Wednesday, September 30, 2009

An Actual Answer To The Julia Child's Monogrammed Pin Question

It's my birthday today. (I know, that's not the answer to the question about Julia Child's pin, but I'm getting there.) Kindnesses are happening today, phone calls from friends and family, none the less appreciated for their familiarity. It is clear to me that 53 is a most uneventful of birthdays. The real significance is skeins of affection, drawn about me like a knitted shawl. I don't know what brought me that image but since I can't even begin to knit for myself the metaphor is apt.

Kindness, however, has extended to the Internet. The Queen of Cashmere emailed me to let us all know she has the answer to our questions about the monogram pin that Meryl Streep wore in Julie and Julia. (See? Just takes a little time.)
"Not long ago, I spoke to Ann Roth, the Academy Award winning costume designer who transformed Meryl Streep into Julia Child. The pin was commissioned for the movie using Julia Child’s initials and was inspired by one in Ms. Roth’s personal collection. She was unsure if Mrs. Child had actually owned a monogram pin of her own — though we agreed it wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination. Ms. Roth, a dynamic octogenarian, was definitely amused to think that anyone found monogram jewelry newsworthy as it was a look from a bygone era and one she remembered well."
Ha! Ms. Roth, little do you know. And the Queen, along with her hotline to Hollywood royalty, has a secret source of diamond monogram jewelry for the 21st century. With photos that may incite a riot of desire.

As another surprise, Peonies and Polaroids, not knowing it was my birthday today, wrote me a thank you note. So nice. A thank you note is almost never a mistake. Exquisite manners are almost always good for all involved.

The rest of the kindnesses I'm experiencing are more random, maybe unmeant, probably unseen, still felt. I read many blogs. I comment where I have something to say. Sometimes people send me emails. Sometimes people comment on what I write. This has made my life richer in ways I could not have predicted. To you all, many thanks.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Beauty of Feckless Prep School Youth. A High WASP Style Archetype.

Feckless is a Scottish word. Many meanings. One of them is irresponsible. That's what I'm after. Irresponsible as only those who don't yet know how fortunate they are can be. The prep school boy is perhaps the best known of all High WASP style archetypes. He throws his clothes on, always in a hurry, in a hurry to lounge somewhere, not a care in the world, or to lope casually across a campus, lanky, endearingly clumsy with a shy sort of gait, apparently graced with all the world has to offer. It's all an accident, of birth and fortune.

His clothes are almost always too big. Or too small. His arms too long for his shirt sleeves, hair on his wrist catches the light. Unbuttoned cuffs expose his father's old watch. His mom bought the blue blazer and guileless tie last year for the junior prom. Before he grew another 3 inches. He has pulled open the knot of the tie. Wears his older brother's baggy khakis. A pair of white squash shoes, because, you see, he was in fact playing squash just an hour ago. Before he felt compelled to sit, just there, in the afternoon sun, face turned to the sky, lashes on his cheek.

Before he felt compelled to sit, just there, on the bench at the train station, waiting to go back to school. Cheeks flushed. Skin a little chapped. He's an object of desire.

Many different sub-groups revisit this archetype. Below, from the New York Magazine Home Design section, via WASP 101, and again on Monograms and Manicures, a boy who has known all his life he want to be an interior designer. His style of choice? Feckless Prep School Youth. But studied. Mannered.

We must know that the real version is apt to cover his walls in irreverent pictures of one sort or another. Strew shin guards and socks across the floor.

For those attempting to recreate the Feckless Youth in traditional adulthood, there is, of course, the Mogul of Feckless. Ralph Lauren, born - as we all know - Ralph Lifshitz. More power to him. No dummy he. He understood that the young man in the sunlight captured the American imagination like no other. Except perhaps the cowboy on a horse. Lauren has made a fortune from his understanding.

Modern classicists have a more subversive evolution of the style. secret forts, one of my absolute favorite blogs for men's style, highlights a collection from Apolis and ties from C. Chauchat.

These ties are anything but guileless. However, they refer, in a sort of post-modern way, to the ties you find in the bottom of your backpack, and throw on as you leave in a rush after some indeterminate athletic pursuit. Which most likely involved sunlight, slashing golden across fields.

The thing is, the real boy doesn't try. He doesn't know the effect he has on everyone. His anxieties are elsewhere, waiting to make him write A Separate Peace. The minute you try to dress like the Feckless Prep School Youth, he's lost. He's mythologized. But that's OK. We are a country of myths, after all. Go ahead. Dress like him. Recreate that object of desire. Focus on looking like you didn't try, even if you did. You will get close enough for your purposes.

You might ask, with good cause, does the Youth exist? This I know. He did in 1977. I saw him once. (I have told this story before, I am sure, but give me the consideration you give an older relative who has begun to repeat themselves. If you would be so kind.)

In the fall of 1977 I turned 21. My two best friends at Princeton kidnapped me, and drove me to New York City in a BMW 2002tii. Remember those? I didn't know where we were going. It would turn out to be the Plaza Hotel for a night. But as we crossed town, waiting at a stop sign on the East Side, we saw a boy on the sidewalk. He was wearing khakis, a blue blazer, a tie. Carried a large bouquet of flowers. Hair just so, short on the sides, longer and tousled on top. The wind of late September blowing. We said to each other, my friend and I, "Oh look at that boy. How adorable." We thought perhaps his flowers were for his mother.

In the middle of the crosswalk, he turned, and walked around our car to where I sat in the passenger seat. "Hello," he said, politely. Handed the flowers through the window. "Here. They were for my girlfriend, but she's not there. Since you are so pretty, they are for you." And off he sauntered.

