Expanding my warm weather clothing capsule in a red hot hurry

Between my new job and lots of stunningly beautiful, unseasonably dry weather, I’ve been having quite the fling with spring. Blue skies plus two months of temperatures rocketing into the 70s and 80s equal Vix and Spring, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G.

Surely nothing could harsh my sunshine-yellow mellow!

Except: I’ve got a regionally appropriate wardrobe, and that region is one where morning radio jocks make (truthful) cracks about summer kicking off July 5th. Plus I’ve moved into a slightly more conservative work environment with a very conservatively dressing boss. And I have a recent past full of items bought to ADD more print and color to my wardrobe of neutral solids.

My closet and I needed seasonal help, and we needed it fast.

In hopes of minimizing purchasing mistakes I forced myself to gather everything I owned that was remotely summery, try the pile on, and assess. Once I’d slogged through the evaluation phase with many a self-congratulatory comment, I knew it was time for some ground rules.

Clothing Capsule Purchasing Goals or, Can’t We All Just Get Along?

  • Simplify integration into my existing work/play capsule by sticking to variations within my color palette
  • Cherry-pick 2013 spring/summer color trends by focusing on cool-toned deep greens and blues, taupes, and medium purples
  • Make transitional weather less of a PITA by growing my collection of prints/patterns that mix dark and light colors
  • Add a lace item; purchase both looser and more fitted shapes; and get more of trends I’ve enjoyed for a few years such as high-low hems and sheer blouses
  • Keep my three style personas happy enough by choosing items that could combine into Contrarian Classicist, Minimalist Magpie, and/or Persnickety Bohemian wholes

Given that I’m a corporate creative, I have some leeway in clothing as expression—but when I start somewhere new, I generally like the focus to be on my work product and ever-so-charming personality, not my more…vivid…clothing items.

Somewhat reluctantly, then, I accepted that I needed to spend money on pieces that COULD work together in an all-quiet ensemble. From there I hit the sales to find things I could wear together or with my existing clothing and accessories.

You Complete Me (for Now): 10 New Pieces I’m Wearing Together + Apart

  • Color-Color
    • emerald/cobalt sleeveless silk print button up shirt
    • blue + purple + taupe floral print shell
    • sheer purple + grey print long-sleeved top
    • white + navy + light blue short-sleeved faux-wrap dress (not shown)
  • Neutrals
    • navy straight leg tropical wool pants
    • ivory + taupe lace pencil skirt
    • lightweight taupe blazer
    • white boho luxe silk blouse
    • black tropical wool sheath dress
    • black + brown + taupe leaf print dress
  • #11
    • cobalt leather work bag big enough to pack all my crap (necessary replacement) 

If I’d given into my baser desires, I would have bought all blues and greens and spent every day humming “La Isla Bonita.”

Using a fairly strict color palette to build my seasonal clothing capsules = a more functional closet + ability to rationalize going overboard with favorite shades (here, Spring/Summer 2013 buys of a cobalt leather work bag, bold emerald-cobalt button-up silk blouse, and navy tropical wool pants)

In the interests of being more well-rounded, however, I decided to look at the hot-to-trot shades for Spring 2013; since time was short, I wanted to choose my color palette variations with an eye to what would be easier to find in stores.

My  2013 Spring/Summer Color Palette, Give or Take: When in buying mode, it’s easier to choose color palette variations from trendy shades — so I looked at the Pantone Spring 2013 forecast and decided to focus my buys on shades close to Emerald, African Violet, and Linen (aka deep green, medium purple, taupe) + navy

Amusingly, buying things I love in colors that flatter sometimes means I’m accidentally on-trendish. Here, new navy pants meet up with a T and high-low hem top from several years ago.

As an (oblivious) early adopter of emerald-colored items, sheer tops, and/or high-low hems, I’m still trying to evaluate how I feel about semi-tucking and slouchy — here, the new navy pants combine with old pals for weekend wear

On a related note, wearing things I love in colors that flatter has resulted in a lot of mullet outfits: they’re sedate from the back but a party in the front.

I dialed up the sedate when I started my new job, but am now easing in some mullet wear (staid from the back, party in the front)…here, navy wool pants plus my Parade of Peacock Feathers Dress worn tunic-style

Another mullet outfit with the new navy pants — this time with my Periwinkle Silk Goes Goddess-y Blouse worn sans sash and tied in a side knot

Of course, sometimes my looks are sedate from the front AND back. I find navy + grey combinations seem to add a banker’s touch to everything…

New items include an ivory/taupe lace pencil skirt + a print shell with blues, purples, and light taupe + a navy cotton blazer — all chosen because they play well with each other and with existing closet items

…especially when a little boho weasels its way into an outfit.

