Tea Length Skirts Are Back!

Oooh! Retro glam! Grace Kelly, 1950s tea-length skirts are BACK! I haven't been this excited about fashion since the 1980s when the last 1950s rockabilly trend rolled around.

Here is a link to the look. I like this website, Fabulous After 40, for their style trends.

I think tea-length skirts are forgiving for us older gals. First of all, they extend to mid-calf, which on most women is a good look. They are A-line, which means they skim the hips...another plus for older women who may have put on a tad bit more weight than they prefer. The modern look, with bolder colors, will help make it a "today" look rather than feel like you are wearing a costume.

Usually it takes a season or two for high-end brands such as those cited in the article to trickle down to ready-to-wear. I look forward to finding these fashions in my favorite catalogs and retail stores.

The Dress Doctors

Source: Alvimann, Morguefile.com
Have you ever heard of a group of ladies known as "The Dress Doctors?" Until I read an interview with Linda Przybszewski, author of the book The Lost Art of Dress, I'd never heard of this group of women before.

The Dress Doctors was a group of influential women in the early 20th century who spread the gospel of "what to wear, and how to wear it" with elegance, grace, style and dignity. They wrote books and booklets and taught generations of women how to dress for every occasion.

The Dress Doctors emphasized cut and quality of garments over fads and fashion, dressing for one's figure and station in life, and how to add overall elegance to outfits.

My kind of gals!

The Dress Doctors were very leery of fads, instead emphasizing timeless simplicity. Theirs was not a gospel of consumerism, but rather making intelligent choices when shopping for clothing. As I was reading more about them online, they made me think of my mother and grandmother, my mom's mother, who lived with us while I was growing up. My mom sewed as a hobby and created beautiful garments. I shared her closet with her until I was in second grade or so, when my older sister moved out and I could share the upstairs closet with my other sister. The closets in that house were tiny, but somehow we managed to share a closet. Why? Because my mom had only about six dresses in the closet, maybe 10, and they were all beautiful. Timeless, well cut, classic dresses. She had some for special occasions and church and some for every day wear, but like most women of her generation, she shopping along trends, not fads, and so dresses she had purchased in the 1960s could easily be worn during the 1970s, too.

Compare that to today. Most of us having closets bulging with clothes, yet we often find ourselves saying, "I have nothing to wear!" The issue isn't that we have nothing to wear - it's that we really don't know how to shop well anymore. We've forgotten much of what The Dress Doctors taught. For instance, they taught women and girls to look for clothing that brought attention to the face. This brings the eye up, to your face, and so having tons of fancy shoes doesn't matter as much anymore (unless you love shoes, which is another matter entirely).  Skyscaper heels, pointy-toed shoes that make your bunions hurt, these are all out. Classic, simple and elegance equals COMFORT in the eyes of the Dress Doctors - but not frumpy!

In the 1960s, the youth culture pushed aside the Dress Doctors and their dictates of fashion, which were seen as old-fashioned, and now today of course, we live in an anything-goes society. I wish we had Dress Doctors again today. We have fashion stylists like Stacy London, Clinton Kelly and Tim Gunn, but girls today aren't learning about how to shop, other than to shop until they drop. Don't think I'm picking on anyone, either; I never learned these lessons myself. By the time I reached an age to buy my own clothes, my mom was gone, so only the lessons I absorbed very early in life seem to have stuck with me. Thank God one of those lessons is modesty and femininity!

I wonder what would happen if we had "Dress Doctors" today?

I've got Dr. P's book on my wish list and hope to read it soon. In the meantime, this article on the Wall Street Journal website gives you more insight into the concepts of the Dress Doctors.

Modest Skirts for Sports

What do you do if you want to dress femininely and modestly, but you also love the great outdoors? Hiking, white water rafting, canoeing, bicycling...all of these activities bring to mind shorts and flip-flops, don't they?

Not so fast. A company called Macabi has come up with an ingenious solution. It's a long, modest skirt that can be snapped into loose trousers or even into shorts. Their website offers photos showing the various lengths and changes you can make in the skirt. The skirts look comfortable and modest, and have deep pockets - another great find on women's clothing! I don't know about you, but I love having pockets in my skirts. It makes it easier to slip my car keys into my pocket, a handkerchief or even my change at the grocery store.

