Today is the first of February, snowy, brilliant, but dripping with the sound of spring wherever the sun lies warm, and calling with the heart of spring yonder where the crows are assembling. There is spring in the talk of the chickadees outside my window, and in the cheerful bluster of a red squirrel in the hickory. – Dallas Lore Sharp, The Atlantic Monthly, February 1908
This has been another packed month with lots of ups and downs, more so than you would think possible for the shortest month of the year! Here is a list of the things that made the highs lovely and the lows a bit more bearable, from the sublime to the ridiculous. Share your monthly favorites in the comments and help put more good things on my radar for March.
Russian Doll, Netflix
This month I have been boring/frightening anyone within earshot who will listen with my evangelization for this show. Something between Groundhog Day and Sliding Doors, this perfectly formed standalone series follows a woman who gets stuck in a loop, repeating the same day for reasons unknown. Each reboot we learn more and more about her past, her dark and twisty mind, and why this delightfully difficult and selfish person is the way that she is. And then, quite suddenly, it turns out she might not be the only one experiencing this phenomenon. The series rests of the strength of each character, even the peripheral ones (who are all blissfully weird), and how they interplay with one another. Add to this the fact that this show is so well-crafted with dark humor and plot beats that are almost suspiciously perfect in their delivery–chef’s kiss.. It’s difficult to talk about the show without giving too much away so all I can say is that if you haven’t watched it yet, you truly are missing out.
Venom lipstick, by Pat McGrath
Having finally finished my previous red lipstick (and there is nothing more self-satisfying that the holding aloft a lipstick, worn down to the very bottom of the bullet), I immediately picked up a fresh shade to work on this month. It was part of a limited edition set purchased a couple of years ago and I wanted to use it up before it goes off, but I’ve fallen in love with it in its own right. I lean towards bright, orange-ish reds by preference, but this shade by Pat McGrath is a cool-toned one that’s normally a bit out of my wheelhouse. However, I may have to rethink my position on true reds or blue-toned ones, because I feel absolutely fabulous wearing it and have been enjoying a steady stream of compliments every time I do. The formula is intensely pigmented and feels lovely on the lips. Pat McGrath is definitely a luxury brand and I have never been able to justify purchasing anything else from her line due to the shocking pricepoint, but I fully intend to use this elegant product to the very last swipe,
Fascism: A Warning, by Madeleine Albright
Former Secretary of State and Woman Who Knows What the Hell She’s Talking About Madeleine Albright’s book gripped me last month and I read it in two sittings. First and foremost, this book is a history lesson about the 20th century and the movements that led its most horrible conflicts. Looking back on my own high school experience, I know I learned more about certain wars or tensions from this than I can remember from any class or module–but I think that is in part due to the fact that we are two decades into the 21st century now and hindsight is a lot more clear. Age and experience make Secretary Albright a formidable narrator as she has the benefit of an almost unique personal and professional vantage point. For anyone looking to draw exact parallels to the current state of Western politics, she has a few lessons from history as to how hyperbole and moral panic are unhelpful. And for those who dismiss any parallels between now and the past, she also has the titular warning: fascism is endlessly adaptable and always a threat. It make wear new clothing from time to time, but its intentions and destinations do not change and anyone who says, “This time will be different,” is a fool or a liar.
We have so many prints and art pieces and all of them have been lovingly hoarded for far too long. Well no more! This month I picked up our first custom framed piece, a limited print by Charlotte Gerrard, and am already plotting which piece will get treatment next. At some point I’ll write a whole post about the shop I’m using because it’s a London gem in its own right. In the meantime, I’m absurdly pleased with my cow!
My accountability post is short and sweet this month because this shirt was my only desire-based purchase. I have no regrets, I love it. A very bold print made wearable due to the muted tones that go with every neutral under the sun: a perfect way to marry loud and exuberant dressing with practical and sedate functionality. My sweet spot! I was happy to add this item to my rolling list of purchased items for the year.
“Solitude is fine but you need someone to tell that solitude is fine.” ― Honoré de Balzac
Darlings, it’s been a shit week on the personal front–one of those sorts of weeks where it doesn’t seem to matter how you try and approach a problem, there is no way to proceed without some kind of negative consequence, regardless of desire or intention. Meanwhile, it’s Accountancy Widow Season and Jeff has to work horrible hours to get his assignments over the line and we go days without only a few hours of overlap at times. Blech.
