Monday, March 31, 2014

Spring Inspiration

It's been bitterly cold here in Chicago for the better part of five months now. I'm not even exaggerating. When it's that cold for that long, spring weather starts to seem like some kind of a beautiful dream. It's finally, finally starting to warm up, though, and I couldn't be more excited to start dressing for more pleasant weather.
I get a lot of inspiration from vintage fashion magazines and ads, as well as movies from the period, but I also really enjoy keeping an eye on current fashion. It's a great way to figure out what pieces you'll likely be able to find in what the British call high street stores (midi skirts are everywhere right now, and come fall, there will be tons of stuff on the racks for girls with a mod, 60s aesthetic), and it's also a great way to get a fresh perspective on style.

Alice&Olivia always manage to create covetable, sweetly retro collections. I'm in love with pastels right now, and a matching crop top and midi skirt will definitely be making an appearance in my wardrobe come summer.

If a crop top feels a little overexposed, add a long cardigan with a thin belt at the waist, like Michael Kors did here. It's also great for those cooler nights. I could definitely see wearing this to the beach or a barbeque. 

Speaking of full skirts and belted cardigans, I love this Rochas look. A chunkier knit is great for this transitional weather, while a full, floral skirt in cream and pastels makes me think of spring. 

This gown from Spanish fashion house Delpozo isn't an every day look, I admit, but I love the proportions here. I would normally pair a very full skirt with a fitted top, but this has me thinking about remixing my vintage skirts with swingy trapeze tops, just to change things up a bit. 

If there were a procedure that would allow me to trade a year of my life for a designer collection, the Michael Kors Pre-Fall 2014 collection would be the one I would do it for. This look, in particular, really caught my eye, with the bold use of color and pattern. I never would have thought to pair a vivid red with baby blue, but now that I've seen how beautifully it works here, I've been mad for it.

This is another unusual color pairing that I've fallen in love with since I've seen it. Granted, I don't really see myself wearing a long, open skirt with striped pants and a sheer crop top, but Ulyana Sergeenko's dark, rich hunter green with the baby blue (again; it's definitely the color of the season for me) is really striking. 
Actually, if you're looking for some inspirational eye candy, just Google Ulyana Sergeenko. She's an amazing Russian designer with a grand, romantic, vintage sensibility. You will want to save up all your rubles to buy her couture pieces.
I went outside with bare legs for the first time in months this morning. It felt so delicious. I can't wait to start riding my bike to work, and eating my lunch outside, and setting up a hammock in my yard. You know what? Just wake me up when it's May.

All photos courtesy of  

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Everyone should be a feminist

There's a certain attitude that I see now and again when I'm dressed in vintage. It's not really all that common, but when I encounter it, it just rubs me the wrong way. I think I can best sum it up as the phrase, "I'm so glad to see women who look like women!"
There are a couple of things wrong with that. The first is the assumption that I (or anyone else, for that matter) am dressing for anyone other than myself. I'm not, full stop. I wear the clothes that I wear, outlandish and attention grabbing as they can sometimes seem, because I like them, and because they make me feel good, and like myself. Yes, they do communicate something about me to the outside world, but they are fundamentally about me. It's just strange to give someone a compliment that's more about the giver than the receiver.
This outfit, for example, says that I'm pretentious enough to wear a fur cape to work on, like, a Wednesday.
The second, and far more important, thing that I take issue with is the implication that it is somehow inherently better for a woman to look womanly. A woman in vintage clothing is presumed to be ladylike, elegant, and classy, to take more care of herself than other women. None of those things are bad things, per se, but neither are they traits to be rewarded. The world doesn't need to be divided up into "man things" and "woman things", and yet, consistently, it is. "I'm so glad to see women who look like women!" is problematic because the woman in question is basically being complimented on conforming to gender norms (among other things. There's another kind of admiration that I get that's more explicitly about being ladylike, in opposition to "trashy" or "slutty" girls who show too much skin. Eventually, I'm going to get to that, but I'm going to try to stay somewhat on topic with this post). It's telling that it's typically a man doling out this kind of compliment (I do want to qualify that I've gotten this from a woman once, and I wasn't any more jazzed about it). The presumption seems to be that because I dress in a manner reminiscent of a time when these gender norms were more strictly enforced, I must have the same notions about gender roles and sexuality as they do. Sorry; I only dress retro, I don't think retro.
The fact is, this kind of thinking doesn't just harm women, it harms men too. When masculinity and femininity are only defined in opposition to each other, if you don't fit into the "right" one, you're fucked. That's why a little boy can get into trouble because he likes My Little Pony, or a little girl can be kicked out of her Christian grade school because she looks too much like a boy. Gender and sex aren't binary - they fall on a spectrum, and as a society we need to learn that that's ok. Women bear some of the more obvious consequences of this style of reductive thinking, but men don't escape it either, and no one benefits.
So, people of the world, spice up your life. Wait, what? Sorry, got caught up in a Spice Girls moment. What I mean to say was, people of the world, if you want to give someone a compliment, start with "nice shoes." Leave the gender bullshit in the past.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Fabulous, but flimsy

