“ I Don’t Want to Walk Without My Nikes. . .”

It is with some amusement that I saw this page of 101 style ideas in the November 2018 issue of Marie Claire. Nine examples of wearing athletic sneakers are described as “the best ways to wear the surprisingly versatile chunky white trainer.” While six of the examples pair the sneaks with trousers, worn either with a sweater or a coat, three show the white shoes paired with long print dresses.

Back in the 1980s, it was common in my home town of Chicago, for career women dressed in their power suits to walk all or a good portion of the way to work. For many of us, wearing sneakers was part of the ensemble. The look became so ubiquitous and, some would say, so annoying, that the Chicago Bar Association’s Christmas Spirits gridiron show dedicated a number to the phenomenon. I’m proud to say that I contributed the idea for the number, using the 1940s hit “I Don’t Walk to Walk Without You”; the Bar Show writers penned some dandy lyrics that started: “I don’t want to walk without my Nikes, Pumas or Adidas or my Nikes. . . .”

The look of white sneakers with a dress or suit, or even with dark trousers, has not aged well. It draws the eye to the wearer’s feet, and the feet look bigger than usual in the chunky white shoes. There are all manner of low-heel pumps and flats in dark colors that can match trousers or tights, or coordinate with the colors in long skirts, and provide both comfort and a much less jarring version of style.

Break Out the Button Earrings

The September 2018 issue of Marie Claire magazine spotlights a classic jewelry design:  button earrings. Calling them a “retro-classic style more playful than stuffy,” Marie Claire looks to jewelry designer, stylist and vintage jewelry aficionado Jill Heller for her insights on why acquiring this style is “worth it.”

Heller defines button earrings as “oversize gold studs—the bigger the better,” but of course button earrings can be constructed of any type of metal, including gold, sterling silver, copper, platinum at the high end, and all type of base metals or other materials including a wide range of vintage plastics in costume jewelry. She adds that button earrings are “reminiscent of the fancy buttons you’ll find on vintage cardigans. The assumption is that they’re always round, but there are so many other shapes out there.”

Illustration:   Classic pearlized vintage button earrings, under $15. https://www.ebay.com/itm/183508412724

What all button earrings have in common is that they are as wide as they are tall and symmetrical. They are universally flattering because they draw the viewer’s eye up to the earring wearer’s face. Longer dangling earrings, in contrast, can draw attention down to the wearer’s neck.

As Heller notes, button earrings were a staple in the 1960s. Alexis Carrington wouldn’t be dressed without her clip-back button earrings on Dynasty. You can find a treasure trove of vintage button earrings on eBay that won’t break the bank. There you will find innumerable clip back and older screw back earrings for non-pierced ears, as well as post-style pierced earrings.

Illustration:   Embellished buttons, under $30. A design for the Dolce & Gabbana aficionado. https://www.ebay.com/itm/173606677049

If you decide to explore the wealth of offerings on eBay, don’t limit your search too much. The term “button” is considered an old-fashioned term and is not used in most listing titles. Instead, do a search looking for the specific features of the earrings you seek:  round, square, star shape; rhinestones, enamel, (faux) pearls, Lucite; translucent, luminous, colorful, one color, gold or silver tone, sparkling, over-the-top.

One inch earrings, about the size of a quarter, are the standard for earrings that are eye-catching but office appropriate. Go larger for even more visual impact. It’s time to bring back button earrings.

The Plus-Size Market and Oprah’s Missed Opportunity

The September 2018 issue of O, the Oprah Magazine contains an extensive and extraordinary fashion spread focusing on plus-size fashion. Oprah breathlessly announces it in her “Here We Go!” editor’s page comment:

“If you’ve had the difficult experience of trying, and failing to find clothing in stores that rarely carry your size—or any size above 10 or 12, for that matter—you’ll be glad to hear that the fashion industry is beginning to mend its ways.  . . . [W]e’re celebrating the big change in attitude that’s created a new world of style for every body, and taking a look at the long road we’ve traveled to get to a more inclusive place. . . “

If only Oprah had come clean, and written “If you’ve – like I have – had the difficult experience of trying, and failing to find clothing . . . .”  This is part of a pattern of Oprah’s downplaying and even ignoring her personal history relating to size. Why is she so coy about what has been in plain sight, when her personal experience could be so helpful to her readers?

