Thursday, 31 March 2011

Come on!

Greetings from upstate New York, the hellhole, where yet again we are preparing for a winter storm. It is freakin' April tomorrow, and I don't want any more snow! I'm feeling grumpy. I could really use Gob Bluth here. "Come on!"

I am also going to say "Come on!" to these Weekday jeans of mine. I bought them the last time I was in Finland, and picked a size so tight that I could barely get them on. In a day, they gave in just the right amount. I was convinced that they were a good purhcase, because so many Finnish bloggers wear them. A month or so later I started to worry. The shape seemed to be all over the place even if I had just washed them. Today I could fit a monkey inside the waistband and I could just as well be a well-endowed man; that's how loose they are now. I don't even know why I try to wear them. Lesson learned: I am never buying Weekday jeans again.

Do you guys have luck with a particular brand of jeans? Do share.

Second hand sweater

Star print blouse: Salvation Army

Crappy jeans: Weekday

Boots: Nine West

Time flies necklace: Etsy

Monday, 28 March 2011

"Personal" in personal style

In the late 1990s I wasn't all that interested in fashion. I did like clothes, though, or more precisely, I knew what types of clothes I liked. For two years straight I wore nothing but flared second hand jeans, a tight tiger or dragon print t-shirt, gold-tone sneakers and a denim jacket with a multicoloured stripe detail and the name "McQueen" (that would be Steve, not Alexander) printed on the back. My accessories included a huge bird skull ring and a cowboy hat. As far as I can remember, nothing in particular influenced the way I dressed. I didn't admire anyone else's style, I didn't read fashion magazines. I bought clothes only if I saw something I really loved (and if I happened to have the money).

I remember the moment when things started changing for me, and shockingly, it wasn't all that long ago. I lived in London at the time, and needed a new pair of jeans. I found nothing but skinny ones. I remember thinking that skinny jeans seemed profoundly unflattering to me and that I thought I looked ridiculous in them. I bought a pair anyway. It might have been the first time I bought (into) something because I knew it was trendy. I don't really know what had changed. Perhaps it was my exposure to intense, all-over, cheap high street fashion in a big metropolitan city. Maybe I felt insecure, like I didn't fit in. Maybe I just needed a change. I think that particular purchase (the skinny jeans) was the first link in my long, turbulent chain of compulsive shopping, the one that eventually led to the launch of No Signposts in the Sea a couple of years later. I shopped, I shopped and I shopped, and I lost my personal style in the process. Buying new things was like a drug. Essentially, I forgot what it was like to have a favourite pair of jeans, or what it felt like to want to wear the same jacket day after day.

I am writing about this today because I got to thinking about the meaning of personal style the other day. I was channel-surfing and came across some indie band performing on the Jay Leno show. It hit me that the young men in the band wore the typical indie/electronica gear that all the other bands in their genre wear: slightly oversized retro glasses, neat haircuts, button-up shirts and skinny trousers. They all looked the same. The band's style looked so over-referenced that I didn't even know what to think. It occurred to me that as much talk as there is about personal style today, there seems to be an awful lot of style but very little personality.

Read any fashion or style blog, and you'll encounter elaborate statements of self-expression through personal style. Many blogs feature inspiration boards and images of "style icons". We are inspired (and influenced) by 1960s French cinema one day, the new Topshop catalogue the next day, and the day after that, Alexa Chung. One could argue that all style is referenced from somewhere else. Whether we realize it or not, we filter our clothing choices through an intricate maze of the things we see: a cool girl in a street style blog, the selection of clothing at the store we visited the week before, the old picture of our mother we stumbled upon in our family photo album. Some of us might be open to influences and directly copy what we see and like, and confess to doing so. The process can also be more indirect: we might not even notice where our ideas come from. In this sense, nothing in our style is organic. It all comes from somewhere. So where does the word "personal" fit in?

For me, it comes down to love. I loved my McQueen jacket so passionately that I wanted to wear it every single day for many years. (I still have it, of course, and I still love it.) There are clothes in my wardrobe that are practical and easy, there are mistakes, and then there are the clothes I love. They are not what fashion magazines would call "cornerstones" of my style, because there is no logic in the way I operate them. They are not a "foundation" for the rest of my clothes either. They don't belong to one particular clothing genre, nor do I feel like I wear them to express my personality. I just love them, and I want to wear them. The love is natural, instinctive. There is nothing forced about it. I don't try to do anything with those clothes. The less I think about what kind of style they result in, the better.

The short time that I was on the Great American Apparel Diet was very useful. It allowed me to see my wardrobe in a different light. I realized that I had bought a lot of clothes I had never loved. I saw very little of that late 1990s passionate love, the one that I used to have for my clothes. At some point some years ago I just started to think too much about what I wore. Maybe I tried to be someone else for a while, and got lost. Working in clothing retail certainly didn't help. That moment when I chose to wear skinny jeans without loving them - I will try to keep that in mind for the rest of my life. I want to wear what I love. And there is nothing more personal than the love we feel.

