Saturday, August 4, 2012

A Lady Reviews: Brave

I recognize that I may be coming to this party a bit late.  Nevertheless, it behooves me to write a review of what very well may be the most ‘lady-oriented’ movie of this summer.

A lady is a lady regardless of whether she
acts as a diplomat...
For anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, the story of Brave is set in the wilds of Scotland, and focuses on the turbulent relationship between a local king’s daughter, Merida, and her mother, the Queen Elinor.  Elinor wants Merida to be the stereotypical ‘proper’ lady (or so it seems on the surface), while Merida wants to be free to live her own life.  When their desires clash in the middle of a tournament for Merida’s hand in marriage, things get thoroughly out of control and, through one thing and another (spoiler alert!) Elinor is transformed into a bear.  The rest of the film focuses on Merida and Elinor rebuilding their mother-daughter bond and returning Elinor to her rightful shape, which involves a fair bit of humor (and even some horror) along the way.
I suspect anyone who has seen even the trailers for this film can tease out the lady related conflict that crops up in Brave:  Merida is wild and independent, while Elinor is ‘proper’ and dignified.  Each initially views the other as misguided and either uncivilized (in the case of Merida) or stuck up (in the case of Elinor).  Over the course of the film, however, one comes to realize that both sides of this coin are necessary for a woman to be successful in her life.  Merida’s physical prowess with a bow and on horseback allow her to live comfortably regardless of location and take care of herself.  Elinor’s social skills, however, prove to be just as important, as she is able to bring a group of brawling Scottish clansmen to a standstill with one cold look or talk them back from open warfare.  Both women discover that the other’s point of view is still valid over the course of the film, even as they grow closer as mother and daughter.
....or wields a weapon.
Any woman hoping to call herself a lady should take heed from their lesson.  A lady should be skilled in any number of ways, so as to give her the advantage regardless of the situation.  And no skill should be viewed as somehow off-limits.  Combative or athletic pursuits do not diminish one’s womanhood, and being polite and well-spoken does not prevent a lady from wielding great power of her own.  Instead, one should seek to find and cultivate a balance of mind and body, action and diplomacy, the exuberance of youth and the wisdom of old age.  All will serve you well in your life as a lady.
So, in the final assessment, go see Brave.  It’s my favorite movie of the summer, hands down, and a great example of all the virtues a lady should hope to have for herself. 

P.S.  Brave also has awesome, awesome music.  I dare you not to feel happy after listening to it. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Lady Reviews: Snow White and the Huntsman

So, what does ‘How to Live Like a Lady’ think about Snow White and the Huntsman?  Quite frankly, I, for one, like it (reviews from other writers of the blog may differ).  I feel that while there are definitely issues with aspects of it (yes, I will address the Kristen Stewart aspect), the inherent premise, the look of the film, and the ultimate execution are all more than satisfying if you are willing to accept the basic tenants of fairy tales and their un-ironic use in a film. 

First and foremost, let’s deal with the downsides (i.e., Kristen Stewart).  And, in my opinion, Kristen Stewart is not necessarily one of them.  Now, please do not misunderstand – I have a hatred of the Twilight Saga that burns as bright as a supernova.  That however does not extend to my inherently hating the actors (though Robert Pattinson still looks like a foot in my opinion).  They were hired to do a job and I will not allow my dislike of a film to ruin my opinion of them.  As such, Kristen Stewart, in my opinion, while not the world’s greatest actress, is well suited to play Snow White.  Kristen’s flat facial effect serves well as the naïve yet noble Snow White, much as Keanu Reeves’ flat effect works in his portrayal of cold hard badasses and/or stoners.  There is one moment on film where her performance is genuinely painful (the coronation scene, look for it), but that hinges on bad script writing that leaves both actress and audience hanging as to the appropriate facial expression.  Aside from her (and she is a highly polarizing aspect of this film, with some praising and some damning her performance), there honestly isn’t much to pick at for flaws.
As such, once one gets past Kristen’s (debatable) performance, one finds a film that, ultimately, is a well rounded retelling of a fairy tale that holds to its roots while simultaneously delivering a fresh new tone to the story.  The inherent plot is exactly the same as virtually every version of the Snow White tale.  Snow White’s mother wishes for a daughter, Snow White’s mother dies after said daughter is born, her father remarries, the Queen becomes rampantly jealous of Snow White’s beauty, Snow White is forced to run for the hills where she meets up with a bunch of dwarves, almost winds up poisoned by her stepmother’s apple, is revived by a kiss, and returns to seek revenge on said stepmother.  What makes Snow White and the Huntsman differ from the usual tale is the extensive character building received by all the characters (but especially the evil queen, Ravenna,) as well as the fleshing out of the bare bones of the story from a basic fairy tale to an epic film. 
Thus, while the acting of Kristen Stewart may be up for question, Charlize Theron’s performance as Ravenna is beyond reproach.  Rather than functioning as the average, vain evil queen, Ravenna is a near primal force, crazed with a need for immortality, control, revenge on men, and maintaining her beauty.  She conquers and kills with chilling impunity, a woman on the warpath who is still human even as she is never presented as anything less than outright deadly.  To maintain her beauty and power she devours the youth of young women (how Elizabeth Bathory of you, Ravenna), and discovers, upon consultation with her magic mirror, that she can gain unfading strength in both areas by ingesting the heart of Snow White, which she proceeds to go about doing so by any means necessary.  Her madness and sorrow are palpable things, and her power as queen is enough to make you get down on your knees and swear fealty in the movie theater.
Besides Ravenna, one has the titular Huntsman, (whose name is Eric though I don’t think that it’s ever mentioned), who, as portrayed by Chris Hemsworth, is by turns gruff and sweet, and, for the ladies of the audience, most certainly attractive even when covered in mud.  For the ladies who prefer more clean cut men, however, do not despair:   There is also Snow White’s childhood sweetheart, the prince, who doesn’t serve much purpose other than to be a foil to the huntsman and jump around shooting a bow and being cute.  The dwarves, meanwhile, are amusing to a man, and the rest of the cast does their job quite well.  It’s an all-around win. 
Ladies going to war in full plate armor. 
The unabashed strength of the women is perhaps one of the most surprising and surprisingly well handled aspects of the whole film.  Ravenna and Snow White are never relegated to the position of damsel in distress, and on the rare occasion where that may seem the case (such as when Ravenna is first introduced), they turn the tables on their would-be rescuers in seconds.  And when the last fight scene rolls around, Snow White and Ravenna rally their troupes and lead their soldiers into battle, culminating in one-on-one combat between both women.  Without needing to scream their independence to the rafters both women are leaders and, Ravenna’s madness aside, well worth tipping one’s hat to as ladies of a high order.
Finally, there is the appearance of the film, which is drop-dead gorgeous.  Sweeping landscape shots of Germanic looking mountains are punctuated with lush enchanted forests, spooky marshes, and Ravenna’s palace, located on the coast and surrounded by an ever roiling ocean.  The costumes are equally lovely, with Ravenna’s outfits being some of the most jaw dropping pieces of work I’ve ever personally seen (one, which wasn’t used in the film unfortunately, was trimmed with umpteen iridescent beetle wings).  If nothing else, this is by far the most aesthetically pleasing film I’ve seen this summer. 
So, to go see it or not to go see it?  That depends on whether or not one is fond of fairy tales that take themselves seriously (and whether you do or do not mind Kristen Stewart).  It is a common trope that films based on legends or folk stories tend to take a more sarcastic or excessively gritty tack on the plot.  Snow White and the Huntsman, however, skirts the line of gritty without ever crossing over it excessively and completely ignores the cynical aspect.  As such, if you don’t like the idea of fairy tales where a woman is referred to un-ironically as ‘the one who will bring balance’ (and no, she is not bringing balance to the Force), then look elsewhere.  If that doesn’t bother you, (and neither does Kristen Stewart), then you should love the film. 
P.S. Florence & The Machine’s song ‘Breath of Life’ is used in the credits, thus making this lady a very happy panda. 

Thursday, May 31, 2012

A lady’s guide to basic house keeping

Alright, I know very few people actually enjoy cleaning, but it’s still a necessary part of life, and, if you get good at it, it can work in your favor.  I’ve always kept my college dorm spotless and organized, and the result was that my friends loved coming over for tea or dinner.  Despite the fact that I occupied a room roughly the size of a broom cupboard with a refrigerator box sized bathroom, I still managed to make it an elegant little abode.  So, here are my basic tips and tricks, as well as the benefits, of having a well-kept room:
1.        A general rule of thumb is keep clutter to a minimum everywhere.  There are certain exceptions to this (old libraries in Victorian houses are, by default, allowed to be cluttered and mysterious, the better to hide arcane books that will become the focus of horror films.  College professors, meanwhile, are also permitted to accrue in their offices piles of paper so large that they begin to resemble leaf piles), but other than that an effort should be made to prevent or disperse heaps or messes of any kind.  Clothes belong in a hamper or a drawer/hung up in a closet, not scattered all over the floor like an ersatz carpet.  Books belong on shelves, not stacked in piles, and for the love of god don’t leave them open and face down – that breaks the spine and damages the book.  Papers are harder to corral, but I’ve found that astute use of alligator clips to keep them all together usually reduces the chaos.  Bulletin boards also help.  I could go ad nauseam in the vein, but I’ll summarize by saying that if it’s in a pile/all over the floor, it shouldn’t be.  So your job is to figure out where it should be and arrange it as such.

