Sunday, November 12, 2017

The winter switch, in more ways than one

A funny thing happened this year to my fashion sense.

I made a rapid about-face from being absolutely smitten with knee-high boots, to being bored stiff with them and buying almost nothing but ankle boots.

And boy, did I ever buy the ankle boots! Over the summer and the first few weeks of fall, I stocked up on every kind of ankle boot you could imagine. I got so many new ankle boots that I literally ran out of space for them in my closet, and their boxes are piled high all over the top of my standalone wardrobes as well. (They will take up less space once I remove them from their boxes, but I have this thing where I must keep my new shoes in their original box until the first day I wear them. They feel more special that way!)
New boots as of October 9. I've since worn two of them and acquired two more.
Why this sudden infatuation with ankle boots? Well, in addition to tiring of knee-high boots, I've also tired (actually, grown sick to death!) of skinny jeans. Now, as I write this, I'm wearing a brand-new pair of skinny jeans, so I can't say they're banished by any stretch...but ever since I learned to embrace my preference for form-fitting shirts last spring, I realized that skinny jeans just aren't a logical part of my aesthetic.

I've said it before, but I can't seem to find it so I'll say it again, Style Tip If you're wearing loose clothes on the bottom, try to pair them with something tighter on top so you don't look too shapeless. If you're wearing tighter clothes on the bottom, try to pair them with something looser on top so you don't look too exposed.

I can't really get away with wearing my beloved tight tops over skinny jeans (and I never liked them anyway!), so my solution is to wear more wide-legged pants. As I mentioned a few months ago, I'd successfully invested in some really outsized palazzo pants, but since they didn't get along well with my desk chair, I've accepted that straight-leg pants of the less dramatic variety are good enough. So over the past several months, I took every opportunity I could to add loose-fitting pants to my collection.

All of this pants-shopping has officially turned 2017 into the Year of the Pants for me. The new wider pants alone account for 7 of my total collection, and then you have to add in all the wide-leg pants I bought in the spring (four to my reckoning, if you don't count the butterfly ones I already ruined). And then there are still new skinny jeans as well, because, even though I'm tired of them, they still have their uses—and colorful skinny jeans especially (my favorite kind!) are undergoing a massive selloff in the secondhand market, so I just can't resist buying them when the price is so cheap.


But what does all this chatter about pants have to do with ankle boots? Well, unlike knee-high boots, ankle boots fit under your wider pant legs without adding a strange amount of bulk or an unnecessary level of insulation, but they also work equally well with skinny jeans. Ankle boots are thus the logical solution to all of my footwear needs, whether I decide to rock the retro 90's look (I'm bringing cargos back!!), or stick with the tried, true, and 2010's-approved skinny jean. Notice I still eschew the "mom jean" that is slowly simmering down from its brief moment a couple years ago.

So here I am, buying 13 pairs of new boots and 11 pairs of pants, along with the requisite complement of new shirts and dresses.


This is a Winter Switch that goes above and beyond my usual, as I traded in not just one season's clothes for another, but I also traded up to an entirely different personal style!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

I heart this outfit

Remember those green heart earrings that I was just crazy about way back in 2012? I still have them, and I still love them just as much.

A few weeks ago, when I was at the thrift store checkout line, taking advantage of a 40%-off-boots-and-dresses sale, my eye fell on a tangled necklace dangling off the end cap. I was astonished and overjoyed to see that it had the same green glass beads with gold flecks that featured prominently in my beloved earrings. I had just stumbled across a gem that could turn my favorite accent piece into half of a matched set! And, just like its counterpart 5 years ago, the necklace was only two dollars! I cannot begin to express how much this serendipitous find delighted me—even at full price, it was the best deal I got at the thrift store that day! 

What's even better, I happen to have recently (sort of) acquired a dress that could make my matched set into a matched triad! It's adorably designed with green and brown elongated hearts scattered across it in whorls. It is both earth-toned and heart-themed, which are not two things that are often found together. When I saw it on eBay, I snapped it up, but was disappointed to find it too large for me.

