Dressing for the Igs

October 2nd, 2011

Dresses don’t adapt well to the “palette” approach, so here are two photos of my outfits for the Ig Nobels. At the show itself, I wore a Donna Morgan flapper dress with long faux pearls. And for the party Saturday night, a Calvin Klein (via eBay!) leopard-print dress with crystal earrings; bracelets of gold, crystal, and black cord; and a gold pin on the dress to highlight the bodice.

eBay shopping tips

September 16th, 2011

In response to my recent style posts, Anita asked how I shop for clothes on eBay. Here’s a series of tips that I wrote up a couple of years ago:

1. Only buy garments that have to fit you in one measurement. Don’t buy things like jeans on eBay; you have to try jeans on. Don’t buy vintage clothing on eBay, even though you can get good deals; most clothing from the 60s and earlier was highly tailored and fits either really well or not at all. T-shirts, tank tops, pullovers, cardigans, sheath dresses, skirts are all good things to buy. Skirts have to fit you around the waist and that’s about it. Sweaters can be a little big or a little tight and it doesn’t really matter. If you’re shopping for kids’ clothes, err on the side of getting something the child can grow into, like you don’t already know that.

2. Shop for brands that run true to size. I know my size in Ann Taylor, Eileen Fisher, Chico’s, and several other brands beloved by middle-aged college-educated women who work in offices–you know, my tribal attire. Gap clothing, on the other hand, is all over the board; I’ve got Gap clothes ranging from size 0 to 8. So I wouldn’t shop for Gap clothes on eBay.

3. No, I can’t afford most of those brands in the stores, especially Eileen Fisher. (It takes a lot of money to look that dowdy.) That’s why I buy them on eBay. There’s no point getting Old Navy clothes on eBay–they’re cheap enough in the store, or on sale, and you don’t have to pay postage. Scale up a couple of notches when you’re eBaying.

4. You can shop by brand or by category. Choose which depending on how specific your desires are. If you just want a nice work skirt, “Ann Taylor skirt” with your size number will get you some nice options. If you know you want a green cardigan, search for “green cardigan.” (I have a huge floppy forest green chenille that I practically live in when we travel, and it’s nothing I would have found in stores.) If the seller hasn’t put the measurements in the description, you can always e-mail them and ask.

5. Keep in mind that people can’t spell, and try variants. Mr. Improbable once tried to buy a collapsible top hat (he wears one at the Igs) with no luck–until he accidentally spelled it “collapsable.” Ta-da!

6. Colors don’t translate well on computer screens. If you look fabulous in a blue-based red, but terrible in an orangey red, don’t get anything red on eBay. Only go for colors where the entire color family works for you.

7. Accept that you will make some mistakes. Don’t ever pay so much for something that you’ll be really upset if you don’t like it when it arrives. If it’s not as described, neg the seller, but sometimes even the most perfectly described items just don’t look good on.

8. If you have any sort of gambling or compulsive spending habit, do not shop on eBay. Seriously. It can be just a leeeetle too much fun. Buying more stuff than you really need isn’t saving money, no matter how good a deal you’re getting on it.

Does anyone else have any good tips?

A most wonderful hat

May 4th, 2011

In the wake of the royal wedding, a friend sent me a picture of this marvelous hat:

It was worn at the Kentucky Derby, apparently. Isn’t it marvelous? If I were better at handicrafts I’d try to recreate one myself, but as it is I’m afraid the results would be embarrassing.

Portrait of Kestrel

April 26th, 2011

Kestrel and I are continuing her wardrobe-renovation project. After our shopping expedition a few weeks ago, our project today is to go through her existing clothes and decide what to keep and what to toss, and then assess what she has and what she needs.

Here is Kestrel in a plain black dress from Ann Taylor:

Isn’t she beautiful?

As Kestrel noted in the earlier post, I am trying to cut down her wardrobe choices in terms of color and styles. She hopes that doing this will make it easier for her to get dressed in the morning, as she can follow two simple rules: wear two to three colors at a time, and either match a slim skirt or trousers with a looser top, or flowing skirt or trousers with a fitted top. I hope that if Kestrel’s options are narrowed and focused, she’ll be able to develop a better independent sense of style.

