Merikay, Magazines, and ‘Magnétisme!’

posted in: Fashion, Paean, Work | 5
A slightly earlier ad, and from France. But they’re always ahead, those French people, when it comes to creams, etc. Image: Wikipedia.

 

 

I’m in Knoxville with Merikay Waldvogel. There, I said it.

Yes, here to visit the legend herself for a research project I’ve got going. This blog post, in fact, is brought to you by the Wald, as I like to call her: I left my laptop at her house and she brought it to me at my hotel. While we can all appreciate the Wald for her tireless research and quilt scholarship, we can love her eternally because she is a woman willing to hop in her car at 8:30 p.m. and bring this girl her laptop. She is a pathetic creature without it. Thank you, Merikay.

While I was waiting for La Wald to deliver the package, I leafed through an issue of NeedleCraft Magazine. Merikay lent me a few issues to look at tonight before we meet back up tomorrow.

“Hm,” you say, “NeedleCraft. No, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of NeedleCraft. Sounds intriguing. Is it new?”

In fact, the magazine is quite old. The publication was founded almost 100 years ago and closed around the start of WWII. If Merikay was with me right now, she could tell us specifically, but I can tell you that NeedleCraft was (is) beautiful. It’s bigger than your standard tabloid (11” x 17”), for one thing; I don’t have a tape measure, but I think this sucker might be as big as 13” x 20”, which is pretty freakin’ big. The font style on the coated newsprint is delicate, exact. The printing is fine; all the illustrations clear and crisp. The cover is the best part: full-color, lavishly illustrated, on glossy paper. And of course the content is what you’d think it would be: items, articles, patterns, news, etc., all related to various needle arts, e.g., embroidery, crochet, crewel, beading, and quilts, naturally.

There are also ads, and one of them is just too, too great not to share verbatim. I can only share the copy, of course; you’ll have to get the September 1928 issue of NeedleCraft and turn to p. 18 to see the visuals for yourself. Just look for the Art Nouveau illustration of a woman putting face powder on herself in a mirror … that a man is holding, I think? It is very sexy and weird. For now, ladies, I ask you: Do you have … Magnétisme???

 

MAGNÉTISME!

Now … she is gay, fascinating!

WOMEN marveled — men were intrigued. Overnight the pale calla-lily had turned flaming peony! Now she was gay, enchanting, magnétique!

She had discovered the allure of a fragrance. Now her talc, her toilet water, her sachet, her face powder, all breathed the parfum of love … of romance … of melting moods — Djer-Kiss the unforgettable fragrance — the parfum that adds to mere prettiness the charm and mystery of magnétisme??

 

At your favorite beauty counter

A Comment on Kate Spade

posted in: Fashion, Paean | 9
Kate Spade shoes, 2008. Image: Wikipedia.

 

 

You know I don’t do a lot of pop culture commentary. I don’t do political commentary, either. I really only do Mary Fons commentary — and I think we can all agree that is plenty.

But this Kate Spade thing. I gotta talk about it.

If you didn’t hear about the recent, tragic end of the mega-successful accessories designer, I am impressed. The story of her untimely end is so all over the news, even I heard about it. (There’s an adage in the world of journalism: “If it bleeds, it ledes”, which means that if a story involves sex; untimely, preferably gruesome death; and/or life-destroying scandal, make it the top story, since what “bleeds” sells newspapers.)

Empire-builder Kate Spade took her own life. That bleeds.

It’s a remarkable story because suicide is violent and ruinous no matter what, no matter who commits it. But when the person who commits suicide was the founder of a worldwide brand built with vibrant color and buttoned-up whimsy; when that person’s exuberance fueled the spirited tone that launched her multi-million-dollar empire; when the person who hung herself in her home was a success by every single measure in our strange society … This should give us all pause. We should all consider what we think we know about other people. And what we think we know about ourselves.

Honestly, I was never a Kate Spade customer. I dress pretty preppy, but her polka dots were always a little too big for me, her green too Kelly; her patent leather a tad too shiny. But I liked that she had a point of view. I liked that she used the card pip for her logo. It all made sense. I’m sorry she felt she only had one option. I’m sorry when a person thinks that and I’m sorry we don’t know, as a society, how to help them better.

Remember when people in this country died of tuberculosis? Today, we say: “We could have helped them. If only we knew then what we know now. We know so much more about germ theory and prevention and medicine. All those people died back then, but no more.” We’ll talk about mental illness and addiction like that one day.

Here’s a quote from an interview the late Mrs. Spade gave in New York last year to an online channel. The host asked her what inspires her. I like how she answered, how she personifies color:

“People inspire me. [People in] the environment. I’d love to say something more intelligent, like ‘art’ or ‘museums’ or ‘writing.’ But I would honestly say people. I look at the street and I’m not sure I reflect the street as much as I interpret it … I find color optimistic and enthusiastic … and I adore it. I don’t know how else to say it.”

The Coat, the Shoes, the Failures to Launch

posted in: Fashion | 33
Italian mannequins. Photo: Bert Kauffmann via Wikipedia, 2012.

 

Remember the patchwork coat? That was in November. Remember the patchwork Pucci shoes just the other day?

Me, I remember both of those wardrobe selections. How could I forget? When I found those items I screamed with delight, fell on the floor, got back up, did furious/idiotic math in my head so to convince myself I could afford to buy such frivolous fripperies (!) and clicked “BUY” and dreamed about being fabulous in this specific, If-Anna Wintour-Were-A-Quilter kind of way.

And the items did arrive.

Both were carefully boxed by the merchant. Both the coat and the shoes arrived safely via UPS to my receiving room where I picked them up after school/work/school/work/school. I signed out my packages and carried both boxes up to my unit where they lasted exactly .02 seconds before I tore them open with the bad scissors* and tried on the contents. And I realized that I never told you what happened after that. And it’s time.

Both items were unqualified disasters.

Question: Do you ever eat something so good you laugh?

I had strawberry soup in Paris once and it was so remarkable, so stupidly fresh and pretty, the moment I put a spoonful into my mouth, I burst out laughing. This was years ago. I hadn’t ever eaten a dessert like that. The dish — fresh strawberries in simple syrup, with mint, in a shallow bowl — was so surprising in its deliciousness, I just dissolved into laughter. How could something be that good?

When I tried on the Isabel Marant velvet Log Cabin [description mine] coat, I burst out laughing in the same kind of way, but not because it was just that purely good; I laughed with total delight in that it was so very, very bad.

To begin with, the coat was not pieced in any way. The Log Cabin pattern was printed and it was printed on material which was basically luxe polar fleece? Sort of? I’m not sure about the voodoo they-do with digital printing these days with the laser beams and whatnot, but the designers somehow figured out how to print a patchwork-y pattern on foofy, minky-like material and make a coat out of it. This could be a great thing, but the coat that these particular folks made seemed to be inspired by a Hefty 20-gallon garbage bag. I have never tried on a Hefty 20-gallon garbage bag, but I don’t need to. Because I tried on that coat.

I looked like a sad, sad, deranged lady. I looked like someone who … I looked like someone who needed a friend. Badly. So I returned it.

As for the shoes … I have never clad my foot in a more horrifying shoe. I may have screamed when I looked in the mirror. Those horrifying monstrosities got sent back the day they arrived. Truly, I say unto thee there hath never been a more hideous piece of footwear in all the land.

I have a lot to learn. But I know bad fashion when I order it.

 

*the good scissors are for fabric/thread, OBVIOUSLY

High Fashion Tempts Me Again With Ugly/Fabulous Quilt-Inspired Item

posted in: Confessions, Fashion | 37
AGGGH! Emilio Pucci patchwork mules. Image: The Outnet.

 

Y’all.

Remember this coat that I coveted MOST DEARLY? Well, high fashion is back with a slightly-ugly-but-also-totally-amazing PATCHWORK SHOE. People, it’s Pucci. Pucci! Not Gucci: Pucci. The famed 70s designer who made the flamboyant, wacky, swirly-print scarves and the disco pantsuits? That’s Pucci. Gucci is like, ladies who lunch in the Gold Coast and have three cell phones for reasons no one should probably ask about.

These shoes. I mean, it’s really hard on me, seeing these shoes. Let’s examine pros and cons. Cons first, in hopes I will convince myself not to buy them immediately.

