Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Wardrobe revision

I realize my long post about Sofia Coppola may have come off a bit obsessive or fangirly. But I was determined to crack the code. While I concede that some of her elegance may come from carriage and confidence, I felt a lot of her style might be approximated.

It's helped in my wardrobe-editing process because it's given me a touchstone, an end result to measure my progress. And I realized from studying her clothes that I don't have to get rid of every distinctive, non-neutral piece, but I should get rid of all my gimmicky clothes, the one-note pieces that can only be worn a single way.

I've tried to see if I could streamline my wardrobe from the other end--by acquiring more selectively--but I realized that my closet was too far gone. If I wanted to change my wardrobe and my entire approach to dressing, I had to clean it out. I had to cull the many lackluster pieces from my closet. So the last few weeks, that's what I've done. It was painful at first, but as I got rid of more and more, I felt a burden lifting and, as others have noted, it becomes addictive. I'm not nearly finished, but at least I've started.

Stuff that has made the edit pile & what I've learned:
- Winter scarves and hats. I realized that I have favorites that I wear again and again, and I don't need or like big accessories to change up my look. Rather, I like to wear signature accessories: my polka dot wool scarf, my tiffany diamond earrings, and my Birkenstocks.

- Different experiments with workout clothes. I have two brands that look good and hold up well: Patagonia and Lululemon. Everything else gets cut.

- Many, many clothes from a sad period in my life a few years ago, when I was married. I was beginning to experiment with how to upgrade my wardrobe, but I was also feeling angsty and unmoored. I tried to use shopping and clothes as a way to project a presence that I didn't feel.

- Lots of clothes that are visually appealing but somehow slightly wrong in cut, color, or material. Lots of clothes made with thin or itchy cheap-o fabrics. Stuff that gives no pleasure in the wearing.

- Clothes bought at the wrong price point. Items worn often should be acquired at the upper end of my price limit, and not on impulse or for a narrow range of ocassions. I'm not sure if this is pointless snobbery, though.

- Stuff appropriate to an earlier age. I find myself transitioning to more demure pieces. I could maybe still get away with them, but I feel less desire to be on display.

- Clothes that don't quite fit the way I like. I've gained 5 pounds, and I have no desire to diet back down to 95 lbs to fit into my old clothes. I also don't want to squeeze into my clothes and be reminded that I'm older and fatter. It's time to give up the ghost! No shame in growing older.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

About Sofia Coppola's style

I know I've written about Sofia Coppola before, but I find myself on this rainy weekend looking over my old inspirations from about 5 years ago, when I first started getting interested in high fashion. I've almost always been interested in personal expression and looking nice and appropriate, but it wasn't until about 5 years ago that I started thinking about style, chicness, and designers, and I had the means to approach them in some small way.

So when I just started trying to figure out fashion, I started by studying the people who I felt got it right, people that I might want to emulate. Sofia Coppola was one inspiration. In fact, she's probably the style muse of intellectual girls everywhere (she said something similar about her photography phase . . . that every smart girl goes through one, and takes lots of pictures of their feet). She has had a handbag named after her, signaling an ascension to the most rarefied of style icon status. She was famous for wearing flats on the red carpet and was the muse of Marc Jacobs. She started her own clothing line, Milk Fed, and moved through her own (somewhat unfortunate) grunge phase. Now she's designed her own line of handbags for Louis Vuitton, and they're everything that you might associate with her: elegance, refinement, heritage, minimalism, and immaculate style.

I think you can break down her style in a few ways. Some are obvious, and a few things are counterintuitive. Her pieces are not fussy, but are rather pared down to the essentials--exquisite cut, perfect fit, and beautiful fabrics.

Her definitive style, and what makes it work, is most obvious by comparison:

Compare her outfit to Scarlett Johansson's. They both wear sleeveless summer dresses, but Sofia's version is just a few crucial inches longer and seems much more demure. Her shoes are simple black flat sandals, as opposed to pink Converses. Her proportions are right, whereas Scarlett looks a little bit off, a little bit too much.

In the second picture, next to Kirsten Dunst, the fabric of her dress is much richer and "grown-up" than Kirsten's--a thick satin as opposed to cotton. Her jewelry is minimal, but its presence helps her seem much more polished than Kirsten. Although they both wear little makeup in that photo, Sofia looks finished, as opposed to Kirsten, who looked like she just rolled out of bed. Kirsten looks just a little bit too undone. Compared to Scarlett and Kirsten, Sofia looks just right--neither trying too hard nor trying not hard enough.

