Jill ponders her year without shopping in a fun, fresh, engaging and occasionally informed way

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Friday, April 30, 2010

Near Misses and Misplaced Fear

Hello, g'day and kia ora on a crisp autumn morning here in Auckland. We are up to blog #35 and today I'd like to share what's happened this week on the shopping challenge. Being away from home has a way of helping shift your perspective and see things differently. There's something about the surroundings being different that somehow gives you a new lens to look through, isn't there?

This week I had an insight about the shopping challenge, and more specifically, the emotional aspects of it. And I had a near miss, a narrow escape - my visa finger was itching and I was seconds away from breaking the challenge. In backwards order:

Near Misses. No, this is not a new clothing store for tween girls. It's an experience I had yesterday in downtown Auckland. Now, I should tell you that I absolutely love the Maori Koru symbol - it is beautiful and also meaningful (beginning of life). Knowing I can't take home clothing, shoes, accessories (mainly because I can't buy them), we've been checking out souvenir shops so we can take back a memento of this trip for the house. I saw a gorgeous glass Koru in a window yesterday and sauntered into the store to check it out. Lo and behold, if this shop didn't also sell (gasp) jewellery in this same design. They had this stunning Koru glass pendant in my orange tones, at a reasonable price. I put it on and checked myself out in the mirror.

Tell ya, I entered into a temporary state of amnesia at that moment; it was like I had completely unremembered that I was on this challenge. My thoughts were something like: oh isn't this gorgeous, wont it go with heaps of things, it'll be a great reminder of this trip, how unique and stunning it is, and oh it's only $39.99 which is about $12.50 with the exchange rate taken into account. Oooh, I love it! (not only did my memory suffer a loss but clearly my mathematical ability suffered a blow during this time period).

It was like I was in the grip of a powerful force that rendered my rational capacity to think clearly a quivering mass of jelly. Now, we've all had a laugh at Isla Fisher in Confessions of a Shopaholic - cute film! But when she describes the narcotic effect that shopping has on her parasympathetic nervous system (well, she doesn't use those words, but that's what she's talking about), I confess I could relate to it. I was in a semi-hypnotic state, induced by a shiny glass object about 3 cm square.

Somehow I snapped myself out of it, and got myself outa that shop, trailing words over my shoulder..... I'll think about it... I may be back....

A lucky miss. (which is probably how the girl who got a hug from Justin Beiber felt)

Misplaced Fear. We were wandering around Takapuna the other day (one of the few places in NZ with a Maori name that I can confidently pronounce without fear the locals with laugh politely at my inept pronunciation). When we'd driven through Takapuna, I'd seen a number of clothing, shoe and accessory stores that looked worth looking in. If I wasn't on the challenge, naturally. I found myself saying - no, I will not go into those stores! I must stay away from them! That's the only way I can avoid temptation! When I examined this internal dialogue a little, I noticed something I'd not recognised before. Which is that I've been harbouring a secret fear of these stores. Like they're the enemy somehow. That I will feel so drawn to their contents that I will be unable to resist should I cross their threshold. This seems slightly nuts to me, now that I've recognised it and thought about it. These stores may be alluring, but they don't have the power to bewitch unless I give them that influence.

Easy does it.... So, having that realisation, that I don't have to literally avert my eyes as I walk past a store displaying attractive clothing, shoes or accessories, is a Good Thing, right? What I need to be aware of is that this doesn't mean I'm ready to wander into them and pluck inviting items off the racks, dash into the dressing room and try them all on, then with a sanguine toss of the head, walk out of the store purchase-less, without nary a qualm or backwards glance. Such a course of action strikes me as being unnecessarily sadomasochistic (necessary sadomasochism is another matter entirely). So, I'm going easy. I'm stopping to look in the windows, even casting an eye on the racks outside the stores. Such as the shoes in the shot above - that photo take in Takapuna on Tuesday.

This feels like progress to me. Not necessarily progress you'd notice, but it's internal progress. Progress I can feel. And that's got to be a good thing. Right?

In other news, Estelle from Classic Hits FM (a national radio station here in NZ) is interviewing me this afternoon on her drive time show. We're going to have a chat and a laugh (possibly on me) about my year without clothes shopping. Then Estelle's going to invite listeners to call in and discuss things they've given up (or tried to) for 12 months. Sounds like a lot of fun. Right?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Auckland: City of Sales

Kia Ora, which is hello in the Maori language. How international is that? Welcome to post #34, coming to you from Auckland, the "city of sails", or as I'm referring to it, the city of "sales". Same thing, right?

Why I'm worried. I'm worried, people. And it's because:

  • last year, most of my clothing (and accessory and shoe) shopping was done while we were travelling overseas. I estimate I spent at least $3500, maybe more, on clothes, shoes & accessories while travelling overseas. I love shopping in the USA - so much choice in styles and sizing (+ sizing options for people with short limbs like me), the quality is very good and the pricing is also good. I did most of my shopping in California (March), Dallas (August) and San Francisco (November). It was this last trip which I've now realised tipped me into pausing for reflection and wondering if it wasn't time to take a breather on all this shopping.

  • this is the first trip we've had overseas since starting this challenge on December 15, 2009. I am committed to this challenge, for sure. And, I know how strong entrenched thought and behaviour patterns can be to break. Good for me (and my bank balance and my personal code of finishing what I start) that I know this -- I know have this pattern of buying stuff when I'm travelling overseas. The internal dialogue goes something like: "hey I'm overseas -- what a great opportunity to buy unique stuff I can't find at home! It will be such a great reminder of my trip! Remember when I found these shoes in Shanghai? Remember how I happened upon that handbag in Hawaii? Oh, and what about nearly getting thrown out of Century 21 in New York City for trying on this shirt in the winter coat section because I wouldn't stand "on line" for 25 minutes to go into the changing room?" You get the picture. And that internal dialogue lady - she's real convincing.

  • New Zealand has great clothes, accessory and shoe shopping. Yeah, baby, this is some of the best shopping I've encountered. There seems to be a preponderance of wool available in this country which seems to have influenced the fabrics you find things in and has had a flow-on quality effect. There's ticks in the innovative and quality boxes, although "dirt cheap" doesn't score particularly well. Guess the answer there goes something like: you get what you pay for, right? The photograph above was taken just this afternoon at a gorgeous store on Auckland's north shore. You'll be pleased to know that I only paused briefly to take the photograph then I moved myself along quick smart. No lingering to look at the tantalising window display. Nosiree. Even with that bloody sandwich board out there telling all the world they had a sale on.

  • The Melbourne Storm were framed. Ok, I just made that up, but some people are worrying about that, if the humongous number of comments being made at the moment about this salary-cap-breaching, scandal-attracting, free-powerboat-accepting team are anything to go by.

See my problem?! I have succeeded (well, mostly) on the challenge so far by using avoidance as my primary strategy. Stay Away From The Shops! It's a good strategy. It works. When you're on holiday, particularly in a chic urban city like Auckland (more on that in a sec - is this city gorgeous or what?), avoiding the shops is kinda awkward. Today we went into a shopping centre (to buy riveting items like a camera battery and gel inner soles -- I'll stop there in case you fall asleep halfway through my next shopping item. It was nail clippers. Ha! Told ya anyway... Still awake?). I passed a number of alluring stores with clothes, accessories and shoes in them. Didn't go in a single one. How's that for resolve?

And the consolation prize is... what I have done instead of lurking in clothes, shoes and accessory stores is visit homewares, gift-y type and stationery stores. Today I visited Smiggle, Isabel Harris, Living & Giving and Red Current. All kinda funky in their own way and I wasn't tempted by clothes or shoes in any of them. Mainly because those stores don't sell clothing and shoes.

What's in a name? Although the names are an intrigue, aren't they? One presumes that Isabel Harris is a real living breathing person who inspired/created that enterprise, so that one is at least straightforward. Living & Giving could be a sub-branch of the Red Cross or an assisted living facility for active seniors with a community outreach program. Red Current could be the name of an action film starring JCVD or perhaps some kind of hybrid dried fruit. And Smiggle is just a made up name, surely? A cross between a smurf and a wiggle (or Wiggle), maybe? A more eclectic group of names, for a similar kind of shop you'd be hard pressed to find, I reckon.

What's my plan? Good question. What is my plan? Since avoidance is working so well for me, I'm going to try to stick to that. Auckland has so many funky areas in it that are worth visiting, and not all of them have boutiques in them. Apart from parlaying my shopping interest from clothes & shoe shops into gifts/homewares & stationery stores, I might also focus on the joy and experience of just being here. Soak in the atmosphere, appreciate my surroundings. Instead of downing my last drop of chai latte and heading into the stores, I'll linger a while and people watch at leisure.

Sounds like a good plan. Right?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Pack it baby!

Here we are post #33. I've taken a short break from my headless chicken impersonation (which I am quite good at) to write this post. We leave on Saturday for a month in New Zealand, and between now and then there seems to be an endless number of tasks to complete.

Listing! And not to the left... Fortunately, have pen and pad, will create list. List thus created, I am proceeding to complete it and tick things off it. Thus saving sanity and not driving household completely bonkers. This is a plus, I have found.

Some people are list makers, and some aren't. Of the list makers, some even read their lists. Others have been known to find their lists crumpled at the bottom of their handbag months later, with obscure items on it that they can no longer fully comprehend like green suit, butter, scan pan, hot chicken, 4pm Candy Tues. No doubt, it meant something at the time of writing.

I love my list and am smugly able to report that I am deep into the third item (of six) with this-ee-here writing which you are now reading.

Pack me! I've always enjoyed packing more than unpacking. I'm not alone there... an extensive 3 minute Google search reveals that Ashton Kutcher also enjoys packing. Having travelled a great deal, and therefore packed many times, I have made many fine mistakes. The biggest one is packing with these three words in mind: "just in case". When you pack for "just in case" you end up taking all kinds of unnecessary items. Like a rain slicker to go to places when the last known rainfall was before movies went colour. Or a swimsuit to visit Canada at Christmas (well, there might be a spa somewhere! I'm sure that's what I must have been thinking at the time).

The Expanding Bag. The other big mistake I've made when travelling is purchase large and awkward shaped items to take back home. For years, I carried an Extra Bag with me to pack clothing into while the suitcase was co-opted into housing wooden African figurines, chinese blue pottery, Thai stone statuettes and other such items for the trip home. The most awkward thing I ever purchased was two dinner sets in San Francisco. One was (well, still is) a giraffe pattern and the other is more of a tiger pattern. They were very well priced and I knew I would never be able to find them in Australia (and if I do, I will have to commit hare kari with a wet noodle in self-flagellation). We had also purchased a full set of suitcases on this same trip (yes yes, they were (are) in animal print -- in fact, the second-to-largest suitcase is pictured above). I briefly toyed with the idea of packing the dinner sets up in clothing, etc, and carting them home with us in the new suitcases. Sanity returned thereafter (can you imagine what our check in luggage would have looked like, let alone weighed? We'd have looked like we were fleeing for our lives with our entire earthly possessions on a luggage trolley, stacked halfway to the ceiling. And our excess baggage fees would have been, well, excessive indeed). We ended up taking the dinner sets to a FedEx who shipped them home for us. Cost us twice what the actual dinner sets did, but hey! Makes a great story and every time I use those plates (which is every day), I remember the sacrifices that were required to bring them home. Ahhhhhh.

So, just how is it done? I have learned that a packing chart really helps. When I worked for an international consulting firm and travelled every week to new and exotic destinations, like Perth and Adelaide, I would create a specific packing chart for each trip. These trips usually lasted 5 days, although sometimes I'd be away from home for a fortnight.

This chart had on it what I was going to wear every day (including travel days). It helped because it meant I did not have to remember what combo's I'd dreamt up when getting ready at the obscenely early hours we would start work. And I also had to take less clothes, because I had pre-thought say 5 unique outfit combinations that could be created from say 1 suit, 1 jacket and 2 pairs of dress pants (with say 2 pair of shoes, various tops (usually knit t-shirt types) + a range of accessories. oh, and underwear - most important to remember to pack that. And usually I would also be packing flamenco gear as well. I have studied flamenco in many fine cities).

Sans packing chart? I don't do that anymore, one reason being that my trips are never mostly work ones. They are almost always mostly 'leisure'/fun trips whose purpose is to add to my personal happiness, with a bit of work thrown in. The work I do now has also changed, and I am bringing more of "me" into it (vs. when I worked for a big company and I was mostly "them" -- I had a receptionist once call my client from the front desk and say "Deloitte is here". It was me). This means that when I do dress for work now, it's much more creative than how I previously dressed professionally. Thus blurring the lines between business and leisure clothing.

Pas - avec l'embalage graphique! Avec une difference! I still use a packing chart, but it's different to the one I used in my old consulting days -- I use it only in the preparation stages. As a guide to make sure I pack enough, but not too much. The packing chart I use is from one of my image books and it sure is helpful when I'm pondering what to take and what to leave at home.

We're embarking on a long trip to a cold climate (important parameters to understand when the packing commences). Here is what I've been recommended to pack for such a trip:
  • 5 jackets. Check! A coat (animal print trench) + a jacket (orange suede) + a windbreaker (orange padded) + soft jacket (turquoise brushed cotton jean-jacket style) + cardigan (animal print Gerry Weber wool number I try to wear as much as possible to justify the exorbitant price I paid for it)
  • 6 bottoms. Check! Skirts are suggested, but I'm not taking any. Mainly because I only own 3 and none of them are winter ones. So, am taking 4 pair of jeans (dark 'dress' jeans + black Lucky jeans + pre-loved Dallas designer pair with shorter hem for wearing with flat shoes + boot cut pair from Target which fit like a glove and are semi-favourites despite costing less than all the others except the consignment pair). And 2 pair of lounging-about-the-house style pants
  • 12 tops. Check! Range of long-sleeve t-shirty knits (great for layering, when in/out of heated indoors and chillier/windier outdoors), couple of turtlenecks, one wool wrap top, one cardi-style drapey thing, a few camis (again the layering)
  • 1 dress. Nope. wont be taking. Own 5 dresses, none of which are winter weight
  • 4 pair of shoes. Ha! I am taking only 3 (that's three, trois, tre, tri, tres, drie, kolme) pair. My enthusiasm for this may be slightly out of proportion to the task at hand, but it's great to know I can travel with Less Than Recommended items. Slippers don't count as shoes, do they?
  • 4 scarves. Check! Well, I'm taking about double that, but many of them are smaller ones. So that don't count, right? And they don't take up much space, so it doubly doesn't count, right?
  • 2 bags. This is apart from the ones all this stuff is going into, I presume. Am guessing the recommendation is to take a bag appropriate for going out to dinner (at somewhere other than the local outdoor food bazaar) if one is travelling with a backpack as one's day bag. I'm not sure if I'll take two bags or not...
  • 2 belts. Check! Since I'm wearing one on the plane, I am officially only packing 2.
  • Extras such as a jersey (she doesn't mean the the British Crown Dependency off the coast of Normandy, surely?), a tracksuit (yiyck, but I have packed equally comfortable wear that feels like a tracksuit but does not look like one), a sweatshirt (all my sweating will be done in something that does not resemble a sweatshirt) and lingerie. Personally, I do not consider lingerie to be "extras", they've always been essential items for me. So Check! on that front, too

All of this, plus a few extras like some wool wash, small packet of pegs (amazing how useful they can be, including when hanging up wet clothing), and a small hairdryer should all fit into my mid-size bag. You can see the beginnings of my packing effort in the photograph above, taken just this morning.

On a related note, I am sure looking forward to some real Autumn weather. Not this wishy-washy, wimpy, wussy Autumn weather that we get in Queensland (sorry, Queensland, but it's true. You know it is. (I'm talking to a State now....)). Crisp mornings, sunny days... not to mention the forecasted heavy rain, dense fog and high winds. Hmmm. Might be a good thing I'm not packing skirts after all. Right?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Mix N Match

Hello and welcome to blog #32. I'm 5 days away from leaving on a month-long trip to New Zealand and so my mind has wandered to packing and putting outfits together. I'll post later this week on the joy and pain of packing - there's something to look forward to, huh? Today I'll focus on the idea of mixing and matching clothing to form outfits.

Sets. I had a friend in Sydney many years ago who was a "set" dresser. And by that, I'm not referring to her occupation. She had outfit sets (this top with those pants; this skirt with that blouse; and so on). And she never wore those items of clothing in any other way than those pre-set combinations. If Top A and Bottom A were a "set", then Top A was never torn asunder from that set and worn with say Bottom B. Let alone Bottom C, D, or E, yikes abroad. Nosiree. Whilst one part of my brain loved the tidiness and symmetry of this system, another part of me resisted the rigidness that it imposed on her wardrobe. Why, you may ask, did she have such an inelastic approach to combining her clothing?

Fear. I'm not talking the kind of fear that has you waking up in a cold sweat at 4am. This is a smaller scale fear, which could possibly be downgraded to a general uncertainty, anxiety or doubt. My friend was quite simply frightened of making a mistake and looking like the girl that Mark Twain had in mind when he quipped "she looked like her clothes were thrown on with a pitchfork". It was safer to keep her sets together. Even though she would never come up with a colourful, creative or even stylishly volcanic ensemble, she would also never come up with a mismatched one either. Better safe than sorry was her sartorial slogan.

Mix'n'matchin' packin'. When it comes to packing, mix'n'match comes into its own. The only time you don't have to worry about mix'n'matching when packin' is when you are holidaying at a nudist resort or you have a personal valet to lug your luggage in and out of taxis, on and off airport conveyor belts, and up and down hotel lifts (not to mention to offer a full unpack, repack, laundering and pressing service). Even for the shortest trip, it makes sense to coordinate your clothing so that you have the most number of outfit possibilities from the smallest number of clothing items. I have a packing chart that I found somewhere (in one of the 3 shelves of image/clothing books that I have in my library, which resides very hoity toitily in the garage). And it outlines the number of items of clothing (and which specific ones) you need for
  • a leisure trip of 1 - 3 days, or 1 - 3 weeks
  • a business trip of 1 - 3 days, or 1 - 3 weeks
  • a leisure/business combo trip of 1 - 3 days, or 1 - 3 weeks

It's very handy, and I have pulled it out to help me pull together what I am packing for New Zealand... but more on that later this week.

Combination City. One of the main reasons for learning to mix'n'match what you already have in your wardrobe is to increase the number of outfit choices you have. You know, how to have 108 outfits out of 4 items of clothing, that kind of thing. I don't think it is mathematically possible to come up with 108 different outfit combinations out of just 4 items of clothing, but I'm willing to be proved wrong. To me, this is one of the great joys of getting dressed -- what new combinations can I pull together? What new way can I create of wearing this item of clothing? What can I pair these pants, that jacket, that top with, that it's never been paired with before? It can make you discover an item of clothing anew -- a pair of trousers you thought you had the number on can look quite different - fresh - worn with a new top or jacket (or top/jacket combo).

Jeans Illustrated. I pulled the combinations you see in the image accompanying this blog (top right) posting together myself. It roughly represents the direction I am taking to packing for this New Zealand trip -- a truncated version for sure (there are more jeans, tops, scarves and jackets coming with me, although not more shoes) -- but that's pretty much the direction I'm headed in. I had such fun pulling that chart together (doncha just love Google Images?). It shows how one pair of jeans can be used as a 'base' and a host of 'top' options can be used to create new and stylish outfits every day.

Wardrobe review. When I was an image consultant (for about 15 minutes in 1999 in Sydney), one of the things I particularly loved to do (and seemed to have some aptitude for) were wardrobe reviews. This was when you enter someones home, at their invitation and for money, and rifle through their closet to examine their clothing. Often the point of this exercise was three-fold (if you leave out Embarrassing The Client) which was:

  1. to chuck out stuff that has no business being there. These are items of clothing that are no longer 'paying the rent' and need to go bye-byes
  2. to see what could be revitalised by either revamping it, repairing it or re-pairing it with other items (in the wardrobe, or soon to be purchased)
  3. to identify gaps that need to be filled, the end result of which is a shopping list of clothing items

It was amazing to me how few combinations people were coming up with, and wearing, from their stock of clothing. Many clients could literally double or triple the number of outfits they could access, just by combining items that previously had never been put together. Clever, huh?

If you aren't combining your outfits and are something of a "set" dresser, you might want to have another look at all that you have. You may have some hidden gems of outfit combinations hiding in there, amongst all the familiar items. And wouldn't that be something to discover - new worlds of options in your closet, right now. Not only could you find some exciting and stylish combo's that make you look good, but they'll make you feel good, too. And that's what shopping your closet is all about. Right?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Four Months!

Greetings! It is a gorgeous autumn day here in Queensland. And today is officially the 4 month mark of the challenge. Howzat - one third of the way through, and only a few scratches and bruises as markers of the journey thus far!

This is blog #31 and that really is me (left) inside my closet. That photo was taken yesterday by Jules who had me climb inside my hanging space (which as you can see is double decker) and attempt to look nifty. I felt like a bit of a goose doing it but it does illustrate the whole Woman Vs Clothing (who cares about Man Vs Wild when there are silk shirts and tailored jackets to be considered??!) thing quite well, don't you reckon?

I've had people ask me if I feel bad that I own so much clothing. I feel great! Some people collect tea spoons, or miniatures of the worlds great iconic structures, or men, or photographs, or memories, or bad habits. I have collected clothing. And in general, I have enjoyed it immensely! Stopping to take stock of where this collecting was taking me has also been an important part of the journey. Which brings us full circle to the focus of today's post.

Review! What I'd like to do today, is a review of the past four months as chronicled by this blog. It seems appropriate to place a marker in time, since a lot of water has passed under the blogging bridge in the last 16 weeks. Blogging is a funny ole business, and the "blososphere" is full of very interesting (and some shady) characters). I still have no particular idea if this blog is going to "take" me anywhere, beyond the emotional expression that it provides twice a week. Which, since you've asked, is valuable in and of itself.

In the hot spot. Blogs can be quite powerful. Julie (from the movie Julie & Julia) proved that. Someone else doing fabulous things is Annabel Candy, a friend here on the Sunshine Coast. Her blogging has just won her a free trip to Shanghai, courtesy of Coca Cola. To read that fabulous story, and receive the treat of her blog writing on a regular basis, you can check her out here (hi Annabel!) So, inspired by Annabel, plus my own desire for completion, I am going to continue blogging away here and hope that you continue to read me. At least some of the time.

So, standing here by the side of the road with the signpost above us saying Four Months Along, where exactly have we come from?

Month One. I really had no idea what I was doing. I felt slightly terrorised and amazed that I'd made this seemingly massive decision to not do something that I immensely enjoyed and am, in fact, quite good at. My head knew that it was a good idea -- financially it was a no brainer. Emotionally and psychologically, I knew that I needed to do this challenge, although I wasn't quite sure why (and am only marginally clearer now, four months along). I blogged about the Gruen Transfer, the nature of wanting, what I bought overseas last year, leading a creative life (Mafia Stew), that hotdinger of a post on Rick Rack, why I love animal print so much, and passing observations from a visit to the Sunshine Plaza.

And in case you are wondering, the answer is No, I do not have a particular blogging plan or 'workflow' for my posts. How I'm doing it is like this:
  • I collect ideas on blog posts that might be interesting... these come from a variety of sources including comments friends make to me, media I'm reading/watching/listening to, an idea that I was going to write about but the post took a different turn, passing comments by strangers on the bus.... that kind of thing. I file these in a Word document and refer to them from time to time. Sometimes I even write about those things and then I get to (haaa) cross them off my list. List crossings off - what joy!
  • I sit down twice a week and put my fingers on the keyboard and see what comes out. Often I start with one idea in mind about what the post will be about, and it ends up going in a completely different direction. Because this is a personal journey, and a personal blog, and I'm wanting to live more in a consciously creative state, I don't try to manipulate the direction of a post... I let it have its own life. In this way, it's kind of like a mature teenager -- it gets some say, but I don't let it run riot.
  • I do not offer any endorsement or warranty that the above approach has any merit whatsoever and can bear no responsibility that if you try it, it will work for you. I'm not even sure it's working for me.

Month Two. I got into the swing of it a little more, and felt like I might just be able to stick with this whole blogging thing. We were in the grip of a sweltering summer here in Australia and I spent some quality hours in our front office, sweating and typing. My blog posts in month two were honoured by three 'guest' pieces of content - one from Julie who was living The Torture in Sydney, one from Judy (aka the Diva) who made us laugh, and the final piece which included that dry wit of the Masked Man Greg. I also blogged about the TV show Shopping is My Life, Australia Day and thongs, my new found skill in jewellery making, feeling flat and how shopping is connected with that, and my big 4-bag clean out.

Month Three. Summer had gripped us like a vice and I only mention this again because unrelenting heat like that can have a cumulative effect. You are not only cranky because today is hot, but you have built up crankiness from the entire last week when it was 35+ degrees every day. Like sleep deprivation, heat over-stimulation is not good for you or those close to you (who have to put up with you). We battled through and I visited Sydney and Melbourne for some relief (if not in temperature, then at least in locale). I blogged about temptation, the 3 kinds of shoppers I've observed in malls, International Women's Day, the allure of pre-loved stores, the power of colour, and the TV show Toddlers & Tiaras. And yes, I still hold that 6 year olds should not be wearing more makeup than Dolly Parton.

By this stage of the game, I'd started to see how I could "chunk up" up to posit a viewpoint on topics bigger than just me and my personal experiences and feelings about being on this challenge, and other me-related topics. Sure lots of learned scholars have written thorough, well-researched, in depth and far reaching works on these topics. But that's no reason for me not to expound poorly thought out, shallow, superficial, one-dimensional viewpoints here in this blog, right?

Month Four. We'd seen hints that autumn may be lurking around the edges of our weather patterns, and I'd started to wrap my head around the fact that time does not stand still for any woman, and April 17 could not be avoided forever. Or at all, actually. Turning 30 had not even registered on my radar, but the next decade milestone seemed to be throwing up all kinds of challenges for me to stumble over. How fascinating (yawn). I blogged on those timeless topics such as resisting & avoiding (ways to divert temptation's attention), the nature of desire, travelling and how shopping has been such a theme in mine, the fabulous Kasey Chambers and Lyle Lovett experience, the TV show Damages, and the fashion industry's block & tackle they call this season's "must haves".

So, rodeo lovers, that's the round up of the last 4 months. To those who visit and read regularly - I love you! I may not know who you are, but you're a friend for life. I don't label myself a writer (it just seems too swish a term for what I'm doing), but as a person who writes, to know that someone is reading what you've written is pure gold.

Finding me easily. Oh! Here's something else. I have put up a post on my other website about this 12 month non-shopping personal challenge. If you forget the URL for this blog (which some folks have said is long and they do sometimes forget it), no worries! Just go to www.imlisteningnow.com/blog and under the Topic: Personal 12 month challenge you'll find the link to THIS blog post. Gotta love technology. Right?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Must Have's

Mornin' pardners and here we are blog #30. I can't quite believe I have written thirty blog postings in the last 4 months, but the facts don't lie sistah. When I'm not writhing in pain about the wisdom of starting and vagaries in succeeding in an online business, I have been reflecting on what I'm writing in this blog. Of which post #30 is appearing live on your screen.

And more specifically, I've been reflecting on what it is that has drawn me to write about the topics I'm writing about. I mean, if I were to write exclusively about my personal experiences of not shopping for clothes for 12 months, the posts would be remarkably similar and be along these lines:

Monday. Did not buy anything today. Feeling Ok about it.
Tuesday. Did not buy anything. Feeling vaguely unfulfilled but can't explain why
Wednesday. Did not buy anything. Was tempted by teal scarf but kept on walking.
Thursday. Did not buy anything. Is anybody out there?
Friday. Did not buy anything. Is it possible to bore oneself to death with one's own writing?

This 12 month challenge is about more than my personal experience of not going clothing shopping for one year. It is about the meaning of clothing and what lies beneath the surface of Not Shopping. It is about why it's even vaguely tempting to consider buying yet another pair of jeans when one has 14 pairs in one's closet already. It is about the role of shopping centres and fashion magazines in creating, or feeding into a pre-existing, sense of want and Never Having Enough. It is about wanting, desire, temptation (and yes, we're still talking about the challenge here - I'm not reviewing Fox's lineup of after-8pm-timeslot reality TV shows). I had a vague feeling when I started it that the Challenge was about more than just my personal experiences and feelings. Like the plastic-bag carrying student in Tiananmen Square in April 1989, this is much bigger than just me. I just hope I'm not shot by a fashion firing squad or charged with "political hooliganism" when the challenge finishes (two of the possible ends the 19 year old student allegedly met after the Tiananmen Square incident).

Fashion Me Senseless. And so today I wanted to talk a little about the fashion industry and its role in leading us to believe that we need More. Every season a new look, or a new twist on an old look, or an old look on a new twist, comes "in". The "latest season looks" fill up more fashion magazine space than you can poke a stick at. These magazine pieces are illustrated by clothing that you can sometimes even recognise -- this is when the shoot is not in an Amazonian rainforest or a Saharan sand dune or the Great Barrier Reef where the clothing is obscured by not only the natural landscape but by "creative" fashion photographic styles. Have you noticed how the clothing in fashion shoots is often impossible to make out? Is she wearing a poncho or is that a palm frond? Is that a silk caftan or is she standing behind a curtain? And why is this being shot underwater? - it's a winter coat piece!! The fashion world clearly has its own rules about the role of photographic clarity. That aside, what's also intriguing is how we are suckered into believing that our wardrobes need overhauling every six months.

You need more. You do. You really do. The role of the fashion industry, through the twin vehicles of the fashion media and merchandising, is to send the message that what you have is not enough -- you need more. I was walking past a store just yesterday that had a display of jeans on it - they were so alluringly laid out, I found my body moving independently of the signals my brain was attempting to send (stop! Move away from the jeans! Veer left! Left, I said!) toward this display. It was like my legs and eyes were colluding and engaged in an autonomous response to the visual enticement that display of jeans offered. Only when normal service was resumed (in the form of my husband taking me by the arm and literally steering me forward) did it occur to me that I had more than enough pairs of jeans at home. (and it was only when I went home to fully test out this theory that "I have enough, I'm sure I do" that I counted up the 14 pair of blue jeans that I already have. Yes, that's right, viewers: 14 pairs (only professional bull riders and sales reps for Levis have more pair of jeans than I do, surely). And that's one small example of the pull of professional merchandising. We haven't even started in on fashion media.

Magazines. I wonder if there's a coincidence that the word magazine is used to denote where ammunition is stored and a publication that is published on a regular schedule? The word magazine is derived from the Arabic word meaning "warehouse", which is what the publication kind are, right? They are a storehouse of data, and fashion magazines in particular are crowded with content on Must Haves. Not must have last month or must have for last week. Must Have's for Now. If you are going to be "bang on trend", it's got to be immediate, right?

I came across this in a magazine recently:

"Boots are the must-have item for the season. But not all of them will do -- tall, to-the-knee boots are the only boots to be seen in this season" Are you kidding me? So if my boots don't come to my knee, I'll look like, what - Jane Fonda from The Electric Horseman (1979)??? This is the threat hanging over us, that unless we are wearing what has been determined as "in season", we'll be (gasp) Out Of Style. Worse than the plague, the pox and pimples put together, being out of style is a serious condition you need to remedy as quickly as possible. And if style is so fickle, it's not something we can just check and forget either, right? You could be stylish one day and dowdy the next -- what a horrible thought! Is it any wonder that we yield so quickly to the not-so-subtle media messages to keep our wardrobes up to date by continual consumption?

Now, remember that this is me talking here - a seriously addicted clothing and shopping addict, right. I like clothes (some I'm just infatuated with, others it is true love). I'm on their side. But it does make me wonder. Is it possible to be up-to-date and yet still be unstylish?

I want it. Or do I? Much has been written by more scholarly thinkers than I about the sheer brute force of wanting. Wanting seems to have the power of kryptonite over us mere mortals. Clive Hamilton's book Affluenza eloquently described this "consumption binge" phenomenon and the toxic effect it is having not only on our finances but the quality of our lives. Fabulous - this gives us something other than worrying about the environment to brood about.

But wait! There is an answer. Maybe. The solution to over-consumerism seems to have at least two parts to it:-

  1. shift your attention away from the messages we are fed, primarily through the media. Stop listening to what's "out there"

  2. turn your attention to what it is your truly want and use your internal voice as your primary source of data. Start listening to what's "in here"

Like day trading on margin, this is simple in theory, but challenging to execute with any consistent success. Walking through a typical shopping centre is an exercise in sensory overload - you are literally bombarded from every angle to consume, or at least look. Maybe those who wish to shop only for pre-agreed items should be issued with blinkers upon entering those consumption-inducing shopping centres.

Rather than be laying out "must have new season" items, complete with stockists details, magazines could do features on how to use your existing gear to create stylish, snazzy, suits-me outfits? Imagine that - a fashion spread where nothing is for sale! Inspiring us to use what we have in new and exciting ways! How innovative! Now, that'd be worth reading. Right?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Damaged Damages

Welcome to Blog #29, and the first Wednesday after Easter. How did you spend Easter? Ours was bookended by social activities - a picnic on Friday and a rather liquid lunch on Monday (recovery yesterday was on the 6-aspirin scale). In between those culinary and social delights, many quality hours were spent in a supine position on the couch, watching TV series' that I never seem to get to watch when they come on TV. And why is this so? I just never seem to be able to remember when the show is on so I miss crucial plot points and forget who supporting characters are and in general just can't keep up week by week (it's that short attention sp... wait - who's texting me? Ha - it's Tony - they're in Melbourne and.... hang on - what was I saying?). So, watching an entire series in one go works for me. Plus, it's like watching a 10.5hour movie. Sure, there's some repetition to deal with, but in a show like Damages that's actually a good thing. Even with that repetition, we still had to pause it from time to time to review what was going on ("no, that's the sister in law who had the one night stand with the guy who's working for Ted Danson's lawyer. Get it now?").
So, this was how Easter Saturday was spent at our place. Watching a 10.5hour movie in the guise of a television show.
Damaged? One such show is Damages, starring the chameleon like Glenn Close (how can one woman look striking and stunning one moment and frightening and forbidding the next? It can't all be makeup and lighting, surely). I can't watch a movie or TV show without noticing what people are wearing. It's part of what makes the experience fun, right? And was there a lot to feast your eyes on, in the sartorial department, in Damages!
Tiger stripes. Glenn Close, as the litigation lioness Patty Hewes, wears so many striped business shirts I stopped counting them. Sometimes she wore a striped or checked jacket with the striped shirt. Stripe-on-stripe is a seriously ballsy combination, require a degree of confidence that most of us just aren't up to. Glenn as Patty pulled it off, though - it worked for her. She oozes authority, it wafts off her body like smoke off a fire.
Authority on a hanger? A lot has been written about the perception of authority and why (and how) uniforms are necessary in those contexts where authority must be asserted immediately. Not in 6 seconds time. Now. That has to be the reason why judges wear black robes, right? I mean, what other purpose can the wearing of the robe be serving? In Britain, not only the judges wear the black robes, but the barristers do too -- and the horsehair wigs, which are still worn to this day (unchanged from when this attire first came in, in 1660. Those wigs, by the way, can cost over one thousand pounds and weigh nearly as much). A judge could be wearing anything under that robe, right? It's the robe that denotes the authority -- he/she could be wearing board shorts and a singlet under it and have as much authority, because of the robe, as if they were wearing a $4000 suit. That's why what someone wears is linked to how much authority they appear to have. It's all perception, context, smoke and mirrors. So we're told.
Jerry Lewis in a suit. Does this mean that any village idiot can don a $4000 suit and be considered an authority figure? I don't think that's what it means - that's called all sizzle and no steak, and who wants smoke in their eyes without the meat on their fork? But Authority Dressing still has its place, right? Why else do people wear suits on Very Important Occasions, like job interviews, funerals and parole hearings? Is it because we want as much on our side as possible? We want to stack the deck in our favour - we want to impress, confuse death, convince our PO of our rehabilitated state. And a suit helps.
Outback authority. Do you remember how much attention was given when Joanne Lees wore the "cheeky monkey" t-shirt to the first hearing of Peter Falconio's disappearance in Australia's Northern Territory in 2001? In her book, No Turning Back, she talked about how stunned she was at the response to what she was wearing, and how off point it seemed to her (I'm paraphrasing, naturally, although the word "off" did appear in her commentary). Those comments had an impact on her, though - during the trial in 2005, she chose her clothing very carefully - a dark skirt, black high heels and a white business shirt. She wore that same outfit every day of the trial, and called it her "uniform". It was meaningful. Loathsome and hated, but meaningful. She had a ceremony of sorts to get rid of the 'uniform' when the trial ended. Probably not a $4000 outfit then.
Damages meets Bergdorf Goodman. There's a scene early on in Season 1 of Damages where the Rose Byrne character, Ellen the junior associate, is sent by Patty's assistant to Bergdorf Goodmans, the most upmarket department store in New York City. This store is so swanky you practically need a note from the mayor just to get in. If you don't have your nose in the air, a sneer on your dial and a swagger in your step as you wander around the store, they ask you to leave; if you have to look at the price on the label.... oh, ok you get the idea -- it's a pricey joint. Ellen is told to see the BG in-store shopping advisor, who "knows what Patty likes". Cut to the dingy 3-room apartment Ellen shares with hunky doctor-in-training fiance, her arms laden with BG shopping bags - she even has to go back outside to get more bags ("wait, there's more" -- true, that line is really in the show). And these bags are full of clothing "that Patty likes". Putting aside that they didn't show us the best bit (shots of Ellen shopping! Looking at the price tags! Plus, the bottom line -- who paid: Hewes & Associates or did Ellen take out a second mortgage and pick up the tab herself?), and the possible infringements of Ellen's civil liberties by being told what to wear... (what am I talking about again? this sentence has gone on so long, with so many (possibly inappropriate) punctuations, that I'm a bit lost...oh, that's right...) ....what's intriguing about this is that Patty gives a shit and wants to seriously influence what Ellen wears. Why? It's gotta be that authority thing again, right? Look like you know what you're talking about (and are worth a month's rent in the hourly fee we're charging for your time) and you're halfway there. Or 42.97% there, at least.
Guilty! No, wait.... is that a Brooks Brothers? The halo effect is when we judge someone to be 'all good' or 'all bad', based on their physical characteristics. Good looking people are considered to be smart, considerate, capable, etc... because they are attractive. The halo is handed out with the good looks. An extreme version of the halo effect is the eyebrow-raising tidbit of info that handsome men get better results than their ugly male counterparts (one presumes) in criminal and civil cases. Can you believe that? Some say that's why Ted Bundy got away with murder for so long. Girls liked the way he looked and couldn't believe a good lookin' guy like him would do them harm. A cute smile and bell bottoms - an irresistible combo.
Guess that means that Patty was right in sending Ellen to Bergdorfs (we're back to Damages, now. You with me? Just hate it when people's attention span wanders!) Right?
And on a completely unrelated topic. [if you haven't popped in for a while, check out what we're talking about at I'm Listening Now.... intriguing stuff on selective listening, and this week's post is about corporate storytelling and listening. You wont want to miss a gripping minute!]

