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Posts Tagged ‘identity’

You Complete Me

A great man once said, “You’re the Inspiration” and dominated the charts in the early 80s. Whose style dominates your mind?  Who brings feeling to your life?

Unlike some, I never had any celebrity style icons.  There were celebrities I liked the looks of (Cindy Crawford, Xtina Aguilera), but it turned out more to be girl crushes rather than anyone I truly aspired to look like. I didn’t read any fashion magazines growing up, just Tiger Beat and Bop. I did try to follow some Japanese fashion for a time, thumbing through magazines that were seasons past their prime.  In the end I think I turned to my peers for ideas.  Sometimes it was peer pressure (I have to look cool enough to be accepted!), sometimes it was to impress (Ha, look at me, you big dork!), and other times just for mutual pleasuring (Hey check out my shirt, man I love your skirt!). Or maybe I was just lazy, but I never looked far.

If you’ve been keeping up with this blog you know that my most recent fascination is with my mom when she was in her 30s, specifically the dresses she wore. This is a good model to follow because I know that we have the same body type and if this style looks good on her, there’s no reason it wouldn’t look good on me. Dresses are something I never ever wear unless there’s a wedding so that’s my new challenge.

my mom was 31 or 32 here. so stylish, so happy looking!

my mom was 31 or 32 here. so stylish, so happy looking!

Here’s my friend E, who always looks good whether she’s dressed up or dressed down, formal or casual, throw anything on her and she looks good. I have taken advantage of the fact that she lives in another town to copy her shamelessly.  I bought a pair of fuschia Danskos because she was wearing them. I bought a pair of Nike CityKnife because she was wearing them. I haven’t seen her recently so I haven’t purchased any E-related footwear. I’m always interested in what she comes up with next.

one of my favorite outfits of hers. dress over a skirt

one of my favorite outfits of hers. dress over a skirt

My friend B would be horrified to have her picture up on a blog so I’ll just substitute a stack of jeans instead.  If not for her I would never have discovered the joys of designer denim. Because of her I have now spent over $2,000 on jeans in the past 5 years. (It’s all her fault. She put a gun to my head!)

Citizens of Humanity, Joe's, AG, James Jeans

Citizens of Humanity, Joe's, AG, James Jeans

Shirt inspirations have sprung from envying various styles my friends JQ and L have been wearing, oftentimes stripes. I’ve yet to find a hair muse. I wonder where I got my animal print fixation? It seems like it was one of those things I tried out just to be obnoxious and then I ended up liking it. So try new things, you might be surprised!

Dr. Scholl's purchased this week at the outlet mall for $14.99. Not at all comfy but it sure is fun to look at! (I know I need to paint my nails...)

Dr. Scholl's purchased this week at the outlet mall for $14.99. Not at all comfy but it sure is fun to look at! (I know I need to paint my nails...)

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I recently met up for coffee with my good colleague JQ.  As we sat reminiscing about the days of yore long gone, we paused to look at ourselves with our matching baby strollers, she in her Ohio State sweatshirt and New York Yankees baseball cap and me in my $6 Old Navy T-shirt and a mullet and wondered aloud, “How did we get here!?”

me, with a then 8 month old and JQ with a days old newborn

me with a then 8 month old and JQ with a days old newborn. I'm wearing a Mariners sweatshirt and cap.

I don’t know about you but I seem to always have a constant battle inside, between the person I look like and the person I know I am.  Thinking back on my life I can only recall a couple of instances when those two identities converged and I felt the best that I could be. One was during the latter part of college and early career when I was in my early to mid-20s, and the other was during my late 20s and early 30s when I worked side by side with JQ at the University.

me in michael stars and Buffalo jeans, JQ in zodiac leo shirt i bought her. (My Bally purse was over $300!!)

We were young, single and carefree. We made just enough money to support our Michael Stars habit (I swear to you at one point I had about 20 Michael Stars shirts hanging in my closet), we shopped at Nordstroms and Anthropologie but also at the Gap or thrift, mixing and matching as we pleased, fashion rules be damned.  My favorite piece of clothing of JQ’s was a pair of swooshing windbreaker pants in pale blue from the Gap, complete with embroidered flowers down one of the back legs. Sure, we wanted to look cool and hip but I also think we wore some outrageous or obnoxious pieces just out of spite or just to entertain each other, like our own little private joke.

my shirt says "eye candy" (AND $92 at Nordstrom), in raglan sleeves that I love. JQ in michael stars

The other hobby we had was to make fun of the academics we encountered every day. Most of the young women were fun, intelligent, motivated, and absolutely wonderful people.  What struck us was how strange it was that the majority of them seemed to have completely given up on how they looked. JQ and I lovingly called these people “Mrs Spitzer” or “I give up” or “Christmas Sweater.”  These were vibrant women in their 20s, 30s with perfectly pretty faces walking around wearing high-waisted tapered pants, or sweatshirts with wolves or dolphins on them.

me in INC shirt, halogen jeans and steve madden boots. JQ in michael stars

Years passed.  We matured, married, had babies, and left the work force.  We started to worry whether something was appropriate for our age, income or lifestyle and we got less and less daring. We now sit in coffee shops with our spit upon T-shirts and rolled up jeans… Have we now become Mrs. Spitzers!? No, not yet. No. But we are close. The irony is, we might even actually dress “better” at this point in our life because we’ve figured out some fashion rules that work for and against us. But we had so much FUN back then, didn’t we?

me in shirt from anthropologie, skirt from brass plum! JQ in something similar, I'm sure

How can we recapture the spirit of our glory days? How can we still look good AND feel good but also keep a little crazy? Yes, our drummer only has one arm now and our guitarist is dead, but I think it’s time we reunited and go on a comeback tour. We will be back, just you wait and see.

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There really are many GREAT style resources out there.  This month’s O Magazine has an article on flattering dress cuts.  InStyle has a useful guide to vacation outfits.  Those are written by professional stylists and everyone should check them out.

The Fig Leaf as Minimal Clothing

Fig leaves, symbol of primordial clothing

I am not a stylist.  I’m really as interested in the “why” of getting dressed as the “how.”   I am convinced that clothes matter, and fascinated with how women debate this.  Our clothing is the interface between our private and public selves. It’s the first boundary between our bodies and the world. Clothing is the landscape where we create and express who we are. 

But as soon as I write that, I’m accosted by my own defenses:  Aren’t looks superficial?  Don’t character and personality matter more than appearance?  Isn’t fashion a charade of vanity and arrogance? 

Style is the tension between conformity and self-expression. Clothes are the first social contract an individual enters into upon leaving a State of Nature, if you buy that kind of thing.  Being dressed is what sets us apart from animals, and from God.

But current Western style has a complicated heritage.  Our society is sexist (becoming less so), exploits women’s bodies, and controls us by telling us — literally or figuratively — what to wear.   Many — most — independent and educated women rebel against that, in some way.  High heels are oppressive, women need to run and move as functionally as men do.  Screw the ideal of an hourglass shape, with all its fertility and weight drama, I’m going to be comfortable.  The “Looking Your Age”  thread quickly got to the heart of this: Infantilization of young women into hypersexed girl-nymphs? Devaluation of older women into frumpy crones wearing embellished denim visors?

It’s not surprising so many of us give up trying and go grocery shopping in our pajamas.

Keira Knightly as the Fabulous, Influential and Quasi-Feminist Duchess of Devonshire

Keira Knightly as the Fabulous, Influential and Quasi-Feminist Duchess of Devonshire

It’s critical to reject exploitation. Calling bullshit on fashion and body stereotypes is a big part of this. More importantly, at some point we’re responsible for more than reacting against it all.  We can’t just focus on what we don’t want to wear.  We each need to develop our own genuine voice.

This won’t be effective if we completely reject all Western style norms.  We cannot fully recreate the language of  clothing any more than we can create a new spoken language.  We would give up communicating altogether and risk being totally misunderstood. We have to transform and translate existing forms — tops and bottoms, skirts and shoes — into forms that express what we want to in the language spoken around us. 

If we live and dress in the Western World, we’re faced with the question: Really, what do we want to look like? And why?

Why get dressed?

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Mixing Prints

We all know the rules.  Bold prints if your frame can handle it, daintier prints if you’re petite.  You can mix them if one is subtler than the other (Or not, if you’re 3 years old).

I’m not a fan of prints on myself.  I’ll admit I just keep away from them altogether.  On the few occasions I tried, I ended up wearing it only once and feeling self-conscious all day or not wearing them at all.  All of my printed shirts end up at my sister’s, which is fine because she looks great in them!  I love the look of horizontal stripes but I know the perils so my toddler ends up wearing almost exclusively stripes.

Prints are great on others, just not on me… that is, unless it’s camo or animal.  This is tricky since I’m 36 and I don’t want to look like a teenager or a hootchie cougar lady.  I tend to stay away from actual animal or camo colors and I confine it to an accent piece.  Since I’m mostly an all neutral solids girl I can pull it off fine.  On occasion I will accidentally wear some leopard print socks with my giraffe print dankso clogs but fortunately no one sees them.  Sometimes I also put on an animal print top forgetting that my purse is snakeskin print. Most of the time I can get away with it because my purse is hanging from the baby stroller.

So what do you do if you have a favorite printed purse?  Most people don’t have time to unload and reload the contents of their purses every time there’s an outfit change let alone think about whether they clash.  I know I certainly don’t.  So where do you draw the line between “Oops oh well haha!” and ugly?

stripedanimal

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As soon as I mention “Fashion Rules,” people start arguing with me.  I guess rules beg for resistance.  I never was trying to impose a ban on clothes I don’t approve of (except MAYBE visors . . . more on that later).  I’ve noticed that everyone has their own self-imposed fashion rules, anyway.  Our UNwritten rules about what we’ll wear often don’t make sense and usually hold us back.  And most of us are walking around unhappy with the way we dress.

My story: In 2008 I went back to work after 18 months home with my kids.  It was time to give away my maternity clothes (hard to do — I love those stretchy waists, and for reasons that are sort of difficult, I can’t have more kids). I started unpacking my old work clothes and realized: 1. They were stretched out, worn out and didn’t fit and 2. I never really liked them in the first place. They represented a time when I didn’t like my job and fought the requirement to dress professionally. Sometimes I wore the same thing two days in a row because no one noticed me anyway.  These were bummer clothes.  

In those days — the “what can I get away with” days — I had unwritten rules that limited what I would or “could” wear — this was in my Business Casual (lawyer) wardrobe:

ROBIN’S OLD (BUMMER WARDROBE) RULES

  • No heels.
  • No pantyhose.
  • Actually just wear boots with thick athletic socks, or sandals in summer.
  • But not heels.
  • Nothing that tucks in.
  • Nothing that needs to be ironed.
  • Actually, let’s stick to knits.
  • Nothing that doesn’t match my one pair of black boots.

As part of my obligatory Mom-goes-back-to-work daydreaming, I was browsing catalogs.  There are a lot of cute clothes out there, and it started to dawn on me that maybe I could wear them.  Could I actually Dress Well at a new job?  Could I wear a suit without looking like an elderly high school principal (I’m 36?) Could the clothes I’ve resisted all my life –heels and skirts, nice handbags and blouses – actually work in my favor?

Did I have a prayer of ever pulling it all together?

This was a bigger revelation than it sounds.  It actually kind of changed my life and the way I think about myself.  I became a devoted disciple of What Not to Wear, and I adopted their idea of “rules.” Here was my first list:

 ROBIN’S NEW SHOPPING RULES (August 2008)

  • No juniors department
  • No. Polyester.
  • No clothes from Costco, Target or Fred Meyer. At least until next summer.
  • Try EVERYTHING ON before buying. No catalog/online sprees.
  • Buy pants and skirts that look good in the butt and get them hemmed (they are always too long)
  • Dark neutrals other than black
  • No elastic waists — buy clothes that fit and then don’t gain weight
  • No schlumpy sweaters (I got rid of this Used-to-be-beautiful striped cardigan when I realized it looked just like an awful one someone was “too attached to” on What not to Wear).
  • Keep copies of InStyle and Vogue in the bathroom so I get used to people looking stylish

Since then I’ve added some rules and ignored many.  More on that to come . . .

Dressed and ready for new job!

Dressed and ready for new job!

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After too many Facebook statuses that started with “I hate to be a fashion critic,” a few of us have been called out. We are fashion critics.

We are also in-between sizes; agonizing over the loss of our favorite maternity skirt; trying to rationalize more premium denim purchases. We are conflicted about sandal weather.

We also might be: 30-somethings, moms, reformed schlumpy-sweater-slobs, born-again handbag lovers, dress-avoiders, thrift store addicts, Nordstrom divas, or some combination of all of the above.

We are not wearing our pajamas outside.

Stay tuned.

Cole Haan Tortoiseshell Peep-toe with Nike Air insert. Comfortable -- really!

Cole Haan Tortoiseshell Peep-toe with Nike Air insert. Comfortable -- really!

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