Stormy Weather!

Because SCIENCE.

Wellington: windy from the north, windy from the south.

There’s a particular style challenge in Wellington: how to look passable in its windy winter storms. The kind that feature icy, 100-km gales and horizontal rain. Is it really that windy? Yes, it is – details here. In my previous blog, I observed the winter styles of Wellington – the Merino Bullet, Parka Girl, and Layer Lady come to mind.

We’ve just had a glorious, if over-dry summer here. Despite this, NOW is the time to get your winter outergear sorted out. Before the weather really kicks in and you don’t want to leave the house. Haul out and try on what you’ve got. Do you need, or want, something new? Not satisfied with how warm/dry/windswept you’ve been? The Antipodean retailers are just getting their winter ranges in the stores. Northern Hemisphere retailers are wrapping up their winter sales. And Easter weekend has sales and discounts around the world.

Bizarrely, our Wellington need for warm, dry outerwear goes almost completely unmet by New Zealand clothing companies. Kathmandu, our sportswear juggernaut, has one or two options, which I mention grudgingly (their profit margin explains why “things are more expensive in NZ”). Kiwis often resort to the Australian-made Drizabone. Swanndri, that Kiwi-est of Kiwi brands, has very limited women’s options. What, we’re supposed to be home making the scones? Tell that to a farmer (who is, 50% of the time, a woman) dealing with a downed pregnant animal in a sleet storm. Or to Wellington commuters. There’s agricultural rainwear, some of which is so radical as to be appealing, but again, lacking in women’s sizing.

Last winter in Europe and the US was all about puffy down jackets. Is this one of those styles that caught on because it really only suits you if you’re slender? Quite possibly. The inevitable Kathmandu has a decent range, but if they are merely water-resistant, they won’t hold up to a Wellington downpour. See this discussion here.

I often spend the most severe weather hermetically sealed into a waterproof sports shell my mom sent me, with warm layers beneath. The sports shell wasn’t cut for petites, so the effect is Darth Vader meets garbage bag. Nonetheless, because the shell is a premium activewear brand, on those rainy winter days, I’ve been treated in downtown boutiques as if I was dressed in Chanel! Still, I’m not the only one who begs, “Please help me escape the GoreTex shell prison…”

Brunettes - no need to "black out" from head to to with neutrals or neutral details.

Some options for the storm. London Fog – Riley, Eddie Bauer – Weatheredge (windproof too), L.L. Bean – wool lined Commuter Trench, lining and hood removable.

For any sex appeal at all, there is, blessedly, the trench coat. I once went to a burlesque event rehearsal in my work clothes and trench coat, where I was greeted with, “Ooooh! You wore your stripper coat!” Make sure you’ve acquired a water resistant or water proof trench, and try to get one with a hood. Don’t let Australian chain stores fob you off with a cotton or non-water resistant trench!

If you want something on the trench coat/insulated continuum that can stand up to the rigors of Wellington in July, here are some sources. All of them are mail order, because based on what’s available at brick-and-mortar New Zealand retailers, you’re going to be paying through the nose anyway. Understandably, good raingear doesn’t land in thrift/secondhand venues on a regular basis. So you might as well get something with the fit, color, and features that will make you happy to wear it for four to five years.

  • First on the list, because they’re Kiwis: Moa Clothing. Sealed seams, storm wraps, adjustable hoods, and a range of attractive colors, with sleek tailoring. BLESS.
  • There’s a trifecta of midrange US retailers that ship directly to NZ: Eddie Bauer, L.L. Bean, and Land’s End. These retailers have a large size and color range, accomodating petites and pluses. L.L. Bean’s trench coats and Land’s End’s Storm Squall range are widely recommended. Eddie Bauer is based in our climate twin, Seattle.
  • Barbour. For the default wear of Britain’s Sloanes, this stuff is priced surprisingly well,  has a good size range (up to 20+), and will last forever and a day. Some coats have Liberty of London linings, too. Free shipping via ASOS, shipping also via JulesB – at 40% off.
  • London Fog. You’ll have to use mail forwarding, but the selection and waterproofing just might be worth it. Many petites, check for the ones with zip-out winter linings. Or check eBay for secondhand/outlet.

When in doubt: size up. It is tragic but true that nothing makes you look larger than you are than undersized outerwear. And if you’re short, like me, petite sizing is worth it to avoid looking swamped by fabric as well as by water.

Your winter rainwear investment can be repaired for you in New Zealand by Twin Needle. While you’re at it, hit your leather shoes, boots, and handbags up with some leather waterproofing spray. This stuff is a lifesaver, and is available at good shoe repair places.

Stormy weather grooming – I try, you know? I moisturize. My hair gets tucked into a bun – many Wellington women go for short cuts instead. I wear lipstick and concealer that will stay on, waterproof mascara, I pencil my brows and tightline my upper eyelid. On rainy days I avoid less-enduring makeup, like lip glosses, smoky shadow-based eye looks, and cats’ eye liner. It works about half the time: the other half, I still emerge from the weather blotchy and blurred. Even perfume gets muddled in the layers and the fug of cold humidity.

