Sunday, February 28, 2010

Why I Didn't Buy The Gorgeous Chanel Jacket

I read, on the blog Rock the Silver, a post distinguishing between Hunter and Gatherer shoppers. Hunting means searching for a certain item, with focus. Gathering, means, well, gathering. Whatever you happen to find. How about you? I find that some things I hunt, other things I gather. Take, for example, shopping and hair days.

This Saturday, I went to San Francisco to get highlights and a haircut, browse (the modern word for gathering) Gumps for pearls and Murano glass, and hunt for khakis. On my way up Highway 101, I got the call that my guy had called in sick. Too late to turn around. I could have let the news wreck my day. But why?

I got to the city. Turns out the salon had moved to a larger space. Noisier. I could have let that wreck my day too. But why? So someone else cut my hair. In the noisy space. It was fine. I was elated, with swingy hair. I recommend glazes, by the way, for a little extra shine.

Then I ate lunch. At a place where you pay huge sums of money to get exactly what you want. That's their menu above. Just taking a breath costs $6.50. Eating is more. I had swiss chard with roast tomato aoli.

And mussels in cream.

Oh my god.

I ate them in the kind of reverent hurry that good food deserves. Sat back, wiped my mouth with the cloth napkin, almost humming with happiness. Then I went shopping. Sort of. I browsed Gump's pearls. They are so gorgeous that just looking satisfies my cravings. I don't need more pearls in my life. Then I asked a saleswoman about the Murano glass doves. They don't carry them in the store. I could have let that wreck my day. But why?

Back out on the streets of San Francisco, hunting for khaki. Gap has abandoned their heritage. And besides, the store in downtown smells of retail death. I skedaddled. Banana Republic, despite their signs that say, "Live In Chinos," has stretch khakis only.

I do not want my khakis to stretch. Dress pants, good jeans, yes, please stretch, for optimum fitting and corralling of various body parts. For casual clothes I want the obdurate fit of woven cotton. Unmoving around my hips and baggy on the legs. In fact, I want to channel Katherine Hepburn, in disciplined khakis and a white shirt. Confidence, insouciance. Stretch pants are perfect when perfect, but terrifying in failure. They optimize, but they also shift, anxiously, they crawl into places they don't belong. One could not fight off crocodiles in stretch pants.

I happened, finally, upon the Chanel boutique. Oh my god.

A gorgeous navy tweed jacket in the window. Classic shape, minimal fringe. (I'd show it to you, but apparently it was too special to have its picture taken.) I've been wanting to replace my old black and white houndstooth for ages. So I girded my loins and reapplied my lipstick. Even High WASPs have to reapply lipstick when entering a Chanel boutique. Especially if we know we probably won't buy anything. (Remember, you just have to look as though you could, even if it's only a look in your eyes.) The saleswoman informed me, with a certain glee, that my size was sold out. All across America, apparently. The gray version of the same jacket was lovely, and could be mine for approximately $5500. I say approximately, because after the number 5 I heard no more.

Were I still a visible executive, I'd have bought it. I'm a big believer in spending for beauty and impact. But this would have hung in my closet for decades, worn 3 times/year. Beauty, no impact.

I walked back to my car, drove home. Beautiful day. No rain. The sun shone on San Francisco bay in that way we almost take for granted. So much twinkling, so much slate blue. I walked in my front door, opened my laptop, got online, ordered the Murano doves. They remind me of a gold glass bird we had when I was growing up. I'm in the mood for whimsy. Researched Eddie Bauer (at Mrs. Lynch's recommendation, thank you) and L.L. Bean khakis. Bean's are stretchless. Ordered a pair for $39.50. Save money where you can, spend where it matters, abstain altogether from unnecessary purchases. Isn't the Internet a great shopping safety net?

It was a good outing. Hunting for clothes, gathering time, seizing the day. I'll let you know how the khakis turn out. What looks like Katherine Hepburn in one's mind can turn out dowdy in person. Then you have to don your pith helmet and head back out.

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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Hair Time, Or, Saturday Morning at 7:43am

On my way to San Francisco for haircut and highlights. I always had an idea that when I was an old lady I would wear my hair gray and short. Must not be time yet. Still going for blond and shoulder length. Not ready to give up swinging it over my shoulder, the general girlishness. Not quite yet.

I love my hair guy. I will sit in his chair and we will gossip and he will tell me outrageous stories. Which will prompt me to say outrageous things and laugh too loudly. At the point where we sense others are looking at us out of the sides of their eyes, we'll maybe even speak sotto voce. He's Swiss Italian. Sotto voce is such a special way to say under our voices.

Then I will walk down Maiden Lane, pop into Gump's to look at Murano glass and pearls, maybe go shopping for new khakis. Carefree. Light at heart. It might rain. I have an umbrella. Carpe Diem may be lost on the young.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Survey Says...

The title is cheesy? What? I watched Family Feud too. Once I was allowed, that is, to turn on the television by myself. In the old days, High WASPs suspected TV was an acolyte of the devil. We were perhaps correct. But I digress.

Thank you all so much for taking the survey I put up on SurveyMonkey earlier this week. I appreciate your time, your consideration, your thoughts, very much.

Let me give you the executive summary. In bullet points. Executives like bullets.
  • As of this morning, I have received 299 responses. I captured the screen shots below yesterday afternoon, when I had received 289 responses - the percentages have not changed with the additional 10 surveys.
  • In context, Privilege currently has approximately 800 subscribers across RSS and Google Followers, with an additional approximate 400 visitors/day.
  • These survey numbers put us at a 25% response rate. I was not expecting such robust (executives like the word robust, it reduces their anxiety) participation. Thank you. It was certainly worth the $20 I had to pay to collect more than 100 surveys. Understatement.
  • You believe it's OK to make money in general.
  • But you don't much like ads as you have experienced them to date.
  • Sponsored posts, however, you would mind less, as long as I choose sponsors in good taste. (Well, I should certainly hope so, as my mother would say.)
  • Let's pretend we never said the word e-pamphlet.
  • You were remarkably generous and encouraging about writing a book.
  • Your topic preferences mirror post frequency, i.e. what I have posted most often has drawn the most readers.
  • (It dawned on me that I should have expected this phenomenon. It's the Internet. You can vote with what my daughter called, "your pingers" and click away if you like.)
  • SurveyMonkey is a pretty good tool.
What did I take away? Executives also like to take things away. Heaven forbid you leave an idea sitting on a conference table somewhere, to languish, unmanifest.
  • The annoyance of networks ads like Google, etc., for this audience, probably isn't worth what they might contribute.
  • In theory, if I can find sponsors who make goods I would recommend, sponsorship or no, we might be able to present this in a way that works. Remains to be seen, worth investigating.
  • If I don't give writing a book a try my great-uncle who went to Africa and wrote books on the Snake People should rise up from the dead and take away my High WASP Explorers' Club card.
  • This is a style blog, from the perspective of a High WASP. It will remain a style blog, focused on exactly what we've all been discussing.
  • However, we will talk a little more about High WASP houses and their furnishings. I have a great Federalist mirror, from my grandmother, that I have to figure out how to photograph. To say nothing of my brother's place, if he will let me.
  • I will also write about all the topics you have been good enough to suggest or affirm, i.e., plus size High WASP fashion, class, money, regional differences amongst WASPs, High WASP icons, what do we know as WASPs, silly advice, etiquette, more book reviews, movies, hosting parties and events, weddings, days at Princeton, family stories and heirlooms, my childhood, coping with change, the history of social graces, leisure pursuits, places to shop, walk, eat, and linger in San Francisco and Santa Barbara, Artsy Cousins, corporate politics, work wear, fashion for the over-40, over-50, and under-30, (what happens in one's 30's, we wonder? Oh, yes, children...), indignities and harrumphs, sterling, damask, beauty, whatever strikes my fancy. Wax philosophical. Oh, and cheesecake.
As for India, well, yes. I see, it's not your favorite. I apologize. On the other hand, for many reasons, it's a story I have to tell. I ask your forbearance. Can we pretend this is a cocktail party and I've had too much Junipero? It has been known to happen. That come the end of the night I find my way to the piano, and sing songs loudly. I embarrass everyone. But, as High WASPs will, in the morning we carry on as though nothing had happened. Family knows when to look the other way. I will keep the India posts sporadic, and if I manage to redesign to include separate sections in the blog, I'll put them in their very own spot.

