Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Away for the weekend

Chris and I are going to take a long weekend trip to Portland, Maine. See you guys next week!

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Last minute changes

As I am typing this, my left arm is almost limp due to a tetanus shot. Ugh. Anyway. I wore this today. Actually, I was going to wear this:

I thrifted two cool vests in Finland last month. The one above was sort of pricey for second hand, but I bought it anyway - the brass beading just seemed too wonderful to pass. I was going to wear it today, took an outfit picture, and then some of the beading decided to come apart, just as I was about to leave the house. I didn't have time to figure out a whole new outfit, so I grabbed the other vest, and threw some jewelry into the mix.

In the end I liked this outfit much better. It's happier, more alive. It's funny how that goes sometimes: last minute changes can make the outfit.

I am wearing an Old Navy tank top, a second hand vest, a skirt from H&M, and second hand jewelry.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Sustainable Style: The Guilt

There probably aren't too many people who've never ever felt guilty about buying something. I've felt guilty about buying clothes. I've spent money on clothes when I should have been more concerned about paying my rent. I've bought clothes that I didn't really need. I've bought clothes knowing that they'd be a one-season-only purchase, and I've bought clothes just to make myself feel better. Last week, as I was in the middle of doing research on sweatshops and the environmental consequences of our style choices, I stared deep into my wardrobe, and felt compelled to count how many pieces of clothing I had that were made of cotton. I was going to figure out how many pounds of pesticides had been used to help me have all these clothes. I started with tank tops and t-shirts. I got too depressed and stopped counting after 10 pounds of pesticides. Even without counting, my guess is that I have bought at least my weight in pesticides, and probably much, much more.

When I decided to write about sustainable style, one of my fears was that I was going to sound judgmental. I was worried that I was just going to make people feel guilty and that no one would comment. Who am I to tell people that they should line dry their laundry when I hardly ever do it myself? Who am I to forbid people from shopping in stores they like, just because labour rights in Bangladesh are not on par with ours? I went back and forth: on the one hand I wanted to write about these topics with a more general, informative approach, and on the other hand, I felt like I needed to study my own personal dealings with style and sustainability. To be honest, in the end it just felt easier to start with the information. It felt actually pretty easy to list the facts and the figures. Was I sad and shocked about what I was reading and then re-writing in the posts last week? Heck yes. But that was just the beginning. The more I learned about sweatshops and the environmental impact of clothes, the more and more painful it was to look into my own history of shopping and the mindless decisions I have made. Whatever guilt I have felt before about shopping was nothing compared to how low I was feeling when I started to count the pounds of pesticide hiding in my closet.

I have asked this before, but I just can't seem to get my head around it. I'll throw it out there anyway: is the idea of personal style always connected to consumerism? At the end of the day, the stuff we wear is just that: stuff. It's stuff that's been manufactured, stuff that we've somehow acquired. Often it has involved money, but that's not really the point. We develop emotional connections to the stuff. We protect it and shelter it. It is important to us. We use it to define who we are and what we love. We let other people see us through our "stuff choices". Even if we've got all of our stuff for free, we, at least to some extent, are slaves to our objects. And yet it is not just stuff. My books used to be trees. A lot of my clothes were made by some nameless young woman in a dirty factory in a developing country. My t-shirts came from pesticides in the soil. How can I possibly live with that?

An old friend of mine, Alan, used to go through odd phases that I couldn't really understand at the time. One day he'd splurge on a pair of luxurious Italian leather sandals, and the next day he'd feel guilty and decide that he didn't want to own anything. One day he'd praise beautifully bound and illustrated old books, and the next day he'd promise to read everything online, free of the weight of anything material. I was around when he took all of his books to a second hand book shop. I was also there when he bought books to replace the ones he'd gotten rid of. As much as he hated his weakness in front of things of beauty, he couldn't live without stuff. I feel like I have become Alan.

I see beauty in objects, and I feel comfortable when I am surrounded by things that are dear to me. But I also feel like those things are meaningless clutter when you take me out of the equation. The stuff in itself is not meaningful - it is the meaning that I've created for them that, in the immortal words of Diana Ross, keeps me hangin' on. I love my old, favourite clothes with a passion, and I love my collection of books on the history of psychiatry. I love my insane asylum postcards and my boxes of jewelry. I love to drink my tea from a pretty teacup and I love to walk around in pretty shoes. But take the way my brain processes all of it out of the picture, and it is all just carbon footprints. The guilt that goes with that is unbearable. I wish I could just not think about it.

My Little Friends in the Garden

It took me some time to figure out if I thought garden gnomes were tacky or adorable. I eventually went with the latter. And because no garden gnome should ever feel lonely, ours also has a friend.

My gardening project has been plagued by all sorts of difficulties this year. Spring took forever to get here, and then it rained for weeks and weeks on end. Beans didn't germinate. Lettuce was bitter. Turnips were all leaves, no root. I've had plenty of success with peas, herbs, zucchini and kale, and my tomatoes and peppers have been coming along nicely. I still feel like I am a novice in all of this, but I learned from last year and I don't take things quite as seriously anymore. What grows, great, what doesn't, oh well.

This fellow was learning to fly in our garden the other day. It was rooted steadily on our deck chair for a good while, then got on its wings, then landed on the ground clumsily. The parents were frantic as they sat on the fence, calling out to their little one: "come on, you can do it!" As I was learning about the horrible events that took place in Norway this past weekend, the sight of this small bird was all it took for me to regain my faith in the world. Life is truly amazing; so fragile, so beautiful.

I am wearing a second hand knit top and an old JC skirt. The wooden bangles are from Chris, the necklace is second hand. The shoes are by Steve Madden.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

How to recognise a heatwave?

1) Cats mysteriously double in length.

2) The Waves wears a strapless dress for the first time in her life.

I'm wearing a second hand Marimekko dress (from eBay) and old Bronx wedge sandals.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Sustainable Style: How Green is Your Style?

Textile dye

Last week, Greenpeace released a report on textile industry-related pollution in China. (1) Youngor, China's largest textile firm who has access to some of China's most advanced technology for dyeing, weaving and printing, as well as hi-tech sewage treatment systems, has discharged into the water systems near Shanghai several toxins, including liver and sperm affecting chemicals and nonylphenol, an endocrine disruptor that builds up in the food chain. The chemicals are not illegal in China, but they are banned in the EU and many developed nations. The factories responsible for this pollution manufacture clothes for H&M, Lacoste, Abercrombie & Fitch, Calvin Klein, Puma and Nike. It is worth noting here that China's share of the world's apparel exports is 30%. Americans buy 1 billion pieces of clothing made in China every year - that is four pieces per citizen. (2) That's an awful lot of clothes that are manufactured in environmentally questionable conditions. Chemical agents used in textile treatment become waste. They are dumped into rivers and lakes in countries with few and poorly controlled environmental laws.

China is not alone. A US Aid-sponsored study on industrial pollution in Bangladesh found that textile industries release 30 billion liters of polluted water annually into the water systems of the Kaliakoir region. The area hosted just 20 garment factories in 2003, and by late 2005, the number of factories had increased to 166. As the textile industry in Bangladesh is booming, the pollution problem is getting worse every year. (3)

And it is not just the developing countries that create textile-related pollution: according to The Guardian, in 2006, the clothing and textiles industry in the United Kingdom produced up to 2 million tonnes of waste, 3.1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, and 70 million tonnes of waste water. (4) So why does textile manufacturing pollute so much? Some of it comes down to farming of cotton, some to the way textiles are chemically treated at the factory.

Cotton; picture from

Cotton is considered the world's dirtiest crop, and yet we love to wear it. Cotton farming uses huge amounts of fertilizers and pesticides - anywhere between 16-25% of all pesticides used worldwide go to conventional cotton farming. Some pesticides used in cotton farming are highly dangerous, even lethal to humans, and they leak into ground waters. 99% of all cotton farmers come from developing countries, and they produce 75% of the world's cotton: environmental and health concerns associated with cotton are the highest in the developing countries, and this is all happening before cotton is even made into clothes. (5) (5b)

The complex manufacturing processes of natural fibers and their relatively short age-for-wear contribute to the poor track record of cotton. Synthetic fibers aren't exactly clean either; for one thing, they don't decompose. Nylon and polyester are essentially thermoplastics - they are synthetic, petrol-based chemical compounds made into fabrics, and we often automatically assume that just because something is synthetic, it has to be bad for the environment. The manufacturing process of man-made fibers releases a lot of carbon dioxide, but their upkeep is actually environmentally friendly: they are easy to clean and they are durable (acrylic is an exception to the rule). In the long run, synthetic fabrics score much better on the carbon footprint scale than traditional cotton, for example. (6) (6b) This is true especially of so called semi-synthetics like rayon. (7) However, looking at the carbon footprint statistics, the most environmentally sustainable fabrics are the organically farmed natural fibers - the most ecological choice is hemp. (8) (8b) Organic cotton farmers use 3,000 cubic meters per acre of water less than conventional cotton farmers, and the organic farming practices are environmentally sustainable. (9) However, cotton, organic or not, is still a notoriously "thirsty" plant, and it always goes through finishing processing, which involves acids, chemical washing, bleaching and dyeing. Consider your favourite pair of jeans: according to a 2006 report by Levi's, the manufacturing process of a single pair of jeans is equivalent to "running a garden hose for 106 minutes, powering an average computer for 556 hours or driving a car 125.5 km (78 miles)". The washing and dyeing process of a pair of jeans consumes 42 liters of water. (10) That's a hefty price the environment has to pay for a pair of cotton pants.

