Origin story? How did you get interested in fashion?

I loved dressing up as a kid, but the concept of fashion was a foreign one – literally – when I was growing up in a Communist Eastern Bloc country. I remember watching Dallas in the early 90s, before my family emigrated to the West, and thinking about how glamorous the women on the show looked. I had no concept of fashion trends as such. Once we arrived in Canada, it took a few years for my parents to re-establish their careers (from zero, I cannot even imagine), and I spent my teens shopping at thrift stores and places like Walmart so I had no incentive to care about fashion – it was out of my league.

I remember when the first Forever21 store opened in Edmonton. I was in university at the time, and had disposable income from a part time job (I still lived at home), so I started to pay more attention to what I was wearing. Most stores were still too expensive for my budget. I vividly remember lusting after an aqua blue fleece hoodie from the Gap; it was one of my Christmas gifts from my parents that year. I also remember a silk, floral H&M halter dress I bought in Paris in the early 2000s, before H&M opened here. It was the most beautiful dress I had ever seen, and I pushed myself to “splurge” on it because I was on vacation. A decade later, I had it altered into a skirt; I never wear it, but I can’t bear to part with it.

Skirt, H&M; sweater, J. Crew Factory; scarf, Aldo; shoes, Bandolino (thrifted); bag, Gucci (via consignment)
Skirt, H&M; sweater, J. Crew Factory; scarf, Aldo; shoes, Bandolino (thrifted); bag, Gucci (via consignment)

However, I don’t really remember much of what I wore during most of my university years, and I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have been considered a “style” of any sort. I was in my mid-to-late 20s when I started to become interested in what you might call “fashion”. A combination of things is probably responsible for my “awakening”, including a newfound interest in fashion magazines and access to my first “grown-up” paycheck. Speaking of powerful influences, though …

Were there any role models in your life?

One of the most stylish people I personally know is a former co-worker. She is not only beautiful (inside and out) but is one of those people who knows exactly what to wear on every occasion, and has a knack for putting together outfits that look effortlessly elegant. She is also a very savvy shopper. She introduced me to consignment stores, Winners (TJ Maxx), and eBay. Those things, in turn, opened up a whole world of sartorial possibilities.

I’d also be curious to hear about your thoughts on the impact of your wardrobe at work. Has your interest been received positively or negatively?

I blog semi-anonymously, but my blog is an “open secret” at work. Edmonton is also relatively small city, so I do run into people within my professional network who read my blog or are at least aware of it. I have never received direct negative feedback; in fact, most people have been generally very complimentary about it. With that said, I have no idea if it’s something that has been or will be held against me. I’ve always been very careful about what I post, so I can’t imagine that it would be, but you never know.

My evident interest in clothes is, well, very evident, so people have certainly noticed it. Again, I have not received direct negative comments about it. It *is* something I do, at times, worry about for various reasons.

When I was more junior/younger, I used to worry that people would judge me for spending what might appear to be a lot of money on clothes. For example, I was embarrassed when a partner once complimented me on my shoes, and asked me what brand they were; I found myself blurting out the answer (Manolo Blahnik, I probably should have just fibbed), and rushing to tell her that they were thrifted. I’m sure she probably wouldn’t have thought twice about it either way, but I was concerned about the optics of an “intern with a Birkin” situation. Now that I am both older and more senior, I kinda … DGAF what people think about my spending habits, you know? Again, I’m not even sure anybody is judging me on that score, but it wouldn’t bother me (too much) even if they did.

I do occasionally think about how my personal style and interest in clothing is perceived at work and, in particular, whether they make me appear less competent and/or professional. Fortunately, my practice area offers quite a bit of flexibility when it comes to style; I only have to conform to formal business attire on very, very rare occasions. My office is also relatively casual for my professional field, and other (female) co-workers are quite stylish so I don’t think I stand out drastically.

Are there certain types of things you shy away from wearing at work?

Mainly, I stay away from the usual “suspects”: nothing too low cut, too short or too tight. No leggings, unless worn with a tunic-style dress, and then only on casual Fridays. (This is not currently one of my go-to looks, but I think it’s acceptable for my office dress code.) I also tend to avoid platform pumps, which I find to be too “clubby”. I usually stick with knee-length skirts (or midis), but if I am wearing something a little bit shorter (typically not more than 2-3 inches above the knee), I make sure that everything else is covered (high neckline, long sleeves). I will take off my blazer and rock a sleeveless top from time to time, but mostly in my own office; however, if someone else sees me, it’s not the end of the world. No spaghetti straps, though.

Lately, I have also been avoiding fit-and-flare/skater-style dresses at work because I think they have a more “gamine” vibe. Ditto with other details with a similar vibe (frills, ruffles, full skirts, etc.). It’s not a rule that’s written in stone, though. My love of twee has not been completely eradicated. I have also switched from wearing cardigans to wearing blazers. Structured toppers look more polished to my eyes now, though I am always on the hunt for ones that don’t feel constrictive.

Got a question? Shoot me an email or leave a comment, and I’ll be happy to answer it.

16 Comments on Ask Me Anything, Vol. 2

  1. Hi there, I wondered if you ever read the blog You Look Fab? The blogger, Angie, is, originally South African and is a professional stylist. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t thrift, but something about the considered way you talk about style and fashion reminds me of her writing.

