Winter Capsule Wardrobe 2016: The End!

As far as my wardrobe and I are concerned, winter is over. Sure, temperatures and weather conditions might be a little rough for the next few weeks (although this has been a fairly mild season, and the groundhog didn’t see his shadow). But, I’m ready for spring. That’s the thing about capsule wardrobes. Having a limited wardrobe makes changing seasons pretty exciting.

Before I reveal my spring capsule (next week), let’s take a look at a few of the outfits I put together during the last month.

winter_capsule_outfit_0205

Work Outfit 1

I am in love with this navy blue dress from Theory. When I first got it, I was unsure about keeping it, but it’s really proved to be a good purchase. It fits well, it’s well-made, and I can wear it in a lot of different ways. Case in point, as pictured here, worn over top of a silk, clock print blouse from J.Crew. (Which surprisingly, hasn’t ripped.)

 

winter_capsule_outfit_125

Work Outfit 2

Here’s an outfit made out of a few of my favorites. Navy blue pleated skirt from J.Crew. A silk blouse from Equipment. And a merino wool cardigan. I keep telling myself that I’m “over cardigans,” yet I keep wearing them.

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Work Outfit 3

I searched pretty long and hard for a stretchy black mockneck top like the one I finally found from Reformation. I think it looks particularly vintage when styled with the Julia Patch Pocket skirt from Boden.

 

winter_capsule_outfit_0216b

 

It was a bit chilly the day I wore this (it is winter, after all). So, before going out to meet a few friends at night, I added a tuxedo blazer from Boden and a pair of tall boots (another thing I keep thinking that I’m “over,” but still wear anyway).

 

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Work Outfit 4

Another outfit made up of favorites: a hounds tooth print skirt from J.Crew Factory (which is, unfortunately, falling apart) and a cropped cardigan from a boutique in Oxford, UK. Plus, a watch pendant necklace from a local jewelry maker who, as far as I can tell, no longer exists).

 

winter_capsule_outfit_0220

Casual Weekend Outfit

Yeah, I like to wear pencil skirts on the weekends. They look cute and stylish, but are fairly comfortable, especially when paired with a flannel shirt. The big surprise of this outfit is those boots. They’re Steve Madden and I’ve had them for years. They are falling apart a bit at this stage, some of the buttons are missing and I should get them resoled. But, otherwise, they are still hanging in there.

Shopping: J.Crew Winter Work Dress Reviews

As much as I complain about J.Crew or feel disappointed when trying their stuff on, I still get excited when a new “rollout” hits the stores. Some of the items from the most recent batch of arrivals looked pretty promising, specifically a tweed skirt and jacket and a crepe mini skirt. Heck, even these polka dot pants looked promising, although potentially unflattering. Sadly for me, the store in Philly had none of those items.

What it did have was dresses. Lots and lots of dresses. So, I tried them on, thinking that my capsule for spring could use a new dress or two.

jcrew_tweed_belted_dress

Belted Tweed Dress

I figured the belted tweed dress would be the closest to the tweed suit I was interested in, so I decided to give it a try. Plus, it looked super cute on the mannequin. There was no 6 to try, so I grabbed an 8, and it was just a bit too big. Also, I never know how to tie sashes so that they look good. What I have looks really sloppy, which combined with the poor fit of the dress just looks like a mess.

I also wasn’t sold on the quality of the fabric. It’s a nubby, cotton/poly/viscose blend. Small threads were coming off of it in the fitting room, so I’m thinking no on this one.

jcrew_herringbone_dress

Herringbone Sheath Dress

I think this dress might have come out in the previous batch of new arrivals, but I only just noticed it. Of all the dresses I tried on, this one was my favorite. It’s a wool blend fabric, and I’m particularly keen on the ribbon detail running up the side of the skirt.

jcrew_herringbone_dress_closeup

It makes it just a bit more interesting. Fit was good – this is a 6, which I was worried might be a bit snug in the hips, but it wasn’t. My complaint about this is that it feels too heavy to be a good option this late in the season. It’s definitely too warm for spring and summer. I wonder why they didn’t release it in fall. That would have been perfect.

jcrew_9am_dress

9AM Dress in Super 120s Wool

I tried the 9 AM dress on more because I was interested in the cut and style than the color. Light gray just doesn’t do anything for me (there are navy and orange-red options available online). I liked the dress, and the quality was pretty good (it’s 100% wool on the outside). It was a bit loose in the chest and waist area in the 6, but I didn’t try on a 4 to get a comparison.

jcrew_sheath_dress_italian_wool

Sheath Dress in Italian Stretch Wool

OK, I like the color of the sheath dress and the tropical weight, stretch wool. But what is going on with those sleeves? And, there’s a row of stitching around the waist that just looks shoddy up close. Fit wise, it was true to size.

