Archive for the ‘Extreme Vanity’ Category

Kelly Gray circa 1999

During random dissassociative moments I find myself googling for vintage St. John ads.  I do it in part  because pop culture has destroyed my mental image of the midlife female with “Cougar Town” and reality TV, and I may be trying to scrub Hollywood’s Disgraceful Older-Woman imagery out of my brain with more appealing images.  The old St. John ads were purposeful design parodies, and they were fabulous, and the sophisticated look was in vogue in the late 90’s when I got divorced and started buying my own clothes.

The other reason is, I just bought my first St. John dress:

Isn’t it ordinary looking?  It’s really not: The department just store picks the wrong models for their established designer lines. On a middle aged woman with some shape St. John knits are perfect:  Professional, forgiving, just right, worth the price, but only on clearance.    I was lucky enough to be in a store that had my size: One of their stylists picked it out for me and I fell in love with the quality and the fit.  There is a reason the St. John Tribe is so devoted:  It’s one of the few design houses that cater the midlife body. Customers scream bloody murder when new designers try to “update” the style or fit.

As a woman at midlife, I find that if I want notice, I must command it. Waiters can be slow to respond to my black Banana Republic pantsuits. But they “ma’am” my St. John.

My first St. John was a $1000+ splurge, but I’d just gone through a period of extreme wardrobe aggravation. My super-abundant closet space had been overstuffed with clothes I loved but couldn’t wear, not because I’d gotten “fat” but because my body had changed shape without my permission.  My ribcage expanded, which made button-up shirts out of the question. All of a sudden I had hips . . . which was good in a way, since I’d never really had them before, but DAMN, I couldn’t button my tailored pants anymore.

Much in the way one’s eyesight fails in one’s forties, there is nothing that can be done about middle aged spread except buy new clothes.  This is why women in their forties wear yoga pants all the time:  We don’t want to admit we’ve reached the elastic-waistband-pants stage of our older female relatives, who we swore we’d never look like.  Unfortunately Time doesn’t care what we think.

I finally boxed my old size (4) and put them in the attic for some future when I magically reverted to my old weight, as if that would ever happen. I decided to give them to my niece. A year later, I boxed my size 6 clothes, and will probably give them to my younger sister.  Today, some of my 8’s don’t even fit, unless they’re knits, which means my wardrobe is now 95% knits. I’ve come to terms with it, and found a way to make it all look professional.  The smartest tactic was to go high-end retail on important items, and fill in the rest with stealth.  I went crazy during Coldwater Creek’s going out of business sale, and returned to my old online standby, Boston Proper’s slowly-morphing travel collection. Some recent acquisitions:

One would think I’d find solace in my shoes, because at least feet don’t get fat, right?  WRONG.  Feet expand and contract when hormones go whackadoodle.  For a year or so my feet shrank a whole size.  Then they grew back.  Now even they are tight.  Consequently my closet is full of shoes I can’t wear on any given day so . . . My advice?  Unless they are adjustable, shoes are NOT an “investment.”  DO NOT DO THIS:

So am I finally reconciled with my new body and my new closet? More or less, since Spooky doesn’t give a flip either way.  I can get through a work week without headaches now, and my old clothes no longer taunt me from their hangers. Out of sight, out of mind!  The shoes though . . . both my feet and my pocketbook say “Ouch.”


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Claridge & King – Quality tailoring, some ironing required 

I recently added four Izod no-iron cufflink button down shirts to my wardrobe.  Either my chest has deflated to the point where it no longer gets in the way of menswear inspired women’s fashion, or Izod has just figured out that women have boobs.  Either way I am happy to have more choices, and so long as I don’t have a drycleaning bill or a pile of ironing I’m going to wear them to work.

How times have changed: I used to be a bit of a fashion icon at my office.  I had a lot more energy back then, and spent a lot of time and money at the tailor. One of my hires, when I was the company recruiter in the mid-2000’s, was a beneficiary of  my mid-life weight gain:  I gave her several Dior jackets I’d outgrown, plus a few pair of really nice high heeled shoes.  Through the years (she said) she watched how I dressed and marveled at how no matter what was going on in the fashion world I always “got it;” i.e., I made it work for the office.  She confided she’d been following my fashion lead all along.

I can totally see my boss in this outfit.  Me, not so much anymore. These days, I’m the one in the cubicle, dressed like a boy who’s still in prep school.

Today that woman is my supervisor.   During the past two years she has been promoted two levels above me. Fortunately my new boss didn’t pay attention to the way I dressed while I was struggling with my hormones, squirrelled away on detail to Contracts, trying my best to remain under the radar. Those days were about glorified pajamas, but even then I made them work, favoring black and brown knits in sillouhettes that whispered “elegant” instead of “t-shirt.”  I managed to get several complements, even though I indeed, was wearing some form of a knit t-shirt and elastic waistband pants every damn day.

