Tuesday, 26 April 2011

That George Harrison song title

After a day of frustration and ranting about style blogs (thank you, so many of you, who reminded me that a) style blogging is fun if you approach it the right way, b) that mine isn't just a style blog, and c) that my writing matters) and major thunderstorms last night (our streets resembled rapids), the sun came out today and the temperature soared. The weather has been awful for the past, sheesh, couple of months, and just like that, it's summer! 82 degrees! (That is 28 degrees Celcius.) I planted some beans, onions, turnips and carrots today. My radishes are already growing enthusiastically.

I love this first, slight haze of green in spring time. It usually only lasts for a day or two.

I feel like I have a million things to say about my post yesterday, and about the comments you have sent my way. I think I will have to let my thoughts sizzle and mature for a day or two. Part II will follow.

I'm wearing a thrifted denim shirt, thrifted denim shorts and an old t-shirt from H&M.

Monday, 25 April 2011

On personal style, blogging, and our narratives

For the past couple of days wearing clothes has felt very organic to me, just natural. I haven't thought twice about what to wear in the mornings; I've just grabbed a pair of jeans and a shirt and gone with it. The interesting thing is that I have felt really good about the clothes I have worn, but that I haven't thought of taking outfit pictures, because the clothes have not felt blogging-worthy, and this worries me a little. Actually, it is not even the blogging-worthiness. It is more about the problem I am starting to have with style blogging in general. I feel like the style blog narrative is starting to escape from my grasp, or perhaps that my own issues with personal style are escaping from the world of style blogging altogether.

I have often wondered what long-term style blogging does to our style. I started blogging a little over three years ago because I had become a clothes hoarder and a bit of a shopping addict. I felt like I needed to get my head around what I really thought about fashion, personal style, shopping and body image. Through my own writings and the writings of others, I feel like I have learned a lot from blogging. Most importantly, I have become a more of an ethical consumer, and I have learned to trust my instincts when it comes to what I should wear. But I do feel like in some ways, blogging has made me completely over-think the meaning of the clothes I wear. On the days when I don't post an outfit picture, I see my personal style differently. I settle for less, and it all comes together without any effort. Aside from complicating my personal style, I also feel that style blogging has, at least to some extent, encouraged the shopping habits I wanted to get rid of on Day One.

Overall, I feel that style blogging in general (my own blogging and that of others) encourages me to want to consume more. Us style bloggers write about the clothes or the styles we want, the clothes we can't afford, and the clothes we thrifted and stuffed our closets with. When another blogger has scored big time in a thrift shop, my instincts tell me to go visit our local Salvation Army: perhaps I will find a treasure myself. Since I got off the Great American Apparel Diet, my long-term objective has been to really love the clothes I wear. I want to buy less. But there is a bit of a conflict between wearing the same things over and over again, and style blogging. In many ways, style blogging is all about re-inventing and over-narrating our personal styles, and it often means buying (or thrifting, or swapping for) new things. In many ways, style blogging clutters our lives. It is not just the stuff we buy, but also the time we spend making sense of it all.

Due to the countless links between style blogging, buying and wearing clothes, I have become suspicious of the idea that we should actively use fashion and clothes to express ourselves and our personalities in the first place. I read somewhere (for the death of me I can't think of the connection) about Derrida's theory of personal narratives; essentially, that we define ourselves on the basis of the stories we tell about ourselves and the stories that others tell about us. This is sort of what style blogging is, right? We take photos of the clothes we wear and portray ourselves in a particular way to define and re-define how we feel about ourselves. There is nothing wrong with that, but a part of me feels uncomfortable anyway. Do we really need to establish particular narratives about our clothes to know who we are? When it comes to clothes that essentially are image enhancers, how can we tell the difference between "real" narrative and a wanna-be narrative? We know that fashion magazines are full of the latter. But there are a lot of style blogs out there that have nothing to do with what those people really wear in their day-to-day lives. (Really, they went for a walk in the woods wearing the latest Miu Miu heels?) These types of personal style narratives that we encounter can be completely false, and yet we often let them influence us to create our own narratives. So could our intense search and portrayal of personal style be leading us astray from who we really are? In our increasingly layered lives filled with different types of social networks, various forms of consumerism and our multiple identities, what do our clothes say of us, if anything at all? Could our need to define our personal style be just a front, an avatar of sorts, to help us navigate the seas of endless confusion?

