Renovating My Hacienda

Site update day! I’ve launched a new look for Ever So Scrumptious, including updated Links – the About Style links now show my absolute, most helpful favorites.

Are blogs obsolete, now that the web is moving towards visual media? No – they’re our online salons, where readers stop by for a coallation of intellectual hospitality. These online spaces give us endless possible “haciendas” as described in Formulary for a New Urbanism. With our smartphones, they’re the friends who always have a note for us, wherever we are. This new site theme is more mobile media friendly than my previous one.

The new year for me has started out with lots of foundation work. I’ve updated this site; a colleague’s site. I spent a day doing what used to be called “housework” but what I often describe as “infrastructure maintenance” because it is the physical plant for my life as a human being. And I bit the bullet and upgraded some wardrobe essentials. The black leather booties I live in. Black pants. Gray pants. Is anything less exciting than gray pants? Actuarial tables, perhaps – but the gray pants open up 15+ work and play outfits for me. They’re the fairy godmother for my wardrobe orphans.

Palette for a redhead.

Here’s what else I’m planning this year:

  • Burlesque and Cabaret – Still emceeing, but I am taking a step back, partly because there’s some marvelous new emceeing talent in Wellington with Victor Victorious and Constance Craving. And this means I can go to more shows! In the audience!
  • Work – My buns off. I’m looking at e-commerce and I’m looking at some intriguing Day Job projects.
  • Style – Polish, polish, polish. Quality, maintenance, grooming. Right now, I have three workwear silhouettes: slim/wrap dress and boots, slim/straight trousers with knit top and Professionalish Jacket or Cardigan, slim/straight trousers with button-down top. I have a palette, which is shown to the right here. I have some nice Going Out dresses and a costume closet and a sewing machine. And for this year, that’s fine. I don’t feel I need to reinvent the wheel, especially because mainstream boxy silhouettes and restricted colors aren’t lighting my auburn-hourglass fire, and because…
  • Travel – My partner and I are going to visit my family and friends in the USA. I’m very excited, even as the budget requirements for this make it a good year to be content with my wardrobe. I also have a super secret project coming up in late March that will involve a bit of travel – more on that closer to the time.
  • Sewing and Writing – I’ve resolved to do more of each. Of both. Of all of them.
  • Life Infrastructure – Big changes under way as my partner and I combine our forces into one residence. We are going to create our hacienda, together.  Most excited!

The Consolations of Femmes

“What made you sad?” a friend asked, privately, after my last post. I will tell you: someone important in my life is dying of cancer.

We are both femmes. Introduced by a mutual friend five years ago, we’ve become close as family. We both like making houses beautiful, keeping vintage clothing forever, old-school dinner parties and acres of books. My friend has recreated herself again and again, challenging society, making the most of her talents, intelligence, and sensuality. She was wrapping up her Ph.D and starting a new teaching job when she got the health news.

Jan at the Michoutouchkine & Pilioko Foundation in Port Vila, Vanuatu, snapped by me

Jan at the Michoutouchkine & Pilioko Foundation in Port Vila, Vanuatu, snapped by me – we went on a cruise together in 2011

What can I do? Love unceasingly. But, along with that, love respectfully. I do my best to respect how she needs and wants to spend her time, and to help whenever I’m asked. I bring food – mild and easy things to eat, such as risotto, braised oxtail with polenta, a swirled pound cake, rewena bread. She asked, “Can you do my nails?” I said yes. “Sooner rather than later?” Again, of course. Chemo can be hard on one’s nails. I assembled a nail kit (with sterilized clippers and just-for-her files and orange sticks) and Saturday I stopped by and gave her a pedicure at the hospital. She chose a rich, iridescent paua-shell blue. I support her decisions in other ways, too – she is choosing how to treat her cancer and deal with her life issues.

What can we all do for our friends with cancer? At one point, a friend of hers, a single man, had had a heart attack. She observed, “Everyone was sending love and light on Facebook, but nobody DID anything. So several of us banded together and went over to clean his house.” Front up with the hands-on care and in-person presence. And  help your friends feel beautiful in other ways, but keep your own hair on your head – Locks of Love, the world’s biggest cut-your-hair-for-cancer charity, is being investigated for fraud, and in New Zealand high-quality cancer hairpieces are funded by national health care. (Cutting hair has been a sign of grieving throughout human history and in many cultures, so I see where they’re coming from, it’s a pity it doesn’t work very well.)

This is how it goes; I’m sad, in waves, like the ocean around the paua. Then my friend and I see each other, and we are sad together. But then we laugh, and rejoice in each other’s presence, and go on rants about health care and hair – because we’re alive. “We’re making memories,” she says.