You also asked if I would share the process of commercializing this blog, whatever the outcome. Yes, of course. As a first step, for any lovers of statistics or those wondering what SurveyMonkey actually showed me,

Taking my tongue out of my cheek, just for a moment, the encouragement about writing cheered me to no end. Yet I have no illusions. As you counseled, books are tough. Especially these days. The thing is, I don't mind if nothing comes of the effort. At this stage of my life, the worst thing would be not to try. I might wish I had learned that earlier, but we do what we can. I also realized, during this survey process, that I have no interest in unnatural acts to make money on Privilege. If I were wanted to engage in unnatural acts designed to make money I would square my jaw, return to a large software company somewhere, and speak in product management tongues to groups of men in business casual. The blog is for you and me.

Right. Enough sentiment. A simple thank you will suffice. I just love Murano glass. (High WASPs are fond of changing the subject when emotion threatens.) Speaking of shopping sites in San Francisco, I saw a gorgeous pair of gold turtledoves here, on the Gump's site. What do you think? Centerpiece for a small dining table? Wedding present?

Have a wonderful weekend.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Do We Care At All About The September Issue?

The September Issue, a documentary on Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue USA, is now available via Netflix and cable providers. In light of Jane's post here yesterday on New York Fashion Week, and Deja Pseu's musings, I wondered what you all thought about the movie. For those who have not seen it,

The September Issue revolves around:
  1. An industry which speaks first and foremost to itself.
  2. Creative and unpredictable talent.
  3. An imperious CEO.
Not unlike software. Except the clothing. Not a lot of fabric in the software business. But I digress.

Most noticeably, The September Issue reminds you how much the top of the fashion industry is about and for itself. We, the ostensible end users, aren't the consumers Conde Nast cares about. A long, long, long value chain lies between us and whatever Vogue, Ms. Wintour, Grace Coddington (admirable though she may be), or Thakoon (for example) create. Which is to say that this elite crew produce something rather like yeast starter, and we want bread. We can't wear yeast starter. We won't wear yeast starter. But it does appear that we can't have bread without it. Pick any industry, you will find a usable simile. In software, Anna and her minions would be the 6'2" Russian software architect who hangs his sleeping bag on the back of the door and subsists, miraculously, on Cheetos.

Luckily, the fashion value chain gets broader all the time. Thank you, Internet. I used to read Vogue religiously, and scour the 'Where to Buy' lists in the back. Now for fashion I also read, among others,
These days, we can form our own ideas, tailored to our life, our style, our sense of self. We can read the fashion magazines, but as an exercise in imagination, not a directive on where to shop. I ask Twitter who makes the best khakis. I am by no means alone or unnoted by the industry. Nor are you. I'm not saying anything here the industry isn't well aware of. As you probably know, fashion bloggers sat in the front row of shows last week.

I think it helps, looking through fashion shoots, to remember. These are the magicians in the back room, the guys in the lab, the ones inventing. Pay them as much mind as you want. No more. They want to scare you, that's how they get to get paid to make stuff no one ever buys. We, for the most part, care more about the engineers, the people who actually build, and the sales guys who actually sell. But the J. Crews, the Anthropologies, the Nordstrom Classiques Entiere, the Etsy vendors, the neighborhood boutiques, the Stuart Weitzmans, they know we need them. Less smoke, fewer mirrors required.

Creative and unpredictable talent is necessary, but what it produces, we are unlikely to touch, and do not need to bow before. Unless we want to. Fashion, despite its claims to near-religious status, is a business like any other. Similar structure, similar dynamics as software, steel, or sourdough bread-making, for that matter.

Finally, The September Issue shows us Anna Wintour, in all her glory. She's not very nice. But are we remotely surprised? I've never met a nice CEO. At least not a nice, successful CEO. They don't get where they are as a prize for nice. They get where they are because they are willing to make decisions and live by the outcome. Takes a tough skin. Sometimes takes outright megalomania. The only novelty about Anna Wintour, in my experience, is that somebody filmed her doing her job.

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Guest Post: Simple + Pretty’s Top Ten from NY Fashion Week

We are lucky to have a guest post today from Jane at simple + pretty. She writes the blog for fun, and because she loves fashion and pretty paper. Every time Fashion Weeks come along, I find I like what she highlights. This season it occurred to me to ask her to give us her take on High WASP style for NYFW 2010. She graciously agreed.

But first, can we briefly talk fashion shows? Fashion weeks, even? Let's be clear. For us regular folks, who aren't models, and don't have trunks of clothes to follow us on our private planes, or a different visible social engagement every night, Fashion Weeks are not commercial events. They are fuel for our imaginations. Review the looks below. We understand that we would not plan to wear black knee socks with shiny skirts. But we can derive a look, a feel, from what is shown. Then, next time we shop for the usual clothes in the usual places, we can find one piece, maybe two, that place us au courant.
Metallic brocade, or perhaps, this year, clothing that feels in some way like origami.

With that, let me introduce Jane, and her High WASP selections from New York Fashion Week, along with some italic asides she was good enough to allow me to add.

Hi! My name is Jane, and I write the blog simple + pretty, devoted to pretty paper and pretty things. I’ve been a fashion nut forever, and my style is minimalist chic, also know as luxe basics. I’m so excited to be putting my top ten list from New York Fashion Week together for Privilege, as we share a love for what she has coined “high WASP” style. In alphabetical order:
1. Barbara Tfank Barbara’s collections are full of gorgeous fabrics. I loved the simple cut of this dress contrasted with the fabric. Gorgeous. (Her designs are hard to find, but worth tracking down even if it’s just to get a feel of the fabric. Thankfully, Barney’s/Chicago now stocks her line.) *And Barney's/SF, hehe.

2. Brian Reyes
Brian also had an eye for fabric in his fall collection. His metallics were original yet subtle and daytime wearable. *Love the brocade.

