Monday, February 29, 2016

The 2016 Oscars Red Carpet Review: Change One Thing

There were a lot of interesting and unusual dresses at the Academy Awards this year. A few were quite lovely, a few were somewhat off target. Quite a number of them were lovely with the exception of a single flaw, either major or minor. I am purposely looking for the one detail that I would change in each of these gowns, whether the gown was close to perfect or a complete trainwreck.

Alicia Vikander’s gown was a lovely color and I really liked the pattern of small mirrored beads. It was nicely structured and its sparkle was well accessorized with a simple hairstyle, sparkly chandelier earrings, and silver strappy sandals. The one thing I would change about this gown is the bubble hem. It made the skirt appear bulky rather than graceful. A simple straight hem, whether floor length or echoing the existing asymmetrical hem, would have worked better for her. 

Brie Larson’s gorgeous cobalt blue gown had lovely lines throughout, from the see-through chiffon edging of the bodice to the vertical ruffles adorning the softly flowing skirt. From far away, even the diamond-studded belt was pretty. But on closer view, the belt was too heavy and bulky for the softness and delicacy of the fabric. I would have preferred a lighter, narrower belt, perhaps just a tiny silver ribbon belt. 

Cate Blanchett would look stunning even in a paper bag, so it’s no surprise that she looked lovely in this pale aqua gown adorned with feather flowers. The flowers on the skirt were pretty, but the more densely packed together feathers on the shoulders look heavy, and in closeup, the feathers looked damaged, bedraggled, and even dirty. Remove about half of the feathers on the shoulders – perhaps even get rid of all the weight of the shoulders and replace them with spaghetti straps – and the proportions of the dress would have looked much better. 

Charlize Theron is one of the few women alive who could pull off this daringly simple gown. Set off by a stunning long diamond pendant, its plunging neckline and clingy fabric emphasize her slender figure. There is very little I would change about this gown, with the possible exception of the narrow straps at the shoulders – it’s not that I don’t like them, but I think they might have looked even more flattering if the pairs of straps met rather than being separated by a few inches, so that their V shape would mirror the pendant and the plunging neckline. 

Chrissy Teigen looked stunning and quite comfortable in this red-and-tan beaded maternity gown. I love the scalloped neckline and the slight mermaid flare of the skirt, as well as the train. My only objection, in fact, is that the pattern of the beading creates a large red “target” right over her navel – which is NOT where anyone’s attention should be focused when looking at a pregnant woman, even one as luminous as Teigen. 

Daisy Ridley was channeling Downton Abbey just a hair in this pale blue-gray lace two-piece frock. I loved the silhouette, with its deep V and narrow straps setting off her slim but well-toned physique. I loved the chiffon edging at the hem of the skirt. I didn’t, however love how the chiffon edging at the hem of the top tended to flare out and break the smooth line of the outfit, as well as looking stiff rather than soft. Get rid of that edging, and this outfit completely works. 

Emily Blunt was another model of maternity chic in this pale pink column. The straps and skirt were studded with silver keys which added a bit of visual interest as well as a bit of sparkle, and the train made a pretty line at the back. My only objection to this gown is that it is quite a pale color for her, especially since she looked like she might not be feeling well and her color was a bit off anyway. A darker pink or even a shade of teal or aqua might have been more flattering. 

Heidi Klum’s gown made it difficult to pick only one “flaw”. I love the lines of the skirt, and I can live with the variegated white to purple striping. I can even live with the awkwardly crooked peephole in the bodice and the two giant flowers. But the singe huge puffy sleeve makes her look like she’s listing to her right. Convert the top into a halter over her right shoulder and this gown would be vastly improved. 

Jennifer Garner looked stunning in this black column with a wide off-the-shoulder strap cascading into a structured ruffle covering a deep slit in the front of her skirt and forming a side train. Her updo set off those glorious cheekbones, and the turquoise earrings were a lovely pop of color. If I absolutely had to change one thing, it would probably be to add the skinniest of skinny belts, possibly turquoise to match the earrings. This was a terrific look. 

