Girls in short skirts: a love/hate story

I've railed against this trend before, but certain ladies don't seem to be listening, so I'm getting back on my soapbox: aren't we all tired of seeing girls squished into teeny tiny dresses? They move in herds, clacking down the sidewalk in platform heels so high their feet look like hooves from the front. I can see how it happens. One girl with fabulous legs wears the shortest dress ever. She turns the lusty heads of boys and girls; her friends secretly hate her. The urge to wear something short tears quickly through the crowd, awakening in everyone a long-buried insecurity. The girls feel the irresistible urge to yank on even shorter dresses, and claw their way to the front of the pack, screaming, "Look at me! LOOK AT ALL MY SKIN! I'VE GOT THE MOST SKIIIIN!!"

The next weekend, they're all at the club again, eyeing each other jealously, pulling at the hem of their dresses, wishing they could sit without flashing their underpants.

That doesn't mean every time you see a girl in a short dress she's having a horribly insecure day. I wear short dresses and young ladies, let me tell you, the crippling insecurity does indeed die down as you get older. Short dresses and skirts can be beautiful as long as you follow the Cardinal Rules of Short.

The best way to illustrate the Cardinal Rules of Short is with a slick diagram, but I'm not a designer, and the Husband is busy playing World of Tanks, so instead I'll dazzle you with one of my drawings:

Shortest dress ever

Consider the four components of the Shortest Dress Ever: cleavage, snug-as-sausage-casing, barely-bum-covering, and heels. There's really only one Cardinal Rule of Short and that's the Three Fourths Rule: at any one time, wear a maximum of three of the above four components.

For example, if your dress is short, tight, and has a low neckline, wear sandals, ankle boots, or sneakers. If you want to wear heels with a short skirt and a top with a low neckline, wear a skating skirt that has a high, defined waist but a full skirt. You get the idea.

There is though, something so sexy and confident about covering up, and to help you on your journey to resist the urge to follow the pack, here's some inspiration to go long, or loose, or to just have a different silhouette from Kelly Kapowski circa Saved by the Bell.

If there are Cardinal Rules of Short, there must be Cardinal Rules of Long.


Pick your favourite feature and feature it. If it's your waist, belt a long dress, or tuck your top into a long skirt. If it's your ankles, put on a pair of beautiful strappy heels. If it's your shoulders, wear something sleeveless or one-shouldered.


Don't be too covered. Just like you might balance a short skirt with a long-sleeved top, you might balance a long, full skirt with a fitted, sleeveless top.


A bit of height never hurt anybody, so when you can, wear heels.

And now my confident buddies, be brave and go long.

Anything else is the new black

The all black outfit is an old nemesis of mine. It was the uniform of the million terrible waitressing jobs I had in my twenties, and it was the colour of the sea of suits I used to swim through during my investment banking days. Now you'll struggle to find anything black in my wardrobe besides my extensive collection of opaque black tights. I don't own a pair of black dress pants, a black t-shirt, or even *gasp* a little black dress. There are so many more exciting, beautiful, colourful options; why would I wear all black?

A lot people tell me black goes with everything, that wearing all black is easy. Actually any neutral - navy, brown, cream, white - could be included in the goes-with-everything group, and any of them would do it with more subtlety and softness than black. And black may be easy, but I think we've all learned enough hard life lessons to know that the easy way is often not the best way. Like the time I cycled 20 minutes out of my way just to avoid riding up a steep hill on my way home, only to realise that I actually live at a high elevation and every way home is up. Never has the adage "the lazy man works hardest" stung quite so much.

A lot of people think that wearing all black hides (often invented) flaws. If hiding is your only goal, you may fall into the trap of looking like a disembodied head floating on top of a pile of fabric. Cleverly cut clothes, and well-placed patterns do a much better job of hiding those invented flaws than black does.

If however an all black ensemble is your favourite in the world ever and nobody better take it away from you or else what's the point of living, then you best take a lesson from one of the pros. Take Emmanuelle Alt, editor of French Vogue. While the rest of us mere mortals may not have such effortless style in our blood (no one but a Parisienne can pull off scraggly hair and a bare face so beautifully), we can always try to emulate those who do.

The keys to all black outfits, and actually all outfits, are texture and shape. Notice that when Emmanuelle wears all black, she mixes textures: leather, wool, silk, denim; and flattering shapes: military coats with nipped in waists, slim sleeves, enormous fur collars, floppy, worn-in t-shirts, cropped pants. Her body never disappears, and her outfit is always interesting. In this case my old nemesis looks pretty good.

Even though I can't fault Emmanuelle Alt for being a one-shade pony, I will always enthusiastically fly the colour flag. Just imagine how awesome it would be to live in a world like this:

Expectation versus reality

When Zac Posen replaced Michael Kors as a judge on Project Runway, I discovered a chilling fact: Zac Posen isn't an American designer who hails from mysterious, maybe royal, European origins, and probably has a really charming accent. He's an American designer who hails from America and has a really boring, nasally American accent which he (unsuccessfully) tries to jazz up by using words like "melange." My reality? Shattered for the second time.

The first time was when I discovered that although David Beckham looks like this:

and this:

He sounds like this:

I guess it's only fair to the rest of us mere mortals that someone so devastatingly handsome could sound like a weasley, granted very sweet, teenage boy.

The BB cream bandwagon

Here at Cult of Clothes I like to ask hard-hitting questions on topics with real world consequences. Today I'll look at BB Cream, a product whose popularity verges on explosive, whose status verges on cult. Is it a product worth adding to your arsenal, or is it just snake oil peddled by an old timey traveling salesman who'll skip town just when you find out it turns your face green?

BB cream is touted as a magical cure-all that moisturises, covers blemishes, primes your skin, works as foundation, and protects against sun. It will also watch your kids while you pop out to the sales and then have a cocktail. Colour me skeptical, but I'm suspicious of all-in-one anything, especially when it also claims to blend with any skin colour. All-in-one and one-colour-suits-all? Curiouser and curiouser.

In spite of my misgivings, I decided to give it a shot, mostly because one of my friends uses it, and her skin is so perfect and smooth, it makes everyone else's skin look like scaly old dragon toes. This friend uses L'Oreal Nude Magique, and in spite of the silly name, it seemed like a good place to start.

Perhaps the universe knew I would never go ahead with such an experiment unless I could get a deal, so it sent me a gift in the form of a 50% off sale at the chemist, and I got my Nude Magique for the bargainous price of $10.

I used it faithfully every day for a week, layering it under my usual five minute face: concealer, cream blush and mascara. If I was a scientist with access to masses of funding, I would have tested other brands to do a proper comparison, but I'm a writer, and I figure that a sample of one is more scientific than just making up the whole story.

My verdict? It went on smoothly, and blended with my skin colour. Even though I checked obsessively from every angle in many different lights I couldn't tell where the made-up skin ended and my neck skin started. Remarkably, it seemed that one colour did suit all.

It didn't deliver on its dewy skin promise, in fact it got points off for making my face quite matte. But unlike most matte foundations or bases, my cream blush glided on smoothly and blended well. It was definitely long wearing; it lasted all day, even though the humidity that week put a shine on everyone's foreheads and a murderous glint in their eyes.

Annoyingly it settled in fine lines and wrinkles, and let's face it: nobody wants any help looking older than they are. But the ultimate test was whether it made my skin look like my friend's, and the answer is no, it didn't. It would seem it's not the BB cream that makes her skin perfect, but her genes. How devastatingly unfair. So much for experimenting.

If you're looking for an all-in-one product to replace your foundation, I'd say give BB cream a try, especially when it's hot out and you want to avoid the I'm-wearing-a-mask look. My regular make-up regime works pretty well, so I'm going to make like an old person and resist change.

Hang to dry and other things your mother taught you

Image: Vogue

The other night, after a delicious, wine-soaked feast at Soffritto in Newtown I stumbled home with a friend. On the walk we discussed life's many mysteries: why aren't we staggeringly wealthy, or even just a little bit wealthy, and how should you treat a fancy handbag?

My friend is in the market for a new bag, and a colleague suggested Marc by Marc Jacobs, a perfect choice for a cool, not-out-of-reachedly-priced designer handbag. The catch is she's trying to replace her work bag that's right now stuffed with a laptop, a pair of heels, two puppies, and possibly a small child. Being a freelancer, she desk-surfs, so anything she needs for work has to be carried in and out of the city on her shoulder.

I told her a lovely bag should only be filled with small things: a wallet, a phone, keys and lipgloss. Anything else should go in a separate tote. Every night she should empty her lovely bag, restuff it with tissue, put it back in its cotton bag, sing it a lullaby, and store it on its side in an uncluttered part of her closet.

Do you think I spend too much time caring for inanimate objects? Think of it this way: before I had a child to love, I had my handbags.

