Monday, May 26, 2014

Strawberries: Not a Patch on Hue and Other Memorial Day Musings

Dress: Jessica Simpson, Marshalls
Shoes: Payless
Bag: Princess Vera, Kohl's
Sunglasses: J. C. Penney's

Top: Aeropostale
Skirt: Target
Shoes: J. C. Penney's
Bag: Candie's, Kohl's
Sunglasses: Rampage, Boscov's

Dress: Kohl's
Shoes: Payless
Bag: Loop, Marshalls
Sunglasses: J. C. Penney's

This week's post celebrates that most transient of warm-weather berries, the strawberry.  Indeed, the Strawberry Patch, Strawberry Cheesecake, and Bavarian Berry necklaces (the last so named for my green, red, and yellow-sporting childhood Gretel doll) are the perfect way to say hello to summer, especially the Strawberry Patch, which owes its existence to a frozen fruit bar box.

Memorial Day weekend or not, I chose to spend a chunk of my weekend engaged in the decidedly unseasonable activity of indoor reading.  My muse came in the unlikely form of a scholarly tome entitled A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me about Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter, by (according to the back cover) "self-styled intellectual rebel" William Deresiewicz.  I say unlikely because the book was all about how Jane Austen's novels had transformed the author's life, and of all the classic novels I'd been forced to read (or had forced myself to read) over the years, Jane Austen's had been my least favorite, on account that I found them boring.  Interestingly, Deresiewicz formed the same opinion upon his first Austen reading, an attitude he uses as a springboard for his book, setting the kind of I-couldn't-have-been-more-wrong challenge that results in him uncovering the many merits of Austen's storytelling style.  Deresiewicz does this by weaving his own coming-of-age experiences with his reading of the novels, illuminating Austen's genius for decoding social mores and manners by describing how growing up allowed him to appreciate them and apply them to his own life.  Deresiewicz's prose is so beautifully written, sprinkled with just the right ratio of self-deprecation and humor, that I ended up finishing the book within twenty-four hours, if not transfixed by Austen's writing (the excerpts that appeared were as hard to swallow as they had been in Intro to British Literature twelve years ago), then by Deresiewicz's writing about her writing.  This too reminded me of being in college, when I routinely read classics I hated only to enjoy writing about them in the papers that followed.  Books that I thought to be the literary equivalent of Brussels sprouts suddenly exploded with flavor -- did I detect a hint of cheddar in Lady Audley's Secret, and hey, was that bacon lurking in Dracula? -- revealing messages about things I cared about and the way that I looked at the world.  Reading Deresiewicz was no different, and although it didn't make me an Austen convert, it did make me more appreciative of Austen's craft and even understand just why I disliked her (something to do with me being more of a feeler than a thinker and valuing the self over community, both apparently qualities that made me more of a Bronte kind of broad).  I was surprised to find that I enjoyed reading Deresiewicz's book even more than the last few novels I'd read, a realization that made me wonder if I'd been foolhardy to abandon my old plan of becoming an academic.  Or, at least it did until I remembered that such a career would have meant a lifetime of reading classics, cross-country moves in search of tenure, and significantly less free time for trivial pursuits such as blogging and crafting.

Anyway, by the time I was done reading, I felt the old holiday weekend pressure to go play outside.  It was a beautiful weekend, and I knew that if I didn't soak in at least a little sunshine, then I'd be kicking myself come Tuesday. So late Sunday afternoon, the husband and I set off on a beach-bound stroll.  Although things started off with an-almost-too-cool breeze, the sun made its reappearance right about the time we were negotiating the uneven sand in our flip flops, a feat that felt curiously like doing step aerobics (or at least what I imaged step aerobics would feel like based on all the Jane Fonda workout videos I'd seen as a kid).  It was about that time that I began to lament my lack of sunscreen and finally decided that it would be better to return to true terra firma, a decision readily seconded by the husband.  

I have a confession to make (although something tells me that this is a confession I've made on this blog before).  I'm not really a beach person, and neither is the husband.  I like the idea of the beach.  I like the salt air, the tranquility, the feeling of crossing the bridge on my way home from work, even the sound of the seagulls.  But if given the choice, I'd much rather read on my couch than in a beach chair.  For one thing, being on the beach requires a lot of vigilance.  You have to make sure that you've applied enough sunscreen and that you keep reapplying it.  You have to remember your beach tag. You have to swat the flies and smile "that's okay" to kids who inevitably hit you with their Frisbees.  If you have to go to the bathroom, then you have to hold it -- unless you're one of those jerks who goes in the ocean.  And this is all before the tide comes in and you begin the tedious dance of inching back your beach chair lest it be claimed by the foamy surf (as my flip flops once were).  I know this sounds weird because most people find the beach relaxing.  Don't get me wrong  -- it definitely has its moments (especially in the off-season).  But I think you have to be born with a kind of beach bum/beach bunny gene to be truly at one with the waves. 

