Monday, August 5, 2013

Sunny Afternoon

For me, one of the most exciting parts of exploring a new area is discovering the go-to vintage and second-hand hotspots. For the past couple weeks, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to live and work in Northampton and of course, poke around all the cute vintage boutiques and thrift stores. And because what fashion class would be complete without some retail therapy, I devoted a day of class to bring my girls along for a trip. (Yes, you heard right--I'm getting paid to go shopping. I told you this was a dream job!)

On one of my personal excursions, I stopped to browse the racks at Retro Genie, and stumbled upon this darling 50s pastel plaid day dress, and instantly swooned at the sight of it. Pastel colors? Check. Ruffles? Check. Gathered circle skirt? Check. Cotton? Check. All my favorite things rolled into the perfect dress for a summer stroll! Another great thing about finding a unique piece in a new setting is that the garment is forever imprinted with associations from that specific place. I look at this dress and I remember sitting on a grassy hill in the town square with a dozen wonderful  girlseating Creamsicle ice cream accessorized with rainbow sprinkles, laughing, and periodically swatting at mosquitoes.  

In a mere few weeks, this place, these girls, my fellow teachers, they've left such a mark on me. We've built forts together, styled toilet paper tea party outfits, decorated cupcakes, gone on scavenger hunts, embraced impromptu dance parties, belted out songs at karaoke night, perfected the art of polka dot nail designs, listened to and performed spoken word poetry, watched live music in the town square, explored art museums, ironed and hot glue-gunned fabric as well as our fingers, bleached and dyed denim and t-shirts, bedazzled collars and hems, designed and painted custom stencils, upcycled 70s maxi dresses, crafted flower crowns and beaded collar necklaces, flaunted our fabulousness on the runway, and swapped spooky stories about the ghost of Sylvia Plath. 

It’s funny, I want to remember everything, I want to document it, and I want to share it, but I feel as though every summary I create of my experience is somehow watered-down and incomplete. Coming to terms with that is frustrating for me because writing is my way of making sense of things. As Flannery O’Connor once said, “I write to discover what I know.” So, it’s hard to have so many thoughts and feelings that transcend a written rendering. But then again, there’s also something really lovely about that, the notion of being a part of something so full-dimensional and singular that pinning it down is nearly impossible. This is a story I will carry with me forever in vivid color. In my clothes, in my notebooks, in the pictures and videos the girls took on my phone, in the emails they send me, and all of my camp artifacts, but most importantly, with me.

This dress will always warmly remind me of my month-long dream job in Northampton and all the people that made that place feel like home. 

Outfit Details:
1950s Pastel Plaid Day Dress ~ Retro Genie (Northampton, MA)
Seychelles Pastel Pink Oxford Pumps ~ Buffalo Exchange
1950s Wicker Purse with Bakelite Handle ~ Cheshire Cat (South Kingstown, RI)
Double Strand Green Pearls ~ a gift from my mother

Photography by Yenny Shim

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Fashion 101: To Thine Own Self Be True


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the intersection between the way women feel about themselves and the way they dress—the fashions they select when they’re ready to take on the world, and the ones they throw on when they’re just not feeling it, and all the shades in between. For better or worse, as the fairer sex, we will always be judged based on our physical appearance, and understandably this is a lot of pressure to handle first thing in the morning. What fascinates me most about the relationship between self-image and personal style are the reasons women give for not wearing clothing that makes them happy. Often I find myself in dressing rooms overhearing girls say things like, “I couldn’t pull this off, could I?” “Am I crazy to like this?” “Will you make fun of me if I wear this?” “Do I look like too much of (insert self-deprecating label here) in this?” et cetera, and it positively makes me want to get on my soapbox and yell, “Stop worrying about what other people think, and wear what you want!” But then I realize, it isn’t just the comments we receive from other people about the things we wear that keep us from being authentic. Most of the time, the harshest criticism emerges from our own inner monologues. We are the ones making rules for ourselves about what we can wear and what we cannot, about all the things we’re not allowed to like.

I find myself especially thinking about these arbitrary rules and restrictions that we set for ourselves because I'm leaving tomorrow for a month-long adventure teaching DIY Fashion at a summer camp for teenage girls. Middle school and high school are the times when girls begin to decide who they are and how they want to present themselves to others. I want my campers not to be afraid to be themselves, try things out, and wear things that make them stand out from the crowd.

For much of my adolescence, the only thing constant about my hair, makeup, and fashion sense was that it was always changing. I was perpetually trying things out in order to figure out what kind of person I wanted to be and how my personal appearance could best convey that. In short, was a  “weird” kid. I read Sylvia Plath, listened to bands like Of Montreal and Jets to Brazil, and wore combat boots. I loved the personal transformation that occurred just from dying my hair pink, wearing rubber bracelets up to my elbows, or painting my face like a technicolor canvas. Granted, I look back on old pictures, and I cringe a little, but then I remember what it felt like. It was fun but it was also extremely liberating. And ultimately, it allowed me to experiment and figure out what I like.

What strikes me most about that realization is that I know many women skip over that process entirely. Many women have drastically different fashion trajectories from mine. They never bother to figure out what they actually like and never quite feel comfortable deviating from trends. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that necessarily—only that it must be very stifling to operate under the absolute falsehood that there are rules about what you can like and what you can wear. It’s a total lie and the sooner we stop believing it, and burn these self-imposed fashion rulebooks, the sooner we can start actually enjoying getting dressed in the morning.

And I say, the sooner the better. Fashion rules only get more strict and confining as we get older, and along the way, we forget that fashion is supposed to be fun. We forget about the infinite amount of possibilities for expressing ourselves through dress, and we begin to think very narrowly about our attire. Suddenly, what could’ve been an enjoyable and creative experience becomes a burden of limitation and conformity. Don’t get me wrong--sometimes having endless options is simply too much, and sometimes, we have far more important things to worry about than what shoes to wear. But, I firmly believe that we should never have to apologize for the things we like, and we should never feel obligated to follow someone else’s code of fashion.

I’d like to end this post with a word from Advanced Style’s Ilona Royce Smithkin, a woman of immense character, wit, and style, whose philosophy on personal fashion resonates deeply with me. Ninety years old and she crafts her own eyelashes and performs Edith Piaf songs. I hope I'm that fabulous and fearless in seventy years!

“I’m not depending on fashion because what I do is very individual…No one else has to like it. As long as when I look in the mirror, ah, this is me!”

Outfit Details
1950s Baby Blue Wiggle Dress ~ Poor Little Rich Girl
Vintage Double Strand Pearl Necklace ~ a gift from my mother
Heart Shaped Blue Rhinestone + Pearl Earrings ~ a gift from my mother
Baby Blue Pearl Bow Barrett ~ a gift from my mother
1950s Cream Structured Handbag ~ Goodwill 
Miz Mooz Cream Peep Toe Sandals ~ Ebay

Monday, June 17, 2013

Mint Green Dream

Way back in May, my friend Meg and I got together for a photo shoot around Harvard, followed by some Pho, and reminiscing. I opted to wear this quintessentially 50s circle skirt dress with a full petticoat because, well, why not? This is one of those dresses that makes me see the world through rose-colored (or perhaps more fittingly, mint green) glasses. Everything seems so much sweeter, more hopeful and it just makes me feel--to quote Fitzgerald-- “a heightened sensitivity for the promises of life.” For me, getting dressed is my favorite part of the day and I love that I can literally alter my disposition just by throwing a dress over my head. Life can be so hectic and discouraging sometimes, I think it's important to indulge ourselves in doing little things that make us happy and hopeful.

For me, getting dressed up is my way of mentally preparing myself for each day. Thankfully I have a job that is different everyday. I never know what subject I'm going to be teaching or what students I'll be working with, and that's kind of exciting. Looking back on the past nine months, I’m in awe. Subbing has taught me more about what it means to be a teacher than my master’s program ever could (no offense, Lesley!). Looking back on old posts, and reflecting on the last year, I'm in such amazement at everything that's happened. I've had the chance to work alongside so many inspirational teachers, build relationships with such insightful students, and naturally do it all in variety of fun vintage frocks.

So, if I’ve been a bit of sporadic blogger, this is why. Between working full-time in a high school, teaching ESOL part-time, advising two different clubs, going to grad school, working 2-3 part-time jobs, volunteering as a tutor, and trying to have some semblance of a social life, I don’t have nearly enough time to complain about how busy I am. But even on the more challenging days, when adolescent boys are doing everything in their power to push my buttons (e.g.,“Ms. Stevens, he threw my pencil out the window!” “Ms. Stevens, when are we going on that date? “Ms. Stevens, how many tattoos do you have?”) and thwart my every attempt to actually teach a class, there’s always something that reminds me that becoming a teacher was the best idea I’ve ever had. A couple weeks ago, I received a thank you note from a couple of students after chaperoning an event, and in it one student thanked me for brining in a poem I wrote because it inspired her to start writing again. Those seemingly miniscule details are the silver linings of my days, my driving force.

