Q: What do I get a girl for Christmas who I have been casually seeing for one month? —Late to the Party
A: Some of us have been with the same woman for more than a month, and in some cases even several months, and have faced the same Christmas gift-giving dilemma. From experience we can say one thing is for certain: physical objects are an absolute no-no. Even seemingly sure-fire presents like sports cars and private islands can blow up in your face — "This latitude is too low!" — and the return policies are a nightmare.
This is why we strongly recommend this simple, convenient, relatively affordable, and extremely popular solution: a spa gift certificate.
There isn't a woman on earth who doesn't like to be pampered with a facial, massage, pedicure, or achiote hydrating wrap, and in some cases the treatments are mutually beneficial. Further, depending on how much you want to spend, this gift opens up several hours of free time to watch a football game, drink beer with your mates, or do both of those things simultaneously.
Q: This week I realized I still have the piercings I got in high school, but I'm in university now. As an 18 year old hoping to be a little classier than she started out as once I'm done with my schooling, what are your stances on piercings? I have my ears pierced twice over, as well as a simple cartilage piercing. I usually wear small sliver sleepers. I also have my naval pierced (despite knowing it's trashy) and am justifying it because only my boyfriend has seen it. I haven't changed it either, since anything that dangles or had rhinestones was just too gaudy even for my younger self. Should I take any of these out? What should I wear if I keep them in? Thank you! — Tessa
A: Our favorite Ask the MB submissions are the ones where readers answer their own question. It's a real timesaver!
Trust that your forthcoming jewelry and infection-reduction strategy is firmly grounded in the core principle of understatement, and would be zealously endorsed by MB patriarch Paul Fussell (RIP), who wrote in Class, "Both men's and women's elite looks are achieved by a process of rejection — of the current, the showy, the superfluous." He's talking about cartilage piercings here, Tessa.
Best of luck in college, and may any naval scarring be at a minimum.
Photojournalism's most prized quarry? It used to be the rare and elusive snow leopard. In the last few years, however, a new grail emerged: An image of Miley Cyrus with her tongue fully concealed. And, at last, W magazine has managed to do it — not just once, but at least four times! We suspect camera traps were involved, but heartily applaud their tenaciousness and ingenuity just the same.
The big problems with tube tops in our opinion? They're too concealing, with too much tube and too much top. This COMME des GARÇONS piece solves that problem. It's more like a mudflap for breasts — ingenious! And yet classy enough to wear in the board room. Who says leather chestwear is only for dominatrixes?
The first in a regular series on MB: Things We Wish Women Would Wear More Often. For the inaugural post, we choose this Jil Sander silk crepe miniskirt, on sale for just $125.
Have you seen a candidate for Things We Wish Women Would Wear More Often? Send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us why in 140 characters or less (including the link). Example: "Don't worry, this silk crepe miniskirt always looks good. It's only available in sizes 2 – 6. http://bit.ly/1eeuKmz"
It's been a week since Paul Fussell died and we've mourned the best way we know how: by re-reading Class for what we believe is either the 30th or 31st time since its publication in 1983 (we read it at least once a year). No, obitwriters, Fussell's masterpiece is not The Great War and Modern Memory, which won the National Book Award in 1976 and we're convinced is a very good book; it's Class, his sagacious, hilarious examination of social class in America.
We think so highly of this book that we've made it required reading for family, any prospective SO, even for prospective acquaintances with whom interactions have gone beyond "hi." If you receive this book as a gift from us — and we gift it often — consider it an invitation to a club where "What would Fussell say?" is the secret handshake.
For the rest of the week we're pulling our favorite bits from Class because, well, it helps us deal with this loss.
Fussell on elite male and female looks in the U.S.:
It requires women to be thin, with a hairstyle dating back eighteen or twenty years or so. (The classiest women wear their hair for a lifetime in exactly the style they affected in college.) They wear superbly fitting dresses and expensive but always understated shoes and handbags, with very little jewelry. They wear scarves—these instantly betoken class, because they are useless except as a caste mark. Men should be thin. No jewelry at all. No cigarette case. Moderate-length hair, never dyed or tinted, which is a middle-class or high-prole sign, as the practice of President Reagan indicates. Never a hairpiece, a prole usage. (High and mid-proles call them rugs, mats, or doilies. Calling them toops is low-prole. Both women's and men's elite looks are achieved by a process of rejection—of the current, the showy, the superfluous. Thus the rejection of fat by the elite.
Q: I've been dating a lady for about 6 months and I want to get her a Christmas gift as spectacular as she is. Does the SB have any suggestions or a list of things she's wanting for Christmas? —Cameron
Ed. note: The Spectacular Bitch's site is just about ready, finally. Thank God. In the meantime she answers questions here sometimes, like now.
A: Dear Cameron,
I love and adore that you are giving this some forethought, you sweet little buck, you. There is nothing like the heady first months of new love, and you, my dear, are smitten.
Nevertheless, as you know, the key to gifting in a new relationship is to walk the delicate line between overwhelming the girl and underwhelming the girl. Obviously, avoid anything electronic or practical — forever. At the six month mark you need to be thinking romance and whimsy.
If you ask me, which you did, the perfect gift for your lovely SB is a beautiful clutch. Wrapped up, it's like opening a jewel but without all the implied history of giving and receiving jewelry. It's an object that, by its nature, foretells of sparkly nights out on the town — don't you want to be that guy? Basically a clutch is fun. And pretty. And girlie. And glam.
To my mind, Lauren Merkin makes a genius clutch — drop dead sophisticated, impeccably well crafted, to die for gorgeous, with an edge. Tuck a sweet note inside and I guarantee it will live in there for eternity.
Q: I recently started seeing a 22 year old woman who wants to get an ankle tattoo. She's typically very well-dressed and immaculately styled so this took me by surprise. I've never been a fan of tattoos in general, actually I think women are sexier without them, but she insists. Is it possible for a woman to have any sort of body art and still be considered a Spectacular Bitch? —James
A: Dearest James,
It is indeed possible for an SB to have tattoos, but I'm not so sure about your little friend. To my mind, 1992 was the tipping point for tattoos — they went from being something that could be construed as rebellious and outré to ultimately being played-out and frankly, lame. This explains why you might find scores of over-40 Spectacular Bitches sporting body art that can be chalked up to youthful indiscretion, a naughty streak, tequila or a combination thereof. These days, however, getting inked is about as original as getting your hair braided into cornrows on spring break, only with more time for regrets.
Of course, every rule has its exceptions. Some women, no matter what age, can simply pull it off. But it requires a fuck you attitude and the commitment of some serious real estate. Sadly, a meek little ankle tattoo reads more sorority than spectacular. I say skip it.
A: A cocktail glass is like a bra, Alan. Ultimately it doesn't matter how fancy it is — it's what inside that's going to make your evening. Which is our way of saying that we got those glasses at Crate & Barrel. Simple, functional, they do the job. When someone breaks a glass at one of your parties, you want them to regret the lost cocktail, not the lost glassware.
Ed. note: while we continue to work on the Spectacular Bitch's own site, she's answering an occassional question in this space.
Q: Dear SB: I have a pseudo-work event coming up and need your advice. The scoop:
1) 1000 guests — dozens of which will be co-workers (although it is not a work sponsored event, it's a birthday party for the owner of the firm)
2) Venue is a night club
3) All guests are required to wear black
4) I am in my mid-thirties and fairly fit
A: Dear Kelly,
Sounds like a fun party, although I must admit that I get more than a little peevish when I'm told what to wear. Who IS this monomaniacal birthday boy and more importantly, how do I get an invite?
Not knowing your body type makes it a bit tricky for me to find you the perfect dress, but that's okay, because I'm not going to recommend a dress for you. If you, like me, are feeling ornery about being told to wear black, I'll remind you that I didn't see anything on my invitation that said it had to be solid black, or even a dress for that matter. See how I did that, Kel? Resourceful! I'll pick you up at 7 and we'll stop for cocktails before we hit the fest.
Since everyone and their brother will be in a LBD that night, I say go with a tuxedo-type pant, a sexy top and a killer heel. Alice and Olivia make a very flattering pant — these girls know how to make a booty go pow. If your legs are covered, then go very uncovered up top — maybe a little something like this, or this or this.
After bombing at the Oscars, is Anne Hathaway planning to bomb Kuwait?
We ask because, well, look at the glasses she was wearing when she showed up at the Rio premiere earlier this week. They're dead ringers for the infamous "Birth Control Glasses" the U.S. military forced Saddam Hussein to wear after digging him out of his spider-hole.
While we applaud Anne's decision to make a statement with bold, oversized frames, we think she probably should have gone with something a little less war criminal.The second-to-last thing we want to be thinking of when we look at Anne Hathaway is swarthy genocidal dictators. (The last thing? Anne hosting another Oscars, of course.)
Q: Dear MB: My girlfriend and I are about to be engaged and her mother offered us her heirloom diamond for the ring. My girlfriend loves the idea, but I've always thought it was the guy's job to buy his girl her engagement ring. Am I being too old-fashioned? Perhaps you or your spectacular counterpart have some insight? Thank you --
Ed. note: We let the Spectacular Bitch handle this one.
A: Darling Shane,
While it is very MB of you to want to buy your lady an engagement ring, you may rest easy and follow the age-old golden maxim of engagement rings: If there's an heirloom to be had, you tap that shit.
Never, ever, ever, let a good diamond go to waste, chickadee. Also understand that mothers have a funny fixation about passing valuables to their daughters (as opposed to sons, who might marry a trollop who could trollop away with the goods), so you'll be granting your future mother-in-law a touch of peace.
You won't exactly be getting off scot free, because there's the small matter of putting that heirloom diamond into a setting, which your fiancee should choose and you should pay for. If the diamond is already in a ring and your lady likes it as is, you foot the bill for the tune-up, which includes cleaning, resizing, and a check of structural integrity with a reputable jeweler. Either way, if you have some cash left over after all is said and done, save it for a pretty bauble on your first anniversary.
Q: Well it's that time of the month, friends. For those MBs with girlfriends, it can be difficult to figure out what to do for Valentine's Day.
What does the MB have to say? --J.
Ed. note: We've previously touched on Valentine's Day, so thought asking the Spectacular Bitch to chime in would be a good idea.
You are correct that Valentine's Day can be a tricky proposition. That's because the two loudest voices on the topic are the Hallmark industry on the one hand, peddling faux romance and cheap chocolates, and on the other hand, the haters, the lonely hearts, and the tragically embittered. But what about the rest of us, J? What about the lovers? Sure, Valentine's Day can be riddled with landmines and clichés, but it is also the one day of the year when it is completely acceptable to be sweet and gushy. And we all know this world can use a little more sugar, right sugar?
So I say, take the clichés, dip them in chocolate and gobble them up. In other words, do it your way. I love that you asked what to DO, rather than what to BUY. It's a gorgeous distinction, and shows that your heart is in the right place. You do the things you love to do, but you take it up a notch and that just takes a little planning, which is, honestly, half the fun.
In my experience, Valentine's Day is the best night of the year to avoid the herd and cook at home. Feather your love nest (by which I mean, clean, spruce, and food shop), light the candles, dim the lights, pour the wine, queue up the music and cook together. If you really can't cook, order take-out but try your hand at a sexy chocolate mousse. You see where I'm going with this, love? By choosing to stay in, you avoid all that is stuffy, formal, fancy and fraught with expectations and replace it with casual, cozy, funny, sexy kitchen hijinks. You take the familiar and make it unforgettable.
Have fun with it, J. (but don't forget the flowers!)
Ed. Note: As luck would have it, the Spectacular Bitch has moved into some office space right across the street from MB headquarters. Main Street just got a lot more interesting. This morning she came shooting out of her front door like a bat out of hell in heels, brandishing her laptop and bringing out every dog (human and canine) in Pulaski to see what the ruckus was about. We gotta admit, it was highly entertaining until we realized she was heading our way. Was it something we said?
You will have to forgive me, but did the MB just tell a hapless lad named Mitch that he did NOT have to buy his lady a proper engagement ring? A lady, whose lady friends all just recently got some ice? Mitch. MITCH! Read my lips: following this advice is a one way ticket to the doghouse. Who you gonna believe?
When you decided you liked it and Beyonce told you to put a ring on it, she was most definitely not talking about a subtle, understated platinum band. Boyfriend, is your love subtle and understated? The ring that MB would have you buy would be lovely for your actual wedding day, as a wedding ring, but an engagement ring is a whole different beast. A whole different gorgeous bad-ass one-of-a-kind beast. Kind of like you, Mitch.
Your instincts are good regarding the cookie cutter solitaire diamonds held aloft on prongs. That is not my favorite look and chances are, not your betrothed-to-be's either. Birds of a feather flock together and I think she, like you, might have something more creative in mind. Is she a romantic? Then perhaps a '20s art deco ring that whispers of torrid past love affairs, smoky speakeasies, and far flung adventures. Is she a futurist? Then perhaps something architectural, modern and clean -- a beautiful heirloom for the future. Is she a nature girl? Then she might like something soft, organic, rough-hewn and evocative of the elements. Is she wee and slight, with hands no bigger than a child's? Then perhaps something wee and slight.
My point, Mitch, is to ask her. Talk about it. Shop around. Look online. Get an idea of what she likes or find the perfect ring together and save the big surprise for the when and how of it all (just promise me you won’t pop the question in a restaurant). Trust me, no matter how down-to-earth or pragmatic she might be, she wants something that will make her feel all fluttery inside when she looks at her hand. It doesn’t have to be expensive. It doesn’t have to be a diamond. It just has to be something she finds beautiful.
This ring, like you, is forever. So do yourself a favor, doll, and make it a good one.
Q: Engagement rings...the inevitable awaits. I noticed a recent trend of colored/gemstones set in rings instead of the traditional diamond. Also, I am thinking of buying a gemstone ring because all of my recently engaged friends seem to have purchased rings at the same place because they all look alike. Wanting to stay MB and keep my second half MB as well, what say you about the gemstone engagement ring? --Mitch
A: We've answered this question before regarding the man's ring (with a chart), and we'd put a gemstone engagement ring for the Mrs. at the same lousy position on the scale.
Don't do it man.
If you want to set yourself apart from your Zales-shopping peers, while simultaneously conferring loads of class upon your bride-to-be (and by association, you), apply the understatement principle and choose a band. We like platinum. A good local jeweler should be able to create one in a shape you like for roughly a grand. If not, there's always Tiffany & Co. If she requires a diamond, get two with a pair of earrings.
Q: I met a man at a party and he was impeccably dressed in a charcoal suit and black tie. We have been seeing each other and he dresses very well; however, he has let it slip that he wears a Tommy Bahama watch and thinks that J. Crew floral shirts are acceptable "during vacations." Should I give him the benefit of the doubt, or kick him to the curb? Thanks for the help. --Katelin
A: Katelin, the Tommy Bahama watch is definitely a red flag but you could fix that problem by buying him a watch for Christmas. There are still 4 days left. Regarding the floral shirt, they're OK during vacations in Hawaii.
So he's warm. And remember, as Tom Brady clearly demonstrates, many MBs are made, not born. We say give him the benefit of the doubt. If you look at our graph of the American male below, the vast majority need work and with your help, this guy sounds like he could be on the verge of breaking through.
Q: Darling, you have cracked the door, so forgive me if I wedge my foot and possibly my shoulder in and ask (rather breathlessly): What about skinny pants for women? --Nancy Drew
(Ed. note: "Nancy Drew" is an amateur chick detective who's been trying to find out who's behind this site for, like, nearly two years.)
A: Nancy, in the women's case it's a simple matter of geometry. We call it the "Ass to Ankle Angle" or AAA (try saying that 3 times fast). Simply have someone take a picture of you naked with your feet together and then calculate the angle from your ass to your ankle. If your angle is 5° or smaller, you may wear skinny pants. As you can see, the nude in Peter Paul Rubens' "The Three Graces" is at 10°, and she clearly ain't even close.
Q: For some reason my house has always had a slight funky smell to it, so I use those electric air fresheners to keep the smell at bay. I was wondering if there is an air freshener that the MB endorses (if he endorses them at all) since most air fresheners have a sickly flowery smell to them. Does an air freshener exist that could be considered a little more bastardly that would be appropriate? --Jack
A: We keep telling you guys: bury your enemies' bodies under someone else's house.
Jack, you're on the wrong track with air fresheners. You're just covering up the smell with Glade's Fruit Explosion when you need to eliminate the smell entirely with an air purifier. Expensive, but worth it, especially if you plan on return visits from members of the fairer (and more olfactory-gifted) sex.
It broke 60° yesterday at our Pulaski, WI offices and it moved a few women to break out one of mankind's greatest inventions: short shorts. Now, up here in northern Wisconsin, our women's legs might not be the most toned, and they're clearly a little sun-deprived, and there might be a little more hair than we'd probably like**, but doggone if we still don't really, really dig short shorts. Just wait until it hits 70! Bikinis!
* Not to be confused with short jorts.
** Model clearly not from Pulaski, WI vicinity
Q: I'm a 52 year old woman, 5' 2", my build is medium (not skinny, not chubby) kind of average. However, for awhile, my butt has been going south and I can't do anything else about it besides lots of lunges. What would you suggest is the best jean to lift up the derriere. --Mireya
A: Mireya, don't you just wish you could put that droopy ass up in a ponytail? No doubt everyone would benefit if you and other women in your situation could have an occasional bad ass day. Whip that thing up there and forget about it! Alas, since slinging ass isn't part of our current reality, you're smart to realize you can build a better butt with the right pair of denim.
Start with MB-endorsed Hudson. Signature back pockets (pictured) give the illusion of that desirable apple roundness. They're cut a bit higher in the waist as well (deliberately showing ass crack is so Last Year). This is also advantageous if you've got anything cookin' in the muffin top department.
Another brand worth investigating is Fidelity. You'll likely catch a few compliments with these; again the secret is those back pockets. Yeah, they're a little spendy, but consider it an investment in your bottom line. All it takes is one pair and Boom!, it's like a bailout for that junk in your trunk.
These may be better suited for your mistress than your girlfriend or wife, but In God We Trust's Shana Tabor has come up with some exceptionally cheeky engraved heart necklaces. Consider these high risk/reward. Like a 490 yard par 5 with water in front of the green: a good birdie opportunity but could quickly turn into an 8. Call 718-388-2012 with questions or to place an order.
Q: I just started dating a truly Magnificent Bastard. But it seems he has everything! With Valentine's Day coming up, I'm at a loss as to what to get him (under $100 since we're new), any suggestions for an outside-the-bedroom present (he's already getting a bedroom present)? --Jackie
A: Jackie, in this situation we have one simple rule to follow: Don't get anything that puts him in the position of overtly having to display or wear it; in other words be forced to answer the question, "Why aren't you wearing ______ tonight?" If he hates it, it can disappear into a closet or drawer and for all you know he uses it every day. This means no clothes or personal furnishings or any display-necessary housewares. So ties, wallets, thumb rings, and placemats are all out.
Poke around at a couple of our favorite four-letter design boutiques, Moss and Good. If you come up empty, visit your favorite antique shop and you're certain to find a one-of-a-kind MB-worthy item he doesn't already own. After a few minutes of Googling we unearthed this elk-horn corkscrew that isn't just an excellent addition to any bar, it distinctly foreshadows the "in the bedroom" present.
Q: I'm thinking it's about time to go shopping, but I haven't got a clue about what to buy. I'd like to look a little bit mature, but since I'm actually not that old (18) I want stuff that's easy to dress down or just make a little more playful. Oh, and I usually look better in things with a waist. Any suggestions? --Eva
A: Eva, you sure about this waist thing? If so, here are three waist-friendly options, depending on you budget. From big to small:
Nanette Lepore - More difficult to dress down, but has the strong '50s vibe it sounds like you dig. A bunch of choices at shopbop.com.
J. Crew - Lots of options to make you look older than 18 here.
Target - No joke. If you're on a typical 18 year-old's budget, Isaac Mizrahi for Target fits the bill. Get it while you still can; he'll be gone soon.
Q: As an aspiring MB in my early 20s, it's troubling my otherwise attractive and eloquent girlfriend almost exclusively sticks to clothing with style that would better suit a tween at a "Twilight" premiere. Any suggestions on how to ween her away from the kiddie clothes and towards a more age-appropriate look without inciting rage? --Sean
A: We love it when an attractive, eloquent, early 20-something women gets mad.
Our guess is she's still shopping in juniors with the other Twi-hards. She needs to shift to contemporary, which unfortunately for you is a bigger budget commitment, but better quality and fewer tacky midriff-baring tops. Try a gift certificate from BCBG, Club Monaco, or French Connection. If her pockets (and yours) are a little deeper just go straight to Theory and be done with it.
Q: While we have long had our suspicions, you have made it abundantly clear that you, dearest, are a true blue, card-carrying breast guy. Of course, we love that about you ... it shows that under that cool, aloof and artfully disheveled exterior lies a lusty, red-blooded bastard. Luckily for us boyish-figured girl detectives, however, there is a non-negligible percentage of your brethren who are actually ass guys. (Perhaps you have a diagram for this?) Why don't you throw them some sugar from time to time, Sugar? --Nancy Drew
A while back we were asked to guest-answer a question about "rocking the cowgirl look" for a women's style blog. We endorsed it as pure Americana, and then were told we were wrong.
In the meantime, we received the Sundance Summer 2008 catalog and can hardly imagine a hotter look than what was on the cover: tall and lean brunette, in denim, with t-shirt exposing bare midriff, and cowboy hat. Oh, and a '62 Cadillac, too. We'll hang our hat on it. Thanks for the backup, Mr. Redford.
Q: Dear MB: Over the past several months, I've come to trust your sense of style and taste. I'm curious to know if the MB is up for the challenge of applying your gift of knowing what's right and wrong in the world of style to the opposite sex. I'm facing my 20-year high school reunion this summer, which will be held at an upscale downtown drinking establishment (no VFW for this group). I'm tall (5'9") and thin in a healthy way. I want an ensemble that conveys success and looks good with a Tanqueray and tonic in hand, and doesn't scream Stepford wife or "I'm a suburban mom of two" (which I am). Do you think you can help? --Cindy
Of course, dear.
Before we get to our outfit suggestions, a couple of important MB Class Reunion Principles to follow:
#1. Principle of Looking Like You Don't Give a Shit. Try looking like you don't take this event too seriously, like you and your husband were out for a casual dinner or gallery opening and then you thought, "Geez, isn't tonight my 20th class reunion?"
#2. Principle of Investing in Your Wardrobe. Don't waste a penny of precious clothing budget on something like a cocktail dress that you'll wear once. Class reunions are chock full of anticlimax. Splurge, but only on something that will likely be in style at the 30th.
And now on to the recommendations:
Pants: Denim, for sure. Not too tight, with a wide opening to allow the ballet flats (below) just enough room to peek out. For women we're partial to AG (pictured, $82.00 -- on sale) and Hudson, but denim is personal so go with whatever fits you best and makes you feel good.
Top: Something simple and updated, like this Vince sheer jersey tee. $48.00, via Barney's Co-Op. Cap sleeves will increase the already heightened drama of your long appendages.
Footwear: Ballet flats, of course. Consider making your shoes your statement piece (only one allowed per outfit), like these faux snakeskin lowcuts from London Sole ($155.00). Suitable for dancing.
Outerwear: What if it rains? Or if the event makes its way outside? Let Rag & Bone protect you from the elements, evening chill, and small talk with their Mac Trench. $585.00, via shopbop.
Accessories: Wow that wedding band of yours is serious business. Communicate your fun side -- you read this site after all -- with something whimsical (and affordable) like this blue lucite bracelet with cameo. $14.99, via Target.
Q: While shopping this weekend I noticed a lot of tacky women's cowboy hats with crunched up brims in hideous colors. I would never judge a person for their personal style but hasn't this gone on long enough? Madonna wore one in a video 15 years ago and even back then it looked awful. Aren't two season of Rock of Love enough to finally end this travesty? --Rita
A: What's wrong with judging a person for their personal style? It's a really great timesaver.
While we can't endorse tacky cowboy hats in hideous colors (or two seasons of Rock of Love for that matter), the "cowgirl" look is as American as apple pie and obesity. Love it or leave it, Rita!
Though it doesn't sound like you'll be attempting this look, the trick to making it work is to be sparing with the cowgirl elements, or it'll look like you're late for a date at either the County Fair or the O.K. Corral.
For instance: a cowboy hat with denim and boots = about right. Cowboy hat with denim, boots, and 6-shooter (like Jane Russell) = too much.
Clockwise from upper left: Betty Boop, Lynda Carter, Cher, Veronica Lake, Jane Russell, Jane Fonda.
2 parts Hayman's Old Tom Gin
1 part sweet vermouth (Carpano Antica Formula or Dolin Rouge)
1/4 part Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
2 dashes Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters
Shake or swirl lightly, garnish with a lemon twist.