Saturday, August 28, 2010

Mid-Year Report and Brief Blog Vacation, Or Saturday Morning at 7:12am

Many years in the corporate world trained me to provide regular status reports. Writing this blog is a different sort of work environment. I have enormous latitude. You, my bosses, are very lenient, and smile affectionately as I wander these virtual halls, mug of tea in hand, stopping at your virtual cubicles, showing you my shoes, telling you about my children and my Aunt Priscilla's wedding.

I started Privilege in February of 2009. A year later, I asked you all to give me some direction via an online questionnaire. I thought now, 6 or so months later, was a good time for update on my responses to your very generous feedback.

1. I asked you what you wanted me to write about.

You said, "Stay the course," meaning style; High WASP fashion, culture and mores; cultural anthropology; social etiquette; the raptures of living. Well, you might not have said cultural anthropology, but I inferred freely. My Saturday morning posts and India stories were less globally popular, but those who liked them really liked them, and most others were at least tolerant. Permission to continue granted. I did take away from your comments that I should spend a little more time on High WASP houses and have done so, relying of course on my family's places. You know, since my fading family fortune and I live in a little mid-century, California ranch-style house. It's been fun, all of this. Thank you. I plan to persist.

2. I asked you about ads and making money and such.

You said it would be OK. However, although requests have begun to come in I've done nothing concrete to date. I realized I did not have the infrastructure to present ads in any way that made me comfortable, and that any income received would be outweighed by the complications involved.

3. I asked you about writing a book.

You kindly said, for the most part, that I should give it a try. So I've begun a book proposal. Can I just take a moment to tell my manager that this is tough? New respect for serious writers in my house. I have realized that in many ways this blog is enough to fulfill my need to write. However, I have also vowed that come hell or high water I will at least finish the book proposal and submit it. To someone. Somewhere. Finish what you start if at all possible, a lesson learned young.

And then, something about which I did not ask you, Privilege's design, or lack thereof. I've been working with a designer and tech company on a redesign which will accomplish several things.
  • Allows for one ad on the home page. If I find a companies with extraordinary goods, worthy of our paragon of readership, I'll work with them to put something in place. One at a time. If the fit is right.
  • Adds a few pages of additional information and a place to ask questions.
  • Puts a new look in place to reflect the High WASP ethos - graceful, formal, slight whiff of decay - mixed up with an effort to knock on the door of the 21st century. Exactly what you all are gracious enough to let me explore.
Oh, and while we're on the subject, design, in my experience, is the one thing not to do by committee. But I digress.

One more thing. I will be taking next week off to prepare to send my son to school and pay attention to family affairs. I will be back the first full week of September.

Thank you again for reading, and certainly for your ideas and guidance. Have a wonderful weekend.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Brief List Of Some Very Good Looking Products

Somewhere my sisters are laughing. "Good looking" is my mother's phrase. Mom's got great taste, and if I could abstract out her theories I would. Would probably make millions. But for today, rather than talking about the how of good looking, let's focus on the what. Sometimes, in style, you have to start with the details.

For example.
A weekender by Dash. In its favor we've got navy, stripes, luggage-colored leather, a classic shape. At least I think that's what she'd say. The knowledge is deeply buried. $210.

A crisp, highly shaped, white jacket from Jack Rogers. The same people who make sandals. Brisk, efficient, clean. There's nothing like good heavy sateen, (oh the sheen) and a 3/4 sleeve. $248.

Merino throw rug from Anchini. In the brick red color family my mother adores. And the flowers look cheerful, and classic as medallions. $395.

Linens from Libeco. "Now what's so good looking about these?" you might ask. "Those are just some blue sheets." In this case "good looking" is a euphemism. It means that these sheets are made of actual linen. I don't think we've had real linen bedding in my family since 1974. Round about then I put a teenage toenail through a top sheet. Everyone took it very well. I have never forgotten how it felt to sleep in so much smooth and soft.

I'll refrain from posting prices. We're not talking about good buying, just "good looking."

Holiday card from Kate Spade. Plaid. Plaid that looks like an old woolen kilt. Enough said. $25 for 10 cards.

These, on the other hand, she would probably find vulgar. Holidays and family gatherings should make us think first of gambling. But she's too well-brought up to tell you so.

Have a wonderful weekend. It's out there waiting, and summer is drawing to a long, sweet, close.

Weekender from Dash
Blazer from Jack Rogers
Linens from Libeco
Throw from Anchini
Kate Spade Holiday Cards from Crane and

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

15 High WASP Practices For Growing And Using Tomatoes

1. Buy an organic seedling at your locally-owned nursery. You approve of capitalism, but prefer not to ravage the planet with the chemicals of agribusiness.

2. Plant said plant in your front yard. What? That's where the sun is, that's where the tomato plant is going, the neighbors will understand. And no, we don't think it's overly quirky.