CONS

  1. Just … no. The term jolie-laide comes to mind. Jolie-laide is a French term which literally translates to “beautiful-ugly.” These shoes are beautiful-ugly, straight-up.
  2. Even with a 30-percent off code — given to me because I haven’t shopped at the site lately because I am seriously not in a position to shop right now — they are going to cost a cool $240. Which isn’t as much as the velvet Log Cabin coat (on which I realize I need to do a final update.) But still. That’s some bread and even though I have a new job, it’s still part-time. Technically.**
  3. I actually loathe the mule as a shoe style. In fact, I have an unofficial No-Mule Rule. My general position on “high” heels, which I wear almost exclusively, is that as long as the toe isn’t too narrow and the pitch isn’t too dramatic — by “the pitch,” I mean the slope of the shoe’s sole from heel to toe — heels aren’t uncomfortable. I’m not wearing stilettos; I’m wearing pumps, mostly. And these shoes make me feel good, as I mentioned yesterday. But the mule … Yuck. The mule’s pitch is usually very severe and what’s more, the heel is chunky by design. I have narrow ankles but wide, strong, Norwegian milkmaid calves, so a block heel is pretty bad for my stems, you dig? That these shoes are mules is a big con, here.
  4. And there are bows! No! Why the bows?? I don’t do bows!

PROS

  1. Oh, good God! There are quilt blocks on these shoes!
  2. Pucci!
  3. I just bought them. I JUST BOUGHT THEM!!! AAAGHHHH! MY ORDER NUMBER IS 2203ZO26F1801H!!!!

I am laughing and laughing right now … Oh, you guys. I clicked on the shoes again so I could describe them for you and meditate on the dumb things and what did it say? What did the little red dot say? “Just 1 Left!” Fie! Fie, you foul demons of online retail! Wretched algorithmic spawns of Satan! I wrend my garments! I wrend my high-fashion garments and I throw my stupid mule shoe at your screen! YOU GOT ME. YOU GOT ME AND MY CREDIT CARD YOU FIENDISH FASHION SUCCUBI! (Succubi? Hm. Spell-check didn’t flag it.)

These shoes are awful. And they’re so great. And there’s free shipping.

And free returns.

I’ll let you know.

Have a great day,
Mary

**hahahaahahaha

‘I Love a White Shoe’

posted in: Family, Fashion | 5
White shoe, c. 1950. Image: Wikipedia.

 

Some months ago, my sister told us a story about a very special sweater.

It’s one of my favorite posts of all time (perhaps because it’s in my sister’s voice) and it had a life outside the ol’ PG, actually; I shaped the text into proper monologue form, tweaked/polished it, and then shared it in a writing seminar last semester. Just like you, my cohort was charmed by my younger sister’s fashion concerns.

Well, there’s more where that came from.

The other day, sifting through WikiCommons (the site where I get all the strange-but-free images you see on PaperGirl), I found the above picture of a white shoe. I think it’s a terrific picture on its own, but it’s really terrific because it made me think instantly of my sister Rebecca, because Rebecca loves a white shoe. In fact, that’s how she said it to me one day:

“I love a white shoe.”

Now, that’s a thing we say. We say, “I love a white shoe.”

What you have to know is that my sister didn’t say this in a dreamy, effusive kind of way. She didn’t see a pair of white shoes and go, “Oh! I looooove a white shoe!!!”

It was more matter-of-fact. Rebecca spied a pair of white shoes — I’ll get to what kind in a minute — and said it like it was a foregone conclusion, like it was a truth held to be self-evident. “I love a white shoe.” And then she probably pursed her lips, shrugged, and respectfully put the shoes back on the rack. Because that particular white shoe? At that particular time? Hm. Maybe not.

But it wasn’t just the tone, the inflection of her “white shoe” comment that made it so meme-y for us. There was intriguing syntax going on, as well. My sister didn’t say, “I love white shoes.” She said, “I love a white shoe.” There was something awfully aristocratic about it. Very landed gentry. She said “I love a white shoe” as though we all have so many pairs of the same kind of shoe (e.g., Red Shoes, Paisley Shoes, Pom-Pon Shoes, etc.), that when considering an outfit, it makes perfect sense to say, “I think a white shoe. Don’t you? I do love a white shoe.”

What’s crazy is that for my sister, saying this does make sense. Not because she’s a wealthy landowner in 19th century Britain who lives off the rental properties she owns (see: landed gentry), but because she has this incredible style and the most extraordinary luck finding cool white shoes. Rebecca’s white shoe is a cool white shoe, the kind of shoe I do not even notice when I’m looking for “shoe.” Rebecca doesn’t wear white pumps (eek), or bright-white sneakers. No, my sister finds cool shoes in her shopping excursions and these shoes are frequently white. The shoe is often canvas/leather and has a touch of hardware on it, but never much; maybe a clasp. Maybe a small clasp. The shoes she finds are minimalist, you might say, designed by Opening Ceremony, or Jason Wu, or some obscure Italian footwear designer no one has ever heard of. She gets everything on sale, too, and usually on clearance because not everyone can pull of a white shoe, so they languish on the rack.

Rebecca wears a white shoe with dark clothes. I can’t figure out how she manages to make it so chic, but she does. Dark sweater, dark pants, neutral jacket … white shoe.

“Rebecca,” I ask her. “How do you do it? What’s your secret?”

My sister just makes the “What can I say?” gesture. She puts on her Ray-Bans. She takes a sip of her beverage and her beverage is something sparkly. “I love a white shoe,” she says.

And she wiggles her feet.

The Quiltdashians: Let Us Embrace Kim, Her Family, and Their Patchwork Ad Campaign

posted in: Fashion, Quilting, Work | 22
Strange bedfellows? Nah. The Calvin Klein ad campaign featuring the Kardashian sisters, 2018.

 

Speeding home in a taxi this evening, I gave in and opened the news app on my phone. Reading the news more than once a day is bad for a person’s health and I checked the blasted thing this morning already.

But if I hadn’t looked, I might not have seen the hot-off-the-fashion-presses story about Kim Kardashian West and her latest ad campaign for Calvin Klein. Kim is evidently now selling jeans for the company, and the ad campaign features Kim hanging out with her sisters, all of them in jeans and looking dewy/rich, talking about babies or boys or themselves, which is fine. It’s the Kardashian Way.

What is rather surprising, however, is that the girls are spread out on or coquettishly clutching … patchwork quilts.

Red and white quilts, specifically, and the quilts are the only visual cue on set. The girls are in a barn-like space (as evidenced by the wooden beams overhead, sort of) but this is way-in-the-back-backdrop.

In this ad, the quilts are very, very much the thing. Well, the quilts and the boobs.

Much will be said about this ad campaign. The fashion people will freak out about how daring and koo-koo bananas fabulous it is for Kim & Co. to use quilts of all things to sell tight jeans. How anachronistic! How gauche/glam! Old/new! Gag, gag, gag. (“Gag” is a good thing in this context.) Some fashion people will think it’s a misfire, I suppose, but haters will hate and the Kardashians are used to it.

I’d wager that way, way more quilters are going to be talking about this campaign than the fashion world people, though. And to offer the second surprise of the evening: I’ll bet most quilters will be excited about it.

Seriously. Quilters love quilts. We’re excited when we see them featured in mainstream media. Ken Burns was just interviewed in the New York Times about his exhibition at the International Quilt Study Center & Museum, in Lincoln, Nebraska, and whatever you think about the New York Times, that was awesome. That article got shared like crazy among quilters. We like it when the other half notices what we know all day: Quilts matter, they are great, they have never gone anywhere, and they aren’t going anywhere, either.

And when a major celebrity puts a quilt in her photo shoot, we’re down. Sure, some ladies will tsk-tsk about Kim’s underpants and someone(s) somewhere will get their applique twisted that the quilts are on the floor. The haters will hate. People have different opinions about how we do all this. Quilters are used to it.

The Kim Kardashian/Calvin Klein quilt ad campaign is a good thing. Quilts are indelible, enduring symbols of domesticity and comfort, of home and care. They’re also kind of associated with women, if you haven’t noticed. And while you might not approve of the Kardashian cult of celebrity, or the annual monies spent by their empire on manicures/private jets, etc., you gotta admit: These folks are all about family and home. They’re about kids. Legacy. Tradition. Sounds like a quilt family to me. What do their extensions have to do with anything?

It’s a heck of a thing when a celebrity on the Kim Kardashian scale puts a quilt front and center in an ad campaign or a photo shoot. In fact, the Kim ads are so surprising precisely because this never really happens. Madonna has never done a quilt thing. Julia Roberts was never photographed for InStyle magazine with a quilt on her lap. Oprah hasn’t taken up sewing hexies at her ranch house. The only other big-time celebrity I can think of who really pushed the quilt into pop culture was Gloria Vanderbilt, and that was 40 years ago! In the 1980s! She was super into crazy quilts and had fashion designer Adolfo make robes for her to wear around her Log Cabin-decorated house.

But Gloria doesn’t have a reality show, y’all, and she ain’t married to Kanye West. This is probably a good move on Gloria’s part, no disrespect to Kanye. I’m thinking of the age difference.

Anyway, this post has been dashed off pretty fast; maybe too fast. I try to ruminate on things before I start typing. But by the time the taxi dropped me off at my building, I had gone through a (hopefully) robust thought process on all this and I’m okay if there’s more to say later. For now, I feel confident that quilters, on balance, are going to cheer about Kim and the red-and-whites.

