Sunday, August 22, 2010

The $100 Challenge

Jean says:
This week, our Mission Impossible challenge was to come up with outfits that cost $100 or less -- that we would actually wear. Periodically, we vow to become more fiscally responsible. Then, hypothetically speaking, of course, one of us buys something like a $40 bar of soap (see ENDNOTE), and we're back to square one. That said, we're going to explore what one hundred dollars (aka greenbacks, smackers, bucks, dead presidents) can buy ... and what we look like wearing it! (Mission Impossible image by and Steve Phelps' image by

As the economic news continues to be dire, conspicuous consumption isn't even an option. Repeat after me, kiddies: One does NOT have to spend a lot of money to look good. A little creativity goes a long way. So, join us as we roll out a few options, some new and some vintage. Rules of engagement: For purposes of this exercise, we have chosen to define the parameters of an "outfit" to include clothing only; e.g, top (shirt, blouse, tunic, jacket) and bottom (skirt, pants) and/or dress, but not necessarily shoes, hats, eyeglasses or accessories, except where noted.

I purchased this suit (jacket and pants) by HANNAH.m in a consignment store in New London, New Hampshire. It is made in the USA of a crinkly fabric that is 65% hemp and 35% silk. Despite its deep charcoal color, it is lightweight and, due to its roominess, very cool and comfortable. The pants have curved pockets. Originally priced at $125, at 50% off, it was a great buy at $62.50. I'm wearing it with a big silver metal gumball necklace purchased earlier this summer in an East Village consignment store for $25.00. Total cost of the outfit: $87.50. In the photo, I've paired it with a black felt vintage hat (no label, gift from Kirsten Hawthorne), silver metal and marble vintage earrings from the Pier Antique Show (purchased about a year ago), and my Dansko clogs.

I spied the suit in the store on a visit at the beginning of my vacation in July and stopped back at the end of the week to see if it had been sold. Not only was it still on the rack, but the price had been slashed in half, so I tried it on. Voila. Fabulous. When I went to pay for it, the young girl at the register mentioned that the suit was from a client with eccentric taste. She then said something like "Everyone will be so glad to know you bought this. When we saw you around town, we thought you could carry it off." I chose to take the eccentric reference as a compliment.

Two weeks ago, I found this great shadow-striped 100% cotton hand washable dress with adjustable straps at a store called Steps on lower Broadway at Worth Street. I was in the market for a pair of footless black leggings when I wandered into the store known more for what I call "teen queen apparel" and was pleasantly surprised at my find. The gathers in the hem look like Roman shades. The price tag for this great little number by "mono reno" -- a whopping $36! It came with a short-sleeved knee-length cotton dress to wear underneath the slightly transparent, super light weight T-strapped dress that is perfect for the sweltering dog days of summer.

As you can see, instead of the short cotton dress as under-layer, I substituted a long, stretchy St. Vincent skirt ($30 at Century 21 a few seasons ago) and a v-neck stretchy nylon/lycra 3/4 sleeve top ($20, also from Century 21). Total price tag for the multi-layered outfit: $86.00! I love the inverted pleat in the back of the dress. I added my round straw Ignatius hat (purchased at the Philadelphia Craft Show last November), my charm necklace, my Dasko clogs, a vintage Elgin watch and bakelite and gold rings. I was wearing this outfit in last week's entry on watches.

Here I'm wearing a pair of Donna Karan silk and cotton cargo pants ($25 last summer from an East Village consignment shop), a Patagonia nylon and mesh fishing vest ($25 last summer from a Brooklyn vintage shop) and black mesh Adidas sneakers ($25 last summer from an Adidas outlet store). Although I am wearing a sllver-grey Armani short sleeve silk top (gift from Jodi Head) under the vest, I could have just as easily worn a white Hanes T-shirt. I'm also wearing a silver chain by Leonardo Kamhout (Brooklyn flea market) and black pith helmet (Southampton Surf Shop circa 1988). Grand total: $75!

