We are quickly approaching the end of 2013, and there is something about the holiday season that feels simultaneously fast and slow. On one hand, I have just a few more days to find perfect gifts for the people I love AND get all of my work done so I can take off a couple weeks. On the other hand, as soon as Thanksgiving is over, I always find myself immediately slipping into a reflective state, slowing down and thinking about the year past.
This year was filled with big changes, some of which I shared here and others that made me so busy that this blog has been quite quiet. But I have tried to be really open about my own struggles with rediscovering my personal style. And as I’ve slipped into that year-end reflective state, I know that the top of my list in 2014 will be letting my style evolve a little more. Because, honestly, I haven’t really felt comfortable in my clothes AT ALL this year.
Fortunately, I know I’m not the only one with a changing sense of style.
I’ve loved articles this year from Garance Dore and Jess Lively on what they’ve learned from wardrobe mistakes and their own journeys to filling their closets with clothes that truly represent their personal styles.
I’ve been trying to do this on my own, but I decided to speed the process up a little bit and hire a professional. Luckily, I was inspired by an article by Jee on Oh How Civilized and set up an in-home appointment with a personal stylist. Beyond looking through what I already had, we made a list of what I needed to look for.
And at the top of the list, which I knew already, was a pair of black boots.
The shoe industry is not pretty. I’ve never had a great passion for shoes and I’m extremely concerned with comfort, but as I’ve learned about the toxic glues and solvents present in many factories, I’ve felt really hesitant to buy shoes since I’m not sure what I’m buying into. I also happen to own a pair of black booties that I saved up to buy and are in perfect condition but absolutely murder my feet. So perhaps subconsciously, I’ve been punishing myself for at least two years by not letting myself buy a new pair of black boots that I can actually wear.
But it became clear that a new pair of black boots would be a game-changer and totally take my existing outfits up a notch. Not an easy task, however, as I was looking to hit at least two of Garance’s rules:
1. Perfect piece = eternal joy
2. Quality = longevity
So what’s a conscious shopper to do? Buy the best quality pair of shoes you can afford. Seriously.
Here’s why: Your shoes can be repaired almost endlessly if they are of good quality. You will likely wear this pair of shoes multiple times a week (if not every day). You do not want to have to buy a lot of shoes and therefore support more factories that may or may not have healthy working conditions. And also quite important is that you do not want to end up an old lady with bunions.
In my case, a serendipitous text from my sister told me that one of my favorite brands, Rag + Bone, was having a sample sale. I like them because they do a fair amount of domestic production, the clothing is a perfect fit for my body, and the quality is high. It turns out the same is true for their shoes (minus the domestic production). I bought this pair for $200, which is objectively a lot of money but based on how many times I will wear them, the cost is relatively little. (See Zady’s article on measuring cost-per-wear)
But the work isn’t over. In the new year, I’ve got a list of new pieces I’ll be looking for and I can’t wait to share what I find (and how I find them) with you.
In the meantime, I’ve been turning to Pinterest as a helpful visual reminder of what I want my closet to look like, so I can make compare a potential purchase with that ideal style. Follow my evolving style on my latest board.
What’s the linchpin item missing from your closet? Share below or tweet @ThisIWear and tell us what you’re looking for.
I am incredibly lucky. As a St. Patrick’s Day baby with a classic Irish last name, I know a thing or two about luck (and fortunately, the good kind). Luck is not something to be relied on; it isn’t very predictable, and it isn’t always instantly recognizable. Luck is best left to be something to be thankful for when looking back or hoped for if looking forward. But in the present moment, thoughts of luck can be comforting. And when I say “luck,” I mean gratitude for where we’ve been, hope for something big or small to get us where we are going, and a willingness to be open in the meantime. Those thoughts of luck can be much closer with a familiar lucky charm on hand. And when a lucky charm is wearable, it is even easier to keep hopes for luck near.
