Essays and Musings, The Four Seasons of Vintage

A Report in the Spring

Carole Bouquet, 1980s Chanel Advertisement

Carole Bouquet, 1980s Chanel advertisement

I wasn’t really prepared to buy a brooch this week, and it may have been impulsive on my part, as it comes on the heels of having purchased a charm bracelet last month. Though I love fashion jewelry, and regularly wear a necklace, I had never really thought about owning a brooch, or for that matter, a charm bracelet. The truth is I don’t know for how long I have wanted such a bracelet. Possibly since the 1980s, after seeing a Chanel perfume commercial in which Carole Bouquet sports an extravagant charm bracelet with a red suit. My attraction to brooches is recent, a desire born only a few years ago at a dinner party in Los Angeles. After meeting a woman of advanced style who wore a remarkable brooch against her simple black blazer, it suddenly occurred to me how wonderfully sophisticated owning a brooch would make me feel.

The fact that these traditional pieces of jewelry reveal divergent tastes doesn’t trouble me. On the one hand, there is the brooch, regal and glamorous, conjuring images of the Duchess of Windsor, impeccably dressed and groomed. And on the other, there is the charm bracelet, girlish and flirty. The bracelet I acquired last month is a Napier from the 1950s, the heyday of the charm bracelet before it fell out of fashion during the women’s movement. As soon as I saw it I knew it was the most perfect of things: constructed from pearlized Lucite and styrene beads in Easter egg colors that the Napier company called “moonstone pastels.” Completely impractical, a charm bracelet garners smiles as it clinks with each step you take, with each wave of your hand. It clangs brightly, keeping you company when you are home alone or out driving. As for the brooch, I discovered the ideal one on EBAY from a seller in Louisiana. A vintage Oscar de la Renta, it is resplendent with its faux pearls and center crystal.

The Duchess of Windsor's 1940 flamingo brooch by Cartier

The Duchess of Windsor’s 1940 flamingo brooch by Cartier

The Duchess of Windsor and Prince Edward of Wales, 1942

The Duchess of Windsor and Prince Edward of Wales, 1942

Despite having written about fashion jewelry here, I neglected to mention that charm bracelets and brooches are the showboats of any outfit. Both are rich in historical connotation: the brooch dates as early as the Bronze Age when it was used as an indication of ethnicity and class, while from pre-historic times the charm bracelet was worn as an amulet to protect against the evil eye. Today, in an age obsessed with the practicality of the iPhone and the Apple Watch, to wear either a brooch or a charm bracelet is to be reminded of the joy that the quixotic still has the power to shower over us.

I have wondered why it is only now, in my middle years, that I am embracing the brooch and the charm bracelet. The only satisfactory answer I have come up with is that as the world accelerates its championing of all things utilitarian and technological, the more the antiquated and the superfluous – things lacking any real use value – rise in appeal. Vintage objects tell a story, their beauty is not impersonal. Beckoning from beyond, they help us to stay connected to an ever receding past.

Vintage Oscar de la Renta faux pearl and antique gold brooch

Vintage Oscar de la Renta faux pearl and antique gold brooch

1950s Tropicana charm bracelet by Napier

1950s Tropicana charm bracelet by Napier

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Weekend Style Inspiration

Greek Holiday

 Acropolis, Athens

Acropolis, Athens

This weekend I am making preparations for a two week summer vacation in Greece – departure is scheduled for Wednesday, and I am judiciously considering what clothes to bring. When I first thought about packing for the trip, I looked through 1970s photographs of Jackie Onassis in Greece. The photos inspire with a wavy haired Jackie, dressed stylishly for dinner in the city or equally voguish, clad in flip-flops and a poet shirt over bikini bottoms on Skorpios. Though I will not be going to the Ionian islands but to Athens and Folegandros, a small island in the Aegean Sea, my ambition is to have the same fashionable ease and comfort as Jackie.

