Saturday, 30 August 2014

Dressing in Portugal


We are planning a trip to Spain, Portugal, Morocco and Gibraltar and so in the last post I suggested several possibilities as far as what to wear and what to buy in Spain. This post centres on Portugal.

As in Spain, Italy, France and generally speaking all European cities, men and women are very well dressed. Some youth copy American fashion but for the most part I am not writing for adolescents. And so the more mature, especially in Portuguese cities, will not be wearing jeans or shorts and sneakers. One more generalization - as you go into the countryside or to the resort beach areas, dress is more casual but still not many jeans, no sweat pants and over-sized t-shirts. If you see oversized t-shirts and baggy sweatpants, the wearer is probably North American. Dark colours are a good choice for travel anyway but in Portugal, it seems only proper, especially if you are over the age of 30. When Canadians, Australians or Americans come back from visiting Portugal, they often say, "We saw black everywhere, even in the summer". You will see black a lot but that is probably more tradition than style. Wearing black is associated with the deaths of those close to you and there are certain time and kinship requirements that many still adhere too; especially those of a particular age. The older you are, the more likely you would be required to wear black for this reason.

Embroidered products and lace are essentially traditional crafts that tourists often buy. But I truly cannot think of any particular contemporary piece of clothing that you would look for in Portugal. One can say, scarves are the thing in France and so there is a lot of variety - buy scarves. One may advise - the Spanish love shoes - so buy shoes in Spain. But truly I cannot think of what to suggest for Portugal. Although, leather handbags and shoes are of decent quality and you might get lucky.

Modesty is revered in Portugal so forget dressing in an ostentatious way. Name brands won't impress anyone - essentially the Portuguese could care less. "Respectful" seems to be the best word to describe how to dress. Men in shirts with collars and pants; women in skirts and modest tops and dresses. The Portuguese seem to be more nonchalant, more relaxed and less enthused by "what to wear ". The translation for "nonchalant" is "not being concerned" and so it is with the Portuguese.

Photo Source: Dutched Pinay Travels
Of course, Oporto's main shopping street, Rua de Santa Caterina, has upscale boutiques and other shops, particularly shoes, that cater to all budgets. Thank you to Dutched Pinay Travels who gave me permission to use this photo and who has a great post about shopping on Rua de Santa Caterina. Basically you can find anything that you are looking for here. No matter what European city you are in, I think it best to seek out the local artisans and designers to pick up something unique.

Here are 3 packing guidelines that will serve you well in Portugal:

1) In Lisbon, the walking can be challenging (there are seven hills and they are steep) and cobblestone streets and walks are the norm. Take your most comfortable walking shoes, no matter what they look like.

2) If travelling in Spain, Portugal or Italy during the summer, you would be better off taking cotton and linen dresses rather than shorts and t-shirts. When in Spain, it doesn't matter how hot it is, you won't be allowed into religious sites in shorts (men included) or sleeveless tank tops (men included). I have read that Portuguese rules regarding sleeveless tops and shorts are not as restrictive as Spain and Italy. I would err on the side of caution though.

3) Spring, even summer, can be windy and bring an Atlantic chill to the air so a windbreaker would be necessary, such as one from North Face's Summit Series.

Just click on the titles below to read some other posts I wrote about travel and packing:
Business and Tourist Travel Wardrobes
Packing for a Two Week Visit to Europe
In a Man's Suitcase: Vacation in Europe
Shoes for Traveling Europe
Curiosities in Your Travels
The Bag and Packing for the Weekend or Longer

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Curiosities in your Travels

Closet Content Analysis: Note-Worthy but Not in My Closet 

In my last post I suggested analyzing what people are wearing on the street of any particular city to determine what would be accessible and representative of the clothing style of the place. So that in Spain, you will be sure to find fabulous shoes, classic gold jewellery and status-seeking watches. However, there are also the products made by artisans that are curious and note-worthy - we wonder about the creativity behind the piece and we wonder if we should buy it!

Last summer I was in St. Émilion, France with my friend ShirleyB and found the most curious piece at an exhibition. For the most part the reason one visits St. Émilion is for the wine but in fact, because of the number of tourists "pouring" through, there are great exhibitions of local artists, artisans and craftspeople happening alongside the wine trade.

