Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Brigantine Too

 Daisy Kook Necklace

Blouse: Marshalls
Tank: So, Kohl's
Shorts: Marshalls
Shoes: Ami Clubwear
Bag: Marshalls
Sunglasses: Michaels

Well, two trees grow in Brigantine (at least the two I'm talking about).  Yep, it's the twin palms I blogged about back in April, finally captured on camera in these last days of August.  As mentioned, they bookend the Brigantine welcome sign, which I love from its retro seashell-crested top to its old-fashioned latticework-laced bottom.  But my favorite part is the sweet and jaunty motto "an island you'll love for life" scrawled in dark blue italics.  Now, the husband has recently reported that a new saying, namely, "over the bridge" has begun to take root on local bumper stickers.  No matter.  This hunk of rock's calling card will always be "an island you'll love for life" to me.  And not just because of the alliteration.

Brooklyn has its own fetchingly literal and metaphorical foliage.  At least according to Colm Toibin's novel Brooklyn and the later movie of the same name.  A tender yet unsentimental coming-of-age story set in the 1950s, Brooklyn centers on Aisling (Saoirse Ronan), a young woman who leaves her Irish village to make a better life in the States.  With the help of a kindly priest, she finds board and work in Brooklyn, the former with a group of high-spirited (if catty) girls overseen by a fussy spinster, the latter behind a counter in an upscale department store.  But what Aisling really wants is to become an accountant.  For most of us, this is a dubious dream, but Aisling's pursuit of it in the face of prejudice, pettiness, and crushing homesickness is endearingly admirable, giving it the cachet of a more glam vocation.  Indeed, with each challenge, Aisling gains a sense of sophistication and ease with the world, an evolution symbolized by her increasingly glamorous outfits.  When we first meet her, she's clad in drab dresses and stringy hair.  So, it's all the more satisfying when she emerges in well-cut, vibrant frocks, her fair tresses becomingly coiffed as she navigates the city streets.  Style and spreadsheets aside, the most exciting thing to happen to Aisling is Tony.  An intense Italian plumber (no Super Mario jokes, please) with a boisterous family and a passion for baseball, he quietly but earnestly makes a bid for Aisling's heart.  But just as Aisling is sorting her feelings, a family crisis pulls her back to Ireland.

Although Aisling left her village in obscurity, she returns with an elegance that elevates her social status.  Before long she catches the attention of the local accounting office as well as the eye of the most eligible bachelor.  A cookie-cutter future is hers if she wants it, and she's suddenly forced to ask herself if it's possible to go home again.  Brooklyn is no candy box romance (despite my having maybe made it sound like one).  Actually, I wouldn't consider it a romance at all, because 1) it's written by a man, and 2) that label, however unfairly, is more often than not disparaging.  No, Brooklyn is not genre fiction; it casts a much wider and more ambitious net made all the more powerful by its economical prose.  Although usually a fan of lush language, I found Toibin's spare writing style to be perfectly suited to his simple story.  Not that this tale is easy.  On the contrary, slice of life stories are the hardest to tell because they can't hide behind fancy phrases.  Toibin succeeds in capturing every nuance and tension, painting a more realistic portrait of female social interactions and all that goes left unsaid more masterfully than any writer I've read in years.  It's as if he went to summer camp or joined a book club or went undercover wherever women weave their little worlds, granting and denying admittance with the skill and subtlety of long-reigning monarchs (translation: on Wednesdays, we wear pink: just further proof that all roads lead to Mean Girls.)  

As for me, I like to weave neckwear, the weirder the better.  And this week I've kept the flame burning with Flash Charms.  Because despite the feminine flair of the fabulous 1950s, my closet belongs to the 1980s.

That said, these macaw-print culottes could hold their own on Coney Island.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Ruffle Kerfuffle: Of Monsters and Zen, What a Mother

Top: Bisou Bisou, J. C. Penney's
Skirt: Xhilaration, Target
Shoes: Ami Clubwear
Bag: Betsey Johnson, Macy's
Belt: Apt. 9, Kohl's
Sunglasses: Rampage, Boscov's

Top: Maison Jules, Macy's
Skirt: Xhilaration, Target
Shoes: Chinese Laundry, DSW
Bag: Apt. 9, Kohl's
Belt: Marshalls
Sunglasses: Rampage, Boscov's

Top: So, Kohl's
Skirt: Xhilaration, Target
Shoes: Ami Clubwear
Bag: Nine West, Marshalls
Sunglasses: Brigantine beach shop

Blouse: American Rag, Macy's
Tank: Macy's
Skirt: Xhilaration, Target
Shoes: Payless
Bag: Modcloth
Belt: Wet Seal
Sunglasses: Rampage, Boscov's

Every outfit in this post features a swallow-print, ruffle-tiered mini I got from Target, that one-stop trend candy shop.  Part festival, part fairy tale, this skirt is the kind of sassy yet muted not-so-basic staple that Snow White might've worn if the seven dwarfs had ever carted her off to Coachella (now, there was a damsel who could rock crazy colors).

Speaking of which, it's time to talk about some ladies who put the rough and tumble in ruffle, namely the casts of two of summer's biggest blockbusters: Ghostbusters and Bad Moms.  Fun and frothy with a topping of let's-take-on-the-world, both center around fantasies, some supernatural, some suburban.  Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones do battle with poltergeists in New York City while Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hahn take on the PTA outside of Chicago (the latter is, in my opinion, the more formidable of the two villains; when faced with a bitch or a beast I'll take my chances with Slimer), putting it all on the line in the name of justice, whether it be for the safety of humankind, some much-deserved me-time, or a heady elixir of the two.  Sure, on the surface, these women couldn't be more different.  Ghostbuster McKinnon zings zany one-liners as she builds whoa-Nelly weapons; bad mom Bell daydreams about getting into a (minor) car accident so she can spend a week in the hospital eating Jell-O.  World-class physicist Wiig gets tongue-tied at the mere sight of delicious but dumber-than-dirt secretary Chris Hemsworth; come-hither Hahn flashes married dads in the school drop-off zone.  But at the end of the day, they're all women fighting adversity, whether in the form of phantoms or frenemies.  As such, both casts shine with brave yet vulnerable, laugh-a-minute comediennes.  Ghostbusters was funnier, but I enjoyed the plot of Bad Moms more.  Maybe that's because Bad Moms is a little like Mean Girls: Mommy Edition.  The cliques are the same; just the ages have changed.  And there's not a woman alive who doesn't appreciate a good comic commentary on (as Tina Fey so eloquently put it in Mean Girls) the age-old theme of girl-on-girl crime.  In Moms, the pressure doesn't come from the need to be popular, but the need to be perfect, which is, when you think about it, merely popularity all grown up.  

In Bad Moms, Amy Mitchell (Kunis) is the poster child for mother martyrdom.  Put-upon and stretched-to-the-limit, this marketing maven is an always under-it everywoman who bears the added burdens of dealing with an incompetent fetus of a boss (Clark Duke) and an overgrown frat boy of a husband (David Walton).  So, when Amy ambles into a PTA meeting, late as always, fresh from a horribly hellish day, and resident queen bee and PTA president Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate) shames her into bake sale police duty (no sugar, no oil, no dairy!), Amy tells her to forget it, makes a grand exit, and plops down on a bar stool at the nearest dive to drown her proverbial sorrows.  There she meets perennially-on-the-prowl single mom (and, may I add, dressed-to-kill) Carla (Hahn) and eager-to-please mother of four Kiki (Bell).  The liquor flows, the ladies vent, and before you can shout "Tequila!", the trio is wreaking havoc at a grocery store, Fruit Loops and inhibitions flying.  What follows is a wicked spin on sugar and spice and everything nice as the fast friends turn the stereotype of the perfect mom on its head, blowing off cooking and cleaning to day drink and cruise guys.  But when Gwendolyn gets Amy's daughter kicked off the soccer team, what began as a game turns into a full-fledged revolt against the powers that be.  Amy launches a campaign to run for PTA president in a brush with the dark side that is faintly reminiscent of Cady Herring's (Lindsey Lohan's) in Mean Girls.  Yet although Amy tries on a new persona and even sometimes stumbles, unlike the callow Cady, she never loses sight of who she is.     

Bad Moms is a sweet satire sprinkled with the surprises that make movies sparkle.  SPOILER ALERT: if you read any further, then this one will be a surprise no longer.  (I'm talking to you, party scene headlined by paragon of perfection Martha Stewart offering up Jell-O shots.)  Although lighthearted, Bad Moms touches upon the complexities of female relationships, intertwined with that old chestnut of a theme: freedom vs. duty.  That having been said, once the chaos has run its course, peace predictably descends upon suburban Chicago, more than restoring the status quo as each mom, mean ones included, embraces a more warts-and-all way of life.  Peace, after all, is the goal of most stories (and, indeed, of that great story life), dressed in the finery of happy endings.  

Yep, peace is pretty important.  As Gavin Rossdale once sang, "everything's zen."  Of course, he followed that up with an angry "I don't think so," and now his ex is doing a duet with Blake Shelton.  

So maybe he needs to try yoga.         

Monday, August 8, 2016

Something from the (Beauty) Bar: Hair of the Haute Dog

Dress: Modcloth
Shoes: Ami Clubwear
Bag: Betsey Johnson, Macy's
Belt: B Fabulous
Scarf: Wet Seal
Ribbons: Craft box
Sunglasses: Rampage, Boscov's

Dress: Mocloth
Tank: J. C. Penney's
Shoes: Modcloth
Bag: Call it Spring, J. C. Penney's
Scarf: Gifted
Ribbons: Craft box

Tee: J. C. Penney's
Tank: Boscov's
Skirt: Decree, J. C. Penney's
Shoes: Alloy
Bag: H&M
Sunglasses: Rampage, Boscov's
Scarf: A. C. Moore

 A double agent of utility and fantasy, bars come in a whole bunch of flavors.  Although soap, chocolate, and gold are among the most universal (chocolate being everyone's favorite; for those of you who said gold, you can give up the ghost, and I'll promise not to tell Rumplestiltskin), I've long been entranced by the less basic but bewitching barrette.  When I was a kid, I had one of those books that taught you how to embellish French clips with gumballs, shoelaces, balloons, and all sorts of other everyday items, and I was hooked.  Which is why at the ripe old age of 34 the barrette still spellbinds me.  Delicate, feminine, and undeniably French, its accent murmurs of an inner chicness, establishing it as the polar opposite of its big brother, the barbel.  (Because there's nothing graceful about those old-timey, striped leotard-wearing weightlifters grunting and sweating as they struggle to hoist ever heavier hunks of metal over their heads.)  

Yep, hair ornaments add an extra something to what's otherwise a boring old head of indiscriminate fluff, and as such are the old school bubble lights of the tress tree.  (Note to self: hair trees could be the next big thing in hipster holiday decorations.  Can't you just see a family of faux snow-dusted cardinals dangling from a pair of French braids, or a ring of holly-sprigged wrens nestled in a bun's hollow?).  Ah, bubble lights.  Extreme and exotic yet strangely familiar, like a palm tree in Maine in October or a lady who lunches wearing Love's Baby Soft.  So keyed up am I about coiffure couture that I couldn't help but make a brand new batch of crazy clips and scribble this:   

Put a pair in your hair 
For fierce ultimate flair
With whatever you wear
And just watch how they stare
'Cause you can't be a square
Or sink into despair
When you're singing and striving
And laughing and thriving
In your blingged-out big, bad, bold barrettes.

I feel like this is the sort of thing that should be set to music and piped over the loudspeaker in Claire's Boutique or Micheal's, destined to become an earworm burrowing into the brains of tired moms and jaded teens and other assorted groups of disgruntled women until they're inspired to quash their cares with whimsical, ready-to-wear clips and/or bits of DIY doodads.  Such is the secret, I firmly believe, to subtle but sound world domination.      

