Friday, June 26, 2015

women who work: jamie-lee of mademoiselle

Jamie-Lee's experience reminded me of my own - the fact that figuring out what is work appropriate at the beginning is hard, and there will be embarrassing moments to look back on.

And yet, while I do wish I had a bit more guidance when I started working, I think there is no one perfect formula to this, simply because everyone has different tastes and circumstances. You can't tell someone the perfect solution is dresses if that person doesn't like dresses. Maja, Marlene and Jamie-Lee don't dress alike but yet their outfits are perfectly aligned to what is appropriate for their professions.

I think the mistake is to go out and buy what you think a "professional" outfit looks like. What works for me is to buy something that will transform stuff that I already own into something work-appropriate. It could be a pair of trousers, it could be a jacket, it could be shoes. Or I look for things that's a basically a more formal version of what I like to wear.

Anyway, without further delay, here's what Jamie-Lee had to say about dressing for work

1) Share one, two or three pictures of some typical work outfits that you wear for various work-related occasions and 2) Describe the elements of the outfit in your own words
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Photographs courtesy of Jamie-Lee

When Lin approached me to participate in her ‘Women who Work’ series, I couldn’t have been more thrilled – my own journey from a university graduate to being wholly immersed in a primary corporate environment, has been an interesting one. I’ve certainly had my fair share of wardrobe disasters (wearing Lover cami lace shorts when meeting the Prime Minister probably tops the list), however one thing I’ve come to find in more recent years is balance. A balance between the things that I like to wear, and the way I’d like to project myself professionally.

To give a little bit of background, I’m currently based in a corporate office for a company in the media industry. The dress code is corporate, however it isn’t as strict as I would imagine other work places might be. I can get away with a skirt that is an inch or so above the knee, and I can relax my outfit a little bit and mix things up with a pair of quirky flats – which truthfully, I feel most at home in. In saying that, one thing that I never, ever, forget to have on hand, is a pair of classic high heel pumps. Members of the board and financial representatives quite regularly come in for meetings so I find that this is the easiest way to lift an outfit and instantly appear more professional.

A typical week for me is generally desk-bound, answering emails and squirrelling away at my work. It’s a stark contrast to my previous two roles where I was a lot more active, primarily due to the fact that the office campuses were quite spread apart (to the point where it could take 10 minutes just to walk from one to the other). I do occasionally make it out of the office for meetings, but for the most part, I work alongside our team. I suppose because of this, I’m more inclined to throw on a pair of four inch heels on a daily basis.

When it comes to my work wardrobe, I like to keep it simple; it’s mostly neutrals. Sticking to a colour palette comprised mostly of white, grey, navy and black keeps things easy and helps me to get out the door on time. When I was hired for my first office job, it was a completely different story. I was reaching for a lot of prints, and a lot of colour, and looking back, I think I was just confused. Getting dressed in the morning was stressful, and I definitely didn’t make things easy on myself. I was experimenting a lot, just trying to find my feet, and I never really had anyone guiding me in the right direction. You don’t realise when you first enter the workforce how much your appearance (be it the care you take with your hair, your make up, and your clothing) actually impacts a person’s first impression of you, and I think this was really evident with me and the way that I was dressing at the time. To give you a mental picture, it was mostly colourful mini dresses from Karen Walker and those ridiculously high platform heeled shoes which were in vogue at the time.

Being fresh out of university (and a PoliSci/International Relations major at that), I was considerably of the opinion that regardless of my working environment, I wanted to stay true to myself. As you can imagine, this didn’t really translate well for the office.

My first ‘real’ job, was working for a Member of Parliament, and I spent the first few years really finding my feet and making some very questionable wardrobe choices along the way. I was so concerned with asserting my individuality, and not looking beyond my years that I think I actually did myself a disservice. I never thought twice about what impression I gave to the people visiting our office, and what it said about me. I believe Lin has already touched on this, but one thing I found was that weren’t really any resources out there for young people starting out in a professional environment, and even now, I struggle to find any style blogs with a professional aesthetic. At 21, my style inspiration came much from girls my own age; Andi of Style Scrapbook, Rumi from Fashion Toast, Nicole from Gary Pepper Vintage – which, when looking back, they were in such a different situation to me that they could dress however they liked, which is something I completely failed to recognise at the time. Their daily outfits didn’t even come close to matching with my reality.

I really could go on, but I know this is going to be quite long already! Now, I quite like the whole gamine look; it’s a play on sartorial expectations, in a sense, yet I think when done right it looks very chic. For me, I tend to keep it simple with a white shirt, a black blazer and slim cut trousers – which given the simplicity, means that I can have a little bit of fun when it comes to the shoes. This is really one of those outfits that I’ll pull out for an average day in the office, and I think it looks quite smart, even when worn with a pair of flats. I’m no longer quite as game as I used to be when it comes to teetering around in heels so I tend to tuck my heels into a tote bag in the morning (or stash them under my desk), and travel to work in a simple pair of ballet flats.

