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Monday, August 3, 2015

Operation Living Room Makeover

One of my most beloved possessions is this fashion-y charcoal sketch of a 1960s party girl. She and I had a little conversation recently in which we agreed that the sensible, neutral loveseat she's staring at every day simply must go. 

1960s Fashion Sketch
Ladies and gentlemen, meet my spirit animal.

It’s time to shake things up around here, which is how I found myself on Pinterest searching for the keywords “pink couch.” It may sound over-the-top, but just look at the possibilities! 

Everything about this is a resounding yes. 
Already in play are a pair of mid-century modern chairs that belonged to my grandmother, which I reupholstered in black and white houndstooth. Naturally, I’m imagining them with monogrammed accent pillows to match the new sofa.

Houndstooth? Check.
Pink can be polarizing for women, but I’ve always loved it. Even in high school when my friends thought it was eye-rollingly uncool. And in my early 20s when all I wanted was to look urbane and grown up (despite my penchant for pastels). 

Complete chic-o-rama. 
For me, it’s a feminine, flattering mood booster, which is why I’m happily mulling over fabric swatches and trying to settle on a shade. Check back in a few weeks. I’ll be here watching Rachel Zoe’s new show and basking in a rosy glow!

Monday, July 27, 2015

How To Teach Your Toddler Manners

Mon dieu!

I recently visited my own blog and realized I’ve neglected it for OVER TWO YEARS. During my long siesta, good taste has eroded at an astonishing rate. I really have to get back to work before there’s a Kardashian in the White House.

Now, I’m no forensics expert, but it appears my hiatus perfectly coincides with the arrival of this little guy. Meet my angel, Baby J!

Except he’s really not a baby anymore. Overnight, he’s become a walking, talking, opinion-having toddler who’s capable of great manners and mighty meltdowns. My job is to encourage the former and manage the latter through non-negotiable naps and a purse full of snacks. 

It's never too early to board the manners train. Here’s how I'm tackling toddler etiquette:

Set a Gracious Example

Kids learn the rules of engagement by imitating the adults around them. Ask anyone who’s ever read a parenting book. The surest way to raise courteous children is to use impeccable manners yourself.

Greet your Starbucks guy with a warm “good morning” before placing an order. Say “excuse me” when you slide past your seatmate on an airplane. And always use the kind of table manners you’d like to see reflected back. Those short people who share your DNA are watching and taking notes. 

Put It On Repeat

When my son demands milk, I reflexively reply, “Milk please, Mommy” even if it happens 105 times per day. When someone hands him stickers at Trader Joes, I remind him to say thank you. And I try to deploy the old, “How do we ask for that?” before caving in. 

Being a parent is kind of like being a GPS. You have to keep repeating yourself in a calm, consistent voice until you reach your destination. (In this case, a milestone called “Children Who Aren’t Rude Little Convicts.”)

Reward Civility

Another classic parenting move that applies to etiquette? Liberal, effusive praise. When my son says, “You’re welcome,” I tell him how thrilled I am to hear his lovely manners. When he follows, “I want to go to the park” with a hasty, “Park, please!” I tell him I couldn’t possibly deny someone who'd asked so nicely.

This kind of round-the-clock vigilance isn’t easy -- especially when you’re busy making sure nobody drinks bleach or burns the house down. When you need a break, read this deliciously funny piece titled, “10 Ways Living With A Toddler Is Like Being In Prison.” 

And remember, it will all be worth it when your well-mannered child holds the door for his teacher on the first day of kindergarten.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Office Etiquette

I once read that offices are populated by two types of people: work horses and show ponies. 

Sure, it's possible that your workplace is cheerful and collaborative -- a bastion of professional civility where everyone interacts courteously and projects hum along to happy completion. 

But more likely, you're probably dealing with power struggles, personality clashes, and mind-numbing minutia that you'd NEVER put up with if you happened to win the lottery.

At the office, manners matter more than ever. The same tricks that help you socially can absolutely boost your career. I've worked with everyone from team-oriented superstars to backstabbers who would step on their own grandmothers to get ahead. Here are a few boardroom tips that have helped me navigate the workplace with style and grace.

Employ Etiquette Basics 
  • Be as punctual as possible. This means arriving on time for meetings even if you're a VP and everyone else is an underling. Valuing other people's time is both the polite and the economical thing to do. 
  • Resist the urge to interrupt someone who's in the middle of a sentence. While it's true that time is money, cutting people off while they're talking is rude, arrogant and all too common. 
  • Be sincere. If you're fawning over a superior or sucking up to someone so they'll do you a favor, people will see through it immediately. Worse yet, you'll develop a reputation for being disingenuous. 
Play Well With Others
  • Try not to carry on about how stressed and busy you are. Chances are everyone around you is in the same boat. Go with gallows humor instead of woe-is-me monologues. You'll garner lots more support.
  • Don't waste time posturing. I used to work with someone who said things like, "I don't know if you saw that email I sent at 11:30 p.m. last night..." It didn't win her any friends or accolades, it just came across as showy and annoying.
  • Respect people's work/life balance. You may choose to work over the weekend, but don't expect everyone on your team to do the same. That's just a recipe for resentment.
  • Pitch in when you see someone drowning in deadlines and deliverables. A simple, "What can I do to help?" goes a long way.
  • Don't get bogged down by pettiness. Be diplomatic and rise above whatever squabbling is happening around you. You'll emerge as a leader and a colleague people can trust. 
  • Remember that land-grabs are lame. Don't squash others to amass more more power, just be great at what you do. Accolades and increased responsibility will follow.
Make Manners Your Trademark
  • Whenever I lead a meeting, I use the same hostessing skills I'd deploy at a dinner party. That means welcoming people, making the necessary introductions, and thanking everyone for coming. 
  • Want to win over a crowd? Bring snacks. A dozen bagels can instantly make an 8 a.m. meeting more palatable and less painful.
  • Always dress as though you're meeting clients or your boss's boss. Those stretchy yoga pants are never OK for work, even if you're pretty sure you won't encounter any VIPs. Fabulous accessories (like the Moschino cape and Givenchy bag pictured here) provide instant polish and set you apart from the boring black-pants brigade.
  • Be unfailingly gracious in both victory and defeat. Whether you landed the promotion or you're congratulating the person who did, make sure your coworkers know you're still on the same team.
  • Treat everyone you meet as though you might work together again. In most industries, the world is remarkably small. You just never know who you'll bump into as you're changing jobs or climbing the ranks. 
  • Keep personalized stationery at your desk. Handwritten thank-you notes are classy and sophisticated at work just as they are in social life. 
What are your favorite workplace etiquette tips? I'd love to hear how you make it all work!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Age-Appropriate Fashion

Hi Annabel, 

My question is about style and shopping resources. I've always loved fashion but I am a dismal shopper these days. How does one dress when one is 63 and not quite ready for the rocking chair but doesn't want to look like she is age-inappropriate?

Thank you, 
L in FL

Dear L,

What a timely question. I recently read a piece by the L.A. Times fashion critic Booth Moore about Gwyneth Paltrow, age 40, who wore black Lycra hot pants to a book signing in Beverly Hills. Ms. Moore asked readers whether it's time to re-write the rules of age-appropriate fashion. As I responded via Twitter: Technically Gwyneth can pull of those hot pants, but as a fashionista, she's better than that.

Getting older doesn't mean succumbing to a lifetime of low heels, frumpy tunics, and St. John suits. On the contrary, it's a time to invest in fine fabrics and fabulous pieces you'll love for years to come. By now you know what complements your figure and your lifestyle. I think it's possible to play to your strengths while staying innovative and au courant.

As for how much is too much, I offer women over 60 the same advice I'd give women under 30. Make judicious choices. Wear the short skirt OR the racy neckline. Not both. If you have beautiful arms or lovely legs, showcase them in a way that makes you feel confident and divine.

The factors that determine what works and what doesn't are specific to the wearer and highly subjective. Take, for example, 40-something Jennifer Aniston, who looks unsure and uncomfortable wearing a Dior playsuit on a recent red carpet. Meanwhile, Helen Mirren (23 years her senior) can still wear a bikini with the best of them.

For style inspiration, I suggest subscribing to emails from the online retailer Net-a-Porter. You'll get a regular peek at what's new and fresh, all presented like a magazine spread you can shop. Imagine buying an entire season's worth of glorious new things while wearing your silk pajamas! You can try on everything at home and send back whatever fails to delight.

Here are a few ideas to ignite your next shopping trip, virtual or otherwise:

1. A too-die-for evening dress by Alexander McQueen.

2. A Jimmy Choo clutch your daughters will beg to borrow.

3. A chic, monochromatic outfit from Gucci.

4. Fabulously utilitarian summer shorts by Marni. (Side note: The sandals shown with this outfit are not recommended for anyone of any age.)

Hope you find some truly fantastic things!

Graciously yours,


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Celebrity Etiquette: Who Needs a Manners Makeover?

I don't know about you, but I've always thought that in times of crisis, civility matters more than ever. Let's lighten the mood with a look at three celebs who could use an Annabel Manners Taste Makeover....

