Back in Class

      Remember all the fun stuff about back to school when you were a kid, before the reality of homework set in?    Please join me for some arts and crafts and some back to school shopping in pursuit of classic plaid.    Sorry this is so tardy, I know it’s mid-September already, but the dog ate the first draft…   

         When I was a kid in the sixties, art class was a rare treat, saved for special occasions when the teacher was too frazzled to do anything else.   I recall making mothers and fathers day cards but that was about it.   I was never a Brownie or Girl Guide.   In older grades, I got a C in art which nixed my dreams of becoming a fashion designer.   I can’t draw a straight line or paint.  But today I am a regular patron of Michaels the craft store.   Their 50% off coupons lure me in every time. 

       I ran into someone a few weeks ago and she was looking for plants for her parents grave-sites.   We started talking about those hideous purple and yellow gravestone wreaths, and I asked why are you buying those when you can make your own much nicer and cheaper, with a green wire hanger from Michaels and some flowers from the dollar store.   She thought that was an excellent idea, so I hope someone else might find some of these ideas inspiring.   Here’s a link to last years (unpublished) post Arts and Crafts 101:     (As I recently explained in my one year anniversary post, my blog was private last fall for the first three months).

After picture

       I had a quick look through the mall recently and the stores are full of plaid flannel tops, despite the fact that the forecast this weekend is for the same hot and humid weather we have had all summer.   You would think we were a country of lumberjacks, but then plaid is a perennial fall favorite.   Here’s a link to my blog from last fall, Mad for Plaid.    Enjoy! 

Plaid pencil case

(I bought a new pencil case at the dollar store for old-times sake – it might be good for stashing makeup in or all those small things which fall to the bottom of your purse).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer Beauty List

 “Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”  (Henry James)          

        Truer words were never spoken.   Summer afternoons can be beautiful but also extremely hot, making this one of the most difficult times of the year to look your best.    It’s hard to look fresh when the temperature soars to 40 C day after day and the heat and humidity have wrecked havoc on your face and hair.    So read on for a list of products that will help keep you looking as cool as a cucumber.   

not your average beauty review…

Rosewater facial spray

Rosewater Facial Mist

          A hydrating facial mist is a refreshing tonic for sun parched skin – the added antioxidant vitamin E and subtle scent of rosewater can make any dry complexion feel renewed.   I buy The Body Shop version for around $20, (watch for 40% off coupons online), but Garnier has recently released one as well which is cheaper at $9.   Their Soothing Facial Mist with Rosewater promises to refresh, sooth and hydrate, but I found the Body Shop version had a nicer smell.    I keep my bottle in the fridge for an added cooling sensation.  

Lavender mist spray 

Lavender Body Spray

       I bought this  a few years ago at a gift shop because it had such a lovely smell but many lavender sprays can smell synthetic.   To avoid this you can make your own Lavender water by adding lavender oil to a mixture of water and alcohol (check for recipes online).    Keep in the fridge for maximum cooling effect.   Lavender is calming if you are having a stressful day and is also thought to keep mosquitoes away…….you will smell too lovely to bite.  

 

 Blotting Papers

       If you have oily skin or an oily T-zone area this is your new best friend for summer.   Clean and Clear makes a great one but I have also bought the generic brands.    Tuck a few of these tissue thin squares in your purse to take the shine off.    A little glow is okay, an oily sheen is not. 

Perspirex

Perspirex

      If the rest of you is glowing a little too much and you need extra protection, this is a great product to try.   Containing a higher strength aluminum chloride it is designed to be applied at night to completely dry skin and can last up to five days.    A maintenance schedule of once or twice a week keeps you smelling fresh on even the hottest days.   At $21 a bottle it isn’t cheap but a small bottle lasts a long time.   It can cause skin irritation especially if the skin is not completely dry or you apply too much.    Sometimes I have to wipe it off after a few hours but it still works well.    It is similar to Drysol but I find it less irritating.   (Note: due to conflicting medical concerns about aluminum I only use this during the hottest weeks of the summer when I know I will be outdoors a lot, not year round).  

