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Friday, August 31, 2012

Pleasure Knows No Age

Taking joy in living is a woman's best cosmetic. ~Rosalind Russell

The other day I was at my son's karate class, on my laptop browsing a fashion website. Another regular was sat next to me quietly working a crossword puzzle. She peeked over my shoulder and we struck up a conversation for the first time.  Clearly she was quite the fashion enthusiast and loved the site.  Our conversation continued. Despite her obvious enthusiasm she kept saying things like 'it's not for me anymore' or 'I'm past all that.'   

???!!!  Excuse me??

As far as I'm concerned, you're only past it when you're 6 feet under. When you no longer wake up each day faced with the legal necessity of dressing.  When you can no longer spend far too much time scheming about how to finagle the money for that totally unnecessary pair of shoes out of your budget, or secretly plan on getting up before dawn for a sale where that pair of unreasonably expensive jeans will be 50% off….when you are no longer physically able to elicit any more pleasure from how you look, THEN and only then are you truly 'past it.'  Until that day there is still the chance to squeeze some measure of happiness from putting together certain colors, textures, concepts, sensual experiences or anything else you can get from putting clothes on your back. As long as that chance exists you cannot be 'past it.'

She brings a little boy to the karate lessons- I assume he's her grandson- and she's always quietly stylish and chic, despite what she said.  She's clearly far too lively to just give up like that. In my little world that's a total tragedy.  From what she says she has a closet bursting with clothes and assorted accessories from a career working in fashion.  I don't understand why someone wouldn't wear all the clothes and jewelry one has. Life is short, and not a dress rehearsal. Why dedicate all that space to the stuff if you're not going to use it??

Life is a bumpy road, and so much of it is spent trying so hard to please and placate others on so many levels. So much of it is ugly and bitter, along with the beautiful and sweet- all of it tied up in compromises with other people and situations that sometimes demand all too much of us.  Beyond certain basic requirements clothing is one of the few forms of pleasure totally dedicated to your whims. It's an opportunity to make yourself happy anew each day.  It's one of the few things in life that is generally better the more you indulge your preferences. It's calorie free and improves the impression you make on others. What's not to love? Why would one ever willingly give that up?

Our conversation finally ended when  we were made aware by another parent that our conversation had gotten so animated as to disturb the lesson being taught. (Opps.)  Now that does NOT sound to me like a woman who's 'past it.' 

What a shame.  Clearly I'm going to have to work on her……

Happy Dressing! 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Over Easy, Thank You

"I have never known a really chic woman who's appearance was not, in large part, an outward reflection of her inner self." ~Mainbocher

I think I've been reading books on personal image since I first began to read, and every now and again, usually in the older books, I come across this concept- sometimes called French, sometimes European. In these books anything even vaguely European seems automatically to be seen as very 'chic.'  It's the idea of the extremely streamlined wardrobe with all personality being in the various accessories. I've been to Europe, and I suspect this 'concept' came about as a result of the closet size in most European abodes more than anything else. All that beautiful historical architecture includes NO room for closets. Regardless of the reasons of origin it definitely has its advantages.

Start with the extreme, streamlined wardrobe- we'll use the ever popular and sophisticated all black.  In and of itself not terribly interesting, but it has the advantage of being easy to assemble- it doesn't require a lot of time or effort. Done right it's also a very strong, personal fashion statement.  It's also safe if you're color blind, or just feel overwhelmed by the concept of combining colors. Or just hate shopping. With all black all you need worry about is design lines. You don't need to buy very much at all- if you buy fairly good quality fabric you should be able to dress many garments up or down with accessories according to occasion. Also, since it's all one color, you'll be able to mix and match all pieces, so that's taken care of. VoilĂ - tiny wardrobe. 

If the idea of this kind of simple wardrobe appeals to you, there are other options to explore; all black and white (if you can wear that much contrast,) shades of all one color; all denim and white, all denim and black, all shades of cream and tan, and so on. You get the idea.  It's all about simplicity.

For now we'll stick with the all black option. So, you have your terribly chic, teeny-tiny, streamlined, all black wardrobe. Now we add accessories with the simple goal in mind of relieving all that black and creating interest.  The black background now becomes your 'canvas,' so to speak.  Now you get to express your aesthetics, your mood, etc. You can choose all one color accessories, as every other color 'goes' with black. You can decide on a 'theme'- all nautical accessories; all accessories with a 'circle' theme; an Indian influence, a certain texture, etc.  You can choose a 'style'- today (or maybe every day for you) you'll do vintage- all 1950's.  Maybe it's bohemian for you. Or a pronounced status image. Some might like handmade jewelry, and the all black wardrobe serves as a perfect backdrop. As always, I'm sure there are more options than I could ever dream up. 

