Gray Scaling Up

While everyone is wearing bright and sometimes shocking colors/patterns for the Spring, I've taken the more (gasp!) subdued approach to dressing. My love for bright colors will not go away, but these days I'm limiting them to accessories.

During my recent clothing investment period, I purchased pieces that were primarily black, white, or gray--colors that can do no wrong year in and year out. They caught my eye because they were very interesting despite being quite simple in nature. If I had to describe them in 2 words, it would be "understatedly cool."

The best bang for the buck (or rather, forty some odd of them) is this Love Yaya tunic. I bought this a couple of months ago because I wanted a dressy piece for the Fall/Winter in which I can stay somewhat warm. The Shopbop picture looked really cute, and when I got it, it looks even better in person. It's like wearing one of those shapeless gray sweaters (with the triangle just below the collar, which is also on the tunic), except the cut is super flattering and not frumpy like its apparent inspiration. Made of terry, it's incredibly soft and comfortable. It's a lot shorter than I thought, so I can't wear it as a winter dress as I would have liked...unless I wear leggings, which I've been staying away from for the longest time. (Maybe it's time to give in?) At any rate, it's simple without being boring, and as you can see, I've worn it many times already. I'm sure I'll wear it many more times.

(Worn as a dress...probably not gonna happen again.)

(Both of these are work looks.)

(Dressed down for the weekend).)

My weakness for cashmere sweaters made me fall for these two sweaters. I haven't worn them much yet because the weather warmed up shortly after I bought them, but lately it's gotten colder again, so maybe I'll get to wear them more. The first is a cashmere-blend sweater from the Max Studio outlet. I love how the knot of the tying sashes is off-center, and placement of the stripes is very appropriate. Instead of overwhelming the senses with lots of stripes, the stripes only appear on the top half; the little bit of stripes on the sleeves evokes the layering that I'm so fond of. The sweater looks great with jeans, black pants/skirts, and what have you. It matches especially great with my old Alice + Olivia black pants with the really bold white pipings. Sorry for the butt shot, but fitting contrast, don't you think?

The other cashmere sweater I got was a vest by The Breed. [Not counting the coat I bought a while back, t]his is probably one of the most expensive pieces of clothing I've ever purchased (despite being 70% off), but it's such a stylish and clever take on the good ol' (boring) sweater-vest. When Shopbop had the 20% off code, I just couldn't resist:

I bought this primarily as an edgy piece of work-wear, but I see a lot of potential as a casual piece. [Ed.--here's a more casual look.] At any rate, it's quirky yet conservative enough that it'll stand the test of time.


The Unenviable Closet

Lately I've been "upgrading" my wardrobe, particular for professional reasons. As a result, my closet is starting to get rather full. Lately I've had to remind myself that I don't really need that much of an upgrade aside from suits, which is the only true need. I'm still able to get great things on a beer budget, but trouble is, having the means to acquire nicer things begets a greater want of nicer things. [Ed.--I suppose I should define what I mean by "nice things." It includes more than tangible goods--it encompasses lifestyle changes, including but not limited to travel, eating out more (trying out new restaurants and food is something I'd like to do more often), going to the theater/opera/other cultural events which tend to cost a lot, etc.] A discussion in the Etsy forums, as well as a recent article in the New York Times, sobers me up to my recent habits. It's great to have some latitude, but with freedom comes responsibility.

A certain Etsy thread segued from pricing issues to consumer spending habits. The pressing issue was whether someone would pay a high price for something simple, and if so, why anyone would do such a thing. Some commenters are perfectly content with shopping from Wal-Mart and thrift stores, while others said they used to do that, but they are now willing to pay more for nicer things. Certainly, no one in the latter group became wealthy overnight and increased their spending limits concomitantly. Rather, things changed over time. It used to be that a $10 widget would suffice, but when income increased over time, the consumers were willing to buy something worth $30, then more, and more, and more in proportion to rising salaries.