3. Calvin Klein
Francisco Costa is one of my favorite designers. So modern in cut and construction and yet true to the Calvin Klein spirit. Minimalist perfection.*Never met a Calvin Klein I didn't like. Wore Calvin on a date with William Hurt 30 years ago.
4. Lyn Devon What’s great about this knit dress is its cutout back. A nice way to stay covered up yet still be dramatic. (and yes, a bit sexy). *Not to mention, navy.

5. Narcisco Rodriguez
I love how Narciso works a bit of color into each collection (and better yet, it tends to be either orange or pink: my two favorites).

6. Preen
See how luxe you can look while working a very muted palette? This is timeless dressing + worth the splurge. *See, the origami look? It's going around.

7. The Row
What can I say? Never watched one episode of Full House, don’t need to read about Mary-Kate and Ashley in the tabloids, and yet, when it comes to fashion, these two rule. All other celebrity “designers” should take notes from The Row on how it’s done. Perfect modern luxe.

8. TSE
This collection was designed by Jason Wu, and I was struck by how warm the designs looked (ie Chicago winter appropriate) without turning into Michelin Man. The scarves were uber chic, too. *Reminds me of a Geoffrey Beene my mother wore in the 1960's.

9. Vera Wang
Put simply, Vera Wang takes delicate, ephemeral looks and somehow translates them to urban wearability. I don’t know how she does it, but I can imagine wearing this dress in NYC without having to find a gala to attend. *Love the top. Might wear it with narrow trousers instead.

10. Victoria Beckham
Another instance of having to put aside preconceived notions: her dresses are killer. Tailored to the nth, sexy as hell and really look like “her." *Ever since I saw Mrs. Beckham on her brief reality show I have liked her enormously. She got tipsy at a party for LA society. How endearing. Like her dresses too. Note, a little more origami.

Thanks again for the honor! I had fun curating my list to ten looks.

Jane, again, thank you. I love to see others interpret High WASP style. And it's a pleasure to get 10 of your picks all in once place, just for us. Go see simple + pretty, Jane has London Fashion Week up starting yesterday.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Lilly Cheers The Winter Olympics

Today I am at Lilly Lovers. Where Miss Lilly dashes off to watch the Winter Olympics on a wide screen TV.

(I like writing this "Lilly...with a twist" series because it is as close as I am ever likely to get to fiction. Everything I say here is as true as I can make it. Everything I say there is pure fantasy. And it's fun, experiencing fiction, with a character who wants to tell her own story. Silly as it is, it's fun because it's not mine, and therefore is invented new every time. To say nothing of the interesting puzzle of relying on one and only one clothing line for all these scenarios.)

By the way, response to my survey has been far higher than I expected. Huzzah! I will discuss the results later this week. Thank you for bearing with me during this, our strategic planning offsite:). I forgot to order cold pizza for lunch as is common at these affairs, perhaps the conference site has some sandwiches they can bring in. With lukewarm coffee. Or we can skip that part.

We will return to our usual fare soon. Very soon.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Helping To Set 2010 Direction For Privilege With A Short Survey

I have a favor to ask. Not that you don't do enough for me already, what with reading my posts, commenting, even sending emails.

I'm thinking about how to evolve Privilege going forward. Looks like I don't want to give it up. The experiment took. But since it isn't Privilege without you all, I thought I'd ask your opinion. About things like topics. And, well, um, capitalism.

I made a survey. I will keep it active through Friday of this week. I was unable to keep my tongue out of my cheek, but the questions are all valid and of real concern. If you've got 5-10 minutes, I would deeply appreciate your participation. It's 6 questions. 5 of them are "Choose one answer," questions, 1 of them the preference evaluation type. I tell you because I myself hate to click on links when I don't know what's coming. More than light brown shoes with navy I hate it. So there you go. My sincere thanks in advance. The link will take you to SurveyMonkey. Where I believe nothing untoward will occur.

Take the survey.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

What I Learned Most Of All, Or, Saturday Morning at 10:19am

When I got back from the stress and confusion of my stepfather's near-death, I dropped my bag on the counter, my keys in their dish, and called both my kids. I told them that most of all I had learned that I want an authentic relationship with them. That I need to be able to hear what they feel and tell them the same in return. That I will work towards this myself. That nothing they could tell me would cause my destruction.

As a young mother, with young kids, authentic means responding to their needs as best you can. As an older mother, with grown kids, authentic is more complex. Authentic changes.

The day will come when I will be near death, and if we aren't living in a habitual structure of truth by then, it will be difficult to construct on the spot.

My kids weren't sure they knew what I meant, or if I meant what I said. Now we're practicing. The early stages of anything new involves trying too hard, failing to understand failure, failing to understand success, and self-questioning. I'm well aware of my shortcomings and wish I could make my way through life in grace like witches in their glittered gowns. I'm thinking Glinda, you know, arriving in her bubble after the house falls on the Wicked Witch of the West? But I meant what I said. I still mean it. I intend to mean it tomorrow, too.

Have a wonderful weekend.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

All The Working Days Of Navy Blue

I've worn a lot of navy over the years. Especially at work. I'm blonde and blue-eyed so I look best in blues. And pinks, but pink would have been troublesome at work. Although I did wear a killer, blindingly pink, linen blazer during my first pregnancy. But I digress.

Navy. The meaning and story of navy.

I went to business school in the early 1980s, having previously worked for a) Cameron Mackintosh Productions in London b) Circle Repertory Theater in New York c) a consulting company run by a former McKinsey partner who used primal therapy techniques in corporate strategy sessions. This is all true.

Upon graduation, I took a job with Air Products and Chemicals, located in Macungie, Pennsylvania. Outside of Allentown, in case you are not familiar with the booming metropolis of Macungie. There were very few women in the company, excepting secretaries. One might imagine my astonishment at the culture of large corporations, what with the academic family and theater background. It was rather like emerging, blinking, onto an African veldt, following a long Finnish childhood.

We all wore skirted suits to work. I tried to buy one that was navy blue. Fail, as they say. I came home with a grotesquerie in heathered blue. Can we all shout, "Dowdy!" loud and proud? The day I wore that suit with a blue shirt and a red tie was the day I found myself dressed like 3 men in my department, and the day I vowed never to repeat the ensemble. The day Finance sent us a missive jokingly asking why the women in corporate strategy were all so flat-chested was probably the day I decided to get out of headquarters as soon as I could.

I moved from Macungie back to California. Out of corporate strategy and into sales. Where what mattered was results. And I sold well. Largely due to my enormous terror at the prospect of failing. I would come home from a day of cold calls, and lie, stunned, on the sofa, eating M&Ms, hoping to recover. I turned 30 round about the time it dawned on me that while I could sell, I had no hope whatsoever of lasting in the profession. For my 30th birthday I bought myself a dress. A broad-shouldered, wide-belted, 1980's, navy blue shirtdress. I felt so powerful, like I was making a statement about conformity, achievement and self-confidence. I was a child. But a child in a blue dress that was telling me the truth.