3. Install simple drip irrigation. It's very nice to rough it, and grow food, and all, but we're not going to stand around with a watering can for days on end. Thank you very much.

4. Rebel against cages. Decide you are going to stake your tomato plant simply, with dignity. Drive a stake into the ground. Imagine you are done. Spend the next couple of months tying your plant to said stake with unsightly white twine, searching wildly for more stakes, and even using your kids old stilts for yet another stake. Eventually simply lay your excess tomato plant branches on top of your basil plants and hope for the best.

5. Wring your hands at the unbearable cute of your first green tomato. High WASPs like to wring our hands, it ties us to our heritage.

6. Curse the same green tomato when it takes forever to ripen, even as all around you people are forecasting bruschetta with a chance of basil.

7. Read that you need to prune suckers, those little vestigial branches that grow next to real branches. Hear that Accordion and Lace's mother's wisdom from the old world says you prune the third branch from the third branch. Realize that since you don't have an old world any more you'll do as told. Try to prune. Get lost in the scent of tomato branches on your hand, and the marjoram that you've crushed in your efforts. Go have a glass of wine. Remember France. And childhood. Back then even sunscreen smelled good.

8. Squeal when your first tomato reddens. Look at it closely. Repeatedly, like a toddler at Christmas.

9. Pluck your tomato carefully, as though it might explode. Feel the shock as it separates from its stem. Revere the process.

10. Make Fresh Bruschetta for your son. Chop your one tomato. It really is yours. Add 2 or 3 finely chopped cloves of garlic and a handful of basil leaves, shredded by hand in a surprising fit of sensuality. Add some olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste. Slice a sweet baguette into little ovals and toast them. Doesn't matter how. Sit at the counter and eat quite impolitely, spooning the bruschetta on to toast, and murmuring in pleasure.

11. Go outside one morning and realize that you have built it and they will come. Prepare for tomatoes galore. Go buy fresh mozzarella, (bocconcini are good) combine with more basil and call it Caprese Salad. Even if you never go near a plate.

12. Roast a bunch of tomatoes in the oven at high heat until they collapse in their own sugars. Smear the resultant jammy mess on everything.

13. Make Raw Tomato Pasta With Goat Cheese.

1 1/2 lb firm ripe tomatoes
1 bunch fresh basil (leaves from as many stalks as you can grab in one hand) If you are tired of basil use some other herb. Parsley. A little marjoram.
8 tablespoons of the best olive oil you can find
salt to taste
4 oz of the best goat cheese you can find
1 lb good quality spaghetti

Core, seed, and chop the tomatoes into very small dice. Chop the basil coarsely. Combine tomatoes, basil, olive oil and salt in a large pasta bowl. Crumble goat cheese into small pieces and add to bowl. Cook pasta in large pot of boiling, salted water. When tender but al dente, drain, add to bowl, mix, serve.

Don't make cooked pasta sauce, San Marzano canned tomatoes meet those requirements perfectly.

14. Make soup. For a change-up to all-tomatoes-want-to-be Italian, try very easy Chinese Tomato Noodle Soup.

1 teaspoon vegetable oil
2 large ripe but firm tomatoes, cored, seeded, and cut into small dice
2 scallions, trimmed and minced
3 tablespoons Chinese rice wine or sake
21/2 tablespoons soy sauce
5 cups Chinese chicken broth (to make quickly, combine 3 cups commercial chicken broth, 3 cups water, 1/3 cup rice wine or sake, 4 slices smashed ginger. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, simmer uncovered for 20 minutes )
1 teaspoon or less of salt
ground black pepper to taste
1/2 frozen peas, thawed
1/2 very fine noodles, somen, capellini, cooked until just tender then rinsed under warm water and drained.

Stir fry tomatoes and scallions in oil until fragrant (~10 seconds), add rice wine and soy sauce, cook for one minute, stirring. Add broth, salt and pepper, simmer for 5 minutes. Add peas, cooked for 30 seconds. Add noodles, cook for 30 seconds until just hot. Serve.

15. Give the rest of your tomatoes away. Stave off the end of summer with generosity. Pretend that this will go on forever. Tomato plants, like the High WASP species, end as abundance starts to decay, faintly, perfumed. With tomatoes, as with High WASP family fortunes, charity redeems most excesses.

Image: Me. My very own tomato. I grew it myself.
Raw tomato sauce pasta recipe via Pasta Fresca
Chinese Tomato Noodle soup via Nina Simonds Asian Noodles

(support your local bookstore)

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Sunday, August 22, 2010

What I Believe Is Called A Smackdown, "W" Magazine vs. Vogue's September Issue

Last Exit To Brooklyn, from "W"

The fashion world recently suffered a management shakeup. Stefano Tonchi left the New York Times Style Magazine, often titled simply, "F," to head up "W." Are we, style-lovers of America, happy about the change? Use the handy scorecard below to decide.

