It's So You!
You've met my Grandma Brown. (Well, sort of.) As you know, she is someone with whom you'd double check your manners.
May's the month to check those manners. You've got a graduation, First Communion, and maybe even a wedding on your calendar. As if to foil your attempts at good taste, however, the temperature has risen and folks are shedding clothes as if there's a monetary prize for the category "most skin." That irks Grandma.
So, Grandma's given to us her Top Ten of Primer-Level-Special-Event Etiquette.
1. "Respond to the invitation. Please. I mean, really. Shame on anyone who doesn't take the time to call back, write, or fmail. I mean, email."Editor: Do so with the suggested method of response well before the date of the event.
2. "Don't look like Gravel Girtie. Or a Street Walker." Editor: Dress for the occasion. Better to cover shoulders during any church ceremony and ensure that your hemline gives respectable coverage than to leave things naked to the winds of scrutiny.
3. "Do not announce yourself at the ceremony with the ringing of your telephone, especially if you are late. Shame on you." Editor: Arrive on time with your telephone turned off. Please. Better yet, leave that thing tucked away in your car. If you want to take photos at the most solemn part of the ceremony, hire a photographer or use a good camera if the permission to take photos has been given. In this way, your treatment of the ceremony doesn't seem accidental.
4."Your little telephone might be pretty but it has not been invited to dine as a guest." Editor: The phone should stay powered down during the reception and off the table as well. Do not even pick it up during the meal. (This includes using it to prove that you do indeed know the name of Edith's beau on Downton Abbey.)
5. "That first gentleman shouldn't have left Edith at the altar. Shame on him." Editor: Do not engage in TV show-talk that others cannot understand. For that matter, keep continual inside joking or shop talk away from the table.
6." Do not bite my bread or drink my water. I know you're hungry, but Good Heavens!" Editor: Remember the rule, BMW: Bread plate on the Left, Meal or Meat in the Middle, and Wine or Water on the Right. Also remember that utensils work for each course, starting on the outside and working in.
7. "Is that you on that little television screen with a shoe in your mouth and a napkin on your head? Shame on you." Editor: Behave yourself. Do not drink so much alcohol that you loose control.
8. "Put that thing down! I am attempting to swallow my meal." Editor: Candid photos are a nice addition to anyone's wedding journal. However, no one is too thrilled to see Grandma negotiating roast beef through her dentures or Uncle Bobby aspirating the punch.
9. And don't give disgrace a name. Editor: When posting any photo (even seemingly flattering ones) ask before you tag it or place it on another's wall or status in social media.
10. Say thank you like your own Grandmother told you to say thank you. And, you're welcome. Editor: Yes, walk up to your hosts and person of honor, congratulate them, and thank them for a lovely event.
Thank you Grandma.
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 say to 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.
Yesterday I finished my heavy duty grocery shopping at a place called Woodman's. It's kind of a fun grocery store: No frills, great bargains, and offering just about every single food product available in the Northern Hemisphere.
Of course, what I save in the price difference between this place and our local evil (yes, evil) supermarket may actually be wiped away by what I spend on those "inspired" purchases.
I mean, just think of it: I already know that I'm going to write a big check (yes, check) so why not get the industrial-sized bottle of sesame seed oil or the twelve pack of bamboo-fiber towels with elegant fringe? And, why not give in to the sudden inspiration to organize the breakfast cereal into color-coded plastic containers? Who am I to snuff out inspired genius?
So, why am I telling you this on a fashion blog?
Because of what happened when I checked out. You see I used self check out for my $315 worth of weekly groceries and it got me thinking about the uncensored and unsupervised nature of such social experimentation.
Here I was, first with a bottle each of Pinot Grigio and Moscato (red wine gives me headaches now) whisking them past the magic glass only to realize that no one was around to check my identification. Once the bottles made it to the bags I wanted to shout, "Hey! Look at this! An under-aged-looking woman (what?) is buying alcohol without having her id checked! I made a mental note not to share this observation with any minors I may happen to know.
Then, came the less interesting stuff: Carrots, broccoli, lettuce, grapes, and so on. I was relieved to see that unmarked produce caused no real slow down to the process, but I was a little disappointed to miss out on a cashier's look of approval, "Yes, you are a good mother because you feed your children kale."
But here's where things became problematic. Where was the patronizing smile for my extensive collection of plastic containers ("Bet it doesn't help a messy kitchen my friend") or the quizzical sniff over my twenty pound bag of rice ("Are you serious? Bet you don't have a place large enough to store it,") or the classic flinch at my choice of processed food ("Kale doesn't make up for this, woman").
By the time I bagged my goods and left the store, I got to thinking about the purchase of clothing. (Doesn't grocery shopping get you thinking about fashion?) If it's too easy to buy something, aren't we less apt to think through the wisdom of a purchase? Without the act of placing an object between me and another human being while fishing through my wallet for blank checks, the process goes automatically, without reflection or a flash of self examination.
I know: She doesn't really care what I buy. And maybe I'm seeing things that aren't really there. But after a less-than-optimal purchase, don't you wonder if the sales associate runs to the backroom to tell her comrades, "Hey, this middle aged lady out there bought a pair of floral skinny jeans like she thought she'd look good in them! I bet she thinks she looks young enough to get carded at a grocery store!"
I remember the word that flashed through my mind when I created my first on-line fashion personality test.
It came with bells and flashing lights. It wasn't just a light bulb that went off above my head. It was one of Beyonce's flood lights that took down the Super Bowl. (Okay, that was a different generator; but that's saying something.) I smiled to myself. "Yes, I'm quite the clever little fashion consultant, aren't I?
