On wearing a uniform

Coco Chanel:
Coco Chanel and a Great Dane.

I’ve realized that the well-dressed people I most admire wear uniforms. Emmanuelle Alt has her black stilettos, jeans, and white shirts. Jeanne Damas is always tucking shirts and sweaters into high-waisted pants. Giorgia Tordini can WORK some menswear, and hence usually does (I’m more than a bit in love with her). Grace only wears black now. Jonathan wears black and white.

Such people have a very specific, recognizable, and definable personal style. This interests me deeply. I think this is what people mean when they say that someone has “great style” — it’s concrete and identifiable; it does not bend to the seasonal whim of sartorial trends.

A uniform is certainly an appealing concept. It is not surprising that the article Matilda Kahl wrote for Harper’s, “Why I Wear the Exact Same Thing to Work Every Day,” sparked such a frenzy of internet interest. We take people who wear uniforms seriously. It appeals to our deep need to feel orderly and distilled in our daily life.

But what does this mean for someone like me, who is neither (a) courageous enough to wear the same thing to work every day nor (b) inherently gifted in the art of choosing and wearing clothes?

Some thoughts about this dilemma and my desire to be uniform:

  1. Name what I like and why. Continue to fall into that visual rabbit hole that is Pinterest (with which I am unabashedly in love). Study well-dressed people. Take note of why I keep pinning the same images and over and over again. It turns out that I am a perennial sucker for a woman in (a) button-down shirt and (b) a classic men’s shoe. Be exceptionally clear about what I like and dislike.
  2. Continue to edit out pieces that do not fit my concept of my uniform. I think I have now successfully accomplished this, as I no longer own any bright colors, flashy prints,
  3. Wear and use what I have. I do not need more things. I have checked off some of the more expensive staples from my wish list this year (silk shirts, cashmere sweaters), and they should ideally last a long time. I am set. Say this to myself and believe it.
  4. Talk to stylish people and glean their wisdom. I like doing this anyway, but I want to do it in a more structured, disciplined way. I am hoping to feature a few of these people here in the weeks and months to come, so stay tuned.

If I had to shape a daily work uniform from what I already own, I think it would be this:

  • Three-quarter-sleeve gray crewneck sweater from J.Crew (similar)
  • Black trousers from Gap, which I had tailored many years ago and now wear once a week (similar)
  • Black blazer from Forever21, which I am super-ashamed to admit, but it’s actually great and I wear it all the time and it was $15 please don’t hate me I haven’t shopped there in years and never will again (similar)
  • Black Everlane loafers, my dream shoe

Here it is! I am proud of how bad this collage is and how decidedly un-cool-lady-blogger it is.

Little Stories bad collage

How about you? Do you ever think about this? What garments would compose your daily uniform?

A weekend with Jonathan

Had such a wonderful, lazy, relaxing weekend with Jonathan while Guion was out of town.

Jonathan explains Korean food at the Japanese restaurant last night. #lovehim #sushi
Sushi at Ten.

We:

  • Had excellent sushi at Ten
  • Walked the dog
  • Drank lots of tea and talked
  • Loaded up on Trader Joe’s snacks
  • Watched episodes of “Will and Grace,” the film The Third Man, and copious amounts of K-Pop music videos/the K-Pop equivalent of MTV, which was extremely fascinating
  • Bought plants at Fifth Season and generally geeked out about them
  • Were lucky enough to grab dinner at Mas with Sean, our favorite fashion blogger
  • Laughed, cried
So proud of his #succulents right now. #latergram
Helicopter mom-ing his succulents.

Thankful for him and his many years of friendship.

Observations on French style

Disclaimers: I have never been to France. I only know a handful of French people. These are merely an amateur’s observations of French style icons, based purely upon photographs and a small amount of reading.

(c) The Sartorialist. Short, tousled hair.
(c) The Sartorialist. Long hair, long legs.

Observation no. 1: Hair is either very long or very short and extremely minimalist.

Essentially, French hair is the opposite of Texas hair. French hair seems to be best when it looks like you have done absolutely nothing to it. Messy is better than structured and coiffed.

Clémence Poésy. Click for source.

Observation no. 2: Color and patterns are used sparingly.

One color seems to be more than enough for one outfit. French women never seem to overdo it. The proverb seems to be: If you’re going to use a pattern or a crazy color, use them carefully; the pattern and the color should never be excessively distracting.

(c) The Sartorialist. Leather + sheer = sexy.

Observation no. 3: Subtle sexiness.

