truecost

A Review: The True Cost Documentary

Fashion

I’ve been planning to watch this documentary since the 2015 2-year anniversary of the tragedy that occurred at the Rana Plaza Factory in Bangladesh. Perhaps I procrastinated because I was afraid that watching the documentary would fundamentally change the way I shopped. Shopping for me was always about finding a “good deal”, a “unique design”, or the next “investment piece” that would last for longer than a year. Perhaps I feared that adding morals and ethics to the purchasing equation would leave me with no new items or would limit my options to vintage shopping and learning how to sew myself! (Note: I would like to visit vintage stores and learn how to really sew at some point)

Well, today, after making a lot of excuses, I finally sat down to watch the film, learn the truth, and reflect on my role as a consumer. If you haven’t watched The True Cost yet, it’s certainly a must-see, especially given the recent news. The documentary, which is available on Netflix, interviews a wide variety of stakeholders concerned with the fashion process including: farmers, factory workers, designers, free market economists, founders of civic groups, etc. While the shift between the discussion on labor practices to the discussion of the ecological impact of the fashion process was somewhat abrupt, it was important that the film explored both sets of consequences. I found myself cringing with guilt when the film showed a few YouTube haul videos since I have definitely watched my fair share of haul videos to pass time.

I learned quite a few things while watching The True Cost:

First, fashion is the most labor-intensive industry and most people don’t consider the negative externalities of the $3 trillion industry.

Second, farmers in India have been committing suicide over high prices of inputs like seeds and fertilizer.

Third, I’ll admit that I had a clue about this shift before watching the film, but the industry has convinced consumers to treat the items they should use for long periods of time as items they should use up.

Fourth, fast fashion isn’t the only culprit here; the chromium 6 process of treating leather also hurts communities, the environment, and people’s lives.

Ultimately, The True Cost forced me to ask, why should people lose their lives so that I can think that I look cute?

This question left me craving practical solutions which the film failed to deliver. However, the film concludes by suggesting that viewers check out truecostmovie.com for actionable ideas. I HIGHLY recommend reading the website’s buying better guide. It lists conscious brands, contains video interviews, and links readers to other sites focused on improving the fashion process.

As a consumer, the first thing I can do differently is to buy fewer items and appreciate  and properly care for the clothes that I already own. When I do decide to buy something, I want to make sure that I’m consciously thinking about the quality and how long I’ll keep the item in my closet. Finally, I hope to start buying from brands that consider human and environmental costs in their production processes.

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Merry Christmas: An update on life

Life

Over the past 6 months, I moved cities and started my MBA program at MIT Sloan. It’s been quite a ride and I have had the chance to blog about my goals for school and organizing an African fashion show to share my passions and culture with my classmates.

One of the biggest things I’ve learned this semester is to be open to new experiences, conversations, and challenges. The entrepreneurial spirit at Sloan encourages taking risks and doing things differently. This freedom is both fascinating and frightening, but the great thing is that you’re always learning and always improving, even if you fail.

Now that I celebrate this year’s journey with my family, I am so grateful for the chance to learn from such amazing classmates, mentors, and professors. I am also grateful for the support my family has given me during this formative time.

Merry Christmas!

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Honeymoon in Morocco (Part 3)

Travel

After  exploring Marrakech, we ventured out to the coastal city of Essaouira by bus (Supratours). It was great to have the chance to sit and catch up on a book while watching the world go by. This part of the trip was strictly about relaxation.

IMG_1310IMG_1314IMG_1315IMG_1319In Essaouira, we arranged to have a nice dinner in our riad. Our hosts served traditional Moroccan foods and desserts and paid special attention to the presentation. It was a fantastic evening! They even baked us a cake which we finished over the following few days. IMG_1406IMG_1409 IMG_1412After we had gotten our bearings, we ventured to the (free) ramparts in Essaouira. There was something so serene about watching the birds, the waves, and even the fishermen play their roles near the ramparts.  blue windows essaouira ocean ramparts ramparts 2 tool

Though we went to the beach, I didn’t feel comfortable only wearing my swimsuit. I much preferred to lounge about in harem pants and a breezy top. In fact, many women on the beach were fully clothed.