I got pregnant. Goodbye wide belt. Nice to have met you. I gave birth to my daughter. I quit work. I gave birth to my son. I stayed home for a few more years. I returned to work, consulting. And suddenly I was in front of groups of adults, telling them what to do.

I bought a navy blue suit, needless to say. Pants, this time. Ever since I had been introduced to the corporate VP as a leading sales rep, only to have him pay more attention to my legs than my handshake, I had worn mostly pants to work. I earned that right. To this day, the suit of my late 30's remains one of my favorite pieces of clothing of all time. Vestimenta, no longer in business. Man's tailoring, but the fabric was a fabulous crepe-ish kind of wool. Draped just so. Worn with a white button-front, and delicate black Ferragamo loafers. I felt impeccable, credentialed. I took a job at Sun Microsystems, where I swam with real corporate sharks for the first time. Rode a private jet to Europe with a mad German entrepreneur. And on to a when all around were losing their minds and millions of dollars of venture capital. Those were the days.

I spent a non-navy year at the If I remember, I wore wide-legged, low-waisted brown corduroys and outre shirts. It's all about context. They made me VP.

In my last job, the one where I had to spend time in New York managing large, argumentative, financial institution accounts, I bought my last navy work outfit. By now the arguers were also women. By now I was 50. By now I knew what I could do well, and where my shortcomings lay. I bought a knit, but structured, Armani jacket, and wide-legged navy blue linen trousers. Fit conservative parameters, just. Some ruffle, some flow. Worn with quilted black Manolo flats. You walk around a lot in New York City.

These days, as I continue my job hunt, I'm still in navy, if we count jeans. Let's count jeans. Looks like I may have the opportunity to work in a startup with a technical colleague. A technical colleague whom I like and respect. At a pace which allows me to keep blogging. We shall see.

Being in one's 50s isn't so bad, if you've managed to pick up enough experience to become useful. I don't know if I've really needed to worry so much about what I wear, but given my upbringing, it was unavoidable. There's no way to predict, at 22, exactly what will happen over the next 30 years. No point at 53, in chastising your younger self for missteps, bad suits, naivete. The only absolute I know is that you have to pay attention. Things reveal their meaning later, and if you haven't paid attention, your chance to understand is lost forever.

*I've told much of this before, here and there, with less detail. Just seemed to warrant a retelling. When you're older, you often appreciate a retell. But twice is enough, I promise.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What Shoes Can I Wear With Navy Blue?

Like most bloggers, I track my search terms. Guess what's most common? The meaning of life? Just kidding. Shoes. "What color shoes should I wear with navy blue?"

Let us consider why it's harder to decide what shoes to wear with navy than, say, with gray, or forest green, or burnt umber. Here's what I think. Women have heard that there's a rule against black.

I am here to conclude, definitively, you can wear black shoes with navy clothing.

How did the no black shoe myth get started? I looked around. No trace of origin to be found. I considered. Is it like white shoes after Labor Day, a remnant of our upper class habits? In the absence of proof, I theorize. What? That's the prerogative of social anthropologists, especially us amateurs.

My theory is that this rule, if it ever existed, was to prevent the wearing of black shoes with very, very dark navy. Because with a very dark navy pair of pants, or skirt, and let's say, a pair of matte black leather shoes, it might be possible to think that the wearer had been CONFUSED. That the wearer had MADE A MISTAKE and worn black shoes THINKING SHE HAD ON BLACK CLOTHES. Oh, the horror.

In case you still query the present-day acceptability of black with navy, here's corroboration. From Highly Diverse Sources.
"Black shoes can most definitely be worn with a blue suit. But it depends which blue. Sky blue and hues all the way to teal and French blue (none of them a good idea anyway) call for something different, like a light-brown shoe. Navy, however--the default setting for suits--is perfect for black or brown shoes, right up to a pale tan if you're brave. Or from Naples (Italy or Florida). The motto is choose your suit first, then buy the shoes." (Esquire)

"For another example of a celebrity breaking this rule, see the photo of Rachel Bilson (left), mixing navy, black, AND brown. Her outfit looks adorable and fashion-forward, proving that this rule is really just a dumb myth." (College Fashion)
"Traditional wisdom long held that navy suits must be paired with navy or brown shoes. But, in the past decade, black shoes have become acceptable and fashionable to wear with navy. This is primarily due to navy and black pairings on the runway from designer Donna Karan." (

"The problem is that the navy blue does not have the glamourous connotations, instead we think of it as the professional or the nautical color, and thus when we pair it with the black shoes it has the potential to become too drab, or too uniform. (Black clothing and black shoes do not suffer from this drabness because black has the glamourous associations.)" (Manolo's Shoe Blog) Confirms our point, given that for work, we don't WANT glamorous connotations...
If you are STILL worried, try black shoes with a high gloss sheen, further differentiating them from your clothes. If your clothes are shiny, matte shoes.

Of course, as previously discussed, you aren't limited to black either. The thing about navy clothing is that almost any color shoe can be said to "go." In one way or another. For example, in the "preppy" style (I use preppy in the current sense of the word, not as in went-to-Exeter), one could wear lime green, or bright red, or pink shoes. Color-wise, all those choices work. They just have a certain feel to them you have to take into consideration.

Conversely, if you follow the Stacy and Clinton "pop of color" practice, you can go with orange, or lavender. An edgier Artsy Cousin can pull off wearing shoe colors right next to navy (but with enough yellow or red tinge to avoid confusion), forest green or aubergine. A Grande Dame senior partner can sport fabulous chocolate brown crocodile pumps.

The sheer flexibility and range of navy is what makes it tricky. So I will put forth my particular High WASP prejudices for you to avoid, with the caveat that they are only that, prejudices, and navy is a case-by-case phenomenon.
  • Light brown with navy is declasse unless we're talking sandals. I don't know why. This can make nudes, or pink, difficult to pull off too.
  • White with navy better be pretty clearly nautical or don't try it. White bucks for men perhaps, but there I defer to Reggie Darling.
  • Gold with navy should be worn a la Grecque, somehow. Or on a red carpet with very avant garde jewelry.
  • Bronze is the best metallic, inasmuch as it's the most surprising.
  • Turquoise-studded sandals would look fab.
  • Purple and aqua are tough, as they tend to verge into navy territory dangerously near to the SHE COULDN'T SEE THE DIFFERENCE gaffe.
In sum, it's about the style tribe signals you want to send, your color sense, and your tendency towards the sombre or the cheerful. The strict or the playful. Not about rules. Here are some examples, from previous posts.

All this extends to jeans. They are navy, you know. And east side bride says Bensimons are the way to go. I'm a fan of Tretorns too.

So there you have it. Speak now or forever hold your navy peace. Speak now anyway. You guys are fun.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Best Minimal-Prep, Little-Clean Dish For 3 Days Of Eating Alone

Raw chicken is scary. But I like the cooked kind.

Much as I love a perfect cashmere sweater, we can't live on style alone. Turns out we have to eat. And there comes a time for almost all of us when we will be eating alone for a few days. Maybe you're single and living alone, in a week where the usual diversions haven't materialized. Maybe you're coupled, but your partner is traveling out of town for the week. Of if you're divorced, your children are with the other parent.