They may not buy the jeans.

‘How Do You Shop?’

posted in: Fashion | 6
Fashion plates from the 1880s. Image: Wikipedia.

 

My friend Soph asked me awhile back how I shop for clothes.

I really liked the question because I like my clothes and hadn’t ever really been asked about how I pull everything together. I told Soph that I get my clothes mostly at designer discount outlets like Nordstrom Rack (my sister Rebecca is with me on this), or I buy things at fancy department stores when they’re 70 percent off.

But beyond the “where,” I thought about the “what.” What do I wear? What don’t I wear? Thinking it through, I realized I have a firm set of rules in mind when I’m purchasing clothing. Sometimes, gals like to swap this sort of information, so here we are.

After roughly 25 years of dressing myself, there’s stuff I wear and stuff I do not, full stop. I might be at a killer sale rack and see a dress that’s just my size, but if it features one of my “no’s,” I bounce. Who needs a closet full of clothing that only slightly works? Worse than that: Who wants to have a closet full of clothing you don’t actually like?

And I’m happy to say that at this stage in life, I know what does and does not work on my body. This saves a lot of time when I’m out amongst the racks, believe me. Note: Please do not take my “doesn’t work” list to mean the items are bad; they might be perfect for you, just as what clothing works for me might be disastrous on you. Oh, fashion! You fickle so-and-so.

Here’s what doesn’t work on me/for me/anywhere near me: 

Bows
Chinese collars
T-shirts
Ruffles
Chiffon
Anything that gives me cleavage
Drop-waist dresses
Cap sleeve anything
Sleeveless shirts/dresses (with rare exceptions)
Ninety-percent of denim clothing (this includes jeans)

Here’s what does work:

Black
Tailored pants
White dress shirts
Gold hoops
Pumps (black, usually, but I make my forays)
Black cardigan
Layers
A red accent somewhere (often this is my lipstick)
Jackets
A great coat

To be honest with you, I kind of like the girl who wears all the things on my “no” list. I mean, chiffon and t-shirts?? Sounds fabulous! But for me, the simple thing is best, the well-made pants and the “crisp white shirt,” as Sophie put it — that’s the way for me. And I feel good.

How about you?

I Want The Coat

posted in: Fashion | 46
There she goes. Image courtesy the Fashion Gods!

 

The store was Neiman Marcus. The time was 1:12 p.m.

I had only dipped into the place to kill time between a doctor’s appointment and a meeting, and lo! ‘Twas in that space and time that I did spy a garment that I coveted so terribly — that I instantly desired and so intensely — that I am shivering in my yearning, even as I type these words.

The item: a velvet coat, created by French designer Isabel Marant, featuring a dazzling Pineapple Log Cabin patchwork pattern. It’s the jacket pictured above — which I literally cannot look at much longer or I’m going to go dip into my IRA and take out the money and buy it, consequences be damned. What good is retirement money if I don’t look fabulous when I get there??

The official name of the coat is the “Tao Southwestern Quilted Velvet Caban Coat” and was it not made for me? Seriously, don’t you just suppose there could be a tag inside that says, “Made For Mary Fons”?? It’s too perfect, the fashion/quilt blend, the homage paid to the Log Cabin quilt … I am almost hyperventilating. Still!

You know, quilts and fashion have long been involved with each other. Every few years you’ll get a handful of designers who are using patchworky motifs or embellishing with reverse applique on skirts and jackets. Designers like Alexander McQueen, Gloria Vanderbilt, and Ralph Lauren have all drawn heavily on American quilt and patchwork motifs over the years. Ms. Marant is only the latest in a long line of fashion designers who know the color, scale, and shapes found in quilts are pure genius in other applications, too.

[That was me attempting to make a wanton display of fashion lust include some kind of edifying moment. Can I be done now? Good, because I need to talk about the coat some more.]

All winter, I would wear my size 40 coat walking up Michigan Avenue. I would skip a scarf because I would never want to cover up any part of my coat’s glorious piecing effect. Maybe I’d have a little neck wrap or something, just plain black. I would wear a simple black stocking cap on my head and plain leather gloves on my hands. I would love to wear this coat if I were wearing black tights and black shoes! Wouldn’t that just be fabulous??

Okay, so the coat is $1,850.00.

Yeah. That’s really a lot of money. I don’t have it. I mean, I’m just not at a place in my life when I can waltz into Neiman Marcus and buy a coat at full-boat retail. The cost of the “Tao” coat is not quite the same amount as my upcoming biannual property tax bill will be, but $1,850.00 would take a significant chunk out of it. That’s a lotta pineapples. Too many, and I know it.

But a girl can dream. And sigh. And weep. Can’t she? And can’t she just appreciate something without having to own it?

I very, very much want to say yes to this purchase. Right now, though, no way.

Except that .. you guys …  It’s velvet!

Sweater Girl, or: “Rebecca Tells a Shopping Story”

posted in: Family, Fashion | 26
Publicity photo of Patti Page, 1955. Image courtesy Wikipedia.
Publicity photo of Patti Page, 1955. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

 

Two quick items of business:

  1. Thanks to all of you, Mom procured the fabric she needs to finish her quilt. If this is the world’s first instance of crowdstashing, I am happy to report we are all batting 1000. It totally worked for Mom and me and it can work for you, too. (And yes, XX, there should be an app.) Thank you all for the tips, the bon courages, and to the lovely lady who is FedEx’ing the exact amount of the exactly-right fabric. Incredible. Everyone is magic.
  2. Today is my birthday. I’ve had one of the best birthdays of my life. The day involved, among many other things, a trombone serenade, a special delivery from Germany, and a power outage. Those things are all true, though they are not related.

But the birthday tale has to come later. Tonight, it’s time to post a monologue. I worked on it on and off all day and I think I’ve got it right.

You’re about to read a true story which has been carefully reconstituted from the copious notes I took down last night at dinner. Mom, Jack, and my sister Rebecca and I were eating grilled pizza and drinking wine and my sister was (hilariously) expounding on the reasoning behind a certain wardrobe item in her possession. I grabbed my laptop and got down everything, pretty much word for word. (In case you don’t know, Nordstrom Rack is the discount joint run by the people behind the fance-schmance Nordstrom’s department store. It’s a magical place.)

Enjoy!

REBECCA

Two weeks ago, the “Clear The Rack” sale happened at Nordstrom Rack. “Clear The Rack” is a big deal for us ‘Rackies, a real affair to remember. You get 25 percent off the lowest ticketed price! It’s the best sale and it does not happen often. Maybe twice a year. So I go.

There I am, clicking through a rounder, and there’s this light gray, cropped cashmere sweater with a hood. This kind of garment — though it rarely looks like much on the hanger — is my jam. I see it, lift it up, admire it. But there was a problem. Even though it was hanging in the “M” section of the rounder, the tag said “XS/S”, though it was very roomy. It was a roomy Small. Still, I put it back and went off exploring.

By the time I was done wandering around, though, that gray sweater was still on my mind. What the heck, I thought, and I decided to try it on. Trying on clothes is a victimless crime. It’s like testing out a lipstick: No harm, no foul. That’s my advice: Whatever it is, try it on. Go to an expensive place! Try on a pretty gown! Do it! That’s what I say. I’m a modern woman.

Oh, and the sweater’s original price? It was something like 500 dollars, which was silly, but after a zillion markdowns, it was cha-eep. Cheap. Plus an extra 25 percent off?? I couldn’t afford not to try it on, in this economy.

So I take it back to the dressing room and pull it over my head, and as goes over my face, the most glorious, pleasant, feminine, like, parfumerie bouquet envelopes me. That sweater smelled so good — there just are no words. None. It was the smell that really good perfume takes in certain clothes, like sweaters, after a person wears it and then you put it on and it smells faintly in that perfect way. I was completely overtaken by this fragrance. I was like, “I’m buying this.”

It was so clear what happened. This girl, this woman, bought the sweater — full price — and took it home. She went for  a swim at The Club, played tennis, took a shower, used her fancy creams, spritzed her perfume and everything, but she didn’t blow dry her hair. That’s important. Then she put on the sweater on and — well, it wasn’t quite right.  It made her look hippy, maybe. So she pulled the sweater off over her hair, still wet and fragrant from her incredible hair care products. That’s important. She puts the sweater back in the Nordstrom bag and then, a couple days later, very much at at her leisure, she returns it. And it goes on the Rack.

I thought of this woman taking exotic journeys in foreign lands. She’s sitting in the airport and gets a chill, so she just casually dons her gray, cashmere hooded sweater. That’s the narrative I created.

All of this was instantly coming from the sweater. It smelled clean, and like new clothes, but it was more than that. This sweater smelled like…effortlessness. It smelled like someone who just…shows up. It smelled cool. The girl who had this sweater before just smells cool. If you went to dinner with her, you’d get a whiff of her at the bar or whatever and you be like, “This girl? This girl is cool.”

Look, I’m happy with who I am. I have my shampoo. I have my deodorant. But I always wonder how I smell and I wonder how I smell to others. You can’t ever know. Do I smell cool? That’s what you want to know.

Clearly, I bought it. And I’ll never clean it. I could spill a pizza on this sweater. A saucy pizza from the sky could fall on this sweater and I would not clean it.

[the end]

EDITOR’S NOTE: My sister brought this sweater up to the lake house this weekend and I can attest to the fact that no garment has ever smelled so good, ever, and we have been burying our faces in it intermittently for two days. That is, until Rebecca began to snatch it away, worried that we’d over-sniff it and the scent would be gone forever.

The Day I Bought My Hat.

posted in: Chicago, Day In The Life, Fashion, Tips | 9
This isn't my hat, but it's pretty darn close. Montecristi hat, Optimo. Image: Wikipedia.
This isn’t my hat, but it’s pretty darn close. Montecristi hat, Optimo. Image: Wikipedia.

 

Today, I bought a proper hat.

I’ve been thinking about buying a proper hat for some time, now, and today was the day I put my money where my head is, which is directly above my neck. (In case the location of my head wasn’t obvious, you can now locate my head easily, what with the hat on it.)

You might be wondering what I mean by a “proper hat” because you are smart and curious. Indeed, I should clarify here because not everyone will agree upon what a proper hat might be. I mean, for some people, the only thing a woman should wear on her head is a bonnet. To those folks, a bonnet is a proper hat, even though really it’s a bonnet and isn’t that more headwear? Other people would consider a proper hat to be a straw boater — but those people are usually the three other guys singing in your barbershop quartet in Boston in the 1930s.

For me, a professional woman/grad student in the second half of her thirties living in downtown Chicago, a proper hat is one which:

  • can’t be balled up and stuck in a drawer
  • has been fitted for her by a Person Who Knows About Hats (such people often work in a hat shop)
  • is appropriate for the season
  • is stylish but not trendy (e.g., huge cloth flowers, extreme brims, hardware of any kind, etc.)
  • can be repaired if need be
  • comes in a hatbox
  • serves a functional purpose

This last thing was the clincher. Until recently, I never saw hats as serving a purpose, exactly — not for me, anyway. They always seemed to be a fashion thing, an accessory, and sister, I got enough to worry about without some new wardrobe component to manage. I skipped hats because like, who needs ’em? Like, who actually needs them?

Well, me, when a few months ago, what used to be unequivocally good became slightly menacing.

I’m talking about the sun.

For most of my life, the sun on my face felt fabulous, just warm and good. Most people have this experience with the sun. And besides feeling great, the sun looks good on me! My anemic, Norwegian/Scots-Irish, pasty complexion gets an upgrade when I “get a little sun.” In the summer months I usually get some freckles, which lend me an air of vitality and sportiness (as opposed to the “19th century fainting couch” thing I’ve usually got going on.)

But freckles are not what I want anymore. At all. Maybe that whole “woman/grad student in the second half of her thirties” description of myself is the key, here. At 20, you can lay out, go to tanning beds, slather yourself in baby oil and who cares? Sun damage? Whatever! Grab the bucket of Coronas — let’s hit the beach! But when you’re thirty-something, such behavior is definitely no bueno. Sun damage starts to show up on a girl’s mug at my age, especially if she’s extra pale, though it’s hardly just my appearance I’m concerned about: Skin cancer is a very real thing I do not want in my life.

So. A couple years ago I began using a good daily sunscreen. The only time I’m tan is when a person sprays me with tan-colored paint. But sometime in late April, waiting to cross the street on a very hot, very bright day, I had my Hat Epiphany: A hat is practical because it will keep the sun off my face.

And, just like that, I began to make moves. Hat moves. I did research. I consulted sources. And today I got my hat at Optimo, the most glorious store, hat or otherwise, in all of Chicago — seriously. I wore my hat out of the shop and discovered that a proper hat affects your feet: It makes them skip!

My hat totally works, too. I know because the sun was shining.

“It’s Not Even Leatha’!”

posted in: Day In The Life, Fashion, Story | 13
This one's leather. Hermes Ostrich Birkin Bag. Photo: Wikipedia.
This one’s leather. Hermes Ostrich Birkin Bag. Photo: Wikipedia.

 

I had an experience yesterday that made me happy in my heart, though even as it was happening I thought, “Mary, you are so weird.” But I’m okay with being weird if it means moments like these.

On the way back from my infusion appointment yesterday, I felt all right. Actually, I felt pretty good. I decided to get a coffee for the bus ride home. It just so happened that the nearest place to go for a coffee was Nordstrom’s. I was right outside the doors! Nordstrom’s has a good cafe! Don’t look at me like that.

I went inside and noticed big red signs plastered everywhere announcing a one-of-a-kind, do-not-miss-this-or-you’ll-never-forgive-yourself sale (this happens a lot at Nordstrom’s.) Though I was in no mood to shop — really — I decided that after I got my coffee, I’d look at the handbags. There was a sale, after all, and I was iron-enriched. My evening would be simply be reading and writing and hanging out with my couch; some innocent designer handbag perusing before I headed home couldn’t hurt. Knowing me, it would help.

I made a beeline for the designer side of the handbag section. There was a wide table with a shallow lip full of bags of various sizes, all of them gorgeous. There were Alexander McQueen clutches embellished with Swarovski crystals and silk flowers. There were a couple structured leather Proenza Schouler satchels. There were Fendi totes. My heart went pitter pat as I looked through them all. I love a great bag.

But it wasn’t going to happen for me yesterday.

The bags, even at 40% off, were expensive. Like, slap-yo-mama expensive. What’s 40% off $2700? I don’t know, either, but that’s how much one of the satchels cost and I just don’t have that kind of scratch to drop on a purse right now. Oh, I’ve purchased some expensive handbags in my day. But I could count on one finger the number of times I’ve dropped [INSERT FIGURE HERE] on something that will soon contain exploding pens and smashed cashews and get kicked under my seat on my next Southwest flight.*

There was a Nordstrom’s clerk standing near the table. She was super pretty, a little older than me with white-blonde hair. Her job was to keep an eye on the merchandise, of course; those handbags were usually under glass or hooked to security cords. I greeted her and smiled; she smiled back.

Right before I decided to head out, I took a second look at a killer denim shoulder bag. It was Stella McCartney. A heavy, shiny chain ran up the sides and ran along the top. It was padded, but only slightly. It might not sound like much (puffy denim??) but trust me, this was one hot purse. Then I looked at the price: on sale at $830 dollars. Eight-hundred-thirty dollars! On sale! In that instant, I heard in my mind one of my all-time favorite lines from a movie:

“$830 dollars?! It’s not even leatha!”

It comes from Joan Cusack in Working Girl. Since so many readers love the exact same movies I do (Overboard, Baby Boom, etc.), I’ll bet many of you know this line, too. It happens when Melanie Griffith (Tess) is at her boss’s house, trying on her boss’s clothes. Tess’s friend Cynthia, played by Cusack, is with her. When Tess takes something off a hanger that still has the tag on it, Cynthia looks at the price, splutters, and says, in her thick Bronx accent, “Six-thousand dollas?? It’s not even leatha!” It’s so great.

Standing there with the Stella McCartney puffy denim handbag, I really had to laugh. And then I thought, “I’ll bet the clerk would laugh at this, too. Should I tell her?” I decided to roll the dice, a la my Uber tour of Savannah.

“You know,” I said, coming around to her side of the table. “I think you’ll appreciate this. One of my favorite lines in a movie comes from Working Girl. Have you seen it? Do you know what I’m talking about? Melanie Griffith? It’s an eighties movie.”

The clerk sized me up right away, like, “What is she saying? Why is she talking to me like she knows me? Is this woman safe to talk to? ”

There was no time to waste. I told, very quickly, about the line in the movie, how Joan Cusack looks at the price tag and goes, “It’s not even leatha!” and how I thought about it when I looked at the denim puff bag.

The clerk loved it. She legit laughed, as in threw-her-head-back and laughed at the line. “Oh, wow,” she said. “That is so good. It’s great. You have no idea how much merchandise we have in here that that line applies to. Thank you. Seriously, thank you for that.”

So there you go. I’m weird. I sidle up to store clerks and launch into lines from Melanie Griffiths movies from 25 years ago. I have no intention of stopping this kind of behavior as long as it makes sense. Making people laugh while they’re at work makes sense to me.

 

*I fully intend to be the sort of person who sees a handbag on a table like this and says to no one in particular, “Would [SISTER/FRIEND/MOM] like this?” and then promptly buys it without blinking. Be patient, sister/friend/Mom. I’m working on it.