But first a brief aside. Will we all rush out and purchase the clothes in Mr. Tonichi's new mag? Heck no. This stuff is expensive. But mid-tier retailers are watching carefully. The zeitgeist so skillfully evoked in September's "W" will start to infiltrate J. Crew, and Anthropologie, and maybe even Talbots. Like smoke under the doors of closed rooms.

You're Busy, You Want Plot Synopses

If you hate fashion magazines, here's your plot synopsis for "W," September, 2010:
The Women of Mad Men - both the full skirted, floral, 50s gals, and the sheathed, monochromatic 60's - got bitten by vampires and moved to Red Hook, Brooklyn. Where they knitted some things in tweed.
If you like fashion magazines:
Fashion you can make sense of - woven patterns, tonal color, more subdued but more textured shoes, matte bags eschewing billboard logos, an in-your-face restraint - I could if I wanted to, but I won't. Luxe minimalism. The "pop" of color, made famous by Stacy London and her pal Clinton Kelly, is finally laid to rest.
But on to the competition.

"W" Scorecard - An Extravagance of Plus - As Evidenced By:

1. XIV Sins and Virtues Jewelry by Jessica McCormack. In the style of her key pendants, below, only each piece represents a sin or virtue. Anger has a claw, Sloth some feathers. These keys give Tiffany a steampunk run for their money, no? "W" has exclusive images of the Sins line.

2. De rigueur photo of mouth covered in dark red lipstick, shiny as polyurethane. Title? True Blood.
3. Last Exit to Brooklyn. The photo shoot at top, in which everything I said in the synopses is proved to be true.
4. The "What" photo series showcasing objets de desir. Avec tarantulas. And black chicken feet. No, I promise, it's amazing.
5. A casual reference to and photo of Chanel "Stigma" nail polish, a "shimmering blackberry." Pictures of this color aren't even available online. Now I want it more. By The Amazing Peter Phillips, who was also responsible for "Jade," and the Chanel temporary tatoos.

6. Revealing that Etro is stepping up to play a slightly more affordable aide-de-camp in the Dries van Noten mortgage-your-house-for-a-print brigade

7. Highlighting the Loewe "Amazona." In a world where even Louis Vuitton now explains that their logos are "discretely placed," Loewe has been turning this model out for 3o years. And yes, LV says "discrete" instead of "discreet."

8. A short piece on Ikou Tschuss. A small company which supports Swiss grandmothers knitting and may soon do the same for New York omas, farmors, grannies, and grandmamas. Even if I don't buy many woolens the idea tickles my apparel fancy.
9. Ads for Strenesse. German, in the Jil Sander vein, with a less expensive line called Blue. Jil Sander calls her less expensive line Navy. See what I mean? And Gabrielle Strehle made me want a leather shift, of all things preposterous.
10. Campaigns indicating even Versace's gone minimal. When a brand known for ornamentation and excess slaps you across the face with black and white ads, featuring models in sculptural outfits, both brand and trend benefit.

(-2 points for disingenous articles about how people rich enough to own helicopters host informal weddings with barefoot guests, and how a woman with D breasts isn't sad about her chest any more. But these things come with the territory.)

Vogue Scorecard - A Drone of Minus - As Shown By:
  1. Boring essays on culture. If I want some really good boring essays on culture I'll read the New Yorker.
  2. Self-congratulatory navel-gazing about Fashion's Night Out. I don't live in New York and I'm not going. It's nice you guys get a street fair. We have them too, with dogs, balloons, and local wines.
  3. Vogue may have become, just like Chanel, a "dusty" brand. I didn't make this up.
  4. In this media-jaded day and age, once you've read a magazine with its accompanying documentary playing in the background, it's tough to go back to naked print. Go watch The September Issue again, and skip 2010.
  5. This issue had not a single image I was compelled to share. That's saying something, because I like pictures.

(+3 points because Anna Wintour is still Anna Wintour, we presume Grace Coddington is around somewhere, and Halle Berry is on the cover representing African Americans for the first time since 198o-something.)

Final score: "W" 13, Vogue -2.

I know, I know, "W" is bigger than a mailbox.* But the next time you're running for a plane, craving a way to amuse yourself, pick up "W" instead of Vogue. If you really want to thank me I think I'd like Jessica's key necklace. Oh, how kind. You shouldn't have.

*As aptly described by Worthy's fiance.

Last Exit to Brooklyn, via Tom and Lorenzo. Who completely disagree with me about "W"'s brilliance.
Jessica McCormack key pendants via her blog
Etro via
Loewe's Amazona via Loewe's
Versace F/W 2010 Ad Campaign via porcelain fashion


Saturday, August 21, 2010

It's Lipstick Time Everywhere, Or, Saturday Morning at 10:25am

This morning I am glad to be, sniffle by sniffle, recovering from 30 days of viruses. I have used up an entire Costco case of tissue boxes. Didn't know that was possible and assumed they'd be out in my garage for all eternity.

This morning I am also glad that you all read Privilege. And comment. And, apparently, take pictures. Here are some photos from readers, following our lipstick adventures of yesterday.

From lauren, and her cuttlefish Flickr stream. Click through to see in larger format. A tribute to lip products and their implied special powers.

ye old lip product daguerrotype

From Emmaleigh504, on Yfrog (a Twitter photo link site). She bought a new lipstick, as you can see. Dior.

Until the moment I saw this photograph I had never understood that this blog went out to you. I know you come here, I forgot that I also go there. My apologies. Thank you for having me.

In closing, Emmaleigh's big lipsticked smooch. Cropped and smudged. Nothing quite like a big smooch, now is there?

If we're lucky, we get a little bit of the sublime, and a little bit of the ridiculous, every single day. The good kind of ridiculous. Have a wonderful weekend.

And if you are still wondering about Twitter, yes or no, unnerved, here is a link to my How To Get Started On Twitter post


Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Truth Behind Women And Their Lipsticks

Some women buy a lot of lipsticks. Why? Is it necessary? Do we change our lip color every day? And what is up with that basket of lipsticks on the bathroom counter?

Une Femme D'Un Certain Age
recently reviewed her lipstick collection. Which got me thinking. Here's the thing. I buy my lipsticks because they are magic. Little red wizards with convenient pop tops. I imagine I'm not alone.

The Privileged[d] lipsticks of 2010.

Most days a pair of colored lip balms. I have a drugstore pink version purported to contain grapeseed oil. I have a reddish Burt's Bees Balm, which I'm told is absolutely fully of pomegranate something or other. In any case, everyone ought to own a similar duo. The chief benefit being that when you put lip balm on without a mirror you don't look even one tiniest bit like a clown.

For dress up, I continue to recommend Lipstick Queen's Medieval red. Manages to show up both sheer and matte. The only red lipstick 99% of the population ought to wear. With black or brown eyeliner and mascara. If you are in the mood for adventurous eyes, green, purple, red, whatever, you'll want a nude lipstick. I wear Nars Cruising, with YSL Golden Praline lipgloss on top if I feel a need for shine.


Or so you might think.

I also wear LipFusion lip plumper, on occasion. I swear either technology works or placebos are powerful. However, I made a mistake last time and bought a pink called Full Frontal. What was I thinking? I recommend clear, you can wear it with anything.

So, now, done, right?

Nope. Now we enter the halls of what might be. What used to be. What should have been.

I used to wear the dusty taupe mauve below. To work. Every day. It was the color of my lips. Myself, but vice-presidential. In time, my lips faded, leaving me eclipsed by my lipstick. Never a good thing. Luckily I came to the end of the tube. It can be hard to relinquish the tools of our youth. Then Nars discontinued the color. Damage, it was called. Quite apt.

And then, of course, we have the lipsticks of all the women I imagined myself to be. Rarely worn. The Nars orange Giza gloss was the most risky, for the few days when I found the Versace gal in my soul. Not sturdy at all.

Then I collected various pinks. Because Charla Krupp told me that women over 40 should wear pale pink lipstick. Which perhaps they should. But I don't. And won't. Especially not one full of gold flecks. Nars Galaxy Girl. I'm no longer a girl contemplating galaxies. But I might have been. Once.

Oh, and who doesn't own a tube of lip stain? Vincent Longo's Cupid's Breath. Purchased in a burst of baroque. Believing that pigment mimicking bitten lips would indicate, perhaps even provoke some deep inner, um, depth. An Artsy Cousin to Sylvia Plath. Only without the ending my own life part. Didn't work. Turns out stains are no more romantic than anything else. But in the right light, the little bottle appears to hold blood against a vampire's visit. So I keep it for my long-lashed, porcelain-skinned, tragic imaginary self.

And finally. One New Year's Eve Shanghai required my presence. I scooped up a lipstick at the airport Sephora en route. Redder than anyone in their right mind would wear. The evening was spent at the Jin Mao Grand Hyatt, some 50 floors above the street. No one seemed to find my red mouth even one bit unexpected.

I haven't worn it since.

Lipsticks open more space in my imagination than they take up on the bathroom counter. I will not throw them out until they decay.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ten Signs You May Have A High WASP Guest Room

Sign #1. You furnish your guest room in a patriotic color scheme. Especially when you live by the sea. Red, white, and blue are so nautical. Invest in matching bedding and some throw pillows as an inexpensive way to make everything look like it's there on purpose.

Sign #2. You purchase your guest room furniture from some place reputable, but you avoid family antiques and other treasures. Your guests would feel terrible if they broke something you care about. You would never want guests to feel badly. That's the whole point of hospitality.

Sign #3. You stock up on bathroom sundries. For some reason, everyone forgets razors and they are embarrassing to ask for. The disposable ones are perfect.

Sign #4. Your guest room has enough space for a guest kitchen. Yeah, I know. It's small. Only room for early morning breakfasts, when your guests don't want to bumble around in your kitchen looking for tea, or eggs, or orange juice. Or late night snacks. Personal eating.

Sign #5. You absolutely have to hang a framed etching of seashells. All scientific-like. The frame matches your bedspreads. A dark red for timeless style.

Sign #6. You have a sleeping loft and ladder. This is optional, but makes for very happy grandchildren. Their parents, i.e. your children, may have falling out anxiety at first. They'll get over it. Sleeping lofts add flexibility come Christmas, when, not unsurprisingly, all your children AND your stepchildren AND their families will want to come down for a few nights.

Sign #7. Your guest room has a guest deck. Used for the playing of board games. Sometimes your daughter will have to take your grandchildren out of the main house and quiet them down. You want to enable her. If her children don't quiet down after the playing of board games, she will need to send her husband to jump into the swimming pool with said children, while she sits and contemplates a glass of wine. Alone. Aren't extended families wonderful?

Sign #8. Your guest room has outside stairs. Covered in vines. You hide that pesky ping pong table and grill underneath. You have a ping pong table to begin with. Also a croquet set. FAmly tournaments are a tradition, but someone usually cries. Fortunately that someone is mostly under 8 years old.

Sign #9. The view from the guest room deck requires an iPhone app called "Autostitch" to capture what they call a "Panorama." Because it is, in fact, a panorama. Click on the photo for a fuller effect.

Sign #10. You understand how privileged you are to have this much space in a beautiful spot, so you share. Your children are always welcome. Your grandchildren and their multitude of friends are always welcome. Even as teenagers. That's saying something. You house visiting musicians and singers for the local symphony. Sometimes for months at a time. You are a generous soul, and your daughter thanks you in a somewhat complex manner. Because she still hasn't learned that a simple thank you will suffice.

Images of my mother's house by me, my Panasonic Lumix, and my iPhone

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Monday, August 16, 2010

The iPhone 4 Ad We'd Like To See

Apple's been running a series of ads for the iPhone 4 video chat application called Facetime. In the ads several things happen. A young woman worries about her hair. A younger girl frets about her braces. A woman tells her husband they are going to be parents, a man shows his father the new granddaughter.

The former executive in my blood boils. Of course wished-for motherhood and new grandchildren are wonderful. Life-affirming. But why do the only other options involve women obsessed and insecure about how we look? I thought the Android phones were supposed to target men. Doesn't that leave iPhones for us?

Here's the ad I'd like to see. The proverbial killer app. Roll 'em.

The Privilege[d] Apple iPhone 4 Ad
Voice of young woman: Mom? Mom?

Voice of older woman: Hi honey. What's up?

Young woman: Mom, I've got that interview in like four minutes. Please tell me if this looks OK.

Older woman: Shirt looks good. Is that the one I got you for Christmas?

Young woman: Yes mom. But what do you think about the pearls. Just right or too much?

Older woman: Well, what earrings are you wearing?

Older woman: A little closer. I can't see.

Older woman: Ah. OK. The spikes. The brutal pearls. Hmmmm.

Young woman: I know, they're a little edgy. But I hear this VP likes to push the envelope.

Older woman: I suppose you've earned the right to a little edge.

Younger woman: That's what I thought.

Older woman: *Pauses* You know, honey, you're going to knock their socks off. Don't even think about your clothes right now. Just pitch what you can do for them. Watch their body language. You're good at that.

Younger woman: I know, I know. Had a little last minute fear.

Older woman: Just make sure they pay you what you're worth.

Younger woman: Ha! I'll do my best.

Older woman: Love you honey.

Younger woman: Love you too mom. I'll call when I'm done.
Older woman: Sending luck. Not that you need it. And smooches.

How's that for a little testosterone? Not to mention some subtle and subversive pearls. Dress with dignity at work but never back down. Sideways is fine, on occasion. Happy Monday everyone.

*I think Kat, Audi and Sal might approve.
**In response to the comments below indicating that people wish Apple could see this, I've added a retweet button up above on the right hand side. One can dream. One should dream.

iPhone 4 via iLounge
Suit via Brooks Brothers
Spiked pearls by Saya Hibino via The Gloss

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Family Extended, Or, Saturday Morning at 10:12am

In Santa Barbara, visiting my mother, briefly. The fog is thick in the mornings, burns off by afternoon. The hibiscus is past its height, but still beautiful. And the Pacific Ocean is blue, large, and anything but pacific.

My stepfather has recovered from his January emergency. And in his recovery, is taking very good care of my mother. This comforts me.

One of the best things about a family, in times when you are not in need of succor, is the way their rituals and existence extend your own. I feel larger when I'm with family. Safer, even in the absence of apparent danger.

So, scrambled eggs in the morning, hibiscus in the afternoon, conversations in the evening, sounds of footsteps on the guest house stairs at night. The possible combinations across the world must be endless.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

What Makes Budget Black Tie Work?

There, on your hall table. The envelope. It's thick, uniquely-shaped, with lustrous paper. Inside, an invitation. And there, somewhere near the R.S.V.P., sit the words, dreaded or welcome, Black Tie Requested.

Now what?

For movie stars, high-level socialites, and other red carpet denizens, time to call the stylist, buy a new outfit, or maybe, just maybe, remix an outfit from the closet. For most of us, time to fret. We know that black tie usually means long. You can get away with a cocktail dress, but if everyone else will be dropping their hems you may feel more comfortable following suite.

Few of us have closets full of long.

If you've got all the money in the world, no issue. I'm particularly fond of Lanvin at the moment. But my fading family fortune would screech like a toddler losing an ice cream cone were I to try and pry loose enough to invest in Mr. Elbaz's creations. So what to do? You have a couple of options. Option #1. Rush off to a prom gown store like Cache, or the "dressy" department of Macy's. I can't recommend this route. High WASPs don't even wear "gowns." We wear dresses. I don't know why.

But I do know why not to follow the mass-market-dress-with-some-bling strategy. You may not feel right amongst the Lavin-clad throngs. Of course, if you don't care, then go ahead. I'm not talking about anyone else's feelings but your own.

If you are one who does care, and I confess I am, all is not lost. Learn from those who do this for a living. Option #2. The crowd who treat black tie like a tennis match have helpfully established some uniforms.

Uniform #1, the Asian-esque cheongsam/qipao/salwar kameez. We'll use Cheongsam as shorthand. A cheongsam calls out for toned arms, glamorous cuffs, and jeweled sandals. I'd do this one in aubergine, with pale blue trousers, or maybe navy with a very off green. You want a striking color palette. Perfect for the Artsy Cousin. Oh, and I'd shake my ShakeWeight. A lot.

Uniform #2, the Carolina Herrera. Carolina, for short. After all, the woman has made this look so much her signature that stylists photograph similarly dressed models in homage. The Carolina:
  • Suits those with lovely necks and bust.
  • Frames a beautiful necklace well.
  • Helps the long-waisted.
  • Requires high heeled peep-toe pumps or ballerina flats. Your choice, but you need a little heel and a little toe to show.
  • Must avoid the Full Dowager. Grandes Dames are not quite the same as dowagers.

These looks center around pieces from Style Paris by Susan Sutherland, one of the boutiques featured at Taigan, an online retailer for specialty shops. Style Paris has stores in Palm Beach and Southhampton, home sweet homes to black tie party goers. Susan knows whereof she sells, however, the perfectly appropriate has its price. Its high price. The Temple 'cheongsam' is $1700. The Giovanna black skirt, $1400. The Theo Plastron white shirt, $740.

Fear not. The genius of these black tie strategies is that you should be able to pull them off for far less than $2000. I haven't tried myself, yet, but I've done a fair amount of research.

To locate a Cheongsam, in most major cities, and many of their associated suburbs, Indian, Pakistani, and Chinese communities search out the last few talented tailors who provide homeland garments. If you like tunics and pants, find a resource for salwar kameez. If you prefer the more fitted cheongsam (this is the Cantonese word, quipao in Mandarin), Chinatowns all over America create custom-fitted wedding outfits. You can have anything made.

Silk cheongsam, $150

Of course, having anything made in America will still cost a fair sum of money. A much cheaper alternative would be to take something off the rack and have it customized. Or venture offshore, and try one of the many online boutiques.
  • Make sure to secure a fabric swatch and samples of closures, etc. in advance.
  • The success of designing your own lies in impeccable materials, and scrupulous fitting.
  • You will probably need to finish tailoring locally.
And the 'Carolina?' How to recreate for less? Here, Etsy will be your friend. You want a skirt in silk, satin, or velvet, with detailing and some volume. Find one with a waist suitable for display, or sash it yourself.

Everan skirt, $220

Victorian Ruffled Skirt, $295

For the white shirt, you want a substantial cotton, fitted, with an interesting detail at neck or cuff.
Eli white shirt, Thomas Pink, $195.

Wear it unbuttoned as far as is polite. Straight with ruffles and ruffles with straight. Contrast and restraint.

Cocktail cuff shirt, Thomas Pink, $185.

Alternatively, a cotton lawn shirt, transparent, embellished. This short sleeved blouse moves the look younger, towards the land of Boho, and Little Women. Can't you just see some beautiful unknown girl, in Victorian skirt and this blouse, hair up on her head, sweeping into a room full of fancy people? Capturing everyone's imagination?

From Etsy, Snow White, $95.00.

