Monday, December 29, 2014

On the Twelfth Day of a Feminine Christmas

I have a love/hate relationship with New Year's Eve.  In New England the weather is almost always seasonably frigid and it just seems cozier to stay tucked indoors.  But tradition calls for a convivial and festive party like our "cover girl" is enjoying.  In her hands is a statuette of Father Time carrying a scythe which implies the death of the old year.
It's actually this passage of time which keeps me betwixt and between staying in or going out on the year's last night.  Whether New Year's is a cliché or a holiday steeped in the mystical,  I think everyone should have the chance to "do" New Year's Eve, at least a few times, with a big glamorous and raucous party.  There's nothing more fun than bewitching finery and a boisterous crowd to send your cares a-packing until after midnight's countdown.  But the draw to stay close to the hearth has been far more compelling these last few years.  I often have many new gifted books to read, plenty of left-overs, and not to mention - the weather outside is so frightful. 
Mom says "New Year's Eve is for amateurs."  But I think she is talking about those who party too much or those who party infrequently and thus, overdo it on this one night.  I think Mom is at an age and stage where she can do whatever she pleases and these days, she's happy to watch the revelers on her television set rather than have a drink with them.
For me this year, I think I will follow Jane Austen's logic, a women who also knew a thing or two about joyous partying:  "Ah!  For real comfort, there is nothing like staying at home".  Ah! indeed. 
This concludes my Twelve Days of a Feminine Christmas and although it was not on the true calendar, I hope you enjoyed it. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

On the Eleventh Day of a Feminine Christmas

I really want to read the three page special on Christmas Glamour highlighted on the cover of this vintage magazine.  Maybe it would help me find just the accessory to wear to my party tonight.  I know her headband with bling is easy to find these days.  She looks so pretty.

I was captivated with a similar image last Christmas - a beautiful blond wearing a teal green headband with crystals.  The band both contrasted and matched her just-as-lovely teal cashmere turtleneck.  Sometimes all it takes is one image to capture a certain look you know you must claim as yours.  But it often isn't the garment or the accessory, but the feel of the picture.  It says something that only we know about ourselves.

I found a greeting card in a shop long ago of a serene woman with her hair piled upon her head with a certain dishabille about it.  I was also entranced by her embroidered cloak and the delicate flower she held under her chin with a pale hand.  Believe me, she looks nothing like me but I felt a strong simpatico with her.  Perhaps, it was her softness, her femininity, the embellished coat.  When I took her to the framers I said "She is me inside".  The framer who looked a lot more like the lady on my card than I, jerked her head up and peered at my face in puzzlement.  Then a knowing smile crossed over her face and she said, "Ah...I see that!".  She did a beautiful job encapsulating the muse that will always grace the wall beside my nightstand, reminding me of who I really am.

Take a look at my two pictures below - you may see a thread running between the two.  Contemplative, serene femininity with a little bit of fantasy.  Now who are you?

On the Tenth Day of a Feminine Christmas

For those of us who work full-time, crafting Christmas is a challenge.  I find that things are not so Christmas-friendly at the office anymore.  I recall wonderful Christmas parties held right inside the workplace years ago and days on end of decorating, planning, and gifting.  Sadly, not so today.

I had a wonderful boss once who allowed us to leave the office to finish Christmas shopping or do last minute errands.  She understood.  With a quick wink, she would whisper, "Go, go!  Get outta here, Kid".  She was rough around the edges but oh so kind.  She seemed to know that Christmas is a one-woman magic show and the women who worked for her were mothers and magicians.

She was also the boss that asked me one devastatingly hot summer if I had an air conditioner for my small daughter and I.  When I told her no, the next Saturday a unnamed pick-up truck delivered a brand new air conditioner to my cloistered city apartment.  That's the kind of boss she was...that's the kind of human being she was.

