June 1, 2016

The Secret to Creative Thinking


Typically I aim to keep personal "feeling reflections" on this blog to a minimum. But every once in a while, personal style is interrupted with personal life. The first sign of it is writer's block. Usually there's something inspiring me, but on days like these, my mind is pure static. Then something starts to nag at me -- a mosquito of a feeling vying noisily for my attention -- and I know there's nothing to do but to sit with it, pause all hope of creativity, and let the beast have its way with my brain. It's a tricky business; when writing is the preferred method of arranging your thoughts, the sensation of not being able to write is agitating. But I thought I'd let myself run with it.

To begin with, summer came stampeding through NYC this week, and boy was no one kidding about the heat here. Already 88 degrees and with enough humidity to envelop every square inch of me in a permanent sweat... I've had to break out my summer capsule items nearly a month ahead of schedule, and I've abandoned the notion that my relationship with shorts was over. Apart from the sticky hours spent outside my apartment, last weekend saw me in exactly three positions: partially-submerged in the fridge, foraging for something frosty; spread-eagled before my bedroom fan, reaching for the coolest corner of the bedsheets, and draped over our living room couch with the only adequate match for such prematurely sultry nights: John Hamm in Mad Men.

It's humorous in theory, but in reality I'm facing a seasonal demon. Whether it's a heatwave or a cold front, as soon as my body temperature goes out of whack, I lose all sense of personal motivation. And this particular cycle comes at the end of a list of ever-growing obstacle-excuses: I just moved to a new city, It's the holidays, It's the new year, I'm moving to a new apartment, I'm decorating the new apartment, I have guests in town, I need a haircut... While it's true I've felt a sense of excitement, possibility, and genuine contentment since coming to New York, I've been overlooking some anxieties and uncertainties which accompany those positive feelings. I understand how important it is to forgive ourselves when we're in the midst of a stressful, new life transition -- but how do we tell when it's time to snap out of it, put our helmet back on, and face the fray?

Spending time alone and in pursuit of my own agenda has always brought me great joy -- a fact I used to regard as incontestable proof I was born to be a writer. I could spend hours reading books, writing nonsense, coloring, organizing papers, daydreaming scenes, taking inventory, making lists, placing and rearranging belongings... At the end of the day, it didn't matter whether I'd produced something interesting or not, just that I had enjoyed the process of letting my brain wander. These days (like most people), I'm prone to gauging that joy off more external measurements -- dollar signs, work hours, and heart icons. In theory, we all know such measuring is frivolous. Yet we nevertheless hold ourselves to these standards. Then we blame and we expect and we feel wanting from it. And we sprawl on the couch and lose ourselves in Mad Men over it. And rarely do we ever try to examine it further.

So I sat myself in front of my laptop (in front of my fan...), willing myself to open my mind -- to ask whatever questions I've been afraid to ask, to confront this thing that had purloined my creative motivation -- in hopes that I might not miss the lesson this time. Suddenly, as I stared at the end of my last paragraph, willing a conclusive moral to appear, I realized the answer was staring me in the face: I'd just written the post I thought I was incapable of writing today. My creativity was sparked not by defeating, but by simply engaging with my idleness.
 
It occurred to me that I couldn't exploit this same insight every time I hit a creative block. But by accepting my moment of inactivity, I resurrected a creative amulet: inquiry. I began to ponder how this could be applied to other moments of creative idleness. If we are lazy to paint, might we challenge ourselves to paint "Laziness"? If we are fatigued in our rehearsal, might we let a floppy limb manifest itself in a character's physicality? If we are uninspired to cook, might we simply ponder the ingredients until curiosity tells us what's for dinner?

Next time I'm staring into a whirring fan in search of artistic purpose, I have a better idea what to do. I'll take a breath of that air, let it vaporize a question in my brain, and set about answering exploring the question. And that's all. For the first moment, that will be enough.

This is the great secret, I think.

May 13, 2016

La Sylphide de Radiateur





While I haven't created an actual outfit post in some time now, I snapped these pics on my phone before venturing out into last week's sunshine and figured I might as well share them. I do wish the temperate May weather we're having would last forever, but if summer means more hours spent in this maxi dress, I think I'll survive quite happily.

