Thursday, November 24, 2011


The Writer has always said she would never be seen dead in a loafer (too preppy/suburban housewifey, and in danger of veering towards the dreaded boat shoe). Ergo, the shoes she had just bought couldn't possibly be loafers.

The Lawyer (rather cruelly) mentioned the term moccasin.

The Writer reared up in dismay. The thought of donning, let along paying for, a moccasin had never crossed her mind.

The Lawyer followed up (as they so often do) with a stated intention of consulting precedents, which is to say Google and a site helpfully dubbed differencebetween  This will also tell you the difference between deacons and elders, boys and girls, shredded and grated. The loafer/moccasin page is presided over by this unidentitfied chap (who bears a startling but surely accidental resemblance to writer Chris Else).

Whoever he is, he adds an air of authority and distinction to the following explanation (and I quote in full for the sake of what lawyers like to call "completeness"):
Moccasins and loafers are different types of shoes. A moccasin is a shoe that is made from deerskin or any soft leather. It consists of a sole and sides made of a single leather piece which is stitched together at the top. On the other hand, loafers are flat shoes which have no laces. A loafer is made from several leather pieces.

One of the main differences is that moccasins have laces and loafers have no laces. Loafers can be also called open shoes or slip-ons.

Loafers first appeared in Norway in the mid-1930s. Loafers began as casual shoes and gained popularity in later years. Moccasins were footwear that were widely used by Native Americans especially hunters and traders.

Unlike loafers, moccasins have a soft and flexible sole, and the upper part is lined with embroidery.

The word “moccasin” has been derived from the Algonquian language Powhatan word “makasin” and from the Proto-Algonquian word “maxkeseni” meaning “shoe.”

In the 1930s, the Norwegians who produced the moccasin-style of shoes exported it to the rest of Europe, which was then taken up by the Americans and was championed by the “Esquire” magazine. Some of the photographs had featured Norwegian farmers in a cattle loafing area. It was the Spaulding family of New Hampshire who began making shoes basically based on the moccasin design. They gave these designs the name of loafers.

Loafers are used as casual or informal wear in America and certain European countries. Moccasins are worn in very formal situations. Black and brown laced/non-laced shoes are in vogue. Though loafers were designed as men’s shoes, there are several designs that fit women.

1.A moccasin is a shoe that is made from deerskin or any soft leather. It consists of a sole and sides made of a single leather piece which is stitched together at the top.

2.Loafers are flat shoes which have no laces. A loafer is made from several leather pieces.

3.Moccasins have laces and loafers have no laces. Loafers can also be called open shoes or slip-ons.

4.Moccasins were footwear that was widely used by Native Americans especially hunters and traders. Loafers first appeared in Norway in the mid-1930s. Loafers began as casual shoes and gained popularity in later years.

5.Unlike loafers, moccasins have a soft and flexible sole, and the upper part is lined with embroidery.

6.Loafers are used as casual or informal wear in America and certain European countries. Moccasins are worn in very formal situations.
Don't you love that six-point summary!

So here's the footwear in question. Your starter for 10: what kind of creature is it?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

More milonga wear. Possibly.

Shop window

But it's leather, folks, so maybe ... I don't know ... cave-woman wear?
A couple of weeks ago we talked with an intrepid middle-aged couple at the next restaurant table. He was consuming a plateful of tripe, but we'll pass quickly over that. They'd intended spending just one night in BA on their way to Patagonia with friends, but she'd had her bag snatched at the airport and they were hanging around town waiting for a temporary passport.
Anyway, in the course of the conversation, he said BA had the best clothes shops he'd ever seen. They were both kitted out courtesy of Katmandu's urban survival section, and were from Hamilton, but even so.
Certainly the leather and the menswear store windows are nicely turned out, but we've been astonished by the women's-wear windows and what lies behind them. Gypsy-princess costume has overrun the city: the stores are full of crocheted, fringed and tie-dyed items that have forgotten how to be retro and look as if they've spent the last 40 years languishing in Grandma's attic. Your average window display resembles a pile up of leftovers from the church fete. Difficult to imagine anything sadder than une femme d'un certain age draped in most of this stuff.
Oh wait, yes - I have seen something sadder. I had my camera with me at the time but not the heart to take a picture.
She was a shrunken deprived-looking woman, aged somewhere between 50 and 70, wandering the intersection of Florida and Cordoba and its milling shoppers. She was dressed in a red parka-nylon cape and skirt, her poor old matchstick legs poking out below. And she carried a hand-written placard advertising "Sex Shop".
It was a sight from which one could only flinch and avert one's eyes.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Cross fox. And extremely annoyed rabbit

