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

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?

A week of wandering in and around bold, beautiful Vancouver BC [pt 1]

In mid-July, my agony/ecstasy ratio moved in the right direction thanks to one little phrase: summer vacation. August would find me in Vancouver Canada, and golly gee was I excited!

Preparation began immediately after booking. I mentally doodled hearts and flowers and rainbows around “British Columbia + Me”. I browsed suggested activities and solicited recommendations from friends. I bought sandals that could handle days filled with significant walking.

Secretly, however, I fretted a bit.

As a citizen of the Pacific Northwest, I’d originally longed to go somewhere a bit more exotic, somewhere that shared many qualities with my new best friend, the sensory deprivation tank. What if my chosen destination’s renowned lushness and plethora of coffee shops made it feel too familiar? What if I didn’t have the energy to handle the city’s scale and scope?

I needn’t have worried. Vancouver has a way of making one want to explore, while constantly providing opportunities to relax. Those sneaky Canadians!

Once I arrived I understood why it’d been so brutal to find a rental on relatively short notice—it’s an easy city to navigate, and an easy one with which to fall in love. Whether agenda’d or aimless, I don’t see how a visitor could ever be bored.

Most days, Mr Vix and I left our rather miraculously snagged West End condo without much more than sunblocked skin, water, and a loose idea of what we’d be doing. Though I tend to get a little too attached to my point-and-shoot when I travel, I tried to remember that world-class photographers have documented much of the area’s landscape. Why (literally) follow in their footsteps with inferior results when I could save the camera for capturing fleeting moments or compelling whims?

In the end my ego-salvaging plan ended up being both freeing and a bit of a challenge. But it permitted me to be unapologetically drawn to a dog enjoying a different sort of plenty at the Granville Farmers Market…

Outside the Granville Island Farmers Market, it’s not just the people who enjoy a summertime snack

structures that dazzled with their strong use of color…

Looking up pays off at Lonsdale Quay, the Burrard Street Bridge, and Granville Island’s GI Gelato

tile that underscored my “blue and green should always been seen” philosophy…

The Electra Building’s mid-50s tilework supplies a jolt of excitement to my billowy scarf-as-overdress

and views that invited a shift in perspective.

From a reflected take on the landmark Electra Building to a cutout that offers a peek of construction progress, Vancouver supplies many chances for a change in perspective

I’m afraid I may have strayed from my original intent when encountering public art, though. It’s hard to resist acknowledging artists’ work in a way that feels somewhat tangible, especially when a piece causes me to mirror what’s shown…

A glimpse of Chinese artist Yue Minjun’s A-maze-ing Laughter, a series of 14 8.5 foot tall bronze statues found in the West End’s Morton Park

…or has me marveling at how it sits in a given space.

Like so many other areas in and around Vancouver, Kitsilano’s Vanier Park embeds art into the public landscape; here, a detail of Jun Ren’s Freezing Water #1

As the density of Vancouver’s downtown gave my retinas little chance of rest, I’m not sure I could handle living there full-time. But in small doses, places where unexpected pairings and layering of past, present, and future manage to co-exist are right up my proverbial laneway.

I find those areas are where one discovers things like owls on either side of a socio-economic line…

In Gastown, low- and high-end owls live as neighbors

a rather disturbing mural looming over expensive cars…

A Gastown parking lot hosts a vivid mural that includes this fragment and much, much more

the chance to participate in a scene that’s wholesome by day, but takes on a vaguely Weegee-esque air at night…

Given our walking-filled days/evenings, I decided that checking out VIVA Vancouver’s temporary Pop Rocks installation was a double win: lolling + cultural immersion

and zones where the staid meet the brazen.

Gastown’s laneways (alleys) communicate in ways both formal and spontaneous

With all this served up to me in a compact time period, naturally I wondered what else the visit would yield. The answer turned out to be simple: “Lots of surprises.”

Next: Part 2 of A week of wandering in and around bold, beautiful Vancouver BC, in which I tromp farther afield to investigate multicultural, hipster-strewn streets and sprawling botantical gardens