Saturday, December 11, 2010

Transformations -- Settings and Dress




Yes, this is yet another post about opera (and you have one last chance to get to the VOA production of Lucia and hear Eglise Gutiérrez sing coloratura as it's rarely sung) -- but it's also a post about dressing up from your own closet for fancier occasions, and perhaps that's relevant this time of year. . . .

You see, at the opera, we're in our fifth year of season's tickets, our fourth year in the same seats, and that means that we have a nodding familiarity with others who subscribe -- the couple who sit next to us have been sitting next to us four times a year for the last four years. So when I get dressed on an opera Saturday (and our tickets are always for opening night, which can be as dressy as one wants), I know that some of my fellow opera-goers are likely going to recognize "that dress, again." Just as happens when I go to parties in our small community here on the island.

But other than the opera, I haven't got too many places for wearing fancy duds, really, so as fun as it might be, I'm just not going to plunk down all kinds of cash for lovely outfits that would hang in my closet. Oh, there's thrift and vintage for those who have the time, creativity, and confidence, and there's H&M for the young lovelies with the shopping patience, but I've ended up going a different route.

And I realized last Saturday that my approach is somewhat similar to the set designers, at least for this production of Lucia. The brooding unit set the VOA rented from the San Francisco Opera suffices to indicate the opera's various locales with the help of transformative lighting and video and still projections on the scrim screen and a few props. Edited to add that this Vancouver Opera Blog post has a wonderfully instructive AND entertaining description of the set, its history, and a bit of stagecraft context -- If you're at all interested in theatre, the post is well worth looking at, especially for the comparison of the quite steeply raked set to the curves a skateboarder loves to play with.

So that both the interior of the castle
and the woods surrounding it
are created from this

Seeing this backstage before the opera, we could only imagine that the opera would take place outside the castle, as that appears to be the view (indeed, a view as if one were lying on one's back looking up at the castle walls). But the transformation was magically convincing.

I'm not saying I can transform a dress as convincingly as the VOA did with their setting, but I was at least as determined to pinch a penny or two and still look opera-worthy. Last year, before Christmas, I splurged on this black velvet jersey number (Linda Lundstrom), wore it to a few holiday parties and then took it out to listen to Norma.

I styled it very simply -- it's so dramatic as is that I don't think it needs too much -- with a silver First Nations-carved medallion and some red patent stilettoes that hurt by evening's end.

And here it is last Saturday for Lucia, first in a photo that demonstrates its dramatic (or peculiar, depending on your perspective) shape

and in its more normal draping below. My hair's styled differently -- it's long enough now that I can catch it up in bobby pins for a messy updo that I like, and I paired it with nude-coloured-but-shiny-sheer hose and my black Fluevogs (these shoes are as comfortable as they are fun and sexy -- Une Femme has them in orange, and I think she'll agree). The jewelry barely shows up here, but I'm wearing an animal-print cuff and long black-feather-and-jet-beads earrings.

It's entirely likely that my next-seat neighbours will not have registered these differences at all, but merely noted "Oh, she's wearing that dress again." On the other hand, I occasionally note other audience members repeating the same, obviously favourite outfits and I enjoy the familiarity I get from that recognition. My husband, of course, gives no thought to which suit and tie he wore to the last opera or the one before that, and I'm beginning to realize, as a woman of a certain age, that I might borrow a bit of that attitude -- if the dress is good enough to go to one bel canto opera, it's good enough to get out to another. Norma, Lucia, let's see how many operas-named-for-women this little black number can get to.

What about you? Do you feel you have to avoid repeating your outfits at holiday parties or other festive occasions? Or are you happy to wear your favourite dress wedding after wedding? And if you do, do you bother transforming it with accessories or do you stick to what you know works?

15 comments:

  1. I like to keep things simple...if I find a winning combination of accessories I will wear them many times.
    Your Linda Lundstrum dress is a fabulous piece and I remember it from last year. It reminds me that basic black can be like a palette just waiting for adornment...

    It's fun to kick it up a notch and add gems, belts, shoes and scarves...I like the idea of personalizing a basic...maybe taking a fashion risk...in my opinion it's all about having fun!

    Mater you do look like you have fun...
    enjoy the weekend.

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  2. I have a pair of what I call my "tight French pants" that do yeoman duty for me - kind of a sleek fabric with some stretch, narrow-cut, they work well with just about any top, so i can mix & match. I also have some Exclusively Missook separates that work well for me - the button-less cardigan is particularly slimming.

    Your Fluevogs look fabulous, much nicer than the red shoes!

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  3. What a dress!! I love it! I tend to wear the same things--I have a black sheath that goes everywhere--but I do like to mix up the accessories. Tonight, we're going to a holiday party sponsored by DH's union and I'm wearing black velvet separates. I can see wearing the pieces many different ways, both together and separately.

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  4. I still love this dress! Here's my take: because the dress is so simple, I think the "that dress again" perceptions are far reduced than they would have been had you worn and re-worn something with more elaborate styling or an eye-catching color or print. You've changed the overall *look* by changing up the accessories, and I think for most people, it's the sum total presentation that's noticed, rather than the individual elements. I love how you've compared this to the stage setting; yes it's the same concept!
    In short, fabulous dress and wonderful stylings. How happy are we when we find something that we can get this much pleasurable wear from?

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  5. It's a beautiful dress. I like your second styling of it the best. In real life, I do not have enough dressy events to even worry about a possible repeat.

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  6. It's too bad those red shoes hurt because they look gorgeous, especially with that dress.

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  7. Hostess: Thanks . . . you have a brilliant collection of accessories and transform your basic blacks and whites so stylishly.
    Aunt Snow: I love that name for the pants -- and I like the concept as well. I've recently found just such a pair, although mine don't have such a snazzy nickname -- I anticipate they'll do yeoman service for me for decades.
    Nancy DaQ: You're such a clever seamstress I'm sure you whipped those black velvet separates up yourself.
    Pseu: Your analysis works for me -- as so often, you hit that nail right on the head. It's much easier to transform a simple piece or a neutral palette, and I'm glad you appreciated the stage set analogy, because it just really struck me last weekend as so much like what I aim at in my dress.
    Terri: Until we started going to the opera, I had few dressy events myself -- since then, I find that since I've got the clothes anyway, I'll tend to dress a bit more at the slightest excuse.
    Susan T: I loved them too, and tried to make them work for a good year and a half. Finally gave in and passed them along to my daughter, who's very happy to have them (she's a half size smaller than me, shoe-wise, so they're perfect on her).

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  8. Oh I just love this dress! I think you could wear it styled up (like this ) or down, with boots.

    Our current culture tells women to buy more so they have "something different", which is a silly premise. I'd wear this dress again and again!

    Tried it in shop here, but too short for me. FWIW Lundstrom's relaunched line seems to have sunk after two seasons- or if around, not here.

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  9. I adore that dress. If I had a dress like that I'd wear it repeatedly - exactly as Duchesse says.

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  10. That is indeed a fabulous dress, it drapes beautifully. I can't comment on dress up as I so rarely go to upmarket functions, but if I have learned one thing it is to go for a plain base and pile on the jewellery like Iris Apfel. Now there is an excuse to get Pater to buy you some luxe jewellery!
    Now my sister does have this problem but slightly trickier she has one very big event she attends in Cannes each Christmas, as the sponsor she is photographed for the following year's promotional brochure, so can't get away with wearing the same thing!

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  11. I love this dress and love the spin shoes and hose put on the outfit. Yes, I wear the same thing again and again but I do like to give each outing it's own little kick. So like you in the photos will change up the shoes, jewelery, add belt, change the belt etc. etc. Like to keep 'em guessing - not that anyone is actually looking, except me of course.

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  12. Duchesse: You know, I'll have to look at comments on last year's post, but I think I remember you suggesting boots with this then -- I've got to try that! One of the challenges with the dress is choosing a coat that works with that sleeve -- there's quite a bit of fabric on the one side.
    As for Linda Lundstrom's re-launch, the boutique in my very small island city, From A to Zebra, still carries the line -- I just bought a pair of very simple, but perfect, slim black jersey pants of the sort that will do for holiday parties forever. Maybe they've backed up a bit to these safer pieces.
    Tiffany: I know -- I really should follow D's advice and try it with boots.
    Alison: Well, I'd sympathize with your sister -- that's a legitimate problem demanding considerable annual expense and shopping time -- but, um, she's annually at a big event in Cannes getting her picture taken for an important bit of publicity so, um, no, not too much sympathy;-)
    L'Age Moyen: We do seem to have this figured out at our "certain age," don't we? Most commenters seem to agree that we can make do by changing up a favourite dress and repeating.

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  13. I like the last photo best, the asymmetry makes the dress unique. As it is black, it can well be worn over and over, you can change the accessories, add an extra shawl in black or some other color.
    I attend very few occasions, which need dressing up, but I could wear the same outfit with small alternations. Ok, I admit, I wore the same outfit to three funerals in a row, the last one being the one of my mother´s. After the last one, I buried the suit dress as well.

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  14. I still love this dress and love that you are styling it differently. I tend to wear things over and over, but I often style them differently and love to find new ways to put things together. Otherwise I get into a rut of "this always with that" which I am working on breaking.

    I recognized the shoes from Une Femme's blog, although I did not remember them from you. I put them in an online shopping cart several times and then forgot them. Last year was rather scatterbrained that way....just today I went to put on a cozy black sweater I was sure I had purchased only to find it was another one of my virtual shopping failures.

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  15. so funny, Mardel -- you reminded me about a GF years ago who got back from a shopping trip to another city and found, unpacking, that she had only purchased a much-coveted pair of shoes in her imagination. She had meant to go back and pick them up, but some part of her brain ticked that item of the to-do list, and she regretted them for months afterward. These days they'd only be a mouse-click away . . .

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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