Saturday, December 31, 2011

There Is Hope!

Well, i thought i'd try for an 'uplifting' post to finish the year. I know that many of you, like i am, are somewhere along a journey of re-thinking your style and re-populating your closet. Over at the You Look Fab forum, in the last couple of weeks there have been a few 'When does it get better?' threads.  People who have spent many hours on their style project and are wondering when it all starts to get easier.

Which is why i am showing you these two outfits in particular. Neither is the most stylish, the most flattering, or the most outrageous i've ever put together. But those last two words contain the beauty of these two looks -neither was 'put together'. In fact, both were just pulled out of the closet in desperation with very little consideration besides 'I've got to get out the door!'. Yet, later in the day i realized that i was physically comfortable, felt authentic (thank you Patti!) and appropriate and i liked the way i looked!

All of your work and toil does pay off!  A year and a half ago if i'd reached into my closet for something likely and rushed out the door - well, i did try that then and it's not worth revisiting. But i've reached the point where my closet is largely stocked with well thought out pieces that suit my figure, my tastes, my lifestyle, and each other. In short, i've stacked the deck in my own favor.

I'm not trying to toot my own horn here (well, maybe a little.....) so much as let anyone who is feeling frustrated know that you can do it too! All you need is a plan, the ability to learn from mistakes, and the determination to stick with it for the long haul. Everything else can be worked with or around.  True, i can sew and i have had training in the visual arts (both of which most people can learn as well). But my budget is pretty limited, and it's very difficult physically for me to do much shopping.  Every one of you has strengths and weaknesses too - storm your noggin and figure out how to work 'em! Research your questions in blogs, join a forum and participate, start your own blog and ask your readers what they think. Stick with it long enough, try enough crazy things and you'll get there! I promise.

How are you all coming along with your own style goals? Can you grab a decent outfit out of your closet in two minutes flat or are you having trouble getting started?  What's the most brilliant idea you have come across regarding style and getting dressed this last year?

Happy New Year!!!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

How To Make A Tee And Jeans Work For You

As a fan of the dressier, the structured and tailored, the eccentric and avant-garde, nothing strikes me as more snooze-inducing or off putting than 'a tee and jeans'. I avoided wearing this classic American Casual pairing for decades. That's why i knew i wanted to share this look with you! This outfit isn't all that exciting, but it demonstrates how you can make a style statement you love in even the most mundane of circumstances.  It's a sign of just how far down my style journey i've traveled that i can now don this outfit and feel utterly myself. What's the key?

I've narrowed it down to two key concepts. Key One: you've got to have the basics nailed. You need great fit and great aesthetic flattery.  As a physically low contrast woman i chose a low contrast clothing pairing. A high contrast woman could wear a white tee with a dark wash denim for her jeans. I look better with some pattern and texture going on, thus a heather grey hoody and slightly distressed or broken in jeans highlight my looks without overpowering. The bootcut lengthens my legline while balancing my hips and saddlebags. And so on.

Especially in this day and age, the variety of basics out there is truly stunning. What's more, the variety of looks tolerated as 'in style' is huge compared to any other time in history! So figure out what makes you look great, get it, and wear it!

At this stage you'll have a flattering base, but chances are it won't feel like a finished 'look'. Time to implement Key Concept Two: think out your accessories strategy. If you're like a lot of gals, pinning a rhinestone brooch onto your Hanes tee will feel a wee bit twee. While some ladies pull this off beautifully, it's not for everyone.  It also overlooks the importance of 'functional accessories' such as purses, belts, shoes, glasses, watches and earrings. You know, the kind of pieces that you wear everyday without thinking about them much. A popular school of thought on these vital wardrobe items is to buy something very basic, in a "go with everything" color so that the piece won't 'clash' no matter what you wear with it.

This strategy does work. The trouble is that while such 'classics' don't detract from your overall look, they don't add anything to it either. And when you're wearing a pared-down casual look like this one, every item has to carry it's weight if you want your personal style to come across. Now i've come around to a different viewpoint on everyday basic accessories. When i was younger and didn't have much money, i would try to get the most low-key, stay-in-the-background purse i could find. I had to use it with every outfit i wore and i didn't want it to strike a sour note. My bag never ruined an outfit, but talk about boring! Frankly, i can't even remember what any of them looked like! Nowadays i have a few different purses, each of which is pretty distinctive. Compare my pictures here which include the Isabella Fiore bag to the ones without. The bag texture, hardware, and those leather covered pyramid studs add a much-appreciated dose of excitement.

