Monday, August 31, 2009

Lilly Goes Clubbing - At Lilly Lovers

Lilly goes clubbing, despite her trepidations. Twice. So much for trepidation.

At the Lilly Lovers blog.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

Saturday Morning at 7:47am

This summer I have spent a lot of time with the boy child. He's not in Hawaii, or Costa Rica, or Australia. I am not in China, or India, or New York. He's on the sofa a lot. I'm on the sofa a lot. We sit together. I have heard his thoughts on great novels of the past 25 years, why he likes reality TV, and the interpretation of Pokemon. I have seen him drive cars, wander around the house in boxers, buy new shoes. All is not one giant swell of mother love, however. I bought him new soap. The Axe began to overwhelm me. Anyone who has spent time with teenage boys lately knows whereof I speak.

I have such empathy for boys. I see how hard it is for some to grow up and become a man. I remember talking once to my brother the psychologist. Explaining how even women highly competent in their jobs often want a man who will kill metaphorical monsters. How when you have children you are suddenly felled by lack of sleep, and nursing babies, and the enormous realization that you do not in any way know what you are doing. And were a monster to show up, you'd be in trouble. Even those of us who fought like hell in our careers take one look at that soft baby in our arms and another look at the charging monster and say to our partners, "You go kill it. You go kill it." My brilliant brother said that when he sees monsters his brain tells him not to go near them. I sympathize.

To my great delight, the boy child has started to sing this summer. He sits in his room playing keyboard and I hear him singing other people's songs. He calls me in to listen. Sometimes it sounds so beautiful I want to cry. Once I did. I don't think he noticed. Not that his voice is perfect. I am realistic. He is not the next Andrea Bocelli. But he has something, a tone, something lovely and human beyond the joy I feel hearing my child do just about anything. I might be wrong about this. It's as true as I can make it.

Yesterday he came out of his room. I was sitting on the sofa. "Mom," he said, "Do you want to come hear my first song?"

Every mother reading this will now start to laugh so hard they fall off their sofas. In fact, everyone might fall off those sofas. Do I want to hear my son's first song? Do I want to hear my son's first song? Uh, yeah.

The song was good. Better than I expected. I felt the guilty pleasure every mother does when their child is good at something. I didn't cry. I was happy.

It is different now that he is 19 than when he was 8, playing piano. I understand that. Or 5, strewing origami creatures across the dining room table. Those things I got to show off. I know, bad mom. Sorry. But it's true. Now the stakes are higher. This is also true. I can't let drop in casual conversation, "Oh, my son wrote his first song the other day." It's not my achievement. It's his. He is not that soft baby in my arms, and I have known this for some time. It makes me cry only now and again.

Game on. Boy child 1. Monsters unknown.


Friday, August 28, 2009

Argyle Memories

I like argyle as a concept. There's something about the diamonds in the pattern, the crossing lines, the mathematics, that feels right. Argyle reminds me of Fibonacci series, another pattern I'm fond of, although it's not widely available from woolen mills.

But my strongest feelings for argyle now are not abstract. Not all that long ago I had a very sad Christmas. To avoid sadness I went to a luxury hotel. Not an overwhelmingly pure or spiritual choice, but the best I could come up with. This hotel was in Oahu. The Halekulani. Tall, white, directly on the blue, blue bay. Full of families from Japan on holiday.

Golf is big in Japan. Apparently so are golf sweaters. One humid afternoon I wandered into the gift shop, looking for distraction, and among the postcards of surfing pigs, and pastel bikinis, and piles of small anonymous things in lucite boxes, I saw a gray and pink cashmere argyle sweater. Like the one on the dog above, almost exactly. I bought it. Although I am not a puppy.

Later that night, Christmas Eve, Santa Claus came to the Halekulani in an outrigger canoe. We all gathered round and cheered him onto the beach. The Santa regalia made it a little difficult to climb out of the outrigger, but the hotel staff helped him. No disasters. Then a choir of 30 small girls in identical red velvet dresses with full skirts sang us Christmas carols as we drank on the patio. They stood under the palm trees, back to the sky and the ocean. They sang well. The sun set exactly as you might imagine. Children's voices can sometimes sound like magic creatures singing. I don't know why.

Somehow all of this helped. I find the way that one minute Santa arrives in a canoe, which no matter how you tell the story is still absurd, and the next minute rows of little girls with long hair in bows sing Ave Maria, which even if you are an atheist is exquisite, very comforting. Somehow it got muddled up with argyle. Like the smell of sunscreen does with summer. Except that makes sense, and argyle and Santa in a canoe is kind of a stretch. Sometimes a pattern has extra meaning, and our lack of choice in the matter seems fitting to me.

Thank you Lindy, for your question.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

5 Ways To Wear Plaid Without Feeling Like An Absolute Fool

Plaid can be tough. It is what we might call a strongly-typed symbol, as in, it's very hard to wear without a nod to its meaning. No one is apt to say, or think, "I didn't know plaid was traditional Scottish dress! I didn't know a raincoat co-opted it into an instantly recognizable brand!" Highland clans and Burberry cast a long shadow. Strong and often garish patterns also make it easy to feel silly, or obvious, wearing plaid. But it's not necessary. Here are five ways to wear plaid without feeling like a fool.

My aunt graduated from Vassar. Then she had three boys. She knows how to put up wallpaper. She's thrifty. She's comfortable in her skin. She wears plaid pants very well. And she looks good in red. If you wear plaid routinely, make sure the colors suit you. Otherwise plaid is a battlefield, and you lose.