Last year, I happened upon her obituary in the newspaper and felt a swift stab of sadness and sent a note to her next of kin, a niece with her name.  She wrote back and told me I had described her aunt perfectly, an old salt who in an undercover way loved and helped all her underlings.  I've had all kinds of bosses through the years - the good, the bad and the ugly.  She was most definitely in the best camp with that marvelous dichotomy of mettle and benevolence.  She was a tough cookie with Christmas heart of gold.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

On the Ninth Day of a Feminine Christmas

I have never been able to wrap well.  It's the corners that do me in - I always have too much overhang.  My sister and mother's Christmas gifts are so gorgeous with little touches of silk holly, greenery and berries tucked into the ribbons.  Every package, a crime to unwrap.  Saturday morning, as I hurried into a local store, a man was trying to wrap a gift on the back of his pickup truck.  His hands were the size of baseball mitts, he was using double sided tape, and he kept leaning on the wrapping paper, tearing it.  He lifted his arms in frustration.

First I asked him if I could help.  He too, had too much overhang and as I trimmed the excess he told me the present was for a sick friend he was on his way to see.  He was so grateful that I was able to hand a somewhat neat package back to him in just a few minutes.  We worked extremely well together too, for being strangers - I put some tape on the back of his hand while I pulled the paper closer then I whisked it off him and closed the ends of the wrapping as best I could.  He was so appreciative as he smiled and nodded his thanks.  I didn't think much about the incident until I sat down just now to write this post.  The lovely shopkeeper in the picture for this post is ready and at your service to help anyway she can.  I bet she does corners really well.

Monday, December 22, 2014

On the Eighth Day of a Feminine Christmas

This woman clearly has her act together.  It's Christmas Eve and she has time to sit on a cushion and play with her puppy.  I love her pink pants and ballet top.  And the bit of holly in her hair.  Her outfit says relaxed and chic festive night at home. 

I've taken a gimlet eye to my at-home wear this year.  It's so great in the summer when one can come home from work and throw on shorts and a t-shirt.  But winter wear is more challenging because I like to be warm and cozy too.  It's easy to throw on some old faded sweatpants and call it a day.  But I find when I do that, I'm less inclined to cook dinner and eat healthy and more inclined to order out.

So I bought some very nice velour pants in teal and in oatmeal.  They match any number of long sleeve shirts and sweaters I already have.  I'm not opposed to comfy slippers and wouldn't wear my ballet flats like the subject of today's picture unless I were having company.  But a funny thing happened on the way to the kitchen:  I grabbed my apron and not my phone.  I began cooking.  Something savory and satisfying.  And good for me.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Seventh Day of a Feminine Christmas

Is there a grandmother who doesn't run out at Christmas to buy her first granddaughter a velvet dress?  My mother bought my daughter a Wedgewood blue velvet dress with a matching satin sash and a white lace underskirt.  When I was seven, my grandmother made me an unusual peacock blue one with perfect glass buttons, each with a golden marigold inside.  It was the most beautiful dress I ever owned.

Velvet is one of those luxurious fabrics with a lovely "hand".  Like silk, it feels good to the touch.  My memorable blue dress was a soft velvet and not the least bit stiff.  Black velvet too, is an elegant choice for Christmas attire and fortunately it is back in style in skirts, shoes, pants. 

One of my favorite black velvet dresses is one that Marlo Thomas wore during her That Girl years.  She looks so sweet and charming in it and if lengthened just a few inches, it would be perfect for today.  Not surprisingly, I read that she said it "itched like mad" because of the multiple lace petticoats underneath but I adore her in it just the same.

When I think of red velvet, I see Judy Garland as Esther Smith in Meet Me in St. Louis.  Last night, I was able to see a local production of a play of the film.  Esther didn't wear red velvet but she looked festive and pretty in a black velvet trimmed white dress.  I never tire of the scene where she dances behind a candlelit Christmas tree with her grandfather, only to emerge a moment later swirling in the arms of her true love, John Truitt.  Tears always well up in my eyes for the grandfather, Esther, the sudden appearance of John, and the magnificent red velvet dress. 

The top picture is an ad for Gay Gibson apparel.  They were known for feminine colorful dresses and separates during the 60's and 70's.  I am enchanted by their ads because they always used three alluring models in each photograph.  I especially love the velvet and lace sleeve on model Colleen Corby's dress on the left. 

Until I dress the little granddaughter that only meets me in my dreams, I will continue to look for images of velvet dresses at Christmastime.

