Thursday, January 31, 2013

Never Underestimate a Great Dress

A truly perfect wardrobe staple is both versatile and elegant.

Stand aside, drag queens. Even public restroom signs acknowledge the role a dress plays in establishing femininity and womanhood. From Audrey Hepburn’s classic black sheath dress in Breakfast at Tiffany’s to nearly any of Marilyn Monroe’s famous looks, dresses are a wardrobe staple that are unique to women’s closets. Sadly, many women shy away from this oh-so-feminine (and chic!) clothing essential. (Perhaps here is where we can learn a thing or two from the drag queens!) Being able to throw on a beautiful dress and walk effortlessly out of the house to face the day, to me, is truly a symbol of that elegant, naturally European je ne sais quoi.

You don’t have to be a girly-girl (although what’s wrong with that?) to get good mileage out of a nice dress. Some women seem to be intimidated by the thought of wearing dresses—they may feel that one is too fancy to wear for regular occasions, or that dresses are simply not their style. As a dedicated tomboy growing up, I certainly understand how these feelings persist! However, as I grew older and developed my personal style, I’ve found that dresses have become a wonderful and easy wardrobe mainstay.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Endings and Beginnings

And indeed there will be time   
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
--"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T. S. Elliot

Relying on good manners can make a difficult situation less awkward.

Difficult experiences never go away. At every point in life, there are situations and encounters that make us want to cringe, cry, or do some sad combination of the two. Although it is natural to want to hide from these moments of awkwardness, sometimes it is not always prudent or possible to do so. After all, with great risk comes great reward. What if you had never asked your significant other out on that first date? What if you avoided going to that interview? What if you had never tried your new favorite food? Your life would resemble that of the great J. Alfred Prufrock-- a tragic assembly of what-ifs.

My high school music teacher was fond of saying, "You're only nervous if you're unprepared." Being prepared for a situation can make it easier because you will know what to do and how to conduct yourself. Practicing good manners is one way in which you can reassure yourself that you know just how to act in any situation.

Good manners are a skill set. Rely on your good habits to help you through a difficult encounter. Most of the time, we are nervous because we are unsure of what the other person's (or people's) reaction will be. Although we can't control what someone else will do, we can remain in control of our own actions. Good manners are essentially about executing self-control.

And so-- here's how I used good manners to help me overcome a difficult encounter.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Keep Chic and Carry On

Wardrobe planning can help to ensure that, if nothing else, you will look good amidst the chaos.

Have you ever noticed how some people seem able to keep it all together, regardless of what is going on in their life? No matter what kind of action-filled, chaotic events are happening during their week, certain people have that je ne sais quoi. They invariably seem in control and together. Conversely, there are some people that, if the wind blows the wrong way, they fall apart. They are often frazzled and flustered-- and usually this is reflected in their attire. Perhaps their clothing is wrinkled, their hair is undone, and they usually seem very tired. Clearly, being frazzled is so not chic.

What is different about these two kinds of people? The chic and the... not-so-chic? It is not necessarily a matter of time-- everyone has the same 24 hours in the day, and everyone has responsibilities and obligations. Yet some people let their daily tasks get the best of them. They become overwhelmed and their appearance is often the first thing that is sacrificed in the line of duty. Often these people are apologetic or embarrassed about how they look. When a day's tasks are building up, why add to the stress with feelings of guilt and embarrassment? Your appearance can become a place of confidence and refuge. When things start getting hectic, wouldn't it be nice to reassure yourself with the notion that, if nothing else, at least your knickers match?

This kind of confidence does not happen by accident. What distinguishes the chic from the chaotic is a matter of planning ahead and being prepared. Although most people accept this mantra in regard to everyday tasks and responsibilities, many are not aware that it is also especially true when it comes to one's attire.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The All-Important Dressing Gown

A good-quality robe (or several) is often the first and last step in one's daily ensemble.

It can be the first thing you put on in the morning and the last thing you change into at night. However, the significance of a nice dressing gown is often overlooked in modern wardrobes. Although they're not as popular as other wardrobe items (why must shoes get all the credit?), nothing says comfort and luxury like a nice robe. Any respectable hotel or spa knows that this accessory is just the way to make guests feel pampered and cozy. Why not make this simple wardrobe accent part of your own apparel?

