Gratuitous Color Shot #18: I took it on the run baby / ’cause that’s the way I want it baby

Hawaiian folklore deems Oahu’s rugged, remote Ka’ena Point as a leina a ka ‘uhane, or jumping off point for souls leaving the earth. Guided by ancestors or deceased friends, a soul leapt from the point’s sacred rock into the ocean before entering po heaven. But apparently not all the dead were as lucky: some say souls judged unworthy were cursed to wander the island in misery and isolation.

As I’m extraordinarily pleased to announce I’ve accepted a position with a new company, the legend’s core concept—being escorted and supported when heading into the unknown—is one that resonates with me greatly right now.

Especially since the drawn-out process of seeking a better professional life had me living in dread that someone would sidle up to me and start singing “Heard it from a friend who / Heard it from a friend who / Heard it from another you been messin’ around [with interviews].”

Fortunately, my efforts to slide out with minimum drama and a bit of grace succeeded. Objectively, I know I’m headed for a better place; subjectively, though, I’ll be in limbo for a while as the whole new-job thing sorts itself out.

Wish me luck with my leaping?

At Oahu’s westernmost spot, a fellow hiker embraces a more upward view of Ka’ena Point Natural Area Reserve

PSA: Read more about efforts to restore the ecosystem at Ka’ena Point

 

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

Creatures

The last few months have seen too many of those in my circle checking their horoscopes in hopes the stars’ forecast calls for something besides more-serious-than-usual sickness, job woes, financial worries, and/or family issues.

Despite the astrological status quo, however, I’ve had a terrible time getting the independent types to obey Bill Withers’ now-classic lines:

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend / I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long / ‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on”

Others have it worse, they protest stoically—and depressingly, news article after news article supports their claim. Refraining from pointing out that others have it better seems the least I can do, but I hate to stop there.

Fortunately my independent types will usually accept a meal, joke, hug, distraction, or even a heartfelt sentiment or two. Compared to what I’ve received from them over the years it doesn’t seem like much. But when I’m in their shoes, even momentary access to my more carefree self means everything.

…after a run of bad news, it can be tough to remember that life is full of surprises that leave us contemplative, curious, delighted, or bemused versus on high alert…

(top to bottom: In Bandon Oregon, a majestic seahorse is just one of the boardwalk’s unexpected pleasures; thanks to one family’s tree stump and the calendar, a neighborhood sports a quite literal interpretation of the lion in winter; Vancouver BC’s VanDusen Botanical Garden manages to find room for a dragon sculpture amidst the water lily leaves; it’s hard to resist a closer look when front yard decor is the bee’s knees; being outnumbered by dandelions is cause for one critter’s celebration—or surrender)

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

Towards a closet with more method than madness, or Making the most of my style personas

It’s been more than 7 years since a friend shocked me into sartorial self-examination by observing:

In the nearly 20 years I’ve known you, you’ve always been prone to wearing clothes that are black and baggy. But now they’re black, baggy, and covered in cat hair…and that’s just one thing too many.”

She was right.

Unfortunately her assessment failed to magically create a closet perfectly aligned with my lifestyle, budget, and preferences. So I got to work. Along the way I encountered lows (my dependence on solid-colored dark neutrals) as well as highs (having a fabric I loved turned into a top that makes me feel like a walking vintage book cover).

Gradually, my studies and experiments made it clear I gravitated to modern classic looks. Progress! Except that I found “modern classic” a stunningly broad and deeply useless category name since I coveted items both staid and flashy, classic and boho, and on opposite ends of the color-color vs neutral spectrum.

How to indulge all that? Should one indulge all that?

I wanted the answer to be yes. But without setting boundaries and thinking through how I’d wear Basic or Exciting Potential Items, I was neither close to closet nirvana nor maximizing my wardrobe dollars.

After even more navel-gazing, I realized:

  • too much classic feels wrong to me
  • too much boho feels wrong to me
  • too much “muchness” feels wrong to me

Which led me to see that overall I like to mix classic with shiny things, classic with color, and classic with boho. Ah, the joy of being a simple woman with simple needs!