 Wearing coordinating accessories in groups will also increase their style quotient. Choose pieces with prominent aesthetic qualities in common to wear together. These qualities will reinforce each other and draw the viewer's eye towards your purpose. The belt, bag, and shoes in this look don't match, but they are all dark brown distressed leather with three dimensional details (perforations, pyramid studs) and two have lots of metal. It is in fact possible to put together a few of these basic accessory groups, perhaps building on pieces you already have. One group could be a dark neutral, one a light neutral, one a bright or rich color. You can of course use these pieces with other accessories as well, but it is nice to have some planned out strategies for hectic or uninspired mornings.

What strategies, guidelines, or tips and tricks have you found useful in wearing a tee and jeans or other ultra-casual looks?  Has this American Classic outfit always been a natural for you, or have you had to struggle with it as much as i have? I await your wisdom with bated breath!

Hoodie: Free People (thrifted)
Tee: Merona Ultimate Tee by Target
Jeans: Levi's curvy fit (discontinued)
Parka: L.L. Bean

Belt: DKNY (thrifted)
Shoes: vintage Ariat
Bag: Isabella Fiore (via T.J.Maxx - a great spot for deep discounts on Italian designer bags)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Holidays!

I just want to thank every one of you for taking the time to read and to comment and to suggest my posts for weekly links and even honor me with the odd award!  Over a year and a half of blogging, i've realized that i love writing, style, and photography so much that i'd continue on with no audience whatsoever.

I have also realized that creating for an audience is the best motivator imaginable. You constantly encourage me to think things through, to come up with the better way of expressing concepts, to take a few more shots even though it's freezing and the sun is in my eyes (how does that happen?), to sharpen my photo editing skills, to search for unique content that will be useful to you. Just knowing that you are here keeps me on my toes, and your feedback is utterly priceless.

I am continually struck by the presence you all have in every action i take regarding this blog. You have encouraged me to address issues i never thought would find readers - lo and behold, ideas that helped me interest others as well! Thank you! Know that i value your ideas and input, & please feel free to comment or send me an e-mail at any time. Let me know if you'd like to see me address a particular issue, something about the technical part of my blog bugs you, or what you think of how i've approached a topic (good or bad).

(yes, that is a new-to-the-blog dress, yes the fit is perfect, no i didn't make it myself and yes you will have to wait until next year to get the scoop on it!)

Happy Holidays to you and yours! Hallelujah, the days are getting longer!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Inaugural Repeat

Recently I've been writing about my evolving style epiphany: that repeating some outfits i just love would be a habit worthy of cultivation. For decades now i've been on 'No Repeats Ever' autopilot, but now i've decided that this habit no longer seems sensible or even aesthetically compelling. Throughout my teens i would repeat especially flattering or fun looks and i quite enjoyed it. And it did nothing to destroy my stylish rep ;)

Now, it has begun. For a recent memorial service i wore a slightly modified repeat of this look. I wore a simple black satin belt and sheer black stockings instead of the fashion forward stud and grommet belt and grey lacey stockings. I felt very appropriate, was physically comfortable, and even received compliments. Success! This encouraged me to continue on with my new style resolution.

Monday is wedding anniversary number 12 for me and Mr. Eccentric, as part of the festivities we went to see Tori Amos Friday night at the spectacular Paramount Theatre in Oakland. Anyone with interest in Art Deco architecture will already know of this exquisitely restored gem, i can only say it glows even more brightly in person. On the theory that one most dress for her surroundings, i came up with the outfit based on my new green dress. Decidedly festive, i especially liked the fit and flare look achieved by layering my new blouse over the sleeveless dress - you never know if these idea will work until you try it!

