December 30, 2008

Refreshing the dress: Here are a few pointers on recycling last year's frock for this year's New Year's Eve party

The hip, hot new thing in fashion is going for the old. Apparently, recycling last year's dress for this year's New Year's is just the right pose to strike in the year of the Recessionista.

While wearing vintage is not new, the twist this year is how to update an old dress and make it few new again.

Part of this year's trend is to keep the old and bring something new to the New Year's outfit.

The best way to do that is to add accessories that hit dead-centere a few of this year's hot trends: sequins and beads, metallics and shine are great, opaque black leggings and coloured legging high-heeled peep-toes and ruffles are all spot on.

For sequins and beads: There are three great ways to bring this to a black dress.
I saw a sequined clutch, a big one, at Zara for $70 (I would link to them but HATE their website). It's a great party bag and let's you leave a purse at home.

I also found at Zara a beaded shrug to bring a bit of lustre that will draw the eye to a woman's bosom and face. They were going for between $50 - $70. But look for the sales price.

Another place to bring sequins into the outfit is on your shoes. Aldo has sparkling pumps for $70.

For shiny - I found a great metal mesh belt with chromed panel at Zara for $30. At Jacob, finish a tuxedo-inspired look with a plain ivory silk scarf. It really is lovely and is affordable at $32.

Also in the shine department were a pair of red satin peep toes at Aldo for $80.
You can find lots of peep-toes out there. Also Zara has suede peep-toes with rosettes on the in-step strap for $50. You can also find black satin peep toes as well. All of it lovely and fun.

Of course, bring a number of add-ons to the outfit requires some caution. There can be soome mix-and-match disasters. Here are a few Do's and Don'ts:

  • Don't wear textured leggings with a textured dress. If the leggings are coloured, keep the finish smooth. A textured dress calls for a plain black stockings. A plain black dress can be given extra oomph with plum or metallic tights. Texture and parttern are then welcomed. But then remember to bracket you stand-out legs with black shoes. Consider finishing it with satin peep-toes.

  • Ruffles add weight most of the time. For ruffles to work, do wear them on an a-line dress. This makes your bottom and legs look thinner. Ruffles should be big to look chic and to work to cover a tummy without adding weight. Small ruffles on tight-fitting clothes don't work. They merely make a woman look bigger, rather than fluffier. Remember, BIG ruffles. It is counter-intuitive but it works.

  • Belts with sequins and shine are a DO! So do it.

If you feel the need to break the trend and wear a new dress - on a bargain - at Urban Outfitters I found a boat neck jacquard tunic dress with daisies and fleur-de-lys waves. It's by C. Ronson and has a great sheen to it. The thread is glossy or metallic. The dress has a button back. It's $144 and available in Toronto and Vancouver.

Also I liked a halter dress at Le Chateau. Metalic thread in cerulean blue and gem plum or in a flat black for $90. I really like the open back.

December 16, 2008

Designer deals or Pretty Woman syndrome at Vancouver's luxury stores?

You know the scene. Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman gets iced-out by a snobby shopkeeper because Roberts' character is a, well, a hooker.

Mark Startup, CEO of Retail BC, calls it the Pretty Woman Syndrome. That's the belief among people will experience poor service at a luxury boutique if they appear they can't afford many of the items.

Well, today, I tested the idea by alighting through some of Vancouver's most elite stores. Starting at Waterfront Station, I wandered through Plaza Escada and Leone at Sinclair Centre, Alfred Dunhill at Howe, Harry Rosen at the Pacific Centre, Gucci and Louis Vuitton at the Hotel Vancouver and, finally, Salvatore Ferragamo on Robson.

My goal was to declare I was looking for cheap or affordable designer stocking stuffers for an office gift exchange. My budget was $100-$200.

I was pleasantly surprised. The service was excellent and super-accommodating. With the exception of Gucci where sales staff were swamped, I found the shop keepers super helpful. So helpful, I was able to compile a list or great stocking stuffers for the man or woman who may have everything!

At Plaza Escada, Janet Truong showed my a complete line of women's belts that were 50%. Great for cinching sweaters and wrap coats alike. But my favourite deal were on trend knitted berets from Escada Sport, usually $160, on sale for $80 (top).

For the skinny tie man in your life, look for a fine Dior tie at Leone, also at Sinclair Centre. A textured Shantung-like, it comes in black and is perfect for this season's celebrations, $97.

At Dunhill on Howe Street, I found delightful poker cards with the mascot bulldog. If golf is the game, check out the leather golf score card keeper for $80.

At Harry Rosen, the very best deal I found that day were silk knot cuff links for $12. Sometimes avoiding man-bling on French cuffs is the best way to keep things suave and yet understated.

For the travel bug, consider Louis Vuitton's had beautiful illustrated travel notebooks for $95. If you have a friend who has gone to Beijing or Mumbai or Paris or New York or just dreams about it, LV's scrapbook will make a great way to keep the memories.

At Hermes, you can find an affordable family heirloom that granddaughter's would fight to get their hands on: the Twilly print scarves for woman for $150 (right).

At Salvatore Ferragamo, if you can't afford the shoes, go for their scarves. From simple neckerchiefs to full-sized Catherine Deneuve head covers, they go for between $129 and $200. Italian fibre arts at it's best. You can't go wrong.

December 9, 2008

Bad fashion writing

Sometimes, I worry that I'm wasting my time writing about fashion. Then I realize, there are few men who actually have a feel for writing about menswear.

Case in point - this little here article from the Calgary paper...what is it? The Herald?

Anyway, I'll assume it was filed by a disgruntled crime beat reporter
whom they are torturing into retirement by making him write fashion

I personally like writing about fashion and see it as a pure joy. Tell me if you detect any joy in story. Is this a beauty or what?

The whole mess reminds me of something the very fine fashion thinker and sometimes literary pornographer Russell Smith wrote about Indian blog content mills.

Both the Herald piece and the example Smith offers share an impenetrable cluelessness, a total quality of daftness...

"Watches have hands. They are called analog. Ironically, even though "digital" watches are called so, they have no hands. In Latin, digit means fingers. Fingers are attached to your palms. Together, they constitute the hand. Watches strangely enough are usually strapped onto ones wrist. Perhaps, referring to any watch as "digital" is one of those slip-ups in the English language."

Something like that. Nothing to fear, I say.

December 8, 2008

Leather in the Post

My most recent article on leather made it to the National Post. I'm not sure if it's hitting the print edition. Either way, it's nice to know the stuff is getting out beyond Vancouver, once and a while.

Lately, I've been wearing a brown leather jacket in a denim cut. It hits two inches above a lower waistband but hits just right with my GWGs.

Ah, my GWGs. I've set out to wear them nearly everyday and abuse them as naturally and often as possible. I bought them at the Army and Navy in New Westminster for $29.99.

This summer, I swam in the Pacific with them on twice. And I've only washed it once. I've had them since June and only now are they beginning to show some nice whiskering. The experiment continues!

Measure of a Man

If you're looking for Measure of a Man - my Ideas documentary on the history of suits - you'll find it online here.

December 2, 2008

Go Old School with last-minute sweaters: Nods to a manlier yesteryear brings relief from this holiday season's crop of sweaters fo

Receiving a sweater as a holiday gift can be a big let down. Really, how many of you have had enough with those light, v-neck pullovers of cashmere or mohair that dress well for work and evening-time play?

Yes, they are comfortable, contemporary and they do look nice underneath a good sports coat but they also lack surface detail, drama and a sense of substance.

Sometimes sweaters like that feel too much like t-shirts. They just don't have enough gravitas and perhaps this holiday there can be nothing worse than another one of its ilk lurking in wait beneath the boughs of a decorated tree.

If you have such woolen trepidation, fear not. The winds of change are a blowing. Cut this article out and let your gift buyers know sweaters are manning-up this season.

Knitwear 2008 is sturdier, chunkier, and, strangely, kind-of paternalistic in a hip kind of way. It draws inspiration from male archetypes such as navy fighter pilots, rugged outdoorsmen, the Amerian G. I.'s that flooded campuses after the Second World War and manly prep-nerds like Clark Kent, aka Superman.

Scott Walhovd owns and operates, with Anthony Castro, the Vancouver boutique and fashion label (212) in Gastown. Walhovd says, "There's a big comeback of the grandfather sweater. It's old style details, leather-covered buttons, elbow patches and interesting cabling. It's geek chic."
Castro adds, "It's Mad Men (a TV show set in an early 1960s ad agency)...and a throwback to Camelot and John F. Kennedy...with an updated, trimmer silhouette and colour story."

This vintage-tinged tendency has been coined "young fogey" or "retirement chic" and, along with bow ties and tweed jackets, sweaters form the backbone of the look.

Christian Chensvold is the editor-in-chief of an authoritative fashion blog, He says, by phone from Los Angeles, the trend recalls, "protestant establishment, elite clothes, the WASP style bequeathed to America with it's frugality."

Some people call it "trad", others call it "preppy." Regardless of what it's called, he points to sweaters found online at and Ralph Lauren's Chensvold says look for "updated varsity and letterman sweaters" with a "1930s to 1950s collegiate look with an emphasis on shawl collars."

Chensvold says the style evokes a previous generation's aversion to ostentation and, though he stresses it is a coincidence, he finds the current nostalgia synchs up nicely with the economic downturn. He says, "We are definitely in a hangover state and keeping your clothes and passing them on and not buying what you don't need is out there."

To make his point, he recounts, "Yesterday, I took out a Fair Isle sweater (a heavily-patterned classic sweater from Scotland) that I had in storage since last winter. I bought it a couple of years ago. I've discovered it has a couple of holes in it. I am very pleased. It's finally, really mine."


To go vintage is one thing. Wrapping up old sweaters in a box and giving them as gifts is another. It's pretty dicey and takes a special shopper who can hit the thrift stores and find a perfect sample with just the right hand-me-down feel.

Most, and it's recommended, will have to buy new to go Old School.
Here are the essential rugged and retro-inspired sweater details to seek out around town and online:

- Elbow patches of brown cotton twill on Brown Sound's cardigans at (212) (454 Cordova Street West) suggest a decade of wear and tear has created a hole on your sleeve. For $165, you can pretend you and your sweater have been around the block more than once.

-Perfectly placed multi-stripe rib knitting can be found on classic cricket or tennis sweaters around the v-neck. Cockpit's navy blue henley sweater goes full-on with Fighting Irish/ Notre Dame-like stripes at the collar, cuffs and bottom ribbing. Score one at Urban Outfitters (830 Granville Street) for $100.

-Correct amount of slouchiness is essential. The Old School rejects the overly neat and tidy and embraces just a little male frump. New York shirt maker Steve Alan is famous for making perfectly wrinkled shirts. Now he applies his talents to Lark and Wolf cardigans available at Urban Outfitters for $110.

-Double-breasted are big this time around. They can be worn with a bow tie and a plaid shirt to hit the right level of geek chic. H&M's chunky version was inspired, according to spokesperson Karen Richter, "by a post-war, 1940s feeling. Like it's passed on from father to son." A great deal at $59.90, it leaves you with enough cash to buy a pipe and smoke it.

-Cowichan-style sweaters are a perfect example of heritage Canadiana. Featuring animal and geometric patterns, heavy wool and button or zipper fronts, these sweaters are usually handmade by First Nation knitters. The Richmond label Granted, run by the brother and sister team of Minoru and Ai Hirano, offer a cheeky update on the Cowichan. Instead of deers and conifers, they serve up with palm trees and camels or flamingoes for $278 at