That was over a year ago (April 2016). I couldn't wear it that spring, I left it in storage all summer, and finally in the fall, I set out to resize it. It took the better part of the winter for me to figure out how to cut and re-fit all the layers together neatly. But it was worth the effort, because now it gets to make its blog debut as part of a ridiculously thematic three-piece set!

I wore all the hearty goodness with my brown overknee boots, slouched down a bit for that requisite gap at the bottom of the skirt.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Double Duty Necklace

After a 6-month hiatus, I reinstated my Rocksbox membership last month (Would you like a free month? Use code valeriehbff11) and hit the jackpot with my Perry Street Ciara statement necklace.  Quite unlike most of my statement necklaces (which trend to the candy colored and cheesy in theme), this one was dark and refined. I loved the smoky colors, which seemed to perfectly complement a lot of the clothes in my wardrobe. So much so that I actually used it for two outfits before reluctantly returning it to Rocksbox.

It's been a while since I've been truly excited about one of my outfits (that were not a costume, at least), but both of these, I am.

For the first one, I wore my beloved purple pleather pencil skirt, a dark purple camisole, my long flowing black vest, and a new pair of boots. 

This outfit brought me so much joy! I love that I was able to finally wear some of my new shoes. I love that I was able to wear my pinstriped camisole, which I'd given up on and was trying to sell—it's always a delight to find a new way of wearing something you thought you were bored with. I love even more that the choice of camisole was totally a fluke. I was an inch away from wearing my lavender camisole when I discovered it had a grease stain front and center, which is the only reason for my last-minute reconsideration. I love the combination of winter wear (boots) and summer wear (no sleeves). I frankly just love wearing no sleeves (a welcome rarity in November!). I was lucky that the day that I wore it (last Friday) got up to 77 degrees!

The next outfit had to be much more covered-up, since I wore it on a rainy Tuesday with a high of only 49. For that outfit, I wore a maroon sleeveless tunic, leggings, a long black cardigan, and burgundy boots. I loved the way the boots resembled the color of the camisole but didn't quite match it. I loved the flowing hemlines of the tunic and cardigan, and how they interacted with each other.

All in all, for the two days that I wore this necklace, I felt like a million bucks. It was certainly worth the 19 dollars a month.

Monday, November 6, 2017

A magical transformation

Not too many years ago (perhaps 2?) I acquired this pair of purple boots used on eBay. Although I've worn them a handful of times, I don't think they ever made it into my blog, and now they're too old!

Much like my off-white slouch boots, the plastic coating had begun peeling off the fabric uppers, leaving these boots too ratty to wear in public any more. Also much like my off-white slouch boots, I decided to excise the worst of the damage and turn them from boots into shoes.

As before, I started by cutting off most of the shaft, leaving about a half-inch to fold down for a smooth edge.

These boots had a black fabric liner. I cut that a little shorter so I could fold the outer material over the top of it.

Unlike the last boots I used this technique on, these ones were in much worse shape. The purple coating kept peeling off as I worked, prompting me to remove as much of it as I could, just to expedite the inevitable.

Then I folded the remaining portion of the boot shafts down inside the shoes, gluing with E6000 and holding in place with binder clips.

After a 24-hour glue-setting period, I turned my attentions to the noticeably pale inner edges of the shoes. They stood out too much and needed to be a more similar color to the outsides. For this, I used some of the purple hair dye I still haven't quite used up since I first used it in 2014.

I brushed it on with a paintbrush, and was actually astonished by how closely it matched the color of the shoes!

Seeing as it was dye, and its sole purpose is to colorize whatever it touches, I thought I should do something to keep it from rubbing off onto my foot or socks. So I sealed the dyed areas with a coat of polyurethane varnish.

For my next trick, I had to figure out a way to make the buckle actually functional. When the shoes had been boots, the buckle was just a decoration, attached with a permanent metal brad. I thought about this for a while; I considered snaps, hooks and eyes, and elasticized loops before finally settling on Velcro. It might not be glamorous, but it would be quick!

The next day was Halloween, and the shoes' big debut!

But, as you may recall if you read my Halloween post, the old boots didn't just get a second life as a different kind of footwear; I used the rest of them to make a mini hat!

The hat was the harder part of this process. Sizing down boots into shoes is child's play; but creating a whole different garment out of the scraps is practically sorcery!

This is how the boot shafts looked when I started.
Using good old mathematics (I lied about the sorcery), I decided on an appropriately sized triangle that would form one half of the cone for a witch's hat.

I cut out two triangles, put them together with right sides facing, held them together with binder clips (I didn't want to use pins for fear of putting permanent holes in the vinyl) and sewed them,  up the sides along the marked lines.

This did produce a cone, albeit one with a strangely shaped bottom edge!

I trimmed the bottom edge so that it was a smooth curve all around.

At this point, I decided I would add the embellishment to the cone before attaching it to the brim. I thought this would make it easier to handle so I could position it accurately and glue it firmly. In retrospect, this was a bad idea, as you'll see in a minute. But at the time, I went blithely ahead, using a black grosgrain ribbon and a decorative buckle I'd salvaged from a shirt sleeve, which I attached to the bottom edge of the cone with hot glue.

To make the brim, I simply cut a circular shape out of the remaining boot shaft. To get the shape, I used a jar of very appropriately pumpkin-shaped candy!
It was much too floppy to hold its shape, so I found some sturdy art paper that just happened to be a similar shade of purple, which I cut out and glued to its bottom surface. 
I also colored around its outside edge with more purple dye.

I then hot-glued the pointed part to the brim. This is where I regretted already attaching the hat band and buckle. There were a number of gaps between the brim and crown, which I could have hidden with an artfully placed hat band, but it was too late for that now!

I was out of plain metal headbands for crafting, so rather than permanently ruin one of my existing headbands, I set out to make the witch's hat detachable.

I started with two loops of rubber bands on the underside of the hat. I could slide a headband into these, and they would hold it in place...that is, until they kept breaking and slipping out of their glue patches. I later replaced the rubber bands with carefully sized loops of ribbon, which worked much better.

For now, the hat was finished, and this was the way I wore it for Halloween.

However, I later cut a circle out of the center of the brim, so that it could rest more snugly over my head. This means that if I ever wear it again, I'll have to redo the ribbon strips, because they ended up getting removed in this process.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Just another witch costume

Today's outfit is one of those last-minute projects that started out simple and just kind of snowballed into a fairly elaborate costume.

Normally, if Halloween falls on a workday, I wear one of my two Halloween-themed graphic T-shirts and call it a day. I was planning to do nothing more than that this year, when a marketing email from Etsy (yesterday, the day before Halloween) got me to thinking about Halloween hats. For many years, I have been toying with the idea of buying a witch's hat, which I was sure I could deck out in all kinds of embellishments to make a fun centerpiece of a witch costume. So far, the cost (even for post-Halloween sale hats!) has been prohibitive. But the offerings on Etsy, combined with my recent positive experience making a fascinator, reminded me that a hat doesn't need to be full-sized to be effective. The T-shirt I was planning to wear had a fairly witchy theme. Could I make myself a mini witch hat to go with it, in one evening, from things lying around the house?

I thought on it for a while. Did I have any cone-shaped objects? Did I have any fabric stiff enough to form into a pointy hat and brim? All of a sudden, I knew what I would use—and it was perfect!  I had recently refashioned a pair of boots into shoes. I had almost thrown away the boot shafts I had removed, but had decided instead to keep them, thinking I might use the faux leather to embellish other shoes. The semi-glossy purple pleather boot shafts would almost certainly be perfect for making into a tiny witch hat!

No sooner had I had that idea, than I received an email from my office manager, announcing that anyone not in costume the next day would be fined five dollars! Well, I like to dress up, but I don't like being forced to dress up, so I was a little miffed...but then I realized that if everyone in the office was dressing up, I wouldn't look too out of place if I wore a real costume instead of just a token graphic tee and a headband. So I could afford to go all-out.

