Feed on
Posts
Comments

Why is my forthcoming book, Glad Rags: Inspiring Clothes and the Women Who Wear Them, not simply a book about fashion? Because what happens when you put on clothing is sometimes not just about how you appear on the outside; it is about what happens to you on the inside as a result. Glad Rags and the stories in my book are about a piece of clothing that becomes the “game-changer” for someone, that unequivocally expresses the way she feels on the inside, even when she may not be able to put it into words.

 A good example came to my attention recently, through the actions of a young niece as shared by her (rightly) proud mom:

 513539_640

 

“My twenty-something daughter, Tess, works at Target. The other day she was walking the store when a 40-ish woman approached her for help. Tess noticed right away that the woman seemed anxious; wouldn’t look her in the eye, very subdued. The woman wanted help picking a dress and sweater; then some foundation garments to smooth her appearance.

stockholm-fashion

As Tess helped her pick out some things, the woman confided that she needed the dress for a court date. She was going to testify against someone who had abused her. My daughter spent the better part of an hour helping the woman put together an outfit that would bolster her confidence in court. By the end of their encounter, the woman was meeting her eye and gave her a smile. That’s the way to be a human being…”

 A simple thing: being present to someone’s story and helping them find something – an icon – a pair of traveling shoes, a magic cape, a sweet dress to stand up in. 

Zina

She was someone I had never heard of but as soon as I saw her photo on my facebook feed, I was an immediate fan. Zina Lahr, a 23 year old wunderkind who, by her own diagnosis, suffered from “creative compulsive disorder.” She confessed that she always had to be working on something – creating something – whether nature based creations made from bits and pieces gathered on her wanderings in the Colorado mountains, to truly astounding robots and amitronics which had attracted the attention of a Disney Studios designer.

 The way she dressed was striking – her long chestnut hair adorned with feathers and beads; her wardrobe definitely revealing someone in love with fun and fantasy. That, coupled with a love of gadgetry, made her a natural for steampunk attire.

I am sure many people who initially encountered her made assumptions about who she was and so many of those assumptions would prove false. I was not surprised to learn she was home schooled. But I was surprised to learn that from the age of 8, she studied with John McConnell at his Math and Science Center of Western Colorado. He was a former Los Alamos National Lab physicist and taught Zina how to read electrical schematics and how to make machines. He says about her that she had a unique love of the it all – which she, in turn, used to create amazing anitronic creatures.

 You might assume she was a new-age boho hippy chick, but in fact she was a devout Christian who eschewed dogmatism and political engagement and lived a life of spiritual and physical purity.  

I first saw her photo the week I was turning my own hand to creating a steampunk inspired top hat, with feathers and goggles and other such fun things. I recognized her immediately as a kindred soul.

 steam4w

And she giggled on camera when explaining that the goggles were very practical since they were good eye protection. I thought she was just kidding around. But when I saw the mechanical work and electronic gadgetry she created, I realized she was absolutely right on. There really was a pragmatic basis for her fashion choices.

 The article that accompanied the video made clear that it was the way she dressed as well as the general energy she exuded, that drew people to her. When I watched her video, where she attempted to “explain” herself, she talked about the way she dresses, as simply being who she is. She says she does not dress in order to promote herself, but simply to be who she is – the real deal and entirely delightful.

 When I wear hats out, there are times when those hats are very attention getting. But me too: I don’t do it to promote myself as much as I do it as a way of inviting people to approach me – which they very often do. The hat becomes a conversation piece, a way to talk to a complete stranger – even if what they say might be “I could never wear something like that!” I play in a dance band so we travel a bit to gigs and when I wear something quirky and fun, it generally lets people know I am approachable. And I do make eye contact and smile. The smile always helps…

And Zina had an entirely compelling smile that few could resist.

 Sadly, Zina died in the mountains she loved, probably, authorities say, from injuries sustained in a fall or during a rockslide, a few months shy of her 24th birthday. She was a rare and wondrous being and I can well imagine that her soul shook off its physical restraints and simply took flight. All in all, a short amazing life, well lived.

I think of her all the while I am poking about with my hat and straightening the goggles. I think she might say something like:” life is too short not to have fun and follow your inspiration.” I find that I entirely agree.