I thought that I would be immune to this phenomenon, but to be honest, I'm not. This is something I'll be struggling with for a while. On one hand, I shouldn't feel guilty because I'm not spending beyond my means (and spending is good for the economy right now, I might add); on the other hand, I know what poverty is like all too well, and how one stroke of bad luck can wipe out the bounty. I also do feel guilty that I'm enjoying all these things while a large majority of the country is sitting in bad economic conditions. I guess it's a good thing that there are so many things stacked in the "other hand" column; it really makes me think twice before I spend anything. To my credit, I have been very satisfied with my "investment" purchases, for they were indeed carefully chosen and consequently, I've gotten great many uses out of them already. But "proceed with caution" is still my motto.

And now I finally meander to what the title of this post means. Sometimes I do oooh and ahhh when I see someone wearing, carrying, or otherwise being in possession of really cool things, but I rarely say that I want to have those things. Something similar, perhaps, and definitely cheaper, but rarely that exact thing. That's because I'm constantly cognizant of the price tags of "designer" and "luxury" goods, and what trouble some people get into for their expensive appetites.

The New York Times recently printed an article about Britain's consumer debt problem. Because credit was relatively easy to obtain (some may say too easy), consumer spending has been very strong. Consequently, debt in recent decades has not been viewed as such a bad thing. However, when the economy went south and many people are facing foreclosure, debt suddenly became a huge problem. At least one person interviewed for the article incurred about 60,000 Pounds on designer clothing, bags, and shoes. Once people started spending, they lost sight of the fact that they had to pay the money back.

To me, this article serves as a stark reminder to not get caught up in progressively wanting more and better. If people have fabulous clothes because they bought them with hard-earned cash, all the power to them. But don't make the mistake of envying a fabulous wardrobe too much...sometimes it is built out of financial ruin.


Dressy-casual | Casually-dressy

I'm a big fan of contrasts, be they contrasting colors, textures, or in this case, degrees of formality. Not following my train of thought? Let me explain.

We've all heard of dressing a piece up and down, and how great it is because it expands our choices without additional capital expenditures. But what does it mean to dress something up or down? How is it actually done? I'm sure I've done it dozens of times without really thinking about it. Sometimes it works out spontaneously well, while other times...let's just say things didn't quite work out. I've concluded that things work best when they're are clearly identifiable as two extremes; like they say, opposites attract. The shock value creates some fresh looks. Proportionally, I've found that it's better to wear everything casual except for one very noticeable thing (usually big), or vice versa; that way, the focus is on that odd piece out.

The first step is to identify things in your closet as being on one end of the spectrum or the other. Then it's time to mix and match. The really casual clothes tend to be the basic t-shirt, jeans, hoodie, and sneakers/flipflops. The really conservative would be suits and pumps in dark colors. The dressy things tend to be frilly or flowing, usually made of silk or satin.

So far I've started with the odd piece of outerwear. A few weeks ago I went out for a friend's birthday dinner, so I wanted to wear something nice. But it happened to be pretty cold outside. I ended up wearing a rugged hoodie with a silky top:

This is how the top looks like without jacket--very airy and flowing. (My faux-model post was completely unintentional...rather amusing, though.)

This week I got an idea from someone from StyleDiary to wear a work blazer with more casual items. When I visit family that came into town, I was wearing a suit because I had been in court earlier that day. We decided to go shopping, and I found a lovely shirtdress on sale at the Gap--it's a much cheaper alternative to a striped Diane von Furstenberg dress that I had my eye on. After I got it, I realized that the black blazer I was wearing that day would match just fine, and it did. This is what I wore to work the next day:

I'll have to do the mix and match thing more often. Work has really changed how I dress, and sometimes I miss my old style.


Courtside View

This is what happens when St. Patrick's Day falls on a court date:

I was busy running around all day yesterday, and it didn't hit me until pretty late at night that I have to cover a hearing on St. Patricks's Day. I don't want to hear myself say "ow" all day, but the green clothes I have don't really go with a suit. (In retrospect, I do have a dress shirt with pink and green stripes, but if I figured that out sooner, I wouldn't have this much fun.)

So I whipped something up in a pinch (pun not entirely unintended), and it works out just fine. I would have much rather worn this:

...which normally would have added a fun yet work-appropriate touch to office outfits, but when I have to be in court, I usually err on the side of conservatism.