2.       Yes it takes time to clean, but that doesn’t excuse not doing it.  If you find yourself bored by the task, put on music or an audiobook and, for lack of a better term, get over it.  Chaotic rooms are unpleasant to live in, whether you realize it or not.  You wind up tripping over/breaking your possessions, losing stuff, and generally not making good use of your things, with the added detriment of needing to replace lost/broken items.  Also, the brutal reality is that no one likes a slob.  People will not want to visit you if your dorm room/apartment/house/residence of an unspecified nature looks like ground zero for a nuclear war.  Furthermore, there are few things less lady-like than having to dig your lost panties out from behind your desk or greeting your guests with a heap of dishes festering in the sink. 

3.       Keeping your room organized will cut down on time you spend looking for things.  If you make a small effort to put your items back where they belong you will save ages digging around in search of a missing shoe or your AWOL car keys.  Am I starting to sound like your mother, dear reader?  Good.  As much as we all may hate to admit that childhood admonishment to clean our rooms served any purpose other than to annoy, the reality is that our parental units were right in insisting that a clean room is, in every way, superior to a messy one.  Not only is it more aesthetically attractive, but it will help make you more efficient in every way. 

4.       Making sure your room clean has the added benefit of minimizing allergies (if you have them), and will keep the creepy crawlers away.  And while not everyone here has a dust/mildew allergy (I do), no human being thrills to the idea of cockroaches, spiders, and other creepy crawlers taking up residence in one’s abode.  Regular dusting, vacuuming, and general scrutiny and care, however, will prevent or at least greatly limit all of the above. 

5.       The way your room smells is important.  This may seem trivial, but scent is one of the most primal aspects of the human brain, and if a room doesn’t smell good it will drive people away and may serve to depress/annoy you.  You can fix the problem with incense (I strongly suggest you invest in good Japanese incense, so your room doesn’t smell like a head shop), scented candles (make sure the scent in question won’t be too overpowering or artificial in execution), sachets (store these in drawers with your clothes to keep moths away and keep your garments smelling fresh), or atmospheric perfumes (again, make sure they don’t smell too artificial).  Avoid cheap, synthetic air fresheners like the black plague.

6.       Make your room interesting!  Allow it to express yourself.  Dull, bland rooms are not the goal of housekeeping.  Clean, interesting rooms are.  And, even more importantly, make sure you decorate to please yourself.  After all, if you don’t like living there, why should anyone else enjoy it either?  Notably, I find a great way to spruce up dull rooms (especially ones with hideous wallpaper/drabs walls) is the strategic use of art prints or posters, and as for the ugly sofa you rescued from the alley, you can cover its sagging self with colorful throws and cushions (and pesticide, in case of lurking insect life) and turn it into a couch fit for a queen.  (Expect future articles to include more information on how to decorate less than lovely abodes). 

7.       You don’t have to do all your housekeeping every single day.  A few things should always get done (putting laundry in the hamper/washing the dishes/making the bed), but other things (vacuuming, mopping, doing the laundry) can be spaced out to weekly or even monthly occurrences, depending on what your individual living quarters require.  The end result is a balanced workload so you, dear lady, do not burn yourself out.

This chaos occurred during my finals. 
Yes, dear reader, I did at one point have a messy room.  Mea culpa.
8.       Lastly, don’t let your housekeeping build up.  If you do, you will inevitably give up on trying to tackle the mess and simply allow it to grow out of control.  At that point matters usually progress until someone stages an intervention or the Hoarders team shows up on your doorstep, whichever comes first.  Instead, just grit your teeth, get the broom, and do your part for the day, so it doesn’t become an added burden for tomorrow. 

Yes, it may seem tiresome.  Yes, you may be busy.  Yes, the fight against entropy is never ending.  The fact remains, however, that keeping one’s home tidy, though sometimes boring and unpleasant, is a necessary aspect of being a lady.  Well-kept living quarters will aid in your efficiency, health, and social life.  Your things will last longer, you’ll spend less money, and you’ll generally feel better.  So put on some enjoyable music or make a game out of your work (a spoon full of sugar and all that, hat tip to you,  Mary Poppins), and get out the dustbuster. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Ladies of Fiction: Lisbeth Salander

Lisbeth (and Mikael) surrounded
by adoring fans
Lisbeth Salander, a lady?  I hear you cry in confusion.  How does a surly, piercing studded hacker chick deserve to be called a lady?! 

Simple, I reply, Lisbeth possesses the raw power and determination that any lady should be proud to call her own.
One of the most vital points of being a lady is learning not to judge simply by appearances.  Lisbeth may not wear the elegant gowns or comport herself in the manner we tend to associate with a lady, but what she lacks in overt appearance she makes up for in her internal fortitude.  Lisbeth’s life, from the start in the novels, is a harsh one, in which she is branded insane and thrust into the uncaring maw of asylums and foster homes.  She regularly is mistreated and/or outright abused, and generally has her life made a living hell.  It has damaged her, without a doubt.  Her withdrawn personality and spike riddled appearance serve as armor against a world that has proven itself utterly untrustworthy. 
That being said, however, Lisbeth does not lie down and die.  She does not give up.  Every time someone tries to destroy her, she rises again with a vengeance worthy of the Furies themselves (notably, my friends and I have recently introduced the term ‘Lisbeth’ as a unit of measurement for female rage).  Given all the suffering she has been through, Lisbeth could be forgiven for shutting herself off completely from the world.  Instead she takes her gifts and fire-forged determination and uses them to fight against those who would hurt her or others.  In spite of everything, she overcomes her obstacles and, in her own, asocial way, manages to develop friendships and even romantic relationships.  It isn’t easy, and at the end of the novels it is clear that Lisbeth is still in many ways her ever prickly self, but Lisbeth’s determination never wavers through it all. 
Every life is touched by suffering to some degree.  Sometimes that suffering is great, sometimes small, but the exact size or degree aside, it can make us want to shut down, curling in on ourselves against the world.  What we can learn from Lisbeth is how not to do that.  Obviously, we can’t (and in most cases shouldn’t) lash out at the source of our suffering as Lisbeth does, but we equally cannot allow whatever tragedies occur in our lives to bind us, blind us, and shut us off from the world.  It may seem impossible, and in some cases perhaps the trauma really cannot be overcome, but if a person does not try, how can one ever find out?  Better to take a note from Lisbeth and fight against that which seeks to damage us, rather than meekly lying down and allowing it to rule us. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Lady Reviews: Are You a Jackie or a Marilyn?

My copy of this lovely book
Of all the books I read as I developed this blog, arguably none proved quite as influential as Are You a Jackie or a Marilyn?, by Pamela Keogh.  It’s rare to find a book that purports to help one achieve something that still manages to be fun, down to earth, and never hold anything over the head of its readers.  From page one it is established that the reader is, in fact, a Jackie, a Marilyn, or some hybrid thereof, and aims to help you play on your natural abilities.  (Your humble writer, in point of fact, is a perfect split right down the middle between these two amazing ladies.)
This off the bat affirmation that the reader has the traits of Jackie or Marilyn is a huge lift.  All too often, in reading books designed to make one a lady, one finds that the author assumes an obnoxiously condescending tone that does nothing but turn one off.  The implication is that one would have to do eons of work to even become slightly attractive, and even then one would merely be a pale knockoff (I’m looking at you, How to Live Like a Lady, which I’ll be reviewing all too soon…). Are You a Jackie or a Marilyn?, however, never slips into this rut.  It maintains, instead, a voice that is reminiscent of a sassy girlfriend, telling you exactly what you need to know and never talking down or demeaning you while she’s at it. 
On top of all this, the book is loaded with information on the two ladies featured in its title.  It handles how they comported themselves throughout life, how both cultivated their respective images of First Lady and Hollywood starlet, as well as providing a peek at the women behind the archetypes they formed.  One is treated to well written mini-biographies of these two, from Marilyn’s rags to riches story to Jackie’s savvy political maneuvering both within and without the Whitehouse.  They were the leading ladies of the age, and their lives of drama, glamour, and all too often tragedy make for a fascinating read. 
And lastly, besides being honest and a good jumping off point for those interested in the two ladies discussed therein, Are You a Jackie or a Marilyn? affirms a simple truth for its readers:  You are worth it.  Who can say what it is – perhaps love, wealth, fame, or some combo thereof – but you are worth it, and while it may be a hard road to travel to get what you desire, to settle for less would be a crying shame if not an outright crime.  Settling does nothing but leave one with regrets.  Better instead to strive to be one’s own woman, using the wisdom of two women who lived their spectacular, by turns glittery and grimy, lives with panache beyond telling. 

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Ladies of History: The women of the Minoan Empire

