Sunday, January 08, 2017

2016: i bought and bought and bought

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I haven't done this in a while, but I bought a lot of things in 2016 because, well, I'm still stress shopping, so I decided to write it all down. It was slightly horrifying to make this list and find that there are things that I've yet to wear -- and it reinforced a truth I've known but avoided facing: I've more stuff in my wardrobe than time to wear them. And I should do something about it.

Here's a rough list of how OTT my shopping was in last year:
  1. Celine Sangle Seau bag
  2. Cotton On white denim high-waist shorts
  3. Cotton On white t-shirt
  4. Cotton On grey t-shirt
  5. Cotton On black cotton jersey sweat pants
  6. COS black leather sandals
  7. COS pink leather sneakers
  8. COS navy sheath dress with side slits
  9. COS raspberry viscose shift dress
  10. COS black wool gauze knit long sleeve t-shirt
  11. Onitzuka Tiger leather sneakers
  12. Onitzuka Tiger swirl print sneakers
  13. Jack Purcell leather sneakers
  14. Lisa Marie Fernandez short sleeved shirt dress
  15. Uniqlo U khaki pants
  16. Uniqlo U cream lambswool sweater
  17. Uniqlo U down scarf
  18. Uniqlo x Lemaire black sleeveless seersucker dress
  19. Uniqlo x Lemaire black short sleeve seersucker dress
  20. Uniqlo x Lemaire white short sleeve seersucker dress
  21. Uniqlo x Lemaire mustard yellow knit tank
  22. Uniqlo x Lemaire black knit tank
  23. Uniqlo white oversized cotton shirt
  24. Uniqlo burgundy merino wool sweater dress
  25. Uniqlo navy linen shirt dress
  26. Uniqlo blue and white gingham linen shirt dress
  27. Uniqlo burgundy sleeveless knit mock turtleneck top
  28. IDLF for Uniqlo navy wool peacoat
  29. IDLF for Uniqlo denim chore jacket
  30. IDLF for Uniqlo black wool collarless jacket
  31. Mango black viscose trousers
  32. Zara blue and white striped shirt with floral embroidery
  33. In Good Company marigold silk crepe top
  34. In Other Stories chambray short-sleeved top
  35. Levi's vintage 501s
  36. Jigsaw cream silk crepe sleeveless top
  37. Massimo Dutti beige sleeveless linen jacket
  38. Muji grey linen wide leg cropped trousers
  39. No 21 x Kartell rain boots
  40. Steven Alan sunnies with reflective lens
And these are only the things I remember off the top of my head; I'm willing to wager there are things I forgot I bought lurking in my closet somewhere.

There's stuff in there that makes sense; they've become seamlessly integrated into my life - the t-shirts, the shorts, some of the dresses, the black trousers, the wonderful Celine bag that's just so easy to use. These are refined versions of things I love that either replaced stuff that had worn out, or added just the right amount of variety to my sartorial vocabulary.

But there are also things in there that I bought because simply because I wanted them, and not because they had a clear place in my life - the black wool jacket (wool? In Singapore? When will I learn?), the Lisa Marie Fernandez shirt dress which is just a little too much for everyday. These items are treasured and admired but I also know that I could have used the money more meaningfully.

Also, I clearly have some kind of Uniqlo addiction problem.

The problem with figuring out your style is that it sets off another type of buying -- you know what works for you and you become an expert at finding them just about everywhere. You start spotting the subtle and beautiful details that differentiate a new item from one already in your closet -- details that are invisible to everyone else but they delight you. Dressing to impress others make some shop more, but dressing to impress yourself can be just as bad, in my experience.

Finding "perfect" items also doesn't curb excessiveness significantly. Yes, the number of handbags I bought over a lifetime tapered off once I found a couple that worked for me. Yes, I haven't bought a watch (or even looked for one) since I bought a nice one about 6 years ago. Yes, I don't really buy jeans anymore because I've got them pretty much sorted. But perfection is far less singular than one might think. They're hard to find but they can be found regularly enough, with subtly seductive points of difference, for you to end up with 11 versions of the same navy dress, over time.

I'm not about to start a purge, because I love everything I bring home. But it's time I exercise more discipline; and remind myself to say no more often, no matter how perfect it is. I'm not going to impose a ban; rather I want to wear what I already own more often, and that means reminding myself to reach more deeply into my closet rather than sleepwalking and grabbing whatever is the most familiar.

