Beauty DIY vs. Pro

Yesterday I was reading this post by Garance Dore, when her post script got me thinking. She mentions that most French women color their own hair, but most women in the United States pay professionals to do it, along with manicures, waxing, etc. I’m wondering if that’s true and what beauty regimes you outsource.

Personally, I’m willing to spend a bit more on my hair. I think a really good hair cut is worth something. (Although I admit to touching up the cowlick that forms at the nape of my neck with embroidery scissors between cuts.) When it comes to hair color, I’ll only let a professional do it. I have a horrendous DIY dye-job story from college. And after a recent bad dye job from my regular stylist, I might only let a “colorist” do it from now on.

I’ve only ever had two professional manicures, but last summer I indulged semi-regularly in professional pedicures. I loved the way my toes looked all cleaned up with cute polish. But that ish is expensive, and I should save my money this summer. I’ve never had a facial, but I’d like to some day.

So what beauty and skin care things do you pay a professional to do? Are there one or two things you’ll pay a little more for on a regular basis and do the rest yourself? Only pay for beauty treatments on special occasions? Or do you outsource it all?

Mr. Selfridge Is Back

Are you watching Mr. Selfridge? In the United States, PBS just started season two, and I’m thoroughly sucked in. It’s basically a period soap opera, akin the Downton Abbey, but set in the city instead of the country.

If you aren’t familiar with Mr. Selfridge, it’s about the London department store. Season one introduced us the American Harry Selfridge as he moves to London in 1908, butts heads with the British over his revolutionary retail concepts, and unveils his concept of modernity. Feminism, the emergence of makeup, and various celebrities both real and fictional are all key plot points.

The show relies on an ensemble cast full of amusing characters. There’s a little bit of an upstairs/downstairs theme going on. First you have the lowly shop girl who has ambition and a spark of creativity with her brother who works in the loading dock. The store’s management features heavily, including the Frenchman who is in charge of window displays and the chief of staff who is in a complicated romantic relationship with the head of accessories. And then you have the rich who shop at the store, financially back it, and socialize with Selfridge’s family.

And the costumes — well the costumes are great. They aren’t 100% historically accurate, but the show is a bit of a fantasy and over the top, so, appropriately, the costumes are too. Maybe it’s hypocritical of me to give this show a pass, but somehow it works for me.

Season two jumps to 1914, advancing many of the characters’ lives in interesting directions. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I love how they are developing the story line. War is on the horizon, and trade unions are rising. And the relationships between the characters are all deepening. Everyone reaps what they sow from the previous season, both for better and worse.

If you need to catch up, season one is available on Amazon Instant Video (free if you have a Prime account!) or on iTunes. And PBS is only two episodes deep into season two, which is available on its website.

Tell me if you are watching! Who is your favorite character? Personally Agnes Towler and Henri Leclair were my favorites in season one, but I’ve got a growing affection for Kitty and Gordon Selfridge in season two.

P.S. No spoilers in the comments please!

Friday File

Happy Friday! Unfortunately today isn’t the end of my workweek, because the college has Open House tomorrow. But it’s always fun to show off the collection to prospective students. We pull out the show-stoppers, so there’s lots of dazzling things to see. Hopefully I’ll get to catch up on sleep on Sunday and hang out with my husband, who has been on location shooting in California all week. I’ve missed him.

Now for the best of the week:

The new Victoria & Albert Museum exhibition on Italian fashion looks amazing. See some behind-the-scenes images of its mannequins getting dressed.

Not a huge fan of April Fools’ pranks, but this one by NPR is pretty great.

This would be a really fun job to have — fashion librarian.

Those ubiquitous rock-stud heels by Valentino are one of the lynchpins in the luxury fashion house’s financial success. Valentino is an interesting case study about how to stay relevant in the current market.

Uniqlo, the Japanese brand, is partnering with the Museum of Modern Art for a capsule collection in stores. I’m all for bringing the museum to the people, but this doesn’t seem to have any educational value, just a chance to make some bucks.

