Enjoying the simplest, and vacation notice

The Passage des perles will be shuttered from today through the month of August, when I'll retreat, read and travel. I'll return Sept. 7, and look forward to catching up with you.

I read that you'll be happier as you age in proportion to your ability to enjoy the simplest things.

delight provided by small pleasures returns each time I enjoy:


A yard full of lilac bushes


The smell of cedar


Our cat, sleeping with his paw over his eyes


Then there is this look on babies, the six-to-ten-month olds, experiencing their first brilliant summer.

They gaze up from their prams, blinking, free of shoes, tiny hands curling and stretching in the sun, as if to say, "You mean there's

Neil Pashrika's book "The Book of Awesome" and his web site, 1000awesomethings.com collects such simple pleasure experiences: the smell of books, popping bubble wrap, seeing somebody laugh in their sleep, bakery air, when characters in a movie visit a place you know.

I don't agree with all of them (Broccoflower? Cheesy theme songs from '80s sitcoms?) But whatever butters your biscuit, baby.

What are some of yours?

I will read them avidly; then I'm off! Sincere thanks to all for reading and commenting, and enjoy the summer, season of breezes, blossoms and lemonade.

Contentedly dressed

"Trends are the plastic surgery of fashion."
- Roland Mouret

I've recently
turned 62 and realize I've lost the taste for trendy.

resented with a hot trend, my response is boredom or disdain. Other than some fabric innovations such as linen-metal blends, I have seen it all, including grey nail polish, which my groovy art-major roommate Janie concocted in 1969.

"Trendy" items are typically coveted by 18-to-28 year-olds, sold at hip boutiques for a season, knocked off at H&M the next and forgotten in six months– until five years from now.

I'm also aware of my tendency to lock on to past preferences, not a good thing. I saw a 60ish woman downtown yesterday: helmet hair, mid-1990s coatdress, prissy little bone shoes with those heels shaped like hockey pucks, everything rigidly perfect. And I thought, Sweetie, it is 2010.

You can
do that look if you're 30, with cat's eye glasses, Jimmy Choos and rhinestone earrings, but if you have an AARP card in your handbag, think again.

(By the way, the Canadian equivalent is Canadian Association of Retired Persons, CARP, as perfect an acronym as ever put on this earth.)

So the maxi-sundress will not be my summer treat, though I admire them on young women.

I aim for Contentedly Dressed: pleasing to me right now. "Nicely" sounds like someone else is doing up my buttons, "Well" seems self-absorbed.

Wear the clothes that lift you up, whether Bean or Beene. If ecstatic in vintage Sant' Angelo and Halston, let your freak flag fly, but keep your accessories current– shoes and bags made within the last few years or classics still in production.

When my mother was nearly 85, she came to a casual family dinner in navy pants, a white Egyptian-cotton shirt and this gold-buttoned cashmere cardigan, all from Maus and Hoffman.

Some of these items were likely going on 20 years old (she replaced favourites with duplicates, so it's hard to know), but on her feet she wore glossy new Belgian loafers.

Proud as a five-year old, I thought, She is beautiful.

I have her sources filed.
For now, no trends.

Trends don't make me look younger
, they make me uneasy with my authentic and acceptable age– for which I am increasingly grateful.

Recommended: Someone I Loved

The 2009 film "Je l'aimais" (Someone I Loved) is now available on DVD.

Daniel Auteuil plays a 60ish man, Pierre, who recounts the story of his love affair to his distraught, soon-to-be-ex-daughter-in-law, Chloe (played with weary misery by Florence Loiret Calle).

When Pierre
was in his 50s, he experienced a coup de foudre when he met Mathilde (Marie-Josée Croze) on a business trip to Hong Kong.

Transformed by love and lust, he plans to leave his wife, Suzanne (Christiane Millet), to "finally feel alive". Pierre has been an appalling husband and father, buried in his work, so his defection doesn't appear to be such a loss to his family.