Long-sleeved tee & denim shirt: Salvation Army

Cardigan: Urban Outfitters

Jeans: Gap

boots: Vialis

Vintage necklace and bracelet: presents from Lynn

Friday, 25 March 2011

Best of spam

Blogger automatically gets rid of most spam in my comment inbox. I received this particular piece of spam art a couple of months ago. I was immediately smitten by the awful grammar and punctuation, not to mention the desperate tone of the message itself (they had me at "how to go on living" and "why me?"). Needless to say, I saved the darn thing, and I have gone back to my spam box at least once a week to just look at it and laugh. Yes, I agree, it is almost not funny. And yet it is.

"three weeks ago i have problem which is usual of all of us ! what should do and how to go on living, I did not understood ((I stopped smiling at ALL!!!! :( yes!!,i have bad teeth because of heredity ... why me? Teeth is the first thing you see when chat anybody,or doing smth like that, I have found a solution in putting [dental product x] ! and i need to say it has guaranteed 100% result,also i think its a good investition"

So there you have it. Personally, I have not "stopped smiling at ALL!!!!" Good investition, indeed.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Can I have...

... Faiths / Rahab by John Fluevog. (They also come in orange and black.)

The AA dilemma

Here we go again. More snow, just when things were starting to look up! I am lucky that I resisted my urges to plant lettuce seeds last weekend.

This isn't a great day to be wearing an American Apparel skirt, because the company's CEO is once again accused of sexual assault. I am sure we all remember the weird dress code rules for AA employers, too; not that AA is alone in this - other retailers have odd rules as well. Still, the whole sexually charged image of the company, combined with a wacky-seeming CEO makes me very uncomfortable. I have not bought a single piece of clothing from AA since the dress code stuff was made public, and I do wonder how long I feel okay about wearing the couple of AA pieces I already have.

Since nothing cheers me up like a cat who thinks she's human:

Yes, the doctor will see you meow.

Sweater: men's All Saints
Skirt: AA
Tights: Target
Boots: Merrell

P.S. My hair is making me think of Kate Jackson in Charlie's Angels.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The Fool

A few weeks ago, Charlotte's post on Tarot cards got me looking into symbolism and the history of the Tarot. Chris got me a vintage Rider deck, and for the past week I have been reading Arthur Edward Waite's book, The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, which accompanied the cards back in 1910 when these particular cards were first issued. The book is complicated and rich in symbolism. Waite was a mystic, a member of The Golden Dawn, a Freemason, and later, the founder of the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross. He was not pleased with the way Tarot cards were being used for divination. For Waite, the cards (particularly the 22 Major Arcana cards) served the purpose of preserving the divine, universal secrets of the humankind, which had been carried through the ages with the help of the trained, dedicated few and the chosen. It seems that Waite wrote his book as an attempt to clarify and fix some common misconceptions about Tarot cards, only to rely so heavily on age-old secrecy and symbolism himself that it is no wonder the Tarot have a bit of a reputation.

As I got my Rider deck, one card jumped at me immediately: the Fool. I had seen it before. In my continuing research in the history of psychiatry and concepts of madness I had often seen the image of "the traveling idiot" in strange clothes, carrying a staff and a pouch (or bladder, as they say) attached to it, often accompanied by a dog.

Back in the 14th century the fool was pictured with a tree branch, also known as the staff of madness.

The fool in a 14th century manuscript

Giotto: The Seven Vices: "Foolishness", 1306

In later imagery the fool is seen carrying a wider range of long, wooden objects. In some cases he leans onto a simple cane, in others he carries a child's pinwheel, with or without a pouch attached to it. (The staff or wand is also seen in imagery of witches flying on broomsticks.) The fool was often associated with the wild man, the man who lives in the forest. The branch or the wooden staff would fit this imagery. In some images his coat is also made of leaves, and in others, he wears a headpiece made of feathers.

Bedford Book of Hours, 14th century French manuscript

In all images, the fool's attire is questionable. Apart from wearing leaves and feathers, he is also shown in ragged or otherwise ridiculous clothing. By his appearance, he portrays someone who has lost all normalcy by abandoning proper clothes and a proper habitat. He is, then, in denial of all order, and of God. (Those who deny Christ are "foolish", according to Hans Holbein the Younger's 1547 work on illustrated Psalms.)

Giuseppe Maria Mitelli: Proverbi Figurati, 1678

The fool has often shared his imagery with the madman, especially the melancholiac. The planet Saturn has been linked to sadness and melancholy since the first century by the poet Manilius, and here lies the connection to the fool's common companion, the dog. The dog is an old symbol of melancholy and the planet Saturn. A 16th century author even called the fool's pinwheel "the Saturnian pinwheeler". In this sense, the fool becomes the representative of the sad and the morose.