Ladies have existed, in one form or another, since time immemorial.  That being said, however, one must wonder as to who the first real ladies were.  When did elegance and artistry become the goal, rather than the more basic concepts of fertility, which gave rise to such images as the Venus of Willendorf?  As for myself, I personally hand this accolade to the mysterious women of ancient Crete.  We don’t know much about their world or what function these beautiful women played, but the fact stands that they mark a change in the prerogatives of people, when beauty became the goal, rather than simple fecundity. 
The Minoan empire came into being circa 3650 BCE and remained that way for many centuries, before finally crumbling upon itself in the 1100s and being invaded by the neighboring Mycenaeans.  From what we can gather, the Minoans were quite powerful and, by virtue of their island home, found it possible to rely on their navy and the ocean to keep out invaders, thus allowing them to build beautiful, unguarded ‘palaces’ (whether these were in fact palaces or temple complexes or something else entirely is still up for debate).  These buildings were many stories high and beguilingly complex, with endless stairways and beautifully painted walls.  Indeed, some palaces were even equipped with running water and a prototype of the flush toilet.  Somehow, the Minoans managed to create a ‘state of the art’ world while most other people were still living in one story abodes made out of anything that would stay standing. 
Sadly, however, we truly know precious little about the Minoans besides what little we can dig up.  Their language, a strange, spiraling pictographic dialect known as Linear A, has proven untranslatable.  What modern historians and archaeologists have deduced comes largely from the art and artifacts left behind, in particular the gorgeous Minoan frescoes that decorate the palaces at Knossos and Phaistos.  Said frescoes focus on any number of themes, ranging from nature scenes to religious festivals, and it is in these frescoes that one can find images of the ladies of Crete. 
Dressed in elaborate skirts and bodices, hair decked in pearls, the women depicted in frescoes and statuettes are strikingly modern in aspect.  Looking at their lively, natural appearance, it seems hard to believe that these ladies lived during the Bronze Age.  Indeed, a French archaeologist, upon discovering a shard of fresco depicting a woman with rouged lips and kohl lined eyes, commented wonderingly that ‘she wouldn’t look out of place in Paris’, thus earning the image the title of ‘La Parisienne’.  As to who these women truly were and what function they played in Minoan society, the general consensus has oscillated between the depiction of goddesses (or priestesses dressed as goddesses for religious festivals) to the women being the nobility of Crete.  Certainly, these were women of very high standing, and depictions of such women often place them at the center and/or larger than any men in the frame, thus leading certain historians to suggest that the Minoan empire was matriarchal in nature, though definitive proof on that front remains lacking.
Regardless, however, the women of Minoan Crete set an early standard for beauty that is recognizable even to this day.  They are the first women we see wearing fitted garments (specifically the bodice and bolero jacket common to so many of the statues and frescoes).  In other images these women are often depicted in groups, heads inclined towards each other, looking for all the world like a modern clique of ladies sharing the latest gossip and news.  The ladies of Minoan Crete dance, officiate religious rituals, help bring in the harvest, and through it all they exude a natural and sometimes nearly supernatural elegance that we modern ladies should keep in mind as we go through our day to day lives.  After all, these women managed to be paragons of beauty without recourse to Botox or plastic surgery, and if they were able to achieve that in the Bronze Age then it shouldn’t be nearly so hard for us in the age of iPod. 
Source:   Fitton, J. Lesley. The Minoans. London: The Folio Society, 2002. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A lady's guide to basic cooking

My mother and I making grilled cheese and bacon sandwiches
Alright.  Since when did cooking become such an impossible, insurmountable task?  I do most of my own cooking at school (primarily because I’m convinced the cafeteria is doing a social experiment as to how much slop they can feed us before we protest), and for me cooking, to use popular jargon, ‘ain’t no big thing.’  Whenever someone finds out that I do 90% of my own cooking, however, they’re quite often stunned.  Sometimes they’re baffled as to where I’m getting my supplies, but more often than not such people are confused as to how I found the time and where I got my skills.

And I know that this reaction is not limited to my isolated, stuck-in-the-armpit-of-nowhere college.  More and more people seem to have gotten the impression that cooking for oneself or others will only end in frustration and food that never looks as good as it does in the cookbook.  One can argue as to where this perspective developed, though I would say it probably stemmed from the twin evils of Martha Stewart and fast food, with the former setting unreasonably high standards for cooking (and table setting, and floral arrangements…) and the latter making it possible to get food that tastes good (but will one day contribute to your coronary embolism) easily. 
Blame aside, however, I would like to enlighten the world at large:  It is perfectly possible to make good, reasonably complex food without attending chef school, setting oneself on fire, spending a fortune on supplies, or taking forever.  Indeed, in some cases one may need nothing but a hotpot or a toaster to get the job done. 
So, allow me to impart a few basic things about cooking:
1.        Before you go out and buy a bunch of pricey ingredients, consider what you’re getting and how often it will be used, and measure that against how long it will last.  As per example, rice, eggs, and milk are all good staples that will either last quite awhile, can be cooked in many ways, or will likely be consumed promptly.  Waste not, want not.  Also note that with the help of spices (which rarely, if ever, go bad) one can put a multitude of spins on a single dish. 

2.       When cooking it is alright to improvise. Unless one is attempting to make a soufflé or some other temperamental pastry dish, the odds are good that you can screw around with the recipe and make it fit your tastes without destroying it completely.  For myself I’m very fond of doing this with packaged food, where I toss out flavor packets and ignore directions with impunity. 

3.       And the reason I can do the above is practice.  In one’s first forays into cooking, one may very well wreck it or turn out a less than perfect dish, even if you follow directions to the letter.  This, however, is not a reason to give up.    This is the reason to try again and figure out where things went wrong, and correct for them. 

