Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Top Happy

Lately, I’ve been thinking: A nice top can solve just about every “what should I wear?” concern. Other than formal occasions—weddings, dinner-dances and funerals, for example—which may require a dress or suit, a nice top with a smart skirt, pair of slacks or jeans is all you need. And if you’re a clotheshorse like me, you’ve got to love the fact that tops don’t require a huge investment, so you can replace them often or add to them regularly.

After Christmas, when there was time to think about New Year’s Eve and what I would wear, I thought: I’ll get a new top. My husband and I were going with a small group of friends to dinner and a Los Lobos concert in the city. It was going to be a very casual evening, so there was a lot of flexibility. The top wouldn't have to be something slinky and black (even though slinky and black is de rigueur on Dec. 31st in NYC). The trouble was, I hadn’t taken into account that holiday shoppers had ransacked the stores.

On Saturday, I went to Macy’s. In an earlier blog posting, I’d mentioned seeing lots of pretty tops at Macy’s back in October and November. But of course, I couldn’t find one on December 26th. Prices were drastically reduced. I might have bought a dozen tops, if I had found ones I liked. But, sigh, there was nothing.

Anne Taylor is down the street from Macy’s, so I went there next. I started shopping at the Anne Taylor way back in high school. The clothing was a bit pricey for my meager teenager clothing allowance, but I dropped in regularly and often found little treasures I could afford on the sales rack. Back in the 70s and as recent as the late 90s, clothing at Anne Taylor was well made and had styling elements unknown to typical department store fashions. In short, I was a huge fan. Then something happened (a new century, perhaps?). Anne Taylor separates—at least the stuff the buyers were choosing in my area—went the way of the Palm Beach golf set. Everything seemed preppie and pink. Needless to say, I was heartbroken and stopped shopping there.

This fall, I heard Anne Taylor had turned a new leaf and was showing a more stylish line of clothing. Upon entering the store, I didn’t feel like I’d arrived at preppiedom. Thank goodness. However, it was very clear I wasn’t going to find a fun top for New Year’s Eve either. The collection was almost entirely professional wear—suits, skirts, slacks and blouses for the office. Had the holiday shoppers scooped up all the fun, casual clothing? Perhaps. I recognized the fall trends—the ruffles and tailoring—but it was all very serious business stuff. By and large, the fabric colors were also serious and muted—black, gray, mauve, and moss—like an Edward Hopper painting. It was as if the Ann Taylor designers had decided to go from one extreme to the other—from Palm Beach pink to Depression Era mauve. I left quickly to avoid getting depressed.

The next day, December 27th, I was out running errands and decided to try a couple more places. (The one benefit of living on overcrowded Long Island is that just about every clothing retailer has a shop in my area.) My first stop: Anthropology. I rarely buy anything at Anthropology and this trip was no exception. Personally, I find the clothing either too precious—with satin bows, pattern yokes, ruffle roses and flounce—or too Mad Max—with limp and worn apocalyptic-styling. Though I appreciate the garments as specimens of culture and society (anthropology being the study of those sorts of things), they’re not for me. Perhaps, the well preserved, statuesque 50+ woman can pull off the Mad Max look (say, Tina Turner). I did find one top I might have tried on if it had come in a color other than weary, end-of-the-world gray. Somehow, weary gray doesn’t seem appropriate for New Year’s Eve. Anthropology has lots of fun housewares, but in the future, I’m going to leave the clothing to younger women who have the energy to pull off precious and Mad Max. I’ll also let the younger gals pay the Anthropology prices, which don’t seem in sync with the quality of the merchandise. Was that diplomatic enough?

Across the street from Anthropology is a Banana Republic. Almost every time I shop at BR, I find something I like. Generally speaking, the clothes are well made of natural fabrics and the prices are reasonable. While the separates are conservative, they are very stylish—a good combination for the 50+ woman. (Those days of wanting to attract attention with a wild ensemble—loud colors, plunging neckline, strapless, backless, doodad dripping—are behind me.)

At the Banana Republic’s entrance, I noticed an encouraging “two day sale” sign. Inside, there was a wide range of tops, from very simple cotton T-shirts to dressy tops with chiffon, ruffles and bows. Unlike Anne Taylor, the BR clothing came in a variety of colors, including cheerful colors, and there was lots of after-work wear. I found a half dozen tops I could have bought, but I settled on two, both T-shirts in buttery soft modal. I've never bought anything made with modal before. Apparently, modal is a type of rayon. It's supposed to shrink and fade less than cotton.

My favorite of the two tops (and the one I’ll wear on New Year’s Eve) is a long sleeve T-shirt with a soft, draped (just a few small folds) scoop neck in forest green. (That's a sketch of it at the top of this posting.) Yes, it’s awfully simple, but the draped, scoop neck is feminine and a little dressier than a traditional round neck T. Plus it flatters my shape. I plan to wear it with a short, silver chain, black slacks and my little high-heel booties for the concert and dinner. I also bought a v-neck T in a dark, smoky blue (pictured above). Along the v-neck is a soft, puckery band of the same fabric and color, which makes it feminine and, again, a little dressier than a knock-around T. Oh, and did I mention the price? $19.99 each. I don't know how this modal fabric is going to wear, but at that price, I'm willing to take a chance. I left Banana Republic feeling very ‘top happy.’

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Makeup Essentials for Over 50

Isn’t it supposed to be the ‘season to be jolly’? On Monday, I was driving through town and noticed the local movie theater marquee advertising four movies, none of which sounded the least bit jolly. The current movie offerings: Transylmania, New Moon, Ninja Assassins and Armored. ‘Tis the season to be bitten or pummeled to death, it would seem. The usual questions crossed my mind—Who’s in charge? And—Is it time to build an ark? Fortunately, I’m too busy at this time of year for movies or for dwelling on society’s cultural breakdown. I did, however, find time in December to update my makeup at Sephora. It seemed like a good idea, since I probably do more socializing in December than in any other month of the year--which isn’t saying a whole lot. Sad, but true.

