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Entries in french (63)


New Year’s Shoe Lessons

Oh my, look at this! It’s a brand-spanking new year, and a bright sparkling new day. It’s all shiny and lustrous, no spots or scuffs upon it, just like these silver Christian Louboutins I’m flying high in. I found these beauties in a thrift store for the princessly sum of $4 a couple of months ago. (That is at least one lovely thing that came out of 2016 for me.)

I have made some New Year’s resolutions. Some of them are serious, but there’s no need to make everything hard for oneself, so I threw in some that’ll be a shoe-in. One of these fun ones is Wear More Cool Shoes. Also, Never Resist the Opportunity to Make a Pun.

Another resolution is to Read More Poetry, and with this in mind, this line above is from one of my most favourite quotations of all time, by George Gordon Byron, from Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage:

On with the dance! let joy be unconfin’d;
No sleep til morn, when Youth and Pleasure meet
to chase the Glowing Hours with Flying Feet.

Isn’t it beautiful? And no more apt quotation for New Year’s Eve could be found surely.

I hope you had a fantastic evening of celebration and you’re ready to launch yourself into the new year!

Photo: Today



Over two years ago, one blissful Saturday afternoon I was shopping in a Sacred Heart Opportunity Shop and unexpectedly hit the jackpot. Against the rules, I had taken so many promising garments into the change room (only four were ostensibly allowed) and was frantically shedding clothing as speedily as possible in case there were impatient customers waiting outside and champing at the bit.

One of the items I was excited to find was this silk pleated dress by Parisian brand Suncoo. (At least the label boldly states Paris.) It had never been worn, for the label was still dangling attached. It was priced at a pittance, a mere $10. I adored the colour, and I adored the flouncing pleats, the pin tucking, the details on the cuffs – everything about this dress I adored! I wore hearts for eyes. That’s probably why I didn’t notice one important detail …


I did not notice this frivolous circumstance until the day I desired to wear it to work for the first time. There it was, a little innocuous white bowling-pin-shaped receptacle of indelible ink obstinately attached. I wore something else.

Some time passed before it occurred to me that the lovely and clever ladies and gentlemen of the Wardrobe department at work might be able to assist in ridding me of this embarrassment. I took it with me one day and sheepishly explained the situation while they grinned at me. Another colleague walked past at that moment and scoffed at my protestations of innocence.

The learned costumiers scratched their heads and confessed they had never seen this particular style of device before. So probably it was from France, and I was forced to wonder whether the original owner had liberated the dress from a store (they are excessively fond of liberté in gay Paree, after all). Wardrobe declared confidently, “Leave it with us.”

Happily for me, one brilliant seamstress had the idea to unpick the stitches at the waist, ease off the device, and then sew the seams back together. It was lucky the device was attached to a seam, for miraculously this shifty operation worked! Voila! they said triumphantly.

But the story does not end here. I took the dress home, and the next time I decided to wear it, I discovered that some of the stitching on the back had torn, and the concertina effect was ruined. What next! I despaired, and I repaired the stitches.

What next! I despaired, and I repaired the stitches.

What next indeed … Pleased, a couple of years later I finally got around to photographing the dress in order to write this story, and after the shoot as I was lifting it over my head, what should I do but smear scarlet lipstick on the front?! Hélas! What a series of unfortunate events! Was the dress hand-washable? Would I ruin the pleats (as I have done before) by willy-nilly ignoring a ‘dry clean only’ instruction?

Hélas! What a series of unfortunate events!

But the dress was indeed hand-washable. After applying an oil-free make-up removing tissue to the stain, removing as much as possible, and leaving a large oval-shaped mark on the panel of buttons, I hopefully washed the dress. (This useful tip I gleaned from a make-up artist once upon a time.) I cringed a little as I immersed it into water.

But hey presto! The stain came out, the pleats did not, and finally, finally, the dress is prêt-a-porter!

Photos: February 2016


Barrette or Hairclip?

