Saturday, January 14, 2017

Of Underwear and Outerwear

 I've been shopping for underwear lately. No... not that kind of underwear. Sporty underwear. Base layers, bottoms and tops, to wear under pants and under a fleece. Light but warm layers suitable for skiing and cool weather hiking. And for travelling. I always bring ski underwear bottoms when we travel. No matter the season. Even when we're not hiking or skiing. They are perfect for wearing under jeans on a cool rainy day, and for lounging around overly air conditioned hotel rooms, even in summer. Even in France. But more on that later.

Since we are leaving for South America in four weeks and five days... but who's counting?... I've been making lists and stocking up on what I will need to pack. I bought hiking boots and a new light toque before Christmas.

Adrienne Vittadini sweater, scarf Norsdtrom, toque Bula, earrings from Magpie Jewellry
Wearing my new toque with this old Adrienne Vittadini sweater and my navy scarf
And this week, I shopped for ski underwear. Base layers, as they say. Warm light layers are winter staples for skiing here at home, and will hopefully be useful for hiking in Argentina. I specifically looked for silky, synthetic tops and bottoms. Easy to wash and dry when travelling. And easy to slide under a fleece or a pair of jeans or hiking pants. 

I found exactly what I was looking for at Bushtakah. I love that store. It's where I bought my hiking boots in December. Everything in the ski section was 30% off, and I was able to use the $20.00 coupon I received when I bought my hiking boots... so I saved big time. I went home with two "Hot Chillys" turtleneck tops and one pair of long underwear bottoms. All three are lovely and silky, without being clingy. And I promptly tucked them away for our trip.

But then I started thinking that maybe I needn't wait until the trip to wear them. Maybe I should test drive my new winter staples. Lovely, silky turtlenecks should not be languishing in a drawer in the middle of winter. 

raspberry fleece from MEC, black Hot Chillys base layer turtleneck from Bushtakah
My new black Hot Chillys turtleneck with a raspberry fleece hoodie from MEC
In keeping with a sporty-skiing theme, I pulled on my new black silky base layer, with this woolly fleece hoodie from Mountain Equipment Co-op. And I decided to see what would happen if I paired these sporty tops with a couple of my more dressy pieces. So I hauled on my black crepe Aritzia joggers. And added my Max Mara fuschia tweed coat. Who says a hoodie can't be worn with a dressy pant and coat? 

raspberry fleece from MEC, black Hot Chillys base layer turtleneck from Bushtakah, black joggers from Aritzia, black boots from Stuart Weitzman     raspberry fleece from MEC, black Hot Chillys base layer turtleneck from Bushtakah, black joggers from Aritzia, black boots from Stuart Weitzman, fuchsia tweed coat from Max Mara

What with the cuffed pants, and hiking socks, and lace-up boots... I look a bit vintage. As if I should be sipping an après-ski kirsch at Schruns, Austria in the 1920's. And chatting with Ernest Hemingway, and Hadley. Maybe I was channeling Sonja Henie from that old film "Sun Valley Serenade." Or simply inspired by the ensemble below. I found this 1936 sweater pattern in a box of old knitting and sewing patterns at my mum's last winter. I may attempt to knit one of the sweaters from this book one day. Just not this winter.

vintage knitting pattern for ski ensemble from 1936 pattern book by Monarch Yarns
Ski ensemble from Monarch Yarn pattern book 1936
Now back to base layers... I also bought a lovely fuchsia turtleneck when I was at Bushtakah. I like it here with my black Lulu Lemon zippered jacket, and my tweed coat. You know... normally I would wear black socks with these joggers and my Stuart Weitzman boots. Bu-ut... these grey hiking socks, peeking out like that, are beginning to grow on me. Still, the outfit definitely needs some sort of scarf. It's a bit boring, and maybe a teensy bit too matchy-matchy. I'll work on that. 

black zippered jacket from Lulu Lemon, pink Hot Chillys base layer turtleneck from Bushtakah, black joggers from Aritzia, black boots from Stuart Weitzman,       black zippered jacket from Lulu Lemon, pink Hot Chillys base layer turtleneck from Bushtakah, black joggers from Aritzia, black boots from Stuart Weitzman, fuchsia tweed coat from Max Mara

And speaking of working. Phew. I took a ton of pictures this morning for the post. Moved most of the furniture in the sun room around to find a place where I wasn't standing in stripes of sunlight. Then after I had uploaded all the shots to my computer realized that they were overexposed. Ever single one. So after lunch, when the light was better, I redid all the shots. But by this time Hubby was home from skating, and talking to me from the kitchen the whole time I was trying to pose. Then he was in and out of the room. "Go away, " I barked. He did. But then he came back right away because he needed to "consult" on dinner. Gad. So I ended up with one bunch of shots where I was relaxed and smiling, but the picture quality was poor. And one bunch where I had pinched lips and an exasperated expression, and looked like I really wanted to be somewhere else. Or maybe I just wanted someone else to be somewhere else. Ha. You think?

I included this overexposed shot to prove I haven't totally lost my sense of humour. And to show my snazzy new long underwear bottoms. They are so silky and smooth that my pant leg just sliiiides down over them. 

 raspberry fleece from MEC, black Hot Chillys base layer turtleneck and long underwear bottoms from Bushtakah, black joggers from Aritzia, black boots from Stuart Weitzman
See my snazzy, silky base layer bottoms?
I laughed when the sales clerk at Bushtakah said these bottoms were so pretty that I could wear them as leggings. Ha. I don't think so. But it did remind me of when Hubby and I were in France and I accidentally wore my ski underwear bottoms as ...ah ... outerwear. 

It was when we first arrived in Provence and were staying in a little cottage outside Avignon. We'd been on the go for pretty much two weeks straight and I was looking forward to a slow-down day. A late breakfast that we prepared ourselves. Maybe a walk later. A bit of grocery shopping and some time to plan the rest of our week. And so when Hubby mentioned, after breakfast, that we should check out the area he had scouted out on the map, where we might leave our car and walk into old Avignon, I said "sure." And I slipped on my sandals and sunglasses, and climbed into the car. Let me paint a picture for you at this point. An hour before this, I had rolled out of bed, washed my face, combed my hair, and pulled on a long tee shirt and my light ski-underwear bottoms that looked like verrry thin leggings. I had no intention of getting out of the car. 

But somehow it had become lost in translation that Hubby meant this to BE the day we walked into Avignon. While I meant this to be the day that we planned how we would be walking into Avignon. You know... on another day when I had make-up on and had done something (anything) with my hair. 

A day when I wasn't wearing underwear bottoms. 

Sigh. Wearing underwear as outerwear, especially with bad hair and no make-up, is not how I prefer to represent myself to the world. I won't say anymore except that I was very glad that my tee shirt was long and my sunglasses big.

So, my friends, how do you feel about underwear as outerwear? Any tales of mixing very casual pieces with somewhat more dressy ones? Or any tales at all? 

I just now realized that my post title is verrry similar to a post on Catherine Summer's blog Not Dressed As Lamb. Sorry, Catherine. You can check out Catherine's post here

You can find the Hot Chillys turtleneck base layer here and the underwear bottoms here.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Reality Bites... At 60

Have you ever noticed that the passage of time isn't smooth? That days, weeks, months... even years... can unfold but time seems to be standing still? We seem to be standing still? And then all of a sudden, we lurch forward. We're catapulted from one clearly discernible chunk of time into another. At least that's how it seems to me.

I love that word "chunk." I used to use it a lot in teaching, when planning courses with my department, "chunking" up the weeks of a semester, into units, and the units into lessons. It had to be done, no matter how arbitrary it seemed... how arbitrary it was, actually... because otherwise you might get to May and realize with a sinking feeling that you'd only covered one element of the course and the final exam was looming. Time, the days and the weeks, can get away on you when you're talking to kids, and exploring exciting new activities with them. I used to think there was no better lesson I could teach a student-teacher than how to "chunk up" a course.

I look at my life like that too. In chunks of time. There's that whole shadowy, unreal, almost fictional, time in the lives of my family before I was born. Then the chunk that was my early childhood before we moved to the apartment building owned by my grandfather, before my parents separated. To be truthful I don't remember much of that time. And what I do remember I'm pretty sure aren't my memories at all, just stories told by my mum and my older siblings. 

My first clear memory is of my mum and I flying to Newfoundland to visit my uncle and aunt who had just had a new baby. I remember that time vividly. The early rising and driving through the pre-dawn darkness to the airport. Mum reading to me on the plane from my "Little Golden Book" called The New Baby. I gather from her stories that Mum was not as excited as I was to be flying. That, to her chagrin, every time the pilot issued a warning that there would be turbulence, I kept repeating it. "Turbulence, Mumma. We're having turbulence." "Yeee-esss dear. I heard," I imagine her replying through gritted teeth. 

1956 version of "The New Baby."
The 1956 edition of The New Baby... the same one I owned.

I remember that trip in vivid colour. What we had for lunch one day when the wife of a family friend took Mum and me shopping and out for lunch... to an automat. You know, those places where you could see the dishes through the little windows? And you opened the window and put the plate on your tray. Lunch in a restaurant was a rare treat when I was almost six. Apparently I embarrassed Mum by wanting pretty much everything I saw. I mean, it was hard to know when you picked one dish that a few feet down the line there'd be a different one that you just that moment realized you wanted even more than the last one. Sigh. I remember Mrs.Tucker, our host, was very gracious, but I caught hell from Mum afterward. I also remember coming home to my uncle's house that afternoon with a new pink plastic umbrella, which I promptly hid from my two younger boy cousins. Boys were so trying in those days. 

The rest of that time before I started school and Mum went to work is all wrapped up with images of Christmas at my grandparents, books we read, and old movies.  When my older brother and sisters were in school, Mum and I would sometimes watch old movies on "Mid-day Matinee" on television. She'd do the ironing. And I'd ask endless questions about what was going to happen to whom in the film. It seemed to me that Mum knew everything. Took me years to break the habit of asking "What's going to happen now, Mumma?" 

And then I started school, and there were school bus rides, new kittens, playing tether ball at recess, report cards, teachers I loved, and those that scared the pants off me. And then that awkward chunk that was junior high, and the year Mum married my step-father and we moved to the farm. That was wonderful. And then the high school chunk. And onward. And, you see, the funny thing is, that even though I was aware that events might be months or years apart, within each of these chunks, I was unaware of the process that was happening. I was growing up, changing, learning, becoming an independent person. But it seemed to me as if I stayed the same for years until I lurched forward into a different chunk of my life and became an entirely new person. 

And with each lurch into a new phase of "me," I was sure that eventually I would lurch into a "finished" phase where I would be confident, successful, beautiful, and have everything under control. Where I would have all the answers, and life would be smooth sailing and easy peasy. Ha. I stopped waiting for that phase when I turned thirty. But I still experienced my life in chunks. Learning, changing, and inexorably growing older. I welcomed the advent of some of the changes. Like the day I realized that somehow without my realizing it, I had become an experienced teacher. Comfortable in my classroom, able to relax and enjoy myself and not stress so much about whether I was doing a good enough job. That felt great. Other changes, however, were not so welcome.

I remember one day in my late thirties, I was "turning my closet" as my friend Margaret says. And I tried on a lovely, royal blue corduroy, full-skirted dress from Laura Ashley, which I loved, and which was several years old. And like a dash of cold water, I knew that I had suddenly, in a moment, become too old to wear the dress. Of course it's not like my face morphed into wrinkles and frown lines that exact moment. Just that I suddenly realized the reality. I was almost forty. And the dress did NOT go with my face anymore. I looked silly in it. Like mutton dressed as lamb. It was a bit of a shock. Not a huge emotional moment or anything, just... surprising. "When did that happen?" I remember thinking.

But I was not so sanguine about another big shift in reality moment. My most traumatic lurch forward, into a new chunk of my life, happened when I was almost fifty-one. I had been going for physio on my back for two months. The young guy who was my physiotherapist was from Australia, a cross-country skier, working in Canada, and training for the World Championships the next year. We bonded over talk of Australia (Hubby and I had been there on an extended trip a couple of years before), and talk of skiing, and cycling. And his assistant, the kinesiologist, was an equally young, equally athletic extrovert. We had lots of laughs as I lay with a heat pack on my back, or tried in my motor-moron way to master the exercises I was supposed to do. Those two kibitzed and ribbed each other and I always chimed in. I want to make very clear that our chat was friendly banter, not flirting. More like the jokey way I interacted with students in the hallway; teasing, laughing, as people who like each other do. 

But one day after I left, I climbed into my car, and adjusted the mirror to fix my hair. Oh. My. God. I was old. Bright sunshine on my face illuminated every single line and furrow. Every single one. It was like a kick in my solar plexus. I was a pathetic, middle-aged, wrinkly old woman. How stupid I must look making jokes and joining in the banter with those two young guys! It seemed as if in that moment I saw who I really was. The reality of being fifty-one. And it literally hurt. It did. I remember I almost cried. Maybe I did cry. The next day I told one person, my friend Marina. "What an idiot, I am," I said. "Who do I think I am going around acting as if I'm still in my twenties, as if I'm the same age as those young guys?" I don't remember what she said. Something sympathetic, I know. But I walked around for days, in mourning for my youth. For the years when I was young, or even young-ish, and attractive and not some sad old git who was only pretending. How had I not noticed that I wasn't me anymore? Or at least the me I thought I was seeing in the mirror. Whew! Talk about an emotional over-reaction. But that's how I felt. And then, in a week or two, it subsided. 

It had been years since I thought about that day, the day I realized I was middle-aged, and the ensuing weeks of self-doubt. Until last May, when I turned sixty, I read in The New York Times an article called I'm Too Old For This by Dominique Browning, who was also sixty. Browning says that turning sixty was "profoundly liberating" for her. She says that she always felt insecure about her looks. Until one day she unearthed a trunk full of old photos, and as she looked at them she thought: "Even when I was in the depths of despair about my looks, I'd been beautiful." And it was a revelation to her. She says that when we get to be sixty, we should consider ourselves "too old" to worry anymore about all that insecurity nonsense. All that torturous, self defeating, I'm not good-looking enough, or smart enough crap. 

That's kind of how I felt when I turned sixty. Sort of liberated. I remember thinking: "Okay, so you're sixty. This is your life. This is your face. This is your body. This is you." And I felt pretty good. Good enough, anyway. I think maybe I've been catapulted into that "finished" chunk that I dreamed about when I was young. Except not in the way that I thought. Not beautiful, but wise enough to realize that beauty ain't everything. Successful, in that I've had a successful career. Certainly confident... most of the time, anyway. I don't have all the answers, but I now know that no one does. And while life is not all smooth sailing, easy peasy... I'm pretty lucky. I'm even beginning to take a more sanguine view of that day when I was almost fifty-one. To feel empathy for myself instead of exasperation. I know, I know... I seriously over-reacted. But I was only fifty-one. I was deep into menopause. I wasn't ready then for reality, not ready then to be the woman I saw in the mirror. 

But I am now. 

And I keep thinking of this bit from Browning's article: "I have no doubt that when I'm eighty I'll look at pictures of myself when I was sixty and think how young I was then, how filled with joy and beauty." 

Well, I don't know if that's what I'll think when I'm eighty. I'll have to get back to you on that. In twenty years.

Me at 3, 13, 38 and 59 years of age.
Visual evidence of  "the whirligig of time" Shakespeare says.

How about you my wise readers? How do you fare when reality bites... and you are faced with the evidence of time passing? 

Linking up with Thursday Favourite Things Blog Hop at Katherine's Corner, Fabulous Friday at Pocketful of Polkadots, and Saturday Share Link-up at Not Dressed As Lamb

Friday, January 6, 2017

Ethical Shopping Report Card

I've been thinking about my wardrobe a lot lately. Now, now... don't laugh. I do have periods, brief though they may be, when I am NOT thinking about clothes. But, January is not one of those times. 

In January, I usually start thinking about which of my fall and winter pieces I'm already tired of, and how I might change them up without shopping for something new. Or which pieces in my closet haven't been out and about enough, and how I might wear them. But this year is a bit different.

This year, I've been thinking about how I've measured up in my quest to join the "slow fashion" movement, and whether I make the grade as an "ethical shopper." Or not. So, since I do not have to return to school next week, like most of my friends and former colleagues, with the spectre of exams and report cards looming in the next few weeks... I thought I'd do my own form of evaluation, of my wardrobe and my clothing buying habits. And prepare a kind of ethical shopping report card. 

There are many ways to define the term "ethical shopper." But every definition I've read says it's partly about shopping less, and spending our shopping dollar more wisely and more judiciously. As a teacher I know that before we can evaluate anything we have to have a standard against which to measure progress or achievement. I did some research. And since numbers are easy to measure, and to report, let's look at some numbers.  

You may remember that, in a previous post about Slow Fashion, I quoted a statistic from a 2013 article in Bust magazine which said the average American woman purchases 70 items of clothing yearly. That number seemed like a lot to me, and it prompted me to do a count of my own, of everything I've purchased since the beginning of January 2016. I present below my itemized list. With accompanying visuals. 

Mixing old jackets with newly purchased scarf and bag, and sweater and jeans.
Mixing old jackets with a new scarf, bag, sweater and jeans.
My grand total was 26 pieces purchased since last January. That includes: 8 tops (blouses, tanks, and sweaters), 2 pairs of pants (one pair of leggings and one pair of jeans), 2 dresses, 1 jacket (which I actually didn't buy but won on Alyson Walsh's blog), 1 coat, a 2 piece pant suit, 1 bathing suit + cover-up, 3 pairs of footwear, 2 scarves, 2 bags, and 1 toque. Equals 26 items. 

