Song in the Key of Busby Blue Dress

While some are born with a crispy, linear personality and some acquire one, others are awed and/or bemused by the very thought of such a thing.

I fall into that third category, and I fall into it hard.

In fact I’m so far from starched that behind closed doors I’m often ensconced in some raggedy hodgepodge of insanely comfortable, minimally seamed, usually be-lycra’d items. And I have to confess that I rather like things that way.

Generally, however, I try to pull it together when I leave the house. After all—and with apologies to Mr Wilde—being the focus of one style-related intervention may be regarded as misfortune; being the focus of two looks like carelessness.

Thus far, my efforts to incorporate qualities of my downtime ensembles into my public wear have led to a co-dependence on structured-but-not stiff items. I may not own any vintage Claire McCardell, daggummit, but no matter the trend du jour I’ll fight the good fight trying to channel her philosophy of dressing. Which is why shaped knits, softly draping lightweight wools, and tailored jackets with a little—or a lot—of stretch all know I’m an easy mark.

What can I say? I like clothes that move with me.

Especially when something about them makes me feel I’m ready to dive into a pool and start performing underwater acrobatics.

Sure, turn it 90 degrees and it's a stretch break...but then I can't pretend I'm a sychronized swimmer

L, a young Freedom Valley PA sync'r sails through the air; R, covering top US synchro athletes and their hopes for Olympic gold

Granted this dress had a head start at grabbing my cash since I’m a sucker for deep blues and have deliberately accumulated many of them…but its combination of a drapey front plus wide, ripply sleeves sealed the proverbial deal for me. So 40s-meets-slinky-70s!

No 70s-era Studio 54 denizen would have been caught dead in my shoes, but I like to think the dress might have passed muster with a dancin' dame or two

The devil in the deep blue details: unlike many similar sleeves I've seen lately, this dress has a panel that ensures undergarments and modesty are covered when one's arm lifts

[Given my short-waisted H/Rectangle frame, I bought with the knowledge that a slightly flared skirt may have been more flattering. But hey, at least I kept the self-belt looped in the back and tied on the side to avoid the belt-under-bosom look!]

Now: As a longtime fan of Esther Williams’ strength, grace, and glamour I’ll happily go on record as saying I consider anything even vaguely reminiscent of synchronized swimming’s beauty and/or 40s-era clothing design to be a very, very good thing.

Of course I also think anything involving ACTUAL synchro is even better, which is why I’m excited to see the sport formerly known as “water ballet” receiving more attention in popular culture.

From Sync or Swim documenting the training of top US synchro athletes to Men Who Swim investigating how one man’s midlife crisis took him on a chlorine-soaked path toward stylized glory to the easily accessible DVDs of Ms Williams and her corps gliding through Busby Berkeley’s intricate choreography, synchro is getting hot hot hot.

L and R, Esther Williams, the woman who swam to screen and business success; C, equal-opportunity synchronized swimming meets mid-life crisis

One can even find the water-drenched Aqualillies troupe offering LA-area workshops to regular folks who hanker to boost their fitness via eggbeaters, torpedoes, and ballet legs.

Need more proof that it’s a swell time to add a touch of mermaid to your closet or workout routine? You’ve got it….

Rebecca Glassman's "Synchronized Peeping Practice," arguably one of the best-ever entries in the Annual Washington Post Peeps Diorama Contest

PSA 1: While my prior video of Esther Williams talking about her professional relationship with choreographer Busby Berkeley (“Certainly the possibility that I might be injured was never a factor when Buzz was dreaming up his routines; he just assumed I could do anything”) is no longer available, this substitute includes iconic scenes and Williams’ commentary on her past and present

PSA 2: See one of Busby Berkeley’s most famous land/pool sequences in this clip from 1944’s Bathing Beauty

PSA 3: Discover more about revolutionary US ready-to-wear designer Claire McCardell in this New York Times article discussing the retrospective exhibit ”Claire McCardell and the American Look”

Closet closet in the wall, will my last 373 days of shopping make me bawl?

Around this time last year—okay, 373 days ago—I gave my system quite a shock when I decided to assess my closet’s ability to dress me in spring, then summer, clothes. I blame my surprise on being a great procrastinator. And an expert rationalizer.

But this year I felt more prepared. After all, I’d already been LESS prepared about wardrobe planning and maintenance…surely I couldn’t go backwards?

