Tagged: accessories

My Closet: Strangers with Woven Handbags

Kenyan Woven Bag | This I Wear
I never felt comfortable engaging strangers in conversation when I was growing up. Living in the South, everyone inexplicably wants to talk to everyone. If you are shy, every stranger in the grocery store, every grandma in a restaurant, and even the mailman on the street become the enemy. I was always considered shy, especially in school, and somehow I believed it. During college, I became a resident assistant to alleviate the burdensome expenses of private education. It was a job that made me incredibly uncomfortable, but it also broke me of any habit of not opening my mouth when I had something to say.

Not too long ago, I spent a few days with a college friend who lived near Eastern Market, an historic farmers and craft market I had shockingly never visited while I lived in DC. It was a gorgeous day, and the market was full of locals stocking up on vegetables for the week and tourists shopping for crafts. As we strolled along, a tent overflowing with colorful woven handbags caught my eye. Unsure if I even could squeeze a souvenir into my luggage, I reasoned I’d at least keep the vendor company until another customer came along.

The bags and the salesman turned out to be from Kenya. At the time, I was considering a visit to friends in Nairobi, so my questions naturally poured out: When is a good time to visit? What is the weather like? What is your opinion of Nairobi? Where did you grow up? The man answered all of my questions willingly, though he seemed surprised by my interest. Then we talked about the bags. His mother, who still lived in Kenya, was his sourcing agent. She placed orders with a local women’s group that would weave the bags and decorate the leather, which she then shipped to him in DC. Each bag had a small hand-cut leather label, “Made in Kenya.” I chose a small bag in my favorite color, green, and asked if in future, he’d request the bags to be made in stripes too. I thanked him for the conversation and left.

Whenever I talk with strangers, I am extremely conscious of the conversation, as if I’ve just accepted a challenge: can I successfully balance asking questions with listening and avoiding awkward silences and perhaps even elicit a smile? It is practice for me, helping to make up for my younger years of letting others do the talking. Whenever the conversation is successful, I feel a small sense of accomplishment, as well as gratitude to that person for sharing a few words with me. I learned a lot about him, Kenya, and the bags in our 10-minute chat, yet I also got an added benefit. Had I not been willing to ask the questions I did, it would have just been another handbag. Luckily, the conversation and the person brought the bag to life, and now my bag is a conversation-starter in itself.

Have a story of getting to know the person behind the product? Share by tweeting @ThisIWear or email me at rebecca@thisiwear.com.

My Closet: Gold Scarf + Adventures with Becca

Gold and Black Scarf | This I Wear

Do you remember in middle school when your best friend would go on a family vacation and bring you back a keychain with your name on it or one of those pens that has a hula girl floating up and down like a snow globe you can write with? Maybe you were lucky and got a rock from a national park?

Lucky for me, when my friend Becca studied abroad in Spain, she brought me back a souvenir that trumps all floaty pens.

The scarf itself is beautiful. Gold metallic thread woven into a black background creates patterns similar to the intricate designs of Damascene jewelry, famous in the Toledo region. It is my best friend on an airplane, because I can stay warm, actually look more stylish, and avoid those unfortunate airplane blanket fuzzies that always seem to linger behind.

Becca and I were Resident Assistants together for a year in college. We both go by “Rebecca” and “Becca” but for clarity’s sake with our staff, she was Becca and I was Rebecca. We were incapable of shocking each other with our quirks, and she never flinched when I suggested we do something ridiculous.

One time, Becca won two Halloween costumes: a giant King of Hearts card and a giant Queen of Hearts card. Obviously, we put these costumes on and ran around the building (she even let me be the King). A year later, Becca helped me stage a live version of “The Office” Olympics for my residents. She was in charge of drawing the tilde (~) on the snack table’s lemonade.

There are other things that remind me of Becca: carrots that she eats by the bag full, Sufjan Stevens after a frostbite-filled night of camping out for concert tickets, and every time I lose The Game. But there’s something about wearing a gift from a friend that makes them seem a little bit closer, even when life has separated you by hundreds of miles.