The skirts were originally invented for travelers so that women could be dressed in culturally appropriate fashions, yet still feel comfortable. The skirts can be washed in hotel rooms and dried overnight, another plus, especially for women who enjoy adventure travel. I imagine someone hiking the Andes to visit the ancient sites, then heading down into the town for an evening meal. You don't want to stand out like a tourist, and you don't want to offend local people by wearing something culturally inappropriate. These long skirts would do the trick, and then when you want to do more active sports, tuck and snap them into place as trousers

I have not bought one so I can't attest to their comfort or fit. But they do look interesting and an elegant was to enjoy your sports...dressed modestly!

Elegant Summer Entertaining

If you're looking for elegant (and simple!) entertaining ideas for summertime fun, my good friend Marye Audet has written a wonderful eBook called "Effortless Summer Entertaining for the Rest of Us."  It's only available as an eBook, but it's worth the 99 cents - yes, 99 cents! - to download it.

The ideas range from an ice cream social party to all sorts of clever barbecue ideas. I hope to host an ice cream social for friends this summer. What's better than ice cream on a hot summer day?

Entertaining with elegance doesn't mean you have to spend a fortune. The beauty of Marye's book is that the ideas are simple and can be implemented inexpensively, yet they will wow your guests.

Marye's book can be purchased from Amazon.

Mea Culpa

Apologies for my last post. Serves me right for writing it late in the day when I was both tired and cranky. I wish grownup life came with mandatory time-outs and a fairy godmother to identify when I've got my cranky hat on, but so be it. I was too snarky and too rambly for myself that day.

To be honest, I'm also still feeling my way around this blog. Is it really about a return to elegance, or something deeper? I'm feeling like it's about something deeper than mere elegance. Elegance in and of itself is a passion of mine, but there's so much that gets wrapped into it.

Have you ever read books by Alexandra Stoddard? I've always liked her writing better than Martha Stewart's. Martha always seemed a little too over the top to me, even during the early 1990s when I was a fan of her crafts and ideas. Alexandra Stoddard, on the other hand, seems to write more about elegance from the balanced, overall perspective that I'm striving for.

Clothing is a huge part of this return to elegance. Make no mistake about it - what we wear tells the world quite a lot, both about how we view ourselves and how we treat other people.

But other things like how we run our households, how we host guests, how we feed our families, and even how we take care of ourselves all blends together in my head to form this return to elegance.

Clothing Rules: Love Them or Hate Them?

Perhaps it's the memory of eight years of Catholic school uniforms, the hated "kneeling test" (if you kneel, your skirt has to touch the floor), nuns trying to rub a port wine birthmark off of my friend's face (sister thought she was wearing makeup), or the time I got called up to Sister Helen's desk and lectured: "Young women are beautiful enough without makeup...." I got caught wearing rouge.

Perhaps it's these memories or just my penchant for wanting to do the opposite of any rule, but I abhor clothing rules. Yet looking around me on a typical day, it's easy to long for the days when women's magazines published rules and everyone sort of, kind of tried to follow them.

Common sense is the best course of action but, well - it's not always common!

Catholic Rules for Modest Dress for Women

Among my Catholic women friends who are concerned with the entire dressing with dignity/a return to elegance movement, there's a tendency to point to Saint Padre Pio as the ultimate arbiter of modest fashion for women. The great saint refused to hear the confession of any woman entering church whose skirt did not fall a modest eight inches below the knee, cover her chest to her collarbone, or had sleeves at least 3/4 of the way on the arm.  If caught borrowing more modest attire so she could meet with the good friar, he'd still boot her out of church.

Now today, we still use these guidelines. Surprised? I was when I read some of Colleen Hammond's book, Dressing with Dignity. (Dressing with Dignity: Second Edition). Colleen cites many church documents to support these guidelines, and for that, I applaud her.

Growing Up with Too Many Rules

Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, my mother and grandmother who lived with us taught me the traditional rules about clothing and style. Never wear white after labor day. Always wear a dress to church. Always wear a slip and stockings. And so on.

I remember coming home from first grade feeling hot and itchy in my plaid uniform skirt. I changed into shorts on that bright May afternoon to go outside and play. My mother had a fit. "You can NEVER wear shorts before Memorial Day!" she insisted, and I had to change into pants. And sweat. A lot.

Did I mention how I hate rules?


