Travel Finds and Style

One of my friends requested a blog post on how travel has influenced my taste, interesting pieces I’ve picked up while traveling, and how to incorporate these finds into outfits. It has been a delight to think back on international trips, because my travel plans have been put on hold (as have most of the world’s) for the foreseeable future. Staying put has made me more thankful than ever for the trips I’ve been able to make in the past and makes me eager to travel once I can!

If there is an overarching theme for what kinds of souvenirs I bring back from trips, I would say Portable. I pack very light, so my luggage consists of my purse and a carry-on bag small enough to carry up multiple flights stairs without hurting myself. Always plan for stairs. If you assume elevators, you will probably be disappointed. But the luggage size limitations keep me from buying lots of things, which works out just fine. I cherish the few things I bring home from each trip. My pack-it-in-pack-it-out philosophy may change over time, because if there is something that I truly want in my life, it would be worth it to have it shipped to my home. For example, my great grandmother traveled to Europe and fell in love with a powder blue Mercedes convertible. So she bought that car and had it shipped back to her tiny hometown in rural California. Isn’t that the best?

In my book, the ultimate portable and beautiful souvenir is a pair of earrings. Here are my reasons:

  • I wear earrings almost every day, so they have great use value for me.
  • They take up hardly any space at all.
  • Beautiful earrings are wearable art. If I go to a different country, I want to invest in something that exemplifies what that country does best. (Glasswork, silversmithing, etc.)
  • They are unique and give a little spark to any outfit I pair them with.
Some of my very favorites!
Earrings and necklace set from Mexico City.

If I do buy clothes, I tend to buy based on what I see around me, so I can remember it when I go home. The colors, the shapes, the materials, the overall vibe of the place – these all inform my decisions. There’s usually a practical element as well, because the odds are good I will get to my destination and after a few days of walking in the sunshine, realize I only packed two short-sleeved shirts. Rather than wear those two shirts on alternating days for the whole trip, I will probably buy a cute one and throw that into the rotation. Here are a couple of examples:

Mexico – a perfect summer shirt to wear with shorts and sandals.
France – breezy, light, super feminine.

The reverse is also true – sometimes I get to a place and it is colder than I expected, so I buy a jacket or a sweater to wear on the trip.

Blazer from France – in the classic cream shade that French women wear in the summertime.

Even if the piece itself isn’t showy or unusual, I know where every single one comes from, what kind of day it was, what the shop looked like, etc. The bee earrings from the first photo came from a tiny jewelry shop in Florence and we walked by that shop every day for three days. I admired those bees every day, but whenever we walked by, the shop was closed for lunch hours. When we finally walked by and the shop was open, it felt like such a victory. Every time I wear them, I think of Florence and how long their lunch hours are and how wonderful their food is. So while it is entirely possible for me to come across an identical pair of bee earrings somewhere else, these are MY bees. And I love them.

While I have collected a few physical souvenirs along the way, what I mainly collect is ideas about how to wear clothes. Every city has its own vibe. One of the most extraordinary cities I’ve ever been to is Mexico City. Bright and dark mix together, where the ancient temple stones form the foundation for a copy of Paris. Saturated colors are fearlessly combined, usually with a black background for contrast. The key to Mexican style is in the combination and assimilation of every culture that has been in power.

But every place has its own personality. English style is referential, drawing from every period in history. French style is cool, calm, and classic. Italian style is driven by a pursuit of beauty. So when you travel, which I am mainly doing via book right now, keep your eyes open and think about what you want to take with you!

The Perfect Work Outfit

Continuing last week’s theme of “dress for the job you have, not the job you want”, I wanted to think through good principles to apply to dressing for work. Since we all have such different jobs, let’s talk through some general rules, then apply them to specifics!

The perfect work outfit:

  • realistically aligns with that day’s tasks
  • takes the situation and workplace into account (temperature, time of year, office formality level, etc.)
  • honors the people around you
  • helps you do your job better

Like most principles, these things are easy to say, but tricky to accomplish. So let’s go through a few concrete examples and push these principles out into the corners.

My Monday through Friday work is data analysis and taxonomy creation. That means I sort through and categorize information, and in the course of that sorting process, I am in charge of making thousands of decisions per day. My weekly schedule remains pretty stable, but recently I’ve had more meetings and more communication to keep up with. (Not that I am complaining about that. It means I have more responsibility and that is something I try to embrace, rather than shy away from.) Communication has always been a struggle for me, because I am naturally shy. I struggle to find words, struggle to make eye contact, struggle to find the balance between telling the whole story and giving way too much detail. The list goes on.

Why yes, I am a data professional.

