From Cow Manure to Couturier

When people ask me, “How did someone from a cattle ranch in Oregon get to the big city and become an image consultant?”  I have to think of my aunt Jane.

Jane was my Dad’s older sister, the only one of the seven siblings to leave the ranch and go to the city.  Her name was really Nellie Jane but she eliminated the Nellie as soon as she could.  Jane moved to San Francisco before I was born and I remember as a child, when the family got together and her name was mentioned, everyone sort of rolled their eyes.  The first time I saw Jane, she was impeccably groomed, wore heels and a skirt with an attractive blouse and a hat.  It was a dramatic contrast from the rancher brothers wearing blue jeans and boots, Western shirts and Stetsons while their wives all wore simple cotton dresses and sensible shoes.  From that time on, I was intrigued with Jane.

In high school I had a couple of occasions to visit Jane in Palo Alto where she had settled.  I fell in love with her beautifully furnished condominium and the way she presented herself.   After moving to Southern California myself, I always made a point to stop by Palo Alto when driving back to Oregon to visit my family.  Somewhere along the line, Jane started calling every Saturday – a tradition that lasted for some twenty –five years.  Since she had never had children, I became more like a daughter and later, my daughter, Cyndi, was added to the calling routine.    Both Cyndi and I still treasure those conversations.  Jane may have moved to the city but she was so genuine, had a great  a sense of humor and called things as she saw them. 

My aunt had style.  She always designed her own clothes, using patterns but mixing up components to create her personalized look.  When she first moved to San Francisco, she had very little money.  She would take her pattern to a store, roll out the fabric and lay out her pattern so she did not need to buy even an extra inch.   Later, as her circumstances improved, she used a dressmaker in San Francisco.  She would drive to San Francisco from Palo Alto  fabric in hand and give her dressmaker instructions on how she wanted the garment made.  This was a practice she continued until she was 97. If it didn’t turn out just right, she would tear it apart and remake it herself.

A couple of times a year, Jane would call and ask if I could possible use anything as she was cleaning out her closet.  It was like Christmas to get her boxes and see what treasures were inside.  Since Jane never followed trends, I could wear most everything with some minor alterations.  One time, Jane called and asked if I would like an outfit that she had seen in the window of I. Magnin (a upscale department store of the day).  She had called the store and asked them to send it over but decided it didn’t look that good on her.  Since she debated for several weeks, she was embarrassed to return it to the store so wanted to send it to me.  Of course, I was happy to accept.  When the package arrived, I found a skirt  with a coordinating blouse and a suede vest.    It was beautiful but it really needed boots to complete the look.  Boots were a bit out of my budget so creativity kicked in.  Jane had sent a cape bearing the I. Magnin tags.  This cape was going to require coordinating an entire outfit so I returned it to the store and used the credit  for the boots.  A few days later, wearing my new ensemble, I was chatting with a group of women before going in to church.   There was a tap on my shoulder.   When I turned to see who it was, the man standing there apologized for disturbing my conversation but said he simply had to tell me what a stunning outfit I was wearing.  It was all I could do to keep from bursting into laughter and explaining it was simply a “hand-me-down” from my 80+-year-old aunt!  After enjoying this outfit for several years, I passed it on to Cyndi who wore it several more years.

When Jane was 98, she was confined to bed after hip fractures.  Her hip-replacement surgery at age 85 had finally given out and she was too old to have another operation.  By this time, I was initiating the Saturday calls, which became more difficult as her hearing declined.   My husband and I visited several times and even though she was confined to bed and could hardly hear, her mind was still sharp.   Her hairdresser came weekly to do her hair and she always wore makeup and a pretty bed jacket.  Our last visit was a few days after she had celebrated her 100th birthday.  It was the first time I had ever seen her with white hair but her hair was nicely done, make-up applied and her nails were even polished!
When Jane passed away shortly after our last visit, I went to Palo Alto to  clean out her condo.  I was dreading this task but as I started going through things, warm memories of our many conversations  surged through my mind.  As I came across some leftover fabric or saw a dress or perhaps even a vase, I remembered her pleasure as she was making decisions and planning what to do with it.   Amazingly enough, most all of her clothing was appropriate for much younger people so I boxed them up and sent them to cousins.

I have no idea where in that rancher gene pool Jane and I fit in to make the jump from  “cow manure to couturier” but I surely hope that my more mature years are carried with her style while keeping as grounded and genuine as she was right to the end!

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What’s my Season?

Posted on November 11, 2009 by admin 


A number of years ago having your colors done was the rage.  The comments of the day were,  “Are you a winter?” or “I’ll bet you’re a spring”.    Although, good as far as it went, putting each person in one of four “little boxes” doesn’t do justice to ones individuality.

Today, a much more in-depth evaluation is considered when determining which colors are best for each individual.  Of course, selecting the colors that harmonize with the client’s hair, eyes and skin tones is imperative but as an image consultant, I like to consider who the person is deep down inside, the “Signature Style”.   This will guide us to the color intensity, shade and tone that will be most complimentary.  

