Month: May 2011

Bare naked lady

A reader once posted on the BlueCollar RedLipstick FB wall a quote from none other than Gwyneth Paltrow, which read: “Beauty, to me, is about being comfortable in your own skin. That, or a kick-ass red lipstick.”
If I had to adopt a motto for this blog, that quote might just be it. Except that, perhaps, I would substitute “style” for “beauty”. Leaving semantics aside, this gave me an idea. Wasn’t it about time to put my philosophy in action? If beauty (or style) is all about feeling comfortable in my own skin, then I should really try to present a more “honest” face to the world … with healthy dose of red lipstick as my only adornment.
I’ve been faithfully wedded to my mascara for nigh on 15 years now. A few years ago, the thought of trying something like this would have sent me into a tizzy. But … with age there does come a newfound sense of “oh, f-k it”-ness. I decided to go “bare” (faced, that is) in public. No mascara, just some red lipstick. 
Of course, as every magazine will tell you, there is more to the “bare” face than, well, your skin. You have to prep. In the wintertime, moisturizer is a must, especially for folks like me with dry, sensitive skin; this climate doesn’t do it any favours. For anyone with oily skin, a little discreet dusting of translucent powder will let the skin shine without, well, the actual shine. If you’re really, reeeeaally pale, a little touch of blush won’t go amiss; you’re not going to look “made-up” as much as, well, “alive”. Taking a tip from the French (again), grooming eyebrows is also important, especially when you don’t have any bangs to hide behind; eyebrows frame your face and eyes, and will not only accentuate and highlight your features, but also make any “minimalist” look seem polished and pulled together. If you’ve never given your eyebrows much attention before, I would recommend seeing a professional for that first shaping/grooming session; they will know what  shape works best for your face, and that’s the most important part. Regular maintenance can be a DIY affair, although trimming (yes, eyebrows should be trimmed occasionally, even if you’re not the old guy from Up) can be tricky for the non-ambidextrous. [The key is to brush up the hair  (an old, clean mascara wand works well) and trim along the top following the shape of the eyebrow using small scissors. Don’t go full-on Edwards Scissorhands, lest you end up with a patchy eyebrow. However, should that ever happen, take heart: eye shadow in a colour one or two shades darker than your hair can help conceal most sins as long as necessary.]

And, voila! The (almost) bare face … plus red lipstick:

Yes, I did try this out in public. I’m not sure I would call the experience “liberating”, at least not in any profound psychological sense, but it certainly didn’t come with any of the excruciating consequences my 17-year old self was convinced would rain upon me if I dared show my bare face in public (horrified stares! social derision! no dates!). I’m not even sure anyone noticed. [Which is the lesson all self-conscious 17 year-olds should learn: people are  usually too busy paying attention to themselves and their own concerns to take the time and judge you. That zit that tortures your every waking moment? No one will notice. Really.] And I did save time in my usual 10-minute morning routine, which is good prep for motherhood, I think.

The bottom line? Being comfortable in your own skin – no matter what you’re wearing (or not wearing) – is what style is all about. And red lipstick is always going to be a classic.

A year in review – Part 1

With the blog fast approaching a pretty big milestone – one year old in May! – I thought this would be a good time for a bit of a retrospective. I was pondering possible subjects when I came across another blogger’s inventory of her closet, a photographic tour de force memorializing the individual articles of clothing and some of the resulting outfits she had put together over time (years?). Compulsive cataloguer that I am, I loved the idea of a comprehensive look book covering one’s entire wardrobe (with handy accessorizing options) – for one thing, it would make getting ready in the morning a cinch. [It might also be a fun resource to look back upon in 30 years or so – though, hopefully, not the source of too much hilarity for your children.] However, I quickly realized that putting together something like that for my closet would be a colossal proposition, which I lack the time to prepare, and you probably lack the desire to peruse. Instead, I decided to take stock, What Not To Wear-style, of all the clothing purchases I made in the last year. 
In case you’re not sure what I’m talking about, towards the end of each episode of WNTW, they show a quick snapshot of all the pieces that the particular contestant has acquired on the show’s $5,000 budget (and which are intended to replace her previous, Stacy-and-Clinton-panned wardrobe). I find this part of the show fascinating, and I always wonder what I would be able to do with $5K in my shopping budget. Well, time to find out.
Without drawing any conclusions or pointing any fingers [ahem, blog, I’m looking at you], I have to say that this past year has been a fairly “big one”, shopping-wise; I have definitely shopped more and bought more than ever before. My wardrobe has had a fairly significant overhaul during this time, and I would like to think for the better. The good thing is that, at the same time, I have learned to shop smart, which helps to balance out the financial side of things a bit. Anyway … this is by way of caveat to those of you who are infrequent shoppers – hold on to your hats, you might be in for a shock. 
Here are the cold, hard numbers:
First up – 14 dresses for a grand total of $498.

