K/R: comfort object/conceptual art/luggage

I mentioned a while ago that I'd probably be buying a new handbag this year. This is not it. This is something that got bookmarked last summer and since then admired, pondered and coveted but never seriously considered until last week when it came up on discount. 

So I've finally got one of these amazing bags by Christopher Raeburn. I've been stalking his collections for a few years now, and he seldom disappoints. He's well known and much admired for his innovative techniques with reused/recycled materials, but I'm every bit as impressed by his refined interpretations of urban sportswear. 

I'm quite smitten with this little dude. I think he'll be a fun companion for summer festivals and afternoons in the park and I see him working well as a focal point with minimal black and white looks. When it comes to bags though, I'm quite ruthlessly practical if not downright minimalist. I'll save the bigger picture for another post about my carrying strategy but for now, let's just say this is a major departure for me.

Now I need your honest opinion. I have never, ever owned or carried anything remotely like this. Well, not since I was ten. I'm not sure I'm cool enough to throw him over my shoulder like any other bag. What if I accidentally cuddle him in public? I have no idea if I can pull this off.

The return window is generous, but I need to decide before he tries to make friends with me. If that happens there's no way I'll be able to put him back in that box.

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Fashion with a capital F.

Much as I love clothes, there are times when I really, really hate Fashion. I hate it for failing to amaze me. I hate it for making me grind my teeth while I click through acres of editorial looking for something I haven’t seen before. I hate it for wearing its lineage on its unnecessarily complicated sleeve and for being so thoroughly predictable. Most of all, I hate it for turning itself into a caricature.

Bear with me. My original plan was to work through Angie’s handy spring style cheat sheet (I scored 9 out of 10) but as usual I’ve got something else to say about what’s happening in Fashion right now. I see it on the cool kids in my town, at the art school where I work, and on the catwalks of New York, Paris and London. It’s not pretty.

Ground Zero for these disturbing developments is Paris based streetwear brand Vetements. Here, helmsman Demna Gvasalia is busy grinding out velour tracksuits and windbreakers so the 1% can spend a fortune on goods they could have bought at Walmart. That’s Fashion’s democratisation apparently, but the press remains politely silent about a certain historical precedent.

There’s more. The Georgian superstar has a second gig at Balenciaga which, classic boots notwithstanding, is all but unrecognisable as the brand that Nicolas Ghesquière reinvigorated to such great effect in the late 1990’s. Their inflatable vest is not suitable for life preservation, as Net-a-Porter helpfully remind us, should you be tempted to wear one on your yacht this summer. To my shame, I find myself actually wanting it, but my budget has its limits so I’m settling for a quilted jacket in YLF citron from Marks & Spencer. Call it this year’s wild card.

Down the road at Gucci, Alessandro Michele presents a meticulously crafted retro chic confection which, minus the sumptuous embellishment, could be replicated at any medium-sized flea market. Utterly gorgeous, entirely derivative. I remember a pair of no logo Italian-made jeans I packed away in 2005 because I couldn’t bear to part with them. It’s always sobering when something you bought as a grown woman finally achieves vintage provenance, but it’s not the first time and they’re a nice pair of pants that fit as well as they ever did. Those are Swarovski crystals, I’ll have you know. But don’t worry, if dressing like a thrift-store urchin makes you queasy, there’s always the branded tees that look like they came from a street stall in Marseilles.

Can you see where this is going? The Emperor has no clothes, or no new ones at least. The snake devours its own tail. These designers, two of the most influential players in the business, are plundering a backlog of urban style so unoriginal it can make a white tube sock look inexplicably desirable to the global elite. This is what had to happen for Fashion to Keep It Real and I’m sorry to say I saw it coming a mile off. Granted, that article is a year old almost to the day, but so little has changed that I can do nothing but shrug my shoulders, climb on board and say I told myself so.

Sigh.

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The power of lipstick

I’ve been thinking lately about the concept of enclothed cognition, which Angie has mentioned in the past. In case you missed it, this is the scientifically proven theory that what you’re wearing can change the way you think.

