Thursday, 27 January 2011

Observations

1) I don't know why I ever wore low-cut jeans. High-waisted ones are so much more comfortable. I bought these jeans in Finland last year; they are by Weekday, a Swedish fast-fashion label.

2) My hair is getting long. I swept my bangs on the side today, and almost didn't recognise the person looking back at me. Bangs suit my face, but they also hide a lot. It felt refreshing to see my face in its entirety.




3) As for doing things just for fun (re: yesterday's post), I spent half an hour today dancing in the kitchen to old jazz while holding a cat in my arms. I had fun, but I have a bad feeling poor Willow is traumatized for life.



Jumper: second hand, Salvation Army
Jeans: Weekday
Ankle boots: Max&Co.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

On fun

The other night Chris and I stumbled upon a documentary about origami, a film called Between the Folds, directed by Vanessa Gould. I have always found origami fascinating, but I had no idea how seriously true origamists take it: folding paper can be an art form, a way to help build space research equipment, or to learn more about the way we understand mathematics and geometry. Among other hugely talented and fascinating people who work with origami, the documentary features Erik Demaine, an associate professor at MIT. As several of the people interviewed talked about the potential of origami, the fantastic world of possibilities that it could offer, it was Demaine's final remarks in the documentary that made me pause. Yes, origami had a lot to do with Demaine's work on folding algorithms and puzzles, but he also folds paper in his free time because it is fun.


It sort of hit me that I have found myself rather serious lately. I do a lot of things that I enjoy: I read, I watch movies, I knit, I listen to good music. For the most part, though, my key word is interesting rather than fun. I am drawn to problems and things that I long to understand better. I spent a long time in the Strand bookstore in New York looking for books on the history of psychiatry rather than, say, kitties.


I got to thinking about the types of things I do just for fun, and I couldn't think of much. In the spirit of the origami documentary, I recognised the sincere love I have for jigsaw puzzles, but living with six cats makes active puzzle-making a little tricky. I used to roam second-hand stores and flea markets just because I enjoyed it, but TGAAD is making me feel awfully self-conscious and serious about the whole world of fashion and clothes, too. I love gardening, and for the most part that is for fun, too, but I get horribly beat down if my plants die - last year I actually cried over tomato blight. It seems that I take life way too seriously.

I wonder whether I have always been like this. I was an over-achiever at school, I worried an awful lot about people's perceptions of me even when I was a child. I also used to be terribly cynical about the world, and I didn't fully believe in love and beauty even if I desperately wanted to. These days I feel like I am able and more than willing to enjoy small things in life, and I would certainly claim that I am over being a sad pessimist. There are times when I feel I have to keep prodding myself, though. I easily let my interest in the odd, the problematic, the analytical and the scary take over my spirit of fun. Who knows, maybe I have been reading too much on old mental institutions. And the stupid GAAD is making me not love what I used to love about clothes, and that surely can't be the point of the whole experiment. On second thought, maybe I am taking TGAAD too seriously, too...

Monday, 24 January 2011

The Princess, the Cowgirl, and 17%


When I was a little girl, my favourite movies where the Sisi-films; the ones about Elizabeth of Bavaria, the Austro-Hungarian empress. Sisi was as independent and kind as a female monarch could be, she loved animals and wore beautiful gowns. I'd wear my mother's maxi-skirts tucked under my armpits and danced about in our living room to Strauss. I was probably 8 years old or so, and that was the extent of my "princess phase". As far as I can remember, I never insisted on wearing pink and a tiara. My Barbie dolls had their pretty gowns, but they also had daytime jobs. They were hardly princesses.

Reading a review about "Cinderella Ate My Daugher", a new book by Peggy Orenstein, I learned that until the age of 7 or so, children rely on only external signs to determine their sex. In essence, they think that if they look like a girl, then that makes them a girl also. This stage in developmental psychology explains the rigidity of some 4-year-olds who only agree to wear pink. To target this market of girls wanting to bid high on their "existential insurance policy" (Annie Murphy Paul's term), Disney established their Princess line in 2000, with more than 26,000 items, whose sales in 2009 reached $4 billion. When the princess phase is over, girls these days turn to Bratz and Moxie Girls or other sultry portrayals of women: Orenstein says that these dolls' "hottie-pink 'passion for fashion' conveyed 'attitude' and 'sassiness', which, anyone will tell you, is a little-girl marketing-speak for 'sexy.'"

