I'm having one of those weeks where I'm feeling absolutely overwhelmed by stuff. Physical stuff. Not just clothing (which I still have too much of), but unread books piled up on my nightstand, half empty tubes of lotion scattered about, piles of papers that need to be gone through and either tossed or filed, expired coupons, Netflix movies to be watched or returned...in short, the usual detritus of modern life. I'm not a hoarder, but rather a procrastinator. Despite my best intentions I end up setting things in piles to deal with later, the days and weeks pass, and the next thing I know I'm up to my eyeballs in stuff. When the chaos ultimately pushes me over the brink of sanity, I've been known to grab a large garbage bag and just toss in everything that crosses my path, not skipping a beat on my way to the trash bin, only to regret it later. I'd rather refrain from going all Shiva the Destroyer this time if I can help it.
So I need to set aside an evening or three to deal with my stuff. I'll be back in a few days with some fresh bloggy goodness, once I can see more than a few square inches of cleared horizontal surface in my house.
Do you keep your stuff organized or does it sometimes get the better of you? Do you have those days where you just want to pile it in the driveway and set a match? Or have you developed a more constructive method to deal with stuff?
Poor baby had a cyst removed from her side, and was sent home from the vet in the Cone of Shame. She was really freaked out wearing it, and a neighbor suggested we find one of these inflatable donut things. A lifesaver! It fastens to her collar and doesn't seem to bother her at all, but prevents her from chewing on her stitches. The image kept reminding me of something, and I finally put my finger on it...
When I was planting my herb garden, someone suggested that I toss in some fennel. It has done well, so well that I needed to pull up one of the plants as it was crowding my tarragon. Now I need to know what to do with it. I'm afraid it was harvested too early, and the bulbs aren't very developed. I know I can use the leaves to season chicken and fish, but am wondering if anyone has a favorite fennel recipe?
The recent heat wave has moved along to the east (look out, NY!), and it's cool enough once again for a lightweight scarf. Encore, my sheer silk Liberty of London vintage scarf, handed down from grand-mere Lucille. I folded the silk square into an oblong, wrapped around the neck, and tucked one of the ends back down through the loop. It stays in place nicely!
Change of tack for a moment. This Eileen Fisher asymetric zip felted cardigan is captial-F-abulous: flattering fit, interesting design and details, and a great price at Nordstroms during their anniversary sale, $149.90. Available in charcoal grey and "Niagra," a soft blue. Click on the zoom to see the details. This is definitely a Paris-worthy piece, especially in the grey.
Though I've been somewhat over this ground before, I just wanted to reiterate that despite my recurring infatuation with some elements of mid-century style and fashion (and the TV show Mad Men), I am in no way nostalgic for or advocating a return to the sexism, racism and retrograde gender roles of that era. I grew up during a time when roles for women were still limited either by laws or tradition, when women sometimes couldn't get a credit card (let alone a mortgage) in their own name, and when it was considered just the natural order of things for men to be paid more, for pregnant women to be fired once they started to show, for a "career woman" to be seen as a sad oddity, for women to be taught that they were nothing without a husband and children, for divorcées or never-married women to be viewed with suspicion and hostility. One of the reasons that I like Mad Men is that it doesn't tiptoe around those issues or the blatant sexual harassment that many women encountered on a daily basis, and I'm glad the show is drawing a younger audience as well, as I think it's something that younger women need to understand. For a feminist take on the show, see Feministing's Mad Men Mondays here. (h/t Sidewalk Chalk.)
Nor am I hoping that girdles, garters, starched petticoats or corset-like bras stage a comeback. Une femme is all about The Comfortable and if it hurts, pinches, chafes, digs in, gives you a rash, or keeps you from standing/sitting/walking/moving in a normal way, I say chuck it. The kind of constrained femininity required by some of those fashions is beyond what most of us are willing to endure on a daily basis.
So without squeezing oneself into some Heavy Artillery underpinnings, here are some ideas to inject a bit of that mid-century style and glamour into a modern wardrobe. (I'm going to tackle the more mainstream looks in the first post or two, then hit the Bohemian Beat in a separate entry.)
1. They Don't Call Them Classics For Nothing...
Chanel-style "lady" jackets worn over a sheath dress or straight skirt. If they match the skirt or dress, all the better. This one from Talbot's works with jeans (add a brooch or three to invoke mid-century), but would also look great with a grey sheath dress.
(Casual) Levi's 501's cuffed and worn with penny loafers or saddle shoes. (Like the ones from Cole Haan, right.)
(Casual) A button front blouse knotted at the waist.
