Friday, August 7, 2015


It's still summer, and too hot for me to feel like being a scold. So let's talk about clothes.

I believe I've mentioned that I sell wedding dresses at Macy's. But I also studied for a fashion career, and spent many years sewing my own clothes. And, as a writer of historical romances, I like to say that, when my characters undress for the big love scene, the clothes they take off are historically accurate!

Thus, I'm always fascinated with how people dress today.

In my day, it was easy. We didn't have to stand in front of the closet, suffer, and wonder what to wear. There were rules.

For example, hems were standard length, the same for everyone, gradually shortening year by year from the drastically dropped hems of Dior's New Look in 1947. (You could look at a woman's skirt and know that she hadn't had the hem shortened to keep up with the fashion.) And fashions were often seasonal and time-sensitive. (White shoes from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Evening wear after 5:00 P.M.) And pantie girdles with a narrow skirt. Because---and we actually said this---"Nice girls don't jiggle!"

And when we traveled? We wore suits, stockings, heels, hats, gloves. Same for when we went out for the evening, to theatre, dinner, etc. I remember wearing stockings and heels when I went shopping!

We even had what we called the "Rule of Ten". You counted what you were wearing---patterned stockings, jewelry, distinctive eyeglasses included. If they added up to more than 10, you took something off. Less was more.

We didn't have to suffer over the "What shall I wear?" conundrum.

Interesting sidebar: Because we wore tight belts and pantie girdles, training our bodies to pull in at the waist, women's measurements were different from today. The optimum measurements then (in the '50s) were 34/24/34. (I know because I sewed, and had to buy patterns.) Today, after decades of no girdles, hipster pants, etc. the same bust measurement is sized thus: 34/26/38.

But today? No rules. Anything and everything goes. And, so often, people don't know what to wear. So they don't mind looking like slobs---with bulging bare midriffs, scruffy bare toes, sloppy looks. And the Rule of Ten? Ha! Add five more colors, accessories, etc. and see how that works! (Overkill, in my book!) And the need to fit in, by wearing clothes with labels. If you're insecure with how you dress, a label says, "Oh, but I MUST be fashionable! I'm wearing a Calvin (or Polo, or whatever)!"

I sometimes want to stop a woman I see on the street and ask, "Honey, don't you ever LOOK IN  A MIRROR?" I lived in the East Village for 15 years, and often walked behind a very slender young woman in black tights and huge black Army boots. "Young woman," I would often be tempted to ask, "why do you want to look like a spider?"

And tattoos? Lots of luck, honey, when you're 60 and your sagging skin makes that rose look like a drooping waterfall!

When I was a young pre-teen and early teen, we wanted to look like "ladies". I remember (when I was 12 or 13, I think) that I had a white ruffle-sleeved peasant blouse. My mother had 2 red velvet roses, which she allowed me to wear to school. I put one under one ruffle of a sleeve, and the other behind my ear. I must have looked absurd, trying to be mature, but at least I looked ladylike. I find it appalling that too many of the young preteens today think it's great to look like hookers!

Having dealt with many brides who come in with pictures of their dream dresses, I wish more women would take the time to look in a mirror! (I want to say to my brides, when they show me a picture, "That model is a size 2, flat-chested giraffe---and photo-shopped, besides!") And the secret to good dressing is 1) Fooling the eye, and 2) Good underwear! Try to be realistic about your shape, and dress so that you draw attention to your best feature, not your worst.

Example: I once had a bridesmaid who wanted to choose a black satin A-line strapless dress with a decorative white satin V up the center back from the hem. Except that she had the largest kazoo I'd seen in a long time. A shelf---you could set a tea-tray on it! "Honey," I wanted to say, "why would you choose an arrow pointing to your worst feature?" (I didn't, of course. I simply chose a chiffon dress---didn't shine as it draped over her bum, with glitter in the front that drew attention to her quite lovely face.)

I can't stress this enough. If you want to look your best, be cold-blooded. Look in a mirror. Don't see what you WANT to see, but what you actually see. Assess your best features---good shoulders, a nicely defined waistline, etc. And your worst---droopy shoulders, too narrow or too wide hips. And think in terms of drawing the eye away from the worst and toward the best.

Shoulders too broad? Don't wear spaghetti straps that isolate that feature. Wear off-shoulder, halter or strapless sweetheart that calls attention to your great shoulders. Bust line too broad and overpowering? Wear an A-line skirt that balances your hip width to your bust width and an off-the-shoulder top that creates an X and calls attention to your good waist line. It's all about proportion and balance.

But it starts with LOOKING IN A MIRROR!

Oh, dear. I seem to have scolded after all. So I'll end with a funny story from my past, to prove that I'm not afraid to make fun of myself when it comes to dressing!

I was 12. Going off to summer camp, where I had gone for three years. Thus, all my bunk-mates were old summer friends. I was scrawny, thin. As for bust-line? Forget about it! I was two raisins on an ironing board. In the fashion of that time, I wore undershirts---basically white tank tops.

However, every weekend we had a "social" with the boys' camp. Usually wore sweaters. I had a pale blue sweater that year, and I knew the undershirt would show through. I begged my mother to let me have a bra, just to wear for the socials. She agreed, and bought me a white cotton bra (probably in the smallest size!). I couldn't wait to get up to camp and show it off!

Alas! All my camp-mates had blossomed in the preceding year, and every one of them wore ONLY bras! What to do? Exactly what any 12-year-old would do. I buried my undershirts in my cubby and wore the bra for two months straight! I would occasionally wash it in secret, and hang it outside to dry. But as the summer wore on and the nights in the mountains grew cold, the bra wouldn't dry. I wore it anyway---wet and clammy against my skin.

By the time I got home, that poor garment was a miserable shade of gray.

God bless my mother (see JUST FOR FUN in a previous post); she never said a word. The bra was washed, then casually replaced with half-a dozen new bras.