Friday, December 23, 2011

Dress Code

Tonight is Christmas Eve and even though I have a small house with limited seating, my annual party has a dress code. I don't expect ball gowns and tuxedos but I do expect a little upgrade dressing. No jeans. I love that my daughter's boyfriend has already called for a wardrobe check. For myself, I try to select something festive and pretty. Tartan is meant for Christmas Eve and I have a floor length skirt. But I wore that last year. Of course, no one will remember except the photo album but this year I can't help thinking how nice something sparkly would be to mirror the stars that will be dotting tonight's clear and cold winter sky.
Christmas dressing in the past was always resplendent. Somehow the pine green shantung silk shirtdresses of the 50's were lost along the way. So too, the wide shouldered dresses and suits of the 40's that gave Christmas Eve its importance and significance. But tonight, I just want special for a special night. I hope I will see some chic cashmere separates, perhaps a beaded sweater or charmeuse blouse in a lovely jewel tone.
In my favorite Christmas film, Since You Went Away, Claudette Colbert's character Anne Hilton entertains her eclectic war-time company in a green Dacron dress and large brooch. Her daughters wear velvets in green and red. All wear heels. They look lovely and fine, even though the year without Pop, who is missing in the Pacific, was painful and difficult. They showed up in finery befitting the holiday. And somehow, it speaks to hope and a better life ahead.
I am indeed hopeful that 2012 will be wonderful, and to show how much, I've decided that even if I don't wear sparkles tonight, I just may grace myself with the prettiest and flirtiest crimson bow you will ever see.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

When Christmas Happens

I never know the exact moment when Christmas happens for me. It could be the day I trim the tree, the afternoon I settle in with Victoria's A Woman's Christmas, or the private moment driving home from work when I notice the Christmas lights for the first time. I only know it's at that very moment that Christmas happens and all the wonderful things about the season begin to surround me like a warm cozy blanket.
I get misty and giddy by turns when I think of all the happy Christmases I had at my grandmother's, the wonderful little things my mother did for us that made us wiggle with delight, the neighbors who always visited on Christmas Eve, the majesty of attending our church's midnight mass, the carols I sang my heart out with the girl scouts. All those things made Christmas happen to my little girl heart.
Then there were the years I lived with him, when I decorated our house with abandon and had the money to do so. I still recall the teddy bear he gave me with the new pearl earrings in its newly pierced and furry ears. Later the years my darling daughter sang in the church choir and made cookies with me, both of us in our bunny slippers, made Christmas happen and come in a rush.
My memories of the Christmases of yore by no means diminsh the Chrismas of now or the ones in the future. I just never know when that magical moment will kick in and Christmas, the holiday I wait for all year, suddenly and joyously, happens!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving and Relish Trays

My older brother played football in high school so those four years, Thanksgiving dinner was not at my grandmother's house but at ours. There were some things we could count on at our Thanksgivings: all three of my grandparents would be there, we would have cider, a relish tray, and at the end of the meal, my maternal grandmother would make the same announcement, "Pete (my father), you will have to roll me back to Boston tonight". We loved it. We also loved that because our kitchen was so tiny, it was impossible for us to help clean up. So everyone underage got to watch TV with my grandfather or read by the fire until the all clear was rung and dessert was finally laid out with the coffee on a fresh snowy cloth.

At the time, cheese and crackers were not yet fashionable so Mom kept to the tradition of having a "relish tray" for our first course. I'm not sure where the name came from, but a relish tray was really about celery and it wasn't really a tray but an old fashioned  divided dish that was filled on one side with celery stuffed with cream cheese sprinkled with paprika, and on the other side, with black olives. I remember we kids put the olives on our fingertips, which for an odd  reason was allowed. Perhaps because it was irresistible for children and both my grandmothers knew something about children, having both been raised in families with more than 10 siblings each. 

Dad would put the leaf in the dining room table which then took up the entire dining room. We didn't have enough chairs so a bench on the side of the table took care of at least three of us. Mom bought cider from a farm in town that we drank with the turkey and she made all the traditional fixings and vegetables. Dessert was pies - apple, pumpkin, mincemeat. 

