After I finished the book, Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth Cline I had a sudden attack of distress about where my career had taken me:
What if I told
you that the feet below belong to a guy you will one day marry:
Yeah, that's right: Perhaps the father of your children.
What are you thinking now?
The connections we make with other people often don’t start with words, but with visual first impressions, which generally get a head start on words by seconds, minutes, or much longer. Then, words and gestures may have to struggle with that impression to counteract any negative feelings. Or, maybe they aren’t called to that struggle because everything has gone along swimmingly. (Phew!) Most often it takes a very long time for a person’s words and actions to overturn a first impression, but when it finally happens, it might be too late.
Is this guy for real?
Well, that’s the power of a first impression! You’ve been wired to take in the world through your senses, make some general assumptions, and then take action from there.
If we break down this particular first impression above, we can see that it’s not so much the person, but the person’s choice for footwear – and hosiery. We instinctively assume that the choice for what one wears is a sort of value judgment on his or her part. That’s certainly true, but to go deeper, we have to investigate what clothing really is.
Fashion historians (and other experts concerned with the human condition) agree that there are two purposes to clothing: 1. Protection from the environment, and 2. Privacy. No one I know operates on just these levels anymore. (I know a few people who try, but they’re pretty frustrated because it’s actually rather impossible.)
Consider this: If we once wore woolly mammoth hair to protect us from the cold winds and to establish a boundary between ourselves and the eyes of our fellow man, how in the world did we arrive at:
Okay, no one I know wears that either, but I’ll return to modern fashion in a moment. For now just think about what happened between fur and crazy queen bling.
Well, what did happen?
Fashion happened! The difference between clothing and fashion is that fashion communicates something about the wearer as a person. My guess is that the moment people realized they had a little control over which way a fur hung or what to do with some amazing animal teeth, they reconstituted fit and shape (and accessory) according to their personal wishes. This is what I picture:
Cave Man: “Here is your ration of fur until the next hunting season.”
Cave Mom: “Thank you darling. I think I’ll create a jaunty hat with this extra bit here.”
Cave Teen Girl: “May I have a little tendon and some front teeth to accessorize? Molars are so last year”
And I also guess that it happened almost immediately, although I have no scientific data to back me up. Now fast forward a little bit and think of uniforms or religious costumes or what fashion historians call “ethnic costume.”
“Ha!” You say. “There’s your example of clothing that’s not fashion!”
Well, it sort of is fashion if we use the communication definition (It's actually called "traditional costume."). A uniform denotes a certain job, membership of an organization, or status as a student. Religious garments tell of a Faith, and can even signal your marital status. Finally, ethnic costume, like a Sari or veil communicates a whole range of variables such as geography, age, marital status, or class.
Of course, when most of us use the word fashion, we are referring to the Western notion of personal fashion which began in Europe in the 1200s and has spread over time (the notion not the fashion) to just about everywhere around the planet with a few pockets of exceptions. No, Europe didn’t invent the concept of the individual-attempting-control-of-what-she-wore, but Western’s particular brand of it went global after a while, and well, the rest is history.
Fashion is choice, and behind the word “choice” is the idea that in going for one thing, we didn’t go for another. It’s a judgment call of sorts and reflects many things about the person making it: Sense of self, level of confidence, aspirations, experiences, and especially attitude.
No wonder first impressions are so powerful. We aren’t just reading the cover of a book, but also a table of contents and a few choice passages!
 But he’s a great guy! (No, this is not my husband.)
 If you really want to see a detailed breakdown of the purposes of clothing, check out Fashion Design by Sue Jenkyn Jones (Laurence King, 2005). She elaborates on the ideas of “utility, modesty, immodesty, adornment, symbolic differentiation, social affiliation, psychological self-enhancement, and modernism.” Yes, she’s thought very deeply on this matter.
 Intrigued? See Anne Hollender’s Sex and Suits.
My last post was really just a primer for this one.
Because it's all well and good if you understand how to coordinate color, or pick colors according to your mood, or even know the most fashion-forward palettes out there.
But what really counts is knowing what colors flatter you the most; which make your face glow, your eyes twinkle, and your cheeks color.
Your style is truly set back when a good-for-nothing mustard yellow (yes, there are very few people who can pull off this color) contributes to the impression that you suffer from a nasty form of malnutrition or chronic insomnia. In fact, no hallowed shoe or iconic bag or even sparkling jewel can counter the effects of a badly placed hue.
And, of course, the opposite is true as well: An awesome color can make up for anything else happening in an ensemble!
