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

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.