Last March I had four areas for improvement in mind, and I was determined to see progressdamnprogress by:

Of course every time I THINK that I’m making progress, I’m not. But an initial from across a crowded room visual inspection seemed promising:

The State of the Wardrobe | Center: the from-afar results of my 373 days of buying (minus a few Ts...and a bad-choice scarf headed for donation); L and R, pairings from the party

However, given a choice between finishing my taxes and recapping my wardrobe choices from last spring to this one, I thought the closet audit would be the proverbial lesser of the evils. Plus this way I can bore readers and not just myself!

[Though if I’d known how self-indulgent the exercise would make me feel, I might have chosen the taxes.]

The State of the [Vix] Wardrobe: A 5-Point Recap

  1. I bought a lot of stuff, and wanted even more.
  2. Without taking away from my greed, a significant number of work basics desperately needed replacing, so the “boring to kinda fun ratio” was what it was.
  3. Like any good born-again, I have now gone from “black, baggy, and covered in cat hair” to the other extreme: custom and/or customized clothing. This year, I asked a local resource to whip up 8 items from flattering-to-me fabric I supplied.
  4. Despite my whining about having to buy more (spendy) shadow’d shades for a summer job interview, I’ve gotten good use out of my Abandon All Hope Venn Diagram choices—especially the blouse/shell.
  5. If my corralling and math are both accurate: My new buys were an almost even split between color-color and neutrals (22 to 20, in color’s favor!).

A Sigh of Relief

I’ve mentioned before that all the planning and plotting can feel a bit bloodness to anyone who likes to be joyously impulsive about shopping. But I’ve found that being more forward-thinking means the impulse buys and “I’m bored with my closet or life” buys tend to fit in pretty seamlessly.

AWESOME

[But not always, and then they go back.]

I’ll also say that 99% of what I’ve bought in the last 373 days has been in “respectable” to “very frequent” rotation. The exception? A big ole scarf my pal Ms Eileen captured so nicely here. Despite wearing it with more flattering shades, I should have known the purples were too bright for me since it didn’t QUITE work with other items in my closet.

It looked amazing against the pumpkin, though!

And a Non-Epiphany

Most days I’m still big on the whole “majority neutrals + modest amounts of REAL color etc etc” thing. However, given the latitude in my professional environment I kept steadily wearing straight up color-color to test my (and probably others’) tolerance…before running back to undiluted shadow’d shades.

TOTAL COLOR-COLOR BUYS = 22

The State of the Wardrobe: Color-Color buys | 373 days

Tops: 6, including the Strawberry Fudge Ripple Top, the Book Lover’s Halter Top, a deep aqua silk jersey that gives me a blue-sky feeling even when the real sky won’t, and (Wool) Jersey Grrrl #1, a deep blue scoopneck

Sweaters: 3 (including a long-sleeved version of ole Strawberry Ripple referenced above)

Skirts: 2 (1 knit—the peeeeeek to-be-featured Ultimate PMS Skirt—and 1 Emerald Green Pencil Skirt)

Dress: 1 (the to-be-featured Purple Reign Wool Sheath)

Cardigans/jackets: 2 (both knit, including the (Wool) Jersey Grrrl #2, a muted red-violet jacket)

Scarves/shawls: 4 purchased (1 cotton, 1 silk); 1 cashmere (for inner/outerwear); 1 (unseen) rayon shawl donated for being too bright of a purple  + 1 lightweight wool shawl gift that looks better in Southern California sun

Miscellaneous Ts I am too lazy to scrounge up: ~ 4

TOTAL SHADOW’D SHADES BUYS = 20

The State of the Wardrobe: VaderWear buys | 373 days

Tops: 5 (2 higher-necked silk-cotton shells; 1 rouched silk mesh shell; 1 silk charmeuse shell; 1 grey+brown striped cotton)

Sweaters: 2 (the Zig Meets Zag Top plus a sheer merino, with rather adorable buttons on wrist)

Dresses: 1 (faux-wrap, faux-animal print…you can tell I shop at Ann Taylor)

Pants: 3 (2 desperately needed LINED dress pants in black and espresso wool; 1 highly wrinkled pair of white denim that gets worn for about 10 days each year)

Skirts: 2 (1 textured white cotton pencil in white, gets out about as much as white denim; 1 black knit pencil)

Jackets/Cardigans: 3 (1 jacket; 1 longer cotton cardigan; 1 elbow-length open/flyaway)

Scarves/Shawls: 1 silk chiffon

Miscellaneous Ts I am too lazy to scrounge up: ~ 3

WHY ETERNAL VIGILANCE IS NEEDED: THE LAST 120 DAYS

While my December ’10 and onward purchases include a fairly balanced mix of color-color vs neutrals and pattern/print vs solid…

The State of the Wardrobe, callout to Dec 10 - April 3 11 buys: For once, trying to think strategically for spring/early summer

the score of this closet segment is 7 to 6, with color-color on the losing end.

PSA: The blogger formerly known as Struggler uses spreadsheets to track her wardrobe. And now, as the English Organizer, she can help you do the same…while making your closet prettier and more effective to boot. Me, I’m a lost cause.

Marine Drive

Previously, I discussed in spine-tingling detail how I decided to add more color to my closet by allocating a chunk of my fall/winter budget to cool-toned blues and greens. And how I was inclined to shamelessly wear them together.

Last spring I documented a few reasons why blue + green should always be seen. So when Mr Vix and I went for a drive a couple of weekends ago, it seemed like a great excuse to match the very welcome blue sky…plus some leafy goodness.

Now yes: 2005 called and it wants its short-over-long layered look back. But hey, can’t I call it “retro”? Or at least say I am wearing it ironically?

After all, my tongue’s already firmly in cheek from wearing this vaguely nautical cardigan. Though the closest I get to sailing is eating Chips Ahoy, the stripey sweater had me at “perfect colorblocking for those with Rectangle/H shapes.”

But I’m dead serious when I say I’m thrilled with my new deep green pencil skirt—so much so that I’ve been breaking out old and new prints and solids to wear with it.

Including a top that called to me despite my ambivalence about:

  • its scale
  • its rather Grandma’s-Wamsutta-bedspread print
  • the way “tobacco” and “sunshine” defile its otherwise cucumber-cool shades

Having recently re-reviewed Brigette Raes’ suggestions on how to pick a print on behalf of my pal Fizz, I’m pretty sure I look like I’m being eaten alive by my own clothing.

Though its wayward shapes DO match my hair.

I’m thinking the dolman-sleeved 70s silhouette + silk jersey fabric flipped me into Persnickety Bohemian mode. Whatever the reason, I was in loooove the second I saw it, but I resisted for weeks before committing.

Others were not as taken with its charms.

Where did THAT come from?” asked a saucer-eyed Mr Vix.

Me: “Whaaaat?! This is one of my core pieces for fall. I know it’s a little sofa-y, but I think it’s pretty.”

Mr Vix: [Amish farmer silence]

My printed glory and I flounced off to the guest bedroom to read and wait for him to come to his senses. He claims he stopped by to ask what I was doing for dinner, but didn’t see me on the bed.

[Which reminds me: I still miss the guest room’s former deep blue paint. Problem was, it only looked good for 2-3 summertime months. After a few years I ceded that Northern light + gloomy climate + big tree = me on a ladder with a bucket of more-muted-without-the-flash caramel.]

Returning (mostly) to my comfort zone of solids, I decided to match up a denim pencil skirt with a deep blue-green cardigan, another of my new fall pieces. While I usually avoid hosting a hootenanny in my bosom zone, the neckline’s deep V and the ability to break up my torso with a strong inverted V at the bottom were compelling. Which made it easy to turn a blind eye to having a 3-D chest.

Between the floral print and the ruffled sweater, some might say my blind eye is getting a lot of exercise this fall.

Anyway: Thinking about my aggressively warm-toned room reminds me that Pantone may want my butt in Golden Glow this season, but I’m having none of it. Bad enough that despite my fear of yellow walls, I’ve given up and put temporary and more permanent golden shades on the vertical surfaces around here.

But on me? I draw the line. Let others dabble in the sunlight shades; I’m sticking to a different, algae-hued story.

O no not you again: of closets and color capsules

As a recovering blacktextile-a-holic, I’m always looking for ways to pat myself on my now-more-brilliantly-hued back about my expanded color horizons. Too bad my smugness usually tends to be premature at best and delusional at worst!

[Not to mention annoying any way one slices it.]

Thanks to my DNA-derived ability to deny what’s transparent as new crystal, however, I’m generally able to happily co-exist with my fictional wardrobe until just-try-to-rationalize-THIS proof to the contrary arrives. And right around this time last year, “to the contrary” arrived with reinforcements when I blithely divided my brisk-weather clothing into “color” and “white-to-black” and found something startling: a blatant tonality teeter-totter.

Sometimes reality bites AND barks.

So before buying any new clothes for Fall/Winter 2010, I resolved to go into my closet with toothpicked-open eyes and see how I might best and most fearlessly allocate my resources.