And so, to cope I have put together a great batch of weekend reading for you all–with absolutely no current political affairs for once! Let’s delve into the worlds of science, beauty, music, women and money, and Twitter threads that won’t make you want to burn something to the ground.
This weekend I’m catching up on the things that provide some balance and delight–books, podcasts, chats with friends–and tend to fall behind when work takes over. It’s not going to be a wildly productive weekend, but hopefully it will be restful one. Let me know your plans in the comments.
Work travel this month really threw me off some of my exercise, eating, and budgetary habits, but once back home and settled I was able to get back on the path of virtue.
General motivation. I had work travel this month, and Jeff is in the middle of “busy season” for his profession, so it was a chore to make maintaining the house a priority, but we did it. We also finally upgraded our vacuum cleaner after five years using an incredibly cheap (and increasingly unreliable) one picked up from Argos when we first moved to London. The difference has been night and day. We’ve also been really good about our “fewer lazy days,” goals by making sure we get out of the house and do something fun or together every single weekend so far this year. In February this has meant going to see a movie with serious Oscars buzz, wandering in central London, date nights, or just walks along the river.
Grooming. I hate doing my hair. I hate it. It’s so boring, it never ends up doing what I want, and I always feel ridiculous whenever I try to do anything remotely stylish with my mane. But since I want to get better at doing my hair this year, I made it a point to be sure I was prioritizing “doing” my hair this month instead of just throwing it into my signature pony tale and going. This meant digging out the mysterious hair products hiding in my bathroom drawer depths that I don’t use enough and, surprise, they helped. I also bought little travel sized items for my gym bag for post morning exercise grooming. While that week of travel was not my sartorial best, the rest of the month was easier to prioritize–not least because the workmen are finally out of our apartment!
Financial. Since changing around some bank account options, I have restarted my monthly savings goal of putting at least an extra £100 straight into a savings account that I cannot touch no matter how much I want to. While our primary motivation is still debt payment, I want to bolster our emergency fund. I also kept my credit cards more or less on ice this month and stuck to a cash only system. We’re staring down the barrel of a large bunch of fees for immigration purposes which is incredibly stressful to think about, so every single pound allocated to that is a deposit towards mental health at the moment. Speaking of…
Health. It was difficult to stick to my good habits while travelling, but once back at home I was right back to meal planning and prepping on the weekend and making healthy food decisions. I strained the knee and hip joints of my dodgy leg which also had an impact and a week of exercise went down the tubes due to it. While not thrilled with this, the only solution is to try and do better next month!
Continued the art framing project, as part of my overall ambition to protect our pieces and actually begin using them to decorate.
Passed my immigration test!
Life admin. I made it a project to unsubscribe from almost every single marketing email list I can find so that the only things coming through my inbox are newsletters I have signed up for and enjoy, practical things like banking and order tracking, and correspondence with actual human beings that I know and like. Delightful!
Repotted growing plants. Gotta keep my chlorophyll children alive!
Kittens, it’s that blessed time of year again: when we argue vociferously in the comments over the gowns and getups of the Oscars red carpet! Praise be!
I have opined in recent years that some Academy Awards red carpets have gotten…well, boring. But scanning through the images as they rolled in over the past couple of days, I was actively bouncing in my seat with delight to see some genuinely interesting and groundbreaking fashion on the step and repeat. Old school glamour absolutely has a place and shouldn’t be discounted, but I think the current zeitgeist (and certainly my own preference) is for more originality and personality in both design and styling.
This year had it in droves, particularly in the menswear category, which my soul thrilled to see. Nothing is hotter than a well worn tux or suit, but what a dull life it is when no one revisits or reinterprets the traditional stand by. Meanwhile, the ladies played with shape, flirted with menswear, and broke out the jewels. What a feast for the senses!
The red carpet and many (not all) of the awards also served to underscore how much style owes to the niches. Black culture, queer culture, nerd culture…aesthetics and innovation come from tucked away corners of society, and seldom from the mainstream. To see Style expressed rather than Fashion rewarded (not the same thing) was deeply gratifying. In fact, given the diversity of style to choose from and the myriad of important cultural news, it was difficult to break down what looked “good” and bad” for a lot of the people I wanted to cover.
