Monday, March 31, 2014

Nothing to Wear

I lost seven sweaters to moths this year.  I read I should have sanded down my cedar blocks to refresh and reactivate their repellant properties.  Sadly, the sweaters were cashmere and in colors that made them perfect for spring transitional dressing - when its always too cold to go without a sweater and not yet warm enough for just a blouse.  The perfect solution for this time of year I have discovered, is a cozy sweater in a spring color.  And my seven were in luscious spring pastels, sorbets and brights, all collected and cared for over many years.  Dressing may be a challenge while I wait for the balmy breezes and sunny days we've all been promised.

It's funny how some clothes become friends.  We remember where we were when we bought them and with whom we were with.  If it was a happy day, we associate the garment with its accompanying pleasant memory.  One of my sweaters was the poppy red crewneck I fell in love with a few years ago just days before Christmas.  It ended up wrapped and under my tree, gratis from my sneaky mother.  And whenever I wore it... I thought of her.  My tendresse for it was very real.  Lost luggage can be just as sad as seven holey sweaters, especially if it was filled with comforting "friends".  I lost my luggage coming home from Atlanta once and as soon as I could, I made a list of what I could recall what was in my suitcase.  I quickly learned it would be the meaningful treasures I would miss the most:  the navy boyfriend sweater that really was from a bona fide boyfriend, the cable knit tights I bought in New York City on another vacation, a peacock blue velvet jacket that fit me just so.  I still think about that jacket, the nap of which my daughter's baby fingers stroked one night as I rocked her to sleep just before I went out to a formal party.

Do I really have nothing to wear this spring?  No, not really.  I have a lovely painterly scarf with blowsy muted roses on it that I spotted in a hospital gift shop while visiting a friend.  I bought two that afternoon;  one for my friend to help make her feel better.  She did and so do I every time I drape it around my neck.  I still have the 1950's collared wool cardigan with 3/4 sleeves and mother-of-pearl buttons that belonged to my grandmother.  Its seafoam color along with a crisp white shirt underneath, will brighten my grey workhorse trousers.  And there is the generous lavender shawl my sister recently passed down to me that now mingles both our perfumes.

I have no doubt that I will traverse through spring with my other comrades waiting just beyond the closet door.  And I'm sure, along the way...I'll be making a few new friends too.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Novel of a Wardrobe

The Novel of a Wardrobe is the title of a lovely Parisian exhibit that just closed.  It was housed in the Musée Carnavalet, the museum of Paris history.  From 1902 through the 1920's, Alice Alleaume worked as the vendeuse for several French fashion houses.  She had a bird's eye view of the quickly changing styles from the Belle Epoque to the 1920's flappers' style.

Until I watched the House of Eliott, I had no idea what a vendeuse was.  The Eliott sisters hired one and she was a coveted employee of the House, bringing with her a mandatory list of contacts, working as the receptionist and taking command of the appointment book.  The Novel of a Wardrobe collection contained only the clothes and artifacts belonging to Alice Alleaume and it was quite extensive.  There were both "working girl" ensembles as well as ball gowns and also hats, gloves, lingerie and shoes.  A conscientious promoter of Parisienne chic, Alice's clothes were never limited to the house she was working for and she was a particularly devoted fan to Jeanne Lanvin, a designer of very feminine dresses and one of my favorites too.

I wish I could glean more details of Alice's personal life but there is not much written about her.  However, the exhibit is a peek into a chic woman's wonderful by-gone wardrobe, the clothes of which can indeed be "read" like a novel in time.  And what makes it truly special is that Alice had impeccable taste.

(Pink chiffon gown, 1905, Alice Alleaume)

p.s.  The exhibit can still be viewed online.

Safe Harbor

In my field, we are in the middle of tax season.  The best news we give to a client is that their money is in Safe Harbor, a special place where part of their investment is recoverable and not taxed.  It doesn't happen often, but it's a welcome place financially.

Also in the middle of tax season I take St. Patrick's day off.  I read this week that Massachusetts has the largest number of Irish residents in the country.  I'm not surprised - I so wanted to be Irish like everyone else growing up.  Now I travel back to my hometown in Massachusetts to experience a traditional Irish feast with my beau and his brother, the in-house chef in their fine old treasure-filled home.  This year we were joined by an old family friend.

Lunch was a marvel.  The chef made the traditional Irish meal of corned beef, cabbage, onions, turnips, potatoes.  I brought the Irish soda bread.  We don't drink ale but I had a small glass of red wine and afterwards I was brought a cup of Earl Grey, in a usually tea-less house.  The other guest was a joy to talk to.  We touched upon many subjects and at one point the British monarchy came up, and the guest, with shy reservation mentioned that she loved Prince Charles.  The brothers found shark food in this comment and instantly feigned an "outraged" air and jokingly grilled and teased her.  We all laughed uproariously.  Sometime later, she noticed a vintage photograph of a handsome relative over my left shoulder and said, "Oh...I just love the face of the man in that picture...he's so handsome!"  My host's leather chair creaked as he leaned away from it to crane his neckand peer around me.  "Is it Charles???", he asked innocently.  We all burst into gales of laughter that I think they could hear on the street.  Great fun was had by the four of us.