I wish this last link wasn’t necessary, but it is: Winter-Time Hygeine. What we all need to know about keeping winter wear clean and fresh. I know it’s especially hard in Wellington’s chilly sogginess. I, too, have waited a week for my denim jeans to dry. Also, I’ve tried Febreze and I hate it – this winter I’ll try vodka spray. On my clothes, that is.

-peeks outside- It’s still sunny. Soak it up…but don’t count on it lasting in Wellington!

Embroidery on one of my raincoats.

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Friday Follies: A Flying Auckland Visit

A weekend or so ago, I took a flying visit to Auckland, indulging in a Saturday to roam around several neighborhoods (K Road, Ponsonby, Herne Bay) and reconnect with some old friends before they left New Zealand. Here’s some of the great places I visited…and one or two not-so-great ones.

Cherry Bishop dress, retro cut, in Japanese cotton with – are you ready? – BUNNIES.

Cherry Bishop’s store in Herne Bay is stocked with well-cut retro-style dresses she’s designed. Two points of difference here: her skirts are flatteringly pleated into waistbands, not gathered. I prefer this tremendously – it makes the dresses more polished and flexible. And she picks out delicious fabrics that you won’t see on 200 other retro-istas, including Japanese cottons and patterns with New Zealand flair. The velvets of her winter dresses are thick and scrumptious, too.

Annex boutique on Ponsonby Road is unexpectedly charming, with stylish foundation pieces like Three Dots and Petit Bateau tees and knitwear, and chic French hair clips and barrettes. “I try to have things you can’t get online,” says the smiling owner.

Avant-garde Scotties boutique has both Auckland and Wellington branches. In Auckland, tucked away in Herne Bay, they have a small branch with a high-end recycle boutique. The sale rack there had some fantastic deals for $100 and under.

Not so great: K Road…otherwise known as Karangahape Road, the local “alternative” hipster strip…it’s also lost several places that gave it charm, like excellent used bookstores and fabric shops. I’ve outgrown the trendy t-shirt and unremarkable vintage stores that remain. And Nostalgia Restaurant, also known as Prohibition, is certainly a beautiful locale. A friend and I, asking if we might have afternoon tea despite our jeans, were dumped at a table outside by an icily soignee woman, who gave us a grubby drinks menu and…ignored us. Not even ow! Honestly, “sorry, ladies, we have a dress code,” would have been better.

Luckily dreamy Jafa Cafe washed the bad taste out of my mouth. From the lushest pancakes ever seen to vegan raw food platters, they have something for everybody, and it’s casual-as.

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Friday Follies: Toujours Gai

Being an old lady isn’t what it used to be. And we can all be thankful for that. Mind, it hasn’t been what it used to be since Auntie Mame hit the screens. (I have a very battered copy of the book – luckily it’s been reissued.)

Aw yeah

Someday I will be HER. Yes. This is how you do it.

Karen Walker joins forces with Advanced Style to have the worlds most stylin’ silver foxes model her eyewear. Inspired!!!

A contributor at Man Repeller shops for an It-Bag in high school and…and…I haven’t laughed so hard a a fashion blog post, ever. The comments thread is sympathetic gold.

Trenery. It’s a spin-off of Country Road for “mature” shoppers – usually a kiss of death. I was in there the other day; I tried on this and that; I found their dresses boxy, but I liked their handbags and tops, especially a modestly priced Pantone-emerald tee. Good for taller women & women who want their busts covered. Check out the outlet site and sale items.

I get planar fascitis. Which sucks. It’s aggravated by lots of walking, and by wearing high heels – which also sucks, because I love both of those! I’m having a flare-up right now so I am wearing my least exciting shoes. Auntie Mame would handle this by…calling a yogi, of course! This is a great post about planar fascitis and what we can do at home to improve it. She’s very right about the foot massage and exercises.  For exercising with planar fascitis, New Balance trainers are very good. If you want to be retro-stylish with planar fascitis, Dankso shoes look great. Unfortunately their smallest size is not small enough for me (I take between a U.S. 5 and 5.5, and Danskos run big right from the start of their range) so I am going to invest in some Naot shoes, which run small, before my traveling walkathon.

Lastly, a delicious Eartha Kitt number, “Tojours Gai.”

Note that this is a small car, just for the driver herself
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Your Mileage May Vary: Women, Cars, Wellington

In one of those life-phase convergences, it seems like I and half my friends are suddenly updating our vehicles. Hence, a post about driving and buying cars while female in Wellington, New Zealand.

Note that this is a small car, just for the driver herself

Aspirational images of fashionable women with cars, 90 years ago and today; click to read the modern driver, Affi’s, take on her car.

