Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A new home for an English garden

On a trip to NYC in 1975, at a long-forgotten boutique in Greenwich Village, I bought an empire-cut, slightly bell-sleeved, calf-length dress made in England (by a defunct label, C'est Moi). 

The dress is made entirely of pieced vintage silk scarves of fine quality. Constructed with harmony of scale and colour, it hangs as if one piece, swishy and supple.
 
The saleswoman told me that Anne Byrne, the ballerina then married to Dustin Hoffman, had bought the same dress. True or good sales pitch? I wore it to parties, weddings, and soirées for at least a decade.

If that dress could talk, it would say "Champagne on the terrace, darling."

By the early '90s, I'd gained weight in the bust, and, unable to part with its magic, stored my divine dress and occasionally loaned it to friends. ("No hanky panky in the dress", I warned, though there was probably some out of it!) Through decades of closet clean-outs, the dress stayed.

Our son Etienne's beautiful partner Tash inherited her mother's eye for textiles, and is an avid seamstress; I offered it to her. The dress fits perfectly. She's using its matching wide sash as a belt, I wore it around my neck à la Isadora Duncan.



A closeup of the florals and geometrics:






I'm delighted that the "English garden" has passed into hands that design (she even drafts her own patterns), and she's a lover of florals. Here's Tash in one of her own designs, in which she's mixed floral and stripe:



And she dyes; here, she's preparing shibori, a joint project with her artist uncle Nick:


You can see more of Tash's work at TashenkaSews.

And so, my adored English flowers have found a new home almost 40 years later!

A dress that transports you with joy is worth springing for. At the time, it was by far the most expensive item I'd ever bought (and probably still is, adjusting for inflation), but what a life that dress has had, and will now have, on Tash!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Scarves: Sale of fall/winter Hermès

Last spring's sale of 35-inch (90cm) Hermès silk twill carrés from my overfull collection was so welcome that I decided to offer one last sale, this time of fall  colours. Each is authentic, in excellent used condition (really, virtually unworn), with no snags, stains, odors or sale stamps. Hems are plump, colours vibrant.

Please e-mail me if interested (addy is in right sidebar); the spring flight sold out in hours. The price is about half retail; "Neiges d'Antan, Détail" is a bit more because the jacquards are more expensive. Payment by PayPal. Shipping via Canada Post insured ($25 to most North American locations) in padded mailer or, if you wish, via UPS. There are several countries outside North America to which I regret that I cannot ship, and sales are final. 

Neiges d'Antan (Détail) by Caty Latham: One of the much-loved holiday scarves; sprigs of holly and mistletoe, with a jacquard of holly leaves. Colourway is soft orange, leaf green, gold-green, a splash of deep cranberry, the Hermès ribbon in light brown, and signature orange border. Beats the hell out of a Christmas sweater!



Closeup of the jacquard:




L'arbre de soie by Antoine de Jacquelot: Golden mulberry leaves and berries scattered on a rich brown background, with small grey silkworms: the spinning of silk, printed on silk, an assured and sophisticated botanical. Elegant with camel, ecru, or grey.

Sold to P.!

Detail showing silkworm, berries and leaf:



Qu'importe le flacon by Catherine Baschet: A feminine array of finely-detailed antique perfume bottles in hues of blue, emerald green, gorgeous pinks, with a Prussian blue border; because of the yellow and green notes, this is a truly a cross-seasonal scarf.

Sold to E.!

Closeup of the intricate bottles:



Carpe Diem by Joachim Metz (also known as Gloria Soli): One of the best-known scarves, a burst of sunshine in a vibrant green, orange and blue colourway. Mint condition; care tag is still on!

Sold to L.!

The corners and border are especially stunning:



Several buyers sent photos in their new scarves, which I enjoyed tremendously. Today is someone else's turn!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A cornucopia of women's company

On one brilliant September Friday, my life overflowed with womanly communion. Have you ever wished you could spread such hours over a week or so, but that day is it?

A longtime friend, Marla Goldstone, is a workshop leader who has developed a one-day event called "The Next Chapter", for women who wish to make any kind of transition with more assurance and insight, while still acknowledging the role of chance, surprise and the unknown.

Marla has distilled decades of experience (her company is called Working Wisdom) into this new event and wanted to try her material with a small group. She occasionally visits Montréal, so I offered my home and sent invitations to a number of women facing a personal or professional transition. Marla requested only six besides me, so the workshop filled in a flash.

