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Go, Go, Pants

1 May

A few weeks ago, I wrote about an easy method for finding the items of “deadwood” in your closet. In the process, I uncovered a black pair of black skinny capris from Target, which hung in my closet unworn all of last summer, despite the fact that black pants should pretty much “go with everything.”  I found them quite by chance at Target for about $30 while picking up some plastic bins and Kleenex for the household. Score! I thought. At that price,  it wasn’t hard to spend another $30 on taking in the waist (something I have come to accept as a necessity with my body shape).

But, after coming home from the tailor, the pants sat in my closet. And sat, and sat. During my recent closet clean-out, I told myself it was because the fabric was too light for winter (Target pants are notoriously thin, in my experience). Then warmer weather started to appear, and I still passed them over. Using the hanger trick described in my recent post, I was confronted with the reality that I was resisting wearing these pants – they were the last pair to remain unworn. With an open mind, I chose a warm-ish day to put them on. After going through the day in them, I realized why I had been resisting wearing them. I just didn’t feel good wearing them.

It wasn’t the fit – I had them tailored to my exact body type. The fabric was cotton with a bit of stretch for ease of movement, and nothing was obviously itchy or uncomfortable. They were reasonably flattering. Still, I felt like I was trapped in them, and couldn’t wait to take them off. What went wrong between now and the fitting room at Target?

I had a careful look in the mirror and realized what it was. The closure loop at the waist was straining, making it look like my middle was bursting open. Because I had these pants tailored to my exact body type, and they didn’t feel gut-binding, I realized that they suffered from poor construction; the fabric was too lightweight to carry the strain of the closure, and the tab wanted to separate from the pants. Cheap pants! I cursed. Even though I could explain away the problem without blaming the size of my midsection, every time I looked down at my bursting closure, I got the feeling that my body was the source of the problem. Before Kids, I thought, these pants would not have given me a problem. 

{Now imagine me with a dark cloud hanging over my head.}

The Black Capri Pants Disaster

Disaster?

Well, there was just one thing to do about that. I only hesitated a moment before chucking them into the give-away pile. Yes, $60 is a lot to pay for a pair of pants you only wear once. But the money is spent, and now I have a choice to make. Berate myself every time I put them on for my thick middle, or make the problem go away.  Isn’t the choice pretty clear?  What would you tell your girlfriend to do? Battered women must choose whether to stay in an abusive relationship or cut bait.  Well, sister, we wouldn’t live with a man who insults your body type, so why should we put up with a pair of pants that does?

I am sure there’s another pair of black capri pants waiting for me that will love me more than those cheap old pants. Even if I was hoping the relationship would last longer, it’s always better to look ahead than try to put energy into a direction that has no future. The hardest thing, of course, is feeling the sting of my mistake, and admit that this love affair was over before it started. But that’s ok, nobody walks a straight path in life, we all make mistakes. Buying a bad pair of pants certainly doesn’t rate up there with running a ponzi scheme, or sailing an Italian pleasure boat too close to the shoreline.

Disaster!

Keeping my pants-buying failure in perspective, I put  the old (new) pants on the curb with the other Goodwill stuff, happily imagining someone out there getting a brand new pair of pants for cheap.

As for buying pants from Target – part of me says, Never again – My booty deserves better! Part of me can’t resist the temptation that I’ll find another good deal. I’ll definitely proceed more cautiously now, and perhaps opt for the casual pants with the elastic waist. (I have a $25 pair of baggy linen Merona pants from Target that have already lasted me for several years.)

So, there are two lessons here:

1) When shopping cheaply, it’s hard to go wrong buying pants that are styled like pajamas. For pants with a more tailored fit, it probably makes sense to shell out a bit more for a better quality product.

2) Never, ever, keep anything in your closet that causes a black cloud to appear over your head and follow you around wherever you go. Put that thing away at once. (In other words –  it’s not you, it’s the pants. It’s always the pants.)

Free closet help (really!)

16 Apr

I discovered a really cool closet trick that I’ve been meaning to post about, but I have had writers block from seeking an interesting way to introduce it. So, in order to get the idea up quickly, allow me to skip the intro and get right to the meat of the discovery. Maybe you will appreciate it on the day before income taxes are due – who couldn’t use a little closet help without spending more money.

The idea came from something I read online someplace (if I remember where, I will update this post with the credit) and it goes something like this:

It’s pretty clear that a closet cleared of clutter serves the owner much better than a closet full of unappealing or ill-fitting stuff. Yet, the problem is finding the time to get it organized.  Well, now you don’t have to set aside special time to do it, if you follow this handy little trick.

Image

After you wear something, hang it back up in your closet with the hanger backwards. Try to wear everything at least once, before wearing the items again with the hanger turned around already. After a few weeks, you will have identified the stuff that you’re not wearing, which you now need to take a closer look at.

