30 November 2010, 09:21
When Sayward Rebhal of Bonzai Aphrodite emailed me about my careers series, & said that she wanted to contribute her thoughts on being a mother, I was so excited!
She summed it up wonderfully when she said,
“I know, I know. It’s a departure from what you normally cover. But I really feel like as the neo-neo-feminists (ooh meta), the choice to stay at home is an important one to recognize. So I figured I’d put it out there.”
I love this interview. It’s one of my favourites so far. I hope you enjoy it too!
Tell us about what you do.
My first thought: “EVERYTHING!”
As a work-at-home mother I’m on a triple mission: to fully engage in raising my baby boy, to keep the house (read: our lives) running smoothly, and to help bring home the tofu.
Amidst all that I also find space to pursue my passion – mindful living, natural choices, DIY culture, environmentalism, health and food politics, minimal consumerism . . . yeah, basically I’m totally crunchy. But I’m a product of the Grunge 90s, when punk was paired with politics and everyone actually gave a shit. And I’m still trying to change the world, chipping away and chronicling my experiments and my experiences. I blog at Bonzai Aphrodite, where I write about how to be socially conscious – and still stay totally fabulous!
What does an average day at work look like for you?
This is going to be long. But work-at-home parenting is not a picture that many people get to see, so I thought I’d paint it in detail.
The alarm sounds at 7:15 and sly like a cat I slink out of bed without waking Waits, who sleeps with us. I shower, dress, primp, and make my coffee. I love coming upstairs in the morning, steaming cup of caffeine in my hands, and finding my husband and baby laughing in bed. Best way to start the day.
While Damian gets ready for work, Waits plays on the bedroom floor and I enjoy my coffee and check in with the Internets. Damian’s off on his bike by 8:45, and then it’s baby bath time. After Waits is cleaned and dressed and maybe had some more play time, he’s ready for breakfast. He usually falls asleep at the breast. Naptimes are my work opportunities, and I have to be diligent and adaptable in order to get things done. My one-handed typing skills are pretty damn impressive!
When Waits wakes up it’s dog walk time. I wear him in a carrier and we head out to hike at a freshwater marsh near our house, stopping by the market on the way home. I’ll pick up whatever produce is cheap and that determines our dinner – shopping sales every day is the best way to eat organic on a budget! This whole excursion takes about an hour and doubles as my daily exercise.
Back home I keep Waits in the carrier while I make my green smoothie and putter around – load or unload the dishwasher, tidy the kitchen and living room, water plants, start some laundry, whatever needs to get done. We also do the farm work – take out the compost, harvest the garden, and let the chickens out to free range the yard. We may live in a row house in the middle of the city, but we’re enthusiastic micro-farmers.
Waits goes down for his afternoon nap around 2 and this is my prime work time. It’s a flurry of one-handed speed typing, a race to research, write, correspond, and get all caught up before he wakes. Which is totally a joke, because “all caught up” doesn’t actually exist, right?
Early evenings are open-ended, from taking pictures or other blog prep work, to running errands, to starting dinner. Or maybe we’ll just play until Damian gets home. When Damian takes over baby duty, that means I have two hands again. Yay! I love to cook, so I cherish this ‘me time’ each evening, bustling around the kitchen listening to podcasts (Radiolab!). I keep a vegan kitchen and I cook from scratch. And my shit is good.
After we’re dinnered and digested, I put Waits back into his carrier and we head out on our night walk. 45 minutes in the dark puts him to sleep for the night. And I really rely on this quiet time to recharge my batteries before getting back to work.
Yup, back to work. With Waits asleep I’m back on my laptop, where I’ll be for the rest of the night. Of course, I’m on the couch next to Damian and there’s a movie on in the background, so it’s happy-husband-cuddly-type work time. Finally I unplug around midnight, set the alarm, and hit the sack.
Glamorous? No, I don’t think it is. But it sure does feel good.
Do you work alone or with other people?
My boss is 2 feet tall and frequently pees his pants. But he’s a really awesome guy.
What kind of education do you have?
I have a bachelors degree in biology and I’m a published scientist, but that has almost no relation to what I’m doing with my life! I did break into writing via science writing (textbooks), and I’d love to explore more science journalism someday.
