Category Archives: Fashion

Why I wear black clothing

A Facebook friend astonished me last week by complaining about other women wearing black clothing.

“Are we all Italian grandmother widows?” she asked. “No! Then why do people dress that way?”

Here is my very simple answer: It saves time. It makes it easier to put together outfits and get dressed in the morning. All my jewelry coordinates with my black-and-denim wardrobe. It makes it easy to pack for travel. Black doesn’t show the dirt, so less there’s cleaning and no panic attacks about coffee or spaghetti “ruining” a white blouse.

But, most of all, wearing black clothing saves me time because I don’t have to respond to the questions I get when I wear colors (especially those “cheery” pastels). Questions like:

“You look so tired honey, are you getting enough sleep?”

“Have you put on weight?” Followed by “Hey, I know this great gluten-free, lactose-free, flavor-free diet you should try!”

“You don’t look well. Is there, er, something I should know?”

I look good in black. This is not a crime! And for some inexplicable reason, I prefer hearing comments like “Nice dress!” “Are you going out some where?” and “Wow, elegant.” Which are the comments I get when I wear black, dark greys, and dark blues. The black clothing looks great with expensive jewelry, and also great with casual denim jeans. So I’m set, wherever I’m going.

And, no, I don’t dress like an Italian grandmother. In the words of columnist Kathy Pollitt, the correct term for this look is “Hot Sicilian Widow.” So much nicer.




Zumba, three ways

I just returned from Naples, Florida, where I took Zumba classes taught by Casta Melendez. Casta is a ballroom dancer from Venezuela, and I continue to think that her Zumba classes are the most fun you can have while working out. She had several new routines, and the usual exuberant classroom. If you like salsa, cumbia, tango, etc., these are the classes to take.

In January, I finally broke down and joined a fancy gym in Seattle so I could take Zumba from one of the city’s master teachers, Daniel Nery Dos Santos Filho. Daniel is a capoeira (Brazilian martial arts) instructor, and his class can get extremely athletic (although you can modify to any level of workout). His choices of music include Afro-pop and Latin beats, and the classes are fluid and highly entertaining. I burn about 600 calories in one of Daniel’s classes, and was surprised to see that I  burned only 400 at Casta’s session. Both Daniel and Casta teach classes with participants of all ages and ethnicities.

Screen Shot 2017-04-04 at 11.22.21 AM

Cesar Molina

When I’m on the road, or can’t get to my Seattle class for some reason, I do Zumba using the You Tube videos put up by Cesar Molina, who teaches in Chile. It’s my dream to travel to Chile to study with Cesar for a week. His classes are highly dance-oriented, closer to Casta’s approach, and more youth-oriented, with some hip-hop routines as well as lots of easy-going bachata routines. I love an older video Cesar put up some years ago that uses Prince Royce’s version of “Stand By Me.” If you aren’t familiar with Zumba, this is a good routine to start with.

By the way, the hottest tune on the Zumba circuit at the moment is “Vacaciones” by Wisin (the link is to Cesar’s video; the actual music video is…unappealing). All three of my teachers are using “Vacaciones” — each with different choreography, which is scrambling my brain. I have to say, Daniel’s choreography is the best!

Chinese Wand Exercise

While visiting my mother at her retirement community in Naples, Florida, I attended some exercise classes. One of them was a class called Chinese Wand Exercise, which I absolutely loved. These are slow stretching and strength exercises; they reminded me of yoga and also of the 5 Tibetans exercises Steven Barnes teaches. The “wands” are 5′ bamboo poles.

So I asked the instructor where she’d learned them. She went into her office and brought out an old hardcover book called Chinese Wand Exercise, by Bruce Johnson. She said it had been given to her by a resident at the retirement community. She’d read it, been impressed, and had taught herself how to teach the routine (which she teaches to a soundtrack of New Age, vaguely Asian music).

(Note: I expect there are readers who will take offense at the apparent scenario of white people appropriating Asian exercises. So I’ll mention that the instructor is black — and that she is not in any way commercializing the routine. She is teaching it at the request of a member of the senior community who wants to share the benefits they have received from it with seniors; I don’t know the ethnic background of the person who suggested the exercises to her.)

I did some very brief research online and discovered that Johnson’s book is out of print (but available). A more recent book, by UK author Michael Davies, does not appear to have the quality of graphics that Johnson’s book has. However, Davies has a wand exercise blog. There is also a book about Qui Gong exercise done with a wand, and those look similar. I also found YouTube videos of Chinese Wand Exercise, which the Naples instructor said she had consulted in developing her version of the routine.

Apparently wand workouts have been used for both martial and healing arts, and Johnson’s book has fans in the martial arts community, including this blog.

Wikipedia calls the routine “obscure,” and notes: “The exercises were derived from studying animals at play, hence some of the names of the forms: “Springing of the Tiger,” “Raising of the Bird’s Wing,” “Panda Rolls,” to name a few.”

I continue to believe that the best exercise is the one you enjoy doing, and this is certainly an enjoyable routine. Once again, a fitness activity I’ve discovered in Florida that I can’t find in Seattle.



