Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Color Strategies For The Terrified

Above, my closet. You may notice, I don't particularly like to wear color.

Why won't the world just won't give up trying to make me do it anyway? Here's what Poppy Buxom* says,
Think about it. Black washes everyone out. It makes them look sad. That's why it's the traditional color for mourning. It makes you look so terrible that even if you aren't all that upset at the death of your mother-in-law, you can put on a good show. Who wears black clothes and no makeup? Nuns. The rest of us have to wear a full face of spackle to overcome the effect of the black.
I feel comfortable in black. I feel confident in navy. I feel happy in white. I feel beautiful in pale blue, edgy in brown, almost too daring in pink. And that's my limit. I can't even go near purple, or yellow, or orange, or green. To say nothing of that fact that I treat color in clothes rather like a 4 year old treats different food stuffs. I don't like different color groups to touch each other. So brown can touch white, but not white AND blue. Pink can touch black, but not black AND brown. Despite these safeguards, wearing any color at all, I'm almost too saturated to walk out the door.

You might think t-shirts were an easy way to add color. Um, no.

One might argue that this indicates a lack of imagination on my part. I would submit that in fact it indicates too much, too vivid, too wild of an inner visual life. Those of us who are color-avoidant have been known to stand, intoxicated, in front of certain greens. Unable to move. Peacocks astonish us.

I'm barely exaggerating.

So why push ourselves? Why bother? Why brave the nether reaches of the color palette? Well. For one thing, here's what Imogen at Inside Out Style says.
If you think about it, businesses spend a lot of time and money deciding on what colour packaging to put their products into. Look around the supermarket, you'll see lots of packaging with red on it, as red stimulates us, raises our blood pressure and makes us hungry. Did you know that women have been shown to react to Tiffany blue? It makes us more excited.
Apparently, color affects our moods. Clearly purple induces panic. Yellow causes full fledged terror. At least in my house. Vix suffers too. But maybe, just maybe we color-avoidant would be willing to improve our moods. After all, we can be rather cranky. If only we knew what also looked good. If we could sidle up to it, make friends, breathing deeply.

How To Put Your Toe In The Color Pool. Slowly.

There was a lot of folderol back in the '70s around color analysis. Summer, blah, winter, blah, spring blah blah blah blah. You can tell I had little respect for the process. My mom sent me somewhere to have my colors done. She's helpful like that. But the prefab set of swatches sat in my bathroom drawer. I don't care how good yellow might look on me, it makes me irritable and I refuse.

Custom analysis, the likes of which Imogen(In Melbourne, Australia) and Karen(in LA) offer, would be more useful. Were I 40 again, going back to full-time work, and investing in a closet that would see the light of day with frequency, I'd probably get professional help. Besides, how fun to touch the swatches of cloth, to live on the edge where purple touches orange.

But if you want to try to put your toe into the color pool, carefully, in full recognition of the dangers, I have a sneaky method.

First, let's agree on why even bother with color, beyond its possible effect on your mood. Yes, I do need to be convinced. Color emphasizes various aspects of your face. That's it. It can make your eyes stand out, cast your skin tone in a certain light, show off your hair, even show off your lips. (If you want your mouth to stand out, never mind clothes. Just go all Paloma Picasso and get a good tube of red lipstick.) But let's all assume most of us want our eyes to stand out, and our hair color to look pretty, our skin tone healthy. You good with that?

Second, figure out which non-colors work on you. They are not all created equal. Which ones cause your eyes to show up and your skin to look good? Black? Maybe yes, maybe no. Brown? What sort? Chocolate or burnt umber? Gray? And what kind of white? Yellowish? Bluish? This can be done at home. Be sure to go outside and check in a handheld mirror. This way, even if you never bring a shred of aubergine or celadon into your house, you have ammunition against the color mongers if required.

  • Think of three colors you like. You can, I promise. For me that would be blue, dark green, and pink. I can't stomach yellows, purples, or oranges. So I'm not going to bother my little head about them. And don't try to make me.
  • Put a mirror in your purse. Bring a friend.
  • Go to a) Target or b) Bed Bath and Beyond
  • Find the tee shirt or the towel stacks. No, I am not kidding. These are the items in the retail world most apt to come in 50 shades and be displayed close together.
  • Methodically hold the various colored items up to your face. Look in the mirror. Ask your friend.
  • Hide behind a pillar because frankly this is really silly and embarrassing.
  • Realize that you need natural light, so if something looks good, walk over to a window and check again. Hold your head high. Impunity. Tell said friend he or she cannot desert you now.
  • Make your own list of colors that look good on you. Name them names you will remember. I think of the light blue I like as Golf Sweater Blue. Consider, is there an underlying theme? Or do you simply discover that some colors do good work for you and some you are going to have to fire? At the very least put them on notice with HR. You don't work for them, remember.
Now go shopping. A few final tips. I recommend focusing color in your jackets and dresses. They are One and Done. Everything else can remain those familiar, reassuring shades. Minimize the dreaded Standing In Front Of Your Closet Panic. Colored tees, on the other hand, are a pain in the neck. Explodes the items you have to own exponentially. I mean, if you're wearing an orange shirt what do you do about the jacket and the pants? Don't even mention scarves. Yes. That's how it is for us color-avoidant, and we are done making apologies.

Oh, and when it's a year for your kinds of colors, buy a lot. Next year it's going to be nothing but peach, lavender, and pistachio. The horror.

*Poppy has a new blog for us midlifers refusing to give up our girl cards just yet. She writes for BeautyHacks too, so she's got the credential to make her blog well worth following.

Monday, March 29, 2010

5 Things High WASPs Like About Yoga And 5 Things They Don't

  • Class is apt to start on time
  • No one yells or speaks out of turn
  • The clothing is so dignified
  • It's a centuries old tradition
  • The brief moment of good will towards yourself and all mankind. Even the universe.

  • Sweating
  • Grunting
  • Sweating
  • Having to let on that you are trying
  • Happy Baby pose*

Nola House Of Yoga

*It's the dignity thing. Why the toes?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Spring, Or, Saturday Morning at 10:19am

We don't have dramatic Springs here in Northern California. Since we haven't been blanketed by snow, no, "Oh my god! A crocus!" moments for us. Here it just rains in the winter. Hills turn green. We warm up a bit, come spring, and everything grows furiously. Eventually, summer. When the sky and sun take over, burning most things once green to brown. Fall feels only like summer wears out. Finally it starts to rain again for the next winter.

In any case, although we've had lots of hints, I only knew for sure it was spring when I realized I've gotten used to closing a tree branch in the back door. My Chinese evergreen elm is on the move. We don't always get to pick our harbingers.

*For an Oh My God A Crocus moment, visit Jan here.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Occasion For Questionable Taste In Objets

When I was in college, my Great-Aunt Priscilla and Uncle Bill lived about an hour away. In New Jersey. They had no children, and treated me like a refugee. Which, having moved from Northern California of the early '70s to a newly co-ed Princeton University, I probably was.

