Easily Transitions from Asolos to Manolos

A book bought to spot-read for inspiration

Sitting next to my computer is a book called “Not Quite What I was Planning: 6 Word Memoirs by Famous and Obscure Writers.” I bought it to spot read at will — the 6-word memoirs would be lessons in wit and brevity. Indeed, the minimalist writings inspired me to conjure my own 6-word autobiographies…

  • Always makes it work… usually.
  • Frequently found herself lost abroad.
  • Played hard, earned many bruises.
  • Saved old girlfriends, discarded new boyfriends.
  • Easily transitions from Asolos to Manolos.

Of the above, the last is probably the best distillation of Kathleen anyone could ever write — if I have a gravestone, I wouldn’t object to that becoming my epitaph. Easily transitions from Asolos to Manolos, from clunky hiking boots to dainty stilettos, from rough n’ tumble outdoors-woman to uptown girl…

I was probably running late, but there’s always time to take one last look in the mirror. The reflection was of the girl people are used to seeing — thoughtfully made-up and sharply dressed in clothes culled from Saks 5th Avenue and trips overseas. This was the Kathleen my date was going to get, and had he, or anyone else, seen me an hour earlier, they would have thought my transformation to be the stuff of fairytale musicals.

Me in summary: Easily transitions from Asolo hiking boots to designer heels.

An hour before the eyeliner and gardenia lipstick, before the tamed curls and gold earrings, before the Diane Von Furstenberg dress and red patent high heels, I was make-up-less, except for the spf 15 and the smudge of dirt on my chin. The old t-shirt and Nike spandex I sported were covered in wood-shavings and top soil, and tufts of sod hung from the soles of my ankle-high Asolo hiking boots. Thorn pricks left bloody splotches on my calves and sweat clung to my forearms. I had spent the day hauling and laying down 25 fifty-pound bags of woodchips and boy, did I look it.

I never really think of myself as beautiful, but caked in mud, muscles toned from exertion of countless treks uphill with 100-lb loads, hair tousled underneath a dingy Yankees cap, I felt gorgeous. There was no one to judge me and no bell-curve of tall, busty blonds to grade me against. There was no need to be self-consciousness. The flush in my cheeks, the rose in my lips, and the light in my eyes were put there by the fresh air and physical exertion — not by a brush and a pancake of pressed powder. I was fit, invigorated, living, breathing, unmediated Me. What could be more beautiful than that?

I might have looked a lot like pigpen, but I felt beautiful. Lucky for my date, I clean up okay too.

When I met my date for dinner, he gave me a kiss on my cheek and told me I looked “lovely.”

“Thanks. I clean-up well.”

He repeated it back to me under his breath and it took a minute to process before he laughed and helped me with my coat. Little did he know…

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I Don’t Own a Suit, or What in God’s Name am I Going to Wear to My Interview?

Going to the Opera? Come on, challenge me! There's a dress for that.

For only the second time in my life, I don’t know what to wear. What to don on a first date? No problem — got a top that hugs (and plunges) in all the right places. Gallery opening? Come on! Challenge me. Opera? There’s a dress for that. Job interview? Umm… (cue Jeopardy countdown music).

I probably should have asked for a suit for Christmas.

Every morning at 6:30AM, my mother would get ready for work. Hot rollers, St. John’s suits, and Farragamo pumps. I hated the St. John’s suits. Woolly, itchy, boxy garments that I associated with the things that took my mother away from me. Suits made you overweight. Suits made you come home at midnight and travel on weekends. Suits made you late to the talent show. I swore I’d never ever, ever own a suit.

20 years later, and I’ve stuck to the promise I made to myself. No suits. Plenty of dress pants, a cadre of jackets, but none designed to be worn together.

Is the Kate Spade dress with the color-blocking trim too much whimsy for a corporate marketing gig?

Which brings me to my dilemma. I have several interviews scheduled over the next two weeks and Nina Garcia says a “chic, modern take on the classic suit” is the way to go for  interviews. Eeeeek! I’ve never been at a loss when it comes to getting dressed, but given what my wardrobe surely lacks, what in god’s name am I wearing to meet prospective bosses?

The jobs I’ve gotten callbacks for are in a variety of fields — the art world, the corporate world, the non-profit sector — and the question I have to ask myself as I prepare for each meeting is: what version of “me” do I want to present?