This brings me to the topic of how to stay individual in a world of suits. I try to bring a little color into the mix, but I don't want to venture out too far. There's a time and place to go buck wild with color, but full-on-suit time is not one of them. Yes, suits are serious. When I'm in one, I'm very cognizant that I'm representing something greater than myself. I certainly don't want to develop a reputation for the wrong thing.

Jewelry is great for adding a dash of discrete individuality. I'm not much of a thin-chain-and-pendant kind of person, preferring instead something more substantial. You can't go wrong with pearls--they're classic, but they can also be reworked into a "not your mother's pearls" design. That's exactly what I decided to do. I call it my "Patricia" necklace since it was made especially for St. Patty's Day, and also because it has a patrician "establishment" look to it.

I've also become an avid wearer of rings, particularly the modern, simple, yet standout kinds. Ever since I got one simple green amber ring, which I love, I've been shopping on Etsy for more. I finally set my sights on the Ox Rox rings from Rural Abandon. When I saw that the seller had a bright sterling silver Rox ring, I thought that it'd be good to mix them up:

I absolutely love them. They're very, very cool in that suble, understated way. They also came packaged in a pretty box and tied with a pretty ribbon; if I hadn't been so excited in putting the rings on right away, I would have gotten a picture of the lovely packaging. And if I wasn't already wearing that necklace, I would worn the whole stack of rings to court today. Oh well, the next court date is just around the corner.

[Edited: I've put up a close-up of the individual rings. The squarish-shapes are organic and a bit more unusual. Since they're so thin individually, I think I can even wear them as pendants on a chain. I don't have pierced ears, but I think thin rings such as these can be converted to awesome earrings as well if for some inexplicable reason you don't want to wear rings much anymore. I'm all for maximizing their potential.]


The Simple Pleasures of Life

After working for the past 2 weeks and weekends (and this one will be a third), I succumbed to the temptations of "Retail Therapy" yesterday. After spending way too much money (some for needs, others for wants), I woke up this morning and saw a reminder that the best things in life are free.

Just thought I should share this cuteness with you all. Have a great weekend.


Keep the Change

It's been quite a few busy weeks, as I've been working weekends as well. Some of my friends are in the same boat with me, so it's been hard to schedule meet-ups. Fortunately, I managed to hit 2 birds with 1 stone last Saturday. After hitting a party and meeting about 10 of 30+ people present (it's hard to chat and get to know people when there's such a huge group), I swung by my friend's house with bags of clothes I was going to donate to the Goodwill. She also had a box of clothes that would be donated to the charitable organization of her choice. But on that night, we got first dibs from each other's piles--it was shopping time! Without spending a dime!

The idea of the clothing swap is nothing new, since many people have done it before. The results are mixed, however; some people swear by it, while others swear they'll never do it again because it's all junk. If you're in the latter group, maybe you can give it another shot by organizing your own with some of your closest clotheshorses; if nothing else, it'll force you to finally get around to that long-overdue closet cleanout. When the swap involves people you know, the hanging out part tends to take precedence over the swap, so people won't be so disappointed if they end up not getting what they want. I also like the added benefit of knowing where your clothes are coming from and how clean they are, unlike some of the items from the thrift store. Let's face it--as much as I love thrifting, sometimes the dubious origins of certain pieces of clothing do make me feel skittish. I won't wear anything thrifted (including accessories) without some serious cleaning.

This is a great activity especially when you're broke but still want to entertain friends and get some new clothes. To make your swap a success, there are a few things to consider. First and foremost, make sure that everyone participating has a counterpart who is of the same or similar size. If there's nothing worth swapping for or with, what's the point of going? Sure, the company, and sometimes food and music, are fun, but probably not worth the hassle of hauling all your clothes to the meetup spot and then hauling it all home. Fortunately, my friend and I are of similar sizes, so that made it easy. Also, it helps to know the styles that people are into. Otherwise, the same result as above would occur, as there's nothing they would like. Some people have other rules such as a minimum number of pieces to bring, since it's only fair that people should contribute more or less equally. I don't really care for this rule, but that's just an illustration of how people run swaps. As far as I'm concerned, the most important rule would be "go in with an open mind." You never know what to expect--sometimes you get something, other times not--but the most important thing is just to have fun with your friends.

