Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Miss Cavendish's Hats for Thanksgiving (Annual?) Post

American Thanksgiving is a time for thanks and hats. In pre-pandemic times, local elementary schoolchildren would deck themselves out in bespoke “turkey” crowns, the playgrounds full of happy gobbling.
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 generous 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 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 (and sadly, departed) 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 top hat 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—asymmetrical 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. No-one 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 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.

All images from Philip Treacy AW20.  Hope all readers celebrating Thanksgiving this week have a lovely day!

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Wishful Slinking: Sleeper Feather Pink Pyjamas

I've been up until 2 a.m. many a night (morning?) over the past couple of weeks, working away on all things literary--reading, grading, copyediting. 

No complaints, but this late-night schedule has me thinking of something pretty to slink around in whilst thinking about books. I've had this image saved on my computer since last January or so, and publish it here so I can remember it.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Oh, Henry: An Anniversary Gift Exchange


Mr. C and I celebrated twenty-nine years of marriage earlier this month. We don't usually give each other gifts, but, curiously, both of us did this year.

I gave Mr. C a teaching shirt (we're both literature professors). It's a handsome brown check, and was designed in Canada, as am I.

Because I'm 100 percent Canadian, I don't have a vote in the upcoming election, so Mr. C bought me one. Actually, he gave me a symbolic vote: a lovely sterling silver VOTE necklace by ByChari, who designed Michelle Obama's gold version of the same.

I have been wearing my silver version daily and intend to war it every day henceforth, as a reminder that women didn't always have the right to vote. 

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Gin Mayo, Votes for Women, Orchard House, and Miss C's Favourite March

While I was recovering from knee surgery over the Christmas holidays, Mr. C took our three children to Chelsea Market, where he and I had spent a lovely apr├Ęs-Christmas afternoon last year.

They bought me some beautifully wrapped soaps as a gift, and the salesperson threw in the bag two tubes of the curious "Gin Mayo." No-one asked what it was. It looks like a tube of Krazy Glue, or some dangerously strong bonding agent. except for the charmingly alarming graphic. It reminds me of  Cindy Sherman photograph from her Heroines series.

But Gin Mayo is, apparently, exactly what it purports to be: mayonaise infused with gin. It's the brainchild of an Amsterdam-based seafood restaurant, Mossel & Gin.

I don't wish to puncture one of the tubes to taste the concoction inside, so I think I'll bring them to my office and pop them inside my "votes for women" replica teacup.

Coincidentally, I bought this tea cup at Orchard House, home of Louisa May Alcott, when I made a summer scholarly tour of Concord one summer.

That's the summer I suffered from heat exhaustion after having walked to Walden Pond (but allowed to wade in because of high bacteria that afternoon(!) and back to town, and then getting disoriented in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery the next morning trying to locate Authors Ridge.

Those distressing memories aside, I think the Gin Mayo will complement the Votes for Women tea cup, especially since blue and gold were the colours of suffrage in the United States.

P.S. Amy was always my favourite.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Tartan Dressing: The Duchess of Cambridge and Miss C

Is this beautiful tartan dress by Emilia Wickstead what the Duchess of Cambridge is wearing to the Queen's holiday luncheon?

I absolutely love it.

Truth be told, I am joining the duchess in wearing a long tartan gown today, only mine is a new floor-length forest, blue, and red flannel nightgown, purchased for my recovery from knee surgery (yesterday).

And my holiday luncheon today is a very welcome combination of the Great British Baking Show's holiday edition and a Goldendoodle curled up on his end of the sofa. Today is all about eye candy.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Psilly Me: Searching for a Demetrios Psillos Illustration

The pink and aqua colours in this Demetrios Psillos illustration are calling out to be put into a quilt.

Wait--what? I found the above smidge of a post in my draft queue, dated 2016. But I cannot determine which illustration I liked so much.

In fact, today, this plummy Martha Graham illustration by Psillos captures my eye, both for its colour and movement. (This is a "still" from "Lamentations.")

That's the last time I'll draft a post without securing an image.

Psilly me.

Replacing Beloved Clothes: J Crew, Max Mara--and Searching for Those from J Peterman That Got Away

When I find something I love to wear, I wear it again and again, to the point that it often wears out. That used to be the end of the story, but one benefit of the internet is that I can sometimes find that very item online, for sale, some 15–20 years later.

For instance, I bought a tweed overcoat from Max Mara shortly after having my second daughter, seventeen years ago. Last year I bound the wrist cuffs in Liberty of London because of fraying; I am about to do the same to a button hole. And I am awaiting for olive green velvet elbow patches to arrive.

On a whim, I took a quick look at some online resell sites and was surprised and delighted to find my very coat in great shape, my size, for a modest price, but already sold. Then I found it on another site in a smaller size and five times the price. But it gives me hope!

I also bought, a number of years ago, some J Crew boyfriend-style stripey cashmere sweaters, which I love beyond sweaterdom itself. And so I was thrilled to find several on the web--one of which I bought in a different colourway and others I'm keeping an eye on.

But there are also some original purchases that got away, and it may be those that I yearn for the most. I've written about this before, but J Peterman made what I remember being called a Gstaad jacket--asymmetrical zip, shearling collar, smart belt--and I cannot turn up an image of it.

I was luckier when I located the Beacon Hill, 1913, dress pictured at the top. I couldn't recall its name, but "Edith Wharton" was in the description. Even though I cannot find it for sale anywhere, I am temporarily satisfied to have the image.

Do gentle readers yearn to replace a beloved but perhaps worn-out garment? Are there garments you wish you had bought and search for years later?