Obviously, the goal of each outfit is to come off as professional, but is there more room for whimsy in an art job than in a corporate marketing job? Or would a marketing firm prefer someone with a bit of flair? Is the Kate Spade knit dress with the Mickey Mouse-esque buttons and red accents appropriate for an interview with a PR company? Should I stick to pants and a jacket? Can I wear pants without a jacket? How high a heel is too high? It’s winter still — do I wear the understated wine-colored coat or the show-stopping Diane Von Furstenberg green-gray-black mottled cashmere coat? Do I bring a handbag or a brief case? Which handbag — are navy and silver sequins too much?

My mother voted I wear the outfit on the left to my interview. Fashionista Nina Garcia, the one on the right. I chose a hybrid.

In some ways, I’ve shot myself in my farragamo-clad foot by making deciding what to wear to an interview more nerve-wracking than the interview itself. I know what I’ve done in the workforce, I know my education, I know my career goals, but gosh darn it, I don’t know if “individual,” “fashionable,” and “professional” can coexist in one outfit.

If you walked into my bedroom right now, you’d think they had just finished filming “Twister” in there. After an hour of trying-on and re-trying on, I finally settled on an ensemble. Since I have three interviews left this week and can’t get to the stores before the weekend, I just have to believe individual, fashionable and professional exist in the form of brown high-waist pants (a la Katherine Hepburn) and a tweed motorcycle jacket.

The pants and jacket only narrowly defeated the magenta bra and black tuxedo pants my mother suggested I wear when she saw me standing at the top of the stairs in a panic.

“That looks good. Why don’t you just go with that.”

“Mom, I’m not auditioning to be one of Madonna’s back-up dancers.”

I’m not entirely convinced she was joking, but if by next week none of these interviews have turned into offers, magenta bra and black tuxedo pants it is.

No, I’m Not Engaged. It’s Just My Class Ring

My college class ring has gotten me into a fair amount of trouble. It was probably the most expensive pieces of jewelry I had ever bought for myself — I even had to pay for it in installments as if it was a refrigerator. But flat-lining my bank account is not the sort of trouble I mean.

Picking the right style is always a challenge. Old and signet? Modern and bejewled?

I’ll always remember my friend’s brother Tom, Tom’s class ring, and Tom’s first job out of college. When Tom graduated from Cornell, he ordered an old-school signet ring that rivaled an NFL player’s Superbowl “bling.” He wore it everywhere. One day, at the coffee shop, an older gentleman noticed the ring and launched into Cornell talk with Tom. Eventually, the man asked him if he had a job yet.

To cut a long story short,  Tom got a job offer from the man — a job way over his head at a major investment firm way above his aspirations with a salary and sign-on bonus way beyond his wildest dreams — and it was all because of his class ring.

The way I saw it, a good class ring was a great door opener.

A size too big, my feminine and apparently bridal class ring got me into trouble

Torn between something heavy and traditional and something small and modern, I settled on what I felt was an attractive compromise — a feminine piece suitable for day-to-day wear with a white gold band and Columbia’s crown strongly embedded in a blue stone. It was a fantastic conversation starter.

For a while, it was a guy-magnet. From close range, it was clearly a statement of my education, and it seemed to give suitors an excuse to touch my hand, to get a little closer, to cross that threshold. So while the ring wasn’t opening the door to high paying dream jobs, I can’t say I minded the attention it did bring. But there was a problem. A size too big, I could only wear it on the middle finger of my left hand.

It was all fun and games until someone assumed I was married… to my fencing coach.

When I graduated from college, my mother and I were both taking fencing lessons from the same tall, boyish American man who was quickly adopted into the family as a missing son/big brother. That year, my mother was on the Veterans World Championship team and the three of us spent a weekend in Bath, England. Mother was the child I was living vicariously through. I was the sport parent. He was the moral and tactical support.

“It’s so wonderful your husband is your mother’s coach! Is he your coach too?” One of her teammates said as we sipped cocktails at the Assembly Rooms. You could hear the clunk as my jaw hit the floor.

“We’re not married.”

“Sorry, your fiancé.”

“We’re not engaged. We’re not sleeping together. We’re not dating. He’s my mother’s coach. He’s my coach.”

“Oh! Sorry! I saw you two together… I saw the ring…”

“It’s a class ring.”

It’s a flaw of social convention that a white band with a light stone on the left hand implies marriage. It’s a bigger flaw of social convention that when a man and a woman are seen together, having fun with a clearly close connection, the assumption is “couple.”

