Style Story: Shalena + Sweating Pretty

This I Wear | Shalena + Sweating Pretty

Whenever I put my sneakers on, my energy is amazing. Suddenly, I’m dancing in the kitchen, and I haven’t even made it out the door yet for my bike ride. After a yoga session, I can’t stop moving long enough to change out of my workout clothes. But it took a stress-related injury to get me into a regular exercise routine five years ago. And it finally stuck because of one revelation: As soon as I’m wearing workout clothes, I don’t just get over my dislike of sweating, but I want to sweat! I feel a sudden rush of power, and I have to move. Sweating in a dress: not ok. Sweating in spandex: truly enjoyable. I’ve found that what I wear has a huge impact on whether on not I want to work out.

As New Year’s resolutions for fitness fall by the wayside in February, I’d like to propose my own secret to reaching fitness goals: take the same care in picking out and caring for your activewear as you do for your everyday wardrobe. Since I was my only documented success story, I asked my friend Shalena, who has been transformed by a recent but intense running and strength training routine, how her clothes affect her workouts. And I think it’s safe to conclude, the secret is in the gear. Read on for Shalena’s story and her tips for balancing functionality with style.

How did you get into running?

I tried running on a few occasions over the past three years. Each time I attempted to run, I ended up getting injured. I went to a podiatrist, and he tried to give me orthotics and said I’m not built for running. I have flat feet, I’m knock-kneed, and I have big hips. So my alignment isn’t necessarily ideal for a runner. I just thought I’d keep going at it and that I’d eventually become a runner. It was at the end of July that I became serious about it. I started off with the “Couch to 5K” program app on my phone, and then I joined a running group. That was the first time I had ever run more than a mile, and I’ve never been injured since. Previously they said I overpronate and should probably get stability shoes to correct that. But the last time I went to get fitted for shoes, I actually had corrected my stride, and I don’t overpronate anymore. Now I can run like most runners, even though I still have fairly flat feet, though I’m developing arches too. All of those things corrected themselves over time with me just being patient.

Why stick with running if there were so many obstacles?

I think I wanted to focus on it because it had so many obstacles. I’ve never been really athletic. I played tennis for a little bit when I was a kid, I dabbled in dance for a few years, and I did martial arts for a bit. All of those things were fairly easy for me. Running was the only thing I couldn’t accomplish, so I wanted to work harder at it.

What do you wear when you work out? How much thought goes into it?

A lot of thought. I like to run outdoors, so while the weather might determine what I wear, I like to wear bright colors just to make me feel good. Even if I’m wearing black tights, I will wear colorful shoes and a colorful t-shirt or hoodie. I like to have bright colors, because they make me feel happy.

Then if I’m at the gym, and this sounds silly, if I’m doing legwork, I make sure I wear shorts, because I like to see my muscles working. If it’s arm day, I’ll wear no sleeves, so I can see my arms working. It’s a confidence booster, because I can see the transition of my body over time.

Does the outfit make a difference when you’re working out?

It does. I actually accessorize more with my workout outfits than I do with my regular outfits. Aside from the colorful accents on my outfits, I make sure I have really colorful headphones that are also functional. My husband calls my little pouch a fanny pack, but it makes me feel comfortable to know I have everything I need. And it’s kind of 80s, so I can dig that. Or I’ll put my phone in an armband, which has to be comfortable and sleek. I bought a new phone holder that is thinner, neon and reflective, which is important when I’m running at night. They’re functional but also really cute.

Beyond functionality, does what you wear when you exercise impact your confidence?

I don’t wear loose clothing at all when I work out. It’s one of the few times I feel good about showing off my body since I worked so hard for it. It’s not like I’m wearing sports bras and booty shorts, though actually it is a goal of mine to run a race in a sports bra and booty shorts. But it’s one of the times that I’m super-feminine and more fitted, because I worked so hard for the body I have now.

What is your go-to piece?

I have these shorts that hit at the perfect spot where you can see every muscle in my legs. I was so insecure about my legs growing up, because people used to say I had little chubby boy legs since there was absolutely no shape to them. I was so ashamed of them that I would wear oversized basketball shorts in gym class, and it made me look even more like a little boy. Now that I’ve been running, I have so much shape to my legs that I love wearing my shorts.