I’ve always been a bit confused about exactly what a barrette was. Was it like a small hair slide, similar to a bobby pin? Or was it something bigger, like a hair clip used to clasp a substantial amount of hair? I’ve never, before now, been so befuddled that I was actually prompted to investigate this mysterious lingo. However, investigative journalism lead me to do some research, and I discovered something amazing …

A barrette and a hairclip are the same thing! Revolutionary. It is a completely generic term. It is, of course, an American word, while hairclip, hair slide or hair clasp are British English. I own many hair clips and slides and clasps, including this cobalt velvet number that features a knot design in the centre of the oval.

I’ve always been a bit confused about exactly what a barrette was.

Years ago, when I was in China, I went on a frenzy of buying, and trawled every market and shopping centre in search of interesting clips. I’ve also invested in some higher-quality French-made clips by Paris Mode; the French stainless steel is much stronger than that of more inexpensive brands. (Check them out online – the prices are waaay cheaper than in retail stores. I think the website is new, for last time I looked it didn’t exist.)

Since I am seriously thinking about chopping off my hair again, it behoves me to get lots of wear out of them while my hair is still long. It’s the only thing I lament about cutting off my locks – not being able to put them up!

Photo: August 2016


The Politics of Accessories and Elegance

Time was that to be truly fashionable, a lady’s accessories all had to match, and the materials they were made from had to be appropriate for the occasion and time of day. Happily, we no longer live in such restrictive times, and today looking matchy-matchy is a horrible insult, a death knell to any pretentions to style.

Looking backwards to the hey-dey of matchy-matchiness, the 1940s and 50s, I can do no better than to quote Genevieve Anotine Dariaux, French style guru, once derectrice at Nina Ricci, and author of the famous book A Guide to Elegance, first published in 1964:

‘The accessories worn with an outfit – gloves, hat, shoes, and handbag – are among the most important elements of an elegant appearance. A modest dress or suit can triple its face value when it is worn with an elegant hat, bag, gloves, and shoes, while a designer’s original can lose much of its prestige if its accessories have been carelessly selected.’

Quite the opposite is true today, when every fashionista rich or poor mixes new with vintage, high with low, with seemingly at times a particular delight in clashing as much as possible.

Elegant woman at Longchamp, Anonymous, 1947 (from ‘Parisiennes’, Flammarion 2007)

Seasonal Sets

Dariaux continues to elaborate on accessories, stating it is indispensable to own a complete set of accessories in black, and if possible, also brown plus beige shoes and a beige straw bag for summer. Ideally one would have every set suitable for sport, and the other dressy. Dariaux is filled with dismay when she sees a woman carrying an alligator handbag with a dressy ensemble, simply because she wishes to get good wear out of such an expensive item. (Has Dariaux not heard of the cost per wear equation?) ‘Alligator is strictly for sports or travel, shoes as well as bags, and this respected reptile should be permitted to retire every evening at 5pm.’

bright coloured shoes should only be worn under electric lights with a long or short evening dress

She has similar damning words for bright coloured shoes, which ‘should only be worn under electric lights with a long or short evening dress’.

All White is Not Alright

White shoes should never be seen on a city street – except for a tropical city, and even then only in summer, and only with a white dress. White handbags are impermissible except for the beach and summer resorts, but provincial in the city, even at the height of summer. Today fashion editors love to advocate white for winter, and I love it. Well truthfully, I love white anytime.

White handbags are impermissible except for the beach and summer resorts …


But what does Dariaux say of gloves? They are best in neutral shades, and the most elegant of all are glacé kid. Suede and antelope are her second choices. Surprisingly, she gives good-quality thicker nylon gloves the thumbs-up.

She also believes gloves ought to be devoid of trimming, which I don’t at all agree with, while very long black gloves are the most elegant to wear with evening gowns. I own dozens of pairs in many colours and materials, even own a pair or two of crocheted lace and transparent nylon, which are both particularly despicable to Dariaux. Stylishly trimmed gloves I think are fun, and even an elegant woman can have fun sometimes!

The entrance to the Paris Ritz on place Vendôme, Anonymous, c. 1948 (from ‘Parisiennes’, Flammarion 2007)

The Politics of Fashion and Elegance

Today of course most of us don’t wear any of our accessories in our day-to-day lives because they are ‘proper’ or traditional, but simply because we enjoy them. And of course the definition of elegance has changed slightly from Dariaux’s day when it was a stifling; it still means timeless chic in most lexicons, but there is a little more leeway for wit and daring, especially when it is employed with restraint.

In 1958, Claire McCardell, an American designer of the same era as Genevieve Dariaux, says:

‘Accessories are the signatures of your special tastes, clues to the type of woman you like being. Each is an idea in itself and you will quickly learn that you can’t wear too many ideas at the same time.’

This is permission to experiment a little more generous than that of Dariaux. The latter’s restrictive rules seem ludicrous to modern ears, but it wasn’t she who laid the law down: those fashion bills were passed with Christian Dior’s New Look in 1947, and the entire world imposed them on women who held any pretension to elegance, glamour – and worse than that: womanliness.

Unpublished variant of a cover image for American Vogue, bu Erwen Blumenfeld, 1950

Marnie Fogg, editor of Fashion: The Whole Story (Thames and Hudson, 2013) in the section ‘Daytime Decorum’ explains in a nutshell:

‘It was a perfect storm of events that resulted in the housewife of the 1950s becoming deified. Targeted by government policies, the fashion industry and advertisers, both she and her home were buffed, groomed and venerated. Liberated from the privations of wartime rationing, her clothing celebrated femininity with strict fashion discipline. A façade of perfection had to be upheld at all costs; to leave the house without a hat was little short of insurrection.’

Alligator is correctly worn for travel or sport, according to Genevieve Dariaux. Wenda Rogerson, by Norman Parkinson, Vogue 1951Women’s liberation stalled after World War II, when American politicians advocated the return of women to their former role of homemakers so that homecoming servicemen would have jobs to return to. Instead, it was a woman’s job to be the perfect housewife. The social, moral and economic stability of the United States was entirely ‘dependent on men returning to their role as head of the household. Fashion played a significant role in this process by restoring the notion of traditional feminine clothing and making the business of dressing complex, with style diktats for every social and domestic function.’ [Ibid] It would take the next generation to change the world in the 1960s, when the fashion industry was turned on its head.

Matching v. Monochromatic

While I feel quite passé if my accessories match too well, I do think it fun to wear an entirely monochromatic outfit, especially all white. Black is my only exception for I find it dreary if it is not leavened with at least one other neutral. Kim Kardashian as we all know is very fond of wearing all beige, but I think it’s just because she likes that it makes her look naked.

Monochromatic outfits can be quite startling and eye-catching when one has become accustomed to the current popular trend for mismatching, which, with the encouragement of the fashion industry, many positively gorge on and glory in. Clash your prints! Mix and match! These are the clarion cries of this movement, and so often it is not done sympathetically. Wearing all one colour can in fact be soothing to the eye for just that reason.

I do not dispute that there were beautiful fashions in the post-war era, but today we have many more options than such rigorous and stifling rules and regulations. We can have fun, experiment – matchy-matchy or not according to personal preference – for even if we do commit some grave sartorial error we can take heart: the Fashion Police still can’t put us in jail for insurrection.

Photos: April 2016


Just Like Kate

I know I have posted a lot about shoes lately (anyone would think I love them more than hats), but these ‘So Kate’ silver pumps by Christian Louboutin are so worth another shoe tale.

I bought them the day before yesterday, for the princely (or princess-y) sum of $4, from a local thrift store. Yes, FOUR DOLLARS. You can imagine I nearly fainted on the spot. Obviously the store staff did not know the label. There was also a pair of Gucci sandals priced at $25, but I didn’t like the look of them.

They routinely hide the second pair of good shoes out back at this store to prevent theft, but considering they had priced these so low, I’m not sure why they bothered.

There was a moment of fear when two staff members went to ferret out the second shoe that they wouldn’t find it, but happily it was unearthed. They were in very good condition, with only a very few scuffs. When I tried the pair on and they fit perfectly, I felt like Cinderella just like Kate.

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