 

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Paneled Geometric Dress

The paneled geometric dress is the type of dress that makes you go “eh.” It fits true to size – I’m in a 6, and thought I’d need to go up to an 8, but had plenty of room.

The fabric is a little unpleasant. It’s a poly/cotton jacquard and it kind of felt what I’d imagine it to feel like if someone were to make a dress out of wallpaper. The pattern of the fabric just isn’t that great, either.  It looks great on the model on the website, but in real life, it just doesn’t live up to expectations.

jcrew_silk_dot_popover_tuckedin

 

Silk Popover Shirt in Polka Dot

I really can’t say no to polka dots (which is why I was so excited about those pants). So, I took the next best thing and tried on the silk popover in polka dot. I really liked the look and fit of the shirt, although the fabric wasn’t that great (it was a bit rough and thin).

 

jcrew_silk_dot_popover_closeup

 

Consensus? I don’t think any of the dresses or the silk shirt are must-haves for me for the spring. The quality of the tweed dress has me cautiously pessimistic about the quality of the tweed skirt and jacket that weren’t in store, too. The herringbone sheath would be great for the fall, so we’ll see if it hangs around that long.

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Books: What I Read in January

Well, when it comes to books, my year is off to a great start. I read three fantastic novels in January and two social science/pop anthropology/sociology books last month. Let’s review:

Primates of Park Avenue

 

I put Primates of Park Avenue (written by Wednesday Martin) on my holds list at the library when it first came out, nearly a year ago. The book was so popular, it took until the end of December for a copy to become available. Was it worth the wait?

Eh, kinda. The press for the book and excerpts I read from it before reading the whole thing definitely tried to make it seem like some sort of salacious tell-all. But, it wasn’t really. It was one woman’s experience living in a culture that was strange to her, at least at first. Sure, there were some moments were the tone of the book was like “oh no, she didn’t!” But in all, I thought it was a pretty level-headed assessment of what life is like up on the Upper East Side.

The Coldest Winter Ever

The Coldest Winter Ever was a book club pick. It’s not a book I would have chosen to read on my own, but I’m glad that I got to read it. The Winter in the title refers to the narrator and main character in the book, as well as to the challenges she faces in her life when her father, formerly a big drug dealer in the projects in Brooklyn, ends up arrested. The feds seize everything Winter and her family own, from their home to their designer clothing. Her sisters end up in foster care, her mother ends up breaking down. But, Winter remains strong through it all.

Reading the book, I wondered if it was a criticism and commentary on the drug dealing life or a criticism of the forces that act against that life. Winter’s father might have been doing bad things, but he was providing for his family. It’s only when the feds step in and take everything that the world starts to crumble around her.

 

The Heart Goes Last

The Heart Goes Last is the latest novel by Margaret Atwood. I picked it up when she was at the Free Library in October and only just a chance to read it. The world of the novel is one similar to our own, except that the great recession has destroyed more people’s homes and livelihoods.  Tired of living in their car, Stan and Charmaigne decide to move into the Poistron Project, which is half prison, half housing development They alternate between living in a normal house and living in the prison month after month. Their needs are taken care of, so what could go wrong?

Everything of course, and the novel gets progressively darker as it goes on. But, since it’s a Margaret Atwood story, there is light at the end of the tunnel. The story looks at the darkest depths that people can sink to while also reassuring us that there’s good in humanity.

The First Bad Man

Miranda July is a quirky strange woman, so it’s no surprise that her novel The First Bad Man is a quirky strange novel. It starts off in the office of a doctor who prescribes color to treat symptoms and falls down a rabbit hole of weirdness from there. There’s violence and strange sex and more violence, and some ideas that will deeply disturb people. I’ll say that I  enjoyed the book, and that there’s a chance you will either absolutely hate it or love it.

 

Modern Romance

I love Aziz Ansari, but I actually didn’t think I was going to read Modern Romance. I’ve been in a relationship for more than 11 years; I have no idea what the kids do in the dating field these days. I heard there’s something called Tinder.
But, the book appeals to more than just people who are single and frustrated with what dating apps hath wrought. It’s also insanely funny. I read it on a train to NYC, sitting across the aisle from a business-y looking guy, who was on his phone the entire, conducting important business, and I had to hold in my laughter.

