February 26, 2016

Obsession, Fixation, & Inspiration


As you may have noticed, I've been running slow & low on posts lately. Like any writer, I hit blocks, and maybe that's what this is, but I also think it has to do with settling into a new way of life -- or way of wardrobe.

The capsule wardrobe phenomenon seemed to have its peak moment in 2014/2015, but lately I've seen more and more fashion bloggers turning away from it. Even Into Mind's Anuschka, who provided my own inspiration for embracing this method, has begun to question its universality.

A small part of me feels frustrated, almost betrayed, when I read posts like these. Weren't these the very people who considered capsules the be-all-end-all on the quest for the perfect wardrobe? Were they going to just abandon their hard work (and therein encourage their followers to do the same) just to level up to the next trend?

Last week I indulged a four-day binge through the third season of Orange is the New Black (subtitle: saving and inspiring female entertainers everywhere.) I'll try to keep this vague to avoid giving things away, but here's a SPOILER ALERT for those of you who (like me) resent even the slightest of plot hints when it comes to their favorite TV shows. Much of the fodder for this season's overarching theme is rooted in a side narrative, in which a group of prisoners come to find inspiration and comfort in one of their fellow inmates. Eventually, they begin to treat her as something of a spiritual guru. As the group of devotees expands, one follower in particular becomes increasingly wrapped up in the movement, gradually losing sight of why it was developed in the first place.

Oddly enough, I felt myself identifying with that character, and for awhile I didn't know why. She's never been one of my favorites, and I didn't agree with her behavior per se. What I realized was, I empathized with her dedication. This also probably explains my lifelong fascination with characters like The Phantom of the Opera, Jay Gatsby, and Duckie from Pretty In Pink. Since the days of my earliest sandbox adventures, I've had an inevitable tendency to become fixated on things -- often wanting to see them out long past the breaking point of other people's patience or interest.*

I do not bring this up to toot my own horn. There's a strong difference between fanatic obsession and pragmatic commitment, and harboring the former has often proved more hindrance than help. I bring it up because I suspect my own fear of this aspect of my personality -- the anxiety that what interests me will not survive another person's attention span -- has been responsible for damming/damning my creativity. Coupled with mid-winter lethargy, it's proven debilitating to my writing, and has actually infected several other areas of my creative life. In an effort to remind myself why I started this blog in the first place, I'm hoping to ease up on the pressure to be relevant and interesting -- to embrace my obsessions and run with them, whether capsule wardrobes are in or out.

Here's the kicker, though: in tandem with these bloggers, my own ideas are changing. While capsuling still takes up a fair amount of my mental energy, I'm also becoming fascinated with sustainability, minimalism, garment construction, and room for spontaneity of style within those frameworks. Hopefully, my embracing this new attitude will coax such fascinations out of my head and onto the blog. Hopefully, you will enjoy them too.

It's amusing to me that I started this post with a certain amount of resentment, and here I am ending it in praise of room for change. Isn't it nice how writing can do that?

All my love,
Rachel

*It should be acknowledged that my greatest friends and kindred spirits are such because they understand and/or reflect this quality back at me.

February 8, 2016

How Purchase-Tracking Can Help Define Your Style and Save You Money


I'm a firm believer in the importance of budgeting and setting savings goals, and (not to brag) I've gotten pretty good at it. Whenever friends asks what my "secret" is, I give it to them straight.  First: Privilege. I would be remiss not to acknowledge how my family assistance -- particularly my parentally-funded college education -- and my being a socially-competent, symmetrically-faced, white woman has figured into an ability to support myself and live quite comfortably. Second, however, is without a doubt being mindful about how I choose to spend my money.

For a little over three years now, I have been using Mint to track my budgeting and spending habits. From taxes to travel planning, it has proved to be an indispensable tool. 