(left to right: Zara, Club Monaco, Velvet, Tocca, Pink Tartan,
Elie Tahari, BCBG, Laundry, Banana Republic, Calvin Klein,
Nanette Lepore, Milly, Club Monaco, Moda International, Liz Clairborne)
I have more than doubled the number of dresses I own this year – what can I say, I’m a dress kind of girl. I’ve been buying a lot more dresses lately, for the comfort factor alone. Surprisingly, the biggest splurge of the bunch was a Calvin Klein dress I bought at Winners ($73); however, it’s proven to be a work powerhouse, and with close to a dozen wears under its belt already, I’m sure it will turn out to have been a good “investment”. The best deal was, without a doubt, the navy Tocca dress I picked up at Value Village for $11 – how can you beat that? A close second, though, was a pretty floral 40s-style dress that got me through a wedding reception, 6 months pregnant. Good work from a $26 dress. 

Next – 9 skirts for a grand total of $254.

(left to right: Anthropologie, Banana Republic, Zara, BCBG,
Tension, MICHAEL Michael Kors, Missoni, Talbots, Pink Tartan)
While I looove skirts, the last 6 months handicapped my skirt-buying abilities somewhat. I had to say goodby to my beloved pencil skirts (sniff!) and hello to more accommodating A-lines. Hands down, the best deal was the fun, Moschino-esque Pink Tartan skirt I picked up at Winners for $9. 
The biggest splurge was another impulse buy (see a common thread here?), this time from Anthropologie. It’s a nice skirt for a resort vacation – and I adore the colour combination – but its timing was unfortunate … my husband and I decided to take a break from resort vacations for the time being. It figures! But, hey, at least it got some wear on my honeymoon!
Next up, a whopping 19 tops – grand total $402.
(left to right: Anthropologie, Nougat, Diane von Furstenberg,
Kenzie, Marc Jacobs, Rachel Pally, Teenflo, Nougat, Rebecca Taylor,
Banana Republic, See by Chloe, Moda International,
MICHAEL Michael Kors, Tory Burch, Laundry, Tension, Vero Moda, Joe Fresh(2))
Hard to pick favourites in this category, but one of them is definitely my Michael Kors halter neck blouse (which also happens to be the most expensive item at $58). It’s proven to be incredibly versatile, not only from an accessorizing perspective (it pairs well with everything from black to brown to camel, olive, purple and beyond), but also from the a sizing perspective. Last year, I wore it tucked into my pencil skirts; this year, it’s covering my growing, maternity pants-wearing bump with equal aplomb. I also have to give a shout-out to my See by Chloe camisole – a steal at $12 – with which I look forward to reuniting once I return to less, ahem, inflated bust proportions.

I’ve also bought 1 suit, 5 jackets, 7 cardigans, and 1 sweater – grand total $392.
(left to right: Anthropologie, Mexx, Joe Fresh, Old Navy,
Banana Republic, Jacob, Banana Republic, H&M,
Anthropologie, Tristan, Marc by Marc Jacobs, Joe Fresh,
Juicy Couture Jeans, Dorothy Perkins)
This category includes a freebie (thanks to a Mexx gift card), and one awesome Dorothy Perkins suit ($18) I can’t wait to wear next year. Yes, I bought it on the “some day it will fit” principle – a tactic I generally discourage in others (always buy for the size/style/budget you are/have now, not 5 years ago or 5 years from now). However … technically, it did fit. See?
I haven’t actually worn it because I was afraid I might end up looking like a knocked-up southern belle on the way to Easter service, but I think I will be able to make this work come next spring/summer.

Moving on, I cannot forget 8 pairs of pants (including 3 maternity pairs) – grand total $287.