Glamorous images of the jet set aside, from what I can tell, there are two kinds of travelers: the doers and the planners. Those belonging to the first group pack a suitcase without giving the job much thought, simply pulling things from their wardrobe they would like to have along on the trip. This takes steady nerves and a general disregard for end results, as you may arrive at your destination only to realize you haven’t brought the appropriate clothes. The second group is the one to which I belong: a planner, I compile a list of the outfits I will need for each day’s activities. My tally includes accessories such as jewelry, bags, and scarves and takes into account the necessity for suitable shoes. This is perhaps the greatest burden of a planner: leaving behind your favorite high-heeled shoes. For if you fall into the second category, you are no doubt also a realist, and know from experience that you will never wear all the beautiful shoes you love while traveling.

And so, it comes down to the essentials for a Greek holiday involving some days in the city and some days at the beach. My list entails a swimsuit, floral pull-on pants for a cover-up, flip flops, a sunhat, an elegant pair of strappy wedge sandals for dinner, two pairs of lightweight sneakers for touring around, plenty of semi-sheer cotton shirts, four pairs of dressy pants, and a cotton summer jacket for evenings. Accessories are limited to three necklaces, one bracelet, two handbags – one for daytime, one for dinner. It’s important to note that all the shirts pair easily with the pants and can be seamlessly mixed and matched to create several distinct outfits. (Planners avoid checking luggage, preferring to travel light).

Though organized in my packing, I am open to the unexpected which travel brings us into contact with, immersing myself and seeing with fresh eyes all that is unfamiliar. As Emily Dickinson, I too, dwell in possibility and spreading wide my narrow Hands/To gather Paradise-

Folegandros

Folegandros

Nightlife in Folegandros

Nightlife in Folegandros

Donkey with hay

Donkey with hay

Jackie Onassis in Athens, 1970s

Jackie Onassis in Athens, 1970s

Jackie Onassis in Skorpios, 1975

Jackie Onassis on Skorpios, 1975

Eres navy and gold swimsuit with teardrop back

Eres navy and gold swimsuit with teardrop back

Christian Louboutin wedge sandals, MM6 zipper pants,Isabel Marant Etoile striped shirt, Vintage Chanel turnlock necklace

Christian Louboutin wedge sandals, MM6 zipper pants,Isabel Marant striped shirt, vintage Chanel turnlock necklace

 

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Essays and Musings, Personal Style

Severe Deluxe

Greta Garbo, 1941; photo Clarence Sinclair Bull

Greta Garbo, 1955; photo George Hoyningen Huene

Greta Garbo, 1941; photo Clarence Sinclair Bull

Greta Garbo, 1941; photo Clarence Sinclair Bull

For some years now I have kept on my desk a postcard of the actress Greta Garbo. She rests her chin in one hand and her head in the other, as she gazes melancholically into the distance. On one wrist she wears a Verdura curb link bracelet watch, and on the other, the matching bracelet. After becoming well known among the Hollywood set, Verdura, a fine jewelry company, opened its doors in New York City in 1939. Although I appreciate the minimalism and elegance of Garbo’s jewelry, it is not the reason I have been attached to the photograph. One thing in particular attracts me to this image of the star: the impossibility of separating the Verdura bracelets from the woman. I’ve long held the illusion that the bracelets symbolize the wearer. The other afternoon, while doing some research, I discovered that the curb link bracelet watch had been an especial Garbo favorite. When it comes to style, I like constancy. And so it pleases me to know that Garbo wore the same watch during her lifetime, to the exclusion of other designer options.

Fashion today demands a compulsive turnover and an endless quantity. When the urge to go shopping gets the better of me, my favorite thing to search for is vintage fashion jewelry. But I’ve noticed that my appreciation for steadiness places me in an awkward position with the selling community. It brands me as both a good and a bad shopper. Good, in that I’m inclined to spend a bit more money for a piece of jewelry that is of high quality. Bad, because I don’t buy in volume. And although I frequent consignment stores and vintage expos, and look regularly on e-bay for necklaces and bracelets, I come up short with purchases each year. I marvel at this desire to experience the new while sticking with the familiar, and recognize there is an aspect of severity in my enjoyment of repetition, for I’m told it’s necessary to have variety in order to stave off a fashion rut. But I prefer to reach for the same dependable items: that favorite bracelet and necklace and watch.

