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   Here’s a link to last years (unpublished) post Arts and Crafts 101:     (As I recently explained in my one year anniversary post, my blog was private last fall for the first three months).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).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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   The bone-chilling cold of January has been replaced by the raw damp winds of March, interspersed with a few bright sunny days, a tease of warmer weather to come.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.