A Feminist’s License to Look Good

Welcome to the new me.  This might surprise some who knew me in my nose-to-the-grindstone, civil-rights-lawyer past, but the new me likes fashion, of the socially-conscious nature, of course.  Old me always looked presentable, and even received occasional compliments, but looking good was not a priority, or at least not one I cared to admit.  In high school, I read the famous feminist works and misinterpreted them, thinking a feminist wasn’t supposed to care about clothes or looks.  I wore untucked flannels and chunky hiking boots that inspired snarky serenades of These Boots Are Made for Walkin’.  In college, I stopped shaving my legs, armpits, and lady parts.  Makeup?  That was for vapid girls who wore Juicy sweatpants.

I also suffered from survivor’s guilt.  I grew up with a troubled brother, for whom every life step was struggle.  Whereas I, like the baby girl found among the reeds and rushes, was Born at the Right Time.  I felt guilty about my charmed existence and hid behind a sea of grays and blacks, my uniform of guilt.

The other thing about me that interfered with my personal style was that Fred and Carey could base an episode of Portlandia on me.  In eighth grade social studies elections, I ran for President as a member of the Peace and Freedom Party, playing Harry Chapin’s The Shortest Story at our pretend campaign events.   In law school, vandals replaced my name on my law review editor placard with “crunchy hippie chick.” I’ve stood at farmer’s markets collecting signatures for a moratorium on the death penalty.  I’ve considered raising chickens in my suburban backyard.  Someone like me, I thought, wasn’t supposed to care about clothes.   I tried to look as pretty as possible without trying to look like I wanted to look nice, an exhausting and time-consuming process.

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Back when my mom still dressed me.

After having kids, I subtracted more time from self-care, wearing a nursing bra well after I’d weaned my babies and pants that always sagged.  I learned that I could go a full twelve hours without using the bathroom and would lose track of when I’d last showered.

Change came with the confluence of self-mellowing around age forty and a good therapist who helped pry my brother’s troubles from my conscience.  I also discovered a way to shop that didn’t make me feel dirty.  Malls depress me with their endless racks crammed with labels that have become more important than substance.  I was invited to a trunk show at a friend’s home where I shared wine with friends and bought some beautiful clothes untouched by the middle management of big fashion, clothes I loved.  Supporting a shared economy, taking part in a community-building experience, and supporting a local mom in her family-friendly business venture spoke to my crunchy sole.

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Earrings (Kimaya Kama, Maplewood), Bun Cuff (Chloe & Isabel, Maria Kensey, South Orange), necklace (Melissa de la Fuente, Maplewood), Frye boots (Second Time Around, Madison), Slim Boyfriend Jeans, Portrait Jacket, Parlor Top (cabi)

I’ve embraced fashion on my own terms, making it my crusade to buy with several criteria in mind; sold by local businesses, especially from female entrepreneurs; made locally; or from companies with philanthropic missions.  And the item must be made to last:  Quality is the antidote to a disposable, unsustainable economy.

My love affair with one brand, cabi, became so intense that I started selling the clothes myself.  I pushed past the self-imposed barrier of what a former lawyer should do, and chased a dream.  cabi is a company owned, run, and comprised almost entirely of women.  The company culture struck me as satirical at first, like an SNL skit of a female-run business.  We hug, we donate huge amounts clothing to women in need, we fund micro-loans for women in the developing world, and we cry together.  We’re encouraged to collaborate and can lose our license to sell the brand if we engage in competitive behavior.  This is the matriarchy carving out an alternative retail space.

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Protesting with the power of my pocket-book by purchasing from Maplewood’s female-owned boutique Perch home.

I think Betty Friedan, my high school idol, would approve of my new-improved self and business.  In The Feminine Mystique, Betty describes how women have forfeited self-actualization to care for husbands and children.  The book, written in 1963, spoke to me as a teenager when I’d misinterpreted it, and now almost thirty years later when I truly understand.  Betty wants us to fortify ourselves, meet our needs, not put the needs of others or societal expectations in the way of our own development and happiness.  Being a feminist doesn’t mean I should disguise my true self.  If I want to look good, I’m going to go for it, as long as I purchase in a socially-responsible way and from companies that don’t undercut women and their dreams.

Have I become a fashionista?  Absolutely not. I’m just a person who likes to fill my environment with simple beauty.  I’ve extended that license to appreciate beauty to myself and my appearance.  My wardrobe staples remain Converse and distressed jeans.  I’ve simply upgraded my operating system and allowed myself to be the best should-free version of myself.  Consider this your license to do the same.

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Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique open to Chapter 13, The Forfeited Self

 

Seven Secrets to a Great Headshot & Why You Need One

 

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Portrait photographer Lisa Rayman Goldfarb and I met as co-presenters at a networking event geared toward women re-entering the workforce.  Branding Yourself to Compete in the Millennial Marketplace was the theme, and Lisa convinced me that a good headshot is a brand essential in an era where the new first impression is that thumbnail photo of yourself on social media.   I hired Lisa to take my headshot and along the way she shared some of her secrets.  As you can see from my headshot above, Lisa has some serious talent!

Step 1.  Find a Portrait Photographer.

If you’re going to invest in headshots, go with a photographer who specializes in portraits.  You wouldn’t ask a podiatrist to conduct brain surgery, right?   And make sure you find “the right” portrait photographer.  Having your portrait taken is surprisingly intimate.  Talk to the photographers you’re considering and review their work to make sure your personalities mesh.  

Step 2.  Create a Mood Board and Consult with Your Photographer.

Before the photoshoot, Lisa asked me to create a Pinterest board with portraits that appealed to me.   If you work with a photographer who doesn’t ask you to create a Pinterest board, I highly recommend creating one anyway and sharing it with him or her to make your expectations clear.  Discuss your vision and your board to make sure the photographer can meet your expectations.  Here’s the Pinterest board I created and shared with Lisa.

Step 3.  Wear Minimal Makeup.

Lisa advised me to focus on my eye makeup—mascara, eye liner, a little eye shadow.  On the lips she recommend Vaseline or natural gloss.  Other than that, she asked me to keep it simple.  Wearing too much make up can make it harder for her to do fabulous things like edit photos to minimize wrinkles.  I also used a brow pencil.  Don’t overdo it.  Just fill in bare spots to give your brows a natural, uniform shape.

Step 4.  Dress Like Yourself.

Lisa advised me again to keep it simple and not to overthink my outfit.  She told me to dress the way I normally would, so that my comfort with myself would shine through.  As a general rule, choose simple necklines and solid colors that complement your eyes and skin tone.  Trendy patterns or necklines may eventually make your headshots seem dated.  For about half the photos, I wore a simple blue crewneck sweater and my favorite jeans, making these photos fairly timeless.   

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If your photographer gives you the option of additional outfits or looks, as Lisa did, I would recommend using this opportunity to showcase more interesting pieces and accessories.

I love this headshot Lisa took of our mutual friend and Coldwell Banker realtor Jessica Estreicher, wearing her signature leather jacket.  If I were looking to hire a realtor, this photo would give me a nice sense of her personality.  She looks competent and fun at the same time.  

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I wear glasses on an almost daily basis, so it made sense to take some photos with my glasses on.  People often remove glasses for photos, but if you like your glasses and they convey something about your personality, keep them on.  I’ve always had a thing for funky glasses and love my current Warby Parker metal frames!  I also often wear my hair in a topknot secured by a pencil, so Lisa snapped a few photos with my hair up.

Step 5.  Find the Right Light.

A good photographer knows how to find and use the right light for your portraits.  Light is everything in photography and your portrait photographer should know how to use light to create the right mood for your specific session.    Lisa taught me that each light source has a different color temperature.   Early morning sun gives off cooler blue light and late afternoon sun—the “golden hour”—is perfect for warmer portraits.  

My friend and Product Development Executive Carla Moreale has a golden personality, so this photo Lisa took of Carla during the golden hour perfectly conveys Carla’s inner warmth.

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For photos in direct sunlight, Lisa asked me to close my eyes and then open them up right before she snapped the shot to prevent squinting.

Step 6.  Strike a Pose.

I can’t give away all of Lisa’s secrets, but I’ll share one go-to position that worked well for me.  To combat the appearance of a double chin, she advised me to lengthen the back of my neck and tilt my chin down slightly.   She guided me with other gentle posing tips and positions to bring out my best features.  Sometimes the position or angle felt slightly funny or forced in the moment, but Lisa convinced me that through the camera lens the angles would work.

Step 7.  Trust!

If you’ve done your due diligence and found the right photographer, communicated your vision for what you want from your session and your portraits, it’s time to trust your photographer to deliver!  Relax and enjoy the session, don’t stress about looking or being perfect.  Lisa says, “it’s just photography, not brain surgery.”  😉

To view more of Lisa’s work, visit her website.

 

 

 

Get Your Professional Wardrobe Streamlined for Success

When I went back to work after five years home with my little boys, I had nothing appropriate to wear.  My closet was a strange mix of maternity items and boxy suits from my trial lawyer days.  I felt like Melanie Griffith from Working Girl adrift in a sea of fresh millennial simplicity and style.  So I made it my business, literally, to learn how to build a streamlined, stylish, professional wardrobe full of high quality pieces that can be mixed and matched and dressed up or down.  I want women (myself included) to spend less time worrying about what to wear and more time getting it done in the workplace.

Here are some basic tips for building such a wardrobe.  This tutorial assumes a business casual office environment where jeans may be appropriate on casual Fridays.  This lesson can easily be adapted for more causal, formal, or creative workplaces.  I’d love to meet with you one-on-one to personalize your professional wardrobe to meet the unique needs of your lifestyle and industry.

Step One

 

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Start with five, interchangeable pieces in the basic palette of your choice.  I chose navy and white because they’re easy to work with and navy is a refreshing alternative to black for spring and summer.  I recommend that these five pieces include two bottoms, two tops, and one topper, like a blazer, cardigan, or shawl.  From these five pieces, you should be able to create four outfits.

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Step Two

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Now it’s time to add interest and show some personality.  Work in color, pattern, and accessories, following the Rule of Three:  Every new piece you add to your wardrobe should go back to at least three items already in your wardrobe or purchased at the same time as the new piece.

By following the Rule of Three, you add two pieces (below), creating five new outfits to your wardrobe.

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Again, you’re only adding two new pieces (below), but because you’re following the Rule of Three, you’ve created yet another five outfits to your rotation.

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Try a fun piece with an interesting silhouette.  Follow the Rule of Three, and you’ve created three more outfits.

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You can’t go wrong with a straight-leg, dark-wash jean for casual Fridays.  Straight leg is a universally flattering silhouette, and dark wash is equally flattering and appropriate for the work place.

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You now have eleven pieces in your wardrobe that can be mixed and matched to create twenty-one outfits.  You can wake up in the morning and grab an outfit without putting much thought into it.  Save that mental energy to run the world.  Want to streamline your wardrobe for success?  I can help.

 

Betsy Ross: Nevertheless, She Persisted.

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In Elementary School in the 80s, I recall a single mention of Betsy Ross in my social studies text, a mere caption under a photo, noting that she was credited with sewing the first American flag.  While this flag story is apparently apocryphal, it is also beside the point.  Betsy Ross survived three husbands, was a single mom, ran her own upholstery business, and was fearless in the face of the conventions that tell us who we should love.  Born and raised in the Quaker faith, she married a non-Quaker, causing her to be shunned by her family and community.  Nevertheless, she persisted.

And I choose to believe the flag story.  According to legend, in the thick of the Revolutionary War, George Washington asked Betsy to sew the first American flag.  She sewed the flag secretly in her bed chambers, her home likely inhabited by British loyalists, eager to expose her treason.  Nevertheless, she persisted.

Here’s to you, Betsy.  Thanks for paving the way for female entrepreneurs.  I wish your face adorned a piece of United States currency, but until then I’ll have to settle for your face on my T-shirt, and a subtle nod to you in my wardrobe, an inspirational push to be brave and stand up for what I believe in every time I dress.

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According to legend, George Washington asked Betsy to make six-point stars for the flag, thinking six-point stars were easier to make than five-point stars.  She showed him a trick:  five folds in a rectangular piece of fabric, one snip of her scissors, and voila, a five-pointed star.  Five-pointed stars now adorn our flag.

Homage to My Grandmother

An homage to my grandmother Dorothy Jane Howlett.  She had a hat collection to be reckoned with and was a true believer in investing in higher quality pieces that could be mixed and matched and dressed up or down.   She was a fashionista, who wore high heels and makeup until she was 90, unlike me–I gravitate toward comfort like Birkenstocks and Converse.  I always felt like a disappointment to her in the style department, showing up for holiday dinners in jeans.  Whenever I complimented her outfits, she’d say “well, yes honey, everyone always tells me I have flare.” She was not modest.

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Newspaper clipping describing my grandmother’s wedding outfit.

When I told my grandmother I’d be attending law school, she burst out laughing.  In her defense, she was half senile by this time.  I’d spent the previous year teaching English in China, an occupation she found equally humorous.  She said something like, “I don’t know why you girls do these things.”  And like a marijuana commercial from the 90s, I’d reply “I learned it from watching you.”

In her youth, my grandmother had travelled the world sans man, as a passenger on freighters, playing cards with the captain and crew and visiting exotic locales.  Her well-collected interior design style was the real deal, treasures and art collected from travels and not department stores.  My grandmother is no longer with us–she passed away a day after her 90th birthday–but her furniture adorns my house and will likely outlive me as well.

I love how the Provincial Dress (cabi Fall 2016) featured in these pictures meshes with items from my grandmother’s wardrobe.  The Provincial has been my go-to piece this fall and winter.  I feel the looks featured below are a perfect fusion of my grandmother’s style and mine.