Ask not for whom the jingle bells toll

Every year at about this time, I become dimly aware that some holidays are approaching. And like death or taxes, they are coming whether I’m ready or not.  The Holiday Express is rumbling toward me while I sit tied to the tracks, looking the other way and saying, “Huh. Does anybody else hear something?”

I think I have very good reasons for bungling holiday-related timelines. My chorus starts singing Christmas music in early September, for crying out loud. Of course I’m confused. The first Christmas decorations arrive in stores before Halloween. Remember, back in October, when we were all poking merry fun at that? Remember taking all those photos of store displays, then posting them on Facebook with pithy little “Oh, ha ha ha, it’s far too early” captions?

By mid November, the distant, rumbling thunder of the coming storm is slightly less distant. But we can still dismiss it, because most of the energy is focused on Black Friday, which we all know is insane. Crazed, desperate retailers are trying to find new ways to separate us from our money, as they always do, only becoming craftier during tough economic times. But when I haven’t eaten my Thanksgiving turkey yet, it’s still very easy to keep laughing: “Oh, ha ha! Silly consumers and retailers! It’s still too early!”

Until, suddenly, it isn’t.

Christmas lights appear overnight, everywhere. But I’m still too busy slogging through the last 2-3 weeks of my semester. Foolishly, I continue giving assignments to my students. Incomprehensibly, they still expect me to give meaningful feedback on these assignments. We continue doing our best, even though we all know that we’re on the downslope of a rapidly receding term, even though our fates are more or less sealed, even though — let’s be honest — part of us is ready to say “enough,” waiting until next term to start over, fresh.

But we don’t do that. We don’t quit; we keep going. We do this because we are dedicated, and that’s what dedicated people do.

So despite the Christmas lights and music that start creeping into my consciousness, the holidays are mostly something that I deal with after my grades are in. And my grades are usually due sometime between December 18-21.

You do the math.

Of course, part of the reason I get away with this is because Mr. Frump and I don’t have children. We don’t decorate our house. We celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah, but we do so in a very free-form, individual way. If we’re here alone, we cook a nice dinner and open a few presents. If we travel to visit family for Christmas, we are the guests, not the hosts.

But we do provide companionship and sparkling conversation, I think, and we certainly try to help with the cooking and cleanup. We bring some gifts, and maybe some wine. (No, I don’t drink all of it myself! Why would you even think that?)

We’ve never thrown a Christmas party, a Hanukkah party, a Kwanzaa party, or a holiday party of any kind.  And a number of our friends are very much like us, so we all enjoy meeting at restaurants to socialize. It works well for everybody concerned.

Yet, still, we have a few friends who are kind enough to invite us to their holiday gatherings. Suddenly, I find myself with nothing holiday-appropriate to wear.  And I do mean nothing.

This year, we are traveling to see my parents, so there will be a warm, intimate family gathering.  Fortunately, I am quite literally the only person who cares what I wear to this. Unfortunately, I do care, a little bit. I mean, I should at least make some effort. Shouldn’t I?

So this year, I’m considering wearing my new leopard print top from the Talbot’s outlet:

DSC01839

along with my ubiquitous brown ruffle skirt:

brown skirt cropped

Are these items that I also wear to work? Of course they are! Which is fine, except that I can’t forget what style writer Kimberly Bonnell wrote in her book, What to Wear: “Nothing is quite as depressing as generic workday clothes trying to pass as weekend party wear.”  I’ve quoted her before, and there’s a reason for this. Her quote haunts me every time I do exactly what she advises against.

So I’m gonna have to perk these babies up a bit. Here’s what I think I need:

  1. A festive pair of shoes (sparkly, maybe?). But I want them to be flats, even though I know somebody’s gonna tell me that I can’t — simply can’t — wear flats with that skirt. But I have to pack them in a suitcase and go on a plane! And then in a car! If they’re sparkly enough, I can do it, right? Right? If not sparkles, then what? 
  2. Some good jewelry. I’m just not sure what “good” means. What goes with leopard print? Does anybody know?
  3. A festive, dressy little bag. See notes 1 and 2, above, re: what kind?

So here comes the sinister purpose of this post. I’m open to any and all of your ideas and advice regarding items 1-3. You, my readers, are better at this than I am. What would Frump Nation do? (WWFND?)

I’m listening. And while I could apologize for asking for guidance rather than giving it, we all know that I have absolutely no shame in this regard. All I can promise in return is my heartfelt gratitude. And maybe I’ll try to entertain you once in a while by inviting you to laugh at me as well as with me. If you bring the Christmas roast, I promise to bring  the wine and a silly story or two. Does that sound like a deal?

Posted in Fashion, Humor | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 40 Comments

And all I got was this lousy T-shirt

Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com

October was a strange month here at Frump Central. Since I know you’re all wondering, here’s what I’ve been doing:

  • Trying not to become homicidal in response to political ads on TV;
  • Working to get back into prime running shape (and doing quite well, until recently);
  • Teaching, grading, and trying to get my semester under control before Seasonal Affective Dysfunction saps my motivation in early November, and;
  • Having what I will euphemistically call a cardiac “event” that landed me in the hospital for two days.

As they used to say back in the days of newspapers, I buried the lead, didn’t I?

