The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: Post (Clothing) Purge

I’m a month into following Marie Kondo’s KonMarie method, outlined in her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. In a previous post, I discussed the process of sifting through my closet and dresser to decide what should stay and what should go. Now that all is pretty much said and done and I’ve cleared out a lot of things, not just from my wardrobe, but from my bookshelves, kitchen, and other areas, I have to say that I feel much lighter.

Clothings awaiting its fate.
Clothing awaiting its fate.

When it comes to clothing, there’s the stuff you wear, the stuff you don’t really like or wear, the stuff that doesn’t fit you, and the stuff that you still like but know you won’t wear because it’s not your style any more. Kondo’s right: all that needs to go. I knew it deep down, but it wasn’t until I read her book and started her method that I could accept it in practice.

Take that Marc by Marc Jacobs skirt that I mentioned in my last post, for example. I got it a year or so ago on final sale and wore it a few times. I liked the skirt, it was cute, but here’s the thing: it was really short and a bit tight, so I always felt really self conscious in it, even when wearing opaque tights. It also did that weird thing that skirts do when they’re too loose in the waist but tight in the hips and kept turning around. I’d leave the house with my skirt facing the right direction and get to my destination with my skirt on backwards.

But, still I kept it and I kept trying to make it work. For such a small skirt, it was taking up a lot of space in my brain. “Maybe I’ll wear that Marc Jacobs skirt today,” I’d think. I’d put it on and decide to wear something else. When it came time to do the purge, I picked up the skirt and realized it didn’t spark joy. It did the opposite; it was causing me a lot of stress.

In the book, Kondo notes that she’ll often go back over a few items with her clients, asking them if those items really spark joy. The clients usually admit that no, those items don’t spark  joy, and into the discard pile they go. While I didn’t have the help of a professional organizer, I did end up going back into my closet to re-examine some pieces that I was admittedly “meh” about – mostly a few dresses that still fit but that I just wasn’t excited about wearing or that weren’t as flattering on as they could be. Like the skirt, those few dresses were causing a bit of stress, as I knew I should wear them, but just didn’t want to.

So, what are the big lessons learned here? What do I now know that will  help me keep my closet from spiraling out of control again?

1. Stop buying things on final sale, especially online purchases. I got the Marc by Marc Jacobs skirt, and a lot of other things, on final sale, online. Buying online is always risky, since you don’t get to touch the item before purchase. The fabric could be very much not what you were expecting (a knit when you thought a woven, a blend when you were thinking the real deal, unlined, and so on), the color could be weird, and finally, and perhaps most importantly, the thing might not fit you. I’ve gotten skirts that were much too big, and a touch too small on final sale, and I was just stuck. So no more of that. If I’m getting it online and I can’t try it on or touch it first, I’m on going to take the risk.

2. I hate pants. I actually knew this already, but now that I have just two pairs of jeans and no trousers, it’s confirmed.

3. Stop buying crappy clothing. I’m actually pretty good about this already, but for awhile there, I was buying stuff at J.Crew Factory, which makes cheaper versions of the stuff at standard J.Crew. One of them was an unlined, cotton pencil skirt that looked really cute until static electricity made it bunch up and cling to my legs in a really really unflattering way, every time I wore it.

4. Return anything you can if you don’t really like it. I’ve gotten pretty good about returning things when I felt they were just “meh,” or didn’t fit properly (as long as they weren’t final sale), but for a while there, I wasn’t so great about it. Case in point: this Banana Republic Megan Draper dress. (picture on the top left). Yeah, it looks totally amazing on that model. On me, not so much. But I kept it, until the day I threw it in the wash and it shrunk in a really strange way.

5. No one’s opinion matters but my own. Seriously, the worst thing I can do is ask someone else what they think. They might give something I’m pretty sure I don’t like the thumbs up or they might hate something I love. The reason I kept that BR Megan Draper dress was because people told me it looked good on or that they liked it. Or, their argument might be that something doesn’t take up much space, so might as well keep it, which defeats the entire project.

