Category Archives: Style

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!

Beauty Adventure: Lash Lift

Ladies, if you are spending way too much time curling your lashes — or avoiding it because you’re worried you’ll pinch your lids or yank out your eyelashes — let me introduce you to the “lash lift”.

My brow guru, April, started offering this service last year and says it has really taken off, so to speak.  Her clients love it and I can see why. (Man, it’s hard to avoid those puns today!)

Curled eyelashes open up your eyes and help you look younger and more alert, especially if you have short, skimpy, or thinning lashes like mine. But many of us don’t have the patience to do it on a regular basis. Which is where this semi-permanent solution comes in.

After tinting/shaping my brows and darkening my invisibly blond eyelashes, April puts protective pads under my eyes to begin the process. First, your lashes are wrapped around soft silicone rods and coated with a light adhesive to lift them just at the root and keep them in place. This is the most time-consuming part because your aesthetician needs to comb out each lash to minimize any overlap and make sure each is as long as possible. You’ll feel a little tightness and pressure from the weight of the rods but relax, it will be over soon!

Once the lashes are positioned, a gentle curling solution (think “perm” but totally eye-safe, of course) is applied to the roots and timed to suit your own amount of natural curl. After that, a neutralizer is applied and allowed to set.

That’s it! The whole process takes about 45 minutes, and your lashes will stay lifted for about 6-8 weeks. Because only the roots are processed, I haven’t experienced any lash dryness or breakage.

It’s a little too expensive for me to indulge every time I get my brows done but it’s great for vacations when I don’t want to be fussing with complicated makeup rituals, and doing it just a few times a year is enough for now.

Have you tried it? Let me know!

(Below: After 5 weeks, no makeup)

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.

Categories

• 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

Old Before Your Time?

They say, “You’re only as young as you feel”.  Is the opposite, “You’re only as old as you look”? While aging is inevitable, some little things we do every day can make us look older than we have to. Luckily, they’re easily avoided; no medical intervention necessary!

Commuting. If you spend a lot of time in the car, the left side of your face gets extra sun exposure – the #1 cause of old-looking skin. Slather on the sunscreen, and don’t neglect the backs of your hands.

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Stress. Whether from road rage or other causes, chronic stress accelerates premature aging by shortening telomeres, the specialized DNA sequences and associated proteins that maintain the integrity of our chromosomes. Whole books have now been written about harnessing the power of telomerase, the enzyme that protects telomeres. If you don’t feel like reading all that, meditation, deep breathing, exercise, vodka and Xanax are also highly effective.

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Tech neck. Did you know that constantly looking down at our devices and computers encourages slackening of our jaw and neck muscles? Obviously we’re not about to give them up but people who care about these things suggest we keep them at eye level whenever possible.

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Sleep. Sleeping is good. Smooshing our face into the pillow is not so good, leading to additional wrinkling. If you can’t sleep on your back – and many can’t – try a silk or satin pillowcase, or use a sleep mask.

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Dry Climate. Dryness saps moisture from your skin. Use a humidifier, especially during the night. If you live in Texas, buy two.

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Straws. I was all about drinking my coffee through a straw to minimize staining my teeth until I realized that pursed lips accelerate wrinkles around the mouth. (Look at any chronic smoker.) And if you drink a lot of bottled water, you might want to pour it into a glass with a wider opening.

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Inactivity. According to a 2010 Australian study, every hour spent watching TV after age 25 cuts almost 22 minutes off the viewer’s lifespan. Yikes. Does my pounding heartbeat when I watch a show like The Americans or Man in The High Castle count as exercise, though?

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City Living. Here’s something interesting from a Harvard School of Public Health study: Women living in the greenest areas, as measured by satellite, were 34 percent less likely to die from a respiratory illness than women living in the most paved-over areas. And women living amidst greenery were 13 percent less likely to die of cancer. If you live in a city, get some houseplants!

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Sugar. Really want to wreck your skin? Eat sugar! It causes inflammation, which breaks down collagen and elastin, the building blocks of healthy, plump skin.

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Heavy makeup. Kind of a no-brainer, but wearing more makeup as we age is actually, well, aging. Go easy on foundation, substituting a tinted moisturizer with a broad-spectrum sunblock, dab a little concealer only where you need it, and skip under-eye liner and mascara, which cast a shadow and make older eyes look tired.

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How about a quick way to look younger? Every year our skin and hair tones change subtly, so what used to be flattering may not look as good now. Color experts recommend wearing one of these four universally flattering shades.

NEW BLACK Black is my go-to. But I admit it’s often too severe for mature skin, making fine lines, under-eye circles and wrinkles more obvious. Much more flattering are softer shades like charcoal grey and navy. And when you do wear black, consider adding a scarf to bring color near your face.

PERIWINKLE Even the name is charming! Hair and skin tones become “cooler” as we age, so one color that looks pretty on most women is this medium blue with a touch of violet or purple.

TURQUOISE Turquoise looks great against every skin tone. To figure out whether to go bluer or greener, one color expert suggests looking at the veins in your wrist and choosing a shade that leans in that direction. On medium to darker skin, either will be beautiful.

RED VIOLET This vibrant color is more flattering than pastel pink, especially on lighter skin. Fuchsia, raspberry and magenta can brighten your face and still look sophisticated.