They'd show me upstairs to the little room where I slept. I would nap until dinner. We ate High WASP food of the era. Mostly grey, except the vegetables. I believe they once served canned fruit cocktail for dessert. I ate it. Then we'd retire to the library to watch Mary Tyler Moore. They let me have the good spot on the loveseat. Priscilla and Bill would argue, in the way of long marriages, over when this or that had occurred in 1936 or 1938.

Priscilla's house was very sedate. Classic, an exemplar of the understated. White, two-storey, black shutters. Inside, celadon predominated, windows were paned, walls white, or lined with bookshelves. She loved to needlepoint, so every inch of every sofa was covered in pillows. I do not think she had curtains, they were not necessary. Who was going to see? They lived in the middle of a lot of land, and the driveway must have been at least half a mile long. Or so I remember.

When I would tell guests at the club, their social circle, how much I appreciated Priscilla and Bill's hospitality, they would whisper back to me, "No, it's really you doing the favor. They love you to visit."

In that first year, Priscilla made me a pillow. A really ugly pillow. You've heard of Go To Hell pants - in the traditional male fashion world? This is a Go To Hell Pillow.

I have learned, just now, to Photoshop out the background of my light box. The pillow looks exalted, floating in the Internet sky.

In retrospect, I imagine Priscilla really loved me to make something so gaudy. At the time, I was appalled. Granted, Princeton's school colors are orange and black, but the pillow goes over and above. I pretended to like it. That much about manners, I knew.

Here's the thing. Those people who whispered to me. "You're so good to visit Priscilla and Bill," they were wrong. Oh, even though I was only a teenager I knew I was taking care of them. That was true. But they gave me the chance to experience generosity, and restraint, to feel love in the sounds of small rituals, without much said. I was going to say learn generosity and restraint, but, of course, actual learning didn't happen until much later. I keep thinking about how it feels to find a featherless baby bird on the ground at your feet, that shock of something at risk. Fragility uncovered, and respected. It's such a favor, when someone lets you take care of them.

I don't use the pillow on my sofa, but I've kept it in my closet, or my father's garage, for more than 30 years. I didn't know until now that I was someone who could have had something in a closet for 30 years, but there you go. One of the requirements for being human, something really ugly that you've got to keep around for love.

Have a wonderful weekend, at home or out and about.

*For Go To Hell Pants, go to Maxminimus.


Monday, March 22, 2010

What Makes An "Extraordinary" Piece Of Clothing Extraordinary? It's Personal.

Do you ever see a piece of clothing and know, on the spot, that you want it badly? And if so, do you buy or pass it by? And either way, how do you feel afterwards?

I was in San Francisco on Saturday, walking down Sutter Street, when I spied a store full of shirts. Different shirts. Unique shirts. Possibly extraordinary shirts.

It was a standalone shop selling NaraCamicie, apparently an Italian shirt line. I'd tell you how they position themselves, but all I can decipher from the Italian website and Facebook page is that they have been around since 1984 and are now entering the USA to, um, sell shirts. Oh, and they offer plus sizes too.

Here is what drew me in off the sidewalk. I tried it on. I pranced around the store in a happy fog of daydreams. Sold. Extraordinary.

"She's cracked," you may be saying. "How is that shirt extraordinary?" Let me explain.
  • Fits like nobody's business
  • A bit different from everything else hanging on retail racks at the moment
  • Good use case and cost per wear
  • Proven alignment with personal taste
  • Evokes certain dreams, surfaces certain inspirations
What am I talking about? First, it fits perfectly, even, well, flatteringly, if that's a word. With flatteration. Which is clearly not a word. Made of microfiber in the body, and woven cotton for the trim, it's stretchy in the right way, but still fairly dignified and structured. You can see in the photo above, on the mannequin, these are tailored shirts, good for those of us with broad shoulders and the faded ruins of a narrow waist. There's even a louche sort of puckering at the dart adding a, "Non conosco che cosa." That's my mangled Babelfish version of Italian for, "Je ne sais quoi." Why not mangle EVERY language while we're at it?

Second, the pattern is more sophisticated and unusual than might be visible at a distance. See?

Third, I know exactly how I will wear it. To dinner, in San Francisco, with dark jeans, and flats. $145. For that much style - in my eyes - a good deal.

Fourth, this set of colors really does bring me comfort. Voila la proof. (Mangling every language, non?) Remember this sweater? Loved in part because these particular shades of blue make me feel beautiful. Whether it's true or not, who cares? Extraordinary is personal.

My favorite sweater ever

Finally, the shirt traces its heritage directly to my secret identity. My, "In another life I am" dreams. The muddy orange to my navy blue.

Do you remember the Versace campaign below?

In my unacknowledged dreams I want to be a trophy wife from a different culture. I want to lay down the tools of reason, wear thick black eyeliner, big hair and big rings, match everything to the point of far too much. I want a wicked, weary glamour. That little blue patterned shirt is my ticket. It's the peach I dream of eating.

Inspiration is personal. That campaign ran in 2000. I've waited a full decade to dress like those women in yellow. Except I look terrible in yellow, so, you know.

Purchase made, we left the store. Wandered up through the Chinatown gate. The streets were full of tourists, and inhabitants speaking mostly Cantonese. Some Mandarin. We passed produce stores, ong choy, dried mushrooms, purple eggplants in bins. Just wait, in another decade I'll find some way to refer my clothing to these oranges. It's those little bits of stored vision that resurface. Fruit. Dreams and inspiration. I regret what I don't do far more than what I have done.

Me, except Versace via Style Search & Ryan Kennedy

*Thank you to Deja Pseu at Une Femme D'Un Certain Age, for her great post on the "extraordinary" piece of clothing.
**Yes, I know, the peach is a gratutious, over-used, metaphor. An equal opportunity language mangler.

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

How Do High WASPs Differ From WASPs?

A shot glass from my mother's family. It says, "A Thimble Full." We have to drink a lot of scotch, but with decorum.

How do High WASPs differ from WASPs? Well, WASP is simply an acronym for White. Anglo-Saxon. Protestant. No more, no less.

However, in America, the broad term WASP is often used to mean a smaller, more specifically defined socio-economic group. When the broader term is used to indicate the smaller group, it's often done metonymically. Yes. Big word for the day. Which I'm actually using incorrectly but let's pretend. Meaning, using a part to imply the whole. In other words, the word WASP is backed by a list of daily life characteristics, rather than a discussion of the root cause/socio-economic background. By gin and tonics, red pants, and an Ivy League degree, rather than history, anthropology, psychology.

Which drives me nuts. Since my family falls into the smaller category, and I find that the daily life characteristics being bandied about hit the mark just enough for discomfort, and not enough for the relief of being fully found out.

