Search This Blog

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Great Scott, it's the Jazz Age again

Looking Our Best’s (LOB) is in a nostalgic daydream. She is lounging on a distant summer lawn, wearing a big hat, sipping a Tom Collins. Through the mist, a green light beckons. She is borne back ceaselessly into the past.
Mia Farrow
Okay, you smart bookish types. You have recognised shameless paraphrasing here, courtesy of F Scott Fitzgerald’s classic 1925 novel, The Great Gatsby.  But with the latest movie version about to open the Cannes Film Festival,  you’d need to have been mouldering lifeless at the bottom of a swimming pool to miss the fashion references just about everywhere. LOB fondly remembers the 1974 film version. It featured a dreamy Robert Redford as Jay Gatsby, and an ethereal Mia Farrow as the focus of his hopeless love, Daisy Buchanan. Costumes for that film were courtesy of Ralph Lauren; this time around costume designer Catherine Martin (wife of director Baz Luhrmann) has hired Miuccia Prada to create Daisy’s (Carey Mulligan) shimmering flapper girl look.  

Carey Mulligan
Gatsby (Leonardo di Caprio) is dressed by Brook’s Brothers. (Fitzgerald is recorded as being a customer of that purveyor of fine clothing for gentlemen, and mentioned Brook's Brothers in his writings;  meanwhile, the Regent Street store currently hosts a display of costumes from this latest film.)   
In both screen versions, the clothes reflect the desire among the wealthy, Bright Young Things of Long Island during the early1920s to mix their Ivy League classics with the fashions then arriving from Europe. But for us bright older thingies inspired by a Jazz Age style revival, what happens if you're no longer in your 20s, but in your Roaring 50s instead?  Will you look tragic second time round wearing a chiffon dropped-waist tea dress with demure little strappy shoes? But we don't have to stick to an elder-Daisy look;  us grown-up woman might look classier by channelling the man himself in his striped blazers, cricket flannels, cashmere sweaters and co-respondent shoes. 
The novel turns on the unwritten snobbery between old money and new money; in LOB’s case, read no money. So no holiday in the Hamptons this year again, and so far, your blogger's only concession to a hint of Gatsby style has been a pair of cream, leather Oxford brogues from John Rocha,
(Debenhams sale, €44) plus a straw fedora ( Penneys, €5). But if LOB were a money-no-object Long Island aristo, she would be chauffeured around in a vintage Rolls, wearing this striped cotton blazer and wide-legged white trousers by Ralph Lauren (below left).

Ralph Lauren' classic blazer

Ralph Lauren's modal dress in vintage ivory
In the book, Daisy and her boyish friend Jordan Baker are described at one point as lounging on an enormous sofa in white dresses. LOB loves a white summer dress but is ever conscious again of the style mutton monitor (i.e., mutton dressed as lamb). But this pleated, sleeveless ivory dress (Ralph Lauren, right)
has an ageless elegance and would be perfect for afternoon tea on the lawn with a passing hedge-fund manager/bootlegger. Fresh white separates, as opposed to a white dress, may be the more age-appropriate option. The mannish look of these vintage-style, pleated-waist trousers is complimented by fine-cotton lawn,  sleeveless embroidered top, (below left) both from Malene Birgir.

Malene Birgir's cricket style trousers
T'hat's all from Malene Birgir
 The same designer creates a similar nautical style with these red wide legged trousers, ivory linen pullover and large crochet hat (right). 
To afford such a classy wardrobe, you might also require the adoring attentions of an old-fashioned millionaire.  And yet,  you don't want to over-Egg (sorry) the Gatsby theme. A couple of well chosen vintage accessories could be style reference enough for us mature flapper  gals. As our eponymous hero exclaims in the book:  "Can't repeat the past? Why of course you can!"  Too right, old sport...

