What is Style?

Jacqueline de Ribes: contessa, designer, fashion icon, on the International Best Dressed List for many years.

I just reread a book that I first read some twenty years ago when it was fresh off the press titled The Power of Style. The authors spent four years researching archives of such publications as Vogue, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and Town and Country as well rare book shops to amass a collection of a hundred stylish women. They narrowed this list down to just fourteen ladies. Curiously, neither movie stars nor royalty were included. So what seemed to be the common denominator that resulted in these fourteen women being selected? People have different opinions about what constitutes style. For example, Jacqueline de Ribes was quoted to say, “Style is what makes you different,” while Givenchy advised, “With style, you must stay as you are.” Coco Chanel, probably the greatest lady of style of the twentieth-century, commented that “Fashion changes – style remains.” Let’s look at some of the ladies who were chosen. Elsie de Wolfe is known as the first interior decorator, transforming the dark, somber interiors of the 1920’s into light and cheerful rooms filled with Chintz. She came from a middle class background and was, in her own words, “ugly”. At about the age of twenty, she spent time in Scotland with relatives complete her education and being introduced to society. After discarding her drab school uniform to be fitted with appropriate dresses, she discovered that the lovely, soft colors of her new dresses in silk, linen and cashmere transformed her appearance and revealed a delightful figure. She decided that she need never again be ugly. Elsie de Wolfe was a gifted interior designer and an adept businesswoman but she perfected her style by recognizing who she was and what colors and styles best complimented her. Her focus was on her positive attributes and never seemed to go back and dwell on those she did not possess.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

Jacqueline Kennedy Oanssis was also one of the fourteen women featured. She had an incredible sense of style. In looking over photos of her clothing during the campaign and the time she served as First Lady, it was easy to see that each garment was designed for the same person. She had a skeletal line (her bone structure was prominent) so she selected designs that looked like sculptures, beautifully complimenting her line. She was a reserved, private person and her clothes reflected this – nothing flamboyant but refined and elegant. I don’t believe I have ever seen a photo where she was not appropriately dressed for the occasion. It is evident that she understood her own personal style and remained true to it. The book also included ladies like Diana Vreeland, fashion editor for Harper’s Bazaar and later Vogue, Coco Chanel, and the Duchess of Windsor. Some ladies were great beauties, others not. Some came from common, disadvantaged backgrounds, others from wealth.

Diana Vreeland

All of them had excellent social skills but I think what truly gave them style, is that each woman knew who she was and built upon that knowledge. Some, like Elsie de Wolfe, accepted that she was not a beauty but emphasized those attributes that were outstanding. Each lady, recognized her “personal style” and made the most of it, thus, each was chosen as an icon of style during the twentieth century. Now, let’s look at the seeming contradictory statements defining style from the first of this article – “Style is what makes you different” and “With style, you must stay as you are.” If you know your individual style, you will be uniquely you, having a different style than others while at the same time, staying true to who you are. Thus, the quote from Coco Chanel rings true, “Fashion changes – style remains.”

Wonder Woman – Matured


I was a bit startled at the recent cover of Town and Country featuring Diane von Furstenberg.   This is the lady who gained her prominence as a designed back in the 1970’s with the jersey wrapped dress.  If you have ever seen pictures of her at that stage, she had very strong features, dark brown hair and dark make-up.  What caught me by surprise in this cover picture was how she has softened her look.  She still has the appearance of being a strong woman but gone are the dark, dark hair, dramatic black eyeliner, and shadow, and ruby-red lips.  At age 62, she has lightened her hair to a medium brown, her eyes are more subdued but still dramatic with brown liner and shadow while her lips are barely discernable.   I find her more attractive now than back when she was at her height of popularity with the ubiquitous jersey wrap.  So, what’s the difference?

As we age, our skin thins and begins showing some lines.  Our hair starts to grey, adding a natural softness to compliment the changes in our skin.  However, since we live in a world influenced by the allure to look youthful, we color our hair and take advantage of cosmetics.  We often lose sight of reality and see ourselves as we once were.  How many times have you seen a lady of 50+ who had maintained her very dark hair color while her skin has relaxed and become lighter?  Add some bright red lipstick and very dark eye makeup and the effect is harsh and uncomplimentary.  Or, in the case of a blonde who continues to wear the strong dark eye makeup and bright lips, you see the eyes and lips before you see the face.