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Books about Books and Hot Homemade Looks: Confections from the Tote Trove Kitsch Kitchen

Top: J. C. Penney's
Skirt: Modcloth
Apron: Gifted
Shoes: Payless
Teapot: Target
Sunglasses: Candie's, Kohl's

Top: Material Girl, Macy's
Skirt (dress): Modcloth
Shoes: Christian Siriano for Payless
Belt: B Fabulous
Blender: Gifted
Sunglasses: Brigantine Beach shop

Top (dress): Modcloth
Skirt: Xhilaration, Target
Shoes: Chinese Laundry, DSW
Belt: Wet Seal
Books: Gifted
(Yes, my own, never-before-seen-on-this-blog) Eyeglasses: Candies, Visonworks

I recently read two books about books, or rather, the kinds of lives that books bring.  One was a novel, Meg Wolitzer's The Wife, and the other was Gina Sheridan's memoir I Work in a Public Library

I'll start with Wolitzer.  Most of her books (The Interestings, The Ten Year Nap) are fat, but The Wife is thin -- just like a good wifey should be.  It's a kind of post-fairy tale commentary, an account of what happens when the romance dies.  You know, if Cinderella was a promising literary light and Prince Charming was a talentless, bed-hopping cad intent on usurping her sparkle.  The wife in question is ingenue Joan, a quiet, upper-middle class coed of the 1950s who dreams of writing the great American novel.  Although she briefly works at a publishing house, her husband, "king of the world" Joe Castleman, aspiring writer and one-time college professor -- Joan's professor, to be exact -- persuades her to quit, ostensibly to help him with his writing, but really to dance attendance upon his insatiable ego.  Joan soon transitions from Joe's partner in crime to his mother/savior/plaything, a subservient role that she seems to both despise and relish.  In this way, Wolitzer makes her a symbol, a kind of submissive everywoman, to show what happens when women are forced to abandon their identities and instead become things.  After years of bearing this burden, Joan's resolve begins to crumble, leading to a series of irrevocably explosive events.  The Wife is smart, gritty, and funny, studded with the jewels of self-awareness and keen characterization that have become synonymous with Wolitzer's work.  It's about being a woman but also about being human, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't devour it, mesmerized, in a day.  Nevertheless, it left me feeling a little empty, not because of any lack of storytelling prowess on Wolitzer's part (whose skill, by the way, is flawless), but because of the bleak light it shines on marriage and human nature.

On the other hand, I Work in a Public Library was, if less textured, easier to digest.  To be fair, it's an entirely different kind of book, a collection of real-life librarian Gina Sheridan's bizarre and bittersweet conversations with library patrons.  I marveled at Sheridan's grace and patience in dealing with rude people who persisted in making requests that had nothing to do with the library, forcing her to serve as a makeshift visitor's center-slash-human Google (which may not seem like an apt analogy considering the library's relationship with the actual Google, but you get my drift).  I doubt that I could have been half as accommodating, but then that's why I'm not in library science.  Overall, I found Sheridan's compilation clever, especially the way she organized her chapters to mimic the Dewey Decimal System.  I also liked her stories about children, which provided lighthearted comic relief, despite all the cliches about children's cruel candor.  Also, there's a lovely last entry about a man who, with Sheridan's help, tastes his first Krispy Kreme doughnut at the ripe old age of eightysomething.  Happy endings don't come much sweeter than that.

To that end, this week I thought it would be fun to play with the classically feminine housewife and librarian themes when putting together my outfits.  I like things that are old-fashioned (as do many people, given the popularity of antique stores and thrift shops), and The Wife and I Work in a Public Library inspired me to whip up some looks that speak to those aesthetics (female oppression and smelly old books -- hey, bookworms come from somewhere -- aside).  Unsurprisingly, each of this post's outfits includes a piece from Modcloth, that vintage Valhalla of reborn retail riches, as well as one of my brand-spanking-new Rainbow Rampage necklaces.  Gumball beads, pendants, charms, neon plastic chains, candy-colored cabochons, and Swarovski crystals come together in everything-but-the-kitchen-sink style in these funky fairy tale statement necklaces.  This series is hands down my favorite in a long time, and I'm positively giddy at the prospect of making even more of these wild and whimsical wearables.  

More gumball beads are on their way to Tote Trove central, so you know I mean business.