Maybe I'd pair my graphic tee with that raggedy-hem skirt that would look equally appropriate on a pirate or a witch. Maybe I'd wear my black-and-white striped knee socks and – oh! – perhaps the very same shoes that had sourced the material for my future hat! I wasn't quite finished converting them from boots into shoes, but I thought I could get it done in one evening, and they were quite the witchy looking's something about giant buckles.

Well, I hadn't followed that train of thought very far, when it led me to another thought: If my outfit had already morphed from a casual ensemble to a proper costume, why bother with the T-shirt at all? Why not go more traditionally witchy from head to toe? It didn't take my thoughts long to alight on my black corset-laced dress. I'd had it for about three years, worn it in public about twice, and was presently trying to sell it. While its dramatically gothic look had never been very versatile in my wardrobe, I'd thought it would sell in no time flat as a Halloween costume...but it hadn't. It was the day before Halloween, and my poor dress hadn't even had an offer or comment. I guessed I'd take it off the market and wear it instead.

So when I got home, I had my work cut out for me: I had to finish my shoes (basically find a way of fastening the buckle), create a mini-hat from scratch, and decide on any additional accessories. As you have probably guessed, I succeeded, but it took me right up until bedtime. In a future post, I'll share exactly how I turned my pair of falling-apart boots into a matched set of shoes and hat, but today, let's just focus on the costume.

The witch dress originally had black satin lacing, which was all well and good, but I figured I could take it up a notch into campy territory by replacing the black ribbon with orange. So I did.

My go-to motif for scary Halloween costumes is spiders. So I dug out my spider earrings (putting them on longer loops so they could be seen below my hair), my furry spider, and my elbow-length spiderweb arm warmers (all of which have been worn on previous Halloweens). I also wore my giant mesh choker, because it vaguely resembles a spiderweb, and chokers are classic Victorian-gothic attire. I also brought a large plush tarantula, to keep on my desk just for kicks.

In spite of our costume mandate, I was still the most dressed-up person at the office on Halloween, but I didn't mind, because my outrageous getup received enough compliments to make it worth the embarrassment of walking around all day in spaghetti straps and a pointy hat.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Things that are pink now

Last year, I was on an ongoing mission to find some basic beige flat shoes. I was no longer content with my Western booties, and wanted something a little more delicate and feminine. Eventually, I succeeded in late spring, but not before I made the mistake of buying these ballet flats at the thrift store.

If you're being generous, you might call the color "champagne." It was not quite tan and not quite silver. It had a faint pinkish hue, which rendered it almost ineffective as a neutral. Beyond that, the color had worn away unevenly around the tiny gemstones, giving each one a dingy halo that made the whole shoe look shabby. 

After a series of unsatisfying wears, I was contemplating getting rid of them, when it occurred to me that I might dye them and turn them into a color that better suited my tastes. So I thought back to what I'd been wearing and what I'd been coveting, and I recalled that, over the last several months, I'd frequently wished I had a pink flat shoe.

Pink it would be!

Now, I didn't want to actually dye this shoe in the traditional way for a number of reasons:
  1. I didn't have any pink dye, and spending 3 dollars on a dye packet would go against my thrifty principles.
  2. I wasn't even sure if dye would work on these shoes.
  3. I could attempt to dye them with semipermanent hair dye, of which I have quite a lot at present, but being semipermanent, I figured it would wash out and/or rub off.
  4. I don't have the right shape of bucket to fully submerge an entire pair of shoes in a dye bath.
So I decided to try a new technique: watercolor painting!

I dipped the shoes in water to get the fabric uppers nice and wet.

Then I mixed some dollar craft paints, pink and white, to achieve a less saturated shade of pink.

I added water to the paint mixture so it would flow easily.

Then I painted the shoes!

It worked remarkably well. The watery paint soaked right into the wet fabric in a fairly even way. Although I can tell there are some darker and lighter areas, the shimmery fabric and presence of gold studs helps disguise that.

While the paint was still wet, I wiped it off the studs and from around the sole with a rag.

This was a very quick and easy transformation!

I have to say I was hoping for less of a bubble gum pink and more of a millennial pink, so I'm not sure if I'll get a lot of use out of these shoes, but at least they are more fun now and won't make me feel depressed every time I look at them!

I wore them for the first time along with a black outfit, a pink necklace, and something else that's newly pink—my hair! Yes! It is finally time for me to try pastel hair color!

I couldn't resist keeping my anemone fish tattoos for a couple more days!
They actually went quite well with the hair!

The first time I bleached my hair back in September, it turned an unnatural yellow which absolutely horrified me.

I immediately tried to cover it up with pastel purple, but (I think because there might have still been bleach remaining in my hair when I tried it) the color did not take at all. I did manage to tone it down with a second bleach job and the use of purple toner, which is why I felt able to go full blonde for a couple weeks. But having had all that time to think, I realized my present still-yellow shade would interact well with pink to possibly produce a cute strawberry blonde. So this weekend, I tried it!

I mixed Manic Panic "pretty flamingo" with a very pastel pink. The pastel shade was too light to color my hair (I'd already tried) and the "pretty flamingo" was too intense and orangey. I hoped that the two together would give me the subtle toning I was looking for. The shade that I got was about right in terms of lightness, but it's still a little more "neon" than I'd prefer. Live and learn, I guess. I have never used Manic Panic before, but I hear it washes out quickly, so I guess I'll be able to try again in a few weeks.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

How to be an anemone

There is something magical about wearing a Halloween costume that people both recognize and appreciate. I think my Halloween costume this year may have been my greatest success to date. Turns out people love Nemo. Not only were most people able to guess what I was, there seemed to be a lot of entertainment value in the word itself:


Apparently everyone knows what it is, but no one can pronounce it!

I got my idea for a sea anemone costume shortly after Halloween last year, when I realized I'd had a clownfish-shaped Air Swimmer lying around in its box for over a year, and that I should use it for something. Imagine being a sea anemone for Halloween, with a real remote-controlled fish swimming around your tentacles!

So for the past year, I'd been contemplating how to create realistic-looking tentacles. At some point, I thought of that springy stuff that people sometimes use in their "raver wigs."  

This is what I meant by raver wigs, if you are not familiar with the concept.
I didn't even know what to call those wigs, let alone what that stuff was that made it up! So the first challenge of this costume was in trying to figure out how to call the material I wanted, so I could actually shop for it. I figured it out eventually, although I can no longer remember how. It's called tubular crin, or sometimes Cyberlox, and I discovered in September that I could obtain 90 yards of it for $12.40 on AliExpress

Learning to use AliExpress was the second challenge of this project, because I had a very hard time getting my account set up, getting back into my account after I got locked out, and getting the website to accept my credit card. Whatever—all in the name of discounted bulk purchasing! I ordered three colors—two shades of green and one neon pink, and waited. My tubular crin was on its way from China, and all I had to do was hope it arrived in time to actually make it into a costume.

While I was waiting, I happened across a pair of neon yellow-green pants on [referral link, ho!], and then a yellow tank top that looked amazingly similar to the pants. This decided me. I would be a green anemone, not a pink one, and I would wear these two items as my base.

The tubular crin arrived about two weeks before my big Halloween party. It was everything I could have imagined...except for one small issue. As it had been folded up and crammed into a box for several weeks, it was kinked and crimped in some spots, which caused it to bend at strange, un-tentacular ways. I looked online for techniques to un-crimp your tubular crin, but couldn't find any. So, Internet, allow me to teach you one!

How to straighten bent tubular crin

You will need the following:
  • Tubular crin, in any sad kinky condition
  • A hair dryer
  • A straight rod narrow enough to fit inside your tubular crin. I used a 3/8-inch dowel rod.
Take your sad, kinky tubular crin.

Insert the straight rod inside it to straighten the bent parts.

I tried just holding the tubular crin straight during this process, but I found that stretched it out too much (which makes it narrower), and caused it to flop around unhelpfully during the straightening process. So yes, use a rod. It is essential!

Using your hair dryer on high heat, slowly run the dryer up and down the length of the rod.

Remove the straightening rod. The bends in the crin should be much less pronounced, if not completely gone!

One thing the Internet was able to help me with was how to keep the ends of tubular crin from fraying. Essentially, you fold the raw ends inside. It took me a few tries to figure out an effective technique for this, but eventually I got it.

The next question was how to attach the tubular crin to myself, in order to make it convincingly reminiscent of an anemone's tentacles. I figured I would attach it to the shirt in some way.

I wanted each tentacle to kind of point upwards and then arch back down. In order to give it a certain amount of rigidity at its base (so it would stand up) as well as effectively halve the number of pieces I'd have to attach, I decided to fold each length of tubular crin in half so both open ends were facing the same direction.

Hot glue turned out to be my best friend for this project. For each tentacle, I simply folded it in half, pinched the two halves together as close to the fold as I could, and put a drop of hot glue over the join. It took a few seconds to dry, but eventually I made some U-shaped pieces of wire that neatly held the crin in place so I could put it down and work on the next one before the glue was hardened.

Originally I planned on sewing the tentacles to the shirt, so I could remove them after Halloween and still have an undamaged shirt to wear. Alas, after a few attempts at hand-stitching the floppy, uncooperative crin to an equally floppy shirt, I gave up and just used hot glue for this process as well.

Here's how it looked after I had attached one row of tentacles all the way around the shirt.

I thought I was done at this point, but then after looking at a few more photos of sea anemones, I decided I needed more tentacles! Good thing I had gotten 90 fricking yards of the stuff! I made some 14 more tentacles in record time, and attached them under or above the existing tentacles, wherever they fit best.

Woohoo! Body of the costume was basically done, but now there were new challenges.

In all the years that I'd owned it, I had never taken my flying clownfish out of its box. But 6 days before the party, I finally got around to it...and discovered to my intense dismay that it was  far too big! I had envisioned a fish maybe the length of my arm, but what I got was basically the length of my entire body! A clownfish that big could not take refuge in an anemone my size. My costume idea no longer made any sense! Furthermore, I didn't even know if the fish would fit anywhere! It would practically take up a whole room at the party! The flying fish was a no-go!

And so, a last-minute clownfish search ensued! Yes, I was trying to find Nemo.

I went to all the discount and dollar stores at my local mall, but came up empty. Then, reluctantly, I borrowed my boyfriend's Amazon Prime account and found a couple of stuffed clownfish toys that I thought would do a decent job. I take pride in making cheap Halloween costumes out of basically what I have lying around, so I was disappointed that I'd need to incur this extra expense, but we have to do what we have to do. An anemone without fish is like a summer without sunshine!

My clownfish came on Tuesday as the wrong address! I admit to having a meltdown at this point. All I was trying to do was make the coolest Halloween costume ever, and nothing was working out! Fortunately, this issue only took a day to rectify. My boyfriend's mom hand-delivered my box of fish the next day, leaving me plenty of time to find a way to work them into my costume.

They came with plastic hangers, so I hung one from the underside of my tentacles, and made a bracelet out of ribbon so I could carry the other one on my wrist and make it "swim."

As a finishing touch, something which had occurred to me the prior week, I had ordered some temporary tattoos with a clownfish motif. They were only a few cents each, but I had to pay three dollars for shipping. I cut them out (laboriously) and positioned them meticulously upon my cheeks.

With all these clownfish covering me, there should  be no question what my costume represented, so the rest was just details. I wore brown flat shoes (to resemble sand), wore a wavy blue headband, and put a lot of blue-green makeup on my eyes (to resemble water).

And lastly, since these things are important to me, some costs.
Tubular Crin:  12.40 (though I could probably get some of that back if I sell the leftovers)
Temporary Tattoos:  3.69
Pants: 2.40
Shirt: 2.70
Two clownfish: 9.68
Total: 30.87
In conclusion, while this is possibly my most successful Halloween costume to date, it is probably my most expensive one as well. It did, however, garner third prize in the costume contest, so I guess you lose some, you win some.

"Sea" you next year!