Nail Polish

Sally Hansen Insta-Dry Nail Polish

        I don’t understand the whole mani-pedi obsession.   I’d rather have something tangible for my $40, and don’t get why women waste money on something they could do themselves with a cheap bottle of nail polish.  Ladies, put that money into your travel/house/retirement fund.    The last time I had a pedicure (a Christmas spa gift certificate I never would have bought myself), the nail polish had smeared by the time I made it to the heated pool area, (by far the best part of the day was a couple of hours poolside with a book), and the free bottle of nail polish ended up being re-gifted.   But I do like my feet to look nice in sandal season, and this is the product I swear by.   I would take this stuff to a deserted island, but I wouldn’t have to because it does NOT chip…..ever!   No touch-ups or smearing.   Plus it comes in yummy colors like watermelon and fuchsia.   While I wouldn’t say it dries instantly, it does dry quickly and at around $7 a bottle (on sale at the drugstore this week for $4 so I stocked up), my DIY pedi is good for a month.   Because we’re heading to the beach and who doesn’t want their feet to look beach-worthy.         

sunscreen face

 Sunscreen for the Face

         We all know the drill……sunscreen is the best anti-aging agent ever….as long as you use it.    I have struggled for years to find the perfect sunscreen for my pale sensitive face – non-greasy, hypoallergenic, unscented etc.    Every year I try a new crop of the latest and greatest.   This years specimens include these two by Neutrogena.    The Ultra-Sheer Water Light lotion is a chemical sunscreen with a non-greasy base – the non-greasy feature is always high on my list.   It can be worn under makeup.   The Helioplex sunscreen blocks both A and B rays.   It was light weight as promised but made my eyes water so I couldn’t read my beach book.   As I often have allergic reactions to chemical sunscreens I usually have to resort to a physical sunscreen like zinc or titanium oxide but it’s hard to find one that isn’t thick, sticky or pasty white.  The refined micronized particles in the Sheer Zinc Face Mineral protection make it less so, but I still ended up a whiter shade of pale.   I wish I could find a mineral sunscreen for the face you could spray on.   Is that too much to ask for?    Oil of Olay has recently come out with a line of Whipped moisturizers with sunscreen which promise to be light and non-greasy but they are scented and thus out for me.   The elusive search continues…..time to get the parasol out.   

Parasol  

sunscreen

 Sunscreen for the Body

        I have better luck with Helioplex containing products for the body.   Neutrogena has an Ultra-Sheer body mist that sprays on great and is relatively non-greasy if you are at the beach or poolside, although I wouldn’t wear it otherwise.   I have used this for several years.   And this year I tested their new water gel product Hydro Boost which was good, not too sticky at all.    It also contains hyaluronic acid as a moisturizer.   All these products are water-resistant which is a useful feature when you are at the beach or poolside, but I find they adhere so well to your skin that you really have to scrub at night to remove them…..so you might as well use a nice smelling soap!    

 

Summer Soaps

         On the hottest days, using an orange or citrusy soap in the shower can be an invigorating pick me up.    In the evening, a nice floral scented soap in a cool bath can be a calming wind-down to a busy day.  

Summerhill

Summerhill – Crabtree and Evelyn

 Summerhill by Crabtree and Evelyn is a lovely floral scent which has been a favorite of mine for years.   I use the bath gel and soap and it makes me think of summer even in the wintertime, plus the packaging is so pretty.  

Rose perfume Crabtree and Evelyn

When I ran out of Summerhill room spray I improvised and used their Rosewater perfume.   It’s very concentrated so one spritz will have your house smelling as lovely as entering a Crabtree and Evelyn store.   A great way to bring the roses inside!

Lilac Soap

        I also switch out my hand soaps for summery scents.    Winners is a great place to pick up great hand soaps at cheap prices.    This lilac scented one smells divine, like the month of May all year round.    

 

Lavender is another great summer scent.   Tuck a few lavender sachets under a pillow for sweet dreams. 

hair jewelry

 Hair Accessories

          Arm bracelets can do double duty as hair accessories on hot days.  What a great excuse to put your hair up and who doesn’t feel instantly cooler with a ponytail or chic bun.    Bargains can be found at the dollar and accessory stores – cheap summer fun.

white wicker purse

Vintage Purse

      Dump the big purse for a small vintage bag.    Who wants to lug around an oversize purse in the summer, it just makes you feel hotter and weighed down.    So ditch the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink shoulder bag for a small purse.    This vintage wicker number has a satisfying click and is so chic so you can pretend you are Audrey Hepburn going to a Simply White Dinner (that post simply did not get enough love).     

Quote of the Day:   “What dreadful hot weather we have!  It keeps me in a continual state of inelegance.”  (Jane Austen)

Postscript:  This is my first foray into beauty previews.    No financial compensation was involved in this post, but if any of these products fail to keep you cool in the dog days of summer then there’s always this.   

dog swimming  

Stay tuned for the Beach Book Blog next week. 