It took me a really long time to find a pair of trousers that suit me. I stumbled across a ¾ length pair from Forever New and haven’t really looked back since – they are well fitting and the trouser length seems to be universally flattering. I have a heavier wool pair which are great for winter from Karen Walker although these are much easier to pair with flat shoes or a low heeled loafer.

My main ‘work uniform’ tends to be some kind of silky blouse or tank tucked into a knee-length skirt (or one which flirts just above the knee where I can!), worn with a sweater when it gets cold. My go-to brand is Lover, always. I have about four or five of their lace skirts which have served me well so far – this white one is a particular favourite for the warmer months. They sit quite on the waist which is flattering for my body shape (pear/hourglass) and the pretty lace keeps it from getting boring. It’s probably without surprise that I have this exact same skirt in black, but I always figure that if you’re on to a good thing, why stop at just one?

Everlane has become a huge part of my working wardrobe, mostly because they seem to do silk so well, and at such an affordable price point. Sydney gets pretty hot in the summer (it sits around the 28 deg C mark, but occasionally makes its way up to 36 deg C…) so you see a lot of women wearing sleeveless blouses, which are an absolute lifesaver in the heat. I think that’s why I tend to like Everlane so much, their sleeveless silk pieces are just so easy to wear and you can get away with throwing them in the washing machine in a delicates bag.

These two looks tend to form the foundation of my work wardrobe these days as I don’t attend too many meetings and am generally just interacting with my work colleagues. It certainly takes the pressure off a little!

I’ve been trying to wear dresses on a more regular basis, and this Karen Walker lemon dress has been one of the more recent additions. For me, I find that this is the perfect balance; it’s playful and definitely has personality, and it’s demure to the point that it can be dressed up with a pair of heels or worn on a casual Friday with my battered and bruised kitty flats (which admittedly, I’ve been wearing to the office more often than not, as of late).

I’m not going to lie, I still feel a little overwhelmed when it comes to work wear. Finding the balance isn’t exactly easy but I do think I’m almost there, and it’s certainly something that you almost ‘fall in to’ with age. I’ve had my fair share of wardrobe fails, and the one thing that’s really stood out to me in recent years is to invest in the basics – these form the foundation of your wardrobe and once you find the right pieces, everything else can only get easier from there.

3) Please fill-in-the-blanks

My style in 5 words, or less: minimal, understated and classic

Uniforms are... essential in order to get out of the house on time!

A pair of heels always makes me feel more professional, because I feel like they finish off a look, and change the way you carry yourself

I (almost) always wear a quirky pair of flats to the office to feel "me", even though professionally, a pair of heels would be more suited to my role. The Charlotte Olympia kitty flats tend to get the most love as they attract the least amount of attention!

I would never carry a Longchamp Le Pliage tote to work, because I much prefer a structured satchel or a leather tote - mine have managed to withstand heavy rains as well as a nylon tote could, so I figure, why not make do with what I already have?

I would tell my younger self to invest in staple wardrobe classics because in five years time that's all I'm going to want to wear anyway - may as well make a head start!

The idea of "dress for success" is such an overused phrase; success comes in many different forms and isn't always dictated by the job you have. For some, success may be starting a family, for others, it might be running a large multi-national corporation. Personally, I prefer the term "dress for the job you want" - if you're career-oriented, this is probably already going to factor into how you approach your work wardrobe on a daily basis as it is.

Friday, June 12, 2015

climb every...

I am writing this post after I climbed 120 floors, trying to get myself semi-ready for an attempt to reach the summit of Gunung Rinjani, a 3,726-m mountain on Lombok, Indonesia.

I committed to the trip without giving it much thought when I was in Italy, and it was only when I began doing research on the climb that I realised what I had signed myself up for. I know Rinjani isn't Everest, or even Everest Base Camp, but when you read something like fifteen blog posts and they all contain some variation of the refrain "it was the toughest thing I've ever done", you worry.

Hence, stair climbs, which I haven't done since I was an enthusiastic, 17-year-old member of my school outdoor activity club. I started with 72 floors (climbing a 24-storey block three times), then 96, and stayed at 96 till tonight, when I went for 120. At some point I hope to be doing 200 floors three times a week, with a pack, and mixing up the pace while I'm at it. This is on top of some light running or swimming, and my usual yoga sessions.

All the Rinjani research brought memories of the time I climbed Gunung Merapi in with my younger siser, in 2013. Like Rinjani, Merapi is also a volcano - Indonesia's most active volcano or second most active, depending on your source. It last blew its top off in 2010, but still measures a nice 2,900-odd metres above sea level. Because of the volcanic activity, the terrain is especially tough-going near the summit - loose sand and gravel that you sink into and slide back. It's literally two steps forward one step back.

Hitting the slopes of Merapi was not my idea - it was my rather ambitious younger sister who insisted I couldn't possibly resist the idea of climbing an active volcano. Ironically, she spent most of the trekking wheezing and asking if we could turn back. I said no (while also wheezing).

The climb starts innocuously enough. Either your trekking agency picks you up and drives you to the village of Selo, or you figure out your own transport there. Most people start at about 1am, with the aim of reaching the summit in time to catch the sunrise, and then coming back down and perhaps make it back to your hotel in time to catch the last of the buffet breakfast.

From Selo, you start on a steep, asphalt road, and it makes you feel a tad silly. Isn't it supposed to be a mountain? But this ends after a few hundred metres, when you reach New Selo, and get yourself registered. And you're off.

I didn't take any pictures because I am terrible at taking pictures at night, but it was your basic star-strewn night sky, though not quite clear enough to navigate by moonlight. I used a headlamp, which is essential for night climbs of any kind. You'll need your hands, when the going gets steep.

And yes it's a steep climb (like taking two or three steps at a time on a flight of stairs), punctuated by some flat-ish narrow ridges. There are also three plateaus before the summit, on which you can declare "enough!", make yourself comfortable and catch the sunrise.

I didn't have much faith in my fitness at the time (I was only doing yoga, and not even as regularly as I would like) and would have been happy make it to the third and highest plateau, Pasar Bubrah. But when I got there, and was told it the summit was just 300m above me, it seemed silly to stop.

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Pasar Bubrah (above) was kind of fantastic, like being on the moon. The cloud cover is a rather disorienting though. The summit is often shrouded in cloud, and it surprised me, how quickly conditions change. One minute it's bright blue sky, the jagged rim of the peak in sharp relief. And next minute you're in a fog that seemed to muffle even sound.

Well off I went, leaving my younger sister behind, after the guide suggested she was better off resting instead of over-exerting herself and risking injury. His faith in me was slightly misplaced, because the hellish last leg spent ploughing through loose rock and sliding backwards took me so long, the sun was rising before I reached the summit.

I stopped, mid-sink, for a look.

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And when I looked the other way, I saw this (That's Gunung Merbabu) -

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The summit of Merapi is not picturesque - it is a ruin of loose, broken rock. Unlike the sweeping beauty of the summit of, say Mount Kinabalu in Malaysia, the peak of Merapi tips into a crater, which is basically a scary, smoking pit below you. It's a bit like Mordor, as shot by Peter Jackson.

It was quite heart-in-mouth for me walking around on the narrow rim of the crater (that's my guide in the picture) -

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And I felt quite thrown off by the cloud cover. One minute, the views of the surrounding volcanoes are clear and gorgeous. Then the clouds roll in without warning, and suddenly the landscape below you vanishes.

Another glimpse of Merbabu -

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(After this I lost my nerve to take photos because scrambling on the rocky ridge was quite challenging for me. Sadly, the views were better on the other side.)

A glimpse of the valleys below, carved from rivers of lava flow in previous eruptions. Again, when the clouds roll in, you feel slightly claustrophobic, because it cuts off your vision, almost like it's pressing down -

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I sat down on the edge of the crater, and looked down. If you're lucky and get there on a clear day, you can see the lava dome that's forming, glowering, fiery and orange in a grim grey rocky crater. Or so I was told. When I looked down, I saw, well, steam.

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This is the way I came up, practically crawling -

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And then I had to go down. The memory of it makes my butt ache.

The view, from Pasar Bubrah. Pity it wasn't a clearer day, I've seen pictures of way more spectacular views than this (there are lots of volcanoes in the area). You can also see the deep grooves left by lava flows in the greenery below -

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I don't have any photos of the descent beyond this point because I was pretty tired and the way down is not easy - broken rock in steep piles. The way up at night is chilly, but by mid morning, the sun gets pretty fierce and there isn't much shade along the way. A hat and sun block are advisable.

Once we saw this sign, we knew we were home free. They call this spot "Hollywood".

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I sat down and had very very cold Coca Cola. And burped loudly. Classy.

The land around Merapi is intensely farmed, the slopes tightly terraced and planted with all manner of things: rice, jackfruit, dragonfruit, bananas, papayas, sweet potato. Despite the threat of eruption from a rather active volcano, I guess Merapi's fertile slopes are still worth the risk.

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And that was as much as I could take in, before I slept like the dead for the rest of the ride back to my hotel.