Despite being too-big vs oversized, a $15 price + perfect-to-me colors/print means I bought this floppy-sleeved sheer blouse; I twist, tie, and/or cover to rein in its volume (Top, over a sheath dress for work as a non-flamenco dancer; bottom, for play)

When navy’s not around and grey’s gone missing, though, I rely on blazers and denial to tame drapey boho luxe silks and highly textured tops and bottoms.

Other new items include a highly practical lightweight taupe blazer and a highly impractical but somehow irresistible (hello, Persnickety Bohemian side) white silk shirt

As the final element in my capsule round-up, I offer a rather terrifying-in-retrospect triptych of 99% neutrals. Pay no mind to the mannequin stance and seemingly surgically attached taupe suede boots.

Is this a cheerful study of neutrals, or Vix Paper Dolls #12: A Reflection on the American Office Worker’s Socio-Intellectual Boundaries? Either way, the leaf print dress, taupe blazer, and black sheath dress (worn alone and as a faux-skirt) are now wardrobe staples

Six or so weeks into my fast and furious purchasing, all 10 pieces have passed their road tests with flying colors (and neutrals). Even better, I’m back to a no-fuss closet that gets me from robe to ready in 5 minutes flat. Feel free to share your strategies for capsule dressing below!

Looking for more examples of creating a capsule with a color palette in mind? My pals Fizz (Fall/Winter + Spring/Summer) and Eileen used similar approaches.

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What to wear when you work in a whirling vortex

Few opening lines are as addictive as the one novelist Leo Tolstoy created in the late 1800s: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  

Strangely enough, it’s a sentiment that inverts when modern-day work environments are involved; it turns out that dysfunctional workplaces are so alike that consultants make enormous sums measuring them against standard “winning to woeful” markers.

Some might think the majority of vortex workers are those whose positions involve high levels of danger, literal life-or-death decision-making, or lots of time with the vulnerable or suffering. Surprise! Frustrated, confused, fearful, and stressed workers can be found in all types of organizations.

Assessing Whether You’re in the Vortex

Worried you may be in the vortex? See if Gallup’s findings on US employees’ health and productivity resonate with you:

  • “The more hours per day adults believe they use their strengths, the more likely they are to report having ample energy, feeling well-rested, being happy, smiling or laughing a lot, learning something interesting, and being treated with respect.”
  • “Being engaged in an activity at a deep, natural level can result in a lack of the sense of passing time, and indicate a level of engrossment that is consistent with strengths usage. So, apparently, time not only flies when we’re having fun, but also when we are using our strengths—both act to reduce a person’s chances of feeling stressed or worried about the present or future, and make life feel meaningful and productive.”

If those statements represent your current attitude about work, congratulations: you inspire both envy and hope in others. If you’re mystified by the research results, see if you identify with any of the below scenarios…and read on if the answer is “yes.”

  • Truly senior leadership doesn’t exist, because all the high-level players come and go quickly—as do their initiatives.
  • Departures are no longer mentioned in organizational missives, because the quantity is so high it “leads people still here to wonder why they’re such losers.”
  • Workers are openly told “like it or leave,” but somehow the directive never shifts to “like it or leave with this 6-month severance package and paid-up health care benefits that will help you weather a dismal job market.”
  • Colleagues are escorted out immediately upon axing, and managers don’t address the fact there and then with the remaining team. [Though a half-eaten scone may sit on the ousted one’s desk all day to serve as a poignant reminder of life’s randomness.]

Dressing for Days in the Vortex

Set your boundaries, be they wide or narrow. If variety energizes you, spend more time dressing for work and thinking up combinations that bring you delight and liven up the visual landscape. If less is more, though, there’s no shame in a low-key, grab-and-go “uniform” that works for your environment.

5. Whether drawn from real-life touchstones or escapist fantasies, incorporate items that have positive associations.

You may not be able to run free with 50 yards of silk like the powerful and dynamic Cyd Charisse, but hey: why not choose a scarf with movement, something worn on a day filled with happiness, or socks/underthings/clothing in your favorite athlete’s colors? It’s an easy way to keep in touch with the qualities you like in yourself or admire in others.