Friday, December 19, 2014

On the Sixth Day of a Feminine Christmas

This illustration was taken from my copy of Tasha Tudor's Christmas book, Take Joy, which is a charming compilation of traditional Christmas fables.  This is Della from the O. Henry short story, The Gift of the Magi.  She is counting her coins to buy her beloved husband Jim, a Christmas present.  This interpretation sold the book to me because Tasha put Della in a miniskirt in an otherwise traditional "Tasha" book.  As you know, Tasha lived her life as an 1830's woman and yet this book, published in 1966, was at the heyday of the mini, and that's why I find the illustration so intriguing.

Most likely you've read The Gift of the Magi.  The first time I read it I found it completely endearing - its twist ending is known as comic irony and the story is a splendid example.  O. Henry was said to have written the Edwardian-era story in a pub one night.  Sometimes writing is like flows freely to perfection but it really doesn't happen all that often.

What's really perfect though, is the young love between Jim and Della and the lengths they go to find each other's heart's desire in the form of Christmas presents.  It's also about sacrifice because Jim and Della both sacrifice things they each hold very dear to make the other happy.

I enjoy a re-read of this enchanting classic every Christmas...for the reminder of an Edwardian couple's true holiday spirit as well as another peek at a 1966 Della. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

On the Fifth Day of a Feminine Christmas

This lovely is quite pleased with her beautiful gift set.  I wish I could tell what fragrance is in that box but it certainly looks like she's about to learn the benefits of layering one's scent.

I love the ice maiden look to this picture.  It makes me think she could be inside an igloo with the silvery tree and the frosted windows.  Her fur is strewn close by in case she gets cold in her silk charmeuse dressing gown.  Everything about this photograph says that Christmas is about luxuriousness and indeed, some of the best Christmas presents are those we can pamper ourselves with.

There is a time in every pre-teen's life when she begins to receive more womanly gifts.  Gone are the dolls and toys, replaced by perfumes, lipsticks, and lotions.  I distinctly remember receiving soap-on-a-rope, toilet water, and handkerchiefs in the sixth grade.  Later, my mother filled my Christmas stockings with Yardley Pot-o-Gloss, false eyelashes and newly-invented pantyhose.  Under the tree were electric rollers, a lighted makeup mirror and white go-go boots.  The mirror eventually got stuck on "Office" and the boots faded from the scene but I never got tired of sets of lipsticks and fragrant bubble baths.

Today's beauty sets are available at any price and in any combination.  I especially like the ones that have Christmas motifs on the packaging such as snowmen or snowflakes.  It makes such a cute and festive gift for a girlfriend or niece.  A dear friend just sent me a pre-Christmas gift of two pretty spring nail colors with a lavish rose-infused handcream.  It came in a tartan tin and is sitting patiently under the tree right now.

I highly recommend buying a pampering set for yourself before Christmas.  Look for a selection of small shampoos and each morning, test drive a new one.  Or try a combination talcum powder with body splash.  Spoil yourself during this busy season while you are busy spoiling others.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

On the Fourth Day of a Feminine Christmas

This mother and son have just selected a Christmas tree for their city apartment.  Perhaps Father is away at war or he is working and Christmas has fallen on feminine hands again.  I love that the little boy is cradling Santa in his arm. 

My grandmother lived all her life in a city apartment, never having owned a house.  And yet, her apartment was a happy sanctuary that she made for herself and my grandfather.  For me, her apartment was a box of curiosities and enchantment, never more so than during the holidays.  She was especially adept at creating lovely Christmases:  always a fresh tree decorated with colorful baubles and lights, a crisp cloth printed with crimson poinsettias on the dining table, and charmingly wrapped packages with red paper ribbons.  There was a crystal pedestal bowl brimming with cashews and raisins sprinkled with sugar.  A smaller crystal dish was home to cascading ribbon candy for small hands to reach at will.  I am so lucky to have quite a few photographs of my grandmother's home at Christmas.  I study them for holiday-inspired domestic details and yet, no matter how hard I try, I can never imitate her nonchalant and naturally airy ambience.  She had a magic wand all her own.