Work it did, and i had another hour until we expected to depart. At this point you may well wonder why i brought up the whole 'repeating outfits' idea at the start of this post. Well......the last month or two my legs have been unhappy. Painful, limpy, maybe not the paragon of grace. As flat on my back rest helps calm things down, i'd taken to my bed at around 5pm the two nights before our outing so as to have more reliable legs for our night out. The rest had made a noticeable difference - as did time in those stockings. A difference for the worse. The pressure started bothering me after just a few minutes, after twenty or twenty five i knew that an alternative outfit was needed in the worst way. Outfit MayDay!

You ever have times when you thank your past self for coming up with a pure genius idea? Last Friday around 4:45pm was that time for me - instead of trying to come up with a new going out look in 5-7 minutes flat, i only had to cast back to amazing outfits past! My new bootcut jeans were freshly washed, comfy and warm and made an excellent base piece for the outfit i swiftly donned for the concert. I simply switched out the jeans on this look, kept the string of pearls, and was on my way.

For years i felt visible, in a very awkward kind of fashion, whenever my outfit wasn't sufficiently "different" from looks i had worn before. But in this look i felt i looked great, and happily i flat out felt great too! Be sure to check out the rest of the posts in Patti's Visible Monday! Many thanks to Patti for being such a gracious hostess to so many wonderfully varied blogs.

Dress: Nine West from Krasa
Blouse: Kay Unger (thrifted)
Shoes: Clark's
Coat: Tahari
Jeans: from Palmer & Pletsch The Perfect Jeans McCall's 5894
Pearls: gift

Friday, December 16, 2011

Black Skirts and Shoelaces

I'm a 'Wear It Now!' gal all the way, so my jeans have been in obsessive rotation as soon as they were finished. With my smaller wardrobe any new item exponentionally increases my outfit options and i love hopping in and trying them out! But around a week ago i figured i should start to mix it up a little, lest i wear out my jeans tout suite and find i'd forgotten how to wear anything else.

My 'Fairy Godmother' seems telepathically linked to me recently. First, she handed me this gorgeous Kay Unger blouse just when i had been on the lookout for a white button-down worthy of duplication. Then, while trying to create an outfit for a memorial service i realized the big black hole of my wardrobe - a classic wool black skirt. Lo and behold, i find a beautiful a-line wool blend black midi skirt on top of my dryer within the week. Spooky!

I've been seriously reading style advice books, articles, etc. since i was in high school. One constant refrain is the crucial role that a three-season classically cut wool suit, ideally with pants and skirt, will play in your closet. The idea is that you have a suit for business/professional/formal events and you can break up the suit for a variety of uses from dressy all the way through casual. I have seen quite credible illustrations of, let's say, black wool trousers worn with high heeled boots, washed silk blouse, leather belt and sunglasses creating a stunning yet casual outfit. And on and on. I got it in theory, but whenever i confronted an actual black wool skirt or lined trousers i froze.

The instant my eyes fell on my new black skirt I drooled like a conditioned pooch. If i couldn't make a decent, convincing casual look with this skirt i knew the cause was lost.  Maybe i have more experience with style now, maybe all the pictures i've stared at on style blogs have soaked in, maybe i'm just older - well, obviously i'm older! At any rate, i finally did the deed. This look even has a bit of a retro-funky feel, and what's more it worked with out the jacket as well. Mission complete.

Look number two is a standard kind of fall-back outfit for me. The strange thing is that what made it work in my mind was the shoelaces. Yep, the shoelaces. The original laces which came with the shoes (you know you're getting quality when your shoes come with laces at no extra fee) were a faded brown, echoing the distressed leather of the uppers. They were fine, but ho-hum, and the lack of contrast caused the lacing detail to fade into the shoe as a whole.

Another pair of shoes needed better laces a while back, so i bogarted the Bass oxford's laces. The paddock boots i laced with the Bass laces are a very dark brown and i fancied the look of a lighter lace - it really showed off the detail. The next time i wanted to wear my Bass oxfords, instead of using the originals i took a pair of black suede laces out of a pair evening shoes - and wow! It adds a bit of punch that those shoes could frankly use, and the black laces help tie the shoes in with the black skirt. Sweet relief.......