Tip 5a: Dress in a way that lets you channel a role model (here, a scarf very loosely inspired by the bold and free Cyd Charisse in Singin’ in the Rain)

Tip 5b: Pluck an item with pleasant memories from your closet (here, a blouse worn to visit Vancouver BC gardens)

4. Soothe your senses by minimizing color combinations and maximizing the Pajama Alternative Factor.

From knit-on-knit action* to whisper-soft Ts, shirts, and scarves, comfort-food dressing can make long days more bearable. [Despite the examples below, there’s no need to avoid color-color.]

Tip 4a: Find your slanket alternative (here, a grey cashmere sweater and black knit separates)

Tip 4b: Never underestimate the joy of repetition or the power of comfort-food dressing (here, my standard monochromatic trousers/sweater combo with a cozy velvet scarf)

3. Send subliminal signals by dressing for offense/defense.

The opposite of number 4 above, for days when you know it makes sense to show you’re as serious as a heart attack. There’s a reason for the clichés about power suits, ties, and colors. However despondent the game makes you, gird your loins and protect your hide.

Tip 3: Invert tip 4 on days you anticipate needing a good offense/defense (here, protecting my hide with a leather blazer and girding my loins with a multi-chain belt)

2. No matter how low morale and how casual your workplace and/or your Fridays, beware of looking too relaxed, ratty, or whimsical.

Do you really want to be wearing a sweater dress with missed patches of cat hair, a Hello Kitty sweatshirt, or wrinkled clothes when the CEO drops by to announce more strategic “reworking”—especially in case it’s you being cut?

Tip 2: At minimum, play in your organization’s nicest end of casual to avoid feeling worse when the Powers That Be drop another bomb (here, none-too-trendy dark wash jeans + blazer)

1. Stock your closet with whatever passes for interview wear in your region and industry.

Naturally your CV, accomplishments, and references are updated and ready to go….

Tip 1: Keep your closet stocked with the right stuff for interviewing in your industry/region (here, a black pantsuit + black shell + collared, blue/grey leopard print silk shirt + bold shell ring)

* Déjà Pseu of Une Femme d’un certain age has a flair for this type of dressing…and as it turns out we have sibling grey/black knit-on-knit outfits

Ranunculus Neckline Dress

Lately when I try to make things easier they get harder. It’s not really a knack that endears me to me, but it does make for extra delight when plans trundle past intended mileposts instead of making sharp U-turns into oncoming traffic.

So let me keep this short and fairly sweet….

First, I met some fabric. Then, I met a woman intrigued by my desire to merge a simple wool jersey dress with a dramatic collar. I mentioned “1940s” and “draped” and “rouched.” From there the Affable Experimenter came up with an interpretation that reminds me of the gorgeous Persian buttercup (aka ranunculus asiaticus):

After much patient experimentation, a local dressmaker succeeded in topping a wool jersey dress with a ranunculus-like neckline

Although I certainly see a connection to the soft swoops of fabric so prevalent in vintage clothing. And to dimensional dresses worn by not-so-vintage sirens.

With the help of my creative collaborator, I’d say I ended up with a dress that’s 1 part 40s Vogue : 1 part Katy Perry

While my Contrarian Classicist side influenced the design from start to finish, adding a few shiny accessories makes it simple to get buy-off from my Minimalist Magpie side. When the dress is worn on its own, all it takes is a little patent:

Long sleeves and a staid length meet up with patent platform peeptoe heels…

and also pair with highly walkable boots that have their own take on platform + patent (via a tough-to-see shiny heel)

But adding a matching jersey tube that lightly cinches the waist and upper hip area makes the perfect backdrop for an off-the-clock chain belt:

A removable tube of matching wool jersey lets me create more waist definition (and provides a handy backdrop for a chain belt once I’m off the clock)

As with most of my custom projects, the Affable Experimenter and I had to do some problem-solving here and there; overall, though, the whole process was so smooth I may be in withdrawal from “complicated.” Could that be why the highly impractical cape below seems so appealing?

A 1955 cover line touts bulk against slimness—and makes it mighty tempting to add another charcoal item to my closet

Parade of Peacock Feathers Dress

Having apparently squashed the rose-colored glasses I keep around to help offset personal and global downers, I’m extra-bummed that anytime I fall in love with something beautiful there’s always a least a little darkness attached.

Take silk: though I felt called to start budgeting for my Periwinkle Silk Goes Goddess-y Blouse the moment I saw it—and vowed to have a less poufy, more printed version created in dress form—knowing the very very tough life that captive silkworms lead definitely cast a cloud over my greed.

Because even I, with my “Let them eat mulberry leaves!” perspective, feel a bit guilty about how ole silkworms feast, molt, mate, lay eggs, and die soon after. Author Dana Thomas, observer of modern silk production, leaves no room for one to have happy fantasies about silkworm eggs going on to live happy caterpillar/silkmoth lives, either; she notes that (hopefully unexploited) workers steam the critters in their cocoons before unwinding the cocoons onto reeling machines and getting down to a process where “the work is swift, the water filthy, smelly, and very hot.”

Kind of grim, right? By the time I’d done two months of off-and-on searching for silk fabric I was worn down with liberal guilt.

[But then that’s part of the reason Thomas’ excellent book is titled Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster and not Consumption: Enjoy It Mindlessly.]

Naturally I could have reassessed my wants, abandoned my quest for a silk print, and turned to bamboo jersey. Once I stumbled upon a fabric with the right colors, design, and sheen for my purposes, however, I’m afraid the plight of the silkworms was mentally filed under D for Denial and cross-referenced under H for Hypocrisy.

As a bonus, the madcap print—varying sizes of peacock feathers sprawled over a 2-foot repeat—reminded me of one of the most amazing spaces I’ve ever seen, James McNeill Whister’s Peacock Room.

I’m discovering that my custom peacock feather print silk dress (worn V-neck/halter style) loves a good breeze

Though a mere dewy-eyed girl when I first encountered Whistler’s beautiful deep aqua and gilt creation, I’d still move in today. Especially as the room boasts a mural that captures the seemingly eternal battle between those who create art for money and those who hold the proverbial purse strings.

My childhood love: James McNeill Whister’s Peacock Room — loved even more now for its mural (Art and Money; or, the Story of the Room)

But back to the dress, close sibling to my voluminous periwinkle purchase.

As documented earlier with the blouse, the style is a mix between a simple Greek chiton and a peasant blouse. A drawstring neckline and a detached belt let the wearer transform it from two sewn-together rectangles to a dress/tunic that can be worn in a variety of styles.

In my case all the “variety of styles” involve feathers on poitrine and posterior, but when one is channeling a peacock, shyness isn’t an option. I’m actually hoping a wild print plus under-engineered clothing shape = loud and clear sign of midlife crisis.

WAKE UP PEOPLE

L, 3 yards of silk Haute Hippie peacock print fabric await transformation; R, pale silver sandals meet up with meandering peacock feathers

However, as a fan of structured clothing, I’m naturally clinging to my creation’s drawstring for dear life. It’s my gateway to texture and shape, and although the string and channel construction is underappreciated in my household (“It looks…Amish,” quoth my beloved), I stand by my belief that a gathered neckline or sleeve has timeless charm.

If the style was good enough for the innovative Madeleine Vionnet, by gum, it’s good enough for me!

Speaking of art and money: As one of the master’s of the goddess-y gown, Vionnet’s mix of technical and artistic skills centered around ease of movement and letting the inherent qualities of a fabric shine (L, detail of a 1936 pleated neckline; R, shoulder detail from a 1938 gown — both c. the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Lately it’s been good enough for those hired to carry on Vionnet’s work, too.

During her long career, Madeleine Vionnet expanded industry horizons; today Vionnet SpA reinterprets her vision (Spring 2011)

In fact, I’m somewhat mourning my tradeoff of fewer pleats for less width/more manageability—but since I’m busy trying to figure out how and where to put necklines, hemlines, and volume I don’t have much time to dwell on my decision.

I’ve pretty much decided I can do false-advertising-in-action demure…

A short + straight waist means I rarely belt, but the crazy print of Peacock (keyhole in back/high neck variation) does keep the eye moving…hopefully away from slatternly slip straps

fear I need to draw the line at front-pleated skirts…am safe with the split shoulder, V-neck halter style better modeled with the Periwinkle Pouf…

A multi-way dress has many challenges, and while my sewist conquered print placement I’m testing necklines, hem lengths, and volume distribution

…and may have broken something trying to be trendy via tunic, cuffed skinny jeans, and vaguely cage sandals.

Technically, my Peacock dress can become a Peacock tunic…so I’ve thrown my staid basics aside in order to experiment with about 10 (aging) trends at once

Luckily for me and my styling efforts, the peacock symbolizes renewal. Here’s to having such a vividly colored reminder that every failure marks another opportunity for success!

PSA 1 and 2: Learn as Betty Kirke, costume historian and author of the classic Madeleine Vionnet, shares her knowledge about Vionnet’s revolutionary construction techniques—or get a glimpse of the Vionnet retrospective at the Museum of Decorative Arts (redirects to YouTube):

PSA 3: Get a look inside the jewel box known as the Peacock Room, currently housed in the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art, and read up on the artist-patron feud that inspired the room’s famous mural

Periwinkle Silk Goes Goddess-y Blouse

In my younger and more Miss Priss days I was prone to living vicariously through charismatic slightly-bad-boys. While age has dampened my attraction to males full of razzle and dazzle, I rather suddenly and mysteriously seem to be prone to desiring clothing with similar attributes. Should I blame biology for my increasingly flamboyant taste—or just boredom?

Whatever the reason behind the change, it’s wreaking havoc on my plans to add a few practical spring-to-summer wardrobe items to my closet.

Instead of bringing home pieces ideal for my body shape, coloring, and lifestyle, I let an acre of periwinkle silk captivate my heart and my wallet. And though the material is fashioned into a blouse that can be worn in a multitude of ways and feels like heaven on, I can’t delude myself into thinking it’s ideal.

It’s too shiny. It’s too voluminous. It’s too in-need-of-belting (always a dicey proposition for a short-waisted H/Rectangle).

Blue meets green on a rare 85 degree April day (blouse worn V-neck/halter-tie style)

But despite knowing the blouse is rather wrong I don’t care that it’s not quite right. [And after decades of obliviousness around proportions and cut, these days I generally care about such things a great deal.]

I’d attribute the buy to my small but powerful Persnickety Bohemian side, but there’s plenty of finger-pointing to go around. Don’t think that my Contrarian Classicist style persona wasn’t whispering, “What’s more classic than a garment reminiscent of ancient Greece?” whenever I ran through the pros and cons of adding a vat of charmeuse to my closet.

L, Roman copy of a 4th century A.D. Greek statue wearing a peplos; R, attributed to Liberty of London c 1880s (via the Metropolitan Museum of Art's online gallery)

Periwinkle silk blouse worn V-neck/halter-tie style (with tighter vs looser gathers)

Post-purchase I learned that my blouse is more chiton-like than the peplos beloved by sculptors. Or more chiton-crossed-with-a-peasant-blouse-like. Translation: I bought rectangles of fabric meant to be transformed from boxy blah into luxuriously draped goodness. Er, yea?

Precedents for my periwinkle: Greek Chiton and Peasant Blouse

Unsurprisingly for someone on record as loving a good sarong dress and often sure that rouching will solve many a wardrobe problem, I feel more at ease with structured draping that has at least a small molecule in common with the artistic masterpieces of Madame Grès than I do with a couple of fabric rectangles.

2011 saw a long-overdue Madame Grès retrospective at the Musée Bourdelle

Alas for my comfort zone, there’s no getting around the fact that even when corralled, my blouson-y periwinkle doesn’t exactly create softened-yet-sleek lines.

Periwinkle silk blouse worn with keyhole in back

But here I am, and forward I must go. All hail that inspirational master of volume, Balenciaga!

Mid-50s Balenciaga via the Metropolitan Museum of Art's online gallery

Dear Balenciaga made things look so easy, yet two months after purchasing what Mr Vix rather annoyingly yet semi-accurately insists on calling my “purple sack” I’m still trying to figure out how to get the most out of the blouse’s range of wearing options.

Keyhole neckline front or back, gathers tightened/loosened, hem higher or lower—things can get a little complicated. I ain’t gonna lie: at times, styling my new boho luxe delight has proven as challenging as taking self-portraits in a dark hallway.

Voluminous meets variety in a dark hallway: Periwinkle silk blouse worn with split-neck/straight-across tie, deep V-neck, and with keyhole in back

At this point, tossing it over or under a column of color has been how I’ve started getting my cost per wearing down. As the weather dries up and warms up, though, I’ll keep on experimenting with variations that put this blouse front and center. Because when one’s inner goddess decides it wants to assert herself, it seems best to get out of the way.

PSA #1: Get an overview of Madame Grès and her sculptural designs—a mix of “austerity and sensuality”—including glimpses of the 2011 Musée Bourdelle exhibit that featured her work:

PSA #2: Enjoy Grainsdesel’s extensive, multi-part walkthrough of  the 2011 Madame Grès retrospective at the Musée Bourdelle—including beautiful shots of the museum itself: