Mattie McDonald was one of the prettiest women I’d ever seen. She had light green eyes, dark brown hair and milky white skin. When she wafted by me, she smelled of lavender, honeysuckle and some other hypnotizing perfume I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I spent a lot of my spare time daydreaming about her and not just because I wanted to know her. Ultimately, I wanted to be her.
I know it sounds a little “Single White Female” of me, but really, it was a little more innocent than that. Mattie, or Mrs. McDonald, as I knew her, was my 5th grade homeroom teacher and I was completely in love with her. I mean, everyone in my class was. I guess you could say I adored her. Here’s why…
On most school days, she wore some variation of a tight, pastel-colored angora sweater, a beautiful rounded skirt (with just a touch of crinoline underneath) and a pearl necklace with matching earrings. Although her clothing was always modest, for some reason, it always seemed as if she were naked. At least, that’s what the boys on the playground said.
I guess you’d have to have been blind not to notice, but I hated it when the boys went on about it and man, did they ever. I even got into a few fights in the playground over it. Mrs. McDonald would inevitably (in her soft, but strong manner,) pull us apart. At least, before it turned into a major fisticuffs. As she grabbed my arm and steered me toward the room relegated for recess detention, she would say in a hushed tone: “Shireen, fighting with men will get you nowhere. You have to be smarter than them.” I told her in no uncertain terms: “I AM smarter than them, Mrs. McDonald.”
Truth be told, I didn’t mind missing recess much because I got away from the stinky boys and Mrs. McDonald would always let me flip through her old fashion magazines. If I was having a really bad day, she’d share some of her favorite, freshly made, beautifully decorated, cupcakes (they were for PTA meetings) and at the same time, she’d share what she called: “My random thoughts on life.”
Instead of being ill-mannered and hot-headed, she told me to succeed in life, I would need to be: “Cool as a Cupcake.” After she said it, I would smile and stare blankly at her, wondering if it was okay to eat my sweet little treat. Knowing she had my full attention (oh, the power of a cupcake,) she would try again: “Shireen, you should always dress like a lady, but think like a man.”
Naturally, I asked her what she meant by that because at my age, boys were just plain icky. So, why would I want to think like one. Moreover, how was I supposed to dress like a lady, when I was relegated to high water jeans (because I grew too fast) and V-neck sweaters accessorized with dickies. My mother went through this crazy dickie phase in the 80’s because she thought it was cheaper than buying an entire shirt. My mother made me the official grade school dickie queen and the kids at school made sure I knew it.
It didn’t help any that when I wasn’t wearing a dickie, I was wearing a long, silk, chiffon scarf draped dramatically around my neck. For good reason, though. Even though Tony award-winning actress Carol Channing’s heyday was way before my time, I worshipped her and tried to emulate her every fashion move. At least during her “Hello Dolly” days (that was the 60’s Broadway musical she was most famous for.) Back then, she wore crazy scarves, glittery turtlenecks and long, overly-fluffy, white fur coats. I couldn’t get my hands on the latter, so, a scarf it was.
Heck, most kids my age had no clue who Carol was, but my grandad worked at the famed “John F. Kennedy Theatre” in Washington D.C. as a stage grip (he also worked in the movie business and was the person responsible for getting me into television) and he just adored the actress. They were old New York City theatre buddies. He told me all about her bold, bawdy, brave sense of style and humor. He used to say to me: “Shireen, that’s the kind of woman you ought to be.”
For the record, I believed everything and anything my grandad told me because he introduced me to Diana Ross and Michael Jackson. He’d worked with them back in the 70’s on a movie called, “The Wiz.” The film was a revival of the Broadway musical. Years later, they stopped by his theatre in D-C to watch a play and I was hiding up in the catwalk. Long story short, he wrangled me down and introduced me. I was too young at the time to know the significance of the meeting, but at least now, it’s cool enough to write in a blog.
Because I was a theatre lover who worshipped Carol Channing, wore eccentric fashions and hated boys, my 5th grade like-ability cards were pretty much stacked against me. That’s why I adored Mrs. McDonald, she thought my idiosyncratic traits were endearing and separated me from the mundaneness of the real world.
My recess detention talks with her somehow always turned into “Cool as a Cupcake” metaphors on life. She insisted on schooling me on the likes of how to act like a lady, dress like a woman and present myself with the smarts of a man. She’d say: “Dress like icing on the outside, but have quality cake filling on the inside.” After I left grade school, I never looked at a cupcake the same. What’s more, I knew a lot more about life than your average 5th grader.
Years later, as the cupcake became a major food craze, Mrs. McDonald was never far from my mind (btw, my fave tasty lil’ cake is red velvet.) Then, as the fantastically frilly meaning of the word latched itself onto the fashion world, I knew Mrs. McDonald was a woman way ahead of her time.
Cupcake fashions refer to clothing that resemble, yes, the shape of a cupcake. More specifically, skirts and dresses; they’re tapered at the top and grow round at the bottom. It’s also a reference to fashions that are fabulously feminine. This Spring and Summer we’ve seen an insurgence of all things ladylike, with beautiful flowered patterns, rounded knee-length skirts (with just a hint of crinoline underneath) and pearled jewelry (all pictured in the blog.)
This week, in honor of Mrs. McDonald, I chose to emulate her “Cool as a Cupcake” fashions. First, I updated the look with “T’s With Personality” (a former “Shireen’s Favorite Things” blog post from Feb. 27th) and popped the look with powerful pearls. Statement jewelry is always in, but the double pearl choker and bracelet wrap-around is especially hot right now.
I adore anything “Ted Baker” and the fashion line has absolutely perfected the Cupcake skirt. They’re so pretty that I’ve recently invested in two. The one I chose for the blog is light, airy and tropical looking. Keeping with the feminine theme, I added some more jewels and my favorite “Josette Redwolf” cocktail ring (also a former SFT’s blog, “Get A Piece Of The Rock” posted March 12th.) Josette’s pieces are always unique, rich in color and one-of-a-kind.
Completing the look was easy, with a fun, fab and frilly Monsoon clutch that I snagged on the West End of London and my sky high, multi-maroon and pink colored Giuseppe Zanotti’s (just don’t try to run anywhere in them.) When I revealed the blog look that I styled in honor of my former 5th grade teacher, my “Shireen’s Favorite Thing’s” team adored it, just like I adored Mrs. McDonald all those years ago and in several strokes of good luck…
As an Entertainment Reporter, I would go on to meet Diana Ross and Michael Jackson again. This time, as a young adult, I wasn’t hiding behind someone’s pant leg. Both meetings were casual, but lovely and special because of the history with my grandad. Even more so, when MJ passed unexpectedly.
Also, about seven years ago, I coincidentally, spied Carol Channing (in the flesh) in the lobby of the Essex House Hotel on Central Park South in NYC. I just so happened to be wearing my best white, overly-fluffy, faux fur, vintage coat at the time. I nervously introduced myself and told her how much I loved her and how much she meant to me. She grabbed my hand, held it tight, looked into my eyes and said in her famous gravely voice: “Look at you, aren’t you a darling.”
With so much blog nostalgia floating around my head this week, I went one step further and actually tried locating Mrs. McDonald. Sadly, I found out that she had passed, but her memory and positive influence on my life lives on. She taught me that being a strong, beautiful, independent woman wasn’t just attainable, it was a way of life, if that’s what I chose… and that’s why being “Cool as a Cupcake” will always be one of my favorite things.
Styling: www.shireensandoval.com (me)
Have a fashionable idea?
photography by tod p/t4twophotography
Hair & Make-up by Odette Hernandez
Editor: Matthew Auerbach