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On wearing bright colors

2 May

Reading this Persephone Magazine article where a self-professed ‘fat girl’ explained why she likes wearing bright-colored tights despite the stares she gets for showing off her not-skinny legs reminded me of my own hesitation to wear bright colors because of my dark skin.

Most of my work wardrobe is black. Not because of its slimming effect, but because I feel it makes me blend in to the crowd.  Despite the exhortations of friends and my mother to wear jewel tones, which pop against my deep brown skin, I usually resist. My mom bought me a white dress for Easter and even though it looks great on me, I kept staring at the contrast between my dark legs and the white fabric when I tried it on. 

Yes, logically, I know that my skin will look dark no matter what I wear. But I still cling to my neutral tones, believing they somehow make my “otherness” less obvious.  I’ve changed a little, trying on bright camisoles under dark cardigans -inspired by my fashion icon Michelle Obama. She’s not afraid to wear whatever makes her look beautiful, others be damned.

I know this post will sound trivial to some. But I doubt those people have never been the sole brown face in a crowd of white, over and over and over again. It takes its toll…

Images from the Michelle Obama Look Book

Party Hair

2 Apr

The correct way for an Indian woman to wear her hair. Image of Jhumpa Lahiri from bookforum.org

In Jhumpa Lahiri’s short story, “Hell-Heaven,” an Indian daughter describes how her mother insisted she have “party hair” when attending a social event. Party hair consisted of pulling a piece of hair from each side to the back of the head and fastening each with a clip. Her mother disapproved of American women who wore their hair loose.

I have never seen my mother wear her hair without pulling it back. Not even in childhood pictures. Though she wore her hair long, in a braid or bun, in pictures from her early married years, she’s worn her hair the same way as far back as I can remember.

She pulls back the top layer and uses a barrette to fasten her thick, shoulder-length hair in the center of her head.  She has a large collection of barrettes in a white plastic basket on her bathroom counter. Fancy clips with fake gems she wears with saris to parties, plain colored ones for everyday. She picks up new ones every trip to India.

I didn’t make the connection that she personally dislikes hair worn loose until a few days ago when I pointed it out to her. She was telling a story about a co-worker’s hair and wrinkled her nose in disgust when describing its “sloppy” appearance. After thoughtfully listening to my explanation, she agreed she’s always preferred clipped back hair.

My mom says pulling your hair back is a part of presenting yourself as well-groomed. Leaving your hair loose is like leaving the house without makeup, something else my mom never does.

I’ve always worn my hair short. I haven’t worn my hair up in a bun since eighth grade when a boy asked me why my hair looked so weird. I only wear a ponytail when I work out. Though I always wear a skin matching shade of foundation, I have to be prodded to wear anything more than Chapstick.

One more difference to separate us. I can’t imagine styling my daughter’s hair (if I ever have a daughter) the way my mom styled mine. Party hair is another “tradition” that will end with me.

Purses with Cupholders

2 Apr

I also have an irrational hate for Vera Bradley bags

I hate carrying a purse. I think it’s unfair I have to lug around a bag while men can stuff their necessities into clothing pockets. Most women’s dress pants have “fake” pockets that are sewed shut. And putting my wallet and keys into my jeans pockets would create oddly shaped lumps.

I dislike transferring my necessities (wallet with credit cards/cash/ID, keys, cell phone) into different purses for work, daily life, and going out.  I always end up forgetting something or losing a favorite lip gloss until I discover it months later.

And I’m expected to be fashionable while doing it! Other women are checking if my purse matches my shoes/outfit/occasion. Some suggest a clutch or wristlet but it’s really one more item to carry – another thing I must rest on dirty counters or my lap.

If I have to do all this, would it really be too much to ask for a purse with a cup holder to carry my coffee? It would make my mornings much easier.

Christmas Lights

23 Mar

I love the latest Thuy Lu photo shoot for Brown Girl Magazine, featuring the beautiful Priyanka Patel.

Makes me want to wrap Christmas lights around myself and beg someone to take my picture. My mom has a story she loves to tell around Christmas time (and anytime I’m not doing something she wants me to, actually):

My older brother was a patient, obliging child. Typical for first borns, I think. My mom would ask him to wrap Christmas lights back around the plastic trays they came in at the end of the season. He would also count pennies and put them in those paper tubes to get cash back from the bank. I think this was before Coinstar. I’m still not sure why my mom had so many pennies laying around.

I maybe did each of these things once in my life. Subsequent requests met with my refusal and avoidance. I think the moral of the story is that my laziness and insolence was evident from an early age, and that I am the least favored child.

