A Week of Outfits: Monday

“Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman.” 
― Coco Chanel

Back to work!

I picked this look because I needed a simple but serious outfit for the day. I had meetings at a client site that involved me getting up early to get ready, traveling, and needing to arrived in a polished state. I had to lug around several devices, project folders, and notebooks without overwhelming me so I didn’t want to bother with an outfit that required a lot of elements. I needed a single item solution and so: a power dress.

This dress is from MM LaFleur–a brand I’ve written about before with a huge amount of love and satisfaction. I own five dresses from them in total, bought over several years, and would like a couple more at some point. This brand is on the pricier side, ranging from about $150-250 per item as a general rule, but I have found them to be solid investment purchases. I’ve spent some additional money having each one tailored and I have never worn one of their pieces without being complimented for looking nice.

Finding simple ways to feel much more put together is something that’s become important to me in recent years, especially as I’ve leveled up in my career. Clothes are an important way of communicating messages about yourself, and I try to be in control of my messaging.

I mentioned before trying to incorporate more dresses into my wardrobe and there is a reason for it: simplicity.

It’s very fashionable to look “effortless,” look being the operative word. The amount of women who look simultaneously great while not giving two ***** is not a vast number in my experience, and the most “effortless” looking women I know actually have to expend an awful lot of energy to achieve the appearance of nonchalance.

Effortless is not my aesthetic, but more importantly, it’s not my reality. I am a person who has to expend effort in order to look the way she wants, especially in a professional setting. I also confess to admiring “effortful” style quite a bit. I like fashion that clearly took some thought, wit, or creativity to put together, in the same way that I admire women who look polished and well groomed. All of these things take time, energy, and whatever amount of money we are willing and able to put towards them. I aspire to polish whenever possible. However, I’m also naturally lazy, not very self confident (physically speaking), and not particularly gifted when it comes to the finishing touches that allow some women to achieve that finished look.

Well-tailored work dresses allow me to put on a single item of clothing and fairly basic accessories (charity shop shoes in this case, a pair of earrings that were a present from my father, and a trusty old Longchamp bag that fits my gear and still allows me to look professional), and feel fully outfitted. I’m then able to spend the rest of my preparation time focusing on the “polishing” bits for when I need to feel serious and be taken seriously.

See? Very serious.

A Week of Outfits: Sunday

“I want everyone to wear what they want and mix it in their own way. That, to me, is what is modern.” 
― Karl Lagerfeld

In spite of the blazing weather, this was a low key day as both Jeff and I had some work to catch up on and I wanted to be comfortable as much as feel cute. You can’t get more basic than this:

The shorts are years old and from Old Navy, the tee shirt is from Everlane, and the sneakers are Muji again. For the sake of vanity and to trick you all into thinking I’m more fashionable than I really am, I tied on a vintage silk scarf.

This was tremendous overkill, because we stayed around our neighborhood for the whole day, only leaving the apartment to run errands and go to the gym. But do you know what? It made me feel cute. Another side aspect of this project is trying wear the items in my closet for myself as much as anyone else, so why not throw on some accessories at home, just for kicks?

I love blue and white as a color combination–I can only blame my semi-WASP heritage and a deep and abiding love for my mother’s collection of Blue Willow china growing up, which I absolutely count as aesthetic inspiration! Blue and white combinations feature heavily in my ideas for our Someday House, and were in the back of my head as I was looking to buy a couple of summer appropriate pieces this year.

I already purchased a pair of white trousers (risky for a klutz like me, believe me) and a blue and white striped shirt independent of one another earlier this year, and then patted myself on the back heartily when the Duchess of Sussex wore a whole look to Wimbledon on this theme. In fact…*runs to lay out that knock off look for later in the week.* Glad we had this chat, kittens, you helped me cross off one more day’s look.

Still taking this super seriously, as you can see.

 

A Week of Outfits: Saturday

“Black is the hardest color in the world to get right—except for gray…”
– Diana Vreeland

You have Katarina to blame for this project, ducklings, as this was an idea for a 101/1001 goal she suggested and I foolishly added it to the list. I then thought it would be a great way to write about some of my new goals around shopping my closet, avoiding new purchases for the rest of the year, and generally writing more honestly about my consumer habits.

