Thursday, December 29, 2011

New wallet

It must have been something like six or seven years ago that I bought a Comme des Garcons ziparound wallet. It was a bright French blue with the classic clover design. I loved the functionality and heft of the wallet and thought my days of replacing wallets every year or so were over.

To my disappointment, this year the paint started flaking and chipping off. I'm guessing it's paint, since the leather is otherwise intact. I kinda expected more, though six years or so of daily usage is better than most.

When the crazily early and deep Netaporter sales came around before Christmas, I decided to replace that wallet with a suede A.P.C. wallet that had been marked down twice. I love how this one fits perfectly in my palm and has all kinds of little pockets for squirreling things away. I have found that it's better to have a wallet that's slightly big for your needs rather one that's overstuffed. Nothing elegant about overstuffed. (speaking of overstuffed, how was everyone's holidays? mine was good. )

So far it's been working out very well for me. It's even more incognito than the CDG wallet, which I've once had someone ask me about. Like the best A.P.C., this wallet is well thought out and quietly stylish.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Luggage packing

I always overpack when I travel. Not that I bring suitcases of stuff (nowadays, just the carry-on), but I always end up with items that never get worn once. So this time, when I went to visit family, I brought just a couple thin, holey undershirts (I really should replace them, but they're so comfortable and still functional) both in long and short sleeve, a patterned tunic, cropped yoga pants, a vintage plaid shirt, and the outfit I was going to wear on the plane. As it turned out, I still didn't wear everything I brought, but only because I underpacked. It was so warm in Texas. I needed to bring a pair of shorts and a short-sleeve shirt that could be worn on its own. Argh!

M's stuff took up more room. She doesn't mind being too warm, but she hates being too cold. So I brought some fleece onesies and zip-ups. She as well didn't wear everything I brought, but that was because I was desperately trying to get some use out of the many temperate-weather hand-me-down clothes she was given on this trip. Back at home, these things won't be worn much, if at all.

So still trying to figure out the perfect formula for suitcase packing. Not too much, not too little.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Childish things

A few years ago I knew that the time was nearing when certain items had to be put on the shelf, when by virtue of my age they would tip over the line from cute to undercooked. But instead of sobering up my wardrobe and becoming more strict with my purchases, I decided to just buy whatever was my heart's desire. I didn't choose for longevity--in fact, I knew much of what I was buying had a half-life of maybe a handful of years. But I wanted to wear those silly garments for while I still could.

Now, I wouldn't want to tell any woman that they can't wear something because they're too old. But for my own personal sense of things, I feel some items are the province of the young, and one thing I've learned is not to play a younger woman's game.

And suddenly, after the long haul of pregnancy, when the fact of your physicality becomes front and center and forces you out into the world of people (who, for the most part are curious and kind, though some are simply obnoxious and nosy), I find that my perspective on clothes and the body and looks has changed. I don't know if it's from becoming a mother, but I do know I have gone through the experience changed. Among other things, I no longer have any desire to put on the same clothes. Actually, I'm perfectly sick of my former style, at least on myself. I have a desire to cultivate what I keep thinking of as, somewhat oxymoronically, a hyper-quiet aesthetic. No more frills or furbelows or cutesy flourishes.

I'm always suspicious of these sorts of changes, and how deep they really go with me. But I'm thinking this isn't just a momentary aversion. Because as I was doing my usual internet hop-skipping, I ended up watching this video of Anna Karina on YouTube performing "Roller Girl." called it a "revelation." But I found it flat-out grotesque. The archly sexual cutesiness, the performing to the camera, the fact of a grown woman branding this particular form of female sexuality just kind of turned my stomach.

I half worry that this is just frumpiness creeping in in disguise, but I don't know, and I'm not sure I care if it is. Priorities change, you know? So when I cleaned out my desktop folder, these are some of the images that I discarded. The first one from Rachel Comey is nice, actually, especially the jacket, but the styling is something I wouldn't do anymore.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Odds and ends

I haven't felt the desire to write a blog post in awhile. I needed some time to think about things, like my level of consumption and how it related to the purpose the blog served for me. I felt uncomfortable. Blogs are by their nature just one facet of a person, but I wasn't sure if serving up this one-sided version of me felt authentic. I liked the breezy, upbeat frivolity of keeping a fashion blog; what I didn't like was when this persona started to feel at times ill fitting.

Anyway, I haven't really come to any big conclusions or meta-analysis about my blogging. Just wanted to explain a bit and provide some awkward prelude to the following list of random thoughts.

1. I'm obsessed with the thought of warmth. I'm consumed with dread about the upcoming winter and feel the need to prepare. I think long johns will be key, since I don't want to wear the same sloppy wool sweater every day, as I did last year in a desperate but futile attempt at warmth.

2. I'm enamored with the uniform of vintage plaid button downs and old jeans. I'm slowly amassing a small collection of plaid button downs.

3. My most quintessential Seattle moment was standing in the packed basement of someone's rental as three local bands played short sets for the birthday boy, amidst a sea of beards and buffalo plaid flannel. I counted something like 7 guys outfitted thusly, just in my general vicinity. The fall weather makes me remember and miss Seattle.

4. I'm not sure when the moment turned, but at some point high-end luxury became thought of as accessible for ordinary, small-income people. Lately, I've rethought my feeling about this and have decided that I rather liked it when expensive items were thought of as inaccessible. Lusting after designer items provokes a kind of meaningless anxiety in me.

