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.

Amour_Vert_silk_top

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 TheGuardian.com. 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?

Shopping: Banana Republic Marimekko Collection

First things first, welcome to Shopping and Sewing! I thought I’d kick things off by jumping right in with a review of the few pieces from the recent Banana Republic Marimekko collection I was able to get my  hands on. Past BR + famous designer collections have left me cold, but this one got me excited. Apparently, I wasn’t alone, as the collection sold out very quickly. I had placed the shorter version of the Kivet skirt in my cart the day of the preview, only to wake up the day the 25 percent discount was valid to find it vanished. What I did manage to purchase were two pairs of the Hampton fit shorts, the first in the Kivet print and the second in the green Rasymatto print.

 

Banana Republic_Marimekko_Kivet_Shorts
Here’s the Kivet print. The dots are much smaller on the shorts than they are on the pants and skirts that featured the same print. In all, I think the smaller dots are a lot more flattering, a lot less “hey that woman is wearing some weird shorts,” and a lot less obviously Marimekko.  All three things are a benefit, though I guess the point of buying the BR Marimekko line is so that people recognize the design. But, I prefer that people not be able to immediately recognize where and when I bought my clothing. That’s just me, though.

 

BR marimekko collection

Since the Marimekko collection is long gone, the rest of this review can act as a review of the Hampton fit in general. I have a pair of the Hampton crops and I’m not super in love with them.  Pants tend to be problematic for me, and these are no exception (but, hey, that’s a subject for another post). They are big in the hips and thighs, so that they bunch up in the inner thigh area, making me look bigger than I am.

I’m not having that problem with the shorts. They sit lower on the waist, but not too low. The leg area isn’t overly baggy.

I like the length of the shorts – the 5 inch inseam seems to be a good balance of not too short and not frumpily long. For the record, I’m 5’10.” I think a 4″ inseam would have been OK, as well, but perhaps bordering on too-short.

Fabric-wise, both pairs are a woven cotton with a bit of stretch. The cotton is smooth, a bit like a sateen, but it doesn’t have any sheen to it.

BR Marimekko collection

There were two color choices for the Raysmatto shorts – blue or green. I went with green, because given the choice, I will always choose green. It’s a very bright green in real life. The photo above was taken in the early evening, as a thunderstorm rolled in, so it’s a bit muddy. I think the green shorts are more eye-catching and “look at me!” than the Kivet shorts, but aren’t so out-there print-wise that they’d draw strange looks. It’s a good, summery print.

A few random thoughts on the collection, then we’re done. I’m not usually one to go for fast fashion big designer collabs. My thinking is that if I’m going to wear designer, I’m going to wear designer, not a cheaper version of a designer just for the name. But, the Marimekko pieces, at least the two pairs of shorts I got, seem solid. The construction is decent, the fabric weight is good. Given the price point, I doubt the fabric was printed the same way Marimekko prints its standard fabric. But, I’m happy to have these shorts in my closet now.

Did you purchase any BR Marimekko collection items? What were your thoughts?