Also, an interesting piece on purging one's wardrobe, and starting afresh. I can relate to excessively shopping to fill a void or make up for some other problem in life (in my case, it's from work-related stress). But I also think there's something cyclical about these things - you get rid of things that make no sense in your life, but you'll eventually find new things to obsess over that sets off a round of acquiring for wholly different reasons.

EDIT: Some more thoughts after I hit "publish". I had a think about what is considered excessive, and for me, it was just a matter of realising that on average, I was buying a new item of clothing nearly every week in 2016. It surprised me, especially when I also realised I'd worn some of them only a handful of times, or none at all. What's the point then?

At the same time, buying new clothes because I had a lousy day solved none of my problems - I was still tired, lacking sleep, and frustrated about work on some days. My purchases were great, but not that great.

And finally, while I don't buy expensive clothing generally, and am not in debt, I had to ask myself if there was anything else I would rather spend on, and the answer was a straightforward yes. I could buy myself a new armchair, if anything. I could give the money to my parents to fund a short vacation. I could fund a short vacation for myself, or put it towards an air ticket somewhere new. I could increase my regular donations to charity. I could buy a nicer birthday present for friends. Money doesn't buy happiness but it sure gets a lot done.


Saturday, December 31, 2016

scenes from a dream

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Tuul Riverside Lodge, Terelj National Park, Mongolia

Anyone who follows my Instagram account might have noticed the glut of posts I made over December as I finally fulfilled two long-cherished dreams: ride on the Tran-Siberian railway line, and take a long trip with my two sisters, with whom I've always shared a wolfpack-like bond.

The Trans-Siberian requires a bit of planning, but compared to anyone who made the journey decades ago, travellers today have no lack of information at their fingertips to make the most of the trip. I mostly relied on tips for the bible of rail travel The Man in Seat 61 and a website called Way to Russia. My sisters and I probably had it easier than most by travelling in winter, where bookings for bunks on the trains are easier to secure, not to mention often having sites of interest all to ourselves.

The downside of travelling in winter is obviously the cold (and I had never experienced such cold in my life), plus those who come from temperate climates might find the winter landscape monotonous. But in sunshine or snow, the sights on (or around) the Trans-Siberian often left me speechless. 

We began by flying to Beijing, where we did a five-hour trek on the unrestored bits of the Great Wall which finished at the shiny, restored Jinshanling section just in time for the sunset.

We then embarked on a 28-hour train ride to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, where we spent a magical three nights in a ger camp (for tourists) in Terelj National Park.

This was followed by 35-hour train ride to Irkutsk, Russia, itself followed by a 5-hour van ride to the shores of Lake Baikal, where a ferry took us to Olkhon Island in the middle of the lake. There, we spent two nights, exploring the gorgeous coastline and taking in the seemingly endless taiga (coniferous forest) that covers much of the island.

Then it was back to Irkutsk for a night, before we boarded the train for a 75-hour, 5,200km-long train ride to Moscow, on the very comfortable Rossiya train, on which we drank tea, watched snow-capped forests out of our window, played cards, and slept, occasionally attempting to converse with the other passengers, who were almost all Russian.

The Trans-Siberian ends in Moscow, but we immediately got onto the Sapsan high-speed train to St Petersburg to spend a few days there first, before returning to end our trip in Moscow (for logistical reasons). St Petersburg has all the beautiful Old World grandeur that earned it the nickname of Paris of the East, but it has a grit and pride that's all its own, and I liked how laidback it felt compared to Moscow, which has the rush of a much bigger city, and more reminders of its Soviet past.

Is there a favourite? No way I'd choose one from this 22-day trip, which overall was endlessly surprising in how it constantly exceeded expectations and upended whatever notions I had of each country. I came home tired, awed and content.

The experience of catching the Tran-Siberian (in my case half of it plus the Trans-Mongolian) isn't something I can contain one post, so I'll just share some (more) photos and general impressions - hopefully I get down to doing more detailed posts about the stops I made in Beijing, Ulaanbaatar, Lake Baikal and others as I go along.