Although the title is Modern Romance and the book is meant to look at the dating lives of a very distinct group of people (middle class 20 and 30somethings, though I wonder what they used to define middle class and if upper middle class or privileged, but not super wealthy might be a better term. Anyway.), I found that it was also relevant for modern relationships in general to some degree. Who hasn’t worried that their friends hated them or if they’d said something horribly wrong when it took more than an hour for someone to respond to a text message?

If you’ve seen Aziz’s stand up or watched his show Master of None, be warned that there is some repetition in the book. You’ll hear about that girl that never texted him back (which was a story line in Master of None) and he talks about food a lot. But, you’ll also get a lot of funny stories and an insightful look into what people who are single and dating are thinking and going through these days.

Cold Mountain

Maybe including Cold Mountain here isn’t fair, because I only read about 10 pages before deciding that I just didn’t want to read it and there was no point in continuing. It’s the One Book, One Philadelphia pick for the year and one of my book clubs is reading it, so I thought I’d give it a try.

The language is very pretty, but it’s set in the Civil War and I just couldn’t care about it. So I stopped and returned it to the library right away, so that someone else can enjoy it.

5 Reasons I’m Shopping Less

One of my goals for the year is to shop less, particularly when it comes to clothing, but also in other areas where I’ve been prone to overspending or just buying stuff because it looked pretty or had a horse on it or something. There are a few reasons behind my decision, which I thought I’d go over here.

 

Clothings awaiting its fate.
My wardrobe, pre-KonMarie, 2015

1. Owning Stuff is Stressfull

The pile of clothing there is probably about half of my entire wardrobe, a little over a year ago, when I did the first sweep with the #KonMarie system. That’s a lot of clothing, much of which I barely even remember owning (I sold most of it and donated the rest).

What I do remember is the feeling of stress I had about owning that much. There were constant thoughts of “oh, I haven’t worn that mint green mini skirt in a while, I should wear it soon. But when? I don’t even like it that much, I just got it because it was on sale at J.Crew Factory and I wanted a green skirt.”

There was also the issue of all that fitting into my tiny closet (which isn’t even deep enough to accommodate normal hangers, every thing in it is at a slight angle). When a closet is too full, it’s difficult to get things in and out, which just adds to the stress.

2. The Clothing Industry Isn’t Sustainable or Kind

Reason two why I’m shopping less: the clothing industry itself is awful. I mean, there’s no other way to describe it. There’s no reason for people to put their lives at risk going to work to sew garments for people who don’t even need, or in the long run, want, those garments.

Just last week, there was yet another fire at a garment factory, which injured four. The injury count is only so low because the fire started before most of the workers had arrived to start their shifts.

Of course, some companies do go out their way to be transparent or to put a strong focus on ethics. But, at the end of the day, most don’t. And I don’t want to participate in that.

I know this won’t solve the major problem of the industry, and that there are a lot of big issues wrapped up in it, and not shopping won’t necessarily change those things, as discussed in “The Myth of the Ethical Shopper,” but until the entire industry changes, shopping less is what I can do.

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3. I Want to Make Better Choices About What I Own

Those aforementioned transparent and ethical companies might produce garments that are made in the US and might be willing to reveal who they work with and what their costs are, but they do so at a price. Better quality clothing just costs more. The trade off should be that it lasts longer and that you’re less likely to part with it or sell it for pennies on the dollar to ThredUP.

Of course, that means making a better decision before bringing it into my closet. I  haven’t really developed a full set of criteria for this yet, but any items I own should spark  joy, fit, and be well made. Seems simple enough.

4. I Have Other Financial Goals

One of my other goals for the year is to really pay down my student loans. So far, I’ve paid off the last of my last undergraduate loan, but still have a ways to go on my loans from grad. school.

Part of the reason for that is that I’ve been on the income based repayment plan since about 2009, and that has meant that my payments have been low enough and my interest high enough (yay for going to grad school pre-recession!) that I haven’t really made a dent in 7+ years. So, I’m shifting my focus from spending to getting rid of that debt.

I’m also interested in traveling more, evidenced by the traveling posts (Iceland and NYC) I’ve done lately. I’ve been studying French and hope to spend a few weeks there by the end of the year. Obviously, I can’t do that if I’m spending hundreds on clothing each month.

5. I’m Minimizing in Other Areas, Too

I thought that the desire to pare down would limit itself to my wardrobe, but it hasn’t. I’ve been reducing in other areas of my life, too. I’m cutting back on everything from possessions (I recently cleared out about a quarter of the stuff from my work room/study and it’s much better to work in it) to activities (I’m seriously reconsidering my commitment to things that don’t bring me joy, make me feel inadequate, or just cause stress).

