Monday, July 28, 2014

The hem that can't make up its mind...

HALLIE EPHRON: When I first saw a pair of four-inch spike heels with horse-hoof toe beds, I thought that trend can't last. And yet it did. For years. Until finally -- if Marshalls, where I shop for my shoes is any indication -- comfortable (wearable!) heels are once again everywhere.

A few years ago it seemed as if anyone endowed on top was letting it overflow. Much more boob and cleavage than I personally wanted to know about was on display from young and old alike. That, too, seems to have ... deflated.

So now comes the skirt with the hem that can't make up its mind.
Short in front, long in back. Show of hands, who thinks this is a good idea? And this dress is from Eileen Fisher, whose clothes I would generally love to be able to afford.

When I posted this on Facebook, there were people who stuck up for it:
"...women who've been 'graced' with ample rear bumpers don't have to worry so much about the hem riding up in the back. Also, there's room in case you leave the ladies room with a bit of dress caught in the pantyhose." (Rhonda Lane)

But for the most part, it was "Looks like it's a mistake" (Sue Robinson) and "the mullet dress." (Cornelia Reed)  And my favorite, from Keenan Powell: "On shirts, it's a public service in the event the wearer bends over. In skirts it's just stupid."

What fashion trends are you digging or avoiding.

RHYS BOWEN:  I've tried on several dresses with that hemline and I simply don't like it. When I was shopping for an outfit to wear for the wedding it seemed that skirts were either halfway up the thigh or long. And if long, then the waist was usually right under
the boobs, making me look pregnant.

It took a lot of shopping before I found an elegant dress online. Most of the sites that were titled "Mother of the Bride" were full of clothes that no sane woman would wear--either bride of Frankenstein or covered in pleats, drapes, fake roses, lots of beads, making the wearer look like a walking advert for Joanne's Fabrics.

 I've come to the conclusion that nobody caters to anyone over 50, expecting us to wear comfortable clothes and lace up shoes, no doubt. If I wasn't fully occupied with writing, I'd start a chain of stores for elegant older women--well tailored clothes, good fabrics and the waist in the right place.

HALLIE: Laughing, Rhys, because most of us "over 50s" would kill to have your shape!

LUCY BURDETTE: I've always like handkerchief hemlines, but that sounds different than what you two were seeing. Rhys, when you start stocking your boutique, make sure you find some dresses that make us look cute. Why shouldn't we still look cute over 50?

For a family wedding this summer, our daughter shopped through She looked adorable--but I went to the site
and was immediately overwhelmed by the choices. I think I need to see something in person and try it on.

I'll tell you one trend I hope never comes back--that's shoulder pads. We went to a Miami Vice party a couple of weeks ago, so I dragged this dress out of the back of my closet. (I know, why is it still in my house??)

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Rhys, I hear you
about waistlines -- why are they always so high? I don't get it. Do most women like that?

And Hallie -- I'm with you on the four-inch-heel shoes, too. Whenever I see a woman wearing them, my first thought is always "Ouch!" and then, "Chinese foot-binding!" — not "What great shoes."

So-called "skinny jeans" — don't even get me started....

Honestly, I know very little about current fashion —I don't even know what the trends are, let alone how to critique them! I'm a New Yorker and just default to black, I'm afraid....

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I thought the "short in front, long in back" was a country fashion thing, not a good look, and one that they will probably view with absolute horror in twenty years...

Lucy, I thought you looked adorable in your shoulder pads! None for me, thank you--my shoulders are broad and square enough
without any help.  No four-inch heels either. Yikes! I think the worst fashion decade of the 20th century for women may have been the eighties. Just watch some old episodes of Miami Vice. The guys looked fabulous, the women... ack.  Will anyone confess to having had Big Hair?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: See, they have to think up new stuff, so people who want to be trendy have to BUY the new stuff. They tried it with "color blocking," right? An easy way for clothing manufacturers to use up odd sized leftover fabric.  Sleeveless dresses? SO much easier to fit, righ? Because you don't have to adjust sleeves.  AND it uses a lot less fabric to make sleeveless things...right ? But do they COST any less? Oh, my dear, no.

Cleavage? Do NOT get me started.
But shoulder pads? Um, subtle ones? I'm, I have to admit, in. And high heels? Oh yes, NOT PLATFORMS. Those are absurd and dangerous, And ugly. But gorgeous high heels can fit beautifully and even be comfortable. Semi-comfortable. Comfortable enough.  And I do wear them all the time.

Big hair and shoulder pads in the 80's? Oh yes, Here I am covering the 1988 Democratic Convention in all my big-haired shoulder-padded glory.

HALLIE: Hank, what sells it is the attitude. You are all Hildy Johnson.

So where are the rest of you in all this? When we look back ourselves, what will we be wearing that prompts us to say: "What was I thinking?"


  1. I'm definitely not a fan of the short-in-front, long-in-back dress [don’t like it on shirts, either] . . . no to shoulder pads, color blocking, skinny jeans, or ultra-high heels of any kind.
    I want to be comfortable, but I don’t want to look sloppy . . . I’m all for Rhys’s elegant clothing . . . .

  2. There is a huge market for clothes that help women of a certain age look good. Why can't someone design beautiful shoes you can walk in all day? The people who design and market clothes simply do not want my money.
    My podiatrist loves the super high heels--he expects them to cause enough foot damage to pay for the higher education of his two bright children.

  3. Sandie, great question: "Why can't someone design beautiful shoes you can walk in all day?"

  4. I agree with Rhys, I came to the same conclusion while shopping for resort wear for a recent cruise. I don't want cleavage down to my navel, just a cute maxi to wear to dinner.

  5. A friend once told me a joke about old-line Boston women. It went, "Where do Boston women buy their hats?" Answer: "They don't. Boston women have a hat."

    At the risk of putting the fashion industry out of business (something it richly deserves), if you buy classic, you eventually do not have to shop. Working from home, I wear jeans shorts (the long ones) in summer, jeans in winter. I favor Lee relaxed fit, which come in varying lengths (I need short or petite). I wear t-shirts in summer, and sweatshirts over t-shirts in winter.

    If I MUST go out in public and those outfits simply won't work, I have some nice black slacks. In winter I wear ribknit turtlenecks with a blazer over them. Maybe a scarf (I have a lot of scarves). In summer I may wear a decent (not logo-ed) t-shirt with a summer blazer.

    I also own one crepe pull-over dress with a matching shirt that acts like a jacket. It packs in no space at all and doesn't wrinkle.

    When I wore dresses, I used to favor double-breasted coat dresses (they just look good on me). But when you wear a dress, you need to wear pantyhose. No thanks. (Working from home, I don't even wear a bra most days).

    Shoes, alas, are always a problem. I have a tendency to wear brands like ECCO which fit decently. I once had a wonderful pair of Charles Jourdan heels (not too high) that had cost me a fortune but were very comfortable and I wore them till they fell apart. For me, the trick is a European last, wide in the front, narrow in the back, cut so there is toe cleavage, because I've learned from experience that those won't hurt. Neither will cheap imitation UGGs from Target, or imitation Crocs from CVS. I used to like low pumps from Mushrooms, but I haven't been able to find them lately.

    The trick is to disregard the size marked on anything and buy what is comfortable (this includes shoes); for dresses, it helps to have a good seamstress or tailor who can alter things so they fit you well. And forget the fads.

    One of my cousin suggests (and she's right), in most instances, "I'm not the bride at this wedding." No one will notice what you're wearing if it is not too revealing and classically designed. And if you're the speaker, you can concentrate better if your feet don't hurt.

  6. Ellen, I don't think young women today wear hose... even in a dress and heels.

    Okay, so here's what I miss: COTTON. Swingy patterned sleeveless cotton dresses for summer. It's all rayon or polyester or jersey and doesn't hang or breathe properly

  7. A friend commented in the 80's that she made the mistake of wearing a blouse with padded shoulders along with a jacket with them. Said she couldn't hear a thing! It was like having on earmuffs!

  8. YES, I so agree. Ignore the size. The sizes of everything are so made up, it's hilarious. (What on earth is a size zero? It's almost satirical.) Just try things on, who cares. Its interesting, too, how much people think about what size we wear. I don't care what you call it at all.

    ANd right, Hallie. No hose.Which is freezing, or sticky, or shoe-wrecking. But if one wears hose, one is instantly "matronly." Now THERE's a word.

  9. Not a fan of the hems in different lengths, empire waists, or shoulder pads. Or skinny jeans. Yes, I look at photos myself in the 80s and think, "What was I thinking?" So does my daughter.

    Speaking of which, if you're trying to shop and find nice, classic clothes for a 14-year old - and you've been successful - please let me know where. The jeans my daughter tried on last night needed two people to remove them.

    My workplace is very casual, so I wear jeans a lot of the time. Lands End stopped making the cut/fit I like, so now it's Lee Perfect fit bootcut - I think. I saved the tag for reference. I like turtlenecks and sweaters in the winter, fitted T-shirts in the summer. I don't like button-downs because I have to iron, but when I do buy them they must be fitted, not boxy. Love blazers.

    Shoes, ugh. I used to wear, and ADORE, cute high heels. And, like Hank, I wore them frequently and they weren't all that uncomfortable. I had a pair of suede knee-high boots with a spiked 3-inch heel that were killer with a denim pencil skirt.

    Then I broke my ankle and my knee went all funky. Yeah, no more heels for this girl. It's flats with cushioned footbeds (love Clarks) all the way. And, I'm sorry, it's hard to find cute flats (and now all my dress slacks have to be hemmed again because they are too long for flats). I have one pair of kitten-heel slingbacks I I really should get rid of, but I won't because they are the only shoes with a heel high enough that my hems don't drag on the ground. But the heel is really too slender for me these days. =(

  10. Well, Ellen, someone with a more active social life might want clothing that has a little more pizazz than simple black slacks and a t-shirt. And a wedding definitely falls into that category, in particular when one is the mother of the groom. Rhys had a legitimate beef there.

    I despair of shopping these days. The stores are CRAMMED full of crap--poorly made, lousy fitting, and of truly ugly design and flimsy fabrics. Manufacturers are having it all made overseas, and there is no such thing as quality control, even in mens clothing these days. I used to be able to buy my husband's pants and they would fit him. Now, the exact same "size" (which seems, like Italian stop signs, to be mere suggestions only) can be too short, too long, too big, too small, or way less often, it could even fit.

    Even so-called couture is poorly made. A friend who can afford to buy anything she'd like (and who has a degree in fashion design, so she knows this stuff) told me even very high-end clothing has cheaply made seams, no linings, and crummy fit. And for way more money! How's that for an idea?

    Remember when shoes actually had arches built into them? My mom and I both have high arches, and when we were walking around the Homearama last week (show homes built into a neighborhood, showcasing builders' features and quality) she complained about her feet aching. I realized her very cute shoes (she's very vain about her feet, and tends to spend a lot of money on shoes) had no arch support. So even though they were flat they were killing her feet.

    Scarves--I totally agree with you on those, Ellen. They can make a big difference. Rhys is good with scarves!

  11. Libby Dodd - Earmuffs indeed! The image cracked me up.

  12. These are a hoot! And Hank, you looked fabulous then (in all your shoulder pad glory) and look fabulous now!

  13. My "go to" outfit hasn't changed in about a beezillion years. Nice fitting jeans (or leggings these days), boots (cowboy boots these days), a white cotton or linen shirt and a scarf. Of course, that's not what I wear every day for every occasion, but it's what I feel most "myself" in. And I love clothes entirely too much. And love a reason to "dress-up." It's one of my favorite things about going to mystery conventions - the chance to wear something other than my work-out clothes! Looking forward to seeing some of you at Killer Nashville, by the way. Hank and who else??

  14. Love this! Quite glad shoulder pads (the big ones) went away, and I wish the overly-exposed cleavage would go as well. The high-low hem definitely is odd. It doesn't even look cute on supermodels, so that should be a sign. I will admit to liking a good skinny jean with a cool boot, but not the super-skinnies or jeggings (the person designing jeggings should be fired). No heels--do you know how hard it is to find a great boot that doesn't have a spike heel?!? Ugh! Slim pants, not those exposing every bump/wrinkle/line. I'm fashion-hopeless, though. My idea of put-together is a Supima cotton, long-sleeve t-shirt in a solid color and lightly tailored to avoid that boxy look, with a boot cut denim pant(Eddie Bauer is the one that works for me), and a pretty scarf or necklace. Add a cardigan, and that's all the pieces I can handle. Don't talk to me about prints--I can't do it. I'm hopeless!

  15. Nothing changes. The Fashion Mafia will always try to destroy women with the stupidest thing on the planet, and so many fall for it.

    The thing I love about seeing guys swaggering around with their jeans crotch at their knees and their waistband around their hips is that it proves not only women are duped into wearing ridiculous clothes.

    As for Mother of the Bride dresses, the only thing worse, of course, are Mother of the Groom (wear beige and shut up)dresses.

  16. Hallie - I'm with you about wanting cotton or linen. I find things I like by Flax at a couple local independent boutique shops and I have good luck at

  17. :) In my defense, may I present one of Julia Sugarbaker's less articulate moments from classic TV's "Designing Women." :) Enjoy the shoulder pads. ;)

  18. Oh, Kaye, I love the linen shirts, too, and thank you for the link. I went there and was met with a display of beautifully colored linen shirts. I plan on going back later and looking more.

