Tag: Clothes

What I Bought This Month

“When you don’t dress like everyone else, you don’t have to think like everyone else.”
― Iris Apfel

As we begin to wind down style month here, as promised, is an account of what I’ve bought since my shopping ban lifted. Though I’m not going to make a formal commitment (my next ban won’t be until next year), I’m going to make this the last round of personal purchases for a long time. Jeff is looking to buy a new suit and possibly a sports coat (his vice of choice), while I want to continue to shop my own closet the way I have been for the past few months. Now that I’ve done a few clear outs and a bit a streamlining to both my wardrobe and my bathroom shelf, I’m more happy than ever with what I already have. My trusty, long running list of items I’d like to buy has had a couple of ticks put in it, and even more items eliminated as I reevaluated my needs. Only three items remains, and in the case of all of them I’m happy to wait a few months before buying them.

And so, what needs and indulgences made the cut? Read on!

Bite Prismatic Pearl Creme Lip Gloss
A pure indulgence that I didn’t need, but wanted a great deal. I was as a magpie drawn to shimmer and I don’t regret it in the slightest!

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Phone photos don’t do these beauties justice. The shimmer is strong!

Anastasia Beverly Hills Modern Renaissance Palette
My eye makeup stash had a gap I wanted to rectify: lack of color. While I had a few dashes of pigment in my supplementary bits and pieces, my eye shadow collection was overwhelmingly neutral. Since my eyes are green, I knew I wanted something with red and purple tones in it to play up the color, and I’d wanted this palette for a long time. Add a coupon code to the mix, and I snapped it up. And I solemnly swear not to buy any more eyeshadows until I’ve hit pan on what I’ve got.

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The whole thing was supposedly inspired by the tones found in Renaissance paintings. Which means that from the get go, it had my name written all over it.

A vintage faux fur coat
While Etsy-scanning I stumbled upon a coat designed in the 80s but looked like it was from the 20s and looked like something a flush bootlegger’s girlfriend would swan about in. I required it. Many thanks to Katarina who is coming to visit this summer; I enlisted her aid in conveying it to me when she does and she, darling that she is, agreed. Also, you’ve got a hint as to one of my perpetual style inspirations in the screengrab: Agatha Christie murder mysteries. That Interwar period look gives me life.

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I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to winter now!

Everlane tops and jumper
Everlane had one of their international shipping promotions and so I picked up some replacement t-shirts (all of my current t-shirts were a couple of years old and stretched or sagging in less than flattering ways). There are few joys quite like fresh cotton, whether new shirts or clean sheets! I also picked up a jumper and a summer top. I’d like to get a couple of their silk tops for work, but am biding my time until another international promotion comes around. I didn’t snap photos of these because, let’s face it, I’m not a style blogger and lack some of the basic skills!

Joy skirt
I’d wanted a mid length skirt for a while. I found one with both pockets and with a designed in a repeating pattern of lipstick tubes. I really don’t feel like I need to explain this any further.

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I mean, seriously, come on!

Apart from the personal purchases, the thing I’m really happy we bought this month are two vintage chairs for the house. We bought a very nice couch and bedroom set when we moved to our current apartment and new it would be several months before we could afford to buy anything else in furnishing it. The waiting has been boring and I’m impatient. But at long last we found a beautiful pair in the style we liked and in our price range. It will be another few months before we can buy our next piece, but these beauties will hold me over I think.

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Use What You’ve Got: The Psychology of Shopping Your Closet

“When a woman says, ‘I have nothing to wear!’, what she really means is, ‘There’s nothing here for who I’m supposed to be today.”
― Caitlin Moran, How to Be a Woman

Based on an unscientific gathering of stories from my friends, coworkers, and pals, I’m convinced we all have great stuff in our closets that we don’t use. There can be a lot of good reasons not to wear what we’ve got, which is a topic for another day, but today I want to focus on the bad excuses for not using what we already own. Or at least one in particular: the “I bought it special” excuse.

I’m going to push the boat out and just say that if you’re saving unworn items in your closet for “special occasions” (with exceptions of somer event-wear) you’ve wasted your money or let your emotions do your shopping for you. I used to be a particularly bad offender of this and would buy clothing that I wanted to wear…but never got around to wearing because I didn’t think I had the right occasions to do so.

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In some cases, I had indeed purchased irrelevant items, which was due to me not really having a handle on what my actual clothing needs were for my then-lifestyle. But in other cases, I’d purchased clothing that could be considered aspirational. It was a bit nicer than my other items, more dressy, a different style, or just out of my current comfort zone. I loved them, but I bought them thinking that I needed to wait for the “right time” to wear some of them, that they were “too good” for my day-to-day casual life, or that wearing them would require some effort. Hilarious since, in retrospect, what I was purchasing five or even ten years ago was fairly cheap all things considered.

I no longer subscribe to this way of thinking at all. Not only is wasteful as a consumer (many of my purchases of yore ended up sold, donated, or given to friends unworn at some point), but I simply don’t see the point in owning something if you don’t wear or use it. You’re missing out on a good deal of easy pleasure and contentment with your wardrobe, and often adding a lurking sense of disappointment, guilt, or sheepishness about owning things you don’t touch.

For example, a couple of years ago I’d saved up to purchase a nice work handbag which I’d researched, considered for a long time, and found an amazing deal on.  I’d bought it specifically to upgrade my professional wardrobe and knew how I wanted to use it with my existing clothes, but for a long time was afraid to take it out of its dustbag. What if it got scratched or smudged? What if I dinged the hardware? What if I scuffed it? I was so nervous about putting any wear and tear on it, that I failed utterly to use it. It sat, reproachfully, in my closet for months before I confronted myself about it.

Of course I would need to care for it more carefully than I would a cheaper item, but eventually I had to acknowledge that any bag, no matter how coddled, was going to show signs of use. That’s what happens with any item, even a well tended one. In the end, I decided I either needed to resell the bag, or actually use it the way I had purchased it to be used. I chose the latter. And then I went through my closet and ruthlessly applied the same rationale to another of other items. That Liberty scarf in the image above was another similar victim of overcaution. Originally bought to celebrate a raise, I had almost never worn it out of worry that I’d damage it in some way. There were at least five other pieces of clothing or accessories that had similar excuses attached to their lack of use.

Far from having nothing to wear–a common complaint uttered when staring mournfully into a wardrobe–I just hadn’t been giving myself permission to wear what I wanted…and already had.

I own fewer items of clothing than I did while at university and my early 20s, but what I own now is of much better quality. More importantly, everything is worn regularly, including my more expensive pieces. I’m willing to occasionally fork out for beautiful vintage or consignment designer pieces, but only if I commit to myself to actually use them. I’m no longer worried about wearing them out–I’ve learned to take better care of my clothing over all, and I’ve come to the healthier mental place of acknowledging that ultimately, as beautiful as they are, they are just things. I get more satisfaction from my treasured pieces by letting them see the light of day than I do from looking at them on a hanger.

Don’t get me wrong, aspirational clothing still has its place (I’ve found the adage of “dressing for the job you want” to be a useful one), but I maintain it is no good to you hanging in a closet. Use it. Your wallet will be grateful and your mirror will be flattering, I promise.

Your turn. Have you every had items languish in your closet? What were your reasons for buying but not wearing? Are there any items which could do with a bit more love? 

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? 

 

To the Closet!

“Women usually love what they buy, yet hate two-thirds of what is in their closets.”
~Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic’s Notebook

Some of you may still be a bit battered by our last exercise, but grudging health commitments have taught me that the only cure for soreness is the hair of the dog and so back into the fray!  This time we’re tackling your wardrobe, what are the chances we’ll find Narnia?