Wellington region driving requires vehicular oomph and endurance. We drive and park on steep, winding hill roads, wrangle a storm-swept stretch of highway across Wellington Harbour, and accelerate on other highways that ascend/descend at 45-degree angles. I needed a reliable gas sipper that could take it – my sweet spot was a car with an engine between 1.5 and 1.8 liters. And I wanted to enjoy the 20th-century pleasure of driving while it’s still accessible. You know, while we still have petroleum and the resources to maintain cars.

The moniker of “girl car” is often slapped, like a cartoon character’s feminizing ribbon bow, on visually appealing, fuel-efficient, reliable vehicles. I am grumpy that “girl car” is an insult to the point that I myself feel awkward handling the term – even though I was shopping for a quintessential girl car.  “Girl car” stigma followed me around the car lots. During my month-long car hunt, if I went by myself, salesmen (always men) went deaf and failed to hear my engine requirements.

Despite this, time to look around and reacquaint myself with cars today was very useful, both seeing them in person and checking online reviews. You can find long-term driving online reviews for most cars from 2004 onwards, and these are more meaningful than one-offs. Search for “long term” and “road tests”.  In print, even though its authorial voice is “Boys’ Town Gazette,” I enjoyed the irreverent, informative magazine Top Gear NZ, which has a summary of all the new cars on the market here. Talking with my friends also helped: I had an epic 50-comment social media conversation that was 100% women. “Are you going to get heated seats? A reversing camera? Keyless starting? iPod stereo? A hybrid?” Stymied on hybrids because I don’t have anywhere to plug one in, here’s what I looked at, and what I thought.

  • Hondas – The compact Fit/Jazz is supposed to be good, and I liked it. However, used ones with the 1.5 liter engine carried a premium price, and the ones I did find outside of Honda itself seemed tired after the rigors of Wellington driving. The 1.5 liter Fit Aria sedan finds its way here as an import and, on a test drive, was perfectly adequate, if boxy going around corners. It’s popular in Asia and is worth a look if you are on a budget and need space and security rather than an exciting drive – lots of them get imported into Auckland. Mid-2000s Civics were on the stodgy side – the hatchbacks would make great family cars, or cars for surfers, but I didn’t need that much room. Civics after 2009 looked appealing, but weren’t in my budget.
  • Toyotas – Having had the Vitz/Yaris and the Corolla recommended multiple times, I tried these, too. A friend’s Vitz has survived an incredible amount of driving throughout New Zealand. 1.5 to 1.8 liter ones were punchy, especially the sports versions. Some of these were keyless, a usability change on a par from changing from an older mobile phone to a smartphone.
  • Volkswagen – The boxy but handsome Volkswagen Polo is a favorite with many, and suits Wellington’s driving conditions well, if you can afford the service. I heard the caveat often, “If you can’t afford a new European car, you can’t afford a used one,” because of the service costs.
  • Mazdas/Fords – Mazdas and Fords, despite massive branding differences, are vehicular cousins today, manufactured in close association. Again, it’s challenging to find used ones with engines between 1.5 and 2 liters used in Wellington, because they get bought quickly, with a used-car premium. The Ford Fiesta is similar to the Mazda 2; the Mazda 3 has many fans among my friends; the Ford Focus comes across as a good solid option.
  • Based on my requirements, I should have looked at Nissans, but none captured my attention. They seem like good cars for a good price. -shrugs- I also neglected Kias (just not that many of them) and the Suzuki Swift (very few 1.5 liters in my price range, never quite satisfied with the interiors I saw.)
  • Lemons to avoid are often the “cute cars” of five to ten years ago. I took a peek at some of these, read the online comments, and said “Never mind.” These included: used new-generation Mini Coopers (expensive! CRAZY dashboards), used 2000’s VW Bugs (low luggage space, visibility issues for drivers, and body paint problems in the NZ climate), used Mercedes A-class compacts (don’t get me started).

Being short influenced my car buying experience to a surprising degree. Bringing somebody taller along was a useful way to check that a vehicle that was fine for me was also passable for my passengers. Car salesmen tend to be tall, and car negotiations often begin while everyone is standing up, emphasizing the height difference. (The one woman I found employed at a car place was also tall!) An affable, polite tall salesman talking to me is like a friendly giant – I remain somewhat wary. A tall salesman who decides to play hardball or get aggressive comes across as a brute pretty quickly. (One of these reminded me of Swelter from Gormenghast; another evoked a chilly, dead-eyed H.P. Lovecraft villain.) While these encounters were fascinating, I don’t give brutes my money. The one short salesman I ran across cleverly neutralized his height – and mine – by sitting beside me in cars. Tall salesmen who want shorter customers to feel respected should do this more. By the end of my car search I was deploying fiercely confident body language and flinging myself into equalizing chairs whenever possible.

