Monday, July 28, 2008

The First Step of Good Décor


If you don’t clean regularly and thoroughly (or have someone else do so), décor won’t make your place look a whole lot better. No matter how high the quality or expense of your stuff may be, if your place is dirty, it loses a lot of panache.

It’s obvious that you never really see something until you have to clean it. Most people just keep buying things and stuffing them into available spaces, or, at best, putting some thought into placement and then just leaving them there for years. Every so often they’ll wipe said object off, and perhaps dust it once a month, but it’s important that the area around it not be forgotten-and not just as a matter of clearing out dust bunnies and other allergens. Believe it or not, the vibrancy of every item of décor, as well as walls, draperies, blinds and carpeting diminishes when left unattended for too long. Cleaning is an excellent time to take stock of the condition of your possessions, the practicality of their placement, and the way they interact with their surrounding space.

This week, I did my every-nine-month wall, door and molding cleaning-and as usual, was surprised that it actually gleams (it’s all white). I probably should do it more frequently, but the idea of it is always more overwhelming than the actual work. What’s funny is that if this type of cleaning is separated into 3 or 4 activity periods of about an hour each, it’s not difficult at all, and a quick wipe with a simple wet cloth dampened with diluted liquid soap can extinguish almost every mark except paint scratches or splashed hair coloring. At the same time, you’ll get an overview of just what repair work may need done, and chances are, you’ll also have a few brainstorms along the way regarding décor changes.

Small rugs can be washed outside and rinsed with the hose, then left to dry in the shade while hanging over a chair; you would be wise to vacuum first to remove pet hairs and ground-in dirt. If your drapes can be machine washed, try to do so at least annually-you will be able to notice a distinct difference, and will feel good knowing that you’re no longer breathing in the trapped dust. Blinds should be wiped fairly often, but, if you’re like most people, this chore falls way down on a priority list, if it’s even there at all. But try to give them a decent cleaning to get off the top layer of grime, especially if you’ve gone to the trouble to wash the other window treatments.

Now how do you retain that level of almost-perfection? Keeping on a cleaning maintenance will also keep the attention on your lovely items and décor choices instead of your guests being distracted by clutter or dirt. That means making a schedule and sticking to it-or forcing your kids and spouse to abide by some parameters. Try to get your weekly cleaning routine down to a science in a way that works for you. For example, clean each room at a time or, even one floor per day…whatever you can manage. See if there’s a convenient socket so that you don’t have to keep moving your vacuum connection; it’s much easier to do an entire level in one swoop. Keep a supply of cleaning products and utensils in each powder or bathroom so you don’t have to keep toting them around.

Who wants to come home to a dirty house and be more stressed? Your abode should welcome you with organization, beauty, with favorite items out arranged to your satisfaction. When people (especially kids) clean their own mess, they will hopefully realize humility and understand accountability. When one aspect of your life is under control, you may feel empowered to take even more control in other areas; feeling like the house has the upper hand is not the best feeling to experience. Finally, think about it-when’s the last time you saw a messy, dirty room advertised in a décor magazine or showroom? No one wants to live in a museum, but the most harmonious surroundings are clean and neat as well.

What Do the “Popular” Teen Girls Wear These Days?

First of all, we first must identify what makes a girl popular. In my daughter’s elementary school years ago, many so-called popular girls were cheerleaders…not because they passed an audition but because they parents paid for summer camp and the uniforms. Anyone could be a cheerleader; apparently it brought instant status to every 10 year old that could shake a pompom. The “super popular” girls were those who wore the most revealing clothes allowed by the school board, such as skimpy skirts and tank tops in the middle of winter. My daughter asked one once, “Aren’t you cold?” to which the other fifth grader replied, “Of course I am-but this looks good.” Sad, isn’t it? The stakes are raised in Junior High. It’s still not about looks or personality as much as power and sexuality- a “really popular” girl posted pictures of herself on Myspace, wearing a shirt with a drawing of hands over her breasts, as well as a suggestion with an arrow pointing downward. Is this what the popular girls are now wearing to make themselves popular?

I have spent a lot of time lecturing (yes, I believe there’s a time and place for it) on the concept of self-respect, standards and other stuff teens don’t wish to hear. But if I didn’t, I’d be remiss in my duty. Meanwhile, dozens of teen flicks abound with mean “popular girls” who contradict our words that their actions are not the way to behave. But, unfortunately, kids are vulnerable, naïve and insecure, and being around others who seem to have no fears of being able to get away with anything is liberating. Even when they badmouth others and connive, popular girls can give off an aura of having a special magic. (Often, it’s just misplaced confidence, super-ego, and bad attitude, but no one will admit it.)

Anyway, for those girls whose goals are to simply look good and fit in, without drawing unnecessary negative attention to themselves, I have the word straight from the horse’s mouth. It will probably differ by the time school resumes in four weeks, but the basics should be the same:

1. Knit shorts of all colors, hitting mid-thigh, with the waistband flipped over to expose the white elastic. (I don’t get it, either, but it’s big with those under the age of 16.)

2. Short skirts with patterns, not flowers…flowers just aren’t cool, apparently.

3. Jeans and capri’s-but not sweatpants or culottes, and definitely not gauchos-ever.

4. Differently patterned tops and bottoms are OK, as long as there’s a color connection.

5. Too much co-ordination is a no-no, like wearing a top that’s basically green with a hoodie in the same shade of green.

6. On that same note, hoodies are in, but cardigans and pullover sweaters are not.

7. Slip on, printed canvas shoes (like Vans) are the thing to wear-it appears that white designer tennis shoes or even simple Ked-like shoes are only for us older folks.

8. Black and white-checked items are really popular. (My daughter has this pattern in a purse, backpack, belt, earrings, and shoes.)

9. Tank tops are considered “hot”. (If your kid has significant cleavage, re-stitch the seam at the tank’s shoulder, bringing the neckline up an inch or so. She may not appreciate it, but there will be less of her for males to appreciate.)

10. Short, barely-there ankle sox are now more desirable than regular crew sox or slouchy socks of the past.

Let me end by saying that not every “popular” kid is badly behaved or spoiled, and they’re not the only ones who end up being successful. In fact, some of the "mean" popular kids’ success in high school is pretty much the high point of their lives; the real world takes a whole lot of acquiescing and humility that never had to be acquired. They may or may not learn that life is not a popularity contest, and it’s a darned good thing that it isn’t. If the people who didn’t win would allow it to affect their lives, there would be millions crying in their beer while the few winners would be trying to run the world. Now that’s a scary thought, isn’t it?

Clothes of The Future

If you lived in the States during the late 60’s/early 70’s, you may have watched a weekly series for a few years called “Lost in Space”. A family-the Robinsons-was sent into space for a short jaunt; the father was a space engineer, the mother was a doctor, and they had 3 children. Accompanying them was a co-pilot, and, unbeknownst to them, the resident bad guy, Dr. Smith, who snuck on before takeoff for his own devious reasons. Due to his intruding, plans were foiled and they found themselves…ah…lost in space. The galaxies offered grit for many sagas, even though today’s kids would scoff at the makeup and costumes of the aliens. Even the story lines were tame by today’s sci-fi standards, such as the alien who traveled across the universe, collecting beings for his zoo. People hadn’t yet experienced high tech special effects, so what the show offered was the height of coolness, even in the early black and white episodes. My personal favorite was when a female alien became enamored of the never-trustworthy, always lazy, Dr. Smith. His memorable character acting was never as funny as in that particular story line. The sexy femme fatale would appear outside of the spaceship window cooing “Dr. Smith” as she floated back and forth. Dr. Smith would run screaming and crying in his cowardly way, giving viewers a big laugh-or at least a smile. But none of this tops Robot. I loved Robot. Robot was the genius, the pet, the comic foil, and most importantly, the thorn in the side of Dr. Smith. He’d wave his stretchy-pipe arms and intone, “Danger Will Robinson, Danger”, and you knew something horrible was coming. He and Dr. Smith would trade insults until Dr. Smith would pull out Robot’s power pack and Robot would collapse with a sound that defies description. But by the end of every show, the family would escape the clutches of whatever evil alien being was intending to harm them, and be on their way to the next adventure. The movie version failed to do it justice, and I don’t recollect any board games, dolls or merchandise connected to it-true class.

Thinking about this earlier today again made me wonder if we, as a human society of the future, will ever wear the clothing that science fiction writers and designers portray. In this show, as in many other television and movie productions, the future means unisex attire, usually as a jumpsuit, and most often with long sleeves. It’s rather understood that we will have the joy of miracle fiber in the future, material that will keep us cool in summer, warm in winter, never need special laundering or any ironing, will come in flattering colors-or metallics-while still able to conform to our body-with the supreme advantage of not allowing any bulges, rolls, or other drawbacks to be apparent. This is a bit different than the clothes presented on the future world cartoon “The Jetsons” because in that, everyone did have unique styles, albeit quite geometric looking. (Of course, there is always the realm of future depicted by the entertainment industry in which everyone walks around in rags because the world has been practically destroyed, but we won’t go there today.)

My question is, do you think that the day will come when everyone will dress alike in unisex clothing? If it happened upon us in the next year-however absurd that may seem, would you go for it?

On one hand, I can see where a far-off future society-say thousands of years away-may be much more enlightened than we are, and will be at an intellectual and emotional place where attire isn’t important. In that case, unisex clothing would be much, much simpler in terms of decisions, packing, washing…not to mention what we could do with all the time and energy we now spend shopping, trying on, sewing, and accessorizing. It actually would be quite nice to be at such a place. But as far as things look to me, I can’t see that ever happening in our lifetime; we’re a far way from being that enlightened. We still want diversity, interest, fun and uniqueness. Our great, great, great, great, great grandchildren may never understand, but right now, fashion is fun, isn’t it?

