Modest, Elegant Vintage Style

This elegant, modest outfit can be the inspiration for your own vintage-inspired look. I love the citrus pattern. It's so late 50s or early 60s! Although Dolce and Gabana is out of my price range, ModCloth and eShakti often have similar dresses at a fraction of the cost. Pull up the shoulders on this one to make it modest, or slide a lovely white or lemon-yellow pashmina over your shoulders to keep the look modest. Here on #fashionfriday, I share elegant, modest outfits for inspiration.

Get the Look! Something refreshing :)

Dolce Gabbana white zipper dress
$1,245 -

Chloé ballerina pumps

Dolce Gabbana satchel hand bag
$1,755 -

Dolce Gabbana leaves jewelry

Chanel clear acrylic ring

Dressing Simply to Go Out

I find it peculiar that this even had to be said, but apparently, it needed to be said. A school principal requested that parents put on appropriate clothing to pick up and drop off their children from school. The result? A protest by some mothers who intentionally wore bathrobes, slippers and pajamas to school to drop their children off.

The original article: Headteacher Asks Parents to Stop Doing School Runs in Pajamas.

Respect yourself, and respect your child. Wear appropriate clothing to pick them up from school!

Why is it that the act of pulling on a pair of jeans and a normal shirt, pulling socks on your feet and tying your shoes should be seen as "too much to do" in the morning?

In olden days, men and women managed somehow to get themselves washed and dressed before emerging from their homes. Women had the house tidied up, breakfast on the table, and the children out the door to walk to school by seven or so. Moms walked their kids to school, came home, and either left for work or did housework...wearing clothing appropriate for the task.

Somehow, the notion of me-mine-I has completely taken over every aspect of life. This includes dress and clothing. The ladies who wish to wear pajamas all day feel that their comfort entitles them to wear whatever the heck they want, everyone else be darned.

Clothing isn't just about you. Yes, you should feel comfortable in your clothing, and beautiful, too. I'm not advocating for corsets and high heels all day long. I am advocating for the common sense notion that people who take a few minutes to pull on adult clothing and comb their hair show they have some sense of self esteem and self respect.

Clothing tells others in a matter of seconds many things about you. It gives subtle signals about what you think of yourself, you attitudes, even your social standing. We've moved from a world in which ladies and gentlemen dressed formally all the time to a world in which pajamas and flip flops seem to be standard adultwear. Neither is a healthy approach.

A return to elegance means a balanced approach to fashion. It means taking the time for your personal grooming. It means never, ever leaving the house,except maybe to pull out the trash or run the dog out on the lawn for a quick bathroom break,  in your pajamas. It means taking the time to wear beautiful, comfortable, and elegant clothing that reflects your dignity and value as a human being.

Besides, wearing pajamas in public can be embarassing. A woman I knew years ago once drove to the train station late at night to pick her husband up wearing only a baby doll nightie. It was late, she was tired, and she was already in bed when her husband called her for a ride. So she just jumped into the car wearing her baby doll night gown...and ended up in a car accident on the way to the station.

True story.

So, ladies who long for a return to elegance, let's support the notion that grownups wear grown up clothing when they leave the house. You can be comfortable and stylish, but please, be dressed!

Clothes Shopping with a Conscience

The case for avoiding sweatshop manufactured garments is overwhelming. Heck, nobody wants to support unethical labor practices, low wages, child labor, you name it. But the cheapest garments on the market tend to be made in factories located in countries where such practices are commonplace. What's a Christian to do?

Clothes Shopping with a Conscience: Shopping from the Heart

Have you ever thought of where your clothes are made? If you're like me, you probably just walked into a store, found a garment you liked, tried it on, checked the price tag, and if the price was right, you bought it. What's the problem?

The problem is that the entire garment industry is upside-down today from the way it was 100 years ago. Consumers benefit from this massive industry upheaval by paying the lowest prices ever for staple items like jeans, underwear, t-shirts and socks. Clothing prices today are lower than they ever have been through history. People, mostly women, are also liberated from the time-intensive task of sewing all of the necessary garments for their families.

