Friday, October 31, 2008

TV Style Icon: Janet Wood

Janet Wood. Dedicated florist and steady tenant on Three's Company. With the revolving door of blonde flatmates (Chrissy, Cindy and Terri), Janet managed to retain her place in the Santa Monica apartment she shared with Jack Tripper. In Season 1, she had a modified Dorothy Hamill cut that was popular at the time. The next year, they put her in some overalls and gave her a perm. In the 1978-1979 season, her hair had grown out a bit and she was wearing styles just a notch below roomie Chrissy Snow. But by the turn of the decade, Janet had a fierce coif and outdressed the bouncy Ms. Snow. Wearing her Gloria Vanderbilt or Calvin Klein jeans with flesh toned stilettos, she'd done a complete sartorial 180.

For the remainder of the show's run, the football jerseys and coveralls from the early seasons didn't resurface. Her look continued to evolve, as personal style should, and she personified early 80s mass style. Pat Benatar is a close second, but Wood comes out on top.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

My Favorite Beards

"There are two kinds of people in this world that go around beardless — boys and women — and I am neither one," goes an ancient Greek saying. Beards have become quite popular within the last couple of years. Not since the late 1970s have we seen such an profusion of beards. If you ride the L train you'll see some of the gnarly, unkempt variety. I'm referring specifically to the well-groomed kind. Here's a concentrated sampling of my favorites:

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

But It's Fendi!

I can't begin to say how many times I've had Style Therapy clients refuse to get rid of a piece because it was designer. Nevermind that it didn't fit, made them look sallow, and didn't work with anything in their closet. As the incomparable Tyra Banks once remarked on her talk show, "Just because it's designer don't make it right."

A great deal of value is placed on the designer label; but remember, anyone can bop into Century 21 and buy a Dries van Noten blouse with shoe print stains on it for less than $100. I find that when a client buys a particular designer piece either marked down or at a sample sale, they're even more reluctant to part with it. Often the garment has the original tag with the manufacturer's suggested retail price; almost a reminder of how much of a steal the item was.

A pair of $825 Christian Louboutin pumps purchased for $200 at Loehmann's is worthless if they've never been worn because they're half a size too short and they're the source of bunions. On the other hand, if the shoes were purchased at retail (and at the proper size), and worn often, the cost per wear would have made the purchase well worth it.

I've been guilty of this misstep, only to take the unworn designer piece to the Salvation Army or Beacon's Closet. My advice is to pay more attention to the fit, quality, and versatility of the piece. Ensure that it has legs and can be worn often and well. Remember, designer items are capable of being tacky, overdone, and gauche. Being a slave to labels makes one a fashion victim. And there's no glory in being a victim.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The New Muffin Top

Code red. Code red. There's a new trend emerging. The effects are just as devastating as the muffin top. But I think I'm able to trace this one back to its genesis. Several summers ago, when leggings hit their saturation point, long tunics were favored to be paired with them. Simultaneously, young women were wearing very short dresses with footless tights or very long shirts with tight pants. It depended on how it was styled and the body-type.

Of course the wearer wasn't always keen on pairing the tunic with leggings, so she utilized everything in her closet: jeans, skirts of varying lengths, and hosiery. The most egregious has been first of the bunch. Often the jeans were paired with a cropped jacket for some reason, so the area from the belly button to the cheeks look like one massive block of fabric. This horizontal section is egalitarian. It's universally unflattering, from a size 0 to a size 12 on up.

Ladies, let's terminate this fad before it goes any further. I'm certain low rise jeans have a lot to do with this. Women who outgrew their Britney jeans have held onto them tightly. Instead of buying jeans with longer inseams, they've simply lengthened their blouses. Also, a lot of us have waaaaaay too many cropped jackets. Let's step back a bit and do a closet analysis. Add some longer, more sophisticated blazers in the mix for some variety. The look is far more flattering because of the tailoring. Any bulge (and size zeros, you have it too, that's where you gain your weight), roll, or dimple is concealed by the streamlined construction of the jacket.

If you're going to do crop, do it the right way. It shouldn't be too high and make sure the bottom of the jacket isn't in a separate zip code from the bottom of your top. Pay close attention to any horizontal line in the waist and hip area. I'm not referring to stripes on a shirt. I mean the actual line created by the hem of your jackets and and shirts. Our midsection and lower midsection are the widest parts on most of our bodies. The new muffin top draws the eye directly to this area. Let's nip this in the bud before it reaches the pandemic proportions of the original muffin.

