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My Brooch Collection

Brooches, or pins, made a brief comeback in 2015 as a fashion accessory. They seem to come and go as a fashion statement. They were popular in the 1930s, 1950s, 1960s and 1980s. I happen to love them and have a small collection of my favorites. Nothing in my collection is rare or expensive, but each piece holds a treasured memory.

I made this display frame for my collection out of an old picture frame. I stretched some pieces of antique lace on the frame. It is normally propped up on a shelf in my closet so that I can see my pins every day and choose one to wear.

Fashionable or not, I love wearing my brooch collection. Here is what I am wearing today:

The turtle pin I'm wearing in the picture above was a thrift store find. He's my reminder to write my best every day - build my 'herd of turtles' as writers say. Slow and steady wins the race!

Each pin in my collection tells a story.

The cameo is an inexpensive plastic copy but it was my husband's grandmother's cameo, and I love it. Cameos are so wonderfully elegant! The wreath with pearls was my mom's and is probably from the 1960s when plain sheath dresses were adorned with one big brooch. It's heavy and looks best on a coat or a very plain dress.

These small pins are also from my mom (the upper one) and my husband's grandmother (the bottom one). They are lovely small brooches that work well with a turtleneck.

I call this painted brooch "Scarlett O'Hara." Both pins are from the 1980s. The jeweled bar pin was so "in" during the 1985 school year I must have worn it weekly. Scarlett adorned my winter coat all throughout high school, too.

And this little bee was a gift from the women in my office when I left my position as Director of Outreach for Teachers College Columbia University. I treasure it and it looks great on spring and summer clothes.

How to Wear Brooches

The key to wearing a brooch elegantly and avoiding the little-old-lady syndrome is placement. The traditional placement of a brooch on the collar or right-hand lapel is fine, but if worn with traditional styles can look stodgy. We are going for elegance and classic style, not frumpy.

A few ideas for wearing brooches from your collection in an elegant yet fashionable way:

  • Add a brooch to a sweater, as I have done above, for a whimsical look.
  • Pin a brooch to your handbag. 
  • Wear a brooch with a scarf! See the YouTube video, below.
  • Create a grouping of brooches by theme. I sometimes wear my "Gardeners Know the Dirt" brooch with the bee; the two add a sunny garden flair to an outfit.
  • Wear old with new. And old-fashioned cameo pinned to a new open-front cardigan or waterfall-style kimono looks super. A modern geometric brooch worn with a vintage blazer is also fun.

Whatever you do, don't be afraid to wear brooches. They're a great way to personalize your style!

Home Is the Greatest Treasure

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Elegant Living: Simple Gatherings

Last weekend, friends invited us to their farm for a hot dog roast. It was like a big picnic, with babies, toddlers, children, and dogs tumbling around in happy profusion in the yard.

Our friends' farm isn't very old, as far as farms go. The old farmhouse was built around 1900, along with the dairy barn, which is now an equipment shed and apartment for their sons. Their home is a modern modular built on site. To their south lies Happy Valley, a farm started in the late 1600s with the manor house built in the 1700s; it's owned by friends of ours who are lovingly restoring it to its former grandeur. A few miles away stands an old brick tavern, now a private home, where General Grant stayed the night, resting to chase Robert E. Lee again the next day. Our road is an old stagecoach route connecting Lynchburg and Richmond, and I often wonder what the red clay earth would say if it could speak. Would it remember the tramp of wear soldiers and worn boots as the Confederate army made its last stand on its way to peace at Appomattox? Or the thunder of hooves bearing passengers to Lynchburg?

Families brought drinks and favorite side dishes to the picnic. I made my cornbread, which I think came out too salty. The hosts provided bubble wands for the children, and we had great fun watching their dogs snap up bubbles.

Around dusk, after we had eaten our fill of hot dogs, potato salads, and other side dishes, chairs were moved into a circle. Guitars came out. One man brought a case of harmonicas – I didn't know that harmonicas were in specific keys and that serious harmonica accompaniment required a case of them!

We sang in the stars with an old-fashioned hymn sing. Voices rose in four-part harmony. People called out tunes, and the group responded until we couldn't sing anymore and the party broke up. Hymns like Shall We Gather at the River, the Old Black Locomotive, How Great Thou Art and many more were taken up and woven into garlands of praise that rose to the stars.