A Stay At Home Mom’s Wardrobe

For me, the decision to be a stay-at-home mom was clear. Knowing that working a minimum of 45 hours per week without job sharing or part time options would be difficult, I sadly resigned from an enjoyable job. This choice enabled me to share many precious moments that I would have missed, as it would for any mother. However, I’ll never forget how hard it was for me to live with my choice on a day to day basis. There were countless days that I would have jumped at the chance to have gotten dressed, left her with a sitter, and resumed my life as I knew it. I’d even dream about doing so-at those times when I could actually sleep. I missed the camaraderie and having someplace to go every day. I missed having business goals, results, and my own paycheck. And I really missed going out to lunch with other adults. All of my friends were at work, and with mostly elderly neighbors, I had no neighborhood connections, on top of not having siblings, cousins or in-laws nearby. My days consisted of feeding, changing and quieting a very fussy infant; motherhood wasn’t as I imagined. Had I disliked working to begin with, it would have been different, but my work was my life. However, fate arranged it for me to start a whole different direction. That said, today’s column is going to focus on a stay-at-home-mom’s wardrobe, or, better yet, the mindset transition from a working wardrobe.

Since I had the luxury on not needing to leave the house to attend to other children, I became used to wearing loose pants and t-shirts until the baby fat came off. Even back to my pre-maternity size, I still strived for comfort, so hubby’s old shirts fit the bill-and made nursing easier. As much as I feared becoming a household drudge, I also saw no need to wear nice clothes when staying inside all day. A walk down the street or to the park relied heavily on comfy running/tennis shoes-especially because foot size tends to increase with pregnancy-and regular shorts. I started saving t-shirts for home and used occasions of going out, such as grocery shopping, to wear tops that were a bit more attractive while still informal. When my daughter started preschool, I was encouraged to see that other stay at home moms didn’t let motherhood get the best of their fashion style. Now, they weren’t decked out in dry-clean-needing silks, but no one was frumpy, either. For the most part, moms used preschool time to run chores or keep appointments, so their classic clothes were not only getting some wear, they served as an ego-booster. It’s good for woman to feel like she looks good, even if the only ones who sees her are strangers.

As time went on, I altered some of my former work attire for casual wear, and it became quite pleasant to not be concerned about shopping, feeling like I could travel to the beat of my own drummer. All stay-at-home-moms can. Don’t like jeans? Wear casual pants. Like skirts? Wear them to the drug store, the vets, or church. Do you like to live in tailored blouses? Go ahead; why not? And as for sweat suits, sweat pants and oversized sweaters are concerned, yes I have them, but I don’t live in them-just like with our working sisters, there’s at-home and going-out choices. It's great to not be cemented into any particular look or wardrobe style.

The primary requirements for a stay at home mom’s wardrobe are: ability to be easily laundered (kids make a lot of messes), practicality (will you be able to wear it to a casual dinner as easily as to Gymboreee?), comfort (when you’re sleep deprived and cranky, anything uncomfortable will make your day even more miserable), and whether you feel attractive in it. When you spend much of your life at home, you need your morale boosted in as many ways as possible. So go for whatever calls out to you; no one is judging you and there’s no such thing as a dress code!

And remember that Supermoms can do almost anything, but not all at the same time!

Adapting Fashion for Neighborhoods

Perhaps it’s just my impression, but I swear that different neighborhoods have distinct personalities. Revisiting them at least once a year allows me to feel that those old pals are still doing just fine. And just like getting reacquainted with someone after a long absence, I take pleasure in enjoying their unique gifts once again. They may not remember me, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t missed them! They are so diverse, in fact, that I can indulge myself in dressing for the locale-sort of like saving eccentric fashion looks for Soho or Greenwich Village, and designer looks for the Upper East Side.

Although Pittsburgh is not New York, we still have opportunities to dress for outings. One of my favorite places is Squirrel Hill. As the Jewish center of our city, many Orthodox and Hassidic followers fill the streets, wearing yarmulkes, dreadlocks, traditional black attire, and women in long, dark skirts. Visiting ethnic stores and dairy eateries, a woman may feel just a bit out of place showing too much skin-or she might not. Since stepping into this world is escape into old world living, I prefer to err on the side of conservatism.

A neighborhood not far from there is Shadyside, consisting of older, expensive homes and an upscale shopping district is only about 4 blocks long. I go there to treat myself, as it’s a little too fancy for every day shopping. You could easily pull out those items that are one of kind or logo-labeled and fit right in, using this visit as the chance to finally use those long scarves or out-of-the-ordinary jewelry.

A slightly more bohemian neighborhood is found in older parts of our city’s South Side, where antique and specialty shops compete with tattoo parlors and biker bars. There is a newly recently section, but my verdict about that is still not in. The preppy folks gathered in the central rotunda outside of the Cheesecake Factory prove that it’s popular, but I’m still partial to the original blocks.

Oakland is the academic hub of town, home to two major universities, two colleges and an extensive health complex. Young adults abound everywhere, as do their band clubs and bars. Since people flock from all over the world for education and health care, there is a huge diversity of population. Seeing saris, turbans, and mid-eastern veils mingling with a sea of denim means wearing indulging your identity and youthful creativity-such as hand painted shirts, tie-dyed items, baseball caps, and university alumnae gear-especially if you studied in this ‘burg.

Then there’s the Strip District-quaint, comfortable, and exciting. Primarily known for wholesale provisions, it’s where restaurants obtain their wares at dawn. But anyone can enter a fish market and pick out dinner from huge tanks of eels and lobsters and enjoy the dozens of ethnic markets, restaurants, and shops. Walking here is like stepping into other countries; employees speak their native tongues, and the vacuum-sealed atmosphere we’re used to isn’t always evident. Neither are grocery carts. What you buy, you carry, and since parking is at a premium, it could be a long haul. Since this is the place where working folk go for good deals, one doesn’t want to look too conspicuously fancy. Think packing district décor, where comfy, closed shoes are a requirement. The old world charm of mesh shopping bags carried by the little old ladies and the brown wrapping paper of meats and cheeses echoes nicely with today’s Green movement. This is not a place to dress to impress, at least not during daylight hours. (There are some dance clubs on the outskirts for that.)

Going to any of these places is a great break chain stores. They show us what life is like outside of our own little circle. These towns are also close to my heart for their original and residential living not far from its business area, allowing residents to forgo cars. Energies are different from the suburbs, and I find the cultural mix stimulating-along with the wide variety of focus in fashion. I love neighborhoods with personality; just like individuals with personality, they’re hard to forget!

Consider your wardrobe before visiting unique parts of your city and your visit may be even better!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Sounds Can Add to our Homes

This site is primarily about the visual aspect of our homes, yet we can’t forget the audio aspect. What good is it to have a stunningly lovely home, but have our nerves be grated upon by sounds that make us want to go elsewhere?

Noise pollution is just as bad as all other kinds of tangible pollution. Do some sounds really annoy you? The other day a perturbing sound started me thinking about the relevance of why certain sounds affect certain people, and the only reason I could figure was that they touch part of our historical psychology-in other words, they remind us of past unpleasant associations. Probably psychologists have a whole realm of more technical causes, but I don’t like reminders of times when I felt bad, and I’m sure most people don’t, either. The same could be said for sounds that elevate our mood; again they are quite variable and can cover a wide range. But, some sounds bother us to such a degree that they may even be a reason for not living in a specific locale.

Some of the sounds I particularly find disquieting would definitely affect my home atmosphere, just as those I love could add to it. For example, I find the sound of a train whistle quite sad, and would never live near a track that’s still in use. The forlornness of a train whistle conjures a despair of hard times from my parents’ generation that is unexplainable, but still very real to me. I would not wish to hear neighbors play music from the 40’s, especially polkas…My grandparents would listen to such music on an old radio every Sunday, and, although my childhood was happy, such songs have always inexplicably annoyed me.

I also can’t stand Instant Message notification…you know, that aggravating “blmmmp”. Even worse are those sounds that some people install in place of that blmmmp. (One time I was near the computer and didn’t realize it was on. My daughter had just turned off the monitor but left the audio volume on “high”. As I bent over to retrieve something from the desk drawer, a loud kissing smack reverberated out of the speaker and almost gave me a heart attack.) That, to me, is noise pollution.

So, what can you do to eliminate the bad noise and add good noise into your home to put you in a better mood? And, is there any way to add to your décor while doing so? Perhaps there is, if you think long and hard and use some creativity. One very common way to block out street noise is with a machine that generates another noise, such as humidifiers, air conditioning, heating, and the like. But few want to have to resort to machinery all the time, especially if it’s not really required. “White noise” devices for bedrooms are small but effective, and bubbling fountains may be considered for use in family or living rooms. They don’t need to be the type seen in pictures of mansions; less ostentatious models are now available for the “average” homeowner. Most folks wouldn’t want to keep a television on all day, but turned to cable music stations, or using a radio set on a non-commercial station may also work in offering a pleasant layer of music to blanket the neighbors’ lawnmowers, dogs, or kids.

Don’t forget chiming clocks; grandfather clocks have been long held in esteem for their reassuring bongs every hour, but only you can decide if they would be disruptive to your sleep. Wind chimes outside a door that’s open during warm weather can add a pleasant feeling to your home, but you can also hang one on the inside, above a window, for the same effect. (These have the added benefit of being made in metal, wood, shells and other natural materials, and can be a lovely accessory to any room.)

Look around and see if anything bothers you, and do something about it. Turn off speakers if they bother you; close windows if the kids are playing ball underneath it-or open windows to hear the wind and the birds.

There are good reasons why certain monks and nuns maintain periods of silence, and why cats run away from noise and commotion. Sounds do have a way of getting to us, for good and bad reasons.

Clothes with a Conscience

Recently, as I flipped through a new fashion magazine, an ad caught my eye. It was for Sketchers, and said, “Nothing Compares to Family”. It used a photograph of Tori Spelling and her son, Liam…assumingly both wearing Sketchers. The ad included the fact that Sketchers joins Ms. Spelling in support of the K.I.D.S. Foundation, and to visit www.SKETCHERS.com/charities.