For those classic types among us who like to walk just a little bit further out on the fashion runway, plaid dresses look great. Always have. Claire McCardell should be canonized for her full-skirted, shirt dress version. A dress gives the plaid enough room to spread out. If you go full vintage for a party, as above on the left, add some color so you don't remind anyone of a sofa covering. If you opt for the modern Talbots number (via TP BTW), I'm thinking black fishnets, ankle boots, and a velvet and lace headband. Highlander anyone? Or just your black Ferragamo slingbacks. Not every day is a fishnet day. If you can wear vintage to the office, add a modern circle pin as a tongue-in-cheek reference to fashions of other eras, and a platform to your high-heeled pump to keep your feet firmly planted in 2009. After all, the 1950's weren't the best decade ever for working women.

Let's face it. If you are someone who can wear avant-garde fashion you NEVER feel like a fool. These images are from nitro:licious and some notes on napkins. They are avant-garde young women. I'm going to trust them.

Burberry is a problem. I know. Either wear the classic raincoat with plaid showing only when you take the coat off and are not acting as an unpaid billboard, or, go completely, heart-stoppingly overboard. Make sure everything you put on your body is made by Burberry. Mix plaids and florals. Blow that strongly-typed symbol right out of the water. But I ask you, please, if you care about the High WASP creed, don't just toss one of the bags over your arm and run out the door. Burberry did it to themselves. We have to help them if we care.

Martin Grant via Couture Carrie via

And finally, find something beautiful, that calls to you, and it can be polka-dotted if you like. Wear what you love. Believe in your right to do so. Feel foolish another day, like when you wear your son's khakis and someone posts it on the Internet for all to see. Or wait, you post it yourself. There are many ways to feel foolish besides wearing plaid. Why waste your life's limited supply of foolish points on a fabric pattern? We can wear plaid with pride, or irony, or comfort, or style, or audacity. Whatever we please.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Is Your Family Tartan Authentic?

In my family, we love to think of ourselves as Scots. At least the men do. The women are a little bemused. All that stomping through the gorse, and hammer-throwing, and drinking of whiskey. We have a family tartan. This is it.

(The Murray of Athol tartan. My name is not Murray. Let's just say that if my last name was Smith, someone existed whose name was something like Joe Murray Smith.)

On the other hand, this could be it. Because there are at least two Murray tartans.

(Murray of Tuillibardine)

In fact, the concept of family tartan is apparently, well, created. Fairly recently. There is no such thing as a true, through the mists of time, since history began, tartan of your clan.

The History Of The Modern Tartan
I did not know this until last week. I called my father the professor on the phone, and asked him which Murray clan we were. I was looking for the family crest, in fact, and was hoping it was the one that featured a mermaid with a mirror in her dexter hand. Dexter means right, in heraldry. I liked the idea of a family crest featuring a creature half of the sea, half of the earth, looking into her face to find her true self.

My father told me that family tartans were a 19th century invention. I thought he called them an infernal 19th century invention, but he insists not.

Apparently Scots all wore tartan until the mid-1700's. This was traditional Scottish dress. Not clear that the tartans were strictly associated with clans . Then Charles Stuart was soundly and savagely defeated in his attempt to win the English throne at the Battle of Culloden, at which point the English forbid the Scots to wear tartan at all. This lasted until 1822, when the historical novelist Sir Walter Scott so entranced George the 4th that George came to Scotland and lifted the ban.

So began the tartan, and the kilt, as we now know it.

My father did not make this up. As a professor, and in particular as a professor of English from a previous century, and a self-identified Scot to boot, he's not prone to making things up. Especially about Scotland. I looked it all up. An historian named Hugh Trevor wrote a book called The Invention of Scotland: Myth and History which details this story, among others. The New York Sun wrote an article about the essay.

Must We Sadly Abandon The Concept Of Tartan?
On the other hand, this is America. We've only been a country since 1776. A family tradition that's been in place since 1820 is ancient, in our terms. And we love an entrepreneur. Apparently the reinvention of the tartan coincided with Queen Victoria's love of all things Scottish, the establishment of Balmoral, and an early form of tourism. Including souvenirs. Capitalism at its best. So let's drink to enterprise. I'll have a single malt so peaty your hair turns dark from imagined smoke. And I call the mermaid crest. Identity can and should be reinvented where necessary.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Lilly...With A Twist!

I've got a guest post up at Lilly Lovers. Using the Lilly Pulitzer brand to tell some stories, with a twist. And a Polyvore. You're more than welcome to take a look if you like.

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You Wanna See How Chic Is Done In High WASP Speak?

Go to Habitually Chic. She's packing for Paris.

And this is only one of her outfits...


Sunday, August 23, 2009

7 Summer Favorites For The AARP Crowd

Queen Bee Swain tagged me for this meme. I'll let it stop with me. If you like sports, crew in particular, go see Queen Bee. She is a natural born sportswriter. I hope to read her commentary on the 2012 Olympics but I am not sure that is her plan. Oh, and she didn't tag me for the AARP. She is a wee baby. That was me.

Movie: Anything playing at a drive-in. Your father will take you in his crimson 1968 Pontiac Bonneville with the paisley decal on the side. You will get to drink Coke and eat french fries, not something you are usually allowed even to smell. Since it’s California, you will all get cold, but you will have sweaters packed. Something embarrassing will happen in the movie, but it will be OK. Driving home, you will almost fall asleep, and pretend you have, so as to enjoy being near your brother and sister without needing to fight with them for touching you.

Oh wait. Drive-ins are a thing of the past. Well, no matter. Sometimes so are we.

Cocktail: Yes.

Song: Summertime, by Janis Joplin. Not because we are old and forgetful and need to be reminded of the season, but because the song gives us a shot of rueful joy and manages to remind us that right now we might be able to catch the children we used to hush, online. If we hurry.