One of the issues that anyone wearing a lot of vintage is going to run into is the extra care a vintage garment requires. Vintage garments, on the whole, are very well made, and some of them are just as sturdy and durable as anything purchased new today. However, loose buttons and popped seams are often part of the deal when you purchase a vintage piece.
Sewing is one of those essential life skills that I honestly don't know how anyone, man or woman, gets by without. It's just such an easy thing to learn, and it's so handy. Even before I started wearing vintage, I found it helpful to know how to sew a button back on, or repair a split seam. Now, reinforcing buttons and seams is as regular a part of my wardrobe maintenance as washing my clothes.

This dress, for example, is actually in beautiful shape. However, it's also about 60 years old, and the first time I wore it, 5 of the buttons popped off, one right after the other. I wasn't doing acrobatics or anything - one of them literally popped off just from me breathing. After I sewed all of the buttons that had fallen off back on, I went in and reinforced all of the other buttons, loose or not.

Similarly, this coat (which was an absolute steal at only $60) was in perfect condition when I purchased it back in December. However, it's gotten a lot of wear over the winter, and there have been a few issues that needed fixing. I basted together the seams at the buttonholes, which had split, and reinforced the buttons when they started threatening to fall off.
I consider myself a mediocre seamstress at best. I don't have a sewing machine, and I know precisely two stitches. And really, that's all I need to know for basic mending. If you're interested in vintage clothing, but are worried about things like repairs, I would definitely recommend picking up a needle and thread and giving it a go. After all, even if you mess up, all you have to do is pick it out and try again.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Dealing with a failed roller set

It's been a while since I've done a wet set on my hair, but I thought I'd give it a go last night. It's time consuming, and I usually don't sleep all that well when I do it, but what it lacks in ease it makes up for in staying power. However, I recently underwent a drastic hair color change (black to strawberry blonde), and my hair is a lot more porous than it used to be, and takes longer to dry. The end result? Um, let me show you.
The top couple of inches of my hair dried, giving me a nice curl. The bottom several inches of my hair, however, were still damp when I took the rollers out, leaving my hair both limp and frizzy. 
Unfortunately, I didn't have a lot of time to deal with the situation. If time wasn't an issue, I would have rerolled my hair and hit it with a blow dryer, or blown it out and then done a hot roller set to get a more uniform texture. Since I couldn't do either of those, I opted for an updo.
My hair was fully dry by the time I finished getting ready for work, so I vigorously brushed through it with a boar bristle brush to relax the curl a bit. After that, I lightly backcombed the straight sections so that all of my hair had a similar volume, if not a similar texture. I also very carefully straightened my bangs, because if there's one thing I know, it's that looking intentional is the difference between a crazy hairstyle and a bad one.
I ended up going for one of my favorite hairstyles, which involves twisting my hair back down the sides and securing it into a bun. It's one of those styles that looks complicated and impressive, but is actually ridiculously simple to do. Just start at the part, then twist your hair back past your ears and towards the nape of your neck, adding hair as you go. Secure, then repeat with the other side.
I added a pretty gold headband to the finished style, which gave it a little bit more polish. Bows, flowers, or headbands can really help rescue a bad hair day.

Granted, I still look a little bit like an extra from a German expressionist film, but I guess there are worse things. And funnily enough, people keep telling me how cute my hair is today. I guess I'll just call this one a win.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The pursuit of perfection

Last night I felt like I looked good, so I asked my boyfriend to take some photos of me to post here. I was wearing a dress that I really like, my hair was done, my makeup looked nice, and I just wanted to show off a little bit. He snapped a few photos, then gave me his phone to look at.
"Ew, these are terrible."
"What do you mean? You look great."
"No, I don't like them. I deleted them, take some more."
He took some more, and I still wasn't very happy with them.
"Why do I always look so weird in the photos you take of me? I look so much better in selfies."

It's true I like the photos that I take of myself much more than I typically like the ones that others take of me, even if the person taking the photo thinks it looks good. It's because I don't see myself the way that other people see me. I look in the mirror, and immediately tilt my head to find the most flattering angle, shift my body so that I look thinner or taller or curvier or whatever. I have this image of myself in my head that's not wrong, exactly; it just doesn't necessarily reflect what I look like in the wild, if you will. Other people see me in a way that is, literally, impossible for me, and I don't always love the glimpses of that that photos can give.
Not a selfie.
It can be frustrating sometimes. I like to read fashion and beauty blogs, look at magazines, check out other women on the street. I struggle a little bit with envy, with the feeling that I am somehow in competition with them. My eyeliner is never as well done, my hair never looks as good, my waist is never as small, my outfit is never as perfectly put together. It's not even that I feel unattractive - most of the time, I actually have a pretty positive self image - I just feel lacking, disappointed in how much better other people can seem.
I know that I'm not alone in struggling with that. When you're surrounded by images of "perfection", it can be hard to remember that there isn't one right way to look or be. I know some really amazing people, people that are beautiful inside and out. I don't look at them and think they look dumb when they make a funny face or wear an outfit that they've just thrown on because it's the only thing that's clean. They're cool, funny, smart, kind, generous, and engaging; often they're also stylish, and they possess a flair for presenting themselves that has nothing to do with what they're wearing.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Something by way of an introduction

There's something great about the idea of a blog. "Look at me. Listen to me. Pay attention to what I'm thinking, feeling, wearing." It feels strange, as a woman, to put it that bluntly, since we're so often expected to step back into the shadows, to make ourselves small, to keep quiet. When we talk about women who demand attention, either by action or appearance, the terms used are rarely flattering. Attention whore. Trashy. Shameless. Diva. Slut. It's all the same thing - women who don't know their "proper" place.
I love that women's voices are being heard more and more frequently in the world, both in positions of power and in venues like this one. Looking back at the historical record, by and large the only voices we have left are those of the dominant powers of the time: mostly wealthy, mostly male. The records that we have of women's lives and experiences come almost exclusively from things like letters and diaries, things kept close and private often until long after the women who penned them had died. Now, there are millions of people from every race, class, and gender telling the world, in real time, about what they think and feel and experience. That's amazing, when you think about it. Our descendants will know so much more about us than we know about our ancestors.
But hey, enough with the thesis. I mean, yes, blog, awesome, and I'm really looking forward to joining the larger network of feminist bloggers out there, but you know what else is awesome? Going to a SlutWalk and feeling totally empowered. Baking a cake from scratch and feeling like a genius because it actually turned out exactly how you imagined it. Having a vision in your head about how you want to present yourself to the world, and then making that happen. Going into a movie feeling slightly worried about the quality because frankly, the reviews haven't been that great, and leaving feeling elated because fuck the critics, that was amazing. Those are the kinds of things that I'm interested in talking about, and plenty more besides.