Frankie Says Relax

I may wear my hair short and natural, but I can appreciate a good ultra-perm when I see one. Here is a concentrated sampling of the best relaxers of all time:

James Brown

Al Sharpton

Hamilton Bohannon

Nick Ashford

Little Richard


Michael Jackson (not a relaxer, but a truly exceptional lace-front weave)

Jermaine Jackson (not a relaxer, but a truly exceptional texturizer)

Sly Stone

*Super Surprise Bonus Video*

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Oh No He Didn't

The past two days have left me flabbergasted at the state of two men. A big Style Therapy no no is public grooming. This includes applying makeup (a quick lipgloss swipe is fine), nose-picking, hair twirling, toe-nail clipping (which is not uncommon on the train); etc. The other day I saw a man dressed in a suit with an attaché case board the C train during rush hour. The car was relatively packed, but we weren't at sardine capacity yet. I could not believe my eyes when I saw this man put his briefcase down, turn towards the doors of the train, look at his reflection, whip out a tie, and proceeded to do a double windsor!

He was jutting his chin out, between his collar, the way men do when they tie their cravats. Each time the train conductor hit the breaks or exited a station, he would almost fall on top of seated customers. He seemed pretty pleased with himself once his task was completed. But Tie Man was mild compared to what I saw at the Metropolitan L station yesterday.

The second man was young, with unkempt curly hair and he wore a beige corduroy blazer. I'm not sure if he was affecting a stereotypical professor look, or if he really was one. It didn't matter, because what I saw on his feet nearly knocked me out. As he was racing up the stairs to catch the train, I caught a glimpse of his feet. This man was wearing house slippers. House slippers on the street conjures up images of dope fiends. If corduroy blazers are a part of the professor cliche, fuzzy house slippers are addict's sartorial equivalent.

They were the type that people buy for their dads or grandfathers for Christmas. They are not meant to be worn on the street, even though they're fashioned after moccasins. The most one can do in them is run outside and get the paper while spending the weekend at a cabin in the Adirondacks. After all, we don't roam the streets in our drawers.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Sick Designer Fantasy

I have a bizarre designer fantasy. It borders on cannibalism. I'd like to sink my teeth into Alber Elbaz's supple cheeks, and while I'm at it, give him a quick tickle on the chin. Obvious choices like Brad Pitt and George Clooney are yawwwwwwn compared to this sartorial genius. It would behoove the Lanvin creative director to obtain a restraining order. If I saw him walking down the street, I don't think I'd be able to control myself. There's no sexual motive whatsoever and I have no intention of chewing or swallowing; just a brief nibble. But who can resist those cheeks, that bow tie? Speaking of his cravat, I'd like to tug at the tie and then quickly release it. Sort of like what clowns do to each other.

I certainly don't mean to fetishize a grown man. But I think most psychology professionals would agree that it's a good thing for me to talk these things out. My objectification of Mr. Elbaz is completely harmless. Personally, I don't care what Freud would have had to say about my "problem". Besides, I'm a Jungian.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Stockings Stalker

I entered kindergarten during the 1983-1984 school year. My favorite videos were Eddie Grant's "Electric Avenue" and "What A Feeling" from Flashdance. I had no idea the film was about some stripper in Pittsburgh, nor would I have cared. The styles of the time included trickle-down mass punk; ripped, spiked and safety pinned. I, for one, was obsessed with having Big Girl shoes. Today they'd be equivalent to the classic Ferragamo Varina flats. My shoes always had some contraption to keep my little feet in place. Whether it be show laces or a buckle strap, the secured shoe stayed on during rigorous PE sessions of kick ball.

Since I was relegated to white knock off Adidas (they had 4 pink stripes instead of 3), I needed to step up my game. It was the 80s and the sneakers were too casual for me. Enter church stockings stage left.

My wardrobe of worship consisted of a multitude of dresses, and never mingled with my school clothes: t-shirts, jeans, and denim skirts. Within my church wardrobe I had stockings of every 80s persuasion: yellow lace, plain Rubble Bubble pink, and my favorite, white with little red hearts all over.

Back then, my mother dictated what I wore while I ate Cap'n Crunch and watched Inspector Gadget. But, soon I began a campaign for the clothes I wanted to wear. As this was a quarter of a century ago, I can't remember exactly how long the campaign lasted, but it must have been long. Mommy is an Aries/Taurus cusp. She doesn't budge.

Everyday I'd ask her if I could wear my stockings with my sneakers. My church shoes were black patent with a buckle. While they served their purpose at a house of worship, they would have been too too at school. Every time I asked her, I got an emphatic NO as an answer. I can't recall her reasoning, something along the lines of sneakers and stockings not going together or me running the stockings while playing. But I persisted, and finally, she surrendered.

I was psyched out of my mind to be wearing this special hosiery. In addition to the fake Adidas sneakers, I wore what I now consider to be my uniform at the time: Miss Peggy t-shirt in which she's wearing a tank top, shorts that are far too tight, and some roller skates. USA was emblazoned on the shirt, probably in lieu of the '84 Olympics in Los Angeles. The bottom half of my outfit was a simple, denim pencil skirt.