Walk into any store and you can find the latest runway or movie fashions sported by your favorite model or actress on the shelves almost instantly from when they hit the media. That's because with today's computers, savvy clothing manufacturers snap photos at Fashion Week, upload them via their camera phones, and translate them into garments within weeks, not months or years.

Many (but not all) of those clothing manufacturers are located in Asia, in countries like China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India. The biggest cost to make clothing isn't usually the fabric or the notions, the zippers and buttons. It's the labor. 

Garment-making is labor intensive, and so the garment industry moved from local factories to overseas factories as labor costs rose. When you have to pay your workers more, you have to raise your prices. Consumers balk at higher prices and complain. Store owners complain to their wholesalers. Wholesalers then seek the lowest labor costs they can find...which means outsourcing the work to poor countries with lax labor laws.

Therein lies the problem with our current shopping paradigm.

How Long Do You Keep Your Clothes?

I keep my clothes until they don't fit or they wear out. I rarely get rid of clothes anymore because they aren't in fashion. That's because I look for classic, timeless pieces...things that generally don't go out of style. That's why this blog is called A Return to Elegance and why I love styles reminiscent of designers like Chanel, Yves St. Laurent, Halston...well, you get the picture.

I'm the exception, rather than the norm. Most Americans own so many clothes that they have to buy storage boxes for them. You've seen all the gadgets on shopping channels: vacuum bags that help you squish more clothes in less space, space-saving hangers, closet organizers, shoe racks. We wouldn't need those items 50 years ago because:

  • Trends changed more slowly, so you could wear garments longer. Women were also taught to sew, so they could update an outfit simply by raising or lowering a hemline, changing collars or buttons, etc. 
  • Garments were made from higher quality materials, so they lasted longer.
  • You paid a lot more for your clothes. You were motivated to keep them because you'd invested more in them.
  • You mended your clothes rather than discarded them when they showed slight signs of wear and tear.
  • You owned a lot less, because you needed fewer clothes. Being fashionable and stylish meant finding flattering garments that suited you, not chasing the trend of the day.
  • There were fewer places to shop, and shopping was more of an ordeal or treat. Today, women think nothing of running out at lunchtime and buying a few new items...sometimes several times a week!

Look in your closet now. How many black pants or skirts do you own, pairs of running shoes, t-shirts?

Where were they made?

Factories Overseas: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

In the book, Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, author Elizabeth L. Cline details numerous visits she made to garment manufacturers worldwide as part of the research for her book. She visited factories in America, China, Central America, and other countries.

 Here is what she discovered:
  • Quality of life for factory workers varied not necessary according to the laws or business practices of the country, but to the demands of the wealthy customers purchasing the final garments. In other words, if the American-based companies contracting the manufacture demanded better working conditions, they could get them. Market forces are changing the social situation. 
  • Some factories in China had very humane working conditions. Workers slept in modern dormitories with shared rooms, bathrooms like a college dorm, and meals served cafeteria style. Others were just what you'd imagined, and horrible. But in China today, the increased opportunities for better-paying work around the country mean that factories must make their conditions better to attract more workers. In other words, again marketing forces are changing the social situation, not the other way around. 
  • Garments made in America and in better factories, where workers have more, charge more to the end consumer. Eileen Fischer, for example, is an American made brand of women's clothing where you'll pay $300 for a dress you'd probably pay $50 for in another store. The reason the price is higher is that it reflects the higher costs of employing American workers, the higher insurance and salaries required by our government.

The Environmental Impact of the Garment Industry Is Staggering

Another thing that I learned during my research into this topic was the disturbing news that the garment industry creates an inordinate amount of waste that directly and negatively impacts the environment. I don't know why this never occurred to me before. I guess I always assumed that those garments I dropped into the Goodwill or St. Vincent de Paul collection box were gratefully received by someone in another country who didn't have anything.

In truth, much of what is donated is sold for scrap rags! It's sorted, and if it doesn't make the cut to go into a thrift shop, it's bundled by the pound and sold off to companies who make rags, break the fibers down, or yes, ship the garments to Africa or other developing worlds. 

But fashion and tastes in Africa are different than America. Yes, poor African people want what's fashionable, and the vendors there will pick through the bulk garment lots from American and sell only what their public wants to buy. They're capitalists, after all.

