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.’