Saturday, December 3, 2016

If Wishes Were Dresses ... Festive Dressing Decision Time

So... the other day, when it was still November, I was on my exercise bike pedaling my butt off (not to mention other body parts that have grown in girth lately.) And I was flipping through magazines and Pinterest, and dreaming of wearing something like this dress to the deluge of festive parties that I will be attending this year. Okay, maybe not a deluge, exactly, but more than two. 

Sigh. If wishes were dresses this would be in my closet right now. A lovely full-skirted, red, satin dress with high heels and an edgy leather jacket to keep it from looking too ladylike. But... wishes are just wishes, and there is no lovely, full-skirted, red dress hiding in my closet.

Red full-skirted dress, black leather jacket, black hose, red fur bag, from winter 2017 issue
I do however own a somewhat-full-skirted Lida Baday dress that I bought a few years ago, and still love. It has pockets, which I like, and a deep V in the back which is pretty swish. And it's supposed to be kind of crinkly like this. But, you know, I think I prefer it as a summer special occasion dress to wear with flats and bare legs. And besides, I'm not attending any parties where I'd need to be this dressed up.

Black Lida Baday dress with self belt, black Stuart Weitzman block-heeled pumps with silver buckle detail. Turquoise pasmnina, gift.
Still love my Lida Baday dress... just not for a Christmas party.
I might be more partial to a little velvet number like this one from Gap. I actually prefer it with the tee shirt under it. But any dress, even a fabulous one like the red satin, has limited appeal for me. One or two fancy dresses sitting unworn in my closet are enough. 

Black velvet dress from the Gap.
Gap dress
So maybe something in a suit. Like a snazzy top to dress up my navy Veronica Beard suit. Or a vest to wear with my purple Tory Burch tie blouse and my black pants. I love these two looks below from the Canadian publication Fashion Actually, the navy suit on the left is a bit severe even for me, but with a sparkly blouse under the jacket it would be lovely. Wouldn't it?

Blue velvet pants suit with white blouse and white boots. Tuxedo  trousres, burgundy print tie blouse, burgundy boots, and black vest. Both looks from Winter 2017 issue
So, off I went one morning this week. To see if I could find a little something sparkly, or velvet, to add some glitter and gleam to my navy and black minimalist pieces. I didn't want to spend much. Cheap and cheerful were the words in my head as I trawled the stores at a local mall. But.... mall trawling can be mind numbing. And futile. If I were twenty-two again, and planning to head off on a Saturday night to Disco Viva in Hull, I'd have been in heaven. But I'm not. And all I found were tops and jackets that were cheap... and looked it. I don't care how inexpensive something is, if it won't get worn, it's not a bargain. And besides, I think I swore off fast fashion last summer, didn't I? As it happened, I didn't come home totally empty handed. I caught the tail end of the Eddy Bauer Black Friday sale, and I picked up a new fleece and a turtleneck for skiing. But I was, however, back to square one when it came to festive party outfits. 

So it was time to put on my thinking cap, and trawl my closet, in particular the space in the hall cupboard where, in behind the winter coats, I keep a garment bag of things I rarely wear but can't let go of just yet. Like this velvet bolero, which I had uncharacteristically forgotten all about. I bought this red jacket at the Ottawa Vintage Clothing Show for $10.00... oh... must be almost twenty years ago. I removed the shoulder pads, and I used to wear it with a little black lacy dress I'd had for years, for Christmas parties and the like. In fact the last time I wore it was to my niece's Christmas wedding in 2012. 

I tried it with my black Rag and Bone gauzy layered tank, and my Vince knit leggings. And these Stuart Weitzman block-heeled pumps from 2009. The layered tank does what it does best, drapes nicely, and covers what it should. I turned up the hem of the leggings so they hit me just above the ankle; they look better with the pumps that length. You know, I like this outfit. I'm covered, comfortable, a bit edgy, not frumpy, and I feel fabulous. Ha. I have an outfit I've never worn before...and I didn't spend a cent. 

