Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Five Things Every Man Should Own

A few years ago, I posted a blog on the five items every woman should own in her 20s, 30s, and 40s, and then, by request, I added five items every woman should own in her 50s. But just a few days ago, a friend brought it to my attention that I had never addressed the items that every man should own in his 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s. I found this to be a slightly more difficult assignment, but after giving it some thought, here are my suggestions on what every man should own at various ages.

In His 20s
Whether post-college or early career, men in their 20s should own a well-cut, well-fitting dark suit. Whether you work in a profession where you wear a suit every day or whether you only wear it for weddings and funerals, you will wear it. A classic suit will last for decades, so this is a good place to spend a little extra and buy high quality. And don't forget a few crisp white dress shirts and a couple of good neckties. And learn to tie a proper Windsor knot.

Along with a good suit, every 20-something male should own a good pair of leather dress shoes. They can be worn with the suit, but they also look much better than old sneakers or casual shoes with everything from jeans to khakis to dress pants. Good quality, well-polished leather shoes are a great polishing touch on any outfit. And don't forget a matching leather belt.

By the time a man is in his 20s, he should have a passport. These are your years of freedom to travel. You never know when you'll get the sudden opportunity to visit Spain, or Italy, or Scotland, or Zimbabwe. Don't miss that opportunity because you're not prepared. And if you don't get the opportunity, make it.

For slightly less formal occasions than those calling for a suit, invest in a cashmere V-neck sweater: navy, baby blue, brown, dark green, black, grey. You can pair it with a dress shirt, dress pants, and a necktie for a business meeting or toss it on with jeans for a more casual bar outing. Believe me, if you wear a cashmere sweater to a bar, women will find a reason to come touch your arm.

This may sound sexist, but every man in his 20s should own either a good Swiss Army knife or a Leatherman tool. You're a man; you're expected to fix stuff. Just accept it. And with either one of those two items on hand, you will be able to open a bottle of wine, cut your own kindling, unscrew a broken lightbulb, tighten a wobbly table leg, clean your nails, and otherwise address any emergency that might arise.

In His 30s
Similar to women, a man in his 30s is likely to be both raising a family and developing a career. He has more disposable income and hopefully a few more upscale pastimes. Which is why the first thing a man in his 30s should own is a nice set of luggage. Whether for business travel, a family vacation, or a romantic getaway for two, a set of sturdy luggage including an overnight rollerbag, a garment bag with a shoulder strap, and a full-sized suitcase is a must.

A mistake that many young men make is carrying a large wallet. It looks messy, takes up too much space, and it's bad for your back to carry it in your back pocket. You rarely need everything that's packed in your wallet anyway, so lighten your load by carrying an elegant money clip. Personalize it by getting one with the logo of your company or an organization you volunteer for, an engraved monogram, or even your or your child's birthstone.

Another great way to show your personal style in your 30s is with a great pair of dressy cufflinks. Brushed silver, textured gold, mother-of-pearl, a logo or symbol of something important to you. And of course, what's the point of cufflinks without a great dress shirt with French cuffs to wear them in?

Speaking of disposable income, a man in his 30s should have an investment advisor. Finances are more complicated than they've ever been, so unless you're in the business yourself, let someone do the financial legwork for you.

The final thing that a man in his 30s should own - if he doesn't already - is a "new" car. Not necessarily a brand new, fresh from the factory, never-owned car, but a reliable, good condition, well-maintained vehicle which never previously belonged to a family member, and which came with some kind of dealer warranty. And he should maintain it religiously.

In His 40s
Much like a tuxedo, a well-tailored, classic wool or cashmere dress coat makes every man look good. In your 40s, this is the time to add such a coat to your wardrobe. You're sure to make an impression walking into a business meeting or networking event wearing a great coat. A classic style dress coat, if taken care of, will literally last for the rest of your life, so this is an investment. Don't skimp. And don't forget a good pair of leather gloves to go with it.

I'm a big proponent of hats - not just any kind of hats, but GOOD hats - so I recommend that any man in his 40s own a good hat. It can be a Greek fisherman's cap, a jaunty fedora, even a well-made cowboy hat. But it should be something that makes you feel confident. A great hat will get you noticed, and your 40s is when you have the poise and confidence to pull it off. Just don't forget that a gentleman never wears a hat indoors.

A man in his 40s should also be able to host a good party, and what party is complete without a bar of some kind? Even if you don't drink alcohol, it's nice to be able to offer your guests elegant mocktails and non-alcoholic drinks. You should own several sizes of cocktail shakers and strainers, various styles of glasses (red wine, white wine, highballs, beer mugs, martini glasses, etc.), swizzle sticks, an ice bucket, bottle openers (a Rabbit is the best), and a compact bartender's guide.

