About a year ago, I decided to grow my hair long. I’m not sure why. It’s not as if I’d been pining away for long hair. Seems like one morning I woke up and noticed my short style was overgrown a bit and I could pull it back into a semi-ponytail and that started me thinking, “Why not?” Since then, I’ve kept it a bit longer than shoulder-length and have happily been stocking up on stretchy ponytail ties, headbands and baseball caps. Everybody likes it long — at least, that’s what they tell me. Of course, I’ve now fallen into the long-hair trap of having big dreams (“I’m going to curl my hair today!” “I think I’ll do loose beachy waves this morning!”) that go nowhere and I usually just try to brush it in the morning and then hastily pull it up by afternoon. However, when Younger Daughter is around, her natural hair skills make her itch to try something new. It’s a well-known fact I personally have no natural hair skills whatsoever. Anytime my hair looks good, it’s a pure accident that I never can replicate. Both of my daughters, however, have a) beautiful hair and b) strong hair skills — developed in their style-deprived childhoods by desperate self-defense. Older Daughter is too busy with The Best and Brightest and Most Wonderful Grandsons in the World to worry about her mom’s hair so lately it’s been Younger Daughter who tilts her head and gets a look in her eyes and says, “Do you mind if I just … ?” Reminds me of a) when I was little and my mom let me help put her hair-rollers in (that’s early 1960s talk!) and b) when my daughters and their friends would hold all-day hair sessions in my bathroom for prom, senior photos, coronation and other Major High-School Events. And since it’s another well-known fact that my senior class (’75) virtuously donated its prom money to charity and thus I never had prom hair, I’ll take it every chance I can 40 years later.
You know you are deep in Southern territory when women driving open-air Jeeps keep an aerosol can of hairspray handy. Reminds me of the time many years ago when now-husband John Pitts called me from his office in Washington, D.C. “My ink pen exploded all over my shirt,” he said. “Any advice for getting it out?” I replied with the universal antidote: “Sure. Ask one of the women there if you can borrow their hairspray and then saturate and blot.” There was a pause and then laughter. “You forget,” he said, chuckling, “that this is not the South. I bet none of the women I work with even know what hairspray is.” Putting aside the argument that Washington IS, in fact, the South, it is true that hairspray — lots and lots of hairspray — is a Southern essential. Especially in Jeeps.
This is why I love shopping post-season clearance sales. These two spring/summer dresses? Total price — less than $30, which is less than I spend on a typical Starbucks order. Because you might as well pick up one of those oh-so-cute coffee mugs while you’re there. And some extra Via. But back to the dresses. Going by the original price tags, I would have spent about $200 on these. And of course, when I picture myself wearing these dresses, I also have long tanned legs and perfectly toned arms. And, if I’m fantasizing, might as well thrown in some soft and shiny hair. Sorry for the mental meanderings here — saving close to $200 makes me giddy.
You know how you get dressed in the morning and you think you look perfect respectable and even nice but then somehow you get a glimpse of what you REALLY look like and It Is Not Good and you wonder “Why did I think I should wear that?” Yes. You know what I’m talking about. (Un)luckily, I got this opportunity recently when I covered a corporate cooking competition for a feature story for the TimesDaily newspaper in Florence, Ala. It was a hot summery day outside but I knew it would be below freezing in the building where we’d be, so I dressed in layers — that’s me in the pink pants and white sweater, taking notes. (Also, if you wear a white jacket/sweater to a cooking thing, be prepared to answer such questions as “Excuse me, but where’s the milk?” and “Do you think we should saute or broil this?”) From the front (photo on the left), you can see that my outfit works okay. Not the most flattering, but okay. However, from a side view, you can see that I should have never left the house in this and should be condemned to watching extra reruns of “What Not To Wear.” This is what happens when you wear six layers of clothing — underwear, jeans, camisole, belt, top and white droopy sweater. Also, when you eat cupcakes for breakfast. But I mainly blame fashion.
You’ve seen those adorable little girls’ clothes made out of cheerful cotton prints. They’re everywhere, from upscale children’s boutiques to outdoor craft shows, and I love them. I love the contrasting patterns and the coordinating colors. I love the exuberance of swirling paisley and whimsical florals. I love the simplicity of form that let the fabrics shine. I love the ribbons and ruffles and the sweet girlishness of it all. And I’d often wondered, “Why aren’t there clothes like this for grownup women? I’d sure buy them!” Then I came across a booth in an antiques/gifts/clothing co-op that had both girls’ and women’s handmade clothing in this style and when I saw them side-by-side, I realized why adult women generally don’t dress like 6-year-old girls. It’s just too … too … cute. But I loved the aprons, and those easy breezy cotton skirts? Perfect for a summer shopping trip — possibly to somewhere that has real grownup clothes.