Moving is always an excellent excuse to go through your closet because there is generally quite a bit of stuff in it that you don’t wear, doesn’t fit, no longer reflects your style or taste, has started to wear out, or that you are ready to let go of.  There is no better excuse for an honest examination (or in the case of some, an archeological expedition) of one’s closet than the knowledge that if you are keeping something you will have to find room for it in two suitcases.  And if you aren’t taking it, that you will have to find a place to store it while you are out of the country or gird your loins and get rid of it.

Now I’m not one of those ogresses that demand you chuck everything dear to you (am I, ducklings?), I know that in every closet their lurks some treasures that it simply wouldn’t be feasible to transport but you can’t get rid of.  All I’m saying is that you should be honest about what constitutes real treasure.  A couple of contrasting examples:

Freshman year some friends of mine had t-shirts made for our group.  I’ve carefully preserved that shirt for the memories but haven’t worn it once in nearly 6 years.  When I pulled it out of my closet, I grinned a bit remembering some of the scrapes we got into, thought of friends I haven’t seen in a while, and generally reminisced about the four years I spent at university.  And then I put it in the donate pile.  Hanging onto a shirt that only takes up room in storage when I already don’t wear it doesn’t make a lot of sense.  And of course I realized that I don’t necessarily need a shirt to remember people and good times anymore.

Alternatively, in my closet also resides my wedding dress.  It too represents memories but the difference between it and a t-shirt (besides price) is not lost on me.  If  I have a daughter she may want to wear it for her own wedding, or perhaps my sister would like to borrow it for her nuptials – giving my parents a sigh of relief and Snickers more coin to drop on the party itself.  Or perhaps someday I’ll donate it to another good cause.  But until then, I’m much less willing to part with it rather than an old, never worn t-shirt.

I WISH. Mine is nothing so organized.

And in between these two extremes is most of what I own.  I have pretty dresses and skirts that I spent good money on, are in excellent shape, and that I quite like, that won’t be necessary to me overseas.  I have tops that I haven’t worn for a long time and won’t miss.  I have any number of shoes, including a few pairs from Italy and Paris that I love but won’t stand up to cobbled streets or inclimate weather.

And so, armed with a ruthless will and clear vision of what I intend to hold precious, I fling open the doors and survey everything I own and start asking the practical and philosophical questions about individual items:

  1. Does it follow the Cardinal Rule of dressing abroad?
  2. Is it in good shape?  Are hems fraying, seams ripping, or is it generally falling apart?  Is the answer is yes, donate or chuck it.
  3. If it isn’t in good shape, can you get it back into working order?  If all that’s wrong with a perfectly good jacket or cardigan is a missing button, it’s beyond foolish to chuck it for a easily repairable flaw.
  4. Have I worn this item in the last six months?  If not, you can probably get rid of it without qualm.
  5. Do I still like it?  In every closet there resides at least one lapse in sartorial judgment, and if you don’t like it now, you won’t like it later.
  6. Does it still fit properly?  There’s no reason to hang on to something that doesn’t.
  7. Will I wear it (which is an entirely different question than “Have I worn it?”  I wear lots of things here in the States during summer that might not be so practical for a Fall/Winter school year in Europe)?
  8. If I leave it behind, will I wear it when I get back or will it be too dated, out of style, or no longer practical for my situation in life?
  9. Do I have multiple items that serve the same functions?  If so, which one would be more practical to take and would give me the most and best wear?

Any clothing that doesn’t pass muster gets tossed into bin liners to be donated, offered to friends, given to Snickers, or is set aside to be stored.  What’s does is what’s coming with you.  The next step is make sure you have the necessary items to make it through a calendar year abroad, and we’ll start exploring that in future posts.

So, sound off!  What categories of things does an enterprising globe hopper need for a jaunt abroad?