What's left is a mess of garments that end up in landfills. Worse, newer fibers made from hydrocarbons don't break down. Polyester and rayon are often added to fabric today to make the cotton and other natural fiber content added into the mills go further, and to make garments stretch and wash better. Yet these man-made fibers are dreadful for the environment both in their making and in their breaking down. 

Shopping with a Conscience: Action Steps You Can Take

Today's complex, interrelated system of supply and demand, manufacture and trade, can make it almost impossible to shop with 100 percent certainty that your garments weren't made under inhumane and unfair labor conditions. Even if they were, buying a lot of clothes you wear only once is harmful to the environment. 

Now, some of you won't care too much about that, and I get it. I really do. But for those of you who pull out your kit of essential oils whenever someone gets sick, or who choose organic produce and cosmetics and cleaning supplies...your clothing choices may actually make a great impact than that organic head of lettuce you just put into your shopping cart. Buying fewer garments may mean less clothes end up in landfills, polluting the land and sea in places too poor to say "no" to having a garbage dump on their doorstep.

I've been mulling over these concepts for many months now. This past week, someone on a modest fashion forum that I moderate asked about just this very question. The group member asked, "How can I avoid purchasing clothing from sweatshops? I don't want to support poverty and unfair labor practices, but how do you buy clothes these days without buying from the countries that support them?"

Here's a longer version of my answer to her. I follow these principles, and feel I can shop not with a clear conscience, but at least with a clearer conscience that my actions support my faith. As a Christian, I want my faith to infuse everything in my life, down to where I buy my clothes. I feel that these steps, today, make that reality. 

Tomorrow I may change or add steps, but today, to shop with a clean conscience and a loving heart, I choose the following:

  • Buy less. It's going to go against the grain for those of you used to rushing out and buying clothes on a whim. But try spending less. Make it a Lenten sacrifice. Shop from your closet first, trying to combine new outfits to come up with a new "look."
  • Buy from thrift stores. Buying used garments may sound like a funny way to shop with a conscience, but shopping from your local thrift store does a few good things. It adds money back into your local economy. It supports whatever charity runs the shop. It uses an existing garment rather than calls for creation of a new one. It's economical and has a lower carbon footprint than buying new.
  • Buy used. In addition to thrift shops, shop on eBay, and other clothing sites that encourage thrifty secondhand purchases.
  • Buy handcrafted.  I love shopping for accessories on Etsy. I purchase handmade jewelry, purses, and hats on Etsy. I'm saving my pennies to buy some handmade vintage reproduction items I've seen there. I have also contacted local seamstresses to ask about having dresses made. Look for tailors in your area who do custom work. You purchase the fabric and pattern, you pay them to make the garment. It's more expensive than off the rack, but you get an elegant, one of a kind garment and support your local economy.
  • Have clothes altered. In addition to buying used, you can have a tailor alter existing items if you have some nice pieces you need restyled.
  • Learn to sew. Sewing isn't for everyone. I'm not very good at it. But do learn how to fix buttons, hooks and snaps, and other simple mending tasks. Instead of throwing out ripped garments, fix them.
  • Buy from small companies. I love ModestApparel USA, a small online store that allows you to customize your garment with pockets or not, hem length, etc, because the clothes are made in the USA by a network of people working from home. eShakti works on a similar model but has people in India and other countries make the garments. Small companies and online companies have less overhead and can afford to pay their workers better. 
  • Donate only good clothes. It's a loving and kind gesture to donate clothing to a charity, but please only donate what you yourself would wear. The poor don't want your ripped t-shirts and stained sweaters, either. They deserve better. Recycle (see below) or throw out the clothes if they are beyond any hope of repair or reuse.
  • Recycle at home. Old garments like t-shirts, sweatshirts and household linens such as towels and sheets should be cut into squares and used as dusting rags and cleaning cloths for household tasks. Use them instead of paper towels to mop up spills, too.
  • Buy new only what you need. Purchase underwear, bras, socks, nightclothes, uniform items, and jeans or other difficult to make items new from the store. Purchase only what you need. 
  • Pray for the workers. Every morning as you get dressed, say a simple prayer for the garment worker who stitched your shirt, pants or skirt. A quick Hail Mary, Our Father, or simple heartfelt prayer may help that person today.