 

Let’s Talk About Being Blonde.

posted in: Day In The Life, Fashion | 13
Who's that blonde chick? Never heard of her. Photo: Me.
Who’s that girl? Never heard of her! Photo: Me.

 

Back in October, I went blonde. Not Marilyn blonde. Not Madonna blonde. But like, definitely blondish.

Thing were changing in my life. I felt that to reflect The New Me, I needed a new attitude, a new hairdo. (I like saying things like “I needed a new attitude” and using words like “hairdo”; it makes me feel like a character in a pop song from 198os or a sitcom character in the 1950s.) Besides, I like changing my hair. Folks who watch the PBS show and/or watched Quilty over the years know that to be true; my hair is somewhat different in every season, pretty much. And why not? Changing your hair(do) is fun, it’s never permanent — even when it’s a perm — and I love getting shampooed by another human being. I mean, woah. That is the best.

When I thought over what I could do with my hair — I did not want to chop it off again — I realized I hadn’t been blonde in awhile. The last time I was sorta blonde was in 2013, but that was mostly a heavy highlight situation. Before that, it was high school. It was time.

It’s been a somewhat gradual transition, but now, sitting here in almost mid-February, I am darned blonde and I have to tell you: Blondes may indeed have more fun.

It’s not like I’m suddenly partying all day long and bathing in confetti and riding around in Lamborghini convertibles in a bikini, which is what I picture when I picture Blondes Having Fun. But I swear, people treat me differently lately. I’m serious. It’s weird. It’s good. But it’s a little weird.

I’m telling you now because I’ve been blonde long enough to say it with conviction: People like blonde people. Blonde women? It’s hard to give you hard evidence. It’s not like people go, “Oh, hello! You’re blonde. I like that. Right this way!” or “Miss, would you like a hot chocolate? I just want to buy you one!” All I can tell you is that people are smiling at me 10-15% more than usual. True story. Smiling is happening with slightly more frequency than before. I’m not smiling more than usual. I’m always smiling. I have not changed my smile quotient. It’s everyone else.

I wonder about my fellow artificially-blonde friends. Is the Blonde Effect true for you? Do you stay blonde because you are doing your part for the goodwill of man…or do you just like looking like a cutie-patootie?

 

Choco In My Pocko.

posted in: Fashion | 13
It's the best chocolate, really. Image: Wikpedia!
It’s the best chocolate, really. Image: Wikpedia!

 

Chicago’s unseasonably warm weather has decided it has indulged us long enough: today is a day cold enough to require a Serious Coat. (We’ve been in the high 60s for weeks, now, and temperatures in the high 60s allow for Somewhat Frivolous Coats, at least around here.)

I have a couple winter coats to choose from. There’s the black puffer coat with the furry trim, the sporty-looking Helly Hansen zipper-upper great for ice skating (it’s almost time!), and then there’s the camel-colored wool coat that makes me feel like Jessica Lange in any movie from the 1980s. Which do you suppose is my favorite?

Well, it really does depend on the weather, but if I had to go live on a desert island where winter coats were suddenly necessary, I’d have to pick the that boxy camel-colored coat. It makes me feel like an adult — but in a good way, like someone could come and ask me for advice and I would have something substantive to say. That coat makes me feel like paying the gas bill and picking up a gallon of milk is kinda sexy. Does anyone out there know what I’m talking about?

When I put on the coat, I felt in the pocket and found half a Ritter Sport chocolate bar!

I haven’t decided if I should eat it. Chocolate keeps pretty well, but it’s been at least six months since I wore this coat.

There’s something touching and sweet about the things we find in our winter coat pockets a season later, don’t you think? Who was the girl who ate the chocolate bar? What was she thinking about? Was it terribly cold or did she think:

“I think it’s time to switch over to a Frivolous Coat. Spring is here.”

 

Silver Beauty: My Girlfriends With Grays Are Gorgeous.

posted in: Fashion, Paean | 0
Portrait of Jeanna Bauck by Bertha Wegmann, 1881.
Portrait of Jeanna Bauck by Bertha Wegmann, 1881. Image: Wikipedia.

To my surprise, two of my best friends in the whole world have grown the slightest touch of gray hair. When I realized it, the strangest thing happened: these girls got like, nine zillion times more beautiful than they were already. Straight up.

The first friend is almost exactly my age; we’re three days apart. Her gray caught my eye when we were sitting in the sun. She was telling me about the breakup that began that day and that has been so ruinous in her life for some months, now. We were at the Art Institute’s coffee cafe, out on the patio. I was listening and holding her hand. I saw the gray when she blew her nose. I thought, “Holy crap. That is life. That is what life looks like. It’s gorgeous because…it’s real.”

My other friend is several years younger than me but in my same decade. Her gray is lighter – so light I wasn’t 100% sure it was actually there at first, but now I’m 99% sure it is. I was at my sewing machine and looked over at her across the table. I saw the gray and I thought, “If that’s what gray hair looks like, I’m looking forward to it.”

Because sometimes I get sad about aging. It’s because my birthday is on Saturday,* probably, and I’m weird about birthdays. They’re my favorite day because I love being alive and they are my least-favorite day because I love being alive and now I’m closer to not being alive. Happy Birthday to me!!

My grandmother Dorothy went prematurely gray in her thirties and she looked so great. My mom has never dyed her hair and that’s pretty cool, especially when you consider she’s a person in the public eye. People do not like the people on their TV to change. Mom’s hair is silver and gorgeous.

But I vaguely thought I’d dye my hair when the gray started to grow in. Hair is fashion for me. It’s an accessory. I love to change my hair, as folks who have watched me on TV/online have seen over the years. I’ve figured – though I haven’t spent hours thinking about it because I haven’t found any gray yet – that when the time came, yeah, I’d probably dye it. No big whoop.

But then I see Friend #1 and Friend #2 talking, laughing, crying, creating art, being brilliant, being funny, telling me stories, making me laugh, teaching me, learning stuff themselves, and being really, really good friends with these first gray hairs on their heads and I think: “Oh, man… I wanna look like that.”

*It’s true: My birthday is Saturday, August 6th. I am going to shamelessly ask for a birthday present, too. From everyone. I gotta lotta nerve, don’t I? Don’t worry: It won’t cost you a dime. Actually, I think it will be fun. Stay tuned.

From The PaperGirl Archive: “My Life As Alabaster.”

posted in: Fashion | 0
Mary, Queen of Scots by François Clouet, 1557. Image: Wikipedia.
Mary, Queen of Scots by François Clouet, 1557. Image: Wikipedia.

It’s summertime. And with summertime comes clothes that show more skin. Pasty as ever — even more pasty than usual, what with this pesky anemia thing — I am facing my short sleeves and dresses with a furrowed brow. And freckles.

For your reading pleasure, a post written two summers ago when I was living in New York City, which seems like it was a galaxy ago. A very close, very familiar galaxy ago.

 

Dresses.

posted in: Fashion | 0
Yellow chiffon dress, 1968.  Image: Maison couture Jean Dessès via Wikipedia.
Yellow chiffon dress, 1968. Image: Maison couture Jean Dessès via Wikipedia.

On the drive back from Beaver Dam to Chicago this evening, I stopped at Gurnee Mills. Gurnee Mills is a collection of small pond mills set in the rolling countryside of Illinois. Just kidding; it’s an absolutely enormous shopping center outside of Chicago off I-94 and a couple times a year for one reason or another, I’ll pass Gurnee Mills in an automobile. I’ve pulled off the highway to visit the Old Mill a couple times and both times, I was sad and happy.

Because they have a Neiman Marcus Last Call store there. The Neiman Marcus Last Call stores are where all the stuff that didn’t sell at Neiman Marcus Regular Stores goes to die. You’ve got your Dolce & Gabbana cocktail dresses here, you got your Fendi paperweights there — you get the idea. They price everything relatively low, low, low, but “relatively low” when you’re talking about Stella McCartney is still “relatively ridiculous.”

But lo, the siren song of discounted high fashion called to me and, as I was not able to lash myself to my own Toyota Corolla rental car, I had to exit and find a parking spot.

The dresses I tried on would make you crazy. Crazy with lust. With desire. There was the Akris shift with the hand-dye. There was the Isabel Marant snap-front mid-length thing that was a little tight but in a good way. The Jil Sander. The other Jil Sander. I kept thinking about restaurants I’d go to if I had this one, about various charity functions where that one would work, etc. When you try on clothes, you try on a life.

Now is not the time for dresses, though. I’ve got bigger things on my mind and don’t have the dough. Changes are afoot, comrades. More will be revealed and it’s a whole lot of more. I did buy a cute little jacket. It was 65% off the lowest marked price and is the hottest pink.

Confession: I also bought a chicken sandwich for the ride home. Jesus, take the wheel!