I have to say i'm astounded at times by how affected i am by the smallest details. It is kinda nutty, but once i 'give in' and take the time to fix what is bothering i so much more enjoy myself.  Over the years i've reconciled myself to just going with it and no longer tolerate small annoyances. Do you ever find that an excruciatingly tiny and mundane aspect of an outfit can play a make or break role in your eyes?

Khaki Jacket: Royal Robbins
Grey Henley: Aeropostale
Black A-Line Skirt: Armani Exchange (thrifted)
Belt: ?
Scarf: own design
Oxfords: Bass Lacey
Nice & Warm Wool Blend Tights: Hanna Andersson

Denim Jacket: YMI lets UBU
Tee: Merona Ultimate Tee by Target
Full Black Skirt: own design
Belt: DKNY (thrifted)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


 Here's a better look at my fresh-off-the-machine bootcut jeans. Just so you know, i am leaning heavily toward taking in the hip and thigh area a bit. You can see that they are kinda baggy in these pix, and i did not go to the extreme of tightness when i made them (it's easier to take in a little without creating a mark than when letting seams out). But - well, i wore these jeans last Friday. I hung them up to air all Saturday, then wore them during a long and active Sunday (dog-sitting two poochies). I hung them up to air overnite, then donned them once more Monday morning to take these pictures. A certain degree of bagginess ( :a lot) is unavoidable at that point! Really, a little vanity would not be out of order on this blog.

Winter is cold and clear thus far in the San Francisco Bay Area. Two factors are affecting me regarding this weather. One, it means many consecutive spare the air days, and me trying to avoid any asthma flare ups. So far, so good. Two, i had an excellent plan for beefing up my cold weather wardrobe from early last summer. Sadly, it was not put into effect. I definitely have enough to avoid the cold, but it's not all that varied and some of it is just plain frumptastic!

Not all of it, though. I am so glad i got on the jeans project as they are comfy, look good, and keep my legs warm. And i am happy that i splurged about fifteen years ago on this great L.L.Bean bomber jacket. It's toasty, comfy, and is awesome even thrown into the corner of a room or the backseat of a car. Do you hair, toss on some maquillage, cool heels and yowza! It also contains many pockets, even a zippered one.

I do need to come up with a better solution than this scarf.  Cold breezes used to creep all the way up to my armpits before i tightened the fit with this scarf one day in desperation. It works so well i've left it there for years.......and i never see myself from the back. Out of sight, out of mind. Sad but true. Having a tailor take in some of the excess would seem the rational, sensible course of action. Seeing as it costs from fifty to seventy five bucks just to get it cleaned, i can't imagine the cost involved. As it happens, the leather itself is not very thick and is quite soft and supple. And leather needles exist. I'm sure you see what i'm plotting.

We'll see if i manage the guts to try it. The success i've had with these jeans is only goading me on. I really liked how the topstitching turned out (i used the leftover medium taupe topstitching thread from my olive fly front skirt). While examining my Levi's for details i couldn't help but notice the red nametag sewed into the back pocket. Sewing a 'decoy tag' into my own jeans tickled my fancy. I raided my ribbon stash and found some leftovers from the ribbon i used when making this pin i gave to Sheila (who has worn it beautifully!!! - scroll down) I like the way the black and white stripes show up on the black denim, and the Sheila association of course makes me feel much more fabulous than i deserve! I'd love to use a ribbon with lime and tangerine stripes on a medium blue denim, or a ribbon with a woven floral design. The possibilities are endless!

I never want to wear a logo on my hiney, but a dadaist joke suits me fine! How are all of you handling your winter wardrobes? Any brilliant ideas for staying warm while looking stylish?

Jacket: vintage L.L.Bean
Blouse Bobeau
Jeans: from Palmer & Pletsch The Perfect Jeans McCall's 5894
Shoes: Maine Woods

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Dark Wash Jeans Advised for Older Women and the Role Of Contrast

 On Edit: If you're in a rush, start first with the comments! Many readers chimed in with smart, fantastic points - and they're not long winded like me. Thank you to all who took the time to comment!     First, apologies for the rather uninspiring photography. But this post is constructed more as an experiment, less as an aesthetic excursion. The photo on the left was taken simply to remember the outfit, as i enjoyed wearing it and liked the subtle play of color and the monochromatic feel. I felt it lent a pulled-together effect to the look and created, as Kendall Farr puts it, "the Almighty Unbroken Line".

Ms. Farr's description encapsulates one species of advice often given to women hoping to 'dress better'. The idea is to create a long, lean, smooth silhouette in your clothing. No lumps and bumps, no super tight areas or swaths of uncontrollable fabric. Also, no high contrast 'breaks' in unflattering areas - for example, do not wear a white blouse with a black skirt with the 'edge' between the two at your natural waist, since this will cut your figure in half, creating a blocky feel. One obvious way to implement this advice is to wear monochromatic looks. The whole of your outfit flows easily from tip to toe, creating the longest line possible.

Another very popular piece of advice, especially regarding those leaving childbearing years behind, is to only wear very dark wash jeans. The darkness hides lumps and bumps and it recedes as well, so your bum, thighs, and whatnot will tend to fade away and look smaller, possibly more discreet. Now, i've recently been wondering about what would be the consequences if a woman were to follow both of these pieces of advice simultaneously. I think I've been reading so much of this type of thing recently that my brain made an executive decision: 'time to synthesize!'.

At any rate, a few days later i was getting close to finishing the darker jeans. They are iteration number two of the Palmer and Pletsch Perfect Jeans pattern, this time in bootcut silhouette. I suddenly realized that i could 'isolate the variable' in the monochromatic outfit - change out a light wash denim for the dark wash denim that is strongly recommended as the only wash worth wearing for ladies over forty and observe the result!  I was hoping to get a feel for which 'piece of advice' was more worth following strictly. (And frankly i was hoping to show that following any piece of advice to the letter all the time is folly.)*** 

So, i ended up taking the dark wash jean pictures in the same place as the original 'notebook' photos. I did my best to adopt similar poses and camera position. Looking at the two outfits, i'm more drawn to the monochromatic look - even though the lighter wash jeans don't 'hide' as much of what's going on as the dark wash do. On me the high contrast line cutting right through my hips seems too stark, and ends up emphasizing the width there.  I do wonder how much this has to do with my overall low-contrast coloring, however. On a woman with high contrast coloring this look may well appear more harmonious.

Which brings me to the last point this experiment brought to mind. If i like the way a monochromatic look creates a nice line, and i only wear dark wash jeans, it will be very hard to avoid wearing a lot of dark colors right next to my face. And generally i prefer to wear lighter colors next to my face - because i find they are more flattering! Which i thought was the driving motivation behind all this fuss.  Good grief, all these 'rules' can drive a person nuts!!!! That's the one rule by which i am sure to stand.

I don't often discuss non-clothing related topics on this blog (although my definition of 'clothing-related' is quite expansive). But i've recently run across a couple of videos which may interest some readers. First, if any of you are interested in the more rigorously collected evidence for life after death/communication with spirits, i cannot recommend this video enough. It outlines the Scole Experiements, a five year long project in Scole, UK which involved four people meeting twice a week to attempt communication with the dead. Well done. (As a style-aside, at 38 minutes in observe how different the 'red rose' mother looks in video versus a still photo. Different media capture our likenesses in different ways.)

Secondly, for decades now my family and friends have wearily endured my exuberant soliloquies on the genius of Jacques Vallee. Being the basis for Lacombe, the French UFO investigator in Speilberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (played by Francois Truffaut) was only so impressive.  Not that i cared about that - his identification of Marshall Applewhite as a dangerous cult leader years before the Heaven's Gate tragedy, his vast knowledge of ancient and historical encounters with otherworldy beings, his ability to wring every last drop of physical evidence out of the most unpromising circumstances, his masterful 'Contact' trilogy......

I could go on - and for many years, i have. Now that TED has tapped Dr. Vallee for a talk on The Theory of Everything (else), i 've been having a wonderful time saying, "I told you so........"

*** In other words, yep, this experiment was rigged!

Jacket: made by me of a vintage Anne Klein for Vogue Patterns
Henley: Aeropostale
Belt: Betsey Johnson
Pocketbook: vintage Coach, gift
Light Wash Jeans: Levi's Curvy Fit (no longer available)
Dark Wash Jeans: made by me of McCall's 5894 Palmer & Pletsch The Perfect Jeans
Booties: Maine Woods

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Little Bit Of Little Edie

Here you see my first go at 'winterizing' this cotton seersucker dress. I made it using Hot Pattern's Deco Vibe Diamond Life pattern. This dress performs perfectly as it was designed....slip it on in the hottest and muggiest of conditions to remain cool, calm, and collected.  This iteration is sensu stricto a wearable muslin, made for around ten bucks. The more i wear it, the more i want to make it in nicer fabrics - especially in a black version for a lovely Little Black Dress (a major hole in my wardrobe).

The key to winterization here is the tights - they are a wool blend and very very warm. I find that in my particular climate i only have to have about half of my body covered in a super warming garment. If i wear wool tights on the bottom half and a wool sweater on the top half, in an hour or two i am hot flashing for real! It just doesn't get that cold around here that often. To cope with milder fluctuations i tossed on this little hoody, which actually worked better than i expected from the aesthetic angle.

One of the magnificent illusions created in the drafting of this pattern is the look of some booty. I'm just built to have a flat butt. Exercise makes a bit of a difference, but you can't argue with the basic structure of the universe. When i have flare-ups of my nerve trouble, the only way to calm it down is rest. As in don't exercise. And my flat butt starts taking on the shape of the 'anti-ass', as Mr. E puts it. Deco Vibe Diamond Life to the rescue! Ah, the pleasure of fantasy.

Well, getting to this post's title.....i don't really know why this look put me in mind of Little Edie of Grey Gardens fame. I didn't feel the Little Edie vibe until i tossed this coat on to go out in the evening. Maybe it's the way the dress and coat hems interacted. Maybe it's the little flaw in the tights. Maybe it's that my beautiful booties are beginning to show their age, cracked leather and all (which i actually like). I've yet to figure it out, let me know if you have a clue to it!

Yes, your blogger is a staunch fan of Little Edie and The Maysles. I'm sure this comes as no surprise at all, considering The Edie's position as twentieth century USA's preeminent eccentrics. What a pleasure to watch Little Edie on film while choosing a link or two for this post!  I was struck by her utter naturalness in her own skin, such a rarity in our day among filmed women of any age. I'm sure it's a big factor in her compelling screen presence. Just look at her, flirting outrageously with the cameraman as she highlights the features which make this the best costume for the day. Even the luminous Drew Barrymore suffers in comparison, notwithstanding all of her advantages of youth, costume, makeup, lighting, money.........regarding individual style, the true and the unique will always triumph.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Double Denim Visibility

Well. I believe i have figured out how to participate in Patti's wonderful Visible Monday posts. Click here to check out the other twenty-and-counting participants this morning! Honestly, i feel that most of the time my feeling 'visible' has more to do with my mood than with what i'm wearing. But in the case of double denim, i do feel a wee bit awkward.

It just seems a little young, a little overly super duper casual, kind of tunnel vision: "I love denim so durn much, it's so practical that i decided i'm going to stock my closet with every single thing in denim! My life solution is here!!!!" I also profoundly dislike any number of 'fancy denim' ornate pantsuits i've seen on middle aged ladies. They seem particularly popular amongst middle westerners visiting the wine country. The outfits tend to be of a light wash and consist of a pair of jeans and a traditional jean jacket. The whole thing is ornamented with light colored embroidery, re-embroidery, applique, beading, and rhinestones with concentration on the pockets.

Needless to say this type of dressing is fine and fun on other people, but the thought of wearing it myself gives me a serious case of the heebie jeebies! Taking an objective look at my outfit here the differences are more prominent than the similarities. I especially like the way that the dark wash blends with the darker grey of the knits, and the way the knits add in different textures. It has the 'pulling together' and slimming effect of a monochromatic look, while the denim and mix of colors and textures keep it casual and more individual. I think i've pulled it off - i definitely feel more comfortable with the look now than even a month ago.

The wonderful part about the simple shape of this coat is that it feels like having a luxurious faux fur blanket. I often wear it like a coat, but i also like to drape it around me in various ways. So snuggly!

I'm posting this on Sunday, but i will link to Patti's current visible Monday post as soon as she has it up and i can get to a computer. In the meantime, feast your eyes on Visible Mondays past.