Friday, April 2, 2010

Kasey and Lyle

G'day from the first day of four days of public holidays where the shops are closed in an odd sequence (open Fridays, closed Saturday from 2.23pm, closed Sunday until 6pm, open Monday from 11 - 3.15pm). I never quite know how those things are worked out but I reckon it has something to do with a church group.

We are up to blog #28 and I have about half a book's worth of words here on thisahereblogwhatsit. I didn't say they were worthy of being in a bound publication (except perhaps of my own making), but the words are starting to stack up. I guess that is persistent effort for you, if I may grant myself a self-congratulatory glowing moment. Ok, now that's over, onto today's post.
Ok, so what's today about? Well! Last night we went to see Lyle Lovett in concert - that's him in the picture on the right. Lyle is a singer/songwriter from Texas, which I believe is inside the United States - it being somewhat hard to tell as Texas is referred to by true-blue ten-gallon hat wearin' four-generations locals as though it were a country all its own. He is unfortunately still very well known for being married to Julia Roberts for 4 days, although we do not know if they were the shortest or longest days of his life.... Certainly the media frenzy after it would make you wonder if it was worth it. To this day, if you google Lyle Lovett, pictures of him with Julia Roberts come up. ANyway, I digress - public holidays have that affect on me! I love his songwriting - it's country with brains is how I like to think of it. One of my favourite lines from a ballad is "they all sat around in a circle, they were laughin' and all tellin' lies". You can just picture that scene, right?

Kasey. He was supported by Australian Kasey Chambers, pictured above on the left, who has one helluva voice. Kasey was low-tech, just her, her dad, her husband and 3 guitars (yep, one each). She chatted about all kinds of things, in between songs while her husband was tuning his guitar - her childhood on the Nullabor plain, her life with her husband, her being a Carlton supporter and him being a Lions supporter (something about "Fev" came up during that bit). Well she just chatted on very conversationally and laughed about herself and her life and generally seemed like a great gal that you could imagine chatting to at a barbecue.

Lyle was a little different in his stage style. He seemed to have a more rehearsed set of comments in between songs and sets. Even though he's been performing since 1978, he seemed slightly uncomfortable on the stage and punctuated his words with a lot of uhh-uhhs and silences. He did share small things about his life, but they were mostly comments about the tour and the history to songs - nothing personal. When he told us about watching football at home on a Sunday drinking beer, it was an unexpectedly raw moment (plus I found it hard to imagine Lyle Lovett watching football. Or drinking beer. He seems more a poker and scotch kinda guy. Not that I stereotype based on one-dimensional media-driven images one iota, nosiree!)
Style summary. If I had to sum up (please do, I hear you say), I'd say Kasey was casual and Lyle was formal. And here's what is so fascinating for me, and where the relevance to this blog comes in. They were dressed that way! When I was searching for images to accompany this blog piece this morning, I tried to find images that showed them as they were most like they were dressed on stage last night.
Kasey again. Her dad and husband were both wearing jeans and some kind of shirt - they were so non-descript I can't even recall what they were like. I do know her dad had on a white hat - it was the same as Kasey's... one of those ten-gallon style Stetson things with the sides all curled up. Kind of like the sort Napoleon wore, but turned the other way on the head. Kasey herself wore a cute but casual white dress affair with the hat, and some kind of shoes. I didn't even know she had brown hair until I Google Imaged her.
Lyle again. He was wearing a dark suit, white shirt and tie. He could have been there to do our taxes or sign us all up for life insurance. His band of 5 men were all dressed identically. In fact, one of the crew, when they were setting up, was wearing a suit - I noticed him because all the other "roadies" were dressed in the casual attire they are known for (black, shapeless, wash'n'wear), but one guy was up there, doing stuff to microphones and putting down bottles of water and fluffy white towels dressed in a suit. So, Lyle's dress style was very formal, much more so than I would've imagined.
Respect. Does the way we dress have anything to do with the respect or regard or esteem (or whatever you want to call that thing that signifies we care) we hold our surroundings, including the people in those surroundings? I mean, would you say that Lyle had more respect for the stage and his audience than Kasey did, by virtue of the way he chose to present himself (and one imagines, ask his band to present themselves likewise)? For me, I could see no discernible difference in the levels of respect that Kasey and Lyle showed the space or us, the audience - they were both gracious and acknowledging. But different. Definitely different. And I reckon their clothing styles reflected their stage style -- hers being more conversational and casual, his being more faulting and formal.
Messages clothing sends. I do believe that clothes send a message. Clothes are important symbols. In another blog post I might wax lyrical about that some more, because it's an interesting topic. For now, I'll just say that I enjoyed the music, I enjoyed what both artists showed us of themselves, and I was very fascinated by how they 'showed up' on stage. It was a treat. I wish you'd been there. You probably do, too. Right?