But then, confronted by several events, he wavers.

The scene
that moved me most was that between Suzanne and Pierre, in which she delivers an agonized yet underplayed indictment of their marriage.

The film captures those unions characterized by coexistence without outright hostility, but little evident love.

Je l'aimais asks, Should property and propriety keep a couple together, or should one of them leave, to truly love? The story, told in flashbacks, spares no character his or her flaws and inconsistencies.

Auteuil is, as usual, superb at playing an everyman in too deep.

Of course, being a French film, you get to see quite a bit of the gorgeous Montreal actress Marie-Josée Croze ("The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" and "The Barbarian Invasions"). I found her ardour for the stolid Pierre hard to believe, but "le cœur a ses raisons...".

Mathilde would be any long-term partner's nightmare: alluring, accomplished and gunning for the full-time slot. But Croze's acting deftly subverts the usual clichés, offering a glimpse of steel beneath the wispy dress.

Tell me what you think!

How Beautiful: Indian and Asian textiles and jewelry

On Saturday afternoon I met one of my longest-loved friends, Susan, for lunch and a matinée performance of a play. We know we're celebrating some ah, higher-number birthdays now that we choose the daytime performance.

On the way to
meet her, leaving the subway in an infrequently-explored neighbourhood, I spotted a tiny shop, Kinna Sohna, and discovered a trove of opulent textiles and ethnic jewelery. The aptly-named Kinna Sohna translates from Punjabi as "how beautiful".

Designer Sartaj Kaur has taken her patterns and sizing to Indian cooperatives, so finally clothes are sized for Western bodies, from XS to XXXL. Looking at a dazzling stack of shawls, I enjoyed them even more after learning of Sartaj's mission, to create an ethical market for these craftspeople.

In need of a lift after the play–a Greek tragedy–we headed for the boutique. I lept on several kurtas; Birthday Girl bought a hand-embroidered stole as a happy-birthday-to-me treat.

Thoughtful, knowledgeable service from Sartaj and her associate, Julie, helped us make our decisions.

Though this post may be frustratingly local, I'm unapologetic. If you haven't visited Toronto, these next four months are ideal and I'd enjoy showing you some special places, including, if you enjoy textiles, the Textile Museum of Canada.

Raincoat, returned; recession, rampant

As posted earlier, I ordered the on-sale ($90) Talbot's raincoat. The styling was pleasing but the fabric too stiff for my tall, ample frame. In the colour called Clay, I looked like a clay pot.

When I tried it in the store in pink, the fabric seemed okay; either an illusion of the shade, or maybe the dye altered the hand. It's now even further reduced on Talbot's site, $62.50, in limited sizes.

I found this calmly elegant trench at Marina Rinaldi, where I went not expecting much; I can wear their skirts but swim in the tops.

Bottom line, pun intended: a size 14 fit, with minor alteration.
What did I get for four times the price of the Talbot's coat (and that's 50% off)? Leather buttons and buckles, smart pinstriped full lining and finer fabric.

Both coats were machine-washable cotton-poly blends (ratio unspecified), but MR's felt like highest-quality cotton.

Major purchases, minor resources

My search for a not-too-pricey raincoat lead me to think about making major purchases during a recession.

For every five persons who lost her job in 2009, only one is back at work and half of those who have returned are at jobs that pay less than their former position, according the New York Times. These stats reflect the results of five 50+ women friends, even though Canada is supposedly doing better.

Coats, one of the most expensive wardrobe items, are worrisome if you're unsure whether your job will last or you're helping young-adult children who've returned to school because they can't find work.

And everyone needs a coat from time to time.

Sewers could make theirs, if their tailoring skills are solid. The rest of us need shopping skills. The double-markdown Talbot's might be a score for a slimmer woman.