Hence the term High WASP, used here for precision. Defining a smallish group of Americans. After the term came to me, when I was beginning to blog, I looked it up on the Internet. This is the only prior reference I have found. Below is the definition I use. Which I invented, out of whole cloth, and to which we need to attribute no authority whatsoever.

What are the traits of the broader category, the WASPs? I do not know. Perhaps they are too diverse to discuss in generalities. I try to talk only about what I know, or believe. And I try not to believe things about groups of people unless I have terabytes of personal or scientific data.

Let me just say straight out that I understand I tread a difficult line here. Matters of class are deservedly touchy. I think Twnkltwrp** said it best in reponse to Toffegyrl's post on the Fatshionista LiveJournal forum. When asked if Privilege was a joke, she said she thinks that if it is, it's one Amid Privilege gets. I hope I get it. I try to. I try very hard to get the joke.

So, leaving aside the question of whether we ought to be talking about all this in the first place, we might ask ourselves, should anyone care about High WASPs? In terms of world affairs and commerce, it's probably no longer necessary. The day when my ancestors oversaw the political and economic workings of the United States of America have come and gone. As it should be, in the American way. But in the arena of style and taste, possibly, we have left our mark.

The High WASPs, in their heyday, developed a certain aesthetic related to social context. Hence, Privilege. The aesthetic is useful if) you want to hint at the American upper class - even though we rule no longer our style lingers b) your deepest desire is to dress "appropriately" b) you want to emanate power in many work cultures, such as law, finance, and traditional corporations.

The High WASP aesthetic is not homogenous. We allow for individual expression. Hence our style archetypes, the Grande Dame, the Sturdy Gal, the Artsy Cousin. Faux Fuchsia, she of the fabulous frocks and unchipped nail polish, she who in fact Directed Me (as she would say) to define the difference between WASP and High WASP, is apparently the best instantiation of the Australian version of a Grande Dame one could ever wish to see. The aesthetic is neither proprietary nor immutable. Anyone can do it if they like. I say so.

Which leads to the question, which I will lob back to Faux Fuchsia, and to you around the world, do other cultures have their High WASP equivalents? The thing about America is that in a culture where social class is firmly tied to money and achievement, where we replaced titles and aristocracy with welcomed waves of immigrants, our ruling class can, in fact, um, die. Leaving these rules of style and taste with no one left at the head of the cabal. Maybe that's why I tell the inner secrets now. I mean, who's left to get me in trouble?

I don't know how it works, in other countries, and I'd love to find out.

*And now, if I may, I'm going to put my tongue firmly back into my cheek, square my jaw, and carry on.
**Toffegyrl, Twinkltrp, if you are reading, thank you so much for your comments. I would have responded on the forum but was thwarted by LiveJournal and all the signing up requirements.
***For a more wistful version of such folderol, read Tad Friend's book, Cheerful Money
****The Anonymous Speller did me the enormous favor of pointing out that I misspelled Fuchsia. Apparently it the color was named after the flower named for Herr Doktor Fuchs.


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Grown Children, Or, Saturday Morning at 10:53am

Girl child is back at her job. Boy child is in the air. Fingers crossed. Until next time.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Decorating Your Beach House, Or Your Lake House, With Pillows

Recently I won a pillow. From Pink Oyster Designs, via Maya at Daily Vitamin Sea. Thank you Maya, thank you Pink Oyster. Isn't winning wonderful?

I entered because I found the initialed pillow she offered to be quite classic, and summer house-ish. I like initials. Probably all that early training in monograms. High WASPs do like their monograms. (I like summer too, which is icumen-in round here.) These are also pillows-in-good-conscience, as they are made from recycled sails. High WASPs like a good conscience, these days.

After I found out I had won, but before any choosing of letters, my stepfather got sick. He's a long time sailor, around islands in the Swedish Archipelago, and now in the Santa Barbara harbor. It seemed like a good thing to have the pillow made for him, and then order another one for my mother. So that's what I did. They arrived in the middle of the chaos of my stepfather's recovery.

Not the one I won, but similar

I asked my mother for her product review. Mom's good at assessing stuff. She says the pillows have a nice texture, like really good linen paper, and are sewn in attractive zig-zag stitching. These are 12 inch pillows with 10 inch letters, so big, and bold. In Santa Barbara, you would put these out on your porch, or around the pool. They are more sophisticated than preppy, says Mom. I didn't ask her how she defines preppy, these days. So let's take that as preppy in the 1940's. The pillows are not quaint, but graphic. The ultimate compliment? They are very "good looking." If my sister is reading, she's laughing. Tell me you don't laugh at certain family phrases.

Mom also says they would been really good for her parent's house in Tolland, Massachussets, at the Tunxis Fish and Game Club, or up in Maine, on one of those hanging canvas swings that everyone had.

Not the actual house, but similar, from that era

Or maybe for the family house on Cape Cod. It was large, 3-storey, covered in gray shingles, with a long gravel driveway out front. Since we lived in Northern California, we didn't spend much time there. Still, I remember it very well. The smell of sun on dune grass, and the way it whips your legs. Splinters in our fingers from the gray wood, and the way the spiky lawn pricked our feet. The laundry shed, and the crack of sheets drying on a line. Chintz and wicker chairs on the back porch, grownups drinking, croquet, and the ocean just over there. Almost like a cartoon, except it was real.

There must have been pillows.

One summer we spent enough time on the Cape that my mother signed us up for the Wianno Yacht Club's summer program. I was 12, old enough to take sailing lessons, young enough to have no idea of the connotations of a yacht club. It felt just like any other place where kids are taught activities, and lunch can be bought at a snack bar. The teachers put us, two at a time, into little boats and sent us sailing out in the harbor, alone. For the last night, we sailed, all of us, out to a sandbar and they fed us pancakes, made from batter kept in the water to stay cold. Little fish swarmed around the container, nibbling. We seemed so far from shore. But I digress.

Not the exact view from Mom's house, but nearby. Similar. Sometimes approximate is all we get.

The Santa Barbara beach down the hill from my mother's house now smells like petroleum, just under the scent of tropical flowers and salt ocean. We take beach tar off our feet when we return, sitting on a bench outside the front door, surrounded by sand on tile, baskets of shovels, and the skin of little wet children. The sun is shining. We, the women, know the children are probably hungry and plan food, urgently, over their heads. Pillows or no pillows. Everything I say is true. I am not sure if it matters.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Pink Oyster Designs
Arroyo Burro from y3t39's photostream on Flickr
Tolland Tunxis Club Image Museum

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

On The Ground Retail With Style Statements And Cheerful Prep At Target

Liberty of London isn't all Target USA* has to offer for spring shopping. Last Sunday my daughter and I found some other pretty useful stuff. And, if not useful to us, surely useful to someone.

A brief aside. I suffered from the usual large store shell shock upon entrance, and spent some erratic moments flitting from Liberty print to Liberty print, like a moth drawn to polyester flowered flame. However, upon recovering from the visual intoxication, we found some cardigans. Argyle with a twist, in colors bright enough to flirt with disrespect for the hallowed Scottish pattern. Mostly cotton. Cute as the proverbial button. This one made its way home to my daughter's wardrobe.