When I got dressed in said uniform, I thought my look was fire. I made sure Mommy gave me the special hair style, too. Instead of two pig tails, I got 4 (concurrent with my fake Adidas), which were reserved for Church or picture day at school.

After my mother walked me to school, my intention was to show all the other five and six-year-olds my fashion savvy...maybe some upper classmen, too. As soon as I got outside of Mrs. Week's kindergarten class, my colleagues started in on me. They laughed and laughed. And when they were done laughing, they laughed some more. These were kids I considered friends of mine. Good friends. One after the other, boys and girls alike, asked me what I was thinking. No one wore sneakers with stockings. Only crazy people did that apparently. I wanted to be a vanguard, but it backfired.

I had yet to get those Big Girl shoes from Zayre that my parents had promised me. Stockings would have looked great with those. But I insisted on wearing my stockings then; I wasn't terribly concerned with footwear. I was making due with what I had.

After a day of what seemed like non-stop ribbing, I finally made my way home on a walk with Mommy. As embarrassed as I was, I told her what happened. She didn't spare me from any "I told you so" or "Next time, listen to me." I got plenty of those. But I'm grateful that she allowed me to wear the stockings so I'd be able to see why the combination wasn't a good idea.

I would eventually get my Big Girl shoes...the next year. I didn't have any more patience then than I do today, but they were worth the wait.

With Stanton + Williams Style Therapy, I try to give clients on the younger side more leeway. They haven't had a chance to develop their own style and have a feel for what works for them and what doesn't. It's crucial to make mistakes, and even spend all day being embarrassed out of your mind. On the other hand, for my more mature clients, my mother's voice of reason filters down through me. If I can spare them from a day of heckling, it's worth my hourly rate.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Keeping It Casual?

When I entered the workforce at the turn of this century, my first job was at a major book publishing house. Jeans weren't permitted during the week, but we could wear them on what was known as Casual Friday. A couple of years later I landed a spot at an advertising agency with a relatively conservative dress code. A code, by the way, that was strictly enforced. Forget Fridays, jeans weren't tolerated on any day of the week; much less t-shirts, open-toed shoes, flip flops, or sneakers. Casual Friday wasn't in the company lexicon and violators would be sent home to change-whether you lived in Park Slope or Parsippany.

I'd attended a prep school from grade six through senior year, so I was used to regulated dressing. If a girl's skirt wasn't grazing her knees, she was called into the guidance counselor's office. She would then be given an embarrassingly long skirt from a collection kept in the administrator's office. While we wore ghastly navy uniforms in polyester, we still knew ugly when we saw it. These loaner skirts were akin to something the wife (or wives) of a religious cult leader might wear today. They had been worn so often that the color had faded, clashing with the matching polyester navy vests we also had to wear. It would have behooved the offending girl to have worn the proper skirt to begin with.

With the exception of four years of sartorial freedom at university, most of my life, up to the point of the advertising job, included some by-the-book standard of dress. While the agency was a more creative atmosphere than a law firm or financial institution, it was still very much corporate.

Then came the town hall meeting. When the head of our company retired, the new boss held an assembly where the direction of the company was announced. When the floor was opened for questions, a young man asked (at the top of his lungs) if we'd be allowed to wear jeans. Our new chief said, "I don't see why not."

The flood gates opened wide. Anything that was forbidden before appeared overnight. Grey New Balance trainers seemed to have grown on everyone's feet like moss. And jeans accompanied them beautifully; in particular, the ones of the feline variety with whiskers. Oddly enough, it was the men who favored distressed denim the most. And for those who weren't fond of sneakers, the jeans would inevitably be paired with latter-day Jeromey Rome style dress shoes.

The women were no angels. One art director took the mullet principle of "business on top, party on the bottom" and applied it to her work uniform. The term uniform is used deliberately. She never deviated from her quite tight button down oxford, black mini skirt, and towering black patent stilettos.

With the lax rules in dressing came a Romper Room atmosphere. Scooters became the mode of transport for some, and with that zipping and zooming came louder chatter and outrageous chotckes on desks (myself included). A stock photo house sent us enormous posters of their latest offerings. A coworker took one of Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal and had it lamenated and mounted. I kept it on my desk until I left.

A couple of years later, when I worked in the design department of a contemporary clothing firm, I'd often buy new pieces from our line. While walking to work one morning, I saw a young woman wearing a shirt I'd purchased not too long before. It was definitely a shirt because it was merchandised with the other tops in the flagship store. On this particular day, the coworker, who I had never met before, was wearing it as a dress! It barely covered her cheeks. I'm assuming she stood on the subway ride on the way over.

She accessorized with a chain-link belt in gold and patent heels. I've already got prudish, granny tendencies, but for me, that was over the top. Not too long after that, a twenty-something female stopped by for a job interview. She was wearing what would have been a flesh-colored suit had she not OD'd on the spray tan. The young candidate also wore matching, nude patent platform heels. Her hemline, too, also barely covered her cheeks. The top button of her blazer was unfastened, allowing for a generous amount of cleavage.

When I started Stanton + Williams Style Therapy, I had no intention of consulting corporate clients. I wanted to keep it private; but it was instances like those two that made me reconsider. Nowadays a lot of companies don't have dress codes on the books. And if they do, they're not enforced. It's hard to reprimand someone for dressing inappropriately if they've never been taught. These two young ladies were on the younger side and had probably never worked for companies with a conservative corporate culture.

My message to the employees and the companies isn't, "Don't wear this, wear that." I want people to understand the power of clothing. We form judgments of each other within seconds, solely based on what we're wearing. It's imperative that we know what message we may be sending when we leave our apartments either looking like a hot mess, a fashion victim, or a paid escort. It was Chanel herself who said, "Dress shabbily and they remember the dress. Dress impeccably and they remember the woman."

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Style Therapy By Mr. T

If I had to go on holiday for a week and leave someone in charge of Stanton + Williams Style Therapy, it would be Mr. T. Click here to see why.

Monday, October 13, 2008

TV Style Icons: The Huxtables

The entire Huxtable clan was always beautifully turned out. From matriarch Claire's stellar separates, to her husband's vivid knits, the family that styled together stayed together. The Cosby Show was full of characters with fully evolved personal taste; the dernier cri in Brooklyn Heights. While the episodes taught us the importance of honesty, ethics, and living up to our potential, a lot of us took our sartorial cues from the Huxtables.

Of the children, Denise captured the mid-80s most brilliantly, both as a pacesetter of style and as a designer. And then there's Rudy. Remember the third season episode where she schemes to wear a summer dress to a party during the fall season? Her mother was the voice of reason. Even when she's stern, giving her youngest child a lecture on weather-appropriate dressing, Claire Huxtable is polished and fashion forward.

In an episode from the previous season, the power of clothing makes itself apparent again when Vanessa purloins Denise's sweater to wear to a school dance. The sisters come to blows over the plum-colored sweater coat, almost knocking out their father.

Cosby Show costume designer, Sarah Lemire, created a fashion time capsule during the period the show aired (1984-1992). Other than Dynasty and Miami Vice, I can't think of another program from that era that captured the aesthetics of the time. In the past decade, Sex and the City came close for the late 90s and the early-mid noughties. But Patricia Field's concept was more hyper-reality than that of The Cosby Show. Unlike the characters in the aforementioned programs, Cliff and Claire were parents to five kids. He was an obstetrician and she, an attorney. Their wardrobes had to be more believable because of their roles.

Today, with the Internet, people have easy access to designer collections minutes after the shows take place. Twenty-five years ago, fashion footage was limited to glossies-and they only came around once a month. With Claire and Cliff and the kids, at 8:00 PM every Thursday night, it was like being in the front row.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Using Academics to Indulge In Reality

I'm currently studying fashion history in the Visual Culture master's program at NYU. Costume, dress, clothing - or whichever term I'm in the mood to use at the time - has taught me a great deal about society as a whole. From aspects both anthropological and sociological, a great deal can be learned about mankind through the study of vestments. 

However, I've used my passion for dress to defend my watching of certain television programs. The Real Housewives franchise is probably the biggest culprit in my reality repertoire. While others cringe at the McMansions, Botox, and petrol devouring SUVs, I absorb every minute of it as if watching a PBS documentary. Nova and P.O.V. simply don't carry the same level of intrigue for me. 

"Conspicuous consumption" is my answer when asked why I watch what some consider garbage. In my defense, I really am interested in Thortstein Veblen's ideas about the nouveau riche of the late 19th century and their practice of consumerism. If you have the time, read his 1899 book, The Theory of the Leisure Class. In laymen's terms, conspicuous consumption is the purchasing of luxury goods and services with the express purpose of showing off wealth and inciting envy in others. 

I'm not sure much has changed, or we wouldn't be in the financial feces we're in right now. Those college credit cards we opened 10 years ago when we were still jobless and had two semesters until graduation? Still paying them off and recently started paying the principal, and not just the interest! Unless exceptionally evolved, we're all susceptible to keeping up with the Joneses, the Jacksons, the Jimenezes, and the Patels. 

Perhaps the credit crisis will cause us to rethink what we purchase and why. With my Style Therapy clients, I encourage them to buy pieces with legs and staying power. It's not just about being able to wear something to work during the day and drinks afterwards. Can your suit blazer be worn with jeans or a cocktail dress? Can you see yourself wearing it for the next couple of years? 

