I've always envied women who have a uniform. Not like an actual uniform, although it does sound nice to know exactly what you're going to wear every day, especially at 6:30 in the morning when I am bleary-eyed, contemplating which sweatpants I can get away with for the morning school run without triggering looks of concern from my children's teachers.
By uniform, I mean the word in the sense fashion has co-opted it to mean: a look that is uniquely that woman's own look and that she can conjure into existence easily, quickly, and mysteriously with the same blouse or jeans that might look boring on me and instead look simple and sophisticated on her. In a word: effortless style, which every woman knows is an illusion, but an illusion I've longed to learn the trick of, the way I used to practice flipping coins around my fingers for hours when I was a child. I never did learn how to conjure coins from children's ears.. and have more or less lost the ambition to do so, to be honest. But here are a few tricks I have picked up from living in and around New York and Paris or at least Parisians like my older sister, some of my friends, and a bunch of my children's teachers* for most of my adult life.
*A proviso: Keep in mind, these days Parisian style is more a state of mind than a geographical requirement! I'm French-American, a dual citizen, so my kids go to a bilingual school in Philadelphia, and I really need to start the French language learning portion of this blog sooner than later... Anyway, I've geared this post towards a French take on capsule wardrobes, because I find myself most inspired by that aesthetic, but you could recreate this capsule wardrobe (and if you do, please tag me!) as a Portland girl or New York girl (or woman or boy!) or any of the aesthetics that match either the region you're from or the region that most resonates with you. Also, you might be surprised how many of the pieces below you already possess in your closet and how it really only does take a tweak here or there to make those basics WERK!
1. Striped Top
I had to start this list with off with ze famous striped top (and get really in-depth with it), because, in my experience, that's what springs to mind when anyone hears "French girl style". I'm not sure how the striped top became ubiquitous with French style, and I feel like a study in that subject could become an essay of its own! I do know, when I was acting in New York, a casting agent literally cast me as Miss France in a music video for that HBO show Flight of the Conchords, only because I was French and then... my language speaking skills ended up having nothing to do with the part.
I still reckon it had more to do with the fact I'd also said I owned a striped top.
Luckily, I thought it was funny when they asked me to show up on set with said striped top, as well as capri pants and a beret. (All of which, I'd owned but had never put together in one look, because...urgh.) When they handed me a baguette to carry around on stage, I wondered if I ought to be offended. I 100% knew for a fact MANY of my French relatives would have been offended by the reductive stereotype, but then Jemaine Clement and Brett McKenzie turned up on set, which was in this huge, abandoned warehouse in Brooklyn near, or maybe even part of, the Navy Shipyards. The two stars had a zany, infectious energy. I sighed, deciding to just have fun with it.
After the video shot, me and a bunch of the other "ladies of the world" walked back to the subway together, talking, laughing, more than a little frightened by the odd, abandoned corner of New York City we'd spent the morning working in. Still, it ended up being a great memory.
That said, I would urge caution when wielding the striped top! You don't want to look like a reductive French cliché, even if so many of us do want to look like a Parisian girl. Go for fit and experiment with the stripes and colors that look best on you. I love this striped top by Ronny Kobo that I'm wearing above, and that I found secondhand on eBay. The bell sleeves make it special and the cropped top goes great with high-waisted jeans. (Another staple of the French girl capsule wardrobe. See Tip #3!) Also here's the video. Feel free to laugh at my ridiculous costume if you can spot me!
2. Neutral Heels
Okay, if you're still reading, I LOVE YOU and because I love you, I will try to keep the rest of this list succinct. I did have to reference the time I LITERALLY WORE A FRENCH GIRL UNIFORM when writing a French girl capsule wardrobe post, after all, right???
Anyway, back to the list: so, I found these pre-owned cap-toed Chanel heels from 2016 on Tradesy in brand-new condition last year! There are now a bunch of similar versions available from Sam Edelman and others at ShopBop. I linked to them on the Like To Know It app. You can follow me there to shop both my new and thrifted and vintage picks! Also, really any sort of neutral heel will work at making a jeans and tee outfit look a little more polished. Look for a neutral color that matches your skin tone. It will help to elongate your legs! (Also, a neutral, round-toed heel goes with everything.) Something else to look for: I have become a huge fan of two inch heels. Yes, maybe it's because I'm a busy mom, but I also love clothes, as in this capsule wardrobe post, that can be worn in multiple ways. And I find two-inch heels go easily from day to night!
)3. High-waisted light denim
As I mentioned above, this style goes great with cropped tops. It also makes easier to tuck in a sweater. Another way to tweak your outfit French. Or half-tuck that sweater for a sophisticated but relaxed-looknig "French tuck" as Tan, one of the Queer Eye guys has even dubbed that tweak.
As for high-waisted denim, you can find loads of them in vintage shops. I also love these sustainably made Agolde jeans I bought new at Revolve, because they're made of recycled materials and the 90s fit is just right. FYI I also love Levi's, one of the few huge brands making a sustainable initiatives. There is also not only something French, but something '90s timeless about high-waisted jeans. I was recently re-watching Friends and this lightwash look is the one most favored by Monica's character! In fact, I loved ALL of the Friends' outfits all of a sudden. The '90s are unequivocally seeing a comeback. Most of all, though, I noticed the built-to-last quality of the "Friends'" clothes. I don't know if this recent pushback against fast fashion is part of that 90s come-back, but the clothes Monica, Rachel, and Phoebe wear in the show looked less trendy, sturdier, and more wearable-- aka modern! I hope the trend continues! Check this piece out in The Washington Post about the recent "tipping point" in fast fashion. Also, Elizabeth Cline, who I recently interviewed here is quoted in the piece!
