Festive frocks

Whether it’s an office party, a charitable special event, or formal family dinner, chances are you’ll be getting dressy this holiday season.

What are the best looks for 2018 celebrations?

December is the perfect time to channel your inner elf and wear velvet, faux fur, and satin. At other times of the year, these lux fabrics can look out of place, but they are stand-outs for holiday parties.

Velvet is a popular fabric for winter dresses and skirts. A new trend this season is wide leg velvet pants. They look great with a simple top and boots, and the bonus is how comfortable and cozy they are to wear.

Thanks to its softness and drape, satin is often styled into flowing tops and pussy-bow blouses. This is a great traditional look for the holidays.

Or try a different look in satin and riff on the wildly popular kimono trend. Dress up a long kimono with a skirt or leggings underneath and belt it at the waist to create a dress.

If you want to invest in a piece you’ll wear again and again, consider a sequinned jacket or blazer. For a dressy affair, pair it with elegant black pants or over a sheath dress. For a casual look, wear it with denim and a simple t-shirt.

Another unique and cozy holiday look is to pair a glitzy long skirt with a chunky knit sweater.

Double your festive quotient by choosing any of these pieces in seasonal colours of red, green, and gold.

Want to join in the holiday spirit but not the fancy type?

You can go the completely unglamorous route with an ugly Christmas sweater. These acrylic monstrosities are available at many local novelty stores. Bonus points for ones that make noises and light up.

If new clothing is not on your holiday wishlist, you can always add seasonal sparkle to an outfit with accessories. Green jewelled earrings or red shoes with an LBD creates a dramatic and classic Christmas look. 

Happy Holidays!


Faces over forty

Around age 40, most women start to notice changes in their facial skin.

The top-most layer of subcutaneous fat thins and we lose any last vestige of “baby face,” lines start to appear around the eyes and lips, and eyebrows get sparser.

Fashion pundits have long created all sorts of rules for women over 40 — thou shall not wear mini-skirts or have long hair. When it comes to makeup, we are told at this point, we are too old for glitter eyeshadows, bold eyeliner and bright lipsticks.

Local award-winning makeup artist Jenny Mckinney, 45, chooses not to look at her aging this way.

“I made a promise to myself not to get swept up in fighting aging; it’s a losing battle,” she said with a laugh.

However, during times of change, it is smart to do an assessment on one’s beauty routine.

“How do I celebrate how I am now instead of trying to make myself look like I did back then?”

During 20 years as a professional makeup artist, she has learned how someone can either block or enhance their radiance.

“And what blocks radiance most is doing the same routine for five or more years, never adapting as our faces change.”

On the other side of the globe in Australia, professional makeup artist for film and television Julie Mikeska, age 49, agrees.

“What you wore in your 20s probably won’t work in your 40s, so you need to update the techniques that you use,” Mikeska adds.

But what to change and how to start?

With cosmetic companies introducing new products and trends daily, it can seem overwhelming and some women just give up on makeup altogether.

“Don’t feel threatened when you go into a makeup store and there are lots of teenage shop assistants running to help you,” Mikeska says.

“They should be trained in what suits mature skin, or find someone who is around your age and ask them for advice.”

Both Mckinney and Mikeska agree the best base is healthy skin, so self-care, cleansing and moisturizing should be a priority.

“We are attracted to skin that looks alive, that has a certain level of dewiness,” explains Mckinney.

To achieve this, find a concealer and tinted moisturizer that work with your skin. Dense cream foundations, concealers, and heavy powders tend to settle in fine wrinkles and accentuate them, so explore products that are thinner and silky with light-reflective properties.

Mckinney is a fan of NARS tinted moisturizer and Mikeska recommends Bobbi Brown and MAC Longwear Pro concealers.

Ensure you are choosing the right base colour and blend well to avoid the dreaded demarkation line between foundation and your skin.

Note that your skin colour may change between seasons; having a few different colours that you can custom-blend to suit your skin tone is an option.

There are also many products on the market now, including colourless primers, that contain silicones that fill lines and create a blurred light effect to soften the look of skin.

For a basic day look, both makeup artists suggest sticking with neutral warm tones for a flattering monochromatic look.

“Warmer colours are more complementary to our skin, so they are usually best for eyes and blush,” says Mikeska. “Anything like silvers or blues will be very harsh on the eyes and give a dated look.”

