Trial Run, Success and Failure

Yesterday, I had a Sunday brunch meeting with my boss (!) to negotiate (!) my new position (!) on returning from maternity leave. Going into the city without a stroller felt like an excellent opportunity of taking my new coat-combo for a trial run, especially since we were meeting at a very chic café full of stylish people and stylish salads. I find it necessary to be out in a real life situation before I know whether I like an outfit or not – what feels good at home before the mirror can often turn boring/trite on contact with the outside world. If I still felt confident after visiting this place I would have made the right choice.

I paired the camel coat with its clean lines and large collar with a cashmere shawl in a Yves Kleine vivid blue, my new orange leather gloves, and a dove grey leather hand-bag in a classic shape – which I have “customized” by tying a bit of print silk to one handle. So far so good: I think the colours and shapes work together, being unusual and classic at the same time. It stood out among the people wearing black, all black – and in a good way. I received three separate compliments and felt like I hit the right note between individualistic and bizarre. Possibly, I will want to buy some more neutral gloves for more somber occasions, and also, I’ll be able to change things up with my trusted brown Mulberry bag as needed.

However.  What brought the outfit down was taking the coat off. Underneath, I wore a navy V-neck sweater with a bit of stretch to it, keeping the blue scarf – and then, my lived in jeans and black suede fur lined Bally-style winter boots. It felt just sad, plain, and boring. Which made me realize that I’ve focused all my energies on finding the right look for work (black and grey wool separates) and that I’ve completely forgot about the week-ends.

For jeans to look good, you need really skinny legs. Otherwise, you just look like a mom – which is an admirable thing to be, but not a good style statement. For a sweater to look good, it needs to be the perfect fit: snug but never tight. For casual pants, flat shoes, and a sweater to work you need SOMETHING in the way of added details to save the look from utter tristesse.

Lessons learned and items added to shopping list?

Casual pants for week-end wear. Is bold colour cotton the way to go?
New shoes required, but may have to tough it out in these until the snow melts, no matter how sad.
A plain V-neck sweater should never be worn without something to oomph it up. Yay, a reason to buy more scarfs!

Naked Face

I don’t have to get dressed and up and out in the morning. I have to breast-feed my daughter, get her dressed, get breakfast for my son, get him dressed, change both their diapers, brush an assortment of teeth, put something into a cup for myself, and get dressed and up and out in the morning.

This routine, or circus is you will, imposes a certain time-constraint on my own personal grooming ritual. So I’ve decided to work with the constraints, instead of against them. Minimalism, then, is my motto.

Since I don’t have the time for proper make-up, I have decided to perfect a near naked look. Luckily, I have fuss-free skin, which helps. In under a minute, I can get my face done using:

- Moisturizer
– Bare Minerals powder on nose and chin
– A bit of mascara and some clear lip-gloss

Of course, this means accepting those dark circles around the eyes and a certain pallor. It also requires a bit more in terms of grooming: to save it from looking sloppy the eyebrows need to be cared for, nails impeccable and hair polished.  My nails I keep buffed – shine without the hassle of chipped varnish – and after weighing the pro’s and con’s of different cuts, I decided on a mid-lenght bob in my natural colour, medium brown.  I find it more stylish to go with your natural shades than imperfect dyes and streaks as they tend to look cheap. The bob I chose because my hair isn’t rich enough to support long hair hanging loose, and up do’s tend to look fussy and/or frumpy. Really short hair needs a lot of make-up not to look to severe, so that’s out as well.

Naked face. Neutral nails. A plain brown bob.  Fun? Not much. Spectacular? Certainly not. Clearly, in order for this look to say “restrained and minimalist, but still sensual” instead of “boring and butch”, I need to choose the right accessories. So far, I’ve found a really good pair of glasses – unframed, egg-shaped lenses and super-thin steel – but now I need ideas for jewelry that will underline the clean and the understated while transforming the look from boring to feminine, from no-fuss to exclusive.

Orange Leather Gloves

I have a beige wool coat. It is just shy of bland, an a-line with a subtle sweep, lined in pale cream, with hidden buttons. Super traditional except the cut of the collar, which is bold.