Now, I liked that. It is uplifting that not every company is only looking out for number one. When one considers how much money is being made on overpriced clothing that costs a fraction of its price tag in terms of material, it does seem almost sinful that our purchasing power is just making executives rich. It seems that, with so much emphasis on “going green” these days, we, as a society, would be much more conscious about how we make our choices. The last time I remember any strong emphasis on such considerations was a few years back, when we found out the abhorrent conditions under which many foreign workers slaved to give us the clothes we so nonchalantly toss in our closets. So, I was pleasantly surprised to see Sketchers take a step in the right direction.

My faith was even further renewed in mankind’s altruism when I found yet another page encouraging shoppers to “do good” with their purchasing power. On just this one page, six different organizations are inspiring to rise above petty greediness for their own bottom line and allow their sales to offer help where it is urgently needed. I don’t know about you, but I’m much more apt to part with my cash if I think it is providing assistance instead of just filling some corporate pocket. If you agree, here are a few starting points to get you going in the right direction:

Small Flower-30% of sales of L’Aromatheque Cassis Perfume Extract benefits the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The price is $9.50 at smallflower.com for .28 ounces.

Erica Weiner-30% of sales of a gold-toned, filigree ring at $20 will benefit the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The ring is wide, etched, and appears to be able to fit most fingers. It can be found at ericaweiner.com

Shop Daja-They are offering an origami dress for $363, 30% of which will benefit the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Their website is shopdaja.com. The one advertised is a royal blue and A-line, with black tank top-like straps, a black belt, and black, lacy fringes around the neckline.

Figments-Figments Designs will donate 30% of sales from a $62 coin purse to Humane Society of the United States. Check out figmetnsdesign.com to see this beautifully gold and ivory embroidered bag with one central clasp.

Shop Intuition-Unique summer sandals can be found for $154; asymmetrical straps, crisscrossing below where the 3rd toe would lay and topped with a small band, have a very modern appeal. With the wider strap across the instep, the look becomes funky, as well. The ones pictured appear to be either white satin or white patent leather. The Humane Society of the United States will receive over $46 of each pair sold.

Violet.Com-Offers a magnolia and baby’s breath patterned platter, of which 30% of sales benefits the Humane Society of the United States. It is square, off white in color, with dark gray, pencil-like botanical designs stretching from diagonal corners and meeting in the center. It is truly lovely, for $75.

Clearly, these are Animal Welfare organizations, which need help just as much as all other charities. If you want to find out about other animal organizations that will profit from your purchases of tops, bags, jewelry, scarves and other items, check out animal and pet lover magazines. In the back there are many ads of items where your money not only gives you something a bit out of the ordinary to wear and/or use, you’ll be doing a wonderful thing to help “those who cannot help themselves.” (I once bought a pretty t-shirt with an outline of a cat, which benefited a group named Felines, and I felt wonderful every time I wore it.)

If you know of such an organization, please feel free to share it here so that we can all know about it. Thank you!

Reading About Leisure Suits and Clothing from the Past

I love books in a series. They are rather comforting, like returning to the familiarity of a favorite restaurant or catching up with an old friend. For the most part, there are the same characters in the same setting, with the same problems, and the curiosity of what’s been going on in their lives is too great to ignore.

Invariably, I choose series of prolific authors, so I get to spend quite a while with the main players, and feel like I know them quite well. I mourn a series coming to an end; it’s saying goodbye to someone without their hearing, and then wondering what has become of them. Unfortunately, Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series came to a premature end with his passing, so there’s a definite sadness in knowing that the personal sagas will never reach closure…Until Sue Grafton reaches the end of her alphabet-based private eye series, and Dianne Mott Davidson concludes her story about her caterer/detective character, I’ll be OK.

From my teen years, I’ve had to reads series books in order, on the surmise that being out of order would not make sense. But with my current favorite, I am stumped. Robert Parker’s Spencer series must include 30 books, but do you think I can find a chronological list of publication anywhere? I’ve taken to checking every book in local libraries for its release date and borrowing the oldest ones, but I’m still not reading in sequence. It’s unsettling. One way I know where I am is by his wonderful and ongoing descriptions of characters’ clothing. In fact, that’s one of the most fascinating aspects of reading older books-learning about how they appreciated current styles.

In the 1976 installment I finished last night, there were no fewer than 6 references to maens’ leisure suits. Maroon checked, pale blue, and white linen were some of the colors. Apparently they were best worn with shirts that had long lapels and open necklines, on some occasions with white belts and white shoes. Hmmm…I have vague recollections of my dad having one leisure suit, but it was a sober, conservative beige. And I don’t think anyone ever had the chance to see any of his chest hair. Another principal player was noted as wearing a white leather cape with a hood. Does anyone out there ever remembering men wearing such a thing 30 years ago? In Mr. Parker’s later editions (which I read before becoming aware of the multitude of his works), he expounded a great deal on his male friend’s love/hate relationship with clothes. The man scorned preppy gym attire like designer logo shirts and fancy sneakers, but made sure he always had a decorative handkerchief in his breast pocket, matching tie, and real gem cufflinks. (The same guy with the previous white cape, by the way.)

Authors have a tremendous ability to flesh out a character by simply focusing on their clothing.

Tamara Meyers’ main character in her series about a Mennonite bed and breakfast owner-and gets caught up in murders-makes frequent references to her “sturdy, Christian underwear” while her eccentric sister stuffs her bra with unexpected items and wraps yards of chiffon around herself. Now, can’t you just picture these women? If you love learning about New York happenings in the 1940’s and 1950’s as I do, you should read Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series. Every character is thoroughly described to where you can’t help but get an absolutely clear image of their lifestyle-at least back then. With an emphasis on class and social position, “ladies and gentlemen” changed for dinner, always wore hats, and never wore anything not freshly “pressed.” Mr. Wolfe himself, although never leaving his house on business, was daily outfitted in an expensive suit (which he kept on during his twice-daily escape to his penthouse orchid room) and an ever-present yellow shirt. Archie Goodwin, his assistant and narrator of the events was no slouch in the fashion department either-he always noted a desire to keep his new summer suits and shoes looking good in the midst of shooting and roughing up the bad guys.

Reading continuing series like these is more than an escape; it’s a pleasant mini-vacation to places offering more than our usual daily lives. Do so if you can.

What Do You Think Of Pink Hair?

About 18 months ago, my teenaged daughter began to be mesmerized by the fad of streaking hair with colors holding such dubious names as Bubblegum, Lime and Blueberry. Although these food-oriented titles might reflect usually delicious treats, there’s nothing natural about seeing the colors on anyone’s head. But it’s apparently considered status-quo nowadays, at least in real life, if not in many high-fashion venues. Have you ever really given the issue any thought? If you’re a mom of teens, you may have. If you’re under 25, you’ve probably done it. But, I need to ask, what was the reason?

About six years ago, a friend mentioned that other mothers “hated” her because she often allowed her high schooler to put those colored streaks in her hair. Her response was to shrug and say, “It’s only hair.” I think that’s one more dividing line among people-those that see such things as “No big deal” versus those to whom it is a big deal. I never in a million years thought I’d fall into the latter category, but wouldn’t you know that's where I happen to be. What’s funny is that I don’t know how I arrived there.

Perhaps having my daughter in my 30’s instead of my 20’s made a difference. Now, I can only envy those girls, who, simply by virtue of the fact they’re young, are beautiful. Their hair is naturally shiny and free of grey, and even doing absolutely nothing, their exuberance and youth radiates. They’ve no need to spend 15minutes applying toning cream, plastering makeup, and covering that which needs covered. Sun makes them glow pink instead of causing wrinkle worries, and even with no sleep, dark circles rarely appear. So, given their gorgeous natural state for which those of us “more experienced gals” yen, why would they do something so blatantly artificial and contrived? People then notice the streak of color instead of their lovely face or naturally pretty hair. (And, if it happens to be a white streak in black hair, how could they not think "skunk"?)

I am stumped, just as I am over face piercings and obvious tattoos. (See my article from February.) I ask the same thing about unusual-color streaked hair, and that is, do women really, truly think it makes them more attractive? It’s bad enough to resort to artificial color when you don't want grey; to do it unnecessarily seems rather wasteful, doesn’t it?

Last year, I dropped my daughter off at the house of an older girl I’d not yet met. When she answered the door, I think my mouth dropped open. She not only had facial piercings, she had bleached all color from her hair, and then did a rather fanciful design with pink dye. Minutes later on my cell, screaming at my husband for not warning me when he’d previously met the girl, I received the simple answer that she looked “normal” when he’d met her. Even though I see pictures of this look on MySpace folks and occasionally in public, it’s not a look most mothers want of their daughters who are not even out of junior high. Regardless of whether the streaks are in platinum blond or dyed black hair, the first impression of the person is fake, hard and attention-getting-not what we wanted of our daughters as we’d gaze into their sweet little infant faces, surrounded by pink blankets. (For those of you who aren't yet mothers, let me say that never changes, either.)

Anyway, every few weeks, my daughter would ask and my answer would be the same. Finally, she wore me down. I figured I’d let her do a washout hair pen, which goes on like mascara. I chose the pink version, since I figured that would show up best on her dark brown hair. Of course she tried it immediately, and loved the results. I must admit it didn’t look bad-but then again, you really couldn’t see it anyway.

So, you ask, has she now become a streak freak? Do we now have all the colors of the rainbow? Are outfits co-ordinated with hair highlights? Hah! You guessed it…she’s never used it since. When I asked her why, she said she doesn’t like it washing out so soon, but wouldn’t mind having our hairdresser do more permanent ones…purple, preferably.

Does anyone want to take bets on whether or not it’s going to happen? As the waitress from the TV shoe “Alice” used to say, “When donkeys fly…”

Adapting Fashion for Neighborhoods

Perhaps it’s just my impression, but I swear that different neighborhoods have distinct personalities. Revisiting them at least once a year allows me to feel that those old pals are still doing just fine. And just like getting reacquainted with someone after a long absence, I take pleasure in enjoying their unique gifts once again. They may not remember me, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t missed them. They are so diverse, in fact, that I can indulge myself in dressing for the locale-sort of like saving eccentric fashion looks for Soho or Greenwich Village, and designer looks for the Upper East Side.