I like to call this a "cosmetic" approach to choosing colors. Color placed around the face isn't chosen for a psychological impact or fashion statement (that can be done with the colors placed further away from the face), but for its ability to keep the focal point on your eyes. People will want to look straight at you because they are inspired and captivated.
Finding these colors is pretty straightforward. True, a color expert can give you a great range of your best colors more efficiently, usually grouped into categories such as seasons or temperature, and you may have to do a little leg work to follow the do-it-yourself instructions below, but what you'll have in the end is a pretty strong notion of the best colors to choose for makeup, jewelry, blouses, sweaters, jackets, coats, and scarves.
We begin with a graphic for the steps:
Not to state the obvious or anything, but a rather famous writer* once said that
“The purest and most thoughtful minds are those which love color the most.”
And, I would like to add, in my travels among the women I serve, the number one most requested topic to cover in my services is color.
(Yes, there are some very pure and thoughtful minds out there.)
In celebration of the cherry blossoms near my home here in Virginia, the geraniums growing in the planters along the streets of Charleston, South Carolina, the water gardens in Naples Florida, and the wonderful work at New York's Museum of Modern Art (all of which I experienced within about a week's time), I would like to explore the gift of color in our world and in fashion.
Beginning with an info-graph on the topic:
The Psychology of Color
Color is often the first thing we notice about an object, a scene, or an outfit somebody's wearing. We can also detect an awful lot of variations of color - some experts claim 6 million variants of hues, tints, and shades - and experience physical and emotional reactions to them.
Pop science aside, we humans really do have some interesting interactions with color. For example, we see yellow before any other color and if we see it for too long, it actually tires our eyes, and, in turn, causes a sort of adverse emotional reaction as well. That kind of says something about adopting yellow as a go-to color. (Just don't.)
Orange is similar. It's quite noticeable and it's why it works as a "new black" among the prison population, as background in road signage, and for bird plumage in the natural world. Orange also seems to indicate friendliness and cheer and, in the world of fashion, playfulness and whim.
Red is part of this club of "hot colors" and it's loaded with meaning: love, passion, daring, and luck. During most fashion seasons, red can work as a stand-out, forward-leaning fashion color.
Blue, like the sea, the sky, or the hue of atmospheric perspective in art, is calming, reliable, and honest. It is a fabulous fashion color because just about anyone can find a blue hue that works gloriously against her skin tone.
Green has been shown to have a calming, almost pain-killing effect, and, while most people really don't look great in most hues of green, it's found all over in nature. It's come to represent health, healing, and the natural world, but also, a bit ironically, sickness, infection, and envy.
Generally, Westerners combine color using certain rules: Black and white; but rarely black and brown. Blue and red; but almost never blue and purple. Now, those patterns have been stirred into a more global understanding of color. Some older color theory labels nicely organize these new ideas:
Analogous Color Schemes - Colors which are adjacent to one another on the color wheel are used in a single ensemble. For example:
(athomeinlove.com; very sweet blog)
Or, as a print in fabric:
And Complementary Color Schemes - Colors which are opposite to one another on the color wheel are used in a single ensemble. This time:
This ain't your Grandma's closet.
Or, is it?
In Western Fashion history, there have been times when these schemes were perfectly acceptable.
By the late 80s, it all had been squashed out.
And I don't have to tell you about the nineties.
Of course, color is always in style. (Maybe not so much in this way!)
(I'm sure these nice people have moved on from this.)
But now! Newer and more sophisticated possibilities for color combination is appreciated and celebrated in our fashions even (sometimes) for professional wear.
But there's plenty of room for all neutral ensembles too.
So, what gives? Is it a new age of anything goes?
Not really. As with all other ages in fashion, the context must be considered before the color combination is determined.
Here are the basic three contexts and the "rules."
1. Executive work wear / Business in more conservative industries (Dress takes its lead from menswear)
- Neutrals (Black, brown, gray, navy) can be paired with a lighter neutral (white, cream, light gray) or an accent color such as red, white, beige, pink, or a light green.
- Avoid large swaths of purple, pink, yellow, bright green or orange.
- Avoid loud prints.
- All of the above is certainly acceptable but ensembles must be injected with interest such as, for example, a tasteful print, unique accessory, or statement making bag or footwear.
- Swaths of any other color or any analogous or complementary combination is perfectly appropriate, but the ensemble must be finished with quality materials and with work appropriate structure. (In other words, shirts and blouses but not t shirts; Trousers, leggings, skirts and dresses but not athletic apparel or underwear)
(For the record, I'd go a little lower on the heels.)
