Sunday, 30 June 2013

In a Man's Suitcase: Vacation in Europe

The motivation for this post comes from my brother-in-law, Brian B, (yet another Brian in my blogging life) who came to visit us in France and stayed for three weeks. Of course, I started a conversation about packing for Europe from a man's perspective. His first response was, "We often overpack." Some things are universal and genderless.

So here is my brother-in-law's advice - a man who is in his forties, has spent time in the army, works in a hospital, and enjoys food, wine and travel: Try everything on and make sure it is flexible, in good repair, and secure enough.

I must interject and affirm that this is a vacation suitcase, not a business pack. Back to his advice: "Try everything on and make sure it is flexible, in good repair, and secure enough."

1 When buying off the rack, it is possible to buy a pair of pants with loose waist band buttons so make sure you tug the button to check if it is well-sewn or not. If you can give it a tug, a good yank, and it comes off, better you sew it on securely now, than losing it completely on your trip.

2 If you are bringing your Gucci loafers, wear them . . . meaning: if it's important and you would lament losing an item, it should be on your body or in your carry-on. Luggage gets lost, delayed and damaged. Your checked luggage should only have what you don't mind losing and those things that are easily replaced.

What to pack:

3 3 pairs of shoes: runners (for walking and running); casual sandals for walking, casual wear, shopping and sauntering through tourist sites, loafers for walking or going out. Rockports in black would do well here.

4 3 Polo shirts with a collar: one dark, one pastel and one white

5 3 t-shirts: pack dark t-shirts or running shirts; cotton feels good but tech-fibre running shirts which wick away moisture, wash up easily and dry quickly may be a better choice.

6 1 long sleeve shirt: denim for example can double as a "jacket" over a t-shirt on a questionable weather day and May and June in 2013 has been full of "questionable" weather days.

7 2 pairs shorts in lightweight fabric not heavy cotton: 1 pair black and 1 pair beige shorts, mid-thigh- or knee-length, lots of pockets and zippers to carry identification and valuables. Wear them before you go for a trial run or two to make sure that they feel good and can carry everything from wallet to passport.

8 2 pairs long pants: 1 pair dark lightweight dress pants - black or gray linen will work for the summer; and 1 pair of jeans, but not blue, a dark grey or black pair that can be worn on cool days or out for dinner.

9 You'll need at least one: pullover, whether in sweatshirt fabric or lightweight wool. Not many men I know wear cardigans but if that is your preference, at least one.

10 1 belt that you feel comfortable in using with the dress pants and with the shorts.

11 1 Jacket for certain, and 1 other if you need: one lightweight windproof or rainproof shell with pockets for identification and all the superfluous stuff tourists need: camera, lip balm, etc.; 1 lightweight linen blazer (if you intend on dining out in higher end restaurants often)

12 Generally, the issue of packing is dependent on laundry facilities. For the most part, default by bringing enough socks and underwear for your entire stay. Bring night clothes with dual function: "gymnastic pantaloons" lightweight (not bulky cotton sweatpants), blended fabric, dark colours, can be worn on the airplane for the overnight flight or on your way to the toilet in the middle of the night.

13 For the sun: Pack relative to where you are going. And yes men do wear the "casquette" in France, baseball cap by any other name. Of course, they are not as popular as in North America but on a sunny day you would be fine. Just make sure you take it off in a restaurant. I have seen men wearing ballcaps in restaurants in North America, men who should know better, not young kids - but when in Europe, make sure that you are polite when wearing your casquette.

14 Spare glasses and your lens prescription.

15 Also remember that soft-sided carry-ons are a must!

After two weeks and four days to go, he has one t-shirt he has not yet worn.

And so, thank-you Brian B, for your assistance in writing this post. I found a poem that I believe suits him well, insofar as his ideas about clothing, style and anything that comes close . . . with apologies to Charles Bukowski (my additions specific to my brother-in-law are in italics) . . . 
Style is the answer to everything 
A fresh way to approach a dull or dangerous thing 
To do a dull thing with style is preferable to doing a dangerous thing without it 
To do a dangerous thing with style is what I call art 
Bullfighting can be an art 
Boxing can be an art
(Hunting and fishing can be art; although not essentially dangerous, and so then include cooking, if going beyond the dangerous . . .) 
Loving can be an art 
Opening a can of sardines (or tripe or foie gras or confit) can be an art 
Not many have style 
Not many can keep style 
I have seen dogs with more style than men, although not many dogs have style. 
Cats (particularly Taurus) have it with abundance 
When Hemingway put his brains to the wall with a shotgun 
that was style 
(I had difficulty including this former line of Bukowski's poem, yet it is his writing, and my brother-in-law likes Hemingway . . . so who am I to play censor?)
Or sometimes people give you style:  
Joan of Arc had style 
John the Baptist 
Garcia Lorca 
I have met men in jail (even in the army) with style 
I have met more men in jail (not in the case of my brother-in-law-in-particular) with style than men out of jail 
Style is the difference, a way of doing, a way of being done 
Six herons (seen while in France) standing quietly in a pool of water, 
Or . . . 
- Charles Bukowski [Henry Charles Bukowski (born Heinrich Karl Bukowski), 1920 - 1994; German-born American poet, novelist, short story writer and columnist.]

You might also want to visit the following for previous posts on style:
What is it to be Chic?
The Way we Dress: What is Chic?
A Style Philosophy

Or visit the following for previous posts on travel and dress:
Style Consciousness when Traveling Abroad
Traveling Europe: Clothing Observations
What to Wear When Flying for 2 Days
Packing for a Two Week Visit in Europe
Business & Tourist Travel Wardrobes

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Blogging Cautions & Comment Appreciation

This is one of the few times I deviate from the blog's intent and write about the blog itself and the experience of posting.

A new blogger’s learning curve is steep and caution is one’s best guiding consideration. The opportunity to write without an editor, to choose what one wants to write when he or she wants to write it, to apply grammatical correctness or not or simply to rant is my motivation for blogging.

Over my relative recent blogging experiences, I have come up with the following three cautionary statements:

In 2007 I was introduced to blogging in a graduate class and my assignment was to post while on a study tour in Rome. I naively thought that once I was finished, somehow the blog would disappear into a black hole in Cyberspace or the “host” would simply delete it when no more posts were made and thence never to be found again. But there it was one evening in 2013 when I was curious enough to look for it. It was academic and quite wooden in its style but then again, it was a product for a graduate class.

Here is the first caution: only write that which will not embarrass you in the next 48 hours or in the next 48 years.

The statistics a blogger can accumulate are interesting for the blogger if not for anyone else. However these statistics, particularly for new bloggers, are tainted with electronic searches that skew the number of visits recorded. I had a particularly great day insofar as visits to my blog goes until I analyzed the sources and found that the majority were spam induced with no real persons behind some of the visits/hits.

The second caution: “Curiousity killed the cat!” Meow . . . do not “click” on "spam" links (which only the bloggers can see in their statistical accounts). The best way to not get more spam is to resist curiousity – ignore that which is not familiar. If you are curious, copy and paste the address into a search question such as: what is (one of those afore mentioned garbage sources) and you will get sites and be directed to discussion boards that warn of the whole spam realm. If you connect to the "spam" website through your traffic sources list, you will trigger more spam induced communication to your blog.

It is because of this that I enjoy receiving comments from real people. My statistics ring truer when I receive comments. I know that there are “real” people reading my blog because of the emails I get, the comments on other people’s flicker and facebook pages about this blog and of the comments that do appear in response to particular posts. However, there is caution to be had here as well.

Caution number 3: This one is more for your information than a caution. Very often, commenters, especially those with retail interests, will leave comments with links to their websites. You can choose to post these comments or not. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. 

And so, your comments are a pleasure to read but also provide a very real "real people" acknowledgement to this blog and I am forever grateful for that - no matter how many or how few.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

A Tradition of Black and White

Closet Content Analysis: Black & White 
Choices: anything black and white


At least one season in the year has to feature black and/or white and so it is again in the summer of 2013 that strong contrasting black and white is featured.

Black and white is easy: easy to buy, easy to wear, easy to coordinate and match, easy to travel with and for the most part, acceptable no matter where in the world you are. As well if you have a good idea of your closet inventory, and know what you NEED, shopping will be easy.

Armor Luxe black with white stripe pullover purchased in Arcachon, June, 2013.
Photo by JoyD.
I was in Arcachon (a seaside French city) a couple of days ago with my husband and brother-in-law and for the most part I was deferring to their shopping whims, which for the most part include wine and food. However, when I eyed the shop with Armor-Lux clothing, it was I who stopped short and said, "I'll be just a minute." I knew exactly what I wanted, a black with white stripe 3/4 length sleeve crewneck. Bien sur, je trouve - I found it and within three minutes had made my purchase. I love shopping when I know exactly what I NEED.