Although cell phones have made watches less common than in years past, a watch is an elegant and classic piece of jewelry, and every man in his 40s should own a nice watch. It doesn't have to be a Rolex, but it shouldn't be a Timex, either. Tissot, Tag Hauer, and Movado all make gorgeous, affordable watches that can become heirlooms passed down to future generations.

Handwritten correspondence is also less common than in the past, but that's no excuse for not having a really good pen for those occasions when writing is the way to go. A man in his 40s should own a really good pen, preferably a fountain pen. It's not just a pen, it's a work of art.

In His 50s
By the time a man is in his 50s, he probably has at least one well-established hobby. It could be anything from fishing to tennis to chess to golf. When you're in your 50s is the time to invest in some good quality equipment for whatever it is you do in your spare time. A high-end fishing rod, an expensive tennis racket, a hand-carved chess set, a professional set of golf clubs, even a motorboat or a motorcycle - just think about what you love doing and invest in it.

By the time most men are in their 50s, their children are old enough that it's safe to invest in good furniture. So, like Archie Bunker, now is the time to get yourself a really comfortable chair that's all yours. A leather armchair, a La-Z-Boy recliner, a soft overstuffed chair, whatever appeals to you.

By your 50s, you should own at least one musical instrument that you know how to play: a piano, a harmonica, a guitar, a drum set, a penny whistle. If you don't know how to play anything, learn. Take paid lessons, pick it up from a friend, buy a book and teach yourself. But learn to play something, even if you never play for anyone other than yourself. It's a great way to relax. And it's also a great way to liven up a boring party.

Every man in his 50s should own at least one piece of original art - not merely as an investment, but something that you enjoy for its pure aesthetic value. It could be a sculpture, a painting, a print, even a first edition book. But it should be something that speaks to you, something you enjoy looking at or touching. Bonus points if there's a good story of how or where you got it.
One final splurge every man in his 50s should make is to have some dress shirts custom tailored. The shirts are made to your exact measurements from the finest materials and with the finest craftsmanship. You will look and feel like a prince in such a beautifully-made and perfectly-fitted shirt.

That's my take on men's essentials at various ages. For the record, my husband just turned 50, and he has a beautiful woolen greatcoat and leather gloves, several good hats, an absurdly well-stocked bar (liquor as well as barware), and a nice watch. He is, however, lacking a fountain pen, a situation I intend to rectify very soon.

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Monday, February 25, 2013

The 2013 Academy Awards

This will be primarily a fashion blog, I promise, but I’d just like to throw out a few comments on the ceremony itself before I get to the couture critique. First of all, I was somewhat disappointed when it was announced that Seth MacFarlane would be hosting, but I was pleasantly surprised at how he did. The host of an awards show should be, in my opinion, like an opening act: Get the audience excited and enthusiastic and in a good mood, then get out of the way and let the show go on. And that’s just what he did. His opening number, “We Saw Your Boobs,” managed to be hysterically funny without being in bad taste, and the reactions of the various stars mentioned were priceless and nicely captured by the cameramen and editors. The appearance by William Shatner was funny and timely, if a bit long. And the dance bit with Charlize Theron and Channing Tatum was terrific and just the right length. Then once the award presentations started, MacFarlane made himself relatively scarce, appearing only often enough to inject a funny remark and keep the show moving along. I could have lived without the closing number with Kristin Chenoweth that basically called 99% of the audience “losers,” but on the whole he did a more than passable job and I wouldn’t be upset if the Powers That Be asked him back next year.

Another brief comment about the ceremony: As much as I love musical theater, and as terrific as all the production numbers were, this is the Oscars, not the Tonys. The Les Miz number was appropriate, Barbara Streisand’s number was a lovely tribute to the late Marvin Hamlisch, and Adele singing “Skyfall” was wonderful. But the reprise of “All That Jazz” felt a bit shoehorned in and as much as I adore Shirley Bassey, her number felt a bit extraneous as well. I understand they were going with the theme of “Music in Movies,” but much like a wedding, where the only theme should be “This is a Wedding,” the only theme the Oscars need is “This is the Oscars.”

And now that I have that business out of the way, on to the fashion awards! I went with a few different categories this year.

The “Channeling Audrey Hepburn” Award
The Nominees: Salma Hayek, Anne Hathaway

Hayek’s simple column topped with an ornate gold halter and sweeping updo trimmed with a matching gold tiara was shades of Hepburn in “My Fair Lady,” complete with regal bearing and perfect posture.
Hathaway’s slender figure and huge dark eyes, particularly when highlighted by her recent short pixie ‘do, make her a prime candidate for classic Hepburn style. Her pale, simply cut column was evocative of the dress Hepburn wore as a presenter at the 1955 Academy Awards. Although I suspect the back of Hepburn’s gown was a bit more conservative than Hathaway’s self-described “party in the back,” plunging, artfully-strapped posterior view.
Winner: Hathaway, for combing old Hollywood glamour with 21st century chic.
The “Over-50 and Fabulous” Award
The Nominees: Sally Field, Jane Fonda, Barbra Streisand
Field glowed in her bright red, demure yet elegant gown. She had a definite air of being a very classy mom, a feeling highlighted by her charming red-carpet story of tying Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s bow tie in the limo on the way to the ceremony. Fonda stunned in a bright yellow gown with plunging neckline, back cutout, and impossibly shiny metallic accents at the waist emphasizing how tiny it still is. All those years of aerobics are paying off in spades. Streisand’s sweeping black gown with gold accents and wide, deep neckline was elegant and age-appropriate, if a bit voluminous. The combination of a wide black choker with a handful of long gold necklaces was just the right finishing touch.
Winner: Fonda, for making all of us under-50s want to go dust off our 1980s exercise videos.
The “Oscar Look-Alike” Award
The Nominees: Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Nicole Kidman

Zellweger’s unadorned lam√© column echoed both the color and the silhouette of the Oscar statue. She could have used a bit more polish – perhaps a pair of chandelier earrings or bright scarlet lips (was she even wearing makeup at all?). Zeta-Jones wore an even shinier metallic gold gown that clung to her figure down to mid-thigh, where it flared into a chiffon train with metallic curlicues that beautifully echoed the soft waves and shine of her hair. Kidman’s shiny black gown bore similar gold curlicues on the flared skirt, gold detailing at the neckline, and a gold belt buckle. Sadly, her limp locks did not quite echo the detailing on her gown.
Winner: Zeta-Jones, for making Oscar himself envious.
The “Less Is More” Award
The Nominees: Jennifer Garner, Jessica Chastain, Reese Witherspoon

Coco Chanel was famous for saying that after a woman got dressed, she should take off one thing. Garner took her advice to heart in a simple plum column with a long ruffled train as its only detail, and a magnificent diamond necklace set off by her softly knotted updo. Chastain let her fitted column speak for itself, its only adornments being its muted beading and a tiny diamond bracelet. And Witherspoon let her gorgeous blue eyes be her perfectly coordinated accessory in a stunning cobalt blue gown with black accents at the neckline and waist and a small train.
Winner: Garner, for the perfect accessories, including her adoring look at husband Ben Affleck as he accepted his Academy Award.
The “Haven’t We Seen That Dress Before?” Award
The Nominees: Jennifer Aniston, Charlize Theron
Shame on both Aniston’s and Theron’s stylists for dressing them in gowns so similar to gowns worn by other prominent actresses earlier this awards season. Aniston’s strapless, flared scarlet ball gown lacked only a black belt in making it a dead ringer for Jennifer Lawrence’s Golden Globes gown. And Theron’s white gown added a notch in the bodice and a short train, but otherwise echoed exactly the style and silhouette of Anne Hathaway’s Golden Globes gown, right down to the unflattering stiff peplum.
Winner: There’s no winner where fashion repeats are concerned.
The “Erte Is In” Award
The Nominees: Stacey Keibler, Halle Berry, Naomi Watts

Art Deco seemed to be one of the fashion themes of the evening. Keibler and Berry both wore belted, geometric black and gold patterned columns, Keibler’s with a halter top and Berry’s with squared-off shoulders and a plunging neckline, while Watts opted for a silver sheath with an oddly asymmetrical cut-out at the shoulder.
Winner: Keibler by a hair over Berry, whose gown was just a bit too reminiscent of the Chrysler Building.
The “Non-Celebrity” Award
The Nominees: Kelly Osbourne, Robin Roberts, Corinne Bishop

Among the actual celebrities, there are always a few interviewers, significant others, and assorted hangers-on whose style is worthy of mention. Osbourne’s sparkly black gown featured solid bands across the bodice, multiple diagonal straps at the neckline and a beautifully full skirt. Roberts’ slender figure and closely cropped hair reminded us of her recent bout with cancer, but her stunning cobalt blue velvet gown with twisted halter and short train was as gorgeous as her triumphant smile. Bishop’s teal gown had lovely woven accents over the bodice and was elegant and eye-catching without overshadowing her escort, Jamie Foxx, who was looking quite elegant and eye-catching himself in an impeccably fitted steel-grey tux with black lapels, shirt, and bow tie.
Winner: Roberts, because good health and happiness are the best accessories of all.
The “Tiny But Tasteful” Award
The Nominees: Kristin Chenoweth, Giuliana Rancic, Jacki Weaver

With the emphasis on slender builds so prevalent in Hollywood, it’s a common fashion misstep for a celebrity to choose a dress that overwhelms her. Chenoweth, at a mere 4’11”, has been guilty of overdressing in the past, but she hit just the right notes in her black-and-white ball gown. The detailing highlighting the bodice and the skirt fitted to the hips balances the fullness of the skirt, and her tall updo gave her those all-important few extra inches. Rancic, at 5’9”, would never be called petite, but her exceptional slightness has led her to drown in her gown on more than one occasion. She found her mark here in a black gown with broad bands wrapping around the skirt and just a hint of ruffle at the neckline and hem. Weaver, 5’2” and a bit thick-waisted, wore a cranberry-colored gown with a high waist, mermaid skirt, and paisley-patterned bodice. Although the gown itself was lovely, the high waist made her look stumpy and disproportionate, a common pitfall for women with short torsos. It’s nice to make your legs look long, but not at the expense of the rest of your figure.
Winner: Chenoweth, because anyone under 5 feet tall who can pull off a ball gown that well deserves an award.
The “Pale Is Pretty” Award:
The Nominees: Jennifer Lawrence, Amanda Seyfried, Zoe Saldana

Lawrence’s voluminous ball gown was stunning on the red carpet, but also caused the Stumble Heard ‘Round the World as she fell up the steps on the way to accept her Best Actress Oscar. Her simple long crystal necklace worn backwards, softly waved updo, and tiny metallic clutch were perfect accessories. Seyfried’s pale lavender, beaded halter dress featured a keyhole cutout and a sweeping train. Saldana’s white dress had fluffy flowers at the top and successively darkening chiffon layers peeping out from the hem.
Winner: Lawrence, because even with her stumble, she looked effortlessly elegant.
The “Just Say No” Awards
The Losers (because it’s a shame just to be nominated): Bradley Cooper’s mom, Brandi Glanville, Lianne Spiderbaby

There are always a few fashion don’ts at every awards show, and the 2013 Oscars were no exception. Bradley Cooper’s mom committed multiple fashion sins, with her fluffy marabou shrug and bunchy waistline, but the topper was the horrible metallic silver tennis shoes. Sensible flats I can understand, but this is the Academy Awards. Footwear in the sneaker family is always a no-no, even if you’re Helena Bonham Carter. I don’t even know where to begin with Glanville’s gown. Actually, I do. That bodice was 6 inches too low and 6 inches too small. Don’t try to put 10 pounds of sugar into a 5-pound bag, honey. And Spiderbaby’s gown might have worked on a Halle Berry or a Nicole Kidman, but as lovely as Spiderbaby is, she just doesn’t have the tiny waist and voluptuous figure to pull off such a deeply plunging neckline.
I also have a few Special Mention awards for actresses whose gowns deserve to be recognized, but who fell into categories all their own.
The “Under 10” Award: Quevenzhan√© Wallis
The pint-sized star looked both glamorous and age-appropriate in a cobalt blue party dress with matching wrap, accessorized with a lovely updo, matching diamond earrings and headband, and a puppy purse which is wearing a gown and tiara of its own. Petite perfection!
The “Big Is Beautiful” Award: Octavia Spencer
Hollywood stylists often stumble when dressing larger women (see: Melissa McCarthy), and Spencer has been guilty of poor fashion choices on occasion. But she was right on the money in this lovely pale peach, off-the-shoulder, tulle-covered gown that showed off her gorgeous curves and coloring.
The “Maternity Chic” Award: Jenna Dewan-Tatum
I can’t imagine it’s easy to find a flattering and comfortable maternity gown that’s Oscar-worthy, but Dewar-Tatum got it right in this snug but not too tight black lace sheath. Her lovely pregnancy glow and Channing Tatum on her arm didn’t hurt her overall look, either.
The “Offbeat Is Awesome” Award: Olivia Munn
I adored Munn’s sari-inspired gown. The color was stunning, the lines of the skirt draping at her hips were fascinating, the gold detailing on the bodice was just the right touch of bling, and the long narrow train made it look like a gown and not just a costume. And the perfectly-coordinated crimson lips and sleek, shiny hair were the icing on the glamour cake.
All things considered, this was a good year for Oscar fashions. There were lots of lovely, flattering dresses and no big mistakes among the big stars. I like the trends of less jewelry and paler colors, and I love that there is such a variety of silhouettes, from full ball gowns to trumpet styles to columns, and such a variety of fabrics from metallic to satin to chiffon.
Well done, Hollywood. Well done.

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