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J's look: Praga patchwork skirt by Free People, with interesting detail.

One of our regular blog contributors is wearing this Free People Skirt today (I think it’s this one). She is very tall, funky and fabulous, and also she works in a kind of artsy/techno job, so I think this might be the perfect skirt.  But she wonders if it’s “too Boho.” Well, I don’t know. (I do know that on me, this skirt would be too, “My Mom’s Gypsy Costume she wore for every Halloween the 1980’s.”)  My friend J is NOT “a Boho person,” she is an edgy, hip person who used to live in Prague for real.

This reminds me that adjectives are useful for describing things (Does the skirt belong to the category identified as “Boho.”) Adjectives are less useful for describing people (is this person Boho or not?)  Labelling people hinders them.

So I generally resist the shortcut, “I’m not the kind of person who ___,” or “I’m more of a ____ girl.”

Labels are categories.  Categories are useful when we need to quickly sort ideas or things.  But people are not ideas or things.  Categories taunt us: What to include? What to exclude? 
It’s big issue with moms.  Are you a working mom or a stay-at-home-mom? Are you granola or crunchy? Are you hip or funky? Moms are an exhausted, isolated, brilliant and busy bunch of women.  We crave definition and connection.  This sucks us into categories, fast.  And labels like “attachment parenting” (for instance), while useful in gathering and sorting ideas –hinder us  when we begin to agonize over whether we want to take on the label of “An Attachment Parent,” or whether a certain parenting choice is “AP.” At best we distract ourselves with mind games about who is in, and who is out.  At worst, we condemn and ostracize each other — and ourselves.

Of course we can (and should) judge what we see of a decision — of an idea, a look, a statement, a skirt. We just can’t judge the entire of a human person.  (When we do start to judge a person — as judges, as juries –we are careful about what we can consider — Race? Reputation? Gossip? Appearance? — and what we must ignore). In daily life, putting people into categories (are they good or bad? Cool or weird? My kind of friend — or not?) is a waste of time — and a dangerous one.  And the worst person to label is ourselves: Is this dress ME?  I’m not a BOOTS KIND OF GIRL. If I wore that I’d look like A SLUT.

Judging ourselves is a way to grab at masks, instead of accepting the complexity and dynamism of our authentic selves.  It limits our potential. It sets ourselves up for failure. 

My look: Sofft pumps, with interesting detail.

My challenge then is to judge and describe things — the clothes, the awesome Chevron stripes, the texture and the shape. And not to judge and describe people.  Things — especally clothes, especially style — need to work FOR us. They don’t define us.  They can’t exclude us.

And I’m saying all this because I want to say: I’m not much of a Gypsy Skirt kind of girl.  I’m more of a “interesting black pump” (what I have on today) kind of girl.  And that makes me feel a little stodgy and boring next to friend J.

But I’m challenging myself to express this without self-labelling.  I’ll let you know when I succeed. 

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Backy[c]ardigans

Perfect cardigan from Autumn Cashmere, $385.

  

Part of my winterizing plan is “cardigans over cute summer tops.”  I tried this today without much success.  The sweater I want is slightly long, textured but not bulky, warm and nicely cut.  I saw the perfect one in the January InStyle (Instant Style “Everyday denim,” page 66, photo at right).     

Since I’m not spending any money on clothes right now, and no amount of ingenuity can pretend that $385 is “not any” money, I’m trying to improvise. What I’ve got to work with:    

Jewel-neck cashmere cardigan, Macy's Charter Club 2004

  

Rib cuff and waist v-neck cardigan from hanna anderssen. Nice shoulder shirring. Light color is difficult to layer and it's too fitted to wear over some things.

  

Gray sweater that I like a lot. Not with this. The a-line works best with a very narrow bottom.

  

From the Gap. This is what I wore today to Target. Instead of pajamas.

 

 So, not great.  Maybe I will give up on this idea and stick with my brown turtleneck? Although I love this top underneath, love to layer this time of year to be sure I can stay comfortable.

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Say what you want about Crocs; I’m not a fan, in part because I hate for my feet to look fat.  But if some of you love them, so be it.   I am a fan of cooking entertainment, to the extent that it often distracts me from my late-evening blog duties.  Food is my passion, and it’s one reason my pants don’t fit, and for that reason I’ve resisted too much food/clothing blog crossover.  But Iron Chef America, Super Chef Battle :

What the fug?

Iron Chef Bobby Flay, White house Chef Cristeta Comerford, Alton Brown, First Lady Michelle Obama J.D., Iron Chef Mario Batali, Emeril Lagasse

When I saw Mario Batali cross the White House lawn in an apron and orange Crocs, I thought, “were the Chefs really surprised that the Chairman arranged a surprise meeting with Michelle Obama? I thought that part of the show was fiction.”  (I also thought “PANTSS??!” Because an apron over shorts, people, is not good television.)  I noticed Batali looked a tad chagrined upon meeting the First Lady and her fabulousness.  Bobby Flay wore nattily shined shoes and Alton Brown had a tie on.  So WTF, Batali? You are at the White. House. Why NOT Get Dressed?

