Let's dress up! Update -- the outfit

Don't you just love it when people dress up? I've really been enjoying the festive holiday outfit posts on the forum. Your fabulous outfits (too many to name!) have encouraged me to choose more carefully, even on casual days. After having fallen into a bit of a fashion rut this summer and fall due to some personal issues, I'm enjoying this renewed attention to dressing well! 

And what a joy it is to meet someone who bucks the ultra-casual environmental norm! Yesterday I went to see a new specialist, not an appointment I was much looking forward to. Lo and behold, she was smart, helpful, *and* a delight to look at! A true "princess of darkness" as gryffin would say, she was head to toe in black, but not just any black. Hers incorporated texture (in the form of sheer sleeves on a blouse, with raised fuzzy polka dots), shine in her silver accessories and patent pumps, and even some subtle tone-on-tone pattern in a skirt. She'd obviously taken some care with this outfit and looked extremely elegant. Almost as great-looking as a few of the medical doctors on this forum! :)   

I'm really encouraged when I see people making an effort like this and admire them for it. On the darkest day (or longest night) of the year, I am planning to get dressed up tonight for supper at home with Mr. Suz, for no special reason at all except to welcome the solstice. Anybody with me on this? 

ETA: Lighting is terrible but you get the idea. Dangling earrings and necklace are too much, and I'm not wearing the sweater in the Find but a similar vintage cashmere with portrait neckline. 

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"Style is character:" Discuss (Long)

Yes, I've been reading Joan Didion. ;) 

But I've also been thinking about style personae and descriptors, partly for selfish reasons (I was feeling I'd outgrown the "urban prince" moniker) and partly because it's that time of year when we assess other forum members have also been talking about them. 

Angie's current descriptor is "Urban Pretty." At first that might seem like a contradiction. But "urban" does not have to mean gritty and RATE. Here, it encapsulates the sophistication, modernity, and graphic crispness and quickness that is her style; "pretty" describes the softness, femininity, lightness, brightness, and freshness that is an equal part of the overall impression she creates. 

And then there is Staysfit, whose descriptor is "Genuine Composed." "Genuine" speaks to the practical, comfortable, and approachable aspects of her look; "composed" refers to her organization, coherence, and thoughtfulness. 

Here's the thing -- these labels are pretty darned good descriptions of their characters as well as the "surface." I haven't met Staysfit in person but I have enough evidence from her forum participation that she is extremely thoughtful. She is open without being an over-sharer, highly organized, and she labours against sometimes considerable personal odds, yet maintains an enviable serenity, and yes, composure. 

Angie, meanwhile, is vivid, curious, no-nonsense, and exceptionally smart, yet also warm, light, (i.e. not somber), youthfully energetic, and fresh as a spring flower. 

When I asked for suggestions for a new style moniker for myself, I was extremely flattered when Angie offered up "Relaxed Radiance," but at first I wasn't sure it fit. Partly that's because these style descriptors or statements seem more static to me than the style personae, which are characters, who can act, if you see what I am saying...it's the difference between an adjective (e.g. "pretty")  and a noun (e.g. " princess"). I still find that is true. It's easier to ask oneself, in a store, "Is this what an urban prince would wear?"  and then visualize it, than it is to ask "Is this what an urban pretty would wear?" What's "an" urban pretty? It doesn't make sense. 

At the same time, the more I thought about this, the more I thought that the statement or descriptor may get at something even deeper. 

Am I "relaxed" in real life? Um...no. I definitely get stressed out! But Mr. Suz has often told me that the world would never know that --  it's not that I deliberately try to hide it, but it rarely shows on the outside. And I am fortunate that even though I have experienced serious bouts of anxiety in my life, it is not a constant companion for me, as I know it is for many others.

Anyway, as far as style is concerned, "relaxed" could refer to the generally casual nature of my clothes. This arises from real life circumstance. I work from home and live in a small, student-oriented city. But believe it or not, I am usually more "dressed up" than the people around me. The thing is, I'm okay with that. I'm the kind of person who will get down on the floor with the kids even if I'm wearing a dress; I'll wear a silk blouse and tailored jacket, but hop up on and sit on a desktop to give my lecture if I'm teaching just as easily as if I were wearing a hoodie.  This in itself speaks to a certain level of relaxation that goes beyond casual clothing, I think. Maybe it's about being okay with who I am. The grey hair is another indicator. I am who I am. I don't stand on ceremony. I like to dress up, but I'm not stuck up. 