I have written countless posts about how personal style is an outlet to have fun, and that clothes are a great tool for expressing myself... but do I really mean that? Am I just saying that because perhaps it allows me to buy more clothes and not focus on the person behind the clothes? Or am I just trying to figure out who I am with the help of clothes, because other markers are too difficult to manage? Or am I just doing what everyone else is doing? For some reason, these questions seem important to me at the moment. I guess what I am really after is the following: who wants to see me wear the same pair of jeans every day? The only answer I can come up with is, well, that I do. I suppose that's the only answer that really matters. I don't really know what all of this means. This blog is not going away, that I do know. But a part of me feels frustrated. The endless personal style jargon isn't doing it for me anymore.

I am wearing a thrifted stripy tee and plaid shirt, a cardigan from Urban Outfitters, Gap jeans and vintage boots from Etsy. Illusia likes to hang out by the window.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

New jewels, old photos

My spring cold has taken a turn for worse. Chris and I were going to visit a local antique show on Saturday, but we got lost trying to find the location and it started raining. We got completely soaked, and it didn't help my cold any. But we did eventually find the antique show. The prices at the show were pretty high in general, but I did find a couple of pieces to invest in, including this silver ring. According to the seller, it was a part of a set designed by the Finnish designer Elis Kauppi for the jewelry company Kupittaan Kulta. The ring is not signed, but that unfortunate fact was reflected in the price.

I thought this three-strand bracelet was superbly whimsical but still interesting. It is not signed, but the style and the clasp suggest that it is pretty old.

I also bought a couple of old tin photographs. I have been thinking about love and relationships recently, and I find myself drawn to pictures of couples and families. Sometimes people are brought together in strange, even inconvenient circumstances, and at times we find love in times, places and people we least expect it. This picture below was taken at the Indiana Fair in April, 1925. I love the closeness of these two individuals, and the girl's dress and her coy smile are beyond beautiful. Her side-swept hair reminds me of someone I know.

I was drawn to this photo below because of the girl with the white bow in her hair. Just look at her strappy shoes! I ended up buying the photo because of the overall dynamics, though. I love the way the photographer has worked the fence and the surrounding nature into the picture, and I think the portrait is beautifully balanced.

This one I wasn't sure of at first, because it is not a particularly happy photo. It seems that perhaps the family isn't all that wealthy, and considering how young the parents look, they might have their hands full trying to support the size of their family. I bought the picture anyway. Actually, it was the sense of seriousness that I was drawn to.

These following pieces of jewelry are not from the antique show, but from my friend Lynn's vintage jewelry stash. The micromosaic brooch and clip earrings are Italian.

Lynn re-wired these cute grape earrings.

And I can never resist a big crystal brooch.

That's it for now, folks. I hope to get well soon enough to post some outfit pictures, to visit your blogs and to write about things more substantial. Oh, and before I forget, thank you, Terri, for giving me the heads up on Wisconsin Death Trip! I found it on Amazon and ordered it. And Madeline, thanks for letting me know about the film Opium. I will try to find a way to get my hands on it!

Friday, 15 April 2011

Instant relatives

Last year I came across a fantastic book on the medical photographer Dr. Hugh W. Diamond and psychiatric photography (the book from 1977 is called The Face of Madness, and it is edited by Sander L. Gilman). In the 1850s and from then on, portrait photography was used to help diagnose mental illness. Countless "insane" were photographed and their facial expressions and body language recorded and analyzed in great detail to reveal the physical characteristics of madness. The book got me hooked on portrait photography in general. There is something special about the time in the past when it actually took a lot of effort to take one single photograph.

Ever since, I have been collecting old portrait photographs. I have bought them for a couple of cents a piece in antique stores. Because a lot of people are after old photo albums, antique dealers go through the albums they encounter in estate sales, strip them off their content, and sell the albums. If I am lucky, they will not throw the photos away and sell them to me instead. In antique-dealer-speech, these loose photos of unknowns are called instant relatives.

I choose the photos I buy on the basis of instinct. I buy women, men (old and young), children, and families. Usually there is something about the person that just draws me in. It could be the clothes or the facial expression. Sometimes the text on the photo frame (usually, the name of the studio) reveals an odd location. There might be writing on the back that even gives the name of the person. There have been times when I have found the same person in a pile of a hundred photographs in different stages of his or her life.

I try not to think too much about how sad it is that these people's real relatives no longer connect with their ancestors. I might be the only person who knows them without knowing them at all. This girl below was Margaret Bolfe, and her photograph was taken in Lewisburg, PA at the J.W. Cornelius studio.

These guys are the Campbells. The two names I can make out are John and Ida.