Thanksgiving at my house is going to be quiet and small this year. Just one brother, my mother, and my daughter. Last night I called Mom to ask her to bring along her electric knife. We reminisced about Thanksgivings of yore and then she said something unexpected I won't soon forget. Mom asked if I remembered a coat she bought me one fall - moss green tweed with an attached scarf to wear on Thanksgiving day when I was six. "Yes. It itched", I replied. "Well", she said, "I keep seeing you in that coat tonight". Nothing could be sweeter to have with the turkey and all its fixings, the cider, the pies, and that marvelously plain relish tray with the celery and black olives.  I may even pop a few on my fingertips.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Gardener

An old Greek Revival house came into my possession by marriage. Austere, dark, and vacant for over 20 years, it was a place I would never have chosen myself to live as a new bride. I rolled up my sleeves and began helping with the renovations that lasted five years. We tore up and then rebuilt the house room by room, following the mimeographed guidelines I had written to the National Historic Resistry for. The house was in the inner city and we had no intention of staying there - we only wanted to turn it into a money maker and then build a country home and start a family. As a newlywed, I didn't have much time to properly nest or to use the new wedding presents still packed in boxes. As we peeled wallpaper, sanded and painted, I began to see the charms of the place. I was helped along by a large sepia photograph of a little boy in a dress that I found in the basement.
I determined the photo was Mr. DuBois, the man whose house we bought. His son, a physician, took back the mortage so that we could afford the place. I called Dr. DuBois and asked if he wanted the photograph and told him I would ship it to him in thanks for being our bank. He said no, the gold framed photograph of his father belonged to the house. So I hung Mr. DuBois on the dining room wall with the hope that one day I would be able to have at least one dinner party under his gaze and perhaps use the pretty heirloom silver we were given as a wedding gift.
It did not take long to realize that Mr. DuBois was an amateur horticulturalist when he occupied the house. A roll-top desk in a spare bedroom was filled with jars of old seeds and more than a few ancient manuals on plants and their uses. The garden was decrepit but it told me it was designed by someone who knew what they were doing. It was easy to see its bones in the row of boxwood and the snarled rose bushes placed in each corner of the postage stamp backyard. The trellises leaning up against the house had dried vines woven throughout but there was an enchanting archway with a built in bench, still strong and sturdy. Also well-built was a small glass greenhouse filled with ornamental terra cotta pots of all sizes. This garden was loved into existence and it must have been a lovely city oasis.
We completed the renovations and it was time to sell the house so we could build that dream home. I did not leave it reluctantly and was glad to see the work behind us. However, I paused when I removed Mr. DuBois from the dining room wall. I had always planned on taking the young Mr. DuBois with us when we moved. I wanted this elegant reminder of the house and what we had accomplished. But on moving day, I found myself placing the photograph back on its perch. The new owner promised to look after him for me. Mr. DuBois did indeed belong to the house... and to the garden.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

So nice to come home to...

Please forgive me for indulging myself here. We lost our beloved Buddy, our cat, a few days ago. Even though he was 17, it was sudden and we only had about two hours to say goodbye.

When my daughter was small, I, being a single working parent, was advised to get a kitten to keep my child company. I didn't like cats and didn't want one but one day at a farm stand a little runt from a large litter was left alone in a steel cage. I agreed to take him home and instantly became annoyed with the litter box, my chewed fresh cut flowers, and the constant yelping he elicited when my daughter was overzealous.

However, time passed and Buddy was with us through every traumatic event as well as every milestone. He happily posed for pictures with a Christmas bow every year and then a pirate suit on Halloween. I began to see the benefits of having him around; he was cozy and comforting. No matter what happened out there in the world, we came home to Buddy, his eyes glowing from the front window as he waited for us. The people who say cats are aloof never had a sheathed paw reach out and touch their face while they were weeping.

My daughter loved away the fine ears Buddy had by rubbing them too much. The new curled ones gave him character, my neighbor said. A friend looking for my house one day, spotted Buddy with the curled ears inside, and knew she had found the right place. He was not the most handsome feline, always small, but he made up for it with a big personality every day he lived.

We were comforted by his rituals and set the clock by them. In the morning, he scratched at my bedroom door at 6:00 am. I never needed an alarm. He sat quietly on the bathroom rug while I dried my hair and then trotted off to the Wedgewood bowl in the living room, the home of his cat treats. His favorite thing to do was lean up against my daughter's leg as she did her homework every night. He never said a word, ever. But his closeness told us how much he cared. Being the only male in the house, he liked to show off once in a while and performed a series of antics that kept us in hysterics. He was neat and clean, proud and gallant. He was a prince.

Today the veterinarian sent us his paw print with a card. I called to verify that it was really his print. We have his collar with the tinkling bell too and we will frame them together as soon as we can bear it. For now, the house is quiet and still and we really miss him. We look for his tiny face around every corner. He always greeted me when I closed the door and followed at my heels until I was settled after dinner. That was his time to jump up on the couch and wordlessly crowd beside me - his warmth felt through my clothes. He's just not here anymore.

We had no idea he was sick until the day he died and despite his age, we weren't really ready. But we kissed him and thanked him, stroked him through our tears. He really was never any bother even at the end. We will miss our Prince, the man in the fur pajamas. For me, my grief is palpable - it stings. I will especially miss how very nice he was to come home to. Rest in peace, dear little Buddy. Thank you for 17 years of love of laughter.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Live as well as you dare.....