       

 

The Simply White Dinner

simply white dinner

           The Simply White Dinner is an annual event which originated in Paris twenty-five years ago and has now spread to cities all over the world.   The local version of this outdoor picnic has sold out again.  Every year this event gets bigger and more extravagant and every year people pay for the privilege of sitting with 300 other guests all wearing white on a summer evening and listen to jazz music while they dine on their own picnic fare.    Tickets are $60 per pair, (only pairs as the organizers want an even number of tables), and every year it sells out.   And yes, you bring your own food.   The $60 charge is only for the ambiance.   Bottles of wine (presumably white) are available for purchase, but you must bring your own bottle opener, white picnic basket/bag/cooler, white china, glass ware, real cutlery, (no plastic please), white linen napkins (to wave in the air for the group picture) and centerpiece (perhaps white hydrangeas).   You must wear white, and only white, except for footwear.    Elegance is encouraged, hats, fascinators, white boas, white gloves etc.   They supply the tables and chairs, the white tablecloths and the music.   The rest is up to you.   The location is top secret until the day before the event, presumably to avoid gawkers (although it might be hard to hide 300 chairs) but is usually somewhere along the waterfront.   This year they had a perfect summer evening with a lovely breeze coming off the water, last year it was sultry and sweltering hot.   It’s hard to dress chic when the humidity soars to over 40 C. 

           Now if you are a romantic at heart this sounds very enticing.   The event organizers promise a magical evening of outdoor dining, music and dancing under the stars.   It does sound wonderful and very Gatsbyish….who wouldn’t want to dress up like Daisy Buchanan?

       Except even the local newspaper christened it The Chic Potluck because……where are all the men?    The closeup in the paper showed a long table of stylishly dressed women with hats and white flowers or wreaths in their hair, with a few dapper men here and there, coerced into white suits or white golf shirts and white pants by their wives, but they were older, grayer men who may have grown up with John Travolta’s white disco suit in Saturday Night Fever, or perhaps Don Johnson’s pale linen jackets in Miami Vice, or maybe even Humphrey Bogart’s white tuxedo in Casablanca.    White is not a color favored by a lot of men, except for the classic white dress shirt which accompanies suits and ties, and I believe even that has fallen out of favor except for funerals and weddings.   Women enjoy wearing white, and as Jane Austen famously quoted in Mansfeld Park, “A woman can never be too fine while she is all in white” but I think Jane was probably thinking of younger women.    I abandoned white years ago as it can be unflattering to the skin tone of women over fifty.   In fact I don’t believe I own a single white item in my wardrobe.  I also can’t sit in the direct sun for three hours – would my beige parasol be confiscated at the door?   Parasol

Informal poll:  Female readers would your boyfriend/husband/male significant other be willing to don white (and we’re not talking white t-shirts here), to attend such an event?  (Male readers I would like your opinion too).  Men might be enticed by the promise of a good meal, but remember you are bringing your own food and it probably won’t be them making or packing the picnic lunch.   All of these are perfectly valid reasons to just stay home.   Still I am feeling a bit wistful about missing the promise of an enchanting evening(musical interlude from South Pacific) 

             The first year they allowed registrants to pre-order a boxed meal of a salad with protein/chicken for $22 (has anyone noticed that the $15 salad has now become $20) but that was soon abandoned, probably for liability reasons.   There are suggestions for picnic fare on the website…..appetizers, sandwiches, deserts.   The food does not have to be white, but what if it was?  If we’re going to have a theme here let’s go all out.   How about aged white cheddar with crackers, and white radishes and cauliflower veggies with ranch dip as appetizers.   Lobster or lobster rolls, or tuna on French bread.  Or that perennial picnic favorite, cold chicken and potato salad with white chocolate mousse or  crème brulee for desert?    Sounds like a plan, and you don’t have to pay sixty dollars to do it – you can put the money you save towards the lobsters.   Just organize a party for your own backyard some soft summer evening.   Invite some friends over and serve Prosecco or Pina Coladas.   Play old vintage Frank Sinatra/Dean Martin tunes instead of that horrible screechy jazz.   You might even cheat and stay out until midnight if your neighbors don’t object, instead of packing it in at ten as the official white party does.   (I’m not sure how much dancing under the stars would get done when it doesn’t even get dark here until well after nine, but you might get a good forty-five minutes of twilight twirling in). 

      Being possessed of an analytical mind, I decided to do the math.    300 tickets X $30 is $9000.   Nine thousand dollars to cover the rental of the table and chairs, the tablecloths and the jazz trio and DJ, might still leave some money left over, but as I don’t know anything about event planning, maybe they just break even?   They say they do it for the fun, it’s not a charity event.   It does seem like a lot of money though for some ambiance.   Last year I had tickets for a Local Harvest dinner, where for $30 a person you got an actual meal outdoors at the local farmers market square.   Although it was the end of September (timed for the harvest moon) and a coolish night they had heaters and a band played later.  (This reasonable price however might have been subsidized by the culinary arts students from the local college learning their trade).   The meal itself consisted of artisan bread, potato soup, locally sourced salad greens, a beef and a turkey entree, rustic vegetables and assorted homemade pies for desert.   And recently I attended a church dinner where the menu was a starter chopped salad, roast beef, chicken cordon bleu, mashed potatoes, carrots, coleslaw and homemade strawberry trifle for desert.  (This meal however might have been subsidized by the church coffers as a thank you to the volunteers).    And last June I attended a WW2 swing dance in an airport hangar, with a truly memorable roast beef and chicken buffet with the most scrumptious cheesecake for desert with a choice of lemon, cherry or blueberry toppings, and afterwards an evening of big band music with a 23-person orchestra.   Vintage dress was encouraged, some women did, most men did not, although I did see a few who might have been wearing their grandpa’s old uniform.   Tickets for that charity event were $75 per person, but as they have increased it to $100 per person this year they must not have made any money.   So, it is possible to have both food and ambiance for a price, (and it is possible to get members of the male species out for an evening of dining and dancing if there is a vintage B17 bomber on display to tour). B17 bomber

        Perhaps it is a case of country mouse versus city mouse, but if given a choice I think I prefer food over ambiance.   Still if Jay Gatsby offered to buy the tickets next year and pack me a picnic basket I might be persuaded to attend.     

Song of the Night:   Dancing in the Moonlight

Quote of the Day:    “There was music from my neighbor’s house through the summer nights.  In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.  (The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald)

 

 

         

 

 

Twenty Pairs of Black Pants

March Break - AMc - 2005

March Break –  2005

          March really is the cruelest month.   The daffodil stalks are peeking up optimistically through the thawing ground, but the temperature is still in the negative.   The bone-chilling cold of January has been replaced by the raw damp winds of March, interspersed with a few bright sunny days, a tease of warmer weather to come.  There is always that one last snow storm or bout of freezing rain to crush your expectations of spring, when it is a relief to wake up in your cozy bed listening to the sleet against the window and know you have no place to go.   Now that I’m retired I have more days like that, in fact I don’t even have to get dressed at all.  I can stay in my PJ’s all day if I want.   And that is the dilemma with retirement clothes.  

           Just what do you wear when you are now longer working, or maybe like Cinderella you toil at home, not necessarily scrubbing the scullery floors, but looking after wee ones or freelancing or blogging.  (Does anyone else have writing clothes?)   If you have been a career person who lived in business clothes most of your life you may find after a period of social inactivity that your wardrobe has sadly deteriorated into a sloppy mess of old sweatpants and t-shirts, with perhaps a few dressy items for going out.   Even the last few years of my working life, my wardrobe had dwindled into a collection of black pants, of which I must have at least twenty pair (there might be more I’m afraid to count), and an assortment of tops which have lived in my closets for years.   Yes, I shop in my closet.

            A recent report on the CBS (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), said that the average Canadian buys 70 new garments per year, and we spend 400% more on clothes than in the 1980’s, all due to Fast Fashion which allows us to buy more for way less.   The report went on to describe how most of the old clothes we donate to charities end up in the landfill, either here or in African countries, as they are not needed, and urged people to hold swap meets and to buy less.  For once it seems I am ahead of the game, but not necessarily for the environmental reasons they suggested.  (see Sears RIP blog for the death of style). 

           Is it possible to look stylish and comfortable on a limited budget? Scraggly old sweats and stained t-shirts are fine for a few hours relaxing on the couch or doing laundry, cleaning or gardening but I’m not sure I want to live in them all the time.  There must be more attractive options – it’s time to hit the stores. 