I needed to go to Sephora for holiday gifts for work colleagues and my two nieces. When I mentioned it to a girlfriend, she suggested we go together and have dinner afterwards. My girlfriend is gorgeous and wears makeup expertly. By expertly, I’m mean I'm never conscious of her actual makeup, but I’m always aware that she has a bright, even glow about her aging complexion. I had mentioned to her that I wanted to get a makeup consultation for my “over 50” face. “Why don’t we shop and get you a holiday makeover?” she asked.

We met at Sephora at Columbus Circle in Manhattan. A pleasant ‘store greeter’ was at the entrance, ready to assist us. We told her I wanted a makeup consultation and she escorted us to the far corner of the store, where Tony was waiting. Tony, a ‘color expert,’ invited me to climb into his director’s chair and tell him my aging troubles and what I hoped to achieve with makeup.

“I’m not looking for miracles,” I said straight away. “But I would like to find products that can cover up the dark circles under my eyes, those nasty age spots, and my blotchy skin.”

Tony listened attentively and, I might add, compassionately. “So what I’m hearing,” he said and then repeated what I had said. The fact that he didn’t burst out laughing was a good sign.

Tony introduced me to Tarte products. Apparently, the Tarte makeup line isn’t loaded with a lot of strange chemicals and is well suited to the aging complexion. I was excited about the line because it had a reasonably priced ($54) starter kit for different skin tones. At home, I had a coffin-size (perhaps, a slight exaggeration) plastic bin of old makeup, the majority of which department store cosmetic consultants had recommended. Over the years, these consultants had encouraged me to buy expensive creams, gels, powders, roll-ons, liners and more. Afterwards, when I returned to natural lighting, to reality, I would find I’d been sold the wrong colors for my skin tone and enough makeup to paint a barn. I could never admit I’d wasted money, so I’d throw the makeup in the plastic bin and tell myself I might wear it someday—when ridiculous shades for a person’s skin tone became vogue. And then, I’d returned to the makeup regimen I’d used in high school: blush, mascara, eyeliner and lipstick.

It was time to break this cycle, however. My 50+ face needed serious help. According to Tony, the Tarte starter kit includes the “correcting essentials” my 50+ face needs. Specifically, the kit comes with…

Face Primer—which is supposed to help makeup stay in place longer and prevents creases from forming in fine lines and wrinkles. (I’m not sure it does, but I’m giving it a try.)

Foundation—with SPF 15. Sunscreen is a must-have for me. These days, the slightest sun exposure burns my nose. Tip: Makeup artist say the biggest mistake older women make is putting their makeup on too thick. If you’re worried about being too heavy-handed with your foundation, mix a little foundation with a fingertip of moisturizer and then apply it. I like Korres Wild Rose 24-hour moisturizer ($32.50) because it’s so light, not greasy and smells great.

Concealer—to help erase those dark circles, age spots and red creases. There’s some controversy among makeup artists about when concealer should be applied. Some say that after age 40, concealer should be applied before the foundation, others say afterwards. Personally, I find it easier to blend it, if I apply moisturizer, then the concealer, and then the foundation (mixed with a little more moisturizer). Tip: Concealer is tricky around the eye’s fine lines. Tony says apply it in a couple of thin layers to avoid getting a look that exaggerates your wrinkles. In addition to dark circles and age spots, dab concealer along the side of your nose, corners of your mouth and just above your mouth in the center. It’s supposed to give your face a little lift.

Pressed Powder—is designed to even out your complexion after you’ve applied the other products. The Tarte product has a SPF 8.

Bronzer—gives your face a boost of color. I’m amazed how it brightens the older, faded complexion.

Tony began my makeup lesson by cleaning my face and putting on moisturizer. Using various brushes, Tony applied the makeup in the Tarte starter kit with little strokes, dabbing here and there like he was filling in tiny ‘paint by number’ shapes. My girlfriend said impatiently, “Are all those tiny brush strokes really necessary?”

“I’m a color artist,” he replied. “With little strokes, I will make her color perfect.”

My friend rolled her eyes behind Tony’s back. I gave her a warning look that said, “I like Tony. Be nice.”

After Tony worked on my complexion’s imperfections, he moved to my eyes, which, unfortunately, are very deep-set. Here are the eye basics…
Eye cream—very important for aging eyes to keep the eye shadow from caking.
Eye shadow in a light shade (Sephora brand, Colorful Duo, $16)—all over. Eye shadow in a darker shade (included in Colorful Duo)—to the eyelid crease or across the whole lid.
Eyeliner pencil (EmphasEYES, $18)—along the lash line—top and bottom.
Mascara (Tarte, Lights, Camera, Lashes, $18)
Tip: When you’ve finished applying your eye makeup, brighten your eyes by dabbing a little more of the light eye shadow in the inner corner of the eye, between the eye and the nose.

Tony began my eye makeup by working on my brows, filling them in. Makeup experts say the well-defined eyebrow acts as a facelift. I probably will eventually add a brow pencil or powder to my makeup regimen, to see if there is any truth to that. But I decided to hold off for now. I was already adding a lot of new products.

Lipstick (Sephora Brand, $12)—Makeup experts recommend adding a little lip color, but not too much color when you’re over 50. Years ago, common sense alerted me to the fact that ruby red and other bright lip colors are not appropriate for older women. Tony did not use a lip liner to add lip dimension, but I’ve seen that recommend by some makeup experts. Again, I might look into that at a later time—perhaps, for special occasions.

Though my girlfriend had grumbled about Tony’s technique, she now declared, “You look 10 years younger!” She claimed that Tony had made my deep-set eyes “really pop.” Of course, both comments were utter lies. But I had to admit Tony had achieved what I was looking for—he’d concealed my dark circles, age spots, and blotchy skin, especially the red gullies that appear from the corners of my nose to the sides of my mouth. And it all looked natural, subtle, not caked on.

After we said good-bye to Tony, my girlfriend and I went to look for makeup brushes. The brushes were necessary to achieve a light, even appearance, my girlfriend said. (However, she assured me that I could achieve my new look in a fraction of the 40 minutes or so it took Tony.)

