Thursday, September 30, 2010

Rethinking Jeans and a T-Shirt


Earlier Drafts:
I rocked these heels for my MA defense last spring.

polka dot cowl neck top (Macy's)
skinny jeans (Marshall's)
watch (Fossil)
Mary Janes (Michael by Michael Kors)

Recently, Liz wrote two great posts about dressing casually and what it means in an academic context.  Like her, I have less occasion to "dress up" this semester - actually, even less reason to think about professional dressing than her because I'm not teaching, working, or doing anything that requires me to dress or look a certain way.  My teaching starts next semester, so look for frantic posts about reconciling my love for florals and asserting classroom authority come January.

In the meantime, I'm working on dressing casually.  I've found that I rely on the performative aspect of dressing to get me into my pencil skirts and heels.  It's an interesting question that I'd never considered before: if I wear a cute, professional outfit, but few people to none see it, does it count?  Do we need an audience for our clothing?  Or do the clothes themselves affect our own attitudes enough that it is worth it? 

I think that while the clothes I wear influence my attitude and the way I carry myself, I definitely downshift when my audience is an amorphous crowd and not more specific, like "my office mates" or "my students."  I still love my skirts.  I still wear heels.  But I don't wear them as frequently, especially high, high heels and the more restrictive skirts.

As the weather has cooled down a bit, I've gone to the staple of many wardrobes - the jeans and t-shirt combo.  I usually pair it with flats or wedges, which I think think gives it a bit more polish than sneakers.  However, this week I decided to dress it up a bit.  Instead of a standard t-shirt, I put on this polka dotted cowl neck top I recently purchased.  I love polka dots: I have polka dotted pumps, and I really want a polka dot dress.  Putting this jazzed up t-shirt with dark wash skinny jeans wasn't enough.  I wanted something more, so I went for some high heels.  Unnecessary for the look, but just the punch I wanted.  I liked the outfit because it was casual, but still had a professional, "dressed up" connotation.

  • How do you "dress up" casual looks?
  • How much does having an audience affect the way you dress?  In other words, do you still "dress up" if there is no audience?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010



glasses (Jill Stuart)

Hello all!  Sorry I've been MIA.  After a sad trip home, my computer broke.  Luckily, the parts were under warranty, and my lifeline was restored Monday afternoon.  After a not-so great September, I would like to thank you all for your sweet comments and thoughts.  They really made me understand how a virtual blogging world is very much a real community.  Your support meant more than I can express, so thank you.

Moving on, I have a few changes in my general appearance.  For one, I finally got new glasses.  Way back in June, I confessed that I wore glasses nearly everyday.  And then I lamented how much I hated the way that glasses transformed my appearance.  Liz suggested that once I got frames that I actually liked, my stance on glasses would change.  Lo and behold, she was right (as usual).  After getting my prescription renewed, I decided to put my eye fashion in the (very stylish) saleswoman's hands.  I showed her my old glasses and told her that I did not like them.  Then she cleared up years of confusion on what looks good for my face shape: after one look at my oval frames, she frowned and gently said, "Well, you have an oval face and oval frames don't really suit that.  You need something with more edges to bring out your cheekbones and the angles of your face."

I had never had on glasses with a square or rectangular shape, so I was eager to try them.  I explained that I wanted to try either thick frames or bottomless frames and let her pull some glasses.  I probably tried on only about 20 pairs (as opposed to three times that many I normally try on) total.  I think more would have been torturous, based on previous experience.  This pair was probably number ten or so, but it was the first and only pair that my immediate reaction was "Yes."

Relatively soon after getting the glasses, I decided I wanted another minor change to something that affects my everyday look - my hair.  Growing up, I loved changing my hair.  This usually meant chopping more and more off, but in college, I started growing it out.  Currently, my hair hangs to a few inches past my shoulders and is the longest it has ever been.  I like the length, so I decided to dye it.  I don't have the money for a professional dye job, so I bought some Clairol Natural Instincts temporary (28 days) hair dye in color 15RG: Golden Sienna.*  The color on the box is close to my natural hair color, but is more overtly orange-y red.  I've used it before and have been happy with the results.  The change is pretty minimal: responses tend to be, "Did you change your hair?" not "Whoa!  That's different," which is exactly what I wanted.  Even the pictures don't really show much of a difference (the top photo is pre-dye with glasses, the bottom two are ~5 days post-dye).  I think the new color brightens up my face and compliments my skin tone.  I've always called myself a pseudo-redhead because my hair has red tints but is more brown than auburn, but people call me a redhead because my pale skin and freckles bring out my natural red highlights.

I'm very happy with both changes.  You may see my glasses around the blog more, and I like the way my new hair naturally adds a pop of color to my outfits.

*SSG has no ties to and is not sponsered by Clairol.

  • Do you dye your hair?  How far from your natural color do you go?
  • When you're looking for a specific item, like glasses, how many do you like to try on?  I like to try on enough to be sure, but as I mentioned, I've tried on every pair in the store before only to be really confused.
  • What do you know about face shapes and glasses? 

Shopping Hiatus Reflections

Earlier Drafts:
I wore this skirt in one of my first blog posts, and Katie has this shirt in a different shade.

eyeglasses (Kate Spade)
black beaded necklace (NY&Co)
teal striped top (H&M)
charcoal pencil skirt (NY&Co)
teal leather Mary Janes (Seychelles via Endless)

Ye proponents of colored shoes, I have finally joined your ranks!  You might recall that one of my back-to-school purchases was a great pair of pale yellow slice wedges, and while those are technically colored and were too versatile to resist, they didn't quell my desire to find a perfect "pop of color wedge."  I had scoured the malls and internet for the perfect pair of brightly colored wedges until I finally found this perfect pair of shoes.  However, the price was outside my comfort zone, and I didn't want to spend a lot of money on something just to satisfy the thrill of the chase. I thought it would be a good idea to take some time away from shopping to consider what my closet really needed most.  During this time, I also thought about how I might incorporate these shoes into my wardrobe. After the thirty day hiatus, I bought them with confidence because I knew that they could serve as a new staple in my wardrobe, which would make them worth the investment.  They're slightly different in appearance than a wedge, so they add a little more variety to my shoe collection than a standard wedge would have.  The placement of the heel makes them feel like a wedge, though, so it was sort of a win-win.  I also think that because they're brightly colored but closed-toe, I can wear them in all four seasons with aplomb, so that adds to their versatility.

