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!

Supporting Sewing through Kiva…

This I Wear | Support Sewing Through Kiva

Sewing skills have largely been lost in the United States as manufacturers moved overseas. We hear that over and over, so sometimes it’s easy to forget that so many people (many, if not most of them women) around the world still rely on sewing as a primary means of income, whether through their own business or through work in a factory setting.

A finished garment is a mystery to many of us. It’s hard to understand all the work and skill it takes to make something when all we see is the finished product. But a really good seamstress knows exactly what went into the garment. She’s both a surgeon and a visionary.

When I was little and shopping with my mom for clothes, I would get so upset whenever I picked up something I liked, and she would say “but I could make that for you.” Now as an adult, as I see my mom’s wheels turning as she imagines how to go about creating something she’s seen or has only imagined, I’m in awe. I feel the same sense of awe (but perhaps also jealousy) for my sister who always says “yes” when I send her a photo and ask if she can make whatever it is for me.

There may not seem to be anything romantic or creative about sitting at a sewing machine in a factory, but I believe there is something bigger that the ability to sew opens up for individuals who have the skill. A world of possibilities opens to creating anything, bringing something unimagined to life, making something with your own hands (and sometimes a machine) that you can be proud of, and knowing that you have a skill that can always open doors and provide for you.

So when I discovered that Kiva’s micro-lending platform allows lenders to support women around the world who are building their own sewing businesses, I was pretty excited. I think I may have had lots of misconceptions about Kiva, but I’m realizing that there really is something for everyone. Even if you’re not inspired by encouraging sewing, it’s easy to explore the site and connect with someone who needs a loan to take their livelihood to the next level as they work to support themselves and their families.

Since I had already decided this week is a “want free” week for me, I’m spending my money instead on supporting Rosa from Colombia as she seeks a $425 loan for sewing supplies in her workshop where she already employs other women. There’s something simultaneously tough and kind about her when I look at her photo, so I went with my gut and supported her campaign. Maybe with your help, we can get her loan up to 100% funded. (Support her here!)

This is the first loan I’ve made through Kiva, and what’s really exciting about it is the 98% repayment rate means that I can loan the money right back out to another loan seeker once this one is repaid, so the creativity, passion and empowerment can keep flowing.

[All photos via Kiva.org]

Something Borrowed: Bridesmaid & Wedding Guest Dresses

This I Wear | Something Borrowed: Bridesmaid & Wedding Guest Dresses

It is the curse of the late 20s/early 30-something to have a wedding every single weekend during some months of the year. That time is now for me…or at least it was for the last few weeks. It’s been quiet here for a few reasons, but one reason is back-to-back weddings with travel required.

I have no reason to complain though. I’ve heard stories of friends and friends of friends with 10 weddings in a single year, which means all of their vacation days and disposable income goes towards celebrating others’ special days. Wedding-hopping might be fun for some, but I tend to prefer everything in moderation, including I-do’s.

I personally have been trying to wear one dress to several weddings, and I’m not alone. Fashion writer Lauren Sherman wore one dress to 10 weddings in a single year and she wrote about in the fantastic article, Say ‘Yes’ To The Dress: How To Make One Look Work For 10 Weddings. [And if you love this article, you should really sign up for her newsletter, Lauren in the Afternoon.]

But when seasons change or when you’re in the wedding, you might have trouble making something in your closet work for every event.

Lucky for me and you, I got a chance to try one dress rental option and explore another for my back-to-back weddings that helped me realize that I didn’t have to make any commitments just because someone else is celebrating theirs.

For the Bridesmaid: Union Station (formerly “Little Borrowed Dress”) is an NYC-based startup that rents made-in-NYC bridesmaid dresses. For a super affordable price, you’ll get one dress, a backup dress size, and paid shipping both ways. Plus, they’ll take care of cleaning the dress after the event for you. You and the bridal party can try on dresses in their NYC showroom or they’ll send you swatches in the mail. My amazingly go-with-the-flow super considerate girlfriend just used them for her wedding (this is only clue as to why I love this girl). By the end of the night, my dress was still looking fresh after hours of photos and dancing. My one warning though is that we all chose the “Kate”, and there was a lot of very unruly, very unexpected cleavage for those above an A-cup, even though we had tried the dresses on in person. Luckily, I don’t think Memaw noticed…

For the Wedding Guest: I had every intention of trying Rent the Runway for Wedding #2. There’s nothing really ethical about the dresses or designers they carry, but it is sustainable in the way that you borrow instead of buying a dress you’ll only wear once or twice. I spent some time exploring the dresses, but as a Rent the Runway first-timer, I realized I should have booked further in advance. The options for my size were really thin for my delivery and return dates, so I gave up and opted to dress up something I already had in my closet instead. Even though I struck out this time, I’ll keep this option in mind for future events. And perhaps in the meantime, they’ll start stocking more emerging designers and/or ethical fashion frocks (or has someone already invented that business?).

So tell me, is it wedding season for you too? I want to hear what you’re wearing to your upcoming special occasions, AND this is also the perfect occasion for you to tell us your bridesmaid dress nightmare stories in the Comments.

P.S. Summer is right around the corner. Just a quick heads up that I may be posting less frequently as I spend more time outside, and as with last year, I’ll be taking August off. Telling you now so we can all be prepared for this!

[Photos via Union Station and Rent the Runway]

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