Silver fox jerkin, and the furrier's
daughter, Moira

In a triumph of imaginative flair, S purchased a fur jacket in 30 degree heat and 70 percent humidity. Although, to be fair, the furrier's just off Plaza Martin in Calle Santa Fe was an air-conditioned haven. Like many such transactions here, this one was a pleasure. Senor Furrier spoke only a little broken English but his small daughter acted as translator.
S chose the garment she wanted on our first visit and left it to be altered. I'd never in my life spent time in a fur shop. We both stroked the silvery item in the picture, but (entirely hypocritically, because leather shoes and bags, and lamb jackets pass well beneath my moral radar) I couldn't repel a twinge that it must have felt pretty good to the original wearer, too.
Online later, I learned that silver fox is "widely ranched". Which means, presumably, that some of what ends up on stylish backs is hunted down in the wild. To my delight, I also came across the "cross fox".
S's sleeveless jacket - a vest, Americans would call it - is cleverly dyed rabbit. Senor Furrier was at some pains to make clear, this wasn't your common or garden Argentinian native, but Spanish rabbit. Quite why this made it more valuable we couldn't tell.

The furrier, and S in her Spanish rabbit jerkin

I do wonder why, when large areas of New Zealand countryside are plagued by rabbits, our designers don't seize on their skins. Even possum fur isn't used to the extent it could be. A fashion niche here, surely?

More (luridly) dyed rabbit

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

More advanced style

I've lifted pictures of this beautiful woman from Ari Seth Cohen's Advanced Style before. She looks even more fabulous in his latest post. Here are her life and style tips. By the way, she's 100.

1."I never go to bed with my makeup on. that is number one.At night you must let your skin breathe."
2."I use a lipstick brush to paint on my lipstick--It stays on longer that way. I can also use a lipstick longer than anyone else because I can dig into it."
3."Every night before I got to bed I use Elizabeth Arden's 8 hour beauty cream on my lips. You must keep your lips moisturized."
4."When it comes to fashion you must be aware of your skin tone. You don't wear orange lipstick with a red dress."
5."I make myself go out everyday, even if its only to walk around the block. The Key to staying young is to keep moving. You are never too old to exercise."
6."Invest in Quality pieces, they never go out of style."
7."Don't look at the calendar, just keep celebrating everyday."
8."I dress up everyday and I don't wear blue jeans. I dress up even to mail a letter, you never know who you will meet along the way."
9.I have been active my whole life. An old Elizabeth Arden Ad said,"If you want to look like this when you are 40 start when you are 20."
10.I wake up every morning and say, "This is the day the lord has made."

The long and short of it

Plain Jane is tallish, S even taller. Our upper bodies being deceptively slight, we shock many of the portenos who invite us to dance. As we unfurl from our chairs, their eyes widen - either in mock alarm or the real thing - and their mouths drop open.
The most dramatic reaction I had was at Flor de Milonga last week, when I stood up in my new Raquel shoes - possible the highest I've ever worn. The man reeled back and held up his hands with a loud, "Mama mia!"
S had one man pretend to reach for a chair to stand on. And yesterday at Nueve Chique someone mimed growing taller on the edge of the dancefloor, while I obligingly bent my knees as we walked towards one another.
The laughter that results from these situations is often a good start to a tanda. Although not in the case of the man at Flor de Milonga, who proceeded to race me around the floor like a man with something to prove.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Dial-up sex

Bums are big in Buenos Aires. This is how most sex workers sell their services.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The leather jacket and the singing shop assistant

The new leather jacket ...

A week ago I decided OK, no new leather jacket! I'd been looking to replace one I bought in Florence in 2001, which I've worn to death and is due for retirement. On its first outing back home 10 years ago, a lovely acquaintance greeted me from behind a table bearing those sticky name labels you wear at functions, and enthusiastically slapped one on the left side of my new jacket. When I peeled it off a couple of hours later, the surface of that deliciously soft leather came with it, leaving behind a label-shaped scar that - no matter what I tried - never faded.
So, I thought before I left home last month, time for a new jacket. But everything I'd seen was either not soft enough, or too expensive, or - this is BA, after all - over-designed.
I found one I liked in a store on Florida. This is THE shopping street, and therefore the last place you're meant to buy anything worth more than a few dollars. But it's also where the stylish stuff is, so what can you do?
The jacket I tried on was simply and elegantly designed in reasonably soft black leather but, although the arms were long enough (Plain Jane's knuckles narrowly avoid skimming the floor), the small was too small and the next size up too roomy across the back. I was swamped with assistance, spear-headed by a heavily made-up middle-aged woman with a constant flow of complimentary chat in broken English. I was given a price, then another for the necessary alterations. But the idea of going back to pick up an expensive jacket that had been altered to fit me and still didn't evokes the classic shopper's "thank you, I'll think about it" response.
It was like flicking a switch. The light went out of the woman's eyes; she fell back; barely acknowkedged my goodbye. No sale, no interest.
But the day before yesterday, browsing in a store along the street while Suzanne was scanning handbags, I found virtually the same jacket, but in softer leather. It was still the best we'd seen. When I tried it on, it fitted perfectly and instantly felt like mine. 
This time the assistant was humourous, outgoing, fluent in English. And she didn't prevaricate for ages before giving me the inevitable "discount". She brought over a similarly styled jacket in cheaper, more crackly leather, then gave a couple of loud baaas and mooos to explain their origins. As we were waiting for the cashier to log my deposit, she admired Suzanne's dress then followed up the compliment by singing to her. Two things were suprising about this - well, three, if you count the fact that New Zealand shop assistants rarely sing to you - she had a real voice, and no one else in the shop turned a hair. I turned to see how her male colleague was taking it, and he wasn't taking it at all, just getting on with his work.
She told us she was a professional singer and wrote down where was singing that night. We didn't go because we were tired and lazy, and, to be frank, imagined something amateurish. When I went back yesterday to pick up my jacket she gave us her website address and I've only just now clicked on it - to hear this. Her name is Chela, and boy, can she sing. I hope we see her perform before we leave here.

and the woman who
sold it to me - Chela Lopez

And if I'm wearing my new jacket, don't even think of getting near me with a sticky label!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Milonga wear

Tango dress shop window

A sign on the hall wall at the Nueve Chique milonga stipulates "Casual elegant". God knows what you would have to wear to be deemed unfit to enter.
Older men are the best turned out. Dark suits, and crisp shirts and ties are common. Their hair is beautifully groomed, and they all smell delicious. The younger ones dress more casually. There's the old gentleman at El Aranque in yellow satin trousers and gold shoes, but male flamboyance is a rarity. Menswear tends to leave less freedom for error than women's wear. By contrast, you can spot all kinds of sartorial misjudgments on the part of the women. Most of it is to do with not knowing when to stop. "Less is more" seems not to be a Porteno motto. The women's milonga dress code has more to do with being seen to have made an effort than with the actual effect of that effort, and its latitude is vast. In one room you can spot satin, sequins, lace and denim; micro skirts and long handkerchief hems; harem pants and jeans; bustiers and teeshirts; fishnets, ankle socks and bare brown legs. By and large, the locals dress up. It's the tourists who tend to take to the floor in trainers and those wretched zip-them-off-at-the-knees-and-call-them-shorts trousers. A bunch of Brits who keep turning up at the same milongas as us dress in the fashion equivalent of unappetising wholemeal bread.
No question my mother (a Brit to the core) would have turned up her nose at all tango wear, deeming it, regardless of its cost, "cheap tat". We're rather more accepting of the vamp code, but even so we've seen some gobsmacking sights. The most excruciating so far has been a nice-looking older woman who had mistaken opaque tights for leggings. When she danced, her top didn't cover her bottom, thus revealing through the stretched nylon a g-string and two pale buttocks.  You could only look away, and hope that sooner or later a friend would clue her in.