Continuing my hunt for the perfect khakis, I tried on these pants. While I gave them high marks for fit and fabric, I cannot wear capris without feeling like I've added 10 years to my already advanced age and subtracted 6 inches from my already not-long legs. But someone would like these very much. The jacket has nice, lined, rolled up cuffs, although it had been so recently removed from a packing crate that folding marks made fit difficult to assess.

And then, to my profound surprise, madras shorts. In Northern California. Will wonders never cease. I must tell Tickled Pink and Green, and Hopsy, the queens of prep fashion from Target.

Hipster/alternative gals were not left in deshabille. Paisley tank tops, $8.00. We took the orange one home for my daughter. It's fun to dress a redhead, after all my years in the blond camp.

Finally, Mr. Gaultier's wares were on display.

Don't you just love the audacity of this dress? No? It has a crinoline, for pete's sake. A big, ol', honkin' crinoline. And daisies. Unfortunately, it also has a silhouette in mind which required the waistline to begin directly below the bust. No thought for a ribcage. My daughter, 5'9" and a size 2 at Banana Republic, looked rather tall and graceful,** but also like she was wearing something from Project Runway where the judges might have asked, in puzzled tones, "And where is ze bodice?" Of course, they might simply have pronounced it fierce, but that's why I'm searching for the perfect khakis and Mr. Gaultier, evidently, is not.

Still, it's fun to imagine that I might have put this on, when I was 25 and living in Manhattan. After our accounting final? Yes?

*I'd be interested to hear how any international Targets stack up, or what your equivalent outlets offer of similar price and quality.
**Hey, I'm a mom, we get a few free bragging tickets, right?


Monday, March 15, 2010

Sunday At Dad's House, In The Water Feature

On Sunday, after shopping in the morning, we went up and had lunch at my father's house. The day was beautiful - blue sky, oak trees, lizards running between rocks.

My stepmother made soup for lunch. We sat and ate in the breakfast nook. As in many houses with formal dining rooms, it's common in High WASP houses to have a place to sit and eat in the kitchen. Blue and white is a common color scheme, with yellow, or red, as accent. Those are photos of the grandchildren, and the dog, on the cabinets in the back.

After lunch, we went and sat in the hot tub. High WASPs like water features. Sometimes that's an ocean. Sometimes a fountain. In the San Francisco Bay Area, for the most part, we're talking swimming pools. Black-bottomed, these days, unheated until summer time, with a pool cover that rolls into its hiding place under the edge.

I'm a little scared of the pool cover. As though I might get caught underneath. I don't know why.

This is the view from the hot tub. Where my kids and I sat, and talked, and watched the day pass. The pool was way too cold to swim in - heat is very tough on dwindling family fortunes. The hot tub felt perfect.

The sky was really the color of that little bit of blue in the corner.

When we got out, we went through my dad's old ties. I had asked him to bring them out to see if he still had the Liberty of London one we gave him in 1968. Long gone, apparently. So my dad chose which ones he wanted to keep, we picked some out for my son, and threw the rest away. Dad told the story of how he was the first administrator at the university where he spent his career to come to the office without a tie. Maybe that's why he moved to California, originally, leaving Park Avenue and New Jersey behind. Never did like ties.

Doesn't every dad keep his ties on a hanger, and own at least one with a large, silly, smiling something on it? High, not High, WASP, not WASP? My father had one with the sun, in sunglasses. Seemed appropriate, in context of the day. The red gingham might be culturally specific, but, you know, moths, the passage of time, and all that.

*In case you are newish here, and are wondering why I have suddenly gone off my rocker and started a show and tell of family visits, when I ran a blog questionnaire recently, the most requested category was house style. The ties are an extra special bonus.


On The Ground Retail With Liberty Of London At Target

If you are young, like fashion and its trends, enjoy color and a bargain, do not read this post. Go to Target right now.

If you prefer to window shop before buying, here's what my daughter and I saw Sunday morning at a Target here in the San Francisco Bay Area. The collection of women's clothing by Liberty of London, version Target. Our first reaction was, "Ooh, cute!"

The collaboration is about the prints, as you can imagine, in their 1960's England Swings Like A Pendulum Do version. A little bit Peter Max-ish. Made in China, of polyester, but they did a pretty nice job of serving up the essential Liberty experience at this kind of price point. The quickest way to slap some on would be with these scarves. Or a pink handled umbrella.

If you want to dip yourself in deeper, they've got dresses.

A bunch of dresses.

The issue, of course, is with cut and fit. Some things definitely look better on the hanger than on the person. You have to hunt around like a truffle pig for something that works on you, and those of us over 35 might not find what we're looking for.

They've got tops.

One of which we bought, for $25. You can see it here, behind the chocolate macaron, on my daughter. There were no macarons at Target. But at the rate the world is moving, they might show up there on a not too far distant Sunday morning. Go Sundays.

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Homecomings, Or, Saturday Morning at 6:34am

On Saturday mornings I take the liberty to write about whatever comes into my noggin. My mother always said noggin to mean head. I don't know why.

This morning, I am thinking that both my children are coming home today. One is in the air now, the other will be soon. I hate airplanes.

My fingers are crossed, the house is clean enough, there is food in the refrigerator. To have both kids together will be such a joy. All that juicy baby flesh, grown up. I still have to clench my teeth, when I think of my children, to guard against biting them. My sisters have the same habit, so I'm guessing it runs in the family.

Have fun with yours today. Family, that is, however defined.

*For a cute baby fix, Cara, or Cate.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Basics Of Basics; How To Build A Weekend Wardrobe

One way to dress with style is to build a wardrobe from nifty pieces, accessorizing with flair. Or, you can focus carefully on basic, fundamental, quality of even the most casual clothing. Optimize a uniform, if you will.

Let's look at the weekend, shall we? Given that another one is just around the corner? I live in black tees.

But black tees are a dime a dozen. What makes this basic better than any other black tee, and why has it found its way into my weekend uniform?

A wardrobe based on basics, if you will, has to do a few things absolutely right.
  • Define the desired silhouette
  • Fit like crazy
  • Perfect fabric
  • Shine with just a few details
Getting dressed is, for all intents and purposes, drawing a picture of your silhouette with cloth. You may want to accentuate the silhouette you've got, or you may want to presto change-oh it up a bit. In my case, at the silhouette level, I've got broad shoulders, a long torso, and what was, before children, a small waist. I still pretend about the waist. So when I define a Katherine Hepburn-ish silhouette, I feel especially stylish, having drawn the picture of myself that I want to inhabit.

Fit is fit. Nothing too tight, nothing too lose. Perfect fabric is perfect fabric. And details should be seen just at the edge of perception, visible on close inspection, the effect felt at a distance.

For black tee optimization I rely on Petit Bateau. Their cotton is knit to just the right thickness and stretch. I hear they don't work so well on more curvy people, but for us angular folk they are perfect. I can't estimate how many I've owned over the last couple of decades.

I have been known to switch up my black tees with a white shirt. So adventurous like that.

But this really isn't just any white shirt. It has a slightly low neckline, a graceful collar, and little white stripes in the weave. Audrey Talbot, in case you're inspired.

I also wear khakis. I'm very picky. I've been wearing my son's for a year or two now. Because everyone's in denial about one thing or another. So I finally bought a new pair. To create the afore-mentioned silhouette, I need my khakis to fit tight at the hips and then fall straight to the ground without stopping to chat with my thighs. No stretch. It's quite hard to find nowadays. These just-purchased L.L. Beans fulfill the fit criteria, but the fabric is a little too unrefined. Oh well. It's the journey. And I love the little blue striped waist detail, even if no one sees it but me.

As anyone does who tends towards the classics, but lives in Northern California, I wear jeans a lot. A lot. When I go to San Francisco, it's Seven for All Mankind's Ginger version. Tight at the hip, dark wash, wide leg. Elongating short legs and balancing the long torso for all I'm worth. But on the weekends, I pull out my Levi 501s. Those buttons just slay me.

You might be wondering, how does a 53-year old woman wandering around in white or black shirts, khakis, and jeans, lay claim to any style? That's what shoes, belts, and earrings are for.

Nothing elaborate. The quilt of the shoes (Manolo Blahnik), crocodile skin of the belt (Wilkes Bashford private label), and diamondness of the diamonds, provide as much subtle effect as I feel like taking on come the weekend. And if I fall from grace, and wind up in black Aerosoles, or flipflops - because Sturdy Gals cherish happy toes, if I leave off the belt because those two kids expanded my ribcage enough that my waist abhors restraint, the outfits degrade pretty gracefully. Graceful degradation is key, on weekends.

Have a lovely one. Weekend, I mean. In whatever uniform suits you.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

At Lilly Lovers

I am also at Lilly Lovers today. I respond to Anonymous, who asked what to wear to a baby shower in winter, given that she wanted to stay true to her brand. My apologies for not answering until today. If any of you ever see me evincing bad manners, a quick hard stare in my direction is appropriate.


Patterns, Prints, And General Pickiness

What kind of prints do High WASPs wear? Prints, mind you. We aren't talking seersucker, madras, gingham, or plaids, which should be woven into the fabric.

Funny you should ask. I thought about this for a long time. For the most part, prints make us nervous. By definition, prints have something going on. Which might lead inexorably to attracting attention. Which might cause terrible shame at having Put Oneself Forward. But let's assume that psychoanalytic tradition has inspired the modern High WASP to break out. Get a little bit wild.

Extensive analysis reveals that we dress in shirts that look like men's ties. However, the answer to why this should be so is less apparent. I can only offer the facts.

Grandes Dames will wear paisley.

Or a foulard. In silk satin, or cotton voile. Bien sur. Prints make us want to speak French. I don't know why.

A Sturdy Gal loves your pin dot.

While the Artsy Cousin infinitely prefers prints from other countries. Africa, for example. But no one wears batik anymore. The 70's killed it.

And everyone will don the occasional cheerful floral, within limits. Liberty of London is a favorite. (They make little bitty suitcases, oh my god). Liberty patterns are now available, of course, on a few Target items. For clothing, judicious mix of proportion and color is required. This below might be pushing the boundaries but I just couldn't resist. It's spring, after all.

Finally, when on vacation and feeling quite giddy with sun and extra alcohol, we might wear Lilly Pulitzer. I'd love a pair of these pants, to wear with a too-tight white tank, some large sunglasses, and a hangover. Did you know that her "Pulitzer" comes from the same family that endowed the eponymous literary prize?

Or possibly, for men, a Hawaiian-patterned bathing suit.

By the way, it turns out that fabric sites are a great way to amuse oneself. All those colors. All those shapes. Highly recommended for procrastination, if you're in the market.

Paisley, Layout Sparks
Foulard, McTextiles
Pindot, Warehouse Fabrics
Floral, Purl Soho
African, Unique Spool
Lilly Pulitzer, as herself
Hawaiian, Aloha Outlet

*With thanks to DocP for the suggestion to post on this topic.
** With thanks to Lauren, I had put up an ikat print for the Artsy Cousin, and it's not a print, it's woven. Here's the link anyway. Ikat is gorgeous. Ikat, Marla Mallet

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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Can A Plus Size Woman Dress High WASP?

If finding clothes to support a High WASP style can be difficult for all of us, it is even more frustrating for those in plus sizes. High WASP clothing style is characterized by respect for the social context, clean lines, classic proportions, high quality materials, and subtle, original details. Plus size fashion? Not so much.

But Queen Victoria, who ushered in the era of the High WASP in America, was herself plus size. We cannot let an entire segment of the deserving populace go unserved. Those who wish to follow this aesthetic should be allowed to do so. However, I can say that all I wish, and if the resources are not available it's an empty statement.

So I went hunting. Some general observations. First, the industry does not, very often, show plus size fashion on plus size people. No surprise there, I suppose. They don't show standard fashion on standard people. But those in the standard segment have many, many retail outlets at which to translate photos of 5'10" women who weigh 110 pounds wearing photoshopped dresses into actual selves in actual dresses. Plus size? Not so much. Hard to find large quantities of plus size clothing assembled anywhere a High WASP would be happy shopping.

Second, I am puzzled as to why the industry assumes that plus size women prefer what appear to be, to High WASP eyes, undignified colors and patterns. We don't wear bright lavender much, nor dusty rose in shiny fabrics. We don't like large, irregular patterns with a lot of white space. Perhaps, as has been suggested, the assumption is that the plus size demographic has a culturally determined, and different, aesthetic.

Third, I am guessing that the rule for dignified clothing choices is universal. Your clothing should treat you well. The part of your body that most pleases you? Show it off. Have a defined waist line? Define it, then. A nice line to your legs? Underline them. I could be a little off base. But the high level principle of approaching style with affection for one's being cannot be wholly wrong.

No matter. What does matter, if you suffer from the High WASP allergy to over-ornamentation, large prints, and colors not found in nature, is what you can find to wear. Let me quite humbly submit my suggestions. For casual wear, from Artsy Cousin, (in her urban, black-is-queen guise) to the Sturdy Gal, (quite happy in khakis and a soft t-shirt), to the Grande Dame (never in jeans without heels).

I include the item list because in this case, while you may understand the idea of High WASP style, actually implementing it is a problem. And what showing the list makes clear is that one may have to go to Europe to find what one is looking for. And even learn how to speak French. I'm still trying to figure out if any of these sites ship to the USA.