I have three lucky charms, but the real power comes when I wear them together. The first is the simple gold necklace I wear everyday. My mom and I picked out the necklace together as my college graduation gift during a trip with my sister to Hong Kong. Even I was unsure how often I would wear the double-sided pendant, but nearly every single day, I wear the necklace with intention with the Chinese character for “longevity” facing in, since I believe longevity comes from taking care of ourselves, and the Chinese double happiness facing out, because happiness comes from what we offer out to the world. As I put the necklace on recently before an important meeting, I rubbed it for good luck as I so often do, reminding myself to make my mom proud, since her support has helped me reach where I am in life to have such an important meeting.
My other lucky charms are new to me but by no means new, precisely the source of their luck. I never knew my great-grandmother but wearing a pair of her earrings, which she had passed on to my mother when her ears were first pierced decades ago and which my mom recently passed on to me, makes me feel close to her. I certainly never knew the original owner of the Victorian signet ring I recently purchased, but I can’t help but imagine its past: Was it a gift to her? Did it bring her any luck? Was it worn on any special occasions? (And how were her fingers so much tinier than mine?) I imagine the nerves of my great grandmother or my mother as they got their ears pierced, or perhaps the nerves my ring’s earlier owners felt as they went through life wearing the pieces of jewelry I now wear. And while I know with no certainty, I think they made out just fine.
The concept of a lucky charm seems silly on the surface. We are ascribing power to an inanimate object. But the real power of a lucky charm is not in the item itself, but in what it reminds us of. My lucky charms have never caused miracles, but they have given me the confidence I needed in times spent outside of my comfort zone. Whenever I’m unsure of myself, I look at my lucky charms and they remind me of who I am, where I come from, how I got here, and, perhaps most importantly, who helped me to get here. My triad of lucky charms calms my nerves and reminds me to be bold not just for myself, but out of gratitude for all of the people who helped me reach this moment of infinite possibilities. And when you feel like there’s a crowd like that behind you, you can’t help but be bold.
Comment below, tweet @ThisIWear, or email me to share stories of your lucky charms, perhaps to be featured in a future post!
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.
I had already been living out of a suitcase for weeks. I returned from India to a suitcase of nice clothes, having put the rest of my wardrobe into storage before the two month-long trip. But because I had no idea what I would be doing upon return, the suitcase contents (54 pieces including workout clothes, pajamas, and other items not to be worn out but not including shoes, accessories, or under things) were proving insufficient.
I have lived out a suitcase many times in my life. Most recently, when I was moving from New York to New Orleans, I lived solely out of a suitcase for two months while still working full-time in an image-conscious city. I know how to be resourceful, and I know how to live minimally. But what I am still struggling with is how to live with discomfort.
That discomfort and sense of uncertainty led to a moment of desperation in a (fancy) strip mall in Mandeville, LA, where I purchased this pair of stretch denim jeans from a chain store that I haven’t shopped at in years. I had only one reliable pair of pants in my suitcase: a pair of fantastic 100% cotton jeans whose days have been numbered for a while. Not wanting to risk not having a pair of pants one day, I knew I had to find a backup pair fast. Denim is something I just can’t shop online for, especially when legging jeans are constantly out to trick us into buying them, so my options were limited. My mom graciously bought these jeans for me, almost certainly out of sympathy for the sob story of how uncomfortable it is to be in a state of life limbo that requires living out a suitcase.
I have worn these jeans once so far, and while I plan to wear them again in future, I’m not really sure how I feel about them. Just as clothing can take on wonderful memories of experiences, places and people, they can bring us back to moments of weakness, sadness, regret and all those other negative memories too: the dress you wore to a funeral, the bracelet you were wearing during the epic fight with your best friend, or the sweater that was a gift from an ex. In this instance, these jeans remind me of the time where I didn’t go with my gut and hold out to buy something that would I would love and that would make me feel at my best. They remind me of getting emotional in a Banana Republic dressing room as my mom tried to console me by telling me I looked great. And they remind me of why I write and believe in this blog in the first place.