Whether we care to admit it, we're all guilty of conspicuous consumption on some level. The Housewives of Orange County, New York, and Atlanta just happen to be more visible because they're on television and their episodes are repeated ad nauseam. Until the economy recovers, repeat this Style Therapy Latin mantra when at the next sample sale: Veni, Vidi, Ambulavi. In English, it translates as "I came, I saw, I walked."

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Can She Afford That?

I own a beautiful, black leather Jil Sander blazer. It's perfectly tailored, with a piping detail on the front, down the back, and on the sleeves. It's void of a collar and carries no pockets. When I put it on, the jacket has the fit of a bespoke piece. That's if I put it on. Whenever I do decide to wear it and people comment on it, the inevitable question arises: "Who is it?" When I say Jil Sander, an incredulous expression flashes across their face. "Is it vintage?" Vintage meaning used, worn by someone else prior to my ownership, significantly cheaper than something straight off the rack. Affordable.

I don't think everyone is subjected to this line of grilling. Oprah, Donald Trump, The Sultan of Brunei, and Bill Gates can wear and buy whatever they please without someone questioning their ability to pay their credit card bills at the end of the month. I'd like to think I'm above this crass and vulgar bit of judgment, but I've caught myself on more than one occasion.

While working in the design office of  a contemporary clothing line, a coworker mentioned that one of the assistants on another floor was toting a new Hermès Birkin bag. Incredulity flashed across my face and I insisted that it must be a fake. My desk mate, who had gotten over her initial disbelief, assured me that it was the real thing. I shook my head and said there's no way an assistant could afford a Birkin. What about the waiting lists? Impossible. Must have been a rich oil or shipping heir boyfriend who picked up the tab for her. I simply couldn't believe it. A leather Jil Sander jacket is pricey, but an Hermès bag is in a completely different stratosphere. This was my line of reasoning.

Just as others had done with me and my item, I was questioning the authenticity of a complete stranger's bag based on her job title alone. Site unseen. I'd never even cast a glance at the owner or the bag. I wasn't proud of myself, but it made me wonder where this unsavory part of human nature came from. Heuristics is a good place to start. The American Heritage Dictionary defines it as "Of or relating to a usually speculative formulation serving as a guide in the investigation or solution of a problem", basically it's an argument derived from past experience. The only other young woman I knew with a Birkin received it from a wealthy, hedge fund chap. Therefore, either THIS assistant's must be a knock-off or a gift. I deduced that since I was an assistant, our paychecks were comparable. If I saved up every single dollar from my wages for the entire year, maybe I would be able to purchase a Birkin of my own. But then there's that dreadful waiting list! With all of these variables, that's how I came up with my blockhead conclusion.

The young lady could have saved up for the bag herself. She could have been an heiress working as an assistant instead of collecting on her trust fund. She could have stolen the bag. Perhaps she was the highest bidder on eBay or bought it on consignment. Bottom line, it was truly none of my business. The fact that she was capable of owning the bag to begin with made me question my own station in life. I believe that's what got me worked up. I think the people that pry into my Jil Sander jackets origins are doing a bit of the same. Even those that make far more than I would have that look of disbelief. 

We all have insecurities. When money and class are thrown into the mix, it can get prickly. We can feel less than. If you're on the receiving end of the incredulous look, it's possible to preempt their question by asking, "Is everything ok?" That should give them the splash of water they need in their face to snap out of it. Now if you're on the opposite end, even if the bag is screaming "I bought this on Canal Street!" at the top of its lungs, just nod and smile. Nod and smile.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Muffintopitis Pandemic!

In the August 28, 2005 edition of the New York Times, William Safire described the muffin top as "the roll of excess flesh spilling out primarily in front but possibly all around." At some point within the past 10-15 years, slovenly sloppiness became commonplace. I'm not sure if the blame lies with the grunge movement, business casual, or more form fitting clothing on pregnant women.

I didn't start noticing this proclivity for untidiness until Hollywood moms-to-be started showing off their bumps. While I'm not a proponent for any kind of belly-baring (whether it's six-pack abs or layers and layers of rolls), an expectant mother gets more of a pass. Frankly anyone else exposing their gut shares the physical aesthetics of an abusive drunkard. Wife-beater anyone? Pasty-haired paunchy potbelly in a stretched out ribbed white undershirt with beer stains down the middle. That's the mental image the ubiquitous muffin top evokes.

I remain under the impression that no self-respecting woman would leave her house with her gut spilling out over her low rise jeans. Low rise jeans. Yes! They contributed to this dreadful mess of a movement as well. At the turn of this century the incomparable Sisqo bellowed "Let me see that thong!" So the young women of America obliged. Showing off their tail whale tattoos and vibrantly colored g-strings, it seemed as if ladylike behavior had gone the way of the VHS tape. Only old farts still believed in it.