Moving on to the office. Did any of you watch Drop Dead Diva? I didn't much like the show, writing was too sentimental for my astringent soul, but found the star's clothing to be spot on. And have looked here for work wear in that vein.

The High WASP credo, "Good bag, good shoes, good look!" does not change when we enter the plus size realm. And that Brooks Brothers bag? $350. I haven't seen it in real life, but it appears that The Brothers are right in there with Talbots for mid-range, well-designed bags this year.

And finally, dressing up plus size. I have only one thing to say. They don't call her Queen for nothing.

A shade of lavender that might be found in many a well-proportioned English garden. Simple but rich ornamentation, not too geometric, not too anthropomorphic. (Really, Charlize, what were you thinking? No matter how svelte, how tall, how golden of skin, we do not wear rosettes that look like bosom targets. Don't even get me started on Carla Bruni. My pique is not caused by any general fear of breasts, I promise. Dignity and respect for a bone fide social context has nothing to do with body type.)

And now to you. Perhaps you know more than I in this area. Please share, if you will. Goodwill and navy blue to all.

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Sunday, March 7, 2010

Awards, Of The Bloggish Sort.

I received three blog awards recently, Sugar Doll, Beautiful Blogger, and Sunshine. Thank you so much. As it turns out, they were from three bloggers I read regularly. As it also turns out, all these bloggers live outside the USA. I never expected that blogging would teach me, at 53, new things about the world. In retrospect, was I stupid? That is said with a smile. Of course. We are always stupid in one way or another. In the 6th decade, one learns to regard many flaws with affection.

So. I received the awards from:

A Femme D'Un Certain Age
Many of you know Tish already. If not, allez-y, tout de suite. She lives in France, and posts on cross-continental currents, fashion, and la vie Parisienne. My favorite amongst her features is the illustrated posts on outfits she and her friend put together. So, um, French. So insouciant.

Metscan lives in Finland. Yes. Finland. She is new to blogging, and tells us the story of her style and her days. Her taste is austere, her objects beautiful. And behind every post you can feel the Finnish winter waiting. Summer should be good, if brief.

The Hostess Of The Humble Bungalow
She's in Canada. Has an adorable house, buy cute clothes. And one of the more cheerful bloggers around. Today she showed her face for the first time. Go tell her she's cute.

These awards generally require that I provide some details on my existence. Since we are already outside the US, let's keep going. Below are 5 of my more memorable foreign travel moments. I can never guarantee that I haven't told these before. In the 6th decade one begins to retell.

1. Crossed the Atlantic on the Queen Elizabeth II in 1968. As we will looking back to childhood, I remember an odd non-sequitor. They had a drawing context in the ballroom. I won. I realized years later that I had plagiarized a New Yorker cartoon I must have seen at least a year before. I still feel shame for the undeserved win.

2. Christmas in Jamaica, at the Ocho Rios Inn, early-1970's, with my family. White-jacketed waiters served us on the patio. Afterwards I danced, with my brother, in a cream colored cotton knit dress. The matching jacket had navy blue and brown trim. And a zipper. The reality of decades is always more nuanced than subsequent representations.

3. Christmas in Cancun, a private villa, early-1970's. The cook served pork chops. A mariachi band came in and played to us. We were mortified, but didn't know what to do until my mother came back from the market.

4. My sister and I flew to France, in the summer of 1976, to travel alone for 5 weeks. When we arrived, we realized that the the houseboat owner we were supposed to stay with was in Germany. It was raining. The concierge let us in, out of pity. Who knew that houseboat colonies had concierges?

5. Traveled through Europe on a private jet, for Sun Microsystems, in 1999. Prague was beautiful, but the lobby benches in the Intercontinental were lined with prostitutes, like birds on a wire.

Finally, still on the track of new lands and new knowledge, I pass all three awards on to three bloggers from Australia. Why Australia? Because I'm sensing an Australia vibe. Just like a year ago when I thought, hmm, Swedish. And then Swedish design started showing up everywhere. So let's see if the next few years bring us Australian design swagger. If so, it will sound like this.

First, Faux Fuschia. One of the funniest, most engaging blogs I have ever read. Seriously. She calls her place of work the coal face. I can't do her style, verbal or fashion, justice. Outrageous. Remember AbFab? Just go read. Then pogo on over to Semi-Expat in Oz, and Sydney Shopgirl, for well-photographed and narrated accounts of Australian daily life, home style, fashion, food.

Speaking of awards, now for the Oscars. I'd wear navy blue, in case you wondered.


Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Music Of A To Do List, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:44am

If you wonder if someone is human, check to see if they have a To Do list. Key symptom of humanity. My list is long and noisy. I swear it plays music. Mostly to the beat of, "Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!" Not particularly friendly. Reassuring, on those days when my sense of self is more tenuous, but there's a price to be paid for structure.

(I wonder if animals have To Do lists? Bees, beavers, ants certainly build structures. Mother lions and elephants have babies to care for. Caribou migrate. Do they make mental lists? We may never know. But I digress.)

I believe it would be hard to find a person on this planet without a To Do list. Mine has been particularly demanding for some time now. The last year and a half, what with unemployment and various other shifts, has been full of Things Of An Urgent Nature.

I woke up this morning, wandered to the kitchen, sat down with a cup of tea. Waved my mental baton in the direction of the To Do Orchestra. Usually provokes the hum and clank of tuning up. Not today. You know that bit in Peter and the Wolf? Where the flute sounds for the first time, just a few notes? Representing the bird in the tree? I heard that sound. I did. I swear.

A little flourish. Then three bars of silence. Silence, and a pause in the beat. Which means I have time to clean up my study. This is not nothing. Time to pick up random piles of paper that have cluttered my desk, floor, and bookshelves. Tell them what's what. Time to decide, once and for all, how to store my financial reports and 3rd grade notebooks and family photos. The question of just what categories to use is enormous. Currently everything lies together as though each were as important as the other. As though my life itself were one big heap.

I have lived with this mess for a year and a half, and I finally have enough time and space to take it on. Probably I will play Motown and and dance while sorting. Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch, you know that I love you. Hard to take care of big things when many little things are making noise all at once. Have a wonderful weekend.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

What I Have Been Doing Wrong With Skincare. I Will Do Better.

Above you see much what of I've been using for skin care. I plan to keep on with some of it, but also make some changes, given what I now understand. Here's what I have done wrong, and what right, in making my choices to date.

1. Get taken in by a saleswoman, albeit one good enough to found her own company
2. Fail to understand the (complicated!) biology behind skin care
3. Let my fear of chemicals trump proven research

1. Use peptides for collagen restoration
2. Follow my nose to lavender
3. Get sensible about the cost of scented body lotion
4. Find the strongest sun screen I can stand to wear
5. Win a giveaway for Perricone skin care hosted by Mary Jo Matsumoto, here

But let's back up. I'm 53. I have stayed out of direct sunlight most of my life, so I'm not too bad in the sun damage department. Not dry, a tad oily. My skin reddens easily, and I already know I can't use AHAs or any other chemical exoliants. I tried. Wound up with rosacea, exacerbated by stress. Imagine you're flying around Europe on a private jet with a newly-minted millionaire, to promote his acquired product for Sun Microsystems, and every night you stare at yourself in a mirror, in Prague, in Hamburg, in London, wishing an ugly red rash would disappear. All glamor out the window. But I digress.