The clothes that are left unworn will probably fit into these categories –

1) Don’t like anymore -> Get rid of it. Give away to charity, offer it to a friend, sell it, or go to a clothing exchange. (I always have a plastic bag in my closet that I am filling up with stuff to give away.)

2) Doesn’t fit -> If it can be fixed by tailoring, create a pile for “take to tailor”. Otherwise, let it go into the “get rid of” pile. (Caveat: If you are within one year of having given birth, cut yourself some slack, but put away what you’re not wearing and pull it out again in a few months. The point is to only leave stuff in your closet that you are actually wearing *now*).

3) Out of season -> Box up and put into the garage/ attic/ storage space until the weather changes.

4) Need something to wear with it -> Start a “wish list” of what item you are missing to go with it, whether it’s a matching top, bottom, shoes, belt or bra.  Keep the list somewhere in your closet with a pen nearby, so that you can add to it easily, as inspiration strikes. When filling in the gaps, shop your closet first, and encourage yourself to re-imagine wearing something with it that you already own. (Pick up a good fashion mag like InStyle or Elle for some inspiration about unexpected combinations that work, like below. I’m not saying you need to wear avant-garde runway looks to the playground, but don’t be afraid to go a little outside your comfort zone.)  And next time you go shopping, take your “wish list” with you.

Elle magazine spring collection

Check out a fashion mag like Elle magazine for inspiration; sometimes combining two patterns and textures can look fresh and inspired.

By sticking to this system for about three weeks, I freed up about half of my closet by putting away the stuff that was not being worn. After filling a large box with stuff for warmer weather, and another bag for give-away, I was looking at a closet full of stuff I could actually wear. Now, looking at my closet doesn’t start a panic attack – getting dressed is faster, feels better, and I can get creative with new combinations.

Street style photographed by Elle magazine

Orange and burgundy? Consider re-imagining color combinations in your wardrobe, in any way that feels right for you.

I haven’t applied the weeding out to the folded part of my closet, but I think the same technique should work, if I start with an empty drawer and only put the stuff I’ve worn in there, leaving the questionables behind to be sorted out.

Why I love this approach:

1) it points honestly to the “deadwood” in your closet – either it’s been worn or it hasn’t

2) it has inspired me to find ways to wear the stuff I was passing over before

3) it has caused me to feel grateful for the stuff I already own

4) I did this at my own pace and felt no time pressure to complete the task – you can take as much time as you need to get to the end result.

Because I stopped wearing the same three pairs of jeans every week, I got myself out of a fashion rut. I even got myself to wear a skirt, and realized with tights and boots on colder days, I really enjoyed it. When I found something missing a top or bottom to go with it, I reconsidered which colors and patterns could go together. You might be thinking “uh oh”, but it doesn’t mean you have to look like a kid dressing themselves for the first time.  Most moms I know (myself included) could stand a little kick of color in their wardrobe – and certain bright colors are very “now”. (Even neon and printed pants are making a comeback, with 1980’s flair, though I don’t think I am ready to go there just yet.)

Printed pants are making a comeback from the 80's

With all the 80's trends being revived lately, it was just a matter of time before pants with patterns made their comeback. I'm going to stay on the sidelines for that trend, at least for now. (Fashion week in Paris, 2012)

I am especially loving yellow, coral and turquoise, as a promise of the warmer, sunnier weather soon to come. And for the stuff I wasn’t wearing because I didn’t have the right shoes, I took the time to pull out all the shoes I had, and, looky here – I had forgotten about several pairs which actually filled the gap.

Next month, when Uncle Sam isn’t knocking on my door, looking to get paid, I may take my  own “wish list” and hit the stores. But then again, I am liking the challenge of trying to shop my own closet for everything I am missing – because I am convinced, as I let go of my own rules, I am bound to make even more new discoveries of what to wear inside my own closet. You might even say where creativity leads, inspiration follows. Or something like that.

A Warm Wind is Blowing (At Least in the Malls)

18 Mar

Just last week, I ate at a restaurant with Christmas decorations still up, and there was frozen grass on the morning walk to school not too long ago. But you’d never know it’s still winter by looking at the shop windows of clothing stores at the local mall.

Spring has sprung according to the retail merchandising calendar, and there are a few mom-compatible trends I want to try out for myself this season:

Nautical stripes

Splendid Navy Stripe crop

Nautical stripe looks fresh with lighter pants and layers well on colder days.

You can see them everywhere, on tops, tunics, and shift dresses. Remember the saying that horizontal stripes make you look fat? Not true. With a top that’s cut close to the body either at the waist or in the lower arm, and paired with slim pants, stripes can look light and fresh. You see them just about everywhere, from sweaters to t-shirts to tunics. I like the version with navy blue stripes on an off white (not bright white) background. Also, dense stripes can look busy, I tend to like a wider spacing to avoid giving myself a headache when looking in the mirror.

