Archive for April, 2011

April 28, 2011

Time to Dive In! Swimsuit Season

Riviera Frame Of Mind


I noticed this week the beginning of the sales on…are you ready for this?…SPRING merchandise!!!   Whhhaaat?  I just wrapped up my cashmere turtlenecks for next fall!  Indeed, the fashion calendar marches on and with the reduced stock most retailers are carrying these days if you really love something you better get it quickly before it is gone.  This especially applies to one garment most of us aren’t even thinking about yet – the swimsuit!

I know, I know, we have just finished with Easter and I am talking about bathing suits.  But I must.  Because if there is one garment that you want to have maximum selections to choose from when shopping, this is it.  If you wait until June, when you really need your new swimsuit in hand, you will be staring at the picked over, size limited, lurid colored, ill-fitting, appallingly printed, mis-matched pieces headed for a clearance rack.  This will force you to go to the web and order the same basic, boring, and safe black suit in the same cut you bought last year….and the year before that!   

Taking my own advice I started my shopping early this year.  Hoping to find something a bit more stylish for myself, I decided I needed a little motivation.  This year I am channeling a little of the Riviera – think the great cool colors of this seasons’ Emilio Puccci prints – white, aqua, purple, azure and pops of lime and black.  Soooo gorgeous.  And lets not forget the divine stuff from Missoni and Diane Von Furstenberg – OMG!!!  The dresses, caftans, wraps, and even playsuits are all so divine I could spend the whole season in cover ups! 

So, suitably inspired (pun intended) I started my search.  Well…..apparently the glorious choices in kaftans, pareos, and maxi dresses this season are going to have to compensate for what is appearing to be a less than inspiring collection of swimwear.  The key swimwear trends this year are bandeau tops, string bikinis and one piece suits with cutouts.  Yikes!  Don’t get me wrong, there are some super cute suits out there, but the versions that are going to flatter the more average figures among us are few and far between – so get out there now and GRAB THEM!!!! 

I think the cut out trend is going to lure us all in to try, and leave most of us unsatisfied.  While there are a few great suits out there with some strategically place openings – like the awesome black suit above, there are many that have more holes than suit and are more accurately considered monokinis.  These are a challenge.  Even if you make it past the complete lack of hanger appeal that bits of fabric and strings dangling haphazardly have, and you manage to figure out just which bits cover YOUR bits in the dressing room, the missing pieces can still be treacherous on even the fittest bodies.   Sigh.

Moving on to bandeau tops – they are terrific, especially for the less endowed of us, and I found some great options in both one and two pieces.  I love what some of the designers did with fabric manipulation giving great shape and curve. I also saw many nice traditional triangle bikinis – great colors, cute prints, and choices at every price point.  And while not at the forefront of fashion, the tankini is plentiful as well.  I see the general appeal this style has for women, but I have yet to find one that fits me well and then stays where it is suppose to!

 If you have much on top though, tiny fabric triangles and straight across bandeaus are best avoided.  Which is where I end up and fortunately the swimwear designers have not forsaken the curvy girls.  There are many great ruched styles – lovely goddess appeal and magical curve enhancing/tummy camouflaging capabilities.  I also found some really cute retro looks with sweet heart or halter styles that are going to really flatter the more generously blessed among us.    

Some final thoughts:  Don’t even think about simply buying and running without trying things on.  Nothing in the world is less flattering than an ill-fitting swimsuit.  They are simply killers.  Even the most fit and toned of us dread facing the fluorescent lighted and three way mirrored torture chambers, I mean dressing rooms, to try on swimsuits!  But you must.  I find the misery-loves-company approach helps, so going with a friend who is also shopping for a suit is a good bet.  And a nice strong margarita always makes the fitting process less painful.  So check your calendars, schedule some time with your besty, make reservations at your favorite beverage-serving, mall-located restaurant and prepare yourself!   And if worse comes to worse, go back to the tried and true style of years past and instead spend your money on a simply fab new cover-up….that’s what *I* am going to do 😉

PS – For The Boys……

Alright my pets, this couldn’t be simpler.  This is one occasion where I BEG you not to get creative or try something trendy.  Forgo the loud orange and yellow Hawaiian print that bleeds and fades the nanosecond it hits pool water, or the weird pattern that looks like hand prints on your behind.  Pass on using your every day long baggy shorts that aren’t designed for swimming – some really don’t work well with water and a crowded beach or pool party is no place to discover they are completely transparent when wet.  And whatever you do, leave the Speedos alone (even the professional swimmers have given these guys up).  Find a nice basic pair of swim trunks in a board-short style.  Not too long, not too short.  Make sure they are in good repair, have the appropriate underpinnings and a working drawstring and you are done.

April 23, 2011

Retail In Therapy – Part II

Last week I discussed the change in my shopping habits.  While I still love the personal interaction of seeing and touching merchandise before I buy it, and I still like to see my favorite sales associates, the rest of the shopping experience has fallen quite flat.  I have moved away from spending time and money at the mall and find myself buying online.  Why?  Well I think I know exactly why. 

The online shopping experience has caught up, and in some cases surpassed its brick-and-mortar big brother.  The traditional retail environment has probably never really been all that awesome, but we didn’t have other choices.  We hiked in from the outer realms of the parking lots, put up with snooty salespeople, waited for dressing rooms, and were deafened in food courts, to emerge exhausted yet triumphant, packages in hand having bought what was there.  But now, thanks to the ever-improving world of internet retail, we have better options.  At home, in the comfort of our jammies! 

Clothing shopping is a highly personal activity.  And it should be.  After all – it’s all about YOU – what you want, what you need and how you feel.  You need to feel stuff, need to interact, and you NEED to try on clothes and shoes.  Retailers know this and I think they initially thought that those needs would hamper the success of on-line fashion retail.  But gradually they have honed their shopping interfaces and services to provide sites that are user-friendly, convenient and even fun, and they have developed ways to enable us to try merchandise before we commit.

Some companies offer free shipping, and/or free returns, so you can now buy multiple sizes or styles, and return the ones that don’t work.  Other sites have provided detailed fit and sizing information, and some even have on-demand help so you can ask questions.  If you are still not getting enough interaction, you can check out the reviews on the item you are considering – see what other people thought about it.  These folks aren’t getting paid to sell to you, so if that dress didn’t look like it did in the catalog, or was poorly constructed, they are going to say it!  

I think one of the greatest benefits of the internet to fashion retail is the selection.  With the comparatively low cost of supporting an internet site, designers and retailers – especially boutique and specialty retailers – are able to reach more customers for less money – so we consumers benefit from a broader selection.  We are no longer constrained to the merchandising that is directed at the demographics where we live.  For example, the internet is a much more target rich environment for unique, higher-end and career oriented plus size clothing for me than my local mall could ever be.  I am no longer limited to what Lane Bryant and the department stores have in stock, now I am able to shop retailers and designers from all over the world!   

And before you doubting types say …ah yes… but you don’t get the same personal service, let me tell you, you CAN!   Thanks to chat features and email, you can get the help you need.  You can even, with smaller businesses, establish personal relationships, and in many cases you will get better service because this is *their* business, and they care that it is a success. 

Here is a case in point.  After searching the internet for a very specific garment in my size, I finally found it at an on-line boutique –  While this site understandably had a fairly restrictive return policy I was so happy to find the item I bought it.  When I received the item there was an issue and given the nature of the issue and the fact that the return would be at my own expense and for site credit, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to bother.  But I did notify the retailer, not expecting a response but feeling the need to be heard.  Proprietress Lesley responded immediately – she took care of my issue and ensured my satisfaction.   Shout out to Lesley and I will be shopping with her again!   

There are unquestionably some trade offs with internet shopping.  Yes, you do have to pay shipping in most cases.  And the smaller venues tend to be less flexible in their return policies, notably with sales merchandise.  You also need to be smart and cautious about who you do business with so that you deal with reputable and secure sites.  But the benefits of comfort, privacy, convenience and selection far outweigh the disadvantages. 

All is not lost for the great American shopping mall.  I read a recent article in the Wall Street Journal that discussed how retailers like Anne Taylor, Macys, and even Old Navy are revamping their dressing rooms as a part of reaching out to their disappearing customers.  Whether it’s offering dressing rooms that feel like a posh walk-in-closet, or convenient “quick change” stations, or other handy features and services, the goal is to make the shopping experience more comfortable, more personalized, more like… HOME. 

I certainly haven’t gone off my favorite hobby.  I love shopping – the process of finding that perfect item to acquire and the exciting act of acquisition.  It must be the hunter/gatherer in me.  But now the excitement doesn’t just come in the form of a tissue enrobed item in a shiny carrier bag.  It also arrives with the satisfying sight of a UPS box on the table when I come home from work.  Ahhh…..

April 20, 2011

Oxford Dons

Oxford Dons


I occasionally write on men’s fashion both in the interest of fairness, and because guys need a little fashion love too, but I am always looking for the chance to write about men’s and women’s fashion together.  Here is a great opportunity.   In several guises – oxfords, brogues, saddle shoes, or simply, lace-ups, this style of lace up shoe has an extensive fashion history with the boys AND the girls.  Coming in many incarnations, these shoes have been a long-standing wardrobe staple for the gentlemen while appearing from time to time as a terrific fashion statement for women, too.  This spring they continue to have a “moment” – with terrific and creative offerings for everyone. 

For the boys choices go from the more casual and basic lace up – in a sturdy leather and neutral color – to some more fashion-forward options ranging from denim to suede, in both bold and subdued colors.  The traditional wing tip accents are in full force; I always love the look of the wing-tip – retro and stylish but not too prissy.  I did a quick perusal and came up with a random selection of fun versions to run by my resident male fashion critic.  I made sure to cover a wide spectrum, expecting some comment and definite objections.

While I thought some of the more fashion forward choices were cool – not too metro, but still stylish, he quickly and not surprisingly vetoed several of the choices.  Suede is apparently too impractical as it gets dirty and worn quickly and some of the colors were a bit too effete – if the red was a bit much you can imagine what he had to say about the yellow.  And let’s not even get him started on pointy toes.  However, the black and white saddle shoe was given a surprising thumbs-up as cool – with the caveat that they would be perfect at the golf club…or on a veranda, with a linen suit and a mint julep.  Generally speaking the overall concept of the oxford was resoundingly approved.  Comfortable, practical, traditional and manly.  Every man should have a pair – just not in red suede.

For the girls there were so many options I had a hard time picking the best.  Oxfords perfectly satisfy my taste for vintage styled shoes and they are innately wearable, so I have become something of a connoisseur – I have at least four pairs in my closet at present ranging from a sporty low heeled cream number from House of Harlow 1960 to my beloved suede high heels in chocolate and grey from now departed and truly missed designer Taryn Rose – queen of comfort and style. 

The selection this season is terrific and is leaving me in a quandary as to how to limit my purchases and yet not miss out on the best of the season.   Where I usually have to scour the shops and sites for oxfords, this season they are every where; offered, as expected, by the creative brands like Poetic License and All Black, but also offered by more mainstream designers like Steve Madden and Cole Haan.  And many have become inspired to take these little darlings beyond the mundane and every day.  Even G. H. Bass, the ubiquitous name in traditional saddle shoes and penny loafers, has gotten creative, partnering with designer Rachel Antonoff again this season to develop some terrific riffs on the classics for women.  I love what they have done with color and embellishment – transforming the classic saddle shoe into a major look.

On the casual side low-heeled oxfords are a fab alternative to the ballet flat, giving an instant kick of sporty, demi-masculine panache that no ballerina shoe will ever achieve.  A flat oxford, plain or with a “girly” detail like ribbons, a fun color, or other feminine adornment is the perfect accompaniment to the cuffed boyfriend jean or a cropped pant.  I really love this cute red suede pair with the satin ribbons from Betsy Johnson and Nordstrom had a whole selection with fun details like the stripey ribbon laces in the cream number above.