Carved gateway at Michoutouchkine & Pilioko in Port Vila, Vanuatu

Carved gateway at Michoutouchkine & Pilioko in Port Vila, Vanuatu

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Travel: Philadelphia Freedom

“All things considered, I’d rather be in Philadelphia,” said W.C. Fields before his death. And I’ve been thrilled to be back in the city I lived around or in for ten years. Seriously, I am so happy to be here. Some things haven’t changed, like the picture below, and some things have.
Phil-QuinceI used to live in the house immediately on the right.
Phil-LoveThe famous “LOVE” statue on a perfect spring afternoon.

Phil-Quest“Quest’ at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts.


Flag and bunting emporium in Old City. Philadelphia has gotten a LOT more into the patriotism thing than it used to be. When I lived here in the 1990s, a lot of the historical atrractions were run down after a then-stylish update in 1976. Now, a massive new visitor’s center welcomes tourists and entertains them with storytellers and costumed historians. The line for the Liberty Bell snakes around a city block. New museums and a Philadelphia son et lumiere show have opened up. There was a Tea Party protest going on in front of a government agency.

Also, while visiting my mom in CT, I watched a lot of those new restaurant-voyeurism TV shows, which all seemed to focus on meatloaf. Evidently these shows found rich subject matter in Philadelphia – I went to Reading Terminal Market and my co-diners were Instagramming their food. It’s like everyone else realized how great Philadelphia is, and the result is some Philadisneying. Hm. I always praise Philadelphia to people outside the U.S. as a fantastic, affordable, walkable place to visit and get a sense of The Real America, much more than New York, which is its own beast. Based on the accents in the crowd, non-U.S. visitors have discovered Philly, too.

Away from the Liberty Bell and Benjamin Franklin and Betsy Ross, there’s a vibrant liberal city with a strong queer presence. Medicine and science have been an integral part of the city’s  intellectual life forever, leading to institutes like the Philosophical Society and the Mutter Museum. It’s crowded – but not too crowded. Perhaps it’s because the crowds are thinner that I’m finding Philadelphians even more stylish than New Yorkers. Neon green, hardly seen in New York, is out in force here. The City of Brotherly Love is not as cheap as it once was, but I still recommend it to New Zealand travelers, especially as a stop between New York and Washington D.C.

Next post I’m going to discuss the beauties of Philadelphia shopping. Hold on to your tricorn hats and wallets.

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More State of the Scrumptious

"Like a southern belle"

At a civil union ceremony this past summer. Skirt I dyed myself; leather rose pinned under hat brim; three kinds of sunblock.

So how’s that revamp working out for Ever So Scrumptious? Just as at this time last year, I’m distracted. It’s been a landmark summer in New Zealand and there were lots of road trips and weekend jaunts and beach walks. I cut back on some volunteering and on doing quite so many burlesque gigs, which gave me some breathing room.

Re: style, I find that I’m blogging about what I wear less than I’d planned. As much as I love what style bloggers do, I’m not a hardcore fashionista. But this year, I’ve been pleased and confident at how I was presenting myself via clothes. Which is the point, yes? I’ve got some great finds to share with the blogosphere, and some answering-readers posts to come.

Writing-wise, I’m feeling the gravitational pull of more substantial pieces, and I’d like to get back into the Making It Happen interviews, not least because these are what really resonate with readers here at ESS. Last week,  I was at a burlesque show. A dancer in the audience said she’d been amazed by the interview with Judith of Unseen Censer, and she’d gone on to read Unseen Censer avidly. “A whole world of perfume that I never knew about, things like dirty amber. What is that? I have to smell that!”  Backstage at the show, I wound up surrounded by spangled showgirls, who agreed about their favorite post on the blog this year – the one about buying a car. With witty eyes behind her lush eyelashes, one showgirl said, ” Could you do a post about reviewing a used car yourself? Such as, if you’re buying a used car, always rub some of the engine oil between your fingers – if it’s gritty, that means there are engine problems.” I’ll make it so. Is there anything else you’d like to read here at Ever So Scrumptious?

Later this year, the burlesque break will be over when Wellington’s burlesque calendar fills up. I’ll be doing some events, both burlesque and steampunk, and we’ll be blessed with flying visits from some international performers, culminating with the New Zealand Burlesque Festival this coming October.

