Sunday, 28 November 2010

Thrifting in cold Helsinki

Yesterday my sister and I decided to visit a fleamarket in Kaivopuisto, a relatively posh neighbourhood in Helsinki, right by the sea. The breeze made the chilliness almost unbearable, but we found some good bargains at the fleamarket (Kaivarin Kanuuna), which is luckily located in a cosy indoor space.

Today we stopped by another fleamarket, the good old Valtteri, and again, some excellent discoveries were made. I am in full-blown TGFASS mode, and oh well, I am giving myself permission to not worry about it. I felt torn for a day or so after buying a couple of "unnecessary" things, but I have made peace with myself (and with a little bit of shopping) now.

I think it is okay to do some thrifting with my sister while I am here (and I hope this doesn't sound like a desperate plea to gain my dear readers' acceptance, because it sincerely isn't one). Thrifting is (and always has been) one of the favourite things of ours to do together, and it would be almost sad to not be able to do it now. Visiting fleamarkets and second hand stores often happens to involve some buying - but I was happy to discover that these days Tuuli and I work harder to keep each other's purchases in check. We make sure that the materials and the prices are decent, and we know each other's styles. I am using TGAAD lessons to rule out everything that might be for special occasions only, or anything that has to be dry cleaned professionally. I refuse to buy anything really-cool-but-difficult, like a pair of blue suede pants yesterday, or a burgundy flared leather skirt today - I just know that I wouldn't get a lot of wear out of them. There is no room for wrong sizes or colours either. I also decided that I had to come up with an imaginary outfit around the piece of clothing in order to justify the purchase. No outfit means no purchase, and this "rule" proved to be very useful. I haven't had time to take pictures of the things I bought yesterday, but today I bought the following items:

Wool cardigan with duffel "buttons" - this will look really cute with denim shorts, tight and ankle boots.

Stripy cotton maxidress. I will wear this with a slouchy belt, a chunky necklace, a pair of rough style sandals, and maybe a small vest of some kind. Or alternatively, with a long cardigan and Dr Martens style boots.

These denim espadrilles I got for free! They would look cute with a simple summer dress, or with denim shorts and an airy blouse.

Last but not least, an oversized linen shirt. This would look nice over a simple jersey dress, with sleeves rolled up, and accessorized with a pair of clogs and big earrings.

As you can tell, it was another cold day today. The only way to spend any time outdoors is to bundle up big time. Like my friend Heidi said the other day, it can be tough to look stylish when the weather is freezing.

Tomorrow I will head northwest to visit my mother in the countryside. It will be even colder there. Coming up: if possible, even more bundled up winter gear!

Friday, 26 November 2010


Jumper: Chris's old
Denim skirt: borrowed from Tuuli
Knit leggings: Indiska
Boots: Merrell / Nilson
Wooden beads: second hand / Plato's Closet

It started with a serious need: my toes were freezing. I responded to that need by buying a pair of excellent winter boots - the best pair I have ever owned, and I am willing to say that after only two days of wearing them. Then came the well-below-well-below freezing temperatures, and I thought I could use some warm knit leggings. I responded by buying a pair. Then I saw a Star Wars jumper in a store, and fell in love. I responded by 1) rationalising my supposedly sincere need for some additional knitwear, and 2) buying the jumper in question. Then today my sister and I went to a couple of second hand stores to look for a winter coat for my sister... and I came home with two pairs of corduroy pants, one brown, one bright red. The only justification I could come up with was that I have had my eyes on corduroy pants for months, and have actually been considering ordering a pair from JCrew, and the two pairs I got instead only cost 5 euros in total. But seriously, The Great American Apparel Diet is heading toward The Great Finnish Apparel Spending Spree, aka TGFASS.

With availability comes visibility, with visibility comes temptation. Add the presence of my sister Tuuli, who is my most valuable thrifting buddy, and I am in a bit of a sticky situation. TGAAD has (so far) taught me all sorts of lessons about my shopping habits, and I don't think that I have bought anything unwearable or unpractical. Still, the reality is that I have caved into my desire to get new things that I don't necessarily need. Yes, I needed the winter boots, I don't feel guilty about them. But the leggings I could have done without (although I probably wouldn't have been quite as warm today as I was), the Star Wars jumper is certainly on the frivolous side of things, and the two pairs of cords were just something I wanted. I was weak.