But enough of all that sentimental sappy wannabe-teacher hullaballoo—this is a fashion blog for crying out loud! Well, on that note, I must report, that something truly amazing recently happened to me. Now, I was always under the impression that my two loves, education and fashion, were just too different to ever come together in a happy—though admittedly odd couple-ly—marriage. Students always ask me where I get my clothes and why I dress the way I do, and I love having the opportunity to connect with them over something fun and creative, and not really academic—but, seeing as fashion has not yet been added to the state mandated curriculum, I figured I’d be holding my breath a long time if I wanted to actually teach fashion. I would even make offhand jokes about establishing the fantastical Sara Stevens Academy for Fashionable Young Women. HA! C’mon, girl, keep dreaming!

Then, after months of job hunting, and sending out throngs of resumes for positions I was either under-qualified for or under-interested in, I stumbled across a posting I was convinced was too good to be true. The title of the ad read: Hiring Awesome Fashion Instructor. I reread the ad about a hundred times determined there had to be some kind of catch. Did they want me to have doctorate degree in the fine art of thrifting? Perhaps, I’d need to teach the class while wearing eight-inch stilettos? Once I had recovered from the shock and convinced myself this was a real position and not a practical joke or a hallucination, I wrote the most genuinely giddy cover letter ever in existence. I gushed and gushed and gushed, and somehow, after a phone interview, a whole lot of wishing and hoping, and a tiny bit of moping around convinced I didn’t get it, I got it!

That’s right, this summer I will be teaching DIY Fashion at an all girls summer camp in Northampton. I get to talk about fashion, play around with different fabrics and accents, tackle my ever-expanding Pinterest DIY tutorial board, and help a group of creative teenage girls make their fabulous fashion design dreams a reality. What’s more, I will be living on the gorgeous campus at Smith College for the duration of camp, and orchestrating a fashion show as the culminating event. This can’t be real life! Someone needs to pinch me because I’m pretty sure I’m living the dream.

Outfit Details:
1950s Mint and White Striped Dress with Eyelet Details ~ Vintage Revenge
Vintage White Beaded Gloves ~ a gift from my mother
1950s Gold and White Basket Purse ~ Garment District
Vintage Double Strand Pearls ~ a gift from my mother
Pearl Bracelet ~ a gift from my mother
1950s Pink Tulle Petticoat ~ Ebay
Alice and Olivia Retro Heels (DIY spray-painted mint green) ~ Urban Renewals

Photography by Meaghan Moulton

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Les Souvenirs: Reflections of an Overdressed Boston Girl

In French, “les souvenirs” means memories or recollections; as a verb, souvenir means to remember. I think it’s interesting how in English, souvenirs is something we ascribe to tangible things, things that you can hold in your hand, purchase at a flea market or an airport gift ship, and carry home with you. For the traveler, souvenirs are a way of conjuring memories, objects that symbolize a place and what that place meant to us, who we were then, and where we were headed. For me, my wardrobe is cache of souvenirs. Every morning, as I leaf through my dresses, I find myself coursing through my own history. Every hanger holds a relic—a reminder of who I was with, where I was, who sold it to me, or what happened to me the first or last time I wore it. Even stains and missing buttons are little footnotes of my own clumsiness. My dress collection is a richer, more accurate diary than I ever could have written. Often times, that’s the way I prefer it.
I have agonized over how to write about the changes that have recently taken place this week. I wanted to choose all of the right words and carefully crafted phrases so that I could process this on my own terms. But I realize now how foolish it is to think I ever have that kind of control, over language or life, or over how those two are received in print. No matter how I choose to render this, it will always be incomplete, but that’s okay. That’s part of the frustrating singularity of memory and experience: you can never fully translate it to someone else. You can describe it, trying to be exact as possible, but there will always be things that don’t exist in our limited vocabulary, feelings we don’t have precise enough words for.
Many of the dresses in my collection harken back to home for me: Boston, and all its surrounding settlements. This particular dress was the last dress I bought from Vintage Revenge before Denise closed up shop last spring. I have such fond memories of that store and I miss terribly the endearing second-hand-store gossip that came customary with every purchase.  I remember that this dress was an early birthday present to myself and I wore it that year to Cuchi Cuchi to celebrate the beginning of my twenty third year with a small gathering of friends. I called it my Disney Princess Dress because that’s how I felt wearing it. And also because it reminded me of the water in Switzerland—this surreal shade of blue that seemed purposely dyed that way to stupefy tourists in wonder.  Being that I don’t lead quite the lavish lifestyle that my closet would have you believe, many of my formal vintage dresses spend more time on hangers than flouncing about in sunshine. This particular dress, I have only had the chance to wear twice—with the second time being a few weeks ago, when I simply made the executive decision to make my own occasion. Some days, you just need to throw on a fancy dress and go gallivanting about with your fabulous photographer friend. Now, I’m really glad that I did.
These pictures were taken a few weeks ago in the Boston Gardens, just two blocks away from where the bombings occurred at the marathon finish line. This is the part where I gulp and freeze up. Something inside just aches when I think about how this place that I walked through, absentmindedly, hundreds of times—where I would occasionally plant myself against a tree between classes to read a book or work on a short story—is now forever associated with violence and senseless tragedy. My heart goes out to the victims of this attack and their loved ones. I cannot possibly imagine the tremendous sense of shock and grief they must feel. I know that my sadness pales in comparison to that, but still, I cannot deny the profound effect that this act has had on me.
That night, as I sat with my friends in a restaurant in Cambridge, feeling so many things and understanding none of them, the television screens kept replaying the footage of the explosions over and over. And the thing that struck me most was how unfamiliar that scene truly was. A few days earlier, I had walked through Copley Square on my way to tutor at the Boston Public Library, and I remember they were setting up the bleachers for the marathon. The scene being replayed all around me bore no resemblance to the Copley Square I knew—the Copley Square of farmers’ markets, and book fairs, the Copley Square where I spent my lunch breaks when I worked at H&M on Newbury St. This Copley Square was filled with smoke, blood, and panic. Every time the video played, I had to keep telling myself: this is real, this is real, this is real—this isn’t some foreign place; this is my home and it has just been attacked. And, I remember being angry with the restaurant staff. How could they keep this on, over and over? It seemed cruel.
And it was. But cruel or not, it’s real, and turning it off doesn’t make it go away. Things are just different. Every memory I have of Boston will now come attached with a qualifier of before or after the bombing. Part of me really hates that, feels it’s unfair, a complete contamination of my memories and my hometown. But that part of me is still grieving this, and the initial stage is fairly selfish and unable to accept change. Days later, the wound is still fresh but I understand now how little claim I have to indulgent forms of mourning like this, and how purposeless it is to spend any prolonged period of time holding resentments like these. Instead of despairing about how things will never be the same, I think it’s important not to resign myself to wasteful negative, emotions like bitterness and anger—and instead focus on finding ways to help, to care, to love.  

