Monday, November 30, 2009

You Don't Have to Be Dietrich or Slash: How to Carry Off a Top Hat, II

If you're Slash you wear it any way you want . . .

And few could do it as offhandedly as Dietrich . . .

The bold geometrics of a top hat bring their own set of rules. Tips:

1) Keep the rest of your outfit monochrome--the black/white/grey range looks best.

2) While the swallowtail lines of a tux or tailsuit jacket are classic partners to a top hat, it's a tough look to carry off unless the fit is flawless and you're superconfident in your own skin. A sequined blazer is easier to find and more forgiving. A sleeveless satin halter could also be amazing.

2) Stay away from military stylings (brass buttons, epaulets) unless it's a costume party with you as ringmaster.

3) Counter the angular lines of the hat with flowing hair (version above right preferable to version at top). Or, do as Marlene does, affix a big blown flower or feather pin at the lapel.

4) You can lightly embellish the hat to soften it up . . . consider adding band of anthracite velvet, or pin on a black silk flower, or even a skinny rhinestone belt wrapped a couple times around the brim . . .

5) Do seek out a quality hat (of felt or fur) and be sure it fits perfectly. If it rubs or slides around within the first few minutes, you'll find it completely unwearable an hour later.

See here for more top-hat icons . . .

(photo of Dietrich by Alfred Eisenstadt, via, photo below by William Garrett for Red magazine, Dec. 2009, styled by Nicola Rose)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Why I Love Ebay, Part 7

A vendor (who shall remain unlinked) is selling this as a "boyfriend blazer".

BTW, the used lederhosen described months ago are still available.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Jacqmar Scarf Brut

Posting late today because I spent the morning with a class of first graders at London's Tate Modern. The museum's vast and magnificently bleak entry hall frames your mind as does the nave of a great cathedral. In that spirit, a scarf that I'm feeling especially well disposed to today.

It's by Jacqmar (featured previously here). The subject is about as far from a grandma floral as it's possible to get--a brooding, modernist, vaguely sinister architectural print, evoking . . . Battersea Power Station . . . the Wellington Arch . . . something staunchly resistant to the grind of time and the elements.

What mad genius decided this would be appropriate around some lady's neck? I wouldn't be surprised to turn a corner and see it on a wall in the Tate . . .

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Vintage Snapshot: Peekaboo Hotpants

Godfather James Brown was an enthusiast, singing in tribute to the countless women who, roundabout 1970, made hot pants a household name.

No, not these.


The term "hot pants" was coined by fashion bible Women's Wear Daily, whose constituency of garment manufacturers was delighted to hit upon a style that rivalled the popularity the micro-mini, with similar cost efficiencies on fabric.

My favorite incarnation of short shorts has to be the frankly bizarre hybrid of hotpants plus maxi dress. To the rear, a skirt that plunged to the floor, offering the drama and majesty inherent in a train of fabric. To the front, a slit up to there, offering the altogether different theatrics of thigh-high exposé.

This look was typically worn by the raciest hostess on the block while serving cocktail meatballs to appreciative neighbors. Or, better, by a guest eager to scandalize the old-biddy organizers at a function where the dress code was formal.

Superfine peekaboo hotpants numbers are currently found on eBay and other vintage resellers, but they seem to have no official name. Try keywording "gown shorts tunic hostess maxi slit"--or be on the lookout for gowns by Alfred Shaheen, who was a repeat offender with this combo.

(sauna pants image from the delightfully weird ectomoplasmosis; photo of Veruschka by Henry Clarke)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

How to Wear Vintage Hostess Aprons

'Tis the season where even the most lightly domesticated among us begin to think seriously about hostessing.

And there is no better helper to moving into that mindset than an adorable party apron.

I resisted aprons for years. But given my love for delicate fabrics and cooking with hot oil, and an innate inability to do things slowly and with great care--the point doesn't need to be belabored. Sautéed silk is not a good look.

Once the mind is opened to aprons, the possibilities are as wide-ranging as fashion itself. Cute little gingham numbers for baking pies. Starched bibbed whites for channeling Julia Child. And my favorite of all, the frilly, frivolous, transluscent organdy and organza half-aprons--like those Betty Draper wore when she was still serving Don dinner on Mad Men. These latter truly are fit for company--showing off a lovely dress underneath while denoting one's status as Goddess of Hearth and Home.

If you can sew your own, pattern sources like the encyclopedic So Vintage Patterns offer some wonderful options, complete with illustrations showing how to most effectively wear your apron (think Dovima modeling the latest Dior).

Or, have a look at dedicated apron blogs like Apronista . . .

Or take a cruise around online sources. Ebay currently offers this charmer, among many others.

Aprons. If you're going to throw a party, go ahead and tie one on.

(photo at top from Woof Nanny at Flickr, many thanks! Vintage pattern center from So Vintage Patterns, thank you too!)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Stealth Brand: Judith Leiber's Leather Bags

In the pursuit of truly spectacular vintage pieces--at prices that are within real-life budgets--it's usually best to think laterally.

For example: a mint-condition 1950s Dior suit rarely comes on the secondhand market for less than thousands of dollars. Ensembles such as these are museum pieces. Given their importance as historical paradigms, compounded by their rarity, the four-figure price is reasonable. Yet one can readily find a smashing Dior hat from the same period, of equal historical import and aesthetic merit, for under $100.

Another example. Mikimoto, the Japanese firm that pioneered the culturing of pearls, remains the industry's top practitioner. A vintage string of smallish pearls from the 1960s will fetch a price of $600 or more. But their scarves, which are brilliantly printed and crafted, and to my mind of no lesser value than those of Ferragamo and Gucci (if not quite up to the unsurpassed quality of Hermès), typically sell for under $30 on the rare occasions they come up on eBay.

Mikimoto=pearls. Dior=dresses, suits, gowns. Anything that deviates from the house's front-of-the-house products are less covetable to the vast herd of buyers. In no way does it mean that they are less brilliant, or beautiful, or fantastically made.

This is also the case, I believe, with the vintage leather bags of Judith Leiber.

Since most of us can't make it out to the family's museum and showplace garden in East Hampton, Long Island, here is the quick version of the lady's story. A Hungarian Jew, she diverted from Cambridge University studies in chemistry to become the first female member of Budapest's handbag guild. Evading the Holocaust, she married an artistic Yank soldier who brought her to the States, where she helped fund his printmaking pursuits with a small cottage industry making handbags. The firm went on to become one of the premium luxury-goods manufacturers in America, best known for its minaudières (pronounced minnow-dee-air). These metal-shell evening bags are encrusted with thousands of crystals, taking the form of glimmering beasts, Buddhas, hand-holdable replicas of famous works on canvas, and countless other bijou incarnations.

These little bags have become cultural signifiers, held in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian, and on the wrists at society functions, where mere multicarat gemstones are dimmed by their supernova sparkle. (Luxuriating in the company's website, I became especially enchanted with the little apple above. Wear this with a glimmering nude silk jersey gown, and every man in the room is Adam to your Eve. But I digress . . . )

While jewelboxes like these sell in the thousands even secondhand, the firm's leather bags, which are equally well crafted, rarely meet that same lofty mark, simply because in most buyer's minds, Leiber=crystal, and that's that.

But isn't this Leiber bag, of aqua lambskin, just smashing as well? And its cost, while steep for an everyday purchase, is extraordinarily reasonable given that its style and quality surpass most of what's going for ten times that amount in department stores at the moment.

So, this entry is a fairly roundabout way of saying that if you want to find a brilliant buy for well under actual value, think out of the minaudière.

More examples with different sorts of items later this week.