So. He existed. Whether he is still out there anywhere as a boy, rather than a retailing construct, I don't know. But he existed. Loosened tie and all. Made my damn day, even then.

Collage: Polyvore
Boys on bench, boy in dorm, WASP 101
Ralph Lauren; shirt, tie
secret forts

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Monday, September 28, 2009

4 Kitchen Tricks To Know Before You Turn 50

I love to cook. I used to do a lot of it. In my 40s I learned a few tricks that made the type of cooking I like to do - Cal/Asian, Cal/Italian, lots of chopping - easier. I thought that in the spirit of the High WASP sturdy gal I would pass them on to you. Style is about ease. However and wherever you find it.

These, by the way, are not the kinds of tips you find in Real Simple. You know, those "Aha! uses?" As in, take some sort of oil (which you might not have) and apply it to god knows what (which you might not have either) in order to create some effect (which you would never thought you cared about)? No. These tips are for the stuff we have to do, using things we already have. I am not trying to help you be perfect. Just to avoid unnecessary mistakes. Perfection, risk, voyages, that's another world.

1. What To Do With The Rest Of The Bunch of Parsley?
Say you need parsley. Unless you have an herb garden, you buy a bunch. And you never use it all. If you put it back into the plastic bag, it turns to slime. So cut the bottoms off, and put all your leftover stalks into a bowl of water. Then eat a little bit when you pass it. High in Vitamin A. Good for breath freshening.

2. How Do You Peel Garlic Easily?
Simple. You probably know this one already, but just in case. Put a clove on your cutting board. Smash it with the flat side of your knife blade. All the skin breaks and you can slide it off.

3. What To Do With The 1/4 Leftover Lemon?
Put it in the refrigerator and you will probably find it fossilized a week later. Instead, put it on the sponge next to your sink. Every time you put something down the garbage disposal, slice off a chunk of lemon and throw it down your drain. Also squooge a little on your fingers so they smell good. One can never have too much smelling good in one's life.

4. How To Cut Up An Avocado?
Slice the avocado open lengthwise with a paring knife. With a large spoon, scoop out the entire pit-free avocado half. For the other side, whack the pit gently with your knife. Be careful not to let the knife slip, and keep your hands out of the way. Just saying. Pull the pit out. Slice your avocado. This I got from Livin' Lousiana, (who also sells these nice fleur-de-lis coasters). In my 50s. See, I have just given you two decades worth of knowledge. I'm sure I learned some other things in that time, but they might not come with such a strong guarantee to work.

The sturdy gal likes things that are guaranteed to work. She has little patience for fol-de-rol. Or wisdom that relies on Freud. Sometimes her way is helpful, in modern times of doubt and anxiety. Just scoop out the avocado. Fast. Smooth. Good for the soul.

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Saturday Morning at 9:24am

Sometimes the other people who have cute children put videos of said children up on YouTube. I imagine this will be all over the world by the end of the weekend. One of the cutest things ever.

If you like cute kid videos I also recommend you go to YouTube and search for "Charlie bit me." It's old, but adorable. Nothing at all to do with vampires, fortunately.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sturdy Fashion Should Involve A Plaid Shirt

If one archetype of High WASP women is the "grande dame," another might be the sturdy gal. As a High WASP, she may vibrate at a high pitch, but will still be capable of tromping across frost covered fields, lending a hand to fence-building, or making her own turkey gravy. If needed.

What might she wear? First, I now understand that this archetype is driving my recent hankering for the Buffalo Check Jacket. Much appreciated commenters helped me out. Robin reminded me about L.L. Bean's Maine Guide Parka. Mouse sent me here. Lauren to this gorgeous plaid shirt. Then Miss Muddy Paws pointed me to Thompson Mills. All of which led me to Bemidji Woolen Mills, and this, for $132. Sturdy gals think about price.

Or, I could pursue Duchesse's idea, have the jacket made from a blanket. In which case I could line it with thick black satin. Maybe a little red pinstripe. Or Chinoiserie medallions. Because everyone has to have a little "grande dame" somewhere, right?

Ms. Sturdy would also wear Levi's, because, "The quality is just as good as ever." And you can get a pair of boyfriend jeans for $80.00.

And maybe these Naturalizers, primarily for comfort, but with the implicit sense that they have at least a little style. A suggestion of the artisanal.
A hat. Some gloves, - she is prone to wear her good leather ones lined with cashmere until they fall apart - a swipe of lip balm, and maybe mascara. Nothing more. Fall air makes for good cheek color.
We all like a little mascara now and then. Have a lovely weekend.

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Can We Care About WASPs, Or, The Subjective, Personal, Version.

When one reads books as oneself, one might think about, well, oneself.

I mean I think about myself. My apologies. High WASP language. Distance and all that.

Tad Friend's Cheerful Money details the history of his family, along with the mannerisms and habits of Wasps. He calls us Wasps. I call us High WASPs. It's the same thing. I read his book pen in hand. Felt strange to mark up a hardback book. But necessary. At 52 I can no longer remember paragraphs word for word.

I was looking for data points. Sharp pinpricks of recognition. Little snippets that denied or confirmed my own experience. It's remarkable how much similarity I found. Or unsurprising, depending on one's attitude towards information, patterns and coincidence. In any case, differences turn out to matter most.

Tad's family made money in steel, coal, banking. Mine in banking for railroads. His ancestors signed the Declaration of Independence, as did mine. A Civil War flag hangs in one of his family houses, we have a sword. His relatives wandered through Asia, one of mine settled in Africa for a period of time. Documenting the Snake Tribes. His father is an academic, the former President of Swarthmore College, mine a professor and administrator at Stanford University. In fact, my father was in Tad's father's class at St. Paul's. Both families have been known to enjoy alcohol. I envy Tad the family estate on Long Island. Our New Jersey equivalent, burnt to the ground in a fatal accident, has long since been turned into a country club and golf course. The Cape Cod summer house sold to some family with sufficient wealth to maintain three storeys of gray shingles through Nor'easter after Nor'easter.

I recognize the language. Of reserve. Things unfelt, unsaid. The subjunctive, "As it were. If I may? Should you care to..." Evoke. Yearn. So much meaning not understood. My brother (who was most likely at Harvard with Tad, now that I think about it) became a psychoanalyst, perhaps in reaction. Hard to get much more talky about feelings than that.

And yet.

One of the centers of Friend's book is his mother. She went to school with Sylvia Plath, wrote poetry. Always the center of attention, expected to charm. This concept of the High WASP "grande dame" is entirely outside my experience. My family lacked for grandes dames. We are prone to sturdy, if sturdy can vibrate at a high pitch, that is. For example. My mother (attended Smith with Tad's mother, as it turns out. Getting silly, isn't it?) walked door to door for Fair Housing in the 1960's. Had her only moment approaching a breakdown when, in 1961, she hid in the coat closet for 10 minutes, 3 young children calling "Mommy, Mommy," outside the door. My Aunt Eve died at 75 when she asked to be taken off life support. She had broken her vertebra, falling from a jumping horse. Did 10 pushups on our living room floor 5 years before. Known for supporting Ethiopian refugees via her husband's diocese.

For example. The women in my family feel a tidal pull to have and to care for babies. We don't, as Tad's mother did, look at our babies and wonder are we ready. We're ready. We are, if anything, too ready, too devoted, and too in love with our children. Maybe it's the New England nature-is-just-outside-the-door from my mother's side, maybe the transplant to California, maybe just the workings of the universe. I can't know.

My father follows the High WASP archetype more closely. Except. Once, in my direst straits, I called him on the telephone. I told him I was so ashamed. "L.," he said, "Don't be ashamed. You have worked very, very hard at any number of things. You have nothing to be ashamed of."

Language can save what it threatens to destroy. Even those fond of the ellipse can sometimes speak directly to those they love. Give comfort.

Cheerful Money is still with me. It is many ways a funny book, but the not-so-funny stuck with me longer and harder. The ache and tremble of something just out of reach. A dry-eyed sort of sorrowish feeling, not one that leads to crying. I am far more apt to cry when I write about how much I love my family, how much they have loved me, how much we love each other. We might speak of it with some restraint, but it's there. I have no doubt.

I wish I knew what made this true.

*Thanks again to Tad Friend for the opportunity to review his book. And get all sentimental about family and stuff like that.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Can We Care About WASPs, Or, A Review of Cheerful Money (Objective, General).

Life is a scavenger hunt run backward as well as forward, a race to comprehend. But with Wasps, the caretakers lock the explanatory sorrows away, then swallow the key. (Cheerful Money)

Cheerful Money:
Me, My Family, and the Last Days of Wasp Splendor

By Tad Friend
(Little, Brown; 353 pages; $24.99)

The WASP, or White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, has a place in America's mythology. Not surprisingly. WASPs were, after all, the source of our first big wave of wealth. We like wealth. We may even love wealth. The question is, while we might feel a prurient curiosity about privilege, do we have any real interest in the WASP story?

The species has been simultaneously stereotyped, ridiculed, and envied, for one reason or another. Again, not surprising. Americans do that to all sorts of cultural species. WASPs, however, have not yet had their brief moment in the blazing sun of the 21st century's popular culture. No Sopranos, no Angela's Ashes. It's hard to make entertainment out of a group that doesn't believe in displays of wealth, accomplishment, or emotion. It's hard to write about a group that has a horror of talking too much. And if you are of the group, well then, indeed.

So how can we know what WASPs were if no one says much of anything? "Were" is the operative word. The species is dying out. Richard Ford and John Updike have written novels characterized by trailing, wistful manliness. Scorcese's Age of Innocence makes an entire movie out of failure to speak. Is that all there is?

Tad Friend, a staff writer at the New Yorker, has decided to say something. His memoir, Cheerful Money, chronicles his life, and the story of his WASP family. He writes two stories, intertwined. One, time-honored, about a boy whose parents don't show him much outright love, who spends his time looking for that love with girls of various sorts, and finds a happy ending, finally, in marrying. You may remember Mr. Friend as Mr. Latte, from a popular New York Times series where his wife, Amanda Hesser, memorialized their courtship.

The second story is the Dickensian history of many people named Tim. And Theodore, or versions of Theodore. Tad is short for Theodore, as is Ted, as is Dorie, Mr. Friend's father's name. (By the way, as is common with WASPs, the Tims and Timmies are girls.) Friend says of his family tree,
I could proceed as a Robinson like Grandma Tim's family (loquacious, madcap, sometimes unhinged); a Pierson like Grandpa John's family (bristling with brains); a Holton like Grandma Jess's family (restless, haughty show ponies); or a Friend like Grandpa Ted's family (moneyed, clubbable, and timid).
Juicy tidbits of privilege and accomplishment abound. Mr. Friend's family owns Century House on the South Fork of Long Island, the Georgica Association, an enclave of two dozen houses on the western shore of Georgica Pond that faces houses owned by Steven Spielberg, Martha Stewart, and Calvin Klein on the eastern.
Images of gray shingled houses against a vivid, blue, privileged sky. As he puts it,
When you hail from families that have lived for generations in houses with dumbwaiters and coal scuttles, your birthright includes a staggering heritage of bric-a-brac that has no bearing on modern life - the junk DNA that gets handed down along the the useful genes. Wasp tableware is anything that abhors the dishwasher: gold-rimmed chargers, etched-crystal wineglasses, pedestaled fruit plates, egg spoons of translucent horn.
All this because, in the turn of the century, "...the Friends made enough from steel, coal, and banking to become - briefly - smashingly rich; chauffeur rich, yacht rich, $350,000,000-in-today's-money rich." Mr. Friend himself attended Harvard, where he was elected to the Harvard Lampoon and the Signet Society.

