Slip Slidin’ Away, Slip Slidin’ Away

We work our jobs
Collect our pay
Believe we’re gliding down the highway
When in fact we’re slip slidin’ away

Paul Simon

Sears. Fading out after 131 years. Slip sliding into retail obscurity. Founded in 1886 in Chicago by Richard Sears and Alvah Roebuck. Started as a mail order business, opening first retail stores in 1925. It was the largest retailer in the United States until 1989, surpassed by Walmart, Target, Best Buy and Home Depot.

Long before I ever saw the store, I was given an old catalog to play with. I was not much of a kid for dolls and playing house, preferred the outdoors, coveting playhouses, swings and pools as I turned the pages. However, I also loved clothes at an early age and so used my little scissors to cut out fashions I admired, filling my imaginary closet.

manekinsAnother ten years before I physically entered a Sears store with my parents and sister, after moving to Los Angeles. We drove miles inland to buy our first television, the only major purchase we needed since our rented beach house was fully furnished.

Another two years and we had our own house, Sears appliances, tools, and a beginning darkroom kit for me that my father helped me set up in the garage.

And then Sears soured in my mind. As a single, working mother trying to establish credit with Sears, I was turned down. Even with my mother co-signing with her 30-year account! A neighbor of hers, an older woman, had worked for Sears forever in the kitchen renovation department. She was gradually pushed out of her position and commission, given worse and worse projects, forcing her to fade away.

I seldom shopped there. A couple of times in 20 years, to buy specifically requested tools for my sons at Christmas or for birthdays.

The nearest Sears was an anchor for our local mall, and a landmark for my friends and family. Name clearly visible on the big stone building from half a mile away. Closest to an easy and spacious parking lot, close to major streets and freeways, next to the university my son attended, a convenient meeting place.

A few weeks ago, I stopped in to use the bathroom. I was shocked at how empty the store was, sales men and women clustering around racks of frumpy lumberjack shirts, directing me upstairs to a restroom hidden behind a maze of stoves and refrigerators.

So, I wasn’t surprised when I soon read the store was closing. Since 2010, Sears has slipped from 3,500 stores to 695.

Yesterday was its last day. And by chance I happened to be in the mall celebrating my birthday week with a friend. We both spotted the flapping plastic Closing! sign above the doors. She had a Sears appliance question, so suggested we go in.

A vast cavern, no answers here. A few rugs, forlorn pieces of clothing and piles of jewelry, mostly store shelves, bookcases, display cabinets, and manikins. The skeletal leftovers. Families and couples hovering and picking the bones. One woman hoisted a rolled rug on her shoulder and strolled out like she was carrying water jugs down to the riverbank. Vans and SUVs lined up outside the automatic doors to swallow the remnants.

The doors first opened in 1977, the year Paul Simon wrote his song about life’s plans slipping away from mere mortals.

Still, Sears had a good run. A flagship leading an era.

Tools for the handymen and busy women, dreams for the workers, immigrants and children.

I hope whatever comes next takes us farther down the highway.

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Where Is My White Blouse?

White blouses are everywhere and, for me, nowhere.

Ubiquitous and yet elusive.

I’ve been looking for just the right white blouse. Once I get an idea for something I think will add to my wardrobe (or household, or garden, or knowledge base), I don’t let go until I find it. Sometimes I change my mind after a tenacious search, but then it’s on to a new item or variation.

Seldom do I find the exact item of clothing I envision. There is always some part – fit, material, color, weird pockets or buttons – that is annoying or off-putting (Take it off, off!) Even once hiring a tailor to make me a pair of palazzo pants for a party did not result in the lovely creation I had in mind. Instead of svelte and sweeping, they were slippery and billowy, like old pajamas.

Anyway, I can see this white blouse. The right one for me, topping jeans, printed pants, skirts, tights, even a bathing suit. Taking me through several seasons and occasions, allowing for a variety of accessories and sweaters and jackets. So, the requirements are:

stylepremiere.com/blog

Not too formal. Simple, to go with my simple, casual life. With sleeves that can be worn long or rolled up, a smallish collar or collarless V-neck, slightly loose but not like a tent. No stiff, stand-up collars or starchy tightness that bark “I mean business.”

