Monday, November 26, 2012

Flat, Faux ... Fabulous!

Okay.  I give up.  Sort of.  All you taller-than-me folks who are so jazzed about flat boots ... you win.  Again, sort of.  I bought some.  Well, almost.

I am a high-heels kind of girl. The last time my height was measured, it was 5' 0" and I am hanging on to that with both hands, considering how much of a toll my age has taken on my frame. I work in heels. I play in them as well, and that tells you a lot about the kind of activities I enjoy. My physical proportions look so much better when I am in heels, and I know how to walk in them without clomping, teetering or slumping. I have even run in them. When I am not in heels, I take care to keep the muscles and tendons in the backs and fronts of my legs supple, stretched and toned. I don't have the prettiest pins, but they are fit, and to quote David Lee Roth, "I ain't the worst that you've seen."
And if you are one of those people who insist upon relating horror stories about the evils high-heels contribute to foot problems, back problems and the objectification of women, spare me... please. I've been a card-carrying feminist for more years than some of you have been alive, and I've heard all the medical and social warnings before.

But I have noticed, with rising alarm, the proliferation of flat boots on young women and old. In a recent post, I rejected them out of hand as a trend I would not follow. I just don't think they do a lot for some women. Like me. But some trends just take getting used to, and I've been watching women of all sizes, shapes and ages wear them, and mostly managing to look cute. And suddenly, my go-to, high-heeled suede boots looked a little more than "last year" with jeans. Less than modern. So I decided to stop being stodgy and at least try some on.

My first instincts were right. Lots of them just pointed out how short I really am, many of them made me look wider than I think I am. And while some didn't do any particular harm, they did not flatter. All of them messed with the proportions I'm used to seeing in the mirror. Worst of all, my backside didn't look right in flat boots! So I did what anyone with any sense would do, and gave up. I'd rather try on jeans all afternoon, or repeatedly hit my head against a wall.

But finally, love struck in the form of a pair of tall, black, fold-over boots from "Call It Spring". They're the kind that look like equestrian boots with half-chaps. I put them on, looked in the mirror and knew I had found the ones I wanted.

I have faux-fur, and faux-leather, and now I have faux-flat boots. Underneath the faux-fold-over-half-chap, there is a little 3" wedge, cleverly disguised as a flat boot ... designed just for women like me who just aren't ready to give up their heels.

There you go. Another life lesson, at advanced age; faux can be just fine!

I love them so much that I'm using their picture to link up with all the brave beauties at Patti's Visible Monday .

Monday, November 19, 2012

Just Look at Yourself ! ( Sometimes it IS the Camera...)

Some of you may have noticed that I'm not quick on the uptake. Not only do I frequently have insights that everyone else discovered years or decades before, but I then publish my own slowness where the world can verify that, indeed, I am not the brightest crayon in the box. This is one of those epiphanies.

I have always hated the way I look in photographs. Not that I'm all that crazy about how I look in the mirror, but I'm genuinely shocked by how much I don't look like me in snapshots, as I see myself. I've always known that a mirror reflection is horizontally opposite from the way you are seen by others. (You did know that, right? Some people don't figure that out for a while.) So, for years, the way I got around the inevitable dismay was to duck having my photograph made. But since the onset of so much social media, and the irresistible lure of imposing my style opinions on the internet via blogging, I have been forced to face up to my own garden-variety dysmorphia, because I need decent pictures of my own mug. This has become a personal growth issue.

One of the easiest ways to avoid actually being in the family photograph is to be the one who takes the pictures. And to keep on being that person depends on the ability to take a decent shot. So, for that reason, and others too removed from my point here, I had to learn a little about photographing people, and that meant cameras and film (in the old days, now cameras and pixels.) And for that reason I really ought to understand why photographs can go horribly, terribly wrong. I always used a large format camera and a portrait lens (85mm), but the years passed and I forgot most of what I learned and began using a point-and-shoot digital, charmed by the ability to dink around with my photos without smelling like darkroom chemicals.

Dear readers, I know that at least a few of you have a similar aversion to your own image in photographs. And that there are a lot of how-to articles that will teach you how to make them look better, and they are very valuable. No doubt. Read them all. But many assume a 35mm SLR (single lens reflex camera) and ignore the fact that the distortion of the usual wide-angle lens (found on most point-and-shoot digitals) make you look strange to begin with. I should have known that. And I found a site that demonstrates focal length distortion with satisfying clarity.

With permission of the photographer, Stephen Eastwood, I present to you a dramatic example of why your pretty face sometimes looks a little ... odd. He uses SLR lenses here, and focal lengths for digital cameras are described numerically with a different system, but the general principle is the same. Check this out.

