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Fashion

A Craving for Clothes

camillebidaultwadd 

I have fashion on the brain these days. Not in a musing, semi-intellectual art-nun kind of way, but like how when you’re a little kid and you’re like “I want red shoes! I want a ruffly blue dress!” Want, want, want, want, want!

Maybe it’s because during pregnancy I felt like I couldn’t enjoy clothes as much as I usually do. It wasn’t like I had it bad during my baby-incubation months — my style always gravitated towards a silhouette with a looser top and a tighter bottom, so I wore a surprising amount of pre-pregnancy clothes for much of my pregnancy. (I got away with my regular jeans and pants with the help of makeshift waist expanders made of hair elastics until my third trimester, when I caved and got two pairs of maternity jeans. So that was the extent of my fashion accommodation: maternity jeans from H&M, because I hated the idea of spending money on clothes I couldn’t wear forever.)

Now, though, the craving for clothes is emotional, almost spiritual even. It’s a pattern of mine — I daydream about what clothes I’ll buy for a season in times of identity flux, a way to mark off a new stage of existence. I’ll even dream about clothes at night unconsciously. (I’m vaguely mortified to think about how many of my dreams are about shopping for things, and how amazingly visceral and pleasurable they are. I once dreamed about buying perfume and smelling the most exquisite orange blossom and jasmine scent in this dream…and now I’m like WHERE CAN I FIND THIS FRAGRANCE IN REAL LIFE?!! It was pure beauty! But I digress.) 

It’s very basic to use clothes to feel out the changing parameters of identity, at least for me. I used to love to figure out my first-day-of-school outfit, taking time and care in figuring out my year’s persona, like “cartoon heroine glamour” or “English garden party grunge” or whatever. (Those were legit fashion statements I tried to make during my high school and college years, though honestly, I probably just wore the same style year after year: striped shirts, black tights, boots, army parka.) Sometimes I think identity is sort of a tension between who you want to be and who you really are — i.e. a pas de deux between self-acceptance and life-as-creative-act — and style is a visual, tactile, concrete and a sensuous way to figure out those boundaries. 

It was easier to figure out and play with this tension when I was younger, and experimenting with your self is just part of, well, youthfulness. But this new stage of my life — being a mama, yet somehow trying to integrate it with my past artsy-adventuress self — feels tricksier. I look at the list of things I feel drawn to or am intrigued by, and it makes no sense. It’s a mishmash: Nike Pegasus 83s, leather totes from Madewell and Everlane, pink and grey striped sweaters from Uniqlo, mustard yellow Vans Sk-8 high tops, a navy blue cotton lawn dress, an artsy-looking slate grey cocktail dress. Some things I hope embrace the changes in my life; others are kind of pure denial. I’m inspired by random things: Sofia Coppola in her Cali/married to Spike Jonze days (pictured below), stylist Camille Bidault Waddington (pictured above), a picture of Sarah Jessica Parker taking her daughters to school. Again, mishmash.

I do find a pleasure in dressing my baby. Contrary to what you’d think for a former fashion-y obsessive, I actually haven’t bought much for him — my baby inherited a lot of baby clothes from older cousins, and I’m too practical to lay out for things that will only be outgrown in a few months. (I also figure the baby is too wee to care much about hand-me-downs now, so I should take advantage while I can.) I love the innocence of children’s clothes: rounded collars, happy colors, tiny charming embroidered details. I don’t want to match my baby, nor do I want to dress like a child — but I do find myself interested a kind of sincere, innocent joy and happiness in clothing now. 

Finding that — and integrating that with my past fashion selves — is a bit of a challenge, though. One of the strange existential challenges is delving into this whole new life while often missing my past life and self. Perhaps I’m looking to clothes as a concrete, sensuous way to do this — dressing as a way to honor my past but still accommodate my present reality.

Truth is that I don’t really know how to dress anymore, or what to dress for: my body is still changing every week, my spirits soar then flag depending on how much sleep I’ve gotten and how hormonal I feel, sometimes I get out of the house and other days all I do is sit on the sofa and read and watch TV and feed my baby. But I do know the days I “make an effort” tend to be better — fashion as ballast during a tumultuous, beautiful and challenging time in my life.

The other day, while the baby was sleeping, I dug up the storage bins of clothing I put away for the season, or when I was pregnant and couldn’t fit into them anymore. I ended up culling about a third of my wardrobe — things that I knew I wouldn’t fit into for awhile, or seemed too jejune or just “not me.” But who is “me” now? I don’t know. Part of my reasoning for axing some clothes was “That’s not how a new mama facing down 40 dresses,” which I found weird and interesting. I’m smart enough to know that being a mother doesn’t mean I need to dress in capri pants, a fanny pack and some little button-down shirt — but I do need to think practically (spit-up is a new challenge) and I do want a little dignity and grown-up-ness. 

Of course, as I write this, it’s 5 in the morning and I’m up after feeding the baby and I’m wearing sweatpants, a t-shirt and a hoodie. So maybe my cravings will remain simply a craving for the time being. Or at least a way to dream while awake. Which is what great clothes let us do, of course, no matter where we are in life.

Other things:

  • I’m experimenting with using my Tumblr to keep track of what I’m listening to, reading, watching, etc. I never quite figured out how to use Tumblr or what it was for, but it’s so easy to use on my phone, and ease is pretty much the crowning criteria of nearly all things these days.

 

In Favor of the Seasonal Wardrobe

In Which I Explore My History of Closets

People mistake closets for wardrobes. All the clothes in your closet = your wardrobe, right? Ah, fashion grasshopper, that isn’t true! Your closet is just the physical husk to store and house the powerhouse of beauty, imagination, possibility and creativity that ideally are your clothes. A wardrobe is really a collection of garments. But of course, it is much more than that.

We’re all collectors of clothing — society forces us to be, since we have to wear clothes most of the time. (At least in my world — maybe your world is a pro-nudity one! Lucky you!) Some will just buy things pell-mell just to satisfy these societal requirements and then move on with life. And that’s just fine — those are fine and worthy lives, and they’ve got other interests and priorities.

But many of us — visual-tactile types, those who have an interest in style or fashion or at least the creative, emotional and quasi-spiritual possibilities of dressing ourselves — have a mind-set, deliberate or otherwise, towards collecting and curating our wardrobes. This mindset can be conscious, like when you decide to buy only green or eco-fashion, or if you decide that “kindergarten sophisticate” or “70s L.A. witch” is your fashion concept for the season. But many times when it comes to clothes, we operate on a combination of instinct, guilt, fantasy, obligation, unconscious assumptions, doubt and confidence, depending on our mood and what we’re shopping for.

I’ve long been interested in not just clothes themselves, but the relationship we have towards them — towards fashion, self-presentation and shopping. Sometimes this underlying psychology and mindset fascinates me more than the actual clothes themselves, to be honest. (Sometimes I think I missed my calling as a kind of fashion/style therapist.) I began to truly understand the intensely intimate archaeology between the self and style with my strangely seminal experience of doing a massive closet clean-out during my grad school years. For some reason, the thoroughness and difficulty of the task finally gave me a bird-eye’s view of the motivations and mindset I brought to fashion, style and shopping.

When I was done, I had concrete evidence right in front of me — the sartorial survivors hanging right there in my closet — of the life I truly lead and the person I truly was, as well as the fantasies and dreams that felt true to myself. In my various discard piles, I also had concrete evidence of the wishes, delusions, longings and outgrown ideas I had as well. It was eye-opening and set me on a course to reframe and reshape my life. I still can’t get over how cleaning out my little Manhattan closet was the start of a great and lovely journey in my life, bringing me authentic contentment and a sense of inner peace. I still have my foibles and struggles, but there’s a core feeling of rightness: I’m right where I want to be and living the life I was meant to, and wearing the best clothes to suit that. And knowing that core feeling keeps my sense of style and shopping on track, and helps make sure my wardrobe is a source of pleasure and creativity, and not guilt, anxiety and confusion. Perfect feedback loop!

(more…)

Look of the Week: The Blue Shirt (Or, My Basics Vs. Their Basics)

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I have an embarrassing affection for reading style manuals and guides. I don’t care who’s written them: Posh Spice, Diana Vreeland or Krusty the Klown, I think everyone has a potentially interesting take on getting dressed everyday. One thing these kind of books love to do is layout a list of basics that “every woman must have!” And, you know, it’s basically also always the same thing: a white shirt, black pants, a little black dress, a trench coat. I often wonder if everyone’s seen too many Audrey Hepburn movies when I see a list like this. (Though, don’t get me wrong, I love Audrey…I wrote about her in my mini-zine! I just think the Audrey fashion hegemony has made us a little lazy in the style department.)

I’ve always thought this was super-boring. And I’ll be honest, outside of black dresses — which as a former angst goth punk kind of girl, I’m practically genetically predisposed towards — I don’t own any of these prescribed basics. I don’t own a pair of black pants. (I do have a pair of black skinny jeans, but thy are raggedy and could never substitute for formal black slacks.) And I haven’t owned a plain white shirt in, well, forever. This is mostly because I am very practical — I actually do not own any white clothes at all, because it honestly seems like a massive pain to do a whole separate load of laundry for them, and I just don’t want to bother! That’s why I don’t own any white clothes and don’t wear white shirts. (I bought a Rodarte for Gap too ages ago, but alas, I decided to screw it all and threw it in the laundry with my darks…and that was the end of that.)