             And the stores are full of black yoga pants and black leggings.  I have finally gotten used to skinny jeans but I hate yoga pants and leggings…worst thing ever invented.  All that spandex, and the material doesn’t breathe, and most of the time they are way too tight, your legs end up looking like sausages or toothpicks depending on your weight.   If they fit at the waist then they are baggy in the legs, or the legs are skin tight, and how attractive is that, unless you prefer the boots/hooker look, and really what MAW (mature adult woman), looks good in that?   Even Madonna is too old for that look although she doesn’t seem to know it, but then neither does Beyonce and she is still young.    I did manage to find a nice pair of comfortable black Puma sweatpants at Winners for $25, half price.  (When you are retired, you have to be frugal).   The material was thick too, not Lulu Lemonish, so they will be good for walking in cold weather, which is all we are having right now.    I also found a nice comfy pair at Reitman’s, under their Hyba brand, soft and minimal spandex.    Both had a drawstring waist, an important feature, if you plan on eating in them.  (When you are retired you tend to go out for lunch a lot.)   And because Reitman’s had a BOGO 50% off sale, (oh what suckers we are), I got a soft blue sweatshirt….did I mention it was soft.  Of course even the small was too big at the shoulders, but the saleslady assured me it should be worn off the shoulder with a tank top underneath, kind of like that old eighties movie, Flashdance.   I also bought some black fleecy long johns (top and bottoms) at Mark’s Work Warehouse, for $30 each….very warm and cozy, and great for winter walking.  I have worn these under my old sweatpants, and have been quite toasty even in minus thirty degree weather.  Now if they only made fleece for your face, I’m sure I would venture out more.   I also bought a pair of lined (T-Max Heat) black pants at Mark’s Work Warehouse for $40 half price, which I have worn shopping or running errands, and they are nice too, so we have the winter wear covered….oops forgot about the hat. Got a nice thick red and brown knitted hat to match my red parka, at Winners…$12.  It’s hard to find a decent hat unless you want to look like a Gap ad with a pompom on your head, maybe attractive for fifteen year old models but not MAW.  (I could do a whole separate blog on hats.)   Oh, and because it is Canada, boots are an essential item – practical boots, $62 with a $10 gift card (oh what suckers we are), at Marks Work Wearhouse 50% off sale, black suede with fur trim, mid calf, good for snowdrifts and shoveling the driveway, not so good for walking in, but they probably need to be broken in…did I mention it’s been too cold to walk lately?

         On the days when it’s so cold, you don’t even feel like getting dressed, pajamas are important, so two sets, both navy, one plain navy with white piping, (I call them my Rosemary Clooney White Christmas pajamas only hers were red), and one with a thin-striped navy top and navy bottoms, both from Winners.    I find I am spending more time sleeping, nine hours a night, (for the first time in my life people tell me I look good….what they mean is I don’t look tired), and they are both great for lounging around in the evening.  Both are very soft cotton material, although a bit warm for the winter nights when it’s minus thirty below and I have the heat cranked up so the pipes don’t freeze.  Then I wear my summer PJ’s.

             Before Sears closed I bought a navy blue with white trim (I sense a nautical theme here), designer one piece bathing suit for 60% percent off, at $25, a real bargain.   It was for those water aerobics classes at the sports complex, but I have yet to wear it.   It’s too cold to go to the arena but I’m sure my bone density test will love it someday.   My last purchase was a new rose/brown sweater, again end of season half price $42, for wearing with jeans or black pants for lunches/dinners out.     And there you have it….retirement wardrobe covered, total cost, approx. $400.    I could use a few more casual tops for the sweats, but before you know it,  spring will be here, and I can switch to t-shirts and start my annual hunt for Capri pants that fit.   Is there anything more enticing than stores full of colorful spring clothes in the last dregs of winter – such promise of summer days ahead.   Or maybe next winter, I’ll just skip the whole thing and wear that bathing suit down south. 

         I wrote this wardrobe update summary the first year of my retirement, but in the year since then I have bought even less, (three more pairs of black Hyba pants, two summer tops, and a mint green Columbia spring windbreaker jacket), so obviously I am not the typical consumer the CBS based their poll on.  It does seem excessive to buy so much, not to mention expensive.   I remember spending more money on clothes in my younger years because I loved to shop and people dressed up more back then.  (see vintage blog)   Maybe younger people are happy with the available Fast Fashion.   But I am older and fussier now too – it must be of good quality, fit well, look good, be comfortable, practical, needed, a reasonable price and also bring me joy – a tall order for any poor garment.   No wonder I am buying less.  I have been reading about all things Parisian for future blogs, and the French seem to be perfectionists when it comes to clothing, which may be why they have such great personal style.   A French woman will shop for months for the perfect article of clothing.  I think I would do well there.  Vive la France!  

(Disclaimer:  I do not own this Paris picture, it was from a box of note cards but it is so elegant I just had to share it.) 

Postscript:   The snowdrops are out, the first sign of spring. Snowdrops

Sears R.I.P.

             Our one and only department store has closed and I am partly to blame.  Note I said partly, as the other 99,999 inhabitants in the area are also responsible.  It does seem strange that a city of a hundred thousand people can’t support a department store, but that is the reality of the changing retail environment, and it’s not just here, department stores are in trouble all over.  Sears has gone bankrupt and closed it’s stores all across Canada, leaving us a nation with just one department store, Hudson’s Bay.  The Hudson’s Bay Company was the oldest, established in 1670 as a fur trading post, back when Europeans considered it fashionable to wear beaver pelts, so perhaps it is fitting that it is the only one still standing.   Eaton’s succumbed back in the late 1990’s, although it did a roaring trade in the eighties when every city had an Eaton’s Centre mall, back when people actually hung out at the mall.