(left to right: iT, American Eagle, Banana Republic, Gap (2), Thyme Maternity,
Loved by Heidi Klum, Thyme Maternity)
As it turns out, some of my favourite pants last year were casuals – two pairs of skinny grey jeans (give grey denim a chance, it’s amazingly cool and versatile) and a pair of boyfriend chino’s. Of course, I cannot forget my slim-cut cropped black pants; I think I tried talking more than one person into buying them – with happy results, I might add. Alas, they’re out of rotation for me for the time being. All I’m going to say about maternity pants is that they suck.

And last, but not least, 13 pairs of shoes – grand total $636.
(left to right: top – Stuart Weitzman, Ralph Lauren, MICHAEL Michael Kors,
Donald J. Pliner, Joes Fresh; middle – Nine West, Stuart Weiztman, Nine West, Bloch;
bottom – Joe Fresh, Nine West, Joe Fresh, Nine West)
The best deal of the bunch were my funky Donald J. Pliner sandals ($22) – I can’t wait to wear them this summer! 
The biggest budget buster (and my absolute favourite pair of shoes) were my nude-colour patent leather Stuart Weitzman flats; not a terrible deal at $150, but not exactly a bargain – but hey, who can put a price on love, right? Less exciting, but most useful, were my Ralph Lauren black pumps ($64) – they’ve logged in plenty of days at the office already, and they won’t be going out of style any time soon. Which is good, because I’m turning into a flats-only kind of gal – quelle surprise!
[Funnily enough, I just read the other day that the average British woman buys 8 pairs of shoes a year, has approximately 20 pairs in her closet, 11 of which she barely wears. You can read about it here.]

So, the total damage for the year ($2,469) comes under the WNTW threshold, which makes me feel a little bit better – nothing like putting together an exhaustive list of this kind to make one feel like an extravagant clothes addict. But, truth is, I don’t feel that bad about the past year’s shopping habits. I’ve put together a wardrobe that suits my style and my lifestyle – curve-balls and all – and doesn’t sacrifice quality to price, or vice versa. Not bad for one year!
Stay tuned next Monday for a look back at some of my favourite looks of the year.

Where’s Waldo

One of the perks of being pregnant is the freedom to let it all hang out. Want to wear a tight, body-con dress? You don’t need a six-pack; you need a bump. The bigger, the better, in fact (to avoid those “is she/isn’t she” speculations) – everyone will think it’s awesome.

But there are days when I wish my extra-passenger-on-board didn’t take centre stage, and on those days I have to play a whole ‘nother game: hide-the-bump. Or I should say, more accurately, flatter-the-bump – ’cause there ain’t no way around it. As you know, I’ve been trying to squeeze every last second out of my regular clothes – like the gooey inside of a Cadbury Creme egg … mmm! – and putting off the purchase of maternity wear as long as it’s feasible. [Yes, I know it’s light years away from some of the monstrosities of old, but the quality is still terrible it seems, and the prices are ridiculous. But that’s another story.] Some days, working with my old wardrobe is easier than others; my body seems to have a will of its own these days, and it’s awfully temperamental. Still, there are a few tricks that work (whether you’re pregnant or not), which I borrowed from my personal styling arsenal.

Large prints – yes, it’s an optical illusion, but it works. [At least until I turn to the side.] The eye glides over a large print, without closely registering what might be lurking (and kicking) underneath. [That sounds Alien-ishly ominous, doesn’t it? Feels like it too, some days.]

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again – no one should be afraid of belts. Think you don’t have the abs for it? Think again. A belt under a jacket or top will create a waistline in a quick second, and you don’t have to worry about what might or might be spilling out of the sides. Being pregnant, I have to say that I have come to appreciate braided belts more than ever – not only do they adjust easily (no extra notches needed), but they are very comfortable too. A big plus when you’re eating for two.
And then, if all else fails, hike it up. Obviously, I wouldn’t recommend doing this with pants, or if you have a short waist. But it works great if, like me, you have a fairly long torso. The key is always to put emphasis on the smallest part of your torso, wherever that may happen to be – by wearing an empire waist dress or top, a higher waisted skirt, or belting whatever you’re wearing. The eye will key in on that, and the rest will be assumed to be in graceful proportion to it, whether that’s the case or not.