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Posts Tagged ‘clothes’

flats red pants front steps

Spring has sprung for sure here in Cambridge. I came back from a quick visit to Texas to find dogwoods, lilacs and tulips in full flower. The nights are still chilly and the mornings often misty, but the days are crisp and sunny – sometimes downright mild.

I’ve been working my winter uniform for months, rotating between half a dozen dresses (mostly striped, black or denim) with black ankle boots, fleece-lined tights, my crimson scarf and a cozy grey sleeveless cardigan I found in Oxford last fall. But – glory of glories – I need something lighter to wear now.

It’s not quite bare-legs weather yet, at least for me, and I don’t want to spend ages getting dressed in the morning (really, who has time for that?). But I realized last week that I’d come up with a spring uniform almost by accident.

katie scarf beach

Right now it looks like this: cropped trousers (I have the same ones in red and black) + sweater or long-sleeved top (black, gray, white, striped or some combination thereof) + tank top. I’m still wearing a scarf (usually red, or the patterned one above) most days, and then I slip on my ankle boots or Rothy’s flats. (See above: I also own a red pair.) I’m still hedging my bets and wearing my beloved green coat, mostly, but I’ve reached for my spring trench coat a time or two.

I’m no style innovator, but I’d rather look classy, be comfortable and feel like myself than spend a lot of time experimenting. The uniform will shift again when we reach full summer, but for now, this is working for me.

Do you do the uniform-dressing thing? What are you wearing this spring?

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darwins portrait red lipstick

About a year ago, I became fascinated by the concept of a personal uniform. (It was all over the Internet for a while: President Obama’s blue or grey suits, the Australian newscaster who wore the same suit every day for a year, numerous bloggers writing about their wardrobes.)

I’m not a big clothes shopper and I hate making decisions in the morning, so you’d think a personal uniform would be tailor-made (ha) for me. So far, though, I’ve lacked the discipline – or the commitment – to really take the plunge. I haven’t edited my wardrobe down to 10 items or consciously worn the same 33 items for a month. (I have also resisted the Marie Kondo madness because, frankly, everyone else seems to be doing it.)

But as we continue to slog through winter, I realized I’ve developed a personal uniform almost by accident.

Winter in the Northeast is (I need hardly say it) cold – often bitterly so – and snowy. I work in a business-casual office environment and I commute on public transportation, every weekday. So I need warm, sturdy winter gear: snow boots, fleece-lined tights, a knee-length down coat for frigid days and a couple of wool coats for milder ones. But I also need outfits to wear under those coats, and I find myself reaching for a variation on the same ensemble most days.

katie selfie red dress plaid scarf

Right now, that usually looks like a dress, either solid or striped (because I own an embarrassing number of striped dresses). I pair the day’s dress with black leggings and boots (of the snow or non-snow variety, depending on the weather). And I choose a scarf or knitted cowl to go with it. (That, and choosing my tea blend, is the kind of decision-making I can handle in the morning.)

I do own other pieces of clothing – sweaters, tees, skirts – and sometimes I feel like I should be making more of an effort to wear them. But right now, when I’m rushing around between showering and eating breakfast every morning, this winter uniform is what’s working for me.

Do you have a personal uniform – accidental or purposeful? (And if so, what is it?)

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stripes silver flats

Summer, as I keep saying, is in full swing around here. And while I am loving the chance to wear skirts and sandals as I hang out in Harvard Yard or walk to the farmers’ market, I’ve also had a few Big Meetings lately. Between the heat, the humidity and the importance of said Big Meetings, I’ve found myself facing an all-too-familiar dilemma: what to wear?

I am not what you would call a fashionista. I grew up taking fashion advice (sometimes gracefully, sometimes grudgingly) from my trendy mom and sister (and borrowing their clothes). I still inherit hand-me-downs from either Mom or Betsy on my occasional trips home. (Those pieces often end up becoming my favorites.)

One of the things I love about working in higher education is its mostly-business-casual dress code. I do not own a suit, and I wear heels about three times a year. In the winter, my style uniform is a snap: a dress or a sweater-and-pencil-skirt combo with tights, my knee-high black boots or booties, and one of my many scarves. But summer is too hot for leggings and boots – and I struggle to feel like myself in pantyhose and blazers. So I’ve spent a little time lately figuring out my version of summer power dressing.

I suppose it’s no surprise that some of the elements I love year-round – stripes, cardigans, my favorite “brave” necklace, the silver hoop earrings I wear every day – figure into my summer power outfits. I’ve splurged on a couple of “dressier” dresses and dusted off my one pair of not-too-high black heels (though I carry my silver flats in my bag). I’ve spent more time ironing lately than I have in a long while. And I’ve remembered – again – that the most important element is confidence. I don’t need to buy designer clothes or rush out and buy a suit. I simply need to look – and feel – like the most polished version of myself.

What are your tips for summer power dressing?

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It’s cold around here (despite the freak 60-degree day we had – with heavy rain – the week of Thanksgiving). It will be cold for months to come. The last vestiges of my summer/early fall wardrobe have been relegated to the back of my closet or the dresser in the spare room. And my winter style uniform has reappeared.

katie green coat harvard yard

I work in a business-casual office environment (higher education). Most of my colleagues don’t wear suits (unless they have important meetings), but we also don’t wear jeans, even on Fridays. (This is one reason I sometimes wear jeans to church on Sundays: because I can’t wear them during the week.)

I also commute on public transportation, often through rain, snow and slush in the wintertime. I need polished, professional (but not overly buttoned-up) clothes, and shoes that will support my feet (and keep them dry). Over the past few years, I’ve gradually pulled together a winter style uniform, some variation of which I wear almost every day.

The formula looks like this: sweater/tee + scarf + pencil skirt + tights/leggings + boots.

If it’s raining or snowing, I wear my red wellies or snow boots and carry a pair of flats in my bag. I now own five winter coats: three wool, two down. (Plus a lighter trench coat for warmer, rainy days.) I have a growing collection of handknit hats. I own a few dresses I love, and sometimes I swap the sweater/skirt combo for a dress/cardigan or tunic/tee pair.

Here’s what I know: I feel more like myself in soft separates rather than crisp button-downs. I’m not big on busy patterns, but I do love stripes. I own a dozen or so scarves, which I swap out according to the colors of my outfit (and the weather: freezing temps call for warm handknit cowls). I’ve begun experimenting with bolder tights – red, purple or a brand-new teal pair. My black riding boots get a real workout in the winter, though I also own a brown pair. And I rotate my coats – especially my new jade-green one, above – according to weather and mood.

Most of the time, I love this uniform. It’s smart, proper, warm and stylish, and it means I don’t have to deal with wet, dragging pant hems (my least favorite thing), damp socks, or ironing in the morning (or the night before). It also saves me from having to make too many decisions while I’m rushing around in the morning (unless the tee or skirt I wanted to wear is in the laundry). I function much better if I can put off decision-making until after my first cup of tea.

But sometimes, I get a little bored with my uniform – especially because I know I’ll be wearing it for several (cold) months to come. So, stylish readers, any inexpensive tips for jazzing up my standard style formula? I’m all ears.

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Over Labor Day weekend, inspired by an article in the (massive) September issue of InStyle, I spent an afternoon cleaning out my closet and dresser drawers. I’d intended to do this for several months, but the time and the motivation didn’t converge until that day. I didn’t think to take a Before picture, but here’s the After:

closet 008

(Yes, it’s a small closet. I live in New England, and our house is old. Trust me: the space was much more crammed before.)

I ended up with two big paper bags of clothes to donate, and one plastic garbage bag of ratty, worn-out items to throw away. The latter bag was full of tank tops, T-shirts and pajama pants I’d kept long after they grew frayed or worn. It felt so liberating to toss them, knowing I’d never wear them again. I’d held onto them mostly out of a sense of obligation: they were still useful (albeit in a limited sense), and I have a horror of being wasteful. But the space cleared by tossing them was far more valuable than their presence had been.

A week later, I took about 20 books (mostly advance copies I’d received for free, but also a couple of books I’d bought and didn’t like) to the bookstore run by our library. It felt good to hand them over to the librarian – even better when she exclaimed, “Wow, these are quality donations!” I love our library, and I’m happy for my unwanted books to help it out in a small way. And now there’s a bit more space on my shelves for the books I really want to read (and keep).

It feels satisfying, this clearing out and making room, paring down my collections to include only the things I love and use. The beginning of fall always feels far more New Year-ish to me than January 1, and this “zenning” of my spaces (as Serenity calls it) feels right for this time of year. Before the rush and press of fall events, before the Christmas gift-buying, before the nesting instinct kicks in with the cold weather, it feels good to create space without filling it up again right away.

My closet isn’t exactly a minimalist’s dream, but believe me, there’s far more space in there than before. I can see what I have (and what I love) right away, which makes me more aware of it, more grateful for it, and more likely to wear most of what’s in there. The same thing applies to my bookshelves, and by extension, to my soul. If I can clear away the clutter and keep some of that space free rather than cramming it with new stuff, I feel lighter, calmer, more at peace. And I’m more likely to welcome the good things – a new red cardigan, a delicious novel, or something more intangible but no less valuable.

Do you do any “fall cleaning” at this time of year? How do you “zen” your space, and/or your soul?

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The days were growing longer, but the cold was more intense. Father said: “When the days begin to lengthen / The cold begins to strengthen.”

Farmer Boy, Laura Ingalls Wilder

Brrr. That’s me shivering, because I’m well into my second Northeastern winter, and while it began mildly (thank heaven!), the lows have started dipping into the teens with alarming regularity. Which means two things: 1) I’m loving that electric blanket J gave me for Christmas (though he uses it too – sneaky!), and 2) I’m relying heavily on my winter accessories. Down and wool coats are vital, of course, but my extremities would still be frozen (particularly on the morning commute) without the help of the following:

Scarves. The back of our front door sports a hanging rack full of coats and scarves – and the latter hang so thickly you can hardly see the door. My collection of fringed pashminas, chunky knit scarves, my new big red cowl and one thin-but-warm stripey wool scarf have earned me J’s nickname of “Scarf Queen.” It’s astonishing how a scarf or cowl can warm up my whole body by protecting that vital neck area (and preventing the cold air from snaking down into my coat).


(Bundled up in my red wool coat, wool scarf and new Crooked Paths beret)

Gloves. I love my knitted fingerless gloves (I have three pairs), but it’s too cold for bare fingers in the mornings now – and I lost one of my suede gloves recently. Which meant I was thrilled to find leather gloves at Marshalls (for $7!). They’re black with a chic bow at the cuff, and so warm.

Boots. When it rains, I wear my red wellies (they’re lined for extra warmth, and I’ve just discovered fleecy boot liners). But I also have suede boots lined with faux fur, and my chunky-but-weatherproof snow boots, lined with fleece. Warm feet=happy girl.

Hats. I knit my own, mostly – from a chunky cabled red Habitat to some thinner berets made out of Madelinetosh DK. With some worsted-weight beanies and berets in between. I have short, fine hair, and it needs help keeping my ears warm in this weather. (I also own a cloche or two, a la Maisie Dobbs, but I’m always afraid they’re going to blow off when the wind whips down the Common.)

Tights. I never saw the need for sweater tights till last year – and now I have three pairs. I’ve also stocked up on “regular” tights, mostly plain or textured ones in black and gray. When it’s cold and/or wet I prefer skirts with boots and tights – no damp and draggled pant hems to worry about. And that one thin layer does wonders to keep my legs warm.

What are the vital accessories you reach for every winter?

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“I’d never get tired of red,” said the Story Girl. “I just love it—it’s so rich and glowing. When I’m dressed in red I always feel ever so much cleverer than in any other colour. Thoughts just crowd into my brain one after the other. Oh, you darling dress—you dear, sheeny, red-rosy, glistening, silky thing!”

She flung it over her shoulder and danced around the kitchen.