Although Pittsburgh is not New York, we still have opportunities to dress for the locale. One of my favorite places is Squirrel Hill. As the Jewish center of our city, many Orthodox and Hassidic followers fill the streets, wearing yarmulkes, dreadlocks, traditional black attire, and women in long, dark skirts. Visiting ethnic stores and dairy eateries, a woman may feel just a bit out of place showing too much skin-or she might not. Since stepping into this world is escape into old world living, I prefer to err on the side of conservatism.

A neighborhood not far from there is Shadyside, consisting of older, expensive homes and an upscale shopping district is only about 5 blocks long. I go there to treat myself, as it’s a little too fancy for every day shopping. You could easily pull out those items that are one of kind or logo-labeled and fit right in, using this visit as the chance to finally use those long scarves or out-of-the-ordinary jewelry.

A slightly more bohemian neighborhood is found in older parts of our city’s South Side, where antique and specialty shops compete with tattoo parlors and biker bars. There is a newly recently section, but my verdict about that is still not in. The preppy folks gathered in the central rotunda outside of the Cheesecake Factory prove that it’s popular, but I’m partial to the original areas, even if parts seem just a bit tired.

Oakland is the academic hub of my town, home to two major universities, two colleges and an extensive health complex. Young adults abound everywhere, as do their band clubs and bars. Since people flock here from all over the world for education and health care, there is a huge diversity of population. Seeing saris, turbans, and mid-eastern veils mingling with a sea of denim means indulging your identity and youthful creativity-such as hand painted shirts, tie-dyed items, baseball caps, and university alumnae gear-especially if you once studied in this ‘burg.

Then there’s the Strip District-quaint and exciting. Primarily known for wholesale provisions, it’s where restaurants obtain their wares at dawn. But anyone can enter a fish market and pick out dinner from huge tanks of eels and lobsters and enjoy the dozens of ethnic markets, restaurants, and shops. Walking here is like stepping into other countries; employees speak their native tongues, and the vacuum-sealed atmosphere we’re used to isn’t evident. Neither are grocery carts. What you buy, you carry, and since parking is at a premium, it could be a long haul. Since this is the place where working folk go for good deals, one doesn’t want to look too conspicuously fancy. Think packing district décor, where comfy, closed shoes are a requirement. The old world charm of mesh shopping bags carried by the little old ladies and the brown wrapping paper of meats and cheeses echoes nicely with today’s green movement. This is not a place to dress to impress, at least not during daylight hours. (There are some dance clubs on the outskirts, for that.)

Going to any of these places is a great break from chain stores. They show us what life is like outside of our own little circle. These towns are also close to my heart for their original and residential living not far from their business areas, allowing residents to forgo cars and enjoy public transportation. Energies are different from the suburbs, and the cultural mix of people and clothes is stimulating.

I love neighborhoods with personality; just like individuals with personality, they’re hard to forget-especially when they all have a fashion focus.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Do You REALLY Listen to Fashion Magazines?

If you’ve been following my column since its inception in January, you know I’m not your usual kind of fashion writer. Yes, I’m intrigued by clothing and accessories, and all that goes with a presentation that’s flattering, healthy, and appropriate for the circumstances. What I’m not, and what I’ve trying to convey almost weekly here, is a little sheep that’s waiting to follow any kind of fashion guru, I don’t care what his or her name is or how much they charge. In fact, if you’re familiar with my views by this time, you already know that I like to point out flaws in the reasoning of a great many “style” concepts and fall short of actually poking fun at some of them. (Well, OK, maybe sometimes I do, but not that often…)

Today I may do something just a bit different; I’m going to flip through my latest copy of a popular fashion glossy and tell you what “they” have decided will give us a certain kind of look. I’ll give you my comments about the fashion insights of the pros, and you should feel free to leave your comments as well. This should be fun.

1. The well dressed gal, by donning skinny jeans (of course over her skinny hips, thighs and calves), a layered, ruffled, spaghetti strapped top, and pointy toed, sling back heels should feel not only "summery but a little bit rock and roll…"

Hmmm…Don’t you think that if it’s hot enough to wear such a skimpy top, it’s probably too hot for skin tight, long pants? On the other hand, if you’re off to an air conditioned club, you’d probably need to dance a lot to stay warm up top-just like Ann Margaret did in her famous ruffled top in “Bye Bye Birdie” - but she wore capri’s and flats. Furthermore, what is the concept that we sall want to feela little bit rock and roll?

2. According to a 4 page, Calvin Klein jean ad, right now we’re supposed to be interested in purchasing velvet jackets, high boots, ¾ sleeve sweaters and hoodies, mini skirts worn with long scarves, and pea coats.

Hello-it’s 90 degrees and July; I for one don’t want to go there. Cal must have known that some of us are summer folk; his contribution to us is one model who’s topless, yet not abashed enough to stop hugging her pal-who I think is male but I'm not 100% sure. By the way, what happened to fall?

3. Ribbon fringe-loose strips of fabric hanging off necklines-are supposed to offer movement while providing a “half tuxedo, half flapperish” look.

Well. I can’t say I’ve ever worn a fringe of anything up that high, and am not sure I’d find it “easy wearing.” You bend down and several strips hit you in the face. Forget wearing a necklace that day. If you have a baby, he or she could have a field day yanking on them, as would any cat you happen to pick up and pet. Still, it’s not unattractive, especially in the same color and material of the dress or top.

4. Kirna Zabete has new shoes for sale on line by the name of “Garbo.” Picture, if you can, a moderately width heel about 3-4 inches, with a shoe back that stays at the same level around the foot, whose two sides meet in a tied front (like a man’s shoe) which travels the length of the instep. Finish the picture off with pointed toes, and then imagine them in red patent leather. The ad says that you “would look a little hip-librarian.”

Uhh…I don’t know many librarians, but the ones I do know wouldn’t wear those. Maybe some gals could carry it off, but I for one, aren’t aware of any. If you happen to be a baby boomer and remember seeing nuns out in public in pairs, this is what they wore-in black, but with low, squat heels. They weren’t shiny either. (The word was that patent leather shoes would allow guys to see up your skirt.) These shoes are what I’d see someone wearing with one of those black and white nun outfits for their costume at Halloween. It’s not sexy; it’s not functional; it’s just sort of a strange hybrid.

That’s it for now; I’ve filled my fashion skepticism quota for awhile. Thanks for bearing with me. It’s good to express frustration at what appears absurd, and the world some designers think we wish to inhabit.

What’s Really in a Name?

Do you have a problem with wearing anything that has the designer’s name plastered on it, making you into a walking-yet unpaid advertisement? As you can probably guess, I do. Maybe if a person has no real sense of self, they want to identify with a name designer in order to feel some kind of prestige, or perhaps if a person is a young adult, they want to flaunt an expensive designer item. However, some people simply don’t mind wearing such apparel and don’t connect it in the least to any kind of emotional need. But I still wonder how such stuff gets bought.

Identifying logos-like the Nike swoosh-aren’t that bad, but blatant initials on garments and purses (like those of Donna Karan, Michael Kors, Etienne Aigner, Louis Vuitton and Gucci), and full company names on sports merchandise, is too discomforting for me. Back in January, I asked you all if you were designer followers, and today’s piece is expanding that question to include wearing a name on your chest, across your behind, or scattered over any accessory.

The next question to ask yourself is why have you allowed yourself to market someone’s product? Not only are you doing it for free, you’re actually paying for the privilege. That concept is ingenious, isn’t it? It makes those millionaires even richer. Taking that query even farther, would you wear an expensive designer item if no one was to know the designer-either due to their being relatively new, the label well hidden, or the style unrecognizable? If you’re like most people, you probably admit that most of the fun of wearing a famous person’s creations is having everyone know that you’re successful enough to have acquired it. Names, in every sense, are intricately woven with ego.

Names are also tricky when it comes to merchandise in general. Some companies purchase other companies and have lower-priced lines, but the same high level of quality. Other companies have distinctly lower-quality and lower-priced items, but rely on consumer’s brand identification with their high-end products…in other words, you really can’t trust the name in all instances. But there are many lines of apparel that are produced by “no name chumps” that are still recognized within their own industry as offering quality, and are able to offer reasonable merchandise due to distancing themselves from high-end advertising. In this case, the name is known by those who are really “in the know.”

On the other hand, names can make our search for products easier, if we happen to find a line that seems to fit us perfectly, or specialize in a manner we require. Surprisingly, certain companies don’t even appreciate this opportunity, and consequently make life more difficult than it needs to be. An example of this could be found in technology, like cell phones or computer components, as well as in some styles of lingerie. Often, such items are labeled with no semblance of rhyme or reason, carrying product numbers that are at least 3 digits long, and never in chronological order. The numbers are more like 8734, followed by 492, followed by 1100i; it’s enough to make one go crazy after awhile. Who the heck can remember such identification?

Is there anyone out there who can explain why companies don’t give their items names? Many shoe and brasserie makers do, but most refer to generic labels, such as “Bermuda Shorts” or “Pullover”, which can cover a realm of variance. Yet it seems that designers and manufactures apparently don’t want us to remember product names; they want us to remember their names. This seems like putting the cart before the horse, because if we can’t find a certain style in the Reebok section, we’ll go to another vendor. However, if we know we want the “Reebok Princess”, we can order online and it’s win/win for everyone. (Notice that it’s much easier to remember names instead of model numbers.)

The car manufacturers have known for years that people can relate much more to a product with a name than a number. (They’ll also remember those products better, as I just did with the Princess.) Let’s get names back where they belong-on the tags instead of our bodies.

Fashion’s Ironies

Have you ever noticed the irony of things? When you need sleep the most, that’s the very time you’re unable to get it. Two cases in point are colds and aches. If only you could just drop off for a straight 7 hours, you’d feel better. But no, get a bad cold or backache and you can forget about sleep, which makes having one even worse. The ironic thing is that we sleep best when nothing is wrong, which is probably when we need it the least…Then, say you have a bad night; you may not get up on time. Now, when do so, you’re tired to begin with and therefore need even more time to pull yourself together, but that’s when you have less time than normal. The ironic thing is that if we feel good when we get up, we move faster when getting ready, whereby when we really need that extra time to prepare, we don’t have it…So we rush. Inevitably, we break, scatter, or can’t remember where we left something. But we need whatever it was, so we have to make do, search, or repair. All this takes time that we didn’t have to begin with and that’s why we were rushing in the first place. The ironic thing is that when we have plenty of time, things flow rather smoothly and when we don’t, we make ourselves later and later…Such is the irony of life.