The day engaged intellect and heart, and brimmed with music, stories, reflections. I appreciated Marla's respect for each person's privacy; a participant could open up or remain silent; either way, we viewed our life trajectories through fresh eyes. 

That would have been plenty for one day, but I was also invited to a women's dinner party, so after a few hours' interval spent with friends also heading there, we arrived at L.'s gracious home for an autumnal five-course feast.  

The evening reminded me of my posts on entertaining, when someone comments, "I would love to, but I'm too busy to do it." L., a university administrator, did not consult guests or seem to fuss about her menu: "I'm serving duck confit, a green salad and rice", she announced, and invited us to claim the other courses, and bring whatever we wished.

The duck confit comes vacuum packed, ready to oven-roast; she boiled a pot of rice, dressed her simple arugula salad, and voilá. Her husband had prepared a dish of baked apples for us, before departing for the evening. Someone brought a platter of grilled vegetables sprinkled with feta; two sisters brought melon and proscuitto, I brought a cake. 

That's a marathon day of intense connection—so intense one woman fell asleep sitting up at the table! When I hear the phrase "too much of a good thing", it's always sounded so Calvinistically killjoy. Maybe there is "too much of a good thing at once" but I'd have to see about that.


At the workshop, Marla admired Susan's necklace, only to learn that she is a jewelry designer, and the piece was for sale. 

That's not the first time Susan has sold one of her designs off her neck. "I've learned not to wear the ones that aren't for sale", she said. (Shown, one of Sue's necklaces on me.)

Thanksgiving is coming in a month (October 13, in Canada); the question asked at the table every year is "What are you thankful for?" 

I will carry enduring gratitude for this day, for time for reflection and discovery among remarkable women, and the joys of a communal table.

PS. Several readers asked for advance notice. On Thursday Sept. 25, I will offer a fall/winter sale of Hermés scarves from my overfull collection. The post will be up at 7 a.m. EST.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The 50+ job interview: Credibility and chic

C.'s third question about job interviews was most intriguing: How does credible dovetail with chic? 

Chic defined: "a manner of dress which conveys smart elegance and sophistication". An operational definition: Antonio Berardi peplum-flare jacket:
 
C'est chic, pas typique

The key consideration here is, Is chic relevant in this particular competition? Is it a value or expectation held by the interviewer and his or her organization? As a rule of thumb, if the product or offering of the organization is dependent on design, its employees look commeasurately glossier. 

Some hiring managers value the attractiveness of those in highly visible roles and so, in an interview, will give points for chic (or just good looks) even if the criterion is not openly acknowledged. Others have few requirements other than neat grooming and attire.


If your role requires meeting your prospective company's clients or customers, the interviewer will note whether you would represent the company appropriately. 

Helene, a women executive whose personal style was instinctively glamorous, was being considered by a global mining company for a senior position which required her to visit countries where their associates had only occasionally met women at that level. 

For that reason, the executive recruiter advised her to dress conservatively for her interview with the company's directors. 

She swapped the fitted, sleeveless, above-knee pistachio sheath she planned to wear for a fawn pant suit, appropriate for business travel to the Emirates. (She added her black, yellow and ecru Chanel scarf.) Helene tweaked her hair colour from platinum blonde to a subtler honey, and wore discreet makeup. She was hired; her appearance supported her impressive work history and stellar reputation.


Not feelin' it
Women past fifty will often compete with candidates a decade or more younger, and be interviewed by people the age of their children. So, rather than worrying about chic, focus on current

Rachel, 62, was recently interviewed for a HR job in the healthcare sector by a panel of three persons under thirty. In a rarely-worn gray jacket she'd pulled from the back of her closet, she had a crisis of confidence. "I tried to buy something that would never go out of style, and instead I felt frumpy", she said. 

She did not get that job, but within a month was in the running for a contract with a cultural institution she revered. She decided to do everything in her power image-wise, because this was her dream job.

Rachel's updated pick
Rachel bought a dress like the circle eyelet shown at left. She went to the MAC counter for a free makeup lesson, had her teeth bleached, and chose new glasses frames.

She had been asked to prepare a PowerPoint analysis of an assigned business case for the interview. Along with her resumé, she had the deck professionally styled by a graphic designer because she wanted every visual she put in front of the interviewers to be crisply modern and coherent.

She won the contract. Once on the job, Rachel wore chinos and crisp oxford button-front shirts, but that grey jacket? Fired.