New blouse, jacket and sweater this year.
New spring jacket and blouse, and sweater from last winter.
In her Forbes Magazine article The Real Cost of Your Shopping Habits, Emma Johnson says, according to the  Daily Mail, "women in the UK buy half their body weight in clothes each year." That seems like a weird statistic, to me. Does that mean that small women who weigh less buy fewer clothes in a year? Or that larger woman who weigh more can buy more before they have bought too much? Ah well, not all research proves to be fruitful, or meaningful. Let's move on.
Tanks and tee shirt dress from Aritzia.
Two tanks and a tee shirt dress from Aritzia last summer.
An April 2016 article in the Daily Mail says that the average American woman has 103 items in her closet. To be fair to the women surveyed, the article doesn't explain what the number 103 actually means. Does it include everything a woman owns? Only those items that need to be hung up, or do their closets have shelves for knits? And what about shoes? I have 41 items hanging in my closet; I've just counted them. That includes: jeans, trousers, jackets, a coat, blouses, and a few light sweaters and tees. My heavy knits are in a drawer as are most of my casual tee shirts and turtlenecks. All my summer clothes are stored away. So if I were to hang everything I own in my closet, an impossible feat given the minuscule size of my closet, and counting footwear, there would be at least 103 items. 

Posing for the first time outdoors near Manotick Mill.
New white shirt and  bag bought in late summer, and leggings purchased last January. 
The article in the Daily Mail goes on to say that of the 103 items in women's closets "21% are unwearable, 33% are too tight, and 24% too loose."  And that 1 in 7 women surveyed confessed they bought "something they already had because they couldn't find it." I'm not sure how reliable any of these numbers are; they were taken from a survey of 1000 American women done by Closet Maid, a company that sells closet organizers. Still I can't argue with their conclusions; getting organized is an important element of shopping judiciously. I don't have any items in my closet that are too big, too small, or otherwise unwearable. I don't buy things I don't need because I always know what I have. And what I need and don't need. I love to plan and organize. But I've said this so many times before that I'm sure you're sick of hearing it. So I'll move on.

My favourite navy purchases from 2016
New two piece suit, scarf, dress, and sandals. I'm loving navy this year, apparently.
These were my favourite purchases this year. My Veronica Beard suit, and my navy Rag and Bone dress above. And my Max Mara fuchsia tweed coat below. Sigh, sigh, sigh. If something makes you sigh, and you can't wait for next season to be able to wear it... then it was a wise purchase in my view.

Found my perfect fall coat and boots.
My new fall coat and boots. 
Of my total 26 pieces I don't have pictures of 6. My new bathing suit and cover-up bought last summer... posting a shot of that outfit would be sharing way too much information.  And 4 items recently purchased for our big trip to South America in February: hiking boots, a blue fleece, a sports turtleneck, and a light toque. All of these are "seasoning," as my Mum says, in readiness for our trip. So I purchased 26 new items in 2016. That makes me a very judicious shopper, if we consider that the average is 70 items. 

Of course there are other elements of ethical shopping besides quantity, and organization. Awareness of ethical brands, and companies which use fair labour practices, for instance. I confess that I'm not up to snuff in this area. I know I should be. I'll try harder this year. 

And there's accessing thrift and consignment stores, and recycling our clothes. I'm better at this. I consigned numerous items this year at my friend Fiona's store. In fact I made quite a chunk of cash. Enough to buy the things I need to take to South America anyway. And anything I don't take to Fiona, I give away to friends, or donate. Unless it's torn beyond repair, or an utter rag too old even to wear canoeing, nothing goes in the landfill. 

So how do I stack up? I gave myself an overall grade of B- ... not bad, but there's definitely room for improvement.

As you can see, I gave myself a grade for each specific element. Including my ability (or inability) to parlay my minimal closet into a creative wardrobe with a variety of outfits. In any field of endeavour there is a quality that separates the merely competent from the truly gifted. Or in this case, the ethical shopper from the ethical... fashionista. Okay, I'll admit that my tongue is firmly in my cheek as I say that. Still... I feel as if I should shake things up a bit. Try new looks. Be more creative with what I already own. 

And I need inspiration to be able to do that. And more research. I'll get to work on that. 

Or maybe I just need a brief vacation from fashion altogether. Maybe I'll come back from South America so tired of fleece tops and jeans, or tank tops and sweat pants, so desperate for a fashion fix, that I'll be inspired.

Or maybe I just need a new lovely cashmere sweater. After all, I do have almost a hundred bucks sitting in my account at Fiona's shop. 

How about you folks? How do you stack up? Care to share some numbers with us? Or just thoughts? Thoughts without numbers are good too. 

The FABulous Journey

Linking up this week with: Visible Monday#IwillwearwhatIlikeWhat I WoreStyle Me WednesdayThursday Favourite Things, Passion 4 FashionFun Fashion Friday, Fabulous Friday and Saturday Share Link-Up.