(many thanks to Konasesame for the leather clutch image, Leiber apple above from the company's website,

Thursday, November 19, 2009

O Woeful and Repugnant: Ugly Christmas Sweaters, Part 2

A well that doesn't run dry . . . more of the very ugliest holiday sweaters, courtesy of your local eBay sellers. Most of the exemplars below have already sold . . . but you will surely be able to find their like--or worse!--if you click on the links and then view the vendors' other items. See Part I here.

Below, a jumper that illustrates the hair's breadth between the naff-but-not-bad and misbegotten. Because this one, at first glance, is truly not bad. The colors, although plentiful and primary, are of the same value and sit in balance, much as those in a rainbow do. The design is crisp and pleasing. The 3D dinkleballs on the tree are cute and do not overwhelm.

So why why why are those skijumpers positioned so as to crash smack into each other, and then down onto the tree, dashing the dinkleballs and ruining xmas for everyone? People, we must think it through.

Next up, this less problematic--because conspicuously awful--Scottie xmas sweater. Which brings to mind another question. How come Scotties are always depicted as adorable and smiley on sweaters and such, while in the real world are surly and can't be bothered?

Before we move on, do take note of the model's good cheer. THIS is the way to wear an awful xmas sweater. And if it takes a righteous full cup of Bailey's best Irish Cream to get there, ya do what ya gotta do.

This next one's interesting because it's dreadful, of course, but also because it's really scary. Don't you just want to grab the lady skater by the arm and say "No! Don't skate up the river of ice to the house with that guy. DO NOT GO INTO THAT HOUSE!"

And last, but by no means least, this beauty, hand knit, no less. Recessionary cutbacks may have hit the North Pole, but it's comforting to know that Santa is still a go on the night.

(many many thanks to the sellers for gamely sending these pictures . . . readers if you like what you see, do click the links to see their other offerings . . . )

How to Fashion Up a Faux Fur Scarf

First: this entry is formatted in homage to one of my favorite blogs going, Blah to TADA, in which the ever-resourceful Claire transforms random household rubbish into amazingly cute and functional items. Like in three frames. The feed never fails to make me smile. Claire, honey, if you ever run out of raw material, come over to my house. We've got rubbish for years.

Anyway, I thought an excellent candidate for the Meh to Oh Yeah treatment would be a charity shop faux-fur scarf, because, having been modestly fashionable on the high street last year, the things are multiplying like tribbles right now in thrift store land. Pick one up for a couple quid/bucks, and then . . .

Dig around in your brooch box, and find the biggest, garish-est, most difficult-to-wear pin that you got. My choice was this black-and-gilt-and-rhinestone wild rose, which somehow just screams Mediterranean funeral, so it doesn't get out very often.

As it turns out, it's just right with the scarf, which can accomodate the brooch's nasty big pin with equinanimity. Arranged to rest like a stole upon the shoulders, it looks dramatic and vaguely regal, and would be smashing, I think, accessorizing one's favorite (but possibly a little too familiar) black party dress.

Thanks again, Claire, and please keep them coming.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Different Way to Wear Vintage Charms

Bracelet? Meh, kind of obvious, plus it's difficult to see the charms when they're all bunched up around your wrist.

But how about this genius idea from Chanel, via the ultraglam Decades vintage boutique in L.A.?

A belt like this, when worn with a simple LBD, shows off the charms, shows off your waist, and is a great excuse for a holiday party conversation with that cute new guy on the sales team, because blokes LOVE fiddly little mechanical things that they don't quite understand, and it doesn't matter whether the charms are Chanel or wee gardening tools or itty bitty souvenirs -- really, as long as they're not Hello Kitty! you're probably in safe territory.

You can get an inexpensive chain link belt in, oh, any of a thousand charity shops/thrift stores in your given land. The charms may be a bit more challenging to collect, but vintage ones won't be terribly expensive either.

Or, of course, you could go for this very one. That teensy quilted handbag charm is adorable.

(image from Decades Inc. blogspot, which you must subscribe to, because it's like a little vacation in fashion heaven . . . )

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

How to Wear A Vintage Bedjacket Right Now

British model Daisy Lowe shows how (click on pic to enlarge): skintight leggings, stonking red heels, plain white tee and a beautiful black-lace-and-ribbon bedjacket. Her lacework cost £250/$421.

And here's one on for $40/£24. How easy is that?

(photo of Daisy Lowe by Willy Vanderperre for British Vogue, November 2009)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Clotheswhores Anonymous

Here admitting to no higher power: Lady Gaga.

Take it away, baby.

O Come, All Ye Hideous: The Ugly Christmas Sweater, Part I

So this is hardly going to be a definitive history of the Ugly Christmas Sweater--I'll leave that to some enterprising gift-book author--but as far as I can tell, this form of knitwear first captured the public's imagination on a mass scale when Colin Firth submitted his dignity to this winsome Rudolph jumper, in Bridget Jones' Diary.

And ever since then, it's been snowballing. The Ugly Xmas Sweater has emerged from the traditional seasonal embarrassment worn by your dad as he manned the ladle at the neighborhood eggnog extravaganza, to bursting proudly out of the closet as the entire excuse for having a gathering, complete with chesty swaggering about, trash talk about the competition's jingle bells, and prizes for the Ugliest Sweater of All.

So here, without further ado, are what I consider surefire contenders at any UCS gathering you may be bold enough to enter. All are available on eBay. Brace yourselves. You have been warned.

I thought we'd start with this one because it puts paid to the notion that a sweater cannot be a work of art. A very very bad work of art, but still. The detail in this thing is amazing--the skating pond, the kids sledding out of the country store, the snowy mountain out yonder. If Thomas Kinkade could knit, this would be the result. So why, I ask, with all the nutty detail, couldn't they get the number of reindeer right?

Anyway, if minimalist is more your thing, then this beauty may beckon. Argyle, meet Holly. Nope, I just don't think they're going to hit it off. This pattern, I bet, starts moving if you stare at it long enough. And is it me, or do those sprigs on the bottom really look like bats? Time to move on to . . .

Ah yes, in the search for the truly yak-worthy in personal wear, you can never go wrong with kittens. Unless you're a cat-loving, very-hard-of-seeing grandma, in which case this would be perfectly fine.

And finally, this one. Which may not be as strictly offensive in specific ways as those that came before, but in terms of sheer aesthetic non-value, it's a champ. My favorite touch is the dimensional factor added by the little blue and yellow polka dot bows. As if the sweater itself were not enough.

Anyway, that's it for today. If I can convince enough sellers to send through images of garments of equal demerit, I'll be posting again on the subject later this week.

And if you're interested, bid early and bid often! The holidays will be upon us before you know it.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Think Mink, Or Don't?

True confession: I've got four furs in my closet.

A full length mink, bought off a friend (who was downsizing her mink collection).

An old-school charity shop astrakhan (also known as curly lamb or karakul).

A princess-line glossy fur, sheared, possibly beaver or (gulp) seal, which I found amid a heap of garments on a wrought iron fence: "give me a tenner, love." (That's about $17).

And my favorite, this blond mink capelet owned by one Madame M. R., which I reckon was made in the early 60s, though I highly doubt manufacturer Rossellí actually had branches in Paris and Milan (just as Victoria's Secret has never had a single outlet in London.)

Anyway, I love all these furs, but only ever wear the second and third one, at best once or twice a year.


1) It never gets bone-chilling dry-cold in London like it does in Chicago or Moscow, so fur's undeniable insulation isn't as necessary here.
2) Anti-cruelty advocates are active and vocal in this town. Since I ride public transport rather than a blackout window sedan, I'd be a walking billboard for the anti-anti cruelty brigade.
3) I much prefer to flaunt under the radar than in somebody's face.

Last weekend's Sunday Times Style magazine had a trend piece claiming that vintage fur was in some way more acceptable, less vulgar, than new.

True, it is reclaiming a garment that might otherwise go into a landfill, but less vulgar? Not so sure. And of course there is the ongoing debate of whether real fur or synthetic is more environmentally friendly--though authentic vintage fur seems to come up tops in the argument.

I wonder how many others are out there in a similar circumstance: buying vintage fur because it's affordable, and gorgeous, then making a relic of it rather than have it--or ourselves, by association--misinterpreted.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

How to Style a Boyfriend Jacket, Part 6

Here, from a Diane Keaton-inspired editorial in September's Paris Vogue is a look I very much like, another in an ongoing appreciation of the boyfriend jacket and how to style it.

First, let's quickly nix the cotton boxers, I don't care if they are from Charvet. Even the lovely and highly-paid Anastasia Barbieri is not quite pulling them off, in the style sense.

I mean above the waist. The skinny silk scarf, softly looped around the neck, just right against the rectorish tailoring of the jacket. Going bare underneath is fine if you're shaped for it and quite bold, but it would work just as well with an unobtrusive scooped tee.

Also . . . note how the simplicity of texture and tone gives emphasis to the chunky metallic wristwear.

Finally, check out the wire frames peeking out of the pocket. Why not use eyeglasses as a styling element? They've got to go somewhere . . .

(photo by Mikael Jansson for Paris Vogue, Sept. 2009)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Style Icon: Jacqueline du Pré

It's not to my credit that the first thing that caught my eye in this marvelous photo of British cellist Jacqueline du Pré was the handbag.

To make amends to one of the most brilliant performers ever, let's backtrack and pay homage where it is due.

I don't have any details on the picture itself but it's surely taken en route between concert halls. She is the picture of perfect happiness, Alice in a wonderland of virtuosity made and met. She fairly crackles with vitality: huge smile, streams of strawberry-blonde hair, instrument endearingly turtle-shaped at her side. You can read the full story of her life here.

This is how it ends: her career was finished at 28 by multiple sclerosis; she died less than twenty years later.

A short glimpse of her genius, in this performance of Elgar's Cello Concerto --conducted by Daniel Barenboim, with whom she had a torrential love affair and married.

And now, less guiltily, on to the bag . . .

to my eye it's a dead ringer for those made by 60s manufacturer Bienen-Davis. Here's one currently for sale on eBay, many thanks for the picture, Trish.

What I love about this company's bags is their neatness, containment, understatement. Perhaps du Pré liked this as well? While she was close to bursting with the scope of her talent, the bag in her hand was tidy and elegant.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Trench Dressing: How to Belt Your Trenchcoat, by Burberry and Others Who Know

For most people, a trenchcoat is a utilitarian garment. A place to stow keys, commuter card, building pass, iPhone, see you later, out the door. And that's as it should be, otherwise economies would fall, for good.

But for individuals who are rather ridiculously attuned to small inflections of personal style, the trench offers a cornucopia of possibilities for self-expression.

I recently spent a very happy hour soaking up the sights on Burberry's brilliant Art of the Trench album. Featuring hundreds of photos by Sartorialist Scott Schuman and laymen trenchcoat fans, it's a worldwide tour of how to wear this classic garment in an up-to-the-minute way.

The models, pros and non-pro alike, all look great. Hopefully, with an ongoing upload of amateur shots, older and wider wearers will be less of a minority.

What interests me most about how to wear a trenchcoat? It's got to be the belt, and how you knot or tie it.

Purists, citing the trenchcoat's military origins, insist on buckling. As Tom on the Ask Andy About Clothes trenchcoat forum puts it:
If you don't buckle the belt, the grenades hung from the grenade rings on the belt will drag the belt out of the loops and you'll loose both belt and grenades! So always buckle the belt either in front or back!
Others there and elsewhere vehemently disagree. Possible alternatives include:

1) knotted in front (twice in the case of Bogey, above)
2) knotted in the back
3) buckled in the back, as per grenade-mindful Tom (tricky!)
4) tied in a pretty gifty-type bow in front
5) left loose, with ends tucked into pockets
6) left off, with belt loops cut off for tidiness' sake (eeek!)
7) knotted with coat left open just a shade

There are probably more, and some enterprising blogger needs to get some images up. In the absence, if you too are a bit nutty about how to wrench your trench, have a look at the Burberry pics and then spend some quality time in front of the mirror working something out. But--and this is key!--wear it like you didn't.