But our overarching impression of Mr. Friend's family history is one of painful complexity, language fraught with anxiety and hanging clauses of regret, along with a family tree that makes it quite simply difficult to figure who is who much of the time. Which Timmy are we talking about? Is Jess male or female? And which wife of which husband is leaving whom for whom?

Luckily, Mr. Friend's personal history is much more direct, and, while less entertaining in the US Weekly manner, both more moving and more universal.

Mr. Friend's mother, as mothers will, had her own unsatisfied needs, leaving her unable to bring heart and soul to child-rearing. He understands this early on.
Feeling that I had failed to delight her, I turned into a wary, watchful child. I began building the internal Wasp rheostat, the dimmer switch on desires.
Dimming the light of desire leads to a family distance sorrowful for all. Spaniel Sam provides the only comfort. Mr. Friend's mother says to him, as she approaches the end of her life,
"We have this beautiful lawn here, perfect for two soccer teams of grandchildren," she said. "And there aren't any grandchildren. I'd always thought my children would live nearby, just down the road, and would be over all the time. But everyone lives so far away."

"And why do you think that is?" I said.

She began to cry. I felt sorry, and guilty, and started crying, too. Sam trotted into the room and looked worriedly back and forth. She gathered him up and wept into his fur.
Neither is Dorie Friend, Mr. Friend's father, a source of direct talk of love. Upon the breakup of one of his son's serious relationships, Dorie faxes from Jakarta,
I think you are wise to use time as a resource for whatever it offers that you may wish to choose, including (1) repair toward commitment or (2) easing off to affectionate detachment; or (2) enabling (1) but not, obviously, (1) entropic to (2).

So Mr. Friend enters therapy. Happily, as narration of therapy is often as terrible as the narration of one's dreams, he writes little of the sessions and more on the outcome. He meets Ms. Hesser, falls in love. Now he can speak. Which he does, proposing marriage.
I led Amanda down an empty hallway behind the bar. The passage was damp and chilly, her two least favorite qualities, but she followed calmly, thinking I was positioning us by the kitchen for hot hors d'oeuvres (one of my moves). She looked astonished when I swung her around with my hand on the small of her back, as if to music, and said, "I've been thinking..." - which wasn't true. My thinking cap was off. When she said, "Yes!" the future compacted to her ear, pink with excitement, and her sheltering lock of hair.
Cheerful Money is about the inability to speak, to speak love in particular. Fittingly, it is Mr. Friend's writing that makes his book worth reading, in the end, invokes our feelings, and leaves us to carry his experience forward when we finally put the book down. He writes, of his grandmother's funeral. "The thunk of earth and skitter of pebbles beading down the coffin sides, the finality of it." We might be interested in WASP artifacts, old lace, ivory, silver, but we listen and feel for the universal. For families, and love, and loss.

The true WASP, while in this day and age prepared at least to acknowledge - maybe even voice - deep feelings, never stays long in the land of full-throated sentiment. Irony, tragedy whispered between teeth, requirements of appropriate behavior and speech at all times. Mr. Friend, despite his hunt for love and truth, is, after all, a WASP. He keeps the mushy stuff just this side of poignant, as you would expect in a culture that so values propriety. As he says, "Extraordinary oddities of conduct are tolerated among Wasps so long as you show up for Christmas." Maybe even the oddity of a confessional memoir.

For most, the story of our background is just that. Background. We lead our real lives with our families. All our loved ones. Freud trumps Marx, day to day. In the end, Mr. Friend's book engages us and moves us largely because he turns out pretty happy. And writes about both his distress and his happiness in an achingly beautiful style, finding a way, in the last, through the ellipses of WASP-talk. We might wish, from time to time, that Mr. Friend and his family had been able to speak more directly, fewer characters, fewer complexities, fewer clauses. But then, so might he.

*Note. My blog friends may wonder where I went. This is me writing. I wrote Tad Friend and asked to review this book. He was very gracious and agreed. Tomorrow, however, I will tell you my reaction as me, rather than as a book reviewer. I hope that is appropriate. Being a WASP and all. Image by me.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Lilly Goes Home

Today Lilly throws on the pink and green standbys to go home for a little peace and quiet at Lilly Lovers.


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Last Rose Of Summer

Can't fault the effort, now can you?

(As always in the world of photos and the web, one which I have not come close to mastering, click each picture for infinitely better resolution and an iota of the feeling that prompted me to get my camera out in the front yard to begin with.)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Saturday Morning at 8:17am

Sometimes other people have cute grandchildren.

These belong to smiles4u2 at My Life Interrupted. She and her husband are raising the the littler girl and the older boy themselves. From the sounds of it, doing a very good job. Go read her post about "little man," as she calls him. The thought we put into raising our kids is never wasted. Finding the right answer is an extra added bonus.

