Month: December 2016

What I Wore: Christmas Party 2016

a ballroom fit for a princess
a ballroom fit for a princess

As I mentioned in my last post, I did manage to get to the ball, ermm, office Christmas party this year, notwithstanding my eleventh hour dress disaster. And, yes, I did feel rather like a princess. Perhaps even the Belle of the ball. Definitely a Beauty, not a Beast. OK, I will stop with the theme puns now.

Dress, Nicole Miller (thrifted); shoes, Louboutin (thrifted); brooch, vintage (via eBay); earrings, vintage (via consignment); clutch, vintage (via grandma)
Dress, Nicole Miller (thrifted); shoes, Louboutin (thrifted); brooch, vintage (via eBay); earrings, vintage (via consignment); clutch, vintage (via grandma)

I am still marveling at the fact that this dress cost me less than the price of a latte. It fit like a glove, and all that it took was adjusting the clasp on the back of the halter. The threads holding the clasp in place had come loose, so when I went to fix it (no tailor this time!) I simply moved it back an inch on either side so the straps would be more snug. The dress was otherwise in impeccable condition, and made out of a double layer of natural silk (non-shiny) that had a good weight and beautiful flow. It seemed to glide and fall away perfectly, and was absolutely THE most comfortable evening dress I have ever worn — no shape-wear required. I was left wondering if it was cut on the bias or something (vaguely recalling some of my fashion history reading), because it seemed incredible that a dress that is so lightweight and body-con would ever look this good with practically no effort on my part. I don’t know the answer, but it’s a wonderful mystery all the same.

art deco "emeralds"
art deco “emeralds”
floor-sweeping
floor-sweeping

I paired it with my vintage Art Deco-inspired brooch, which seemed like a perfect complement to the V-neckline. I’m not a fan of halter necklines, precisely because they can be tricky to accessorize, but I think I found a good solution since the brooch also helped preserve some modesty. (I used it to hold the bottom of the halter together so it would not gape.) Amazingly, I found the waterfall-like earrings, sporting a similar Art Deco vibe, the day before the party at Swish boutique. I have gotten to know the owner, Angela, a little bit over the last few months, and in addition to having the best stories (seriously, just ask her!), she is a whizz at helping a person find unique and perfect accessories like these earrings. I finished off the outfit with my grandmother’s vintage sequin-encrusted clutch, which was one of my favourite (and forbidden) dress-up accessories as a child and is one of my treasured possessions now as an adult.

I also want to talk about my Louboutins. I know some of you were unconvinced when I bought them, and I get it; I wasn’t sure how useful they would be either. They were my first choice for this outfit simply because they are my only pair of shoes tall enough for the length of this dress. Even so, I brought a back-up pair of (lower) heels with me, just in case the Loubs proved unwearable. And you know what? I feel like I owe my apologies to Mr. Louboutin for doubting his creation. I ended up wearing them all night, for over 7 hours in total (most of which were spent on my feet). I even danced in them, briefly. (Long dress plus high heels plus holiday libations are not a good combo on a dance floor, so I wisely decided to go back to socializing.) After a few minutes of getting used to walking in them — the placement of the heel seems different to me than in other shoes — they were not uncomfortable until about the 5 hour mark, which is a pretty good run for most heeled shoes in my experience. By the end of the night, I was definitely happy to take them off, but I think overall, they held up well. I doubt I will wear them for anything except extra fancy occasions like this one, but I’m happy that I will actually get some mileage out of them after all.

the rose chandelier
the rose chandelier
table settings
table settings

Can we take a moment and appreciate the decor at the party? It’s like you’re waiting for the dancing crockery to come out any minute, right? Disney doesn’t have anything on us.

sky high & feeling fine
sky high & feeling fine
madame x got nothing on me ;)
madame x got nothing on me either 😉

What I Read: Two Articles of Note

Through my years of blogging, I have tried to get various recurring post series going, with minimal success. And by that, I mean that I have had little success in staying organized enough to keep such series going. I’m not going to attempt to start another one, but if I did, I’d be tempted to try an “articles of note” round-up; I love reading them on other blogs. However, I am going to do a one-off (for now! Not committing but also not not-committing!) because I recently read a couple of fantastic articles and, despite making a mental note to share them (organically, as it were) in a style post at the earliest opportunity, I just haven’t managed to do it yet.

Fair warning to you all: neither is precisely about personal style, but both are great reads well worth the time investment in my opinion. I also think that both could be the springboard for some interesting discussion … and you guys know how much I love a good discussion.

First up, The Fashion Law (which is quickly becoming one of my daily reads) recently ran a series on “The 24 Anti-Laws of Marketing” (part 1 / part 2). It focused on the marketing strategies employed by luxury brands to maintain their cachet, most of which run entirely counter to typical fashion industry strategy. The book Bargain Fever touched briefly on some of these different techniques in one of its chapters, but the TFL articles are much more in-depth and specific.

I found them fascinating because I am endlessly fascinated by the luxury industry, and the reaction of different people (myself included) to their products. Growing up poor, I always saw myself as an outsider to the fashion industry, especially the luxury market, and that self-perception has persisted despite the changing circumstances of my life. I love beautiful things, so I am very vulnerable to the lure of luxury, whose products are often (though definitely not always) very beautiful even when not practical. Case in point – and I could point to many:

Gucci via Lyst
Gucci via Lyst
This dress is like a work of art, quite apart from its label. But I am also cognizant that the label is not without an impact on my appreciation of the dress, even though I like to think of myself as a fairly savvy consumer. Recognizing my own vulnerability, I find it intriguing to read about how luxury labels craft their image and manipulate the impact on consumers. Coincidentally, having recently read Propaganda by Edward Bernays, I am more interested than ever in examining the masses of messaging we consume daily, from all sources. If anyone has recommendations for other books on this general topic, I am all ears.

Second, I randomly came across a 2011 advice column from The Rumpus, wherein the blogger was replying to a reader who asked how he could decide if he should or should not have kids. The resulting post is a must-read for anyone contemplating the same question (and deeply resonates with me now, 6 years after I answered that question for myself), but I think it has broader relevance. You guys should definitely read the whole post, but here is the excerpt that encapsulates its message beautifully, and which goes straight to my heart:

 “I’ll never know and neither will you of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.”

Chance are, if you’re like me, that just hit you like a metaphorical train. I have spent a good chunk of my life thinking about my ghost ship(s), without ever being able to put their existence and meaning into words quite as perfectly. I love my life, and would not change a single moment of my past (even the really, truly shitty ones) because each one was a link in the chain that guided me through the labyrinth of choices to this present moment … but I have still wrestled, too many times, with my “what ifs” – never quite knowing what to call the feeling they evoked, what it meant, and what to do about it.

Take the decision to have children, for example; I knew, without question (though, in fact, I never asked myself the question point blank, and sort of just stumbled towards the answer like a person left blindfolded in a dark room), that I would regret not having children. But I also often wondered, sometimes regretfully, about what my life without children would have been like. As I have sailed on through my life as a parent, those thoughts are growing ever more distant. The same is not necessarily true of other life choices; there, the wondering still visits me – like a ghost ship – every so often. Somehow, the thought that all I need to do is wave and watch it pass on, is deeply reassuring.

If you’re feeling in a confiding mood, here’s my question for you: how you deal with your ghosts ships or, more generally, with making difficult choices in the first place?

Best Laid Plans

Sometimes, I feel like my borderline-obsessive planning is simply an invitation to the universe to mess with me. Does anyone else feel like that, or shall I go ahead and add the label “paranoid” to my bio? Actually, don’t answer that. All I’ve got to say is that, at times, despite my best efforts, things simply don’t work out the way I expect. This year, in particular, has felt like an extended exercise in things-not-working-out-as-planned, so I suppose I should not have been surprised by yet another curveball late in the game.

Thankfully, this one was of the inconsequential variety … which is not to say that I didn’t sulk about it for a day or two. Much like my three-year old, I have a lot to learn about going with the flow, I guess.

This all started with my office Christmas party. For newer readers, by way of background: every year, my firm hosts an extra fancy Christmas party at an extra fancy hotel. There is a different theme every year, but the dress code is always “black tie(ish)”. (I did a post on my past Christmas party outfits a couple of years ago, where you can see my past efforts, successes and failures both.) For the past two years, I have been on the organizing “committee” (really, there are two of us), so I’ve been putting extra thought and effort into my outfit. People don’t typically “dress to the theme” at these parties, but I like to give a subtle nod to it if I can. For this year’s theme, we chose Beauty and the Beast. Red roses, naturally, formed a big part of the décor. In the circumstances, it seemed fortuitous when I found a dark red velvet dress (with rosebud-like folds on the off-the-shoulder straps) during one of my thrifting stops earlier in the fall. I generally only wear fancy cocktail dresses at my office Christmas party, and where else but at this particular Christmas party, would a dress of this description be so wonderfully fitting? In short, it was fate.

As it happened, I also found the perfect accessories for this dress shortly thereafter: a necklace from the antique mall, and sky-high Louboutins from Value Village. It was going to be the perfect outfit … all for under $100.

Take a look:

Dress, vintage (thrifted); necklace, vintage (antique mall); shoes, Christian Louboutin (thrifted)
Dress, vintage (thrifted); necklace, vintage (antique mall); shoes, Christian Louboutin (thrifted)
look at that shoulder detail!
look at that shoulder detail!

It would have been so great, wouldn’t it? Sigh. If you remember the intro, you will have figured out that this was not the outfit I actually wore to the Christmas party. Why? Because sometimes the best laid plans get derailed by an errant hot iron.

See, the dress was vintage and while in generally amazing shape, it had a small tear in the fabric near the back zipper. Since the fabric was velvet, I decided to play it safe and take it to the tailor rather than attempt the repair myself. Velvet is tricky, after all. Oh, the irony. The tailor was able to repair the tear just fine … then proceeded to iron over her handiwork for some unknown reason. If you know anything about velvet, you probably know what happens when you apply a hot iron to it. The tailor should have known; moreover, the care label attached to the dress clearly stated DO NOT IRON.

sigh
sigh

Had the damage been done in some more unobtrusive spot, I might have taken my chances with it. As it was, I couldn’t wear it. Not at my fancy Christmas party, and probably nowhere else – save maybe a future Halloween party. I was so, so bummed out – mainly because this was a vintage dress I could never replace, and an occasion I could not duplicate. So, even though the tailor (who was very apologetic) offered me compensation, it did not bring me much cheer.

Of course, in the end, I rallied – found another dress, went to the ball, no fairy godmother required. I was still sad about the ruined dress, however; I hated the idea of getting rid of it, or keeping it in some dark corner of my closet, unworn. It seemed like such a waste of a beautiful thing. I don’t know why it bothered me so much; in an age of fast fashion and disposable everything, I suppose my feelings about that dress could seem odd and anachronistic. Still, it felt like we had unfinished business, the dress and I … and that’s why I decided to write this post, and take photos of the outfit that never was. And you know what? I feel better now. So long, beautiful dress.

alas, what might have been
alas, what might have been