Not too informal. For yoga, walks, gardening, and other projects, I have t-shirts. For running errands and getting together with family and friends, I have lots and lots of casual blouses, favoring the boho style, and at least three in white. So, I don’t need another one of those.

Not too stiff. The stretchy fabric does not fool me. Claustrophobic. Linen, while appealing for its purity, and faux casualness, feels like sandpaper and makes my skin itch just looking at its rumpled surface.

Not too flimsy. Not a big fan of chiffon or lace or other sheer fabrics unless I’m buying for a party and it comes with an attached, comfortable camisole.

Not too teeny-bopper, club hopper or middle-aged sexpot. You know what I mean. Eyelet trim. Very short. Teeny straps, one strap, strapless. Shoulder cut-outs, so the sleeves look like they’ve been ripped off and are hanging by a thread.

Not too old and plain. I am old, but I don’t want to look dumpy and frumpy. And sadly, many clothes for older women are too droopy and drapey for me, overwhelming my small frame and height. I tried on one long white blouse at Gap and resembled a nerdy scientist in a lab coat. Another at Express in a soft fabric, tie in front and tail in back style. It looked beautiful on the hanger but not on me, more like I’d crash-landed with my parachute half-open.

Not too fancy. No weird ties, attachments, embroidery. My cats confuse tassels with playtime toys. If I’m going to get a simple white blouse, then it must be simple! Yesterday I spotted one that looked good from a distance. I pulled it down – and there on the simple sleeves were triangular flaps of material sticking out from each elbow. For what reason? To remind us that our bat wings had fallen even farther? To elbow our way around now that we’ve given up stiff collars?

I am just about to give up. People like to say things like the perfect thing (mate? job?) will appear when we give up searching, but I don’t believe that. It could or could not happen.

In the meantime, my mind is shifting … there was that red blouse …

Pondering the Power(less) Look

I base most of my fashion taste on what doesn’t itch. – Gilda Radner

Why have tight sleeveless dresses and 4-inch heels become the modern professional woman’s uniform de rigueur? Rigorous indeed, requiring girdles (sorry, Spanx!) to squeeze into sausage casings with no room to breathe or move. Shoes needing morphine and lots of balance training just to maneuver across a room. I don’t care how much they cost or if they have signature red soles, they still hurt like hell.

Who has decided that this is the “power” look? If women in these outfits can’t feel free and have to deny they are in pain, why is it powerful? Where did this latest fashion come from? Possibly the popular TV show, Mad Men. It beautifully captured our nostalgia for smoking and drinking and eating bacon with carefree abandon as well as for mid-century modern design and dress.Old Girdle Ad

Ironically, the women in Mad Men lacked inherent power and if they had any career aspirations, they had to fight for them and survive being treated as objects. Like Ginger Rogers, they did everything men did, but backwards and in heels. The show’s fallout has exaggerated women’s fashion of that time. Having worked during part of the 60s, I remember that our sheath dresses were loose and comfortable and the heels, while not comfortable, were more like two inches.

So is today’s sex-object dressing a weird sort of retaliation? Women have made considerable progress in the work world. Do they feel guilty? Do they feel they have to placate men’s egos, prove they are still feminine even though they are bosses? Defer to a twisted idea of what looks powerful?

Personally, I preferred the fashions of the late 60s and 70s, simple flowing lines, dresses and pantsuits that were flattering and comfortable. The styles accommodated work and play. In the 80s, power suits made their appearance. I had a grey flannel pinstripe skirt and jacket I wore for important meetings at Xerox. In those days, we also pulled on pantyhose and clunked around on solid heels. Our jackets and blouses came with shoulder pads and we looked like linemen for the Green Bay Packers.

The next two decades brought softer styles and in some industries, such as hi-tech where I was a technical writer, it was anything goes. Grunge, punk, lumberjack, surfer dude, super jock. Jeans on casual Fridays became torn jeans or even shorts and flip flops every day. The men and women engineers at Qualcomm don’t trust suits and sexpots.

In the small but upscale beach town where I live, we see every type of fashion, from bathing suits to long dresses. If a woman walks by in a tight dress and high heels, most likely she is a banker, realtor, business coach or fundraiser. Or, according to a local joke, she could be the mistress of a rich man up in L.A., especially if she’s young.