The bohemian look has always been present in my closet -- peasant shirts in middle school, hippie skirts in high school, and Birkenstocks forever -- but it's only recently that I've pursued the style this shamelessly. Maybe that has something to do with adopting a more eco-friendly lifestyle to match (or at least striving to do so.) Put it this way: I never thought the day would come when I'd pick up a dress from Whole Foods and think, "This might actually be perfect..." But true story, friends. Apparently the more distance you put between yourself and the West Coast, the more "granola" you crave.

This floral maxi is from my spring capsule wardrobe, which I introduced in last week's post & accompanying video. Overall, my selections are faring well weather-wise and keeping me creatively satisfied. The choice to separate my work clothes from my other-activities pieces was wise, as I'm quickly wearing out what was already a mess and considering my day-off options with more anticipation/excitement.

For summer, I'm looking into repairing my Birkenstocks, which are now about a decade old and badly in need of a new footbed. If they can't be mended, I might be making my first brand-new clothing purchase since September. Typing that feels crazy, but turning this secondhand shopping goal into a reality has actually been way easier than I thought it would. Home products are harder. Like when you really need a new casserole dish (and only one new casserole dish) and Macy's makes it more affordable to buy a four-piece set complete with plastic lids than the glass container you really need. Thanks, America. Here's a slow clap for your magnanimity.

Which reminds me: does anyone have recommendations for US-made, fair-trade, and/or eco-friendly bras?

Love to you all.

May 5, 2016

Spring Capsule 2016 - Lookbook Video

After a full day's worth of editing and one gnarly morning spent battling iMovie (helloooooo too many projects on my hard drive!) I am pleased to present my second YouTube video and a project I've been looking forward to tackling for some time now: a lookbook for my latest seasonal capsule wardrobe!



I've seen many lookbooks across the stretches of the internet, but none have captivated my attention quite like those of blogger/vlogger (and my new fashion crush) Mademoiselle. Her lovely style is made only more adorable to me by her chic Aussie accent -- and keep your eye out for flashes of her (matching) kitten and puppy in her videos! So cute! More to the point, she developed a clever way of presenting her capsules, which I was eager to try my hand at. Hopefully, if she ever comes across this post, she'll take the imitation for genuine worshipful flattery, rather than simple copycattery.

Some side notes on this capsule:

In its development, rather than set a definitive number of pieces, I chose two style icons (which I won't identify here, for fear that I've totally missed the mark on embodying their respective "styles," and you'll tease me for it) and selected pieces based on what I thought they'd wear. The majority of these clothes were pulled from what I currently had on hand, however I did bring in a few additions to keep it fresh. Standing by my decision not to buy new this year, these additions were either purchased secondhand or acquired at a recent clothes swap.

In the past, I've maintained one capsule from which I pulled both work and "playtime" outfits. This worked well enough for my Seattle-casual admin job, but with this year's change of climate, occupation, and budget, I've decided to create a separate, smaller* capsule of work-only clothes. This is where most of my denim, cotton dresses, and earth-Mama shoes have gone to die a slow and painful death (at the hands of merciless wrestle-happy children.) However, I've allowed myself a few crossovers, such as my favorite combat boots and striped tee. What you see here covers weekends, personal errands, date nights, formal events, auditions, and admin work performed beyond the reach of jam hands.

Finally, despite my better judgment, I went ahead and put a few items in storage. Partially for obvious reasons -- I have no need for a down coat at this point, and it's too cold for cut-offs yet -- but also because I still own too many things to justify having them all out at once. If some of the idea behind a capsule wardrobe is truly "wear out" your clothes, then I need to focus on a chunk at a time. For full transparency, I probably have about 20 items in storage right now. If they aren't incorporated by next fall, then out of my life they'll go. You'll see several of these pieces in a month or two, once summer hits. Probably in a follow-up video!

As always, thanks for reading (and watching!) If you're enjoying the videos, let me know in the comments and I'll keep 'em coming. This one was a delight to make!


*15 pieces, in case you were curious.

April 26, 2016

A Word on Capsule Wardrobes


If you've so much as peeked at a fashion blog lately, chances are likely you've run across the term capsule wardrobe. The popularity of this minimally-minded, carefully-tended collection continues to snowball, particularly with eco-conscious fashion gaining more momentum.

