Looks like everyone (Grechen of Greche’s Closet, Talia of Ethel Grace, and M of Work From Home Wardrobe) is thinking about planning their future purchases and style tweaks for the year, and I am, as always, feeling the inspiration.
Something good came out of my (too many) Instagram outfit pictures: looking back through that record of outfits I was able to form a better idea of what clothes I enjoy and which ones don’t really work for me.
I like oversized, generous volumes, both on top and bottom. I like layers, in full black, but also in black and white, and black and grey. I like full length coverage.
I enjoy natural fabrics: linen, cotton, cashmere, silk, wool. I own one tencel pant and one bamboo shirt and I like both, but I am not looking to add more of these fabrics to my wardrobe (although they are somewhere on the sustainability spectrum).
The world and everyday life are a complicated spaces to navigate. Some people try to simplify everything, and wouldn’t that be so easy if it were possible? It’s not. For me there is beauty and a lot of merit to the complexity of our modern lives and choices at large, but I know I can simplify some aspects of it, and my closet is one of those places.
And simplifying might be too simple a word, because closet choices make political and social statements of their own, and are in no way shallow and meaningless as they might seem to the untrained eye.
I like basic shapes that float away from the body. Cuts that allow for movement. I like to be enveloped in beautiful fabrics that feel luxurious and natural to the touch. I like to lose myself inside my clothes. Hide. I wear them as armor for sure.
The few silhouettes that I want to wear are very clear to me: the boxy shirt, the long skirt (basic A-line, bubble, harem), the long sack dress, the wide leg pants and long cardigans. These are the main elements. Short cardigans, tunic dresses, skinny pants and fitted tees are often useful for layering, but not key style elements on their own. The slouchy pants are somewhere in the middle: I kind of love them, they are practical at times (running after kids at the town park) but they are not the first thing I think of when I consider what defines my style.
With the exception of the long cardigan, I can sew all my (preciously named) “defining-style elements” myself, which feels very freeing and gives me a lot of control. I like control. I have made the boxy shirt in cotton and linen and am planning one in raw silk now, and maybe a fine wool fabric later, although I do have a couple of cotton&cashmere kimono sweaters from J.Jill that serve me just as well in cold weather. I have made the wide leg pants in denim and I have several linen and wool versions, from J.Jill and Eileen Fisher. I am planning to sew a raw silk pair any day now (I already bought the fabric). I have made the sack dress in linen, cotton and raw silk, and I don’t see any other need there.
My wardrobe is over ninety percent thrifted and handmade, and I am very content with that for many reasons, ecological and budgetary. Accessories are also predominantly second-hand or handmade. I have a few too many bags, but I am coming to accept it as my big weakness, and I’m trying to let it be, for now. Although I don’t know if that’s so smart—I am these days making a packing list for a five-day trip and seriously considering taking five bags: travel tote, travel hobo crossbody, plus two small crossbody bags and one fanny pack!
Shoes are sometimes difficult to thrift, but I try to find them second hand in online shops. I feel like I have the staples I need, like Birkenstocks clogs and sandals, canvas sneakers, and army boots. I own some oxfords and loafers too, but I’m not crazy about pairing them with most of my wardrobe, as they feel insubstantial. I like a platform or some sort of heavier feel to the shoe.
This year I am going to test these revelations and stay on course. I’ll try to observe if anything else of importance comes up, but I doubt it. I’m feeling very good about my clothes right now. They are fun and cause me little to no anxiety. It’s nice.
Ten items of clothing for ten days. It’s one of those challenges that flourish over on Instagram, although the credit for initiating it goes to two style blogs, Style Bee and Unfancy. Since I had been following some of the women who did it several times in the past and derived a lot of pleasure for watching them mix and match those few items of clothing, I felt an impulse to join in and play along.
I am not a capsule wardrober or much of a minimalist when it comes to the number of clothes I own. I like options, get bored quickly and enjoy my thrifting adventures that contribute to my about-to-burst closets. But this challenge might be interesting, I though to myself one morning, and in ten minutes I had a pile of ten items to wear for the next two weeks (I didn’t include the weekends in the challenge).
My thoughts after the challenge: I like options and I get bored quickly. Still it was fun, because I didn’t take it all too seriously and I switched my items around later in the day when I felt a need for it.