A reasonably fit person can do the ascent in about 3 to 4 hours, a less fit being like me took about 4.5 hours. The descent also takes longer than you might expect if you aren't fit, because you're more tired by now and you have to take it slower or risk twisting an ankle (or worse) on uneven terrain. Since I didn't train for this and I was at a rather stationary period of my life (yoga twice a week at most), I think Merapi, despite its angry, frequent eruptions, is pretty accessible and just challenging enough to give you that sense of accomplishment. Definitely worth a visit if you visit this part of Indonesia.

I expect Rinjani to be much tougher. But it was also the idea of doing something that scares me a little that made me decide to go on the trip.

And let's face it, my right knee is likely to make it impossible for me to try something like this at some point in the near future, so I might as well make a go of it while I can.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

home, rested

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The Duomo, Florence, May 2015

Was it really three weeks? Some things feel different - the tightness in my chest has eased, I'm a much nicer person at work. Some things haven't - the never-ending parade of deadlines, the adrenaline/panic of delivering a good piece/project, annoying people. Is it worth it, being the girl who's "only good at her job"? No, but what then?

Italy was a balm for the soul. They call Rome the Eternal City but you could say the same of Florence, Venice and Ravenna, where it often felt like time stood still. Not just because the buildings are ancient, but because there's an unhurried elegance about these places, places that wear the patina of time well and have no overwhelming desire to impress - they did that oh, about 673 years ago (usually more). We didn't stay anywhere for long, true, but I never felt rushed. Italy invites you to linger in its golden light. 

Paris, in comparison, felt much much faster. But still incomparably beautiful, even when it's rainy, grey and blustery. Bookstores, galleries, antique stores on the Left Bank. The lushness of the Luxembourg Gardens. Skateboarders, all grace and ferocity on the banks of the Seine. PASTRY. Every crossing of the Seine feels like magic.  

There are cracks. Large, gaping faults actually, all getting bigger. I see the homeless, the beggars, the drabness of the urban outskirts, the mind-numbing sameness of chain stores (Sandro, Maje et al have taken over Paris!). You meet all sorts in big cities, magnets for people fleeing something else. I chatted with a Bangladeshi man working in a famous gelato shop in Rome who has lived there for 11 years and taught himself Italian, who once worked in Singapore and Brunei in oil refineries and taught himself Bahasa Malayu. I never found out exactly how he got there but I wondered. Looking at the dozens of Bangladeshis and Chinese hawking selfie sticks outside tourist attractions everywhere, I found myself thinking: are they the lucky ones? They could be dead, in a mass grave, at the bottom of the ocean. It was impossible to look away after that. I found myself wishing I had stopped to talk to them, taken their pictures, told their stories.

We look back selectively, and view everything in the best possible light. I enjoy this process. What's the harm with imbuing our experiences with a bit of magic? Who wants to dwell at length on the bad pizza, the banal coffee, the missed buses and aching feet? Every tale from road needs unreal "What have I done to deserve this" moments. On this trip, I kept finding money on the street. No, really. I found a 5 euro bill, the first time in front of the ticketing machine in the Ravenna train station. I went after the man who went before me but he said it wasn't his, adding: "But you are very kind." I asked around a little more but everyone shook their heads, smiling, and someone said: "It's yours now."

(Maybe, unknown to me, it fell out of my wallet and I turned it into a fantasy. Who cares. My friend and I decided to keep the bill unspent as a lucky charm.)

The second time, I was stepping into a corner shop to buy some mints, and there it was, a bright, crisp 5 euro bill, lying on the pavement. Not a single person was about me this time. I picked it up, and gave it to the first homeless person I saw.

In the Paris subway, I found a 2 euro coin by a seat in the station. I left it with other loose change in a tip jar.

I still have the first 5 euro bill, which we forgot to give away.

Oh, that ache in your chest when you come back to a home that's suddenly strange to you, knowing that the cities you left behind have already moved on without you.

But your mum calls and your friends text and the emails ping and you dive back in.

You've missed everyone, you realise. Also, so much laundry to do.

But you're leaving the door ajar. 

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

break!

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In January, I did that thing I do every year, which is to look at all the ads for flight deals, and pick one, book and go. It was the clever thing to do because it's May and I'm very, very ready for a break.

So I booked a trip to Italy, tossing in a five-day stopover in Paris for good measure (isn't that the whole point of flying Air France?). The last time I visited Italy, I slept in the worst hostels of my entire trip, it was August, good things to eat were far and few in between, and boy it was hot. And I managed to have a good time. This time, the weather is likely kinder and I've wised up on my accommodation hunting skills. I'm revisiting the good old classics of Rome, Florence and Venice with a friend who's never been, and I'm making a detour to Ravenna, to see some Byzantine mosaics so that I am one step closer to my quest to see as many Byzantine-era mosaics in as many cities as possible in my lifetime. There will be PASTA. There will be PECORINO. 