How about our shoes and accessories? The impact of leather on the environment ranges from heavy livestock-related pollution to the chemicals used in tanning processes released into water systems, from air pollution due to the so-called transformation process where hydrogen sulfide and ammonium are used, to leather's long decomposing time (25-40 years). As with textiles, leather hides are often produced in countries with lax environmental laws. (11) (11b) I wasn't able to find much actual data on the production of artificial or vegan leather and its carbon footprint, but it seems like the footprint should be much lower than that of leather: its production doesn't involve raising livestock (duh!), and its life cycle is much longer. (If anyone has additional info on this, I'd love to hear it; I'm looking at you, jesse.anne.o!)

Now let's step away from manufacturing for a while. As much as we'd like to think that the pollution aspect of our style choices comes from farming and manufacturing processes alone, I am sad to inform you that much less than a third of a garment's carbon footprint is traceable to its manufacturing, and it takes longer than you'd think before a garment's carbon footprint really takes off. Once the garment leaves the factory, it is packaged and transported, often by plane. An environmentally friendly pair of Patagonia shorts travels 10,000 miles on average before it reaches the customer. (12) The amount of plastics used in clothing packaging during transportation is astounding, by the way - I don't have figures here, but I've unpacked dozens of clothing deliveries while working in clothing retail. Tank tops and t-shirts are sometimes single-packed in plastic, coats come on single-use plastic hangers, often triple-packed in plastic bags. Every single pair of jeans is packed in plastic, even handbags, bracelets and necklaces. Whatever you buy in a clothing store, it has been packed in plastic. A delivery, of, say, 1,000 garments, once unpacked, produces an entire room full of plastic packaging. No joke. I've seen it. Add one-season-use retail marketing equipment (posters, store dummies, window decorations and stickers etc.) and the thousands of plastic bags a retail store uses every season, you'd think that this is where a lot of the carbon footprint comes from. But no, we still have to wait until the garment is bought, worn, and then cleaned, over and over again.

I was shocked to find out that 75-80% of a garment's carbon footprint comes from the way you wash and dry it. (Some sources say 60%, but that's high, too.) I thought of the thousands of miles my H&M tank top has flown from Bangladesh, how it was packed in plastic, how it was placed on a single-use plastic hanger, and how, still, 75-80% of its carbon footprint has been created by me and my washer/dryer. On the one hand this was truly shocking, but on the other, this is something where I can actually make a difference. It turns out that hand washing and line drying is the way to go. If we all line dried our laundry, each and every one of us could save 700 pounds of carbon dioxide every year. (13) (13b)

Once a piece of clothing is worn to the point where we no longer want it, we recycle it. Right? Well, no. Unfortunately only 15% of textiles are donated to thrift stores in the United States. Luckily it doesn't end to the measly 15%, though. Out of the 68 pounds of post-consumer textiles per person thrown away every year by Americans, it is estimated that 2 million pounds of waste is collected annually and prevented from entering into the waste stream. (14) That's something. But an awful lot of clothes and other textiles end up in landfills. A huge part of it comes down to people not caring, but some of it is also ignorance. Few people know that these days even polyester and nylon are recyclable.

So what can you do? First, shop your own closet. Reuse, repurpose, recycle. Sew your own clothes. When buying fabrics, choose your textiles wisely and buy organic whenever it's available. Thrift and buy second hand. When you buy second hand, you are buying products that have been already made. People who buy new clothes often argue that what they buy has already been made, too. What's the difference? It's pretty simple, really: when you buy something new, you create demand for more manufacturing. When a clothing retailer sells, say, 500 t-shirts a season, they'll have every reason to order 500 t-shirts for the next season. For every piece of clothing you buy new, there is someone calculating the need to order and manufacture a piece to replace that garment for that particular retailer. So, sew and thrift, and do it smartly. Consider vegan shoes and accessories - and I'm not talking about nasty plastic shoes. There are alternatives out there - if Stella McCartney can do it, we should be able to do it, too.

