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!


Purses, Purses, Purses

If you follow the fashion magazines, you know the new important statement is to carry a dramatic handbag.   These new bags come in every color, texture and design.  They must be big and the prices start at expensive and go up from there.

Let’s look at why the purse has become so important.  As you are probably aware, imported clothing has become more expensive due to the diminished value of the dollar against other currencies.  People are buying fewer high priced garments and retailers are responding with sales starting earlier in the season.   This is all good for us, the consumer.   However, designers have discovered that purses are not as subject to seasonal style changes and are a very profitable part of their total business.  Thus, they offer a wide variety of styles and colors that are promoted as “must haves” with prices in the stratosphere.

I am struck by the size of the newer bags.   Looking through a promotional magazine from one store, I saw that the size generally starts at 12” X 12” and goes up to 23” X 35”.    This seems more like a piece of luggage than a handbag.  With the large bags being so popular, ladies are naturally carrying more items in them – gym shoes, lunch, baby bottles and diapers, you name it.    This is a windfall for chiropractors but our bodies are telling us that we are not designed to be beasts of burden.   From a style perspective, purse size needs to relate to your own body scale.   The handbag should be a total part of your outfit and not the center of attention.  If you are petite, a smaller–scaled handbag is needed.  If you are 6’ tall and large boned, you can probably carry one of the 10” X 17” bags.

The variety of styles can be puzzling as well.  Many bags offer cargo pockets, fringes, zippers, or rivet details.  These bags will never be formal so they work better with jeans or a casual outfit.  The material from which the purse is made helps determine where it will be appropriate as well.  Napa leather is more casual while smooth leather or reptile prints are more formal.   Purses with lace or fur trim will no doubt become dated much more quickly.   I would suggest finding a bag that works for the majority of your schedule.  If your world is mostly blue jeans and casual tops, one of the casual purses should work just fine but if the bulk of your time is in a suit environment, I would suggest choosing a classic style that will still work for casual wear.   For you jeans gals, be sure to have a cute clutch for that dressy occasion.  Nothing can ruin the look of a great party dress and heels like toting a big bag with rivets and fringes on it!  And have you ever seen a bride at the reception porting a large, leather shoulder strap bag?!

The last criterion to keep in mind is your build and facial structure.  If you have an angular build and/or angular bone definition in your face, choose a structured bag that is geometric.  If you have an overall soft, rounded, feminine appearance, choose a bag that has a rounded and soft feel to it.    By taking your bone and facial structure into consideration, you handbag choice will support your total look.

I hope these guidelines will be helpful when you are making your next investment at the handbag counter.  Don’t forget that any color works as long as it harmonizes with your general wardrobe.  Gone are the days of matched shoes and bag.  For you business women who need to carry a computer or business bag, choose one that has a section for your purse items.   Carrying a purse and business bag is cumbersome and takes away from your professional appearance.

Time to go shopping – in your closet

Now that we have looked at the top seven trends, let’s go shopping.  First stop is your own closet.

I do a closet assessment each season.  As I took a survey looking for items that reflect the new looks, I hit the jackpot!    The first item that caught my eye was a pair or berry shoes.  I had bought them two years – the closest I could find to red in a  narrow width.  They are like new and will compliment several outfits.   Continuing, I spied a satin blouse with touches of ruffles, worn only once.  This designer blouse with tags still attached, was a nugget discovered in a resale shop in Paris last year.   Finally, I remembered a dramatic necklace that I have had for some 15 years but had forgotten about.    That did it – four out of seven is not bad.   I’ll bet your closet has some treasures waiting to be discovered as well.

Next, I do my semi-annual purge of items that need to be retired.  I arrange my closet into categories – blouses, slacks, etc.  First, I check each garment for obvious sign of wear or spots.  If it looks tired or a spot can’t be removed, it has to go.  (If you find it hard to part with a special garment, put it in a “Sentimental” box and store it away from your closet.)  Next, I try on each item for proper fit including scrutinizing the back carefully.  This is an important step as we don’t see ourselves from the back and garments can stretch and bag or maybe those pulls line or gapes have gone unnoticed.  If it can be altered, it goes into an alteration pile.   If not, it needs to retire.  I then look for different ways of combining outfits for a new look.   I can fall into the trap of dressing on auto-pilot – so it is good to take a fresh look after not wearing that season’s clothes for a few months.  The blouse, shoes and necklace I found will make several new combinations.   Oops, I forgot to check out my shoes.  On reevaluating my favorite pair of boots from last year, I discover that they are due for retirement.

The final step is to make a list of which basics need to be replaced and what items should be added to give a well-rounded wardrobe for fall and winter.  I look at my various activities, the percentage of time I spend at each, and determine if I have something to wear for each occasion, complete with appropriate shoes and handbag.   For example, if you work, that wardrobe should comprise a large percentage of your closet, while if you go to the theatre twice a year, you may just need one outfit.   Another weak area for a lot of people is a great work wardrobe but nothing that looks smart for casual wear.  Now, is time to make the list of those items that will round out your wardrobe.   The “must replace” should have priority while the wish list can be added anytime you’re shopping or nosing through sales or discount stores.   It is such fun to happen on that perfect piece to complete or give a fresh look to an outfit.

If you are not accustomed to doing the semi-annual purge, it is a good habit to start.   The goal is to walk into your closet knowing that everything fits, is in good shape so the only choice needed is which combination you are going to wear today.  If this is too daunting a task, you can always give me a call.  Helping do a closet expedition is one of my favorite activities!