But one thing I’ve very into are blue shirts, which I guess you can say is my equivalent of the white one. I used to buy boys’ school uniform oxfords all the time — I liked the gamine factor of wearing boys’ clothes, and they always fit perfectly. They weren’t too long and the sleeves were shorter as well — and for some reason, they’re usually blue. For me, the definition of a basic are clothes that make me feel like myself — maybe not my most glamorous, elegant or fabulous self, but just solidly “me.” That’s what a boys’ school uniform oxford does, with its practical kind of jauntiness, which is why I always have one somewhere in my closet.

But I’ve branched out into different styles, like the blue linen tunic with pintucking. It’s a lighter, more feminine style — I think of this as my Provencale summer shirt, even though I’ve only been lucky to be in Provencal in the summer but once in my life. If winter and fall ever feel a little heavy and torpid, I wear this shirt and the loose, graceful fit and blue color make it like Ahhhhh. Weirdly, as I get older, this style of shirt veers a little close to “San Francisco matron,” so I end up wearing it only with sharp, rugged type boots or, yep, some kind of black leather jacket…it “de-matronizes” it in my mind that way.

My latest favorites, though, are bib-front type of shirts. I’m not even sure why I like them so much. Maybe because it’s half-bohemian, half-preppy, half-jejune, half-adult? I really like the idea of clothes that are neither here nor there in that way. It’s weird, because as I feel more grown-up, settled into my nature and confident in my choices, I appreciate a bit more ambiguity in what I wear. Maybe clothes are like the last stand against this. But it might actually be more the realization that the more I get older, the more I realize categories, strict dichotomies and either/or thinking are really irrelevant, and things are a lot blurrier — and there’s comfort in that. There’s no need to put yourself in boxes in order to protect ourselves against uncertainty and doubt. Those emotions will find you anyway — it’s just better to arm yourself with acceptance and confidence rather than stave them off with rigid thinking.

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Look of the Week: Getting That Semi-Elegant Bad-Ass Feeling with Blazers

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When I lived in NYC, I wore jackets and blazers all the time. Boyfriend blazers, tuxedo-y styles, classic English-y redingcotes: they all made me feel upright, strong, swaddled in strength and fortitude as I weaved down the streets and sidewalks quick and sharp. My uniform was a sharp jacket, skinny jeans and boots — it was practical and utilitarian, but most importantly, it made me feel like a semi-elegant bad-ass.

Then of course, I left, and slowly those jackets went away. I either sold them — some lucky duck owns a fabulous Phoebe Philo-era Chloe wool jacket now for crazy-cheap — or replaced them as they wore out with cardigans, ponchos and wraps. I went soft and cozy in my gentle, hushed new life. This was instinctual and deliberate. After years of being armored — a mental and emotional fortress onto myself — I wanted to be open, receptive, warm. And it works — if you ever want to soften your heart and soul, put something against your body that feels that way. It helps.

But lately I’ve been gravitating back to the jacket and blazer. I’m not sure what it is — I don’t have a yen to move back to the city. Perhaps it’s that I go riding horses a lot more these days, and the strong upright posture you hold is rubbing off on me in strange ways. Or maybe I just feel the need for some reserve of strength, power and forthrightness to draw upon. I have things to do, accomplish, reinvent; I need solid footing and the armor to shake off criticism and be brave!

But I realized as I was transferring my fall/winter wardrobe into my closet that I had only two blazers remaining in my repertoire — a thin silk boyfriend-y one for evening, and a very old Armani Exchange one that was like a shrunken, cropped swingy peacoat. Both are nice in their ways, but don’t exactly give me that feeling of decisive power I like and want. It’s time to tap into my powers of elegant bad-assness again! So I decided, this fall, that some new jackets were going on the shopping list.

Jackets, though, are tricky to buy. They are not easily or cheaply tailored items; they have to fit very precisely and perfectly to look right, especially on my short frame. While I can usually adjust sleeve length, I am very picky about their overall length, as well as with what I call the “bra lines” area — the horizontal line from right underneath your armpit to the middle of your chest, and the one from where your bra strap would be to the middle of your ribcage. Essentially, anything going over your boobs! This area has to fit absolutely right with no excess material and hang open perfectly. Otherwise it can make you look much stockier and thicker than you really are, and that’s no fun. Oh, and an overly low armpit is also usually a disaster. I often tend to buy jackets that are a size smaller and just make peace with the fact that I’m never going to close them. But usually I just don’t buy it if it doesn’t work right on me.

So you see, I’ve only been able to find two blazers…and I’ve tried on a great many in my search so far! One is black crepe-like material short with a curved, shapely waist, collarless with nice, shorter sleeves. (I always end up shortening sleeves on a jacket.) It’s much more formal and structured. Oddly, I like wearing it with shirts with really long sleeves, and let them flop out goofily, because it feels Dickensian to me.

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I’m thinking of going kind of Bianca Jagger and trying to find a cream-colored jacket. That might just be a tad beyond my comfort level, though it might look nice with my coloring and hair. But eek, so impractical! We shall see. You can take a girl out of a practical jacket, but you cannot take the practical out of the girl.

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