While Becca may think of other things when she recalls her adventure in Spain, I love wearing this scarf because it reminds me all of the crazy adventures we have shared together.

This post is in honor of Becca’s birthday today! Since I can’t be there in person, I wish her the happiest birthday ever and many more adventures (hopefully some we’ll have together!).

Style Story: Amber + the belt with a past

THIS I WEAR - Street Style, Amber

Amber is a recently returned NOLA native with the perfect mix of confidence and self-consciousness. While Amber’s style will pull you in, it’s her stories that will hold your attention. (And we didn’t even get to her colorful Toms wedges!) Like many of us, she’s shopping on a budget and trying to find clothes that fit well. She’s not afraid to show off her rocking little body or talk about her love of pockets. And I am happy to report that all of the (two) interviews I have done so far have references to housedresses.

What are you wearing today?

It’s a 50’s style denim-looking [dress] and a little woven belt.

How long have you had the dress?

I actually got it in New York at some random place. I think it was $15. It was near where I worked around 36th in Midtown in the Garment District.

What made you pick it out?

At that time, I had to dress in business casual, but sometimes those clothes are expensive. I went in to see what they had. It looked really comfortable, and it has pockets, which is really important to me. And it actually fit, which is pretty hard to do because I’m small.

What part of your outfit is most special to you?

The belt. It belonged to my long-term boyfriend’s mother’s best friend. She was a wonderful woman, and she recently passed away. She was tiny like me, so I got a lot of her wonderful hand-me-downs.

Do you think of her when you wear the belt?

Yes, but I didn’t know her so personally as my boyfriend’s mom did, but I like to wear things that have a story.

[Note: I did not pay her to say this!]

Do you have any good memories of her?

I actually got to know more about her through [her husband] after she passed away. You can tell by the clothes she used to wear that she was like a little “Jackie O.” She [had] all of her housedresses, perfectly buttoned up, and the best accessories. Just going through pictures of her and her old things, I got to learn more about her than I knew when she was with us. And I think it’s more for my boyfriend’s mom that I continue to wear these things. She gets very excited whenever she sees me wearing one of Mary’s dresses or Mary’s belts.

Because it reminds her of Mary?

Yes and that these things didn’t cease to exist. Somebody’s using it.

Name one item you’d love to add to your closet.

Recently I’ve been searching for a maxi dress that doesn’t have the low-v. And I’m really short, so everything I try on is really long.

Do you have to tailor a lot of your clothes?

I try not to. Tailoring can get really expensive, and just because you get it tailored doesn’t mean it is going to fit perfectly anyway. Tailoring feels like such an investment. I actually bought a sewing machine, but I actually broke it a week later. It’s gone now.

Were you planning to learn to sew?

That was the intention. It was when I was in New York, and I saw a cute little vintage compact sewing machine on Craigslist. I trucked all the way out to Brooklyn and carried this thing – it was like 30 lbs – on the subway. I got home, downloaded the instruction manual from a website, and then broke it almost immediately.

Did you leave it in NYC?

No, I brought it to Indiana, but my boyfriend’s mom threw it away for me, because she knew I had a hard time parting with it.

Thanks to Amber for the interview. Comment below or tweet @ThisIWear to share times you’ve been disappointed in Brooklyn, things a mom has thrown away for you, and/or your tips on finding petite clothing.

My Closet: My watch and a lesson in patience

My personal closet is full of stories, and I will be sharing many of them here. To kick this series off, I’m talking about one of my favorite things and how the search for something can be just as memorable as finding it.

A watch is unarguably a practical wardrobe staple. Technically, we could argue that everyone defers to a cell phone these days, but I’m going to argue that (1) you should know how to read a real clock and (2) checking your phone in certain situations is neither feasible nor respectful. But there’s also something sort of magical about watches. As something routinely worn everyday, it is not surprising that it is commonly passed between generations. It is easy to imagine the previous owner securing the watch around his wrist each day, so that the watch feels each change in pulse as it ticks on. It’s not coincidental that a timepiece can remind us of times (and people) past.