The ring didn’t go back on my finger for the remainder of the trip. In all likelihood, I won’t be wearing out again until I get it resized… if I get it resized. When it was time for my grad school class ring, small, feminine and bridal just weren’t viable options. I ordered a man’s ring. Bigger, bolder, and shinier, it’s luckily turned out to be the better dude-magnet.

This time, there would be no mistaking it -- this IS a class ring. Luckily, it's still a guy magnet.

If You Buy it, He Will Come:Or My Mother’s Alternative to eharmony

“Forget about a puppy!” Ivy teased when I told her what I hoped to get  for Valentine’s Day. “How about a hubby! I bet your father wouldn’t say no to a hubby!”

What do you want for Valentine's Day? A puppy or a hubby? I'm leaning towards the puppy...

Ivy was probably right — my father sees no reason to bring another dog into the family, but I don’t think he’d object to the addition of an able-bodied human male to watch football with. Well, bad news daddy, it looks like you’re going to be paper-training a terrier long before you’ll be welcoming a son-in-law.

Then again…maybe not.

Thanks to a weekend in Dallas, my mother has written a new marriage mantra which she is convinced will produce my prodigal rich husband in no time:

If you buy it, he will come.

Buy what, exactly? The wedding dress, of course. Surely, there’s a superstition about that, Mom.

The trip to Dallas was for business rather than pleasure, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s never let a little business get in the way of a good shoe sale. Neiman Marcus was broadcasting a designer footwear clearance that weekend, and Dallas just so happens to be the Neiman Marcus mothership. It was a good thing I brought my big suitcase.

The Kevan Hall wedding dress conjured in a dream found in Dallas, Texas

Inside the famed department store, the sea of shoppers parted allowing me a clear line to survey the couture ahead. There, radiant under a single spotlight, stood the wedding dress I had seen only in a dream. Equal parts Victorian and modern, it was perfectly me in beige-pink lace.

“So are you planning a wedding?” the sales associate asked as I gently fingered the beading on my way to a price tag.

The real answer was “no,” but because I didn’t want the woman to think I was some crazy, desperate single girl who spent her weekends trying on wedding dresses for no one, I lied.

No matter where I went in the store, I couldn’t shake the dress from my mind. Not even Diane Von Furstenburg could hold my gaze. I had eyes for nothing else.

“I think you should just buy the dress,” my mother whispered when 20 minutes later she found me back in the bridal salon, dazed and drooling.

“But, I’m single.”

“Doesn’t matter. If you buy it, he will come.”

“My life isn’t a Kevin Costner movie.”

“Well, it’s not like anything else has been working for you. Let’s see if they have it in your size.” Sometimes, my mother is a bad influence.

So at the end of the trip, there were no size 8 1/2 Manolos or Louboutins, Jimmy Choos or Diors packed into my over-sized Delsey roller bag. Instead, just a receipt for a fairytale-sized confection of silk and satin and the promise of my mother’s voice saying “if you buy it, he will come.”

Friday Night Winter Coat Woes: To Check or Not to Check?

“Enjoy the chilly weather,” a friend said in a text message. “Sometimes it seems I’m the only one who enjoys it!”

“Not so! I love the cold! It saves me blush step when I’m ‘putting on my face!'” I enthusiastically typed in reply.

Getting ready for a summer night on the town has its appeal, particularly in the lack of clothes required...

The late sunset, the empowering “good-bye” to layers, wool tights, and a multi-moisturizer makeup regime — certainly, going out on sultry summer nights has its appeal. But as any girl who has found her foundation dripping down her face and sweat stains stretching to her waist knows, getting ready for a carefree (read: humid and blistering) summer night is no carefree task. The onset of the winter chill is a surprising relief.

“Scarf appropriate” earrings must be considered (you don’t want your chandeliers snagging your cashmere), but otherwise, winter nights on the town are reasonably low maintenance. When things turn frosty, I can use a hairdryer without the extra 2 coats of antiperspirant. I can look to sensible, rugged flat boots for almost all evening occasions. And thanks to movement-friendly leggings with figure-flattering sweater dresses, I can transition from day into night with a mere swipe of red lipstick.

The catch? That whole “coat problem.”

Hats stay on heads and scarves swirl around necks as parts of an ensemble. Gloves slip into pockets and earmuffs into purses. But those long, inflated, element-proof outerwear garments don’t fade into the background so easily.