Fast forward to our grown-up lives, and all of a sudden that sassiness is just as uncool as the princess-play-pretend. The Barbie and the Bratz fly out of the window when we realize that in order to pass for a to-be-taken-seriously type of woman, we can no longer wear head-to-toe pink, or show off our sassy, sexy passion for fashion at the workplace without being ridiculed. (Just look at the characters of Sex and the City, how awfully weak they became after they turned from ordinary, working women looking for love into superficial, compulsively shopping ditsies looking for Mr Right.) And yet, there is that uncomfortable "woman at work"- stereotype, who wears oddly ill-fitting trouser-suits and a short haircut in order to fit in: she is serious, cold, and somehow something must be wrong with her: surely she no longer aspires to be swept off her feet. (Well, what man would want to? She wears trouser-suits. Maybe she isn't a woman after all.) In Finland, the female politician is often either tabloid-material like Member of Parliament Tanja Karpela, whose past as the former Miss Finland certainly hasn't helped her cause, or asexualized entirely if her wardrobe is plain and she wears no make-up: president Tarja Halonen, whose reseblence to Conan O'Brien is no secret, is the perfect example. And yet the former Miss Finland did actually get elected into the Parliament and later became the Minister of Culture, and the former chairman of an organization for sexual equality and LGBT rights became president Halonen. I have a feeling that this could not have happened in the United States.

I was shocked to find out recently that only 17% of the members of the US House of Representatives are women. The United States lags behind China (21%), Iraq (25%) and East Timor (29%). In Finland, 40% of parliamentary seats are occupied by women. A similar figure rings true in countries like Sweden, the Netherlands, Cuba and Rwanda. In order to fit into the American political landscape, women here have long adopted Annie Oakley / Calamity Jane - speak: Nancy Pelosi famously declared that "There's a new Congress in town", while Hillary Clinton announced that "we can't be patsies". Gabrielle Giffords is described by a colleague as "tough as nails", and then, of course, you have the Mama Grizzly shooting caribous in Alaska. It seems that in this country, "frontier womanhood" is the model for a powerful female.


This is also the message put forward in the February issue of Vogue, which celebrates American style. I wonder if it is just me, but Vogue's pioneer-rant and the declaration that "This is the land of the free: We never stop moving - ever-forward, WESTWARD HO!" is not only ridiculous but totally inappropriate. (All countries have uncomfortable histories, but the pioneer phase and the fate of Native Americans is particularly troubling in this context.) American style might celebrate "practicality and comfort", but it is far from what Vogue calls "stripped of silliness", if the way to portray it is to go back to the wild, wild west. That says an awful lot about the way the portrait of the American Woman, in fact, is not powerful, at least to a foreigner like myself.

I have never really thought about what it is like to be a woman in this country - I haven't lived here long enough, and I haven't grown into the culture. Somehow I have always linked bra-burning feminism to the United States, but it seems like the reality is something entirely different: that powerful women in this country operate in separate spheres, like those of literature, art and entertainment. It is not to say that there isn't true power in that, but I am deeply disturbed by that measly 17%, I am shocked by the $4 billion spent on princess gear, and awfully uncomfortable with the frontier woman. What say you, my dear American readers? What lies between the 17%, the princess and the cowgirl?



Vogue photos: here

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Three old favourites


I don't know about you, but I am starting to wish it was spring already. The sun was out this morning, and I immediately felt like wearing something colourful. I bought this skirt at a fleamarket in Finland as a part of my "the-hell-with-TGAAD"-phase. I felt guilty about buying this particular skirt because a week later I thought that I probably wouldn't wear it, and it would become one of those quick-fix purchases that end up at the back of my wardrobe. Things just fell into place today, and right now I feel like the skirt was a great buy. Go figure!


There is a lot I have to learn about my patterns of wearing clothes. I still don't know why I end up buying certain things and then not wear them, or how other purchases become favourites for years to come. I bought this print sweater at an H&M sale maybe 3 or 4 years ago, without even trying it on, and it has become one of my all-time favourite sweaters. Around the same time I browsed through a Benetton sample sale and bought three long, gray cardigans, and this one I am wearing today is one of those. I have worn all three cardigans to the point where I am starting to worry about what to do when they fall apart. And then the ankle boots - they fall under the same category of instant successes.