What is your advice for others if they’re struggling to stay active?

I’ve worked out whenever I can fit it into my schedule. I work two jobs, I’m finishing up school, and I have a husband and friends. When I’m getting up in the morning [to exercise], I lay out my clothes first thing, because it’s so much easier once you see your clothes. You can’t hide from them. They’re kind of taunting you. I always have my staple piece closest to my bed, because if I feel good wearing it, then I want to put it on, even when I don’t feel great.

Do you treat your workout clothes differently than the rest of your wardrobe? Do you keep them as long?

I take good care of my workout outfits. They’re really cute! They’re almost like your favorite pair of jeans. I air-dry them for fear that the dryer is going to ruin them. Also between washes, so I don’t have to go to the laundry everyday, I hand wash them. And if I have favorite tops in a big pile of dirty laundry, I’ll wash the tops separately. I treat them with even more care than I do the rest of my clothes, especially because they can lose a lot of their functional properties when you don’t take care of them. For instance, a lot of the pants I wear wick away the sweat, but if you wash them a lot, that property can disappear. So to preserve that, I really do take care of them by hand washing as needed.

Is it worth it to invest in activewear if you’re just going to sweat in them?

It’s the kind of thing I would invest in upfront. I had a pair of cheap shorts that lasted a long time, but when they go, they really go. You don’t want to be in the middle of a really intense workout and not feel like you are supported where you need to be supported. I make sure my pants are fitted, so I feel like I’m not jiggling everywhere, which can be painful. I switch out my sports bras every two months, because they lose their elasticity. I change my sneakers every 300 miles, and I have an app on my phone, which tracks my sneaker use. That investment upfront makes a difference with how long you keep your clothes.

What do you do with your sneakers once you are done with them?

I switch from using them for running to using them as an everyday shoe. I keep them for years and years at a time. Even though I won’t run in them after three months, I keep them because they’re really cute, and I’ll pair them with my everyday outfits.

Any final advice?

What helped me get motivated to workout was also the process of going shopping for clothes. I’m not a shopper, but to be able to try on things that you may not have fit into a month or two ago, is a confidence booster. You don’t have to purchase the clothes, but to try them on to see how they fit is an awesome experience. I don’t like to shop for everyday clothes – it’s too much pressure. But there are so many workout clothes that are cute and fashionable, it can really motivating.

Quick tip: if you do have old sneakers that are too smelly to donate, drop them off at your local Nike or Converse store (or any of the locations listed on their website), which accept all sneakers for their Reuse-a-Shoe program that recycles them into future products.

(Photos provided by Shalena)

My Closet: Flea Market bracelets + Sorting through the junk

This I Wear | Flea Market Bracelets

I’m a Pisces. This fact doesn’t matter to me but now everyone knows it. Why? Because I fell in love with some amazing vintage cuffs at a flea market, though you might just call them junk.

A few blocks from my old Manhattan apartment, there was a flea market that would take over the cafeteria and grounds of a school every Sunday. It was filled with exotic African beads and drums, fancy reupholstered furniture, old prints, and tons of junk. Occasionally, after I’d done some damage at the farmers’ market across the street, I’d walk through the flea market. Yet I never have much luck in finding things to wear at flea markets. I’ll pick up a few things, put them back down, and then pull out the hand sanitizer. My adventurous spirit is limited by the perceived grubbiness of such moments.

During one visit, however, a vendor, whose stall typically consisted of a heap of unappealing clothes on a table, had a little basket filled with enamel cuffs. The mound of clothing was the last thing I wanted to touch, but this tidy basket of bracelets was intriguing. I found myself surprised to be exchanging my ten-dollar bill for a red owl cuff and a Pisces one as well. I am not particularly impressed with owls, and I don’t read horoscopes often or seriously. While I tend to have quite a lot of friends born around my birth date, I don’t think the zodiac sign is responsible for these friendships. These bracelets were cheap, their origins unknown, and their future with me curious. Yet something about them stood out to me from the minefields of junk surrounding them.