Valerie, on the left of the above photo, adds: from head to toe I’m wearing an Issey Miyake Men’s hat dating back to about 1990, bought at a sample sale in Tokyo for about ¥5,000, or $50; blue sunglasses with a single black lens strip, purchased last month on St. Mark’s Place for $8; a black and blue horizontal striped silk jacket by Dana Buchman which serendipitously echoes the sunglasses, purchased last week at a thrift shop for $20; polyester pants by the interestingly named Tail, bought for $12 at a thrift shop; and blue Mary Janes by Land’s End, purchased on line last year for $29. (They’re now on sale for less than $15, and I highly recommend them – they’re VERY comfortable.) The hat puts me over the budget, but minus the hat the whole ensemble, which can be worn to work, cost $69. Hey, take off the sunglasses (which can’t be worn at work), and the outfit costs $61.

Veteran readers will recognize this suit from previous posts. It would be great to show different clothes in every blog, but we’re about living in the real world, and in the real world we wear the same clothes over and over again. (That said, if any retailers want to send us new and wonderful things to wear, we’re very open to that. Provided we can wear what we like and send back what we don’t.) From top to bottom: vintage (late '30s) white leather hat, $35 (or was it $45?); white linen Calvin Klein suit from a thrift shop (on a 50% off day) $27.50; man’s tee shirt from H&M, $25. The suit and shirt alone are $52.50, so the hat can be included and still be within the budget. The shoes, from Arche, blow the budget all by themselves, even on sale. If you click on the photo, you can see the Eiffel Tower ascending the Louis Vuitton building in the background. (My pose is an attempt to mimic its shape.)

After we set ourselves this challenge, I was surprised to discover that there’s nearly nothing in my closet that I bought at retail. So I include this because everything WAS purchased at retail. Starting at the top: a black straw bowler (not boater) by Makins, purchased at the former Sanger Harris in Dallas, Texas, around 1980. I seem to remember it was less than $20. This was one of the first hats I ever bought. The black and white striped cotton shirt was $12, and the mid-calf length black poufy skirt, a cotton/poly/elastane mix, was $50, both from H&M last year. These three pieces come in at $82. The Aerosole shoes were $49, on sale.

Jean's Bonus Outfit: To avoid disqualification on a technicality (outfit purchased outside the U.S. borders), I have moved this little number to a separate category. I picked up this outfit in June at a store called JACOB on Rue St. Catherine in Montreal. The pants are slightly harem shaped with large drapey pockets. The black and white striped tunic top has 3/4 sleeves held in place with a little button tab. Each item cost $35 Canadian and the eponymous name on the label is the store's. Since the exchange rate was practically even at the time, the outfit for all intents and purposes cost $70. I am standing in a tree pit in the East Village surrounded by one of the new wrought iron tree guards purchased and installed by my block association from proceeds from our semiannual flea market and block party held last May. (The Idiosyncratic Fashionistas support volunteerism.) I'm also wearing a 1950s plastic domino bangle bracelet, Ice Pirates watch, charm necklace and Dansko clogs. (Valerie giggles: Jean blooms where she's planted.)

Jean called her last outfit her bonus outfit because it was purchased outside the U.S. My bonus outfit is not day to day casual or work clothing – it’s evening wear. The top is an Issey Miyake polyester camisole that I got for $20 at a consignment shop. It looks like heavy-duty reinforced plastic wrap layered over aluminum foil. Hilarious! The skirt is actually a dress, but the top is very clingy, so I put the Issey over it because it hides the multitude of sins that clingy tops emphasize. The dress is actually one of two layers of a black silk Donna Karan dress. It’s hard to see here, but the dress is comprised of irregularly shaped panels that have been joined together by very lightweight‘bones’ to help the dress pouf out as if supported underneath by a crinoline. Both layers cost $40, so technically one might argue that one layer is $20, for a total of $40 for the ensemble. But even if you’re a stickler, and insist on including the cost of both layers, the outfit still comes in well under budget. (Gee, I should work for the U.S. government!) The orange suede Manolo Blahnik shoes were bought more than ten years ago at the late lamented dollar flea market on 26th Street for a mere $15. If I’d bought them from a vintage specialist, they probably would have run me $75, but the seller had a hodge podge of goods on his table, and seemed to just want to sell everything and go home. In any case, top, gown and shoes total $75.

Your mission, readers, is to send me (send US!) an invitation to a fab opening I can wear it to. (I have a $25 Thai silk wrap I can wear with it, to bring my total up to $100. But not in this sultry weather...)