This idea, by the way, is also very handy when  you're in the process of losing weight. Especially with the all black concept.  Buy very few garments in your current size, rely heavily on your accessories that don't need to be replaced as your size changes, and when ready, buy the minimum in the next size down. See? Clever. 

The only downside to this concept is that if you don't really work the accessories to their full potential you risk feeling constrained with all that black. (Or whatever color you've chosen.) It can quickly go from 'chic' to 'severe' or 'boring.'  You have to shop for new accessories on a regular basis to keep things new and interesting- much like you would otherwise with shopping for new clothes each new season. Some of the differences are you don't necessarily need to try them on, size isn't an issue, and you can get away with spending considerably less than you would for new clothes.  Or you can splurge- the accessories in this scenario will be showcased by the simple backdrop, so theoretically they can have more 'impact.' 

Anyway, it's just another option. Even if it's not for you, it may be just the thing on a day when you're feeling overwhelmed by life, and just don't need to make any more choices.  It's also a great space-saving way to pack for traveling…

Happy Dressing!

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Beautiful People

"It's difficult to speak to beautiful people. No matter how much you pretend otherwise, you always want them to like you."  ~Doug Coupland

Ah, The Beautiful People.  They always seem to look great. Skin glowing, usually physically fit, clothes always flattering, hair perfect- even if it's not all in place, somehow it still looks great…

The Beautiful People are The Beautiful People because they have an entire team of people behind them who's job it is to make them look attractive. They aren't necessarily born any more or less beautiful than you or I, they just have advantages that many of us don't. They justify the expense and time involved in maintaining their image because they wish to be one of The Beautiful People.

They, unlike us, don't schlep home after a long day, open the perhaps dilapidated, too-small fridge and stare at the 1 wilted celery stick and 2 carrots thinking 'I'm just too tired to cook healthy tonight.' They have someone who thought out a healthy, well balanced meal plan for them and then cooked it for them. (And I'd bet good money that our BP didn't have to clean the kitchen after, either.) They sometimes have things like a gym in their house; maybe even their own trainer who shows up and gives them motivation when they have none. They probably have a stylist who chooses most of their clothes for them based on their proportions and coloring and current fashion- and I'm pretty sure their wardrobe budget will be a tad larger than mine. Just a bit. And that hair- they go to the salons I drive by on occasion and stare at- the ones with the 'if-you-have-to-ask-you-can't-afford-it' facade. They spend hundreds on the cut and color- and they have it done on schedule, too.  No letting your roots go because you're just to busy here. Not to mention the regularly scheduled facials, massages and other spa goodies…

Why, you may be wondering, am I wallowing in the inequities between the haves and the have nots??  Well, do you remember what I said early on- 'They aren't necessarily born any more or less beautiful than you or I, they just have advantages that many of us don't.' Of course this is true. My apologies to any Beautiful People who may have the misfortune to come across this blog and are Deeply Offended. 

This line of thinking leads one (me, anyway) to the idea that anyone can, within certain boundaries, become one of 'The Beautiful People.'  Ok, so you may not have the resources to hire a chef, a stylist, a personal trainer, spend thousands per year on your hair and even more on clothes (those are the 'boundaries' I was talking about) but I will point out that there are ways pretty much anyone can do the basics with whatever they currently have. 

To be one of the Beautiful People you must be healthy. Period. And healthy is not a size, shape, age, or color.  It's treating your body with respect and care.  It means eating healthy and getting regular exercise. You have to eat, so presumably you buy food.  So, buy healthy foods and take the time to put together balanced meals. You don't have to buy a gym membership to exercise- just go outside and walk for 30 minutes a day. It also means regular upkeep on the basics of grooming.  When you buy clothes make sure the design lines are flattering and the color makes your coloring look wonderful, and also that it reflects what you want your image to say about you.  You should be able to do these things without spending any more money than you are now.  The one thing they will possibly require more of is self discipline. Perhaps more than our BP has to muster on a daily basis, but there you go- that's life. Besides- self discipline is a fabulous reward in itself. 

Still want those spa goodies, but have don't have a spa budget?  Find a local massage school that does massage for the general public.  I have one just down the street where I can get a 50 minute massage for $20.  I can't do this as often as I'd like, (that would be every day) but it's a luxury I really, really enjoy. Are facials your thing? I know of a beauty school not far from me that does a basic facial for $20, and a fancy-schmanzy one for $40.  Is your crowning glory your obsession? Don't be shy- when you see someone with a cut you like ask them where they got it. Hair stylists will sometimes negotiate.  Keep at it and eventually you'll find a stylist who's great at the cut you love at a price you're willing to pay.  