Meal: Carnitas. Eaten outside, grease dripping from your fingers. Hot sauce hot enough to taste yet respectful of our ability to stomach spice. We may be getting older but we still want our tongues to burn, our eyes to water, and our teeth to bite through crunchy, fatty pork.

Outfit: Linen. Of any kind. Because our mothers taught us how to iron a shirt. Back first, sleeves and cuffs next, then front, then collar.

Read: A murder mystery complex enough to be fun and literate enough to feel like a book. This summer it’s the second book in Stieg Larsson’s series, The Girl Who Played With Fire. It reminds us of Ingmar Bergman. His film Cries and Whispers inspired and scarred us forever.

Moment: The word moment is a tricky one for us. The many moments we forget almost as soon as they happen? The moments when we feel yet again whatever stiffness is our particular nemesis? You see, the word moment reminds us that death is a problem we can’t solve. But. Cheerfulness is also best felt in moments. In fact I don’t find it hard, being cheerful at this point. The moment of breakfast on the longest day of summer, when it’s light before I wake up and the sun comes in the window while I drink tea. The moment when I first walk out into the backyard and hear my sprinklers. The hissing of summer lawns, as Joni Mitchell says. Any moment. Doesn’t matter which one. At any moment I can breathe and feel my fingers and see my toes. At 52 I feel cheerful just seeing blue sky above the highway as I drive.

In the summer I feel like the world is cheerful itself. I'm not sure why, but I do not need to know.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Saturday Morning at 7:54am

I heard raccoons howling in the night. Thumping on my roof. They must be climbing up my elm. I haven't even looked to see if they went after my pond plants again. Like I said, this will be a long battle. Sometimes victory is simply continuing the fight. Hearing night howls as no more than a sign that, in the morning, you may have to get wet. Knowing that as long as you keep up the fight, you will have pond plants.

You will also be wet. And muddy. Again. Only you know if pond plants are worth it. Me, I'm doing it for the papyrus.


GFDL License

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Secret Nefarious Villains

As I said, the next morning all my pond plants had fallen over. Again. And this time I noticed that my lovely floating water hyacinths were gone. Vanished. Remember that beauteous purple-leafed plant? Only shreds left by the side of the pond. Alas.


I googled "Raccoons Ate My Water Hyacinths." Indeed, they did. And climbed over everything else on their way to the water hyacinth feast. This explains the fallen plants. And some recent midnight howling.

I haven't given up. Now it's a long battle between me and them. Today I put all the plants in the middle of the pond. Thinking those little bandit-faced suckers won't be able to reach. I'm relentless, I tell you, relentless.

If I fail, look for more posts on what shoes to wear with navy blue. Or tartan. Wait, what shoes DO you wear with tartan? Hmmm. Good question, even if I succeed with the raccoons. Adding to your identity should mean more "That." Not no more "This." Have a lovely weekend.


To Be This AND That

Sometimes our efforts to stretch, to take a risk, to be both this and that, leave us humbled. Humbled and muddy.

I have a pond in my backyard. I've always been the type to avoid home maintenance. It scares me. But it's never to late to learn, or so I hoped. In the last few years the pond had become more of a puddle. A home for wayward mosquito larvae. I was determined to get it back. To become a High WASP 52-year old former executive and a robust, hardy, no-nonsense woman capable of things like pond maintenance.

I bought plants. I put plants in the pond. Set them up on overturned plastic pot containers with gravel. This is what it looked like. Gracious living at its best. Make special note of that lovely purple-leafed plant in the background. You will want to remember what it looks like later.

The next morning I went outside. All the pots had fallen over. I set them up again. Overnight they fell down again. I set them up. Next morning, down.

I was determined. I called the nursery. They said try setting the plants on cinder blocks. Orchard Supply was out of the right size. I had to go to Egypt.

Not really. But that's how I felt. This is the garden materials supply store. The presence of heavy equipment made it clear I wasn't in Egypt. But didn't make me feel much safer. I was overwhelmed.

Still determined, I drove around in terror, startling at each very large bulldozer. I eventually convinced someone to help me load 7 cinderblocks into my car. To help me load 2 30 pounds bags of gravel into selfsame car.

I paid at the window. I drove home. I carried each cinderblock to the pond. I laid them this way and that way, lengthwise, sideways, stacked, alone. I spent an hour kneeling on pavers, up to my shoulder in stagnant pond water, dropping my glasses here and there, cursing, completely drunk with sun and the strength that remains in my upper body to this day.

I took a shower. I washed my hair. I basked in the glory of my competence and independence.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Madeleine Albright Says, "Read My Pins".

We are not alone, pin-wearers. Jill, at Stella's Roar, brought this to my attention. Ms. Albright, our former Secretary of State (and a Wellesley graduate), takes the identity-though-lapel-jewelry process one step further.
In 1997, Albright was named the first female Secretary of State and became, at that time, the highest ranking woman in the history of the U.S. government. While serving under President Bill Clinton, first as U.S ambassador to the United Nations, and then as Secretary of State, Albright became known for wearing brooches that purposefully conveyed her views about the situation at hand. “I found that jewelry had become part of my personal diplomatic arsenal,” Secretary Albright has said. “While President George H.W. Bush had been known for saying ‘Read my lips,’ I began urging colleagues and reporters to ‘Read my pins." (museum of arts and design)

What do we think the snake was saying? And to whom?

From an upcoming exhibition at the museum of arts and design in New York City
via Stella's Roar.


Monograms and Doc Martens

Writing about monograms (and continuing to find beautiful pictures) I have found myself thinking about identity. One might with good reason tell me I have too much time on my hands. That I need to get a job. Yes. I know. However.