In sum, I’ve probably wasted a lot of money on clothing that I ended up either just being lukewarm about or that I disliked. Going forward, I’m going to be a bit more careful about what I buy, so that I don’t have to waste brain space worrying about  my clothing  and so that I’m a lot less wasteful.


And, in case you were wondering what happened to the clothing I no longer want: most of it is being donated. A good portion of I’m going to try to sell to an online consignment shop called Twice. I’ll let you all know how that goes.

Waiting to go . . .
Waiting to go . . .


Shopping: A Visit to Kate Spade Saturday

I was in New York last week, just for a fun. While New York isn’t really the shopping mecca it might have once been, since it’s pretty much just a bunch of chain stores you can find in any American city these days, there was one store I wanted to take a look at, because there isn’t one here in Philly: Kate Spade Saturday.

Saturday is Kate Spade’s cooler younger sister. The clothes aren’t so preppy and they cost a bit less than their older sister label. I’ve come to love them in recent years, both for their creative cuts and designs and for their quality and fit.

I’ve had my eye on this dress, but in dark purple, or grape. Although I’ve had good luck with the brand’s fuller skirted dresses, I wanted to try this one on in person, before taking the chance of ordering (although Saturday does offer free shipping both ways). Alas, there were just two sizes left at the store and neither of them would fit me. But, my size was available in the black, so I went with that.

Black dress . . . eh.

While the dress fit pretty  much perfectly, I didn’t get it, mostly because I really wanted purple and I wasn’t about to buy a dress I was lukewarm about. The saleswoman recommended I try the skirt, which was available in my size in purple.

Black dress. . .eh.

It was a bit tighter in the waist than I’d be comfortable wearing and a touch short – it felt shorter than the dress, although that could just be a visual trick created by the contrast between the olive green tights and the purple skirt. I could go up a size for a bigger waist and more length, but then I think I’d lose the interesting angles and cut of the skirt – it’s designed to fit on the waist, not a few inches below.

I tend to get excited about going to actual stores, instead of just ordering things online, but I do find that brick and mortar stores tend to be a bit of a disappointment. They have a smaller selection than the web and there is a greater chance that your size just won’t be in stock in the dress you wanted to try on. But, in the case of Saturday, the brick and mortar store has one advantage over the web, and that’s in the form of the very helpful and friendly salespeople working there. I know that not everyone who works retail is particularly helpful, but I had a really good experience with the two women working the shop. Both offered advice on styles to try, which I realize, is their jobs, but you really don’t always get that at stores, even if you make it clear that you want to leave with something.

Anyway, enough about the physical location of the store — here’s some important info about the online store: it’s having a secret sale until January 23. Stuff is marked down as much as 75 percent, which is pretty nuts. A few of my picks from this sale are below, including a dress I already own and bought before it went on sale (dammit). Note that the prices listed are regular sale prices, not secret sale prices.

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up

Life changing magic of tidying up

Hello, 2015. I’m not usually one to make resolutions, since I’ve learned over the past few decades that all I do is break them. Instead, I set goals or give myself little projects to work on. On New Year’s Eve this year, I was boasting that I didn’t have any resolutions. That might be true, but I still have several things I want to tackle over the next few months. One is unsubscribing from most of the seemingly random emails I get. Another, more strenuous one is to seriously get rid of a lot of the stuff in my  house.

I’ve recently read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. It’s a lot more interesting and . . . different from many organizing books out there. Kondo, who I think is just barely 30, claims to have three month waiting list for her services and that over the course of running her business, she’s never had a repeat customer. Meaning that, her method works.

One of the things that makes her process, dubbed KonMari by her, different from the standard organizing advice we get from uncluttering pros in the US is the concept of aninism, or belief that objects have a soul. Although I’m not really spiritual, this belief kind of vibes with me. I talk to inanimate objects all the time and believe that you should treat things respectfully.

