Monday, February 23, 2009

Viva Vanessa!

I just wanted to say "welcome back" to one of my favorite J.Crew models, Vanessa. In a time of uncertain retail prosperity and even more uncertain personal futures, it's nice to be drawn in by her carefree spirit and sparkling disposition.

Dropping by the store to catch a sneak peak at the new arrivals, I was greeted by my dear manager who hastily slipped a copy of the new March catalog into my eager hands. After rushing home to peruse the new goods not yet available in stores or online, I saw not only a mouthwatering selection of spring styles, but an ambitious photo shoot 'round the good ole US of A showcasing various American cities.

I was further beside myself with joy to discover the return of "the face that launched a thousand sweaters": the elegant, effervescent Spanish-born stunner Vanessa Lorenzo.

Now, we all have our favorite J.Crew models, as many have their favorite Victoria's Secret Angel (or the boys have their favorite Sports Illustrated swimsuit model). And while no doubt many smiling beauties have bewitched us into scooping up piece after piece of superb J.Crew creations, few models possess her instant likability and luminous charm that appears to radiate from within. She literally lights up each page like a ray of sunshine. She even manages to illuminate a black-and-white shot. (I also like that her nose is a little curvy and quirky like mine, rather than the perfectly chiseled, pert little noses that adorn so many models and actresses.)
I first glimpsed her buried deep in the pages of the August 2007 catalog, where she managed to glow and even frolic in the most staid of suits. She became a mega-hit and an instantly recognizable face of J.Crew after appearing in such successful J.Crew travel campaigns as Paris, Scotland, Rome, and Morocco. She singlehandedly made me want to wear canary yellow all year round, boldly patterned dresses with rubber wellies, and full skirts with open-toed shoes in the middle of winter.

And while this in no way maligns the distinguished efforts of other longstanding J.Crew legends -- including the ubiquitous Anouck Lepere and this as-of-yet nameless doe-eyed, deep-skinned beauty with the soft features pictured above to the left of Vanessa (after all these years, can someone please tell us her name?) -- there is a certain effervescence about Vanessa that stands out. A blissful joie de vivre mixed with unabashed femininity and topped with Grace Kelly's exquisite refinement.

J.Crew must have such strong faith in her ability to empty store shelves that they didn't even bother to airbrush the numerous lines and crows feet circling her eyes in last year's whirlwind "Roman Holiday" catalog. Fine by me, as I've always been a fan of older female models [a definite thumbs up to Lauren Hutton gracing the cover of last month's issue!].

Perhaps this is why J.Crew has heralded the triumphant return of a highly pivotal spring season with Vanessa's luminous demeanor splashed liberally throughout the March catalog? We can't be sure, but let's just say it can't hurt, particularly in a retail climate where nothing is guaranteed and where the most bankable investment is a dazzling bombshell with girl-next-door appeal and exuberance in spades.
Whatever the motivation, Viva Vanessa! Let's hope she remains a J.Crew fixture for seasons to come.

Now excuse me while I go swipe the new Jersey Ruffle Dress she's modeling before it flutters right off the racks...

Sunday, February 15, 2009

J.Crew Aficionadas Night Out in D.C.

The Washington, D.C. area Aficionadas got together, thanks to the stellar planning efforts of Cleo26, for an evening of movies, cocktails, and scintillating conversation. We watched "Confessions of a Shopaholic" and discussed our own shopping adventures. The ladies all wore -- surprise -- J.Crew outfits. And we all looked incredible, if I may say so myself! Yellow and orange were featured prominently, as were chic black & whites along with a bold shot of gold represented by Drewablank's stunning metallic Cherie. Completely unbeknownst to us, sitting right next to us in the movie theater were 3 more D.C. Aficionadas, BirdE and her 2 friends. The Aficionadas definitely rocked the house!