I happened upon the Letter from Sydney Smith to Lady Georgianna Morpeth, 1820, and it so aptly advises what to do in the melancholoy times that come to all of us. My favorite advice is "live as well as you dare". Going about one's business and making life sing again always shows our personal perpetrators that they cannot send us to the abyss no matter how hard they may try.

Sydney Smith was a charming cleric known for his wonderfully clever letters of hope, faith, and chatty news sent to various friends of social standing. His letter here gives me great inspiration and instructs me to take good care when the melancholies come to visit. It also teaches me to carry on and keep the focus on my own good life when others want to see me falter. I hope if the melancholies are your guest for a time, Rev. Smith will assist you. And remember, living well is the best revenge (blazing fires, notwithstanding)...
Dear Georginna,
Nobody has suffered more from low spirits than I have done, so I feel for you.
1st Live as well as you dare.
2nd Go into the shower-bath with a small quantity of water at a temperature low enough to give you a slight sensation of cold.
3rd Amusing books.
4th Short views of human life - not further than dinner or tea.
5th Be as busy as you can.
6th See as much as you can of those friends who respect and like you.
7th And of those acquaintances who amuse you.
8th Make no secret of low spirits to friends but talk of them freely - they are always worse for dignified concealment.
9th Attend to the effects tea and coffee produce on you.
10th Compare your lot with that of other people.
11th Don't expect too much from human life - a sorry business at the best.
12th Avoid poetry, dramatic representations (except comedy), music, serious novels, melancholoy sentimental people, and everything likely to excite feeling or emotion ending in active benevolence.
13th Do good, and edeavor to please everybody of every degree.
14th Be as much as you can in the open air without fatigue.
15th Make the room where you commonly sit, gay and pleasant.
16th Struggle by little and little against idleness.
17th Don't be too severe upon yourself, or underrate yourself, but do yourself justice.
18th Keep good blazing fires.
19th Be firm and constant in the exercise of rational religion.
20th Believe me, Dear Lady Geogianna.
Very truly yours,
Sydney Smith

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Isn't She Lovely?

I love the month of October; it is heralded in by my birthday and it begins the happy run up to the holidays. As my custom, I watch the DVD of Mona Lisa Smile to get me in the right mindset.

This 2003 film stars Julia Roberts, as Art History professor Katherine Watson who takes a position at one of the Seven Sisters Colleges, Wellesley. Julia Stiles (above), Kirsten Dunst, Maggie Gyllanhaal, and Ginnifer Goodwin play the conservative college students to Robert's feminist and bohemian Miss Watson.

To me, the real stars of the film are the magnificant weather and scenery and the marvelous 1950's costumes. It was shot on the campus of Wellesley, just outside Boston, Massachusetts, a place so very dear to my heart. The Wedgewood blue skies of fall are the backdrop for the stunning foliage found in New England in October and as I watch the movie, I imagine Boston before I was born, when I my mother wore the same long tweed skirts and matching cardigans with her Keds.

We are treated to plenty of long full skirts, cinched at the waist by leather belts, separates which include Peter Pan collars and soft Shetland sweaters, heels, pearls, stud earrings, and red lipstick. I believe I have narrowed down the lipstick color to Cherries in the Snow, the Revlon color which made its debut with much fanfare in the '50's (happily, it still can be found at the drugstore!). Miss Watson's wardrobe is indeed a little more "gypsy" but she sports some gorgeous wool pieces just the same.

Fortunately, there is a grand wedding in the film and this is when the gloves and the small hats with netting that perch so femininely on top of the head can be seen. The colors are pure and clear especially a color a friend told me was "petrol blue", a cross between peacock and royal.

Yes, Mona Lisa Smile makes a statement, and very loudly, about women's roles and choices in post-war America. I simply cannot think too much about that, however, when I am mesmerized by the Jonathan Logan separates and Delman pumps. I can almost smell the Chanel #5 and Arpege off the screen. It's a saturating film; a feast for the eyes, and it focuses for me all the wonderful things I love about the fall - it is absolutely lovely. It makes me want to run to my closet for that cream wool cardigan and brown and gold tweed skirt that feels like a cat's scratchy tongue. And when I do find that skirt and sweater, and we finally get one of those fine high blue days, I will be lovely too.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Dream Job

I had a dream of a job once. And I worked a full fall season there and so it is only natural that when August gives its page over to September, and my current position is so increasingly unsatisfying, that I reminisce on what was the best job in the world for me. Ever.

