Thursday, March 29, 2012

I Try A Trend

Just a short post to remind myself that yes, i do want to get me some stripes! I had the good fortune to thrift this little skirt, courtesy of my fairy godmother. It's very soft, almost circle in cut, and striped. I've been eyeing stripes for ages, especially the ones around one to one half inch in classic or neutral colors. This french blue is perfect, the color itself as well as the association. Yesterday i threw on a simple outfit based on this skirt to see if i really did like wearing stripes as much as i like thinking about wearing them.

Turns out wearing them is even more fun! The fact that the cut of this skirt is all wrong for me, and the stripes are at a strange angle, didn't even bother me. I doubt i'll wear this skirt as is very much, in fact i'm mulling over ways i can use the material (in good condition) to make a little top. But i do plan to snap up any suitable stripes i find in future. Blouse, skirt, scarf......yum. Why i didn't realize this from how much i've enjoyed wearing this CAbi striped jacket is beyond me. Maybe it's that the style of stripe is so distinct?

Any trends you're trying these days? How are you liking them? Any surprises?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Color Theory In Your Closet: Color Characteristics

Basic Color Wheel

Okay ladies, this is it: color theory in your closet! It's been wet, gloomy, and rainy here. I've been in the house working on projects, then going out for walks and having to hang up all my clothes and shoes to dry. In short, i've been presentable and pulled together but it's nothing to write home about. I've been wanting to explain color theory from the wardrobe angle for a long time now, this weather is giving me the perfect excuse!

Why would you be interested in learning about color theory? Here's some reasons. If you can grasp a few concepts about color theory you will have powerful tools for understanding what colors you like, why you like them, and how to find or create them. You will have much more confidence in choosing which colors to wear, as well as in combining colors in outfits.  You will understand how to add new colors to your wardrobe so that they harmonize with what you already have. You will be able to find great, wearable colors to buy in years when your 'regulars' just aren't in stock. You will have the ability to analyze color in outfits you find inspirational so that you can duplicate the effect or, better yet, adapt the color scheme to use your own most flattering colors.

Using color theory this way is a skill. You acquire this skill through study and practice. My goal is to give you straightforward examples and explanations of the basic color theory you can apply to getting dressed, so that you can analyze future outfits, pictures, interior designs, whatever inspires you in order to hone your skills.

Color Characteristics:
These are the terms we use to describe qualities of a particular color. They are:

This is what you're talking about when you ask, "What color is it?" Lime green, yellow, aqua, tumeric, baby blue - these are all hues.

How much of the hue is contained in the color you're looking at. Think about dyeing Easter eggs. The longer you leave an egg in the dye, the more pigment it takes up and the more saturated the color becomes. This is not the same thing as a light or dark color. Below, the lime green looks lighter than the indigo because of the qualities of the individual hues, but they are both very saturated or 'full strength'.

Lime & Indigo both fully saturated
The color wheel below has had the saturation decreased to about 50%. Compare this to the color wheel at the top of this post to get an idea of what saturation means. Less saturated colors tend to feel delicate and ethereal, while fully saturated colors come across as bold and strong.

De-Saturated Color Wheel Looks Drained Of Color

Saturation has a number of applications in the wardrobe. Some people look much better in really saturated hues, while others look better in hues that aren't much saturated at all. With most people, though, how you look in various saturations depends on the hue and other characteristics. Paying attention to this color variable can help you hone in on your most flattering and preferred looks. Varying the levels of saturation in an outfit can also add a lot of interest to a look, just as varying textures does.

Color Temperature
"Warmth" or "warm" refers to any color that has a lot of yellow (or, rarely, red) in it.

Color Wheel Drenched in Yellow is Warm

"Cool" refers to any color that has a lot of blue in it.

Color Wheel Dipped in Blue is Cool

Notice i said 'any color'. In these pictures i've taken my original color wheel and altered the entire photo. In the first one i added yellow, in the second i added cyan. This affects the various colors to different degrees, but you can see that indeed every color is altered. Yellow in the cool color wheel is cool, no longer warm. You can see this cool yellow in many flowers, especially daffodils and tulips. You can also see it in lemons which haven't yet ripened fully, which have a green cast.

The blues in the hot color wheel become warm with the addition of yellow. More people are aware of this, due to the popularity of aqua and turquoise (both warm blues). Most of the purples i see are cool, but you can see that the purple of The UFO Experience in the hot color wheel is very warm.

This is vital information for your wardrobe. The bulk of people look much better in either warm or cool toned colors. First, educating your eye to spot the difference will help you when you're picking out clothing. Secondly, you now know that you don't need to stay away from all blues if you're better in warm tones, or all yellows if you prefer cool tones. If you want to wear those colors you just need to find (or create) those colors with the undertone you prefer. Cultivating your ability to spot warm and cool tones will also help you in creating a cohesive color scheme.

Let's say you love reds so you decide to acquire a number of red pieces for your wardrobe. They'll all be red so they'll all 'go', and you can mix and match as you like. However, warm reds and cool reds generally look awkward next to each other.  If you can't spot warm vs. cool, or worse if you don't even know about warm vs. cool, you could easily end up with both temperatures in your closet. You'll end up frustrated, because your plan doesn't work - you've been diligent about only buying reds but they still don't 'jive'. Learning about these color characteristics and taking them into consideration when you're planning and when you're shopping is crucial to developing a truly easy to use wardrobe.

The last three color characteristics refer to ways you can alter a hue.
Tint: lightening a pure hue by adding white. This is how pastels are created, by adding white to a pure cool hue. But tints are more popular in painting than in fabrics - it makes more sense to just use less pigment on a bleached fabric to achieve a 'tint'.

Shade: Darkening a pure hue by adding black.

Tone: Altering a pure hue by adding grey.