Joining us were Slastena, Drewablank, Christina, Cleo26, Lexiloo, Dinagideon, and myself (3-Penny Princess). Below are the pics. Visit Slastena's blog for a full recap of our fabulous evening!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Bosom Whisperer

I'll be the first to admit it: I'm addicted to lingerie. Well, that plus coats and shoes. Seems like a set of opposites -- one you wear to cover your clothes, the other you wear only under them (unless you're Madonna). Among my first retail jobs in college was peddling pretty panties at Lingerie Cacique, the French complement to Victoria's Secret owned by the same parent company. At the time, it seemed like a boon. Especially since my best friend from high school worked at Vickie's. Between the two of us and our corporate discounts, we accumulated quite a collection of sweet nothings (some that we had to hide from our parents as the whole female seductress role didn't jibe well with a strict Catholic upbringing).

Looking back on those days folding undergarments and sampling the latest boudoir-friendly body products, it was a time in our lives with relatively few major crises. We were content to bring boys back to our dorms and model our latest winnings: shimmery new satin chemises, lacy bustiers, slinky silk bikini panties, and the occasional naughty ensemble from the holiday collection. Yes, those were good times -- that is, until Lingerie Cacique went under and my best friend outgrew her retail post at Vickie's in favor of something more in line with her scholarly pursuits.

But the evidence is still there, overflowing in our dressers and bursting forth from our closets. Two overcrammed drawers devoted to nothing but bras and panties. At least 25 pairs of pajama sets, ranging from satin shorts sets to crisp cotton trousers with camis to cozy flannel jammies for the really chilly nights. A healthy selection of silk slips and who knows how many brassieres. Plus several robes of various materials and now mis-matched slippers.

For a few years after college I avoided Vickie's and the like, mostly out of frustration over ill-fated relationships and my early career-fueled angst. And probably compounded by my complete lack of cash as I frequently couldn't come up with the rent on time. Besides, I stipulated, I should probably be chaste until I got married anyway. Thankfully, when met my future husband, I didn't have to avoid Vickie's anymore. We made faithful pilgrimages regularly to restock my slightly deteriorating collection, purchasing new and better things, and moving up a size (or two) to fit my more womanly frame.

We also discovered (actually, it was my husband who discovered it) Frederick's of Hollywood, which became another regular attraction (more so for him). I didn't care much for their style at first, which I felt lacked the wide assortment of beautiful silky masterpieces and and cheeky sleepwear designs. I also questioned the quality of their lingerie, which more than once fell apart at the slightest sign of struggle. I likened them to a cheap one-night-stand, or the type of attire that a call girl would wear. Vickie's, on the other hand, was safely in the realm of trophy wife -- or at least high-class mistress -- favoring sensuality and femininity over full-on working girl.

My husband took a different opinion. He reveled in the make-believe world that could be created in our bedroom from the cheap Freddie's (as we came to call it) cabaret outfits. One of his favorites was the French Maid costume, which he frequently made me wear around the house while I pretended to dust the inch-thick layer that enveloped every surface of our home. He also had a thing for the pink marabou-trimmed babydoll teddy which we instantly nicknamed "Bunny", prompting me to buy a pair of matching bunny ears to wear with it. He especially loved the naughty Santa getup, which of course I wore around the holidays to deliver early "presents." I blushingly admit a fondness for the harem girl outfit, which transported me back to my longtime fantasy of "I Dream of Jeannie" crossed with stories out of "Arabian Nights." But that's neither here nor there.

Alas, the fantasy costumes, along with the fine silks and French lace from the ever-improving Vickie's collections slowly made their way to the back of the closet, as married life took on its more customary form. There were jobs to rush off to, bills to pay, floors to vacuum, mutual friends to meet, and a host of other household duties and responsibilities. Even my husband's previous enjoyment of "soft porn" on Showtime and Skin-e-Max faded into the month's new action/sci-fi show followed by the nightly news.

It was therefore with some surprise (and not a small amount of amusement) that I came home one Friday evening a year ago to find him glued to the sofa, his eyes fixated on the television watching "The Ghost Whisperer." Normally, he wouldn't watch a show on a prime-time network, let alone on a non-high definition channel. Football and the news were about the only things that slipped in among the fortified diet of basic cable and high-definition programming. So why in God's green earth would my better half be home on a Friday night watching the mediocre melodrama "The Ghost Whisperer"?

