31 December 2006

"Happy New Year, U.S. of A.!"


If I had a sugar daddy...

Kate corset from Agent Provocateur
$335 at agentprovocateur.com

Since I don't (yet)

Ultimate satin bustier by Frederick's of Hollywood

$68 at fredericks.com

30 December 2006

If I had a sugar daddy...

Tall calfskin boot by Delman
$575 at bergdorfgoodman.com
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Because I don't (yet)

Sizzling boot by Steve Madden
$203.95 at zappos.com
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I'm no good at accessorizing

I'm a predictable girl. When I leave my apartment each morning, weekday or weekend, I have the same 4 accessories: my daybag, a pair of stud earrings (usually pearls but sometimes opals or garnets), my yellow gold and spinel ring on my left middle finger, and my 7 yellow gold bangles on my right wrist. Maaaybe a headband, too, but I'm going to limit this post to jewelry.

I don't really consider my bangles so much accessories as I do pieces of my identity. I've worn them since I was a child - 1 each year from ages 11 to 18 - and they are literally stuck with me forever, just like my Mom's are with her, and my Oma's are with her. Sometimes, when I'm going into my second half-hour of waiting for a female pat-down at airport security, I wonder what life would be like not being a permanent metal detector setter-offer. But even then, sitting in a plastic chair, shoeless, and watching my plane take off without me, I still wouldn't pry them off. I like the jingle they make when I type, and they remind me of the jingle my Mom's make when she writes out her grocery lists.

But back to the topic of accessories.

I don't know why, but in this style genre, I'm a consistently risk adverse minimalist. In truth, I think it's because I'm not very good at it, and I'm afraid to look foolish in front of those who know better.

More than clothing, jewelry is a true testament of one's taste. For my taste at least. Because I don't like to wear jewelry that isn't real, I don't have a lot of it. Sure, there are a couple of outrageous faux vintage cocktail rings in my jewelry box, but those are recent additions -- byproducts of my very fashionable, very accessory-savvy friend's influence.

But just because I didn't take part in 2006's big back-to-nature accessory trend, doesn't mean I didn't appreciate Nicole Richie's Bonnie Basham turquoise horn camp necklace ($160 at shopintuition.com) or gawk jealously over my aforementioned friend's fabulous gold leaf pendant. I adore those pieces on other people, just not on me.

But really, the primary reason why I'm so jewelry-spare is that I love the clothes I wear, especially my dresses, so very much. When I wear something I'm in love with - like that ivory knit mini I found in the East Village - I don't want anything to take away from its impact. Take the red evening gown Julia Roberts wore to the opera in Pretty Woman. The dress on its own was stunning, but once Richard Gere presented her with the diamond and ruby necklace and earrings set, it was even more so, right?

Even at 9 years old, I didn't think so. To me, even then, nothing was more beautiful in my mind than a woman with bare shoulders and a naked neck. I also thought how Vivian-esque it would have been for her to decline the jewels because she thought the dress was enough. It would have added another dimension to her character. It would have shown us she had innate good taste. But whatever, she wore them, she looked perfect, and he came back for her in the end. Someday, I hope we'll all have the opportunity to rescue the one we love right back.

But I digress.

The short of it is, I am not your girl for accessory advice. Not yet, anyway. But like I learned to spell the longest word in the English language in Mr. Shubel's 4th grade class, perhaps accessory proficiency is something I too can achieve through hard work fueled by the desire to be better than everyone around me.
So, in addition to achieving a Jessica Biel backside, I'm adding "taking more accessory risks" to my list of superficial New Year's resolutions.
Who am I kidding, that's the only list I make.

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How to deal with the death of your premium jeans

This is how jeans should fit a woman's bottom. I'm not saying the bottom is ideal - in fact, I like something bigger, a bit more Biel-tastic - but the fit itself is spot-on. The waistband is flush against the hips, the fabric just above the bottom point of the pocket is wrinkle-free, and you don't see a centimeter of spillover.

This last fact leads me to my sister-in-law's fashion mantra: low-rise jeans are a privilege, not a right.

Unless you're born lucky or you earn your fat-free hips in the gym, please do us all a favor and pick up a pair of mid-rise or high-rise jeans and cover yourself. Every premium and non-premium denim brand makes them. If you aren't sure if you've earned your low-rise admission, try them on and solicit your Mom's opinion. Two decades of experience tell me you'll get your answer (and then some) within the first few seconds of asking.