Shades and tones are very popular in clothing. Designers love to do this because altering a group of disparate fabrics, all in the same way, will help to tie the end result together visually. It's kind of a short cut - but it works! And you can use this technique, too. I will often 'tea dye' any whites that look too glaring or cool for my warm coloring. I'll give the same treatment to prints with a lot of too-white white. I use orange pekoe, the kind Lipton uses, as it adds warm tones of yellow, orange, and grey-brown. Other teas (for example Earl Grey) will yield a grey tone, as will RIT dye's Pearl Grey. This particular grey imparts a cool grey tone, quiteuseful for ladies who prefer cooler colors. You can add a little yellow or blue to your dye bath to intensify the warm or cool effect, respectively. I can't tell you how often i've used this trick to make whites wearable!

L to R: Original prints, Tea-Dyed Prints (Warm), Pearl Grey Dyed Prints (Cool)
 Here i've taken a couple of prints and tea dyed one pair, then dyed another pair with RIT Pearl Grey. I've included the original un-dyed prints so you can observe the way this process changes the various colors and the overall feel of the prints.

Admittedly, this part of color theory is not all that scintillating. But you do need to have a grasp of these basic concepts in order to excel at and understand our next post's topic: creating and manipulating color schemes. In other words, how do you use this info to create great, flattering outfits and choose colors for your wardrobe with confidence.

As always, please ask about anything that seems confusing or that you'd like more info about. Thank you for reading!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Please Accept My Regrets...

for the unintentional preview of upcoming posts! Why blogger puts the 'Publish' button right next to the 'Save' button i'll never know - but i do know why it's a bad idea.

On the run today, i am sorry for any inconvenience, steph

Sunday, March 25, 2012

...And Then Remove One Piece......

Remember that old 'rule' about getting dressed so that you look like a classy lady, and not some overdone tramp?  "Get dressed, and then when you think you are finished remove one piece of jewelry...." Kinda boring, but i can see the point of it. After all, it's nice to have the focus be on you, rather than all the stuff you're wearing. This method can help you to achieve this goal. On the other hand, this rule has a little nastiness to it as well: don't trust yourself, always second guess your instincts, you need to make sure you don't stand out, better to fade into the background...

For good or for ill, this cliche did come to mind as i put together this outfit. Here in the SF Bay Area we've had a pretty mild winter this year. Only one frost or two, with weeks of temperatures in the 60sF. Plenty of clear blue skies. That's nice, but it does have it's drawbacks, namely air pollution and worries about summer drought and fire danger. So when March rolled around and we started to get a lot of rain i was very grateful. As the weather systems swept through the landscape, they took the particulates and pollen with them, creating relief for many allergic eyes, throats, and noses.

But i am growing tired of grey, overcast skies. It's a little gloomy.That's why i decided to whip up a nice, bright, sunnily colored look. I don't know how apparent it is in the pictures, but the over the knee socks i'm sporting are pink. The shade is quite close to my skin tone, which helps me feel okay about wearing them. Otherwise i would feel like they were too overwhelming! Normally with a look like this one, i'd wear some type of scarf around my neck or on the hat. But I found that this outfit was right on the edge for me. Any more color or distractions and it would feel forced and overdone, like i'd been caught in some type of tangerine tornado! Auntie Em!!!!

I had luck on my walk. In the park up the street i had a long visit with our resident coyote. I'm guessing this could be a mother coyote, as i thought i could spy a teat or two, and her (?) tail had lost most of it's hair (some mammals pull hair out of their tails to line the nest or den for the babies). After this encounter, and a ways down the road, a man walking his teensy dog said, "Pretty outfit!". I don't often get compliments like that on my daily walk. I took the opportunity to let him know coyote was out and about. He thanked me sincerely  while we both looked down at his friendly, pint-sized (coyote snack sized?) pooch.

Thank you again for your advice and commiseration regarding my recent bellyaching on the blog. I can report that i have purchased two lengths of fabric suitable for making structured blouses (shell pink linen and white eyelet). I have sketched up two versions of this Kay Unger blouse as guidelines for these fabrics, and i've in the middle of developing patterns for them. I really don't like to go on and on about how something bugs me, come up with a great solution based on other people taking the time and trouble to help me out - and then not do it! Your comments and putting my thoughts out here in public help keep me on track to accomplish my goals. I can't tell you how much i appreciate you all!

I sketch in pencil with a light hand. I punched up the contrast in GIMP a bit so you can see my ideas a little more clearly. The pink is very warm and beautiful with a lovely sheen to it, and heavy enough that this blouse will end up as more of a shirt-jacket than just a shirt. I had been keeping an eye on this eyelet for months. It was $18 a yard, and when the store marked it 'Half Off" i jumped on it. The dense, geometric embroidery takes care of any overly girly or underwear-ish connotations as well as providing plenty of ventilation. I'm very excited about finally having a proper 'white shirt' for daily wear - the Kay Unger's silk is staring to get a little fragile, which discourages me from wearing it too much. But when i do wear it i enjoy it so! It's very fun to see things taking shape.

Have you made any progress on wardrobe resolutions?  If not, what stands in your way?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Hey. Remember What You LOVE

Today i'm bringing up a sensitive topic. It's sensitive in our culture generally, and even more so in the style blogging community. Recently i've been noticing a number of conversations about our society's ideas of 'dressing in proportion', or more precisely how to dress so that your figure more closely resembles 'the ideal'. I surprised even myself by how strongly i reacted against this enterprise.

I do realize that bucking the norms we've been raised with is so much easier said than done. And i do appreciate that canny deployment of clothing can lessen the appearance of saddlebags, floppy arms, a flat yet saggy butt. In fact, i use many of these 'proportion tricks' myself, and have no qualms about it. I'll happily share and explain these principles with friends and on my blog.

But i do have qualms about how this approach to dressing can dominate all other concerns. It so easily becomes another way to criticize, to measure ourselves and find we are lacking.  How quickly this approach metamophoses into, "We know you're just this side of deformed, everyone is noticing it, but use these techniques and you may succeed in masking your ghastliness..." We're presented with ways to find out exactly where and how we don't match what is normal or pleasing, and fix-it tricks so that we can 'pass' (as long as we keep our clothes on).

