Category Archives: Fashion

Mama’s Got a Brand New Bag – And You Should, Too!

As many of you know, I love using my small platform to introduce you to people whose work I respect. This week, I’m delighted to share the gorgeous handcrafted designs of the very talented Bernice Angelique.

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I’ve can’t remember how/where I first saw her bags — I think I was researching “genuine ostrich bags” online — but eventually we started corresponding. One thing led to another and now I have two of her beautiful (and amazingly well-priced) bags and always get compliments on their simple yet sophisticated lines. Their appeal to me is much more than skin deep because unlike a lot of designers (including most stratospheric-priced name brands) hers are lined with suede instead of fabric. Luxury through and through.

A quick note about ostrich: the quills (bumps) are where feathers are removed during the tanning process. Ostrich leather is extremely durable and softens over time, retaining both its beauty and value. Just like us!

After graduating from the London College of Fashion, Bernice launched her brand in 2011 with a focus on exotic but affordable leather in clean, architectural shapes and an absence of gimmicks.

Hand made in Cape Town, South Africa, Bernice Angelique leather goods use the highest quality ostrich leather, hardware and techniques. She’s recently changed her business model to focus solely on custom-made bags. (Below, bags in progress.)

This means not only consistent quality control but lower prices as well. Win-win!

As she notes on her website, sustainability, empowerment and a desire to support local trade are the foundations of the brand. The leather is all locally sourced, providing employment to South African artisans. And the tannery, Klein Karoo, also sells the meat – primarily exporting to France and complying with strict international standards in every aspect of their business.

I asked Bernice to share some of her experiences with us.

 

What has been your biggest challenge? Oh my! Just one?!? Well, I would have to say keeping the belief alive and never losing sight of my dream. It’s challenging to hold on tightly to your dreams through all the ups & downs, but my mom always told me growing up, “Slow and steady wins the race!” I remind myself of this through the challenging times and just keep persevering.

Can you share any funny stories from the “early days”? One memory I have goes way back to before I even started the business. It was during my time at London College of Fashion, and I was just being introduced to handbag crafting. The first handbag I ever made was a complete disaster…but nevertheless, I knew that this was what I wanted to do!

What are your hopes for the brand in the future? I am so fulfilled now with how I’ve been able to structure the business. I would love to continue to craft custom handbags for women around the world. My time designing and crafting in my studio is my magical escape and I find it absolutely amazing that I get to share this magic with such wonderful women from around the world.

What are the biggest rewards? My biggest reward would have to be that I feel that I live an authentic life, as I am able to fully express who I am through my work. I feel that if one loves what one does, it just filters into the rest of your life and relationships.

The newly revamped Bernice Angelique website shows most of the new styles with chain straps and embellishment. If you prefer a leather strap or a single color, as I do (I love my Temptress, below: 340 GBP/about $450) just send her a message.

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Everything is bespoke, i.e. made to order and personal to you. For instance, you can have a longer strap made if you’re very tall or want the option to wear a shoulder style as a cross-body. In her own words, “I love getting to know each client and crafting a specific piece just for her. I treasure the unique.”

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And if an older style featured in the “News” section of the website catches your eye, ask about that as well; she may be able to revive something from the archives just for you.

Try getting that level of service from an ordinary store!

Bernice has generously created a special 10% discount for readers of this blog. Check out online with code BLOG10. You deserve it.

She’s now added Nile crocodile to the line, available in 60 colors with a matte or glazed (shiny) finish. Fabulous! A croc Provocatrix may be my next purchase.

xo, Alisa

(An unsponsored post, as always. Just a company I admire and believe in!)

Mystery and Myth: We All Need Some.

I was reading this morning about a fashion show fixture whose name wasn’t familiar to me. A quick jump to the link provided and — voilà — another half hour down the rabbit hole of pseudo-celebrity and one of its more bizarre denizens. It’s a great story.