The thrifts can yield treasures. I
n the interests of research, I trolled Value Village yesterday; a classic camel London Fog trench and black fine wool balmacaan by an Italian maker, both looking unworn, were $22 each. Of course you need some luck, but the racks were full for all sizes.

I had a brief chat with an attractive 60-something woman trying on jackets in front of a mirror. She lost her job in late '08 and though getting by in a new field (real estate), saves where she can. She found three new shirts ($2.99 each) and a sun hat.

Or one can take the advice of Genevieve Dariaux, author of "A Guide to Elegance", who thought a woman should simply wear her usual tailleur and carry an umbrella, unless in the country.

The times aren't quite like Thirties, when my aunt made a plum velvet skating cape from curtains she found in a trunk and my mother, a bride, turned my father's shirt collars. But many will not be plunking down a paycheck on a raincoat anytime soon.

My new trench is "investment dressing", an approach I've tried but achieve only intermittently. I plan to wear it for years– years, I hope, of better times.

Birthdays: Good times and gifts

As we've done for some years, we celebrated the birthdays of our twin sons (23) and me (62) this last weekend. Gone are the days of waterpark or fire station parties; since they reached 19 (the age of majority where we live), we choose a restaurant, usually the rooftop Skybar of the Drake Hotel.

Your challenge, dear readers is to figure out who (Duchesse or les fils) received which of these gifts.

Or just have fun checking out the silly and significant, the gestures grand and small, that made the celebrations sparkle.

The best gifts of all: time to spend with dear friends and the deep joy of having both sons home at the same time.

1. The
Thousand Autumns of Jacob van Zoet, by David Mitchell

2. Asterios Polyp, by David Mazzucchelli

3. Tahitian pearl necklace, this very one, from Kojima Company

4. Toronto Blue Jays vs LA Dodgers; Dodgers drubbed Jays

5. Medium Raw, by Anthony Bourdain

6. Awakening
the Spine, by Vanda Scarvelli

7. A gift certificate for the therapeutic waters at Body Blitz spa

8. A cheque toward a new bike, because beloved bike (well-locked) was stolen from the garage on the birthday

9. A "greenie" cookie

10. Brunch at La Palette, Kensington Market

11. A cheque toward living expenses because birthday person did not anticipate the close of workplace for two weeks (without pay)

12. Pub night at C'est What? bar

13. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, by Stig Larsson

14. Two silver chains, one with pearls and one of antique beads with a hand-cast maple seed pendant by Montreal jeweler Red Sofa

Women politicians, coated with scorn

One of our favourite bloggers, Imogen Lamport of Inside Out Style, posted on her comments in the Australian press on Australian PM Juila Gillard's image.

The Australian press pitched a fit about the new PM's ikat-print coat.

Gillard seems to have a figure like Cherie Blair's: average-width shoulders atop a generous bust. Fitting that is a challenge. But the advice to tone down the pattern, spend more on clothes and (not necessarily from Imogen) dress more "appropriately" reminds me of how much hostility women in politics draw–and the subtext of running these "advice" features.

Hillary: More coat criticism

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wore a pattern-lined coat to Tokyo last winter and the admiration from women–who wanted that very coat–drowned out the critics. I suspect her classic wrap was custom-lined in Japanese fabric.

Not s
o many bouquets when she landed in Kabul in what the press called "a hippie coat". Hey, this is an Afghan coat worn to give recognition to women of that country. So much for diplomacy and for any kind of eye from journalists, who would not know an ethnic piece if it bit them.

Gillard was advised not to wear black because it is "ageing". (Cue Chanel, rolling in her grave.)

But (presumably before receiving this advice) she chose black for a Press Gallery Ball. Julia Gillard, 50 this fall, looked ravishing.

Isn't the observation (made for any women in anything but corporate drag) that "her appearance detracts from her message" true for any of us seen by another? But give her a break, she wasn't dressed like Lady Gaga.

Just en
ding her first week in office, Australia's first female PM may not have anticipated what an easy target her jacket would be. Gillard's spokesman said, "We'll let others comment about whether or not they like her choices."

Or, excuse me, somebody has a country to run.

Can image consultants help women in the public eye?

Absolutely, just as they can assist any woman coping with a changing body, little time to select a wardrobe and a tight budget. Imogen is forthright, generous with her advice and her before-and-after shots attest to her talent. If elected, I'd hire her in a second, clothing allowance or not.

A woman politician appearing in anything other than the most conservative attire will draw criticism, her spending judged excessive (Cristina Kirchner) or too little (Gillard).

Sniping at a woman's clothes or body is an obvious and cheap way of undermining her power. Politics has been called "show business for ugly people" but women are expected to serve while looking only and entirely chic.

Brooches, Part Two: Wearing

Part Two of a two-part post

Now... h
ow do I wear it?

Unlike earrings, a brooch is placed, which may be why some women avoid them.
In fact, pins or brooches can be worn so many ways, more than any other item, from the classic to more novel.

Michelle Obama likes to wear hers at the centre neckline of a cardigan or dress (shown far left and below.)

On a jacket, wear yours on the collar (shown on the turquoise jacket, upper right). A pin at the lower lapel or breast pocket takes the eye too low.

Queen Elizabeth wore the Williamson pink, the world's largest pink diamond, at her shoulder when she met the Obamas. This is her preferred style, one that draws the eye to her face and her magnificent natural pearls.

Mrs. Obama wears a brooch off-centre at the neckline, on her pink dress.

On a blouse, a pin on the cuff is one of my favourite ways to wear a jewel, and it won't clank like a bracelet.

On a dress, a brooch goes anywhere you wish to direct the eye, including on a shoulder strap, at the waist, or on a soft sash belt.

A brooch enhances an accessory: pin it to a beret or felt hat, or on a fabric clutch bag.

Pinned to a ribbon, tied on your wrist, a brooch becomes a bracelet; if not too large, you can achieve the same effect around the neck.

Some brooches can be hung from a chain and worn as a pendant, or converted to pendants by adding a bale.

You can wear a brooches to close a shawl or on a scarf, but as spacegeek noted yesterday, you have to be careful not to snag fine fabrics with the pin. Pinned shawls look either costumey or dowdy to me, but a lot is in attitude and an interesting pin on a pashmina might change my mind.

Don't attach brooches to genuine pearls because they will abrade the pearls. (If you love to wear that brooch on your pearls, have it made into a clasp.)

Wherever you pin it, use a little stopper on the bar-pin, called a "bulldog", available at jewelry counters, as an extra security measure.

How much bling with a brooch?

You can go as minimal as a brooch and simple earrings, or mass up the pieces till you topple. It's your party.

Daphne Guinness marches a row of exquisite antique diamond brooches down the front of a dress.

Anna Wintour styled singer Adel
e, in a diamond daisy brooch. (I love brooches on voluptuous women.)

And brooches on black, sigh.

Check out Madeleine Albright, in a 1940's Joseff of Hollywood brooch with related pins, and a whole lotta other clank. Woman was decked.

The simplest way to begin brooch-wearing is to place one at the side of a v-neck sweater or top, a universally flattering placement. Add a pair of earrings, casual as gold hoops or pearl studs, or choose more elaborate ones that compliment but don't necessarily match the brooch.

Michelle Obama shows another brooch-sweater idea: turn a cardi into a wrap by adding a trio of pins.

I'm betting on brooches, even if the young crowd is on to them. So womanly, personal and–whether Albright-sized or petite–jewels of presence and charm.

Brooches, Part One: Pondering pins

Part One of a two-part post.

May I broach a subject? Brooches are the calfskin gloves of the jewelry world, a specialty not to everyone's taste, but deeply pleasurable once you make their acquaintance.
(Shown, Austrian sterling and turquoise vintage brooch, ca. 1890, from V&M; price, $245.)