My top three picks for dealers in the Wellington region are as follows:

  • Upper Hutt Car Sales – This is where I bought my car, a Mazda2. Worth the trip: their web site lists incoming vehicles as well as cars available on site. Lots of Toyotas, Mazdas, and Nissans. The sales staff are low-pressure and genuinely helpful. I’d send my sister here if I had a sister.
  • Turner’s – A large, also low-pressure used car sales place/auctioneer, with a good reputation overall. Largest price range of these three recommendations, from $2000 to premium secondhand.
  • Honda Cars Wellington – Trustworthy cars sold by mannerly staff. I showed up one day to test drive in post-dance-event clothes (showgirl makeup, multiple flower hair clips) and was treated as an intelligent car buyer. Also, note their very good finance interest rate.

Even if you aren’t car shopping right now, here’s some excellent reading about women and/or cars:

  • The Rise of the Flapper – “The rise of the automobile was another factor in the rise of flapper culture. Cars meant a woman could come and go as she pleased, travel to speakeasys and other entertainment venues, and use the large vehicles of the day for heavy petting or even sex.”
  • Cellomom on Cars – Dry, witty, and environmentally minded, this car reviewer looks at both fuel usage and whether a vehicle can fit her three children and a cello inside it.
  • Mis-managed marketing to women – Focusing on the new Honda Fit She, a vehicular embarrassment supreme. “If you just say, ‘Here’s a pink phone for women, or a pink shirt for women,’ women will shoot you in the face.”
  • J.G. Ballard on Cars – In this piece, written in 1971, J.G. Ballard, the author of Crash, foretells the demise of the steering wheel: self-driving cars are becoming legal today.
  • It doesn’t get any more staggering than this history of Hitler and the VW Bug here, complete with photos of Hitler caressing a model of a VW Bug. “Punchbuggy” will never be the same.
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Correspondence: 1930s for Special Occasions

I’ve been friends with American Magpie for 24 years! It was delightful to hear from her when she got in touch to ask  about vintage style for special occasions.

I would like to start the process of amassing some wardrobe pieces in a 1930s style (dresses, mainly). I’m looking for fairly simple ones, not high fashion examples of the genre, but ones with a nice drape that show off my, um, hour-glassiness, to good advantage. I’m really not a dress-up person – work clothes are mainly dark trousers, a nice blouse and a scarf, and I grub around in gardens and on hiking trails enough that casual clothes are still jeans and tshirts. But on occasion I do like to dress up and I prefer the simple dress, seamed stockings, hat and a coat look to more contemporary styles. Can you recommend places (on line, preferably) where I could look for clothes like these? I suspect it would be much easier if I could just make them myself, but I don’t have a sewing machine, or a room (or a table,even) to devote to learning how to do this. Maybe down the road, but not now … so I’m looking to buy things ready-made. Any ideas?

Hi hon, oooh, the 1930s look! So lovely, so troublesome…the 1930s were when modernism really hit its stride sartorially, and fabric prints and tailoring veered off in lots of quirky directions. Personally, with my curves, I am a 1940s gal. But if you want the 1930s, then by the Goddess, you shall have it. It just so happens that here in New Zealand, we are coming up on Art Deco weekend in Napier, and so lots of us here in the Antipodes will be getting their 1930s on as well.

This is a good website to just get ideas about the 30s look: Fashion-Era.

And here’s another one: Giant Pants of the 30s.

In the 1930s you would have day dresses – a range of dresses or outfits worn during the daytime – and, if you were so lucky, evening dress. Day dresses had hemlines between the knee and the calf, most of the time – the flapper’s naughty hemlines were over – usually had sleeves, and were often accesorized with a hat and gloves. Smart suits were also worn during the day, made of fabrics from wool crepe to tweed. Chanel got started with her suits in the 1930s. Evening dress was made of more glamorous fabrics, and accessorized with jewelry, long gloves, and corsages. I’ve had a long, bias-cut, 30sish black evening dress in my wardrobe for 20 years. It still fits (just!) and still gets worn.

Blog inspiration can be found at SammyD’s Vintage (overview with hints), Kitty’s Vintage Kitsch (tutorial!) and The Dreamstress. I shared The Dreamstress’ “Gran’s Garden” 1930s dress with American Magpie, who said it was just the thing, but that she couldn’t sew.

Now, where to find these looks ready-made? To evoke a 1930s garden party for under $75 US,  my #1 recommendation is going to be hitting up consignment stores or eBay. Tea-length floral silk/rayon dresses and tea-length skirts, bias-cut or pleated, are not at the top of the fashion hit parade at the moment, which means consignment/eBay is a great source. Vintage Coldwater Creek and Liz Claiborne, in rayon or silk, often has lovely 1930sish lines. There was an Art Deco revival in the 1970s, so to find ’70s vintage that looks ’30s, search on “does 30s” or “does 1930s” to find 70s-does-30s and 80s-does-30s styles.

A range of EBay finds: Laura Ashley, Karen Millen, and Stop Staring.

A range of 30sish EBay finds: Laura Ashley “day dress”, Karen Millen evening dress, and Stop Staring dress that could be day or evening.