- Any color combination is appropriate but only if one "wears it like she means it." (This means that she must have the fashion personality to pull off the less traditional color combinations.)
- Athletic apparel should be worn only during athletic activity and underwear should not be adopted as "personal casual fashion" as a rule.
Next Post: How to find your best colors!
* That writer would be John Ruskin in his famous The Stones of Venice of course.
Right now, at this very moment, I am sipping some strong coffee to combat the "spring forward" hangover that apparently really is a thing. (And a nasty, awful thing it is.)
But I shall March on! Summer fashion is just around the corner and I can, in fact, find some inspiration before I turn that corner.
Here's how I've been doing it so far:
1. Instagram. I'll return to this in a later blog, but for now I'd like to say that rediscovering this handy little app is a bit like a baby finding the buttercream frosting on a cupcake or a wino stumbling upon an unguarded crate of Seven Deadly Zins. It's sick (as they say).
2. My new hobby. Or, really, old hobby now done on line. If you want to know where I find my inspiration for everything, visit www.abundanceofgood.com. (How's that for lifestyle integration?)
3. My spring gigs. Spring is always my busiest time, and that's mainly why I've been so silent recently. Why, just look below at what I've prepared for you!
A couple of days ago (January 6 to be exact), I went out to my car and had the SHOCK of my new year: I had to scrape frost off my car's windshield! Imagine that? I guess it's time to drag out the ol' "Field Guide to Winter Fashion."
Grandma's advice on cell phonesAn updated entry from the back of the rack!
When is texting appropriate? When isn’t it? How should one use hashtags while tweeting? And, under what circumstances may you “unfriend” someone on Facebook?
At this moment in history, everyone has an opinion on etiquette in technology. Preferences on the smaller details vary, but most users agree that the bottom line guideline for our digital interactions stem directly from the time-tested, common-sense, person-centered values which inspire good manners.
So, I decided to turn to my very well-mannered Grandma Brown for her take on the whole topic. Below is her advice on manners for our digital world, specifically regarding the use of the cell phone. (Yes, Grandma Brown hasn’t been with us for a little under 20 years, but work with me here.)
Me: Hello Grandma Brown. How are you feeling these days?
GB: Very well Mary Catherine. What is that little black thing on the table next to your elbow which is also on the table? Yes, that. My stars! It’s lighting up! Is that a portable television set?
Me: It’s a portable telephone Grandma.
GB: Why is your husband’s face lighting it up? Oh dear, that's frightening. And where’s the cord? You can’t have a telephone without the cord…God bless America, is that xylophone music?
Me: It’s ringing. I can ignore it right now and call Robert later.
GB: Well I hope so. I thought you wanted to speak to me about Digits in Etiquette. I have directions here for manicures…
Me: That’s “digital etiquette” and I certainly will put this phone away while I speak to you. My first question is about cell phones.
GB: Phones for prisons?
Me: No, this portable phone is called a cell phone, or “smart” phone?
GB: Oh dear. I didn’t know other phones were stupid.
Me: Let’s say that I have something really serious to tell someone but I am nervous about telling her face to face. What’s the next best way to speak to her?
GB: Write a letter.
Me: Oh yes, I forgot about that option. Well, suppose that my three choices are 1.) calling her on the phone, 2.) texting her, or 3.) emailing her. Which would be best?
GB: Do you live near her?
Me: Yes. Let’s say she lives right here in this neighborhood.
GB: My stars! Why would you waste 15 cents on postage for an F-mail when you can see her in person? And what’s wrong with US mail anyway? Has it come to that? Franklin Delano Roosevelt would never recognize this place anymore.
Me: Grandma, email and texting are forms of writing. Just not on paper. You can do both from your smart phone.***
Next week: Real help from Grandma regarding other issues in a world without FDR.
Recently, I wrote about a general lack of elegance in our times, but I'd like to propose that this phenom is really just an offshoot of something bigger, scarier, and much more horrendous: The rarely discussed but still very-much-feared lack of excitement for anything worth excitement.
Yes, it is the rarely discussed but still very-much-feared lack of excitement for anything, really.
We might look excited all the time, what with our selfies and hashtags and pithy memes. But let another twenty-four hours pass by and the selfies are scorned, the hashtags bump other newer and unrelated slogans, and the memes complain about the very things they praised yesterday. We are bored. We are bored and we've forgotten how to lift ourselves up out of the lazy haze of ghastly boredom.