I chose the colour because it is as close to a blank page as you can get. Black is too harsh, white too extreme. But beige is invisible. I’ll make it come alive – or fade further into the background – by accessorizing unexpectedly.

That is why, today, I bought a pair of supple, fur-lined leather gloves to go with it. They are also as traditional as possible, except for the colour, which is a lovely burnt orange.

Together, these pieces are symbolic of the look I’m building. Subtle, traditional, with an unexpected use of colour. Now all I need is a bag which is ladylike enough to tuck the gloves into with the right amount of nonchalance, but still youthful enough to make me not look like I’ve snatched the purse of a pensioner.

How to be Eternal

When I was a teen-ager I was obsessed with the idea a signature scent. I found it in L’Eau D’Issey which I wore every day for ten years. It wasn’t the most adventurous or refined of perfumes, but it was different from what my friends tended to use and that made me stand out. Especially mixed with a faint whiff of Benson & Hedges gold box cigarettes, it made me feel refined.

These days I realise it takes a bit more than a pedestrian perfume and a smoking habit (which I kicked, along with the perfume, several years ago) to send a message. And I do want to send a message. That is the whole reason why I’ve embarked on this project: finding a signature style. Only this time, I want it to properly high-brow. And for it to be signature, it needs to be sustainable – it needs to change incrementally from here on out. I need to choose a look that will look right now and, with some changes, when I’m forty. Not to mention eighty.

Not fashionable, necessarily, but:

- intelligent
– flattering
– discreet

Now all that remains is to figure out what this means… and excludes.

Tabula Rasa

The first piece of advice in any given style guide is always to make a closet inventory. You are to make three heaps – keep, store, toss – and then evaluate your needs based on what you are left with.

Well, I did, and gave away approx fifteen years of ill-fitting “vintage” dresses, bulky black sweaters, and frayed jeans.

The store pile wasn’t so huge. In fact, the store pile wasn’t anything but my wedding gown. I haven’t been spending much on heirloom furs.

The keep pile – now known as my entire wardrobe – consists of:

- one pair of black wool trousers
– one pair of black cotton pants
– one terrible, black suit-jacket that I’ll have to wear for now if I don’t want to get sacked first thing back at work
– four cashmere sweaters, two of them grey
– one of my mothers ancient Kenzo silk blouses, in a vivid blue, red and gold pattern
– one nude silk peasant top
– one black silk dress with a white collar
– one navy blue cotton shift
– one beige cardigan, which I got for Christmas in 1993, and which is more holes than fabric at this point
– assorted tattered and grey underwear, because I’m not going commando until I get this situation fixed
– one beige Marimekko coat
– one navy blue duffel coat

The shoes and accessories pile is also modest:

- one pair of black men’s style dress shoes
– one pair of midnight blue suede pumps
– one pair of chocolate crocodile pumps
– one pair of Acne stilettos with a socking fake gold stone at the toe
– one pair of Bally-style winter boots
– one pair of Paraboot walking shoes in brown, well worn
– wellingtons and a raincoat. because that’s life
– brown fur mittens and a fleece hat, beacause, again, that’s life
– one Manhattan-print Josef Frank tote
– one very scratched and very staid Mulberry handbag
– one black alligator clutch with a broken lock that my grandmother lent me for my first university ball
– a large number of shawls, since we can’t afford to keep our pile of a house properly heated
– my “reading” glasses, which are now actually just my glasses
– a plain gold wedding band and wildy unpractical engagement ring
– a strand of proper pearls my grandparents gave me for graduation
– a Georg Jensen cocktail ring
– a terribly ugly modern silver necklace which was a present from my father when I had my first baby – Daddy has since died, so I’m kind of stuck with that
– two “ethnic” necklaces with lots of dangly bits which I swiped from my mother and don’t dare admit having

I’m also keeping, for the next two weeks, a stay-at-home-mom outfit consisting of a very worn pair of jeans, a tank top and a ribbed brown turtle neck. These will not go on any pile, these I will burn at earliest opportunity.