Girls bought copious amounts of hip huggers in every rinse available. Britney was their patron saint. At the time she had abs of steel was able to rock the look. Tarty, but not exactly unkempt. Nothing jiggled and bits and pieces remained in their place. Then one day either the jeans shrunk in the wash or women started putting on a few LBs. Either way, they continued wearing them as if nothing had happened. How an appendix has never ruptured is a miracle. Around 2002, UGGs, the muffin top of footwear, gained momentum. Somehow a gut spilling over a waistline corresponded well with the wooly stuff at the top of the boot. Picture a volcanic eruption at Mount Etna. Add a cropped, velour zip up and a look was born. And it refuses to die!

I'm perplexed as to why the loved ones of these girls and women haven't staged interventions. Luckily, none of my friends are guilty of this most egregious of sartorial offenses. Like most of my mates, my weight fluctuates in my midsection. Depending on the time of the month or if I've had an extra hearty brunch, my tummy can expand significantly. But if I wear anything remotely close to a low-rise, I take the precautionary measures: a blazer, cardigan, or loose fitting top. When I say loose fitting, I don't mean something that will create gratuitous volume. I mean just enough to conceal that additional order of roasted potatoes.

If you (or someone you know) suffer from muffintopitis, it's not too late to seek help. Simply discard any jeans, trousers, or skirts that don't fit and allow yourself to look marvelous in clothing that's your size! If you need professional help, go to the Stanton + Williams Style Therapy website ( and make an appointment. Do not mistake pride in appearance for vanity. It's self-preservation. Your appendix, large intestine, small intestine, spleen, and pancreas thank you in advance.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Excuse Me, I Have to Go Powder My Nose

Since when has it become acceptable to do one's entire face on the subway platform? Last week, I was waiting for the train during morning rush hour. A sea of people stood shoulder to shoulder anticipating the next A train. To my left was a petite woman, with semi-damp hair, in a dove grey skirt, suit looking up at a compact mirror. Not only was she applying her lipstick, but she swiped her concealer stick to hide the dark circles underneath her eyes. She also whipped out her eyeliner, lipliner, liquid foundation, blush, eyeshadow, and pressed powder. The piece de resistance was her eyelash curler. That's the one that really knocked the wind out of me.

In front of scores and scores of people, this woman was doing what I believe to be an intimate act of grooming. Makeup application is akin to plucking nose hairs and shaving armpits. It's something you do to maintain, but it's something to be done behind closed doors. Why stop at makeup? Why not bring a portable hairdryer on the train and maximize time that way?

Yesterday, another woman worthy of a role in I Pagliacci, was doing herself up. This time on the train itself. It was the early afternoon on the G, so the train was significantly empty, which made her actions even more pronounced.

There's nothing wrong with a quick patting of a shiny nose or the gliding on of lipcolor. But this kind of public makeover has reached egregious levels. An eyelash curler on the train platform. (Shaking head in disbelief). Was she serious?

Style Therapy Rule # 2: Do Not Let Your Cousin Style You

This message is directed to all of you young Hollywood up and comers. It's commendable that you want to help your cousin Peaches get more exposure as a stylist, but sometimes it's best not let him style you for big events. That "deconstructed" cocktail dress he had you wear to your last premiere? He claimed the raw edges were reminiscent of conceptual designers, like Margiela or Rick Owens. The fact is that Cousin Peaches ran out of time and gave you his masterpiece as is.

Your last picture did fairly well at the box office and the makers of an over-the-counter zit remedy is interested in you for their next infomercial. You're going places and you need to look the part. Why are you even listening to Peaches? He's had far too many collagen injections. He's got Wanda (from In Living Color) lips. He insists on being a tragic fashion stereotype and he's trying to bring you down to Clueless Town with him. A two-year subscription to Us Weekly does not a fashion stylist make.

Cousin Peaches insists he doesn't pay any mind to the fashion shows because he likes to be organically inspired. In reality he's still using a dial-up modem and the pages of each designer collection simply take too long to load on his computer.

If you're unable to afford a Rachel Zoe, your publicist should be cultivating relationships with design houses so you're able to get items on loan. It wouldn't hurt to give your hairstylist mom the pink slip either. She's a wonderful woman with a big heart, but she's more adept at giving blue rinses to the seniors from the retirement community in your old neighborhood than giving Sally Hershberger a run for her money. And while you're in the midst of doing lay-offs, let's not leave out your brother's longtime girlfriend. When she started doing your makeup in the mall 5 years ago, you were at a different stage in your life. For one, you were in high school and had yet to develop your taste. Now the paps are shooting you from all angles, even on off-days during a Starbucks run. But when you have a red carpet event and your makeup "artist" insists on making you look like a corpse going to the club, it's time to reconsider your entourage.

They're going to tell you that you've changed since you've become a big star and that you need to keep family close. Tune them out. The more successful you get, the bigger the perks are for them. You can refer your nemesis to Cousin Peaches, get work on a horror film for the brother's girlfriend, and send your mother to Florida for early retirement. They have absolutely nothing to complain about. You're helping them by helping yourself.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Counterfeit Chic: It Looks Fake

Several winters ago, on one of the first bitterly cold evenings of the season, I had just left an art opening in SoHo with my boyfriend and a good friend of ours. We were starving needed to be fed quickly. After some deliberation, we decided to go to an eatery owned by a friend's father in Chinatown. But first we needed to go to the ATM to withdraw money. We headed southeast away from Greene St. and towards Canal. It was only around 9:00, but the wet streets were nearly deserted.

As we came upon the Bowery, a diminutive woman around 60 was standing in the shadows of the street waving a tattered, laminated piece of paper. She chanted, in rapid succession, the words "Gucci","Prada", "Louis Vuitton", "Chanel", and "Coach" over and over again. It seemed as though she were a robot who'd been programmed to loop the series of designer names. While my friend and I were in a state of joyful exuberance, my boyfriend looked at us like the pair of fools that we were.

We asked her if she had specific designs to show us. She nodded her head. It's doubtful that she understood what we were saying. Most likely she was simply happy to attract customers at such a late hour on a frigid evening. The three of us started following this stranger onto Hester Street, an even more desolate strip. Soon my friend noticed that a young boy was skipping along after us. Was he a co-conspirator of the geriatric purse peddler?

We all followed the fast-walking woman onto another street. At that point it was questionable whether or not we were still in New York. I asked our guide "how much further?" and she motioned that it was just around the corner. Another corner?!

Finally we came upon a dark, generic building with no signage and glass double doors. Once inside, we saw a group of people hovering over their respective styrofoam take-out platters. None of them acknowledged us. As we walked through the commercial maze, it seemed to be a structure that housed several little shops. Neon Chinese characters floated over each store entrance. It all seemed sketch, but legitimate nonetheless. After all, these were actual stores.

Our leader walked us through a backroom. Once in that room, we descended an iron staircase within what looked like a cage. Our guide yelled back at my boyfriend to close the metal gate behind him. My friend and I were laughing to conceal our anxiety. All of this for knock-offs. we were supposed to be more intelligent than this.

Finally, after maneuvering through the tightest hallway any of us had ever walked through, the merchant opened a dirty door that led us into a compact showcase of counterfeit goods. As she had promised, there was a wall full of phony fakes. Falling from the sky were pieces of every persuasion: Prada, Chanel, Burberry, Dior, Fendi and Louis Vuitton. In addition to the handbags were sunglasses (with cases), umbrellas, and scarves. The lighting wasn't the best, but they looked pretty good to us.

My boyfriend flashed another "you two are so pathetic" expression across his face, but we were over the moon. This was mass class. Luxury within reach. We rummaged through the wares and finally decided on a bag for each of us. My friend and I had blown our dinner money on these fakes and understood we'd have to traipse through the freezing night to locate another ATM.

When we emerged from the building, content in our conspicuous consumption, my friend commented remarked that people only went through that brand of abnormality for drugs or illegal sex. I argued that we were women of substance who simply didn't have the means to buy the luxuries we deserved. She agreed and we headed to the ATM to take out more money for dinner.

As bizarre as our story sounded, it's not that uncommon. I know this from first hand experience, because I went on more of these clandestine adventures after that, both by myself and with willing accomplices. Stand on Canal Street, or any pedestrian packed street, at any time of day, and witness scores of people, like our guide, shouting their merchandise to eager patrons.

Both my friend and I got rid of our bags not too long after our escapade. When we got them home, we were incredulous as to how glaringly fake they looked. I have since recovered from this bad (and dangerous) habit. Anything purchased from my Canal cruising days have been given to friends or donated to charity. Burning them like the feds do after a big counterfeit raid would have been wasteful. I feel guilty about these pieces remaining in circulation, but I'm not looking for trouble from New York's Bravest either.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Style Therapy Rule # 1: Get Rid of It!

If you haven't worn a piece of clothing in over a year, the odds are, you never will. Most of us wear 20% of our clothing 80% of the time. What's wrong with the remaining pieces that we've stuffed into the closet on a mishmash of hangers? The stretched out cable knit sweater weighing down on the wire drycleaner hanger. Joan Crawford would give some of you a good beating for that one. And what about the ubiquitous white plastic hangers? The ones we bought in bulk during our university days. They've moved from dorm room to dorm room. Apartment to apartment. And some of you have the unmitigated audacity to hang them up in the custom made closets of your co-ops! 

So now we have a closet bursting at the seams, with hangers that aren't uniform. The velour sweatsuit with copy that reads "angel" or "bad girl" on the bum is hanging next to the church (or temple or synagogue) dress purchased during your Laura Ashley phase. Somewhere in the nether region of the wardrobe is upwards of 30-40 pairs of shoes. You don't even like most of them. Some lime green mules from 1999 that you haven't worn since, well, 1999. You bought them for your cousin's wedding; never to be worn again and collecting so many dust bunnies, they could be mistaken for grey fuzzy slippers.

