Heritage goods.

Talbots boucle jacket, Franco Ferrari scarf, J.W. Hulme Mini Legacy bag

Ever since the economy went to the dogs three years ago, I've been a little obsessed with buying "Made in the USA" goods. I think it stems partly from trying to be somewhat socially responsible and patriotic, and partly because there is now a  resurgence in high quality heritage goods produced in American factories. 

I don't buy very many things in a year, especially when it comes to bags and shoes. When I do make a purchase, I want to ensure that it will stand the test of time, both in quality and functionality and I love heritage goods especially for this reason. I first spotted the J.W. Hulme Mini Legacy bag two years ago on Shopbop and I thought the price was a little steep for something that resembled the Coach bags of yesteryear and could easily be purchased for a fraction of the price on Ebay or in vintage clothing stores. But when the bag arrived, I was deeply impressed with the perfection in detailing, the quality of the leather and the gorgeous burgundy hue. The price sincerely reflected the brilliant craftmanship and I know now that for what I paid, this bag would outlast even a fancier, more expensive Italian made bag. 

The advantage of buying American made goods is that the service is usually outstanding, labor practices are somewhat better and quality is often pretty remarkable. There are exceptions, however, particularly with mass produced items ala American Apparel (appalling quality and service at a tragic price point). But when it comes to handmade heritage goods, many traditional American companies have a proud reputation to uphold and I'm glad that they're still here churning out artisan pieces that remind me of a time when wool sweaters lasted longer than 2 years and when leather bags could only get better with age. It's interesting how classic items like a field bag can endure the test of time and for every generation, still be as beautiful as it was intended in the first place.

Update: Since I've been asked multiple times about the jacket, it's from Talbots. I bought it on final sale for about $70 (80% off $269) and it runs a little big so I'm using it as a coat. It's pretty thick and keeps me warm over a sweater. 

Icon: Alexa Chung

You know you saw this coming.

I must admit I'm not particularly an Alexa Chung groupie.What, with those pin pegs and practically non-existent waistline, she'd look good in a sack cloth and a pair of Uggs. And she's someone I can never hope to emulate considering that I'm half her height and twice her weight.

But then she goes and pulls off quirky outfits with such perfection it's almost ethereal.  That Isabel Marant coat paired with the peter-pan collared blouse and those loafers... oh, Alexa, maybe you are worth the hype after all.

Photo: alexachungid

Deconstructing my shoe collection


(Back row, L-R: No. 6 boots, Rachel Comey Mars boots, Frye oxfords, Tod's sandals; Front row, L-R: Ann Taylor pumps, J.Crew lace ups, Comme des Garcon oxfords, Tod's flats)

I wanted to address a few issues from my last (serious) post about building a uniform and how to buy less by determining what you really need versus what you think you need. Perhaps I didn't fully explain my approach on how I deal with each individual question on my list, so I will remedy that by using a visual account. One of the areas in my life where I feel I have achieved the bare essentials is my shoe collection. I have exactly 10 pairs of shoes, all of which serves a specific purpose. Barring one or two minor hiccups along the way, I think I've basically turned my shoe collection into something that is very minimal but is full of functionality and suits my style. It took me about 5 years to learn what works and to avoid either feeling impulsive or envious whenever I see something new.

As a general rule of thumb, you really only need one pair of shoes for each of these occasions: everyday wear, good winter shoes, good running shoes, a pair of sandals and a pair of dressy pumps in a decent heel height. The truth is that if you only have one pair of shoes for your everyday wear, you're not doing your feet any favors because you are essentially putting pressure on the same areas of your feet and that brings about a slew of unpleasant things. Since I wear oxfords throughout most of summer and a large part of winter, I have allowed myself two pairs in different colors. The No.6 boots are essential for particularly rainy days here in Seattle where the ratio of wet feet and number of days in the year are highly correlated.

My mother always says that your feet is the solid base on which your whole body stands, why would you ever treat it badly? I've used that advice very often and I've also learned that if the shoes do not feel good the moment you put them on, they are not going to ever feel good. Last year I bought exactly three pairs of shoes - a pair of lace-up boots from J.Crew, oxfords from Comme des Garcons and loafers from Rag & Bone. These were things I needed because I had been trudging around in a my No.6 boots, a pair of ratty Converse and on my most obscenely lazy day, a pair of hiking boots from The North Face. While I've used the lace-up boots almost everyday, the Rag & Bone loafers are my most regrettable purchase from last year. I'm usually a 5.5 and occasionally a 6. The smallest size the store had was a 6, which would have been great except that within two months, the shoes miraculously stretched out to a full size 7. No amount of insoles or heel grips could remedy it and I'm left with no loafers and a giant boat shoe that I will never be able to wear.