    I can’t imagine that anyone from your work would hold your blog against you – you don’t spill any job secrets, you write very well and you’re not pushing product. You can’t say that about all blogs, especially the last two things! :0)

  2. Just wanted to say this was a fun post to read. I have also found that I care less about people’s judgment now than 10 years ago, but I suppose it’s because I’ve got work experience behind me so I feel I’ve “proven” my seriousness about work. I like today’s outfit on you, it would never work on me, but I like seeing different styling ideas.

    • I think that’s a big part of it for sure. Experience + a proven track record = confidence (which includes the confidence to push/bend sartorial rules if you feel like it).

  3. Really interesting! I had no idea you weren’t Canadian born and bred. So is English not your first language, then? You’d never suspect!

    • Nope. I started speaking English when I was 12. My family moved to England and I started going to school before I had any sort of grasp on the language beyond “hello, my name is …” People were incomprehensible because, in addition to not knowing the words, I could not understand their accents. You could say that it was full immersion. Reading saved me, in more ways than one.

  4. Thanks for answering!

    On my end, I grew up in a rural, post-industrial small town in the US where dressing up would be deeply strange. It was the sort of place where you wore dresses maybe 2-3/year (Easter and the odd band concert) and otherwise spent your time in jeans and a hoodie. In fact, I still find it difficult to figure out what to wear when heading home to visit because my wardrobe is far too fancy for the area. Despite that – or maybe because of that – I was always deeply conscious of labels. We used to shop at Walmart for clothing and I would be terrified that I would run into someone I knew, even though if they were there it would logically mean they were also shopping there.

    The first person I knew who really cared about fashion was my sister. She moved out of town, got her first job, dyed her hair and suddenly looked fabulous all the time.

    Anyway, thanks for satisfying my curiosity!

    • Thanks for the question! I rarely reflect back on my 20s (they weren’t that memorable, I guess) so it was a fun little exercise. I do wish I’d kept a better record of the things I used to like and wear (clothes-wise) because I think it’s interesting to see the evolution but … ah well.

  5. Which Eastern block country were you born in, if you don’t mind me asking? I understand if it’s something you’d rather not reveal 🙂

    I was born and grew up in Moldova (former USSR) and spent my college years in Bucharest, Romania. I too started to learn English when I was 11 and spent a year at a boarding school in England (on scholarship) as a teenager – understanding the Brits’ accent was very hard for me too at the beginning.

    Fashion has become an interest only in my 30s, after having the financial resources to invest in some good quality pieces.

    • I grew up in Bucharest, actually. My family comes from all over the eastern bloc, but predominantly from Romania. Funny coincidence 😉

      • Intr-adevar, ce coincidenta 🙂 Imi pare bine ca ti-am gasit blogul. Sper ca nu am gresit si am presupus corect ca romana este limba ta materna 🙂

  6. I had a coworker a couple of years ago who was clearly into fashion, I rarely saw her in the same outfit twice, her outfits were obviously thought-out and put together. She clearly had loads and loads of clothes (twice she gave me a big bag of costume jewellery she was getting rid of). We used to talk about fashion quite a bit, in fact. But I don’t think anyone thought less of her professionally for it. So I wouldn’t worry about that too much. In fact if you’re good at your job and have some authority in your field, being well turned-out and bringing a bit of colour to your office is probably a plus.

  7. I have a few women colleagues who are clearly into fashion and dress in a way that’s a bit more interesting than the average woman associate. I think every woman colleague whose into fashion and pays attention thinks that it’s really cool and that they look awesome! It doesn’t otherwise impact anyone’s perception of them at work, I think.

    I grew up in a very wealthy community (the Silicon Valley in California), but it was also a place where most of the families I knew were not at all showy with their money. I don’t think I had any sense of fashion or brands until I watched The Devil Wears Prada in theaters. I shopped a lot at discount stores like Target and Ross, and also borrowed liberally from my mother’s old hand me downs. I think I had a faint awareness, in pre Devil Wears Prada days, that a lot of my classmates were able to shop at slightly fancier places (Hollister or Abercrombie) but it didn’t seem important and I felt sure that nobody would have judged it.

  8. My question is, as a fashion blogger, when you show an outfit, do you WANT people to say if they don’t like it on you? Or don’t think the style/colour/fit is flattering on you?

    Or would you rather they only comment when you ask for opinions on certain things?

    • That’s a tough one. I mean, obviously, I don’t enjoy hearing someone critique an outfit I liked. Most of us don’t, I imagine. On the other hand, I don’t want to tell people what they can and can’t comment because I feel like that inevitably stifles genuine discussion in the long run. So I leave it up to each person to decide whether or not to leave a comment. My personal approach, as a blog reader, is this: would I be hurt if the comment I’m about to leave was given to me?

      I will say that the comments I have received to date, even the critical ones, have been polite and I really appreciate that.

      So I guess the answer is: I do directly ask for comments when I’m looking for feedback or recommendations or whatever, but I also want readers to feel free to say whatever they feel they need to say, whether or not I’ve requested it 🙂