Gray hair

18 Feb

I found a gray (more like white) hair near my forehead a few weeks ago. It’s thick and frizzy; I call it my witch hair. I wear my bangs in a sideswiped style, so it’s pretty noticeable. I thought it was funny at first, but then I noticed another hair near the first that starts white at the root and then blends into black.

My mom didn’t start graying until her late 30s, so this is unprecedented. I’d like to think I’d gray gracefully but it creates an odd dichotomy when my face can still pass for sixteen.  All I can hope for is only developing a white skunk stripe like Stacy London of What Not to Wear and pulling it off with the same panache.

Image courtesy of vtcottageliving.com

Beautiful Brown Girls

2 Apr

As much as I adore reading fashion blogs, expecially the ones where the blogger posts her outfits, I am definitely not cut out to dress nicely every day.  I realized this when I went to Target yesterday wearing a (clean!) t-shirt and jeans out of the pile on my bed.

However! I am always supportive of more diverse models in traditional media.  I loved Brown Girl Magazine‘s latest photo shoot “April Blossoms” featuring Puja Amin.  She looks beautiful – but more importantly, healthy and happy.  I love that the Internet has made seeing different forms of beauty so accessible.

Courtesy of Brown Girl Magazine

Dress for success the Brown Girl Way

2 Jan

I started my first post-college job this fall, where “business professional” attire was expected daily.  I’ve had summer internships before but putting together a skirt and blouse is much easier in 70-degree weather in a job you’re not really sure you want than wearing a suit jacket every day in a job where everyone is frightened of impending layoffs.

First, my body type.  I am short (5’1″) and skinny (~105 lbs).  I often joke I have the body type of a 12-year-old boy, which is a bigger problem in office wear than skinny chic daily wear.  Also, I’m on a budget so I try to keep my clothing costs down.

So I’ve assembled a list of my favorite stores, and the styles I’ve found most successful as a smaller girl trying to look pretty and polished.  

Favorite Stores:

Ann Taylor and Ann Taylor Loft – One of the few stores to offer a large petites section, I buy all my suit sets from here.  The petite sections can be small in certain stores so I spend a bit more to buy jackets and pants online.  I like to have matching sets so I also buy skirts here.  Delivery is super fast and there are tons of sales online offers sent to customers.  I occasionally buy sweaters and tops here, but think most general merchandise (even at the more affordable LOFT) is overpriced.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Limited – I do the bulk of my work clothes shopping here.  There are great sales, quite often, along with coupons.  I browse every so often for new tops I can wear with my classic suits.  The only downside is their sizes tend to run large; pants almost never fit me – not in the length which can be fixed with tailoring, but in the thighs and butt.  I look like I’m swimming! A lot of people like to tell me tailoring is the answer to being short, but when the rest of you is smaller too, tailoring just doesn’t work.

As shown above, I prefer short-sleeved, body-hugging tops.  Often pants and skirts can hide your figure and tops are a way to feel cute.  I also prefer bright, warm colors like coral or yellow.  I have darker skin, so I can pull off these colors.  I used to shy away from them since they’re uncommon too see in the workplace but now I enjoy looking unique in a way that flatters my skin tone.

Wearing a jacket over a button-down shirt just creates wrinkles and is often uncomfortable. Another way men’s and women’s wear are created differently…  Obviously, sleeveless shirts are not appropriate in a business professional environment so I always wear them with a jacket or matching cardigan.

Target

This choice might seem odd, but if Rodarte can launch a line at Target, I figured its good enough for me.  I’ve found a few great dresses and blouses here for much cheaper than at the above stores.  I’ve also bought belts (essential for a skirt slightly too big) and pumps here.  Their shoe selection has greatly expanded the last few years are surprisingly high quality. 

Check out Michelle Obama wearing a Target dress!

 

My least favorite stores for office wear are Express and most department stores.  I love Express normally but their tops are usually too sexy for most offices and like The Limited, their dress pants rarely fit.  Department stores like Macy’s rarely make clothes to fit size 0 or 2.  I’m not above browsing the juniors section to find a well fitted pair of pants but dislike the excessive buttons and pockets I usually find there.

Accessories:

I am so thankful patterned tights are in style this year.  I have bought several pairs which allowed me to wear skirts to work well into December.  My favorite store for these is Target as they are a bit cheaper, but tend to wear out faster.  I’ve also bought some at Aldo, The Limited, and H&M.  I recommend a pair of thick black wool and a tightly patterned brown for everyday.  I also bought a pair of tiny-holed fishets, but nixed them after a male colleague called me out on them. Awkward! So choose carefully….

I hope this guide helps some people! I love scouring style blogs, but usually find them too revealing for my work environment.  Happy shopping!