Monday, February 28, 2011

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry: Steak and Potatoes

Dining and unwinding on Sunday evening in preparation for the long, arduous work week ahead...

Gingham and Solid Red

Last week, after a grueling day toiling hunched in front of my work laptop in the confines of my cubicle, straining my eyes and mesmerized by the tessellation of cells in an Excel spreadsheet, just before pouring myself a cocktail, I received a desperate and eager plea from my younger brother to review his resume in preparation for a large, on-campus career fair. Placing my shaker back to wait idly in the freezer, I went to work; his resume had great content, as he studies Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mathematics, with frustratingly amazingly pristine grades. However, to give his qualities, academic accolades, and internship experience a bit more professional flair and an elegance and ease to the eye, I performed some formatting changes. In the end, he was able to add a few more detailed statements concerning some of his internship experience, and overall was grateful for the advice and the infusion of corporate aesthetics.

After attending the fair, he jocularly teased that these events are merely ritualistic displays of clammy hand interactions and awkward introductions. While I certainly respect this sentiment, career fairs have their merits, if nothing else serving as practice on formally introducing yourself and distributing your resume, learning what pertinent questions to ask a potential employer or place of interest, learning how to gauge where you would be an asset and what establishment would ultimately be an asset to yourself. However, given that the economy has tumbled down off the mountain of growth and prosperity into the deep basin of despair, and continues to flail and not quite be climbing up towards the light, I liken career fairs to speed-dating. Speed-dating with rather sadistic or curious individuals who, either from desire to manifest their cruelty or from a wish to further understand human nature in times of struggle, have already decided to spend their lives in solemn celibacy or have already discovered that intense emotional bond and have partnered off, yet meet and charm you regardless. With no intention of calling.

Thankfully, my younger brother, with his outstanding grade point average, rigorous course load, and manly, business handshake (that our father had instilled within the heart of us all, at a very early age), procured an interview for a summer position. I am proud of all of his accomplishments, wished him well, and reminded him to wear a nice tie.

Although gingham is not a pattern that I would advise to wear on a first interview for a majority of industries, particularly those with a more technical and thus masculinely heteronormative orientation, the combination of a navy or royal blue gingham with a solid, deep red tie has always been a favorite of mine. Particularly in the spring or the summer, gingham matches the playfulness of the season, while still maintaining a crisp, starched professional look. And as far as I am concerned, all men should own a nice solid red, or perhaps gold, tie. A shirt such as this royal blue gingham with this tie, I would love to see with a solid light charcoal suit. Again, as the weather warms, light gray matches the sun, and is less austere and severe than the traditional, stereotypical black.

(images taken from Ralph Lauren)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

So, this is good-bye...

After growing quite attached to the fur-lined warmth, comfort, and pragmatism of these snow boots these past few months, I think the time has, finally, come for them to retire within the confines of their cozy cardboard box at the bottom of my closet. I had prematurely attempted to bid them a fond farewell the other week, and was not very pleasantly surprised with yet another snowfall, and had to retrieve them once more. According to this week's forecast, the temperature should fluctuate in the 40s and 50s, perhaps even creep towards gentle and sweet 60 tomorrow. This time, I hope to depart from these rubber soles and perfect traction until next season of ice and snow comes howling in, baring ragged teeth.

Finally, time for some feminine pumps, for leather and for suede that now will not be tarnished and desecrated by puddles and salt stains, for blossoms, and maybe, finally, some fresh colors.

(Minnetonka snow boots, image taken from Zappos)

Friday, February 25, 2011

Casual Friday: Cowboy Banker Blues

I have found myself rather melancholy lately, perhaps a bit imbalanced with black bile, if dear Hippocrates were to provide a proper diagnosis. A long-running personal joke has been that I will, in these times of professional strife and general life frustration, flee to the open plains of the American West, overcome my metropolitan sensibilities and morph into a blood-filled, sanguine cowgirl. But, as Mr. Tom Robbins has so eloquently reminded me in the past, even cowgirls can get the blues. To match my humor, and this dreary, down pouring, cloud tears weather, I picked a selection of blue pieces this morning, introducing casual professional to my cowgirl fantasy.

I have had this dark denim, almost pencil skirt for ages; eons and eons. If I recall correctly, it was snatched up at some intense Gap sale, for maybe something like 7$. It has not worn thin, either physically or within my style consciousness. It fits my hips well and I can literally toss it on with anything, from this type of collar shirt to a turtle neck to a plain white v-neck tee in the summer. Because this skirt hugs the hips in a flattering way, without pinching or squeezing, I can pair it with a more loose, men's styled shirt as I did today.

