These mommy style bloggers always look so cool and collected... To your left, dear reader, that's Rachel Parcell of the wildly successful mommy fashion blog Pink Peonies.
Then (swivel right), there's... me.
Have you seen Celeste Barber's hilarious recreation of famous Instagram photos? Well, this is kind of an unintentional version of that as I imitate four of Rachel Parcell's spring look ideas from my own (mostly thrifted) closet rather than purchasing them via her blog/ Saks.
So while my original intention was to convey the same collected air in a thrifted imitation of her expensive outfits, instead, I'm scrambling to find the baby's bottle and my daughter's apple juice. Wait, which bag is it in again? "I'm GETTING THE APPLE JUICE, PUMPKIN FACE. CALM DOWN. USE WORDS. USE WORDS. NO YELL. I mean, no yell!"
Next, that's me again trying and failing to coax my psychotic toddler into the shot while the baby naps way, way too late in the day. He's not going to sleep tonight, I'm not going to sleep tonight.
And that's only look #1, folks, out of Rachel Parcell's "Four New Looks for Spring". I'm already exhausted, starting to sweat.
(Thrifted Frame Jeans from Second Time Around in Philadelphia. Thrifted Twenty Tee from Buffalo Exchange in the East Village, Kohl's jacket, Rag and Bone hat, lace-up flats from Zappos-- a much cheaper, but still beautiful, alternative to Rachel's Aquazzura flats in her outfit, thrifted Kooba bag-- can't remember from where. Again, Buffalo Exchange in the East Village seems to have a lot of them, though= 60% thrifted/ secondhand.)
Chasing my daughter around the eco-friendly salt pool in my apartment complex. Back and forth and back and forth and... Again, how do they do it??
Nannies, Izzy. Just a guess.
(Thrifted Tocca dress, can't remember from where-- never wore it, because I thought it fit like a sack, but there's nothing like carrying an extra 15 lbs in baby weight to fill out a sack dress! I mean a "shift" dress similar to Rachel Parcell's Splendid version-- this is not really a style for anyone with breasts. #thestruggleisreal. Coach bag bought on consignment at Twice as Nice in Ridgefield, CT. Rebecca Minkoff gladiator sandals-- the same white ones as Rachel is wearing in black-- that have lasted three summers now= 75% thrifted)
Not sure where my daughter is in this picture... #parentingfail. But look how serene I look for a second! #socialmediaisnotreallife
(Only my Tory Burch clutch is bought on consignment in this shot. White lace dress turned into a blouse from Pink Yotto in Soho. For Love and Lemons dress transformed into a skirt-- although that was kind of a fun experiment. My new Chinese Laundry sandals, which I've already worn to pieces= 25% thrifted.)
Of course the baby finally wakes up as the sun's going down, and we're losing the light, trying to get this last shot imitating Rachel Parcell's Four Spring Looks for the essay (see below) that I'm writing about shopping in my own closet. (For a comparison, see her post here. )
I do not actually want him in this shot--I have plenty of pictures of him-- he will NOT be put down, though. He will not have it, even though he is wearing his lunch all over his blue t-shirt and his sister's too large rolled-up leggings... Not really aspirational mommying here.
Two seconds after we get the shot below he will barf sweet potato puree all over my skirt.
Glad that was one of the thrifted items in that particular look...
(Denim shirt... can't remember from where. Pour La Victoire sandals from Buffalo Exchange in Chelsea. White skirt from Cadillac's Castle--REALLY amazing consignment-- in the East Village. Rebecca Minkoff bag from Bloomingdales. Miu Miu sunglasses from the Brooklyn Flea= 60ish% thrifted.)
There she is!
Okay, I am literally drenched by this point, sweating down my back as the sun sets. Even better: that's some of my husband's co-workers in the background, eating their dinner by our apartment complex's pool, wondering what in earthly hell I am doing as I traipse around like a happy-go-lucky idiot, slipping in and out of outfits like some sort of latter-day Marie Antoinette. (She used to change six times a day. I've always been fascinated by that for some reason. That sounded exhausting even before I had kids.)
So,Why AM I doing this?...
I can't remember anymore what my daughter did to earn her pink butterfly Barbie, but I do remember how much she longed for it.
It was all she talked about for months and since all she does is talk and her vocabulary is pretty limited, that amounted to a LOT of Barbie talk.
"Pink butterfly Barbie?" She'd ask hopefully every morning, afternoon, and bedtimes, too, as if I could conjure one magically out of the air to lay it beside her in her crib.
"Pink butterfly Barbie beautiful," she'd explain to me at other times, as if I wasn't quite getting the concept.