Diane von Furstenberg has adjusted her makeup and hair adeptly to reflect the natural changes in her skin.  Her hair, although still dark, is a lighter brown and much softer against more mature skin.  Her choice of eye makeup is also softer, and is harmonious with her softer hair color.  The most dramatic change is that her lips are barely visible.  As the years advance, many people get noticeable signs of sagging around the jaw line.   If you add a bright lipstick, it draws attention to that area. Von Furstenberg has wisely emphasized her eyes, albeit softer, where there is not as much evidence of the ageing process.  Her very pale lips give her a softer appearance, showing her lips but not drawing specific attention to the lips.  When you look at her picture, you first notice her eyes.

Is it time to reevaluate your makeup?  Having gone through this process within the last six months and, although it took a paradigm shift, I am pleased with (what I hope) is the subtle improvement.                                                

Inaugural Dresses


At the historic inauguration on Tuesday, all eyes were on Mrs. Obama’s choice of dresses for the occasion.  As everyone is weighing in on her choices, I have to join the crowd.  I was especially disappointed in her inaugural ensemble .    Although I thought the style was good for her, the mustard yellow color was very unflattering.  The ornate brocade, in my estimation, did not support Mrs. Obama’s strong, athletic, natural beauty.   Likewise, with the evening dress she chose for the balls.  The one shoulder design of the dress was good but I would have preferred seeing it in a rich satin with accents of crystals.  This would have given her an understated elegance. The gown, covered with frills, would have worked better for a very feminine, romantic wearer.

The media has been quick to compare this youthful first lady with Jacqueline Kennedy, who was only 31 years old when her husband became president.   This seems to me an unfair comparison, as Jackie is still known throughout the world as a fashion icon.  It would be nearly impossible to match her style and, it certainly didn’t hurt that she and her mother-in-law habitually shopped in Paris and spent some $30,000 a year.  That is not pocket change when you calculate the value in 1950’s dollars!

Jackie had an incredible sense of which styles looked best on her.  She did not give her designer a free reign on what they made for her.  In fact, she became the target of criticism for not choosing American designers so she selected Oleg Cassini.  He was a surprising choice as there were other more highly acclaimed designers.  As it was later discovered, Jackie had cleverly selected a designer whose ego was not so large that he refused to take direction from her.  She simply got advance information of French designers new lines and had Cassini replicate them!   I just picked up a book (on the close-out table) picturing some of her wardrobe from the presidential years.  The structured, simple elegance of her clothes from suits to evening gowns, all perfectly complimented her skeletal bone structure and quiet elegance.

I applaud Mrs. Obama for deliberately selected young, emerging designers with a wide variety of backgrounds.  Many are immigrants.  Not only is she giving them a little push to get national recognition, she is deliberately spotlighting the possibility of achieving the American Dream.

My hope is that she will become more involved in choosing what really fits her “signature style” and not defer to the designer’s concept of what will get his/her name in the limelight.  I think Princess Diana fell into that trap and never recognized her best style, thus was often a fashion victim at the hands of designers.    It will be fun fashion watching Michelle Obama grow in her style sense.  She comes across as a “take charge” kind of lady so I fully expect that she will take charge of her fashion as well and we will see her emerge as a new fashion icon – not with the precision of Jackie nor in the frequent mistakes of Princess Di but with a fresh, believable style of the “girl next door” turned First Lady.

The Print Conundrum


Prints have been popular for the last two seasons and, from the spring collections I have seen, will continue through the spring.  Not all prints are created equal and it takes some real discernment to choose a print that work for you.

Lets look at scale.  This is the size of the print pattern and how it relates to your face.  If you have small, delicate features, you will need a print in a small, delicate pattern, which reflects your facial characteristics.

Match the print to your personality.  If you have a personality that says, “Hey, I’m here!” you can wear a bold print.  However, if you are sweet and demure, you might choose a sweet, soft floral design in keeping with your facial scale.