Illustration: Emme, perhaps the original famous full-figured model, is featured in the magazine spread.

Before her famous reveal of the wagon full of fat representing the weight she lost on Optifast back in the 1980s (a reveal that got me and countless others to sign up for the program), Oprah’s shopping habits had some notoriety in the upscale stores of Chicago’s Magnificent Mile on Michigan Avenue. According to a saleswoman at one of those stores, Oprah’s assistants would remove size tags from the designer or bridge garments purchased on her behalf so she wouldn’t see the double-digit sizes being purchased for her. I was advised by another style expert that Oprah’s assistants would on occasion purchase more than one identical designer garment and then piece them together to create a single garment that better fit and flattered the celebrity host. Of course, Oprah may have been ignorant of some or all of what was being done to shield her from the harsh realities of the sizes she required – thus, the subterfuge by her shoppers and staff. Are these stories that were relayed to me by people in the fashion and style industries true, or mere urban legend? I can’t say for sure, but they do reflect remarkable creativity in sidestepping the issue of size.

On a more personal note, I introduced a line of fine jewelry for the plus-size market in 2003. My pieces were featured in Good Housekeeping and InStyle magazine, among others. However, when my publicist contacted the Oprah organization, she was told that the magazine staff was not interested in looking at or promoting my offerings “because Oprah is not plus-size.” Even if that description was true at the time, Oprah has demonstrated through her organization over the years a disdain for any designer catering to full-figured women. It’s nice finally to see a more inclusive approach to fashion.

There’s an interesting little caption on the photo of Oprah on her editorial page, which reads: “Reevaluating your perspective is never a bad thing.” Oprah, let’s hear your story of dealing with dressing as a woman wearing size 12 and up.  Now that would give us some perspective on the fashion world’s change of attitude.

Animal Prints Roar

Animal prints are a perennial fashion favorite, and they are back again this fall. Leopard print coats in particular are seemingly ubiquitous, although they require a certain energy to wear. These are not coats for those with shy, sweet personalities. These coats are attention-getters. Below, a sampling of this season’s leopard print coat offerings, from the August issue of InStyle magazine.

The high-energy symbolism of the leopard coat can be seen, for example, when beleaguered advice columnist Plum Kettle, the protagonist of Dietland on AMC, begins to step out from her old life and routines on the road to self-discovery. A newly exuberant Plum appears in several episodes wearing a leopard print coat.

If you love animal prints but a full-length coat may be a bit too much – trust your instincts here—there are all manner of accessories and garments that can bring a dash of animal print without taking over the look. Some examples can be seen in the fashion spread from the September 2018 issue of Glamour pictured above. The leopard print blouse would be striking with black slacks, skirt or suit.

A revved-up variation on the animal print is Gucci’s vibrant panther print. Singer and actress Kesha is lost in the Gucci dress she wears pictured in the August 27, 2018 issue of People. The print draws the eye, and the lovely woman wearing it is not the focus. Contrast that with singer Nick Cannon wearing a tracksuit made of the same panther print material. Cannon’s energy rocks the print; it doesn’t wear him.

If the energy conveyed by the print suits your personal energy, it can be a great match.

All That Glitters: Know Your Gold

I was struck by the headline on the one-page fashion piece in the July 2018 issue of Elle Magazine:  “24-Karat Magic:  Glam up a chill ensemble with GOLD BOHO CHAINS and DELICATE PENDANTS—the more the merrier.”

24 karat gold is, of course, pure gold – and it is unlikely you will ever come across any jewelry represented as such. 22 karat jewelry is about the highest karatage one comes across. Much more typical in the United States is 14 karat and 18 karat gold jewelry. 18 karat gold is 75% gold and 25% other metals; 14 karat gold is 58.5% gold and 41.5% other metals.