This got me thinking about mystery, reinvention and reality as it applies to the rest of us “mere” mortals.

We’re on Facebook or Instagram over-sharing the minutiae of our lives. We volunteer intimate details to strangers and acquaintances. We embroider, embellish and gloss over the unseemly bits. We seem uncomfortable with just “being”.

Of course we all need approval. But isn’t there a middle ground between “I vant to be alone” aloofness and Kardashian-level accessibility?

A little mystery is always appreciated. I don’t want to know everything about you in our first hour of conversation, and vice versa. I’d like our secrets to unfold with time and trust.

On the other hand, creating a mythological existence out of whole cloth is pretty extreme. The authentic self is fascinating enough, regardless of one’s connections or accomplishments. We shouldn’t need to pretzel our life stories, manufacture drama or keep people guessing about our origins in order to seem interesting.

At Wednesday’s exercise class, a woman I hadn’t seen in nearly a year came over to introduce herself. Thanks to my current longer hair, a few less pounds and contacts replacing my usual glasses, she hadn’t recognized me.

For a fraction of a second I was tempted to invent a whole new persona. I could be anyone!! But then, the other ladies started laughing and told her who I was.

I’ll never be as enigmatic as Amanda Lear. But it’s quite nice to be known by a select few. As for full-on mysteries… make mine Dorothy Sayers.

My French Obsession

Along with many other women, I’m fascinated by the way French women appear to create endless outfits with minimal wardrobe resources.

A WhoWhatWear post caught my eye the other day and I thought I’d share my version of it.

The article says that the five-piece French wardrobe concept hit the Internet around 2014. It makes sense in these days of KonMari’ing everything and culling our closets to manageable sizes. I generally fail in the “culling” department, despite regular clear-outs, but I aspire to only have items that fit well, look good, and hold up.

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French in Five Steps overall guidelines:

  • Start with quality basics in every category, and eliminate clothing that you don’t love to wear. Buy new basics to fill any gaps, choosing quality over quantity (even tee shirts should be well-made).
  • Limit additional purchases to five non-basic items per season (once in spring/summer, once in fall/winter) to stay current and reflect your personality. Don’t spend too much on passing fads!
  • Edit your closet at least once a year and ditch anything that’s irreparably worn, stained, doesn’t fit, or simply isn’t “you” anymore, no matter how much it cost. Then make a list of what should be replaced and don’t get distracted by items you don’t really need.

The five-piece approach is intended to help you build a wardrobe that feels true to your own aesthetic, works year-round and stands the test of time. The result: less money spent on items you won’t love long term, less time trying to figure out what to wear, and a newfound feeling of deep satisfaction with your wardrobe.

The WhoWhatWear post credits blogger AfterDrk for these helpful guidelines. Add or subtract based on your own needs (for instance, after a certain age leather pants may be off the table and I personally find the idea of one day bag a bit too limited).

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THE BASICS

TOPS

  • Silk Blouse
  • White Button Down
  • Black Dress
  • Boyfriend Blazer
  • Cashmere Sweater (don’t cheap out and it will last for years)
  • 3 T’s: black, white, grey  (I love Majestic Filatures and James Perse)
  • 3 Tanks: black, white, grey

JACKETS

  • Leather (black is timeless; brown is less harsh after age 50)
  • Trench
  • Black Suit
  • Seasonal Coat

SHOES

  • Black heels/stilettos
  • Mid-heel ankle boot
  • Classic flats (loafers, ballets)
  • Summer sandals (espadrilles for city)
  • Sneakers (Parisians love Converse; I’m a big fan of Woman by Common Projects too)

BOTTOMS

  • Black pants
  • Skinny jeans (blue of course; white works year-round)
  • Wider-leg jeans (boyfriend, trouser)
  • Leather pants (but avoid “mutton dressed as lamb” – you’ll know when you hit it!)
  • Black skirt
  • Black shorts (Over 40? Proceed with caution and a full-length mirror)

