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#overdressed4life

I get dressed every day. I always have. I know there are many people who wear workout clothes. I do not wear these things. People have looked terrible for a very long time. I’ve said it for decades, and everyone gets furious at me. Men in shorts, I think that’s bad. I wear jeans every day in the house. I’m a surprisingly formal person. I eat at the table. I set the table every time I eat. I do this even if I’m eating an apple. I have tons of friends, especially people who live alone, who often eat in their bedrooms. I would never do that. Ever.

Fran Lebowitz, American author, public speaker.

I love Fran Lebowitz! She makes me laugh. I saw her for the first time many years ago speaking on television. In her bone dry delivery she ripped Californians to shreds for our extreme no smoking policies. I’m a Californian, I hate smoking, and I support our policies/laws, but Ms. Lebowitz had me in stitches laughing. Her pacing, delivery, quality of voice, and unapologetic manner are a magical combination for humor. What’s more, she’s not even working it; seemingly that’s just the way she is.

She has a signature look that I also appreciate. Pretty much for the last 50 years she has donned jeans, an Oxford shirt, a blazer, custom made wingtip cowboy boots, and in the winter a big overcoat. She buys quality, often bespoke, classic pieces and sticks with what works for her.

As for her quote today, I completely agree with everything she says:

  1. Men in shorts is not a good thing. (Men in sandals is worse.)
  2. People dress poorly.
  3. I also set the table every day for every meal.

Click here to read an interview Elle magazine did with Ms. Lebowitz in 2015. (Once again she had me in stitches.)

On a sunny morning in AD 79 the residents of Pompeii, a bustling Ancient Roman city located near the Bay of Naples, started the day like any other – opening shops, negotiating deals, preparing meals – unaware of what was headed their way. Although nearby Mount Vesuvius was sending clues in the form of earth tremors, people were used to those and paid little attention. Then, Vesuvius erupted. Before long the sun was completely blocked by thick gray smoke. From the black sky came pellets of pumice and rock, some rocks large enough to knock people out. Over the next 18 hours the volcano spewed 10 billion tons of pumice, rock, ash and poisonous gasses all over Pompeii and nearby villages, collapsing homes and killing thousands of people. By the time Mount Vesuvius had exhausted itself, the city was completely buried; preserved from the passage of time until its rediscovery centuries later.

Last Supper in Pompeii: From the Table to the Grave, on now at The Legion of Honor in San Francisco, exhibits artifacts from Pompeii excavations that give us a peek at people’s daily activities in Pompeii, particularly around food, which was of great cultural importance. With an abundance of all tasty edibles at an easy reach – seafood, grapes for wine, produce – food and dining were central to Pompeii lifestyle, much like it is in our modern times.

“Last Supper in Pompeii brings us into the world of ancient Rome by focusing on the particulars of everyday life, influenced by the extensive, rich, and complex relationships between food, drink, and society,” says Renee Dreyfus, Distinguished Curator and Curator in Charge of Ancient Art at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “The objects on view not only capture our imagination but also whet our appetite, informing us of the glory that once was Rome.”

Touring the galleries I sunk deep into imagining what life was like in Pompeii and I was struck by how, in some ways, it was similar to ours; much of their time (well, the time of their servants) was spent attending to, growing, gathering, preserving, serving, and consuming food. Food that we also enjoy today such as fish, bread, olives, nuts, fresh fruit, and of course wine. Some of the 150 objects displayed include kitchen utensils, dishware, mosaics, frescoes, and jewelry.

Image courtesy of Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Visitors enter the exhibition greeted by a marble sculpture of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine and fertility. Each gallery tells the story of food production and consumption. We see from the displayed frescoes that, like today, there were markets, shops, restaurants and taverns, although, they were frequented by the lower classes, who didn’t have the space to store and cook their own food. Eating at home was actually a luxury. Servants prepared and served food to the wealthy who liked to show off their wealth by hosting dinner parties.

Rather than sitting at tables, dinner party guests enjoyed meals reclining on couches like this (missing the soft parts). One can just imagine men in draped togas and women in layered tunics lounging on this couch nibbling on roasted dormice and sipping wine sweetened with honey and spices.

This mosaic, part of a larger piece, depicts the abundance of seafood available to the people of Pompeii.

Food + art = a favorite combination for the Romans. In this fresco we have pomegranates, figs, and a rooster.

In this fresco we see a baker selling bread? Or a high ranking citizen giving away bread? The clue is in what he’s wearing.

These women are wearing long tunics topped with a draped shawl, called “palla.”

Of course while I was walking the galleries I was on the lookout for images of people and what they’re wearing. In ancient Rome only male citizens were permitted to don the toga. Slaves, foreigners, and women wore tunics.

