Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Cold Weather Uniform

Summers are a cinch. Toss on a cotton dress and some sandals, and you're set. But what do you wear when the weather cools? What can you count on that is warm, easy, and flattering? 

I've pondered this for a few seasons now, and I'm just starting to hone in on something that works for me. For too many winters I've been caught in a vortex of plaid wool. Show me anything vintage and Pendleton, and I wore it. I had enough tartan in my closet to kilt up Edinburgh. Wool plaid is warm and easy to wear, but it just plain isn't sexy. At least, the pleated plaid skirts I wore looked less "tempting schoolgirl" than "dowdy schoolmarm". 

Since I'm a dress and skirt devotee, I'm shifting from thick plaid wool to plain wool gabardine and crepe, and I'm always on the lookout for cashmere sweaters to top it off. If it's cold, I'll add a cardigan and wear tights. Boots are de rigeur. Add a thick bracelet and a brooch, and the look is complete.

My goal is to be less Laura Ingalls Wilder and more Mad Men Joan. Oh, I'll still have vintage plaid in my wardrobe. I can't help it. But I'll do my best to choose straight-cut skirts and remember the high-heeled calfskin boots when I do.

Just today I bought a black wool Dalton 1950s pencil skirt from the Xtabay (there were more skirts on the rack, by the way, including a devastatingly sexy red wool pencil skirt and a gorgeous pale turquoise A-line). It will go with just about all my cashmere sweaters and silk scarves. It's too narrow to bicycle to work in, but I'll roll it up in my bike bag and wear expedition-weight fleece leggings under my coat until I get to the office--they're warmer, anyway. Top the whole ensemble off with one of my dozen fabulous vintage coats--also mostly Xtabay finds--and I should be in good shape.

What is your winter uniform? Do you like Levis, turtlenecks, Frye boots, and wild 1970s astrakan vests? Or maybe you're more about 1980s fold-down boots, skinny jeans, and cowl-necked sweaters? Let the rest of us know. Finding the perfect winter uniform isn't easy.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Orange Crush: John Galanos Silk Chiffon Evening Gown

Just in today!
A 1950's Galanos silk chiffon evening gown in "Hermes" orange. Imagine my delight when the daughter of a glamorous 50's fashion model brought in her mother's gown. She told me she was a model for Neiman Marcus in Dallas during the early 50's. Apparently this was one of the perks of the job. Available at here at Xtabay. It's the ultimate tangerine dream....

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Most Beautiful Dress in the World

There's an old affliction, popular during the 19th century, called the "Stendhal Syndrome". People--especially women--who saw great works of art or heard lush music sometimes felt their heartbeats accelerate and even occasionally fainted because of the beauty. I was always skeptical of this reaction. I figured maybe Victorian ladies didn't get out much, you know?

Then I saw the early 1960s orange brocade Arnold Scaasi cocktail dress and matching jacket Liz brought to the Xtabay. By God, I shivered all over. My breathing grew shallow. I didn't faint, but my pulse went from waltz to samba. Now I'm a believer.
A lucky, last minute invitation to the Oregon Historical Society's History Makers' Dinner came my way, and I had to find something black tie to wear. I knew that men would wear tuxedos, but what does "black tie" mean for women in Portland? Leave the fleece and crocs at home but anything else is fair game?
I have a 1940s gown tucked away, and although it has a few stains (it has sequin trim, so it can't be safely drycleaned) I decided to steam it out at the Xtabay, pair it with MAC "O" lipstick, and take it to the party. In the light of day, it looked a little dingy. Still, the dinner was just a few hours away, and I didn't have any other options.

Then in walked Liz with the Scaasi dream set. As a special favor, she said I could wear it to the dinner if I paid for dry cleaning afterward and made sure to protect the jacket's delicate silk lining. I stripped down in the dressing room to try it on, and as soon as I slid it over my hips, I knew it would be perfect. The dress is a strapless, sculpted brocade, and it zipped over my torso firmly enough that I wouldn't have to adjust the girls all night, but loosely enough to be comfortable. The skirt fell in an artful, centered pleat, strategically located over my stomach. No sucking in the gut required. The matching jacket--I'm swooning now just thinking of it!--has the high, tight armholes and narrow shoulders typical of the era. But guess what? I have narrow shoulders and small arms! Plus, I had a pair of gold Prada stiletto sandals at home that might have been made just for the ensemble.
That night, I dolled myself up and headed down the red carpet leading to the dinner. Immediately, Norma Paulus, a former Oregon Secretary of State, complimented me on the dress and wanted to talk about her mother-in-law's fabulous 1950s wardrobe (which I suggested she tote off to Xtabay right away). I'm telling you--every waiter, state senator, timber heiress, and security guard I saw touched my shoulder to tell me I looked great. Michael Powell, bookstore kingpin, stopped me and said, "You're in the wrong place. You look too good to be here." The head of the Heathman's catering said, "I noticed you as soon as you walked into the room". A waiter asked if he could have my phone number. I gave away a stack of Xtabay business cards on my first trip to the restroom to a line of waiting ladies--including Gert Boyle. That dress was pure magic.

And, of course, the next day I had to turn it back in to Xtabay. (Cue the funeral music). I had felt the most beautiful I've ever been in that dress. How could I live without that feeling again? How could I go out at night knowing I might see someone else wearing it? Who else would look as good in orange brocade?

I told Liz I'd pay whatever she wanted for the dress. I need it. If my portrait is ever painted again (the last time I was wearing a boring old black thing) it needs to be in that dress. I want to be buried in that dress. Give me a choice between Sean Connery circa the Goldfinger era and the Scaasi, and I'd choose the dress. It is the most beautiful dress in the world.

Now all that's left is to cross my fingers while Liz figures things out and pray that a person can't die from the Stendhal Syndrome.