Then, the stupid paranoia hit. I am terrible about having my picture taken (a side effect of that body negativity I wrote about the other day), and go out of my way to avoid being photographed because I always hate how I look in images. I think I’m hoping this project will help me get over that personal hurdle a bit. So I bit the bullet and dressed for the day one Saturday with the intention of kicking off this week-long project. Then, I took a look at my shots from day one and there we were, kicking off with an annoyingly unflattering image, given that I’m feeling pretty good about my my recent health and wellbeing progress of late. Anyway I present you a British day, blazing and gorgeous high summer, and myself, a column of gray and black.

Welcome to a week of outfits from me, your friendly neighborhood Emphatically-Not-A-Style Blogger.

The recent heatwaves have presented a challenge for many Londoners. Speaking for myself and based on the rigorous anecdotal research of my friends and coworkers, I can tell you that it turns out few of us have the wardrobe for this kind of heat. Most of the time, when you want this much sun and high temperatures for a sustained period, we leave the country for them! There is a reason Europe is effectively out to lunch for the month of August, this continent wasn’t built to deal with the heat and many of us flee for cities and countries with the infrastructure to cope or the topography to make the most of Vitamin D.

Dressing for work has been a chore. Almost everything I have that’s appropriate for the office feels too hot or too covered up for the thermostat, while the few summer items I own are almost strictly casual or weekend clothes. Juggling necklines and hemlines while also trying to not sweat through your clothes on an overpacked Tube on your commute is a puzzle. I’ve started taking a bus into central London just to avoid the worst of the crowding on hot days, with its accompanying irritation and smells.

I love cold weather clothing and it’s easily where I’ve invested the most money over the years. But this year I had to dip into my original goal of only purchasing 18 items (since exploded) to pick up some summer appropriate shirts and trousers…because I truly didn’t have enough hot weather options to put together presentable work outfits. I felt a bit silly but there it is.

Weekends I’m better equipped for, as I said.

I’m trying to wear dresses more often in general, so last Saturday I pulled out an old J. Crew jersey dress that I picked up years and years ago. It’s short enough to keep cool but has a crew neck which keeps me more comfortably covered and feels modern and sporty.

I own only two pairs of sunglasses, both of which I bought years ago and spent a bit more money on, on the theory that I’d take better care of nice ones than cheap crap. So far that’s proven a wise move and I’ve had these for nearly five years with nary an accident to report. In the summer I wear these aviators by Tory Burch and in the winter, I have a pair of Jackie O style frames from Ralph Lauren

Accessories are a hodgepodge. The trainers are from Muji, the necklace and bag are both vintage. I’m thinking of doing a whole post just on my collection of vintage and second hand pieces, and some recommendations for finding good deals and steals throughout London, let me know if that would be of any interest or just frivolous and boring.

The hair is straight up laziness personified. On hot weekends I often let my hair air dry rather than putting my head under an unwelcome blast of additional heat from a hair dryer, and the results are either charming and almost-French-girl looking…or scruffy. Today felt scruffy, alas. I slapped on some concealer, mascara and a bit of loose powder, all by Glossier, and a Bite lipstick and called it A Look.

Jeff and I spent the afternoon in Southwark. We wandered around Bermondsey Street and Borough Market before picking up groceries and heading home. And that’s Day One of Outfit week.

Lest any of you think I’m taking this or myself to seriously…

I still have no idea how to take a nice photo. Prepare for a week of ham and cheese, friends!

Weekend Links

“In the land of the ostriches, the blind are king. When politicians bury their head in the sand, ignorance rules the country.
― Erik Pevernagie

Darlings, another Friday is upon us! As usual I’ve put together a melting pot of news and pop culture for your weekend reading and am dropping it before anything else upends the news cycle. This has been an unexpectedly busy week for me and I am looking forward to the weekend. I have a weeklong series coming to you starting tomorrow which I hope you enjoy. It’s a bit of a new thing for me, so while I’m sure it will be flawed, I hope it will still be fun.