ACCESSORIES

  • Watch
  • Diamond studs
  • Everyday ring
  • Signature necklace
  • Clutch for evening
  • Leather day bag
  • Silk scarf

Does this approach work for you? I’d love to know! xx

 

Desire, Anticipation, Realization

Remember the old Heinz commercial with the Carly Simon soundtrack? Anticipation has been motivating people long before it was an advertising theme. I’ll bet Mrs. Caveman found saber tooth stew more appealing after waiting all day for Mr. C to bring home the goodies. (Imagine how a little ketchup would have helped!)caveman-159964_640

I’m not a patient person. But I love pre-planning vacations: reading about my destination; researching places to explore and eat; making and revising endless lists of what to bring and wear; creating a wish list of possible purchases. Anticipation extends the trip well beyond the actual time away if I start enjoying it months in advance.

I also find anticipation half the fun of baking – the long, slow rise of the bread or waiting for some delicious dessert to come out of the oven. And what’s nicer than looking forward to a hot cup of tea or coffee after being outside on a cold, rainy day – or a frosty beer after a blisteringly hot one?

Although it can be frustrating, time-consuming or confusing, anticipation is especially useful when purchasing something expensive. When’s the last time you bought a car or house on impulse before taking the time to decide exactly what you wanted? (If you did, you have far more disposable income than I do; please buy me a Bentley!)

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Psychologists tell us that desiring something is more satisfying than actually acquiring it (scientists call this “habituation”). There’s often a letdown after getting the object, which is why prolonging the process can be so enjoyable. (Check out a fascinating article on this topic in The Atlantic.)

I’ve been thinking about this since arriving at our summer house 20 lbs. lighter than last year and discovering that “I have nothing to wear” wasn’t hyperbole. I had exactly one pair of jeans and three sweaters that fit; everything else down to my underwear needed to be replaced.

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The surprise, for a dedicated shopper like myself, is that mass acquisition isn’t much fun. I’ve pretty much had to blitz-shop online (hello, The Outnet) to compile an instant wardrobe. As a result, I’ve been denied the pleasures of anticipation, window-shopping, weighing pros and cons, etc. as part of the experience.

Years ago, on a trip to Milan, my husband and I watched a group of young women return to our hotel laden with shopping bags from every high end store you can imagine (Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Dior etc.) woman-1329790_640

I’ve often wondered: Did those girls really appreciate everything they bought, after the shopping high wore off? If you could acquire anything you desire without a second’s thought, would it be special?

What do you think — is anticipation more satisfying than acquisition? And what about delayed gratification… does something have more value to you when you’ve saved up for it? Are there things you bought that you love as much — or more — now that you have them?

In other words, does the “high” always fade?

Busting Out of a Bra Rut

A bra fitting is the root canal of shopping. Next to trying on bathing suits (or having a mammogram) it’s one of the more unpleasant experiences you can put your boobs through, as far as I’m concerned.

Which probably explains why an estimated 75% of us are wearing the wrong size bra; it’s less stressful to grab the same old thing than to stand around half naked in a fitting room for a half hour or more while some chirpy stranger straps us into dozens of choices and prattles on about “uplift” and cleavage.

Bra size often changes when we gain or lose weight, gain or lose muscle tone, go through pregnancy, and get older. And bras themselves simply wear out. I can’t remember the last time I was measured and odds are that my go-to size has got up and went in the wrong direction. So I zip over to Nordstrom’s (any store with a decent lingerie department will have experienced fitters on staff) for a major overhaul of the underwear drawer.

You can measure yourself at home (details below), but according to experts, that’s not the best option. It’s very hard to pull the tape tight enough while attempting to exhale. It’s also hard to be objective about what’s flattering.