Underneath the mules is one, not two, one Prada Sport sneaker you bought down on Canal Street. You can't even find the other shoe! Most likely it's buried between that pair of clear heels you thought didn't look too strippery and the platform flip flops you sprained your ankle in last summer.

When our closets are stuffed with superfluous rubbish, our eye naturally zones in on pieces that are familiar. Those pieces tend to congregate together somewhere in the middle, and hence, we wear them ad nauseum, forgetting about the stripper heels and faux Pradas. 

My brand of pedagogy is laced with tough love because I've been there. Time after time I've purchased items because they were the right price or the right designer or brand name. Something can look great on a model or mannequin and once you get it on, make you look like death. Before we get to the cash register it's imperative that we try on everything, and be honest with ourselves. I'm as loath to go into the dressing as anyone else, but think of the money (and space) to be saved by not bringing home foolishness. That teeny tiny room is the place to discover whether or not the color and silhouette are flattering and if you foresee yourself wearing it next year. Or better yet, next month.

A lot of us are feeling the pinch in our wallets due to the economy. Some of us will stop shopping and try to pay down our debts. But the fact remains that sometimes new clothes are a necessity. Whether it's a new job, new baby, recent promotion or fluctuating weight, going forward, when you do decide to shop, decide what works  best for you. But before that, take a survey of what's lacking in your closet. 

The initial step should be assessing your lifestyle.  A suburban soccer mom's wardrobe needs defer from that of a recent college grad living in the city. Once lifestyle has been determined, figure out what your personal style is. Do you favor timeless pieces in traditional cuts and fabrics, like the smart Donegal blazer from J.Crew? Or do you err on the more progressive side, with items like a pleated Issey Miyake cocoon jacket?

If you're ill over analyzing your style, a Closet Detox will cure that. When I go into clients' closets, I have them try on EVERYTHING. From that wrinkled and faded t-shirt picked up at a Color Me Badd concert to a perfectly fitted black Jil Sander suit. We see what works. What works is what best presents the image the client is trying to convey. If you want to be taken seriously by your coworkers at the law firm, that Color Me Badd tee is a liability. 

Once we've gone through every garment, we eliminate the excess. A client can donate to charity and put it towards taxes or I help them consign or sell on eBay. Whatever they decide to do with their leftovers is more lucrative than having it take up space (and energy) in the closet; unworn and unwanted.

After a successful Closet Detox I either advise my client on what to buy or we go shopping together. At times, their budget can be relatively moderate, so we have to be strategic and buy the best my client is able to afford. It's better to have a few quality pieces that you love and that love your body back, than to ram and cram pounds and pounds of unloved clothes into a limited area. We detox our bodies of junk and foolishness, why not our closets?

For an appointment, go to

TV Style Icon: Dorothy Zbornak Was the Chicest GG

To put it in the plainest terms, the other Golden Girls simply tried too hard. The other day I caught a rerun of the show on Lifetime. One of the topics of conversation regarded Blanche keeping the tags on an expensive dress she planned on seducing a man with and then returning to the store the next day. The gold spangly number was on the shorter side and made noise when it moved. It screamed "Look at me! Look at me!" and if you can't do that at least "You can hear me coming."

Rose had on a frock that Laura Ashley's granny would have thought too hausfrau to wear. In fact, Sophia's ratty yellow cardigan elicited more sex appeal. And then there's the inimitable, peerless, urbane Dorothy Zbornak. 

Yes, Miami has a true tropical climate. The summers are hot and humid and the winters are warm and dry. The average temperature in January hovers around 70, but Ms. Zbornak was above flimsy spaghetti strapped dresses and flip flops. 

During the run of the show, from 1985 to 1992, she wore modern, ageless pieces. She understood the importance of the fabric's hand and drape. Her multiple cocoon jackets easily mixed with her harem pants. Neutrals predominated her wardrobe, with the occasional print or pop of color. Dorothy knew how to edit and exercised great restraint...unlike her wear & return, conspicuous consumer housemate Blanche. 

Never did she pile on the accessories. Zbornak's slouchy flat boots (for helping her navigate the daily grind of South Beach), smart purse (large enough for lesson plans, keys, and a hardcover bit of non-fiction), and perfectly sized earrings balanced out her grand frame. And that beautiful silver coif; the perfect compliment to her closet's color story. 

Dorothy's Zbornak's clothes read: highly intelligent, fashion forward, and progressive thinking woman. As the house's voice of reason, it would have been inauthentic for her to wear an acid wash miniskirt or a strapless leather jumpsuit. But I have the most confidence that this Brooklyn babe would have been able to pull it off with great aplomb.