A clothing recycling centre

If you are not a sewer or a thrifter at heart - we all aren't, that's just the way it is - buy consciously, and buy clothes that last for several seasons. Buy from brands whose environmental pledge you can trust. Buy organic cotton, Fair Trade, organic linen, organic wool. Don't take retailers' plastic bags - bring your own. Tell retailers that you are concerned about the environment. If you order clothes online, choose ground shipping if you can. When you're done with your piece of clothing, take it to a thrift shop.

And this is the most important thing: look at your laundry habits long and hard. I'll say it again: up to 75-80% of your clothes' carbon footprint comes from the way you do your laundry. We live in a world where it is so easy to think that global problems are too big for us to handle, and that one person can't make a difference. But this is really something where everyone can make a difference. Wash your clothes by hand whenever possible. If you don't have the time for hand washing, or if you don't have the space for line drying, make sure that you wash full loads to save water and energy, and use cold water. Use biodegradable detergent, and don't use fabric conditioners - they loosen up fibers and age your clothing. Also, consider whether your clothes are actually dirty before washing them. Don't throw everything into the laundry basket after you've worn it once. Air out sweaters and jeans instead. Little things help.

Note on images: I lost some of the image credits in the process of writing this post. If you would like to add a picture credit, or want a picture taken down, please let me know.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Dead snake fashion

There are times when I think that the fashion industry is peculiar and interesting, and then there are times when I just don't get it. This Chloe handbag is everywhere now, from Vogue and Harper's Bazaar to Marie Claire.

I haven't seen anything more disgusting come out of the fashion industry in a long time. There isn't a force on this planet that could persuade me to carry a head of a dead snake on my handbag.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Sustainable Style: Sweatshops

The cheaper a piece of clothing you buy in a clothing store is, the more likely it is that the garment was manufactured in a sweatshop. It comes down to simple math: in order to offer the (Western) consumer cheap prices for clothes, the production costs must be as low as possible. Low production costs mean cheap labour. Cheap labour means sometimes inhumane and dangerous working conditions, low wages, and 7-day work weeks.

Sweatshops might not be all bad: after all, they offer people in the developing countries employment. Sweatshops sometimes pay high wages compared to national averages, and they shield female and child workers from prostitution. Some argue that sweatshops are the key for developing nations to enter the world of free trade and international competition, and in the long run, they benefit the economies of developing countries and the lives of the people who work in sweatshops. (1)(2) The United States has a steady history of sweatshops of its own, and look how far we've come!

Garment workers at a Nike factory

If you've read Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, you know that there is nothing to celebrate about the history of US sweatshops. Just because it happened here once doesn't mean that it should happen somewhere else today. Just because we assume that this is just how world economy works doesn't mean that it is the ideal. Sweatshops employ not only young women, but sometimes children. The workers rarely have the right to unionize. The notion of steady, on-the-road-to-a-better-future employment in sweatshop factories is an illusion: the factories exist only because the workforce is cheap. They have few incentives to improve the workers' conditions or to increase wages. There will be cheaper labour elsewhere, and production moves accordingly. (3)

Sweatshops are often located in countries where tax systems are tweaked to encourage foreign investment. "Tax holidays", duty free on raw materials and exports, as well as exemptions on income tax for foreign nationals attract Western retailers, but it is unclear for how long, and what the cost of tax exemptions is for the industry and the nation in the long run. (4) It is unclear whether sweatshop workers' standard of living improves with time at all, and whether sweatshops encourage post-industrial revolution-type wealth for the countries that inhabit them. (5)(5b) Because sweatshop nations don't compete with their products but with labour, and because sweatshops exist for multinational retailers and Western consumers, their raison d'etre does not support local ownership. To claim that sweatshops are worth it in the long run is to ignore the fact that it doesn't look like we, the Westerners, are going to stop wanting cheap goods any time soon. We need other people to work cheaply for us so that we can indulge in consumerism. That's the way it works.

