Saturday, February 28, 2015

New Boots

This winter has been interminable and I feel like I'm wearing the same 6 or 7 items in the same combination every day. Tights, leggings, socks and snow boots, t-shirt, shirt, sweater, cardigan coat and skirt. The boots are ancient (my newer Fiorentin+Baker are too nice to ruin in the crappy salt, ice, snow, grit and dirt covered streets) and I want to avoid falling over so their Vibram soles work for me. But these new Blundstones should offer a little bit more style--even though I'm hoping that we won't still be battling our way through sub-freezing daytime highs and sporadic snow storms for many more weeks. I treated myself to a couple of Madewell dresses but as they are sleeveless and lightweight, there's absolutely no way I can wear them, even layered up.

So here are my new boots. I feel like fashion has been put on near-infinite hold due to the cold. They are olive-moss green and that's my concession to style right now.


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Montreal tips?

Our big annual conference is in central Montreal next month. While I'll be at the hotel and in panels for most of the time, I was wondering if anybody had any suggestions for restaurants, cafes and shopping? I'm also planning to buy real Cadburys and other real chocolate so if anybody knows the best place to procure it (by which I mean biggest variety and best price), that would be lovely. Also if any Canadians/transplants know of any chains I should visit but might otherwise overlook, that would be great. I've not been to Canada for ages and know that some of the English stores (like M&S) have retreated from the market but any tips about British or Canadian stores would be most welcome. Thank you.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Boycott Hersheys

I never usually do this, but Hersheys has sued an importer (Let's Buy British) and forced them not to import English chocolate under the spurious grounds of copyright infringement. Several local shops sells English chocolate and I buy it. Stores like this will lose custom and may shutter as a result of this action. While there are greater problems in the world. like Hershey's use of slave labour, including child slave labour, such corporate overreaching needs to be checked. Free market to them means using any and all means to limit competition (without improving their product or labour practices). I'm not a fan of late capitalism or neoliberalism at the best of times, and Hershey's actions reinforce why corporations like this need to be regulated, especially as it seems most of their customers or the public more generally disagree with such actions.

Please sign the petition against Hershey's action against LBB here.

I never eat Hershey's anyway (the only time I did I had to spit it out in the nearest bin), but if you do, think about their corporate policies and buy something else instead--a Mars product, artisan chocolate or a pastry. Remember, Hersheys also make Twizzlers and have amusement parks, as well as a number of toy and t-shirt licensing deals--ample products to boycott.


Monday, January 12, 2015

Setting Priorities

As 2015 begins, I am more aware than ever that time is limited, especially for those of us who are working mothers and want to do both jobs well. I've always had goals and some of them remain the same, but I feel a greater urgency this year, albeit for no clear reason. I realise that fulfilling some of my ambitions rely on other people's decisions but, with hard work and clear goals, I hope I can position myself in the best way possible to succeed. 

I know this all sounds like classic New Year's thinking--determination combined with a vague sense of hope, but I have a few plans that I hope will make a difference, not just to me, but the other people whose lives and livelihoods intersect with my own. 

I'm going to be a more mindful consumer, both limiting the impact of my consumer purchases (no buying sale items when up with a toddler at 6 am just because they look like bargains, working harder to buy sustainable goods that don't exploit their labour force and the environment) and using that time/money towards better ends--including saving. 

I'm thinking of keeping spending and food diaries towards this end, although these may be too time-consuming to be effective.

I'm planning to declutter, including selling books I don't need. Besides creating a cleaner space, it should help clarify and focus my research and writing.

I'm going to reserve time solely for writing each week. I do this informally but it will now be a formal obligation. The only acceptable excuses for missing this time will be conferences, sickness (Severin or me) or absolutely vital meetings/doctor's appointments.


Friday, January 2, 2015

Happy New Year!

When you have a small child, time doesn't quite fly so quickly. 2014 felt like a proper year, one that didn't entirely slip away, partly because it was framed around my little boy's growth. A year ago, he was a breast-feeding baby who could scoot around or toddle behind his walker but not stand unaided. Now he's a rambunctious two year old whose favourite word is "No!," articulated in a number of passionate, determined and opinionated tones, a boy who loves to run and climb and has even begun to sing to himself. He's accomplished way more this year than I have--he's learned to understand a language, to joke, to recognise images of animals and various objects and even to count to one (it's a start). I've written a  book proposal and sample chapter (which still needs further revision), along with a few papers and chapter proposals (tentatively all accepted but nothing published yet so it doesn't count), written/presented four papers at professional conferences and undertaken some service to the field. All pales in comparison to his achievements but work is hard won when a toddler decides that you've done enough on that screen that could also play Peppa Pig, Raa Raa, Sarah and Duck or Postman Pat and flips your laptop shut. Alternatively, he crawls between you and your laptop, pulls you to the floor, sits on you, throws a tantrum or misbehaves because he wants all of your attention and nobody else will do--and this is when you have another caregiver in place. We are in the midst of his infatuation with mummy, his refusal to be separated from me or have me out of his sight. Being loved this much is temporary and as much as I love it (and him), I realise it is a temporary developmental phase but it can still be frustrating for both of us as the world isn't structured around a toddler's whims and iron will.

I can't even speculate what this year will bring. While his growth will certainly slow and his developmental changes will be more subtle, I'm sure I'll have a little chatterbox by my side in a year who will be more clearly a little boy than a beautifully androgynous toddler. As he changes, it makes me realise how much a year can bring, and I just hope all changes this year are for the better.

I have a few resolutions of sorts, general changes I've been trying to implement for a while. I want to keep cutting the carbs and increasing my intake of protein and vegetables. I'd also like to get more exercise--not only do I want to lose the last of the baby weight but also improve my blood sugars and overall health. I want to spend more time off-line, writing, reading, walking, playing and manage my time better. I think this will help with the next resolution, to consume less, more thoughtfully and more ethically whether that applies to food, clothing, technology or home. I want to be tidier, more organised, a better time manager and a more attentive mother/partner/friend/relative and productive worker/writer. I have a few more specific resolutions but if I can make some of these changes, they may also follow. I know I will struggle and fail in some areas (I've already slipped a few times in the last 40 hours or so), but I hope I'll be able to look back at a happy and successful 2015 and wish the same to all of you.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Senso

I may have reservations about brand loyalty, but I make an exception when it comes to shoes--sizing and comfort are so key and brand's own lasts often mean that their footwear either works or it doesn't. I've bought too many pairs in the past that remain pristine because they hurt my feet (some even end up unworn despite their beauty and style). On the other hand, I live in certain pairs from Fiorentini + Baker and Surface to Air to the point that some shoes, boots and sandals are practically decomposing. In many cases I would have purchased a second identical pair but could never find more than one. A pair of my favourite Surface to Air shoes were on ebay recently but they were one size too small (and went for $17). If they had been a size 40, I'd have been happy to pay ten times more, but I'm pretty certain I'll never find another pair. Today I bought another pair of Fiorentini + Baker ankle boots (the Eli in blue), not because my black pair of Chads are decomposing--quite the opposite as they are practically new--but because they were a good deal at 50% off (F+B don't go on sale often and usually you can't get much more than 25% off).

But there are two pairs of shoes out there that I may take a chance on. While reading the UK papers online not so long ago, I spied a pair that captivated me and looked like they could fill a huge gap in my  pretty small (wearable) shoe wardrobe. Of course, it wasn't that simple. The brand--Senso--may be affordable (i.e. shoes around $250-300), but they are Australian and the shoes I loved--and another pair I liked even more--are not available in the US although the brand can be bought here (the different seasons obviously play a role). So I've decided to risk it, but only after the holidays as I'll be travelling with Severin while Evan stays behind and mans the fort. I've never ordered anything from Australia and will probably start with the slightly cheaper pair, but I'll have to see what is still available and just hope that there is a pair of each for me. These shoes will give me the dressy but not so high options I need and will add value to my wardrobe, allowing me to wear some items that don't go with my boots and flats without (hopefully) crippling me or damaging my ability to keep up with Severin. They'll also add a different look that will give me some much needed versatility--that is, of course, if they fit comfortably.

First, the pair that first caught my eye--Qiana IV


And here the pair that I perhaps like even more--Quarry II--which may be dangerously low in stock already in my size. Dare I wait?




Monday, December 8, 2014

Against Brand Loyalty

My wardrobe tells a sad story of brand infatuation. When I was younger and had way less money my options were limited to vintage stores and the Top Shop and Miss Selfridge sales racks, cultivating a habit of waiting for markdowns that survives to this day. At that time, I aspired to the slightly higher priced High Street brands like Warehouse (once a brand with some style that featured a young and less androgynous Tilda Swinton in its advertising, not the ugly polyester that now fills its racks). My sorry story of brand loyalty started there, first with a lovely striped cotton 1930s style blouse and pleated skirt that I left behind at a friend's wedding when I changed into my bridesmaid's dress. By the time that my first real salary cheques allowed me to binge purchase in the late 1990s-early 2000s, the brand was turning sour and I knew it, but bought anyway, clouded by memories of prior glories as I chased earlier aspirations. A couple of years later, I'd donated the clothing and thought I had learned a lesson--not to trust high street brands.

A series of similar but milder infatuations followed. Marc by Marc Jacobs, Rebecca Taylor, Jill Stuart--but none were exclusive and as I only bought on sale, I didn't end up with much excess. Amongst my buys were items I liked and wore, but a few gaudy dresses and ugly tops ended up in charity bags. Then I discovered Lyell, which actually was a pretty good, if--or perhaps because--it produced so few items. What little I didn't wear then, I sold. And while there are pieces I'm still hanging onto in the hopes that I can slim down enough to wear again, I know they can be sold if necessary, leaving me without too much of a loss. Lyell's craftsmanship, vintage style and lack of excessive adornment meant it didn't date badly and was appropriate for day to day life. The fact that it ran small also prevented me from buying as much as I'd have liked, limiting stupid purely brand-centred purchases (and, yes, there were a few). 

I'd loved Mayle from afar but when I could afford it on sale I made a few judicious purchases--shoes that I wore to death, coats that are still in regular rotation, a couple of workhorse dresses and blouses. If the brand hadn't closed and I hadn't gone crazy, perhaps all would have been fine. But the end of the label, for me and others, spurred a frenzy of inappropriate label-centred purchases, mainly of the dregs of the line but sometimes of beautiful pieces that didn't fit. Tops and dresses that pulled over shoulders and hips teamed with muddy olive silk dresses now rest in the back of my wardrobe, devoid of the crazy value they briefly possessed in those days of collective madness. I sadly recognised that some pieces would never fit and sold them but didn't cash the checks which lie in books to this day, as I know I have to finally email those friends and ask for something in return for the dresses I sold and never wore. Jane Mayle's depressing pop-ups with their poorly made and strangely designed clothes pretty much ended the brand's cult value and eroded my investments.

Post-Mayle, there were other brands that tempted me but seeming bad luck saved me from more stupid shopping. Rachel Comey--lovely dresses (including one of my favourite workhorses) but price hikes, erratic sizing and uncomfortable shoes made me cautious, leaving me with a few dresses from Gilt that never really fit and a sample sale buy that was disastrously small. A Detacher was always too pricey and hard to find, Suno looked great at first but odd sizings and strange materials caused me to pass after one purchase. Timo Weiland appealed but then looked too junior. I couldn't afford Mary Katrantzou even at Top Shop. Then there was the new Tocca, designed by Emma Fletcher, whose clothing ran typically very small and was barely available anywhere, especially in the size 10s that I needed.

My Mayle binges caused me to rethink. I filled wardrobe gaps with cheaper mass market brands. J Crew cashmere was pretty good (although it pilled) until they opted for a cheaper supplier and could be bought for a decent price on sale. Club Monaco had good cashmere, reliable skirts and trousers. I'd liked their clothing when I first moved to NYC as it played with trends creatively without ripping off more well known brands. Even though Zara are less than admirable in their production, labour practices and fabrics (and have tiny sizing), there were pieces there for me. As for Madewell, I exerted self-restraint as I'm trying to break the pattern of buying nondescript, ugly or inappropriate clothes just because the label and discounts are both right.

Two events really brought home the stupidity of my brand loyalty. First, the gradual rebrand of Club Monaco. The higher quality, more minimalist brand I liked started to change a couple of years ago--at first, it seemed, for the better. Their dresses started to improve--away from the workwear or party binary. Then the flagship on 5th Avenue closed for a redesign, away from its probably somewhat tired 1990s-early 2000s minimalism. While I love beaux arts and Victorian gingerbread, the reopened store seemed wrong. Beautiful but somewhat off. It reaffirmed what I had already gleaned from the pile of unremarkable reduced clothing in my bedroom--there was a new design team and their clothes were tacky. Overdesigned, over-embellished, with a much smaller fit (my old size 8s were bigger than the new 12s) and cheaper fabrics, chasing trends that didn't exist, these were not the clothes of yore. My habit of scouring their sales and outlet abruptly ended as I recognized what was in front of me, not my memories and imagination. 

The second epiphany occurred last week. I think I'd have said that Tocca was my favourite brand in my price range (even though it stretched those limits), but I now recognise that was another spell based around a couple of earlier collections and a couple of coats. I went to my third Tocca sample sale last week, hoping for some size 10s that were not small 6s in disguise. My hopes were briefly raised as I saw the size 10-12 rack stuffed with a variety of this season's coloured items--until I noticed it was the size 0s where the 10-12 rack used to be. 8, 10 and 12 were now together, except they have never made 12 in the Emma Fletcher era. There were about 3 or 4 pieces in a 10--a tiny jacket, a small shirt I'd seen in the last two sales (a size 4-6 in real sizes at best) and two heavy woolen sleeveless dresses. I did buy the coat I wanted in an 8, but after another rant about their sizes, I woke up. The coat wasn't that great and the fabric was a cheap wool that attracts threads, dust and hair. It didn't have set in sleeves. And why was I so upset about a brand that doesn't make clothes in my size and is barely sold anywhere that now uses cheaper fabrics and lesser craftsmanship? Why bother when they don't? I did get some nice cream and shower gel, and from now on, that's what I'll get from their sales--like most of their other shoppers.

On final reflection, the clothing I like and wear frequently comes a variety of brands. I never bought any more Joie items just because I liked one dress or  Rails items because I have a couple of nice shirts. I want to be more environmentally and economically responsible in my purchases and removing the blindness of brand loyalty is one important step on that journey.