Tag: Beauty

Weekend Manicure: My Moment of Zen

“You can tell a lot from a person’s nails. When a life starts to unravel, they’re among the first to go.”
― Ian McEwan, Saturday

We spent this Bank Holiday weekend in the Lakes District, a somewhat impromptu holiday decision that I regret not a whit! Travel is therapy for me, and we had a couple of conversations over this trip of how we can do more of it, as it’s something we value but have not prioritized as much as we would like in the last few years.

Self care has become a very overused term in recent months and years, but I believe the concept is an incredibly important one. Which is why I wanted at least a couple of posts this month to be on the ways we use beauty products and routines for the purpose of literally caring for our bodies.

Beauty has therapeutic benefits for me as well. For example, rare is the weekend that I don’t slap at least one mask on my face to treat the week’s stresses–usually dehydration from not watching my diet, pigmentation from not minding my SPF, or a minor revolt on the part of my hormones. I enjoy the process of forcing myself to stop moving, rushing, and generally stressing, and so something that feels good for me.

The best use of beauty-as-therapy for me, though, is probably my weekly manicure. Some people really enjoy going out and getting their nails done professionally, but I’m not one of them. For one, I’ve never really been able to wrap my head around paying for something I can do for myself unless a special occasion is involved. Secondly, I’m awful to my nails. I bit them compulsively through childhood and can still pick at or tear them in times of stress. They aren’t particularly strong to start with and all my mistreatment certainly does them no favors, even in adulthood.

But do you know what helps? Nail polish. Seriously. I’ve found that I’m much less likely to mess them up if they look nice, even in moments of stress or distraction, and if a nail lands unwittingly in my mouth for an unintentional nibble, the immediate taste of the polish reminds me that I need to not muck up my own handiwork.

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Like unto a face mask, doing my nails once a week also forces me to not do anything else for an hour or so while the coats of varnish dry. I can’t work, clean, or even make lists without the risk of ruining my manicure, and so it compels me to do something that I’m actually pretty bad at: being still and switching my brain off. Often I’ll turn on an Agatha Christie mystery or documentary to watch while I paint and dry, which keeps me from falling prey to the Sunday Night Blues/Scaries and helps me being to wind down the weekend in an enjoyable way. It’s a small, trivial thing, but it’s a valuable part of my weekly routine.

Nail polish is a cheap way to make me feel a bit more put together (not unlike a swipe of lipstick), and it’s been a helpful tool in keeping bad physical and emotional habits in check. I can’t buy that a salon.

 

Your turn. Is there a product or tool that you’ve used to overcome (or indeed, introduce) a habit? Do you have a beauty self care routine–manicures, baths, regular massage, or something else? If so, what benefits have you drawn from it? 

Late to the Game

“Besides, just because they wore frills and makeup didn’t mean they weren’t dangerous…”
― Brandon Sanderson, The Hero of Ages

As written, I didn’t really get serious about my beauty game until my early-mid 20s and as a result I have been “late” on an awful lot of things. Not just trends or products, but whole processes. A few of these, in no particular order, include:

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Blow drying my hair. I did this growing up…but grudgingly and not very well. In fact, I have memories of an increasingly frustrated X. trying to teach me this skill, like the amazing surrogate big sister she was, when we were about 12 years old, before giving up in disgust. It wasn’t until university that I really learned how to use a round brush and I still don’t really have my mane together in the way I’d like. I missed out on a decade of practice and it shows!

Lipstick, as I’ve written about, didn’t show up permanently on my face until my early 20s.

Hand lotion. I have a strange dislike of feeling like my hands and fingers are slick in any way and so have endured years of dry cuticles, cracked winter skin, and general discomfort. The years I have missed on this are ridiculous to think about, but I didn’t start using hand cream until a couple of years ago when I was given a travel sized tube of Neal’s Yard Remedies. I use it regularly, but still have a bit of lingering squeamishness when I first apply it. But then it sinks into my sink and makes me feel better, so all is forgiven.

Body lotion has been a similar journey. I had eczema growing up (and it occasionally still puts in an appearance) so I was used to slathering treatments on my skin, but daily care and nurturing rather eluded me until I moved to London three and half years ago. I suspect that the aggressive winter heating required in an urban setting is to blame. But last year I picked up a massive bottle of Kiehl’s Creme de Corps and have never looked back. I use it every day, without fail.

Powder. This is one of the oldest beauty items known to man, but I didn’t start using it until a couple of years ago, and it’s still not something I reach for every day. As a kid it always struck me as something old fashioned and tricky to use–it’s astonishingly easy to look cakey and sloppy, at least for a newb like me. Investing in higher quality products in adulthood has finally awoken me to its usefulness but in spite of this revelation, I’m still learning how to use powder properly.

Have you ever been “late” to a product or trend, beauty or otherwise, that you later came to love? If so, what? Heck, I’ve only gotten onboard with audiobooks in the last year or so! 

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What I’m Not Going to Buy – Inspired by Kimberly Clark

“The most beautiful makeup of a woman is passion. But cosmetics are easier to buy.”
― Yves Saint-Laurent

Kimberly Clark is a YouTuber I mentioned in my March favorites post. A drag queen who vlogs on beauty, consumerism, and social issues, her content is frankly right up my street! She’s most notable for her “Anti-Haul” series where, in contrast to other glam influencers who show off their (often extravagant) mass purchases, she creates fun and enjoyable videos detailing what she is choosing not to buy–and why. Her style is quintessential drag, humorous and hyperbolic, but often intermixed with valuable thoughts on brands and consumer culture.

I really like her take on being honest and blunt about wanting, buying, and enjoying products that are fundamentally unnecessary, but also honestly evaluating (in her opinion) when certain products or brands cross the line into downright ridiculous. Her catch phrase, “I don’t need it and I’m not going to buy it,” could save us all a lot of buyers remorse–and not just on beauty and style products.

And so, following the exposé of my stash, and in the spirit of glitter, big hair, and smarter consumption, here’s a list of things I’m not going to buy:

Stila Magnificent Metals Glitter and Glow Liquid Eye Shadow. Something strange has happened lately and I’ve found myself drawn inexorably to metallic cosmetics as if I were some kind of earthbound magpie. These things are outrageously high on shine and ever since swatching them on my hand to test both their reflective might (strong) and staying power (fairly decent for something so glittery), I have coveted them fiercely. But I’m not going to buy them. I have two semi-metallic shades of cream eye shadow that are more muted but still plenty shimmery and can work for both work or going out depending on how I use them. They would be tons of fun, but–in the words of Kimberly Clark herself–I don’t need them so I’m going to buy them!

Bobbi Brown City Palette in London. I fell for this compact due to the combined powers of an intense navy shade and the illustrated case that pays homage to my favorite city on earth. But pretty as they both are, even I must admit those are insufficient reasons to splurge.

Anything by Tom Ford, with the exception of the eyeliner pen which is genuinely great in spite of the price. Because when your brand charges $50 for lipstick, $110 for bronzer, and $80 for blushes…I expect your products to not only make me eternally young, but to do my laundry, clean my house, and file my tax paperwork in the bargain. No one needs to spend that much money on on this stuff. Nobody.

Glossier Cloud Paint. Like the liquid eye shadow, I definitely want this and am intrigued to try it. I don’t entirely worship at the shrine of Glossier, some of their products are a bit overhyped or underwhelming…but the products of theirs that I do like, I buy in multiples. However I’m not going to be buying this product, at least not any time soon, because I have a lot of blushes already. I haven’t bought all of them, a good number I was very generously gifted to review by a magazine, but the fact remains that I have a drawer full already and simply don’t need more at the moment.

Any more highlighters. Sephora can tempt me with all the glow they can bring to bear, but I own a handful as it stands. I can look dewy, bronzed, or downright gilded if I want to already, so I will be sitting on my hands every time I’m tempted by something shiny until I’ve used up some of my existing stock.

Most limited edition anything (fully acknowledging that my own shopping ban cheat indulgence was precisely that). In almost all instances, the “limited edition” nature of these items is to meant to enable markups on already existing formulas and products. Moreoever, more than one brand has rolled out a “limited edition” product to outrageous hype, only to have it become a viral success–at which point it behooves the brand to add the item to their normal roster anyway (a great example of this is Becca’s Champagne Pop highlighter). Which means that all you paid for (normally at some kind of mark up) is the urgency. There are new product launches all the time and it is a rare item that will truly fill a gap in your stash and be worth the higher price tag.

New Nars Velvet Matte Lip Pencils. Full disclosure, I love these. I own two and could gleefully own more, but I’m sitting on my hands in defiance of their recent release of new shades because…I have an obscene amount of lip products already. I’m not buying another stick until I’ve used up my existing ones. So help me god.

Anything Kylie Cosmetics. I fully admit to an irrational prejudice when it comes to this family in general, but that’s just not a direction I want to send my money.

 

Your turn, ducklings. What is one thing (or a list of things) you want but have made a decision not to buy–frivolous or otherwise? 

My Makeup Arsenal

“Beauty, to me, is about being comfortable in your own skin. That, or a kick-ass red lipstick.”
― Gwyneth Paltrow

Here it is, I’m throwing open the doors on my current makeup stash.

It’s taken me a long time to build this sucker up and, as previously written, I’m fairly happy with it overall. I’m sure it’s a lot larger than some of yours, and I know for a fact it’s a lot smaller than others! But in spite of the time and expense, makeup and beauty in general is an area of life that gives me a lot of pleasure and joy, so I don’t make a lot of apologies for it.

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Eyes

The eyes have it…though I’ll readily admit this is the makeup area with which I am least proficient–though I’m constantly practicing for improvement and rare is the weekend that will find me without some kind of color experiment on my lids! My eyes are a very noticeable shade of green and I like to play them up. I have one palette containing some neutral shades with both matte and shimmer formulas by Nars (with one standout shade of blue for a kick), and another containing all matte formulas in warm, neutral shades by Viseart. I also have a tiny travel sized palette for when I need to hop on a plane or train with just one bag to my name.

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I’m not terribly keen on eyeliner, so the three I have are (ironically) a bit wild. Two are blue shades, the other is a shimmery gold, all by Urban Decay. They get most of their love and use on the weekend. Then I have a couple of Charlotte Tilbury cream shadow sticks in Bronzed Garnet and Gold Digger, and ditto Nars in Reykjavik and Aigle Noir for a basic smokey eye look that even I couldn’t mess up.

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For standalone eye colors not be to be found in a palette, I have two Charlotte Tilbury cream shadows in Marie Antoinette and Verushka (an “oyster gold” and an “minky-mossy” green respectively), one MAC shadow in Antiqued (a warm, reddish brown with shimmer) and a Laura Mercier shadow in Plum Smoke.

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Powders and Blush

When it comes to powders, this is an area that has grown a lot in recent years. I own a shedload of blushes, but should note right away that last year I was invited to review about half a dozen different blush products for a magazine. They provided me the blushes to use and review, which effectively doubled my collection–though some I’ve passed on to better homes since then. The fact still remains, I’ve got a lot!

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I’ve been in a bit of a neutrals “moment” when it comes to blushes for a while now. In my salad days I was a sucker for a bit of shimmer but as my tastes have changed, I’ve pretty ruthlessly cleared those out in favor of matte formulas. The one exception is Nars’ Orgasm blush which I bought years ago, fell out with, gifted away to family, and then was gifted back again as part of my product review opportunity. It’s sticking around until summer when I’m going to give it another proper trial. Now my blushes are all shades of nude, peach, and pink in a couple of instances that look fairly natural. My obvious standout is Nars’ Exhibit A, a bright orange red that looks shocking in the pan and gorgeous on the face (a light touch required).

I’ve also included my one bronzer from The Body Shop, which I’m still learning to use without looking ridiculous, a finishing powder by Hourglass in Dim Light, two highlighters by Becca in Moonstone (poured formula) and Champagne Pop (powder), and a translucent setting power by Laura Mercier. My latest edition to this family was my cheat item from my shopping ban, the highlighter form the Estee Lauder and Victoria Beckham collaboration in the shade Modern Mercury. It was ridiculous expensive, but I’ve been wearing it almost nonstop since I bought it. Regrets, I’ve had a few, as the song goes, but this isn’t one of them!

 

Foundation

When it comes to foundation, I’m much less ridiculous and I have two go-to products: the Laura Mercier tinted moisturizer in the shade Natural and the Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation in the shade 5. Based on a lot of recommendations, I’m currently road testing the It Cosmetics CC cream in a “trial size” version to see if I can find a slightly cheaper mid-to-high coverage option in place of the Armani when it runs out (which I love deeply but it it is expensive). I also chucked in a cream highlighter by Becca in the shade Rose Gold which I tend to use as a blush, a Glossier highlighter in Haloscope, and two primers–one by Makeup Forever, and another by Givenchy. I was late to the primer game, but have been converted.

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Other Bits

In the bits-n-bobs section, I have my eyebrow products (one pencil by Anastasia Beverly Hills, and Glossier’s Boy Brow), one eyeliner pen (by Tom Ford, hideously expensive, but very good), and two concealers (Glossier Stretch Concealer in Medium for light coverage, Clarins Instant Light in 01 for fuller coverage).  My mascara is and for years has been Maybelline’s Full’n’Soft. It’s unfindable in the UK, but I stock up on a tube or two every time I go back to the States.

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Lip Stuff

And finally, the heavy artillery of the arsenal: my lipstick. I have…a lot.

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I break my stash down into light and dark colors (though that’s just for storage, I don’t really switch my shades in accordance with a season. I tend to just wear whatever calls to me on any given day).

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I also separate out my liquid lipsticks and glosses. I’ve only been into these for about a year and all of my liquid lipsticks are from Kat von D’s line, which I really like. My recent additions are two highly metallic glosses from Bite Beauty (who, you will notice, are by far my lipstick brand of choice). I don’t really like glosses, but I was drawn two these Prismatic Pearl Creme Gloss products (in Champagne Pearl and Oyster Pearl) like moths to a flame. They look like liquid metal on my lips. Practical, no. Gorgeous, yes!

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And there you have it. A 100% honest tour of my treasure hoard…er, minus whatever may be hiding in my purse that I might have forgotten to take out, now that I think on it!

I think it’s obvious why I think I don’t need any more until I’ve used up quite a bit of what I’ve got. But I admit it can be hard to ignore the siren song of a really beautiful piece of kit. Makeup makes me feel better, more in command of my presentation, like I’m not just able to highlight different features but different aspects of my personal based on what color I swipe across my lids or lips. More on that later this week!

 

Your turn! Do you love makeup? Loathe it? Is there a specific type of product you’ve either come around to lately, or gone off of entirely? Do you hoard a specific type of product and if so, why? 

“The Lip That Launched A Thousand Sticks”

“This is the first red lipstick that I ever bought.”
“So this is the lip that launched a thousand sticks?”
“…You’re really proud of that one, aren’t you?”
“Yep!”
– C. and Jeff

My love for lipstick is fairly well documented, but I was well into my 20s before I slicked that first wash of carmine on my face.

I wasn’t quite a tomboy as a kid, but I certainly wasn’t interested in makeup and fashion for most of my adolescence. A good portion of that was frankly bad old fashioned female-on-female disdain, I’m sorry to say. Growing up I always put a lot of value in my brainpower and based much of my sense of identity on my intelligence and interests rather than my personal appearance. This in and of itself is NOT a bad thing, but my major error was in simultaneously being harsh on girls who did put effort into their appearance. I too fell prey to the common but sloppy thinking that girls couldn’t be brainy and stylish at the same time, that to be interested in clothes or makeup was to be silly. It took me years to untangle that sort of black and white thinking around female identity and presentation!

The other reason I was so hesitant to really explore makeup in general and red lipstick in particular was because they intimidated me. Makeup was a skill that I didn’t possess and I was terrified of looking or feeling foolish in adulthood, as I often did with my early teenage forays. This is of course more or less a right of passage growing up, but to the young brain I think such fears are common. From time to time I dabbled with cosmetics, sometimes well but usually unsuccessfully. I particularly admired girls and women who worse intimidating slashes of red on their lips. They looked grown up, in command, at ease with themselves, and slightly dangerous–how I wanted to look and feel–but I never really bit the bullet and the few cheap drugstore lipsticks I bought usually languished barely touched in drawers for months before a move necessitated throwing them out.

I remember the actual image I saw that convinced me to just go for it, already. Here it is, I’ve saved the pin for years. I was working my first job after university at the time and remember being stunned at how pretty and simple the model looked wearing it–she wasn’t covered in a full vintage style slap, she looked fresh and chic. Aside from her obviously stunning red hair, the lipstick was her only highlighted feature, the only product doing any heavy lifting on her face. That doesn’t look so hard, I thought to myself. I bet I could do that.

Jo Goddard (of a Cup of Jo fame, the site where I spotted the image) was able to confirm the exact shade thanks to her contacts in the magazine world. The shade was Red Red Red by Clinique (which I think has been discountinued, or is at least as far as I have been been able to deduce, unfindable in the UK). I bought it the same day I saw that blog post, and wore it almost every day for months/years. Eventually I wore it down to the nub; to date it is still the only lipstick I have ever fully finished, but I still own the tube for sentimental reasons.

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I will never, ever throw this tube away.

That color became my totem for early adulthood. It was a silly, small thing, but it made a big difference in how I felt about myself when I slid the bullet over my lips. I was now a girl who word red. It gave me a sense of bravery, command, and self that I honestly didn’t have before I discovered that it was okay and not at all shallow, shameful, or otherwise silly to want to feel pretty. I coined the phrase, “Lipstick is armor,” during this phase, and I still mean it today. Much later on, lipstick has became a sort of brand item for me–a fact I realized when someone at my old job couldn’t remember my name to a colleague but described me as, The Girl With the Lipstick. My lip arsenal has grown by leaps and bounds since them, but I’m never without at least a couple on my person–different shades ready to be deployed as circumstances warrant. I could feel embarrassed by how many I own…but I don’t. They makes me feel beautiful.

Lipstick was a gateway drug into the world of beauty and make up, that strange place that in my adolescence I simply never felt brave enough to really enter.  The consequences have been, ah…pricey, but also really satisfying. I’ve made some beauty mistakes along the way, I’ve continuously experimented with different style personas, and I’ve occasionally laughed at my expense when the results don’t turn out great. I’ve had some hilarious misadventures in trying to find my correct foundation shades, and the skills required for a really killer smokey eye still escape me after years of trying. More than once I’ve left the house thinking I look fine only to catch sight of myself in a mirror hours later and think, I’ve made a huge mistake. That’s okay.

It’s just make up. It comes off. And if all else fails, I can put on a red lip with nothing else and still feel pretty damn great about the way I look.

Five Tips For Defining Your Style

“ASSISTANT ARCTURAN PILOT: Why don’t ya tie a knot in your hanky like everyone else?
ZAPHOD: Style friend, style. Now come on I gotta go.”
– Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

Far from a fashion plate myself, I found myself thinking about what advice I’d give to someone putting together a wardrobe or trying to figure out their own sense of style. Then I second guessed myself because there are whole magazines devoted to this question, what the hell did I have to offer? But given the context I’ve been thinking and writing about style for this project, I thought I’d give it a go anyway. Based on personal experience, here are my Five Tips For Defining Your Style

 

You do you, boo. You can spend a lot of years and money trying to look like someone you are not, and your lack of comfort with yourself will show. However if you spend a little time and energy to learn and understand what clothing you like and why early on, I think it is easier to own your own tastes rather than trying to prioritize society’s or someone else’s. If you know what you genuinely like to look like, that’s what you will end up buying. And if you genuinely like your clothing, you will wear it and avoid buyer’s remorse.

Consider your lifestyle and be reasonable about it. There is nothing wrong with the occasional aspirational purchase–so long as you can afford it and you actually use it (more on that in a later post). But it is the height of folly to buy either items or multiple products that you are simply not going to wear. When I started working full time, I found myself continuing to buy more casual clothes that were better suited to university lectures than the workplace. It took me a while to really get it through my head that five days out of seven were now going to require a new level of formality and that 5/7ths of my budget and closet (metaphorically speaking) needed to reflect that. Having gone back and forth between full time and freelance all my working life, I’ve had to make multiple mental shifts when it comes to my lifestyle and how I need to dress for it.

Don’t compare your wants, needs, and preferences to anyone else’s–not even those you’re drawing inspiration from. And don’t try to force your tastes to match theirs. There may be a friend, family member, or influencer who you really admire and have found value in following. Great! But don’t therefore assume that because they have prioritized certain items in their wardrobe that you have to make the same choices to achieve similar style results.

I fell into this trap a few years ago when starting to build a work wardrobe after leaving university. Many of the women whose professional style I admired wore a lot of skirts and so I too ended up buying a lot of skirts…and frankly not wearing them often enough to justify the purchases. I realize in retrospect that I was trying to recreate the professional but feminine looks that the women who influenced me had mastered, but my mistake was in trying to go against my natural preferences to do so. For me, ease and convenience are high priorities, and most skirts I bought seemed to come with some added discomfort and minor frustrations–waistbands shifting about during the day, constantly retucking shirts or rearranging leggings or tights beneath them, having to coordinate multiple items of clothing during a rushed morning, and so on. These are really small inconveniences and preferences, but they added up to mean that I wasn’t using the items I’d spent good money on; I defaulted to other items in my wardrobe. The long term takeaway as been that at heart I am a mostly trousers kind of girl and that’s okay, but that I still like more traditionally feminine looks from time to time. The solution has been to invest in a handful of dresses; single pieces that achieve the look I want are more manageable to me than multiple pieces that require coordination and more effort.

Pinterest isn’t silly. I say Pinterest but all of social media can be really useful in helping you figure out what you gravitate towards. I’ve talked about this a bit already, and I stand by it. As with my skirt story above, I think it can be easy to mistake what you think you want to look like for how you actually feel most comfortable and stylish. Spending a little time really examining your aesthetics and preferences can save you quite a bit of time and money. As a consumer, I think it can also help train you to admire beautiful clothes or makeup without necessarily coveting it–thereby avoiding impulse purchases simply because a favorite blogger bought a similar piece, for instance. Done well, social media can be an excellent visual research tool for first admiring certain looks and, over time, learning what about them appeals to you specifically.

Take inspiration from stylish people, and remember Amy Poehler’s wisdom, “Good for her, not for me.” I follow a lot of minimalists who have monochromatic wardrobes and styles. I also follow bona fide fashionistas with closets for days and shoes for years. Neither of these options represent me and my own preferences, but I admire people who have a handle on their own style, and I often have picked up tips or tricks from people who have curated a “look” for themselves which bears no resemblance to my own. Remember my defining premise: style is the choices we make and why. Go forth and enjoy other people who like different things than you! You’ll be surprised at what you discover interests you and pick up wisdom about self-presentation along the way.

Broadly summarized, I’d say that to define your own style, figure out what you value, clothes-wise, rather than what stuff you think you want. This sense of value can be characterized by anything from comfort, convenience, color, or messaging, to level of care and upkeep, trends, and price tag. Prioritize your purchases accordingly.

 

Your turn. Have you “figured out” you sense of fashion or style yet? Has it changed over the years? Is this an area you want to invest some time and attention in the future? Talk to me about how you put your closet together!

Finding My Fashion Sense (a work in progress)

“Style is knowing what suits you, who you are, and what your assets are. It is also accepting it all.”
– Bianca Jagger

Lo these many years ago in my early 20s I decided to sit down and figure out what I actually liked and wanted to wear, as opposed to trying to follow trends or simply copy looks I liked on other people (which invariably never looked as good on me). It was a surprisingly frustrating exercise. It took a few years in all honesty, and I ended up going down a few blind fashion alleys, and frankly spending more money than I should have, along the way. But I was sick of owning clothes I didn’t wear because I’d bought them liking the idea of the pieces more than the pieces themselves…which was ultimately my personal breakthrough moment.

Liking and owning are not and need not be the same thing. I’d gotten them dangerously confused–something I think it’s very easy to do in our culture. Indeed, we’re kind of trained to. Just because I liked something didn’t mean that 1) I needed to own it or, 2) that it would necessarily suit me anyway. I didn’t really know what I liked, and as a result I was flailing–stylistically as well as financially or practically. Dividing aesthetic appreciation from my consumer urges helped get poorly planned or whim purchases off the menu; I then decided that I needed to figure out what my tastes actually were before buying more stuff.

I made a Pinterest board where I pinned fashion images that I liked, as opposed to items I wanted to buy.

Gradually, some noticeable themes started to emerge from the inspiration images I collected. What I learned over time is that I like masculine inspired tailoring in feminine clothing, neutral basics paired with colorful or standout accessories, high impact glam for special occasions, and a noticeably vintage vibe running throughout. Got it! If that’s how I buy, I know I’ll be pretty happy and get a lot of use out of my clothing. So it was and so it has remained.

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This image is my fashion totem: comfy jeans, impractically dramatic fur coat, excellent lipstick. Done. It me, kittens, at least in my fantasy life.

I’ve never read any good style advice that didn’t boil down to, “Know thyself,” but I think if we are honest, that’s more difficult than it appears at first blush. Lots of us go through multiple identities or personas in our life–high school cliques, groups of friends, career moves, family changes–which means that who we are is constantly shifting. Sometimes we deliberately decide to explore new facets of our personalities, which may prompt a change in aesthetics. Sometimes…we just feel bored or frustrated with ourselves and an easy way to feel different it to choose to look different (let’s share tragic haircut choices in the comments, shall we?). And sometimes, our tastes simply change. Mine have shifted several times over the last decade. And even though I’m pretty happy with my wardrobe now, I’m fairly sure it will evolve again at some point as my professional or lifestyle needs shift.

Committing to examining and developing your sense of style can be an exercise in radical honesty, it forces you to really define what you like but also why you gravitate towards it. You may encounter some uncomfortable truths. When I was first freelancing full time, I spent several months in full schlub mode and there was a period of time where I could spend whole days in my pajamas if I wanted to, which I often did. It ended up having a knock on effect on my health (it was easy not to exercise) and confidence (it was hard to feel competent with perpetually messy hair). When I woke to this cause-and-effect, I made a switch and deliberately discarded or repurposed my lazy loungewear so that wearing it simply wasn’t an option. A minor change, but one that has had long term positive benefits for both how I look and feel in the mirror.

Examining your style can also open up some positive doors or new facets of your personality you want to explore and bring to the fore. Stay tuned for the story of my love affair with lipstick next week! Once you discover what you like (what you really like), I find that a lot of the imposter syndrome, self consciousness, or indecision that often comes with getting dressed in the morning melts away. If you genuinely love what you own, whether it’s trunk fulls of designer labels, or well loved jeans and t-shirts, I think you are much less likely to be concerned with what other people’s opinions are on the subject of your presentation.

Get to know yourself. Like yourself. Dress the part. It’s a formula that works for me, even though the first element of it is constantly in a state of flux.

 

Your turn! Have you ever tried to define your own sense of style? What tools helped? Could you sum up your fashion sense in three words or an image like that of the Great and Good Katherine Hepburn? 

 

Personal Style and Consumerism

“Behind the perfection of a man’s style, must lie the passion of a man’s soul.”
― Oscar Wilde, Reviews

Consumerism, both personally and more broadly speaking, have been on my mind for a while now. Several years to be honest, though my thinking and habits are in a state of constant revision. I thought it was worth dedicating at least one post to exploring the topic, especially given my framing of style as a series of choices we make about how we present ourselves.

Until the Star Trek future of infinite abundance arrives (or until the current world order collapses), capitalism is the predominant game in town. Though it’s the system we all live in, it’s not without its challenges. We are able to consume information and goods at a pace never before seen in human history, and as fashion has become more accessible, demand has grown to match. This is having a lot of interesting effects on consumer of society.

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To be clear, I’m not wildly keen on the fashion options.

For instance, one of the biggest conversations in the fashion world right now is how the traditional mode of designing and showing clothes several seasons in advance to allow for the production  is struggling to keep up with fast fashion. In a world crafted around instant gratification, it’s not entirely ridiculous for consumers to expect to be able to see-now-buy-now; we’ve been trained to expect just that. At the moment, the fashion world logistically can’t keep up with this. You could dismiss that demand as selfish and impatient consumerism, and you wouldn’t be entirely wrong, but it also leads to questions of ethical labor, production methods and environmental costs.

When sweatshops can churn out dupes of products for consumers now instead of making them wait months to get their hands on the designer version, the customer may be happy, but the cost is cheaper materials, usually badly sourced and badly made, with short shelf lives that result in more waste when they are thrown away, all produced by people not making enough money and often working in awful and unsafe conditions. This is a disturbing social reality and most of us are complicit in it.

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Sorry, fellow attempting-to–be-woke white people. We’re usually the worst offenders.

On the other hand, given the current media age and it’s technical advances, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think fashion and style to be as accessible as possible to as many people who want to follow and participate in it. And if so, how are we to achieve that with an out of date design and production system originally designed to cater almost exclusively to the wealthy and privileged? To pull a Tevye, on the other hand, what does it say about our value for design, artisan skills, and art if we want the “look” but aren’t willing to wait for it to be produced by the designer who created it, or pay the money for original pieces instead of illegal knock offs? There are a lot of big questions to ask about what we consume and why.

Lest you think I’m trying to lecture, I’m not! My point is not necessarily to convince anyone to change their behaviors or habits, but rather to be a bit more opened eyed about the fact that our style choices are not made in a vacuum (as that iconic scene from The Devil Wears Prada so fabulously puts it), and that our day to day decisions of what we buy, why, and how we use it has much bigger footprints that most of us realize. Style choices are informed by economic, political, social, and industrial realities just as much as they are by cultural trends. Recognizing those facts means that in a small way, we have an ability to impact how those economic, political, social, and industrial systems work if we choose to, based on making informed purchase and presentation decisions.

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I think we’re living in a period of peak consumer savvy and choice. There are more ways than ever to command your personal presentation, and do so with goods that align with the values you prioritize. Actress Emma Watson, for a high profile example, has famously chosen to wear and promote fashion and beauty brands that promote sustainability and natural ingredients. WAY down here in the proletariat I’ve written before about my decision to shop almost entirely secondhand to avoid fast fashion. But both of us have made choices that affect our consumption…and the way we look in public as a result.

Even though I love following fashion, I will very rarely ever look “trendy” as a result of my shopping choices. Buying mostly second hand or vintage means that I’m of necessity buying clothing that are several months to decades old. I’m fine with that trade off personally, where another person will make totally different style choices for totally different consumer reasons. Moving forward, I want do be better informed on the new items I do occasionally buy: who is manufacturing them, where, and in what circumstances. I’d like to improve my beauty game as well (keep an eye out for Beauty Week, coming Monday!) and do better at researching and buying from female owned, black owned, cruelty free, and boutique brands, as part of my effort put my money where my mouth is.

I don’t want to dampen anyone’s mood or playfulness when it comes to style, clothing, and fashion. As I’ve said before and continue to defend as a concept, style is supposed to be fun! But I do think that there is room for all of us, when putting our outfits together and our faces on, to consider our product choices in a wider context. After all, if we’re just throwing any old substance on our skin or clothes on our backs without any thought or intention, I’m not sure we’re being stylish so much as “sheeple.”

 

Your turn, what are some deliberate consumer choices have you made when it comes to clothing, and why? Do you eschew fur, cashmere, or leather for ethical purposes? Are there certain brands you shop at or avoid, and why? Have you tried a capsule wardrobe collection to experiment with closet size? Do you have a specific budget for clothing, and if so, how do you allocate it? 

Style as a Tool: Crafting a Message

“Create your own style… let it be unique for yourself and yet identifiable for others.”
― Anna Wintour

In a really fundamental way, style is a tool to present yourself and certain messages to the world. I don’t mean to say that fashion and beauty are only cold blooded and utilitarian (they are, and are supposed to be, fun), but I do believe that the women (and men) who have been able to develop and capitalize on their style sense have a leg up on those who don’t. From drag queens poking holes in traditional gender expectations, to black dandies dressing flamboyantly in defiance of a historical narrative where sticking out might get you oppressed or killed, kids in puberty trying to take control of their budding sexuality, to CEOs looking to hold a room with messages of wealth and authority…

Presentation is powerful. And personal style is a way of being in command of your own identity and message.

Let’s look at politics and history quickly for some examples. Jackie Kennedy was First Lady for only a few years, but her fashion choices were instrumental in defining her husband’s administration both historically and mythologically. Further back in time, Louis XIV created an even grander mythological role for himself, that of the Sun King, and developed elaborate fashion and lifestyle trends to make the court literally revolve around him as a method of controlling his nobles. Secretary Clinton was ridiculed in the early days of both her husband’s and her own political careers for being “insufficiently feminine” in her appearance. In the 1990s you can see concessions she made to these sexist criticisms (I certainly don’t judge or begrudge those choices), but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the pantsuit later became her signature look. Elizabeth I of England also created a fantasy role for herself as Glorianna, the Virgin Queen, and invested heavily in a wardrobe meant to convey her authority over her country, as well as her wealth from exploration and trade. Towards the end of her life, her Golden Age was starting to collapse on itself, but the propaganda she fostered with her image has lasted right up until today. More recently, Michelle Obama made a lot of deliberate decisions to support American designers as First Lady, often from less well known houses, and also was noted for wearing fashions by designers from guest nations on state visits. Is wearing a gown the equivalent of signing a treaty? Of course not. It can still send a diplomatic message of solidarity…or a quiet note of defiant national pride.

Less grandly for most of us, our day to day style choices are less about playing on the world stage and instead having a sense of command in smaller ways. Consider the workplace. Think of the messages sent by Mark Zuckerburg’s famous jeans, t-shirt, and hoodie combo (“I’m a young company, for young people, and we aren’t going to run ourselves the way companies are run by men who wear suits”). Or how about how Steve Job’s iconic uniform of black turtleneck and jeans became a symbol of his business’s design focus (“I keep my personal life contained and streamlined to pour my energy into my work”). Neither of these men made particularly fashionable choices, but I’d argue pretty strenuously that they made style choices, even though the results were uniform and monochromatic.

Beauty is no different. Singer Alicia Keys has recently chosen to eschew most makeup because she believes there are too many pressures on women to look perfect or sexy, and less acceptance for bodies they way the simply are. Her decision to not wear make up is her personal way of opting out of that narrative, and is as much a style choice as Dita Von Teese’s decision to present herself in a highly stylized, deliberately artificial, and ultra feminine way.

Speaking personally, I enjoy beautiful things and clothes and the way I present myself to the world is important to me, but that isn’t to say I don’t sometimes fall victim to the siren song of marketing and consumerism, or try to fit someone else’s idea of fashionable at the expense of my own comfort or taste. However I think that these days I feel in command of my presentation more than at any other point in my life, which means that my sense of style (by my own definitions at least) is probably better than it’s every been. But it’s still a work in progress.

From dating, to board meetings, I think most of us have had the experience of trying to craft a message with our clothing. I’d argue, though, that this isn’t something that only happens for special occasions, it’s something we do every day. I’m most conscious of this in the workplace, but I’m trying to bring this same awareness to my casual or off duty style. I want to be better about using the things I already own, avoiding defaulting to sloppy/casual looks out of ease, and putting more effort into my clothing messaging. I also want to just have more fun with my clothing and accessories. What is the point of owning things if you don’t enjoy them?

 

Your turn, what do you think your wardrobe says about you? What do you want it to say? Are you trying to cultivate a certain image, and if so, what is it and why? 

Style Isn’t Shallow

“Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.”
― Gore Vidal

What do we talk about when we talk about style?

I deliberately chose the theme of “Style” for this month over fashion or beauty because, even though the terms are often used interchangeably, I don’t believe they are perfectly synonymous. When I talk about style, and this is the framework I want to use in discussing it this month, I am talking about the series of choices we make everyday in how we choose to physically present ourselves in public. The manifestations of these choices are what we wear and buy. Sometimes these choices are informed by trends, sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes these choices are intentional, sometimes they are reflexive. But whether you look like you just stepped out of the pages of Vogue, or have built your wardrobe entirely thanks to Goodwill, style is fundamentally personal and individual.

In a very real way, whether we are conscious about it or not (and goodness knows I haven’t always been), the myriad of day to day decisions about what we choose to put on our faces and bodies or in our homes are markers of how we are choosing to spend our resources, attention, and time. Not only that, our physical personal presentations encompass a lot of broad notions, including gender identity, political and social values, and consumerism in general with all its attendant issues.

I think that people who turn their noses up at style and fashion often betray a reverse snobbery that’s dismissive of the very real concerns and issues of consumer culture, an ignorance of how deeply impactful fashion and style are in almost everyone’s day to day lives (regardless of race, income, or any number of factors), and often a casual misogyny against seemingly “shallow” women or prejudice against gender nonconforming men.

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Style–the everyday choices we make–is not shallow. It’s the physical manifestation of both unique identity, and an awful lot of human realities. Hopefully, by framing it in this active way, we’ll find some interesting aspects of style to talk about this month. I’m opening up my closet and bathroom shelf for scrutiny, and hoping to gain a bit of insight into my own choices and habits, as well as learning more about yours in the comments.

 

Your turn, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this month’s topic and on this post. Let me know what the term “style” means to you, and if you agree with my definition or not. Who meets your definition of a stylish person, and how you define your own sense of style?