So using my job as an example, I want to fill out that list of outfit principles:

Does it realistically align with that day’s tasks? Most of the time, my work gets done in front of a computer, typing on a keyboard, sitting at a desk. Occasionally, I need to lead meetings and presentations, but that is the exception rather than the rule. So I’m spoiled – I usually know what my day will look like and can plan accordingly. As long as I don’t wear bracelets that make lots of noise while I type or don’t wear skirts that are too short to sit down in, my day to day outfits are fairly simple to align with my tasks. On meeting and presentation days, I dress more sharply, in hope that a sharp-dressed Ashley will be a sharp-witted Ashley. (Sometimes it works.)

Does it take the situation into account? I bring an extra layer with me, even in the summer, because the temperature in our office tends to be cold. I’ve seen a lot of articles about how sexist it is to set the air conditioning to work for men’s body temperatures, but I would much rather be on the colder side and not be surrounded by sweaty male coworkers. Besides, it’s easier to dress professionally when you can layer. Win win.

Does it honor the people around you? Mainly I honor my coworkers by trying to be calm, cool, and covered. My goal for work is to look competent and professional, not sexy. Hopefully my outfits are attractive (as opposed to repellent or off-putting), but I am not at work to find a date. I am at work to do my job.

Does it help me do my job better? I alluded to this earlier, but I dress up more on days when I feel overwhelmed or intimidated. And on those days, I pray for God’s good grace to carry me through and wear a nice outfit. Also, when I wear structured clothes, I sit up straighter. If I slouch, by the end of the day, my shoulders and back get very angry at me for slouching. So having outward reminders to think about my posture and think about the image I am projecting to other people helps me do a better job.

But what does this look like for other jobs?

Let’s use the example of a gardener. A perfect work outfit allows them free range of movement, especially leaning over or kneeling. It protects them from the sun. (I advice a wide brimmed hat and a lightweight, breathable long sleeved shirt for sun protection.) Comfortable shoes that protect the feet, a bandana for shielding the face from dust, gardening gloves – perfect accessories. And if I was gardening for a living, I would reinforce the knees on all my trousers, because kneeling is a very important part of gardening. (Interestingly, most of these pieces also translate well to the adventuring trade. Indiana Jones has the perfect outfit for adventuring/treasure hunting.)

What if your task is taking kids to the park? The perfect work outfit on that day would comfy and easy to run around in. An outfit that allows you to focus on counting children and making sure you always have the correct amount of them. A cross body bag to keep your hands free (or better yet, a backpack.) Comfy shoes for walking. Every item of clothing is machine washable. The people you need to honor are the kids and the other people at the park. And one of the way you can honor your kids is by being ready to play with them!

Here’s a fun one – what would a perfect work outfit for a fashion stylist look like? They are the walking advertisement for their business, so a stylist needs a cohesive, styled look. But in order to honor their clients, they should look reliable and stable, not trend driven. I think a great outfit for a fashion stylist would be classic, put together, and understated, so the focus is on their client’s style, not on their own.

What do you wear to work? Do you want to step up your style? Send me your styling questions in the comments! I would love to help you think through it.

Dress for the job you have

There’s a very common saying that tells us to Dress For The Job You Want, Not The Job You Have. It goes hand in hand with the saying Dress For Success. I’ve also heard Be The Best Dressed Person In The Room, but that is on the very extreme end of this genre of advice.

Most of the time, the Dress For Success type of advice is given in the context of a traditional office setting. Probably the more modern social media equivalent would be Build Your Personal Brand or Stay True To Your Aesthetic. Both have to do with visualizing where you want to be, using clothes as a way of getting to that ideal future, and manifesting that future ideal into a present reality. But dressing for the job you want, not the one you have can lead to problems. So let’s unpack this commonplace saying and think it through!

The most applicable time for Dressing For The Job You Want is during a job interview. I don’t think it is necessary to always wear a suit to an interview. Dress thoughtfully and in accordance with the nature of the job. If you are interviewing at Old Navy, it really wouldn’t hurt your chances to wear head to toe Old Navy to your interview. After all, if you get that retail job, you will be a walking advertisement for the store’s clothes. So proving that you can style their clothes nicely would be a plus. Now, if your interview is for a position at a legal firm, you must wear a suit. (That is a given.) But even for an interview, it is important to stress that dressing for the job doesn’t matter if you can’t actually do the job. That’s worth pointing out.

“Dressing for the job you want” implies that you don’t want your current job. That’s my main problem with that advice. I will never argue against dressing well, but I will certainly advise against using clothes to feed discontent. The best way to advance in your career? Do your best work on the job you have right now. So choose your clothes for the job you have, not the job you want.

I’ve been working at the same company for 8 years and at times I have dressed for the job I want, not the job I have. My job involves data analysis, taxonomy creation, tracking down sources, researching, and formatting messy information into clean and meaningful data. At the beginning of it, I just needed a job. My true passion did not lie in data research and analysis. In the back of my mind, my ideal future occupation would be fashion designer or personal stylist. So I dressed for the cool fashion design job I wanted to remind myself that fashion was the goal. Do you think that helped me be content in my data analyst job? The answer is no. To use a stereotypical example, I had times when I was like the Los Angeles barista constantly reminding herself that she is really an actress, not a barista. Making coffee is just something an actress does “in the meantime”. She will make coffee until gets her big break, until that one important opportunity that will change her life. But the meantime matters. Life happens in the meantime, not in some ideal future.

Do I still love fashion? Of course! Why do you think I write a fashion blog that will never make me money and will never garner me fame/accolades from the Fashion Community at large? It’s for the fun of talking about clothes with all of you. But at this point in my career, I truly love my job and I also know what clothes help me do my best work, so those are kind of clothes I wear.

I’ve been thinking about dressing for work for a couple of weeks now, because a friend sent me a very good question about what is a good summer outfit to wear in 90 percent humidity, while chasing a couple of kids, and possibly doing a cartwheel? And it’s a fantastic question, but not an outfit I can style for my workplace. But shorts and a swimsuit can be the perfect work outfit for somebody else!

All honest work has dignity, so don’t be ashamed of your current job. You don’t need to hide behind a future career to justify your present one. When we think of “business attire”, we usually think about tailored suits, blouses and pencil skirts, blazers, or high heeled pumps, but those might be entirely unsuited to what you do. What if you showed up to paint a house in a tailored suit? Would you try to weld in high heels? Would you wear a skirt to teach swimming? Of course not.

A special note to all the moms out there – motherhood is one of the world’s most undervalued jobs, because it doesn’t match our society’s image of a career. But your work is so important and so valuable. Dress for where you are and what you do! Don’t worry about matching up to a hypothetical vision of what it means to have a career. If your day-to-day tasks include changing diapers, teaching your kids to read, cooking, playing outside, and cleaning up, and making your home beautiful, dress for those tasks. Your work includes more varied tasks than most other jobs, constant changes of plan, and many chances to get messy. It’s not a mystery why choosing a simple daily outfit can be a struggle sometimes – you are doing so many things! I can say without irony that you have my dream job, because I would absolutely love to be a wife and a mom. But that isn’t my job right now, so I need to dress according to my own day-to-day tasks without a twinge of envy for somebody else’s life or even for my own future life.

What’s best thing about dressing the job I have, not the job I want? The freedom. The freedom to focus on the present, not on the aspirational future. The future is never guaranteed. But one guarantee is that we will get daily opportunities to be faithful in our work. When we were babies, our work involved complicated things like learning how to walk and learning which things are No Touches. Then we got to school age and our work turned into spelling tests and fractions and chapter books. After school, work usually turns into more formal jobs, but sometimes our daily work means going from job interview to job interview or researching how to start a business or teaching other students while pursuing a master’s degree or a doctorate. No matter who you are, you have work to do. And the things we struggle to learn as babies are still part of our work – learning trust and obedience. That IS our work.

My dad led music at church when I was growing up, so hymns live in my bones. Some of the old hymns deliver the message in a beautifully blunt way:

“Trust and obey,
For there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus,
But to trust and obey.”

(Trust and Obey, John H. Sammis)

No matter what your work is, everyday faithfulness runs through the heart of it. So leave discontent behind and learn to value the meantime.

(I would love to hear about your work! Please comment and tell me what you do. For next week’s blog post, I would love to style summer work outfits based around your jobs and the daily tasks involved in each of them. Comment if you want to be included. Thank you so much for reading and interacting with these posts – I appreciate you all!)

Designing Around Details

I don’t know about you all, but I rediscovered a bunch of things in my house during the lock down. Forgotten things, lost things, nice things, broken things… all sorts. I tend to save broken objects in case I get a sudden urge to fix them, but that rarely (if ever) happens. So I also threw away quite a few things. But the rediscovered nice things deserved to make an appearance, so this week’s post features them!

Right now isn’t a simple time to find new clothes, because even if retail stores are open, dressing rooms remain closed. Shopping online is hit or miss, because with everybody online, auctions are especially competitive and shipping times are volatile and mysterious. So shopping your closet can be a great option. But one difficulty with using the clothes you already own can make every outfit feel like a boring snooze fest. How can we style our clothes in new ways? Where do we find inspiration to recombine and rework outfits?

Start with a detail! Especially if that detail is something you don’t usually wear, but would love to wear more. Those earrings your friend gave you for your birthday, your grandma’s necklace, the pretty shoes you only pull out for special occasions, the belt that slightly confuses you. Bring them back into rotation and make them the stars of the outfit show. Begin with a single detail and build the outfit around it.

