Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Dressing up and down for Valentine's Day

Since Valentine's Day this year was one-half regular day at work, and one-half fun dinner date at fancy restaurant, I planned two outfits.

At work, I wore a classic romantic red velvet dress, paired with sequin rose-gold pumps, because no office is too stuffy to get festive on Valentine's Day (actually, I was the only one dressed for the holiday at all—apparently thematic dressing is not where it's at, but that doesn't stop me)! 

For the evening, in a complete reversal of the norms for what was to be a pretty fancy dinner—I changed out of my pretty dress and delicate jewelry, and into a decidedly casual outfit of oversized sweater, leggings (leggings! For a dinner date!) and some really tacky earrings. I was willing to sacrifice all my class and dignity just to be able to show off two of the cutest heart-themed clothing items I've ever seen.

The adorable fuzzy sweater, I found at the thrift store just a week or so after Valentine's Day last year. I patiently packed it away and saved it all year just so I could wear it for the first time on my next Valentine's Day.

But the shoes! I did it all for the shoes! A month before February 14th, I started planning my outfit (once New Year's is over, what's a holiday-loving fashionista to do?) and realized that it would be super-cool to find a heart-themed pair of shoes to go with my heart-themed sweater. Just a few days later, I, fairly miraculously, ran across just that on eBay—a cute pair of tan ankle-strap wedge sandals, with pink hearts cut out of the heels! It was exactly the kind of novelty shoe I'd been dreaming of! Though I'd been entertaining the notion of actually splurging on a good pair of Valentine's shoes, these ones even cost 19.98$, two cents under my usual price limit!
Now, the challenge of wearing sandals in February is already quite substantial, but adding to that, pairing them with a grey and white sweater when they are tan and hot pink is quite another challenge indeed. I really liked the idea of wearing the getup with pink tights and shorts, but sadly, all three pairs of my pink tights (yes, I have three) clashed just a little too much with the pink in the heels.

Eventually, I admitted to myself that grey leggings, though beneath my usual night-out standards, would go well with the top, and their neutrality would help the hearts in the shoes to truly shine out, since they're small enough that you might miss them. But leggings! For a dinner date! I wrestled with this for two days running. Should I concede to convention and wear something refined but unexciting? Or should I grab my hot-pink sandals and run with my vision (for the second straight year!) of an 80's Valentine?

Well, you can see which way I went with that dilemma. Though I might have looked a little strange strolling in on the arm of my suited-up boyfriend, at least I can say my artistic integrity remains intact. Being an Unfashionista means never having to compromise!
Not content with only heart shoes and a heart sweater for my V-Day outfit, I found a few other accessories to spice it up. My mom bought me these gloves 4 years ago or more, and finally I took the tags off of them today and wore them for the first time! I have loved them for four years, but never found an outfit that worked with neon pink fingerless gloves with a bird singing a heart until today. The color, so hard to match with anything else I've ever owned, went perfectly with the hot pink in the shoes!

Trying to do my hair in a dramatically high 80's-style side part. That lasted all of a minute.
The bag I've been carrying around all month was the perfect accent piece to finish off my look. Though its colors don't quite fit the scheme, I'll forgive it because of the giant heart that decorates its side.

Monday, February 13, 2017


One of the many money-saving rules in my fashion life is that I never, ever, pay for pajamas. The clothes I reserve for bedtime consist entirely of hand-me-downs, the occasional gift, and whatever stuff is too old or unfashionable to wear in public. Consequently, the last thing I bought to sleep in was a pair of fleece pants from Walmart around maybe 2009.

In cold weather, I have three sleeping shirts that go through a pretty heavy rotation, plus two pairs of flannel PJs I've had since high school, so as you might imagine, most of my sleeping clothes are beginning to show a little too much age even just for wearing to bed. But despite the inevitable need for replacement, nothing new has taken up residence in my pajama drawer in over a year, making me just a little anxious that when the time comes, I will be without a shirt to sleep in.

Fortunately, a few months ago, I came into possession of a number of soft and comfortable knit shirts that would be perfect for making into a pajama top.

Exhibit A: This pastel pink long-sleeved crop top. I really wanted to love it, but frankly, I just can't think of a scenario in which I'd be comfortable with my arms fully covered and my midriff fully exposed. Plus, it had these designed-in wrinkles that had lost their crispness and now just looked shabby, and was a little bit too short, even for a crop top. While I couldn't wear it as-is, I knew I could attach the sleeves to a T-shirt and make a long-sleeved shirt for wearing to bed! But what T-shirt would I do it to?

Exhibit B: The natural choice was another T-shirt that was another shade of pink! I fell in love with this shirt as soon as it was given to me, but unfortunately, when it was given to me, it was already on its last legs, with blue ink stains all over the top half and a couple of holes in random spots. Though unfit to wear, I kept it around because the fit was perfect, and I felt like I could cover up the flaws and make it into something wearable.

But how to cover up the flaws?
Two words: dye and appliqués!

I happened to have a box of Royal Blue Rit dye (my mom found it in her laundry room, so this dye job was absolutely free) which I used to dip-dye the top of the T-shirt.

I did it on my stovetop, and thought I was being really clever, wrapping the bottom half around a wooden spoon and clamping it in place to keep the depth consistent. Unfortunately, I didn't notice that the wrapped portion was rubbing up against spots of dye in the pot, so I ended up with a few unwanted blue stains on the back of the shirt. I also apparently dyed the back of my stove blue, so whoopsies.

Since I knew I was going to attach pale-colored sleeves to this shirt, I washed the dickens out of it after I dyed it. I didn't want to run any risk of color bleed onto my artwork. Once I was fairly certain that the color was set, I started on the sleeves!

Wearing the crop top and then putting the t-shirt on over it, I marked with pins where I needed the sleeves to start.

Then I carefully cut off the sleeves and sewed them to the tee.

Now I set my sights on the holes that still marred my work in progress. There was one on the right shoulder seam, and another in the middle of the shirt's front. To cover these holes, I decided to make heart-shaped appliqués from the remainder of the crop top.

I glue-sticked a sheet of paper to the inside of the shirt, and drew a bunch of hearts on the paper with highlighter.

Then I cut out the paper-backed hearts. The paper served to stabilize the appliqués while I was working on them.

I wanted an obviously-stitched-on look for the appliqués, but remembering how much trouble I'd had sewing on my whale applique (to another pink T-shirt—what are the chances!?), I decided to fake it. I actually did all the border stitching before the hearts were even attached to the shirt.

Only then did I cut them out (and trim off the trailing thread).

I used fabric glue to attach them to the shirt, strategically positioning them to hide the holes. I had to specially buy permanent fabric glue for this project, but I think it was worth it—I'm certain I'll get lots more use from the fabric glue in the future. My only mistake during this portion of the project was to launder the shirt before the glue had entirely set, causing the smallest heart to fall off and disappear forever in the wash.

Here's the shirt before I washed away the last heart. You get a pretty good view of the dye stains on the lower left corner.

So, there were a few small hiccups in this project. I'm glad I only ever intended this shirt to be worn for sleeping in, because the rogue glue stain and various dye stains make it a little too imperfect to wear out of the house. But for those who aren't perfectionists, it's a "love"ly little top to wear just in time for Valentine's Day!

Before the fateful laundering that wiped out two of the hearts (but after the
dye  job that stained the bottom right corner!)

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Stepped Dress


When I ordered this black and red maxi dress with a chevron pattern, I envisioned myself wearing it, a long elegant column, like some kind of Greek goddess with vampire undertones. 

Sadly, as with most so-called "maxi" dresses, when I got it, it barely reached to my ankles, a decidedly unflattering length. The chevron pattern only emphasized my hips, producing an effect that was anything but long and elegant. The first time I wore this dress, I felt less like a vampire goddess and more like an engorged tick. I knew that the second time I wore this dress, something would have to change.

Before embarking on a full-blown slash-n-sew project, I decided to see whether I could make the dress work with a reversible alteration.

It had come with knee-high slits in the sides, and folding the front panel underneath, up to the level of the slit, produced a much more pleasing result.

So I carefully sewed a new bottom hem on the front panel, at the level of the top of the slit, then I folded up the excess, tacking the old bottom hem to the inside at the side seams and front center seam with a few stitches at each point. 

This simple 10-minute fix took the dress from embarrassing to something I'm proud to be seen in. Stepped-hem jeans are inexplicably trendy at present, so a stepped dress (I like to think) should be trendy as well!

I probably won't keep this temporary alteration forever; there's a lot of fabric hanging from the attachment point at the front of the dress, tugging it down and making it look a little like the dress itself has a belly button! The question is, do I make the alteration permanent and fix the neckline (which droops too low for my taste), or do I just take the stitches out, sell the dress, and move on to the next phase in my life?

While pondering these deep thoughts, here's how I wore the dress: with knee-high black lace-up boots and silver earrings, to contrast with the dress and match the hardware on the boots.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Playful Pink

Today's outfit was totally last-minute, and I'm totally pleased at how it turned out!

Last night, I had laid out a knee-length dress and stiletto boots, until I remembered upon waking up that I had a mid-day meeting almost a mile from my office that I was going to have to bike to. No way I'm doing that on a 33-degree windy day! I also wasn't going to change clothes just for the meeting, so I decided to just wear pants and sensible shoes for the whole day.

To an Unfashionista, "sensible" obviously means a pair of glittery pink sock booties (I mean, compared to stiletto lace-ups, at least I can walk in these)! These boots are my pride and joy. I found them at Zara last weekend, on sale for just 13$. They bear a lot of similarities to the velvet sock boots I've been coveting, and they might even be better, because glitter! Plus, the weird round low heel was so popular this fall (yes, I'm a few months late to be a trendsetter, but not too late to still be on trend), so I feel fashionable as well as flashy.
I wore them under my decidedly un-trendy flared work slacks from circa 2004 and a pink asymmetrical-collar sweater. This hand-me-down sweater is one of my favorites (even though, when I got to the office today, I noticed it smelled a bit like formaldehyde...weird). It's warm, long enough that I don't have to constantly tug it down, and has a bit of shimmer to its pale pink yarn, like a muted reflection of the magenta glitter shoes. 

As I was getting ready for work this morning, I grabbed two pairs of pink earrings that I thought might go with the outfit (unlike my clothing, which I set out a night or more in advance, I often choose my jewelry on a whim at the last minute, trying it on and picking my favorite piece once I've already arrived at the office). Then, as I was running out the door, I remembered my Rocksbox set! I have a free month trial of Rocksbox, a service that sends you unlimited sets of jewelry for a monthly subscription. I could never stomach the 19$ a month, but I am really enjoying my free month, and the elevated quality of the jewelry compared to my usual dollar-knockoffs. One of the three pieces that I received in my first shipment was a set of garnet statement earrings—a shade of pink that happens to perfectly match the shoes!

Now here's where a little bit of serendipity worked its magic. Last night, I just happened to part my hair on the opposite side than I usually do, resulting in some really heavy sideswept bangs. For the record, I usually don't part my hair on the left, because the congenital asymmetry of my head makes a right part a lot more flattering. But the occasional reversal of the part confuses my hair into looking thicker for a short time, so it can be a nice change once in a while. Today, the unusual side part made my hair look unusually asymmetrical, which was only augmented by the asymmetrical collar on my sweater. So to take the asymmetry to the next level, I wore only the left earring! Wearing just one statement earring is a high-fashion look at the present. 

Style Tip  When choosing to wear only one earring, you can achieve some balance by putting the earring on the side where your hair is thinner. Or the side where you are wearing less clothing, if you happen to pair it with an asymmetrical top.

So when all was said and done, I felt like I'd turned my outfit, which was originally just a sad compromise with the weather, into a fashion statement! I got to wear sparkles on the bottom and the top, a wild hairstyle (at least as wild as my limp hair can achieve), and asymmetrical jewelry with a 75$ price tag for free! Today was a good day.

Monday, February 6, 2017

In defense of "effortful" style

One of the things I read about a lot in fashion publications is the idolization of "effortless" style. Frequently found in the same sentence as the phrase "French girl," it seems to indicate a way of lazy dressing that just sort of magically looks gorgeous. Effortless style seems to encompass a lot of wavy hair, wardrobe essentials like jeans and boxy tops, black boots, and maybe an uninspired handbag. It's all about drenching yourself in the boring basics, but looking darn good doing it.

When I was new to fashion and impressionable, I naturally felt that, because I'd read about it, I had to aspire to it. I thought to myself, maybe I should find a nice loose white T-shirt so I can sandwich it between my skinny jeans and my moto jacket and look like a model off duty ("model off duty" is another one of those phrases that gets tossed around in the fashion world even more than "French girl"—again with the connotation that you just threw something together from whatever was lying on the floor of your closet, but it looks flawless because it's all designer-label, and plus, you have the kind of natural appearance that makes people pay you for the privilege of using your picture in advertisements).

Two-plus years later, and I still don't have a plain white T-shirt, mainly because I recoil from the thought of paying more than 5 dollars for, well, a plain white T-shirt! Also because, if I'm going to buy a shirt that's going to be the foundation of an entire style of dress, it better be the best-fitting, best-made T-shirt I've ever encountered, and so far, I haven't found it. But also because, I simply don't have any desire to build an outfit around a plain white T-shirt.

And therein lies the real rub. "Effortless" is not part of my signature look. I take pride in putting a lot of thought into every single outfit that marches out my door. If anyone ever said to me, "Oh, you look like you just rolled out of bed and slid into a pile of your clothes, and it's amazing!", I would clock them one. Well, probably not, because I'm a pacifist, but I would definitely take it as an insult. Every outfit that I put on is a work of art. To have someone call it "effortless" would be to dismiss my finely honed craft and downplay all the time that went into its creation.

I don't do effortless dressing. And I've come to realize that's OK. Because what I have instead is "really intentional and creative" dressing, which to me is far more fun.