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.

Parade of Peacock Feathers Dress

Having apparently squashed the rose-colored glasses I keep around to help offset personal and global downers, I’m extra-bummed that anytime I fall in love with something beautiful there’s always a least a little darkness attached.

Take silk: though I felt called to start budgeting for my Periwinkle Silk Goes Goddess-y Blouse the moment I saw it—and vowed to have a less poufy, more printed version created in dress form—knowing the very very tough life that captive silkworms lead definitely cast a cloud over my greed.

Because even I, with my “Let them eat mulberry leaves!” perspective, feel a bit guilty about how ole silkworms feast, molt, mate, lay eggs, and die soon after. Author Dana Thomas, observer of modern silk production, leaves no room for one to have happy fantasies about silkworm eggs going on to live happy caterpillar/silkmoth lives, either; she notes that (hopefully unexploited) workers steam the critters in their cocoons before unwinding the cocoons onto reeling machines and getting down to a process where “the work is swift, the water filthy, smelly, and very hot.”

Kind of grim, right? By the time I’d done two months of off-and-on searching for silk fabric I was worn down with liberal guilt.

[But then that’s part of the reason Thomas’ excellent book is titled Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster and not Consumption: Enjoy It Mindlessly.]

Naturally I could have reassessed my wants, abandoned my quest for a silk print, and turned to bamboo jersey. Once I stumbled upon a fabric with the right colors, design, and sheen for my purposes, however, I’m afraid the plight of the silkworms was mentally filed under D for Denial and cross-referenced under H for Hypocrisy.

As a bonus, the madcap print—varying sizes of peacock feathers sprawled over a 2-foot repeat—reminded me of one of the most amazing spaces I’ve ever seen, James McNeill Whister’s Peacock Room.

I’m discovering that my custom peacock feather print silk dress (worn V-neck/halter style) loves a good breeze

Though a mere dewy-eyed girl when I first encountered Whistler’s beautiful deep aqua and gilt creation, I’d still move in today. Especially as the room boasts a mural that captures the seemingly eternal battle between those who create art for money and those who hold the proverbial purse strings.

My childhood love: James McNeill Whister’s Peacock Room — loved even more now for its mural (Art and Money; or, the Story of the Room)

But back to the dress, close sibling to my voluminous periwinkle purchase.

As documented earlier with the blouse, the style is a mix between a simple Greek chiton and a peasant blouse. A drawstring neckline and a detached belt let the wearer transform it from two sewn-together rectangles to a dress/tunic that can be worn in a variety of styles.

In my case all the “variety of styles” involve feathers on poitrine and posterior, but when one is channeling a peacock, shyness isn’t an option. I’m actually hoping a wild print plus under-engineered clothing shape = loud and clear sign of midlife crisis.


L, 3 yards of silk Haute Hippie peacock print fabric await transformation; R, pale silver sandals meet up with meandering peacock feathers

However, as a fan of structured clothing, I’m naturally clinging to my creation’s drawstring for dear life. It’s my gateway to texture and shape, and although the string and channel construction is underappreciated in my household (“It looks…Amish,” quoth my beloved), I stand by my belief that a gathered neckline or sleeve has timeless charm.

If the style was good enough for the innovative Madeleine Vionnet, by gum, it’s good enough for me!

Speaking of art and money: As one of the master’s of the goddess-y gown, Vionnet’s mix of technical and artistic skills centered around ease of movement and letting the inherent qualities of a fabric shine (L, detail of a 1936 pleated neckline; R, shoulder detail from a 1938 gown — both c. the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Lately it’s been good enough for those hired to carry on Vionnet’s work, too.

During her long career, Madeleine Vionnet expanded industry horizons; today Vionnet SpA reinterprets her vision (Spring 2011)

In fact, I’m somewhat mourning my tradeoff of fewer pleats for less width/more manageability—but since I’m busy trying to figure out how and where to put necklines, hemlines, and volume I don’t have much time to dwell on my decision.

I’ve pretty much decided I can do false-advertising-in-action demure…

A short + straight waist means I rarely belt, but the crazy print of Peacock (keyhole in back/high neck variation) does keep the eye moving…hopefully away from slatternly slip straps

fear I need to draw the line at front-pleated skirts…am safe with the split shoulder, V-neck halter style better modeled with the Periwinkle Pouf…

A multi-way dress has many challenges, and while my sewist conquered print placement I’m testing necklines, hem lengths, and volume distribution

…and may have broken something trying to be trendy via tunic, cuffed skinny jeans, and vaguely cage sandals.

