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.

23 Comments on BCRL Book Club: AMA Edition

  1. On your next AEA, would love to see a picture of your closet. It was really cool – and envy inducing – to see a bunch of your shoes a while back.

    • Haha! That was me being my usual cataloguing-obsessed self. I love making lists of things 🙂

      My closet is not that exciting, I promise you. It’s quite small in size, so everything is crammed in there pretty tight. It’s not Pinterest-worthy, that’s for sure. I think I did post some photos of it at some point, and it looks the same now except more cramped, LOL!

  2. Oh – question I forgot to ask:
    Nails – I recall earlier in your blog you used to talk about nail polish a lot, and I remember wondering how you had time to change your nail polish everyday to match your outfit. Do you still do that? What’s your routine?

    • Haha! Good memory 😉

      I still paint my nails regularly, although not every day. That’s a function of 2 things. One, I have both more and less time than I used to have when I was on maternity leave. Let me explain. When I had my son, I was your typical stressed-out, sleep-deprived first time parent. I felt like I rarely had more than 10 minutes to myself, and I couldn’t do much with such little time. So I started painting my nails. It was a small thing that used to bring me some semblance of sanity. Now, I do have more “free” time for myself, which means I can use it for things like reading, writing, etc. At the same time, I don’t have so much time that I can do all those things AND paint my nails every day. Does that make sense?

      The other thing is that I stopped getting gel nails a year ago, and I find that using polish remover on a daily basis weakens my natural nails (even the non-acetone kind).

  3. Thanks for doing this AMA. It was an interesting read! Hope you hold these periodically as I’m sure your readers will have more questions that arise later on. Enjoy your upcoming vacation!

    Just one question on the dryclean only items -have you ever just hand washed or machine washed dryclean only clothing from the thrift store? Sometimes I just don’t feel like drycleaning something that says dryclean only when I have other garments of similar material that says hand wash or machine wash is ok (i.e., a cotton/cashmere blend sweater). Just not sure if I may ruin something by not drycleaning.

    • I would definitely do another one, if there was enough interest. I’m always more than happy to ask questions that come up from time to time.

      To answer your question: I don’t typically machine wash things that are labelled dry-clean. I might hand wash them, if I’m feeling lucky. However, I have had too many bad experiences, especially with designer clothing, to take the risk too often. I honestly think it’s impossible to know ahead of time whether something will or will not be ruined by hand-washing. It all depends on how the garment was finished (by the manufacturer) in each case — some silks may be OK to wash, others not. The problem is that quality is so inconsistent, that you can never really tell. I only risk it when I’m OK with the idea of potentially losing the item.

  4. Let us know what you think of Bourdieu! I’ve mostly read The Logic of Practice (which, fair warning, is horribly jargon-filled). I’ve always meant to read Distinction, though, because I’ve been fascinated for a long time by the class markers in clothing. Growing up, we always shopped at Walmart for clothing, which I found hideously embarrassing (what if someone saw me?! Though, of course, what I didn’t realize as a teenager is that if they did it would mean they also had to shop at Walmart). And so in a weird way I think I’ve internalized the idea that you buy nicer clothing as a hedge against unemployment. The logic being, “Well, at least if I find myself broke I’ll have a closet full of Calvin Klein dresses I bought on sale that I can use to paper over financial and class insecurity.” And I think that has also pushed me to look for more classic cuts. If, in your head, you’re always half-expecting a financial catastrophe, it makes sense to avoid trendy clothing that will look obviously dated in a few years. But I suspect this makes me spend much more time thinking about clothing than peers who come from more money, because they don’t feel so acutely the need to play the part.

    • See, I’m really interested in what he has to say because (a) I grew up very poor and (b) I always feel like people from the upper class look and carry themselves in a palpably/visibly different way which, even all these years later, makes me feel really self-conscious. I like to think that I am well-educated, well-read, reasonably well-traveled, etc. but I still feel socially inferior, if that makes sense. So clothes play a much bigger role in the way I present myself, probably for the same reasons your articulated. There is definitely a part of me that wants to emulate the classic, understated, inconspicuous-good-quality approach to fashion that the upper classes seem to be born with — where the key is never to show off how much money you have (because the upper classes have no insecurities about that) but a certain level of sophistication or discernment. It’s about being “in the know”, you know?