Yes, there are deeper things from which to draw inspiration and find meaning and purpose for life. This is a fashion blog so I won't get into those truly great things.
On the other hand, since this is a fashion blog, I can bring up the very promising field of "enclothed cognition." Remember that? It's the idea that once you fake it with the "right clothes," you'll make it big time. Dress smartly and you'll be smart. Dress beautifully, and you'll be beautiful. This isn't just a lowly fashion writer's convenient theory; it's science talking here!
See where I'm headed? If you want a little excitement, dress in an exciting way. In other words, dress up!
This season (Christmas, New Years, My January Birthday) provides many pressures to feel thrilled. (But why can't I get excited for the twenty-fourth time of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," appreciate the reindeer accessories of passing minivans, or - even more radically - drag myself out for the New Year's Party?) All this pressure to be excited can make one, um, unexcited.
It's ho-hum humbug and that's a sad fact.
So, let's counter this pitiful state of affairs. Let's put on that red lipstick and shiny angel brooch for the children's play. Let's get the dag-gone-dangliest earrings we can find for the choral concert. Let's wear that fake fur vest over a gypsy skirt to church services. And, most certainly, let us wear the glitteriest, girliest, most glamorous gown to the New Year's Party.
I say YES to the dress and down with boring. Look exciting and you'll be excited (and perhaps exciting too!)
Now, with that in mind, happy hunting...
Fairy Godmother Creation
Years ago, a magazine editor advised me against including the word “elegance” anywhere in the name of a fashion consulting company I was starting. She added that although she herself valued the idea of elegance, the word would kill any chances with a young market because of its outdated and stuffy connotations.
I suspected that she was correct about this, although I had heard my brothers refer to cars as “elegant” and the word still had an association with luxury items such as jewelry or custom-built homes. And, come to think of it, young women still used the word when they admired movie stars or exceptionally well-made dresses. So I did what any idealistic fashion enthusiast would do: I ignored her advice and unabashedly applied the word to several of my projects.
I really have no idea as to whether or not the word harmed the marketing of the business, but that’s a thing now long in the past. These days, however, I have come to notice that perhaps the word “elegance” is not only anachronistic when used in the marketing of women’s fashion and fashion related items, but so also is the concept of elegance as any kind of reference point for anything in any young woman’s life.
Or is it?
I make this depressing statement because of the significant shift which seems to have happened in the world of women’s street fashion. On the one hand, today’s design for women’s fashion (and, for that matter, men’s fashion, architecture, home décor, and even graphics) is uncluttered, sleek, and mildly upbeat due mainly to the guiding aesthetic of a healthy and athletic body that’s ready to exercise – or perhaps dance – at any moment. It’s sophisticated at its best and willing to have a little fun with pops of whimsy and imagination.
Street applications, however, lose something in the migration from board to the commute on the bus. Sleek becomes ill-fitting and lumpy (picture leggings in all their glory, tight pieces stretched across not-so-athletic bodies, and shabby knits for traditionally structured items), uncluttered becomes lazy (think minimal attention to anything besides comfort), and mildly upbeat is reduced to funny graphics and sassy one-liners on t shirts.
As with technology and many of the habits surrounding the way we eat, work, play, and travel, function trumps form and convenience is the gauge for all things. Somehow elegance is simply lost in the shuffle.
Word meanings change over time. I get that. I also get that fashion – by definition – is a highly mercurial thing, subject to change with the seasons or the zeitgeist of the times. In fact, fashion also changes to distinguish itself from fashions which have passed; it sort of raises the bar for everyone to stop what they are doing, adjust direction, and reach higher for something newer and more relevant.
So if the idea of elegance also implied rigidity, snobbery, or pantyhose with lines down the back of the calves, then of course it’s gone completely out of style and would be the kiss of death in any marketing campaign among the young, the middle aged, or even today’s seniors (now, by the way, the Baby Boomers who threw the word around in the eighties to make up for everything they had done in the sixties and seventies). Certainly, misconceptions about its true value and place in women’s lives fed Simone de Beaviour’s assertion that “elegance is bondage.”
A modern lover of elegance will tell you that, of course, it has nothing to do with any of those nasty, elitist things, and that it’s all about the tone or spirit of an experience. It’s a sort of transcendence of what is ordinarily expected. So a jet plane is an elegant thing because it doesn’t just clunker through the clouds, but soars dramatically above them. A flower arrangement is an elegant experience because it doesn’t just poke from the ground as expected. It poses in defiance of a doomed fate, gracing a place which wouldn’t ordinarily include its kind.