None of the jewelry pictured in the piece is 24 karat gold. Here’s a rundown of the pieces by designer, magazine description, and gold content as determined from my research on the Web:

  • Stone and Strand “gold charm necklace”: 14 karat gold rose charm necklace
  • Ariel Gordon “diamond and gold hoop earrings”: 14 karat gold pave huggies
  • Seb Brown “gold, diamond, aquamarine, sapphire and topaz ring”: 14 karat gold
  • Theodora Warre “gold-plated necklace”: no additional information available online
  • Aurelie Bidermann “gold-plated earrings”: no information available online
  • Pandora “gold pendant necklace”: 14 karat gold dazzling droplet pendant with cubic zirconia
  • Alighieri Jewellery “gold-plated pendant necklace”: gold-plated Il Leone necklace
  • Jennifer Meyer “gold, diamond and turquoise earrings”: exact earrings not seen at Barneys.com site; however, Meyer works in 18 karat gold
  • Gabriel & Co. “engravable gold and diamond bracelet”: 14 karat yellow gold chain engravable
  • Johnny Was “gold vermeil bangle”: 18 karat gold vermeil snake bangle with wrapped tail
  • Nalin Studios “gold-plated coin ring”: 18 karat gold-plated over 925 sterling silver  – gold vermeil – love ring

Note that, of the pieces described as “gold,” all are 14 karat except the Jennifer Meyer earrings, which are crafted in 18 karat gold.

“Gold-plated” refers to a thin plating of gold over another metal. That metal is likely to be a base metal such as nickel, bronze or lead. Because of the thinness of the gold, items that are gold-plated may need to have the gold plating renewed from time to time to keep the same appearance.

“Gold vermeil” refers to sterling silver covered with a layer of gold (usually by plating). This differs from gold-plated in that the metal underlying the gold is not a less expensive base metal. The Nalin Studios ring should have been described as gold vermeil in the magazine article.

You may come across jewelry, especially vintage jewelry, described and marked “gold-filled,” which refers to a process by which the item is covered in a layer of gold at least 1/20th of the total weight of the metal in the piece, in 10, 12 or 14 karat. Gold-filled jewelry has more gold content than gold-plated jewelry.

By all means, glam up your look with “gold” chains and pendants. But do your homework,  know what it is you are buying, and then buy with confidence.

eBay: Where Everything Old Is New Again

For years I blogged for the jewelry industry, following trends and the direction of design in bejeweled accessories, fine and faux. For more years I have been a collector of vintage costume jewelry and seller of those little treasures on eBay.

As a keen observer of what’s happening in jewelry, I am always intrigued to find a designer who pushes boundaries, even if their creations may not be to my taste. I am saddened to see designers (in some cases, well-known designers) who outright copy vintage designs and pass them off as their own. (I have called out a few of these designers in my blogs over the years.)  And I am delighted to see that current trends inevitably relate back to vintage designs that are available at prices accessible to just about everyone, no matter how small the budget, on eBay.

For example, mix and match bangle bracelets are having another moment in the spotlight. The July 2018 issue of Marie Claire suggests that its readers “Forget the bling. Keep things light and bright with enamel jewelry in flashy shades,” and adds the style hack: “Layer on dainty bracelets and stackable rings to create a look that’s all you.” Among the bracelets pictured are a $625 molded cuff of red enamel on sterling silver from Marla Aaron; a $475 red cuff of enamel on brass with gold vermeil from Nora Kogan; and $75 multi-color striped-effect enamel stretch bracelets from Roxanne Assoulin.

As I write this, there are over 5,600 enamel bangle bracelets available on eBay, starting at under $5 each plus a modest shipping charge within the United States, and often costing less when purchasing multiple bracelets from the same seller. In other words, for $75, you can put together an armload of enamel bangles.