If you want to spend between $100 and $200 US, there’s a site called Trashy Diva that does ravishing retro dresses, and their Obi dress, on sale now, has a great 30s-like line. I am happy to vouch for their fabrics and say that this would be a fab investment special occasion dress, flexible for all kinds of events. Looking around, I also found some appealing, well-priced reproduction 30s and 40s dresses at Stop Staring, Heyday, and ModCloth. And, of course, there are custom vintage reproduction dresses galore on Etsy – their 1930s selection seems skewed towards cotton daywear. I recommend Heart My Closet, especially the Ivy, Darcy, or Serena pencil dresses. Because they are custom made you can request a tea-length skirt, which takes them to the 1930s.  The Dreamstress also takes commissions, if her schedule allows.

We tend to focus on dresses, for some reason – we’re all in love with the idea of the magic dress – so I encourage you to consider top/skirt combinations. If you have curves, it can be far easier to find a great-fitting top/skirt combination than it is to find a bias-cut dress that fits just right. For a true 30s look, necklines were high, and most blouses had some sleeve.

Would have been worn during the day with hat and gloves.

1930s skirt ensembles from a pattern.

For some retro-flavored tops and skirts, here’s a stealth source: Pendleton! The Tuck it Up, Tie Front, and double-breasted blouses look great to me.  (I find vintage Pendleton on eBay less appealing than their new stuff,) I also love this tie-neck knit top from Talbots. Both Pendleton and Talbots have lots of petites, recommended because I know American Magpie is, like me, petite in height.

Why are you not going to the Pendleton web site right now?

Strikingly retro Pendleton tops from their current sale.

Shoes and accessories can take clean-lined contemporary clothes in a vintage direction. How about investing in some vintage 30s jewelry – such as Bakelite bangles, Czech glass necklaces, paired rhinestone dress clips, brooches for coats or dress/blouse lapels, Trifari costume jewelry, rock crystal necklaces. The 1930s were not one of the great jewelry eras, due to the Depression, so I’d add 1920s and Art Nouveau necklaces and bracelets to the mix. Pearls have never been more affordable thanks to Chinese pearl farmers (eBay, Fire Mountain Gems, your favorite local bead store). Rennie Mackintosh silver, and silver and marcasite jewelry, are also perfect for the Art Deco look.

To avoid overdoing it with gloves, hats, jewelry, scarves, costume jewelry, etc. when they were all worn more frequently, a lady would get dressed, put on her acessories, and then take one accessory off. Also, for a true 1930s look, stick with smooth body-toned hosiery, possibly with seams. Fishnets were trampy back then!

Lastly there’s yet another Art Deco revival happening out there – you can thank the upcoming Great Gatsby movie for that – so I would look in your favorite stores this season for Art Deco-flavored tops to team with skirts or Giant Pants.

I know I just recommended this book in another recent post, but I Capture the Castle has a lot of commentary about women’s clothing in the 1930s. It’s also a great story that you can share with your stepdaughter.

Coda: After more conversation, and an exchange of photographs and measurements,  I mailed American Magpie a vintage silk dress that was waiting patiently in my closet, in an international clothes swap. Here’s a picture of the dress. The long lines, ditsy print, and fine chiffon ruffles give it a 1930s feel.

30sish dress

A 30s-ish dress that’s about 10 years old. Silk chiffon/light crepe, with pearl shell buttons.


Friday Follies: Flowers for Mr. Benson

It’s a new year and the fridge where I work is overflowing with well-meaning salad lunches. Bless! It’s that time when we all go and re-read my favorite women’s fitness site, Stumptuous. A serious, no-nonsense, feminist, weight-lifting fitness blast of freshness.

We change more than we think we will: Why You Won’t Be The Person You Expect To Be.

The fabulous Lily Burana writes about body aspirations, judging Miss Exotic World, and not quite fitting into your dream pinup dress in Sexy Dresses That Barely Fit. “Darlings, it’s later than you think. Always. But there’s still plenty of time. Slip the red dress from the hanger. Tuck the silk flower behind your ear. Hide the scale and head out the door. The rest of your one and only life is waiting.”

I only beg to differ about the silk flower. Last year I wanted to hang recycled bullet necklaces on everyone…this year, I’m convinced there’s a leather flower for everyone. Rockabilly red roses, goth black and blue roses, adorably retro vintage leather flowers, quirky NZ pohutukawa and kowhai, ragged modern chrysanthemums.


Clockwise from left: leather pohutukawa, NZ Petalcraft; leather rose from Latvia: leather flower choker and shoe clips from Leatherblossoms; soft leather brooch from Jewelry With Taste; vintage leather trillium. See links below, all on Etsy.

Queenie May Cold Cream

Queenie May Skin Care and the Burlesque Challenge

The Product: Queenie May Vanishing Cream and Queenie May Cold Cream.