Share your favorite pop culture finds and weekend links with me in the comments!

Mr. Manafort’s trial kicked off this week, filled with ostrich leather jackets and sleazily moving money all over the world and all principles stealing from one another in the process. There are no heroes here.

As of Monday, this is the story and the timeline. Let’s see what happens this week as to whether it shifts…or falls out of the collective public consciousness. Whatever happens, it’s yet another narrative shift on this point and what’s already in the public domain is damning. Or would be if it weren’t 2018 and all of us in the upside down.

Shut up to me about draining the swamp. Just stop. Not another word.

Ah good old Nunes, always saying the stuff that’s supposed to be secret out loud. I predict zero consequences.

Interesting. I’m not sure how seriously to take the claims in the lawsuit, and here is some more reporting for additional information, but it is interesting. Let’s send them some thoughts and prayers. (ETA: yeah, this is why I doubt this claim)

Would you eat lab-grown meat? If you don’t eat meat for ethical reasons of any kind, would lab grown meat feel different to you? I’m genuinely curious.

I’m an Air Force brat and a geek and even I think a Space Force is stupid. So do the Russians apparently (and we may suddenly be beefing with them over sanctions again?).

Asking the smart questions: why does the media keep giving this man a platform?

Speak of men and their platforms, Alex Jones lost a chunk of his this week. This was a rolling story, but the most intellectually interesting piece I read on it came on the first day of the fallout. As one tech writer for the New York Times put it, “Facebook follows Apple in banning Infowars, giving up the game after weeks of sanctimonious lectures about free speech. This was always about being too scared to go first.”

I was utterly entertained and charmed by this story.

This op ed by a farmer was particularly interesting to me because of the line, “The world markets, which the president is now tearing down in the name of fairness, were built and paid for by farmers to ensure agriculture had outlets for our production so we didn’t have to come to the American taxpayer for support.” The word “fairness” stuck out to me because the same day I read this piece by a NPR political reporter on the notions that Mr. Trump seems to have around the idea of “fairness,” and how it (and its counterpart, grievance) have informed his decisions in office.

Another op ed that feels relevant. If you want people to stop flirting with socialism, you need to make capitalism more attractive as an option. We can argue theory until the cows come home, but people don’t turn on systems unless they feel that system has let them down in some way.

A lovely and thought provoking read.

Climate change is here, people. It’s not a single cataclysmic event, it is a permanent change in probability and statistical likelihood of certain weather patterns.

An important element of today’s American political landscape is the almost systematic loss of experience in our Congress. This is not a Trump era problem alone and it probably has its nascence in the 1990s and the rise of hyper-partisanship, but this Politico piece delves into what this loss of institutional knowledge and procedure is turning out to mean for the country, practically. I think there is a good case to be made about our congresspeople increasingly not knowing how to govern.

The September issues are starting to drop and the covers are gorgeous. Beyonce, Rhianna, Lupita, Christy Turlington Burns, pregnant women, power couples…my god, I’m buying all of them!

MAKE IT SO, INDEED.

It’s Not About the Numbers. But…

“To lose confidence in one’s body is to lose confidence in oneself.” 
― Simone de Beauvoir

The saying is true and bears repeating at the outset: health is not always about numbers on a scale. It is possible to be overweight and still fit and active, it is possible to be thin and still desperately unhealthy. The numbers on a scale are just one way to measure certain information about yourself.

But that being said…I’m really proud of this number:

This has been a year of a lot of dedicated health changes for me, in fact I just did a recap  so I don’t have to go into too much detail here about the specifics. But I did want to write about my weight because it’s something that I’m shallow enough to say has bothered me.

I have never been a naturally thin person. In fact, I’d classify my body as pretty normal overall. I’m shortwaisted, but I do have a normal-ish hourglass figure and not too far off the standard deviation besides that. I had a sweet tooth growing up which has morphed into a salt tooth and carb…face…in adulthood. My metabolism slowed down in my late 20s, once again a totally normal thing. Slowly over time a pound added itself on my frame, a bit here and a bit there, until at the end of last year I was the heaviest I’ve ever been. It’s strange to be “technically” overweight while petite because the numbers on a scale aren’t large generally, but they are large for you personally.

