Saturday, August 23, 2014

Defining your style

Defining your style is a lifelong process of fine tuning your wardrobe with your lifestyle and your self-perception. I was quiet clueless at the beginning of my own journey, my style swaying from one extreme to another greatly influenced by trends and peers. It took me a lot of time (and wasted money) to get to the point where I can define a style that suits me.

Defining your style will help you identify more easily what fits you and what doesn't. You'll avoid falling for trends that weren't made for your body type or your lifestyle and fill your closet with brand new tagged clutter.

It may seems overwhelming in the initial steps through this adventure, but there is a simple exercise you can do with your own wardrobe to get you started.

Here it is with my own thought processing as an exemple.

1.  Choose your favourite items

I think pulling out five of your favourite items from your closet is a good way to start defining your ideal wardrobe. Those favourites are items you have own for a significant amount of time (at least a year) and that you wear  regularly enjoying them each time. There are the items you will first reach to when you get dressed in the morning.  With these favourites you will be able to create your cardinal outfits. If your work wardrobe differs significantly from your weekend one, I suggest selecting two difference sets of items for each situation.

Exemple:

Weekend favourites
For my weekend wardrobe, I pulled out Levis skinny jeans, a white cotton t-shirt, a dress I bought travelling in South Africa, a pair of Frye skimmers and  a pair of white ( not so white anymore) canvas Keds.


Work favourites

For my work wardrobe, I picked a white cotton shirt, a Bailey 44 blazer, a Nolita grey skirt, straight pleated black pants and my Coach flats.

Once you selected these items, create 1-2 outfits with them.

2. Identify what makes them favourites

That is an existential question. The toughest exercise in style defining is making the unconscious conscious. You know you love them, but not necessarily why, but to avoid making the same mistakes and to create your perfect wardrobe inspired by these favourites you need to know why you cherish them so.


"They are comfortable, I feel good and beautiful in them and they are well made." was the first answer that came to my mind, but you need to go deeper in the exercice to make it successful and effective. Analyse each item. Look at its colour, its shape, its brand, its fit. Which attributes doesn't it enhance? Your tiny waist? Your generous forms? You sleek androgynous silhouette? Your fair/dark skin? etc.

Exemple:

My first weekend outfit was my Levis jeans with a white t-shirt and the Keds. I dress like that all year around to do my everyday errands and I never get tired of this outfit. I love skinny jeans because they are simple go with anything. Levis'ones are sturdy, well made yet affordable. I like white t-shirts because their colour complements my skin tone and they go with everything giving a relaxed yet clean effect to your outfit. Plus it doesn't show as much when you sweat....Keds are comfortable and feminine walking shoes. I like how they make my feet look smaller. They can be worn with anything. I like the overall casual filiform shape of this outfit. It can be easily dressed up or down with the right shoes and accessories.



My second weekend outfit was composed of the summer dress and the Frye skimmers. It is my go-to summer ensemble when I don't feel like wearing jeans. I think my dress' hues of burned orange complement well my skin tone too. I liked its shape: form fitting at the top with a defined waist and a flair skirt. It is feminine and sexy, but not provocative. The colour of the skimmers looks good on my feet too. They have a comfortable and delicate cut.


The first thing that what drew me to my work wardrobe favourites are their hues of black and white : I find this colour combination clean, sophisticated yet simple. I think a white shirt makes any bottom look professional. I like my waist to be defined and my work skirts to be flared too. I like wearing flats and loafers at work because I spend most of my day on feet and they are more bearable then heels and just as cute.

I noted that there is no high heel shoes, extravagant jewelry or evening dresses. So I try to stay away from these in stores even if they look beautiful on the shelves. Since they don't appear in my go-to outfits, it is unlikely that I will use them often, so I am more difficult and pragmatic when I have to buy such an item.


3. Pick an accessory that will complement your look

That accessory must be used often too. It is the cherry on the sundae that will personalized your look.

Exemple:
My tassel handmade leather bag


For my summer dress outfit, I picked my tassel handmade bag. For the jeans and t-shirt outfit, I chose my aviator glasses and for the work wardrobe, I picked my everyday watch.


4. Define your style criteria

Now that the reference outfits have been picked and their defining accessory added, sum up the key elements of your outfits as followed: colour scheme, silhouette, style. These elements will be the reference point that will help you pick your future items so that they fit the defining criteria of your wardrobe and become themselves new favourites.

The style can be defined easily by bringing together the feeling you get from (or looking for in the outfit (casual? sophisticated? whimsical? chic? gothic? minimalist?) and a character that would wear this outfit (cowboy? exotic queen? wall street banker?)

Exemple:


The summer weekend outfit
Colour scheme : mustard yellow, burned orange, brown
Shape : high waisted flared skirts with fitted tops
Style: Understated bohemian

The winter weekend outfit
Colour  scheme:  blue, white, black, grey
Shape : skinny bottom, relaxed top
Style: Casual minimalist french artist

The work outfit
Colour scheme: black, white, grey
Shape: high waisted flaire skirts or skinny pants with white shirts
Style: Austere chic librarian

VoilĂ !

Basically I identified three styles I can always relate too. When I am buying new items, I like them to fit these schemes to  make sure that my new items blend in with the old ones keeping my style cohesive and avoiding falling for trends that won't last in my wardrobe.

But of course swaying away from rules from times to times is a good thing. Fashion rules are made to be broken...




Thursday, August 14, 2014

Building your wardrobe foundation ( part 2)


A.B.K. shoes - Handmade, but not cheap. I would love to own one of these beauties...

You have your colour palette. You know what you need. Now where to get it?
The primary characteristic of a good foundation item is its quality. However it seems to me that in this era of programmed obsolescence and fast fashion, it is getting harder and harder to find quality items at affordable prices. Even brand classified as luxurious seems to have decrease the quality of their products.

I have a very stylish mother and a lot of the things I own were passed down from her. My mother used to have a Longchamp Le Pliage bag she heavily used for several years. She gave it to me when I moved out for university. I have used it heavily myself through my studies. It broke down last year after more than 15 years of usage, so I bought a new one! I felt right away the difference in the fabric when I was in the store looking at the bags. I chose a classic version. It broke down after a few months of rather normal usage. 
I've noticed the same things with many vintage items I own: the newer versions of these items weren't able to stand the test of time and wear. To get an item of the same quality as a 15-year-old one, you have to pay hundreds of dollars for something that cost maybe $50 back then, which makes it difficult for a girl on a budget to build a decent foundation, but there are ways for us to build that foundation without breaking the bank.


1. Shop vintage

As I said earlier, clothes were better maid back then when good craftsmanship was valued and the norm. When it comes to sweaters, basic skirts and dresses I like to browse through vintage stores. You can find great quality gems at a sometimes ridiculous prices.


2. Browse in designer consignment stores

I love designer consignment stores. I have found many gems in near perfect conditions in them too. For those you who don't like going shopping outside (like me), there are also a lot of options online nowadays.  You may have the impression that these stores host attires that your mother would have worn in the late 80s, but you'll be surprised to find items from very recent collections too. And usually they sell at a very wallet-friendly price.

Beware though, designer doesn't necessarily equals quality... This is especially true for recent, emerging designers who don't have a long history in the business and have established their fame due to hype (from bloggers...)

3. Select items mainly made from natural fibers

Wool, cotton, linen, silk, leather...
There are not necessarily easy to take care of in there purest states, but items with a high percentage of natural textile fibers hold up better with time and usage. Plus they look more luxurious without necessarily being more expensive and tend to age beautifully.


4. Consider handmade items

Etsy is a gold mine of handmade (and vintage) items! More and more people are valuing good craftsmanship and looking for well handmade items and sellers have understood that. Since businesses selling handmade items are usually small-scaled, you can be certain that their work is of better quality. Buy from established businesses though...Not all the apprentice seamstresses are good seamstresses on Etsy....


5. Get their iconic item

Most brands got known for specific items that made them famous before expending their business...It is the item they do best. Their bread and butter. So buying that specific item from them is usually a good bet that you are getting the best from them. 

Ex: Cotton striped shirts from Saint James, brogues from Dieppa Restrepo, winter coat from Mackage, cloaks from Lindsey Thornburg, trenches from Burberry, etc. 


It is easier said than done, but I hope that those small tips will help you look for the right items in the right places!

Building your wardrobe foundation ( part 1 )

A perfect foundation outfit


Having a strong foundation in your wardrobe will help you build a cohesive closet over it without losing yourself in trends and ill-fitted outfits. Identify your wardrobe essentials can easily be done in two steps. 

1. Select your colour palette 

I see a wardrobe a bit like a painting in the making,  your foundation items forming the canvas.  They should be perfectly interchangeable items and the first step in making them interchangeable is to create a cohesive colour palette.

My colour palette
All my essentials come in these colours and form an auto-sufficient system. I like this set of colours because they are understated, versatile, neutral and timeless. I consider that those caracteristics are important to create a strong base that will last you several years regardless of trends. 
The individuality of your canvas will come with the colours you'll put on it. These colours are your accent pieces. We will discuss them in another post.


2. Identify your essential items

We live different lives and so have different set of essentials. List here all the items necessary to make your wardrobe functional. I insist on the word necessary. Imagine you were giving a suitcase and that you'll have to put in it items to wear for a year. Regardless of the colour, what would they be?  We are not talking about items from a specific brand here rather than the clothe or accessory itself. (I intentionally ignored my sportswear, because they only service a purely utilitarian role and I don't have any stylish questioning concerning them, thus they are not relevant in the context of this blog...)

So, here is my own list:

  • loosely fitted t-shirts
  • tank tops
  • sleeveless silk shirts
  • cotton button down shirts
  • striped shirts
  • straight pleated pants
  • a high-waisted skirt
  • a little black versatile dress
  • a casual summer dress
  • jeans
  • wool sweaters
  • wool/cotton cardigans
  • a pair of high heel shoes
  • casual sandals
  • flats 
  • oxfords
  • sneakers
  • heavy duty winter boots
  • dressier leather booties 
  • a wool coat
  • a trench coat
  • a leather jacket
  • a warm winter coat
I have tried to limit myself here! It is not easy. I am working myself in defining what I consider my essentials...


So with your colour palette and your essential items list on mind, you can start looking for these ideal foundation items. This is quite a difficult task though if you ask me. I'll address how to actually pick the right essential items in another post.





Off the wishlist: Isabel Marant Etoile Baki coat





Etoile Isabel Marant Baki coat
I've been obsessed with this coat for a few years now. It is probably the oldest item on my wishlist! When it first came out in 2009, my style was rather polished and its casualty didn't fit my wardrobe. Aging made me gravitate towards more comfortable attires hunting quality timeless pieces rather than trends. So I feel in love with in 2012. Well after it was sold out everywhere. I actually preferred the Bator, because its hues fitted better with my wardrobe, but I settle for this one since the latter is impossible to find...

I have bought and tried second hand similar coats from IM but I was never totally satisfied with my purchase. Too big. Too small. No collar button. Too worn out!
A few weeks ago this beautiful coat popped up on an online consignment store for a ridiculous price. It was barely worn. So I didn't waste a second buying it! I was delirious! Finally, I will be able to wear the coat I coveted so much. 

It arrived this afternoon at my doorstep. I wrapped myself in it. Stood in front of the mirror...Something seemed off. It felt bigger than the other size 1 Etoile coats I have tried. Is it because it is the newest coat I have bought and it hasn't suffered any shrinkage with time? Maybe. 

All these years to be disappointed. It feel like I was meeting a long distance flame whom I have been idealizing for years to realize that he has flaws when we finally meet...

I think I am going to give a try though. Fall can already be sensed in the air here. We will see if this love was built to last.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

On becoming a fashion addict : a chanel girl


"I remember wrapping myself in it in the store, feeling the luxurious and warm texture
of its wool blend (...) I was finally happy."
(Source)


My parents didn't have the money to buy me decent clothes putting all their savings in their children's private school education. My closet mainly consisted of clothes passed on from my wealthier cousins once their were too small for them or out of style. I didn't like being seen in these green furry tops, grey pilling jersey skirts or overstretched fading t-shirts, so I preferred wandering around in my uniform and my sport gears offered by the school.

A few times per year,  the school would allow us to attend school without our uniform. What most girls would have seen as a great opportunity, I saw like an awful experience of constant self-awareness lasting eight hours. One of the amazing things about uniforms is that they level us all. Your social background isn't as obvious, but on those days, I was more than aware that I came from an underprivileged background, shifting in my seat, trying to focus on the teacher and avoiding neighbouring eyes inspecting me  with disdain, wonder or worse, pity. I came without my uniforms twice or thrice, but the experience was too painful. I started coming at school in uniform every single day regardless of the special events. Usually I wasn't the only one, some having forgotten the event, and this made the experience a bit less tormenting.  

Most of the girls attending my school continued their education in a mixed private college. Their were no uniform there. Every morning was a fashion show of guys and girls rolling in luxury cars and showing off their latest Chanel, Marc Jacobs or Gucci item. I accepted my role as a nerd in that herd of preppy kids since early high school, that was what I was good at and known for, but I wanted more. I wanted to be a Chanel girl too. Since my parents couldn't give me the money to dress like that, I started working during my first year in college. No, I didn't start working to buy a car or to save some money like most teenagers, I started working because I wanted to buy designer clothes...

My first purchase was a $400 green wool coat form a local designer. I remember wrapping myself in it in the store, feeling the luxurious and warm texture of its wool blend and how it moulded my body perfectly. I never had a garment fit me so well and feel so elegant. I was finally happy. 

The first morning I wore it at school, people looked at me differently. I liked the attention I was getting. I wasn't used to it, but I want more of it. Slowly I revamped my closet. I wasn't only known for my brain anymore, but also for my great sense of style.  The flow of compliments built my self-esteem. My closet started defining me and I was catering that superficial definition instead of getting to know my inner-self more, which would harm me later on in life...

Whenever I was going out shopping, literally emptying my account, I was getting a buzz from the thrill of buying something expensive that nobody else owned. With time the buzz more than the need to renew my wardrobe became my motivator to go shopping. Shopping became my weekend priority after studying. I would spend the whole day in stores. The sellers called me by my first name. I liked being a "regular" and the focus they had on me when I came visiting their store. They only needed to smile and present their latest collections and they knew I would empty my account in front on them. 

A year later, I had an amazing wardrobe for a 17-year-old, but no money in my account. When people were looking at me, they saw a seemingly fierce stylish woman and that's all that mattered back then.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Dealing with urges

Source


They happen less often, but they still do. The restlessness. The headache. Th tingling in my fingers. In moment of great stress and of dark feelings, they always make sure to be there, but once the relief comes, my credit card still warm from excessive swiping and numerous bags at my feet, the guilt invades me. I did it again. And I'll have to fix that.

It is one of the reason why I stopped am trying to stop shopping from brick and mortar stores except for essentials like underwear's. The desire for immediate satisfaction made me take silly decisions. Plus the pressure to buy from the sellers doesn't help. 

I know they will happen again, but I am trying to make my compulsions less damageable. 

When I feel the urge to binge buy, I only go to stores where there is a return policy. I can satisfy my impulses when they arrive, but I am able to return the item the next day once the dust settles. Stores with credit system will only push you deeper into debts and you'll have to spend extra time trying to sell these brand new items in a few months at a fraction of the price you paid for them.

I also try to avoid items on sale. The price might be appealing, but in my unstable state of mind, I might not be able to analyze clearly my need for them. Most of them end up my closet still in there bags...It is again money down the drain, since you cannot return them.  I try to only pay attention to sales in stores that sell my foundation and wish list items to avoid buying impulsively things I don't actually need.

Canalizing your thoughts on constructive activities requires another level of self-control, but it is a good way to avoid binges. These activities must require your constant concentration to be effective and should last long enough for you to "forget" about your urges. I do so by writing, studying,  going out running or doing an activity with a friend. Making my body and my mind work drains my vile impulses and it is quite helpful.




Sunday, August 10, 2014

Purging the closet


The Divinitus


This is a difficult and emotional step toward healing, but it is greatly rewarding. Purging your closet cleanses it from fillers that hide your true personal style. It makes you feel lighter and makes you see clearer. It can be a very long process though depending on the size of your wardrobe, your ability to detach yourself from your belongings and your available free time. You might do it in several steps as I did while my style was gradually defining itself. Sometimes you might fall, go binge shopping, but it won't erase all your past efforts and you'll be able to climb back on the road where you left it.

STEP 1: IDENTIFY THE FILLERS

What are fillers? Fillers are any item you haven't touch in several months. I usually give myself a seasonal reference: if I haven't worn an item a whole winter or a whole summer it becomes a filler. Ask yourself why you haven't touched that item. Is it that your style has changed? Is it because it is ill-fitted? Is it the fabric you dislike? Identifying the reason why you haven't touched it strengthens the reasoning for discarding it and you'll able not to look back on it and not to make the same mistake again with a similar item.
Sometimes you can be  emotionally attached to an item, may it be a hit dress you hunted down for months or a top you bought while travelling abroad, but if you cannot think of a way to make it  reusable, it is better to discard it. I know it hurts, but you'll feel better afterwards.

STEP 2: SEPARATE THE FILLERS

Your fillers are probably like mine, quite diverse. So you can consider different venues to get rid them. I usually make three piles: the selling one, the give away one and the throw away one.
In the selling one, I put designer items and brand new items with tags still attached. In the throw away one, I put stained, overused, ripped items that I wouldn't want my dog to wear. The rest goes into the give away item.

STEP 3: GET RID OF THE FILLERS

I sell my items on different venues online and locally.

If you are new on the market, here are some places where you can consider selling your items online: 
  • Ebay
    • Good for popular designer items that can sell for a very good price. Otherwise, it might be difficult to sell your knick and knacks. Ebay is not as small-seller-friendly as it used to be.
    • If you have branded similar items, try to sell them in lots. It increases your selling rates.
    • Remember the goal here is not to make money, but to get rid of your items, so don't overprice your items.
  • Laws of General Economy
    • Got Steven Alan, No. 6, Mociun, Rachel Comey, Margaret Howell  items or other small boutiques high quality and minimalist items? This blog might be the perfect place to sell them. There is a waiting list to be able to list the items yourself. I have been on it for 3 years and haven't got any news from the moderator, so I think it is unlikely that you'll be able to do so, but there are several long time members who will be happy to post your items for you! The items are usually listed for a week or so and all the interested people leave their contact information in the comment section. At the end of the listing period, the seller draws the name of one of the potential buyers and send her/him an invoice through Paypal.
  • Vestiaire Collective
    • This french-british platform is good for designer and haute couture items that are not necessarily popular items since it is the meeting place of thousands of fashionistas around the world looking for unique designer items just like you. I have sold a Mary Katrantzou top there in 5 days while it spent weeks on Ebay. For new sellers without an established reputation, the company requires that the item be sent to them for inspection before sending it to the buyer. They charge you tremendous fees for that service! However, as I told you, your items have a good visibility here. 
  • Consignment Stores
    • If you are not in a hurry for selling your items, a lot of consignment stores are appearing all over the Internet for second hand designer, branded and vintage items.
    • A few of my favourites?
Otherwise,  a well organized garage sale is always a good way to get rid of items at a small price. Websites like Craiglist and Kijiji are good for furniture, but no so much for clothes and accessories, but it doesn't hurt to try. If I am not able to sell an item, I usually move it to my give away pile.

For my give away items, I usually let my friends and family know about them first to let them see if anything I own might interest them and I give the rest to charity organizations. Leaving those bags of clothes and shoes at the Salvation Army is truly relieving I must tell you!

Concerning the throw away pile, I try to turn most of the usable fabrics in rags before throwing away the rest to be as ecological as possible.

It usually takes me 1 month to go throw the process. As I told you, it is not a linear process and sometimes you have to step back. As long as you are slowly emptying your closet, you are on the right track. Take your time.

Once you are done getting rid of the fillers, you can start working on your wardrobe basics.






Shopping smart


Impulsive buying constitute the core of unhealthy shopping habits. It drains your wallet, fills your closet with items you probably won't use and, worst of all, makes you fell guilty at the end of the day. With years of experience, I have developed some tricks to reduce the frequency of my impulsive purchases and I'd like to share them with you.

1. Create a wish list

You probably have heard this one before, but it is one of the best advice I can give you! Following a wish list let you reconsider your instant desires. A wish list thankfully is a malleable tool (it is already hard setting limits). You can put and remove items from it freely, but it shouldn't include your basic items, which should be dealt apart. I personally add items when I first spot them and leave them on the list until the sales arrive. If my desire to acquire them is still intact once they are on sale, they are probably items I am going to use, so I go on and buy them. Otherwise, I remove them from the list to keep it clear and short and to avoid reconsidering my choices : the first decision is usually the good one, so I am trying to stick to it. 
It has been a successful strategy for me so far significantly reducing the quantity of brand new items standing untouched in my closet. Sometimes the item is sold out by the time I make up my mind Ebay becoming my hunting ground then. Although, it is can be sometimes frustrating, I am trying to see this in a positive way giving myself more time to think about the item and getting an extra thrill once I finally get my hands on it.

2.  Ask yourself the three golden questions.

Do I really need that? - Most of the time the answer is "no" for most of us living in an ultra-consumerist world where desires are instantly transformed into needs, but it is worth asking ourselves that question sometimes.  

Ex: I have a weak spot for flat ankle boots, but currently I have all the "necessary" boots to fill my needs. So I try to ignore them even though it is hard.

Do I already have something similar? Most of the time, we will end up wearing only of the two. So compare the two items to see what advantage one has over the other. It can help you make a final decision. If they end up being too similar, it is wiser to only keep one of them. 

Ex: I bought a black trench coat at The Bay even though I already had my mother's Burberry beige trench only because I thought a black trench coat could be useful... I still wore my Burberry one more often because it was obviously sturdier and I was able to dress it up or down, so the black trench  didn't really offer me any advantage and became rapidly superfluous.

How will this upgrade my wardrobe? This is the 1-million-dollar question, especially when it comes to coup de coeur items! I consider that an item would upgrade my wardrobe if I am going to wear it often and if it is significantly different from my another items while complementing them.



Ex: I bought this Carven skirt from F/W 2012 collection after spotting it on Leila Bekhti at Cannes Film Festival.  The three golden questions were answered quite rapidly in my head and the item perfectly fulfilled the criteria of question 3: the print and the fabric made it really unique and I knew I could were it for different occasions with any of my basic tops. Two years later, I am still quite happy with my purchase. 

3. Buy quality items

Usually quality doesn't come cheap or in industrial quantities which will push you to think a bit more about your purchase. Have you ever noticed that we tend not to spend as easily on a $300 sweater compared to five $60 shirts? Our consumerist culture encouraging accumulation of wealth has probably something to do with that. We tend to see the shirts  as a bunch of individual bargains and not a single purchase.  Well most of the time that $300 sweater, if it is truly made of quality fabrics, might last longer than all those shirts put together. Plus, the fact that you saved money for that item, makes it more valuable emotionally. I will discuss selecting quality items in another post.

4. In doubt, leave it.

Of all the tips I could give you, this one is the most important. That seemingly insignificant doubt about the color, the fit, the fabric or the texture of the item will become significant with time and your garment will end up unworn in your closet...So if you are not 100% sure about all the aspects of the item you are about to buy, leave it. 

If you have other tips & tricks to share, please let me know!