As we age, we lose colour in our cheeks. On the other hand, losing baby fat means our cheekbones are more accentuated. So blush can be an ally in creating a radiant look.

Mckinney likes Glossier brand cloud paints and Make Up For Ever cream blush, using a dense natural/sythentic mix brush to buff the product on.

If you are noticing dry lips and feathery wrinkles around the mouth, use an exfoliating lip scrub and balm before applying colour. Mckinney suggests choosing a lip colour just a bit deeper than your natural lips.

The trend of ultra-matte and nude lipsticks tend to be drying and can be aging, so glosses and creamier formulas work well.

As eyebrows tend to thin as we age, both artists recommend using either a brow pencil or a brow powder to fill in and shape the brows. This, along with mascara, helps accentuate the eyes for a simple day look.


So, what about rules and trends?

Mckinney and Mikeska have two words for you: Rock it!

“Makeup is there for fun, so if you like something then wear it with pride and own it,” says the Australia-based artist.

Mckinney concurs. “Makeup is a way to celebrate, to enjoy a mood. We’re not all meant to look the same.”

They say women over 40 can use shimmery eyeshadow; there is a way it can be worn that is elegant and beautiful by mixing it with matte or using on the centre of the lid.

And bright lips?

“A bold lip with just bronzer and mascara can be a great look,” says Mckinney.

“Adding a dramatic eyeliner for a big night out or a bright lip to match a special outfit can always look stunning,” Mikeska adds. “Just don’t do everything at once; just have one prominent feature at a time.”

In all cases, the important thing is to feel confident in your choices versus fearful of mistakes. Some of the great 40 plus icons of our age are famous for their dramatic looks, like Iris Apfel’s signature fuchsia lips and blue eyeshadow.

As the holiday season approaches, Mckinney says this is a good time to experiment with your personal look.

Many makeup brands create value gift sets in a range of colours, so even if you don’t use them all it can still be less expensive than buying regular-sized products.

“It’s a fun way to dip into a new look and bring your own style to whatever the trend is.”

Are designers crazy?

Have you ever seen images from the Parisian catwalks and wondered “who in their right mind would ever wear that, much less pay thousands to do so?”

Some of the so-called designs coming from couture houses range from the bizarre to the impractical to downright ugly.

Looking at such crazy get-ups, it’s easy to be dismissive of fashion. However, don’t assume whatever happens on those catwalks is irrelevant to you.

In the fascinating documentary The September Issue, Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour explains how the looks presented during fashion shows end up trickling down into the stores we mortals shop at.

Often, the creations on the catwalks are over-the-top exaggerated versions of the esthetics the designer are trying to capture, and will never be put into retail production.

Instead the general themes — the colours, fabrics and silhouettes — will be translated into wearable pieces for the designer’s collection.

Then these trends are mimicked by the contemporary mass market clothing producers and end up in your closet.

And it has been thus for all of history.

In centuries past, couture fashion houses, with men as the professional creators and women as seamstresses, styled the nobility and wealthy.

When they created a new look — a different neckline, a shorter skirt, a blouson sleeve — that style was soon adopted by the tailors clothing everyone.

It has only been in the last few generations that independent designers and female professionals have gained popularity, such as Coco Chanel.

Sometimes their catwalks have been more about show than fashion as they explore issues of gender identity, class, and commerce through their collections.

The late brilliant Alexander McQueen is a good example. His fashion shows were a spectacle, complete with strobing lights and booming music. His daring ensembles made statements about Scottish culture and myth.

While I can appreciate the theatrics of McQueen’s shows and the exquisiteness of his tailoring, I have little room in my wardrobe for his couture gowns. Unless I end up getting an invitation to New York’s Met Gala, not likely.

If you are like me, there is a ray of light amid the designer craziness as a crop of new women-focused, minimalist ethical tailors gain traction.

They create simple functional clothes in quality fabrics that are sustainably sourced. Some of the best are AYR (All Year Round), Sassind, and Grana.

Make your leather last

If you follow this column, you know I am a fierce proponent of investing in quality and taking care of it.

Leather goods epitomize this principle. Well-made leather handbags, shoes, belts and jackets can be costly but can also serve for years, even decades, if properly cared for.

I have a vintage pigskin handbag that is almost 60 years old, and though now delicate, it still draws compliments. I also get lots of use from a thick leather belt bought in Mexico in 1988.

Before I delve into leather care, I just want to add a note about sustainability and veganism.

It’s very true that the use of hides from live animals is controversial and the tanning process has environmental consequences.

While I’m no expert in the subject, I also suspect that purchasing multiple cheaply-made pleather products, derived from petroleum, also has negative impacts for our world.

Whether you believe in using faux leather or real leather, the principle of buying quality for long-term use still applies. But in this column, I am going to be talking about animal hides.

Leather from cows, sheep, goats and lamb has the remarkable ability to be breathable and mouldable while at the same time being amazingly strong and durable. For these reasons, it’s no wonder it has long been the choice for footwear and accessories meant to stand the test of time.

At its essence, leather is simply dried skin. A leather care expert I once spoke to likened it to our human skin — over time, it will become drier and thinner. But this process can be slowed by regular cleaning and conditioning.

This is especially the case for raw, glove-tanned or vegetable-tanned leather. Think of the kind that baseball gloves are made of.

This kind of leather is thick with a suede underside, often used in cowboy boots, western belts and casual handbags.

I recently bought a Penny style Coach bag off eBay for $10. The date coding system used by Coach at the time tells me it was produced in 1992. The leather is soft and chewy, but it arrived very dirty.

The great thing about this kind of leather is the ease with which it can be revived. After thoroughly researching the procedure, I gave it a bath in soft dish soap and warm water to remove excess oils and stains. 

Using standard garage tools, I took off the hardware to remove “vert-de-gris” underneath — the green patina the can develop around brass — and polished the pieces with Brasso.

I filled the waterlogged leather with towels, as best approximating the proper structure of the bag and let it dry for two days. Then followed with several coats of Leather CPR, available at Bed, Bath and Beyond, to restore the softness. 

Of course, a wet bath isn’t the right thing to do with all kinds of leather. Before you attempt to clean or condition any hides, follow any instructions provided by the manufacturer.

If you don’t have access to the maker of the product, do as much research as possible on the Internet to determine the best procedures for your type of leather. 

Tandy Leather and Fiebing’s are leather craft companies that include great instructional videos, tips and articles on their websites.

Or take your leather to an expert for advice. In Kelowna, I have found the staff at Roy’s Shoe Repair downtown and at Diamond H Tack Shop on Kirschner to be very knowledgeable and helpful.

Many of today’s modern jackets, shoes, and handbags are made of thinner pebbled leather or lambskin which can be dyed to vibrant colours. In many cases, dirt or stains can simply be wiped off using unscented baby wipes.

These types of leathers will only need the occasional conditioning using a generic leather balm. Always do a patch test first to ensure the conditioner doesn’t pull off any dye.

Do you have a favourite leather piece that, despite regular care, is now showing wear and tear? You don’t have to despair. There are several specialty products designed to restore your leather goods to near-new shape. 

It is common for leather to show abrasion scuffs on areas where the leather has been stretched or folded, such as cuffs and seams. Carefully applying a matching leather dye or coloured polish on these areas can minimize the look of the wear.

Fiebing’s also makes an “Edge Kote” product specially designed for sealing raw leather edges with a more durable plastic-like film.

If a light coloured leather is stained beyond hope, or if you simply don’t like the colour of your piece anymore, there are many products available to dye leather.

Again, lots of research and patience is needed for this type of restoration. I’ve ended up destroying as many pieces as I’ve saved trying to change the colour. But when it works, it can be miraculous. 

Holes or cracks, stubborn stains and ripped seams often call for more serious intervention. Thankfully there are numerous leather care “spas,” companies that specialize in restoration and repair.

As a DIY-er, I haven’t tried any of these services yet so can’t personally vouch for a particular company. But they are definitely worth investigating instead of binning a beloved leather article.

What is your oldest piece of leather fashion? 

More Fashion File articles

About the Author

Marla is best known for her 19-year career in the local charitable sector as a fund development and marketing manager with the Okanagan Regional Library, United Way, UBC Okanagan, and Kelowna Community Resources. 

In 2014, Marla and her husband decided to take a break from the work world, and, four years, later they are still enjoying Okanagan summers, winters in Mexico, and extensive travel. 

Marla has had a life-long passion for fashion, designing her own graduation dress and formal gown for the 1990 Miss Interior competition before age 20.

In 2014, she was named one of nine Style Ambassadors for a year-long marketing campaign at Orchard Park Mall. Her motto is “Life is short...you might as well go through it looking good."

If you have a style question or topic you’d like Marla to cover in this column, contact her at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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