We can never undo the violence that was inflicted on our city, especially not if we focus on the pain, but we can band together and try to find ways to heal. Seeing so many people reach out to help in different ways gives me hope, and inspires me to find a way to be useful. Right now, the primary ways to help out are through donating blood or contributing to the Boston One Relief Fund. But, Bostonians are a resilient and resourceful people, and I have no doubt that in the coming weeks, we will see a wide variety of different types of volunteer opportunities, community efforts, and creative approaches to providing support. I know I will be looking for ways to be personally helpful, to turn compassion into action, and I hope you will, too—in the way that makes the most sense to you.

In the meantime, I am not going to let these bombings replace my memories of a city that has meant so much to me. I have resolved to make new memories, ones that include many more cameos from my fancy vintage party dress collection. I say, life is short; wear what makes you happy.

1950s Blue Lace Chiffon Party Dress ~ Vintage Revenge
Vintage Basket Purse ~ Davis Square Flea Market
Vintage Peal Necklace ~ a gift from my mother
Seychelles Pearl Peep Toe Pumps ~ DSW

Monday, March 25, 2013

Fifteen Minutes of Fame

Shame on me for not posting this sooner! These last couple months have been a hectic, dizzying mess and my brains have apparently morphed into marshmallow fluff. That's the only excuse I can think of as to why I would completely forget to share this lovely feature with my wonderful, charming, impeccably-dressed readership. Is that enough compliments to hold you all over until my next post? I sure hope so!

Back in February, I was contacted by Boston Globe Style Editor, Christopher Muther, about doing a brief interview for a retro-themed Instagram feature. Naturally, I was scouring the racks at Buffalo Exchange when I received the email, and I stopped, mid-browse, and proceeded to jump and squeal for several seconds, much to the dismay of neighboring shoppers. When I managed to compose myself, I promptly replied with something along the lines of, "Yes, a thousand times yes!"

You can check out the full interview here. Meanwhile, I'll be basking in the sweet leftover accolade that is my fifteen minutes of fame...oh and also, probably procrastinating doing schoolwork by ogling peep toe pumps on Etsy. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Have a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Outfit Details
1960s Lord and Taylor Red Plaid Wool Dress ~ a gift from my mother
Vintage Green Belt ~ (goes to another dress) Buffalo Exchange
Charcoal Oxford Heels ~ Second Time around
Gold Bow Headband ~ Sally Beauty Supply
Black and Gold Woven Box Purse ~ gift from yard sale vendors