Now let’s consider fashion ironies, just for the fun of it so that we can all chuckle together. I once read that at any given moment, every woman has a least one thing that’s not working for her. Either she has a broken or chipped nail, a pimple, some grey hairs showing, a few extra pounds-something. Not only that, usually there is something that she’s wearing that’s not fitting right, has a spot or flaw of some sort, or is just plain unattractive in terms of color or style. I guess the writer’s point is that perfection is simply not possible, so don’t stress over the minor details.

With so much to worry about, we shouldn’t let little ironies get us down. We should just accept that something will go wrong on the day of the big interview, or the anticipated night out, and roll with the punches. But is there any other way to prepare? I think so.

First, as dull as it may sound, we can try to plan as much as possible and be realistic. If that skirt isn’t fitting now, chances are it still won’t fit in a week-so set your sights on another outfit now, so that you’ll have time to figure out what else should go with it. Check that second choice over really well to see if there are any stains or rips that need attended to, and try it on to make sure you have the right under-garments to wear with it. Wearing whatever will be closest to your face, experiment with lipstick and eye shadow colors, and then ask others of their opinion of your coloring choices, so there’s no surprise when you’re scurrying around and getting ready. (If it’s a big occasion, you’ll be anxious enough about other things.) Get out the purse you want to use and fill it ahead of time, so that if you do your nails shortly before leaving, you won’t chance ruining your manicure. Some time before you’re due to get ready, check your shoes to make sure they’re not muddy or the heels are coming off, and lay out the jewelry you wish to wear so that there’s no chance you’ll be unable to find that perfect item when the time comes.

You have little control over a skin imperfection, dark circles or dry hair, other than be diligent in daily maintenance, and possibly starting intense efforts a week or so before a special time, and remember that lots of products can work wonders, so don’t be afraid to use them.

There will always be some little irony of discontent, even during the happiest of occasions. But with a little foresight, you should be able to eliminate the really big glitches that can throw a wrench into those rare times of true and wonderful joy.

Glimpsing Your Fashion Essence

How you ever glimpsed the essence of someone so fully that for a split second, you feel like you know exactly what they like to wear? But, with most people, that crystal ball clarity is cloudy. What is the mystery behind this? It’s something interesting to think about. The feeling that you understand the essence isn’t just limited to people; it can also apply to situations. I’ll share a few of mine with you, in that regard, to show how that intuition can be used when it comes to dressing in a way that reflects your essence.

In my early 20’s, I took a ballet class from a Russian premier danseur. Something about his style resonated with me-his description evoked feeling, and consequently, it was as if I had realized an ancient wisdom that no teacher could have relayed in words. This type of essence, I believe, is educational, like when pieces of a difficult problem or puzzle click together and everything makes sense. The second time occurred a decade later at a worship service. My life seemed to pause momentarily, and I recognized a highly personal sense of comfort. It wasn’t a theological revelation, although I refer to it as this a glimpse of a spiritual essence. The third occasion was recently, while I was washing dishes and suddenly had insight into someone with whom I’d had a falling out. For so long, I had been viewing her and her actions from my point of view in relation to myself, and for 5 seconds, I had a flash into what may be her interpretation of life. Things fell into place for that short pause, but dissolved as rapidly as they appeared. This could be an essence into people, where you think you know them. But since we’re all subject to change, how well can we really know anyone? By the time we’ve realized something, that trait or perception may be gone.

The parameters of these glimpses have several similarities, such as occurring when I least expected them, in addition to providing information for which I was not even searching. Plus, although all of these “glimpses” were less than 10 seconds each, this knowledge appeared powerful. But sadly, the strength of each realization has ebbed with time.

So how can such esotericism work for us on a more material level? Well, broadly speaking, we can choose just how much of our “essence” we want to hide or announce with our choices when it comes to clothes and overall presentation. Some women truly want to keep their allure under wraps for just the right man, perhaps to make an impact at an opportune time. They may opt for figure-hiding clothes, longer hems, or perhaps even wearing glasses to look more studious or businesslike. It’s not that they aren’t feminine or sexy; they’ve made the choice that their essence does not need to be shared with people at large. Other gals may feel that they don’t want to hide their sensuality, humor, or enthusiasm, and are known for clothes that represent their personality. Bright colors, revealing lines, attention getting details…all speak honestly of their owner. “What you see is what you get” is one way to describe such individuals.

Even elementary-aged girls admit to having their own style, such as sporty, girly, preppie, gothic, or “emo.” Like older females, their styles change through time, and, also like adult women, some girls don’t see fashion as reflecting themselves as much as announcing their mood for the day. It’s nice to know that no one is cemented into any kind of image or style sense forever, and as life changes, so can we.

Men, unfortunately, don’t have quite as many options, but there are variances into a guy’s essence, such as athlete, beach bum, power exec, tough guy, etc. In some ways, it’s good to determine the essence of someone by sight alone, as it provides an idea into the image the person wants to project, but it can’t be forgotten that clothes don’t always tell the whole story. That’s one of the things that make fashion fascinating-we all enjoy slipping into a different essence every now and then, hiding or flaunting ourselves at will.

Decorating with Childhood Toys

Do you still have any of your toys from childhood? And, if you have them, are they in closet somewhere, or displayed in a creative way? There is something touching about saving what was once important to you, even if you don’t have children or aren’t even planning on having children.

My parents kept some of my toys in their attic for almost 30 years. I’m glad they did; it was heartwarming to see my daughter play with them. Until age 6 or 7, my old fashioned Barbie with the puffy blond hair and Stewardess outfit did just fine. Then my daughter realized that Barbies no longer change their clothes; parents just buy more Barbies. Poor puffy haired Barbie dropped low on the totem pole behind Mermaid Barbie and the Brat doll (who didn’t even have feet). Such is the way with new inventions…

So what have I done with such remnants of my youth? Well, it’s not exactly like we’re living in a toy store, but I put some items out now and then to add a little humor, and perhaps you can adapt these ideas to do the same with your possessions.

1. If you have a child-sized chair, stash it in a corner of a room, add a cushion, and then sit a doll on top of the cushion. Young guests will be drawn to that corner, and it could add just the whimsy you may want.

2. Small animal collections, or even horse statues, might fit on one of your shelves, especially in a workroom or office. Group like materials together, such as a collection of Beanie Babies and arrange them to be all sitting up or facing the same way.

3. If you have small toy fish, you can create an underwater scene by gluing them onto poster board that’s been painted in blue and green swirls, then attaching small seashells along the bottom, and framing it. This may work well in a bathroom.

4. Two or three similar stuffed animals (either by type or color) can also add lightheartedness where you need something different. Tie strips of material around them as scarves in the winter, and let them don sunglasses in summer.

5. If you display mini-cornucopias around Thanksgiving, see how children’s plastic fruit or vegetables look when displayed in it; they may or may not be too small. Another option is to arrange the fake food in small bowls around displays of pilgrims and fall items representative of the harvest.

6. Horseshoes and old game boards can be hung on the walls of game rooms or finished basements, and blocks can be set besides standing books, like book ends.

7. If you or your child has a collection of really small novelty items, you could consider making them into refrigerator magnets. All you need is a bunch of old advertising magnets, cut into 1 or 2 inch squares, and some heavy-duty glue. Find the flattest space of each object, glue the magnet piece on, and let dry overnight.

8. Old checkerboard or chessboards can be painted over with fanciful designs to become conversation pieces.

9. Consider hanging one or two shelves just for those special objects that you would like to have within sight, but don’t want to be in the way, such as past souvenirs, flags, or trophies-even if silly.

10. Bulk a large amount of small colored balls in a jar, place a collection of different playing cards in a basket, or drop several dozen marbles into a glass vase.

11. If you have older kids, they may be amused by “toy wreaths” using items from their earlier youth, such as a forgotten collection of plastic reptiles, bugs, dinosaurs, snakes all hot-glued onto a twig-wreath.

12. Another use for old toys could be a small Christmas tree decorated with a few strings of colored lights and model cars, small plastic novelties or tiny animal statues.

Finally, as mentioned a few weeks ago, cute centerpieces can be made by using toys arranged in seasonal themes.

Add a bit of panache to your surroundings with well-loved items from the past. You may not feel like a kid again, but you may just feel wonderment at life once again.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Are You an Inside or Outside Decorator?

Sometimes, it seems that many adults o fall into one category or the other when it comes to their efforts and use of free time.

Take summer, for instance-my husband rises even earlier than usual to water his garden and flowers. It would take a great deal of inspiration for me to crawl out of bed at 6 am if I did not need to, especially to stand and hold a hose. He spends countless hours in the yard growing what is available right down the street at the grocery store, and spends ridiculous amounts of money trying to enhance that which is already green. I cannot understand this. In our front yard, he spaces the flowers the same distance apart, using just the right soil ingredients, then encompasses it all within a deer fence so the results aren’t eaten. (Tomatoes still disappear nightly, but the way I see it, animals have to eat, too.) His herb garden is equally measured into sections, all neatly labeled with the specimen in progress. The yard itself is not landscaped with a retaining wall, flagstone path, fountain, bridge, pool, or any other “décor” item, but to him, it’s beautiful.

Who knows why some like fixing up their outsides and others don’t? Some people dream of having a huge yard to landscape, but I dream of moving back to a townhouse where even mowing isn’t necessary. I hate to admit it because you green thumb people will judge me negatively, but I couldn’t care less about what happens in my yard. If company is coming and I think we’ll be sitting outside, I’ll clean the furniture and sweep, and perhaps buy a pot of flowers, but that’s the extent of my time or energy.