If you don't have a nice robe or dressing gown, I strongly suggest investing in at least one nice piece. Aside from being comfortable, a dressing gown serves an important function-- to protect and conceal you when you're not yet presentable. Whether you're getting the mail, letting the dog out, walking down a hotel or dormitory hallway from the restroom (yes, there are still many lovely hotels with communal bathrooms), or simply brewing a pot of coffee in the morning, why should your pajamas or undergarments (or less!) become a matter of public knowledge? Some things are better kept to oneself (and one's lover)! Take a word of advice from my favorite blogger, Mrs. Jennifer Scott, and cultivate an air of mystery. Being mysterious is very chic.

Another important function of a dressing gown is to protect whatever you're wearing underneath-- not just what you're not wearing! Aside from issues of modesty, a dressing gown protects nightgowns and pajamas that are made of delicate fabric-- silk, satin, lace... A whole blog post (or several) shall be dedicated just to this topic! Along with wearing better quality items comes the responsibility of caring for those items. A dressing gown keeps delicate, intimate clothing free from coffee stains and daily grime, should you choose to venture out of your bedroom while still in your skivvies. A nice robe will help you to not only extend the life of your clothes, but also add to your esotericism.

Though at least one nice robe is a necessity in my opinion, as with any wardrobe accessory, growing and customizing your assortment of dressing gowns can be a fun way to pamper yourself. Here are my suggestions for starting your own collection.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Learn to Cook

Being able to prepare delicious meals, regardless of their complexity level, is an essential element of living well. When you understand what goes into preparing a meal, it makes you more appreciative of what's on your plate. Being able to prepare and serve meals is a wonderful talent that is meant to be shared.

In addition to being a great hostess, my grandmother was (and all of my German relatives are) wonderful in the kitchen. Thankfully I have inherited this skill! But if you don't know how to cook, or perhaps you're not skilled at it, I urge you to learn! Practice, practice, practice. My aunt (on my father's side) does catering for small events. (She's in her 70s!) When people ask her what her secret is, she simply states, "If you can read, honey, you can cook." It's simple, but true. Cooking is mainly about following directions. Buy a simple cookbook and practice the recipes. When you feel confident with simple recipes, try experimenting! Add a new spice or seasoning. Try substituting shrimp for crab meat. That sort of thing. As with most new skills, practice makes perfect.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Hosting Lessons from Germany


The French aren't the only ones who understand comme il faut. 

French women get all the credit when it comes to throwing chic parties and entertaining.

Perhaps one of the most familiar gurus of French living is Mireille Guiliano, author of “French Women Don’t Get Fat.” This book was released in 2004 and quickly landed on the New York Times bestseller list. Clearly, we fat Americans are hungry for some cultural nourishment.

Yet most of my experience in living well comes from my German relatives. My mother's mother, Gertrude, immigrated from Germany in the summer of 1948. Fortunately, I still have relatives in Germany that I visit every few years. These visits are what kindled my interest in travel, culture, language, beer, food, and so much more.

One of the things that I remember about my grandmother, who passed away when I was 10 years old, is her understanding of there being a "right" way to do things. I was too young to identify whether or not she was a perfectionist (my mother would probably say yes, yes she was), but I remember things were done very deliberately in her home. There were certain expectations and unwritten rules to follow. A lot of these rules revolved around how you treat other people when they are in your home. Although I have many memories of how Grandma (we did not call her Oma) liked to do certain things, there are two very important concepts that I especially remember and that I try to practice today.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year!


2013 brings new motivation and insight from 2012.

Last year, I made five resolutions for myself. I kept one.

In case you misread: I actually kept one!

I managed to stay out of debt. In 2011 I had finally managed to pay off the modest amount of credit card debt that I had acquired while I was finishing graduate school and looking for employment. In 2012, I had resolved to remain debt-free. It was not easy, especially because I worked part time through most of the year, so I am doubly proud to have made that one resolution stick.

So although I did not exercise three times per week throughout the year (that kind of thing comprised my other resolutions), I did resist many, many financial temptations. Fortunately, that self-control made it all the more rewarding when I did save up for a purchase. Rather than frittering away money on several small items of lesser quality, I limited myself to one or two nice things. I ended up feeling more appreciation for what I did buy, and I made less impulsive shopping decisions. A win-win, in my book! Because I put more thought and time into choosing what I bought, I was more selective about quality and style, and I enjoyed what I did buy infinitely more.

The lesson I learned from 2012? Financial consciousness plus quality equals appreciation.