I know it’s a new season when Chloe drops a new “IT bag” on to the fashion circuit … The Drew is now a nostalgia of the year gone by. The Faye only exists in second hand market. How does it work like that ? Have they programmed a spell into their bags ? Does this alleged spell loose it’s potency as soon as the next one drops ? Or is it me ? Is my lust so fickle ? I have liked them all and conveniently forgotten them all. The Tess is the new pretty one. Bags aside, this year’s seasons are special. I started growing food. Frost dates, temperature of the soil and humidity in the air matters. I pray for the rains alongside millions of farmers who do this for real. I have seed catalogs. I have a time table for sowing. I have a weekend blocked off for making compost tea. I am currently shopping for red worms on Craigslist. Frost date is a more immediate apocalypse on my mind. “Life starts all over again when it gets crips in the fall”. But F. Scott Fitzgerald, really ? Is that an honest journal from your lifestyle or are you trying to fill pages of your book by talking about the weather. In contrast, Thoreau doesn’t sugar coat. “It’s vain to talk about seasons when you don’t have seasons in you”. One doesn’t need a wardrobe to walk from a door to the car to a door. This year, I feel like less of a fraud for talking about Fall and the clothes I will be wearing.
Eat, Pray, Love.
On September 15th, a meeting was called upon.
Venue : Our dining table.
Attendees : him and I. Cinco, the FOMO cat, sat in my lap anxiously waiting for something to happen.
The materials spread across : The vegetable bible. Seed catalogs. A sketch of the outline of our vegetable bed. A beloved mechanical pencil. A browser with google search as its homepage. Wine glasses filled with coffee.
Agenda : Grow a food forest. Water Your New Plants
Minutes of meeting : We made a list of all the fall veggies we could name. We circled the ones we want to eat. Each of us quickly typed into search boxes. The companion planting charts were pulled up. The crop rotation charts were pulled up. In a sudoku-esque game of placement and elimination, we zeroed in on the locations for the plants.
Plan of action : Grow some plants from seeds. Buy some from the nursery. Plant. Transplant. Weed. Water. Compost. Prune. Mulch. Enjoy the process with all 5 senses. Learn from the internet. Learn from the plants. Fill the house with loved ones. Make good food. Eat in moderation. Grow more herbs that I can possibly use. Make tea. Serve it when people have eaten too much. Lie and tell them that your special tea can make them feel less full. ( They always fall for that line and stay a little longer. )
A new sartorial season
always starts with ….
… the arrival of Porter Magazine. I like getting that physical marker that forces me to take notice of the changing season. In the analog days from my childhood, you could hear a wrist watch ticking and needed to rip out a page of a calendar on the wall everyday, time was more demarcated. But days are less monotonous and more adventurous when you are a child, aren’t they ? For a grown woman, it’s bills, deadlines, unfulfilled dreams and wrinkles that remind you of time passing by. A magazine that says “Fall is coming. Look at all these beautiful garments that our industry made” is a welcome distraction in my home. I start a draft and begin to build a portrait of the season, which eventually becomes this blog post. This season’s Porter was very forgettable. It left me with a certain after taste : these articles could have been a blog post or an Instagram post. Instead of being disappointed, I started supplementing the the commercial magazines with the niche ones that write for the likes of me. These two have been giving me a good return for the money :
Selvedge : Plenty of features on indigo stories and textile artists from across the world.
The Rake : “a magazine for the bored aristocrat”, it’s critic once wrote. Sartorially, I am one at heart.
The Capsule you put away
All those blue dresses.
This year, I was tired of my closet. It’s romantic to write about wearing the same garment over and over again. But in reality, I was bored of the blue dresses. Year 4 of wearing them is not the same as year 1 of loving them. A comment appeared on the blog : “It’s natural to get bored of your old clothes. Embrace it instead of fighting it. It’s the pause. It’s the negative space. It’s the ‘ma’. It’s life.” The internet is supposed to be full of trolls but I seem to find these women with yoda-ish wisdom who want to hold my hand when I need it. I tried to divert my mind to other matters instead of fixating on the boredom. Thankfully, the weather gods intervened before I could fail. A new season arrived and I could box it all away. 6 months from now, the old will be new and all will be good again. I look to the seasons to bring in a sense of renewal and I am glad it extends to the closet too. Doing seasonal capsules definitely has it’s perks.
Location, the greatest influencer ?
Tshirts and hoodies are “meh”, I have said. Silicon Valley is rather one-dimensional, I have said in private. Today, I correct myself : the valley has it’s own style. I left behind some of my old style rules and absorbed the new micro-culture. Blue denim and t-shirts are the uniform out here. It somehow fits the lifestyle. The rules are routinely broken and stretched. New style inspirations emerged : Brittany of BrittanyBathgate. The way garments are styled on TOAST. That unknown quality in the people Wataru photographs. Andyheart, a positive data point to my hypothesis : good graphic designers know their ratios and proportions. It reflects in the way they dress, the way they decorate, the way they present information, ….. The countless women who wear simple clean lines. The women who don’t buy fast fashion to pair with their Chanel bag. The women who put sustainability over their wants. The women who wear vintage and second-hand garments. The gardeners who wear the same overalls for decades. The women of the West who take care of our lands and farm them. The women who have redefined the idea of feminine for themselves. The women who don’t see the need to assure the world of their femininity by dressing a certain way. The brave women in this messy crazy world who fight every single day, are my inspiration. It is all around us, don’t you think ?
The costumes worn by Gretta, from Begin Again.
A woman who wears a well cut pair of pants with an attitude, is my style icon. (It used to be anyone who wore a blue dress, in the past.) I will repeat myself : there are many shades of androgyny. To each, his/her own. Women could wear menswear exactly like the men do. The pantsuits of Ellen Degeneres and Hilary Clinton come to mind. There is a shade of androgyny that came forth from the way Yves Saint Laurent dressed women. You can see traces of it in the chic French women we admire. There are women designers like Stella McCartney and Phoebe Philo who have a certain vision. “She gave Celine an identity that for women meant a great deal, because it was clearly for them, not an image of them caught in a black and white photo of back alleys and nightclubs and the damage done after dusk”, writes Vanessa Friedman. Rei’s runway clothes challenge our notions on how garments should fit. You see shoulders with humps instead of sharp shoulder pads, waist padded instead of an emphasis on the slimness, legs hidden under layers instead of emphasis on the skinny-ness of legs, holes in clothes, a rejection of the sizing system, ….Yohji designs clothes that can be worn by men or women. When the notions of implied femininity and masculinity are muddled, I am intrigued. Gretta does it well. There is no generic formula to achieve this sort of effortless style but you can connect the dots backwards when you see it. Style muses exist not for us to copy them, but for us to have reference points in our own evolution. ( Any writers/editors out there who understand what I mean and want to volunteer to re-write this passage for me ? )
[ A case for shopping second hand : The costume designer Arjun Bhasin hunted down Gretta’s wardrobe in vintage markets in NYC and had them tailored to fit her. “I’m particularly fond of Keira’s pleated baggy trousers and sloppy silk blouses together with men’s lace-up oxfords. I feel like they speak to a certain ease and effortlessness which is very sexy. She is equal parts Audrey Hepburn, Diane Keaton and Patti Smith.” ]
A carte blanche
… THE singularity ?
Wear what you like, was terrible style advice if it came my way 10 years ago. With no self awareness, low quality clothes and no understanding of how clothes could sit the body, it would have been a recipe to look “meh”. But today, I need some playfulness to kick the boredom. I learnt some style rules and I think I can afford to bend them a little. Beautiful garments when thrown together haphazardly, as I have learnt …. look alright. I am swerving a little from my formulaic dressing. I know that those pleated trousers will look cool with a block heel given my short legs. But I want to wear them with sandals … just because I do. Those oxfords look really big on my feet. Wear them anyways. Unflattering outfit ? Wear it anyways because I want to. Too much red ? It’s alright. Does it make me too “matchy-matchy” ? Yes. One day in it wont kill me. Try it out and see how I feel. Manrepeller outfit ? Repel away ! I finally started to have fun with my clothes. There are no separate ‘fun clothes’ with bright colors, prints and sequins. It’s about playing around with my everyday clothing. Previously, I had locked each garment into a particular look/outfit and would wear it without thought. Some garments were worn too much and some, too little. I was strict about the one color per outfit as a rule. I couldn’t bear it other wise. As of today, I am testing new waters by allowing the cracks in my own walls. As I started to mix them up, the utility factor of my closet increased. Can I dare call this new attitude of mine – ‘the Leandra Medine-ification of personal style‘ ? The main qualities : fearlessness and playfulness. If personal style has a singularity, this would be : wearing exactly what you want – when and how you like it. ( But while resisting the fast fashion mindset. ) Every point of view is personal and unhinged by the notion of sophistication, shabby, sloppy, femininity, masculinity, good taste, right fit, flattering, chic, tomboy, bohemian, classic, ….. I think we as a civilization are (very slowly ) moving towards it.