I love Jennifer Lawrence, and I usually love her fashion choices, but this one just didn’t work for me. The shape of the bodice is fine, the general line of the skirt is fine, but I hate the ruffled layers of stiff tulle that make up the skirt. I think that if the skirt were made of a softer, more flowing fabric, the lines would be more graceful and flattering. But I do love Lawrence’s very blonde hair and choice of elegant makeup and no accessories. 

Julianne Moore’s gown had interesting geometric straps and bodice details. I liked the black-on-black bugle beading and the diamond circle earrings and heavy diamond cuff. If I had to change one thing, I think I might convert the full skirt into a slim column. The beading on the bodice had a heavy look to it that might have been counterbalanced by having less volume below the waist. Moore’s lovely figure would certainly have made a sheath style work well. 

Kate Winslett’s simple strapless column had a lovely silhouette, and the black worked well with her lighter blond hair, especially worn loose and in front of her shoulders. What I didn’t like, however, was how the shininess of the fabric tended to look like plastic when the light hit it in a certain way – although I did like how the fabric caught the light and changed as she moved. I would love to see this dress made over in a shiny satin, or perhaps a matte fabric with glitter worked into it – something that would provide the same shimmer when the fabric moved, but without the plastic look.

Lady Gaga’s pantsuit/gown was an interesting concept that was not executed well. When she stood still in a certain pose, the outfit was graceful and fell nicely. But when she walked or stood in certain ways, the arched fabric at the hips bunched awkwardly and the bodice shifted. I think perhaps if the whole thing had been a bit less structured, and hadn’t attempted to arch away from her hips quite so much, the look might have been more successful and flattering. 

Mindy Kaling’s hair and makeup were sheer perfection, and her black column with vivid cobalt sleeves and train created a simple and elegant line. My one objection was that the completely straight across neck- and shoulderlines, combined with her fairly straight figure, gave a very rectangular look to the black section of the dress and made her look a bit broad-shouldered. Changing the neckline to a sweetheart or a slight curve, adding a keyhole, or angling the shoulders (either up or down) would have broken up the straight line and improved the overall look for her. 

Naomi Watts looked like a mermaid in this gorgeous blue and purple gown. I loved the base blue color, and the purple trim on the skirt was pretty, and definitely added to the mermaid effect. However, the section of the bodice that faded into pinkish-purple looked out of place and shortened Watts’ torso somewhat. Keep the platinum bob, the scarlet lips, and the diamond necklace, and lose the purple at the waist, and this look would be perfect. 

Olivia Wilde’s gown looked to me like an apron that she’d forgotten to put a shirt underneath. The waistline was too high for the plunging front to be properly proportioned, and although I appreciated the use of modesty panels instead of tape, the panels wrinkled as she moved and the seams and edges were clearly visible. My solution for this gown would be to bring the bottom of the front panels closer together to form a deep V and add sides to the bodice that curve around to the back, then lose the modesty panels, or at least use a more stretchy fabric to avoid visible wrinkles.

Rachel McAdams was stunning in this incredibly simple green gown. The color is gorgeous on her, the halter shows off her toned arms, the slit shows off her toned legs, and the train adds a touch of elegance and glamour. In fact, my only objection to this gown is that it was noticeably creased across the front of the hips from where she was sitting in the car! A quick steaming before she hit the red carpet was all this gown needed to reach perfection. 

Reese Witherspoon’s dress was a lovely electric purple, with a mermaid flare and a boned corset-style bodice with a tulip top. She accessorized with a pair of diamond cuffs, straight unadorned hair, and coral lips. The only thing I didn’t like (okay, I HATED) about this gown was that the bodice was lined with black bra cups which showed above the purple and looked like her bra was showing. Cover them with purple and attach the ruffled section more closely to camouflage them and this look would be much improved. 