5. I've subscribed to a few "frugal living" blogs. It's a good balance to the fashion blogs I read. It keeps things in check, resets the range of normal. And the natural parenting forum I visit does the same for the purse forum and the fashion spot. On the mothering forum, I am likely to read about recipes for consuming one's own placenta (the boyfriend refused to be in charge of the placenta smoothie when I half seriously floated the idea by him) while on TPF or TFS I'll find somewhat porny reveals of some extravagant handbag purchase.

6. With that last thought, how to mention the most profound moment of my life on this, a blog meant for harboring my least profound worries? I guess I'll just say that my baby arrived a little more than a month ago. At first, it felt both unreal and ordinary at the same time. Now I'm beginning to realize just what a sea change it is, and how it has affected everything in my life. Including my thoughts on clothes, but I'll get to that maybe in a future post.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A return to thrift

Except for the end-of-season A.P.C. sale scoop, I've mostly returned to thrifting as my primary mode of acquisition

I've tried the French Method, to some success. It definitely has helped me develop a more discerning eye. However, I feel that my love of thrift shopping and vintage clothes limits me from really implementing the French method. It's true that even with thrifting, I can select items more carefully and with an eye towards wardrobe building. But otherwise, shopping from a list just doesn't work all that well when thrift shopping means everything is a jumble. You never know what exactly you'll come up with when you survey secondhand goods. While patience and moderation are virtues of the French Method that can carry over to thrifting, it's difficult to adhere to a minimalistic point of view if you like vintage. At least, it is in my experience.

Somewhat relatedly, I also don't get the same satisfaction from buying new as I do from uncovering vintage goods. I've never blogged about the things I purchased new that would be considered more covetable. I never wrote abouthe Rachel Comey Mars boothat I purchased last November for my birthday, or the Marc Jacobs Teri handbag that I recently pulled out from oblivion from the back of my closet, or the Miu Miu and Mulberry Bayswater that were my first forays into expensive handbags, among other things. I just never felt good about broadcasting items like thatthough I do appreciate seeing them on other blogs.

My aesthetic doesn't really require any high-end items. I'm not really minimal and clean in my outfits, where texture and cut matter a lot. Rather, I like earthy, slightly outdoorsy, and for want of a better word, quirky, looks. I love vintage prints, uncomplicated tailoring, and that crisp cotton blend that you can only find in older fabrics. My heart beats faster when I chance upon a beautiful vintage piece among all the detritus of a secondhand shop.

I still plan to shop outside of thrift for the easy basics and sharp tailoring that mightoughen up my wardrobe a bit. But I think there's something in the air, and spending on luxury items just doesn't seem necessary right now, not just for personal reasons, but also for financial, environmental, and ethical ones.

Friday, July 22, 2011

A sliver of ankle

I've noticed the importance of having a little sliver of ankle showing between the bottom of your pants and shoes. A little styling trick I'll attempt when I'm out of shorts and back into pants. Right now I'm feeling overheated and Humpty Dumpty-esque, and no rolled cuff can make that chic.

P.S. My first Polyvore attempt!

[images: Totokaelo, La Garconne]

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Style consultants

Scribbling down my thoughts about potential purchases proved surprisingly useful, though I had made it so complicated by the end that I needed the clarity of a disinterested male spectator (aka my boyfriend) to sort it out.

I solicited his comments when I was recently deciding on my 4-5 pieces, post sale season. They're representative of the kind of comments he gives when asked. They usually jostle small doubts that I tend to ignore in the thrill of an acquisition, and I find them pretty helpful.
  • "A little drab." -- The dress was a bit Amish, it's true. I had written that I wasn't sure about the pattern.
  • " Doesn't look comfortable." -- My notes were that I was ambivalent about the shirt's texture and it was tighter than what I wanted. Good to be confirmed, since I was so happy about finding an item on my list I was inclined to ignore my misgivings.
  • "I don't know where to focus." -- This I had to pursue further. He meant that the stripes were overwhelming. Yes, I had to admit it. I am just a little mouse who likes to wear a coat of grey.
  • "Super cute." -- He's usually unable to refine this statement further, even with my questioning.
I think it's helpful to have an objective view outside the obsessive fashion milieu, whether it be an amused boyfriend or a page from a journal. But, according to Genevieve Antoine-Dariaux in A Guide to Elegance, you shouldn't consult your female friends as they are invested parties (read: competition . . . or perhaps fellow enablers?) and will give poor advice. I think she gives rather sage advice.

I'm a little bit embarrassed to reveal my notes, as they seem rather self-involved and shallow, but I've been thinking it would be nice to find a bit more reality in the blogging world. As anyone who has attempted it knows, looking effortless is anything but.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The List, revisited

A few weeks or months ago, I posted a short list of items I was in search of. I found substitutes for most of the items, as I realized in the process of looking that what I thought I wanted needed to be realigned with what would actually work for me.

The structured jacket 
I had wanted the Isabel Marant Elali jacket, but decided against it for several reasons. 1) I wanted a jacket that I could throw on over any outfit, and other bloggers reported back that the Elali required careful outfit planning. 2) I'm not sure what size I'm going to end up, and I shouldn't spend so much money for something that eventually may not fit perfectly. 3) It's just a tiny bit too formal to be worn a lot in my life.

I haven't discounted it entirely, but since at this point I'd have to search for it anyway, I may as well wait to search for it once I am certain that I'll get enough wear out of it.

Instead I'm filling this hole in my wardrobe with a lined, oversized tweed jacket I found while thrifting. It reminds me of the coats Isabel Marant put out over the past few seasons, with its dropped shoulders and slouchy fit. The sleeves can be rolled and pushed back for a more informal look. I think I'll be able to wear it on its own as a transitional jacket in the fall and as an additional layer in the winter. 

The silk button down
Silk seems like such a romantic fabric to me, but I seldom wear it. Additionally, I hear that it's not the most comfortable fabric in the summer heat. I'm not that keen on filling this niche in my closet, after all, but if I come across a perfect one, I'll likely get it. 

Instead I found a lovely cotton button down with a soft leaf printhat will fill the same purpose in my wardrobe, but which has the potential to be worn in a wider range of situations and temperatures. It has the same quiet feel as a silk top.

The striped top
The more I've been looking, the more I think that a striped top will be simple and basic enough to be a workhorse in my wardrobe, but with a touch of understated impact to distinguish it from an ordinary tee.

Found! Kinda. It doesn't have the even stripes, and the periwinkle blue color isn't as graphic as I thought I wanted. But when I tried on a top with both these qualities, it felt too loud to me. I'll keep looking for a striped top with the same-sized stripes, but this one works pretty well, and it's more in keeping with my demure style.

The open spots in the list
On a whim, I added a cotton/cashmere cardigan to my shopping cart. When it arrived, it was so soft and complemented my other purchases so well that I decided to replace my former summer cardigan (which was already ratty and misshapen) with it.

My other spontaneous purchase is a dungaree dress. I've already spoken of my love of overalls, and this one is a slightly more feminine version of one. The length, fabric weight, and shiny silver buttons are perfect.

Seasonal Recap
think that's it for the summer season for me. Though athe days have grown hotter and I've gotten bigger, I bought a few cheapy maternity items. I'm already looking towards Fall and Winter.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Questions for the method

I'm still trying to reform my closet and consumption, though I still lack the discipline required. To that end, it's been helpful to separate in my mind the purchases that might be specialized acquisitions (a gardening hat, hiking clothes), short-term clothing (maternity wear), and long-term wardrobe additions. With the last, I find myself asking these questions to ascertain whether items might end up as investment purchases.

Will I still want to wear it in 10 years?
No one can be absolutely sure of this answer, of course, but sticking with classic styles for you will place the odds in your favor. I've had a few constants, like Birkenstocks, overalls, and long-sleeve jersey tees that I've incorporated into my style for more than a decade--replacing items as they get worn out. With these, I hardly have to ask myself to know the answer to this question. Knowing my foundational pieces, the anchor to my style, helps in knowing whether spending more on something might be worthwhile.

For me, part of the problem lies in the fact that my foundational items are not the sort that I need to spend a lot on, which may not seem like a bad thing except that it makes my whole wardrobe disposable. And these items work best for a casual life that I have half outgrown. Birkenstocks top out at around $100, and jersey tees soon get stained and worn out. Overalls look best the closer they are tied to their functional roots. So for me, the dilemma lies in knowing what could work as anchors of a more elegant and grown-up style, one that I'd like to move towards.

(Minor sidenote: A few years ago, I wasn't concerned with this question at all. My thinking was that I should indulge in the items that I wouldn't be wearing in a few years, and wear them while I still could and wanted to. Hence, I now have many impulsive purchases to be gotten rid of, but I don't exactly regret those purchases. They fulfilled the purpose I had for them at the time, and they gave me a lot of pleasure.)

Does it fit my lifestyle?
Fashion is all about aspirational thinking, which I think confuses the issue. You see pictures that provoke desire but have no correlation to your own life. It's easy to forget. And it's a fine line, when dressing is tied so closely to creating your identity, and sometimes you dress for who you'd like to be, rather than who you are at exactly that time.

I don't have fancy parties to go to, but I still thought I might get a lot of wear from the Rachel Comey Blithe tee I blogged about yesterday. I thought I might enjoy the incongruity of wearing something slightly formal as an everyday piece. But then I pictured myself in my day-to-day life and saw that a semi-sheer, oversized silk tee would inevitably tug downwards, become stained, and be relegated to a back drawer. So I packed it into a box to go back.

Is it weather appropriate for where I live, and how much out of the year will I wear it?
I'm still having to remind myself not to spend a lot of money on warm-weather clothes. Even now, out of habit, I want to buy pretty dresses and short-sleeve tops, but I know my money is better spent on cold-weather clothes that I'll be wearing most of the year. This question prompts you to think of the cost-per-wear of the item.

Do I have several like it already?
This one is a bit tricky. I think it's fine to have multiples of your foundational pieces. In fact, I'd love to have a uniform where all the pieces in my wardrobe are simply variations on a theme. But sometimes having many of the same thing means that none of them are exactly right, and it's time to stop and analyze what I'm really looking for. Too, I don't like to have items that are too similar or differ only by color because invariably there will be one version that I prefer and wear to the exclusion of the other. 

There are other questions that factor into the equation--like, how much do I love it, and is it worth the price asked--but these were the four questions that kept popping up into my head as I was sifting through my choices on that sleepless night. I'll be keeping them in mind the next time I want to buy something.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Method and madness

I have to admit that much of my shopping is fueled by emotion, and when I add insomnia to the mix, the result is far from a French Method, but rather more akin to madness.

So today I have confessions to make.