Well, it didn't take me the better part of 5 minutes to figure out why. Three words: Jennifer Love Hewitt. Or to be more precise, the lead played by the above mentioned's boobs, with the supporting role played by J.Love. Now, before you brush me off as a jealous housewife, I challenge you to watch 10 whole minutes of that show and produce even one scene where 1) Jennifer's "girls" are not being displayed front and center in carefully filmed and perfectly costumed perfection, or 2) a male character of any age (dead or alive) is not carrying on an intimate conversation with her bosoms. (I will admit that the role of her husband, played by hottie David Conrad, helped reel me in for a couple of episodes.) Hence, I quickly nicknamed the show "The Bosom Whisperer" and poked endless fun at my honey's (completely understandable) fascination with it.

Let me be honest: I have nothing whatsoever against Jennifer Love Hewitt (or her perfectly perky ample bust). I loved her in Party of Five and the I Know What You Did Last Summer films. Moreover, I genuinely felt that she deserved to be named one of the "Sexiest Women" alive for 10 years in a row by FHM and Maxim Magazine (my husband still treasures the FHM cover that she graces). I'm thrilled that she produced and starred in the 2000 television biography "The Audrey Hepburn Story", which chronicled the early life and film success of one of my all-time favorite stars (and fashion role models). While I wouldn't nominate her for an Oscar by any means, I certainly wouldn't boycott her work as some people have done based on the absurd premise that her boobs are fake.

Don't laugh -- I had an ongoing bet with my (male) friend Jaime for years about whether or not J.Love's breasts are the real deal. Which was never really answered, since the actress insisted that they were precisely the specimen she was born with, and naturally the conniving press conjured up with countless "evidence" to suggest otherwise. Jaime always came up with new and different "tests" to determine when a girl's breasts were fake. Everything from noting the floatation of breasts in a swimming pool to the amount of jiggle when exercising to measuring the roundness of the arch. Apparently, there are dozens of other reported ways to tell if boobs are fake.

It's a well known fact that most of Hollywood's starlets aren't altogether real. "Nip-Tuck" is far from fiction. Nearly 11.7 million cosmetic surgical and nonsurgical procedures were performed in the United States in 2007, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic surgery. And while it's no secret that Beverly Hills is the breast implant capital of the world, plastic surgery is also flourishing in some rather unexpected places. In South Korea, surgeons estimate that at least one in 10 adults have received some form of surgical upgrade and even children have their eyelids done. Did you know that Tehran is alleged to be the world leader in rhinoplasty with over 100,000 nose jobs per year? And not just for women, either, as men flock to get their noses resculpted by the thousands. Illicit procedures are an even bigger threat worldwide. Although there are less than 50 licensed plastic surgeons in Indonesia, an estimated 25,000 illegal procedures are performed each year in Jakarta alone.

Be that as it may, it makes absolutely no difference to me whether a celebrity -- or any other person -- boasts a brand new body achieved by surgery or any other means. Furthermore, it's no skin off my nose whether a star opts to display a modest rack or insists that her cups overfloweth. Thus I can't understand the incessant witch hunts undertaken by the media to identify celebrities that have gone under the knife. It's not like the beauty industry would suffer either way -- Americans spend over $7 billion per year to make themselves look better. Is coloring one's hair or wearing makeup any less artificial than adjusting the size of one's boobs? Does wearing sexy clothes contribute to the objectification of women? Are girls who opt for large bosoms compensating for small brains? Certainly not, considering the number of attorneys, doctors, businesswomen, and other female professionals who choose breast augmentation. So why does it matter if a female star enhances her God-given bust size so long as she is talented?

That, of course, is the big "if". Many argue that, were it not for their buxom breasts, plenty of starlets (ahem, Pamela Anderson, Denise Richards) would be out of a job. But the fact is, Hollywood will always love a big-busted gal, since she sells out the house. Unfortunately, it doesn't mean that ample bosoms and a portfolio of plastic surgery will guarantee an actress's success. Demi Moore reportedly spend $450,000 to improve her body in hopes of racking up a collection of plum acting roles. No one will dispute that she racked up a hot younger man, a couple of prime supporting roles, and a whole lotta press. But she has yet to resuscitate her flailing career.

So how has Jennifer Love Hewitt succeeded in balancing 4 seasons of one of the most popular prime-time dramas little more than bouncy waves and well-endowed cleavage? We'll never know for certain, but I will postulate this: in addition to an ample bust and flowing hair, J.Love has oodles of charm. She also has a killer wardrobe on set. Here's my theory: Perky breasts + effervescent charm + cascading locks + uber-girly wardrobe = Hollywood jackpot$$$. If you've got this winning combination, who cares of you don't win the talent show? Some of Hollywood's most lovable stars may never take home an Oscar -- Jessica Alba, Jennifer Aniston, Jessica Simpson, Kate Hudson to name a few... But we love 'em anyway.

So, what can we learn from J.Love and her sisters? Pamper your hair, load up on the charm, and most importantly, perk up your rack. Whether you bear an A cup or a Double-D, make the most of what your momma gave you.

First, get thee to a proper fitting. An estimated 2 out of 3 women wear the incorrect bra size. Let the experts help you get the right measurement. Victoria's Secret and almost any reputable lingerie shop offer complimentary bra fittings. Experts recommend that you get remeasured after weight changes of 10+ pounds, pregnancy, and post-menopause. Need quick answers? Visit Vickies "Fitting Room" to find out how to solve your daily dilemmas like slipping straps, uncomfortable underwire, and bands that ride up.

Next, strategize for success. Undergarments these days can take care of just about any trouble that's bothering you. Whether you're looking to upgrade, slim down, perk up, or just be a smooth operator, put the right tools to work for you. That is, get bras that will take care of support, coverage, comfort, and movement.

After more than a century of engineering, we've come a long way, baby. Undergarments now rival automobiles when it comes to choosing shapes, materials, and functions.

Need a lift? Nothing beats a push-up bra to raise your girls front and center. The almighty push-up bra is arguably Hollywood's most vital tool used to launch both breasts and careers. Remember Molly Ringwald's trick in "The Breakfast Club" where she leans into her bosom while balancing a tube of lipstick between her boobs and proceeds to swipe a coat onto her lips? (Okay, I'm dating myself slightly). Well, that famous film moment was brought to you by a great push-up bra. The basic principle is this: no matter what your size and where your girls fall naturally, if you give them a firm squeeze from the bottom and push them close together, you too can win the hearts of audiences everywhere (not to mention make empires rise and fall).

Just about any manufacturer makes a version of the classic push-up bra. All you need to do is choose the 1) the padding, 2) lift, 3) coverage, and 4) the strap type.

Padding ranges from completely unpadded to lightly-padded to va-va-va-voom to fill out that low-cut sweater. If you've got fuller cups but just want to bring them close together for a more defined cleavage "line", opt for an unpadded or lightly-padded version. If you're looking to build volume under a sexy evening dress, then by all means go for the heavy padding.
Victoria's Secret Sexy Little Things (R) Adjustable push-up bra even lets you choose the amount of lift. An adjustable front center strap lets you morph from "natural" to "moderate" to "extreme cleavage".

Need even more oomph? Pump it up. Recent incarnations of the push-up bra borrow from the popular Air Jordan sneakers of the 1980s: just push the little pump and add some air. The more lift you need, the more you pump. The lightweight alternative to heavily padded bras, air-pump bras can add instant lift and "boobage" without carrying the extra bulk. Try the Huit Just A Kiss Air Bra or the Nikita Pump Bra. Alternatively, kill several birds with one stone with Victoria's Secret Angels Air(TM) Multi-way bra, which, in addition to air-filled padding lets you choose your strap options for regular, strapless, and halter options.

Many women have voted the Victoria's Secret Very Sexy push-up bra with Gel-Curve(R) to be the holy grail of push-up bras. Claiming to offer more natural-looking endowment, the bra cups are padded with a water-silicone gel filling. Rated as "Level 4-Extreme Lift" and "Level 5-Ultimate Lift" in the Victoria's Secret "Swell" category, this bra promises to raise your cleavage to new heights while eliminating lines and providing a believable feel to your curves.

Feeling passed over in the cleavage department altogether? Add a chicken cutlet (or two) to any bra, swim top, or shelf-cami. The industry term for real-looking (and feeling) silicone inserts that can be slipped into any bra for instant boobage, chicken cutlets cutlets allow you to build your ideal size in each breast, which is a major help for those who have uneven cleavage needs. This can be a great solution for women who have undergone partial or full masectomies and want to re-create the form of real breasts. Victoria's Secret naturally offers its own version, Style Secrets(R) Push-up shapers, which add 2 full cup sizes.

Coverage is another choice you can make. The coverage you need depends on two things: the size and shape of your breasts, and what you're wearing over the bra. A demi-bra works for most scoopneck, jewel, and v-neck tops and for most cup sizes. It covers roughly two-thirds of your breasts while exposing the top third. The answer to a deep v-neck or a plunging neckline is a plunge-bra, which covers only the base of your breasts and just above the nipple area, leaving the rest open for that daring low-cut dress or blouse. Sometimes, however, a sheer blouse or a fitted t-shirt requires full coverage, which gives a nice curve as well as a smooth line underneath.

Sometimes, you need ultimate smoothness in addition to good coverage under a thin blouse or see-through tee. Enter the t-shirt bra. My personal favorite, it offers full coverage, a comfortable fit, moderate shaping, and --most importantly, smooth lines under even the sheerest of blouses. The best t-shirt bra I had ever tried hailed from the old lingerie store where I worked and was aptly named the t-shirt bra. Since then, I've tried various incarnations under several names including Victoria's Secret T-shirt demi-bra, Ipex(R) demi-bra, and Victoria's Secret Pink(R) T-shirt bra. I did not find the Ipex(R) demi-bra particularly comfortable, and I didn't find that the T-shirt bras provided a smooth shape under a close-fitted tee. However, I would like to try a more recent version, the Ipex(R) Wireless bra, which claims to be "Smoother and lighter than ever with no nipple show-through... Virtually weightless coverage".

In fact, a wireless bra is now available with all types of shaping and coverage. Whale bone was once used to frame women's bosoms, while most of the second half of the 20th century was defined by metal underwire. Fortunately, we now have access to all the lift and padding we need without feeling like we're wearing a straitjacket. Victoria's Secret offers a wide assortment of wireless bras that provide "light support with a flexible natural fit." An added benefit is the elimination of lines for a truly invisible contour under clothing.

Finally, don't be held hostage by your straps. To keep up with the ever changing tides of fashion, bra straps now conform to your every whim. There is literally a plethora of strapless bras from just about every brand out there. Furthermore, you don't have to commit to your straps when you buy a bra. Just get a convertible bra and you'll be prepared for whatever your closet throws at you. This versatile bra shapeshifts from two straps to one strap to no strap at all in seconds. Truly the desert-island undergarment, it gives you the most bang for your buck while helping make packing for travels a breeze. Not surprisingly, Victoria's Secret makes an excellent selection of Multi-Way bras. The Swiss Army knife of bras is the Very Sexy(R) 100-Way bra. It slices, it dices, it sings, it dances... oh, and as the name implies, it can be worn 100 ways, including: regular, strapless, single strap, halter, backless, low back, low front, front disconnected, front criss-cross, back criss-cross, front halter with back criss-cross -- anyway, you get the picture. One of my favorite convertible bras is also my favorite t-shirt bra: the completely unsung Victoria's Secret Pink(R) Strapless bra. It provides a totally smooth shape, complete coverage with minimal padding, and convertible straps all in one relatively inexpensive package.

Even traditional side straps have really evolved. Now, many Victoria's Secret convertible bras come with two sets of straps: the ones that match the bra, and transparent plastic straps. Or, how about the Sexy Little Things(R) Diamante bra straps -- a lovely double strand of little rhinestones that can be clipped into the strap eyelets of any convertible bra -- to really glam things up?

Every once in a while (or all the time if you live in Hollywood), you may find yourself in need of undergarments that really act as secret agents. When you dare to go really bare, bring in the army of Victoria's Secret Style Secrets(R) adhesives. Starting with the smallest possible coverage, the Band-Aid-like Floral Shape Adhesives and its slightly more padded cousin, the Adhesive Smooth Gel Petals, provide no-frills nipple coverage. The same stick-on principle can go a step further and give your girls a little squeeze to the middle or some hidden lift without adding any extra padding. Try either the basic Adhesive Push-ups, the Adhesive Front Closure Push-up, or the Adhesive Invisible Lifts. Need to go bare while defining shape? The Invisible Shaping Bra, an adhesive silicone bra front with a front closure, looks and feels like real cleavage without blowing your cover. Okay, so what if you plan to wear a totally plunging dress, a la the Jennifer Lopez "scarf" worn at the 2000 Grammys? No problem, just stick on the Reveal(R) Silicone bra, adhesive individual silicone cups that provide shape, lift, and add a full cup size with absolutely no trace of underpinnings. Finally, don't forget Hollywood's best kept non-secret, Fashion Tape. The clear double-stick strips eliminate restless dress straps, gaping blouse fronts, and peekaboo slips once and for all. For more shaping solutions, including lower-body problem solvers, check out the Victoria's Secret shapewear collection.

The athletically inclined everywhere can rejoice now that sports bras no longer mean sporting a uniboob. Today's versions not only keep the girls from bouncing around but also offer such added features as moisture wicking, ventillation, reinforced nipple coverage, a choice of closures, extra lift, and, of course, a little volume. You can find high-tech versions at Vickie's, or, you can emulate your favorite stylish athlete by wearing their own designs, such as Anna Kournikova's Shock Absorber Sports Bra.

Once you've learned how to display (and conceal) the desired aspects of your bosoms, go a step further by maximizing your cleavage with the right clothes. If you've got a smaller, naturally perky bust, close-fitting sweaters were made for you. You'll also want to take advantage of bateau (boatneck) necklines which highlight the collarbone with their wide opening and and form an attractive sillouhette over the bustline. Are you blessed with generous, flowing bosoms? Put them on display in a strategic square or scoop neckline. A halter top or dress can also streamline large bosoms while shrinking broad shoulders. When in doubt, a moderate v-neck (and its cousin the jewel neck) is almost universally flattering and can enhance all bustlines.

If you have a fuller figure on top, steer clear of patterns and gravitate to darker shades on top. This will help even out your proportions. On the other hand, if you're bottom-prominent or need to enhance your top, wear lighter shades on top and play with large patterns. In addition, consider fabric detailing like shirring, ruffles, and pleats to create more volume on top.

Now you're ready to put the finishing touches on your girls. Here's a cleavage enhancing makeup trick I learned from my photographer friend in college: play up light and dark tones to reshape your bosoms and to get a more striking cleavage. Apply a darker color of bronzer or powder in the area down the middle of your chest, between your breasts. Blend the color upward and outward, creating a V-shape and along the natural curve of the breast. Next, take a lighter color of face powder or eyeshadow like white or light gold on the top half of your breasts. Blend well with a makeup sponge. Add more dark color in the center to build and deepen the color. You can also add sparkle to your decollete(along with your collarbone and shoulders) by dusting on a light coating of shimmer powder or gold-flecked bronzer. This will draw subtle attention to your cleavage.

Finally, don't forget to take care of your cleavage. Skin care specialists harp endlessly that you must do unto your decollete that which you do to your face. That means cleanse gently, exfoliate regularly, and moisturize, moisturize, moisturize! For chest area acne, use salicylic acid to treat spots. I once heard of a middle-aged woman who dunked her rack daily into a bowl of ice water. She swore it prevented sagging. Ouch! While I can't comment on whether or not it worked, I can say that slathering seaweed and mud-based masks will help keep skin supple and firm.
Need more inspiration? Look no further than the Queen of cleavage herself, Jennifer Love Hewitt. Watch "The Ghost Whisperer" on Friday nights at 8:00 ET. Or, if you've got better things to do, just check out photos and video clips of the show at

Of course, some lingerie is best appreciated for its own sake. In the spirit of Valentine's Day, here are some of my favorite sources for unapologetically pretty, feminine, and totally sexy sweet nothings:

Victoria's Secret Sexy Little Things(R) and Glamour Collections

Online Boutiques