As detailed in my Style Journey series, I've been on-the-verge obsessed with wardrobe structure and personal style for a little over a decade now, and I've worked my way through almost two years' worth of capsules since my first examination of the subject. Only a few months ago did I really start to grasp what works best for my lifestyle, my budget, and my creative impulse. I preface with these points to affirm my commitment to a movement which, unfortunately, many are using as an excuse to shop more often.

Whether you're an OG capsuler or you've merely toyed with the concept, I wanted to offer some insight beyond the generic how-to guide; to dig deeper into the hows and whys of the capsuling process.

What a Capsule Wardrobe Should Do:


Simplify the daily dressing process --though not so much that it becomes boring!

Ideally, a capsule wardrobe is widely intermixable, with a style and color concept enabling this. This means that, in theory, you could go to your closet and pull two things at random with a good chance of them "going" together.

Showcase your personality in a lifestyle-appropriate way

The right capsule wardrobe will accurately reflect your "you-ness" while still adhering to the constraints of your lifestyle. This means if you love disco dresses but you work five days a week in a conservative library, you're going to have to make a few concessions. Still, your cardigans ought to have some shiny buttons or something.

Keep your budget in balance and your shopping in check

There's a strange conundrum in life: the less we have, the less we seem to crave. More logically, the less we crave, the less money we spend. This presupposes that the things we have include the things we actually need. Most of us don't need to a new outfit for every day of the year. That myth should have ended with Sex and the City.

What a Capsule Wardrobe Should Not Do:

 

Necessitate a mammoth purging of your pre-owned pieces.

Assuming you're capsuling for the purpose of simplifying, and assuming you give two shits about our planet Earth, whittling your current closet down to some fashionista's list of must-have items kind of undermines the greater principle. Better to wear out the jeans you already own than throw them out in favor of an on-trend style. Kind of like making an effort to actually eat the groceries you purchased before ordering take-out.

 

Confine you to a minimalist aesthetic.

Minimalism -- stylistically speaking, rather than lifestyle-wise -- is definitely having a moment right now. You don't need to go far in this city to find a pair of artistically-ripped black jeans, flanked by a white button-down and Adidas. Since most bloggers are interested in what is trendy (and also what photographs well) it makes sense that their own capsules reflect this aesthetic. That doesn't mean yours needs to as well. In fact, for purely selfish/snobbish reasons, I implore you to dig deeper than black and white and striped -- there are more animals in the kingdom than zebras, after all!

 

Foster mindless consumerism. 

Part of the logic behind establishing a set list or number of items is to avoid unnecessary, impulsive shopping trips. Few of us can make wise decisions on the fly, and if impulse shopping is your joi de vivre, chances are there's a darker impulse driving it. Capsuling should help you face these issues head on, rather than enabling them. Don't bend the rules for bad habits' sake!


Common Problems & FAQs

 

I already have a ton of clothes... how do I weed out the bad seeds?

The first time I created a capsule, I stored a bunch of stuff for "seasonal" consideration. The second time, I expanded the number of items in my collection so I could include everything. I justified these amendments as being necessary for my individual lifestyle. Truthfully, I just didn't want to get rid of anything. Whether it was sentiment, guilt, or fear of boredom, I was a prisoner in my own closet.

Here's how you Shawshank your way out:
  1.  Choose someone you want to look like. (Pro tip: This is called a style icon.)
  2.  Research their outfits, until you have a good handle on their essential style. (This is called a style concept.)
  3.  Go through your closet, piece by piece, asking yourself if your chosen icon would wear this item or not. Give yourself some flexibility here; if your style icon is Prince and you're short one glitter-encrusted purple coat, trust that a well-tailored piece in black velvet would still fit the bill.
  4.  Donate or sell what doesn't fit your style concept. Construct your wardrobe off the rest.

I don't have a "style concept," and I don't know where to get one.