If you’re lucky to find a lounge with a coat check, problem solved. At most, all you need to worry about is a dollar tip at the end of the night. But make your way to the typical crowded bar, and things get more complicated.

Hats and scarves become part of an ensemble, while mittens and earmuffs dissapear into purses.

I walked into the dimly-lit Keats on 2nd Avenue and took a quick survey of the throbbing alleyway of pint glasses, rosy cheeks, and navy sweaters. “Are there coat hooks anywhere?” my friend asked. Apparently, somewhere at the back of the pub there were small brass hooks triple hung with peacoats and ski jackets. Was there room for her black wool coat among the sea of like-styled black wool coats? Didn’t look like it.

Sometimes, hooks are strategically pinned under mahogany bar tops. Supply is usually scarce. If you happen to find yourself at a bar with back-rest enhanced bar stools, you’re in luck – a built-in coat hanger at your seat. Find yourself at a bar sans the aforementioned amenities and your MacGyver instincts have to kick-in.

This many accessories does pose a challenge at the local Public House

I stood at the bar, with a pint of Blue Moon in one hand, my knee-length quilted mauve Burberry in the other, backless stool in front of me, and awkwardly attempted to find a solution. “You could hang it on your knee when you sit down” was one suggestion. Okay, here goes. Before I could take a sip from the glass, my coat was in a heap on the sticky floor.

Why don’t you sit on it? That seemed like a good plan until I wiggled onto the coat-draped bar stool, watching the head on my ale teeter-totter close to lip of the glass. It was then I hooked my heel on the coat’s pocket instead of the stool’s support rut.

The rip was audible and the footprint insoluble. Mild panic.

As I slipped off the stool, my butt sent my coat tumbling to the floor again. To add insult to injury, while on the ground, it had picked up the powdery remnants of a bowl of peanuts. The 5 second rule is a lie. I still had a full pint in my hand. It was too early to retire. I picked up the coat, examined the stool, and proceeded to re-drape my now wounded outerwear. Sigh. The damage had already been done, the least I could do was finish my drink and make sure I had a place to rest my feet.

What Halloween Revealed about My Sense of Fashion

If you've ever seen me first thing in the AM, you know I don't need a costume to look a fright

Some girls dress up as wenches or sexy police officers for Halloween. I have a personal aversion to skin-tight fake patent leather and catching pneumonia, so I tend to refrain from these options. Other girls opt for ghouls, hags, or witches. If you’ve ever seen me first thing in the morning, you know I don’t need a costume to look a total fright.

When I awoke last Saturday morning, I faced the pressing need to settle on a costume for a friend’s Halloween party. In my right hand I held the riding helmet that I wore in my equestrian days, in my left, a genuine pith helmet, on my bed sat a vintage straw cloche, a stetson, and a wide-brimmed embellished velvet hat. There was a costume to match each accessory… the question was  is it a “Puss in Boots” or a “Dr. Livingston” sort of Halloween?

Whenever there was a skit or film project in grade school, I was the girl everybody wanted on their team. It wasn’t just because I was a control freak who was happy to do the majority of the work if it ensured an A+. It was because I could always costume the cast. Outfit 5 for a Wild  West adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Othello?” No problem. How about a French perfume “commercial” set in the 1920s? Done. For me, Halloween has always been about taking on a new persona. Recently, it’s been about exploiting the eclectic contents of my wardrobe. How many western shirts does one New York gal really need?

For me, Halloween has always been about taking on a new persona... not about skin-tight, plunging necklines

Even in my adult years, my wardrobe remains one deep costume bin.  My closet is a varied but edited mix of styles and epochs — the product of a decade of smart buying and self-defining. “You have your own look,” Mara said to me as we walked through the East Village (on a night sans costumes). She’s a good, straight-shooting friend who has known me since the 4th grade. “It’s not ‘trendy’ or off the rack. It’s fashionable and totally you.”

Apparently, it’s also very Halloween appropriate.

A few days after the bewitching All Hallows Eve, I rummaged through my closet in search of an outfit to take me through a hurried city day with some friends and settled on something easy and layered.

“Going to a belated Halloween party?” Jessie asked as I gave her a hug.

“Huh?”

“Isn’t that what you wore to Brian’s Halloween thing last Saturday?”

Okay, she might have been mostly right… but who says the whimsy only has to come out for costumes?

 

From Dr. Livingston to City Girl in Motion...