Technically, my Peacock dress can become a Peacock tunic…so I’ve thrown my staid basics aside in order to experiment with about 10 (aging) trends at once

Luckily for me and my styling efforts, the peacock symbolizes renewal. Here’s to having such a vividly colored reminder that every failure marks another opportunity for success!

PSA 1 and 2: Learn as Betty Kirke, costume historian and author of the classic Madeleine Vionnet, shares her knowledge about Vionnet’s revolutionary construction techniques—or get a glimpse of the Vionnet retrospective at the Museum of Decorative Arts (redirects to YouTube):

PSA 3: Get a look inside the jewel box known as the Peacock Room, currently housed in the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art, and read up on the artist-patron feud that inspired the room’s famous mural

Periwinkle Silk Goes Goddess-y Blouse

In my younger and more Miss Priss days I was prone to living vicariously through charismatic slightly-bad-boys. While age has dampened my attraction to males full of razzle and dazzle, I rather suddenly and mysteriously seem to be prone to desiring clothing with similar attributes. Should I blame biology for my increasingly flamboyant taste—or just boredom?

Whatever the reason behind the change, it’s wreaking havoc on my plans to add a few practical spring-to-summer wardrobe items to my closet.

Instead of bringing home pieces ideal for my body shape, coloring, and lifestyle, I let an acre of periwinkle silk captivate my heart and my wallet. And though the material is fashioned into a blouse that can be worn in a multitude of ways and feels like heaven on, I can’t delude myself into thinking it’s ideal.

It’s too shiny. It’s too voluminous. It’s too in-need-of-belting (always a dicey proposition for a short-waisted H/Rectangle).

Blue meets green on a rare 85 degree April day (blouse worn V-neck/halter-tie style)

But despite knowing the blouse is rather wrong I don’t care that it’s not quite right. [And after decades of obliviousness around proportions and cut, these days I generally care about such things a great deal.]

I’d attribute the buy to my small but powerful Persnickety Bohemian side, but there’s plenty of finger-pointing to go around. Don’t think that my Contrarian Classicist style persona wasn’t whispering, “What’s more classic than a garment reminiscent of ancient Greece?” whenever I ran through the pros and cons of adding a vat of charmeuse to my closet.

L, Roman copy of a 4th century A.D. Greek statue wearing a peplos; R, attributed to Liberty of London c 1880s (via the Metropolitan Museum of Art's online gallery)

Periwinkle silk blouse worn V-neck/halter-tie style (with tighter vs looser gathers)

Post-purchase I learned that my blouse is more chiton-like than the peplos beloved by sculptors. Or more chiton-crossed-with-a-peasant-blouse-like. Translation: I bought rectangles of fabric meant to be transformed from boxy blah into luxuriously draped goodness. Er, yea?

Precedents for my periwinkle: Greek Chiton and Peasant Blouse

Unsurprisingly for someone on record as loving a good sarong dress and often sure that rouching will solve many a wardrobe problem, I feel more at ease with structured draping that has at least a small molecule in common with the artistic masterpieces of Madame Grès than I do with a couple of fabric rectangles.

2011 saw a long-overdue Madame Grès retrospective at the Musée Bourdelle

Alas for my comfort zone, there’s no getting around the fact that even when corralled, my blouson-y periwinkle doesn’t exactly create softened-yet-sleek lines.

Periwinkle silk blouse worn with keyhole in back

But here I am, and forward I must go. All hail that inspirational master of volume, Balenciaga!

Mid-50s Balenciaga via the Metropolitan Museum of Art's online gallery

Dear Balenciaga made things look so easy, yet two months after purchasing what Mr Vix rather annoyingly yet semi-accurately insists on calling my “purple sack” I’m still trying to figure out how to get the most out of the blouse’s range of wearing options.

Keyhole neckline front or back, gathers tightened/loosened, hem higher or lower—things can get a little complicated. I ain’t gonna lie: at times, styling my new boho luxe delight has proven as challenging as taking self-portraits in a dark hallway.

Voluminous meets variety in a dark hallway: Periwinkle silk blouse worn with split-neck/straight-across tie, deep V-neck, and with keyhole in back

At this point, tossing it over or under a column of color has been how I’ve started getting my cost per wearing down. As the weather dries up and warms up, though, I’ll keep on experimenting with variations that put this blouse front and center. Because when one’s inner goddess decides it wants to assert herself, it seems best to get out of the way.