Finally, the day came. She'd earned it. Pink butterfly Barbie was hers at last.
Did she relish her moment like Gollum once he had the one ring on his bony finger or like those sorority girls who finally manage to photograph their M.R.S.'s equivalent of a diploma for Instagram posterity?
"Pink butterfly Barbie," my daughter screamed joyfully, tearing the box open. But there wasn't only a pink butterfly Barbie in the box. The box also contained a poster with butterfly Barbies in ever shade of the rainbow. "Collect them all," the poster proclaimed in a flowy script across the top. My three-year-old couldn't read, but she inferred the essence of the message.
AT ONCE, she tossed her dearly wished for pink butterfly Barbie aside.
"Purple butterfly Barbie?" she said and again the next morning. And afternoon. And bedtimes in between.
"Purple butterfly Barbie best friends pink butterfly Barbie," she'd explain to me throughout the day.
And that's how it's done, I thought. That's how another little consumer is made.
Emil Zola wrote The Ladies' Paradise about the first department stores, which were built in the 1860s (although he set his story in the 1880s). That might seem like the distant past, but the book presents a chillingly familiar portrait of a modern consumer, albeit one in corsets, gloves, cunning, little hats, and long skirts. If you're into that sort of thing, reading about shopping that is, the book is an almost visual treat. A lot of people have said Zola would have been a film director had he lived in a later age, and that's how his books feel, like a camera zooming in to capture every essential detail, adjusting its focus to capture the evanescent changes of fin-de-siècle light. In fact, his notes about "the poetry of modern activity" are so meticulous that Le Bon Marché, the department store his fictitious one is based on, preserves them as the go-to historical record in their own archives.
However, take it from me, if you don't dig reading catalogues or the sidebars in fashion magazines, this particular novel will read about as flat as toothpaste on the page. If you love shopping, though, the book is a curious and terrifying spectacle of the original shopaholics coaxed into being, mostly bored middle-class housewives with disposable incomes, seduced into a state of mindless frenzy by the new, dazzling displays in large shop windows.
The first time I looked at a Bloomingdale's flyer advertising a sale-- no, make that a SALE!!!!!!!-- I cringed in recognition. My eyes were meant to glaze over, I knew, my thoughts to scatter to the four winds and transform from coagulated logic to the buzz of desire. Perturbed, I crumpled up the flyer. I've always found seduction a turn-off. I remember the first time a guy hit on me. It was after college== my college sweetheart doesn't count; that meet-cute was sweet and full of heart. The game guys were playing in bars was something else. Not cute. Not sweet.
Well, Rory Gilmore being my spirit animal and all, I immediately went out and got three books on the subject of seduction. (Actually, those books still didn't really help. It wasn't until my cousin Bonnie, a seducer/ player herself sat me down and explained things to me that I really began to understand what was going on. If you're curious how to deal/ avoid with those gamers yourself, I wrote up her advice here.) Even if I couldn't quite grasp what was happening, I could tell I was being manipulated. It made me angry not desirous. I tried to understand, because I sensed understanding could abrogate seduction's power, and return power to myself.
Zola's book accidentally did the same thing for me with my shopping habit, shed light on a situation that made me feel weak and needy. I'm beginning to see how my own shopaholic tendencies--my foolish, embarrassing, happy delight in pretty things-- is exacerbated and played upon by the world's most skilled seducers, and I do not like it. Kierkegaard in his Diary of a Seducer (which, incidentally is the least Kierkagaard-y book you can imagine if you're going based on his reputation for dense, difficult prose. It's entertaining, actually, not oblique. He openly and evilly discusses the desire he, or Johannes the Seducer as he calls himself (ha), feels to empty his victims' souls)... anyway that book by the human mind's expert philosopher has nothing as far as technique goes on the Mad Men.
Maybe those Mad Men were good, but I couldn't unread what Zola had shown me. My eyes were opened at last! I could overcome! I could change! I could...
I had stumbled on Rachel Parcell's Instagram and blog. She's a fair-skinned brunette (like me); she's a mother (also like me) but always looks polished and presentable and very up-to-date chic (not so much like me). But maybe... if I bought.. if I shopped...
I wanted to be Rachel Parcell.
Partially, I wanted to look that deliriously, mindlessly happy. (Which has more to do with the clusterfuck that is this election season than bad spending habits.) Oh, and thin. (The baby weight is coming off pretty slowly. When I showed my husband a picture of Rachel Parcell, he said that would be like me wanting him to look like this fella.) Well, I couldn't purchase her barbie bod but I could purchase.... and I began to look at the links her site so helpfully provides to the stores where she purchased each #ootd.