Like Bogey. Come on, two knots. Here's looking at you, kid.

Monday, November 9, 2009

What is an Infinity Scarf and How Do I Make One

Paradoxically it is easier to make an infinity scarf than it is to describe one, but in the service of enlightenment, here goes.

An infinity scarf is the fashionable version of a Möbius Strip, which, in simple terms, is a loop of material that incorporates a half-twist along its length, which lends it the fascinating properties of having only one surface, and only one edge. Our mind may argue but a fingertip run along the surface does not lie (nor do M.C. Escher's ants, shown below in ceaseless transit around a Möbius grid).

Möbius strips are mathematical oddities that refuse to stay put in their natural realm--even music has been subjected to their warped yet inviolate topography. Below a fascinating version of J.S. Bach's Crab Canon, given the Möbius treatment.

Fashionistas need not look at the mathematicians and artists and musicians with envy, for we too can make a Möbius marvel out of an ordinary strip, in our case a knit scarf. It will, in turn, perform the small miracle of eliminating the problem of how to deal artfully with the ends: this scarf has no ends. Simply loop it several times around your neck and drape to your satisfaction. Something no doubt mathematical about its twisted nature causes it to settle around the cylinder of your neck in a way far more pleasing than would a simple ring of the same fabric.

Tips on making an Infinity Scarf:

1) Find a long and narrow knit scarf in your drawer or at a charity shop/thrift store--it should be at least long enough to loop a couple times around your neck before you do anything to it. If it has fringes, cut them off.
2) A stretchy, looser knit will work far better than a tightly woven one. Also, a looser knit lends a less obvious seam.
3) Find some sewing thread to match the scarf. It's always best to match thread type to fabric, so if you can get hold of some wooly thread, all the better, although this isn't critical.
4) Now comes the (slightly) tricky part. Lay the scarf out flat. Then, pick up one of the ends, one corner with each hand. Cross your wrists so the underside of the fabric flips around up top. Keeping fabric oriented like this, swap your hands on the corners. Bring the edge up to meet its opposite, pin together, and sew them together as neatly as you can.

Presto! At top is one I made last year, from an originally beautifully knitted by my sister-in-law . . .

To the highbrows who claim fashion is all surface--in this particular case, yes indeed.

(Mobius Strip II (Red Ants) © Cordon Art BV - Baarn - the Netherlands, from Math and the Art of MC Escher, many thanks)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Overalls Über Alles

This blog learns, from the experts over at, that overalls will be trendtastic next spring, thanks to versions by Altuzarra, Gaultier, and Lauren (above).

This is one trend I will absolutely, positively not indulge in, thanks to too many hours back in my formative years wearing overalls to muck out the horse stalls.

But this is not to say y'all shouldn't! Just do it sensibly. No overalls on the planet are worth more than $50, I don't care if the fittings are gold-plated. Have a good rummage round the online sources. Some cute ones up here, for skinny minnies, and down there, for the better endowed.

I wouldn't worry too much about buying a pair online . . . one great thing about this particular garment is, the fit is nothing if not forgiving. Plus, to counteract the grunge factor, you could wear a really cute blouse underneath . . .

uh-oh. I'm talking myself into them. So here's me bailing out--see you on Monday.

(photo of Ralph Lauren overalls by Marcio Madeira, at

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Le Smoking Style: How to Accessorize a Tuxedo

Wow. Seeing this, I did the mental equivalent of bopping myself on the forehead, because the look is so right.

If you're going to bender your gender in a tux, why not take it a notch farther with an undone vintage bow tie as accessory?

The black on white is killer in purely graphic terms, but the subliminals are also intoxicating. I see James Bond after a night at the casino . . . one of his babes playing with his neckwear . . .