When does a person consider selling or giving away certain pieces of jewelry? This past summer I spent weeks contemplating the question. Finally I determined, if it is the right piece, there is no expiration date. In recent months, I’ve wondered if my dependence on fashion jewelry has become an obsession. When deliberating over a purchase, I bear in mind how it will age on me. Will my desire for it extend into my advanced years, and will I wear it as convincingly in the future as in the present? It’s true that this sort of calculation drains some of the excitement from shopping, curtailing the deep pleasure derived from finding something you love. If I am obsessed, it is an obsession in which the end results matter most to me. I experience both a comfort and a luxury in putting on the same familiar objects over the years.

Like Garbo, who wore her bracelet watch as a type of amulet, I count on my fashion jewelry for strength. There it is seeing me through day-to-day obligations and trying moments. Once more, it is there to accompany me on the travels and adventures that lie ahead. And in donning again and again the pieces I’ve carefully collected, I’ll feel, as when beholding them for the first time, that spark of love at first sight.

1980s Yves Saint Laurent tortoise pendant necklace

1980s Yves Saint Laurent tortoise pendant necklace

1980s Chanel leather and gold cuff

1980s Chanel leather and gold cuff

Vintage Paco Rabanne cuff

Vintage Paco Rabanne cuff

Chanel turnlock necklace, 1995

Chanel turnlock necklace, 1995

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Essays and Musings, The Four Seasons of Vintage

Say Hello, Wave Goodbye

Bergdorf Goodman vintage hatbox

Bergdorf Goodman vintage hatbox

Hermès 2006 Jige clutch with box

2006 Hermès Jige clutch with box

1970s Gucci handbag with original box

1970s Gucci handbag with original box

I see in the news that California is the first state to ban plastic bags in retail stores, but I’m not disappointed. The end of plastic bags is in sight, making way for the underrated box. There’s an expectation when people go clothes shopping that the items they purchased, after having been neatly folded, and sometimes even wrapped in tissue paper, will be placed in a bag; yet few people expect a box for their efforts. Jewelry, of course, usually comes in its own box, but for other items, like gloves, hats, scarves and leather goods, I politely request a box. Once home, I recycle the bags, keeping some of the colorful tissue paper for packaging gifts, or for use as a liner in the many boxes I’ve accumulated. Lately customers are asked if they would like to wear the item out, thus dispensing with the need for any type of bag or a box. Shoppers have their own standards; some believe their new purchase to be so special other people will love it as much as they do. And so they hurry out to the street to experience the thrill of showing it off to the world. Then there are those shoppers, like myself, who want to savor the moment of buying something and look forward to the ritual of wrapping. The ceremoniousness of preparing an item for handing over to the new owner is as important to me as the item itself.

Over time, if you appreciate beautiful things and are at all sentimental, it’s inevitable that you will acquire keepsakes. One day about two months ago, I received a vintage bracelet in the mail. It arrived in its original I.Magnin box from an e-bay seller whose mother had purchased a great deal of fashion jewelry in the 1990s. She never wore the pieces, choosing to catalogue them instead, in their individual boxes. On a road trip three years ago, I bought a Bergdorf Goodman hatbox in Arroyo Grande. My husband and I had decided to drive up the coast with our dog for Labor Day weekend. On the way up Route 101, we stopped in at a large antiques warehouse where I spotted the hatbox. But as I was without a hat to put in the box, I resisted purchasing it. Throughout the long weekend, at the beach and at the vineyards, I kept thinking about the lavender box. On the drive back to Los Angeles, my husband, who knew better, insisted we stop in at the warehouse so that I could make the hatbox mine.

As I stand looking at the many boxes in my closet, I feel sure they are superior to bags. Boxes not only serve a practical purpose, protecting objects from light and dust, they are keepers of history. Each time I pull an item from its box, I can’t help but revisit under what circumstances it made its way into my home. What was the weather like? What city had I been in at the time, and who had I been with? The boxes I’ve obtained recall to me various stages in my life: significant birthdays, my wedding, my diagnosis with cancer, the loss of my hair during chemotherapy, anniversaries. More than anything else, I have come to depend on them as talismans of memory.