Other than the shoes shown above, I have a pair of running shoes and a pair of water-proof hiking shoes which works for when I bring the dog out in the rain. That rounds up the shoe count to 10. I may be adding some new loafers during the summer if I find the right pair, preferably in cognac or burgundy. Also, someday, when the time comes, I'll be investing in a pair of Christian Louboutins Simple Pumps in 70 mm heels. But for now, I think I'm pretty contented with everything I have. I know that my shoe collection may not be the most interesting but I've never gone a single day failing to match them with my outfit. I get all my shoes resoled every year and wipe them down with waterproof leather protector every month so that they achieve their full usability.

According to Consumer Reports, the average American woman owns 19 pair of shoes, which I suppose is not a tremendous amount. How many pairs of shoes do you own and do you feel like you should streamline them or expand them? Please share!

    Tagged - The Five Essentials

    This should be fun. Jennifer of Grey Garden tagged me to post my five daily essentials. I think it's a more streamline take on the 'What's In Your Bag' viral tags so I shall happily oblige. As I mentioned before, I hate carrying bags and find myself usually stashing things into my jeans, coat or shirt pockets. I guess if there's any aspect of my life that is truly minimalistic, I would say the answer lies in my purse! Anyway, these are the five items I try to bring with me everywhere I go - either in my Kanken when I go to school, in my JW Hulme Mini Legacy for everyday use or in my PS1 when I'm feeling a little dressy. I won't tag anyone at the end of the post because everyone I know has done one of these, but if you haven't yet, feel free to do it and then post a link in the comments section.

    1. iPod and noise isolating headphones - it's the best way to deter sales people, chatty people and annoying people.
    2. Glasses - I'm not really blind, but I have to use them occasionally when driving or if I'm just trying to look smart. 
    3. Lipbalm - My dog usually eats all my lip balm, so I end up using whatever I get free or is a gift. This lip butter is from a Korres skincare set. 
    4. Wallet - I received this Gucci wallet for a birthday many years ago. It's still holding up pretty well so I don't think I'll be changing it for a long while.
    5. Field Notes - Like they say, "I'm not writing it down to remember it later, I'm writing it down to remember it now!"

    Reason #358 why I love Ricky Gervais


    Hollywood takes itself too seriously.

    The uniform.

    Photo: Chambre et Nimes

    In order to keep my buying habits in check I have four rules to which all my purchases comply to. The rules are governed by these very specific questions in the EXACT order as listed:
    1. Do I need it?
    2. Can it be worn with three other items in my closet?
    3. Does it fit me and does it look good on me?
    4. How long will it last me? 

    In the winter, my everyday uniform is made up of dark jeans, a shirt and a sweater with either lace-up boots or oxford shoes. In the summer, I tend to go with a black skirt or lighter color cuffed jeans and Breton tees with oxford shoes or flats. So for my specific needs, I found that I had to purchase more shirts and sweaters than the average number given by a minimalist style guru. I also discovered that despite what most people say, I've never needed a trench coat or a pencil skirt (and neither of which looks good on me) so I've just never bought them. 

    The secret to buying less is to stick to a regiment. Just like losing weight or eating healthy, you have to know what works for you and then adhere to it like clockwork. Carving a uniform for yourself, knowing what looks good on your body and knowing your own personal style is key to parring down on your purchases. For example, I know that I am one of those girls who will never be able to pull off tall boots, anything flowy and floral and any shoe with a 3 inch or higher heel. I find myself more of a short, tomboy-ish character who likes being comfortable and usually loathes carrying a bag. So for my personal style, I would look for things with pockets (great for stuffing cash and credit cards in, hee!), skimming but not restrictive clothing, and flat shoes. There's no use in buying something that doesn't fit your body or attitude because there's too much effort involved in trying to 'work it'. Once you've carved your own uniform, it's much easier to forego mindless buying and start investing in quality instead. 

    Icon: Michelle Williams

    Photo: michellewilliams-fan.com

    I know this is very cliched especially within the hipster fashion scene, but I have a tremendous love for Michelle Williams' style. She may not be the best actress I know (the honour which currently goes to Naomi Watts by the way), but I adore her in the way I adore Ewan McGregor. They have so much potential and make a standout movie every once in while but often take on roles that either do not suit them or are just plain bad. I have yet to see Blue Valentine but I've read so many good things about it I'll have to go see it in limited release soon.

    But on the subject of her personal style, she fuses such simplicity and earnest functionality that it's always a joy seeing her off-screen. She often exudes a fragile, almost child-like quality but comes across as strong and eloquent when she actually speaks.  In the photo above, she is wearing the Rag & Bone Grayling sweater that I myself purchased last year. It's always nice when someone you look up to affirms your choices.

    The perfect loafers.


    A few months ago, I was lucky enough to snag a pair of Heschung for Comme des Garçons loafers at the Saks sale. I love them to bits and find them one of the most comfortable and well-made shoes I've ever owned. Think of them as the French version of Church's shoes, with beautiful tanned calf-leather, perfect stitching and impeccable details.

    These penny loafers (named Dahlia) are hand-made in France and is elegant in its simplicity. If I were living in Europe, I would buy these in a heartbeat.

    The perfunctory post about my style.

    Dressing for grad school: A.P.C. cardigan, J.Brand jeans, Rachel Comey boots, Brooks Brothers shirt, Bvlgari watch.

    Let's be honest here, I don't consider myself very stylish, so there's no point in trying to define my personal style. But since I will be touching on issues about dressing, it's only fair that you know where I stand. I merely consider myself someone who likes quality garments, hates spending more than 5 minutes thinking about to wear, and finds a functional and manageable wardrobe one of life's greatest joys. I can't name you the editor of Vogue without doing a Google search (is it still Anna Wintour?), I can't name you an "it" model other than Daria Werbowy and only because she is so very hot, and I can't name you trend predictions for next year. I can however, rattle off a list of designers who make the most wonderful clothing in the world because I've spend an obscene amount of time looking for beautiful investment pieces, things that 5 or 10 or even 15 years down the line would look as good.

    For the most part, I'm an extremely boring dresser. There are a few key pieces I stick to - dark jeans, button downs and oxford shoes, all in a drab color palette of neutrals with grey and black being predominant. I hate shopping and mall-trawling so much that  I buy clothes twice a year, mostly online and when I find something that fits the bill, I usually buy multiples of the same style in black, blue, white and stripes. Case in point: Brooks Brothers shirts.

    My way of dressing hasn't really evolved since 5 or 6 years ago, when I first finished college and started earning enough to buy my own clothes. But I'm slowly starting to reduce the number of things I purchase in a year although the actual amount spending hasn't really gone down. This blog is a representation of my attempts at trying to live and dress simpler, to invest in things for the long term rather than to seek ephemeral gratification. This extends not only to my dress code but also in general consumption. It pains me that my children may one day be living in the pages of 'The Road', but at least I can say I have tried on my part to make it a little better for them.

    The transition into Spring.


    I know that Spring is still quite a few months away, but I can see this being my go-to outfit. With that Viktor and Rolf blouse tucked in ever so slightly into the Philip Lim skirt, it's a perfect combination of warmth and girlish manliness. Throw in a rain jacket, a perfect trenchcoat or a quirky umbrella like this New Yorker one and it's great for any wet weather escapade.

    P/S: I got the umbrella for Christmas and it makes me smile every time I whisk it out at the bus stop. Add a little spice to your life, you need it sometimes.

    Monday morning.


    The day starts out with breakfast, which in this case is a carrot-apricot whole wheat loaf cake and a cup of coffee. I've recently started getting into café con leche, using some Mexican instant Nescafé. Such a coffee faux pas I know. 

    My closet is filled with Brooks Brothers shirts and Breton tees (my favourite is the half-sleeve one by WoodWood). Makes it easier to get dressed when you have a uniform and you never have to face the unexpected at 7 am in the morning with the rain outside and all you're gamed for is a cup of coffee and a sour expression. 

    Funky socks and No.6 boots to help waterproof the bus trip to school. These clogs are the best investment I ever made. 

    Oh La Garconne, how I love thee

    It's a very expensive addiction.

    A few resolutions to keep


    1. Start an Etsy shop
    2. Eat, live and dress cleaner and simpler
    3. Watch 25 Cary Grant movies, beginning with Blonde Venus and ending with Walk, Don't Run