       The Sears store in town had been in operation since 1954.   One of my earliest childhood memories was of my parents taking me to Sears to shop for a new dress, (my older siblings must have been in school, and perhaps I was soon to go), and I had to chose between a blue one and a brown one.   The dresses were both otherwise identical with short puffy sleeves and smocking, the kind of dresses little girls used to wear before they wore leggings.   I can’t remember which one I chose, it might have been the blue, but it sticks in my memory because it must have been the first time I was allowed a choice. Normally my mother dressed my sister and I in identical outfits, or I wore her hand-me-downs.   Slowly our retail choices are becoming more limited.   Other than Walmart which I don’t consider a choice, plus a few ladies shops for older women, and the usual teen jean stores, the mall is littered with empty store fronts, even the food court is deserted.   You could go through it in an hour, while I remember whiling away a Saturday afternoon shopping at one of our two local malls.   You couldn’t do them both the same day there were so many stores.   Now the nearest department store and decent mall is two hours away.     

            Yes, I know there are lots of choices on the internet, thus the demise of the brick and mortar operations, and I know the internet is cheaper, but I when want to shop for clothes, I want the thrill of the hunt.   I want to browse, see what catches my eye, feel the material, try it on, see if it fits – and I don’t want the hassle of having to return stuff.     Someone told me part of the appeal of online shopping (other than the obvious of saving time and money), is they like the idea of having a package waiting for them when they get home, but how many of those packages have to go back, or are kept because the alternative is just too much work.   And what about the porch pirates?  The delivery guy once stuck my Sephora order behind a flowerpot on the front deck and the $24 tube of Tarte lipstick melted in the ninety degree heat.  What fun that was to get refunded.   I have shopped online after trying something on in the store if they didn’t have my size.   Occasionally I have ordered from L.L. Bean (their perfect fit pants really are a perfect fit), but only because I know my size with them, and only when the exchange rate of Canadian to US money was on par, because we also have to pay customs and shipping when ordering from the States.  Unless you really love it, it’s just not worth the additional cost. 

          I could just as easily have titled this post, The Death of Style.  I loved shopping when I was younger, (see vintage blog).  When did it become so difficult to buy clothes?   I distinctly remember it as being fun, a hobby of sorts, retail therapy before the term was invented.   So, when I say I am responsible for the demise of Sears, it’s true – I hadn’t bought anything but socks and underwear there for years.   Other than my twice yearly trek to the Estee Lauder counter to buy Night Repair, which I have been using faithfully for over thirty years, (by now they should be paying me), I don’t think I will miss it, other than the gift with purchase.  Because the truth is the clothes were ugly or poor quality or just plain boring.   So, it’s not just my fault you see, it’s the clothing manufacturers too.  They need to start making better stuff and offering more choices.   Is it too much to ask to have a bit of style with function and fit.   As I have gotten older I have gotten fussier about what I buy, and that Marie Kondo tidying up book in January (click here) has only made things worse with it’s closet advice.   Now I have to ask myself – does it bring me joy?   That is why I have worn the same winter coat forever – I never find what I am looking for.   I have a vision of my new winter coat, (a nice rich red, not orange-red, belted, wool, three quarters length, classic cut), in my head but that’s the only place it seems to exist.  I would even settle for a new ski jacket (also red, with white or black fur trim), but all you could find in Sears were long over-sized puffy parkas – yes, it’s cold here but we don’t live in igloos.  Have you ever tried to shop in a parka – instant hot flashes.  Even when I do find something that might be somewhat suitable, I find myself critiquing it.   I found a nice black belted wool coat but why would you put such cheap brass buttons on a black coat.  Or maybe the style is nice, but the color is wrong.   When I was in grade school I wanted to be a fashion designer, but was discouraged by the guidance counselor who looked gravely at me across the desk and said, young lady, you have a C in art.   My dreams were dashed, but I wonder if it’s too late?  If anyone has an advice on where to shop for stylish clothes, either in-store or online, please leave a comment.

 (see part two: Twenty Pairs of Black Pants next week)

Postscript.  my fellow Canadian blogger, Anhistorianabouttown, has posted a book review on, Service and Style, a book about how the American department store fashioned the middle class…sounds interesting…..click here for a link to her review.   