Again, we find the opposite of American sexiness (BOOBS! In your face!) in the way that the French woman seems to project how alluring she is. French women don’t show a lot of skin, but when they do, they really know how to do it tastefully, playing up their best assets (e.g., a short skirt if you have great legs, an exposed collarbone if that’s your angle). Sheer also seems to be really big in everyday French fashion right now.

Clémence again, looking a little wild-eyed in Chanel. Click for source.

Observation no. 4: FIT!

If it doesn’t fit your body, don’t wear it. I still have a lot to learn in this department. This is something that Jonathan is always (wisely) preaching to me, too. One of my goals this year is to actually take some of my clothes to a tailor! Gasp. I have never done this before. Few of us, as Jonathan says, are lucky enough to be able to buy clothes that fit straight off the rack. The majority of us should get our clothes tailored. Accordingly, French women seem to inherently understand this principle of fit. Their clothes seem to be made for them.

Juliette Binoche. Click for source.

Observation no. 5: Minimal makeup.

It seems that the French trick to makeup is to always look as if you weren’t wearing any. This was always what my mom told me, too, when I started experimenting with makeup as a young teen. French women never look overdone. French women are also famous for their skincare routines and their seeming acceptance of natural skin tone (e.g., lack of the American urge to be perennially bronzed). And if in doubt, just wear a bold red lip with nothing else on your face.

My conclusion is one word: Natural. French style strikes me as so very natural. Obviously, it takes a lot of time and effort and money and a great eye, but French style presents itself as natural: This is the way my hair and face naturally look; I have done nothing to them. These are the clothes that I just “throw on” when I roll out of bed in the morning. That seems to be the consistent theme of French style, if I had to narrow it down, in my limited observation.

To an American like myself, cultivating this aesthetic will clearly take a lot of work before it comes to me “naturally.” But that’s the idea.

Last ballet class

photo3
Waiting our turn.

My adult beginners’ ballet class ended last night. First new year’s resolution: accomplished!

It was a completely fun, ridiculous endeavor, and I’m so glad I did it, particularly to have the time with Cate and Stephanie each week.

photo7
Most of us, in the studio.

I felt like taking this class was a small victory for me: to have kept doing something that I was naturally terrible at.

I was talking about this with Jonathan last week. We both are quick to give up on things that we don’t have a natural ability for. This, obviously, is a personal failing, but it’s the way I am; I want to be instantly great at something (indicating that I am both prideful and lazy).

Ballet, as I have learned, is NOT something that I have a natural ability for. I mean, look at these robot arms:

photo5
Me and Steph, being robots.

But I stuck with it, even though I felt mostly terrible about myself, and I think I improved on the most minute scale. And I’ve signed up for the second-level class, which will start at the end of March.

So, here’s to sticking with things you’re not good at!

photo

(With thanks to Stephanie, and classmate Sarah, for the photos.)

Around this time, years ago

263/366

20 September 2008: Prehistoric Nettles! Guion performs for one of the first times in Chapel Hill, in the basement of the Student Union.

27/365

20 September 2009: A rare moment of quiet in the kitchen at McCauley Street, the house I lived in during my senior year at UNC. I don’t think this kitchen ever looked this clean again.

The group

18 September 2010: Hiking Crabtree Falls with our new friends, Sam, Sean, and Julie. Sam’s apple rolled down a rock face right before this photo was taken, but he decided to eat it anyway.

Balboa Towers

24 September 2011: Jonathan and I visit Catherine and Ava in Virginia Beach. Here we are looking out from Balboa Towers.

Lounging around the house
17 September 2012: Pyrrha, lazing around the house. Kind of feeling like I might do a third 365 Project (first done in 2008, second done from 2009-2010), maybe starting in January 2013? I miss being able to look back through the years and remember every single day. I am reminded that I have the most boring, well-documented life. But it makes me happy and I think my memory gets an artificial jolt from all of those photos.

Back in the Triangle

This weekend, I journeyed to the Triangle to spend some quality time with some much-missed friends. We had a shower for Kathryn, the beautiful bride-to-be. I skipped back to Durham and got to see three great films at Full Frame with Jonathan; stayed up until 2 (super-late for me these days) with him and Brittney, discussing the beauty/terror of whales, Radiolab stories, and dramatic break-ups. They are great. Everyone is great.

A small selection of photos:

The rest of the weekend’s photos are on Flickr.