[The management would like to point the new reader’s attention to a three part story from April about a girl in a pretty dress.]

Yes, Girl: You Can Wear White After Labor Day

posted in: Fashion | 0
Chilean students return to school, 2011. Photo: Wikipedia
Chilean students return to school, 2011. Photo: Wikipedia

You can wear white clothes to work tomorrow. You can wear them this weekend. White pants, white jacket. White shoes. White shoes are hard to pull off, but bless your heart if you can and if you can, go for it. The idea that a person can’t wear white after Labor Day is a myth. It must be squished.

Labor Day was several weeks ago, but this comes up because I overheard a woman at the airport talking to her husband about the no-white rule. “I couldn’t believe it,” the woman said, selecting a french fry from a McDonald’s bag and popping it in her mouth. “Barb was wearing white after Labor Day.” The lady was dressed in a sweatsuit with be-pom-pommed Uggs on her feet.

The notion that it’s gauche to white after Labor Day is about 100 years old and was kind of a trick played on people by a bunch of mean girls who didn’t have to work for a living like the rest of us for heaven’s sake. Rich folk in American cities around the turn of the 20th century had things like sideboards and china; their children were given dolls and Turkish delight for Christmas; they also decided to turn “summer” into a verb. Summering meant leaving the city for the country for the hottest months of the year. August was dismal enough without having to direct the carriage through all those sweaty proletariats, after all — and those stinky factories! Best to go to Lake Geneva or the Hamptons and wait till the steaming, teeming masses cooled off.

White clothes made from lightweight material do feel cooler than clothes made from other colors. The lady in a white linen dress seems quite at home at a picnic table in June; the lady in brown crepe is clearly trying to ruin everyone’s fun. But the choice of white clothing in the time period I’ve just described was not just for the purposes of body temperature; it was a status symbol. Could you afford to summer? Could you afford an entire new wardrobe for three months out of the year every year? No? Gosh, that’s too bad, Julia. I’m sure I have a dress from last year you could — oh, actually, no: I dropped a lamb chop with mint jelly on it during the Sumnter’s garden party last July and Hilde had to throw it out. How is your mother?

Labor Day became a national holiday in 1894 and it made sense to the mean girls to use the day as the cut off date for white. Anyone who wore white after Labor Day clearly wasn’t cool enough to know the rules, so they could snicker and stuff because there are rules, dummy. In the 1950s, the whole Jackie O., Dior silhouette, let’s be ladies thing perpetuated this old rule and so all of us still think it’s a thing. But it’s really not. I get upset about it because it doesn’t make sense and I love wearing white. The colors I look best in are white and black (but never together.) To cut white out of my wardrobe for the majority of the year is silly. So this is personal, you see, this archaic notion.

Tomorrow’s challenge: white pants to the office. Do it. Come on! I will if you will. Have I mentioned I work at home?

The Honorable Maid’s Conundrum.

posted in: Family, Fashion | 1
      That's me, second from the left. Photo: A bride and her attendants in New Ulm, Minn., in October 1974.
That’s me, second from the left. Photo: A bride and her attendants in New Ulm, Minn., in October 1974.

The engagement happened. The smash hit party for Rebecca happened. The next big event in my younger sister’s nuptials will be the wedding itself. And I need something to wear.

My sister Rebecca, who has been and always will be cooler than me by a long stretch, knows better than to put her Maid of Honor in something she has chosen herself. Being that I am her Maid of Honor, I love her for this. Because when I was married, I got swept up in the whole “let’s put girls who are different in dresses that are the same” thing, and that choice has been filed in my slim folder of regrets.

Rebecca will have no bridesmaids, just me. This fact, and the freedom she’s giving me to select my outfit have caused me a lot of brow furrowing lately. This is the most important wardrobe decision I’ve made in many years. I mean, it took me some time to decide what I’d wear on that date with the doctor, but this feels more special, somehow. (Dr. Lame-o is totally out of the picture, by the way. I’ll tell you later.)

Here’s what we know:

1. Not only would it be disgusting in the extreme to wear something that would distract from the bride on her wedding day
2. …it is impossible to wear something that would distract from a bride on her wedding day because no woman is more beautiful than a bride on her wedding day. I have seen zero exceptions to this.
3. It’s still possible to make a very wrong choice, here.

I need to be classy, naturally. But I ain’t wearing a dun-colored St. John’s suit. I’m thirty-something, not a wizened great aunt. The ever-perfect black dress is out because it feels a) a bit severe; and b) funereal. Yellow is out because yellow is too conspicuous, for one thing, and years later someone who didn’t know my family might assume my sister’s favorite color was yellow (it isn’t) or that yellow was part of her wedding color scheme (she has none.) Here are other things other colors communicate:

RED: “Hi, I’m Mary, the Whore of Honor.”
GREEN: “Hi, I’m Mary. Yes, I look terrible in green but it seemed safe.”
BROWN: “I’m depressed. What? Oh, sorry. My name’s Mary.”
WHITE: “No, it’s a joke! Get it? Like, white wedding??”
ORANGE: “Hi, I’m Mary. I’m the Maid of Honor. I dressed my bridesmaids in orange when I got married. I’m divorced, now. I really hate the color orange. Can I get you a glass of wine?”

My rigorous thought process on all this has yielded what I believe to be the two top contenders: a pale pink or a deep navy. Right? Beautiful, conservative, classy. Yes, but it’s not that easy. My wardrobe challenge doesn’t end there. There’s the matter of style and cut. I want the dress to be architectural, but not Gaga architectural. I want it to be feminine, but not soft. The matter of “softness” was the one guideline my sister gave me. “I know you’ll pick the right thing,” she said, “But I guess… I want to be the soft one that day, you know?” Yep. So no lace, no chiffon overlays, no bows on straps or anything.

And I wanna be kinda hot. I mean… It’s a wedding. But “looking hot” lands way down on the list and one must remember the “What We Knows” listed above.

So, with vorpal sword in hand, I snicker-snack through the jungle of the Internet, seeking the perfect frock, for the perfect couple, on their perfect day. Jeeves, bring me my perfect credit card, darling.

Sometimes Fancy Ain’t Fancy, Just Smart

posted in: Fashion | 0
Woman's silk damask shoes with buckles; 1740-1750, London. Photo: Los Angeles Museum of Art.
Woman’s silk damask shoes with buckles; 1740-1750, London. Photo: Los Angeles Museum of Art.

All this talk of magazine closures and hemogoblins calls for lighter fare. It’s time for fashion.

Years ago, I dated a chap who did not own a pair of bluejeans. He was fancy. He wore suits and bowties and because I liked him so much, I decided to clean up my act. I was a scruffy, twenty-two year-old slam poet waitress, so I naturally lived in jeans and hoodies. This guy was charmed by me, but it was clear that I’d need a dress or two if I was gonna go out with him.

Embarking on this upgrade wasn’t easy; I was still on a waitress budget, so I got good at sourcing fake pearl earrings and designer dresses at secondhand shops. But it worked. I began to cut a fine figure, if I do say so. I kept refining it because I discovered was that when I dressed a little nicer, when my shoes were polished, life was kinda better. People smiled at me more. I walked a bit taller. This was not social climbing — no one was mistaking me for Brooke Astor — but it was confidence-building. I was hooked.

The dapper fellow dumpity-dump-dump dumped me and broke my heart, but I continued to work on fanciness. (Who needed that guy, anyway. Bow-ties? Seriously?) Not long after the breakup, I quit working as a coat check girl and a waitress and got several great writing jobs. Eventually, I could afford nicer clothes (take that, Mr. Fancy Pants!) and I learned the true secret to looking good in one’s clothes:

Buy nice stuff, never at full-boat retail, and get a good tailor.

Got a nice dress? Take it to a tailor. For a bit o’ cash, you can get that dress taken in a nip there, let out a bit here, and voila: you are now a smokin’ hot mama. Gentlemen’s suits can be shaved down a smidge or opened up a bit; suddenly a fellow who looked rather average before is now A Man of Consequence. Tailors vary in style and price, of course, but start humbly and get used to the process: you’ll come to love it. You know all the dry cleaning places with the signs that say, “Alterations”? That means they do alterations in there. The pantsuit you really love but never wear because the crotch is…well, it’s not good. That can be fixed, usually. Instead of buying a new outfit ($100+) you can be green, fancy, and look great for far less.

Cobblers are important, too. The high heels that look like the dog chewed them can be restored within a day or so. Twenty bucks at a shoe repair shop beats Zappos with a stick.

That is the fashion report. The body report is that I’m feeling better but worried that my body cannot absorb iron. A friend emailed me to share her own anemia trouble; she’s been battling acute anemia for several decades. I may be in for another odyssey; we shall see. Thank you to each and every kindly soul who sent encouragement. I can’t reply to all the comments but I see all of them.

Thank you. Now go into your closet and make a plan!

 

The Invisible Time: On Aging

Publicity still from "Advanced Style," a documentary by Ari Seth Cohen, 2014.
Publicity still from “Advanced Style,” a documentary by Ari Seth Cohen, 2014.

Yesterday in New York City, before I had to go to the airport for my flight home to D.C., I had lunch with my friend Anita at Fred’s, the restaurant inside Barneys on the Upper West Side. I’ve been to the Fred’s in Chicago several times and hard as it is to admit, New York Fred’s is better. And by “better” I mean the people-watching is better. The black-clad waiters weaved through the place like a pack of minks, slipping in and around everything that was moving, which was everything inside the restaurant: people, trays, wine bottles, large amounts of money, etc. There were sets of friends having wine and gourmet snacks, small and large families eating lunch. There can be no doubt: Fred’s is a restaurant for the well-heeled (or spies like me) and there’s a lot to observe. The accessories alone!

It was a good place to have lunch, what with my extremely good news yesterday. I wore my fur coat. Anita looked smart, as usual. She’s been a New Yorker for many decades and she is of that city in all sorts of ways: artistic, shrewd, streetwise, and honestly slightly weary (in a charming way, of course.) We were seated and I ordered a glass of pinot noir and a hamburger; it’s a zeroed-out choice, as the cholesterol in the meat is zapped by the red wine’s flavonoids or whatever they are for lord’s sake.

Somehow the conversation turned to age. At thirty-five, I look at age quite differently than when I was twenty-five, obviously. Anita, being sixty or so, looks at it in her way, and what she had to say about her age was fascinating and depressing, though it ends well. Sort of.

“I’ve come through the period of time when I was invisible,” Anita said, cutting a piece of her omelette. “It’s strange, because as a woman, you’re invisible for a long time and then suddenly you’re an old lady.”

“Woah,” I said, and the rest of my life flashed before my eyes. There may have been a purple hat involved.

“See, when you’re in your fifties, more or less, you become invisible in society. It was amazing how no men would hold the door for me for a long time. Women would push past me. I was a persona non grata, really. Doors would literally close in my face. But then I turned sixty and now everything is much better. Because people see me as an old lady and the courtesy is back. Doors are held for me every time. People smile. It’s great.”

A forkful of salad was frozen halfway to my open mouth. In my peripheral vision, I saw a girl of seven or so in a black velvet holiday dress with a big red bow in her hair. She had the most beautiful, milk-and rose-colored skin of any child I had ever seen. The best soap, the best lotion, the best bath in the world is money.

“Oh, Anita. That’s…fascinating,” I said. “I’m glad the invisible period is over. How long did it last?”

“About nine years.”

When I turned thirty-three, I played around with saying I was thirty-two. I just liked thirty-two better. But I cut it out pretty quickly. It’s lying, for one thing, which is not okay. And for another thing, I earned thirty-three. The year before that was hard and great and hard and great and why on earth would I erase it.

It ought not to be invisible.

I’ll Try To Keep This Short.

posted in: Fashion | 1
Dewy, ain't she?
Dewy, ain’t she.

Twice in my adult life I have had short hair.

The first time, I had it against my will. This was 2009, and things were not good. The malnutrition, the double-barrell medicine regimen they had me on, the surgeries, the infections, the stress — after all this, my hair follicles were like, “You’re kidding, right?” and they quit. I remember sitting on the bench in the shower of my mother’s house as the water pelted down. I was maneuvering around the tubes and the ports in my body so I could wash my hair; it was among the first times I had been able to do so myself since going into the hospital almost two months earlier. It was exhausting, but I was stoked to be in a shower alone again (orderlies with sponges are appreciated but not ideal.) I was rinsing out the shampoo and felt something strange:

My hair was coming out.

I gently ran my fingers through the length of my hair and long strands came out, too, smoothly detaching from the hair that was still secured to my head. My jaw dropped and water came into my mouth. I spit the water out and shook the clump from my fingers. Splat, on the shower floor. My hand went back to my head to make sure what had just happened had just happened. Another long, wet rope of hair attached itself to my fingers. Splat. The clumps were too thick to go down the drain, so I saw them gather there as the water pelted my head and ran down into my eyes.  I sat there a long time, watching that shower floor.

There can be no doubt that it’s hard for men to lose their hair. But I don’t think many would argue that it’s harder for women. I’ve had an ostomy bag twice, accidents of various kinds (in public and private) and the very nature of my condition means I wind up talking about the bathroom way, way more than most people could bear, but none of these dignity-crushing experiences have been quite as hard on my femininity as it was to lose my hair. I don’t know why this is, but it made me so sad and it still does.

There were bald spots. I had to do something, so when I was next in Chicago, I went to a nice salon and told the stylist my situation. I told her I needed to just cut my losses, literally, and that she had full permission take it down as far as she needed to to make me look more like a girl with a cute pixie cut and less like a girl with mange. I left with very little hair. A month later, my mom and I filmed a DVD called “Learn To Quilt.” I can’t bear to watch that video, though it’s very good. I can’t watch it because when I’m cutting or looking down at the patchwork we’re making on the table, you can see my scalp. We talked about getting me a wig for that shoot but decided that was overreacting. We should’ve done the wig.

Anyhow, the second time I had short hair was when I did my one-woman show, “Performing Tonight: Liza Minnelli’s Daughter” in Chicago in 2011. I had to look like Liza, so of course I went short.

Well, I’ve cut my hair again. I took a picture of Anne Hathaway to Yuka, my stylist in New York, and I said, “Yuka, my relationship has failed. I have many work projects to focus on. Please make me look like this,” and I showed her the picture of Anne Hathaway.

“Ah! Yah!” sweet and awesome Yuka said, in her very thick Japanese accent. “When you come in, first time, I think-ah you look like her! We can do.”

It’s a cliche, I realize, to chop one’s locks when a relationship ends. I’m that cliche right now and it’s fine; I’ve been all kinds of cliches in life (e.g., white chick into yoga and sushi, etc.) and will be many more (e.g., fortysomething woman with interesting eyewear and a masters degree, etc.). My short cut won’t last long; the moment Yuka was done, I began the grow-out process. But right now, I need the focus that short hair brings. There’s less attention from men when a gal has short hair, I think. There’s less primping for me to do. Short hair, in our culture, is a way to distance oneself and I guess I feel like doing that in ways I don’t completely understand.

It’s just hair, except that it’s never just that.

On Models In New York City.

posted in: Fashion, New York City | 1
If a fashion magazine raises a barn in the woods and no one is there to photograph it, does it still shelter livestock?
If a fashion magazine raises a barn in the woods and no one is there to photograph it, does it still shelter livestock?

High-fashion runway models are strange-looking creatures, indeed.

I am not criticizing these women. They came out looking how they look and no one should be made to feel bad for how they look, even if some of us get taunted in school and some of us end up with Ford Modeling contracts worth millions, all by luck of the draw. No, I don’t wish to make anyone feel bad, but I see models around this town, frequently around Union Square (there must be an agency over there, the area is so thick with tall, bony women in platform boots and stocking caps) and I’m here to tell you: they are a kind of physical oddity. Spotting one is like spotting a cat with six toes or a parakeet with a second tail; you look, you look again, and as you walk away, you think, “Woah! Weird!”

My mailbox plops out Vogue to me each month. I don’t know why. I have never subscribed to Vogue. I like to think they send it to me because there’s some roster in the sky listing All The Editors In America and down in the “Q’s,” I’m there. Probably I accidentally clicked a “Gift With Purchase” when I made a dinner reservation or something and that’s why I get it. My feelings toward fashion magazines these days could best be described as cold, but sometimes I flip through Vogue, anyway. There on the pages are the women I see around town. (I’m not saying I run into Joan Smalls or Karlie Kloss at the store; I see who I think are probably models. They all buy bananas and sparkling water, by the way.)

To look dewy, lithe, and fierce in a picture means to be gangly, stick-like, and strikingly angular in real life. In order to have a leg that is deemed worthy of plastering on a billboard a half-mile wide in Soho, you need to have a leg that is about as big around as your six-year-old niece’s wrist, assuming your niece is small-boned and physically active. My point is that to look even somewhat normal in fashion pictures, you have to look abnormal in person. More than abnormal. What is more than abnormal? Hypoabnormal. Hyperabnormalis.

They look like aliens, okay?? I’ve been trying to avoid saying that, but they look like bizarre, insect-like aliens who wear mostly black and have expensive cell phones. Don’t believe the lies!

Take heart, ladies. I know the fashion spread voodoo. I, too, have looked at fashion spreads and thought, “Wow, she looks so good in that outfit; I must lose weight.” But you are not (and I am not) an insect alien. If either of us were, we would know it. And we would be working as models in New York. They have a secret society, I think, so we would’ve been contacted by now.

