Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"I could never pull that off"

At the Xtabay, we tend to hear a lot of the same comments over and over. "My grandma had one just like this", for instance. And, "People sure were small back then". Another comment we hear from time to time, and one that breaks my heart is, "I love that dress, but I could never pull if off".

People, if you love something, and it fits, wear it. I remember years ago trying on an Adrienne Vittadini knit dress in a department store. It was a simple black and white dress with a high neckline, but it hugged my every curve. It looked fabulous, but I wasn't used to showing my shape like that. The friend I was with said, "Do you want to grow old saying you were afraid to wear a dress?" Excellent point.

Sure, it's going to feel a little scary the first time you meet up with friends while you're sporting your new red 1960s sheath dress if most of your wardrobe comes from the mall. But remember how great you felt when you put the dress on in your bedroom? Remember looking at yourself in the mirror and thinking that the dress expressed a glamorous or chic or romantic or even goofy side of you that you love? 

Take that feeling on the street with you. Wear it with pride. When you choose a dress that you love, even if it scares you a little, what you're doing is making a commitment to the person you really are. It's time to stop hiding your light. We think you look gorgeous. Isn't that what you want to remember in you dotage?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Fabulous Vintage Coat

It's so hard to say goodbye to summer, especially when fall and winter mean months of cold rain. But cold weather does have at least one bright spot: vintage coats.

Coats are one of the great steals of the vintage world. For one thing, back in the day, coats were made to last. Lay a 1950s wool coat on the bed next to a brand new coat from a department store. The 1950s coat still has a strong lining with a silky hand. You might even find extra fabric reinforcing the armpits. The new coat most likely has a thin, scratchy lining that I can guarantee you will be shredded within three years. Now feel the wool of the 1950s coat. It might be pure wool, or blended with alpaca, camel hair, or cashmere. It undoubtedly feels thick and supple. The wool of the new coat, on the other hand, is stiff, thin, and rough. The buttons on the old coat are works of art, while those on the new coat are generic plastic. Heck, even the label in the new coat looks cheaper. The kicker? The vintage coat cost less than $100 and the new coat close to $300.

Also, vintage coats are loaded with style. Some vintage coats have linings with gorgeous patterns--pumpkin coaches or swallows, for instance--or are striped in wild colors. The Xtabay has a houndstooth jacket with braided trim and a black velvet lining. You don't find that in a new coat. Vintage coats also come in a rainbow of colors and styles, from 1960s double-breasted town coats to 1940s wide-shouldered evening coats to 1950s swing coats with bracelet sleeves. 

Vintage coats are the perfect gateway item of clothing for the person who likes the look of vintage but is shy about wearing it. You mostly wear black? Perfect! You can collect a wardrobe of vivid coats--red, purple, sky blue, and hot pink--and they'll always match. You don't dress up much? Great! Nothing complements jeans and boots better than a sassy evening jacket (the Xtabay has a silvery brocade jacket with a mink collar and rhinestone studded buttons that cries out for denim). Tie a 1950s patterned chartreuse scarf over a vintage coat, or pin on a giant brooch, or pull on elbow-length plum-colored gloves to show off the bracelet sleeves on your navy blue jacket.  

Winter lasts a long time. You may as well face it with chic.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A New Beginning

It's back to school week. Even now, I can still feel the thrill of it. Each September was a new beginning. I went to school with a few new pieces of clothing carefully selected from the Montgomery Ward catalog (that's "Monkey Ward" to those of us in the know) and some fresh pencils and notebooks. I saw my friends again and had a new teacher. The year was a blank slate. My hope wrote all sorts of stories on it.

The chunky September issues of Vogue and Harper's Bazaar bear witness to how meaningful fall is to so many of us.  Somehow a new fall wardrobe makes us feel that we have the potential to be something even better this year. Maybe with that cunning scarlet velvet cocktail dress we'll hold a party that they'll talk about for years. Or maybe with a thick 1950s mohair sweater and 1970s Frye boots we'll end up on a stone bench next to a roaring fire at a ski lodge. Or, wearing a nip-waisted coat with dolman sleeves, a fluffy hat from the 1960s, and fake fur trimmed galoshes, we'll walk to a café one snowy morning and meet someone tall, dark, and handsome.

It's the perfect time of year to become more like yourself. Clothing reflects who you really are and what you're capable of. Chances are good that you're more glamorous, open, insightful, and, well, beautiful than you've been letting yourself be. 

Come down to the store and try on a few things you've admired but never thought you could pull off. Maybe it will be just a pair of hot pink 1960s earrings or a structured 1950s handbag. Or maybe you'll shoot the moon with a maribou-trimmed hostess gown. If you have the courage to wear that beautifully tailored 1940s suit you've admired to work, you'll see how easy it is and how fabulous you are. After all, a fresh new year of adventure awaits.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The New Basic Wardrobe

So many fashion magazine articles and even a few books try to tell us what the basic wardrobe looks like. "Black pants," they say, "and a white cotton blouse. Khaki pants, a trench coat, and a black suit. A string of pearls and loafers." 

I don't know about you, but if I showed up to work in a white button-down shirt, pearls, and khaki pants, my coworkers would think I'd been taken over by aliens. I'd like to propose the New Basic Wardrobe. Adjust to meet your particular needs.

12 Cotton Sundresses from the 1950s and 1960s: This should be enough dresses to get you to the next time you do laundry. These dresses have usually already been washed enough times to have a soft-as-silk hand, and they come in patterns that are hilarious and beautiful. One of my favorite is a wrap dress with pastel scenes from Montmartre.

4 Cocktail Dresses from the 1940s, 1950s, and/or 1960s, depending on your body type: O.K., some people might want to slip in a few poly 1970s dresses, too, with swishy skirts and halter-style tops. You'll need two each for cold weather and warm weather, and ideally one for each season should be form fitting, while the other allows for times when you can't bear to hold in your stomach. 

7 wool skirts and 10 cashmere sweaters to wear with them: I like plaid Pendleton, but the Xtabay usually has a few classically cut Evan Picone skirts, too. Snap up Pringle, Braemar, or Dalton cashmere pieces whenever you see them--you can thank me later.

2 Nice-But-Not-Cocktail Dresses from the 1960s or 1950s: One for cold weather, one for warm. These dresses are perfect for weddings, graduations, and when you want to look nice but don't want to seem like you're trying too hard. I have a 1950s polished cotton dress with a criss-cross top that I wore with a Tortolani bracelet and 1940s-style red sandals to a private concert at Thomas Lauderdale's loft. From my vantage point on the pink vintage sectional sofa, I noted that my outfit reigned supreme over the crowd of Ann Taylor separates.

2 1940s or 1960s Suits: Depends on your body type. One for winter, one for summer. These suits will see you through job interviews, weddings, and big meetings and can easily be sexed up with tough shoes and a naked face but for red lipstick.

One Super Fancy Dress: Who knows when you'll need to nip off to a ball? Be sure to pick up some rhinestones to go along with it.

Two dressing gowns, a drawer of silk and rayon nighties, and a vintage Pendleton robe: Hey, a girl needs her underthings.

All the vintage coats your closet can hold: They're so cheap! And durable! And stylish! Get a few for daily wear, one 1970s fake fur chubby, a velvet evening coat, and a warm shearling or mouton coat for when it snows.

Two hostess gowns or Chinese silk pajamas: Lounge wear is what separates the ingénue from the woman of the world.

What have I missed?