Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Fleece me

Several times a year a delightful 80-page catalogue entitled Innovations drops into my mailbox. It's packed with items you can't imagine how you've been living without - silver-plated bookmarks, dimpled china sheperdesses, 24-piece pink tool kits, for "those small repairs", Sudoku toilet paper, Bed Vacs that promise to "deep clean your mattress for a healthier night's sleep", hydraulic cushions to get the aged and infirm up and out of their chairs.
There's this "handsome" dog crate that doubles as a handy end table.

Plus shoe organisers, garden gnomes and Pet Potty Patches. The latter is a square of astro-turf on which the above dog can pee without leaving the house. I'll spare you the illustration.
What I really love, though, is the ... for want of a better word, fashions. Here, the imagination of the manufacturers knows no bounds. The All-weather Reversible Cape is the least of it. There's something called a Sleeve Blanket, which we're told has taken the UK by storm. If it has, an alarmingly high proportion of British Isles' residents are confined to their couches by metres of shapeless polar fleece, albeit with a handy pocket for their glasses or the remote control. It makes the Cosy Wrap - another must-have polar fleece item - look quite styley. Nor must we forget the all-important foundation garment - an "orthopaedist-designed nylon vest" that "gently helps coaxe (sic) your shoulders into proper position".
And then there's my personal favourite, the Fleece Dickey.

Not only does it supply "extra warmth", but - a bonus this - also "sophistication". You have to admire the stoicism of the model, smiling bravely above her aptly named horror garment. She makes a better fist of it than the dog. His expression, as he gazes out from his coffee-table prison, is a clear reproach of his owner's taste.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


... at the Recycle Boutique. Ostensible reason: looming tango pilgrimage to Buenos Aires. Real reason: because (as Ed Hillary said of Everest) it's there.
To be strictly accurate, it was two consecutive splurges.*
Yesterday, browsing the racks with R after lunch at Martha's Pantry, I waited ages with an armful of garments for one of the much-in-demand curtained cubicles. The armful included several fanciful, tango-only outfits, none of which were right. I ended up with a black, mildly sparkly, wrap-around David Lawrence cardigan ($25), and an entirely sensible but nonetheless stylish Sonny knitted coat-cum-cardigan-cum-jacket - black merino, trimmed in red leather ($69).
Am interested to see that Sonny Elegant Knitwear was established in the 50s. Croatians Zarko and Sonja Milich arrived in Auckland in 1953 with their seven-year-old son and two knitting machines.** In 1991, the son, Tony, launched Sabatini, a more styley brand, of which I've bought a few items over the years.
Something else I tried on yesterday - a Zambesi silk dress. An 8, so the fit was snug, especially over the hips. It had a straight-across, 50s-style neckline, narrow, elbow-length sleeves, and a deep V neck at the back. Smashing, but did I need it? Womanfully, I set it aside.
Only to think about it later. A lot. And this morning. I mean, a silk Zambesi dress for $45?
So back I went today, tried it again, noted how straightforward it would be to ease the side-seams, and bought it. I also picked up a cute little black-and-white Paul Frank houndstooth jacket for $38.
Total outlay over the two days: $177. Value for money? I think so.

* This blog defines splurge as any one shopping expedition during which two or more garments are purchased, especally from one shop. The essence of a splurge is impulse and, therefore, wickedness. 
** According to my new fashion bible, The Dress Circle: New Zealand Fashion Design Since 1940, Lucy Hammonds, Douglas Lloyd Jenkins, Claire Regnault (Godwit, 2010). Buy it - you won't regret doing so.


Friday, March 25, 2011

Young and older

Here's Astrid, mentioned in my last blog as recipient of the age-inappropriate red skirt. She was photographed on Cuba Street in January by New Zealand's equivalent of The Sartorialist.
Street and City Photos is worth checking out for its images, mainly of stylish younger women.
What I love about The Sartorialist, though, is his wide-ranging eye for men and women of all ages. Here, for instance, is a lovely counterpoint to the picture of Astrid.

This garnered 197 positive comments. One of them was, "[T]his looks like a woman who has lived life." I know Anon meant well but did it not cross his or her mind that this woman still is living life, that she doesn't exist entirely in the past tense?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

In praise of glamour - with only the merest backward glance to lost youth

Dressing the person who, without you quite understanding how, has achieved a certain age is no doddle. It can be hard sometimes to walk that tightrope between looking past it, beyond contention, an indistinguishable part of the amorphous grey mass, or ... sorry, but there's no more apt expression - mutton dressed as lamb.
For instance, last year in a fit of excitement I bought this red skirt from one of my favourite second-hand shops, Ziggurat.

I thought it would be perfect for tango, and indeed, as I twirled before the shop mirror, it looked great. I was delighted too to see that it came from Etam. Their branch on Watford High Street was once my touchstone for all that was cool and desirable and almost certainly beyond reach.
When I put the skirt on again at home, I realised my mistake. In the shop mirror, I had surveyed only the garment, the hips holding it up and the legs beneath (of which it revealed quite a lot). Now I saw that, when incorporated into an overall view, the effect was borderline grotesque, and pointing dangerously in the direction of what Linda Grant has dubbed the 16-61 effect (think front and back views).
I lay the skirt on the spare bed and over the next couple of weeks, cast it longing glances, even trying it on a couple more times. But I knew the game was up. Months later I gave it to Astrid, who sometimes does my housework. She's 21.
One current trend I like but know I can't adopt is the shorts-plus-black-tights look.
There's also the flowery shorts option.
Although these aren't nearly as cute as the ones I saw a youngster wearing at the cafe this morning - again with black tights. Hers were 40s style, with a buttoned front panel. She looked adorable.
I owe to Grant's The Thoughtful Dresser the insight that while young women have the corner on ... well, youth, we older ones must go for glamour. Never forgetting that, as fashion writer, editor and doyenne Diana Vreeland once put it, "A little bad taste is like a splash of paprika." 

Diana Vreeland (1903-1989)

Grant is talking about the same thing - an edge, an element of risk - when she calls for glamour to exhibit a touch of vulgarity. And it's no mere consolation prize for lost youth. Just look at Helen Mirren and Susan Sarandon. I've noticed increasingly that, gorgeous as they can look, young women can't do glamour - they're just too damn young. Glamour belongs to us older women.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Roberto Cavalli Embellished floral-print cotton gown 

 Don't care if they're embellished floral-print cotton Roberto Cavalli at £1,986 (NZ$4,300) or Ezibuy at £36 (NZ$79), I don't like them and will never wear one. Why? No idea, except that to me they scream "70s-dowdy".  

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Oh Carlos

Carlos Santana with his base guitarist Benny Rietveld.

Love the music, but the sentiments ...? Not so much. Grant Smithies' profile in today's Sunday Star Times quotes the great musician thus:
"The highest compliment for me is if someone comes to one of my shows then they go home and get rid of a lot of stuff in their closet, because my music has changed them so much these clothes don't suit them any more!"
Having heard the band play live in New Plymouth in 2003, I'm afraid I must report that, much as I loved the show, I did not as a result change my personal style.
After it, the (slightly deafened) X and I hung about at the barrier beside the stage, along with a melee of other hopefuls waving backstage passes. After a long time we were admitted to a cramped basement room where a lavish supper was laid out. No one was there to eat, though. There were reporters and photographers, a number over-excited contestants who had, by what means god knows, won the opportunity of shaking Carlos' hand, and various uncategorisable, eccentrically dressed others.
What they had in common was their comparative youth. We were at least 20 years older than them all, and from time to time, as we milled and fidgeted in expectation of an imminent celebrity appearance, they cast us glances that ran the gamut from pitying to accusatory, and always carrying the unspoken question, "What on earth are these old people doing here?"
After a very long time, a side door opened and cry went up of, "Benny! Benny!"
Benny Rietveld smiled politely. Then, cutting through swathes of admirers, made a beeline for us. We hugged. Over his shoulder, I saw mouths fall open - these oldies were actually friends of his!
Conversation was impossible - fans are like bulldozers on steroids - and Benny too sweet-natured to repel them. He asked us to go back to the hotel and hang out with him and the band, and he'd show us pics of D and R's new baby.
I cast a hopeful look at the X. His face told me all I needed to know. It was already way past his bedtime and if it were postponed any longer, he would suffer in ways I couldn't begin to understand. I regretfully declined and we left.
But just allow me to empahsise the point - I was invited to hang out with Santana. OK?

Fashion and the manly bosom

Eric Newby 1919-2006

I had no idea that renowned travel writer Eric Newby once worked in the British fashion business. Until recently, that is, when I was given for my birthday a copy of his Something Wholesale: My Life and Times in the Rag Trade, first published in 1962.
Newby worked in his parents' company, Lane and Newby, from the end of the war until 1954 - the years his entertaining memoir deals with - then went on to the couture house of Worth Pasquin. His eccentric father, a fanactical rower, occupies centre-stage, accompanied by a UK-wide cast of iron-willed lady buyers. The latter have no interest in fashion in its modern sense. What their ladies want is what they've always been able to buy, and no fancy innovations.
This intelligent writer and intrepid traveller surveys dress - fashionable or otherwise - without condescension or apology. In an epilogue, he describes revisiting the Paris shows more than 20 years on, in 1985: "partly inspired by nostalgia, partly by a genuine enthusiasm for fashion, which in spite of the very different way of life I have pursued since abandoning it, has never been extinguished from my, I hope, still fairly manly bosom."
"With uncountable thousands dying the in Third World," he writes, "with millions unemployed in Europe, should such extravagances be permitted?
But it is not only an industry, it is an art from and one that employs thousands, many of them women. ... The workers are not rich, but if by some mad decree they were dispersed, their skills would nvanish from the face of the earth."

Monday, March 7, 2011

What on earth ...

... was the justification for this image of a haunted half-starved child, clinging to her clothing, on the cover of a magazine emblazoned "Falling in love with summer"?
Wrong, wrong, wrong, on so many levels. A black mark, Metro.