There are times when I get overwhelmed at how small human life really is. All it takes is time, and we turn to dust, and we no longer live in anyone's memories. And yet every once in a while I come across an old photo where life is so palpable, so current. A laugh, a shared moment, friendship, love.

These people live alongside my life now, as vagabonds and adopted friends. When I am gone, perhaps someone else will take them on.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

My United States of America

When I was growing up, there were two distinct ways to prove your status as a cool kid in class. One was having MTV at home, and the other one was wearing Levi's jeans. (I had neither.) MTV at the time showed music videos rather than Teen Mom. I specifically remember going to my friend Anna's house after school to do our homework together and to watch MTV, and we'd both hope to see Michael Jackson's Smooth Criminal. It was the coolest music video EVER. Anna also wore Levi's. She loved The Bangles and Bon Jovi. I, in contrast, wore my sister's hand-me-downs and liked Kim Wilde. (Anna, at that point, hadn't fully figured out that I was very un-cool. That time would come later.)

The few kids in my class who took vacations abroad occasionally came back with a suitcase full of Levi's 501s. You could buy Levi's in Finland, too, but if my memory serves me right, a pair cost up to 500 Finnish marks. That was a lot of money back then. If you knew that someone was going to the US, you'd just hope that you were in the right crowd and that you could persuade the child in question to bring you a pair of Levi's that would perhaps fit. Even if they didn't, you'd wear them anyway. It was all about that little red tag. Needless to say, my friends never went to the US and I led a very Levi'sless existence. That didn't stop me from admiring the kids who had got their hands on American gold. In America, I thought, everyone wore Levi's. Everyone had MTV. Everything was fancy, big and impressive. The people all looked like Brenda and Brandon of Beverly Hills, 90210. America had Madonna and Bruce Springsteen. I thought that Born in the USA was a song about how wonderful America was.

Gradually, my idea of the United States crumbled. I became aware of world politics and realized that America had done nothing to prevent genocide in Rwanda. American popular music had started to change dramatically, and I gravitated toward British music instead. Eventually MTV stopped airing Beavis and Butt-head. Regional MTVs took over the American original. Nothing was quite the same. The Levi's jeans just looked ill-fitting. I became disillusioned. Even Anna turned her back on the US and moved to Argentina.

I had a very negative impression of the US in my late teens and 20s. A lot of it had to do with my studies in the field of international relations. I took to the streets in Budapest (and later, in London) to protest against the war on Iraq. The Americans, in my opinion, had chosen a stupid president to represent their nation. That decision, in my eyes, must have been made by equally stupid people. I swore I'd never set my foot in the US.

In the end I did, in August 2003. I remember getting off the plane in Chicago, and I was stunned. As much as I had grown to dislike America over the years, I was still under the vague impression that things looked a certain way there. To my shock, the O'Hare airport was stuffy and dirty. The people were rude and every other person was horribly overweight. The toilets smelled. Everything looked old and worn. I spent a month traveling in different cities around the US: Chicago, Kansas City, St Louis, Cleveland, New York City and Washington D.C. (I have a picture of myself in front of the White House, making insulting gestures at George W. Bush). Overall, I met a lot of wonderful people and saw a lot of beautiful things. But nothing had fully prepared me to face the pot-holed roads, the buildings that desperately needed fixing, the homeless people, the consumerist mania and the income- and race-based segregation, in pretty much every single place I visited. It was only then that I fully realized that the greatest country in the world was also internally troubled and divided. The United States of America was just like any other country. It seemed to me that it had just done a lot of extra foot-work to look a certain way to the outsiders, to the ones who had no access to its realities.

Since I moved to the US almost two years ago I have learned a lot, but there is still so much for me to learn. I have become increasingly curious about this country's history, and have spent the past couple of weeks learning about the American Civil War (that wonderful Ken Burns documentary series has been playing on PBS). It has occurred to me that in the past I saw America as a foreign country only. The US acted very visibly and aggressively in the complicated framework of states, but I had no idea what its internal workings were. To a foreigner, it almost seemed as if it had no internal workings at all. It seemed as if its outside was all that there was. These days, every day I learn something new about those internal workings. Every day I try to understand the current political discussion, only to realize that I have to go way back to get a glimpse of the process that got us where we are now. I have come to understand that America has a fascinating, deeply divided, rich and multi-layered internal history. It is a crying shame that foreigners in general don't know much about it. As much as Europeans in particular bash Americans for their lack of general knowledge, the history of the United States is largely hidden from those outside its borders. A huge part of me feels ashamed of that silly, glorified image I had of the US as a child, but I am equally embarrased of my ignorant, hate-filled rantings later on in life.