The brush display was near the entrance to Sephora. While my friend was choosing brushes for me, I noticed two makeup consultations happening by the store entrance. Both women having their makeup done were young, twenty-something. I nudged my girlfriend and laughed. “The store greeter must have seen me—an old lady—coming and whisked me to the back of the store where I wouldn’t scare the younger shoppers,” I said. For once, I didn’t mind the age discrimination. I’ve never enjoyed the limelight and would have been uncomfortable getting my makeover in front of everyone entering the store or passing by. And besides, the store greeter hadn’t made me feel like I was being whisked away. In fact, whenever I’m in Sephora, I find the sales help to be very nice. They treat me like a respected female customer and not like a sad, unfortunate old woman on her last legs. And while the majority of their products seem directed at young women, they do have lots of great, reasonably priced choices, like the Tarte line, for older women.

If it isn’t obvious by now, I’ll tell you plainly: I spent a small fortune at Sephora to get my new 50+ look. While no individual product was outrageously priced, they added up. The good news is, only one product is going into the plastic bin of useless makeup: the EmphasEYES. While the pencil creates a fine line, I found it difficult to use. The pencil tip is hard and prone to breakage. I plan to go back and get the Sephora brand eyeliner, which I’m told is softer and easier to apply. As for the rest of my expenditure, I figure I paid for the makeup consult plus a lot of stuff (especially the brushes) that will last. And now that I know a little more about what I should be applying to my 50+ face, I’ll try to replace a few of the products with cheaper, drugstore versions.

In addition to the Tarte starter kit, I bought Tarte cheek stain ($30). Although Tony said the blush was unnecessary when the bronzer is used, I was a little nervous about applying the bronzer too heavily and looking like one of those ridiculous, kumquat-colored makeup consultants at the department stores. (Or worse than those twenty-something gals—like a moldy old kumquat.) I plan to ease into bronzer use by applying a little blush and then a little bronzer. I bought the cheek stain even though I have powder blush at home because I’ve read that the 50+ woman should dump her powders and use cream products. I really love the way the cheek stain goes on—really subtle.

My girlfriend was right, by the way. I’ve been using my new makeup everyday and it only takes about 10 minutes to apply.

Has my new look made a huge difference in my appearance? Apparently not. In the two weeks since my Sephora trip, I’ve attended a bunch of holiday get-togethers wearing my new makeup and no one has said, “You look 10 years younger.” Still, I feel a little less washed out and when I look in a mirror, I don’t see the dark circles or red blotches. That’s good enough for me because I do believe: If you feel better about yourself, you look a little better to others.

Lastly, I’m happy to report I finally dumped that coffin-size bin of old, ridiculous makeup.

Here’s a few useful websites…


Best Anti-aging Solutions

Everyday Health

More Magazine
Younger Looking In 3 Minutes

Mini-Makeup Lesson

Sunday, December 6, 2009

I'm with the Band

The days when my children needed me for everything are long gone. In fact, these days, I rarely see my boys except at holidays or when my husband and I meet them in the city for dinner. I don’t take it personally; I figure it’s healthy. It’s time for them to leave the nest—take care of themselves. After all, they’re both over 18. Recently, the indie rock band my eldest son belongs to was the opening act at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City. My son asked my husband and I to come and to invite our friends. The Ballroom is a great venue and I couldn’t wait. But as the concert approached, I was faced with the inevitable dilemma: “What does a 50+ woman wear to a rock concert?”

The day before the big night, I phoned a friend. She and her husband were going to drive into the city with my husband and me. After we’d arranged our departure time, my girlfriend asked, “What should I wear?”

“Wear whatever makes you feel comfortable,” I suggested.

“Do you think a nice blouse and jeans will do?”

“Absolutely,” I said. “Really, I wouldn’t worry about it.” I understood my friend’s concern. She figured she was going to stick out at the concert simply because she was over 50 and didn’t want to make matters worse by wearing something inappropriate. I, too, worry about appropriate attire from time to time. But after giving the concert some thought, I’d decided there was no need to worry because:
1) The lights would be shining on the band on stage, leaving everyone in the audience in the dark
2) The majority of the females in the audience would be under 30 and probably dressed atrociously
3) As an over 50 woman, I’m invisible to the masses

On the night of the concert, we met a bunch of friends in the East Village for dinner and then walked to the Bowery Ballroom. We followed three young women into the club. These women were big, tall (about 5’7’’) and pear-shaped. They wore skin-tight jeans, spiked heels (two with shoes, one with long boots over her jeans) and nylon tops. Their makeup was thick, Broadway-ready, and their hairdos were big and poofy—suburban styles. (Some cliché never die.) Their heels and hair gave them an extra 2”. Unfortunately, their big bellies hung over their jeans and protruded through their clingy blouses. So far, my predictions for the night were accurate.

My girlfriend—the one who had conferred with me the day before—wore a pretty floral, v-neck, ruffle top and jeans. She’s been trying to lose a few post-menopause pounds. The v-neck with ruffles is feminine and distracts others from noticing a woman’s little imperfections. My friend looked great.

Two other girlfriends, both of whom have nice legs, wore short, straight skirts. One of these women is my fashion heroine. I’ve known her for 30 years and she’s always amazed me with her fashion attitude. In a nutshell, she wears what she likes—regardless of her age or fashion trends. If she likes something in vogue, she’ll buy it and then pair it with clothing she’s had for years or something she’s found at a little eclectic boutique—items that seem to transcend this or any other year’s fashion trends.

At the concert, she was wearing a gold swing A-line coat. It was made of lightweight, buttery wool, so it wasn’t bulky. It looked great (even though she’s only 5’3’’) with her nice legs below in gray stockings and dark gray booties with a short spiked heel. I imagine this coat would be great for hiding one’s little lumps and bumps. (Be careful, though: I fear this coat will look like a tent, if you need a rather large size.) This particular friend, however, hasn’t gained an ounce since her wedding. (I love her despite this fact.) Underneath the coat, she was wearing a pretty green chiffon top with a dark gray knit skirt.