I believe there is redemptive power in adorning a home for the holidays.  The world outside our doors can be abjectly cruel and unpredictable.  So what is better than creating a place of gladness and delight for those we cherish?  I say decorate with abandon if that's your style...if you want a pink aluminum tree like the department store ones of your youth, then have it.  More is as more as you want it to be at Christmastime.  And if you need to clutch a Santa to your heart, so be it...

 My grandmother's city dining room, Christmas circa 1960

Sunday, December 14, 2014

On the Third Day of a Feminine Christmas

This is a print that appeared in a short-lived French fashion magazine called La Gazette du Bon Ton (translated, The Journal of Good Style).  The periodical covered the latest developments in beauty and style for chic Parisian women.  During its publication time (1912-1925), fashion magazines highlighted fashion with lovely prints and illustrations, and not photography.

I first became captivated with this image when I discovered it on a collection of Christmas cards at the Metropolitan Art Museum, and as I often do, I saved one last card for myself.  Fortunately, I recently found the image on eBay for just a dollar as it had been ripped from a copy of La Gazette du Bon Ton.

The illustration is called La Biche Apprivoisée, which means The Tame Doe.  I love the sense of movement which shows an elegant women in fashionable heels trotting naturally beside a small deer.  To me, there is clearly a Christmas theme in her exquisite black, white, and red frock and the deer, although not a reindeer.  The dress in La Gazette du Bon Ton was described as a "scarf print dress by Paul Poiret...of georgette sleeves and a collar and cuffs of organdy, fluted".  Poiret's legacy as a fashion designer is that he freed women from restrictive corsets, although ironically, he was later known for the hobble skirt!

What I take away from images like La Biche Apprivoisée, is a sense of refined yet subdued Christmas style - a far cry from Christmas themed sweaters or tree ornament earrings.  Although I do think that type of fashion has a place today, I prefer my Christmas finery straight up - pretty skirts with simple luxurious sweaters, silk blouses, a touch of tartan.  Polished, quiet, graceful...reflective of the woman I want to be and considerate of the true Christmas message of faith, hope, charity, and love.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

On the Second Day of a Feminine Christmas

This little charmer drew me right in.  I love the little lady of the house decorating her modest tabletop tree, her fancy heels and bracelets.  Her rosy cheeks.  How sweet her pretty little tree and gifts.  Once again, I note how women build Christmas one ornament at a time.

We bought our tree last weekend and installed it in the usual corner in the living room.  It's a happy seasonal ritual as we buy from a gentle man who brings trees from his Vermont farm to his sister's antique shop and sells them for $20 each.  He remembers my daughter and I each year and we always have a cordial chat as we scour his small selection for just the right tree.  The last word is always my daughter's who seems to intuitively know which one will fit our small house.  Our Vermont tree grower ties it onto the car for us after he neatly trims the bottom.  This year, I suddenly heard myself tell him that when I see him next, my daughter may not be with me as she'll be married and leaving home in the new year.  He offered his congratulations with a kind eye towards me.  "Oh Mom, you're gonna miss her", said with a knowing and wistful shake of the head.

On the drive home, as she has every year since she was a child, my daughter asked me to tell her a certain story yet again.  One Christmas Eve long ago, when I was newly unemployed (there was another painful recession in the early 1990's that has since been eclipsed in most people's memory), I read in the newspaper that a tree farm near our apartment was offering free Christmas trees for anyone who had lost a job.  Life had been hard for us so on a snowy afternoon, I drove to the farm with my daughter, who was three at the time.  We trudged up to a wooden shack and opened a creaky door to find the tree farmer behind an old metal cash register.  I told him I had lost my job and he silently reached behind him and took a large bow saw off the wall.  He handed the saw to me!  I had never cut anything with a saw in my life but moments later my daughter and I were stomping about outside in the now heavily falling snow, searching for a small tree to cut down.

Once I found the one I thought would be easy to carry up the flights of stairs to our flat, I crouched down in the wet snow at the base of the tree and began to saw.  I never knew how hard sawing through a piece of wood was but somehow I felled the tree with a satisfying crack.  Sadly, my only pair of gloves were in tatters from the effort but I managed to drag the tree to the car with my daughter plodding along behind by following my deep snowy footsteps.  By the time the tree was tied inside the open trunk, we both looked like we had been dusted with powdered sugar.  The air was bitingly cold and the sky quickly darkening and with my numb fingers I snapped my daughter into her car seat.

