Periwinkle Silk Goes Goddess-y Blouse

In my younger and more Miss Priss days I was prone to living vicariously through charismatic slightly-bad-boys. While age has dampened my attraction to males full of razzle and dazzle, I rather suddenly and mysteriously seem to be prone to desiring clothing with similar attributes. Should I blame biology for my increasingly flamboyant taste—or just boredom?

Whatever the reason behind the change, it’s wreaking havoc on my plans to add a few practical spring-to-summer wardrobe items to my closet.

Instead of bringing home pieces ideal for my body shape, coloring, and lifestyle, I let an acre of periwinkle silk captivate my heart and my wallet. And though the material is fashioned into a blouse that can be worn in a multitude of ways and feels like heaven on, I can’t delude myself into thinking it’s ideal.

It’s too shiny. It’s too voluminous. It’s too in-need-of-belting (always a dicey proposition for a short-waisted H/Rectangle).

Blue meets green on a rare 85 degree April day (blouse worn V-neck/halter-tie style)

But despite knowing the blouse is rather wrong I don’t care that it’s not quite right. [And after decades of obliviousness around proportions and cut, these days I generally care about such things a great deal.]

I’d attribute the buy to my small but powerful Persnickety Bohemian side, but there’s plenty of finger-pointing to go around. Don’t think that my Contrarian Classicist style persona wasn’t whispering, “What’s more classic than a garment reminiscent of ancient Greece?” whenever I ran through the pros and cons of adding a vat of charmeuse to my closet.

L, Roman copy of a 4th century A.D. Greek statue wearing a peplos; R, attributed to Liberty of London c 1880s (via the Metropolitan Museum of Art's online gallery)

Periwinkle silk blouse worn V-neck/halter-tie style (with tighter vs looser gathers)

Post-purchase I learned that my blouse is more chiton-like than the peplos beloved by sculptors. Or more chiton-crossed-with-a-peasant-blouse-like. Translation: I bought rectangles of fabric meant to be transformed from boxy blah into luxuriously draped goodness. Er, yea?

Precedents for my periwinkle: Greek Chiton and Peasant Blouse

Unsurprisingly for someone on record as loving a good sarong dress and often sure that rouching will solve many a wardrobe problem, I feel more at ease with structured draping that has at least a small molecule in common with the artistic masterpieces of Madame Grès than I do with a couple of fabric rectangles.

2011 saw a long-overdue Madame Grès retrospective at the Musée Bourdelle

Alas for my comfort zone, there’s no getting around the fact that even when corralled, my blouson-y periwinkle doesn’t exactly create softened-yet-sleek lines.

Periwinkle silk blouse worn with keyhole in back

But here I am, and forward I must go. All hail that inspirational master of volume, Balenciaga!

Mid-50s Balenciaga via the Metropolitan Museum of Art's online gallery

Dear Balenciaga made things look so easy, yet two months after purchasing what Mr Vix rather annoyingly yet semi-accurately insists on calling my “purple sack” I’m still trying to figure out how to get the most out of the blouse’s range of wearing options.

Keyhole neckline front or back, gathers tightened/loosened, hem higher or lower—things can get a little complicated. I ain’t gonna lie: at times, styling my new boho luxe delight has proven as challenging as taking self-portraits in a dark hallway.

Voluminous meets variety in a dark hallway: Periwinkle silk blouse worn with split-neck/straight-across tie, deep V-neck, and with keyhole in back

At this point, tossing it over or under a column of color has been how I’ve started getting my cost per wearing down. As the weather dries up and warms up, though, I’ll keep on experimenting with variations that put this blouse front and center. Because when one’s inner goddess decides it wants to assert herself, it seems best to get out of the way.

PSA #1: Get an overview of Madame Grès and her sculptural designs—a mix of “austerity and sensuality”—including glimpses of the 2011 Musée Bourdelle exhibit that featured her work:

PSA #2: Enjoy Grainsdesel’s extensive, multi-part walkthrough of  the 2011 Madame Grès retrospective at the Musée Bourdelle—including beautiful shots of the museum itself:

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Eileen exorcises her wardrobe demons [pt 3]

My pal Eileen’s decision to rid her closet of aging, nondescript clothes and complete her hey-I’m-40 style reassessment has boosted her swagger AND her sashay. During her efforts we’ve talked color palette and style loves (opulent, rugged, and boho). And we’ve talked body shape, body size, and (new) closet pairings. But what about post-transformation feeeeeelings?

Though my ability to capture Eileen’s style transformation took a severe nosedive as she racked up the outfit changes, I was determined to push on. For one thing, my Persnickety Bohemian side would never forgive me if I failed to post Ms E in all her boho diva glory:

Eileen, in the midst of directing reflector use, lets her boho diva side fly in a tunic that’s easily converted to a shorter top

Clearly it was time to check in on how she felt about her recent experiments.

Q: Despite your fondness for black crewneck Tshirts, I said earlier that I gave you credit for always mixing in color and pattern—something I’ve only recently started to do.

“Your new picks include plenty of solid neutrals; however, you weren’t shy about adding lots of bold prints that are getting you raves out in the real world. Do you feel like you’ve upgraded that element of your style?”

A:“I do. I was too stuck in REI land. I liked their low maintenance options, the detailed fabrics and colors. Maybe I thought more about the clothes and how much I liked them vs how they really made me look.”

Eileen’s new version of jeans plus tunic is sleeker than her former take…and great for her casual workplace

Q: Before you shopped, you read my attempt to summarize stylist Bridgette Raes’ advice for choosing prints, including her rather wild suggestion to chose prints that mimic the way one’s facial features move. Helpful? Constricting?”

A: “Surprisingly helpful. I do think I gravitate to organic, flowing lines on my own (her tips seem to suggest that for me).

“The brown and blue, 70s-era striped tunic with the big sleeves is something I would have traditionally avoided trying on but actually it’s more ‘me’ than past choices. It’s also just as easy to wear and travel with as my old clothes. I’m glad it came home with me. I love it!”

Q: “I know it’s early days, but since I’ve been so slow to write this you’ve had about a month to road test your new duds. What’s the verdict?”

A: “I’ve watched makeover shows, but I wasn’t expecting to feel such an improvement in how I feel about myself. I thought I felt more OK about my body! I think I’m hiding less. Apologizing for less.”

Q: “Hurrah!”

A: “On a practical note, my goal was to create outfits that would be worn weekly. I like how most of the pieces I got can be interchanged. Bringing everything new along when we went looking for more things worked!”

On a couldn’t help but notice note, I enjoyed how Eileen seemed a lot more comfortable playing up her Hourglass curves—aka inadvertently torturing straight-waisted, belt-envying companions such as myself—than she had in her “before” days.

Exhibit A: The dance-a-jig-worthy wrap dress she had the Mellow Glamazon whip up to fit her proportions:

Dim lighting doesn’t defeat our Eileen-in-the-wild shot, as she picks up her new customized wrap dress and puts it through a few paces (or something)

Exhibit B: A simple cotton knit dress paired with utilitarian boots but cinched with her arresting belt:

Utilitarian, fleece-lined boots and a travel dress get a bit of glam with a deco-tastic belt

Q: Have others responded to you differently?”

A: “Yes; I’ve had strangers, co-workers, and acquaintances compliment the clothing and how it looks on me. (Not in a weird way.) The clothing is almost like an ice-breaker or conversation starter. It’s turning out to be a great way to meet new people.

“I also think that I get a little more attention, especially when wearing the items that seem a bit more tailored and refined and maybe express a bit of attitude.”

Q: “Should I intervene if your new motto becomes ‘Nobody puts Baby in the corner’ and you start using the word ‘fierce!’ to describe anything you like or do, from food to pillows to hikes? Because that could be pretty entertaining.”

A: “Now you’ve got me thinking….”

L, With glasses temporarily off, Eileen’s gorgeous blue-grey/green-grey eyes are more on display; R, my two curly-headed pals require different purples to glow

Q: Best part of all this?”

A: “Lots of best parts. But I love buying goods directly from their creators, so getting a locally-made wrap dress and denim pencil skirt that were customized to fit *me* was up there.

“We already talked about fit issues and how I come from a family of women who were sewing geniuses. You would think I would sew (I don’t) or be big on alterations (I haven’t been).

I know if I don’t pay attention to the starting place I can look bad in custom or altered clothes, too. It’s a cliché but I’ve wasted so much time feeling bad about not fitting the clothing that was out there. (Too big in the waist, too small in the shoulders, too tight in other places. Depending on the style.)

“Now I’m heading back to my roots, when I watched clothing be fit to the woman.”