I got as far as the first link (the Rag and Bone hat) when I realized I already owned several of the things she was wearing.
My senses had been overcome again, as Zola put it. Who had overcome them? Whose voice was this in my head urging me to buy, buy, buy, shop, shop, shop, possess, possess, possess, budgets be damned!
Suddenly, I felt like Harry Potter when someone tries to put an Imperius Curse on him.
You don't need more shoes, my good angel tried to say. You literally already have those Rebecca Minkoff sandals she's wearing in her third look. And you own a red bag. And a white skirt... And two denim shirts.
But I don't have those fringe-y adorable heels, the Imperius voice whined. Those would make any outfit look so fleek.
That's $500 bucks for a couple flaps of leather, the little voice replied, unimpressed.
Well, yes, but...But. They're adorable flaps.
Okay, so they're adorable. Why must you put those adorable shoes on your feet when you already own other adorable shoes?
I... I... Actually, I don't know. You're right. I have enough shoes to put Imelda Marcos to shame. And the Imperius voice faltered and died away.
Mostly. It was kind of still there, urging me to rethink my decision. Just open a Saks card, the voice said (as I'm sure it was expressly meant to). Put it all on credit! That's crazy talk, I told myself. I felt like my daughter with her forgotten pink butterfly Barbie.
This is just a purple butterfly Barbie, I argued with the greed. (Collect 'em all, little girl!) Instead, I turned to my own closet to check if it was as bad as I suspected.
Yep. Indeed I owned pretty much every item Rachel Parcell was wearing, or as good as. I had a Rag and Bone hat. Lace-up flats, not Aquazurra but plenty cute nonetheless. The slightly distressed jeans were second-hand Frame ones from Second Time Around in Philadelphia, the Tory Burch clutch bought on consignment in Brooklyn. At least half the items I'm wearing in the above pictures were secondhand. Maybe the overall effect isn't as sharp, and the style isn't really my own. That was the funniest thing I discovered something in this exercise to combat my own seduction. I didn't particularly like dressing sophisticated and ladylike like Rach (who looks beautiful that way. I don't mean to attack her. It's just her post happened to spark this experiment). I'm a Lower East Side girl at heart. I grew up adoring my ultra-cool older Parisian sister, and no French girl has ever met a hairbrush she can be friends iwth. I like looking kind of dishevelled and funky in my thrifted scores.
I didn't want to be a purple butterfly Barbie. Or a pink one, either, for that matter.
I didn't want more stuff, either. To my increasing dismay, I realized I hadn't even worn 70% of the things I'm wearing in the pictures above... not ever. The thought of adding to the mess of my closet exhausted, not excited me. The greed melted away. At least for the moment.
I like fashion, because it expresses a part of me. It's an artistic project I can go out into the world wearing. Maybe department stores and Mad Men have tried to preempt that urge, but I think we can take our power back by reveling in what we already have and recognizing how much we like it. It might not be the newest, latest thing, but it's our thing. It means something to us, and that's when you can actually enjoy fashion instead of it enjoying you.
On the third anniversary (give or take a day... I shot these photos on April 24, the anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy but didn't have a chance to sit down and gather my thoughts until now), I was happy to discover that I can be at least a small part of the change I wish I could see in the world. There is a cure for the fast fashion madness that is helping to trash African economies, destroy the environment, and led to the worst ever garment-factory accident in history.
I don't mean to preach, though. What right do I have, after all? I have been a big part of the problem myself, what with working as a model for plenty of fast fashion companies, not to mention the shopping habit that I'm still fighting to overcome. So by all means, shop. Shopping has led to greater economic freedom for women in Bangladesh, who make up the bulk of the workforce there, but keep in mind as visions of Rachel Parcells and purple butterfly Barbies dance in your head: there is someone who makes every single thing you wear. There is a human being with dreams and desires and purple butterfly Barbie ambitions of their own, and they deserve safe working conditions.
It's time to ask department stores and fashion labels and everyone in between to care about the people who make their seductive displays possible. Slowing down our consumption will help the planet, its people, but it will help us, too.
Because, for once, wouldn't it be nice to actually be able to enjoy that pink butterfly Barbie we all so desperately think we need to have?
You can read more of my thoughts on the shopaholic syndrome and other maladies and joys in my chapbook published by Finishing Line Press, available now on Amazon here!
As I wrote recently in this piece for xo Jane, I was raised by a second-wave feminist mother. For those of you not current with the confusing surfing terms that make up feminism, what that essentially means is my mom was one of those 70s-era feminists who wanted to uproot the patriarchy by rejecting all their notions of how to define femininity and the feminine experience. As such, she didn't wear lipstick or blush or own cupboards full of beauty products.
Wait... I don't know why I'm writing in the past tense, except that I'm describing my experience growing up with her as my female role model. She's still that way: the only makeup she owns is a chewed-up nub that maybe once could have been described as a Maybelline eyeliner. Her idea of a "beauty product" is a crusty tub of Noxzema, and while she does always smell delicious-- her one 'luxury" as she calls it is a bottle of Oscar de la Renta's lotion, a smell I'll always associate with her-- that's the only concession she's ever made to being feminine. She doesn't speak softly or sweetly, (although some of that is because she's a native New Yorker). She never wears pink.
I am the opposite of her in every way, and I've always felt conflicted about that.
I adore pink. But then again I adore every color in the rainbow, and have my closet organized by shade to make finding my thrift-store finds easier. I'm simpatico to a fault, and I have to remind myself that it's okay to say 'no' to people sometimes. Whenever I get into a group, I try to turn the whole thing into a cocktail party and frequently end up exhausting myself, trying to make everyone else happy. (This has become particularly an issue since I've had kids and am essentially always in a group.) Most of all, I love pretty things: dresses, shoes, baubles, bottles and bottles of sweet-smelling unguents. I've always been this way, actually, pretty much since I could function both my arms. I'd choose my own outfits, and they'd always be so impractical my mother would have to fight me to add tights to my shorts in winter or beg me not to wear my new winter coat in the hot southern falls.
We fought a lot. I often felt my mother preferred my sister, a sustainability scientist (more or less) who also eschews makeup and frippery.
Despite our differences, my sister and I became best friends, and my mother and I managed to negotiate a truce,
But, even with reviling the patriarchy and all, too, I couldn't and can't help myself: I love lipstick and heels. I love them. So. Much.
Still, as I've gotten older, I haven't been able to ignore the other costs that come along with adoring beauty. I got so wrapped up with modeling in New York that I lost touch with myself entirely. I didn't like the person I became, but luckily, I became pregnant with my daughter and gained 70 lbs, so that handily solved that problem, and I was insta-cured of a loathsome, soul-crushing form of vanity. I also started thinking a lot about the hidden costs that came along with my interest in fashion. Specifically, who was making my clothes. The disaster in Dhaka just after my daughter was born was a watershed moment in my life.
I'd just purchased her first summer clothes, and they literally arrived the same day I learned Gap used that Dhaka factory to make its cheap, amazingly affordable, cute clothes. Inside her denim jacket, I read the words, "Made with love" embroidered into the collar. On the tag, there were other words.
Made in Bangladesh.
Maybe made in the Dhaka factory? Maybe made by someone who had died, because they were working in unsafe, inhumane working conditions just so women like me could afford to buy adorable, coordinated wardrobes for their infants?
Of course, I can't make myself responsible for all the world's ills, but it made me want to be more aware of where my clothes came from and who was making them. There's a fashion revolution going on-- a sustainable one not a style one despite what the magazines might claim-- and the former is the one I want to be a part of. It's slow-going-- I'm now on baby #2 and losing my marbles on a daily basis. (As my husband put it recently, "You know, it's okay to be barely hanging on.) But this blog is devoted to my education, slow-going though it might be, and I hope it inspires others, too, to look at making changes here and there. Eventually, those changes could really add up, and as my sister the scientist put it, "It's a wider systemic problem."
If we don't understand the system, though, how can we change it?
It's time to catch another wave... and anyway as the photoshoot above shows, it's the inner light and attitude, the delight in wearing something pretty that are really what make you feel (and look) chic.
Photography by Aaron Kinney. Hair and makeup by me. Dress from Housing Works in Soho. Check them out! They are a non-profit whose proceeds go to fighting the twin crises of AIDS and homelessness: http://www.housingworks.org/ Also in honor of National Poetry Month, I'll beg of you to please check out two of my poems recently published here and here.
I'm a busy mommy of two and a writer who loves fashion. I also want to teach myself and my children to care for and love the environment! I don't have the energy or time to be as 100% perfect as I'd like to be about my carbon footprint, but I'm trying to do the best I can. For example, I switched to a vegetarian diet (with a little bit of fish thrown in for now-- ah I cannot live without fish tacos!--), walk when I don't have to drive, wear as many sustainably made or secondhand clothes as I can, and recycle in other ways, too. Follow me as I try (at least 50% of the time) to strike a balance between the two-- mothering and writing, shopping and sustainability. You can also follow me on Twitter or Instagram @IsabellaMDavid.