Much of what we see in Last Supper in Pompeii has traveled to the US for the first time. The original exhibition, organized by the Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford, has been adapted and expanded for Legion of Honor visitors.

What to know before you go:

  1. Tickets are timed to keep the crowds at safe numbers and ALL visitors are required to wear masks.
  2. I noticed that people have become a little casual about maintaining a distance, so if you’re like me and sensitive to personal space, be flexible and open to moving on from crowded areas when necessary and circle back.
  3. For now the Coat Room is closed, so travel light.
  4. Backpacks have to be hand held while inside the museum.

Click here for all the latest scoop on visiting the Legion of Honor.

Don’t miss this opportunity for a little “armchair travel” as well as time travel.

Last Supper in Pompeii: From the Table to the Grave is on through August 29, 2021.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Not all vintage needs to be professionally cleaned. Many articles can be hand washed, and some can even go in the washing machine, although I almost never use a drier for my vintage. Hand-washable vintage includes simple cotton or linen dresses, skirts, and blouses; woolen sweaters (even cashmere); and knitwear that is unlined. Because vintage lingerie was made to be easily laundered at home, most is hand-washable, even silks and rayon.

Melody Fortier, a vintage clothing dealer and author of The Little Guide to Vintage Shopping: Insider Tips, Helpful Hints, Hip Shops (Quirk Books, 2009).

I have a confession – I love to hand wash. I like the hands-on cleaning, the smell of Woolite, and I particularly like hanging the clothing outside in the sun and fresh air. At the end of each season, I pile up the staples: sweaters, blouses, scarves, etc. and put them in my mending/washing cotton bag. I do any needed mending first and then off to the laundry room sink I go for some meditative hand washing.

As much as I enjoy this domestic task, it is now a luxury because we here in California are in the midst of a serious drought. Year after year since around 2010 we have had little to no rain. A ridge of high pressure just off the coast is to blame. It sits there sometimes for weeks blocking all the rain storms that we should get. It’s depressing.

It takes a lot of water to hand wash, so I fill up the tub less than half full and wash only what absolutely cannot go in the machine. To help keep my vintage (and all my clothing) fresh after a day of wear, I hang it in the bathroom or laundry room and air it out for a day or two. Often I’ll open a window and let the air circulate.

It never hurts to take good care of our clothing.

White buttons.
Yellow buttons,
The end result.

Visiting NY in fall 2019 (my last trip before the pandemic) I bought a vintage dress from Leroy’s Place, a must see art gallery in Park Slope, Brooklyn that offers original artwork, unique gifts, and a select array of clothing, including vintage. By the way, Leroy’s Place is a fun destination for kids – they love the friendly monster puppets, interactive installations, and all around fun to be had.

(Full disclosure, Leroy’s Place is owned by my niece.)

So, the dress came back with me and recently while I pondered what to wear at home as the weather heated up, I remembered the charming cotton dress and pulled it out. What a good choice for a “housedress.” But there was one thing bugging me – the buttons. Plain white didn’t do it. The grey dress needed pop. I often change buttons on new-to-me clothing, sometimes to perk it up, sometimes just to make it mine. I have a big collection of buttons and out they came. I considered going with black carved glass buttons as that would be elegant but also a bit dull for summer. Silver mother of pearl buttons were also in play but then, the yellow glass buttons caught my eye. Nice color for summer and certainly an unexpected choice against the grey. Yellow it is!

I changed the buttons and realized the yellow was so distinctive that the dress needed another yellow embellishment to tie the whole thing together. I love thinking about this stuff!

Initially I thought a big yellow flower but I couldn’t find one. Embroidering something came to mind, like my initial in yellow but, that felt too Laverne & Shirley. No. More buttons? No. I ventured out to do a little shopping and found a sunflower patch and a package of small yellow flowers. I bought both but soon decided on the small flowers – floating on one shoulder.

Now I’m ready for warm weekends on the patio, enjoying a good book and an afternoon cocktail. Pimm’s and Lemonade anyone?

A late 1940s shirtwaist housedress. Illustration from Fashion: The Definitive History of Costume & Style.

Housedresses are what women used to wear when they stayed at home. They didn’t flop around in their pajamas like we do today and sweats didn’t exist yet. People, both women and men, dressed at home, casually yes, but always presentable in fear of the unexpected guest.

Usually made of cotton, housedresses were a simple drop waist in the 1920s or a shirtwaist in the 1940s. The sheath silhouette in the 60s gave way to the billowy boho housedress of the 70s. Styles changed but the purpose didn’t – something nice to wear at home while doing housework or just lounging. (Men wore khaki slacks and a polo shirt, maybe jeans.) But by the 1980s women were working outside the home and the whole idea disappeared.