Difficult…but not impossible.
Scroll down for my top picks, headshakes, screams of terror, and bafflement. Then let me know what you loved/hated and why!
Glenn Close in Carolina Herrera
Bow down to a woman who is LONG overdue an Oscar (even though I’m delighted that Olivia Colman won because I think The Favourite is one of the best films I’ve seen in years and her surprise and joy at her nod and win were so lovely to watch). Apparently her train weighed close to 50 lbs and while that seems a chore to drag around, she looked every inch a queen. And watching her stanning for another queen? *Chef’s kiss*
Regina King in Oscar de la Renta
Such a simple look, such perfect styling. Every single quotient here is correct: chic, sex appeal, elegance, impact. A mere centimeter more or leg or jewelry would have changed the mathematics, but left alone this whole look just sings. I may also be biased but I also give accessorizing points for when Captain America (himself fetchingly attired in a blue velvet jacket–we’ll return to the boys later) rose chivalrously to the occasion to help her up the stairs.
Angela Bassett in Reem Acra
The Queen Mother of Wakanda accepts your humble offerings of praise. I would normally grade the wrinkling much more harshly but I mean…just look at her. Her face should not be legal.
Constance Wu in Versace
This is so darn lovely in its execution! This is a look where all of the impact is in the details from the perfectly fitted and hemmed basics (required for the red carpet but sometimes missing in action for some reason!), the hint of glimmer at the neckline, and the absolutely stunning pleating across the bodice.
Gemma Chan in Valentino
I can already hear the shouts in the comments, but hear me out! It was difficult to see all the wild and editorial deployment of pink and not think of the character of Villanelle from Killing Eve and her famous pink confection by Molly Goddard. That piece in particular and most of the costuming of that show was dubbed an exercise “dressing for the female gaze rather than the male,” a take with which I agree and which I think we are seeing more and more of. Gemma Chan’s red carpet choices have been a great example of this and her pink frock was no different. Here is a ludicrously beautiful woman who could easily dress “safely” in her professional appearances, but has chosen deliberately editorial choices instead, playing with silhouettes and shape rather than traditional movie star gowns. This is not a traditional or safe choice, which is why I think it deserves a top billing.
Tina Fey in Vera Wang
A personal best, hands down.
Michelle Yeoh in Elie Saab
If ever there was a woman born to wear couture, it is she!
The Less Than Good
I am devastated to report that all three of the leading ladies of The Favourite (by far my favo(u)rite film of the year), let me down on the style front.
Olivia Colman in custom Prada
I am not going to judge this woman nearly as harshly as other stars. Like many noted and treasured British performers, she is not a Hollywood machine product and has not “invested” in fashion as a mechanism for attention or acclaim the way, say, Emma Stone has. That is not a criticism, by the way, it’s usually stonking good business sense! But it not correct to judge her by fashionista standards. And no, it has nothing to do with age. Both Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep are Women of A Certain Age, both are ferociously revered and fabulously talented. Streep has not utilized fashion the way that Mirren has and their efforts must be evaluated differently. But I digress. I think the color of this gown is gorgeous, her hair and makeup are impeccable and personal, and I love the beautifully embroidered tulle in theory, but I didn’t love the placement of it. Had this been draped differently, I think I would have liked it much more. Her acceptance speech, however? Genuine delight!
Emma Stone in Louis Vuitton
This pains me because I love both her movie and her, but this looked like pan fried meat. However, her unabashed love for her winning co-star was an absolutely joy to watch, click the link above if you want to revisit it again and bask in the heartwarming glow.
Rachel Weisz in Givenchy
This pains me even more than Emma because I don’t just love her, she’s literally one of my favorite actresses ever…but this is just bad. The hair jewelry is beautiful but does not suit the rest of the look, which I can only read as cardinal fetishwear. And that is a BAD mental image right now. Again, a mixture of elements which, on their own are interesting, but don’t gel together well for me.