Rooney Mara’s gown suited her well – it was vintage inspired but still very contemporary. I loved the crocheted-looking lace which was very prim and buttoned-up in the bodice and fell to a softly ruffled front slit and a small train in the skirt. The diamond cutout was distracting and unnecessary, and I would improve the gown by closing it and instead continuing the buttons all the way down to the slit. That way the viewer’s eyes are drawn to the slit rather than the awkward tummy cutout. 

Saoirse Ronan’s plunging emerald beaded gown was nothing short of stunning. She has the perfect slim figure to pull it off without looking overly exposed (even including the plunging back). The skirt was perfectly fitted without being tight, and moved beautifully. The only change that I would make is to change the slightly long hem to either add a real train (not just a hint of one), or to shorten the hem just a hair so it brushed the floor instead of almost - but not quite - puddling. 

Sofia Vergara’s midnight blue gown had absolutely striking lines. I loved the fullness of the skirt that somehow managed to be structured without being bulky, the cinched-in waist, modified peplum, and asymmetrical beading on the bodice and upper skirt. The one change I would make, however, is that although the bodice was beautifully structured to support her full bust, from the side it tended to look rather stiff and shelf-like. I think that if it had been just an inch or so higher, curving in just a bit more to cradle her bust rather than simply supporting it, it would have been more flattering from every angle. 

I adored Tina Fey’s beautifully simple gown, with its fitted to the hip silhouette and lovely gathering in to the waist, creating gorgeously soft diagonal lines under the bust and up to the hip. The tiny bit of train softened the straight lines of the skirt just enough, and the sapphire necklace was stunning. The whole ensemble was perfectly set off by her sleek updo and perfect, understated makeup. The simplicity of her gown put the focus on her face instead of her dress. The only change I can think of that could improve this outfit would be to add a diamond and sapphire cuff bracelet matching the necklace. This look was sheer perfection. 

And finally, I have to mention Whoopi Goldberg, whose Oscar ensembles have been extremely hit or miss over the years (but mostly miss). She’s tried wearing feminine gowns (which suit neither her figure nor her personality), she’s tried modified menswear (which suit her figure and personality but not always the occasion), but I felt like she hit just the right note in this simple, flattering but not girlish gown. The simple, straight lines of the bodice frame her face and shoulders nicely, showing off the large dragon tattoo on her right shoulder; the slight flare at the bottom of the bodice gives her nice curves without making her look too thick at the waist, and the fullness of the skirt balances her figure without adding too much volume. The only thing I might change was that her spider…gauntlet, I guess you could call it, was a bit oversized and distracting. I liked the concept of it, but its placement was rather odd. I would have liked to have seen it converted into a cuff bracelet, perhaps even with a smaller matching ring. But this was a look that worked really well for her.

What one thing would YOU change about your favorite red carpet looks? 

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Thursday, February 18, 2016

In Praise of Doing Things You're Terrible at (But Love)

Last night my husband made us a lovely dinner, which we ate in the living room, by the fire, with Dave Brubeck in the background and the children out of earshot downstairs.

After dinner, he put the kids to bed and I relaxed and finished my wine, then I wandered over to the piano and began to play.


I’ve never taken a piano lesson in my life, and although I am fairly musical, my technique would make any legitimate pianist break down in tears. And my increasing arthritis in my right hand makes my fingering creative, to say the least. When asked if I play the piano, my response is generally, “Yes, badly, but with great enthusiasm.” I get most of the notes right, but there are often long pauses in the middle of a phrase as I struggle to find the right chord, or double check the key signature, or strain to reach that high E. My tempo tends to be too slow if it’s marked allegro or too fast if it’s marked largo. I have been known to play what a former conductor referred to as “approximaturas” of difficult (and occasionally, not that difficult) passages.

I don’t care.

Naturally, I would love to be able to play a note-perfect, up-to-tempo, emotional, flawless rendition of The Minute Waltz or The Moonlight Sonata or anything by Mendelssohn. I’d love to be able to immerse myself in the music and let it flow out of my fingers without having to think about the technical aspects of it while I’m playing. But that’s just not going to happen. Ever.

But that doesn’t stop me from enjoying it.

I understand that anyone within hearing distance probably isn’t enjoying it as much as I am. There may be cringing involved, and plugging up of ears. But I don’t play for other people’s enjoyment; I play for my own.

I think it’s healthy to do things you’re not very good at. For me, it reminds me that I don’t need external validation for everything I do. I tend to be the kind of person who seeks outside approval. I like – no, I need – to be told that I’m doing things well. I got satisfaction in school not from knowing the material, but from seeing a GPA that proved to others that I knew the material. At work, I gained more satisfaction from being told I was doing a good job than from getting a raise or a bonus (although those were both very nice, too). It makes me happier when my husband and kids tell me they enjoyed a meal that I made than when I enjoy it myself. So I think it’s healthy for me to do something where my satisfaction does not come from the opinion or judgment of others.

Also, it gives me something to strive at. At my age in life, I’m not often trying a lot of new things. I’ve figured out a system that works for me in terms of my day-to-day housekeeping chores; I’ve mastered most of the cooking skills that I’ll ever use; I’ve established a parenting and discipline strategy that seems to work well for my kids. But improving my piano skills is something I can do whenever I want, with no deadlines or timelines. I can drop it for a while, then come back when I’m in the mood and see if I can bump up that tempo just a hair, or hit that chord with a bit less hesitation, or figure out how to manage that page turn, or even memorize a passage or two.

And finally, it exercises my imagination. Because in my imagination, this is what I hear:

Even if everyone else hears this:

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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The 2016 Grammy Awards: Red Carpet Review

I missed most of the Grammys last night, but I was looking forward to checking out all the red carpet fashions this morning. What a disappointment!! The vast majority of outfits were downright boring. Even by Oscar/Tony standards, most of these clothes were dull as dishwater. Look at the kinds of things that the “mainline” stars (i.e., anyone that I actually recognized) were wearing.

Adele wore a shapeless gown in basic black with limp hair and zero accessories. Oh honey, you can do so much better than this!

Andra Day’s gown was a lovely color but it was not well-tailored, the hem clumped rather than puddling or floating, and the poofy fur stole and matching shoes were just…weird. And not good weird. Great hair and makeup, though. 

Ariana Grande’s gown was pretty but predictable. Red flared column, spaghetti straps, train. Yawn.

Ashley Monroe’s gown was a gorgeous color on her but it hung like someone had tossed the entire bolt of fabric in her general direction and then snipped off the hem and a huge keyhole decollete. Blah.

Carrie Underwood’s gown was lovely (as always), but combined with her oddly slicked-back hairdo and overdone spray tan, she landed solidly in the “meh” category for me this time. 

Out of this whole batch, Demi Lovato probably came the closest to success, in my opinion. For most other red carpets, this look would have been a win. But it’s entirely too tame for the Grammys. She looks elegant, mature, and glamourous. But the Grammys are the place to be wild, cutting edge, and glam (which is NOT the same thing as glamourous). Cut loose a little, honey. Save this look for the Oscars. 

I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Ellie Goulding’s dress at several high school proms. Pretty, but far from couture. And what’s up with the 1980s flipped hair?

Kaley Cuoco’s look was a decent concept, but poorly executed. The vest-style top is baggy at the sides instead of hugging her body, and the pants are just a hair too long to hang properly. Plus, the whole ensemble has an unfinished look to it – it needs some kind of polish or accessory to complete the look. A statement necklace, fabulous bright shoes, or a fancy updo might have worked wonders.

Kasey Musgraves chose fun colors, but the cut and fabric of this gown are just fluffy and dull. It’s like a bad Muppet. 

Selena Gomez’s gown was another in the “pretty but boring” category. It’s a lovely color and I like the side cutouts, but the bodice is just a little bit droopy and again, the look is just too simple and bland for the Grammys. Save it for the Oscars. 

Taylor Swift’s look was a bit closer to what I expect for Grammy couture: not a tradition gown, and showing off her taut abs and mile-long legs. I loved the electric pink skirt that opened at the front to reveal modest, high-waisted briefs, and that ended in a huge soft puddle. But it clashed with the coral bandeau top, which was a bit too simple. A chunky necklace incorporating both colors might have been enough to tie the outfit together and make it work. Bonus points for her new short locks. 

Tori Kelly gown’s was one of my favorites, but not for the Grammys. It’s a gorgeous color, I love the wrap bodice, and the body of the skirt gives it beautiful structure without stiffness. But it’s Oscar, not Grammy. Step outside the box!

Now on to a few folks who did get into the spirit of the Grammys and step outside the box. A few of these were too wild and over the top, but a few hit just the right notes of outrageous but still fashionable. And who else to lead off that pack but Lady Gaga?
As terrifying as I found Gaga’s foot-high red satin platforms, they were a nice nod to the Asian-inspired cobalt blue wrap jacket with swirled black and silver embroidery and samurai-styled sharp shoulder details. The fabric held its shape without looking stiff or uncomfortable, and the bright orange wig and stark, angular makeup were a lovely tribute to David Bowie.

Bella Hadid channeled Morticia Addams in this plunging-fronted black gown with stark, sleek, middle-parted dark hair and a wrap skirt with long tails in front. Daring and edgy, as Grammy fashion should be.

Beyonce attempted to be cutting edge, but I found her look to be all over the map. The bodice (which did not fit as well as it could have) reminded me of the schoolmarm blouses that were all the rage in the early 80s, while the lace detailing and tulle skirt were reminiscent of a wedding gown. And her slicked-back hair against the full gown threw off her proportions. Not a successful look for her. 

On the other hand, I loved Bonnie McKee’s look. Her cropped metallic suit with wide-open front was softened by her feminine pale pink waved hair and adorable pink shoes, resulting in a look that was sultry yet flirty and revealing yet not over the top. A great Grammys look. 

I was fascinated by Skylar Grey’s gown. It began at the neck with a heavy fabric collar that descended into a semi-see-through bodice of painted faces that went down to her knees, with see-through fitted arms and a long, transparent drape falling from her shoulders to the floor. It was both covered up and revealing, with an exotic look that didn’t quite land in a single era or ethnicity. The tightly twisted, high bun was the perfect topper.

 Zendaya Coleman changed up her look significantly since last I saw her on the red carpet. Looking very boyish in this straight-cut double-breasted suit with a honey-blond mullet, she seems to be trying to prove that she’s not a Disney kid any more. It may not be the most successful attempt to send that message, but she’s definitely working the look and I respect her for it.

And here are the completely wild and over the top looks! This is why I love the Grammys’ red carpet: the insanity. The delicious, sartorial insanity.

Jacqueline Van Bierk wore a fabulous, futuristic, fairy-winged concoction that was right off the cover of a fantasy novel. Black leaves sprouted from her shoulders like wings, a long shiny cape fell from her shoulders and puddled on the floor, leather gauntlets sported bright pink feathers, and tiny leaves twined down the front of her transparent bodysuit providing just enough coverage. Topped with a black and pink ponytail fountaining from the top of her head and electric pink platform gladiator sandals, Van Bierk completely embodied the spirit of wild Grammy fashion.

 Joy Villa showed off all her assets in this strappy, spiky “bodysuit” over a g-string and not much else. Paired with studded leather gauntlets and topped off with a Vegas showgirl headdress, Villa certainly made a statement on the red carpet.

Manika looked like she had stepped directly out of a circus ring onto the red carpet, wearing a fringed, spangled silver bikini with a gauzy, near-invisible overlay and silver ankle boots. I’m only surprised she didn’t arrive riding an elephant.