I don’t need to relay all the details, but suffice it to say that I am fine, and I should continue to be fine. My heart has been looked at from every possible angle, and aside from the one tiny, little spot that rebelled, it looks great. An entire fleet of fairly badass doctors assures me that I should be running again in no time, that my prognosis is excellent, and that, as surprising as my “event” was to all of us, these things do happen.

True, there are some new medications in my life. And the support staff here at Team Frump now includes a cardiologist. But since I already require a hefty crew of professionals to keep me going (hair stylist, personal trainer, and bartender among them), along with a dedicated group of volunteers (friends,  parents, brothers, Mr. Frump), what’s one more?

The only problem is that I am — of course — far too young to be relegated to the waiting room in a cardiologists’ office. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. On my first trip there, I did get some curious looks from the other folks waiting. They had been there for quite a while, it appeared, but the mood was surprisingly festive. They all knew each other by first name. Most have already spent quite a few years as patients of this particular cardiologist, whose name — hilariously — suggests incompetence. (Let’s call him “Dr. Quack”).

The woman next to me nudged me shortly after I sat down in the one unoccupied chair. “It’s busy today,” she said. As if I needed further confirmation, she pointed to a gentleman sleeping in the corner.   “He’s been here since I arrived.”

I’d been warned that Dr. Q has a reputation for running late because he spends so much time with his patients. But I liked him when he saw me in my local hospital’s emergency room. His early predictions wound up being right on target. And when the time came to transport me to the big city for more sophisticated testing, he made the arrangements to get me into a pretty great hospital. One of the first doctors I saw there said, “I know Dr. Quack. He’s the only guy out there I would trust.”

“Out there” meaning, of course, the barely tamed wilderness in which I live, fifty minutes outside Boston, accessible by three major highways. But we expect a little bit of dismissive hubris from our big city doctors. So if Dr. Q is good enough for him, he’s good enough for me.

But I knew I was in trouble when I read the first of many forms that I was to fill out in Dr. Q’s office — the one I was to bring in to the doctor, outlining the reason for my visit (“Um, because you told me I have to come here?”).  About halfway down, it asked this simple question, “What time was your appointment supposed to be?”

Ha ha! Gotta love a specialist with a sense of humor.

And his patients aren’t so shabby, either. When Mr. Sleeping Man’s name was finally called, he raised both arms over his head in a gesture of victory, and then began the slow clap. No, really; he did. Isn’t that awesome? I’ve only met them once, but I kind of love my new cardiac compadres.

“The doctor is so wonderful, we’re all willing to wait,” said the woman next to me, adding, “I just hope I get out of here before dark! I hate to drive in the dark. Do you know what time it gets dark?”

It was barely past three o’clock. This did not bode well. I realized that I might be quite some time in the antechamber of Dr. Q. Helpfully, the waiting room TV blared with an endless stream of infuriating political ads, half of which would have turned me into a cardiac patient by this point if I hadn’t been one already.

But I made it in, eventually, and I was told that everything looked really good, and that some healing was already visible on my ultrasound.

Next week, I go back for a stress test, so that I can begin exercising again. Whoot-whoot! (Fortunately,  I’m back at work now, so I can bring plenty of grading to the waiting room with me). If everything looks good, I can start a cardiac rehab program at the hospital. And truth be told, I could probably skip that and just exercise on my own. But since I’m not one for heroics — “chickenshit” is the word that comes to mind — I am happy to be supervised in my exercise. “You’ll definitely be the youngest, best-looking one there,” added Dr. Q.

Well, alrighty then! How many places do I go where that is the case?

And hey — if I’m worried about my long-term security during retirement, what better place to meet a rich, old guy with a bad heart? Mr. Frump will back me up on this, I’m certain.

What I haven’t been doing in these past few weeks is clothes shopping, wardrobe planning, or fashion blogging. I didn’t forget you all, though, especially when I was trying to wrestle myself in and out of various ill-fitting hospital garments. There’s a story to be written there; I’m just not sure what it is.

But don’t worry; things are looking up. Just last week, I attended a political rally (I won’t disclose for whom). In a moment of civic fervor, I put a sticker for this candidate on the lapel of my jacket. My favorite, very best, suede jacket.

Oh, yeah. You know where this is going, don’t you? If you don’t, then you’ve never applied an adhesive to suede. After almost thirty minutes of struggle, I got the sticker off, but a dark, gummy substance remains. A trip to the cleaner is in my future, and if they are not able to repair this, I will be forced to produce a long, rambling, incoherent and extremely spoiled rant about the loss of my best, most valuable item of clothing.

Which is to say: back to normal. Because cardiac events are one thing. But this is suede, people. Let’s put things in perspective.

Posted in Humor, Life, Over40 | Tagged , , , , , | 60 Comments

Will run for beer (a break from fashion-centric blogging)

I don’t usually call myself a runner. I consider myself more of a “runner,” and the real runners out there get the distinction. Real runners enter races hoping to set personal records; “runners” enter races hoping to finish upright, ahead of the police escort, before the roads are re-opened to car traffic. Staying out of the ambulance would be nice, too.

I don’t enter races because the fires of competition burn within me. I enter races because, if I didn’t, sitting on the sofa with a big bag of Doritos would always take precedence over my scheduled workout. If I don’t have to be able to run a certain distance, you can be sure I won’t be able to do so.