As for "radiance" -- that is of course an extremely flattering descriptor and I'm less able to judge it in relation to myself. I know I'm blessed with a big smile, though, and I also have metallic hair (and often, metallic shod feet) so there's always an element of shine. I am not sure I can parse out the deeper implications of this. 

Moving on from me, me, me  ;)  all of  these style statements or descriptors involve an inherent tension or hint of juxtaposition. "Urban" and "Pretty" don't immediately seem like comfortable companions -- but it's in the disjunct that the style emerges. Ditto for "Genuine" and "Composed," which if you think of it is almost an oxymoron. (Genuine being "natural" and composed being a quality of art.) "Relaxed" and "Radiant" are perhaps less obviously in tension but I think it's still there...relaxed seems to imply a softness? or calm? and radiance is vivid and energetic. 

Anyway. This has become long. If you read this far, thank you for indulging me! And I would love to know your own renewed style descriptors or your style personae, if you have them! And I'd love to know if you think these give you insight into who you are as a person as well as how you dress. 

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Style icon challenge Annie Lennox Part 3: Diva

"Annie Lennox" may be a catchphrase for androgynous style, but on stage and in other kinds of performance, Annie can be chameleon, adopting whatever persona fits the song (or the occasion). Unlike many celebrities, she's always been in charge of her own costumes, both in videos and on stage. Deciding what to wear, what role to play, is a fundamental part of her artistic process. It's the difference between real singing and lip-synching. Annie has genuine style as well as an amazing voice. No wonder she’s an icon! 

You can see her awareness at work in the video for the song "Why" where she starts bare-faced and then step by careful step applies the makeup and costume of the Diva. Born to the working class and still practical to the core, in real life she has never been a “diva” as we typically use the term (i.e. a temperamental woman who's hard to please). But what is a diva, she seems to ask...and who gets to throw that label around at whom, and after all, don't we all feel operatic emotions at times and need to express them? These are all the years we've spent/ this is what they represent....do you know what I feel?

She is, after all, a rock star. :)   But a lot less hard edged than that term seems to imply, at least most of the time. Photo 1 is the most RATE she ever really gets. In #2, I tried to recreate it, and felt….uh…ridiculous! 

 And yet...with just a few tiny tweaks (no midriff exposure; maybe a different tank) this outfit would feel downright great, even at my advanced age. Put me (or Annie) in the right pair of jeans and we come home to ourselves. It's as simple as that. 

Annie may like to dress with a boyish flair, but she’s always a consummate lady. Consider her choice for receiving the OBE. (Photo 3) A reporter asked her why she didn’t wear her HIV Positive t-shirt to the event. After all, the whole reason she was getting this award was for her charitable work on behalf of AIDs.

 But as Annie pointed out, wearing a short sleeved casual tee would not have been respectful to the Queen. Instead, she purposely chose an outfit that she hoped would please Her Majesty. Right down to the paste pearls! (Talk about adjusting your outfit to suit your audience!)

In the end, I think she looks a bit like a bridesmaid. But not just any bridesmaid. One who got to choose a flattering colour. ;) 

 In trying to recreate the look I discovered that I am sorely lacking in the right components. For example, I’m quite sure that black is utterly unacceptable for an afternoon reception with Her Majesty, and I doubt if it's ok to go sleeveless either. Also, I don’t own a fascinator. Fortunately, like Annie, I do have some thrift store bling. And at least I know how to curtsey.  (Pics 4/5) 

Speaking frankly, I’d feel very awkward in this outfit in real life so I’m glad I don’t have to wear it. I prefer a more streamlined look, both on myself and on Annie.

 As a consummate performer, Annie always has plenty in her closet for those last minute awards presentations. :) Take, for instance. her classic black gown in Pic 6.  Doesn’t she look amazing? Impossible for me to recreate since I don’t have a full length evening gown. But my blue linen cocktail sheath in Pic 7 (and a copy of Angie's turquoise dress) captures something of the same simple drama, I hope, and did me very well for receiving a National Magazine Award. 