This silver necklace comes from my grandma’s house and I found it when looking through her things on the day after her memorial service. While I don’t remember her wearing this particular necklace, she had several necklaces from a particular jewelry designer and this is one of them. It is very possible that she found them while traveling, because the jewelry bag says Helsinki, Finland. That would make sense, because this necklace has the hallmarks of Scandinavian design – beautifully simple, complete with interesting and practical design features. (For example, the clasp works perfectly and blends in with all the other decorative links. The practical necessity of having a clasp doesn’t take away from the design in any way.)

So with the necklace as my starting point, I set out to design an outfit with the same aesthetic. Sometimes it helps to mentally describe the detail. Just start listing adjectives – simple, matte, neutral, mid-century modern, intelligently designed. This outfit didn’t need to be flashy or outrageous, even though the necklace could certainly stand up to a colorful outfit. Given the simplicity of the necklace, I wanted a dark top for contrast.

After choosing a black top, the rest of the pieces fell into place. I wanted a skirt that felt classic, but not too stiff or formal. A cardigan with a built in belt for a great fit. The simplest of sensible black pumps. The result pleased me. It wasn’t groundbreaking, but it combined ease and simplicity and good shapes. Pretty classic. This might become my new overseas travel outfit, once traveling to Europe comes back as an option! Even though the necklace isn’t obvious and can’t be seen from a distance, I enjoyed wearing it all day.

A short post today, but I will leave you with a few more photos of outfits that I put together based on specific details. Tell me in the comments if you end up trying this idea. It is a lot of fun, so go ahead and give it a try!

It is good to miss dressing up

I miss dressing up. But more than dressing up, I miss the reasons and occasions for dressing up.

The fashion industry tells me to dress for myself. Your clothes are personal, they say. Good clothes will boost your confidence.Your clothes establish your identity and personal branding and your outfit tells the world what you are all about. In the right clothes, you can control your own world.

So why is dressing up at home by myself so unsatisfying? Because we do dress for other people. Even when working from home, I invite people into my house via video meetings and calls. If I am home by myself, I still try to dress the part (work clothes for doing work, workout clothes for working out, comfy Saturday clothes for comfy Saturdays, etc), but dressing the part isn’t as fun without other people around. (Also, I should point out that if you live with your family, your family counts. Just because your kids are around all the time, it doesn’t mean they don’t notice what you wear. For example, my nieces get so excited when my sister wears a pretty dress. So you don’t need to leave the house to think about dressing for other people.)

But this year, there might not even be a wedding season. Do you miss it? I hope you do. Not just the dressing up, but the reason for dressing up – honoring other people and bearing personal witness to their lives. In Jeremiah 25:10-11, part of the Lord’s judgement is the cessation of normal life. “Moreover I will take from them the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones and the light of the lamp. And this whole land shall be a desolation and an astonishment, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.”

I’ve been through many wedding seasons since college and I’ve enjoyed all of them. As Captain Jack Sparrow says, “A wedding! I love weddings! Drinks all around.” I like the dressing up, the ceremonies (even the ceremonies I don’t understand, like unity candles), the celebrating (even the much-maligned electric slide and cupid shuffle). Why do I like weddings? I love my friends and get the honor of sharing their joy with them. If my attitude toward weddings ever sours, it comes from worrying about myself. Self-centeredness ruins a lot of otherwise joyful occasions. I have learned that lesson more times than I wish I had.

The busy sounds of work getting done? Gone. The sounds of celebrations – weddings, graduations, Easter feasts, parties, concerts, church services? Gone. It sounds like this past month, doesn’t it? Desolate and silent for a time, but not without hope.

Because the book of Jeremiah doesn’t end with silence. The desolation doesn’t finish everything off. At the end of T. S. Eliot’s poem The Hollow Men, he writes, “This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper.” And that is how this silence feels. It feels like the end of the world, like the end of everything normal. But ten years after writing The Hollow Men, Eliot wrote his Four Quartets and it has a much different ending. In the last stanza, he wrote,

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Here is the Lord’s promise near the end of the book of Jeremiah:

10 “Thus says the Lord: ‘Again there shall be heard in this place—of which you say, “It is desolate, without man and without beast”—in the cities of Judah, in the streets of Jerusalem that are desolate, without man and without inhabitant and without beast, 11 the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voice of those who will say:

“Praise the Lord of hosts,
For the Lord is good,
For His mercy endures forever”—

and of those who will bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord. For I will cause the captives of the land to return as at the first,’ says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 33:10-11)

It is right and good to miss normalcy, to miss people, to miss witnessing each others’ lives, to miss dressing up and celebrating, but don’t assume that this is how the world ends. Live in hope. And when we get the chance to celebrate together again, let’s celebrate with all our hearts. And you’d best believe I will be dressing up to do so!