The most curious items I found at a St. Émilion exhibition were purses made of inner tire tubes marked "Made in Canada" and created by Céline Tonnelier of Friandise Créations of France. At 164 Euros I was not that smitten but it certainly was a curiosity and I had to take a photograph.

Purse made from re-purposed rubber inner tubes by Céline Tonnelier of Friandise Créations, France. Photo by JoyD.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Foreign Travel Closet Finds

Very often when I travel, there is always something I want to buy that is associated with my destination.

My travel history started with accompanying my husband as a chaperone on high school tours to Europe. Since then we have organized tours from Canada for adults as well. Our roles are very different with each group and traveling with adults is a tad less stressful. In our tour groups with adults we have gone to Turkey and Italy and are planning more European excursions.

Eating is necessary but our Canadian tour leader made eating a pleasure with commentary about the local foods and the wine while we were in Italy.

Dining somewhere in Italy. Photo by JoyD.

Seems that I was always taking photos of us eating; however this one is more of the views we encountered while in Italy.

Afternoon coffee or was it wine somewhere in Italy. Photo by JoyD.
This time we're eating in Turkey. Forgive me for all the food photographs but we do it at least three times a day and it was always as interesting as the sightseeing and shopping.

Eating somewhere in Turkey. Photo by JoyD.
Finally a photo of one of the group taking in the cultural and more intellectual parts of our tours . . . somewhere in Turkey.

A museum somewhere in Turkey. Photo by JoyD.
In the spring of 2015 we are planning a 12-day Portugal, Spain, Morocco & Gibraltar tour, April 13th to April 25th with adults, leaving from Canada. The groups are usually small, including couples and singles, which allows for more freedom in planning, changing or supplementing itineraries. Our deadline date for this spring group tour is the end of August so if by some chance you want to spend some time exploring and shopping in Spain, Portugal, Morocco and Gibraltar, just send an email to and I can get the itinerary and pricing details to you. 

To determine what to buy in a country, it is a good idea to analyze what is important to the locals. As a result, you know there will be a great variety of that particular item and probably a good opportunity to buy. I'll use Spain as my first closet analysis. The "watch" as accessory and status symbol is important to both men and women in Spain. Gold jewellery that is of good quality and discrete is worn by most women and costume jewellery (bright coloured resins) is often only worn by the young. Shoes are impeccable and always in good condition and are used as fashion accessory as much as a necessity. Interestingly, many leather shoes have rubber soles and I would guess that is because of the cobblestone streets which can be tough on leather soles, let alone make walking a bit treacherous. Because shoes are coveted here, Spain manufactures fabulous shoes, leather and even rubber soled. When you analyze the local habits, essentially some of the things the locals have in their closets - in this case, watches, gold jewellery, and shoes - you have a good indication of what will be readily available and easy to buy when you visit that country.

Spanish shoppers. Photo by JoyD.
I will be "analyzing" other local closets and giving suggestions on what to pack for our trip to Spain, Portugal, Morocco and Gibraltar over the next few posts. Remember there's still time to join us.

Just click on the titles below to read some other posts I wrote about travel and packing:
Business and Tourist Travel Wardrobes
Packing for a Two Week Visit to Europe
In a Man's Suitcase: Vacation in Europe
Shoes for Traveling Europe
The Bag and Packing for the Weekend or Longer

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Designer Trademarks . . . We pay for the privilege of wearing their marks . . .

Brian, known to the readers of this blog as the "ballet flats guy", and I have discussed and debated the business of designer products. Our discussion went something like this . . .

Closet Content Analysis: Brand Names 

JoyD: There is something inherently wrong when consumers pay enormous amounts for products that are allegedly quality products but essentially provide free advertising for the designer because of the over the top way that logos are displayed.

Tory Burch espadrilles. Photo by Brian Davis.

Brian Davis: Designers like Valentino, Prada, Ferragamo, Michael Kors and of course Tory Burch have easily identifiable markings on their products to associate them with the brand. So what does it mean? For me, when I hear those names I think of a few things: quality, big $$$s, "must have items" and great designers. Even though designers make all kinds of articles of clothing and accessories, I focus on and notice designer accessories like belts, purses, watches and of course shoes. I'm not sure how much big name designers spend on actual advertising in magazines or other media or if they even need to. Or, like you say, do the identifiable marking on their products do the advertising for them? 