See the full article and video here: 

http://www.outsideonline.com/outdoor-adventure/media/The-Brief-Wondrous-Life-of-Zina-Lahr.html

Glam Runners

RunnersTutus

By now this photo and story has gone viral via the internet. Self magazine made an incredible fool of itself for a sneaky, spiteful comment about two women running in a marathon, dressed in tutus and superhero(ine) t-shirts. The writer asked Monika Allen, one of the runners, permission to use the photo. What the writer did not tell Monika, however, was that the photo was to used in a snide press piece, making fun of women running in “lame” tutus. Had she known about the intent, Monika says, she would not have given consent for the use of her photo.

 Monika and her friend, Tara, make and sell the tutus to raise money for Girls on the Run of San Diego, a program for girls 8-13 years old that encourages positive lifestyle while training the girls for a 5K race. Monika and Tara have served as coaches for the girls. In addition, Monika is a cancer survivor and at the time of the race was midway through chemotherapy treatment for a brain tumor. It was her first race since being diagnosed with cancer and says she wore her Wonder Woman outfit to  motivate herself for the race.

 Needless to say, the editor of Self is falling all over herself apologizing. She is “mortified” she says; she had no idea that the woman was a cancer survivor.

 But hold on here: even if Moniker were NOT a cancer survivor but simply a woman running a marathon dressed in a tutu – that would STILL be a MAJOR FAIL for the women’s magazine. Because who are you, Self Magazine, to ridicule a woman who is doing a fabulous thing – running a marathon – and wearing her GLAD RAGS as a badge of courage?

As you will read in my book, there are many amazing, fabulous, strong women who wear sparkly tiaras to their mammogram appointments and beautiful, custom made hospital gowns for their radiation therapy sessions. I make the point repeatedly in Glad Rags: Red Panties, Cowgirl Boots and a Sweet Dress to Die For that standing up and being yourself in the face of overwhelming challenges takes courage. Monika is a prime example. Once you do it, however, once you step up, your action gives courage to others as well; it is infectious. In this case it has provoked a full blown epidemic.

 This mean-spirited, cheap shot has triggered a tremendous outpouring of support for Monika and her business, Glam Runners. I think we can expect to see an explosion of tutu clad runners in the near future. The editor of Self has even pledged to make a personal contribution to the effort. 

 Check out their Glam Runner facebook page and get yourself a tutu. You can be fit and fabulous too – even if you never run a marathon! 

KiraGrTutu

 

 

DoilyHat.2w

Several of the clothing artists and crafters in the second section of my book, Glad Rags: Red Panties, Cowgirl Boots and a Sweet Dress to Die For, create their own unique garments through upcycling – recycling done one better. They see a piece of clothing as raw material for creating something entirely newt.

Thus, a bagged out wool sweater gets thrown in a washing machine full of hot water and is shrunk, felted, cut up and used as a component for something else—a hat, pocketbook or fingerless gauntlets.

A rather plain winter dress gets cut apart and combined with velvet trim and sparkly pockets to make a super evening coat.

Tammy Perakis Wallace buys linen skirts, blouses and dresses from the thrift store, takes them apart and recombines them to make one-of-a- kind tops and dresses for the “real-sized woman” that she then sells on her etsy site, Red Panty Designs. She will pull a line of buttons from here, an interesting pocket detail from there, paying particular attention to drape and flow of the fabric.

Marge Diamond makes stunning and sophisticated wool hats for women, using fabric from outdated men’s business suits that she has cut up and felted.

My daughter-in-law transforms material from my son’s cotton work shirts that have gotten a bit frayed around the edges into fun summer dresses for her daughter – by adding ruffles and flourishes and a perhaps a polka dot ribbon sash.

Crocheted doilies were once ubiquitous accessories in many of our grandmothers’ houses, perched primly on the fat arms and backs of overstuffed sofas. I began to look at doilies in a whole new light, however, after I bought a hand crafted jacket that used cut up doilies and beadwork as design elements on the sleeves.

 Browsing around a antique mall one afternoon, I also came across a fun purse made entirely of several, different sized doilies. And then a few months later, my dear sister sent me a hat which she had found at a craft fair that had been created around salvaged, upcycled doily. Once you start upcycling, the possibilities become endless!

 

Doily.Bag.2w

Upcycling is kind of a modern variation on quilting whrein embroidered hankies, silk ties and outgrown dresses were fair game for a new winter bed covering. The great thing about upcycled clothing is that you actually get to wear your handiwork out and about.