I wonder whether I favour pieces of clothing that are just fun and easy to wear. I guess it could be that simple.

Print sweater: H&M
Cardigan: Benetton sample sale
Skirt: second hand, Valtteri fleamarket
Tights: Target
Boots: Max&Co.
Hat: second hand, Plato's Closet

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

These boots are made for walking


I went, saw and conquered the John Fluevog store in New York. I can't even begin to describe how wonderful Fluevog shoes are. (Okay, I can. They are awesome.) Just as I was complaining last week how I don't seem to be inspired by shoes at the moment, I fell head over heels in love with Fluevogs. Some of the women's styles don't really appeal to me at all, but the unisex boots are to die for. The quality seems very good, and then there is the comfort factor: with these boots, comfort doesn't come with the cost of throwing interesting design out of the window.


I got two pairs. I'll be wearing them with jeans, skirts, dresses, and well, anything else I might own. I love the industrial feel of both of these boots; I think they will make pretty much anything look interesting and edgy. I only wish the weather got a little better. There is no way I am taking my babies out in the drizzly, slushy conditions we have going on right now. I am considering wearing them at home though. That is how much I love them.


Buying the Fluevogs made me realise that I am willing to pay a little (actually, a lot) extra if I find something I really love. And more importantly, the feeling of buying something that you really love is different from buying things because you want to treat yourself to something new. Since I am back in Binghamton and there are no more excuses to shop under The Great American Apparel Diet, I now declare that I am back on the GAAD. Seriously. And the next time I buy something, I want to love it as much as I love my Fluevogs. Nothing else will do.

P.S. Go see Sylvain Chomet's The Illusionist. It is wonderful.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Oh, just one of those days...


Sheesh, it feels cold today! Yesterday and today I took a long look at the contents of my wardrobe and felt like there really wasn't an awful lot for me to wear. And the funny (or sad) thing is that there is an awful lot of stuff in the wardrobe, but there isn't much that inspires me at the moment. I haven't decided yet whether to blame the weather, or my Great American Apparel Diet - related antsiness. (Okay, I admit, it is the latter.)

Like I mentioned a little while ago, Chris and I will be taking a little trip to NYC this coming weekend, to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. I gave myself permission to buy new clothes there, but something weird went down on Monday and I came home with a new handbag and a new cashmere sweater. I don't know how it all happened. (Lynn, any ideas..?)


I hate that feeling of not having anything to wear, and I hate it even more because the feeling is not based on anything real. I have too many clothes, not too few. I have stuffed my wardrobe with clothes that are not wearable, and that is the problem. I have a leather circle skirt which I haven't worn once - it is just unpractical and too weird. I have two (!) bright blue 1980s pencil skirts, which, in the true spirit of the 80s, are actually really unflattering. I don't wear them. I have nice dresses that are a little too dressy for everyday-wear but since special occasions are rare, the dresses are taking up room in my wardrobe. I also have dresses that don't fit quite right, and yet I hold onto them because I might like the colour or the pattern or whatever it might be, and maybe one day I'll make something else out of them. And don't even get me started on the "perhaps I'll wear this one day" - clothes! The list goes on, and it mostly includes second hand purchases that were cheap and I thought I'd make them work somehow. I am frustrated with the clothes, and most of all, with myself. The optimist in me says that I have already learned a lot, and that I will not make the same mistakes again, and yet the pessimist in me is the one that speaks louder right now, and claims that I am stupid and just a bad consumer. Okay, end of rant. I think I just needed to let out some steam.



Sweater: Tuuli's old
Sheer skirt: Rosie's old
Tights: H&M
Neckwarmer: Lindex
Boots: Vialis
Heart pendant: Lynn's old

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

A Small Guide to Vintage Costume Jewelry

I have been collecting vintage costume jewelry for a while now, and there are a couple of things I have learned (mostly from my jewelry-expert-friend Lynn), about how to successfully buy vintage costume jewelry. Many of us buy vintage jewelry because it is beautiful and a little different. It also tends to be cheap, depending on where you find it: antique and vintage stores will naturally charge more than thrift stores or garage sales, but a reputable seller will also often know what they are selling. A great place to buy vintage jewelry is online (EBay, Ruby Lane, Etsy) but I like to inspect a piece of jewelry in person before buying it.