JoyD: The history of identifying marks on products originates with artisans who created products that needed to be distinguished from others. Essentially he or she was saying, if you see this mark, you know it is mine and you know the quality is good - you can be assured by my word, my mark. I recognize and do not object to the original intent of these "marks" as being symbols of quality because for the most part, the marks were functional and often discrete. I guess it is a personal preference - I simply do not like the style of emblazoning products in what I believe are garish ways. 

Brian Davis: In this day and age, I don't believe that the marking says anything about the quality of the product but if you've ever heard of that designer you realize, or assume, their products aren't cheap and are therefore good quality. 

JoyD: Consumers do assume that because something is expensive, it must be good quality. I recall a time when we were in Thailand at a market. There were men's sport/golf shirts - one designer mark on the pocket and another different one on the sleeve - the woman at the kiosk reassured me that the quality was still good. I wish I had bought one but was appalled and slightly annoyed with my naïveté. 

Brian Davis: So if originally, a product sold itself because the mark associated it with quality, does the product sell itself now for the same reason? Since the designer I'm most familiar with is Tory Burch I'll share a quick story. I still remember the first time I saw a woman wearing a pair of Tory Burch Reva flats. I couldn't take my eye off these amazing shoes. Right then, I wanted a pair for myself. Tory Burch got some free advertising that day. Even though it was several years later before I bought my first pair of her flats, I still remember when I saw that lady "advertising them". Of course, no one gets paid for advertising designer shoes when they wear them; instead she likely paid about $200. for the pleasure of wearing them. And of course, she didn't buy them to do free advertising for Tory Burch. 

JoyD: Without the TB mark, it would have been simply another pair of ballet flats. In that first experience with the Tory Burch flats, it appears as if it was the design of the shoe and maybe even the mark and not who or what the mark represented that you liked.

Brian Davis: I probably bought my first pair of TB ballet flats because I liked the look - generally speaking. Now I probably buy them because of the quality. Maybe the woman who I first saw wearing the Tory Burch flats bought them because she wanted to be one of the first on her block to have a pair. Or maybe she thought they were cute. Or maybe she simply likes the designer. Or maybe they were a fake pair or knock-offs that she only paid a small price for. Really what does it matter?

JoyD: So you're claiming that quality, in most cases, probably doesn't matter.

Brian Davis: A bit on quality. Go to any on-line boutique or department store website that sells designer goods and read the reviews. Some are great and some are bad. Is it really bad quality or is the quality not what you expected for the price? Is the product really falling apart or is it the way you've been wearing or treating the product? Nothing lasts forever with normal wear and tear so should this be seen as bad quality?

JoyD: If designers put their names on their products, you would hope that they are concerned with the quality. As for the "wearability", I think the consumer deserves something that will not fall apart. Another interesting story, apparently there are retail associates for certain designer shoes who will advise you to re-sole your new shoes because the original sole will not wear well. Really? I have to re-sole a pair of shoes that I am paying $600.00 for? "Normal wear and tear" needs to be defined.

Brian Davis: In defence of designers . . . why are most designers wealthy and good at business?  Hard work, "must-have" products, quality products and creative ideas for new products for their consumers.

JoyD: As far as "must-have" products go, that is a shared responsibility between consumer and designer marketing plans. But if you emblazon your name on a product, I think ego plays a big part as well. I must admit I once coveted having a Louis Vuitton purse and about 10 years ago, I bought one. In fact now I feel a tad self conscious wearing this bag that has LV stamped all over it. I normally carry a Lancel bag because of the discrete way in which the mark is placed. The price is comparable for both - and I have carried my Lancel bags way more than I have my LV bag. One of the reasons I like Lancel so much is that I know the quality is exceptional and there is no flamboyant brand markings.

Brian Davis: Speaking of the price to consumers . . . If you work for your money then you know the value of a dollar. If you can justify spending lots of those dollars for some designer item you like or makes you feel good, then it's worth it. Up front you know you won't be getting paid to wear the designers markings on the item and you could possibly be doing some "free advertising" for that designer. It's all part of the designer fashion industry.

JoyD: And so it is . . . all part of the fashion industry . . .