Right now, I’m hammering myself with a ferocious workout program that’s reminding me how much I love weight lifting. It’s only six weeks until my trip to the U.S. of A. I’ll be celebrating my mother’s 70th birthday, and going to my 20th university reunion – has it been so long? And as time passes, and the expatriate years stretch out, this will be the last trip that falls into a certain cozy pattern of returns-home as parents age, friends drift away, and old haunts close or change. So any readers will be following me on my travels, as I freak out returning to the heartland of preppy and exploring places new and old.

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Blue Mullet Dress

Have some business in the front, party in the back, with this ultramarine-blue “mullet” dress I made.

Business in the front, party in the back!

Mullet dress in the Wellington summer wind

I’m ambivalent about many manifestations of the mullet or high-low look, but it’s a good one to sew at home to get it just right for you. I wanted it as a flexible summer run-around dress, solid, flowing, and sleeved.

Notice the pasty whiteness of my unsunned limbs

Skirt differential: about 12 inches between front and back.

The fabric is a midweight viscose from Global Fabrics in Wellington. This dress is based on an older Butterick pattern, 4972 – from the mid-90s! I used its Petite option, and altered it further as follows:

  • Nipped in the shoulders at the back by a good 2 inches to match my back measurement – A great alteration for other petites.
  • Reduced the fullness of the skirt by 1 – 2 inches per side/back panel – To reduce the weight of the knit fabric.
  • Reinforced the shoulder seams inside with non-stretchy cotton twill tape – To support the remaining, still-proportionally-substantial weight of the knit fabric.
  • Added a strip of elastic at the waist in the back – Further support for that big ol’ skirt! A knit mullet skirt, supported by its waistband, wouldn’t have the skirt-weight problems.
  • Made the neckline an inch and a half higher – This made the neckline fall where it should on my short torso. I also faced the neckline.
  • Added sleeves – These elbow sleeves make it very flexible in temperate Wellington.

The valuable core of the pattern was the main dress structure, based on princess seams, which is hugely flattering, especially with the petite alterations included in the pattern.

Hi, boys

Naughtiness at sunny seaside Shortland Park, Island Bay, Wellington

Both this dress and the photos had their genesis at a lovely friend’s craft afternoon in Island Bay, Wellington.  One Saturday, I cut the dress out (and learned how to copy patterns, too). While I sewed at home, an experienced friend watched and gave me valuable advice. When it was done, a third friend (her photo journal is here) volunteered to take these stellar shots.  A crafting community supported project that left me with a summer dress and pleasant memories. Thank you, everyone.



State of the Scrumptious

A lot has been going on behind the scenes here. Since I went to NetHui in July, life has been exceptionally busy. My mom had surgery overseas (she’s fine!) and my partner’s father visited. A stream of freelance work, burlesque emceeing, increased responsibilities at my day job, and two workshops that I gave on August 26th also kept me on the run.

Then it was time to be my OWN web client and to update this site. A year’s worth of spiffing content now has a mobile-friendly look and feel in a “responsive” theme.

After a year of blogging my main preoccupations all sum up as performing the feminine. Get dressed – it’s a performance. Engage in activities within traditional women’s zones – it’s a performance. Get up on stage, go to a conference – it’s a performance. The fashion and style blogs I enjoy the most discuss style in a thoughtful way – Alison at Wardrobe Oxygen had a magnificent post about this. I am planning on ramping up the style elements here.  That said, while I talk about shopping, and brands will be mentioned, a consumer-advocate perspective is what comes naturally to me, more than being a personalized catalog.  I’ve learned that my readers and I all THINK before we spend.  I’m also investing in a new camera this week, so you can look forwards to more and better photos.

My sewing procrastination is at an end – I made this sequined gown in August. It’s silver and pewter sequin tiger stripes! The microsequin fabric stitched up all right, but it demanded to be sewn with a stretch stitch and nothing but, and it had to be lined with a stretch lining. Definitely a sewing learning experience! I finished it in time for a shoot with Digitalpix on the first day of spring.

Full lycra/poly lining = no sequin itches!

Thank you Digitalpix for this delicious portrait! Black and white shows off this pewter and silver gown perfectly.

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Friday Follies: Zeitgeist Zelda

Yes, I’m emceeing another show coming up – Miss LaBelle’s House of Burlesque is bringing back Frolic Lounge. This is…sold out. And Miss LaBelle’s next round of classes is fully booked – I believe you can get on a wait list, and that the burlesque name “Zeitgeist Zelda” is still available.

Hubba hubba! Aaaa-oooo-ga!

Now that I have your attention with that hot pink graphic, go and devour Karen Finley’s poem Black Sheep, then read it aloud to the misfits you love.

Then, cheer yourselves up by giving each other makeovers! If ever a blog will change the way you put your outfits together, it is Inside Out Style Blog. Antipodeans, she’s based in Melbourne and doesn’t get too brand-name-y with her recommendations, making her more useful than many style blogs for those of us Down Under.