In race situations, I have been passed by women pushing strollers, sometimes with more than one child onboard. I’ve been beaten by small children, people with knee braces, and even a 90-year-old woman. It’s not that I couldn’t possibly be slower, but I could also be a hell of a lot faster. A ten-and-a-half-minute mile is just fine by me, though. I mean, it’s not like they’re going to pull up the finish line. (Are they?)

But my “running” accomplishments do give me pleasure. My proudest moments have been those times when I’ve been able to run the Tufts 10K for Women in Boston. This Columbus Day tradition is an inspiring celebration of women’s fitness, and I’ve run it eleven times in the past fourteen years.  I hope to do so again, but it won’t be this year. And I’m OK with that. Running for an hour isn’t quite as easy as falling off a log, though it might be equally painful.

When it became clear, in early September, that the 10K was out of my reach, my running partner (aka “Mr. Frump”) and I decided to sign up for a few 5K races instead. Fall is the best time to run here in New England, but it’s also my busiest time at work. You haven’t seen many blog posts from me because I barely have time to choose what to wear, let alone write about it. That’s why races in the fall are so important to me — they keep me honest, forcing me to show up for those workouts.

When we made this decision, the first race was still several weeks away. Then, about a week and a half ago, Mr. Frump turned to me and said, “You know, that race is a week from Sunday.” When he said this, it had been almost a week since my last run, less than 20 minutes long. I’d been walking regularly, and keeping up with my stretching and weights, but I was definitely behind schedule on working toward the running goals. So this news was unwelcome, at best.

But then he said the magic words: “We can get free beer.”

Turns out, a tavern just down the road from the race is also one of its sponsors. A free beer was promised to any runner showing up with race number in hand. So even though my workouts had been lagging, my joints creaking, my hamstrings tightening, and my lower back stiffening, I turned to my partner and said what any self-respecting “runner” in my position would say:

“Bring it on, bitch.”

That was a week ago this past Friday.  I ran 25 minutes that day. On Sunday, I ran 33 minutes; on Wednesday, 40 minutes. Two days later, on Friday again, I did my last run before the race, covering the 5K distance on the treadmill, in about 34 minutes. I was tired and cranky, but I did it anyway. And since my usual 5K race time is anywhere between 32 and 34 minutes, I was content.

Now, the real runners out there are probably shaking their heads, because you’re not supposed to add distance during the final week before your race. At that point, you’re supposed to have already been doing the distance, regularly, so that you can taper off before the race.

To which I say: “Ha!” That would be far too sensible for me. I need to live out here on the edge.  Because that’s just how I roll. And if the real runners disapprove, I’m sure it’s because they envy my badass ways.

As an added wrinkle, this particular race — The Holdenwood Trail Run in Shirley, MA — is not a road race but a trail run. Now, trail runs are a whole different thing. People wear special trail shoes for them, and everything. I’ve only done one before. But I’d heard that this one was fairly accessible. The trails are specially groomed. It’s a low-key community event and a fundraiser for the local schools. Children participate. The prizes aren’t big enough to draw those pesky elite runners.

Photo from holdenwoodtrailrun.org

I checked two things on the website before committing: the pictures and last year’s finishing times. The photos showed some normal-looking people in normal-looking running gear. And when I scanned the race times, I didn’t look to see the winners’ times. Why would that information be relevant? No, I scrolled down to the back of the pack, because these are my people. And I saw times of 45 minutes and up.

Whew. Not only were there a lot of runners with more modest speeds, there were probably walkers, as well. And that’s usually a good sign for participants like me.

So we registered, and I started looking forward to a lovely run in the woods on a beautiful fall day. Thanks to my final week of crash training, I wasn’t worried about covering the distance. I was a little worried about the terrain, the weather, and the hills.

Because that’s another thing. My training runs have no hills in them. These days, I run on a fairly level bike path (built on a former railroad bed), or I run on a treadmill.  Sure, I used to train for hills, on the rather steep roads near my house, competing for road space with fast-moving cars and cyclists and branches hanging over the road.  But that was just so tedious. And unnecessary. Under race conditions, the adrenaline is usually enough to get me up those hills. If it’s a really hot day, I walk them, instead.

At one point, a scary thought occurred to me. Maybe the more modest times for this race aren’t because it’s dominated by “runners,” regular people and children. Maybe the course is, you know, challenging.

I put that thought aside.

Race day dawned. The forecast, “partly cloudy with chance of showers,” had been changed  to “steady rain early.” And it was, in fact, steadily raining. But the radar showed signs that it might stop, so we persevered. Off to the race we went. All signs were good — friendly people, a festive atmosphere, cute dogs everywhere. The rain was down to a slow drizzle by then, and it seemed to be stopping as we lined up at the start. I tried to banish thoughts of slippery roots and fallen leaves trying to trip me up. I resolved to go slowly and cautiously.

And then we were off!  I needn’t have worried about going too fast and losing my footing. Because this course was hard. Going too fast was not an option. I’d forgotten that trails are harder to run on than pavement. And after the pleasantly meandering first mile, the hills started. And more hills. And then, just for a change of pace, a few hills. And just as the real runners could have told me, my “strategy” of never running hills was perhaps ill-advised. Because these hills kicked my ass, even though I walked most of them.

But I have to say, it was fun.  The course was beautiful. There were just enough level,  “recovery” sections so that I never thought I wasn’t going to finish. And when I crossed the finish line, the number on the clock was just past 35 minutes.  I thought this wasn’t too shabby, considering.