Confession 1:
In a fit of irrationality, I ordered the Rachel Comey Flippant dress and Blithe tee a few weeks ago. What was I thinking? The dress fit absurdly on me, and I realized how silly it was to try to predict what I might want or be able to wear a year from now. The Blithe tee was actually rather nice, but the sheer part went too low for my clumsy self. I knew before they came that they wouldn't work, but I stubbornly refused to cancel the order. I guess I wasn't yet willing to accept certain realities. Too much madness, not enough method.

Confession 2:
I once found a pair of Salvatore Ferragamo Varinas, in my size and barely worn, for a few dollars at a local thrift store and put it back. It wasn't really my style, and I was determined not to stray from my List, but now I think that a classic piece like that would have been supremely elegant. It would have added some refinement to my wardrobe. At this moment, I could have used less method and more madness.

Confession 3:
I couldn't sleep last night. It was a mistake to eat two waffles, two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and a slice of lasagna an hour before going to bed. So I stayed up surfing as I tried to work out the attack of indigestion. With the sales going on, I came upon a few things. Eep.

Three basics from A.P.C. and a pair of Loeffler Randall Matilde boots in cuoio. Here, I hope I have achieved a balance between method and madness. Instead of the silk button down I had earlier put on my Shopping List, I think the cotton blouses are more trans-seasonal and suitable for my life. The cardigan should come in handy as a layering piece for the winter, when I live in warm sweaters. The boots I had coveted idly for many years and should work well as a transitional shoe this fall. I'll see when they arrive in the next week or so.

[pics: la garconne, creatures of comfort, stuart & wright, bloomingdales]

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Some guidelines for pregnancy style, as illustrated by Nicole Richie

I'm not particularly into her normal everyday style, but she makes the most of her laidback California style when she's pregnant. I figure since I'll be at my biggest during the summer, she'll provide practical inspiration. 

Wear what you normally wear 
Of course, some styles just aren't going to work during this time (like the sweet vintage look of tops tucked into high-waisted shorts), but there's usually some facet of your normal style that could carry over. For me, the bohemian, granola look would work. I think with so many changes going on, it's important not to abandon everything familiar. I'd like to look into the mirror and still recognize myself.
Avoid the empire waist
She wears a lot of these loose Indian dresses that skim the body and accommodate a growing waistline, but aren't absurdly voluminous because of the light cotton fabric. I think these dresses are so much better than the maternity dresses I've looked at online, which seem to work only to showcase the belly. I'm not against an empire waist or two, but in general, a nipped-in empire waist silhouette tends to look slightly infantilizing and off-balance. They also remind me of my black Molly fish when she was pregnant, but that's just me.

To avoid frumpiness, I think it's best to drop the hemline while exposing the shoulders and clavicles.
Judicious exposure
I used to work at a bagel shop in the summers in Texas, and there was a girl there who just wore increasingly large tee shirts during her pregnancy. No one says that you have to be stylish when you might be feeling miserable and gravid, but she did look rather sloppy, whether or not she cared. And after some experimentation, I've decided that while looking visibly pregnant at this point might be useful in some situations, like when trying to navigate a crosswalk (my biggest pet peeve in this town is how no one slows down for pedestrians. Seattle was so much more pedestrian-friendly, even being 20 Xs larger, according to the latest census), I've never dressed much for attention and I'd rather not start now.

Of course, at some point, it can't be helped. But I find that with exposed arms, shoulders, or legs--body parts that tend to remain their normal size during pregnancy--a pregnant body can still look balanced. They provide a nice counterpoint to all that extra fabric around the middle.
Don't buy maternity clothes
I notice that if I wear designated maternity clothes, I look so much more pregnant than if I just wear my normal clothes. I also find those black elastic panels rather depressing to look at, so I avoid them if at all possible. I may have to resort to them when I'm late in the third trimester, but for now, I just size up several sizes.

Luckily, I've been able to dig around in my closet for my oversized clothing. Buying clothing targeted to a late twenties to middle-aged demographic also seems to work, since these tend to be cut generously with certain trouble spots that coincide with pregnancy (thighs, stomach) in mind. Anthropologie is a good source, as is Flax. I'm thinking Ann Taylor Loft and Chico's would be good for mall brands, but since I don't shop there normally, I haven't checked them out.

I'm against buying a whole new wardrobe for just a few months (as Thoreau says, "beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes"), but for some pieces I've found it necessary, in which case I go to the cheapest source possible.  I recently bought a pair of size 8 shorts from Old Navy, which I wear with a belt instead of resorting to the black panel. For when I do need a panel, I think I might just use my short jersey miniskirt from American Apparel, folded in half, as a DIY alternative to the belly bands. Unlike the linen pieces I bought recently, I'll probably not be wearing these shorts again post-pregnancy. But who knows?

In the above pic, Nicole is wearing normal clothes from Urban Outfitters (left) and Rick Owens (right). I'm not too sure about wearing designer clothes like that unless you're a Vogue editor or minor celebrity who is willing to retire them after a few months of wear, when they get stretched out. But the RO dress does illustrate the way that bias cut fabric can work just as well as an empire waist to accommodate your shape, and with a much more chic silhouette.
Rules at a glance
Okay, so I'm really just posting this pic because I adore the dress, which looks cool, easy, and colorful, and something I'd wear regardless of my pregnant state. I've asked my friend to see if she can find one of these type dresses when she goes to India to visit family this winter. It'll be too late to be useful, but it would be nice in upcoming summers. Vintage dresses like these go for around $100 on eBay nowadays, which goes against all my thrifting ethic.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Digital Harinezumi

Introducing my favorite new accessory: the digital Harinezumi, a toy camera from Japan designed to replicate the look of old photographs and Super 8 film. It's about the size of an old 110 camera, takes photos and video, and can also convert into black and white photography. I figure since I enjoy my Lomo LC-A so much, it would be nice to have another lo-fi camera that takes pics in digital format. This one is small enough to carry with me every day for incidental pictures, like the one above from an end-of-the-year graduate picnic on the lake. The top two pics are just random everyday photographs.