Just be happy you’re healthy, if you’re healthy. If you’re not, see a doctor. Make those biscuits from yesterday either way and then eat them.

**Note: The picture in today’s post is from Vogue Italia. They used the Amish people as inspiration for their shoot. I found this so ridiculous when I saw it, the rotation of the Earth slowed for a moment.

On (Not) Hating Your Body.

posted in: Day In The Life, Fashion, Tips, Travel | 2
Image: Wikipedia
Image: Wikipedia

While washing my hands in the bathroom of the Des Moines Airport, I overheard two girls of seventeen or eighteen having this conversation:

GIRL A: I’m 136 right now. Which isn’t too bad, I guess.
GIRL B: No…
GIRL A: But this summer —
GIRL B: What were you this summer?
GIRL A: 128? 127?

The anxiety was palpable. Both of the girls were pretty, even dressed as they were in sweatpants and UGG boots.

The weight conversation pained me for reasons that tangled up in my head as I lathered up at the sink. I felt first the Ms. Magazine stab, angry that young girls were wasting breath on an eight-pound fluctuation in weight while they’re clearly still forming. I felt a stab of nostalgia for an age I will never be again; seventeen was lousy in some ways (e.g., school, acne, etc.) but so great in others (e.g., inventing sex.) I’m ashamed to admit that there was a flicker of jealousy (or envy? I never know the difference) as I glanced at their tanned wrists and thick hair. I feel so poor today, so compromised — I had a pretty grim setback last night. Ah, but to be a young adult in good health is a beautiful thing — for a split second, I longed to change places with either of those kids.

The pair also reminded me of a promise I made to myself many years ago. At Mayo Clinic in 2008, in the darkest hour of that period, in a lucid moment — there were many moments I was not present for — I looked down at my infected ileostomy site, at the four different IR drains woven through my belly and rear, the IV, the PICC line, and all the bruises and my rapidly disappearing pounds of flesh and I said, “If I get through this, I will never hate on my body again. I promise. I will never complain that I feel fat, I will never say I look bad. I will love myself.”

I have not kept that promise. I still complain that my thighs aren’t toned enough. I worry about my hips. I try various Retinol treatments to improve the quality of my complexion, which is never satisfactory, ever. The desire to measure up to a beauty ideal has shown itself to be — at least in me — stronger than the memory of all that mortal devastation. And it’s about the saddest thing I can tell you.

It’s good to look your best. You’ve only got one life: Dress for it. And eat right because you’ll feel better if you do.

But girls, girls, girls. Ain’t nothing wrong with you.

High Heels On a Bike = Remarkable?

posted in: Fashion, New York City | 4
I'm like her! Only I've got heels on and she's younger than me or uses excellent face cream. Photo: NY Transit Forums
The Citbikes of New York. I’m like this chick! Only I’ve got heels on and she’s younger than me or uses excellent face cream. Photo: NY Transit Forums

A large man with a proportionately large afro shouted to me today that I was the most amazing thing he had seen in New York City.

Let me explain.

Some time ago, I spoke of my love of the Chicago Divvy bikeshare program in its infancy; the NYC version works just the same and upon arrival I became a key-carrying member. The bikeshare system has changed the way I relate to this city and I am most grateful for it.

In years past, I was a subway-taker, like everyone else in Manhattan who doesn’t have a driver. (This is most people, though in Manhattan, Those Who Are Chauffeured must be counted.) I had to admit to myself awhile back that even though the people-watching and the idea of the subway is cool to me, the actual subway makes me claustrophobic and neurotic. At least once per ride, I think of a skyscraper sighing down into the ground the moment I’m barreling underneath it and !squish! bye-bye Mary and everyone else who just wanted to go see a movie or whatever.

The other trouble with the subway in a city so intricate as New York is that I would descend into a hole and pop up out of another hole and miss the geography of the place. It’s hard for me to get the lay of the land that way; I need to knit together the streets, the blocks, the neighborhoods. As my main mode of transport is now the Citibike, this is solved. I am understanding this place in a way I never have before. And yes, I wear a helmet. You just have to wear one.

So back to Afro Man.

I like to wear heels. I’m the shortest in my family, so I took to wearing heels years ago and now it’s just a rule. I also like to be girly and fancy. I ride my bike in heels, too. Not all of my shoes are appropriate for this, but my knockin’ around town heels are. They even have little nubbly things for traction.

As I hopped onto a Citibike to go to the store for farmer’s cheese, I swung my leg up over the saddle of my horse-slash-bike, and my be-heeled feets began to push the pedals. I went about a half a block and slowed for a car to pass when the aforementioned large man with the aforementioned large afro called out to me from the sidewalk.

“High heels on a bike!” he whistled. “That’s the most amazing thing I’ve seen in New York City so far!” He laughed and shook his head.

I laughed, too. “You haven’t seen much yet,” I called after him, and rode away.

 

 

Changes, With Gelatin and Yogurt.

posted in: Day In The Life, Fashion, Sicky | 12
Homemade yogurt. Image: Wikipedia.
Homemade yogurt. Image: Wikipedia.

 

I have a mission in life: I am going to save my j-pouch.

If you don’t know what a j-pouch is, that’s good, because it means you’ve never been personally introduced. If you do know what a j-pouch (or “ileal-anal” pouch) is, you and I could sit down and talk about a lot, I’ll bet.

Either way, if you’re new around here you might want to read Part I and Part II of my health history timeline because you’ll want some background for tonight’s post. Warning: It’s not a fun tale and I wouldn’t recommend eating while reading, so put down the snacks. 

If you don’t have time to go through all that, here’s what you should know:

1) I was/am a gimp** because of Ulcerative Colitis (UC);
2) I was treated for UC but made more gimpy in some ways because of not-so-successful surgeries, each with new and exciting complications;
3) Today I am less gimpy than I was but still a gimp and now have a decision to make: Do I opt for a permanent ostomy bag or continue living with my dubiously successful j-pouch and its attendant woe?

While an ostomy bag isn’t the end of the world — I know firsthand, having had one for a total of three years — it does blow. More than what I’m dealing with now? Hard to say. But I’m not giving up my internal ileal pouch without a fight. I’m going to do whatever it takes to make my ruined gutscape look and feel like a damn prom queen. Think sunshine on a field of daisies. Think kittens frolicking in strawberry patches. Think pretty — the opposite of what I got.

*     *     *

Back in the 1960’s, a woman named Elaine Gottschall had a young daughter with Ulcerative Colitis.

Elaine and her husband lived in New York City. They went to specialist after specialist and their poor kid went on massive steroids and other drugs only to face surgery, anyway. Then the Gottschalls had a stroke of luck. They met a doctor who stared down the hopeless mother and asked:

“What have you been feeding this child?” None of the 15 docs they tried had asked that one.

“Um, food?” was the answer he got.

The doctor put little Judy on a very strict diet: zero starch, zero sugar, and lots of homemade yogurt. Within ten days, surgery was not a pressing concern. Within a year, Judy was growing like a weed, no longer bleeding, no longer living in the bathroom. The kid was better. No, no: She was a lot better.

Elaine was hoppin’ mad that her little girl had been through so much, how she had narrowly escaped being super sick and having an ostomy for the rest of her life, or, you know, dying. She decided to check out how it was that food could cure digestive maladies — and why she hadn’t known that till it was almost too late.

Elaine went to the library. She read many books. Elaine came of age during the Depression, so she never had the opportunity to go to college. She decided to go. At 47, she went to college to find out more about why the diet helped her kid and how it could help other people, too. She got degrees in biology, nutritional biochemistry, and cellular biology. Then she wrote a book. Then she wrote another book. Twenty years and a zillion testimonials later, Gotschall’s work is still in print and many lives have been saved, many more vastly improved, all through the science of nutrition as it applies to sorry souls who are smote with intestinal disorders.

Look, Elaine Gottschall was just a person. But she helped a lot of people. 

Along with some other treatments — and under the care of my physicians — I’ve begun Gottschall’s Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD), which is designed to starve out harmful (to me) bacteria in the gut and repopulate it with healthy bacteria. It’s a rebalancing act, a total, very much “natural” intestinal renovation. “Gut remodel” would be an appropriate, if too cute, way to put it.

Above all, it’s a major change. “Lifestyle modification” begins to describe it. I can’t use the wooden spoons I use for Yuri’s food because of cross-contamination. “Puree” is a word I have to get comfortable with for awhile. I have to eat an insanely limited number of foods the first phase of the thing, though after the first period I can start to branch out. If I thought about how I can never have chocolate again, ever, I would give up this second.

Maybe not, though.

Because it’s funny how any food becomes far less delicious-looking when it makes you cry a couple hours after you eat it.

Ninety days. Then we’ll see.

**Yeah, I can say “gimp.” We can call ourselves that, but if you’re not a gimp, you can’t call us that. 

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