Grandes Dames may dine out in solo majesty. Order take in from the best restaurants in town. Artsy Cousins may have tabbouleh in the fridge, with exotic yogurts from Bulgaria as accompaniment. Many cucumbers. Follow the Raw Food movement. But we Sturdy Gals prefer to cook. Something tasty and healthy. Something easy to make and easy to clean up. Enter Roast Chicken Pieces With Diverse Vegetables. No measuring. Minimal washing-up. Excellent leftover reuse.

Best of all, roasting vegetables is a transformative act. While their resultant caramelization rescues roast chicken from chewy hunk of protein status, they're still vegetables, those foodstuffs we want, in theory, to consume in large quantities.


Go to the market. Buy three large bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts. I spring for organic. Your choice.

Swing by the produce section. Buy two large yellow onions, plus two large handfuls each of two of the following vegetables: brussels sprouts, beets, fennel bulbs, red bell peppers, butternut squash, or russet potatoes. Granted, sizing up a handful of butternut squash requires a little imagination, but it's doable. Pick a harmonic vegetable pairing. Beets with fennel would insult nature. Onions get along with everything.

Go home. Preheat your oven to whatever temperature you like to use for roasting chicken. I'm a 400 degrees for 45 minutes kind of gal, but this recipe is beyond flexible. 450 degrees for 30 minutes should also work, as would 350 degrees for an hour. Your choice. Mark Bittman says 450 degrees for 30-40 minutes. He is a god of Sturdy Gal cooking and you should probably do what he says. On the other hand, he gets all fancy about when to add herbs and when to baste and I don't pay too much attention for this recipe. The whole point is not to have to pay attention.

Cut up whatever vegetables you have into 3-inch cubes. Approximately.

Take out your battered old roasting pan. The one that came with the oven. Cover it in tinfoil and apologize to the environment. This is to make cleanup as minimal as possible. Now splash in some olive oil and squooge it around. Enough to make everything slidy, not so much that anything will sautee instead of roast.

Next, unwrap your chicken. I have terrible chicken bacteria phobia, so I like to stab the chicken breasts with a fork and move them DIRECTLY to the pan, crumple up the chicken packaging, throw it away, and wash my hands. Phew. Then I salt and pepper the chicken breasts as I please.

Now decide on the herbs. As much or as little as you like. Two or three tablespoons is probably about right. Feel like Indian food? Get out that curry. Add some extra turmeric, it's supposed to be good for your memory. Nothing wrong with self-medication when spices are involved. Mediterranean? Thyme, basil, oregano. Moroccan? Cumin, coriander. And so on. Make sure your herbs go with the vegetables. I think coriander might distress your brussels sprouts. I could be wrong.

Lay the vegetables under and around the chicken. There should be space for air so that the food roasts, rather than steaming. But otherwise, that's it.

Put it in the oven. Baste once or twice. Fidget with the chicken if you like, using tongs to dislodge it from the pan now and then. Your house will smell like someone loves you. Remove from oven when done. Look around wondering where to put a hot roasting pan because you just don't trust granite not to explode, or shatter, upon contact with heat. Decide for the 146th time to put it on the stove burners until you buy more trivets, knowing full well that you may never buy more trivets.

If some vegetables seem to cook ahead of schedule, you can take them out and leave the rest to cook a little while longer. Or you can just enjoy really, really well done fennel bulbs. I love that little black crusty part on the edge, and the way they smoosh when cooked longer than strictly necessary.

Now you have one breast for first night's dinner, as it comes out of the oven, the next to use on salad or in a burrito, a final one to heat up again with the last of the onions and pan juices. When you have two breasts left, put the whole roasting pan in the fridge, covered in more tinfoil, to save container cleaning. Once you've only got one, wrap it up in the tinfoil already in use and clean the pan at that point. I told you we were keeping this effort as minimal as possible. If you aren't an all-chicken-all-the-time kind of person, slide in one night of frozen pizza with a salad. And if you're waiting for someone, they will be home soon.


Monday, February 15, 2010

Vintage Simple on Design*Sponge!

Do you all remember Maria from Vintage Simple? She did a guest post here at my request, in which she imagined a possible space for me? Ravishing beautiful.

Guess what. Her house is featured on Design*Sponge today. Go take a look. While you're at it, if you feel so inclined, congratulate her. She's not only talented, she's nice. And polite. Worth celebrating.

Go Maria. You rock.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Blog Awards, More Valentine's Day, Chinese New Year, And Thank You

I have been remiss in acknowledging blog awards. The trip to Santa Barbara to take care of my stepfather put me behind. I'm gradually catching up. I'm going to bend the rules a little (tisk, tisk, tisk), but remember, we're aiming for eccentric in another decade or two.

The Preppy Princess gave me the Beautiful Blogger award, Town and Country Mom the Sunshine Award, and Alanna at Sparkles Of Life the Over The Top Award.

Here's a Valentine for all of you. I didn't even have to get my fingers sticky. And thanks. I appreciate you thinking of me.

The Preppy Princess was the first commenter ever on my blog. I started writing just about a year ago, and a little while later Susan said something to me on one of my posts. Made my day. She has continued to be a source of support and good counsel, as she is for many in the blogosphere. The Preppy Princess is very well known but may be new to you - she writes a blog on fashion news, focusing on classic or preppy style. In a dry, self-deprecating tone, most recently on the Winter Olympics. She and her husband also offer all kinds of preppy goods at their e-store.

Town and Country Mom has some serious town and country style. Most recently in a Southern snow frolic. And traveled to Peru on a mission.

Sparkles of Life chronicles the musings of a young woman in her last year of college. She likes fashion, photography, style. This is my favorite post of hers so far.

And, as there are different rules for accepting these various awards, I'm bending it all a little further. Yes, folks, this is what High WASP rebellion looks like. Think Katherine Hepburn compelled to an exasperated, "Drat!" I am going to:
  • List three things I believe about love
  • Write an entire post on new blogs I have found, later this week
So, love.
  1. Feels much like blood running through one's veins. Thrums when you lower your ear to the pulse.
  2. Compels one to rediscover one's infancy, burying one's head and breathing in.
  3. Causes dreadful missing in absence, but gladness in return.

And, for those of Chinese heritage, or anyone else celebrating, Gong Xi Fa Cai and/or Gong Hay Fat Choy! For a personal telling of Chinese New Year traditions, read Joyce Lau's post. Thank you all.


Valentine's Day In Midlife, Or, Saturday Morning at 6:15am

It's Valentine's Day tomorrow. I hope each and everyone of you enjoys yourself, in whatever way makes you happiest.

In a moment of madness I signed up for a swap, organized by Amanda of first milk. Her blog is poetic, childlike rather than childish, and full of wonderful photos. She even went to Paris. I blame the madness on Paris.

We were supposed to send 1) A present 2) A small thingie, maybe something sweet 3) An actual Valentine.

