Style, minimalism, and grief


A style diary.

New Year

View from my dining room

part I


Since my mom passed away four years ago, the "holiday season" has continued to come around every year as if on cue, starting late November with Thanksgiving and stretching to January 1st, overlapping with perfect symmetry the time she died, and thus dies every year again.

But without my mom's invisible hand orchestrating and ushering her family through the holiday traditions, the season feels exponentially emptier. In the past four years we as a family have kept on some traditions, we've created new traditions, we've had Christmas at the beach, Christmas at my sister's house, Christmas in my own home. Decorate with the garlands. Don't decorate with garlands. Gifts. No gifts. We've marked the holidays with some semblance of what they used to have. Still, it's never been the same. Obviously.

Earlier this year I told my sister on the phone, I'd rather spend literally any other week visiting my family than the week of Christmas. I don't even want the conversations with coworkers about who we're visiting for Christmas. The closer you get the more the topic of conversation then turns to who is done with their shopping and who still has folks left to buy for. I hate hearing all the undertones of consumer culture laced into the legit nice holiday plans. They get so mixed up in the haze of mandated gift exchanging, I'd rather pretend that Christmas, in whatever bastardized form my family has come to celebrate it, was never a thing at all, that December 25 could come and go without fanfare or gifts or any kind of marking. I don't want stuff. I don't want forced togetherness for the sake of a holiday I don't even believe in. I don't want a facsimile of something we can't get back. I'll see you — literally — any other week of the year.

Last week, I got pretty close to my wish. We took time off work but stayed home in Atlanta; my siblings celebrated in their various ways with other family; my mother in law insisted on making a meal at her house so we went there with my dad and it was nice. It was normal. I went to bed that night and said to my husband, today felt normal. It was good.

I could go on about the commercialization of Christmas and consumerism and buying things for people so they can buy things for you, things probably neither of you really want. It's all dumb and wasteful and I hate it. There's no meaning in it for me. 

 Taking a final look at my studio in 2017 on New Year's Eve.

Taking a final look at my studio in 2017 on New Year's Eve.

But New Year.

I love a good new year. First of all, it's two holidays for the price of one, an eve and a day. Christmas gets this one too, but New Year's Eve and New Year's Day both have the advantage of being without the necessary religious backstory — 100% pure culture, if you let it be — a time for all facets of humanity to celebrate. Think of the 24 time zones all sliced up and down the globe, little pie shapes around this big rock taking turns every sixty minutes, another bunch of folks all shouting "Hooray!" all at once.

It's a holiday I can get behind. Who doesn't like renewal and reflection?

When I was 18–24 a good New Year's Eve was spent in pursuit of the next exciting stage of carousing, an adventure in fun. You'd spend it with whoever had the same idea of fun as you. I recall a number of New Year's Days Past, contentedly finding my way home under cold, brazenly blue skies, wandering from wherever I spent the night (back when I was far more amenable to sleeping on a random couch than I am today). Or the year, age 20, I woke in my room the next morning to find the ruby velvet slippers I traipsed through fields in the night before were ruined with mud — but I didn't worry; I washed them and dried them with the optimism that they'd come clean, and they did. 

Even in those days, I liked the quiet of January 1. People stay home on January 1, they sleep in a little longer. This morning the freight yard across the street from our apartment was uncharacteristically silent. The traffic on the boulevard was calm, almost non-existent. Everyone tends to agree it's OK to rest. Even the boney trees seemed to only whisper. 

At age 30, the changing of the year is a lot more low-key than it used to be — like most things at age 30. I'm so happy to not be in my 20s anymore. 20s were great and exciting and full of possibility, but also so fraught with expectation of what life should be and the oppressive wonder of "Am I doing it right?"

So forget all the pomp and excess — I'm not into the fireworks, disliking them in general — forget finding some crowded bar to cram yourself into before the stroke of midnight so you can have an overpriced cocktail (or Schlitz, if you're on a budget that year) as the clock changes from one year to another. I mean, I've done all that but it's completely unnecessary. Maybe you spend the night with friends. Maybe you spend it home alone in the quite of your home. Maybe you go to bed at a reasonable hour like normal, like it's any other night. There's no wrong way. Myself, I like the quieter, more comfortable ways of marking the passage from one year to another.