While bringing awareness to your cashflow may be anxiety-inducing at first, it can ultimately help you feel more at ease and in control of your life. In tandem with Mint, I like to take a yearly inventory of my purchases and, considering them one by one, ask myself two questions: What would I buy again, and what do I regret spending money on? You can apply these questions to anything you like (books, housewares, sportswear, etc.), but for the purposes of this blog, I'm using clothing as an example -- because this process serves double duty to help you shape and define your personal style!

This is where a program like Mint comes in handy. If you are diligent about categorizing your purchases throughout the year, then all you'll need to do is filter by label. For example, according to Mint, here is everything I purchased in 2015 under the "Clothing" label:

Transaction Item(s)
$62.40 (6) underwear (1) bra
$54.99 (1) ankle boots
$67.50 (1) skinny jeans
$33.34
(2) sweaters
$8.35
(2) tights
$8.00   (1) beaded headband
$76.29 (1) oxford flats, (1) tights
$42.63 (2) sweaters, (1) long-sleeve shirt
$16.29 (1) skinny trousers
$5.45 (1) underwear
$50.00
(1) resole old boots
$4.97 (1) nylons
$3.99  (1) pencil skirt
$434.20 (24) total pieces

Once I've compiled my purchase list*, I make notes as to how I'm currently feeling about each item.  This might include what I like about it, its quality state, what feelings or memories it conjures, or why I chose to buy it in the first place. For example, next to my $3.99 Goodwill pencil skirt I wrote: "Would purchase again; quality construction, neutral color, great price, something I considered for a long time." But beside the $8.35 Forever 21 tights: "REGRET; bad quality, ill-fitting and non-returnable, always uncomfortable, cheap price was not worth the risk."

After I've assessed each item like this, I review my notes and look for patterns. This year, for instance, I noticed an increased willingness to invest in durable, quality items, while my appetite for fast fashion fixes was quickly fading. Warm pieces in natural fabrics were long-term favorites, yet I regularly overlooked fit & style flaws in a seductively soft fabric (which of course disappeared after two washes.) Items purchased with enabler friends ("That's such a DEAL! You have to buy it!") were almost always a mistake. I love my loose, relaxed-fit tops. I always end up hating crew necks. It's amazing what weird preferences you discover when you take the time to consider your purchases!

You can probably guess the next step; apply your discoveries to this year's spending. If you notice that many of the pieces you quickly got bored with are brightly-colored, stick to neutrals this year. If you love what you bought in the company of your best friend, make a point to include them in your future shopping trips. Make a list and keep it in your purse or wallet, so you can reference it when you're tempted to make a new purchase. Ask yourself if it fits your style and your budget. You may feel like a bit of a nerd at first. (Yes, even I did!) But as Zora Neale Hurston puts it, "Research is formalized curiosity." Keep researching. Stay curious. It can only lead to fun.

*Note that this table does not include pieces I acquired for free (i.e. clothes swaps or gifts.) For personal style analysis, these items should be taken into consideration as well.

February 4, 2016

Winter Playlist 2016

Whew, I have been neglecting this blog, and I'm sorry to say I hardly have an excuse for it -- except that we've been moving into our new apartment! So every spare atom of my personal mind-energy has been directed toward house furnishings. Arguments lately have centered around laundry hampers. Nightmares have involved swirling desks and complementary chairs. Reality has been a wash of questions and shrugs, considerations and dreams. I told myself I'd be zen about this, that I would breathe into each decision with the gentle contemplation of a curator. But when you find yourself agonizing over the pros and cons of various wicker basket storage bins, you realize that somewhere in the process that intention flew out the window.

Luckily I've had music to see me through this whole process, and I'm so excited to have found yet another season's gold mine of good stuff! I have to hand it to Spotify for opening me to the world of new music; I'll always love my oldies-but-goodies, but I'm pretty sure my license to recycle favorite Beatles songs into these playlists was fast approaching expiration.

As this set goes down a bit easier than my typical boppy pop-happy reserves, I'll be listening curled up in the company of my latest comfort-picks: lavender chocolate chip cookies, a cup of earl gray tea, and a Pendleton wool blanket. Listen below, and enjoy.