Costumes too cute to be scary


Everything Martha Stewart does seems so perfect: cookies, canapes, crafts.

Now add children's Halloween costumes to her list of talents.

The colorful, crepe paper monarch butterfly, pea pod, autumn fairy and flower-in-bloom costumes available through Martha's mail-order catalog look positively refreshing compared with the garish masks and cheesy fabrics that seem to be part of so many store-bought children's costumes.

Only Martha can be Martha, however. The arbiter of good taste works hard to make everything look perfect and you will too. The costumes don't come already made, they arrive as a kit with enough materials to make one or two costumes, depending on the sizes. (Martha wouldn't need a kit). A single costume takes about two hours to make. (Martha could do it in 10 minutes.) Finally, the costumes won't stand up to rain or more than one wearing. (Martha wouldn't tolerate rain on Halloween.)

To order a crepe paper costume kit for $32 from Martha by Mail, call 800-950-7130.

And hope for a clear night.

Banana Republic goes to the office

Flip-flops. Leggings. T-shirts. Shorts.

Casual dress at the office is getting to look more and more like slob wear.

Dressing comfortably for work doesn't have to mean looking like you just rolled out of bed. Banana Republic's new Stretch Collection of clothing for men and women pairs high-tech performance fabrics with spare, classic designs so that it's possible to be comfortable and look crisp and professional.

The collection, which features pants, shirts and jackets that can be worn as suits or separates, ranges from $100 to $300. .

A century of good looks

When Isaac Mizrahi was asked by In Style to pick the most remarkable looks of the last 100 years for the magazine's October issue, the impish fashion designer and filmmaker responded with his usual playfulness and effusion. Some of his choices include:

The Chanel suit (1959) -- "A woman is trained into that suit. She doesn't just wear it -- she has to learn to wear it."

Liza Minnelli in Halston (1973) -- "Red sequins, red hose. OK, I know. But this is a Liza thing: audacious."

Gap (1992) -- "If anything supersedes a dress this year, it's the white shirt. Who was thinking of dresses then? The Gap started a revolution with the best and most affordable white shirt. I'm the biggest fan of the Gap. What came first, the chicken or the Gap?"

Inside look at handbags

What do actors Cameron Diaz and Gwyneth Paltrow have more of -- beaus or perky purses? Why do Coach bags cost so much? And what exactly is the Queen Mum toting in her voluminous handbag?

If you're looking for answers to these and other impertinent handbag questions, don't read "The Handbag: To Have and To Hold" by Carmel Allen (Carlton, 144 pages, $20). Allen, a former beauty editor at Vogue, has written more of a love letter to purses than an expose.

The book covers the history of the handbag (they were carried originally by men), its evolution (from animal hide to ... well, animal hide) and the people who have shaped handbag fashions just by carrying one (Grace Kelly).

The photographs -- there are more than 200 -- lovingly depict every bead, strap and bauble on bags ranging from the dainty minaudiere to the roomy tote. "The Handbag" is a pretty tribute to the purse, but little more. True handbag aficionados are probably better off putting their $20 toward a new Kate Spade instead.

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