4. A black leather jacket
Okay, phew, I promised to stick to the point, but, you guys, fashion and its history and vintage stuff and costumes might be my favorite thing to chat about. (I love books and movies, too. I have an upcoming post about some picks for fall good reads and fireside watches.) I admit I get a little over-enthused. I'll let the rest of the pieces speak for themselves, except to say I found this Maje jacket new with tags on eBay!!! AND the seller has several more new and pre-owned versions in his eBay shop, including a few by Sandro and others. Follow me on the Like To Know It app to see the others! A classic leather jacket is unquestionably an item you can easily score secondhand, while upping the quality of the garment, no matter your budget. For example, my pre-owned jacket cost a fifth of the price of a new Maje jacket by buying it secondhand, even with having to pay $30 to ship it from Russia!
5. A black tailored skirt & 6. Cat-eyed sunglasses or classic black sunglasses
I'm endlessly thrifting beautiful, tailored black skirts and experimenting with which length looks best on me. I like just above the knee or right on the knee. I purchased a short Reformation skirt this summer, and I felt so uncomfortable. Being sexy and chic isn't about showing a lot of skin. It's about being comfortable in said skin. (Urgh, you know what I mean, I hope.) Cat-eyed sunglasses also come in different shapes btw, so don't write the style off because one pair, once at a fair or a vintage shop didn't suit you! Even if you really think they don't suit you, you might want to try experimenting with thinner or thicker frames. I have a rounder pair that don't suit me as well as these YSL sunnies above. They're Nina Ricci, and I ought to find them a more loving home in my Poshmark closet... https://poshmark.com/closet/isabelladavid.
7. White button-down tailored shirt & 8. A Nice Black or Brown Belt
I would argue that item #7 is maybe the most important one in your French girl capsule wardrobe, more important even than a striped top, but I promised to keep my asides to a minimum. If you, as I used to do, think white blouses are boring, may I suggest two remedies:
a. Maybe try a different style of white blouse than the classic buttoned-down version. One, say, without a collar? Or maybe a lacy, delicate version to help you ease into the look? There's nothing corporate or cold or masculine (if such is your complaint) about a white, lacey Edwardian or Victorian blouse.
b. Check out Jane Birkin in a white, button-down shirt, And realize what you have been missing all your life and all you needed in your toolkit was this shirt. (Mine is by Sézane and the belt is from Rouje. I feel like the R confuses people swimming in a sea of Gucci "G"s and it makes me giggle.)
9. A soft neutral sweater in a classic cut
I began buying my sweaters secondhand when I realized I could get Isabel Marant sweaters and cashmere sweaters for peanuts online. I never fret if they pill, and actually, because of the original price point and the quality of the fibers, they rarely do.
Anyway, my point is, this list of classic, built-to-last essentials is within anyone's means if you do a little hunting for quality in a thrift store or on eBay! And all these pieces are easily found and mixed and matched. (Mine in the image above, which I originally shot for a post on "How to Do a Fishtail Braid", is by Isabel Marant from Poshmark. It retails for $400, I think. I got it for $50!) That leads me to the last but not least...
10. White Jeans or White Trousers That You Can Wear Any Season
This is a new one for me and maybe even more challenging than learning to embrace a button-down top-- the one struck me as too conservative before, while the other I felt restricted from wearing in any season by the same conservative mindset I was eschewing. I used to keep my white pants for summer, but the more French style accounts or Jane Birkin fan accounts I follow, the more open I've become to wearing white jeans all year round. If the thought worries you, start a little easier with a pair of beautifully tailored trousers instead.
The beauty of this list is that I'm suggesting you seek out the most basic, neutral pieces from your wardrobe and really start putting them to work, focusing on making them werk for you, instead of buying new, trendy pieces that you never end up wearing more than once. Instead of that noise, focus on caring for the clothes you do own, filling in the gaps in your wardrobe where you find them and then from there, ensure a good fit by getting to know your local tailor or cobbler! Most of all, have lots of fun finding ways to create sophisticated looks with the pieces you own and maybe, every season, a fresh accessory or basic or two.
As I've been exploring finding a sense of my own style through this blog, I've more and more come to appreciate the classic simplicity and elegance of the so-called "French girl". Even if the above pieces felt costume-y and dressed-up at first, more and more I crave a sense of elegance, simplicity, and ease of dressing. I also appreciate that when I buy a piece that fits within that French girl ethos or uniform, a. it's nice to know the piece will probably never go out of style and b. I love that it's easy to mix and match all these basics and always come out of with a stunning combination!
What do you think? Which look is your favorite? Which pieces would be on your own list of necessities?
Above: I'm wearing a secondhand Ulla Johnson dress from eBay with a new Brixton hat from Revolve that I'm also tempted to purchase it in purple. What do you guys think? Harper is in a Doên dress similar to this one and a thrifted Helen Kaminski boater from Greene Street Consignment in Chestnut Hill. I loved our outfits so much I ended up sketching them. Check it out below and let me know if you prefer the black and white or color!
I put my blog on pause this spring in order to focus on getting my family settled in our new home. Now, that that's accomplished-- beds are bought and made up, playrooms are organized, pictures are hung on the walls, and everyone's up to date with doctor and dentist AND vet visits aiaiai-- I've been going through pics stored on my laptop from this spring. I can't believe I never shared this idyllic day with you guys! First of all, I want to keep it fresh in my head, because I want to be sure to make it back to Holland Ridge Farms next year in plenty of time to enjoy the tulips in full bloom. We actually ended up visiting on the very last day that the farm was open this spring! We felt very lucky to have made it all, and even though it was late in the season, it was a perfect day of chicken-watching, pony-riding, tulip-picking, and food trucks. As you can see from some of the brown rows in the images above, the tulips had started dying. It will be incredible to see the farm in its fully glory next spring!
Did you guys have a chance to visit any tulip farms this spring? Have any of you been to Holland? Tulips are my favorite flower, so I'd dearly love to go one day! (Plus, I'd love to see the canals of Amsterdam.) In New York City, tulips would suddenly turn up in little bunches in the buckets outside my neighborhood bodega, and I'd know it was officially fall. They signify cool temps and cozy times to me.