The Challenge: Two nights of emceeing in stage makeup + a busy life had stressed my skin. Could the new vintage-themed skin care line Queenie May successfully remove stage makeup after a burlesque show with the Cold Cream, and soothe my battered hide with the Vanishing Cream?

History Distracts Me: What are cold cream and vanishing cream, anyway? My last memory of cold cream was confidently recommending it for Halloween makeup removal in a Bryn Mawr College bathroom in 1991. And vanishing cream was, for me, tangled up in the same fuzzy romantic realm as lace curtains and bowls of potpourri. To the Internet!

In the dawn of the modern era, when powder was the most a respectable woman ventured, lipstick was required yet unsubtle, and pancake foundation was strange and new, the base color and tone of the complexion were vital to beauty. Vanishing creams and cold creams, soft, fragrant, and emollient, had lots of appeal – so much that they were undermined by their own success, as this historical article describes.

"Erasmic", it's like you'll be orgasmic at the flaws erased from your skin

The vanished dream of vanishing cream. Ad from 1918

The literature for Queenie May purrs seductively, “Everything about this cream, the jar, the label, the thick inviting cream, suggests that you take time to indulge in a glamorous night time ritual.” -fans self- Gosh, Queenie, we just met!

And yet, a jar of vanishing cream in my hand reminded me more of a line from S.J. Perelman in his 1937 classic Strictly from Hunger: “I suddenly detected a stowaway blonde under the bed. Turning a deaf ear to her heartrending entreaties and burning glances, I sent her packing. Then I treated my face to a feast of skin food, buried my head in the pillow and went bye-bye.”

All-natural, historical, multi-purpose, AND referenced by S.J. Perelman? This, I had to try.

The Test: Queenie May lauds its lovely packaging. Let us observe:

The jars seemed to like this settingThere is more to the Queenie May line than frosted glass jars and pretty labels.  I’m the kind of person who flips a product over and reads the ingredient list. The creams are 100% botanical, built on olive and jojoba oil extracts, glycerine, and Damascus rose oils. With a nod of approval, I finally opened the jars. Inside the Vanishing Cream is tender and fluffy, and the Cold Cream shows us that it’s aereated.

Inside the jars

Vanishing Cream to the left, Cold Cream to the right. Note the vivid whiteness of the cold cream – just like it used to be.

Saturday afternoon, between shows, I tried the Vanishing Cream on my dry, tired, sad post-show epidermis. It felt rich, but not unpleasantly so, and it did indeed sink in neatly, leaving me soothed and fresh. The slight gloss it left on my skin may be what is described as “dewy.” Four hours later, when I did my stage makeup for a night of emceeing, my makeup came out twice as well as it had the night before. Hm.

Then, close to midnight, after the show, it was time for the Cold Cream to take off that makeup. Armed with cotton pads, I opened the jar. Bubbles! This, too, was aereated, and its agreeable rose scent was stronger. I dipped a finger in and smeared the light, vividly white cream around my eyes. Three swipes with a cotton pad later, the near-geological layers of primer, foundation, and shadow were cleared from one eye. Four cotton pads later, my face was makeup-free, save for mascara, and feeling soft instead of stressed. A night or two later, I tried the Cold Cream on a normal day’s makeup, with similarly good results (and going through a similar amount of cotton pads.)

Any negatives? With the Cold Cream, its one shortcoming as a makeup remover is that it isn’t great for removing modern waterproof mascaras. And while I like the Vanishing Cream in the classic role of a “night cream”, I prefer a lighter pre-makeup moisturizer. Also, I can’t stop putting the Vanishing Cream on my hands.

Creams and Oil Cleansing: My skin is naturally oily and prone to breakouts. After trying these oil-based emulsified beauty creams, I braced myself for post-moisturizing zits that…never came.  What alchemy was this? It turns out that natural oils are kind to even difficult skin like mine.  Oil cleansing has made a comeback as a gentle, surprisingly acne-suppressing method of skin care. Sally at Already Pretty praises oil cleansing here and Crunchy Betty describes the essentials of oil cleansing here. And, oooh, look! The Queenie May ingredients – olive and jojoba oil – are among the recommended oil-cleansing oils. So Queenie May cold cream is basically a single-source, user-friendly oil cleanser.

Showgirl Comments and The Final Test: I took the Vanishing Cream jar out for some of the dames before the burlesque show. The pretty frosted jar encouraged us all to play. From the lips of showgirls:

  • “It really does vanish! So soft!”
  • “$40 for all that? That’s really good.” Especially, I noted later, compared to Lush’s Vanishing Cream in its black plastic tub at  $42.00.
  • “Look at that jar. Mmmmm! Everything comes in white plastic pottles nowadays. But packaging does matter!”

There was one last test. Claire Gormly, proprietress of The Vanity Case and creator of the Queenie May creams, had told me, “The idea is to have jars that you’re proud to put on your retro dresser, to put some of the glamour back into beauty.” Little did she know that I had a glass 1930s dresser set at home. How do the Queenie May jars look in situ?