Monograms have an immediate implication for identity. Monograms mean something before you even begin to decipher the initials. We assume someone wearing any sort of monogram at all is fairly conservative. (Or making a very ironic comment, if they wear a monogram with, say, Goth outfits. I know, wouldn’t that be funny?) However.

My own personal, non-universal, case is a little complicated. I am a more left-than-right-of-center person living in a liberal area with a liberal professor father and a liberal New England mother. Our ilk isn’t really prone to monograms. However. I also come from a High WASP family with initialed bowls and mirrors and spoons and pins. My family name is due to make its exit with this generation, unless my brother has a late-in life-marriage with children. I have a sheepish pride in my heritage.

So I wonder, do I, do we all, have to choose? I hope not. Can we belong to Group Blue AND Group Orange? To Group Up AND Group Down? I hope yes. How expansive is identity in this day and age? I hope very.

Freud has something to say.

“A good part of the struggles of mankind center round the single task of finding an expedient accommodation – one, that is, that will bring happiness – between this claim of the individual and the cultural claims of the group; and one of the problems that touches the fate of humanity is whether such an accommodation can be reached by means of some particular form of civilization or whether this conflict is irreconcilable.” Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents

So does Jim Collins, author of one of the best books on business to be published in the last 20 years.

…”highly visionary companies…do not oppress themselves with what we call the “Tyranny of the OR” – the rational view that cannot easily accept paradox, that cannot live with two seemingly contradictory forces or ideas at the same time….highly visionary companies liberate themselves with the “Genius of the AND” – the ability to embrace both extremes of a number of dimensions at the same time. Instead of choosing between A OR B, they figure out a way to have both A AND B.” Jim Collins, Built to Last

I have no delusion that I can solve Freud’s question for all time. If I solve it, I solve it in a small way, at 7:13 in the morning, California time. This was my car for all the years of childrearing. It now belongs to my son. I take no responsibility for how it looks.

These are the shoes I bought at the same time we got the minivan. So I could keep that sense of self above and beyond the role I was playing at the time. So I could be a mother AND someone who once lived in Manhattan and went to CBGB's. I take full responsibility for how these look. Years of disuse.

This is another bowl. From my mother's side. Happy Birth Day Matilda.

I don't like confrontation but even so would fight as best I could for the right of every person to define themselves as they want. To belong where they want to belong, and to be different where and how they want to be different. I don’t think I’m special in this. I would guess that there are many people in the world who think to themselves, "Yes. I choose this group AND that group. Neither is my full identity. Not altogether. I am this. And that. Maybe several thats."


Blue "M" by Johnny Por Taing via mint
All others by me

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

You Are A Great (Fashion) Read Award

I received this award from Sher at Fashion after 40. If you look on Sher's blog, you will see I did however put a longer skirt on our friend above. Awards should mutate and follow the laws of natural selection. I also changed the award name. I am going to trust that I will not get into trouble.

Sher blogs about, as she says, Fashion After Forty. She takes a picture of herself, and what she wears, every day. And then she shows us. Her style is cheerful, not at all old ladyish. Not to mention great bathing suits.

The terms of this award are to reveal several things about oneself. Since Sher is a fashion blogger, I am going to tell you a few fashion things about myself. And then I am going to pass this award on to the fashion bloggers I read. Because, since I am still unemployed, I have a lot of time to poke around on the Internet, and might have some as-yet-unknown fashion reads.

5 Fashion Things You Didn't Know About LPC:
  1. In the late 70's I bought a long, black and gold and multicolored, silk dress, made by Carolyn Charles. Apparently she dressed Princess Diana later but I am sure it was a let down. Right now the dress is in a brown paper bag in my car ostensibly to be altered for my daughter. More likely just to keep me company on the way to the hardware store to buy new aerators for my faucets.
  2. While in London I also bought a 4 inch wide bright pink patent leather belt that wrapped twice around my waist and narrowed to a 1 inch strap to buckle. I wish I still had it. Just to look at.
  3. When I came back from India I had many glass and wooden bangles on my right arm. They jangled so loudly in business school that I had to break them off. I suppose my MBA has been of more value than bangles but I do feel there is a metaphorical similarity.
  4. I once had a letter published in Vogue magazine but it had nothing to do with fashion.
  5. I have cashmere sweaters in black, brown, gray, cream, pink, olive green, sea green, sky blue, navy blue, and pink. Pink with a rhinestone Hello Kitty on the lower left hand waistline. My sisters gave it to me when I turned 50.

Approximately 15 Fashion Bloggers Receiving The "You Are A Great Fashion Read" Award:
  1. Inside Out Style. This would be my recommendation on where to look first, simply because Imogen has no fashion agenda per se. She has scientific guidance on how to choose the proportions and colors that look best on you. No kidding.
  2. Une femme d'un certain age. My favorite "certain age" blogger to date. a) she loves Paris b) she knows what do with scarves.
  3. Passage des Pearles. Fashion over 50. The Duchess knows what she likes and what she doesn't like. And she's serious about elegance with pictures to prove it.
  4. Couture Carrie. How to get all you need to know about current fashion trends even when you will never wear any of it.
  5. nitro:licious. How to get all you need to know about current fashion trends for groovy 20 year olds and more. Although you, if you are me, will REALLY never wear any of this. You will only dream.
  6. a few notes on napkins. More 20-year old fashion, but in smaller, more digestible doses.
  7. Corporette. THE site for women who work in conservative offices.
  8. 3-Penny Princess. A J. Crew fan with friends who also like J. Crew.
  9. + SlynnRo, Mojito Maven, and Kate. Not strictly fashion blogs, of course, but these three smart and fun women were recently made Gap brand advocates, so I expect a good telling of the Gap story.
  10. The Lilly Bloggers. With Monograms and Manicures as the lead and many others. They now have a button, The Preppy Blog Crowd. I am most impressed with the entrepreneurial spirit.
  11. Fashion for Nerds. Exactly what she says. If nerds are arty, edgy, and cute that is.
  12. The Preppy Princess. A real newswoman, reporting on preppy and other fashion news, sometimes apparently fairly insider info, in a tongue-in-cheek, whowhatwherewhy style. I also have reason to suspect she hails from the High WASP 'hood. But don't hold that against her.
All right. If any of these bloggers would like to give us 5 Fashion Facts We Didn't Know Before, I, for one, will be waiting anxiously to hear.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