I targeted the dream employer and when I discovered that a position was open at the women's union, a place steeped in history and women's lore, I rattled the cage of the venerable institute until they interviewed and hired me. I was the Gal Friday for one year, a job that entailed everything from managing the housekeeping staff to fixing the copy machine and everything in between. But soon, my love for the history of the place had me working in archiving the union's massive photographs and documents. In a nutshell, this Victorian young woman got to spend her eight hours per day playing...
The union was housed in a very old brick building. One of the founding members was Louisa May Alcott, who took part in the union's efforts towards dress reform. One of the early clients was Amelia Earhart, whose application I touched and filed - the one where she wrote "zilch" under the accomplishments section. I cataloged and filed away old photographs of the union's cooking school which was once the seed of Fannie Farmer's Boston Cooking School. In between archiving, I hosted teas for the Fragments, a group of vintage girls (median age, 80), who came to the union once a month to knit for babies, having dispensed with WWI knitting a number of years before. They were a charming little group of elders, in print dresses and carrying bark cloth knitting bags, who paid $5.00 to use one of the union's many function rooms. I helped the housekeeper polish the large silver tea and coffee set and ordered petite sandwiches for the Fragments. We hosted other groups too; book clubs, support groups, the French Club, and we once hosted a press conference to announce something I can't recall. I only knew Hilary Clinton was there that day and she signed my program, "Be kind to one another". The building also housed the oldest needlework shop in the country and the annual needlework show I helped with has set the bar for every exhibit, antique fair or ephemera show I've ever been to since. We brought in New York knitwear designers along with sheep farmers from Vermont. I loved the juried needlework competition and the lovely needle art that has all but disappeared from the 21st century.
As well as the needlework shop, there was a mezzanine of antiques, a stationery shop, and a decorative arts shop. Ethel Kennedy bought her water goblets at the union shop and I am pretty certain my grandmother may have shopped there or at least I imagined she did. During my lunch hours, I would tear myself away from cataloging and other responsibilities and "window shop" along the hardwood hallways of the shop, perusing books, considering wooden knitting needles and came home one day with a set of antique alabaster busts that still shyly smile at me from my dressing table.

And the characters I worked with! It would take me reams of paper to describe each and every one. Joan, the housekeeper, who worked in beautiful trousers and silk blouses befitting of such a well respected institution's chatelaine; Anita, a former piano teacher who was responsible for putting together the needlework show, all the while listening to Mozart and Beethoven as she made endless phone calls to sponsers from her tiny office; Edith, the 87 year old shop salesperson, who worked for the union for over 40 years and put two fabric covered jewelry boxes aside for me one Christmas Eve when I was in need of last minute gifts for my daughter and my neice, sisters of the heart. I have never forgotten these women and all the others who ran that place and kept it something special.

Alas, a new director was hired during a vulnerable time and for reasons I and others never understood, turned the place upside down with her personal agenda. Today the union is a mere storefront for what seems to me a cold government agency with a new name. But for all the reasons I have given, working at the union was a dream job one fall for an impassioned young woman possessed by the past. It was the best gig I ever had.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


My mother has always been a petite little thing. And she's always loved clothes. Somehow she manages to find the perfect well-made garment among all the masses of cheaply made clothes at our local TJ Maxx. My mother never, ever pays full price. She's a hunter - watching her wheel through racks of clothes, eliminating them one by one, until the perfect piece appears before her, is a lesson in stealth concentration. She's a pro.

When we were small and all throughout our school years, we were the best dressed kids around. We didn't have tons of clothes – just nice little outfits that Mom put together from a wonderful designer discount store called "Arthur's". I remember shopping there for days before the new school year began in the fall, watching Mom pluck tartan skirts and matching sweaters from bins. I had no idea what she was doing. But I remember the end results: a windowpane plaid skirt with a creamy background, a soft a red cashmere pullover, navy tights, and shiny brown brogues. She bought my first handbag at Arthur's, a chestnut accordion file affair with a double gold chain. Perfect for my first day of 7th grade at the grown up Jr. High School. Mom knew just what I needed to look confident. I didn't even know I needed a purse - thank goodness she did.

When I was about four years old, a box arrived for my mother. "This is for me", she told us as we jostled one another (there were four of us), to peer inside. Out came a green and blue Pucci like shirt, some slim pants, and a dress. It was magical to me that clothes could come out of a box delivered to the front door. We all loved that blouse but the one item we couldn't get enough of was the grey and navy striped shirt dress Mom wore the day she brought my youngest brother home from the hospital. It had short sleeves, a self-belt and full wide skirt. Rather plain in tone, but we always associated it with the day she alighted from that cab with my father, holding a small and warm bundle in her arms. We didn't even know she was she was expecting! At least as far as I recall. So it was quite an event and she looked lovely with her soft hair in a shadow of waves around her head and her knowing, sweet smile as she walked toward us three holding my new baby brother. On our birthdays, Mom let us pick out her dresses and invariably for years, it was the grey striped dress she wore the day she came home from the hospital. Eventually, she began to yelp "Not again!" But wore it she did until it mysteriously disappeared from her closet and wasn’t there one birthday.