All my items came from the thrift shop:
I did include outwear (the two cardigans) and shoes in my initial ten, but at some point during the challenge I decided to switch the shoes for two more items of clothing. I ended up only adding one pair of leggings.
It was a frustrating exercise. The fun part was the companionship and camaraderie I felt with the women who participated on Instagram, but the getting dressed itself was annoying. My enjoyment of my clothes was somewhat diminished by the limitations of the exercise. My clothes are not useful and functional, they are playthings. I kind of feel like the minimalist and utilitarian approach to clothing can only suit those who don’t really care about clothes, but I know it is not true—many women who do capsule wardrobes and reduce their options love their clothes. So I don’t know where we differ, but this is not for me.
Which doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t do it again as an exercise. It is good practice for vacation packing, for example, although I have been known to take ten items of clothing for merely an overnight trip.
My favorite outfits to wear were probably 4 and 5. 1 is a good contender also. I don’t know if I could name a least favorite—they were all pretty good. Maybe outfit 10 was out of my comfort zone a bit, with too much going on, and outfit 7, where the scarf annoyed me with its bulkiness.
That’s about it. I had a good time and I plan to do it again, given a chance. Nothing earth-shattering.
The worst luck with glasses. I’ve been having it. At least lately. Since I’ve caved and started buying plastic frames. That is only in the past year, when I’ve had two frames break on me already. Ugh!
I used to buy only metal frames, and titanium at that. Never ever before in my life have I had glasses break. I had loose screws, disintegrating nose pads, and chipping paint, most issues easy to deal with (well, not the paint chipping part, that is quite irreparable, but it doesn’t make the glasses unusable).
But of course a victim of trends that I am, I’ve had to have plastic frames, because they seem more stylish. I still cannot stand plastic, why do I want to wear it on my face every day? I really can’t tell you, except that I’m vain and I haven’t been able to track a pair of wearable, affordable, vintage natural-horn frames (but dream big!).
And . . . it works! I just took a small break from the writing of this post to search ebay again for horn frames and what do you think? No, I didn’t find anything there, but Google did direct me to this great-looking company, Penn Avenue Eyewear, which makes buffalo horn frames that are not exorbitant in price! And they all look so good!
But of course, this realization had to come just after I have already placed an order of new glasses, which I am sorely regretting already. Here they are.
Not too bad looking, right?
Unfortunately, though, they are of course plastic again (with some metal, for good measure this time). And that is not even their biggest problem. These frames are Ray-Bans, and, as I also just discovered today, Ray-Ban is an American brand owned by an Italian company (!), Luxottica, which, has very unpleasant business practices. As unveiled by this very edifying CBS News exposé linked below, Luxottica dictates eyewear prices in US because it holds something that is very close to a monopoly on the American market. They own stores like Sunglass Hut, the largest sunglasses chain in the world, and LensCrafters, the largest eyewear retailer in North America, and they run Target Optical and Sears Optical; they also own best-selling brands like Ray-Ban and Oakley, and they own the second-largest vision care plan, EyeMed (they kind of dropped the ball there with only the second largest).
I promise that if you watch this video, you will not want to give any of your money to this company anymore.
So obviously, my New Year resolution is that I must buy my glasses from companies like Penn Avenue Eyewear, who not only offer what to me is amazing value (real horn, the dream of dreams!), but they do business in a way that I can appreciate: they donate 10% of every order to charity (the buyer can select from several charity options). I am in no way connected with this company, but I am super excited to have done this research and have found them. I know there are other online eyewear companies that escape the control of Luxottica: Warby Parker is one of them, for example, and Made Eyewear and David Kind seem to follow a similar model. But real horn has my heart. Soon, my lovelies, soon!
P.S. I just wanted to edit this post because I realized I didn’t mention that buying glasses online is not new for me and I am fully comfortable with it. I have bought glasses online from GlassesUSA.com several times in the past years and I’ve been very happy with their service, so at this point I am completely convinced that buying online is the way to go. But, if you want to avoid Luxottica and still buy from store, apparently Walmart and Cosco are not in their network.
I have recently read an article that was trying to explain the terrifying results of our election with the need, which becomes acute in times of crisis, for cognitive closure: people simply felt they couldn’t process too many details, too much information—they wanted a simple message that they could subscribe to. And didn’t they get it?
But ever since reading that I have been observing how the concept of cognitive closure applies to everything in my daily life. My life has not been in crisis, far from it, but I am an anxious, overly-sensitive type, and a lot of small things feel extreme to me.
For example, I fault my decision to wear only black and white to my need for cognitive closure: I just don’t want to think about matching colors, patterns, etc.
Writing is of course the main area where I can notice the phenomenon. I cannot work on multiple projects at once. I have a friend (the multi-talented Rachel Fenton) who has a system of working on her novels, poetry, graphics on the same day, depending on her state of mind, time of the day, level of disturbance from children, etc. I envy her so much. My tiny brain cannot hold multiple ideas at the same time and in order to keep myself from burning out I need to focus on only one thing for weeks even.
I think I am trying to find ways in which it is okay, excusable, understandable. Because it is. We can’t be open to everything all the time. Sometimes it’s okay to shut down for self-preservation. But even if it’s okay, the ideal, the ultimate goal is still to open ourselves up, rather than close down. Most progress is achieved that way.
It started last summer. Actually, I have been saving this post from last summer too, I know, much of a blogger I am not. But the madness continues: I keep making and wearing these easy boxy tops that have become almost a uniform. Most of them from recycled materials too, I realize now.
Last summer I made (and photographed) these three you can see here. The two top ones were made from old curtains. When we first moved into our house, I ordered linen online and made curtains for every room. I replaced them almost everywhere by now, and I am using the fabric for other things. The bottom, navy blue top is made from a length of fabric I found at the thrift store, for about three dollars.
These are the most comfortable, easy to wear and easy to make tops I have ever had the pleasure of having in my closet. I’m not a good seamstress: I’m most afraid of (bad at) cutting and sewing the shoulder curves of blouses. But these tops have a dolman sleeve (not too loose, though). So for these tops I copied the pattern from an older blouse (which I might have even bought originally for the exact reason that I could copy its pattern).
Sometimes I don’t even trace any pattern or measure anything—I just cut something similar to this shape. It usually turns out okay anyway, it’s that easy.
My favorite of the tops I made last year is the lighter colored one, which is of a heavier linen weight. I probably wear it once a week. Here it is below:
These tops work best with jeans or other more tailored pants. I don’t like them as much with linen or lightweight pants, although that works too for very hot days or beach outings. I do wear them over maxi dresses too (the more lightweight of the tops, which is also shorter, work great like that).
I wear this navy blue one the least, because of the color. First of all, all my clothes are these days either black or white (off-white) and this is navy—doesn’t feel right. Then, since my bottoms are always either black or blue (as in jeans), it doesn’t create a lot of contrast in the outfit, so I’m not crazy about it. If I ever get some light grey jeans, which I’m kind of looking for, I think it will look great with those.
There is also a dress-version of this pattern (just longer and curved a little back toward the hem, for a bit of a cocoon effect) which I wear for the beach, although my husband says that I look like I’m from a cult. Whatever. What’s so bad about that, right?
This year I made two more of these tops: one light blue, from another piece of linen fabric found at the thrift store, and one ivory colored, from a silk-cotton blend fabric that I had made into a sling for the baby three years ago and maybe carried him in that twice.
And just to contradict myself, this is in no way exclusively a summer top; of course I made one or two of these for cold weather also, to be worn over long-sleeved tees or dresses, instead of a cardigan.
It’s too much already, but I have plans for more. This might be the only thing that I can sew properly and I’m getting better at it, so I think I’ll go on. And on. Nobody stop me. It doesn’t hurt that I like the look a lot, and it’s still kind of in this summer, I think—I’m not that much of an expert. Doesn’t really matter, since this is really it for me and I’ll wear this style forever and ever. It’ll be my signature. My uniform. And we’ll walk together, hand in hand, forever, until the end of the world.
Or until I get bored, whichever comes first. (Boredom will most likely come first, but for the purpose of this post, let’s stay with the forever and ever.)
This post has been prompted by an article I recently read on nymag.com, Why New Yorkers Have Always Worn Black.
I don’t always find it easy to explain and defend my predilection to wearing black, which is often a very unpopular choice. But in the past year or so it has become clearer and clearer to me that black just feels right. I am currently adding mostly black things into my closet and dying a lot of what I own black. Not only clothes, but also accessories. In the top image, the bag has been dyed. It used to look like this:
But it was not only the bag that changed colors—wallet used to be white too, and the Kindle cover was brown in its previous life. I can’t tell you how many times I have resisted the impulse to make that blue pouch black too.
The New York Magazine article I mentioned is nothing really to write home about: black takes the grime of the city well, it is sexy, but most of all, it’s cool “you are part of the band” not the audience kind of cool. Eyeroll!
The author (Amy Larocca) does make an interesting point though, that before chemical dyes, deep black used to be difficult to achieve (my RIT dye experiences have shown that it can still be true today), so it was an extremely costly color, and it symbolized power, elegance, and luxury. Apparently, in Europe at some point there was such a thing as sumptuary laws that, among other things I imagine, forbade the lower classes from wearing black! Why is it that so many of the things on which we place value as a civilization are direct symbols of how better some of us are than the rest?
Black also used to be, for a long time, a color reserved kind of exclusively for men’s garments. I haven’t researched this properly, but as I see it now, women have always been encouraged to be colorful, and only when their womanhood was no longer their strongest identifier, when they were placed by society somewhere at the periphery of womanhood (I’m thinking of widows and nuns here) they shed their color and wear black or white. Black has always been associated in Europe with death, darkness, religion, the heavy, serious stuff. Women were supposed to play a role that was at odds with such connotations. Women’s duty was to lighten the mood, to make men’s lives more pleasant, lighter, less stressful, homey, comfortable. That was why women had to be colorful. A woman wearing black is not a source of entertainment or decor for anyone (but herself).
The comment section of the New York Magazine article was much more interesting than the article itself, as it often happens. One commenter brings up the popularity of the Japanese avant-garde fashion (Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons, Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake) in the 80s and to today as a vehicle through which black became so popular. The Japanese designers created dark, oversized, somewhat raggedy garments that didn’t follow the natural lines of the body. The women were not constrained to the dreaded “feminine form” anymore. The style was obviously not well received at first. Rei Kawakubo’s followers were called “the crows” in the Japanese newspapers. When Yohji Yamamoto was making a first appearance in the west, in 1982, the fashion press had this to say : “Yamamoto’s clothes would be most appropriate for someone perched on a broom” (Mary Long, “People”, quoted in this research article: When the West Wore East—love the title!).
As a crow and broom perching enthusiast, I love all of that. Witches are women who embrace their power. They are not to be taken lightly. Witches wear black. Witches were not exactly known as the most law abiding of citizens and they must have been able to afford black dyes because of the deal with the devil thing. Good for them! If that’s what a woman must do to be taken seriously. And to be able to wear black as she pleases.
This past weekend I bought four pairs of jeans from the thrift shop! Excessive, I know, but when you hear this story you’ll see it was unavoidable.
I would have never thought such a feat to be possible if it didn’t happen to me. I mean, jeans are notoriously hard to shop for even in conventional retail stores. Yet, I found four perfectly beautiful pairs in one day at the thrift shop. It happened and it was a history-making score. This is how the story goes.
I already had a good collection of jeans: two skinny pairs, two relaxed boyfriend style, and two flared. All that I’d ever need, and a bit more. However, two of those pairs (a boyfriend and a flared) were starting to feel a bit loose, and I had been looking to replace them. Of course, I never thought I’d be able to do it in one day.
This past Saturday I needed a longer break from home and kids, so I went out to visit both my favorite thrift shops. In the first one I found three great pairs of jeans. I found a Joe’s, Japanese denim, boyfriend style; a Hudson, made in USA, flare; and a Burberry, straight, ankle check pair, made in England. And they all fit! I know. I couldn’t believe it myself. Now, I am not usually one to buy cartfulls when I go thrifting, because what’s the fun in that? I usually just keep it to one or at the most two items per trip. So I made myself select only two pairs and leave one behind. I chose to leave the Burberry behind, because the other two pairs looked better on me. Plus, I reasoned, it’s good to leave some treasures back for other people to find, for good thrifting karma. I was of course certain that the next person to lay their eyes on the Burberry jeans would snap them in a millisecond.
At the second shop I had no intention of buying anymore jeans. As a matter of fact I had no intention to buy anything at all, just to enjoy the browsing. Unless of course, something formidable and out of my wildest dreams would show up. Which, you probably have guessed, happened. I found a pair of black skinny jeans, made in Japan, by Karl Lagerfeld ! I had been dreaming about Japanese denim for a long time, because they are apparently the holly grail, as declared by denim connoisseurs over on the two or three websites that came up in my Google research some months ago when I was looking to buy some nice jeans for my husband. So this is how I ended up buying a third pair. Interestingly enough, in this second store I also found another pair of Hudson jeans identical to the one I had bought already. So you could say that I left a treasure behind even here.
I spent a good hour or more on Saturday evening cutting and rehemming. I’m not too fussy about that, I just cut off the original seam using older jeans in the same style to measure, and then I sew the new hem by hand, because I broke too many machine needles with jeans. One of these days I’ll buy some denim needles. Maybe.
And this is where the story doesn’t end yet. No. The following day I couldn’t stop thinking about the pair of Burberry’s I had left behind. They were actually a nice straight leg, and I don’t have this style in my collection, and in a beautiful dark wash, and they were made in England (the most exciting part about it). Because I had a 30-percent off coupon and apparently nothing better to do this Sunday, I decided to check the store again and see if they were still there. I was convinced they wouldn’t be, of course. I didn’t even look too hard, but I saw them immediately there, waiting for me. Destiny, what can I say. And at checkout I discovered that it was a 50-percent off day. How were those jeans still there? I can’t think of any other reason that they were meant to be mine. This is the magic of thrifting: it’s not just shopping, it has meaning. Right? And meaning is happiness. Meaning is everything.
Now I got rid of one of the old jeans (I might use it one last time for a Holi celebration this weekend), and I am left with nine pairs, of which one is a bit too tight in the waist and one is rather loose (but in a good slouchy way that I enjoy). I’ve never owned this many jeans before. Such decadence. I’m not sure how I feel about it.
Last year I kept track of all my thrifting on small post-its in my planner. I tried to see what are my patterns—how much I’m spending and what type of things I buy. I didn’t look much at what I bought for the kids, husband or home, but only the pretty little things I bought exclusively for my own enjoyment.
I justified a lot of the shopping with the fact that after losing weight this year, I really needed new clothes. But of course, I never needed too much. And then there are the bags. And the scarves. And the jewelry. No need for that many of those. But let’s not dwell on that and kill the happy mood of this post. Because this is about magic.
My greatest scores this year have been (besides that bag and that planner) a maxi black wool Eileen Fisher dress, two EF silk sleeveless tops (white and black) and an EF maxi black silk skirt. A short wool EF sleeveless dress also made it into my wardrobe along with a pink linen vest and a short-sleeved grey linen cardigan (which used to be long-sleeved) by the same brand. Then there were a maxi skirt and a maxi dress, both black, both made of a linen and silk blend (a fabric that feels amazing!).
I also found the greatest mini quilted leather bag that I wore all the time when we visited India this winter and it was perfect, a silk/cotton blend grey scarf that works with everything from a lovely beach town, and a tan leather bag from a special store in Montreal. Some silver jewelry has also been added to my collection. I am particularly happy with the arrowhead pendant and the long beaded necklace that I can wear many ways .
I try to not buy pottery anymore, because I already have a small collection and I have been gently encouraged by he who does the dishes most often to avoid anything that is not dishwasher-safe. I still got these adorable milk and sugar set for special occasions.
I don’t think I need to sing the praises of thrifting here on the blog, because it is clearly a more ethical and ecological sort of shopping. So it’s relatively guilt-free. (Yes, imaginary critics, I do realize it is still shopping, still consumerism, but a more inoffensive kind, right? And yes, it’s not entirely guilt-free. Nothing is, for me.) However, it’s not only that. What makes it addictive, for me, is the treasure hunting feel of it. I get that feeling that I’m something special, like a thrift-shopping witch conjuring all my wishes into the store racks. I’m also enjoying the delayed gratification aspect of it: I never get a particular item whenever I want it, but when fate arranges so that it comes my way.
I don’t think I am going to change much about my ways in the new year. I already have good rules in place to keep me from making bad decision and going overboard (for example, I only buy natural fibers and only black, white or grey colors–with a little powder pink for good measure).
I don’t necessarily look at the brand, but I do enjoy finding brands that I admire, such as Eileen Fisher, for example. But I also leave the branded clothes on the hanger if they are not natural fabrics (they usually are, but not always). I get quite happy, of course, when the clothes are manufactured in the US and when the fibers are not only natural but also organic. That happens rarely, however; I usually can bet when something is made in the US, it is made of rayon. Even in India, the land of cotton, I noticed this year, that everything was rayon.
No, there won’t be many changes for me this year. I’m going to continue chasing the magic, whenever I get a chance. I don’t see any other way. Let the otherworldly forces of thrifting do their thing!
We don’t just think with our minds, we think with our bodies. So research says, not I. The study, led by Adam D. Galinsky in 2012, demonstrated that people wearing a white doctor’s coat experienced improved attention capabilities. This did not happen when they were told the white coat they were wearing was a painter’s coat, which led the scientists to conclude that it’s not only how the clothes look and feel, but also how we associate them, their symbolic meaning, that influences us. Enclothed cognition, they called it.
My fascination with clothes comes hand in hand with the eternal preoccupation with identity and reinvention. Creating, finding identity is a never-ending undertaking. Even the image in the mirror is surprising at times, like I’ve never taken full shape inside my head, or the shape is changing so fast and so often that I cannot commit it to memory accurately enough. I don’t know where creating who we are starts, why and when it’s supposed to end, but I know that clothes play a big part. And that’s not because have such great effect on how others perceive us but because of how they actually change who we are.
I think self transformation efforts are a form of hope. Like there is no end to who we can be. It helps us keep dreaming, keep rearranging the world in ways that feel better to us, in ways that are more inclusive, more nurturing, that make us happier. At another time of my life I wold have considered constant reinvention of weakness of character. At that time in my life, permanence seemed like the desirable trajectory for the world, but now I think that flux is what is and will always be at the core of all human experience. Clothes help us keep up with that. They help us move along and change by our own rules. Live like we have some control.
(I added an outfit picture to this post. I had dressed that day for a couple of meetings. I wanted to feel like a competent creative professional. It worked for me.)
I have made in just a week, since I came up with the idea, about seven headbands from silk squares for myself. I’m addicted to it. Because obviously I need one to match every imaginable outfit. Which shouldn’t be too many though, considering how I wear only black, gray, white and the occasional navy blue and fuchsia. But then with the headbands I can go crazy with color. A little bit.
I had a quite large collection of small silk squares (with sides around 20 inches) acquired some time ago. I’ve stopped buying them when I realized that I like a larger scarf for headwraps, so that it covers my head completely and even forms a nice bun at the back. I also couldn’t properly use the small squares as headbands just by tying them at the back, because they would keep sliding off. Maybe my head is a weird shape or my hair is too slippery, I don’t know, but tying the scarves around my head never worked for me.
So the silk squares just sat there in a bag in my closet neglected in spite of all their beauty, until one day, when I put on a thick headband of my daughter’s to get the hair out of my eyes, and I realized how comfortable it felt. Because, yes, I have another problems: even headbands generally give me a headache and I can’t wear them for a long time. But this thick headband with a bit of elastic at the back felt great. That was when I started thinking of making more grow-up version of headbands from silk squares.
I looked for tutorials online, but couldn’t find anything satisfactory. So what I had to come up with my own “design”: cut the silk scarf in half, sew it on the wrong side into a tube, turn it inside out, press it so the seam doesn’t show on the outside (I keep it in the middle on the inner side of the headband). Fold the edges of the tube inside, so they don’t show, then put one end of the elastic inside the tube, positioning it on top of the seam, then fold that end of the tube toward the elastic and sew it in. After sewing the elastic in the other side also, you’re done!
I’m sure that my attempt to explain the obvious has amused you enough. Laugh all you want, but I thought this was a brilliant idea. Until you make one of these you won’t know what you’re missing. The greatest benefit for me, besides finding a good use for things already in my closet, is that I’ll be able to wear my scarves all summer, which, I must confess, makes me kind of happy. Why don’t you wrap some happiness around you head too?
Copyright 2018 Lori Tiron-Pandit