The Boho Girl Goes Swing Dancing

I recently have taken up swing dancing, and it is a ton of fun. Compared to my two other loves- the sexiness and sultriness of salsa and the coolness and confidence of hip-hop- swing dancing only requires a fun-loving, silly attitude bordering on complete dorkiness. Sometimes whilst swing dancing, I wonder at how such nerdy moves were once cool and commonplace back in the 1920s-1950s. However, letting go of the need to look cool is perhaps what makes swing dancing so enjoyable.

Swing dancing does, though, seem to have a standard that everyone follows: the vintage fashion. Expect to see guys with flooded trousers, quirky socks, button-down shirts, and slicked down hair, and women in knee-length hourglass-shaped dresses, high-waisted A-line skirts, t-strap pumps or Keds, pin-curled hair, and red lipstick. Going to a swing event feels like stepping into a time capsule of the 1940s and 1950s.

Examples of 1950s looks:
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I went through a time in high school in which I loved 1950s fashion, finding the prints and colors cute and the silhouettes most flattering to the female form. However, my style now is more beach-inspired, flow-y, bohemian, and laid-back. I feel like it correlates better with my personality and the things in life that interest me. Wearing flow-y clothes can almost feel like a rebellion against, for example, the stiffness of corporate fashion, just like the hippies did back in the 1960s. Conversely, it can sometimes feel even uncomfortable to wear fashion that harkens back to an era of female suppression- do I really want to look like a 1950s housewife?

This is more of what I prefer:
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I subsequently do not own a lot of 1950s-style clothing or shoes. The outfits that I have worn to swing events have been stumbling blocks of trying to find something in my closet that will fit in with everyone else’s outfits, to not a whole lot of success. Each time that I go to an event in what feels like a more appropriate ensemble, there is always a girl whose Keds are more on point than my Toms, whose cherry-print halter dress is more Modcloth than my Forever 21 blue and white geometric print dress, whose pin curls rival my naturally straight locks. It has me making a mental note to myself each time that I go out dancing to make a trip to the vintage store, stat. And then remembering that I don’t have enough money to go out and buy all these new clothes. And then resolving to myself that the first thing I will buy once I do have enough money is a new vintage outfit. That way, I won’t feel so out of place.

Last night, I had half a second to get ready for a swing event. I was wearing a multicolored, triangular print romper, dream catcher earrings, and a loose cardigan, and my hair was wavy from having had it in a braid all day. Knowing how long it usually takes me to piece together a semi-1950s outfit, I was suddenly stressed out. However, I then just had a moment of, “Fuck it. I like the outfit that I have on and feel very comfortable in it, and if it doesn’t look like everyone else’s outfits, tough shit.” Upon arrival to the event, I felt a lot more confident being in clothes that I actually liked and felt like myself in, as opposed to trying to wear a vintage outfit just to blend in with everyone else- which can feel like wearing a costume.

It’s absurd to think that I have to spend money on all these new clothes and accessories and makeup to paint my face in a certain way just so that I won’t stand out while dancing. Life is not about obtaining possessions and fitting it- it’s about being yourself and caring more about experiences than looks. It’s not like I’m wearing pajamas to the Met Gala- swing dancing is not a particularly formal event that requires a certain dress code.

At the end of the day, swing dancing is about dancing and having fun. If one is doing dorky dance moves- the antithesis to trying to look cool-, then why should one feel the need to dress in a certain way to be “cool” in the swing world?

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How to Save Money on Clothes

Disclaimer: Saving money on clothes might cost you more money at the beginning. 

Disclaimer #2: I am not very good at saving money, so you might want to disregard this advice entirely.

Hi friends, here are my suggestions on which articles of clothing/accessories are worth spending a l’il extra on and which are not. I’ve been cleaning out my closet recently, and some rather unfortunate events have been taking place: some of my favorite clothes and accessories are not looking so hot because I bought them too cheaply. Or, items that aren’t my style anymore but would still be trendy enough to be sold at Buffalo Exchange have wears, tears, or holes- thus rendering them unsellable (they are too picky at Buffalo). While I might have been happy at the time of purchase spending little money, in the long run it was a poor choice. So, without further ado, here is my advice for when to spend and when to buy cheaply:

1. Spend More Money on Souvenirs

My favorite types of souvenirs to buy whilst traveling are clothes and jewelry. Instead of buying random trinkets that will only end up collecting dust in your house, why not have items that you actually can put on your body regularly to remind you of your trip? It will also help to lend you that “global bohemian” look if that’s what you’re into. However, don’t do what I have done too many times and buy super cheap clothes abroad. I just had to get rid of a pair of red and gold studded flat sandals from India that were extremely uncomfortable and had a bunch of missing studs, and a huge pair of earrings that has black thread woven through them from Spain are unraveling. I didn’t spend much money on either of those items. On the contrary, a scarf from India that I spent about $20 on (expensive compared to the $4 scarves in all the street markets) is gorgeous, cozy, and has taken me through every single day of fall and winter for the past few years. Additionally, my favorite pair of earrings are from a Navajo market in Arizona. I was nervous to drop $20 on them (being used to less than $10 earrings at Forever 21), but they’re still beautiful and survived being on my garage floor for a couple of days. 

