Thursday, June 30, 2011

Vivienne and I first got to be friends because of packing - she works in a hotel in Paris and was helping me pull together a training session I was running - and after the first or second day, she said something like "you got dressed in my closet this morning" and then we wound up having drinks, and THEN she came up to my room to eat room service (Gratis, since she works for the hotel) and hanging out with me while I did my ironing.

Bottom line, I know the girl's packing philosophy cold, since she and I have the same approach.

You can see why Vivienne and I felt connected from the first moment we met.

Start with a base of 5 garments, no matter how long or how short the trip:
  1. Jacket or cardigan
  2. Pants that match
  3. Skirt that matches
  4. Top that goes with the above
  5. Another top that matches

Vivienne would go with a black suit - I travel with a black twinset, and black pants and skirt, and a black and white striped tee shirt (Lands' End - polka dotted or striped - impossible to wear them out).

Then you add one item for each day of your trip, up to a maximum of 15 items of clothing NO MATTER HOW LONG YOUR TRIP IS!!!

I traveled for over five weeks last year (2002), from Greece and 80+ temperatures to Prague and snow, and I packed only 16 items of clothing. (Okay, I stretched the rule by 1 thing). The rundown was as follows:

  1. Black wool cardigan
  2. Black wool short-sleeved sweater (making a set with #1)
  3. Black stretch pants
  4. Black knit short skirt
  5. Jeans (I know, I know, but I had 8 flights in 5 weeks, I WANTED jeans sometimes)
  6. White tee shirt
  7. Black v-neck sweater
  8. Violet short sleeved wool top
  9. Black mid-calf wool knit skirt
  10. Black and white striped tee shirt
  11. Black short sleeved button front linen blend top
  12. Cream wool short sleeved top
  13. Light blue twinset (is this really 2 items?)
  14. Black wool crewneck sweater
  15. Brown cardigan - wool knit
  16. Brown short sleeved sweater
  17. Brown 3/4 sleeved turtleneck

Note that pretty much all of the knitwear is from Eileen Fisher. Came back from the various hotel laundries looking beautiful, wears like iron, infinitely versatile, and all of it worked together.

The only thing resembling a coat that I took with me was an alpaca shawl which I put in one of those airtight shrink bags and squished into my briefcase. I had 3 pair of shoes, tons of jewelry, and about 10 scarves, and I hated every stitch of clothing I had with me by the time I got home. But I traveled with just a briefcase and a carry-on bag for almost six weeks! Almost all of which were spent working, or with work colleagues i.e. pretty dressed up.

My wardrobe still looks like this!

I'm going to post an illustration of all of the accessories tomorrow, as I continue to ponder capsule wardrobes and their relationship to well-packed suitcases.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Bracelet from Kenneth Jay Lane.

Today is my birthday - 21 for the 30th time!  And my most beloved partner in life surprised me this morning with the above absolutely GORGEOUS little tidbit...  It's surprisingly not as "blingy" as I had thought it might be; it fits quite snugly on my wrist and while it's not a shy little bauble, it's not terribly overwhelming either.  A good lesson to continue to be open to the possibility of changing preferences and tastes, within the general guidelines of our personal style signature.  This always had potential for me: black, white, pearls - sort of screams my name...

Job yesterday, birthday today.  Sometimes the amount of happiness in my life is almost impossible to digest.  But I WILL try to be worthy!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I start work Tuesday...
thanks for all of your support in this very trying time!

Somehow I managed to get a British copy of this...

Who would not want to be like this?

Thirty years ago (heavy sigh) this book was released, and this is where it all began for me - the whole fascination with French wardrobe planning, the idea of a minimalist, well-chosen wardrobe that would take me anywhere.  The following images that delineate the possibilities inherent in seven pieces of black clothing were revolutionary to me.  Up until this time, I was very stuck in the "gray suit, navy suit, white shirt, red bow tie, black pumps" aesthetic of the time (thanks for nothing to the Dress for Success theories).  

Breaking out into black opened my eyes, changed my self-image, and finally gave me the excuse to spend a lot of money on clothes that I actually really liked.  I know that this idea resonated with a lot of people, because there was a time, after this book went out of print, when it couldn't be found for less than $50 used.

NORDSTROM - Choose 3 Free Samples with your Beauty Purchase

Monday, June 27, 2011

image courtesy of the great blog

I watch a lot of sport - most of it from outside the US.  Over the past weekend, I saw a French team playing, and then another game in which there were French players.

