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Book Review: Dreaming of Dior

Author:  Charlotte Smith

If you need a pick-me-up book of vignettes… find this at your library or book shop.  It’s just LOVELY.

Format:  One page of vignette (occasionally no more than a paragraph) and a matching sketch of a dress.

Concept:  The stories behind a large collection of vintage clothing collected by the author’s godmother.  Eras from the turn of the century (the *last* century) through the late 80s.

Result:  Charming!  Upbeat!

It’s no novel, and reading it straight through (which I am doing) is a bit choppy, but oh.  And now I want a closet-full of couture.  😀  Well, that’s not news.

Subtitle really ought to be, “The Power of a Dress”.

The Other Senses

Most of the focus of a fashion and sewing blog is visual.
But sight is not the only sense by which we are perceived, particularly by our husbands.
Today I’d like to consider the other senses:  Touch, Smell, Taste, and Sound.

Touch:  The texture of your clothing, your skin and your hair is of primary importance in the overall loveliness of your presentation.  Even if you can’t magically lose 50lb overnight, you can still wear a silk nightgown to bed – or a cashmere sweater to the mall.  When you are soft to the touch, you are more desirable to touch, which makes you lovelier.

Not only does texture please your husband’s hands, it can put a private smile on your face.  Who doesn’t feel more lovely when she’s wearing a silk slip or really soft stockings?  Am I the only woman who strokes fuzzy sweaters or jackets when I come across them in the mall?  Why not let yourself enjoy actually wearing the fuzzy for once?

Perhaps your tastes run harder… regardless, recognize that the texture of your clothing (and hair/skin) does convey a message.

Smell:  Have you put on a bit of perfume lately?  The rule of thumb is that you shouldn’t smell at all to anyone who isn’t in hugging range, and that seems wise to me, especially in this age of allergies.  But to those who get close, isn’t a little scent nice?   Part of the way we decide who we do (and do not) like is the scent of their skin, however subconscious that evaluation is.  Adding perfume – or bath oil, body powder, scented shampoo – to one’s natural scent (or to camoflague it) is yet another part of the package.

One does wish to use scent that works with one’s natural fragrance – and yes, fragrances change according to body chemistry.  You also don’t want to wear clashing fragrances.  No baby powder over Chanel No. 5, if you please.

Scent, more than any other of the senses, is tied closely to memory – and to the subconscious.  Be very careful what image you evoke with the scents that you choose.  Perhaps you want more than one!

Taste:  Only your husband will ever get close enough to taste you! But there’s a bit of fun to be had in bubblegum flavored lipgloss – and one should understand what the other aspects of one’s presentation might bring to the flavor party.  (Scent in particular – some perfumes taste absolutely ghastly).  Chew a bit of mint gum or nibble on some fennel in the garden – allow yourself to fully inhabit the body you wear.  Allow that sensation to come forward in your smile and your laugh.

Sound:  How mellifulous is your voice?  Yes, you can make it more soothing and more pleasant.  Also, have you considered how your clothing sounds when it moves?  A soft noise makes for a very feminine presence.  Read an old book and learn about the sursurration of taffeta petticoats, or contemplate why is it that we consider ankle bells ever so slightly naughty?

Allow yourself – at least in private – to be fully present, unforgettable.  Call attention to your smallest move.  Certainly this impacts one’s self-awareness, and that affects presentation.

A woman is not merely what you can see……..

Vintage without Whimsy

How do you wear clothing made from 60yo patterns without looking like your clothing is antique?

– Accessories.  This is the biggest thing.  If you wear a pillbox hat or a fascinator, gloves, stockings, red lipstick and kitten heels, you’re going to look vintage in blue jeans.  Accessories set the mood of an outfit.  So – pick modern accessories, a modern aesthetic.

– Fabric.  Speaking of aesthetics… if you make a dress from the 40s in a tiny floral print, it’s going to look vintage.  If you make it in plaincloth, it will look entirely different.  There are vintage enthusiasts who hunt down vintage fabrics for their vintage makes – and there is a reason that they do this!

– Fit/Hemlines.  I do like the mid-century fit – it suits my body well.  But should I make up a lovely lace blouse from the Edwardian era… I’ll skip the pouter-pigeon front that was so en vogue back then.   If I made a dress from the 70s (possible) it would be fit to wear over proper undergarments, not braless with a girdle.  This hits my beloved mid-century dresses straight in the hems – a calf-length silhouette was all the rage back then.  Tea-length gowns are friends to those with long, slim calves.  (Aka not me, not me if my weight was in the two-digit mark).   I put my hems where they flatter me.

That’s the key for vintage inspiration.  Take what the past has designed, and work it for you.  I’ll never wear a 70s caftan, no matter how fond I am of seeing them on other women.  If something is oppressively vintage in style – either pair it with something modern or tone down the aspects of the style that are very vintage.   For instance, the 40s brought out some of the most fabulously detailed and interesting suits – but the collars and shoulder pads scream “times past”.  So – tweak the collar ever so slightly and ditch the extreme shape of the shoulder.

And when you see something from times past that makes *you* swoon – snag it.  Snag it, wear it without apology, and own it!

No one will be the wiser……….. 😉

Book Review: Fear and Clothing

On the first chapter, I thought I was going to really enjoy this book… but it ended up being too snark-tastic to appreciate.  If one imagined Kitchen Confidential as a fashion travelogue, this is what you’d get.   Lots of swearing, loads of contempt.

It started out well, as the author described her upbringing and fashion consciousness in SF in the 70s.  Honest and brutal, and I “recognized” the gritty California of my own youth.  The best thing about Wilson’s book is that she appreciates that style (whatever style you are wearing) is a conversation with the world around you, and she’s happy to deconstruct that style… including her own.   The worst thing about Wilson’s book is that she couldn’t recognize goodness or truth if they bit her on the nose.

Wilson finds beauty and style in people on the wrong side of the tracks, and in ways other than the usual, “look thin and rich”.  Laudable.   But in most other classes of people, she is unable to see beauty.  What she finds aesthetically appealing is a bit NSFW to review here.

If Wilson had been as viscerally honest about the fashion travelogue and really gotten to know the people in other areas of the country, I think this book would have been substantially better.  It’s not the snark I minded, it was the close-mindedness.

The whole thing reminded me that beauty qua beauty IS important, and that it is worth fighting for.

Buy Beautiful Things!

Let me exhort you to buy truly beautiful things.   When you find them, get them.  Not cheap flash, but items that satisfy the woman deep within.

Where, you ask, would I find these things?

Most of the time, you’ll find them sold by craftspeople and artists.   Sometimes in boutiques, occasionally in high-end stores, but most often at street fairs, and on online retailers like Etsy.

I find the pursuit of status symbols boring.   Do you know that people stop me to compliment me on my carved-leather purse?  That wearing a bright-colored dress with feminine detail earns me a delighted response more often than not?   We *say* that we want to support American made goods, that we’re pro-small business, and that we love our artists and craftspeople… but do we support them by purchasing their products?

No.  We lack courage to do something a little different from the mainstream.  Or we just don’t think indie when we think about our basics.

Let me do my part to shake you out of this mindset.

I took a minute and looked on the Target site to get an idea of what pleather mass-market purses go for.  ($30) Then I took a few minutes and searched etsy, setting the “American made only” filter on… oh, and I want real leather, not faux. ($30) ($40) ($38)

Let’s go a bit higher-end, shall we?   The Coach outlet sells the handbags for 50% off, according to a brief internet search.  If a slouchy handbag sells for $300, that leaves us $150 for our own purse search.

Not made in America, but sold from a small boutique in my area… less than $150.

Do I even need to speak about what you can find from independent jewelers?  Or my obsession with hand-painted silk scarves?  Oh.  Nordies is selling those here…

Or etsy

If you’re going to spend the money, spend it well.

Let’s have a beauty revolution!

Classic Clothes

Fashion goes back and forth in the details, but since the mid-seventies, this is what consists of a classic woman’s work wardrobe:

  • Skirt, knee length, straightish.
  • Blouse, plain neck (shell)
  • Shirt, buttondown
  • Blazer, mid-hip length
  • Slacks, not tight

We’re coming to one of those fashion seasons when the silhouette is about to undergo a drastic change, so I recommend that if you work and you’re investing in expensive pieces, you keep your items more neutral in shape.

Example:  The pencil skirt has been the default “knee-length skirt, straightish” for the past decade.  Extreme versions of this skirt have been shown that are so tight you’re wondering how the poor woman bends over.  You can fish tail it a bit, make a higher waist, etc – all of which make the skirt more extreme.

So, when we’re in the middle of a pencil skirt season, and when those styles look amazing on you?  Go for it.

Right at this moment, you’re not seeing the ultra-feminine frills on those skirts.  That straight skirt is still tight, but it’s gotten straighter, dropped just below the kneecap, and you’re suddenly seeing soft pleated skirts come in.  (Those, btw, are where the feminine woman should go).

I wouldn’t push anyone to buy a mermaid skirt right this minute, unless it was a one-season item, like a bridal gown.

Blazers are seeing a huge change.  Again, we’ve been in a very feminine mode where peplums and extremely fitted designs have been all the rage.  But all things pass.  Your figure suits a fitted jacket?  A trim classic blazer is your friend.  Your figure didn’t really love those curves?  Shout hallelujah, because boxy is back.

That’s how it goes.  When a fashion suits you – wear it.  When it doesn’t, retreat to classic lines that do.

Because style is so fluid, and one line and another look utterly different, the only real sin is to be caught in something that was all the rage – two years ago.   And that’s why investment buys should be classic, always classic.  (Or utterly off the beaten path – again, only what was “in” can ever be “out”).