Sunday, August 23, 2009

Play With Your Clothes - Sesame Street Couture

If clothes make the man*, do buttons make the clothes?

Valerie says:

Many years ago I bought a scrumptious red pinwale corduroy dress with a faux waistcoat front, a super A line skirt and generous pockets (hooray!). It closed down the front (fine) with small brown wooden buttons (not fine). What was the manufacturer thinking? Small brown wooden buttons on a brown suede jacket = fabulous, warm, organic; peanut butter and jelly (yummy). Small brown wooden buttons on a red corduroy dress = discordant, counterintuitive; fingernails on chalkboard; peanut butter and spaghetti (yucky). The dress said boutique, but the buttons said discount store. And the buttons won.

Think George Clooney with bad teeth. There's so much to the total George Clooney package (so to speak), but if he had even slightly irregular teeth, no one would notice his great face or his acting or his subtle expressions or his three hundred dollar haircut or the sophisticated cut of his tux. They'd all be moaning ad nauseum about his teeth. Buttons have the same power.

To save the dress, I took it to Tender Buttons, the eccentric grandmother of all button shops, where I found red square mother of pearl buttons. The red was sharp, like the red of the corduroy, and the angles of the buttons complemented the angular cut of the dress. I had to get twelve of them (eight for the button-down front, two for the cuffs and two spares), and they set me back about $25, but once I'd finished changing the buttons, that dress said BOUTIQUE in a saucy French accent.

The same applies that well loved favorite, the plain white button down shirt. Some of my favorite designers make a standard white cotton shirt with wonderful materials and beautiful lines, and then attach white plastic buttons as if people like me weren't closely inspecting the total package. I'll buy the shirt, but I'll definitely replace the buttons.

During the winter, I passed a street stall in Soho selling finger puppets. The ones I was most drawn to - electric blue with bits of black, white and orange - turned out to be Cookie Monster. It was love at first sight, but how does a woman of grandmotherly age buy finger puppets if she has no grandchildren? My friends, neighbors, relatives and coworkers would probably worry about me if I used them in their intended manner. So I bought seven and made button covers out of them - five for the shirt front, and two for cuff links. In New York, a serious town that dresses seriously, a wink and a nod to office apparel can be a good thing if you think you can get away with it. (In the photo above, Jean and I and the Cookie Monster quints celebrate the holiday season at Brigitte's - then on Crosby Street, now at that historic beauty, The Ansonia.)

Oh, and a shirt tip: when you buy your standard button down white shirt, put the collar up when you try it on, and see if you like the way it frames your face. If you do, your shirt can do double duty. Day look: collar down, top buttons open; evening look: collar up, all buttons closed.

Valerie's black wool and leather suit is by Eleanor P Brenner (a thrift shop find), white shirt by Josephine Chaus (Sym's), navy blue wool and velvet hat from the flea market. Cookie Monsters might be alpaca. Jean is wearing a Dutch-designed high-collared fleece jacket by Boris Industries from a boutique in Utrecht, an Issey Miyake skirt, Gucci glasses and a grey wool vintage hat from Mistress Mine in the East Village.

*(or woman)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Rainwear Issue

Many people have been complaining about the long rainy summer, but not us. For us it's been an opportunity to dress for the occasion, and this year there have been plenty of great occasions to air out the rubber and the nylon.

When we came of age, everyone worshipped at the altar of natural fibers - cotton, linen, silk and wool - which is part of the reason that one iconic word in The Graduate - Plastics - was so howlingly funny then (and is probably unfathomable to anyone young enough to be our children or grandchildren now). It's difficult to break free of the natural fibers hard wiring, but for rainy weather there's nothing like good old plastics and their kissing cousins in the synthetics family.

When we were young, a raincoat was more or less guaranteed to be waterproof. It was plastic or rubber, or coated in plastic or rubber, and raindrops beaded up on those raincoats like little jewels - at least until the plastic cracked or the rubber crumbled. Now, for some reason, much that calls itself rainwear is water resistant rather than waterproof, as if responding to some call from consumers for moist skin on rainy days. As if modern consumers had expressed a yearning to have a stronger connection between their outer weather and their inner weather.

In the photo above at left is Jean in the lobby of The Donovan Hotel in Washington, DC. While appearing to be ready to dance in her fabulous flowing black ball gown, she is actually ready to engage in undercover Special Ops wearing her U.S. Army surplus SWAT Team hooded rain poncho from the Army-Navy store. The U.S. government designers made a coat that is not only waterproof, it can be snapped to another poncho to form a tent for fashionistas who disdain whipping out of buildings and into taxis, and want to prolong their communion with the elements. Jean's DKNY rainboots, unseen under her poncho, are perfect for the flash floods that often accompany East Coast rains. When clearing huge eddying puddles over storm drains is not an option, jumping into them can be a joyous occasion with the right boots.

Above right, Valerie wears black and white polka dotted rain boots and matching umbrella by ShedRain (found weeks and miles apart), black and white tee dress and matching leggings from H&M (97% cotton, and the all-important 5% Elastane), an extra large water resistant (just barely) men's white nylon jacket, black and white plastic target motif earrings from the late lamented outdoor flea market at West 26th Street, and smudgy black and gray canvas bag from H&M. By felicitous happenstance, colorful rainboots are very in just now, which means that those of us who are often compelled to wear flat shoes with wide toes (read: ugly sneakers) can find some small pleasure in patterned Wellies.

Note that both raincoats have ample room to go over our outfits without bulking us up or binding our arms, and allow for the passage of air. We're willing to suffer for our art, but looking ungainly would defeat the purpose. And looking uncomfortable - well, the whole point is to make it all look spontaneous and effortless...

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Stalking the Wild Bill

One woman dressed against type is an eccentric; two or more women dressed against type make a trend.

Taking advantage of our constitutional right to freedom of expression, we and our like-minded friends went out on Easter day to strut our stuff; to see and be seen. Because we are women of a certain age, we still believe in Easter bonnets. We eschew the current tendency to Halloween-ize this one remaining day of the year when a woman can still creditably wear a real hat. It's a little like Christmas when, if the secret object of your affections stands under the mistletoe, you can kiss him or her with utter disregard for the usual social constraints.

We also (confidentially) went out looking for Bill Cunningham. We found him, and he (recognizing style when he sees it) found us. See Valerie and Shiho in picture 6 of the New York Times' slide show; Jean and Tziporah in picture 10:

In the photo above, left to right: Tziporah, in a vintage white hat wound with a strip of black velvet; Elaine, in a NYC-themed straw hat she hand painted, as she does every year; Valerie, in a shibori'd pink hibiscus beret from Nafi de Luca, with green pipe cleaners added; Shiho, doing her very best Holly Golightly, and actually wearing a small lamp shade (yes, really) to which she strategically basted a swath of pink chiffon; and Jean, wearing a black bathing cap topped with a plastic champagne glass, from which spring bounding rabbits.

Valerie wears Japanese sunglasses spray painted pink with black spots, a vintage Ungaro white wool coat with black and white wool piping (bought at Alessandro Mitrotti's Transfer, when it was still on the upper east side), white wool and lace gloves (not seen) from Strawberry, a vintage pleated pink silk dress by Patricia Lester (known for her Fortuny look-alikes), and vintage Miguel Hernandez shoes, which look great, but are no match for neuromas or bunions. (More on the trials and tribulations suffered by old feet in another entry.)

Jean is wearing Missoni sunglasses, Norma Kamali '80s leopard jacket (purchased at the Manhattan Vintage Clothing Show at the Metropolitan Pavillion), Brigitte harem pants and Trippen boots (from A-Uno in Tribeca). For more photos of us (and others!) at the show, check out (Valerie appears in black, white and red Gaultier in the April 2009 intro, and we reappear in the 25th photo with our friend Bill.)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Biddy Bodies

Greetings, kiddies, from two survivors of generations of trends like preppy, hippie, punk & power suits! Join us in our journey as we navigate the vast, fabulous wasteland of Planet Fashion in a recession/depression economy. Join us (Jean, above left, & Valerie, above right) as we sample everything from Japanese to vintage to French haute couture to H&M from each other's closets, flea markets, other friends & fellow fashion afficionadas. (We junkies need our "fixes" - hats, Bakelite, faux fur, Issey Miyake ...) Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night!

In this photo, taken May 24 at Fabulous Fanny's, we check out the fabulous selection of accessories, and model two pairs of FF's vintage designer shades. Note our flagrantly gray hair.

Valerie's wardrobe: anonymous straw hat in military cap shape (a thrift shop find), holly and ebony pin by Georges Larondelle, from the Philadelphia Museum of Art; Peter Lane ceramic necklace, H&M cotton and lycra long tee, Big Apple cotton pants with adjustable velcro closure, MOMA plastic digital watch ($8!).

Jean is wearing a black Tahari 3/4 sleeve T, a 70's black plastic neck ring, an armful of vintage Bakelite bangles and fingers full of black Bakelite and gold rings, a black Issey Miyake Pleats Please skirt and black Dansko clogs and is carrying a faux leopard tote.