Saturday, February 14, 2009

My funny valentine

My sky-blue portfolio is not the first instance in the history of Ashley + Autumn that I’ve encouraged my sister to wear something new and different—perhaps something that she was unsure about at first—and taken pictures of the resulting look for posterity.

One notable time happened when Autumn was only a toddler, and I, the doting older sister that I was, wanted to play "dress-up” with the adorable doll of a girl. It was a Saturday afternoon, and I remember our mother was cleaning house, which seemed to allow me all the more freedom for the activity. Somehow, I persuaded little Autumn to put a pastel blue ballet tutu around her neck—she really had not wanted to do it.

Many people who know Autumn know that she has an aversion to garments that make her itch, and the tutu episode must have been somewhat traumatic for her, because she can still recall how the stiff tulle felt on the tender skin below her chin. (What we do for fashion!) I think that it’s time that I give my sister credit and thanks for being so obliging towards me, especially concerning my styling efforts:

Happy Valentine’s Day, Sport! (Um…that sounds more like one of those classroom valentines that children slip through slots cut on the tops of decorated shoe boxes, specifically of the baseball player variety…better switch gears…)

Autumn, I would like to thank you for letting me help dress you sometimes. You already have great style on your own, and I love that you’re willing to try new things. I don’t ever mean to make you look like a clown, honest.

Mostly, I would like to wish my stylish sister a happy day!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Conspicuous and complete

This week, I was remembering the different coats that I've had through the years: there was red coat that I wore when my family went to Sweden and so on, when I was seven; the light springtime coat of a lavender hue, that was part of my Easter ensemble; another red coat, this one with full "swing" styling, that I thought looked very smart with a pencil skirt--also red; and the United Colors of Benetton pale camel-colored wool coat, which I thought, at age 18, was a sign that I was really grown-up (I still wear it).

I recall going to a winter wedding once, wearing the "real grown-up coat," where a remarkable number of people made favorable comments about it. One or two women said that they admired my "retro look" ("1940s" was the characterization, I think), but interestingly, most of the complimenters were men. Though modest, coats have a way of making the wearer stand out.

Melissa Hellstern has written a thought-provoking book about Audrey Hepburn's life and style, called How to Be Lovely: The Audrey Hepburn Way of Life, which includes this quote by the coat-wearing actress herself:
I cannot look back with nostalgia at a coat I enjoyed wearing years ago. I was inside it, and it kept me warm, but I am still here and the coat is something of the past.

I can't help but sigh inwardly--Audrey Hepburn's words are practical, yes; some people like to remember the actress and her coats. They were memorable. They were part of her graceful sophistication. But, she goes on to say:
What I always wanted, what I still want, is to create a warm and loving atmosphere for those I care about--my family and friends.

Audrey Hepburn was both graceful and gracious, and this passage shows that her attention was focused on other people. Coat-wearing, I would like to argue, is a kind of graciousness, because although you might feel conspicuous in your nice coat (it's often the trend to dress down rather than up in Southern California), your taking care against the cold puts others at ease. Imagine how other people feel when they see you shivering?

My sister, Autumn, (gratefully for me) is a wearer of coats, and this is a new coat that she got just lately. I can see why she's already received quite a few compliments for it: the coat looks Swiss ski vacation-ready (you know, like in "Charade" with Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant) with its sporty silhouette. And, Autumn's outerwear is super warm because it's filled with down--though I'm sure the faux fur helps.

Here are some other nicely memorable coats that I've seen lately:

First Lady Michelle Obama, Inauguration Day, January 20, 2009

Jennifer Connolly (I love the lipstick, too.)