I tend to only buy what I like and would actually wear myself, but some costume jewelry buyers buy for collecting and/or investment purposes. That world is rich and fascinating, but also confusing at times. There are often issues to do with materials, their condition, makers and overall value that can get hairy if you don't know what you are buying.

While hunting for vintage jewelry, you'll soon find that there is an awful lot of jewelry out there, and that it might be difficult to know what is worth while. There are faux-vintage pieces out there (pieces that are just made to look old) and all sorts of cheap crap. Something I learned early on was to look for markings, any markings - names, letters, stamps. Names such as Trifari, Lisner, Coro or Kramer come up quite often, and there are tons more out there. Some names are more collectible than others: Lisner and Kramer, for example, would be more exclusive than, say, Avon or Coro.

Kramer brooch


Monet clip earrings, Sarah Coventry flower earrings, Trifari brooch


Necklaces from Lisner and Trifari


Look for actual names of designers like Hattie Carnegie, Sarah Coventry, Stanley Hagler and Miriam Haskell. Here too, some designers will be high-end (Stanley Hagler), others more common (Sarah Coventry).The rule of thumb is that if an item is marked, there is a chance it is a collectible, and if you are lucky, the price tag is but a fraction of the item's value. Markings not only give you an idea whether a piece might be valuable, but they also give you good indication as to where and when the item was manufactured. There are several websites to help you with markings. I have found this one particularly useful:

http://www.illusionjewels.com/costumejewelrymarks.html

There are great treasures out there that are not marked, and recognizing the work of a particular designer without markings is tricky, but certainly doable. At the end of the day, though, I don't pay a huge amount of attention to whether a piece I like is marked or not. In most cases, even if an item is marked by a famous jewelry house or designer, condition (not the name) will determine whether the piece will be valuable. Also, consider not breaking up sets. A necklace with matching earrings will retain its value better as a set than as individual pieces.


Unmarked 1950s or early 60s Aurora borealis crystal
brooch and clip earrings

Say you find a piece of jewelry that looks like it is vintage, but it doesn't have any markings on it, or the markings it has don't ring a bell. How do you know if it's the real thing? My first and only recommendation: take your time before buying, and keep your eyes open - wide open. Good workmanship is visible to the naked eye: look for sophisticated and elaborate designs, interesting shapes, sizes and themes, high-quality materials and intense sparkle. Good-quality vintage pieces often have beautiful clasps. It's all in the detail.


Here we have a pair of vintage-inspired earrings and a necklace. On the left, note that the "stones" are actually plastic and they are glued on, the metal looks flimsy. On the right, the beads are a mix of plastic and glass, and the style and the combination of colours reveals that the necklace is probably mass-manufactured in the late-1990s.


If you like 1960s pop-styles, there is a difference between old and new plastic: see these two pieces in comparison. The orange two-strand necklace is vintage: you can tell by the pretty clasp, the heavier material and the vibrant feel.


Vintage earrings can often be spotted on the basis of style (elaborate designs, relatively large size) as well as fastening systems (clip-ons or screw-backs)

Even if you determine that you have found a piece of real vintage, keep in mind that in vintage costume jewelry, condition is everything. Unfortunately you'll often encounter vintage jewelry sellers who either claim that wear and tear is "natural" when you are dealing with vintage jewelry, or sellers who don't fully disclose the condition issues a particular piece might have (the latter applies to many online sellers). I recently came across a stunning 1950s crystal brooch, with a price tag of $39.99. That's all fine and dandy, but at closer inspection I discovered that several of the crystals had been replaced and glued on, and the foiling at the back of several crystals had worn off. After I raised the issue of condition with the seller (small vintage store), I got the usual "oh, well it's from the 1950s, that's what you get"-claim. Yes, vintage jewelry often has condition issues, but think twice before spending any money on pieces that are far from perfect!

Condition issues to look out for include:

- missing beads, rhinestones or crystals. Consider whether you are able to find replacements.



This peacock brooch is missing a rhinestone just under the beak

- gold or silver foil at the back of crystals is badly chipped. As far as I know, this cannot be fixed at home. Some sellers will tell you that you should use gold or silver paint to fix the damage, but you never know whether the paint might bleed, and even if it doesn't, a fixed piece is never worth much.



Here the gold foiling is just starting to chip under the crystal on the right. Speaking from experience: store pieces with foiling in cushioned boxes, and don't allow them to mingle freely with other jewelry.

- the prongs that hold beads or crystals are broken. This often leads to beads falling off.