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Gubeikou Great Wall, China

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Jinshanling Great Wall, China

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On the train from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar, through the Gobi Desert

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Gers at the Tuul Riverside Lodge, Mongolia

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Sled dogs at Terelj National Park

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Tuul Riverside Lodge, Mongolia

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On the train from Ulaanbaatar to Irkutsk, my favourite train experience

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Lake Baikal, Siberia, Russia

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On the beach on Olkhon island in Lake Baikal

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The Three Brothers lookout point, Olkhon, Lake Baikal 

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Near Cape Khoboy, Olkhon, Lake Baikal 

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Olkhon, Lake Baikal 

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Shaman pillars, Olkhon, Lake Baikal 

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Olkhon, Lake Baikal 

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Olkhon, Lake Baikal 

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On the ferry leaving Olkhon

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Passing through the taiga on the train from Irkutsk to Moscow

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Winter Palace along the Neva river, St Petersburg, Russia

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The Raphael corridor, Winter Palace, St Petersburg 

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The Malachite Room, Winter Palace, St Petersburg

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The Pavilion Room, Winter Palace, St Petersburg

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Winter Palace, St Petersburg

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Etagi Loft Project arts space, St Petersburg

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Red Square, Moscow, Russia

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Red Square, Moscow

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Kremlin grounds, Moscow

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Subway station, Moscow

A few things to keep in mind:
- The Trans-Siberian is not a hop-on-hop-off rail pass. You need tickets for every trip, and if you are travelling during peak periods and have limited time to spare (i.e. you can't wait till next week for the next train), pre-booking rather than buying tickets at the stations is recommended. My trip from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar was practically empty, probably because again, few enjoy travelling in frigid December. But my train from Irkutsk (considered the capital of Siberia) to Moscow was near full. 

- It is now possible to book rail tickets within Russia on the Russian Railways website, although the tickets are only released for sale a month before the travel date. The time table is also slightly glitchy but it can be cross-referenced on the website of Real Russia, a third-party one-stop service that has a handy trip planner on its website and can do all bookings for you.

- Although Real Russia is convenient, reliable and far less expensive than using the services of a travel agency, there is still a considerable mark-up from booking the tickets yourself. To save money, my sisters I resorted to booking only the trips we couldn't book directly in advance - i.e. the Beijing to Ulaanbaatar train, and the Ulaanbaatar to Irkutsk train. Travelling in winter probably meant my sisters and I could have risked it and just turned up at the stations to buy the tickets ourselves. But we were travelling on a schedule so we decided to play safe and secure our tickets.

A final note: to all those still reading this blog, happy 2017. 

Thursday, October 06, 2016

master class

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I refer to the 90s a lot when talking about style because 1990s minimalism had a huge, lingering influence on how I like to dress. But although the likes of Calvin Klein have retired, one designer whose work I've loved for years is still flying the flag for the power of minimalism - Narciso Rodriguez. 

In his hands, minimalism is luxurious and sensual, and he has that knack for playing with new ideas without beating you over the head with it. The clothes are pared back and precise, but not cold or austere. And there's an air of distinction that sets them apart - he conjures up a world of a cool, urbane, modern woman with purpose - but they are also restrained so that a woman can still be herself.

Narciso Rodriguez says a lot, with very little.

Photo via Vogue.com

Sunday, October 02, 2016

like the boys

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I love me a good style guide. I Love Your Style by Amanda Brooks is a good one, and I actually enjoyed one of the Nina Garcia ones (I think it's The One Hundred) because it was full of good sense. I liked a Denim Story by the Current/Elliot founders because it was full of inspiring imagery, and Style Forever by Alyson Walsh is a recent one I picked up that didn't disappoint.

Yes, these books often trade in cliches and can be prescriptive, but the good ones are more than just a bunch of diktats about what to buy, pictures of Audrey Hepburn, and glossy spreads of perfectly tidy walk-in wardrobes. The good ones are little bit autobiographical or the author shares a bit of lived experience about his or her style journey. Or that of stylish people, preferably accomplished people that you until then had never heard of. They convey a sense of enthusiasm for fashion and the joy of being well put together. They organise the art of dressing into a few helpful, loose "codes" that have you going "that's me!" and there's a sense of coziness, knowing that somebody "gets it". They have a good mix of the imagery that inspired them and original content that was produced for the book. In other words, these books have coherent style and substance.