This collar shirt is amazingly comfortable; I found it at Gap as well, last season, however, despite loving the look and the soft cotton fabric, almost refused to purchase it. Normally, my refusal to purchase something I love the look of stems from an exorbitant price or a sneaky infiltration of synthetic fabric. In this instance, my hesitation was born from the ridiculous shirt name: the banker boyfriend shirt. Although, indeed, the casual, almost alluring hint of throwing this on in the morning and strolling to work, without a care that it is a men's shirt, is the appeal, having it so obviously superficially constructed and marketed was initially off putting to me. Though many women, myself included, have fantasized about a relationship with a high power, Machiavellian Wall Street executive, most of us, myself included, are also reluctant to admit it. Upon further reflection, perhaps this fantasy is less appealing after the intense stock market dip a few years back and subsequent cultural disdain for anyone in finance by the general populous. Anyway, I digress. Clearly, though, my repulsion to the actual name subsided, and I learned that no one else would ever know or care how Gap advertised this look.

The front features two breast pockets, and the white collar with the white sleeve cuffs create that quintessential banker look. I wear this shirt regularly, sometimes tucking it into a camel pencil skirt with a back slit, sometimes donning the casual untucked look, like today, with a pair of cream sailor slacks.

These cowboy-inspired, camel ankle boots have certainly seen better days, however, the rugged, worn in look of the leather connotes some good, hard, hands on work wrangling cattle and sheep out on the ranch. Although they have a cowboy look to them, they are not explicitly or immediately recognizable as cowboy looks, and so avoid being a bit kitsch. They are extremely comfortable, and since the leather is already worn, can be worn trudging through puddles in the rain without too much worry.

To balance the masculine edge of the cowboy and banker look, I choose some vintage costume rhinestone earrings and a few of my favorite rings; this sterling spoon ring was my first official enduring piece of jewelry, seducing and intoxicating me towards a long and pronounced love affair with baubles and bangles and beads. After showing me a drawer of old jewelry when I was in third grade, my mother allowed me to pick one piece for my own; I immediately picked up what I had thought was a thick purple ring. When my mother applied some silver polish and handed me back this twinkling ring, I was delighted. It had belonged to her as a child, and thus had a sentimental charm to it, which I was cognizant of even as a young girl, and I always took care to keep it clean and not misplace it. I wore the ring everyday, for years, through high school and the beginning of university. I have in more recent years acquired a few more rings, so this spoon is not worn on the same daily basis, but I still wear it very, very frequently.

These oval rhinestone earrings offer sparkle and shine to my blue outfit, and again, I love the contrast in style and texture between these and the worn, coarse boots, the interplay of bygone refinement with sportsmanship, blisters, and independence.

Friday morning commute soundtrack: "Parentheses" the Blow; "Someone Great" LCD Soundsystem; "Wendy" and "Fun, Fun, Fun" the Beach Boys; "Never There" Cake; "Roadhouse Blues" the Doors; "I Love Rock-n-Roll" Joan Jett

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Outfit for a Thursday: Inspired by DVF, or, Cobalt

This morning, reflecting once more on the beautiful colors and feminine skirts of the Diane von Furstenberg Fall 2011 collection, I retrieved this brilliantly cobalt wool suit skirt, looking a tad woeful, from the depths of some trench drawer in my bedroom: a 1970s vintage Dior wool suit skirt. I bought this last winter, with the matching jacket; though I have never worn them together, separately each is truly dynamic and create an entire look on their own. I believe I paid about 20$ or so, for the set. I wish I had had the time to perform a proper steaming to remove more wrinkles, but I was able to do a swift round of damage control with some really great wrinkle spray. Unfortunately, my professional photographer had the day off; I promise, though, this cobalt number is not done any justice laying flat on my bed. This skirt, like most, needs a waist and some hips and some long legs to complete it, and looks much better when curving around the female form. The color, also, should be bolder, and is not so much an electric blue, as a true blue cobalt.

Though you may not be able to tell, this skirt is very high waisted, and very tight around that waist. Dancing it slowly up my hips, all I could think about was needing to do more cardio at the gym. It is a somewhat awkward length, hitting just beneath the knee, so, though I am tall and have long legs, I still like to pair this with heels. Especially as this skirt is both long and fuller in cut, despite the tight waist, I want to make sure I prevent a matronly look by prancing around in some feminine heels.

Four large black buttons provide a great detail along the top of the skirt, tracing down the waist to the hip bone.

Again, difficult to tell, and perhaps I should have waited until my beau hunk photographer had returned from his vacation day, but the skirt sort of alternates between smooth, flat fabric and wide pleats. The pleats lend this skirt some added movement and flow, as well as a more interesting structure to the fuller cut.

As I mentioned, the waist to this skirt is tight, but since it is so high, I like to tuck my shirt in; also to combat appearing overly dowdy, I generally wear a more fitted top. This black and white striped tee shirt features a key-holed back neckline, which I would normally deem a tad too racy
for work; however, again, when coupled with a longer, heavy skirt, it provides an infusion of youth and vitality to the outfit.
I really enjoy how narrow the stripes for this shirt are; this was an amazing Century 21 find, for maybe 5$. Added to the cotton is some spandex, giving this shirt a nice weight as well as shape.

These lace-up heels were a TJ Maxx find; I could expound on the glories of shopping in TJ Maxx stores in affluent socioeconomic areas for hours. Or in a single sentence: TJ Maxx stores where wealthy people live are amazing and have the best selections and deals. Particularly, if that affluent-audience TJ Maxx store happens to be, for whatever reason, in a more run-down, rough-like, rumble type of shopping center, say one that also sports a Wal-Mart and a dollar store. I have nothing against Wal-Mart, I shop there all too frequently. Clearly, I am describing the one and only shopping center within my two mile commute from my apartment to my place of currently semi-employment.

The heels are about three or so inches, and a bit of a thinner heel than I typically aim for, with that type of added height. Despite the long and lean design of the heel, these shoes are quite comfortable for the office.

I adore the contrast of leather and suede, a sort of contemporary interpretation of Victorian lace-up booties, with a pinch of men's wear inspiration thrown into the mix.

Though as of late I have been partial to gold, silver was my first love, and I have some really interesting silver bracelets and bangles, such as those featured in my Christmas Party outfit, glorious beauties of vintage lucite. This cuff is also vintage, from perhaps the 1970s, and the earrings are silver and bubblegum pink costume pieces, either late 1960s or early 1970s.

The cuff is about two inches wide, and has a hand-hammered type of look, causing the silver to appear to be scaled, as if it is made of some skinned ancient reptile.

Now that I think about it, these pink earrings are among the first three pairs of earrings I ever owned, found when I was in eighth grade. They are large and round, each a pink hemisphere, and similar to the coral earrings from yesterday, add a splash of color. With the large swatch of blue in my skirt, this slight sampling of pink offers a bit of balance and contrast.

Outfit for a Wednesday: Linen in Winter

Traditionally, linen is a fabric associated with the warm summer months, ocean-brine infused tropical breezes, and light-hearted lazing and relaxing. In an attempt to harness some of these sentiments and perceptions in the final thrusts of winter, and during the drudgery of the office, I adapted the linen look for the season and for cubicle-sitting. In addition to having an amazing pattern, which almost alludes to a zebra without being a blatant animal print, the linen fabric of this dress offers some different texture. Naturally, I enjoy the soft cream coupled with the black, and to combat the chilled breeze of February, wore a black cardigan and opaque black tights underneath.

This black cardigan features slightly ruched sleeves, which hit right at my elbow. The shorter sleeve worked well with the shorter length of the dress and the covered legs; although the dress hits about mid-thigh or so, the plain black tights facilitated an office appropriate look.

I love that the pattern on this dress is large and bold, but simple with the cream and black. The cut of the dress is a basic sleeveless, almost Jackie Kennedy O type shift, with some tucks around the neck, adding just a touch of accent and texture.

I found these Salvatore Ferragamo kitten heels at a relatively new vintage boutique in my town, when one of my dearest friends from university, and roommate of four years, Katherine, was paying a visit up north. She now resides in Richmond, a delightful town according to anecdotes, and I cannot wait to return the favor. She also found an amazing pair of vintage Ferragamo's while browsing this cluttered and cramped shop; although the pricing varies wildly from pleasantly surprising to ludicrous and nonsensical, each pair set us back only 25$. These shoes have proven incredibly versatile, given the amount of black and gold I wear. The slight sheen of their fabric also lends an easy, immediate polished look to any outfit.