Tuuli and I talked about TGAAD the other day. I told her that the main reasons I decided to embark on it were 1) my inability to buy wisely, and 2) not knowing when to stop. We talked about thrifting being a hobby we both love - how other people might spend money on clubbing or cigarettes, and that thrifting, even though it can have its consumerist characteristics, is still essentially recycling, ie. re-using someone else's trash. Surely things could be worse. And they could be. I am not in debt because of my thrifting. I have given away, or sold, a lot of clothes I no longer wear. My wardrobe is not nearly as crammed as it used to be, and so far, I have learned a great deal about my shopping patterns, and about how to shop wisely in the future. So I guess it isn't the end of the world that I have fallen off the waggon a little.

I am not going to drive myself crazy over two pairs of cords and a bit of Star Wars love. I know I will wear everything I have bought, and I will wear it all with intensity and appreciation. It is not like I bought that cute little fake-fur coat that I saw at UFF the other day - it was adorable and beautiful, it was perfect, but I knew I wouldn't wear it enough to justify the purchase. So there. I could have bought more, but didn't. Surely I get points for that... right..?

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Winter Gear

Recently, Sal of Already Pretty wrote a great post about how to stay warm in cold weather. I left a comment about the importance of good winter shoes, and realised yesterday that I didn't actually have any. The weather has been cold here, well below freezing, and there is a fair bit of snow, too. As I was trying to stay awake yesterday (I am suffering from jetlag, as always), I went for a really long walk in the cold, and made a decision to get proper shoes. Here is my winter gear:

Woolly hat, made by my late grandmother, Helvi

My Diesel parka

And my new Merrell boots. They are not the prettiest of winter shoes, but oh my, they are warm! No more cold toes!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Not Scan-worthy, in Finland

My anger over TSA's new security measures at airports in the US had me all prepared: I had read about them extensively, I knew what to expect, and I knew what I was going to say when I got there. On Sunday as I got to Newark's Liberty airport, I was ready to demand a pat-down, and I had eager plans to write all about it afterwards. As I walked to the main lobby of the terminal, I saw dozens of people queueing up to the security check, and I even saw some body scans in progress. Then I figured out that my gate was somewhere else, and that I would have to go through some other security point. I did indeed. There were no people, only two old school metal detectors and one scanner booth, unoccupied. A TSA official checked my boarding pass, and told me to get in line: "Just choose one". There were no lines to speak of. I walked up to one of the metal detectors, took my shoes off, and walked through. No scanning, no patting, no questions asked, even though I forgot to take my zip-lock bag of liquids out of my hand luggage. Enhanced security? I think not. I guess they only screen passangers traveling certain airlines or routes, and I guess travellers flying Scandinavian Airlines are not scan-worthy. I have to say that a part of me was a little bit disappointed that I didn't get to experience the procedures that have had me all worked up. The other part was just pleased that they didn't take a naked picture of me or grab my private bits.

Thank you, everyone, for your comments regarding the security measures. I am glad I am not alone feeling the way I do about them. I haven't thought this through yet, but I think I am even more upset about them now, knowing that the measures are not only going too far, but that they are also suspiciously selective.

Anyway, I got to Finland safely. It is cold, dark and snowy here. I didn't exactly pack accordingly. I spent a good hour today going through boxes that contain clothes I had left behind, looking for something weather-appropriate. It almost felt like shopping. I can already tell that the coming couple of weeks are going to be tough, not-shopping-wise. I am considering giving myself permission to maybe, just maybe, get something. I don't know what that something might be. I am seeing an awful lot of tempting store windows, and my sister Tuuli has been thrifting like crazy recently, and her wardrobe is full of new beautiful clothes. It has been a day and a half, and I am already tempted.

Top: second hand Filippa K / present from Tuuli
Tee: JCPenney
Cords: J.Crew
Shoes: Kurt Geiger
Turtle pendant: present from Tuuli
Beanie: second hand / Plato's Closet

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Safety first?

As happy as I am about my little clothing swap the other day (here are some of the items), for the past couple of days I have been thinking about something completely different. I am flying out to Finland on Sunday, and I can't shake the question of airport security out of my head. The talk of the town (heck, the country) is, of course, the new airport security measures adopted by TSA. You have a choice: you can have your body scanned by AIT, which essentially takes a naked picture of you, or you can subject yourself to an extensive pat-down, which includes someone touching your breasts and crotch, and in some cases, someone putting their hands down your trousers.