Lady Gaga in Alexander McQueen
I am sorry to disappoint on her big night but Lady Gaga for me was a case of so many individually good elements not being put together correctly. A structural gown with unexpected accessories is right in her wheelhouse, but the fabric didn’t seem to photograph well and had a wrinkled or unkempt quality in the shots I saw. And while her hair styling was an homage to Audrey Hepburn, whose iconic gems adorned her neck, the hair color and fake tan orange of her skin brought the look down. I am not a snob by any stretch of the imagination when it comes to style, but her particular mix of High/Low didn’t gel for me on her biggest red carpet night to date.
Charlize Theron in Dior
Sigh. I think it’s annual tradition at this point: Theron wears a Dior which I hate. She has a longstanding relationship with the house and is one of their brand ambassadors, but I have never felt they’ve done right by her. I feel the same way about Jennifer Lawrence, come to think about it… That necklace, however, is to die for.
Melissa McCarthy in Brandon Maxwell
Oh this pains me because I applaud trousers on the red carpet and live for a cape. But I did not feel that this iteration was an amazing deployment.
The Trends: Subverting Gender and Stereotypes
Pink was everywhere on this carpet which was a bit unexpected. We haven’t been having a pink “moment” in fashion, but on reflection we are having a series of decidedly female and queer empowerment moments in culture. Perhaps this constitutes something of a bold reclamation of unabashed femininity after a few rough awards seasons shadowed by #MeToo and other hard truths. No longer trying to make it in a “man’s world,” some of the most empowering messages we are hearing about and for women involve harnessing femininity (if you are feminine or choose to present that way) rather than subsuming it to more traditional (masculine) styles or perspectives. In other words, some girls like pink and they are going to wear it because they enjoy feeling girly, regardless of their age. Deal with it. And give them their awards.
Women in Menswear
In a similar vein, some girls want to wear suits. Cool! Wear the suits, darlings, you look fab in them! I love menswear on women and enjoyed how many iterations of it we saw this year, even if I didn’t love all of them equally (sorry again, Melissa!).
Let’s Hear it For the Boys (in Velvet)
And finally, boys just want to have fun too! Fashion and style are often dismissed as feminine (and therefore frivolous) interests. Bullshit! Style and self expression through clothes is fun to do and plenty of men enjoy this space. We should vigorously encourage them wherever we find men dressing well, because the results…damn.
Oh, and there was a lot of velvet too. But, priorities.
Chris Evans in Salvatore Ferragamo
There are many Chris-es in Hollywood. He is my favorite. I may have rewatched the footage of Captain America being an officer and a gentleman towards Ms. Regina King a few dozen times at this point. Because…damn.
Chadwick Boseman in Givenchy
He has consistently pushed red carpet styling for men so of course he wouldn’t leave us bereft at the Oscars. A highly traditional tux jacket is elevated by being absolutely encrusted with beading and flowing elements reminiscent of north African garments. He and the whole cast of Black Panther have been giving us the most gorgeous, high fashion, Afrofuturistic looks possible for a year now and the red carpet is all the better for it. Spare us safe, give us damn style!
Nicholas Hoult in Dior
Hot damn. The best of all the stars from The Favourite in an unusual take on the tux–almost feminine in the interpretation of a train, which is apropos given he played a glorious fop.
Jason Momoa in Karl Lagerfeld
He’s…look, he’s messy. But this look overlaps nicely with the pink theme and the more “flamboyant” looks for men, so it had to be included as a notable mention. Even if it’s really messy. But still, those muscles. Damn.
David Olelowo in Etro
Stephen James in Etro
Henry Golding in Ralph Lauren
Best In Show
Billy Porter in Christian Sirano
My god what a stunning look and absolutely perfect for the wearer, star of POSE. The look directly references drag ball star Hector Xtravaganza, updated for both 2019 and the wearer. Christian Sirano was an excellent choice as designer as having earned a reputation for dressing bodies that the more traditionally minded fashion and film industries have not cultivated. This for me summed up the best of the red carpet and the award wins this year–unfortunately leaving the Best Picture win aside. What was once underground and transgressive can still be unique and deeply unconventional while being more accepted in the mainstream as glamourous in its own right. Queer culture demands that both truths can apply and I love it!