Ironic 50th Birthday Party Decorations

Hello Kitty. Hello 50. And, I made this by cutting Hello Kitty wrapping paper into rectangles of overly varying shapes, folding said shapes inaccurately, muttering to myself about said inaccuracies, pasting said folds with a glue stick, and hanging each bunting bit from a pink ribbon. It was a beautiful day.


Saturday Morning at 8:08am

Yesterday my sister turned 50. Today is her birthday party up at my father's. I'm in charge of decor. It will be suitably ironic. Happy Birthday darling sister. On my 50th birthday I floated around a small lake in the Sierras. All Lady of Shalott, except wearing a life jacket, eating a sandwich, and learning how to work an outboard motor. Today promises to be more light-hearted. Smooches to you, S.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Julia Child's Monogram Pin And Other Works Of Artists

The little journey down the monogrammed path has left some pretty pictures in my files. Why keep them to myself?

PrincessFreckles and Plus Size Bride commented on the pin Meryl Streep wears in Julie and Julia. Apparently the production company did not understand that this item would create a groundswell of trend-setters lusting and searching for photos. Here is a still, which I captured by brute force from the movie trailer.

It's not clear whether this is or is not in fact a monogram. That's OK. We can pretend. Then we can romp through my favorite antique jewelry sites and find much better pictures of similar items. It's Friday, after all. The pin below is from Lang Antiques in San Francisco. I'm warning you, DO NOT go to their website unless you have no work at all to do today. I don't think this is supposed to be a monogram either. But if my name were, um, Jennifer Foster, or something of the sort, I'd be of a different opinion.

The "M" below sold in an auction lot at Skinner Auctioneers. It could have been yours. Mary? Melissa? Or simply want to commemorate Mom without going all the way to needle, ink, and a possibly scary tattoo parlor?

This little 10k pin is from Penelope's Pearls. Or you can look on Etsy. Yes, Etsy has monogrammed pins in their vintage section.

One final thought. As I found out in my original, somewhat trivial research, monograms were often tied in some way to artisans' marks. Artist signatures, if you will. Which, as it turns out, are themselves works of art. Sort of like Prince's glyph. As below. From They have pages and pages.
Not a diamond in sight. Have a wonderful weekend.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bags Without Logos, The Ones That Cost More.

Once we place our feet squarely in the camp of delayed gratification, and decide to spend some more money, it's much easier to get a no-logo bag with High WASP style. As in, if you can and want to afford several hundred dollars, it's kind of like shooting fish in a barrel. Not that I have ever done or would do that. But I like idioms. Anyway.

In this world it's all about shape, color, texture, materials, and details. (Seen much better if you click through to the Polyvore site, BTW.) The green bag is made of haircalf, which if you don't have an issue with baby cows, is a beautiful material. The blue bag is a sophisticated gray blue, and contrasts a smooth outer leather with texture in the pockets. The black Kate Spade is perforated. And I know her logo is visible. But it's little. So I'm counting it. We are all in denial one way or another about something. The J. Crew bag, as recommended by Slynnro in her comment, has suede pockets, little brass studs that are perfect like candy, and a killer shape. The M0851, as recommended by materfamilias, is perhaps the most classic bag of all shown. Nothing but beautiful, soft, black leather and those knots.

Finally, if you have all the money in the world, and no qualms with how you spend it (or maybe have already set up your foundation to save the world), there are these.

Bottega Veneta is the emperor of the logoless realm. And it is about the real cost and luxury of the material. That woven leather. (As Deja Pseu points out today, they have spawned their own set of affordable friends.) Ah. My mother, my sister, and I all had Bottega Veneta bags in the 1980's. But, as I said, the family fortune is on its last legs and those legs don't include Bottega Veneta any more. I just like to say the words. Bottega Veneta.

Another super-luxury brand is Nancy Gonzalez. Again, materials. In her case, crocodile.

I am happy to say that, although they are beautiful, I do not crave $3000 purses. This was by no means guaranteed. I always feel good when I find a level of luxury that I do not miss in its absence. As close as I'm going to get to Buddha, I imagine.

Bottega Veneta via Saks
Nancy Gonzalez via Neiman Marcus

And a tip of the hat to The Preppy Princess for her logophobia inspiration, even when that logo is Harvard's...

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Bags Without Logos, The Budget Version

So let's say you want a bag without a manufacturer's monogram. Otherwise known as a logo. Logos and other branding tchotchkes (Yiddish word of the day) are ubiquitous these days. Hard to avoid. When I bought my new purse, it was displayed with charms attached to the handles. I refrained.

But I digress. Let's assume you want a bag without branding, and that you also want to send High WASP social signals. (It is possible that's not something you want. I do understand.) Here are some options.

First of all, let us take a moment of silence for a brand with history. Consider the bag in the center. Coach, and few say otherwise, is floundering at the moment. They think their logo can stand in for the quality of design, materials, and construction that built the value of their brand. We can only hope they return to their senses. I still have a drawstring Coach bag that I might take off its hook and unretire.

Now where was I? Oh yes. There are some general principles at play here. When manufacturers put logos and copycat brand elements on bargain items, they are hoping for reflected glory via mimicry. I will not make a blanket statement on the rightness or wrongness of that choice. It’s just not mine. So if you don't want logos, but do want some style, some cachet, what then? You have to substitute design for logos. It’s easiest to do this with limitless funds. What commercial enterprise isn’t easier with limitless funds? But it’s possible on a budget.

Start in the upper right on the circle above with how not to do this. (Clinton? Stacy?) Knockoffs, time-honored though they may be, are rarely up to the task at hand. They ape key design strokes of genius of brands that have won luxury status. But the strokes of genius often turn out to be nothing without faithful execution. Chanel's quilting, for example. To which Marc Jacobs pays lovely homage. However, this kind of quilting does not translate well to bargain brands. The beauty of Chanel and Jacobs’ quilting is in the feather-soft leather, the perfect stitching. So unless knockoffs are done with irony, clearly imitation, this strategy is a non-starter.

Moving on. The green bag looks great in pictures. The design is classic. However, it's made of plastic. So quite risky, in that the material might negate the design, leaving the bag only shabby. How about nautical? Pacman? The anchor and the hungry ghosts substitute for logos. They are well-loved symbols that say something about the person carrying the bag. Something you brought home from a souk in Morocco, or the San Blas islands off the coast of Panama would serve as well. These aren't bags for a corporate job, perhaps, unless you work for a yachting company, or as a software designer, but they are bags that say who you are with a clean design sensibility at a low price.

Finally, in my opinion the blue and orange envelope, and the straw from J. Crew are the closest to what I would advise for anyone looking to get High WASP, no logo style with an inexpensive bag. The blue bag has great colors and a classic, simple shape. The straw is made of seagrass, great color and texture, again in a classic, simple shape. In the end, something about the bag you choose, in the High WASP paradigm, and possibly others, ought to make you feel, “Oh, good job you. Good job.” As others have said, ideally it’s not about the money. Ideally.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Monograms In The Year 2009

I'm game for a little good-natured deconstruction of monograms in this day and age if you are. Symbols are symbols, after all, and I am particularly fond of the cultural sort. Let's guess that monograms are a way to say who we are. We might think that the wearing of any monogram at all indicates that the monogrammed person is most likely somewhat traditional, conservative. But there's variance. This person, for example, looks pretty serious about her monogram. Classic.

This person is more light-hearted. Preppy.

This person, maybe classic, preppy, with an arty edge.

But wait. This person can hardly be seen as traditional.

Yes. The artist formerly known as Prince. It's his glyph. A logo? A monogram? A brand?

You see, I think it could be fairly said that we have a situation in America where the traditional monogram is converging with the trend of "branding" ourselves. We're exhorted to come up with an online brand, to Twitter with a copyrighted name, to brand our personas. Even the concept of personalizing a wedding is known as "branding".... *slight shudder*. Although I love the way those lighted monograms look, I confess. Very Cinderella.

Which has me thinking. Cinderella's monogram...hmm.....Mr. Eisner, sir, do you have a moment?

ABC from Embroidery Arts
MTC and PJB from my mad Powerpoint skills
Prince glyph from Minnesota Historical Society (no kidding)


Sunday, August 9, 2009

The History And Meaning Of Monograms

TP asked me last week what my thinking was on monograms and where one ought to find them. In truth, my thinking on monograms has been pretty much limited to my family experience. In which, as TP said, towels yes, sheets yes, jewelry yes, personal items like mirrors and brushes, yes, silver yes, needlepoint yes, clothes no, accessories no. But that’s just my family, and I have never paid attention to the wider trend. So I did a little Internet research. I confess, I did not find the academic article on the history and cultural anthropology of monograms in America that I was looking for. It may be out there. Perhaps it is yet to be written.

Here’s what I did find. Almost everyone agrees, although without a lot of supporting data, that monograms were first seen on coins to mark the reign of Greek and Roman rulers. Almost everyone agrees, although again without much supporting data, that the next wave of monograms was caused by the rise of middle class artisans in Europe’s medieval era wanting to mark their work. Other things come randomly to mind. Clearly the family crests, heraldic symbols and tartans of European feudal lords were monograms of a sort, with symbols in place of letters, in an era where literacy was hardly universal.

Clearly monks illuminating manuscripts were the first in the West to use letters as decorative elements, in a time when formal art was found primarily in the Church.

It appears that, subsequently, the Victorians (1837-1901) went monogram crazy. Monograms were first used so as not to lose linens in the wash, but eventually showed up on decorative and personal items like lockets and silver. And ivory mirrors. It is not coincidental that Louis Vuitton first monogrammed, or logoed, the leather goods of his family firm in 1876. It is possible that Victorian class anxiety contributed to the proliferation of monograms. This is of course pure speculation on my part.

One might say that the monogram and its family symbolism cohorts have at times served to mark power, at times to mark skills, at times to mark ownership, at times to mark status, at times to signal family belonging, and occasionally, as an instance of the human urge to embellish and decorate. We like to make things look pretty. We like to make identities for ourselves. We like to signal who we are. However we got there.

Sources; images
Antique monograms from Elizabeth Anne Designs
Heraldry from Clan Lachlan
Illuminated manuscript from Bowdoin College
Antique Louis Vuitton trunk from Webshots by ch95

Sources; history
Embroidery Arts
and others, but they all said the same thing:).