 

Thanks, It’s Vintage

My love of vintage fashion stems from my inability to get rid of clothes, which is why I still have an eighties closet.   I suppose you could blame it on not having many clothes during my formative years.  We had to wear ugly nun-like navy blue uniforms in high school and for a young girl who poured over the pages of the few Seventeen magazines I owned like they were the Bible, I think it must have somehow damaged my psyche.   My entire wardrobe fit into half a small clothing rack in the upstairs bedroom I shared with my sister, and a few dresser drawers.   Oh, we went shopping with my mother, but mostly we looked.  When I was a poor university student who lived in jeans and polyester shirts, my dorm closet was the size of a phone booth and still held my entire wardrobe.  It was only in the eighties when I started working that I had any money to spend on clothes, and graduated to multiple wall length closets, separated by season.  It’s not that I think the 80’s was a great decade for clothes, all those big shoulder pads and billowy sleeves…. the reason I can’t part with the stuff is the fabric – the fabrics were so beautiful, and the clothes seemed to be better made than what is available today in our throw away society – i.e. if you haven’t worn it in a year throw it out.  All those beautiful velvet dresses, because yes people actually dressed up for New Years Eve (think of Meg Ryan’s strapless blue velvet dress with matching elbow length gloves in When Harry Met Sally), and Christmas, (think Donna Reed’s black velvet dress with lace collar in It’s A Wonderful Life).

 They dressed up for work too – I wore tailored suit jackets (with pocket scarves matching the blouse) with skirts to meetings, in fact I don’t think I wore pants to work until 2003.   I still have the shirt dress I work to my first job interview – a fine worsted blue wool – I paid $200 for it…. but I got the job.  Then there were the April Cornell cotton sundresses (such vibrant colours and prints), which I wore to work in the summer, under a lab coat of course, when the air conditioning was broke – because even though it was a hundred degrees out you couldn’t be seen in bare legs, capri pants or skimpy tops.   It seems we have chosen comfort over elegance, but I don’t remember it being a chore to dress up back then.  Although it might have been a relief to change into jeans and sweats, we didn’t live in them.  Clothes today don’t seem to have as much style, and the material is inferior, and you certainly can’t tell when shopping over the internet, so it becomes a hassle and an expense having to return things.  Maybe I am just in that in between age, too young to shop at the stores my mother shops at but too old for most of the stores in the mall, and department stores seems to be a dying breed.  I am still mourning the death of Eaton’s…will Sears be next?

      The decades I really love are the 50’s and 60’s – the elegant Audrey Hepburn Dior dress era with the little black hats with veils. 

Audrey-Hepburn-Breakfast-at-Tiffanys-Movie-Poster
Audrey Hepburn-Breakfast at Tiffanys

I remember my mother having a Jackie Kennedy-like navy blue taffeta dress with a small bustle which she would wear with a string of glass pearls, on the few occasions my parents went out…usually to funerals.   The dress is long gone, but I still have the pearls.   The roaring twenties was also a lovely era for clothes (think Downton Abbey – elbow length evening gloves and all those hats).  You had to wear a hat to church up to the mid-60’s or you would be excommunicated.   Hats made a brief come back in the 80’s with Lady Diana, I have two vintage hats, one black with a stylish brim and one white with a big feather…. hats are probably a whole other blog.

 Vintage purses are fun especially those that close with a decisive click, and it’s always interesting to look at old jewelry and see if it can be refurbished.  I like to browse in vintage stores, but I don’t care for tacky vintage, no matter how expensive the designer label.    Likewise, if it’s shopworn….it must be in excellent condition.   I once saw a beaded flapper top in a vintage store which I loved but it was so stained under the armpits I couldn’t even try it on.   The same store also had the exact same black velvet dress I bought in the 80’s (which still resides in my closet), for $80 – when I went back a month later it was gone, so there might be some money in selling some of this stuff.   My friend offered to make me a quilt with the April Cornell sundresses, if only I could be brave enough to cut them up.     Last June I needed a WW2 40’s style dress for a swing band dinner dance, (we got last minute tickets the day before), but after a quick visit to Valu Village and the Goodwill I still couldn’t find anything, so I raided my closet and wore a yellow Laura Ashley sundress with a full skirt – so sometimes that vintage closet does come in handy.  When we got to the venue, which was an airport hanger they had decorated with war memorabilia, there was a similar yellow dress on a mannequin beside an army jeep.  I wish I had thought to get my picture taken beside it, but when I got compliments on my dress, I replied, thanks, it’s vintage!

