on that.) In line with that, it seems that I’m always cleaning off shoes, but I’m not changing purses every day like in the past, dumping everything out to transfer to another; having things in 2-3 smaller holders helped.

Another eccentricity is that I try to remember is the rule of no more than 7 accessories at a time. The way this works is that a woman counts her set of wedding/engagement rings as “1”, a pair of earrings as “1”, and everything after that as a single item. (Three bracelets or necklaces would count as 3; a watch would be 1, etc.) It may be rather quirky, but does help keep a gal from being overdone.

Hmmm…other things I personally dislike are my own display of obvious panty lines and bra straps, wearing open-toed shoes without my toe nails being polished, and not wearing anything other than slacks and sweaters more than once before washing. (Once, in a ballet, another dancer admitted she’d been wearing the same tights for 6 performances without washing them; it took a great deal of self control to refrain from making a face and going “Ewww”.)

If my daughter becomes sick while wearing something, she refuses to wear it again it-even though it was never soiled and then washed 2-3 times anyway. (I’ve gained a few cool tops that way.)

I’ve worked with women who would wear high heels no matter what, who got things dry cleaned that didn’t need it, and would wear their trademark lipstick color no matter how much it clashed with their outfit. I’d say that my biggest rebellion and eccentricity against the fashion of today is that I still refuse to straighten my hair, or iron it flat. My daughter keeps referring to my thick, layered, curly hair as an afro, and now that it’s grown out to almost shoulder length, there are days where it has the potential to be the “big hair” of the ‘80’s. But that’s OK. Until it’s long enough for another major overhaul in style, I’ll accept that I’m not enjoying “sleek” styles. If God wanted everyone to have hair that rippled like a piece of silk, we’d all be blessed, but I guess he figured diversity is good.

In any event, think about your fashion eccentricities, and then embrace them for allowing them to make you a little bit more you. No fashion police will come knocking; I promise.

Easy Ways to Extend Your Clothes’ Lives

If you are like me, you probably get bored with your clothes long before they wear out or become irreparably damaged. Some people donate them, while others hang onto them in hopes they may again serve a purpose. The problem is, after a few years, there could be a good deal of room taken up in one’s closet with items rarely, if ever, worn. Since there is usually a specific reason why something fell out of favor, it’s actually doubtful that it will ever be worn again. But, since hope springs eternal in almost everyone, we like to think that just maybe something may come in handy, if not for us, then for a friend or family member.

But what if you don’t have anyone who could use the piece, and still can’t bring yourself to get rid of it? What if you just love the material but don’t like the length? Or, what if the color is great but the sleeves aren’t right? Well, there are many things you can do to salvage your purchase. Even if you never implement any of these suggestions, hopefully they will get you to thinking about possibilities when it comes to alterations. Simple changes in your wardrobe may revive a fashion style and allow you to feel like you’ve gotten a few new clothes.

First is the obvious: hemming. Shortening a dress or skirt by a few inches will definitely prolong the garment’s life, if you’ve ever felt just the tiniest bit dowdy when wearing it. It can also slightly change the line of the item, especially on an A-line skirt. Hemming pants may also be liberating if you’ve procrastinated wearing them because your summer sandals just didn’t boast heels high enough to keep the bottoms from dragging on the floor…now you can wear them with fancy flip-flops, casual moccasins or even ballerina flats without stepping on the hems or allowing them to clean your sidewalk. You could also go a step further by cutting down pants which may be already too short for comfort to give them a second life. Probably the most versatile result comes from cutting them just a few inches shorter. This way, they can be worn as cropped pants, with still enough material at the bottom to be folded up into capri’s. (This only works with straight-legged or minimally flared pants; wide legged pants have too much material.) Of course, you could also cut them down into Bermuda shorts or go even shorter, but you need to be careful; some styles and fabrics just don’t work for shorts.

The next easy places to tackle are the sleeves. Long sleeves can obviously cut to ¾ lengths, but this is always tricky. You need to make sure they won’t just look like short, ill-fitting regular sleeves, and too short so they'll ride up into your elbow area and become annoying. Cutting them further up to a short-sleeved length may be an option, as is, of course, making an item sleeveless. Both may have their share of drawbacks, however. Cutting down certain material into short sleeves may cause them to stick out at the sides (which you may not like), and cap sleeves often take more experienced seamstress abilities. You also must check to be sure that making a top sleeveless won’t result in the seam ending too far below your armpit. (This can be remedied by taking in the side seam, if it won’t mean too tight of a fit.)

If you’re really adventurous, you could even cut a dress in half, supplying you with a nice top to wear with other pants or skirts, and a skirt that may get more use with a variety of tank tops. To do this, you need a loose dress-preferably longer than knee length-to prevent either the top or bottom from turning out too short.

Finally, there are some very basic options that you can focus on, such as replacing a belt (or wearing a bought one instead of the included cloth sash), changing the buttons, or wearing it in a different way, like with a scarf or vest.

Think it through, be careful and you just may be pleasantly surprised at the outcome.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Little Details Mean a Lot

If you’re like most people, you may not realize which details to consider when it comes to décor, so perhaps this will help.

First, forget the idea that if something is good, more has to be better. On the contrary, too many knickknacks, or too much of any one thing, is detrimental. No one item should overtake any room. That means one of three things: either create small groups of your collectibles and keep rotating them throughout the year, get rid of what no longer has meaning, or try to place like items in a group, to decrease the appearance of their number. Don’t forget to leave some “blank” space around, with nothing on a few feet of shelf space, or a corner left fairly open; the eye will need some place on which to rest where it’s not inundated with viewing numerous small items.

Next, consider cohesiveness among your belongings. It’s all well and good to have eclectic taste, but try to go for a basic theme in each room, whether it’s color, style, material, etc. For example, you may try to use all wicker furniture, tables, baskets and such in one area, or transfer all of your green pillows to a room with predominant green hues. This serves two purposes: it immediately offers a more restful and organized image to a space, and makes it appear that a good deal of thought went into the individual purchases.

Another thing to keep in mind is that, regardless of your color scheme, it’s always necessary to have just a few touches of black and white in any room. This does not mean a white couch or black coffee table; this purpose can be served by using stark white candles, white silk flowers, an ebony vase, black picture frames-you get the idea. These two “colors” serve like salt and pepper in food; they add just a hint of spice. Black will seem to stabilize the area while white adds a spark. You may also find that employing shiny metal, in moderation, adds just that glint that you may need, such as copper wall decorations, brass votives, shiny silver statuettes-whatever catches the light can add a great deal with a minor investment. Some designers feel that at least one mirror should be used in a room to reflect back lighting; just make sure it’s not so high that the average person’s head gets chopped off at the bottom. These few details make the most of any color theme.

Speaking of color, some people like maintain a one hued palette, while others prefer to use two or three colors. Obviously, this is a personal preference, but remember that no one is forcing you to keep the same look forever. If you like a monochromatic décor, fine, but every so often, jazz it up with small contrasting accessories, like pillows, vases, throws, rugs, candy dishes, etc. If your room is currently based on, say, blue, yellow and green, take out, or replace one of the colors every so often for a whole new look. (Don’t forget flowers or plants; they add color while contributing to the very necessary feeling of bringing nature indoors.) With some thought, you can even obtain a very fun and colorful look from a fairly basic room without spending a lot of money. For example, say you have a room in blues and whites. You could incorporate aqua and green, with perhaps a touch of yellow. These colors may already exist in other rugs, lamps, pillows, blankets, picture mats, or candles. Look for inexpensive prints displaying those same colors in tropical undersea life or beachscapes. Add a dish or vase filled with seashells, perhaps some family pictures from a seashore vacation, a few other beach or nautical accessories, and voila! You’ve got a new room with a definite feeling of creative design. (Of course, this means taking out the stuff in other colors that was in the room in the first place, but the beauty of decorating is that nothing is cast in stone forever.)

It is always exhilarating to have new surroundings, especially when it’s still home sweet home. You just need to keep an eye on details.

A Potpourri of Fashion Thoughts

This particular piece is definitely going to be a hodgepodge of fashion news and opinions, since I couldn’t’ quite decide on a particular theme. (It never hurts to break the mold, does it?)

OK…looking at what’s considered “in”, I found that ruffles may be big, especially on the tops of dresses held up with spaghetti straps, then fall simply to below the knees. Personally, I don’t remember ever having such a dress, so I guess I should go and try some on. Other than needing a strapless bra, I don’t see too many problems with the style.

Nextis something termed “water color tweed”, per May’s Lucky Magazine. Now, the versions they exhibited ranged from $200 to $350, but sooner or later we should be able to find it at Macy’s or Penney’s for a more realistic price. The moniker is a term for the print used on silk or chiffon tops, which are simply button down, sleeveless tunics of a white background, but with an overlay of black lines that appear to be smudged. (They don’t particularly move me, but to each their own.)

Then there’s the “train hem” which is simply a dress that is longer in back than in the front, basically for fancy wear, since the front is short enough to show some thigh, with the back hanging down to the model’s knees. I’d wear it, depending on the rest of the dress, although it may take some getting used to in having more material hanging down your back than down your front.

Finally, there’s what’s called “cropped vests” over sundresses. Hmm…let’s think about this for a moment. If it’s warm enough to wear a sundress, it’s got to be, what, at least 75 degrees? Why, then, would anyone want to wear something more on top of the dress that doesn’t even reach across their chest? (They’re made to skim down the areas to the side of the bust line.) The way I see it, if a gal is concerned about her upper torso or upper arms, this vest hides absolutely nothing. Since it’s so short, and made to be worn over a loose fitting garment, it doesn’t hug her waist, either, so provides no definition whatsoever. If it’s a matter of wanting something more to wear in an air conditioned restaurant, forget it; this is purely ornamental, and rather a stark contrast from the lightness and femininity of any sheer, gauzy, flowery smock. It is very doubtful I would wear this, let alone spend $375 for a wool vest made from less than ¼ yard of material to just go over my shoulders.

Now, on the less cynical side, I happened to find an unusual pair of sandals over the weekend. They’re by a company called “The Hut” and I bought them on the spur of the moment even though I don’t really need another pair of fancy flip flops. But, since they weren’t expensive, and they were several steps above the ordinary, I figured I could use them next year if not this year-they won’t go “out of style”. The sole resembles a thatched island hut, with little crosses etched into the straw background. The bands that go from between the toes and down to the sides are covered with beading reminiscent of natural jewelry that I could imagine tropical natives wearing above their grass skirts. With a choice between turquoise, amber and something resembling peridot, I chose the turquoise. (I figured that when the shoes fell apart, I’d have enough beads to make myself a short necklace or two bracelets.)

Not for one second do I think it strange that what I found, up close and personal, appealed to me much more than images in a magazine, touted by professional models in practiced poses. Women need to see how things really look in person to judge if something would be right for them. That is why, as difficult as it may be, it’s necessary to get in a car and drive to a store for a first hand look at what’s available. You just never know when you may find something that seems perfect, even when you’re not searching for it.

Nail Decisions

Fashion models used to continuously sport red nail polish as the epitome of glamour, but it seems the French Manicure is now the choice. You have to admit it’s elegant, and doesn’t take anything away from one’s ensemble by color-clashing. Furthermore, since it comes in different hues, every skin tone is flattered, while nails look shiny and healthy. But I still find myself equating fancy occasions with good, old fashioned nail color…

Before my first day in “all day school” at age six, my mom painted my nails red, at my request. I have the distinct memory of a black-robed nun looming over my little desk, glaring and bellowing, “You look like you’ve got blood on your hands!” Needless to say, it was about 10 years before I could bring myself to wear red nail polish again.

In high school, I did purple polish for a long time because an older girl who I emulated wore it. Then I wore dark bronze because the most popular girl in school painted her 2 inch long talons with it. For a short while, I did red glitter, and I even remember one girl finding nail designs somewhere, long before they became standard accessories in retail outlets. Nail salons did not exist back then, and the idea of paying someone a lot of money to glue on fake nails and then "fill them in" would have seemed ludicrous to everyone.

Eventually, I became a nail guru, just like I was a lipstick guru (see my article “The Allure of Lipstick” from January.) I mixed and overlapped colors, and found that some of my mother’s favorites weren’t so bad after all. For example, there was a polish similar to clear, but distinctly pink. The benefit was that nails looked super shiny and clean, but much more healthy than normal. However, it also made the white part of the nail pink as well, so to counteract that, a special white nail pencil was needed. A gal would wet it and then color under the white part of her nail to make it appear brighter. (It was the precursor to the white application of French Manicures, without the longevity of polish. But it was never done on pedicures like today, to my knowledge.)

Anyway, by the time I was a working girl, it was clear that I needed to do my nails at least every other day to keep them looking fresh. Being one of those people who can’t stand seeing her polish chipped, I faced a dilemma, since I had read that a person should not use nail polish remover more than once a week, as it ruins the nails. So I started going the “all natural” route, buffing my nails like crazy. I even found this wonderful gizmo in Philadelphia (never to be found anywhere else again) that was a sea shell to be used as an all-natural emery board that would never wear out. (It didn’t wear out but I did lose it.) I found that to keep my nails looking beautiful naturally was a whole lot more work than just slapping a coat of polish on them.

And so began the cycle: a few days of wearing polish, then a few days of going nail-naked. It seemed to work, as rarely would my nails break. But if one did, nail guru as I was, I’d file the rest down so all ten would be even, and I still do that. It’s one of those fashion eccentricities we all have.

Today, I find myself doing as my mom did-keeping all nail supplies and bottles of polish in a small container, to be easily carried from room to room by my daughter or I to do our nails when time allows. I wish I could remember if my mother nagged me for wearing gaudy colors like I’ve nagged my daughter about wearing black. (But I guess it’s the sign of the times, since one of her male friends came over also wearing it.) Hopefully soon, she’ll, too, get past that phase. One of these day’s she’ll see the sense of wearing only the colors nature intended for nails, such as blood red, cotton candy pink and shimmering peach, right?

As Old As Your Choices

In a related article this week, I mentioned skimming through the October issue of Harper’s Bazaar to see if winter promotions actually ever made it. Thus, I came across an article you may find interesting, “Are Clothes Aging You?” by Simon Doonan, on page 253. Those of you who have followed my articles here since January know that I love pursuing such questions. When I was younger, I did everything to look older, and for the last 10 years-well, maybe for a few more-I’ve been fighting Father Time as well as Mother Nature. In this, we all need ammunition, and to think about the impact of clothing and accessories that advertisers fail to impart.

For example, Ms. Doonan mentioned certain items that only flatter the young-and by young, I think she means no older than 30. She brings up a worthwhile point to consider, and that is that the majority of fashion ads in print and television focus on young gals. True, only a small portion of space given to Women’s fashion, which, inexplicably, still utilizes younger models, or women who fail to look like most of our grandmothers. But neither the young or old generation really wants to look like the other. In this regard, the older gal faces more challenges. It is tempting to rush out and choose selections from the Junior Department, but, ironically, that will backfire just as surely as wearing your aunt’s castoffs when you’re only 40.

It takes a lot of work to find just the right mix of clothes, makeup and accessories to reflect a youthful state without looking like you’re trying to be 20 once again. Yes, the stars try to do it, but they’re celebrities after all. Dolly Parton once used words to the effect of, who wants to pay money to see an old bag? Now, I’m not implying that I’m any kind of expert, but I’ll offer some of my findings from research and experience; feel free to leave comments regarding the ways you try to not let clothes add any unnecessary years.

Ms. Doonan was right, I think, when she suggested omitting blue eye shadow; any stark color near eyes that suffer from crow’s feet or wrinkled lids just brings more attention to the lines. However, there is a concept floating around that I disagree with, and that is that if an older gal wears noticeable eye makeup, she should skip the obvious lipstick, or vice versa. I’ve never ascribed to the theory of looking like you forgot to do a portion of your face. Either go totally bare, or use sparing touches all over; half and half, in my opinion, makes a person look like they got distracted before finishing. Next, longer hair tends to be youthful, but ultimately, covering the grey is best for everyone, as the amount of years it can remove is stunning. But, it’s better to go with a shade or two lighter than your natural color so that it looks like subtle highlighting, instead of having a bottle of shoe polish dumped on your head. A uniform, matte color that’s obviously a dye job is more aging than even salt-and-pepper hair.