I concede that here i'm taking the concept to an intellectual extreme. But, because these techniques are so powerful, because the social pressures for women to be pleasing and to fit in are also so powerful, this approach to dressing is not an extreme in real life, in conversations between friends, between women and their mirrors. And i hate that anyone would think and feel about a person this way - that people should be measured and judged by how they contrast with some vitiated ideal. Doing this to yourself isn't any nicer than doing it to someone else. You're a person, too.

So how can we use these techniques, these magic tools of proportion and color and texture, without being caught in a horrible machine, stripping us of all that makes us beautiful and unique?

Remember What You Love

That's it - remember what you love and concentrate on that, first and foremost, while you dress. I love to wear flower prints and pins because i love flowers of all types: cherry and plum blossoms with petals scattered by a spring rain, huge clumps of fairy lanterns cascading down a meadowed hill, mimosa blossoms which start out perfectly symmetrical being mussed by a busy honeybee. My rugged boots and cargo pants recall my family's long history of wild and wooly exploits in the Californian countryside.  Combining these rugged pieces with feminine, womanly skirts and blouses reflects my obsession with finding the middle ground between extremes, a trend made that much more emphatic by my history with Buddhism.

I loved the way this look echoed a tree in bloom - dark, sturdy trunk (shoes and stockings); branches and twigs up higher (sakura knit top); flowers and leaves at the top and at the 'ends' of the branches (Pleione blouse). It was so fun to be showing the world a pattern-mixing fashion fiend, while inside i knew my arboreal secret.

Using style to tip your public to these inner parts of yourself, your personality and passions, can be incredibly creative and engaging - for you and for the people around you. What's more fun than spying a friend's love of gardening in her rain boots colored to match her trademark tulips, or asking a friend to tell you about the fly he tied and is wearing on his lapel? Happily this type of play with clothing is well tolerated in our society.

 But i am going to come out of the closet, right here and now, and confess to a taboo practice. I also dress to deliberately play up my favorite physical features.  I love the blue of my eyes, the curve of my brows and hair. I get a kick out of the straight and strong lines of my shoulders, the ways they play off the curves of my legs. I will tell you from experience that it is so much more fun and inspiring to dress to perfectly frame my favorite features than to hide the bits labelled "not up to snuff", worrying all day that someone will guess the horror underneath it all (gasp!).

I firmly believe that these attitudes come through in the final outfit. The thoughts and feeling with which you start your day will certainly color your mood throughout that day. Honestly, do you think Anna Piaggi worries about the size of her butt when she's dressing? It sure doesn't look like it - i dare say Ms. Piaggi has a lot more interesting things on her mind!

Which brings me to a final observation about the 'fix it' approach to dressing yourself. It's boring. You risk coming across as thinking that you're not good enough, you have nothing to really say, you don't find anything in the outside world all that exciting........You Have No Passion. What a sad and colorless place to live! The shame of it is that it's not even true.

All of us inhabit amazing and beautiful bodies, creative and unpredictable minds. I am surrounded by luminous complexions, lyrical coloring, hair with a complex life of it's own, startlingly unique proportions. You have gorgeous parts as well. What are they? How would you dress if your only goal was to show off that rambunctious hair, those golden-green sloe eyes, your delicate long boned fingers. Not if you suddenly had 'the perfect body'. No one knows what that may be, and even if you lived in one, your same brain and habits would get down to their project of formulating new flaws. Go to your closet and pick out the pieces that really spark your coloring, that get you glowing incandescently, that call to mind your favorite things to do.  What happens when your clothes tell you "Remember that time we spent in Venice, the glow of the setting sun on the buildings...."  "Cannot wait to get out in the garden later today...."  "heehee, my hair goes it's own way - just like my cousin's....."

These ways of dressing yourself are two extremes. Dressing strictly to hide or compensate "flaws" vs. dressing to celebrate your body, your life, your passions. The tricky thing is that dropping a curtsy towards 'figure flattery' can open the door for wilder exploration of your loves. But i find myself more and more on the side of celebration and passion, caring less and less for common 'shoulds'.

My question today - if you had to choose between the two extremes: Who would you want to strike up a friendship with? Who's head would you want to live in? Who do you want to be?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Add A Little Color

 More walking looks, this time with color! These were for walking in pretty cold weather, for here anyways. I'm using my new(er) lounging sweats for warmth. These came about when the You Look Fab crowd was talking about the fun styles available at great sale prices at American Eagle. A couple of years ago i bought a couple of hoodie-type doodads at the Aeropostale outlet in Petaluma. They were so cheap i decided to buy my first sweatshirt-type item in a decade. One is so warm and comfy that it's become a lounging staple. The only drawback is it's a boring grey color....on the plus side it blends in, on the minus side it doesn't contribute much in the way of style.

The AE sweats came in such delicious colors, and the discounts were so enticing, that i dragged my better half down to the mall. How nice to find the colors even greater in person. And really nice cuts - a slimmer sleeve really reduces the bag-out factor. I have been enjoying wearing these hot and sour colors even more than i expected. It's funny how it slakes my thirst for color even though i'm just wearing them around the house and in bed, not in an 'official' capacity. 

That said, i think i like the way the lime top works in 'streetwear' better than the hot pink one. I'm showing you the look of the pink one on it's own so you can see the great tangerine lettering - yowie zimbowie!  Before i tried it as part of my 'walking' experiments, i'd have NEVER considered wearing any real clothing or accessories in this color. But, you say, what about your new dress in these self same colors? Well, i got the guts to buy it after i'd been hanging out in this sweatshirt. Who'da thought of using pajamas to stretch your style spectrum? I didn't even realize that i'd done this until i sat down and started writing this post! Now that i've tumbled to this, it sounds like a great method - hmmm, what should i choose for my next wing-stretching project?

 I've also noticed how much i prefer hot colors 'balanced' by another of their kind in the same look. In the first pic's look, adding the coral tones of the scarf really makes it for me. The same with the tangerine lettering on the pink hoodie - it adds a depth to the color story; without it these colors feel a bit flat. I also love roughing these colors up with some real textures - the fiber embroidery on the belt of the first look, for example, or the crinkly gauze of the olive scarf next to the coral shell. Getting some experience with these 'low risk' walking looks has emboldened me to pursue items in these colors for my wardrobe. I know that i'll enjoy wearing them and have precise ideas on how to style them to my liking.

On to the plain and simple practicality of color. We're in a rain cycle here - some weather watchers predict it will stick around through the end of the month (!). Anytime i leave my house on foot i traverse a couple of busy intersections. One would think that bright orange and vivid blue would stand out in even the gloomiest of days ..... but i've had at least one incident recently where i had trouble attracting a driver's attention.

This aggravates me even more as there is an assisted living facility just around the corner, and a lot of the residents have trouble walking (though they still keep at it!).  As you would suspect, many of these drivers have their cell phones stuck to their ears. If you see me yelling at cars out on the highways and byways, that's the reason. Oy!

Since we've switched from landline to smartphone, i've been taking my phone along on walks. I'm not worried about needing to call emergency services, or engaged in long soulful discussions with, i'm listening to my paranormal podcasts. I'd imagined that my daily walks would be a great time for talking to friends and family (i'm notorious for my inability to simply talk on the phone, i'm constantly ironing or dusting or eating or pacing or). But there's just too much distracting noise from cars, wind, leaf blowers, and so on. I've been especially enjoying Anything Ghost. Host Lex Wahl reads listener-submitted stories of the high strange and sets the whole thing to his original compositions. He's been at this for years, so i'm working my way through his voluminous archives.

If you enjoy spooky stories and old-timey, spooky-movie-type music give Anything Ghost a try! Do any of you listen to podcasts? What are your favorites? I'd love to find a good podcast with a focus on style - spill the beans if you know of any! Happy Weekend and be sure to take a nice walk.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Walking The Talk

 I been holdin' out on you. I've squirreled away a change of style habit, a mini-conceptual breakthrough, and a number of outfits over the last month. Today i start sharing all this with you.

You may not be that excited about all this, as it regards a very casual aspect of style. Throughout my life, my main exercise has been walking. On a weekday i like to walk between half an hour to an hour, just around the neighborhood. On the weekends, out and about with mr. e, we may cover up to eight or ten miles on city streets or hiking in parks.  Here i'm concerning myself with the daily constitutional. For decades my habit has been to dress once for the day. I would either walk in that look or, more usually, fudge it a bit to accomodate the walk (shoes, socks, sun protection).  More often than not, both looks would suffer as a result.

The obvious solution? Come up with a couple of great-looking walking looks, wear those for walking, then dress for the rest of the day according to what it holds. Alarmingly obvious this solution may be, but it did not occur to me until about a month ago. At times like this i can't help but wonder what other stupid, mindless habits i'm adhering to which are bugging the heck out of me, unawares. Aiee!

Happily, once this idea made it's way up from the archaen abyss, it didn't take me decades to act on it. I began to dress in strictly walking-appropriate outfits first thing in the am, then change into a different look if i felt like it or the day warranted. I snapped a couple of pix of each outfit with the idea of coming up with one or three nice repeaters. These looks were two of the first ones i attempted. They turned out physically comfortable, pulled together, a little boring for my tastes. As usual in these really pared down looks one great accessory makes a big difference.

This is still a work in progress. I haven't managed to nail down 'the one look' and start repeating it. We have had some really cold days, so i got some experience creating toasty ensembles. But we have yet to veer into the hot hot hot weather of true Contra Costa summers. This will throw a spanner in the works, as i've spotted one trend in these looks - i use a little jacket as a 'third layer' to pull things together. In 92F, not so great. But from past travails i know that a structured blouse will make a smashing replacement.

a perfect structured blouse - i still have the pattern

I do have some blouses in this category which would work well for this purpose - structured, light colored, short of sleeve. The trouble is i've known for a while that i could use some serious refreshing in this category. The pieces in the best condition are still several years old. Two blouses are old on top of being made of very thin fabric. The Kay Unger blouse is gorgeous, but it is silk and has some staining. Seeing how much use structured blouses could get for 'walking' looks has highlighted the urgency of this need.

The obvious next step is for me to buy some nice fabric and get crackin'! But i'm usually out shopping with mr. e, and he has no taste buds for cotton fabric in lighter, plainer shades. The man is all about frosting, no cake for him! I love him for it, and i love the beautiful, special pieces he has picked out for me over the years. But even when i can see the finished garment in my mind's eye, it's no fun shopping for basics when your companion is so tremendously unimpressed. We share a car, and with the nerve damage in my legs driving to and from Berkeley, picking mr. e up in Walnut Creek, etc. causes a fair amount of pain. Combined with the difficulty i have in picking out fabrics in a limited time is just easier to not.

Except when summer rolls around and i kick myself for not getting off of my butt! I tell you, this is one of the areas which really stymies me. I can see real holes, and real ways to fill them, but the amount of energy, time, hassle it will take to make it happen puts me off. It is plainly easier to not do it. The project doesn't feel overwhelming, just like a lot of tedious hassle. The crux of the matter: how much of a stink do i want to make, how much energy to i want to devote bring my ideas to fruition. And in many cases, such as this one, it's not in order to get a hold of some luxury item like my Cascades.I just want to dress in the way i see fit on a day to day basis.

I don't want to get all dressed up to walk in the dust and heat, to swab my deck and clean the tub. I don't want to wear a cocktail dress to a gallery opening on Solano Avenue, or hike in heels and a flirty floral dress. I have done all these things in the past, when i enjoyed them thoroughly. But now, i want more variety. We all know how women in this society are discouraged from making their wants and needs too well known.  I am not exempt. In fact, i'm well known as the type of person who irritates beyond measure by her lack of preference - is it too much for a person to come up with a restaurant suggestion on a Saturday night, for heaven's sake?

The truth is that a lot of times i really don't care. Now, i'm finding that i do indeed care about certain things. Not only that, but i have particular ideas about what it is that i want. I've come to the conclusion that my task going forward is to devote the time and guts commensurate to my desires in order to bring them about.

Much style advice restricts itself to practical concerns, with good reason. But i find the stickiest of problems reside in these emotional/psychological areas. Do you struggle with these issues in your own life? In your wardrobe? What have you found is helpful, and have you had any breakthroughs?

Monday, March 12, 2012

More Shopping Thoughts

w00t! The comments regarding shopping were so great i decided to excerpt some in this post to make sure people don't miss these smart ideas.  After  i made this decision i spotted a couple of  blog links with very pertinent material on shopping that i want to present to you as well. Bingo - a post is born!

First, comment highlights. (Click through to read How To Make A Shopping Plan and How To Work A Shopping Plan). I've edited down the comments here, but if you are interested in the topic it is so worth your time to read them right through!

Our favorite deep thinker and 'bombshell on her day off' Vildy writes:

"I love clothes but I hate shopping. ....I'm happiest when I can spend under an hour. So I limit the stores I will go to. I also case them with a once over every now and then. I do much better when I don't have to perceive too many items too closely. I like to experiment with new ideas and I don't like spending much so I'm happiest with a few thrift stores I visit regularly, either weekly or monthly, where the stock doesn't change all that much. Makes it much easier for me to spot the new stuff plus in my favorite store they (sales staff) will pick out stuff for me and show it to me. And they're usually right, too.

I like what you said about not trying to force something to work.....If I put on the clothes and they make me look good, I am still the same looking good me if I take them off again.

I don't use the internet for specific shopping but I do use it to absorb the feel of what is out there......

I purge my clothing continually and I learn from that what whole categories I probably want to eliminate considering....... I like them but I'm not liking owning them. Also I keep categories of items that I genuinely have enough of and don't want any others unless they are very special. I guess this is all my way of wanting to add only special items to my closet, at this point."

Vildy points out the worth of keeping in touch with what you have, how it's working out for you, maintaining good relationships with sales staff, and focusing on what is special and best on your particular self.

Ms. M of Department of Color:

"I used to feel bad if I didn't find anything to buy while out shopping. I thought of it as a "failed" breakthrough came when I changed my mindset and started thinking of these non-spending trips as opportunities to save my money for when something better came along. And something better ALWAYS comes along. Like you said, you have to trust that it will happen."

Well put - don't fret all the 'good enough' stuff in your path. Keep your eye on the prize!

Adrienne of Wear The Hat sounds like the home economics teacher we all wish we had:

"When my teenage daughters wanted new "wardrobes" usually I would do the following with them 2x a year. We would go through their clothes in every draw and eliminate what wasn't working. The factors to consider were:size (too big too little), style: (was it still in and therefore they would wear it)and identify the clothing orphans. After further sorting we would come up with a list of needs: tops, bottoms, outer wear, underwear etc. Shoes and purses were a separate budget. We would come up with the total number of items desired and put it in the equation, total budget divided by number of desired items. That way they knew how much they could spend on each item in order to keep on budget. a result they would pare down the wants to a more reasonable number and keep within their budget. They are now in their 20's and still sort of do this inventory method. I kind of do this too so I identify what my real fashion priorities are...."

Brilliant! Take in those six sentences and you can chuck my two voluminous posts. And how lucky of Adrienne's daughters to get trained up in this stuff at an early age :)

Terri of RAGS against the MACHINE also commented, which reminded me of her Window Shopping Project. As she describes it:

"In September, I realized that I had not entered a retail store of any type in many months.  I realized that I did not even know HOW to shop in most retail stores.  This year, I have decided I want to spend the next twelve months window shopping (or window licking, as C. at Aesthetic Alterations puts it).  The twist I want to put on this endeavor is to begin with the dollar stores and gradually work my way up the cost ladder, ending (fingers crossed) in a designer store, perhaps even in an appointment to try on the latest thing.  During this time, I want to keep my (clothing) budget the same as this past year ($1200), spending no more.  This means that if I want a Hermes scarf, I'll need to learn to delay gratification until late in the year."

heehee, or buy your scarves on e-bay!  Read her Window Shopping Project posts here.

Aesthetic Alteratrations posted an excellent article on shopping in higher-end boutiques a few days ago. (Terri needs to read this one right now if she hasn't already - the end of the year will be here faster than you think!)  By chance of geography, i've had the opportunity to poke my head into any number of very swank establishments over the decades. San Francisco is the home of many posh shops, and there are quite a few in downtown Walnut Creek as well. Her advice - to be courteous and frank with the staff, present a well-groomed appearance, and to be prepared - i've found to be spot on.

I do have a minor quibble about staff. Many are paid on comission (this means they make money when you buy, either a flat rate or a % of the purchase price), and this quite naturally effects their behaviour towards customers. Additionally, the goods they sell are small and expensive (ie., staff are on the lookout for 'boosters' and people casing the joint). In many locations, staff won't want to spend time with you unless they've decided you're a "buyer".  This is by no means universally the case.

But if you do find yourself in this position, Aesthetic Alteration's advice to do your research will serve you very well. If you have a good knowledge base about the product line, the various items in which you're interested, colors and variations available, you will be able to glean a great deal of the information you need without the assistance of a sales person. Showing that you have indeed researched their wares in depth can also turn around a neglectful sales person. Nothing shows real interest in quite the same way.

Finally,The Vivienne Files is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in wardrobe remixing and getting the most flexibility from their clothing. The posts in which she creates a wardrobe and then shows a number of outfits pulled from that wardrobe are especially helpful in visualizing how this works. In these three posts from last January Vivienne tackles the problem of packing for uncertain weather. She shows 21 outfits for each wardrobe (of around 15-20 pieces each, not counting shoes and accessories), labelling each outfit as appropriate for warmer, cooler, or middlin' weather. Remixing sounds so nice in theory, but can be a real poser when you look at your closet! Watching it 'really happen', for specific pieces and specific occasions, truly elucidates the process.

I got this knockout dress from Krasa in Berkeley. Nothing beats a dress in the heat - a nice necklace or earrings, snazzy shoes, happenin' hair, and you're done.  So easy, and feeling put together is a nice balm to heat induced frazzle. I bought this dress in the middle of winter and i am very happy i did - it looks like we may be in for a scorcher of a summer this year!

Friday, March 9, 2012

How To Work A Shopping Plan

This is part two of a two part series: read part one here.

Before you hit the stores, you need to have some idea of a budget. An overall budget, what you are willing to pay for any particular item, weekly allowance - some kind of structure. I have no advice on how to develop useful parameters for yourself. I do know that without these types of limits you will drive yourself, and your bank account, straight round the bend. Anyone with useful ideas or links to share on this topic, please speak up in the comments!

The online store. Even if you do not plan to buy anything from an online store, i find them a very useful tool for avoiding overwhelm and planning my shopping strategy. Online shops allow you to research what's out there before you go to the physical store, with it's smells and lights and loud music and time limitations. You can browse at your own pace, without the pressure of a sales assistant. And in my own case, my eyes need time to adjust to what's in the stores. Previewing stock online is an easy and convenient way to let that adjustment happen.

For instance, you can bookmark a likely looking piece and revisit it several times over a few days. This allows for time to let ideas on outfits percolate up from your subconscious, as well as for more subtle deal breakers to become apparent. Most importantly, i find, this time allows me to see how the needs and wants i have identified 'mesh' with the items actually out there in the real world. Especially when i'm not finding what i am used to wearing, it takes me a while to see the possibilities in different pieces. If i see the items online, then let the images float around in my mind for a few days, when i come back to them i have a much better feel for how these pieces could work in my own closet and lifestyle. I also find it helpful to read online reviews of an item and/or manufacturer to get a feel for whether or not a piece will work.

You'll also get an idea of which stores are more likely to have what you want in stock. Often, you will find exact pieces that you want to try on. In this case, find out (online or by phone) if the item is in your store in your size range. When you get to the store, go straight to that item (sales assistants can help here). I love shopping this way as it really reduces the amount of looking through inappropriate items. I can get to the try-on phase long before i'm too overwhelmed to make sensible decisions.

In the store. What do you do with your list when you are in the store? Here's the short answer: use it to weed out all items which do not meet your own specifications as quickly as possible. Then, and only then, spend time and attention evaluating individual pieces. 

Here's an example to break it down. Let's say you want to find a light to medium colored, structured feeling blouse in a cut and fiber which you can wear well in the heat.  Thus, in the store, you want to eliminate as efficiently as you can any item which is:
  • not a blouse
  • darker than a medium tone
  • made of a fiber you won't wear in the heat
  • not structured
  • priced higher than your budget

I like to flip through clothing on hangers, using my fingers to feel the fabric as my eyes scan color and the obvious styling features. I know a lot of people are looking for anything attractive about clothing when they shop. With this method, you are looking for qualities you can use to quickly eliminate pieces that don't fit your specs. If a blouse doesn't fit your color requirement, on to the next one. If the fabric is inappropriate, you're done with it. The same with your personal style and figure flattery priorities - if the garment does not fit, you're done with it. On to the next. If it's over your budget, move on. Done right, this will greatly reduce the amount of clothing you need to evaluate in very short order.

The underlying principle is that clothing needs to fit your own individual, well thought out criteria in order to earn and deserve your attention. Your task is not to figure out some convoluted, baroque method by which that cute designer dress (which doesn't fit, is in a color which bears no relation to anything else in your closet, in a fiber which makes you itch) will 'work'. Clothing is auditioning for the privilege of working for you. You don't have time to waste on the ones that you know will never work out. On to the next!

Only remove an item from the clothes rack for further inspection if it has already passed on every specification you can see. Taking a red top off of the rack will not turn it blue. Holding a wool coat up to the light will not magically transform it into a linen tunic. Do not distract yourself! Save your attention for pieces which meet your criteria. These pieces can come into the dressing room with you to see if they fit and flatter (which is another topic for another day).

When i first experimented with shopping this way, i got scared. I eliminated so many clothes so very very quickly! How in the world could i ever find anything to wear this way? Sure, this way i could find those few pieces i really loved much more swiftly, but......maybe i was missing something great!

The truth was that i've always only found a very few pieces i loved anytime i've gone shopping. I quickly realized that this new approach really freed up my time for doing other wardrobe tasks - sewing and designing, creating new outfits, learning how to cut my own hair, researching trends and style advice online, keeping my closet organized so i knew what i actually had, researching online and brick and mortar stores which stocked items worth my time, blogging.....tasks which upped my style quotient much more and more reliably than time spent shopping. The truth is that i've found no benefit in spending hours and hours shopping just to shop. I wasn't going to find what wasn't there.

For many people, beginning to shop in this manner takes a leap of faith. You need to trust the method and you need to trust yourself.  There's no magic - you just have to try it and see if it works.  You can try 'baby steps' to start if it just seems too radical.  Try this method in a store you don't care for. Or go through a store using this method, then go through again using your usual methods. Afterwards, compare the results and judge if the extra effort of the old way yields better results for you. Another idea is to try this method out wherever you happen to be - just tell yourself you're 'practicing' and if you want to you'll go over the store using your usual methods later.

I rarely experience any qualms when i shop this way. But then, i've been at it for many years now. And i've seen how much easier it is to dress, and how much more i love my clothing, when i approach shopping in this manner. I am able to really make the connection between all the thinking and planning i do and the way it informs the choices i make on the showroom floor, because i've seen it time and time again through working this method.

We've all heard that we shouldn't shop for groceries when tired and hungry - we'll just make impulsive, expensive purchases. Wasted money, wasted time, and you don't get proper nutrition or satisfaction. Shopping for clothing when you don't have a handle on what you need and want will lead to the same regrets. I've found that using these techniques can help battle these influences. True, i don't get so much of the 'high of the buy'. On the other hand, i love most of my clothes, shoes, and bags; they work for my lifestyle so i get to wear them all the time instead of simply staring at how gorgeous they are in the closet; i'm not fussing with returns all the time feeling guilty about spending money on things i never wear.

If you want more of this type of wardrobe experience, i encourage you to give some of these ideas a try. As always, i will be happy to answer any questions you have about this, and i would be thrilled to hear any ideas which have led to shopping breakthroughs for you!  Thank you for reading!

Jacket: CREA, Nevada City CA - borrowed from mr. eccentric!
Top, Skirt, Necklace: own design
Socks: Sock Dreams
Shoes: Fossil Savana
Bag: Isabella Fiore

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

How To Make A Shopping Plan

(All pictures taken at Castle In The Air, a shop we visited on the Fancy Pants Tour)

Yesterday was another of ilegirl's fabulous Fancy Pants Tours. It was great fun, and i loved spending a day with wonderful women. To top it all off, after around three weeks of grey, foggy, rain we were graced with clear blue skies, gentle breezes, luminous sunlight on the cherry and plum blossoms everywhere. I just wanted to lay down and soak it all up!

Towards the end of the tour, ilegirl was telling me about how overwhelming it is for her to shop the thrift shops. It turns out that she inspects every article thoroughly - which explains the many outrageous finds she has in her closet! But on the down side, it is taxing physically, intellectually, and emotionally. And it carries a rotten sense of neverendingness which i abhor. I asked ilegirl if she had a plan....she struggled a bit, then laughed good-naturedly, "Well, obviously not a good one since i find shopping so overwhelming!"

Boy, can i relate. I spent many years taking the same approach to clothes shopping, driven by the sense that since i had little money i had to go full-bore in terms of time and attention to compensate. Decades later, i've found that to dress well you do have to put in plenty of time and attention. But scrutinizing every garment in every shop is not the wisest place to put that energy. Through trial and error, and experimenting with advice from various authors, i've developed a scheme which works pretty well for me. My scheme follows - i hope you find it helpful! As the saying goes, take what looks fun or useful and leave the rest.

I like to develop a plan at the change of the seasons, generally 2-4 times a year. First, i take a look at the calendar. What's coming up? What kind of weather can i expect, what type of activities, any special events? Right now we're heading into warmer weather, which means more hiking and barbeque type gatherings, possibly camping here at chez eccentrique. My grandmother's one hundredth birthday is coming up in September - just at the end of summer here, but given my difficulty in finding clothing i'll want to start looking/planning now in order to have time to sew something if i decide to. Will you be traveling for business or pleasure, and where? If so, do some research about the weather conditions, and also about the accepted norms of dress if you're unsure (especially for a business gathering or important social event like meeting your intended's parents). Note if you have any seasonal leisure activities, like backpacking or boating, which require special gear.

Using your notes, you can make a list of the type of outfits you'll be needing, based on your list of special activities plus weekly work/casual/loungewear needs. My list for summer looks something like:

10-14 casual/smart casual outfits
6-10 out to dinner outfits
2-4 walking in the heat outfits
2-4 first doctor visit outfits
2-3 50th birthday outfits
2-4 lounging/sleeping in the heat outfits
1 outfit for Grandma's one hundredth birthday
3-5 road trip outfits

Be precise where you can (the hundredth birthday, walking in the heat), and just give it your best guess for areas where plans aren't firmed up or weather is unpredictable. The Mr. and i generally take a few day trips and/or a couple of overnite trips during the summer months. But i have no real idea where we may end up. Cold, foggy, windswept Mendocino or sunny Santa Cruz? Who knows. I do know that i want some pieces that are comfortable to wear in the car, layer well, are easy to hike in, and look great. Do your best - it's a plan, not a legal contract.

To the closet! You are going to shop your closet to create the outfits on your list.  Be sure to include accessories, foundation garments, socks, pocketbook, etc. Taking pictures of completed or partial outfits is helpful for creating your list as well as for times you're lacking in inspiration. Model them yourself or do 'polyvore on the floor'. You can also capture your outfits in writing.

As you go through this process of outfit creation, pay attention to any 'missing elements'. You may notice that you lack layering tees, or a strapless bra, or a denim pencil skirt, scarves, whatever. You may find that one particular item shows up in almost every outfit - this is a clue that another item which can play the same role will give you many new outfit options. Look out for 'partial outfits' - pieces that look great together but need the right tee, jacket, shoes, etc. to create a completed outfit. You may feel that you want more colorful outfits, or more neutral looks. You might think things are looking a wee bit dated and find you're open to more modern pieces. This is also a good time to inspect pieces for signs of wear that indicate the item is nearing the end of it's useful life or needs repairs. Make notes of all of the 'missing pieces' and 'elderly items' on a piece of paper (or in excel if that's your style).

I use my blog WIW pictures for this purpose, and keep a running tab of 'missing items'. Every week or so i straighten my closet, which involves handling all my different clothing items and keeps what i do have uppermost in my mind. If you have a handle on your style and colors, aren't facing any major clothing-related changes such as a new job, and your closet is organized enough that you know what you have you can get away without actually spending a couple of hours making outfits from your closet. But doing this task in real life is so worthwhile, and it's indispensable if you don't really have a handle on what's in your closet and your own personal style.

You will now use these notes to compile your list.  To begin, it helps to group all of your missing items by type: tops, bottoms, outerlayers, accessories, and so on. Then, in order to help to focus your shopping, you want to get behind the individual piece descriptions ('blue navy tee', 'khaki button front knee high skirt') to the role you need your new items to play in your wardrobe.

This part is a little slippery to describe and tricky to do. You want to be precise, so that you don't have to scour every inch of every store in the land.  But you don't want to be so precise that you won't be able to find anything suitable. The author of The Vivienne Files addresses this issue beautifully in her "Customizing The Classics" posts. In her post on the classic black turtleneck, Vivienne address the issue this way:

"On every list of clothing that you must own, you'll find a black cashmere turtleneck....But for a lot of people, black is bad, and for a lot of people a turtleneck is bad! But you DO need a sweater that's:
Here Vivienne lists, with pictures, a number of variations on 'the black cashmere turtleneck', suiting many different climates, style personas, and figures. She then sums up:

"The bottom line is that there are no hard and fast wardrobe rules. Try to determine the intent of the advice, and make choices which suit your specific and very unique needs and preferences."

I cannot say it any better! Vivienne has created a number of these posts, click here to see her archives of these posts. The more you use her concept in creating your list and in shopping, the more likely you will find pieces which suit you and are useful. You will also really decrease the time you spend shopping.

Here's one way it could work. Instead of listing "a white Brooks Brothers no-iron, tailored fit blouse with french cuffs in ivory", you would write something like, "structured, tailored blouse in light color and easy to care for fiber which i can wear comfortably in the heat". Now, if you have been wearing BB shirts for years and pat yourself on the back for your brilliance every time you take one out of your closet - by all means, go for the exact thing you love! But if you don't have a repeatable item like that, the second definition will serve you better. It will keep you focused on the important characteristics that will make sure the piece will do what it needs to do in your closet, while at the same time not putting undo limitations on your search. You need a new blouse and you want to find one you love, even if nothing in the store duplicates your preconceived notions.

I like to prioritize items on the list as well. Anything that will allow me to create multiple new outfits or replaces an aging wardrobe workhorse will go near the top of my list. Items that can't be fudged, like a warm coat or hiking shoes, also go to the top. But your list is your own list and your own priorities may be different.

At this point i'd like to discuss knowing your own personal style and what colors you want to work with in your wardrobe. Obviously, the more of a handle you have on your style and your colors, the more you can streamline your list and your shopping. That's one of the many benefits of doing the work involved in defining your style. But what if you're at the beginning of a style revamp, or in a new situation re: work, climate, etc.? People who are unsure about what comprises their style can't just go around naked!

I have a couple of suggestions. First, take a look at classic pieces and pieces in neutral colors. Classics and neutrals are the 'a la mode' of the closet. You can wear classic items easily with pieces from any style persona, and neutrals similarly mix well with a wide range of colors. No matter where you end up in your style journey, classics and neutrals can play an important role in outfit creation without defining your style.

The same can't be said for pieces channeling other style personas, like exotic dramatic or bombshell. At the same time, trying out items from style types you are curious about is one of the best ways to find out about your own style. So you may want to purchase a few pieces in styles or colors you want to try out. But to lessen possible negative impact, do this with less costly pieces and with pieces you won't have to wear every day (like a warm winter coat).

Next Up: In The Store

Friday, March 2, 2012

Do These Glasses Make My Butt Look Big?

 Yes, dear readers, the day hath come when i ask you to weigh in on the flat-out hotness quantitude of a certain item of clothing or accessory. Nothing to do with comfort, practicality, fashion, suitability - just, "are we rocking this look or ain't we". Thumbs up or thumbs down - based on sheer eye appeal.

Usually i try not to approach my wardrobe from such a shallow perspective. Actually, i'm not now, either. No, it's Mr. Eccentric who requested the honest opinion of the Dashing Eccentric readership. The first shot shows him in his natural element - in nature, wearing fabulously unique accessories, stylishly coiffed, and with a cat. (Really, he's as popular with cats as Angie is with wee poochies!)

You will notice he's also sans spectacles in that first pic. He has only worn glasses in the last year or two, and only requires them for driving. Thus the question of style - why wear them around and about unless they truly add to the total look.

So we went out back and took a few pictures for comparison. You get the front view, and a classic profile.

Mr. E's only request is that you voice your brutally frank and completely honest opinion. He cannot yet see his future. He only knows that it lies in your hands.

I thank all of you for taking the time to read and to comment. I must say that i will be relieved when Mr. E receives your considered opinion and can rest his mind about the status of his optical attractiveness. The whole household will be happy when he once again may focus on that which he was born to do.

Cater to the needs and wants of small, furry animals. Thank you and happy weekend!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

I Thought It Would All Be Figured Out By Now...

This outfit happened by accident. I wore the jeggings for comfort. I love the orange of this new tank and i'm a 'wear it now' type of gal, so on it went. I'd been wondering how the orange would look with this blouse since the moment i decided to get an orange tank. Finally, when i unexpectedly needed to leave the house these boots were the most obvious choice, as they cover more of the jeggings.

While i was wearing this look, I really liked it. My natural inclination is to clothe myself towards the dressier end of the spectrum, so coming up with a casual outfit that i really liked was a great surprise. I'm also becoming more and more taken with the idea of dressing in accord with circumstances, which for me means casually. When i was younger i'd dress however i liked and happily sported vintage cocktail dresses in burrito shops. But as the years passed, i felt that i'd 'done that' and became intrigued by the challenge of expanding my style spectrum. These days faboo casual looks attract my eye even more than dressy ones do.

However, something clicked when i was wearing this look. It's been over two weeks since this happened and i still have a lot of unanswered questions about it.  I don't know if the 'click' was due to this particular outfit or if it was just time for that idea to wend it's way into the old forebrain. One way or another, it hit me - i really am capable of having the wardrobe i truly want, in every single area of life - from 'going to the opera', to hanging around the house, to sleepwear - all of it. Now, as many of you know, this has been my expressly stated goal and purpose ever since i started this blog (and before!). In fact, until this realization hit me i didn't even know that i didn't believe it all through my bones.

Like the post title says, when i began this wardrobe project a year and a half ago, i figured by this point i'd have things pretty well wrapped up. I'd have my go-to sewing patterns (altered to fit perfectly), my reliable shopping outlets, i would have settled on a sensible yet fun wardrobe size and be on a 'one in, one out' regime. But this last realization has me feeling a bit 'back at zero'. I know i'm not, yet i also know that i have farther to go than i have already traveled. While this seems like it should be discouraging, it actually feels exhilarating! I see now that i will be able to take my personal style to places i hadn't even considered, to have a much wider range than i thought, to feel totally myself in areas i thought were just not even worth thinking about.

This blog post is pretty unusual for me. I generally have something very definite to say about style and the particular outfit i'm showing. This time, all i can do is let you know that i had some ill-defined insights which were somehow connected (or maybe not) with the clothes onscreen, and which seem to indicate that after eighteen months of considered study of the subject i realize i've barely scratched the surface.

All i can say is that i sincerely hope that the same thing happens to you someday. And if you have already been thus blessed, we want to hear about it!