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A truth universally acknowledged

Heather Emerald stretch poplin, J.Crew

I am sure this person has problems. It just seems like they must be really, really different than any of my problems.

A Reader Writes:

 

I was in my closet yesterday, lamenting the fact (yet again) that I had nothing to wear, when I had a startling realization. It was that I had all these stupid button down shirts occupying prime visual real estate, so I would walk in the closet, glare at them, then walk out again. My husband thinks button-up shirts are the epitome of stylishness and thinks that I look “more dressy” in them. I have a few that I like (mostly the silk ones) but the rest pull and gap and are just unattractive. However, I can’t seem to ditch them entirely because they can look okay on me with a cami underneath and with the shirt unbuttoned almost to the waist. And the sleeves rolled.  Who am I kidding? That’s not the sign of good-fitting clo, is it?  Maybe they’ll migrate to the upstairs closet until I can get around to a total purge. But isn’t one white button shirt acceptable?

 -Veronica, New England
Dear Veronica (not your real name):

The short answer is yes: one white button shirt in your closet is acceptable — if you wear it.  The long answer is, dude!  Why not get rid of everything you don’t wear (surely someone out there can give your button-downs a loving home — women’s businesswear is always an especially appreciated clothing donation).  Why keep clothing around that just festers resentment and guilt through your entire closet?  Well, because of fashion rules, that’s why.  It’s a maxim dilemma: how much do we stick with the “clean your closet and only own what you really wear” maxim– what if that leaves us only old hoodies and jeans from college. It would keep us in a rut that could be saved by embracing the dressy clothes, collecting basic pieces, and breaking out our potential frump cycle.  Is a single white shirt an answer to this? A crisp one?

Um how bout not?

Every single person absolutely needs one of these in their closet. Except you don't.

I’m not going to hate on all white today: I’m talking specifically about the long-sleeved, all-season, poplin or other classy-ass fabric you need to iron: the BLOUSE. Some of them are called Oxfords.  If anyone is still reading along here, I’d love to know if you have one.  I don’t think I have since 1992: the same year  my mom got me a blazer from the Gap for Christmas because it looked so “Collegiate” to wear with jeans. Yet, it is a “maxim” that everyone needs one. So much so that  Entire Articles like this one: The Classic white shirt: a primer*  are premised on the assumption that everyone must and will have a White Shirt — it’s just a matter of  finding the proper one for you.

The idea seems to be that a Tailored White Shirt can go anywhere — dress up or down — match anything in a pinch. Okay, maybe. But does it look good? Are you happy in it? Does white make you look sick and bloated? And really, isn’t it a little bit presumptuous to insist that everyone wants to squeeze into some boxy, preppy, wrinkle-prone remnant of Early 20th Century Men’s Tailoring? Personally I find them binding and impossible to keep tucked in (even if I wanted to tuck in — not a great look on us “apples,” honestly). It feels fussy to pull a sweater on over them. And I get that structured pieces give a body shape — seriously I dig that — but I don’t like structure too close to my body like that. It bugs, and it doesn’t look all the great on me.

How about you? If like “Veronica” you are debating whether you should hang onto old button-downs — (or keep feeling guilty because you don’t keep looking for the Perfect White Shirt ) — I offer this quick quiz to help:

IS IT NECESSARY FOR ME TO HAVE A CRISP, WHITE TAILORED SHIRT IN MY CLOSET AT ALL TIMES?

1. Are your normal, everyday polo shirts sometimes too casual for the nice jeans you want to wear with patent leather shoes?
2. Do you LOVE accessories — in fact have so many scarves, belts and chic chunky necklaces that you wish you had more coordinating tops to wear them with?
3. Speaking of belts, don’t you hate it when your shirt won’t tuck in, and no one can see your super cute belt? Do you tuck your shirt in to show off your butt? (There is potentially one person reading this who might).
4. Do colors — even taupe, gray, camel, and pale blue — make you nervous?
5. Is your name Clive Owen?

If you answered yes to any one of the above then yes, I get it. You go with your bad white shirt. If you are still rolling your eyes, though, then you’re with me. And you have my full blessing to put the white shirt in the (literal or theoretical, if you don’t really have one) pile of WHATEV clothes.  And seriously,  another year from now I might be ready to argue that the “collared blouse” ideal is so over it might actually be dated.  I will keep a close eye on the continuing tenure of Secretary of State Clinton as a fashion benchmark on this particular point.

But back to Veronica: you’re not off the hook that easily, my friend! Keep looking for comfortable, versatile wardrobe basics that will “dress up” those fabulous New England businesswoman-professional outfits of yours  — AND  “dress down” for a pizza-and-movies date night.  And how about those tricky Saturday events, like bridal shower for someone you barely know in a restaurant you’ve never heard of ? What if a white cotton Oxford would be PERFECT for that? I don’t care, but I will suggest these:

If you genuinely like the “collared blouse” style, Boden has this washable rayon/silk blend  in a flattering cream color. Even better they have it in green, cadet blue, gold, pewter and scarlet!   But my personal fave tops are strategically-draped knits in a well-grounded (but still interesting) color. Easy to layer, don’t have to tuck in. Other ideas?

Sweet, easy, comfy classy

Silk Flower Top in Pewter, $88 at Boden

Pretty

Peacock Blue Pleated front knit top, Merona for Target, $16.99. Also available in white.

Now isn't this better?

Slub cotton tiered tee in "Shade Blue," also known as "Gray."

*If you are going to quote Jane Austen as is done here, keep in mind that she is usually joking.
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Simplicity 4927

Good thing we have that "no toys in the living room" rule

Attempt 1: Purple floral with blue ribbon pocket trim.

Ok so. Until this summer, my last experience with sewing started and stopped in 1985, when I sewed two seersucker pillows shaped like the letters “K” and “M” (a birthday present for my sister) in junior high Home Ec.  I bought a new sewing machine without much of a clue: I was surprised  to see my hands remembered the “knob turn/back stitch/ flip up the presser foot” move at the end of a line of stitching. Have you noticed that Diane Keaton does this in Godfather II? Bam! Sewed ya, Corleone! Very satisfying.
 
But I didn’t find  sewing  as easy as, say, riding a bike. There’s the “threading” thing and what I’d call the “steering” thing to get the stitches where you need them to go.  Singer does have a pretty good instruction book and there’s plenty of help available online. Still, the bobbin vexed me for days. Days of desperately adjusting every tension setting possible, including taking the machine apart. DAMN BOBBIN.  I finally realized I had to slide the bobbin thread under that tight little place on the bobbin case, OOPS. Time to start sewing. Lesson learned: To save time, ask questions!  Call your mother as early as possible in the learning process. Preferably before you turn forty, although it’s never too late.
 
I knew my first dresses needed to be EASY PATTERNS and that, if they were going to be cute, I had to use CUTE FABRIC. These are my oft-repeated sewing mantras (the third relates to TECHNIQUE, a whole nother story). So to make my daughter a dress I first turned to Simplicity 4927, a simple two-piece pattern (front and back — really two back pieces and also two facing pieces).  No zipper. Sleeves optional. Attempt 1 was a fairly cute purple shift with blue ribbon on the pockets (too wide in the shoulders — Little Missy wears a 4T-5T in off-the-rack but a Pattern Size 3 is too big for her).  She likes the lavendar color, but was a little disappointed that the skirt was not more TWIRLY. This is a girl who knows what she wants and it is not this. If anyone wants a size 4-5T lavender shift dress with sloppy pocket stitching (Attempt 1, above), let me know.
Twirly

Attempt 2

So for Attempt 2, I tried to make the skirt twirly by clipping it and inserting triangular panels to make it “full.” This mostly worked, although the panels fell into pleats which surprised me. I bought some blue ruffled trim, which was adorable on the hem. But it turned out not to be long enough. You know how 2-pi*R is the circumference of a circle? This means the hem of a full skirt is like SIX times the length! Six! So oops I ran out of trim for the hem. I had to cut the skirt to fit, which is why there is blue vertical trim (bias tape) and a bow. Lesson learned: Measure, duh.
Me hold still?