Rag and Bone tank, vintage red bolero, Vince leggings, Stuart Weitzman pumps, earrings by Holt Renfrew, Anne Marie Chagnon bracelet
Breathing new life into an old jacket
I've always loved how my velvet jacket dips in the back, as you can see in the shot on the right. And I have a pair of earrings and a bracelet which are the perfect colour. My Anne Marie Chagnon bracelet would be too heavy if I were wearing the jacket with my little black lacy dress... not that I can fit into that little black dress anymore... see comment in opening about recent girth growth... but with the pants and tank it works. 

Rag and Bone tank, vintage red bolero, Vince leggings, Stuart Weitzman pumps, earrings by Holt Renfrew, Anne Marie Chagnon bracelet   Rag and Bone tank, vintage red bolero, Vince leggings, Stuart Weitzman pumps, earrings by Holt Renfrew, Anne Marie Chagnon bracelet

You can see the earrings and bracelet a bit better, below. And you can tell that I had fun playing around with the lay-out ap on my i-pad. Now what colour would you call that jacket? Carmine? Maroon? Ruby? Wine? Maybe even pinot noir? Totally depends on which website you consult, and your computer screen. 

Rag and bone tank, red bolero vintage, Anne Marie Chagnon bracelet, earrings by Holt Renfrew

So that's me sorted. I'm up one new outfit and not out any money. Win, win. I'll still wear the outfit below, from last year, to the Christmas engagement party for our friend's son that Hubby and I will attend. My Rag and Bone tank (quelle surprise), my Helmut Lang jacket, and my old faithful leather trousers, with my Stuart Weitzman loafers. I still really like this look. But I am getting a bit tired of my leather pants. I might have to retire them for a rest.

Rag and Bone tank, Helmut Lang jacket, Holt Renfrew leather trousers, Stuart Weitzman loafers   Rag and Bone tank, Holt Renfrew leather trousers, Stuart Weitzman loafers.

And I'm pretty sure I'll try to do something fun with my Veronica Beard suit for the big house party for the hockey gang. I just haven't decided what yet. I'll let you know how that goes. 

Christmas party season is often problematic for me. I usually dream up an outfit that involves something I don't own, but wish I did. And I hate to spend money on something I will wear only occasionally. So I'll look, as I did this year, for something inexpensive to cheer up what is already in my closet. And I rarely find anything that suits me. I guess it's a good thing that when I do find something, like my red bolero, I stash it away and can haul it out for years to come. There is, of course, one tiny problem that can arise when one drags an item of apparel out of the closet so very rarely. And that is the girth issue. 

I'm thinking specifically of the evening of a work Christmas party about fifteen years ago. I had cobbled together an outfit from an old pair of black tuxedo-style pants, a fluffy cream silk blouse, and a beautiful black brocade vest that was new. But at the last minute when we were all ready to go, and Hubby was on his way out to start the car, I decided the outfit needed a really great belt. And I had just the thing in mind. Somewhere, stashed in a drawer, I knew I had a gorgeous, black patent-leather, cummerbund-style belt that buckled in the back. It had dressed up a jersey dress that I wore to a party way back when I'd worked in pharmaceutical sales. The dress was long gone, but I knew just where the belt was. Ah ha! As I hauled it out, I could see out the window, that Hubby was in the car with the motor running, headlights shining across the driveway. I whipped off my vest and wrapped the belt around me, grabbing each end to buckle it. What the...? No matter how much I wrestled with it, there was no frigging way the ends of that belt would meet. There was a three inch gap. Three inches! What the hell? 

Well. Let's just say the belt went back in the drawer. The vest back on. Then my coat. And when I finally climbed into the car and Hubby asked incredulously, "what the bleep, bleep" I had been doing, I thought longingly of that beautiful, patent-leather belt, that would never again be the line of demarcation between my creamy silk blouse and my black trousers, and I simply said I'd had a slight problem with my horizontal X axis. Math teacher joke, for girth increase problems. Ha. Never, never store a belt for twenty years and then haul it out to wear at the last minute. You might, like me, be in for a nasty surprise. 

If wishes were able to be translated into wardrobe reality that evening, I'm not sure if I would have wished for the belt to be longer or the area to be covered a bit smaller. Three inches smaller. Sigh. I can say that I would not have chosen to turn back time, to the era when the belt fit me. Not for a moment. Despite the fact that I must have been some jeezley skinny when I was in my twenties. But as age and experience has taught me... being skinny ain't everything. 

You know, "some jeezley" was perhaps the most commonly used expression of amazement when I was growing up in New Brunswick. Funny. I don't think I've used it for years. Must be because Hubby and I are planning to go home for Christmas this year. We have, as you know, been home at other times. But not for Christmas. Not for a few years. 

And we're some jeezley excited... as us New Brunswickers say.

Now, what about you folks? What festive dressing decisions have you made so far?  If wishes were dresses... or suits, or whatever.... what would you suddenly find in your closet? Or do you already have a closet full of party wear? Or are you adverse to party gear? I must say that after a couple of parties, I'm ready to go back to my jeans and turtlenecks. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Family Dynamics... Fictional or Otherwise

I come from a big family. Well, big enough. A brother, two sisters, and a step-brother, with whom I grew up. And a half brother with whom I didn't. Three sets of grandparents. Lots of uncles and aunts. And cousins. Numerous great aunts and uncles, in Mum's family, whose names I could never get straight, or whether they were Grammy's brother or sister, or Grampy's. Funnily enough, I seem to remember all the greats, not as individuals, but as pairs. Aunt Laversa and Uncle Sam. Aunt Ada and Uncle Ernest. Aunt Lenora and Uncle Ben. Then there were Grammy's two brothers who married sisters, making all their children what we called "double cousins." Yep. That's a pretty big family. And pretty complex, I'd say. So even though Hubby and I don't have kids, family, and family dynamics, has always been important to me. Important, enriching, infuriating, always fascinating, and the subject of endless analysis and story-telling. I could write a book. But then again, we all could. Which is where I'm going with all this. Books about family dynamics.

Hen's nesting box with three eggs.
Like Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeny's book The Nest about which so much has been said and written lately. You can't wade through a book store these days without tripping over piles of this book. In fact, we read it for my book club this month. "And what do I think of it?" you ask. Hmmm. I almost put it down after a few pages. The opulent wedding in the opening scene, the older guy seducing the young waitress, and whisking her off in his rented Porsche... ickkk. That's so not even close to anything I am interested in reading. But I persisted. I was pulled in. Sweeney's writing style is flawless. She can spin a good yarn. Make her settings come alive. But... still... this novel ultimately left me cold. 

The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
The premise of the book, you may or may not know, is that four middle-aged siblings are waiting to inherit their legacy, dubbed "the nest," which will come to them when the youngest turns forty. Their industrialist father did not want their inheritance to become the making of them. Instead he contrived to leave a reasonable sum, not a fortune, to be inherited when they were all middle-aged. Thus it would merely be something extra they could use to add to what they would have obviously made of their lives already. Ha. Thanks to the rising markets and careful investing by the trustee, the sum grew enormously. And then was depleted by their mother to help the eldest out of a jam. Depleted by a lot. Most of the book deals with the various messes, financial and otherwise, all the children have made of their lives. Why they really, really need their inheritance. And how pissed they are at the brother who was in the jam. Janet Mashin in the New York Times says the book is of the "squabbling sibling genre." Yep. And in a scathing review in the Globe and Mail, Marissa Stapley says: "never before have I read anything that so fully deserves to be tweeted about with the hashtag #firstworldproblems." Oh, thank-you for saying that, Marissa. Her advice to book clubs which she feels will ultimately be reading and discussing this book is priceless: "Do me a favour and let the discussion be about something other than the ways in which you identify with these characters, and more about the ways in which we can all be more, while consuming and wanting for less of what we already have." Damn, I wish I had read that before my book club meeting.  

Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney source
I feel a bit guilty panning The Nest. I mean, Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney looks like a really nice, pleasant person. And it is her first novel. Still, she's not some neophyte writer toiling away in an unheated garret, but a veteran of twenty years of non-fiction freelance writing, with lots of connections in the publishing and writing world, who pocketed a million dollar advance to write the book. So... maybe I don't feel that guilty. 

Anne Enright's novel The Green Road.
When we were discussing Sweeney's book at book club the other night, I couldn't help contrasting it with a very different novel about family dynamics which I read recently. Anne Enright's The Green Road is as gritty and punchy as Sweeney's is punch-pulling. I remarked on the coincidence of reading two books simultaneously about families with a widowed mother, four middle-aged children, one of whom is gay, one of whom works in the arts, and one of whom is a stay-at-home mother. But although the siblings in Enright's book also squabble, they are very different from the family in Sweeney's book. Enright creates complete characters. Lovely, and flawed, and totally sympathetic, even when they do abhorrent things. As Alex Preston says in his review in The Guardian: Enright's characters are "battered, beautiful, dancing to the music of Enright's exquisite style." 

Anne Enright. Picture from The Irish Times.
Anne Enright  source
I won't go into the plot of Enright's book, except to say that it is a novel about the need to escape, or move away, and then about the pain and solace of coming home. You can read more about it here in James Woods' beautifully written review in the New Yorker. I love how Woods thinks, and how he writes. He says that Anne Enright's book is "true and rueful." That she understands what it is to be an adult, to be middle-aged, to feel that an "impostor has grown up around oneself, choking off one's own youth." He says that Enright shows us how, even though children grow up, and parents grow old, "beneath the social achievements of adult life beat the wings of childhood." Now that's beautiful. 

A green road in the Republic of Ireland, picture from The Guardian.
A green road in the Republic of Ireland   source
I have one more book that I want to mention. One that I've yet to read, but which I read about in the December issue of Vogue, in an article entitled "Dad, Interrupted" by Jeanne Darst. Darst's 2011 memoir Fiction Ruined My Family, is the story of her growing up as the youngest child of an alcoholic mother and a journalist/novelist father, the publication of which destroyed her relationship with her father. And needn't have.

It seems to me that, as a writer, critic, and journalist, her father might have understood the need for his daughter to write her book. Might have been more generous and less critical. Apparently he told family friends who mentioned that they were enjoying Jeanne's book to "hold off on reading until he could send them his "notes." His notes on what [she] had gotten wrong came in at 140 pages. The book was 303."  As she says in the article, "I assumed [my father] would see the book as my book, not the book, about our family." 

Jeanne Darst's memoir, Fiction Ruined My Family
I really liked Jeanne Darst's article, and I hope I enjoy the memoir as much. I've ordered it from the library, so I'll let you know what I think after I've read it. I already know from this article and another one I read in Vogue a while ago, that Jeanne Darst is funny and wry, and a good writer who has her own demons to quell. She says she "inherited alcoholism from her mother and writing from her father," and she "doesn't know which one is worse." And I also know from her writing that she tells it like it is... or at least as she sees it. As she put it: "Drunk or sober, I have a lifelong case of what Dorothy Parker called "the frankies." 

This most recent article in Vogue is about her hoped for reconciliation with her father. How she dreams of giving her son the Christmas he wants. They'll fly from Los Angeles to New York for an east coast Christmas, with "massive amounts of snow, rambunctious cousins, the works." And maybe "at midnight Mass this Christmas Eve, [her] nine-year-old son will sit beside [her] 83-year-old father as he theatrically belts out 'Adeste Fideles."" Maybe. 

Stories of family angst, of the often flawed dynamic between parents and children, brother and sister, father and daughter are hard to read whether they're fictional or otherwise. Hard, but so worth reading. Worth reading, that is, if they are handled carefully, honestly, and with the intent to, not just entertain, but to illuminate the nature of family. Which is, according to James Woods, the most perfect "conduit for the transfer of misery and the source of all joy." 

Gad. That's heavy stuff for a Monday evening. 

And speaking of families. First families, to be precise. You may remember that I swore off Vogue last spring, but I broke my own rule and bought the December issue of Vogue because of the cover story on Michelle Obama. A wonderful article written by Jonathan Van Meter, and photographed by Annie Leibovitz. And I have to say that the whole issue is top notch. The articles, the fashion editorials, everything.  I was impressed. Guess they pulled out all the stops with this one. Good show, Anna et al.

Now. What are your favourite books, fictional or otherwise, about family dynamics?  We're waiting with pencils poised. 

Linking up today with Saturday Share Link-up at Not Dressed As Lamb  and Thursday Favourite Things at Katherine's Corner

Friday, November 25, 2016

Keeping Winter Real ... In Fashion Blogger Land

Sometimes I think that maybe I'm too immersed in fashion-blogger-land for my own good. That maybe I subscribe to far too many fashion websites, e-mail updates from fashion brands, fashion blogs, Pinterest and Instagram accounts exclusively about fashion, yadda, yadda... you name it. All this in the name of staying current with what's going on out there in fashion-land. Which frequently, I have to say, has little or nothing to do with what's going on in my own small closet... or in the closets of anyone I know. Even more so during the winter... especially during a Canadian winter.

Ottawa commuters waiting for their bus during a winter storm that hit Ottawa in February 2013. CTV photo.
Massive snowstorm hits Ottawa in February 2013  source
Take for instance, the "cold shoulder" sweater. Now, I'm not much of a fan of the "cold shoulder" look; you know, those tee shirts and blouses with the cut-out shoulders which were all the rage last summer. But I could at least see the sense of them in the summer. When colder shoulders might be desirable. But when I saw this Nordstrom ad for a "cold shoulder" chunky knit sweater, I had to laugh. Really? Does that make sense to you? 

Nordstrom chunky cold shoulder sweater in charcoal.

Which made me think of the off the shoulder look below from Balenciaga. As Morwenna Ferrier asks in her article in The Guardian: is it a jacket or is it a stole? According to Ferrier's article, Top Shop's creative director Kate Phelan is embracing off the shoulder puffer jackets (can't quite believe I'm even writing that) in a big way. Saying they represent a "new sense of heightened reality happening in fashion...." Ok-ay. And, Ferrier goes on to say that, while the Balenciaga version is only 'styled' off the shoulder, the Top Shop version, which she dubs "winter's answer to the Bardot top," is designed to fit like a stole. The "ready-off-shoulder" coat, as Ferrier puts it, requires perhaps more "commitment" than the Balenciaga version. Unlike the Balenciaga coat, there is no way to pull the Top Shop coat up over one's shoulders when one is, inevitably, freezing one's butt off. Or one's shoulders. Ha. 

Red Balenciaga puffer coat with the off the shoulder look, winter 2016
Balenciaga's "cold shoulder" down jacket. source
And since fashion is known for going from one extreme to the other, I present what Disney Roller Girl calls the "duvet coat." Love that term. And I actually love the colour of this Marques Almeida coat. And it certainly would be toasty warm in a Canadian winter. Nevertheless, I think this might be just a teensy bit too much coat for me. That collar would certainly be a driving hazard. Still, if the early snow we've had this year, which doesn't seem prepared to go anywhere, is a harbinger of the winter to come... wearing too much coat might be preferable to wearing not enough coat.