A few years ago, I picked up Tomboy Style at the library (I always pick these up at the library because so many of them are rubbish or books I will never read again), with great hopes. After all, I had followed the Tomboy Style blog and enjoyed it. And people have called me a tomboy all my life and here was a whole coffee table book about it. I was about to be validated for my style choices. 

But the book was disappointing. The pictures of Diane Keaton, Katharine Hepburn etc were things you could easily look up online, and there wasn't any good writing to pull it altogether and make a compelling argument for why such an aesthetic mattered. And then there was rather cheesy subcategories of tomboys: the "sophisticate",  the "naturalist" etc. It was like a collection of blog posts, and not even very good ones.

I was excited when I found out that one of my favourite bloggers Navaz Batliwalla of Disneyrollergirl was publishing her contribution to the genre: The New Garconne: How to be a Modern Gentlewoman. I'd always enjoyed her take on style and the fashion industry, and her breakdown of what "gentlewoman" style is all about is always spot on. Plus, this is a style tribe I feel like I belonged to. It was a no-brainer whether ti pick it up when I saw it in the store. 

It's a slim volume, and I got through it rather quickly - a bit like how long it takes me to get through the fatter editions of The Gentlewoman magazine - but this is not to say it was insubstantial. I love that the book comprises mainly of interviews with inspiring women, and women who aren't already featured to death, to boot. There were just enough visuals to draw the eye and convey a sense of what the book was trying to say, and the selection felt thoughtful.

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The book starts with an enjoyable essay on the evolution of the Gentlewoman, and I like the emphasis on women of accomplishment who also happen to be aesthetes. It has a section on the "hero pieces" of a gentlewoman (as you would expect, the perfect shirt, blazer, good watch) and caps off with an index of where one might buy these things and other recommended places to visit (parks, museums etc).

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The interviews with the women - Polly Morgan, Donna Wallace, Bella Freud, Lyn Harris, Phyllis Wang to name a few - set the book apart from other style books. I also like that, for a change, here was a book that is about something modern and actually unfolding now - rather than a retrospective of something already well-established or celebrated - but at the same time it's also celebrating the classics.  

I would have preferred Batliwalla's point of view to come across more strongly, not mention perhaps what this particular aesthetic means to her personally. But these shortcomings didn't really take away from my enjoyment of the book.

I'd also love to revisit this book in a few years, to see if the gentlewoman style still feels relevant. I love The Gentlewoman magazine, which has really driven this whole aesthetic in a big way, with COS helpfully providing affordable pieces to help live the whole look. It will be interesting to see if this style endures. 

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Sunday, September 18, 2016

now and forever

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1):
Earlier this year, I bought a pair of Jack Purcells, in plain white weather. No bells and whistles, classic as they come, having been in production for decades.

Last month, I bought a pair of pink sneakers from COS. Blush pink is a pretty understated colour, but it's also a trendy at the moment (everyone is doing pink sneakers), and these shoes owe a debt to a number of brands (Common Projects, Adidas). These are shoes designed to tap the current fad for chic sneakers. 

2):
Recently I bought a plain white cotton shirt from Uniqlo, made of a smooth fine cotton, fairly wrinkle-resistant, with a slightly oversized, mannish fit. Again, classic, basic.

Within weeks I bought a Zara shirt, despite my attempt to stop shopping there  (it's my first Zara item this year, which is exceptional for me, but still). It's blue-and-white striped, but with very on-trend floral embroidery. It's also the first time my mum and I fell for the same item - she being a fan of bright colours and florals; me, well, not usually a fan of bright colour and florals. We bought it promising to take turns on its ownership.

3) I saw this, and thought, why the hell not. It's an easy way of doing something new with things already in my closet. 

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If anyone asked me to describe my style, I would answer automatically: "classic". But when I really thought about it, I realised this is untrue, especially if we go by a traditional definition of what is considered classic - perfect shirt, trousers, jeans, LBD, trench coat, t-shirt etc without embellishment or exaggeration. 

I like all of these things and it is certainly true that I don't like exaggerated silhouettes (wide shoulders, big flares, minis, high waists, low waists etc). But I also like fashion. Yes, there is an entire industry built around fashion, and companies shout trends at us, hoping we'll keep buying and buying. 

But people have always embraced and rejected ideas of how to dress, even before fashion became a thing for the masses. Every now and then, an idea comes along that catches my fancy, and suits my needs, and I partake. It can be a fresh colour combinations (blush pink for sneakers!), or it can be a silhouette (loose dresses over loose pants). 