Attempt 3

Since that worked pretty well, I went for Attempt 3. This used a cute blue and pink paisley calico. I tried to make the skirt Yet-Twirlier by cutting each panel (the front and two backs) into a wider arc below the waist. This worked in two dimensions — it did look fuller — but when she wore it, it just hung like a potato sack. It also “needed something,” so I added a flounce.  This stiffened the hem so that it hangs a little more full-ly, and also has the added benefit of making the dress “Curly” in addition to “Twirly.” Success:
When will you sew something FOR ME?

To make a flounce, cut out a "spiral" of fabric. Then it ruffles when you stretch it straight.

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Royal blue polyester "highly suitable for band uniforms"

Things I could not have imagined, only a few short years ago:

1. I am preoccupied about a process called “blogging with Android.” Stop and think about this.  Do we totally live in the future now or what? Is this Battlestar Galactica? Will next year we be “Frakking with Cylons?”

2. I am the mother of what appears to be a second-grader (further investigation is underway) and my pay has been cut by 3%.  Yes, that 3% that was my clothing budget.  All I’ve bought to wear this year was two sweaters at Target.  I also bought a pair of pants for Aki, but those turned out to have an unspeakable problem with fit (rhymes with schwamel-toe).

3. I am sewing my own clothes. Gentle reader, I shit you not.

I blame the rain this summer: Too much time indoors trying to glue-gun a baby doll dress out of some quilt scraps.  I must have got stir-crazy enough that a $85 Singer “Simple” 23-stitch suddenly looked like the greatest invention in the history of civilization.  Turned out the doll dresses were kind of cute. This led my four-year-old daughter to become unbearably envious and led me, out of an inflated sense of competence, to make her a dress for her birthday. The birthday dress actually turned out pretty shitastically bad by all measures. But, I used great fabric and she is adorable. So it passed.

Note: sports bra making this more "flat" that it should be. Really!
Exhibit A

Then the summer was over. And suddenly I couldn’t find a suitably chic, affordable, early-autum, warm-weather dress to wear to a destination wedding.  I found some adorable red cotton lawn (really lightweight wrinkly fabric) on sale. I found a “sheath” dress pattern. I had many trials and tribulations that I will describe in due time.  And somehow I managed to make a dress — or at least a reasonable-enough fascimile of a dress — to wear in public as long as I kept my arms at my sides (Exhibit A). Sometimes this sewing thing works.

"I still DONT UNDERSTAND why you cut the boob out of that dress." -- S.Schulz
Exhibit B

Other times, this sewing thing does not work.

And all you can do is laugh.

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So Superficial

Two Afghan women wearing chadri

We talk a lot about whether clothing is “superficial.” Well yes, clothes go on the surface of our bodies.  That’s what superficial means. But this doesn’t make clothing irrelevant or pretend.  It is deeply tied to our choices, our sense of self, and what we express to the world.

I’ve been wanting to talk about the Islamic Burqa and the “Burqa bans” in European countries.  But I didn’t know what to say — becuase I don’t like the burqa.  I wish it weren’t compulsory for women to cover themselves, for any reason. But I’m American and deeply believe in religious freedom.  So what do we do?

We don’t ban burqas.  Thankfully, feminist legal scholar Martha Nussbaum analyzes burqa bans in her piece Veiled Threats, in today’s New York Times Opinion Blog . Professor Nussbaum is smart and organized, as always, and I love how she fits it all together with different theories of religious freedom:

Societies are certainly entitled to insist that all women have a decent education and employment opportunities that give them exit options from any home situation they may dislike. If people think that women only wear the burqa because of coercive pressure, let them create ample opportunities for them, at the same time enforce laws making primary and secondary education compulsory, and then see what women actually do.

Former Miss Washington and domestic violence advocate Elyse Umemoto speaking in support of legislative reform

. . . And let’s be sure everyone lives safe from domestic violence and coercion, living in trust that we will be fully protected by the law. 

But what about all that nasty objectification –the world that insists we need a certain kind of body, demonizes age and weight, and promises us power if we show more skin (but exploits us as soon as we do?) Nussbaum says “The way to deal with sexism, in this case as in all, is by persuasion and example, not by removing liberty.” 

So what do we wear when we do that? And how do our clothes do that (or not?) Happily Professor Nussbaum allows for delicious high heels.

Onward. Nordstrom Anniversary Sale starts Friday!

http://www.yakima-herald.com/stories/2009/5/17/former-miss-washington-was-living-a-double-life

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What Black is Not

Is this really the best this kind of shoe can look?

Before you can get defensive, I’m not telling you not to wear black.  I’m not saying I don’t like you or your clothes.  I’m just saying: let’s think about this.

Black is not automatically the best shoe color. If you wear black shoes because it’s just your feet, what does this say about how you think about your feet? Why not wear a color you like there?  If you have lots of black shoes, and you limit what else you buy (black-only neutrals or black-affinity colors) to match your old black things, you are in a rut. Non-black neutral shoes are awesome.  Colorful sandals for summer are super-awesome.

Black is not always easy.  Without color you have less visual interest.  Your outfit is reduced to shape and form.  This can be marvelous — if you are wearing a well fitting, nicely styled piece like a perfect Little Black Dress.  But schlumpy, ill-fitting or out-of-date clothes just look worse in black.  A halfway-there dress is not forgiven its faults because it’s black.

Black is not compensation for bad accessories.  A black outfit diverts attention to whatever accessories you wear. So you can let your pretty, funky jewelry really sing. But: any “clunker” accessories (including a worn-out purse or shoes) clunk loudly against the “silence” of a black outfit. Wearing one black piece demands more of all the other pieces you wear.

sigh

Michael Kors. Silver shoes are versatile, energizing neutrals. Black with a cork heel doesn't make sense to me.

Black is not everyone’s best color. Black is a cold, severe color.  Most people look better wearing warm tones.  If you’re concerned that your face shows wrinkles in the wrong light, black tops make it worse — they cast shadows right where you don’t need them. (If you aren’t concerned? Just you wait.) Black sucks the shine out of hair and skin.  And if you have dandruff issues? I don’t need to tell you. You already know.

Black isn’t timeless.  Yes, a classic black dress will be stylish for more seasons than one in 2009’s mimosa yellow.  But in 2010, with so many other great dark neutrals to choose from, all-black looks about 10 years out of style.  Frugal is good (keep wearing what works!) but stuck in a rut (keep buying what you’ve always bought) is not.  Also: black cotton does not wash-and-wear forever without getting faded and pilled. And black leather shoes need to be shiny, rich and deep to look their best.  Black is not forgiving.

Black is not invisible.  Black reflects less light than pale colors. It does not absorb all light from surrounding galaxies: a black coat is not a black hole.  Baggy black clothes do not obscure the outline of your figure.  They just make you an big old blob, but darker.  Black is a color, it is not anti-matter. We can still see you. 

Black does not match everything. I think black looks good when mixed with other dark neutrals (gray, brown, navy, olive).  Black can be hard to wear with bright colors without looking cartoonish.  White/light colors with black create a lot of contrast — “pale top / black skirt” (or vice-versa) draws attention to the “fault line” where the colors meet — usually across your middle. 