- dull or chipped crystals.

- chipped enamel, paint or other coating.

- stained pearls (corrosion from the metal wire or spacers).

- corroded or rusty metal.

- other missing bits and pieces, broken clasp, visible glue marks.



The metalwork in the earring on the left is not intact

When it comes to old pieces of jewelry, the question of patina is an interesting one. Patina is a coating that forms on the surface of copper-based like bronze, and it protects metals from corroding. In some cases, patina is a design element, added artificially. When you are dealing with serious antiques, an item's value increases when its patination is intact: the patina shows the aging process and reflects in the value of the piece. However - and this is a big however - when you are dealing with vintage costume jewelry, the word patina is used carelessly. There are times when you''ll see sellers speak of patina when it actually means tarnish, plain dirt or corrosion. If you are buying a piece of old jewelry for wearing purposes, you might want to consider whether you feel comfortable wearing a dirty piece of jewelry against your skin. Tarnished Sterling silver pieces, for example, will look like new after you have polished them, so consider whether you are buying something because it is (and looks) old, or whether you actually want to wear it. Compare the idea to buying vintage silverware for dining purposes - you'd clean it, regardless if cleaning gets rid of the evidence of aging. Just to recap, then: be wary when you see the word "patina" as a selling point. It might not be patina at all, but just the seller's way of saying that an item looks old, or that it is dirty.

When it comes to dirty vintage jewelry, there are all sorts of issues - tarnish, dust and grime would be the most common ones - that you might have to tackle. Polishing cloths work wonders on silver.

Sterling silver seahorse pin, polished

You can use warm water and mild handsoap to wash beaded necklaces or crystal pieces. It is better to be safe than sorry, though. If you not sure if an item can take a gentle bath, clean dust and grime with a q-tip instead. The aurora borealis finishing on crystals and the foiling at the back of crystals are particularly sensitive.

If you find a vintage piece with, say, great beads but poor wiring, broken clasp or ugly spacers, you might want to consider re-fashioning it. You'll need a ton of patience, a good deal of vision and the right tools to do it, or like in my case, a talented friend who works in jewelry. Lynn recently reworked a vintage necklace in poor condition into this gorgeous set of necklace, earrings and bracelet by using the original clasp, cleaning the crystals that were in good condition, and adding new spacers and some new crystals to the mix.


Other times, when the price is right, you might not care about imperfections if a broken piece of jewelry speaks to you. I bought this mid-1970s or early 80s Miriam Haskell shell necklace even though the clasp was faulty and the shell pendant chipped - I just fell in love with it. Interesting Miriam Haskell pieces can go on EBay for $150 or way more (her old pearl pieces are extremely collectible and expensive), but the poor condition of this piece was reflected in the price: I paid $13 for it at an antique store. Since I didn't buy it for collection purposes but for wearing, I figured it was a reasonable price to pay for such a unique piece.




And there you have it! There are lots of things I haven't covered, but I confess that there are lots of things I don't know yet; like how to recognise real ivory, bone or jade, and I don't know a thing about fine jewelry. There is one more thing I'd like to share, and that is to have fun with costume jewelry. Don't take it too seriously, only buy what you love, and wear it!

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Shoes, shoes


Well, here's another pair of ankle boots I haven't worn much. I remember falling in love with them at the Rizzo store in Helsinki a few years back, but I thought they were too expensive. I remember going back to the store to try them on, and I remember trying to figure out if I could spend the money on them. After a couple of weeks of total agony, it was pay day and I bought them. And then I didn't wear them. I don't understand myself sometimes.


Speaking of shoes, I realised something rather strange today. I occasionally browse online stores just for the heck of it, look at current trends and dream of shoes I can't afford. The strange thing is that even a year or two ago I'd always find dozens of shoes I loved. You could take me to a shoe store and there would always be something I'd fall for. Not anymore, it seems. I browsed through a handful of online stores (net-a-porter, Asos, Yoox, you name it) and found nothing but ugly shoes. Either I have become really picky, or the current trends don't appeal to me.

Not that I mind, really. After all, I have all these unworn ankle boots that almost feel like they are brand new.

Star-print blouse: Salvation Army
Cashmere jumper: H&M, mom's old
Skirt: Gina Tricot
Tights: Noa Noa
Ankle boots: Rizzo
Vintage seahorse pin: present from Lynn