Dress by Dôen last year. Similar here.
Bag by Faithfull the Brand. Sold out everywhere but Bloomingdales.
Vegetable-dyed clogs by Swedish Hasbeens. Similar here.
Okay, not technically wearing a "designer" bag per se in these pics, but I have collected quite a few secondhand ones now! And most of them recently. As in the past three or four years, ever since I discovered the magical fact that you can buy a vintage Chanel purse, and it's just as nice (if not more special) than a new Chanel purse and at a quarter of the price. A Chanel bag keeps its value, so even the secondhand ones are usually quite pricey, BUT there are ways around that if your heart is set on Chanel (or Chloé or YSL) and the wallet does not quite allow. I'll be going into that in the post below, along with a few other tips and tricks I've picked up along the way!
I actually enjoy collecting all kinds of bags. The straw one above is a Faithfull the Brand (one of my favorite sustainable brands) basket bag I bought on sale at ShopBop. (It's sold out everywhere but Bloomingdales for some reason. Maybe because they haven't put it on sale. Click the link above if you still dig it!) Or, if your heart is set on a designer bag, and you're interested in both a budget AND earthy friendly option, read on below:
1. Proceed with Extreme Caution
I don't quite understand why some bags are so valued above others to the point that people would buy fakes just to have a bag (ostensibly) from that brand. Chanel bags really are truly beautiful, and I'm not sure if I've seen a fake. I have walked past these terrifying stalls that pop up off Canal Street, where the world's most shifty-eyed people coax you to check out these sad, huge piles of fake YSL and Louis bags for twenty or so bucks a pop. There's a weird, make-shift, off-putting, nervous vibe to the illegal enterprise of fake bags that makes me walk faster. Although, last time I was in NYC, I noticed out of the corner of my eye, the bags looked pretty legit.
So why buy "real"? If you do look closer at a true designer bag, a Chanel, for example, it is exquisitely sewn. The material is gorgeous and soft-- I prefer caviar leather to lambskin both for easier upkeep and because the lambskin makes me sad to think about even secondhand. I can't quite understand why people would bother buying fakes just to pretend to have a certain kind of bag. I mean, I guess I get it, but it seems silly. (If you Google "concept of authenticity and fashion" there are SO many fascinating pieces on the subject. Here's one.) In a nutshell: I think quality always matters more than labels. Sometimes labels can even look a little vulgar. I feel like Instagram has made me sick of a certain pair of double Gs. There are SO many exquisite bags out there that are not designer. I love Polene Paris, and really lust for one! Sézane makes gorgeous bags. And Rouje has started to make not only straw bags, but cute leather satchels as well, not to mention that this summer, I can tell you, harmless bamboo and straw bags are in. There are incredible vintage options as well, and Clare V makes some cute vegan bags, too!
However, if you do want to buy a designer bag secondhand, you do have to watch out BIGTIME for fakes marketed as the real thing. Unlike the at least semi-honest knockoff dealers in Manhattan, some people will actually try to charge you more for a fake bag than they would if they were just selling them as fakes. The whole thing is kind of creepy and puzzling. Metaphysical questions of authenticity aside, it's soul-crushing to spend your hard-earned dollars on an item that isn't "real". I realized what a close brush I had with this issue when I bought my third designer bag. A gently used Céline bag bought from a random seller on eBay. I realized, when I received the very cute but plain black leather bag, that it would have been so, so, so easy to replicate a fake. Only after buying the bag, did I spend the time authenticating it. I'm 99% sure it's authentic, and of course eBay guarantees its purchases, but I think the whole thing could have turned into an ordeal. Now I spend time beforehand authenticating my purchase myself. With Chanel, your bag should come with at least an image of a serial number and an authenticity card that helps give you peace of mind, although I guess those could be very easily faked. The issue people don't consider is that designer bags are good investments: they don't depreciate much in value and they're often "guaranteed" by the designer. I've heard you can take your Louis Vuitton bag to be repurposed for free, although I haven't tried it yet with my own secondhand ones. That's all to say, if you're plunking down money for a certain bag, you should take the time to make sure you're actually getting what's being advertised.
2. Shop from Reliable Secondhand Retailers Only
There are a few shops I trust now on eBay like Linda's Stuff or Cocoa's Fab Finds or Luxury Garage Sales. I would urge caution shopping on eBay from sellers of designer bags with fewer than several hundred (or even thousand) ratings, and even then do your homework! I have yet to purchase from The Real Real, but I've checked out their site extensively and have heard great things. One of the things I like about the retailers I mentioned above is that they're all really good about disclosing any flaws-- an aspect of secondhand designer bag shopping that I'll go into in my next point. Tradesy can be good as well, but the prices are usually a little steeper and if you do have an issue their customer service is horrendous and their return policy is Tradesy credit only. Some other vintage and secondhand sellers that I love are Rice and Beans Vintage (Anine Bing consigns her stuff there!) and a consignment shop in Ridgefield, CT called Bring 'n Buy (will check if they have a website).
If you're really into thrifting, there's always a chance you'll spot a designer bag out in the wild, but that's pretty darn rare/ unheard of. I did just get into collecting vintage Etienne Aigner bags (although how cute and vintage is this new one) and then I found TWO of them at Shop Greene Street this past week for only $18 a pop! (Greene Street is a consignment shop in the Philadelphia area.) But that kind of sighting is pretty rare and even rarer in the case of high end designers. I'd say hunting around online for the bag of your dreams at a price point that works for you is a better use of your time and wallet! That brings me to...