And last, but by no means least, Dencia takes the cake for the weirdest (if also the most comfortable) red carpet look of all.

Her bedazzled Pepto Bismol pink “Hello Kitty” snuggie was complete with multiple stuffed Hello Kitty dolls sewn onto the legs and a diamond Chanel logo brooch. Her platform sandals appeared to be encrusted with multicolored shells and beads, her fuzzy platinum wig was topped with a pair of pink polka-dot hair bows, and she finished off the look with pink jeweled cats eye glasses. Huh?

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Sunday, February 14, 2016

Oh, Pinterest, You Get Me (Except When You Don’t)

I love trying to figure out why Pinterest puts certain pins on my homepage. Some of them are obvious: when I’ve been pinning a lot of homeschool ideas, it suggests kids’ crafts, science projects, and math games. When I’ve been writing a lot of cocktail blogs, it pulls up bartending recipes. When I hunt for crockpot recipes, it comes up with lots of slow cooker sites.

But sometimes, it’s so off base that I have no idea what it’s thinking. Let me give you a few examples of pins that are right on target and pins that are way off in the weeds.

Right now, among the first pins on my homepage are recipes for “One Skillet Chicken with Lemon Garlic Cream Sauce” (yum), “Crack Pie” (I know, but YUM), honey butter roasted carrots, and baked teriyaki chicken tenders. 

I would absolutely give any of those recipes a try. But there are also recipes for “Roasted Vegetable Quinoa” (blech), “5 Minute Vegan Kale Pesto” (insert cat hork noises here), and broccoli tots (Pinterest, have you even met me??).

Even though I wouldn’t eat any of those latter three recipes, I suppose I can see where they came from. I did search for vegetarian recipes a while back.

A few pins do have a vague connection that I can figure out if I think about it. Like those horrible “dress yoga pants” that pretend to be actual business attire while actually being yoga pants. 

(Newsflash: They still look like yoga pants, they just have unflattering pocket flaps.) I do post regularly about wearing yoga pants, but I wouldn’t wear them to an office, even if they did have pocket flaps. Or how about that recipe for “pet Kombucha”, which is apparently some kind of fermented probiotic tea? I’d never drink the stuff in a million years, but at a certain level it could be considered a valid science experiment, so there you go.

But there are some pins that have no connection whatsoever to anything I’ve ever pinned, looked at, searched for, or even considered offline.

Like an ad for the Dollar Shave Club. I am quite certain that I’ve never searched for razors online. I’ve never bought them on Amazon. I don’t even use them that often this time of year (TMI, sorry). Or a link for BarkBox. 

It's cute, but here's the thing: I don’t have a dog. And if I did, I wouldn’t buy him mystery treats online. Or how about the Tan-in-a-Can that bills itself as “nutritive serum”? I could care less about being tan and I automatically write off anything involving the words “nutritive” or “serum.” I laughed at the blog on “How to Boil and Eat Lobster.” I’ve lived in eastern Massachusetts my whole life; if I don’t know how to manage a lobster by now they might as well revoke my Yankee license and exile me to the west coast. And how about that article about “Ten Things to Hang Above Your Bed”?

I’m quite certain I haven’t been discussing either my bedroom or its lack of above-bed decorations online.

But maybe Pinterest is trying to drop me subtle hints. Maybe it’s noticing the kinds of things that I haven’t been looking at, and subtly telling me that I should be checking them out. I have been complaining about these extra pounds that have been sneaking onto my butt of late – vegetarian food and dress yoga pants could help with that problem. My husband has been dropping hints about getting a dog (or at least, borrowing a dog) – maybe I should be giving that thought more serious consideration. And the décor in my bedroom has been unchanged since I got married nearly 8 years ago, so maybe it really is time to freshen the décor up a little.

One thing is for certain, though: It’s time to buy some lobsters and prove that this New England girl knows how to cook and clean the cockroach of the sea!! YUM!!

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