Saturday, August 8, 2009

Saturday Morning at 7:33am

Other people have cute children too. I'd like to introduce you to Cody. He belongs to Dani at Weddings Fresh. (As you can see from the legs on the left, she has a baby as well.) Cody is her toddler. Isn't he adorable? So sturdy. The look on his face. And those flip flops. I imagine maybe he wanted to be just like his daddy. Good thing she lives far to the north or I would have to stalk him.

Cody's starting toilet training. Ah yes. I remember that. My daughter, my first child, attended a little day care place a few afternoons a week when she was 2. At 2 1/4, they called me and said, "You can send her in underwear." Apparently she had watched the big kids, figured it out, and wanted nothing more to do with diapers. I thought that's how it worked. Never assume that what you learn with the first kid will apply to the second. The universe will laugh at you and devise appropriate pranks.

Let me say simply that I sent my son off to nursery school at 3 1/2. With a second pair of underwear and shorts. (Aren't shorts on little boys just so cute you have to lie down until it passes? Those legs.) Nursery schools won't change diapers. But they will accommodate kids who haven't quite got the underwear thing nailed down.

I never minded diapers. Or toilet training for that matter. But I think it's because I was so drunk on sturdy toddler legs and their chubby knees. Good luck with the potty Cody. Thanks for the cuteness, and for the reminder of how once upon a time some toddler chub belonged to me.

Friday, August 7, 2009

They Don't Make It Easy To Exercise On Exercise TV

They don't make it easy. The other day I got up early, as usual. That isn't the part that Exercise TV is to blame for. I decided not to take a walk. Not their fault either. I decided to do a couple of Exercise TV On Demand segments. My sister, my daughter and I are all fans. I decided to suffer and do cardio rather than the yoga video with the guy stretching in front of what looks like the Grand Canyon. Or the devastatingly fit women cardio sculpting in a canyon of aspens. I don't have any aspens in my living room. Still not their fault.

Less Is More Cardio makes use of boxing moves. Which means Miss Cindy has you do "boxing feet." Do you know what "boxing feet" are? That's when you put said feet apart wider than your hips and go tippy tap tippy tippy tap. Or, more realistically, thumpety thumpety thumpa thumpety. Let me just say this is noisy. Noisy enough, apparently, to wake a sleeping teenaged boy. Who will then emerge, in boxers, stand sleepy-eyed and aghast, and start to laugh at the sight of his mother in basketball shorts, and "boxing feet." He may even mimic the rhythm he has been hearing through the door, being a musical sort of fellow.

I persevere. If I stopped exercising every time I realize I look silly I'd long since have given it up. I move on to 10 Minute Pilates. Not only do I not have any aspens in my living room, I don't have a yoga mat. So I do floor exercises on a towel. A green towel covered in pink flamingos which we won at a school auction when said teenager was in 8th grade. As below.

Nicole Stewart starts leading me through the required 10 minutes of Pilates. Thank you Nicole. This makes me feel infinitely more competent and fit than "boxing feet." My sense is that since I do not have a boxing head, boxing hands, or a boxing stomach, it's not surprising that I don't have boxing feet.

I can do most of what she wants me to do. Unlike the "boxing feet." This video I don't have to speak to the way I spoke to the labor nurse when giving birth to said teenager. When the nice young woman said "Push through the pain!" I said, "YOU push through the pain! I'm just going to lie here!" I'm apt to make similar disrespectful comments to Exercise TV. It's OK. They can't hear me.

As I said, I can do most of what she wants me to do. Until we get to the advertising function. I understand the need for advertising. If they didn't advertise during these videos, I'd have to pay. I'm on board for this business model. Until, as I am lying flat on my back, counting out 100 repetitions of the arm lift pictured above. New Balance flashes their banner. The key phrase being, "Buy Now!"

Huh? How? Every part of my body which might be reasonably considered able to make a purchase is occupied.

Which causes me to argue with the television for the remaining 3 minutes of 10 Minute Pilates. Oh well. Perhaps it raised my pulse. Which is more than I can say for the laughing teenager.

Have a lovely weekend.

Images from the Exercise TV website


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Speaking Of Antique Ivory Mirrors

The mirror, on the right, was my grandmother's. With her monogram before her marriage. SBB. After marriage she was SBC. And yes, I do have a sister with those initials.

The brush is another family item. But not my grandmother's apparently. And no, I don't have a sister named A.

Now I am wondering, why DID they monogram everything? Because they could?

Of course those are paper towels I am using as a background. Thanks for asking.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

In Response Redux

I return to the question, do we, the High WASPs, as a class, as one woman sitting on a Pottery Barn sofa in fact, have anything to offer the world of 2009? We watch our role as the dominant culture fading away, disintegrating. That is what happens. I understand. What then is there to say? I have two thoughts. First, I believe now and always will that our code of conduct is a good one, a sound one on which to build a civilization. It makes for singularly reasonable behavior, unless of course we are in a colonial mode, for which I cannot apologize too often. As you have remarked, and I appreciate, it is not our code alone, nor is it rocket science. But reminding is a time-honored mother tradition, and I am a mother first and foremost.

Second, I believe that the High WASP emphasis on social signaling, so core to our aesthetic, can be useful in certain situations. For example, if you have to go to your son’s graduation and everyone else there has way more money than you do and the women look more fabulous than you could possibly, and you care, what to wear? For example, if you have to go into a work situation where you are surrounded by people in power, or to an interview for a job you really want, what to wear? The High WASP culture knows about power. It knows about correct and appropriate. It knows how to signal, “I am a person of resources, I have the code, you can count on me to behave correctly.” I think America still speaks High WASP, here and there. Not everywhere. Here and there. If you, in your days, have need for that language, here you go. I’m giving it away for free. Maybe $0.50 a pop. Along with some pretty pictures, raptures, food for Belgium, and the usual maternal doting on children. Yard sale, I think, is the right image. Albeit with English lavender, peach roses, and pink penstemon digitalis growing round the small lawn.