… an extension of the dresses ?
Left : COS Karate pants. Right : Everlane chinos.
I am with Lin on how my garments should fit. They need to flow away from the body. They need to touch me as little as possible. They should not cling to me. They shouldn’t have a point of contact other than what’s necessary to keeps the garment on the body. Shift dresses for example, do that well. ( The men don’t know what they are missing out on. ) Tent dresses in the maternity sections have always tempted me. The trouser equivalent of that avatar – relaxed fit pants. I prefer low rise because I don’t want all that fabric pressing on my stomach acting like a corset. Wide leg pants are comfortable but I dislike all that extra fabric flapping around once the fabric has softened with wear. Lemaire, Yohji and Helmut Lang make these carrot pants that look like a vase. The trouser flares out at the hips/thighs and tapers at the leg providing some protection from the cold winds. I haven’t found the pair I am looking for, but own the next best shape.
The Shoe Brigade
I am a collector
My battalion is out and is ready to march. When I hear the phrase “have fun with fashion”, I immediately think of shoes. They are what I use to change the vibe of an outfit. ( I don’t know how to do so with clothes, to be honest. ) Boots & oxfords for the every day. Suede block heels when I want some glamour. A red pair, for color therapy. A blue ballet flat that I am testing out for a review and haven’t hit 100 wears yet. ( Spoiler : It’s the real deal. Other ballet flats in the same/higher price range should take notes and learn. ) Taking pictures for blog posts can be annoying but they force me to condition/polish my shoes every season. Oh well, something good is coming of it all.
“I am a tote & backpack person”.
– a former bag lady, retired.
A bag is only as useful as how zero-waste friendly it is. If I can’t fit a water bottle and a book inside, it’s doing a mediocre job at being a bag. In turn, it is making me a fashion victim. While I maintain that it’s a little self defeating to dress only for comfort and practicality, but to dress impractically all the time is truly self defeating. I put carrying a laptop in a tote in the fashion victim category. Shoulders and spines are more useful than fleeting OOTDs. Some things like backpacks are beautiful because of their utility. My tolerance for putting myself through discomfort and inconvenience for the sake of an outfit has gone down. If this is mid life, I want to use my energy wisely, take care of my body and pollute less. I used to carry a New Yorker tote but it was intellect shaming me. I don’t want to wear a visible logo. Especially not one of a magazine that I don’t read. Switched it out for this linen tote. Totes aren’t exactly exemplary design. Everything gets jumbled in there and I am always rummaging for my things. They are very spill-your-belongings friendly when in motion. It collapses into a puddle when I put it down. This linen tote lined with cotton on the inside and has an elasticated mouth. It is a step up in terms of utility. I like the unbleached state of linen in its natural color. I like how humble it looks. I like how simple it looks. I like the idea of being liberated from the fashion bags that are used as ornaments in outfits. I like the idea of being able to put it on the floor and not worry about a bag. I can wash it. I can dye it indigo when it has accumulated enough scuffs. I think I could be a tote person.
The Knitwear stack
Red. Blue. Gray.
Red for color therapy. Navy for everyday. Gray for when I want a background for the colorful scarves I own.
Flash review :
Gray sweater – Everlane. 4 years old( their first batch of cashmere). Is wearing well. This garment is the reason I got hooked on to the brand for basics that didn’t get made in sweatshops. I have been meaning to dye this one indigo but the idea of my playing with an expensive luxurious fabric – has me putting it off.
Navy sweater – Everlane. 2 years old. Is doing alright. If I had more confidence in my ability to identify variations in quality, I would say that they have allowed the quality to slide as they scaled up. But one should refrain from making conclusions from one sample point and uneducated guess work.
Red sweater – Iris & Ink. 4+ years old. Is a tad more substantial than Everlane sweater in terms of thickness. Looks old considering it is not. It used to be deep red. It now looks brick red. Next year, this one will be downgraded to lounge/sleep/at-home wear.
I am relatively new to cashmere and it’s remained this elusive luxury that I can’t seem to get right. Should I have pooled up the 3 X hundred dollars and bought one sweater instead ? ( But I need 3. )
Hypothesis : Affordable cashmere is a myth. None of these are sweaters that will last for a decade. Maybe if I have 10 more to rotate and constantly buy new ones, their mediocre quality will go unnoticed. I keep making the same mistake over and over agin. The mistake of choosing convenience over long term gain. It’s easier to buy the 100$ cashmere sweater than hunt for a second hand one from a more reputed maker that will probably cost me more than 100$. ( Because I think the second hand market is booming. It’s not as cheap as it used to be. Folks know the value of what they own, have venues to list and are willing to wait it out till it sells. )
This ramble aside, wearing a sweater how ever pilled and snagged, is a joy. Some things redeem themselves by looking good. Some things redeem themselves for feeling good when in use. I am happy to be wearing one everyday.
[ Wear a t-shirt under the sweater. Protects the fabric from sweat and body oils. Knits can be washed less often. They last longer. This Spring, I discovered my perfect t from Everlane. I somehow feel a need to include that info in every blog post. So good ! ]
Everlane and Zara compete for love.
Left : Everlane Swing Trench. Right : Zara Duster Coat.
If these two had a monologue, it would go :
She loves me. She loves me not.
She loves me ???? She loves me not ????
Does she love me ? Does she love me not ?
But that is alright. What in life is a constant entity ?
I want the short trench to be longer. ( Everlane made a mac coat which is exactly that. )
I want the blue duster to be wrinkle free.
Ain’t gonna happen.
But they work. They are mine. They are familiar and worn in.
She likes them. She wears them.
Some Shopping Suggestions if I may
I carefully built a collection over the years. My biggest tip for buying scarves :
- Buy from the men’s department. They are cheaper. The colors are muted. The fabric is more substantial. The prints are less flashy. Most importantly : more fabric per dollar. Most women’s scarves don’t allow me to loop it around my neck twice. Women’s scarves are in these delicate thin weaves that easily rip. Who are these women they design for ? Are they statues ? Do they not work, commute, lift things or move ? We want pragmatic clothes too !
- They should be in colors that flatter the skin tone. Certain shades of blue, army greens, mauve, …. work for me. (I have a red and a teal blue one loaned out to a family member visiting America.) Scarves are my way of introducing pattern into my outfits. I am looking for a floral print and a mauve scarf to add to this collection.
- Understand that printed scarves are a sink hole. Say you bought this one, for its beautiful print. It doesn’t show when you wear it. Even worse, such beautiful print looks like clutter when wrapped. Buy print for how it looks when wrapped, not for how it looks on the fabric.
- Have one thick scarf that can be paired with a more spring/fall scarf. I have a gray one. I bundle them up in the winter.
- The fabric stores are the best place to shop for scarves. Where else can you go where everything in a store can be made into a scarf ? Acne Canada scarf is much cheaper if you can source it from a fabric store.
- India is a great place to find scarves. We the women wear one on top of our traditional clothing. There is a textile gold mine out there waiting to be explored. Ask your friends to get you one. Tag along with your friends when they go home. It will be an experience that wont disappoint.
- Convert fabric from old clothes into neck squares.
- Do not buy the Burberry check print scarf. You are not a coat lining.
- No to visible logos. You are not a billboard. Do not pay the brand to advertise for their product. Make them pay you if you were to do so. You are worth it.
Buy Less, Buy Better, Make it Last
“Marketing people look down to people. Instead, a good designer or a good responsible client looks up to people. … One has to believe in the redeeming factor of education, in the redeeming factor of not spreading vulgarity. … Commercial things are done by people that want to exploit other people and couldn’t care less about quality. We are interested [in] quality. … Nobility is our life — isn’t that great”
“Liking is probably the best form of ownership, and ownership the worst form of liking”
– Jose Saramago, The Tale of the Unknown Island.
“We the people don’t find pleasure in anything anymore. When I was a child, we used to trust each other. We used to share. If we found 10 berries on a roadside tree, we would eat one each. Feel the pleasure of eating 10 each from the one berry. Today, I don’t know such pleasure in anything in-spite of having access to everything. I don’t know what has happened. I don’t know how we got here.”
– my father.
My eBay account got hacked and shut down. I wasn’t pleased. How will I finish that blog post on ‘how to shop on eBay’ with no account to take screen shots? How will I track the second hand garments coming into the market from brands I like ? How will I search for items to link on the blog ? … A few days in, the relief set it. It’s gone. I stopped browsing. I closed a channel – one were I sell away the old and am always acquiring things I don’t need. Realreal has gotten more expensive and competitive. I want so much and it sells out before I make up my mind on it. This time around, it’s not some marketing people or the trends that have been tempting me. The demons are deep inside. I was on a prowl for striped sweaters/tshirts since the beginning of the year.
Q2: Gray and ivory stripes with hot pink edging detail, cashmere : New Scotland.
Q1 : Navy with pink stripe, wool : Alexa Chung. second hand. Condition : Worn in.
Q3 : Navy and white turtleneck, woven wool : Karen Millen, second hand. Condition : Excellent.
Q4 : Navy and white light weight knit, wool : A fast fashion find from the thrift shop. Condition : Worn in and snagged.
My shopping policy :It’s better to made do without, than to suffer the mediocre. It took me 3 years to bring stripes back into the closet. Initially, the budget was allocated to other more necessary garments. Later on, I couldn’t find the ones with the low contrast, the right stripe width and in the color pairing I wanted. Every thing I saw on the market was cut from a cloth with a flag-like-quality meant to be spotted from a mile away – a design requirement for a sailor who could go overboard a ship or jailbirds who can escape. I need my clothing to do the opposite – make me invisible unless I choose to show myself. When I did find the stripes of my liking, they came home. But it’s a pyrrhic victory.
The Little Things
“The same old”
My biggest blog critic is a friend of mine. She calls it a broken record. “The same thing, over and over again. We get it. You wear these blue dresses. You care about sustainability. Same old. So boring. There is no reason to read it”, she says. I admit to loosing interest in writing this blog. I have 1050 drafts that I don’t care if I publish. On the other hand, does style change by season ? Should my closet look different every year ? Should I find new things to love every month ? Absolutely not. Simple living isn’t glamourous. It finds its roots in saying ‘enough’. You can’t have an influx of goods all the time and think it is sustainable irrespective of the brand making it. Same with personal style. You develop a palette, pick a few silhouettes, build a wardrobe and wear them in a certain manner. I take pride in my signature style. It may not be much for the onlooker but it means a great deal to me. My blog isn’t for everyone. It definitely does not exist for anyone’s entertainment. It’s for me. It is my a point of view. Our views should evolve with time. As long as that gets reflected, I am happy with the same old. I am happy writing love letters to the same old garments. I am happy to confess boredom to the same old garments. For the 5th year in a row, presenting my signature perfume. How shall I describe it ? Dark. Earthy. Humble. Fruity. Subtly naughty. A tad seductive. The same old. Not for everyone.
Using a shampoo bar changed my hair. I used to have smooth hair that refused to stay in a bun or a pony. It now has a certain rough texture and some volume. I have considered quitting and going back to the plastic bottles. But it’s (only) hair. It’s dead cells. It’s not a big deal. It doesn’t effect my health in any way if it’s not as smooth as before. I am making the best of it for now by wearing it in ways I never could. By putting this jewel on top.
Cook out of nostalgia
I moved around a lot in the last decade. Initially, the goal was to live with as many culturally different people as possible. It was one of the many charms that enticed me to America. My roommates include : A Mexican illegal immigrant. An art teacher of African-American descent. A carrot scientist from Peru. A professional salsa dancer. A caucasian ballet dancer. A Korean violin teacher. A professor in Sustainability. ….. I tried to collect roommates from every state in India & America. There was good times + some very bad times before I called quits on this experiment and started living by myself. Allow me to share a story of the roommate who grew up in South Africa but identifies herself as Syrian while calling Kerala her home. We would cross each other’s paths only at 3am ( the time she would go to work and the time I would come home from work) everyday in-spite of sharing a room. We would make our way to the 7- Eleven across the apartment, eat a 1$ brownie square and gossip. On one particular morning, she blurts out that “there are exactly 2 men in the world that I can possibly marry”. The backstory goes like this : The legend has it that her family are the original Syrian Christians who were facing religious persecution centuries ago. They got on a ship, escaped and eventually ended up in Kerala, the tip of South India. They kept their ‘line pure’ by marrying in the community and not mixing with the natives, the Indians. Now that she is of age, there are exactly 2 men who meet the purity threshold. There was a long silence. I had to process the information. She then blurts out : “They say there is one person out there for everyone. I have two”. That line somehow got us rolling on the street laughing. She, coz she was high on sugar and was feeling helplessly vulnerable on that day. Me, coz it’s easier to give in, than say something diplomatic to that story. Back to this post. She did know how to cook with coconut and I miss her food. This book comes from her community of humans. It has tales of matriarchs, ancient kitchens, Sunday suppers, traditions, hot toddy, after church feasts, the cultural nuances, …. the sort of stories that I make him read to me at bed time. Cook books can give you the sweetest of dreams.
[ I want a friend & a cookbook from every state in India/America and every country in the world. ]
Don’t be lost in a story you are telling yourself
There are two ways to read a book : like a normal person and like a blogger.
A normal person reads when ever and where ever. On the toilet. On the train. In between meetings. As they eat their lunch alone. As they wait. Before they fall asleep. On weekends. As audio book during commute. As audio book during house cleaning. ….
But a blogger ! … a blogger won’t do any Fall reading without giving out a discourse on hygge and slow living. You ought to smell the paper back and diss on folks who read from a kindle. You need to be wrapped in an oversized neutral sweater, wear a scarf, wear socks, make hot chocolate or tea, start a fire, light a candle, settle into a leather couch decorated with blankets and placed next to a fire place, place a large pumpkin next to you, look cozy, feel cozy and then read the book in question. Take pictures while doing it. Tag it #slowLiving. Market it. Tag products to obtain it.
Either way is fine by me. It can be a pdf, e-reader, audio, braille, video, play, oral narration, sculpture, paper back or hardcover. As long as the information is absorbed, I consider it reading.
The book : Jiddu Krishnamurthy’s Book of life: Daily Meditations, came at the recommendation of a wise women I know – my mother. The format of information in the book is unique. You read one passage per day. Reflect. Take it forward the next day by reading the next passage on the same topic. Reflect. Repeat. This is a book you read with a loved one so that you may discuss. The first two pages from the book :
Putting Aside Screens
How do you listen? Do you listen with your projections, through your projection, through your ambitions, desires, fears, anxieties, through hearing only what you want to hear, only what will be satisfactory, what will gratify, what will give comfort, what will for the moment alleviate your suffering? If you listen through the screen of your desires, then you obviously listen to your own voice; you are listening to your own desires. And is there any other form of listening? Is it not important to find out how to listen not only to what is being said but to everything— to the noise in the streets, to the chatter of birds, to the noise of the tramcar, to the restless sea, to the voice of your husband, to your wife, to your friends, to the cry of a baby? Listening has importance only when one is not projecting one’s own desires through which one listens. Can one put aside all these screens through which we listen, and really listen?
Beyond the Noise of Words
Listening is an art not easily come by, but in it there is beauty and great understanding. We listen with the various depths of our being, but our listening is always with a preconception or from a particular point of view. We do not listen simply; there is always the intervening screen of our own thoughts, conclusions, and prejudices…. To listen there must be an inward quietness, a freedom from the strain of acquiring, a relaxed attention. This alert yet passive state is able to hear what is beyond the verbal conclusion. Words confuse; they are only the outward means of communication; but to commune beyond the noise of words, there must be in listening an alert passivity. Those who love may listen; but it is extremely rare to find a listener. Most of us are after results, achieving goals; we are forever overcoming and conquering, and so there is no listening. It is only in listening that one hears the song of the words.
And you ?