Morguefile.com: Alvimann
This used to be what prostitutes wore.
 Now it's touted as fashion

Society Has Gone Over the Cliff When It Comes to No Rules

Society has swing so far to the other extreme of no rules for anyone that going to the store to buy a gallon of milk can feel like a challenge to your senses. The other day at Wal-Mart, that great local melting pot of culture, I stood in line between a morbidly obese woman stuffed into skin-tight psychedelic leggings over which she had thrown a tent-like black t-shirt. Her feet, stuffed into flip-flops, were pedicured to the hilt, with sparkly toes that matched her sparkling fake fingernails. On the other line was a guy with his pants dragging like a soggy diaper and another gal whose shirt pulled up so high I could see the intricate back tattoo that marred her skin while her skin-tight blue jeans dipped so low on her behind that I saw far more of her than I wished. You get the picture.

I remember when people - men and women - dressed when they left the house. They took care with their appearance. Women combed their hair and wore a hat and gloves. Going to church meant pulling out your best outfit, not stuffing your feet into flip flops and sliding into the pew after Mass started. Even going to a store like Wal-Mart meant pants and closed-toe shoes, at least.

Okay, so I'm not big on rules. But I am big on common sense.

So Where Is the Happy Medium? Common Sense

The happy medium is common sense and dignity. Elegance. That's why I called this blog "A return to elegance" not "dress like your grandmother".  

Elegance implies grace, taste and style. It implies that you are dressing according to your age and station in life, but more importantly, according to where you are going and who you are meeting.

Can you imagine Grace Kelly in flip flops or skin tight psychedelic leggings? Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, probably wears yoga pants at home, but I doubt she'd wear them even to dash to the store for some cereal for Prince George. 

She has more class than that.

I may hate clothing rules, but I do embrace common sense.  Common sense would say that...
  • When you leave your house, you change into outdoor clothing. That means no sweat pants unless going to the gym; it means no pajamas; it means real shoes.
  • When going to a house of worship, court, a funeral, a wedding or a formal party, dress up.
  • If your mother would be appalled at what you're wearing, change.
What advice would you add to encourage a return to elegance?

How do you feel about clothing rules?

Culottes, the Modest Short Alternative

Amazon license.
Culottes. Love them or hate them, believe it or not - Elle magazine lists them as a fashion trend for spring 2014. Don't believe me? Here's the original article: 14 Best Culottes for Spring.

Do culottes strike you as modest apparel, or as too much like pants to be modest? I have mixed feelings about them.

They can look like a modest skirt or look like you forgot to update your wardrobe for the past 30 years. I had a pair of denim culottes in the seventh grade that I lived in, and the funny thing is that when I read comments online about them, most of the women say the same thing - denim culottes. How 1970s!

But there are some pros and cons to wearing them.


  • They're definitely more modest than the usual styles of shorts.
  • They cover more of the leg, so if you're prone to cellulite, they'll cover all the ugly lumps and bumps.
  • Ditto with varicose veins (ugh, can you tell I'm a woman of 'a certain age')
  • They flow like a skirt, so they look more feminine than other styles.


  • They're still pants, so if your religious convictions are against pants on principle, they're not for you.
  • They can be as difficult to fit as pants if you have a waist of one size and hips of another.
  • They can make you look chunky if the material is heavy or doesn't flow well, the way a skirt flows.

Culotte Slips

Culotte slips look so much like old-fashioned pantaloons that they may make you giggle the first time you see them. Bear with me as I explain their benefits, especially for us ladies of a certain, shall we say, proportion? Listen, even when I was at my skinniest, my thighs still rubbed together. I was skinny as a stick, but the way God put my legs on my body, my thighs always tough. So be it. But I hate walking for long distances in a skirt because the skin gets rubbed raw on my legs and it hurts!

Enter the culotte slip...which offers some basic protection for your legs under a modest long skirt. It's also useful for those winter days when it's cold outside and you want a little something on the legs without resorting to leggings or tights.

My Own Experience

I own one pair of culottes I purchased last year from Modest Apparel USA. They're black, have an elastic waist, and are made from the same type of material as a heavy t-shirt or sweatshirt. They're very comfortable, but I find that balancing the proportions with the right blouse and/or shoe is difficult.  I don't think I would buy another pair of them, but I do think they may be useful for hiking this summer.  Since I don't plan to buy more jeans, I may just dust off the culottes for our next long walk on the High Bridge Trail.

What do you think about culottes? Yucky or nice, modest and elegant alternative to shorts?