In theory, I am all for safety. What concerns me is that even though the scanners are not supposed to save or distribute the pictures, some 35 000 pictures of passanger scans have already been leaked online. (They do blur out your identity, but they do so with the help of a computer programme, meaning that the images can also be "un-blurred" later on.) Call me old-fashioned, but I don't like the idea of a stranger a) looking at and possibly distributing a naked picture of me, or b) touching my private bits. In the past, I have felt touchy even about having to explain to a security official why I was traveling with an essay draft and a book about Somalia. I didn't think it was any of their business to look through my intellectual property (my research, my thoughts and ideas, my dissertation). Now I feel I would prefer to sit down with someone for an hour to explain why I wanted to take my notes on the plane, rather than deal with the new safety measures that attack our bodies directly.

The whole issue of the new extensive passanger screening raises more questions than answers: aren't these measures only tackling the terrorism-related problems we have already faced in the past? What stops someone from targeting an airport check-in area? Since children and babies are not extensively screened, what stops a terrorist from implanting explosives on a child? What stops a terrorist from smuggling dangerous items inside their body? What kind of safety do these new measures really provide, and at what cost? Does it cost me something to have to describe my dissertation to a stranger? - apart from time and convenience, probably not. But does it cost me to have my naked picture taken, viewed, and potentially circulated? - in my opinion, yes. It costs me a sense of ownership when it comes to my body.

A lot of people here in the US are concerned about the extreme safety measures limiting the individual's freedom. The word freedom, especially when used by Americans, used to be the type of word I found extremely funny. It represented the obnoxious "me-first" type of American I had seen on tv. But there is a difference between freedom to (carry a gun, do whatever I like on my own property) and freedom from (persecution, prejudice). Having become more familiar with the American frame of mind (if there is such a thing) I have understood that the principle of freedom makes up a huge chunk of the nation's backbone. And whether it is the type of freedom that allows my neighbour to keep a barking guard dog outside in the cold, or the type that means I can voice my opinion and not get arrested, there is something profoundly meaningful in the right to be an individual within a society, and to rely on the state to respect my limits. Do I feel like the airport security measures take something essential away from that notion of my freedom? Absolutely. As things stand, all I am left with is the option to not travel by plane. I don't think that is freedom, really, and unlike some brave individuals who have decided to no longer fly due to the new safety rules, I am going to step on that plane on Sunday. I am still trying to decide whether to opt out from the body scan and endure the pat-down instead.

During the past day or so, I have encountered this Benjamin Franklin quote many times: "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." What do you guys think?

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

TGAAD 15/52: Loopholes

Wow, it has been almost two weeks since my last post! You know how it is: you don't post one day, then all of a sudden ten days have gone by. I have done a lot of reading in my pyjamas lately, so posting outfits hasn't felt quite right.

It is week 15 of my Great American Apparel Diet, and I have found myself increasingly frustrated with the contents of my wardrobe. I go through these types of sentiments at least two or three times a year: nothing feels quite right, my clothes appear to be the wrong colour, the wrong shape, and the worst of all, uncomfortable. My usual approach would be to spend a day or two reading fashion magazines, and then to take a day trip to Salvation Army or a flea market to re-vamp my essentials. Whatever those essentials might be at any given moment, well, that depends. It could be new dresses or skirts, it could be a new pair of shoes, or accessories to give a new edge to what I already have in my wardrobe. This has proven to be tricky during the GAAD. Not spending money on clothes = no re-vamping, unless you have sewing skills and good ideas (I have some of the former, but recently, none of the latter). Until I discovered loopholes. You can get new clothes without spending money.

The denim dungarees are from my friend Rosie. This past summer (it seems so long ago) Chris and I met up with Rosie one day, and she was wearing a pair of stone-washed (!) dungarees and a plain white t-shirt. (Just that you know, Rosie is in her early 60s, has a private cat shelter with 31 cats and a head of gorgeous gray curls down to her shoulders - she is amazing.) Seeing her wear her dungarees was like a breath of fresh air. I haven't stopped thinking about them since. Fast-forward to last week Thursday, and there was Rosie, with a pair of dungarees she had bought at Salvation Army for $2.50, and she gave them to me because they were way too big for her.

I also figured out that clothing swaps are perfectly within the rules of the GAAD. I swapped, but not with friends. I took a couple of bags of clothes to Plato's Closet, and they gave me clothes (and money) in return. I felt like I had gone shopping (the clothes came from a store), but I didn't spend any money. I got this red beanie and the crazy wooden beads, as well as a pair of clogs to be worn next spring/summer, a plain brown leather belt, and a flower-print top. All of a sudden my wardrobe seems like a place I want to visit again.