Ankle length, straight slacks (trousers), fitted, in solid or prints.
A shirtwaist dress with a fuller skirt
A crewneck cardigan, just-below-the-waist length and fitted. Bonus points if you wear draped over the shoulders. Double bonus points for a sweater clasp.
Bonus points if sweater color matches skirt or slacks
2. Les Bijoux (I've focused on mostly pearl jewelry, as that's what I most remember my mother, grandmother and other women wearing. Diamonds and other gems were more often reserved for evening wear or more dressy occasions.)
Brooches! These shown from Beladora 2. (Links here, here and here. Use discount code PSEU for a 10% discount on these or any other items at Beladora or Beladora 2.)
If that shorter single or double strand of pearls has been languishing in your jewelry box, time to pull them out. Don't be afraid to wear both a strand of pearls and a brooch (see pic at top of post).
Earrings: for daytime, forget the dangles or the itsy bitsy studs. Fewer women had pierced ears back then, and clip earrings were the norm. Hair was often worn up or pulled back from the face, so earrings were meant to be seen.
Earring links here, here , here and here. (Don't forget your discount code PSEU for 10% off, and remember that a jeweler can convert clips to posts or the reverse.)
Remember, that by mid-century style rules, Matching is Good. So go ahead and wear those matching earring/necklace/bracelet sets.
Wristwatches - small, bracelet watches. If leather, keep straps thin and watch face small.
Isabelle Huppert, 57. Photo from New York Times here.
Going through my e-mail Thursday morning, I saw that the lovely Rubiatonta had sent me a link to a NYT article entitled "Aging Gracefully, the French Way," and my interest, bien sur, was piqued. I didn't have a chance to read the entire article (actually, two articles) and all of the fascinating reader responses in the comments section until later that night and throughout the next day.
The article itself is mostly a re-hash of much of what has already been written about French Women™ including some truths (e.g. they pay more attention to skin care than makeup), some gross generalizations, stereotypes, and more than a few "bon" mots that almost made me spew cafe-au-lait all over the monitor. (This snorter for example: "And even the average Frenchwoman — say, shopping along the Rue du Faubourg St.-Honoré or enjoying a leisurely lunch on the Left Bank, or strolling through the Luxembourg Gardens..." This is the equivalent of saying the "average" American woman shops on Fifth Avenue or Rodeo Drive, enjoys an extended lunch at a posh restaurant and then goes for a stroll in Central Park.) Several of the commenters including some French women or people currently living in France, pointed out the ridiculousness of these examples and the fallacies of many of the generalizations within the article, so I won't fisk everything in there. (I find that "lifestyle" and "trend" writers in the NYT tend to be from a rarefied, privileged demographic and assume everyone leads the same kind of upper-class lives that they do.)
As une femme americaine who has visited Paris three times in the last four years and tried to pay close attention to the women there, I do see some overall differences between the women of our two countries, even taking the broad diversity of both places into account. Yes, les femmes d'un certain age in Paris and the few outlying areas we've visited do tend to wear less makeup than their counterparts here. No, one doesn't see the freakish, sometimes scary results of overdone plastic surgery while walking through the more upscale arrondisements that one might encounter in Beverly Hills (though some commenters observed that the obviously Botoxed face is becoming more common in Paris). I did see exceptions in Paris, but generally women over 40 don't try to dress like teenagers or 20-something celebrities. Nor does one see legions of women teetering around on stilletto heels. True, the occasional high heel is seen, however low heels or flats dominate as is often noted, Parisian women do a lot of walking and climbing of stairs on a day-to-day basis. While generally well put-together, not every woman you pass on les rues is stylish or chic. Frump is evident in Paris too, though you don't see women schlepping around in baggy sweats or oversized tee shirts bearing the logo of a local radio station or a picture of their grandchild.
And yes, *overall* the women in Paris were thinner than a comparable cross-section of American women, but not all Parisiennes are whippet-thin. While we're on the (inevitable) topic of weight, the assumption that staying slim is a primary component aging well, repeatedly voiced in the article and comments, has limits. While I'm not advocating that we abandon healthy habits and moderate portion sizes, especially as our metabolisms slow with age, I've also known women who maintain a fashionable gauntness through unrelenting deprivation, only to look haggard, tired and worn. And how much joie de vivre can we experience when we're always hungry? Do I even need to say that smoking to keep weight down (which French women are reputed to do in large numbers) plays havoc with the skin, not to mention health, or that the reducing "pills and creams" mentioned in the articles are dubious at best?
I say all of the above as a general admirer of French women and style, just to be clear.
But I think the major difference is cultural. There was a bumper sticker from a few years back, "Change How You See, Not How You Look" and I think the French see women over 40 or 50 very differently than our culture does. The French are very comfortable with The Feminine (and I mean that more in the grand metaphysical sense rather than just "femininity") and don't stop seeing or valuing women once they reach a certain age. Though I think it's slowly changing, women in the US seem to have an expiration date and are often culturally invisible after that point. Duchesse once spoke of the concept of "granny goggles" in relation to hair stylists and older women; I sometimes think our culture wears granny goggles, and this spills over into how women see and treat themselves. Here in the US, where so often beauty = youth, women go to great lengths to look youthful in the hope of looking beautiful and often wind up looking neither. Or they give up entirely on trying to look their best or even thinking of themselves as attractive, as women. Some mentioned in the article's comments section that French women's relentless drive to stay attractive and keep weight off stems from wanting to keep their husbands out of the arms of a mistress, in a culture that tends to be more tolerant of such things. Perhaps in some circles that's true. But I also think there's something to be gained from the attitude of valuing ourselves no matter what our age, taking care of our physical selves, not allowing ourselves to become drab and invisible, but rather using our appearance as a form of expression, and allowing our inner radiance to shine through.
Street style photos of les femmes fantastiques from Paris and environs by the gorgeous Tish from A Femme d'un Certain Age. Used with permission.
When I talk about mid-century style, I'm generally referring to the years between the early 1950's and the mid 1960's. Yes, there were considerable shifts of fashion and style within that span of time, but when I look back at pictures from that era, certain themes in mainstream fashion are consistently present. Some of these run distinctly counter to current trends (as evidenced, for example, by contemporary disdain for anything too "matchy-matchy"), and some seem to be finding their way back into fashion in modern incarnations (sheath dresses, full skirts, red lipstick, kitten heels).
If you are drawn to these iconic looks and are thinking of adding some elements of classic mid-century style to your mix, here are the buzzwords you'll want to keep in mind: structured, fitted, coordinated, matching, polished, streamlined, tailored, refined, appropriate to the occasion, smooth (thanks in no small part to often armour-like girdles underneath), feminine, petite (I'm thinking accessories here), demure, contained, colors (black was rarely worn by women during the day), prints. These are overall themes, not hard-and-fast rules.
Back to drawing from the amazing costuming in Mad Men, Francine, on the right above, is a great illustration of some of these. The colors in her jacket, top, and pants are coordinated. (I remember that even when my mother and her friends wore more casual separates, they were often purchased as a "set," which these days would risk looking dowdy.) I have to admit I adore this outfit and would be tempted to wear a version of it today. Look at the dainty wristwatches, and Betty's understated pearls and charm bracelet. Some women did wear bigger, bolder costume jewelry, but smaller, more ladylike adornment was the norm at least among my parents' cohort, and I was often warned off of anything "too gaudy." (Moth, meet flame.)
This was, after all, my mother's style icon.
Bags and shoes were supposed to match each other, and matching to one's outfit was even better. Below, note the green dress, bag and shoes.
(Yes, that's dried blood on Joan's dress. If you haven't seen the show, I'm not going to spoil it but I will say that it's not hers.) Look at that tiny purse on the seat next to her. There's a scene during the first season where one of the other women in the office comments on Joan's "huge pocketbook"; compared to today's luggage-sized bags it looks almost miniature.
Many mid-century style themes appear dated to our modern sensibilities, or will at least until the fashion pendulum swings back in that direction. I don't think modern women will ever go back to the confining clothes, rigid shapewear, and strict rules about what can be worn with what, and when and where, but I do think some of these elements I listed above will continue to catch on, if only as an antidote to the anything-goes-ism that has seemed to dominate fashion for the last few years. And even if not, if certain mid-century (or any other era's) styles really float your boat, my .02 says wear them. Just not all at once, lest you risk looking as though you just stepped out of a time capsule.
Are there some looks you love that feel out of date? Do you wear them anyway? If so, do you consciously style them look more modern?
Next up, some specific ideas for incorporating elements of mid-century style into a modern wardrobe.
Apologies to mes amis on the East Coast who are sweltering right now and probably want to throw a shoe at this image on the monitor. But even if the heat is wilting you outside, you might work in an office with an overzealous air conditioning system, or you might live in LA where the June Gloom isn't letting go.
Unlike the dishrag limp knits that are everywhere right now, this cardi has some structure and heft, while still being lightweight. But what really sets this one apart are the gold knot buttons, which are a very nice touch for a sweater at this price point. Lots of pretty colors too. I love the Lemoncello. Talbot's "Charming Cardigan," $59.50