In previous posts, I've shared my belief that a great new accessory can help you to re-think your entire wardrobe.  Before I found these shoes, which are described as "teal," I would have told you I didn't own anything teal.  I knew I wanted a pair of shoes in some hue of blue, but it wasn't until I found this specific pair online that I realized how strong my attraction is to this particular color family.

I'm looking forward to finding ways to wear these shoes with items of apparel that I already own.  While I know they'll look great with all these coordinating tops, I'm also hoping to learn to wear them as a contrasting pop of color, too.

Wardrobe Workhorse Week coincided with my shopping hiatus, and I came away from this combined experience with a new appreciation for the items currently hanging in my closet.  There were quite a few things I had on my "wants" list before I stopped shopping, but after thinking critically about my wardrobe for a month, I realized that that was definitely not a "needs" list.  The only thing I plan to purchase in the near future is another pair of skinny jeans.  As I've said, this semester calls for more casual dressing than past ones have, so a new pair of jeans will get enough wear to justify the purchase.  While the advertisers are suggesting there are new items that I "must have" this season, I don't see how any of them will fill an existing void in my wardrobe, so I'm going to pass on buying anything else until I can really conceptualize how it will benefit my closet to add it.

I also enjoyed staying away from shopping websites and stores.  I was visiting these shoes online to make sure they disappeared, but otherwise it was a complete hiatus from shopping, not just from purchasing.  This was timed nicely with the beginning of my semester and kept me from being tempted to waste precious time at online retailers.  I might try something similar at the end of the semester, too.

  • When you want to take a break from shopping, how do you implement this strategy?  Do you limit shopping altogether or do you just limit buying?  Do you enforce a day limit like I did?  Or a dollar limit?  Or do you take a less regimented approach?  I actually broke the shopping hiatus rule one day early to snag the last pair of these shoes in my size, so I wonder if a more flexible hiatus would have been a good idea.  The hiatus had served it's purpose before the 30 days were up, I think.
  • I think we've all experienced buyer's remorse, but have you ever experienced waiter's remorse? I would have hated to see these shoes go after spending a month thinking about how well they'd work in my wardrobe.
  • Have you bought anything this season that is giving new life to the items you already own?  What is it?
  • I love teal/turquoise with navy, so I'm looking forward to that pairing, but it's still not a "contrast."  What colors should I pair these shoes with to really make them stand out?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Jeggings and Ageism

Earlier Drafts:
I wore this cardigan with loafers I'm trying to love.
I could have worn these yellow wedges, instead of strappy gold heels, with this ensemble.

slouchy grey cardi (Target)
black cami (Gap)
jeggings (Lauren Conrad for Kohl's)
yellow wedges (Nine West)

One of the few things I've enjoyed about unemployment is the freedom it has given me to experiment with clothing.  Not currently bound by office dress codes, I'm able to invent my own sartorial standards.  I've toyed with lace and (faux!) fur and bright tights and prints.

But I might draw the line with jeggings.

Although I fashioned a pre-autumn outfit around my newly purchased leggings + jeans hybrids, I'm still skeptical of them.  What purpose do they serve distinct from leggings or skinny jeans, after all?  I plan to wear mine only with long tops, as I would leggings, and I find them convenient for tucking in boots, just like skinny jeans.  They might provide a measure of extra warmth in chillier weather, but, beyond that, what's the big deal?

To be fair, I'm enamored of the concept.  Leggings in a durable fabric?  Genius.  We won't have to wear tights under these babies, for sure.  And why should we sacrifice a laid-back jeans aesthetic because we desire a body-hugging profile?  Points for creativity.

Still, only months ago I poked fun at undergrads' propensity for jeggings.  These pants seem to be favorites of the 18-and-younger set.  Perhaps that's why, whenever I sport my own pair in public, I receive glances of camaraderie from girls half my age.  This is not good for someone like me who already bristles at the slightest implication of ageism.  I fear that sporting clothing that is inherently coded with (negative?) age-related associations only invites the sorts of perceptions I mean to deflect.  So am I too old for jeggings?  Or, would it be wise for me to refrain from wearing them given my sensitivity to age-related discrimination?

Last week, E. of Academichic asked a related question of skinny pants, the broader category under which jeggings fall.  Her post inquired into the professional connotations of such trousers, and I think that, for young females, the issues of career expertise that E. noted are inextricable from issues of age.  Being young and dressing fashion-consciously certainly opens one up to risk -- risk of being branded as inexperienced professionally.  So is it worth it?  Granted, we'd all like to wear whatever we wish and imagine ourselves demolishing monoliths of prejudice, but, when it comes to it, do we eliminate certain garments -- like jeggings, perhaps -- from our sartorial repertoires because of their negative age-related connotations?  Do we avoid clothing because it looks "too young" or "too old"?  Are there garments which, in your opinion, should be subject to such age-related restrictions?

For me, this discussion rings of a line from a Bing commercial: "Moms who wear jeans to match their teens' jeans." What's at stake with this critique?

  • Do you avoid certain garments because of (negative) age-related connotations?  What are they, and what message do you think they convey?
  • I'd also like to ask the inverse: do you choose to wear other garments because of their (positive) age-related connotations?  What are they, and what message do you think they convey?  For example, I've written about my appreciation of blazers.  Frankly, I think they make me look older.
  • Why do or don't you make style choices according to age perceptions?
  • Most specifically, are you wearing jeggings this season?  Why (and how) or why not?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Facing Sartorial Critique


clear lucite beaded necklace (Kohl's)
white and yellow striped tee (Gap)
medium wash skinnies (American Eagle via sister's closet)
sneakers (Converse Chuck Taylor)
staring down at the ground pose (learned) : )

My casual dressing experiment and my refusal to acknowledge the onset of fall continued on Friday, this time with the assistance of some new skinnies borrowed from my sister and a necklace that dresses up a tee and jeans ensemble and makes it feel more "me."  I noticed last week that I've been wearing bold (if not "statement") necklaces almost every day-- this seems to be a phase I go through every couple of months.  Right now, a look feels more like a "look" when I add a necklace. 