My own concert attire was a bit subdued. It consisted of black slacks, a black camisole under a navy, shear Calvin Klein blouse, and black booties with a 1 ½” heel.

Currently, black and blue is a favorite color combination. At a recent work event, I noticed a very stylish 50+ woman wearing a black blazer over a navy sheath. She looked smashing. I like the color combination because: 1) it’s a new combination for me and 2) I like to keep my top and pants or skirt in the same color range—light, medium or dark. I’m not very tall and if I pair a light top with a dark skirt, it cuts me in half, making me look even shorter. Black and navy, obviously, are both dark colors.

As for my three predictions about the evening…Before entering the ballroom, we had to pass through a well-lit lounge. I couldn’t help but notice a few young hipsters staring at our elderly entourage as we filed by. I’m sure they were wondering: Is it ‘Seniors Discount Night’ at the Bowery Ballroom? Once we got into the ballroom, however, only the stage was lit. And as for the 20-something girls in the audience…Okay, I admit it: Many of them looked gorgeous and were nicely put together. This made me happy. Personally, I want to cry whenever I see young women dressed in unflattering garb; such a crime.

And what about the over 50 rock concert goer--how should she dress? Well, we know what won’t do—the grunge look (an old T-shirt and jeans), the vamp look (super tight jeans and a cleavage-bearing top), or the hottie look (tight top and mini skirt). Those days are over. Instead, I think we should shoot for the classy mamma look—a well-made, pretty blouse or sweater with a pair of jeans, slacks or skirt cut for our shape. These days, the department stores have oodles of feminine tops—v-necks, soft cowl necks, jeweled necks and more. Macy’s is advertising lots of them on sale for under $40 right now. Add a pretty necklace and a pair of leather boots (with as much heel as your feet will allow) and you’re ready to rock.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Just Color Your World

Four days ago, I was in Pearl Paint, the arts and craft supply store, buying a birthday gift for an aspiring artist friend. A 20-something sales clerk helped me put together a ‘care package’ of art supplies. When I started to walk away from the young man, on my way to the check out, he said to me, “You look really good in red. Not everyone can wear red, but you can.” I’d run into Pearl after work, wearing a bright red Anne Klein cardigan, a black wool skirt with red pinstripes, black nylons and heels. Though I was more put-together than, say, I am after doing yard work, I never expected a stranger to compliment me. As a 50-something, I’ve gotten used to my invisibility, especially around men under 80. The sales clerk even added, “The whole outfit looks good.” Needless to say, I was shocked. I blurted out a “thank you” and a “wow, that’s really nice to hear” and scurried away.

Afterwards, I imagined the young sales clerk setting goals for each work shift to make the time pass. Sales clerks (especially in this economy) often look pretty bored in stores. I imagined the clerk standing in front of his bathroom mirror in the morning, choosing a new goal for that day. Four days ago, while brushing his teeth, he must have said to himself, “Today, my goal is to give a compliment to every old lady customer I see.” My alternative theory: He was from a galaxy far, far away.

The thing is…the sales clerk’s comment, delivered with a very heavy New York accent no less, actually seemed sincere. And it made me realize I haven’t thought much about the power of color since turning 50. Crazy, huh? Because now that I’m thinking about it, I realize the colors we wear do matter, maybe even matter more now that we’re a little older. The right color can give your 50-plus complexion a healthy glow; the wrong color can make you look haggard and 10 years older.

What Colors Flatter Your Skin Tone?
I assume most 50-something women know what colors are flattering to them. If you’re like me, it didn’t require any research—people let you know. Back in college, it suddenly dawned on me: People always tell me I look good when I wear red. Ever since, red has been my ‘go to’ color when I want to look my best. For those who need a recap on the color groups or “seasons” here are the basics:

'Winter’ colors flatter women with pale white, yellowish-olive, or dark skin. These women usually have brunette hair and dark colored eyes. Asian and African Americans often fall into this color group. ‘Winter’ women look good in white and dark colors. If you want to wear a lighter color, choose an icy tone. Avoid: subtle tones (ie, beige and all pastels) as well as yellowish tones (ie, orange, gold, and lime).
Colors to Wear…

'Spring' colors look best on women with white or peach complexions. These women usually have dark blonde or strawberry red hair, freckles, rosy cheeks, and blue or green eyes. They look great in warm colors. Avoid: dark, dull colors.
Colors to Wear…

‘Summer’ women have pale or pink skin. They are true blondes or brunettes with pale eyes.These women should hunt for pastels and soft neutral colors. Avoid: black and orange.
Colors to wear…

‘Fall' or 'Autumn’ women have golden undertones in their complexions. Lots of redheads and brunettes with golden brown eyes fall into this category. These women should look for garments with golden undertones. Avoid: all shades of blue, including navy.
Colors to wear…

Are you still unsure about your flattering colors? Then, ask yourself: What color makes me feel good when I wear it and generates the most compliments from others? It’s really that simple. Then, find the grouping with that color and you’ve got your ‘season.’ Or, if you have the time and inclination, try on a top in several different colors next time you’re out shopping. You’ll be amazed how fantastic some colors look on you and how dreary others look. Personally, if I—a ‘winter’ woman with yellowish undertones—try on a yellow T-shirt, I look like I’m on seconds away from liver failure.

Do Your Flattering Colors Change with Age?
Does your ‘season’ change as you get older? I admit it: I’ve lighted my natural hair color through the magic of chemicals. I was born with dark brunette, almost black, hair. In recent years, however, I’ve slowly lightened my coif to a medium brown. (Dark brunette hair is much too harsh for my aging, fading complexion.) Even so, as the anecdote above suggests, red remains a flattering color for me. Well, I did some research online and the color pundits all seem to feel your natural hair and complexion colors—the ones you had in childhood—are the colors that determine your ‘season,’ regardless of your current dye or makeup job.