When others rave about their excitement in watching handiwork bloom and ripen, I do feel that I’m missing an elemental joy, but it still doesn’t motivate me to start digging. People like me prefer to putter around inside. We fill our time with pursuits involving electricity while the former types prefer hobbies that take place in the great outdoors. I think that it’s ironic that men who spend hours in the heat-such as fishing and golfing-can’t stand to be without air conditioning when indoors. This is not saying that people like me spend all of their time inside when the weather beckons; it’s implying that, given a choice, we’d opt to spend energies on activities which are easier done within the comforts of four walls, soft chairs, and conveniences close at hand. We simply like to have our materials close at hand so that we can come up with our wonderful and creative results without having to fight the elements.

The focus on today’s article is that to not feel inadequate if you're surrounded by people who constitute whatever type of decorator you are not. The world needs both. A desire to work in the hot sun or humidity, getting fertilizer on one's hands and weed killer on one's feet, amounts to something. Strangers driving along (like me) often point and exclaim how pretty the landscaping and flowers look. Such efforts have the ability to brighten an entire street. Perhaps the inside of such a person's house doesn’t have the most conducive walkways, seating arrangements, or room “flow”, but residents probably sit outside on most warm evenings, anyway. Those of us who like to live inside are equally comfortable entertaining in a room that we’ve spent many hours rearranging and are just as happy gazing upon our results. Both of our “surroundings” could be considered temporary, and both take some amount of work. Both can also be the source of pride and achievement.

I thank those who give the world more beauty through their efforts in their yards and flower beds. I appreciate your improving on Mother Nature and admire your patience. It’s good that you can do something for at least part of the year that you enjoy and find fulfilling. But as for me, I decorate the inside of my house-and perhaps the front door. It may not be all I am physically capable of doing, but right now, I’ve enough to keep me very busy inside.

How Cool is Cool?

Today, while flipping through the radio, I caught a song on a country station (I believe by Kenny Chesney) with words to the effect of “I don’t have to wear loose clothes and have a ring in my nose to be cool.” What an “Aha!” moment. Some time ago, I read an article about various marks of “coolness” since the 1920’s, and it was really humorous. The extent that we try to impress others by being “with it” seems ludicrous when viewed years later.

We’ve all done this to a degree, normally in our teenage years. Although it seemed fairly innocuous to want to be hip, when I see this younger generation trying, it appears different. So much energy goes towards outside appearance and persona, there’s nothing left for the inside, and it’s sad. There seem to be some friendly children in my daughter’s school who are left out just because they’re not “cool”. (Not that surprising, they’re usually ones who are smart, sensible and have priorities in order.) Those poor kids could probably buy a whole new wardrobe from Hot Topic and still wouldn’t fit in with the cool crowd because their attitudes aren't rebellious enough. When you think about it, being cool has always had a connection with rebellion. It’s understood that young people use rebellion to deal with controlling issues in their lives, but when adults try too hard to be cool, it’s unnerving.

Is a 45 year old woman in a micro mini and band shirt being herself or trying to recapture youth? How about a 50 year old man with long hair or a Mohawk? Is he expressing individuality or a wish to look half his age? Are they rebelling against growing older or against society’s norm of how middle-age folks should appear? Cool for one generation just isn’t cool for another.

Have you ever tried to remember some of the ways in which you attempted cool-ness, only to realize later that it was just plain foolish? In high school, I first bleached my hair with Sun-In, and when that made a mess, I dyed my hair black. It was worse. I also did the almost-white lipstick and the three shades of eye shadow, and to this day I don’t know how my mother let me leave the house looking like that. Tight, dragging bellbottoms, earth shoes and tiny beaded bracelets are all now back in vogue, so I don’t feel so bad about those. But I did have more than my share of the nylon and polyester pant ensembles, not to mention huge shoulder pads of the late 70’s and 80’s. Heaven forbid I would leave the house without a designer purse and red-painted nails during my pre-married days, just in case I’d get the chance to go out after work. (It took a long time to accept that men really don’t care about such things, and that I was trying to look cool in the eyes of the competition.)

I loved a car commercial awhile back where a teenager says to a grown woman, “You’re lucky; you don’t have to worry about being cool”. Yep, it is nice not to have that particular stress on top of everything else. Let’s face it-when one is trying to make a living, keep a house, raise a family, and still have free time, why waste precious energy on something as unnecessary as a cutting-edge image? By the time one is a parent of a teen, life should be settled into a more altruistic mode. It’s more important how you contribute, the difference you make, and how the future is planned. (Of course, even if you do wear the trendiest shoes to the hippest, hottest spots with the coolest people, your kids still won’t want to be seen with you!)

Perhaps “coolness” is primarily for the young to experience on their way to finding strength of character. When they no longer need to rely on superficial trappings to tell them they’re ok, they will finally realize that they are “cool” when they’re no longer afraid to be themselves.

On that note, this old gal is going to jump into her red car, and drive to a dance class after checking her email-just like the 20 year olds! Hah-how cool is that?!

What Not to Wear in a Personal Ad

The other day, my bachelor brother-in-law allowed me to find him someone through an online dating service. There were probably three times as many pictures he ignored as he clicked on, but none motivated him enough to jot down any numbers. I can see why. Some gals go overboard in what they choose to wear and how to look in their photos.

Lest you jump on me for being prejudiced since I’m not the one searching, I once belonged to a “dating club." But it did not require photos; people chose each other based on bios, and their first sight was at the initial meeting. I enjoyed the experience, but I wasn’t expecting to meet a soul mate, or viewing it in terms of validating my self-worth. I think that gals need to keep in mind that a few “rules” should still apply in this tricky and realm. Here then, are my opinions of what not to wear if you’re considering placing a photo in a personal ad, and why…

1. My brother-in-law and I had a good laugh over the woman who, unlike the others who had at least one headshot and a few full-body photos, posted just one picture: a cropped image of her bikini-clad chest. It’s almost pitiful that she thinks it’s her best feature, more so than her face. So, the first thing is, if you don’t want your identity known, don’t post a picture at all, or use a far-away one. Flaunting physical assets alone denigrates the rest of the person that you are.

2. The women who were snapped in what they consider alluring attire and poses cracked us up. One even wrote, “I know that all you guys want is to see pictures, so here they are.” How tacky. Some real examples included shots of women turned backwards so their derrieres were shown off in tight pants, skimpy bathing suits, a girl in an extremely tiny skirt with one high-heeled shoe up on a rock, and one lass in micro-mini shorts and what looked like a bra, stretched across the hood of her truck. If you resort to such cheap ways to get attention, it appears that you don’t have too much else to offer in terms of personality or character. Don’t fall into that trap. If you look shallow, you’ll get someone shallow. Is that what you want? Even worse, if you demand that your pictures be “rated”, you don’t appear to be going into this with the right frame of mind. It’s just as important to know what to leave out as what to put in a personal ad.

3. Many gals post photos of themselves in fancy attire because that’s when they’re all dolled up and looking their best. This may backfire, especially if that kind of look is something you indulge in once a year. Would you rather be let down by meeting that pictured guy in a handsome tuxedo but now looking scruffy, or being impressed by a man who looks better than his photo? It’s a relatively minor psychological fluke, but we are more attracted to that which promise less, but give us more, rather than the other way around.

4. If you have no current, informal photos, on a day when you’re looking good in normal attire, try taking a self portrait with a digital camera. Hold the camera up to a mirror, check your image in the mirror through the viewfinder, shift your eyes so that they appear to be focusing elsewhere, and snap. This may take a few dozen tries to get one that you’re satisfied with, but you’ll be able to crop it later.

5. Finally, appear upfront and smart. Occupation, desire to have children, smoking or drinking habits, and religious affiliation are basics. By not answering, you reduce the chance of compatibility, or jeopardize a relationship once the truth comes out. And-it’s not cute to look like you didn’t graduate from middle school; check spelling and punctuation. Remember that if the first thing anyone sees are written words, those words should be worth reading. Be thoughtful and honest, and you’ll have a greater chance for a positive relationship.

Brilliant Fashion Advertising Is Rare

Yes, I admit it; I’m somewhat blasé about advertising. So much of it is, frankly, lame. But sometime back I saw an ad today in a Sunday circular that made me do a double take and actually giggle. I know that if lived to be 100, and racked my brain for ideas to advertise a label maker, I would never have come up with this particular image. It was fairly simple, and did not scream out, but very deftly made its point: To show how not labeling a denture jar with “his” and “hers” could wreck havoc, a couple smiled broadly for the camera-he with tiny little white pearl teeth, engulfed by huge, fleshy jowls, and she of the delicate features with the largest gums ever seen, overwhelmed even more with huge, square horse-y teeth.

It was hysterical. I loved it. Why can’t more ads, especially having to do with our appearance, be more humorous? Why must the majority take themselves so seriously?
I suppose if one is brainstorming with creative types, sooner or later somebody may hit on something this personal, but I can assure you it wouldn’t be me. I don’t know how folks think of these things, except to keep going back to the drawing board and bouncing ideas off of each other. In any event, this ad worked. Now I know that if I ever need dentures, and plan on soaking them in an identical glass next to my husband’s, I will most definitely label them so we don’t put the wrong ones in our respective mouths! A good ad should stick with you and motivate you-not just cause you to roll your eyes. The right ad should capture a mind as well as a heart.

Throughout the years, I’ve seen several ads which I thought wonderful, and they usually were of a funny bent. I am so sick of seeing beautiful, perfect people sell everything that I don’t even give those ads a second glance-and the same with cute kids. Give me something that gives me a laugh, and I may just laugh all the way to the cash register. What I won’t buy, even if I need it, is something that has an ad I consider ridiculous. For example, those ads in the newest fashion magazine pushing these “intense color” eye shadows and mascaras – three in less than ten pages- will never motivate most normal, adult women to purchase them. Yep, we always meet with clients wearing neon green, orange and purple circles around our eyes…Now, if partnered with ads for costuming at Halloween or for dance/theatrical performances in an appropriate venue, that’s another matter entirely.

