In the past few weeks I had the greatest luck thrifting: a Madewell Transport tote and a Filofax organizer materialized in front of me, straight out of my dreams. Deserving of a blog post, right? The bag was not something I had been looking for in the thrift shop because considering the bag’s Internet fame (I think every style blogger out there must have one) I didn’t imagine it would appear in thrift shops any time soon. And yet, there it was one day, exactly the color way that I liked the most. The corners were slightly worn and it had some dye rubbed off in some small splotched spots, but otherwise the bag looked great.
At home I used some black leather dye (I use this one to paint every shoe and bag I own lately, to the growing resentment of certain family members who don’t understand why the dinner table must be covered in newspapers and bags and black paint all the time. Sorry!) and conditioner to make it new again.
I am discovering lately that totes are not really the most comfortable of bags. One of the two handles always slips down my shoulder which is very annoying. I might add another strap to make this into a cross body/slouchy hobo thing. We’ll see.
Then, last week I found one thing that I’ve been dreaming of: a Filofax. I was not expecting to find one so quickly (only last fall I learned about Filofaxes and how apparently amazing they are), that was why I had bought another organizer off eBay. This Filofax is a personal size Kensington, a style that I understand is discontinued. It was burgundy in color when I found it (why don’t I ever take before photos, why?) but the same leather dye turned it into black. Now that red button stands out really nicely, doesn’t it? I moved all the inserts from the eBay organizer into the Filofax and again great luck: they fit perfectly. I’m all set.
Even the little frame wallet peeking out of the bag is a new thrift find. Not that I needed another wallet either (I don’t usually use wallets, but pouches that hold everything I own), but this one was too cute to resist. And I can alway put the other pouches to other good uses.
Now I’m promising myself that the only things I’ll look for at the thrift store for a while will be linen tops and dresses. Nothing else. Unless it’s something exceptional like these latest finds. But otherwise nothing else. For sure. Probably.
Because this winter has been so difficult and long and depressing, I found myself enjoying crafty projects more than I have been in the past several years. There was a time, all the way back toward the beginnings of this blog, when I used to take my sewing machine out daily, and I used to have a knitting or crochet project started at all times. Now the sewing machine only gets pulled out when I need to adjust or repair something, and I haven’t touched the knitting needles for year. I never make anything from scratch anymore, because I fail to see value in the clothes that I make (I only see the mistakes). However, there are very few additions to my closet that haven’t suffered some sort of adjustment, because when I find something in the thrift store, I tend to see the potential in my head, rather than the reality that’s right there in front of my eyes.
Yes, so this big intro was to say that I haven’t sewn or knitted anything of interest lately, but instead, I have been working on jewelry.
I don’t wear a lot of jewelry. Several bracelets and a pair of earrings are usually it. Only when I dress up I often throw on a knotted, waist-long necklace. And this has worked well for me for a long time. This past summer, however, I bought a short bead necklace from the thrift store and I thought that it went really well with any casual t-shirt or blouse, without feeling fussy at all. I liked it. I am also liking this trend right now of layering delicate necklaces with various pendants. So I looked in my jewelry box for old, unloved pieces that I could work with to make something I’d wear today. For one necklace I repurposed some silver beads from another necklace that I didn’t use anymore, and from a pair of old earrings bought from a Tibetan store in Cambridge I made the lotus pendant. A tie pin that I had bought several years ago from a thrift store in Ogunquit became the pendant for another necklace. The big tube bead is the only thing I bought new from a bead supply website. I am liking my resulting creations quite a bit.
Now of course I don’t wear a necklace quite every day, as I was imagining. Especially since I can’t seem to take off these hanging earrings that I made from an old silver chain and a pair of amber-bead stud earrings that I wasn’t wearing (I don’t like taking my earrings off at night and the studs hurt when I sleep). I often feel that big earrings should not compete with a necklace; it’s too much for me. I wish I could embrace fully the boho aesthetic of layering a hundred and one pieces of jewelry, but I’m always struggling somewhere between baroque and minimalist tendencies.
I also often feel that jewelry doesn’t make sense unless it has meaning for the wearer, and I don’t have many meaningful pieces. I don’t generally allow objects to acquire meaning. There must be something interesting to decode in that behavior, but maybe later. Someday, when I won’t feel this frugal, I’m might get a Cucuteni Goddess pendant, or a Brancusi’s Kiss replica (although I would prefer a Mademoiselle Pogany, if I could find one in silver, not gold). Right now, though, I’m quite content with what I have. It’s already much more than I need, but then jewelry is never a need. Unless it has meaning, symbolism, and magic. But these qualities often come with time and wear, don’t they?
I tend to feel very cold in the mornings, when I wake up long before the sun, because the baby is an early riser. Those are the hours when I want to wrap myself in a shawl to warm up while I drink my coffee and read my blogs, before I start making breakfast for the kids and an actual effort to wake up.
When I go thrifting, many of the treasures I find are things that I never thought I needed. That’s how I found the crochet black shawl that reminded me of my great grandmother (on top of the pictured pile). My great grandmother used to crochet every day. She could make everything and she would constantly ask visitors to bring her thread and new projects. And yet, I have nothing left from her. I remember her always covered almost head to toe in a gigantic black shawl. A gigantic black shawl leaning on a walking stick.
It was also unexpectedly like that I found my grey Indian shawl (pictured at the bottom of this pile), a blend of silk and wool I think, which I and the baby have been using a lot this winter and the last. I found it in the “fabric” section of the thrift store. The fabric is so pleasant to the touch, and so shiny and beautiful to look at! Even my Indian mother-in-law admired it (or maybe she questioned why we buy Indian stuff from outside India, I don’t know, I don’t speak Hindi, so in all honesty I probably understand a completely different story from the one she tells me).
Sometimes, and those moments are very rare, as they should be, the universe works in my favor and I find in the thrift shop something that had been on my list of treasures for ages. And those days are just magic, of course.
For a very long time, however, I’ve wanted a large Russian-style shawl (by Russian I mean Pavlovo-Posad style). In Romania, Russian-style shawls are a very traditional accessory. My grandmother has always worn one to church ever since I’ve known her. I have a Russian scarf from her. When I was a child I used to admire this one a lot, and I had declared it “my inheritance.” When I moved to US now more than ten years ago, my grandmother told me I could have the scarf. I have to admit that I don’t wear it a lot, but I still love to look at it every once in a while. But a shawl, a large shawl, I knew would come in handy on those frosty mornings when I come downstairs with the baby, still half asleep and shivering, and missing the warmth of the bed blankets.
I looked on ebay for Russian shawls, but they are (rightly) pretty expensive. Besides, I don’t find buying from Ebay as fun as thrifting, so although I will look up things once in a while, I very rarely buy something from there. So I put the shawl on the list of things to look for when I go to Savers. I never pass by the scarf section without going through each and every one and this past week, there it was, in all it’s very-colorful-roses-on-blue-background glory. I loved it so much that even though I couldn’t find any label or fabric content I just bought it. I assumed it had to be a Pavlovo-Posad shawl. Well, when I washed it at home I discovered the label, and while it is 100% wool, it’s Japanese-made, not Russian. I think I can live with that though, because it clearly wants to be a Russian shawl, so that’s what it will be for me.
Shawls fascinate me. They can be warm blankets, they can be decorative neck wear, and they can be protective cloaks. In my new book (still editing! I know. It’s been forever) they play quite a prominent role. There is something of mystery and magic about shawls, regardless of the tradition from which they come, and life can always use a sprinkle or two of those spices, to become more palatable, don’t you think?
Art, adornment and ritual are what distinguished modern humans from their predecessors. Somehow our species developed a taste for seemingly useless, wasteful habits. Why would they waste time painting caves, give away resources by burying the dead with their earthly possessions, and paint their skins or wear amulets and beads that were hard to come by and costly to produce? Somehow our race arrived to the conclusion, very early, that there is more than the eye can see, that the world is a place of magic and wonder and we are not only flesh and bone.
This is how I feel about my bag. It is a collection of objects, but at the same time it is much more than that. It carries signifiers of the moment in my life (diaper pouch), of my values, my habits. It shows the random workings of my mind (that pyramidal tea sachet is meant to as a distraction for the baby, not to be used as actual tea). My bag is also my amulet: it makes me feel safe in the world. It carries my little objects and treasures and it protects me. It is my invisibility cloak: when I feel overwhelmed by the outside world, I start fidgeting with my bag, taking stuff out, rearranging things, etc. It’s like moving into a different space.
I remember the first bag my mother ever bought for me and every single bag I owned after that. I think this is because I attach so much emotion to my bags.
The one I am wearing these days was found in a thrift shop and it’s the best ever. It can fit a lot but I am carrying little stuff nowaday. As little as possible. The diaper pouch is actually missing from this photo, but it is just slightly larger than my wallet (which is actually also just a pouch). And the planner is only rarely in there. I use it to plan my days and motivate myself in the mornings, and I rarely need it later in the day. You will however often find little hats and mittens in these, as the baby sheds them throughout the day. I also always carry my mint and oregano essential oil mix, which is not pictured either. It often helps soothe headaches, and I also use it when I’m feeling tired and sleepy or I can’t concentrate.
That’s about it, really. It’s already more than anyone would care, probably. Sorry about that. Next week I promise to come to you with something of more substance. No more bag insides for the next three years. (This, in case you don’t remember, although of course you do, was my bag three years ago. Looks like November is the Month of the Bag for me.)
I have been reading a lot of articles (and watching documentaries) about Janis Joplin in the past few days. That wild hair, the bell sleeves, the unending strings of beads. Everything that you think of when you think hippy. I’ve always felt attracted to that style. Although recently I have been moving away from the ethnic and ethereal embroidery and lace and toward the black and grey chunky, boxy and oversized, the hippy esthetic still pulls me like a magnet and I think it will always be, in one way or another, a part of me.
“The first hippie pinup girl,” as Janis Joplin thought of herself, was however hardly a role model. And that is probably because her image is too multifaceted. She was too real and honest in everything in her life. She has remained in our cultural memory as a complex personality full of contradictions and marked by dualities. A purveyor of women’s liberation who longed for the ideal of traditional romantic love. A free spirit who was tormented by not being conventionally pretty. A national-stature rock star who wanted most to have a family and make her parents happy and proud.
Her look was a big influence and a huge part of her persona. Her loose clothing and wild hair had a big role to play in liberating women at the time from the restrictive girdled clothing styles and complicated coiffures. Janis Joplin & The New Feminism by Jerome L. Rodnitzky is a very interesting article that I recommend if you want to find out more about the role she played, even unwittingly, in the Women’s Liberation Movement whose rise coincided with Janis Joplin’s own rise to fame.
An interesting discovery for me was that Janis Joplin used a lot of thrift store clothing and she sewed many of her own clothes too. No wonder I find her style so appealing.
“FASHION NEWS: I went out & bought myself a $35 pair of boots. Oh they are so groovey!! They’re old-fashioned in their style-tight w/buttons up the front. Black. FANTASTIC! When I get back, I’m going to rent a sewing machine & make myself some sort of beautiful/outlandish dress to go w/them.” Janis Joplin, September 1966 (From Janis Joplin: Daring to be Different, by Kinsley Suer PortlandCenterStage–you can read a lot of interesting info about her style in this article.)
Some will say that this is a battle that is over and that we won: feminists can wear as high a pair of heels and as red a lipstick as they want and still not be excluded from the club, the membership to which is awarded to them at birth. (Yes, men feminists have more to prove before they are allowed in. Tough luck!) But I don’t know if this perceived freedom is a real one or one projected to us in our slumber pods.
Sure, we can do whatever the hell we want and that is called freedom. Women didn’t have that for a very long time. Women have been prescribed what to wear since forever: cover your legs, don’t show your cleavage, hair, arms, etc. Of course we’ll celebrate the freedom of wearing whatever on earth we feel like. But are revealing clothes and heavy makeup really where we must to go? Just because we can? This choice can be empowering but the kind of power it offers is not of real value. It’s a tiny, despised power. It is not durable, it is not respected, it’s not something we can hold up in pride. It’s subversive and very demeaning.
However, it does often seem like the “body celebrating” clothes are the only choice women have, if we go by the media.
I watch Project Runway religiously. I enjoy the creative process behind the making of clothes and none of the offensive aspects of the fashion industry have managed to put me off. However, every time I hear that clothes need to be “sexy” (which happens every two minutes in every single episode) I am driven up the wall. No, clothes do not need to be sexy. They do not need to make us “attractive.” I dislike that implication. That idea that’s being taught to our girls that they must “show off” their bodies is heart-breaking.
My daughter enjoys watching music videos. This happens lately every day before going to bed. Which is a problem, because it’s very hard to find strong female singers with a clean, not overly sexualized image. Why does it have to be like this?
Clothes can make us feel good (with their warmth, the feel of their fabrics, their message, their history, etc.) and they can make us look interesting, they can give us a different persona, they can play along with our moods. They can do a lot. But no, they should not have to be sexy and make us “attractive”. Give us a break.
When we can wear whatever we want, is tight, uncomfortable clothing that makes us self-conscious really what we want the most?
I don’t advocate for “modest” clothing (that sounds very anti-feminist and I don’t want to be accused) but I vote for personal comfort and pleasure. Nothing should make me feel like I need to pay attention to my clothes after I put them on the in the morning. They should not remind me of their existence throughout the day, because I don’t have time for that.
Freedom always comes with responsibility, and the choices we have to make weigh heavy on our shoulders and on those of the generations coming after us. I think in order to make a difference and really break the patriarchal puppeteer strings, we need to choose the durable, valuable power that comes not from using our sexuality but from using our brains, our empathy, our emotional intelligence, our instincts, our affectionate and caring natures.
Sure, sometimes we find ourselves in situations where using our sexuality is an advantage that we cannot ignore, and it’s our bodies, and we can do whatever we want, so we might choose to use this advantage. But let’s not make that our primary or only choice. Because it’s reductive and damaging.
Sure, there is a good time for sexy clothes: like when we explicitly go out looking for a mate. But that is not every day and in every situation, is it? Often we just go looking for a job. Or for groceries.
Because it’s not just about clothes. It never is. It ends up being about who we are to the core. And I think most of us like to believe we’re much more than just our bodies and our sexuality. We are much more complex, amazing creatures with diverse interests and qualities, with a myriad individual oddities and brilliance and follies. Our clothes maybe can represent some of that instead of just showing “sexy”. Just saying.
I am that. In a bad way. And to my disgust. OK, not disgust, but certainly embarrassment, because I like to think (pretend?) I am above this sort of undesirable behavior. Anyways . . . , right, about superficiality and snobbery.
It cannot escape any of us who really look that image is (about) everything in today’s society. We are taught to project incessantly: to project who we want to be, to dress like the person we want to become, because everyone else around will accept that image of us happily. So most of us know all these things and follow all these percepts, and are in most part aware of the con, but we still start to lose contact with the people we really are behind the persona we create in such painful detail that it becomes more realistic than reality itself.
I am not who I am, but the face I see in the pictures I upload on the Internet. I am not who I am, but what my resume describes. I am not who I am, but what my bank account says about me or the fees that I charge you to hire me. I am my stuff (particularly my gadgets and my clothes), but also my house, my car, the food I choose to eat, the drinks I prefer to savor. Personality. What is it? How much of it is genuine and how much just intentional (as opposed to instinctual) choices that are part of a bigger design.
I like to wear maxi dresses, long strands of beads, and large silk scarves, to read on my cute e-book reader and take photos with my beautiful retro-looking digital camera (I’m sometimes self-conscious about said camera, which is really too good-looking and people sometimes offer to take our family photos just so they can handle the camera — at least that’s what I suspect, because I don’t believe in an inherently good human nature). I can make a fuss about synthetic fibers, plastics in the kitchen and chemicals in body-care products.
I’m not too fussy about food. I eat a low-gluten, low-carb diet mostly trying to lose weight (and because I noticed other benefits, like improved energy levels and such), but I otherwise eat pretty much anything when I’m not at my house. I really don’t have any food issues — it goes in the stomach and soothes the hunger pangs, it’s perfect for me. If you invite me over for dinner, I will eat, enjoy and be grateful for anything you take the effort to put in front of me.
But then I have a few issues with objects that signify my inclusion into the writing profession: I go crazy with notebooks, laptops, pens and coffee mugs sitting just so on the writing table (sofa-side shelf in my case–you can see it in the image that illustrates of this post and also this one here). I love those things. I buy them, collect them, store them attractively all over the house. Do I do this because of what they signify outwardly or because I’m naturally attracted to writing implements? A little of both, most probably. Sometimes, though, I feel like I like to be surrounded by books more than I actually like reading books. (Well, that cannot be true because very few things are more pleasurable than reading a good book, for sure. How come, though, I’m reading so much less lately?) I worry that I might like the idea of writing more than writing itself. That I like to project my image as a writer more than I actually make the effort to accomplish my writing goals.
The art world is filled with people who cultivated their image with great care while still producing work of indubitable quality. Lord Byron, Oscar Wilde, and Andy Warhol come to mind immediately. I am not here to dismiss the created persona and support the “authentic self.” I do not believe that latter really, truly can exist without context. These aspect of our personality that we have control over, the stuff that makes us, is what other people see when they look at us, what they can remember and what they can transmit to others. Therein resides its value. We are social, communal beings. Much of our survival depends on what others think about us, on how they treat us, so how can we not create whatever image is more beneficial and conducive to survival?
The problem arises when we really get into it and become unable to separate our inner self from our projected one. When we start taking ourselves too seriously. When we lose self-awareness. When we forgo the practice of introspection. This blog post here is my effort to keep myself in line and achieve a good balance in my own life. I need to work harder at behind-the-curtain stuff, and to think less of how I look and how it all looks.
Because I am having to clean out my closets in preparation for grandparents arriving to spend some time with us during the summer and in a general effort to reduce and give away for others to reuse. So it’s high time I looked through my beloved piles of clothes to streamline the wardrobe for this season. It’s a longish process that I just started. It might take me another week or two to finish. Very complicated stuff.
I already I noticed one big difference from the previous years: the jeans are staying over for the summer instead of being packed up in the winter basket. And they are all wide-leg ones, because really, who wants to feel any garment too close to steaming skin in the heat of July and August? So very nonminimalist of me, but it looks like I have two summer uniforms this year: one is wide-leg jeans and colorful/printed light cotton or silk shirts, while the other consists of colorful, swishy, silk or linen maxi skirts with plain tees or tanks made of breezy cotton or linen knits.
Another big difference from the previous summers is that I am not feeling drawn to dresses at all anymore. Right, a big reason for that is the nursing of the little baby, which does not go well with dresses, unless said dresses would have buttons to open in front, which is not the case for the ones I own. So it’s separates all the way, every single day, hey, hey.
It’s interesting to analyze (a very serious and intellectually stimulating wardrobe-investigation process, don’t make the mistake of thinking otherwise) why, try as I might, I cannot make the two sets of uniforms work together. The shirts that go with the dresses would make a too bland outfit with the jeans (although there are bland days here and there, just right for such a getup) and the shirts that go with the jeans will not match the skirts unless I am planning for a madhouse eclectic look or early eighteen-century prairie fairy style. I know fashion bloggers are big on print mixing, but I am not one of those highly skilled people. For the jeans I kept aside all my peasant shirts, with embroideries, crochet details and beautiful floral prints. They are my favorite shirts and yet they will get little wear this season: only on jeans days. Which will be fewer than the skirt days, especially by the end of summer, when I’m out of my mind and done with the heat, and when I will rely solely on uniform two.
My mother reminds me that as a child I was very hard to shop for when it came to clothes. “You didn’t like anything,” she says. And the truth is that I didn’t like anything of what she liked. Because she wouldn’t buy me long skirts, which have been a staple of my style since I was about three years old (I am often subjected to amused retellings of family anecdotes involving little me stumbling in too long skirts all around my grandparents’ village). People referred to me as “the long skirt girl” at my first job. I remember that fondly.
The predominant colors in my wardrobe are kind of a surprise to me. Mustard yellow seems to be my brightest color choice. Very interesting. Otherwise whites and blues and bits of orange (all expected) and browns. There was no brown in my ideal wardrobe color analysis. I am kind of over browns intellectually, but I think it still appeals to me on an emotional level. It’s earthy and soothing. I’ll keep it.
Right. So, here I am all ready for summer. I now realize that I never had a too great impulse to analyze my cold season clothes. There must be a good reason for that. I guess. I’ll give it more of a thought later, when the return of the chill in the air compels me. I’m happy now with thoughts of great heat, sweltering hours spent by the lake, evenings chilled by large bowls of watermelon. While in a billowing skirt and a gauzy top.
Last week I colored my hair with commercial hair dye, one of those that can be found in every pharmacy and supermarket. After years of using only henna on my hair. Because I couldn’t stand my bright-red temples, or the always peeking out gray. Because I felt I needed to look better.
For about four or five years, I have been dyeing my hair exclusively with henna. It was cheap (from any Indian grocery store) and as natural as it gets. It worked well for a while, covering some of my prematurely melanin-deprived tresses. Lately I have been noticing that the gray is taking over at a faster rate, and I feel it’s too early to just let it be. I’m not ready yet, although I like to believe that I won’t mind it as much later in life. A full head of beautiful white hair. It can be the best look ever. But who knows. Maybe in my eighties.
All my gray is covered now and I am happy about that. And while I do feel like I am compromising the health of my locks (and not only), I don’t think I can return to henna. There are few things that can make me take a fall off the natural living wagon, and it looks like vanity is one of them. Because I am shallow and my convictions are weak like that.
But I also don’t think that I can make myself use again this regular, heavily-chemical product either. I feel that my hair is limp and lifeless and my scalp is dry and flaky. And I feel like this is not who I am.
Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a truly natural hair color that works. There are some products out there that would represent a sort of compromise, but I need to try many brands before I find something good.
Finding the right natural products is always a pain. So much label squinting, so much checking of impossible to pronounce ingredients on the Skin Deep website. Such high prices. The easier path, of course, would be to use directly the raw materials and make my own concoctions, but that sometimes doesn’t work too well, or not anymore, like my henna. So I will have to go to our natural foods store and again spend a whole hour of my very precious baby-free time researching the few options that they carry. I almost always end up feeling sad that many of these companies that promote their stuff as natural are just trying to take advantage of the green hype, instead of actually abiding to some well-meaning principles of selling a good, safe product, and doing fair business. Because money is more important than people most of the time, in this world we live in.
So I’m not looking forward to this “market research” (to call it something fancy). It sometimes leads to good results, and I happily find a products that I want to use forever, only to realize that after a few short years, when the company makes it big, they change their formulas, and the products are nowhere near as healthy as they once used to be. I think even letting the gray hair be might seem more appealing than doing all that work. But probably not.
For the past two months my family had quite a pleasant Sunday routine that involved my husband taking my daughter to skating lessons while the baby and I spent time in Savers looking around for treasures. There have been days when I didn’t buy anything, although the kids always seem to need one thing or another. They grow out of sizes at such a fast rate that clothes are consumables in our house. I should file the expenses under groceries. This post, however, is not about clothes needed by fast-growing children, but about an unnecessary bag for their mother.
I definitely didn’t need another bag. I didn’t. A year or two ago I had reached the perfect balance of bags. I have one bag (or two) for each imaginable situation: I have bags for winter and bags for summer, I have tiny fancy bags that work nicely for evening events, and slouchy, cross-body bags that I can travel well with me. I have big bags that can be diaper bag (or laptop bag) and purse at the same time, I have diaper bag/purse combos (the purse is small enough to go inside the diaper bag when needed, but also has enough space for essentials like phone, wallet, sunglasses and keys). I have tan, brown and black bags, and even a pink evening bag, because who knows when a little black dress (which I don’t own and possibly never will) might ask for a colorful little accessory. So, yeah, no need for a new bag. But then when I saw this pretty little leather one with it’s beautiful hardware and attractive rounded corners, I couldn’t resist. And it was only $4.
I have been wearing it exclusively now for two weeks and I am very happy with it. I am happier than if I had resisted buying it, I think. Which I often think I should have, because I own enough crap already and I don’t have the time or the energy to take care of it all (my basement is a messy testimony to that). But it was cheap and small. At least I got stopped from purchasing two lounge chairs that were cheap and lovely. Really lovely. They only needed new upholstery, and maybe an extra room in the house. See, good that I bought that bag that helped me resist bigger temptations. I think that maybe I should just enjoy it for now and stop obsessing over needs versus wants. Sometimes there is little reason to our actions, and that should be acceptable. As long as it stays in the realm of sometimes and doesn’t become every day. As long as it’s small and cheap and beautiful. As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone. (The planet? Of course you had to remind me of that! Come on, stop giving me such a hard time. Just this once.)
Copyright 2018 Lori Tiron-Pandit