Like everything else in fashion, colors are cyclical. Red, for instance, is usually only in vogue every 4 or 5 years. Luckily, I’m a post-50 woman and don’t have to worry about being trendy. I just worry about looking the best I can. So when red is the season’s ‘hot’ color, I stock up on red shirts and sweaters. I’ll wear them until red comes back into fashion and then look for replacements. In the meanwhile, I pair my red things with something stylish and I feel good. And as we all know, it’s all about feeling good. If you feel like a million bucks because you’re wearing a well-made garment that flatters your coloring and figure, people are going to think you look like a million bucks—regardless of your age.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Don't Be Afraid to Try Talbots

It took me half a century to get up the nerve to walk into Talbots. For starters, there was the name—Talbots. Personally, when I see the Talbots sign, I picture a family with a mom named Bunny, kids with names like Margo and Trip, summer digs on Nantucket, winter digs in Killington, and, of course, a golden retriever. Even if I could ignore the name, there’s the Talbots clothing—conservative WASPY wear—in the storefront windows. Not exactly the look I’m going for these days.

Oddly enough, it was my husband who gave me the courage to try Talbots. He bought me a couple of things one Christmas. You can imagine my surprise when I opened the Talbots boxes and found a sweater and pair of slacks that didn’t look like something Ali MacGraw wore in Love Story. The pants, cotton with a touch of Spandex, had a slightly lowered waistband. They were neither ‘mommy pants’ nor ‘teenage tramp pants.’ They weren’t uber conservative, just uber comfortable.

Since then, Talbots has been my first stop for pants. The pants come in a variety of styles, colors and fabrics. And while I’m there, I often pick up a blouse or skirt, sometimes even a dress. This season, Talbots has several dresses that I think would look fabulous on a woman in her 50s. I’ve tried to illustrate one here. The neckline is wonderfully feminine without being cleavage bearing (not a flattering look for most 50-somethings). Another Talbots dress--a white, sleeveless wool sheath--was recently seen on Michelle Obama. She looked like an absolute knockout.

There’s no denying it: If Ali MacGraw wanted to recreate her Love Story look, she could do it at Talbots. But I’m not interested in wearing Talbots head-to-toe. Instead, I like to mix a simple Talbots separate--a skirt or pants—with a garment from another place that is a little more stylish or off-beat. By and large, I find Talbots clothing is well made, reasonable priced and flattering to the after 50 figure.

Recently, I went to a Talbots Outlet for the first time. The financial crisis has taken its toll on the Talbots company and the only store left standing in my area is the outlet. I suspect most women are thrilled to bits when they hear the word "outlet." I, for one, do not share their enthusiasm. Apparently, I don’t have the patience or skill set needed for rummaging for bargains at outlets. The sheer quantity of merchandise—different sizes, colors and styles stuffed together in countless racks—plus the absence of a recognizable floor plan tend to turn me off. In addition, and I may be delusional to think this, some of the clothes in outlets don’t seem as well made as the clothing in the regular store. The rejects, perhaps? Nevertheless, I love the cut and comfort of Talbots pants and was willing to brave the outlet for a pair. Also, I had read that the Talbots collection was more stylish this season and was curious to see if it was true.

As expected, the outlet had a huge inventory of clothing crammed into racks zig-zagging across the cavernous space. It took me a while to track down the pants I wanted, but I did find them. As I fingered my way through the racks, I noticed many of the season’s trendy styles—drawstring pants, men’s trousers, shirts and blouses with v-necks, ruffles and floral prints, flyaway cardigans and more. I picked out a drastically reduced summer skirt and a wool black and white straight skirt. When the saleswomen rang up my purchases, the total for the pants and two skirts was what I usually pay for a pair of Talbots pants alone. Not bad. I’ve illustrated my new skirt here with a favorite Eileen Fisher sweater and a white Anne Taylor blouse—a perfect low-key office outfit. However, I can wear the skirt with almost every colored shirt, blouse or sweater I own. My v-neck aquamarine cashmere sweater with a dangly necklace and camisole makes it a little more feminine—a good choice when I’m meeting friends after work for dinner. I can’t stress enough that feminine is a great post-50 look.

I won’t hesitate to go to the Talbots Outlet the next time I need pants. However, my recent experience hasn't alter my opinion of outlets. I like bargains as much as the next person and I understand that retail corners have to be cut to provide them. However, you have to be vigilant when shopping at a company’s outlet to make sure that the discounted garments are as well made as those found in the regular stores. Be sure to check the workmanship—the seams, buttons and zipper.

Outlet bargains aside, I still prefer the smaller regular Talbots shop, where I can easily admire the clothing because they are neatly arranged according to styles and size on shelves and racks. Also, there’s room to move around the displays. And when I’m ready to try the clothes on, the dressing rooms are roomy, well lit and don’t look like the scene of a recent clothes fight. Having salespeople available if I need them is another perk. And finally, if I can postpone a trip to Talbots till late season, I often find a lot of items on sale.

Of course, there’s always online shopping. Talbots has both its regular collection and outlet offerings online. Unfortunately, not all the garments I saw at the Talbots Outlet appear online, including my new wool skirt. Another drawback to online shopping: it may be difficult to visualize what a 2D dress on the website will look like on your 3D body. Or maybe that’s just my issue. You can check out Talbots latest collection and find a store near you at http://www.talbots.com/

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Well-Made Clothing on a Shoestring

All my life I’ve been a clotheshorse on a limited budget. When I was young, it wasn’t hard to fill my closet; I just bought cheap stuff. No one expects young women, unless they come from rich families, to have expensive clothing. The fact is cheap clothes don’t look so bad when you’ve got a young, tight body and glowing skin. Plus, young women tend to follow the fashion trends, regardless of whether or not they flatter their body types. When people aren’t admiring a young woman’s lovely figure, they’re often shaking their heads at her ridiculous breast-, belly- and/or bottom-accentuating outfit. Who looks at fabric quality when there is bold-print reading material across a girl’s pants bottom? That, by the way, is my all-time favorite ludicrous fashion trend.