Having to get rid of clothes that you like sucks. Having to get rid of clothes from a foreign country that are irreplaceable sucks… a lot. 

2. Don’t Spend Money on Super Trendy Items

I once spent $70 on a pair of green, silky, flowy pants from Anthropologie. My girl friends loved them, my guy friends hated them, and I wanted nothing to do with them 6 months later. 

3. Splurge on Something You’ll Wear All the Time

Jeans, coats, leather jackets, or basically any item that goes with everything and is a staple in your closet is worth dropping dollars on. Or, try to find the nice brands at secondhand stores ;).

4. Splurge on Shoes

Nothing is worse than uncomfortable shoes, or actually finding a comfortable pair of cheap shoes but then the paint/color/whatever chips off a few months after you buy them… I even think that really trendy heels that you don’t wear often are worth spending more money on; even in the more rare occasion that you find yourself wearing the fun/non-neutral shoe, you’ll be glad that they’re comfortable and not chipping. If you can’t walk in your own shoes, it is noticeable- and you will look less confident. 

5. Save on Purses

Okay, this is probably just me, but I have one tan purse that I’ve been using every single day for the past two years. It costed only $40, and it took me through all of Europe. Okay, maybe the long strap broke and some of the stitching is unraveling… but I’m not much of a purse person, and it has multiple pockets, goes with everything (both casual and dressy), and holds all my shit. 

Other useful tips:

Wash Your Clothes Properly.

I used to be one of those lazy girls who would just throw all of her laundry together into the same washer and dryer. Yep, I’d wash colors with whites, bras with coats, and towels with dry-clean only dresses. I have now since permanently stained some of my lighter-colored clothes with darker dies, and a lot of my clothes have shrunk. I also stretched out some bras. Nuh-uh, I do not do this anymore. It is a waste of money to buy clothes that you love and then ruin them by not washing and drying them properly.

Buy Clothes That Fit You.

This seems like a no-brainer, but there have been numerous times where I bought clothes that were not my size because I thought that they were cute anyway- and I figured that I would just make it work somehow. It doesn’t work. I just got rid of a really cute top that was too small, because at the time of purchase, I didn’t think that long sleeves that were an inch too short would bother me. They did. 

Don’t Feel Like You Need a Ton of Clothes.

It’s better to have fewer items that you love and will last longer than a ton of cheap clothes. No one really cares if you wear the same clothes all the time. (Not to mention the fact that you should be dressing for yourself and not other people- that is, wearing what you like and what makes you comfortable and not using your clothing to impress other people). 

Meow. 

How My Fashion Crisis Was a Metaphor for Being a Foreigner

If it were solely up to me, I would dress like this everyday:

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However, this picture was taken on Halloween, and I wouldn’t dare wear all of these pieces at the same time in Paris. Why? Everyone here wears one of three colors: black, grey, or tan. Sometimes navy blue when they’re feeling adventurous. Don’t get me wrong, Parisians are an incredibly stylish bunch. Both men and women always look very chic yet effortless- like, “Oh, this old thing that I just threw on this morning?” However, it’s as if everyone wants to match the sky, and the autumn sky here is hovered by a constant mass of grey clouds. In that sense, Parisian fashion is not particularly concerned with individual style; there is no such thing as choosing between being punk, boho, girly, preppy, minimalist, just straight up weird, etc. There is one look that both women and men share without fail, and it tends to be: a nice peacoat, a cashmere scarf, slim fit pants or, for women, a skirt with black tights, and tan, leather boots. While this look is very stylish, there is one problem: it’s not me.

At all.

I like to match the sky on a sunny day, not a cloudy day. I like to match gardens, the ocean water in Hawaii, Bordeaux wine, Jamaican flags, Indian saris! I like vibrant prints, white eyelet, dramatic earrings, head scarves, large and unique rings that I’ve received as gifts over the years, long skirts! I like clothes that express life, love, happiness, femininity, sensuality. I want to brighten the world and express my spirit through my outfits.

But how do I do that in Paris when I so desperately want to fit in?

I live in a city that generally dislikes the country from which I come; as so many loud, obnoxious, Republican, entitled American tourists who don’t speak a word of another language besides English have filled Parisian tour buses over the years, I don’t want to be viewed in that same light. I want people to mistake me for a Parisian as opposed to being “That American.” In fact, I am flattered when, from my accent whilst speaking in French with someone, he or she asks if I am British- because, thank God, he or she does not think that I’m American!