Style at MakerFaire – Parts 1 and 2 – women and men of all ages get their geek on.

Digital print fabrics have been impacting fashion over the past several years. Burda’s take on them is inspirational. And, yeah, yeah, mandatory Spoonflower link here. I think these will lead to a serious change in clothing over the next several years.

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Loving A Designer, Loving A City

Betsey Johnson, a designer who once stood for femme 80s/90s quirk, files  for bankruptcy! Like a bite of some oversweet rose-scented madeline, this has propelled me a la recherche au temps perdu.  Johnson herself is 70 this year and, admittedly, the brand has stopped being as revolutionary as it once was. But in the 80s and 90s, she was one of the femmiest femmes out there designing, and I could regularly be found up to my elbows in the sale basket at the the Philly Betsey Johnson boutique. I even got married in a Betsey Johnson dress of deep red velvet.

Loving a designer is an ambivalent experience. Aspirational, expensive, worrisome. Will they go away? Will their construction go down the tubes? Will you grow apart? The best that can come of it is confidence in the present day and memories later on. The blogger Gala Darling did a lovely post with glimpses of Betsey’s mercilessly feminine apartment and links to more about her.

Alas, poor Betsey. I knew her, Horatio

Some recent Betsey Johnson rufflage.

Pinpointing that former boutique, and looking at some older Betsey Johnson clothes – in retrospect, much plainer than I remembered -  unleashed a wave of nostalgia for my Philadelphia years. Did I love the clothes, or where I was when I was wearing them? I was young and clumsy and dorky when I rifled through the sale baskets at 18th and Walnut. I didn’t make a lot of money, but  in 1994 Philly, you didn’t have to. Chasing temps perdu online, I found out that the tiny building where I had my first-ever apartment, on Quince Street in Philadelphia, is for sale. I already knew that one of the three miniscule apartments in the building (the one directly below mine – I was on the middle floor) got profiled on Apartment Therapy. I left a long and delirious comment.

To blow my mind further, somebody recently did a video praising Quince Street as a favourite place in the city. I could walk back down the uneven cobblestones of Quince Street today, shaded by slow-growing gingko and pear trees, and it still looks exactly the same as it did in 1994.


If you’ve never loved a city – I feel sorry for you – it’s like never having loved a person, or an animal. What is it like to love a city passionately? I felt like I knew everyone, or a subsection of everyone – a delicious fallacy. I checked out the alleyways and the scary-looking restaurants and bars, carrying away new places to go as urbanite trophies. On my rambles, I learned to love vintage: quirky unchanged lunch counters, stoop sales with Art Deco fragments and old magazines, closing-down stocking wholesalers selling me 1950s boxes of seamed nylon stockings for $3 apiece (“Nobody wants them anymore” they said). I huffed the smell of the sidewalks in the rain. I had my heart broken in that real-estate way, with an apartment broken into at one time, a bad encounter that shadowed the street where I lived another. Still, when I was coming back, I’d see the skyline and smile, involuntarily.  And then one day I was done, we were over. Even the sidewalks stopped having their gravitational pull. I realized that I’d lived in that town and its environs for ten years and spent a sum total of eight weeks away. The rest of the world beckoned.

In the present day, I love Wellington, too, though not with that first-urban-love intensity. (Also, I live in the ‘burbs, and Wellington is ruthless towards its surrounds.) As a sign of my being at home in downtown Wellington, I felt a twinge when the Calendar Girls strip palace took over from the former Garden Club. The Garden Club was one of those large, indifferent, but available-for-burlesque venues. Its backstage stairs were horrible to high-heeled performers, its barnlike size didn’t encourage after-partying, and the seating was plentiful but good views weren’t. Nobody liked it much, until it wasn’t ours anymore. At least it’s ending on an interesting story. I think that in the age of Internet porn, there is something to be said for human beings leaving the house to look at and speak to actual women instead of airbrushed pixels. Those “dirty” urban zones were part of what gave Philly its rough-edged flavor. Will Calendar Girls be successful in this city and era, or, two years from now, will we be pouting at a glossy, dull fusion restaurant and saying “That used to be a strip club! Remember the time we…?”


I went to the other side of the planet to get away from this. Nothin' personal, Lisa.

Escape From The Prepicenter

I went to the other side of the planet to get away from this. Nothin' personal, Lisa.

True Prep authors Lisa Birnbach and Chip Kidd walk the preppy walk.