During the first game, the English announcers expressed their concern that "the French weren't emotionally invested in the match - that happens with French teams", and also that "if the French team goes behind, they'll lose all confidence, the way French teams do".  These two supremely psychic individuals were able to KNOW the emotional and psychological make-up of the entire team.  Amazing.

The second sporting event saw a French participant moving slowly at one point during the game.  The United States announcers pronounced that "well, sometimes French players just get bored and mentally check out of a game".  Just like that, just because this person was French, we know why they are moving slowly.  Not fatigue, not an injury, not strategy - just boredom.

In both cases, the announcers ended up looking stupid, because in both cases the individuals accused of disinterest turned out to do amazing, committed and skillful things.  

Any time you assume you know what someone will do because you know that they belong to a particular identifiable group, you (a) rob yourself of the opportunity to actually get to know and understand that person as an individual, and (b) put yourself in the position of making embarrassing and potentially damaging errors based on your failure to observe the reality that's right in front of you.

Aren't we better than this?

End of rant.

Friday, June 24, 2011

La repasseuse - Pablo Picasso

My closest friends have known this for years - I really don't mind ironing.  

I've tried to assume a rational, grateful approach to ironing.  If I'm going to be able to look the way I want to look, I'm going to have to either iron my clothes or pay someone else to do it.  And other people, no matter how well-intentioned, will not be as careful as I am.

And if I really LIKE the clothes I own, it should be a pleasure to touch them, to care for them.  If I'm not willing to invest some of my time in the maintenance of my possessions, I need to reconsider why I purchase things at all.

Finally, I try to focus on the gratification of a closet full of immaculate clothing, or a drawer full of crisp, perfectly folded tee shirts.  The options that this presents me every morning are valuable to me, and any job well-done, no matter how mundane, should be a source of pride and a sense of accomplishment.

So while I can't put "master ironer" on my resume, I can carry it in my mind and my heart.  And that's what really matters, even in the throes of job-hunting!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

This video documentary is available streaming on Netflix (   - it follows pastry chefs who compete in the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France competition for patisserie.  It's sort of like the Olympics of pastry - every four years, a group of pastry chefs who have "qualified" spent three days preparing something like 40 different recipes, along with a pop quiz or two thrown into the mix.  

One of the tables of pastries created by just ONE of the contestants.

They dip chocolates, bake cakes, pull sugar ribbons, make lollipops- there's no limit to what these chefs can do.  These guys are amazing, and once you've watched this film, you'll understand why the caliber of food in France is so high and the standards so rigorous.

Another table of items created by one of the competitors.  Amazing...

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A definite Vivienne "YES".

Vivienne's bottom line on wardrobe advice is to buy less, pay more, and focus, focus, 
focus. While to us her very limited wardrobe seems - well - very limited, she sees it as a 
clear statement of her personal style. If she walks into a store and something 
doesn't scream to her across the room, it just plain and simply doesn't go home with 

She has NEVER been tempted by Victorian, Gothic, Prairie, Grunge, Surfer, Safari, 
Garden Party or any other style like that - she calls them costumes, and doesn't mean 
that nicely. For someone for whom one or more of those looks was really compatible with 
their whole persona and self-image, it might work, but Vivienne is a straight soft fabric, 
clear color, classic cut person, and that's what she sticks with.

Only if the French military suddenly goes strapless...

Uh... never.

Another NEVER.

No.  Not even for her wedding. Although it resembles
a wedding dress I wore back in the early 80's.

Monday, June 20, 2011

I'm the LAST person who can complain about job hunting.  I'm getting quite a few expressions of interest, and I've already been on 3 interviews.  But it's still a gut-wrenching fight with rejection every day, and having to get up every morning and steel yourself for another day of hearing nothing back from your many e-mails takes it out of you.

The hardest thing for me seems to be figuring out what to wear.  Back in the day when we all wore our skirted suits with white shirts and little floppy silk bow ties, nude hosiery and sensible pumps, we didn't have to put any more thought into our clothing choices than a man did.  But now, with the range of what'd considered appropriate in the wide range of work environments that exist, it's a constant question.

Friday, I spent SIX hours at a company - taking tests, meeting people, going to lunch.  I wore what was illustrated above.  I was both the most "dressed-up" person in the place, and the oldest.  I wear pearls almost every day, so those really aren't negotiable.  Beyond that, I just can't see going into an interview wearing jeans, or sandals.  I have to be true to my own sense of my image; if it isn't compatible with a company, I guess I conclude that it's the wrong job for me.

Still and all, I felt good about how I looked.  I guess that's what's most important, eh?

Friday, June 17, 2011

the laundry room where I live is actually NICER than this!

I'm a gym rat.  There.  I've put it in writing.  Now that I'm in the "actively looking for a job" stage of life (aka unemployed) I wear gym clothes almost any day I'm not going to be out and about.  And oh yes, I do go to the gym at least 5 times a week.  So what this results in, without fail, is mounds of laundry in our very small apartment which should NOT be allowed to... mature... shall we say.

Thus I've gotten into the habit of doing laundry every week.  And not just gym clothes - I do everything when I'm laundering.  

I'm discovering that this means that my favorite, flattering black pants are almost ALWAYS clean.  So the other black pants in my wardrobe stay, well, in my wardrobe and not on my body.  Ditto my best sweaters, tee shirts etc.

One of the things I've been building to show you all later in the summer is an illustrated vignette of what I've been wearing since the weather warmed up.  And it's not turning out to be a really long list - as soon as my three favorite pairs of pants are clean, I put one of them back on.  

As long as I'm diligent about keeping things clean and pressed, I can get by with a tiny, tiny wardrobe.

Vivienne could have told me this YEARS ago...

Thursday, June 16, 2011

I was going to include a picture of someone
wearing Uggs and shorts, but I just don't
have the heart to make you see that.

Last time I checked, Paris was in the Northern Hemisphere of our planet, which means that June is the beginning of summer, and therefore the weather will usually be reasonably warm.  (or miserably hot, or possibly cool and rainy, but I digress)

The French are BIG fans of warm weather; the minute it becomes even vaguely sunny, Parisians flock to the cafes on the sunny side of the street and sit outdoors for as long as they can evade work and other responsibilities.  Therefore, the idea that someone would choose to wear what looks VERY MUCH like a winter garment in the month of June is inconceivable to your average French person.

Vivienne is no exception.  She's seeing lots of young girls with cut-off denim shorts and Ugg boots checking into her hotel.  I tried to point out to her that Uggs are advertised as being "warm in the winter, cool in the summer", but she's not buying it.  Even if they were comfortable, they just plain don't look SUMMERY.  And that, in Paris, in June, is the desired effect.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Vivienne and I have both traveled a lot, and both of us have had to sleep in airports more times than we care to remember. It's an acquired skill; perhaps you can benefit from our shared experience. (and the insights of the hysterically fun and useful

Worst case, without doubt, was late summer at the Norfolk Virginia airport.  We were informed, in rapid succession, that (1) no more flights would be leaving on the night in question (it's about 10 pm when we're told this), (2) there are no hotel rooms available in town, (3) TSA has gone home for the night, so if we leave the airport, we have to stay OUTSIDE all night, and (4) all concessionaires are closed for the night.

So here's the choice - sit outdoors on the curb where it's hot, and swat mosquitoes all night, or stay in the airport.  (toilets in the airport = no decision to be made, in my world)

Air-conditioning in the airport runs 24/7.  Temperature in the airport, by 10 pm, is hovering somewhere in the meat locker range.  Hundreds of people wearing shorts, tee shirts, or sundresses are now miserably cold.

Happily, we had to retrieve our luggage and keep it with us during the night, and I had socks, loafers, long pants and a hooded sweatshirt in my bag.  While I wasn't comfortable sleeping on the icy tile floors, I was in a better circumstance than most.

Final advice: always consider the possibility, when packing, that you will encounter unseasonable weather, or horrendous delays, or a flight re-routing that takes you someplace unexpected.  Not that you need to pack a parka and mukluks, but something versatile that will stave off frostbite might be wise.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Yes, this really is my closet...
I have too many clothes.  It's not a terrible fate, but it is something that I intend to change.  So I'm jumping on the "turn your hangers around" bandwagon, with one modification.  After I've worn and cleaned/laundered something, I'll put the garment back in my closet with the hanger turned "backwards". (i.e. the pointy part facing front - see the white cardigan in my closet photo)  (Thanks to for this great idea!)

And I'm also instituting a monitoring policy in my dresser drawers: all garments which are normally stored folded which get worn will be put back into the drawer with the neckline toward the front, rather than toward the back as I normally store things.

AND, I'm going to put all of my lingerie and hosiery into bags, and as I wear something it gets to stay OUT of the bag.

By the end of September, I'm going to have a bunch of "forward" facing hangers, right side up tee shirts and bagged undergarments that are going to have to petition to be allowed to stay chez nous.

Seriously, if I don't wear something in the next 3 1/2 months, do I really need to keep it?  