The photo above, (which I have already shown to Twitter, so apologies for the reiteration), is the carnage which resulted in my house. Let me say only that fine motor coordination is not my strong point. Crafting, for me, felt like those dreams in which one is trying to fly but cannot quite remember how. With any luck, the poor soul on whom my efforts were inflicted will receive her package today. If not I shall shriek at Fedex and make their sorry lives miserable.

The photos below are of the much more refined package I received this week. From Melissa at The Avid Reader's Musings.

A Valentine (dark chocolate so no qualms in the eating), a book of cartoons (I love cartoons, always have, always will, even when they go by their graphic novel fancy name), and a notebook. I use notebooks. To remind myself of which errands I am on, so that I do not return home, open the back of the car, and realize the dry cleaning is STILL WITH ME.

Look more closely at the Valentine. Isn't that chic? Almost looks like it was cut out of the New Yorker?

To say nothing of the fact that Avid Reader was new to me as a blog and she reviews books. I love books. They are the artistic equivalent of friends. I always have trouble knowing what to read next, and have been soliciting suggestions. Nice timing.

Apparently the best ways to keep your mind healthy as you age are: 1) Learn new things 2) Have friends 3) Eat fish oil and dark chocolate. This week was a good one for old brains. The discovery that one cannot attach tissue paper to anything when one has glue on one's fingers counts as learning. I thank you all so much for the chance to make friends here. The chocolate's on the counter and the fish oil's in the icebox.*

Have a wonderful weekend everyone.**

*My mother's way of saying refrigerator. A nod to Maureen at IslandRoar. You know, the friends thing.

**If you feel like looking at gorgeous pinkness, take a look at Summer is a Verb. This week she's posting on Valentine's shopping and how she met her husband. Good for daydreaming.

***Update: here is the link from lauren at, showing the fruits of my labors.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

What To Wear At A Garden Wedding When You Are The Mother Of A Groom

MJ asked me a wonderful question in yesterday's Garden Party comments, "Do you have any suggestions for the mother of the groom at a garden wedding?" Well. First of all, congratulations. The human spirit rises for a wedding. I wish you and your son all the best.

And now for what to wear. Weddings are the purest single ritual we are likely to experience. Style serves clearly as a handmaiden to culture. But cultural expectations spill into style, as they will, bringing anxiety. To say nothing of the most hideous garments known to mankind. Can you say boat-necked, beige, polyester satin, topped with dolman sleeves of crocheted lace? Scattered sequins? Knife-pleated skirt falling 2 inches below the knees? A large pink-throated cattleya corsage? Deep breath in, between the teeth. And my apologies for unleashing the sorry sounds of High WASP style disdain.

Let us deconstruct the occasion, shall we?

We will have to guess at MJ's goals. I imagine were she to make a list, it would look something like this. Please correct me if I'm wrong.
  • Support my son on his wedding day.
  • Make a good impression on his partner's parents. If I know them already, that's pretty easy. If I don't, I'm nervous.
  • Enjoy my outfit. I will be seeing pictures of myself in whatever I wear today for years, and years, and years. In albums, on mantelpieces, as laptop wallpaper and social networking homepages.
  • Add to the overall aesthetic of the wedding.
  • Participate responsibly in the society where the wedding takes place.
1. Support your son. The good news is that this should be easy to accomplish in the what to wear category. Most likely, he won't give a hoot. As long as you don't wear something weird. Or embarrassing. You know how we mothers do that to our sons? If you do have a fashion-focused boy child, ask him what he thinks is appropriate. If not, proceed to priority number two.

2. The in-laws. They matter. If they are nice people with good taste, they will want you to wear what makes you happy. Again, as long as it isn't weird. If they aren't nice people, or are nice people with terrible taste (it does happen), they may want you to wear something hideous. In that case, you are in a difficult position. Just remember that it's about your son's happiness, grin, and think of England. Endure beige polyester.

Given that your son's fiance and future mother-in-law have told you only that your dress should not be long, I infer that they are very nice people indeed. With the good taste not to ask you to match anything. I suggest you engage in the time-honored ritual, "What are YOU wearing?" Not to match, certainly not to match, but to establish context. A friendly, mutual, contract of shared intent.

3. Enjoy how you look. In general, we like how we look when our clothes suit us and the occasion. Only you know what suits you. The colors, silhouettes, and proportions. Skin color, hair color, height, weight, shape. Go with what you know. Now is probably not the time to experiment.

As a member of a garden wedding, High WASPs will wear garden party clothes, with a touch more intent to honor the event. A little bit more style. By the way, in case I haven't made this clear before, unless the in-laws, or the surrounding culture, reek of High WASP, you should feel free to ignore our opinion altogether. Oh, a few of us may widen our eyes, or lift one eyebrow, at style missteps, but it would be very rude if we let you see. Please do not encourage our bad behavior by caring one whit about what we think. Unless, of course, you want to.

Garden Wedding Style Guidelines For The Mother Of A Groom

You face a veritable matrix of choices. Mainstream silhouette or fashion forward? A dress, a suit, or skirt and top? The Polyvore below provides a few examples..

The current mainstream silhouette is narrow. If this suits you, a good choice is a sheath, or elegant shirt dress in an sophisticated fabric, silk gazaar, organza, dupioni. You can edge towards shiny. It is a celebration, after all. But you want the impact to be subtle, in the details rather than the first sighting. Wear a jacket if the wedding ceremony is in a church.

A pretty suit is another alternative. For weddings, the prohibition against knits is waived, especially for a nice boucle. We all have to bend the rules for Chanel sometimes. Just be sure to avoid all traces of the board room. You're not displaying power, you're the loving, supportive, chic, proud, intelligent mom of a groom. Wear flowered sandals with a 3/4 sleeve, for example. No navy. No black. No Nancy Reagan red. Gray only if it flirts happily with lavender, rose, or teal.

If you want to take your silhouette a little fashion-forward, think Mad Men. And no, I don't mean Don Draper. If you have the Artsy Cousin chops to pull off vintage, this is the full-skirted, shantung moment to do so. That dress is out there somewhere, and if not, you can have it made from a vintage pattern. If, like me, you're a tad Sturdy, think Sharon Stone at the Oscars with her Gap tee and ballgown skirt. Get yourself the Most Beautiful white shirt you can find, and pair it with a gorgeous skirt in as lovely of a color as you can wear without becoming the center of attention. Not above the knee, needless to say. I'd have to go with forest green.

Up the bar for your jewelry. Pearls are a little too bridal in this situation. I love the Vera Wang camellias pictured above, and you can even rent them from Avelle. Yeah. Times have changed, huh?

Shoes? Avoid black, and don't sink into the lawn. Wedges, flats. You can have some fun. Flowers? Whatever the wedding plans decree. I abhor corsages but suspect that's just personal opinion. And hats? Well, they're hard to carry off in this day and age. If the other mother is wearing one, feel free. If the guests are wearing them, all the better. Just please, we beg you, make sure it is small-brimmed. There will be a lot of hugging going on, and if you are forced to hug with one arm so you can hold your hat on your head with the other, sub-optimal. Sub-optimal, my dears.

