black tie with ketchup stains

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There’s a particular combination of traits that I’ve noticed in myself and in precious few other people, and it almost guarantees that we’ll get along really, really well. It’s a love of elegance and dressing to the nines married to an inexplicable slovenliness. Picture this: sitting around in a fancy dress while mainlining microwaved chicken nuggets. Or pairing a three-piece suit and spats with a matted ponytail, in the case of my partner. He’s one of the few people I’ve met who shares this particular trait, and it’s part of the charm of Us: we are almost always the fanciest people at any party, but we’re also the ones talking too loudly and stuffing mini quiches down our pants. Lord and Lady Garbage Pail.

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One of my best friends in the world, the other person I know who fits this aesthetic, has recently moved to my town. So now the three of us can sit around eating fish sticks in our sweat-stained finery, happy as (old, rotting) clams. We have dubbed ourselves Team Black Tie with Ketchup Stains. And this outfit shoot is absolute peak Black Tie with Ketchup Stains. I took an entire set of photos without noticing the mattress moldering on the ground in the corner of the shot. I cropped it out – I’m not that shameless – but I feel it says a lot about me nonetheless. Here’s proof:

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Fancy sloths for lyfe.

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Everything: vintage, thrifted

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i’m officially writing a novel

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Title says it all, really. I know I talked a big game about said novel just a few posts ago, but I’m someone who tends to work in fits and starts. Or, more precisely, one big start and then a series of little fits until the whole project tapers. It’s hard for me to finish things, especially because my preferred literary medium is the short story. But I’m now over twenty pages in and I still haven’t gotten bored with the whole thing, so the chances are good that I’ll see it through to the bitter end.

It’s your bog standard New England gothic novel, except New England gothic novels are never really bog standard, are they? That’s the beauty of the genre: the eldritch can wear any face you want.

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Dress: vintage, via Sydney’s Vintage Clothing

Coat: vintage, for sale in my Etsy shop

Everything else: thrifted

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Here, have another excerpt!

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The Whitley twins had seen fairies in the wood. Matthew was sure of it.

Marty was less so. “Eyes in the trees could be anything, stupid.”

“No, there was a whole face,” his brother insisted. “I saw it. It saw me.”

The argument lasted late into the prickliest hours. So the next afternoon the Whitley boys invited Lyddie Howland, and Peter Willis, and Pamela Spurr whom nobody liked, to come and see. Pamela, for all her snits and scowls, was the top of Miss Hugh’s class and therefore the team’s begrudging expert. Matthew hoped to impress Lyddie, and Peter simply enjoyed a walk in the woods. His brothers were scouts and he pledged to be one himself someday, if his asthma ever lifted by medicine or miracle.

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They were wending across the tracks and down the slope to where the eyes had followed them. The twins had lured their party with nothing more than the promise of an adventure, and Matthew felt the moment had come for more.

“Wait ‘til you see,” he said, and felt a swelling in his chest. “Can you keep a secret?”

He paused, somber, trying not to look at Lyddie.

“There are fairies down there. Well, one, anyway. It looked right at me. It’s not every day they acknowledge humans.”

“All we know for sure,” Marty announced, is that there were eyes.” He rolled his own. “And that my brother’s an idiot. But you all decide that for yourselves.”

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“I believe in fairies,” Lyddie said. Matthew could have kissed her. “Sometimes I lose my books or my shoes and find them again somewhere I’d never have thought to look.”

“My dad does that when he drinks,” Peter said. “Maybe Lyddie’s a drunk!” He mimed opening a bottle and belched loudly. The boys laughed and the girls made faces, and the party of five entered the dell’s narrow ingress.

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railfan

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You may have noticed that I’ve gone a little, uh, nuts buying dresses the past month or so. I don’t want to present a misleading picture of my financial situation, so please note: it was entirely the fault of Christmas money and post-holiday sales. The gravy train is slowing down now, so I will be posting new items at a much less gluttonous rate.

It’s a weird thing to talk about, because I don’t think bloggers owe anyone their financial details. In fact, if someone asked directly, my response would likely be a giant middle finger. But I am also loath to seem like one of those bloggers who never wear anything twice. Some bloggers seem to have a different dress for every day of the year, and at that point I’m giving out a hard side-eye. I empathize: shopping addictions are easy to fall into. But y’all have a problem.

