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.