Glad rags are most definitely clothes that help you get your happy on. Put that doily on your head or sew it on your jeans. Pour yourself a glass of wine, girlfriend, and have yourself a party.

JudyChessW 

As I have mentioned several times, the women I interviewed as part of this book, Glad Rags: Red Panties, Cowgirl Boots and a Sweet Dress To Die For, have become much more than fleeting acquaintances. They have become like an extended family and the women continue to be a source of inspiration to me. There has been a significant time lapse since I first met some of them, when I began this project 3+ years ago. Because of social media, however, I have been able to keep abreast of events in their lives since then.

 Judy Hensley is such an example. She wore ‘da Coat as a badge of courage after being diagnosed with Young Onset Parkinson’s, the year she turned 40. The story is familiar to most of her followers: when she found da’ Coat and began to wear it in public to speak up and out, educating others about Parkinson’s, her then-12-year-old daughter, Carol, was horrified that her mother would actually wear such a “hideous,” loud, coat out of the house. It was the kind of cute story that everybody knew and chuckled over.

 Carol grew up to be a gorgeous, talented, college basketball star with a million dollar smile. She married a sweet man and Judy posted all those delightful wedding pictures that all of us sigh over. Unfortunately, the happiness was short lived. A year ago last week, Carol died in a freak accident leaving her parents, new husband, family and all of her friends heartbroken. And the world a little colder and grayer without her dazzling smile.

I saw the news on facebook and could not believe it. It was a very hard time for Judy. She told me recently that for a time after Carol’s death, she did not wear ‘da Coat out and it did not leave home on any of its usual forays.

“Carol hated ‘da Coat,” Judy said. “I didn’t do anything with it out of respect for her feelings.”

 Even though, over the years, Judy has taken hundreds of photos of friends and strangers wearing ‘da Coat, for the ongoing photo collection she maintains, Carol was a staunch holdout. She refused to put it on, let alone be photographed in it.

“When my mother died a few years ago, I cut a strip off the bottom of ‘da Coat and put it in her casket. I didn’t do that with Carol,” she said.

 Though an amazing strength of will and an abiding faith in God, Judy picked up the pieces of her broken heart and went on. She continues to encourage and inspire others to keep going, to be of good cheer and never lose heart no matter what challenges life throws at you.

 During the anniversary of Carol’s death, ‘da Coat was hanging out in my closet. I had thought of doing some other publicity types of things with it – but as I kept reading Judy’s posts and seeing all the wonderful photos from Carol’s life, I could not bring myself to do it. I often stood by ‘da Coat in silence during those days, thinking of all that Judy and her family have gone through and how they have kept the hope and faith alive.

 When I first received it, I opened the note Judy had included. It read, in part:

 “I hope the joy it brings will be a new verse to the song it has started. I think it’s theme is – ‘Put me on; you will like it. I can almost guarantee it!’

“But in the end, it comes down to…’da Coat represents something bigger than any of us. It is a symbol of how crazy it can be to have hope. You still want to wear hope for many things… and the colors just giggle at you wearing it–and you just have to smile. Smiles are worth capturing and keeping, so take some pics of people and things wearing ‘da Coat WITH A SMILE!”

 Today I am packing up ‘da Coat as it is bound for the next person on the list. It has been a joy to have it here. (And all the other coats are going to miss it…)

CoatEmb3W 

“Keep up the good work, bro,” they said.” Come back and visit us anytime.”

 

RalphCoatW

JoeJoanneCoatW

 

Part 1… (to be continued…)

When I set out to write this book, Glad Rags: Red Panties, Cowgirl Boots and a Sweet Dress to Die For, I envisioned a quick and straightforward project: A series of interviews around a specific topic with some photo illustrations – easy peasy for a seasoned journalist like me. I could knock it out in a few months, I thought; no problem. But, as they say – “(Wo)man plans; God laughs.” I never imagined that this book would turn into a long-term project and that this group of women I interviewed and photographed over the past 3 years would become a virtual village, a tribal council of wise women who continue to inspire and delight me on a daily basis – thanks in no small measure to the internet and social media where I connect with them often.

Case in point is Judy Good Hensley, owner of  ‘da coat.  Through a facebook posting of Lori Saviers, a mutual friend, I found Judy and her marvelous coat. Judy wears ‘da coat as a symbol of hope in the face of living with Young Onset Parkinsons’ Disease. She was diagnosed a decade ago, at the age of 40.

As one might imagine, the diagnosis was a shock and initially she struggled mightily with feelings of fear, uncertainty and depression. But when she saw the coat on sale in a department store, it lifted her spirits and made her smile. She thought it was “bright and cheerful” and so she bought it and put it on. Her then 11-year-old daughter was horrified that her mother would wear such a “hideous” coat out in public.

But Judy decided that wearing such an attention-grabbing coat was just the thing to give her the confidence to stand out and speak up about Parkinsons’ Disease – to educate and inspire others to “Endure for the Cure.”  She began to invite others to put on ‘da coat and she photographed them. She has literally hundreds and hundreds of photos she has taken of men, women, children (and animals!) wearing da’ coat. She sees the photographs as a show of solidarity for “Parkies” like her.

 This marvelous coat often goes off on adventures on its own, in the service of Parkinsons’ education. As my book is moving along the publication path and I am assembling photos and illustrations, Judy offered to send it to me for a visit. Our friend, Lori wore it last weekend at her Unity Church when she made announcements for the day. She told the congregation a bit about the amazing journey of  ‘da coat and how it came to be in their congregation that morning. After the service, several people shared their stories of family, friends and co-workers who were also struggling with Parkinsons’. ‘Da coat accomplished its mission that morning:  furthering the discussion and raising awareness of a disease that drastically impacts so many people’s lives and for which there is currently no cure. 

Ralph and Joe (pictured above) were more than happy to don the coat. They both sing and play retro 60s era music – often with their band, The Bead People – and are nothing if not upbeat and positive people…just like our Judy. Judy continues spread her hope and joy wherever she goes, clad in ‘da coat – regardless of the challenges that life has handed her.

(next blog post, I will tell you a bit about Lori and her adventures with ‘da coat – stay tuned!) 

FrGlove1W

 One of the things that make ordinary clothes into “glad rags” is a certain sentimental attachment we have to them. When I interviewed Marla Rose, a writer for the Columbus (OH) Dispatch, for my book she told me about an alpaca poncho she still has in her closet that had been given to her by a favorite uncle many years ago. It wasn’t really her style she said – either back when he gave it to her during her ‘stylish’ college years, or in more recent years, when she dresses the part of a professional journalist working for a Midwest city newspaper. But she has kept it because of the warm feelings she has for that uncle. When he died unexpectedly and she could not get to the funeral, she went to the attic, found it and wrapped herself up in it. She says it felt for a moment that he was with her again, giving her a great big, warm hug.

 That story made me think about my mother, who passed away a few years ago now. She had a pair of fancy gloves that my father had brought back from Paris. They weren’t her style but she saved them all of her life because it was the first gift he gave her after they were married.

My parents met during WWII somewhere down near London. They were both in the Armed Forces – my father in the Royal Navy and mother in the Army. They met in a ballroom, discovered they were natural partners and danced the night away. Four or five weeks later, they married and the next day, my father was shipped overseas for the Invasion.

Mother didn’t see him again for more than a year, after the war was finally over. When he came home, he brought her the gloves, wrapped in tissue paper. They were beautiful and exotic and I don’t think she ever wore them. She had a thing about not wearing dark or ‘drab’ clothing – perhaps because of her grueling childhood and experiences during the war – and the gloves were midnight blue, very nearly black.

 When she died and I was clearing out her closet, there was not one single item of clothing that was black, gray or olive drab. She avoided those colors like the plague. She wore Hawaiian shirts and Mexican dresses; she loved color, vibrant textures and patterns.

But I did remember those gloves and began searching through the drawer where I keep the few bits and pieces that she left behind, and which I felt compelled to keep. I did find them and I had to put them on. It immediately called up an image of my parents, who loved nothing better than to put on their glad rags and go out dancing – something they did right up until my father died in his mid-50s. I can hear their music, pieces like “In the Mood”  – and all the fat sounds of the Big Bands of the time, like the Dorsey Brothers and Artie Shaw. In my mind’s eye, I see them gliding across the dance floor of eternity, smiling for all they were worth. It is an image I treasure and one that putting on these gloves, these glad rags, conjures up.