That was about four years ago. Now, the word which flashes through my mind when I see a submission come into my email box is...
Yes, I've overwhelmed myself. At first, I'd get a few submissions a week. But then, much to my mixed feelings of delight and weariness, the submissions came through like water from a fire hose...or cream makeup from a tube-gone-bad. I eventually became deluged, so that, like a rogue postal worker, I began stashing mail away and out of sight from the visible world.
So, I apologize to anyone who never heard back from me in regard to her fashion personality. But here is my peace offering: A new quiz with an ANSWER KEY!
Even if you've taken the quiz in the past, read it and go deeply into fashion personality with detailed descriptions and links to my Pinterest account. (Yes, I finally remembered my password.)
Of course, I promise, to answer you when you email me a comment like, "I don't see the fashion personality called 'Biker-Mad-Max-Babe-with-Support-Hose.'" I'll be right there with aid and assistance.
Yes, it's never too late to ride...or answer fashion personality submissions.
I just now met a magazine deadline for an article on closet cleaning, and the rather cathartic process of writing it has allowed me to ponder several of those big, human questions perhaps only the wisest have ever considered:
1. How much space do we truly require to properly stow the tools we use for personal communication?
2. How many clothes does the modern American woman need?
3. And how the Sam Hill do those repulsive little tumbleweed dust ball things populate the closet floor so quickly?
Yes, deep, rich, and lovely questions. But I have some answers.
Now that it’s a new year, I’m ready to share a way to get at those answers and a fabulous closet. So, change into your work clothes, fully caffeinate yourself, and blow open that closet door. We’re in for some serious cleaning with my proven 12 Step Program for Life Change (or, at least a change in the closet):1. Pull everything out of your closet (and drawers, and under-bed storage, and laundry). This would include tops, bottoms, dresses, jammies, shoes, underwear, jewelry, scarves – everything.
2. Place everything for this winter on the bed in their respective groups (tops, bottoms, etc.) Don’t worry about spring summer clothing until you are right up against that season.
3. Wow. That’s a lot of stuff. Probably too much stuff. Now, go punish yourself by scrubbing out the empty closet with a soapy sponge.
4. While you wait for the closet to air out and while you are feeling sorry for yourself because you have such a big cleanup on your hands, go into the kitchen and fix yourself a refreshing drink. No, not wine. Try ice water and a cookie. (Remember, you’ve already had coffee and you’ve burned calories scrubbing the walls of your closet.)
5. Break’s over. Go face those stacks. Walk into that room with confidence so that you show those little sartorial critters that you mean business.
6. Maintaining that confident bearing, bring into the room either two large bags or two large boxes. Place them on the floor with relish and say, “Ha!” Designate one bag or box for donations and the other for trash.
7. Starting with the trousers and skirts, ask yourself the questions below for each item. Then repeat the process with tops, dresses, underwear, shoes, bags, coats – in exactly that order. (Try on an item when necessary and check to see how things go together.)
a. Does this item flatter my figure? (Did it ever? Well, then why did I ever get it? Silly me.)
b. Does this item give me confidence because it works with my fashion personality? (News flash! Try Mary’s new fashion personality quiz right here at isyfashion.com.)
c. Does the coloring of this item flatter my complexion? (Obviously a question for tops and scarves)
d. Is the item in good shape, free from stains, rips, pilling, or anything my grandmother would admonish me for. (She was right, you know.)
e. Does the item say what I want it to say about me? (Or does it send the message that I am not competent or capable in my chosen profession OR that I am indeed competent or capable in another profession, just not a profession I’d ever choose.)
8. If you’ve done this correctly, the bags (or boxes) weigh more than the stacks on the bed. (Unless, of course, you are a loyal follower of ISYFashion.) Go back to the closet and consider the space. Is it well lit? Do the walls need a touch of white paint? Can you hang something inspirational? Where will you place your shoes? How will you store your scarves? Dream up a wonderful place for making your first decision of the day. Then, go for it.
9. Two must-haves: Felt hangers (like the kind you see in packs at T.J. Maxx or Marshalls) and something for shoes and boots.
(Why not pink?)
10. Study your leftovers as you place them back in your closet. What goes with what? And what might you need to tie everything together? Group items according the wardrobe system you are using. (Mix and Match, whole outfits together, etc.)
11. Did I say “what might you need?” Why, yes I did! Seems obscene, but it’s okay. You can budget for a few items which will turn your wardrobe into the winner it deserves to be. If you can’t imagine what could help your wardrobe, check out Lucky or InStyle Magazines, some on-line retailers (especially their Look Books), or even some boards at Pinterest for ideas. Write your list of ideas.
(Some mornings, this just works.)
12. Finally, view your wardrobe as a process. Check in with it occasionally. Snoop around, rearrange, clean out, even talk to your clothes. (No, just kidding.) One nice rule of thumb I learned from a client is the “Hanger Rule.” For every new thing that comes in, use a hanger already occupied by ridding yourself of something old and tired.
I told you this would be life changing. Happy Hunting!
After a weekend like this last one, where does one even begin?
"Black Friday" 2012 has been proclaimed a wild "success," with its 247 million shoppers spending $59.1 billion in the U.S. alone. Of course, something like this must start in the U.S., and, of course, it must be placed the day after we give thanks for all the stuff we got last year.
But why delay getting more stuff at the end of 2013? Let's skip the thanks and make Thanksgiving Day "Black Thursday."
No wait: I didn't mean that. Besides, I can't take credit for the suggestion that we ease the blackness backward into Thanksgiving. Retailers already did that this year, with some shoppers springing into action only moments after filling up with turkey and pie.
You'd think that this would be the perfect recipe for a bad case of indigestion.