I left there with such peace in my heart. No beeping computers, no ringing phones – just people in fellowship gathered to spend time with one another.

It's a rare occurrence in today's world. We all say we are busy and we all seem so pressed for time. But where are we rushing to? What are we rushing for?

I know that I am as guilty of this as anyone. I let work dictate my schedule instead of the other way around. I slot prayer, exercise, cleaning, gardening and friends in among free moments snatched between clients instead of ensuring that what is important, such as taking care of family and friends, comes first.

If we are going to return to elegance, we need to return to a slower pace of life. It doesn't mean leaving home and going to a hermit's cave (appealing though that might be). It means knowing what is important in life, prioritizing around people instead of things, moments instead of money. It means first things first and trusting that the rest will be taken care of in due time.

New Style for A Return to Elegance

Hello, lovely ladies and gentlemen! I hope you've been keeping well and have been enjoying a beautiful spring.

Much has been happening in my little corner of the world, and this had kept me from blogging here regularly. I thought, frankly, that no one cared about "a return to elegance" and all that it means to me - the intersection of faith, culture, and style. Then, I began to see some emails, comments, and numbers flowing into my Facebook page for this blog as well as to the site. What a surprise! It seems as if we are all hungering for a return to elegance.

I know that I am, and it's not just about fashion. A trip to Wal-Mart (our largest grocery store here in rural America) requires more metaphorical eye-bleach than I can keep on hand to wipe the images of slovenly shoppers out of my mind. Now I am not picking on anyone or any store in particular. However, when you cannot even muster the energy to change into actual clothing to go shopping for your milk and bread and kitty litter then I must protest. I really do not want to see pajamas on display with vulgar t-shirts and flip-flops. People, at least change into slacks, clean jeans, and a clean t-shirt and actual shoes. That's not too much to ask and I'm sure it won't cramp your style too much.

Along with the degradation of fashion has come tthe degradation of manners. Why can't people do their shopping without an ear bud blasting music? Why can't children spend a half hour in a grocery cart without an electronic babysitter bleeping and blasting in their hands? Why do people insist on lengthy, private cell phone conversations - in public?

I think I've made my point. With the insistence on people being allowed to express themselves freely that arrived on the heels of the 1960s culture came the decline of all manners, fashion, and cultural standards. We need them. Desperately.

If you're feeling the same, stick around. We'll be exploring much of these issues and defining new rules for a new society to bring back a return to elegance.

How to Return to Elegance

Charlie Johnson, on The Next Right Step, wrote an eloquent explanation of what I'd like to call a how-to manual to return to elegance. He outlines things that you, me, and others concerned with the decay of modern secular culture can do to return us to a refreshing state of graceful, God-filled living. Check it out here! Out of the Ashes.

Reject the New Ideal of Beauty: Boycott Maybelline and Cover Girl

Dear Maybelline Makeup Company,

I got a little choked up as I threw away my last Maybelline product this weekend. Maybe it's because you've been part of my life and lifestyle for 35 years - longer than any other brand, I think. I bought my first Maybelline Great Lash mascara when I was 12 years old and desperate to look and feel pretty. I wanted so badly to look like the models on the cover of Seventeen and Glamor! Cindy Crawford, Christy Brinkly, Christy Turlington.

In those days - the early 1980s - the ideal of beauty was a woman. She was athletic, with tousled windblown hair. She had curves but she had muscles, too. She looked like she could actually steer that sailboat she was posed upon around the bay and back again, laughing all the while.

She was beautiful, outdoorsy, athletic. She wasn't a skeleton. She didn't look like a zombie, a heroin addict, or vampire. Or a man trying to be a woman.

For the past 30 years, I've waited for the fashion and cosmetics industry to return to the days when beauty meant health and femininity. When glamor didn't equal men in drag, but beautiful women on the arm of handsome men. When a healthy appearance was in fashion, not a pale, dark-circles-under the eye look that equals addict. When women, not bodies with all the shape of a pre-pubescent girl, would be the ideal of beauty once more. White woman, black women, all are beautiful. Why aren't we seeing realistically beautiful women?

Instead, this year, aping your competitor Cover Girl, you decide that the ideal of beauty for the average American girl, teenager, and woman is a gay man wearing makeup.