(Also, art, and churches and gardens and palaces.)

There will also be tennis, because one reason my friend and I picked Rome was to catch the Rome Masters, as work forbids us from actually catching the French Open in Paris later in May.

As usual, I indulged in my favourite pre-trip exercise: wardrobe planning. I reckon I need to plan for warm days and chilly nights with the odd rainy day thrown in, and so narrowed down my list to:

Tops
- Striped t-shirt
- White sleeveless linen shirt
- Blue sleeveless linen shirt
- Navy merino wool pullover
- Beige linen knit pullover

Trousers
- Skinny jeans
- Navy polka-dot viscose trousers

Dresses
- Striped cotton sleeveless knee-length dress
- Blue linen sleeveless knee-length dress
- Black cupro sleeveless jumpsuit borrowed from sis

Outerwear
- Olive green cotton parka

Shoes
- Grey high-top sneakers
- White leather lace-ups
- Black flip-flops

Flight outfit (also yoga outfit)
- White sleeveless muscle tee
- Black leggings
- Sneakers as above
- Beige linen pullover above

Others
- Grey scarf
- As many pairs of socks I need to feel secure
- As many sets of of underwear I need to feel secure
- Two sets of pajamas
- Woven leather belt
- My mother's gold ring
- Burgundy leather purse bag
- Camera backpack
- Toiletries

I could have brought more things but I didn't feel like it - I prefer to underpack than overpack (except underwear and socks) and Italy and Paris aren't exactly places where necessities are in short supply. Since I'm mostly renting apartments with laundry facilities I don't have to worry about stale clothes. Nothing annoys me more than lugging a heavy suitcase around filled with things I'm not using.

Well that's it for now. Hopefully I will be back energised and ready to blog! I do miss writing on this space. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

women who work: marlene, of chocolate, cookies and candies

Marlene of Chocolate, Cookies and Candies is a person of firm opinions, and I thought it would be interesting to pick her brain on this topic, from the perspective of someone who currently doesn't report to an office every day, but gets scrutinised a lot nonetheless, being a blogger and someone who writes and photographs professionally.

The questions are slightly different from what I asked Maja, taking into account the fact that Marlene's her own boss.

1) Share one, two or three pictures of some typical work outfits that you wear for various work-related occasions and 2) Describe the elements of the outfit in your own words


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Photos courtesy of Marlene

Ever since I left the corporate world 7 years ago and started working for myself, my outfits have changed drastically. Back then, it was mostly pant suits - grey and black. These days, I work from home so my day to day work clothes can be ridiculously casual. I pretty much live in track pants and sweatshirts (am I allowed to reveal this online??). My only consolation is that I tend to get edgier and better made lounge wear from the likes of The Kooples, Isabel Marant √Čtoile and T by Alexander Wang. Hopefully, I don't look like I'm off to gym!

Most days, I'm at home tapping away. Other days, I could be somewhere else doing a photo shoot where comfort is key. It's hard to look glamorous when you have to squat, bend, run around and carry lots of heavy equipment. There will be occasions where I have to turn up to fashion events where I need to look a bit more spiffy. There isn't any strict dress code that I adhere to. Personally, I'm all about comfortable and fuss free clothes. I hate shopping. Online shopping is a lifesaver for me. I have a tiny closet no bigger than 3/4 of my arm span with a carefully edited selection of clothes. They're mostly in dark colors, namely, grey, black, military green and the odd burgundy. I get stressed just thinking what to wear so I tend to buy pieces that go with most of my clothes.

I have....perhaps....4 pairs of jeans and pants that I wear a lot. I tend to spend more on jackets which are my first love, next to handbags. As I get older, I prefer clothes that are edgier with interesting details. I have a small build so I tend to stick to mostly French brands because I don't have to spend extra on alterations. To me, Rick Owens is a genius at creating clothes that flatter the female silhouette. I have a Chanel jacket which I treasure. I purchased it secondhand at a pretty good price years ago. Isabel Marant does very wearable boho chic well but I wish she would continue to line her jackets and coats. They get ridiculously itchy especially if you're not wearing a long sleeved top underneath.

2) What's a common misconception people have about freelancers?

People think being a freelancer is fantastic because you're your own boss and working from home is a dream. Most of the time, they're right but it can get incredibly lonely as there's literally no one to bounce ideas off. I can spend days and weeks on my own until it's time to do the school run or the husband gets home. I now try to schedule meetings and network with various individuals so that I'm constantly inspired. Being your own boss is pretty scary at times because I'm a one woman band and the buck stops with me. I had to learn to self motivate which is easier said than done.

3) What's the biggest sartorial mistake someone can make when trying to make a good first impression in any kind of professional setting? 