As we age, clothing quality—materials and workmanship—becomes more important. Our skin is no longer tight and glowing; our bodies aren’t as acrobatic, if you will, as they once were. Clothes that are poorly made with cheap fabrics seem to stand out on the older woman. Perhaps, even shout out.

If, like me, you want lots of clothes to choose from when getting dressed, you might wonder: How can I satisfy my craving for variety, if I’m supposed to buy quality clothing on a shoestring now that I’m over 50? Well, it’s a challenge, I dare say. Below are the strategies that seem to work for me. Sure, I’m buying a lot less than I did in my younger days, but what I buy is no longer cheap, disposable clothing. I can actually wear the garments more than a handful of times and they still look good.

1) Take Inventory of Your Wardrobe. If, like me, you change over your wardrobe a couple of times a year, you might forget what you have, what’s on its last legs or what you actually tossed before stowing away last season’s wardrobe. I have been known to buy something on sale at the end of a previous season, put it away before I’ve worn it, and forget about it completely. So take stock of your wardrobe—what still fits and looks good—before hitting the stores.

2) Have a Shopping Game Plan. If you’re on a budget, it’s best to think about what will complete your wardrobe before hitting the mall. Without a plan, you may end up buying things that are truly wonderful, but can’t be worn with anything else in your closet. Look at what you have and then decide what extra separates (the number will depend on your budget) will create the most new outfits. Think about complementing colors and designs.

3) Buy Well-Made Clothing. Obviously, quality is relative. Some people talk about buttons that are sewn on by hand and crazy stuff like that. Obviously, if you aren’t shopping for couture, you can’t expect super craftsmanship (although I’ve heard you can’t always expect it with couture, either). However, well-made clothing that looks good and holds up after multiple washing and wearing has certain features. I look for:
  • Natural fabrics. Cottons, silks and wool for clothing; leather for boots and handbags. This is not a hard and fast rule. I’m not the kind of gal who declares: "No unnatural fabrics will touch my body!" There’s some polyester in my closet. Also, I’m not adverse to a percent or two of Lycra for comfort. However, I do lean towards natural fabrics because they tend to be sturdy, keep their shape, and wear better and longer.

  • Fabric weight. This may be too subjective, but I find fabrics—even natural ones—that are too lightweight tend to wrinkle more, stretch out more, and lose their shape more.
    Lining for heavier materials, like wool and linen. Lining helps to keep the fabric’s shape and gives a finished look. The lining should fit well inside the garment.

  • Good buttons, button holes, hooks and zippers. Cheap, thin plastic buttons that look like they may break at any moment and poorly finished, ragged buttonholes shout "CHEAP!" to my ears. Buttons should complement the outfit (sounds obvious, but it’s always the case). Hooks should be sewn on securely. Also, make sure the zipper open and closes smoothly.

  • Sturdy thread, stitching, and seams. Is the garment going to hold together after it’s been washed and worn repeatedly? Are the seams and hem sewn straight? Do they lay flat (no puckering, please) and look finished? And are they stitched—no ‘fused seams,’ please. A 2" hem is nice for alterations. (Though, if you’re like me—short, you’re always raising the hems.) And, of course, make sure the fabric’s patterns or prints line up at all seams.

4) Plan to Splurge on One Item, something nicely made and really flattering, per season. I like to have one thing I save for special occasions—evenings out on the town—when I want to look my best. Then, the following year, the garment becomes an everyday item. The splurge item should be somewhat versatile, but not necessarily super practical. The only really important thing: It should make you feel like a million bucks. For me, it’s usually a top—a blouse or sweater—because the top half of my body is my best half. For others, it might be a dress, a pair of slacks or skirt that flatter the body’s bottom half. (The sweater I’ve illustrated is practically an antique. It’s a INC design, a splurge at the time, but it’s held up really well and I still love it.)

5) Go Cheap on Unimportant, Disposable Items. This, of course, is going to be subjective. Since I’m not dating, I go cheap on underwear. I like Targets 100% cotton boy shorts—ultra comfortable. I also buy 100% cotton T-shirts from anyone—Target, Old Navy, and Gap—who’s got them on sale. For me, these items are disposable clothing. I want to buy new often, so bargain prices are my priority.

6) Postpone Buying, if possible. If you need an extra pair of pants for work or a dress for a wedding, you may not be able to wait. But the longer you can hold off your purchases, the more likely the clothing you need will be on sale. And, yes, it’s a gamble. I’m still haunted by a Banana Republic dress I found a few years ago that looked really good on me. The color, cut, quality—everything was perfect. (I’ve included a rendition of the dress, though I can’t remember the print exactly.) But it was late in the season and I couldn’t find it in my size. I went and/or called a half-dozen other Banana Republic stores. No luck. That perfect dress aside, I know I’ve been able to buy a lot more clothing because I’ve waiting till halfway through the season, when things start to go on sale.

7) Be Sure You Really Love an In Vogue Item Before Buying It. The best thing about being over 50 is that you don’t have to feel like a slave to fashion trends. You can pick and choose in vogue garments that are comfortable and look really good on you and ignore the rest. No pressure. However, if you’re on a budget, you don’t want to buy a trendy garment one season and ask yourself, "What was I thinking?" the next season. Be sure you really love the garment, regardless of whether it’s in vogue or not. I’ve got well-made sweaters that are almost ready for Antiques Roadshow. I don’t care whether they’re in vogue or not because I adore them.

8) Be On the Lookout for Unique Items. I know a lot of women who fall back on buying ‘classic’ styles, so they don’t have to buy a whole new wardrobe every year. There are a number of ‘classic’ garments in my wardrobe. But I’ve found that a wardrobe of ‘classics’ can get boring pretty fast. As a result, I’m always hunting for something that is a little offbeat—neither trendy nor classic looking. I wish I could shop at those fabulous little shops with creations by new designers; they always have lots of original clothing. But the price tags are beyond my means. Instead, I scour the racks for separates that have something a little different, something that can’t be placed trend-wise, but is very flattering.