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Friday, September 18, 2009

The Fatal Preconceived Notion - A Buffalo Check Jacket

I had a hankering for something Pendleton-ish. Not that I don't have jackets, I do. Also sweaters. But as I age I look a little like a bag of something in sweaters. All my jackets are work jackets. Meaning structure and resultant discomfort. I'm clear. If no one is paying me money, I want to walk in full comfort. I want to feel like I'm in my pyjamas because I frankly could be, at any moment, if I wanted to, and didn't worry about merging into my sofa.

I had a hankering for Buffalo Plaid. Buffalo Check. Whatever you want to call it, looks like the blanket above.

There is, oddly, a Pendleton store here on the San Francisco Bay Area Peninsula. I have to ask myself why. Not that I know the answer. I went in. The store was oddly crammed with clothing. Bad feng shui. I looked for red and black check. The women's version was a jacket with a portrait collar. Pyjamas, in my experience, don't have portrait collars. The saleswoman told me the style is very popular. I said, "It might be popular, but I might not like it." She didn't appreciate my humor. The men's versions were closer to what I wanted, one zipped, had a hood. But I don't fit a men's small. And apparently very small men do not exist in the Pendleton, lumberjack-ish world.

I looked online.

Nope. I had a preconceived notion. Which appears to be doomed to the dustbin of other preconceived notions.

Fortunately, my ability to conceive notions is high. The only risk in dreams is when they take you to the dustbin as they go.

Saw this when I went into J. Crew. Hmm. Understand of course that I may never buy anything. I am not a big shopper. I enjoy what we would call, in product development, the ideation. What we call in real life, daydreams. In this daydream I am snappy, a little military, not too severe. Comfortable.

Have a wonderful weekend, full of spontaneous notions.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Can We Survive Fashion Week 2009 In Good Taste?

As we know, it's Fashion Week. Day after day, designers are showing collections in New York City. We might now wonder, is there such a thing as a High WASP* designer? I reviewed scads of photos of expensive clothing looking for an answer. Research purposes only, you understand. An enormous amount of work, but I forced myself. Didn't find a designer, per se. Did, however, find designs. And identified those worthy of the High WASP stamp of approval.

These aren't necessarily the clothes I admired most. I have enormous appreciation for avant garde fashion. Give me Yohji Yamamato, or a shirt printed with a striking Rorschach blot, and I will voice my admiration. Prattle on about deconstruction. But I can't wear it.

The clothes I might wear, had I but world enough and time (gratuitous 17th-century-literary-reference-familiar-from-college-English of the day), meet key criteria. Could I walk out the door feeling appropriate? Do I feel the clothes are worth the money? "Worth" has to be established both by the internal click of desire and a time and place to wear said items. Ball gowns don't count at this time of my life. I might be done with ball gowns.

First, let me make one thing clear. Designer shorts never qualify for High WASP approval. We won't spend $200 on a pair of shorts. That's unequivocal. Shorts are supposed to come from Banana Republic or thereabouts. No matter how often the industry says so, we will never believe shorts are OK for fancy, and spending more than $200 for not fancy is just plain silly.

High WASPs look for several things.
  • A recognizable, symmetrical silhouette.
  • Just enough interest, and no more.
  • Careful use of color.
  • An appreciation of fabric's virtues and character.
Below are two looks from this particular canon of good taste. Black and white, classic shirt, just enough interest in the wide pants, comfort in the silk. Khaki, shift, just enough interest in the slashed fabric. It might seem like an oxymoron to use the words slash and High WASP in the same sentence. It's OK. Trust me. We don't want to be boring or dowdy. Just appropriate. Nothing wrong with a slash here or there.

However, the High WASP would wear a bra in the second outfit. We are great believers in underwear.

Although we are most comfortable in a monochromatic world, we like prints on occasion. Best when one and only one is seen on a simple dress. We can't do the whole 25 different prints up down and all around thing. It's a failing on our part, I know. Probably one of the reasons the species is dying out.

Assuming the second dress was willing to tolerate a closer relationship with our knees. We might even wear ankle bracelets. Especially if we brought them home from the India voyage of our youth.

Another mode of appropriate is the quirky take on a classic. Has to be worn with actual classics, to make it clear we understand the ironic reference. Aren't making an embarrassing mistake. For example, a bandage skirt worn with what we used to call a camp shirt. A denim block graphic Chanelesque jacket, worn with boyfriend Levis. Or white linen. (Not the pants below. Did I even need to say that?) So as not to violate the "too much interest" rule. After all, we, as humans, need to leave room for our selves to provide interest.

Good taste is not all, I confess. We take, as does the entire country, a guilty pleasure in reality TV. We will, therefore, shudder with secret glee when buying Christian Siriano. Especially as he does us the favor of designing in what appears to be lightweight, shimmering, khaki silk.

Finally, for the right occasion, we will don something bright, unusual, something we call art. A wild, uniquely colored dress? With tufts? We will go there. My sister, now contributing honorably to the social welfare field, wore a pale pink Zandra Rhodes (or maybe it was Betsy Johnson?), lace, slashed, dropped waist, mini, to my mother's wedding. Granted, it was 1983. Trust me, appropriate. And if it wasn't, we were with family. On a happy occasion. Even for us appropriate is not always paramount.

Joyeux Fashion Week - and clothes that make us hop with happiness - to all.

*I openly admit to believing that High WASP means good taste. It's genetics on my part, so I can't help myself. At the same time I commit to your right to a completely different opinion.
**TPP posted the same dress, in the ballgown version. Great minds think alike:).