Armor Luxe white with black stripe pullover purchased in Romans, France,
August, 2010. Photo by JoyD.
This is now my third Armor Lux striped top. With this recent purchase, I have both a black with white stripes and a white with black stripes, and my black and white top NEED categorization has been fulfilled. The white with black stripe has long sleeves whereas the new one has 3/4 length sleeves. I am always pushing up the sleeves on this one so I am glad I found the other.

For a more philosophical take on black and white stripes, I will quote Shel Silverstein's thoughts . . . 
I asked the zebra, "Are you black with white stripes? Or white with black stripes?" 
And the zebra asked me, "Are you good with bad habits? Or are you bad with good habits? 
Are you noisy with quiet times? Or are you quiet with noisy times? 
Are you happy with some sad days? Or are you sad with some happy days? 
Are you neat with some sloppy ways? Or are you sloppy with some neat ways?"
And on and on and on and on and on and on he went. 
I'll never ask a zebra about stripes . . . again.

But if you ask me about stripes again, you can also check a couple of other posts:
Stripes in the Summer from June, 2012
Spring 2013: Black & White Stripes Always and Again, from February, 2013

Friday, 14 June 2013

Updating your Closet for Summer 2013

Closet Content Analysis: The 4 Closet Basics

Choices: 2013 Summer Updates


The 4 Closet Basics: pants/shorts, skirts, tops, and cover-up (one or all of the following: pullover/blazer/cardigan for cool evenings). 

If solids predominate in your closet then you . . . 

NEED for Summer, 2013: A blazer/cotton pullover/cardigan, skinny pants/shorts, skirt or top in a floral print

NEED for Summer, 2013: One of the four closet basics in a black and white stripe or graphic print

If you you don't see either of the two as a future purchase, then you . . . 

NEED: an accessory such as a floral canvas bag or a black and white striped shoe.

If you are a solid lover and the florals and graphics are a NO THANKS, then you . . . 

NEED: a bright colour in one of the four closet basics.


Judging from the ugly and repugnant things that are sometimes in vogue, it would seem as though fashion were desirous of exhibiting its power by getting us to adopt the most atrocious things for its sake alone.
- Georg Simmel

Please do not let it be so; however is proposing that overalls, yes, read that again, overalls are the 2013 summer must have. The British call them dungarees and the French call them salopettes and I call them awful. In the 80s I remember having a "shorts" khaki pair. I didn't think they were awful in the 80s but now I wonder how in the world can anyone want to wear them - trend or not? Even on the most gorgeous model, they look horrible. Can you imagine? On the rest of us who don't have model proportions I don't even want to imagine. Just say NO THANKS. presented 10 allegedly "cute" pairs - I'm still feeling a profound NO THANKS to all of them. I have visited several websites and blogs, extolling this trend, from the U.S.A. to Paris and the photos I have seen do not flatter anyone.

NO THANKS: You do not NEED overalls even though many bloggers are calling them the must have trend for the summer. If you are experiencing this trend for the first time, then you will want to have a pair. I won't debate that. This is an age thing and so take the following piece of advice in the spirit of trends and age: if you have worn it once as a trend, and the trend is back, you know to definitely not to do it again.

See the former post on trends:
Choosing the Trend for You

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Style Consciousness When Traveling Abroad

Closet Content Analysis: What is it to adopt another style?

Choices: Feel confident in your body and your clothing choices!

Know, first, who you are; and then adorn yourself accordingly.
- Epictetus

The key to style is to be self-confident in all that you wear. This was my "ah-ha" and although I have read it elsewhere before, it rang true more so than ever when my future sister-in-law emailed me about her upcoming trip to France to visit my husband and me.
I was reading your blog about what to wear in France, etc. . . . I'm glad you put your blog together . . .  There are probably lots of people (like me) who read it but don't necessarily post comments. . . . I'm trying to determine what clothes to pack. I want to look "Frenchtastic" but be comfortable. Should I buy some skirts/dresses, or am I ok in shorts? I have two scarves that came from France (one from Linda and one from you [Thank you for my b'day gift.]) I'm not sure how to wear them or what to wear them with in late June in France. Should I bring them with me? . . . Despite your advice that I will look like a tourist, I intend to bring my running shoes.  :)
My response was:
I would not wear shorts in Paris, but you will be in the country (our town is country living) and of course the "American" way of dressing is quite fine here. Really most of what I have posted applies to the cities more than to the country. Although running shoes are still for runners, walkers and hikers and not so much for just walking about. I go for walks in my runners and wear loafers to walk otherwise.
Bring the scarves, or don't, and plan to buy some here. I do not yet do the scarf thing but I say to myself each week, "I must start wearing scarves"; yet as you see by the titles of the . . . two (previous) posts (on traveling to Europe), it is first important to be comfortable in your own clothes. We are more universal now than we ever have been because of the internet. Of course, we all look like tourists. After being here for six months each year, I just have to open my mouth and they know I am a foreigner. 
I don't know why we are so pre-occupied with looking local? . . . There are two things to remember: it is the summer and everyone is more casual; it is the country and everyone is more casual - feel comfortable in your own clothes! 
Three generations of women - are they tourists or locals? I have no idea. They do look comfortable at the Saturday morning market in Ste. Foy La Grande. Photo by JoyD, August, 2012.

So my advice really is to accept your clothing choices and to observe that we are not so different after all. It seems ridiculous to buy a new wardrobe of clothing that you may never wear again for a trip where you will feel uncomfortable.

Yet, for centuries women from other places have wanted to look French, or more specifically Parisienne. Many women have shared that they are nervous about looking too foreign.

I found the following on a New York Times post, This is What Parisienne Looks Like . . . 
It's the fantasy of the entire world of women, even French women, to be the perfect Parisienne," said Bertrand de Saint-Vincent, the society columnist for Le Figaro and author of Tout Paris, a volume of essays on the Parisian glitterati, their style, their parties, their foibles.
When someone writes "it is the fantasy of the entire world of women", I think: Really? I can't imagine - "an entire world of women"?

Even though I spend some effort in maintaining this blog on clothing, I agree that . . . 

Of all the things that you wear, your expression is the most important.
- Janet Lane

Visit the following for previous posts on style:
What is it to be Chic?
The Way we Dress: What is Chic?
A Style Philosophy

Or visit the following for previous posts on travel and dress:
Traveling Europe: Clothing Observations
What to Wear When Flying for 2 Days
Packing for a Two Week Visit in Europe
Business & Tourist Travel Wardrobes

Friday, 7 June 2013

Body Camouflage

Closet Content Analysis: Everything is too tight!

Choices: Eat more vegetables.

Too much creme fraiche, too many apero, too much wonderful tantalizing food, too much wine! And we're invited out for dinner on Saturday. And we're expecting my husband's brother on Monday who will be staying for a month. And of course he will want to taste all the delicacies of the south-west of France - foie gras, cassoulet (even though it's winter food), rillettes of all sorts, boudin, magret with potatoes fried in duck fat (is there any other way?), creme brulĂ©e, creme caramel, clafouti, soufflĂ© (particularly the one at Au Fil de L'Eau in Port Ste. Foy) . . . OMG! And we must have the neighbours for dinner. Never mind trying at least a few of  the fabulous restaurants in the area. And then . . . there's the wine of the Bordeaux region. So much wine so little time! Cognac is not far away; oh yes and if we go there, we must go to the Armagnac area and perhaps we should go for a visit to Crozes-Hermitage. After all it's only a six hour drive! Then it will be July and friends from Calgary, Edmonton and Saskatoon will be visiting. Then it will be August and . . .  Everyone will want to taste foie gras, cassoulet . . . OMG! Life in France is good and bad.

Have I mentioned how I'm feeling about weight gain lately?

Body camouflage is something many of us attempt whether we want to admit it or not. Even those with the "let it all hang out" attitude will resort to "tent-like" clothing to cover up the belly bulge, the muffin top, the more-than-usual buxom bosom, the well-endowed hips.
"I'm not eating that much", I heard her say, yet her body belied that statement. One doesn't realize how much one is eating until the first sign - the muffin top from pants that fit well and sat nicely on the hips with a smooth curve upwards to a telltale bulge squished out over the waistline. "So what do I have to do?" she asked.  
Knowing how I was feeling at the time, I simply responded, "Eat less - the diet secret of all diet secrets." 
Once again, I heard, "I don't eat that much".  
"Sorry we don't get muffin tops from hardly eating anything"; I refused to back down and get into the poor me, I hardly eat anything scenario. Who was I having this conversation with? Actually, myself - my alter ego who says, "who cares, eat, enjoy, life's too short". But then I look in the mirror . . . and I promise to eat more vegetables, drink more water and eat less of everything else.
My favourite body camouflage is a blazer or jacket that's a little longer. So sometimes when you see me wearing a blazer you know I am in the "muffin top" stage. I've mentioned blazers a few times in recent posts.

Here is a variety of camouflage tips from a variety of women from around the world.
Wear dark colours or in matching tones of the same colour from the neck down. 
Wear the same colour shoes as the pants, shorts or skirt you have chosen.
Wear a statement necklace, a great scarf or a fabulous hat and sunglasses - it detracts from the rest of your body.
Never wear stripes: vertical or horizontal. 
Wear well-fitting clothing. Wearing tent like clothing makes you look bigger than you actually are. Think proportion when choosing clothing. 
When choosing prints, think of water-colour paintings like Monet. The colours are soft and blend into each other rather than being strongly defined. 
Every once in awhile, at home, put on your tightest pants and repeat, "Nothing tastes as good as losing 10 pounds/4 kilos feels!" 

Wanted: NECESSARY body camouflage advice - just hit the "comments" tag and tell me how you camouflage . . . and I didn't even mention the baguette and the cheese . . . sigh  . . . I also forgot the butter with sea salt crystals . . . and of course, the pain au chocolat (chocolatine in the South-West) and croissants. 

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Wearing Baby

Closet Content Analysis: Scarves Put to Other Uses

Choices: Scarves as Baby Carriers 

My niece was visiting me in France and I got to meet my grand-niece, Ella for the first time. Melanie and her husband took part in a family gathering in Wales but then when he had to return to work in Canada, Melanie decided to travel to Barcelona, then to visit me in France. Thank goodness for baby-wearing. Now I had no idea how convenient and expedient this was. What comfort to the baby and how else can you have two free hands to carry luggage and a baby stroller/buggy/pousette? As you see in the photo, the stroller/buggy/poussette was more convenient to carry the luggage.

Baby-wearing: Melanie at the airport in Merignac (Bordeaux) leaving for Gatwick, with baby Ella in a front carrier.

Melanie had a commercial baby carrier but she informed me about the beautiful scarves with which women wear their babies. I never knew! Well, of course, the more we talked about it, the more women I saw wearing babies here in France and wearing them very well indeed, never mind very fashionably at the same time. Of course this is not a new idea, it's just that I have only begun to notice it.

A short aside, baby-wearing also came in handy when Ella's stroller was stolen. I was quite astounded that someone would actually steal a stroller. We were in Eymet having lunch on a Sunday and Melanie put the stroller just outside of where we were eating. We both could see it. However, while enjoying lunch and talking and laughing and reminiscing . . . the stroller was taken. When we were leaving and realized it was no longer there, a woman at the table next to us told us that she noticed a man placing the stroller in the trunk of his car. Of course, she did not think anything of it and certainly could not have been expected to connect us to it. Baby-wearing was the natural solution for this misfortune since we were a fair distance from the car. Two days later, we bought a second hand stroller in Pessac which managed Melanie's luggage well enough.

According to Babywearing International:
"Babywearing" simply means holding or carrying a baby or young child using a cloth baby carrier. Holding babies is natural and universal; baby carriers make it easier and more comfortable, allowing parents and caregivers to hold or carry their children while attending to the daily tasks of living . . . all while keeping the baby safe and content."
There are many sites promoting baby-wearing and baby-slings so google away and you will find much more than I can ever tell you here.

I've never been a mother so I never ever took an interest in this. I must say, after watching six month old Ella as she nursed (unknown to anyone else), snuggled and viewed the world from the front of her mother, that this is definitely a good thing and if you want, it can be a fashion statement. Why not? I can't imagine anyone doing it because it is fashionable, but rather, if you are going to choose to do it, why not make it fashionable? Choice for the well-being of the baby - there lies the difference. Oh yes, and of course, the convenience for the mother. But then there's also proper positioning of the baby's hips and legs. There's so much more to this than meets the eye.

Melanie claims that she hasn't quite mastered the scarf tying and so she used a commercial carrier for this trip. The scarves, rather wraps, needed are huge, more shawls than scarves. The width should be at least .7 meters to 1 meter (at least 1 yard wide) and the length, approximately 5 meters (5 to 6 yards). Not many scarves come in those dimensions or shawls in that length. The fabric needs to be strong, yet with some "give", and lightweight enough to tie. The first thing I thought was simply to buy fabric but it appears that this retail need can be met online. To me, buying fabric should be less expensive and what an array of "shawls" one could have in one's closet. 

There are loads of online videos that demonstrate how to tie a rectangular scarf for a variety of baby weights and sizes and how to do it properly and safely for the baby. When searching, try key words such as baby wearing, baby sling and baby carriers.