Sometimes, I see something I love or find inspiring, and it just happens to be junk. In the case of these bracelets, it is not uncommon for my wrist to be slightly green when I take off one at the end of the day. I’ve also stabbed myself with the owl’s feet one too many times. But how can you control what you love? You can’t.

Something is only “junk” if it means nothing to you. If it’s special to you personally, then price and quality are irrelevant.

And more often, it is hard to discover the special things or predict what we’ll grow to love when the surrounding junk is so overwhelming and noisy, whether you are in a flea market or a shopping mall. But at these moments, I tune out the noise, sometimes by stepping away to think, and then go with my gut. My motto always has been that if you don’t absolutely love something, don’t buy it.

Once I took these bracelets home and out of the clutter, often pairing the red owl with a simple neutral outfit and some red lipstick, the “specialness” was clear. Today, I love wearing them, they frequently start conversations, and I have never seen anything like them since. I could have negotiated the $10 price down, but they’ve grown to be worth more to me than the price paid. The value in the items is personal to me, not inherent in the bracelets themselves. They might be junk, but they are my junk.

But maybe that’s just the poetic Pisces in me talking.

Swapping 101: Throw a party, get free clothes, + make friends

This I Wear | Swapping 101

Swapping, swishing, shwopping. There are many new buzzwords all pointing to the same idea: exploring alternative ways of adding to our closets without spending money or adding to our environmental footprint. When we need or want something new in our wardrobe, the first impulse might be to head to the store. But what if we could get what we needed without worrying about the sustainability and ethical issues or costs that come with buying new clothes? And we could make some new friends or reconnect with old friends in the process?

Swapping lets you exchange clothes you no longer want for clothes someone else no longer wants, usually for free and often in the context of a swap party. While there are a number of online sites that now let you consign or swap your clothes (I’m personally excited about Bib & Tuck), I still think the best way to swap is in person among friends.

Last month, I attended a swap party hosted by Moishe House, Barrie Schwartz of My House, and Stasia Cymes of Ladies Night Out to figure out the ingredients of a successful swap party. If you’re like many of the party attendees, you’ve just cleaned out your closet and you may have a pile of clothes to share. But a truly successful swap party is a social event and gives guests peace of mind by knowing that even if their contributions don’t get adopted that night, they’ll find a new home through donation.

Stasia Cymes, in addition to founding Ladies Night Out, runs a professional organizing service called Clear the Clutter. When finding your swap contributions, she recommends bringing an item…
– If you haven’t worn the piece in a year
– If you’re holding onto something in hopes that you’ll fit into it again
– If you have multiples of the same item (such as the ubiquitous “black pant”) but only feel good in one or two of your collection
– If you’re holding onto something because of its value in dollars and not its value to you
– If you’re keeping something because it might come back in style, but it doesn’t actually make you feel good or comfortable
– If it fits you physically but no longer fits your personality or where you are in your life right now

If you’re ready to try swapping, here’s how to plan your own party:
1. Clean out your closet and ask your friends (and their friends) to do the same. For a successful party, guests should bring at least 1-3 pieces each. But the more you bring, the more fun everyone will have.
2. Send the invitations. I recommend making the party single sex to make sure you have a good selection for all of your attendees and because stripping down to try on clothes is somewhat inevitable. But don’t worry about inviting guests of different sizes and with different styles. Swapping is about getting creative, and a range of sizes and tastes usually works itself out.
3. Once you’ve got a location, set up the space like you would a shop. Designate a “fitting room” or make sure you have a full-length mirror or two. Create areas for each of the product categories. If you have less than 20 guests, separate items into tops, bottoms, dresses, jackets/outerwear, and accessories/shoes. If you have more than 20 guests, you can break these categories down further (example: “bottoms” becomes denim, dress pants, casual pants, skirts, etc).
4. As guests arrive, ask them to place their items in the different categories. At this point, they can browse the items already there but no swapping yet! Cocktails or snacks will help your guests get comfortable with each other while waiting for the swapping to begin.
5. Once everyone has arrived, start swapping. Guests can begin browsing and trying on items. If you have just a few guests, let guests take as many items as they like. If you have a larger group, perhaps guests can take a piece for every piece they brought in the first round (whether by the honor system or by tickets), and then any leftovers are fair game for all.
6. Donate any remaining items. As an added perk to your guests, take care of making sure any remnants have another chance by dropping them off at a local donation center.