Most of all, find out just how dang fancy this shindig is going to be. Are veils involved? White ties? Cocktail length white dresses? Blue blazers? Khaki suits? Seersucker? Converse and polos? Then pretend it's a party you are attending and dress accordingly. After all, as Meg reminds us all the time, a wedding is a party, not a costume drama. And having a good time should be top of someone's list.

4. Your costume and its role in the wedding aesthetic. This is a High WASP pet peeve. We don't think people should be treated like furniture. While I might prefer that my armchair compliments my sofa, and that my walls offset my Persian rug, I do not require that my friends dress themselves like upholstery at my events. I know there's a long tradition around matching bridesmaids, and in some regions it's de rigueur, but the highest WASP I know grew up in Texas, and even 30 years ago had all us 9 or 10 bridesmaids match in color but not in actual dress.

5. Participate responsibly in society. Frankly, in this case, you don't give a damn. The society that matters is the society you are building, you, your son, his partner, both families together. If you care to abide by certain protocols, carry on. If you like to flout convention, carry on. With music. And I'm terribly fond of passing high-protein hors d'oeuvres before much alcohol has been consumed. Keeps Uncle Perry from making untoward remarks to the bridesmaids.

*To play fly on the walls of young women and their weddings, I suggest you read Style Me Pretty for the highly styled aesthetic, The Company She Keeps for traditional bride style, Souris Mariage and Bowie Bride for the more indie feeling. Just homework, of course.

**Anonymous, thank you for your idea of an "Ask LPC' function. I do let questions languish more than I would like. Right now we have plus size WASP fashion, perfume, skin care, hats, all in the queue. I wonder how to do this. Formspring might be an option, as I understand it.

***And a post on mother of the bride, with more shifts, vintage, and suitings, from Duchesse.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

What To Wear To A Garden Party? Because Winter Will End Some Day.

Come February, someone, somewhere, is sick of winter. Someone, somewhere is dreaming of spring and summer. To say nothing of the associated dresses.

For High WASPs, spring and summer mean garden parties. Most likely because in days of yore we had a lot of land. Some of which we would make into gardens, in an exercise of man over landscape. Which would then make great settings for gathering friends, family, food and alcohol. (You can disguise alcohol in many warm weather drinks, iced tea, punch, soda, the list is endless.)

Garden parties take place any time between 11:00am and 5pm. After 5pm it's a soiree. An entirely different paradigm, with far more potential for drama. People rarely misbehave at garden parties, unless you count pulling off lavender flower heads from other people's shrubs, and squeezing them between your fingers for the scent.

As always at High WASP events, there's a dress code. As usual, unspoken. I couldn't even tell you how I know all this, but I can guarantee that if I call my sisters or my mother and ask, they will agree.

Some dresses are garden party material, literally and figuratively, others are not. Hence, inn the immortal words of Glamour Magazine, Garden Party Dos and Don'ts.

Halfway between flowing and fitted

Shiny (particularly beads or sequins but satin is also verboten)
Jungle beasts

Color should not be too vivid in florals. You do not want to appear to be competing with the bougainvillea, the peonies, the iris. The amount of skin shown should decrease exponentially each decade. Let us consider some examples.

As a college student, (with a generous mother, to be sure), or in your early 20's, try Anna Sui. The bloom of youth and all that. This is actually denim, on trend, but still appropriate.

As you progress through your 20's, get a "real job", enter your 30's with Chloe.

At 40, that moment when impunity may be finally within your grasp, reclaim the garden party from its pastel prison. Marimekko may be making a comeback.

At 50, garden parties are the perfect venue to experiment with eccentricity. Just in case that's going to be your elder style strategy. Eccentric transcends the usual archetypes in a time-honored High WASP tradition. Call them plimsolls, not sneakers, and you are well on your way.

And, just in case you wish life were nothing but one long, hazy, bee-filled garden party, you can wear this satin number to the soiree afterwards. Misbehave in flowers all around.

My experience suggests that spring and summer will come soon.

Belton Gardens, via Lincolnian's photostream and the Creative Commons at Flickr
Anna Sui via net-a-porter
Chloe via net-a-porter
Erdem via net-a-porter

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Sunday, February 7, 2010

Rajasthan, Weddings, Measurements. India, 1982.

An ongoing and occasional series on a 3-month trip I took to India in 1982. I was 25, and traveled by train across the country alone, writing an article on the then-unknown Indian film industry and combating the anxieties of youth and solo travel. Often includes references to what I wore. You can find the previous posts here.

I left Udaipur and traveled up further into Rajasthan. Chittorgarh, Pushkar, Ajmer, Jaipur. I stayed at a government rest house, as advised, where, as it transpired, they tried to kick me out. I was invited, on a train, to the wedding of the rail line's paymaster's daughter. I declined. I was, at that point, intent on sticking to my plan. It was all I had in the midst of so much new and foreign.

But more than the signs quaintly telling me I was not welcome,

or those Technicolor temples I could enter, where newlyweds posed for the camera,

and mirrored mosaics lined the walls,

more even than camels pulling carts,

wedding parades with grooms on caparisoned donkeys,

or small children watching from arched and painted windows,

in this part of my trip I came to understand that by traveling alone in India I was inviting attention I neither wanted nor knew how to manage.

On the way to Ajmer, the train guard left me a note.
"Hello Dolly. Namaste. I want to meet you at Ajmer with you. You should meet me at platform. Then we go to picther or see the Ajmer city with us. I like you. Yours."
I did not meet him.

I took a bus to Pushkar. Three men sat on the bench seat in front of me. One of them, a propos of of absolutely nothing, turned around and asked, "You enjoy the sex?" I started yelling at him, "Why do you ask me that? How come you think you can just ask me that? What is wrong with you?" At which point he and everyone around me began apologizing. "I can tell you have good nature, " said the man next to me. "You say good."

That night I thought, "I should have gone to the wedding of the train paymaster. I would have been an honored guest. I would have given his daughter a large wedding present. Dollars." It would have been something neither the family nor I would ever forgotten. I only regret what I haven't done.

And then I decided I wanted a salwar kameez. The Northern Indian costume of tunic and pants. I wanted to fit in, to be less visible. In Jaipur, you could get one made at the street bazaar. Tailors sat in booths hung with curtains. I do not remember how I chose, but I picked out a sky blue fabric covered with small, muted gold patterns, from a young Kashmiri. He pulled the curtains closed, and began to measure me. Yes. Measure me. It took me much longer than my usual level of competence would predict to realize that these measurements were not necessary. I do not know if I was lulled by the way he kept patting my cheek softly, or by all the colored bolts of cloth, but when he looked up at one point and said, "This is OK?", I realized it wasn't. I backed up. He nodded his head, no objection, no more measurements, no harm done. As though he was experimenting with a new species to find out what was possible, and having found out, was content to let it go.

At least he asked.

Of all the mistakes I made in India, or wrong decisions, or social gaffes, that one stayed heavy with regret and embarrassment. I felt terribly ashamed, too ashamed even to admit shame. So foolish. I read my journal now and see that I was not honest with myself afterward. I tried to brush it aside, to tell myself it was OK. But I felt it was my fault, I felt I should have known, I felt I had participated. He had a pretty mouth.