I'm putting this out there before all of you because (1) you can check up on my progress, and (2) you can measure my accomplishments against Vivienne's impressively well curated wardrobe.

Well-curated.  I'm going to have to expand on that line of thinking...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Friday afternoon I was waiting for my esteemed partner to leave the office so we could begin our weekend adventures together, and while I was waiting, I saw a woman wearing exactly the same tee shirt I had on.  

My outfit was basically the one on the left.  Hers is on the right.

She had worked in an office all day.  I had been home job hunting.

I feel like I'm doing something very wrong....

But the bright side of this is how very versatile a taupe tee shirt can be!  That was the lesson that I've taken away from this encounter.

Now I've got to figure out if I'm overdressing for the current job market.

Friday, June 10, 2011

This would be enough jewelry for me...

On Saint Patrick's Day, 1999, I came home from work about 5:30 p.m. to find a four-inch hole in my apartment door where my lock used to be.  Now, knowing the ineptness of my management company and their maintenance people, my first assumption was that the lock was being replaced, and they were doing a really LOUSY job...

But you guessed it - I'd been robbed.  Various sundry small electrics, my college diploma (seriously - not my high school, not my graduate school,  just my college diploma!) and of course EVERY piece of jewelry except what I was wearing that day.  

I'm still a bit bitter about this, because they also got a really cool black leather jewelry case that looked like an old-fashioned train case.  That case made carrying out all of my jewelry easy for them...

Between the police and the insurance company, I eventually felt thrice victimized.  The police were deeply not interested in my paltry theft, and the insurance company pretty much denied that I'd ever owned any jewelry at all unless I had photographs or receipts to prove what I had owned.

Thus, I say to you: dump your jewelry onto your bed.  Take some decent photographs of things - close enough to be able to show size, design etc.  Email the pictures to yourself and just leave them in your email forever.  (also a good way to have permanent access to images of your passport and the contents of your wallet)  

Now tidy up and go on with your life, knowing that in some way you have just hedged a bet with karma.  And have a beautiful weekend!

Thursday, June 09, 2011

This is from a posting on a discussion group in which I listed the entirety of 
Vivienne's work wardrobe.  She tells me that it has changed very little in the 
intervening years...  Note that I've assigned "days of the week" to these little
vignettes, but I don't think that necessarily corresponds to how and when
Vivienne actually wears these.

Here's the inventory... 
(1) Charcoal gray flannel pants, gray and black striped sweater 
(1b) red and gray twinset

(2) Black short knit skirt, black merino twinset
(2b) black and white striped turtleneck longer (tunic length?) sweater

(3) Black pants and blazer, black and white paisley blouse 
(3b) black and white mixed cashmere crew (3/4 sleeves)

(4) Long black wool crepe skirt, black cashmere cabled crew sweater 
(4b) white cotton shirt, black cardigan

(5) Black and white tweed pants, black with white trim twinset 
(5b) white tee shirt, black v-neck sweater

(6) Black and white tweed blazer and skirt (matches the pants, above) black cashmere short sleeved crew 
(6b) black merino long-sleeved crewneck sweater (matches the twinset up in #2)

Yes, I snuck a dress into here.  It just cried out to join the party...

That’s it. A black knit shirtdress, a black sleeveless sweater dress, a gray twinset, and a red cashmere  
turtleneck. Finito - 30 pieces of clothes. She's sort of interested in a gray skirt if she sees one she 
loves, and maybe a red tee shirt...

Alibris: Books, Music, &

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The cotton candy is a nice touch...

Ah, tourist season brings out the snarly in Vivienne's personality.  She and I agree that the sheer tee shirt, when worn in multiples, can be a cute way to layer up colors and give a little pizzazz to otherwise pedestrian tee shirt looks.  But those very thin, lightweight shirts are NOT meant to be worn alone, nor are they meant to be skin tight.  Unless you're VERY fit, this kind of look gives away much more information than is necessary or desirable.

If I wanted to see the contours of your navel, I'd go hunt you down on the beach.  On the street, please keep the hills and valleys of your torso better concealed.  And if I can see your tattoo(s) through the shirt....  words fail me.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Keiko Tanabe painting of Paris bouquinistes

It is impossible to walk through Paris and not see the (approximately 200) dark green book "boxes" along the Seine.  In addition to selling the usual posters, postcards and refrigerator magnets, one can find amazing old books and magazines.  Unfortunately, unless you can read French, there's not necessarily a lot which might be of interest.

Except...  I've started buying magazines which were released the month that I was born.  They're a fascinating little snapshot of history, and it gives me a good reason to support a Parisian cultural institution.  They're easy to carry back in my suitcase, and they only cost, on average, around 10 Euros.

