Sunday, January 31, 2010

Closet Queen

Valerie says:

This week’s topic is my closet/closet organization. It would be OUR closets, but Jean is dealing with her closet the same way we all deal with our first gray hair: she isn’t ready for anyone to see it yet. Jean’s closet is organized loosely around chaos theory, as propounded (and exquisitely demonstrated) by the Collyer brothers.

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, said “I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space…” Lucky man. Those of us living in New York City often think our closets are our nutshells, and fashionistas know there is nothing infinite about that space. (The full quotation ends “were it not that I have bad dreams.” Almost everyone in Manhattan has bad dreams about space. [Photo from])

There is nothing perfect about my closet, so I’m not really a closet queen at all. (The title was just to get your attention.) I’m perhaps closer to a closet baroness. That’s like being a jack in a deck of cards – one step lower and you’d be a number, not a picture. But I’ve gotten my closet to work for me, so for those of you who are intimidated by the storage issue, I thought I’d show you how to make a sow’s ear look a little more like a silk purse.

My closet is too small to organize the way I’d like to: all the shirts, then all the skirts, then all the pants, etc. Instead, I organize by color. Here you can see that all the grey, then all the black, then all the white are on the left side of the closet...

... and whatever colors I have are on the right side. From left to right, the greens, then the reds, the oranges, the yellows, the blues and the purples. In theory, the greens should go at the far end, because I wear them less than the reds and the blues. They just wound up at the center by accident, but it’s not an issue because the closet is only 60 inches wide, and I can see everything.

(It’s also 45 inches deep, and who cares how high, since I need a ladder to reach anything above the first shelf. Left is a picture of me in my closet to give you some idea of proportions. With my arms extended to the fingertips, the closet is about one inch short of my - shall we say - wingspan.)

Winter wear and summer wear are mixed together. There is not enough room to separate them, but with a few very obvious exceptions, I find that many of my clothes can do nearly year-round duty anyway.

In the center of the closet is an inexpensive grey industrial felt shoe carrier that I have converted to a ‘crinklies’ carrier. Items that are crinkly to begin with can get stuffed into the shoe carrier (saving me 4-8 inches of hanger space on the rod), but the shoe carrier has to be in the center, otherwise I’d never see it or its contents. It makes a handy visual break between the monochromes and the polychromes, and that balance keeps the lid on my lurking OCD. I chose the grey felt because I hated the white plastic version, but also the white plastic might have sharp edges that tear or pull at the clothes, and might also cause static.

On the shelf above the hangers are the sweaters. The ones I use frequently are in the front; the ones I seldom use but can’t bear to part with are in the back. (Don’t hang sweaters if you can avoid it – knits tend to lose their shape. If you DO hang them, fold them in half over the bar of your hanger – that will halve the amount of weight each side has to bear. And use a hanger with a rounded finger-sized bar or larger, not a wire hanger. Don't forget what Joan Crawford said: NO WIRE HANGERS!)

Many of my sweaters are wool, so they could be susceptible to moth damage. Before you buy a wool garment second hand, you should inspect it thoroughly for holes. Even if it passes that test, you should dry clean it immediately, just in case. For the same reason, I also keep all my wool sweaters in unavoidably ugly plastic bags. (Cube shaped ones, such as come with new sheets, are the best: they open and close nicely with zips, and the cubic shape helps them sit nicely on shelves.) This is a precaution that has worked well for me. If you do bring home a moth, the plastic bags contain and minimize the damage. (I don’t feel the same need to wrap up the hanging wools, which get more surface exposure to light and air, and thus are less attractive to moths.)

When I lived in the Texas-sized state of Texas, I had a Texas-sized walk-in closet (about the size of the one shown here, found on the web) that I could probably have slept in comfortably, so every item of clothing had its own hanger. There was a 5-6 foot hanging rod on the left, another on the right, space for me to stand and contemplate my choices, room for all my shoes at the base and space for all my books on the shelves above. (It was a two storey apartment in Dallas with two bedrooms, 1.5 baths, a backyard, a swimming pool, and shag carpet as far as the eye could see, all for $175 per month.) I could not fit the same number of hangers in my New York closet, so the rule here is that every hanger does double duty. Almost no hanger has the privilege of carrying only one garment.

Ideally, a hanger holds a suit, as this one does.

If not, I put together two items that I often wear like a suit, as with this red wool Anne Klein jacket (from Bergdorf’s, by way of the flea market!) paired with, wonder of wonders, an Eddie Bauer red wool tartan skirt.