Japan Hime Girls

It seems each day brings new crisis to our news headlines so this Thanksgiving week blog is just frivolous.  The Wall Street Journal had a recent article that I found so amusing so I decided to share excerpts with you.

TOKYO – When Mayumi Yamamoto goes out for coffee or window shopping, she likes to look as though she’s going to a formal garden party.  One day recently, she was decked out in a frilly, rose-patterned dress, matching pink heels with ribbon and a huge pink bow atop her long hair, dyed brown and in pre-Raphaelite curls.

Ms. Yamamoto is a hime gyaru, or princess girl, a growing new tribe of Japanese women who aim to look like sugarcoated, 21st-century versions of old-style European royalty.  They idolize Marie Antoinette and Paris Hilton, for her baby-doll looks and princess lifestyle.  They speak in soft, chirpy voices and flock to specialized boutiques with names like Jesus Diamante, which looks like a bedroom in a European chateau.  There, some hime girls spend more than $1000 for an outfit including a satin dress, parasol and rhinestone-studded handbag.

“When they come out with a new item, I can’t sleep at night because that’s all I can think about,” says Ms. Yamamoto of the Diamante dresses.  The 36-year old housewife has amassed a collection of 20 princess dresses in the past eight months and even decked out her bedroom with imitation rococo furniture.

While it may be in style among fashionable women in New York and London, black isn’t an option for hime girls, who prefer pink and florals.  They have a doll-like sense of beauty that requires effort and practice to attain.  To create the ideal “super-volume hair” curl only a few strands of hair at a time and alternate between inward and outward curls, advised Vanilla Girl, a fashion magazine for teenagers aspiring to become hime girls.  Dyed hair extensions can help form more dynamic ringlets, while mascara applied on top of fake eyelashes plus black liquid eyeliner can really accentuate the eyes.

Keiko Mizoe, Jesus Diamante’s top sales clerk and a former customer, says she sees the princess style as one befitting an elegant woman from an upper-class family.  The girls are “perfect, georgeous and feminine,” says the 24-year old, herself dressed in a red checkered dress, pink stockings in heart patterns and pink nails studded with crystals.

Ms. Mizoe, who the company says single-handedly sells about $95,000 in clothing each month, has become an idol among Diamante customers, who try to imitate everything about her.

Of course, princess fashion isn’t exactly practical.  Ms. Yamamoto, a housewife princess, says she gave up wearing the frilly dresses while she works opening cardboard boxes at an accessory store four hours a day.

Ms. Yamamoto says she has long adored pink and wanted to dress in feminine clothes, but felt shy about her plump figure.  After losing 33 pounds in recent years, she got hooked on Diamante’s tight-waisted dresses adorned with huge rose patterns, and estimated she spends $2000 or $3000 a month.  Her husband, an architect who loves Europe,  pays for most of her purchases.  Her parents, who live nearby, send the couple food so they have more money for Ms. Yamamoto’s shopping sprees.

Maybe we should all just lighten up and become hime girls!

Wishing you all a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Excerpts taken from the Wall Street Journal, November 20, 2008


Fall 2007 Trends

Lace – Like satin, lace is taking a prominent role in new trends for fall.   Although the variety ranges from delicate to bold to racy, I still consider lace inappropriate for daytime wear unless it used as an accent.   Likewise, the lace shoes (I have seen a range from ballerina flats to lace boots with 4” heels) have no place in most daytime settings.   For daytime or business, a delicate lace trim on a blouse or a lace camisole under a suit adds a subtle note of femininity.   Choose a lace that works with your bone structure, texture and personality.  If you have larger bone structure, a strong personality or curly hair (which adds texture), choose a stronger lace with obvious 3-dimenstional qualities.  Conversely,  if you are soft, feminine, or have delicate bone structure, a delicate lace will work better for you.   This year offers a wide selection for you to find the perfect lace for you.


Sleek Shapes – Oversized and sloppy is out.  Sleek, elongated is the big news.   Jackets and skirts are longer, hugging the body.  While many designers are showing a defined waist, there are still many styles to choose from that skim past the waist for those who are not an hour- glass figure.  There are lots of wide-legged trousers available – a great choice for the hour-glass and triangle (wide hips) figures.
These slacks need to just clear the ground so be sure to have them hemmed with the shoes you will be wearing.   A quick tip for handling the heel height – have two pair of your most worn slacks (black for example) and have one hemmed for flats and one for heels.    Monochromatic dressing lengthens the body as well – including opaque hose matching the skirt and shoes.

Romantic blouses – This season offers a wide range of tops incorporating ruffles, lace, rushing and you’re not limited to white.  There is a blouse in this mix for everyone and every occasion – even the most conservative business setting.   Just follow the parameters for lace to choose the right amount of ruffle or frill for your style and the setting.


Statement Jewelry – Whether real or faux, big jewelry rounds out the seven fall fashion trends.  This is the season to pull out all the jewelry you have had stashed away and show it off!  A well-chosen jewelry accent can make the most mundane outfit stunning.  Think monochromatic with  a statement piece of jewelry.  One caution note:  the scale of the jewelry needs to match your facial and body scale.   A petite person will be overpowered by large scale jewelry.


That wraps up the top 7.  Direct any comments to my  e-mail address.  Look forward to hearing from you.