Momentum

Dante, never one to sugarcoat things when writing about hell’s 9 circles or the terrifyingly familiar sins of purgatory, chose to put the phrase a great flame follows a tiny spark into the “Paradiso” section of his masterpiece.

Given that most of the wet matches I brought with me when I clawed my way out of limbo #562 are still drying, it’s a comforting thought. And hey: I’m starting to see flickers of light in some parts of my life and wisps of smoke in others. Surely that’s a positive sign?

Of course I’m hoping I’ll eventually have (contained) flames that qualify as steady-and-ready if not Mr Alighieri’s “great.” In the meantime, however, I’m glad I have what I have—including a better ability to support those trying to move from draining stagnation to freeing stag leap.

…motion is a sure-fire clue there’s momentum of some kind afoot, but it’s surprising how much energy can be conveyed without word, sound, or movement…

(top to bottom: Ilya Idelchik’s vivacious “Flamenco Dancers” grace San Diego’s Spanish Village Art Center; orchids in Balboa Park’s Botanical Building defy homogenity; just outside Granville Island’s totem-carving wonderland, flexing fish bedeck a totem pole that welcomes visitors; artist James Harrison’s glass-centric Ghost Ship casts a 24-hour glow on Portland Oregon’s Eastbank Esplanade)

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Eileen exorcises her wardrobe demons [pt 3]

My pal Eileen’s decision to rid her closet of aging, nondescript clothes and complete her hey-I’m-40 style reassessment has boosted her swagger AND her sashay. During her efforts we’ve talked color palette and style loves (opulent, rugged, and boho). And we’ve talked body shape, body size, and (new) closet pairings. But what about post-transformation feeeeeelings?

Though my ability to capture Eileen’s style transformation took a severe nosedive as she racked up the outfit changes, I was determined to push on. For one thing, my Persnickety Bohemian side would never forgive me if I failed to post Ms E in all her boho diva glory:

Eileen, in the midst of directing reflector use, lets her boho diva side fly in a tunic that’s easily converted to a shorter top

Clearly it was time to check in on how she felt about her recent experiments.

Q: Despite your fondness for black crewneck Tshirts, I said earlier that I gave you credit for always mixing in color and pattern—something I’ve only recently started to do.

“Your new picks include plenty of solid neutrals; however, you weren’t shy about adding lots of bold prints that are getting you raves out in the real world. Do you feel like you’ve upgraded that element of your style?”

A:“I do. I was too stuck in REI land. I liked their low maintenance options, the detailed fabrics and colors. Maybe I thought more about the clothes and how much I liked them vs how they really made me look.”

Eileen’s new version of jeans plus tunic is sleeker than her former take…and great for her casual workplace

Q: Before you shopped, you read my attempt to summarize stylist Bridgette Raes’ advice for choosing prints, including her rather wild suggestion to chose prints that mimic the way one’s facial features move. Helpful? Constricting?”

A: “Surprisingly helpful. I do think I gravitate to organic, flowing lines on my own (her tips seem to suggest that for me).

“The brown and blue, 70s-era striped tunic with the big sleeves is something I would have traditionally avoided trying on but actually it’s more ‘me’ than past choices. It’s also just as easy to wear and travel with as my old clothes. I’m glad it came home with me. I love it!”

Q: “I know it’s early days, but since I’ve been so slow to write this you’ve had about a month to road test your new duds. What’s the verdict?”

A: “I’ve watched makeover shows, but I wasn’t expecting to feel such an improvement in how I feel about myself. I thought I felt more OK about my body! I think I’m hiding less. Apologizing for less.”

Q: “Hurrah!”

A: “On a practical note, my goal was to create outfits that would be worn weekly. I like how most of the pieces I got can be interchanged. Bringing everything new along when we went looking for more things worked!”

On a couldn’t help but notice note, I enjoyed how Eileen seemed a lot more comfortable playing up her Hourglass curves—aka inadvertently torturing straight-waisted, belt-envying companions such as myself—than she had in her “before” days.

Exhibit A: The dance-a-jig-worthy wrap dress she had the Mellow Glamazon whip up to fit her proportions:

Dim lighting doesn’t defeat our Eileen-in-the-wild shot, as she picks up her new customized wrap dress and puts it through a few paces (or something)

Exhibit B: A simple cotton knit dress paired with utilitarian boots but cinched with her arresting belt:

Utilitarian, fleece-lined boots and a travel dress get a bit of glam with a deco-tastic belt

Q: Have others responded to you differently?”

A: “Yes; I’ve had strangers, co-workers, and acquaintances compliment the clothing and how it looks on me. (Not in a weird way.) The clothing is almost like an ice-breaker or conversation starter. It’s turning out to be a great way to meet new people.

“I also think that I get a little more attention, especially when wearing the items that seem a bit more tailored and refined and maybe express a bit of attitude.”

Q: “Should I intervene if your new motto becomes ‘Nobody puts Baby in the corner’ and you start using the word ‘fierce!’ to describe anything you like or do, from food to pillows to hikes? Because that could be pretty entertaining.”

A: “Now you’ve got me thinking….”

L, With glasses temporarily off, Eileen’s gorgeous blue-grey/green-grey eyes are more on display; R, my two curly-headed pals require different purples to glow

Q: Best part of all this?”

A: “Lots of best parts. But I love buying goods directly from their creators, so getting a locally-made wrap dress and denim pencil skirt that were customized to fit *me* was up there.

“We already talked about fit issues and how I come from a family of women who were sewing geniuses. You would think I would sew (I don’t) or be big on alterations (I haven’t been).

I know if I don’t pay attention to the starting place I can look bad in custom or altered clothes, too. It’s a cliché but I’ve wasted so much time feeling bad about not fitting the clothing that was out there. (Too big in the waist, too small in the shoulders, too tight in other places. Depending on the style.)

“Now I’m heading back to my roots, when I watched clothing be fit to the woman.”

Q: “Good to hear. Thanks for being the center of attention for this interview. I know it doesn’t come naturally—or DIDN’T come naturally!”

Eileen exorcises her wardrobe demons [pt 2]

Previously, I interviewed Ms Eileen about her decision to start rebuilding her closet from near-scratch due to life and body changes—and her trust that my BTDT self could be of use as she shopped and evaluated. After sharing how we came up with a baseline color palette for her to use, I also provided detail shots of clothing that she felt communicated her three primary style loves: opulent, rugged, and boho.

Before Eileen and I headed off to shop, I had her do a little homework. She’d already identified herself as a high-hipped Hourglass (8 shape) and read up on proportions that should work well. But that wasn’t enough: before we stepped foot into spaces designed to suck money from her pockets and/or overwhelm as many senses as they could, I needed her to be calmish and clearish on her innate style preferences.

What better method to help her get to the heart of things that that of my eye doctor?

After wandering the internet, I sent her photo sets of gorgeous fuller-figured models and bloggers—chosen to offset her concerns that a 5’5 size 12-14 frame was particularly limiting—and had her choose between 1…or 2. “Bold print or subtle?” “Fitted or unstructured?” “Detailed or streamlined?” “Heavily accessorized or minimalist?” “Color-color or neutral?” “Drape-y or structured?”

Of course she wasn’t ALWAYS choosing one direction over another, but patterns and percentages emerged—mostly that with a bit of this, or when X then Y. And once we got shopping, she found her likes and dislikes of items or pairings were usually in line with her earlier picks.

Q: Here’s what I observed from your homework exercise and shopping with you:

“Whether you’re exploring your love of opulence, ruggedness, or boho two undercurrents are constant:

  • When you choose lots of detailing or print, you like to keep the overall shape relatively simple
  • You like to mix highly practical items with luxurious-feeling, often-natural fabric and/or pieces with ‘special’ detailing

“Agree? Disagree?”

A: “Agree! And if you make me sum things up more I’d say I go for refined practicality (with a leaning towards the sumptuous).”

HOLY STYLE BREAKTHROUGH, BATMAN

Clearly this newfound level of confidence deserved a little attention. So on a chilly overcast Saturday my friend Arinna, past Eileen client, current covet-er of Eileen’s new clothes, volunteered to be on the other side of the “beauty maker” reflector. I handled the camera and coached our model on posing.

[As I only have one pose, she quickly overtook me.]

Eileen goes from photographer to star of the show in a lush, colorful print top that ties at the waist plus a textured cardigan

Eileen pairs dark wash skinny jeans, a mildly heeled black bootie, and a textured black cardigan with a lush and colorful silk print top

Q: You say you hate to shop and you dressed in a fairly nondescript way for years. Yet your first two days of shopping you choose a lot of “icing” pieces—very memorable, high-drama items. And what wasn’t icing was quite “cake-y”—detailed, luxurious.

“I had to armtwist you to look at basics when I thought it would be the other way around!”

A: “I think I was more ready to change than I realized. More ready to stand out.

“And I do hate to shop. That’s mainly because most of the things I like don’t fit me. I was the same when I was 17 and quite literally a walking skeleton.

“I should add that I grew up in house full of women who were geniuses with fabric, patterns and sewing machines. They made clothing to fit. So, I naturally have higher expectations of clothing options.

“Fortunately, it seems that bigger sizes are more readily available these days. There could be more, but it’s better. I admit starting off with shoe and bra shopping was a good choice.”

Q: “Things looked brighter after you were in the proper size, right?”

A: “Yes. I carry weight in my stomach, and with the right bra size I had much more of a waist. Just like all the style shows tell you!”

Vintage-inspired jacket with leather trim plus a knit pencil skirt and ready-to-kick-ass knee-high moto boots

L, Buckling the moto boots; R, Eileen teams the boots and knit pencil skirt with a lightweight wool top and deco-tastic belt

Q: “Let’s talk about body proportions and touch on your body insecurities.”

A: “Ugh.”

Q: “I don’t need the worst-day nitpicky stuff, Ms Well-Endowed Hourglass, just some quick context.”

A: “Okay. I mentioned my stomach. I like the way the patterns we found really drew attention away from that area. I am giving up boxy because when I belt or wear things that fit to me I think I look a lot better. Why did I stop that? (I am a little short-waisted for belts to be 100% ideal.)

“The bust area…sometimes I’m self-conscious. Lower necklines are flattering but tough for me. I think I got a range of necklines that feel good for now. I have to ease out of the black crewneck T shirts!”

A seamed wool knit jacket in one of Eileen's best neutrals, grey, tops a print top and dark wash jeans

Q: “I kept reminding you what I remind myself: many things can be altered or it’s the damn clothes that are wrong, not the body. Did that help?”

A: “Sometimes more, sometimes less. I still have to deal with fit issues!”

Q: “Let me switch gears a bit. EM Forster has a line about his conventional heroine and her masterful, passionate piano-playing:

‘If Miss Honeychurch ever takes to live as she plays, it will be very exciting both for us and for her.’ 

“You are super soft-spoken and self-effacing and analytical, and from your ‘before’ style people who don’t know you and your photography—aka your workmates—wouldn’t realize you had this whole bold, creative, drama-loving side. Do you realize it might not be a secret anymore?”

With a layered-sleeve sweaterdress, Eileen finds a way to do Boho Vamp

Next: Part 3 of Eileen exorcises her wardrobe demons, in which outfits and others’ reactions both feature


Eileen exorcises her wardrobe demons [pt 1]

Recently, I’ve watched my pal Ms Eileen go through a lot of changes and hit a milestone or two. She turned 40. She’s taking her personal life in a new direction. And when she’s not at work she’s generally doing something related to building up her new side business, photography.

So when she said, “I’ve been thinking it’s finally time to stop wearing what I’m wearing. Would you be up for a little shopping?” I grabbed water and power bars and got down to cheerleading.

Of course, it wasn’t all pom-pom waving. There was also “Glow or No?” color opining (with a side of closet-building-from-near-scratch advice from the Vix and Fizz BTDT archives). And many a reality-bringing buzzkill of the Do you REALLY need a cocktail dress more than boots? Will you wear that sweater dress with layered short sleeves, or will it sit in your closet because you don’t want to show your arms? variety.

Unsurprisingly to me but somewhat alarmingly for Eileen, the “little bit of shopping” turned into concentrated bouts of buying. By the time we were done, however, my previously limelight-shunning pal had a versatile group of rather attention-getting clothes she could use for her business casual-casual work, for photography jobs, and for play.

GOOOOOOOO EILEEN

Since we’re both suckers for transformation tales, she agreed to share the broad strokes of hers.

Q: We’ve known each other 5 or so years. When we worked together you worn a lot of jeans, boxier T-shirts, and long black skirts. That’s pretty much been your uniform off the clock, too. Is there a story there?”

A: “Kind of a boring way to dress, I know. But practical. And working in a male-dominated field, I fit in better with the guys (and some gals). At the start of my career in the early 90s, I mostly wore long, tailored dresses all the time with heels and sheer hose; some of the dresses had lace and other frills!”

Q: “Hey, I give you lots of credit for at least having a toe in the color/pattern world during your 30s—beats my track record. What finally pushed you to leap into a style/wardrobe overhaul?”

A: “In addition to feeling like I’m at a new place in my life, I’ve adapted some healthier behaviors and lost some weight. Upping my activity has helped me reconnect with the ‘me’ that used to be very fit, even though it’s hard not to compare myself with how I looked when I was younger and very skinny.

“I guess it just felt like time to work my way into more form-fitting clothes again. It’s been too long! Plus, I was also bored with my ‘REI world traveler look.'”

Q: “What sides of your personality did you want to bring out through clothing/accessories? What did you want to explore?”

A: “Clothing that’s fun and practical still appeals to me. But I like a lot of different styles and wanted to mix it up a bit. I mostly wanted/want to look well put together but in a fun and life-loving way. I’d really like my clothes to express:

  • a bit of refinement
  • my love of color and texture
  • my leanings toward the exotic and frilly
  • my goth punk side (it’s there…it never really went away!)

“That sounds all over the place, so I was a little nervous when I started spending money. But I knew from your posts about your “closet evolution” that you’ve become pretty logical about shopping.”

Q: “Ha! You figured if I could learn how to do it, there was hope for you?”

A: “It sounds worse when you put it that way…but yes!”

I knew my former goth-y grrrl would never give up black. But with every non-black item needing to score high on the “Glow or No?” color test, flatter Eileen’s hourglass figure, and meet one or more of her criteria, we left scads of (fairly neatly rehung) possibilities behind. Fortunately, she came away with just what she was looking to find.

 

Above: Aside from Eileen’s beloved black, her new cool-toned wardrobe colors (core on left, accent on right) all scored high on the “Glow or No?” test

Even better, Eileen’s combinations let her mix and match her three main style sensibilities: opulent, rugged, and boho. Devil, meet the details….

Eileen indulges her love of the full-on feminine by taking a lush, ruffled print and topping it with a textured cardigan's subtle art nouveau vibe

Eileen's vintage-inspired jacket gets a touch of danger with leather-trimmed zippers on sleeves and pockets

Eileen embraces her boho diva side with a bold 70s silhouette (that can be worn short or long) and a braided gold leather belt

Next: Part 2 of Eileen exorcises her wardrobe demons, where some of Eileen’s new outfits are unveiled head-to-toe

Flashy

I woke up one day last winter and realized that, apart from a short family-based trip, I hadn’t left the U.S. in 20 years. I’m still not sure how I let that happen; granted, I have a tendency to sleepwalk through my life when I’m not making fairly substantial changes but REALLY.

While financially it was not a great time for me to travel farther than the corner market, I was determined to celebrate my 40th by going somewhere I’d always wanted to see, someplace crumbling and splendid, bustling and languid, illusory and workaday.

Someplace as contradictory as I was feeling.

So I started making plans, and once Mr Vix got on board, we even decided to squeeze in a little second-city stop-off on the way home. Though of course I would have loved to roam even longer.

…my trip made me as happy as a raisin in a rum cake, and today’s a day I need to revisit the smaller moments that made me smile…

(top to bottom: Mr Vix wandering in Venice; Amsterdam carnival vendor; a midnight vap rider brightens the Venetian scene; Amsterdam window display; strutting it Amsterdam style; old meets new on an Amsterdam canal bank; a central city carnival flashes against Amsterdam’s grey sky; Murano factory sign; orange bag huddle on the Riva degli Schiavoni; memento from G. Nason’s studio)