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

Help, I’ve fallen into a perimenopausal panther print dress and I can’t get up

Last month my closet expanded to include a dress marked with thicker-lined, dotted rosette detailing…detailing which leads me to believe I’m now the rather befuddled owner of a patchwork jaguar print dress.

I’d put money on the jaguar (panther onca) classification being accurate, but since I actually PAID for the dress I’m cutting my losses by using the generic tiger/jaguar/leopard/lion “panthera” label with abandon.

Besides: whichever big cat interpretation I’m sporting, the purchase is still mystifying. One minute I was returning a rather staid work top, the next I was walking out with an alterations chit for a married-to-the-HollyHobbie-Mob extravaganza.

I'm not really sure what to say about my love for this dress

In my defense, there’s so much going on with this dress I didn’t notice the animal print until I picked it up from alterations. Originally I just put it on and thought “Ooooh, flattering colors for me! tulip skirt for faking an hourglass shape! structured but soft fabric! great for travel!”

Oh sure: YOU wouldn't miss large patches of animal print on YOUR caboose etc

That’s not much of a defense, I know. New plead: I subconsciously needed a jaguar totem!

Jaguars live in caves and canyons close to fresh water. In mythology caves are linked with retreat and isolation, a place to go to aid soul work. Water is linked with the emotional body of humans. When the jaguar bounds into your reality it is asking you to go within, to release your fears, to heal your emotions and to awaken your inner sight. When you come out of retreat the jaguar will be there awaiting you. If you choose to follow his lead, he will guide you into the underworld where the secrets of life and creation are to be found.”

Hmmmm. My creative zest has been a bit MIA lately, but overall the last 6 weeks have included a lot of blue-sky-filled outdoor time, tasty Northwestern produce, socializing, and laughs.There’s even a much-needed, water-centric vacation finally on the books.

Shouldn’t that be enough to satisfy my inner jaguar? Why, even without the physical manifestation of its coat I’m practically all-onca’d up!

Jaguar: Endangered. Me: Knock wood, not endangered—though is anything in life certain?

Jaguar: Muscular build. Compact body with stockier legs than the lithe leopard. Stocky head as well, with a larger-looking jaw and an overall more square appearance to the face than the leopard. Very powerful jaws and sharp teeth. Me: Aside from leopard-y arms, ditto. Feral teeth + overdeveloped jaw muscles = unhappy dentist but major advantage if stranded on a desert island.

Jaguar: Unlike most big cats, loves the water. Swims, bathes, and plays in streams and pools. Me: Swimming is the only physical activity for which I have a natural affinity!

Jaguar: Solitary and territorial. Me: Often desire to lock myself in a closet for alone time. Liable to mark territory with aqua walls.

Jaguar: Excellent night vision. Me: Terrible vision in general.

How aligned are we? So aligned that I don’t even know how the average person could tell us apart at first glance:

Who's scarier? A jungle jaguar (panther onca)...or me, in a self-belted panther patchwork design

As the dress has a non-removable self-belt, it’s obvious a VERY powerful force compelled my short-waisted, H/Rectangle-shaped self to buy it and risk a one-way ticket to BlockyTown.

And yet not only did I buy the non-wallflower item, I’ve felt a strong pull to wear it ever since it first entered the house and seared Mr Vix’s eyeballs. [Panther Print Dress Blurb: “He was awestruck! Truly speechless! Wondered…when he’d be seen with me in the…dress!”]

And when I say I’ve been wearing it, I mean it’s been out the door for work and for play.

Adding a ruffled sweater and colored jewelry to domesticate vs letting the big-cat print out of the bag

YES (LAYERED UNDER/OVER) FOR WORK

Others may shudder, but I decided it behooves me to boldly invoke the predator rather than risk being tagged as prey….

Barely Boho-ho

Apparently the love child of my two more staid style personas will not be denied: the Persnickety Bohemian wants her time in the sun.

Which is annoying and ridiculous because I’m not spending my summer lounging around a private cabana with ocean breezes ruffling my silken garb, nor am I wandering around an exotic marketplace picking up local jewelry and textiles.

I’m either working, or being provincial.

But the libertine heart wants what the libertine heart wants, which is how I’ve ended up wearing an increasing number of outfits which are (should one require a label) barely boho. There’s just something about the unholy mix of super-tailored items with their opposite that appeals to me right now. Greatly appeals.

After 3 months of steady wear, however, I wish I could either commit to dragging my kind of free kind of wow, Charlie sheer silk blouse in for a little tailoring, or learn to embrace its über-waftiness and semi-boxiness.

Undertailored (those arms!) Fairie in the Backyard top meets overtailored mullet shorts (chopped from twice-tailored work pants)

Normally I wouldn’t even BE wavering; as one with an H/Rectangle build and some proportional issues I’ve come to see boxy as villainous.

But o the damn shirt and its siren call! First, a gathered waist and curved hem created a hint of a peplum, and I’m a sucker for a peplum. Then, its transparency turned the copious fabric less boxylicious in most lights. So I rationalized buying it and am now rationalizing leaving it as-is.

[Since the dark grey/purple/rose color scheme fit in with the rest of my clothing, and the print seemed to meet my interpretation of stylist Bridgette Raes’ guidelines, I can’t say it was terribly difficult for the few ounces of silk to weasel their way into my closet.]

My Persnickety Bohemian side doesn’t like the arms in need of tailoring or the creases…but luckily when it come to my garden I’m more of a wild woman

Now given the state of my yard—which is teetering somewhere between “lush” and “blowsy”—I don’t know why I’m obsessing about the blouse’s semi-sloppiness. I guess it’s just a case of “Get your Persnickety out of my Bohemian!” “No, you get YOUR Bohemian out of MY Persnickety!”

Mid-July in the Vix Household backyard: going for lush but heading for blowsy and unkempt

Thank god the hat I usually slap on when I’m running around in the sun is not only a less fraught item, but an item that demonstrates that my legs are not as white as they could be.

Testing camera’s white balance with legs and hat…and trying to embrace a loosey-goosey top fit from all angles

I know my barely boho ensembles are neither fish nor fowl, truly I do. Yet I can’t seem to stop wearing them for work and play. They feel…just indulgent and devil-may-care enough.

Custom creatures: lightweight purple wool sheath plus Missoni-by-the-yard cardiwrap

Especially since I can’t bring myself to pair the scoopneck sheath I had made out of a beautifully lightweight, medium purple wool with a traditional blazer or cardigan. Way too Barbara Bush for me and at odds with my workplace environment, I’m afraid.

My favorite cardiwrap tied Daisy Duke style, though?

L, Custom lightweight purple wool sheath and Missoni-by-the-yard cardiwrap. R, rather prissy taupe patent peeptoes and beloved/aging pale pink micronet stockings

Why I think I hear Bohemian Rhapsody playing softly in the background….

Don’t miss this Barely Boho bonus shot, which documents how I accidentally matched my T and ancient silk maxidress-worn-as-skirt to the porta-potties at an outdoor festival!

Ultimate PMS Skirt

When she’s not at her day job, my pal Ms Eileen* is doing remarkably well keeping her camera focused on people/places/things. Between photography classes, wanderings, and a few paid portrait sessions she continues to develop her skills at an amazing rate…a rate that actually manages to outpace that of her photography-related purchases!

While I’ve been keeping up with the results of her studies, there’s nothing like seeing her in action. And this weekend I was fortunate enough to experience just that as she worked with a client who’s gearing up to go back on the job market.

BETTER YOU THAN ME, DEAR CLIENT

During the shoot, Eileen did all the hard work; I, on the other hand, swanned around making color-related suggestions and holding up things like an AWESOMELY LARGE diffuser so that light would bounce around and make our subject look all dewy-skinned and rested.

Not that said client and her camera-ready smile needed much help, but don’t we all have enough “photojournalistic” snapshots with unflattering shadows and glares to last a lifetime? Give me reality-plus anytime.

[Through reverse-side and cover design hocus-pocus, this diffuser even permits metallic colors to reflect back on the subject; you better believe I asked to see how the gold interacted with our captive’s lusciously warm skin tones. Answer: Beautifully.]

As a reward for stalwart holding of objects and so forth, Ms Eileen humored my request to capture the true glory of a piece I had created back in December: my Ultimate PMS Skirt.

Having worn ourselves and the client out with a loooong working session, we went old-school: dash down a side street with just a camera, grab 10 minutes of shots, and hit the road.

The result? The skirt was put through its PMS paces and came out a winner—and even held its own against my growing ever-more-ancient Awww Ya Big Lug Boots.

Custom Clothing for the Cranky: Key Benefits of My Ultimate PMS Skirt

1. Stretch fabric and slight A-line design allow one to blow off steam by running, jumping, and kicking 

2. Elastic waist accommodates water retention and/or hormonally-influenced eating

Neither rain nor...rain...can keep my Utimate PMS Skirt from displaying its bright, non-binding ways

Putting my Utimate PMS Skirt through its paces

3. Cheery color + mild Eurotrash sheen boosts mood OR fools others into thinking one is in a good mood so that they venture close enough to hear vent/sob of the moment

4. Color + pattern are bold enough to justify pairing with no-thought-needed, simple black or white pieces reminiscent of classic Pink Panther looks

Though it doesn’t give me the longest, leanest line, I generally pair my skirt with black or white for that classic Pink Panther look

5. Deconstructed hem irritates Mr Vix, my talented tailor/drycleaner, and any other perfectionists I encounter, thus satisfying my latent oppositional defiant disorder tendencies

My Ultimate PMS Skirt: more-or-less front and back + deconstructed hem

I had actually asked the Mellow Glamazon to whip up the skirt—born of last summer’s Missoni fabric by the yard haul plus a lining of sturdy-weight black jersey—for a reason: I wanted to indulge my inner Persnickety Bohemian (love child of my Minimalist Magpie and Contrarian Classicist style personas) when I went to Southern California this winter.

[And boy, did my barely boho side adore Venice Beach!]

Since the skirt entered my closet 5 months ago, I’ve been wearing it perhaps-overly-much with my multitude of VaderWear tops, sweaters, and blazers. Though I generally stick to monochromatic or tonal color combinations—the better to elongate my short legged/long torso’d self—what can I say: sometimes I like to go wild with a choppy, high-contrast look.

YO, ANYONE GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT?

Because if so, just give me a moment to slip into something more comfortable….

* I must wish the talented Ms Eileen a very Happy 40th Birthday week! May your year be filled with wonderful clients and fabulous camera accessories.

Dressing for my drycleaner

Discussions around forces that influence the average Western woman’s wardrobe generally include peers, parents, significant others, media, workplace rules (explicit and ouija-boardesque), teenage children, and lifestyle.

While not immune to choosing—or failing to choose—items based on various nefarious and/or encouraging messages, there’s really only one person in my life from whom I seem to crave textile-oriented approval: my favorite tailor/drycleaner. Because the Dapper Drycleaner does more than just run a cleaning emporium and perform minor alterations and repair: he makes suits from scratch.

[Not mine, alas, not mine. Which doesn’t stop me from staring balefully at fabric bolts, thumbing through his books of Italian fabric samples, and daydreaming about his ~ $2K creations whenever I stop by for alterations.]

So when I roll in with my cleaning and DD is there in his exquisitely-fitted suit and stylish tie to assist me, I wait. And wonder. And sometimes get rewarded with a chat that centers on what he thinks of my various (dirty, alas) garments.

So far, he’s partial to three of my winter mainstays:

These three wardrobe mainstays have received my Dapper Drycleaner's seal of approval

Though admittedly he has a love/hate relationship with the tweed looks-vaguely-vintage-but-is-from-2004 jacket.

Tweed, slightly deconstructed (much to the Dapper Drycleaner's regret)

The jacket's plethora of (thankfully sturdy) seaming helps create curves on me

While our conversations are always short, I enjoy seeing what he looks at first. Or again.

DD: Impressive construction. I like the red. Unusual.Though this…[makes moue of distaste at deliberately deconstructed edges].You buy it in town?

Me: “Yes, several [5!] years ago at a consignment shop.”

DD: “How much?”

Me: “$200.”

DD: “Good price. VERY good.”

Awwww, I love the upside of my Contrarian Classicist style persona: favorite items end up with a delightfully low cost-per-wear!

Naturally, the thing he HATES about the tweed—the deliberately frayed, oh-remember-when-that-was-popular detailing—is what I love most. [Well, aside from the lining.] And while it may be booooooring, the edges and the curve-creating structure are why I always pair this jacket with dark solids + heeled boots that have a little attitude.

How could anything (else) retro or ladylike do it justice?

L, it's an inside job; R, I like to pair my vaguely vintage pieces with modern/classic mates

Ignore my waxy, mega-ghostly-looking skin in that one B&W shot, because I have an urgent question: Should I admit that for 5 years I've mostly worn this jacket with a) a column of black or b) a column of brown?

After several years as his customer I’ve figured out that The Dapper Drycleaner, while a master tailor who adores structure, is also a sucker for the softer side of style.

THAT MAKES TWO OF US, DD

He especially likes my ridiculously long flounced-hem wool skirt, even though he and I both know it makes me look like I’m standing in a hole when I’m not in motion. Good thing I’m in motion a fair amount of the time when I wear it—and since it’s so damn fun to sweep around in, perhaps I’m in motion even MORE than usual.

Apparently the reward for wearing too-long skirts and bad photography is that one gets to head for the light

DD: This is quality wool. Drapes well for its weight. Hard to find.”

Me: “It’s made by a local shop and the owner always makes her things out of beautiful fabrics.

DD: “A long skirt for you, yes? Mostly I hem at your knee.”

Me: “Yes, way too long. I love it, but I’ve learned to only wear it with dark boots.”

DD: [turning it inside out] “Strong technique. Clean.”

Me: “I’ve had it for years and it’s worn really, really well.”

DD: “If you get tired of long and want short, come to me—don’t throw it out.”

These days, I like pairing the skirt with deep scoop necks. Bonus points for waywardly draping underlayers in blobby patterns—especially ones purchased for job interviews—since they ALMOST make my wayward hair look intentional.

I tell myself that the silk animal print top + sheer merino scoopneck sweater add up to some retro glamor when paired together...so I figure why NOT toss them on with a skirt of vintage-y length?

I must say that while I have no way of proving it, I ALSO think DD and I are united on preferring clothes that mix one from Column A and one from Column B.

Give us structured AND stupendously womanly, and we’re in heaven:

When a (c. 2005, deep black in real life) jacket looks this awesome on the hanger, odds are good it will do something even more amazing on a live person

DD: Nice jacket. Very feminine. Vintage, yes?”

Me: “No, I got it on sale years ago, but it was from the brand’s current line.”

DD: “You sure? Beautiful seaming. Heavy.”

Me: “Yes I’m sure! But I agree it has a vintage look. Check out how the fabric acts more like a wool knit.”

DD: “Huh! I like this. Wise choice for your shape, too.”

Given my mad photography skillz, it’s lucky I snapped the front when I bought the yes-brand-new jacket in 2005. While my little molded friend shows how the jacket adapts to an Hourglass’ ins-and-outs, the INSANE amount of seaming means even an H/Rectangle such as myself ends up with a few curves.

L, the jacket when new (2005); R, still helping to create some curves on me

Unlike my truth-telling, unforgiving tweed jacket, this favorite topper is 98% wool and 2% beautiful, glorious lycra. And as if the bit of stretch weren’t enough, my 5’4 self really appreciates the vertical seams here there and yes, everywhere. So much so that I have lots of legwear (some more ancient and held together with clear nail polish than others) with which I like to echo said lines:

I often echo the vertical seaming on the jacket's body + sleeves with linear legwear

There’s no doubt that the chance of getting a positive review from The Dapper Drycleaner makes it slightly less tedious to drag my accumulated flotsam and jetsam in for care. Now if only my washing machine would weigh in on my socks and underwear, maybe my laundry pile would stay manageable….