Still, the time outdoors made me more appreciative of the time I get to spend indoors, a phenomenon best expressed by that oh-so-wise Seinfeld shtick: when we're home, we want to be out; then we go out, and we want to go home.  So that's something.           

Monday, May 19, 2014

Plum Crazy about Peaches

Dress: Kohl's
Tee: Kohl's
Shoes: Simply Vera, Kohl's
Bag: Kohl's
Jacket: Gap
Belt: Mudd, J. C. Penney's
Scarf: Boscov's
Sunglasses: Cloud Nine, Ocean City boardwalk

Tank: Mossimo, Target
Cardigan: Kohl's
Skirt: H&M
Shoes: Ami Clubwear
Bag: Betsey Johnson, gifted
Scarf: Express
Belt: Marshalls 

Dress: Marshalls
Cardigan: Mossimo, Target
Shoes: J. C. Penney's
Bag: H&M
Scarf: Marshalls
Sunglasses: Kohl's

Two weekends ago, inspired by Cinco de Mayo, I made a kind of weird, makeshift Mexican peach pie in my quesadilla maker.  I sandwiched cream cheese, canned peaches, and cinnamon and sugar between two tortillas.  It wasn't bad, although I wished I'd done a better job of draining the peaches -- wet cream cheese is no bueno.  I'll remember that for next time, as I see many a canned fruit quesadilla in my future.

Naturally, working with real peaches (if anything canned can be called real) made me want to make fake ones.  So I came up with this Ornamental Orchard trio, tossing in plums for good measure. As you know, I'm drawn to fruit motifs.  Indeed, they are among the most feminine of designs, hanging at the crossroads of conventional and avant garde.

The concept of what constitutes feminine style has always fascinated me.  So, I was delighted to stumble upon the March Elle article "Why Can't a Smart Woman Love Fashion?" in which Nigerian-born novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie describes adjusting to American dress:

"I realized quickly that some outfits I might have casually worn on a Nigerian university campus would simply be impossible now.  I made slight amendments to accommodate my new American life.  A lover of dresses and skirts, I began to wear more jeans.  I walked more often in America, so I wore fewer high heels but always made sure my flats were feminine.  I refused to wear sneakers outside a gym.  Once, an American friend told me, "You're overdressed." In my short-sleeve top, cotton trousers, and high wedge sandals, I did see her point, especially for an undergraduate class.  But I was not uncomfortable.  I felt like myself."

The pressure to conform to a more androgynous, less well-thought-out sartorial style only increased as Adichie's writing career began to blossom.

"Once, at a workshop, I sat with other unpublished writers . . . A fellow aspiring writer said of one faculty member, "Look at that dress and makeup!  You can't take her seriously."  I thought the woman looked attractive, and I admired the grace with which she walked in her heels.  But I found myself quickly agreeing.  Yes, indeed, one could not take this author of three novels seriously because she wore a pretty dress and two shades of eye shadow."

The incident influenced Adichie, who wanted to be accepted as a serious writer, to create a protective shell in the form of a make-under.

"I hid my high heels.  I told myself that orange, flattering to my skin tone, was too loud.  That my large earrings were too much.  I wore clothes I would ordinarily consider uninteresting, nothing too bright or too fitted or too unusual . . . I didn't want to look as if I tried too hard."

Adichie alludes to a social construct that has always left me baffled.  If anything, a woman in a creative field such as writing should be taken more seriously for expressing herself visually.  What's more, encouraging women to hide their true selves gives rise to the kind of judginess that is a byproduct of feminism as well as one of its chief detractors.  That having been said, I realize that the world doesn't always embrace a free-to-be-you-and-me mindset.  Adichie seemed to know this too and opted to prioritize public perception over personnel expression to advance her career.  That is, until she didn't.

"I am now 36 years old.  During my most recent book tour, I wore, for the first time, clothes that made me happy . . . Perhaps it is the confidence that comes with being older.  Perhaps it is the good fortune of being published and read seriously, but I no longer pretend not to care about clothes.  Because I do care.  I love embroidery and texture.  I love lace and full skirts and cinched waists . . . I love shopping . . . I admire well-dressed women and often make a point to tell them so . . . I feel again myself - an idea that is no less true for being a bit hackneyed.  I like to think of this, a little fancifully, as going back to my roots.  I grew up, after all, in a world in which a woman's seriousness was not incompatible with an interest in appearance; if anything, an interest in appearance was expected of women who wanted to be taken seriously."  

Now, that's feminism to me.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Friends and Dames in Fancy Frames

A cupcake, a finless Ariel, and a sock monkey in sticker-form. 

"Dame" is a weird word and one of the few that makes me think of palaces and pool halls in equal measure.  If I had to pick my favorite (palace-y) Dame, I'd be hard pressed to choose between Dame Agatha Christie, Dame Judi Dench, and Dame Edna to commemorate my love of books, movies, and wacky eyeglasses.  But mostly wacky eyeglasses, so I guess Edna wins.