This makes a lot of sense to me, because I’m a firm believer in the power of a great outfit. I’m well aware of how my clothes can affect my performance in the classroom, on the sales trail or out with friends. At this point in my life (existential crisis, career uncertainty, years of therapy) I’d like to explore the idea further and consider how I can use my wardrobe to pull myself out of this funk.

In the meantime, I owe you all a picture of my new haircut and the Ann D’s. Not to mention my thoughts on cropped flares (I’m still struggling) and a true red lip (I’m a fan). I could talk at length about all these things, as well as this look I cribbed from Angie, or how these surprisingly comfortable shoes can elevate the simplest of outfits, but what I really need to tell you is this.

It pains me to say it, but lipstick, heels, the right bra and a good haircut really do change the way I feel about myself, however temporarily. For a few moments in front of a cheap camera in poor lighting I can loose all that baggage and somehow come up with a handful of pictures that remind me who I am and who I can be. During a bout of seasonal depression, what could have felt like a mindless extravagance turned out to be an amazing boost.

Yes, I’m worth it. A new Facebook avatar earns a like from a man who broke my heart thirty years ago. That’s the power of a strong lip and a bold shoe.

I found more confirmation today when I put on a well cut blazer, Japanese-style harem pants, a Breton shirt and vintage oxfords. The effect was calming and meditative: I felt serene, balanced, grounded and receptive, so I went to look at some art with Mr Edge. It’s entirely possible dressing like a Euro intellectual boosted my IQ, because later in the day I managed to find a lot of Dutch words I didn’t know I knew. I also felt somewhat aloof and slightly smug.

Further tests are needed.

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Style descriptors: a thought experiment

Of many useful things I've learned on here on this forum, one of the most valuable has to be the five words I use to describe my style.

I originally came up with these by looking at my shopping strategy, and since then I've come to realise how well they describe different aspects of my look. But there's more. I realised quite recently that each one is a response to fundamental aspects of my lived experience:

  • Timeless: approaching change
  • Urban: dressing for my environment
  • Eclectic: acknowledging diverse influences
  • Androgynous: a statement on body image
  • Individual: an assertion of selfhood
This made me wonder if this is something anyone else has noticed. When you talk about your style, or set style goals for yourself, what aspect of your life are you serving? Could it be one of these, or is it something else? 

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More thoughts on (not) shopping

The shopping fast ended in a spectacular splurge. I knew I’d find it hard to keep on the wagon but of all the things that could possibly have crossed my path it had to be Those Shoes. I honestly can’t think of anything more certain to have pushed me over the edge.

The obvious thrill of finally tracking them down was followed by an inevitable rekindling my on-off love affair with the high heel. While I’ve no intention of wearing them every day, this prompted me to think about my wardrobe from a different perspective. I feel motivated to explore the more feminine side of my style again.

I’m now looking forward to a season of shopping the closet. A quick tour of the summer collection shows it to be well-stocked with plenty of dresses, skirts and blouses, many of whom have the novelty value of not having been worn in a while. I’ve already run a couple of items through the wash with a packet of dye (they’ve come out beautifully) and I’m looking at what alterations and/or repairs can be done to freshen up some older pieces.

For the most part, I want to prioritise upcoming requirements, hold myself accountable and focus on editing. I don’t feel my wardrobe particularly lacks anything at this point and I’d love it if I could get through the year adding no more than one new piece a month. With this in mind I’ve set myself some shopping goals. I will of course be keeping my eyes open for any spectacular finds, but if I make any opportunistic purchases, they’ll have to be something really, really good. That bar’s just been set very high indeed.

Priorities

I definitely need:

  • A haircut
  • Prescription sunglasses (existing frames)
  • New everyday handbag (same model as the old one, to be ordered)

I probably need:

  • Breton shirt, red stripe
  • Draped tees, plain white
  • Hiking sandals (Teva or equal)

I could use, but can live without:

  • Ankle length straight leg jeans, dark wash or solid black
  • Low-top Chuck Taylor or similar sneakers, plain black

I might make

  • Oversized reversible parka, black/floral
  • Summer culottes or pants, black

I crave:

  • Vintage ’80s
  • Japanese menswear
  • Vintage ’80s Japanese menswear

I must not buy:

  • Concert shirts

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Ankle pants and killer heels

No pics of the Ann D’s just yet. I’m waiting for a set of inserts to arrive so I can customise the footbed before wearing them in earnest. Meanwhile, I’ve been putting in some practice with another tall shoe, and I wanted to try them with these pants.