3. It Is 100% Possible to Afford a Designer Bag, But...
Yep, there's a "but". My first Chanel bag had a big scratch across the back and some wear on the corners. The seller disclosed all the issues, and the price and dark lipstick red color were incredible, so I went ahead and purchased it. If your heart is set on owning a Chanel bag or a Saint Laurent or what have you, it is possible, but you may have to lower your standards to "gently used" or even very used until the price matches what you can reasonably afford to purchase without breaking your bank account. (I don't think you should break your bank account! As a blogger, I felt it would help grab people's eyes if I featured a vintage Chanel bag with my thrifted outfits, so it was a worthwhile investment for me. But as I wrote above, there are plenty of beautiful non-designer bags out there that will look stunning with any outfit.) However, the good news is that sometimes sellers will overstate an issue. I recently found my first (gently used) Chloé bag at an excellent price. The seller described it as having dirt on it, but the pictures looked fine. I could discern no dirt! I crossed my fingers and made the purchase. The bag arrived so quickly! (Bought from My Designerly. They also offer layaway FYI, as does Rice and Beans Vintage!) I could discern NO DIRT on the pale gray bag whatsoever. It looks brand spanking new. (You can see lots of images of it and my other vintage designer bags on my Instagram @IsabellaDavidVintage.) I decided not to question the goodness of the gods and remain mystified but happy I got the bag.
4. Be Patient and Flexible
Spend some time, or even A LOT of time, hunting around for the right bag at the right price for you. You'll learn so much about different bags and different price points this way. You'll get a good sense of what's out there and what constitutes a good price, and you might even find a hidden treasure on sale that you hadn't even considered before!
The Truly Great Story of How I Got My First Designer Bag
Wait, did I claim you can't find designer bags out in the wild? How could I have forgotten the all-time greatest story of how I thrifted my very first designer bag-- a Louis Vuitton satchel. I was living in Soho at the time and working as a catalogue model. This was 2010, but I had just moved in with my now husband, whose apartment it was. Everything in that neighborhood was too rich for my blood, so I tended to stop into the Second Time Around Consignment shop on my way home to console myself for all the boutiques I had to pass on by. (One of my best thrift tips is to thrift where the wealthy people live. They will wear a stunning dress ONCE and then toss it, because, and I quote "I got photographed in it." This was from an ordinary but wealthy girl that I met in NYC who equated Facebook with the Daily Mail.) This particular STA branch was just off Prince and closed a couple years ago. (There's a Housing Works in Tribeca now, and I'm dying to stop in there one of these days!)
Anyway, so around that time, way back in the early part of the century-- ha, this story is making me feel old--Bravo had just started a short-lived reality show set in the consignment shop. The day I went in and found the Louis bag hanging in an ordinary rack alongside a bunch of other random purses, the three diva stars of the show happened to be working. I brought my find to the counter, and I could tell pretty fast from their unfriendly stares that semi- Bravo fame had gone to their heads. It was almost like the cameras started rolling, because they were primed for drama, because the beautiful bag gleaming there on the counter became the focal point of said drama. I mentioned already that I was completely broke back then and only living in Soho because my boyfriend (now husband) already had an apartment there. But that day was special, so I was treating myself to what I thought was a $125 bag. I had just happened to have gotten paid in cash for a miserable catalogue job in Midtown, and the money was still warm in my pocket. (Miserable as in they'd roll out these racks of ugly polyester clothes and you had to put on and take off one hideous garment after another for hours and hours without breaks or food. Modeling is definitely not a glamorous career unless you're one of the handful of supermodels.) Anyway, I laid the bag carefully on the glass counter, and one of the women, who I recognized from the show, sniffed like a British duchess before a commoner who had not curtseyed.
"This is not priced correctly," she said, eyeing the bag. I almost apologized as if I had been the one to misprice the bag! "This bag should be more than that."
My heart sank. It was on the tip of my tongue to ask how much the bag was, but before I could get the words out, with one fluid motion, she swooped the bag up and put it behind the counter with the other more expensive items.
"Wait," I said. "I still want the bag."
That was false. Actually, I now mostly wanted the bag, because her rudeness angered me. The way she was treating me was exactly the way I'd seen her disdainfully treat customers on the Bravo show. That same mixture of contempt and ill humor that bespeaks unwarranted drama and probably attracted the producers to her in the first place. She looked me up and down slowly, giving me the oddest sensation that a camera was recording the scene. It was Pretty Woman-in-that-boutique level upsetting and surreal. Her behavior was also a little crazy. SHE WAS ACTING FOR CAMERAS THAT WEREN'T EVEN THERE! And then she said it. I'll never forget. A Bravo Reality villain worthy line.
"You couldn't afford it."
I went very hot and then very cold, and suddenly, I was transformed into the superhero version of myself I wish I could be all the time. I literally have a name for her! I call her Brooklyn Izzy. (My mother is from Brooklyn and my father from France, but I mostly grew up in Virginia. From that odd combination, most New Yorkers assume I'm Canadian, because, I'm that mild-mannered, polite, and (I quote many a New Yorker) "so nice". I stutter. I'm shy. I would never seek out a conflict, but sometimes, every now and then, a conflict finds me. And not just any conflict triggers the superhero version of me. It has to be the kind that fills me with a righteous fury, when I know I'm 100% in the right as I was in this case. And when it does, it's like this other personality jumps into the tollbooth of my mind, does a quick change into a cape and takes over, and NO ONE crosses Brooklyn Izzy.
"So how much is it?" I asked her.
This time she told me a price (out of thin air mind you), but she cut the camera-worthy antics.
I took the cash out of my pocket in what was maybe the most baller and possibly foolish (considering how broke I actually was) moment of my life and I slapped down THE EXACT amount. $375. Everything I'd been paid that morning. A stupid but stunning act of bravado. And oh so worth it.
I completed the transaction, and then it was as if the petty spirit of that reality show infected me too for a moment. It wasn't great, but I looked at her and the other guy from the show who had joined in, drawn to the scent of brewing drama. I was still cool, calm, and collected, operating with that lightning running through my veins.
"This is going to make a great story on Yelp," I told them, and they got SO upset.
At first the woman in charge accused me of threatening her with Yelp, and I had to point out it was her own words I was going to repeat. I was so calm and matter of fact that she calmed down, too. (Brooklyn Izzy is always says the exact right thing at the right moment. WHY cannot I be her ALL the time instead of my usual tongue-tied self??) If she didn't like her own words, I pointed out to that fame-crazed woman, why did she say them? I think that's when she apologized, and I mostly kept the story to myself. (It's been nearly a decade, and the shop is closed now.) I never shopped in that shop again. It's closed now, and through the secondhand grapevine I heard a rumor that, ironically enough, it was a potential issue with shady practices!
I guess it was all worth the encounter with crazed Bravo reality stars, because it's been almost ten years and I still use and love that bag! And it still looks great!
So that brings us back to the beginning: like I said when I started this piece, tread carefully. Even secondhand, the designer bag game is both a thrilling and a dangerous one! May the odds be in your favor!
What's your best thrift score? Have you ever bought a gently used designer bag? Where did you make your purchase?
I often say my favorite part about thrifting is the chance it offers me to learn more about designers who would otherwise be out of my price range. I actually first learned about the designer Ulla Johnson on Instagram. A happy result of a newfound interest in #sustainablefashion! However, when I Googled where to shop her pieces, I was crushed to learn her silk dresses ran in the $500 price range. Even her blouses were about $300!! I think it was around then I fell in love with eBay, Poshmark, and online consignment retail in general. Instead of scavenging for whatever treasures I happened upon, my thrifting took on a more x-marks-the-spot flavor. (FYI I haven't shopped from the Real Real yet, but I've heard excellent things, have browsed extensively, and noticed they have a supreme selection of Ulla Johnson pieces!)
My tailored online searches do sometimes help me find Ulla's pieces on sale on sites like ShopBop. (I just bought her popcorn Baranco tote for summer for 60% off here!) But I was thrilled when, on one of said searches, I found the embroidered Ulla Johnson peasant blouse I'm wearing in this post (above). (Only $75 on eBay. It's also a size 2, but I gambled on it anyway. Because peasant blouses are cut generously, it fits me fine! I also own Ulla pieces in sizes 4-10! Size doesn't matter. Fit is king!) The score reaped even more rewards after I posted it to my Instagram stories: one of my Romanian friends messaged me to tell me I was actually wearing a traditional Romanian blouse!
"Really?" I wondered, privately questioning how Mircea could know that. Wasn't the top simply an embroidered shirt? Wrong! So wrong! My pretty blouse was far, far, far from "simple" as it turns out. "Google 'la blouse roumaine'," my friend urged me. So I did only to learn, much to my delight, how truly layered and textured the history of my old, thrifted shirt really is...
Henri Matisse "La Blouse Roumaniane" painted in 1940
I believe fashion is art. It can express many things. Even a simple pair of blue jeans and a white t-shirt expresses a state of mind. Even a NorthFace jacket and Uggs does the same, even if it's not the most original look. However, I don't mean to criticize the desire to conform. (When I was younger, I used to bitterly resent conservatively dressed people, because of the odd looks and comments my outfits garnered outside of the Lower East Side. Now I shrug my shoulders, because the LES, I know now, is a state of mind.) As far as conformity goes, in this year and in my region of the world, NorthFace jackets and Uggs are as ubiquitous as Romanian blouses once were in another part of the world. It could even be argued that the uniform of a warm black jacket and comfortable shoes is worn just as much to express age and social status just as the Romanian blouse was embroidered with flowers and images to do the same. Whether you think your outfit is fashion or not is beside the point: your clothes speak. If your outfit expresses a desire for comfort, that's up to the individual to choose function over form, but I do think people who wear fantastical colors and shapes and do so fabulously are a lot more fun (for me) to look at and promise to tell a heckuva lot more fantastical tales.
For example, there is no NorthFace jacket that inspired an artist as the Romanian blouse has done. In fact, the blouse has experienced a modern revival outside Romania because of a famous painting in 1940 by Matisse called "La Blouse Roumaine", which is why my top now exists and how this top I'm wearing is now deliciously referred to in the fashion world. The painting then inspired Yves Saint Laurent in 1981 to explore traditional Romanian costumes in a now landmark fashion show, from reincarnations of long, luscious skirts to crowns of gleaming braids, and, finally, the peasant blouse whose colors and embroidery not only express the wearer's status but are also distinctive markers of different regions of the country. Later on, designers such as Tom Ford and Phillippe Guilet drew inspiration from the same source. Now, Ulla Johnson is offering her own take on the traditional garment.
Why do you think so many designers have been inspired by this blouse? Do you own one?
In the end, what struck me in my reserach was how not one but FOUR Romanian and French writers, artists, and poets are said to have inspired Matisse's paintings and sketches of the Romanian blouse, as much as the gift to Matisse of an "IA", which is how the Romanian blouse is referred to in the community, by Romanian artist Theodor Pallady did. Some might look and see a blouse, but now I see Anna de Noailles' love poems, I see Matisse's endless sketches of soft female forms reclining in a nimbus of color and light, I see an online community devoted to stories around the Romanian IA or la blouse roumaine. Most of all, I now see these luminous words of Matisse's, discovered only now through my research into this beautiful piece, "“Color helps to express light, not the physical phenomenon, but the only light that really exists, that in the artist’s brain."
To me, fashion is color, a walking bit of art that reflects my own light and those of the souls around me. Secondhand or new, designer or not, I will clothe myself with color and light and silk and dreams, even if *dramatic sigh* I alone must take up and wear all the world's beautiful castoffs to do so. #thriftersoftheworldunite
This January, we somehow managed to buy a home by hook or by crook! Originally, after our disastrous first-time home-buying experience, which we're still paying off, we thought it would be at least another three years before we could be in a house! My daughter would have been 8-years-old by then, and I really wanted her to have those early childhood memories, growing up in a cozy home of her own. That urgency probably helped motivate us. It also helped that Ryan, my husband works in real estate law and is even a professor on the subject at both Notre Dame and Penn Law, so those factors helped us finagle the system a little this time around. Maybe that's just my positive spin on what we went through with our first house, or The Money Pit 2 for short... It was a learning experience! But it was pretty cool that we went from being clueless to working as our own agents in our second home-buying experience. I should really write a blog post sharing some home-buying tips! Being well-informed and knowledgeable made all the difference. Let me know if you'd be interested in a post about home-buying tips and tricks in the comments below!
vintage Chanel Purse from Poshmark
vintage earrings from Antique Gallery in Chestnut Hill, PA
consignment necklace by Alexandra Margnat from Linda's Stuff
vintage dress from eBay
As for my winter refresh challenge: even though we were smart enough this go-around to buy below our budget so we could invest the extra money into home improvements, there were still unforeseen expenses. So far this 2019, I've been trying to shop less both because we're on a tight budget and because I'm into the idea of sustainability. (Or maybe it's because I feel vaguely shamed by Marie Kondo's omnipresent looming shadow (even though I've never watched her show out of pure fear of that beautiful, tiny lady). In that general spirit, I've been trying to wear things I already own but that I've never worn before maybe because I thought they were inappropriate for everyday occasions like this maxi dress or because I get in a style rut, especially when it's cold out. Does that happen to anyone else? I suddenly go from outfits to utility as soon as the weather dips.
This 70s-era vintage dress was my pick for my own closet challenge. It looked an odd combination of baggy and dressy on the hanger, but I made play around with it, and it suddenly fit just right with the help of a western belt and consignment Sandro booties from Linda's Stuff on eBay. (I also found this vintage dress on eBay but from a random seller that I can't quite recommend despite how stunning the dress ended up being. It arrived wrapped in not one but TWO Glad bags, yikes. I loved the print enough to have it drycleaned and now it's good as new or even better.... it's a completely original take on a new trend and it was mine for the low price of $17!) Is there something hiding in your closet that you could refurbish with new accessories and wear again? I challenge you to find one unworn piece before winter is over and tag me on Instagram @IsabellaDavidVintage. I'd love to see what you come up with!
As for unforeseen home-buying expenses: apparently, this car has been here since approximately 1950ish?! Yikes! Our neighbors told us the whole yard was littered with old cars and this was the last one the house-flippers left. Luckily, that was one thing we learned from our first time around the home-buying block. We were not shy about our pre-purchase demands, and part of our purchase agreement was having this tetanus soup taken away! We were also pretty lucky to work with very professional builders and sellers this go-around, although I wouldn't call it luck exactly, either. We really liked and trusted the sellers and that entered into our decision as well. That's not something we considered the first time around, either. I even nicknamed the previous owner of our first house "Scary Gary", ha. I know now that should have been a red flag! Are you considering buying a home? What are some of your concerns?
I don't know when I first realized how wonderful a bargain thrifting was; or how much more fun it was to look for buried treasure in racks of musty garments and boxes of half-heeled shoes. It's been a part of my life for nearly as long as NYC has been: so forever, off and on. I can't remember who took me thrifting just before my freshman year of high school, either, although I do remember the thrill of my very first score: a blue velvet jacket with a mandarin collar and frog buttons-- not actual frogs, but the silky Chinese, buttony kind. I also remember wearing the jacket to my red belt high school in the south, and I remember that I sort of knew what I was doing, too.
That is: I knew what a revolutionary act it was to wear old vintage blue velvet in the land of uniform khaki. I also knew they were voting for superlatives that day. I was not completely flabbergasted when I was voted "Most Unique", probably, mostly on account of that jacket alone. It wasn't exactly a compliment, either, though it was for boys-- the boys that won that category usually also won "Most Popular" or "Funniest" while the girls were considered simply odd. However, it wasn't exactly the worst thing ever to be singled out for something in a school of 3,000 souls. At any rate, whether insult or compliment, the power to use fashion to express a feeling or an attitude hooked me, although for a while I did merge myself with the khaki sea around me, tired of fighting the tide. Still, I did eventually grow up and get out, and ever since, thrifting has been a major hobby of mine. I would now consider myself more of an expert treasure-hunter than a lucky duck. Instead of happening onto the buried loot, I know how to zoom in on where x marks the spot. However, I know a lot of people are intimidated by all the options out there, so here are some of my tips from a misspent youth for thrifting success!
1. If you are overwhelmed by thrifting, ask yourself this basic question first:
Let's call this: square one. What's your favorite color? If you gravitate towards racks with colors that vibe with you-- dove-gray lavender or brilliant lemon or sparkly emerald or prismatic purple-- I assure you, you will find something you love. I 100% guarantee you will pull something off the rack that will delight your soul and your wallet. (And, since it's secondhand, it's pretty nifty for the planet as well.) The odds will be even more in your favor if you add my next tip to the equation.
2. Find a Fancy Neighborhood and Check Out the Thriftstores There!
The best thrifting I've ever found has been in the wealthiest neighborhoods. A lot of people have the terrible habit of wearing things ONCE. ONCE. And then tossing them. It's unfortunately become a habit for people in any socio-economic strata, which is its own issue for another post, but sustainable issues aside, because of this habit, you can find amazing designer steals in neighborhood's where people buy designer clothes. I tend to hit a handful of favorite spots over and over-- Housing Works on Crosby Street or their branch in Park Slope on 5th Avenue or Bring N Buy in Ridgefield, CT or Greene Street in Chestnut Hill. Using this tip, I have found Burberry coats and Jimmy Choo Mary Janes and Theory leather jackets and cashmere sweaters and designer denim galore in spots like that. I even found the spot where the Vogue accessories director was dumping their closet for a bit-- I scored some Jimmy Choo gladiator sandals off that one! However, not everyone lives near or in or close to a fancy neighborhood. If you can't drive or Uber to a hot spot or if you're encumbered with babies and can't peruse the racks for hours, then check out my next tip.
3. Repeat after me: eBay is LIFE!!!
EBay can be pretty overwhelming, I know. I avoided the site for years. The key to success here is a simple two-pronged approach: you either a. search for something extremely specific like a maxi Reformation dress in size 6 or that pale lemon Christy Dawn dress you've been eyeing on Instagram or you b. check in with specific shops on eBay. My favorite eBay shop is called Linda's Stuff. Amazing selection and the prices hover around $24-- even for whisper thin Ulla Johnson tops or that aforementioned Reformation maxi dress.
Do you enjoy thrifting? If so, what are some of your treasure hunting tips? I'm always honing my hunting technique. If you don't enjoy thrifting, I'd love to here from you as well. Also, what's the best thing you've ever found thrifting? Check out my Pinterest board for a few ideas as well!
I love the word sartorial, because it's an embodiment of the argument that fashion can be art!! "Sartorial" rolls off the tongue, straightens itself like a graceful ballerina on the tip of the teeth, and makes one graceful leap of abstraction. "Sartorial" makes fashion sound stately and important and almost holy, which I think it is. If you treat your garments with care, you can almost always feel the same sense of calm satisfaction while wearing them as you do after indulging in a hearty meal, which is most definitely a holy thing. (Check out my latest food post for this vegetarian corn chowder we concocted this July 4!) Sartorial actually comes from the Latin for "tailor" and it's also the name of the muscle (or the "sartorius") used to move your leg into the seated position for doing some tailoring. So cool, right? Please make your sartoriuses cozy, let's all pretend I used that word correctly, and check out what shows have been keeping my own sartoriuses crossed in one never-ending, seated position this summer!
1. Love (Netflix)
Love is an odd, funny, touching, and sometimes painfully realistic love story between two unlikely candidates for love-- narcissistic Mickey and codependent Gus. Don't get me wrong: I love Mickey and Gus, but, honestly, I stayed more for all the secondary characters who make LA look like the capital of Quirk, not to mention Mickey's fabulous mix of vintage, thrift, and designer fashion on display each episode. The show's costume designer, Jennifer Eve, equates Mickey's style with " a hung-over Alexa Chung", and her costumes are as fun as that sounds! In fact, they're the inspiration for my hot weather outfit above! (More about the bag, one of which I've paired with Baiae to give away, below! And more deets about this outfit on my IG @IsabellaDavidVintage.)
2. The Time In Between/ El Tiempo Entre Costuras (Netflix)
This show set in Spain and Northern Africa in the '30s made me long to occasionally indulge in the odd tailored outfit and maybe even a hat or two as in the pic above. You'll fall just as in love with its plucky heroine as with her incredible costumes. See some of the best looks here (Just scroll down if you don't read Spanish!)
3. Call My Agent/Dix Pour Cent (Netflix)
They're remaking this show about an acting agency in Paris in English (of course). But as is, whether you speak French or not, it's one of the wittiest, smartest, sweetest shows I've seen in a long time, and it's set in the rarified, secretive acting world of Paris. Seriously, how are they going to top that?! Get past the first episode, which I found a little dry, and you'll love it! Plus, the Parisian It Girl has attained near mythical status. Check out this show for the real thing! And by that I mean the "real" real thing as many famous French actresses play (ridiculous, hilarious versions of) themselves each episode.
4. The Handmaid's Tale (Hulu)
This isn't the obvious choice , but watching a world where everyone, or anyway every woman, wears no makeup, scraped-back hair and horrible cloaks in muted blue, hospital-scrub green, drab gray or even, my favorite color notwithstanding, a bright red makes me delight in wearing whatever I'd like. Gimme allllll the lipsticks!!! This series shows, not tells, how powerful a statement a woman's fashion can be like nothing else I've ever seen. Plus, this is for the hesistant crowd: it's so grim it can be kind of funny, especially if you watch it with a man who will find such a female-centric show about uniquely female suffering as foreign as we find the dystopian elements. Less funny: my husband has taken to calling me "Ofryan". Not cool, dude.
5. Younger (Hulu)
It's a little hard not to mention Sex and the City on a list like this, but Younger is as good as-- if not better-- a show to fit into my top 5 list as that other show. Just like Sex and the City, it's chockfull of incredible actresses like two-time Tony-Award winning Sutton Foster, the very fabulous Hilary Duff, hilarious Miriam Schor, and the queen of deadpan humor: Debi Mazar. They all look incredible, too, of course. After all, Patricia Field is responsible for costumes on both Younger and Sex & the City, and it's fun to watch her more contemporary and only slightly more down-to-Earth takes on the fashion scene! Read more about Field's stint as Younger's costume designer here.
What are you bingeing this summer? What other shows do you think I've left off this list?
P.S. Speaking of sartorial bliss, I've partnered with www.shopbaiae.com to giveaway this chic straw circle tote. Super easy entry until July 15! Click on the photo below to check my IG for details!
In my research into the sudden popularity of bamboo bags, I was surprised to learn that the term "It Bag" is such a recent one. Its coinage is as fresh as the 90s, when it was first being used to describe high-priced designer bags like those signature bags by Chanel or Fendi or Gucci. The concept of branded bags came about even earlier, though, back in the 1940s when the designer Roberta di Camerino created the first instantly recognizable bag, using artisan-made hardware and distinctive textiles. However, the It Bag didn't explode until the 90s for whatever reason. Maybe it was, as Wikipedia drily claims, because there was suddenly, simply this huge market for handbags.
That explanation leaves me with more questions than answers, personally.
Think about it: the market still exists. The fashion industry is a 1.2 trillion dollar annual industry, but by 2011 the concept of the It Bag was in decline.
Did the It Bag disappear because bargains became fashionable or because fashion is changing too quickly to make a huge investment in one expensive, transitory piece worthwhile? (Also, here is a great piece by Celia Walden on why she's glad the It Bag is over.) Or are It Bags over because It People are in now? Never mind It Bags. What does the "It Bag" mean now in an era where it's not only handbags that are branded but people themselves through their very own social media pages?
That's probably too deep a question for a slow fashion diary blog to address in 300-500 words. However, it did delight me to spot a different kind of "it bag" on many, many Instagram feeds. That same site that encourages people to brand themselves like fancy handbags. Now, it's not a humble bamboo bag you might suddenly notice every fashionably minded person sporting. Baskets in general are suddenly as ubiquitous as the Coachella wheel-- the sight of which, like fringe paired with cowboy boots, western belts, and a joyous grin, now signals spring as surely as cherry blossoms.
But let's put my seething envy for all the people who got to see Beyoncé live at Coachella aside and get back to bamboo.
Bamboo is potentially the most renewable resource for fabrics, even more so than hemp. What does put hemp ahead in the race for title to the future's most sustainable fabric is that rendering bamboo into cloth is still often requires the use of lots and lots of chemicals. Again, though, that means the news about bamboo "it bags" is good!
1. Bamboo bags are made with the Earth's most easily renewable, least-water consuming crop.
2. And, even better, unlike bamboo cloth, bamboo bags take no (or at least) very few chemicals to transform into a chic piece of arm candy.
I've linked to a few, beautiful bamboo and other fair trade, 70s-inspired options on my Pinterest page (see below).
Do you own a bamboo bag or a cute basket that can be used for shopping or paired as an accessory? When you think about it, straw baskets and bamboo bags and patched, cloth textile bags are actually the original Birkin bags! What do you think of this 70s-era trend? Do you think you'll buy one for summer?
My sandals are (old) BCBG ones. Similar here.
My wrap skirt is available here.
My Free People sweater is sold out but a similar one is available here.
My bamboo bag is a reproduction of a classic Japanese picnic basket! It's available here.
FYI Cult Gaia, who originally made the bamboo bags such desirable Eco It Objects just made their first (stupendously gorgeous) clothing collection out of deadstock! AND they're committed to treating workers fairly! Check them out!
Every spring, from the same mysterious source through which the green fuse drives the flower maybe , I feel the need to refresh my wardrobe with a simple white blouse. I know I've probably been brainwashed!! However, I no longer feel guilty indulging the urge, as there are endless beautiful pre-owned or vintage options like my thrifted Ulla Johnson blouse in the pic above.
Another item that makes me think of spring is a trench coat. I don't feel a similar urge to refresh my closet, though, because I found The One a few years back at Think Closet. A boutique in New York City stocked with independent Korean designers. My oxfords are thrifted from Monk's Thrift on 1st Avenue. I'm thrilled I held onto them. One of my best, tried and true cleaning-out-your-closet rules is this: if something is really good quality and still fits, NEVER get rid of it. Fashion is cyclical but slow. Eventually, patience pays off! I wore these oxfords all the time about eight years ago, and now they feel relevant again.
The only truly new item in this picture are my Levi's. Suckered by marketing, I bought them at a low moment this winter. I had to stay home, snowed in with a sick baby most of the winter and could rarely make it out to the gym. These "wedgie icon" jeans promised to deliver a perky tush at a time when I was feeling less than perky in general.
My take: I looked around online, and I feel like other women in the big butt tribe also felt as if these particular Levi's pushed their behinds more flat than up. However I did like the similar, flattening support in the front. I still have a bad tendency to stand like I'm pregnant with my tummy out. These exert a gentle pressure on my tummy and remind me to stand tall. I like them a lot. I'll wear them a lot, but they're not my favorite jeans.
Before I wrote the review (above), though, I looked into Levis' sustainable practices and I was very pleasantly surprised. I rarely buy jeans new. Like pretty, white blouses, there are infinite options available pre-owned and vintage. Plus, growing the cotton to craft one pair of jeans can require TEN YEARS of drinking water. (Three for tees!) Good on You, which is both a website and an app, rated Levis as overall "good", noting:
Levi’s have made strong commitments to sustainable denim production, including significantly reducing their water use. By 2020, the Levi’s brand aims to make 80 percent of its products using Water<Less™ technique. Levi’s have set a 25% reduction target for greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 for its direct emissions and consumed electricity. They are also pioneer members of the Better Cotton Initiative.
Levi's are making continued headway in many areas, including reducing hazardous chemical use and encouraging customers to think about their own water use in caring for their Levi's as well as thinking of their Levi's as a longterm investment. These are my first pair of jeans, but I know I've had my Levi's cutoffs for ten years plus, and they're still just as cute now as they were ten years ago! (It probably helps that I couldn't fit into them due to two pregnancies for four of these ten years, but still!) I felt really optimistic after learning such a big company is making such a big effort to change their manufacturing and distributing practices!
Do you own any Levi's? Which number works for you? I know the 501s are pretty iconic... I'd love to find a vintage pair next!
Wedgie Icon Jeans are available here.
Another secondhand Ulla Johnson blouse is available here.
On our way to the flea market last year! We seem to have skipped right over spring this year and gone from the bitterest cold straight to 70 degree weather, so I thought it would be nice to ruminate on the perfect spring (last year's!), the perfect (thrifted!) spring outfit, and the Clover Flea Market-- one of my favorite spring events in Philadelphia.
It was already held in Chestnut Hill this spring, but here are some upcoming dates in and around the city:
Spring 2018 Schedule:
A Slow Fashion Diary