Because being gay is in. Because being trans is in. Because being anything but your God-given sexuality is "in."

A man with five o'clock shadow wearing glittering eyeshadow, lipstick and blusher is neither attractive nor beautiful.

I am told this is about "acceptance." Acceptance used to mean a 'live and let live' attitude. It meant that I, as a 20 year old working in the retail industry and working with gay and transgendered colleagues, didn't tease them, or act mean to them.

It meant treating them like coworkers and people with souls made in the image and likeness of God. It meant loving them as Christ would love them - as human beings worthy of dignity and respect.

Which I did then, and I do now. But that doesn't mean that a man wearing makeup is a fashion ideal.

Male cosmetologist (Max Factor and many others) have worked in the industry for years, creating makeup looks, acting as makeup artists for the theater and movies and so on. Sometimes makeup has been in fashion for men, as in the Egyptian days and in the 16th and 17th century when men powdered their faces and hair the same as women. Your new spokesmodel may be a fine cosmetologist who can offer advice, but his face should not be the face of a cosmetics line for women.

I have been waiting 30 years for the pendulum of beauty to swing back to a healthy ideal. Just when I thought it could not get any worse, it has. Now, it is not enough to be a woman or look like a woman, like the healthy and attractive women models of the 1980s. Nor should you look so thin you are either an anorexic or a drug addict, like the models of the 1990s and early 2000s. Nor should you look like a reality star, as the models of 2000-2010 looked like as bad copies of the Kardashians and all the other vapid television personalities.

No, now you and others in the fashion industry are saying, "Women, you are not enough. The beautiful bodies God gave you are no longer relevant. Everything that makes you a woman is unimportant. The only thing that is important is the other - gay, transgendered other."

This is the modern ideal.

This is flat out wrong.

As a 12-year-old girl, I loved looking at the makeup ads for your company. I would not want makeup ads featuring this young man to be admired by young girls forming their own self-identities today.

Maybelline, both you and Cover Girl have been staples of my life for 35 years. Great Lash mascara is the only mascara I have worn for 35 years. This weekend, trash bag in hand, I cleaned out every single item of makeup, nail polish, and product I own that was made by your companies. Some were brand new. It did not matter.

I threw them all in the bin and closed the lid.

I will no longer buy your products. Ever.

I am done with being told to accept your ideal of beauty. Your ideal of beauty is against my ideal of truth, and the two are not compatible. If one has to go, it's you. And you are gone - gone from my bathroom counter, gone from my shopping list, and gone from my life. Forever.

To those who are also sick of this nonsense and ungodly ideals pushed as fashionable, I invite you to join me in a boycott of both Maybelline and Cover Girl cosmetics. Let's stop putting up with being pushed around. Transgendered men are not the ideal of female beauty.

A Confusing Idea of Beauty

Maybe she's born with it - or maybe it's just Maybelline. Is there any woman alive who has never purchased Maybelline cosmetics?

Maybelline and Cover Girl were the first brands of makeup I ever purchased. The rows of cosmetics in their beautiful packaging hung from a pegboard in Grand Value, the five and dime store in my childhood town where you could buy anything from new dishes to makeup and greeting cards. I'd walk down to the store on Friday nights or Saturdays and buy a new lipstick, or the ubiquitous Maybelline Great Lash mascara in the green and pink tube.

Now, however, Cover Girl is promoting a young man as the 'face' of beauty and Maybelline has hired a male 'spokesmodel' for their brand of cosmetics.

Are they trying to reach the men who want to wear makeup? Are they broadening their customer base in a smart marketing move to increase profits? Or are they promoting a hidden agenda?

First, we get this young man, Charles James, chosen as the new spokesperson for Cover Girl:

Then, we get this young man as the "face" of Maybelline, 2017:

Yesterday on a Facebook exchange with a Catholic blogger about the trend of these new dolled-up males selling females makeup, one of the blogger's Facebook connections took me to task as bigoted because I said I did not like this trend. What an astonishing leap of logic!

Let me get this straight: in this brave new world of ours, we cannot have an opinion that goes against the grain of populist, progressive thought? Apparently so. This is not the first time that I have been publicly attacked for voicing an opinion contrary to the modern trend of celebrating every perversion, every diversion as liberating, good, and progressive.