I’m very fond of these Isabel Marant for H&M jeans but I’d been thinking for a while they’d look a whole lot better three inches shorter and with a frayed hem. I asked the question here a while ago and you all talked me out of it. Later on I realised a crop would open up many more options with shoes. Eventually I caved in and I took the shears to them.

When the deed was done I showed them to Mr Edge. He scowled and said they used to be lovely jeans. I said it was an improvement and now they were even nicer. Yes, but mutilation he replied.

No regrets though, because I must say I’m very happy with the result and he’s since admitted he likes them like this. It feels more contemporary with a high shaft boot or a flash of ankle with oxfords and sandals. I don’t want to go any shorter than this though, because I think the embellishment needs a margin to set it off and anyway the hems would get caught in my boots.

I tried them out with the Balenciagas for a bit of fun. I’d been thinking of passing these on but as soon as I put them on again I realised I couldn’t part with them. They wear like stilts and there will be no running for the metro, but they’ve put in some miles and have the scuffs to prove it. I’m not done with them yet.

They’re a fierce shoe and no mistake, but for most of the day I’ve been wearing a long-standing favourite, these wooden soled platforms by Margiela 22. Battered, heroic, first among equals.

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Boots, coats, scarves and a hat

I’ve been having an acute case of the February blues this year so I hope you’ll forgive my glum expression. And I need a bit of dental work, so no big smiles today.

The good news is that I’m particularly enjoying my cold weather style this year, which has to be some kind of first. I’m applying more discipline in putting outfits together while still being creative with things that weren’t getting enough wear. This is not to say that every outfit is a complete success, more that I’m sharpening my awareness of what works and what doesn’t.

A friend gifted me a box of ceramic push-pins, saying she was pretty sure I’d know what to do with them. It took me a while to work out what that was exactly, but in the end I cribbed an idea from the Accidental Icon by way of an older gent I spied on the Metro. There’s a joke in here about daisy roots and a Lonnie Donegan song, but only British fabbers will get it.

I have Mr Edge to thank for the lovely winter coat he chose for me over Christmas. Shown here in my natural environment with gold pants and my vintage steel-capped Docs. These are my old safety boots from when I used to work in the oil business over 20 years ago. They are Made in England originals and have been with me longer than any other item in my closet.

Only one hat seems to be working with my longer hair, and it’s this beanie. I hereby declare this colour Winter Orange, because it’s the only shade or orange I seem to be able to wear successfully. I’m wondering whether I should go back to a shorter cut, or find different hat styles.

I knitted the scarf mostly over Christmas in a reversible double knit. I’m enjoying the colours, but it’s a slightly awkward shape. I made it mainly to go with the vintage tapestry coat, but I’m seeing this as something of a “shadow style”. I quite like this quirky urban boho look, but I think I prefer something a bit more refined and sporting.

The reversible faux fur I made a while ago is proving amazingly versatile as a layering piece, which was exactly my intention. It’s great for throwing on over jackets and has enabled the resurrection of the velvet blazer, which has been a key player this season, worn high-low style with jeans or casual pants.

The OTK boots are another fantastic addition. Side eye and random compliments in the street abound for this look. In combination with the fur, the beanie and the St Pauli soccer scarf, I find I’m suddenly and accidentally very, very trendy, at least in Amsterdam if not here on YLF.

Unlike my jeans, which I am still wearing vey baggy and at full length.

Your thoughts and feedback are always welcome and much appreciated.

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Thoughts on (not) shopping

I got a bit stuck overthinking the Style Lab so I took a break again. Sometimes I just need to do that. However, it's high time I dropped back in to file my overdue report on (not) shopping.