I hope that these tips have helped you as much as they've helped me over the past few months as I considered this question. Dressing with elegance and style doesn't mean shopping for the latest fad or trend. Timeless beauty comes from the heart, and charity for your brothers and sisters working worldwide in the garment industry never goes out of style. Elegant, beautiful women are also kind women who shop with a conscience. Be that woman starting today.

Elegant Office Attire

Today on Fashion Friday, I've put together a simple yet elegant outfit that is enhanced by soft, feminine colors and eye-catching accessories. These items may be out of your budget, but you can find similar pieces among many low or mid-priced catalogs and retailers.

Elegant Office Attire

Tie blouse

Halston Heritage maxi skirt
$240 -

Kate Spade leather sole shoes
$400 -

KOTUR evening purse

Collecting Vintage Compacts

I became fascinating with collecting vintage compacts when I inherited my mother's 1960s Estee Lauder compact. The butterfly-embossed golden makeup compact was empty but still held the faint fragrance of Windsong perfume, my mother's signature scent, and a bit of beige powder in its pan. I imagined my mother powdering her nose with it or checking her lipstick. A true child of the 1950s, she never left home without her lips colored with frosted pink or dark burgundy lipstick and a dab of powder on her nose.

Thus began my lifelong love of vintage compacts...and collecting vintage compacts.

collecting vintage compacts

A Brief History of Makeup Compacts

I am by no means an expert on collecting Vintage Compacts. For that, I refer you to the blog by the same title: Collecting Vintage Compacts. Yes, there's an entire blog devoted to collecting vintage makeup items, and for good reason. They're elegant!

According to Collector's Weekly, makeup compacts became popular in the 1920s when flappers and other young ladies made wearing makeup socially acceptable. Before the 1920s, women may have dabbed a bit of rouge or lip pigment on but preferred that no one know about it. During the 1920s, a very pale makeup style with bright red lips and kohl-lined eyes became popular. To achieve the pale, flawless porcelain complexion so desired, women began using powder. A makeup compact like the own shown above (a 1970s or 80s Estee Lauder compact in my collection) became both a beautiful and practical accessory. Frequent touch-ups were necessary, and to pull out a mirrored compact with a beautiful finish denoted elegance and sophistication.

Makeup compacts are also quite practical. If the powder runs out, the entire powder pan snaps out and a new one can be inserted and snapped into place. In the 1980s, interchangeable pans like this became popular among cosmetic lines like Revlon with eye shadows where you could mix and match your own colors to create custom compacts. The idea is still the same, and comes and goes depending on makeup fads and fashions.

As with most things, the beautiful makeup compacts of the past fell by the wayside, until today few women have a makeup compact, let alone use powder. I can still find face powder among brands like Cover Girl and Maybelline, but to find an elegant powder compact, you need to visit the Estee Lauder or Elizabeth Arden counters. There you can find the beautiful, elegant works of art like vintage compacts of old.

Collecting Vintage Compacts

One of the most enjoyable aspects of collecting vintage compacts is that they are both easy to find and relatively inexpensive. I've obtained 40 to 50 year old compacts for under $10. Sure, they're not rare, but they do lend a beautiful, elegant and vintage aspect to my attire. When I worked in New York City, I once pulled an antique makeup compact from my purse to check my eye for debris while riding the subway. Women looked intrigued, men looked interested, and it surprised me to no end how a simple, inexpensive elegant accessory could cause conversation among jaded subway goers.

You can find vintage compacts at flea markets, thrift shops, and eBay stores. I have also found some nice ones on Etsy.  

Many older compact cases were made by famous Art Deco watchmakers or jewelers such as Tiffany and Company, and you can find their hallmark stamped into the reverse or back of the case. If you'd like to use your compact, there are instructions online for making a custom-fitting pan to replace a missing pan. I wouldn't use any makeup left in the pan, but would carefully remove it.

Very expensive or rare cases should be kept on display, but do use some of the less expensive pieces like my Elizabeth Arden gold basket weave case, above. These beautiful objects were meant to be cherished by ladies like us, ladies who yearn for a return to elegance.

In Praise of the Bath

You know the old saying "You never know how much you missed something until you don't have it anymore?" (or something like that.) That's what happened to me this past month with something most people take for granted: the bathtub.