As part of shopping less, I’ve been on a bit of a shopping ban in January and February. It’s been pretty easy, because I have the capsule to keep me covered in terms of clothing. I did buy a nice lamp, because it gets dark in the corner of the room I work around 5pm and I was dealing with eye strain. It’s made of marble and sparks joy and I can see now, so it was worth it.

I think the challenge might come around next month, when I pack away my heavier winter clothes and break out the spring items. There are a few things I have on my wishlist for spring, so I am hoping I’ll be able to keep myself in check and only buy what I need.

Travel: A Quick, Solo Trip to New York City in January

A few times a year, I travel from Philly to New York to remind myself why I don’t live there. Just kidding, I like New York fine, and lived there for a few years, but going there does remind me of why I love Philadelphia so much.

I’ve found that, the slight risk for major blizzards and freezing temperatures aside, January is really the ideal time for a solo trip to New York. The hotels are relatively inexpensive, the crowds have thinned, and the sales are still going on. Here’s a quick round-up of what I did, where I stayed, and what I recommend when you’ve got 48 hours to spend in the city on your own.

where to stay during solo trip to new york city
The super narrow mirror at the Pod 39 hotel

Where to Stay

If you’re traveling on your own and are looking for something that’s pretty  much just a crash pad, I can’t recommend the Pod 39 hotel enough. In January, I’ve found that their per night prices tend to fall to less than $100, while the rest of the year they are pushing $300 per night. Although the price is affordable, it’s not a budget hotel. It’s clean, it’s somewhat trendy, and it has plenty of modern amenities, such as a flat screen TV, free WiFi, and a nice, rainfall shower.

The downside is that it’s tiny. This year, I got a double room, which pretty much had room for a double bed and a small desk. (I’ve previously stayed in a queen-sized room, which has a bit more space.) There was an attached bathroom with a small sink, shower and a ledge for your stuff. The room I stayed in also featured what might be the least useful mirror I’ve ever seen. As you can see in the photo, there’s no real closet, so the hangers (which were attached to coat hooks) blocked the mirror, which also happened to be right in the corner by the door. Another drawback: there’s no kettle or coffee maker in the room, and they don’t have free coffee in the lobby. There is a restaurant, Salvation Taco, that will sell you breakfast and coffee, if you wish.

Some might also argue that the location of Pod 39, Murray Hill, is a downside. OK, it is a little douchey there, but you can say the same about a lot of New York. It’s just a few blocks from the Grand Centeral 4/5/6 stop, so you can leave in a hurry if you want. There are also lots of places nearby to get a quick bite to eat or a drink if need be. Plus, you’re within walking distance to pretty much everything in Manhattan.

Mondrian Composition No.2 in Red and Blue
Mondrian Composition No.2 in Red and Blue

What to Do

Typically, I plan on seeing a few shows when in New York. This year, I saw The Glory of the World at BAM and Masters at Work at the NYC Ballet. The NYC Ballet can be pricey, but I managed to get a seat on the far side of the orchestra, in the second row, for just $30.

I had thought about going to the Met Museum, since I’ve actually  never been to it, but got lazy and didn’t want to walk up to 86th street, so I went to the Museum of Modern Art instead. That turned out to be a good decision, since MoMA had an exhibition looking back on the works of Jackson Pollock and an exhibition of sculptures by Picasso.

Usually, when I visit MoMA, it’s insanely crowded and it takes like an hour to check your coat (which is free and they recommend doing.) This time, there was no line and the museum was relatively uncrowded, which  made looking at the exhibitions a lot more enjoyable. I don’t know if it was the time of day or the month that kept the crowds away.

I almost dropped into the Paris Movie Theater on my last night, just because I happened to walk by it, but decided against it, because it was just a bit too late (the movie would have started at 10, and I wouldn’t have gotten back to the hotel until after midnight. God, I’m old).

I also just enjoy wandering around the city. Manhattan is pretty small and you can easily walk it, especially if you avoid the crowded areas, like Times Square and the area around Penn Station/Herald Square. I ended up walking from the hotel over to Lincoln Center over the course of the day, and then back again at night.Walking back to the Pod 39 after the ballet, 5th Avenue was pretty much deserted. It was great.

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Shopping

I did stop into J.Crew on my trip (I actually went to two stores, one on Madison Ave, and the one in the Time Warner Center), and have some reviews of the most recent arrivals. I also went to Saks Fifth Avenue, just to see. It was so pretty (especially this Marc Jacobs skirt and this amazing military jacket from Polo Ralph Lauren), but I felt very out of place there. Like, I felt like everyone could tell my scarf was from Gap and that maybe they were a bit disdainful of it and clearly, I wasn’t going to buy anything, so why was I there? It was the tail end of sale season, though, so they did have a few racks of items marked down 60 to 70%. Nothing that caught my eye or was in my size, though.

