Month: July 2016

Blue Fancy

Dress, Prada (thrifted); shoes, Marc Jacobs (thrifted); bag, Rebecca Minkoff
Dress, Prada (thrifted); shoes, Marc Jacobs (thrifted); bag, Rebecca Minkoff

I don’t get to go to a lot of weddings anymore — I seem to average one a year in the last 3 or 4 — so it’s extra fun getting dressed for one. I have a lot of “fancy” dresses, and not many occasions to wear them, which makes for a somewhat challenging selection process. This time around, the winner was my blue Prada silk wrap dress. Since the dress code was fairly relaxed, I kept things pretty simple, with just a hint of sparkle.

blue + silver
blue + silver

The wedding itself was a beautiful family affair, and my husband and I felt privileged to witness it. The bride’s children (from a former marriage) were very much part of the wedding party, and watching the way they all came together and celebrated their new family was amazing. I’ve never really understood the point of vow renewals before, but this experience made me seriously consider it; obviously, my kids will never get to witness their parents’ wedding, but it might be nice to have a celebration not only of our marriage but of our family, at some point in the future when they’re older.

that's a wrap
that’s a wrap

BCRL Book Club: AMA Edition

As promised, here’s my AMA.

Do you create your outfits the night before or is everything day of?

I actually prepare my outfits at least a week in advance. Or, to be more precise, I create a week’s worth of outfits in advance — which gives me some flexibility in terms of dealing with last minute issues that might impose specific requirements (e.g. wear a blazer on Monday because I have a client meeting, versus Tuesday when I’m at my desk all day, etc.). Because weather is not a huge variant in my day-to-day life (I have a short commute and an A/C-ed office, and don’t go outside at lunch on a typical day), it doesn’t play much of a role in my decision-making process.

I find this process helps a LOT. I am always rushed in the mornings (who isn’t) and this helps to simplify my routine immeasurably. I *hate* having to dither over what to wear, which is what tends to happen with me when I’m short on time and the kids are running amok around me. I also read somewhere that one of the keys to being productive is eliminating as much inessential decision-making as possible. Our brains have finite “juice” and they don’t discriminate between important decisions and unimportant ones; ideally, you want to use your cognitive processing capacity on the important, high level stuff — not exhaust your brain with the other stuff. So the recommendation is to develop as simple a routine as possible, wherever possible, that involves minimal choices. For example, I do my make-up the same way every morning, I eat the same things every morning, and (as noted) I have all my outfits already picked out ahead of time. So, every morning, I expend very little brainpower on getting myself ready, which leaves me more “brain power” once I’m at work to tackle my to-do list.

I love your thrifting posts, you have amazing luck. Any tips?

I’ve touched on this before, but a lot of it is out of your hands and has to do with luck. I happen to live in a city where thrift stores are plentiful, and people donate a ton of amazing stuff. That’s not always the case, and I feel your pain if your thrift scene is not great to begin with. That said, there are things you can do to make the most of it. Going frequently definitely improves your odds, because there is no set schedule for when thrift stores will get new stuff in — they get it all the time. That’s not to say that dropping in constantly is an option for everyone, but I would say that checking in at least once or twice of month can make a difference. The other big “tips” I have are: (i) train yourself to recognize good fabrics by touch and/or sight (practice makes perfect) because this will make it far easier to browse quickly and hone in on potential “scores”; (ii) shop by section if you are easily overwhelmed by too much variety, and stick to one or two sections per visit; and (iii) never thrift without your friend, Google. Listen: I learn about new brands all the time, and I’ve been obsessed with fashion for a LONG time. If you find an item that looks and feels nice, but has a label you don’t recognize, Google it — if could be a real gem.

And here’s another pro tip: if the brand label has been cut off, look to the inside tag (where the care instructions usually are). There, you should find one or both of the RN and CA numbers. The US and Canadian federal governments have databases where you can look these up to find which companies they belong to. [Google “RN database” and it should be one of the first results. Google really is your friend.] In most cases, that will tell you who the manufacturer is … although, sometimes it can be confusing. Case in point: remember that mystery label dress I mentioned in my last thrift post? I looked up the RN number and it came up as Urban Outfitters. It seemed strange to me, because the dress certainly seemed more likely to be Anthro … until someone told me that UO owns Anthro. Believe it or not, I hadn’t realized that before. See: I learn something new every day.