All Dressed Up, Nowhere To Go: Outfits For Staying Home

I bought these beautiful dresses a few months ago and except for the dark pink one, which I wore to celebrate Easter, they haven’t been worn at all. Such a shame! But I look forward to wearing them all once leaving the house and meeting up with people is once again the norm. Man, do I look forward to that day. But what AM I wearing these days, when the norm is staying home?

Layers

One thing I’ve noticed about working from home is that my house’s temperature changes throughout the day, depending on which window the sun is coming through. Or if the sun is behind a cloud. Or if the day starts out sunny, but then it starts snowing. (I live in Idaho, so that last situation isn’t hypothetical.)

Layering clothes helps to even out this temperature fluctuation. Sometimes I’ll start out the day with a knit dress, leggings, fluffy socks, a cardigan, and a blanket. Then by lunchtime, I’m in my dress, my leggings, and barefoot.

Yes, I do wear dresses! Knit dresses are staple pieces for my working-from-home wardrobe. But I tend to stick to dresses that are stretchy, comfy, and machine washable. One of my favorite things to layer over a dress is a denim/chambray shirt – a denim shirt serves the same function as a jean jacket, but the shirt will usually be softer and lighter weight.

Wham bam – a comfy, cute, casual outfit! The jean shirt also works great over black jeans and a t-shirt or over shorts and a tank top – any outfit that needs an extra layer. I treat this shirt like a hoodie. As a former California girl, I know that the perfect temperature is any temperature where I can wear shorts and a hoodie and sandals. We haven’t quite reached that temperature in Idaho yet this year, but I live in hope and it will be so glorious when that weather does come!

Layers also give an opportunity to introduce some bright color and contrast into an outfit. I’ve been appreciating this bright cardigan from Loft this week:

This bright mustard yellow actually goes with more than you would think. In my experience, that goes for a lot of bright colors. Most of my clothes are blue and black, so they provide a great blank canvas for any pieces I have that are bold and brightly colored. Speaking of, another theme of my working-from-home outfits is…

Bright Colors

For the first week or so of working from home, I noticed that my outfits were very basic and bland. Jeans + pullover sweater + socks. That was my uniform every day. And that was just fine, because I was working my tail off trying to finish a huge work project before the deadline hit. Clothes were not very important that first week of working from home. But the sameness started to affect my morale after a while, because I did the same type of work every day, wore the same pair of jeans every day, rotated through the same few sweaters every few days, and sat in the same spot in my house every day. Eventually, all the days were the same day. (In fairness, I have trouble telling days apart even when I’m NOT in lockdown mode, so I can’t blame working from home for all of this.)

This outfit is a perfectly fine outfit on its own. Jeans and a soft neutral buttondown shirt. (It’s also wrinkly, but I’m not going to steam a shirt that will wrinkle again as soon I sit down.) But let me tell you, when I wear this shirt in a zoom meeting, I blend right in with the walls. After a while, I started craving bright color. Like when you haven’t enough Vitamin C and suddenly, orange juice sounds like the most delicious thing in the world. Or when it’s been dark and cold for months and sunshine becomes a physical and mental necessity.

Same outfit, but with a bright silk scarf. I picked this scarf up for a dollar at an antique store and it has been such a good investment. It does all the color combination for you – a light dove gray background, with stripes of dark pink, red, yellow, and orange. A little bright color does wonders!

I figure this is a great time to experiment with color combinations – if they don’t work, nobody has to know except you and your family or housemates. So go for it!

I call this my Cabin Fever shirt, because it reminds me of that brilliant song from Muppet Treasure Island. It of course looks good with normal jeans, but I want to try it out with my favorite red corduroys. Why not? If it works, it will be very cool. If it doesn’t work, no worries.

Pattern and Texture

Color isn’t the only way to add variety. Patterns pack a visual punch and a mix of textures keep all your clothes from feeling the same.

This outfit mixes patterns and provides some lovely texture, while remaining comfy and simple to wear. After I put on some cozy slippers and throw a jean shirt over everything, I’m ready for whatever the day throws at me.

Effort

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – effort counts. The hardest thing about working from home for me is the force of inertia. An object at rest tends to stay at rest, unless acted upon by an outside force. When I’m in bed in the morning, I am the Object At Rest, so the easiest thing in the world is to stay at rest. It takes effort and willpower to get going. Once I’m up, it’s pretty easy to stay in motion for the rest of the day. Getting up and getting dressed and brushing my hair and putting on a little bit of makeup is part of the push that gets my day started. (Right now, my makeup routine is basically just a tiny bit of brown eyeliner, some bronzer, and lipstick. I ran out of foundation and I don’t want the hassle of removing mascara at the end of the day. But I do want my eyes and mouth to show up on my face during daily Zoom meetings. Hence, my new sheltering at home makeup routine. It takes seconds to accomplish and does the trick.)

To be perfectly honest, I haven’t been missing my foundation.

My hair is much longer than usual, but since I can’t get it cut, it is time to embrace what I have. Longer hair does take more effort for me, but putting in a little bit of time into making my hair presentable helps the whole day out. It doesn’t take very much time. It’s more about the effort than the results for me. Hopefully the results are decent, but doing something is the most important part. I’m a doer of things and unconcerned with perfectionism. (And that last line describes this blog better than any other sentence I’ve ever written.)

So that’s my lockdown style guide. It is reactionary, for sure. A reaction against the quiet string of days that all become one long day. It is the same reaction that drives people to bake sourdough bread or whip up fluffy coffee or move all their furniture. I want variety, because right now in my household, it’s just me.

What I really want is people. Switching up my outfits, trying new recipes, reading new books, or listening to different music every day is just a proxy for listening to other people, hearing thoughts that aren’t mine. I want to hear all your ideas, all your songs, all your family stories, all your wild plans. And yes, I do want to hear what you dreamed last night. (Has isolation made anybody else dream up a storm?) I want to give big hugs and firm handshakes. I want to smile at people and be smiled at again. Miss you all and can’t wait to see you in person. I can guarantee that you will all look especially beautiful to me on that good day. So until that day, don’t worry, take in the springtime, faithfully read the Word, and lean on the Everlasting Arms.

Why I wear jeans and other musings on working from home

Like a good chunk of the country, I’ve been working from home for a while and I have thoughts. This blog won’t be very cohesive. There. You’ve been warned.

I started out trying to separate my work space from my home space, but it turns out that’s impossible to do in my tiny and adorable and very open house. Do you remember that scene in Winnie The Pooh where Pooh Bear gets stuck in Rabbit’s front door and Rabbit is faced with the dilemma of how to deal with this new feature in his house?

All rights to Disney for this classic.

I don’t usually think of myself as a Rabbit type, but I definitely have control issues. As witnessed by my “solution” to the problem, which was to hide the work space in the most obvious way possible. This next photo is weekend mode:

Nothing to see here. Why do you ask?

Working from home does affect how I dress a little bit, but not that much. Unless I’m wearing a dress, I won’t wear leggings to work, even if I’m home by myself. There are a few reasons why less comfortable jeans are chosen over comfy leggings. Not to say you can’t wear leggings, but this is why I don’t.

  • More structured clothes make me sit up straight. Over the years, I’ve learned that posture can make or break a day. If I’m slouching all day, my back is going to hate me by the evening. If my posture is consistently good, my lower back is pretty happy at the end of the day. So I save the slouchy clothes for when sitting isn’t required.
  • I wear fitted jeans, because I don’t own a scale. My weight fluctuates in normal circumstances, so it’s safe to assume that it will fluctuate in stressful times when I’m in my house surrounded by quarantine food. I love food. So if my jeans start to get uncomfortably tight, it’s a good indication I need to stop eating quarantine snacks between quarantine meals.
  • Putting on a nice sweater, a good pair of jeans, and a little bit of makeup gets me ready for the day. It is a ritual and it helps me delineate time. I’m bad at delineating time, which is why having set times when things happen makes a big difference.
  • One of my former housemates told me that I have two modes – all dressed up or Lost Boy from Neverland. This is true. Saturdays are my designed lost-boy-style days and I don’t want that to spill all over the rest of the week.

I’ve been on a lot of video calls over the past few weeks. Video calls crack me up, because they are pure theater. Everybody is starring in their own little film and those films all have different styles. My preferred Zoom style is radically backlit, so I can be a mysterious silhouette and not worry about my face doing crazy stuff. Anyway, I’ve stopped worrying about those meetings. Video calls are a necessity right now, so might as well make the best of it. My style advice for video calls: if you wear a color that contrasts with your background, you will show up nicely. Good lighting makes any shot better. Keep the overall shape in mind. If I pull my hair back into a tight ponytail, I look like I have no hair at all on Zoom. But if I put my hair up in a high bun, people can at least see that I have hair to put up.

Overall, it’s been okay working from home. I really miss people. If anything funny happens during the day, my impulse is to tell everybody I know individually, like Paul Revere. Why would I tell my story to everybody at once on social media? The story must be tailored to each individual hearer. I would have preferred to tell this blog post to each one of you who are reading this. You guys are great.

Feeling isolated, but overwhelming the feeling of isolation is gratitude. I’m healthy, my family is healthy, and we’re all on good terms with other. We all very much wish we could be together, which is a blessing in itself. Even though we’re apart right now, this won’t be a permanent separation. I’m grateful for blue skies and dark skies and sunbeams and snow flurries. Oh, and an earthquake. We had an earthquake. And I will tell every one of you all about it, individually.