For years, none of this mattered to me. I wore the random gifted watch on special occasions I was anxious to cut short (awkward family gatherings, college exams, etc). But I began working events where my time was scheduled literally to the minute, and any good event planner knows you had better wear a watch, especially if your dress doesn’t have pockets for a phone.

My search for an upgrade coincided with my move to Manhattan, and I naively found myself drawn in by every depressing black watch I found. There was one watch that I really thought was it. I went back to the store at least three times, we checked each other out, but I never could commit. I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted, but I knew I would know when I saw it. A year later, the gut feeling proved true: I found a simple, classic watch with a lovely modern update of rose gold, and it’s only gotten better with age. The moment our eyes met, I knew the wait had been worth it.

There is no single memory I attach to my watch yet, but my favorite part of wearing it is that it reminds me that I do know what I want and it’s ok to hold out for it. It was a lesson in patience and to not settle by opting for what was easy or simply there. Instead, I took the opportunity to find something I absolutely loved. It might seem silly, because it’s just a watch. But it is also my watch. So yes, my watch search taught me a little bit about life, but it also just makes me smile.

Comment below or tweet @ThisIWear if I’m ascribing too much feeling to an inanimate object.

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Style Story: Lisa + the Turquoise Ring

This is Lisa. She’s my little sister, which means she has to do what I say. And I told her she had to pose for my first interview. She’s a trained fashion designer, now working wardrobe on film sets here in New Orleans. If I’m the sister who always wears the dresses, she is the sister who wears the pants (literally and figuratively). She’s got a unique tomboy-ish style that manages to come off as feminine, possibly due to her envy-inducing wavy hair. We talked about the difficulties of being petite, rings with complicated meanings, and my grandma’s house dresses.

What are you wearing today?

I’m wearing a grey scoopneck t-shirt, spearmint chinos, gladiator sandals, and I have some jewelry on – a necklace from my grandmother, a ring from my [other] grandmother and a Claddagh.

What is a Claddagh?

It’s an Irish tradition that you wear the ring to symbolize what your relationship status is.

How does that work?

Um, I don’t know exactly…If it’s pointing out, it means you’re in a relationship; if it’s in, you’re not in a relationship. I’m not sure. I need to do research.

[If you’re curious, get the scoop here.]

What part of your outfit is most special to you? Why?

I wear my rings all the time. The turquoise one in particular, because it’s from my grandmother, and she used to wear it. It’s not very often that rings fit me, so it’s nice that this one does. [She gave it to me] a few years ago.

What do you think of when you wear it?

It makes me think of her and maybe what kind of outfit she would have worn with it.

Like what type of outfit?

I picture her in one of her muumuus with some turquoise jewelry on. [Laughs]

Describe your style.

Simple. Classic. Not fussy. I like things that have clean lines and fit well. Fit is definitely important for me, because I never find things that fit well. When I do find something that fits, it becomes a staple, like these pants…because I’m petite.

Do you have a favorite thing in your closet?

My Rodarte for Target black party dress. It’s simple, but it’s really girly and cute. It fits me really well. I wore it to my senior fashion show. It was our independent show when I was presenting my final collection [for my degree].

Name one item you’d love to add to your closet.

If I had an unlimited amount of money, it would probably be a Chanel quilted purse, because I’ve loved Chanel forever. That probably translates into my style a bit, because [Coco Chanel] was a bit boy-ish in the way that she dressed. Even today, a lot of what Karl Lagerfield does isn’t super fussy, but it’s clean and classic and with twists.

A huge thanks to Lisa for the interview. If you still want more, you can follow her on Twitter @lisammagee. She’ll also be posting here in future and showing off her amazing sewing skills.

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