Thursday, May 21, 2015

Clothing for Women of a Certain Age

For the past two years, I have been appalled at the clothing offered in catalogs and at my local department stores. Everything seems to be dingy in color and decorated with bits of lace.

I cringe.

Back in the day, I wore tailored Jones New York and Liz Claiborne to work, accented with certain pieces from Ralph Lauren and The Talbots. When I moved to a smaller town where I earned less and the style was more casual, I found my best value buys to be department store brands.

I have never owned a designer piece in my life, or anything remotely couture. When I moved into a CEO job that required a few pieces of evening wear, I found those at Nordstrom's in Chicago.

Never any lace. Just not me. I knew at age 13 that my style was tailored, bordering on sporty. In high school, I drooled over Bobbie Brooks, Garland and John Meyer of Norwich in my Seventeen Magazine. I knew this was me: Plain cardigans and crew necks, plaid A-line skirts and jumpers, solid turtlenecks, tiny sprigged-print blouses, plain T-shirts and jeans, striped pullovers in summer. Sneakers, loafers, ballet flats and low pumps.

In my 20s, I was lured away for a time, attempting to achieve the Stevie Nicks look, favoring ruffly wrap skirts and flowered tops with long, flowing sleeves. And fringed shawls. It didn't last. In grad school, I wore sweatshirts and Dockers - much more my style.

The fashions of the mid-80s to mid-90s were too large for a short woman. Finally fashion turned my way again about 10 years ago. It was a short run.

Today, retired but busy with volunteer work, I live in jeans and khakis, with turtlenecks, tartan plaids and corduroy. A twinset and pearls for dressier occasions. I don't buy much, other than lingerie and pajamas, it seems. These items don't change much.

I love packing for travel because it forces me to choose items that can be worn together and that serve double duty. I love choosing, oh maybe 12 items, most in a neutral color. One trip to Europe was gray, black and white. Another was navy and white. An autumn trip to the southwest of France was black with aubergine and rust. Scarves are a must in Europe; they tie together many ensembles.

But that's travel. In general, I have way to many things hanging in my closet. I've given just about all I can part with to Goodwill or St. Vincent de Paul.

I fantasize about a 10-or-12-item capsule wardrobe. Determining how I could do this is something that puts me to sleep at night.

If I had to cull my wardrobe down to 12 items, this is what would stay:

  • Little black dress
  • Blue jeans
  • Tailored white blouse
  • Blue chambray shirt
  • Black cardigan sweater
  • Black turtleneck
  • Ivory pullover sweater
  • Striped T-shirt
  • Plaid flannel shirt
  • White cotton T-shirt
  • Black dress pants
  • Tweed hacking jacket

Since it's cool where I live for all but 2 1/2 months of the year, I could actually get by with this wardrobe. I'd augment it with a camel wool coat and a khaki raincoat plus an olive or brown barn coat. Maybe a gray sweatshirt for really cold days. That brings my total to 16 items, excluding undergarments, pajamas, robe and shoes.

I could do it.

It would sure cut down on clutter.

Here's an idea I love: Cutting down to 37 items. I could do that and it would give me more flexibility than the 16 items above. Among other things, I'd add: A white cardigan, a red pullover, an ivory turtleneck, a navy blue dress, khaki trousers, a blue Oxford cloth blouse, an ivory spring and summer jacket, a cotton floral dress, a deep red jacket, black leggings, a black tunic, a white tunic and tops in blue, yellow, pink and turquoise.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

How Rolling Stone and Samantha Rudin Erdely Can Redeem Themselves

Having spent part of my 35-year career as a journalist and the other half as a public relations practitioner, I watched the University of Virginia rape story unfold with interest and then alarm.

Getting conned by a source is every journalist's nightmare.

It has probably happened on some level to every reporter. I once had a source exaggerate a fact. I had no reason to question the fact. Pressed for time, I used her quote in my story, and learned the next day that she had lied to me. She called my editor. I had the quote in my notes. I later learned that she was a woman with many problems.

I wish I could say this was early in my career, but it was about halfway through my job as a newspaper reporter.

Samantha Rubin Erdely, the author of "A Rape on Campus," received bad information from a young woman we know as "Jackie." It appears Jackie was probably not gang raped at the Phi Kapp Psi fraternity on Sept. 28, 2012.

She may have been sexually assaulted at another time and place. Some of her friends say something happened to change Jackie. But so many details did not pan out, and were essentially left unverified by Erdely and Rolling Stone. Read the Columbia School of Journalism investigative report on the rape story here.