As for sweatshops saving poor souls from prostitution, why would we settle for substituting the worst type of work with bad work? If we want to keep women and children off the streets, why not invest in safer work conditions for them? Why not pay decent wages? Defenders of sweatshops would argue that it is precisely the cheap labour that allows the workers to have jobs in the first place - if you pay the workers more, the consumer will have to pay more for the product, hence making the production process too expensive - or that's how the argument goes. If you dig a little deeper, it is not that companies can't afford to pay garment workers decent salaries. They just choose not to. Jeff Ballinger, a labour studies professor at Webster University argued in 2007 that Nike, for example, could afford to double the wages of its 160,000 sneaker-producing workers around the world without raising the consumer price of sneakers. (6) On top of that, at least some studies suggest that people might be willing to pay more for products if they know that they are manufactured in decent working conditions. (7)(7b)

9-year-old boy sewing clothes for Primark

So who uses sweatshops? Well, pretty much everyone. On the International Labor Rights Forum's 2010 Hall of Shame are companies like LL Bean, Abercrombie & Fitch, Gymboree, and Kohl's. (8) A 2007 article in the Guardian mentions H&M, Gap, Primark, and Marks & Spencer in relation to sweatshop practices. (9) lists brands like Old Navy, Banana Republic, Victoria's Secret, Nike, Express, The Limited, Calvin Klein and Wal-mart as abusers of sweatshop labour. (10)'s sweatshop score card gives retailers like Target a D+, and Sears and JC Penney a D- for their use of sweatshop suppliers. (Wal-mart gets an F.) (11)

Children sew clothes for Primark

If you think that sweatshops only exist in developing countries, think again. According to the Department of Labor, over 50% of U.S. garment factories are sweatshops.They are located everywhere: California, New York, Dallas, Miami, Atlanta. (12) (12b) This month the Spanish police raided 80 illegal sweatshops in the Catalonia region: CNN reported that Chinese workers sewed popular department store brands in horrible conditions. The brands had outsourced their production to a company who, in turn, outsourced its own production to a gang of criminals. (13)

If you think you are safe from sweatshops buying luxury brands, you are wrong. In 2007 the Daily Mirror exposed Chinese sweatshops in Tuscany, Italy: the labels involved included Dolce & Gabbana, Prada and Gucci. (14) Los Angeles Times reporter Tracy Wilkinson wrote a similar story in 2008. Luxury handbags made by illegal Chinese workers in sweatshops in Italy were sold side by side with the legal Italian-made. The consumer has no way of telling if her handbag cost 20 or 250 euros to make. (15)

Many retailers have anti-sweatshop policies in place, and they sound great. H&M's Code of Conduct (16), for example, includes several clauses that should make any consumer happy: no child labour is accepted, workers must have the right to unionize, working conditions must be safe, no work week should be longer than 48 hours, and minimum wages must be met. But accidents happen. Last year, a fire in an H&M-supplying clothing factory in Bangladesh killed 21 garment workers and injured 50. H&M audits at the factory had found no serious evidence of safety violations, and yet, 21 people lost their lives. (17) Was it an accident? Without a doubt. But it was the second fire at the same factory within less than a year's time - garment factories in Bangladesh are notorious for their lack of appropriate fire safety. Last year in an unrelated incident dozens died and at least a hundred were injured when a fire blazed through a Dhaka garment factory which supplied Target and Abercrombie & Fitch, among others. (18) (18b) No matter how much retailers are doing to meet the demand for more ethical working conditions in their factories, they still need to do more.

Huge companies like H&M have the means to audit and sustain some kind of a presence in the factories they use - surely that is better than nothing. But there are also many large retailers who just don't seem to care. Last year, some reports claimed that Wal-mart actually tried to prevent the hike of Bangladeshi garment workers' minimum wage. (19) In the past, Target, JC Penney, Wal-mart, Kohl's and Sears have bought merchandise from a factory whose owner was eventually convicted of human trafficking, and where a US Department of Labor investigation reported that workers had been beaten, deprived of food, and forced to work without pay. (The factory in question was eventually closed down.) (20) Since sweatshops give any retailer a bad name, policies have been put into place, and the companies' websites are now full of information about charity work, audits and support for better working conditions. The price tags on garments are still showing incredibly cheap prices though, so one has to ask: is the change real, or is it all talk?

Garment workers in a U.S. sweatshop

More than three million people work in the garment industry in Bangladesh. Shagorika, an 18-year old garment worker in Dhaka, Bangladesh, works 12 hours a day, six days a week. She produces 50-60 garments every hour. She is paid 2,500 daka ($34) a month, even when the minimum wage for a garment worker is 3,000 daka ($40). Even though her salary is higher than the average wage for a Bangladeshi worker (1,800 daka), she is not happy. Work is tough. She wishes "to get a good job, where I can sit and comfortably work. Then I would smile." (21) I'd be very interested to know which brand's clothing she sews.

What is the role of the individual consumer in all of this? If you stop buying clothes made in Bangladesh, Cambodia or Vietnam, will you contribute to people losing their jobs? Will the women and children end up working as prostitutes? I am not going to sit here and say that it isn't possible. We live in an ivory tower here in the Western world, and what we don't see, we don't care so much about. It is easy to hide behind the notion that at least we are giving these poor people a place to work and that we deserve a pat on the back for that. The reality is, though, that the garment industry is not charity. It is a business. Let's be honest here: we don't buy sweatshop-made clothes because we want to employ women and children in developing countries. We buy them because they give us cheap thrills and fill our wardrobes. I've been there just like everyone has. But if you keep buying clothes made in sweatshops, you establish demand for cheap clothes, cheap labour, and sweatshops. The money you spend on the clothes will benefit the retailer and the manufacturer. The person who sewed your garment gets pennies. As long as we feel comfortable buying sweatshop-made products, sweatshops will be there. They might move from country to country (wherever people are the most desperate for work), but they'll be around.

Vote with your money. Don't buy from brands associated with sweatshop practices, and don't let it end there. Tell them why you don't buy from them. Put pressure on retailers. Ask questions, and start at the grass root level if writing to higher-up places feels scary: talk to the shop assistants at the mall, write e-mails to store managers to increase awareness. Talk to your friends and family. Support brands whose code of conduct or social responsibility clauses you find reliable. Tell them that you'd like to see more transparency, and tell them that you'd be willing to pay more for clothes that are produced ethically. Don't take any random babble about good deeds at face value. Don't accept "we can't change the world overnight", "we are trying", or "there are things beyond our influence" for answers. Investigate and do research on every brand, every retailer. There is a lot of information out there. When in doubt, don't buy it.

Images: The Daily Mail,, UN,

Monday, 18 July 2011

Sustainable Style: Introduction

Sweatshop in late 19th century/ early 20th century New York City

Did you know that it takes approximately 1/3 of a pound of pesticides to grow enough cotton for one t-shirt? Or that an average American throws away about 68 pounds of textiles every year? Did you know that garment workers for many American companies in China earn somewhere around 40 cents per hour? Did you know that 2/3 of the carbon footprint of any manufactured piece of clothing can be traced to the process it goes through after it leaves the factory?

I've sort of known about a lot of this stuff. I've read similar figures in all kinds of sources over the years. Every once in a while I've supposedly made decisions to never, ever buy anything from fast and cheap fashion manufacturers. I've made pledges to never buy anything new again. And then I might have seen a great pair of jeans online, or a dress in a store window, and all of the information, all of my promises have gone out of the window.

I've spent a lot of my money on questionably-manufactured clothes. I've turned a blind eye on human rights violations, 68-hour work weeks, and environmentally detrimental manufacturing processes too many times. No more excuses; it's time I give a real chance to sustainable style. This week I'm starting up a series of posts on sustainable style. I hope that as many of you as possible will join me in discussing issues like sweatshops, fast fashion, style and its environmental consequences, and the price of clothes.

Image borrowed from here

Friday, 15 July 2011

Airy, light & easy

The weather has been beautiful for the past couple of days - not too hot, a little breezy. Yesterday I felt like I wanted to wear something airy, whimsical and easy. (Oh, the things you can achieve with a semi-romantic/goth 1990s skirt and an ill-fitting wrap top!)

I wore this for dinner with my friend Sharon. We talked about mind-over-body questions, language and perfectionism - two hours just flew by. Later Chris and I went to a bookstore and I got my hands on the store kitty (yes, the bookstore has a kitty - what else could you possible hope for, right?) as well as a new book on the history of popes.

The jewelry is by Michael Michaud, the shoes are by Steve Madden, and everything else is second hand.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

On style rut and the need to update

Carolyn's recent post got me thinking about the concept of style rut. Carolyn asked her readers whether replacing one's old indispensables with the "same old, same old" is smart - or if we might be better off trying to break out of our comfort zone. Certainly there might be some value in encouraging our personal styles to evolve. I've thought of this a lot recently: I am becoming comfortable with my wardrobe to the extent where I am not sure if it's healthy, but I still feel like I shouldn't settle. Let me explain.

You know how certain people kind of look like they've escaped from a particular decade? How some 50-year-olds, for example, still wear their shoulder-padded blazers from the 1980s? How your mother, perhaps, might still wear the styles she wore 20 years ago, thinking that they were the epitome of cool? I am wondering whether I might be the type of person who is vulnerable to that phenomenon. When I love a piece of clothing, I don't care if it's old-fashioned. If I like a particular cut, I don't mind at all if it looks a little dated, as long as I like it. Rationally speaking, this is a good thing. Personal style is supposed to be personal and comfortable for the person who wears it. But I also don't want to become a walking example of time machine non-cool. (Or do I? Actually, a part of me probably does.)

I used to have a pretty good hunch as to what trends would surface next, and what looks appear "timeless" in a given time frame (and no, there is no such thing as timeless "timeless"). This might have been at least in part because I worked in fashion retail - it was my job to know what would sell a year in advance. These days I look at catwalk shots and "cool" street style pictures and often just shake my head. I still buy into certain trends - maxi dresses this summer - but the hunch is mostly gone. I have no idea what skirt length looks timeless right now. I don't even know if skinny jeans are still considered trendy. I feel like I have fallen off the wagon. And yes, for the most part, this is a good thing. It helps me feel more comfortable about my own personal style choices. But for how long will it take before I start resembling those who got stuck in a rut at some point in their lives? Once I get there, will I even see it? Does it matter?

A part of me still feels the urge to appear modern in my clothing choices. As much as I talk about the need to wear clothes I love, as much as I criticize throw-away fashion, I still occasionally feel like I should be doing something to update my style. Since I don't want to buy new fast-fashion stuff, I could always just add a pair of trendy shoes or a handbag to update my look. But I look at the current shoe fashions and I just can't see myself wearing any of it. I don't see the point of buying a new handbag when I like the ones I have now. I am torn between wanting to appear almost anti-fashion, and feeling the need to still look somewhat current. I have no idea why I feel like that. Shouldn't I be able to turn by back on the commercial nature of fashion and its conspiracies that make us think we need more clothes when we actually need fewer? Why is it so hard? ("That's what she said." I am so sorry. I've been watching repeats of The Office.)

I wonder if personal style is supposed to evolve, and if yes, to what extent? What do you think? What is the crux behind our need to appear "modern"? Why do we feel the need to update our wardrobes, even if we are happy with the clothes we have?

I am wearing all second hand, except for the H&M tank top.

P.S. I wrote a guest post for the lovely Madeline Quaint, a fairly new blogger from Budapest, Hungary. She's awesome!

Monday, 11 July 2011

Cooling colours

It is so hot and muggy today it is not even funny. I am not wearing any jewelry because everything feels sticky and icky! I got this cotton dress for 3 euros at a flea market in Finland. I love the print, and the colours have strange powers. I couldn't even imagine wearing red on a day like this - the fresh pastels mixed with the breezy blue and gray almost have a cooling effect.

Speaking of blue, I almost had a heart attack today when I noticed that our backyard gate was open and I couldn't find our kitty, Blue. I was convinced that she had taken off and that I would never see her again. For about 15 minutes I was in full-blown panic mode. Chris eventually found the kitty happily lazing under a deck chair - she had never even left our yard. I was so relieved I actually started to cry while compulsively holding Blue in my arms like a total freakazoid. The poor kitty was a little perplexed.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

On Vogue Curvy

The obvious fact is that very, very few women who are not size 0 or 2 have their picture taken for high-end fashion magazines. This is a serious problem. If you are an average-size American woman (or a woman of any nationality), it might be very tough for you to find anyone in fashion magazines who might look at least a little bit like you. This is not just a size issue, but it is also a question of race, level of income, and age. The general state of affairs is that fashion is very exclusive, and it sometimes seems to be the sole right of white, rich, young, thin women, or at least that's what it looks like when you read fashion magazines.

There have been some vague attempts to narrow the gap: Vogue Italia's Black issue was mostly a success some years ago, and generally speaking people tend to applaud casting directors when they choose women of different ages, ethnicities and body types to strut the catwalk. It is, then, welcome news that people within the fashion industry at least occasionally raise questions about whom fashion serves and whom it leaves out. This time, Vogue Italia has dedicated their new issue to curves. (And yes, it is called Vogue Curvy.) My first thought was that it is about time we hear what curvy women have to say about fashion. But looking at the editorial photos taken by Steven Meisel, they don't really say anything. They prance around half-naked and have a nice meal in a fancy restaurant without their clothes on.The second obvious fact is that women in our society are having to deal with the over-sexualized, over-eroticized, over-objectified characterization of women on a daily basis. Most women on TV, in movies and magazines are passive and pretty, not too opinionated, they wear revealing clothes and talk about their need to find Prince Charming. (A career woman has to talk like a man and wear trouser suits in order to be taken seriously.) Women in high fashion magazines are shown in weird fantasy settings and in odd, sometimes sexually provocative positions, but unlike in more commercial settings like the Victoria's Secret catalogue, they usually get to keep their clothes on. Unless, that is, you happen to be a model with curves. Then she gets to undress for us.