Do I still make fashion mistakes, even with all these strategies? Yes, absolutely. But I don’t make as many mistakes as I know I would without strategies. By and large, I’m happy with my purchases and have built a wardrobe of garments that flatter my somewhat demanding over 50 figure and give me the variety I crave.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Pondering Pants: The Right Fit

My all-time favorite Chinese cookie fortune was bestowed upon by my brother-in-law many years ago. The fortune read: Face facts with dignity. Wise advice. Personally, I must face the fact I have lousy legs—thunder thighs, tree trunks, marina pilings, redwood stumps. You get the idea. Consequently, I'm not a big fan of pants. I read somewhere that British actress Helen Mirren is anti-pants. Apparently, she avoids pants because she has a big bottom. If it weren’t for the fact that I live in the Northeast, I might avoid pants, too. But it’s difficult to ‘just say no’ to pants when there’s ice on the windshield.

We’ve already had a few chilly days in metro New York, so I know I’ve got to plan a pants shopping excursion soon. But what pants should I look for? Ones that make my short, stocky legs look long and slim, of course. It’s all about long legs, isn’t it? My youngest son, who is a sophomore at a design school in New York City, is taking a fashion illustration course this semester. (Maybe he’ll give me some pointers.) The one thing I learned in 7th grade art class is that the average person’s height is roughly 8 times the length of his/her head. According to my son, however, fashion illustrators draw models that are 9 times the length of their heads—a full head taller than the average person. “Illustrators make the model’s neck and legs a little longer,” he reports, “so that the clothes look better.” If only I could just stretch my body another head’s length.

In lieu of spending time on the potro (better known as the rack), there are two things you can do to make legs look better in pants:
--A good fit
--The right accessories

Here are a few things I’ve learned about finding the right fit…

1) Find a comfortable waistband. I can still remember the day I tried on my first pair of dress pants that had a below-the-waist waistband. Oh, to be liberated from “mommy pants” (high-waist trousers)! Today, women have lots of waistband choices. It’s easy to find pants with a lower waistband without having to resort to the super low, hip-hugging pants (the ones that show off the top of your panty thong—-not a recommended look for most 50+ women). And you can be comfortable without resorting to elastic waists. (Elastic Waist Days may be ahead of us, but other than exercise pants, it’s not necessary to go there yet, thanks to all the stretch in fabrics these days.)

However, with so many waistband choices, it’s sometimes hard to know where the waistband is supposed to fall on the pants you’re trying on at the store. Did the designer intend for the waistband to be one inch below your waist, two inches, more?
--Hint: Look at where the pants fall at the crotch. If the pants material at the crotch falls too far below your crotch, your legs will look shorter and heavier.

By the by, high-waistband trousers are in fashion again. And yes, they do make your legs look longer. I’ve included a drawing of a mom in high-waist (I guess they aren’t “mommy pants” anymore, since they’re now in vogue). You can see how they elongate the legs. But I find high-waist pants uncomfortable, cutting me in two when I sit at my office desk all day. When I perused the fall fashion magazines and saw the models wearing them, I actually gasped. And then I remembered: I’m over 50—I don’t have to be a slave to the latest trends anymore. I can stick with what looks and feels good. Phew!

2) Find the right amount of fabric. If you are tall (9 times the height of your head, for instance) and love high heels, you probably can wear huge, bellowing pants. Otherwise, lots of extra pants fabric may make you look heavier. Pants makers seem to be putting a little stretch into most pants, so you don’t have to resort to bellowing pants to be comfortable. Thanks, pants makers! Still, if you haven’t been blessed with trim hips and legs, you might be tempted to go up a pants size for a little breathing room in the bottom and legs. Beware: the larger size will also have a larger waist, which will lower the pants on your belly and around your crotch. You’ll end up with a hanging crotch look again, which is bad news.

I know this from personal experience. I’ve included a pair of drawings. On the left, the pants are too full and sagging. Without the sag and a little less material (right), the fit is better on the same set of legs. Is the difference huge? Of course not—I still have short, stocky legs. But I think it helps. I can live with fashions that don’t accentuate my flaws.

–Hint: Check out the crotch sag when you try the pants on in the store. If the crotch hangs down because you’ve gone up a size to get room in the bottom and thighs, plan to take the pants to the tailor. The tailor can pull the waist in, raising the crotch, without affecting the bottom or thigh’s roominess. If I know I’m going to need a tailor, I consider that when I’m deciding whether the pants are a good buy. Believe me: the alteration is worth every penny.

3) Check out waistbands, zippers and pockets. The best fitting trousers I’ve ever own were from Anne Taylor. The slacks didn’t have an actual waistband (just turned over with facing), fell an inch or so below my actual waist, had a back zipper, no pockets, were roomy enough in the hips and thighs, and didn’t have a sagging crotch. I had to give them the heave-ho several years ago and I haven’t found a replacement yet. What I learned from those pants: If you eliminate bulky elements—a thick, bulging waistband, pockets, and front zipper—the pants will probably make you look less bulky.
--Hint: Since it may be impossible to find a pair of pants that eliminates all the bulky elements and fits well in the hips and thighs, plan to compromise. That is, look for pants with a turned down waist instead of a bulky waistband…or pants with a side or back zipper…or pants without pockets. One or more can really help you look slimmer.

I don’t want to make this blog entry any longer by going into the right accessories for pants. Obviously, next to finding pants that fit well, high heels are the best way to create the illusion of longer, slimmer legs. But I’ll plan a chat about shoes, boots and other pants accessories later.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Farewell Boxy Shirts & Baggy Capri Pants

I love summertime. I love the ocean and everything associated with it--surf, salt air, sailing and lobster. I love the fact that there’s an abundance of limes and mint for Mojitos. So it’s always sad when the air turns cooler in September, heralding the end of another summer season. There are a couple of summer fashion items, however, I’m not sorry to bid adieu to. The first is my swimsuit (see previous posting). Another is the pairing of boxy-styled shirts and baggy Capri or cropped slacks.

I understand the urge to wear comfy, baggy clothing. It’s so frustrating to see one’s body lose its youthful shape or, worse, expand in 365 different directions. But covering up with as much fabric as possible isn’t the answer. Too much fabric just makes women look bigger than they really are. And the cropped pants make most legs look shorter, stumpier. To illustrate, I’ve drawn myself in a shapeless, Hawaiian-style shirt over baggy Capri pants. However, it’s a combo I would never, ever wear. And it makes me so sad to see so many other women wearing it.

Besides being engulfed in too much fabric, the oversized man-styled shirt and baggy Capri slacks is masculine looking. Looking feminine is, perhaps, the Number #1 way the after 50 woman can look her best. The perky, trim twenty-something can wear the boyfriend’s suit jacket—which, apparently, is a wardrobe ‘must-have.’ Maybe the tall, rail-thin 50+ woman can, too. (Think: rocker Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders.) But the full-figured and pear-shaped older woman should think twice before dressing like her husband or other men. It’s just not flattering for two reasons. First, our figures are less shapely and more manly—breasts and belly have begun to blend, the belly protrudes, the waistline parallels the hipline. And second, if your face is like mind—with its sags, bags and jowls—it has lost some of its feminine definition and is more masculine looking than it was 20 years ago. We don’t need to compound the situation with a manly wardrobe. We need to balance the mounting man attributes by dressing in feminine clothing.

I’m not suggesting that all women should burn their Capri slacks. On the right after 50 body—the one that’s petite and/or blessed with slim legs—a slim-cut Capri slack combined with a fitted top can be very flattering. It even works with the pear-shaped or full-figured woman who has great legs. When a girlfriend of mine—who is full-figured with great legs—wears a fitted top over slim-cut Capri pants, she looks wonderful. I’ve included a drawing of her at a 4th of July barbecue. The key is limiting the amount of fabric involved.

At a restaurant over Labor Day, I saw a fifty-something woman dressed in a black V-neck top and white Capri pants (seeing drawing). She was petite and looked fantastic in her nice-fitting outfit.

So on this first day of autumn, I wish to bid adieu to all the boxy shirts and baggy Capri slacks in women’s wardrobes. It’s time for those items to go into storage. And with any luck, they’ll be too stained, faded, or thread worn to return for another season.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Un Femme Poire

What does the after 50 figure look like? Well, of course, it comes in all shapes and sizes and colors and textures. The majority of women I know fall into one of three basic shapes:

  • Full figure. These friends, work colleagues and acquaintances have been full figured all their adult lives. But in recent years, they have gotten a tad fuller, shall we say.

  • Pear shape. Although these women had the perfect (or near perfect) hourglass figures in their twenties and thirties, the sands of time, if you will, have settled around their waist, hips and thighs.

  • Rail thin. Statuesque or petite, these women will be thin till the day they die. (Don’t you hate it when they tell you how hard they work to keep the weight off? Complete fiction.)
Full disclosure: I am un femme poire—the female pear. I wasn’t always; it’s been a gradual and very sad transformation. Many years ago, while I was watching a football game with my dad, he asked me what my waist measured. At the time, I had an hourglass figure, more or less. When I told him my waist size, my dad pointed out that my waist was only two inches wider than defensive linebacker "Refrigerator" Perry’s neck. But that was a long, LONG time—and multiple pregnancies—ago. Today, I’m a perfect pear.

I’ve included a drawing of myself in a swimsuit at age 50+. It’s a bit of a fabrication for two reasons. First, due to ridiculously large thighs, I haven’t worn a bathing suit without shorts (cut-offs in my 20s, gym shorts after that) in 30 years. But I thought the swimsuit sans shorts would provide a better view of my pear shape. The other problem with the drawing is that it makes me look a lot cuter than I do in real life. It goes without saying that I’m not a trained illustrator. I made the face rectangular to illustrate my advancing jowls, but I couldn’t figure out how to show all my age spots and wrinkles without making the face look like an onion and pepperoni pizza. In the 80s, my eldest son used to watch a Saturday morning cartoon based on a blockbuster action movie. I remember watching it with him once and thinking that several of the movie stars looked much better as cartoon characters. Suffice it to say, I do, too.

You might think I’m only interested in fashions that flatter the pear shape. But it’s not true. I’m interested in all fashions for the after 50 body—regardless of the shape they flatter. And I'm determined to find them and share them in this blog.

Friday, September 11, 2009

My Search and Blog Begin

Recently, I was standing at a crosswalk on 7th Avenue (yes—Fashion Avenue), waiting for the light to change. It was a typical summer day in New York City—hot, muggy, greasy, smelly—the sort of day you don’t want to be delayed (even for a 58-second traffic light) from your air-conditioned destination. While I waited, I looked for a distraction. I noticed a fifty-something woman waiting to cross the avenue from the opposite side. She was wearing a butter-colored knit dress with short sleeves and matching sandals. When the light finally turned and the woman passed me, I noticed how the dress moved with her body. The cut and length of the dress flattered her height and weight. She was no more than 5’5.’’ But the monotone fabric and the absence of interrupting elements—big flashy jewelry or a dark, thick belt—made her appear her full height, if not taller. She was not skin-‘n-bones; there were a few midlife bulges here and there. However, the body mass: fabric ratio seemed perfect for her. The dress clung to her torso without squeezing it and flowed below the hips without ballooning.

I was with a best friend at the time, spending the day in Manhattan (we’d been to the Chelsea Market, the new High Line and Pastis for lunch). "Did you see the woman in the butter-colored dress?" I asked as we walked east to catch a movie playing on Broadway. My friend had not. "She was our age and she looked great. Flattering fashions for us do exist. But what are they and where can we get them?" A moment later, overwhelmed with enthusiasm, I exuded, "Maybe I’ll start a blog, a notebook of flattering fashions for the after 50 woman."

"Fashion is personal," snapped my friend, clearly not feeling my enthusiasm.

Yes, yes, it’s personal. I wouldn’t dare tell someone what his/her style should be. The world would be much more interesting, more amusing if everyone had a style of his or her own. But finding a flattering style after 50 is a challenge. And so, my search and this blog begin.