Queenie May Vanishing Cream in its natural environmentThe Queenie May jars are indubitably swanky with my retro dresser items. For aesthetics, I switched the lids on the Cold Cream and Vanishing Cream jars. The Cold Cream is in the bathroom, where I can dispose of the  post-cold-creaming cotton pads easily. And the Vanishing Cream, the gold lid matching the perfume bottle tops, is tucked on the 1930s crystal dresser tray, waiting for an idle moment.

Vintage atomizer? Check. Vintage pearls? Check. Queenie May? Check. Nicely done, Queenie May! My face is looking forwards to its next feast of skin food. I’m wondering if we can’t have travel-sized jars – maybe little metal tins? – for showgirl makeup bags. And a hand cream, please…

Disclaimer: Queenie May provided samples for my review. Believe me, if I’d gotten zits, you’d know about it.


Let’s Talk About Shoes

When did shoes become the enemy? My friends and I are always bitching about shoes. They are expensive (particularly in NZ), uncomfortable, and hard to find in our sizes. I whirled into my shoe-repair place this morning, thrifted spangled heels in hand, saying “I brought you more crazy shoes!” to see that somebody else had brought the crazy before me. A set of hot orange-and-pink suede platforms with six-inch heels were in the shoe stretching machine. A friend of mine, getting rid of boots from the ’90s, observed that normal heel heights have reached for the sky.

The result is women getting defensive about wearable shoes, with the increasingly-discussed concept of eight-hour shoes versus limo heels, and writers saying things like I love fashion, as long as I don’t actually have to wear it. Because beautiful shoes hurt. Many women my age still default to Dr. Marten’s.

IMHO the point of shoes is not to be beautiful in and of themselves, but to enhance the wearer’s beauty. And if you can’t move, you aren’t attractive. I like to be able to move in shoes, and I like to wear my shoes forever (the shoes I have on today are 4 years old; the oldest pair in my wardrobe has been there for 24 years). I like a 2-to-2-and-a-half inch heel,  leather and wedges. In temperate to chilly Wellington I get more wear out of closed toe shoes.* Often my everyday shoes are black leather, which is nearly invisible, and they are polished and resoled. I’ve been getting good feedback on breaking out of black leather – leopard haircalf, taupe with studs, cognac, just plain red – so I’m diversifying, slowly, as the budget allows.

As a mental palate cleanser, I recommend the blog Barking Dogs, which reviews mostly-US shoes that have comfort as a priority. Also, have a look at Korkers in Nelson handmade sandals – affordable for custom-made, their leather range includes the primary and jewel colors that are having a Moment. Ask them about contrast leather trim, which they used to do.

For polished shoes and sandals, my eye keeps getting caught by Overland, and it turns out the more expensive shoe store Mi Piaci is their corporate sister. Mi Piaci’s sale is on now, and their website has a sale section. After exploring the Mi Piaci sale, I am pleased to bring you some recommendations for fashion-forward shoes. These aren’t just shoes that look pretty in Etherweb la-la land. I have TRIED THEM ON & am personally vouching for their comfort.

Shoes that don't hurt your feet!

Mi Piaci sale shoes that are comfortable & still available in a range of sizes : top row, Tiga; middle row, Tempest; lower row, Adam and Blackton. Tempest and Blackton are also available in a plain black.

I wound up trying the top and middle row shoes on twice, once with jeans and once with a dress. They turned out to be good all-rounders. Tempest in orange is on layaway for me – the orange is a bit more yellow in person, very wearable compared to the acid-orange tones we are seeing everywhere for spring. Tempest in the zebra stripe would go with all the vivid spring/summer colors out there, and transition beautifully into fall. But the little strap on the Tiga made it even more comfortable and easy to wear, and that toast shade would also offset the vivids of the season. A very difficult decision! The chunky heel on Tiga and Tempest is similar to the heel on the expensive designer Celine shoes for Winter 2012. So this shoe on sale in NZ is like a new release shoe overseas. Also: COMFORTABLE.

A word about Ziera, the-NZ-shoe-brand-formerly-known-as-Kumfs. Despite their attractive, comfortable, and often retro-flavored shoes this season, I am still recovering from a really bad customer service experience there. And if I’m going to pay their $200+ prices I could go to an independent boutique like I Love Paris, or go back and get more great service from Mi Piaci.

If you’ve found any good accessible shoes lately, let me know in the comments?

*I even prefer closed toe shoes for emceeing costumes – more protection against whatever’s on a bar floor, and easier to wear tights with them.

The tights look way better in person
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The Grand New Zealand Design Online Shopping Post

It is New Zealand Fashion Week this week. Let us praise NZ Fashion Week for putting together one of the most accessible Fashion Weeks in the world, with scads of events for the general public, including a photography exhibition. If you can’t make it here…this post is a mini-online Fashion Week for you, to allow you to partake of New Zealand style from the comfort of your couch in Columbus, Long Island, or Delft.