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Anyway, this dress is from Retrolicious, aka Folter Clothing. Folter costs a pretty penny, but I managed to find this dress on a Canadian website, and the conversion rate made it obscenely cheap. Seriously, I felt like I was ripping them off. But it was the perfect thing to fill the steampunk-shaped hole in my wardrobe. My old go-to steampunk dress no longer zips. (It is, however, for sale on Etsy! Someone should give it a better home.)

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casual friday

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Yes, I realize how out of touch I am with the average American when this is casual for me. That’s some Marie Antoinette shit right there. Something about this outfit feels distinctly informal, though. I think it’s the above-knee skirt. Lately I’ve realized just not me I feel in that silhouette. I have some lovely above-knee dresses, but I don’t think they suit the direction my style has taken. They’re too girlish. I don’t want to play the ingenue so much as the ingenue’s eccentric aunt.

So keep an eye out – I might end up selling a bunch of my above-knee dresses!

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This dress was my first actual direct-from-ModCloth purchase – aka not from a swap group. I sprang for it during the 70%-off sale earlier this month, and while I don’t regret it exactly, I’m really not impressed with ModCloth’s quality. The bust and waist are square, with no tailoring to speak of, and loose in all the wrong places. The waist is a good two inches higher than my natural waist, which means that every time I raise my arms, the waistband rises right along with it. It sort of feels like a toddler dress sized up several degrees.

The fabric is excellent, though, and I do really love the print and the layered skirt. Plus, pockets! It’s hard to give up any dress with decent pockets. I might keep it and I might not – what do you think?

In other news, damn does my hair look fried. I didn’t realize it until I saw its frizzy, faded red against the bright red of this hat, but…wow. As much as it pains me to say, I don’t think I should bleach it at all this year. I’m sure I can find some red dyes that will work over my natural roots, but that does mean no pink in 2016. A moment of silence, please. But my hair will thank me later.

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war’s end

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This dress, every ’40s-fabulous inch, was twenty dollars. Twenty. I’m not sure how I ended up on a WWII reenactor site, but I’m not complaining. This beauty was right there on the front page, in my exact size. Every dot seemed a tiny eyeball, winking at me until the seduction proved overpowering. May I repeat: twenty dollars. “A fixer-upper”, the description said, and there’s certainly a seam coming loose here or there. But nothing I can’t fix, and actually pretty impressive for a ’40s dress. As a general rule, I don’t buy earlier than mid-fifties, unless it’s a collector’s item I’m not actually planning to wear. This dress, though, is in pretty solid condition. Come summer, I will curl my hair and wear it on the boardwalk of some kitschy maritime paradise. Maybe break a heart or three.

And I will definitely purchase from War’s End Shop again. Maybe I’ll even attend a WWII reenactment.

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Dress: vintage, via War’s End Shop

Hat & shawl: vintage, via brick-and-mortar store

Everything else: thrifted

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what do you do with a shrunken shirtdress?

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You take yet another cue from Nora Finds and wear it over another dress. I’ve grown a cup size in the past year or so, which means this dress no longer buttons smoothly over my chest- not that it ever really did, if I’m being honest.  I’m loath to get rid of it, though. It’s such a lovely piece. But then I remembered Nora repurposing a button-up dress as a short-sleeved coat, and I decided to attempt it.

I’m not sure how much I like the result, honestly. Well, let me rephrase – I personally like it. Quite a bit, in fact. But I’m not  sure how much I can trust my enjoyment. I can’t tell whether it falls on the “eccentric” or the “utterly ridiculous” side of society dame. Nora does it perfectly, of course, but on me…I don’t know. What do you think?

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Coatdress & hat: vintage, thrifted

Orange plaid dress: vintage, via Soulrust

Boots: Kick on the Uptake Boot from ModCloth 

Everything else: thrifted

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suits & stranger danger

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If you were expecting some sort of “well suited” pun…well, adjust your expectations. I will acknowledge the potential of such a pun, but I won’t bring myself to actually make one.

I will say, though, that I am certainly eating the words from a few posts ago, wherein I bemoaned the lack of good vintage in local thrift stores. “[T]he ratio of gems to dross is so low it’s barely worth my time”, I wrote. Well, I’ll just have to adjust that ratio, because this week I found one of my holy grail vintage items in…yep, a thrift store.