Here's how Rolling Stone might redeem itself and work to regain journalistic credibility:

  • Fire all staffers associated with the story and do it now. 
  • Replace them with journalists with integrity, perhaps writers and editors who have studied and written about ethical issues.
  • Make a commitment to strict policies and procedures that result in solid, well-vetted stories.
  • Write about ethics in journalism. Write about ethics in communication. Become an expert in ethics. Look at the Washington Post and its rigorous coverage of the Janet Cooke fiasco.
  • Reshape the magazine so that it is regarded as more than a music journal.
  • Use social media to report what RS is doing to regain credibility.

Erdely might recover her reputation by:
  • Taking one for the team and ending her association with Rolling Stone.
  • Admitting her mistakes and telling us what she has learned from them.
  • Seeking additional training in her profession, perhaps attending an ethics-in-the-media workshop or conference. This is not a one-time only step: Erdely needs to keep her ethical skills sharper on a regular basis.
  • Communicating about her experiences. Being visible with them. The road to redemption will not be an easy one, nor will it be smooth.
  • Becoming a visible advocate for ethics in journalism. Visible is the key word. Her story is not getting out there, probably because attorneys for RS have urged her to keep quiet.
  • Avoiding stories about rape, college, etc., and focusing on stories that can be easily verified. Erdely will probably never again be able to use a fake name for any sources.
  • If these are not acceptable steps, then Erdely will probably want to seek another career. I feel for her, because journalism truly does, in the words of my first newspaper editor, get in your blood.

I was accused of bias once, and my newspaper received a letter that made me seek a beat transfer. It was not easy, but it was the right thing to do. I don't think I was biased at the time, and my transfer request was made only because I wanted to spare my employer more grief. Of course, I was not writing on a national scale. I was small potatoes in the world of journalism.

Every reporter will face this at sometime. How it's handled is the key to survival. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

How to Survive the End of Downtown Abbey, Season 5

Can it be possible that five seasons of "Downton Abbey" have come and gone already?

Well, yes, and the end of Season 5 is especially hard to bear, with Tom Branson and young Sybbie departing Yorkshire for Boston and the knowledge that it seems likely next season will be the last. What's a Downton Abbey fan to do?

During the first two seasons of Downton, my own life was so busy, I hardly had time to mourn. But when I stopped working and the show ended and a bleak 10 months stretched before me, I learned to bury myself in another project.

The first year, that project was the long-delayed reading of "The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family." This huge tome took about two weeks to read, and led to more research. I was working on a DIY project or two at the time, and that helped occupy my mind and my time, while giving me time to digest the book and not rumble through it too quickly.

This year, I began preparing ahead of time, by downloading the following books on my iPad's Kindle:

The first book is, according to some reviewers, more interesting than the TV version. I've just started it.

I'm further along with the second book, which is highly readable, and much more interesting than the two previous books I've read by the same author, which were biographies of Vivien Leigh, the on-screen Scarlett O'Hara, and Margaret Mitchell, the American author who created Scarlett.

I often have several books going at once, one for each mood. Earlier this year, I read a fascinating book on the Romanov sisters (The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexanda by Helen Rappaport) so reading about European royalty, who are all related or connected somehow, seems a natural fit. I like history, but majored in American history. I'm filling in a few gaps.

Here are some other strategies for recovering from a season of Downton:

Learn to brew and drink tea. It's not as easy as it sounds. I've been a tea drinker all my life, but somehow have turned to coffee in recent years. There's a place for both beverages. Here's how to brew the perfect cup of English tea.

Plan a trip to England that includes a visit to Highclere Castle. Even if it doesn't materialize, planning is half the fun.

Research something related to Downton Abbey. Read all you can on the subject. I'm so intrigued with the Downton downstairs staff I'm planning on taking that path. What happens to them when the great houses can no longer employ them? How do they climb up the social and economic ladder post-Edwardian England?

Watch the third season of "Mr Selfridge" on Masterpiece Theatre. It runs from March 29 through May 17. By the time it ends, you'll be getting ready for summer and the farthest thing from your mind will be cold winter Sundays watching Downton.

Of course, you can always decorate your office to look like Downtown Abbey.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

A certain party, a certain age

When I was a small child, my mother often referred to me as "a certain party" in conversations with other adults. It never fooled me, and in fact, for a while I thought it was simply another name I had acquired. My father called me BooBoo; my mother called me A Certain Party.

(I thought "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" had been written partly about me. "There's gonna be a certain party at the station...")

It seems like a good name for a blog that for a time, anyway, will remain somewhat on the down low.

I really wanted "A woman of certain age" or at least, "A certain age," but not surprisingly, those names were taken.

Because life looks different from this age, when a career and its sometimes annoying, sometimes exhilarating accouterments and frustrations are behind me. I know myself better, of course, but I'm still learning, still growing. Yet I am largely invisible to the world.

Some women of my certain age resent that. I like it. It allows me a certain freedom for change and experimentation.

Who am I? Join me as I try to figure that one out...