If neither of these is possible, I’ll pair two items of the same color even if I would never wear them together. I don’t have much in orange, so this bright orange striped silk jacket is learning to live with the dotted burnt orange cotton skirt. They’re of similar weights, so there’s still a little method to the madness.

In the worst of all possible worlds, I’ll put a summer item together with a winter item, as with this dark blue wool jacket and pale blue cotton summer dress. They make strange bedfellows, but it’s the only way to ensure that everything will fit in the closet, AND be in the correct color section. In any case, I won’t be looking for the dress during the winter, only the jacket, so it’s of little consequence that the jacket obscures my view of the dress.

Speaking of hangers, for best results buy only hangers with attached clips for skirts or pants, and with swiveling hooks. When I come home from work, I take my work clothes off immediately and let them air out overnight in the closet. If I hang them in their place on the rod they won’t aerate, so I hang them from the sweater shelf (as in some of the above photos). Clothes on the swivel hook hangers are less likely to accidentally fall to the floor because there is less tension between the hook and the body of the hanger, and clothes that don’t accidentally fall to the floor are less likely to raise my blood pressure, so swivel hook hangers have a lot to recommend them.

Another rule is that no cats are allowed in the closet. I have two cats, and they have the run of the apartment, but they are forbidden in the closet because on too many occasions I have put on an outfit only to discover there is a swath of cat hair decorating the hem where a cat has passed by on her way to nap in a dark corner. Since I likely won’t have time to change or clean off the hair, it saves me a lot of trouble if I just keep them out. I have come to terms with the hair issue in all other aspects of my life, but I grew tired of having perfect strangers say to me “I see you have cats.” So the outdoor clothes go back to the pristine closet as soon as I arrive home, and are replaced with jeans or other cat-friendly clothes.

A few important notes: this closet is only possible because a) I weed it fairly regularly; b) underwear, stockings, etc., are kept separately in a chest of drawers; and c) I can keep my coats in the closet by the door. There would be room for shoes in this closet, but I don’t wear them in the house, so shoes (a story for another time) are kept in a closet by the door. Full disclosure: there's no place for me to safely store the wonderful black Donna Karan gown hanging on the wall. Good thing I like looking at it.

In a 2009 article on Betsy Bloomingdale ( Women's Wear Daily noted that items hanging in her closet (closets - she reportedly has eleven) were all tagged with information as to where they were worn, and notes suggesting what accessories to wear them with, and how best to put the clothes on. This enviable degree of organization, of course, is part and parcel of having rather more space and rather more clothes than I have (AND of having a full time personal assistant to keep track of everything). Betsy (shown here reviewing her gowns at an FIDM Museum exhibition) must be one of the true closet queens, and that degree of organization is what separates the closet queens from the closet baronesses. (And you know, having read Tess of the D'Urbervilles - or at least having seen the stunning Nastassia Kinsky in the Roman Polanski movie - that some of us have only bought our titles. I am not telling about my own.)

I am working toward becoming a full fledged closet queen. I already have all the regalia. Look!

Clockwise, from top left: the all-important orb, the scepter (or sceptre), formal crown (black, with sharp points) informal crown (celebratory colors and blunted points).

(informal crown by Tiiti Tolonen, formal crown by Mary Jaeger; both of felt)

Jean says:
God save the Queen! Needless to say, Valerie's proposal of showing our closets engendered in me about the same reaction as a proposal to have my naked photograph on a billboard in Times Square. What a nightmare! As I had indicated in a previous posting, I live in constant fear that editors from A&E's "Hoarders" will be knocking on my door to recruit me as their next subject. In the spirit of full disclosure, here is a picture of my closet, packed to the gills. Since my wardrobe is about 90% black, the sleeve of the red leather jacket visible to the left of the closet is an unlikely sight.

Even more unlikely is the fact that it is a NASCAR jacket. And not just any NASCAR jacket. It is in fact a Dale Earnhardt, Jr. NASCAR Winston Cup Series jacket by Chase Authentics by JH Design Group. A size small, it is emblazoned not only with his number 8 (on the back of the neck and left sleeve) and his embroidered signature (over the heart), but also the logos of all of his sponsors: Bud, the King of Beers (on front and back), Champion, Chevrolet, Remington Arms, The Outlaw, Goodyear, Cincinnati High Performance Machine Tools, Ritz Crackers, Sherwin Williams Automotive Finishes, Drakkar Noir, Snap-On, and Van Camp Beans.

What, you might ask, would I (a raving Formula 1 fan) be doing with a Nascar jacket? Good question. Answer: It once belonged to Cheryl Crow, made its way to Jodi Head (designer of Rock Star guitar straps), and eventualy landed in my possession. It is sort of the East Village equivalent of the "Traveling Pants".

With all the skeletons in my closet, it's a miracle I can get the door shut. Which brings me to my next topic: Skeletons in the Closet.

According to Go English.Com: "Years after a person has died, only the skeleton remains, and a skeleton of bones can be a frightening thing to look at. "Skeletons in the closet" are embarrassing things which we would like to put away so other people cannot see them."

Deadheads will recognize it as the title of one of the Grateful Dead's greatest hits albums. It was an amalgam of some incredible tunes: Sugar Magnolia, Uncle John's Band, Casey Jones, One More Saturday Night, Mexicali Blues, Rosemary, St. Stephen, Truckin' and Friend of the Devil bring back memories.

"Skeletons in the Closet" is also the name of the fourth solo album by Parliament-Funkadelic leader George Clinton. A little known fact is that it featured the recording debut of former Miss America Vanessa L. Wiliams! According to Wickipedia, the album was released in May 1986 by Capitol Records and was the last album that Clinton would record for the label.

Recording sessions for the album utilized a small cadre of P-Funk musicians including Bootsy Collins, Garry Shider, and DeWayne "Blackbyrd" McKnight, as well as Vanessa L. Williams on the opening track "Hey Good Lookin'". R&B Skeletons in the Closet was produced by Clinton, Steve Washington, Shider, and Andre Jackson. Now a tour of George Clinton's closet would really be something! The man never met a color he didn't like to wear.

Well, dear readers, if and when I clean my closet, you'll be the first to know. 'Til then, do tell us about your closet, if you dare!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Old Bags' Old Bags

In our last posting, we wrote about our handy dandy trusty rusty bags – the ones we use all the time, despite the fact that they are not fashionable or beautiful or held in high regard by taste makers. You know you’re getting old – um – mature – when the highest compliment you can pay your bag is that it’s reliable.

This week, for your viewing pleasure, we’re delighted to show you the bags that mostly live in our closets. We love them, but for any number of reasons they just don’t work with our daily lives.

Valerie’s old bags:

1. Blue Pleats Please knapsack

It’s wonderfully creative and colorful (the inside is plaid), but loses its sharp shape as soon as I put something in it. Also, in order to get anything out of it, I have to take it off both shoulders, not just one. (Dress also by Pleats Please; straw hat by Miss Bierner.)

2. Red felt cord bag

Bought at the Union Square Christmas Market two years ago. I love the simple but ingenious design of this Nepalese bag – a single felt cord wound and bound into a geometric shape with strategically knotted twine. But even a little weight in it distorts the lines of the design. I don’t regret the purchase, though. I hang it on the wall as fiber art. (Boiled wool cape by Ceilun Sport.)

3. Orange hard shell knapsack

By Makio Hasuike for Vespa. Don’t ever get on the subway at rush hour with a hard shell knapsack. NO ONE will compliment you on your fashion sensibility. They will just fume about the extra space your bag occupies since, unlike shoulders, knapsacks make no concessions in crowds. (And there’s the above-mentioned accessibility issue for the wearer.) (Hat by Chisato Tsumori; coat by Searle; bracelet: velvet dog chew toy from Furry Paws.)

4. Blue and white cotton kasuri bag

By Arise, made in India. I love it, but the straps won’t go diagonally over my shoulder, it will show all its dirt, and I can’t wear it between October and May, although I think I could if I lived in southern California, Florida or Hawaii. (Suit by Calvin Klein; white perforated leather cap by Antoinette.)

5. Pink cotton quilted bag

Made in India. I bought this bag in my early 20s (so it's more than five years old...). At the time, if I’d put a few dollars, a pen, and a package of tissues in it, it would have fulfilled all my needs for the day, but not anymore. I last wore this bag at Easter. The other problem that keeps me from using this bag is that I’ve grown out of most of my pink clothes! (Vintage pink velveteen lily pad hat unlabeled; jacket by Alberto Makali.)

6. Gray embossed leather bag

By Bruno Magli. This was my souvenir of a trip to Venice when I was 25. Perfect then; too small now, though I still love it. (Wool jacket by Barami; long sleeved wool sweater by Banana Republic; sleeveless wool gown by Blayde.)