When we look back at ads from the 50’s and 60’s, they seem so plastic. One thing about today’s exceptionally outstanding ads, they do seem real. Remember the “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing” ads? We all can relate to situations like that, so that is the kind of thing that Madison Avenue needs to revisit. For most women, swinging long tresses in slow motion to capture every hair’s glistening sheen and bounce is simply not doable, so I think we tend to forget them entirely. Give us a memorable catch phrase in a realistic setting (I could just see my grandmother doing that “Where’s the beef?” commercial) and it becomes part of our language.

Some ads are insulting, and some are hokey, but it seems like when one hits the jackpot, it hits big. Here’s a thank you to those ad execs that have been brilliant enough to give us a laugh, along with coercing us to buy a product. The really terrific ads are few and far between, but they are probably the difference between success and failure to many a company.

Throughout my months writing here at FashBlog, I’ve noted my disbelief with models’ poses, expressions, and scenarios on a few occasions, commenting how they’re often so off-putting we don’t even remember what they’re selling. I’m curious regarding your feelings about this matter. Go through the magazines you may have, and share with those who follow this column about any fashion advertising that strikes you as “brilliant”, and tell us why you like it. Thanks!

Clothes for Extra-High Temperatures-Or Menopause

In my early 30’s I was diagnosed with a medical conditions that necessitated being placed into a drug-induced menopause. After a few months, all I could hope for that real menopause would somehow skip over me, or at least hold off until I was 70 and feeling cold most of the time. No such luck. After my daughter’s birth I needed a hysterectomy and my system started following its own drummer, resulting in hot flashes for years. Night sweats began long before they were due, but optimistically, I figured that the sooner they started, the sooner they’d be over. Hah!

Being hot like that is awful-even though it seems that it’s not much to get upset about, all things in life considered. But to repeatedly break out into full-body sweats is disgusting, especially when everyone around you is calmly going about their business with nary a drop of perspiration in sight.

Since my mother died from breast cancer, I’m not the best candidate for hormone replacement therapy or even soy-based over the counter pharmaceuticals, but I take them anyway. I’ve also refrained from hot beverages, getting overheated, and placing a cold pack under my pillow. (Sleeping on ice just adds to my misery.) Giving up caffeine and wine isn’t on the horizon, either. Therefore, I found myself wondering what women did before air conditioning and paddle fans were invented. What do women in continuously warm areas of the world do? I also wonder about the physiological phenomena of having a hot flash right after thinking about having one. I often wished I could take my temperature during a flash. But, since it’s only about 2 minutes in duration, I doubt I’d get an accurate reading.. But I swear that it feels like it’s 95 degrees when I know the house is at 75. It’s a big difference, let me tell you.

So, if you’re facing this stage in life, or simply fed up with this recent heat wave far too early in summer, let me share some of the things I’ve found pertaining to fashion and clothing that might make life a bit better for you. First, think cotton. Keep repeating, “Cotton is my friend.” It is so much easier to wear than any polyester, nylon, rayon or other blends, and doesn’t show sweat like linen. This goes for lingerie as well; I know it’s hard to find cotton bras, but they are out there, and cotton camisoles are also an option-for some, anyway. Not only is layering key to feeling like you’ve some control, layering with things that don’t need pulled over your head is the key. (Who wants to have to deal with that several times a day?) If possible, try to avoid garments with draping, folds, pleats or excess material; believe it or not, any additional weight of fabric can make a difference. What worked best for me is to go sleeveless. For some reason, those few inches of material on my upper arms make me feel a good deal warmer. If it cools, I add a simple blouse over my tank or sleeveless top, leaving it unbuttoned and rolled up at the sleeves. I also found that loose dresses are often cooler than shorts, and wearing caps or visors outside keeps me a few degrees cooler as well. (It’s not much, but any little bit helps.) Obviously, the practice of wearing light colors instead of dark should be heeded as well, and anything extra that can be annoying should be left at home for another time-like decorative scarves, heavy belts, vests-even some jewelry.

My last thought about this issue is why the change in women’s hormonal systems results in a temperature rise instead of drop. But I smile as I think of something else: If we women got cold, we could probably hide it easily. But it’s hard not to notice someone flushed and “dewy”, fanning herself, in the middle of winter. Perhaps it’s nature’s way of telling us that it’s about time we let vanity and worries about appearance go out the window. As “women of a certain age”, perhaps it’s about time we review our priorities in life…

On that note-where’s my ice water?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Bonfires, Pig Roasts, and Other Outdoor Fashion Concerns

Every year, my husband’s co-worker hosts a bonfire during the first weekend in late summer that it’s cool. Another two friends have occasional pig roasts for special occasions. Then there are summer barbeques, picnics and garden receptions, all posing their own fashion dilemmas. What works inside doesn’t always work outside.

We seem to be removed from fire with our electric furnaces, stoves and ovens. To gaze into a bonfire for just a few hours seems to awaken something ancient. My daughter hates for me to wash her clothes after being near one; she wants the smell of fire to stay as long as possible. I like it, too; it must prove that we are instinctively drawn to fire. Sitting in front of a bonfire when it’s about 50 degrees is one of the most sensually pleasant experiences, regardless of blowing smoke and embers. So, the first consideration is to not wear anything that you can’t immediately dry clean or wash. Even if you like the smell, your clothes have been exposed to a good deal of smoke and microscopic debris, which can’t be good for fabrics. Don’t just wear a heavy sweater over lingerie, thinking you won’t need to take it off; you’ll end up being very uncomfortable. Go for at least 2 thinner layers, so that when the fire dies or you move away, you’re prepared for the colder temperatures, but still able to strip down when you’re right in front of the blaze. And don’t forget that bonfires mean casual fun and casual clothes. Also remember that every woman supposedly looks better by flame-light, so that’s another reason to relish the occasion.

Regarding the pig roast, well, it’s not pretty, especially if you’re an animal lover. We are so far removed from nature’s food chain that we don’t even consider where the meat between our bread slices originates. Every so often in the butcher’s area of a grocery store, we get a visual reminder that we’re eating actual animals, but mostly, there’s a disconnection. It's probably so we don’t feel guilty eating something that could have acknowledged-and possibly even nudged-us. I’ve embraced vegetarianism at several times of my life, and still don’t want to forget that hamburger once had big brown eyes and felt cold and pain as I do. Attending a pig roast takes you back to basics. The scenario is usually the same as the bonfire, but, the occasion is usually a bit more upscale. People don’t splurge on buying a whole pig, arrange for a spit, and spend almost 8 hours watching it turn unless it’s a fairly special occasion, which requires a step up from jeans and t-shirts. Often, this is seen at fancy, four-star resorts featuring Hawaiian luaus. Even if the main course wasn’t browning in entirety before your very eyes, more thought needs to be put into your wardrobe based on the location. It wouldn’t hurt to think of something vaguely tropical. A flowered sundress and large, brightly colored accessories would be more “in the spirit” with this summer occasion than a denim mini and plain tank top, for example. Sandals which are fancier than basic flip flops will enable you to fit in with the luxurious surroundings as well. Again, think casual, but a tiny bit more glamorized.

Barbecues and picnics are further down the prestige chain, but never forget that you will be outdoors-so footwear should be appropriate. Leave high wedgies or platform sandals at home, even if you don’t plan on playing team games or dancing. You may even think about doing your makeup in natural light, say in front of a window-instead of the bathroom. Since you’ll be seen in natural light all day, you’ll get a better idea of how your makeup color will really appear, which is in a bluer spectrum outside than the orange spectrum produced with inside incandescent bulbs.

The same goes for garden receptions associated with graduations, appreciation events, or society affairs. For these, go with the fancier heels, since there’s little chance you’ll be doing much more than walking to a table of appetizers. Concurrently, a much fancier ensemble is de rigueur; now’s the chance to wear items that served at past weddings, and that includes dressy hats.

You’ll enjoy opportunities for outside partying even more, knowing you’ll look and feel in sync with the occasion!

The Clothes We Leave Behind

Just for the heck of it, I’m going to write a goodbye letter to the fashion items that get left behind by our loved ones. I think it should go something like this:

Dear clothes and jewelry and purses and shoes that got left behind,

It’s appropriate that I tell you just how much you mean to me. It’s only right that you hear the whole story. Forget about my seeing you on my loved one for these many years. My dear (mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, friend, fill in the blank) loved all of you, and was excited when she brought each and every one of you home from the store. It’s very sad that she will not be enjoying you any longer. I know you hung in dark closets and sat in her drawers for months on end, wondering when you’d see daylight again, but there were weeks that your owner never even got outside. Then there were even worse weeks when a hospital gown was the outfit of the day, and it didn’t matter that it didn’t co-ordinate with her slippers or robe. Even though the time eventually came that material items were the last thing on her mind, be assured that when you were first new, you brought a lot of joy into her life, albeit minor, in the big picture of life. Regardless of what you cost, or how many complements you received, you had the honor of being chosen by someone with high standards. Know that everything possible was done to keep you looking your best.

When your owner left us for a better place, some of her treasured belongings were deemed as items that could offer more hours of service to folks who would greatly appreciate them. As you may also know, it was time for others to be retired. Some of what fit me was moved into my closet for awhile. And you who remain have the privilege of staying around, in a long retirement, just because you once belonged to her. Every time I’m in your presence, I’m struck by the irony of life. You are trip down memory lane, and each one of you has meaning. I often wonder what will become of you in the future. Will you, once lovingly tended, find yourselves at a flea market, blending in with other stuff that's no longer wanted?

It’s been over eight years since your owner left, but she’s still here in many ways, especially in you. You had purpose to her, and, therefore, significance to me. I see no sense in getting rid of that which would have no meaning to someone else. Although some of your partners were given away, you are mine. To throw you away seems disrespectful, like saying you no longer matter, when, in a way, you matter more than you did when being used. The funny thing is, “stuff” is taken for granted when a loved one is alive. There is poignancy about it once the owner is gone, though. It becomes the last fragments of a person, tangible memories that are merely representative yet still appreciated. We don’t need physical reminders of our loved ones, but can’t help holding them dear. Money doesn’t buy happiness directly, but every so often, little trinkets bought with it by a loved one can bring happiness when their owners are gone. It seems silly; it seems sentimental, but it is what it is, and I think we call it love. I loved my mother in one way, and knowing that you served her, I love you in a different way. I am glad you were there to provide comfort, enjoyment, and pleasure. Someday you may be owned by others, but right now, I’ll take care of you as much as you’ve taken care of us. Thank you.