The only people who seem happy about this are the"they" in the retail world who get to make these sorts of decisions. That lady on the floor is no longer happy. The guy who had his "deal" pulled from his arms is reconsidering his decision to spend the night in a parking lot. The associate who has to ring up the mess is fuming because she's missed a holiday she's taken for granted as sacrosanct. Not very surprisingly, the Internet is buzzing with opinions which range from disgust that we've stooped (or fallen) this low, to regret about where to stash the junk for which we've put ourselves into debt.
And this is why a woman like me (i.e. one who is concerned with a seriously wonderful wardrobe) would venture an opinion on ugly shopping.
Black Friday (and the like) makes a closet into a black hole. Instead of a sanctuary of sartorial possibilities, you now enter a vast vacuum of nothingness each morning as you dress. As far as you can remember, there's the dress "you couldn't pass up for the price," the tennis shoes that "were insanely discounted," the handbag you'd "never get any other day of the year," and all those sweaters that were "too good to be true."
Well, they were too good to be true. The hysteria which came with the blackest Friday of the year, induced the old delusion that you could die without the fix that a Walmart offers.
Where's the stuff now? They're mixed into that chasm of despair you've been calling your closet. You've just got too much stuff. You can't remember what you own because some law of physics out there has caused everything to fuse into one big black hole, sucking your time, money, and emotional energy into its gravitational force of darkness.
Okay, that's a little negative.
But there's an upside to all this.When the next black day approaches, you can use an easy, time-tested guide before you pitch a tent in front a Walmart. Tell yourself:
1. If my loved one or I really needs it, I don't have to wait for a sale. I can buy at my convenience because it's worth the price.
2. A thing is really worth its price. If it's only $9.99, its worth is probably at about that price. I'll go for the higher quality at the higher price at my convenience because I'm worth it.
3. If, over time, I've chosen higher quality (needed) items at slightly higher prices, then I will own less stuff to kick in that law of physics which turns closets into black holes.
4. If I own a closet and not a black hole, I will be a happy person.
5. If I am a happy person, I will no longer be inspired to camp overnight in the parking lot of a Walmart.
Because no woman needs the stress which comes from a life of crime, the fashion police have arrived with the law of do’s and don’ts. Yes, it’s Part II of the Dress Code
1. Do invest in a great fitting pair of trousers or jeans. ISY Tip: If you choose jeans, go for a crisp, dark, denim, with minimal embellishment to get the greatest number of occasions out of your investment. If you choose dress trousers for work, update with a subtle pattern or texture.
Don’t forget about tasteful fit. For that matter, don't yank, shift, and/or pull up your trousers even if they're the new “high waist” style. Fit means that nothing (in particular) is outlined.
And don't wear those shoes either.
2. Do wear a skirt or dress this season. ISY Tip: Wear the hemline that’s best for your leg and body shape, and (for casual wear) try a slightly uneven, asymetrical hemline or a mondern maxi to update your look.
DON'T choose something that makes you seem, uh, indecisive
Gosh, maybe if the shoes were different...
3. Do choose only flattering tops in your best colors. ISY Tip: Wear the appropriate bra for the top and choose a more structured style for the workplace.
DON'T just hang knits on yourself. You're better than that.
Kind of cute. But not for you. (I ran with this image only because I was a little scared of what might pop up if I googled "tight t shirts" or "bad tops.")
4. Do update your shoes. Choose flattering looks which are in proportion with the rest of your outfit (or body). Also, high heel thongs are not dress shoes. Slides and mules are not only not dressy enough, but they ruin your look.
DON'T (see below) teeter on the edge of a fashion disaster with both heels and very little foot coverage.
And they are out of style.
5. Do try newer silhouettes which require leggings or skinny jeans. ISY Tip: The focal point of an ensemble which includes leggings should be 1. your face; and 2. the interesting top. One's rear in tights or leggings should be covered by aforementioned top.
DON'T go out half dressed. Please.
No. Please don't.
Because no woman needs the stress which comes from a life of crime, the fashion police have arrived with the law of do’s and don’ts. See if you can guess which statement is a do and which is a don’t: (Taken from my talk for Chocolate Cake for a Mommy’s Soul at Mary Magnor’s – Thanks Mary for giving me a deadline for getting this done!)
1. Do or Don’t? Arrange your outfits so that your sexiest feature becomes the focal point of your fashion.
Do if you know that your sexiest feature is your face. Don’t do this if you think your breasts or your upper thighs or midriff or provocative tattoo counts as sexiest. Yeah, they are sexy indeed, but only a part of the whole…and the whole you is who’s sexiest.
2. Do or Don’t? Dress for yourself and don’t worry about anyone else.
Wouldn’t that be fun? I could just roll out of bed, not brush hair or teeth (What morning breath?) and go around in flannel jammies all day. I could even wear a fanny pack to hold my cell phone, chocolates, and novel, and I’d never have to worry about matching my socks. Or my shoes. It would be fun, true, but also a little lonely.
Well, you (or most of you out there) do worry about others when you dress. In a way, when we really understand ourselves in our roles as professionals, friends, wives, and mothers then dressing for ourselves means dressing for others as well.
So, it’s a trick question. Do dress for yourself because when you do, you dress for others as well.
3. Do or Don’t? Dress your husband and children better than you dress yourself because that’s true generosity.
I see this all the time and it always reminds me that this indeed is a DON’T! What kind of message is, “Dress well my dear even if you see that I don’t because, after all, motherhood doesn’t deserve respect”.
4. Do or Don’t? Arrange items of an ensemble so that your body type is flattered.
Didn’t I just say DO keep the focal point on your face? So, why do I talk about body type? Should you care?
Well, do this because by ensuring that no one part of your silhouette is out of proportion (or "sticking out" to borrow the phrase) you continue to keep the focal point on your face.
Well, do this because by ensuring that no one part of your silhouette is out of proportion (or "sticking out" to borrow the phrase) you continue to keep the focal point on your face.
5. Do or Don’t? Own lots of clothing because this increases one’s chances of dressing stylishly.
Your math is wrong if you think this is a do. Remember, owning less is really owning more. You want every single outfit to be a winner, and that’s just not the case if you have a hundred things clogging up the system. So, it’s a don’t.
6. Do or Don’t? Only buy the highest quality of clothing.
This might be the most difficult question to answer because the smartest dressers know that quality is always more important than quantity. Nowadays, however, a high price is not a guarantee for quality. In fact, you just have to accept that some kinds of quick updates to your wardrobe should be considered “disposable.” The core pieces of your wardrobe, however, should be your investment pieces: Work trousers, suits, the suit jacket, dress shirts, blue jeans, every day shoes, and handbags for work. The disposables might include “fun” tops, update cardigans, some jewelry, novelty bags, and some kinds of dress shoes and sandals.
So, the answer is do for your investment pieces.
Stay tuned for more do’s and don’t related to the current fashion season.
Me: Am I too old for this top?
Husband: No, not at all. It's just that it kind of looks like you're one of those ladies who actually looks really good in it but because everyone knows your age they think you are too old for it. But you look great in it. And you're not too old for it. Did I say you look great in it?
I married this guy partly for his clever use of words, (yes, he talked me into it) but I honestly never pictured an exchange like this while walking down the aisle twenty years ago.
Did I just say twenty years ago?
Was it really twenty years ago that I sported big curly bangs, a plastic headband, and mattress-sized shoulder pads? Was it really twenty years ago when I last had a flat little tummy and cute size 6 feet?
Well, yes, and 1992 can keep it. I've earned my stretch marks, and man-hands, and size 8 feet. Every infant asthma attack, call from school, and unanswered Saturday night text has each resulted in a healthy tuft of gray hair, and many of my laugh lines actually came from crying.
But I held on to the love of my life (that would be my husband) and I now know and love five additional human beings whom I could never have imagined while belting out B52 songs from the driver's seat of my 1979 Ford Fairmont. Indeed, if they had been in that particular car at that particular moment, they would have ordered me to change the radio station and clear the Big Mac cartons off the vinyl seats. There's no way I could ever have imagined that!
So, I respect the gray hair (dyed, of course), laugh lines, and man hands. So should everyone else. This is why I ask questions like:
"Am I too old for this?" Which, translated, means, "Do I look like I regret my age? Regret all the great stuff I've done? Do I appear to deny the existence of my children, long credit history, and laugh lines?
It's a legitimate question. It's legitimate because, over time and through a growth in wisdom, I have an extra sort of dignity: I'm someone's wife; I'm someone's mom. When I'm someone's grandma, then I'll have an even larger dose of this special dignity.
Even without these someones, I'm now at the stage where, honestly, my opinion holds more weight on more matters then any little cutie under the age of forty. I don't mean to sound harsh, but that's how it works.
So, what is age-appropriate fashion?
In honor of all the "someones," the wisdom, and the fact that I'd never go back to 1992 or even the body I had, here is a visual explantion:
Yeah sure, skinny jeans are great with boots. Here in Wisconsin we've been tucking our jeans into our boots since the time of the bell bottom. In summer, things can get a little tricky because everyone seems to forget that skinny jeans should work like leggings which should work like panty hose. That is, you wouldn't wander out of the house with a cropped top or t shirt over your panty hose. So, don't forget the longer top, tunic, or wrap for good rear coverage.
Of course, "trouser-cut" jeans and trousers take first place for flattery:
Overall proportion is important but a little trickier at the later stages of wisdom because current fashions cater to a taller, androgynous (boy-like) silhouette. (Yeah, I got curves and I know how to tastefully clothe them.)
Forget the boy stuff:
Remember thinking, "Oh, that's really pretty but I'm too young to wear flowy things like that"? Well, here's a flowy thing that your daughter will want to borrow. Below is a flowy thing for when it gets a little hotter. (Or, you get a little hotter.)
Wear beautiful colors around your face. Go for a scarf or a breathtaking pendant or chunky necklace.
Independent Boutiques are best for accessories.
The sheath is back and it's a keeper. I'm going for below the knee. I'll add a cute black bolero jacket because the air conditioning is on full blast.
On a good day, and maybe for a few hours, I'll wear a pair of platform shoes that the younger set still hasn't figured out how to walk in:
"Fly London" is almost always comfortable.
It doesn't matter if you get the great stuff at H&M or Chicos or Coldwater Creek. Be an ecclectic shopper so no one can peg your shopping.
So, maybe my exchange with my husband should go something like this:
Me: What do you think of this top?
Husband: You're just too good for it darling.... so let's go to Tiffany's to pick you up a little something for our 20th.
Once I couldn't see my food at dinner, I decided to finally give in to getting my eyes checked. Or, at least, give in to thinking about getting my eyes checked.
Once checked, it then took months to actually fill my prescription for glasses. (Yes, the doctor's words were "Eye sight fades as we get old" and "Don't worry this is normal for your forties; just like your gray hair and wrinkles.")
All this angst was played out before my family, especially at dinner.
"Get over it," said my sixteen year old daughter.
"I didn't know you could be so vain," said my friend.
"This is something you need just to function," pleaded my husband. "Don't worry about how you look."
Meanwhile, in public, I would fumble with my phone, hold things closer to the light, and sort of look illiterate to the occasional acquaintance.
But I think my anxiety was deeper than the well-known, garden variety vanity. I really suspect that years of saying "accessories should frame the face," "the eyes should be the focal point" and "makeup is a human right" finally made its way to my basal ganglia.
Getting a pair of glasses is a really really big deal.
Just think: It not only restores vision (and that's a big one) but it's the very first thing people see when they look into my face. It's more noticeable than my earrings, necklace, scarf, and even hair. If I don't get this right, then nothing else matters.
That's heavy, I know.
Consider the fashion of lenses. Back in the nineties when my eyesight was perfect and I could see the little bits of pesto on my pasta, Mr. Pitt (the one from Seinfeld) was wearing ...
Jarring, isn't it. But many women imitated this look in the quest to appear literate and employed if not sexy.
Imagine the first time I saw the frames favored today. It was 2000 and I was teaching English as a Second Language. A 26 year old Bossa Nova singer from Italy (she was as exotic as this sounds) brought the future into my classroom with lenses that looked like these:
Of course, this pinched-face-librarian look is now old news. (Yes, this is sour grapes because I could never look good in these.) This is the look we expect now. This is the look we see not only in fashion ads but on the homemakers featured on laundry detergent ads, the lady at the Department of Motor Vehicles, and on the mug shot of a famous female killer. This is the look we expect when one is not wearing the opposite round-bug-eye-Jackie-O sunglasses.
(Now that's style!)
Younger people like the mildly vintage Buddy Holly (or Woody Allen) look.
But I have gray hair. And wrinkles. I can't go around in something like that.
How about a compromise?
So, I looked around at all the styles:
(Mary Ellin Barrett , daughter of Irving Berlin. Pretty classy, eh?)
Prada (I'd just look like a dork in these.)
Whoopie! Look at those!
(Iris Apfel, textile guru - My children talked me out of this.)
So what did I decide?
Well, I don't have a photo of myself, but let's just say that in the slight-off-chance possibility that I happen to need to eat or read in your presence, and successfully locate my glasses in my bag, and actually place them on my face, you will experience sensational style that will go straight to your basal ganglia. For the time being, however, you'll just have to use your imagination. Kind of like she does:
Rita's Advanced Style
I think it's safe to admit publicly that I am indeed just about finished my book for a slightly younger set on fashion and communication. I've read and researched and interviewed all sorts of "sources" and now I've come to the point where the most difficult part must be tweaked and perfected.
Body type? Color analysis? Psychology of Shopping? Etiquette?
Nope. Fashion Personality. It's always the most difficult to perfect because it's not only an emotional subject, but it involves a quiz for which I must anticipate all sorts of freakish combinations of answers and reactions. (Not to say that anyone's combinations of answers and/or reactions are freakish.)
I mean, just imagine the pressure of writing something that you know people will read and rewrite (at least mentally), because, after all, aren't we all experts on fashion personality?
This new fashion personality quiz, however, will hopefully remedy a problem which women point out to me every time I provide a service: Is fashion personlity really about how you are or how you'd like to be?
That is such a valid question, that I had to address both in the way I take on the issue. However, without giving too much a way, I think that this particular fashion season (Spring 2012) is the perfect time to consider the how you'd like to be part.
So, how would you like to be? For what look are you shooting? What inspires you? Who is your muse?
Often, I recommend to my clients to record their sources of inspiration (objects, landscapes, art, fashion, etc.) onto a board or into a notebook. My Gracie creates her own Power Point presentations for her different areas of interest. You can see why a site like www.pinterest.com is so popular.
A good exercise in noting your inspirations is to create a timeline of things that have inspired you in the past. Those past inspirations are what have shaped you and can't be put aside as embarrassments even if they were something like:
(I really really wanted a pair in elementary school.)
But it's spring 2012 and we could all benefit from a look around at the fashion.
Below are some of the looks which inspire me:
T.J. Maxx has this for well under half the price of this one.
No, I wouldn't wear this shoe. I just like to look at it.
I guess you can see that cherry blossoms inspire me.
Are you laughing? I do have one...but in a different color combination. I got it at Tuesday Morning last week. I like the idea of my children remembering me in this just as much as they'll remember me in painter's pants patching the bathroom ceiling.
Blue again...this time in a prom dress at Nordstrom.
Last month I had the privilege of signing books at four Northern California clothing stores. In the ebb and flow of customer traffic, I had many chances to witness first-hand what sales associates experience in their day to day. I gained a new respect for these women as they moved from the basic need to sell clothing to customers , to the genuine desire to help these customers look fantastic. I watched faces light up with the thrill of finding something that
works, and I heard conversations on the possibilities of feeling confident in beautiful clothing.
But for every pleasant face, cheerful comment, or engaging conversation, there was a slew of sullen sourpusses. Anyone who has ever worked in retail knows exactly about whom I speak: The woman (or man) who walks into the store, ignores the cheerful "Hello, welcome to..." and shifts to the merchandise as if she's coming way down in her standards to sift through your racks of rags. And, in a nasty ironic twist, the number of these types increase once the Christmas decorations are hung.
This got me thinking about myself as a shopper. Do I glower when I walk into a store? Do I view sales people as no more than pesky store-gnomes out to get my money?
Do I walk in thinking, "Oh no...I don't want to have to talk. I just wanna grab the goods, pay up, and get the hec out of here!"?
While she might be thinking, "My son's cold is getting worse, maybe I should have kept him home today...but I can't miss another day of work...Is that scratchiness I feel in my throat?...Oh Lord, my health insurance sure stinks...Did that woman just glower at me like I'm the enemy?"