Mom’s father was the general manager of Filene’s Basement and he provided Mom with boxes too. They contained a burgundy tweed suit with matching crocodile pumps she wore to work at our school’s Christmas bazaar, some jodhpurs similar to those that First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy was wearing at the time, and pristine white wrist length gloves for church.

My mother never let us tamper with the cotton candy pink crinoline and satin prom dress that hung in the attic even though I was itching to pull it over my head and parade around the house in it. Mom went to two proms in it; one with my father and one with another boy. I have both prom pictures of Mom in the frothy confection with each of her beaus. It was a gorgeous dress that cost my grandparents a pretty penny for their pretty daughter. She looked like a princess.

Mom had a storm blue shearling lined car coat and wore it when she took us ice skating. She accessorized with a scratchy red plaid scarf and red galoshes. She looked chic even out in the freezing cold, herding us all onto the ice where she would skate with us on winter afternoons. Always chic.

I remember watching Mom fret one year about finding a dress for herself for a family wedding. We looked everywhere: Arthur's, of course, then Filene's Basement, the local shops, and finally Kennedy's, where she found an apple green shantung silk dress with a square rhinestone buckle on a dropped waist. It was a mini and she wore it with subtly patterned off white hose and dyed to match shoes. She looked 60's gorgeous with her now blond swingy hair. I remember her pronouncement "I always find special clothes at Kennedy's" which was actually a men's store that had a few dresses. Later, whenever she was in hunt mode for another special occasion dress, one of us kids would invariably shout out, "Try Kennedy's!”

My mother knows the perfect thing to wear for any occasion. While I stand at my open closet door, ruminating and then rejecting all possibilities while the clock ticks, Mom already knows ahead of time what she'll be wearing and it's always just the thing. She showed up in the driveway for the family's first camping trip wearing slim mushroom colored Capri’s, a sleeveless shell, and a Liberty print cotton kerchief on her head and tied in the back. Always perfect and in line with the event, she was.

In the summer, I recall beautiful sundresses, cotton with some lovely touch such as rick rack, a great pattern, piping, or embroidery and always showing off that great tiny waist. I remember her deep blue swimsuit stitched to look like small quilts of bubble wrap. It had two burnt red flowers scored into evocative places. But the colors were so subtle, and the fabric so unusual and rich, that it didn't startle, it merely suggested. Unfortunately, it became known as her rainy day swimsuit because it seemed that every time she wore it, the skies opened up and poured on us at the local lake.

Mom taught me how to achieve a monochromatic look when I saw her in her cream separates in the 80's. She made an entrance to my party with her shiny blond hair highlighted by the threads of gold in her wool coat, matching pants and sweater. It was a great look for her with all the textural contrasts.

Last Easter, we picked up Mom and she was wearing a Chanel looking jacket in celadon and gold tweed with a small fringe around the collar and sleeve edges. "You look like an Easter egg", my brother called out jovially. And she did, all pastel and cheery. Perfect Easter finery.

Whenever I see her now, she is wearing a great pair of tailored pants, a colorful shirt, and ballet flats. She still does skirts but rarely a dress. She says nice dresses are hard to find. I saw one on the rack recently that would have been perfect for her and I would have bought it if they had it in size 2. It met all the Joan criteria: crisp quality fabric, nipped in waist, beautiful embroidery. Perhaps it would only have been ideal for the diminutive and stylish mother of my childhood and not for the sporty chic grandmother of today. Like all timelessly fashionable women, Mom has gracefully let go of the things that no longer suit her and has let her look evolve and stay current. She never looks back whether it is in life or in clothes.

The grey and navy striped shirtdress lives on in the massive collection of family slides along with the rainy day swim suit, and all the other clothes that tell the story of a suburban goddess who knew how to dress to enchant her tiny private audience.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Lipstick Love

I strolled through a grove of dress material and found myself at a counter piled with jars of face creams and lipsticks...I caught sight of my own face, colourless and worried-looking, the eyes large and rather frightened, the lips too pale. I did not feel that I could ever acquire a smooth apricot complexion but I could at least buy a new lipstick, I thought. ~ Barbara Pym, Excellent Women

Everyone who knows me knows how much I adore lipstick. It's been an obsession since I was four. I remember well sneaking my mother's Cherries in the Snow and running it across my lips (and teeth, and chin and cheeks). A pal from high school wrote in my yearbook underneath her picture: "You will be a great success in whatever you do as long as you have endless tubes of lipstick!" I got fired once for lipstick. I was working as a hostess in an old cozy restaurant by the highway one summer break from college. I formed a bond with all the waitresses because I used to bus their tables for them as the night grew old. One day, they sat me down and gently told me I had just worked my last night there. "Why???", I practically wailed. Very gently, oh so gently, the oldest and wisest said, "Because, dear, you are always in the ladies room putting on lipstick". I simply nodded sadly in agreement. I couldn't argue. The putting on of lipsticks in secret prevented me from tending to other required tasks. Lipstick has always been a true love.