Your natural coloring is the next thing to consider.  If you have light skin and dark hair, it is best to wear a light print.  Then you will want to use a dark accent such as belt and shoes.   Without the dark accent, the print will become dominant and your head will look like an afterthought.   Conversely, if you have light skin and hair and want to wear a dark print, you will want to accent with something light, similar to your hair color.  The print should also be in a lightweight fabric.

Bold, bright, geometric prints will be great worn by a large boned person with strong, larger scaled facial features and a strong voice.  A delicate baby doll type will be overpowered by such a print.   Be sure your accessories compliment the look as well.   More delicate shoes (slim heel or ballerinas – no heavy high vamped shoes here!) and small-scaled bag will compliment a delicate, feminine print.  An ethnic or theme outfit (western wear, gypsy, etc.) should be accessorized in the same theme otherwise; all of your effort to create a unique look will result in a visual war instead of compliments.

The “blink” test is a good way to evaluate whether a print is right for you or not.  Hold the print up to your chin and stand 7-10 feet from the mirror.  Close your eyes and take a deep breath.  Open your eyes and if the first thing you see is the print, it is probably too dominate for you.  The print should compliment and support your bone structure, facial features and coloring.   When you know your  “Signature Style” you will always be individual and totally “you”!

And finally, when selecting a print, be sure it reflects the best part of your personality and does   not accentuate a negative.  For example, a print showing firecrackers popping all over it won’t be good if you are known for your hot temper!






The Sky’s the Limit


After observing the collection of shoes this last couple of seasons, one has to ask, “How high is too high?”   The phenomenon of 5, 6 or even 7-inch heels with platform soles has taken over the fashion runways, not to mention store displays and subsequently, the workplace.    Women love their heels!  They seem to be willing to endure any amount of pain to participate in this latest fashion, resulting in windfall business for the medical profession.

One article I read reported that two models for the Prada 2009 spring collection fell on the runway and others were crying because they were so scared.   Not only is this humiliating but it can result in a sprained or broken ankle and it’s not limited to runway models.  Medical statistics confirm that about 90% of podiatrist’s patients are women and over 90% of foot surgeries are on women with conditions that do not appear in men.   My husband just had foot surgery last week (definitely not from wearing high heels!) and the majority of patients awaiting surgery were women.

How did high-heeled shoes come into being?  Well, back in 1533, Catherine de Medici was about to be married to the next king of France.  She needed something to endear her to the French public so a Florentine artisan fabricated a shoe for her designed with a slender 4” heel, replacing her clunky wooden soles.  The new shoes provided an amazing transformation.  She suddenly had a more commanding presence as well as an alluring walk.  This new style became the rage of French noblewomen, and then spread throughout Europe and ultimately the world.  Now, 500 years later, we still love our heels and are going to greater extremes to look powerful and sexy.

One report I read quoted Michael J. Coughlin, a clinical professor of orthopedics, who equated the damage done by high fashioned pumps to that done by binding the feet of Chinese women in times past!  Now I have no intention of giving up my high heels but I would like to avoid damaging my feet.  One key is to reduce the pressure on the balls of your feet.  A 3” heel increases the pressure by 7 times.    Most podiatrists recommend no higher than 2” heels.  I wear 2 ½” most of the time and limit the number of hours that I wear them, but them I’m a grandmother!   In years past, I have worn 3” heels all day, every day but never the extreme heights that are now being worn.

At a business luncheon this week, I met a lady who has developed a line of custom shoes that treat your foot more lovingly.  She has six styles, each of which can be made in different fabrics.  You can check it out at www.LadyJaneShoes.com to see if this might be an option for you.

As each of you choose your path in wearing high heels, I encourage you to think of all the years you have left to use this means of looking alluring and feminine.  My goal is to be like my Aunt Jane who, at 95, was still driving into San Francisco from Palo Alto to have her dressmaker make the latest design she had created.  Yes, she was still wearing heels but never the extremely high ones.   When she passed away at 100, I sent her very stylish high-heeled boots to a cousin who wore the same size as she.   Here’s to projecting feminine power by enjoying our high heels without ruining our feet!


What to take for a month away

After reflecting on our packing strategy for a month in France, I thought you might enjoy my sharing some tips. Packing was complicated by being in a transitional season and ending with a few days in Paris.

