Tuesday, November 11, 2008

November Birthdays, Part 2: About La Familia de Meimei

The next November birthday on my calendar happens to be my sister's, which happens to be a certain landmark one for her... and she's celebrating it (a few days late, but still) in the best way I can imagine: by spending the weekend in Reno to meet up with her former classmates from high school. You go, SisMei!

That said: My sister's birthday is also the reason why I am taking this picture of myself out of the vaults...

Okay, so I don't really look too much like my sister here (it's an unspoken Meimei family policy to not post any non-self pictures on non-networking sites sin permiso) and the background is obviously not Reno (it's actually the Excalibur in Vegas), but it is the perfect illustration of all the style tips that my sister and I have inherited from our Mom.

Note that I said "inherited": for many years my sister and I have been looking at our own pictures (like this one) in which we've found ourselves remarking that we're both beginning to look like our own mother. But now that we think about it, our Mom still looks pretty good for her age... so we can definitely say that she taught us pretty well.

- The accessories are always key. Note the scarf, the purse, and the gold-dipped orchid pendant: not all of them are "designer" accessories, but together they elevate the otherwise basic top. Mom was the kind of person who spent well on her accessories; there's a reason why my preschool self always got in trouble for raiding her closets of silk scarves and oversized sunglasses. And while my sister and I would rather go to the mall for our purses and bags, we learned from our Mom's fake-designer shopping jaunts in Bangkok that good construction and classic design always trumps trends, regardless of label or price.

Also note that I am also not wearing earrings in this picture; Mom was a very strict adherent to the "take one thing off" rule, which partly explains how I've become a slacker when it comes to the jewelry I've inherited from her.

- People will always pay attention to your shoes. "Wait," you may ask, "you told us last month that your Dad was the one who taught you about shoes?" Well, if you haven't noticed it yet, we are a shoe-lovin' family: Dad's Ballys, Mom's cork platform wedges, my sister's pointy boots from Ann Taylor (which, in a hilarious turn of events, was once mistaken by Mom for my own shoes when she saw them lying around at my sister's house). Very few pairs of shoes go out with the trash - and if they do, it's more than likely that they look more like what my brother's Asics sneakers would look like after three straight years of marathon training: beat up beyond recognition, and completely unusable. The rules always apply: polish them well, wear socks when necessary... and as long as you can get them to the nearest shoe cobbler, a good pair will always last you for ages.

- Preventative care helps, too. Mom grew up in the Philippines at a time when women who wore makeup were not looked upon too kindly - which explains why her makeup repertoire had always remained on the neutral and sheer side for the most part, except for her standby coral and berry lipsticks. (If there's anyone who had ever nagged us to wear more, in fact, it would be our Dad - he was the one who always reminded me to "powder up" so I wouldn't look pallid coming out of the door.) Again, makeup and skin care was a place where our Mom didn't skimp - she's been a devotee of the Clinique 3-step program for years, and every year we take her to Macy's and Sephora for her foundation and lipstick - so we learned to cleanse and moisturize (and wear SPF) when it matters.

- Better to be polished than underdressed. Last spring, Mom injured her ankle a few days before arriving in Honolulu for my graduation. Even though she had to spend the rest of her days with a cane, an occasional wheelchair, and Velcro sneakers, you would barely - if ever - have noticed them in the pictures, because she was impeccably dressed throughout the entire time in silk jackets and scarves, or even a long-sleeved shirt on her most casual days. More than that, however, her posture remained as sprightly and confident as ever; not once did I ever notice her slouching in pain, her face contorted into a "woe is me" frown. (Meanwhile, I'm the person who leaves the house in sweats and a scowl if I should read so much as an anger-inducing op-ed piece.)

- Stick with what works. For as long as all three of us have been alive, we always remember Mom for her wardrobe staples: long pants, shift dresses, interesting blouses, tank swimsuits, leather satchels. Doesn't matter if she bought them or had them made (since she has her own dressmaker in the Philippines), as long as they fit her. There have been times when we've asked her to change it up a bit (to which she'd always reply, "But what will your Daddy think?")... and yet, even when she's physically not around, we - and by this we mean the two sisters - always end up walking out of whatever store we're in with almost the same stuff that we would remember from Mom's closet.

- It's never too late to start being stylish. The first piece of jewelry that my niece inherited from her Grandma Mei was a necklace of pink plastic beads that she used to chew on as a toddler. This is the same niece who easily incorporated "ooo, shiiiiny" as a catchphrase after spending part of her childhood years watching QVC and Style Network alongside her mother. Now this little girl is in her (pink-shunning, vampire-novel-reading) early teens, and while she's more interested now in science projects than shopping, we're still holding out hope that some of this advice will reach her as well. Who knows, maybe ten years from now, it'll be her closet that will be packed with the same shift dresses, silk scarves, and fine leather dress shoes.

(Would that the same be said for the two nephews in the family, however. My brother's son is catching up quickly, but my sister's little boy... well, we finally managed to pry him away from the Crocs, but we still have to convince him to wear socks or risk having his shoes smelling like dead animals all the time.)

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