Friday, October 10th, 2014

if a chic falls in the forest…


Lovely reader Cecilia sent the following note to “les femmes” (yours truly and Tish of A Femme d’un Certain Age). I think this speaks to a challenge that many of us have faced: dressing to fit in vs. dressing in accordance with our personal style. Today we both respond.

Dear Unefemme and afemme,

My question: Are you chic if no one around you thinks you are?

I am writing to you both because I would like to get both a French and American point of view on my question.

I am a 56-year old woman who is often told I look at least a decade younger. I credit this to good genes from my mom and staying out of the sun for the past three decades. I have always tried to dress in what I would describe as a classically elegant way; however, over the past ten years, I had resorted to a very basic wardrobe of either jeans or black pants and a t-shirt, turtleneck or blouse in synthetic fabrics (or cotton) and bright colors. I did not buy the cheapest clothes, but certainly not high quality ones either. During that period, I put on and took off the same 15 pounds. Although it has been almost three years and I had stabilized at about + 10 lbs. over my weight at age 18, I still did not want to invest a lot of money in my wardrobe until I finally lost those 10 pounds. About 6 months ago, I decided to accept my size 8 weight (low by American standards and high by Parisian standards). I started reading a lot of fashion blogs and have found that your two blogs are most aligned to my tastes.

I have read your book Tish, as well as the one you recommended by Inès de La Fressange and really love all your, Ines’ and unefemme’s suggestions on how to dress. I have been buying fewer, much higher quality pieces and having started wearing them to work. I feel so much better!! I really was quite surprised at first. I am an administrative assistant at a large hospital in an outlying suburb of a mid-Atlantic state in the US. I never felt it was worth spending money on nice clothes because very few people in this area wear nice clothes. This brings me to my question.

While I wholeheartedly embrace the French way of dressing, few people here do. This may sound like a vain, silly thing to say, but, while I feel so much better about how I dress, I have received very few compliments. In fact, the only time I receive compliments is when I wear a bright color or a statement necklace. (These were a few pieces I bought when I first start viewing fashion blogs written by younger women in the U.S.). So, I guess my question is, are you really chic, if no one around you thinks you are? (If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, does it make a sound?)

I am a native New Yorker, who lived in Brooklyn, Queens and then Manhattan for until I was 26, and I have always felt that my clothing choices did not fit it here. I even stopped wearing certain things because I felt I would stand out too much. Not because I was dressing in a tacky, garish way, but because I was dressing in a chic, elegant way. As I said, I prefer chic. Most women here dress in very inexpensive, poorly made clothes and walk around with low-designer handbags with large logos purchased from outlet stores. This makes me sound like a snob, I fear, but I don’t like wearing logos, big or small. Yet, I am the one who doesn’t fit in (and I don’t want to)!

So, again, are you chic if no one around you thinks you are?

I would love your thoughts on this question.

Thank you both for your great blogs. I will continue to follow both of them as I build my Parisian Chic wardrobe.

The short answer: yes, of course you are!

The long answer: “chic” is one of those very subjective (and often overused and mis-used) terms that often has different meanings depending on who is wielding it. Here’s what “chic” means to me: smart, simple, put-together, dressing in accordance with one’s taste and lifestyle, with attention to quality, fit and incorporating a soupçon (or even a large ladle) of individuality. I think it’s hard to feel chic when you are dressing to please others rather than yourself.

Sometimes that means you are out of step with those around you. But if you are confident in your choices, if your clothing feels like a part of you, that’s bound to come through. If you feel good about what you’re wearing and projecting, people will react to that even if they do not notice or respond to you style choices.

“Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman.”

― Coco Chanel

Isn’t choosing what to wear about presenting our best self to the world? Chic is as much about attitude as style. And I’d bet good money that there are people who admire your style, even if they do not say anything.

Still, the pull to feel like one belongs in one’s community can be strong. And cultural norms change over time. I think you have the right instinct: to add an accessory or two that nods to what those around you find stylish, while at the same time staying true to what feels right for you.

I looks forward to reading what Tish has to say…go here to find out.

And Cecilia, thank you.

Bon weekend!

Thursday, October 9th, 2014

have wardrobe, will travel

Carry-on travel wardrobe for Hong Kong

After some back and forth with current pieces and a couple of purchases to supplement for tropical conditions, I think my travel wardrobe for Hong Kong and Phuket is set.

First, the Hong Kong leg, and yes there’s a lot of black. Most of those black pieces are either bottoms or clothing intended for evening wear. The pants and skirt are all pretty lightweight and loose-fitting, and made of breathable viscose rayon or tencel fabric. I did look for some linen skirts, pants or capris but did not have any luck, just the wrong season. The tops are mostly linen, and very loose and lightweight. After consulting with the woman who runs the walking tour company we’ve engaged for our first full day in Hong Kong, I’m taking the sandals I’d originally planned, plus a dressier pair for evening in place of pumps. She said that she wears nice walking sandals 9 months out of the year there, and she’s on her feet for hours daily.

Because I knew we’d be dealing with warm temperatures and lots of humidity, I didn’t limit the number of pieces as much as with past trips (otherwise I’d be spending a lot of time doing laundry). But everything still fits comfortably in the carry-on bag.

Travel Wardrobe: Hong Kong in October

Shoes: ECCO walking sandals for day, See by Chloé block heel sandals for dressier evenings.

Pants: Eileen Fisher stretch ankle pants (can be rolled up) // Eileen Fisher crepe lantern pants // Eileen Fisher tencel ankle pants, no longer available, similar.

Skirt: Eileen Fisher asymmetrical hem skirt.

