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.