—L.M. Montgomery, The Golden Road

I ordered a copy of Red is Best for a friend recently, and tried to make Jeremiah guess whom it was for. (He hates guessing games, but usually goes along with mine.) “Whom do we know that loves red so much?” I asked. He stared at me and answered, “You!”

Ahem. Well, yes. I bought a red v-neck sweater this weekend, after searching for the perfect one for months. I’ve knitted seven red items (though four are gifts!) since mid-October. My long red wool coat has made its winter debut; I rock the red wellies whenever it rains; and my red Evangeline mitts are getting plenty of play on these cold days. Not to mention my red bathrobe, our red bath towels and dishes and couch slipcover, and all the other red things in our house.

Me in my "Valentine coat"

“You suit red,” my housemate Lizzie used to tell me – though she and other housemates have made fun of me for having enough red and pink laundry to merit its own load. But like Sara Stanley, above, I love red. I do feel cleverer in it – and, even if it’s not Christmas, I also feel festive and jazzy.

Do you have a color you never get tired of? (Any fellow red-lovers out there?)

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Some colorful inspiration for your Monday – designer Jessi Arrington explaining her wardrobe philosophy at TED.

I love Jessi’s cheery, bubbly outlook on life, her can-do spirit, her confidence in rocking new and unusual color combinations, and her sweet Southern accent. She’s inspiring me to rock a little confidence – and a lot of color! – today.

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I started spring-cleaning my closet the other day, weeding out a few items I haven’t worn all winter. While I was at it, I rearranged the items I’m keeping, organizing the tops by color.

And I realized: the number of my gray tops (cardigans, long-sleeved tees and 3/4 sleeve tops) roughly equals the number of my red, pink, orange/coral and yellow tops, put together. I don’t think of myself as a “neutrals” person, but it turns out the color spectrum in my closet leans heavily toward gray and black.

Granted, I own lots of colorful scarves, which pair well with neutral tops – ditto for a few brightly hued skirts, which I’m hoping to pull out soon. But I think there’s another reason, one that sounds depressingly familiar: Neutrals are safe. They go with almost everything.

There’s nothing wrong with safety per se, and I admit it’s nice to have some no-brainer options for getting dressed in the morning. And black can look sophisticated, and gray can be cozy or chic.

But these colors reflect a larger trend in my life of late. I’m still feeling raw and uncertain, still longing to feel settled in this new Boston life, to feel at home in my job and my neighborhood, instead of (still) feeling like the new kid. (It strikes me, as I said to my husband recently, that nearly all the people we call friends up here are fellow transplants, whether they’ve been here eight months, like us, or several years. They all remember what it feels like to be strangers here.)

On mornings when I feel tender and vulnerable, bold color is a risk I’m reluctant to take. I reach for the neutrals, maybe throwing on a vivid scarf, but keeping 90 percent of my body safely covered with black or gray or brown or dark denim.

But as we continue to flirt with spring – whether the day is sunny with soft breezes or grey and rainy, requiring (plaid) wellies and a mackintosh – I find myself reaching for my brighter pieces. That yellow top I found on clearance in February. That melon-colored scarf, that spring-green sweater, that pink v-neck top, that flowered umbrella.

The bright colors may not be safe, but they give my spirit (not to mention my complexion) a boost. Maybe it’s time to splash a little color into the rest of my life. Take a few risks, try a new thing or two, knock off some of the items on my spring to-do list. Maybe, eventually, I’ll feel more at home with color, and maybe that welcome brightness will spill over into the rest of my life.

(As I was writing this post, I realized I’d written a similar piece – called “Stuck in Neutrals” – for the now-defunct Radiant magazine, four years ago this spring. Interesting how some of these issues keep cropping up in our lives over and over again.)

How are you injecting color into your life this spring?

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I found this lovely beaded skirt in a vintage shop in Oxford several years ago. I loved it when I tried it on, and Jacque told me it was adorable. But I’ve never been able to bring myself to wear it. Either it seems too out-there, too look-at-me, or I can’t figure out what to wear it with. So, dear readers, I’m asking your expert advice: what would YOU wear with this skirt?

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