 

KerriHatW 

Here is my good friend Kerri who manages a family garage and auto repair business. She  is wearing her glad rags, in this case, a super cool hat she found while Goodwill Hunting. Kerri is like so many of the awesome women featured in my book, Glad Rags: Red Panties, Cowgirl Boots and a Sweet Dress to Die For. She has sass and style and wears many ‘hats’ in her life – ‘hats’ understood to mean the many roles she fulfils on a daily basis. She is a businesswoman, a biker mama, a great friend and community builder. She is a dog walker, a veteran supporter and a sure shot with a gun, son. She loves her man as only a good woman can – and her son, their son, Nate, is the star of her life.

 I took this photo of Kerri at her garage one day last December – ignoring the good-natured snickers of some of the mechanics. Shortly thereafter, she got that phone call that every parent dreads. Nate, a senior in high school, had been involved in a serious automobile accident; had sustained head injuries and a broken pelvis. For the next 6 weeks or so, Kerri had one wide brimmed, deep hearted hat planted firmly on her head and that hat was marked “mom.” She sat beside her son around the clock holding on to him, breathing with him, praying for him. It was a long haul, with many days of frustration and doubt. But eventually, he began to respond.

 I’m posting this photo of Kerri because last week, Nate was finally allowed to come home from the hospital. The dogs were ecstatic and his parents jubilant. Nate started back to school this week, and Kerri, heaving a huge sigh of relief, went back to the garage.

 I am not saying that these women who ‘put their glad rags on’ can do it all – because they can’t. But what they can do, they do. What they can’t do, they generally learn how as the need arises. When they get knocked down, they get up. When they are hurting, they help others. And at the end of the day, they laugh – they laugh and shake their heads in wonder, hug their friends, dogs and loved ones and keep on moving. Like Kerri – like that. Real women, real life.

RagsBlog-Sox1W

As I discuss in my upcoming book, anything you can put on your body qualifies as glad rags. Glad rags are your best clothes, clothes that make you happy, make you feel attractive, comforted, empowered, silly, whatever! As we continue our journey during this year of glad rags, many of us are still sloshing through melting snow and rain– which makes it an altogether good time to consider the often overlooked realm of socks.

Socks are a bit like underwear in that they can be worn in such a manner that no one else sees them. I love the idea of wearing outrageous polka dot socks under an entirely proper black pants suit, or a pair of neon butterfly patterned socks beneath a conservative skirt and boots. It’s a bit like having a giggle up your pants or a snicker under your skirt. When you work in a situation that requires a certain dress code, wearing interesting socks helps maintain a sense your of individuality. 

But as I also discovered through talking to so many women during the course of writing this book,  glad rags are clothes you feel relaxed in, at home in: comfort clothes.  Socks are right up there as some of my favorite comfort clothes. What better feeling than to peel off those stockings, kick off the heels and sink your tootsies deep into their soft, warm embrace. Aahhhhhhhh. 

My clever daughter-in-law knitted me a pair of sturdy socks for Christmas a few years ago – you can see them below. My office is an addition to our house, so has three outside walls and a chilly floor without benefit of a basement under it. As we live in a rural community in the Midwest — and are known to have periods of serious wind and snow — these socks are my glad rags, my sole mates for sure. I don’t know what I’d do without them.

RagsBlogHotSoxW

 

LindaRedHoodW

 

In anticipation of my book Glad Rags: Red Panties, Cowgirl Boots and a Sweet Dress to Die For… coming out later this spring, I am going to celebrate by posting a year’s worth of Glad Rags (those inspiring clothes as well as some information about the women who wear them) every week or so.

Since it is such a blustery, freezing cold night here in the Midwest, I will start with Linda, who lives in the mountains of California. Got to love this Red Riding Hood, part of a wonderful up-cycled coat she made. Linda is typical of the women I interviewed during the course of writing this book. After encountering some challenging life events during midlife, she weathered the storm and went on to create an artful and entirely delightful life. She finally found the courage to became the person she always wanted to be. Although she maintains a facebook page for her “Whimseywear,” most times Linda sells her creations right ‘off her back.’ People who see her wearing these wonderful glad rags are charmed and offer to buy them on the spot. Who can blame them? Glad rags are clothes that make you feel comfortable or happy or sweetly satisfied. The clothes that Linda finds or up-cycles or creates are all of these things and make me smile and smile and smile.

Older Posts »