I have a serious problem with the fact that that Vogue Italia decided to portray these curvy women posing legs wide open, straddling a chair, and their butts up in the air. If Steven Meisel's idea was to shoot the sad reality of these beautiful women not being able to fit into sample sizes, he succeeded. But somehow I have a feeling that he took the easy way out and decided to depict women with curves in the way that men everywhere are used to seeing them: they are sex objects first, women second, and I don't even know what third. I am so disturbed by the overly sexed up portrayal of curves here that there isn't a bone in my bony body that feels happy that a high-fashion magazine in showing us something else than the usual size 0 16-year old. Am I overreacting? I don't know. I am just so fed up with seeing women portrayed in completely irrational, male-sexual-fantasy-driven settings, especially now, since the issue of the exclusive nature of fashion vis-a-vis women is real. Women of different shapes and sizes need to be heard, not put in demeaning positions as if they were posing for freakin' Playboy. And here I'll just throw my hands up in the air and say "COME ON! It's a fashion magazine, for ****'s sake! Where are the clothes?!"

What do you think? Is any imagery of curvy women a step in the right direction? Why do curvy women need their own magazine issue rather than for them to be included in the general framework of fashion? When are we going to stop portraying women as sex objects?

Pictures from Vogue Curvy

Friday, 8 July 2011

Fun for the weekend

The Am-I-Wearing-Pants chart

A cat in a box

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

The stolen sandals

For the past ten years or so I have been asking my mother if I could have her old leather sandals. She got them in Libya where we lived in the early 1980s, and I remember her wearing them as clearly as I can visualize any meaningful, vivid childhood moment (running in the summer rain with my sister, my father teaching me to ski downhill). She hadn't worn the sandals in about 20 years and she had stored them away in a little closet with all kinds of junk. During my occasional mother's-closet-raids I'd come across them and ask my mom if she was ready to pass them on to me. Every time she said no. At times it almost seemed as if she had forgotten that she even had them, and I think she knew that she was done wearing them. But every time she'd decide that she'd hold onto them for a little while longer.

I have a lot of my mother's old clothes. We share the same shoe size, and her clothes from the 1970s and the early 80s fit me pretty well, even if I have been taller than her since my late teens. Pretty much whatever I have wanted from her old closet in the past, I could have. Except the Libyan sandals. I can only recall one other similar occasion; one where she made me wait. I waited for a pair of late 1970s bright orange strappy heels for about ten years before she was ready to part with them. But how much longer would I have to wait for the sandals? 20 years?

When I was in Finland a month ago, I was going through my stuff in my mother's town apartment (I have dozens of cardbord boxes stored away in Finland - stuff that I haven't wanted to ship over to the US in case Chris and I relocate within the next year or two), and once again, there were the sandals. My mother spends about a dozen nights a year in the town apartment, so would she even notice if I took them? The sandals had gotten dry and brittle, the soles were coming off. The least I could do was to take them to the cobbler. So I did the unthinkable.

The cobbler did a great job reattaching the soles. As I went to pick them up, I walked there barefoot so that I wouldn't have to carry an extra pair of shoes with me. I fastened the buckles and got on my feet. All day, as I was walking the streets of warm, summery Helsinki, I kept thinking what my mother would say if she knew. Would she be angry, or would she think that it was morbidly funny that her daughter would steal from her own mother in sandal-related desperation? Would she accept the fact that the sandals might be happier now too, being fixed, worn and all?

I've seen the look on my mother's face when she sees myself or my sister wear something she used to wear and love - it is the look of somber happiness, recognition of life moving on. But I know that the sandals are special, and I think I know why: she was the happiest I ever remember seeing her back in Libya. Mom, in case you are reading this, you can have your sandals back if you want. I'm sorry I didn't ask for your permission when I took them.

I am wearing a second hand dress from Salvation Army and my mother's Libyan sandals.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Summer of maxi

I have come to the conclusion that there is nothing easier to wear in the summertime than maxi-dresses (even if most ankle-lengths aren't actually all that maxi on me). They are comfortable, breezy and sort of stylish, too. They look good with really simple accessories, so getting dressed in the morning takes no time whatsoever. Just add a pair of flats, a belt and some jewelry, and you are good to go.

I wore this paisley print dress on Sunday, and the hot pink one on Saturday. I don't know why I felt the need to layer a little with the pink dress - now in hindsight I wish I had just belted it. Oh well, there is always next time!

I got many compliments for my sea urchin necklace. I bought it at a craft fair in Ithaca last year.