Now we deal with the issue at hand: what to do when your premium jeans die a premature death.

I make the distinction between premium and non-premium jeans for a simple reason. The former cost a whole lot more than the latter. Losing the battle with a pair of $49.50 Gap jeans is unfortunate but not tragic; watching a pair of $172 AG Adriano Goldschmied Angel stretch jeans go from a size 27 to a size 29 in the span of four months, on the other hand, deserves a proper mourning period. Welcome to my world. This has happened to me not once, not twice, but FOUR times.
Something else that separates a pair of premium jeans from its less expensive counterpart is that premium jeans have a range of uses, from a casual weekend look (right on Jessica Alba) to a dressy going-out look (left on Charlize Theron) and everything in between. Unlike a daybag, premium jeans don't benefit from a harsh, long life. I want my bottom to look as tightly hugged after a year as it did they day I bought them; I want the striated blue wash to look as dark after a year as it did the day I bought them; and finally, I want the cuffs at the bottom to be as fray-free after a year as they were the day I bought them.

The first two pairs I bought, I admit, weren't as doted upon as they should have been. Instead of letting them drip-dry as the Anthropologie saleswoman instructed I do, I carelessly threw them in the dryer on high heat every week. The elasticity retreated within the first two months. The ass in which I'd invested so many hours in the gym was now swimming in stretchless fabric. In a word, unacceptable.

I take complete responsibility for the first two deaths. By the time my third pair started to show signs of premature old age, a pair I didn't even introduce to a washer and only dry-cleaned, I was convinced I was wronged. In a moment of rather shameless audacity, I marched back into the Tarheel blue dollhouse entrance of Georgetown's Anthropologie and demanded they either revive my denim's shapelessness or give me my money back.

After listening to my story, a look of shared sadness came over the saleswoman's face. She knew. And even though I didn't have my receipt or any other way to prove my jeans came from her store, she gave me a heartfelt I've-been-here-too apology and a full in-store credit.

This is one way to keep your fashion intact in the midst of a denim death, but what happens if you come across a saleswoman less sympathetic to your plight? I asked around, and there are very few alternatives, none of which, however, are to continue wearing the premium-turned-Mom jeans (to watch SNL's classic "Mom Jeans" commercial, click here).

One option is to get your jeans taken in by a tailor. A girlfriend of mine has done this to her favorite pair of Sevens twice, and the only way anyone could tell is if they were to look at the tiny red and yellow label that instead of reading "For all mankind" now reads "For aln kind." The risk in taking this route is high. If you don't have a tailor skilled enough to perform the surgery, you could end up in a bigger mess than you started with, in addition to being out the $20 to $40 (s)he charges you for the botched job.

A second option is to write the company and tell them your story. This worked for another friend of mine, who not only received two new pairs of Habitual jeans but also got a handwritten thank-you note from someone in the design department. In the note, the woman apologized for my friend's trouble and said her bad experience would influence future Habitual design and construction methods.

But that's it.

The best advice I can give when bringing home your first bundle of $200 denim is to treat it like the luxury it is. But once it's past its prime, once it looks like you've got a "thass" (an indistinguishable mass of thighs and ass), move on. Don't be Debbie Harry in a red mini and fishnets at the VH1 Hip Hop Honors -- just admit it's over.

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29 December 2006

If I had a sugar daddy...

One-shoulder dress by Lela Rose
$1,095 at net-a-porter.com
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Since I don't (yet)

Cloudberries sash dress by RicRac
$168 at anthropologie.com
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While walking to Cosi for a make-your-own-salad

I saw 4 women wearing premium jeans at least a size too big for them. 2 Seven for All Mankind, 1 True Religion, and 1 Rock n' Republic.

If a woman is willing to pay upwards of $260 for her denim, why would she get a pair that make her bottom and waist look jelly-soft?

But then it hit me, these women might be in the same situation I am with my pair of Joe's Chelsea ultra cigarette stretches: the dreaded they-were-fine-when-I-bought-them-but-now-they're-too-big death spiral that occurs when we overuse the dryer and/or lose a bit of weight.

Unlike these women, at the first sign of saggy bottom syndrome, I folded my beloveds, thanked them for the 5 months of good performance they had given me, and put them to the back of my closet. In their place, I've done the best I can with trousers, dressy bermuda shorts, and even my Joe's Socialites, which is a much more bootcut cut that apparently - evidence being that Kate Moss and Rachel Bilson have been wearing this look lately - will make its way back to the streets in 2007. While I'm doubtful the skinny jean trend will meet its demise so soon, I'm also unconvinced I should invest a whole month's shopping allowance in another pair.

What to do, then?

Stay tuned. Lunch break coming to a close.

28 December 2006

A rainbow of handbags

Since so many stores are in the midst of major online markdowns, I thought I'd scour the 'Net for one of my favorite items, something I call the "daybag," or the bag a woman takes with her to work each morning. Though primarily used during the work week for functional purposes, the daybag is hardly limited to the suit scene. A vibrant bag complements a neutral weekend jeans/boots/sweater ensemble quite nicely, and can even make for a useful gym bag. The more worn and weathered a daybag gets, they better it looks, so feel free to beat yours up with nights on the Big Hunt's sticky floor with your sweaty running shoes hanging off the straps.

My current daybag of choice is a black studded Almas number I picked up on a whim from Betsy Fisher (1224 ConnAve) one Friday afternoon this summer on my way up to New York. Each morning, you'll find it stuffed full with a random permutation of my laptop, wallet, travel makeup bag, 2 sets of keys, a book (a Hardcover one at present), iPod, Treo, a journal, and a well-balanced lunch. All of that, and I somehow manage to transport my fruit from home to work bruise-free.

I have 3 criteria when choosing a daybag:

size -- it must be big enough not only for the aforementioned items but a change of clothing, eye makeup remover, face wash, eye/face lotion, and a toothbrush "just in case"
comfort -- it must have comfortable straps (after I pinched a nerve in my neck, I learned my lesson)
quality leather -- a grown-up woman should not be carrying shiny pleather or canvas

Of the hundreds of daybags I spotted today, these were the best in show in the red, orange, yellow, green, blue, white, black and brown color categories.

Happy toting!

Red: Large Saratoga satchel by Monsac ($288.95 at zappos.com)

Orange: St. Barts shopper by BCBGirls ($135.95 at zappos.com)

Yellow: Maddox handbag by Kate Spade ($228 at bluefly.com)

Green: First-class carry-on ($329.95 at anthropologie.com)

Blue: Lola bag by Temma Dahan ($216.79 at bluefly.com)

White: Bedford satchel ($248 at bananarepublic.com)

Black: Faux-croc tote by Isaac Mizrahi ($24.49 at target.com)

Brown: Patent croco top-zip bag ($149.99 at anntaylor.com)

If I had a sugar daddy...

Parker skirt by Diane von Furstenberg
$185.50 at dianevonfurstenberg.com

Since I don't (yet)

Menswear herringbone skirt by Lux
$34.99 at urbanoutfitters.com

The horror of constrast stitching

28 December 2006
Corner of 16th and M Streets

Age: mid-20s
Height: 5'3" in (shudder) white cross-trainers
Size: 6-ish
Hair: dry, mousy brown, just above shoulders
Coloring: pale, pale, pale

Women's fashion magazines, from Vogue to Lucky to Redbook, all advise women just starting out in the professional world to purchase at least one versatile business suit. Something in a basic black, gray, navy or a subtle pinstripe. To skirt suit it or pant suit it is a personal choice, but whichever way you fall, it's assumed you'll buy the other - either a matching one or a coordinating one - to further enhance your options.

Though I don't really buy into the whole suit look myself, I think this is pretty sound advice for most young women, especially those looking to assimilate into the drip-drab DC workforce.
This young woman - who, honestly, from across the street looked 10 years older than she was - reminded me of Brooke Hogan trying to pull off sexy. In other words, she failed and failed HARD.

On paper, she had most of her boxes checked. Suit in a sensible color? Check. Sheer *black* hose now that we're officially into Winter? Check. Actually, now that I look at my notes (yes, notes!), those might be the only two she got right. And once we get to the specifics of her suit, her accolades may be whittled down to celebrating her choice of hose alone.

As for what was wrong, let's please start with the all-white cross-trainers and thick tube socks. There's not much else to say about the shoes other than they make a young woman look like a Mom. I'm not trying to criticize anything about being a Mom other than their stereotypical (though often well-earned) lack of fashion sense. I hear all the time from women of all ages that walking to work in heels is a non-negotiable discussion for them. Frankly, I respect their decision. I disagree with it for myself, but it is a style conviction, and like I have a conviction for wearing them, other women have a conviction for shunning them. In choosing to pack those heels in their bags and set off in the morning will full sock scrunch and mall-walker stride, these women should know there's no getting around the fact that they look like the kind of overly practical woman who only has sex in the bedroom on a Saturday evening. And only then, because they're moving their sweatpanted selves from the couch to the bed and find it utterly if not unavoidably inconvenient to decline the request.