To those of you reading this at a sorrowful time in your life, know that there is no need to make rash decisions. Your loved one’s belongings aren’t going anywhere, so take time in deciding what to do with them. Allow some to live out their useful existence, and keep what brings you joy.

“Rag Sheets” and Their Fashion Influence

Is there really such a term as “Rag Sheet” or is it something unique to my hometown?

In any event, it refers to those brightly colored newspapers found near grocery store check out lines (not the black and white ones; they’re not even worth mentioning…) I think there are 3 types of people: those who never buy one, those who occasionally splurge, and those who have subscriptions. I’ve been all three at different points in my life. They do hold one’s interest and are addicting. You have to hand it to the writers-they manage to find uplifting aspects and hope in every dramatic saga. Although limitations of “sources”, “acquaintances” and “witnesses” leaves something to be desired as far as credibility, just about every article seems concise, as if there aren’t plans to follow and continue it for the next 22 weeks.

But it’s the photos that draw us in. Women, especially, like to see what the celebrities are wearing and how they look. That’s actually an enigma, since seeing beautiful, surgically enhanced bodies in dresses more expensive than our annual incomes can easily make us feel even more insignificant. In fact, after glancing through one of those rags, I feel like throwing away everything I own. The only thing that keeps me from doing so is that they’re wearing what fits their lifestyle, just as what I wear fits mine. On that note, it’s fun to see the “fashion flops” or even the faces they capture without makeup. Aha! Celebrities are normal, after all. Give us stylists and million dollar budgets and we can all look terrific, too.

I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be in one of those rag sheets, let alone repeatedly on the cover. Paris Hilton wrote in her book that she spends her airplane time reading magazine articles about herself...Yeah, I do the same. That’s always been something I’ve wondered about: do stars in sunglasses actually run to the corner magazine seller and buy all the weekly gossip magazines? Or, do they have their go-fers do it? And do they get just one copy, or more for their friends and families? Among the jet set, is it considered a prestige or embarrassment to make it into a rag sheet, even if they’re on the list of Fashion Flops?

We also want to hear about the perks “celebrities” get even though it's sometimes sickening. In a recent “In Touch” magazine, not one but two actresses were given valuable gifts for the mere fact that they stopped by a “celebrity” gift station, and they asked for additional items for their lovers. Now, if anyone in the world has the means to buy designer sunglasses and fancy grooming products, it’s those who get several million dollars for a couple months of acting. (Why do they give gift bags, worth thousands, at award shows, anyway? Isn’t being there, wearing a $20,000 dress and a million dollars of rented jewelry, enough?) There are also hundreds of reports about celebrities getting breaks from police regarding traffic and parking violations, as well as store owners providing free merchandise. What sticks in my mind are the stories like the one of a mega-rich “princess” showing up without enough cash for a Starbucks latte (and failing to thank the guy who covered it), and then waiting for a good Samaritan to fill up the empty gas tank of her Bentley. Furthermore, when celebs get into really bad situations, they run to rehab. They then have fodder for more news coverage and the chance to pen another autobiography about turning over a new leaf. I’m glad if they are getting help, but it often seems a bit too staged.

Many big stars don’t care about rag sheet coverage. Since stories about them are continuously published, they about her as she juggles her kids on another humanitarian mission? No, those magazines are for us regular folks, to glimpse into the lives of the golden ones-and for some of the golden ones, to remind themselves that they haven’t lost their luster and the ability to evoke interest. We simply want to see what’s going on and what people are wearing. That’s the rag sheets’ sole purpose, and they do it rather well.

Perfection, Please

Everyone has some level of perfection that they must attain on their path. Now, I’m not saying that they must be perfect, because that’s impossible, but “level of perfection” is something different. In other words, we need to be as good as we can be, and guard against as many mistakes as humanly possible.

For writers, an editorial staff is usually more picky than paying customers. Most customers just want writers to sell something, which does not necessarily require technical perfection, but editors like to put all of the knowledge they’ve acquired to good use. When articles don’t come back for rewrites, an author feels like they’ve reached perfection, at least technically. However, even in such pieces, a writer may not feel that a word or sentence is stating the point perfectly. Even if it does, that could change as conditions change, or the writer’s views become altered. So, standards of perfection thus keep moving.

That being said, are you a perfectionist? And if so, are you one in performance as much as appearance? Some feel it’s a losing battle and just do the minimum, but most of us find ourselves somewhere in the comfortable middle…

I know people who wash everything after one wearing, and others who feel that clothes don’t need laundering until they either look dirty or smell. Some don’t care if there’s a noticeable mark on their garments, while others’ eagle eyes can spot a microscopic spot from yards away. My teenager can wear something for hours before noticing it’s ripped, but other kids refuse to wear anything with tiniest imperfection.

Hair and makeup are another story. I see so many gals with every hair perfectly in place, and some ladies’ mascara never runs, nor does their eyeliner ever smudge. Girls like that always have perfect lipstick that never gets on their teeth. My question of the day is, how do they do that without looking in the mirror every half hour? I know they sell waterproof eye makeup, kiss-resistant lipstick, and super strong hair spray, but still, some people have the knack of keeping their makeup and coiffure looking close to perfect. Now, they may not think they do, and they may have many other problems, but their outer countenance is a whole other story.

The older I get, the more I think that perfection is a myth. I wore braces and still don’t have “perfect” teeth, and my laser eye surgery did not produce “perfect” 20/20 vision. I don’t own a thing that fits absolutely perfectly, and I doubt I ever met a pair of “perfect” shoes. What’s even more discouraging is that most of what we see in the media is totally fake; even those who seem to exhibit ideal beauty and presentation are simply the product of professional fixer-uppers. Heck, who wouldn’t look good with staff who fusses over every inch of them, then lights them in the best possible manner, and finishes the process with airbrushing? So much is an illusion, devised by those who are highly paid to cover imperfections.

I used to tell myself that the best way to look good was to do my makeup as perfectly as possible, then to forget about it for awhile. I figured that the least fussing, the better. But that didn’t always work, and I’d be appalled that I’d been walking around for hours looking as I had been. So, then I kept a mirror hidden in my top drawer at work, but it never failed that a co-worker would stroll by during those moments of checking to see if anything was amiss. In an old book I read-I believe it was “The Fly Girls”, stewardesses were told they should never wear mascara or eyeliner on their bottom lashes, since they had the potential for smearing during strenuous hours of work without a break. Even their hair couldn’t be longer than the bottom of their necks. I’ve never known any flight attendants personally to ask if this was true, but it goes to show that, when it comes to appearances, folks still want perfection-or at least makeup and hair that stays where it’s supposed to stay.

Good luck in looking perfect today. Let me know how long you achieved it.

Worth A Thousand Words

Anyone who has not had to acquire a specific painting or photograph must not have seen enough yet, for there is something about a particular visual medium that can, as they say, “take us to a better place.” Art simply makes us happy. Even babies enjoy pictures, and young toddlers try to create their own-even if it’s with an ice cream cone on a wall. We have to wonder about this innate drive to produce images, since no other living creature seems to care about doing so. (If I’m wrong, please leave a comment here so that we can all be informed.)

Probably everyone has art in their home that falls into one of three categories:
A: That which was purchased after a long-standing love affair.
B: That which was either a gift or made by a loved one.
C: That which was grabbed up because it seemed to go with the décor.
Guess which type I’m going to talk about here? Gotcha! It’s number one, not number three as you may have supposed.

It’s the art that haunts us for years that has that special significance-the painting that seems to call out for us to gaze at it every day and still find something new within its borders. Most of such art pulls us into it; perhaps we feel we’ve been there or wish we could be. Or, there’s something about the juxtaposition of light and colors that speaks to us of a happy memory. It’s when we happen upon such a piece that logic takes a back seat. Who cares if it’s too big for the hallway or it doesn’t go with the kitchen colors? Having that art, whether it’s an original, print, or copied reproduction, is all that matters. That’s when you know it has called out and chosen you, not the other way around.

Such a painting has stuck with me for years. As a young teen, I took art classes at a museum and would return every week to a painting by Albert Bierdstadt entitled
“Seal Rock”. Only recently, with the advent of so many poster and art reproduction companies, have I finally been able to get my own copy-and the enigma is still there. I know it may sound strange to have hung it in my master bath, but it seems to belong there. Since dark green waves constitute ¾ of the painting and room has a lot of dark green turquoise, it fits in on a décor level, but, reflected in the main mirror, it keeps me company during the good amount of time that I spend there getting ready. And, since I’ve always loved that painting, it’s good company. Who says you shouldn’t put paintings in a bathroom?

For me, this wonderment also holds true regarding two artists who are famous for their works depicting Paris. Christa Kieffer’s views of French evenings on the town are found in three of my rooms, and I acquired two prints by Michael Delacroix after seeing his Paris scenes displayed in the local library. In every case, it was love at first sight instead of a long term romance-but not to say the emotion was any less real. In addition, I have framed and hung holiday cards reflecting images of my city which are pleasant reminders of times past; for whatever reason, I can’t throw them away. Whether it’s the art evoking memories or my memories expressed in art is irrelevant.

Almost two years ago, I spent a weekend writing for a photographer, and it has been my favorite assignment to date. Looking at one beautiful photo after another is a great way to make a living. An affinity for photos or paintings isn’t a vice but art appreciation. Few can spend $87 million on a painting like someone did in New York back in 2006, but, in this case, price means nothing. You can buy a painting or photograph for almost nothing, yet, its value to you may be invaluable. That’s the mystery and allure of art. If you want to have certain art around you, go for it. This is one time to not worry about logistics. If it draws you in and holds you captive, you’re meant to have it in your life.