It turns out that Batali is the Crocs Spokesperson .  Yes, he is paid to wear Crocs everywhere he goes (actually I’m just assuming he’s paid. Could he do it just for the free Crocs?)  So I have to ask, for all you Croc-lovers out there:

1. What’s your price? To wear Crocs everywhere — the Red Carpet! The White house!

How much money would you require to be the Crocs Spokesperson? Or would you live life with these things glued to your feet for free? Is this a ridiculous question?  And if so, why would we refuse to wear Crocs (without pants!) to the White house but we happily run to the Costco in pajama bottoms? I need to know this.

And keep in mind what the Fug Girls said about Batali:

DUDE I don’t care if he thinks they’re his signature in the kitchen. He is not IN the kitchen. He is at a premiere, and Sandra Bullock is in a GOWN, and he’s wearing a fleece, shorts, and filthy rubber clogs, like he just managed to squeeze in his paper route between the lunch service and the event start time.

http://gofugyourself.celebuzz.com/2006/10/fugio_batali.html

If you are not a Crocs-person, and there is not enough money in the world for you to consider this,you can answer the alternate question (Submitted by DJM):

2. Do you think Michelle Obama was trying to match Batali’s orange Crocs? Because Batali always wears orange.  She can wear anything.

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Eddie Bauer embroidered tank with elastic empire waist, $19.99

Okay not literally broke.* But after the holidays, nothing fits. I don’t like my clothes and I refuse to dig myself out of this hole by shopping; I’m on “max conserve” (tm Terri’s Dad). Max conserve means, when I ask myself “hmm should I buy this?” the answer is always, “no.” No shoppy.

So I’m “shopping my closet” to put good outfits together. Not easy when I also need to winterize (and waterproof) a wardrobe I bought in the summer.  But I refuse to give up and wear pajamas to the Costco. Even during the “dead week” between Christmas and New Years (when we all pretend we’re “hanging at home,” but really we’re all at Costco, and apparently it’s America’s Great Past-time to observe this paradox by wearing pajamas to the store).  I am not giving up.

Where this leaves me: Instead of daydreaming about purchases, I’m forced to reckon with all the clothes I bought in 2009.   Some pieces I am SO grateful to have.   Others, I can’t look at without cringing. The money I flushed down the drain by making bad purchases! Yuck.  

So for blog edification, here are the best and worst of 2009: 

two fabulous geniuses.  Geniusi? Genii?

Rocking the Look. Me in raspberry cardigan sweater with metal necklace and denim skirt. J with similar outfit concept but awesomely hipped-up (or maybe I'm hipped-down?)

 
So happy I found you . . . Best Purchases of 2009:  

1. Costco camisoles in fresh colors. My favorite is a color I call “Michelle Obama’s Inauguration Glove Green.”  Green is way out of my comfort zone, but it is so cool and current.  Camis are sure to add texture and depth, smooth me out and bring it all together, and ensure that no one sees down my shirt.  

2. Funky metal necklaces. Necklaces are an instant upgrade, no matter the weather.  Metal goes with any color and any style. Yay necklaces!  

3. Raspberry-red cardigan with ribbon tie. This is a beautiful color and works with jeans, skirts or suit separates. Nordstrom Point of View FTW.  

4. Eddie Bauer embroidered cotton tops. Deep colors, quality detail, flattering fit. I’m wearing these under sweaters instead of tee-shirts. I love how they hang nicely with less cling than knits. And they don’t need to be ironed (okay, ironing would help, but I don’t mind the crinkly look).  

5. Cole Haan Carma Tortoiseshell open-toe pumps. I will not say I’d marry these shoes.  But if they needed me to quit my job and move across the country for them? I’d consider it. On cold (dry) winter days, they are awesome with black tights.  

What I regret buying. . . Worst Mistakes of 2009:  

2010: No Target! No Juniors Department! No impulse buys!

1. Cheap Cotton Target Skirt.
I knew this was a mistake when I bought it. Didn’t we all?  

2. Awful Fred Meyer “Scribbles of Fug” Print Dress.I humbled myself to admit I bought this in the panic of our big heatwave. I was able to return it (without the receipt even), so it wasn’t a total bomb. Let us not forget: Bad color, unflattering print.  And no DROP WAIST on any fruits with heaviness in the middle or hip. Honestly, Robin.  

3. Pink patent leather open-toe espadrilles, 4″ heels. These pushed me out of my comfort zone in too many directions at once. Too high, too flashy, too trendy, too uncomfortable. . . As a rule, I will be open minded about a cute shoe with one of these issues, but this was too many. Didn’t wear them.  

4. Ann Taylor Loft spaghetti-strap knit dress. Even over a swimsuit, the s-straps don’t work. Maybe a teenager could do it with a strapless suit (??) or braless, but why would a teenager be shopping at ATL? Grown women need support. Speaking of support:  

5. Bras without trying them on. No, you don’t get a photo. Don’t do this, dudes.  I tried to regift.  I know.

So here’s to a great 2009 of searching for our style, and here’s to a fabulous 2010. Whether your challege (we all have them) is body type, budget or your attitude (you know who you are), we will all figure it out and all look great together.  Don’t give up! And I won’t either. 

 

*You know you complain too much about money if your five-your-old offers you his tooth fairy quarters “to share with Mommy, next time she says something is too expensive!”

Also he thinks hot dogs come from the “meat of a dog’s tail, when you cut it off and cook it until it’s rubber.”

Aren’t kids cute?

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Gallery Satin Anorak, $138 at Nordstrom.com

Gallery Satin Anorak, $138 at Nordstrom.com

Our Jennie is looking for a rain coat.  Deep hood, long enough to sit on.  If you never need to sit down in the rain, or if you wonder why Jennie doesn’t just carry an umbrella, you can probably skip this.

Jennie’s coat needs to be cute, of course.  At the very least, it should not add 35 pounds and/or depress Jennie every time she wears it.  So here are some coats, I don’t know without seeing them whether they are even close. But hopefully it will inspire us to not give up when it comes to coats.

A few notes: I’m always skeptical of “detachable” hoods; they are generally substandard, leak or blow off in the wind.  I don’t like “convertible” clothes much in general, anyway. If it’s not raining and you REALLY think a hood would be in the way, just go wear a different coat.  Also, some of them look “dressy,” but they are machine washable (we who sit in the rain often tend to confront some mud or sand, too).  And most of them come in petite, which Jennie just might need.  If nothing else, Jennie, you know your coat needs to fit well. Right?

Here you go:

Athleta Typhoon Trench

Athleta Typhoon Trench

Marc New York All-weather A-line topper, $78 at Nordstrom

Marc New York All-weather A-line topper, $78 at Nordstrom

 

Land's End Women’s Storm Slicker Rain Park, $39.50 (also in other colors, I thought the blue plaid was cutest).

Land's End Women’s Storm Slicker Rain Park, $39.50 (also in other colors, I thought the blue plaid was cutest).

 

Impermeable Platinum by Weatherproof Hooded Walking Coat, $128 at Nordstrom

Impermeable Platinum by Weatherproof Hooded Walking Coat, $128 at Nordstrom

 

Lands End Sunshower Parka, $59.50.  This also comes in a “long” length but I seriously worry about the frump factor with that.

Lands End Sunshower Parka, $59.50. This also comes in a “long” length but I seriously worry about the frump factor with that.

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Most shapeless, boring, oversized coat imaginable. Ordered online because it looked warm; too lazy/cold to return it. For eight years.

Most shapeless, boring, oversized coat imaginable. Ordered online because it looked warm; too lazy/cold to return it. For eight years.

Coats.  It might be a West Coat thing.  We tend to use coats as gear, just to keep us warm.  Instead of choosing a beautiful coat to enhance our look, we throw Whatever on over our “real” clothes, just to stay dry before we start the day for “real.”   When you wear a coat like that, you are wrapped.  You might even think of yourself as invisible. You are sending yourself the message that you don’t count for the moment.  You are not Dressed.

Good shape, fit and detail: Anne Klein II

Good shape, fit and detail: Anne Klein II

From the time we walk out the front door, each moment is an opportunity to be at our best in the world.  Of course certain moments “don’t count,” like if you are escaping from a house fire. But I’d say, it’s better to expect moments to count — really, make them count — instead of discounting each moment.  Including moments when you have to wear a coat.

Because, you never know when a Moment might hit.  Like a chilly August afternoon in 2006:  I was hurrying through downtown Seattle on my way back from lunch when suddenly, the first squad for the Real Madrid football club* came striding down the block.  Surrounded by fans taking pictures.  I am not kidding.  They were in town for an exhibition game and they had apparently decided to sight-see right past my office.  A herd of internationally beautiful and athletic men right there in front of me.  I gaped, blushed, grinned . . . and found myself wondering, “what might they see when they look . . . .at me?

David, wait! I have a cute dress on under this frumpy black rain jacket

David, wait! I have a cute dress on under this frumpy black rain jacket

I was having a perfectly cute Seattle Girl moment, wearing a nice little summer dress.  But it was cold, so I was totally covered by a dumpy, ill-fitting raincoat.   Like all of us, I can look kinda-awesome or I can look invisibly schlumpy.  And if David Effing Beckham comes walking down the street, which do you want to be? Do you want to be disguised in a bad windbreaker just because a workweek lunch alone “doesn’t count?” You will not get a second chance to be an extra in a Beckham movie.  Also, my sandals probably sucked.

Discount your coat and you discount real moments of real life.  Coats are not just wrapping. They don’t make you invisible. Coats count. SO:

target

Purple Satin Trench, $39.99, Target

 1. Coats must fit. We tend to wear coats big so we can snuggle down inside them and wear lots of layers under them.  Allow for a sweater underneath and have some arm movement.  But be sure your coat isn’t too big in the shoulders and sides, and don’t wear it bigger than necessary.  Rule of thumb: If you wore your coat when you were more than 6 months pregnant, it is TOO BIG for you when you are not pregnant.

2. A wardrobe needs more than one coat.  Your toughest play-in-the-rain coat, which will keep you dry for a winter beach hike in a storm, has a hood and fits over a heavy sweater.  This is not also your go-get-coffee-looking-cute coat, which should be more fitted and stylish.  Around here it’s good to have a “nicer rain” coat, a “storm” coat,  maybe a “very warm / no hood for cold dry days” coat, and a good “lightweight” (spring/fall and yes, summer) coat or two.  Even if you’re not a total clothes ho like some of us, it is really, really good to have a variety.  If you try to make the same coat work every time and place, it won’t work perfectly for anything. You will always be compromising.

3. Coats take the MOST time and money of any wardrobe item (Except maybe boots). Remember the $3 Rule .  A good coat lasts for years and will be worn a lot.  It needs to hold up to wear and weather. If it is wool or gortex, it’s going to cost money.  If it’s well-stitched and watertight, it’s going to cost more money.  Cute little jackets and raincoats can be cheap, but consider investing in your main coats.  Also invest the time to try coats on.  Figure out what looks best. Don’t guess. Don’t settle.  Don’t order from the catalog, give up, and wear it for years because you’re too discouraged to return it and keep looking (see photo, above).

Sherpa-lined Frost Free Jacket, $82 at Old Navy Women's Plus

Sherpa-lined Frost Free Jacket, $82 at Old Navy Women's Plus

4. Make shape and structure work for you.  If you’re going to cover yourself in a big huge garment, it needs to enhance your shape.  For a long coat, notice how it drapes or swings.  Watch where it hits your legs (and consider hemming if it’s length is out of proportion).  If you need more waist, wear a coat with a belt; If you need to balance out your shoulders and chest, wear a coat with cute pleats on the bottom.  If you are round in the middle, wear a coat with good shapely seams and interesting details around the face.  And when it comes to bulky, warm coats — we all need them sometimes — get a beautiful color or texture.  Use the bulk to balance your body (don’t add where you don’t need it).

Three from Boden.

Three from Boden.

Reid Jacket by Dolce Vita, wool lined with silk, $286

Reid Jacket by Dolce Vita, wool lined with silk, $286

 

 

*Yes, I totally had to look that all up — the team name, and the correct use of “First squad.” I did not think this at the time.

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Purple and black watercolor top, jean jacket, pencil skirt, red Cole haan heels

Purple and black watercolor top, jean jacket, pencil skirt, red Cole haan heels

Since I posted my Argument in Favor of Prints, I’ve been thinking how hard to judge a print on its own.  It’s all about the outfit.  Since I’m now worried about being all typecast as the Woman Who Wears Florals, I gathered some print-inclusive outfit combinations in an attempt to demonstrate that I do not look dowdy and lame. I hope (there are more floral prints here, with color and camisoles  ). 

These pictures don’t zoom in on the print, but that’s kind of my point.  I’m going for the Overall Effect that you’d get seeing me walk down the street.  Opinions? I know this isn’t everyone’s style (this is all my business casual work stuff).   Would these outfits work better or worse without prints? how would you adapt them to your own tastes if you were to dress Robin-Business-Casual for the day?

Ann Taylor Loft cardigan, gray skirt, Circa Joan & David heels.

Ann Taylor Loft cardigan, gray skirt, Circa Joan & David heels.

 

Bellatrix floral top (probably about $6 at The Rack by now) with gray suit

Bellatrix floral top (probably about $6 at The Rack by now) with gray suit

 

My husband is 8 inches taller than me, which apparently adds 10 pounds when he's the one taking my picture. I do think this is cute, though.

No matter how much you love someone, it is hard to be photographed by them when they are 8 inches taller because it adds like 10 pounds. I do think this is cute, though.

 

Target skirt that got ruiined in the dryer, brown top, gray Talbots jacket

Target skirt that got ruined in the dryer, brown top, gray Talbots jacket. No I do not know where the baby went in this shot, weird.

 

Kind of animal-ish print, gray skirt, tortoiseshell pumps

Kind of animal-ish print, gray skirt, tortoiseshell pumps. Baby is just about to run into the frame, I cropped her out.

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