That being said, my overall appearance still felt broadly in the “normal” category. My weight was pretty evenly distributed throughout my body with only the typical fluctuation that I think most adult women experience as a matter of life. At certainly points in my life, my existing clothes would mostly fit, but not sometimes better than others. I have had to size up a couple of times since I was 20, which again I don’t think is too atypical. This isn’t some tale of a heroic journey to health after injury, pain, struggle, or neglect.

But I will say that I didn’t like my body. I’ve had a lot of feelings about my body over the years and it’s surprising how many of them have been very negative. I don’t think self-loathing is unique to women, but I do think we experience a particularly rough cocktail of societal pressure, unreasonable expectation, not enough range of representation, and strange notions about our sexuality that all combine to make our relationships with our bodies harder than they need to be. I am lucky that I have never hated my body. I have never felt the need to tame it in ways that made me badly unhealthy, I have never loathed and resented it, I have never felt like I was in the wrong one. Thank god. I just…didn’t really like mine.

In the past ten years, as my weight has jumped around, I’ve painfully taken down a religious faith that has a lot of conflicting notions about the body. In some ways, Mormonism is radically body positive! The faith posits an embodied deity. The “weird” dietary habits and restrictions for which Mormons are known grow from a belief that the human body is a gift that is to be cared for and stewarded well, and not put in harm’s way. It chucks concepts like original sin and downgrades the centuries old curse of Eve into something more gentle and understandable–some interpretations frame Eve eating the apple as a deliberate and brave choice because it was the only way she could have a family and so kick off the human race. It’s a kinder version of the myth in many ways.

Women-as-mothers are sacred in Mormonism, and this is where things take a turn for the problematic and patriarchal in a big way. Girls’ bodies are policed in a way that boys’ aren’t and from irritatingly young ages. There are cultural dress codes that enforce modesty, most of them badly gender slanted. Female sexuality is desirable and devilish at the same time–a prominent leader caused something of a kerfuffle a few years ago by giving a sermon cautioning girls to not become “walking pornography” to young men by the way they dress and act. Ugh. Devout Mormons are celibate until marriage and let me tell you, the underlying expectation of many sweet naive souls that you will be able to go from modestly draped maiden to sexual afficionada–zero to sixty–doesn’t do a lot of us many favors.

I felt taught to simultaneously revere my body, hide it, respect it, be frightened of it, that it was powerful, and that it was sort of shameful. But I don’t feel that I was taught that it was mine. It was a divine gift that I had on loan and would have to check back in some day like a library book. It was a vehicle for other human life that, maybe, was more important than my own in some way. It was meant to be enjoyed and shared with a partner, but in very strict and limited ways–and believe me, I could write a book on the issues with how male slanted some of the lessons about virtue I was taught were in retrospect. I had this body, but I didn’t really feel in some ways as if I owned it.

Sports or atheletics may have helped me more, but this was something I only really did a low level extracurricular. I took dance classes, horseback riding lessons, and gymnastics as a kid. I took advantage of the fact that I was in a hilariously small Department of Defense high school to join the soccer team for a couple of seasons–something I would never have been able to manage in most typical American high schools where you need something akin to talent to participate! But all in all, I’m not sure I really knew or learned how to use my body.

For about a year now, I’ve been working on my health. I’ve written a lot about how much work I’ve had to do on healing my brain, my emotions, some parts of my psyche…but I don’t like talking about my work on my body because I don’t really like thinking about my body.

So I’ve been trying to change that.

I’ve been listening to it, taking it to the doctor to check on things that have bothered me for years or just didn’t feel right. As a result, I’ve made a lot of positive changes and have helped a few issues that I thought were chronic.

I have acknowledged that I’ve not really been kind to or about my body so I’ve been trying to not actively disliking it. I’ve stopped slagging it off or criticizing it and just letting it be.