From here on, a lot is relative. “Mom Jeans” are better than polyester, elastic waist pants, but better fitting jeans are more young-looking. Athletic shoes are more in vogue than “old lady” loafers, but ballet flats are better yet. “Hoodies” may bring a bit more youth to your appearance than shapeless nylon jackets (depending on your actual age), and belts worn low, over long tunic tops, may again add an element of modern style. (They’ll also still camouflaging annoying figure problems around the bust, waist and hips.) Knee length skirts are probably the most flattering on everyone, but don’t forget to use body lotion on any skin that shows; dry, scaly looking skin with tiny white patches will instantly age a gal.

The rest (diet, exercise, sleep and attitude) are all up to you. Have fun with your choices no matter where your age falls, but don’t aim to lose decades. It’s better to be seen as an attractive, mature woman than a spring chicken wanna-be. Leave that for the celebrities.

When Does Fashion Go Out of Fashion?

This question is something I’ve often asked myself, especially as I shift through stuff in limbo between useful life and being donated to charity. With so many across-the-board options these day, it doesn’t seem like there are set styles, does it? If you’re like me, and have always tended to buy mostly classic or traditional items, you may be even less tempted to get rid of clothes. That led me to wonder, just what is the life span of designer fashions these days?

I remember the nuns in grade school warning us to not fall into the buying trap. Their view was, since the industry depended on constant change to survive, they played on the insecurities of women, which was wrong. (But they could talk; their wardrobe was already decided for them at the time.) Anyway, I decided to check out a fashion magazine from the past to see what, if any fashion-forward ideas were still applicable. So, I located the October issue of Harper’s Bazaar, with Mary Kay Olson on the cover. My goal was to decide if I had come across any of the advertised clothing in the last few months, and if any of the jewelry or accessories still seemed applicable these 200 or so days later.

Well, like so often when I look at one of those high-glossy publications, my eyes blur in about 7 minutes. This is nothing against Bazaar; it happens with all of them. I find myself so caught up in their presentation of models, photographic techniques and settings that the clothes take a back seat.

First, the models are so perfect and arrogant. I want to scream “This isn’t reality!” That doesn’t take into consideration that many look provocative for no apparent reason, like I mentioned before here in February’s Fashion Magazine Savvy article. Case in point, for a Dolce and Gabbana ad, three models pose ridiculously with two totally naked men, and in a Cesare Paciotti ad, a gal rides her exercise bike wearing only a top. Does anyone ever suppose that perhaps we’ve evolved from all of this nonsense? The one and only ad that actually uplifted me was Banana Republic’s…not just because they used a cute model with normal makeup and just a slightly wild hairstyle, but due to the shocker that she was actually smiling, like real people do. (I guess marketing folks were all asleep in Psych 101 when it taught that humans have an immediate and instinctively positive response to smiles.)

Anyway, I never did see those hugely wide pants that were being pushed this winter. I did not witness elbow length gloves on even the few fancy events I attended, and I failed to notice odd looking knee socks and gloves like Prada was showing, even during a visit to Manhattan. I loved the look of the shoes that boasted gems up the length of the heels, but didn’t see those around, either. The magazine cautioned that pendants were out, as was mixing gold with silver. And, women should forget small clutches, hobo bags and small post earrings…

Hmm…Does anyone have a clue as to who decides these things? In my humble opinion, earring style and size depends on a gal’s face shape and hairstyle. Further, if she opts to one wear a simple heart charm on a chain, I doubt that makes her a fashion loser. Many ladies are not about to let unknown sources (who are trying to make money) dictate their choices, and if given a choice, would rather not juggle a huge clutch purse while trying to get hors d’oeuvres at a business meeting or event buffet.

It’s doubtful that my question will ever be answered-or, if such an answer is even relevant. What was never accepted by the average population can’t go out of style because it was never really in style. Classic styles have the longest lives because they aren’t attention getting, but still allow versatility. It’s at times like this that I remember Princess Diana; that kind of fashion is timeless. Those nuns were right; what’s truly “fashionable” changes only slightly from year to year. The fads come and go. Don’t buy into them or you’ll really date yourself.