Choose carefully, of course. Buy only from sellers with excellent ratings who take the time to disclose with care the condition of their wares. Vintage pieces are often much better made and more interesting in design than current offerings, but they may show minor age-appropriate wear. Keep in mind that a spanking new $625 enamel cuff may show some scuffs and scratches after a very few number of wearings.

Think outside of the box relative to the trend, however, and consider vibrant striped bracelets made of materials other than enamel. For example, in my eBay store, I offer a pair of vintage woven straw and cording striped bangle bracelets for $2.98 plus $2.95 shipping. That is not a typo.

Take these examples as just a starting point for finding treasures. From time to time in my blog, I’ll look at some of the current trends in fashion and their vintage counterparts available in my little eBay store, singerplum.

eBay branded shipping materials have adopted a new slogan:  “Shop like nobody else. Because you aren’t like anyone else.” How thrilled I was to see this — not just for the message, but because, bless ’em, the message is stated in correct English too. If you’re not a regular on eBay, check it out. You may be surprised and delighted by what you find.

The Myth of the Perfect White Tee & Other Style Advice from Lauren Hutton

When someone who has lived decades in the spotlight as a model and actress provides fashion advice, it’s worthwhile to give it pause.

In the May 2018 issue of Harper’s Bazaar, model and actress Lauren Hutton provides several fashion tips worth heeding. At 74 years old, she is featured in Amy Schumer’s new movie I Feel Pretty, a film that “chronicles a woman’s newfound confidence after she wakes from a fall in SoulCycle class believing she is the most beautiful creature on the planet.”  

About her own beauty and style, Hutton writes:  “It takes a long time to find your personal style. Most of us just sort of bump around in the beginning.”

She notes that, it’s been goodbye to four-inch stilettos after multiple operations on her leg following a motorcycle accident, but “Manolo Blahnik makes mid-heel slingbacks that feel like you’ve wrapped your feet in a Shakespeare sonnet.”

Hutton urges readers: “Forget the myth of one ‘perfect’ white T-shirt. To find the one that suits you, you must consider your skin undertone. If you’re pink, go for a creamy white, but if you’re yellow like me you’ll want a bright white. I stock up at the Row and J. Crew.”

“Why must working women wear such drab colors?”  Hutton quotes this question posed by fashion maven Diana Vreeland to designer Yves Saint Laurent. Hutton’s approach: “I always try to wear a pop of something wonderful, vibrant, brilliant–colors that feel alive.”

Food for thought!

“Never Pay for Shipping” and Other Questionable Shopping Advice

The March 2018 issue of the AARP Bulletin sent to all of AARP’s members is a special report entitled “What They Know That You Don’t:  Insider Secrets of Doctors, Plumbers, Cops, Mechanics, Vets, Waiters and 14 Other Pros.” While I am happy to hear what I perceive to be surprisingly sophisticated tips from a Benjamin Moore color export on choosing paint — for example, consider the effect of sunlight from the south versus light from the north on the feeling of the room — or the tough realities of property value from a real estate expert, I found one segment of the special report seriously wanting.

The Bulletin quotes a “veteran online shopper” identified as a “relationship manager” with a Texas firm. A veteran online shopper?  Is there anyone reading this blog who is NOT a “veteran online shopper”?

She advises comparing for identical items across similar stores — such as finding an item at Nordstrom and checking Macy’s “because they’re constantly having sales” to see if she can buy the item on sale. Apparently managing her relationship with Nordstrom is not a consideration. Be mindful that this strategy can seriously affect the livelihood of small boutiques in particular, which do not have the luxury of Macy’s to keep moving huge amounts of merchandise out the door as fast as possible. Does Nordstrom or the boutique provide you better customer service than Macy’s? Does having Nordstrom or that boutique available as a resource mean something to you? Would you be happy if Macy’s becomes your only option?

She writes that she always waits for sales at her favorite store. This is not necessarily great advice. If you need something specific — perhaps a dress that fits and flatters perfectly in the exact color you’d like, in time for a wedding next month — and you find it, grab it! Waiting for a sale is not good strategy. Items sell out. It doesn’t matter if you put it in your online cart. You might well have to wave your perfect purchase goodbye.

Then the “veteran online shopper” chosen as AARP’s expert on the subject veers significantly off course. Her dubious advice comes in the statement “I never pay for shipping.” She goes on, “If it’s not free shipping, it’s not for me.”

The issue with this pronouncement is that the cost of shipping is built into the cost of merchandise, and what ultimately matters is the total amount you pay. Does it make sense to pay $50 for an item with free shipping, when the same item can be had for $40 or as much as $43 with $6.95 shipping?  Of course not.

If you’re shopping on a website such as Amazon or eBay, you’ll find that some sellers offer free shipping and others do not. It should make no difference whatsoever if what you are trying to do is to purchase the item for the lowest cost.

One additional footnote:  The advice giver is not in the AARP demographic — she’s identified as being 37. There’s nothing wrong with advice from a 37-year-old, to be sure, but given the advice provided, perhaps AARP would have done well to tap someone over 50 with commensurate years of shopping experience.

Jewelry Can Spotlight Your Best or Worst Feature

As an image consultant, I advise my clients that jewelry can do much more than add a finishing touch to an ensemble. Chosen well, jewelry can also draw attention to one or more of the wearer’s best features.

For instance, someone with green or blue eyes may choose jewels of a similar hue to relate to her or his eye color. Repeating the hue provides pleasing harmony and brings the viewer’s eye back to the wearer’s eyes.

Jewelry can also provide directional emphasis. For instance, a long necklace can provide a vertical line that draws the viewer’s eye up and down.

A particularly fine example of the power of jewelry to spotlight a feature appears in the March 2018 issue of Harper’s Bazaar. Focusing on “the quest for a younger-looking neck,” the magazine promotes a neck cream sold on its web site and illustrates the sought-after effect with the photo of a model wearing huge earrings with a triangle-shaped drop from Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello.

Notice how the earrings point to the model’s neck. Not even the crystal-studded Gucci sunglasses distract from this effect.

For many women over 40, spotlighting the neck is not the desired effect. When choosing earrings, be mindful of how the earrings draw attention to your features. Long dangling earrings can end at a spot where they draw attention to your neck. And earrings as arrow-like as those in the photo above will bring every eye to that precise spot.

The Pitfalls of Pleated Midi Skirts: Uneven Hemlines

Pleated midi skirts are once more on fashion’s radar, and they can provide a graceful element to an ensemble. The March 5, 2018 issue of People presents color-block, printed, and leather versions – the leather pleated style pictured on Alicia Keys by an unspecified designer particularly attractive and intriguing.

Take a closer look at the photo of Gwyneth Paltrow wearing a printed design, and you can see the issue that arises with these skirts: the uneven hemline. Her skirt, by an unidentified designer, emphasizes the issue with the dark, solid bottom edge of the fabric of the skirt. The back of her skirt is shorter than the front.

Anyone blessed with significant bootie is well aware of this phenomenon. I recall constructing a skirt suit as a project at a design college class I took some years ago. Remarkably, I had no issues creating a wearable jacket, but the skirt was another thing entirely. I had neglected to add extra length to the back of the skirt to accommodate my derriere. The skirt had to be re-sewn.

With a wide, flowing skirt, rather than a closer to the body pencil skirt, the issue of an uneven  hemline becomes more noticeable. The February 2018 issue of Women’s Day pictures an ensemble with a metallic pleated midi skirt from Old Navy with a hemline that is not parallel to the floor.

Wider pleats and fancier designers do not necessarily ensure that the issue will not arise. Here is actress Emilia Clarke wearing a beautiful floral dress by Dolce & Gabbana, as pictured in the December 2017/January 2018 issue of Harper’s Bazaar.  It appears that the dress is intentionally designed to have a longer hemline in the front than in the back.

Perhaps Dolce & Gabbana are taking a common problem experienced by curvy women and turning it intentionally into a new fashion trend. Time will tell. Unless and until that happens, cast a critical eye on your skirts. The hemlines should be parallel to the floor.