Then there is the fabulous 30s inspired cold shoulder dress she wore to receive her Oscar.  (Pics 8/9). I have nothing remotely like this in my closet. But I do have a 20s inspired silk that makes me feel super feminine. 

(Note to self: Must purchase a fabulous white silky satin gown for the Giller presentations...)

As beautiful as Annie looked at those two events, who will ever forget her amazing performance at the 2015 Grammies? Listen if you haven’t yet — she’ll put a spell on you. She mesmerized the audience and critics alike. Age, she showed us all, brings power, depth, resonance, and fire. 

I had the most fun yet recreating my version of that outfit. BR sequin culottes, Trouve jacket, BR necklace. I actually wore a slightly more casual version (with denim jacket instead of tux jacket) just last week and I know I will wear this version at some point, too. Sequins and star power. What could be better?

Stay tuned for the final instalment of this series: Shining Light. 

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Style Icon Challenge: Annie Lennox Part 2, The Pattern of My Life

Annie Lennox wore a suit on stage in the 80s to take possession of her power and to make a statement about equality. She generally wears pants in real life, too, because, she says, she's "just not a skirt and dress kind of girl." 

Hers is the kind of angular beauty that makes menswear downright feminine and alluring. Borrowing from the boys doesn't make her look like a man; it makes her look like a strong and independent woman who's comfortable in her own skin. 

Like Annie, I've always felt most at home and most "myself" in jeans, a jacket, and boots. So replicating her street style turned out to be a breeze for me. Besides jeans and trousers, she favours neutrals (ink, navy, black, white, grey and sometimes brown), jackets, booties, scarves, and in cooler weather, layers. (Check, check, check, check, and check.) She tends to go for geometric patterns -- stripe, gingham, plaid. (Check again). 

One difference -- in summer she has a kind of more feminine boho streak to her style, with puffy sleeves, embroidery, etc. Speaking frankly, I don't think the puffed sleeves etc. flatter her all that much, but I do think for her it's authentic, whereas for me it wouldn't be. So that's one place where we differ. 

Here are a few of my recreations. 

1 - 3). This was one of my favourite Annie outfits. I like the textural mix and the fun 70s vibe of the leather coat and the way the tin-can top bag adds texture and shine (and supports a worthy cause). It's a kind of softened hard-edge. I don't really have the pieces for this look, but I adapted it. My sweater fills in for the bag, and my mixed-media pea coat fills in for the other elements. 

4-5). A little gingham fun.

6-7) Peacoat and textural black and white scarf. 

8-9). Layers and scarf. 

10-11) Geometric blues.

12- 15) Annie's well-known for her support of HIV-AIDS and she often wears a graphic tee in solidarity. She also sometimes dresses it up with a jacket. Here I'm wearing a few tees advertising various communities I support: First, arts organizations (I volunteer for our writers' festival and often participate in others); next Ten Oaks Camp, the camp for LGBTQ youth that my daughter attended this year; and of course, the good old public library.  

Stay tuned for the final instalment: DIVA! 

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Style Icon Challenge: Annie Lennox Part 1: Who's That Girl?

When I came home in May with my new grey crop, my daughter exclaimed: You look like Annie Lennox

She wasn't the first in my life to make that comparison. 

And there's justice in it. I'm younger than Annie and (alas!) less tall and lanky -- but I think I could pass as her little sister. 

My ancestors all come from Scotland and the north of England. Who knows? Maybe we're even distant relatives. 

Either way, I've grown up with Annie. The Eurythmics were big when I was a teen and early 20-something and I loved Annie's edgy androgynous style from the start. I haunted Toronto's thrift stores for oversized black jackets, bought myself some crisp white shirts, tried on a tie, cropped and sometimes dyed my hair. Sadly, I can't find any photos from that period. But I did find one of my young self and one of Annie's teen self to compare. Who's that girl?  

(Hint -- I'm photo 2; Annie's photo 3). 

Annie and I have both matured since then. Annie still embraces androgynous style, but these days she's more elegant than tough. Here, a few initial recreations and interpretations. I had a little trouble getting the head in hand pose to work with no available surface. :) 

Stay tuned for the next instalment where I try on Annie's street style for size. 

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Style Icon Challenge: Jean Seberg

First, apologies for hogging the forum. I am about to leave on a holiday today and wanted to get to this before the forum loses steam for the idea. 

