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Friday Follies: Clothes Outside the Square

I spent last weekend sanding window frames so my main recommendation of the week is “Don’t use 60-grit sandpaper without your gloves on.” My hands will never be the same. Here’s a glimpse into the weird world of hand models: “I say to people, don’t play with kittens, don’t smoke roll-ups, don’t change bicycle chains.”


Prints from the Mary Blair collection – Commuter and Train.

Stripping off my grit-covered work clothes, I escaped into the Fall 2015 fashion overviews online. Wow, mainstream styles for the next year are really sticking with the blocky silhouettes and gray/black/white/blue colors. The Cut’s review of Fall 2015 fashion shows helpfully includes color palettes. I’ll link here to their J. Crew overview and you can use their navigation to review other shows. At least if you get a rectangular coat in a sale from overseas, you’ll get two years of wear out of it.

At the opposite end of the clothing spectrum, Pinup Girl Clothing has a fascinating new collection based on the work of mid-century Disney animator and artist Mary Blair. I adore the jolie-laide Commuter skirt. PUG, as they are affectionately known, is also pointing us towards their work wear. Which I recommend if you don’t want to dress like a woolen rectangle.

If you want a sartorial middle ground, I just had some pretty sweet customer service from Boden. Praise them with great praise! NZers, order from the UK for the greatest variety, be patient when waiting for the mail, and check out their winter sale.

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Friday Follies: Redhead Edition

This week I was charmed by the blogs of two redheaded New Zealanders. There’s Daily Oxford – useful tasteful makeup advice for mature faces combined with a rural New Zealand life rich with horses, dogs, and weather worries. Helga von Trollop is magnificently extreme. I particularly enjoyed this post of hers here, where she illuminates her circumstances and shares her sharp wit as well as her smashing red-white-and-blue outfit.

Whenever I’m in doubt as a curvy redhead, I seek the middle ground between Oxford and von Trollop and ask myself: what would Christina Hendricks do? The talented and privileged actress is in a position to try most stylish looks. If something in her many style ventures didn’t work out for her, she took one for Team Redhead and I appreciate it. A 109-image look book for her is here.

Eyebrows often vex redheads and redheads-by-choice. Us redheads-by-choice  benefit from a bit of brow makeup to bring our face and hair together with the next level of polish. Refectocil has two dye options for redhead brows: Chestnut (good for auburns and henna hues) and Red (good for cherry/punk shades). And this sane, cheerful video shows us how to do everyday redheaded brows with powder and pencil. Note that the eyeshadows she’s using to create auburn-ish brows are soft, not dramatic, and the result is balanced eyebrows, not cinnamon caterpillars.

Not to dis caterpillars, by the way. I love the irresistible cinnamon wooly-bear caterpillars – I remember petting them gently as a child in New England. But I try not to recreate them when it’s brow time!

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Fragrance Explorer Day – April 6th

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For those of us in Wellington, I have put together a Fragrance Explorer Day, on Sunday, April 6th. I was inspired by seeing how much fun fragrance lovers overseas have at events like Sniffapalooza and perfume master classes.


Discussing the event with several fragrance-loving friends, and with some friendly retailers, I’ve done my best to keep it accessible and interesting. The morning is shopping-oriented, and the afternoon is dedicated to a demonstration and a swap. And there wil be time for people to just talk and get to know each other. Some people are signed up in advance – serious fragrance aficionados. Some of us are into vintage and “rescued” scents. Everybody over 18 of all genders is welcome to attend.

10 AM – 11:30 AM – An in-depth hosted visit to Kirkcaldie and Staines with a fragrance talk, followed by sampling their selection of Guerlain, Chanel, and Estee Lauder scents, and exploring their Mecca Cosmetica fragrance area. This is free! Plus, if you choose to acquire a Kirk’s fragrance on the day you will receive a gift with purchase. Please sign up ASAP for the Kirk’s visit – this is strictly limited to 15 people, and only 10 places are left. Use the form below to sign up!

11:30 to 2:00 PM – Rest your nose, stop by a cafe for lunch with us, and we might sniff in at one or two other places.

2:00 PM – At Made on Marion Craft, there will be a fragrance and accessory swap. The swap starts with a fragrance sampling/pipetting demonstration to help us share our perfumes, and the swap itself begins at 2.30. The swap has a koha (cash donation) entry that will be donated 100% to Women’s Refuge Wellington.

Swap items will be tallied up for swap credit. You are welcome to bring: perfumes, fragrance oils, costume jewelry, bags, scarves, hats, and gloves. Perfume samples and partially used/tried fragrances are welcome. The swap is limited to 30 – 35 people – again, use the form below to sign up.

Note: Your contact information is confidential and I will not distribute Fragrance Explorer information to anyone for commercial purposes.

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Travel: New York, Briefly

Going to America, New York feels…somewhat mandatory. At least, it is if your father and brother live there. I stayed for four days and spent most of the time catching up with people. “New York is one of the most uncomfortable environments there is,” says my Brooklyn-based brother. “You can get away with anything as long as you don’t get in anyone else’s way.” It was frantic and crowded and sweaty and dirty and exciting and full of wonderful, high-energy people.