I guess a better answer when asked about my personal style would be: "classic, but with exceptions". A nice way of capturing the infinite shifts in taste that will happen all our lives, not to mention the differences between one person's tastes from another. 

So right now, I am enjoying a touch of softness (pink, florals) and a more relaxed silhouette (keeping everything loose). 

Monday, August 08, 2016

first impressions

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My last post about jeans got me thinking about the denim styles that made an impression on me while I was growing up, and a standout memory for me would be the various ad campaigns run by Calvin Klein in the mid-90s, especially the ones for the ckOne perfume.

I know these are styled images, photographed by Steven Meisel, but there was something very loose and effortless about the whole thing - the models they used were cool (Kate! Stella! Trish! Jenny! Kirsten!); the clothes were very basic, and the make-up was barely there. I still find these images timeless, and I would wear everything in those ads, even now.

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Admittedly, there are caveats. It's not easy to pull off perfectly straight-leg jeans - they can be hard to pull off for anyone who doesn't have narrow hips, or are short. I like them cropped at the ankle best - I have curvy hips and I that find a cropped leg seems to balance everything off nicely, especially if you wear flat shoes. When I travel somewhere a bit nippier, I just put on some socks - thin wool ones.

(Also, I think I'm past the age where I feel ok walking around in a denim mini, but that's not saying I don't love it on others.)

Below are some more great images - from US Vogue, in 2000 - which made an impression on me, jeans-wise. I hate to be one of those people who talk about how great things were "back in the day", but imagine, 16 years ago, Annie Leibowitz was capable of photographing models for Vogue in all their natural beauty, without photoshopping the images to death:

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My favourites? Shalom's and Carolyn's jeans.

Images from here and here

Monday, August 01, 2016

of a certain vintage

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A few months ago, I bought a pair of vintage Levi's online on impulse. Okay they're not that old, certainly not pre-1970s, but I'm pretty sure Levi's doesn't make them quite like this any more - they're in the kind of thick, sturdy denim now extinct in the mass market, plus they have the kind of high rise and button-fly I rarely see on women's jeans. They remind me of a pair of old Levi's my sister had in the 90s', which is perfect since I had an early 90s' childhood and a late 90s' adolescence, and am a long-time fan of Thelma and Louise and their high-waisted badassery.

I know classic 501s look terrible on me, so I bought these with the aim of bringing them to my tailor - I wanted the relatively high waist (just around my belly button), the button-fly (I love ripping the buttons, hah) and tight fit around the butt and thighs, and so long as these bits fit well, the rest is easy.

It's not unusual for me to buy secondhand jeans or jeans on a deep discount with the aim of getting them drastically tailored - most of my old Diesel jeans are altered because when I worked there, it was the era of bootcut jeans and I don't like bootcuts. My "boyfriend" jeans are all jeans bought a size bigger and then taken in at the hip to fit. I read this quote on Jean Stories - "When you purchase jeans, you want them to fit comfortably over your largest body part (be that your thigh, waist, or hip) and everything else can be shaped to your liking" - and I understood perfectly.

I lucked out because these ones did fit perfectly at the waist, hips, and thighs, never mind that it was frumpy as hell from knees down. My tailor easily took care of that and gave me the tapered fit I wanted. He also cropped it a little more so that it hung above my ankles, which I find to me the most flattering length for me, and also quite practical - no wet hems in the rain.

For alterations inspiration, I found some good ideas on RE/DONE, which offers a fairly decent, albeit expensive preposition for those who don't want to hunt for old Levi's and get them tailored themselves: they source and alter vintage pairs in several cuts. They've become quite a thing, and even if one doesn't need to go to such expense to achieve the same thing, I can get behind something that at least makes good use of unwanted clothing.

I was actually motivated to write this post after I saw comments on a post on A Cup of Jo on the non-stretchy jean trend, and I was fascinated by how some people hate them - many swore they would never go back to the discomfort of non-stretchy jeans. I'm not averse to stretch, but I am definitely on the other side of the fence - the stiffness of old-fashioned denim looks better on me and because most of my jeans are non-stretch anyway, I'm used to them and I don't feel uncomfortable at all.

But what does everyone else think? A ridiculous trend or the revival of a good idea?

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