After stripping off my shirt while avoiding my reflection —  lovingly bathed in harsh fluorescent light that showcases every lump and bump, and not the good kind – my fitter Ms. C measures my rib cage by pulling the tape tightly around my body just below the bra line. This is the band size, and it’s about two sizes smaller than what I’ve been mistakenly wearing. Guess I should have done this a while ago. I learn that the right size band should fit snugly on the last hook and you should only be able to fit one or two fingers between the band and your back. (Is this why the boys had so much trouble unhooking our bras back in high school?? Oops, I digress.)

Ms. C doesn’t measure my cup size – I suppose years of looking at breasts gives you a pretty good idea of how big somebody is – and heads onto the floor to bring back different options.

As I try on the first few bras, Ms. C introduces me to the “scoop and swoop” method, immediately conjuring visions of Johnnie Cochran: “Scoop and swoop, or you will droop!” Basically, this means you put on the bra, lift up the breast tissue, and move it towards the outside edge of the cup to make sure all the boobage is tucked in. A little weird, but it works.

Now that she knows what size I am, she brings in several designs including some molded styles that I immediately reject on the grounds that the last thing I need is any enhancement.

Unfortunately, the store doesn’t carry much in my size (“well endowed” with a 30-inch ribcage) so I leave with only two Chantelle bras — supportive but not matronly. Once home, I have better luck shopping online, beginning with Nordstrom.com  and moving on to Bare Necessities, which stocks a wide variety of sizes and styles including many tops and bottoms that are boudoir-only if you’re feeling saucy.

If you are inclined to measure at home, here are some tips from Bare Necessities:

How to measure bra size:

Bra band – Pull the measuring tape tight across the bottom of your current bra directly under the bust, across your ribcage and around your back under your arms. If you get an odd number, round up to the next even number.

Remember that you want a bra to fit snugly on the last hook when new. As the band loosens with time, you’ll be able to tighten it by using the next rows of hooks. If the band of a new bra fits on the first/tightest hook (i.e., with no others showing) you’ve got nowhere to go when it gets too loose, so that size is too large.

Bust size – Find your bust measurement by measuring loosely around the fullest part of your bust with the tape straight across and around your back under the arms.

Cup size – Subtract your band size from your bust size and use the difference to find your bra cup size in the chart below. For example, if your bust is 38” and your band is 34” (a 4” difference), you would wear a 38 D.

That said, every woman’s body is different so you may need to experiment to find your best fit.

Size conversions

US/UK/European sizes vary above a D cup. When buying online, it helps to know what size you are in a specific brand so the website can suggest equivalent size choices.

(Bust minus band)         US                 EUROPE                    UK

1″ A A A
2″ B B B
3″ C C C
4″ D D D
5″ DD/E E DD
6″ DDD/F F E
7″ DDDD/G G F
8″ DDDDD/H H FF
9″ DDDDDD/I I G
10″ J J GG
11″ K   H
12″ L   HH
13″ M   J
14″ N   JJ
      K

NORDSTROM’S FIT QUIZ

  • Does the band ride up in the back? If yes, your bra is either too large or it needs to be tightened. If it’s still too loose after you’ve adjusted the band, it’s time to go down a band size (and possibly up a cup).
  • Do your breasts bulge or spill over the cup? If yes, your cups are too small and you need to go up a cup size.
  • Do the cups pucker or gap? If your breasts don’t fill out the cups, your bra is too large.
  • Do your straps slip and slide? If you’ve adjusted your straps and they still fall off, either the band is too big or your bra has lost its elasticity. If you have sloped shoulders, opt for a racerback bra or a style with convertible straps.
  • Do your straps dig into your shoulders? If so, try loosening the straps. If that doesn’t solve the problem, it’s likely the cups are too small and you need to go up a cup size.
  • Does the wire poke and prod? If so, you’re wearing a cup size that’s too small.

A QUICK CHECKLIST

TOO SMALL

  • Spillover on top or sides
  • Center section doesn’t lie flat
  • Underwires poke or ride up

TOO BIG

  • Cups wrinkle or gap
  • Adjusted straps still slide off
  • Band rides up in back

JUST RIGHT

  • Smooth cups
  • Center section lies flat
  • Band is low and even

Interesting discovery: As band size goes down, cup size often goes up, e.g., the cup size of a 32 D will fit about the same as that of a 30 DD.

Need some wardrobe inspiration? Try one of these styles:

T-SHIRT: Smooth coverage with molded cups and enhanced lining so you can wear something sheer without any see-through.

PUSH-UP: Padding enhances cleavage and provides extra lift for plunging necklines. For less ooh-la-la, go up a cup size.

DEMI: A straight-across cut enhances cleavage, while wide-set shoulder straps highlight your neckline.

STRAPLESS/CONVERTIBLE: A fitted band provides support for any bare-shoulder look, while removable straps give you day-to-night options.

RACERBACK: This sport-inspired bra offers slip-proof straps and generous support. Great with tank tops.

BRALETTE: Soft, stretchy fabric gives light support and comfortable fit for smaller cup sizes.

UNLINED: This seamless style provides a natural shape without lining or molding and flatters an average to fuller bust.

WIRELESS: A soft, no-show silhouette works well under sheer tops and can be more comfortable than wires if you don’t need a lot of support. Foam cups offer extra coverage.

So, when’s the last time you checked if your bra is still the right size? Get thee to a fitter; it’s worth it!

Am I What I Wear?

Lately, I’ve been going through an identity crisis. A sartorial one, primarily, stemming from the question, “Who am I if I’m not working?” combined with the dread of becoming invisible with the passing years.

As a freelance writer/retired (mostly) by choice, I could spend the day in ratty sweatpants and no one would notice. But that’s just not “me”; I worked in an office for 30 years and dressing for work is a difficult habit to overcome. Plus, I’ve always loved fashion.

This particular crise du jour is also accompanied by weight loss, which would normally be cause for celebration but is in fact cause for alarm/introspection/analysis as I have to decide: Since I have to buy new clothes that fit, WHAT should they be?

The delightful blogger Lady Sarah offers a brilliant suggestion: Create a pie chart for how you actually spend your time so that you can buy accordingly. Instead of shopping for a fantasy life, I’m taking this a step further to analyze not just how I currently spend my time but how I’d like to spend it.

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• At home doing chores, scrolling through online articles, contemplating working out, watching TV, contemplating cleaning, actually working out, reading, actually cleaning

• At home writing (want to project a professional image, if only to myself)

• Running errands: Stained tees are a non-starter even though the chances of bumping into someone I know — since I know virtually no one in Texas — are slim to none

• Lunch dates: All too few. Goal: expand opportunities

• Dinner dates with husband and friends: Ah, safe ground here. Need to look nice but not overly fussed over

• Opera/Symphony: Unlikely to run into anyone here either but a good excuse to dress up

• Entertaining at home: What to wear that is chic but won’t get stained while cooking?

• Travel: My sweet spot, wardrobe-wise. I’m a big-city girl at heart and enjoy being able to wear my favorite pieces without feeling overdressed. Not that anyone’s looking – but it’s all about how you see yourself, isn’t it?

• Playing with grandchildren: Not the time for a silk blouse, but surely I can do better than an old band t-shirt and leggings even if the baby is likely to spit up

• Summer hiking/walking: Anything goes, as long as it’s waterproof

• Wine tasting (a favorite summer activity): Upgraded casual, mostly dark colors in case I spill something – a real possibility around Glass #3

FullSizeRender 7All in all, what I’ve learned from this exercise is that I shouldn’t buy another leather jacket since I live in a warm climate (much as I adore them) and that I should create more opportunities that are appropriate for my favorite items rather than “dumbing down” my wardrobe to match my mostly-stay-at-home activities.

Sign me up for: adult education classes, more travel, more lunches/dinners with friends, more evenings out, volunteering at anything where you shouldn’t look like a slob, and so on.