4.       Make sure to do your research and play to your own tastes.  Watch cooking tutorials online, ask your friends and relatives for tips/recipes, read up on techniques, and make sure you’re learning how to cook things that interest you.  Don’t force yourself to learn a recipe because you feel everyone should know it.  Instead, cook what you want, no matter how supposedly weird or difficult it appears to be.  Notably, to help you in this endeavor, I will be recording and uploading a series of my own cooking tutorials, covering ‘simple but delicious’ foods that are easily made on the fly.

5.       Finally, feel free to make up your own recipes.  Take what you learn from all your experiments (successful and otherwise) and cobble it together to do something totally new.  This is the essential fun of cooking; making something that is entirely one’s own.
The sandwich that was the result of the above cooking session

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Ladies of Boardwalk Empire

Lauren, today's writer and a gal of great class and wit
I present to you our first guest article, written by my good friend Lauren!  Enjoy!
            ~ Victoria

Long before the acclaim of baggy pants and backwards caps, criminals wore casual wear that would make your boyfriend’s prom tuxedo look like a suit from Target. The characters of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire recreate the feel of the Roaring Twenties, in both its classy and perilous nature. The plot follows crooked Atlantic County treasurer Eunuch “Nucky” Thompson, played brilliantly by Steve Buscemi, in his rocky personal life and his corrupt political life. His interactions with several characters, included non-fictional criminals such as Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg), Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza), and Al Capone (Stephen Graham), along with the sub plots that revolve around fictional characters like Margaret Schroeder (Kelly Macdonald), Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon), and James Darmody (Michael Pitt) weave together a wonderful story that brings fact and fiction to a nice balance. Here at Definition of a Lady, I hope to provide you with personal inspiration, for both your couture and your character, through this wonderful show’s first season.

Let’s take a look at the fashion of our female characters, to start with. First, we will check out possibly the most fashionable of our choices: Lucy Danziger.  Played by the stunning Paz de la Huerta, she is Nucky Thompson’s former mistress and former dancer, with an eye for money and fame.

Though she certainly is not a prude, Lucy always manages to pull off tastefully flirty (and high-fashion) outfits, complete with eye-catching fur and a hat. She may expose her shoulders or play up her cleavage, but her dress still leaves something to the imagination.

In another scene, Lucy pulls off minimal jewelry, favoring her natural beauty over overdressing. Ladies, I know we are always tempted to wear dozens of bracelets and find the wackiest, chunkiest necklaces we can imagine, but sometimes less is more. Though we certainly don’t want to emulate Lucy’s empty-headed, gold-digging attitude, we can still appreciate how she doesn’t dress like one. You do not want someone to look at you and assume the worst.

Another powerful feminine presence in the series is Margaret Schroeder, a woman whose abusive husband was murdered at Nucky’s request, and who ends up falling for her husband’s killer. Margaret is a hard-working, lower-class Irish immigrant who finds herself suddenly in the lap of luxury. Her style evolves from simple to elegant over the course of the season.

Margaret always knows how to wear a hat, and though statement hats have fallen out of fashion in the recent years, icons such as Kate Middleton (now known as Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge) have been bringing the style back. Margaret is also known for wearing more conservative, but stylish clothes, once again proving that baring it all isn’t the best way to convince someone of your merits.

More importantly than Margaret’s wardrobe, however, is her strong will. In an era where women’s rights were beginning to blossom, Margaret represents the woman beside the great man, struggling to make her voice heard also. Though she clashes with Nucky in several aspects—her contraceptive methods being one—he seems to treat her with respect not seen given to most other women in the show. Furthermore, Margaret must deal with the timeless problem of losing faith once introduced to the high life. As the show illustrates, many people are corrupted by greed—but it always seems to especially effect the people who had nothing. You do not want to forget your roots once that big check lands in your lap, but sometimes it can hard to. Gratitude and kindness are virtues that should be kept and you’ll just have to watch Season 2 to see if Margaret succumbs to greed, or keeps her motherly sweetness.

The bottom line is, ladies, dress like every day is important, and don’t dress like you’re a piece of meat. The key to being a lady is respect in yourself and from others, and how you act and what you wear should reflect that belief. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Building a support system

So you have your ideal ladies and a real lady to show you the ropes.  What’s the next step?  Funny you should ask, because the next step is establishing a good old fashioned bunch of girl friends who will stand you in good stead no matter what happens.  These girls are your support system, there to help you through whatever gets thrown your way.  These are the gals you call when you have to figure out if you should date a fellow, and they’re the ones you confer with over tea when you decide to dump him and move on to greener pastures.  You have lunch together (and dinner, and possibly a slumber party, followed by breakfast, followed by lunch AGAIN…) as often as you can, and no matter how much time you spend together, you never get sick of them.  These are your girls, your compadres, sisters from another mister, and all other such terms that denote a coterie of the best friends imaginable. 
My support system in action :D
To some degree, dear reader, you probably already have a support system in place.  Rare is the girl who has absolutely no friends.  The key to creating a support system is making sure you have friends who are friends with each other, thus providing mutual support.  Remember, these are the girls who are willing to protect you and help you no matter what, and for some events it remains a fact that you need more than one person to deal with it.  When it comes to celebrating birthdays or chasing off unwelcome male attention, groups are always better.  Satellite friends are also important (individuals who don’t belong to your core group), but having that central base is vital. 
As you go about assessing your support system and how you will manage it, it’s also a prime time to remove the toxic friends from your life.  And trust me, you probably have one or two.  We all know these people, the unpleasant individuals who you can’t seem to get rid of even though they contribute nothing but misery and/or petty cruelty to your life.  These people sow nothing but discord and trouble, and as such need to be evicted from your life pronto.  This is also the time to get rid of one’s frenemies (which differ from toxic friends in that toxic friends still pretend they’re your friend, while frenemies are decidedly unpleasant and antagonistic, but you just can’t get rid of them), and if there are any girls hanging around you who are a less than respected companions, it’s probably better to send them on their way to find better suited friends of their own. 
At long last, you’ve completed the four most crucial steps of becoming a lady.  You’ve built a strong foundation of friends, advisors, and have gained insight into yourself.  Now that you have the ‘skeleton’ of being a lady in place, it’s time to flesh it out with skills, manners, intelligence, and style.  So stay tuned for ensuing articles on the many and varied ways that will help you become a lady.
Humbly yours, Victoria
P.S.  If you have any specific questions about being a lady, feel free to email me at, at which point I will answer your question and post both question and answer (your name will be omitted) to the blog as part of Definition of a Lady’s advice column.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Finding Your Onee-San

What is an ‘onee-san’ you ask?  Well, as those with a fondness for Japan in one regard or another can tell you, the term literally means ‘older sister’ with additional respectful connotations attached via the formal ‘-san’ suffix.  The term is notable in that it can be applied to someone who is not necessarily one’s biological sister, and it crops up throughout Japanese culture, from freshman addressing seniors in highschool to being the term for an apprentice geisha’s mentor.  It is in this last form that we are most interested in the word, because, my dears, the next step to become a lady is to find a real lady who will help you achieve your goal.

How do you identify your onee-san?  Simple.  Look for the woman you admire most in the world.  Now at this point some you may be thinking of your mothers, and while everyone’s mother is (usually) the walking definition of ‘the greatest woman ever’, it’s best not to make her your onee-san.  Why?  Because she’s too invested in you and your relationship with her is already one of mother and daughter.  Your onee-san must be able to speak candidly to you, and she should connect with you on a more personal level than the one afforded by the maternal bond.  Remember, you are looking for pseudo-older sister, and unless your mother is of a very different sort, (I’m looking at you, Gillian Darmody and Atia of the Julii) she’s not the one to fill this role. 
Instead, seek out that non-maternal older woman of fabulous style and powerful personality (aunt, friend, actual older sibling), and respectfully inform them of your admiration for them.  Then ask if they’d be willing to help you.  The odds are pretty damned good that unless the potential onee-san is a bitch of spectacular proportions, the response will be a yes.  I can think of very few people who would not like to know that they are admired and looked up to, and, in tandem, very few people who would balk at helping someone improve themselves.  We all crave a trusted mentor, and on some level we all want to mentor someone else, or at least that has always been my experience. 

And what happens if you cannot find an onee-san at all?  Do not despair, my dears, for you still have two more options.  Option the first:  Find an onii-san (big brother).  Whether he’s elbow deep in engine grease or the original sassy gay friend, a man is more than able to help a woman along her path to becoming a lady.  The dynamic inevitably will be different (and if he’s the engine grease type he’s most likely not the one to go shopping for cocktail dresses with), but an onii-san can teach as much as an onee-san.  Indeed, some lucky ladies out there might have the good fortune to have one of each gender, for an extra balanced perspective. 
And if there’s absolutely no one there to help you out?  Well then it’s time to hit the books and the movies again.  In my earliest stages of becoming a lady, when I still had little real understanding of just what it was I wanted, I taught myself through observing and researching.  As per example, I figured out how to put my hair up and keep it immaculate and sleek from watching Memoirs of a Geisha, and handy information can come from any number of sources.  (Other influences for me were Paradise Kiss, which inspired me to make my own clothes, and Atlantis the Lost Empire, which sparked my interest in dead languages). 

Now, once you have an onee-san, you may wonder how to use her advice.  A simple place to start is always just getting together for a chat.  Outline your interests more clearly and ask your onee-san for her opinion on them.  She may approve, she may disapprove, but if you’ve chosen well (and the choosing of your onee-san, my dears, is on your own heads) your onee-san will definitely help you in some way, either by pointing you in the right direct or by getting things straightened out for you to progress towards your goal.  Regardless, you have only one job at this point:  Listen to your onee-san, and learn from her example. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Defining Your Ideal Ladies

Part of the first stage of becoming a lady is locating those ladies who one looks up to.  These women may be real or fictional, and as such one may or may not know them.  Regardless, they should embody the traits that one desires to possess in one’s day to day life as a lady.  Also, kindly note that these women need not be ones with ‘spotless records’ as it were.  As the saying goes, ‘well behaved women rarely make history’.  Sometimes to get the job done a lady must take off her velvet gloves to reveal the iron hands they cover, and there’s nothing wrong with a lady who knows how to have a really grand (and sometimes raucous) time.  
As one arranges the list of one’s idols, take note of the traits that begins to appear.  What does it say about you?  What kind of woman do you get from the conglomeration of all these other women’s personal quirks and attributes?  What does she value?  How does she present herself?  What are her goals, and are these in fact your goals?  And finally, how might you make these traits and goals manifest in your own life?  
Kindly note, however, that even as you build off these women you must make sure to not become completely absorbed in actually pretending to be them wholesale.  This is unproductive on two levels, the first being that you’re attempting to subsume and destroy your own personality in the name of becoming another person, which will not work unless you have some serious mental problems, and the second, related reason of that just being way too creepy, if you’ll pardon my vernacular.  Remember, by identifying your goals through your idols you are seeking to understand yourself and give yourself a boost of both confidence and determination, not crawl into the skin of someone else.
I also keep various inspiring quotes with pics of
my ideal ladies
Now, with your ideal ladies identified, I strongly suggest you get some photos of them and post them in a significant place where you will see them on a regular basis.  By doing this you are providing yourself with a constant reminder of what you are striving for.  For myself, I have my ladies’ images near my mirror (they include, amongst others, Joan Holloway, Irene Adler, Lisbeth Salander, Integra Fairbanks Wingate Hellsing, Bridget von Hammersmark, and Atia of the Julii), where I can look while I’m doing my beauty work or experimenting with a new outfit.  Other options might be to post them over a desk, in a diary, or decoupaged onto a jewelry/makeup box.  Wherever you put the images of your favorite ladies, make sure you are sure to see them every day.  After all, it is under their watchful gaze that you will seek to become a lady, and their images will serve as a reminder of the sort of woman you seek to become. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What does it mean to be a lady?

Lady: La-dy [ley-dee] noun, plural -dies,
Yours truly, dressing the part
of my definition of a lady
1.        A woman who is refined, polite, and well-spoken
2.       A woman of high social and economic class
3.       Any woman; female

That, my good readers, is the dictionary entry for what it means to be a lady.  It seems almost banal, with such bare bones explanations.  For our purposes, however, such a skeletal foundation is ideal, as it allows a woman to flesh out her own understanding of what it means to be a lady, and in this day and age that definition is very, very broad indeed.  So, to help would-be ladies along, I and several friends have opted to create this blog, to provide advice, information, and tips on what it means to be a lady. And, while we’re at it, note the last definition of a lady:  ‘any woman’.  When it comes down to brass tacks, any woman can be a lady.  It’s not a matter of money or breeding, but one of intellect and fortitude, as well as a willingness to improve upon one’s natural interests and inherent personality.   

From the first, however, I feel it cannot be stressed enough is that each person must find their own definition of what it is to be a lady.  There are many roads to the same destination, each with its own benefits and troubles.  Generally, however, these roads have similar signage, which is why this blog can exist – whether haughty or humble, every lady must experience certain successes and disasters, and learn how to navigate similar potholes in their thoroughfare. 
At the very start of this path, however, is a very simple crossroads with an equally simple signpost that reads as follows:  Who are you?  And like something from Alice in Wonderland, this sign has the potential to point in every which way if you are not sure of your answer.  Now, to use myself as an example, I look at that sign and see ‘I am a would-be aristocrat’.  I want the absolute top of the line in life, but I’m also delighted to go casual when the occasion calls.  I am supremely confident in myself, and even when I’m not I pretend to be and pretending makes it so.  I can be haughty and snobbish on occasion, but I am indelibly loyal to those who befriend and love me. 
These are all just minor facets of a much larger picture, one that would require several encyclopedias to fully discuss, but it outlines some of the main points:  I know who I am, I know what I want, I know my own worth, and I know who I care about.  Understanding these things is the most important element of becoming a lady, the foundation upon which you can build the rest of your attitude and appearance.  And make sure your foundation in strong, my apprentice ladies – if it isn’t, no amount of Home Ec skills, witty retorts, expensive clothes, or martial arts will make you the capable woman you long to be.  That starts in the heart and in the head, and to act without them is to be only half there – a philosophical zombie, all flash and appearance with nothing going on inside.
I hope you enjoy this blog and visit us again soon.  New articles – hopefully from an ever-growing bevy of writers – will be debuting in the near future.