Inasmuch as I could ever be said to have a style icon, Jean Seberg is it. Of course, she's much more relevant to my younger self. But even now, we have much in common. Similar body type, similar facial structure, similar colouring, and similar love of stripes, and cats!!  

Oh, and look how fabulous she looks in silver!

She died at 50 of a barbituate overdose (possibly brought on in part by grief over the death of her infant child, the rumours of an unkind press, and the pressures of government surveillance) but I like to think that if she'd lived, she would have cut her hair back to her signature pixie. She did wear it long for a while but it never suited her as well. (Picture 1) 

Something I learned about her in searching for images is that she would very likely have been a strong supporter of Black Lives Matter. She was on an FBI watch list because she made frequent donations to the NAACP and also the Black Panthers. 

There's a playful gamine freshness that I relate to in her style. She's often photographed in simple tees, pullovers, or button down shirts with ankle pants or shorts. She can also do lady-like elegance, but always with simplicity. Never much adornment; even her makeup was lighter than most women's for that time. 

I don't have to think to dress like her. Except for the neckerchief, which is a bit hot and fussy for today, and the cigarette (I tried, with a pencil, but can't capture the cool factor) and, um, the ARMOUR, I could and would and DO wear almost everything I've seen her wear. 

So. My tribute to Jean. Bonjour, Tristesse! 

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Parisienne style...in your own backyard?

In Shevia's thread about Parisienne style, I was struck especially by this remarks. 

"French style seems ultimately practical and based on appearing elegant and

charming through wind, rain and cold, while walking on uneven pavement. The vibe was freedom

within structure rather than anything goes and I had the impression of a culture that is more

Haiku than free verse."

Skylurker added the explanation or context that: "Wearing statement clothes - too luxe, too sexy, too eccentric or too loud - is seen as vulgar, esp in bourgeois circles."

This got me wondering. If it is true that Parisienne style is ultimately practical and based on appearing elegant and charming in the actual conditions of city life (in that city), then how does that translate to Miami, or New York, or Tel Aviv, or Toronto? The scarves and motos and sober tailored cuts that make sense in Paris -- what are their equivalents elsewhere? 

What are they, where you live? 

Shevia also suggested that self-knowledge seems to be the basis of great Parisienne style. Perhaps it goes further and includes knowledge of the environment, acceptance of it. 

We've talked numerous times about how important it can be for us Canadians, for example, to develop a real "coat capsule" -- either aiming for variety (if this is a need) or the very best quality coats we can afford. I am thinking that is one example of "translating Parisienne style" to our own reality. 

Well, Angie's been saying this stuff for years (Dress for your body today; dress for the life you lead). I guess it just takes me a while to let it sink into my noggin. 

Or maybe I am still wishing that I lived in Paris....    :)

How about you? How can you "do Paris"?

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Silver hair: How did your style change?

Last summer I missed Una's great thread on transitioning to grey because it occurred during the time I was dealing with my mother's sudden fall. Luckily I found it again in connection with Angie's post on hair changes.  Thanks to all who shared! It was inspiring. 

Now I'm eager to hear: If you've elected to go grey, how has your style changed...or has it? And in what respects? 

Having taken the plunge and made a few preliminary discoveries, I am curious to hear others' experiences.  :) 

Tell me anything. Did your wardrobe change in colour? Did your pattern preferences change? How about about preferred kinds of outfits? Makeup changes? Jewellery? What surprised, delighted, frustrated, or bolstered you?

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"Arty architectural" — show me what you mean.

Several people mentioned yesterday that they would like to see me move in a more "arty architectural" style with my new statement hair. Now, I have a complicated and ambivalent relationship with "arty." I may like it, but it decidedly does not like me, at least if it involves draping. 

So...would those of you who imagine this look do me the favour of supplying a few visuals? I have some ideas of my own but I would like to see if they are consistent with what you might be imagining. 

Thank you! 

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Setting Style goals for 2016

Well, better late than never, right? I hope so, and I hope you will also excuse the long post. Putting it out there both to keep a record for myself and also for those who like this kind of rumination. 