For a better, bigger look at these go here .
They are the same woman, but using lenses from 350mm to 19mm.
And for Mr. Eastwood's article, on a different use for these examples: here

See, it isn't just you. It's really the camera. Wide-angle lenses are NOT for faces, unless you really want to see how you'd look as an alien, or squeezed through the birth canal again, only this time as an adult in full makeup. I feel so much better now. The effect isn't usually this dramatic, but little distortions can make you look a lot different.

I found, by Googling around, most sources suggest that the way to avoid this with a point-and-shoot camera with an optical zoom lens, is to stand back, away from the subject, then zoom in. Mine, zoomed out just a little more than half-way, works out to an approximate 70-80 mm (about the same as a traditional SLR portrait lens,) which works just fine.

Additionally, place the person you are photographing in the middle of the frame. There's less distortion in the center than at the edges of a wide-angle lens. You'll have to crop your picture with a photo editor, but you'll look better. There's a lot of variety in digital cameras, with and without zoom, so see what features yours has if you use one.

If there are any experienced photographers who can give me any more tips on avoiding this distortion (or correcting any of the above if you find error or misunderstanding) I'd be most happy to hear it!

So, even if this is old news to most of you, I'm still convinced that there are at least a few of you that might find this enlightening. Shhhh. We won't tell anyone ....

Here I am, ready for a change, for Visible Monday  at Patti's. More High-Low (Kirna Zabete for Target) and an odd little Bisou-Bisou tuxedo-ish, peplum-ish jacket.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

My Grandmother, the Tailor

Just like almost everyone else, I'm thinking about seasonal food a lot. (You're NOT? Really? ) And the memories of Seasonal Festivities Past take me directly to memories of the the women who cooked those huge, savory-sweet, nap-inducing feasts. One of those was my paternal grandmother, who was a professional tailor and dressmaker for decades. My memories of her are relevant here because because she was also the orchestrator of some of my best holiday outfits. She was the one who introduced me to the discipline and joys of dressing up. And that not only beautiful women were entitled to wear wonderful clothes.

In a previous post, I briefly mentioned my mother's mother, the delicate, purple haired one. She didn't work outside the home after building bombers during WWII. My other grandmother was the tallest of all the women in our family, and farm wife, block-sturdy with some physical heft and size. She was short-waisted (a trait I inherited) and severe faced (some of this, as well.) She had not an ounce of the swan-like beauty so admired in the time, or the voluptuous movie star curves that were also popular, but she loved and wore beautifully made clothes. I don't know when exactly she learned to love the higher elements of fashion in the New Look era, but she must have taught herself a lot as she made clothes for her daughters, son and husband as a young farm wife in Dust Bowl era West Texas.

I spent a lot of my little girl years in her alterations and tailoring shop in Southern California, waiting for parents to pick me up after one or the other finished work. There I saw my first fashion magazines, Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. There were always the new editions on an old coffee table she had placed in a little waiting area at the front of her shop, as well as several months of well worn, previous issues. But the best things were the out-of-date pattern books. Butterick, McCall's and Vogue pattern books came my way after everyone was finished with them, and I had an eternity of paper-dolls to cut out, paste on cardboard and cast in little dramas.

I wasn't her favorite grandchild, but her only granddaughter and dress me she did. From special dresses for the first day of elementary school, to a prom dress and pink bouclé suit copied whole from Jackie Kennedy's pictures in Life magazines, she saw that I had what was appropriate. Every Christmas brought another dress especially for family holiday festivities. I'm now desolated that I didn't keep a single one. We were a lower-middle class family economically, but the way I was often able to dress taught me a lot about the value of personal presentation and how effective it is in bridging class issues.

She was not a cuddly sort of grandmother, but she was always willing to teach. I learned less than I could have or wish I had, but I can alter my own pants and put up a hem, size a pattern, and (if I absolutely have to) set a sleeve and replace a zipper.

In retrospect, though, it was her own wardrobe that was most amazing . She often wore the standard, shirtwaist house dress that was so ubiquitous in the 50's and 60's. They looked practical, somewhat dowdy but ladylike even then. They shared her regular closet with the gabardine suits she wore to work. But she had a closet in her extra bedroom-sewing room that was devoted to her "formals", and it was fairy-land for a little girl. I never touched them, never played dress-up in them. They were way too precious for that. I only looked.
This is not my grandmother.  This is Mamie Eisenhower.  But 
same period and in a dress, bag and gloves a little less grand than
my grandmother's formals ...