Do you think official qualifications are important for someone entering your industry?
There are certainly qualifications that make being a work-at-home mother easier, but they’re not something you go to school for. Foresight, patience, and positivity will take you far. But it really comes down to work ethic, because – no illusions – this is HARD.
If you went to school, did you enjoy studying? Could you see where it might lead you at the time? What advice would you give to someone else who might be studying to get into your industry?
I’m totally a Type A personality. I threw myself into school, set wildly high standards for myself, and was determined to meet them (for example I graduated with a 4.0 gpa). I really thrive when I’m meeting a challenge, so yeah. I had a blast!
And actually, yes, I did see it leading here. I always knew I wanted to stay home with my babies . . . it was like this dirty secret I felt like I had to keep from my colleagues and mentors.
As for advice, initially I’d say to plan ahead. Secure an online/work-at-home position before getting pregnant. It’ll get you used to the lifestyle and it makes pregnancy a whole hell of a lot easier as well! But if you already have a kid and want to start working from home, my advice is the same as I give to everyone, about everything: Be Diligent. Very few people get things handed to them. Almost nobody gets it right the first time. Successful and happy people got that way by working really hard and never giving up. So scour the Internet for job possibilities. Check your local papers and job postings and Craigslist gigs. Investigate Etsy or the WAHM community on Mothering.com. It may not happen right away, but you can make it happen eventually. And if that’s the life you want, it’s so very worth it.
What do you think is the best thing about what you do?
I’m a born activist; I was raised to stand up and speak out. Being able to do that daily is so meaningful to me. I write about things that matter, things that need to change. That I get to hang out with my kid while I’m doing it . . . well, frankly I don’t know how I got so lucky.
Between my baby and my blog, I get to live what I love every. single. day. I don’t think it gets better than that!
What’s the worst thing?
[Not] Finding balance, and the guilt it creates. I want to be fully attentive to my son, at all times. But I’ve got to make money. And I also have so much drive to do my personal work, which is an integral part of maintaining my sense of self. I struggle every day to find that sweet spot between those three things.
Would you call yourself a workaholic, & if so, are you alright with that? Do you think that’s normal for your industry?
I am the quintessential workaholic. Actually, I’m more of a multitaskaholic. It get’s me in trouble. I actually think I’d be a better mother if I could just learn to slow down and be really present with one thing at a time. That’s something I’m working on…
What would your number one suggestion be for someone who wants to do what you do?
This is not your grandmother’s world, or your mother’s world, or even your older sister’s world. The Internet changes everything for women. Use it. Be creative and work your ass off and make it yours. We can raise our own babies and be financially valuable.
People think that the choice to stay home is a cop out, but it’s actually just the opposite. This is the decision to truly have it all.
...How about number two?
Feminism lives in the kitchen as much as it lives in the board room.
Are there any major misconceptions about your job or industry?
So many! How many stereotypes can I bust? Let’s see, I can assure you that I’m not lazy, dumb, or unambitious. I do not hang out in a velour tracksuit all day watching daytime television and paper crafting. I am not bored, ‘desperate’, or lonely. My role as mother does not entirely define me. I am not ‘kept’ or trapped or disempowered. I haven’t given up my social life – my parties or my cocktails or my short skirts. I’m not conservative or religious. I’m not dissatisfied or un-romanced. I don’t resent anyone – my husband or my baby or myself. I don’t ever eat bon bons!
What is the best thing that’s happened to you as a consequence of the work you do?
The blossoming of self-assurance that comes from following your heart. I’ve gained this quiet confidence just by doing what I love. And I’ve gone through so much personal growth as part of becoming a mother. I am more myself now than I have ever been before. And holy hell, that feels fantastic.
What motivates you to keep doing what you’re doing?
My readers at Bonzai Aphrodite. They are so amazing! They’re some of the most insightful and inspired people I’ve ever encountered. And they are so open, so honest, and so invested in moving towards a better world.
Sometimes I get overwhelmed with my responsibilities or melancholy over politics. But then I’ll receive an email from someone halfway around the world, telling me about how my work has impacted their life; how they think about things differently now or how they’ve gone vegan or how they feel hopeful for the first time in years. These emails always come when I most need them and they are my soul’s food. That’s what keeps me going.
Who do you look up to within your industry & why?
Is it too cliché to say “my mother”? She died when I was nine, and now as an adult I can look back and understand the tremendous sacrifices she made for me, and also how she never let me see them. She was a single mom and we were dirt poor and I seriously had THE happiest childhood. She was amazing.
Rate how happy you are with what you do out of 100 (100 being the best, 0 being devastatingly awful) on an average day.
Being a mother is the strangest thing. It has the most impermanent trauma, in a way that nothing else ever does.
Like, I could be having the hardest night: Waits has been screaming for ages, my blood sugar crashed an hour ago and I’m shaking and starving, lying in bed in the dark and desperately trying to nurse him to sleep, sobbing. Yes, for real. So what is that, like a 16/100?
But then, Waits falls asleep. My husband brings me a frozen nanner with almond butter, and turns the light on, and I curl up and surf the web for a while. And before I know it I’m soaring at 95 like nothing was ever wrong, because now my belly is full of goodness and I found this awesome activist blog and best of all, the sweetest little dude in the world is lookin’ all cute just snoring in my arms. And I’ve never been happier. It’s a trip, man.
So that’s really a hard question to answer. When I think back over the past 8 months I can recall that I’ve had the lowest lows of my life. But they don’t stick on my psyche, not even a little bit. Motherhood is magical like that. It makes me want to say “100!”
Do you think you’ll continue doing this for the rest of your life?
In some form or another, I sure as hell hope so!
25 August 2010, 15:13
I recently received the following email, & it struck a chord with me.
“I’m really sick of people talking about dieting or calories or fat.
It seems like so many girls around me do, especially when we’re eating something great or going out to eat/talking in general. It ALWAYS comes up. Why can’t food be something about enjoyment? I really don’t want to be a part of that crap because I’ve already lost a great friend who suffered of an extreme eating disorder. I’m just really tired of people talking non-stop about it for every single thing they eat, and how they’d always never shut up about calories, how fatty it is, how fat they feel, thighs, whatever body parts, all that hate talk. I’ve once confronted a friend about it and told her to please stop bringing it up on this table at least while you’re with me, thank you, and then she totally snapped and said that I’ll never have friends if I really don’t like hearing about calories or fat because that’s what all other girls are talking about. I know that I don’t have to put up with that. I can just go hang out with people who are positive and not wasting their time on pointless things and starvation even. But I wonder how you usually deal with that situation, what you would say/whether you distance yourself away from those toxic conversations or just not hang out with them altogether.”
I’m so glad you wrote because I have been wanting to vocalise some thoughts on this subject for a long time. I totally agree with you & cannot stand it when women reduce themselves to physical measurements & calorie consumption!
I think that women have been taught that it is okay — even “good”, feminine, or expected — to obsess over what we’re eating & how we think we look. As if it wasn’t bad enough that this is reinforced by our best girlfriends, it’s also rammed down our throats by the rest of society & even by big business — you know, those companies who depend on you hating yourself so you’ll buy more beauty products, diet pills, surgery etc.! You only have to switch on the television to be assaulted with a gamut of shows fixating on the “Best Celebrity Body” to know that all of this is very real.
I also believe that a lot of women have grown up listening to their mothers talk about how they “feel fat”, verbally flagellating themselves for eating snacks, or saying, “Oh, just let me have ONE!”. Our mothers are our first role models, & we pay so much attention to everything they do! All of this stuff messes up your head, & is hard to ignore. It is so ingrained in us, & we hear it everywhere. Furthermore, a lot of women unconsciously see conversations about food & weight as a kind of rite of passage into womanhood.
You can see how insidious & ugly the whole thing is.
Now, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t give the topic any consideration. Of course, it is important to consider what you’re putting into your body. When you eat healthy, natural food, you feel energetic & happy, while conversely when you eat processed, sugar-laden muck, you feel sluggish & miserable. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with eating junk food, as long as you’re being conscious of your intake & are able to make decisions which balance it all out. On the other hand, if your eating feels out of control & like you actually can’t stop yourself from going for the cupcakes, you may want to investigate your emotional relationship to food (a counsellor who you like & respect can really help too).
The bottom line is that it’s so much more fun to be with your friends when you can all order burgers & ice-cream sundaes & enjoy yourselves!
People are so confused about food in general. For years, people ate whatever they felt like, & then all of a sudden it seemed like we were surrounded by heart disease, various cancers, high cholesterol etc., & we were thrown into uncertainty. What is safe to eat? How does it affect us? What the HELL are we supposed to have for dinner? I think it’s natural to discuss & talk about these things as we figure it out, but there is a difference between idle food conversation & the downward spiral of radical self-hate & disordered eating.
Your friend is making excuses for her own mindset. Based on what she told you — that you’ll never have any friends if you don’t like hearing weight talk — I shouldn’t have any friends at all! Thankfully, that’s not the case! By the way, I don’t have a single friend who talks about “calories or fat”... & I would have absolutely no qualms about spending my time ALONE instead of listening to that kind of garbage!
I think ultimately the best thing to do is spend time with people who have a healthier body image. While that might seem dismissive or cold, it’s anything but. Disordered eating is contagious, & the more time you spend in the company of those girls, the more likely it is that your own thinking about food will become warped. I would encourage your friends to get help (if you think they need it), then back away & start associating with other women.
I said a little while ago (on the subject of marriage) that I thought getting married was about finding someone who had flaws you could deal with. I think friendship is very similar — you’re not going to find someone who is perfect, but hopefully you’ll strike up a kinship with a few girls whose flaws don’t cause you to fly into a rage! If you’ve already lost someone close to an eating disorder, I can absolutely understand how your friends blabbing about weight could drive you to the point of madness! Your friends should make you feel good, make you laugh, & be people you are excited about seeing. There’s no sense in spending time with people who constantly push your buttons.
Photo by Jamie Bates.
Until we can all learn to accept & EMBRACE our bodies as the FLAWED MIRACLES that they are, this nonsense will continue. As long as you buy tabloids which speculate about celebrity weight gain or loss, we are all suckers. As long as you participate in “body snark”, discuss the appearance of other people, or give a crap about what size pants you wear, you are totally & 100% buying into it!
If your friends obsess over their weight, tell them you don’t want to hear it about it anymore. Encourage them to get help. Next time your sister makes a bitter comment about “thin girls”, give her a reality check. When your friend judges someone for what they’re wearing & how they look in it, stand up to her. Next time your girlfriend says she has gained weight, tell her she looks gorgeous — & MEAN it!
The bottom line: if you don’t let people know that their behaviour won’t be tolerated, nothing will change. Set an example! It’s easy to say you’ll do these things, but when you step away from your computer, will you make those changes in the real world? I’m going to start right now.
Radical self-hate is bullshit, & standing by & being a silent witness to it is almost as bad.
...& you can fucking quote me!
24 March 2010, 16:12
I review very, very few products on this website. Why? Because for the huge amount of things I am sent by eager companies, the vast majority of them are either useless, ugly or I’m not quite the intended audience. Additionally, if I reviewed everything I received, I’d never have time to write about anything else. I prefer it to be that I only mention something when it is really special or smart, & that way you know my opinion has weight.
So, all that preamble to get to this. I was recently sent a personal alarm made by ila, & I really like it. I think all women should have them.
They are basically a little piece of plastic with a chain dangling off the bottom, which you put on your key-chain (or the handle of your bag). If you’re in trouble, you pull the chain out & it emits an extremely high-pitched noise — which sounds like a woman screaming — at 130dB. To give you an idea of how loud that is, an ambulance siren is 120dB, & a firecracker is about 150dB. The Marks & Spencers site says, “nearly equivalent to a jet plane & louder than a jackhammer or chainsaw”. The alarm is loud enough that it will shock the hell out of anyone who isn’t expecting it. The idea is that your attacker will be so disoriented that it gives you time to run, get help or apply a swift knee to the bollocks before making your escape.
The ila Dusk, which I have, looks like it unlocks a car, so it’s extremely inconspicuous. ila make a bunch of cool personal alarms. One is a dog leash with an alarm in it, which also has a built-in flashlight so you don’t step in poop while you walk your puppy (GENIUS)! They do one which doubles as a pedometer for when you’re running, too! Brilliant!
I thought it would be really easy for the alarm to go off by accident but that hasn’t happened to me yet. You really do have to yank on the chain to trigger it, so your worries about setting it off by mistake in the movies or whatever are totally unfounded.
I really love mine, & have it on my keychain at all times. It’s interesting how much more confident I feel having it with me, & I like this idea much more than carrying mace, a knife, a sock full of pennies, etc., since those things can all be used against you (& are usually illegal anyway).
While the best thing is a good self-defense course — which you should ABSOLUTELY, definitely do if you haven’t already, & take your best friend with you — I think this is a great thing to have for peace of mind.
I didn’t even know that these things existed so I wanted to let you know, & encourage you to get one for yourself, your mother, your best friend & your sister. They are cheap (£19.50 which is about $30US), & I say anything that can keep you safe has to be good.
Do you own a personal alarm? Would you ever buy one? God forbid you would ever have to use it, I love you all & want you to be safe at all times! But I see it as a kind of insurance policy — a “just in case” item. What do you think?
P.S. Just so you know, I was not paid to write this, but I was sent an alarm for review.
24 November 2009, 15:57
Left: Pretty Woman. Right: Hussein Chalayan.
Over-the-knee boots are constantly going in & out of fashion, & have done since the time of pirates. Yarrr! They were daily-wear for pirates, who often turned the cuffs down, as well as crazy adventurers & buccaneers, who wore them as protection while they were riding & often hid things inside them. Like a treasure chest for the leg, to be sure, to be sure, yarrr! YARRR! Women started wearing them in secret too, because they wanted in on the fun, & would hide them under their long skirts.
The style comes & goes, & in the last couple of years, they have drifted back into style again. We’ve noticed them on the likes of Carine Roitfield & Victoria Beckham, & designers, who have the beadiest eyes of all, have not missed this. Now practically every shoe store has a pair in their front window, & we start to think, ‘Hmmm, I wonder how that would look on me’. But just putting them on takes stacks of confidence, & then, you think, as you stare at yourself in the mirror (& everyone in the shop gawps at you), ‘What the hell would I even wear these with, anyway?’.
My darling, I am here to help. Here is my guide to rocking the most fabulous trend of the season.
Questions for the quivery-kneed.
Can I really pull this off?
Remember that the over-the-knee boot is a STATEMENT. What the statement is, exactly, is up to you, but it is probably more along the lines of, “I am a powerful bellatrix & I am not to be trifled with” than “Here is your library card & a photocopied hand-out of the Dewey Decimal System”. Knawmean? This is not a shoe for the shrinking violet. If your legs are your least favourite attribute, or if cannot handle oodles of attention from men on the street (because believe me, you’ll get it), you should not purchase a pair. Stick to your Hush Puppies or whatever. But if you’re up for a challenge, & if you want to throw down the delicious, fetishy gauntlet, then these are for you.
I don’t really think my thighs are my best feature. Should I go for it anyway?
It all depends on how self-conscious you are. If a stranger’s swiftest glance at your gams sends you into a hyperventilating panic, perhaps you should give this one a miss. All is not lost, though — over-the-knee boots look best when worn with black opaque stockings, so it’s not like you’re really showing them off all that much. Super-secret-hint: ribbed stockings (where the lines run vertically up your leg) will give you a slimmed-down, long & lean-looking thigh without the hassle of going to the gym or giving up eating fried chicken sandwiches every second night!
Top: Chloe, Giuseppe Zanotti, Jimmy Choo, Versace, Michael Kors.
Bottom: Gucci, Stella McCartney, Kelsi Dagger, Halston, Prada, Juicy Couture.
Okay, I want to go for it. Should I buy a flat boot or one with a heel?
It really depends on what you’re most comfortable in & what you think you’ll get the most wear out of. I feel that a heel is always more flattering, especially when it comes to something like a high boot which can sometimes make even the leggiest lass look a bit… well… stumpy. But if you loathe wearing heels & wobble violently whenever you even think about a pair, flat boots are probably more your speed.
How high should the boot go?
I think a few centimetres over the knee is best. True thigh-high boots don’t give you a lot of room left over, & can look more like waders than sexy boots. But you know your style best. Try on a few different boots to find out what is most flattering for your body.
Should I go for leather or synthetic?
Leather boots are certainly more expensive, but if it’s in your budget (& fits with your morals), leather is the way to go. Why? Synthetic leather doesn’t breathe, it doesn’t sit as well against the skin (it can look kind of wrinkly & naff), & it’s less durable. Sometimes the colour will rub off or it will crack or split. It also looks cheaper, & because this is a look that can go wrong very easily, looking cheap is to be avoided!
This is not to say you cannot go synthetic; of course, you can. Just make sure you buy the best ones you find. It is worth shopping around (though really, this is true for everything).
If you decide to go for leather, here is a note about suede, because there are a lot of very attractive suede over-the-knee boots on the market. As beautiful as it is, & as wonderfully cosy as leather boots are in the winter, you need to be careful wearing suede boots in the rain. The occasional sprinkle of rain won’t ruin them (just be sure to put trees in them & let them dry out when you get home), but if they get soaked, you’ll be a very sad bunny. The dye in suede also runs like MAD when it gets wet, & it stains. You can Scotchgard your suede boots to protect them from the weather but still, use your common sense. While you are wearing them, don’t wash the car, drink too many cocktails beside a swimming pool, run a marathon during a tropical storm, etc.
PVC & patent leather boots should be avoided too, unless you are really, really, really sure you can pull it off. See: Pretty Woman.
Ugh, I tried on a pair & they don’t stay up when I walk around!
If they don’t stay up, don’t buy them! Realise that they may not be the right boots for you & continue with your search. Constantly tugging on the top of them will drive you bonkers, & if this is the case, know that there is no guaranteed way to keep them up. Liberal applications of Hollywood (or double-sided) tape will do the trick for a while, but even this is not a pinky-swear promise. Sometimes it won’t work. If the top of the boot is super-thin, you can attach suspender belt straps to them, but make sure the belt fits or your boots will just drag that down too! You see where I am going with this: ill-fitting over-the-knee boots will just create more problems than they are worth. If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing properly. Don’t half-ass this one.
As well as making sure they stay up, they should also fit your thigh properly. Think snug, but not so tight your thighs go all bulgy like an unfortunate shibari incident. If you’re swimming in them, it will either a) ruin the proportions you’re trying to go for, or b) make you look like a pirate. I know, I know, yarrrrrrrr, the history & all is cool, but is Anne Bonny really your style icon?
Okay, I bought some! Now, what do I wear with these suckers?
The truth is that the first image that comes to mind for pretty much everyone is Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, & as charming as she was, she is not the woman we’re hoping to emulate. The best way to avoid looking like you are a woman of the night is to go for contrast (otherwise known as not being too obvious) & not show everything off at once. Over-the-knee boots are all about legs, which means your outfit shouldn’t also be geared to showing off your midriff or cleavage. (This is a pretty basic rule of dressing — you don’t show everything at once, unless you are stuck in Las Vegas & have to turn tricks to get home again.)
Remember that when you put an outfit together, your shoes only convey part of the message — so what you wear them with counts.
Think about proportions. Your boots are long & fitted, so go bigger on top. How would it look if you added a slouchy sweater or a big coat cinched in at the waist? What about a long t-shirt or a radically cut a-line skirt? You could wear them over skinny jeans with an enormous scarf & a leather jacket, with an oversized cardigan or a jacket with structured shoulders.
You also don’t have to show the entire boot to make the most of them. If you think of them more as leggings or stockings, that can free you up hugely in terms of what you team with them. You could wear them with a 40’s style dress, a pencil skirt or a huge tulle petticoat to wonderful effect.
One of the easiest ways to make an outfit visually interesting is to play with proportions & put unexpected things together. Big with small, tough with luxe, vintage with new. Mix it up & see what you can come up with.
Here are some more ideas!
The styling of these two images is delicious. It’s all about proportions. The look with the leather jacket is total perfection from start to finish. She’s wearing her boots over black skinny jeans & under an oversized white shirt, which is capped off with a short leather jacket. The jacket gives the outfit its shape, while the white shirt prevents it from looking too severe. Bravo.
The picture of the girl in the (faux?) fur jacket, cinched with a belt, & worn with black over-the-knee boots is just too yummy for me to even pontificate over. If I owned all the components of that outfit, you would be hard pressed to get me to wear anything else. Ever.
In my opinion, what saves these three looks from being trashy is that you’re not even really aware that the models are wearing over-the-knee boots. It’s like a fantastic leathery secret. They just look like they’re wearing fabulous stockings or skinny leather trousers. There is no flash of pale or mottled thigh & not a hint of fishnet. They look powerful, sexy & put-together.
The Hussein Chalayan look is from Fall 2006, & is a total winner. You could wear this outfit to work, after-work drinks, or even on a date with a bit of dazzling jewellery. It’s perfectly understated & just a little bit intimidating all at the same time.
I LOVE how Alice Burdeu (Australia’s Next Top Model winner!) looks in McQueen — totally makes me think of a headmistress at a strict-but-sexy (hey, it’s my imagination) Edwardian orphanage. So good. “No, Oliver! You may NOT have some more!”
I can’t say anything about the Givenchy look because I just drowned in my own drool. Sorry.
Flair Italia October 2009.
This is perhaps not a look to emulate, but I had to include it just because it’s quite brilliant. It might be a good one for the bedroom, though.
Carine Roitfeld in Maison Martin Margiela, by Garance Doré.
Carine (Editor-In-Chief of French Vogue) shows how it’s done. The sleek silhouette of the boots perfectly off-sets the size of the coat. Her outfit is so simple but it is completely genius — there are so few parts to it, but it works seamlessly & wonderfully. She could be wearing anything under that coat — a Garfield sweatshirt, a pair of sequinned hot pants, a bikini emblazoned with the American flag — but it doesn’t matter because the few pieces we can see are A++. & seriously, look at those boots. Oh, Margiela, you did us proud.
So, what do you think of the over-the-knee boot? Is it something you think you could see yourself wearing? I am totally mad about them, & have been schlepping from store to store trying to find The Perfect Pair. When I do, I’ll be sure to let you know.
21 October 2008, 11:42
Much is made of the allegedly superior style of French women — Parisians especially. There was a point a couple of years ago where books on how to live, dress, eat & act like a French woman were being churned out at an alarming rate. That’s slightly de mode now, but when I was in Paris a couple of weeks ago, I made a point of observing the style of the women around me. (I always do, I can’t help it, but this time I made a concerted effort because I was interested in what might have sparked all those previous authors.) Obviously it’s impossible to typify an entire city full of women & the way they dress, but I noticed that French women — or at least Parisian women — do have a very definite aesthetic, despite their individual stylistic differences.
I started making some notes, & they have evolved into the piece below. I hope you enjoy it & of course if you are a French woman, or have lots of experience with them, please feel free to say your bit & share your thoughts!
Parisian women know the importance of good basics (& don’t scrimp on them)
One of the first things I noticed was that even though the temperature had only just started to drop, all the women I saw (honestly, pretty much without exception) were totally kitted out. By this I mean that I didn’t see any of them huddling & looking cold in the Métro. They all had great coats, scarves & good winter boots.
I don’t know how often French women shop, so whether the coats were brand new or not is a mystery to me. The point is that everyone had them. They were good quality coats, clean & smart-looking. This is not to say that they were expensive necessarily, but they were definitely well-made & stylish.
Parisian women seem to grasp the concept that a coat, scarf & boots are going to be their major sartorial staples for at least a few months, & so they buy with this in mind. If you think about it, during winter, all anyone really sees are your coat & shoes, so it makes total sense to get the best you can.
For more tips, see How To Buy A Winter Coat!
Parisian women work from a consistent colour palate
There was not a lot of colour to be seen in Paris, at least when it came to clothing — not on the people or in the shops — but one thing I learned from a few women I spoke to is that they tend to shop with a limited colour palate in mind. This means that they have probably determined ahead of time what works for them & their skin-tone, & they stick to it.
One problem a lot of women have is that they get carried away with excitement & end up buying a raspberry beret (!), a lime green waistcoat or a pair of pink cowboy boots… & then don’t know how to work them into their wardrobe. Obviously if your closet is extensive & well-stocked, this might not be so much of a problem, but most women don’t have that luxury. & so that colourful poncho languishes at the back of the cupboard, because you just cannot work out what to put it with.
If you make a decision to work from a few colours — maybe black, beige, white, royal blue & red, for example — it makes your entire sartorial experience about a billion times more simple & cohesive. While this might sound boring (& it’s certainly not a rule I adhere to — I am totally prone to flights of fancy where I buy turquoise cardigans), if you feel like your style’s a bit of a mess & you don’t know where to begin fixing it, paring the colours down is a great place to start.
Parisian women don’t want to look “perfect”
The major difference between the look of Parisian women & American women that I can see is that Americans want to look absolutely perfect, with not a hair out of place. It’s very pageant style, very shiny teeth. Parisian women don’t want to look that way, & while they may spend just as much time getting ready in the morning, it’s not so that you could blast their head with a leaf-blower & have no effect. Parisian women often wear their hair loose & down, tucked into their scarf or coat if the weather is horrible, or pulled back in a messy chignon. This is one of those things that helps add to that tousled, sex kitten look that so many women are crazy about trying to achieve. You won’t look like that if your hair is pulled back so severely it doubles as an amateur face-lift!
Okay, so let me make a disclaimer & say that this is not to say that you can leave the house with soup stains on your skirt & safety-pins holding your sleeve together. It’s about looking effortless, not being effortless!
Allow yourself to get a little dishevelled. If you don’t know how to make that happen, get dressed, then have sex, then leave the house. Simple, non?!
Parisian women don’t wear a lot of make-up
One thing I heard years ago was that French women aren’t wild about make-up, but they are crazy for treatments, potions & powders. Apparently the average French woman’s medicine cabinet is a veritable apothecary, the likes of which would make a mad scientist beam with pride.
Regardless of their penchant for slathering strange creams on themselves, Parisian women really don’t wear a lot of make-up. I barely saw a lipsticked mouth the whole time I was there. Most of them seemed pretty content with a bit of foundation, rouge, eye-liner & mascara. I always thought of stereotypical sexy French rock & roll style as being a girl with long messy hair & slightly unkempt eye make-up, but I didn’t see any of those girls. Maybe they only exist in my imagination…
Parisian women take their time
This is not to say that they dawdle or plod around, because they certainly don’t. But the French, generally, understand that time is precious, & they make the most of it. Yes, they work hard, but they also make time to relax & look after themselves — unlike most Americans or English, who seem intent on working themselves into an early grave!
They make time to have a bath, go for walks & spend time with their friends. They’re not constantly running around with dangerously high blood pressure. They understand that life is about balance. Life doesn’t have to be perfectly structured & pulled tight in order to be satisfying. They’re okay with letting go of the reins.
Parisian women keep it simple
Parisian women seem to manage to avoid the temptation to load on accessories & gee-gaws. Maybe they all subscribe to Coco Chanel’s old adage of “take one thing off before you leave the house”, or maybe the overdone look just doesn’t appeal as much. Regardless of the reason, it’s much easier to look chic & polished if you have fewer elements fighting for attention.
Parisian women wear heels — a lot
Before you rush out & rack up a hideous credit card bill at ChristianLouboutin.fr (I know you & your quick-draw Visa!), stop! Yes, very high heels are sexy. But only some of them are comfortable, & spending a lot of money on a pair of kicks unfortunately doesn’t make them cozy. (You would think they would pass some kind of law stipulating that if a pair of shoes retails for over $500, you should be able to stand up in them without feelings of intense agony, but hey!)
So the most important thing to realise is that yes, a lot of Parisian women wear heels a lot of the time, but they wear heels they can walk in! & stand in! & actually feel alright in! Sometimes this means a little kitten heel, & sometimes it means something higher, but you really won’t know until you try something on. My point is, Parisian women make the effort with their footwear but they don’t murder themselves in the process.
Be good to your tootsies, they’re the only ones you’ve got! (Unless you have some kind of strange affliction… In which case, sorry. But go nuts on the shoes!)
Extra For Experts:
JAK & JIL BLOG has lots of French model style for your perusal. (It happens to be one of my new favourite blogs, too.)
The Sartorialist shoots in Paris regularly, though unfortunately his “Women in Paris” tag doesn’t seem to be working. Just scroll!
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