Except I don’t like being THAT simple. And the formula wasn’t—and isn’t—enough to keep me on track when shopping. I needed glitz, I needed jazz hands, I needed to cheat my way through all the typical style quizzes/worksheets and christen more than one style personality. I gave myself an A for effort and a ratio for guidance:

1 part Minimalist Magpie : 1 part Contrarian Classicist  (with fluctuations to make room for their unacknowledged love child, the Persnickety Bohemian)

Wearing representations of my 3 style personas (left to right, top to bottom: Minimalist Magpie, Contrarian Classicist, Persnickety Bohemian)…and realizing I can find elements of all in this fountain

I confess my labeling is both loose and highly subjective, and I don’t fret if things teeter on the brink of multiple categories. When shopping, I just evaluate items with a dominant persona (and color palette) in mind, then try to cross-pollinate items across all three descriptors. Advantages: a smaller closet and more for the shopping money, honey.

How to  Placate Multiple Style Personas With a Cross-Pollinated Closet

Below, a not-at-all-comprehensive glimpse at how I attempt to use one item to meet my varied stylistic whims. [It all boils down to a lot of looks that are Vaguely Vintage or Barely Boho.] Disclaimer: one-note posing, Missoni fabric by the yard, and snoozy shoe choices abound!

Black leather blazer (with knit sleeve insets and edging) + Black knit pencil:

Back in black: with a few tweaks, it’s easy for my leather blazer and knit pencil skirt to suit both my Contrarian Classicist and Persnickety Bohemian sides

Rose-brown wool jacket + (multi-way) Periwinkle silk blouse + Emerald herringbone pencil skirt: 

A classic dark rose-brown blazer and emerald pencil skirt get mixed and matched with a boho luxe periwinkle silk blouse that can be worn multiple ways, keeping my Contrarian Classicist and Persnickety Bohemian sides happy

Barely Boho scarves worn with classic items + Classic scarves worn Barely Boho style: 

Top, a fringed knit scarf goes from work to play, while a silk scarf wraps around hat, hair, and waist; Bottom, a simple blue jersey dress skews Minimalist Magpie when worn with a glass pendant and shell bracelet, then serves as an underlayer for a boho scarf-as-dress

My custom Ultimate PMS skirt + Velvet burnout scarf:

My Ultimate PMS Skirt goes classic with a pink panther-esque pairing…then takes to bohemian life by pattern mixing with a sinuously blossomed velvet scarf…while the scarf goes on to rescue a staid corduroy/sweater outfit (creating a Contrarian Classicist and Persnickety Bohemian toss up)

Rosy Missoni by the yard pencil skirt and tank + Custom plum wool jersey jacket 

Budget boho luxe items—my Missoni by the yard pencil skirt and tank—work across all my personas, but straddle the line between Contrarian Classicist and Persnickety Bohemian when paired with a equestrian style wool jersey jacket, plain-Jane knee high boots and colored net tights, or simple sandals

Vintage, vintage, and more vintage—including a mohair capelet, Whiting and Davis mesh bag, and BettyDraperBlue silk scarf—mix with streamlined shapes 

I often use (inexpensive!) vintage items to either put the magpie into my Minimalist Magpie ensembles or amp up an outfit’s Persnickety Bohemian factor

5 year-old grey skirt suit (together and apart) + Heeled moto boots

Left, a 5 year-old classic grey wool skirt suit pairs with everything from white cotton to chain belts, boho blouses, and knits; Right, buckled boots decrease the sweetness of a flounced midi skirt and the ho-humness of a stick-straight skirt

Items with a retro flavor pair up with modern classic basics 

Retro-flavored items are Contrarian Classic staples, but contain elements—the red glass pendant, the bucket handbag—that easily cross over into Minimalist Magpie and Persnickety Bohemian outfits

Pewter silk charmeuse animal print top + Sharkskin blazer + 13 year-old black spiderweb wool dress

Appealing to both my Minimalist Magpie and Contrarian Classicist side is easy with a little presto chango: Left, a silk animal print top and sharkskin jacket pair with each other and more casual items; Right, a 13 year-old black spiderweb wool dress with a d’Orsay cork wedge in 2007 and with shinier pals in 2012

Enough…more than…about me. As an inherently nosy person, I have to ask: who’s playing this game with their own style goals/preferences?