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?
As I mention in my blog's sidebar, my sister, a scientist and professor currently working for the Army Corps of Engineers, inspired me to learn more about sustainability and climate change. However, to be frank, at first I was too frightened to delve into the situation. It felt as if, just by opening the covers of books like The Sixth Extinction, I could hear a sepulchral voice shouting from a street corner, "The end of the world is nigh! Repent, ye sinners!"
For my part, I've been easing myself into the world of sustainability via ethical fashion and, to my surprise, the more I learn about the world of sustainability as a whole, the more optimistic I feel about the future and our power to change the world, our world, for the better. Here are me and my sister's five picks geared towards others who want to strike a similar balance between activism and optimism:
1. The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
Our first pick is pretty obvious*. Published in 2014, it was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize and named one of the New York Times Book Reviews best books of the year. I haven't read it yet myself, but I know Stanford is now asking incoming Freshmen to read it. For all those reasons, it's high on my TBR list. For those with less time, my sister mentions that Kolbert has also written a more feel-good(ish) essay about a Danish community's victory over carbon emissions. You can read it here: www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/07/07/the-island-in-the-wind.
*The Sixth Extinction is available on kindle for $9.99, although for some reason it's listed as an e-textbook.
2. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate by Naomi Klein
Ugh, I haven't read this one, either. My sister gave me a copy. I started reading it and became terrified when Naomi Klein began scolding people (like me) for looking away. However, we don't have the luxury to look away any longer, not with category 5 hurricanes becoming more commonplace. Not to mention the devastating effects of climate change staring us in the face. (On a related note, please consider giving a few dollars to Puerto Rico. Donors are experiencing fatigue after Texas and Florida and people haven't been as galvanized to help Puerto Rico, which suffered mind-boggling destruction).
Again, on a happier note, as I've been around the people who are dealing, I've become more and more optimistic, not less so. So I feel like I can deal now! I can read this book now. (I'll still be starting with number one on this list first, however.)
*If this pick, still strikes you as too scary, my sister also suggested Climate/ Energy: Hot: Living the Next 50 Years on Planet Earth by Mark Hertsgaard. She describes it as "hopeful" and a "solutions-driven book on climate change."
3. To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World by Lucy Siegle
My third pick is one I have read* and can only describe as life-changing. Lucy Siegle presents an expose of the fashion world's environmental devastation and its all-too-ubiquituous ill treatment of workers along with a vision of how green truly can be the new black. She's the Observer's "Ethical Living" columnist, and her book reads like a well-informed friend describing both a horrifying reality alongside an inspiring alternative.
Siegle believes ethical fashionistas can exist, and I know from personal experience beginning to shop ethically has NOT meant giving up on style. I have not had to don sackcloth and ashes but rather have changed my mindset and my expectations from the fashion world and for myself. I buy far fewer things now, yes, but those things are far more beautiful. The more I learn about what goes into creating a garment, the more I treasure what I have as well. See my post on not shopping for a month for more on the subject.
*Some other books on this subject on my TBR list are Wear No Evil by Greta Eagan and Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth L. Cline.
4. American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half Its Food and What We Can Do About It by Jonathan Bloom
Another rec from my sister. I'm eager to read this one myself as this topic is a cultural fight in my own household. I'm French-American and the French half of me dominates when it comes to food as in: "Why throw food out just because it's past its expiration date? Especially if it smells all right?"
My American husband will proceed to look at me like I'm nuts. "You eat rotten cheese if you want."
"Aargh! But it's not rotten!" I'll shout, frustrated that he's being so obtuse. However, nothing I said convinced him one iota, until I pointed out that France had become the first country in the world to ban supermarkets from throwing away or destroying perfectly good food.
Now, he at least doesn't throw my food out, although I still can't quite convince him to ignore expiration dates and smell the food himself. I can't wait to read more about this difference in mentalities and where it comes from.
5. Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet by Bill McKibben
Okay, if you've read this far, you're probably pretty tough and you can take this one. Bill McKibben was one of the first to warn about global warming over twenty years ago. Now he claims, not only is global warming upon us but the Earth has been so fundamentally changed it might as well be referred to by a new name: Eaarth. "Our hope depends, McKibben argues, on scaling back — on building the kind of societies and economies that can hunker down, concentrate on essentials, and create the type of community (in the neighborhood, but also on the Internet) that will allow us to weather trouble on an unprecedented scale. Change — fundamental change — is our best hope on a planet suddenly and violently out of balance."
Unquenchable: America's Water Crisis and What To Do About It by Robert Glennon
-An easy-to-read, hopeful book about water crisis.
Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner.
-A famous book, written in the '80s about water. Very controversial in tone.
Water: Adapting to a New Normal by S. Postel
-There's also a shorter essay by this author that you can read here: www.scribd.com/document/63678768/WATER-Adapting-to-a-New-Normal-by-Sandra-Postel
The Last Drop by M. Specter
Omnivores Dilemma and Botany of Desire by Micahel Pollan
-Also Pollan wrote a really great essay in the New York Times to then president-elect Obama: michaelpollan.com/articles-archive/farmer-in-chief/
Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal by Tristram Stuart
-He also gave a Ted Talk:
On the Climate/ Energy/ Sustainable Living
Hot: Living the Next 50 Years on Planet Earth by Mark Hertsgaard
Farewell, My Subaru by Doug Fine
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
Sleeping Naked is Green: How An Eco-Cynic Unplugged Her Fridge, Sold Her Car, and Found Love in 366 Days by Vanessa Farquharson
The Sustainability Revolution by Andres R. Edwards and David W. Orr
A Slow Fashion Diary