In both these pictures she's wearing black, and you might think that black is an essential part of her style. To some degree, it is, but that's not the entire story. In fact, she wears a lot of color, but usually against a background of black. Or else, when she strays from more neutral colors, she restricts her color palette to just one or two colors for the outfit. Examples:

Similarly, you might think that she's a straight minimalist, but in fact, her clothes are not always streamlined. Often, they are frilly, pleated, graphic, or feminine in some other way. She just never layers them on--it's always just a few separates that compose her outfit. But her accessories are always few, modest, and classic. Earrings, necklaces, and watches are small and subdued; shoes are always trendless and demure. You'll never see Sofia in the monster platforms so popular right now.

But she never looks overdone, even on the red carpet, and part of her secret is her hair. The fact that it's always in the same signature style--clean, neat, bobbed, and shiny--ensures that she always looks like her, never looks like she's trying too hard, and always exudes a cool downtown vibe.

To summarize this overlong post (lol), here are what I think compose the essential ingredients to Sofia Coppola's style, the "it-ness" of her It girl status:
  • Clothes that tend towards minimal, with quiet feminine touches
  • Restricted color palette in an outfit (but not in the wardrobe), with black used as an anchor
  • Classic black shoes, usually flat or with a small heel
  • Small, classic jewelry
  • Clean, shiny hair that's always in a signature polished bob, never coiffed
  • Perfectly fitting separates; never tight but sometimes loose (pants ending just at the ankle)
  • Very little layering
  • Outfits that allow ease of movement, everyday life, the weather

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


I've always approached my wardrobe as something that I have to acquire--like, if I can find the perfect black skirt and other items on my list, I'll arrive at a fully functional closet.  But I'm starting to think that another way to get at the essentials in your closet--and indeed, in your life--is by deleting the extraneous.

Last week I went on a 7-day road trip by myself (although technically, my guinea pig came along . . . that's a long story in itself) partway down the Pacific Coast Highway. I found all that solitude wonderfully rejuvenating and quieting. It made me think of the line in a T.S. Eliot poem, "Distracted from distraction by distraction" and how symptomatic of modern life all that noise is. The bursting closet, the television, the internet, they all distract us from our own inattention. I suppose one purpose I have with editing down to a minimal wardrobe is to find a way to enjoy but also contain this hobby, which easily can become both consuming and trivial.

It was great to go camping in the woods and explore the back roads and small towns with each day wide open. And strange to discover that I could take away all the things that I thought would be necessary and still be perfectly fine. I didn't need a radio (stolen a few months ago in Tacoma), a locked door, or even a companion for the trip. 

But I guess I'm moving beyond the ken of this blog. Short of these existential concerns, I also realized more simply that all I needed last week was a boiled wool sweater, a long-sleeve tee shirt, and some hiking pants from The North Face. That's the beauty of traveling, I think: you take what you need with you, and you realize how very little you need.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Wardrobe for a different self

I have a pair of Chie Mihara high heels that I bought from Anthropologie that I can't bear to return, even though I haven't worn them yet and don't actually see myself wearing them.  It's like I'm saving them for a future self, or an alternate self that hasn't come into existence yet.  And maybe never will.

I like keeping some things for that reason.  I know, too much of this would result in an impractical wardrobe with little use in my real life.  So I know to avoid most of the accoutrements of the A. Wang, goth-y, downtown girl look that has pervaded fashion and blogs for some time.  While I think the attitude and the clothes are infinitely cool, I know that that girl is something I will never be, so I know not to try to approximate (in fashion lingo, I can't "pull it off").

But I think a little bit, just a dose, of that imaginative possibility taps into the self-inventing part of fashion that appeals to me so much.  Like maybe, this silvery-pink pair of strappy high heels will call into existence the girl I'd like to be.  Or a signature lipstick would help snap me into focus.  Or something like that.*

* (Though again, I have to qualify that and wonder how much of it is the Machine at work.  How much of this difference between real self and idealized self is the production of magazines, and models, and editors, and the whole industry saying that this is what you should be and look like, and here, let me sell you something that would help get you there.)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Three Thoughts

I think it's important to know your own body if you're going to find a minimal wardrobe that fits your personal style.  Those essentials lists that periodically show up--usually with a white button down and black dress at the top of the list--are as misleading and dogmatic as trend predictions are.

When I saw these pics from the Venetia Scott for Margaret Howell F/W 10 collection, I immediately admired the model's sleek equestrian beauty.  I suddenly wanted some demure plaid skirts and drapey button downs for my own closet.  But then I remembered that below-the-knee skirts never work on me.  Or at least, they do not have the same cool, graceful effect as they do on this tall, whippet-thin, doe-eyed girl.

My third thought was that when I see someone who seems to know exactly what works on her body, temperament, and lifestyle--as this look projects--the total effect is mesmerizing.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Modus operandi

Rather than working from a list, I find the most successful purchases are made when I simply give in to some intense, inexplicable desire.  That's how I find the mainstays of my wardrobe, the objects that give me joy to wear.  These I'll end up wearing them again and again.  It's when I try to consciously fill a hole in my wardrobe that I end up getting something that's wrong or uninspired.

So a pink terry cloth jumpsuit is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of "capsule wardrobe" or "French method" of dressing, but I circled around this item for so long and so often that I knew it might work out.  It's from Wood Wood, a Danish design company that makes clothes with just the right amount of quirky.

I figure if I don't end up liking it when it arrives in the mail from Creatures of Comfort, I'll just wear it around the house.  I like wearing one pieces that I just haul on and forget about.  The boy hates them, though.  :P

Monday, August 2, 2010

Statement of purpose

I'm constantly tickering with this blog because I really don't know yet what I want out of it.  Originally, it was a fashion blog, but I found myself bothered by my contribution to the endless consumption of fashion and trends.  The thing is, I enjoy fashion and clothing and beauty, but the enjoyment of those things too often veers into a mindless cycle of coveting and (over)spending.

My newest idea is that I would like to be a bit more conscious about what I bring into my life, starting with fashion but also branching into my everyday experiences.  I think the blog could help me do that.

I read an article recently in the NYT about women who limit their wardrobe to six items, or who vow not to spend money on new acquisitions for a year.  There's definitely something in the air.  And while I don't want to commit myself to anything so structured as those projects, I would like to use this blog to record my own project of self-discovery.

I'm thinking this blog could record how I relate and respond to fashion. I think about brands and trends, but more as a milieu from which to create a distillation of personal style. My intent is to move closer to the "French method" of shopping: less items, but with more purpose.* The blog will mostly track my progress with that intention. My goal is to have a streamlined wardrobe that perfectly meets my desires for self-expression. As you might imagine, then, this blog will always be a work in progress.

Somehow, I trust that simply by recording observations in my blog, I can get closer to an understanding of how I would like to express myself through my clothes and in my experiences, and how I am to be in the world.

After all, personal style is a rhetoric of its own. The clothes we wear can tell others at a glance what we do, who we are, who we align with, etc. We communicate through our clothes as we do with our words. Our clothes both reveal something about us, but they conceal things as well--literally and figuratively. And clothes contain a history of our different selves (Birkenstocks remind me of college in Austin, always), just like a diary might.

Whoo!  I think I wrote most of this for myself rather than anybody else, but if anyone read this far, I congratulate you.  I think this is just about how far I'll cast my net.  

* Thanks to Dead Fleurette and the TFS thread for the inspiration!

And as a first marker of the old, here's my old statement of purpose for this blog:

I live in the Pacific Northwest. I'm a teacher and a hobbyist. I keep all manner of rodentia.

I think a lot about the inconstancy of memory--how the things that seem indelible eventually fade. So I have started this blog in part as an attempt to pin down some of the ephemera of my daily life.

I used to focus on fashion, but lately I find that I'm often more interested in other things.

There's a little bit of backstory in my now-defunct fashion blog, Destitute Fashion.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Shopping tips

A colleague today asked me where I got my clothes because, as she said, she knew I must have some tips since I have the same teacher budget as her but seem to have a nicer wardrobe.  This is actually the second time someone has asked me for shopping tips, the other time being with a postal clerk.  I told her I would write down my tips, and now I am almost too embarrassed to give them to her.  I look truly obsessed.

But I'm not!  Or am not now.  But fashion is one of my hobbies.  And for awhile there, I had money.  While I no longer have money, I have retained my taste for well-made things.  But I've always loved a good deal, though.

eBay – Sign up for searches for particular brands or key words, price range, sellers, etc.  This is really my go-to source these days.

Etsy – DIY site good for vintage and handcrafted goods.

Thrift stores – I like Goodwills and Value Villages located in older or trendy neighborhoods.  Suburbs are usually only good for mall-type clothes.