In Response

Ashley asked me some very good questions the other day.
“Are there really actually a group of people out there who associate themselves as "high wasp"? and truly do uphold the sort of standards you outline? is there a different between a family with money and a high wasp family? does your family really look down on you for wearing certain brands? (many brands i must add, that seem like good ones to me. like for ex, when you mentioned disdain over your banana republic).”
Let me get the easy answer out of the way. Because, well, because. My cousin didn’t disparage my dress because it was Banana Republic. My apologies for not making that clear. No issue with Banana Republic. And she doesn't look down on me. Just my dress. She was pointing out in a High WASP way that I was wearing a day dress. Not appropriate for a dinner party. This is not something that most of the world would or should care about. A vestige of a society where “dressing for dinner” was a well-understood phenomenon.

Now on to the complex issues.

No. There is no group of people out there who call themselves High WASPs that I know of. I have only seen the term one other place, and that was when I (G)oogled it to check for copyright. However, the standards, the mores, and the aesthetics are real. It is not just about having money. The standards exist. I do, of course, always ask myself. “Do they matter?” Maybe. But I digress.

First, there is a High WASP code of conduct, which I wrote tongue-in-cheek, but with full intent and my father’s voice ringing in my ears. I didn't make it up, I promise, despite never having heard it spoken out loud before.
  1. Look people in the eye when you shake hands.
  2. Stand up straight. High WASPs are obsessed with posture.
  3. Do what you said you would do. Including show up on time. Two minutes early is even better.
  4. Assume that others will behave as you behave. That others also know the rules. Play by the rules.
  5. Speak about others only as you are prepared to have them speak about you. Never ever try to make anyone feel bad.
  6. Vote and give to charitable causes.
  7. Use your good silver and linen tablecloths as often as you can.
  8. When you are beaten, or badly treated, forgive when possible rather than seek revenge. Revenge is childish.
  9. Bad taste, vulgarity, and ostentation, however, are most difficult to forgive. This will make #5 a very difficult tenet to adhere to.
  10. Send sincere, thoughtful condolences in the event of death.
  11. Always, always remember: A simple thank you will suffice.
east side bride added, 12. A firm handshake and my sister added, 13. Never complain.

Second, there is a history. The High WASP wave, the one that spawned my family, is washing up on shore as we speak. Perhaps with Ferragamos as driftwood and Van Cleef and Arpels as beach glass. This wave was built on the beginnings of America, and on capital created by the first Industrial Revolution. My family signed the Declaration of Independence and helped draft the Constitution. We made our money on railroads and valves. For some, the Rockefellers, the Whitneys, the Morgans, the ensuing fortunes were so substantial that their descendants are still wildly, um, rich. Still surfing far out on the big ones, if you will. Kowabunga, as Snoopy would have said. (Even now I am uncomfortable with words like rich. But it’s better than wealthy. I don’t know why. Words like Kowabunga are not a problem.)

For some, a new generation has created new money. For the rest of us, the fortunes have gone with the years, consumed gradually or dramatically lost. Leaving us with remembered wealth, an upbringing rich with privilege, a few ivory hand mirrors, and more than a few big words. I feel as though I am writing as an archeologist, sifting through artifacts, looking for insight, wondering if this culture I have known all my life, that has held a certain place in American society, still has relevance. And, if so, how?

Although I was very happy to discover that we know our expensive purses.


Monday, August 3, 2009

Thread Social

This is an example of High WASP-approved clothing. It's from a line I had never heard of. Thread Social. We like brands no one has ever heard of. Disciplined, lacking in frou-frou, beautiful in material, restrained but memorable color schemes. Some of their clothes are admittedly more High WASP than others. Take a look at number 18. Some pieces not so much. As in the jumpsuit. We like to think we're broadminded. Homage to trends is lovely if you don't get carried away. But please don't make us wear jumpsuits. Or leggings, for that matter.

The best High WASP-approved style will most likely appeal to a range of tastes. For instance, I found these clothes at some notes on napkins, a cool-fashion-forward-young-person site if ever I saw one. Generally enthusiastic about studded shoes with 6-inch heels, zippers, and things shredded or transparent. She liked Thread Social's 2009 Resort Line. So it must be a little bit out there.

Upon further examination, I realized that some of Thread's dresses sported nautical motifs. Which would bring us to the realm of prep style. I asked two leading arbiters what they thought. It's a go. Said Muffy,
I really love the clean lines and fun aesthetic of the dresses. They are simple but clearly well made.
Said Hopsy,
The items actually really remind me of Gossip Girl outfits, can you see that? I can just see Jenny Humphrey showing up in one of the more eclectic styles and Blair donning the more classic, chic dresses.
Thank you both for your quotes, by the way. Much appreciated.

I suppose in our slightly headstrong High WASP way, a la Katherine Hepburn, we are going to insist again that we like an aesthetic, not a brand per se. We will say that the more groups who find our style appropriate, the better. We hate to be inappropriate, no matter where we go or who we sit with. I think my mother would put it best. I hear her voice clearly, "Very good-looking darling." She might have worn this, when she was my age.

She calls me darling. I call my children darling too. Shopping habits are only one part of the zeitgeist (big word of the day), albeit the part the generates the best pictures. Everything I say is as true as I can make it. Who knows if it matters?

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