Above is a top I recently picked up at Anthropologie by Splendid tees. It costs more than I would have liked (over $50), but the cotton is silky soft,  and the cut is flattering and easy to wear; form fitting without binding, and falls below the hip. The stripe is a warm grey that is fun to coordinate with other neutrals. I have a feeling I am going to be living in this shirt well through the summer.

After feeling how comfy that Splendid top was, I got more interested in that brand. Turns out it’s a company dedicated to stylish, casual, nubby t-shirts! If only their prices were a bit lower. (Don’t you just want to dive your face into the closet below?)

Splendid Fabrics

"Yummy Fabric & Color" according to Splendid.

Wedge heel shoes

I get a boost in height and and add a fun accent to a plain outfit with wedge heels. I wouldn’t run after my toddler in them, but if I am going to wear heels, these are probably the most comfortable way to do it. I also like that they convey a laid-back bohemian chic, a reminder of old, carefree days of kicking around town in style before kids. Here are my favorite wedge heel looks – waiting for the sale on these though:

Awesome suede bootie by JCrew:

Wedge heel bootie by J Crew

My favorite shoe trend this spring: the wedge heel (it's everywhere)

I also love the espadrille version by Toms:

The wedge heel espadrille by Toms

In case you’ve never heard of Toms, it’s a shoe company that promises to give one pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair of shoes they sell. The shoes are simply made, but comfy, and their social mission means you see their flats on 20-something feet everywhere. (Did I mention they also have toddler and kids sizes?) If you want to try them on, stop by Nordstroms, which carries them in several colors. I can’t see myself wearing a heel this high every day, but definitely appealing for dinner out or date night.

The Shirt Dress

This trend takes the crisp tailoring of a collared mens shirt and extends the length to become a dress. Hey, the chance to wear a collared shirt, with no office in sight – there’s something very appealing about that. Plus, the length is very flattering for all body types. I would opt to wear the shirt dress with cropped leggings or skinny jeans rather than bare legged, for the sake of modesty. (Short skirts and childcare don’t mix well, in my opinion.)  For going out to dinner on a breezy summer evening, I would go with sandals and bare legs. Either way, a belt adds definition at the waist and keeps it from looking like you raided your husband’s pajama drawer.

I first noticed this look on Rachel Mc Adams who appeared in the recent Woody Allen film “Midnight in Paris” as an American tourist abroad. (Fun movie, by the way, if you haven’t seen it yet.) I couldn’t find a good image of the outfit online, but as it turns out, a web site has created the knockoff look:

Midnight In Paris Outfit

The shirt dress looks great with a belt, and, look - there's that wedge heel again!

I do have a few reservations about the dress shirt. For one, where do you get a reasonably priced version that’s easy to maintain? J. Crew had one in the store the other day for $100+, which I can’t even consider it until it goes on sale. (Other than jeans, I don’t pay more than $100 for anything I wear around my children for fear of their greasy fingers. I have several pairs of pants with greasy stains in the lap; since they otherwise work well and fit great, I just go around with permanent grease stains on my pants.)

Then there’s the question of how to keep that collar looking crisp and fresh. It goes without saying that I am unwilling to wear anything that needs ironing or a run to the dry cleaners. (I don’t even know where my ironing board is! Do we still own one?)  If only J. Crew married the Land’s End wrinkle-free technology and came out with a no-iron shirtdress. Their current selection is made of conventional cotton poplin, dress-shirt material, which is going to need ironing. Here’s a real opportunity for moms to look polished without much extra effort – Land’s End, are you listening?

Lands End carries a few shirt dresses at reasonable prices - but until they come in wrinkle-resistant fabric, this look is really not mom-friendly.

After a bout of cold weather, the weather turned warm last weekend, and we went to the beach in Capitola. It was really nice to lay face down on a beach blanket and feel sun on the underside of my bare feet.  I’ll take a real spring day on the beach over a fake spring day in the mall any day.  After all, the clothes and sales will wait for me, but my kids seem to wake up a little bit taller every day.  A day spent digging the world’s deepest sand tunnel under a warm, cloudless sky is far more precious than trying on one more pair of shoes in the mall.

I Am Sparkle Princess

3 Mar

I am sure anyone reading this post has noticed that metallic shoes are “in” right now, in shades of silver, gold, copper, etc. When this trend first appeared a few seasons ago, I rolled my eyes and avoided it, as it reminded me too much of Vegas, or else of country club ladies who lunch with little fluffy dogs in their lap.

Metallic Pump

I can't decide who is likelier to wear a shoe like this: Cinderella, or a Vegas Showgirl?

Recently, though, I have started to come around to the playful side of metallic, thanks to my 3-year old daughter. She fell in love with a silver pair of Mary Janes and wore them into the ground (no thanks to Old Navy quality, which didn’t even last long enough for her to outgrow them). The point is that she enjoys feeling fancy and is not shy to show them off to visitors or to checkout clerks in the grocery store. She loves her princess shoes, and fully expects others to love them as she does. She simply loves the way she looks in them, without any self-consciousness.

Watching her shamelessly pointing out her beautiful shoes to strangers, it became clear to me that even though I don’t plan to wear a tutu skirt in public anytime soon, her attitude is a path to freedom for me and moms everywhere.  I realized that dressing up for her and for adults is not that different. She is channeling her inner fairy princess, and I am channeling my inner carefree bohemian urbanite, even though my real life bears very little resemblance to the person I dress up as on some days. (Case in point: sometimes my day includes chasing a runaway turd escaping from a diaper.)

Sorry for that reference. I hope you’re not reading this while eating lunch. Anyway, at a recent Macy’s sale I came across a pair of greyish-copper flats by Clarks (below). Shelving my own prejudices for the moment, I tried them on, and discovered they had a very comfortable sole. Sold! With a skirt, they look dainty and feminine, and with jeans, they add some casual chic. And for about $45, they were a no-brainer even if I get tired of them by the end of summer. Suddenly I belong to an unspoken sisterhood with other wearers of metallic shoes. Although I don’t call attention to my shoes in the checkout line of the grocery store. I wait for the sisterhood to notice my shoes and pay a compliment. 😉

Clarks Metallic Flats

Ok, I confess: Sometimes, I enjoy wearing sparkly shoes like my 3-year old daughter.

I think the key to wearing metallic is to have fun with it, and only wear it if the look tickles your fancy. To avoid looking like you came from a princess dress-up party, avoid wearing too much sparkle at once (I would avoid a matching handbag or a belt, or too much bling elsewhere, for example). Though of course, don’t expect your daughter to respect this rule. As you probably know, there there is no such thing as “too much sparkle” for any girl under 10 years old.

Just as I am finishing this post, the weather is turning sunny and warm in Northern California, with daffodils busting out of the ground everywhere. I guess it’s pretty clear that I should finally put away the Christmas decor this weekend. On the other hand, if the weather is good, forget tidying up the house – we’re taking the family to the beach. If no one in my house has noticed that the Christmas decorations are still up past Valentines Day, they probably won’t say anything if they make it to St Patrick’s Day either.

___

Worth mentioning: The products and companies I am featuring in this post are of my own choosing – I have no relationships with the companies or products that I spotlight.  If that ever changes, I’ll be sure to post a disclaimer to that effect.  It’s not that I have anything against receiving products to review – it would enable me to give more firsthand performance reviews. After all, there are only so many pairs of metallic shoes a woman can justify to her skeptical husband. 🙂

15 minutes worth taking

6 Oct

Unless you have been living under a rock these past 24 hours, you know that Steve Jobs, Apple CEO and lifetime entrepreneur and innovator, passed away yesterday at his home in Palo Alto after losing a battle with cancer. Amid all the coverage about his extraordinary life, I came across a video of him delivering the commencement speech at Stanford University for the class of 2005, after having been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I did not expect to listen to the whole speech, but after just a few minutes, I was captivated – not by his polished speaking style (he is a geek at heart), but by the content of his message. Check it out – it runs 15 minutes.

Words I love: “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” – Steve Jobs

Discovering the Upscale T-shirt

25 Jul

I’ve been shopping at Target, Gap, and Old Navy for t-shirts for as long as I can remember. Why not – they are conveniently located, cheap, and when I see a color in a style that I like, I don’t think too hard about buying it. I wear it to bed, to the gym, and around town. It’s a no-brainer wardrobe item in the morning – paired with jeans and a hoodie or cardigan, it makes getting dressed effortless.

gap favorite tshirt

Gap's Favorite T-shirt is an economical and reliable layering piece. Yawn.

So what’s the problem? Well, the plain t-shirt is a bit like eating popcorn for lunch. It’s not that it’s bad for you, but if consumed in excess, it doesn’t leave room for more satisfying options. That’s how I recently found myself in a t-shirt fashion rut.

Seeking inspiration, I recently wandered into a boutique in downtown Palo Alto, enigmatically named GV, which keeps irregular store hours but carries a wonderfully edited selection of fashionable clothes sourced mostly from Paris and LA. Golrukh, the store’s owner and sole staffer, prides herself on scouring the fashion trade shows to bring her clients the freshest looks every season.  The store has the intimate feel of a Parisian clothing atelier – dimly lit, with just a little bit of this and that, from casual to evening wear, complete with a tasteful display of high-end underwear. The salesperson is tactful and attentive. Although I enjoyed looking at myself in the mirror wearing $180 haute couture jeans, strategically ripped and distressed, I passed on them after remembering that just about every pair of jeans I own are already stained or otherwise compromised by the demands of motherhood. After a few suggestions from Golrukh, though, I did fall in love with an $80 long sleeve cotton tunic by Nation Ltd.

nation ltd white tunic

In search of a more stylish alternative to t-shirt dressing, I paid $80 for a comfy, well-cut cotton tunic.

The irony of paying $80 for a t-shirt, after I had come into the store looking for a t-shirt alternative, does not escape me. So what gives? Well, these shirts have several upgrades from the basic model:

Feel: the light, gauzy all-cotton fabric is welcoming from the moment I put it on – it feels like something I could live in around the clock (although I don’t, to preserve its life span).

Cut: this top sits snugly below the hip, allowing ease of movement without looking baggy. The neckline is generous enough to flatter the neck and collarbone without being too baggy. It can be worn loose or belted.

Texture: the “burnout” semi-sheer fabric feels airy and feminine, and has more visual depth than solid cotton.

Color: I sprung for the shirt in white, as well as a shade of regal turquoise that makes my skin glow.

Golrukh is a great sales person. When she saw my hesitation with the price tag, she pointed out that a lot of busy moms choose these tops because “it’s the shirt you’ll wear day after day”. So far, she has been right – I reach for it every chance I get, especially the one in turquoise. (I am still afraid to wear white for anything but occasions that exclude children, but at least I know I have at least one clean white shirt in the closet when such an occasion arises.)

Golrukh also left me with a valuable bit of advice, worth passing along: even though these shirts are more expensive than the stuff you normally wear, she says, “Don’t save them for a special occasion. Wear them. Don’t worry if they cost a little more. Just wear them.” I thought about that, and decided to agree with her – it does not make sense to buy clothes you love, only to put them away in the closet waiting for that special occasion that happens all too rarely. So I decided to treat myself to a little everyday luxury in the form of an $80 t-shirt.

And has the theory proven out, do my $80 t-shirt days feel a little more special? Was it worth blowing my month’s clothing budget in a single shot? In a small way, yes – on my fancy t-shirt days, I pause to think about what shoes or pants to pair with the top, rather than picking up yesterday’s pants off the floor like a college student. The opportunity to wear a belt opens up fun possibilities as well. I treat my $80 t-shirt with extra love – I don’t put it in the dryer, and I try to hang it instead of stuffing it on the shelf with my other low-brow t-shirts. It feels good to wear something that has been well taken care of.

Despite all this devotion, it’s showing signs of wear – perhaps because the material is less beefy than a standard t-shirt, and perhaps because designers, like the Maytag man, don’t want their wares to last forever, to bring you back to the store to buy some more. And because the glow is fading, this love affair has a finite life span, limited by the power of the shirt to continue looking fabulous in the face of a full toddler assault. I am glad I turned the flirtation in the dressing room to a full-fledged fling, but it’s not going to last. When the sleeve finally snags on a tree branch, or my lap lands a stain that just won’t budge, the magic will be gone, and I will return to my stack of tried and true Target t-shirts. I will fondly remember my days with the $80 t-shirt, but when it’s time to update my wardrobe again, I’ll check Target and Gap first – chances are, a few seasons from now, they’ll have a pretty darn good knock-off.

Leggings – liberating dresses everywhere

29 Jan prana moxie dress

I exercise twice a week, and on those mornings, it’s hard to know what to wear.  I don’t feel fully dressed wearing only gym clothes, but I would rather not lug an extra change of clothes around on the way to class. Lord knows moms lug way too much random stuff around already. (The back seat of my car usually contains enough random stuff to fill an entire shopping cart — kids’ jackets and hats, sippy cups, empty reusable grocery bags, books, crayons, twigs, stones and other “treasures” my son picked off the driveway).  So on my exercise days, I put on black stretchy pants and my cami that I will exercise in, and build the rest of my outfit from there.

Nowadays, I see a lot of young ladies wearing fitness type leggings in place of regular pants. Reminds me of how I used to dress in 7th grade. However, I (and my rear end) have long since graduated high school, and I feel comfortable with more coverage. For a while, I struggled to find a top long enough to cover the behind; even tunic-length tops feel like I am trying to pull off a miniskirt – which isn’t really the look I am going for. One exercise day, it occurred to me to try on one of the long-neglected dresses I had hanging in my closet. Revelation! An outfit is born.

Before kids, I always thought of dresses as reserved for special occasions. In grade school, I was the girl who wore shorts to school every day so I could swing on the monkey bars and turn cartwheels easily. At my first real job after college, I wore pants as often as I could to avoid a “Sharon Stone moment” while sitting at my desk.

Sharon Stone's famous miniskirt in Basic Instinct

It may be sexy in a movie, but sitting while wearing a skirt doesn't really work well when taking care of small children.

As a single woman living in the city, I chose black pants over dresses; they seemed too fussy, and I never really loved showing off my legs. After having kids, dresses only came out on special nights out with my husband. Even if I could find a washable fabric that had enough coverage, dresses seemed incompatible with essential mommy activities like nursing, climbing a playground structure, and sitting on the floor modestly.

Turns out, now that the nursing phase is over, dresses have found a place in my wardrobe, paired with leggings. Leggings address my below-the-waist modesty concerns, and also add a layer of warmth during the cooler months. They also make outfit picking totally brainless, since it’s a top and bottom in one. That comes in awfully handy at 6:30am when I have 5 minutes to put myself together.

Dresses have become much more mom-compatible, too; companies designing clothes for travel and athletics, such as Patagonia and Athleta, are making well-cut designs from stretchy, easy-care fabrics. (Athleta has even dubbed a category of clothing that works over leggings which they call “Yoga To Fro™.) My closet now contains at least 4 dresses that work well for active day with the kids.  So what do I look for when dress-shopping?

1) Coverage around the arms and neckline, and a skirt length to just above the knee, to make sure I am comfortable in all the athletic pursuits of motherhood – for example, lugging a toddler while carrying her baby doll and 2 bags of groceries, or bending over to pick up yet another toy off the floor without fearing that the nearest person can see down my shirt.

2) A flattering cut, comfortably executed. The dress should define my features (waist, arms, chest, hips, etc) without pinching or tugging. Ease of movement is a must. No Spanx required – it should make me look good without needing to suck in my belly.

3) A darker color (or a pattern) in a machine washable fabric – because I never know when a stray meatball in tomato sauce will land in my lap.

It turns out, quite a few companies are making dresses that fit the bill. My go-to stores at the moment are:

Patagonia, Boden, Garnet Hill,  Title Nine, and Athleta.

(If you have any other favorites, feel free to post them in the comments section below.)

The best thing about wearing a dress is that it feels like cheating – in a single piece of clothing, you have an entire outfit – no thinking required. If I can throw on a necklace or earrings, I can even manage to look “put together” with very little effort. And with a casual dress, finding shoes is easy because I can get away with boots, flats, or even lightweight, trendy sneakers.

My favorite toddler-compatible dress at the moment (which I happen to be wearing as I write this) is by Prana, a yoga clothing company that expanded into casual clothes.  I bought it at Title Nine in the Fall of 2010, but it doesn’t seem to be available anymore (the sales clerk said it was selling out quickly in the stores.) That’s ok, because there are plenty of similar ones out there.

 

Prana Moxie Dress from Title Nine

This stretchy dress by Prana is fun and easy to wear, and paired with leggings, can easily go from playground to civilized indoor pursuits.

This dress is super comfortable and stretchy, and the long sleeves add warmth. The pattern is plucky and adds a splash of color without any effort. It cost about $70, and will go from Fall to Spring without a problem.

Not so tight fitness pant from Title Nine

The "Not so tight fitness pant" from Title Nine costs over $50, but the easy, curve-hugging fit makes it my favorite pair of leggings.

Leggings are easy to find too – they are very trendy right now. I am wearing boot cut yoga pants at the moment for extra warmth, but slim, cropped leggings will work well with sandals as the weather warms up. They are available at a range of stores, from Target to The Gap to fancy athletic stores. I have found that the cheapest pants ($10 or less at Target or Old Navy) are not worth buying; they have a thin fabric which lose its shape faster. But after $20, it’s hard to tell the difference – the only difference between those and my $50 leggings is slightly better fit. If you want to add some leggings to your wardrobe that go from gym to playground, Title Nine or Athleta is a great place to begin your search. Both offer inexpensive of free shipping with minimum purchase. The Gap is a good option if you want to try on instead of buying online.

The only problem with wearing dresses at the moment is that my closet does not have enough room to acquire more. I guess it might be time to undertake another closet clean out, because there seems to be no shortage of cute, affordable and wearable dresses out there – and now that I can “childproof” them with leggings, I know I’ll keep putting them on in the morning, whether I am feeling dressy or just need to throw something on and get out the door.

Dressing for the Part of…Janitor?

18 Jan Baby Bjorn potty

Ugh. Snail trail. My 2 year old daughter is crying her eyes out because of something I did that offended her (really, because it’s 5pm and she hasn’t napped all day). I look down where her face is buried into my shoulder and I see that shiny mix of tears and boogers imprinted on my brand new sweater. After a moment of panic, I recover my wits and toss the sweater into the next room, and ponder the paradox of dressing for mommyhood while I sit on the closed toilet lid in the bathroom and try to calm my daughter down.

Just earlier today, I trudged through the same bathroom only to step in something wet – which is never good when you’re walking by a toilet in a kids’ bathroom. Bending down to examine the material, my fears were confirmed – pee pee puddle, which my daughter had just pushed her new baby stroller into, and her footprints were following her into the next room.  After giving my 5 year old son the third degree about his toileting accuracy, I brought out the cleaning spray and paper towels and went to work. A few minutes later, even though the bathroom smelled like bleach, and my wet socks were in the hamper, I still couldn’t shake the memory of pee on the bottom of my feet.

Now, seeing my new sweater discarded in a heap, I had to ask myself – whom am I kidding, trying to make a fashion statement  in this profession of motherhood- those with similar jobs, janitors and hospital orderlies, simply choose to wear scrubs.

With my daughter calm, but still wet and naked in my arms, I take a deep breath, and I do my best to put the hopelessness aside.  I pick up the sweater off the floor, wipe off the visible boogers with a washcloth, and put it back on. I’m going to get through the day without looking like I’ve been run over by a truck, I tell myself. I just have to stay calm and keep my wits about me.

Soon thereafter, my daughter announces that she has to go “poo poo” and I follow her back into the bathroom. Turns out the poo poo boat has sailed already and what she really needs is a change of diapers.  Now, we’re new to pull-up diapers and I guess my removal technique needs improvement because in an instant, a large turd that has bounced off my wrist and onto the bathroom floor, leaving a light impression of poop on my skin.  I read in a potty training book that parents are not supposed to show disgust in the presence of poop, so, trying to look encouraging for my daughter’s sake, I do my best to contain the hazardous material while keeping my daughter from stepping in it. Meanwhile, I can feel the poop stain burning its impression on my skin. At least the sweater has short sleeves… after the poop on the floor is contained, I leap up to wash my hands, lathering and scrubbing harder than Lady Macbeth. Finally, I clean up my daughter, draw a deep breath, and we all continue with our day.

Now it’s nearing bedtime, and my kids are in the bath. Just when I thought that my janitorial duties were complete for the day, I hear my son calling out, “Poop! Poop!” Yes indeed, little sister had planted a floater in the bathtub.  When it rains, it really pours. My son is old enough to know he needs to get out of the bathtub ASAP. Of course. this is not my first run-in with a waterborne turd – which my husband likes to call Defcon because of the dead-serious look I get on my face. Children are evacuated, toys are discarded, everything and everyone is sanitized. A good while and a half bottle of cleaning solution later, I restore hygienic order for the third time.

Am I crazy to wear a cushy, cashmere blend sweater while swatting poop around on the bathroom floor? Perhaps. But I don’t like the alternative.  If my clothes only serve the purpose of utility, I end up with the mommy version of scrubs – clothes that are stain resistant, effortless, and uninspiring. So I guess I wear the pretty sweater despite my better judgement, for the simple reason that it upgrades my job description. I am more than a janitor, waitress, and chauffeur.  In motherhood, I get to write my own job title – and I prefer teacher, artist, and life coach — who just happens to put on rubber gloves every now and then.

The first time my son pooped in the bathtub as a toddler, I was so overtaken with the ick factor that I forgot to laugh. Luckily my husband was there to remind me that it’s actually funny.  Funny for you, I grumbled to myself, because you’re not the one with your face in a bathtub full of hot bleach.  Now, a few years later, we can all laugh about it. After all, my son is the one sharing the bathtub with the floating turd – if he can laugh about it, then I should too.  We’ll be teaching my daughter the lesson of lightness; everyone steps in a puddle of pee every now and then, but it’s less about cleaning up the bathroom floor, and more about what you do afterwards.

Hunting for jeans

4 Nov

Is my body really that unusual, or does everyone else just have a smaller, flatter butt than I do?

This is the question I have to ask myself after my latest attempt to shop for jeans.  Now granted, I have raised my own standards – I will settle for nothing less than 1) well-fitting, 2) comfortable, and 3) flattering jeans. These need to be workhorse pants, able to stand up to everything that motherhood throws at you –  food stains, repeated trips down a dusty slide, and the constant bending over without revealing too much in the plumber’s crack area.  Oh, and I don’t want to spend a fortune for a pair of pants that will be lucky to surive more than a few seasons.

As luck would have it, I finally saved enough points on my credit card points for $250 at Bloomingdales. First stop: Bloomingdales Stanford Shopping Center. I go straight to the “premium denim” section and grab a handful of jeans that look good on the hanger.  Same problem every time: they won’t fit over my hips (and if they do, there is a huge gap in the waist). I guess I have what they call a curvy figure. Exasperated, I consult the sales guy – who prides himself on knowing his designers inside and out. He suggests the Joe’s Jeans in Honey, which do fit better than the others but rest so far below by navel that I feel like I’m going to audition for an Aerosmith video. I’m generally a fan of Joe’s Jeans (my current go-to pair is the Socialite cut) but I decide that I can do better.

Expanding my search, I decide to use up a block of precious babysitting time to trek north to the Bloomingdale’s in San Francisco Shopping Center. There is something about free money that makes me a more adventurous shopper, I bravely browse rack after rack of the “in” jeans right now – skin tight spandex jeans which go by the cozy name of “denim leggings”.  It’s my day to be open-minded, right?  So I take a few into the fitting room, thinking, maybe I could pull these off with a tunic-length top to cover the rear? After just a few unsuccessful tries to zip them up, one pair finally cooperates and I reflect on what I see in the mirror. There is no need to be self deprecating here, but one word comes to mind – bulge. Now mind you, I take pilates classses once or twice a week, and feel pretty good about the shape I’m in. Dieting and losing weight is not an option for me. I realize that denim leggings are just the next generation of skin-tight Jordache jeans of the 80’s. I avoided those then for the same reason – they make women with normal bodies feel fat.

denim leggings make women with normal bodies feel fat

In case anyone hasn't seen the latest trend in denim - here it is: Jean leggings (I'm told they are also called "Jeggings")

After the shock wears off, I realize I need to rethink my strategy.  Back to browsing the racks, I finally make it to the sale section (conveniently hidden way in the back of the store).  Instead of looking for the needle in a haystack, I pick only based on fabric and color, and ignore the size on the label. Instead, I eyeball it. Do those pants look like they will fit over my hips? Great, let’s go.

This story has a happy ending. The secret is, Alterations. I found two pairs of jeans that passed the feel-good test when I put them on, had enough stretch to facilitate bending and sitting comfortably, and flattered my front and back sides. I pinched the gaping waistband with my finger in order to verify that the waist would sit correctly (not too low) if taken in.  (There is nothing worse than sitting in the sandbox with my daughter only to realize that my rear cleavage is showing.)

Still, because they are on sale, I am spending $100 on a pair of pants (including cost of alterations) that feel like they were made for me. It’s certainly not a bargain, but guess which pants I now wear more than any others? Yep, the pants that I altered just for my proportions – they look good, feel good, and welcome my body when I put them on.  I wear them every week – and even though they get plenty of washes, I hang dry them to extend their life, and hopefully will still be wearing them a year from now.

Ha! Victory over denim leggings! After all, why should I struggle trying to fit my body to the pants, when I can make the pants fit my body?

Although I am pleased as punch about this outcome, I’m still holding out hope that someone out there is making jeans off the rack for a body like mine, for less than $100 a pair. If you have any clue of where to look, please let me know. I’m an average height, average weight woman with curvy hips.

I can’t shrink my waist, so I shrink my wardrobe

27 Oct

Now that I have decided to make a reluctant peace with my post-baby body, I need to rethink my wardrobe.  Browsing my closet, I realize that it’s so tightly jammed that I can hardly see my clothes.  This is a major problem; after all, what mother of small children has time to sift through her closet looking for “that one top”? Just imagine, I tell myself, if my closet were full of clothes that I like, and also quick and easy to navigate, I might actually stand a chance of completing a decent outfit in the 5 minutes I have to get dressed in the morning.

Inspired, I spend the next few nights after the kids go to bed pulling out every item in my closet.  I consciously silence the little voice that justifies and rationalizes why I should keep something questionable: It was on sale. You have never worn it. You used to love this shirt. Etc. etc. Instead, I focus on the feeling I get the instant I put it on.  Does it make me feel better or worse?  Five seconds of wearing the item tells me everything I need to know.  If it tugs, constricts my breathing, or just fails to impress me in the mirror, it’s going out.

I am surprised how this speeds up the process. When all is said and done, I have two trash bags full of clothes headed to Goodwill. Among the items:

  • Many pairs of pants & jeans that are too tight (including some of my old favorites).
  • A few pants that are too loose in the hips and crotch, and make me look like a construction worker. I think I used to think this was a cool look… in retrospect, I am not sure why.
  • A strappy sundress I used to wear without a bra (those days are over now – more on that topic in a separate post).
  • A lot of tops that no longer cover the midsection, and annoy me because I am always tugging them downward.
  • A really ugly oversized grey t-shirt that says “I love Canada”. (No offense to any Candians… if you saw the shirt, you’d understand). In fact, I ditched a big pile unflattering t-shirts which had been stacking up in my closet, some of which I carbon-dated to the year 2000 or earlier.

A few mental notes I made from this process:

1) How many baggy utilitarian t-shirts does a person I really need? Saving clothes in the hope of wearing them on the one day a year you paint the bathroom or clean out the garage is a pitfall. It’s really a magnet for saving ugly clothes that need to be tossed.  I give myself an allowance of one pair of ugly pants and five t-shirts, which I suspect is still about three too many.

2) The clothes that I feel good in fit exceptionally well. However, good fit is harder to achieve in this new body of mine. It’s something I am going to have to work harder at when I shop. Also, it’s time  to find a good, inexpensive tailor.

3) Buying things on sale can really work against me, encouraging me to overlook the flaws of an item in the name of finding a bargain. Then it sits in the closet taking up space.

Speaking of sales reminds me – it’s time to go shopping. I need to replace some wardrobe essentials that I tossed, like slim (but not hoochy tight) black pants for going out at night. I also came across a few items that I have never worn because I can’t complete the outfit.  Now for the real challenge – shopping for attractive clothing that is compatible with taking care of small children.

But that is a topic for another day…

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