Dungarees: from Rosie
Tee: JCPenney
Cardigan: my sister's old
Beanie: second hand / Plato's Closet
Wooden beads: second hand / Plato's Closet
Socks: H&M
Shoes: Kurt Geiger

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Thoughts on Girls with Wings

I can't decide how I feel. I just read this NYT article about the casting process of Victoria's Secret "angels". The girls who get selected are "rarer by far than superstar athletes". Only about 100 people in the world can do what they do. Angela Lindvall once shed 20 pounds, skipped rope and ate nothing but spinach, chard and kale in order to fit in. The sales figures are high, because so many women buy into the image of the seductive angel, even if they might know that buying a new super-boosted bra does not quite make them look like Gisele. All of this is disturbing, right? It makes pretty much all of us non-angles feel inadequate, and it gives the wrong message to girls growing up (the message being, that as long as you have a small and firm ass, long limbs, shiny hair and the face of perfection, everything will be okay in the world, and you get to wear a heavy set of wings on tv). So why don't I just feel outraged and angry? What's there to question about the way I feel?

One reason is that I don't want to waste my time even allowing my anger to surface. The whole concept of the angel is so ridiculous that it is not worth it. (Yet here I am, writing about it.) Secondly, I think I feel more sad than angry. Sad for Angela Lindvall, who probably has a great life, great children and all that, but I feel sad because she felt the need to only eat spinach, chard and kale, even if those are some of my favourite veggies. I remember feeling bad for an old friend of mine, Olivia, who shared a model flat with me for some time over ten years ago. Her skin was soft and smooth, her hair dark and curly, her eyes dark brown and innocent, her figure out of this world, and she once went on an apple-a-day diet in order to do a swimsuit catalogue shoot. She was hungry and miserable, she cried a lot, but she booked the job. She never became a Victoria's Secret angel though. She became a successful boxer instead. She kicked ass, quite literally, and I hope that she never looked back on that apple diet.

You know what? I changed my mind. I do feel angry. I feel uncomfortable every time I see a Victoria's Secret commercial on tv. I feel angry and uncomfortable, because I don't like to see nearly naked teenagers oiled up, pushed up, prancing around in high heels. There is something deeply disturbing about the image of these angels, and that something is, I think, the lack of power. I don't think the angel is powerful. Her body is beautiful but only out there to be looked at. The angels writhe, but they don't act. There are some odd, fine lines between fantasy, pornography, and nightmare in the imagery of the commercials. And I do think the imagery makes women feel bad about themselves. No matter how much girl power and confidence there is around the world, we all know what it feels like to not be as pretty as the most popular girl in class. That feeling is the essence to how girls eventually become women, and why so many men (and some women, too) complain about women being weak, easily influenced and way too prone to question their self-worth, and in doing so, strengthen the message of the inadequacy of women. There is never room for the woman to just be.

But let's go back to that lack of power. No matter how energetically Heidi Klum might have stomped the runway in the past in her diamond-encrusted undies, I never saw any true power in her, not before she put some clothes on and became a business woman. And I question myself again. Why did she need to put the clothes on to seem powerful to me? Was there something essentially demeaning about her body being on display? Does it go back to the "pretty girls can't be smart"-crap? Why am I prone to thinking that a woman covered in baby oil and wearing a push-up bra and heels couldn't be powerful?

Or maybe it just comes down to what happens backstage. That I know that there is very little power a model feels when she works a shoot or the runway, that it is all play-pretend. That the models have people shouting at them to look sexier, that they are, indeed, covered with baby oil and body make-up. That there is a wind machine, that the shoot is taking forever, and the girls are hoping to hear "cut", so that they can take five minutes to snack on fruit or a slice of cold pizza that some young assistant brought to the shoot. That the night before the shoot they probably stood in front of the mirror, naked, and wondered if their body was pretty enough to be on display. And that in order to be a Victoria's Secret angel, they live in constant fear of the measuring tape. There is no power in that.

Sweater: men's H&M
Blouse: second hand, Hietsu flea market
Corduroys: J. Crew
Shoes: Vagabond

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

It's been a while

Sometimes life gets in the way of blogging. The longer I have had trouble getting to the computer (Chris has been working nights and our daily schedule is completely out of whack), the easier it gets to not blog. Most days I browse the newspaper and my crowded brain for ideas for blog posts (there is a long list), but for the past two weeks I have been preoccupied with other stuff: the kitchen renovation (finally almost-there), days spent out of town looking for out-of-the-way antique stores, evenings teaching myself to diagnose and treat insanity in the style of the 1880s, and plans to get tulip bulbs into the ground before the big freeze but after the squirrels have stopped digging our garden.

Top: second hand, Salvation Army
Pearl collar: second hand
Leather skirt: second hand, UFF
Tights: H&M
Ankle boots: Max&Co.