    The shoulder pads and big hair pictures from yesteryear are a hoot when I come across them. I didn't have too awfully big hair, but it was there. Hank, you seemed to have pulled it off much better than most.

    I have had one too many bad shoe experiences to attempt to spend a day in high heels. I want comfort, with some style if possible, but comfort is the priority.

    I'm not a fan of the two-length dresses, but, like Lucy, I have seen some handkerchief style ones I've liked. Presently, in need of losing weight, I don't have any style that I like, which is a shame, because I really do like dresses and skirts. I can do skirts a little better than dresses right now. Oh, and the hose issue. I wouldn't wear hose in summer due to the temperature, but in the winter, I think hose are called for. Women do wear hose in winter, don't they? (In cold climates) I have a friend who is most old-fashioned and wears knee-hi hose with slacks, no matter the weather.

  19. Really Hank, no one in the news/TV business wears pantyhose? Hmmm...

    I have chronic plantar fasciitis so I have to wear shoes with high arches or else my orthotics (now there's an ugly word!)

    What I rely on most are mephisto sandals. Yes they are horribly expensive, but they last, and they're sort of cute, and I can walk all over New York City in them--or Key West. That is crucial!

    Karen in ohio, your mother might like them...

  20. Lucy, I just gave away a bag full of heels, though none of them very high, because I have plantar fasciitis in my left foot. I kept one pair that is the most comfortable, hoping I could manage them with a cocktail dress. Sigh.

    Lexi's mom, I have loads of really cute flat boots, but I just put them in summer storage and am trying to remember what brand they are. Will go and look.

    Otherwise, it's Clark and Ecco flats for me--I walked all over London in my Eccos. Spenco flip-flops and Asics tennis shoes.

    (Now there's a linguistics question. Does "Tennis shoe" date me? Should we say "athletic shoe" instead? I like the British "trainers." It covers pretty much every kind of sports shoe, and doesn't sound as fifties as "sneakers."

  21. I had one pair of semi-dressy shoes I wore out. Can't find another that is comfortable. I cracked an ankle bone and later broke a toe and if I my foot is not comfortable immediately it won't be later.
    I had one outfit I wore for any dressy occasion. I lost weight. I can still wear the long jacket.
    The cleavage thing?? It's seems to me to be even worse for big bosomed women. Just because I have them doesn't mean I want to shove them in people's faces. Just the opposite, in fact!!!
    So. I wear a lot of T-shirts.
    Why can't they make the same cute clothes they make for skinny people for larger sizes?? Even gmas don't want to dress like Little House On The Prairie women.
    So I definitely agree with all if you. :)

  22. Speaking from New England where yes it does get cold, NO lots do not wear hose even in winter. Tights, maybe. But often they're bare legged and booted under the skirt.

  23. Melissa Ann SingerJuly 28, 2014 at 1:20 PM

    I am LOL at the high-waisted pants complaints because my teenage daughter, who has very long legs, is fed up with the ridiculously low-waisted (and lower-waisted) pants offered for younger women. She is always so delighted to find something high-waisted or even "natural-waisted." It's a real trial to find things that fit.

    I totally agree on the sleeveless dress issue, though--sheesh, even a little cap sleeve would be nice!

  24. I am so terrible with clothes that I had to invent a character who is always perfectly--and effortlessly--well-dressed, just to take the pressure off. We were invited to a wedding, and I ordered ELEVEN dresses online before I found one that would do. As for shoes, Cole Haan makes heels that are supposed to be like sneakers on the inside. They're not, but they're better than most.

    Hank, I bet you had Dan Rather in a state!

  25. Oh,the shoulder pads! All my 1980s suits and jackets had them and I loved them at the time! It was FUN to be young and relatively well-dressed after years of college and law school poverty.

    I still have one or two of those old jackets and when I wear them -- with jeans -- it's still fun, but in a campy sort of way!

  26. Well, if hose are matronly, just call me Mother Superior! I wear skirts and dresses all the time. In summer, I wear spray hose, which is the greatest invention since bread. When it's not summer, I wear hose aka tights. I have black, blue, green, red, purple, and a wonderful friend surprised me with a pair of brown and black herringbone hose. I also wear fishnets, but only when I feel daring. In winter, I have insulated tights that work better than long johns. And none of mine are uncomfortable or have any of that control top nonsense. These are not your grandma's torturous leggings, but very comfortable for a person like me who likes to wear a dress.

    Shoes...I can't wear heels because my feet are small and I fall over, but they do make a woman's legs look nice. You gotta admit it.

  27. Kathy asked in women in cold climates wear hose in winter. In my limited observation, out here in Montana: no. We wear tights -- heavier, almost knits -- or leggings, or wear boots with skirts and tights underneath. Or skip the skirts and dresses in favor of pants.