Anyone else having an identity crisis as you change jobs, become a stay-at-home parent or approach retirement? Please share your solutions and insights with the rest of us!

Xx, Alisa

The Eyes Have It: Adventures in Monovision

When I first got contact lenses in 7th grade and announced ecstatically that I could finally see properly, my mother burst into tears. I remember this primarily because it’s the only sentimental thing she ever did.

Since then, glasses, contacts and post-age-40 reading glasses have been a fact of life and an ever-expanding part of my wardrobe.  If I wear my contacts I can’t see anything smaller than type THIS BIG so I stash reading glasses all over the house, in the car and in at least one pocket.  This also requires the expensive addition of reader sunglasses — also stashed in multiple locations. And yet, I often can’t find a pair.

Although I see best with my regular (progressive bifocal) glasses, they’re a real pain. They get dirty. They stretch and eventually slip off my nose. And they’re heavy enough to break tiny blood vessels in my cheeks if I wear them all the time. Memo: stock up on cover up.

Eventually I’ll probably need cataract surgery and maybe by then science will have a perfect solution. Meanwhile, at my latest annual eye exam, my doctor suggested I try monovision to eliminate the need for readers, which she thought would work better for me than bifocal contacts.

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How It Works

With monovision, you wear a contact lens on one eye to correct your distance vision (aka nearsightedness) and a lens on the other eye to correct your near vision (farsightedness). The distance vision lens is worn on your dominant eye, i.e., the one that sees far away objects better.

The term “monovision” is a bit misleading. After about a week or two, brain learns to merge the two images to (theoretically) let you see clearly at all distances. But each eye will still see best at its own designated correction.

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Plan on Multiple Visits

My eye doctor warned me that it might take multiple visits before landing on the right combination. Meanwhile, as my friend S (who won’t try this) says, I could be walking into walls. I leave with a 10-day supply of trial lenses. Note: you may be charged a higher fitting fee than usual because most people need “tweaking” before the lenses are perfect.

Rx 1: Right eye (distance) same as my normal prescription. Left eye (close up): under-corrected for distance and too blurry for close-up reading. Result: dizziness and lousy vision. Lose-lose.

Rx 2: A different doctor (young and impossibly chic) gives me a thorough exam trying a lot of subtle modifications to get me closer to the best prescription. Results: No change to right eye. Left eye made weaker so close-ups are better, but not great. Still dizzy and not seeing well enough. Feh.

Rx 3 (3 weeks after my initial checkup): Dr. Chic has me try a toric (weighted) lens for the mild astigmatism in my right eye. Upside: distance vision is a little sharper. Downsides: toric lenses are more expensive, thicker, and have to be perfectly positioned. She explains that there is a vertical line on the lens that should be at the bottom when you place it in your eye. After struggling to figure out why the line keeps moving, I realize the next day that there are actually TWO vertical lines – one will be at the top of the lens when the other is at the bottom. This seems unnecessarily complicated.

For the left eye, she gives me an even weaker lens. Now my close-up vision is excellent. Off I go with more test lenses, opting to wait a few days to see if this whole experiment is worth it or if I should just renew my old contacts prescription and stick with reading glasses. After all, I have made a substantial investment in readers at this point!

laptop-1047086_640The Research

What I’ve learned so far: Not everyone is a monovision candidate. Some people find that it compromises the clarity of their distance vision, making far away objects appear slightly blurry. I suspect this is going to be my problem, especially when I’m driving.

For others, monovision doesn’t provide good enough near vision to eliminate the need for readers. That would be pointless, no?

Finally, although the two eyes work together as a team, there can be a slight loss in depth perception. And I’d always need to carry glasses with me in case of an emergency (e.g., getting something in my distance eye and truly not being able to see anything.) If I have to carry glasses, wouldn’t it be a whole lot easier to just wear them?? Plus, they’re never going to fit in a small purse.

All in all, I’m giving this another week. Fingers (and eyes) crossed!