If it goes through my mind, imagine what goes through a man's.

I don't need to include a disclaimer about how I'm not advocating dressing only to get positive male attention, do I? The point is, if heels aren't your bag and you have an open mind about leaving the marshmallow shoes at home, there are plenty of other, more comfortable options out there that look a whole lot more age appropriate. Like a pair of cute flats. A pair like these Tory Burch ballet slippers are pricey (aboive, $195 at toryburchonline.com), but from what I read in customer satisfaction surveys, they wear extremely well, take to re-soleing extremely well, and above all, score very positively in the comfort category. If you're on a tighter budget, try the Trebble flat from Steve Madden (left, $69.96 at stevemadden.com). For half the cost and almost double the number of available colors, you can retire the "Working Girl" look and traverse the 3-6 blocks to ConnAve in comfort and up-to-date style.

Now, the suit. Oh goodness, the suit. It was a solid navy blue, a pretty navy, not the matte polyester color we often see on older women who have stopped caring - or fitting into - suits made of natural fibers. As is the case 9 out of 10 times, the suit fit just awfully. It was reasonably well-matched at her shoulders but was literally the same width at the top as it was at the waist. The only reason I knew she was a size 6, is because I stole a glance at the label in her coat while we waited to cross 16th St.

Once I got past the sandwich-board look of her jacket, I moved to her bottom-half. Her pants weren't faring much better. By the cut of them, I could tell she bought them at a store whose clientele are considerably older than she is. High-waisted with a narrow band and tapered at the ankle is a classic "Mom" cut. For some reason, somewhere in the late-'80s, early '90s, someone decided elongating a woman's ass and making her legs look like sugar cones was flattering. Thankfully, this woman didn't have the cursed single or double pleat slapped on top of her upper thighs. Unless you're Dennis Hastert-sized, there is no excuse to ever, EVER wear pleated pants. They don't hide a belly, they only make a person look dated and well, like (s)he has a belly to hide. If you're a woman with a tummy bulge, here are your 3 instructions : first, wear Spanx or a control top hose, then, wear a longer jacket that falls over your waist, and third, start exercising and cutting out the pasta salad.

I wasn't completely forthright when I said the suit was a solid navy. Atop the navy was the most confusing choice of stitching I have ever seen on a dark suit. Not only was it contrast stitched, but it was a wide, untidy stitch reminiscent of a slow Kindergartner's attempt at tying a sneaker. Instead of working with what she had, I find it easier to recommend an entirely new outfit.

As young, petite, belly-less and averse to wearing high heels as she was, I'd recommend the Trebble flat in black (to walk to work), the mid-heel Maverick pump by Charles David ($101.95 at zappos.com) (to wear during the day), and if a suit is the preferred uniform at her place of work, this pant suit by Tahari by ASL ($209.99 at macys.com). The jacket is a bit longer than I would wear, but to be frank, she didn't have a toned enough bottom to pull off a cropped jacket in this thin a material. If she were willing to purchase a winter suit in a thicker material like wool tweed or herringbone, then a shorter jacket would work just fine. Normally, with a woman of shorter stature, longer jackets aren't recommended, but with the heel, she would be around 5'5", which just passes the height test. Under the jacket, if you want to throw in a punch of color, try a ruby red or silvery shell. If you're more traditional, nothing is more reliable than a crisp white Oxford shirt. Something with sleeves, though. If a girl doesn't put the effort into her bottom, you can be sure she doesn't invest it in her arms, either.

As for hair, I'm loath to give too much specific advice. If she is as much a minimalist as her appearance this morning implied, she should get a haircut that allows her to wash and go without too much fuss. As I wrote in a previous post, I'm a big proponent of the low ponytail (be sure to use a holder that matches your hair color) and wide headband. Or, the low ponytail and sideswept bangs. Both lend an air of sophistication difficult to achieve otherwise, and both require zero prep time.

As for makeup, this woman needed a serious intervention. An above-my-pay-grade kind of intervention. From what I could tell, the only cosmetics she used that morning were black eyeliner (not blended at all and too thick in the corners by her eyes) and blush. Red blush. Her skin wasn't bad, but it wasn't Rachel McAdams-esque, either. A bit of time with a sponge brush and some concealer would have easily taken her face from a 5 to a 7. Toning down the eyeliner, replacing the blush with a few subtle swipes of a good bronzer (try Estee Lauder's Bronze Goddess, $29.50 at neimanmarcus.com) and adding a single coat of mascara (reserve the second coat for the Happy Hour), and she might have even pushed an 8.

Fashion for a woman is less about eliciting a reaction from others based on what she's wearing, and more about eliciting a reaction from others based on how she feels in what she's wearing. And judging by the downward looks and cuticle picking my subject was engaged in for 38 straight seconds, I could tell even she doesn't know she's capable of a 3 number jump.

Oh, did I see her.

I identified my first project this morning only 2 oldies into my new "Maltshop Memories" playlist.

As she awkwardly lumbered through - not by, but through - the rest of the on-foot commuters at the corner of 16th and M Streets, quite appropriately, the Chiffons harmonized "One Fine Day" into my new noise-reduction headphones.

One fine day, indeed, for my inaugurative ConnAve fashion breakdown. And you better believe I'm gonna break this one down.

Waaay down. *Downtown* down.

I'll shut up now.

If I had a sugar daddy...(from 12/27/2006)

Chrysler high-neck tunic by Sunner
$253 at shopbop.com

Since I don't (yet) (from 12/27/2006)

Chocolate murmur blouse by Deletta
$48 at anthropologie.com

26 December 2006

If I had a sugar daddy...

Black brocade wide-leg trousers by Zac Posen
$1200 at saks.com

Since I don't (yet)

Audrey wool heather wide-legged pants
$128 at anntaylor.com

In a pinch

Over the past few weeks, just out of curiosity, I began asking my girlfriends to share with me their top 3.

Not men. Not movies. I'm talking about the serious business of morning makeup. If you were in a pinch and it wasn't an option to walk into the office 10 minutes late, what 3 all-important products would make the final cut?

It may not be helpful to you to know what other women would sacrifice their morning espresso runs for, but allow me to let you in on a secret. When it comes to makeup, the four women profiled below are subject matter experts in the field of cosmetics and cosmetics application. Further proof of this is that they all said the same thing when I posed the above question to them:

Skin. It's all about the skin.

Rule #1: Make your skin look the best it can before moving onto any other part of your face.

And by "look its best," they don't mean "its tannest" or "its cakiest." Get it to the point where it looks seamless -- when your jawline matches your forehead and your chin is the same color as that little patch of skin between your nose and upper lip. Be as meticulous and sparing with concealer and foundation as you possibly can.

And for god's sake, don't forget to moisturize your face first.

25 years old, DC analyst, medium olive complexion, hazel eyes, dark brown hair:

Stila's perfecting concealer ($20 at sephora.com)
Cover Girl Marathon mascara ($4.49 at drugstore.com)
Kiehl's clear lip balm with SPF 15 ($7.50 at kiehls.com)
alternate: Fresh Sake perfume ($50/$75 at fresh.com)

35 years old, DC freelancer, dark red hair, snow white skin, hazel eyes
Laura Mercier secret concealer ($22 at neimanmarcus.com)
Benefit get bent mascara ($19 at sephora.com)
NARS oil-free foundation ($40 at narscosmetics.com)
alternate: Chanel le vernis nail color in "black satin" (good luck finding this)

28 years old, NYC I-banker, Chinese, long black hair with sideswept bangs:
Chanel le crayon khol intense eye pencil in "noir"
Chanel extracils super curl lengthening mascara
Chanel rouge allure luminous satin lip color in "chic"
alternate: Chanel ombre essentiele soft touch shadow in "silvery"
($26.50 at neimanmarcus.com)
26 years old, Chicago Advertising Exec, dark olive complexion, brown eyes, thick dark black/brown hair:
Dior show mascara ($23 at sephora.com)
Benefit you're bluffing concealer stick ($20 at sephora.com)
Stila sun n' highlighter bronzer ($24 at sephora.com)
alternate: Kieh'ls tinted lip balm with SPF 15 ($7.50 at kiehls.com)
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The Thursday that might happen

Black patent leather 4-inch Julia pumps by RSVP
$79.99 at zappos.com

Black wide-leg pants by Calvin Klein
$128 at macys.com

Bijoux blouse by Emilynoelle
$118 at anthropologie.com

Black leather granny satchel
$58 at urbanoutfitters.com

And if I absolutely had to...

3/4 sleeve trapeze blazer by Lux
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