  28. Oh, Lucy, I meant to say that you totally rock the Miami Vice party outfit!

  29. Love the shoulder pad photos, Lucy and Hank--I never did the big hair stuff--I was in the field most of the time, dirty and sweaty or freezing my tail off--getting clean, dry, and in a suit or dress for conventions became a novelty almost. My favorite look was the Chanel-knock-off sweater with a pencil skirt, low heels. Never could do those high heels, comfort absolutely comes first.

    But I'm with Rhys, why oh why can't we find well-made clothing that fits AND looks good?? No weird hem lengths, please. With more disposable income, you'd think retailers would offer us something. And Mary, I absolutely deplore young girls/teens fashions these days.


  30. Tights, sure, tights are fine. But nope, no hose. I bet they don't even know what hose is. Are. Whatever.

    Ann Mettert! If you see this, email me, okay? h ryan at whdh dot com
    You won Donna Andrews book!

    Ramona, you do NOT fall over. I just burst out laughing.

  31. Deborah Crombie, I would LOVE a few brands of flat boots to look for! Thank you.

    Big hair, I forgot big hair. Yes--I did some serious damage to the ozone with Aquanet back in the day. . .oh, and the hair was FROSTED. There are pictures, but they are well hidden.

  32. FChurch, you feel my pain. Mostly it's pants and skirts that get us. The pants are too tight, and the skirts are too short. We don't have a problem with shirts or sweaters, but my kingdom for a simple pair of slacks!

  33. Re: hose/pantyhose — I hear the Duchess of Cambridge aka Princess Kate is wearing it/them, and so it's due for a comeback....

  34. "Kathy Cambridge" wears hats, too. I hope they're not making a comeback... because I've got to back to memories of Jacqueline Kennedy to remember anyone I wanted to look like wearing one.

    She also probably fits into one of those "size zero" dresses.

  35. Ramona: "Shoes...I can't wear heels because my feet are small and I fall over, but they do make a woman's legs look nice. You gotta admit it." You are hilarious! Love the image.

  36. Late to the game on this conversation but loving it. The 2 shoe brands I go to regularly for comfort and good looks are:
    Almost all of my great heels come from these 2 brands (including a very trendy pair of wedge heels).
    The best part about Born is that it's sold at Marshalls and TJ Maxx. And I usually get my Aerosoles at DSW - never full price.
    As for fashion I look back on with an ugh - it's endless. Baggy sweaters with leggings (the early 90s), Mork jumpsuits (the early 80s), sequins (my first years in LA). But the ugh factor makes looking back so much more fun!!

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  38. Way back then I wore my super-fine, poker straight hair in an afro. It never really looked good on me. I've been back to a straight hair look for many years now.

    Shoulder pads! I hated them!

    Unless I really need to wear something dressy on my feet, I wear sneakers. It makes my doctors happy and my feet happy.

  39. Oh, Kim, you reminded me: "Mork jumpsuits" - I had one made of turquoise parachute fabric and it was fantastic. I bought it at a trendy store in Los Angeles and wore out the seat or I'd still have it.

  40. Oh yes, Debs. Clarks and Eccos.
    And I discovered Finnish shoes in UK called Mushulu. They are fab in bright colors.

  41. Ok, speaking for the minority, here...I miss shoulder pads! Not the giant Linda Evans on Dynasty look, but a nice little pad to give oomph to my sloping shoulders.

    And to Debs and Lexie's mom...Merrell makes incredibly comfortable casual flat boots, which I buy in my size!! (I suffered with plantar fasciitis for 2 years and could wear Merrells comfortably most of the time.)

    One look from the eighties I'll never miss is the Flashdance torn sweatshirt, hanging low at one shoulder. My daughter decided that was her look and ripped the neckline from every sweatshirt for about two years! It is to laugh!

  42. Those jumpsuits are back in style, Hallie - such a bummer it wore out. You'd love fabulous in it at Bouchercon!!

  43. I think the higher waist comes from "What Not to Wear." The hosts kept talking about buying to fit where one was smallest around, usually above the waist.
    I do not like the high-low look. It looks fine on women with shapely legs but those of us with chunky legs and thick ankles. At least pants cover that up. Skinny jeans were made for women with skinny legs. right now I am having a hard time finding a decent pair of regular jeans because I don't do "skinny."
    I would love a story for older women who want classy elegant clothes. I get so tired of shopping large women's sizes and finding ugly prints and shapes when there are so many cute fabrics, prints and shapes in the regular women's departments