They are slipping back, under fashion's scrutiny, but for those collecting jewelry, vintage brooches are still brilliant buys compared to other pieces.

Rings, especially engagement rings, are
frequently overpriced. The merchant counts on the pull of social custom and the power of marketing.

Earrings? Think about it: you need two of everything. And
you don't even see them on. Bracelets? Well at least you see them, but that's a lot of real estate.

Brooches (or pins, if you prefer) were rather out of favour with the mainstream and I hope they slip back into semi-obscurity. When I see an entire page in InStyle devoted to brooches, I hiss,
get away! Like teacup poodles in handbags, thanks a lot, twenty-somethings, for appropriating the purview of grown women.

Where was I?

Buy them vintage; buy them real

By which I mean, the noble metals and stones or organic materials. I'm especially drawn to brooches from the latter part of the 19th and earlier part of the 20th century: Victorian, Edwardian and Deco pieces.

many assume a brooch requires a jacket, I'm showing examples you could wear with a sweater and pants or a simple dress.

This antique Edwardian amethyst and pearl brooch is under $5,000 (the web site gives price ranges only) from S.J. Shrubsole. It contains a luscious 12ct. amethyst surrounded by seed pearls and diamonds.

At 1 1/8 inches, the piece has presence but is no Madeleine Albright whopper.
(I enjoyed what she did with pins, but wish she'd worn only fine jewelry.)

A delicate Edwardian 14k seed pearl and pearl brooch, 1 5/8 inch, conveys discreet Merchant & Ivory charm; price, $235 from Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry. Really, why buy costume?

Lovers of
modern pieces, here is a rare Georg Jensen biomorphic pin with crysoprase, 5/8" long x 1 1/4" wide, $995 from Trocadero seller The Lush Life Antiques.

Bar pins ease you into brooches if you are worried about too much flash.

For our blogfriend hostess of the humble bungalow, IBold would select this ca. 1900 Arts and Crafts blue chalcedony and aventurine quartz pin set in silver; price, $230 from Trocadero seller Period Pieces.

An enc
hanting 1 1/4 inch (diameter) Victorian seed pearl brooch from Beladora II; such marvelous design and charisma in this piece; price, $395. Wear it pinned on a jean jacket or linen shift, it will look perfect anywhere.

This Art Deco 2-inch brooch is silverplated copper. Though not fine jewelry, this is elegant deco design. $30 from Pierre Bex. This site sells old stock; the company, a darling of costume designers, stopped producing in the '80s.

I'm delighted by the whimsy of well-made figural brooches; this mid-century 18k, coral and pearl turtle's a pet. 1 3/4 by 1 1/2 inches, from Beladora II; price, $895.

Size counts

Taller, larger women can wear an imposing 4-inch brooch. A one-inch pin will look lost unless worn on a collar or near the neckline, with a necklace. That's why (you know it had to be coming) pearls and a pin complement each other. That turtle brooch at a collar, worn with pearls, bellissima.

Consider size, but also weight. Here's an airy Georg Jensen 18k gold and moonstone Torun brooch ca. 1970, about 1 1/2 inches high by 1 1/5 inches wide.

Because of the negative space, it 'floats', making it much lighter than a solid piece. Price, $2,400 from 1st Dibs seller Alastair Crawford.

Like a scarf, once you try a few simple placements with your brooch, you'll enjoy its charm and character. Add a distinctive pin to your jewelry basics– pearls, a chain, gold or pearl earrings–and see how it extends your wardrobe.

Last Thursday, HRH Queen Elizabeth II, here on a royal visit, celebrated Canada Day (July 1) on Parliament Hill, wearing a stunning diamond maple leaf brooch, symbol of her fondness for the country she calls "my second home".

To find your treasure, shop antique or vintage, via shops, jumble sales or your Aunt Susan's jewelry box. The workmanship is superior and you'll find real pieces for the price of current "designer" paste and plastic.