Since the colors you wear and how they harmonize (or don’t) with your natural coloring is the first thing people notice, it is important that you ascertain whether cool or warm colors will be more complementary.  If your skin has pink undertones, you will probably look best in cool colors and peach undertones in skin will be in harmony with warm colors.  You can usually determine this yourself by holding cool and warm colors under your chin and observing which brings out the best skin tones.   Picture a color wheel with red and green on opposite sides.  These are pivotal colors – each can be either cool or warm.  On the cool side, you will have the blue-reds, magenta, violet, blue and blue-greens.  On the warm side, you will have orange-red, orange, yellow, and yellow greens.  To do a self-test, it is easiest to use orange or a yellow-green for the warm example and a blue or magenta for the cool.  You will be able to observe a visible difference in your skin tone.  If you are cool, the yellow-green will drain the color from your skin or the orange will make your skin look like a pumpkin while the cool examples will give life and vibrancy to your appearance.  If you are warm toned, the orange and yellow-green will be very complimentary to your natural tones while the cool colors will not be harmonious.

You have now taken the first step in determining which colors present your best image.  Next, let’s take a deeper look at color to determine which shade and intensity is best for you.  The saturated colors are when they are at their full intensity.  A bright red, green or blue for example are called saturated.  These colors are very complimentary for the person with a vibrant personality.  This is the person who,  makes the whole room come alive when she enters.  Saturated colors are not as professional for more conservative jobs but can work wonderfully as an accent – blouse, scarf or even a jacket when worn with neutrals.  Tinted is when white is added to the saturated color creating a pastel.   Tinted colors are excellent for people with fair coloring.  How much white is added determines whether the color is a brighter tint of very subdued.   If one has a bubbly lightness about her, a light walk and buoyant voice, tinted colors are excellent.  The wearer can determine which intensity best fits her personality.  If you have warm coloring, toasted colors are for you.  Adding brown to the saturated colors giving them warmth.  Magenta is the one color that is difficult to make toasted and is unflattering to most people with warm toned coloring.  If black is added to a saturated color, it becomes shaded.  Shaded colors carry weight and are excellent for business.  You would not picture an attorney going to court in a bright red suit but burgundy would definitely be appropriate.   If one has a deeper voice and heavier walk, shaded colors support the weight of the individual.  And finally, when the compliment or grey is added to saturated colors, they become muted.  The compliment gives much more depth and complexity to the muted tone but most manufacturers take the easy route and add grey.  Muted colors can be absolutely beautiful on the right person.  For example, someone with light coloring can wear a dusty pink jacket with a grey skirt and look professional while a bright tinted pink or very pale tinted pink would not have the same impact.  Muted colors are also beautiful on dark skin, creating drama just as black will be dramatic on a person with light skin and dark hair.

As you can see, choosing the right colors for you is complex and the four seasons was only a starting point.  Once you become aware of the nuances of color, you can choose colors that work best for you with confidence.  And, we haven’t even touched on the psychology of using different color combinations – but that’s for another time!

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Hostess Gifts – RIP

Posted on November 3, 2009 by admin 

Hostess Gifts – RIP

As the holiday season approaches, it’s time to think of hostess gift ideas for holiday parties you will be attending. 

Several years ago I had the privilege to attend a presentation by a Canadian protocol advisor who had worked with different embassies.  Her rule of thumb was to give a gift that dies!  The point being, you don’t leave a hostess with something that just doesn’t work for her or her home but she must remember to display it each time you come to visit. 

We have friends living in France who received a gnome (you know, the little guy who represents Travelocity and originated in the French movie Amelie.)  The gnome was not even in the top 200 of what this couple would have liked to receive.  Their tiny back yard had no corner in which to hide a gnome and the entire yard was in full view of the neighbors.  When the neighbors no longer saw the little guy in the back yard they inquired as to his whereabouts.  Our ever-resourceful friends, would respond, “Oh, we just heard from him in Australia” or the next time, “The last time we knew, he was in Denmark”. 

Since not every unwanted hostess gift can be turned into a topic of amusement, what is a “gift that dies”?  Obviously, a bottle of wine get consumed, thus “dies” or flowers ultimately wilt and die.  If the event is for just a few couples, either is most appropriate.   Just one note, if you take a bottle of wine, be sure to mention to the hostess that it is for their cellar.  This allows her the freedom of either serving it that evening or, if she has a menu planned with specific wine, she does not feel obligated to open the bottle you brought.

Although wine and flowers are the most common hostess gifts, you may want to exercise a bit more creativity when invited to a party with a number of other guests.   You surely don’t want your hostess to be searching for a seventh vase in which to place your flowers or to present one of twelve bottles of wine.  A lovely box of chocolates can be a welcome gift to many but should only be presented if you know your hosts would appreciate it.  If someone in the family is a diabetic or on a restricted diet, consider something else.  Maybe you enjoy baking.  Cranberry pumpkin bread is one of my favorites for the holidays.  It is festive, comes from a Cooking Light recipe for those conscious of calories and freezes well.   Homemade jams or jellies are among the favorite hostess gifts I have received.  They need not be homemade by you.  These can be purchased at farmer’s markets and food stands.  

Let your imagination run free as you are selecting the right hostess gift.  I would suggest that you have some things in mind so that you will not be at a loss if you get a last minute invitation.  If you know the hostess well, you can think of things she  would really appreciate.  If you don’t know her that well, it is better to stick to more generic selections.

Approach the holidays with “aplomb” and have a wonderful season!

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