After all, when you want to teach someone how to write poetry, you don’t read them “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and then say, “Make like so.” You introduce them to rhyme, to rhythm, to metaphor, to imagery, to form, to vocabulary, to voice. You have them experiment with one or two elements at a time — writing a series of haiku to springtime, a sonnet from Juliet to Romeo or vice versa, a poem based on a single metaphor illustrated by typographical conventions. Once students have isolated and analyzed the elements of a poem, they can start putting those elements together, creating action in the interactions. I’m hoping to break women’s style down in a similar fashion for Kestrel. Updates to come!

Spring style

April 13th, 2011

What is your favorite season to dress for? Not which one do you like best, or feel it’s easiest to dress for, necessarily, but the one you resonate with most aesthetically? I ask because, as usual, it’s a challenge to put together a springy outfit. I’m not a springtime person: I like deep colors, serious fabrics, witty detailing. My fashion aesthetic is more “Back to School” than “April in Paris.”

But one must soldier on. Here’s palettes from two outfits I wore earlier this week. The first is a knit tunic/dress that I wore with black leggings and red sandals, in addition to the accessories below:

I paired this corduroy skirt, striped long-sleeved T, and denim jacket with a black patent-leather belt and black & white oxfords. I love my zipper necklace!

What’s your favorite season, style-wise? Which one do you feel you don’t ever quite get in the spirit of?

Two social scientists walk into a boutique …

April 7th, 2011

As mentioned, the Traveling Psychologist and I have embarked on the project of renovating her wardrobe. And, for syntactical ease, her moniker — I’ll be referring to her as “Kestrel” from now on. I decided that we should approach the project like the trained social scientists we are. We sat outdoors and discussed Kestrel’s physical limitations (she can only wear flat shoes), lifestyle (biking as her major mode of transport; professor; mother of twin toddlers), and aesthetic preferences. Then, we hit several stores: American Apparel, Ann Taylor, Anthropologie, the Gap, and Second Time Around. (Doing the stores in alphabetical order was not a methodological choice. It just happened that way.) Acquiring clothes was only the second objective in the stores; mostly, I was looking to find out what silhouettes looked good on Kestrel, and to educate her eye and vocabulary for clothes.

Here’s what she posted on my Facebook page later:

Today was it — the first day of what may be an on-going makeover. We began with consultation and client education (client=me). At one point Robin said, “We’re not trying to expand your options — we’re trying to narrow them.” This may be related to the ‘paradox of choice.” Choosing what to wear is already so hard I frequently put on whatever is on the bureau not hung up from yesterday. Whew, it was great seeing Robin walk through a store and leave with a calm “nothing here” — like a grandmaster surveying a chessboard and instantly knowing what move to make. Or better — her verdict that the store called Anthropology is too advanced (for me). Yes, it was indeed.

Kestrel and I both enjoy cooking, and like similar foods. So I made an analogy between getting dressed in the morning and putting together a recipe at night. Like a meal, an outfit has three components: the base, the freshness, and the spice. The “base” is the relatively bland component: the pasta, the black pants. The “freshness” is whatever is clean, fresh, ironed, defrosted, or colorful: the ruby cardigan, the vegetable stir-fry. The “spice” is the element that pulls it together and gives it a particular flavor: the spicy peanuts or sliced chicken sausage, the Turkish pashmina or vintage crystal earrings.

My goal was to figure out some parameters for the basic and fresh components of Kestrel’s wardrobe. Here’s what we came up with:

Colors: black, grey, brown, bright blue, bottle green, and deep red.
Shoes: sandals, ankle boots, athletic-inspired, dance or dance-inspired, flats (slip-on or Oxford)
Skirts: pencil skirts (any good-looking length), long flowing skirts
Trousers: any attractive style
Tops: fitted long- & short-sleeved T’s, tanks, cardigans, turtlenecks
Dresses: simple outlines in solid colors with no puffs, frills, etc.

We found a few very nice basics (one or two of which weren’t on the list of approved colors or styles, like the gold cardigan, but which I gave a nod to anyway) to jump-start Kestrel’s wardrobe. In a few weeks, we’ll go through her existing wardrobe together, and figure out where she still needs to make additions.

(Re)making friends

April 1st, 2011

This Saturday I will have the delightful experience of helping a friend of mine select a new wardrobe! The Traveling Psychologist has not bought new clothes in three years, and is finally up for a bit of refurbishment.

Ladies — and I am afraid this post is geared toward the women, although I’m always happy to hear from the gents — if you are fashion-challenged, or simply in a rut, don’t ever hesitate to ask a stylish friend to help you clean your closet, or shop, or simply sit down and figure out what you ought to be wearing, already. (In general, don’t be hesitant to ask for practical lessons from friends. Spending an afternoon teaching or learning knitting, auto maintenance, clicker training, or souffle-making is cheap and practical entertainment.)

The Psychologist and I are starting with the “sit down and figure out” bit at first. There’s no point running off shopping when you don’t know what you’re shopping for. Trying things on and buying what looks good is a nice way to wind up with a closet full of lovely garments that don’t get along with your lifestyle or each other. Here are some questions I sent my friend to think about:

1. You bike every day. What constraints does that put on what you can wear?
2. What kinds of clothes feel best on you: fitted, flowing, or structured?
3. What parts of your body do you prefer to cover, and which do you like to highlight?
4. Do you often have to go from one level of formality to another without having time to change?
5. Pick six colors that you like best: three neutrals, three colors.

The Traveling Psychologist is never going to be a woman who cares a great deal about clothes. She likes to look good, but the hunter-gatherer thrill of shopping is lost on her, and I don’t think she enjoys putting outfits together as much as I do. So my goal is to figure out a couple of basic silhouettes that will work for her, which she can then change up with various accessories. The “Traveling” part of her moniker ensures an appropriately Cantabridgian wardrobe of exotic earrings, shawls, and bracelets.

Have you ever asked a friend to help you revamp your look, or done the same for someone else? How did it work out?

Made for me?

March 7th, 2011

For your consideration, Modcloth’s Etiquette Expert Dress:

This particular etiquette expert admits she has a tendency to navel-gazing, but I don’t want a dress that illustrates the concept.

Celebrating the spring

March 3rd, 2011

Tuesday I got out the door in too much of a rush and came home too late to photograph my outfit. I wore springlike colors and a downright ladylike look to celebrate the sun and the first day of March as I ran from interview to meeting to interview and back again. Here’s a collage of the pieces:

Scarf: Tag sale
Necklace: Genoa
Cardigan: J Crew (eBay)
Tank: Chico’s (eBay)
Skirt: Ann Taylor Loft (eBay)

I wore it with nude fishnets over light peach tights and these boots:

With the tweed skirt and pearls, these Doc Martens gave a nice British country house feel to the outfit. I was amazed at how comfortable they were, given the 3″ heel (which, for me, is high). I wore them all day, with a fair amount of walking, with no problem at all.

Fighting the rain

February 28th, 2011

Today I had a doctor’s appointment and worked for a while at a coffee shop. February chose to go out in a spiteful hiss of sleet and snow, so I chose bright colors to combat it:

Green crystal earrings: forgotten
Long-sleeved T: Target
Golden Rod Rainbow Shawl Sweater Shrug Cardigan: eBay
Black skirt: eBay
Tights: We Love Colors
Boots: Berk’s

Casual day

February 16th, 2011

This style-blogging thing is something I’m trying partly because I do indeed love style and style blogs, but also because taking pictures of my outfits will, I hope, help me feel more professional and put a little more order into my days. Being a freelancer can be weird that way. Tuesday was a casual day — working at home, then some errands and coffee with a friend:

I’m not really snooty, I just haven’t wholly mastered the knack of self-photography yet!

Amethyst earrings: gift
Pearl necklace: gift
Grey cowlneck T: Gap Body
Purple T: Gap Body
Sparkly leopard belt: gift
Jeans: Marc Jacobs (thrifted)
Boots: Michael Antonio

Here’s the boots I’m wearing, which I got on wicked sale at Amazon:

The 80s called, they want their shoes back! I never thought I’d wear another pair of “fairy boots” in my life. (This is what we called flat ankle boots when I was in high school.)

In this outfit I’m using one of the oldest tricks in the book for looking pulled-together by highlighting the same colors above and below. Purple top calls out to purple boots; white pearl necklace calls out to white sparkly belt. I tried a mostly-purple abalone choker first, and while it looked great with the tops, it left that poor belt bobbing along lonely in a sea of denim and purple.

The power of a scarf

February 15th, 2011

Monday’s outfit:

Leopard-print button earrings: long forgotten
Necklaces: various
Scarf: thrifted
T-shirt: Target
Cardigan: Chico’s (eBay)
Skirt: Looks Boutique
Boots: Matisse

The lighting’s not great, so you can’t see that this cardigan isn’t plain brown, but a sort of bronzey-coppery metallic. It’s still a rather somber outfit–until I add the scarf. The print–leopard is always lighthearted–the ruffles, and the light background of the scarf all manage to add a touch of literal and metaphorical lightness to the outfit. Without it: standard middle-class, middle-aged academic. With it: sharp and a tad funky.

Do you have an outfit-transforming accessory? What is it?

Dressing for the theater

February 15th, 2011

On Sunday Mr. Improbable and I went to see “Ti-Jean and His Brothers” at Central Square Theater. It’s a wonderful show!

And though I was excited to see it, I was even more excited that the sidewalks were clear enough to wear non-weather boots, specifically, this fun pair of cowboy boots I bought on eBay:

This entire outfit–boots, dress, cardigan–came from eBay. I bought the fiber-art necklace on Etsy and the tights are from We Love Colors. The bangles are from World Market.

“Ti-Jean” is set in the Caribbean, and if it hadn’t been for the weather, I’d have tried to wear something more … island-y. I believe in dressing up for the theater: in the performing arts, the audience is part of the experience, and I want to be a good part of yours. At the very least, I do not want to actively detract from the aesthetic experience. This, I think, is basic theater etiquette. Where I like to go a little above and beyond that is in trying to actually dress a bit in the spirit of the play. Not so’s it looks like I wandered out of the greenroom by mistake, but–well, this would have been an outfit I’d more likely wear to “Oklahoma!” or perhaps “Of Mice and Men.” The Russian shawl when seeing Chekhov, red lipstick and slicked-down hair for “Cabaret,” flamboyant colors and “statement jewelry” for “Taming of the Shrew,” and so on.

It’s my thing.

Springing forward

February 10th, 2011

Today’s outfit is brought to you by the letters B, R, R, and R. Because it was not nearly warm enough to be walking around in. I’ll pull this back out of rotation when it’s more vernal-like outdoors.

(As you can see, I’ve decided to emulate one of my favorite style bloggers, Style Underdog, and photograph myself in sunglasses. Much easier to take a decent shot that way.)

Painted wooden necklace: History (now out of business)
Turtleneck: Ann Taylor
Skirt: Gap (thrifted)
Shoes: Sanitas

Style blogging

January 26th, 2011

You may notice there hasn’t been much of that going on for a while. Boston winter weather plus the freedom to work at home are not good motivators for outfit creation, I must confess!

Mostly, I’ve been refining my at-home uniform. Fellow freelancers, students, stay-at-home parents, part-timers: do you have a default house outfit? I’ve been wearing leggings and layered tanks and long-sleeved t-shirts with cardigans and casual skirts. Not wildly fashionable, I admit, but it’s cozy and reasonably attractive, and I can dress it up with a touch of lipstick and earrings to walk Milo or pick up a coffee. Kind of a ballerina/shtetl look.

Given that style is about clothes for how we actually live, now that I think about it, that counts as success. Style isn’t about dressing as fancily as you can for every single moment, any more than good cooking is about making the richest dishes you can. It’s about using what’s in your closet, or cupboard, to create something that works for you.

What’s your “house clothes,” if you too spend a lot of time at home? Mine are below the fold!

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