I felt just like Napoleon, but taller!

Luckily, August’s emergency business suiting crisis and late-breaking heat wave gave me good reason to procrastinate over actually DOING any of the scut work I had so solemnly swear’d to undertake.

By early September, though, I grudgingly set aside time to fling open drawers, drag items off hangers, and paw through cedar-sheltered wool. Having tripped into—and subsequently enjoyed—a 5-piece, colorful-for-me capsule in 2009, I was keen to replicate my relative success.

But after cataloging the contents I saw before me in a semi-organized jumble, I whoa-nellyed. I knew I had best cast my increasingly beady eye on trend forecasts (goose-stepping moto-leathered knit-laden minimalistic 50s debutantes in vivid or bleached-out shades!) to better understand where the fashion juggernaut had placed its stakes in the seasonal landscape.

The landscape I would be dear god! trying to avoid or embrace in some way/shape, no matter how mutated my results might end up.

Having already decided to pursue winterized versions of the cool-toned blues and greens I now wear quite often in the summer, I took a moment to silently congratulate Pantone Inc for its good taste in selecting “Lagoon” as one of 10 key colors for fall. Especially as I had some blue/green items kicking around from spring that I could carry over.

[None were highly textured cocktail dresses, alas.]

Left: My closet’s fall/winter colors now include tropical blues and greens. Right: Pantone’s Fall 2010 “Lagoon.”

And then I moved forward. Between custom and retail choices, I ended up with 4 new items that sit pretty neatly into my Contrarian Classicist zone…and a 5th outlier that defiles its cool-hued majority with a few “tobacco” and “sunshine” blobs:

Top: Fall/winter purchases in what I’ll pretentiously term Palette 1. Bottom: Blue/green flings from Spring ’10.

Buys that will keep me from feeling blue:

The wool skirt works with all the tops; most of the tops work with each other; and so on and so forth. Throw in my denim pencil skirt, jeans, and spring’s green/blue shawl and I think even the purists would call it a fairly flexible, 8-piece tone-on-tone capsule.

And technically the blue jersey’s detachable cowl/stole can double as a miniskirt, bringing me to 9 items.

I KID

While of course I’m pairing the new duds with the usual grey/black/brown to knock the vibrancy down a notch, I’ve actually happily starting wearing the above together; for some reason, I never mind standing out in head-to-toe color-color if the hue in question is blue and/or green.

BRING ON YOUR SMURF OR JOLLY GREEN GIANT JOKES

With paradise’s main colors covered, it seemed prudent to base Palette 2 on the buys I’d made last winter—items heavy on the rose and purple/plum, items that play well with my bitter chocolate and reddish browns. Despite my investigative reporting showing that a Pantone Fall ALWAYS seems to have bright purple, I’ll pretend the inclusion of the vivid “Purple Orchid” in the company’s forecast helped sway my decision…

Left: This season’s closet will also be taking up where last winter’s buys left off. Right: Pantone’s Fall 2010 “Purple Orchid.”

…even though I think it’s pretty obvious I was more influenced by the costumes of Young Victoria.

Above: The Queen Victoria costumes share a little something with my Palette 2 buys.

Purchases that bode well for a purple half-reign:

Now unless one is a strumpet/free spirit who eschews wearing bottoms, it’s cheating to call the above a self-contained tone-on-tone capsule. But by pulling in two below-the-belt members of my Accidental Capsule—a brownish-plum wool skirt and prune-y cords—I bet it qualifies.

Left: Last winter’s below-the-belt picks—a brownish-plum wool skirt and prune-y cords. Right: Pantone Color Report’s Fall 2010 choices.

As for more sedate capsules? No worries. There’s certainly no shortage of deep brown, grey, or coal-colored items round these parts. It’s just that when the sun’s vanished and dirty puddles lap at my feet and I’ve had it with those around me, it’s nice to know I can sport a shade that puts me more in line with—if not exactly over—the rainbow.

Next: See my green-blue revue in action in Marine Drive

(Wool) Jersey Grrrl

Given my Irish genes, I don’t understand why I can’t acclimate to the PNW’s cold damp weather. Maybe I need less green tea and more Jameson’s?

While my beloved ferns adore the oozy clammy environment*—and I adore that they adore it—it doesn’t change the fact that when our region’s dank air seeps ever-so-stealthily into my bones I feel like a decrepit 103 vs a mildly arthritic broad of 41.

