Big Foot’s Got Some Brand New Vans

To me, these vessels are works of art, a masterpiece. I have wanted shoes like this forever. They speak to me of tomboys, denim and badass poets, classic footwear hovering on the verge of preppy. But not quite. Eventually, with worn heels and holes, they will smell of grunge band, fast times and flannel. There is something infinitely satisfying about wearing this symbol on the sidewalks of suburbia.

I have never been in style. Grocery shopping with my mom at our local A & P comes to mind, as I stared at the Dr. Scholl’s display in the same aisle with the hairnets and Legg’s eggs. I was 16 and lusting after those sandals with smooth leather straps (in three different colors!) and a neat center buckle. It seemed like everyone wore them, wooden soles clattering down the high school hallways and clacking nervously under classroom desks. I could only stand by as spectator, fascinated by how the teenage fashionistas kept those clog-like wonders on.

My mother caught me salivating and dismissed my dreams of finally becoming cool despite my bottle-bottom eye glasses and overall nerd status.

“They’ll hurt your feet,” she warned me and that was that. This from a woman whose toes were molded into torpedo points by those hellish heels of the 50s, a style providing countless numbers of foot surgeons with lifelong job security.

“But they are supposed to be good for your feet. They EXERCISE them,” I argued, reading from the box.

“They’re made out of lumber and a tiny piece of leather. You can’t wear those — your feet are too thin.”

And long. Size 10, to be exact. That’s all well and good for a 6’2” runway model, but my 5’8” frame only allowed me to be cast as the family’s personal Bigfoot (a term my father affectionately used for me).

Unfortunately, I possess the trifecta of podiatric woes: narrow, long and flat as a pancake. While my archless-ness might keep me out of a wartime draft, I would gladly endure boot camp than suffer the humiliations of a footwear gauntlet (otherwise known as the shoe store).

Ah yes, the dreaded yearly trip to the small-town shoe shop, where I would gaze sadly at a limited assortment of beautiful styles I could not wear. Right off the bat, my mother ruled out anything remotely cute or trendy, nothing with heels, absolutely no flimsiness or slip-ons allowed.

That left a few sturdy crepe-soled lace ups in geriatric browns and tans. If Velcro shoes had been popular then, I’m sure they would have come in a close second (nothing with flashing lights or wheels in the heels, however). Come to think of it, Velcro would have made the torment go a whole lot faster if not easier, as I sat tensely through the everlasting lacing procedure at the knee of the store owner, who had realized by this point there wasn’t one shoe in the entire store that fit me.

Yes, that’s right. While sitting amongst the piles of tissue paper and lidless cardboard boxes, after countless trips to the back, with me futilely pacing around like a caged animal while my mother pinched my toes, I always heard the inevitable proclamation of my shame:

We’ll just have to “special” order them.

I hate the word special. After what seemed like years, we returned to the scene of the crime for the prize I didn’t want. And the “specially” ordered size 10s wouldn’t fit much better than the store’s one pair of 9 1/2s, except that my toes weren’t as crowded (obviously my mother’s worst nightmare) and I could easily walk out of my new giant boats of leather without untying any laces, thanks to the narrow heels blessed to me by my grandmother.

Now, flash forward to the brand-new Vans, the cool ones here in black and white.

The ones I bought in record time after waltzing into the shoe section of a regular department store, zeroing in on the display model, quickly searching through the well-marked boxes, and finding just the right size (already pre-laced).

I tried them on by myself, no exhausted sales clerk hoping against hope that this trial of patience would soon be over, no mother following me around with her toe-seeking fingers at the ready, and no customer service associate painfully filling out an order form for my mythical pair of perfect shoes.

And the best part? They are a size 9 1/2. Either I have shrunk or American shoe standards have grown large. Oh joyous day, this means there are plenty of other big-footed gals out in the fashion wilderness. I am not alone.

And yes, Mom, I have plenty of room in the toes.

A Minimalist Moment: Wardrobe Unbound

The good news is that I’m back working in the public library system I left last year. I’ve reincarnated as a substitute at the reference desks of various branches throughout the city. Each one is a little different, in size, culture and persona.

The bad news is I don’t have anything to wear.


Backing up a bit, I had entered the spring season after my 3-month fling with Project 333 considerably parred down. And the love affair with the versatile but boring black and grey ensembles left me craving color and vibrance.

Reminds me of one summer in my 20s when I set off on a road trip through the southwest with four Dutch students (don’t ask) in my 1964 VW Bug. After a one-day excursion across the border into Mexico, three of us came down with the worst stomach bug I’ve ever had in my life, all while surviving in tents in a west Texas KOA camp. In July.

I couldn’t eat for days. When we reached Corpus Christi, where I had planned to stuff myself with as much gulf coast shrimp as humanly possible, I could barely stand to look at tartar sauce much less seafood.

But by golly, I looked good in that bikini.

Anyway, when I got home, a good ten pounds or more lighter, I made the mistake of immediately heading to the supermarket for groceries. There, I bought every fructose-laden, fatty, overly processed food I could carry out of the store. My body screamed for boxes of Captain Crunch and powdered donuts while I sat stuffing myself into a sugar coma.

Well, the same thing happened when I came off the Project 333 diet. I was attracted to this season’s romantic but not-so-work-appropriate festive hippie skirts and see-through peasant blouses like a moth to flame.

There have been countless years when the current styles left me cold. But no, this had to be the year for boho chic’s comeback.

I’m becoming better informed about where items are made. I’ve acquainted myself with conscientious upcycled Etsy shops and stalk the web for organic, fair trade clothing. Instead of just giving, I’m actually buying from Goodwill.

But it is so hard to pass by the displays selling carefree youth, albeit factory-made with a whiff of wrinkle-retardant. It is an illusion and I know it. But tell this to my nonconformist, freedom-loving spirit that longs for the rush of jumping into my old VW with the beaten-out fenders to drive off with no plan or timeline, orange-haired troll doll swinging wildly from the rearview mirror.

Anyway, I fell off the wagon and bought some stuff I probably shouldn’t have this spring and summer. Surreptitiously, from sales racks and even in the men’s department. I’ve knit a couple of unnecessary items in brilliant colors of the sea. Part of me feels guilty because they aren’t practical. Because they don’t go with everything else.

I’ve justified the little sprees by citing my uniforms for work. Since I’m a sub with sporadic work schedules, I can get away with wearing the same items all summer. I have two outfits: a couple pairs of cropped pants in basic beige and dark brown, and two conservative tops (which I’ve worn for years).

This was all well and good until last week when I put in six full days, mostly at the same branch. It’s either feast or famine in the sub business. I had to pull out (literally) all the tricks for variety by supplementing my uniform with a long gathered skirt here, and a filmy cotton blouse there. There may have been some borderline color-clashing going on, some extra deodorant needed.

But I survived. I don’t think I offended anyone. My sense of style and confidence still need a lot of work — a Diane Keaton I am not.

Most important is when I open the closet door to greet these friends, old and new, when I touch their hangers and pull the beautiful fabric of rainbows into my arms, they make my soul sing.

What is there is what I love.

Project 333: The Wrap. Up.

Color my world.

My, my, how March rushed by in a blur. April has been prancing around for some time now and I keep plugging away with most of my original 33 items, picked for Phase 2 of Courtney Carver’s Project 333 Challenge. There was some good, some bad, and a little ugly.

The Good: While I was mostly confined to the house (if not bed) in February due to health issues, March was spent gallivanting about the countryside wearing an easy assortment of separates and accessories. Even while stripping off layers when I found myself in abrupt southern swelter, I noticed my travel selections stayed versatile enough to handle heat waves, and the all-too familiar chill when we reluctantly headed back to northern climes.

The Bad: However, by March there were some swap outs and a few casualties. My winter coat was traded for a jacket as the days grew milder and longer. The winter gloves kept quiet in the coat closet. I also removed two tunics from the line-up and foolishly bought a short-sleeved novelty tee with little plastic discs sewn artistically to the front which I’m sure will fall off when washed.

The Ugly: I realized my old long-sleeved black tee had grown short enough to allow me to join the ranks of repairmen everywhere when I bent over, so I purchased a replacement of reasonable length at Target, and retired the old shirt to the role of pajama top.

I also flushed one of my beloved 1928 earrings down the toilet during a trip in March. With the lid down. Don’t ask me how — it was one of those freaky things. I valiantly tried to retrieve the unfortunate accessory to no avail. (I’ll spare you the details.) The rest of us carried on without it until the end of March when I bought a new handmade pair at a craft fair as replacements.

The Exceptions: I wore almost all of the items chosen for the project, and I didn’t regret any of the stuff I left out, with one exception. I missed my collection of earrings. I knew I would. I dearly love to make a daily selection according to momentary whim.

I also became bored with all the black and white in my wardrobe. While I know that you need a strong base of neutrals, I found myself craving bright colors throughout the three months that my scarves helped alleviate but couldn’t entirely quench. I was drawn to multi-colored yarns and brilliant floral displays like a moth to the flame.

Maybe it’s been a long, dark winter.

The Future: Participation in this project has brought me closer to defining my style, which has been a life-long struggle. Along the way, reading about the journeys of others inspired me. Among them, Janet at Gardener’s Cottage taught me to carefully consider the cut and color of each item and how it coordinates with the rest. She is the essence of style.

And Meg at Minimalist Woman encouraged me to be aware of where and how my clothing is made and to choose accordingly. She’s got a great list going of responsible clothing brands. I’ll be reading labels, and haunting ethical, local and handmade businesses from now on.

As for the next phase, I will be heading off on my own. I am, by nature, a nonconformist and quiet rebel. Project 333 has given me a good start, but I aim to set up unique restrictions and create personal guidelines that let my freak flag fly.

Stay tuned.

For those of you still reading this and care about particulars, what follows is my original list with annotations.

  1. White tank
  2. Black tank
  3. White t-shirt
  4. Black t-shirt
  5. Green long sleeve t-shirt
  6. Black long sleeve t-shirt (replaced)
  7. Black turtleneck
  8. Black print tunic (traded out)
  9. Purple velvet tunic (traded out)
  10. Print blouse
  11. Blue top (didn’t wear)
  12. Blue plaid shirt
  13. Grey cardigan
  14. Blue cardigan
  15. Blue sweater
  16. Maroon sweater
  17. Black vest
  18. Grey dress pants
  19. Black dress pants
  20. Black jeans
  21. Blue jeans
  22. Black winter coat (traded out)
  23. Grey Print scarf
  24. Blue print scarf
  25. Grey hat (replaced)
  26. Gloves (put away)
  27. Purple purse
  28. Black pant boots
  29. Black loafers
  30. Black sneakers
  31. Purple necklace (didn’t wear)
  32. Blue 1928 Earrings (lost)
  33. Buddha Hand Earrings

Project 333 Winter Love

Update: I’ve grown very fond of layers and anything that’s fuzzy in my carefully chosen wardrobe of 33. A month into the second phase of Courtney Carver’s minimalist clothing challenge, and the sweaters, scarves and trusty turtleneck have become my best buddies. Even the “you shouldn’t have” holiday gift socks shoved to the back of my drawer have seen the light of day recently.

Why all the warmth and affection? Well, let’s see: the sun has appeared a total of 3 hours so far this year, I’ve forgotten what grass looks like (the lawn variety), icicles on my house are so large that I’ve started using them as canes to cross the treacherous luge run of my driveway, and I haven’t left the old homestead in a long, long, long time.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Earlier this week, I did manage a dash to the store for essential supplies like toilet paper and pop tarts before THE GREAT STORM of 2011. Which I survived obviously, although I’m in serious mourning over the ratty pair of long underwear I recklessly discarded at the beginning of this project.

Ah, what a fool this mortal is!

A word to the wise about my other wardrobe decisions so far:

Travel will be super easy if I can just get out my door. Although I work from home these days, I was looking forward to a business trip this week with minimal selection and light packing. But because of THE GREAT STORM, that ain’t happening.

Lose the dress slacks. I l-o-v-e denim. My black denim jeans can look casual or dressy depending on what I wear with them, a pair of heels or mukluks. And the long-sought-after, perfect blue pair is my BFF.

Color is a good thing. While basics in black and grey go with everything, during countless gloomy days I really enjoy the bright spots found in scarves, accessories and yes, even those socks again.

I’m having fun with mix-and-match. It’s like a puzzle for those everlasting snow days, when cabin fever sets in and you begin to wander around the house talking to yourself. (Okay, more than usual.) Instead, play with different combos to see if they fit your look. Can I pull off stripes AND flannel?

Big surprise, I haven’t missed my jewelry yet. I don’t linger over the “perfect” choice of earrings these days. I either wear one of the two pairs selected for the Project, or I don’t. (Having them frozen to your earlobes for weeks at a time helps with the decision, too.)

And now, on to February and fresh revelations, not to mention the early spring promised by Phil, Chuck and other weather-predicting rodents out there. Personally, I can’t wait for Valentine’s Day and candy.

Forget romance — at least the Red Hots will keep me warm.

The Project 333 Affair

This year I’ve decided to have a fling. With my clothes. I’m tired of standing on the sidelines while others engage in passionate and groundbreaking liaisons with their garments. I’m filled with jealousy reading about romantic trysts with neglected accessories. I’m hopeful at the prospect of breathing new life into old footwear. Yes, I am ready to take the plunge into Courtney Carver’s second phase of Project 333.

Last fall, apparel pioneers like Meg Wolfe, Beverly Army Williams, Robyn Devine, Andrew Odom and many more had the guts to seek new relationships with their wardrobes. And like a good matchmaker, Courtney has set specific guidelines and boundaries for successful clothing courtship, while she, herself, practices what she preaches at Be More With Less.

Briefly, the game plan is this: Your closet is limited to 33 items from January 1st through March 31st, including jewelry, shoes and outerwear; excluding jewelry one wears all the time (or can’t remove), loungewear, workout raiment, undergarments and PJ’s. For those who get cold feet, Courtney has included new bonus rules for a little wiggle room.

As an evasive Pisces, I am often a weenie about commitment, but I am all about turning over a new leaf (or fin, flipper, whatever). Therefore, I have tried to stick to the original plan with no exceptions. Once I could let go of the whole “just in case” quagmire, choosing the clothes was not as difficult as I thought.

The big pitfall for me was in limiting those earrings. I like to wear different, and often wacky, baubles to suit my mood. As an aside, I was known to dangle plastic food from my ears in the good ol’ punk days — a fetching pair of fried eggs was my favorite. And no, I don’t still have them.

I am older now. I keep telling myself that, anyway. My clothes are not as “interesting” as in my vintage days of yore. I’m also in between identities at the moment, so my selections are versatile and a tad nondescript (for camouflage purposes).

Without further ado, my list of 33 items:

  1. White tank
  2. Black tank
  3. White t-shirt
  4. Black t-shirt
  5. Green long sleeve t-shirt
  6. Black long sleeve t-shirt
  7. Black turtleneck
  8. Black print tunic
  9. Purple velvet tunic
  10. Print blouse
  11. Blue top
  12. Blue plaid shirt
  13. Grey cardigan
  14. Blue cardigan
  15. Blue sweater
  16. Maroon sweater
  17. Black vest
  18. Grey dress pants
  19. Black dress pants
  20. Black jeans
  21. Blue jeans
  22. Black winter coat
  23. Multi Print scarf
  24. Blue print scarf
  25. Grey hat
  26. Gloves
  27. Purple purse
  28. Black pant boots
  29. Black loafers
  30. Black sneakers
  31. Purple necklace
  32. Blue 1928 Earrings
  33. Buddha Hand Earrings

Who knows? I may fall in love and make this a permanent thing. Guess I’ll have to break it to my husband gently.


Most of my 33 things.

A Minimalist Moment: Out of the Closet

Clothing has always been a sticking point in my journey to less. (Those of you who are not “woo-woo” inclined can plug your ears for a minute here). As a Pisces with a Gemini Moon, my Fish and/or Twins go in many different schizophrenic fashion directions. I can be the Pisces hippie chick in the morning, and then on the lookout for some Gemini urban chic by the evening. (Okay, those who are astro-allergic can come back now.) And don’t even get me started on the myriad of jobs I’ve worked over the years. In the eternal quest to fit in, I’ve developed a chameleon complex for whatever phase of life I encounter with a wardrobe to match. Needless to say, this has led to a full closet that constantly needs watching — and weeding.

Does this scenario sound familiar, dear reader? Or are you a victim of other fashion debacles? Here’s some guidelines that may help:

  • Looking Good: For a neat-looking closet, you need tidy tools, namely hangers. That jumble of wires from the dry cleaners, and the clear plastic freebies from the local department store have to be replaced by all of the same thing. Since those pristine wooden beauties from the closet design companies are way out of my league, I prefer the sturdy plastic ones from the super stores — and (this is important) all in the same color. If you want to get really anal, you can purchase all one color for the winter wardrobe, and another for the summer, so that it’s easy to tell when the time comes to switch storage. But I’m getting ahead of myself. . . .
  • The One-Year Rule: Now you can go in and pull out anything you haven’t worn in over a year, or six months, or a week, whatever. I find that a full year of Mother Nature is a good length of time to test anything seasonal. For example, getting rid of a swim suit because you haven’t worn it in eleven months and you live in Siberia (or Indiana) is a bit hasty. Wait until it’s safe to put out the tomato plants or August, at least.
  • If It Doesn’t Fit, You Must Say Adios: No if’s, and’s or butt’s, do not hang onto stuff that you wore in decades past, or only hope to wear in decades to come. It’s time to live in the moment, with clothes that you reach for every day without having to constantly inhale.
  • Torn and Forlorn: If the garment in question has been missing a button since 1982, and you haven’t worn it since, time for a parting of the ways. Let’s face it: you’d wear the damaged item anyway with a strategic safety pin placed here and there, if you REALLY couldn’t live without it. Repair the rip or treat the stain, if you must, but be ruthless if you but hesitate a moment.
  • DON’T Take a Sentimental Journey: These are always tough choices–especially a wedding dress that weighs the equivalent of a small elephant, and requires just as much space. Probably this particular item is yellowing inside a box in the attic anyway, but if it’s eating up real estate in the closet, consider taking a picture and sending the dream off to charity for another lucky bride. I wore a 1920’s-style flapper dress for my nuptials, and it stores flat in a bag on a shelf, taking the abuse without wrinkles. Hey, my daughter even wore it for an English class presentation in high school, so at least my old finery has gotten some use in the new millennia. Oh, and do I have to talk about prom and bridesmaid dresses, or maternity clothes long after the fact? Don’t go there.
  • Here Comes the Space: Hopefully, as you separate the wearable from the chaff, there is room to shift and separate without playing tug of war. I can’t say enough about how much better the remaining garments will look, free of wrinkles and that musty pack-rat odor that shows up in crowds of clothes. What remains you can transfer onto those lovely new hangers you bought. And here’s a trick from numerous organizing books and blogs: Hook the hangers backwards on the closet pole. After you wear an item, return the hanger facing the right way. Whatever is still backwards by the end of the season hasn’t been worn and can be sent off to the great clothes hamper in the sky, or Goodwill.
  • Clothing Complacency: I enjoy the challenge of looking at my clothes in a fresh, objective way each time I do the daily scan. When I’m on a real clutter binge, I can find another couture sacrifice nearly every day. I like to push myself to see how far I could go before I truly say “I have nothing to wear.” Don’t worry, there’s always something left and if not, there’s always–
  • Buying Only What You Need: In analyzing my multiple personality threads, it became apparent that I also suffer from Ark syndrome: I like to buy two of everything. I don’t know why, maybe I’m worried that shoes have the right idea, and heaven forbid a single sweater might get lonely. I am working on curbing this tendency to pair duds off because it only encourages them to multiply. With a minimal wardrobe, when an important staple wears out (which is all that belongs on the daily racks) I can just go out and replace the item — without a backup, that is.

All in all, it is refreshing to open my closet door in the morning and not stare at the multitude of choices like a deer in headlights. I have basics that go together for a variety of outfits, spiced up with accessories matching whatever personality I happen be that day.

Look out Sybil, here I come. With style.

Want More? Check out my other Minimalist Moments:

Houseplant Hoarding

The Mail Monster