I can’t put my hand on my heart and say there hasn’t been any shopping at all (hence parentheses) but I’ve been far more restrained than I would have been if we hadn’t made this pledge. I’ve been on a couple of shopping expeditions with friends and have found that walking away from the temptations of frivolous purchasing is easier than I expected (as is gently dissuading pals from buying rubbish).

I have made the following acquisitions in the last month:

A Christmas gift: over the holidays, Mr Edge steered me into the men’s department at All Saints to try on a coat he’d spotted and was pretty sure I needed. He was right, as he often is, but I think he secretly wanted me to stop borrowing his.

A craft project: I’d begun knitting a colourful shawl long before we proposed this undertaking. It’s now complete, but I bought a few extra balls of wool to get there. This will fend off the February blues and liven up the winter look.

Some necessary items: a set of colourful boxer shorts (men’s department again) to use as lounge/sleepwear in combination with the excessive collection of concert shirts which I wasn’t wearing otherwise. 

One opportunistic sales purchase: a very excellent bra from Marlies Dekkers, absolutely gorgeous and a perfect fit. I am not going to apologise for this, because bras this good are hard to come by on discount, but it raises a good point about why a complete fast might not be for me. I’ll come back to this.

At this point, I don’t feel the need for anything else and I’m not particularly in the mood for looking. Instead,

  • I’ve been trying to get a few things off the bench and think constructively about how I want to look.
  • I’ve done a few small customisation/alteration projects and found some new ways with old favourites, as well as taming some of my problem children.
  • I’ve been dressing more and more around a few capsule formulae. I notice that in this respect I seem to be settling on a few definitive styles rather than throwing things together and hoping they match.
  • I’ve done a fair amount of experimenting and had a few epic fails, but I figure it’s good to know what does and doesn’t work.
  • I’ve been wearing an awful lot of black, white and navy blue.

All in all, this is a very worthwhile exercise in which some of the key learnings from the Style Lab are being put through their paces. I have a sharper awareness of what’s actually in the closet. what should stay or go, and what will need to be replaced in future.

On the other hand, the bra purchase shows why a complete fast probably won’t work for me in the long run. Some things are necessarily expensive, my budget is limited and wearing the best quality I can afford sometimes means pouncing on it when it’s on sale. This isn’t FOMO, it’s a long standing strategy and one reason why I have such a well-stocked wardrobe to begin with. I need to stick with it, but very selectively.

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Style Lab IV: Silhouettes

Once in a while, you may have looked at what I’m wearing and wondered: why on earth is she wearing that? The answer is invariably because I can. I don’t consider myself a great beauty, but I’m tall with long legs, slim hips and a strong shoulder line. This body shape is a blessing and a curse when it comes to fashion, so please forgive me for squirming slightly when someone congratulates me for pulling off that avant-garde look that’s so difficult to nail. Yes, I know I look good in a paper bag. The fact is, I sometimes think a paper bag is the only thing I look reliably good in.

Body type: Tall, lean IT with long limbs and big bust. This sounds good on paper but in fact it’s no easier to dress than any other body type. Tops and jackets can be hard to fit and and I have to be very careful with waist definition. Tailoring is a perennial favourite but can feel too formal in the wrong setting. Menswear styling is very nearly flop-proof but strays all too easily into drag king territory. Big, bold forms have always been a feature and are fast becoming my default casual style.

I love playing up the shoulders and prefer to play down the décolletage. At this point in my life, the main body part on show is the brain, although this hasn’t always been the case. Nowadays I’d rather project confidence, intelligence and humour than sex appeal, not so much attractive as strong, charismatic and not to be messed with.

Unsurprisingly, Angie’s advice has almost always been the best. I’ve also found unlikely inspiration in Kibbe’s theory. The classification of Dramatic/Natural made a certain kind of sense once I wrapped my head around it and I ignored all spurious interpretations in favour of my own assessment. It’s since provided some useful styling benchmarks.

Points of conflict

Footwear is an issue, because I always feel the best way to balance my tapering silhouette is with a bold, focus-pulling shoe, the chunkier the better. My skinny ankles often disagree.

Necklines are a source of confusion. Face and hair favour a high neck, conventional wisdom on body shape calls for an open collar or a deep v-neck. I prefer to emphasise my face and compensate with layers, structure and tailoring. One more reason for defaulting to oversized.

Core silhouettes 

(pictures are examples from current style, possibly not the best ones)

Tailored/semi-fitted Strong shoulder, semi-fitted waist. Tailored jackets and blazers, fitted button-down shirts and blouses, close fitting knitwear. I love me some tailoring and I cannot lie, but I need strong vertical lines and volume on the bottom to balance the full bust and sharp shoulder. Can read too literal if I’m not careful. Typically worn with slouchy, wide or tapered pants to keep it from being overly formal.

A-line Tailored or loose fit with a longer line, strong shoulder, fitted or surrendered waist, flared hem. Tailored dresses are a default solution for professional environments, while a loose fitting version sometimes turns up my urban/casual style. A successful variant is the high waisted empire line, although I haven’t worn that in a while. Good for dresses, skirts and toppers.

T-line Lean or oversized column over skinny or tapered pants, leggings, mini, pencil and tube skirts. I love this shape for its drama, and for being the only way I can wear skinnies. A great casual winter look for oversized knits finished with chunky statement footwear.

Relaxed Easy, softly structured fit with low-slung or surrendered waist. Bomber jackets, tucked tees, fluid fit knitwear. I find this very easy to buy but not so easy to wear. Detail and proportion need to be spot on to avoid feeling lumpen. Brilliant when it works, falls flat on its face when it doesn’t.

Oversized Loose fit throughout with plenty of volume. Sweaters, sweatshirts, dresses, coats. I own this look but I’m first to admit it’s tricky and I shoot for avant-garde or urban baggy rather than lagenlook. Drape and structure are essential. Detail, texture and character are key, although minimal looks are possible with the right pieces.

I’ve said it many times, but it bears repeating, I’m rarely dressing with flattery in mind. I take on board the comments that I’m better served by tailoring and structure than the looser fitting forms I’m more often seen in these days. I’m still wearing tailoring, particularly when teaching, but for some reason, and I can’t for the life of me say why, I’m far more comfortable retreating into an exaggerated silhouette right now. There could be all sorts of explanations, such as the comfort factor, the weather or the licence to take up a lot of space, or perhaps I’m just milking this hard-to-wear trend while it lasts.

Nevertheless, in the background is a lingering feeling that dressing like this is lazy and transgressive, even though I’m giving it as much consideration as I would any other look. Maybe it’s all those pesky subliminal messages about body image we’re constantly bombarded with. I can’t deny the appeal of turning them all upside down.

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WIW: New Boots and Panties!!

I broke my pledge to dress from the bench to put a couple of new additions through their paces and I couldn't resist a tribute to the late great Ian Dury. You've probably never heard of this Brit punk icon, a man so committed to thrifting that the only items he bought new were shoes and underwear, or so he claimed.

When you learn a foreign language, inevitably there are going to be one or two words that make you snigger. Here in the Netherlands, what I call tights and you probably know as hose have a name that always has me chortling like a prepubescent schoolboy.

Panty. Hence the title. 

Yeah, that's what I'm wearing today under my shorts, playing the young things at their own game in shear support tights by Dutch household brand Hema. At risk of sounding like a shill, this is the miracle product for walking all day and dancing all night. Something for the weekend, as Ian might say. ;)

But I digress. This was very nearly a K/R for the boots, but it was a no brainer so here they are on their maiden voyage instead. They are a shot in the arm for my winter style this year, exactly what I needed to get a few skirts off the bench and so much more besides. Not exactly premium but good enough quality at the price point and really very comfortable. I wasn't sure they'd work on the bike but it turns out they cuff nicely so no problems there. 

The coat is a workhorse from 2012, the sweater a traditional Guernsey fisherman's jumper I bought on summer holiday. It's gorgeous and I've been looking forward to wearing it but it's not quite the shoo-in I was hoping for. It may take a few outings to get the measure of it, so any suggestions would be appreciated.

And the Dutch word for brown sugar? That will never get old.

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