Then I roast when it’s dry and over 75, go figure.

[As a devout hypochondriac, I’m sure this state of affairs is due to one or more of the horrifying medical conditions Dr. Google has diagnosed for me; as neither my Western-trained nor CAM-focused doctors seem particularly concerned, however, I’m trying not to borrow trouble.]

The combination of my regional and personal characteristics means that fall through hmmm, July I tend to layer up in silk longjohn tops, silk knits, and sweet Georgia Brown wool. O how I worship wool’s breathable, moisture-wicking, water-, mildew- and mold-resistant, insulating, and often washable goodness!

Although angora fibers make me itch and cashmere at my price point is often too scratchy for my princess/pea’d self, sheep’s wool does me right. Depending on the season, I put my T&A in everything from spiderweb-like wool gauze to dense flannel—but as a sucker for anything soft and stretchy, it’s wool knits that have the firmest hold on my heart.

Which is why I was mega-excited to see that the fashion world’s recent infatuation with drapey 1940s looks segued into an even more recent fascination with 1990s-era materials, silhouettes, and colors.

YEA I LIKED THAT KNIT-FRIENDLY DECADE’S STREAMLINED SHAPES + SOMBER SHADES

EXCEPT WAIT: NOW I’M TRYING TO DO COLOR-COLOR + PATTERN

Oh well; win some, lose most.

Having already blown a huge chunk of my fall/winter clothing budget on black and grey business suiting, I knew I needed some colors to keep my soon-to-be sunshine-deprived caboose from plummeting into moods as dark as my closet tends to be.

So I headed off to the fabric store, found what I wanted, and called the Mellow Glamazon to let her know I needed her help getting a few wool jersey pieces in my cold little paws.

For the first bit of fabric—a deep blue that’s refreshingly neither too bright nor too dark for me—I’d been debating one of the semi-sheer jersey items with cowl-y or off-the-shoulder necklines I’d seen in LUXE DARLING LUXE online shoppes. But as a) I have commitment issues and b) I prefer the way lower necklines look on my body shape, MG suggested a detachable whatchamacallit might best meet my needs.

I’m sure I’ll wear the simple scoopneck version most frequently, but I do love me an option or two….

Semi-sheer scoop neck wool jersey sweater (worn with sleeveless underlayer til temps lower) has a detachable cowl/stole

Same top with detachable piece worn as stole...because apparently I hanker to look like a Senior Yearbook photo

For the second closet addition, I’d found an appealing medium-weight jersey in a muted red-violet shade; it seemed like a good bet for the browns, roses, and plums I’ve been sloooowly accumulating since Project Anti-VaderWear began in earnest last fall. As I’d been mulling over one of those unlined cardigan-jackets that were (once again and amen) showing up here and there, I decided to take the plunge.**

Heavier weight, muted red-violet wool jersey jacket/cardigan (unlined)

While I knew the general shape I wanted, the Mellow Glamazon came up with these cuffed, slightly belled sleeves that I think are the cat’s pajamas. That goes ditto for the lightweight layering piece beneath the jacket, aka the Strawberry Fudge Ripple Top’s long-sleeved, fully-backed sibling. [Alias the WHOOPS I DID IT AGAIN textile.]

Slightly belled sleeves on jacket...and the long-sleeved sibling of the Strawberry Fudge Ripple Top beneath

Now: most of my jackets hit at my high hip, the better to elongate my proportionately short legs. But for this project, I decided to throw caution to the wind and go a little longer. I’m certainly happy with the result—for one thing, I’m partial to the way deeply V’d cutaway jackets do an awesome job of avoiding a Rectangle/H shape’s natural habitat: blockiness.

Wool jersey jacket partnered with patterned knit pencil skirt and jeans

But between the color and the cut I fear I’m looking rather in need of a horse and stable boy.

Hmmm: between the period-referencing color and the cut, maybe my new jacket DOES look a bit like an Edwardian riding habit....(c 1900 -1920 habit from the V&As collection)

As I’m off the market, however, I’ll have to leave the Lady Chatterley-esque romps to other Jersey Grrrls. My advice? Keep the rolling as far from the hay as possible….

* Cold damp air apparently = Sword fern heaven: they (and the clematis) provide year-round green and give the dining room a halfway decent view

Backyard ferns in 05, about the last time the yard looked moderately tidy

** Around the time I was working out my jersey jacket shape, Pseu of UneFemme posted several RTW examples of the genre…if you’re so inclined, venture over to her Minimalism Made Easy post