In fashion, one could think of elegance as the ambient lighting at a dinner party. Sure, it’s not completely necessary like dishes and cutlery and food might be; but something is missing without it. A special something is lacking in the experience.
Then again, the ambient lighting might function as a cover for what is lacking at the table (or hide the blotches on the stemware) in much the same way that our grandmothers viewed a hat as a cover for whatever could be lacking on the head. Now, we might consider this same grandmother elegant if she covers every other part of her body. In this way, her clothing works as a sort of ambient lighting, obscuring the view of an aging body that just can’t compete in our era of youth and athleticism. It’s what inspired Co Co Chanel to insist that “A woman’s unhappiness is to rely on her youth” because “youth must be replaced by mystery.” (Or, at least it inspired the person who said it to her.)
So is it that simple? Is elegance just a sort of veil for the decaying body?
Often it is. But at its best that’s not the intent. The driving aesthetic of elegance is the uplifting (think soaring above) consideration for things far beyond merely practical purposes. If “mystery” (as in Co Co’s meaning) is a result, then it is one of the lesser results; a sort of accidental byproduct. It’s what Audrey Hepburn meant by “Elegance is the only beauty that never fades.”
So really, elegance is simply the affirmation that life is worth our efforts to keep in check the despotism of function. Every day life needs that extra special something, that ambient lighting, or transcendence above our material world. And no, this extra something cannot be reduced to the mere practical because, as the art and beauty prophet Roger Scruton observed, “Put usefulness first, and you lose it; put beauty first, and what you do will be useful forever.” We need beauty even in the most mundane of activities so that even a material solution must please the soul or we will eventually abandon it.
Of course, elegance takes work. And time. That’s perhaps the real reason it’s abandoned. Between all our choosing and buying and rushing and monitoring of screens, we simply haven’t the time or the energy.
But that, as you may have guessed by this time, is what makes it so much more precious. If we return to the bus to view our shabby friends and also happen to notice the woman sitting beside her, we might see that this new arrival has taken the extra time on her appearance and moves with the grace of one who knows what she’s about. We
delight in the scene the same way we delight at the flower which defies its doom in a place not quite used to its kind.
So is the idea of elegance simply outdated? I suspect that it may have waned a bit, maybe to the point of near extinction. But watch. Just as we notice that the special something we need as humans is missing, we will long to abandon the purely utilitarian. We will rediscover elegance and over time – maybe even overnight – it just might be the next big thing.
Time to check the stock pile of gifts. We go to the back of the rack to remember the basics of wardrobe building...
There's a great excitement once the pumpkin spice lattes and the woolly sweaters appear in stores. In fact, you can get kind of carried away with the crisp thrill of it all.
Keep it real for you by following the four steps below:
While I was in Junior High School I kept a notebook of all the fashion images I could clip from the Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Wards Catalogs. It was sort of a primitive Pinterest account that ended in a carefully archived stack of about a half dozen of these notebooks.
The real high of this hobby came for me once the thick fall edition hit the front stoop:
So cool: a blazer over a turtle neck coordinated with a jaunty felt hat.
I still get that feeling of endless, breathless, awesome possibilities.
I suppose it's the current migration of the waistband upward, or the call for a more flared pant opening, or the ethnic pattern on everything from ponchos to bags that's got me strolling down memory lane.
But Fall 2015 looks aren't artifacts. They're fresh and accessible:
A blazer over a turtleneck in a monochromatic combination. It's about time.
The Poncho: An elegant and ageless update
Texture and print lead the looks so that nothing is boring this season.
And it can be quite folkloric.
And yes, the turtle neck is back.
(And so is the chunky sweater.)
Jeans with a flared leg and a mid rise waistband:
Especially for dress pants or suit trousers:
Coats just don't puff like they used to.
Plenty of bootie...
And fringe isn't so fringe anymore:
My favorite shoe is the girlie Oxford.
So much of this season's look is a smart mix and match of color, texture, and theme. I can imagine all the endless, breathless, awesome possibilities.
Maybe it's because I'm sitting on my back patio so much these days
(avoiding any kind of inside work like laundry, paying the bills, or
writing my materials for fall fashion) that the flowers have finally
gotten to my head.
But isn't it almost as sweet to see the same sort of happiness in a flowy maxi dress, breezy skirt,or blousy tunic top? And even if you haven't a single streak of Romance in you, you might be able to find something to capture this floral zeitgeist. I for one will cry when it all comes to an end. Well, one mustn't borrow angst from the future. Pick your flowers here:
Another Eliza J (Nordstrom)
The palazzo pant has made a major comeback this season. Sometimes, I think of the Bionic Woman, my hero from childhood:
(5 and up: Really? This toy can only be appreciated by those of sophisticated taste. That's obviously 9 and up.)
I'm not sure many join me in my enthusiasm for the palazzo which brings back these specific memories. So, below is a nice example of how the pant can work tastefully for today's sophisticated woman:
The palazzo is supposed to be breezy, a hint of a skirt with the feel of nearly nothing at all. A light weight fabric is critical, and the print makes or breaks the effect.
Makes (Printed lines are good. Just wear a shirt.)
A favorite of mine:
When trying on the palazzo, check its flow when walking as well. There shouldn't be a whole bunch of shifting and tilting and twisting. Think breezy.
So, what about the related "jumpsuit" or "pantsuit" that's jumping into our sartorial consciousness? Well, the same rules apply. (And with an added bonus...)
Print and pattern pieces are everywhere this spring: Floral tops, striped maxi dresses, leopard print pumps, gingham check, ethnic patterned bags, and watercolor dresses. It sure is pretty, but if you have the kind of fashion personality that can't handle this kind of sartorial conspicuousness, then you just might have a harder time at the mall.
Thankfully, the basics are there as well. Grays and taupes serve as base building neutrals, and even soft blue is used in a clever neutral way to accent any combination of colors. (Try it closer to an aqua hue and pair it with red; you'll have an exciting complementary color combination!)
Accessories pop out all over, but the big news is the small bag, especially the clutch and the lady like "Channel" style quilted purse. Totes and satchels are still around aplenty, but they are smaller and far from plain old winter-black.
See my take on this year's "Garden of Delights" on the homepage at Spring 2015: Get the Hotsheet and download it for your reference.
Last week there was an interesting opinion piece in the New York Times (Great! Another Thing to Hate About Ourselves) regarding the evil cycle of beauty fixation campaigns for the average woman out there. (I've always taken “average” as meaning "one who is generally more fixated on saving her child's new shirt from a conspicuous mustard stain than on [insert body part here.]".)
The complaint is that now, in addition to the worry about perky breasts and flat tummies and silky hair, Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Edition has raised the bar (or, er, lowered it) by launching us into the new era of “hairless bikini gaps," or, to talk dirty, the mons pubis.
Okay okay, I’m just as befuddled as the author. But for a real treat of a read, try the Telegraph's Bikini Bridge Hoax: How the Internet Ate Itself and see that the female imagination has no bounds.
On the other hand, I can remember the 1990s Washington Post piece on nipple enhancement as the new, go-to accessory for women. Where did all that “go to” anyway? See? I’m guessing that the average woman, upon hearing that her nipples should be perky enough to be seen through her top, actually rolls her eyes and then applies treatment to the aforementioned mustard stain.
Unfortunately, it is true that we women can fall into any kind of self-loathing-body-fixated-vortex-of-pity for any period of time at any time in our lives. Well, we women here in countries with lots of food, shelter, and TV.
Even I (as in the "I" who runs a fashion blog) have my own little body part fixation: My hands. It's a complicated, love-hate relationship which I've kept secret for all these years. .
If you’ve read It’s So You then you know this. (So, uh, I guess it's really no secret.) You might also know that I continually recommend the use of rubber gloves; a sort of prophylactic to prevent repulsive and witchy fingers. (I’ll get to that controversial subject later.)
Might it be that I am simply mourning the nearing loss of my forties? In fact, just yesterday, my girlfriend Mary Anne and I were chit-chatting about how some changes due to age seem to elicit curious responses from our offspring. “Why is it,” one of us said, “that when [the adult daughter] sees me struggling with my reading glasses, she giggles, ‘Mom, you are so funneee!’” (I purposely neglect to mention which one of us said this or the same daughter might again say, “Mom, you are so funneee!” and we don’t really need that right now.)
Anyway, it’s true that I might be just a tad more sensitive these days regarding changes related to age. After all, not only have my joints been aching in this cold, but I just adopted a cute little CPAP (breathing therapy) machine to cuddle up with me and my husband in bed. (Yup. Insert that word prophylactic right here.)
But as you may also know, I have spent the last ten months attempting to sell a house (clean, fix up, paint, etc.), set up a new house (clean, arrange, paint, etc.) and homeschool my children (teach, clean, paint, etc.).
Yeah, big changes. It’s not the most glamorous life right now and I’m ashamed to tell you that for the first time in, oh, say, about ten months, I have at last painted my nails. And applied hand lotion.