Now I feel more confident and certain about the path I'm on, even as I acknowledge I may not always see it in front of me. The more time goes around, the more you realize it will continue to go around. One day into the next, another year into another. So I like marking an arbitrary year, the better to calibrate your inner compass.  




I don't really make resolutions.

I do find, however, that telling people about my plans in general is an integral step in making my plans come to fruition. "I'm going to join a boxing gym," I said, and then I had to box, and so I did — to a lot of people's surprise. "I'm going to make lamps" I said, and then I had to do that too. But resolutions feel like rules, and I don't like rules. So while I am planning on making a workout become part of my weekly routine once more, I don't want to call it a resolution. Resolutions get broken. There are other things I want to plan on though.

I want to be more intentional with the clothing and shoes I purchase this year. The past year saw me start to catalog my closet in earnest, and I've made a lot of progress as far as just figuring out what I actually like to wear. I've thought a lot about fabrics and silhouettes and what I want to keep in my wardrobe so as to always have something appropriate to wear. So here's an informal accounting of that:

I have plenty of:

  • T-shirts, especially black ones
  • Tank tops
  • Skinny jeans
  • Summer dresses
  • Jeans in general
  • Pull-over sweaters, if I'm being honest
  • Socks
  • Underwear

I'd like to add:

  • A couple of ethically-sourced bralettes. I tried the White Rabbit NYC Ann 2.0 but wasn't completely satisfied. More on this another time. Bralettes are what I wear daily and I've yet to find the perfect solution.
  • Wide-leg cropped linen pants for summer. I love my Black Crane linen carpenter pants but always wanted the same thing but wide-legged for even more breathability. I'm crossing my fingers Elizabeth Suzann does the wyde clydes in linen. Linen was the real MVP this summer. 
  • Maybe another boxy cozy wool cardigan for winter? Oatmeal colored since I have grey. Thinking about this one. They are good to throw on over something shorter sleeved, allowing you to extend the wear of summer tops into winter.
  • A wool wrap or serape in a light neutral so cat hair wont show. Can throw on over a sweater when I'm already in layers. I love the Lauren Winter Mesa shawl but never took the plunge. I keep thinking it's something I can make simply for myself, but honestly I'll probably end up picking one up ready-made. I like the idea of a wrap that I can wear on top of anything, even things with weird sleeves that don't play well with cardigans.
  • A floaty silk short. Eyeing the ES florence short. For daytime, but also for summer PJs.
  • A longer-length linen or canvas short with pockets. Potentially ES linen clyde short. So much ES on the radar.
  • A neutral or nude heeled sandal.
  • This one is indulgent, but I really like the tapestry floral fabric look, and I kind of want it in a shoe. Like this one by Charlotte Stone (I seriously want these so bad. They remind me of the carpet my mom was really excited about putting in on the front stairs of our house in like 2001). So impractical... but so much of my wardrobe is trending neutral and basic — which I like — so maybe it's OK for the odd fun shoe to change it up? It could kind of go with anything because everything is easy to go with. A bonus of keeping a neutral and simple wardrobe! I'm gonna sit on this one because it might be a passing whim but maybe not?
  • A choke-up pump. I didn't know the name for these until yesterday but have been searching for the look. It's basically like a higher v-neck for your foot. I'd wear this in a nude or neutral, but also I'm talking myself into like a blue or something. Again with the "my wardrobe is so neutral" excuse... I have the neutral/nude block heels already, but since I know I like a neutral/nude shoe, and I'd like to extend the wear of the heels I have now, I'd be open to the same color family but in a different silhouette and formality.
  • A black + neutral low-heel ankle boot. So a mostly black shoe but with natural leather sole. Does anyone have experience with this Nisolo pair? Love my camel boots but sometimes I want the same thing but black. I have all-black knee high boots, but this black/neutral pair would be a good bridge between those options — more opportunities for things to go with other things means more opportunities to wear things evenly. I love my camel boots, they go with everything, and so I want them to in turn last as many seasons as possible, so I feel I should alternate them with something else to give them more sparing wear.
 I made my husband take a photo of me in the backwards shirt last night and this is what I got. I still love the backwards shirt tho.

I made my husband take a photo of me in the backwards shirt last night and this is what I got. I still love the backwards shirt tho.

General wardrobe thoughts for 2018

  • Want to wear a black turtleneck longsleeve under a cross-back raw silk dress. Monochrome look disguises the blatantly jumper/overalls look while providing more opportunity to wear the summer dress through cooler months. Less grade-school art teacher, more cool art gallery director.
  • More lagen-look.
  • More open-back tops in summer.
  • Making my wardrobe do more work for me. I wore a button-down shirt backwards last night and really enjoyed how the collar became a mockneck. The yoke on the back of the shirt gave it an interesting monochrome block detail. Two shirts for the price of one! 
  • Play the long game.

A note on playing the long game as far as my wardrobe.

I've mentioned before my aversion to capsules and item quantity caps. I've been trying to parse out exactly what I feel about it and I've determined that having a fuller but more refined wardrobe is a legit way to be an active minimalist. Maybe I have a bigger pool to pick from on a day to day basis, but it means that each item gets less daily wear and thus lasts longer into the future. If I have one shirt I wear every day for a year, let's say it lasts for that year and I need another one the next year. But what if I had both shirts starting on day one, and I alternate wearing them... Then I get both shirts for two years. They still wear out after I've worn them 365 days each, but they "last" longer, if we're going by the time that's passed while they are wearble. 

This is basically why I can never get on board with having a bare bones wardrobe, and why I feel OK having similar but still well-loved items in my closet. When I found out I loved the low-back short sleeve tee, I added the low-back 3/4 length tee. Both get lots of wear. They serve slightly different purposes. But in a lot of ways, they are duplicates. However, I love to dress, and I love to dress in ways that make me comfortable and happy. I choose not to deny myself those material comforts. In return, I make an effort to take care of what I have, to only acquire what I see a need for, and to be considerate in my consumption. I'm making an effort not to fill my closet with flings and regrets and things I don't actually wear. 

 Remember, there is always room for a pair of kitty socks in your wardrobe.

Remember, there is always room for a pair of kitty socks in your wardrobe.

I resist the urge to glom onto trends and fads. I try to be cutting and honest with my style. Ruffles are big now but I know I don't do ruffles. I feel no desire for ruffles. I will not be adding ruffles to my closet. 

I do like monochrome floral appliqué. I have a beige sweatshirt with beige floral appliqué, and I have a blue sweater with blue floral appliqué. I love both sweaters. They have different silhouettes and styles. But I probably don't need any more floral appliqué sweaters. Which is good because the floral appliqué trend was "over" in like 2015, so I got my fill while it lasted.

I have two black silk skirts. But one is a little shorter, a little more informal. One is longer, more refined. I'm OK having two black silk skirts. They both get worn, they both last twice as long.

So I'm playing the wardrobe long-game. I hope to look at cost-per-wear not in the context of even just this year, but what about the next 10 years? I'm no fool to think my style won't evolve over this time, but as long as I keep my finger on the wardrobe pulse and remain clear-eyed about what I feel happy in, I think the long-game is the way for me to go.

The more I think about it, the more it rings true with the whole slow fashion movement in general. It requires a lot more consideration beyond "Does this catch my eye?" More "Is this truly me, does it make me feel comfortable, unique, happy?" and "Does it coexist with what I own already?"

These are the questions I have to ask myself on a regular basis. I can only ask them if I have a detailed understanding of where I am today. So let these first few days of a new year be ones where you take stock, take the time to talk to yourself, really get an understanding for who you are, who you want to be, and how you can get there. Many thanks to those of you who have followed along with me as I share my experiences so far! It's been rewarding interacting with those of you also asking the same questions about our wardrobes and how they are a part of ourselves.

Happy new year!