Marques Almeida down coat, winter 2016
Marques Almeida AW 2016 source
The other coat that seems really big (no pun intended) this winter is the faux fur. I love faux fur coats. I have ever since I didn't get one for Christmas when I was nine or ten. You see, one night a few weeks before Christmas when I was nine (or ten), my mum brought home a lovely, cream, fake-fur coat (much like the one on the right below) for me to try on, saying that our neighbour, Penny, was wanting to buy it for her niece who was my age and size. In fact, the coat was for me, but Mum was reluctant to spend her money if the coat didn't suit. So of course, it fit perfectly, and I inwardly swooned. But when Mum asked if I would like a coat like that, I demurred. In my nine-year-old head I thought I knew that Mum could never afford such a coat, and so to avoid getting my own hopes up, I tried to be grown-up and practical, and said that it wasn't for me, and, anyway, it would probably get dirty too easily. So Mum returned it. Gad. She really wanted me to have it, and I really wanted it... and we were like those two characters in that O. Henry story "The Gift of the Magi." I learned my lesson that year. Always tell the truth, people, especially about presents which come disguised as gifts for other little girls. 

Faux fur coats from Marni, Top Shop, and Made to Measure
Marni Shearling coatTop Shop pink faux fur, Made to Measure faux fur coat
Unlike the off-the-shoulder puffer coat, faux fur coats make a lot of sense to me. They're warm, and they look great, and they don't cost the earth. But I did have to laugh when I read this post on the blog Le fashion, about "teddy bear coats." Reminded me of the time, years ago, when a student of mine came into my class wearing a vividly spotted, faux fur coat. Seriously, that coat looked like it was made from the sabre-toothed tiger on the Flintstones cartoon. "Allison," I admonished, in my best, stern teacher voice, "how many stuffed animals had to die to make that coat?" She stopped, looked quizzical, then rolled her eyes, "Ha ha. Good one Ms. B." I saw Allison when she came to town a couple of years ago. She's a stand-up comic and talk show host now, and she set aside free tickets for me and three friends to see her show. We had a good laugh that night about her old fur coat. So yea. I like faux fur. I just have a hard time with the coats that look like they might have had a previous life as some little kid's stuffed animal. But if you like that look, and I'll admit that it's starting to grow on me (a little), there are a few pretty ones here

Faux fur coats aside, I'm not fond of the cartoon sabre-toothed tiger look. Especially in boots. Especially those with four inch platform soles. Like these Maison Margiela boots which were featured in Elle magazine's 10 Most Wearable Winter Trends for 2016. Most wearable, eh? Oh my. These boots made me chuckle. Winter. Cold. Ice. I spy a broken ankle just waiting to happen. 

Maison Margiela faux fur, platform boots from winter 2016
Martin Margiela boots source
So, yep, there are a few trends in fashion-land which have me scratching my head. But that doesn't mean there aren't lots of examples of chic, comfortable, realistic winter looks out there. Outfits that won't look ridiculous on me now that I'm a woman of a certain age. That won't have me freezing my butt off, nor looking like a walking example of fashion victim-hood. Outfits like these ones.

Two winter looks from   Green scarf and sweater and grey coat on
Lovely looks from  Sandra  and  Le

Gorgeous, lovely, layered outfits, that keep fashion real, and are warm enough for a Canadian winter. With great boots, luxurious scarves, and fierce coats combined with panache and enough elan (love that word) to inspire me, and reaffirm my belief in fashion. And make me want to get dressed even on the coldest, snowiest days.

So yea, I probably do pay too much attention to all the fashion palaver on the web and in magazines. And sometimes it exasperates me. But I'm never put off for long. That's because, to me, fashion is like that crazy, lovable, wonderful, embarrassing at times, but always interesting aunt or cousin. Sure sometimes they're weird, and silly, but they're always fascinating, and so entertaining, and you love them to death. 

So while I'm here keeping winter fashion real... or trying to... what have you been up to, folks? 

Fashion-wise or otherwise?

Linking up this week with: Visible Monday#IwillwearwhatIlikeWhat I WoreStyle Me WednesdayThursday Favourite ThingsFun Fashion Friday, and Saturday Share Link-Up.