Lovely Lolitas in NYCIn Bryant Park, meeting up with a friend, we ran into a fashion shoot and a separate Lolita meetup. By the carousel, of course!

Their "Ho Ho" cakeBryant Park cafe cake. Very dark and rich.


I stayed very close to here for three nights. Had some fabulous food in neighboring Koreatown.

Mi abuela Isabel NemirovskyRediscovered at my dad’s place, this photo of my Argentinian grandmother, aged 22 here.

Mister Showbiz courtesy of Juleskill via Creative CommonsIt’s not a New York trip without a dose of burlesque or cabaret. And I got mine from Mister Showbiz himself, Murray Hill! I saw him perform on May 18th, at Galapagos Art Space, with my “show date” being Judith of Unseen Censer. Such a pleasure to see the emceeing master at work. The show was flawless, too – unlike my excited, shaky photography. So this far better image is via Creative Commons, so you too can feel the love.

A word about New York shopping. It’s easy to get overloaded, jaded, bewildered, and overspent very quickly. If you have a strong interest in music, or crafts, or graphic novels, or some other highly specific hobby or subculture, you may get more pleasure out of spending money on the specialized items for these that you can find in NYC than on the chimera of “New York style.” But many visitors to New York are convinced the chimera is out there…

I find my best New York fashion return-on-investment comes from cosmetics. It is worth it to pick your favorite cosmetic counter and get some refreshing tutorials along with your purchases. My favorite is the boutique brand Paula Dorf, and their Henri Bendel counter is staffed by makeup sorcerers.  I went to them and said, “My eyebrows – can you help?” They did.

Clothes were more hit and miss – I’m not the only one to find this season of clothing rather meh. Macy’s on Herald Square was vast and confusing. I preferred the cleaner, more tranquil, and better curated Lord and Taylor at 38th Street – their sale racks had some bargains that matched items I was seeking.

New Yorkers look like everyone and wear everything – the full cross-section of humanity, not the tooth-bleached actors in Manolos we get in the media. That said, this spring, the New York fashionistas got a memo that said “Wear a very, very simple black dress. And beige shoes, and a bag of an entirely different color. Top it off with a clunker of a necklace or a bracelet, but NOT both.”

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.

Thank you very much! I'm here all week! Try the veal!

Diary of a Burlesque Emcee

Burlesque emcees are curiously cagey about their dark art. And…there’s something to that. Not least that emcees are often saving their voice, their persona, their best lines, for when they perform. For one post, I am drawing back the veil. Join me on a performance day and night!

They're Ed Hardy "Madrid" shoes.

Glorious orange sequined shoes. Like the sunrise, on my feet!

6:00 AM – It’s a Friday, and a show day.  I’m up and at ’em this early to redye my hair. While the dye sets, I spend some time with the run sheets for the show, reviewing performer introductions. Then, I read a bit of Clive James‘ autobiography, The North Face of Soho. This has some great tips for both performers and writers in it, and I recommend it highly.

7:30 – I tuck the run sheet into my show bag, which is already packed.  A new pair of glorious sequined heels, from two friends who just visited the USA, will be on trial. The show team is also planning a new in-between act that required some props, so I was busy with the glue gun last night.

8:30 – Guess who’s got a full work day followed by a show tonight? This gal. Ah, the glamor of being involved in burlesque in a medium-sized city!

Behind the cut: makeup, costuming, and the show itself…[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.


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The Elements: An Introduction

I asked some of my friends, “So what would you like to see on my femme blog?” Responses included:

“I’m not very good at (long pause) being female.”

“I would like some basics.”

“I liked the perfume posts – some more stuff like that.”

We unpacked these beginning statements some more. My friends did not want to be hyper-groomed and obscured under myriad layers of Products, but they did want “more polish.” They wanted to look like themselves, but better.  They enjoyed excursions to Goth Castle, the Retro Pinup Malt Shoppe, and the ineffable fashion realms of the 5th Arrondisment and 5th Avenue. But they wanted to read about a livable style ground and femme improvements for every day.

There’s a lot on the Web about makeup application and refining clothing style. So, for this week, I put together a series of posts on four basic style concepts – four Elements – that don’t repeat too much of what is already out there:

  • Face Care
  • Making the Most of Your Natural Hair 
  • Working with Outfits
  • Creating Occasions

Someone whose style is based on wholesome naturalness could take these elements and live happily ever after. Somebody else who wants to become a sleek, groomed avatar of fashion perfection, or a deliciously made-up pin-up, could use them as a foundation. The first post is up immediately following this.

One other question was, “Could you do a master post of all your online shopping places?”

That one didn’t take any unpacking (because the box hasn’t arrived yet.) I promise I’ll do that one, too.

A beautiful photo by a beautiful man. And a reminder that beauty is imperfect.

Flower, Albuquerque, NM. © 2007, 2011, Joseph E. Lake, Jr. Reused under Creative Commons Non-Commercial.