Males wearing makeup, lace and ruffles are nothing new. We know from portraits and historical documents that fashions come and go. Trends for both men and women to wear powdered wigs, lead-based face paint, silk stockings and many different types of makeup and garments have always been affected by time and place.

I recognize too that men in the arts such as actors, on-camera newscasters, and others do wear makeup. And of course, men have been stylists, hairdressers, and makeup artists as well. Max Factor was a famous male Hollywood makeup artist.

The aesthetic presented in these images, however, is confusing at best and revolting at worst. What, exactly, are both Cover Girl and Maybelline promoting here? Their makeup lines are sold TO women and purchased BY women. Typically, the Cover Girl aesthetic promoted healthy, glowing beauty; think Cheryl Tiegs, her blond locks blowing in the wind as she waves from the deck of a sailboat. Maybelline often went for a more glamorous look, hiring models like Gigi Hadad and Christy Turlington to represent their brand.

These young men are neither beautiful nor glamorous. What they are is shocking. James Charles has a nose ring. This is not elegant. This is Ferdinand the Bull. Manny Gutierez has five o'clock shadow. I'm sorry, but colorful eye makeup and five o'clock shadow do not belong together on one face. His style looks like a bad MTV video from the 80s, not the face of beauty for a new generation.

How have we moved, as a society, from promoting unrealistic, idealized expectations of female beauty (think Marilyn Monroe and Twiggy) to MEN as an idealization of female beauty?

Men are not what women aspire to look like. Men in drag are not what women would like to look like. Women want to look beautiful. Beautiful may take many, many different forms. But women do not wish to look at men made up to look like women when they are considering their next cosmetic purchases.

Cover Girl and Maybelline have both made grave marketing mistakes. I have been considering switching my makeup brands to cruelty-free (non animal tested) brands and MLM brands my friend are selling to show my support for their home-based work. Now I know for sure that I will buy neither Cover Girl nor Maybelline again while these "spokesmodels" are part of their advertising campaigns. These companies have lost a loyal customer of over 30 years with their marketing decisions.

I wish both Mr. Gutierez and Mr. James good luck and no ill will, but I do not want to look at them as the idealization of 2017 beauty for women.  They are, in our society, free to dress as they wish. They are free to wear makeup and feminine styles and to make YouTube videos of makeup tips and whatnot.

I am also free to withdraw my support for companies that think this is the new ideal of beauty for women.

I want this instead:

Does the new "look" of men being touted as 'beautiful' delight you or upset you? Leave a comment below. I reserve the right to moderate, delete, or refuse uncharitable or unkind comments.

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Vintage Pattern Reproductions

I make no bones about the fact that I'm in love with vintage everything, and for good reason. Today's shapeless sacks of poorly constructed fabric are about the most hideous things I've ever seen. I

 went to Belk's, the local department store, during the week to see if I could find a modest dress to wear during the winter. I found potato sacks. Literally, brown sack dresses with ill-defined waists. Who looks good in these things? I found one lovely dress, but unfortunately, it wasn't in my size. It had a gently defined waist, with slimming darts, and the fabric didn't feel like a strong breeze would tear it.

Vests are also apparently a "thing" - down vests, fur vests like Sonny and Cher used to wear in the early 70s. I repeat: who looks good in these things?

There are plenty of pants and jeans, but few skirts that didn't feel like they were made of tissue paper.

Then you look at clothing like this, and you sigh:

This is my collection of vintage reproduction patterns. I tried to make the dress on the far right, but really messed up the bodice, but I'll keep trying. My friend Helen and I hope to make the skirts on the far left over the winter.

Notice a few details on these patterns, even if they aren't to your taste:

  • The clothing is shaped for a woman's figure with a defined waist, A-line silhouette, and modest hemline.
  • The hemline itself is timeless and classic. True, it's a pattern, so you can adjust the hemline as you make the pattern. But two inches below the knee flatters almost every figure. 
  • The necklines offer interest and frame the face. On the skirts, they are paired with blouses that flatter the feminine form. 
I think that making my own clothes, while not the most practical course of action, may be the best course of action until the pendulum of fashion swings back to a more classic, refined and feminine style. I did score a lovely vintage jacket at the thrift shop, and am finding that a mix of decent-quality basics and vintage pieces is more in line with my current creative style. 

