Saturday, November 24, 2012

Tap Your Troubles Away

Last week my teen and I were browsing through a new boutique when we had a markedly different reaction to a piece we found on the dress rail: it was a pair of midnight silk tap pants edged in mossy-brown lace.

I swooned and my teen sneered till I told her about the garment's heritage--these little shorts were named for the tap dancers who would practice in them.

As my daughter's a tapper (shameless namedropping: she had a dance class with the Rockettes this summer as a birthday gift), her grim look softened, but not enough that I could purchase the tap pants for her.

I, however, LOVE the look of tap pants and remember when, in my twenties, I went to a chic little lingerie boutique in Montreal and bought a few sets pour moi. 

Now, alas, clothing styles are engineered more for Spanx than a lacy shot of fluttery silk, but I'll bet that these tap pants would still be perfect underneath an A-line skirt, or over a pair of tights, worn with the right sweater and heels.

Or in the summer, on their own, with a smile and a pair of tap shoes, a la Gilda Radner in this routine from The Muppet Show.  As the curtain opens, Ms. Radner is stuck to Beaker via glue from a lab experiment gone awry.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Annual Thanksgiving Post on Treacy's Trilby

I'm admiring what I'm calling rabbit ears.
 (And to think I almost wrote a new post before remembering!  Here is my annual Thanksgiving post on Philip Treacy's magical headpieces.)

American Thanksgiving is a time for thanks and hats. Just go to your local elementary school this week and you’ll see children decked out in Pilgrim hats, playing with their fellow Indians in homemade headdresses.

I’ve always been a hat girl, growing up on Prince Edward Island, Canada, where the ocean breeze kept a chill in the air. There, my Scottish grandmother would bundle me in coarse tam o’shanters, made from scratchy undyed wool. During my university years in bilingual Ottawa, I graduated to French berets in jet noir; loden festooned with a raccoon’s tail (what was I thinking?); creamy cupcake pink.

On bitter days, and there were many, I’d pull the beret over my brow, slap on a pair of ear muffs, and ice-skate down the Rideau Canal toward my campus. I’d share the ice with various Members of Parliament (Parliament Hill was just beyond the university), their long winterized trench coats parachuting around them, their briefcases somehow not throwing them off balance. During her lunch break one senior MP would don a racing suit and make slow, steady strokes up and down the canal, stopping later at the stands selling deep-fried beaver tails, a Canadian winter delicacy.

I wore berets throughout my undergraduate and graduate education, from Ottawa to the United States. They were functional, fit my large-ish head, and, I liked to think, marked me as “other” in my new home: a beret was a subtle symbol of Canadian pride.

But this steady relationship was rattled when I went to New York City to visit my husband’s family one Christmas. After visiting the requisite art galleries, I always ducked into my favorite store, Bergdorf Goodman, to check out some living art—the impeccably dressed patrons who glided through the corridors—and, of course, the fantastic displays of merchandise. Getting somewhat lost among the mirrored walls on the accessories level, I took a turn and found myself gazing at a hat: a Philip Treacy design. To be exact, an asymmetrical trilby, with navy cotton exterior, pewter satin lining, silver unicorn logo on the brand, provenance England. I was smitten.

For a Philip Treacy hat n’est pas un chapeau. Rather, it is an idea. Picture Treacy’s former muse Isabella Blow wearing a large orange acrylic disk that overwhelms her face, a slender wedge of pie extracted for her mouth and nose, or a model wearing a sculpture—a representation of a gently askew tophat spelling out h-a-t in lissome, sky-scraping letters. But this Irish-born, London-bred milliner known as the mad Hatter for his confections also makes wearable fantasies; hence the—no, my—assymetrical trilby.
Reader, I bought it. What else could I do? And I carried it down Fifth Avenue in its glistening silvery BG hatbox, feeling, perhaps for the first time, like a lady rather than the feminist scholar that I am. I, who critique Sister Carrie’s seduction by the snug little jackets in a Chicago department store, fell prey to the same siren song. And like Hortense, in another Dreiser novel, I wanted the hat so badly that my lack of cash didn’t stop me; whereas Hortense lures her boyfriend into purchasing her a coat with vague promises of affection, I used my BG charge card, with half-hearted assurances to myself that I’d pay if off in no time.

Geography, though, was the wild card I hadn’t counted on. Although my eccentric new navy asymmetrical trilby didn’t stand out on the fashionable streets of New York, it practically screamed “Outsider” when I returned to the Midwest farmland where I then lived and taught college. In the Midwest, where people pride themselves on four-post homes, three square meals a day, and unwavering moral values, asymmetry isn’t exactly a virtue. Rather, it makes people suspicious of you.

Usually I tend to court my outside status. I quite like to be contrary, and have ever since I was a teenager, when, yearning for the black velvet pants and pastel pink satin blouse that all my friends had, my chic grandmother returned from Montreal with forest green velvet trousers and a burgundy satin shirt. I wasn’t immediately sure about this combination, but quickly saw how one could work within a fashion concept while executing your own take on it. Couldn’t my asymmetrical trilby coexist with the John Deere farming caps and the German Baptist bonnets? After all, I’d worn a beret for many a year and the Midwest wasn’t exactly a bastion of French style.

But whereas my beret was looked on with grudging acceptance, my trilby was more a source of humor. Noone actually said anything directly, but locals would talk to my hat instead of my face, colleagues would be overly smiley when I’d stalk around campus. I felt self-conscious and soon found myself wearing my trilby only at home, happy to catch surprise glimpses of my reflection in the windows as I’d go about my evening. And eventually I put it away, nestled inside its hatbox, which sat at the bottom of my armoire, as I gradually forgot about it.

Until, that is, last November, when, in a burst of enthusiasm for cleaning out my closets via eBay, I rediscovered the box and its contents. I listed the hat on eBay, enjoyed a mild bidding war, and prepared to ship the trilby and box to its new owner, known to me only by her excellent feedback rating. But when I received the eBay-generated message containing the winner’s email and home address, a different kind of feedback quickly flashed in my mind. For the new owner of my Philip Treacy trilby was a Famous New York Personality of TV and Movies, she of the high cheekbones, sassy persona, and megawatt smile.

A celebrity bought my London-via-Bergdorf’s hat. A beautiful, edgy New York celebrity. We must be soul sisters! We could bond over our love of Philip Treacy hats! She would totally “get” me; we could chat over email like fashion insiders; we could meet, even, when I returned to New York on my twice-yearly pilgrimages! We’d go hat shopping together and she could show me how she sports my—our—no, her hat in the city and makes it her own.

Or I could mail her the hat with a note saying that I hope she wears it in the best of health. Which I did.

Like Chaucer sending his “littel book” out into the world, I sent my hat back to New York, where it is meant to be, with its citified asymmetrical attitude. Perhaps it will go dancing, to a movie premiere, to a little bistro. Perhaps one night it will even get tipsy (umm—symmetrical). And I am thankful that it is with its rightful owner, someone who can literally take the hat out of her closet, who can enjoy it out in public. And I can enjoy it too, from the distance of my imagination.

It’s not chilly enough here yet for my beret. But it will be soon.

Monday, November 19, 2012

I Think I Khan: Contemplating Jemima's Hair

Do you know Jemima Khan's hair?

Her hair is lovely in its untamed English manner, with fringe reaching that just-perfectly in-the-eyes length, the rest extending well beyond her collarbones.

It's Ms. Khan's signature, as it has stood the test of time. through her wedding photos, not quite upstaged by that glamourous hat,

through her life in Pakistan, where, I recall reading, it was sometimes challenging to shampoo,

through her return to London.

Tres glam, though I prefer her more undone looks

And she's never changed its hue . . . well . . . maybe once.  (Sorry, Hugh Grant; I couldn't resist).

My hair used to be long, but for the last decade it's hovered around my clavicle, via regular visits to my stylist. But this fall various elements have conspired to keep me out of the salon chair, so I've been dashing into the powder room at stolen hours for quick trims on a lark. As a result, my fringe reaches my eyes, and the rest of my length is tentatively stretching out.

Now there's a fine line between Jemima Khan's glorious locks and Real Housewives' girlish 'dos, and I know not to cross it.  But for now, I'll play The Little Engine that Could, and encourage myself (I think I Khan) until I really Khan't.

Ralph Lauren's Buffalo Stance

The Ralph Lauren looks I love are the ones from the 1980s, when he burst onto the scene with dreamy Bruce Weber photographs of Clotilde in her Native American-inspired clothes.

He's bringing back that ambiance, a time of comforting blanket-wrap jackets, swashbuckling western leather dusters, and lots of Big 80s money to spend on them in his new vintage collection.

I checked (pre-pun groan) it out today and went directly to the buffalo check skirt, the strong colors of which remind me not only of a favourite Hudson's Bay blanket, but of paging through magazines as a teen, imprinting every model's gesture, every silhouette upon my memory.

The skirt's sold out already, but that's OK, because my 80s recall is strong, as was the hairspray we used to add height to our hair.

But every morning I'd pull my locks into a ponytail and go for a long run, listening to my yellow Walkwoman.

This song by Nenah Cherry was on one of my mix tapes, so here's a little "Buffalo Stance" while contemplating buffalo checks.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Winter Break Reading List

It's not yet Thanksgiving, but I have my reading list ready for the Winter Break in late December.

I'm especially looking forward to seeing images from Coddington's life as a model and her early shoots as a stylist.

I sneaked a peek in the bookstore. Did you know that Fassett's family owned a gorgeously rustic restaurant atop a cliff in Big Sur, complete with a deck where performers would dance? I want to read more.

The book to accompany the documentary.  I adore oral histories (a la Edie) and, though this may or may not be one, it will have enough images and ecclectic voices to immerse this reader into DV's colourful world.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


While I'm supposed to be admiring other things in these photos, my eye is drawn to the cool, soothing splashes of turquoise.

At Nick Cave's shoulders

The cool sky-blue/turquoise of this Ikram silk skirt.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Thinking Twin-sets with Kate and Christy

Kate Moss, wielder of a rapier wit? 

I didn't see it coming, but her remark (in a NYT article) about Christy Turlington's style evolution over the years has lingered:

“The last time I saw Christy, she was wearing a twin-set,” Ms. Moss said. “You can think twin-set, but you can’t wear one.”

Is this Kate Moss's kind of twin-set?

Snap, Kate. 

Since we're no longer told to "think pink," a la Funny Face,

let's think twink--umm--twins:

Cashmere & Crops

A few weeks ago someone asked me whether I *always* wore dresses, as if she were a little exasperated with my sartorial constancy.

Truth is, I wear dresses throughout the early fall, spring, and summer.  Shorts have their place, but I love the floaty ease of a dress rather than a skirt (one piece is simpler than two). 

Plus I credit this next element to my Canadian upbringing: I'm often too hot in the States.  Where are those triple-minus wild-chills or a lovely ocean breeze to cool the soul?  As I've said before, I don't even own proper snow boots.

But cool temperatures do envelop even this frosty Canuck, and for the last couple of weeks I've broken out my trousers.  My favourite look is a cropped skinny pant with some sort of generous apres-ski sweater.  J Crew made my beloved cashmere striped turtleneck last year, with just the right amount of drape, which I bought in two colourways (and I'm browsing eBay for a third).

This year I've been coveting the sweater above.  It doesn't have a demi-fitted silhouette, which makes me pause a tad (would it be a beautiful jade sack on?), but it holds promise.  Soon that same person will be asking me whatever happened to those dresses.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Styling a Pero Scarf

I received the loveliest package in the mail on Friday from the wonderful editors at Selvedge, for whom I occasionally write articles.

It contained a scarf from Pero, which has been an object of my obsession for a couple of years now.  Pero is an Indian label that makes the largest, gossamer-thin scarves that are edged with tiny delights: little pearl buttons, cunning tassels, elegant designs woven into the fabric.

My scarf, pictured here and above, is easily large enough to cover a twin bed, but thin enough to wrap beautifully.

Howevs, excited as I was to wear the scarf, I felt that either a change in state or style was necessary.  To me, my beautiful Pero scarf calls out to be worn in California, among stylish LA gals, like Melissa, client and friend of Nathan of Bravo's Million-Dollar Decorators.  She's feeling a little beleagured here, as her patio floor is in shambles, so let's give her some space.

Gentle readers might also take a look through this book:

It details the casual bohemian LA cool that I associate with my Pero.  I find myself looking for thin cotton snock tops with embroidered hems (the embroidered hem is very important).

Maybe one from Odd Molly?

No embroidered hems, but my own needle could take a turn here.

And on bottom?  Absolutely NO skinny jeans; I'm feeling a gentle boyfriend fit here a la this pair from Madewell:

But although these jeans may be Madewell, they are not Styledwell. I am over heels (especially pumps) with jeans, so I'll complete the look with my trusty Acne sandals.

While I'm daydreaming, let me pose a question:  What's better than one beautiful scarf from Pero?

A Pero scarves, natch!   (Oh, groan!)  But I'm not that greedy.