The things we own and wear can have such a powerful influence over us. They become part of us and the moments in our lives if we let them. Often they even become external manifestations of how we’re feeling on the inside. And just as every person has flaws, our closets have flaws too. In this season of gratitude and giving and as we get ready to start a new year, my hope is that all of us, myself included, will be grateful for our own (and our closet’s or our suitcase’s) imperfections, knowing that without them, we wouldn’t have the chance to grow.
Do you have an item you wear (or don’t wear) that reminds you of a mistake or a bad experience? Have you kept the item? And if so, why? Share your stories by commenting below or tweeting @ThisIWear.
Ona is like a pioneer woman: you leave her alone with some pine needles and you return to an expertly woven basket. She has the dual gifts of resourcefulness and a willingness to try anything that enable her to take things that seem to have no life or purpose and create something new. Ona and my brother Jonathan were married this past summer at Ona’s family home in Maine in the most impressive DIY wedding I’ve ever attended (and since I used to plan weddings, I have seen quite a lot). Ona’s dress, like most for the wedding details, had a story of its own and easily proves that great things can happen by chance and that some rules are made to be broken.
Start from the beginning please!
I have been making dresses for probably 10 years out of skirts, scraps of fabric, and all kinds of stuff I found in my mom’s sewing closet. I would turn them into fun dancing dresses for contra dancing. My favorite ones are where I basically took a skirt I didn’t like, hoisted it up, took it in so that it was more form fitting, put on straps, and I had a knee-length dress. Pretty simple.
And so my mom has her favorites [of the dresses I’ve made]. She was the first person who suggested that maybe I would want to take a dress and repurpose it for the wedding. A couple years ago, she bought an off-white silk dress from Goodwill, and [when we started planning the wedding] she gave it to me to use.
Did she have any intentions when she initially bought the dress what it might be used for?
I can’t imagine, because I think she got it a while ago. She just thought “it’s silk!” and “it’s three bucks!” so she bought it. It didn’t fit me. It’s a sheath dress, so it’s very little fabric, kind of a heavier silk, and definitely not [made of] large pieces from which I could cut out other pieces. When I looked at it, I thought that it’s going be kind of challenging, but it could be fun. So I started looking around for silk that would match the dress. I took [a swatch] up to a fabric store in Brattleboro, Vermont. The woman who runs it is totally crazy. She’s padding around the store in her socks. The store is piled high with silks and gauzes and taffetas and all kinds of fabrics.
We spend an hour and a half looking for something to match the fabric of the dress. At this point, I don’t have a pattern, and I have no idea what I’m doing. I knew I didn’t want to have a big fancy wedding dress with a big train or anything like that, although that may have been more of a cost consideration rather than style. In the end, there just happened to be a remnant of silk that matched the dress perfectly – same weight, same color –but there were only 2 ½ yards. But it felt almost like it was meant to be.
Now I have 2 ½ yards of silk and a dress. I start looking around for patterns that would take advantage of what I have. I was at Jo-Ann’s that just happened to be having a sale on their Vogue patterns and there happened to be a pattern that fit all of the criteria. I decided to go with it, but the problem was that the pattern calls for 5 ½ yards of fabric and I have 2 ½ and a dress. Then it was a matter of making a mock-up, reducing, and on top of this, I have such little experience with patterns that I bought the wrong size. I got the Large instead of the Small/Medium, so I had to take the existing pattern and extrapolate down to my size.
I made a mock-up and I was able to reduce the width of the skirt. I figured out which pieces I could cut from the existing dress and which I could fit on the new fabric. My pattern pieces were just pinned down however they could fit on the fabric, so I was hoping that no one would notice that the pieces weren’t correctly oriented [on the bias]. I was not following the rules. In the end, I had almost no fabric left after cutting out all the pieces, but I was able to get them all cut out.
Did you learn to sew from your mom?
Yes, although she said I wasn’t a very good student, because I was not interested in learning exactly what she had to say.
How did she learn to sew?
I think she probably learned from her mom. I started pretty young. I made my first quilt when I was nine. It was a very simple squares quilt for [my sister] Gaelyn. It was her baby quilt. She sews too. It’s definitely a family tradition. I think I probably sewed my first dress in the beginning of high school. I know my mom sewed her own clothes probably throughout high school.