I get it. You blow $500 on a bag and you expect it to take crazy amounts of abuse. But expensive doesn't equal indestructible. In most cases expensive does mean that if you treat it nicely, it'll last long enough that you can tell your future daughters, no, they can't borrow it.

This long preamble serves to introduce one of my favourite topics: looking after your stuff. Brace yourselves. Things are about to get exciting.

1. Knits

If you wash your jumpers in a washing machine, even if it's on gentle cycle, please don't tell me about it. A little part of me dies when I hear stuff like that.

Every month or two, I like to take a morning and handwash all my knits. Crazy, yes? Well, everything I know about handwashing, I learned from the inimitable, crazier-than-I Martha Stewart. I'll reserve my commentary and hand over to the guru and her ultimate knit-care video.

2. Silk, wool and other things that hate water

If you're putting silk dresses or wool blazers in the washing machine, see #1. Find a drycleaner and fork over the cash, or make the sad decision to only buy horrible stretch polyester sweats and live alone with lots of cats, knowing that even they think your clothes are ugly.

3. Stains

If you've stained something that doesn't hate water (see #2), the solution depends on the stain:

Ballpoint pens - Spray hairspray on the mark until the fabric's wet and scrub it gently with a toothbrush. Be careful because sometimes the ink will bleed outward and create a wider stain.

Blood (from all that sword fighting you do) - Put  it in cold water right away and soak it for a couple of days. Then even when you wash it, wash it in cold because hot will set the stain.

Oil - Oil is the worst. I've tried a few different techniques for oil. You can sprinkle baking soda or baby powder on the stain, rub it in gently, blow it off and repeat until the oil gets soaked up. You can also try putting a piece of paper towel over the powder and ironing it on low.

My favourite method is to sprinkle powdered laundry detergent on the stain, wet it a bit to get the powder damp, ball up the garment, and leave it for a day or two. Then wash it normally in cold and cross your fingers.

Failing these tricks, go to your friendly neighbourhood drycleaner.

4. Shoes

Nobody wants to go out and spend more money at the cobbler when they've just bought new shoes, but if you do, I promise you'll only need to do it again every couple of years. Also your shoes will last long enough to achieve "vintage" status.

In between cobbler visits, regularly use waterproofingspray and shoe polish. Using some interwebs voodoo, I found 94 colours of polish here.

5. Handbags

Lots of don'ts: don't load them like they're pack mules, don't spill stuff on them, don't put them on the ground, and as I said before, store them lovingly every night.

I'll stop now. I may be no less crazy than the cat lady in #2, but if you saw me wandering down the street in a crisply pressed dress and spit-shined brogues, you wouldn't think crazy, you'd think, "She's obsessively groomed like someone who watches a lot of Martha Stewart Living."

Man flu, or How I got my new glasses

So my Husband used to have these really cool Tom Ford glasses. They made him look like Superman...actually, before I get lambasted by the Superhero Nerd Police, I'll correct myself: they made him look like Clark Kent. Here he is reading a map in Madrid. I'm holding his cape.

He rarely wore them because they gave him a headache and made him dizzy. I chalked it up to something akin to man flu, and said to myself, "Suffer for fashion, oh wimpy one!" But then I tried them on and loved them. I realised his dizzy misfortune was my new glasses gain.

I got the lenses switched for my prescription, and voila! New glasses for me. I don't look like Clark Kent, but I reckon I look pretty cool. Captain of the Superhero Nerd Police, perhaps.

After a few minutes of wearing them I realised everything looked oddly proportioned. My son had shrunk, and I felt a bit woozy. Turns out the shape of the frames and the way they sit on your face mess with your perspective. Huh.

Well Husband, I thought you were crying wolf, but it turns out that in this instance - and in no other instances before or ever to come - I was wrong.

Mad Men on vacation

When I'm not drooling at handsome vampires, I'm watching good old Don Draper fail an astounding number of times at not being a total jerk. It took me a while to get over the general assholery of the Mad Men-era man, but I'm glad I did, because how else would I have been able to see Megan's amazing Hawaiian vacation wardrobe? Megan's outfits are exactly what I would want to bring on a beach vacation. Perfect bikini, maxi dresses, shifts, cover ups all in bright colours and beautiful patterns.

And now, let me share my ninja-like skills at capturing video stills. In the future, I strongly suggest the producers provide an outfit lookbook so it's easier to blog about the characters' clothes.