This swap was great, as was the last one. I've been looking for more skirts and pants to match my suit jackets. Instead of having to go out and buy some, I just got a few skirts that fit *perfectly* courtesy of my friend. Heck, one of the skirts fit even better than the one that came with the suit I intend to wear the skirt with. My friend also picked up a few pieces from my donation pile. The best part is that we got to have fun before having to work again on the next day. Sigh...such is the life of young professionals.


Shopbop Sale

Shopbop is one of my favorite online shops. The selection is great, but realistically, the prices are often out-of-reach for me. When items hit the 70% page, that's when I start paying attention. The lower-price point items are suddenly very affordable, while some of the higher end things are on the cusp of being affordable.

That's why I got pretty excited on the day I found out there's a 20% off code for sale merchandise. From what I heard around the Internet, these codes don't come often. Right now I'm looking at end-of-season clearances for some investment cold-weather pieces, particularly cashmere sweaters (which I've developed a real weakness for as work staples). Since I've been working long hours, many of the 70% off pieces that I've been eyeing were already gone by the time I found time to browse, but I finally got around to buying a couple of things tonight.

Maybe it was a good thing that I waited until now...it forces me to narrow down my selections. I subscribe to the "if I'm meant to have it, I'm meant to have it" mentality--if I'm having a hard time choosing between one or another because I like them equally, I'll let time run its course. If both items are still available by the time I make a choice, then at least I have more time to think things through and make a more informed decision. But if only one is left standing, then well, the decision has been made for me. It worked out pretty well this time, as I ended up getting something completely different because I decided that the dress I thought about buying is not as practical as possible. As much as I love the unique, edgy look, I had to come to terms with two things: 1) it's not something I can wear to work, where I spend most of my time, and 2) when I'm not at work, I prefer more casual outfits because I'm already dressed up most of the time.

Tomorrow is the last day of the sale. Use the code PLUS20 for that additional markdown.


Earning My Stripes

Today is the 7th day of the workweek for me, so I'll keep it brief. I finally got to work the suit and lone suit jacket from my last post into the wardrobe rotation.

As it turns out, I *only* needed to wear suits 4 days out of the week. The first 2 days I went with some pretty typical ensembles that I've worn before, then it was time to get a little more creative. As much as I like dressing up, suits do start to get boring after a while.

Luckily, I got a little break on Wednesday since the appearance I was supposed to make was off-calendar. I've been wanting to wear the cute, nautically-trendy Gap camisole. The straps and trim has blue and white stripes As cute as the top is, it's too casual to wear by itself to work, so I layered it over a gray t-shirt. Then I got another idea--why not wear my new gray blazer over it? The color matches with the t-shirt but contrasts with the camisole, and it worked like a charm.

The next day was back to the suits, but one day's worth of colrfulness gave me some creative energy to work with. Instead of my usual matching jacket and bottoms, I decided to go with an all-black ensemble underneath and top it off with the same gray charcoal gray blazer from the day before. I really like it--colors are still conservative, but it's youthful and different.

Friday I finally got to wear my new striped suit, which is a great variation to all the solid suits I own. I had to get the pants shortened because they were a few inches too long. I'm really happy with the result. The suit is a very dark brown, almost black; the color is very amenable to colored shirts, particularly the purple one I chose for the day.

These $100 suits are fabulous when I can find them. I'm not a label snob, but I now officially swear by BCBG suits (at least the jackets) because 1) the fit is great and 2) the quality is really good vis-a-vis the sale price. Maybe I'll brave the line for the BCBG warehouse sale this year after passing it up for a few years. I'm gonna need a lot of suits, and even though I'm not as broke as I was before, I still refuse to pay an arm and a leg for them. If I can get the jackets for $25-50 again, it'll be worth the long lines, the long walk (from far-flung parking spots), and having to wake up at the crack of dawn.