The bow and gold detailing of these shoes are simply darling. Being Italian, they are, of course, very narrow, which I generally need for my feet, however, by the end of a long day, despite having a lower heel, they can cause some mild discomfort. No pain, no professional or sartorial gain.

Once more, the gold barbed wire bangle, along with my grandmother's golden maple leaf necklace and some vintage coral earrings.

This necklace is one of my favorites, for both aesthetic and sentimental reasons; I remember discovering it stowed away with some other pieces belonging to my father's mother, a few years after she had died. I love how it appears to be golden lace. Originally, I found the leaf strung with a plain black string; my mother gave me the gold chain and I switch various pendants, often large brooches adapted to be necklaces, on and off.

These earrings are a simple shape, and just the perfect splash of grapefruit, coral color for this cream and black based outfit. The almost swirled look of the coloring reminds me a bit of hand-blown glass. The film maker enjoyed these in particular, out of the bevy of my earrings, and likened them to a glowing cold red star. Although for the most part, I like to choose between either necklace or earrings for an outfit, I was brazen and donned both, again, with the earrings providing just a bit of warmth on a gray, middle of the week day.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Big P, Little p, What Begins with P?

Last evening brought to you by: the letter P. My filmmaker came over for an impromptu play date; we nibbled on some pretzels and goat cheese cheddar, which did not exactly taste reminiscent of cheddar but had a nice goat flavor and a firm texture, while coloring with some permanent markers. I am working on a large sketch pad of drawings to give to him, eventually; they are rather geometric and biologically inspired. We also shared a bottle of prosecco and baked some absolutely delicious peanut butter cookies.

One of the best design aspects of these vintage champagne and cocktail glasses is the hollow stem; it adds some color to the translucent glass, and when drinking something bubbly, creates a tame volcano of effervescence. The wide, round shape is so idyllically retro.

My pink ice bucket, thrifted some time last fall from a consignment shop. It is displayed prominently with my cocktail and collins glasses on my dry bar table.

In keeping with the theme for the evening, the filmmaker came bearing a present, with a pirate twist: an eye-patch. I have been teasing about wearing one of these when we go out and about, so now I can finally don this one night and give my heavy eye shadow a rest.

The peanut butter cookies came from an adapted Betty Crocker recipe. As I have said before, she may be fictitious, but that cartoon diva has some great baking tricks.

1/2 cup shortening, softened (butter or margarine can be substituted)
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
cinnamon to taste

My butter was in the refrigerator and not quite softened; I expedited the process by letting him hang out by the roaring front burner for a few moments. This is probably not advised, but it worked. As an amateur and budding domestic goddess, sometimes you have to be resourceful and adapt to the environment at hand, even if that environment stems from your own poor preparation and planning.

I used creamy, unsweetened peanut butter. Since the cookies have so much sugar added as it is, the unsweetened, natural variety allows for pure peanut flavor to power through.

First, measure the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a smaller mixing bowl and set aside.

I love the look of freshly opened peanut butter; so flat and smooth. Peanut butter pond.

In a larger mixing bowl, I added the butter, sugar, and peanut butter, then mixed these ingredients thoroughly. It required some intense bicep work to get all the ingredients well incorporated.

Then I added the large egg, and mixed some more.

After the wet ingredients were all together, I added the flour mixture slowly, making sure it was well incorporated after each new addition.

The pan should be ever so slightly teased with some grease. Roll the dough into roughly one inch balls, and make sure they are evenly spaced out, with plenty of stretch room as they bake.

I wielded a floured fork to cross-hatch each cookie, for a more decorative appeal. They know vaguely remind me of the golden quilted earrings I wore Saturday night, featured in my previous post. Not quite a golden ratio-like monumental coincidence, but a nice pattern.

The cookies should bake in a 375 degree oven for about ten minutes, maybe twelve, depending on the size of the dough balls. The final product was absolutely delightful. We each ate a belly-full of cookies before retiring, to watch the conclusion of the film "The Saddest Music in the World"; it is a hilarious and beautiful satire, with rather strange, emotively incandescent lighting and camera effects, which visually appear to capture some by-gone, twisted era.

For some type of finale, two looks that I would love to promenade about in, from the Proenza Schouler Fall 2011, debuted last week in New York. Both of these dresses are a bit outside of my typical sartorial comfort zone, from a palette and a pattern perspective, but sometimes you need to push yourself out to the edge and pry away from preconceived conventions.

(Proenza Schouler images taken from Fashionologie)