Occasionally I see an older woman decked out in a bright red or blue satin suit and a little hat and even though I might not want to wear that myself, I feel happy for her – go for it! She’s obviously enjoying herself. And so are the many artists and other creative folk who invent colorful costumes.

Yoga, pilates and other workout studios are popular here – and so are new stores selling the right clothes to work out in. Yoga pants in wild colors and prints are now walking from morning to night up and down the sidewalks. They are extremely forgiving and with a flowy blouse or cardigan, look great.

I prefer to change into jeans when I get home from yoga. I like my yoga pants, but they are a little too warm and sweaty for me to wear all day. And my jeans keep my diet honest. When they feel tight, I know I’m eating too much.

Really I think we should be able to wear what we want and enjoy whatever style we think suits us and our lifestyle. Overall, that’s the general way fashion goes for most of us. I try to keep an open mind about what others wear.

I’m just having a hard time with the sexpot look. I am not against looking sexy, but when I see the poor women newscasters on TV with every bulge magnified, I feel sad. Hopefully the Mad Men phase will pass. Recently I read an article on how fashion designers are promoting a new gender neutral style. Photos of androgynous models in heavy wool pants and sweaters. They aren’t as bad as the top-heavy jackets of the 80s, but my god, looking at them makes my skin itch.

Is It a Mad Men World?

Unlike men who claim to look at Playboy magazine “for the articles,” I really do look at fashion magazines for the pictures, not the articles. Some of the articles in fashion magazines are interesting, especially those that address women’s social and health issues around the world. But the majority are not. They are the same superficial interviews with superficial celebrities, the same 10 ways to trim your thighs and figure out what your man (or partner) is thinking. Enough already.

I do enjoy looking at clothes, however, both in magazines and in stores. Even though I buy fewer and fewer the older I get and don’t need many for a simple, work-at-home lifestyle, I still enjoy the fantasies that these costumes evoke. As with enjoying a painting, or a sculpture, or a tree or a flower, I appreciate the mixture/interplay of colors, fabrics, forms, textures. As with enjoying a movie or a play, I can transport myself into the lives they portray – jet setter, businesswoman, rock star, cowgirl, surfer, artist, Palm Springs or Palm Beach socialite.

Then I can return to my more plainly dressed life with a sense of relief and appreciation. I don’t have to walk through airports or down hallways in 6-inch heels. I don’t have to retrofit myself into a 50s style sheath dress with a girdle underneath. (Today called body shaper or Spanx, but still a girdle.)Costume

I’m not sure I understand why today’s successful businesswomen have adopted the tight, sleeveless sheath dress and high heels as their uniform. In the 1970s, we fought for the right to hold certain jobs, but also to be able to dress comfortably. Granted, some of the polyester pantsuits of the 70s were less than appealing and the wide-shouldered power suits of the 80s were over the top, but at least we were able to move freely. And I remember going to many parties wearing flowing pants and tunics that were attractive, feminine, sexy, and comfortable! When I look at women today in dresses out of Mad Men, I have a hard time breathing and my toes hurt.

Are women dressing this way to impress each other, or to impress men? Are they trying to project a sexy image so as not to threaten others with their increasing power? Most men I know, while enjoying sexuality and an attractively dressed woman, would rather walk stride-in-stride with a partner or friend who can keep up with them than one who minces along.

And the day I see men sitting around a conference table in sleeveless tops beside women in sleeveless tops (bare arms, chest showing) will be the day I know we’re playing on the same level. But the fact that tanks on men are called wife beaters might cancel this out.

What I enjoy seeing on women (and men) and what I take away from fashion photos is the fun of expressing individualty, creativity, imagination, freedom. Even though I like certain looks more than others, I think we should be able to dress the way we want. I admire those who are brave enough to dress in costume. In the writing world, I know many like this, showing up at a reading one night looking like a 40s movie actor and the following week like a punk rocker. Wearing a long skirt with a military jacket one day and gold lame jeans and boots the next.

These brave dressers don’t pay attention to the fashion rules that set age limits or admonish against this or that for certain seasons of the year or of life. Nor do they squeeze themselves into modern-day corsets and crippling footwear. Like me, they pull on a lot – or a bit – of fantasy with their clothes in the morning and then walk quickly out the door without looking back.