Particularities

One of the very best things that maturing as an individual offers you is the practice of mindfulness.  Put simply, you start to recognize when you’re being difficult, whiny, indulgent and you change your behavior accordingly.  For example, it simply puzzles me how certain people need to take a survey of everyone else’s opinions before making certain life choices.  Aren’t you the one using the mortar/pestle, dress etc?

Similarly, when you’ve been exposed to certain theorists in the social sciences, your eyes begin to pick up on certain aspects of everyday life and think of them in novel ways.  For example, when you’ve learnt of Bourdieu you can never really go back.  Of his many theories, the one I find most relevant in my life is the one of “habitus.”  To summarize very broadly, it just means that our upbringing, values and past experiences all shape our current socio-cultural outlook and outcomes.  In the larger scheme of things it matters because there are also practices in play that impact the process of social climbing through the accumulation of wealth and privilege.  Face it, we all want the best and are a part of the game, whether we are aware or not.  So, this is helpful in two ways: one, if you want to take part and win a little, you can actively take on endeavors that will help you reach your objectives for success; two, you are able to understand people’s motivations with a bit more compassion because, habitus comes into play for all of us.  Now, it is important to remember that the best players make it look effortless.  Everyone tries but some come off a bit desperate.

Taking this into consideration, I can better understand certain aspects of my own character.  My love for fashion did not come out of nowhere but was initiated by a mother who taught me from a young age that it matters how we present ourselves to the world.  God, you should have seen some of my outfits as a child, she has impeccable taste.  It is from her that I learnt the value of clean lines, well-cut tailoring and how our styles can reflect our sense of self.  When you love fashion, it’s easier to engage with these principles when you have a body that you’re comfortable in.  Life’s too short not to look and feel great and obviously everyone defines this for themselves and on their own terms.

Secondly, I am particular when it comes to aesthetics, not just in fashion but also the material world.  This type of need for perfectionism also carries through to my love of the culinary arts.  There is nothing that feeds the soul more than good food.  Yes, you can still indulge in this realm while setting limits on portion size and using some common sense.  And god, if you do have a treat don’t waste it by feeling guilty.  You would have done better not eating it at all.  Being particular means that I’m also a control freak who tries to not ask for help.  Therefore, when you come over to my house my answer will probably be “no thanks” when people graciously offer their assistance.  It’s no slight to them, I’ve just been raised and surrounded by perfectionists who have thoroughly frustrated me.  When someone takes you up on your offer to help out, but nit picks everything in the process, you kind of want to say, WTF, do it yourself.  Therefore, knowing this, I do it myself.  And, if I do ask for help I relinquish control and try my best to keep my mouth shut so that the person gets to feel the full satisfaction of getting something done.  Really, you can change it when the individual goes home anyways to not hurt their feelings.

Thirdly, control freaks are infamous dissectors and this often gets worse when they become parents.  Especially in this day and age when there are so many books available about various methods, it’s easy to become too mindful of your actions.  My very blunt PhD supervisor, who is also a mother, once said to me “hey, as long we’re not locking our children in closets and beating them, we’re doing pretty good.”  So, a little common sense comes into play.  Love them, be there, and do your best but give yourself a break.  There are so many critics already, do not add to the noise.  It is also pretty likely that with any social interaction, we will crash into each other in the best of ways.  Habitus demands it.

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Subtle

When we were recently leaving a furniture store my husband commented that its contents were for Meglomaniacs.  Having heard this term readily but not fully knowing its meaning, I asked for the definition.  Apparently when it comes to matters of aesthetics, Meglomaniacs are obsessed with wealth and markers of privilege.  They lack the soft touch when it comes to displaying their accomplishments.

Now, this got me to thinking about how important subtlety is in our everyday lives.  There is a certain respect I have for straight-shooters.  Their ability to be blunt is much more appealing to me than the ones who are too afraid to say what they mean.  But I feel that relationships are easier to maintain if one strikes a balance between brutal honesty and some finesse.