What brands are in your closet and why are they there?

Update: I since altered my criticism, see how here.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Re-Purposing for Storage

NICE: Another Place to Hang a Few Things

I am much more the "re-use, re-purpose, re-do kind of gal" in France than I am in Canada. The base products (chairs, bookcases, armoires, wooden oxen harnesses, tables of all sizes and purposes, church furnishings) are more interesting; there are more opportunities to buy old stuff; and the re-furbishing products, if needed, are more accessible. 

I am amazed at the number of products available in the "brico" (hardware store) for restoring and recreating. I digress for a moment . . . but I believe that you can buy every type of light bulb created, since Edison and his cohorts at Menlo Park. We live in an old house and one particular light fixture needed a new bulb. Never did I think that we would find it. We didn't go anywhere special - just to our neighbourhood bricolage and there it was. And so it is with restoration products - there is paint for every imaginable surface, cleaning products for the most difficult unimaginable, and hinges and hardware reproduced from one or the other Louis to modern space-age materials in fuschia, orange or lime green.

Simple "prie dieu" used for storage.
Photo by JoyD.
Insofar as re-purposing goes, I acquired (with the purchase of this house) a "chair" that is not a chair but a "prayer stool" from a church - a simple "prie dieu" (without a ledge for a bible). I have it in my bedroom - chambre - and have "hung" a variety of things on this piece. The result has been repurposed from prayer to storage and decorative storage at that without having to sand, paint or supplement.

I haven't seen many around at the vides greniers (community "boot" or "garage" sales) or brocantes (second hand stores or community sales) in our area here in Dordogne. However I will be looking because I believe they are the right height for setting an overnight bag and more purposeful for hanging a variety of things, from towels to clothing to accessories.

Repurposing seems to be the theme of the week . . . take a look at my August 10th post.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

My Guest Bedroom "Closets" in France

Necessary: A Place to Hang a Few Things

As I shared with you in my post on Too Few Closets here in France, our three guest bedrooms had nothing for closet space. The armoires I wanted were a tad over my budget and I didn't want to settle for the cheaper ones I found.

In a house with four bedrooms, only one has any kind of built in storage and it is that bedroom we chose as the master bedroom. I have had to build some "hanger space" in the other three bedrooms for guest use. Each is adequate but I couldn't imagine a family being accommodated by my interpretation of closet space.

Closet alternative in the blue guest room. Photo by JoyD.
The former owners' son took the armoire and the room was left devoid of closet space. With help from Shirley B who was visiting us from Saskatoon, SK, Canada, we decided to construct a "temporary" closet space until we find the perfect armoire. We bought the brackets and rod at Bricorama in Port Ste. Foy et Ponchapt and had the shelving cut to size at Mr. Bricolage in Pineuilh. It was relatively simple to create and it turned out functional and relatively attractive.

Closet doors nailed shut. Photo by JoyD.
The next chambre was the the one that formerly had a built-in closet but was renovated to accommodate a toilette on the second floor (premier étage in France). The doors were nailed shut by the previous owners and we inherited yet another room with no closet space. 

Drapery rod & plant hangers create an alternate closet space.
Photo by JoyD.
I was pressed for time since we were getting more visitors and so I basically did the same in this room as I did in the blue room. This time, I bought four outdoor plant hangers and a drapery rod and voila, a place to hang clothes, if not a closet. I didn't bother with any shelving. Instead, at the "recycleterie" in Pessac I bought a heavy "coffee table" or at least I believe it was a coffee table and positioned it under the hangers. It's a good height for a suitcase and all of the visitor's possessions can be in one area. 

In the pink room, there was a bookcase in the corner that became piled higher and deeper. Two of the lower shelves collapsed and we were forced to relocate all the books to the attic. We still needed some sort of "hanger space" and so we re-purposed the splayed bookcase into an open closet. 

Bookshelf repurposed into closet space. Photo by JoyD.

As a result, here is what we constructed in true re-purposing style. We found some old baseboard in the attic, bought yet another drapery rod, removed the shelving, and stabilized the unit at the bottom so that the board serving as the baseboard is also serving to keep the splayed sides in 90 degree angle form.

A little motivation, some screws and paint, several opportunities to put to other uses and re-purposing has now given 
my guests somewhere to hang a few things.