Many people mistake having style for being trendy or wearing what's currently "in." While that can factor into it, being stylish is more about a confidence with who you are and how you choose to outwardly express that. If you believe yourself to be frumpy, dated, or above-it-all (and if you aren't interested in changing that), then by all means continue wearing what reflects those adjectives. If you'd like to communicate otherwise, however, but you're not sure where to begin, here are some gentle approaches:

  • Was there a point in life when you felt most confident with your style? If so, try to pinpoint exactly what it was about the clothes from that period that you liked.
  •  Buy some fashion magazines or blogs. Bookmark the pages that speak to you, without questioning their practicality in your own life.
  •  Sit at a cafe and people-watch. When you see a look you like, make note of it. 

and finally a not-so-gentle approach, for the polar plungers among us:

  •  Go to a thrift store. Set a small budget for yourself. Buy the first three items that speak to you, with no judgment or concern about how they'll jive with your closet. Take these pieces home and hang them where you can see them. Study them. Better yet, wear them out in the world. If the items match your personality, chances are you'll receive comments from others that give you hints as to why they're "just your style."

 

My work wardrobe is very different from what I wear otherwise.

Make two capsules! I'm surprised this hasn't been more widely discussed or exemplified in the blogging world... I suppose it's because most bloggers have the benefit of working out of their home, though. For the first time this season, I'm separating my work wardrobe from my "play" clothes. It's a relief to know everything in the former section is boss-appropriate -- and also that my favorite silk dress will never be tempted into the reach of jam hands. (I nanny.)

 

I have more than (10, 20, 37...) items.

While setting limits for yourself can be very helpful, proscribing to someone else's standard likely won't get you anywhere. A better approach is starting with the maximum items you think you'll need (maybe two laundry period's worth) and reducing from there.

 

What if I get bored with the clothes I choose?

This is something I was particularly worried about as I started my first capsule, but which decreased as my personal style solidified. At first, having fewer clothes to choose from seemed limiting, but eventually I started to value quality over quantity. I didn't mind wearing my absolute favorite dress to every date night, simply because it was my absolute favorite! If the purpose of a date is to look smashing, having three almost-right dresses won't do you much good. Eventually, the dress will wear and you can find something new. Enjoy it fully now, though. :)

A final note, regarding author bias:
I'm Type A to a t, and I enjoy creating lists, charts, and spreadsheets -- taking wardrobe inventory, creating outfits, and all that. If allowed, I could probably spend days doing exclusively this. As such, I feel like some of this advice might be biased toward people of a similar disposition.
That aside, I'm confident that by playing within your own guidelines -- yet keeping the simple aim of the capsule process close to heart -- you can find an approach that works for you.

Happy Capsuling!

April 24, 2016

Spring Playlist 2016

Admittedly, I'm a little late getting this playlist up. Spring has long since sprung -- did you pass a lovely Earth Day? -- and here in New York it already feels like we have one foot in summer. Nevertheless, I went on a Spotify binge this month to catch up, and I found some new gems waiting for me!


My love of alternative / indie rock / pop (those clangy guitars!!) continues in wild abandon, as does my ability to become totally obsessed with singles rather than appreciating albums in their entirety. In line at Whole Foods, I was able to make out the "No one, no one knows me like you do" of Wolf Alice's "Bros" over their speaker system, and I subsequently spent five hours of my weekend trying to track the title and band from that one line (which I actually misunderstood as "no one loves me like you do" -- i.e. the line in every love song ever. Anyway, I was so victorious at finally discovering it, I've been listening to it on repeat. Like someone's going to come and take it away from me.

That goes double for B├śRNS' "Past Lives." When I added "Fool For Love" (Lord Huron) last winter, I was delighted to hear it on the first episode of Girls, which I didn't watch for a few months after its release. Turns out I was in for a double delight with the former track. I had apparently liked "Past Lives" so much that I make note of it in my phone on two separate occasions before Shoshanna's pensive balcony shot. How could I forget that catchy chorus ("duh-destiny!...") Third time's a charm, I guess. Someday I will remember Shazam exists.

Of course, no playlist of mine is complete without a few 60s throwbacks. I tried to branch out with some covers here and there -- hell-oooo, Bee Gees and Dusty! -- but sometimes there's just no replacement for the real thing (namely, if your name is Paul, it seems.)

Cheers Elephant, Best Coast, and The Shins continue to please-please me. The tracks I've included here are old news at this point, but they were a joy to rediscover and commit to seasonal memory.

Happy Springtime, lovelies!