No Item of Clothing is an Island, Kittens

“Clothes are never a frivolity: they always mean something.”
~James Laver

When I arrived in the US for school, I showed up with two suitcases and going back to London won’t be too different.  I’m half ok with this and half perturbed: ok because I’ve done it many times before and am hardly scared of doing it again, and perturbed because I’ve only just learned how to keep J. fed and will now have to put my entire kitchen into storage and have to learn it all over again without pots, pans, slow cookers, blenders, etc., at least until I hit up Tesco for some cheap gear.  (Ah Tesco, home of £10 crock pots and £5 irons…)

But I digress.  The point?  In those two suitcases must be clothes, accessories, makeup, shoes, winter coats, toiletries, and any very small amounts of personal items – most of which must last year me at least one year.  How is this accomplished, you ask?  The answer, my adventurous lovelies, is excruciating precision in suitcase spacial reasoning, a game plan, and strict adherence to my number one rule in packing for travel/living abroad: everything you put in your suitcase must be a “double duty item.”

Travel light, yes, absolutely. But also, travel smart.

This means that every item you bring must serve at least two (at the very, very least, and preferably several more) sartorial purposes.  For example: skirts that can be worn to work, school functions, church services if you choose, and whenever trousers simply won’t cut it.  Shoes that can be worn at all the above and also around town without more than the usual amount of agony.  If you’re athletic, workout clothes that are nice enough to run errands in or to pick up groceries.  Tops that can be casual as well as dressy with good makeup and simple accessories.

This is easy if you believe, as I do, in quality over quantity.  I’d far rather buy a good quality, solid color knit shirt from J. Crew that will last me at least two years of regular wear, than have to replace a cheaper one from Target every season or so (Target is beloved in our household, minions, never fear, but not for long term living abroad dressing).

I will wear that shirt with work trousers on a weekday, jeans on the weekend, or any skirt in my closet.  It will go with pearl earrings and heels, and with a vibrant pashmina and skinny pants.  It will look good with flats or stilettos.  It will make me seem more put together when someone stops by our flat and I’m still in pajama pants than my old, stained alma mater sweatshirt.  It is a “double duty item,” make it your vaulted example.

There, you’ve aced your Travel Dressing Theory 101 class, ducklings, and Aunt C. is proud.

Style Theory and the Modern International

“‘Style’ is an expression of individualism mixed with charisma. Fashion is something that comes after style.”
– John Fairchild

Some will tell you that a move is the perfect time to try on a new persona, change your attitude, adopt a new style, etc.  And they are right, theoretically.  As someone who has meandered across four continents, moving once every couple of years, with ample opportunities to try on very different demeanors and looks, I can vouch you can change your style.  But I can also vouch that it can be expensive, tiring, and a lot of times futile, as lots of us inevitably go back to our old ways.  Here is the true secret to changing/staying true to your style: it has next to nothing to do with how you look.

That’s right, dumplings.  As cliche as it is, your style is all about you, not what you wear.

I sense you nodding along sagely, but wondering at the back of you minds, “Why bring this up, and what does this have to do with moving to Merrie Olde Englande?”  The answer is because I can’t count the number of friends, acquaintances, and fellow travelers I’ve known who think that a big trip or continental move is just one excuse to try on a new persona.  More specifically, that it’s an excuse to buy lots of stuff.  It’s not.

Back, you snarling shopaholics!

Whoa!  Down, minions!  Yes, there will be shopping, I promise, but all in due course, alright?  But the truth is, if you are traveling/moving and you want to do it in a savvy manner, there’s a lot to do before you whip out your credit cards with a maniacal look in your eyes.  Trust me.

So, why discuss style when we’re talking about living out of two suitcases for a year?  Because you will eventually have to shop and the first stop is your own closet.  The best place to start when figuring out what you will need in those suitcases it to sort out what you already have.  Clothes aren’t just a frivolity, they are important and especially so when traveling.  You are going to have to balance cost, care, wear, personal taste, needs, and functionality.  It’s as delicate an act as chemistry equations, and it all starts with your own personal style.

Leave the gun, take the cannoli.

Which is why I reiterate, style is about you and what you’ve already got.  When you are packing for a trip/move, or even if you just want to mix things up in your closet for a change, be honest with and about yourself.  Stock up on and pack what you know you like and will wear, and allow yourself only one or two flirtations with something new and exciting.  If you’re not a femme fatale, all those cocktail dresses might languish in your closet and you will shake your fist at the sky for having failed to pack jeans.  If you long to be a dapper Brit but are hopelessly, helplessly a true blue American lad, that straw boater hat and striped blazer will become a source of shame instead of pride.  It doesn’t matter what you pack, if the looks aren’t to your taste, aren’t comfortable, and don’t make you feel good (which you should on a trip or move to a fabulous new place!), you’re going to have spent a lot of money on a new personality that you will never wear, just like those new duds.

“To thine own self be true,” and all that.  I am a pretty conservative dresser.  Not a lot of sequins (except at New Year), not a lot of skin, and not a lot of bling.  My closet is full of skinny twill pants, solid color knit shirts, stud earrings, and low heeled riding boots.  I have a no bangles, no floppy hats, no bohemian dresses, and very little that is “of the moment,” sartorially speaking.  So, when I’m putting together my two suitcases to get me through a year, I’m going to be taking my tried and true looks that suit me and make me feel comfortable and classy.

Because, and this is key, darlings, style is in your head, not what’s on your carcass.  No one has ever – in spite of my boring and conservative wardrobe – accused me of being a boring or conservative person!

Lest you think this post was needlessly sappy, let me just say that I’m being especially supportive and nice because the next step might be painful.  Excruciating.  Weeping, gnashing of teeth, and sackcloth horrid.  Because once you’ve mastered Style Theory, and the Cardinal Rule of Packing, we’re purging your closet.  And.  I.  Am.  Ruthless.

Dream. Vacation.

“When abroad in hot climates she wore a great many white dresses, said very little, and all the men in the hotel fell in love with her.”
– Stella Gibbons, Cold Comfort Farm

Naturally, just after I wrote a post yesterday praising Spring, we were graced with a snow flurry/rainstorm.  And even more naturally it had all cleared off by 5pm and I walked to my car beneath blue skies and a crisp breeze.  Living in the West subjects one to the most schizophrenic weather…

But snow flurry or no, I’m  still doing my best to force the issue of Spring.  Yesterday I wore a tangerine cardigan in defiance, and I came very close to actually working out for the first time in weeks – didn’t quite make it, but I will!  No, honestly!  Stop rolling your eyes.

In the meantime, I’m indulging my shopping bug by sticking to internet browsing and wishlisting – my birthday’s in two and a half months after all.  Especially Shabby Apple’s new line “Roamin’ Holiday.”  Shall we look at some pretty?

I wish I had (respectively) the figure and the aplomb/height to pull these beauties off!  For some reason vivid greens like the top of the Gondola dress are calling to me these days (and paired with stripes!), and everyone needs the opportunity to wear a red Gypsy-esque dress like the Rosso at least once in their lives.

I am actually longing for someone to get married, pick me to be a bridesmaid and obligingly order me to wear this cream and coco appliqued Spanish Steps dress.  And I’m belying my winter-imposed hatred of neutrals by admitting to being very fond of this cream jersey SPQR frock.

Isn’t this white Palatine Hill dress perfect for summer in the office?  Growing up I remember getting a new Easter dress and hat to wear to church every Easter Sunday, and I’m thinking about resurrecting (pun?  Or too sacrilegious?) the tradition in my old age, and this purples La Vita E’ Bella pretty might just suit the bill!

Honestly, the whole line is making me want to go on vacation.  I’m getting stir crazy in this office!  If I could, I’d snatch up that daring red Rosso frock, grab J. and gallop off to the Cinque Terre region of Italy to lay in the sun, eat good food, and go sailing to all the terra cotta colored villages tucked into the coast.

How about you, ducklings?  You suddenly inherit a small fortune with the proviso that you go on holiday at once, where do you go?