Tops: Eileen Fisher linen shirt, no longer available in white, similar // J.Crew striped tee // Eileen Fisher hemp/cotton 3/4 sleeve top. (also in Plus) // Grey linen elbow tee, similar in 3/4 sleeve // Madewell linen tee. Not pictured: Eileen Fisher linen tank (also in Plus).

Jacket: Eileen Fisher silk/cotton knit jacket, several years old, similar style.

Dresses: Karina, Babette

Fedora: Eric Javits (has SPF 50 sun protection)

Beach time in Phucket

For Phuket, I threw in a couple of bathing suits*, casual rubber sandals (good for beach or excursions)  a wide-brimmed hat that can get wet and this lightweight cotton top provided by Marketplace Handiwork of India, a non-profit organization that supports low-income women in India in developing and sustaining small businesses. I’m planning to pick up a sarong or maybe some drawstring pants in Phuket. ;-)

*I hadn’t purchased a new bathing suit in years, and I’d like to give props to the Sales Associate at Canyon Beachwear at our local mall, who wouldn’t give up until she found a bathing suit style that I loved. I think the last time I loved a bathing suit was when I was 10 years old. It fits brilliantly too.

I’m taking two handbags…

Chanel Wallet-on-Chain, Longchamp le Pliage Cuir

On the right is a Longchamp Le Pliage Cuir (same style, similar color) which is a fabulous day bag. I am SO happy that Longchamp finally added a Le Pliage style with a crossbody strap. This will be big enough for essentials and stash a jacket or wrap for over-cooled interiors, plus accommodate those “can you put this in your bag” requests from le Monsieur. The bag on the left is a Chanel “wallet on a chain” bag which is a perfect size for evenings. Both of these are lightweight and compact.

Whew! I think I’m ready…

I haven’t included here what I’m wearing on the plane, which I’ll show in a separate post, and which will include some warmer layers as I tend to get very cold on airplanes.

What pieces do you pack for more tropical climates? Do you shop once you get there?
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Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

it’s finally here…

Remember that wonderful foundation that Tish introduced me to in Paris in May? It’s finally hit the shelves in the USA and is available at your local Clarins counter. It goes on like a dream, and if you prefer a more sheer application, just mix a bit of Beauty Flash Balm for extra radiance. The name, “Extra Comfort” is apt; this makeup feels very soothing when applied, almost like a treatment.

If you are a foundation wearer, this one is definitely worth checking out. One more thing…a little goes a long way so the jar will last for several months. I use a small plastic scoop (saved from another skincare-in-a-jar product) to get a dab of foundation out, and wash the scoop after each use.

Monday, October 6th, 2014

interesting times

One of the antique Blue Willow pieces that my grandmother brought back from Hong Kong in the 1960's. I'm told it dates to the mid-1800's.

One of the antique Blue Willow pieces that my grandmother brought back from Hong Kong in the 1960’s. I’m told it dates to the mid-1800’s.

It’s often said to be a Chinese curse: “may you live in interesting times.” But actually there’s no evidence to support that origin. Yet “interesting times” we live in.

Sometimes the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry (that’s Robert Burns) and our upcoming trip to Asia is no exception. We’re keeping a careful watch on the student pro-democracy protest situation in Hong Kong, and although all reports on the ground as of this time indicate that the city is peaceful and that protests are confined to a couple of small areas, should that change we may need to make some adjustments to our itinerary. On top of that, the Vietnam/Halong Bay cruise part of the trip had to be scuttled when our SIL was involved in a motorbike accident in Thailand a week ago, sustaining some broken facial bones which required surgery (she’s doing fine), and taking recreational travel off the agenda. So as of this moment, we’re still planning to visit Hong Kong for a few days and then visit BIL/SIL in Phucket, Thailand where they’ve been living for the last year.

This is the first time any of our major travel plans have been so “fluid” so close to departure. I’m surprised at how little I’m freaking out over this. Part of the reason is that all of our flights were booked using frequent flyer miles, so we’re not out gobs of non-refundable money. And Phucket isn’t exactly a horrible place to go either. ;-)

I’m holding off on the final travel wardrobe selections until the last minute, keeping an eye on weather in both places, and waiting to see if we need to adjust travel plans again. Stay tuned…

Sunday, October 5th, 2014

making brisket like a bubbe

Boy, do I love this Le Creuset dutch oven. Cooks like champ, cleans up in a snap. Thanks, Sis!

Boy, do I love this Le Creuset dutch oven. Cooks like champ, cleans up in a snap. Thanks, Sis!

Ok, so you have to start with Coca-Cola, that tenderizes the meat. Use a whole can. Then add some ketchup, some honey, some red wine and some oil to keep the meat moist. Measurements? I don’t know you just throw it all in there. About the same amount of each. Maybe half a cup. Maybe a little more ketchup. A chopped onion is nice. Chop it fine. If you want some zing add some mustard powder, just a little, and some paprika. Mix it up good. You need to be sure you have enough liquid to cover the meat. Marinate it overnight. Then cook covered at 325. It there’s not enough liquid, add a little water or broth. How long? Depends on the size of the brisket. Maybe 4-1/2 hours or a little more for 5 pounds. It’s best if you make it a day or two ahead. Once the meat cools, slice it against the grain, and then put it back in the sauce. Just heat it up a little bit to serve. You can also make it ahead and freeze it.

Made this for our Yom Kippur “break-fast” meal (dinner after the day-long fast for Yom Kippur) and everyone loved it. The meat was so tender and just falling apart. Filing this one away for next Pesach.