7. Green felt and suede leaf bag

The leaf, from Hut Up, was marketed as a trivet at the Cooper Hewitt Museum. With a few basting stitches, I sewed it to a small green suede knapsack, which I believe I bought at Century 21. (It has no label.) I found it irresistible, although I knew when I bought it that it was too small. It makes a great impact at festive occasions, but it has the same problems as the previous knapsacks. (Velour hat by Vogue Japan; felt coat by Tiiti Tolonen; vintage green and mustard suede harlequin cut gauntlets.)

8. Black pyramid shaped bag

By Urban Oxide. I bought two, planning to wear one on each hip, like the old French pannier dresses, but some things don’t go according to plan. The shape of the very soft plastic material is compromised if there is anything in the bag. PLUS it’s too small to put my diary in. PLUS it’s not designed to stay face up, so if you leave it unzipped, everything (like my camera) comes tumbling out. But it IS designed to unzip into a single strip, as shown here. Not practical, but really cool anyway! (Vintage black velvet hat with ‘rosebud’ open top by Hats by Eddi; wool snap top by Jill Andersen; gown by Blayde; high heeled sneakers by Chinese Laundry.)

9. Blue round molded foam Lacoste bag

I wear this back to front, so the embossed logo doesn’t show (logophobe that I am), but truth to tell, I wear it very little altogether, as I can’t even get my wallet into it (see photo below).
It has a long shoulder strap, so I can drape it as a visual non-sequitur, and then never give it a second thought. It’s a hilarious conversation piece. Note to self: What IS it about women and tiny bags???

10. Green felt bag with yellow polka dots

From the Columbus Avenue Craft Show. Another Nepalese bag. Most of the current crop of felt bags have designs on one side only (a big no no!), but this has the same design on the other side, so there is no “wrong” way to sling it. On the other hand, green and yellow are hard colors, and the strap is not long enough to wear diagonally across my shoulder, so this bag doesn’t get out a lot. But I have it where I can see it, and just enjoy looking. (Cotton knit lightly padded coat, bought second hand in 1992, by Christian de Castelnau; wool hat by Phoenix.)

11. Red woven leather Bottega Veneta bag

Still yummy in its buttery softness! This bag (like so many of my favorite things) is from one of my secret resale haunts. Its shoulder strap is not only long enough for me to sling diagonally across my shoulder, it can be hidden inside to make a clutch (as you see here). Unfortunately, the Bottega bag is now the size of my toiletry bag, so really it can only go out on festive occasions. Then again, that contributes to its longevity! Here you see me in the complimentary bus thoughtfully provided by the Pier Show at West 55th Street. Rosebud opening hat by Hats by Eddi; red leather and wood pin by Tereza Symon’s mother; black funnel necked patent plastic slicker by Jane Post; red plastic ring from El Museo del Barrio.


12. Soft plastic giant koi bag by NYCTLT.

The wonders of the internet brought me back in touch with my high school friend Allan. Last year I made a copy of our high school year book and sent it to him, since his got “borrowed” by a fellow classmate. This year, having read the Idiosyncratic Fashionistas blog, Allan zeroed in on my taste like a laser, and sent me this fabulous bag, along with a whole school of Swedish Fish to keep it company. Although this is not an old bag, I wanted it to make its debut at the first opportunity, so it’s today’s Bonus Bag.

The selection above doesn’t include two gorgeous and much cherished evening bags from the 1920s-1930s, probably French. One had teeny tiny seed beads which surrounded teeny tiny flowers in chain stitch embroidery; a glass closure, mother of pearl clasps, and of course a tiny mirror in its silk satin lining. The other had a silk print of a Persian hunting scene, with men on horseback chasing wild animals. It had an onyx clasp surrounded by marcasites, and of course a tiny mirror in its silk satin lining. I had been raised to think I would eventually need evening bags, so I was prepared. Imagine my surprise when I hardly ever had occasion to use these little beauties. Several years ago, while attending graduate school (where I was by far the eldest in my class), I sold them to raise a little cash. I have photos somewhere, and when I find them, I’ll post them.

Jean says:
The new reality TV show "Hoarders" strikes a little too close for comfort. When Valerie and I brainstormed this topic, I had many bags in mind, some of which I have just not been able to "put my hands on." (I know they're around here somewhere.) However, while excavating, I successfully located several old favorites. Here we go ...

1. Black and White "Plasti-Quilt" clutch by Jolles
This 40's (50's?) clutch consists of alternating rows of 4 white hollow cylinders and 4 black, woven together on a heavy cotton frame. Lined in black cotton with a black bakelite dice zipper pull, the bag measures approximately 12" long by 8" wide. I love its graphic look, but only carry clutches on limited occasions (when I'm not toting my usual 5 lbs. of junk). I'm wearing my charm necklace, espresso Elm Design Team ("100% Royal Alpaca Icelandic Design handmade in Peru") skirt, Kyodan nylon and spandex jacket, Gucci glasses and assorted rings (two black skulls, one brass, one black bakelite and six gold rings).

2.and 3. Vintage horn evening bag and recent leather embossed envelope clutch:

These are two bags that I sometimes take on travel. I transfer credit cards and cash to the smaller, lighter bag(s), leaving the larger mothership bag at home or in the hotel. The horn bag is wide enough to accommodate cell phone, small coin purse, keys and makeup. The envelope holds cash and keys (barely).

With its 36" silk cord strap, the horn bag converts from clutch to shoulder bag, greatly increasing its flexibility. Measuring 5" long by 4 " high by 2 1/2" deep, the bag has a matching hinged horn clasp, is lined in black silk and has no label. I acquired it years ago at the old outdoor 26th Street Flea Market. I love its light weight, but worry that if dropped, it might shatter.

This coppery brown envelope (10 1/2" x 5") is one piece of folded and stitched embossed leather painted gold inside, with two flat metal snaps to ensure closure. The bag was a gift from Kirsten Hawthorne, jewely designer and thrift store maven.

4. White with black polka dot purse

This fabulous purse has a matching zippered billfold on a strap inside. The purse converts to a backpack by simply pulling the black leather drawstring through the twelve silver metal grommets. It was a gift from Kim Dennis before she moved to Santa Fe nearly 20 years ago. It is in the same pristine condition today that it was then. I'm wearing a black wool hat by Maria R. Del Greco with a vintage bakelite mah jong tile pin, Cynthia Steffe black wool suspender jacket, black Michiko Koshino skirt, black fleece wrap and Missoni sunglasses. I'm also wearing seven red bakelite rings (along with six gold rings).

I wore the polka dot bag today to the "Americana and Antiques at the Pier" show on 12th Ave. at 55th St. It stored my rain poncho, coin purse, cell phone, camera and makeup case.

5. through 9. A flock of black bags

I often carry smaller bags inside larger bags when I travel, to hold rings and earrings, toiletries, cell phone chargers, etc. They are often drafted to use as coin purses or evening totes. From the left: Black nylon zipper bag (7" x 3" x 3 1/2") by Express; black poly/nylon zipper bag by Cooltura with white skull and crossbones and Japanese lettering with matte silver star zipper pull (Hecho en Mexico) from ENZ in the East Village: black and white pebble finish PVC zipper tote (10" x 5" x 1 1/2") made by Packits by RGA; small black faux patent zipper bag (6" x 3" x 1 1/2") by Adrienne Vittadini; and black PVC zippered (5" x 6") Vogue promotional bag.

10. through 13. Mae West's "Summer Diamonds"

My favorite Mae West quote: Gesturing to her ample bosom festooned with jewelry, she remarked "These are my summer diamonds... Some 'er diamonds and some 'er not." Following in that vein, here are my Louis Vuitton bags, one of which is genuine and others which are gifts of unknown provenance.

I store the three smaller bags inside the largest (22" x 11" x 8"), which is technically luggage (at the rear of the photo. From the left: classic brown and tan Speedy bag (13" x 10" x 7"); black and white Paris bag with silver hardware and zipper pulls (10" x 5" x 4"); and black background bag (7" x 6" x 5") with green, pink, blue and yellow letters and symbols.

Here I am in the loo at Tabla Restaurant ((Madison at 25th Street), sporting my small black handbag (jammed with my makup case, glasses, camera, coin purse, phone and keys). I'm wearing an Ignatius fleece hat (from the Philadelphia Craft show), black with white polka dot wool scarf, black wool Armani jacket, Brigitte harem pants and Trippen booties. [Valerie interjects: see photo above for me in the same lieu. I mean loo. We wondered briefly if it was slightly undignified, or just not done, or something, to be posing for photographs in the WC, but ultimately you can see we didn't allow that to concern us for very long.]

Here is living proof of "the pet factor." Not only when I feebly try to style my photo shoot, but also when she's feeling contrary, DeeDee makes it a point to invade my handbags. If she can't fit inside, she sits on the outside, roosting like a chicken.

As my apartment search and destroy missions progress, I will try to locate the other bags and, if successful, will include them in a future update. 'Til then, do behave!