More importantly, no beer has ever tasted as good to me as this one:

The historic Bull Run restaurant was full of race participants, so I didn’t worry about sitting my stinky self next to others at the bar. We were able to chat with a few of the other runners, including two super fit guys who assured us that they, too, don’t run trails regularly, and that they, too, felt the challenges of this particular course. “It sure ain’t no treadmill,” said one.

Indeed.

But I’m totally going back next year. Keep the beer cold for me.

Posted in Humor, Life, Over40 | Tagged , , , , , , , | 48 Comments

The quest for perfect basics: Tops and blouses edition

In my last post, I shared the imperfections of my wardrobe. I mentioned how difficult it can be to find wardrobe “workhorses” — those practical, versatile items that will serve us day in and day out.

Many of my readers related to the challenges of this particular quest. Some shared their own struggles, while many said their strategy is to build around what they truly love, letting go of those items that don’t make the cut. This is good advice. Thinking back, I can remember several times when my style has taken a turn for the better. It always happened because I stumbled upon some unexpected, perfect item that took me in a new, promising direction. My first knee-length pencil skirt comes to mind, as does my first suede jacket.

Once inspired by clothing that looks and feels great, it’s easier to be a wardrobe editor. At times I’ve been quite ruthless. Some say that if you discard mediocre items, you are making room to find their more satisfying replacements. And this is true.

Meanwhile, though, I still have to get through five days a week at work. And that’s when I start digging things out of the “to be donated” pile. Sometimes, I need imperfect basics to tide me over until the right one comes along. Some of my items aren’t “Mr. Right.” They’re “Mr. Right Now.” Perhaps you have these in your wardrobe, too, in sizes that don’t fit quite as well as they should, or silhouettes that just don’t inspire.

But I’m always looking for something better. I’m always striving to replace the also-rans, and to collect as many of the “perfect” basics as I can. Today I’d like to look at tops. Tops are important, and this fact is reinforced every time one of those “10 items you must have” articles starts with — can you guess? — “a crisp, white blouse.”

Now, I’m really glad my commenters agreed with me, in the last post, that these “must-have” lists are not terribly useful.  Jean from Dross into Gold put it really well when she said, “everyone’s basics are different depending on taste and lifestyle.” Because I’ll tell you right now: I will probably never wear a crisp, white blouse. They’re too conservative for me, for starters. White washes me out. And don’t get me started about the upkeep required for a crisp, white blouse! Even if I (miraculously) manage not to spill coffee on it, it will do nothing but yellow over time. And the ironing? An indignity not to be borne.

I tend to avoid all classic, button-down style blouses. I associate them with a time in life, before I had a style of my own, when I owned the most boring assortment of plaid, button-down blouses ever assembled. Just, no. And again, my blogging sisters have backed me up on this one. Apparently, there are a lot of women out there who feel the same way. Hooray!

You’ll be glad to know that I’m not going to make a comprehensive list of every top I own. How boring would that be? But when it comes to tops, here are the categories that I find to be indispensable.

Basic, short-sleeved tees

I’m not talking about your favorite “Beerfest 1988″ T-shirt. I’m talking about high-quality tees in versatile, flattering colors that can be dressed up and down and worn with almost everything you own. Patti at Not Dead Yet Style did a whole post about the quest for good tees, and she got about a million comments, so you know this shit is important!

In my world, good tees must be made from fabric that’s substantial enough not to be see-through. There are a lot of paper-thin tees out there, and I am not amused. At the same time, the material needs to be super-soft and comfy. I would prefer that it not wrinkle every time I touch it. With the right mix of substance and softness, the fabric can have a really polished, finished look to it. Sometimes a nice, 100-percent brushed cotton works; cotton poly blends can also be great.

The perfect tee is fitted enough to look streamlined rather than boxy, yet not so tight that it clings to every little bulge. If it just skims the body and nips in at the waist, that’s perfect. Since I am a dedicated non-tucker, it also shouldn’t be too long — hitting around the top of the hipbone. As for the sleeves, short sleeves can be unflattering, so they need to be fairly fitted and hit at just the right spot. The neckline should be somewhat open, with V-necks being my favorite. High crew necks are usually a no-no with my bustline.

Do you have any idea how much work it is to find the tee that meets all my requirements? I’ll bet you do. I recently purchased two by Charter Club (at Macy’s), even though they were wrinkled, stretched out with the dreaded  “shoulder nipples,” and way too long. But the fabric and fit were nice, so I thought it was worth the gamble. I took them to the tailor to be shortened, and as part of that process, discovered that both of these tees had uneven hems. Seriously. One hung down a little lower on the left side; the other, on the right. My tailor was fairly baffled by this, and it took two tries to get them right, but I think we are there.

Yes, good tees are that important.

And hey, if the shoulder nipples come back, or if they are evidence of a fabric that won’t hold its shape, or if the hems still aren’t right? Then the quest will continue.

Long-sleeved knit tops

These serve a similar function as short-sleeved tees, so they are equally important and vexing to get right. Is it just me, or has the basic knit top, with a 3/4-inch sleeve and a versatile color, become really hard to find? It’s been almost two years since I bought a new one, because even when I do see them on the racks, the colors are usually all wrong for me. Right now, when it comes to long-sleeved  knit tops in solid colors, this is all I have:

  • one in a brown, textured fabric (by Christopher & Banks), that I’ve had for at least five years
  • one wrap-style with a v-neck (by Lauren Ralph Lauren, from TJ Maxx), also brown
  • one ancient brick-red one from Coldwater Creek, now too shabby and too short to leave the house in

These are definitely on my shopping list. Please, please let me find some, in a color that is not brown.

“Fun” or pretty knit tops – any sleeve length

Woman cannot live with solids alone, so tops in fun prints are great. My favorites are:

  • A leopard print by Charter ClubIt’s getting a little worn, but I still love it. Who knew leopard prints were so versatile? If it feels too “loud” for work, I can dress it down with a vest and belt:

but more about vests later.

  • The newer top shown here, bought on consignment.

  • This fun, printed top by Calvin Klein Jeans.

The greatest thing about the “fun” tops is that many of them can do double duty, for both work and play, with just a few styling adjustments.

Blouses

I told you I don’t do conservative, button-down blouses, but there are a few alternatives. Here are a few examples from my wardrobe:

  • The blouse whose pretty ruffles hide the buttons (Style & Co. from Macy’s):

  • Two new short-sleeved tops (from the Van Heusen outlet) with no buttons, a V-neck, and a flattering shape and length. You can see one of them below; the other is quite similar but in a pink and white print.

They strike me as both classic and versatile — the kinds of things I’ll wear forever. They also hang nicely, and the quality seems decent. Fingers crossed.

  • The very imperfect Woolrich blouse that will go as soon as something better comes along. OK, technically, it is a button-down blouse, but it has a more casual than classic style:

Unfortunately, the “casual” styling is partly due to a loose fit and all-cotton fabric.  Too often, these lead to a wrinkled, rumpled look. The color is also a bit dull. But with the same vest and a belt that I wore with the leopard top, above, it perks up pretty well.

Sleeveless tops of all kinds and styles

I buy way too many sleeveless tops. They’re so much easier to fit than tops with sleeves, and any store you walk into is loaded with them. They’re comfortable and wearable under jackets year-round. However, since my jacket virtually always comes off at work, I should only wear them there if I don’t mind running around sleeveless all day. For this reason, I’ve had to force myself to not shop for them, at times. But here are a few of my favorites:

And finally, about those vests:

Debbi at She Accessorizes Well really nailed it in her comment on my last post. Given my problem with jackets being too confining, she advised vests as a perfect solution. And boy, is she ever right. I am always looking for new vests (and/or what my British blogger friends call “waistcoats”). Always. They’re not that easy to find. I own exactly two, both purchased secondhand — the one you saw above, and this one by Talbot’s,

which I was unsure about at first but have grown to truly love.

I hope that these two will hit it off and start to spontaneously reproduce in my closet! Maybe I should start playing some Barry White in there, on an endless loop.

What are your essentials when it comes to tops and blouses? Would you add another category to my list? Where do you find your basic tops?

Posted in Fashion, PersonalStyle | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 33 Comments

Ode to an imperfect wardrobe

I’m fond of saying that my wardrobe is held together by duct tape and staples. I’m sure this is an overstatement, but it’s hard not to feel this way when confronting the annual onslaught of fall fashion advice. It arrives every year, just around the time that the ten-ton September issue of Vogue lands with a heavy thud on our newsstands.

Much of what we find in fashion magazines is unrealistic, for one reason or another. Each season’s trends range from merely challenging (color-blocking) to puzzling (sequined motorcycle jackets) to downright incomprehensible (lace jumpsuits! furry sleeves!)

What most of us want are practical, versatile basics: what some bloggers call our “wardrobe workhorses.” The most practical advice, usually found in books or on blogs, is often some variation of “Ten items you absolutely must have in your wardrobe.” Unfortunately, it’s very rare that I own more than two or three of these. And given my limited time and money, it’s unlikely that I will tackle the full-time job of assembling this perfectly edited selection of high-quality, versatile clothing.

I think it’s time to acknowledge real-life wardrobes. Imperfect wardrobes, for imperfect women. And I am just the person to do it! I recently did an informal inventory of my wardrobe, trying to figure out what gaps I need to fill for the upcoming year. I focused on clothing for work. (My casual wardrobe usually takes care of itself; mostly, it’s work items paired with jeans, since my workplace is pretty casual as it is).

Today’s post will focus on the most basic basics: trousers, skirts and jackets. I think it’s telling that, even though I love secondhand shopping, most of the items here were bought new. Basics just seem so much harder to find in thrift stores, although many of my readers and fellow bloggers do a great job with this. But as you will see, even when shopping for new, “quality” basics, I still wind up with a lot of imperfection! So here we go.

Trousers 

I own two basic pairs of work trousers:

1) one brown pair in a lightweight fabric. They’re a smidge tight, the zipper gaps open slightly, and they tend to show pantylines. But they’ve always been flattering! I’ve had them for at least eight years, and the manufacturer no longer exists. So I’ll stubbornly continue wearing them, even if I have to try every style of underwear on earth to make it work.

2) one pair in grey wool.  These are also a tiny bit tight — what’s up with that? As a result, I get a few whiskery lines across the front. But they’re good enough for now. And they’re good quality, with no pills or scraggly-looking bits after two years of wear. Thank you, Ann Taylor.

Skirts:

I own four basic ones, at least two of which are useful.

1)  The brown, knee-length skirt with a slight ruffle:

It looks cute and goes with everything, but after less than a year of wear, it’s started to pill.  I knew this skirt was overpriced for the quality (sorry, makers of Sunny Leigh clothing, but it’s true). Good thing I got it on sale. I’m going to try to make it last for another year, at least.

2) A new denim pencil skirt (Levi’s, purchased at Macy’s).

Regular readers know that my favorite denim skirt bit the dust last year. This may not be the perfect replacement; it’s a little shorter than I’d like, and the fabric poofs out on one side at the hip. Plus, Mr. Frump’s eyes light up  every time I wear it, which makes me wonder about work-appropriateness. But with a conservative top, long enough to cover the poof, I’m going to give it a try. Plus, I kind of love how this skirt looks and feels.

3) A flared print skirt, made by Chico’s, bought secondhand.

It’s cute and neutral, with a good fit and flattering shape. So why do I feel I always feel frumpy when I wear it? Is this my irrational fear of flared skirts rearing its ugly head again? Why do I feel like I should be reporting for my shift at the organic food coop every time I put it on? The jury is out on this one, though I do intend to try it. With some different styling techniques, I think it just might work.

4) The fabulous wool skirt.

It’s been too tight for over a year, yet it’s still in my closet. Apparently, even with Ann Taylor‘s notoriously generous sizing, I ain’t no size 8 any more. Oh, well. The wool was always too itchy, anyway. But maybe I’ll keep it just a little while longer…. because you never know!

Jackets

You can never have too many good jackets, but  a great one is so hard to find. All of mine have something wrong with them.

1) The brown suede jacket:

It was made by the now-defunct Filene’s department store label, i.e. Oh, how I miss i.e. It looks and feels fabulous, but it’s too warm to wear indoors. Unfortunate.

2) The plum jacket by J. Crew:

This may be my favorite jacket at the moment. It looks great, and I love the color. Unfortunately,  it’s so heavy and confining that I’m always finding excuses not to wear it.

3) The black jacket (by i.e.):

I get compliments on this one every time I wear it. It looks great, but once again: so confining. And a bit dark for my color palate. It’s too nice to get rid of, but too uncomfortable to wear more than once or twice a year.

4) The tan jacket (by J. Jill):

This one is lighter in weight, comfortable, and versatile. So why am I never happy with it? I can’t decide if the problem is that it’s too light in color, washing me out, or if I just don’t like the plain, classic tailoring and somewhat boxy shape. I’ve thrown it in the pile of clothes to be donated three times now, but I always fish it back out.  I’m giving it one last chance, but that’s it!

4) The cheap brown jacket. And I do mean ridiculously cheap.

I tore the scratchy label out, so I don’t even remember who made this thing. All I know is, it couldn’t breathe if its life depended on it. But it stubbornly insists on looking cute with a few of my outfits, so I can’t let it go.

I have gradually started to realize that, as much as I love the look of tailored jackets, they may be too confining and uncomfortable for my job. I gesticulate wildly while teaching, apparently, so being able to move my arms is important. Plus I run around a lot, and sweat happens. Sure, I can always take the jacket off. But I have to ask: if the jacket comes off within the first five minutes of arriving at work, what’s the point of wearing it?

So I’m on a never-ending quest to find the perfect “not quite a jacket.” Here’s what I have so far:

Not-quite jackets

1) Two loose, flowy cardigan/wraps:

I like both of these and wear them a lot. I just always have this nagging feeling that I would prefer to look a little more tailored. Why can’t I find something that looks more like a jacket but feels (and moves!) more like these? Because I haven’t found it yet, I also own:

2) An odd assortment of collared, button-down shirts that get worn, unbuttoned, as jacket substitutes. There are too many to itemize here, many of which are clogging my closet in a very inefficient manner. But I just never know when one of them might look perfect with something! I mean, if you can’t have one perfect not-quite-a-jacket, why not have fifteen mediocre ones that don’t quite work?

What I really should have are some great cardigans: crisp enough to look professional, but unstructured enough to be comfortable and non-confining. Yet, I own none of these. How illogical is this? So let’s consider that another gap in the imperfect wardrobe, shall we?

So there’s the first part of my list. I haven’t touched upon tops yet, and we all know that shoes are a whole other story! So I think I will continue this list in my next post. Well, unless I lose interest. Because you know, I’m imperfect like that.

But I’d love to hear from some of my readers. Do you try to “get by” with imperfect basics? Do you enjoy the challenge of making your imperfect wardrobe “good enough?” I’m sure that  my thrift-shopping readers have tons of expertise in this area! Let’s hear your stories and tricks of the trade.

Posted in Fashion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 66 Comments

Folk fest, old lady shorts, and a two-stepping Brazilian

Outdoor music, especially the free kind, is one of summer’s great pleasures. I didn’t think it could get much better than last weekend, when I got to hear the Roy Sludge Trio performing “Too Drunk to Truck” and “I Got Hammered (then I Got Nailed)” at a Boston-area arts festival. (I knew “Roy” was my kind of guy when he yelled, “Good morning, Somerville!” at the start of his set. At 2 o’clock in the afternoon).

But yesterday I went to the Lowell Folk Festival in historic Lowell, Massachusetts. Mr. Frump and I attend this event, billed as the largest free folk festival in the United States, almost every year. Just to clarify: this is not the kind of folk music in which very earnest people attempt to set their political ideologies to music, performing one or two repetitive chords (if you’re lucky).  Oh, no. Lowell is all about traditional folk music in its broadest possible sense — musical forms that are in some way typical of the specific cultures from which they spring.

What this means is that you get a pretty amazing array of diverse musical forms. Where else can you hear Brazilian Forró (dance music):

Quarteto Olinda

American honky-tonk/country music:

J.P Harris & The Tough Choices

and genuine Chicago blues:

Magic Slim & The Teardrops

all on the same stage? Well, that’s exactly what we did.  (If you want a taste of what we heard, just click here, here, and here.) There’s even more that we didn’t get to hear, including Bachata dance music from the Dominican Republic and “Tuka” music from Zimbabwe.

Most years, we prefer to walk around listening to a little bit here, a little bit there. There might be a few specific acts that we want to see, but part of the fun is stumbling upon musicians and genres that are completely unfamiliar. We might start with a little bluegrass group, then wander down the way past an Acadian fiddle player or a gospel singer, rounding things out with some Gypsy jazz. Once we even heard Tuvan throat singers. If you don’t believe me, here is a clip of them performing at the festival that year.

Wandering is fun, anyway, because Lowell is an interesting town. It’s full of old textile mills, many of which have been restored as part of the Lowell National Historical Park. The music festival takes place on several different stages, both inside the park and throughout the town, all in very close walking distance.  Although the town has a number of visitor attractions, it’s also a city in which regular people, including a large immigrant community, live and work. When the folk festival comes to town, it’s like a big party to which everybody is invited. And unlike many music festivals, you’re not trapped in a big, open field in the hot sun. If you need shade, or an iced coffee, or something to eat, you just duck into one of the many restaurants, pubs, or coffeehouses in town. What could be better?

But this year, the walking-around-town thing didn’t quite take off. That’s because the “possibility of showers” in our forecast became much more than possible. We couldn’t have been luckier, though. About an hour before the rain switched from “possible” to “definite,” we decided to check out one of the bands performing in the big dance pavilion, under a tent. We usually stand outside the tent because it’s too hot and crowded underneath it, but this time we actually found two chairs in a spot with good sightlines and a cooling breeze. And this is where we were sitting when I started to smell rain, looked up, and saw that many, many other people were clamoring to get in under the tent with us.

It rained the rest of the day, so there was nothing to do but stay and enjoy the music. Conveniently, the beer concessions were about fifty feet away. As Roy Sludge might say, “Good morning, Lowell!”

So we settled in. It didn’t take long to get in the spirit of things.

And being in one place gave us the opportunity to observe things a little differently. We saw a few of the usual suspects, like this guy,

who we see every year. There were lots of other folks, too,

busting some dance moves and teaching the next generation.

But the highlight of the day? See the guy on the left, playing Brazilian folk fiddle with the  Forró group?

Here he is about an hour later,

doing a little two-step to the American honky-tonk music.

Now, where else are you gonna see that? Cross-cultural sharing at its finest.

It was such a good day, I didn’t mind that our original plans were scuttled. True, I’d been looking forward to walking through the town, soaking up the historic architecture and festival atmosphere and doing some people-watching. I thought I might capture a few folk fest fashions with my trusty point-and-shoot, even though I’m a little uncomfortable taking photos of strangers and definitely haven’t yet mustered the courage to approach them and ask for permission to feature them in my blog. (You know, the blog with “frump” in the title. I imagine those conversations going badly). But I figured it might be OK if I photographed them from behind, or while they were in the background of something else. Come to think of it, that’s kind of what I did, in the photos above. But I was definitely more focused on the music.

However, since my blog does still have a fashion focus, at least in theory, I’ll include my outfit for the day, almost none of which is new to my readers.

View from the parking garage

Only the shorts are new. I’m always talking about how much I hate shorts, and I still don’t love them on me. I feel so much more attractive in a knee-length skirt, as my regular readers know. But shorts are mighty practical for the folk festival. Even though we usually stand while listening to bands — we don’t carry chairs because we like to be mobile — we are not above sitting on curbs or steps or anything we can find.

So I went with the shorts. These were made by DKNY Jeans, and I bought them from my local consignment store last summer.  Unfortunately, these particular shorts create the dreaded muffin top (which, in my case, means “love handles” in the back). But I’ve been wearing them a lot lately, simply for practicality, with tops that are loose enough to hide the “handles” but not so loose as to make me feel like a shapeless blob in old lady shorts. It’s a difficult balance to find.

The rest of the outfit is mostly about hedging my bets for uncertain weather. The forecast called for extremely high humidity, partial sun and clouds, and of course, the “possible” rain. When the sun burned through the clouds, it was brutal. When it went back in, it was almost a tiny bit cool. So I compromised. The hat was there to cool me during the sunny periods. The top, first seen here, has sleeves for the cooler periods but is also super thin and breathable, for the heat. I also chose the top because it has a fitted shape and funky style that I hoped would be  a) folk fest-appropriate, and b) slightly more stylish than my other tee-shirt options, thus lowering the potential frump factor of the shorts.

And the belt? I hoped it, too, might increase the style quotient of the shorts. Now, I’m not certain that this particular belt, with this particular outfit, is creating perfect proportions for me. But my intent is figure flattery of a different sort.  It turns out that a nice wide belt is the perfect cure for love handles. Place belt firmly on top of fleshy bulge at waistband. Done. It works! Consider this my fashion tip of the day. You’re welcome.

Now get out there and enjoy an outdoor music festival near you! (And for the ultimate in music festival fashion advice, nobody beats Alison at Wardrobe Oxygen; click here for just one of her many informative posts on the topic). Maybe I’ll see you in Lowell! I’ll be the one in belted shorts, chasing down two-stepping Brazilians with my camera.

Posted in Life, Over40, PersonalStyle | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 41 Comments

Special TV offer! Act now!

I’ve been spending lots of time at the gym lately, and not because I’m suddenly dedicated to fitness, believe me. No. Unlike my house, the gym is air-conditioned.  So even though exercise is far from my first-choice activity, I’ve been spending quality time on the treadmill, trying to distract myself from exercise by watching the row of TVs hanging nearby.

If you’ve ever experienced the phenomenon of watching multiple TVs at once, you know how disorienting it can be. Fox News and MSNBC! Right next to each other! Each furiously spinning its own view of reality until our heads threaten to explode! And no workout towel can take care of that mess, I assure you.

But weekends are a whole different matter. Apparently, the weekend afternoon is the hour of the infomercial. I know this because yesterday I spent my entire workout watching Montel Williams transform lives by running broccoli through a blender. As columnist Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up. Yes, for just four payments of $49.95, you too can create spinach and blueberry smoothies. It! will! change! your! life!

Now, as fascinating as that was, today was even better. Today, Cindy Crawford shared her equally transformative anti-aging skin-care regimen. It was created with a doctor’s help, naturally, from rare melons grown in the oh-so-glamorous South of France. Where else? No sub-par domestic melons for Cindy!

Photo courtesy of morguefile.com

But seriously. I should not make fun. These melons are no laughing matter. These melons are blessed with a rare enzyme containing unparalleled antioxidant properties. We know this because the infomercial shows us actual photos of “before” and “after” melons. The “after” melon — the special French melon with the magical substance — is plump, perky, and fresh-looking. The poor, sad, “before” melon — the ordinary, non-French melon — is droopy, brown and decaying.

Oh, honey. I know just how you feel.

Now, my first suspicion was that, when nobody was looking, somebody slapped some makeup on that “after” melon. Or maybe they switched to more flattering lighting. But I could be wrong. Maybe there’s just a rapidly-aging melon portrait rotting away in the “after” melon’s attic. Anything’s possible, right?

But the “befores” and “afters” didn’t end there. We also saw photos of Cindy Crawford herself: before the treatment, at age 28, and after the treatments, at age 43. She looks exactly the same. This prompted her co-star, the always infomercial-friendly Valerie Bertinelli, to exclaim, “Holy f***ing sh*t, Cindy!” (Though I may be paraphrasing here).

I will say this, though. Those two photos of the non-aging Cindy are pretty damn startling. As a woman of 47, I might have been swayed by them, even tempted to research the products, if I didn’t know about the magical powers of airbrushing and Botox. Oh, yeah, and there’s also this:  Even at 28, I didn’t look like Cindy Crawford.  I find this oddly liberating. I didn’t look like her then, so why would I expect to look like her now?

Possibly anticipating my skepticism, Cindy pulled out all the stops. She invited us into her home — her home! To meet her family! Yes, her mother, and some sisters too, I think. They talked about how wonderful Cindy is, how kind, and how generous, because she wants to share her secret with the whole world.

Now, I have nothing against Cindy. She seems like a perfectly lovely woman. And she has every right to go into any business that she wants. But can we please not be asked to forget that this is a business? That she is selling these products to make money? There’s no shame in this, as long as we are completely honest about it. See? Was that so hard?

Since we’re now acknowledging that this is a business, I think it’s not indelicate to discuss price. The infomercial was offering a special deal: $39.95 for a one-month supply of Cindy’s products. (Several products are included in the line, I believe, though I’m fuzzy on the details. I may have started to lose focus at this point — I think somebody on Fox News, two TVs over, said something about “death panels for pets” that distracted me).

Depending who you ask, $40 a month could be seen as quite reasonable or as absurdly expensive. Women vary greatly in their ability and willingness to pay for beauty products. I’ve often considered myself fairly middle-of-the-road in this area. However, I recently questioned my own habits while using a coupon to purchase a higher-end, higher-SPF item from Olay’s Regenerist line. The drugstore clerk eyed me with sympathy and said, “Boy, the discount doesn’t make much of a difference when you’re buying that Olay stuff, does it?”

Of course, that product rings in at a lower price than Cindy’s line, and it will last several months. But with all the infomercials I’ve been watching, I’m starting to think there must be a better way. Now that I think of it, Montel Williams’ veggie-and-fruit smoothies are supposed to be high in antioxidants, too. And his badass blender/juicer could be mine, permanently, for just pennies more than five months’ worth of Cindy’s line. Couldn’t I whip up my own antioxidant face masks? After the first five months, we’re talking free skin care, baby! Well, except for the cost of the produce.

But wait: What would stop me from going to the South of France and harvesting my own fancy-pants, French-speaking, anti-aging melons? Sure, the airfare would create a few extra costs, not to mention any court fees that I incur if arrested while trespassing and melon-smuggling. But still, in time, this stuff pays for itself. I’m a genius! I must share this with the world!

Who has a camera? I’ve got an infomercial to make.

Posted in Beauty, Humor, Over40 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 40 Comments