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Is There A High WASP Retailer In The 21st Century?

We may want to dress just like our mothers. Or we may want, for many reasons, to avoid our culture of origin, seeing it as baggage. No belting leather lined with watered silk, either. In my experience, however, cultural avoidance is a waste of time. We don't have to fully embrace our backgrounds, if we don't want. But what our grandmothers ate and what language our fathers spoke tends to matter in ways we can't always predict. I have found it useful to pick a position vis-a-vis my heritage and stand there on both feet.

I spent some part of my life trying NOT to dress preppy. Didn't want the label. I would refuse to try things on, "No, that will make me look too preppy." When you are blonde, mid-height, mid-weight, and your nose is longish and uppish, preppy comes with the visual territory.

As I aged, and my confidence inexplicably increased, things changed. (Before I proceed let me say that this may apply only to me. I don't pretend to speak with the voice of authority. Only the voice of hours of anxiety and analysis. Occasional rapture.) In my 50's I chose to expand the concept of preppy to include me as I am. Executive fiat. High WASPs can be preppy, if they like. Preppies can be High WASPs, if they choose. No requirements. I like classic clothing, I like simple clothing, I like clothes with a design sensibility that sounds a little "Ding!". Sometimes preppy. A little bit elegant. I don't like frumpy clothing, I don't like obviously outdated clothing, I can't even do overly girly, but I don't want to venture into butch. Somewhere in that Venn diagram is the High WASP x Northern California style that I was both born into and chose.

However, perfect things to wear did not at the point of realization start to fall out of the sky onto my head. I had to find a place, or places, to buy them. When I was working, I had this figured out. Now in uncharted territory, I ask myself this question.

There used to be High WASP retailers. Do they still exist?

I thought about the retailers vying for my dollar. My, "I can dress you head to toe!" dollar. My, "I know who you are, I know what you want, come here my dear, and let me Cinderella you." dollar. Those siren calls, oh pink, oh shine, oh brocade, oh serge. The mainstream US suspects. Anthropologie, GAP, Ann Taylor, Talbots, Lilly Pulitzer, J. Crew. I decided to do some on the ground research. Yesterday I went to J. Crew. Research purposes only, you understand.

Boy do they do retail right or what? At least in the High WASP good taste diary.

I walked into the store. Stopped. Looked around. Before me was a torso mannequin, wearing a skirt, ruffled blouse, mohair cardigan, and multiple strands of large crystal necklaces. I could feel tingling in my fingertips and electricity in my mouth. The desire to become. The feeling, "Oh yes! I DO want to put myself in your hands. Make me like you. Find me colors that are a flag of beautiful and let me wave as I set sail."

I don't even like ruffles. Then there were these:

I walked slowly around the store, inner voices chanting in growing volume, "Yes...." A bag on display. The same bag. Over and over again. Looked uncannily like a certain Louis Vuitton sparkly metallic eggplant tote. I mean Amarante.

They had pumps. Lots of pumps. With 2.5 inch heels. But not a speck of dowdy, what with the toes peeping and the pearliness shimmering and all.

They had these.

Finally, they had these.

Which would clearly have to be worn in some combination of multiples.

Let me explain right off the bat that High WASPs don't really buy accessories. Well, sure, shoes and bags, but since servants became prohibitively expensive nobody is carrying me or my belongings around. I am obliged to do it for myself and therefore need shoes and bags. We don't buy fashion jewelry. We have the stuff mom and dad gave us, the gold Georg Jensen bracelet our dotty grandmother gave us the same year she gave the boy cousins shampoo and notepads shaped like pianos. We buy ourselves new diamond earrings sometimes. Sometimes our sisters and brothers give us Me and Ro for our 50th birthday.

We just don't do what our mothers called "costume jewelry." It makes us feel like we are trying, which, no matter how shimmery or adorable the effect, causes far too much emotional overhead.

We will, however, fall prey to the same lure as others. When we see that sparkly stuff all perfectly layered in its multi-color glory around the mannequin's neck we get excited. We want to buy something. Something else, maybe, but something. The remainder of the family fortune calls to us, "You can afford it." The "it" isn't even specified.

J. Crew got me. No, no, I didn't buy anything, I was too busy thinking. I can't buy and think at the same time. But here's what they did so well. So evilly well:
  • Showed me a way I might like to think I looked, all the details included. Didn't require too much of a leap of faith. Didn't have to step away from the High WASP comfort zone. After all, how always useful is a buttoned shirt and a pencil skirt?
  • Convinced me, and this is key, that I couldn't do it myself. The color. Perfect and out of reach.
I couldn't possibly be sure enough to wear an apricot shirt with a purple-pink skirt and brick pearl pumps. I know what shoes to wear with navy blue. I know that by heart, in my blood, in my sleep. For apricot, I need J. Crew's help. For purple I need a whole army of reassurance. I need the salesperson to rave over how cute it all is. I want the salesperson to rave over how cute it is.

See what I mean? You can tell. These are the feverish rantings of a woman infected by retail. Damned by her heritage and doomed by her desires. Let us hope it is not terminal. If I bought anything, it would be for research purposes only. You believe me. I know you do. High WASPs don't tell fibs. Well. Mostly. I might never be able to do apricot and would have to go for light blue instead. But I would blame it on the apricot.

All images J. Crew

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Free Completely Adorable Handknit Baby Sweaters For Boy Babies And Girl Babies

Do you have a baby? Do you know some one or several someones who have babies? Jan is giving away the cutest little handknit sweaters. Full of grandma-made-them appeal. I, of course, am babyless at the moment, except for the cuties in my photo album, so I don't need baby sweaters. Jan's ex-mother-in-law (it's a sign of how nice Jan is in my opinion), knit them. Four blue sweaters. We will call them boy sweaters. Four yellow, pink, and green sweaters. We will call them girl sweaters. I dressed my daughter in all kinds of blue. My best friend put her sons into their big sisters' pink hand-me-downs now and again. No one is the worse for wear. So feel free to improvise.

If you want these cute sweaters, go here and tell Jan. Read her blog too. She's funny.

The sweaters made me post this. Rock on, cute babies everywhere.


Lilly Goes To Manhattan -

Today Lilly goes to Manhattan. Struggles slightly with the issue of black clothing. Prevails, orange, blue, and peacock.

Lilly Lovers.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Your Blog Is Fabulous

Wonderful Maureen at IslandRoar gave me this award. Thank you Maureen. Thank you also for writing so likeably about Martha's Vineyard, your teenagers, and the vicissitudes of life. I bet you are a wonderful friend to many people IRL. Forthwith, my 5 obsessions and the 5 bloggers I would like to pass this to.

5 Things I'm Obsessed About. In Real Life.

Let's say obsessed means unable to stop thinking about. Spending more time on than anything else, either in act or in dream. In that case, for me, my obsessions are listed below. These aren't what I might like to obsess about, like what did Jason Wu put on the runway, can I get to the Post Ranch Inn for a midweek break, or how to make sure everyone in the US has access to affordable organic produce, but it is my actual life.

1. Wait, Is It Too Late To Call My Best Friend In Belgium?
I wake up early. I have some tea, and a piece of toast. I read blogs, post or not, eat some yogurt with Cheerios and pecans mixed in, go for a walk. Around lunch time I almost always think, with a start, "It's kid bedtime in Belgium. Is it too late to call L.?" This may not count as an obsession. But it is a habit I will probably never lose. I still think it's weird she moved to Belgium of all places. I told her I thought of Belgium as the potato of Europe. She's such a good friend that she didn't even tell me not to be such a jerk.

2. NOW What Needs To Be Done To My House?
House maintenance, particularly once you are unemployed and in said house a lot, becomes all-consuming. The missing drawer pull you never noticed, chipped paint on the wall by the kitchen, faucets from which the water appears to emerge sideways rather than in the usual graceful fall. Dry rot. Let us not forget raccoons who eat our water hyacinths. Why it is so easy to do a full day's work in an office and so difficult to structure a productive day at home amongst Things That Require A Hardware Store, I don't know. I suspect the sofa, but it's not talking.

3. What Are My Children Doing Right Now?
When your children are born the alien tribes who send you those little blue-eyed windows to the universe also install a chip in your head. It's an alarm. It goes off, PING!, all the time. When the infants first arrive the alarm is a constant loud gonging in your heart, "Little one, little one, little one." By the time the babies can walk, talk, tie their shoes and wipe their own bottoms at school, the alarm is ringing every 20 minutes or so. Once said small creatures have grown taller than you, grown out of eye-rolling, and learned to use a credit card, the alarm is down to once or twice a day. To my knowledge, it does not disappear. We shall see.

4. What Will I Do For A Living?
My job appears to have gone into full time hiding. I am fine. But any sensible person, looking at the spreadsheet of my existence, would point out a high probability that some more money will need to be earned eventually. I have been striving to be sensible all my life, living for sensible, failing at sensible, succeeding at sensible. Hence a strong to desire to attempt the ridiculous. To take the risks I urge on 26-year olds. I understand I am twice their age. Getting older doesn't always have the effect you expect.

5. Where Can I Find A Snuggly Plaid Pendleton-ish Jacket? Or Something Of The Sort?
Fall is coming. Although many people think we have no seasons in California, they are wrong. We have seasons. One morning while summer still appears to be in full swing you walk out your doorway and feel a shadow fallen on the sun. The morning is a little cool. Just a little bit. And slowly, slowly, the days will get cooler. And cooler. Rarely cold. But when you rarely experience cold at full strength you become highly sensitized to little variations between cool, and cooler. I want a red buffalo plaid jacket. It's possible that I think about the plaid jacket to avoid some of the other items on this list. Ahem. Dry rot.

That's it. This is as true as I can, or at least am willing to in this context, make it. I do not have any idea whatsoever if it matters but I was asked.

Six Bloggers I'm Obsessed With. All Brilliant Young Women With A Voice. Some Good Pictures. I Know I Said Five.

A Practical Wedding - No nonsense, enormous sentiment. She had the wedding. Now she writes about marriage. This should be interesting.
first milk - Lovely, evocative, sweet vignettes, infused with the sensibility of the best children's literature applied to grown up life. A moment to stop and feel.
even*cleveland - Design, art, thought themes, carried over several days, curated. Moving to New York. This should be interesting.
east side bride - The most likeable sarcastic person you ever met. Recently penned a paeon to an expeletive.
What Possessed Me - Ha. Brilliant. Not kidding. Brilliant. Funny as hell. Writes like the rest of us locate a light switch in the kitchen. Without effort. She's getting married. This should be interesting.
Peonies and Polaroids - Beautiful, serene photos in a grayish pinkish palette. And writing. The writing seems to be aqua, purple, with flashes of red. But that's just me. Go read.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Saturday Morning at 6:38am

Luckily for us moms there are now many socially sanctioned ways to spy on our adult and almost-adult children. At least to spy in their vicinity.

If they have a job, the corporate website is a great way to feel like you're in the next cubicle.

If in school, there's always the old college paper. Amazing how interesting financial policies of an East Coast institution can become.

For the desperate, I recommend Weather Underground. They show webcams from the areas of coverage. These webcams may not actually be focused on the towns in which your children live. But they are nearby towns. That counts. The skies will be similar to the sky under which your dearly beloved creature is now walking. In the brown sweater.

If none of the above are effective, you can always take out the family photo albums, turn to the pages of your grown children as newborns, all closed eyes and squished little noses. Run your hand across the plastic sleeve in a quick, directed, motion.

As some very valuable advice, I will point out it's better not tell the grown children about this last bit. It's just mother love, and we survive. We really do.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

Flying The Flag

On 9/11 I think about those who lost someone they loved. And those who had to witness or experience death and chaos. People's bodies falling through the air. Life, short, fragile, and so sweet I feel it on my teeth, says, "I'm yours forever. I am. Believe me." Not quite true. If today the collective focus of so many has an impact, if our hopes, for those who hope, and prayers, for those who pray, have import, I hope most of all that peace has come to anyone with personal experience of 9/11.

A liberal who votes as a Democrat, I haven't had much of a relationship with the American flag. Not since I wore it printed on a cotton t-shirt in 1968. As a pre-teen engaged in standard pre-teen attempts at cool. Our flag has come to mean either god-fearing and conservative, or, when posted in miniature in a bank window, dollars exchanged here. After 9/11 I went to the local nursery and bought 30 seedlings in little green plastic pots. I planted a garden in my front yard. Red, white, and blue flowers. In those days following it seemed for the first time in my adult life that we all belonged to America and America belonged to all of us.

We've since reverted. Political fighting divvies up the country. People shout at each other, on television, in forums that are supposed to be about health or law or even college admissions. I'm not a political person. I hate arguing, and I do not intend now or ever to start stating any of my few opinions here. I understand I don't have enough information to tell anyone else what to do or how to think.

I am, however, clear that we all have the right to be proud of our country. I've been a lot of places, and I've never found anywhere else in the world that does it better for more people than we do. Despite disagreements. Despite ways in which I might want America to do better, and you might want America to do better, and the fact that our ideas of what "better" means might be completely different.

If I can hope one more thing? That the concept of patriotism be left large, not small. I'd like for everyone to be able to fly a flag, because I hope there are more of us who love America than not. I hope that America, if we are to honor the good we can all agree on, remains a large idea. Not to abuse cheap sentiment or anything, but I've got kids out there.

Image: Jim Frazier's Photostream on Flickr


Thursday, September 10, 2009

How To Ride A Trend, Or, Rough-Hewn Pumps For Worlds Of Work And Warcraft

Fashion hangs its metaphorical hat on two hooks. The Object of Desire and The Trend. Objects of Desire are whatever your hearts, well, desire. Even large pink hats in the shape of a bedroll. If enough people agree, we have a Trend. Trends are the Holy Grail of fashion. Although ornery creatures of laws of large numbers and statistics and pattern matching, they can nevertheless be wrested to the ground. If we deconstruct.

We understand that some trends are real, created by alchemy between inspired designers and a brave person getting dressed one night. One morning. These are the trends we care about. Many more are pretend. These are manufactured by mid-level marketing people saying words to each other in conference rooms until someone convinces someone else to be quiet. "Fine. You say white shirts, we'll do white shirts. Fine."

Even if you have figured out your Goldilocks wardrobe, as Une Femme calls it, as in, just right, you may still want to participate in trends. You may still want to feel that brush with immortality conferred by the gods of, "Am I Fabulous Or What." It's doable. Risky, but doable.

These Balmain jackets have been recent objects of desire amongst fashion cognoscenti.
No, I am not kidding. Not that I expect that anyone I know in real life will buy one. However, I do expect that those who might like a jacket this year will more often than not be confronted by big shoulders. Brace yourselves.

Other trends currently being touted include The White Shirt. The Boot. The One-Shouldered Something Or Other. These are ersatz. (Moderately big word of the day.) We all have white shirts. We probably all have boots. We may or may not have anything one-shouldered but, here's the thing. One-shouldered isn't a big enough design criteria to make a Trend. Asymmetrical is, one-shouldered is not.

A trend is big. A trend is visible. Notable trends of the past several years include the dipping of pants below America's waistline, the wearing of many patterns all at once, and the invention of a concept called "Vintage." We used to call it thrift stores and it still smells the same. Vintage is a generational shift I am simply unable to overcome but I laud it in others. Notable objects of desire have included expensive blue jeans in a dark wash, purses with fringe, and very very very high heels on red soles. Trends tend to affect actual clothing structures. Overall clothing surfaces. Or involve the invention of clothing that requires a new word.

Let me now go out on a limb and point to a real trend I believe I have noticed recently. It requires a new word. Or several words. Renaissance Faire meets Sex In The City. What Pump To Wear On Your Worlds Of Warcraft Quest?

Chie Mihara. John Fluevog. Prada Leather Fishing Waders. Shoes for fancy occasions that still smell of the tanner. Even the blacksmith. Etsy Bikers. Space Age Handmade. Brutal Fancy. I have never seen shoes like this before. And my secret craving meter tells me they matter, whether you like them or not. I don't think they have to be worn with the space age jackets, either.

You heard it here first. I'm completely serious. If I could just think of the right trend nomenclature we'd be good to go. Any takers?

Woman In Pink Hat, Scott Barbour via
Balmain via Coutorture, Balmain via net-a-porter
Chie Mihara via shopstyle and Shirise, Fluevog, Prada via The Daily Mail

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