Keeping the company of old friends is so renewing. This weekend, I realized that I’ve known Catherine, Kathryn, and Jonathan for six years now. To date, their friendships are the oldest ones that I’ve consistently maintained. (Including Emily, who wasn’t there but should have been. Durham feels absolutely desolate without you, dear.) I posit that a large part of the joy of old friends rests in the lack of having to explain things. You don’t have to explain your background, your family, your fears, your aspirations. You laugh about the old inside jokes, of course, but what is almost richer is the moment where you forget those old jokes or stories and then a word or a gesture sparks something and you suddenly resurrect the old days together. Your eyes widen and you say, “Ohh, I totally forgot about that night,” and then you experience it all over again.

There is much more I could say about these people, about how we’ve evolved together and separately, but all I need to say now is that I love them and I am so thankful for them. It is a considerable mercy that North Carolina is not too far away.

Monday Snax

Moon-blinking
Jonathan and me on the downtown mall.

We had a great weekend with Jonathan at the Virginia Film Festival. We all agreed that “Melancholia” was the best we saw, although we would caution you not to watch it when you are feeling sad.

Snax:

The Birth Control Solution. “Contraceptives no more cause sex than umbrellas cause rain.” An important and illuminating article by Nicholas D. Kristof. The efforts of conservatives to block birth control measures have paradoxically increased the number of abortions over time: “When contraception is unavailable, the likely consequence is not less sex, but more pregnancy.” The goals of family planning and Christian morality are not opposed to one another. (New York Times)

Bright Young Things. The winner of TIME magazine’s photo competition, Andrea Morales, presents a simultaneously moving and troubling glimpse into the lives of girls growing up poor in Glouster, Ohio. (TIME, LightBox)

Lessons Learned: How to Wear a Sari. Ugh! My little sister is so beautiful. And her sari is incredible. (Como Say What?)

Dresses of Tsarina Alexandra Romanova. I’ll take them all! (Retronaut)

In Praise of Memorizing Poetry–Badly. Robert Pinsky, a big fan of Guion’s work, reflects on why memorizing poetry is important, even if you’re not very good at it. (Slate)

All such nice people

Source: Oh, Joy!

It was like certain dinners I remember from the war. There was much wine, an ignored tension, and a feeling of things coming that you could not prevent happening. Under the wine I lost that disgusted feeling and was happy. It seemed they were all such nice people.

— Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

I like this quote. Even though it’s so cynical. I just like that feeling.

Happy weekend! Really excited about the Virginia Film Festival and Jonathan coming down for it!

Monday Snax

This weekend, I got to visit the originator of the term “Monday Snax,” Catherine the Great herself. We had a lovely, foggy weekend in Virginia Beach with Ava-rice and Jonathan. Some photos below; all on Flickr!

Balboa Towers
The view from Balboa Towers.
Cuddles
The dog is a cuddle pro.
Wry
Always watching.

After all of that good conversation, great food, and wine, it is hard to get back into the work week…

Snax:

How Many Slaves Work For You? Interactive website that gives you the answer: A lot. Very eye-opening. (Slavery Footprint)

Ask a Gay Christian: Response. Justin Lee, director of the Gay Christian Network, answers a lot of searing questions about being a gay Christian with humility and grace. This was very heartening to me. (Rachel Held Evans)

Presented Without Comment. Angela’s new blog of her father’s collected writings and e-mails is my new favorite thing. And this photo. (The Filthy, Luxury Life)

Corner Portraits by Irving Penn. I love these! Photographer Irving Penn stuffed a bunch of famous people into corners and then took these great photos of them. Included: Marlene Dietrich, Truman Capote, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Salvador Dali, among others! (Retronaut)

Someone’s a Big Girl! 75 words of wisdom from Alice Bradley’s hilarious mother. (Finslippy)

Elaine Stritch Is Just Happy that She’s Alive. I want to be Elaine Stritch one day. (NY Mag)

Yelena Bryksenkova. Lovely, cool-toned sketches from this illustrator. (Le Project d’Amour)

Fishscape. If only Reuben were still alive… He would have loved this. (Automatism)

Fake Books I Asked Librarians For. Yes. (The Hairpin)

Lost Gardens: II. Bunnies on the hillside! Natalie’s life is so romantic. And adorable. (Peregrinations of NJM)

This wandering of the mind

Source: The Vow

I began to envy those who live in deserts and to think that since they don’t hear or see anything, they are free of this wandering of the mind. I heard: ‘You are greatly mistaken, daughter; rather, the temptations of the devil there are stronger. Be patient, for as long as you live, a wandering mind cannot be avoided.’

— Saint Teresa of Avila, selection from Ecstasy and Common Sense

Happy weekend, all. I’m making a rainy trek to Virginia Beach to visit with Catherine, Jonathan, and Ava for the weekend. Very excited! See you Monday.