      • Yes, I hear you. I teach at a really wealthy college and I can still just look at my students and *know* when one could probably buy my family. The funny thing, though, is that the understated classic look of the wealthy can be quite boring. I wouldn’t mind the implausibly shiny hair, but there can be a uniform that feels a little sterile. However much I like the look in theory, I never really reach for something Katharine Hepburn would wear.

        I just read a book called Hillbilly Elegy that you might find interesting on this topic. It’s a memoir from a guy who grew up in a postindustrial Scots Irish town in Ohio. (It’s being billed as an effort to sympathetically understand Trump’s base). The first half of the book dealing with the culture of rural white poverty in the US is really good – sympathetic, yet measured about the problems of violence, apathy, and drug addiction that perpetuate the area’s poverty. The second half turns into more of a muddled neoconservative treatise about government policies. It’s not spoiling anything to say he goes to Yale Law School. I found myself reading the chapter about culture shock going, “yup, yup, yup. All sounds familiar.” He’s particularly good about the way that identifying with the elite is a necessary prerequisite to leaving a certain culture of poverty but can feel simultaneously like a betrayal of your community. It’s worth a read.

        • (Also, it’s funny to realize that I’ve been compulsively reading all of these books promising that sort of understated, high-quality elegance just as I’ve started a job at a place that feels completely, utterly out of my league, class-wise. Subliminally compensating, much?)

          • I’ll be interested to hear about Bourdieu also, I’ve been reading a bit about the aesthetic judgment of taste from other writers, and I don’t know that much about Bourdieu’s work, even though one of his students, Christine Delphy, is one of my favourite writers.

            I’m interested in it with regards to the fashion industry, because it’s hard to go beyond one of two approaches with regards to fashion: one would be finding your own personal style etc. which is a bit of a stretch, considering you generally consume what others have made and, besides electing certain the clothes and going “mine” or “me”, none of us contribute much to what we wear. The other is being in the know as to what’s in or out this year, which has an effect whether we want it to or not, because if something looks incredibly 2014, we might like it the first time it pops up on Pinterest, but will be incredibly sick of it by early 2015 once we’ve seen it 67836828468326 times.

            I’ve also noticed with fashion writers, you can tell their relationship to social class in some ways. Like, I read this journalist / blogger sometimes, compared to me she’s pretty bourgie, but I can tell it’s something she has to keep up, precisely because of how “pea under the mattress” she is sometimes, and how she relates aesthetics to morality. Someone like Sophie Fontanel, who is so upper-class she practically has a lens-flare effect gleaming off her forehead, doesn’t seem to give a shit, her instagram is all her lounging around doing mildly indecent poses in designer prêt-à-porter. She wears Sonia Rykiel like it’s just clothes. She doesn’t go out of her way to take the piss out of Kanye. This other writer does these “controversial” thinkpieces sometimes all harrumphing about Hedi Slimane’s Yves Saint-Laurent collections, calling them vulgar, “but I suppose that’s what the masses want nowadays”. Which is ludicrous, because most of us barely know who Hedi Slimane is, let alone whose creative director he was. I found out reading her article about him.

            Although, in terms of thinking about high fashion, I find thrifting pretty odd, because it makes financial sense to thrift good quality pieces for a fraction of the price you’d pay for a misshapen rag in H&M. But, if you thrift online (say your town doesn’t have much available), you need to know which brands are worth investing in. So you develop a slightly awed relationship towards all these designer labels, based on the fact you can sometimes afford them second-hand. The funny thing is, you read so much about how genius and great and witty these designers are, how Carine Roitfeld walked on the Seine the other day in her jeans to heal a dying swan with a brilliant aphorism about style and love. All in all, they’re mostly despicable people who take credit for work they largely didn’t do, they said “I’d like to make a glove” and some people carried out that request. So I always feel a bit of a mark and a sell-out wearing Isabel Marant trousers or whatever, even though, second-hand at the price of a new blouse from Zara, that wasn’t a stupid purchase. Actually, even ordering the better-quality, cheaper, thrifted clothes took breaking down some psychological barriers, like “you can’t afford designer stuff, go buy the more expensive fast-fashion tat that’s the highest you can aspire to”.

  5. Thanks for this! It was really interesting and helpful to hear your thrifting tips. You’ve got me hooked on Value Village, which I had never visited until a month or so ago! Have fun on your vacation!

  6. I find I keep coming back to Yves Rocher, which is a Canadian company, for my cleansers – I use the Hydra Vegetal line, and I love their toner for not being sting-ey but still leaving my face refreshed and their micellar water for cleaning/makeup removal at the end of the day. Moisturizers, I splurge and go L’Occitane, which is pricy but totally worth it.

    • I’m actually really lazy about skincare, hence my deplorable regimen for so many years. If it wasn’t for my love of sheet masks, which sparked an interest in Asian skincare, I’m not sure I’d be making any effort, LOL! I’m actually debating going the other way — with facials, peels, etc. — if it means cutting down on regular skincare routines.

      • Yves Rocher is French, isn’t it? The man himself was from Brittany and the company has its headquarters in Rennes.

        In terms of skincare, I’m in my late 30s, I think we have similar skin (quite pale, no particular problems except slight sensitivity), I cleanse with jojoba oil that I rinse off with rose water and towel my face dry (no water), and about once a week I do a pink clay mask, and that’s about it. I try and avoid rubbing it too much, washing it with water/soap or stuff like facial scrubs. And, don’t tell anyone, but at night sometimes I use some of my body lotion as night cream, mostly around the eyes and mouth. It’s from an organic brand called Cattier. My skin’s pretty good, in fact I’m told I look improbably youthful. I was thinking of investing in a CC cream but I’m not sure I can be arsed.

  7. Thank you Adina! This was most informative. I do a lot of shopping on eBay, because I work a lot in a physically active job. Not a lot of me left over lol! I don’t get the great prices you get, but it’s decent prices for quality clothing that make me feel GOOD. And I don’t have to leave home or fight crowds. It’s a trade-off.
    I want to thank Liane also. She summed up the whole class/fashion/looks thing perfectly, you both did. You can “spot” class, real class when you come across it. Not necessarily the show-y name-dropping outfit, but quiet,expensively timeless looks. That, yes, might get a little boring. Reminds me of description I read in a book “…well-dressed to a French degree of perfection which was like a sort of lacquer over her whole person…”
    In essence, growing up poor, struggling as a newly-wed, raising a daughter on 1 income, and a little child support, left me with no knowledge of my own style. So at the ripe old age of 58, I’m struggling to find my footing. Your blog I read religiously, it has pointed me in the right direction. Dressing well is something attainable, and indeed makes one feel good. It is the image you show the world.

    Thank you again dear. Have a great vacation!

  8. If you are interested and get the chance, I swear by the Kose Softymo Deep Cleansing Oil (the one in the yellow bottle)! Been using it nonstop for years. I hear it’s a lot thicker and oilier than the others in the brand, though… not sure if that would be off putting.

  9. Thanks for the suggestion to check out I’ve been trying to find some guidance on updating my style (thanks to watching yours evolve, if I am being totally honest) and this site seems to be what I’m looking for.

    I find myself looking at *how* people where clothes, versus what they are wearing. And I become disappointed that I don’t look the same because of my body shape, etc. My challenge lies is finding cuts and styles that flatter my own body, and I find that looking at the pictures online often frustrate me because i have a good handle on the colors that I like, and the styles that I like, but I never feel like anything looks good on my body.

    • I totally, totally understand where you’re coming from even though my problem is not necessarily my body shape, but my aesthetic. I have been trying to train myself to recognize when the appropriate response to an outfit I love (on someone else) should be “lovely on her, not for me” rather than “MUST have that!!” It’s not easy. I especially like the Into Mind suggestion of making a list of things that are “not for you” — it helps a lot when shopping.

  10. Have you watched The True Cost on Netflix yet? Very much in the same vein as your reading material. I’m also a huge jojoba fan like one of your earlier comments (I use a Lush body lotion on my face and it’s amazing). Also, in a later post (I’m catching up on blog reading at the moment) you mention not knowing why random people read and finding that unnerving – well, I found you when I was frantically googling to find professional attire inspiration (I’m a fledgling art teacher grappling with my wardrobe), and I really liked your writing voice/tone. You are very realistic and down to earth! I am also super envious of your thrifting (my sole thrifting claim to fame is a Burberry wool blazer that is slightly too hefty in the shoulders – Portland ME has nothing on you!) so I read to vicariously thrift – if that makes sense. And I may on occasion wistfully wish that you could thrift for ME!

    • I would love to run a personal thrifting service! I just haven’t been able to come up with a workable plan. I do thrift for friends who live locally, and would do it for others as well (though I haven’t been asked yet, LOL!). The problem with doing it internationally is the logistics of it all.

      I definitely have The True Cost on my viewing list! I’ve been following Livia Firth on IG, and trying to learn more about ethical/sustainable fashion.