How tall are you and what size do you wear? Do you find clothes that fit off the rack easily from thrift stores, or do you get items altered often?

I am 5’7, with a long torso and short legs. I wear a variety of sizes, which I don’t think is helpful to list if the goal is to give you a sense of how things fit me. Sizing is all over the place these days. I had not taken my measurements before, but in the interests of science … here goes: 35-27-38. I think that qualifies me as an hourglass, although I am definitely more bottom- than top-heavy.

I thrift A LOT, so finding things that fit (more or less – more on that in a moment) is not difficult. There are occasions when I might come across a piece that is simply too large, and if I love it enough, I will buy it knowing that it will need alterations. Since those can get expensive very quickly, I don’t do it often – only twice this year, off the top of my head.

Going back to fit: that is, to some extent, a question of personal preference. For things like tops, dresses and skirts, I don’t mind pieces that fit a little more loosely on the body. In fact, I prefer it. I don’t like things that are too body-conscious, especially when it comes to workwear. So I’m a more loosey-goosey with fit than other people might be. When I’m thrifting, I’ll still buy a size 8 dress even if the size 6 would have fit me better. On the flip side, I’m less likely to buy a size 4 dress if the size 6 would have been more comfortably roomy, because I prefer to save the Spanx for very special occasions only.

What are your tips for cleaning your thrifted items, such as dry clean only items and shoes?

Discovering the Woolite home dry-cleaning kit has been a game changer, you guys. It does a great job of “refreshing” clothes, although it won’t get rid of stains. I try to limit my thrifting to pieces that are new or like-new, so stains are not much of an issue. (As far as that goes, check the armpits of clothing, blazers in particular. It’s a good giveaway for wear/usage, and it’s something that even regular dry-cleaning may not be able to address.)

As for shoes, I stick to leather ones and those are a breeze to clean. You can use Lysol or rubbing alcohol, and gently the rub the inside of the shoes with a cotton pad. Let it air dry, then repeat once or twice. I’ve never had issues with the alcohol affecting the leather insole. I would be reluctant to buy shoes that are lined in fabric, or things like Birkenstocks, only because I’m not sure how I would clean them.

Getting scuffs off patent leather exteriors is almost impossible, so keep that in mind when thrifting. Unless the scuff is very fresh (in which case vigorous rubbing with soapy water and/or alcohol may work), there is nothing that can be done about it; at some point, the dirt/ink/whatever sinks below the patent film on the leather, and it becomes permanent.

What’s your skincare routine?

Honestly, I’m still figuring that out. Until recently, I used Kirkland brand face wipes to clean off my make-up at night, and L’Oreal Revitalift cream to moisturize in the morning. And that’s it, save for the occasional exfoliation with St. Ives apricot scrub. I mean, it’s a miracle I don’t look like a Shar Pei at this point. Luckily, I am rarely exposed to the sun (and I use SPF 60 for those rare occasions — I’m talking about the white, goopy stuff), and my skin isn’t super fussy (not too dry, not too oily, not acne-prone, only slightly sensitive).

However, I have started getting interested in Asian skincare, which is probably a terrible rabbit hole-slash-money pit, but anyway … where was I? Ah yes, new stuff I’m trying out. So far, an oil cleanser, a toner and a moisturize/milk. I’m not sure of their names, so here’s a pic instead:

L to R: cleanser, tonic, moisturizing lotion
L to R: cleanser, tonic, moisturizing lotion

I can’t say that I’ve noticed any major changes in my skin yet, but I haven’t had any adverse reactions either. I will say that the toner is not astringent at all, and it does make me miss my old Mario Badescu toner which they sadly don’t import into Canada anymore, and whose name I have now forgotten. (It was a yellow liquid, for what it’s worth.) That one was gentle but did leave me with a “clean face” feeling which this Hada Labo version doesn’t. In all fairness, I have read that Asian toners are not all that similar to N. American ones — i.e. they serve different functions. Any Asian skincare experts, please feel free to jump in here.

I am also using Tony Moly sheet masks once or twice a week, and I love them — mostly for the experience (I find it relaxing) than for any skin benefits … although I do find my skin to be extra soft immediately afterwards. I have ordered a few more products on Amazon, including a Biore sunscreen and a different Softymo cleanser, and will report back if anything turns out to be a hit.

Your closet seems overrun with Anthro stuff. Why don’t you go for higher end designers, especially now that you’re trying to be more minimalist?

Because of the change in my shopping habits over the past year or two, my closet is currently as much a reflection of my style as it is of my thrifting abilities. I am definitely becoming more selective about which brands I buy, but the high end designer stuff tends to be harder to find, and I have a hard time resisting the other cute things I come across in the meantime.

How did you start finding your fashion voice? I feel lost with mine and constantly buy things that just aren’t me. Any advice?

I’ve been there! It took me a long time to learn an important lesson (and I’m still working on internalizing it, to be honest): I love some things … on others. And I often love them because I love the idea of being that other person — or what I imagine it might be like to be that other person. But, at the end of the day, I’m just me, and I need to wear clothes that make me feel like the best version of me. Things that make me feel comfortable in my own skin, rather than like someone playing a part. Do you know what I mean?

In terms of how to find “you” in your clothes … that’s tough too. It can take time, and a lot of trial and error. I think you can experiment, and listen to your gut in doing so. There should be clothes that make you feel great when you wear them — like a second skin. Clothes that you put on and go “I’m ready to conquer the world” … whatever that means to you. The blog Into Mind is a great resource for getting started on discovering a personal style.

Alright, that’s it for questions! If you’ve got one I missed, let me know. As for BCRL Book Club, for next month’s selection I’ve picked Bargain Fever: How to Shop in a Discounted World by Mark Ellwood. I’m hoping that it will provide some interesting insights into the retail business, more so than shopping tips per se, perhaps along the lines of Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Lustre by Dana Thomas, or Overdressed: The Shockingly High Price of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth Cline, two of my fave fashion industry reads. I thought it might be a nice pick given some of the recent discussion on the blog around fast fashion and sustainability.

Speaking of Dana Thomas, I also recently ordered Gods and Kings: The Rise and Fall of Alexander McQueen and John Galliano, which I am also very excited to read. Additionally, based on a random recommendation from Reddit, I picked up Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste by Pierre Bourdieu, which promises to analyze the intersection of aesthetics (style, culture, etc.) and social class. It may not sound like a prototypical vacation read, but provided the writing isn’t too dense, it’s totally up my alley — and what I’ll be reading come next week when, you guessed it, I’m on vacation. Finally.

Old School

Shirt, H&M (gifted); skirt, Banana Republic; shoes, Stuart Weitzman; bag, MbMJ
Shirt, H&M (gifted); skirt, Banana Republic; shoes, Stuart Weitzman; bag, MbMJ

This feels like such an old school combo — blue pin-stripe button down with pearls — but as soon as my mom asked me if I wanted this shirt, I knew I had to go there. I have no idea why my mom (who has been retired since 2012) would have a shirt like this in her closet, but I am happy to benefit from the mystery. It’s not a style I would have picked on my own, as I tend to find button downs generally more restricting than other types of blouses, but I quite like the fit of this one. The neckline in particular is nice: it shows just a hint of necklace. Full-on pearls feel a bit costumey to me, but I enjoyed this understated, preppy way of wearing them.

necklace, J. Crew Factory
necklace, J. Crew Factory
old faithful
old faithful
looking sharp
looking sharp

Of course, because of the hearing, I added a blazer — partially as a concession to the dress code, and partially (a large part) as a concession to the weird temperature dynamics in the hearing room. It made my evening commute extra boiling, but c’est la vie. As we move ever closer towards August (and then, gulp, September), I feel the urge to hang on to the warm weather with every ounce of determination I can muster … even if it means perspiring in a most un-preppy way on the train.

By the way, if you’ve got any burning questions (see what I did there?) and forgot to ask them yet, you have one more day to get them to me — via email or comment here — before Friday’s AMA post.

blazer, J. Crew (thrifted)
blazer, J. Crew (thrifted)