Living in New Zealand after being brought up in New England, I am occasionally asked to explain this thing called “preppy.”And I am reminded of how happy I was, myself, to leave preppy style behind.

From the ages of seven to eighteen, my home was a small town just bordering New Haven, CT. New Haven is the demarcation line between NYC suburbs and “real New England”, as indicated by my family’s bitter inter-sibling rift between being New York Yankees fans and Red Sox fans.  My svelte British mom liked New Haven’s Georgian colonial flavor, the brick and shale and clapboard buildings, the streamlined, classic clothes – the look called preppy that is well described here as “British inspired New England styling“. J. Press, the Yale Co-Op (which was its own small department store with in-house clothing brands until the 1990s), and Laura Ashley were just the thing for the tennis lessons and beach club visits.

Today, preppy styles have been given slimline makeovers and an ironic wink, and there are lots of preppy aficionados – even the Preppy Handbook has been updated. The web page for that update, True Prep, is a preppy primer. Pastels, madras, and tailoring take over the streets of Nantucket in the summer.  On the Boston sidewalks, every other person is preppy, and the look leaks down all the way to Washington D.C. According to True Prep, there are now new-prep variants across the country, from Lily Pulitzer southern belles to dignified Northwestern polarfleece. It seems easier for men, somehow, and easier to subvert today (if you’re read right). Lisa Birnbaum’s witty interview here sums up the subdued ethos of preppiness very well. “Grey and navy,  navy and grey, pink and navy…”

Pastels. For days.

All well and good. For me, as a teenager in the 80s, before the ironic makeover, preppy style in its 80s apotheosis made me think I hated clothes.

I took after my dad’s side of the family physically, with an Eastern European chassis. My cheeks, hips, chest – everything, really – curved. My hair waved and tousled, neither preppy straight nor 80s full, in the years before straighteners. I tried to be a hip ’80s New England teen. Disastrously. Shoelaces with hearts on them (mine had frogs, so wrong), a Ralph Lauren polo, and a Le Sportsac bag. L.L. Bean snow boots in season. A Laura Ashley dress for everyone else’s bar and bat mitzvahs when I was 13. But the pinks and blues and boxiness of 80s wear in New England meant that clothes were just another way for me to be a dork – until I discovered vintage clothing.

Ah, those 80s vintage clothing stores, full of lost treasures. Whatever happened to the burnt-orange 60s evening gown I picked up for a song? The quasi-Chanel 50s suit that even my mom agreed was a good idea? I still have a few pieces of Victoriana from those days, and a retro 40s tilt topper that has since done duty on many a model’s head.

The next step in my style evolution was leaving New England. I relocated to the Philadelphia area. Yes, preppies still roamed, herding onto the Paoli Local R5 commuter train in beige trench coats.  But it wasn’t mandatory. Philadelphia Freedom meant never having to wear a polo shirt again. In 1990, I bought a leather jacket on South Street and never looked back. Henceforth it was all admiring ladies in church hats, Mummers, and clothes from Zipperhead. I spent the 90s after work in sunflower sundresses and boots, polka-dot hot pants, leopard-print leggings from Contempo Casuals, and slinky oddments from the $20 sale bin at Betsey Johnson.  Life got interesting to match the clothes – one memorable evening, I got smuggled into a voguing ball – though I never made it to one of Henri David’s Halloween balls. I’m thinking about the clothes now, but at the time, they were almost incidental, so much was going on.

And then, at 28, I moved to New Zealand…


p.s. All the keys in this bowl belong to beautiful women.

When It’s So Bad It’s Good

There’s a category of vintage clothing summed up by this Venn diagram:

Note that the overlap area isn't large and is murky.I’m a sucker for items that fall into the murky, “so bad it’s good” area in the middle. Mouton coats. Marbled silk prints. Giant pussycat bows. Hats that are ready for lift-off. Brooches that can be seen from outer space. These items have often survived because they’re so distinctive or over-the-top that they got worn once or twice and then got put away.

It’s also illustrated by this vintage 70s dress that I thrifted:

p.s. All the keys in this bowl belong to beautiful women.

"I knew it was going to be a great party when I had to get a bigger bowl for all the keys!"

The dress seems to have been custom-made in Asia in the ’70s. Only the ’70s can explain the totally bizarre, yet very high quality, stretch silk twill, and the enormous collar. Based on the total lack of a waist, it seems to have been made for an edgy matron – I’ll be wearing it with a belt and a slip in the future.

The dress has no zipper and pulls over the head. Easy-on, easy-off.

"Whose keys are these? And which way is the waterbed?"

The dress photos are thanks to Wellington photographer Diana Villiers – see more of her work here.