The two big pieces of advice Kondo gives in her book are to purge your stuff first, then put it in order, and to only keep those belongings that spark joy. When you do decide to give something up, either by donating, selling or plain out discarding it, she tells you to thank it for its service to you, then send it along. I know that type of advice won’t jive  with everyone and plenty of people are going to think its’ nutso, but it just makes sense to me.

Kondo has a recommended order for purging, starting with your clothing and moving on to more emotional items, such as letters and knick-knacks. Really, for someone like me, clothing tends to be pretty emotional, so I was a bit worried about starting there. But, there were no tears, although there was some disagreement, since my POSSLQ was in the same room while I was sorting through my stuff, and let’s just say he and I disagree about some of my sartorial choices.

Life changing magic of tidying up
Most of my clothes, pre-purge

The book recommends sorting through all your clothes at once, putting them all in one area. Did I cheat? Kind of, because I split the task into two days, tackling the tights, knickers and socks on day one and the dresses, shirts, sweaters, jeans and skirts on day two. One both days, deciding what stays and what should go was surprisingly easy. There was no well, this still fits and I sometimes wear it  . . . so I guess I’ll keep it.

The idea of only hanging on to things that “spark joy” really  helped draw the line in the sand. I have (or I guess, had) a few skirts that were, eh, okay, but didn’t really fit right or didn’t really  match  a lot of things or just weren’t my style any more. I’ve been hanging on to them because they are decent skirts, a bit pricey, and there’s nothing “wrong” with them, except that they didn’t make me  happy. In all honestly, one of them I was hanging on to because it was Marc by Marc Jacobs. It was too tight in the hips and I felt self-conscious wearing it, but was keeping it because of the designer brand. Dumb, I know.

The discard pile. It looks smaller than it felt.
The discard pile. It looks smaller than it felt.

They’re gone, into the pile, along with a few dresses that were just blah or that were worn out in really weird ways. I had this lovely dress from CK that I’ve had for five years. It still fits, but I hardly wear it because it smells like gasoline. No idea why it has that scent, but it’s kinda of gross to wear a dress that smells like a gas station. Into the pile it went.

Deciding whether things spark joy or not does make some decisions a bit tricky. I’m not really a shoes person, but I have a pair of black and white menswear style brogues that I love. You could definitely say that these shoes spark joy.


But, they also hurt my feet. They hurt my feet so much that I’ve them for more than five years and can count on one hand the number of times I’ve worn them. I love the shoes, but I also know that it’s time to say goodbye. Bye shoes, thank you for making me happy and for protecting my feet the few times I wore you.

Up next: thoughts on the value of purging a lot of stuff at once.

Shopping: J. Crew Zebra Silk Blouse


I’ve recently gotten into silk, particularly silk button-up shirts. They’re easier to layer than a stiff cotton shirt, incredibly warm, and don’t trap your sweat in the way shirts made of synthetic fabrics do. They are a bit fussier to care for, as many claim to be dry  clean only or advise you to dry clean them, instead of tossing them in the wash or gently hand washing them. But, here’s a thing I’ve learned over the years: you can, for the most part, get away with washing silk. Use cold water and avoid the dryer and things should be fine. If you’re really cautious, you can hand wash, using a fancy detergent designed just for silks. I also iron my silk shirts, which might horrify some people. But, really silk isn’t always a delicate fabric. It can take some wear and tear, sometimes.

All this brings me to a recent purchase: the classic silk blouse in zebra print from J.Crew. J.Crew’s silk blouses are a bit different this year from styles the brand has made in the past. The blouses have a wide, wide fit and are really long. I’m in a regular length here and it’s grazing the top of my thighs. The sleeves are rolled up because they are a bit blousy. Not quite puffy shirt from Seinfeld blousy but close enough that I won’t wear them full length.

The zebras up close.
The zebras up close.

J.Crew’s been doing some fun prints in silk this season, too, as evidenced by the kind of strange zebra pattern on this blouse. It looks a bit abstract from a distance, but up close you can clearly see that it’s zebras.

Slightly interesting fit and pattern don’t really make up for the construction of the shirt, though. The silk itself has a strange hand. It’s a bit stiff and crinkly. A peek at the inside seams reveals not carefully concealed French seams, but a serged edge. Dammit. At least the fabric isn’t shiny and at least no one will know about those serged seams, unless I tell them. Which I just did. Hm.

The shirt’s lack of quality comes at time when J.Crew has reported losing millions on its women’s line. I can’t help but think that the store’s apparent dash to the bottom is playing some role in that. The original retail price of the zebra blouse (and similar styles) was $128. I paid slightly more than $50 for it. In the few weeks since it was released and the time I purchased it, the shirt was marked down about 60%. That’s just crazy. It suggests the retailer is marking up prices so much that it can bear to lose that 60% or is taking a big loss on everything it sells (because almost everything makes it to the sale section at some point).

J. Crew, it’ s your job to convince me that it’s worth it to drop more than $100 on a shirt. Don’t price your stuff at a level that only a few people will buy it at (people who have enough money not to care about sales or people who just don’t get how retail works these days). Make better stuff, price it at a point that makes sense, and use more than crazy markdowns to make your clothing look appealing.

Shopping: RIP, dELiA*s

Some things from our youth are etched in our brains forever. Sometimes, these things are the important things, like a first date, the first time behind the wheel or a first period. Some things don’t seem so important at the time, but go on to become a big part of who we are and who we end up being.

One of those seemingly unimportant things for me was finding a tiny ad for dELiA*s in the back of a copy of Seventeen (which, for the record, I wasn’t allowed to read). I called up the number on the ad, asked for a free catalog and waited a few months. Maybe it was weeks. Anyway, the catalog that came (this would have been 1996) kinda completely changed my world.

Before dELiA*s, I had to shop at Sears, which sold okay clothing at modest prices. The main reason we (as in my family) went to Sears was that they  had a program that let parents return kids’ clothing for any reason, at any time. That may have been well and good for my three younger brothers, but by that point, I was no longer wearing kids’ clothing and had to make do in the Juniors’ department. (No shame on Sears, I did get my 9th grade semi-formal dress there, for something like $20). Sears wasn’t where you went with your friends to hang out. It was where your parents took you to get back-to-school basics.

Enter dELiA*s. It was free. It came in the mail. It wasn’t a magazine, like YM or Seventeen, so my parents really couldn’t say no to it. In those early teenage years, when I was looking for some way to fit in, dELiA*s proved to be it.

It helped that the clothes were actually pretty cool. I didn’t know it then, but dELiA*s was actually selling a pretty distinct style. It wasn’t out and out skater clothes, though Vans sneakers and insanely wide leg pants were part of it.  It was a look that we know think of as “mid to late 1990s.” But back then, it was just a way to look good.

Of course the drawback of dELiA*s was that the clothes were a bit pricier than the clothing on offer at Sears (or my other early teenage years favorite, Rave, where I managed to get a pair of silver pleather pants for all of $13. I really have to apologize for those. Also, let’s pause to reflect on the fact that I shopped at a store called Rave, which pretty much specialized in plastic pants and tiny, tiny baby tees.).  My parents weren’t exactly down with the switch. But, that was okay, because by that point in my life, I was beginning to work and earn some money. I had a steady babysitting gig on Wednesday evenings, which paid the impressive rate of $3 per hour, for about four hours at a time. I remember saving up my babysitting money until I had enough to make my first purchase from the catalog.

It was a pair of brown, pinstriped wide-leg trousers. They sat really  high on the waist and although the model in the catalog wore them with a baby blue button up shirt, I went with a polyester knit brown button up. Because I was all about matching in those days. Anyway, it took me four weeks to save up for those pants ($12/week x 4 =$48).

So, the reason I’m blathering on about stuff I bought nearly 20 years ago is that dELiA*s recently announced it was shutting down. Apparently, the changing times and rise of cheap, fast fashion hasn’t been too kind to the company. Its stock was selling at a ridiculously low price, like 11 cents, before the big announcement.

That one of the more popular teen retailers from the 1990s should die just as the styles from that era are coming back seems a bit ironic. But, it makes sense when you think of it. The catalog (and later store) was iconic then, offering creative, quirky looks that no adult would touch and for that reason made me and other teenage girls go nuts. Today, the stuff on offer is, to put it nicely, a bit bland. Take this a look at the pants at dELiA*s today, for example. They’re all just a little bit dullsville, especially when you compare them to these amazing pants (which I totally owned). (There are exceptions: Take a look at these glittery shoes, marked down to $21. They’re man-made and probably won’t last long, but they are kinda awesome. I would get them if I didn’t know any better)

As much as I miss my old dELiA*s clothes, the company’s lost what made it so magical back in the day. It’s not entirely its fault, there’s a lot more competition out there, not just at the mall, but on the web, too. dELiA*s changed with the changing times, but found that all that change wasn’t necessarily for the better.


Shopping: Amour Vert (Or, How I Bombed the Bomber)

This week, I tried a out new-to-me brand, Amour Vert. A few things make Amour Vert appealing, as a company and as clothing. As you may have guessed from the name, there’s a bit of a green, eco-focus behind the line. The fabrics are all natural: silk, wools, cotton. The garments are made in the US, which while not necessarily green, does suggest the company isn’t interested in paying as little as possible when it comes to construction. Finally, the company intends to plant a tree for every T-shirt it sells. That last one sounds like a bit of green washing to me, but if the intentions are good . . .

On to the clothing. I only tried a top and a jacket from the brand, so it’s not as though I can give a full review, but judging from my limited experience, things seem good. Except for the bomber, but that might just be me.

Let's just call these bracelet length sleeves
Let’s just call these bracelet length sleeves

I like the idea of a bomber, or baseball style jacket, or what have you. But on me, ugh, what a terrible look. The sleeves on this particular jacket, the Art Bomber, were just too short. I know, I know, I’m tall. But I usually don’t have trouble with sleeve length.

While the sleeves weren’t enough, the body of the jacket was incredibly voluminous. I get that there’s meant to be a bit of bagginess to a bomber jacket, but this was just extra fabric that hung really awkwardly. You can kind of see it in the photo – there’s a puff of fabric by my right arm that’s just  . . . there.  The waistband of the coat wasn’t small enough to balance out the volume of the body, if that makes any sense. At any rate, I’m returning this jacket.


While Amour Vert didn’t hit a home run with the bomber (at least on me), I pretty much fell in love with the Sally Tank the minute I tried it on. It’s navy blue silk with tiny white birds on it. The front hem is a few inches shorter than the back hem, which creates an flattering, fun look. The silk is pretty  heavy weight and the stitching is fantastic, though I would have liked to have seen some French seams in there. The tag on the top said it was handmade in the USA — handmade by a serger, sure.

Amour Vert definitely gets an A for good intentions. The tank fits well, and it’s always nice to see brands that are relatively affordable producing clothing in the US, using natural fibers. Could things be better? Yes. But, I’m hanging on to the top and would give the brand another try in the future.


Shopping: A Time for Tights

Winter has come a bit early where I live. It was all of about 32 degrees today and is going down to something ridiculous like 20 degrees tonight. It’s cold. It’s really, really cold. And there’s no heat in my house. Luckily, though, I have tights.

I’m not much for wearing pants. That’s all well and good in the spring, summer and fall when I can either go bare-legged in a skirt or wear a thin pair of nylon tights. But, the winter calls for something a little more substantial, such as tights made from wool or a thick cotton. While I have been wearing tights from J. Crew for a few years, I’ve found that they have some issues in terms of quality.  Mainly that they fall apart pretty quickly. This year, I’ve branched out a bit and have tried tights from Uniqlo and Boden. Both brands are a lot thicker than the options from J. Crew, although made from cotton rather than wool. Even better, both cost about the same, if not less than J. Crew’s tights. (Have I been bashing J. Crew a lot lately? Their quality has slipped. . .)

On the left: Uniqlo. On the right: Boden.
On the left: Uniqlo. On the right: Boden.

First up, let’s talk about Uniqlo. Philly recently got its first Uniqlo store and it’s kinda amazing. The prices are on the low side, but the clothes don’t suck. I actually tried on a pair of jeans there that I loved (but haven’t purchased yet). And their tights are pretty much amazing. I’ve purchased two pairs. One a sensible dark green cotton. The other a glittery black.

The tights are $14.90/pair and it looks as though you get a discount if you buy three pairs, at least online. I went with the large/x-large size and that was the right pick. I used to be really vain about sizing when it came to tights. But, really, it’s always a good idea to size up with them. Otherwise, they are likely to fall down or rip under the strain. The only issue with buying a size bigger with tights is that in some cases the elastic can be a bit too big, causing them to fall down.

I haven’t had that issue with  the Uniqlo tights, nor with the Boden tights. Boden’s tights are made from a thick cotton with just enough stretch that they pull up without straining or falling back down. They cost a bit more per pair than the Uniqlo pairs, and you have to buy them in packs of two.

The issue I have with Boden tights is the colors. You don’t get two pairs of the same color per pack. Instead, you get a “neutral” color, like black or gray, and a non-neutral color, like teal or red. Teal tights have their place (I’m wearing them right now!), but given the choice, I’d like to get a pair of black and gray or two pairs of black, rather than a “creative” color and a neutral.


Shopping: Boden Fall 2014

I suppose we’ll continue the British invasion theme today with a post about Boden. My first introduction to the brand was actually from an off-hand comment made in an article I was reading on The writer wasn’t too keen on the company’s designs and I didn’t think much of it until a few months later I got  a catalog from the company in the mail. Its copy focused on how British the company was, which was cute, but maybe a bit overdone.

Despite my initial misgivings, the clothing actually did appeal to me. Woolly skirts and tops with cute patterns (like a telephone print!), what more could I want? So, Boden has won me around, and I now have a few pieces from the company in my closet, mainly the aforementioned telephone patterned blouse and a swishy polka dot blue dress.

One of the big differences between Boden and US retailers like J. Crew or Banana Republic is that its clothing is better made, at least in my opinion. Banana’s full of polyester tops and unlined skirts while J. Crew’s clothing tends to look like it’s about to come to pieces on the hanger, in the store. Boden’s pieces tend  to be made of viscose, silk, cotton or wool. The shirts have French seams, the skirts tend to be lined, the tights are a lot thicker and warmer. A lot of Boden’s stuff is washable, which is always a plus.

Another big difference between Boden and similar US stores lies in the number of markdowns and sales. I’d say Boden has fewer big sales than many US stores. How many of us regularly get 40 percent offers or take 40 to 60 percent off of already reduced sale prices offers from certain American companies every single week? While Boden does mark down its clothing, the discounts are usually  much smaller, between 10 and 20 percent, or up to 40 percent during a seasonal sale.

That all said, the most recent catalog I got from the company  had pretty great deal: 10 percent off orders under $100, 20 percent off orders over $100 and 30 percent off orders over $300, plus a voucher for $10 off. Boden’s prices being what they are, it’s pretty easy to get to $300 and get the 30 percent off, so I figured now was as good a time as any to order. Plus,  it’s getting colder here and I was in need of a new hat and gloves. My last hat got eaten by  moths and my gloves have started to unravel. I ended up ordering a skirt, sweater, hat, gloves and a two pack of cotton tights.

boden terrier sweater and British Tweed mini

I’d actually seen both the Terrier Sweater and the British Tweed Mini in blue spot back in July, during the company’s seasonal preview. Won’t those look cute together, I thought to myself, but didn’t order them then. One of the terriers in the sweater is a bright yellow, while the rest of them are tan. The skirt does look a bit gray in the photo, but it’s actually a cloudy light blue. The spots are tan and olive-ish in color.

On to sizing: one of the areas where I think Boden tends to fall down is in terms of sizing. The sweater fits and is comfortable, but I could do with it being a bit more snug in the waist area. Although I’m usually a 4 or 6 in skirts from US brands, I’m in an 8 from Boden and the 8 fits the way those US brands do. It’s supposed to be at the natural waist, but instead is falling somewhere between the waist and the hips. The hips are a bit a loose on me, which isn’t a problem, except for the fact that there are pockets on either side, which add some weight to the look.

Close up of side pocket detail.
Close up of side pocket detail.

Some skirts look better when you tuck the hem of your shirt in. The tweed mini is definitely not that type of skirt. It needs to be worn with a fitted, but untucked top, or else its proportions look all out of line.

Let’s talk about the tweed. What is tweed? It’s a heavy type of wool, usually with flecks of different colors. The tweed Boden uses for its skirts comes from Abraham Moon and Sons, Ltd, which has been making tweed since the 1800s in Yorkshire. It’s good stuff, thick and well made. When I think of tweed, I usually see hounds tooth or plaid, so I like that the dotted pattern on the skirt mixes things up.

One last thing about the “mini” before moving on. Boden’s mini skirts are a bit longer that most. The regular length (which I got) is about 19 inches. A long length (22 inches) wouldn’t be a mini at all, even on a tall person (5’10”) such as myself. Of course, length is determined by both the physical size of the skirt and where it falls on your waist/hips. Since my skirt sits a bit lower than was intended, it appears longer on me. That all said, Boden did introduce an actual mini length of about 17 inches this season. That might be worth a look.

Hand in glove.
Hand in glove.

Rounding out my order was stuff I actually needed for winter: gloves, a hat and thick tights. We’ll talk about the tights in another post, because I have a few pairs from different companies to comment on. I ended up getting the Cosy Stitch Gloves and matching hat, in gray/citron. They are both made of a wool/nylon blend, aren’t itchy and seem like they’ll be pretty heavy and warm enough come actual winter. The hat is actually a bit on the huge size – it nearly slips down and covers my eyes, but I think I can make it work.

I’m not really a winter person. Actually, I hate being cold. But, now that I have some warm outdoor accessories, plus a warm skirt and sweater, I think I’ll be able to make it through.

Shopping: In London and Oxford (or, the Land of the Cute)

Louche wonila cardigan

I have a thing for cute clothing. If a sweater has an animal printed or embroidered onto it, I’ll probably buy it, or at the very least, try it on.  If something’s polka dotted, I usually end up owning it. I’m not the only one who loves cuteness on clothing. Plenty of UK based brands, from Boden to Cath Kidston, put cuteness front and center.

On a recent trip to the UK, I got to experience the cute up close and personal. While shopping wasn’t the focus of the trip (I was actually there for academic reasons), it did figure prominently. I stopped in at two Cath Kidston stores (one in Covent Gardens and the Flagship store on Piccadilly). During my time in Oxford, I came upon an adorable little boutique called Aspire Style. If you have a penchant for pretty patterns or adorable animals on your clothing and accessories, I recommend checking out both shops.

aspire style sweater

In Aspire Style, I fell in love with a cardigan almost immediately. It’s a lovely, navy blue cropped sweater with embroidered foxes, rabbits, and squirrels on the front.

UK sizing is a bit different from US sizing. Typically, sizes are two bigger than in the US. So if you wear a size 6 in US clothing, you’d fit a size 10 in the UK. I also find that there’s less vanity sizing in the UK, so clothes fit more accurately. Meaning, if you look at the size charts and the measurements listed, the clothing you buy will actually more or less line up with the chart. That said, I’m usually a US 4 or 6, and I’m in a UK 12 here. It’s a little wide on the sides of the chest, but otherwise a perfect fit.

The sweater is lightweight and made of viscose, which means there’s a chance it will shrink in the wash. Fingers crossed it doesn’t. I’ve also found that gently ironing and pulling on the fabric when doing so helps undo any shrinkage.

One sticky thing about shopping in the UK is the exchange rate. When I went, the rate was about $1.70 for every pound. The cardigan was 39 pounds, which seems like a steal, but really is was a little more than $60, which is about average.

Here’s a close up of the embroidery. Cute, right?:

close up aspire style sweater

While I didn’t have much time to spend at Aspire Style, since I had a bus to catch back to London, I did have ample time to spend at Cath Kidston. I suppose I spent too much time there, as I went to two different shops on two separate occasions. The Covent Garden store was relatively small, but the flagship on Piccadilly was amazing. It was two floors full of clothing, accessories and housewares.

cath kidston zip top bagAlthough I got some small gifts for friends and family from the shop, my big goal was to purchase one of the line’s bags. Deciding was tough, but I knew I wanted a dot print. I ultimately went with the small zipped handbag above for a few reasons. It’s coated cotton, so relatively waterproof. Over the years, I’ve ruined my fair share of books by getting caught in the rain or snow with a non-water resistant bag. It also has a zipper along the top, so I don’t have to worry about stuff inside spilling out. Finally, the handles are too short for me to put the bag over my shoulder. I have some shoulder problems, partly related to constantly carrying heavy bags on them, so this should help me break that habit. Oh, and the bag is green and polka dotted, so two of my favorite things.


Sewing: The Mabel Skirt

Mabel skirt

I have to admit, when I first saw the Mabel skirt pattern from Colette Patterns, I wasn’t that into it. It looked like it would be really tight and really short (at least the first two versions). But, I convinced myself to get it anyway, thinking I would make the pencil skirt and that it would be good to play around with making a skirt using a proper pattern. Usually, I just sew a rectangle, add a piece of elastic and end up with something I don’t want to wear.

Mabel skirt

Fabric: Depending on the size and version you make, Mabel needs less than one yard of fabric. Since the pattern calls for a heavier weight knit, I used a navy blue ponte de Roma from Girl Charlee to make version 1. It’s not terribly heavy (12 oz), has a nice drape to it and feels very soft. It’s stretchy enough to pull the skirt on without any fasteners or closures. I pre-washed and dried it, so I’d say it washes well.

Cutting: Seriously, cutting is my least favorite part of any sewing project. I’m a left-handed person forced to use right-handed scissors my entire life, so that might be part of the problem. Mabel was pretty simple to cut out. Version 1 has seven pieces total: 2 back, 1 front, 2 waistband and 2 waistband lining pieces. I think it took me about 30 to 45 minutes to cut the pattern pieces, lay them out and then cut them. I used a pair of dressmaker shears, though I suppose I could have used a rotary cutter, too.

Construction: Part of the appeal of Mabel is that the skirt comes together quickly. I think it took less than an hour to sew together.  You have the option of using a zigzag stitch on a regular machine or your serger. I didn’t feel like buying four spools of navy blue thread, so I just used my regular machine and a jersey/ballpoint needle. The instructions also say to use a twin needle to sew the hem, but I used a single needle and all was fine.

My construction isn’t perfect. The seams on the waistband and the skirt body are supposed to line up and mine just don’t. Something to be more careful about next time I make the skirt.

Fit: I wavered between making a size small and a size medium. According to the measurements chart, a small would have fit, but this skirt has negative ease, meaning it ends up being smaller than your body size when finished, since it’s supposed to stretch. I’m pretty self conscious about my hips and thighs, I went up to the medium. The skirt still fits well. It has a body-conscious fit, but isn’t inappropriate looking.

Consensus: Mabel was definitely worth making as it was quick and simple. The mini skirt version isn’t my usual style, but I wore it with a longer, untucked shirt and thought that worked. As far as the actual wearing of the skirt went, while it was comfortable, I felt very self-conscious about the length. It was never scandalously short, but was shorter and tighter than I’m used to wearing, which meant I kept tugging at the hemline all day long. I’ll try the pencil skirt next time.

Have you made a Mabel? How’d it work for you?