Pitiful, I know.
So, where are the rubber work gloves? After all, I do preach about them continually and there are currently some pretty stylish ones out there in the wide world of fashion accessories, sans perky nipples.
That's right: No where. Not on my person, nor under my kitchen sink, nor in my stylish handbag. There is some sort of mental block with me in this regard. I get all the way to the cleaning supply aisle at the Fairfax Wegman’s, peruse the colors, note the reasonable prices, and then simply… walk away.
Let’s just speculate that my hands may be the one feature of my physical self that seems to be okay to neglect. (Well that and the bikini gap, bridge, dam, or any other feat of engineering.) These big hands with their dryness and absurd muscularity are my badges of honor. With these very same hands I wiped snotty noses, soothed little heads, cleaned toilets (not in this order), prepared meals (usually with some sort of scalding), and, more recently, I use them to exclaim dismay and disgust at any given wayward adolescent at any given time.
So, while I dye my hair, soothe the laugh lines, and moisturize my lips, I’ll just use my hands as my trophies. A sort of in-your-face-damn-right-I-don't-read-Cosmo non verbal message to the world.
Just when I get a free Sunday afternoon alone with a lengthy to-do list and new bottle of nail polish, I’ll polish the nails, ignore the list, and pretend I never wrote this blog entry. By evening, I'm waving my pretty fingernails around, pointing them out to my husband, my children, the neighbors.
And really, after all, isn't exclaiming dismay and disgust to your loved ones so much more stylish with polished nails? See? (I told you it's complicated.)
Yes, splendid. But first, some background on my credentials in the area of cold weather fashion:
The rumors are true. I have left Wisconsin. I've left the Polar Vortices and the sausage and the beer. I've left cold so cold that I was compelled to remind my friends on Facebook until they offered me money to stop posting.
So, where am I now?
Those rumors are true as well. I'm back where I began in the Washington DC Metro area. (No, really. This is where I was born and raised.)
And after six months of bouncing around between the outside and the inside of the Virginia side of the Beltway, I'm safely ensconced in a place called Springfield, Virginia.
And I really like it.
Except that it might seem that I longer have the creds to talk about black ice and frostbite. I no longer hold any authority on topics such as "poly or down?" or "how to rock a long john." How in the world might I rile up my friends on Facebook and what sort of story will make my mother feel sorry for me?
Someone in Milwaukee once asked me if it ever got cold in Washington. "Do they get snow there?" she asked. "Do they ever enjoy scarves and gloves and thermal underwear?"
Well, I'm here to tell you that indeed we do. We need it all come about January. And, just as our boots get ripe with stink, we can kick them aside for some Wellingtons come about late February. (It's beautiful, really.)
"And what," a client might ask, "are you to do about your famous 'wardrobe of coats' now that you are in the tropics?
Oh, I'm so on that wardrobe. There's no need to abandon the only real fun about winter; the hope of the cold; the benefits of living so far away from the equator. It may be a gloriously shorter season, but I'm ready.
So bring on the cold!
And looking splendid in a coat.
Below is the ISY Guide for how to do it.
Adopt an everyday-run-out-the-door-kind-of-coat (The kind that looks fabulous without your having to think about it.) Ensure that your handbag can rest where you like it (on your shoulder?) and resist the placing of bulky thinks like keys or Barbies in your side and front pockets.
(Larry Levine) Yes, blue. And why not?
For serious cold:
Accessorize with a neutral scarf (maybe gray and black animal print?) and you have an every day winner.
(Michael Kors) Or red. The zippers are what gives this one some swag.
(Nieman Marcus) A cape is always classy. Pair with a clutch or a wristlet and you'll look like a movie star.
Or, maybe not so dressy.
How about a puffer coat? Only if you choose wisely. The puffier the coat, the puffier you. (Nordstrom)
Note: If you choose a neutral for the color of your coat, accessorize with a glorious color for scarves and gloves.
The diagonal lines mitigate the puffiness and the light blue adds a soft touch.
And finally...the awesome cashmere coat:
(LANVIN) Hey! It might cost as much as a semester at Northern Virginia Community College, but one can dream.
As a free-spirited and (usually) unwashed child, I always looked forward to summer because I could run around in my little Levi cut offs, oversized tanks, and dirty bare feet. By the end of the summer, my clothes would be suitable only as rags for floor washing or furniture polishing.