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1920 ‘s daring to show a little ankle

This is a picture of my grandmother and her sisters around 1920 when women were just starting to show their ankles.  I wonder what they would think of all those strategically placed barely there dresses movie stars wear now…

Songs of The Day:   Blue Velvet – Bobby Vinten – click here for music link

Frank Sinatra: They Can’t Take That Away From Me – click here for music link

Book of the Day:   Vintage by Susan Gloss – see The Vintage Corner on main menu or Goodreads review on the front page.

Mad for Plaid

Back to School Anthem:  September….Earth Wind and Fire – music link

           I was getting some computer help from a summer student at the library and on her last day she wished me a good year.   If you are a student (or teacher), the year starts in September, if you are not, the year starts in January.   So I started thinking about how it felt to go back to school when you were a kid, not that I would want to go back to those days, (like Billy Joel says in the Italian Restaurant song, you can never go back there again), but shopping for back to school clothes was always fun, and usually meant something plaid.   I blame my mother for my love for plaid as she dressed me in a little red plaid kilt with a red sweater for my grade one picture.  f5ed6be613e40c00a155c05639796ad2 I remember wearing a stylish dark cotton plaid dress the first day of grade eight when I was just starting to be fashion savvy, and thinking it was the grooviest thing ever.   High school meant a whole week of dress up days before we were regulated into ugly navy-blue nun-like uniforms with white shirts (which my mother had to iron every morning) and no pants either, although the boys could wear ripped jeans and t-shirts with bad sayings…..you would not get away with that kind of discrimination today.   How I would have welcomed a nice plaid kilt like other Catholic schools had.   Dress up days were also held the first Friday of the month and were a cutthroat competition as to who could look the most like a Seventeen model.   I remember wearing a short plum skirt with a gold blouse and a plum vest with a gold plaid pattern on the front, and thinking it was the epitome of style…. kind of like a cheerleader’s outfit.   Although I was never the type, I envied them their uniforms.   Skirts were short, (looking back, really short), as it was the early seventies, and the nuns would go around measuring with a ruler if they were in a particularly mean mood.  One winter when I was sixteen I bought a wool plaid winter coat at Saks where we hardly ever shopped because it was too expensive, simply because the sales lady talked me into it by telling me I looked like the cover of Mademoiselle, a magazine I was not familiar with at the time as it was for college students.   I think I only wore it one year as the next year it was out of style, and the plaid was way too loud and garish.   University meant jeans and plain polyester shirts with the occasional sweater – we were poor students with no money and high rent living in a big city where there was lovely shopping but who could afford it.  We window-shopped instead.   In first year, my roommate and I so coveted Viyella plaid housecoats that we used to stop by the nightwear department at the Eaton’s store and visit them when we were downtown.  I finally bought a knockoff version because you had to have something to put on in the girls dorm, because horrors what if you ran into some guy in the washroom.  

vintage red plaid housecoat

vintage red plaid housecoat

Does anyone even wear housecoats anymore…they seem harder and harder to find?   After squirreling away most of my summer job savings towards the next year’s living expenses, there might be a bit left over to splurge on a plaid shirt before back to school, usually red but one year black and gray.   I used to shop at Sears on my lunch hour and deliberated for hours over the color.   I remember wearing a red and blue checked plaid shirt with a jean jumper to a party and dancing to Abba’s Dancing Queen when I was supposed to be studying for midterms, and I was wearing a plaid shirt and tight jeans at a fourth-year party the night I had to go to the hospital with what turned out to be a kidney stone, but which I had thought was just really tight jeans.  These are my plaid memories – it seems archaic now when if you want something you just whip out a credit card, but back then credit cards were only approved for people who had good jobs, and you had to apply for them, they didn’t send you invitations in the mail.            

Navy Blue Plaid                                                                                                                            

      I am still mad for plaid – it must be my Celtic DNA.  I was in a material store the other day, looking for mesh bags for the lavender harvest, and saw my favorite red plaid tartan, and then the most beautiful navy blue flannel.   But what would I do with it – it has been decades since I have sewn – when I was a teenager I would buy the material, pin and cut out the pattern, both of which I enjoyed and then lose interest when the seams didn’t go right on the old machine, and my mother would end up finishing the rest.  My vision never quite matched the reality. 

When you are older you should take your plaids in smaller doses – a plaid carryall for gym stuff or a cheery winter scarf.  

Plaid bag

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There is something so inherently cheerful about red plaid and of course nothing says cozy like a soft plaid throw for the couch…how can it be that I do not own such a thing when I visit Winners on a regular basis?   It’s a sad truth that now that I have more money to spend I so seldom find anything I like.  But I will give it the old college try, and go shopping to see if something plaid catches my eye.   Wishing everyone a good year! 

Celtic Song:  I discovered this Irish group Celtic Thunder while watching PBS one night…..I love public television….  click music link here