Well, wouldn't it be nice to let our service related friends know that we don't think they're the enemy.Wouldn't it be wonderful to spread a bit of Christmas cheer among the people who help to accommodate our need to shop, ship, or pay the water bill?
Yes? Then smile! That one simple bit of connection shows that you see her as a human being who's on your side. I promise you'll get a smile right back - even though her feet hurt or her son is sick or her health insurance stinks. (And, if you don't get a smile back, give a bigger smile and let it sink in for a few days; A smile is like therapy sometimes.)
"Wear a smile and have friends; wear a scowl and have wrinkles." - George Eliot
I knew Mary Martin was talented, but now I'm going to add this performance on the history of fashion to the list of the best out there. It's more illustrative than most of the books I've read. Watch it and see for yourself! (Be sure to get to the end: 1953)
What's scary is that the narration (the woman's voice from the magazine) says many things I hear today in our own fashion magazines. The irony has not escaped me:
"Oh What to do with our shapes?"
"...to caress your alabaster throat" (Okay this one I haven't heard in a long time; maybe not in my lifetime, but it's almost quaint.)
"lower the neckline a daring 3 inches ...to admit the fresh air" (That's a new one.)
"Hey baby get out of those rags... Women have the vote!"
"Take off that skirt if you want to be an 'it' girl!" (Beware of the guy who says that!)
"Identify your waistline."
"We bear our shoulders in a snazzy bateau neckline..."
"Relieve starkness with a simple strand of pearls."
"It's now chic to smoke...even in public" (Now, fill in the word "smoke" with any other verb.)
"Good heavens, what are you doing in that getup?" (I've said that to my children.)
"We are all going to be very pretty this season." (or else)
"Can't you find your waistline?"
"This year it's smart to be the broad shouldered, healthy, idependent vital American girl like Joan Crawford" (Yes, she was exactly the person I was thinking of!)
"...for a much more exotic view..."
"Above all we have lip allure. Our lips are delicious this year." (They are delicious this year as well.)
"Fashion has come to grips with reality." (Now that's whopper!)
"...American career girl has freed herself from fashion..."
"...welcoming the next day's challenges knowing that she has defeated countour delinquincy..." (a little 1950s humor here)
The more you learn about the fashion cycle, the funnier it all becomes.
In Style Magazine (On-Line) beat me to this topic. For that matter, many others have as well:
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Pippa Middleton are fans of the nude pantyhose! Thanks to the sisters, sales of the hosiery have spiked nearly 85 percent in England, The Telegraph reports. Buckingham Palace enforces a strict dress code for women—they must wear stockings and closed-toed shoes, and royals like Queen Elizabeth, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie all slip them on when they’re out. The look is also practical, as pantyhose provide extra warmth on chilly nights and a layer of protection against the sun. See http://news.instyle.com/2011/07/13/kate-middleton-pippa-middleton-nude-pantyhose/
Well, I've been meaning to tackle this topic, but my previous plans revolved around simply longing for the good old days when a girl could keep her legs warm and her spider veins private. (Now how is leg makeup easier than hosiery?) My beginning sentence began something like, "What dastardly dark force lay behind the revolt against panty hose..." or something like that.
Anyway, it seems that Anne Hollendar is right. The only way to influence a woman's choice for tasteful fashion is to provide inspiration and an appeal to the imagination rather than rational arguments. (Never fear, I make the same claim for men's fashion!) In her book, Sex and Suits: The Evolution of Modern Dress she cites the Rational Dress Movement of the middle of the 19th century as lacking that kind of inspiration. Truth is, women just found the look of a ridiculously pinched bodice as pretty.
So, Go Kate Go! You look great and I'm going out to stock up on my own nude hosiery.
Picture this: Miles of concrete city sidewalks, gaps between the cobblestones, slick subway platforms, and high speed escalators. What shoes does one choose for such an itinerary?
Why, platform stilettos, of course.
(silly, silly girls)
This was the very question I faced as I packed for a few days at Fashion Week in New York with my friend Molly and a sylist named Bjorn. Sure, I confidently tossed into my suitcase a simple black sheath dress, a gray maxi skirt, and a dark denim pair of trouser jeans. Those were the obvious choices for such a trip. I am, after all, a fashion consultant.
But what about the shoes? I imagined glossy, fashionable people ruling the sidewalks in strappy 4 inch heels, each with her perky bag slung nonchalantly over a forearm. Wow. That's poetry in motion.
No, that's podiatry in motion. A snap back to reality gets my bunyons worked up and a second disk begins to herniate in my lower back. I can't help but wonder at the physics of a shoe like that. Is the adoption of this style defying some physical or physiological law meant never to be challenged? Oh the quandary!
So I developed general shoe angst over the choices (also known as GSA). I wanted to be glossy and fashionable. But I also didn't want to slip onto the third rail of the subway tracks. I searched DSW, Goldi's, Nordstrom, Macy's and even Kohls for some ideas. Then, I hit Zappos.com and the Walking Company. Finally, Stan's Fit for Your Feet.
Isn't there such a thing as a platform stiletto heel that feels good after walking, oh say, about 10 miles?
I guessed not.
But then I wondered about the eternal quest for a happy marriage of form and function. Maybe I own a pair of shoes that fills the need. (Well, many of my boots do, but it was only early September.)
So I packed everything: Equestrian boots, sling back 1" inch heels, 2 pairs of ballet flats, traditional pointed toe pumps (what was I thinking?), tennis shoes, slippers, sandals, and platform stilettos. There.
I wore my wellies onto the plane and giggled at my brilliance. Choice means power. Power means confidence. Confidence means glossy and fashionable.
But by late Thursday night, my wellies pinched my toes. The ballet flats I wore Friday morning made the balls of my feet ache and the sandals weren't much better.