If you like Wacoal, try Bali’s Lilyettes

For a few years, the only bra I’ve found that looks good while being truly comfortable is Wacoal’s 85185 Bodysuede Underwire. But it’s still a lot of bra, and particularly warm in the summer months.

Attractive young girl with historical armor shot in studioAttempting to find alternatives in my largish cup size, I’ve ordered bras by Fantasie, Glamorize, and a few other brands. A bit overconstucted? When I tried them on and checked in the mirror, I looked like I was waiting to take the stage as Brunhilde in The Ring Cycle.

I sent them back. Someday, I told myself, someday someone will make a lightweight, comfortable bra that fits me.

Well, now Bali has. The sub-brand is called “Lilyette.” Three styles of Lilyette bras arrived today and they’re all comfortable:

  • 0434 – Enchantment Minimizer aka Enchantment Lace Minimizer (which isn’t all that minimizing, but it looks fine and feels featherweight)
  • 0456 – Side Support Minimizer aka Embellished Keyhole Minimizer (which has very attractive use of lace and fabric)
  • 0904 – Dreamwire Minimizer aka Plunge into Comfort Keyhole Minimizer (a t-shirt bra in a choice of jacquard or smooth satin fabric)

All three bras make use of fabrics that are slightly stretchy (similar to the Wacoal 85185) so you don’t feel “sewn in.” The back closure has three hooks to a column (not quite as secure as the Wacoal’s four, but the back doesn’t ride up).

This page on the Bali (Hanes) site describes “the Lily fit:”

  • Open neckline, accommodates lower and wider necklines on clothes
  • Less projection, but cups are shaped rather than flattening
  • Natural support, with wider-set straps and an “open underwire”

There are 14 Lilyette bras, 10 of which are available in my cup size. As you might note in the list of styles above, the company doesn’t seem to have settled on names for the bras — website names did not agree with the names on the tags. However, the model numbers I listed are reliable.

Zumba notes: I want to move to Chile

Those of you who are tired of hearing me bitch about (yet another) crappy Zumba class  may be relieved to learn that I’ve finally found a great online program.

f04e348c40880afda0df98ba85c5a4d5_400x400It’s on YouTube. The teacher, Cesar Molina, is everything that Casta Melendez and Gustavo Gutierrez-Bernal have inspired me to seek out.

Like Casta and Gustavo, Cesar has a deep, strong, background in dance. He moves with grace, playfulness and joy. Yes, it’s exercise — but that’s not the point of Zumba. At least it shouldn’t be.

I’ve so had it with the faux-Zumba instructors exhorting me to grind the cartilage out of my knees with hip-hop moves. And I’ve really had it with aerobics instructors who get Zumba certification and then proceed to bore me to death with their peppy grins, corny exhortations, bouncy 1980s dance moves, and playlists of inane pop hits. And I am exasperated with the local gyms who hire these people.

If you’ve been burned by bad Zumba, take a restorative look at Cesar’s videos. At least half of the songs he uses are romantic bachata or lighter Latin — for instance, Plakito. As you dance, you work on balance, strength, muscle control and flexibility. It’s not about flailing frantically in an effort to burn calories.

I wish I could travel to Chile to study with Cesar, but for the moment I’m perfectly happy to work out to his YouTube videos.

Another 10 years of fitness

Was it really 10 years ago that I found myself in a power yoga class?

The teacher, Susan Powter, called it Trailer Park Yoga because it didn’t require a special studio or any equipment (except a mat).

Susan has strong ideas about fitness, and she repeated them, as mantras of a sort, throughout the classes.

I’m embarking on a challenging, interesting, but highly fragmented and demanding 2016. It’s going to demand that I’m fit. So I’m revisiting Susan’s worldview. (Your mileage may vary, but this approach worked for me in 2006, and I think it will work again.):

  • We won’t change the world or get much accomplished if we feel weak and sick.
  • We won’t be healthy and strong unless we get fit.
  • Fitness is a state of having lean muscle instead of fat on our bodies.
  • The best way to lose fat is to build lean muscles that burn fat efficiently.
  • Low-calorie diets, independent of exercise, are futile because our bodies compensate by lowering our metabolisms (burning less food) when we eat less.
  • The best path to fitness is to exercise vigorously 5 or more hours a week. It helps if we eat a diet that emphasizes whole grains, fruits and vegetables (but it doesn’t have to exclude meat).
  • Breathe. Most people don’t get enough oxygen to their muscles.

I remember thinking at the time that this sort of approach to fitness (requiring 5 hours of serious exercise a week) wasn’t something the American public was going to latch onto. But now, perhaps, with our FitBits and Apple Watches keeping us honest about how long, and how hard, we work out…

Why clothes don’t fit

dress with a bad fitWalking through town this morning I was horrified by some of the outfits I saw on people. “Unflattering” doesn’t even begin to describe what I was seeing.

This has very little to do with weight or fitness (though it never hurts to have the figure of a super model). What it’s really about is the crappy clothing we let manufacturers get away with.

A Fit About Fit

Women’s clothing used to come in many sizes. Sizes like 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, and 16. Now even jackets and pants are sold in small, medium and large. Buy a medium and it fits like an 8 — way too small. Go with the large, and it fits like a 14 — and you’re swimming in it.

Of course, one brand’s “medium” is another brand’s “large.” The new sizing (or lack of it) means that a very high percentage of what you try on in the fitting room makes you look like you’re wearing someone else’s castoffs. If you’re in a hurry and you buy it…ugh.

Construction Zone

There used to be these things called darts. The darts shaped clothing along the shoulders, bust line, and hips. Almost no clothing today has darts — unless you are shopping in a vintage boutique.

Lining also seems to be a thing of the past. Linings in jackets and skirts prevented clinging and bunching.

Darts and lining are both expensive, adding time (and materials) to the clothing construction process. Lined clothes require dry cleaning, which most women don’t want to be bothered with.

So, we have cheaply made clothes that look like we slept in them.

Material Failure

Stretch fabric for women’s clothing emerged in the 1960s, and a lot of it was bulky and sweaty (the dreaded polyester!). Today Lycra and other high-tech stretch fabrics get combined with cotton and wool and rayon in comfortable and attractive blends. Well — at least they start out attractive. Part of the problem with stretchy clothes is that they look great for a while and gradually began to bag, sag, and wear thin. The rayon blends are particularly vulnerable to sagging and pilling.

People tend not to notice this gradual degradation of their favorite dresses and pants and thus don’t realize they are soon running around looking like slobs. Sadly, there is little that’s uglier than a pair of designer yoga pants that are now wearing thin in the butt.

So there it is: Contemporary clothing sucks and we run the risk of looking ghastly in it. Don’t even get me started on the shoes that are crippling our feet.


The four warning signs of faux-fancy cuisine

Traveled to a big tourist city last week. After three days of ghastly airline, airport, and convention center food, I splurged on a fancy hotel restaurant that billed its cuisine as “local” (or at least, “regional”).

What a hideous and expensive mistake.

There are more and more of these tourist-targetting restaurants that serve faux-fancy cuisine. Some executive chef comes in and designs a menu, then leaves. A team of low-end cooks slavishly follow the assembly directions, with no modifications based on the quality of the actual ingredients.

I don’t know what was worse that night — the horribly, flabby, thawed shrimp passed off as local or the beautiful fresh scallops tainted with painted-on high-sodium artificial smoke before being seared in a pan of questionable grease.

Avoid these places like the plague.

The watermelon dish

The watermelon dish

Your first clue is the menu: Each dish has three ingredients that, in juxtaposition, raise the eyebrows rather than whet the palate. Watermelon chunks topped with large balls of goat cheese with a side of onions and orchids, anyone?

The second clue is the dinnerware: Gigantic white plates in weird shapes — rectangular, triangular, trapezoidal. Give me a break.

Sauce overkill

Sauce overkill

The third clue is the sauces: Salty, fatty and so highly flavored with hot pepper, mustard, or spices that they obliterate any flavor that the main dish might ever have had.

Finally, the damning fourth clue: A gluey version of balsamic vinegar zig-zagged artistically over your food and the trapezoidal plate. For dessert, it’s raspberry-balsamic glue for the zig-zag.

The scallop travesty (note balsamic zigzag)

The scallop travesty (note balsamic zigzag)

I wanted to cry — particularly for what must have been delightful scallops before they were poisoned with artificial smoke flavoring.

The next day I set out on the road and found myself in a small rural community. At 12:30 p.m. the downtown burger pub was filled with people drinking like fish (cocktails AND mugs of beer?). I got the basic lunch — a hamburger that could have fed three people, a mountain of fries, and a 24-oz. plastic glass of ice-cold Coca-Cola.

I ate the beef patty (quite good) and the tomato slice (fresh, and local) and had a few sips of Coke. You know what? It was about 10 times better than the previous night’s dinner. And so was the service.

When it comes to Naot, think Vinyard

Naot sandal

Naot Reserve

Naot shoes are unique in their ability to combine comfort and European-style fashion. This year their Vinyard collection sandals, with a mid-to-low heel, are hot. The Cabernet has the gladiator look; the Chianti a very classic style that would work beautifully for dressy  occasions. The Muscat has a rather aggressive fashion look, and the Reserve is perfect for an office sandal. I just got the Reserve from Online Shoes, and am wild over it — the front band (as well as the strap) adjusts (via hidden velcro) making it perfect for my wide-in-front feet.

Look to Naot’s Impulse collection for dressier black wedge sandals. The Deluxe,  with lacy cut-out leather, comes in metallic black (as well as in some astonishing colors). It has a deluxe price of $190. The less-expensive Gallus is sturdier and has a tiny elastic inset in the back strap.

Be aware that to get traditional Naot support and comfort, you need to stick with collections that have sturdy soles. I tried the Cheer from the Avante-Garde collection (with a thin footbed) and it was just as painful and miserable to wear as most high-heel sandals from other brands.

Dyed-to-match cashmere sweaters…get ready for Advanced Style

The blog has always cheered me up and inspired me. Now these women come alive in a new documentary: