Thirty Pretty Projects: Week Two

Jewelry in Chinatown!

Jewelry in Chinatown!

Yes, I realise it’s been longer than two weeks since I began the Thirty Pretty Projects! It’s been far too busy and crazy to write. I’m in the process of moving abroad for the fourth time. I’m applying for a UK Student Visa. I’m working full-time. I’m trying to cram things in before my boyfriend has to leave in August. I’m travelling several weekends this month and next. I can barely get more than six hours of sleep in a night, much less work on writing about my fashion!
Yet the projects are going well! I am feeling more confident in my fashion choices after a couple of successful choices (see awesome outfit #1 here and #2 here). The second week of the projects is all about observing style and analysing my own style evolution. I was lucky enough that I travelled to San Francisco during that week, a fantastically fashionable city! So much opportunity to observe fashionable folk.

I spent some time considering the people who inspire me stylistically, and found that I have few role models for my particular brand of style. My favourite people to watch in fashion tend to have a French aesthetic to their dressing, à la Marion Cotillard. Sometimes I feel that inside, I am a petite and dark-haired Frenchwoman who dresses in neutrals and like to wear Chanel No. 5 perfume every day. This is obviously at odds with my plus-sized, six foot tall reality.

I’m much more suited in body type to Christina Hendrick‘s style of voluptuous and unapologetically feminine style. But then again, she is the same height as Cotillard at 5’7″ and my legs are all different proportionally.

It’s hard to find fashion-forward celebrities who are anywhere near my height and weight, but it feels even harder to find real life role models for women my size. I have always been the 99th percentile for height in my age group. In fact, I scoff at the CDC’s paltry 178 cm cut off for that distinction.

CDC chart

From the CDC’s report for 2000.

I appreciate and follow Fashion for Giants, a great blog for tall curvy women. But even though we both shop thrift stores and have similar measurements, Gracey’s style is very different from my own. I really like that she wears heels all the time though. That is bordering on social disobedience for a tall woman. I’ve only just started to wear heels regularly since graduating from university, because of how much crap I catch, unsolicited, from friends and strangers alike over the act of putting on additional height. How dare I? Don’t I know that women are supposed to be petite and still only come up to men’s shoulders even in heels?

Makeup is very important to my style. I generally wear liquid eyeliner, blush, and mascara.

Makeup is very important to my style. I generally wear liquid eyeliner, blush, and mascara.

Greaser-style hair.

Greaser-style hair.

This is one of the great body acceptance challenges I’ve faced in my 25 years on the planet. I was this tall early. My estimate is that I reached 6 feet at 12 years old, and in middle school towered over even my teachers. One bonus: I could always see to both ends of the hallway to the cafeteria in the lunchtime rush. Bad news? Nothing fit, even more than in the usual post-puberty adjustments. Stores in the early 2000s didn’t carry the various lengths of pants that they do now. High-water bell bottoms were my mainstay. Midriff tops were in, which turned every shirt I owned into a belly-barer. I had boobs and a butt and I hated them. Hated them! Why couldn’t I just be small and flat-chested like the other girls my age? I remember my ballet classes going from fun to exclusionary overnight as I filled out and grew so much my aching legs kept me up at night. Even the moms said that the other girls were excluding me because I looked “adult.” At my 8th grade graduation, my vice principal said that I looked like I should be graduating high school. I was mortified.

Amongst my own kind in Chinatown.

Amongst my own kind in Chinatown.

Despite being very tall, my height actually made me somewhat less visible to those around me. I wanted to be invisible, and my style reflected this for years. I slouched. I desperately tried to avoid colour. I refused to even try on heels. But when I went to university, I decided to move toward dressing more femininely and having more style. I moved to Italy for a semester and was pushed into dressing more fashionably by my surroundings. I began to come up with my “cheats” for dressing a super-tall body.I tuck my too-short pants into tall boots. I let down the hems of some pants and skirts. I wear mini-dresses as tunics over pants.

This is the most developed part of my style to this day. Especially after a year and a half buying consignment as much as possible and then abstaining from shopping at all for six months, I am much more in touch with what sizes actually mean (little) and how garments fit my body. But imagine my surprise when over the weekend in San Francisco I found that everyone was wearing high water pants. Everyone. Sometimes even rolled up to make them even shorter. Also blazers with the sleeves rolled up to make them purposefully too short (a tall person’s trick with pesky sleeve lengths). Why wasn’t this style around when I was a struggling teenager, slamming my jeans in the door and then yanking on them to try to get even a half-inch more? I had several pairs of jeans that were “too short,” and sold them. Suddenly I could wear them without shame? What the hell, fashion!

Note the pants tucked into boots to disguise the four inches of ankle.

Note the pants tucked into boots to disguise the four inches of ankle.

I struggle to incorporate colour and prints into my wardrobe these days, in part because my closet has to be mobile and has followed me from Patagonia to Korea to Colorado. Travel clothing is for observing, not being observed. I have many colourful pieces from India, but they look ridiculous and vaguely culturally patronising when I wear them in the US or UK. I once looked down at my outfit on the bus in Korea and noticed that all I was wearing were brown, black, or gray turtlenecks with tiny holes from wear in them. Solid, neutral colours are my MO, possibly a leftover of all those years spent trying to vanish.

Prints also pose a problem for me. I don’t like them. I just don’t. They look old-ladyish and I associate them with couches in therapist’s offices from the 1980s. They make my curvy body look even curvier. Or so I thought. This week I made my first shopping trip in a long while to one of my favourite consignment stores and made a conscious effort to buy printed items. These are the results.

DSCN3912

Printed top is thrifted from Found Underground in Louisville, CO.

DSCN3922

This whole outfit is thrifted! The skirt cost me $5.

They look pretty damn good, if I do say so myself!

As I work through the Projects, my pile of To-Sell clothing and shoes grows ever-larger. I won’t be making the rounds at the local consignment stores until August, when my boyfriend leaves town and I will need things to keep me occupied. It’s very helpful to focus on dressing my body, as it is right this second. I can always get new clothing next year in London! Might as well get rid of nearly all of it this summer and make some money in the deal.

I will be writing about the third week of the projects this week. I promise.

Spring 2013: Fashion Loses Its Mind

I am currently in a very fashionable city, where people from around the world dress to impress while on vacation or while working in high powered jobs. A lot of people have the money for a substantial clothing budget, and even those who don’t have vintage and thrift fashion available to them. I’ve been under a rock for the last two months, in India. The fashion there could not really be called cutting edge, even though I plan to wear some of the clothing I obtained there as avant garde pieces back home.

Yet THIS is what I see in all the storefronts. Terribly cheap, terrifying printed, horribly cut clothing that will look good on exactly no one. No, not even you Beyonce. This outfit is a prime example of what I like to call “fashion terrorism.” It’s so bad that people may be in danger just by looking upon its clashing prints and shitty fabric.

But far worse than fabric or cut is that I’ve read that some call these mostrosities throwbacks to the 1990s. The bare midriff is back! And it’s 2013, and the world is on average 20 pounds heavier than then. Bare, chunky midriffs. Noooooooooooo!

I have already spent my clothing allowance for the year and will need to sell a lot of my wardrobe in preparation to move abroad (again). All I hope is that by this time next year the hideous 2013 fashion will have blown over.

How to Dress for Travel in India

Agra

Agra

Millions travel to India every year. Millions of women travel to the nation as well. For those of us who did not grow up within the cultures of India, and especially women like me who grew up with certain Western customs of dress, adapting to the way women dress in India can be confusing and difficult. So many jewels, so many markings, so much fabric!

While I was there for two months this year I spent a lot of time, a decent amount of money, and a load of my boyfriend’s patience on the attempt to dress appropriately as a conscious tourist. More than a few women I saw travelling in India were inappropriately dressed; modesty and women’s behaviour are governed by vastly different rules than in the US or Europe. Yet the ones I saw attempting a sari and bindi combination or dressed like their interpretation of a “gypsy” seemed hackneyed or culturally imperialistic.

The suggestions below are by no means unbreakable. It’s difficult to walk the line between cultural propriety and overselling one’s understanding of a culture not one’s own, but I hope that my outfits for India made valiant attempts. Panajim

Kurtas (koor-tahs) are a type of shirt favoured by most young women in India. The fabric is loose, generally of linen or cotton, and flows around the waist and hips. The idea is to obscure your butt and your female shape as much as possible. This one from Panaji is a bit short by Indian standards.

Batheri

India is ridiculously hot. But boobs, especially those of my size, are a liability. If you are female and planning to travel in India, pack a lot of scarves and be prepared to buy a few more on the way. Most of the time I wore mine over the shoulders as shown, which is how the women wore theirs. Other variations included straight down over the boobage, wrapped around my shoulders in shawl style, or over my head and shoulders like in the first photo of this post.

Scarves significantly reduce the staring, comments, and not-so-sneaky photos with which men  will inevitably bother you. Learning to wear one as part of a traditional ensemble was key to my ability to walk into the streets with less worry.

Taj fashion

Since you’ll be wearing a lot of scarves to obscure your female bits, you can coordinate with your bottoms and make an ensemble like the ones local women wear. Above is one of my improvised salwar kameez outfits, the preferred uniform for young women. Leggings or baggy pajama pants, preferably in cotton or some other light fabric, a longer kurta, and a matching scarf. The pants always match the scarf, and the shirt often seemed to clash as much as humanly possible with the others.

Jaipur

I spent most of the two months in India swimming in fabric. If you are female, I suggest you do the same. In many of the more touristed areas Western women could get away with wearing less than Indian women, but in areas off the beaten trail it is important to have layers of fabric between you and the world of India. Skintight anything is not appropriate, unless it’s leggings under a long shirt or dress.

Kochi

The photo above was taken in Fort Kochi, a city in South India. It is a tourist hub, and more forgiving when it comes to styles of clothing that would be taboo in cities three hours from there. Yet even there, I would not have felt comfortable in shorts. TMI ahead: I did not shave for two months while in India, and part of the reason was that bare legs are unacceptable. However beastly they got, I kept them safely covered in long skirts, baggy pants, and leggings.

Don’t expect to get tan in India if you are female.

Dutch Palace

Wearing bright colours is key to most Indian women’s style, and fun to incorporate into an otherwise stifling travel wardrobe. It’s telling, in a way. Women’s clothing is so restrictive and modest in India, but is as bright as gemstones and often covered in sequins. Embrace this. It’s the only fashion freedom you’re likely to have.

Mind you, it was 41 C outside

Mind you, it was 41 C outside

Be prepared for expectations to shift at a moment’s notice, and to vary widely by city and by state. India is not a homogeneous culture, contrary to popular belief. In some places, Indian style clothing may look idiotic on a non-Indian woman. In others, it may be expected that you cover every inch. Be flexible, and keep your scarves handy for sudden changes in propriety/comfort.

Let’s review:

#1 Kurtas are your best friend.
#2 Scarves. Scarves. Scarves.
#3 Matchy Matchy = Improvised Salwar Kameez
#4 Baggy is best.
#5 Cover your legs, butt, shoulders, chest, waist, and occasionally your head. 
#6 Be prepare to sweat your face off constantly. 
#7 Change your clothes as circumstances change. 
 

There is a whole set of issues that go with the way women are expected to dress in India. A whole set of terrible, horrible, no good, very bad issues. But that’s another post.