Working

I’m self-employed, which means that most of my trips are working vacations. The best place to work in New York, in my opinion? The public library. I tend to go to the Midtown Branch, at 40th and 5th, but any branch will do. There’s plenty of seating and tables, the WiFi is free (you don’t need a library card or password), and you can sit and work all day. The downside: the bathrooms are a nightmare. Just don’t even go in them.

Eating

When I travel alone, I don’t really get very adventurous when it comes to eating. I guess I don’t really get adventurous when it comes to eating in general, as I don’t really care about the latest place to eat or what have you. So, I don’t really have much to offer when it comes to where to eat in the city. I like Pret a Manger, embarrassingly enough, and will pretty much just go there the entire time I’m in NY. The fact that there’s one pretty much every block doesn’t help matters. Yeah. Let’s all just pretend I didn’t admit that.

Shopping: J.Crew Winter 2016

I was in NYC last week and my trip happened to coincide with J.Crew’s latest roll out of new arrivals. So, I figured, why not go and check them out. I actually ended up popping into two stores, the one on Madison Avenue in Midtown and the one at Columbus Circle. The Madison Ave. store was a bit small and seemed to be pretty well stocked with size 0s, but not much else, so I left quickly. The Columbus Circle outlet was considerably larger (two floors) and actually  had my size.

Teddie Sailor Pant
Teddie Sailor Pant

Teddie Sailor Pant

I dunno, I have a thing for sailor style pants, so I was really excited to try on the Teddie Sailor Pants. Sadly, they weren’t the most flattering on me. The 6 fit, but wow, do these make my thighs look huge. I think it might be due to the length – they are meant to be cropped, but they look just a bit too short on my 5’10” frame (maybe a tall would work better? Never mind, the sailor style isn’t available in tall).

Jcrew_teddy_sailor_pants_side

I’m also not 100% sold on the buttons. The ones in the back look alright, but the ones in the front are just kind of there and look a bit cheap. The fabric is a wool blend, but they didn’t feel very  heavy.

J.Crew Regent Blazer
J.Crew Regent Blazer

Regent Blazer

I know the Regent Blazer has been around for a while, but I’ve actually never tried it. Since I love the Regent Topcoat so much, I wanted to give it a try.

Talk about night and day. While the topcoat looks great on me (I think), the blazer looks so drab and boxy. The size 6 is too wide in the shoulders and just kinda hangs there. Ugh, this is not a flattering look.

Jcrew_Regent_Blazer_Charcoal_2

There is a single button near the waist, but what’s the point of it? It doesn’t cinch the blazer closed or add any shape to it. I guess you can add me to the anti-Regent crowd.

JCrew_Frayed_Tweed_mini_skirt

Multicolor Tweed Mini

I like the Multicolor Tweed Mini, it’s fun and a bit silly. The size 6 fit fine, though it was a little low on my waist and the length was very short. I wouldn’t add this one to my closet, for a few reasons. For one thing, it’s an acrylic blend and I have a no acrylic rule (it wears poorly and always looks tired after no time at all). For another, the fray bits on the skirt were actually fraying themselves right off.

Look at the little stray piece of thread in the photo there. By the time I was finished the try-on, that piece of thread was on the floor of the dressing room.

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The ultimate deal breaker is the exposed zipper. Nope. Just nope.

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Silk Clip Dot Top

For some reason, I thought the elm Silk Clip Dot Top was going to work with the tweed skirt. But, it didn’t. Oh well. I’m not super into this top, but it was fine. It’s a viscose silk blend with a polyester lining. The size 4 fit well in the body. The sleeves seemed short, but according to the online description, they’re meant to be 3/4 length. They looked more like bracelet length sleeves to me, which, on a person with long arms, can just look as though your shirt is too small. I liked the green color, but there’s not much special enough about the shirt to make it a good closet addition.

JCrew_Tipped_Jackie_Cardigan_twinset

Tipped Jackie Twinset

I really like the detailing on the Tipped Jackie Cardigan and Shell. But, otherwise, I wasn’t sold on them. Both are made of a lightweight merino, which was actually almost too lightweight. The shell was see-through and I felt sure I was going to snag the cardigan on something. The buttons on the cardigan felt like they were slightly too large for the size of the button holes — it was difficult to undo them. Although it looks cute and fits true to size (I’m in a small in both), it just feels like neither the cardigan or the shell will last for more than a season.

Reviewed in this post: