Lipstick & Loss

This I Wear | Style Lessons from My Grandma

Just two weeks ago, my grandmother passed away unexpectedly (and not the same grandmother who was unwell earlier this year). When I got the news, it was as if all of my memories of her suddenly filled a book in my mind that slammed shut. It felt as though only the strongest memories were inscribed in the half-a-second it took me to understand what had happened, and the little details that I remembered of her started to slip away. To capture them, I started writing.

I wanted to remember the taste of her stuffed bell peppers and macaroni and cheese, her insatiable appetite for ice cream and all things sweet, her stubbornness and sense of independence, her love of camellias and roses, how she’d chase me with $20 when I visited just to say “thank you” for spending time with her, and how proud she was of me. She introduced me to Martha Stewart and the idea of always having things look “just so” and offered her own example of somehow being able to make things perfect effortlessly. How she did it and raised seven children, I will never really know, though I will say that except in her later years, I rarely saw her sit down.

Mere, as we called her, means “mother” in French, the heritage of my mother’s side of the family. And she did all of the motherly things you can imagine – feed us until we nearly burst, rub our backs and hug us tight, and make sure we knew she appreciated her time with us.

On the way to the airport to fly back to New York after my visit with family for the funeral, we stopped at my grandfather’s home. My aunt offered my mom some of Mere’s makeup. My mom said she’d take the lipsticks.

When I discovered these in the car as we continued on our way to the airport, I told my mom I had to photograph them and asked her to pick a parking spot with good natural light. I think my mom thought I was crazy but was willing to humor me as we dug in the trunk of her car for props to create a makeshift backdrop. Lipsticks, as any woman knows, are incredibly personal. Each of us leaves our signature mark and shape on our lipsticks through use. My grandmother, it turns out, was a rounded, yet slightly angled lipstick shape. (I, on the other hand, am a very sharp angle…)

The lipsticks reminded me of all of her fashion rules, of which she had many. She truly took as much pride in her appearance as she did in her home and in her family. Here are just a few of her rules, almost all of which I must admit I break frequently:

1. Your shoes and bag must always match. Never, heaven forbid, should you wear black shoes with a brown bag or even brown pants. This is strictly prohibited. Black with black, brown with brown, and navy with navy.

2. Never leave your house without looking your best. You never know whom you will run into! Make sure to pass this sense of pride on to the people around you.

3. Know what looks good on you and stick with it. In the years I knew her, she almost exclusively wore separates, especially structured jackets, rather than dresses. Know what works on you and own it.

4. Get the fit right. Find a good tailor (such as your daughters) and make it fit your body type.

5. If you love something, buy multiples. In fact, you can never have enough ¾ sleeved white boat neck shirts, even if your stuffed closet tells you otherwise.

I agree with each of these rules to varying degrees, but they undoubtedly play a significant part in my memories of her. I think she would have been very proud to see how well we all looked as we came together to celebrate her.

Indigo in Brooklyn

This I Wear | Indigo Dyeing

My only critique of the indigo dyeing class that I took this past Saturday was that the soundtrack to the class was not Miles Davis “Kind of Blue”, which I am listening to now as I write this. Otherwise, my class at Buaisou Brooklyn was perfect.

Even if you aren’t familiar with natural dyes, chances are you know indigo. It is the original source of the color of your denim. It can be found across cultures and regions of the world. But the truth today is that most of the indigo color that we see is from synthetic (petroleum-based) indigo dye, which was invented just to keep up with our insatiable demand for the deep blue hue.

Indigo is a pretty special plant. While I mistakenly thought it was the root that is used for the dye, it’s actually the leaves, which are fermented. Unlike other natural dyes, indigo also requires no mordant, i.e. a substance added to fix the dye so it doesn’t come out in the wash. It’s no wonder that there is a unique culture that surrounds this plant and its age-old history.

Buaisou is a relative newcomer in the indigo world, created to preserve the indigo culture in Japan and its historic cultivation on an island in the south of the archipelago. They now own a farm in a region that used to be overflowing with indigo farmers, and they travel the world leading dyeing workshops.

In Brooklyn, though, workshops are available weekly, and I joined one after my boyfriend signed us up (he’s awesome like that). Even with a pizza-induced food coma from nearby Roberta’s, the class was so much fun. After a brief intro, each student is given two pieces of plain cloth to dye and total artistic freedom. If that sounds intimidating, it’s not. You literally cannot mess up, so it’s perfect for beginners and more experienced creatives. The only other choice you have to make is if you want to wear gloves when you submerge your pieces in the dye vat or whether you want the street cred of blue hands.

Natural dyes are a tricky subject when it comes to sustainability. The critics would caution that because they are natural does not mean they are organic and free from pesticides, and that devoting good farmland to cultivation of plants grown for dyeing isn’t sustainable because we need to produce food on that land to feed a growing world population. Natural dye advocates argue that natural dyestuffs can be byproducts of food production (example, onion skins and other vegetable waste) and lessen our dependence on petroleum-based dyes. Both sides have their merits.

Indigo is a special story and many of its advocates, including Buaisou, focus on cultural preservation as the art dies away with aging farmers and master dyers.

I believe that indigo production and use at this small artisan level can be sustainable and is most definitely worth saving. Perhaps you’ll try it for yourself to learn more and decide.

Check out Buasiou’s Brooklyn class schedule here. You can also check the site to see if they are hosting a workshop in your city. And as you can probably guess, their Instagram accounts are stunningly beautiful – follow @buaisou_japan and @buaisou_brooklyn.

New Reads for Summer

This I Wear | Summer Reads 2015

Last summer, I set my expectations too high. I planned to read three books but only succeeded in reading one of them. Dan Barber’s Third Plate was too big to carry in my bag during my commute, so I gave up. Fashion and Sustainability read too much like a textbook, and I lost interest. But I successfully read Let My People Go Surfing and luckily that one was fantastic and a very easy read.

Despite a small sense of failure on my reading last summer, Summer Reading remains my favorite hot weather tradition. This year, I’m making failure impossible and recommending a book I’m already nearing the end of and one that everyone but me may have read already.

Women In Clothes by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits and Leanne Shapton
This is not the book you throw in your bag for some subway-commuter reading because there’s a lot of pages.. Yet it is such a delightful read that you will find yourself stealing away small moments just to read a few pages. In fact, I read the majority of it so voraciously that when I realized I was nearing the end, I made myself slow down to make it last longer. The book itself is the result of surveys to hundreds of real women plus interviews, photo stories and random encounters, all on one topic: women and their relationship with clothes. It is a storytelling masterpiece in many small snippets and bits, and if you like my blog, you will LOVE this collection of stories.

What’s truly wonderful about the book is that it’s impossible not to identify with at least some of the women, which also makes it easy to laugh when an interview subject says something that hits truly close to home. The book is also not about sustainability or minimalism, yet the topics come up in beautifully surprising ways from stories of trying to develop a personal uniform, learning about where clothes come from, understanding quality, and our emotional connection to clothes. I think I may in fact give this book to every woman in my life this coming Christmas, because there is something about it that so deeply expresses how clothing and fashion relate to how we view ourselves as women across many different cultures, ages, and orientations. Did I mention that I love it?

And if you read it and want to take the survey yourself, it’s still accessible by clicking here.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
Perhaps all of you have read this book already, but I have been holding out for the sole reason of hoping a friend would let me borrow her copy, since I knew people were buying it in droves. I happen to love organizing, and I’m asked repeatedly if I would consider doing it professionally (not at this time, but I’d love to work with you on a one-time project – email me!). But there is always something new to learn and from what I’ve heard, Marie’s process of helping people find joy in what they do keep seems totally refreshing and inspiring. I think I also have a fear that she is advising everyone to throw things in the trash as I’ve been reading news stories of the sheer volume of now-orphaned “stuff” as a result of this book. I’m also very curious if she has tips for people on how to avoid buying more things once they’ve tossed everything out, since that is important too.

So those are the two books I’ve got lined up for the summer. I hope you’ll share your recommendations in the Comments, especially for some light summery fiction (nothing too intense please!), since I’m almost always in the non-fiction section. Happy reading!

Trend or Timeless: Skinny Jeans

This I Wear | Trend or Timeless: Skinny Jeans

It was not that many years ago when I bought my first pair of skinny jeans. I remember them and miss them so intensely. They were black, slightly stretchy Gap jeans, and they had brass zippers at each ankle that went up the calf. I remember them down to the thoughts that went through my head in the dressing room as I was deciding whether or not I was someone who could do skinny jeans. Not because of my body type but because of my fear of being trapped in them.

“Well, at least these have a zipper, so if you start feeling claustrophobic in them, you can unzip the legs while you break free,” I assured myself.

And I did use that as an escape route on multiple occasions, often if I wore them when it was too hot. By the time I got up the stairs to my apartment, perhaps I’d be sweating so profusely, I’d unzip the side zips before I attempted to peel myself out of them. I never knew if I was really going to make it out alive.

Oh how I loved them as did my two roommates at the time, since we all had the same pair. But I wore them to death, and so we parted ways after I squatted down to pick something up and the crotch ripped. It was time.

Embarrassing moment aside, I’ve been on the skinny jean train since then. If it wasn’t for skinny jeans, I might never have met my other dear friend, the thong.

But with everyone pushing boyfriend jeans on me for what has been a surprising number of seasons when you really think about it, I wonder how long the skinny will reign? At this point, I feel like they’ve been around for ever, but of course it is all relative in the world of fashion.

What do you think? Will the skinny jean join other classics and be considered timeless style? Or will it go down as just another trend? How long can something does something have to be in style to become timeless? (Or is that irrelevant?) Also, what kind of denim are you wearing these days?

Happy Fourth of July to all and I hope you’ll be wearing the most American of pants, the noble jean, as you celebrate this weekend!

[Photos, left to right: here, here, and here]

Travel Light: Asheville, North Carolina

This I Wear | Travel Guide: Asheville, North Carolina

I don’t know if it was just in the cards, but my summer is filling up with travel plans even faster than spring did. Just last week, I spent four beautiful sunny days in Asheville, North Carolina, which in case you haven’t heard, has been on the top of every “best places to live” list for the last few years.

Like Portland, Oregon last year, I was drawn to the city for the opportunities to get out in nature as well as enjoy a local scene that really encourages and supports truly local businesses. It was too good to keep to myself, so I’m sharing a brief guide here on what to do, where to eat and shop, and where to stay for those who are looking to travel “light” as I do.

Light, in this case, means focusing most on experience and less on stuff. It means enjoying the people and local flavor while being as thoughtful about your travel footprint when you’re in someone else’s community as when you’re in your own.

So here are just a few ideas for how to travel light and enjoy Asheville:

How to Get There
Flights into Asheville’s small regional airport can be limited and expensive, so we flew into Charlotte, NC. If you’re going to be hiking and exploring, having a car is unfortunately still your best mode of transit, so the two-hour drive to Asheville just made sense. Make the drive more exciting by stopping at Chimney Rock on the way to climb the 26-stories of sturdy stairs up to a beautiful lookout. (There’s also an elevator for those not up for the climb.)

Where to Stay
Asheville is obviously a city deep in transition and growing fast. Hotels are still limited to big box hotels, though a few hipper ones are starting to open up. We skipped the hotel route in favor of the low-key, friendly option of AirBnB. We stayed in a beautiful quiet room in East Asheville that had a spectacular flower-filled backyard this time. Next time, I’d look for a place in West Asheville to spend more time in what seemed like the Brooklyn of Asheville.

Where to Eat
Hole Doughnuts (West Asheville) – Delicious tea, coffee and doughnuts are the focus at Hole Doughnuts, a shabby chic little café. The staff is beyond friendly and you can watch as they make your doughnuts to order, flipping them in the oil with a pair of drumsticks. This was the first spot I noticed had a sign that they pay their employees a living wage, part of a certification program led locally by Just Economics of Western NC. Great doughnuts, great people.

Sunny Point Café (West Asheville) – Breakfast is served all day here, but we came early and were rewarded with a fantastic meal. If you’re there when there’s a wait, fill up a cup of coffee and wander through the garden in the back where they grow much of their vegetables. What they can’t grow themselves, they source from other local businesses. They earned extra points from me for the great options for loose leaf tea.

Creperie Bouchon (Downtown) – Through a lovely alleyway, you’ll find the courtyard that the restaurant spills out onto. Grab a table under an umbrella and enjoy a crepe or a Croque Monsieur along with an affordable local beer on tap. The creperie and its sister restaurant, Bouchon, like the majority in the area, source many of the ingredients from local farms.

Chai Pani (Downtown) – Despite the temptation to only eat Southern food while in Asheville, we caved to eat at this Indian street food restaurant that serves some of the best and most unique Indian dishes I’ve had. Their website also has a full list of their sustainable practices if you aren’t convinced yet.

Salsa’s (Downtown) – Thanks to the car rental representative in Asheville, we heard that the nachos here were not to be missed (even if some other things on the menu were a little strange). It was good advice. The nachos (and the margaritas) were some of the best I had ever had, and the fish tacos were only passable. Go for the nachos.

Where to Drink
Wicked Weed Brewing (Downtown) – There are too many breweries to even begin to list, but this one was a great choice. With over 20 small batch beers on tap, it was fun to sample a few. I highly recommend trying the Black Angel Cherry Sour for something totally unique.

Top of the Monk (Downtown) – Above the popular pub, The Thirsty Monk, is a speakeasy with a rooftop that is limited to only 30 people at a time. The line is short, and you’ll be treated to delicious pre-Prohibition cocktails that each come with a complimentary snack. It’s luxuriously spacious and laid back, which makes it even cooler.

Where to Shop
Horse + Hero (Downtown) – A paper goods shop stocking prints, cards and original artwork from over 30 local artists.

Nest Organics (Downtown) – A mom and daughter-owned shop featuring local and international products that all focus on healthy, sustainable living from homewares, like Coyuchi, to sweet gifts for kids.

Old North (Downtown) – A nicely curated boutique of made-to-last clothing for men and women with a staff that can tell you all about a brand and where and how the products are made. While you’re here, pick up a pair of local favorite, Raleigh Denim jeans.

Antique Tobacco Barn – A huge warehouse of antiques in what was literally a tobacco barn, where the tobacco leaves would be hung and dried. You could get lost in here, but it’s worth it. Sometimes the best souvenirs are something old.

What to Do
The surrounding Blue Ridge Parkway provides a great jumping off point for hiking. Head north on the Parkway for trails like Craggy Gardens with its epic flowering pathways, or south for waterfalls and (very cold) swimming holes like Sliding Rock.

If it’s a rainy day, pick up a book at Malaprop’s (for something new) or the Battery Park Book Exchange (for the used edition). While both have their own cafes/bars, you can also take your reading to the Dobra Tea Shop to relax on a floor cushion with a pot of tea.

Feel free to add your Asheville recommendations below or share where you’re headed this summer!

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