I look back on my trip through India and I can see that I thought I could protect myself by dressing appropriately, keeping my head down, and writing diligently in a notebook. I didn't understand that by traveling alone, unmarried, in a culture where women married young and traveled in reserved train cars, I had put myself out on a cliff, lit by spotlights and announced by megaphone. My own personal "son et lumiere."

I hold no grudge, almost 30 years later. No one ever harmed me. No one persisted, much, past the first signs they'd gotten it wrong. A voyage of self-discovery at 25, unmarried, alone. I was apt to discover men. But I was too overwhelmed by the journey to pay attention, to understand the culture, to keep my guard up. So they discovered me first. I was not ready. That's no one's fault, not mine, not theirs. I am only understanding this today. It's been harder to forgive myself.

I no longer have the salwar kameez. I'd show it to you if I did.

Images: me


Saturday, February 6, 2010

Absolute Rules For What You Wear, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:07am

I believe that there are very few absolute rules. Besides religion, of course, but let's leave that aside for now.

If we aren't discussing religion, and I am not, what then remains as absolute? To my way of thinking, kindness, violence, responsibility.

What we ought to wear? Not absolute. The question of what is "appropriate" dress always needs to be answered with a question. "Appropriate in what context?"

I'm thinking in particular about two recent posts. One, my own about manicures and pedicures. The other, on Corporette, about what to wear to trial. I confessed to jumping to conclusions about the wearing of colored fingernail polish, others said that bare nails were "unprofessional." In the Corporette comments, lawyer after lawyer debated whether to wear pants or skirts to trial.

The trial example has a rational, analytical answer. While we might struggle with the idea that women are held to a different standard than men, or that something like clothing can trump talent or even justice, the judge rules his or her courtroom. The jurors decide your client's fate. In that situation, there are rules. They are absolute - in the smaller context of that judge, that jury, that room. No point in fighting. The consequences of breaking the judge's rules probably isn't worth it. Fight the larger battle - "Why can't we wear pants, if they are more comfortable, if men can?" - elsewhere. I for one will thank you. Skirts bug me. Sturdy Gals really prefer pants.

But let's consider fingernails. Professional networks are more diffuse than courtrooms. No judge sits at the head of the system, clearly establishing rules. In the absence of a final arbiter, all we are left with are biases. Biases which we may or not may share with others.

Shared biases become group norms. Singular biases, well, they make good drunken rants, or text exchanges with your best friend. "Can you believe he's wearing pleated pants in 2010? What does he think this is, 'Welcome Back, Kotter?'"

Most likely, everyone in formal corporations will share the bias that long fake nails are inappropriate for women in most positions. Evidently the feelings about short nails in medium shades of pink are mixed. Some women feel that bare nails look unprofessional. My 1970's-raised self clears her throat and wants to say, "Why do women have to groom and make glossy every centimeter of their body? Who says?" But that battle is too big to fight with two hands only.

What matters is that in these gray areas, without a judge in robes, or swinging doors to the courtroom, we own up to the fact that what we feel are biases, and no more. Social disapproval is valuable when it drives productive normative behavior. Normative behavior can allow a group to work well together, by removing social friction. If we are similar, we trust each other and don't waste time questioning why others diverge from our ways of doing things. But this goes only so far. Social disapproval becomes pursed lips, nothing more, when it prevents us from valuing the work of those who differ from us. Balancing the drive to norms with the acceptance of differences is the science of culture and management. It applies to style too. I'm guessing that we all know this and that even so you will not object to a reminder.

I confess my High WASP biases here. So that they are out in the open. So that where they have value they endure, and where they only shame they fall. Once my kind were dominant. Rules we invented live on, for better or for worse, and I hope that deconstruction leaves good bones in place.

By the way, you are all the most wonderful set of readers and commenters. Thank you.

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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Particuliere, Or, Should You Wear Nail Polish To The Office?

Nail parlors were few and far apart when I was young. I feel like I'm describing the Pony Express to someone raised on email, but many historical facts are difficult to absorb. Suburbs had no places for mani-pedis. Except your hair salon. I don't think I ever saw my mother with nail polish.

By the time I discovered nail salons, I had two young children. I could have cared less, at first, about color impact. It was all about getting to sit down for 45 minutes and have someone touch my feet. Without asking me to pick them up and or buy them non-nutritional foodstuffs. Over time, I found toe color reassuring. The moment of choosing felt significant. "Schiaparelli pink. No, this time, I'm Gothic red-brown." As a mother, you take your identity-reinforcing moments where you find them, especially in places that don't smell of pizza.

I went back to full-time work when my son was 7 and my daughter 10. Let me say now that I have never worn visible fingernail polish to the office. Let me also say that I don't think it's appropriate. I don't feel it reinforces a working identity. I feel this strongly, even though I may be completely wrong. And, even though I may be completely wrong, my opinion may be useful to understand. Because other women of my age and background often feel similarly. You may come in front of a judge, or a vice president, or potential customer, from my generation.

Women like me still struggle with colored fingernails. We still associate them with women of questionable virtue. Or movie stars. Who are sometimes the same people. Fingernail polish to us looks like you might laze around in a peignoir eating chocolates and throwing wrappers on the rug. As though you might get paid for that which should not be paid for.

However, if you are in fact a lady of leisure, even respectable leisure, that's a completely different story. Discrete flesh or pale pink tones for day, whatever brazen hussy hues you like for night. It's just something about the juncture of working and colored nails.

Pedicures are another story. If there were ever a time for indulgence, it would be pedicures. Whatever secret life you want your toes to have, throw caution to the wind. Goes without saying that I am assuming you cover the majority of your toe area at the office.

These days I don't go to an office. I don't have small children at my feet. Or anywhere. Instead, I read and write about style. The goals and parameters of polish are different in this world. And in my exhaustive research, it appears that Chanel has planted their flag on Nail Color Mountain and are not ceding the hill any time soon.

Which means, of course, that I was recently compelled to purchase their latest sortie. Particuliere. A brownish, greyish, lavenderish, mauve. Tish Jett, over at A Femme, provided the introduction, while Lauren, at, presaged the phenomenon with her photo of the Essie version.

A moment of identity reinforcement. I am a person who wears the "It" polish. Today. This year. Do I really care about the "It" polish? No. I don't. It's just fun to feel au courant. My toenails are the same color as toenails all across the Internet.

But not my fingers. Wait. Oh, never mind. It's Friday. Let's put all social posturing aside. Let's forget about what's appropriate, or what my fingernails signify about my social or professional class. I type too hard to keep nail polish on for longer than 36 hours. And the sight of the little ovals of color flashing about a keyboard distract me. There. A nugget of truth. Sometimes people of a certain age use antiquated versions of, "It's not the done thing" as a way to reinforce personal preferences. And that is perhaps the most useful information of the day.

The color looks fab, by the way. Dignified, classic, a wee bit edgy. I could stick my feet into my light box and take a picture. Or not. Age brings a little wisdom*.

Have a wonderful weekend.

*No disparagement of Maureen, BTW. She has cute toes. And toe rings.

Images: me. And the usual light box.