I grew up in an older 1940s home that had two full baths, but the second floor bathroom that I shared with my sisters had only a bathtub. No shower. I didn't take a shower until I was in high school! I always took baths, as did my parents. Bathing was a ritual I adored, an elegant way to unwind at the end of a school or work day.

We had an old, deep, cast iron tub that I loved. It was a set-in tub, not a claw foot tub, but deep enough so that even someone as tall as I am could lay back and be submerged in hot, fragrant water.

I lived for eight years after I married in an apartment that only had a shower, and I have to say, I missed my bath tub so much! When my husband and I had our house built, his gift to me was a large whirlpool tub in the master bath.

My tub is my retreat, my spa. I love soaking in that tub. So you can imagine my horror when I asked my husband to clear the blocked drain...and he broke the stopper on the bathtub.

You'd think that a bathtub stopper would be easy to find, but not this one. It's a special "tip toe" stopper that only comes with this type of tub. The local hardware stores didn't have it. Nobody had it! I finally ordered it from Amazon and am thoroughly grateful to be back in the soak of things, as it were.

A Return to Elegance: The Bath as Elegant Ritual

Now as part of a return to elegance, I started thinking about bathing. When did we Americans become so obsessed with showering that we lost sight of the pleasures of the bath?

When I watch old movies, many heroes and heroines take a bath in the morning or evening. It seemed that sometime in the 1960s, perhaps, bathing went out of fashion, and showers became popular. I know that showers are quick and easy. But why does everything have to be quick and easy?

Elegance takes time. Tonight, may I suggest an elegant bath? If you have not enjoyed the pleasures of a good long soak in ages, then consider this:

  • Find and purchase a nice bath oil, bath bomb, or bubble bath. I love good old-fashioned VitaBath, but even a scoop of Epsom Salts will do. 
  • Put out fresh, fluffy towels. 
  • Make sure the room is warm so that when you step out of the bath, you won't shiver.
  • Have a good book to read or a magazine while soaking. (Don't take your Kindle in with you, please).
  • Scented candles? Yes, light one if you have it! 
  • Lock the door against children, pets and family members who want to interrupt your private time.
  • Let the bath run until it is as hot as you'd like it...then lay back and soak. Enjoy.

Tonight, return to the elegance of a bygone era by soaking in a long, hot bath.

Lock the door against pets who want to interrupt your private time....

Winter Warmth and Elegance

It's that time of year when blustery weather makes me want to curl up by the fireplace with a good book and a cup of hot tea. It's hard to think about wearing ladylike skirts and dresses when it's so cold and windy outside!

But our grandmothers, great-grandmothers and ladies throughout the ages did so, and lived to tell the tale. So how can you stay warm and elegant during the winter months, ladies?

5 Tips to Stay Warm in Dresses and Skirts

  1. Wear layers:  Layers are lady's best friend! Layer warm woolen skirts with slips, pettit pants (like old-fashioned bloomers), tights, and other layers to stay warm.
  2. Layer on top: Wearing a warm sweater and a blazer, or a sweater and a nice pashmina, can make you feel toasty warm even when wearing a skirt.
  3. Tights: I love tights! I found great bargains from Target on their Merona brand tights. Most of the pairs that I bought lasted a long time when washed properly. This means placing them in a lingerie bag in the washing machine and hanging them on the line to dry. The lingerie bag protects them from snagging on buttons, snaps and other closures in the machine. Line drying them keeps the spandex fibers from wearing prematurely in the heat.
  4. Boots: Boots are a gal's best friend in the winter months. High boots can be worn under shorter skirts with leggings or tights for a modern look. I wear hiking boots with denim skirts, tights and slouchy socks for a casual, sporty, warm and practical look here in the countryside. Boots worn with wool socks keep me toasty warm.
  5. Leggings under skirts: Leggings aren't pants. They are inelegant, unladylike, and frankly, not flattering to most figures. Wear them under skirts and dresses to keep your legs super warm on very cold days or wear them for sports and exercise. Please don't wear them as pants!

Just because it's cold outside doesn't mean you have to look sloppy. With a little planning, you can look elegant and poised even in the coldest weather.