Monday, July 26, 2010

Mad Women and Their Hats

When my Goddaughter, Vicki, invited me to join her for tea in the City I was delighted, particularly when she said that it would be a “proper” tea, meaning Ladies are to wear hats. Hats have always held a special place in my heart. Having come of age during the 50s and 60s, I remember how essential they were to a well-dressed woman’s wardrobe.

My Mother, like most women of her generation, adored hats. In her youth she had modeled them and I never knew her to leave the house without one, whether she was on her way to work, a shopping trip with girlfriends or rushing out the door in a rustle of perfumed silk for an evening with my Father.

She firmly believed that there was nothing like a new hat to lift a woman’s spirits.

And so, on a Friday afternoon, I take the train to Philadelphia to have tea with my Goddaughter. I am wearing one of my favorite summer cloche hats in lightweight cotton – perfect for a hot summer’s day in the City.

As I walk through the streets of Philadelphia people stop, stare and smile. Some make comments. A lady stops her car and rolls down her window to yell, “Love your hat!” A little girl tugs on Mom’s skirt and asks, “Can I have a hat like that?”

In a sea of shorts, tee shirts and flip flops, a Lady in a hat stands out.

As I walk into the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel, I see my beautiful Goddaughter, Vicki, in a fuchsia picture hat, her Grandmother, Mrs. B., in a wide-brimmed straw with coral flowers, her Cousin Mackenzie, white flowers adorning her lustrous dark hair, and her Friend Catherine in a lemon yellow confection that would wow them at the Derby.

Have I stepped back into the elegant, gracious era of my youth?

The Swann Lounge is bzzz bzzzz bzzzzing over the Ladies with the Hats. How delicious! One gentleman asks to take our picture. When asked why we are all wearing hats, we simply smile mysteriously in response. An air of mystery must be maintained until a Lady removes her hat. It is nothing less than de rigueur.

So, the next time you get together with the special Ladies in your life, put on your best hats and take a walk through the City.

Hmmmm…..a great hat.....admiring glances.....summer in the City… who knows where all that can lead??

Ahhhh, the power of the perfect chapeau!!

How to Wear a Great Hat:

Kailee is modeling a beautiful chapeau from the Paris Spring Collection.

Note the jaunty angle and the artful insouciance with which Kailee wears it.

A great hat needs to be worn with confidence and a dash of panache.

Kailee will soon be available to answer all your millinery questions by BLOG. Stay tuned.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Aging Gracefully "à la française"

The New York Times
The American author of this article attempts to unravel the mystery of aging gracefully "à la française." She gives us lots of useful information on the French woman’s eating habits, beauty routines, spa therapies and exercise regimens or lack thereof (they walk as much as possible, which is not hard to do if you live in Paris), all of which can be found in any of hundreds of witty and excellent books on the subject of what makes the French woman tick.

In the end, however, she never quite answers the question and ends up by saying something fairly anemic and dime-store romantic about the fact that she loves and is loved by her family. That’s all fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t get us any closer to unraveling the mystery.

First of all, the author makes the mistake of asking French women directly to share their secrets. That’s like asking a great chef for his most famous recipe. Even if he agrees to share it, he will always leave out some crucial ingredient so that no matter how many times you prepare the dish, it’s never as good. Likewise, a French woman will never divulge this sort of intimate information about herself to an outsider. She may toss you a tiny "amuse bouches" to whet your appetite, but you will never get to the meat of the matter.

French women are highly competitive with other women on every level. It’s bred into them from birth by their Mothers. So they are scrupulously discreet about what they choose to reveal even to their closest friends. It quite simply goes against the French grain to be too open about anything personal, much less intimate, unless, of course, it has to do with sex, which is freely and openly chatted and joked about with perfect strangers at every dinner party.

Second of all, the author makes the mistake of not going to the one person who has made a life-long study of the French woman and whose knowledge of her is encyclopedic -- the French man. My Father could have taught a Master Class on the subject. While he may not be the most faithful of husbands, the French man adores the French woman – the way she looks, the way she smells, the way she moves. While reminiscing about his late wife, an elderly Frenchman once told me that to this day he misses the smell of her hair on the pillow in the morning.

So, what is the French woman’s secret? Why does she appear to age more gracefully than her American sister? The author gets within a hair’s breadth of finding the answer to the mystery when she discusses the French woman’s enjoyment (and, yes, there are days when it really does feels like a chore) of the beauty rituals that keep her looking her best; however, I don’t blame the author for not quite getting it. The answer is contained in a word that has long since slipped off the American woman’s radar screen – Femininity.

By the end of the 60s, the pursuit of Femininity had been moved from the Virtue to the Vice side of the Feminist orthodoxy. It was deemed not only to be frivolous, but downright subversive. The French woman sailed through the last four decades relatively unscathed by American-style Feminism. As a result, she continues not only to age gracefully, but to live her whole life as gracefully as she can to the delight of the French man. Femininity underpins everything she is and does. Her individual version of Femininity may be classic or quirky, but she owns it, she works it, and she will go to the grave with it.

A healthy dash of Femininity might just be the missing ingredient the author was looking for.

How to Mix and Match

The cooling breezes of Spring made a brief appearance before leaving the stage to Summer’s haze. And for you fair-skinned, rosy-cheeked, blue-eyed blondes out there, this is your Season. You positively blossom in the colors of Summer.

But for all of us, it is time to put away our more serious winter solids and pull out our fun prints, stripes and florals and learn how to mix and match them.

Q: Can I put patterns together in an outfit and not look as if I got dressed in the dark?
A: Absolutely!! And here are three examples of how it’s done and why each one works.

This young lady has mixed patterns and textures -- a black-and-white polka dot top with a purple pin-striped cotton skirt, a fringed scarf in mustard and neutral shoes.

What makes this outfit work is that the patterns do not fight each other either in color or size. The small scale of the prints keeps everything in proportion, with visual interest coming from the pop of color in one accessory - the scarf.

Here a sweater in vibrant red, patterned top, solid bottom, is worn over a jersey dress in bold black and white stripes. This breezy little outfit has “Summer” written all over it from the stripes to one of the classic color combos of Summer – black, white and red. The over-sized, neutral canvas tote says this young Lady is ready for a weekend adventure on land or sea.

Aside from the great color combination, what really makes this outfit work is the solid banding of red on the bottom of the sweater which adds interest and visually separates the bold stripe from the smaller pattern on the top of the sweater.

Not for beginners!! But, it’s really well done. This very confident young Lady is wearing what, at first, seems to be an outrageous mix of colors and patterns – black and white striped top, brown plaid pencil skirt, brightly patterned scarf and a bold red trench. Yet…..somehow it all works. Why??

The pieces are all traditional, down to the classic black pumps – nothing quirky or trendy. But what really makes this outfit work is the bold red trench. The lesson here is that if you are going to mix strong patterns together, you need one really strong color in enough quantity to serve as a focal point.

Feel those Fashionista juices flowing again? Banish the Summer Wardrobe Hum-Drums before they get started!!! Start Mixing and Matching!!!

Photos courtesy of I-Village