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I have wanted a good vintage suit for years. I’ve owned several sub-par ones, but always ended up giving them away: I just wasn’t satisfied. I dreamed of a suit with a full skirt and a nipped-waist jacket, but most of the ones available in my size feature boxy jackets and straight, dumpy skirts. That simply won’t do. I want to feel like a ’40s train traveler, not a Wall Street extra.

But lo! There on the rack at Battery Street Jeans was the most beautiful grey bombshell suit I have ever seen. In my exact size. (Well, a bit tight in the arms, but nothing a tailor can’t fix.) For $14. I would have worn it right out of the store if I’d had a blouse to go with it.

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Suit: vintage, thrifted

Everything else: thrifted

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Man, I have been meeting so many of my vintage-collector goals lately! Not only the suit, but the deadstock dress I found last month, the plain red dress I got for Christmas, and the perfect black party dress from November. Other items I hope to find one day include:

  • vintage shapewear in my size. Quite a long shot, as I’m far too voluptuous for most vintage underwear. I actually own a ’20s girdle that was given to me by a friend (hi, Jake!), but it will never fit me. I’ll list in my Etsy shop as soon as I can stand to part with it.
  • Victorian boots. Again, a long shot. I have size 10 feet and wide calves, so my chances are dangerously slim. I’ll never give up looking, though.
  • a genuine ’40s-’50s princess coat
  • Victorian hair jewelry

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So right after buying this suit, I decided, like any gambler worth her salt, to see if my winning streak would continue. I headed down to the block to the neat antiques store right near Battery Street Jeans. They primarily sell housewares and other trinkets, but they have a rack or two of vintage that occasionally yields some amazing deals. I found my trusty grey day dress there.

Now, when I was there earlier this week, the one fitting room was filled with boxes. I think they were in the middle of redecorating. No matter – the things I wanted to try on (a skirt and a couple of jackets) could be easily slipped over the clothes I was already wearing. I was buttoning myself into the first jacket when a very bearded man in his sixties appeared behind me. “Let me know if I can help you find anything,” he said.

I thanked him and continued my scavenging. It took a couple minutes for me to notice that he was just standing there staring. He was about twenty feet away, just standing stock-still and staring at me. I suddenly became very aware that I was halfway through pulling on a skirt over my dress – not actually disrobing, but still. It was an intimate-ish act.

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I tend to be very sympathetic to that kind of thing. Lord knows I spend enough time staring into space, completely unaware that I might be unnerving someone. So I kept browsing. When I looked over again a few minutes later, though, I realized that not only was he still staring, he had set up a chair so he could be more comfortable while he stared. Um. I’m not quite so sympathetic to that. He noticed me observing him and called out, “you look very nice in that jacket!”

“Uh, thanks,” I mumbled.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’m not being unprofessional.” Which, to me, made the whole thing that much less professional. Why go out of your way to deny potential sketchiness if you’re not, in fact, being sketchy? “Of course I’m not shoving an entire ham under my coat and sneaking past the cashiers! Nope, nothing to see here!”

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It was then that I realized a couple of things. One, that he and I were the only people in the store. Two, that I would have to walk past him on my way out.

I was at about an “orange” threat level at that point.  Now, I am not afraid of people as a general principle. I think, in fact, that women spend too much energy being afraid of strangers, given that the vast majority of assaults on women occur not in public but in the context of an intimate relationship. Statistically speaking, I have more reason to be afraid of my boyfriend than of a random man on the street. So when I say that I find someone unnerving…that’s pretty significant.

I decided to purchase the skirt I’d been looking at and get out. I brought it up to the counter, and Beardy Cashier positioned himself behind it. “That’ll be $15.”

I handed him my debit card. He took it, but didn’t run it through. No, he just stood there staring at it very intently for what must have been forty-five seconds. Which is a long-ass time when you’re counting. He handed it back to me and said “you’re good.”

Uh. “What?”

“You’re all set. But I’m gonna have to ask you to wait just a few minutes for the security check.”

“The what now?”

“The security check. It’ll just take five minutes.”

I had already decided that “security check” must “please allow me to grope you now”, and I was looking for the heaviest antique within my reach when…the actual cashier came back.

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“I just had to run an errand,” he said. “Go sit down, buddy.” Beardy grinned at me and took a seat on one of the antique couches.