Currently I love Chanel's Rouge Coco "Mademoiselle". It is the color Vanessa Paradis (and isn't she adorable???) is wearing in the photograph above (I know this because I called Chanel and asked). This summer, I was drawn to purchase Chanel's new Rouge Coco Shine in "Boy". When it comes to lipstick, I am a Madison Ave. dream customer; easily persuaded to try any formula, any color, anytime. I am a girly girl who is tickled to wear a color called "Boy" (named after Chanel's lover Boy Capel).

There is some great dialogue about Chanel makeup in the film "View from the Top". Gwyneth Paltrow, who plays an airline hostess, envies another hostess who works for a more elite airline when she notices the hostess carries Chanel makeup in her handbag. I too, always have Chanel lipstick in my handbag. But the price of Chanel's makeup has grown steeply over the last few years. With my habit, I needed to source a cheaper lipstick for experimenting and for keeping in my makeup basket at home. I found great affordable lipsticks in the Revlon line.

Revlon makes terrific color saturated lipsticks in scads of colors. My village drugstore sells them for $7.99 each with a "buy one, get one at 50% off". This means I can buy them whenever the mood for a new color hits. Revlon lipsticks are bright, creamy, and long lasting. I run through them like nobody's business. Of course, I still keep my Chanel in my handbag and it's a luxurious indulgence that thrills me when I take it out to use. But for fun, I use my Revlon selections everyday as a starting point from home.

The first lipstick I ever bought was a Love cosmetic one that was no better than the stick concealers that used to be available. It dragged across my lips. It was a strange burnt tan color, like a Cheez-it. It was dry. But it had that great space helmet cover of clear acrylic and made a satisfying click when I put it back on the tube. I felt so grown-up.

I graduated to gooey Yardley's Pot-o-Gloss and cool Slickers lipsticks like every girl in my high school. I poured over the color selections in my Seventeen magazine before choosing one at the local Rexall.

In the 80's my passion was for Estee Lauder lipsticks, especially after they redesigned their plain navy tubes into great big fluted gold ones, so in keeping with the decade of more is more. I still remember the heart-stopping colors I loved: Palace Pink, Rosewood, Ruby Slippers.

The funny thing about my love of lipstick is that I have rather small lips. But when I was younger, thin lips were in; they were considered feminine and pretty. Think Cheryl Tiegs. It wasn't until much later that fuller lips came into vogue. I've kept my smaller lips and my large lipstick collection.

It has been said by sociologists, that during difficult economic times, lipstick sales rise. The reason being is that most women can still afford a drug store lipstick, if not a designer outfit. It's a little bit of luxury, a happy spot of color. It's artistry, it's fun, it lifts the mood.... it's Lipstick Love.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Fashion in Literature

I am possessed by the beauty of the past. And while a vintage novel’s domestic details—like a cut crystal bowl brimming with oranges in a Christmas tableau—stirs my heart, the rousing happens moreso when I stumble upon descriptions of fashions. I crave classic literature’s sartorial luxuries and am always looking for ways to bring them to life in my decidedly 21st century closet and at my dressing table.
Anna Karenina's red handbag is often described as the container of all her desires. It is as red and plush as her lips and she carries it close as a talisman the night she first meets Vronsky. I have yet to find the perfect crimson handbag but when I do, I will know it is right for me if I can imagine it accompanying me on a train on a deep winter night, and it is large enough to carry all my comforts.
It was Willa Cather's Mrs. Forrester in "A Lost Lady" that inspired an earring purchase in 2004. Just going back to work after being ill, I went looking for a lucky charm and spotted a lovely pair of dangling garnet and pearl earrings. Inherently, I knew I was drawn to them because of Mrs. Forrester's earrings which sparkled in firelight being "long pendants of garnets and seed pearls in the shape of fleurs-de-lys...which hung naturally against her..." I've worn my earrings countless times and they remain ever, my favorites.
The tragic Madame Bovary teaches me that dressing at home does not have to be boring. Instead of sweatpants, I can opt for a pretty lace camisole with my jeans, feminine slippers, and a crocheted shawl across my shoulders. For home, Madame wears "an open dressing-gown, that showed between the... facings of her bodice a pleated chemisette with three gold buttons...her garnet-coloured slippers had a large knot of ribbon that fell over her instep".
Madame also charms her doctor-husband with "numerous attentions" to herself, "a flounce that she altered on her gown...charms on (her) odour of freshness on her chemise". I think of these things when I wear my Ann Taylor cotton and silk pleated skirt with the attached petticoat that shows only in micro-increments when I cross my legs. The past brought forward.
Brett Ashley in Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, taught me to wear fall woolens with feminine panache. Her "slip over jerseys" with her tweed skirts allows for a lovely juxtaposition in just the right measure: soft cashmere sweaters that cling to the body with the scratchy male roughness of tweed. I think of these each fall when I reach for my wool pencil skirts and soft sweaters.
Jane Austen's novels are filled with ribbons, trims, bonnets, and dresses. Nancy Mitford's Love in a Cold Climate has Polly asking Fanny if she thinks of nothing but hats and dresses even in church. I often say that I was born in the wrong century but the fashion in literature inspires me to keep the toes of my lovely embroidered slingbacks back in my favorite literary fashion eras.