Cesare Ripa's Iconologia: "Madness", 1645

Hans Holbein the Younger: Icones historiarum veteris testamenti, 1547

Bonifacia Bembo: Tarot card from 1460-1470 in Visconti-Sforza deck

From what I have read, the Fool card in Tarot seems to represent the old myth of the blessed, traveling fool of the Middle Ages. As the story goes, the village idiots (that is to say, the mentally or developmentally challenged individuals) were shut out of their towns and families and left in their own devices in the countryside. For a very brief period of time in history toward the end of the Middle Ages, the idea of the traveling fool represented someone in the search of their lost wisdom. The fool was childlike, innocent, unaware of the complexities of human existence. The fool was nearer to happiness than anyone with reason. Strangely enough, even though the history of the fool eventually took him from the countryside to confinement, the portrayal of the fool as a staff-bearing wildman persisted, even in semi-medical portrayals of the insane, the idiot, or the melancholiac.

Detail of Daniel Chodowiecki's plate "The physiognomy of illness and deformity", from Johann Gaspar Lavater's Physiognomische Fragmente, 1774-1778

Detail of Charles Aubry: Album Comique de pathologie pittoresque, "Saint Guy's Dance", 1823

Jean Louis Alibert: Physiologie des Passions, "Portrait of Anselm", 1826

The myth of the traveling fool seems to occupy the meanings attached to the Fool of the Tarot: the card depicts the journey of man through life, his childlike connection to the workings of the world. The rose the fool carries has come to symbolize his appreciation of beauty, and the meaning of the dog has changed from that of melancholy to the call of the physical, material side of the world. The number given to the Fool is zero, nothing.

Images: Sander L. Gilman's Seeing the Insane, and Wikipedia.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Happy clothes

I made a conscious decision to wear happy clothes on Saturday. Bright colours didn't feel quite happy enough, so I added a happy hat. I noticed throughout the day that people were doing double-takes. People in our town don't wear happy clothes often. The few young people who experiment with their personal style around here tend to lean toward the edgy and the dark. Chris used to get passive-aggressive remarks from people for wearing a pair of red Converse to work, and no, it was not because of a specific dresscode, but because "men aren't supposed to wear red shoes". I know that I stand out here more than many others, as does Chris. He boldly mixes stripes and plaids like anyone I have ever met. For the most part, I don't mind being looked at. But there is looking, and then there is staring.

At Target a couple in their late 50s stopped about ten feet away from us, parked their shopping cart, and stared at me with their heart's content. The woman's mouth actually hung open. I met her gaze, and she didn't turn hers away. Her eyes were close to bulging out of her head. The man stared, too. There they stood, next to one other, staring at me as if I was a zoo specimen. I couldn't figure out if they stared at me just because I looked different, or because they had a problem with the way I looked. It might have been both, and I instinctively felt uncomfortable. I never know how to handle those types of situations. I am too shy to stare back intensely, and I can never come up with anything witty to say either. So I ignored the couple, and we moved on.

At home, as I was singing made-up songs to our kitties and silly-dancing in our kitchen, I felt pleased. I mentioned to Chris that I was very fortunate to have such an open-minded husband who appreciates and encourages me to wear whatever I like, who goofs around with me and laughs at my stupid jokes. I also said that it was really important to me to not act like a stuck-up adult. This also goes to the way I dress. I have no need to take my style too seriously. What would be the point in that? I enjoy my happy clothes, and a big boo-hoo to those who don't like it.

By the way, Blue's diabetes test came back negative. (Yay!) She is in very good health considering that she is 14 - that's 76 in human years. As I saw her stretching out on the back deck, rolling on her back from side to side, I got the feeling that she didn't feel like an adult either.

Men's sweater: Kohl's
Vintage shirt: Hietsu fleamarket
Jacket: Urban Outfitters
Cords: fleamarket, re-sewn
Boots: John Fluevog
Hat: men's Diesel Black Gold

Thursday, 17 March 2011

No title required

Top: Target
Linen shirt: fleamarket
Cardigan: Urban Outfitters
Skirt: JC
Tights: Target
Boots: vintage Tony Lama, Etsy

Necklace: JBL
Copper pendant: present from Chris

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Gardening plans, and kitty outdoors

Today feels like spring. The sun has been out for most of the day, and I am working on my gardening plans even if there is still plenty of snow on the ground. I have bought most of my seeds already and should start working on planting some indoors soon. I feel like I learned a lot from last year and I'm much better organized this spring. I have a pretty good idea as to where everything is going to go, and I know so much more about what to expect.