Context: I’ve returned to school as a (much older) student. I’m also the mother of an active teen and the temporary guardian of another teen. I am no longer employed in the fitness world but I still try to make it a priority to get exercise each day. (Admittedly, some days "exercise" = a short walk). Still working as an editor/ teacher, still writing creatively and publishing when I can, still volunteering for community arts organizations. I live in a true four season climate and travel a lot. I had a stressful year and gained a few pounds as a result, but I haven't had to buy new clothes to accommodate the gain, so from that point of view, things are fine. 

What I liked and disliked in my style in 2015

Overall, I felt comfortable with my style last year — the wardrobe did what I needed and I had a fair bit of variety. My greatest dislike/ disappointment as usual had to do with the disjunct between practical needs and style aspirations. I need to be very casual many days; and I need to dress for my walking commutes in a slushy, snowy, cold, northern country. I prefer a sort of business casual juxtaposition of casual with dressier items, and I prefer to show a bit of bare skin with my outfits once in a while rather than covering up completely!  But it is very hard to do this in winter where I live and considering my lifestyle. 

What did I do well in regards to style?

  • Kept a coherent colour palette that works for me. 
  • Edited efficiently and bought sensibly. I bought far fewer items in 2015 than in my big wardrobe building year of 2014. 
  • Tracked my wears (at least in one season) and so got clearer on actual needs. 
  • Took great joy in my new things (and some older ones). 

What did I wear that made me feel great?

I felt best in simple, somewhat dramatic combinations. I liked it when my outfits combined some “sharpness” or “boldness” with some “pretty” element (eg cut or colour). As always, I loved wearing jeans, booties, jackets. I felt great in my Okalas with slim jeans and jacket, and in my pretty new Club Monaco dress. I also felt great in my Zara sarong shorts. A favourite fall outfit involved cropped or rolled jeans, higher shaft booties, and a feminine blouse with jacket or not, depending on weather.

I'm not sure that "Urban Prince" is the best moniker for my aspirational style any more. I picked up "Glam Gamine" from Viva and rather like it so I am trying it on for size. (Though I might have to lose those extra pounds to ensure it fits, LOL!) 

Style adjectives 

Pretty: I will always embrace an androgynous element in my style, but like Angie I find I am drawn to more obviously feminine cuts and detailing after a few years of boyish styles. Last summer and autumn, I enjoyed wearing blouses more than shirts, dresses and skirts when weather permitted, and pretty footwear when that was possible. (Alas, it's boots for now and nothing but!) I reached for flattering colours as well as sober neutrals. White and cream. Sparkle and shine. Also, I loved the hand of luxe fabrics like silk, cashmere, fine merino, great leather.

Modern: I really enjoy playing with trends. Nothing makes me feel better than a fresh seasonal update of some "wardrobe essential" item (e.g. jeans, jackets, footwear). I love to try my staples in a new shape or worn in a new way. Also, I like clean lines, simple outfits.

Retro: I used to have a very strong retro element to my style. Toronto was a paradise for vintage when I was in my twenties and that is what I could afford; I’ve always retained a fondness for that. But nowadays, I prefer contemporary re-workings of past styles. I am not into whimsy, cute, or twee. But I do a touch of romantic from time to time, and I definitely love 60s mod and 70s glam. 

Classic: I love wearing iconic items like slim jeans, chelsea boots, a blue blazer, a trench, peacoat, watch cap, etc. To my mind, these cannot be improved upon. I love love love great tailoring. I need to balance it with casual (ie jeans and a blazer; a skirt with denim jacket) or else it is just not practical in my life — but if I do balance it like that, it’s still wearable at least some of the time.

Note: for quite a while I dreamed of a more “avant garde” style. Well, I think I have given that up as not me. I finally found a pair of leggings I like reasonably well and that only fall down some of the time — but I still don’t like them on me all that much. I don’t really love the drapey vest I bought. (I’ve only worn it 3 or 4 times and couldn't wait to get it off). I do enjoy asymmetry, but one asymmetrical top I bought has been a bit of a bust. 

My conclusion? What I thought I wanted, I don’t really want. What I really seem to want is a type of “sharpness” or “crispness” or “tailoring” — this, again, is somewhat in conflict with my personal colouring and my climate, not to mention my need for very casual clothing. It's a conundrum I have yet to solve, and I would love input if anyone has ideas! 

Thanks for humouring me if you have read this far, and I would love your thoughts!

Below, a few favourite items from last year. 

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