PSA #1: Get an overview of Madame Grès and her sculptural designs—a mix of “austerity and sensuality”—including glimpses of the 2011 Musée Bourdelle exhibit that featured her work:

PSA #2: Enjoy Grainsdesel’s extensive, multi-part walkthrough of  the 2011 Madame Grès retrospective at the Musée Bourdelle—including beautiful shots of the museum itself:

Moroccan meets Modernism in Palm Springs [pt 3]

Having nattered on in two prior posts about my 50 hours in Palm Springs—with a photo-focus on Korakia Pensione’s 1924 Moroccan half plus a few scenes from the property’s Mediterranean side that were heavily inspired by certain museum exhibits—why keep going? Perhaps because I’m a sucker for seeming overlaps between nature and nurtured.

Thanks to my extended family’s “like it or lump it” stance to travel lodgings, I’ve now collected more opinions about how to leave home than I have chances or money to so. Crashing with relatives? Bearable-to-enjoyable (ditto for hosting). Crime-scene-aura motels, all-inclusive resorts, and rental homes with zero privacy? Punishment for past transgressions.

When I’m able to travel for pleasure, then—and have the added luxury of the stars aligning so I can choose one-off lodgings over chains—I strive to manipulate my eat/sleep/play funds so that a spot with a decent-enough view sits near the top of the priority list. When the budget is smaller, I’ll angle for tents or cabins; when larger, a modest room in a place with a lot of appealing common areas is the yin to my vacationing like the other half lives yang.

Which is why I ended up splurging on one of Korakia’s more budget-friendly rooms for my trip to Palm Springs.

Given that I’ve already documented my appreciation for the pensione’s boho luxe surroundings, I make no pretense to objectivity about where I ended up. If I’d been shown to a hammock with portapotty access I’d probably have nodded, smiled, and handed over my credit card while chirping, “Make sure to add a generous tip for your trouble!”

Of course I can’t say that settling into a zone with non-corporate furnishings + high ceilings + operable bathroom windows + french doors opening to a lightly-trod courtyard created a lot of momentum to go off and explore.

Limnos might be one of Korakia’s more smaller-scale (aka lower-priced) rooms, but it packs a big style/beauty punch

And for a while it was debatable whether I’d overcome my natural Argon-esque tendencies.

Sure, a getaway that included getting up, up, and away would expose my eyeballs to a completely different set of wonders than what I could see from my bed. But why bother to leave such a charming temporary nest?

I never did come up with a definitive answer before setting off. But after tromping along a trail that made my distance from water and modern conveniences brazenly clear and rotating ever-upward from a parched desert roadway to the snowy climes of Mount San Jacinto State Park, I felt my perspective do more than literally shift.

Harder and easier ways to get above Palm Springs abound: Top, Hiking Palm Canyon’s West Fork Trail; bottom, taking the Aerial Tram thousands of feet above the desert floor to snowy scenery

Though I’m pretty sure it’s far from news to those who’ve ever studied the area’s architecture, I was suddenly tuning into how many of the city’s modernist landmarks appeared to amp up or mimic the surrounding landscape’s colors, textures, and formations.

From the Orbit In’s layered overhangs and saturated orange…

 The Orbit In hotel, a Palm Springs modernist landmark, is beloved for its double soffit (photos courtesy of my travel companion)

…to the pale ochre, green, and brown palettes favored by many famous and random area residences…

A true oasis in the desert, Palm Canyon’s landscape includes a creek that accents a winding grove of California Fan Palms

Top, a 1957 tract house from father/son developers George and Robert Alexander is another local landmark; bottom, an anonymous-to-me beauty

…to the heavily striated and coarsely textured patterning used by prolific architects such as E Stewart Williams…

Palm Canyon and its many California Fan Palms are both protected and shared by members of the Agua Caliente Cahuilla tribe

Alas, my photo doesn’t do justice to the way architect E Stewart Williams incorporated desert colors and textures into his design for the Palm Springs Desert Museum (now the Palm Springs Art Museum)

the city is rife with references to the desert with which it co-exists.

As enjoyable as my visit was, I’ve spent my entire life in relatively lush climates and admit I can never completely relax in areas where water is such a scarce commodity. Because it certainly doesn’t seem as if it would take much for the desert to reclaim its territory—does it?

Top, sleek and stark against the desert sky (photo courtesy of my travel companion); bottom, nature continues to encroach on human handiwork

Touring Palm Springs Modernist Landmarks: Online Resources 101

  1. Palm Springs Modern Committee’s Desert Modernism Timeline
  2. Self-Guided Midcentury Modern Tour (photos + history snippet)
  3. Palm Springs Preservation Society “Then and Now photos” (mixed eras)

Moroccan meets Modernism in Palm Springs [pt 2]

Previously, I shared a few things that caught my eye when wandering around the Moroccan side of Korakia Pensione’s boho luxe grounds. With our 50 hours for Palm Springs fun trickling away, Mr Vix and I decided to carve out time for both the Palm Springs Art Museum and more enjoyment of Korakia’s offerings…and add “desert hike” and “see more modernist buildings” to the vacation still-to-do list.

Sometimes I enjoy visiting places without much—or even any—idea of the area’s past or present. It’s rare that my ignorance leads to bliss, of course, but arriving oblivious and leaving with only a narrow, impressionistic view can add up to a delightfully uncomplicated experience.

In general, though, I’ll take more information before I travel somewhere over less. Novels set in the region, memoirs or art by those who’ve called a set of geographic coordinates home, non-fiction accounts of long-gone or recent happenings…they all add flavor to the pot and make me feel a bit more connected to where I’m headed.

Before arriving in Palm Springs for the first time, then, how could I resist brushing up a least a little on the glamour and grit associated with the locale?

I couldn’t. Bravely disregarding fears that my cardigan-filled closet and default hankering for context have pushed me from “fuddy-duddy tendencies” into flat-out “dud” territory, I started digging.

One of my finds was the Palm Springs Preservation Foundation website; another, a hearty 1999 Vanity Fair article chronicling much of the area’s initial claim to fame (both celebrity and architectural).

Even haphazard and cursory research on Palm Springs makes it obvious the area keeps large chunks of itself tucked away for those with insider access. Luckily, it also offers plenty to those who come with more curiosity than connections.

From our room at Korakia we were able to wander by accessible modernist landmarks…

Seen close or from afar, it’s no mystery why E. Stewart Williams’ design for Coachella Valley Savings and Loan #3 (currently housing Chase Bank) is one of Palm Springs’ modernist landmarks

…enjoy the cultural bounty offered up to the public by passionate collectors and/or high net worth individuals…

Studio glass artist Christine Cathie’s O-Void (Pale Aquamarine) at the Palm Springs Art Museum

Studio glass artists at the Palm Spring Arts Museum: L, from Bella Feldman’s War Toys Redux series; R, Dante Marioni’s Reticello Acorn and Leaf

…and explore the art museum’s elaborate and oops-photography-prohibited “Backyard Oasis: The Swimming Pool in Southern California Photography 1945-1982.” The incredibly voyeuristic show positively seethed with wholesomeness and artifice, haughtiness and exhibitionism, serenity and foreboding.*

Naturally I was in love.

A passing, non-flash glimpse shot of photographer Jane L O’Neal’s work as seen in the Palm Springs Art Museum’s comprehensive Backyard Oasis exhibit

Back at Korakia, I was just as seduced by the artificial waters found on the property’s Mediterranean side as I was by the representations I’d seen in the exhibit. [And my ancient Blue Lagoon silk maxi dress felt it had finally met up with its long-lost twin.]

Korakia’s Mediterranean pool and my (now-THIS-is-how-you-should-treat-me) ancient silk maxi by night

Detail of Korakia’s Mediterranean pool, where I nabbed solo time in the heated saltwater for swimming/relaxing both mornings of my visit (which led to my companion nabbing this shot)

The aforementioned seduction didn’t prevent me from leaving the enchanting saltwater pool behind to further enjoy more of the grounds, however.

After hours spent focusing my eyes and brain on museum objets and their backstory, Korakia’s just-stimulating-enough interplay of texture and pattern with open space and solid shades practically begged to be of service.

Or as Mr Vix put it: “Nice bocce court.”

On Korakia’s Mediterranean side, my companion triumphed at bocce while my perimenopausal panther print dress and I enjoyed how texture and pattern were mixed with open spaces and serene stucco facades

Indeed, indeed. If trying to resist the pull of nearby water is on one’s list of priorities, though, may I recommend wearing something other than an inexplicably appealing jaguar totem dress?

Next: Part 3 of Moroccan Meets Modernism in Palm Springs, in which I make a few connections between the desert’s natural and artificial forms 

*PSA: Go context-free and download a PDF full of “Backyard Oasis” images or read Salon.com’s short, illustrated interview with exhibit curator Daniell Cornell