Best of Boston

The Basement

Filene's Downtown Crossing

Let’s meet at The Basement on Saturday.

Wanna go down to The Basement after work?

These phrases were on the lips of Bostonian women of all ages.  That’s what we called it.  The Basement.

I am, of course, referring to Filene’s Basement, located on two floors beneath the art deco flagship Filene’s department store and cornerstone of Boston’s Downtown Crossing.

The Basement folklore was plentiful.  The Running of the Brides, so named for its resemblance to Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls, turned ordinarily polite young women into fierce competitors the moment The Basement doors opened, as they fought over designer bridal gowns offered at a fraction of their original prices.  And men would actually stand in line waiting for The Basement to open on the mornings of the semi-annual men’s suit sale.  But the outrageous bargains were only part of it.  Vintage Filene's Basement  A trip to The Basement could cheer you up on a rainy day.  It was as loud, as crowded, and as chaotic as Times Square on New Year’s Eve.  The Basement was pure joy.

The three-dollar Christian Dior bras I pulled from the depths of the lingerie bins were mine for the taking.  And the shoes!  I thought nothing of squeezing into incredibly cheap Ferragamos and Via Spigas that were only a-half size too small.  There were no dressing rooms in The Basement so I’d angle for a spot near a mirror then strip down to the Danskin leotard I’d worn under my clothes.  Some women were so intent on getting a bargain that they tried on their finds right over their clothes.  Others, caring nothing about modesty, were on full display in their bras and slips as they tried on a pile of potential purchases.  It was divine pandemonium.

In 2007, Filene’s Basement closed its doors for good and shopping has never been quite the same.  I’ll always miss the tradition and the spectacle that was The poppy


Zitella's Favorite Recipes

Let’s Do Brunch!

Last weekend an old friend was in the city.  You may have heard it was cold here in Boston.  Frigid is not the right word.  Neither is arctic.  Try dangerously bone-chilling.  In fact, meteorologists warned that frostbite could occur after only a ten-minute exposure to the absurd temperature.  Needless to say, strolling through Boston’s Italian-American neighborhood, the North End, was no longer an option.  Likewise, shopping on Newbury Street was out of the question.  We had no choice but to chill – no pun intended – and stay in.

So I made brunch.

Brunch is, in my opinion, a highly underrated meal.  Think about it: you don’t have to get up early; you get to eat bacon; and you have permission to pour some prosecco in your OJ or vodka in your tomato juice even though it’s not quite noon-time.
orange cranberry sconesCall me the Queen of Brunch, but I like setting a colorful table.  A vase of red tulips, burgundy water glasses, and a few Marimekko red poppy plates are a great antidote for the winter blues.  A pot of strong coffee, an egg and veggie frittata, a warm fruit salad and you’ve got yourself the perfect meal for a lazy day.  And then there are the orange cranberry scones…

Are your weekdays harried and stressful?  Mine sure are.  When the weekend comes, we need to take a break, catch up with friends and family, stop texting and start talking.  What better way to do that than to stay in next weekend and make brunch?

Orange Cranberry Scone Recipe

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Girl Talk, Life Lessons

Buy Yourself Jewelry

neccosValentine’s Day holds the promise of hearts and flowers. But some of you married gals might have the kind of husband who’s not so good at remembering these things.  And what about the single girls who don’t have a boyfriend at the moment?  Why should they get gypped?

My advice?  Buy yourself jewelry.  It’s even better than going to the day spa.  I’m not suggesting you do anything crazy.  No Colombian emeralds or black Tahitian pearls.  You don’t need to buy the kind of loot you find in the Jewelers’ Building, with the able assistance of some older gentleman in a custom tailored suit and half glasses, who calls you “Miss” and, jeweler’s loupe at the ready, offers you a free appraisal of whatever happens to be hanging from your earlobes or dangling from your wrist that day.

A quick drive to the mall is all it takes to find something sparkly.  Even better, you can sit on your sofa with a glass of Red in one hand and the remote in the other and find some pretty serious bling on the shopping channels.  Or simply go on line to find your new bauble.  Remember, you’re not out to find the Hope Diamond here.  Just a pair of garnet studs.  Or an amethyst ring.

I’ve been buying my own jewelry for a while.  Some women like to travel – I’d rather buy gemstones set in precious metals.  For me, it’s one of the benefits of being a single woman in the twenty-first century.  You see, the jewelry is much more than a mere indulgence.  It’s a symbol.  To empower you.  And to remind you of your worth.  Sure it’s nice when a loved one buys you jewelry.  All I’m saying is that the loved one can be yourself.

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Girl Talk, Pop Culture

Let’s Play Barbies

Hnew-barbiesave you heard about Barbie’s latest make-over?  The iconic doll is now available with a “tall,” “petite,” or “curvy” body.  Of course, there’s controversy.  But then Barbie’s stirred debate ever since her debut in 1959.

Can Barbie dolls with “more realistic bodies” be the solution to raising the next generation of girls without eating disorders?  Will these new Barbie dolls make every girl believe she is beautiful?  Sadly, I don’t think so.  Barbie cannot single handedly change the relentless societal pressures girls and women grapple with every time they look in the mirror.

barbie with pearlsWhile I look nothing like Barbie, even as a child, I never compared myself to her.  She was a doll.  With pretty clothes.  And that was it.  Because in the beginning, it was all about the clothes – glamorous, couture creations in miniature, with matching high heels and clutch bags.  By the time Barbie became an astronaut and a surgeon, I had outgrown dolls.

Vintage-Barbie-Evening-SplendourStarlight Barbiesenoir promdinner at eightred flame4f128be7548bb9aa2a1dab4b46937be6Little black dress

Back in the day, there was no such thing as a “playdate.”  You just showed up at your friend’s house with your Barbie carrying case.  Then you and your friends sat on the floor with the dolls, their clothes, and a myriad of tiny shoes, purses, hats and gloves scattered all around, and played for hours.  When it was lunchtime, your friend’s mom would make grilled cheese sandwiches.  It was the eight-year-olds’ version of girls’ night out.

Barbie with hat

Barbie showed me how to dress for any activity or occasion, and how to do so in a ladylike way.  She inspired me to create elaborate stories.  She taught me how to share, and how to get along with the other girls.

Decades ago, I packed away my Barbies, each doll carefully wrapped in tissue paper, every outfit meticulously matched with its accessories.  This vintage collection might be valuable.  But I would never sell it.  Because it’s priceless to me.  

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