Savvycircle.com – Sign up on this site for next-day notifications when an item you like goes on sale.  They only support popular shopping websites, however, like Gap.com or Shopbop.com.

Shopstyle.com – Another site where you can sign up for notifications, but this time for brands that you like.

Forum.purseblog.com/deals-and-steals – On a forum for handbag people, this section lists good deals that pop up.  These people are truly obsessed and unabashedly material, but they know of good sales before anyone else.

Sign up for the mailing list of any stores you like so that you’ll get first notifications of sales. 

End-of-season sales – Typically the best kind of sales, often with graduated discounts that eventually end around 70% off.  I’ve never gone to Tototakaelo, but they have two stores in Seattle and run a popular e-commerce site.  Other sites with good eos sales: saks.com, neimanmarcus.com

A.P.C. also has twice yearly end-of-season sales at 50% off almost everything, but you have to act within the first few hours of the email to get the good stuff.  With the recession, sometimes there are free shipping or 30% sales offered in season.

Bookmark items that you really like and do an “open all tabs” once in awhile to see if they’ve gone on sale.  Purse forum people will say to check daily, but I can't advocate for that kind of compulsion.  ;)

Check for coupon codes on dealcoupon.com or retailmenot.com before buying online.

Gilt.com offers fabulous discounts on designer and mid-range stuff.  Sales start at 9 AM. You have to be logged on and ready for battle at 9.  Membership is free, but you need a referral (I can do offer you one if you want).  I’ve never bought anything from them, but my colleague has, and they’ve gained a lot of press lately.

Yoox.com also carries designer goods.  Their end-of-season sale is called a “sample sale” and offers items at a fraction of the original price.

If you want to brush up on your fashion knowledge, thefashionspot.com is a good forum.  As might be expected, many of the members are young and vapid, but you also have a lot of industry insiders who contribute (stylists, boutique owners) or consult the threads for reference (magazine editors, models, “it” girls). Again, membership is free with referral (which I can give you).

If you buy anything online with regularity, sign up at one or more of those rebate sites like ebates.com or Mr. Rebate.  You can get 3% or so of your purchase refunded by clicking through to the website from their website.  It adds up.

As you can see, I really prefer internet shopping these days, but places like Nordstrom Rack are worth checking once in awhile.

Good sites for inspiration
I love street style and fashion blogs, and there’s a very active community in the blogosphere now.  If you are a regular blog reader, it’s worthwhile to have some site keep track of updates for you, like Google Reader or Bloglovin’.  Some of my favorites include:

thesartorialist – the original street blog
garance.fr – the sart’s less famous but more skilled girlfriend
fashiontoast – louche blogger style with a cali influence
stylerookie – eccentric style, smart girl.  famous for being only 13 when she started
liebemarlenevintage – romantic, vintage style.  runs a popular eBay shop
life in travel – for shameless drooling.  the woman who runs it is very sweet, though
…and tons more

e-commerce sites
La Garconne – the site has exquisite taste, excellent styling and cool editorial features
Creatures of Comfort – great sales. A.P.C. eventually ends up around 60-70% off from them
Shop Bop – what a dumb name, but good sales and free shipping to and from
Revolve Clothing – good sales, free shipping, and coupon codes

Anyone have shopping tips of their own?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Dries Van Noten

Two of my favorite looks from his most recent show.  I love the impeccably groomed but unstyled hair.  The ladylike shapes and unexpected touches of louche animal print.  I like the suggestion of the art-gallery girl in the watercolor skirts and sweatshirty tops and a little bit of bohemian rebellion in the oversized cut of the pieces.

To me, it's an intriguing mix of associations.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

New things

I haven't been writing in the blog much lately because I wanted to wait until I had something worthwhile to say about fashion.  Trouble is, I haven't really been thinking about it that much.  Certainly not in the way that helps keep a fashion blog going: sifting through the collections, trying out the current trends, and showing off cute outfits and new purchases.

Rather, I've tried to curtail my expenditures, winnow them down to an essential addition to my collection, my wardrobe and overstuffed closet.  That means that in the past month I've purchased a velvet bow tie and some yoga clothes.  Not exactly exciting stuff.

But what I have been doing is this:


Clam digging in Ocean Shores, WA.

And I'm hoping that that might be worthwhile to document.  

In future posts, this blog is likely to become more random, but perhaps more relevant.  At least to me.  And I think what drew me to fashion--beauty, identity, and being in the world--will translate in the other things I do in my real life, as they show up here.