In my previous role as a recruitment consultant, I've had to interview more than a hundred candidates. I've seen some pretty dire outfits including food stains on clothes, unzipped trousers, dirty nails, body odor, bad breath......to name a few. A lot of it is common sense really. If you're not meticulous with your personal hygiene and professional outfit, no potential employer would entrust any responsibilities to you. Once, I had to co-interview with a major client of mine and we both winced when a candidate came in. He was the perfect fit for the role but my client refused him on the basis of his sloppy appearance.So yes....first impression counts!

4) Please fill-in-the-blanks

My style in 5 words, or less: fuss free and comfortable

Uniforms are my lifesaver. I'm one of those who stick to what I like. Jeans, a simple top and a beautifully constructed jacket.

Jackets always makes me feel more professional, because they smarten up a simple outfit.

I would tell my younger self to take risks, make more mistakes and be fearless, because that's the only way to grow.

The idea of "dress for success" is understanding your personal style and being comfortable in your own skin.

P.S: This Harper's Bazaar story about one woman who wears the same thing to work daily has been making the rounds, and Adweek interviewed her. Personally, I need some variety; I suppose to each their own! What say you all?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

women who work - maja, of maja huse

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Pictures contributed by Maja

I know I promised this last week, but the weekend vanished so quickly! Better than late than never?

Anyway, introducing the awesome Maja, of Maja Huse (whose latest post on feminism is a must-read). I identified a lot of with this post, because I too, work in a casual environment, and it's always interesting to see how people work out what's appropriate and presentable when there are no real rules.

I sent Maja three questions - two being actual questions and one being a fill-in-the-blanks questionnaire, and while I do think I could have phrased my questions better, she did great answering them nonetheless.

I also really enjoyed the comments shared in the last "women who work" post and I invite everyone to email me replies to these three questions as well.

Well, without further ado...

1) Share one, two or three pictures of some typical work outfits that you wear for various work-related occasions, and 2) describe the elements of the outfit (in relation to work)

I work in telecom and my job title is graphic designer/web-coordinator/hardware-coordinator. Simply put I create graphics for web and print, I make sure they end up where they are supposed to end up, I help write and publish content for our company website and I help run our online store. This means that I spent 95% of my time in front of my Mac, either working with Adobe software, writing content, adjusting prices or answering questions from our call centre about the latest cellphone releases. I don’t spend a lot of time in meetings, but I do travel a little bit every now and then. We don’t have a dress code, but we work in an open office environment where both partners from other companies and representatives from our parent and sister companies stop by on a frequent basis, so it is most definitely a good idea to look presentable.

Outfit 1 was worn on a Monday. On Monday mornings we have the typical meeting where all the departments go over the previous week as well as our plans and goals for the upcoming week. There is no need to dress up for this meeting, but it is always held in a room that is freezing cold so the cardigan had to prove its worth. Speaking of, this cardigan was bought solely because it looked like something out of Cher Horowitz’s closet. It is ice blue and fluffy and people seem to want to stroke my arms when I wear it. The rest of the outfit is black - most of my outfits tend to have a base of either black or grey - and I always keep any jewellery and hardware silver-toned. This makes it so much easier to get dressed in the morning.

Outfit 2: This one was worn on an office day where I also attended a meeting with our advertising agency. The navy and white-striped sweater is one that I stole from my boyfriend, something that he still hasn’t noticed even though he has complimented me on the sweater several times. I cleaned out his closet for him as a surprise a few months ago and took the sweater as a trophy. It had been lingering in there unworn with the tags still on it for at least a year, so I was sure he wouldn’t mind. I love stripes. They never look out of place and they are always easy to wear.

Outfit 3 consists of a grey denim shirt, black high-waisted jeans, and my usual staple accessories as well as an evil eye bracelet that I bought in Greece this summer. I never wear jangly jewellery because I spend so much time typing. It would just make too much noise! The leather tote bag is from Diesel. I am a very recent tote bag convert and I finally see what all the fuss is about, although I can’t carry it on rainy days because of the unprotected opening.

If I had to point out any common elements in my outfits it would be dark base colours, simple stud earrings, shoes I can walk in (I always walk to work) and a need to be weather-appropriate. Bergen is one of the rainiest cities in Europe so I don’t buy suede shoes, and I hate to walk to work in heels so I usually wear flats. That said I do keep a few pairs of heels at the office in case of shoe emergencies, because if I have to walk to work in knee-high rubber boots then I am not going to wear those in the office if I can avoid it. Another important point about my outfits is that they would be suitable for any of my usual work scenarios, be it a long day by my desk, a meeting, or travel. They are also the same clothes that I wear on weekends or even on holiday. I don’t really dress any differently unless I am sick, going to the gym, or know that I am going to spend the entire day inside by myself (in which case I’m all about the sweatpants).