Friday, 19 April 2013

Do it again

Richard Avedon for Vogue (1955)
If old is the new 'new', what if you’re heading towards antique status yourself?  Can you ever be too old to wear vintage? On innocently asking this of the woman behind Jean Cronin Vintage, Looking Our Best (LOB) has been taken to task. “I disagree totally with categorising -  it’s actually ageist.” It wasn’t quite handbags (second-hand) at dawn when your blogger met up with the effortlessly stylish Jean Cronin for some grown-up fashion expertise, and LOB concedes that the blog could sometimes be mistaken as a dreaded ‘Dress Your Age’ edict.  But still the feeling persists among those of us heading towards our sell-by date that if you fall for a beautiful length of old lace to wear, you could end up looking like Miss Havisham. Not so, it's all about confidence, says Jean, and knowing what suits us is one of the advantages that comes with age. That is what should guide when buying something new, not whether it’s vintage or modern, she says.  “You wouldn’t walk into Debenhams and buy a polka dot dress with huge underskirt and frills just because it has a 1950s style,” she argues. “ You buy what you know suits your shape, and the same goes if it’s vintage.”  
 The very word ‘vintage’ has become something of a catch-all phrase, but for Jean, it simply means beautifully tailored clothes from the past, professionally finished, and in wonderfully tactile fabrics such as pure silk, cashmere and tweed. As a young art college graduate back in the late 70s, she co-founded Xanadu, the tiny Dandelion Market second-hand shop that blossomed into an Art Deco-style boutique on Dublin's Drury Street.  Three decades on, she remains the go-to collector for beautiful vintage clothes, whether you are an art director on a film, or simply someone looking for a special one-off. Jean has also designed her own clothing and accessories range, and runs a designated boutique in The Loft Market, (pictured right) blending old with contemporary.  And that’s the key to making vintage work, whatever your age, she says.
“You never wear all vintage – you would just look like you are auditioning for a play in the local parish hall. Mixing modern with something older is how the look becomes individual. But I think there is confusion out there as to what constitutes vintage. A lot of stores are selling 80s clothes as vintage. It’s a look that’s hard to wear and doesn’t really doesn’t suit anyone over 30.”  For us grown-ups long past our 30s, little black dresses and tailored jackets from bygone decades have never gone out of style. A classic designer label will undoubtedly influence a purchase, and you can still find the odd gem (Jean sold Yves Saint Laurent and Dior pieces at a recent vintage fair).  

The same goes for accessories, especially handbags with beautifully aged leather, and that could probably tell a good story. Costume jewellery offers something unique too. Pearls – which don’t have to be real – are worth treasuring, she says. Clip-on earrings (pictured left)  give a great period look, and are often more beautifully designed than pierced earrings. 
She is enthusiastic about wearing brooches, although LOB feels you can end up looking like your grand aunt. “You wear them in a different way – high up on a collar, on a dress with a low-cut back, pinned to a belt, or on to a bag.  
It’s the same with silk scarves, which are beautiful in their own right. In the past, women wore them under the neckline of coats, as much to save on dry cleaning as anything else. We wear them over garments now.  ” Vintage shoes are in a different category again, and Jean acknowledges that many people are not keen on stepping into the previously worn. “I don’t have any such reservations, because vintage shoes are so beautifully made. They usually have leather soles – something you don’t get with modern shoes. I have original brogues from the l950s made from kid leather. 
I wear them with jeans in the summer. In fact, it you look at modern shoes, they are generally reproductions of styles past. ” You can check out Jean's take on vintage, along with a host of other exhibitors, this Sunday at the Spring 2013 Vintage Fashion & Decor Fair.  So if you are a certain vintage, and do find that special treasure,  the trick is, yes, do it again, but do it differently. 

Among LOB's other happy hunting vintage Dublin stores are:

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Brows options

It's been a week of news dominated by the passing of You Know Who, with too much coverage resulting in Looking Our Best (LOB) shouting at the radio till hoarse. As eyebrows are raised all over the land with this excessiveness, what better subject for this week’s post? (Eyebrows, that is. Not the Tory party's late, er, sweetheart.)

Frida and her famous 'monobrow'
LOB must admit that the most useful item in her make-up bag is a little pot of MAC matte eye-shadow in Omega, applied daily to the fading brows with a small angled brush.  Without this sweep of definition, LOB’s visage has all the character of a boiled egg.  Eyebrows have the power to transform, as evidence all around shows.  Frida Kahlo famously defied convention and exaggerated hers to hirsute glory in self- portraits; one time Bond man Roger Moore based his acting range on lifting one or the other quizzically; current catwalk favourite Cara Delevigne is eyebrow icon of the moment across all media.

Not that any stylish Baby Boomer needs to go to such extremes. Our ‘seen-it-all’ generation knows that eyebrows are as subject to trends as hemlines and have witnessed crazes swinging from the Biba models of the late 60s and their barely-there look, to 80s Calvin Klein muse Brooke Shields whose bushy brows were as much a statement as those over- priced jeans.  Those of us who over-plucked in our teens are now reaping the middle-aged harvest of sparse and unwieldy outcrops. But we’re smart enough to know that flattering eyebrows are not something you draw on with a black pencil in two comedy semi-circles. Marlene Dietrich could carry that look off, but then she was Marlene Dietrich. Audrey Hepburn,
Audrey Hepburn - the benchmark for dramatic arches
on the other hand,  remains a point of reference for young and old alike, and the knowledge that full brows can make the face appear more delicate by contrast. This doesn’t mean that we ladies of a certain age can let them grow so rampantly we look like Sam Eagle. If you must pluck, the experts say to stay away from the actual brow line, and tweeze only the annoying little stray hairs beneath the natural line. Another thing to remember is that eyebrows are often regarded as twins, when in fact each eyebrow can differ slightly – and therein lies the danger of over-plucking to match up.  Threading is still holding strong as the popular method to keep stragglers at bay.  Grown-up colleague Cath is a fan.  “I over-plucked my eyebrows at 19 and they have never grown back fully. I’m wary of using tweezers now. Threading gives a flattering shape, the pain is over quickly, and it lasts longer.”  It’s also relatively in-expensive. By spending a little more, you could opt for a salon dye. In fact, there are so many more brows’ options these days it can get bewildering.   Over to Annie G, beauty supremo at the long established Make Up Forever boutique in Dublin’s Clarendon Street.

“Colour and definition is very much down to the face shape of each individual, and of course with age, we tend to lose our natural colouring. Black eyebrows are too severe -  I believe lighter brows are more flattering on mature faces. On the other hand, not having any definition at all can make us look almost alien.  It’s worth it to get a make-up artist to advise on shape and tone. Eyebrow pencils should be applied with very fine, feathery strokes to fill in any gaps, and preferably with a shade slightly lighter than your natural brow colour. Follow this with a brush of matte shadow to soften and seal the pencil strokes.”  Permanent brows are a whole other world, says Annie. “I have seen some very good results, but you need to tread carefully as you will have to live with them for a long time if it goes wrong.”  She also recommends compact kits to store in your bag,  such as MUFE’s Aqua eyebrow product which comes with special brush and in a range of colours, or the handy brow definer pen.
Marlene - the high brow 30s style

So no reason, then,  for us femmes to become invisible when reaching the proverbial uncertain age. With a bit of luck, we, and those eyebrows, should remain in high definition for another while.  

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Sew far, sew good

Over the Easter break, Looking Our Best (LOB) nearly choked on her chocolate egg while reading one of the 'quality' newspapers. The affront was over a TV review with the following claim:  “No-one in Europe under 50 sews, or wants to…”  The critic was referring to the new series, The Great British Sewing Bee, which started this week on BBC Two.  But much worse were his criticisms about the presenters of this show’s predecessor, The Great British Bake-Off,  as being old (Mary Berry) and fat (Paul Hollywood).  
Well, how dare anyone considered old or overweight be allowed on television –  really, what is the BBC coming to? 
Amy Butler's simple ruffled scarf
Seriously, the review was also about how old-hat, so to speak, the notion of a programme celebrating DIY crafts is. (LOB would wager a bet that this same reviewer spends a small fortune on his artisan fondant fancies, and hand-made shirts, yet scorns the idea of anyone actually taking time out to learn or indulge these skills.) Sure, we have time-saving gadgets galore, and information available at the tap of a fingertip.  But with the economy banjaxed, the weather rotten, and wallets emptier than an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, the nation can do with a comforting, nostalgic bail-out now and then.
All of this is by way of introducing this week’s post celebrating ye olde craffte of home sewing. LOB believes it’s our current time-poor culture, not age,  that holds us back.  That, and perhaps a lack of basic skills. And a sewing machine.  Modern sewing machines are a far cry from the designs of old which were so large, they were actual items of furniture. IKEA has a lightweight and basic design for around the €55 mark that will sit easily on your kitchen table.  And while you're browsing around the store, the range of Scandinavian designed textiles here will surely inspire you on to DIY home furnishing. The simplest thing of all to brighten up a room after the long winter, and for a novice to make,  is a wall-hanging, tablecloth or light bedspread – basically a length of fabric which can be neatly hemmed all around. From that, graduate to making a simple cushion cover, and hey presto, you’re off.
Patterned cushions and fabric bags by Amy Butler 
 Hemming, like sewing on a button,  is a skill everyone should have, young or old, male or female.  You know the scenario, you’ve found a garment that is almost perfect – if only it was a little longer/shorter?  There are online tutorials for basic sewing skills, while most fabric stores can supply information on sewing classes available locally. LOB’s current favourite fabric outlet is The Cloth Shop, brimful of dress and furnishing materials, as well as haberdashery. 

An old favourite is the family run Murphy Sheehy, who has been supplying Dublin dressmakers and upholsterers with keenly priced fabrics since the 1940s. Likewise,  Hickey Fabrics stores stock a wide collection, including their printed cotton craft materials which make the most colourful simple summer bags and cushion covers. World -famous Liberty fabrics can be ordered on line if you are in the mood for delicate cotton lawn in retro prints.  Worth checking out for beautiful trimmings is A Rubenesque in Powerscourt Townhouse Centre – great for simple but appealing ideas on customising a plain garment.  
Truly inspirational is the online site of Amy Butler, where you can even download free sewing patterns, as well as avail of helpful tips. 
Summer coat in Sandalwood print
This advocator all things sewing- related designs sumptuous fabrics which can be used for a variety of items to easily make.  Illustrated at the top of this post is Amy’s simple but effective ruffled scarf.  There are also patterned cushions and roomy tote bags (above left).  For the more adventurous needlewoman, check out the Sandalwood print lightweight reversible coat (pictured right) made up in her bright Rowan design.
All information on online purchases, as well stockists, and a sewing forum are available on her site.

As for the notion that sewing (and a television programme on same) is only of interest to Older People, that tv pundit should trying telling that to young fashion and textile students in art colleges, and hip twenty-something blogging on sewing forums.
Too old, eh?  
The little sew-and-sew....