I wore this ensemble to campus for a lecture, and I barely made it inside the building without having its casual register brought to my attention.  I ran into a friend and classmate of mine, who followed up his "Hey!" with "dressed down Friday, eh?"  This reminded me that I'd agreed to address Maggie's comment on my post from last week about using "dressed up" attire as a way to assert my authority.  She wrote, "Liz--one of the unsaid things here in your post--and this blog--is the idea that you _should_ dress professionally. This is something that I struggle with because I do believe you have to dress appropriately, but I know a lot of our colleagues and even professors seem to see it as a ruse or something."  After sharing some personal experiences, Maggie concluded her thoughts by asking,  "I wonder if you--or the other bloggers--ever feel some tension with peers and/or profs who DON'T dress professionally?"  Other comments on the same post (which I encourage you all to read) also gestured toward the same line of questioning.

First, I'd like to clarify that I try to avoid thinking and speaking in "shoulds."  If my post gave the impression that I think people should dress according to societal norms of what constitutes "professional," I apologize.  I was just trying to talk about my own relationship to "professional" dressing.  Maggie certainly sensed, though, that I do wish more people were willing to acknowledge that how you dress your body matters.  In our About the Blog page, we quote Tim Gunn, who has said "I believe in the semiotics of clothes: the clothes we wear send a message about how we're perceived.  Accordingly, it's important that we each accept responsibility for how we present ourselves to the world."  I'd like to invite you all to take a look at that page, especially those of you who are newer readers of the blog, because that's where we've tried to explain what we imagine as the purpose of our blog.  I'd also like to encourage you to visit (or re-visit) my Henry James Textual Analysis post, in which I wrote a little bit more about my own conception of how and why language matters as a parallel to how and why dressing matters.

To answer the second part of Maggie's question, I have felt some tension with peers regarding my decision to dress "up" regularly.  Some of my classmates are responsive to my explanations about it, and quite a few have actually begun reading the blog and talking to me about it in real life, which is rewarding enough to make it easy to ignore the critics, even though a few of them remain.  I've been fortunate enough that I haven't (yet) felt this kind of tension with professors, but I expect that at some point, that situation will arise.  I read other academic fashion blogs regularly enough to know that in other universities, disciplines, and geographies this kind of tension is quite pervasive.  Our department is fortunate to have quite a few female professors who cultivate a professional, put-together, stylish presentation of self.   Their personal styles cover a broad range of approaches to dressing, but when I look at each of them, I can see that they've put thought into how they dressed themselves each day.  Many of these women are also doing highly influential work in their fields.  I can't help but think that these female professors have begun to carve out a space of possibility wherein someone like me, who takes an interest clothes, is still taken seriously. 

I know these misconceptions-- that dressing well is just a "ruse" and that a woman can't be interested in style and do serious, thoughtful, meaningful intellectual work, too-- still exist.  When given an opportunity to discuss these misconceptions with people who hold them, I believe I am capable of making a good argument against them.  I realize, though, that not everyone who thinks my interest in clothes is vapid will be willing to give me a chance to discuss it.  Because of this, the best way I know to break down these misconceptions is to prove them to be false every single day.  I like to think that by continuing to dress with intention while also doing good work in my studies, I am slowly convincing those skeptics with whom I interact that it is possible to be serious about academics and about clothes.  Furthermore, I hope that my participation in this community of scholarly style blogs gives confidence to those women who share my interest in clothes but do not get to share my surroundings, and thus face more criticism for how they choose to dress.  I'm regularly encouraged by reading the thoughts of others who share my opinion on the subject, and it reinforces my sense that it's important to continue working toward deconstructing these misconceptions.

Thanks for the comments, Maggie!  I hope I've answered your questions.

  • Do you ever find yourself relying on a single type of accessory to "finish" a look?  I do this all the time with belts, as I've mentioned before, but now I'm starting to do it with necklaces, as well, so I wonder if it's a common habit.
  • What are your thoughts on the similarity we draw here on our blog between the importance of using language well and the importance of dressing well?
  • Have you found successful ways to manage tension you've encountered regarding your own interest in clothes?  Please share!!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Weekend Reads

Looking for something fun to read this weekend?

Caitlin of Frosting and Bows offers some helpful commentary on Anne-Marie's recent thrifting mishap, which Caitlin thinks she can still turn into a success story.

D-Med and A-Dubs of In Professorial Fashion put out a call for fellow bloggers to imitate their self proclaimed "Wonder Woman Pose," and the results, which include Liz's contribution, would make Lynda Carter proud!  We think they'd make her laugh, too.

The fall semester is well on its way now, but if you want to re-live that back to school excitement, check out the First Day of School Conference Panel in which Liz is included, hosted and coordinated by the Fashionable Academics.

Thanks to these fine ladies for featuring our input on their own blogs.  And happy first weekend of Fall, everyone!  We hope those of you who are holding onto summer are enjoying some sunshine, and those of you who've been suffering from bootache have seen the temps drop a bit!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Casual Dressing Experimentation

Earlier Drafts:
I labeled these jeans my first wardrobe workhorse, and these shoes were one of my two "back to school" purchases.

neon-ish pink tank (Rave)
yellow tank (via sister's closet)
colorful scarf (via sister's closet)
dark wash skinnies (American Eagle)
yellow buckle slice wedges (Nine West)

I really appreciate your thoughtful comments on my post from Monday about dressing "professionally."  I want to address them more specifically in the future, because I appreciate that you've all (as usual) encouraged me to think in different ways.  Today, though, I wanted to write a little bit about the goal I mentioned briefly at the end-- to dress better in the casual register.

Believe it or not, I have been a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl most of my life.  I'm not talking about jeans and a cute embellished t-shirt, either; I'm talking about jeans and a t-shirt my mom bought for me at the Nike employee store during my adolescence, when she worked there.  Thankfully, she took that job around the time when they first came out with "women's fit" t-shirts (mid 90s), so the tees did actually fit me, even if they said things like "Nike Running: Choose Your Path."