International travel allows two bags each weighing up to 50 pounds if you are traveling coach.  We checked three bags at exactly 50 pounds each, one containing books and materials for my husband’s presentations.  We had our computer bag and one smaller bag to carry on.  I never allow my colors and materials for workshops to be checked.

I’ll give you a quick recap of what we took.   First, I coordinated everything around black trousers and shoes for both of us.  Black does not show soil as easily and is much easier to find in the stores that trying to follow your color palette.  You can then use tops in your palette to compliment your coloring.  We each took walking shoes and dressy casual shoes.  In addition, I took a pair of pumps with 2” heel.   Good walking shoes are a necessity as Europeans walk much more than we do here and the sidewalks and streets are often cobblestones, gravel or other uneven surfaces.  Men’s walking shoes have been quite easy to find for a number of years now while attractive, comfortable women’s shoes have only recently become available.  I just received a catalogue showing 8 different styles that would work very well, several of them being available in narrow and wide widths.

I took two pair of slacks, black and gray and a pair of black, cropped pants, while my husband took one pair of black slacks and one pair of  Chinos.  We each took three pair of jeans, black and dressy blue.   I packed one dress and my husband a sports jacket for any special occasion.   I prefer good, firm-weave wool slacks as they hold their shape and don’t wrinkle badly.  If wool has picked up some wrinkles, you can run a hot shower and let the steam relax the wrinkles.

We packed four dress shirts (be sure they are wrinkle free), two cotton knit shirts, three sweaters – one that could be layered over a shirt – and a light jacket for my husband.  I took three sweater sets, three individual sweaters, a suede jacket and a vest.  We both included heavier jackets for the last three days in Paris.  I also included two Pashmina scarves for added style and/or warmth.  I mentioned the wrinkle free shirts as we did take two shirts to “Pressing” which cost us 11 Euro!  That’s about $14 with the exchange rate.   Otherwise, we were fortunate to have access to a washer and dryer but I have used a public Laundromat in the past.  If traveling from hotel to hotel, one can wash out lingerie using shampoo, letting it dry over night.   Men’ s underwear is also available in silk and will dry overnight as well.

Along with our toiletries, appropriate socks/hose and tights, vitamins, lingerie (I always pack lingerie for 7 days), we each added one fleece top and bottom and warm socks to wear in the evenings at the cottage.   We even remembered two travel umbrellas.  This was one of the few times that Europe has not benefitted from our purchase of an umbrella!  We were happy that we had added two heavier jackets for Paris – temperatures dropped to 30 degrees the last two nights.

Throughout our stay, we always felt well dressed, looking as if we were locals.  We also had enough variety that we never felt like we were wearing the same thing to the same events.   And the best part – there was room to bring home treasures from France!  Along with some special wines, foie gras, herbs and gifts, we visited my favorite resale shop in Paris, which we had discovered two years ago.   This shop carries designer clothes and accessories that have been gently used as well as new with tags still on from a previous season.  Their second boutique next door has eveningwear and vintage.  Although I was not able to determine the original price this time, my purchases last visit were about 20% of the original price and then I got the 12+% return in vat tax when departing the country.   And yes, I did fine some treasures this time – all with new tags!

La Mode on Cote D’Azure

Having been in the South of France for three weeks, I have had the opportunity to observe some of the local fashion.  There are several trends that one sees frequently.

The Converse tennis shoes that are popular with the younger crown in the US are also a hit here.  These are the old fashioned tennis shoes that came in black with white soles some 50 years ago and laced up around the ankle.  Their purpose was primarily for use by team members in sporting events.  Now, they can be found in bright colors with various nuances.  Most of the wearers are young but I have observed a few older people.  In Cannes, I noted a 50ish, rather rotund gentleman, with grey hair down to his shoulders, dressed in all black with the exception of the bright red tennis shoes.  He was a site to behold.   Some wearers turn down the top to form a collar and I noticed one pair of shoes designed with a special collar in a contrasting plaid to compliment beige tennies.  By the way, I have seen only two pair of our traditional white tennis shoes that we so often use for walking shoes and pack for travel.  This is a bit like wearing a neon sign saying “American Tourist”!

Opaque tights can be seen everywhere.  Ladies wear them with everything – very short shorts and short skirts as well as moderate length skirts or dresses.  I have seen a few tights in dramatic prints.  These are really quite attractive as well as practical.  They offer an “autumn” look to the short shorts or skirts as well as warmth as the mild temperatures become a bit more like fall.  The tights also give a finished look by tying the skirt or shorts to shoes with complimentary colors.

Many of the tights are worn with boots.  Boots of all kinds are seen everywhere.   It is not unusual to see Western cowboy boots with a feminine dress or tight jeans tucked into boots.  I have rarely seen the dressy, slender-heeled boot here but the heavier heels and more sporty models are worn with everything.   I don’t think I have seen any boot/skirt combination that did not include the tights.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, jeans are very popular with both men and women.  They are a bit spiffier than our traditional Levis, often with some pocket design that gives an air of being just a cut above.   Having lunch in Monte Carlo one day, I noted that ninety percent of the men in the restaurant were wearing jeans with well pressed, striped dress shirts, and sport jackets.  Some of the younger men left the shirttail out if it was a design intended to be worn out.  The look here is definitely more casual (suits are rare) but usually well groomed and intentional in how it is put together.

Parfum par Galimard

Parfum par Galimard

We had the opportunity to visit Grasse, the center of the perfume industry in the world, and take a tour of their facility.  There are three makers of perfume, Galimard being the oldest, established in 1747.  Additionally there are37 other perfume makers but they distill the ingredients down to oils which are purchased by the three perfume makers to fabricate a perfume for the public.  This region has a very favorable climate to grow the ingredients used in perfume, but now, many of the petals must be imported.   There is still abundant lavender but the other ingredients such as rose petal, jasmine, and mimosa are imported from places like Turkey and Morocco.   Other ingredients might include roots, stems, moss and seaweed.  There are only 49,000 residents in Grasse, yet they manufacture 60% of the world’s perfume.


When a famous designer wishes to launch his/her own fragrance, he comes to Grasse and talks with a well know “nose” – the highly trained and talented person who is able to discern difference fragrances.  There are only a handful of “super noses” in the world.  Now there is training for being a nose but individual gifting plays a big part.  One must first have a background in chemistry and have the unique ability to discern hundreds of different fragrances.  The designer gives a vision of what they would like as a fragrance.   Then the different “noses” produce the product that they feel will meet that vision.  The designer chooses the one they prefer and pays the “nose” several million dollars for the formula.  Then the new fragrance is launched.

It’s not all good news.  The predominance of noses is men and they must not eat spicy foods, drink alcoholic beverages or smoke.  However, for those very few in the world, they can make incredible money and it is probably worth the sacrifice to keep that “nose” functioning at top level.

Fragrances change over time.  In the past the best selling perfumes had floral fragrances, from delicate to more heavy.  Citrus flavors have become popular and most recently, the fragrance most preferred is a combination of chocolate, cotton candy and caramel!

These perfume manufacturers do not sell to stores or advertise, except to give directions to their location by the road signs.  They make their money by giving tours, selling products, and repeat orders.  Galimard has a service where they help you create your own individual fragrance.  Perfume making is done similar to music, the base notes are the bottom, which lasts for several hours, the heart notes are the middle and last for a shorter time, and the top notes are those essences that will last for the first 10 minutes.

One of the tips we learned is that we should not keep our perfume in the bathroom.   Exposure to sunlight and moisture change the fragrance and quality of perfume.   The lovely bottles that we all enjoy seeing on our dresser are only designed for eye appeal – not to preserve fragrance.   I’m sure you have all seen this process in an older perfume that turns a brown color and stains your clothing when you spray it on and happen to get some on your blouse!  Fragrance does best in a dark bottle protected from sun and moisture.  It is best to store your perfume in a closet in your bedroom, which will preserve it for a much longer period of time.

The best news is that we have a shop in Atlanta, one of the four in the US, which has all of the Galimard oils and will help you to fabricate your very own fragrance.  It is BLEND, web site: www.blendcustomparfum.com.  Susan Sexton, the owner, has trained with Galimard and has all of their oils to fabricate your custom perfume.  She and I do workshops together so you can have your own custom perfume and have an image consultation.