This article drives home how little has changed in the garment industry 103 years after the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. In fact, you could argue it’s gotten worse. We’ve got to wake up to the exploitation happening in countries like Bangladesh so that Westerners can buy cheap clothes.

Bite Beauty Lipstick

Throughout the past year or so, I’ve been slowly getting into lipstick. I didn’t like wearing it a few years ago, but through gradual experimentation it’s grown on me.

One of the first signs of aging I’ve noticed is that the color in my lips is fading. And I just got a new pair of glasses that are a brighter shade of red and a little more masculine than I’ve worn before. Both of these things have convinced me that a little more color on my lips maintains femininity and balances the frame.

About a month ago, I wandered into Sephora looking for a new deep red. The associate who helped me introduced me to Bite Beauty and its line of Luminous Crème Lipstick.

There’s so much to love about this lipstick. First, it’s super hydrating. Most of the lipsticks I was experimenting with were drug store brands, and they would leave my lips chapped shortly after applying it. This stuff doesn’t at all. Even a few hours after lecturing, my lips still feel moist with no signs of flaking or feeling cakey.

Second, it’s super saturated in color. This was not the lipstick that would have worked for me as I was developing my preference for it, as I started with sheerer formulas. But now that I’ve grown to like it, I love how full of pigment this lipstick is. A little goes a long way.

And surprisingly, it’s long lasting — no fading. I don’t need to touch up unless I’ve had a bite to eat. It can smear a little if I’m not careful though.

I picked up shades Cin Cin, Zin, and Tannin.

I like the design of the tubes too. Sleek, minimal, soft to the touch, and a unique shape for each color family.

The last cool part is that Bite Beauty’s Luminous Crème Lipstick is free of synthetics, polybutenes, and petroleum byproducts. It’s made of food-grade ingredients so it’s healthy enough to eat! And they don’t test on animals.

photos by Travis Haughton

How Dress Forms Are Made

Dress forms are incredibly important in fashion design. They are the forms a designer, tailor, or seamstress use to drape new patterns or fit garments properly on a body. They are a stand in to a real live model, one you can stick pins in and that never fidget.

As a fashion historian, I use dress forms often to exhibit garments or explain to students how historical clothing fits on the body.

So I was excited to find this video from the Science Channel on the making of dress forms. Each are still hand made of cardboard, paste, and muslin. I had no idea how they created the forms’ collapsible shoulders. Take a look!

The Calash


calash, 18th century, from Metropolitan Museum of Art

In the second half of the 1700s, women’s hairstyles grew to be very elaborate in extreme sizes. The most fashionable and wealthy women were known to sport extravagant coifs. But women were still expected to wear hats for protection and modesty. For outdoor use, the calash was introduced.

The calash was a style of bonnet or hood designed to accommodate the large hairdos, without damaging them. Supported by semi-hoops, the calash was made of fabric and looked like a French carriage. It was worn through the mid 19th century.


calash, 19th century, from Museum of Fine Arts Boston


calash, c. 1820, from Metropolitan Museum of Art


calash, mid 19th century, from Museum of Fine Arts Boston

As you might expect with such an odd-looking, oversized accessory, the calash was ripe for satire. Cartoonists took aim in their illustrations.




The cartoons were exaggerations, meant to mock women for their fashionable choices in hairstyles and hats. But what did the calash actually look like in real life? The photos below reveal a more accurate proportion.


The above photos were taken in the late 19th century, many decades after the calash went out of fashion. The best guess is that the woman pictured is dressed up in historical 1820s fashions, specifically for the photograph. Even though the hat and dress are in essence a costume, it is still a great look at what the calash actually looked like on a woman.

Friday File

Happy Friday! I admit I am ready for Spring Break next week, even if it means I still have to work. I had a lot of class visits in the Fashion Study Collection this week plus a donor visit. I need a rest from lecturing, even if that means getting some monotonous cataloging done at my desk. Is there something you do at work that is commonly thought of as boring but you actually enjoy (at least from time to time)?

Aside from work, I’m looking forward to the Marc Le Bihan trunk show at Robin Richman this weekend. His spring/summer collection and pre-sale fall/winter collection will be 15% off, and there is a cocktail reception tonight.

Now, the best links of the week:

Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has smart, funny, and compelling thoughts on gender, feminism, and Africa and she’s stylish as all heck. Her Ted talk is incredible. I need to get my hands on her books. Someone get this woman a bigger platform immediately!

My good friend Liz is headed to the National Stationary Show. And her business, Betsy Ann Paper, needs a little help with a Kickstarter. If you love beautifully crafted stationary, you will want to back this. The rewards are stellar!

I’m planning to sit down with my iPad this weekend and read through the New York Times special section on Museums, which was published earlier in the week.

We need to do something to better support female fashion designers in the United States. The following section, reported as industry culture, makes me rage: “Over the past six months, I’d estimate that nearly a dozen publicists and designers have mentioned to me that it’s more difficult to sell an editor on a female designer. To them, the hierarchy goes like this: straight men first, gay men second, women third.”

I would visit a Museum of Food and Drinks.

I can’t wait until the Yves Saint Laurent movie comes out (June 25)! Also, I’m clutching my pearls over so many original garments worn in the film.

Rena Tom wrote a great piece that muses over handcraft versus machine craft.

Designer L’Wren Scott was found dead on Monday, which was ruled a suicide. Cathy Horyn wrote a personal reflection about Scott’s life and her relationship with the deceased designer.

Black Pump Hunt

RIP Nine West pointy toe pumps. They died a few months ago, unable to be revived by the cobbler one more time. I’ve been leaning heavily on my Madewell booties to get me by. But I finally decided enough was enough — my wardrobe couldn’t support the void any longer.

So my quest became finding a low, delicate heel with an extremely pointy toe in black. I favored d’Orsay styles — closed heel and toe, cut down to the sole on the sides — this time around because I find the shape interesting. D’Orsay pumps were popular in the 1940s, and I’m happy they are having a revival.

A big concern was finding a heel that didn’t provide too much coverage. I know that sounds odd when you are talking about shoes, but low-heeled, pointy-toe shoes can go matronly fast. A little less leather, a little more foot revealed is sexier.

These Calvin Klein Dolly heels are classic and would get the job done. I like the slight contour dip on the outer edge. They were a solid contender.

I considered these French Connection d’Orsay pumps. The striped toe is textured, which is a cool detail to break up a monotony of black. The kitten heel is cute and practical too.

I dreamed about buying the Jess pumps by Kate Spade New York. The shoes have smooth contouring, which adds a hint more femininity. These are as timeless as you can get my friends.

These Christian Louboutin Malachic pumps went on my Pinterest wishlist board immediately. The wingtip vamp is equal parts lady and evil. Just like Malificent, right?

I ended up trying these Mairi heels from Nine West. My last pumps were from Nine West, and they lasted years (with some cobbler touchups). But alas, the vamp pinched my feet too much and sizing up only caused them to slip off my heel as I walked.

I finally settled on Anne Klein’s Christa heels. They fit great, are made of buttery leather, and have an alluring d’Orsay shape. The heel is slightly higher than my general preference (three inches), but they were comfortable for a full day of work last Friday. They seem to have solid construction, so let’s hope they last.

Clovers in Fashion

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! In honor of the holiday, I rounded up some cool examples of clovers in fashion design. Enjoy and Erin go Bragh!








Friday File

I’ve started a new medication, and unfortunately headaches are a side effect. So as I’m typing this, it feels like someone is crushing my brain. As a result, this week’s links have a little less commentary than usual. Hope you can understand. And have a great weekend!

Colin Powell’s 60-year-old selfie.

Muppets on exhibition! So interesting to consider the muppets from a conservation point of view.

My friend Shaelyn goes on a bench-researching quest.

Did society drive van Gogh to commit suicide? A new exhibition in Paris explores that theory.

Painting with nail polish! These must be tricky to produce.

Stories about John Dillinger, Depression-era bank robber, always fascinate me. Recently, a tommy gun stolen by his gang in 1933 was returned to an Indiana town.