This past week I tried my hand at a project that brings new meaning to the term nail art.  I'd scored this fashion plate print for free at Michaels some six months ago and finally got down to jazzing it up with . . . nail polish!  Or, at least, I started with nail polish.  Eager to unload some of my collection (crafting and fashionable fingertips are about as compatible as piranhas and pandas), I opened a bottle of Revlon's Mint Gelato and let the strokes fall where they may -- which, as it turned out, was no farther than the meager confines of an ever so slightly lopsided teardrop.  That stuff smelled -- and I'm not just talking about the admittedly delightful chocolate mint scent that the good people at Revlon had mixed into their cosmetic chemical stew -- but about the chemicals themselves.  Abandoning my ambition of polishing the entire mat in the interest of preserving brain cells, I slapped on four more teardrops before moving on to the more merciful medium of scentless markers.  I drew flowers and foliage -- always a go-to when I need to fill a big space -- and, after finishing the last fern in my jewel-tone jungle, reached that crucial point when I had to decide whether to keep going or to leave well enough alone.  Sadly, I went with the former because I thought that I had to have (and this sounds so silly, pretentious even, to me now) contrast.  So I grabbed my colored pencils and glitter glue and created a line of shapes across the bottom.  The result was pale and sugary and vaguely 1980s, kind of like something you'd see on a Trapper Keeper.  I wasn't crazy about it, but my dissatisfaction only spurred me on further. On went the big rhinestone necklace and bows, completing this dame's transformation from chic to cheeky.  Que up boys, this one's pool hall-bound.

Speaking of make-up (at least I was speaking of it earlier, and I'm sticking with that, transitions being hard to come by), it's a true wonder woman who can manage her makeup while driving.  This is one of those tricks that I wish I could master, especially when I'm running late and have to take the wheel without my lipstick.  Stuck in traffic and at lights, I imagine sneaking the little black tube (also Revlon -- only RiteAid's finest for me) out of my purse and dashing on a quick stripe like a heroine in a spy novel.  But it's buried in my cosmetic bag, which is buried in my purse, and even if I end up finding it, there'd be the matter of unscrewing the cap and getting the stuff on without smearing it, all the while worrying that the traffic will move or the light will change at the exact moment I'm painting the Cupid's bow.  I've attempted it once or twice, and the stress isn't worth the coup of the multi-tasking.  That, my friends, is a game for a less anxious dame.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Rain Forest Ready (on Solid Ground)

Dress: Modcloth
Shoes: Betseyville, J. C. Penney's
Bag: Marshalls
Belt: Kohl's
Sunglasses: Rampage, Boscov's

Dress: J. C. Penney's
Shoes: Alloy
Bag: Kohl's
Belt: Wet Seal
Sunglasses: Candie's, Kohl's

Top: Marshalls
Skirt: Forever 21
Shoes: Frederick's of Hollywood
Bag: Bisou Bisou, J. C. Penney's
Belt: Wet Seal
Sunglasses: Cloud Nine, Ocean City Boardwalk

I don't mean an actual rain forest.  (Please.  I rarely leave the confines of South Jersey.)  No, this post is more about rain forest-inspired raiment, lush showers of shoes and bags and necklaces that make you think of the tropics from the comfort of your own yard (or couch - hey, this homebody doesn't judge).  Then again, I did catch an episode of the Science Channel's "How Do They Do It?" last weekend (which is to say that the husband was watching it while I pieced together synthetic palm fronds) about gum harvesting in the Yucatan Peninsula, and the voice-over warned, "for all of its beauty, the rain forest is a dangerous place."  Truer words were never spoken, ominous announcer man.

But back to the topic at hand.  I've always wanted to do a post of solid outfits, no prints allowed.  Not only would it be a challenge (I've got a penchant for prints), but it would make my necklaces pop.  I often have this dilemma when dressing myself, drawn to the drama of dueling motifs and intricate accents.  (Forget about taking one thing off before leaving the house; it's more like, one more necklace?  Don't mind if I do!)  So here it is, clean color-blocking at its most minimal, the very voice (voice?  sure, why not) of restraint.

Still, I love a good pattern, especially a resort-ready one.  I recently saw a spread on (albeit subdued) floral fashions - I think it was called "tropical mixers" - in Real Simple magazine.  I really like Real Simple.  I realize that this sounds odd, given my love of extravagance (simplicity's less sensible but better kitted-out cousin), and at first I was surprised, too.  Sure, this somewhat matronly monthly lacks the colorful flash of Vogue, Elle, or Glamour - even its pages are matte instead of glossy - but it more than makes up for it with its abundance of human interest stories.  Readers write in to answer questions, such as, "What book most inspired you?"; there's always an essay about a personal challenge, some big, some small (one of my favorites is about a woman overcoming her fear of sleeping alone when her husband is away on business); and the advice column focuses on etiquette rather than beauty or dating.  Even the editor's note is delightful, and I never read those!  I think that what sets Real Simple apart from other women's magazines is that it focuses more on who women are than on who they think they should be.  Well, except for when it's firing off advice about being a more efficient cook and housekeeper.  As someone who subsists on pasta and clutter, such can-do directives really annoy me.