When all is said and done, we might be able to get to our event for just over $300, without accessories. Leaving you room for a cuff by Caroline Grace, or Alexis Bittar, below.

And certainly some serious faux pearls. Yes. For this occasion it's just fine to go big and go fake. You're carrying it off. You're Sabrina, only you didn't sew your own.

It's possible to find even cheaper long black skirts, like the one below. But I suspect they lack volume.

Silk Shantung from Newport News, $44.99, reduced from $99.00.

Most importantly, you will want to try this all on. Everything. Wrap, bag, shoes, jewelry, makeup. There's no point unless you arrive at that feeling of, "Ta Da! I'm here!" Otherwise you're only fulfilling societal obligations. And there are lots more of those way more important than wearing appropriate clothes to a gala.

One could, of course, avoid folderol and simply donate the money to whatever cause your black tie event supports. Or, one could, calling upon the entrepreneurial spirit that has served this country well, round up 10 friends to buy an entire table, thereby contributing and dressing up. Both. Doing both well.

Orange/lilac cheongsam variant via Style Paris by Susan
Collared white shirt via Style Paris on Taigan
Silk satin skirt via Style Paris
White cheongsam via Oriental-Cheongsam
Low necked "Eli" white shirt via Thomas Pink
Tailored white shirt via Thomas Pink
White short-sleeved blouse via Etsy
Velvet skirt via Etsy
Black full ruffled skirt via Etsy
Lucite cuff via Alexis Bittar
Caroline Grace leather cuff via Etsy

Shantung fit and flare skirt via Newport News


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

When Brands Miss By A Quotation Mark

In this version of the famous commercial, Lowenbrau buddies go fishing. Then they eat steak

Do you ever find yourself painfully aware that a brand has had you in its sights, fired, and missed?

I remember, back in the late 1970's, Lowenbrau beer ran a campaign featuring groups of young adult friends. They were usually gathering at someone's house for a small party. Laughing, drinking, hanging out. Which was just what my friends and I did. Or wished we did, even if we didn't. But then came the jingle. "Here's to good friends, tonight is kind of special. Let it be Lowenbrau." Right there we said to ourselves, "That's it, we have no interest in living a beer commercial. No Lowenbrau at our party unless we're in the mood for irony. No Lownbrau, even if it is just me and my neighbor watching Saturday Night Live."

Lownenbrau lost us, the overly-educated, partying, friend-having baby boomers, by making us self-conscious about who we were. Many people loved the campaign, but they lost my particular crew.

It's even harder to market to High WASPs. I pity the brands who try to talk to us. Because the harder they try, the worse it gets.

The most recent example?

I had been looking for brogues online, and found these, by n.d.c.
I liked the shoes very much, even if not, on the face of it, $540 worth of liking. But I hated the branding. I might not be alone in this. Maybe you agree. Maybe not. From their website.
The brand name n.d.c. - nom de code/code name - reflects our conviction that the strength of our brand is the product itself. There are 4 key factors in every n.d.c. collection - simplicity, quality, originality and constructional know-how. Artisan hand-crafted with leather carefully selected from Europe's best tanneries, n.d.c. products are "works of art."
Doesn't it sound like they are targeting the kind of people John Houseman and Sam Waterman pull in with, "They make money the old-fashioned way. They earn it?" High WASP incarnate. But no.

If the strength of your brand is the product itself - a perfectly fine goal - why on earth do you make up terms like, "constructional know-how?" And worse, really, so bad I can't bear it, why do you call your shoes "works of art," in quotation marks? Quotation marks mean, in this context, "I'm not serious." They mean, "I'm holding my two hands up, waggling fore and middle fingers of each hand, and raising my eyebrows up into my hairline." They mean, "I don't think so."

I know. We're picky. But if you find us, we will stick around. We'll tell everyone your brand is "different." Those are the good quotation marks that imply, not the dross commonly available. And, despite fading family fortunes, we can still locate a little disposable income here and there. But we're not going to liquidate capital for "works of art". Please go back to the drawing board. Because I also like your boots.

And your Plims. Which is a good thing to call sneakers if you want to talk to High WASPs. Refers to the British term, "plimsoles." We like the British. Just indirect enough. In this case, the quotation marks are not ironic in the slightest. $220, in gray leather.

Note: Tish also likes their shoes, by the way. Particularly these sandal/ballerinas.

Brogues via net-a-porter
Boots via n.d.c. website
Plimsoles via ShopStyle and Diani Boutique


Saturday, August 7, 2010

Thistles With Hollandaise, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:05am

It's August.

In Northern California, by this time, everything looks a little frayed. Our rainless summers start to tell. Even though blue skies will last well into October, late summer is, to me, a time when when if we turned our heads a little bit faster we'd see the shadow of sad escaping. What was going up, descends.

In some kind of parallel, I believe I'm in the late summer of my own life. But I feel less distress about aging, now that it's happening, than I used to when I was young and my old age far away. It is what it is. It's almost a comfort to experience what used to scare me, in the abstract.

Why then feel any sorrow at the state of my hydrangeas? They certainly seem quite content. Brashly pink, here and there.

I worry that if I never felt sorrow I might never know glad. Maybe I'm wrong. I could always be wrong.

Another thing.

Used to be that privilege gave us the resources to isolate ourselves from the natural world. First sign of wealth and you could build fireplaces as big as a kitchen, roll yourself up in fur rugs for winter sleeping, or decamp to your hill fort to survive July's heat.

But if I look around, and consider, it seems to me that privilege in this day and age gives us a chance to stay close to the natural world, cruel or not, and bring our resources to bear on surviving life as it happens. Surfing, let's say, rather than motoring by in a big cruiser.

Although I have nothing against boats. That was just a metaphor. Metaphors are another way to muster resources, to bring us within snapping distance of cruel. Still survive.

In the meantime, there are some big dang thistles in my side yard. My son's window view is filled with 8-foot weeds. Completely filled. His best friend was over the other day. She's an Ecology and Evolutionary Biology major at Harvard. I mention that for a reason. It's funny, I promise.

I was telling my son he needs to whack those thistles. That's how he's paying me back for some last minute extra cash needs for his final two weeks in Latin America. His friend piped up, "Oh no, don't cut them down," she said. "I can cook them." "They're thistles!" I said. "Oh," she said, "Thistles are delicious."

She's probably right. The thistle family, after all, includes artichokes. Perfect with hollandaise.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Low-Down On High WASP Sunglasses

The Sturdy Gal, sporting Ray-Bans, on a boat in the Stockholm Archipelago.

High WASPs do have their favorite sunglasses. Like IBM in the 1970s, no High WASP was ever fired for buying Ray-Ban. That's me, up above. And yes, I did Photoshop out a wee bit of my frown lines. I have not yet achieved the nirvana of a vanity-free midlife. Full disclosure. But I digress.

My middle sister wears Ray-Bans. And I did a Twitter poll of my preppy friends. While not all High WASPs are preppies, and not all preppies are High WASPs, in the sunglasses arena we're pretty well aligned. Ray-Bans win in a landslide. Tortoise shell a plus. From @AgathaMChristie*, we have the recommendation for these cat-eyes. $145. Sturdy Gal can go a little Artsy.
As @girltuesday and @Agatha also reminded me, we have been known to go for the occasional pair of Pradas, or Oliver Peoples. These are Peoples' "Riley" glasses. Also just a little bit artsy. Love the transparent frames. $365. Or Persol. These are $255. I have been ogling that particular hinge detail for, oh, 25 years now? My youngest sister wears Persol. Oh, yes. Don't think I haven't noticed.
What if you want to sport a Grande Dame look, in what we affectionately call our 'sunnies?' It wouldn't be Versace, or Dolce and Gabbana. Just because it wouldn't.

Hopsy loves Lilly Pulitzers. If I'm going Grande Dame, I'm wearing the logo with impunity. You want a logo that stands for something. Lilly does that. $170. Why logos are OK for sunglasses and not for other things, I don't know. You'd have to ask a real Grande Dame.
Muffy chimed in with Chanel. I did buy a Chanel pair once. During our recent turn-of-the-century madness and concurrent stock market heights. They were black, with that matelasse detailing on the side. I loved them. I lost them. Now I rather like these below, in white. Especially the expansion of the famous double C's to include the stylized camellia. Brilliant. I have no idea what they cost. Chanel figures if I have to ask I don't want them. Fine then. If you're going Grande Dame, go all the way to Florida.
Chanel can also take us pretty much all the way to Artsy. Silver fronds of plant material are definitely not Sturdy.

Or, for even more Artsy, given that these are a special secret probation fashion insider brand, try Karen Walker. She doesn't give us prices either.

Espoused, in a show of secret and only suspected edgy fashionable depths, by our favorite Preppy Princess. Preppy waters run deep. I've said so all long.

Lest you worry I'm advising we all return to giddy, profligate, turn of the century ways, be assured. The Sturdy Gal likes Target specials just fine. That's what my mom wears. She's from the generation before all this brand folderol.

But Foster Grants are even better. $20.

Because the Sturdy Gal loses her sunglasses all the time anyway.

Watch that video. No, you don't have to buy high end for good eye protection. But, things being what they are, you might do it just because.

Ray-Ban here.
Oliver Peoples here.
Persol here.
Lilly Pulitzer here.
Chanel here.
Karen Walker here.
Target here.
Foster Grant here.
Thank you to the Hostess for asking about sunnies.
Thanks also to Worthington and Lauren for their contributions.
* The @thingie is how people show up in their Tweets. Their user name, if you will.

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