In the next few days, I'll post some more information about my most recent (50 year old) magazine purchase.  

Another option might be to purchase magazines with a favorite fashion icon on the cover.  One sees a lot of Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, and Brigitte Bardot covers from the 50's and 60's; that could result in a wonderful collection of style inspiration!

There's bound to be something here you'll love!

Monday, June 06, 2011

The indispensable!

Paris is large, and has streets which (1) are only a block long, (2) change names repeated over the length of the street, and (3) have very similar names and are easily confused. Thus, it's not at all uncommon to see someone in Paris dig one of these nifty little books out of the bottom of a handbag or briefcase.  There's simply no way for even a native Parisian to know where every street in the city is!

Just five inches tall, less than an inch thick, and covered in waterproof plastic, the PPA (say pay pay aaaah) includes every street within the Periphique (the ring road) around Paris, as well as maps of the subway and the suburban train system, and nifty listings of parks, hospitals and other items of interest.  They can be purchased from newspaper kiosks, convenience stores or bookstores, and cost less than $10 US.  I use one of these now instead of a street map - much more low-key, and quite a bit more thorough.  And thumbing through it feeds my dreams...

Friday, June 03, 2011

After 30 years, her hair still terrifies me!

One of my very favorite bloggers, the beautiful Caramel Cupcake ( has been analyzing her style books, and it prompted me to pull some of mine off of the shelf and look them over again.  And first would HAVE to be Working Wardrobe, which came out the same year I graduated from college.  (yes, that would be 30 years ago...)

For someone coming out of college with a wardrobe utterly unsuited to the business world, and a job in government waiting for me, the idea of building one of these capsule wardrobes was intoxicating.  I still find these illustrations by Christine Turner to be sort of rivetingly elegant.

Forgive the blurry edges of the scans - I was unwilling to squash the book flat in my scanner to get perfectly focused images!
By the time I'd read the back cover, I was hooked!

Dream wardrobe for someone who'd
been recently defined as a Winter!

In that "Dress for Success" era,
the idea of wearing brown was quite daring.

I always harbored a fantasy of being an Autumn...

Capsules for a warmer climate.

The other dream wardrobe for me - and I've always wanted
a good excuse to walk around holding my lapels as
the women in the first two illustrations are doing.
Elements of the philosophy behind this book have stuck with me, and can easily be seen when I pack a suitcase.  So I guess it's hats off (of the supernaturally puffy hair) to Janet Wallach for introducing me to the Capsule Wardrobe!

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Susan Jane Belton's paintings of take-out coffee cups

There are indeed at least 10 Starbucks in Paris now, according to Google Maps.  And I can bear witness that they are busy and popular.  One opened recent about a block from the hotel where Vivienne works, and it's raised a whole new series of grievances among the hotel staff.

(1)  For the first time that anybody can remember, beverages being spilled in the lobby of the hotel are a daily occurrence.  Spilling large cold beverages onto the check-in desk has turned out to be a particularly spectacular headache, damaging paperwork and imperiling computers and other electronics.  But don't discount the drama inherent in tossing most of a quart of coffee (skim, with hazelnut syrup, please) across a large expanse of marble floor during the busiest time of day.

(2)  Beverages being spilled in the hotel rooms, which used to consist of the occasional dribble of wine or a soft drink, is now happening on a regular basis.  Drinks with milk in them are of special concern, because if they're not cleaning quickly they can leave a very bad smell for days.  Most recent drama was when housekeeping found a spilled something IN THE BED hours after the guest had checked out.  Replacement mattress, anyone?

(3)  The truly thoughtless have begun to carry their take-out beverages INTO THE RESTAURANT of the hotel!  The wait staff is livid - they have to deal with the garbage, but don't have the pleasure of actually selling something from their own establishment.  Happily, as this is France, it doesn't diminish their compensation.  (if you do this in the US, you cut into the tip of your waiter when you don't actually purchase your drink from their establishment - not nice when you're talking about someone who earns a fraction of the minimum wage and relies on tips to survive).

Vivienne says it's gotten to the point where they have AT LEAST one person on staff during most of the day who deals with nothing but spilled beverages.  This is, obviously, raising their costs of providing service, and will eventually trickle through into a (very slightly) more expensive hotel experience.  She says that it's not just the fact that people walking around drinking (which used to NEVER happen) has become more common, but also that their drinks are so very large.  

Sit down.  Drink your coffee.  Enjoy life.  Then go on about your day.