I’ve been feeding it better.

I’ve been nice to and about it in my own mind.

And yes, I’ve been working out, though that that feels like least important part of it all. I’ve had to work to build routines and try to stick to them, and I truthfully don’t enjoy exercise anymore than I used to. But I do know that I feel better overall when I do it, so I keep doing it.

The numbers on the scale are not the most important thing, not by a long shot, but the number on that scale represents 20 lbs lost this year alone in 2018. I am proud of that.

Because in my case, I feel like I’ve lost a whole lot more than weight.

Checking In on the Year of Health

“Money cannot buy health, but I’d settle for a diamond-studded
wheelchair.” 
― Dorothy Parker

Well, kittens, while we’re recapping, let’s do a brief pit stop on my yearly theme. In late 2017 I picked “health” as my overall focus from the coming year because I was determined to redress a series of issues (internal and external) that I felt had taken over too much of my life. Here’s how I’m doing.

Brain Health
My brain is miles better than it was this time last year, which in turn was miles better than I was the year previously. 2016 was a shit year for a lot of reasons, but high on the list was that it was the year where my anxiety reached its all time high and I/we made a bunch of big decisions to change up a lot of things about my work and life. All of those decisions turned out to be good in the long run but meant that I had to go through a period of significant change and then another period of stabilization that was incredibly stressful. It’s been worth it, I’d do it all again in a heartbeat, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been hard. I wrote previously about having decided to “give up” a number of things that I knew were affecting my mental health in the past year, and having done so and seen the benefits, I feel in a much better place to confront other issues and topics that affect me in different ways. I think I need some professional help for some of them. I haven’t yet connected with a therapist, but I am researching into my options to do so and hope to tick off this goal by the end of the year. Here’s to emotional and cognitive health!

Body Health/Food Health
Major progress to report on this front. In January I switched up my birth control to see if it could help me address some health challenges and the results have stayed entirely positive. My migraine attacks have all but vanished, the weight I lost has stayed off, and the only less than ideal side effect has been more intense menstrual cramps. I’ve also really been trying to eat healthier this year and have basically eliminated added sugar from my diet with only very rare treats–which often times don’t agree with me when I do have them because most sugar feels excessive to me now. I’m in the midst of my six month exercise goal as well, which is helping keep me on the straight and narrow. One of the best decisions we’ve made this past year was to get an automated box of groceries delivered weekly which has not only made shopping easier (we shop on foot or by public transport so having the basics delivered weekly to our front door is a huge help), but it’s also upped our intake of fresher foods. I’m trying to cook more as a result, which was another food goal of mine in the past year. All in all, this is probably the category with the most overall positive progress in my Year of Health.

Financial Health
This is an ongoing project with some positives and some negatives over the past eight months. I set some ambitious goals for this year; I continue to make progress on some, I’ve fallen short on others, but overall I feel like we’re headed in the right direction. I’ve committed to new public goals of accountability in my spending and I’m always looking for ways to subvert consumerist pressures and find ways to consume intelligently. Money stresses me less than it used to because I feel like I’ve reckoned with some realities and habits related to it much better, even as I acknowledge we still have a ways to go before we meet our goals about paying off all our credit cards and investing.

Overall, it’s been really positive to see how my goals have overlapped with one another practically in the past year. I think that means I made the right call to focus on my health, and in the particular areas I have. And more importantly, I think I’m set up to finish the year strong. That feels really, really good.

Forgive Me, Readers, for I Have Failed…BUT!

These are my confessions
Just when I thought I said all I could say
My chick on the side said she got one on the way
These are my confessions
Man, I’m throwed and I don’t know what to do
I guess I gotta give part two of my confessions
If I’m gonna tell it, then I gotta tell it all…
– Usher, Confessions II

So, Reader, here’s the bit where I confess that I have failed my shopping self challenge for the year.

Earlier this year I wrote about a goal of only buying 18 personal items throughout the year (with a few sensible caveats like socks, and that sort of thing). Well, I did really well at this for well over half the year but a grab bag of charity shop scarves and a vintage shopping binge have put me over my tally.