The driving was treacherous as I slowly made my way up the slick road to the top of a sloping hill.  A short skid nearly stopped my heart and the wheels of my small car began spinning.  I let the it roll back a bit to see if I could drive out of the icy patch and continue up the hill.  Just as I succeeded, I heard my daughter speak in that odd matter-of-fact way children do when they think a parent can easily fix anything.  "Mommy...the tree fell off".  Peering through the nearly frozen-over back window I could see the green tree rolling down the hill, powdered snow bouncing off its limbs with every rotation until it hit a fence on the side of the road.  Without my useless gloves, I put the emergency brake on, unhooked my daughter from the car seat and together we slid holding hands down to retrieve the tree which was now laying still beside the fence.  Tears stung my eyes and I wanted to wail outloud.  By the time we got home with the thing, we were wet and shaking from the cold and dampness.  I left the tree outside leaning against our apartment house and put my small child in a warm bath.  I made a call to a neighbor.  His wife must have told him I was near tears because he came right away with a short saw to shave off the uneven bottom of the tree and then drag it up the stairs and install it in our tree stand.  I thanked him and after he left, I tucked my daughter into her warmest pj's and drew her child's chair up to the low coffee table where she ate her dinner.

Soon the branches on the tree dropped enough so it could be trimmed.  But I was tired, overwhelmed, and put out and if I didn't have a child high on anticipation, I would have turned off  the lights and gone to bed.  As I was agitatedly untangling the fairy lights, my eye suddenly caught something fluttering deep within the tree.  It was a small brown rabbit, clinging to the trunk and shivering.  I reached inside and gently cupped my hands around the tiny bunny. I could feel its tender heartbeat in my palm.  My daughter rushed to my side with wide eyes and she and I stroked its fur with only our index fingers.  I heard my daughter tell the bunny not to cry or worry.  "My Mommy's here", she said.  I realized that when we cut the tree we had disturbed this little creature's safe place and frightened, it had clung to a branch through all the dragging and rolling.  And it had survived.

As luck would have it, our neighbor's sister kept rabbit dens and she dispatched her husband again who came and took the bunny.  Oddly, my daughter never wondered about our little visitor again until she was older and I was implored to the tell the story of it each Christmas.  I remember looking up the symbolic meaning of rabbits and came across words like "centering" and "balance in chaos".  Finding a bunny in one's tree on Christmas Eve was too precious not to think about nuance. Soon after Epiphany, I was employed again and life took a happy turn.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

My true love gave to me...

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...a pair of chandelier earrings.  What I love about Myrna Loy in this picture is that everything she's wearing can be worn today.  The satin draped-neck camisole, the black skirt, the cardi, and those beautiful earrings.  It's such an elegant outfit for Christmas Eve at home and could be recreated by things you may already have in your closet if you look carefully.

Yesterday, I wore a very old black wool skirt to work - it was bought in 1989 and has suffered through many a let-out and take-in.  It's long and just grazes the top of my ankle.  I didn't think it very stylish anymore but I thought it may be warm.  Paired with my boots, it was indeed.  But I was surprised by the attention it garnered.  One co-worker said I looked like I was about to enter the stage to play the violin.  A friend told me I looked beautiful.  Somehow, my skirt felt just right, old though it is. 

As for chandelier earrings, they can be purchased at almost every fashion jewelry counter in almost every department store.  I'm sure Myrna's wearing the real thing but who's to say yours are not? 

Christmas is such a feminine holiday.  Afterall it is women who create its perfect synthesis of magic and reality.  Our connection to the Noel is not antiquated but ancient.  A woman's Christmas dreams and schemes are born of centuries of reveries and lore, including its original truth.

Find some finery in your closet and dust it off.  Buy some inexpensive bling for yourself.  I may not be your true love, but I will give you Twelve Days of Feminine Christmas, starting here with Myrna's earrings and my long ancient skirt.