Not me. Part of the Japanese ad campaign, originally posted at the Four Corner Store.
I got the case for it because I plan to be wearing this camera every day and wanted some protection for it, since it's so tiny. And, to be honest, it's just plain adorable.

There's a little hedgehog stamped on the top and a tiny compartment for a spare battery. (harinezumi means hedgehog in Japanese)

It's funny, but I feel much less anxious about purchasing expensive gear than I do clothes. Not sure why that is.

Friday, May 20, 2011

A list

I'm going to give list-making another go. I had been making them, but not really following them. But after yet another round of closet cleaning, I might just be ready to streamline.

So far, on my list, I have three things:
-- structured jacket, probably in black. For now I'll make do with my black blazer, but I'd really love to get the jacket like Isabel Marant's Elali jacket I've been lemming admiring on other bloggers.
-- silk button down, preferably in a brown or cream, but maybe in black. I'm realizing my favorite tops are button-downs with a silky hand. I don't actually have one in silk, though, so I'd like to get one.
-- stripe top? I have a lot of t-shirts, so I know I gravitate towards easy dressing. I think striped t-shirts seem a bit more polished and interesting, while still retaining a casual feel. I love my Rachel Comey striped boatneck top, but I'd like a version that was a bit looser in the body.

And there are a few spaces in there for any finds I come across in thrifiting.

This is my fall/winter list, which is really the season I need to be preparing for. I have enough summer clothes. In past few weeks, I've finished getting everything I need and want for the summer, including the linen pieces that will hopefully take me through the rest of the pregnancy, a chambray top from Lover with enough pleating to accommodate a growing belly, and a chambray skirt from See by Chloe to replace the almost perfect versions I have currently hanging in my closet. It's so hard for me to resist buying clothes for the summer, though, because warm weather and sunshine makes me happy, and it gives me pleasure to anticipate it.

Other than that, I think I'm set and anything else I acquire will be excess. Which isn't to say I will succeed in abstaining, especially when the sales come around. (Really, to do this properly, I'm thinking I need to break my habit of sales.) But I'll put up the list just so that I'll have some line I'm trying to hold.

P.S. Blogger hasn't been emailing me notification of any comments, so my apologies for not responding to some of them earlier. Of course, I read every one of them!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Nesting, of sorts

I've amassed a small crate and garbage bag of things to give away or perhaps to sell. Once I started asking myself whether I really loved a piece or not and whether it made me feel good to wear it, it was easy to know what to discard.

It also helped to sort through the images I'd kept in a folder on my desktop to see what looks still inspired me. I started this folder about 7 years ago, just about the time my interest in fashion expanded. I had just started visiting the TFS forum, along with the now all-but-defunct Style Diary. A lot of the pictures brought back memories of my first exposure to accessible luxury. And of the people who posted on these websites, back in the infancy of the internet and fashion. Looking at the images of people I saw almost daily in one form or another, I missed a little the feeling of that community. It was where Susie Bubble, Rumi N., Jane A., and others got started, on the "What Are You Wearing Today" thread, before their blogs broke out in a big way. At the time, postings pics of your outfits was still considered a weird thing to do, and there was a kind of innocence in it, a simple pleasure in sharing something you were excited about.

But enough nostalgia. I've gotten into a bad habit of rambling in my posts. I guess one thing makes me think of other things. But then that's where a lot of the pleasure in clothing for me lies. Every piece of clothing jogs a memory, some more than others. If I were to return to the start of this post to try to make a coherent thought, I'm thinking that knowing what to discard means knowing just as fully what to keep. And in that regard, by looking at old inspirational photos and old photos of me, I decided to keep the more structured pieces and get rid of stuff I was just trying out but turned out not to be me at all. On some days, like this rainy Thursday, it feels good to shed some things and to realize that they never really fit.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A theory of thrift

While many of my favorite items of clothing are vintage of homemade or no-name origin, my favorite designer thrift find has got to be my Barbour Beaufort jacket. I acquired it in a sleepy small-town Salvation Army down the street from my mother-in-law's house during a stopover on our big cross-country move. I've only recently had a chance to wear it, but it's been perfect for this rainy spring weather. I like the sturdy feel of the construction and the waterproof waxed cotton. So much nicer in a downpour than the Patagonia rain jacket I lived in, when I lived in Seattle.

Another recent find was a Dries Van Noten button-down, which I passed along to T. It's just a simple black button-down, but it has a beautiful drape and a wonderfully aged patina that make it special. And then a few years ago, I found the perfect white button-down made by Thomas Pink in a local Goodwill.

Since these favorite pieces are examples of menswear, my new theory of thrift is that the best designer vintage to be found in lowly secondhand shops is in the men's aisle. Men's clothing eschews trends for the most part and is made to last and be functional, which I think contributes to their lasting appeal 10 or 20 years later when they turn up in these thrift shops. Of course, it must help that they're not as nearly picked over as the women's aisles, either. And maybe men are less likely to go to the trouble of selling their discarded clothes than women.

Though I've found many designer clothes for women, none really appealed to my style. Maybe that's because women's clothing in general is less about functionality and more about decoration and trends. It's not that the vintage looks dated or bad, but that their range of appeal is so much narrower. Thus the Diane Von Furstenberg silk leopard-print skirt, the Comme des Garcons perma-crinkled shirt, and the Versace tee I discovered in my thrifting forays were all bypassed or eventually given away or sold. 

Anyway, I can't really discuss designer vintage finds without mentioning the Hermes loafers I found in a Goodwill on the Microsoft side of Seattle. It was just a bit too big even with socks, and I must have gotten rid of them during a ruthless cull pre-move. Sob. That was an example of classic women's design, but alas, it wasn't meant to be.

History professor Michael Prokopov offers his own theory of thrift in an NYT article about flea markets. He says, “Flea markets proliferate a volume of goods needing to be sold and people who are hungry — emotionally and aesthetically — to sort out the meaning of life. . . . For most people who go on these ritualized scavenger hunts looking for something that they may not know exists, it is a kind of pilgrims’ process through the detritus of the past.” Even the journalist quoting him had to raise an eyebrow at that academic heavy lifting, but it's an interesting thought nonetheless.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Need list

I agonize over having to buy stuff I may not be wearing after a few months, especially now that I'm finally starting to pare down my shopping habits. But I'm getting to the point that I really need to find more accommodating clothes. Right now I need
  • a pair of shorts or capris that I can garden and hike in, and preferably also wear about town. The elastic on my poor North Face pants can't go much further.
  • a few new bras.
Knowing that I might not be able to or want to wear these items post-pregnancy, I'm not sure whether to go the cheap route or not. I hate to buy expendable clothing, but at the same time, I don't want to buy nicer stuff with the expectation of still being able to wear it later.

Then there's the choice about whether to go for form-fitting numbers that reveal the bump, or to wear strategic layers to obscure it. Anyone have thoughts on the matter? Is it cute, or obnoxious and tacky to show off the bump?

Monday, May 9, 2011


I pulled out my Moleskin last night and made a list. One is of what I would like to get, which is for the most part on hold until the transformation of my body works itself out. I think this enforced holding pattern is good, though, because it forces me to really consider my purchases.

The other list I wrote is of my current favorite items of clothing.

From left:
1. Rose-print sundress. Free People. I bought it years ago because I adored the print, even though the only one left was two sizes larger than my usual. Surprisingly, I prefer it for its looseness.

2. Wayfarer dress. Rachel Comey. My first tiny splurge on what would become my favorite designer. It doesn't look like much, but the little details make it special.

3. Striped t-shirt dress. APC. Again, a few sizes too big, but affording the perfect slouch. I feel completely at ease in this dress. The drape of the cotton keeps it from being too boxy.

4. Navy woven shirtdress with maroon buttons. Vintage. It's completely demure, but for that reason it works. A classic.

5. Knit cardigan. Vintage ("Handknit by Sis Lee"). The shoulders create a subtle cocooning. I didn't think I would like this as much as I do, but the color goes with a lot of my things.

6. Patterned brown button-down. Vintage. The ruffles and the shimmer of the pattern are unobtrusively feminine. I wear this with the sleeves rolled up whenever I want to be a little formal but still comfortable.

7.  Flowery blue button-down. Vintage, handmade. It's slightly sheer, cool, and crisp.

8. Plaid button-down. Vintage, handmade. This seems to me like the perfect vintage plaid.

9. Striped boatneck top. Rachel Comey. Another unexpected favorite. I had added it to my order just to get free shipping. One of the few fitted things I like.

10. Chambray skirt. Vintage. I love white tees and chambray skirts in the summer.

11. Accessories. Heart tote, Anthropologie. Denim bag, Paul & Joe Sister. Polka-dot scarf, J. Crew.

Generally, I haven't posted my actual clothes before because they just don't have the snap and cool-factor that I see in so many other blogs. In fact, looking at this collection of my favorites, I can see why a student once told me that my style was "granola chic." Sigh. I'd still rather approximate the clean and sharp look that I see elsewhere, but this is my skin, I suppose, and I feel most comfortable in this style. They reflect the layers of my history. There's the thread of hippie-ness from my years in Austin, the grunge of the 90s, my love of vintage and thrift, the warm climes I'm used to, and the oversized clothes I got used to wearing when even the smallest sizes hung off me (definitely not the case anymore!).

The other thing the list made me realize was that I collect an excess of clothes when I can't get just the right thing. Shoes, skirts, and jeans make up the bulk of my wardrobe, but few of those things show up on a list of favorites. So now I can see why it's important to find the exactly perfect item. It saves you from going through endless versions in search of it.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Cheap Chic

I woke up early Saturday morning to go to the book sale that the Friends of the Library puts on twice a year in Ithaca. I've gone to these warehouse-type book sales in Seattle and central PA before, and they're always fun to browse because of the interesting mix of books, some of which you rarely see. I came prepared with a thermos of hot tea and stood in line to wait my turn to enter.

Since I sold two storage crates of books before my move out here, I was loathe to accumulate a bunch more. But I was incredibly excited to find a copy of Cheap Chic, written by Caterine Milinaire and Carol Troy. I've heard about this book so many times, but it had fallen out of print since its publication in 1975.

Except for a few dated pieces of advice (like to steer clear of zippers on jeans) and the amazing difference that inflation makes (the authors balk at spending the then going-rate of $600 on an Hermes bag), much of the advice in the book is still fresh and relevant. Milinaire suggests that you begin by investing in high-quality classics to form the foundation of your wardrobe, and then look to other sources like thrift stores, workwear, and ethnic markets for color, variety, personality, and just to round out your wardrobe.

The book feels like it consolidates the advice written on current blogs that concentrate on wardrobe-building and individual style. A sample passage from the "Classics" chapter:
Sometimes Cheap Chic boils down to spending much more than you feel you can afford on the kind of classic, quality clothes we talk about in this chapter. We think it saves money in the long run. . . . There are still certain things you shouldn't fudge on no matter how cheaply you dress: the very best boots, a sturdy bag, a glorious jacket or shirt. You can't afford cheap boots that will last a year and then crack across the sole. If you had loads of money you could; but since you don't, spend your money where it shows the most.
I like how the book offers simple guidelines as well as the principles behind them. All too often, fashion becomes just a prescriptive list of do's and don'ts, as if style was just a secret code for winning acceptance rather than a form of creative self-expression. Although I suppose in some ways style could be both, it loses all fun if it's just the former.

What's really interesting to me is how stylish all the women in the pictures look, even 35 years later. Some of their outfits aren't my personal cup of tea, but they look great nevertheless.

From the "Antiques" chapter, Ewa Rudling is featured as a "ragpicker deluxe." She says, "When you are, or when you become, poor, you also become very inventive. You find yourself taking things you normally would not have looked at before." I like that the book says it's perfectly alright to be "throwing your last $150 into a tweed riding jacket and riding out poverty in style" even as it lists provides alternatives and various places to find $1 t-shirts and other basics.

From the "First Layers" chapter, Milinaire says to look for "solid colors, basic quality, simple cut and time-tested designs" to simply dressing in the morning. In the above pic, designer Ola Hudson models her uniform of painter's pants and long-sleeved cotton t-shirts, while Lauren Hutton wears a simple ensemble of jeans, man's shirt, and wool Shetland sweater.

New York photojournalist Helene Gaillet shown in variations of her layering system: t-shirt, boy's shirt, overshirt, and jeans. She also illustrates what the book advises is the most basic layer--"a lithe, supple body."

Two examples of style coming from original sources. The chapter on "Markets Around the World" is especially interesting for its breakdown of the ethnic items that distinguish various countries or regions, such as the lacemakers of Belgium and silver belts in Turkey. Milinaire advises seeking them out as an antidote to an increasingly Westernized world, worthwhile also because they are "functional, durable, cheap, and usually made of local raw materials." The first pic above illustrates the suggestion to look for a local market or bag wherever you go, completely relevant still today as straw market bags reach a small crest in trendiness. The second pic is of a traditional French jeweler's smock. Very reminiscent of Chloe, don't you think? 

I haven't finished reading the entire book, but already it's a trove of smart, useful observations, delivered in a non-condescending way. I can post more from it in future posts if others would find it similarly helpful.

[cover jacket photo: amazon; first interior photo: Unruly; all other photos: Mrs. Gorman]

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Things I didn't buy

Taking a cue from Frockstyle, I'll post a few things that didn't make the cut, though my tax refund was burning a hole in my pocket.

Abercrombie shorts. Though I can't bring myself to enter the stores, I like the fit of their pants and shorts. And I've liked the look of a pair of short shorts with oversized tops since I saw an editorial in Vogue mixing the high and low, or maybe it's just the tacky Jessica-Simpsonesque Texan in me. But the low rise of these shorts turns out to be very practical for a baby belly. And while I can still (just barely) button into the size 0s in my closet, I thought sizing up would be better. Still, I decided not to purchase another pair because summers look like they'll be fleeting, and I wouldn't get much use out of them.

Free People Fit N Flare dress. In the reviews, customers complained about the voluminous cutaway around the ribs, so I thought this dress might be perfect for the next few months. But I really didn't like the mottled vertical stripes.

APC Tiered Floral Dress. I love me some dark floral print, but summer is just too short.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sweet summer hair

Totally in love with what Susie Bubble calls the "70s poppy/preppy" look in a scene from Anh Hung Tran's screen adaptation of Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood.

This look should be easy enough to recreate eventually through several rounds at the thrift stores. The 70s might be my favorite decade in vintage.

The sweet little barrettes got me to thinking about summer hair, though. I was big into barrettes a few years ago to keep my longish bangs off my face. It's a small but effective gesture. A funny incident: the best friend of my boyfriend at the time came to visit us in Texas, along with his girl from Washington state, who had built her own yurt using scrap material and ingenuity in her mother's backyard and who now lived with the best friend in another hand-built house on land they homesteaded in Alaska. She was a sturdy girl. Anyway, I could sense that she took an instant dislike to me, even though she kept exclaiming, "you're the cutest thing ever!" I don't think that was a compliment, quite, in her book. But the funny thing was that later that day when they were driving around, she made them stop into a drugstore so she could buy some barrettes.

Barrettes, like braids, are icons of girlish innocence and fit right in with the ease of summer. You don't see them done often enough.

Thursday, March 31, 2011


So I'm pregnant. That radically changes my thinking about fashion and consumption like nothing else has. Some days, I couldn't care less about how I look.