Sorry, not good enough, lady, they still won’t take you seriously

Today I’m feeling SO much better.  However, now that I’m back at my new-old job in engineering, I realize I can’t go back to being a fashion plate.  To be fashionable in Engineering is to be marked as frivolous, because I work primarily with and for men in a relentlessly masculine field (defense) where khakis and blue oxford shirts are the standard.   Looking young and dressing fashionably in 2010 contributed to my losing a customer  – I’m convinced of this – because the program manager, a very male-identified woman wearing khakis and blue oxford, didn’t take me seriously.

Victor Victoria

Since that humilating week of self-reflection I’ve been wearing a lot of menswear inspired tailored pieces, dressing like a boy essentially.  That’s right: I’m cross-dressing these days, going to work drag, business-casual drag.  My closet has changed so much that I began to wonder if the fashion magazines were promoting the look.  Perhaps I was just picking up on a new trend without really knowing it?  NOPE: Menswear-inspired women’s wear is no more a trend today than it is any other year, lurking in the background, because no matter where fashion goes, most of us still need to get up in the morning and go to work.

I’m not surprised that one of the first things my new boss pronounced when she took command was that an internal dress code would now be enforced, in order to raise the department’s image in the eyes of our paying customers.  My team lead assured me that I was doing “fine” and did not need to change anything; rather, it was the men wearing t-shirts and the women in flip flops who needed the talking to. “Business casual” is a confusing relic from the 1980’s, but folks in Engineering can be slow to pick up social cues, and difficult to change once a habit becomes ingrained.

Forbes: What Not to Wear to Work

You may have noticed how the “rules” – general though they are – are different for men and women.  Women can wear just about anything to the office these days so long that it’s neat and covers body parts that need to be covered. Apparently a woman needs to be wearing flip flops before someone lectures her on how to look like a professional.

I thought about this for awhile:  Perhaps dress codes need to be as stringent for women as they are for men.  Perhaps letting women off the sartorial hook and giving them much more creative license, is actually a problem? If men are required to cover their knees and wear sleeves and collars, but women are not, what does that say, really?   Perhaps it says a combination of things:

Carissa Rose’s Zarinah Shirt, for the woman with boobs and $125 to spend on just one shirt

1. The variability of women’s bodies, and the capriciousness and high cost of women’s fashion makes it unfair to impose a male fashion standard on women.  Men have it easy in that Brooks Brothers is the business standard and there is not much variation to it. Men learn the Standard when they are boys, and the Standard varies only slightly over generations. Every town has a store within driving distance that sells mens’ suits in nearly every cut and size.  Men can go into any department store and find a traditional shirt that fits in a number of classic colors and patterns.  They can also pay someone to wash and iron it for about a dollar.

Women, on the other hand, do not have a Brooks Brothers tradition. Even if women can find affordable button down shirts (rare) they’re more expensive to dry clean than mens’ shirts. If we decide to save money and wash ours at home, we’re stuck ironing them. It’s also too much to ask women to wear pantyhose when even the irregulars cost $5 pair and often last for just one wearing. Also, men still get free tailoring in department stores, but women do not.

2. Laziness.  Also: Picking Our Battles.  If you’ve not noticed, the fashion world isn’t trying to help women get promoted.  Neither is anyone else, so it’s up to us to figure it out.  However, life is busy and time and money are in short supply, so we wear whatever we can afford when we can find it.  If it’s “fun” so much the better. Marketing wants us to “feel better about ourselves” through shopping, so now we have all this pseudo-feminist “feeling empowered” BS that we fall for again and again. We’re so busy trying to “feel empowered” that we never get promoted to a job that will afford us that Chanel suit or YSL smoking jacket that will zoom us to Badass credibility.

Management has a similar time and energy crunch: There are only so many battles Management has the energy to fight, and our bad fashion choices aren’t among them. Unfortunately, when we don’t live up to Management’s internal, often poorly understood and largely unspoken standards we just won’t get promoted. They won’t tell us why, mostly because they’re not very self-reflective. Really, they have no idea why you’re not executive washroom material; you just aren’t. Next problem please.

Unfortunately I’m of the suspicion that the more lax requirements for women reflect (perhaps) a reluctant attitude toward female promotability in the first place. Meaning, women as a class are not really taken seriously so who as long we’re not distracting the menfolk, who cares what we wear?  If this is a true motivation it’s unfortunate.

Personally, I don’t care if I get promoted before I retire.  That said, I realize the young women in the office look to SOME of us lady old-timers for cues. I’m at the age where I SHOULD be at the top of my game, and dressing the part.  I don’t look or dress like their grandmother (yet), and the day that I do is the day I become invisible. While I still look like a player my sartorial slacking only encourages them to slack, which only encourages people to discount them.  That’s a problem.  SO, I need to step up my game, for the sake of the young women around me and THEIR promotions.

HOW I’m supposed to do this, with my closet full of bright knits and open toed shoes I barely wore this summer, and a bunch of boring prep school staples, will be the subject of an upcoming post.  For now it’s easy:  I just pack them up because it’s September, when the weather is so cold I naturally begin wearing more conservative business attire. It’s Turtleneck Time!

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I really do think I’ve found the perfect food:   Seaweed. I’m eating the stuff like crazy.  It’s full of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and anti-oxidants, is anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and anti-bacterial, and might even help burn fat! A 2010 study found the  algae can reduce our rate of fat absorption by 75 percent, thanks to its  inhibitory effect on a digestive enzyme called lipase.  Its glycemic load is practically nil. You can eat until you’re full and not worry about calories.

My favorite is Japanese wakame. It’s having a wonderful effect on my digestion, my skin and my energy level in general. Nutritionist Gillian McKeith, PhD, author of the You Are What You Eat Cookbook, calls wakame the woman’s  seaweed because it is loaded with osteoporosis-preventing calcium and  magnesium and acts as a diuretic (which helps reduce bloating).

It also tastes good. If you’re generally averse to eating your greens, as I am, this is the way to do it!

Sea kelp is also available as a dietary supplement, so if seaweed/kelp is difficult to obtain in your area, or just plain too expensive, supplements may be your most affordable option.  It IS possible to get too much iodine, however, and seafood in general has higher than average levels of naturally occuring arsenic. It’s also high in sodium, so don’t overdo it!

The cosmetic benefits of seaweed/kelp/algae are also impressive. It has a slippery texture and has been used in lotions, shampoos and facial masks for a long time.  However, it is helpful to collagen formation and may soon turn into a common ingredient in anti-aging topicals. The folks at La Mer have known this for a very long time, and slowly I’m seeing sea kelp show up in less expensive products like Alba Botanica’s facial toner  and Murad’s Acne and Wrinkle Reducer.  OK, Murad is not cheap, but it’s not as bad as what you’d pay for LaMer!

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The folks at SkinActives kindly offered a full-sized (!) sample of their Rosacea Control Serum.  I’ve been using it on my right cheek and so far so good, because I’ve had no adverse reaction to it yet.

It’s very similar to the bio-fermented marine serums offered by luxury potion purveyor La Mer.  However, Skinactives has added hyaluronic acid and epidermal growth factor (EGF) to their version, state-of-the-art ingredients known to do exactly what they’re supposed to do. For some odd reason La Mer doesn’t include either in its formulations. 

At approximately $15.50 per ounce the SkinActives Rosacea Control Serum is much less expensive than LaMer Regenerating Serum, which weighs in at $260 per ounce, which is frankly scary. On the other hand La Mer’s hydrating serum, which I do use,  is a sort-of comparable $25 per ounce, but you have to buy four ounces of the LaMer up front, which most folks can’t or won’t afford unless they’re convinced tourmaline is some kind of miracle mineral, which I’m not, at least not yet.

Here are the ingredients of the SkinActives serum:

Distilled water, Sea Kelp Bioferment, Pomegranate (Punica Granatum) Extract, Natural Active Peptides, Aloe polysaccharides, Green Tea (Camellia Sinensis) Extract, Hyaluronic Acid, Glutathione, Epidermal Growth Factor BT, Phenoxyethanol (and) Methylparaben (and) Isopropylparaben (and) Isobutylparaben (and) Butylparaben.

Being of northern Euro descent I’ve inherited the “Celtic Curse” of easily flushed cheeks (blush makeup? Who needs it?). Fortunately I only have a mild case of it.  Some foods trigger outbreaks, but for the most part my problem comes from being overly-sensitive to environmental assaults.

Rosaceans learn early not to expect too much from the potions they purchase. For a woman with reactive skin I’m thrilled whenever I find a product that soothes my skin instead of irritates it. But does the Rosacea Control Serum work? That depends on what you mean by “work,” but for the most part yes, it appears so.  It doesn’t necessarily get rid of any redness, but it does appear to soothe inflammation.  

Here’s how I can tell the SkinActives product “works,” besides comparing my treated side to the untreated one:  The serum makes the skin on my cheek very soft, like the rest of my face.  Usually inflamed cheeks feel kind of “hard” if that makes any sense, hard and a little bit uneven from the (little pustules (ew) sent by my white blood cells to naturally soothe it. SkinActive’s Rosacea Control Serum makes the worst part of my face look like the rest of it, which frankly ain’t so bad.

But wait! There  is more! While applying the rosacea serum to my right side I’m testing Elizabeth Arden’s ceramide serum on my left: Ceramides are, well, fat. They mimic the oils your face produces naturally. The benefit to us rosaceans is that it strenghthens the skin’s natural protective barrier, which protects us from environmental assaults.  About the ceramides I also say, so far so good.  They’ve done no harm, plus they moisturize my chapped winter skin. 

I’ll report on both products again in the springtime, because one surefire way to know that something “works” is that I’m willing to buy it again.  Stay tuned . . .

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After three months of testing Reviva’s Undereye Dark Circle Serum, either one of two things is true:

1. Reviva’s undereye serum does not work,


2. It is designed to combat a problem I do not have.

The auto-contrast and auto-color functions that came with my photo management thingamagig help reveal the problem as I see it: Dent under left eye. My dark circle problem isn’t that bad, but that one denty line really bothers me.  Was it there all along? Who knows.  All I know is I’m getting rid of it.  I also know that I’m fortunate enough to have so few real “problems” that I can indulge in this fuss over a small facial flaw.

A variety of factors are responsible for undereye circles, bags and puffiness.  For instance, many people  frustrated that “nothing” helps their undereye puffiness are surprised to discover their puff is actually fat, and that the only way to get rid of it is blepheroplasty or liposuction.   I was going to do both in 2004, but then I gave up wheat and the puffiness went away.  My problem was food allergies!  

Sometimes even makeup won’t  help, especially when one’s dark circles are due to one’s eye structure casting shadows on the face. Sometimes dark undereye circles are due to broken blood vessels, a problem that Reviva’s eye serum is supposed to help correct.  Most often, however,  dark undereye circles among the over-40 set are due to the skin becoming thin and transparent from age. I suspect my new-found undereye issues are a combination of structure and thin skin.  Filler injections and a collagen-building serums might be more effective than a serum targeted to broken blood vessels. 

Oh well, we live and learn. On to the next experiment!

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Any excuse to add a little Monty Python to the mix

We no longer have to settle for proxy wars in the never ending battle between the Crown and the Krauts:  Now everyone can watch one of the longest rivalries in Western history and see the players for who they are.  With Europe-wide sovereign defaults looming the veneer has worn off, and the relationship between England and the Franco-Prussians has devolved into bitter, childish sneering:

France, Britain engage in cross-Channel sniping amid tense politics, sour economic climate

Meanwhile, Bad Santa is handing out lumps of coal in the eurozone: Moody’s just downgraded Belgium’s credit rating to Aa3 with a negative outlook, many other countries are on downgrade watch, and the net euro Short position is at an all time record.  If you think things couldn’t possibly get worse, just wait a few weeks.

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Newt (noun)–a small, slimy, cold-blooded reptile with a primitive brain.

Newt Gingrich is not a lobbyist, or a womanizer, he insists!  No: He gives “strategic advice, from the private sector.”  He’s a consultant, especially to women’s ladyparts, and besides, he only actually married a few of them, and only dumped those when they got sick after he found someone newer/younger/dumber to put up with him.  

Those things “happened to him.”  They happened because he loved his country so much. Very unfortunate.  But God forgave him, the GOP will forgive him too!  And now that he’s getting older, slower and even uglier, even less likely to score now that he can’t pay off his account balance at Tiffany, Newt Gingrich has pledged to give up chasing tail, which is a bit like saying he’ll give up liver for Lent. While he’s at it though, he’ll also deny women abortion, oppose gay marriage, and decry Sharia law despite the fact he probably doesn’t even know what it is.*  Fixed!  He can run for president now! 

(Psst: Mr. Gingrich didn’t actually sign that pledge. Three other GOP presidential hopefuls have signed it, however.)

An advertisement for an online dating service called Ashleymadison.com which describes itself as the “the world’s premier extra-marital dating site”

Right wing talk show host Michael Savage has offered Newt Gingrich $1,000,000 to drop out of the race, but I don’t think Newt will accept it.  Men of Newt’s calibre are very weird about power. And what about those 85 ethics violations that got Newt run out of Congress, are the party faithful going to forgive him for those, too?  Actually, the Powers behind the GOP are hoping senility has set in with those who’d otherwise remember how much of a sleaze Newt was while he was Speaker of the House.

Newt’s battery operated blowup doll seems to approve of recent developments. Either that, or she “found some pills, and she eated them.”  Huh, you’d think by now they would be able to get the eyes right on those political wife androids.   Anyway, I wish those two a lifetime of happiness, just not in the White House. Egad. 

I didn’t watch the Dimwit Derby the other night.  I just couldn’t, because the GOP Clown Show is all the proof you need of how desperately the elites want us to re-elect Obama in 2012.  No matter which Republican candidate takes the nomination, he will be a non-choice, and on that I’ll place my last $10,000.

* There is no one “sharia law.”  Sharia is Arab for “The Path” and consists of principles and precepts whose interpretations can vary from country to country, even from village to village. A few rural backwaters in some Arab countries have brutal interpretations of what “justice” and “propriety” mean.

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