When it was time for me to make my departure, my beau donned his wool coat and walked me to my car.  Surrounding the bothers' property are the tallest oak trees I've ever seen on city residential land.  The sun was that bright late winter afternoon kind - blinding, useless...but so beautiful it made everything sparkle.  Soon I was wrapped in my beau's arms and then enveloped in his open coat.  I barely reach his shoulders and as he held me, my chin was awkwardly tipped upward.  I noticed the oaks' spindly branches and the rapturous rays of light stabbing through them in the icy air.  In that moment I realized I would not soon forget this day, the sensation of iron arms holding me close, of being tucked inside a warm coat - the sun, the trees, the terrific old house with a personality all its own.  And of course, the hours of convivial conversation and laughter that went before.  Once in a while, life throws you a bone for all its struggles, for its thousands of daily inequities, for the sadness that accompanies our inevitable wrenching losses.  We find we have sailed into still waters, where we rest for a time in safe harbor, alongside the fellow travelers we admire and love the most.

For happiness one needs security, but joy can spring like a flower even from the cliffs of despair.
 ~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh


Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Power of Lipstick

My first foray into lipstick was the night I stole a tube of lipstick from my mother's dresser and created a work of art on my sister's face.  A Kodak moment to be sure, but there was more to it than that.  Lipstick is the quintessential female cosmetic and it's usually the first makeup we experiment with.  We can't wait to get our little fingers on it because all little girls know that lipstick turns Mommy into an enchantress, with a mere swipe of color.

Lately, my makeup bag has been filled with lipgloss, the sales of which have just edged out lipstick for the first time.  But the Oscars with celebs in strong lip color, a conversation with my stylish friend Karen, and a brief video of Poppy King, The Lipstick Queen, had me doing an about face.  Suddenly, I wanted to try on every single one I own - surely I had the perfect color.  And I wanted to lay it on thick too.  Most women don't have the confidence to wear a bold lipstick, yet Poppy King tells us that lipstick actually gives women confidence!  So I found myself rifling through my makeup box until I landed on my Chanel "Gabrielle", a daunting coral red, now one year relegated to the back of the box along with a flaky gold eyeshadow that never saw the light of day.  In the tube, "Gabrielle" is scary.  Loud.  Feisty.  So, I outlined my lips first with a nice neutral lip liner and then really applied it straight from the tube - just like I saw my mother do it back in 1959, mouth open, lips stretched, head tilted into the mirror.  A quick blot and a pucker.  Instantly, my eyes shone, my skin looked fresher - I looked alive.  But more importantly, I felt different; prettier, chic.  I took the stairs. 

Karen spent some time at the makeup counter too.  She met her match in Laura Mercier's "Audrey".  She shot several pics to me of the first contenders but it wasn't until I saw "Audrey" that I realized how lovely she looks in a brighter lipstick too.  A "Gabrielle" wouldn't have done for her - she's too fair.  "Audrey" gives her just the right amount of audaciousness.

A woman who wears a daring lipstick color tells the world she is unafraid.  Makeup artist Lisa Eldridge says red lipstick even looks great on Saturday errands with a plain grey t-shirt and jeans.  Today Karen received a compliment from a male stranger at her local mall.  Saturday errands with a bold lipstick is all it took.

But what is it about this simple cosmetic that fascinates?  Lipstick is readily available and fairly inexpensive and that's probably why sales of tubes climb when the economy goes south.  It may also  be why designer lipsticks do so well.  Afterall, I may not be able to afford a Chanel suit, but I can buy the essence of Chanel with a lipstick - a wee bit of glamour to tuck into my not-Chanel-bag.  Designer lipstick prices are climbing though - Tom Ford's are almost $50.  Eldrigde states that if we do invest in a designer tube, selecting a deep gutsy color will give us more bang and versatility.  Applying it with a lip brush creates a lighter even layer and then the color can also be used as a blush when dabbed on cheeks with a ring finger.  I'm on board with that.

There's nothing quite as fun and yet old world as lipstick.  Afterall our grandmothers used it.  Karen and I chatted about the femininity of lipstick, its distinctiveness, its comfort, its assured entrance into a grown-up woman's world. We talked about our favorite old films and how lipstick was always a part of them.  And when we wear it full on, we're a part of something too:  a unique feminine circle.  Lipstick has the power to transform, give us confidence. It can provoke and compel.  It's pleasurable and cheery.  All that.  From a tube.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Belonging to Moonlight and Roses

Recently I read a teenage novel on the recommendation of a friend.  It was her favorite high school read and it was lovely, set in the 1950's.  It had lots of the domestic details I adore - cakes, living rooms, curtain descriptions.  The story was a coming of age one about teenage love which somehow seemed more grown-up in the 50's than it did in my high school years.  There was the usual angst that I quickly remembered is very real and painful.  But I think high school love in the '50's often turned into marriage and perhaps the stakes were higher or teenagers were just more mature then.

The protagonist is naturally in love with the wrong guy.  And although at first, she doesn't recognize the right guy, the reader does.  As a romantic, I was tipped off by the beautiful language the author used.  Here are my favorites:

"That June in January feeling"

"This was all the songs you've ever dreamed of...all the stories you've ever read...this was the first snowflake, the first daffodil, the first velvet dress"

"He had but to see her"

"You are different.  You belong to moonlight and roses"

I remember the "first velvet dress" feeling of my first love.  Of course, that didn't last but the feeling did.  Now someone regularly tells me that he can't wait to have me in his arms again.  Another 1950's expression that thrills me.  And while I'm at it, there's something about the crushingly romantic question, "Can I see you?", where the weight of a man's desire and longing hang just beyond four small words. 

I love the scene in the marvelous film Shakespeare in Love when Viola tells her nurse, "I WILL have poems and adventure.  And love..."  Me too.  Because I like to think I belong with moonlight and roses, daffodils, and velvet dresses too.

(The picture is from my friend Judy, also the friend who recommended I read "Trish" by Margaret Maize Craig)