I don't really want to buy things that I might outgrow in a few months and that I might not be able to fit into post-pregnancy. Ironically, although this pregnancy has disordered all  my plans and complicated things quite a bit (it was both planned and unexpected), it has, on the other hand, simplified my wardrobe into about a dozen workable pieces. I now have a minimalist's wardrobe! haha.

But I am determined to buy as little maternity-specific clothes as possible. There's no point in buying things you'll only wear for a few months, in any scenario. As long as I can still pull from my old closet, I'll continue to do so. It helps me to feel more like me, too, which is important because I have no plans to morph into Mom, capital M, with all its social expectations and stereotypes. There are no mini-vans in my future (but I feel obliged to say that if a mini-van were to appear in my {non-existent} driveway, I wouldn't refuse it! a 30-year-old short-bed truck is less than the ideal baby transport).

Which isn't to say that I haven't stuck a toe into the maternity arena. I went down to the local thrift store to see what maternity clothes were to be had, and it was a quick lesson in aversion therapy. Everything was either ugly, gigantic, shapeless, frumpy, or a combination thereof. While I feel sympathetic to the women who, I imagine, were strong-armed into such garments solely by the forces of circumstance and practicality, I hope to not end up in such desperate straits. (But really, who's to say? One thing I've learned in being a full-time incubator is that there is not a lot under your control.)

Towards that end, I have isolated two women whose maternity style I admire. One is Melanie Huynh, former editor at Vogue Paris, and Nicole Richie, former best friend of Paris Hilton. I'll post a study of their styles in separate posts at some point. I don't really plan to fully emulate their style--I did not wear spiky Balenciaga heels prior to being pregnant, and I certainly won't during--but I think they both tweaked their individual style admirably  to accommodate their changing body shape, in ways that would be instructive to anybody.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

On Mr. Porter and wardrobe building

I came across this interview with Net-a-Porter's Natalie Massenet in the Wall Street Journal in which she talks about how Net-a-Porter came into being and grew into such a powerhouse. At the end, she remarks on the difference between how men and women shop. Here's the pertinent passage:
With Mr. Porter, we are not intending to just reskin Net-a-Porter and call it a men’s site. We’ve thrown away every thing we know about shopping online and started from scratch because we’re working with a customer base that’s inherently not crazy about going into stores. We’re tailoring the navigation and the services to cater to the male psychology of shopping, which is very different from a woman’s. Men shop to build a long-term wardrobe, while women focus more on short-term, trend-driven pieces. [italics mine]
I found the italicized concept pretty intriguing, so I went over to the Mr. Porter website (the male arm of NAP) to check out how this difference might translate into a different approach to dressing and strategy for selling.

Besides such hilarious features as "How to Please Her" (so dating anxiety isn't just confined to women!), the section that really intrigued me was the "Wardrobe Manager" section. It's basically what we've been calling the French Method for dressing. There's sub-sections that keep list the essentials for a complete wardrobe, a section to keep track of desired items, a re-order section to replace old and worn-out favorites, and a section that compiles recommendations from friends and the site. What this Wardrobe Manager suggested to me was a methodical, thoughtful approach to dressing as well as a style that remains consistent over time.

I really liked the Essentials list that they generated for their customers. While I don't agree that a tux is an essential item in a wardrobe (though for their target clientele it could be; but I imagine it's really on the list to flatter the consumer), I really appreciate the thoughtfulness behind the rationale for each of these items. Example:
It's useful to have a few casual shirts; you can always spot a man who wears the same shirts at the weekend as he does to the office during the week. Fabrics should be a bit heavier and less formal, which brings oxfords and substantial linens to the fore, and allows colours to be more expressive, because strong hues look better when the cloth is thicker.
Now I know it's difficult to compile a list of essentials for women, who have so much more variety in what they can wear, but I would love to have a list that narrowed down the features of any one essential item so that shopping becomes more analytical, targeted, and likely to end in success. I know various blogs do that to some degree, and I really love to hear the thought process behind figuring out what people really need and enjoy. I myself know that I hate overly textural fabrics next to my skin, but it took so much trial and error to come to that realization.

I would almost say that this approach to dressing, as evidenced at Mr. Porter, is more analytical and less emotion-driven, but I think that's only on the surface of things. Underneath, there's still that tried-and-true advertising strategy of creating anxiety about some heretofore unperceived deficiency or flaw, and then offering the panacea. Witness the "you can always spot a man who wears the same shirts at the weekend as he does to the office during the week." i.e. don't be that one of those boorish men who doesn't know how to have fun.

Anyway . . . Another long post. I realize I do this blogging thing all wrong, with lots of texts, very few pictures, and no covet-worthy items. So I appreciate the kind words in the comments that have encouraged me to keep writing. I hate to inundate or create more noise, so it's good to know that it doesn't come across that way.

Friday, February 11, 2011

How many clothes does a person need?

I think surprisingly little, with one caveat. I used to have very little in my wardrobe. As a high schooler, I got 1/3 of a closet rack and 1 dresser drawer to share with my sisters and keep all my things. When I got to college, all my clothes still fit into just one cardboard box. I remember getting by just fine. I just had to have enough undies and things so that I don't have to do laundry all the time, but then all was well.

But I think part of the reason that it worked then was because my life was fairly routine. School, then home. Nowadays, I need a bit more range in my closet to meet a few additional social situations, so that translates into more clothes. But not really that much more.

So that is to say, a person does not need a lot. Enough to fit her lifestyle. This is the ideal. But in practice, I deluded myself into thinking that more clothes would mean more preparedness. That's true to some extent, but at some point it just became more.