Black isn’t Youthful. When Coco Chanel made short, sexy dresses out of black fabric, it was revolutionary — because black was, until then, a mourning color.  The original Little Black Dresses were edgy for their time —  like punk-edgy.  Coco Chanel is an amazing fashion icon — but if she were alive today she’d be 127 years old.  You will not look youthful if you dress like Coco Chanel.

Black is not the Sexiest. I really don’t think. When I was young, black seemed dangerous.  Adult, in a forbidden way — young girls didn’t wear it; Mommies and Grandmas didn’t wear it.  Sexy black strappy undergarments were for sexy-time only.  Sexy like Debra Winger in Black Widow (I know nothing about that movie, I’m sure I’m just misremembering pictures out of my family’s HBO guide). Black may be a symbolic color of S&M-whatever bad-girl bondage stuff, but why? Isn’t black leather just dyed, fake leather? What story are we telling about ourselves when we reach for that as our idea of “sexy?”

Black leather is sexy like Fonzie is sexy. Is that really what we aspire to?

Is one of these color combinations less-awful than the other? If so, why?

All Blacks

If any of the New Zealand "All Blacks" Rugby team are reading this? You look great, guys. I'm not talking about you.

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It was last fall, when laurgs or someone was freaking out saying “can I REALLY mix brown and black?” when I panicked, ran upstairs and hurriedly put together outfits and take pictures, and begged you all to  mix dark neutrals. Seriously. I am working on my big “Basic Black is Overrated” post, but it’s becoming quite the dissertation and will take time.  So consider this a quick reminder.  Brown and gray are not opposites that clash.   Go mix up your dark neutrals. Trust me.

Meanwhile, I notice that someone found this blog by searching for “older women in skirts and boots.” WTF, people. Older Women compared to whom? Okay, I will admit I freaked out momentarily today that my niece was turning 25, only to realize she was actually turning 26.  Insert “old lady losing my memory” joke here.  But I hate age jokes.  It’s just another trap of sabotaging ourselves.  Ha ha, let’s joke about how we can give up because we don’t matter anymore.  Don’t tell me I’m old.  Don’t complain that you are old. Especially if you are younger than me.  I am finally getting with it for the first time in my life.  I wouldn’t trade my age for anything.

But seriously, is this the older women in skirts and boots blog?

And for the festishists, or Older Women, or whoever you are: From my Skirts and Boots photo shoot. In the third picture, I am accidentally falling over trying to pose:

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ECI

ECI Beaded Matte Jersey Dress, $98

I should be able to find a dress I can wear to both a wedding (not my own) and a baseball game.   Accesories make the difference: 

A sunny afternoon wedding: With heeled sandals, a darling little handbag, a drapey silk cardigan, and husband in a suit and tie.      

  •  
  • A sunny afternoon baseball game: With flip-flops, sunglasses, knit hoodie, a diaper bag.  Husband in shorts and polo shirt.     

Is a dress at the ballpark a little excesseive for the Carolina Leagues? .  Not necessarily.  Jersey is comfy and doesn’t wrinkle.  Knits are casual.  A skirt and loose waistband are comfier than shorts or jeans on a hot day (For me — WAY comfier.  (Le Citron  is not a big fan of Le Waistband).    

Jolie!

Jolie sleeveless dress in viscose in Pear, by Horny Toad at Title 9, $65

These also would work for barbeques, picnics, parades and county fairs.  The prints make them casual.  My only problem would be the, “every time I’ve seen you all summer, you’re wearing that same dress” problem. Or “there’s Robin in that cute dress again!” Or maybe “I’m so glad you wore that dress again! I was just TELLING everyone how cute it was and now they can see for themselves.” 

And check out the twist-knot neckline!  It’s so 2010. 

Santorini

Santorini dress in Blue Moon Crete, knit with shelf bra at Athleta, $98

  

  

Boden

Boden Blueberry Drapey Jersey Dress, $128 and I have a 15% off coupon

Deep Rose

Deep Rose Empire Waist Knit, $49.50 at Ann Taylor Loft. Where I have a 20% coupon.

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