The problems arise when truth bombs, whether they are warranted or not, can compromise people’s confidence.  These statements are often not precise enough.  Improvements need to be made but there are workable components too right?  But I feel like there is nothing better than having these types of people in your life.  They offer valuable opportunities for self-reflection and keep your wits sharp.  You just have to learn to pick out the useful parts of their critiques and be grateful that they help you build a thick-skin.  You will always gain more from those who push you than the ones who have nothing bad to say.

The other case for the soft touch is that no one likes to define their tasks as being only a duty.  Nine out of ten times I’m sure that people will go out of their way to do something for you.  It’s when you assume that it’s a given that there is potential for conflict.  They just want to be asked and given the privilege of saying “yes.”  I’m pretty sure that everyone is deserving of at least that right?  Also, if someone is doing you a favor, I would try to make their life as easy as possible and to save the non-essentials for when you can do it yourself.

Simplicity is a principle that I return to again and again.  Whether it’s related to fashion or home decor I feel that there is a skill associated with minimalism and something so beautiful about how it leaves room for interpretation.  When it comes to relationships I also subscribe to the notion that the most logical reading is probably your answer.  How many of us have read over texts or emails looking for something that just isn’t there.  So often “simple” is associated with lack but I disagree.  You gain so much by filtering the noise, both in terms of what you give out and what you receive.

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Don’t speak

I feel like my love affair with Paris would be complete if I never had to speak a word.  Is that even possible?  To love a place where the thought of speaking to anyone fills me with a slight dread?  Like always, the distant ones get me every time and Paris is no exception.  Her indifference and slight contempt for my lack of proficiency in the official language makes her all the more appealing.  Plus, I plan on slowly but surely building on my twenty plus years of public school French to be able to engage more the next time around.  Well, it’s kind of necessary if we’re planning on staying for a year.

Honestly though, there are plenty of people in Toronto for whom English is not their first language.  When they approach me on the street to ask for directions my first reaction is to be patient and understanding.  Having said this though, I do believe that it’s only respectful that anywhere you go you learn to say the please and thank yous in the native tongue.  In France I want to say so much more.  The key to learning any language is to not be shy and just try to communicate, however broken the sentences come out.  Well at least that’s what my Thai language tutor B taught me.  This man is the most joyful person I have ever met.  He used to use the hula hoop during lessons for “exercise” because he said that’s how you get rid of love handles.  My homework consisted of going to the Sunday night market in Chiang Mai to bargain.  I think I got a great deal on some teak placemats precisely because I accidentally mixed up numbers.  It also made the salesperson laugh so it provided a beautiful exchange.  When I attempt to do this in France however, I get mixed results.  There are those who truly appreciate the effort and others who just want to get on with it.  Whatever, you win some, you lose some.  I’m sure when I’m there for a couple of months and not a few days the experiences will be greater on the side of good.

But the one place I’ve been where I’ve never felt out of place is Buenos Aires.  Being in that city is like entering a freshly-made bed.  We could not speak a word of Spanish but every single person didn’t want to put us out and tried their best to help.  Imagine that, a society that did not want to inconvenience the tourist!  We stayed in a residential neighborhood away from the downtown hub so we ate at ten o’clock like everyone else, with both the senior citizens and newborn babies.  I was just starting to show in my pregnancy when we visited and people would politely offer me seats on the subway and ensure that I was comfortable.  The absolute beauty of this metropolitan city is not found just in the lovely boulevards, pastry shops on every corner, the art and culture being alive and well, but in their openness to difference.  As a racialized female you don’t get to feel this ease everywhere and Buenos Aires, I sure do look back at you fondly.  You are special.

Still, there is nowhere like Paris and I loved it when locals would ask me for directions on the street in French.  It was so thrilling to pass, well at least for those five seconds till I opened my mouth or the valiant attempt to understand registered on my face.  See, fashion does have power.

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Reign

There is something to be said for aging gracefully.  Nobody wants to be the last one at the party still eating the sushi when everyone else has sensibly gone home.  I think the same is true for fashion.  Everyone from Kate Spade to Alexa Chung will tell you that there is an art to changing your personal style to reflect your time on earth.  Most of the advice involves setting limits but also knowing when to push-back a little.

The two main principles involve length and choice.  Tiny shorts or skirts may no longer be as appropriate when you’re older but perhaps Bermuda shorts or pencil skirts are the way to go?  Also, what you choose in your thirties may not be as appropriate when you’re entering your fifties or sixties only because there is a slight air of desperation associated with it.  But the good news is that legging jeans are for everyone and I hope they never, ever go away.

I once expressed my reticence about taking on certain trends because I’m now a mother, to which my cousin K and bestie K responded, “you don’t look like a mother.”  In a way that made me happy because it meant that I could play around a little longer and not look ridiculous.  I believe that my personal icon when it comes to these things is Gwyneth Paltrow.  Perhaps it’s because I’ve been around girls like her since my early teens that I don’t really get my back up like others might.  She was raised in a privileged setting by two parents who probably had certain expectations for her behavior.  They probably also built up her confidence to the extent that she feels that she has something to offer.  In her case, she just does it in the realm of the lifestyle blog.  She’s not the first and will not be the last, so are all the haters planning on taking out the pitchforks for every wealthy girl down the road?  Truth be told, some of her stuff is great and you can find similar items that are more affordable from other sources.  She’s just giving you some inspiration and I like that she has something to say and something to show.

As a mother of two she also knows how to still keep a part of herself when it comes to her sartorial approach.  Gwyneth will rock the black strapless-shift dress, peasant shirt, distressed jeans and leather leggings all as someone in her early forties.  She doesn’t dress the part and her hair is long but more than anything else she just looks like she still takes care of herself.  That is what is attractive.  A woman who has not lost herself in the process of producing life.

Saying all of this though, I fully believe even though we are far from “there” being a woman in this day and age comes with a great deal of choice and freedom.  You can do whatever you want and wear whatever you want and it’s not anyone’s place to judge.  I don’t think those offering lifestyle advice are trying to tell anyone what to do.  They are just expressing how they’re currently negotiating their own identity and it’s on you to incorporate what you want.  With regards to leather leggings though, yeah, I’d probably go there.

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Baby Beckham

I feel like mothers-to-be are less anxious about shopping for their daughters compared to their sons.  Perhaps it’s because we’ve been dressing ourselves for decades we feel that we have it down pat.  One of the indulgences we have as a parent is a transference of our own style, for at least a little while, on the little man or the little lady.  I’m sure that there are those who don’t really care but for someone who finds this stuff fun, it was an opportunity.

Everyone will tell you not to go crazy on the clothes because they’ll grow out of it soon enough.  That is both true and untrue.  If you are planning on having another child the items you purchase now will be the hand-me-downs.  So, when you commit to the piece ask yourself, will I care about this one, two or three years down the road?  Also, if you’re serious about using it again then you need to invest a bit on quality.  Certain companies wear and tear better, minus the paint and tomato sauce of course.  There is also the matter of quantity.  If you don’t buy enough you will be harder on those outfits and by the time round two comes along they might not be as presentable.  So, with this post I’m going to advise you on how to achieve all three things: design, quality and quantity while being smart about it.

First and foremost, if you are having a son your life is easier already.  There are fewer options available for boys and you won’t be as tempted by those little dresses.  God help my husband if we have a daughter down the road.

Design

It’s a fact that everyone copies everyone when it comes to children’s clothing.  The most beautiful is Boden.  This British company has honestly the best eye when it comes to creating bright, colourful and aesthetically pleasing pieces.  But it comes at a price.  The worst value is JCrew kids.  Do not even go there, even with the deals.  So if you want the style without hurting your budget I would go with the Gap.  I always go with the Gap.  Their designs are minimalist and beautiful without being too precious.

Quality

This is another area in which the Gap excels.  Almost every single weekend there will be a sale that you can take advantage of.  This means that their price tag is often below Carter’s and Joe Fresh who rarely have sales.  The products stand up to multiple washings and even dearly loved items can be extra clothes for daycare or the diaper bag with your next child.

Quantity

Now this is when you have to watch for sales.  Maybe it’s just me but I always find that I buy pajamas and pants in bulk while I practice more careful consideration when purchasing the tops.  With a couple of jeans, cords and khakis you are set to go.  Old Navy makes excellent pants and Carter’s is the king of fleece pajamas.

Timing

I find with boys clothing that they get less cutesy with time.  It’s like they have child psychologists and mothers on their design team because your little man will transition from lambs to dump trucks seamlessly.  But no one really discusses what to exactly look for at each stage in development.  So here we go:

0-6 months

Much of their days in this phase will be spent in pajamas so don’t worry about quality here.  For quantity Carter’s offers the best options and their prints are fantastic.  They may be cute but don’t get too drawn into the jeans, khakis or flannels.  Have a few in hand for outings or dinners but if they hurt your pocketbook don’t worry about it.  There will be lots of time to dress like a Beckham.  This is also when you should go gender neutral.  Beige and white will be your best friends!

6-18 months

Now, this is when you can start introducing the onesies, sweatpants and cotton shorts.  Since they are more active they will be most comfortable in these sets and you don’t have to worry about exposed bellies.  I also start to incorporate sweaters for special occasions.  Brand-wise I would advise Gap or Osh-Kosh.

18 months +

This is the most fun phase and sets the tone for the principles that you’ll follow going onwards.  I have two categories: house clothes and regular clothes.  When he is at preschool or out in society I dress my son in chinos, jeans or cords.  Many of these have cotton lining in them to keep them warm and is soft against their skin.  Also, elastic waists work well with their growing bodies.  For the tops I purchase graphic tees and sweatshirts.  I favor the crew neck because who actually like napping in a hoodie?  The long-sleeved cotton shirts are great for layering and for when the weather is transitioning in the spring and fall.  In the summer I follow the same guidelines with t-shirts and shorts.  When you’re at home the comfy pants come out in full-swing.

Personal style

Ever since he could speak I have allowed my son to choose between two choices when it comes to his pants, shirts and warmer layering material.  This serves two purposes: one, it gives him agency when so much of his life is guided by his parents and two, it trains his eye on color and material.  It is never too early to raise a man who knows how to care for himself.  This is why I would suggest that you buy graphic shirts because he can identify and name the objects too.  Obviously the truck shirt may be more popular than the French stripes but I sneak in the navy and white whenever I can.  Of course this is all within the realm of your style too.  Lets not go crazy here.

Limits

My last piece advice is to know how much you’re willing to spend.  Once you’ve participated in a cycle or two of discounts you’ll be able to define this for yourself.  For example, I mostly buy shirts within the $6-12 range, pants that are $10-$15, sweatshirts that are not more than $15 and sweaters that are mostly $20.  Once you know your parameters it becomes a breeze and it’s fun.  Easy peasy.

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Insta-this

The very cynical will say that Instagram is just another way for the narcissists to boast about how much better their life is.  Wow, what a great outlook.  Good luck with that.  Instead, why don’t we say that it’s a way for people to share their happiness and adventures.  An outlet to add more beauty to the world.

Whether you use social media or not, we are active participants in the practice of signaling.  It’s in the clothes we wear, the haircut we get, the purse we hold.  Signals get crossed, people argue and sometimes you even win.  Yay.  Even with your subversive T-shirts and thrift store “I really don’t care” attitude there is no escape.  The sooner you realize the game, the better you will be at playing it, trust.  I figure, I might as well look good and have fun while doing it.

But then one must also ask yourself, are you really present and enjoying what’s right in front of you when you’re pulling out your cellphone?  What about all of the times when we were younger and there was no “proof” of the good times.  But then I remember that there was, it was just in a roll of film that you couldn’t expose to light and took a few days to process.  We just bored people with albums back then, or those projectors that clicked after each picture.  Perhaps we have come a long way after all.  Now you have the option to scroll right on by.

It’s not that I disagree with the cynics completely.  Photographs capture an instant in time, nothing of what came before and what will prevail after.  I’m not saying that people are liars, just that they’re not displaying the back room action that’s also happening.  For every happy image of a baby or toddler, tears and refusal to leave whatever fun event could have followed very soon thereafter.  Those landscapes in Europe could come at the cost of being ripped off in the taxi on the way there.  But the beauty of Instagram is that for that moment, it was all good.  Nothing wrong with freeze-framing those little moments that add up to a good and textured life.  We always want to pin down what is fleeting anyways.  I say let them and feel free not to look.

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Fabulous

A part of me feels that fashion articles are redundant because the concept of personal style is, well, personal.  But I am the first to clamber over advice on how to dress, especially if it is being peddled by French women.  Guiding principles never hurt anybody.  Do I believe that everyone has their own fashion sense?  Yes.  Do I think they always look good?  No.  But it’s not my opinion that matters, it’s your own.

With my interest in sartorial culture I have learnt a thing or two.  So here are a couple of my strategies on defining what works for you:

1. Look

I’m always looking at fashion blogs, images and items to be purchased online.  I do this for two reasons: I love beautiful things and I want to train my eye.  I want to decisively pick items that could work in several different combinations and builds on what I currently own.  Know what’s in your closet and maximize their value by changing things up and using them again.

2. Listen…

to your gut.  Pulling off that outfit is all about how you carry yourself so if you feel like a million bucks chances are that someone will think so too.  But wear those clothes mostly for yourself and keep it real.  When I gained my freshmen 15+ during undergrad I was in denial and kept on buying the smaller sizes.  Trust, it does not help the muffin top to have your jeans be a corset.  Accept the larger number and do what feels right for you.  Do you want to be smaller?  Great.  Do you love the curves?  Perfect.  Just own it.

3.  Don’t be a fashion plate.

I buy quality items and they are classic, clean and minimal.  They are often in neutral shades because I have a high aversion to looking like a table cloth.  Simplicity never gets old.  The very worst street style images consist of individuals who have adopted every current trend in one outfit.  They’ll have the high bun, running shoes, leather tote, larger watch and fedora.  All at once.  It’s too much.  Stagger out the fabulousness.

4.  But be yourself.

This past summer I asked my husband for his opinion about an outfit and he said “well at least it doesn’t have holes in them.”  I’m lucky in that I rarely have intervene when it comes to his appearance.  He’s fashionable and having his tall, lean, strong build does not hurt either.  So I love that I have a partner in crime when it comes to these things.  Do I agree with his opinion about distressed jeans?  No, because I like them.

5. Be reflexive.

Even when it comes to personal style I ask the social motivation behind it.  Hmm, how do I say this with political correctness in mind?  Fashion often involves co-opting articles of clothing that are worn by members of a specific socio-economic status.  The fashionable part is in the contrast.  The distressed jeans paired with the crisp white dress-shirt and Louboutins.  The Madewell plaid that did not come from the thrift shop combined with the J Brand jeans.  So how is this problematic?  Is it respectful?  I don’t know.

Fashion is so easy to discredit.  Those who take themselves so seriously will probably conclude that it’s superficial and there are more important matters to concern themselves with.  Well of course there are.  But being informed about world affairs and looking presentable are not mutually exclusive.  To each his own but being kind of clueless about your physical appearance does not necessarily make you more highbrow.  Sorry.

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