She was an officer in the Eastern Star (a fraternal organization related to the Masons) and as such, she had occasion to dress in ways most of the women I knew never did. Her dresses were full length ball gowns, mostly in pastel colors, in amazing fabrics; satins, chiffons, netting, silks and brocades. She had a jewelry box full of elaborate costume jewels that went with each dress. She kept the empty bottle from Schiaparelli "Shocking" on her dresser ... but this special closet smelled of the lush-but-much-cheaper "Tabu" while her everyday clothes closet smelled more like mothballs and Tide. All this was so much at odds with her otherwise tailored and severe personality. I can't prove but can imagine that she participated in Eastern Star primarily because it was the one place a woman in her position could ever hope to wear such dresses.

I've often thought of her precious closet, and more often still as I grow older. That she had the mad skills that allowed her to dress way beyond what she could afford to buy ready- made is a constant lesson to me. I don't pretend that I make any of my own clothes, but I learned a lot about how to make things happen by sharpening and then using the talents I have. And I learned how clothing often defines social ritual and occasion, and can elevate events beyond their intrinsic meaning. And that it's way more than permissible to spend time, effort and whatever treasure you can muster to dress yourself for the holidays or special occasions (or any occasion, really.)

But the most important thing I learned from her is this: one doesn't have to be pretty, or fashionably shaped, or rich or young to be and feel beautiful in her clothes. Every woman should know this feeling deep in her bones at least a few times in her life. And in this case, more is really better.


I was completely blown away to find that her shop, Kay's Alterations is still there, in one of what I understand is one of several incarnations since the late 1960's when she retired. I'm told by the very nice woman who owns it now that all the previous owners kept the original name because it has always meant high quality to the community.

Her old shop, as it is as of January, 2012

Wow. I bet she'd be happy to know that. Maybe she does.

Even though I'm not quite ready for prime time this week, I'm linking up with Patti's Visible Monday  anyway!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Trends and Me, Part Three ( Yes, Yes ... YES !)

Quoting Yoda ( as one does ... ) "Do or do not, there is no try." If I were a Fashion-Jedi, that might be practical advice, but I'm not. The last two posts reflect how much trying I do in my process of weeding through trends. As do all of us who pay attention to them, in an effort to look like we're paying attention to the larger world around us. Mad trend-chasing is not the point of trend awareness. I want to know what's going on so when I shop, I can do it knowledgeably. And more effectively.  All while trying to do it without looking like I tried very much at all.

Now that I've shared with you all the flimsy rationalizations that I use to excuse my fall obsession with wardrobe, here are some of the trends I'll take seriously this year.

Minimalist Black
One of the nice things about being a very mature stylista is that you get a useful epiphany once in a while. (And the embarrassing thing about proclaiming personal epiphanies in public is the chorus of "duhhhhh" that you hear from all the women who got this a long time ago. I can hear it now ...) Head to toe black is easier and more interesting than ever with mixed textures (lace and wool, leather and chiffon) or black with formerly taboo colors like navy, cobalt and brown. I'm finding new ways to put together old items from items I already own, and that makes being financially challenged this fall feel a lot less pitiful.

Do I have to do the hair, or can I just do the dress, boots and jacket?

Leather and Leather Accents
While I will buy leather-look items more often than real leather in trendy-as-opposed-to-classic items, even this looks fresh and very cool this year. I particularly like leather trimmed, floaty blouses.

A recent purchase.  Bisou-Bisou at JCP.

... the back.  I love wearing this blouse.

And while we're at it, oxblood leather. Or oxblood anything. I'm so happy that these deep, warm reds and shades of burgundy are back. Here, again, are shopping-my-closet opportunities.

Another recent purchase.  Outrageous value from dressbarn.

More back closet shopping. I retrieved a classic gray-blue velvet blazer that I had put away because I was having trouble putting it together with anything. This is the year for this little blazer! It will go with ... almost everything! Went a little farther back into the archives and found a little OXBLOOD velvet shirt-jacket that I've had for a few years and had forgotten. Looks like this year's buy. I should go down the rabbit hole more often it seems.

High-Low Sweaters
With leather-like leggings, coated jeans, metallic jeans, any straight leg or skinny jeans at all. Short sweaters to layer or longer ones. I've never gotten so much use out of my collections of camisoles. I love, love, love this very modern-feeling cut.

Oversize ...

... tissue light layers.  Love this.

Pointy-toe Pumps
These never really went away. Nothing dresses up an outfit faster than these, and while I love me some platforms, I never feel more womanly than in this classic shoe.

Having a Carrie Bradshaw moment here .... 'scuse me.

I hope you got just a little sartorial camaraderie from this little three-parter. 

What are your current must-haves for this fall and winter?

Speaking of sartorial camaraderie, I'm joining Patti at Visible Monday !  

Hard to see here, but the back has a lovely chiffon panel in back.

Have a great week, and thanks for reading.