A thought

The problem with wearing ankle boots with tightly rolled jeans is that your ankles get cold. Every time you take a step or sit down, a sliver of flesh is revealed and vulnerable to the elements. But I figure the amount you suffer in your clothes is directly correlated with how awesome you look. Wearing fuzzy pjs? You're probably pretty comfy. You probably don't look very sharp though. But what about a snugly belted leather bomber, figure-hugging pencil skirt, and insanely high strappy heels? You're looking mighty fine, my friend. And you're probably wondering what time you can go home and get into your fuzzy pjs.

Exciting conclusion to the quest for the perfect t-shirt

There I am, at Jim and Jane, said neighbourhood object of my infatuation. I quickly realise that with winter coming, t-shirts are in short supply; they sold out during sunnier months. Sanity goes out the window. I'm desperate to buy a white t-shirt, if for no other reason than writing about it made me obsessed. In a moment of sheer madness, I buy the only white t-shirt in the shop, and I pay $75 for it. Let's review the criteria:

  • Super soft? Yes, it's organic cotton.
  • Pretentious? Yes, it's organic cotton.
  • Not too sheer and has an open neck? Nope and yup.
  • Twisted seams? If there are, there'll be hell to pay.
  • Costs more than $10? If the Husband asks, tell him it was on sale. That they practically gave it to me.

In the couple of weeks since I bought my precious white t-shirt, I've worn it a lot. It's refreshingly simple, looks cool with enormous, spangly necklaces, and now that it's winter, I can wear it under all my really itchy sweaters. I'm not going to throw away my brightly printed tops and dresses and just buy white t-shirts from now on, but it's nice to have something basic to turn to when nothing seems to go together.

I nearly forgot: remember how I said I was distracted by cool winter footwear? Well. I got me some sweet flat ankle boots by Sol Sana. They're blackened-chocolate brown, slouchy-perfect and look so cute with cuffed skinny jeans or a mini-dress. They're so wonderful I want to take them behind the school house and get all romantic with them.

Quest for the perfect t-shirt

I'm allergic to basics. My closet is stuffed with patterns and bright colours, and guess what? Nothing goes together. Once upon a time I had luxurious hours to try on millions of combinations to find that perfect pattern clash, but these days a bouncy toddler sits on my feet and demands muffins when I get dressed, so I need to be quick and organised. I'm not saying I'm going to stop wearing patterns, I'm just saying that throwing a cotton t-shirt into the mix, or maybe buying a second pair of jeans might make life a bit easier.

Anthropologie Twisted & Pleated Tee

Every once in a while, I see a photo of someone looking so cool and fabulous in a grey marle or white t-shirt and I become obsessed with finding the perfect replica. They never say where it's from, so I'm left to hunt alone, and with so many bad options, it's really easy to get it wrong. My obsession usually ends in miserable failure because I always buy something cheap that gets twisted seams the first time I wash it. I guess I figure it's just a t-shirt, so why should it cost more than $10?

With a revised strategy to spend more money (that's pretty much the solution for everything, right?), I'm going to go on a quest for the perfect t-shirt. I have a few modest requests: nothing too sheer, needs a nice open neck, made of super soft cotton, and no more twisted seams.

Shop and friendly neighbourhood object of my infatuation, Jim & Jane, posted that they're carrying a French t-shirt brand that's oddly named "American Vintage," so I think I'll start there.

If you're feeling absolutely riveted, sorry, but you'll have to wait until next week to see what I got. Spoiler: I got a bit distracted by cool winter footwear.


Image: Garance Dore

If I've identified a trend, then I wish it would go away.

It seems my post about overalls the other day was timely; Garance Dore posted a photo of a pair of cropped leather overalls she bought at Zara in Paris. I have a lot of respect for Garance, but I think one day she'll look back at photos of herself in her black leather overalls and she'll feel the cold, throw-up-in-your-mouth-a-little feeling of regret.

Canadian Tuxedo

Image: Squared 5

My beloved denim shirt, which I've washed and worn into a state of perfect, fragile softness, just tore at the shoulder seam. I'm devastated. Is the universe punishing me for breaking the rule against wearing denim-on-denim?

Universe, lay off. It's not my fault that the cool kids have finally caught on to what we of the north have known all along: if you only buy one outfit in this lifetime, make it the humble Canadian Tuxedo.

Don't just take my word for it. Here's Jenna Lyons in her very own denim-on-denim ensemble:

Image: Street Peeper

If you don't know who Jenna Lyons is, allow me to introduce the Creative Director of J. Crew and pretty much the coolest woman ever. She has 289 pairs of shoes. Nothing more needs to be said.