In that regard, to what extent must I abandon my identity in order to assimilate into French culture? I would like to think that I am not loud or obnoxious, I generally do not feel entitled as a traveler, I am not a Republican, and I do speak French. However, must I go as far as to dress exactly like the general French public as well?

One night, while getting ready to go to an open mic night at a café, this inner conflict reached its climax, and I had a Fashion Crisis. It took me nearly two hours of changing my clothes to realize that, ultimately, I really wanted to wear this bright turquoise tunic of mine with orange and cork wedges. I knew that it was not a Parisian look at all, but my inner self was feeling turquoise and orange and had to express itself as such. Trying on neutral colored clothes with neutral colored boots just felt wrong; I felt off; I didn’t feel like myself. At that moment, I realized that being true to myself was more important than trying to entirely blend into another culture- for there is a difference between respecting another culture and denying one’s own identity.

Therefore, I wore the turquoise tunic with the orange and cork wedges. I added black tights and a black leather jacket because it was cold outside, and I also threw on a pile of bangles that I have collected from various friends, places in the world, and Forever 21. My life felt right again.

(This article was posted originally here: http://alisabee.wordpress.com/2012/11/15/how-my-fashion-crisis-was-a-metaphor-for-being-a-foreigner/)

Seattle Sucks

It’s a commonly understood psychological phenomenon that people who constantly brag about themselves only do so because they actually have low self-esteem; they feel the need to prove themselves in order to achieve acceptance and feel better about themselves.

Since moving to Seattle, I have lost track of how many times the locals have vehemently, if not angrily, defended their city as being the greatest ever. If Seattle really was so awesome, wouldn’t it be self-evident? I don’t think I’ve ever met someone from Los Angeles who gave me a lecture on why yearlong sunshine is wonderful- it just is. I don’t need to be told. Here are examples of conversations that I’ve had again and again with freaky-defensive Seattleites:

“It’s so goddamn cold here!”
“You’re just a California wimp. I can go outside in a T-shirt.”

“The weather is so shitty here! There’s literally no sunshine, and it rains all the time.”
“But it’s so beautiful in the summer! We get less annual rainfall than New York City!”
“What about the fact that it’s only sunny for two months out of the year, and that there is a constant sprinkle spitting in your face?”
“But it’s so beautiful in the summer! We get less annual rainfall than New York City!”

(I pull out an umbrella when it’s raining)
Scoff! Why are you using, gasp, an umbrella? You are OBVIOUSLY not from here.”
“Um, maybe because I don’t want my clothes or my face to get wet?”
“I just wear a hood like a cool person. Only stupid people use umbrellas.”
“Wearing wet clothes and having the rain smear all your makeup off sounds pretty stupid to me…”

It’s weird! Seattleites simultaneously don’t think that their climate is shitty yet constantly need to reassure others of their amazing 6-week summers. If 45 degrees, clouds, and drizzle day after day really was so great, then why the defensiveness? I just don’t think that it’s natural for humans to live in complete darkness…

Here is a list of other things that suck about Seattle:

1. There are Too Many White People.

Seattle is 69.5% white. And no, the (white) Seattleite argument of, “But there are SO many Asians here!” doesn’t totally fly. The city is 13.8% Asian; Long Beach, my hometown, is 12.9% Asian. You’re really not that special, Seattle. Furthermore, Seattle’s small Latino and black minorities are not only socially marginalized- they’re physically/literally marginalized to South Seattle.

2. There is No Taco Tuesday.

Taco Time and Chipotle do not count.

3. The Nightlife is Shitty.

In the spirit of Seattleites being too cool for things, they are also too cool to have fun. Nightclubs don’t really exist here, as dancing isn’t too popular. Rather, the preferred activity is standing around at a bar until it closes- at 1:45 A.M.

4. Dick’s Really Isn’t As Good As In-n-Out.

Not even the dick jokes can make up for it.

5. The Boys Here Kinda Suck.

Unless you like translucently pale, underweight guys with thick glasses and beards- or their counterpart, the guy who works for Amazon/Microsoft/Boeing who wears North Face jackets and running shoes even when he’s not running. Or guys who manage the feat of being a combination of the two.

6. Speaking of North Face Jackets and Running Shoes…

People seriously don’t know how to dress here. I used to work at a performing arts center, and even people who were going to see a ballet would wear jeans and rain jackets. Come on now.

But I don’t entirely blame Seattleites for their fashion ineptitude- it’s hard for me to look cute buried beneath bulky coats and layers of sweaters. What’s worse- looking like a ridiculous ski bunny or freezing my ass off?

7. Does Regular Yoga Even Exist Here?

Yeah I get it, it’s cold outside. Sometimes, doing yoga in a sauna sounds appealing. However, once one is in the middle of hot yoga class, constantly feeling like one is about to pass out really isn’t that great.

———————
And that is my rant. Now, some things that I like about Seattle:

1. My friends here are awesome.
2. Thai food.
3. There are good hospitals and doctors. (Random but true. Twice recently I have had doctors scoff at the treatment that I received in Long Beach).

The moral of the story is that I’m moving all my Seattle friends down to my home of California. From there, I’m moving all of us to somewhere tropical. Okay, maybe it is a little weird that I feel most natural in humid weather…

Is Free People Cute (or Just the Worst Purveyor of Cultural Appropriation)?

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Which one is the traditional Ethiopian/Eritrean design, and which one is the Urban Outfitters dress?

I am a sucker for “bohemian” fashion, and against my inner-hipster/culturally aware self, I still think that clothes from such stores as Free People, Urban Outfitters, and Anthropologie are cute. Those three brands are, in fact, owned by the same company, and they are marketed towards customers with similar aesthetics yet different price points and ages: Urban Outfitters is the young, hip, and “alternative” customer, Free People is the “worldly, bohemian” girl who is hippie enough to dress hippie but affluent enough to spend $100 on a skirt, and Anthropologie is an older, wealthier woman who still wants to look “indie.” I think that Free People probably resembles my personal style best, or at least the style that I wish to emulate.

Not to brag or anything, but I won “best dressed” in my high school yearbook thanks to the offbeat outfits that I wore to school. Nylon Magazine was my religious text of choice, Jenny Lewis my style icon; I tried to combine girly, 1950s, 1990s, country, and just plain weird things in the hopes of looking cute yet different. I definitely stood out from my Southern California peers who were all clad in Rainbow sandals (ironically coming only in shades of tan) and jean shorts. However, around age 18, I got really into reggae music, and moving to Seattle for University instilled in me a deep-seated nostalgia for the beach; I wanted my outer look to mirror my newfound “laid-back” personality.

Before I could start traveling, I had to buy clothes from American retailers that still conveyed the “global gypsy look” which I was seeking. Free People became my muse, my longing- for I couldn’t exactly afford their clothing on my student income. Clothes with “exotic” prints or such labels as “Aztec,” “Navajo,” “Moroccan,” etc. called to me.

In the past year, however, I have become familiar with a term called cultural appropriation. This is a phenomena wherein one culture- typically the dominant, oppressive one- adapts elements of a minority, oppressed culture. One example would be a white American wearing a Native American headdress. The wearing of the headdress is problematic not just because the person is white, but because oftentimes the non-Native American wears it simply because it “looks cool”- thus not understanding its symbolic meaning. In reality, a headdress is supposed to be worn by Native American chiefs or warriors, not a drunk person at Coachella.

Urban Outfitters stirred controversy that led to an online petition last year when it sold a dress called “90s Vintage Linen Dress” that looked exactly like a traditional Ethiopian/Eritrean design. It was beyond inspiration from Ethiopia/Eritrea- it was basically a copy that gave no credit whatsoever to the culture from which it came. However, it wasn’t the first time that Urban Outfitters came under fire for cultural appropriation/insensitivity; the Navajo Nation actually sued the company for misuse of its trademarked name back in 2012. During a time when designers across the globe had become infatuated with Navajo culture and fashion, Urban Outfitters created items like the “Navajo Panty” and “Navajo Flask”- the flask being particularly insensitive, given the Nation’s ban on alcohol on its reservations.

Additionally, Free People frequently uses the exoticization (is that a word?) of foreign cultures, particularly non-White cultures, in its quest to sell products. Their current online theme is “Moroccan Romance,” which is all very pretty- but, in my opinion, it is quite a big stretch to put a red zig-zag print skirt or an embroidered peasant blouse that looks more Mexican than anything under the umbrella of “Moroccan” (confusingly enough, the red zig-zag print skirt is itself called Maracana, which is the name of the stadium in Brazil where the World Cup will be held) The photos of the models wearing the clothes weren’t taken in Morocco- they’re just standing in front of a pretty blue tiled wall. To me, it just seems like they picked an “interesting/exotic” sounding country and slapped it onto their collection.

None of this is really new, though; hippies of the 1960s were inspired by non-White fashion in their efforts to go against mainstream society. Both men and women wore clothing adapted from places as disparate as India and Sub-Saharan Africa to achieve their signature look. Today, are we copying the hippies who copied other cultures, or are we copying the cultures themselves?

Where does one draw the line between liking clothes from other cultures and copying, appropriating, or exoticising (again, is that a word?) them?