One of the (unfortunate, I think) side effects of the empowerment I felt when I began dressing differently for work was that I directed all of my styling energy into work clothes and paid no attention to trying to wear casual clothes well.  I actually mentioned way back in my "intro" post that I struggle to put together cute casual ensembles, but the process of blogging has helped me to realize that this is really only due to a lack of effort.  Monday, I said that "now, these ["business" register] clothes feel more me to me than more casual ones."  I recognize, though, that they are quite literally more me because they're outfits I've actually taken care in putting together.  So I am wondering what will happen to my personal style if I put the same amount of effort into my casual wear.  Perhaps I really am more at ease in "dressed up" looks, but I don't think I'll know that for sure until I put a little more effort into my non-work looks.

This is a good semester for the casual attire experiment.  I only teach two days a week, so that leaves five other days to dress differently.  I believe I have conquered the hair straightening demons-- either my curly hair looks better every day, or I get a little more comfortable with it every day leading me to think it looks better every day-- so I'm ready to move on to the next way to challenge myself.

I thought putting on a scarf might be a good way to try something new because I literally never wear them.  IA Katie and Plummy wear them so well, though, that they encouraged me to give them a shot.  I don't own any that I don't put on exclusively for warmth, so cue my sister's closet!  When I was trying to build an outfit around this one, I was tempted to wear it with a white top because it's so colorful, but then I remembered Vickie's choice to pair color with more color during Black-Out week and the positive results it yielded, so I went in that direction.

The only reason I actually own a neon-ish pink tank from Rave is because I purchased it for an 80s party a few years back, and at that time I was more annoyed that it wasn't more neon (and going inside Rave totes took me back to middle school).  I actually tried this combination a few weeks back with a khaki skirt and my hair up, because I felt like scarf+hair was too much going on around my head, but I actually think it looks much better here, and I'm glad I gave it another try.  I also like how the yellow tank underneath plus the yellow shoes sort of ground the bright tank and (I hope) keep the ensemble from being too overpowering.  I actually wish it looked more like this IRL-- for the life of me, I cannot get items in this punchy pink color family to photograph correctly.  (You're not even reading this, are you?  You're looking at my 80s party photo.  Did you really think I was going to mention an 80s party outfit, of which I have a photo, and not show you said photo?  The most awesome part of this outfit was that, when walking through the city on Saturday night to get to the party, I got tons of compliments on this outfit from strangers who had no idea I was on my way to an 80s party.  And I didn't get the impression that they were complimenting me to make fun of me.)

  • Thoughts on this outfit, please?  On this casual dressing experiment, which I fear may really turn out to be a project titled "Skinny jeans 100 different ways"?
  • Suggestions for different casual combinations for me to try?  (Don't worry, I've been scouring all of your blogs, and plan to rip off all of your ideas anyway.)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Let's talk about lace, baby.

Earlier Drafts:
These nude suede heels are in my regular shoe rotation for both summer and fall.

black oversized vest (Calvin Klein)
cream lace-like dress (Charlotte Russe, thrifted via Plato's Closet)
grey stone necklace (gifted)
nude suede heels (Seychelles)

My second attempt at thrifting proved more successful than my last.  Your tips helped!  I didn't peek at price tags and paid more attention to fits.  Along the way, I scored this cream shift/babydoll dress hybrid.  I imagine it will work as well with nubby brown tights and knee-high boots as it does here with bare legs and peep-toe heels.  Transitional wear is the name of the game.

In honor of my latest find, I had prepared a spiel about all things lace.  Specifically, I had attempted to dissect my own attraction to it.  Forget Marie Claire's fall forecast or Venus Williams' daring French Open ensemble.  (Interesting social commentary embedded there, for sure.)  Why do I continue reaching for lace-graced apparel?  Why did I select a lace bridal gown for my own nuptial and outfit my girlfriends in lace-y cocktail frocks?  (That's a story for another time, friends.  For now, let's say I'm anticipating some negative karma in my next run as a bridesmaid.)  Why do I fall for lace -- or lace-like, in the case of the above thrifted dress -- detailing every time?

In writing the post, it occurred to me that many of you might find lace repelling for the exact reasons I find it appealing.  This polarization interests me, too.  Lace signifies "bridal" for some, "boudoir" for others; "vintage chic" on one hand, "pass-the-mothballs antiquated" on the other.  So what does lace connote to you?

  •  Mind if I put the brakes on my original lace-related post to collect some data?  Please answer my poll question on the right sidebar!  I'd also like to hear your reason for answering the way you did, so comment away, too! 
  • (Side note: I realize that in the far left photo of the above triptych I look a bit, erm, boudoir.  Or a bit "Hey-I-might-be-wearing-only-a-trenchcoat-to-a-large-sporting-event!"  But I figure, it is football season, so in honor of collegiate streakers everywhere, I'm going with it.)
  • (I really have no choice.  My outtakes?  They're worse.)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Dressed Up Comfort

Earlier Drafts:
I sported this cardigan with my black shift.
I channeled Emma from Glee in this skirt.  (New season starts tomorrow!)
This necklace was one of my few purchases this summer. (Regarding that post: I did try to revisit Camera Lucida, but someone either lost our library's copy or refuses to relinquish it, and ILL is too much of a pain.)

hoop and bead earrings (gifted: thanks D!)
clear acrylic beaded necklace (Kohl's)
black tank (Target)
purple cardigan (NY&Co)
black and white print pencil skirt (NY&Co)
black leather flats (Nine West)

Can you tell I took these photos in the evening?  What gave it away?  The bad lighting?  My moderately disheveled appearance?  The bad photo quality in which my head appears blurred, but which nicely approximates my fuzzy headspace after a long day of teaching and taking classes?  Suffice it to say, it was one of those days where I was patting myself on the back for having chosen flats.

When I posted my first day of school look, Brooke commented: "I'm always so envious to read that you feel 'comfortable' in those types of clothes. I'd very much prefer to stand up and teach in gym clothes or jeans and a tee shirt. I always can't wait to get home and hop into my leggings and tees. Have you always felt comfortable dressed up, or did you adapt to it? I'm hoping I'll adapt soon!"  I've got a lot to say in response to this great question, so here goes.

As I touched upon briefly in the comments to this post, I think there are two components to the "comfort" I associate with an outfit, those being a) a type of psychological comfort, and b) a type of physical/bodily comfort.  Most times, I think there's a large overlap between the two, because I tend to feel physically comfortable in things that make me feel psychologically comfortable and vice versa.  Sometimes that's not the case, and for me, psychological comfort always trumps physical comfort.  I find yoga pants to be very comfortably physically, but I rarely wear them outside the house because I regard them as pajamas, and I'm not psychologically comfortable wearing my pajamas in public.

So now that I've tried to clarify what I mean by "comfortable," I think I can address Brooke's question more directly.  I did not always feel physically comfortable in professional attire.  And, I think, I had to learn to take myself seriously as a professional before I felt psychologically comfortable in these clothes, as well.  But life taught me to feel comfortable in these clothes, in both senses of the word.  I started teaching high school at 22, and I was frequently mistaken for a student.  I think this happened because I was fresh faced and because people think of my build as small.  Being told I looked like a high schooler was maddening, and though some people suggested to me that I should "take it as a compliment," nobody ever said it in a complimentary tone.  They said it in a tone of surprise and/or condescension.  So I took offense.

I always wore what I felt were "grown up clothes" to teach.  Unlike other teachers (young and old), I didn't wear jeans, t-shirts, or hooded sweatshirts with the school's logo on them.  However, that didn't seem to differentiate me adequately, so I made the conscious decision to dress more "business" than "business casual" while still retaining my own personal style.  I rarely wore heels, because I stood in front of my students all day, but I invested in trousers to replace my khakis, cardigans to replace my cable knit sweaters, blouses to replace my polo shirts, pencil skirts, and wrap dresses.    It didn't make a huge difference with my students; I think that because they spent so much time with me, they learned to respect my authority fairly quickly.  However, it made an absolutely noticeable difference with my fellow teachers, the administrators, and especially the parents.  The rude and inappropriate comments stopped almost entirely.  The parents were more willing to listen to what I had to say.  (They used to ask me how old I was so frequently that I finally resorted to this response every time: "Old enough to have completed the degree which qualifies me to teach your child.")  My principal actually told me, "I used to think you didn't write referrals because you were a pushover, but I've realized that you don't write them because you address behavior problems adequately in your classroom."  I think all of these changes were directly related to dress.  These clothes say: I mean business.  I know what I'm doing.  I have my s*** together.  I take my work seriously.  I am a disciplined person and I expect others to demonstrate self discipline, too.  All of those things were true before, but my business casual clothes did a less effective job of communicating them.

As a result of this change, I began to feel more psychologically comfortable in these clothes.  Nothing angers me more than being underestimated, so when I realized that I could take concrete actions to disallow that kind of underestimation, it was like I had found the golden ticket.  I've always been aesthetically attracted to clean lines, tailored silhouettes, crisp collars, pressed fabrics, and the like, so while the clothes didn't initially strike me as physically comfortable, the transition was a fairly seamless one.  Now, these clothes feel more me to me than more casual ones.  I learned how to shop for clothes that fit these categories and were physically comfortable, too.  This involved embracing stretch materials, trying on a thousand pairs of trousers until I found the perfect pair, and learning to buy the item that fit best instead of the one that said it should be my size.  At this point, I actually don't understand why anyone thinks jeans are more comfortable than a perfectly fitting pair of trousers.  (Pencil skirts, I'll admit are not ideal, but only because they tend to ride up when you're sitting down for an extended period of time, which I never do when I'm teaching.)

And this is making a long post even longer, but I've been giving a lot of thought to my MA defense episode since writing this previous post about it.  I can't help but wonder if, on some subconscious level, I dressed less professionally for that event because I didn't feel like I had earned it yet, so performing professionalism didn't feel quite right.   This is stupid, because I certainly had earned it, but it's also kind of predictable, because I've encountered much more self-doubt as a graduate student than I ever did as a high school classroom teacher.

In other words: I feel psychologically comfortable in these clothes because they make me feel like other people take me more seriously.  Because I am invested in wearing clothes that facilitate that reaction, I'm committed to finding clothes which do so and are physically comfortable.  However, I don't think I could have worn them with any real confidence until I felt legitimately ready to take on the type of respect I would be afforded when dressed in them.  And if you're still with me on this one, thanks for following along.  One of the things I love most about this blog is that it gives me a space to think through these things in more depth.  Thanks so much for the question, Brooke!

Related Posts:
Recently, A-Dubs shared her own frustration about being underestimated, in her case because of gendered and disciplinary assumptions, and she also responded by resolving to "up the profesh-factor."
Sara wrote an excellent post in which she interrogated the widespread assumption that dresses are necessarily "dressy" or atypical as daily wear.
(don't we have brilliant blogfriends?!)

  • Do you also see "comfort" in dress as a combination of psychological and physical comfort?  Does one trump the other for you, or are they equally important?
  • Do you think I've pidgeon-holed myself too much by relying on "professional" clothes for psychological comfort?  I'm starting to think I have, so I'm committed to learning to take myself seriously in more casual clothes, both IRL and here on the blog.
  • Have you found that your style of dress has made a significant difference in the way people respond to you?
  • Does it sound like I'm on a power trip?  In the interest of full disclosure, I kind of am.  As a young female, I find again and again that no one is going to take me seriously unless I demand it.  Thoughts on this issue?

Friday, September 17, 2010

I came, I saw, I at least tried!

Earlier Drafts:
These wedges are some of my wardrobe workhorses!
I found this cameo ring while visiting Savannah, Georgia.

mustard babydoll dress (Dear Creatures via Plato's Closet, thrifted for $12)
teal tights (Target)
wedge sandals (RJ Girl via Piperlime)

Lately I've tried to become a thrifting girl.  Partly I'm inspired by vintage-hunting enthusiasts, and partly I'm trying to shop without going broke.  Remember this job interview?  You guys helped me assess my outfit after the fact, and, thankfully, the ensemble didn't make the horrible impression I expected.  I got the job (Woohoo!).  I didn't accept it (Womp, womp).  The position came with a one-way commute of an hour and 15 minutes, the same commute I had made for the past two years.  I was tired of driving daily, and I was hopeful to find work closer to home.  So I took a risk and turned down the offer.  Two months of hand-wringing later, I'm still jobless, which means my bank account is nearly bone dry.

This period of tighter financial belting seems ideal for reacquainting myself with thrifting.  I use "reacquaint" loosely, because I've never actually been a serious thrifter.  My past experience involves college and Friday afternoon Salvation Army trips, if that explains anything.  I own several 80s-style taffeta prom dresses as proof of those excursions, but no other gems.  Assuming that my personal ethics have evolved since then, I now brave the world of secondhand shopping with a fresh - that is, more appreciative - perspective.

I remember that thrifting is unpredictable.  In the past it has sent me down several shopping rabbit trails (hence my small 80s-style prom dress collection).  So, for my first foray in eons, I set a goal.  Inspired by Caitlin's yellow houndstooth jacket, Tania's canary-hued accessories, Clare's matchstick pants, and E.'s ode to goldenrod, I determine that I need more mustard in my life.  I set out, focused on yellow.

Which is why I barely tried on this dress after stumbling upon it in a local Plato's Closet!  I didn't even remove my tank top, I just threw on the dress over my head!  Presto!  Declared it a perfect fit!  Purchased!  No refunds!  Done!

I mean, does a more autumnal shade of yellow existOf course I would buy it.

Giddy over my perceived success, I toted the dress home and proceeded to launder and steam-iron it. Not until then did I realize the armpits are snug, and the brown cording hits me above the bust line, and the hem is a wee too short for public.

So what do I do now?  Is the frock salvageable?  And how can I avoid this type of thrifting mishap in the future?

(Happy Friday to all, by the by!  Thanks for rallying around Katie yesterday.  The details are hers to share, of course, but the three of us feel fortunate to have such supportive blogfriends.  Your heartfelt comments mean so much.)
  • Any ideas for salvaging this dress?  
  • What are your fitting rules for thrifted garments?  Is "too big" more workable than "too small"?
  • Caitlin recommends spending no more than $25 for a thrifted or vintage piece.  Do you abide by similar pricing standards?  (Speaking of Caitlin, I'll be over at her blog, Frosting and Bows, later this weekend to share about this same shopping mishap.  Do stop by!)
  • What are your favorite secondhand pieces?
  • Any other shopping advice for me?  I need it!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

7/28/1917 - 9/11/2010

Anything black and easily packed. 

For once, a fashion rule was a comfort.  "This is what you wear."

On Tuesday, I didn't particularly care about my "look."  I left it unadorned.  Perfunctory.

My aunt sat in front of me, and I focused on her patterned jacket.  I traced its swirls, finding comfort in the repetition.

For once, I embraced a fashion rule.  It was order, a solace.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

If It's Not Broken

Earlier Drafts:
It's my favorite dress of the summer.  See it here, here, here, and here.

white short sleeve button down (Express via sister's closet)
blue printed shift (H&M)
white canvas peep toe wedges (MIA)

When I posted this dress a third time before Wardrobe Workhorse Week, I basically apologized for my insistence on continuing to show you the same old thing.  When I realized how much I liked it with a button down underneath, I didn't photograph it, because I figured you were all bored of this dress.  I had to post it one more time, though, because it has definitely been the Boxer of my wardrobe this summer, and I feel like Boxer more often than I care to admit.  (In fits of frustration, I've been known to lament, "All hard work gets you is more work," even though I actually believe I have profited considerably from my hard work.)  There's been a lot of excitement about the onset of fall and thus fall fashions, but I am a sunshine child through and through, so I'm clinging to my bare legs and open toed shoes as long as possible.  (Though I am developing a minor case of bootache.  They look lonely in my closet.)

One thing I really appreciated about WWW was reading your posts about how much you loved your individual items and how great you feel every time you put them on.  I share that sentiment, and for me, this dress has become a go-to when I want to look and feel great.  Last week was my second full week of taking three classes and instructing a class, and while I am excited about these various responsibilities, I haven't found my groove yet, so I've felt pretty exhausted.  I had no energy at all to invest in what I was going to wear.  As such, I adopted the if it's not broken, don't fix it mentality and relied on this trusty combination to get me through a teaching day. 

My shopping hiatus continues, and maybe it's because I've been so busy, but I haven't missed it at all.   Last week, reading along as you all talked about about the items of clothing you each love so much made me wonder, "Why do I ever wear anything I don't love?" I used to buy a lot of "expendable," inexpensive clothing because I got a thrill out of wearing something new, but blogging has helped me to think of new ways to wear the things I already loved.  Now more than ever, I've started getting that same feeling of satisfaction out of wearing my favorite clothes that I used to only experience when wearing new clothes.  In other words, putting together a great outfit now makes me feel better than putting together a new outfit, and I'm thankful that WWW helped reinforce that attitude for me.

  • What are your personal "if it's not broken, don't fix it" items of apparel or types of outfits?
  • How can I clean these canvas wedges?  They are looking dingy, but the canvas is pretty stiff, and I haven't figured out how to brighten them up yet.
  • How are your semesters going so far?  I know we mostly talk about clothes here, but I'd love to hear what people are up to academically or otherwise.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Boots are Back in Town

Earlier Drafts:
I wore these boots with a wrap dress and with a strapless top.
I sported these linen shorts during dinner with Katie and Liz.
I donned this chambray top with a skirt in need of alterations.
I paired this braided belt with a neon shirtdress.

chambray peasant top (H&M)
heart charm necklace (F21)
linen shorts (Lulu's)
braided belt (Lulu's)
boots (Steve Madden via Marshalls)

Is it boot season yet?  Reader Michelle wants to know!  Last Wednesday, during Wardrobe Workhorse Week, she wrote:

"One of my own workhorse preferences is currently singing its autumn siren call: boots! I know WWW is happening while SSG headquarters continues to endure the mid-Atlantic heat, but what take do you lovely ladies have on what might just be my fall favorite?"

We're with you, Michelle!  Despite the lingering summer heat, Katie, Liz, and I are anxious for the reintroduction of boots.  Like you, we consider boots some of our favorite wardrobe reliables, even if they are technically out of season.  Liz values her grey, slouchy numbers for their comfort and style.  Katie's looking forward to reviving these fabulous knee-highs, which she snagged on deep discount at the end of last fall.  And I'm itching to restore these cowboy kickers to my regular shoe rotation.

That's why I paired them with linen shorts for an outing at a local farmers market.  The weather was just breezy enough to merit the boots over these woven sandals, so I took advantage of it.  For an outdoor afternoon, the outfit seemed like the ideal transition between seasons: the long sleeves and the boots welcome autumn, while the shorts and the washed-out hues hang onto summer.

It appears a few notable dressers have the same idea.  Brooklyn Decker, for instance, wore a similar ensemble while strolling Manhattan streets, pairing worn-in waders with jean shorts for a bohemian vibe.  Katy of Kansas Couture recently sported boots with gauzy dresses here and here, too.  Since others are pairing leather leg-huggers with traditional summer-wear, it seems we're not alone in our bootsache.  (Lame? Maybe? "Bootsache"?)

Personally, I think boots are workhorses precisely because they can bridge dramatic changes in temperature.  Worn thoughtfully - and perhaps a tad ironically - they function as valuable cross-season footwear.  I've worn them with tank tops in August when my pedicures have suffered and, in the same month, when I've wanted to rough up my warm-weather frocks.  I've also worn them in the thick of fall with corduroys and sweaters.  So, in many ways, boots act like blazers in my closet: they make seasonal transitions smooth and stylish.

What's your take on boots? Is it time to break 'em out?

  • When do you reinstate boots to your closet?  On a specific calendar date?  According to certain temperatures?  Or do you wear them year-round?
  • Do you think boots are cross-season workhorses, or do you think they belong only in cooler weather?
  • Does a boot's height matter to you when deciding whether or not to wear it cross-season?  For example, would you say 'yes' to an ankle boot in the summer but 'no' to a knee-high version?  What other factors make a difference?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Wardrobe Workhorse Week Wrap-Up

We had such a great time with Wardrobe Workhorse Week!  Thanks to all of you for reading along and commenting, and thanks especially to Sara of Orchids in Buttonholes, Iris of 260 Days, No Repeats, E-Jo of In Professorial Fashion, Miss Studious of O Miss Studious, Plummy of Plummy: Developing Style, Katie of Interrobangs Anonymous, Anna of The Belle and the Bear, Rad of The Cohabitating Closet, Ana of Toil and Trouble, E., A., and L. of Academichic, and Caitlin of Frosting and Bows for contributing their own wardrobe workhorse posts!
We started the week with one main question in mind: What items of apparel and accessories do people who are concerned with style most frequently wear?  The answers were so fantastic that we wanted to consolidate some of them for you in one place.  We certainly haven't covered all the posts, though, so please visit these great blogs to see what else these women can't live without!

Composition: Jeans

Not surprisingly, quite a few bloggers shared Liz's love for jeans! Sara sings their praises even though she doesn't often wear pants, Miss Studious shows us that hers are, indeed, perfect, Iris demonstrates the benefits of trouser jeans, and Anna proves "mom" jeans can be super chic!

Composition: Classic Dresses
Sara wrote a great post in defense of the dress as "comfortable," and several other bloggers proved that a staple black dress doesn't have to be boring.  Anna's looks classic and comfortable, Katie spices hers up with a trademark scarf, L. adds dramatic flair with a wide belt and a flower pin, and Miss Studious wears one with great details that make it stand out.

Composition: Versatile Footwear
Though most of us could never own too many shoes, WWW showed that if you love a single pair enough, you can wear them with anything.  Anne-Marie makes a case for the versatility of nude shoes, Plummy demonstrates a range of styles with her black boots, and (from her enviable shoe collection) Sara identifies her black flats as a workhorseOur Katie maintains her affinity for colored shoes, IA Katie shows she's on the same wavelength with her red flats, and E-Jo chooses style and comfort with colored flats, too.

Composition: Statement Neckwear

These entries show how big of an impact one piece can make, especially when it's near your face. Anne-Marie relies on this bib necklace to transform her summer wardrobe, Miss Studious plans her entire outfit around her statement necklace, Caitlin lists hers as key pieces for fall, and Iris wears hers while celebrating her great accessoriesPlummy favors scarves them for their warmth, and Katie also celebrates scarves for their fashion and their function.

Composition: Un-Boring Basics
These items frequently show up on "wardrobe basics" lists, but with good reason! Katie's pencil skirt gets major mileage, and A. loves hers so much she has it in three colorsSara offers her own definition of a wardrobe workhorse, citing this white skirt, and this neutral skirt has been very good to Anna.

Liz loves her cardigans, Rad demonstrates how stylish a chambray button-down can be, E-Jo shows that great neutral skirt can come in a shade of green, and Miss Studious looks effortlessly chic in her white button-down.

Composition: Unexpected Workhorses

WWW also showed that plenty of items that do not make their way onto wardrobe basics lists can work hard in your wardrobe.  Anne-Marie makes the case for going bold on the bottom, E. recommends replacing that LBD with an LND (little navy dress) and she also wears this mustard blouson top every which way, Miss Studious's geometric print is anything but basic, Ana loves this polka dot top so much that she bought a back-up, and Caitlin turns her unique thrift store find into a signature item.

Thanks again, ladies!  We're thrilled to know you, even if it's just online!

  • We're planning to share our individual thoughts on WWW in upcoming posts, but we're curious-- what is your "take-away" from this theme week?
  • Were you surprised by any of the trends that emerged in our various workhorse posts?  Did you notice any commonalities that we didn't document here?
  • If you decide post more of your own wardrobe workhorse looks, please feel free to paste your links in the comments so we can pay you a visit!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Submission Sunday: Caitlin

During Wardrobe Workhorse Week we pared down our closets to our best-loved items, so we're thrilled to continue the scaling-back party with a post from Anne-Marie's lifelong friend (and new blogger!), Caitlin of Frosting and Bows.  Caitlin, who studied Studio Art in college, has a knack for styling only-the-best accessories into creative combinations.  Here she shares her Four Must-Have (and Budget-Conscious!)(and Versatile!) Items for Fall.


Caitlin Says: It's difficult to nail down my four must-have items for this season because I am absolutely in love with so many trends.  The only thing I can say for sure is that the pieces here are things that I cannot live without, period.  I like to experiment with my wardrobe and accessories.  And it gives me a sense of adventure to put something on that I think no one else in the world will have.  This is why I like to shop at thrift stores, vintage clothing lots, you name it.  Not only are these vintage trinkets a steal in cost, but they are also easily placed alongside my upcoming wardrobe for fall, and I will show you how.  Take a look!
Composition #1: A Chic Jacket
yellow and black houndstooth jacket (thrifted, $25)

tank (F21, $15)
pocketwatch (gifted)
chain (thrifted, $17) 

I have blogged about this jacket because it is so newsworthy!  I bought it two years ago at a vintage clothing store which is no longer here.  I paid $25.00 for it, and I wear it with everything.  I think it is, hands down, the best investment I have ever made in an article of clothing.  It goes with everything from jeans to black pants, and it also serves as a suit jacket if you are in the corporate career world.  It is stunning!  Like many of the things in my closet, it didn’t cost a fortune and no one would ever know it.  I am sure at one point in time it did, but not for me! My advice for anyone going "thrifting:" find pieces that echo your personality, but don’t spend over $25.00 on anything, unless it is in mint condition.  Word to the wise.

Composition #2: A Red Bag
red messenger bag (Liz Clairborne via TJ Maxx, $14)
shoes (Steve Madden on sale, $40)
scarf (Marshalls, $20)

This bag is my must for this season because of the intense red and the easy carrying.  It is all about comfort for me these days, and this bag fits me to a "T."  I wear it around with jeans, and, in this case, with a jersey dress and scarf.  Find one in a similar style or different color -- they are hot this fall!

Composition #3: Boyfriend Jeans
jeans (Gap, on sale)  

A slight exaggeration but, these jeans are the most comfortable things I’ve ever put on.  Really!  I wear them with t-shirts, with tank tops out on the town, to the grocery store, with heels, with sandals, with ankle booties.  It is actually difficult to mess up this pair.  I purchased these at Gap on sale.  They are almost too good to be true.  When I get dressed nowadays, I try not to think so hard.  It should be about ease.  Throw on what makes you feel happy, comfortable, and powerful.  It’s all about attitude.

Composition #4: Big, Statement Jewelry
faux pearl multi-strand necklace (F21, $18)
heart necklace (gifted, Frantz Diamonds in Roanoke, Va.)
all other necklaces (F21) 

Jewelry makes a statement in a big way.  It can transform your most drab frock into an exciting new discovery in your wardrobe.  I happen to love this new trend of huge pieces.  It makes choosing what to put on so much easier.  All you have to do it layer and keep layering chunky pieces.  If you are at a loss of creativity, check out any J.Crew magazine.  All the spreads include large rhinestone necklaces or pearls, or both with a wide range of outfits.  You will never have to decide between your pearls or your rhinestones ever again. One more thought, if you don't want to go out and buy several mismatching pieces, just take apart old necklaces and mix and match those.

  • Caitlin says getting dressed "should be about ease," and should make you feel "happy, comfortable, and powerful."  How do you keep your daily styling habits effortless?
  • Do you own these or similar items?  How do you style them?
  • Thrifting divas, what are your strategies for finding gems like Caitlin's houndstooth jacket?  Where do you shop, and when?  How much do you spend, on average, on vintage finds?
  • What are your must-have items for fall?

Friday, September 10, 2010

WWW: Wedges, Necklaces, and Belts

Thanks for joining us for Wardrobe Workhorse Week!  In my previous WWW post, I featured genres of items, but today, for our final write-up of the series, I'm celebrating three (okay, four) specific pieces that make my wardrobe work.

Composition: Chunky Wedges
brown leather wedge sandals (RJ Girl)

A teacher once cautioned me against overusing the word "love," but I can't resist: I love these wedges, I love these wedges, I love these wedges.  The buckles on these clunkers add just enough edge to the prettiest outfit, and they create interest in everyday ensembles.  They're also surprisingly comfortable.  Believe it.  Although not as "classy" as Liz's black wedges, and therefore likely not classroom appropriate, these neutrals are my go-to kickers for after-school and weekend outings.

Composition: Statement Necklace
turquoise bib necklace (via ShopMamie)

Many of my outfits are deficient in the jewelry department, and that's because I'm awkward with accessories.  I haven't (yet!) mastered the adornment game.  Fortunately, my childhood friend Caitlin of Frosting and Bows is adept at creating and composing such trimmings, and she's preparing a Scholar Style Guide guest post for this Sunday!  Stay tuned!  In the meantime, I rely on this turquoise bib necklace to embellish my summer clothes.  Its color, length, and shape make it virtually fool-proof -- perfect for an accessorizing newbie like me!

Composition: Go-With-Everything Belts
black belt (via ShopMamie), brown belt (Anthropologie)

Speaking of accessorizing, I only began belting my clothes after stumbling upon these pair-with-anything items of waist-wear.  At the time I wasn't intentionally shopping for belts, but there they were: on sale, calling out to me.  I decided to give 'em a shot.  Since purchasing these black and brown numbers, a world of dressing possibilities has opened up.  And like Liz, who has long advocated belting, I often feel sartorially "finished" with a cinched waist.  (Perhaps, as Katie's post on "ladylikeness" suggests, I feel more feminine with accented curves?)  Recently, I've experimented with narrower, braided belts, but these two remain my favorites.

  • To you accessorizing pros out there: what are your secrets?  I need tips!
  • Are there any clothing combos you wish I would try?
  • Wardrobe Workhorse Week has reminded me of the many versatile items in my closet and convinced me that I don't need to shop as much as I think (or want!).  What have you learned about your closet during WWW?