“Sorry about him,” said Actual Cashier. “He’s homeless. He just likes hanging out here.”

“Do you often leave him here alone?” I asked him.

“Just this once. I had to run to the post office.”

“In the future,” I said, “you probably shouldn’t. He was threatening to ‘security check’ me when you arrived.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it,” he said. “He’s just messing with you.”

Just messing with me?

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I mean, first of all, I commend the cashier for letting a homeless person hang out in his store. I really do. It was fifteen degrees that day. And being homeless and mentally ill, as this man almost definitely was, is a double whammy: it’s nigh impossible to find a shelter that won’t turn you away. I almost don’t want to say anything, because even if he is creepy, Beardy doesn’t deserve to be turned out into a Vermont winter.

BUT. For Christ’s sake, cashier. If you are going to let people watch the store while you’re out, especially people who don’t work there, you are responsible for them. You are responsible for doing damage control if they say or do inappropriate things. You can’t brush it away with “he was just messing with you”, because – fuck, how do I know that? In that moment, “security check” seemed like a real threat. Even if it was just in jest, it’s still not the kind of thing you say to a customer.

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Anyway, when I told my dad the next day, he insisted on calling the store himself. After his earful, I think the cashier was appropriately chagrined. So I guess the real lesson here is that dads are great. My dad in particular basically embodies the adage “beware the anger of a gentle man”. His burn is slow, so when it finally comes to a boil, you know what’s up.

 

you’re turning violet, violet

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You know that feeling when you have outfit pictures you really, really love, so you sit on them for a while to make sure they won’t get buried when you actually release them? I’ve talked about it before, and it’s perennially true. I took these pictures a week ago, and they might be some of my favorites ever. I’m skittish about letting them go.

I bought this dress secondhand from someone on Pinterest who was cleaning out her closet. It was originally from Tatted Tina’s Designs, whom I’d never heard of. And WOW, am I glad I’ve heard of her now. She’s a one-woman operation churning out some of the best-quality dresses I’ve ever seen. Next time I will definitely purchase from her directly.

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Dress: handmade, via swap group

Coat: thrifted

Hat & pearls: vintage, thrifted

Everything else: thrifted

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And now for the other creative endeavor I’ve been sitting on. Kristina’s post about her recent literary surge got me itching for the same, and I’ve written about 14 pages into my own new novel.

“What’s it about?” you chorus.

“Uhhh…” I stammer.  It’s not something I can sum up concisely yet. All I know is there are Faustian bargains. And a woman named Jocasta, after Oedipus’s mother. And possibly an eldritch abomination. I am New England gothic to the core.

I’ll leave you with an excerpt.

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My mother liked to spook us.

Once when my sister was small, she asked: “how come there’s only two?”

We were sitting in the kitchen garden while Ma shelled peas. Dianna was racing in tiny circles, speeding up past the radish patch like the tubers would stretch out and trip her. She was four, I think, or five. I was ten.

“Only two? How do I know what that means, Dianna? Two of what? Peas in this pod?”

“In our family. It’s just me and Josiah. But the Howlands have eight kids. The Marshalls have twelve.”

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“They do not,” I told her. Mrs. Marshall was sickly. No way she had that many.

“They do. Lyddie said so.”

“Because,” Ma said, “we’re not Catholic.”

“What’s that got to do with it?”

Ma put down her peas. She leaned forward and her big moon eyes got moonier.

“It doesn’t. I was just testing you. Can you keep a secret, baby?”

“I…think so.”

“‘I think so’ isn’t good enough, Dianna. I need you to promise me.”

“I promise, Mama.”

“That’s my sweet girl. Are you ready?”

She didn’t wait for my sister’s nod.

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“Even before I met your Papa, I always knew I wanted two. One boy and one girl, which is what I got. Lots of women aren’t so lucky. They get exactly what they don’t want, and spend their whole lives resenting their children for not being the opposite. So when I got what I wanted, when my nest was complete, it was time to stop. To quit while I was ahead.

I made a deal. I got a big knife and I carved out the parts of myself that make babies. It hurt, of course, but I thought it would be worth it in the end. I carried my womb to the middle of the forest, I said it down, and I said, ‘all right, I’m finished! Do what you will with it!’

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And the hungry forest spirits came out and gobbled it up. The hungriest of them said, ‘Jocasta, you tasted so good, you must have grown some mighty delicious little ones in there. Please, can we have just one bite?’

After all the work I’d done in making my little family? ‘Of course not,’ I told them. No one gets to eat them up but me, and maybe Darius if I’m feeling generous. Besides, this is my deal to make.’”

“What did the monsters do to you, Mama?” Dianna squeaked.

“Who says they did anything to me? No, I know how to talk to monsters, babe. I told them I was certainly finished having children, that I wanted my boy-girl pair to bring some symmetry into the world, and that I would like them to keep me to my word. If I even think about having another one, if I so much as run my hands over the cradle, they can have that taste they wanted so much. A nice hearty bite of sweet little girl.”

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Ma grinned. “And they’ll hold me to it, too. Those folk aren’t playing.”

Dianna’s lips trembled. She was off and running before she really began to bawl. Ma didn’t go after her. She just laughed and laughed. She looked at me with her big moon eyes shinier than the real moon, like I was finally old enough to get in on the joke. I didn’t tell her she’d scared me, too.

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kook: a retrospective

In honor of my last post and the attendant closet clean-out, I thought I should give my thrifted weirdness a last hurrah. Here are fifteen outfits I absolutely loved, and would absolutely never in a million years wear again.

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one / two / three / four

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five / six / seven / eight

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nine / ten / eleven / twelve

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thirteen / fourteen / fifteen

running away from the circus

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Dress: vintage, via theater sale

Coat: vintage, via brick-and-mortar vintage store

Shoes: Kmart (yeah, I know)

Everything else: thrifted

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It’s probably deeply narcissistic to assume that anyone but me cares about my ~style evolution~. But – “narcissist” is pretty much the first definition of “blogger” anyway, so it’s not like I had far to fall.  And I do want to address the fact that my style has well and truly changed.

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I am no longer the empress of power clashing, and I haven’t been  for some time. I am no longer drawn to heavy bangles, to colorblocks, to thrifted weirdness. In fact, I barely thrift anymore. I would love to, but the ratio of gems to dross is so low it’s barely worth my time. And I have reached a point of preferring one glittering gem, one perfect vintage dress, to bagsful of pieces that only sort of work.

The latter used to be a main feature of my style: throwing cloth & color at my body and seeing what stuck. Remember this? And this?  And this, this, this? I’d haul home bags of weird wrinkled stuff, whatever I could carry, and end up donating half of it later anyway. Which, honestly, was not the healthiest behavior. There was something frantic about it, something compulsive. We point and laugh at hoarders, but I’ve always known, on some uncomfortable level, that I could very well become one. Backing away from that, from what I’m pretty damn sure was just my OCD wearing a socially acceptable guise, has been a relief.

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I knew I was pulling out of quirk and into vintage elegance, and I even mentioned it this past summer, but it didn’t feel real until last week, when I got rid of most of my clothes.

And I do mean most. I listed sixteen dresses on Etsy, with about ten more to come. I passed on certain pieces to friends and my mom, and I still have two brimming trash bags waiting to be donated. I ditched things I once thought I would never give away. And it feels awesome, honestly. I’m setting myself free from frustrated potential: “oh, but I could use this for an outfit, one day.” Nope – if I’m not wearing it now, if it feels more like a mask than a second skin, it’s going to a better home.

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My closet feels weirdly lean now. It feels curated. It’s full of dresses: most ’60s and earlier, some modern reproductions. Gloves, hats, and vintage pearls. A few nice coats. Only the most comfortable shoes, and only the tights without any holes. Just a couple of skirts, and only three blouses.  I’m just not wearing separates anymore, not on the regular.

Make no mistake: I’m still eccentric. But that eccentricity is more about textured coats and fabulous hats, about gloves with pearl buttons, than about wearing everything at once. I wore an aggressively twee dress a few weeks ago, with colored tights & clashing cardigan, the whole kit and crazy caboodle, and I felt, in a bad way, like I was wearing a costume. I think I’ve officially grown out of Garanimals and into Greta Garbo.

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I see bloggers now who dress the way I used to, and I cringe: it’s just too busy. But I feel bad for cringing, because I started out as a blogger intending to break all the rules. There’s the weird letdown that comes with remembering that you used to be subversive. Rules are neutral, though. They don’t have to be stifling. Choosing structure can be a joy all its own.

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