Some colorful boxes; Dominique Aurientis cuff, 1993 with I.Magnin box

Some colorful boxes; Dominique Aurientis cuff, 1993 with I.Magnin box

Bergdorf Goodman box for hats worn when I underwent chemotherapy in 2001-2002; Cartier wedding band box

Bergdorf Goodman box for hats worn when I underwent chemotherapy in 2001-2002; Cartier wedding band box

 

 

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Essays and Musings, The Four Seasons of Vintage

Heroine Chic: Some Thoughts on the Blouse

Lauren Bacall,1944; photo Everett Collection/Rex

Lauren Bacall, 1944; photo Everett Collection/Rex

Lauren Bacall

Lauren Bacall

In the classic Hollywood movies I watched growing up, the blouse was the wardrobe staple of the heroine. As a teenager, I was fascinated by the clothing I saw on film. Even if my life in a small New England town didn’t bear any resemblance to the lives of the stars, my plan in closely observing the heroine was to learn how to dress like one. And so, when my sisters and I would go shopping at the designer discount chain T.J.Maxx, more often than not, I gravitated to the racks of blouses. Tucked into a skirt or worn with pants, long-sleeved or sleeveless, the blouse managed to look both elegant and cool.

In high school, I participated in regional and state student council, and as secretary, I thought wearing a blouse would be the best way to convey my competence. For an after school job, I worked at the local bank, where many of the female executives arrived dressed in skirt suits, paired with white or jewel-tone satin blouses. While reading the employee manual one day, I decided the blouse fit the description of “professional attire” and was the ideal choice for my part-time position as a teller.

I have little doubt that my attraction to the blouse as an emblem of sophistication is due in large measure to Lauren Bacall. What strikes me most in considering those images of her in a blouse is how self-possessed and capable she looked. In her many roles as the heroine, Bacall projected a heady seductiveness that famously blended outspokenness with ironic humor. She was the kind of heroine who made me believe that in speaking her mind, a woman could be both tough and sexy. This projection of strong femininity seems as glamorous to me now as it did when I was a young woman, just beginning to experiment with fashion.

Of course, my hometown in Central Massachusetts was a far cry from the settings that Bacall’s heroines found themselves in. And the silk blouses I owned in the 1980s, with their towering shoulder pads and full sleeves, didn’t fit impeccably like those the iconic actress wore. Even though I currently live in Los Angeles (not too far from Hollywood) nothing’s changed: I still gravitate to 80s blouses when I go vintage shopping in whatever city I happen to find myself in. But now I have a tailor. She snips out the pads and reshapes the sleeves to give me the look of a modern day heroine.

Vintage silk blouse;bag;1990s Chanel turnlock necklace; Vintage Paco Rabanne cuff

Vintage silk blouse; 90s Chanel turnlock necklace; vintage Paco Rabanne cuff; Winfried Kralle vintage embossed bag

Silk wood print blouse

80s Levante silk wood print blouse; 60s unsigned necklace; Hermès Kelly long wallet as clutch

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The Four Seasons of Vintage

A Report in October

A display of vintage jewelry and accessories

A display of vintage jewelry and accessories – Recess, Los Angeles

A rack of gowns

A rack of gowns – Recess, Los Angeles

Dead stock Todd Oldham and Chanel shoes

Dead stock Todd Oldham and Chanel shoes – Recess, Los Angeles

Each year around this time my thoughts turn to those wardrobe items that land squarely outside of the staples. I start to long for capes and feathers, or for the combination of the two. Three years ago, I came home from a vintage expo with a burgundy feather scarf. Last year, I bought a 1950s black ostrich feather cape at my favorite vintage shop in Burbank, Playclothes. When I set eyes on it I knew it would be my closet’s version of the jean jacket: a timeless classic with attitude. Over my life I’ve owned three wool capes. The first, a brightly colored plaid number, a childhood favorite; the second, earth-tone plaid and trimmed in leather; the third, light grey, baby doll style, with three large silver buttons running down the front. I purchased the latter two in my mid-thirties when I was out on one of my first excursions in Los Angeles. Though some years have passed since I owned these wool capes (they were long ago routed from my closet) today was no different: I fell in love with a charcoal grey cape.

I had first made my way around the local consignment shop called Recess, looking through the orderly racks of shoes, tops, pants, dresses and coats, while chatting with the owner, Marie Monsod, a vintage dealer with a particular love of Japanese designers. When it comes to dressing, I’ve long admired the overlapping of the old with the new. The mixture of vintage items with contemporary clothing lends an outfit a thread of the familiar. What makes vintage special in my eyes is the ease and steadiness of old objects. A walk through Recess brings you into contact with the best vintage pieces at modest prices. These pieces hang comfortably alongside sharply discounted, gently worn contemporary designers like McQueen, YSL and Celine.

After spotting the cape, I settled on a green print Balenciaga sweater to try on. It seemed the more sensible choice of the two items. I’d certainly get greater use out of it, I reckoned. But I kept coming back to the cape and was soon building a narrative: I would wear it out in the evenings over my many vintage blouses and cigarette pants, I could wear it casually on road trips up the coast to the beach. I imagined strolling with my husband along the boardwalk, protected from the wind in my cape as we looked at the stars. I envisioned the fabric swinging elegantly with each step.

Marie pointed out that the cape, by a contemporary designer, had never been worn and still had the original price tag attached. A consignment shop is a dangerous place if a person is looking to avoid adding to their possessions, and the truth is, I came close to returning home with the cape. After all, it was the perfect example of something new needing to find a home surrounded by the past.

1950s ostrich cape

1950s ostrich cape

Feather scarf

Feather scarf

Contemplating in the dressing room

A moment of contemplation in the dressing room

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The Four Seasons of Vintage

Fall

Vintage Jaeger Polka Dot blouse with Chanel turn lock necklace

Vintage Jaeger polka dot blouse with 90s Chanel turn lock necklace

Vintage Ungaro Blazer

Vintage Ungaro blazer

Ten years ago my husband came home from work one day and asked me how I felt about California. I wasn’t surprised. He’d been looking for a new job in academia, a word defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “the scholastic life.” The new job he wanted was at UCLA in the Art History Department. But he didn’t necessarily want to move out of New York. At the time, he couldn’t imagine living in any other city, and friends warned about the West Coast with its dizzying temperate climate. I couldn’t wait to move. I wanted to experience swimming outdoors in the sunshine year round, and the lack of any need for pantyhose. “But how can you be sure you want to move?” my husband cautioned. “You’ve never visited California and are a product of the East Coast. You don’t even know how to drive.”

It’s true: after college I moved to New York City, living there for years with my husband. When we first arrived together in the early nineties we lived in SoHo. We had a railroad apartment on the fifth floor of a five-floor walk up. In the summer the one bedroom apartment baked under the black-tarred roof from where we had a view of the water towers.  You could see the corner of 6th Avenue from the living room.

I won’t lie. I didn’t drive, never really needed to. All the same, I was happy to move. Moving felt right: the right time of my life to relocate to a new and exciting city, the right time to change all my familiar habits and routines, the right time to become a brighter version of myself. One of the biggest challenges was a sartorial one. It required redefining how I saw the seasons – getting used to the idea of fall as a hot and dry season rather than as a cool and breezy one, experiencing winter and spring with lots of sunlight, and early summer as cool and cloudy.

Ten years after moving to Los Angeles, I have my own car, but what’s more, I’ve mastered the skill of dressing for the seasons.  It’s officially fall so I’m wearing a light cotton fabric for day and adding a heavier cotton layer for night. I couldn’t be more pleased with the move to California.

A Fall outfit ready to go with Hermes Kelly long wallet as clutch. Just add bottoms of your choice....

A fall outfit ready to go with Hermès Kelly long wallet as clutch. Just add bottoms of your choice….

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