Blue got to spend time outdoors today, and boy was she happy! She is actually going to see the vet on Friday. As wonderful as it is that she has lost a lot of weight (she used to be very heavy and has been on a diet for the past two years), we are a little concerned that she might have developed diabetes. Here's to hoping that she is okay.

Dress: made by Tuuli. I think the fabric is old pillowcases or sheets!
Cardigan: Benetton sample sale
Tights: ?
Boots: vintage Tony Lama, Etsy
Necklace: vintage Miriam Haskell
Leather belt: second hand, Plato's Closet
Earrings: present from Chris

Sunday, 13 March 2011



Shirt: Salvation Army
Cardigan: Urban Outfitters
Trousers: Diesel
Boots: vintage Tony Lama, Etsy
Rings: Etsy and America's Attic
Earrings: gift from Shey at Modesty is Pretty


Sweater: Coldwater Creek
Jacket: Urban Outfitters
Jeans: Gap
Shoes: John Fluevog
Pendant: fleamarket
Wooden beads: Plato's Closet
Earrings: JBL

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

On the Appeal of New

As Marc Jacobs re-defined the question of "does my bum look big in this?" in his latest collection for Louis Vuitton today, I read Cathy Horyn's recent Paris fashion week update with great gusto. Her review of the LV collection wasn't in yet, but she did point out some important issues regarding the pressure fashion designers are constantly under, or in her words, "the nearly brutalizing feeling that something new and relevant must be communicated each season".

I got to thinking about "new". Ever since I got off the Great American Apparel Diet I have been eyeing clothes that would ease my seasonal transformation which always kicks in when the weather is about to change in the way that signals the arrival of either spring or autumn. I have found myself wanting a hot pink maxi dress (like the one by Michael Kors below), and something in that denim-look-a-like fabric that you see in catwalk pictures for this coming summer (even if I already have a blue linen shirt that sort of fits the description), among other things.

I honestly can't explain the logic behind wanting new clothes. I have plenty of clothes already, I have plenty of clothes I could play around with to achieve a different look. The Sex and the City-logic of "a girl can never have too many clothes and should treat herself" has never fully appealed to me. And yet I want new things. The feeling comes from the inside, but the desire's target can be whatever I see and get fixated on. Last year it was circle skirts. This year it is a hot pink dress, something in light-weight denim, a pair of moccasins and a long vest, namely this one from Free People. To make things more complicated, as in the case of the FP vest, it seems that there exists a particular appeal of the new "new" that's hard to beat.

Shey of Modesty is Pretty wrote in my comment box recently that when she buys clothes new (as in from a store rather than thrift), she wears them more. I think I am the same. I buy second hand clothes often and get a fair bit of wear out of them. I like to think that I consume more ethically than some when it comes to clothes, and I rant about the bad quality of mass-produced clothing all the time. But the items that have true staying power in my closet tend to be the ones I have bought brand new. This is a little disturbing. It seems that there is some weird, distorted magic in new "new", be it on the level of ideas or in the actual product. Or maybe when I have thrifted in the past, I have ended up buying things that I haven't really wanted all that badly. We all know the temptation of just buying stuff because it is cheap and gives us a quick thrill.

I eventually got my hot pink maxi dress from eBay a few weeks ago. It is just the right colour, just the right length, it is practially unworn second hand Ralph Lauren green label, and it cost about $10. I found my light cotton denim-type dress (Talbots!) at Salvation Army for $8.99 (I swear the prices at SA have been going up recently). I hope that these clothes have at least some level of true staying power. I have a feeling that the fact that I hunted down things I specifically wanted and didn't settle for anything that wasn't just right will change things and make these second hand finds worth while.

I don't really know what the point of this post was, or is. Maybe I just struggle with the idea of buying things when they really aren't all that necessary. Maybe I still feel a little guilty for abandoning the GAAD and getting back on the bandwagon of consumption, even if it seems, for now at least, that I learned something important along the way.

Catwalk images:

Monday, 7 March 2011

Spring! Err... no.

This is what I wore on Saturday. The snow pretty much melted entirely, and it felt almost warm. We went to see The Adjustment Bureau which really wasn't a great movie, but I did enjoy seeing the trailer for Apollo 18. I love looking forward to sci-fi movies. Apollo 18 and Super 8 seem very promising. Anyway, from no-more-snow-here-comes-the-spring, here we are this morning. I don't think I'll be taking outfit pictures on our back deck anytime soon:

Mother nature, you amaze me. Everyone on our street seems to be both shoveling their butts off and waiting angrily for the snow plow to come. Personally, I don't think the venting and ranting gets the plow here any sooner. The city actually recommends that people stay off the streets until 5 pm.

Sweater: Tuuli's old
Jacket: Urban Outfitters, present from Chris
Skirt: JC
Tights: Target
Knee socks: H&M
Boots: Urban Outfitters, since 2003!
Scarf: present from Chris