Grace Coddington
Chic is not a requisite for credibility unless you're gunning for certain jobs—for example, Grace Coddington's at Vogue—and by then you will have achieved your own ineffable charisma. But looking at home in your professional skin is.

So relax about chic (for most jobs), but muster, if you can, another quality: The Gleam.

Jean-Claude, a shrewd manager who hired tech professionals, said, "I care somewhat about how they're dressed, because they'll be with our A clients. I care about skills, but the environment changes so quickly, we keep training everyone. What I really look for is what I call "the technological gleam in the eye".

J-C wanted to see a passion for the work, one of the most impressive qualities anyone, regardless of age or occupation, can bring to an interview. 

Real credibility, not the candy wrapper of chic, derives from performance. That's why many interviews include a skill demonstration like Rachel's, and why there is a probationary period.

However, if chic is your standard, an image consultant or skilled personal shopper might help you with your existing or new wardrobe—but C. hired a consultant and was disappointed, saying "...she age-pegged me; the outcomes were a bit dowdy, sort of complicated...and I just don't like the 'political power-dresser' vibe." 

And don't forget your beloved friends. Jennifer loaned two suits, a dress and accessories to Anita, a project manager  who'd spent four years at home in jeans and yoga pants, nursing her ailing mother-in-law.

There is usually a round of interviews, which can tax the returning woman's wardrobe. Anita truly had nothing to wear, and was reluctant to spend on clothes she would not need if she stayed unemployed. 

Of course there's a happy ending: After four interviews, Anita was hired, and Jennifer gave her the "Lucky Red" dress to celebrate! (Similar dress shown: Boden "Paternoster" shift.)





 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The 50+ job interview: The importance of appearance

A reader, C., sent an e-mail asking about the importance of appearance for a job interview; she is 50.

Her thoughtful questions were,
1. How concerned do I need to be about looking credible (visually) to those who don't already know my work?
2. If credibility is borne in my appearance, how do I dress to look credible?
3. How does credible dovetail with chic?

In this context, I define "looking credible" as appearing convincing for the particular role.

Her e-mail was headed, "What's More Important, What She Wears or What She Does?" I don't see it as a dichotomy; instead, I'd ask, "When an interviewer meets you, what impression do you intend to make, and what will visually reinforce that?"

After decades spent working with both interviewers and candidates, my answers to the first two questions came readily. I considered C.'s field, qualifications (a recent PhD.) and location, which suggest a business or polished business-casual environment.

My answers are:
1. Be concerned about—and therefore attend to—your appearance unless they know and love you to bits and the interview is just a formality.
2. Appearance especially contributes to the impression of credibility in the initial meeting. Dress in a manner that reflects the norms of your profession and the organization who may hire you. If in doubt, follow the cues of the latter.
   
C. wondered if she could "get away" with no stockings; I replied, be careful about cutting a corner for one of the most important meetings of your career. Being more 'dressed up' than your interviewer is no error; after all, it's a job interview, where everyone knows you will be better-dressed and more nervous than on any other day except maybe your wedding, if you had one.

As I often advised candidates, "The first day at work is the interview."   

A few more points from my reply:  

1. Project vitality foremost

Employers don't want to hire anyone who looks tired, so a woman (or man) over 50 should project cues of vitality. If you peel back age discrimination—which is rampant—the fear employers have is not solely that older workers are obsolete, it's that we have less stamina.

To transmit vitality, the visual and movement cues include relatively average weight; overweight is OK but severe obesity telegraphs "here come the sick days" even if that's an inaccurate stereotype. What-Mom-taught-you grooming and posture, eye contact, a firm handshake and warm smile: all contribute to that sense of vitality.

You would think that's common sense, but I saw a highly-qualified fifty-something woman cut because she wore no lipstick to the interview; the comment was that she looked "limp". One coat of rose away from being short-listed! "Not fair", you might be thinking, and no it wasn't— but there were other good candidates, and she was passed by.


Judge for yourself; this is not the woman from the interview, yet there is a resemblance. She appears in Lisa Eldridge's video about how to apply makeup when you're mature. Look at the difference the lipstick alone makes.

Some 50+ job-seekers get fillers and lifts to compete with younger candidates. I can't make an accurate assessment whether this gives a proven advantage; it may boost the candidate's confidence.

 
2. Accept that in many organizations, you will be sartorially constrained, either because of the culture or work requirements


If you really cannot abide "looking the part", find one of the more freewheeling places or work from home. 

C., accustomed to the freedom of student garb, was reluctant to adopt what she called "the formula box", citing Condoleeza Rice and Hilary Clinton as anti-heroes. But those bulletproof outfits hold up to grueling work days and travel across time zones. Like a Hazmat suit, they equip you to do the job. 

Only a few business settings remain navy-suit bastions; a dress like Tara Jarmon's black floral shift would look stylish for many interviews, accessorized with a laptop bag, briefcase, or portfolio (not a purse) in good condition.

When Barbara Ehrenreich talked about her futile job search in "Bait and Switch", her book about white-collar unemployment, she wrote rather
disingenuously, "I guess I should have carried a briefcase instead of a grotty canvas tote bag". Yes, even if she had to borrow one. (Leather not required; the Graceship laptop bag shown is a high-quality "vegan leather".)

If in doubt, sit in the lobby and watch women leave, or enlist a friend who works in that city as your scout. 


3. Be yourself, but your professional self

C. said "I...tend to be slightly flirty. I can't seem to squelch it nor do I really want to." She also noted that her field is "ruled by the masculine".

Whether (and how) a woman displays her charms in workplace tells a great deal about her qualities and values. C. will know how to keep her womanly verve on the "slightly" side.

The coquette is not an ennobling stance in office life. I mentioned Christine Lagarde as a model of feminine yet authoritative business attire; we need not meet her posh price point, but her elegance is exemplary.

C. sent a thoughtful reply, saying she was going to adopt a "uniform" kind of wardrobe, inspired, interestingly, by a respected male colleague. 

She also opened another topic, that of how easy it is to be disheartened and buy into the prejudice against women over 50 in the workplace.

That reminded me of my friend R., who, because of a health issue, was not working for about five years and after successful treatment wanted to re-enter corporate life at 50-plus. All her friends told her, Forget it, the corporation won't want you, find another line of work—and she ignored us. After a year or so of interviews and a few near-misses, she landed a VP position in a major global company, and a short time later was named Professional of the Year in her field. She graciously refrained from saying, So there!

She is but one of the women whom I know who, after years out of the workforce, have then found rewarding employment. (Starting your own business is another matter; there is no job interview, but that woman will still gain from projecting vitality.)


On Thursday I'll consider C.'s intriguing third question: How does credible dovetail with chic?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

TERFs, trans women, and swimming snails

If you have not read Michelle Goldberg's article in The New Yorker (August 4), "What is a Woman?", you missed a front-ring seat to a gender-themed dustup within the feminist world.

I will not repeat the gender or identity theory therein, but, reduced to a few sentences, the issue is that a militant minority, called Trans Exculsionary Radical Feminists (TERFs) refuse to acknowledge transgendered woman as women. They will not call these women "she" or admit them to all-female gatherings.

In the view of TERFs, "a person born with male privilege can no more shed it through surgery than a white person can claim an African-American identity simply by darkening his or her skin."

They claim there is a unique, unattainable experience of womanhood accessible only to "womyn-born-womyn." The article is frustratingly sketchy on what that might be, but no one mentioned the reproductive process. The  women quoted imply the defining experience is social, the pain and suffering inherent in oppression and inequality.

Because of a history of abuse by men, various women cited by Goldberg say they feel wholly safe only in all-female settings where trans women are banned. I wanted to ask them, What would it take to trust trans women, a group who themselves report experiencing high levels of violence?

For most of us, the sex identified at birth (genotype), combined with the observable sex characteristics, among other attributes (phenotype) pretty much seal the gender deal. But for certain individuals, because of chromosomal variation, lack of characteristic phenotypical attributes, or the more subjective but deeply-held sense of self, things get complicated. Goldberg says, "Trans women say they are women because they feel female—that as some put it, they have women's brains in men's bodies."

TERFs' bigotry aside, we live in an ever more gender-fluid world. 

And, speaking of the world, some species totally smoke ours with the sex thing. There are swimming Arctic sea snails (Limacina antarctica) that begin life male. As they approach sexual maturity, males mate with males and exchange sperm. Then they become female and use the stored sperm to fertilize their eggs.

This is a style/culture blog, so I shall segue from zoology to cosmetology, to ask the Big Question:
How feminine does a woman have to look to get invited to Girls' Night Out 

I've met several trans women over 40 who have adopted typically femmy attire, makeup and gait. A great deal of time, money and sheer grit is devoted to fitting in.

But among younger trans women, some of whom live in my neighbourhood, there is a rising trend to eschew surgery; Goldberg reports that only 25% have it. Prolonged high doses of hormones are dangerous. Trans women are beginning to think, Why conform to a stereotype of femininity, especially when it threatens our health? 

Get ready, I told myself, for the stubbly, big-biceped person next to me at the lunch counter to one day introduce herself as Sandra. I carry a lot of old conditioning, so a trans woman in a sundress is easier for me to think of as "sister" than a person with a flannel shirt, five o'clock shadow and hands big as a Carolina ham. 

But, as the old song goes, "a change is gonna come." In the past 20 years we have already seen an easing of the narrow image of external femininity in the media. 

Ellen DeGeneres, not a trans woman but an exemplar of elegant androgeny, has a popular show and got a CoverGirl gig. I do not think Ellen would have been given either job two generations ago.

The marvelous Laverne Cox (transgendered) in "Orange is the New Black", a hotter-looking woman than I ever was, is raising awareness while representing the glam end of the female-looks continuum. Next step will be a starring role for the trans woman who looks more like your average woman in line at the bank than Angelina Jolie.

When someone originally labeled male feels that she is a woman—a situation so fraught that 41% of trans women say they have attempted suicide according to Goldberg's article—why would I want to impede her transition? 

If Sandra has determined she is a woman, I will call her "she", and share the bathroom with the little skirt on the door. She might be invited to my women's gatherings, and if she were willing to talk about her experience of living as a man, and then being who she is—a woman—I could learn more about our own baffling and quite odd species. 

In the meantime, I found an illuminating four-minute video by Fred McConnell, "There is No Such Thing as a Sex Change", in which he outlines ways to talk to someone transgendered.


PS. On a related subject, do click the link and read this Slate article by Mary Elizabeth Williams, "Yes, Men, You Can Be Feminists".



Tuesday, September 9, 2014

J. Crew: Ahead of the curve

J. Crew "Heidi" dress
J. Crew now offer a selection of items in sizes up to 20 (and XXL), as well as the new 000 in case you have a 23-inch waist. 

I wish my friend Lorie had known of this luscious beet-red chiffon dress in a 20, on sale, when desperately looking for a party dress last month. 

In addition to their new size diversity, I'd like to see J. Crew offer a specific collection for more mature bodies than their lissome models.

It's not that we necessarily need larger sizes, but most of us seek a skirt longer than 16 or 18 inches, dresses with sleeves, trousers with waist-height waists. It would be handy to find them in one 'room' on the site.


Gap (then headed by J. Crew's current CEO, Mickey Drexler) failed in that market with Forth & Towne, but they were a decade too early for the demographic, did not have a web store, and were hampered by Gap's insistence on lower price points.

J. Crew could produce exclusive items for the collection, and showcase easy pieces such as the clothes Lauren Hutton's modeled for them over the years.


For fall, these pieces would look especially estimable on grown women:


Regent blazer
I'm not a devotée of unstructured jackets; those of us over 50 tend toward a little nature-given spread, and just-enough tailoring mitigates that, without reading uptight. In tart red, this one makes me smile. 


Pointelle cashmere V-neck


V-necks can look butch, but this is womanly, with rows of openwork edging at the vee and a blush colour to soften neutrals. It's fit is described 'relaxed' which means it will likely not have the high, tight armhole of some J. Crew knits.

Double-serged wool pencil skirt




A classic made with deft details. The slightly weightier wool should make this hang well and caress the thigh. Regular length is 23 1/2 inches and Tall is 25 inches, for joy! And maroon—I have not seen that noble colour offered in decades. The colour looks marvelous with grey, black, many greens and blues (robin's egg blue is especially felicitous) and reds-to-pinks. The rescue from yet another black skirt.

Feeling cheeky? Check it out in heather chartreuse.


We also like boots in which we can charge about, with some protection from the pavement. Too many have paper-thin soles that are barely adequate on even summery sandals. The union of fine and functional: Dix tab ankle boots.




Described as a cross between a cowboy boot and a moto, these look like Blundstones that went to finishing school. Lined with leather, a nice touch overlooked in boots over twice the price.  


Those picks are pretty quiet, so a perfect backdrop for scarves and jewelry, but also...with it all, Ray-Ban mirror-lens aviators:




Put them on and look instantly cool: you know you can. I might have to replace the pair left in an airline seat pocket, flying back from San Francisco in 1981.