Issue 8

September 2018

Note from the editor Lesley Jane Seymour

Why I’m a Lifelong Learner

When people ask me what holds the 3200 members of CoveyClub together, I say one thing: We all share a deep curiosity about the world, about how it works, and about how our interaction with it changes (or doesn’t!) with age. In fact, I’ve had many women tell me that the first thing they relate to on the site is the CoveyClub tagline “Where lifelong learners connect and grow.”

“I’m a lifelong learner!” many of you have told me by email or in person. Well, so am I.

When I was moving up the ladder, I knew it was time to move on to another job when I had stopped learning. Then I would pick my head up, look around for some brilliant boss who was doing something different, and I’d try to land a job with them. My lust for learning made me feel like I was the youngest person in every organization no matter how many birthdays had gone by.

So after five years as the Editor-in-Chief of More, I decided to look around and see what was next. I quickly realized that I had worked for the best of the bosses out there already. “What’s happened to this business?” I asked one of my good friends. “There’s no one to learn from anymore!” That’s when she looked at me quizzically and said, “That’s because you have become the boss that everyone comes to learn from.”

I was stunned. How could this be? I was 55 on the outside but felt 25 on the inside. Then I began noticing that many of my former employees had begun to refer to me as a “mentor” in our conversations. Somehow I’d (deliberately?) missed that I’d grown up!

My love of learning sent me back to school in my fifties to get a master’s degree in sustainability management (only two more courses to go!). It’s what drives me to travel to places that put butterflies in my stomach, and it’s what pushed me to start CoveyClub. And I may have met my match: The learning curve on a start-up is overwhelming, infinite — and completely energizing.

This focus on learning brings me to the how-tos of style in the September issue of TheCovey. It is deliberately packed with useful stories you can learn from — whether it’s a new way to get rid of peach fuzz in Carmindy’s “10 More Fabulous Anti-Aging Beauty Tricks” or how to know when to hire a personal stylist in “Do Your Clothes Make You Look Old?” or how to store your most precious clothing in “Museum-Quality Storage for Your Clothes.” (FYI: The personal stylist piece came about after an event I did at a law firm with a designer friend; so many women in the audience were confused about how to update their look and wanted to know if and how they should hire a stylist that I made it a point to have TheCovey research those answers.)

In fact, September is such a great time for taking stock of your personal style (hey, we deserve a new notebook and pencils, too!) that we’ve connected with my old friend Tim Quinn, the celebrity makeup artist for Giorgio Armani cosmetics. He’s joining us on Thursday, September 20th, at Bloomingdales in NYC to teach us all of his fantastic anti-aging beauty tricks. Join us and learn how to cover up your under eye without it looking cakey, how to line your eyes in a way that won’t smudge, and how to create a youthful glow. I’ve had access to zillions of makeup brands over the years, but Armani is the one I keep buying for myself.

You can purchase tickets to the Armani/CoveyClub event here.  I hope to see you and meet you there.

Have a great September, and let me know how you keep learning by posting replies to our CoveyClub Facebook page.



10 More Fabulous Anti-aging Beauty Tricks

Tips for thinning lashes, graying eyebrows, peach fuzz and more

By Carmindy Bowyer

Makeup brushes and palette
Photo by Jazmin Quaynor for Unsplash

1. Highlight, don’t “contour”

The contour craze designed to hide jowls, sculpt cheekbones, or narrow noses has gotten out of hand. Blending brown creams or powders in an attempt to alter your natural beauty never looks natural and practically screams that you are insecure about aging.

Instead, embrace your changing face and use makeup to highlight all your best features, creating a look that is more naturally polished and less “painted.”

To accomplish the look, brush Hourglass Ambient Lighting Powder on the tops of your cheekbones, under your brows, and on the inner corners of your eyes to restore radiance. Use a bold (think berry or rose, not red) lip color to make a statement or a jewel-toned eyeliner to showcase your beautiful eyes.

2. Peel off the peach fuzz

Have you seen all the television ads for facial hair removal machines like Flawless and no!no!? Maybe you’ve tried creams like Nair that remove hair or Jolen, which bleaches it? Well, in my opinion, all of these are a waste of time for most women.

If you have very dark, thick facial hair I suggest laser hair removal (there are at-home kits or you can go to a salon) or waxing. Find which works best for you.

If you just have light peach fuzz then go ahead and shave it off. It’s an old wives’ tale that shaved hair will grow back thicker and more coarse. Hair follicles do not multiply as we age! We are born with a certain number of them and they stay steady. (Note: If you shave in the opposite direction of the hair growth, the hair will start to feel thicker over time.)

Shave downward, following the hair’s natural direction, to clean up peach fuzz fast. This way makeup will go on smooth and not collect powder.

3. What to do about losing your lashes

As we age, we lose hair on our heads and volume and thickness in our eyelashes.

I love using products like Latisse or Revitalash to restore lash growth and keep lashes looking lush and beautiful. Apply the product each night before bed, and in about a month your lashes will be visibly thicker. I have also used the product off-label on my thinning brows and found it restores them nicely.

After about a month, applying either product just a few times a week will keep your brows and lashes growing. But beware: If you stop using the product, your lashes may slide back to the way they were.

The alternative solution of the moment are eyelash extensions, which last about six to eight weeks and cost anywhere from near $100 to $300 to apply. They look amazing as long as you stick to a natural length; go overboard and you risk looking like a giraffe. Note, too: maintenance can be a pain as extensions fall out quite quickly and need to be reapplied constantly, ratcheting up the cost in time and money. Also, you can never really moisturize around the eyes properly because this will cause the extensions to come loose and fall out faster.

4. The truth about “makeup” tattoos

Many women over 50 consider going for permanent makeup tattoos to replace thinning eyebrows or for lining eyes and lips, believing this will cut the time they spend on their beauty routine or provide better outlines for laying down cosmetics. Listen up: This is an absolute no-go in my book!

Here are my three reasons to steer clear of all permanent makeup:

  • As time goes by, the tattoo color will fade into another shade than the one you originally chose.
  • Makeup styles are trendy and constantly changing, so you could easily find yourself stuck permanently with a look that is totally outdated.
  • Skin texture and firmness can shift over time. The permanent makeup can move as well and may end up highlighting a sagging mouth or crepiness. And you can’t remove it when this happens!

The only long-term form of makeup I believe in is microblading for brows, which is only semipermanent and will fade away if you don’t like it. You can have it redone if the shape of your face changes.

5. Lighten-up on lipgloss

I think women of a certain age look best wearing moist lipsticks and tinted lip balms sans gloss; my favorite brands are Marc Jacobs Beauty Le Marc Lip Creme or Kosas Lipstick. A full-on glossy shiny lip can look messy and odd on a mature face. I don’t mind a light swipe of gloss on the center of lips over a nude or neutral lipstick for an evening look, but a super bright lipgloss never looks sophisticated and chic.

If you like to wear red, coral, or bright pink lipstick avoid gloss — the color is enough.

6. Try a trend — but cautiously

When it comes to trends that seem to go in-and-out with the blink of an eye, there’s a way to play that works for women of all ages. If we are seeing models on the runway or in magazines wearing sapphire blue eye shadow, you can be on-trend without having to fully commit to the look.

Interpret the trend to work for you at your age, and you will look fabulous. Try a sapphire blue eyeliner instead of a full-on eye shadow. If the trend is glitter on the lips, opt for a slightly iridescent champagne lipstick. If you are seeing black cat eyes with severe wings out to the sides, apply a black waterproof liquid eyeliner and end it just slightly at the outer corners of your eyes. Instead of using silver eye shadow all around the eyes, try just a tap of silver on the center of the lid to give your eyes a pop at night.

Don’t take the trends literally: use them as inspiration to reimagine your look.

7. Back off the cakey under-eye

Dark circles around the eyes is a tough issue for many women. The depth and darkness of circles is generally genetic and usually can only be fixed with makeup. But you want to keep the layers thin and moist.

Start off with a layer of liquid foundation. Chances are you will discover that you don’t really need as much concealer as if you started with bare skin. Then tap on a brightening concealer under your eyes on top of the foundation just in the places you need it. If darkness still shows, use your finger or a brush to tap on a little stick concealer in a shade that matches your foundation. Apply this concealer on the recessed area only, not on the raised puffy parts. Stick or pot concealers work better here to grab the skin than liquid ones from pens.

Avoid liners, eye shadows, and mascara on lower lids because they tend to smudge later on and increase the sense of darkness. Lastly, apply a highlighter under the brow bone to redirect the focus away from any darkness under the eye.

8. Use shine — but judiciously

We have heard that after a certain age women should avoid shimmer or sparkle in all makeup. That is only partially true. High shimmer, frost or glitter particles can settle into lines, accentuating crepiness and age.

Now there are new formulas of highlighters, shadows, and lip products (such as Tom Ford Sheer Highlighting Duo) containing a more refined iridescence that restores radiance and makes your skin glow.

Also important: where you apply shimmer. I love to place these new highlighters on areas of the face that tend to stay smooth as we age — i.e. under the brows, on the inside corners of the eyes, and on the tops of cheekbones — giving the face a kind of candlelit luminosity.

To test these formulas out, apply the product on your wrist and look at it in the daylight. If you see little squares of frost or shimmer, you know the highlighter offers too much high shine. If it simply looks glowing and radiant, you’ve got a perfect formula.

9. Volumize your cheeks

If your face has lost its volume and your cheeks seem a bit flat, you don’t need to change the way you apply blush from the way you did in your 20’s and 30’s.

To bring your face back to life, simply smile and apply a soft pop of color to the top front part of the apples of your cheeks. This will lift the cheeks and bring back that youthful fullness. Sweep a bit of highlighter right above that onto the tops of your cheekbones and you will look cherublike.

Those with really dry skin should opt for a cream formulation such as RMS Beauty Living Luminizer. If you’ve got normal to oily skin, use a powder such as Hourglass Ambient Lighting Powder.

10. Get the gray out — of your eyebrows

If you have full gray eyebrows but have not decided to go fully gray with your hair, you can have your colorist match your brows to your hair color.

But most of us simply have one or two gray brow hairs that pop up now and again. The fast and inexpensive solution: go to the drugstore and buy a box of men’s beard dye in a color that matches your natural brow. Then apply it to just the few stray gray brow hairs so it blends in naturally with the rest of your brow.

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How To

Do Your Clothes Make You Look Old?

A personal stylist can keep you current. When and how to hire one

By Kristin Bateman

Tania Sterl
Stylist Tania Sterl; Photo by Julien McRoberts

Becky Hellwig was inspired to hire a fashion stylist after having twins. “It wasn’t cheap, but [it was] worth every penny,” says the mother, who works as a public relations consultant in Silicon Valley. “I had a huge closet full of clothes and it was nine months after my twins were born. I needed help. My goal was to dress a little chicer than [I was feeling]. I felt like a slob. I wanted to somewhat look like the girls on Pinterest. I knew if I found the perfect colors, it could happen, as well as clothes [that] looked good for my 32F chest.”

Fashion may seem frivolous, but this billion dollar industry is vital when it comes to how we want to portray ourselves to the outside world. Whether you’re looking to redirect your career, get a promotion, or make a major life change, what you wear can have a major impact. “What you wear is how you present yourself to the world, especially today when human contacts are so quick,” the iconic fashion designer Miuccia Prada once said. “Fashion is instant language.”

And if you aren’t the kind of person who likes to spend hours shopping for the right look — maybe you don’t have the time, maybe you’ve just never understood how to put an outfit together — you may want to do what Hellwig and many other women have chosen to do: hire a stylist. Where to start and who to use is as variable as there are styles and women. Today’s stylists offer services for every type of woman and, more importantly, you no longer have to be a celebrity to get the red carpet treatment.

Price Has Come Down as Access Has Gone Up
In recent years there’s been an influx of personal styling companies that streamline the process. These companies often have a team of stylists or offer specific benefits. “I have used Front Door Fashion a few times and have loved the experience,” says Brittany Sherwood, a psychiatric nurse practitioner. “I used the service when starting my career as a medical professional and wanted appropriate outfits that were both comfortable and fashionable.”

Similarly, Carlisle is a luxury, ready-to-wear styling service that’s been in business for more than 35 years. Fred Tutino, the former creative director of Elie Tahari, is now leading the brand. With 1,000 Carlisle stylists around the country, Carlisle caters to C-suite execs, society women, and others in Washington, DC, New York, and elsewhere. Prices range from around $175 to $2,990 and cover everything from the basics of finding the right T-shirt to nabbing a one-on-one session for a special evening event.

Stylist Audrey Beaulac says “the kind of woman who should hire a stylist could be anyone.” Beaulac is based in Seattle and DC and works with “high visibility clients on identifying, defining, and refining their ‘Style Signature.’” Her goal is to provide clients with “a streamlined, working wardrobe that intimately enhances its owner and serves every need.”

New York–based stylist Tania Sterl says, “There really is no standardized rate for personal stylists, and it does depend on where you live. In a more suburban or urban area where a woman’s career may be a full-time mom, teacher, or pharmacist, rates will be lower. For cities such as New York, LA, and Chicago for executive women, an average hourly rate could range from $150 to $250.” Sterl offers seasonal service package rates, half-day rates, and full-day rates.

Hire Help Before You Need it
“Ironically, many women wait to hire a stylist until there is an event, a promotion, or some transitory period in their lives because they want to look and feel their best for the upcoming occasion,” says Betina Baumgarten, a San Francisco–based stylist who works with celebrities and television reporters. “I always ask [my clients]: What about the rest of the year? The other 364 days? How do you want to feel then?”

Baumgarten, who spent 15 years as a civil defense attorney, believes that having a stylist is key not only for women who work in media or those who will be attending red carpet events, but for every woman. After all, she switched careers because she says, “after deposing hundreds of witnesses, it became clear that how you show up matters.” She adds: “Everyone I have worked with wishes they had called me sooner.”

Baumgarten says her goal is to help women “who want to learn how to effortlessly dress for [their] bod[ies]; embrace trends in physique-flattering ways; and who want to look and feel like the best, most authentic version of [themselves].”

“I cannot say it enough, ‘dress for the job you want, not the one you have,’” adds personal stylist Janel Alexander, based in Greenwich, Connecticut. “If you are looking to get ahead in your career, how you represent yourself — including how you dress — is a critical part of setting yourself apart. Whether we like it or not, we are constantly being judged as a way to identify.”

For this reason, this previously celeb-based perk is trickling down to the “average” woman.

What to Expect When They’re Styling
All stylists work differently. Baumgarten starts with a closet purge and keeps talking with her clients about what works and what doesn’t. She goes through their best pieces, denoting “the keepers,” and creates fresh outfits which she then compiles into a digital lookbook. “After a closet edit, clients routinely comment that they feel like they have a new wardrobe,” says Baumgarten. “And [they haven’t even] gone shopping!”

Of course, shopping is usually in order because after the purge they are left with gaps in their wardrobe. Another in-person meeting helps identify what’s missing. Then they go shopping — sometimes together or solo, depending on the client’s preferences — to expand both the closet and the lookbook.

Alexander, who works with celebrity news reporters such as NBC’s Kate Snow and high net-worth and philanthropic clients, provides similar styling services. “I tailor the services I offer to … the individual client’s needs,” she says. “This can range from editing and organizing their closet [by] going through specific pieces and curating — to a full edit: a total wardrobe revamp.” Her services might include shopping for the client on a seasonal or bi-seasonal basis.

Alexander also offers a lookbook with head-to-toe photographs of outfits meant for work, specific presentations, day-to-day, or special events. When a client of hers goes on vacation, it’s not uncommon for Alexander to plan the outfits for the trip. “I put full looks together based on [her] itinerary and pack it all with photos and itemized details of all looks.”

How to Choose a Stylist
“Talk to several consultants; get a feel for their process,” Beaulac suggests. “You’re going to be spending productive time together. Do you believe this person can lead you to your result? Do they have resources that fit for you?”

And, do you like the way the stylist dresses? Different stylists have various expertise — and finding someone to dress you for your career may be different than the person who can dress you for a black-tie event. Also consider how long the revamp will last. When will you need to do it again?

If you’re on the fence about whether to hire a stylist, Beaulac recommends determining your goals. Drill down, she says: “Do you want color help? Are you [just] updating? Is it a complete re-do including hair and makeup?” Answering these questions will help you pinpoint exactly what you need from a stylist.

Meet the Stylists
Need a stylist? Our fabulous interviewees offer a great starting point.

Janel Alexander
A personal stylist based in Greenwich, CT, Janel worked for 12 years with top retailers and designers, making sure that not only were their designs on point — but also that the fit was amazing. She works with celebrity news reporter Kate Snow as well as other prominent and philanthropic clients.

Betina Baumgarten
San Francisco–based stylist Betina Baumgarten styles such local celebrities as the San Francisco Giants’ Emmy-winning broadcaster Amy G and the Oakland A’s sideline reporter Angela Sun. Betina recently had the pleasure of styling the 2016 Oscar-winning producer for Best Picture (Spotlight) Blye Faust for numerous award shows, including the SAG, BAFTA, and Independent Spirit Awards, as well as the Oscars.

Audrey Beaulac
Working in both Washington, DC, and Seattle, Audrey combines left-brain analysis with right-brain intuition to help her clients pinpoint nuances, overcome distractions, and ultimately express their most remarkable selves. With discretion and compassion, she facilitates a customized transformation that puts her clients at ease while projecting a dynamic, authentic presence. By defining color, clothing personality, and body architecture, Beaulac unearths the uniqueness within each of her clients so that her outside can reflect the genuine confidence radiating from her inside.

Tania Sterl
Tania Sterl is a New York–based personal branding stylist and fashion expert, founder and principal of Sterl on Style. As the “Creative Director for your Image,” Tania’s mission is to empower women through style, showing them how to take both their image and their success to the next level. With 20 years experience in the fashion industry, Sterl has designed beautiful, flattering looks for accomplished career women.

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Navigating the Sandwich

Call Me. Maybe

When her father failed to pick up the phone at the set time, she began to worry

By Mel Miskimen

Photo by Alexander Andrews on Unsplash

I call my 89-year-old father every day at 11. I check up on him to see if he needs anything. I punch in the same seven digits I memorized in kindergarten, when phone numbers began with names like Lincoln or Hopkins. The phone rings. Once.


Three times. He should have picked up by now.


Five. Maybe he doesn’t have his hearing aids in?

Six. What if he’s at the bottom of the basement steps? Should I get in the car? I could be there in eight minutes. What if I get there and his car is in the driveway, and I walk into the house and he’s in bed, cold and blue —

Him: “Hello?”

Sometimes his voice is thready and dry, meaning he hasn’t gotten a good night’s sleep because of his sciatica. But he sounds good. I am able to deliver my opening line, lighthearted without an ounce of trepidation.

Me: “Hi, Dad! Just calling to check up! So . . . how are you?”


Him: “I’m fine. Now.”

My cue to ask the inevitable follow up question, but not before I pray to my late mother to give me strength. What had happened earlier to make him fine, now? Had he been accosted in a parking lot while buying donuts? Pulled over for erratic driving? Smelled gas in the house?

Him: “Well, I was sitting at the computer, trying to send an email — ”

Was that what all this was about? His inability to attach something to an email?

Him (continuing): “and I feel this warm trickling sensation running down my arm, and sure enough . . . it’s blood.”

He said this with a boring nonchalance, the result of his 40 years on the police force.

Me: “Blood?!”

I picture him, Carrie-like, tapping away at his keyboard, leaving bloody fingerprints on the keys.

Him: “So I get up and get a paper towel. And I press, and press, but I still can’t get it to stop. It was a real gusher! So, I get a towel, tie it on my arm. Real tight, so I won’t get any blood on the car seat — ”

Me: “Wait a sec. Hang on. Car seat?”

Him: “Yeah. ‘Cause blood is hard to get out of upholstery, and I gotta concentrate on driving, not on my arm.”

He won’t hesitate to call me to come over when his computer type is too small or the thing he’s trying to print, won’t, but not when he’s bleeding out in the kitchen . . . ?!

Me: (Mouth open. No words forthcoming.)

Him: “So, I get to the emergency room — ”

Did he drive himself to the nearest ER? Or the one that’s a 30-minute drive under good circumstances? The one attached to the hospital my mother had been in and out of before she died, days after she had heard her two recently deceased sisters calling her home for supper?

Me: “Which ER?”

Him: “That one — where Mom was. And I see the doc, and he says this happens all the time. It’s because I’m on those blood thinners.”

Me: (trying to remember to breathe) “Um, Dad?”

Him: “Yes?”

Me: “ I’ve got a question — ”

Him: “Go ahead.”

Me: “Why didn’t you call me?”

There’s a pause. Like he’s thinking of a way to let me down easy. I’m his go-to person! He gave me medical power of attorney over my older sister because according to him she is too flaky. What had happened to change my status from Daughter I Can Count On to Daughter I Can’t Call?

Him: “I knew you were watching the Packers’ game. With your friends.”

There it is. My Green Bay Packer fandom has gotten in the way of my Good Daughter standing? May I present to the court that my father is the person who is responsible for my green and gold zeal? It was he who reverently spoke of Vince Lombardi et al during family dinners. He was the one who structured our schedule around kickoff times. I rest my case.

Me: “So, like, you’d have called me, and I would have said, ‘Oh sorry, Dad. Can’t drive you to the ER. We’re on the 10-yard line. Can’t you wait until halftime?’”

Him: “Well. Okay. I see your point.”

I’m like a parent whose child wandered off in a mall but after 15 long, arduous minutes of worry and panic is found safe. I want to yell at him. Give him a stern talking to. Don’t you ever do that again! But, on the other hand, he handled the situation. Besides, he’s fine. Now. No harm. No foul.

Him: “Next time I’ll call.”

Me: “Next time?”

To be continued…

This is the second installment in a series Mel Miskimen is writing for TheCovey about the drafty empty nest she shares with her husband, who is on the fast track to sainthood. Miskimen is a writer based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and author of Sit Stay Heal.  Her previous articles for Covey include installment #1, “No Guns for Old Men,” and “When We Were Hot.

  1. Lisa Bader

    Mel, thanks for a fun read! It sounds like your father is doing well…and has his game day priorities straight. 😉 I’m not sure how I missed the memo, but raising children is muuuuch easier than tending to aging parents.

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5 Things You Need to Know About Your Midlife Vagina

Change happens. But there are solutions

By Dr. Barb Depree

Photo by Lucas Silva Pinheiro Santos for Unsplash

We boomers received a funny kind of sex-education. At least many of us did. While our moms were pretty circumspect about sex, the book Our Bodies, Ourselves filled in a whole lot of blanks about sexual health. As teens we compared notes with our girlfriends and learned firsthand about menstruation; in our 20s we talked about pregnancy and childbirth, but for the most part left miscarriage and infertility out of the conversation, discussing instead the gory details of screaming and pooping during delivery; and now, 30 or 40 years later, we’ve clammed up as we head into (or are well into) menopause. Why aren’t we talking about the changes taking place with our bodies? Why are we limiting the conversation to bad jokes about hot flashes? The fact is, there’s a lot going on down there, just as there was when we were turning into “women,” and then again when we were producing offspring, and then again when we hit our 40s and were finally truly comfortable with how our bodies work. So, let’s talk about “it” —  the aging vagina.

Vaginal dryness is one of the most common issues women over 50 experience. Like hot flashes, vaginal dryness results from declining hormone levels. It can make sex vaguely uncomfortable or excruciatingly painful. And it can lead to a downward spiral: that is, sex is uncomfortable, so we postpone it. And then, because we aren’t providing those tissues any attention to boost their circulation, the dryness gets worse — so we put off sex some more. Mom didn’t mention lubricants, either, or vaginal moisturizers, which are the easiest way to make intercourse not only comfortable but pleasurable, even with a dry vagina.

Lower hormone levels also mean shrinking vaginal tissues. A young vagina is like a pleated skirt (with what we doctors call rugae); that’s how it accommodates babies as well as penises of various sizes. As we lose hormones, that pleated skirt is remade into a pencil skirt. Like a pencil skirt that’s straight and tight, older vaginas lack elasticity.

Add a newly un-elastic vagina to dry fragile tissues, and the cause of discomfort is very clear.

So, what to do:

If you are perimenopausal: Since keeping vaginal tissues healthy is easier than restoring them to health, start a moisturizing routine now.

If you’re post-menopausal: Talk to your healthcare provider about localized estrogen or other prescription options (Osphena and Intrarosa are two choices) that aid in vaginal health.

The Big O becomes evasive:

In keeping with the clothing analogy … While our vaginas go from pleated to pencil, the clitoris goes from maxi to mini. We experience what men often call shrinkage; but, unlike for men, clitoral shrinkage is a permanent condition that has nothing to do with being cold. The clitoris — the entire genital area, actually — atrophies, losing 80 percent of its volume. In updated lingo, doctors call this  “genitourinary syndrome of menopause,” replacing the prior term vulvovaginal atrophy.

A smaller clitoris, less sensitive tissue, and lower testosterone can add up to “evasive orgasms.” The good news is that we can delay and decrease clitoral shrinkage and evasive orgasms by increasing stimulation. That means more foreplay, more masturbation, and the addition of vibrators and warming lubricants. Another solution is to be more direct with our partners, explaining what we need to get there. Remember, since the clitoris benefits from use, the more stimulation it receives, the more responsive you’ll be.

That’s all well and good, except for this final, added twist:

After menopause, we lose up to 80 percent of our testosterone production. With less of this “hormone of desire,” you’ll need a strategy to keep the home fires burning. Consider marking time for sex on your calendar. While it doesn’t seem romantic, if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. You’d be surprised how many women I see in my practice who’ve just realized they haven’t had sex in a year.

“I feel betrayed by my body,” a patient experiencing vaginal dryness told me. And that’s why knowing and understanding is key. Being prepared can help us age not only gracefully but with greater empowerment.

And don’t forget to tell your daughters. Please.

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The Find

Museum-Quality Storage for Your Clothes

Barbara Harman invented a way to care for your most precious items that would make Mr. Carson proud

By Katie Weisman

Photo of Barbara Harman of The Butler's Closet
Barbara Harman with her 100% percale garment covers. Photo by Maria Karas

Unlike many actors who borrow their gowns for red carpet events, Tiffany Haddish made the $4,000-plus investment in a stunning white Alexander McQueen dress for the international premieres of Girls Trip, the 2017 comedy in which she had a breakout role alongside industry veterans Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah, and Regina Hall.

Haddish wore the dress over and over again, even to this year’s Oscars. As someone who grew up in foster care and was at one point homeless, Haddish does not take her luxurious dress for granted. This white gown has been, in effect, an emblem of her success.


Storing Clothes: The Right Way

A gown that is so cherished, no matter what its cost, has to be properly cared for and stored. The problem is, very few people actually know how to do this correctly. Now is the perfect time to learn, as you replace your sundresses with sweaters, and The Butler’s Closet is here to help.

Founded by Barbara Harman, former president and CEO of Parfums Nina Ricci for the US and nonprofit development expert (among other career highlights), The Butler’s Closet is an online shop selling protective clothing-, furniture-, and accessory-covers in 100% cotton percale or flannel that is free of dyes, chemicals and bleach (the same cotton percale used by the Metropolitan Museum of Art for its conservation work). The Butler’s Closet also sells other helpful accessories to care for your wardrobe.

We’re all guilty of shoving that long dress on a flimsy hanger into a desperately crowded closet. We’ve certainly left the plastic from the dry cleaner on clothes coming back from the store. And, alas, we’ve probably left our wedding dress in that sealed box for years. All of these are big no-no’s, Harman says. Crowding leads to wrinkles; pleats or folds in your boxed dress can become permanent and eventually cause breakage. Friction from everyday items like a wristwatch or zippers is also hazardous. Plastic covers from the dry cleaners not only trap humidity but also emit chemicals that can, over time, alter the color of the fabric.

Barbara Harman with a chair cover. Photo by Maria Karas


The Dangers of Dust Particles

Then there’s the issue of dust. Did you know that a dust particle is sharp and pointy? Harman didn’t when she started to think about her business, but she now knows that over time, dust embeds itself in the fabric. If there is a little humidity, the fabric can form a crust and tear. Dust gets into closets even with the door closed. Light is another ambient problem that can bleach out colors. Harman’s cotton covers, which close with buttons or fabric ties, can prevent all these things from happening.

How did Harman go from couture fragrances to cotton covers? Easily. Like many entrepreneurs, she had a need herself for such products in the mid-2000s, but she could not find them.

“We had built a house in Columbia County, New York, and we have these tall windows without curtains that let in tons of sunlight,” Harman recalls. “We had just upholstered the furniture. I started looking for dust covers to cover the furniture on weekends but I couldn’t find anything.”

At the same time, she wanted to properly protect and store some of the wonderful pieces of Nina Ricci clothing she had acquired when she ran the couture house’s American fragrance business. She started her search, even online, and she came up empty.


A Personal Need and a Business Idea Collide

Coinciding with this personal search was a professional desire to create an entrepreneurial company. At first, she was eyeing the upmarket cleaning product sector where recent entrants including Caldrea and Mrs. Meyers Clean Day were positioning themselves like cosmetics brands, Harman notes.

She realized, however, that it would have been impractical to start a liquid chemicals business on the side while working full time.

Serendipity struck, however, when Harman and her husband’s cousin, Phyllis Dillon, a fashion historian, author, and conservator, met with Patsy Orlofsky, Phyllis’s friend and colleague. Patsy, also a textile conservator, is the founder and Executive Director of the Textile Conservation Workshop.

The three began discussing what Harman could do, and the ideas for The Butler’s Closet were hatched.

“I decided to develop this line of products and talked to textile conservators to get their guidance, found a designer to work with me to create the designs and the patterns, sourced the components (fabric, buttons, labels, etc.), and then searched to find the right manufacturer here in New York,” Harman explains. A self-proclaimed workaholic, she devoted all of her free time outside of work to the project starting in roughly 2009.

The Butler’s Closet officially launched in 2011.


Using Conservation Techniques: For Clothes

“One of the things I realized when I was doing my research was that butlers and their housekeepers invented many of the techniques [for conservation] that are used in museums today,” Harman explains. “Many big country homes in England ended up being turned into museums like Chatsworth House because the homes were too big for individual families to maintain. During winter after the visitors have gone, the conservators put the house to bed – that’s what they call it – and they shut the house down, dust and clean everything, and cover everything with dust sheets.”

Harman and her husband, architect Laurence Harman, learned more about this process through a BBC documentary on video, Petworth House: The Big Spring Clean, Putting the House to Bed, which they picked up in a gift shop while on a trip to England visiting similar stately homes a few years ago.

“They clean and dust absolutely everything – the books, the china, the artwork; they cover everything, using gloves; polish silver; vacuum the rugs; roll the rugs up – when it is time to reopen the house and let the tourists come in, they undo everything, take all the covers off and then have thousands of visitors throughout the spring, summer and fall. We were fascinated with this,” Harman recounts.

Harman notes that her idea and website are a combination of how traditional English estates are cared for and a desire to offer regular people museum-quality goods to protect their possessions. She’s achieved the latter by doing meticulous research and working closely with conservators for product development. The Butler’s Closet logo of a country mansion (designed by her husband) reflects Harman’s passion.


What Your Butler Might Have Used

Items in The Butler’s Closet include museum-quality garment bags of various lengths, shoulder covers, wedding dress preservation covers, linen and tablecloth covers, and furniture dust covers in the unbleached, undyed cotton percale. There are also shoe bags in chemical and dye-free flannel. All the fabric pieces are made in Brooklyn, NY. Other goodies in the collection include natural horn clothes brushes, furniture polish, and luxury dryer balls in undyed 100% New Zealand wool. Prices range from $16 for the women’s shoe bag to $150 for the wedding dress preservation covers.

The Butler’s Closet enjoys a wide range of clients. There are those who want a few shoulder covers for their jackets but also estate curators who’ve inquired about the fabric’s “shield,” or how much sun the covers block. That would be 77.3% of UVA rays and 86.1% of UVB rays, in case you were wondering. She was recently surprised by a substantial order of 50 furniture dust covers from an individual who owns many large homes.

“Conservators have such terrific techniques that I’m trying to bring to the public,” says Harman, now a board member of the Textile Conservation Workshop. “At the end of the day, there are certain things you want to take care of and preserve.”


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Say what?

"Women and cats do as they please and men and dogs should get used to the idea."

Robert A Heinlein

Second Acts

Reinventing Quiet Spaces

After a painful divorce, this stay-at-home mom created peaceful places for others

By Michelle Moskowitz

Francine Krulak created BuddhaBooth to be easy to assemble anywhere

Think about the frenetic, over-digitized, stressful moments we encounter throughout the day, and imagine them building up over a lifetime. Coronary in the making, right?

What if, after a long, irksome meeting at work or an unpleasant encounter with an insurance agent, you could escape for just a few quiet minutes by stepping inside your own pod of peace? Hold that thought for a moment and meet a woman who brought this dream to life.

Francine Steadman Krulak was a stay-at-home mom of three, living outside New York City and recuperating from a tough divorce, when she found her calling. She didn’t recognize it as a calling at first. “The ending [of my marriage] was arduous and unsettling for me, as I knew there was a difficult journey in front of me,” Krulak tells me when we meet at a café in Mamaroneck, New York.

Up much too late one night with her unraveling midlife anxieties, Krulak was suddenly struck with a CoveyClub-style reinvention moment, blurting out, “I really need a Buddha Booth!”

“At the time,” she tells me, “I didn’t recognize that I possessed both the skill and determination to take this path. Ultimately, though, it’s leading me to my Om.”

Her vision came in the form of hand-designed portable mini-temples made of wood, suitable for one or two people and meant for quiet contemplation and rejuvenation. “Many people seek solace to process emotional and mental challenges,” Krulak says with an assured smile. “With stillness, comes clarity.”

Soon after her eureka moment, Krulak enlisted the help of her family and friends to create a prototype for the idea, calling it the Lotus Booth, which stands grandly at nearly 7.5-feet tall with an ultra-plush interior and curtains made of noise-blocking acoustic panels. Cranking up her “life reboot,” Krulak’s next move was to launch BuddhaBooth, a furniture company with a wellness mission to provide an “om away from home,” as she puts it, for those who need a tranquil respite from everyday stress.

Two other models have since joined the Lotus Booth. The Obelisk Booth is smaller and offers a simple, sleek escape for one. The Clarity Capsule is a design-neutral booth that’s popular with corporations and schools because it’s easy to transport from room to room and to reassemble.

Built in the United States, each unit can be rented or purchased in birch, bamboo, ECOR, or PaperStone and is fully soundproof and safe from outside sensory stimulation.

The company first launched its product at the popular Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in California and, not surprisingly, was a big hit among guests and staffers seeking a bit of inner calm amid the cacophony.

In the three years since that festival, BuddhaBooth has gained a solid footprint in corporations, co-working spaces, hospitals, and universities, including Mercy College, USC, Rituals Cosmetics, Johnson & Johnson, and Global Brands Group. Soon Krulak says it will be unveiled in one of the largest medical centers in the country.

Given the sharp increase in anxiety among school-age children, one of Krulak’s main goals is to get as many booths placed into as many secondary schools as possible, despite school budget cuts.

“We saw early on that the benefits of having a sensory-safe quiet space to ‘just be’ can aid all children, with or without special needs,” says Krulak. “This speaks straight to my heart, and I’m excited to roll them into more schools in the fall.” BuddhaBooths are already in a few middle schools in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City.

Even before founding BuddhaBooth, Krulak was healing hearts and minds with Art and Soul New York, her nonprofit foundation providing restoration for domestic abuse survivors through painting, drawing, writing, and meditation — all things at which she is quite skilled.

To add to her wealth of wellness contributions, Krulak recently launched a new platform called (inspired by a Fleetwood Mac song) that features her contemplative “life hacks” as well as a curated selection of other personal stories that share her vision of calm.

“Writing was how I sanely made my way through many transitions,” says Krulak. “I ‘blogged’ to myself and wrote poetry to the universe.”

“We all have tragedies, trials and triumphs,” she continues, “but as I look back wondering how and when I’d turn the next corner, I realize I’m living a dream that I brought to life — though granted there is still no glamour circulating around my U-Haul trips!”

Visit to rent (from $500) or buy (around $3,500) a mini-temple. A portion of BuddhaBooths’ proceeds benefit survivors of domestic violence, women’s health research, and autism-related resources.

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Breaking The Rules

How Not To Be The Office Mom

Resist the urge to tell your millennial co-worker her outfit is too "risqué" for the workplace

By Diane di Costanzo

1950s mom cleaning up after millennials
Illustration by Emily Ryan

I was recently asked to speak at an event organized by CIRKEL, a new networking salon organized by Charlotte Japp, a millennial woman who seeks to bring baby boomers working in the creative industries together with their millennial counterparts.

“We have a lot to learn from each other,” says Japp, now a senior creative at Live Nation and formerly of Vice, where she had a similar role producing events and branded content. “The trouble is boomers and millennials don’t sit at the same table.”

She’s right. But my first reaction was this: Do millennials even want older people at their table? And this thought sent me straight back to junior high school where I would wander the social minefield called the cafeteria, hoping for a table that would have me. (A note about me in the seventh grade. I was Hermione: great grades, zero friends, frizzy hair.)

Also: Salon? Can anyone who is more contemporary than, say, Gertrude Stein really pull off a salon?

The answer to the “table” question is a complex one, so more on that in a minute.

The answer to the “salon” question is easier: Yes, Charlotte Japp, a spectacularly connected and confident young woman, can pull off a salon, no big deal. The event in question was at the lovely Bowery Poetry Project in lower Manhattan. Charlotte’s only request was that I speak about my career for about 20 minutes, create a Powerpoint with visuals depicting my various decades in the media, and bring my own dongle.

Powerpoint, that I can do. Dongle, check. But 20 minutes on my 30-plus years in the media industry (which we used to call publishing)? Would anyone, especially a millennial, want to listen to even a two-minute monologue on, essentially, time spent toiling in front of an IBM Selectric, and after that a computer the color of nude pantyhose, and after that a laptop?

A college pal of mine who also works in the media industry told me a heartbreaking story about going-away drinks for a departing millennial colleague. The invitation was widely circulated, but not to my older friend. She caught wind of the plan and asked the organizer why she wasn’t invited. The organizer prevaricated: it’s just a small thing; they knew she commuted; they didn’t think she’d be able to attend. My friend responded emotionally, and awkwardness ensued and endured long after the event, making her feel like a pariah.

Now emotions and social awkwardness are largely “felt” facts. They exist in the mind and heart, but aren’t necessarily obvious to others. That said, the fact of my wandering the Central Junior High cafeteria, tray in hand, looking for a friendly face or, at the very least, a table where my eating a sandwich solo would be unobserved — well, that’s still very real to me. As is the hurt felt by my friend. Which is why she fears, like so many of us 50-something workers, we’re not wanted at the table.

What I learned at the boomer-plus-millennial salon? We are very much welcomed. But attached to that invitation — Sit at our table! Join us for drinks! — are rules, let’s call them, that make coexistence, and more to the point, collaboration more productive. These I gleaned from the millennials at the salon, offered more as musings than edicts, so this rule-like listing below is entirely mine.

1. Don’t Be an Office Mom
I’ll admit to having maternal feelings in the workplace. And while less offensive than sexual feelings (and fondlings), they are also unwanted. Millennial women most likely have mothers who mother them — sometimes far too much. And whether the Office Mom knows it or not, her maternal instincts tend to project unarticulated judgments like “you’re wearing that to work?” and “because I said so,” neither of which are productive, especially if the millennial in question is your boss.

2. Adapt to Survive
This piece of advice is applicable to absolutely every aspect of humanity, including the survival of the species. Indeed, any species. Despite that, it’s sometimes hard to remember in the office, especially among us tenured workers. I hear women my age complain bitterly about how younger colleagues fail to comply with what they view as normative workplace behavior — they walk around with headphones on, they look at their phones in meetings when you’re talking, they ignore emails in favor of Slack conversations. Best to remember that what’s considered “normative” is ever changing. Put another way, “same as it ever was” is a fabulous song lyric but a less than fabulous workplace mantra.

3. Ageism Cuts Both Ways
Here’s a real life story, born of a “persona” document from a brand. One of brand X’s personas (i.e., target audiences) was the 50-year-old, empty-nesting and semi-retired female, whom the brand described as “technophobic” and therefore unlikely to consume video content and use social channels. My younger colleagues nodded along. I was aghast: did you not hear me say I can make a Powerpoint deck and that I carry a dongle on me at all times? Why that’s ageism at work, Brand X!

The truth is, some of us 50-year-old women tend to paint millennials with a similarly broad brush. Millennials, women of my age tend to say, are entitled and self-absorbed. They’re addicted to their devices and social media. Some of them are, just as there are some 50-year-olds who can’t figure out how Instagram Stories work. But to define people based solely on their age category is, simply put, to disrespect them, however unwittingly. Whatever your age, I think we can agree that for too long women have been disrespected in the workplace. Let’s not do that to each other, O.K.?

  1. Fred Tietze

    As usual, a pithy insight to this ageism dynamic. I’ve always found that unbaised respect for any person (age is just a number) and commitment to active listening along with good dose of a sense of humor creates a colaborative dynamic ! Great to see you writing!

  2. Kathren Vargas

    Um, I have no idea what a “dongle” is, and I’m a cosmetologist as well as many other professional hats that I wear, a salon is what we get our hair, nails and facials, each month. So, please, splain, Lucy.

  3. Cindy

    So now it’s age. It used to be gender, before that it was race, before that it was ethnic background. Soon something else will replace age as a topic, with new labels to assign and more fodder for freelance writers. This too shall pass.

  4. emily saltzman

    When my former boss referred to me as “mother hen” I was outraged and pointed out I did not seek out this role. In a poorly run and stressful environment, younger employees will be driven toward supportive, experienced and frankly kinder colleagues. I am very careful not to extend myself in that way any more but one can become the “office mom” by default.

  5. Bridget Trusty

    I agree! I am Gen Xer and I am quite sure that Baby Boomers have issues with me! Each generation will clash with the next. The key is to have a culture where the generations are working together and in harmony. It truly works! Just saying…….

    • lesley

      Hi Bridget: we agree. There will always be friction. Let’s just hash it out together. Thanks for the note!

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Want to upsize your salary? Move to Washington, DC, Kansas City, MO, or Baltimore, MD, which, according to SmartAsset’s 2016 study of women in tech, are the top three cities for pay equity.

Woman of Passion & Purpose

Making Sure Women’s Rights are Human Rights

Chouchou Namegabe risked everything to fight violence against women

By Lesley Jane Seymour

Geoffray Barbier

Don’t let those cherubic cheeks and easy laugh fool you. Chouchou Namegabe is one of the fiercest fighters on the planet for women’s rights. A self-made journalist, Namegabe grew up in Bukavu, Congo — a country that in 2010 was called the “rape capital of the world.” In the late 1990s, Namegabe founded AFEM (the South Kivu Women’s Media Association), a radio station that brought rape survivors on air to tell their stories and expose how rape was being used as a weapon against women in the country’s civil war. Despite death threats, Namegabe trained a phalanx of young women to follow in her journalistic footsteps and plans to keep fighting.

*WARNING: this video and transcript contain some graphic discussions of violence to women.

I’m from Bukavu in the eastern part of Democratic Republic of the Congo. I was born there and grew up there with my big family— nine kids. It’s a beautiful part of a beautiful country, a beautiful town surrounded with mountains and [the] beautiful Kivu Lake and yeah I [grew] up there. In a poor family, I remember it was hard for us to go to school for school fees, also to have enough to eat.

I remember my father lost his job when I was eight years old, and with all my brothers and sisters really we struggled. My mother tried to do her best to make us grow up and I remember really it was very hard, we could spend three days without having anything to eat. Nothing to eat. And in 1986 we got malnutrition [and] that’s when my mom said she had to do something, and in the same year she started selling the local beer.

It was like a competition in life in my family because when my father wanted to pay the school fees he chose to pay [for] my brothers. I had to work hard to be the best. My father asked me to look for a job, to be teaching somewhere. I said “no, dad.” I was really very young. I think I was 17, and I said “no, I won’t teach. It’s not my choice, not my passion, I won’t do it.” We had a clash with my father, but at the same time I met with a woman who really she took me from the road and brought me to the radio station. She was working as a journalist, her name is Aziza Bangwene.

From there, she — when we met, she told me, “You are like my sister; you look like my sister. You are beautiful.  I love you. Come with me.” And she brought me to the radio station. For me, really, it was like, it brought a light in my life. I learned a lot. She taught me how to speak, how to use [a] microphone, how to write news, how to broadcast, how to make reports — everything. And really it brought a big light in my life. And it’s from there that I started learning about women’s rights because I had to make programs with human rights activists or to make shows where I tell people what to do, for example. I learned a lot from the radio, and the first place was to go to my family and change it.

I learned that human rights were women’s rights, [that] women have the same right as the men, and I taught it — because really it was like to teach — to my family. Between 1998 to 2001, there was a lot of things that was done against human rights and from that I — no one could talk about it, no one. Some human rights NGOs could report, but to make it known to my local people, no one could talk about it because it was rebellion [was unauthorized].

As a journalist, when we opened the radio, we said we had to do something for women.  They were the ones who paid for that. There was [a lot of] rape and atrocities against women: some women were buried alive, torture, and many things. They knew that women were half of the community and at that time we started to talk about rape. But it was really very hard as we didn’t have an appropriate word to talk about rape in Swahili, in our local language.

I remember we borrowed a word from Swahili from Tanzania and we started talking about “ubakaji,” [which is] rape. How we could talk about it? Because it’s hard — after the rape women were rejected from all the families, the community. So we decided to give them microphones to record their testimonies and we broadcasted their testimonies. At the beginning it was really very hard, and the first time we did it it was like a shock in the community. “How do you talk about sex on the radio?” We said, “No it’s not a problem of sex; it’s a problem of women.” We recorded many testimonies [that were] hard for us to believe. You know, after the rape there was many atrocities on women, they put in stones, wedges into the vaginas of women. After the rape they forced women to eat the flesh of their kids — they killed the kids and forced the women to eat the flesh of their kids. It was really very hard, and we gave only the microphone to the women.

As we were the only radio to broadcast such testimonies, we decided with my colleague [who] was my chief director, Aziza, and we founded AFEM, the South Kivu Women’s Media Association. We started to make programs and share them in other radios in Bukavu. It wasn’t very easy to work in such context of war and rebellions because as journalists we received many threats. I worked for 17 years in journalism, in the activism, and now here in the US. I’m working with Columbia as a researcher in Freedom of Expression, they have a program that is called Global Freedom of Expression, and we work by monitoring some cases of justice and [we] analyze how the justice took into account the human rights, to analyze how human rights were treated in cases of justice. I will be covering the French countries in Central Africa.

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The Workplace America Has Lost

A writer reflects on the honesty, kindness and sense of community that formed her business values

By Julie Cristal

Photo courtesy of Kheel Center, Cornell University

I used to hear them on their phones outside my office door.

Their names were Marge and Eileen, and they represented the customer service department of the clothing manufacturing company for which I handled marketing and public relations.

“How’s that grandchild of yours?” Marge would ask; she was in her 40s at the time, heavyset and full of emotion, with no children or husband.“Did you like the brisket recipe I gave you? It was my grandmother’s Passover version.”

Eileen, divorced and living with her mother, had a sarcastic wit. “Are you ordering two dozen more bras today?” she’d shout into the phone. “I thought I told you last week that one dozen wasn’t going to be enough. And by the way, someday I will get to Connecticut and visit you. I have never really left Ohio.”

It was the late 1980s, and this was the second job of my career. The company was family-owned, and the founder, a tiny 80-year-old of few words named Frederick DiCiccio, still wandered the halls outside my office. He’d founded the company in the early 1940s. Actually, he didn’t really even start the company — it was given to him.

At 16, Frederick had been a stowaway from Italy, hunkered down in the ship’s cargo deck. He landed in America with no knowledge of the language and found a job sewing coats in a factory in Cleveland, Ohio, that was owned by an elderly woman. Frederick soon became her best and hardest worker, and when she retired, she offered him the business in lieu of all the back pay he was owed; Frederick had never missed a day of work or taken a vacation.

The Second World War came, and with it rations, specifically government assistance to pregnant mothers and manufacturers of related items — including nursing and maternity bras. Frederick borrowed railway ticket–collector punches and used them to make the holes to support the laces that women used to tighten their corseted bras. Soon, he had a completely different business model.

In a videotape I made of Frederick, he tells of the day he took a bus to New York to show those samples to a Macy’s lingerie buyer. “I sat in the lobby all day, and she walked past me,” Frederick says, looking directly into the camera. “I never said a word and spent the night on the couch. The next day, she told me to come into her office [he motions in the video with his hand], and I gave her six samples,” he says with the gleam still in his eye.
“She studied each one just like this,” he says, reenacting her movements. “And then she put three in her lap. Those three were the first products I sold to a big department store!”

By the time I arrived in 1989, this company was the largest niche manufacturer of SKUs (stock keeping units) to the maternity and breastfeeding markets. Our customer base included thousands of small maternity stores and chains, plus mid-sized and major department stores across the United States. We sold through an independent sales rep, a team of old-timers with names like Seymour and Al who’d spent their entire careers prowling the garment district of New York and other areas of the country peddling women’s lingerie. I loved these men. They knew generations of store buyers by name, could draw flowcharts of each business from memory, and had large personalities and even larger stories to go with them. Their people skills were their currency.

And we made the items in America, at two brand new manufacturing facilities in rural south central Illinois.

One of my first duties as a 25-year-old director of public relations was to organize a company-wide sales meeting near the manufacturing facilities in Effingham, Illinois. I remember swooping in over the cornfields in a tiny plane, renting a car, and checking into the Thelma Keller Convention Center (really just a Ramada Inn with a fancy name).

Thelma Keller, too, had a story, and it began with a one-pump gas station she and her husband Lolami owned and from which she served the best barbecue sandwiches in the region. From there came a gas distribution business and this convention center, inspired by Thelma’s passion for cooking and treating each guest as special.

In the 1990s there were dozens if not hundreds of manufacturing facilities in Illinois. And the convention center, though not fancy but just right, provided many of them with lodging and rooms for sales meetings. The grand dame Thelma was probably in her 80s, and she was at the front desk when I checked in late in the evening a few days in advance of our meeting. She was a wisp of a thing with a big smile and auburn hair piled into a beehive on top of her head; she never stopped moving. And when I came down for breakfast early the next morning, there she was again at the hostess stand.

But Thelma wasn’t the only kind and gracious hard worker in south-central Illinois. The area was teeming with them, which I soon found out when I visited our factories. From the plant managers to the assistants to the maintenance man sweeping up with a broom, I was greeted with hugs and offers of pie the very first time I visited those facilities and during the times I would visit them in the years that followed. There’d always be homemade food that someone had brought in to share in the lunchroom. There were stories of babies, and parades, and rotary meetings. There were dinners at people’s homes; I’d be invited as a guest to sit around their family dinner table. There were town diners with some of the best food I’d ever eaten then or since.

Our facilities didn’t just produce garments, they housed mini-communities of their own, filled with fellowship and humanity.

This was rural America, and since I was raised in the suburbs of larger US cities, this was a completely new experience for me. I loved visiting those plants because they were microcosms of American manufacturing in its heyday.

The sales meeting came and went — my first project a resounding success — but more importantly it was a perfect segue into what would be the next six years of my life.

A year or two after I started at the company, Walmart, Target, and other big mass merchandising chains came calling. They were just in their infancies. But how could small manufacturers like us say no? If we refused to work with them, some other enterprise would get the business, and we had people to employ.

I remember all 25 years of me telling the company owner that I predicted we’d see a drastic shift in our customers. And we did. By the time I left, our top three accounts made up 80 percent of our business; Walmart was dialing us collect and recommending manufacturers overseas to make us more efficient and hold down our prices.

Marge and Eileen spoke with fewer and fewer people by phone outside my office. Walmart and Target began to place orders via the computer instead of through people.

I think back to that time often, for I believe that in those six short years I witnessed both the glory days of American manufacturing and the beginning of its downfall. I remember the people. I remember their hearts. When I came to New York for market week, I remember Seymour Klein with his distinct New York accent, in his disheveled oversize suit, schlepping his worn suitcase full of bra samples around New York. I remember his kind eyes, easy laugh, shock of gray hair, and his attempt to ease his young daughter into his business near the end, not realizing that the end was something much bigger than his own retirement.

I remember the silencing of the phones outside my office, as mom and pop retailers closed — no match for Walmart and Target — who now sold our wares under their own private labels (leaving me less to promote and weakening the brand name our proud founder had once scratched out on a notepad).

Frederick died during the time I was employed there. He was a humble man whose life was his work, as evidenced by the fact that the funeral guests consisted exclusively of family, employees, and factory workers. Yes, many traveled to Cleveland to attend this man’s funeral — a man they’d never met but respected. It was the grit and determination of this off-the-boat 16-year-old from Italy that allowed them to feed their families.

Will we ever have a period like this in America again? When people talk face to face while doing business instead of hitting “send” from their computers? When whole communities were employed at a few manufacturing facilities owned by actual Americans, and not some Brazilian conglomerate? Where you can not only trace the product you are assembling back to a real person, but also have the humanity and grace to travel 600 miles to attend his funeral?

I don’t think we will. But I feel honored and humbled to have been there. Because it formed me. I was a few years out of college and a year into my employment when I broke up with my controlling fiancé. When, for the first time in my life, I supported myself exclusively and found an apartment of my own.

An office-mate helped me sew curtains and sponge-paint my living room walls a deep shade of coral. Another colleague placed a bottle of wine on my desk on the day I moved in, giving me hope for a new beginning. The founder’s son took me aside and gave me a raise that day, too, just because he knew that moving into my own apartment came with a greater financial burden.

How lucky was I to land in the lap of that family-owned business at that point in history? That point in which humanity, resilience, and community modeled for me all that was right in this world. Even if it lasted just a few short years.


*** Names have been changed to protect privacy. But the Thelma Keller Conference Center remains. For more about Thelma click here.

  1. Barbara O'Neill

    I love this article. I am recently back in the business world after years of being a stay at home mom and teacher, and all I think about is how it just isn’t the same. How I long for the 1980’s when I started out. People were people then. The old timers like me (I’m in my 50’s) sit in awe all day of the new ways and feel like we are looking at the end. It’s sad to be in a place where no one cares.

  2. Docile Jim Brady

    Those in their 50s are in the Fabulous Fifties and by no means are “old” or “oldies”😎

    My work was in the 60s-90s with a dramatic change over those few decades.
    👍❤️🇺🇸✅ G R E A T to see Julie in print again😇

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Julie Cristal

Julie Cristal

Julie Cristal is a free-lance writer and sometimes blogger in Shaker Heights, Ohio. She can be found at and She loves to write about “ordinary” people who -when telling their stories-always become extraordinary.

Michelle Moskowitz

Michelle Moskowitz

Michelle Moskowitz has an extensive background in media that has taken her all over the country covering news and events, particularly issues that pertain to women as well as social causes that impact our communities. Michelle has been a long-time reporter and ambassador for the Greenwich Sentinel ran her own boutique consulting firm in New York, and launched the online division at LIFETime Television, providing content and utilities designed to educate and empower women.

Diane di Costanzo

Diane di Costanzo

Diane di Costanzo, VP/Editorial Director of The Foundry, Meredith branded content studio, has served as an editor and staff writer at Esquire, Self, Healthy Living and Martha Stewart Weddings, among other publications, where she’s worked overtime avoiding (Office) Mom-like behavior. Sadly for her two children, she’s entirely mom-like at home.


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