Makeup always has been a mystery to me — like some sort of basic language every other female had learned while I was in Starbucks one day. If you’ve ever caught me staring intently at your face, it was because I’m trying to figure out what you did to look so good. I mean, how do you keep your eye shadow from flaking off? How do you know where to put blush? And what, exactly, am I supposed to highlight? Scary stuff. I approach buying makeup the same way I approach buying flowers for our yard: Embarrassed about my lack of knowledge, I go to the most generic store possible, avoid all helpful sales people who might ask me questions I can’t answer and hurriedly toss things in my cart based on whatever the tags say. (Part shade? Full sun? Fair skin with pink undertones?) However, while you can get away with that when it comes to our yard (Are the flowers blooming? Okay then.), when it comes to my 50-something-year-old face … not so much. I’d been vaguely dissatisfied for a few weeks when I happened to spot TV makeup artist Carmindy’s “Get Positively Beautiful” in my own bookshelves. I remembered getting it when I was in a mega bookstore a couple of years ago with the urge to BUY SOMETHING USEFUL RIGHT NOW but I couldn’t remember ever even opening it up. So I sat on the floor, paged through it and suddenly had the revelation: “I actually can do makeup. I can crack the code.” I’m not sure if it was the confident and straight-forward advice in the book (as opposed to Bobbi Brown‘s “Beauty,” which I’d bought a few years ago because everybody said she was THE makeup person for women-my-age but the book was a 400-level-class and I hadn’t even registered for Makeup 101) or if I was finally ready to learn, but suddenly it all made sense and I couldn’t wait to get started. First, I faced my pathetic makeup drawer. I ditched almost all of it: Broken blue eye shadows (That’s what you wear if you’ve got blue eyes, correct?), years-old foundations, concealers in all sorts of “colors,” dried tubes of mascara (Who can remember to close them?) and dark matte lipsticks guaranteed to last all week … or something. Then I went shopping, sticking to my generic-retailer approach for budgetary purposes. (Recognizing I was in a vulnerable state, I somehow subconsciously understood that a trip to the department-store cosmetic counter would result in a sizable dent, financial-wise.) Spending almost 30 thoughtfully intense minutes in the makeup aisle instead of my usual rushed drive-by shopping, I followed Carmindy’s advice and chose contrasting eye colors, light glossy lip colors and transparently pink cheeks. She also recommended lightweight glide-on primers and highlighters, which I’d never used. The result? I feel much more polished, feminine, prettier and put-together. The truth may be that makeup is sort of like exercise for me: Nobody may be able to tell the difference on my outside, but on my inside I sure feel better about myself. And, really, that should be all that matters. On the other hand, I had to get husband JP to help me open the L’Oreal True Match Naturale mineral blush I bought. I could not figure it out — Where does the powder come out? How do you attach the brush? He helpfully pointed out that a piece of plastic still covered the sifting holes even though I’d already removed one piece. Then he left me on my own. Carmindy … ???
Full disclosure: This is not me — it’s the photo from the Fresh Produce catalog. However, I do have dark hair, especially when I’ve forgotten to go to the salon; I do love a walk on the beach; and my Fresh Produce Buttonside Henley makes me smile, too.
You’re probably like me — you go through spurts of obsessing over liking a specific clothing style and you simply cannot get enough of whatever it is and you’re determined to add to your closet every single one you find and can afford. Because if one is good, then more than one is better, yes? But not always. Best-forgotten phases for me include tribal scarves (I’d spend 20 minutes trying to get that carelessly-thrown-on look and then immediately pull the thing off a minute after I left the house because I felt silly. And as if I couldn’t breathe), yoga-inspired T-shirts (Note: Be careful about where Buddha is placed) and the unfortunate brown-pants period when I pretty much looked like a UPS delivery person. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) More successful forays have been into pencil skirts, non-see-through leggings (true treasures!) and shades-of-black sheath dresses that somehow disguise muffin tops and lumpy thighs. But the thing I’ve been reaching for when I’m not trying to fool people into thinking I’m a grownup I get home after work is a nice soft and comfortable henley top. You know — those sort-of preppy, cotton-knit, three-button, collarless and usually-quarter-sleeve pullovers. I can layer a T-shirt or a tank-top underneath, add a sweater or roll up the sleeves. So when women’s clothing company Fresh Produce offered to send me anything I wanted from its summer catalog in exchange for blogging about it, I bypassed all the easy-and-breezy (and relaxed-cute) dresses, shorts and skirts and went straight for the henley tops. Okay, I was influenced, as always, by the photo of carefree beach-walking, because that is what I wish I could do every single day. But, my new Buttonside Henley in Classic Stripe — I chose the cheerful Periwinkle color — is an acceptable substitute. Cool and casual, it fits perfectly. (Check the size chart because, according to Fresh Produce measurements, I needed to order a size down from my usual. And the size chart was correct.) Plus, this style passes the Husband Test — unlike the bright-pink jeans I’m waiting until he’s out of town to wear. Overall, a winner! Fresh Produce was co-founded and still is run by mom-entrepreneur Mary Ellen Veron and primarily is made in the U.S. You’ll find the clothing sold in Fresh Produce stores, online and in more than 500 specialty retailers throughout the U.S. and Caribbean.