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Jean says: For more than 25 years, I've looked forward to the last Sunday in August for the New York Times' special fall fashion magazine (now called "T"). It gives a great first glimpse of the newest trends, complete with photos and editorial analysis. Today's issue contains an unexpected bonus on page 166! It features an article by fellow downtowner, Vogue contributor and ex-Village Voice fashion scribe, Lynn Yeager. She penned an article hilariously titled "Garb Fest - New York's most exotic fashion creatures compare plumage".

Lynn chronicles her high tea at the Carlysle Hotel with four other fashion icons of a certain age, including our friend Tziporah Salamon who has appeared here on numerous occasions, most recently in our coverage of the Easter Parade on 4/4/10 ("In Your Easter Bonnet with All the Frills Upon It") and on 12/19/09 ("The Year In Review") as a guest at each of our 2009 birthday soirees and at St. John the Divine. Also featured with rara avis Iris Apfel and the ever-glorious Patricia Fox is none other than Suzanne Golden. Avid readers remember Suzanne's memorable appearance in our coverage of the Structural Objects and Functional Art (SOFA) show wearing a fabulous Wearable Art necklace of her own design, a black and white graphic dress and her marvelous Comme des Garcons shoes. For a great photo of Suzanne and those shoes, see our 4/16/10 posting ("Samples from our Demographic: A Trip to SOFA"). Lynn Yeager's black and white striped top highlights her iconic red flapper bob and famous bee-stung lips.

Today is a double-header for Lynn: She also appears in Bill Cunninham's Evening House in photo 31 with Valerie Steele of FIT. We featured Lynn and a great photo that shows her striking haircut, makeup and style in our 2/7/10 posting ("Hair Raising Evening or A Siren's Tale"). All five of the ladies in the Times article look amazing and none of them look alike. (Valerie adds: and none of them look like they bought any of the latest fashions, or like they even care what the latest fashions are.) The photograph by Danielle Levitt says it all. Bravissime! Congratulations, ladies! We toast your beauty and your sense of style. Like the song says: "Rock on with your bad self!" (ok - SELVES) (Note to shoe designers everywhere: four of the five are wearing flat shoes! And the fifth is wearing low heels.)

Dear readers: click on the hyperlink above to view the article, and go to the right side of this blog to just click on our past postings listed above to see Lynn, Tziporah and Suzanne.

Downtown Foodie High Alert: Jean says: Marja Samsom, aka "the Dumpling Diva", is doing a guest chef stint on designated evenings at Alias Restaurant at 76 Clinton St. (corner of Rivington) on the Lower East Side. Valerie and I have reservations for her appearance tomorrow night for a $40 prix fixe dinner (salad, bento box and dessert). I'm intrigued by the chibitini cocktail named after her French bulldog, Chibi. For reservations and details on the next Dumpling Diva event, please call Alias at 212-505-5011 or go to Marja's website:

Just click on the following past Idiosyncratic Fashionistas' postings for the dish on and photos of The Dumpling Diva: 5/23/10 ("Got Milk?") about Milk Gallery art auction to benefit Stephen Petronio Dance Company with several shots of Marja including this one with Talking Head, David Byrne! She also pops up in our 12/19/09 blog ("The Year In Review") as my birthday party guest (along with Tziporah). Do check them out.

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New readers this week from Costa Rica, Peru and Algeria!

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Valerie says: Jean’s above-mentioned ‘hypothetical’ $40 soap is very real, and lies in wait for foolish buyers like me at the Cooper Hewitt Museum. (Click here to purchase your own.) Here’s the lowdown: to me, the soap, about six inches long and in the shape of a fish, is a miniaturized version of a jizai kagi -- ideally, a beautifully carved wooden counterweight used for Japanese cooking pots suspended over large hearths. Made from old-growth wood, and used until early in the 20th century, they were dense, heavy, and naturally lustrous. (The Museum's soap photo above was taken with way too much lighting. The real item is a vibrant medium dark red, and fairly dense, so you can't see the cord ends. I wish they had put the cord through the dorsal fin, not the mouth, to support my jizai kagi fantasy. [see photo below] As it is, it supports a fisherman’s fantasy.)

These days, jizai kagi go for several thousand dollars, and I’ll never be able to afford one. The one pictured here is not the best, but still very good. When I saw the soap at the Cooper Hewitt, I bought it as my consolation prize. It will never see water. It's currently still in its original box and bag, and won't come out until I'm over my shock at my own expenditure. This particular fish is a sea bream, which has auspicious connotations in Japan. The soap was probably cast from an old Japanese cake mold - one very much like this.

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