How long did it take you to make just the dress, not including the embroidery?
I procrastinated awhile because I had no idea what I was going to do. I went to the fabric store in January, so I had the fabric. Then it was a couple weeks before I had the pattern, and then once I had the pattern and the fabric, probably another couple weeks before I sat down and did it. I cut the pieces and assembled the dress as much as I could in a matter of a week, maybe two weeks. That was the easiest part.
To what extent did you know what you wanted the end product to look like vs. being inspired by what came up along the way?
I would say the whole thing was following a series of fortunate events. From the start, I checked out the Knot and Etsy to see what dresses people were making. I got some fancy sewing books that talked about different seam types and different necklines, so that helped in starting to shape ideas of how I wanted it to look. But in the end, the pieces just fell into place and made the dress that I got. There were only 2 ½ yards, I wanted to have the embroidered panel, the pattern that I found was the only one that fit all of those things that I needed it to do, so I felt like it was meant to be. Like I didn’t have to make half of the decisions. That’s just what was presented.
Can we talk about the embroidery? What inspired the cummerbund?
When [Jon and I] were out in Santa Fe, New Mexico, we went to the International Folk Art Museum. We saw a wedding outfit from an Eastern European village and it was a guy’s outfit. It was heavily embroidered. It had a full skirt, a top hat, and it may have had a parasol. It was bizarre, very unique. And Jon looked at me and said, “I think…I think we should wear something crazy like that for the wedding.”
Did he really say he wanted to wear something “crazy” for the wedding? Was he just looking for something memorable?
I think he was entertaining for a very short period of time something that was embroidered heavily and in the style of what we saw there. It didn’t last long though. He quickly moved on to a plain linen suit. But he got the ball rolling in my head about embroidery, because it plays such a huge role in cultures around the world and is specifically present in wedding ceremonies. There’s embroidery in American wedding dresses, but it’s all done by machine or it’s very simple. There’s no meaning behind the embroidery. It’s like the last remnant of embroidery in our culture and it’s lost all of its meaning.
So I became really interested in discovering the meaning behind wedding embroidery around the world. There were a couple of really great books I got from the library. One of them was called “Embroidered Textiles” by Sheila Paine. I looked at different embroidered textiles from all these different angles and pulled out the pieces I wanted to do. I wanted to have the Tree of Life. I wanted to have the Four Directions. I wanted to have fertility symbols, because that’s what you put into wedding embroidery when it comes down to it.
But more importantly, it was a fascinating discovery of the role embroidery plays in traditional cultures. One of the more interesting things I found was that aprons in many cultures are not to keep your skirt clean but to protect. You sew protection in with every stitch to ward off evil spirits. And who knows how much of this is actually being passed down in these cultures. The mirrors reflect evilness, so by sewing them in, you reflect the Evil Eye. Not that I believe in the Evil Eye, but why not bring in a little bit of extra protection? It was fun to be able to express that.
It tells such a story. It means so much more than what it is at face value.
And I had never embroidered before, so I also had to take out that book from the library. I had to teach myself a bunch of stitches. A lot of it was made up. There was symbolism, but a lot of it was my own aesthetic.
Will you be able to reuse the dress or any of the pieces? Or do you plan on wearing or displaying it in any way?
I would like to. We’ll take it out if we ever want to get dressed up in our wedding clothes, which my family has a tradition of doing. Every year, my parents get into their wedding clothes for their anniversary and we take a family picture. We might continue that tradition. It’s pretty funny because over the years, my mom doesn’t fit into her dress anymore and my dad doesn’t fit into his suit. The part that doesn’t zip for my mom doesn’t show, but my dad stopped buttoning up his jacket. And, of course, it’s just a nice time to take a family portrait to document how we’re all growing up.
Comment below or tweet @ThisIWear to share your stories of handmade wedding traditions and what to do with those special event garments once the big day is over.