But what did I wear to the Lincoln Center?
Platform Stilettos. And proudly too.
Yeah, I lost feeling in my toes and a third disk herniated in my lower back. But I was glossy! And fashionable! (At least until I traded them out for the flats stowed away in my perky bag.)
And, as you might guess, my interest in shoes was enhanced by the experience. Why do we do what we do? What is it about those shoes?
See my adventures at http://www.isyfashion.com/FashionWeek.html.
And guess which feet are mine?
Last week I finished reading Dale Carnegie’s 1936 classic How to Win Friends and Influence People and I just knew I’d love a book that speaks of Al Capone in the present tense and begins a point with “Or, take the Teapot Dome Oil Scandal. Remember it?”
The book explained to me why salespeople speak the way they do. And while that may sound a bit cynical, I must say that I’m amazed at how many people in business don’t use the advice of this book. Clearly, there is common sense in a book which encourages its reader to continually remember the points of view of others and that a bad attitude rarely gets you what you want. The best part of the book for me was the chapter about wives who nag: Empress Eugenia, Countess Tolstoi, and my personal favorite, Mary Todd Lincoln. (No nagging husbands, but Disraeli scores points for never criticizing his silly wife.)
Anyway, I decided to apply its techniques to my dealings with the adolescents in my home. After all, if it successfully influenced a generation of tough Capitalists, why not my crowd of creampuffs?
So, I began with the first principle, If you want to gather honey, don’t kick over the beehive (part 1, chapter 1). I suppose that this means I should say things sweetly to ultimately get them to do what they should do.
“Let’s hang the clean clothes on hangers and throw the dirty ones down the laundry chute. It’s so nice to have a clean and organized room,” I say in my nice-mommy voice to Adolescent#1.
“Hey!” Adolescent #1 snaps back. “I like it this way. Don’t touch my stuff. And don’t try to run my life!”
Okay, that was unpleasant. Let's try the next principle: Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves. (Part 2, chapter 4)
“So, you say I am trying to run your life. Tell me about that.”
“I certainly wouldn’t want to run your life. It’s just too big and too important for someone like me to even imply that I could.” (Make them feel important, part 2, chapter 6)
“Okay, now you are just creeping me out,” and adolescent #1 leaves the room.
Well, that didn’t quite go the way I intended, so I look to adolescent #2 . It’s time to tackle wardrobe choices:
“Don’t you want to look beautiful? And wouldn’t it be wonderful to always make the right first impression?” (Get the other person saying ‘yes, yes’ immediately, Part 3, chapter 5)
“Yes, I do,” Adolescent #2 replies. “Only I’d like to know what kind of reverse psychology you are about to use.” And she eyes me suspiciously.
“Ha ha,” I laugh nervously. “I just thought…well, I think I heard you say, that you would like to replace the shorts you are wearing with uh…. something from my own wardrobe. That’s right; I remember correctly, now. You said something along those lines and I know that you have such a lot of fashion sense. I mean, I would never come up with such a sensible idea myself (Let the other fellow feel that the idea was his, part 3, chapter 7)
I am met with silence and a withering stare. I know that silence and I know that stare. It means that I had better rise to the challenge and apply the time-tested shock and awe strategy (also known as rapid dominance). Only this application is a little more awe than shock as it leaves its listener completely distracted by its profound randomness. Yup, it’s time for the best line in the book:
”Okay, take the Teapot Dome Scandal. Remember it?”
I knew I shouldn't have done it. I only went in there for a vintage clutch bag and I should have stuck with my in-and-out-in-no-more-than-five-minutes instinct.
But this was Rethreads on Humboldt and I love the place.
It took me exactly four minutes to find this sweet off-white embroidered clutch with bow tie clasp and chain strap. It seemed reasonable to look around for a few minutes longer. After all, shouldn't one ride upon the coat tails of success? (Or is it "leave on a high note?”)
And then there it was: A really fabulous silk multi-hued-print shift that began at Banana Republic for probably around $160 and ended here for a mere twenty-one. It was size SP. Well, I was an S last summer (or was that another summer?) and since it had long sleeves, I theorized that the P would come in handy for short arms like mine.
So, with heart rate slightly raised, I went into the dressing room, pulled off all my winter apparel (sweater, scarf, thermals, and winter coat - yes May 16 in Milwaukee) and pulled the dress over my head. I had to sort of stretch my neck and collapse my shoulders to get it over me, so I mused (a bit smugly, I might add) that Yoga has helped me in yet another unexpected way.
I did get it around my body. Eventually.
It was so pretty. Okay, tight through the shoulders - but pretty. But wait: A side zipper? Perhaps that obligatory-decoration-zipper-thing that you see on the sides of bags? I zipped, or attempted to zip, and strained and sighed (without exhaling) as my dream of a bargain dress receded into my mental vault of “what could have been.”
It was time to slip the thing back over my head and onto the rack of rejects.
This is when things went seriously wrong. I could see my in-and-out-in-five-minutes errand turning into an “I’ll be lucky if I make it out of here in fifteen.” I yanked it from several points along the hem. I pulled the cuffs. I inched and ached my way into an embarrassingly vulnerable posture.
Now remember: I do this for a living. No, not trying on ill-fitting dresses, but helping others to try on ill-fitting dresses - er, fitting dresses. As I preach all the time: “It’s not your size that’s wrong; It’s the size of the dress.”
But I panicked. “Holy taco! I better lose some weight!” followed by the recurring “What if there were a fire at this very minute?” I thought about that in Macy’s just the other day. I pictured what it might be like to run from the dressing room half clothed. I imagined the laughter and the pointing from the upstanding shoppers of Mayfair Mall as they paused from running for their lives.