The perks of a swap party as both a social experience and one that is free of cost makes me think this trend will only continue to grow. And none of the guests seemed too concerned with what they went home with. Guest Annie Jackson found two items to bring home, but it was the social aspect and the opportunity to unload unwanted clothes that drew her to the event. Brittany Hunt was looking forward to getting some clothes for free, especially clothes that might be more interesting than what she’d find in stores, but she was most looking forward to the community aspect too. Brittany also pointed out that she’s more willing to try on things out of her usual style and to take things she isn’t totally sure about. So a swap party can be a fantastic way to play with your own style at literally no cost or risk. And in Brittany’s words, “You can’t really have expectations. I see it as a way to get rid of stuff that you’re not wearing and then if you don’t get anything, at least your closet is a little cleaner.” It doesn’t get anymore win-win than that.

Special thanks to Barrie Schwartz, Stasia Cymes, Annie Jackson, and Brittany Hunt for sharing their insights! And to our readers: I’ve seen the success of swapping among women, but I’m insanely curious to know if this idea can work with the gents too. Comment or tweet @ThisIWear to share if you think this works for both sexes (and if you’ve seen it in action), or if swapping really is a lady thing.

My Closet: The Oldest Thing I still wear

This I Wear | The oldest thing I still wear

My mom has always had a bountiful wardrobe. When I was growing up, I’d sit on the laundry hamper in her closet as she was picking out her clothes, and I’d say things like “You have a lot of shoes!” or “Why do you have so many clothes!?” And she would say something to the extent of “Because once you stop growing, your things will fit you for a longtime.” My concern, of course, was that it was already the mid to late 1990s, and she still owned way too many blazers with shoulder pads, but I understood what she meant.

My closet is not like my mom’s yet. I reached my final height (“short”) around 8th grade, but my weight has fluctuated by a size or two and my taste has as well. As I’ve moved from place to place, my style tends to adapt to each city’s new dress code and my latest lifestyle needs. I am not yet at a place where I am keeping clothes “forever.”

But I do have one really old shirt that I am confident is the oldest thing I own and still wear regularly. In fact, I believe it was purchased the same year I stopped getting any taller, which means the shirt is at least 13 years old. I’m not old, so it is scary to think anything in my closet has been with me that long, even if there was no planned long-term commitment.

The shirt is from Gap’s golden age, when it was the place to go for dancing khakis, logo t-shirts, and things we saw as distinctly American basics: polos, white t-shirts, jeans, and, of course, khaki everything. It was during this era that I bought this shrunken Oxford shirt with a little hint of stretch and three-quarter length sleeves. In college, I wore it to class with jeans. Post-college, I’d wear it to work with a pencil or mini skirt or even layered under a dress. And in laid-back New Orleans, it is perfect with a pair of dressy shorts or colored denim.

With every closet clean-out, this shirt slipped by undetected. I never thought about how old it was or questioned if it was still in style. Every once in awhile, I forget it exists until I rediscover it in my closet and wear it again. But the shirt looks the same as it did the day I bought it 13 years ago and possibly fits me even better today, so it hangs on in my closet and does its job when required. It has proven to me that age doesn’t determine the wearability of a piece and that the perfect basic in your wardrobe doesn’t have to be particularly special or memorable, it just needs to be made right to last. So as tempting as it is to clear out the old, some pieces should be allowed to stick around.

What is the oldest thing in your closet? Comment below or tweet @ThisIWear to share your story.

New Year, Clean Closet

This I Wear | New Year, Clean Closet

When my sister graduated college, she had one weekend to move out of her Richmond, VA apartment, sending a limited amount of boxes home with my parents and taking just a suitcase or two to her six-month internship in Paris. Before I even got off the plane in Richmond, I heard she was waiting for me to get there in order to save her from her packing nightmare – how to decide what to get rid off and what to keep. Why was she waiting for me? Because in my family, I am known as the boss of teasing out emotional attachment from items that no longer are doing their job for us. I happen to be quite decisive too.

This could be shocking in the context of this blog. How could I advocate for getting rid of things that mean something to us or tell a part of our story?

And to that I will say: if something is in your closet and it only has a story but no longer a practical use, because you don’t feel good wearing it, it is beyond repair, or you feel too guilty about it to send it off to a new life, then it is time to let it go (responsibly, of course). A story without an accompanying good feeling is just stuff taking up precious space in your closet and your mind.

Whether your resolutions this year involved updating your personal style or just making room for new opportunities, now is the perfect time to take stock of what you have and make sure that what is hanging in your closet matches your values/dreams/goals, without the guilt of holding on to things that are just taking up emotional and physical space. There are items we love to wear everyday that have a story, and then there are items we never wear that have their own story. Today, let’s appreciate the former but take care of the latter.

A closet can be a scary place for some of us, so start by putting on some jams and get ready to shine a light on your stuff:

1. Get organized. I recommend designating three piles to sort your items into:
Keep – For the no-brainer items that are staying in your closet
Share – For the items no longer are working for you, whether they don’t fit, don’t work in your current lifestyle, or are beyond repair
Rescue – For the items that need a little love from a tailor, dry cleaner, or a little DIY help.

2. Start trying things on. I recommend making time to try on everything…literally. It’s a new year and you’re a different person. Try on old things you’ve already written off as well as the pieces you wear everyday. This will give you new ideas for styling recent purchases or gifts with old pieces, ensure each piece ends up in the right pile, and help you catch those sneaky pieces that you secretly hate but that somehow never get cleared out. (This goes for that blouse with the annoying buttons on the sleeve, the itchy sweater, and the pants that stretch out after just one wear).

3. When you get stuck on an item, give it your attention. You’ve gone through half of your closet, you feel great, and then you get to a certain piece that you have no idea what to do with. Instead of plunging into despair, start asking questions: When did you buy or receive the piece? When did you last wear it? How does it make you feel when you wear it? What does it make you think of? Any good or bad memories? And the clincher for most people, how much did you pay for it? Perhaps you paid a lot for the item, so it’s supposed to be perfect, right? Wrong. If you don’t feel good in it, let it go and give it a chance to make someone else happy. Perhaps you received it as a gift and you never liked it, but you are afraid of hurting someone’s feelings. Let it go. If that person ever asks (which he or she probably won’t), focus on gratitude for the gift rather than lying about its use. Perhaps you’re holding onto something because it has sentimental value. That’s ok, but make sure it’s still serving you and not owning you. If you aren’t wearing it anymore, consider repurposing it with a little DIY or tailoring work. Not the answer for you? Think about why you are keeping the item and then decide if you’ll still have that memory even if the item is gone. If the answer is yes, set it free.

4. Invest in making the clothes and accessories you keep last. Now that you’ve whittled down your wardrobe, make sure the things you keep are taken care of. Add some cedar balls to your sweater drawer or try making homemade sachets to ward off pests. Invest in shoe trees or make your own boot stuffers to help your shoes and boots retain their shape. Take care of clothes and accessories in your “Rescue” pile by taking them to the pros or by repairing and cleaning them on your own with YouTube mending tutorials and laundry tips from The Laundress.

If you’ve generated items in your “Share” pile that you are ready to let go of, click through for tips of what to do with unwanted clothes to make sure your discards are put to good use. In coming weeks, I’ll also give you the details on how to host a swap party to help you share your unwanted closet finds with friends and maybe even take home a few new things for yourself.

And finally, as you return the items from your “Keep” pile to your closet and drawers, enjoy the moment. Our wardrobes change over the years as we change as individuals. The stories our clothes tell of us now are unique to this time. A good closet cleaning ensures that the stories we unconsciously are sharing are true to who we are.

Did you find anything amazing during your closet clean-up? Comment below or tweet @ThisIWear to share your stories of your closet lost-and-found moments.

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