Photo Credits: British Vogue

Saturday, April 23, 2011


I thank my 10th grade Gothic Literature teacher, Miss Otis, everytime I watch Masterpiece Theater's adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's novel Jane Eyre. If it were not for Miss Otis, I might have missed what was to be the book of my youth (and would have missed Rebecca too). This month I saw the latest film version of the famous 1847 novel and it did not disappoint. Every frame of the film seemed like a painting. And while the Masterpiece version starring Tobey Stephens as Mr. Rochester, has remained my favorite, there is a lot to love about the new version and I endorse it highly. Judi Densch as gentle Mrs. Fairfax adds much to dark Thornfield Hall, the costumes are marvelous, and the moors never looked so lovely and glorious. They are a character of their own.
I have once again read Jane Eyre, this time after I saw the new film. Jane is still fresh, still startling. I also read a wonderful review of the film which talked of the story as a "spiritual journey" and a "place where people with great souls had to struggle with small lives". The reviewer also said (and I love this part) that Jane "had an innate sense of self-respect, and there's nowhere it should have come from....everything she achieves, it's because she made it for herself....It's a fairy tale for the insecure and unconfident - the ordinary woman".
Jane never wavers from her sense of self even when her abusive aunt banishes her to Lowood, the punishing and brutal school where she grows into womanhood. Although Lowood is cruel and cold, Jane manages to find a best friend in Helen Burns and her personal doctrine of humility allows her to survive the grim school. The noteriety of her "plainess" in a world where vanity and beauty are held in such high esteem, makes one sympathize with her plight as she mingles in Mr. Rochester's world. Throughout her troubles, Jane uses drawing and art to quell her fears. She knows how to soothe herself. Jane is a survivor who has an unwillingness to compromise her integrity even as her affection for Mr. Rochester grows.
We are still hungry for Jane and that is why this story has been reimagined so consistently through the years. Jane is a flower that grows through a crevice in cement. An astonishing lone blossom that manages to root and find its way into the light. She's a heroine for everywoman and there's a little bit of Jane in me. Is there a little bit of Jane in you too?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Single Note

Victorian beauties didn’t have the dazzling array of perfumes to choose from we modern women enjoy. Their fragrances were mostly single note toilet waters and colognes – lavender, violet, tuberose – nothing like today’s complex scents. We spritz on multi-layered wonders that combine freakish food scents, hyped-up natural fragrance, with a few chemicals thrown in for shock effect. When a woman of yore wanted to smell nice, she reached for her flask of rose or violet cologne and when she opened it, the air in her boudoir was filled with the solitary note of a single lush flower. The label on her pretty and dainty bottle declared exactly what was inside; a rose was a rose was a rose.

Today's fragrances, as multifaceted as they are, fill a wonderful place in a woman's fragrance wardrobe. However, as the spring garden begins to bloom, I put away my wintry and intricate bouquets and reach for a single note of enchantment. These scents imitate the happy faces of the blossoms that wave to me from behind the white picket fences in my village as I take my daily stroll. Each week, a new bloom shyly introduces herself, first as a slender stem of green and then as a full grown burst of color and fragrance.

Spring opens with the violets. These hardy little charms are stalwarts against early spring's cold temperatures and winds. Their petite purple blossoms elicit the unmistakable scent of the new verdant season. Violet scented oils can be found in boutiques and online and are usually reasonably priced. Next up are the radiant lilacs, honeysuckle, and wisteria. They are also scents that can be found in single note adaptations. A drop or two on the neckline before slipping a silk scarf around one's neck or sprinkled across freshly laundered bed sheets, mimics the burgeoning new world outside the front door.

My very favorite spring scent, however, is lily-of-the-valley. For such a wee flower, it certainly sighs out loud like none of its sister blooms can. Coty's Muget des Bois, although a blend, was created to evoke the single lily-of-the valley flower and both the flower and the perfume are impossible to distinguish. It is no wonder that France ushers in its spring every year with the buying and selling of muget des bois on city street corners and village greens. Nothing shepherds in the softest season and its promise like the “innocent coral bells upon a tender stalk” of the diminutive blooms of lily-of-the-valley. Fortunately, Coty still makes this delightful scent that I call Spring in a Bottle.

There is something tender and chaste about donning a single note fragrance during nature's accolade to hope. Fall can play the symphonies but the spring plays its own delicate notes like the tinkling of piano keys, one by one by one.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

There's a Kind of Hush...

For me, Herman’s Hermits 1967 hit song seems to be heralding in spring, the year’s softest season. And it is only natural that the fashion song I sing takes me back to 1967 in April, when I was just old enough to savor one of my first Seventeens. The clothes that year had a rare combination of femininity and demure sexiness, a mix that is not seen often in today’s world where outrageous and tasteless seems de rigueur.

As I contemplate my closet during these quiet pre-spring weeks, I am looking for items that will conjure up the looks of 1967 when paired with some new things on my shopping list. My luscious cream lace blouse, circa 2006, will be just the thing with a new lightweight wool A-line skirt in lavender or baby blue. A silvery chain belt and light patterned tights will add a feminine blush to my ensemble. Hopefully, I may even find a pair of patent leather shoes with just the right delicately squared toe and chunky heel.

There is a cheerfulness and happiness associated with these clothes. They’re as optimistic as Ann Marie (Marlo Thomas’ That Girl) as she auditions tirelessly in her pastel Cardinali spring coats with matching handbags. And Seventeen tells me that Loveable’s new floral lingerie will be the “foundation for a day on cloud nine where all things are possible”. Maybe I’ll curl my hair too and add a ribbon. We need a little spring 1967 after a winter that just wouldn't let go. I am thinking only of freshness, flirty touches, lace, and pastels. And right now, it’s the only sound that you will hear.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Someone I Love

Someone I love has been very ill. But she's going to be alright. She has my spirit, my eyes, and now my illness. I've handled mine well and I will teach her to handle hers. It will become merely a nuisance and a reminder to take good care of herself. The taking good care will be the gift - a paltry silver lining.

It's hard when a child is suddenly not well, even a grown child who is now whole. When one holds one's infant for the first time, many wishes are bestowed including the deepest fervent hope for health and well-being. It is a tender pain when a mother realizes that wish may not be fulfilled in its entirety.

Still, all will be well with medication and wisdom. I've already held a candle and led the way. She will merely follow this road less traveled, placing her steps carefully in the footprints I've left behind. She's not in pain anymore and that is a great thing.

I wish her Godspeed on her journey back to health...and send her all my precious love....

Thursday, January 20, 2011


I collect vintage woman’s magazines, particularly, those from the 1930’s – 40’s. They have some darling photographs that recall great fashion eras when women dressed to kill every single day, often on shoestring budgets. I love culling the magazines for images and articles that pertain to working women since I am one, and I often wonder how women managed their lives while working long hours away from home.

A beauty of an article caught my eye in a 1942 Woman’s Home Companion. This one was about good grooming habits while working and I was all over it! The image above was the photo that was used to illustrate this interesting article.

One of the highlights was the recommendation to employ a used candy box in the office. Apparently, every 1942 working woman needed a supply of grooming products for the office which could be charmingly placed within a candybox (for that matter, a cigar box or other shallow box would work as well).

I passed the article along to a few working friends who admitted they had some slap dash and messy cosmetics tucked away in their work desks including crushed eye shadows held together with rubber bands, compacts with broken mirrors, and wrinkled up bandaids.

I purchased a lovely box with dividers that is about the size of a Whitman Sampler. Soon, I filled it with two new lipsticks from the drugstore, some dental floss, a toothbrush and a tube toothpaste, a petite box of bandaids, travel sizes of handcream and hair spray, and a spare set of contact lenses. Later I added a wee sewing kit and some small first aid items. Also, some packets of nail polish remover pads which are immensly convenient when that red polish begins to chip and needs to be removed quickly before a meeting.
The sense of control and organization my little "candybox" has given me cannot be underestimated. It's discreet, organized and always at the ready to make my work day more lovely. Do you have a candybox and what is in it that is essential?