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Friday Follies

NZ “new vintage” purveyor Oops Oh My seems to be a local distributor of Chic Star, a popular Chinese “new vintage” manufactory. And that’s good – I just wish they’d sell the full Chic Star range. The clothes have good reviews online. On Oops Oh My, prices are good, delivery/returns for those of us in NZ are easier with a local distributor, and they have regular and plus sizes. Oops Oh My is looking for NZ models wearing the clothes, too.

Mineral makeup divas Dollface Mineral Makeup  have created an eyeshadow color to honor Wellington burlesque teacher, dancer, and leading light Miss La Belle. Ask them about it at their web site:

The New York Times hosts a cerebral discussion about “wild nail polish”.

A reminder that Frolic Lounge is on tomorrow, and I’m the lucky emcee. After the dress rehearsal, I can tell you this is one naughty and different burlesque show.

Can it be, another burlesque event in Wellington, so soon? Yes! Next Saturday, July 9th, at Mighty Mighty bar on Cuba Street,  is Dr. Sketchy. I doodle and sketch myself – just finished a cartooning class– so I am WILDLY EXCITED to be helping out as the hostess for a Dr. Sketchy featuring Belle’s Beauties! There are three beautiful girls, who will be dancing, then posing for drawings and paintings. Plus chocolate, plenty of tables, and prizes for Best Dressed and for the victors of two drawing contests. The bar staff at Mighty Mighty is happy to provide water glasses for brushes to gouache and watercolor artists. All that, and this may be the best-lit burlesque event you’ll ever attend.

Dr. Sketchy Wellington July 2011, with me!

I’m not the poster artist for this one; the girl on the poster, the lovely Chantal, is one of the models you can expect.


Vintage Hair and Makeup With Debonaire Doos

This past Saturday, more than twenty-five of us wedged ourselves into a room in downtown Wellington. Miss Tittle Tattle had come to visit Wellington for a burlesque performance and for the day after, she had organized a Debonaire Doos vintage hair and makeup workshop. Because Debonaire Doos often does the hair and makeup for a popular pin-up photographer, she’s an expert at doing retro transformations – often on up to 8 women at a time. We showed up with plain faces, slightly grimy hair (to help vintage styles take hold), and our tiny makeup satchels.

Miss Tittle Tattle of Debonaire Doos curls the hair of Miss La Belle. In the background, Marilyn Monroe approves.“When  come to Wellington, it’s like a holiday!” Miss Tittle Tattle purred. I find this hard to believe, because she put herself through her paces in this very intense demonstration. In her delicate, musical voice,  she told us what we needed to know about creating a “vintage look” with hair and makeup, and demonstrated on models Miss La Belle (pictured) and Kelly. The “vintage look”  is the classic face we see in images of the 40s and 50s: the smooth, perfect face with vivid lips and cleanly defined brows and eyes.  Miss Tittle Tattle shared with us the tools for a vintage hair set, the vintage face aesthetic, and guidelines on colors and makeup application, demonstrating on her lovely models all the while. We asked all sorts of questions. I’m not going to give away all her wisdom, but a few of the tidbits included:

* If you’re in Wellington and you want the vintage-curl-friendly “Middy” haircut, go to Danny at the Powder Room salon.

* Put down the hair straightener and walk away from it. You can curl with it, but you shouldn’t, if you want a vintage look. Use steam rollers instead – these lift the roots of your hair and set the curl correctly down to the very tips of your hair.

* When you’re ready to undo a vintage set, take the top curlers out first, handling the hair gently. Then undo the lower curlers.

* Maybelline Eye Studio gel liner is great for cats’ eyes, and affordable too.

* Getting the correct cat-eye liner look is challenging, and takes practice. But “the first time you get your cats’ eye liner right feels fantastic. It’s like the first time you tassel twirl!”

We all know about the multiplicity of vintage-look videos on YouTube by now, and they are very helpful. Still, there’s nothing like being there, especially for kinesthetic learning, live in three dimensions. For me, the two best things to see in person were how you brush your hair after you’ve taken it out of the set to turn it into your smooth, finished vintage style, and how to do those  notoriously challenging cats’-eye lined eyes. We had some play time of our own after the hair and makeup demonstrations. I focused on my face, and here are the before and after looks:

My face, in fluorescent lighting, before and after I applied vintage makeup. Did I mention the fluorescent lighting?

Notice how the strong cat’s-eye liner and mascara makes my eye asymmetry less noticeable (if you didn’t notice it before in Photo #1, you’ll see it now that I’ve mentioned it). And the red lips provide contrast to my green eyes.  Craziest of all, I did those cat’s eyes myself, in a tiny hand mirror, after Miss Tittle Tattle’s instructions. It’s the first time I’ve ever gotten it right!  Well, “right” if the value of “right” = “Amy Winehouse, pre-bender.”

Afterwards, I walked down the street with a friend, both of us still percolating with enthusiasm after the workshop. “I want her to come back and do a six-week course!” my friend enthused. “Maybe if you have a web cam, you could get a consultation with her on Skype?” Then, we were distracted by hats. But that’s another story.