That is until Pandemic Year 2020. Stuck at home for months, by summertime last year women were looking for an alternative to leggings and tunics and designers were on it – the housedress.

Check back in with ODFL tomorrow when Housedress Week continues with a post about a vintage dress turned housedress.

Housedresses of the 1930s. Image from The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish.

Made of cotton, housedresses were both washable and less expensive than business wear or clothing intended for social occasions. A woman could easily afford more than one. In fact, the average American middle-class woman in 1959 owned five housedresses, one for each weekday.

Linda Przybyszewski, history professor and author of The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish (Basic Books, 2014).

It’s Housedress Week on ODFL. Come back tomorrow and read more.

We all went up and found our garment bag and unzipped it and out popped twenty identical outfits: a double breasted houndstooth pattern jacket, a matching knee length pleated skirt, a rib knit turtleneck sweater, and a black beret. And we were expected to wear black and white saddle shoes and white knee-high socks. I was miserable. This getup was going to make me look like a cow.

Betsey Johnson, American fashion designer.

This quote is from Betsey Johnson: A Memoir (Viking, 2020).

Earlier this year while searching my local library’s online catalogue, I found this memoir in audiobook format. How perfect to listen to while working on various weekend sewing projects.

Ms. Johnson is the reader and generally speaking reading is not her forte, however, she has such earnestness and enthusiasm that I can’t imagine anyone else’s voice reading her story.

The quote I’ve used is about one of the many outfits that she and the other young ladies were to wear in1964 going out and about in New York City as the summer interns at Mademoiselle magazine. Like many other women before her (Sylvia Plath, Joan Didion) Ms. Johnson won a coveted place as a junior editor.

Born in 1942 in Connecticut, Ms. Johnson wanted initially to be an artist and she studied art in college, but it was her internship at Mademoiselle that led to the right connections that led to fashion design. Always ahead of her time in style and the way she lived her life, Ms. Johnson never let anything stop her from doing what she wanted, particularly not the conventions of her generation. A can-do approach combined with a lot of luck provided her an interesting if not always a rosy life.

There are so many fascinating tidbits in this memoir, including brushes with Andy Warhol and Eddie Sedgwick; hanging out with the guys from The Velvet Underground (she even married one of them); fabric research trips around the world. She was married three times, had a baby on her own, started and ran two fashion businesses, and survived breast cancer. Additionally, any fashion historian will enjoy hearing the many details of how the industry operated back in the day.

A fun yet informative read!

My mother once told me that her best friend from her younger days went through a phase of using paper shopping bags as handbags. Not just any old paper bag! No, one from I. Magnin or Saks Fifth Avenue. How intriguing. She could afford to shop at high end department stores, but she couldn’t afford a purse?

I love the irony and I wonder if that was her intention.

Mom thought that perhaps her BF couldn’t afford the expensive purse she wanted. But having good taste, she wasn’t going to settle for less, so, to be quirky or humorous she used the paper bags she got for buying a lipstick or stockings at the the best department stores in Downtown, San Francisco.

Fast forward to now and paper shopping bags are all the rage for reuse. I see it frequently – sturdy bags used for the gym, carting around kids stuff, used as totes to take to work or on a day out. I use some of my bag collection to carry packages to the post office and they’re perfect for packing a lunch.

These days in California and elsewhere (but not NY) customers have to pay for a bag and that’s a good thing for the environment and a good opportunity to reuse some of the shopping bags we already have. Maybe even carry a really nice one as your handbag. Why not?

The tactile feeling of a lush, hand-knit sweater or an embroidered top provides a bit of comfort in an increasingly unpredictable and progressively digital world, where even socializing takes place onscreen. Sitting down with a pair of knitting needles and fluffy merino yarn sparks a deeper connection than mindless scrolling ever could.

Kristen Bateman – Contributing editor at Harper’s Bazaar.

Knitting, sewing, quilting, you name it we’re doing it. Even before Pandemic 2020, crafting was on the rise as interest in commercially manufactured goods declined. People are realizing that creating their own clothing and accessories is much more fun and easier on the environment.

On weekends I stay away from my laptop and spend time working on sewing projects, knitting, embroidery or whatever inspires me. It’s a treat to create with my hands and shift my mind from working words to working yarn or fabric. (And much more satisfying than scrolling social media looking at what other people are doing.)

Recycled plastic folded and formed into a wearable garment. Issey Miyake, 2010.

What I have been trying to do, and what I have probably done, is to make clothes that seem to have existed for a long, long time. In reality they never existed. I am not a designer who creates fashionable aesthetics. I make style out of life, not style out of style.

Issey Miyake – Japanese fashion designer.

May we all find inspiration for style from everyday life.