My friend and I hope to have a 'sewing marathon' this winter and spend some cozy time sewing up the skirt pattern. That's good news, especially for me, since I am such a beginner at sewing! I love the fact that I will have a more seasoned sewer by my side as I tackle these patterns.

The vintage reproduction patterns I purchased are available from the McCalls and Butterick. Sign up for their emails and they will alert you when patterns go on sale. 

Vintage Hat Styles for Winter

Ooh! Look! More elegance! The blogger over at Vintage Dancer has a post, with plenty of pictures, showing vintage hat styles for winter. Adding a hat during the winter is an easy way to add elegance. No one thinks twice about wearing hats when it's cold. And you can cover your head respectfully during Mass without feeling like people are staring, as some ladies say they feel when they use chapel veils. I often wear a beret in the winter to Mass but am considering being a little more adventurous this year with some vintage hat styles.

Check out the post at Vintage Dancer.

Storing Costume Jewelry

Elegance doesn't equate expense in my book. Tasteful accessories, well-chosen to complement your outfit, can look as elegant as the most expensive jewels. 

I prefer collecting hand-made and vintage jewelry to add an unusual touch to my outfits. I love pearls, glass beads of all sorts, and unique handcrafted earrings. Even though I work from home every day, I always wear earrings and a necklace, and on the weekends or when I go out to dinner, I add my favorite brooches, pins, and other jewelry to my outfits.

The problem, as anyone who collects multiple pieces of inexpensive costume jewelry can attest, is how to store it all. I've tried keeping it on the cards that it comes with, or placing it back into the boxes when I buy jewelry on Etsy or at a craft fair. The boxes end up in a jumble, and the earrings always end up detaching from the cards and tumbling into profusion and confusion in my dresser drawer.

I have a jewelry box, a lovely gift from my husband when we were dating many years ago. But it doesn't have compartments for earrings. I puzzled over how to store my costume jewelry in a way that would make it organize, easily searchable, and yet keep it together in my dresser drawer.

I hit upon this gem of an idea after watching my husband store nails in his workbench: hardware storage cases!

These little boxes are actually plastic storage containers to store screws, drill bits, nuts and bolts. The compartments are adjustable. You can take the little plastic slots out and make small compartments for earrings or big ones, like this one for my vintage bracelets:

Vintage 1950s and repurposed Victorian china made into bracelets, all in one compartment.

Earrings go into the small compartment.

Two organizers, each priced around $4 at Lowe's Home Improvement, organized all of my costume jewelry.

I store the earrings several pairs to one compartment, but I try not to store two of the same type of earrings in a compartment. For example, I wear a lot of small, colorful pearl stud earrings. Because I get dressed in the dark so as not to wake my husband, I made sure to place only one pair of pearl studs in one compartment. I can be assured this way, even fumbling around in the dark, that I've got a matching pair.

These little cases keep my jewelry clean and organized. It just goes to show you that you don't need to spend a lot of money on fancy organizers or jewelry boxes for storing costume jewelry!

Real Women in Fashion: True Beauty

Oh, how I love this video from fashion designer Carrie Hammer! If you don't know who Carrie Hammer is, she's a former advertising executive turned fashion designer. And she's the woman who sent real women down the runway wearing her fashions, including a model in a wheelchair, the first-ever to be on the catwalk during New York's Fashion Week.

This video is part of the TED Talks and it's worth the 18 minutes to listen to it. Carrie speaks about how the beauty we see in the glossy pages of fashion magazine is false - false to the point that 99% of all fashion images are manipulated beyond recognition. Twelve-year-old girls are dressed up to look thirty, and women wonder why they can't be that thin. Body parts are photoshopped onto models who lack smooth legs, or curvy shapes, or whatever the current fashion of the week is within the industry.

This is why I am passionate about a return to elegance - not fashion. Elegance speaks to women of all ages, sizes, colors, and shapes. You can be an elegant 50-year old black woman or an elegant 30-year-old obese white woman. You can be a 90- year- old elegantly taking tea with her granddaughters or you can be a 21-year-old elegant newcomer to the business world. Elegance is about how you carry yourself, your demeanor, how you put your outfit together, how you comport yourself.

Beauty is fleeting. Fashion is transient. Elegance is forever.

Watch the video below.