3) Please fill in the blanks

My style in 5 words, or less: Classic grown-up rock-chic

Uniforms are luckily not something you have to deal with as a graphic designer! I do have a uniform of sorts though, because it is rare that I have to spend time thinking about what I want to wear in the morning. If you tried to take my skinny jeans away from me I would cry like a baby.

Blazers always make me feel more professional, because they instantly make you look pulled-together (if the fit is right, of course). I have three: a cool one, a formal one and a preppy one.

I always wear/carry my Filofax to feel "me", even though professionally I am supposed to be very digital. I need a bit of analogue in my life. When it comes to clothing there is nothing I wear that contradicts my job, as we don’t really have a dress code except the unspoken dress-like-you-have-your-shit-together rule that I’m sure applies to most offices. There is very little separation between my work wardrobe and my off-duty wardrobe, and I love that.

I would never wear anything too “cute” to work, because I’m one of only four women among the three or four departments that share the open office space that I work in. I’m also one of the youngest people working there, so I avoid anything that could look too junior. This doesn’t mean that I would dress any differently if my work situation was different - I don’t have a secret wish to wear bows and frills - but it is definitely something that I keep in the back of my mind when I shop.

People often think just because I know a lot about makeup and run a blog I should fit into the ditzy blogger stereotype. It surprises them when they find out I’m actually a semi-awkward nerd who has buried herself in Adobe software since she was 16 and who could debate the pros and cons of iPhone vs Android until you fall asleep from boredom. As I help run our website and online store I have to know about all things web in general and cellphones and gadgets in particular, but you can do all those things and still know how to do cat-eye liner.

I would tell my younger self to relax more because I have always had an enormous good girl syndrome. If I had learned to be okay with “good enough” at a younger age it would have made such a difference to my well-being. There is no point trying to be best at something if it is making you a high-strung ball of stress and anxiety.

The idea of "dress for success" is great advice, in my opinion. I’m a firm believer in “dress for the job you want, not for the job you have”. This doesn’t mean that you have to be decked out in designer clothing or wear a pantsuit to work every day, but look like you made an effort. Even though you work in an entry level job it is good to look pulled-together, because you never know when an opening could become available or if someone might be considering you for a promotion. Make it easy for them to visualise you in a client meeting if that’s where you want to be! When I first started working where I am now I answered phones in the call centre all day, and I’m not so sure they would have been as eager to promote me if I showed up to work in sweats five days a week.

So that's one down! Look out for the second post with Marlene of Chocolate, Cookies and Candies next month.

Friday, March 06, 2015

in the fitting room: uniqlo x idlf

I didn't know that a Uniqlo x Ines De La Fressange collection was happening, until I passed a Uniqlo outlet that had a cheery summery display near their entrance, featuring said collection.

I went in more out of curiosity than anything else - I've been told more than once the IDLF clothes are very "me" (probably because there's lots of navy and white) but actually, nothing from the previous collections grabbed have me, probably because I already had many of the same basics.

But flipping through the racks this time, I found myself wanting to try quite a few pieces, so much so that I decided it was worth doing a review of the collection. It has a rather different vibe from the first collection - more “weekend in the countryside” than "city", which I suppose is what I want right now.

I was particularly drawn to a series of cotton-linen shirts in stripes and checks, all cut in a cropped, boxy style with a schoolboy feel - very Margaret Howell.



My favourite was this one in a cotton double-gauze - the material is soft and tissue-like but not fragile. The inner layer makes a nice contrast when you turn up the cuffs and collar.

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I also liked the layering possibilities of these shirts – they're are cut almost like jackets and below I'm wearing a stand-collar one over my own sleeveless shirt. They also have cropped sleeves that hit somewhere between my elbows and wrists.

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I also rather liked the boat neck linen blouse I'm wearing above - perfect for the hot weather here and the cropped length (just below the belly button) feels fresh and the little eyelet trim is cute without being too girlish. It has a trim, tidy feel that I prefer over the longer, tunic-style shirts in the collection. It's also not too sheer.

I'm wearing the large size in all the pictures above. For the record, I am a UK 12/US 6-8/EUR 40, and it should be said that I am broad-shouldered, broad-hipped, narrow-waisted. Also, I'm about 1.79m tall.

I wasn't optimistic about the trousers - I tried the cotton chinos last year and they were very narrowly cut and were the least flattering things I'd ever seen on myself. But I saw a navy pair in a beautiful cotton-linen herringbone, tapered and cropped, and I thought it was worth a second chance. And I ended up loving them. They're perhaps lower rise than what is currently fashionable but they sit high enough to look respectable (just below my belly button and covers my hipbones) and fit my non-supermodel hips and thighs superbly. I didn't get a good picture unfortunately, so you'll have to take my word for it.

The quality is also impressive - I challenge anyone to find a better made pair of trousers from a mass-market brand. These had a wonderfully constructed and solid waistband, and although they are unlined, the material is substantial and doesn’t at all look like the flimsy crap out there in the same price range (these are S$49.90). They also passed the crumple test (me clutching a handful of fabric in my fist). Given it’s the same price as the blouses and shirts, I think this is actually the best deal of the collection, in terms of workmanship. I also thought it was better made than the other trousers in the collection. According to Uniqlo's somewhat confusing sizing for bottoms, I take the 67cm waist in these, which is the largest available size for this style.

The cherry on the icing is the matching herringbone jacket. It doesn’t look like much on the hanger and I wasn’t sure what made me it try it on. But after I did, I didn't want to take it off. I usually prefer longer jackets and have always found cropped styles ridiculous on me, but this one worked. It's the opposite of a sharply tailored look - it’s more of a sport coat perhaps and has that schoolboy feel. But it has just enough structure to look polished and I thought the quality was great – cute striped lining on the sleeves, an inner breast pocket, everything was nicely finished. It's partially lined at the important places - sleeves, shoulders - so that it slips on and hangs nicely but still works for the warm weather here.

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At S$99.90 it was the most expensive thing in the collection, and although it took serious willpower for me to put it back on the racks, I did anyway, suspecting it will end up on the sales rack (jackets often do in Singapore). I'm wearing a large in the picture and it fit well - no pulling and I could move with ease.

There were other unlined blazers in the collection that felt more like shirts which I am not to keen on.

I tried this retro Italian housewife tea dress more as a lark than anything else. I suppose if I wanted to dress up as a WWII-era nurse, I would come back for this dress, which also comes in black. It has a generous full skirt which make it fun to swish around in and the linen material is weighty and more substantial than the linen skirts in this collection. I thought it was quite nicely cut - the shoulders, waist, lapels all sat nicely - but perhaps it's more suited for a tall person. I’m wearing a large here.



I actually really wanted this dress when I saw it, but felt in two minds once I tried it on. I like the vintage nightgown feel - and it is comfortable as pajamas - but I don’t really like things cut high on the waist. After dithering around a bit, I decided to pass, but I'm still thinking about it. I'm wearing a medium here - this one runs on the large side.



There were also these nice striped cotton-linen midi-length skirts but alas, I looked frumpy in them. If I were a more straight-hipped person I would have a field day - this is the stuff that evokes long drives in the Tuscan countryside, or strolls in some pretty European town with honey-hued walls, cobble-stone streets and bougainvillaea spilling out of balconies.



I bypassed all the floral print items because they looked cheap and the material used for them certainly felt so. There was a cute navy short sleeve knit with red piping but it wasn't very well-made - it felt cheap and sagged too much. In fact I would give all the knits a miss, including the cotton Breton pieces - they didn't stand out for me. As for the hoodies and sweatshirts, I couldn't tell what made them different from the usual Uniqlo offerings. I would also pass on the silk blouses - they felt cheap. The oxford shirts from last year are still around - they're nice, so now's the chance to grab them if you missed it the first time.

And I skipped the jeans because I was lazy to try them but they feel more substantial to the touch than Uniqlo's own jeans. Yes, doing a review post is tiring - I went to the store twice in two days (granted it's on my way to yoga). Never have I worked this hard for a post.

Overall, it's 50-50. The aforementioned cotton-linen shirts, and the cotton-linen herringbone jacket and trousers stood out for me, in terms of quality and thoughtful design. The dresses and the midi skirts, on the right body type, are nice buys too - they stand out in the sense that there isn't quite anything like that design-wise in this price bracket, and look nice for the summer.

But there's also items in the collection that are either duds (the cheap-feeling florals, the knits) or mediocre (the sporty jersey pieces). Also, a lot of it is linen which rumples easily and this might bother some.

Despite the shortcomings, the collection exceeded my expectations where “high-low” partnerships are concerned, but due to my own prejudice my benchmark for these things are pretty low in the first place. And I've never paid close attention to such collaborations so I’m not the best person to charge.

In the end, I bought the double-layered gauze shirt and the navy trousers. I felt the boxy shirts were the most interesting design-wise - they're unlike anything you see in stores at the moment. The trousers, apart from being great quality, actually fit me well, and I think such things shouldn't be passed on too easily. I was tempted to buy another one of the cropped shirts in striped linen, but held back since I have lots of shirts. And of course, I'm still thinking about the blazer. Perhaps it's time for my first pantsuit...

*I'm writing like the Uniqlo x IDLF fall collection didn't happen, because I never actually took a good look at the pieces when they were in stores, so can’t make any comparison where those are concerned.