At least here on Humboldt, no one would probably notice. This is Riverwest, and Riverwest is very open-minded about what it means to be clothed. I could see myself running out in the street with a dress halfway up my face, arms flaying vertically, bare legged, and without my new clutch bag. Someone might say to me, “Nice look; but you need a clutch bag or perhaps a pair of stilettos.”
That thought calmed me down. Actually, it made me laugh. I did and pulled a muscle in my neck. This was getting serious so I had to come up with a plan.
Should I just pull and rip and pay the twenty-one dollars? Maybe I could mend it, do more Yoga, lose some weight, and wear it to my brother’s wedding at the end of June.
No, I’m really bad at getting things mended.
So, I pulled the dress back down into position and checked myself in the mirror. That’s when the next plan took form. I could walk up to the cashier and explain that I love the dress so much that I just have to wear it out of the store. Let me pay and go.
But I didn’t have the right shoes for the dress. And what would I do with the thermals?
Finally, I decided to come clean with the dressing room attendant. I walked out, told her I was stuck and needed help, and lead her back to my stall.
She didn’t bat an eyelash. She exclaimed, “That happens to me all the time!” She began by positioning my head forward, arms extended, and shoulders squeezed.
“I might hurt you,” she warned, and so I made a joke about Yoga.
It did hurt, but she was effective; a real pro. She slid it off after about 90 seconds of stretching muscles I didn’t know I had, and she again assured me that this sort of thing happens all the time.
I wish I knew her name. I feel like I should know it since she saw so much of me. Whoever she is, she was such a great salesperson, she almost convinced me to buy it anyway.
“Even still, it is so cute on you! And it’s a bargain!” she insisted. "You should just get it anyway."
“Well,” I answered, “I guess the whole incident is my fault. I shouldn’t have tried on such a small size. I suppose I need to lose some weight.”
“No,” she countered. “You are not the problem.”
I loved her for those words. I guess I needed to hear them, and I can consider her my dressing room guardian angel.
So, my advice for those who are stuck in a dressing room stuck in a dress: I hope you’re at Rethreads.
Above: A clutch kind of like the one I found at Rethreads. Only mine is cuter.
Etiquette is really all about our personal virtues and...uh, lack of virtues in our day to day interaction with others. Patience is one many of us try to develop in our professional and personal lives, and I always thought that regular, low-tech living (like the kind we had in, oh about 2002 or so) presented enough temptation to snap and gripe at others. Now, with smart phones (and smart teenagers) and greater band width, our expectations are now completely unreasonable: "I just emailed him 15 minutes ago...he should have answered!" Or, "Why does the Internet take a full 5 seconds longer to load on my phone?"
Here's a tidbit that says it well for me: http://www.littlepinkbook.com/little-pink-book/career/from-impatient-to-im-patient%20. It's from a daily mailing called Little Pink Book. I enjoy getting these every week...if only it would load faster on my phone!
1. Avoid “panic shopping.” Okay, never mind; too late. Do you know the type of dress needed for the event? If it’s a wedding, you still should avoid white (yes, really), unless, of course, it’s your own wedding or your sister is becoming a princess. Day time weddings call for knee-length/below-knee-length, and evening weddings only require gowns for very formal venues.
2. If a wedding is in a sacred space (church, synagogue, etc.) Wear a wrap, a shawl, or a lace jacket to cover bare shoulders.
3. True, hosiery is about as rare as hen’s teeth, but many women need hosiery. Go for super-super sheer flesh tone hosiery (sandal foot); it hides flaws while still helping your legs appear natural.
4. Go for a dress or top/skirt or top/trouser combination in a spectacular palette of colors for YOU. Accessorize according to the event: Festive events are perfect for “decking out,” but somber events call for a little restraint.
5. Update your shoes. Metallic tones (“pewter” or dull silver) and especially cream/beige are the IT colors for shoes this season. They tend to blend in with the leg so that they can be worn under almost any color outfit. Higher, strappy styles are very elegant with this spring’s silhouettes. Do not choose thongs or flip flops no matter how many flowers or rhinestones they have.
6. Grab a clutch for the occasion. Don’t schlep that big boho into the reception hall! If you are unwilling to spend money on this very occasionally-used item, borrow one or search consignment/thrift shops. They are always around.
7. Hair and makeup is fresh and healthy. Colors are not glow-in-the-dark or garish for especially day time events. Nails might be (not should be) the exception.
8. Smile for the camera! Do you have enough time to whiten your teeth with an over-the-counter tooth whitener? It’s amazing how this makes a smile shine.
As it is almost Mother's Day, I figured I should give credit where credit is due.
I have "horse sense" (as my mother would call it) when it comes to choosing fashion. This is not because I was born in the "good old days," or only watched quality TV or played with beautiful toys or was exposed to elegant people. It is because I had a mother with horse sense about fashion. She knew what she was doing and passed it along to me.
So, what did my mother specifically show me in regard to developing my own style? Well, I answer this in my book (dedicated to her) in the following way:
Smile even when it's hard to smile.
Look up-to-date. Clothes are kind of fun after all.
Skirts are one of the benefits of being a woman.
Have a totally cool jewelry box stocked with wonderfully exotic items. Don't yell at your daughter when she rifles through it (or loses a few pieces...)
Wear jewelry even when you scrub the toilet.
Wear lipstick. Brush your hair. Never look like Gravel Gertie. (Who is she, anyway?)
You have to have a few years behind you to wear black.
Always wear a pretty top in your best colors.
Wear heels when you can. Wear high heels when you can get away with it.
No one should ever spot your underwear under your clothing.