The tights look way better in person

Left to right: Karen Walker gold robots, Iwi Designs tights, Trelise Cooper cuff and ring.

I read a spring edition of a New Zealand fashion magazine, which querulously begged us to not shop online overseas to Support New Zealand Business and the ideal of the “boutique” as a curated space. Luckily, New Zealand fashion has gone ahead and started the future – the desginers here are online, and they’re doing international shipping right. Yes, designer clothes are expensive. But there is a market out there for higher-end items, and they’re reaching out to find it. Just as I shop overseas from NZ, you can shop NZ from overseas.

So, why would you shop NZ from overseas?

  • Ethical production – Clothes made in New Zealand are made by workers earning New Zealand wages and protected by our labor laws. That makes them more expensive than other clothes, but it means they are ethically above board, and also…
  • Great quality and construction – I’m one of those awful people who shops with my hands – after I see a garment I like, I grab it and gauge its texture.I turn it inside-out. My little mitts have been all over these clothes and I am happy to vouch for them.
  • Superior fit for some figures – The cuts of Antipodean clothes are often great for taller women, women with “apple” figures, and women with a low hip-to-waist ratio. A friend of mine who’s on the cusp of American regular and plus sizes found that Antipodean plus sizes fit her like a dream.
  • Vive la difference – For something truly different, design from the other side of the planet can’t be beat.
  • Seasonal sales flip! – You’ll be ordering discounted items for the previous summer/winter that will arrive in time for your spring/fall. A lot of New Zealand clothes are also “transseasonal”, wearable any time of the year, as befits our temperate climate.
  • Sane and/or Free Postage – Researching this, I was startled by the designers offering flat rate or even free worldwide shipping. I also know that these online retailers will give you very personal customer service if required.
  • It’s all cheaper than it looks – The NZ dollar ranges between .70 and .80 cents of the US dollar in value.

Online shopping tips and links galore behind the cut!! [Read more]

What we think of when we think of red lipstick.

Red Lipstick And Its Discontents

What we think of when we think of red lipstick.

Image from Erzsebet, reused under Creative Commons with appreciation.

The strong red lip that came back around 2010 isn’t going anywhere, so let’s discuss red lipstick and its discontents.

When red lipstick works, it WORKS. Teeth look whiter, mouths are more succulent, black garments and strong colors become flattering, submitting to the superior red mouth. And when it fails, the fail is traumatically monumental. Often I hear, “I’d like to wear red lipstick but it makes me look like The Joker.” Or Wallis Simpson. Or a strangely older, raddled version of yourself. The Man Repeller has a post on the pros and cons of red lipstick, and how many find it unexpectedly unattractive.

Gwyneth Paltrow and Tilda Swinton are two vaunted beauties with fine, narrow lips.  Tilda goes lipstickless a lot of the time. When she does go red, a translucent berry red suits her better than a heavy, defined red. Gwyneth sticks to pinks most of the time.

Oh, Gary, we miss you...

An immortal Far Side cartoon by Gary Larsen.

The inspirational red lip of our time belongs to beauty icon Dita Von Teese. And when she doesn’t have her makeup on, you can see how some extra lip seems to get added in there with her makeup. My hypothesis is that she is engaging in some tactical deployment of red lipliner.

  • You don’t have to wear red lipstick, even if you are doing a “retro” look.
  • To be pretty, or to knock a few years off your look, try pink and tawny tones one to three shades lighter than your lip.
  • To be alternative or dramatic, try purple and gold tones.
  • To look sexually depraved, do a heavy, smoky eye with false lashes and a pale lined-and-glossed lip. This is Jenna Marbles’ look in the video “How To Trick People Into Thinking You’re Good Looking.”
  • Go matte or glossy if in any lipstick doubt. Frosted tones and sparkle enhance lips’ natural wrinkles.
  • If you want to go red, and you’re new to the look, try a translucent or sheer lip color to get started.
  • If you want an opaque red “retro” mouth, use lip liner first to give your mouth more fullness and to define your cupid’s bow.
  • If you are an Antipodean lipstick novice, I recommend the brand Lipstick Queen. Three reasons: the whole range comes in both newbie-friendly sheer tones (Saint) and full coverage tones (Sinner). The high-quality lipsticks are at independent stands, so you can experiment yourself, without an attendant hovering. And they have a sheer red called “Medieval” that was inspired by the clear blood-red, yet lipstickless, mouths in medieval times, how cool is that?
  • I repeat – red lipstick is optional.

You know what I’m about to be into? Purple lipstick! I was asked to wear some purple lipstick at a photo session and that look is fresh – see the image from the session below. Grape Ape is my new beauty icon.

This is my mouth on purple, courtesy of photographer Andy

Purple lipstick, for a change. This was VERY purple in the tube, I'm amazed at how wearable it is.