Now, although the spirit has changed (it's a little cleaner now), the demands for my fashion have shifted radically: Long rides in an over-air conditioned car, unfortunate bouts of gardening around noon, and hours of labor over a computer, a stove, and a prolific laundry table. Of course, here, right now, in 2014 there are plenty of breezy, casual, and fun options for a woman who might still loose the shoes.
1. The Maxi skirt. It's just so easy. Below is a maternity option (might as well use horizontal stripes) and an idea for the rest of us. (Why add extra volume with those stripes? Go for diagonal or vertical lines or a plain solid.)
And yes, the maxi dress is even easier.
It makes me feel so Fantasy-Island-ish.
2. You just knew it had to happen: The "it-looks-like-a-maxi-skirt-but-it's-pants!" option. Although I have to use a shaper under mine, it's a great option for almost any event.
3. The hippy shirt. This friend works over jeans or shorts and is perfect for a worry free life without sucking it all in.
4. The high/low sheer shirt - over a cami, of course. This is better for me because some "hippy shirts" look like maternity wear on me.
Pair with some skinny to-the-ankle jeans or cute shorts.
5. I recommend only one sandal this summer: (Because, after all, my feet are closer to fifty than they are to five.)
Bouncy, flexible, and heavenly (Flexx Brand)
I'm going to love this summer!
I have the best job in the world. I really do. One day I could be digging through a closet with a new client and the very next I’m speaking to a crowd of professionals in a four star hotel. In the morning I might be writing at my desk in my fuzzy slippers (and lipstick, of course), but by the afternoon I’m training an office of financial planners on the intricacies of corporate dining etiquette.
So, I’ve worked with many women. I know that I hit the one thousand mark by the late nineties, and by the time my book came out, I lost count of the number of fabulous people I’d met. I suppose this means that I can make observations on the attitudes of women toward fashion, shopping, and – most especially – body image.
First, it is definitely true to say that as a sex we are awfully hard on ourselves. For some twisted reason, moms are tougher on themselves than anyone else. I say that it’s twisted because moms, of all people, are living the full meaning of their bodies. They have birthed, nurtured, and maybe even have fed another human being or two (or five or ten). A healthy, well-functioning, mom’s body is not a little toothpick of flesh. It can’t be. What toddler would want to snuggle up against hard surfaces with poky protrusions?
And yet, so many of us are discouraged; maybe even disgusted. Our bellies and thighs and hips and the area under our upper arms are the topics of our discussions continuously. We’re bombarded with rigid and often ridiculous examples of the female form by our media, challenged to wear cheap tubes of material in imitation of these examples, and then told that, once past our sexual prime, there really is no point to pursuing any example anyway. Well, that’s dismal.
But is it really like that for everyone? You’d think that we all see things this way by what’s trending on our screens.
Remember how I mentioned knowing a few thousand women? Well, this also qualifies me to make a sweeping generalization regarding the two types of women out there: (Pardon the reductionism, but work with me here.) 1. The woman who whines, and, 2. The Beauty.
The whiner is focused on her body. She loses sleep over its changes and constantly asks, “Am I fat?” She’s a real party pooper at girlfriend gatherings and she’s a danger to the fragile psyche of her adolescent daughter. Sometimes, she doesn’t whine aloud, but ensures that everyone sees how hard she’s working to get her “hot” body.
The other kind of woman is past it all. She’s so busy with her life that she hasn’t time to study her undressed image in the mirror the way she did when she was fourteen and wondering if her breasts were perky enough. She throws back her shoulder, holds her head high, and carries whatever figure she has with a sense of purpose. Then, she lives out her purpose.
You might guess that most of my clients are whiners and that they contact me because they want to look thinner, sexier, and younger in their clothes.
But that guess is way off the mark. The vast majority of my clients contact me because they understand the value of their physical presentation and want it to serve their lives; not the other way around. A client of mine, generally, might be at the start of a career, headed toward retirement, at home with young children, or doing everything all at once. She also, generally, is an inspiration to me.
Not uncommonly, I can see how, even with twenty or thirty extra pounds on her frame, a woman can be confident because she derives her sense of self worth from who she is. This is the greatest way to beauty possible. In fact, little tooth picks of people do not exude beauty (and warmth, approachability, or even expertise) if it’s evident that their sense of self and the meaning and purpose of their lives are somehow derived from how they adhere to the current thinking that “if there is less of me, I’m better.”
No. As an experienced consultant who has worked with enough women to be qualified to give out advice, I say the following: Live knowing that every inch of you is beautiful. Indeed, you are a beauty. Now go dress like you know it.