I started using MyChelle products because I liked their premise. Ingredient-based, natural products. No parabens, no scary chemicals. But eventually they irritated my skin. Reading Paula Begoun's Beautypedia, I see that Ms. Begoun thinks the formulations are less than optimal, and the packaging virtually guarantees ingredients degrading into uselessness. The founder is characterized as a great saleswoman. Ooops. She got me. However, I also use their Honeydew unscented cleanser, and that one Ms. Begoun likes. I'll keep it.

I started using the Avalon moisturizer because it was for sensitive skin. I see Ms. Begoun doesn't approve. She thinks the lavender extract will irritate. Here's the thing. I love lavender. I've always loved it. The smell makes me happy, almost ecstatic. As it turns out, maybe there's a chemical reason for that. It seems to calm my skin down. Sometimes you should ignore the experts. As Maya said in comments yesterday, I'm guessing that your mind can affect your skin.

I started using Perricone a few years ago because I liked his ideas on preventing inflammation. Stopped when I lost my job because, um, expensive. Started again this year, when I won a giveaway on Trust Your Style. His products have a wonderful feel, with a great slip to the fingers that works well under makeup. Temporary tightening, temporary wrinkle filling, all good. Thank you, Mary Jo. Ingredients are pretty high quality, including Ester-C, DMAE, and Alpha Lipoic Acid. No parabens. Paula likes his products, calls their formulation, "elegant."

Uh-oh. A new voice crying danger enters the fray. Dr. Samuel Epstein says that nanoparticles are dangerous. Perricone uses nanoparticle technology to address the issue of active ingredients penetrating the dermis. No need to panic. I have come to understand that these alarms are first raised with very little data, and I will use and enjoy until I run out. Then reassess.

I started using Kiehl's moisturizer with SPF15 because one day I was wandering through the mall and thought I'd try, yet again, to find a sunscreen I can stand to have on my face for more than 2 hours. I just hate the way most sunscreens feel. Paula doesn't rate this one, but the ingredients are known to be effective and the risk factor on the skincare safety site, Skin Deep, 0-10 scale is only 6. The sunscreen stays.

I started using Shikai lotions because you can buy them at Whole Foods and CVS, they are cheap, smell fantastic, and have no parabens. Skin Deep rates Shikai risk somewhere around 5. A keeper. Besides, I've tried almost all the fragrances and can't decide which I like better, Sandalwood or Vanilla. I use their bodywashes too and tell myself I'm layering scents.

What other changes? Maybe I should try Retinol again. With a coupon. Maybe the lavender moisturizer will protect me from redness and scary visions in my mirror. I know I should stop using my son's leftover ProActiv as an exfoliant. Did I say that? Eek. Begoun says that a washcloth works just as well as most scrubs. No parabens in a washcloth, either. I'll think about it. Luckily, skin care experimentation is fun, not too expensive (if you stay away from the ReVives of the world), and for the most part consists of patting yourself on the face with something that smells good. Sturdy Gals can do that.

*And yes, that's me on the sidebar. Seemed only right that if I'm going to talk about skin, I show you the one I'm in. And I can't hang my skin on a wall or put it in a light box, so there you go.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Study Gal's Short List Of Skin Care To-Dos

Skin care can be confusing. In part, the industry wants us to stay confused so we continue to buy. In part, scientists are out there searching for the pot of gold. We are left bewildered by faraway cries of, "Gold, gold!" as they run, from rainbow to rainbow. Lab coats flapping.

Not surprisingly, High WASP women traditionally follow skin care regimes according to type. This used to be simpler. Grandes Dames bought Christian Dior, or Elizabeth Arden, silver-lidded jars from the department store where they shopped. My mother was on Team Saks, consumer loyalty to be taken as seriously as Pepsi vs. Coke. Artsy Cousins loved Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Soap, purchased in a health store where it sat next to brewer's yeast. Sturdy Gals used Ivory Soap, some sort of moisturizing lotion, and witch hazel.

These days the Grande Dame has been known to buy a pound of Creme de la Mer in one go. To wash with fragrant cleansing oils from Japan. Artsy Cousins will make their own remedies, or hunt down obscure African nut butters. Sturdy Gals are simple folk. We just want products that work. Maybe smell good. OK, maybe help us look young and beautiful. Because let's face it. Few are all that sturdy when it comes to skin care and the promise of youth in a jar.

Ever since science entered the picture, we have had to at least try to find skin care products that speak biology, not Faery. I have hated biology since I was 14. All those impossible-to-remember-or-understand words. I much prefer fairy tales. But I digress. Research is required. On websites that use words like mitochondria, and glycation. You may want to pour yourself some Lapsang Souchong, and sit for a while. Here is what we uncover.

The first step in good skin care, for all ages, is to deal with your skin's oil production capabilities, or lack thereof. This is fairly straightforward to assess, although not always easy to handle. You may have acne. You may break out occasionally. (You may think you will be done with breakouts by your early 20's. You will most likely be wrong.) But breakouts are their own science and I will leave it to ProActiv and dermatologists to advise.

You may have dry skin. Moisture is good, apparently. Keeps your skin safe from irritation and infection, and allows the upper layer to protect the lower layers. Who knew? However, when you're young, unless you chap or chafe, unless you live in Arizona with relative humidity of -40%, or in cold winters of wind and heaters, you don't really need moisturizers. As you age, make sure that whatever you use to prevent wrinkles or spots or sagging includes moisturizing ingredients. This isn't hard. The skin care industry likes to moisturize us. It's a known technology.

So it appears that this billion dollar business actually lives or dies by aging. Or, to be more specific, the prevention of age effects. Unfortunately, skin aging is just part of regular aging, made more acute by sun exposure, and the fact that our skin is on our outsides. Battered and abraded by the exigencies of life. Since we haven't yet understood regular aging, we haven't completely understood skin aging either.

We do know that what's good for your body and soul is good for your skin. Exercise, eat vegetables, don't smoke, keep your weight at a healthy level. Wear sunscreen often. No blue glass, no scent, no silver lid. I hear that answer, but I knew it already, and I want more.

In fact, there are a few products of proven value, and a whole bunch more that you can experiment with. Great, right? Done, right? But no. Enter science, once again. Chemicals may be dangerous. Yes. The task of finding good skin care involves understanding which ingredients have been proven to work as claimed, which ingredients may work as claimed, and which ingredients may, in fact, be harmful. Damn biology, and its nasty little friend, chemistry.

A Brief Summary Of Skin And Aging Biology (only for you guys, only for you)

Skin has three layers:
  • The top one (epidermis) is to protect, the next one (dermis) holds the structure of collagen and elastic, the bottom one consists primarily of fat. Wrinkles happen in the middle layer, coloration in the top layer.
  • To have any effect, products must penetrate the top layer.
  • Active molecules have to be little, applying collagen, for example, does nothing.
Aging involves:
  • Slowdown of new cell growth and old cell elimination,
  • Degeneration of the collagen and elastin that sustains skin's structure
  • Changes in pigmentation as, um, pigment stuff clumps up. (I just can't get any more biological than that.)
Skincare Efforts Proven To Work (In As Much Non-Scientific English As Possible, To The Best Of My Understanding. That Was A Disclaimer.)
Clean Carefully. Soap takes off too many lipids (fatty stuff you need), exposing skin to, well, the world. Find something gentler. Cetaphil, if you don't mind non-plant based formulas. If you want plant-based, you've got to experiment and watch out for irritation.

Take Dead Skin Cells Off The Top Layer
. Exfoliate with chemistry or physics. If your skin can tolerate AHAs and BHAs, they are the most effective. If your skin is irritated by these products, use a physical exfoliation product. A gentle one. With smooth particles. Those rough ones will rip the heck out of your skin.

Protect And Keep Moisture In Top Layer. Use moisturizing ingredients, occlusive ones for really dry skin (that means they make a film), or ones that attract water, like hyaluronic acid, glycerin or dimethicone, for the rest of us.

Renew Collagen, Retinoic acid, i.e. Retin A, has been proven to make us grow collagen faster. (It also makes that critical middle layer thicker). Retinol, which is commercially available from Roc, Neutrogena, you name it, also works, without prescription but less effectively. Copper peptides and vitamin C have been shown to help skin to produce collagen, copper peptides also help heal and reduce inflammation, Vitamin C is also an anti-oxidant. Were we to move beyond routine skin care to the world of dermatologists, we would undergo laser therapy and deep peels. Just be clear that dermatological interventions work via what they call controlled tissue injuries. Eek. I may do it anyway.

Reduce Dark Patches. We have known how to help fade dark patches for some time. Hydroquinone works, but there has been enough concern about its safety that prescription is now required for concentrations over 4%. Companies are trying out arbutin, a related compound, in hopes of finding a less worrisome replacement. Beauty roulette.
Experimental Skin Care
Prevent Free Radicals From Rampaging Through Your Skin. Free radicals are implicated in aging overall. We find a different anti-oxidant, to combat free radicals, advertised every time we turn around. Q-10, Idebedone, Alpha Lipoic Acid, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and so on. It appears, however, that little proof of topical anti-oxidant effectiveness exists. We know they are good for us if we eat them. We suspect they are good for us if we put them on our skin. So anti-oxidize away. Just be clear, you're experimenting.

Prevent Degradation Of Collagen And Elastin. Some theorize that just growing new collagen and elastin isn't good enough. We need to prevent the stuff we've got from falling apart. To this end, skin care companies are researching, and in come cases offering, topical tropoelastin, Ethocyn, and topical matrix metalloproteinases inhibitors. Yikes. I told you this stuff was biology.
Temporary Fixes, Because Why The Heck Not?
Spackling Wrinkles. You can fill your wrinkles in with silicon. And why not, I ask? No reason. But it's temporary. On the other hand, so is life.
Distract With Mirrors. Some ingredients reflect light and ostensibly blur the look of wrinkles. OK. I'm always up for fun at makeup counters. My kind of research.
Plumping The Shriveled. Hyaluronic acid, and other water-binding compounds, can have a temporary plumping effect. Sounds good.
Tightening Sagginess. Some ingredients have a temporary tightening effect. See life.
Skincare Chemicals Proven To Be Harmful
Here's the thing. I see no evidence that skincare ingredients currently offered have been proven harmful. Not the the way the Western scientific community defines proof, or harm, for that matter. The Western community is more upset about the use of botanicals that may be ineffective or cause irritation and allergic reaction. However, alarms are now sounding about many compounds, parabens being the poster child. And as we know from history, smoke, when hovering around the fires of commerce, often means fire.

Stuff You Maybe Hadn't Thought Of (I Certainly Hadn't)
Turns out that packaging may be more important than a host of other things we pay attention to. Active ingredients become inactive very quickly. Jars are bad, little pumps are good. Clear is bad, opaque is good.

The Most Important Part Of This Post, Otherwise Known As, So What Do I Do Now?
You have a few choices. As long as you are wearing sunscreen or hats, exercising, and eating well, I believe that skin care falls into the do-whatever-makes-you feel-best-category. Especially if you are under 30. That said, if what makes you feel best is trying to act on current science, I present:

The Sturdy Gal's Short List Of Skin Care To-Dos.
  • Find a non-soap cleanser at a happy juncture of price, ingredients, feel, and scent.
  • Pick an exfoliation strategy. Minimal for the young, more intentional for the older. Chemical, or physical, your choice.
  • Use a moisturizer with an anti-oxidant that doesn't irritate your skin. Or a copper peptide cream.
  • Rotate Vitamin C serums and/or Retinol for collagen support to see what you can tolerate. Make sure the packaging protects from oxygen and light.
  • Choose between Retinol, peptides, Vitamin C, and any other anti-oxidant cluster. Pick 2 only. Using too many different ingredients at the same time is not a good idea.
  • If you want to avoid scary chemicals, you should sample several different natural product lines. Everyone has different skin, and botanicals can be unpredictable.
  • Find a sunscreen you will actually wear. 45 SPF doesn't work when it's in your drawer because it feels horrible on your face.
Of course, if you are truly Sturdy, feel free to ignore everything I just said. Nothing wrong with Dove soap and some Aveeno after to avoid that too squeaky feeling.

Finally, if you really want to optimize (any engineers out there?), I recommend that you take a peek at the three websites I relied on for my research. Paula Begoun's Beautypedia, available for a minimal subscription fee, takes the Western stance. Science is all. She excoriates many skin care products for complete ineffectiveness or appalling over-pricing. Well worth the read. But, and it's a big but, she pays no never mind to questions of toxicity. For that information, you need to go to Skin Deep. They focus on ingredient safety. Cross reference, if you will. Take your list of products and go see what these sites say about them. Rinse, lather, repeat.

The third resource, Smart Skin Care, provides the background against which to understand Beautypedia and Skin Deep. But it's just full of biology. Biology and that little sot, chemistry. Some of you are good at that stuff. If you see something I missed, let me know. Unfortunately, you'll have to use English or it may take me a long time to understand what you say. Everything I say here is as true as I can make it.

Note: This post was at a reader's request. Months ago.
Edit: Hahahaha. I just realized the headline has a typo. Freudian slip. This was in spirit from the Study Gal, not the Sturdy Gal. I think I'll keep it.
Image: .snow's photostream on Flickr