The Boorish Brit

First we have a case of loutish behavior captured on film. Say hello to television personality Simon Cowell, who's shirking his gentlemanly duty by not helping this floundering female out of the car. It doesn't matter whether she was his date for the evening or not. Offering a hand is the mannerly (and manly) thing to do. I'd also like Mr. Cowell to consider buttoning his shirt, lest he look like a wee little pirate. 

The Enfant Terrible

Next up is underwear enthusiast Justin Bieber. I don't know if you've heard, but while he was in Amsterdam, the pop star stopped tweeting shirtless self-portraits long enough to visit the Anne Frank House. He signed the guest book with, "Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber."

(For those not steeped in teenybopper culture, a "belieber" is a Justin Bieber fan.) 

To be fair, many of us were narcissistic twits at the age of 19. But honestly, who turns a visit to a Holocaust museum into an opportunity for cringe-worthy self-promotion? This boy needs a minder whose entire job is faux-pas patrol.

The Accidental Floozy

Finally, we have a country musician who's perilously close to losing her LBD. Miranda Lambert won big at the Academy of Country Music Awards -- there was no need to let her ta-tas do the talking. As true fashionistas know, it's possible to be sophisticated, fashionable and fetching without exposing giant swaths of skin. (Side note: this particular awards show was rife with fashion missteps. Sheryl Crow wore a dubious denim jumpsuit, Carrie Underwood was overpowered by flowers, and Shania Twain looked weirdly Wiccan.)

Dear misguided stars and starlets: stop hobbling around gracelessly. Seek help on etiquette, style and gracious living. I'm only an email away! :)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Men's Fashion: The Short Story

Honestly, I'm not sure what a person could feasibly do in this outfit besides paint the guest room or clean out the garage.

You probably think I'm talking about Ms. Spears, but actually, my quibble is with her current paramour -- the heartbreaker shown here wearing unforgivably sloppy shorts.

Meet David Lucado, whose entire outfit says, "I've given up completely. And I'm color blind."

I used to work in a flagrantly casual office where men would greet the business day in get-ups like this. Droopy cargo shorts. Tired t-shirts. The wrong sneakers. Horrid hats. Most baffling of all, some of them were also wearing wedding rings! I'd give an involuntary little shiver and think, "Oh, sir. Your wife is asleep at the wheel."

Today's Haute Tip: If your man has no innate sense of style, HELP HIM. Don't let him leave the house looking like Frumpelstiltskin.
  • Do a ruthless closet sweep and eliminate anything baggy, dingy, dated or lame. 
  • Insist on shirts that require an iron or a trip to the dry cleaner. 
  • Put your kitten-heeled foot down the second you see pleated pants or ill-fitting shorts. Really, it's for the greater good.
Alas, Britney Spears has nothing to offer Mr. Lucado in the styling department. After all, this is a woman who's magnetically drawn to sweatpants, side cleavage and wardrobe malfunctions. The chicest thing about Britney is her ex, who currently has a hit single all about being dapper.

Learn from him, David. Let JT (or Jay Z) be your sartorial guide!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Gift-Giving Etiquette

Hello Annabel,

I just recently found your blog and am always interested in learning about appropriate protocol! Recently I have come across some gift-giving dilemmas and was wondering what your advice would be. For example, I was invited to a friend's wedding, attended, and gave them a nice wedding gift. They were subsequently invited to my wedding, attended, and did not give us a gift.

Now they are having a baby and I am anticipating being invited to a baby shower. My inclination would be to send a gift whether I attend the event or not, both because I think it's the right thing to do since I was invited and also because I love giving gifts and celebrating!

Now, if this was my friend I would probably reconsider the relationship and whether it had become one-sided. However it's tricky because this is my husband's friend so it's not up to me. I think we should just continue to send gifts when invited to things even if they never return the favor. Doesn't seem fair but that's just life, right?

Same question for a situation where a couple attended a wedding and did not give us a gift. Now they are engaged and we are attending their wedding. We still get them a gift, correct?


Hey B,

Your instincts are right on the mannerly money. Don't think of gifts as quid pro quo transactions, think of them as acts of generosity: something you give without expecting anything in return.

Sure, sometimes you might feel like Grace Kelly in a room full of Kardashians. So what? You're making polite, lovely choices because that's just who you are. How fabulous! There's no need to adjust your own standards in order to match hubby's clodhopping friends.

Here's the courtly rule: receiving a wedding invitation should have you scurrying for the registry no matter what. I always send a gift when I'm invited to a wedding -- even if I know for sure I won't be able to attend.

For showers (both bridal and baby), it's OK to skip the present if you can't make the bash. You can always send something to be opened in your absence if you're especially close to the person or you just want to celebrate.

Here's to keeping it classy like Anchorman. Take the high road and enjoy those parties!

Graciously yours,