Rediscovering Lost Loves

During the general state of crisis and uncertainty, I (like most of the world) am trying to figure out what to do when life isn’t normal. My work space is now part of my living space, because I’m working from home now. Living alone has never felt so alone before. This may be the first time in my life I miss crowds. (That’s something I never thought would happen!)

Probably because of the new unfamiliarity of this whole situation, I’ve been seeking out familiar things. While this is a good time to make new friends, it is certainly a good time to lean on established friendships and strengthen them. My communications channels are busy right now – chat and text and facetime and phone calls bring me great joy these days. It’s a good time to sing old songs and tell old stories. Rediscover the things you used to love.

That’s why I’ve been going through my old outfit boards this week. After Polyvore unexpectedly shut down a few year ago, I have hardly looked at the sets I created, because creating was the point. Standing back and looking at the finished product never really crossed my mind. But I truly loved making sets as a creative outlet and a way of communicating ideas. There was some overlap between my Polyvore days and the beginning of this blog, but I know that losing that creative outlet shoved me into this new version of creating and communication that I probably wouldn’t have pursued otherwise. Writing isn’t a natural strength for me, but ideas sleet through my brain all the time and unless some of those ideas are communicated, they fall through the cracks and I forget about them. So I’m going to do a different sort of blog post today and post some of my favorite sets.

In the coming weeks, I may be doing blog posts of my favorite Shakespeare quotes or trying to (very poorly) recreate Renaissance portraits or just talking about how lovely food is. Hopefully this will inspire you to look back and rediscover something you used to love and is still worth enjoying! Everything’s not lost. If something good has been lost, this is an excellent time to find it again.

One of my very first sets, based on the character Eunice Burns from “What’s Up, Doc?”
One of my first book-inspired sets, taking inspiration from Alice in Wonderland.
Based on Satsuki and Mei from Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro.
An homage to Billie Holiday and her timeless style.
Inspired by Terry Pratchett’s character, Anoia. She used to be a volcano goddess, but she was reassigned and is currently the goddess of Things That Get Stuck in Drawers.
Color combination inspired by Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring.
Inspired by Diana Rigg’s character, Emma Peel, from the 1960s British show “The Avengers”
My ideal tea party includes strong tea, loads of biscuits, and Emma Thompson.
Color combination inspired by Van Gogh’s “Three Sunflowers in a Vase”
Calvin and Hobbes. Absolute legends. What’s not to like?
Inspired by Chihiro’s transformation in Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away”
Inspired by The Man From U.N.C.L.E., a love letter to 1960s style.
A good number of my sets are bookish, this one particularly so. Olivia Williams is my dreamcast for Harriet Vane in Gaudy Night. (Of course I dreamcast my favorite novel – isn’t this perfectly normal nerd behavior?)
A Halloween costume idea for Prince John. Robin Hood is my favorite Disney movie.
I cannot overstate how much I love this version of Much Ado About Nothing.
Pippi Longstocking, a pioneer of quirky style. Another bookish set – yes, it is a theme.
One of my first ventures into conceptual advertising and promoting a brand – in this case, Dolce & Gabbana.
Inspired by Renoir’s “Danse à la ville
The legendary Groucho. Enough said.
I was part of a group dedicated to taking inspiration from nature – the challenge was to create an outfit based on this photo of seashells on a beach.
Inspired by the delightful collages of Mr. Eric Carle.
Based on La La Land and its modern vintage style.
Butterfly inspiration. How can we not be inspired, when there is so much beauty around us?

Not only did I love making these boards, they remind me of so many other things I love. This was my first venture into styling, color combinations, and composition. I’m very grateful for the chance to rediscover this part of my life! What will you rediscover, I wonder?

Demeanor: The Most Difficult Beauty Hack

Groucho Marx once said, “The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” There’s a culture of fakery and hacks and short cuts in the fashion and beauty industry, but there are elements of beauty that are almost impossible to fake. One of these is demeanor. Sometimes we use the word only to describe facial expressions, but it extends beyond that. My demeanor encompasses my facial expression, how I carry myself, and (probably most important in the current climate) how I conduct myself toward other people. It has more to do with the spirit than the face.

I started thinking about this idea more over the past week, as my number of virtual meetings started to increase, due to so many coworkers working from home. While I am grateful for virtual face-to-face communication via Zoom or Facetime, these meetings make me hyper aware of what my face is doing. Also, my laptop camera is located underneath my screen, making finding a flattering angle nearly impossible. This particular camera placement is known in tech circles as “nostril cam” and boy does it ever live up to its name. So virtual work meetings are an ongoing lesson in humility for me.

Besides the unflattering camera angle, I have realized I have a People Face and a Technology Face. My facial expression changes when I look at a screen. It becomes focused and somber. (Think Sam Eagle from the Muppets – that’s what my face turns into when I look at my computer. Lots of eyebrows and sternness.) When I see a person, my expression softens right up. My face changes, because I very much like people. I don’t *understand* people all the time, but I do like them. So on a virtual meeting, my default expression is Technology Face and I need to consciously remember that I’m dealing with real people and switch back to my People Face. It’s a weird thing. Does anybody else deal with this, or is it just me?

Incidentally, the people/technology face thing is one of the reasons I haven’t been posting outfit pictures on Instagram for a while. For me, the outfit photos are more about friendship than about the quality of the photo or (to be honest) the quality of the outfit. My goal isn’t to dazzle people with my amazing sense of style. It’s to show that it is possible to have fun putting together an outfit and the best way to convey the fun is being with a friend. A selfie of my daily outfit wouldn’t be nearly as fun as a two-minute photo shoot with a friend, so until we’re all back together in the same building, there may not be outfit photos.

My face is better when I smile. I know that. But if I’m putting on a fake smile, it may not be apparent to everyone, but it is definitely apparent to me and probably to people who are close to me. The eyes don’t lie. If I look tired, I can hide the dark circles with makeup. If I am disorganized, I can fake having everything together with a sleek ponytail and a blazer. But if I’m worried or upset or angry, my demeanor will change and I can’t fake my way out of it. The demeanor is the outward display of our internal state and it comes out in how we look and carry ourselves and in how we treat people.

I may use my mom as an example a lot, but that is because she’s a good example and therefore I shan’t apologize for it. My mom makes friends wherever she goes. Her beaming smile and kind eyes make her beautiful outwardly, but they start from inside and work their way out. She has a kind heart and people see that in her eyes. She has peace in her soul, so she can smile whatever the circumstances. There is no hack, no three easy steps, no tutorial that can teach somebody to smile like my mom. If there was, I would take that tutorial in a heartbeat.

Whatever is inside your heart comes out eventually. It comes out in your eyes, in how you speak, in how you treat other people. That’s why a beautiful demeanor can’t be faked – at least not for very long. If your soul is consumed by worry, anger, conceit, selfishness, or envy, those attributes will eventually come out on your face and in your actions, no matter how well you think you conceal them.. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23) Those are beautiful attributes. Beautiful on the inside, but also beautiful as they work outward. Kind eyes and a joyful smile are a beauty that don’t fade with age, because they aren’t only on the surface.

So what are you showing to the world during this time of upheaval? Do you look kindly on other people, or do you look at them as though they are a threat? Is worry written all over your face? How are you conducting yourself towards the people in your life, especially the ones closest to you? I think self-quarantine and isolation will tear down a lot of carefully maintained facades, because there is nowhere to hide. Some people keep busy to avoid self-evaluation, but when the busy stops, they start asking the hard questions. Don’t be afraid to ask the difficult questions as long as you are willing to be honest in your answers. And if you are a Christian, remember that the fruit of the Spirit is not something you have to manufacture by yourself. The fruit of the Spirit is a gift from God and it comes through faith in Christ. So don’t let worry overtake you. Trust in the Lord and let His peace flow through you to the world. There is a blessing in St. Patrick’s Breastplate, and that is what I will leave you with:

“Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.”

Beauty In The Details

I don’t know if I mentioned this in previous blog posts, but I had a trip planned to Italy during this particular stretch of March. For obvious reasons, that trip got canceled. Thank goodness. At this point, the borders have been closed. If we had continued on with the original travel plan, our group would be stranded there without a way to get home, contributing to an already strained situation in that country.

This is a very common situation right now. What’s the best way to deal with changed or canceled plans? Start working with what you’ve got and the situation you find yourself in. Do you need to stay home for a while? Be grateful and love your home. One practical way to do this is giving thanks for all the little things. Find beauty in the details.

I made panna cotta for the first time last weekend. It’s delicious.

We should (of course) give thanks for the big things as well, but sometimes giving thanks for the details gives us the perspective we need to see the big things. If you start finding it difficult to love your home, make a list of all the little things you do like about it. The kitchen window where the light streams in during the afternoon, hot water in the shower, cozy blankets to wrap oneself in, access to the internet, the oddly-shaped storage area under the stairs that holds more stuff than it looks like it should, bookshelves with books in them…. the list goes on. Build up enough details until you can see the whole thing, then give thanks for all of it.

This week, I focused on clothing details, especially the ones I take for granted!

Some of my favorite lining fabrics. An often overlooked, but delightful, detail.
I love a good button. Also, a good zipper.
Embroidery is one of my favorite decorative details.

Enjoying the details helped me this week. A lot of big things have happened over the past couple of weeks and the world is still reeling. So if all the big things overwhelm you, trust in the Lord and start thanking Him for the little things. Don’t wait until things get less overwhelming. Gratitude gives perspective.