When you really want to kick things up a notch, try a high-heeled oxford – very powerful and sexy in a covered up sort of way – a great shoe to wear with a pant – especially the wider legged versions trending right now.  I found so many fun options that it was hard to decide which ones to feature, but couldn’t leave out Chie Mihara’s with the ruffly flowers – simply awesome.  And for some more color, Poetic License came through yet again, with this little detailed number in yellow.  The cut outs on the black and white spectator version from Boutique 9 are great – I have a similar pair which I love to wear with black trousers and a ruffled, puff sleeved white blouse for a sort of thirties ingénue vibe.  But you don’t have to love vintage inspirations to rock the oxford.  You can wear this black cool chic number with a pared down suit and there are plenty of other simple, stream-lined options out there in high and low heels that are really timeless and chic.

So there you have it!  At last, a trend that works for both boys and girls. 

April 16, 2011

Retail in Therapy – Part I

Last Saturday, as I was preparing to head to the mall, my beloved and I had a brief conversation. No, dear friends, this conversation did not start with him saying “Again? Didn’t you just go shopping?” In fact quite the contrary, he expressed surprise that I was heading to our local mall at all, since I had only been there once since well before Thanksgiving. No, *really*, only once, and that was to shop with a friend. Wow!

Before you all applaud me for my amazing frugality I must clarify that I am not *buying* less, indeed not, in fact Mr. Commando has quipped that he has developed a close personal relationship with our UPS guy. I am still shopping; I am just not buying things at the mall much anymore. This has come on so gradually over the past several years even I hadn’t really noticed it much. How strange! I wonder why?

Clearly something has changed. And not just for me. a recent radio talk show discussed survey results that indicated shoppers are more frequently looking at merchandise in a store and then going home to buy it on line – and not always just for better prices or special deal, either. Some retailers have become so pushed with the cost of this behavior, that they charge customers a fee to try things on, which is applicable to merchandise you buy in the store!

Retailers spend a great deal of time and money in creating atmospheres, staff and merchandise to lure you – to make you feel good and to make you BUY. And yet, as I zoomed through our mall last Saturday I realized, sometimes it just doesn’t really work. The bright lighting and oddly quiet or loud atmospheres left me feeling a bit fuzzy and dazed. I was either bombarded by far too much merchandise crowding my senses or stood stranded in an austere, minimalist environs where one ridiculously expensive garment was suspended high above, with its five very small other sisters discreetly located near by.

In these tough economic times sales people tend to eye customers with that queer hungry look usually associated with a pack of starving animals as they view a lone, defenseless prey. Now, I am a big believer in building relationships with sales associates; they can truly enhance your shopping experience. A friend who shopped with me at my local mall once got a kick out of the hugs and how-are-you’s that greeted our entrance at the shoe stores, the boutiques, even Saks and Nordstrom. A testament to just how much time I used to log in the stores, of course, but those relationships have been great and the help was genuine – the sizes tracked down at other stores, the secret sales notifications, the extra samples at the make up counter. Fab! But the grasping, nearly desperate and wholly fake feeling “help” – not so much.

In some cases the merchandise selection has become frankly disappointing, too. The number of stores is reducing, no doubt, but so has the number of designers and product lines. While less glaringly obvious then a vacated store front, we have said sad farewells to some favorites – without even realizing it! How do you see what isn’t there? What has been left behind is clearly showing the imprint of our stumbling economy. Overall quality, even in typically reliable brands and at stores like Nordstom, has been more frequently disappointing. The fabrics thinner, the cuts stingier, linings – gone, glue replacing stitching in shoes, all the signs of cost reducing measures. Not surprising, but it definitely impacts the desire to buy.

So the merchandise, store environments and sales help need, well, help. And yet my spending hasn’t decreased. What is up with that?! Where and how *am* I, and others, getting their retail therapy? More on that in Part 2 – stay tuned. Meanwhile I would love to hear from all of you – has your shopping routine changed? Do you see a difference when you shop?

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