One of the culprits in question. It was 20 quid. It’s brilliant.

A few shameless attempts at reducing my guilt! I have only bought one item that is more than what I would have paid on the high street or a mid-range shop for its equivalent. A bunch of these items were a handful of pounds each, but did not fall into one of my protected categories and thus were tallied on my running spreadsheet regardless of cheapness–of course there’s a spreadsheet, don’t you know me at all?

But self-justification aside, I did have a bit of a moment of self-reflection. In fact, to speak truth, I had a nice little bout of emotional self-flagellation when I typed in my purchases and realized I had broke my goal, and decided to wallow in unproductive recrimination for the better part of an evening. Eventually more sensible feelings prevailed. I felt weak willed, but I also didn’t really regret any of the items I’ve spent money on this year. In fact, the sum total was less than 2% of our combined income as a family so maybe I had picked a silly goal to try and accomplish, or maybe my expectations weren’t reasonable? Or hell, maybe I am just weak willed and that’s the end of it.

I decided I could live with the minor guilt, especially if I set up a new self challenge instead. I’ve discovered in the past couple of years that game-ifying things helps me achieve goals and keeps me more accountable that sheer willpower alone. Working towards an established prize or even just being able to tick a box every day is a simple but effective thing for me. It’s a bit juvenile, but it works. X. and I keep one another accountable with our health and fitness goals because we are working towards a girl trip together if we meet them. Katarina I and keep up a regular chat chain of encouragement towards writing goals, whether about meeting a word count or just bouncing ideas off of one another. I have whole pages dedicated to lists and projects (of course I do) in my journal that I get the most ridiculous pleasure from in updating and refining. I’m so type A it’s silly. So, what could I do to reset my self-challenge in a really useful way?

We haven’t purchased anything for the house since these antique chairs, which I still think were a great purchase, for the record.

My one regret in shopping these past few months was that I didn’t feel like I had made any progress towards decorating our house which is still fairly basic in its furnishings. But finding the right trade off between an item that you like, that suits your space, and isn’t stupidly priced in London can be difficult and though we’ve liked the idea of different items over the past eight months, nothing compelled me to loosen our purse strings once.

Until the other day. I think I found it. A piece of furniture that matches our front room area, solves a storage need, has the right dimensions, looks gorgeous, is an upcycled vintage piece, and costs less than £350. Jeff and I discussed it and it seems to check all the boxes. I’ve messaged the seller to enquire about it and thus far the signs seem positive.

And so, kittens. I’m making a new bargain and documenting it here for you, the coterie, to hold me accountable. If this deal goes through, we are counting this piece of furniture as our mutual Christmas present to ourselves and the following Faustian pact will kick in:

  • I am locking up my wallet for the rest of the year. Nada, zilch. Not a single personal item shall I buy for the next five months. This will also count as my final spending freeze for my 101/1001 goal list.
  • I will finish paying off one of our credit cards in full, by the end of the year. Another partial 101/1001 goal!
  • I will prepare and pack lunches every day for the rest of the year, or lean on my cash allowance. Or starve, I guess…
  • I will extend my makeup no-buy challenge (which I have confessed to breaking) until June of 2019. Any replacement items I buy will be drugstore, without exception.
  • I will write about this project: regularly, fully, and honestly. No matter how embarrassing or confessional. Hell, I even promise to try and be funny about it!

So, there, that’s how I’ll leverage my weak will for your benefit, ducklings. Let me know what kinds of posts you’d like to see now through the end of the year as I try to earn myself some furniture and engage in some new financial asceticism. I think I may like to open the (vintage!) kimono and write a bit more specifically about the things I’ve collected over the years and why. I may finally do a “shop my closet” series and get around to doing those Out of the Day posts I’ve committed to in my 101/1001 but have felt too self conscious to do. Perhaps you’d be interested in a tour of my favorite shops and markets around London, or you yourself may want to engage in some competitive goal tracking. Do let me know in the comments, I’m interested!