. . . did you say something? Oh, right, details. Vintage silk bow ties--the self-tie variety--are available, inexpensively, with a bit of hunting. Look for one with bell curves like the one above. An undone cravat could also work.

If you've got the nerve, try it out at one of your wilder holiday parties. And report back on how you got on.

(photo above by Mark Arbeit for Vogue Australia, May 1993, part of a show highlighting 50 years of Vogue covers, from Brisbanetimes online)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

How to Stretch Leather Trousers

[*squelch*] Ooo, pardon me. [*squelch*]

What are those wet squishy noises, you may wonder.

It's because I'm wearing a pair of soaked leather pants. With some balled socks stuffed down the waistband.

What? You're still perplexed? OK. Here's the whole story.

Leather trousers are back in fashion, in a way the world hasn't seen since the late '80s. I have been reluctant to dabble in the trend, for two reasons. The first is that in many ways I am far too old to be wearing leather trousers. Let's just say 45+ ways.

The second is that I love secondhand clothes. But secondhand leather trousers are, by nature, nasty. Not the good kind of nasty. More of a "I can't be bothered to take them to the specialist dry cleaner after that heavy night out dancing in an unventilated club, so I'll drop them off at the thrift store instead nasty". Yuck-o.

But then I read that leather can actually be handwashed--even chucked into a gentle cycle in the washing machine, if you have a machine capable of such things.

And so yesterday, when I discovered a pair of really nice and nearly new leather trousers in a nearby charity shop for £5.95/$10, it seemed like kismet. I couldn't try them on in the shop, but they looked approximately my size.

Once home, I discovered that they were not my size. In fact a full size too small, whereby the waistband cut into skin and the leather round back was stretched tight as a drum, fully enforcing all the worst clichés of hens trying to dress like rock chicks.

Luckily, though, further Googling informed me that it is possible to stretch leather trousers. The knowledge base here is primarily the motorcycle riders, who wear leather much for protection against wind and road rash as because it looks undeniably cool. And according to the forum at Speedzilla Motorcycle, leather will stretch wonderfully if you wear it into the shower and then go for a ride at top speed on your Harley to dry off.

Not having a motorcycle, I settled for a sink wash and for riding the chair at my computer, having added a few extra inches to my form by stuffing in the socks. The leather is drying slowly, too slowly for my liking, but the technique seems to be solid gold.

Some lessons learned about washing and/or stretching leather trousers:

1) The color bleeds like you won't believe. Wash garment separately, or you'll be sorry. And don't use a nice towel to dry.
2) The color bleed issue is probably why most manufacturers recommend specialist cleaning, but a lining, especially an acetate lining, could also melt clean away if you were silly enough to touch it with an iron. Air dry your leather.
3) Leather is an organic material that was happily waterproof while on the back of the animal in question. It can take getting soaked. It cannot take being dried too close to a source of heat. Dry it slowly and carefully, as you would wet leather shoes.
4) If the leather is especially dried out, applying a nice leather conditioner will do wonders for its appearance.
5) I wouldn't put leather trousers in a washing machine, even on a delicates cycle, but I might try it with an especially gungy, yet tough, leather jacket. Turn it inside out first.

Now, they're almost dry. And still a bit too tight for my liking, but not so ridiculously snug that I won't put a picture up to show the result. A couple more hours stretching and they should be just fine (plus they will continue to ease up with ongoing wear).

One last tip: if you're over a certain age and you want to wear leather trousers, here's how to do it stylishly. Cover your bum. Unless you ride a Harley, in which case, I bow down to your rules.

Monday, November 2, 2009

How to Wear a Beret, by Lauren Bacall

There's really not much more to say, is there?


1) Tilt the beret.
2) Have some hair joojing out the sides, as here, to soften the angles.
3) Wear a strong-hued, matte lipstick.
4) Smolder.

(photo of Lauren Bacall from Wes Clark's superb film noir website, Web Noir, thank you Wes!)