“What happens when people open their hearts?” “They get better.” ― Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood
The past few months have been challenging on the work front, but in an unusual way: most of what has challenged me has been a result of success and advancement more than setback. This is not a bad problem to have! I’m gratified by the opportunities I’m getting, while simultaneously intimidated or by many aspects of them at the same time.
Almost every day week I am confronted with a challenge or issue that I have never faced before. On the one hand, this is extremely good for me and my career as it compels growth. I enjoy the opportunity to shape my work and take ownership of certain issues that I want to improve or contribute to. On the other hand, it’s also been difficult navigating uncharted territory 100% of the time. I fret inordinately about making mistakes and being out of my depth–even if these worries are usually unfounded when I take a step back and look rationally at my situation.
This past month, after a particularly bad and long lasting bout of anxiety in the face of yet more unexpected challenges, I decided to try and do something that is very difficult for me: be more vulnerable.
Opening up. With the benefit of hindsight, I’ve been thinking lately on how I’ve confused honesty with vulnerability. Honesty is not difficult for me; I’m notoriously lacking in poker face and tend to operate on a policy of complete transparency. This applies to my professional life as well as my personal. I have neither the skill nor patience for personal politics and would ten times rather attack problems full on than sidle up to them sideways. I also don’t tend to hide my opinions or emotions (even when I wish I could). However, honesty is not vulnerability. The former implies providing something to me, the latter requires receiving, and often also involves an element of risk. I took a few risks this month and tried to communicate more openly with key people about how I’m coping (or not) with certain circumstances and ambitions. In some cases I’ve tried to be humble and ask for help or guidance, in others I’ve pitched new ideas or projects. While I haven’t always gotten the answers I’ve wanted, these conversations have helped reduce uncertainty or confusion.
Being out of my comfort zone. I’ve had to make some tough decisions in areas which were new for me. Whether it’s balancing bigger budgets or running different kinds of projects or dealing with new-to-me people management situations, I’ve had to make judgement calls which have higher stakes. And I’m going to have to manage the consequences of these decisions, both good and bad, and only some of which I can anticipate. Which leads me to….
Learning to be uncomfortable. There is a world of difference between things that are bad for you or toxic, and things that are simply temporarily difficult or unpleasant. After a few years dealing with the genuinely toxic in a few areas of my life, I am still learning to differentiate between the two. Discomfort isn’t fatal–it’s probably a larger part of the human condition than thrilling joy–and learning to navigate periods of discomfort and difficulty is a skill that I need to hone. I am am trying to learn how to be more at peace with my own inexperience and fears–to acknowledge them and deal with them while not allowing them to cripple me. This is very new emotional space for me and not very good at existing in it yet, but I’m trying.
Let’s chat about vulnerability in the comments. What does that look like in your life and how have you leaned into it–or fled from it, as I tend to do?
“I have to be alone very often. I’d be quite happy if I spent from Saturday night until Monday morning alone in my apartment. That’s how I refuel.” ― Audrey Hepburn
Happy weekend, my poppets. It’s been another wild week of news with a lot of hard stories, but once again I’ve lovingly curated a bunch of links to take you through several of the big stories and even more of the small gems you might have missed. This week we have nature, crime, humor, in memoriam, Black Excellence, and a gem of a short film to wrap it all up. Go forth and read!
“There’s this idea that getting help is somehow cheating…” The communal and familial nature of building wealth is interesting to me, especially given current cultural examinations of wealth and power. There have been a lot of mini pop culture scandals and stories of late wherein individuals are lauded as self-made when they are most definitely not, or some variation thereof. Both Jeff and I had parents who paid for our educations–though we both still earned scholarships, worked jobs (two at one point in my case), and went to a ridiculously inexpensive university for our undergraduate degrees. But privilege is privilege and we have it. Here in the UK, it’s extremely common for parents to help adult children with the down payments that put them on the property ladder for the first time. There are political and policy aspects to wealth building that cannot and should not be ignored. In other words, it is a rare, rare (wo)man who is a financial island and we should probably ditch the myth of the self-made man as it’s inaccurate, unhelpful, and not a little soul-crushing.
Black History Month is not over, and Mr. Obama has some reading recommendations if you are inclined for some self-education. My repertoire of African and black American authors is truly shameful and I’ve been working to correct over recent years.