Q: “Good to hear. Thanks for being the center of attention for this interview. I know it doesn’t come naturally—or DIDN’T come naturally!”

Eileen exorcises her wardrobe demons [pt 2]

Previously, I interviewed Ms Eileen about her decision to start rebuilding her closet from near-scratch due to life and body changes—and her trust that my BTDT self could be of use as she shopped and evaluated. After sharing how we came up with a baseline color palette for her to use, I also provided detail shots of clothing that she felt communicated her three primary style loves: opulent, rugged, and boho.

Before Eileen and I headed off to shop, I had her do a little homework. She’d already identified herself as a high-hipped Hourglass (8 shape) and read up on proportions that should work well. But that wasn’t enough: before we stepped foot into spaces designed to suck money from her pockets and/or overwhelm as many senses as they could, I needed her to be calmish and clearish on her innate style preferences.

What better method to help her get to the heart of things that that of my eye doctor?

After wandering the internet, I sent her photo sets of gorgeous fuller-figured models and bloggers—chosen to offset her concerns that a 5’5 size 12-14 frame was particularly limiting—and had her choose between 1…or 2. “Bold print or subtle?” “Fitted or unstructured?” “Detailed or streamlined?” “Heavily accessorized or minimalist?” “Color-color or neutral?” “Drape-y or structured?”

Of course she wasn’t ALWAYS choosing one direction over another, but patterns and percentages emerged—mostly that with a bit of this, or when X then Y. And once we got shopping, she found her likes and dislikes of items or pairings were usually in line with her earlier picks.

Q: Here’s what I observed from your homework exercise and shopping with you:

“Whether you’re exploring your love of opulence, ruggedness, or boho two undercurrents are constant:

  • When you choose lots of detailing or print, you like to keep the overall shape relatively simple
  • You like to mix highly practical items with luxurious-feeling, often-natural fabric and/or pieces with ‘special’ detailing

“Agree? Disagree?”

A: “Agree! And if you make me sum things up more I’d say I go for refined practicality (with a leaning towards the sumptuous).”

HOLY STYLE BREAKTHROUGH, BATMAN

Clearly this newfound level of confidence deserved a little attention. So on a chilly overcast Saturday my friend Arinna, past Eileen client, current covet-er of Eileen’s new clothes, volunteered to be on the other side of the “beauty maker” reflector. I handled the camera and coached our model on posing.

[As I only have one pose, she quickly overtook me.]

Eileen goes from photographer to star of the show in a lush, colorful print top that ties at the waist plus a textured cardigan

Eileen pairs dark wash skinny jeans, a mildly heeled black bootie, and a textured black cardigan with a lush and colorful silk print top

Q: You say you hate to shop and you dressed in a fairly nondescript way for years. Yet your first two days of shopping you choose a lot of “icing” pieces—very memorable, high-drama items. And what wasn’t icing was quite “cake-y”—detailed, luxurious.

“I had to armtwist you to look at basics when I thought it would be the other way around!”

A: “I think I was more ready to change than I realized. More ready to stand out.

“And I do hate to shop. That’s mainly because most of the things I like don’t fit me. I was the same when I was 17 and quite literally a walking skeleton.

“I should add that I grew up in house full of women who were geniuses with fabric, patterns and sewing machines. They made clothing to fit. So, I naturally have higher expectations of clothing options.

“Fortunately, it seems that bigger sizes are more readily available these days. There could be more, but it’s better. I admit starting off with shoe and bra shopping was a good choice.”

Q: “Things looked brighter after you were in the proper size, right?”

A: “Yes. I carry weight in my stomach, and with the right bra size I had much more of a waist. Just like all the style shows tell you!”

Vintage-inspired jacket with leather trim plus a knit pencil skirt and ready-to-kick-ass knee-high moto boots

L, Buckling the moto boots; R, Eileen teams the boots and knit pencil skirt with a lightweight wool top and deco-tastic belt

Q: “Let’s talk about body proportions and touch on your body insecurities.”

A: “Ugh.”

Q: “I don’t need the worst-day nitpicky stuff, Ms Well-Endowed Hourglass, just some quick context.”

A: “Okay. I mentioned my stomach. I like the way the patterns we found really drew attention away from that area. I am giving up boxy because when I belt or wear things that fit to me I think I look a lot better. Why did I stop that? (I am a little short-waisted for belts to be 100% ideal.)

“The bust area…sometimes I’m self-conscious. Lower necklines are flattering but tough for me. I think I got a range of necklines that feel good for now. I have to ease out of the black crewneck T shirts!”

A seamed wool knit jacket in one of Eileen's best neutrals, grey, tops a print top and dark wash jeans

Q: “I kept reminding you what I remind myself: many things can be altered or it’s the damn clothes that are wrong, not the body. Did that help?”

A: “Sometimes more, sometimes less. I still have to deal with fit issues!”

Q: “Let me switch gears a bit. EM Forster has a line about his conventional heroine and her masterful, passionate piano-playing:

‘If Miss Honeychurch ever takes to live as she plays, it will be very exciting both for us and for her.’ 

“You are super soft-spoken and self-effacing and analytical, and from your ‘before’ style people who don’t know you and your photography—aka your workmates—wouldn’t realize you had this whole bold, creative, drama-loving side. Do you realize it might not be a secret anymore?”

With a layered-sleeve sweaterdress, Eileen finds a way to do Boho Vamp

Next: Part 3 of Eileen exorcises her wardrobe demons, in which outfits and others’ reactions both feature


Song in the Key of Busby Blue Dress

While some are born with a crispy, linear personality and some acquire one, others are awed and/or bemused by the very thought of such a thing.

I fall into that third category, and I fall into it hard.

In fact I’m so far from starched that behind closed doors I’m often ensconced in some raggedy hodgepodge of insanely comfortable, minimally seamed, usually be-lycra’d items. And I have to confess that I rather like things that way.

Generally, however, I try to pull it together when I leave the house. After all—and with apologies to Mr Wilde—being the focus of one style-related intervention may be regarded as misfortune; being the focus of two looks like carelessness.

Thus far, my efforts to incorporate qualities of my downtime ensembles into my public wear have led to a co-dependence on structured-but-not stiff items. I may not own any vintage Claire McCardell, daggummit, but no matter the trend du jour I’ll fight the good fight trying to channel her philosophy of dressing. Which is why shaped knits, softly draping lightweight wools, and tailored jackets with a little—or a lot—of stretch all know I’m an easy mark.

What can I say? I like clothes that move with me.

Especially when something about them makes me feel I’m ready to dive into a pool and start performing underwater acrobatics.

Sure, turn it 90 degrees and it's a stretch break...but then I can't pretend I'm a sychronized swimmer

L, a young Freedom Valley PA sync'r sails through the air; R, covering top US synchro athletes and their hopes for Olympic gold

Granted this dress had a head start at grabbing my cash since I’m a sucker for deep blues and have deliberately accumulated many of them…but its combination of a drapey front plus wide, ripply sleeves sealed the proverbial deal for me. So 40s-meets-slinky-70s!

No 70s-era Studio 54 denizen would have been caught dead in my shoes, but I like to think the dress might have passed muster with a dancin' dame or two

The devil in the deep blue details: unlike many similar sleeves I've seen lately, this dress has a panel that ensures undergarments and modesty are covered when one's arm lifts

[Given my short-waisted H/Rectangle frame, I bought with the knowledge that a slightly flared skirt may have been more flattering. But hey, at least I kept the self-belt looped in the back and tied on the side to avoid the belt-under-bosom look!]

Now: As a longtime fan of Esther Williams’ strength, grace, and glamour I’ll happily go on record as saying I consider anything even vaguely reminiscent of synchronized swimming’s beauty and/or 40s-era clothing design to be a very, very good thing.

Of course I also think anything involving ACTUAL synchro is even better, which is why I’m excited to see the sport formerly known as “water ballet” receiving more attention in popular culture.

From Sync or Swim documenting the training of top US synchro athletes to Men Who Swim investigating how one man’s midlife crisis took him on a chlorine-soaked path toward stylized glory to the easily accessible DVDs of Ms Williams and her corps gliding through Busby Berkeley’s intricate choreography, synchro is getting hot hot hot.

L and R, Esther Williams, the woman who swam to screen and business success; C, equal-opportunity synchronized swimming meets mid-life crisis

One can even find the water-drenched Aqualillies troupe offering LA-area workshops to regular folks who hanker to boost their fitness via eggbeaters, torpedoes, and ballet legs.

Need more proof that it’s a swell time to add a touch of mermaid to your closet or workout routine? You’ve got it….

Rebecca Glassman's "Synchronized Peeping Practice," arguably one of the best-ever entries in the Annual Washington Post Peeps Diorama Contest

PSA 1: While my prior video of Esther Williams talking about her professional relationship with choreographer Busby Berkeley (“Certainly the possibility that I might be injured was never a factor when Buzz was dreaming up his routines; he just assumed I could do anything”) is no longer available, this substitute includes iconic scenes and Williams’ commentary on her past and present

PSA 2: See one of Busby Berkeley’s most famous land/pool sequences in this clip from 1944’s Bathing Beauty

PSA 3: Discover more about revolutionary US ready-to-wear designer Claire McCardell in this New York Times article discussing the retrospective exhibit ”Claire McCardell and the American Look”

Help, I’ve fallen into a perimenopausal panther print dress and I can’t get up

Last month my closet expanded to include a dress marked with thicker-lined, dotted rosette detailing…detailing which leads me to believe I’m now the rather befuddled owner of a patchwork jaguar print dress.

I’d put money on the jaguar (panther onca) classification being accurate, but since I actually PAID for the dress I’m cutting my losses by using the generic tiger/jaguar/leopard/lion “panthera” label with abandon.

Besides: whichever big cat interpretation I’m sporting, the purchase is still mystifying. One minute I was returning a rather staid work top, the next I was walking out with an alterations chit for a married-to-the-HollyHobbie-Mob extravaganza.

I'm not really sure what to say about my love for this dress

In my defense, there’s so much going on with this dress I didn’t notice the animal print until I picked it up from alterations. Originally I just put it on and thought “Ooooh, flattering colors for me! tulip skirt for faking an hourglass shape! structured but soft fabric! great for travel!”

Oh sure: YOU wouldn't miss large patches of animal print on YOUR caboose etc

That’s not much of a defense, I know. New plead: I subconsciously needed a jaguar totem!

Jaguars live in caves and canyons close to fresh water. In mythology caves are linked with retreat and isolation, a place to go to aid soul work. Water is linked with the emotional body of humans. When the jaguar bounds into your reality it is asking you to go within, to release your fears, to heal your emotions and to awaken your inner sight. When you come out of retreat the jaguar will be there awaiting you. If you choose to follow his lead, he will guide you into the underworld where the secrets of life and creation are to be found.”

Hmmmm. My creative zest has been a bit MIA lately, but overall the last 6 weeks have included a lot of blue-sky-filled outdoor time, tasty Northwestern produce, socializing, and laughs.There’s even a much-needed, water-centric vacation finally on the books.

Shouldn’t that be enough to satisfy my inner jaguar? Why, even without the physical manifestation of its coat I’m practically all-onca’d up!

Jaguar: Endangered. Me: Knock wood, not endangered—though is anything in life certain?

Jaguar: Muscular build. Compact body with stockier legs than the lithe leopard. Stocky head as well, with a larger-looking jaw and an overall more square appearance to the face than the leopard. Very powerful jaws and sharp teeth. Me: Aside from leopard-y arms, ditto. Feral teeth + overdeveloped jaw muscles = unhappy dentist but major advantage if stranded on a desert island.

Jaguar: Unlike most big cats, loves the water. Swims, bathes, and plays in streams and pools. Me: Swimming is the only physical activity for which I have a natural affinity!

Jaguar: Solitary and territorial. Me: Often desire to lock myself in a closet for alone time. Liable to mark territory with aqua walls.

Jaguar: Excellent night vision. Me: Terrible vision in general.

How aligned are we? So aligned that I don’t even know how the average person could tell us apart at first glance:

Who's scarier? A jungle jaguar (panther onca)...or me, in a self-belted panther patchwork design

As the dress has a non-removable self-belt, it’s obvious a VERY powerful force compelled my short-waisted, H/Rectangle-shaped self to buy it and risk a one-way ticket to BlockyTown.

And yet not only did I buy the non-wallflower item, I’ve felt a strong pull to wear it ever since it first entered the house and seared Mr Vix’s eyeballs. [Panther Print Dress Blurb: “He was awestruck! Truly speechless! Wondered…when he’d be seen with me in the…dress!”]

And when I say I’ve been wearing it, I mean it’s been out the door for work and for play.

Adding a ruffled sweater and colored jewelry to domesticate vs letting the big-cat print out of the bag

YES (LAYERED UNDER/OVER) FOR WORK

Others may shudder, but I decided it behooves me to boldly invoke the predator rather than risk being tagged as prey….