But let's get back to where I started this post. I eventually got my first ever pair of Levi's when I was 14. They were my sister's old, faded-black 501s. When I grew out of them, I made them into cut-offs. I wore those cut-offs to my first ever music festival when I was 16. I saw Aerosmith.

I thrifted these Levi's jeans at Salvation Army recently. In the memory of the good old days, I made them into cut-offs. The pink hoodie is also thrifted. The boots are by John Fluevog and Lynn made the bracelet. I think the tights might be from Urban Outfitters.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

How to beat spring cold

I have a spring cold. Yesterday I lounged around in an oversized hoodie and sweatpants and felt like crap. Today I decided to pull myself together. I still feel like crap, but at least a monster isn't staring back at me from the mirror. For the past two days I have been spending way too much time a) watching The Office non-stop on DVD, b) browsing through fancy style blogs and feeling unstylish, and c) feeling sorry for myself because my tomato seeds are not germinating. Today I decided to a) read books, b) enjoy the way I dress, no matter how unpolished and uncool it might be, and c) appreciate my alive-and-well broccoli seedlings. I also decided to brush up the look of the blog a little. So long, the cannibals and dusky belles header, and welcome, the floor plan of the old Binghamton insane asylum! There is something to be said about the power of getting dressed.

I had been looking for dream catcher earrings for some time. There are plenty of them out there on Etsy and eBay, but I waited until I found the perfect ones. I am very pleased with myself for not buying anything before I found exactly what I wanted. The earrings arrived today from CucumberWind, an awesome Etsy shop, which is on vacation right now. (They'll be back in action in May.)

The ring is from America's Attic, a local shop that has an extensive selection of vintage jewelry. Lynn bought a bunch of scrap jewelry, found the ring in the bag, and gave it to me. Yay!

These are the books I am reading. I had been waiting for the reprint of Samuel Edward Dole Shortt's Victorian Lunacy (originally published in 1986) to come out since late last year, and I finally got my copy. The book reflects the trends of Anglo-American practice of psychiatry through the eyes of Richard M. Bucke, a prominent Canadian psychiatrist and superintendent of the London Asylum in Ontario. My other pick is Rachel Pollack's Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom. I was looking for a no-nonsense book on the Tarot, and this one was highly recommended by many, including Charlotte, whom I partly blame for my sudden fascination with Tarot.

I am wearing an old cardigan from a Benetton sample sale, a Target t-shirt, thrifted camouflage shorts and lace-up boots from Urban Outfitters. I stole the scarf from Chris.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Springwear, kitties and thank yous

This is today, before it got really warm:

Second hand blouse: Salvation Army

Second hand cardigan: Plato's Closet

Jeans: Gap
Second hand belt
Moth necklace: present from Dana & Chuck
(Leather jacket: Diesel)

This is what I wore on Saturday...

Maxi-dress: Target

Second hand denim shirt: Salvation Army
Second hand Diesel denim jacket: Aino fleamarket
Second hand wooden beads: Plato's Closet
Boots: John Fluevog
Men's messenger bag: Diesel Black Gold

And then some kitties:

Audrey (above) would like to go outside...

Blue seems pretty happy...

and Masa is fascinated with himself.

I'm sorry for the lack of any coherent writing today. I woke up this morning with a horribly sore throat and I'm feeling under the weather (which, by the way, is superbly warm today - it's just so typical to get a cold this time of year). I just wanted to thank all of you for your comments to my previous post. I was very happy to hear from so many of you, and I am excited to check out the blogs of those of you who I haven't had the pleasure of "meeting" before. A big shout out goes to Sal of Already Pretty. It seems that a lot of you found your way to the post via her lovely links!

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Standing tall

I came across some random Finnish style blog a few weeks back. The author, a very sweet, beautiful young woman, had received a comment in her inbox about her height. The comment went somewhere along the lines of "why do you insist on wearing ballet flats because you are so short ". Rightfully so, the girl defended her right to wear flats, as well as admitted that she was perfectly okay with her height, and that there was nothing wrong with being petite. Her post got me thinking about the numerous times I have been told that I don't "need" to wear heels, or that I shouldn't.

I was relatively tall growing up; I was the second tallest girl in first and second grade, but then for a few years several of my classmates towered above me. When I was 13, I was told by the school nurse that I probably wouldn't reach my big sister's height. My entire family was tall, and I was going to be the shortest. I remember feeling devastated. I was 5'6", or 168 cm. The school nurse was wrong, though, because I grew until I reached 5'11" (180 cm) at 18.

Being tall doesn't really carry a stigma per se (in fact, studies suggest that there are advantages), but there are certain obstacles tall girls face anyway. In our teenage years we look even more awkward and clumsy than our friends. Hiding from attention is difficult, but boys don't like us because we are taller than they are. We tend to slouch and have bad posture because we try to be on eye-to-eye level with our shorter friends. Some of this carries through to later in life. The clumsiness goes away and some of us re-gain the control of our limbs and look poised. We certainly draw a fair bit of attention just because we stand out, quite literally. But a lot of tall women try to look shorter than they are, a lot of them have really bad posture, and a lot of men steer away from us. (When I started going out to bars and such, I spent nights out with friends, almost always without any male company. If I was approached by men at all, it was always by idiots with a tall-girl fetishism. Yep, nothing makes you feel more special than a man whose first words to you are "I have always wanted to sleep with a really tall woman.")

I learned to really enjoy my height and started to wear heels in my late teens and early 20s. Some of this was due to modeling; I was surrounded by girls my height and they all wore heels. A huge factor was my mother, who at 5'9" always wore 4" heels when I was growing up. But even more importantly, my first-ever-boyfriend was not afraid to be shorter than I was, and he encouraged me to wear heels. I didn't realise it at the time, but in hindsight, it meant the world to me that I met someone early on who didn't have a problem with my height. Later, however, there were times when I was told to not wear heels so that whichever-boyfriend-at-the-time (or sometimes even female friends) would not look "stupid" next to me. I'd often take that as a challenge and wear the highest heels I owned, just to spite them. I was not going to look like Nicole Kidman next to Tom Cruise; there was no way I was going to start feeling uncomfortable with my height next to anyone else. I don't wear heels as much these days, but there are still occasions when I hear the dreaded "why do you wear heels? You are tall already." I just say that I like the shoes, and that I don't mind being tall. There really isn't much else you can say.

Being tall makes buying clothes difficult at times. Most clothes are cut for the bodies of women with average height. I have a hard time finding properly-cut short jackets, blazers, blouses or shirts because my back and arms are too long. I am lucky that my upper-body type is boyish - I often end up buying men's sweaters and shirts because the sleeves are long enough. Luckily, these days a lot of clothing manufacturers offer 36" inseam lengths for jeans and trousers or collections specifically tailored for tall women. Properly fitting tights and leggings are tough to find, though. I usually end up with a pair of tights whose crotch is somewhere close to my knees, unless I go up two sizes and have to deal with loose waistbands and extra fabric.

My only real problem with my height is posture-related. I immediate hunch when I am with shorter people, it is almost like a reflex. The posture issue is a work in progress and I will have to live with it and keep figuring it out for the rest of my life. The fact that my torso is very long doesn't help any. In connection to this, most chairs feel ergonomically wrong somehow, and my body wants to slouch automatically when I sit down. I can never feel comfortable traveling on a plane or a bus. I also have to watch my head in low spaces, but that's the type of stuff that comes with the package. You learn to adapt. The flip side is that I can always reach the top shelf of my bookcase. I can always see the band at a concert. If Chris and I lose each other in the supermarket, he can find me easily. I don't have to change seats at the cinema because another tall person is sitting in front of me.

I have come across a lot of short women who wish that they were taller, and a lot of tall women who wish that they were shorter. It is weird how it goes; we are so rarely comfortable in our own skin. We worry about other people's perceptions of our bodies, and often only see what we don't like. As a tall woman, it is important to me to have the freedom to be who I am, to live comfortably in the body I have been given, and to do it boldly and proudly. As a tall woman, I choose to wear heels if I feel like it. I have found my own comfort zone hovering above others. There is serenity in that extra space.

Men's sweater: Kohl's

Polka-dot skirt: Salvation Army

Boots: Vialis

Pendant: Petrune Vintage

Vintage hair pin: Rambling Rose Antiques

Kitties: Masa and Illusia

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Wearing today, with rest of the cats

Second hand patchwork tunic: Plato's Closet

Cardigans: Urban Outfitters and Lindex

Jeans: Denimbirds

Second hand belt: flea market

Vintage boots: Tony Lama, Etsy

Earrings: JBL

Since yesterday's kitty post didn't include all six of our feline friends, here are the rest. Lyric is shy:

and Masa lurks behind the dresser.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Weekend Cats

Audrey is keeping clean, Blue covers her eyes with her paws while sleeping.

Illusia is pissed off - just look at those ears. (It is not food time yet.)

Willow is feeling sleepy.