“Some men are born to own; can animate all their possessions. Others cannot; Their owning is not graceful; seems to be a compromise of their character; they seem to steal their own dividends.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
A minimalist I am not; I love “stuff.” I enjoy material objects and the process that goes into finding interesting ones, choosing them, and caring for them, but simultaneously and paradoxically also have a weird sort of detachment to stuff. Growing up in a military family meant that every couple of years, we would uproot and move everything we owned into a new home. When this (frequently) involved shifts between countries and even continents, we would often have to downsize our possessions to meet weight limitations. Going through a few rounds of this has meant that I have had plenty of experience in sorting out the things I value from the things that are just nice to have. This is something I have had cause to examine even more in recent years as I’ve tried to publicly dissect my relationship with consumerism and money.
“I have always valued creative freedom and financial security over anything I could buy otherwise. Both come at a cost — i.e. NOT buying a lot of stuff and experiences I would very much enjoy because I had to save money and live frugally.”
Her note triggered a realization for me that I have alluded to before but not fully teased out before: most of the things of value that Jeff and I own, things we have spent our money on and would mourn if lost, could reasonable be hustled out the door at very short notice. Or as I put it in a reply,
“Reading your follow up made me consider again how few “big” items Jeff and I own. If we needed to, we could throw almost everything we own of value into suitcases and just GO. The major casualties would be a couple of pieces of furniture which would cause a pang, but we don’t have a whole household that we’d lose in an emergency or disaster. I think our purchasing history reflects the idea that what we really value at this season in our lives is mobility.”
When we moved to London, we did so with two suitcases a piece. While difficult, it was doable. If we ever leave London, I’d hope to take quite a bit more than that with us, but if I needed to flee with only basic luggage, I suspect I could. Mobility. I’m not sure if that reflects an inner, enviable flexibility in the face of possible adversity, or a deeper need to be able to run away from present circumstances if necessary (possibly both?) but whatever it is, I have clearly chosen to build key aspects of our life around it as a concept.
Living in London for over five years has given me many chances to evaluate what else I value in this season.
Being in the thick of things. London is a tough town but I still get a thrill living in a place where so much happens. I enjoy watching the news and knowing some of it is taking place just up the river. I like watching films and TV shows and being able to identify specific familiar locations, sometimes down to the very neighborhood and streets they were shot on. I love living in a region where interesting art is being created and important cultural discussions are being argued. It’s not always comfortable, but it is never boring.
Ease of cultural access. Whether it’s food, entertainment, easy travel to most of Europe, Africa, and the Near East, or just street culture, London is a smorgasbord. Having lived (and not thrived) in monocultures before, I have a hard time envisioning ever living in one again. Multiculture is inherently more complex and difficult to navigate at times, but I find it enriching and rewarding.
Possibility and the ability to change my mind. Whether it’s been in matters of community or career, living in circumstances that have allowed me to pick a new direction is incredibly valuable to me. I have lived in locations and circumstances that were stultifying; while London might stress me out, it has never bored me or restricted my choices. I recognize what a privilege this is and I’m grateful for it every day.
Memories and experiences. Most of the things that would make it into an emergency suitcase are small items with some kind of emotional value: a teddy bear that has been with me literally since the day I was born, my wedding jewelry, my passport.
Reading over this list, I am struck by how much of this feels transient in some way–which is odd because we have no plans to move at any point in the foreseeable future. We have invested a lot to live where we do and are working through the process of making this a permanent home. And yet, whether it’s change or excitement or (again) mobility, what London seems to offer that I value most is options. Living and working here has not always been easy, in fact it’s often been exhausting and bloody difficult, like a choose-your-own-adventure book with very grown up and terrifying stakes.
London has never offered me much safety or assurance, it has never guaranteed me security or stability. But living here has taught me that those are not always my highest priorities. Living here has taught me that disappointment, and even occasional existential despair, is survivable. It’s taught me whose good opinions I truly care about, and whose can go hang. It’s taught me how to esteem my money and my own work. Living here has honed and focused more professional and personal priorities than I can count. It’s taught me a lot about what I truly value and helped to teach me to align my life accordingly, and that is truly priceless.