Le Bar Sur Loup

Le Bar Sur Loup


We are in the South of France on business for the month of October, staying in an adorable cottage on the outskirts of Le Bar Sur Loup.  This village overlooks the Loup (wolf) River and is located up in the mountains about twenty minutes from Cannes.  We were greeted Thursday morning with clear, sunny skies and the deep, azure blue of the Mediterranean.    Thus far the weather has been magnificent – cooling down to the mid-fifties at night and in the mid-seventies during the day.

Adjacent to our cottage is an orchard with apple trees ready to be harvested and olive trees in the process of ripening.   Right outside our front door is an olive tree with nicoise olives, just starting to ripen.  We talked to the people who own this cottage just down the hill from their home, and they told us that they harvest the olives in November to December, taking them to the local fabricant (manufacturer) who presses and bottles the oil for them.  The seeds are processed using part to sprinkle over bread and the remainder is fed to livestock.    I mentioned that I hoped to try an olive that had ripened before we leave and they said the newly picked olives taste like soap! They have to soak in a salty brine for a month before they are edible.

The roads here are narrow and wind up the mountain with lots of round-abouts and hairpin turns.   We rented a mid-sized car thinking it would be better for our luggage and when we needed to take others with us.  This was not a good decision considering the roads.  Probably a Smart Car might have been a better choice and strap the luggage on top!

Thus far, we have spent a few hours in each Cannes and Monaco.  Here, the ladies dress in “chic casual”.  There are a lot of jeans but all smart looking, pressed and some sort of designer label.  Their hair and make-up are impeccable and the tops range from blazers to smart casual tops.  The foulard (scarf) is seen everywhere.  These are like the Pashmina that we have worn for several years but not necessarily in cashmere.  They can be doubled, secured around the neck by bringing the ends through the center fold to make a scarf, or draped around the neck, letting one end fall toward the front and the other over the shoulder.  If the temperature drops, it changes into a stole wrapped around the shoulders.

With only three days here, we have much more to experience.   To be continued next week.

Mix ‘Em Up

I want to share an e-mail I received from a client I worked with over a year ago.  We had done a closet expedition to help her transition from stay-at-home mom to teacher.  She had a nice selection of separates, accessories and shoes to which she added some basic pieces to give her a more professional look.  In her e-mail, she said she had been able to make 135 different outfits by using different combinations.  She took Polaroid photos of each outfit in order to keep a record of which combinations she had used.   She also reversed the hangar of each garment worn so she could easily tell which she had already worn.   Then, when she started through for the second time, she reversed each hangar back to its original position.   She said that some of her students had even commented on her variety of outfits.

I thought this was amazing.  Now, I’m sure that not everyone is as organized or creative as this lady but it shows how you can get a lot of mileage out of your wardrobe by looking at new possibilities.   Let’s suppose that you have 10 different trousers and skirts and 10 different tops.  If the colors and styles are compatible, you can make 100 different outfits.  Now, let’s say you add a jacket and a sweater set.  Then add some accent pieces – belts, jewelry or scarves.   The possibilities are nearly limitless.

If you are like me, it is easy to get into a habit of wearing a certain top with a certain bottom without thinking outside the box.   Or you may have many tops and bottoms but they run the gamut of the color wheel so many combinations cannot be done harmoniously.  Any top and bottom that needs to be worn together, like a suit, is considered a costume and does not give the flexibility of separates.   However, by building a wardrobe in modules, you can have a wide variety of different looks that will adapt to your lifestyle whether you are a stay-at-home mom or work in a business setting.

A module consists of the following:

Top – Blouse, shirt, or tank top.  If you buy the same item in different colors, choose different sleeve lengths.  (4 each)

Bottom – Skirt or pants  (3 each)

Overtop – Jacket, cardigan sweater, or vest  (2 each)

Accessories – Belt, handbag, and shoes

A module should be limited to three colors complimenting your natural coloring.  Possibilities might include black, plum and a white or perhaps brown, cream and teal.  If you have a module as listed above in your colors, you have 24 different looks.   As you add other items, you expand the possibilities.   Let your creative juices flow!