All these things take time and effort- but what's a little self discipline in exchange for becoming one of the Beautiful People?

Happy Dressing!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Earn Your Image

Self-respect is the fruit of discipline; the sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no to oneself. ~Abraham J. Heschel

An ad I saw a while back has remained stuck in my mind- bold lettering said 'you earn your body.' I took it to mean that you earn the condition that your body is in by the choices you make on a daily basis; what you put in your mouth and whether or not you exercise. Blunt, but we all know it's true.  

Some people struggle with feeling unattractive to begin with, so they excuse themselves by saying there's no point to making an effort. This may sound unkind, but all this perspective does is give one permission to avoid taking responsibility and to feel sorry for oneself, too.  The problem with this is that aside from being a self defeating choice, it's  totally invalid.  

Ugly is a state of being, not a set of physical characteristics. Ugly is a philosophical paradigm; being filled with hate, scorn, contempt or other destructive thoughts and feelings. It's making your decisions from this place.  It shows in everything a person does, shows in their face and actions and makes them ugly. Not just emotionally and mentally ugly, but really, truly, physically ugly too.  That's a lose/lose scenario if ever there was one.

So let's get back to the better, positive, empowering choices.

The good news is much if not all damage done by said bad choices can be at least improved if not eliminated by replacing the bad choices with good ones.  It may take time- maybe even a very long time- but there will be payoffs all along the way. It's also going to be harder- maybe much more work- you'll have to commit to moving your body on a regular basis, going to the grocery store to buy real food, actually cooking healthy meals.  Maybe changing destructive thought patterns. This is the stuff called self discipline.  Remember the payoffs along the way? Better sleep, clearer thinking, more energy, getting sick less often. This will probably all start well before you begin to really look better. And you will look better, too- I promise. But you may find that though looking better is wonderful, the most amazing part is how much better you feel. All of this new-found self discipline will most likely lead to more self respect as well. 

With all of this wonderful, 'warm-fuzzy' stuff going on you're bound to be ready to pay more attention to your appearance.  This, of course, is where I'm going to do my 'thing.'  If you're on a journey like the one described above, and combine that with expressing yourself aesthetically and choosing colors and design lines that flatter you, you'll exponentially improve your appearance. Just imagine- you're looking and feeling physically better, feeling more self respect, as well as the happiness that comes with feeling good about what your image is saying about you.  

That's well worth all the work- that's a self-image worth earning.

Happy Dressing!

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Infinite Garden

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

I've read that flowers can be cross bred, which I guess means there are in fact an infinite number of possible flower species.  I love that thought.

This is a great starting place to explain one way I see the concept of 'beauty.' There is no single flower that equals the concept of 'beauty' to the exclusion of all other flowers- or even a single flower that could definitively be called 'more' beautiful than other flowers because it's completely subjective.  There are certainly flowers that are more popular than others, and there are flowers that are more showy than others, but that doesn't make them somehow 'better.'  It just means they're more popular and more showy.

One of my favorite flowers is the lobelia. It's a small blue flower, one that many consider rather unassuming. Someone once told me it grows wild in the cracks of the sidewalks in England, and is generally thought of as being downright uninteresting.  Yet it's intense blue violet color never ceases to amaze and enthrall me.  I don't know how many pictures I've taken of the tiny lobelia I have growing on my patio. (I'm sure my facebook friends groan at the site of yet another album of lobelia.) Others are similarly enthralled with the buganvilla that grows so readily here in southern California- I like the flower, enjoy it when I see it,  but not enough to give it space on my small patio.   

But that's not the point I'm trying to make. The point is that all flowers are beautiful in their own way, and the sheer variety of species makes each one's uniqueness even more so- that there are so many flowers, and they can be so very, very different in so very many ways enhances the beauty of each. This is how I see people, too. There are as many definitions of beauty as there are people on this planet. It's simply a matter of creating the ideal conditions in which one can 'bloom.'  To my way of thinking, that begins with acceptance- of ones self, and of others. Wayne Dyer says that negative thoughts weaken you and positive thoughts strengthen you, and the immediate energy field. I know that when I consciously work on choosing positive thoughts over negative or unkind thoughts, towards others or myself, I feel better and have more energy. I'd say that's an example of the mind/body connection, no?

No matter what kind of flower you might see yourself as, it's pointless and destructive to compare yourself to others in a judgmental, negative way- be it to feel superior or inferior. It simply serves no useful purpose. There's always going to be someone who's more popular, or who's appearance will get more attention than yours, for whatever reason. And there's always going to be someone who has a quieter presentation than yours. Enjoy them all for what they have to offer, and yourself for what you have to offer- and be grateful that all such flowers exist, as our differences are part of what makes us, and life, interesting.

Happy Dressing!