Following our stay in Essaouira, we returned to Marrakech to finally purchase souvenirs  and conclude our honeymoon. In Essaouira and in Marrakech, we explored the souks. Negotiating with the merchants was stressful though thrilling. I like to drive a hard bargain (or so I think) and knew that if I didn’t like the price, I could walk away. After much research online and through talking with our riad hosts, we ultimately purchased a camel+ sheep blanket, a turqouise poof, and scarves for my sisters and mother-in-law. Though our return flights to the states were stressful (canceled flights and all), we were grateful to have safely traveled to Morocco this summer and tho have the chance to bond over new experiences!

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Honeymoon in Morocco (Part 2)

Travel

After acclimating to the medina and learning all about the cuisine, we headed to the Atlas Mountains and explored the Three Valleys. We arranged this excursion through our first riad in Marrakech, and met our drivers at 9 am for the private day trip. After about an hour and half, we reached the winding mountain villages. I didn’t think I had a fear of heights until I looked over the side of our car! And no, we didn’t ride the camels!
IMG_5688IMG_5569IMG_5664IMG_5743IMG_5725IMG_5747IMG_5545IMG_1206The mountains and landscape were breathtaking and we were happy to have the chance to escape the chaos in the medina! Part-way through our trip, we stopped in a Berber restaurant for a delicious lunch of Moroccan salad, chicken tajine, fresh melon, and lots of Moroccan mint tea. While enjoying our meal, we heard the calls of the imams reminding the residents to pray. The sounds echoed from mountain to mountain. IMG_1215 IMG_1213IMG_1209IMG_1222IMG_1221IMG_1228Though we spent the majority of the excursion driving around, we did make a few other stops to hike and eventually stopped at an Women’s Argan Oil co-operative. According to the young girl who showed us around, proceeds from the co-operative’s product sales support widowed women in the village. After snapping a few pictures, I was invited to crack a few of the nuts used to make the paste that contains the oil! The whole process is labor intensive, but I am glad that it provides women with income. IMG_1162IMG_1166IMG_5603IMG_1172IMG_1185IMG_1175IMG_1176IMG_1177IMG_1298IMG_1252One of our favorite things about Morocco were all the doors. They all had unique, intricate details and were often painted in very vibrant colors. IMG_5605 IMG_5604IMG_1263IMG_1282 IMG_1284 IMG_1233IMG_1669In addition to the ubiquity of colorful metal doors, we drank so much mint tea, that we could place an order in French in our sleep! I’ve had “Moroccan mint tea” in the States, but the mint tea in Morocco is so much better. Our hosts always brewed fresh mint leaves, and placed an emphasis on creating bubbles when pouring the tea from high above the glass. Though we were tempted to purchase our own tea serving set, we realized that 1.) we don’t know much about metal quality when it comes to tea sets, and 2.) we didn’t have a clue about a reasonable price. When we negotiated for a tea pot at one merchant’s shop, he was insulted and told us to have a good day!IMG_1073IMG_1075On our last day in Marrakech, we visited Jardin Majorelle. The well-organized gardens, named after French painter Jacques Majorelle, took 40 years to create. In 1980, Pierre Bergé and French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent bought Jardin Majorelle, and Yves’ ashes were scattered around the garden following his death in 2008. IMG_1483IMG_1653IMG_1660IMG_1568IMG_1569palm frondIMG_1647wild YSL

After Marrakech, we headed west to the Atlantic Ocean coastal city of Essaouira. Stay tuned for Part 3!

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Honeymoon in Morocco (Part 1)

Travel

As-salamu alaykum!

My husband and I have recently returned from a thrilling trip to Marrakech, Morocco and Essaouira, Morocco. We’ve both really needed the time off to relax and connect, and as a destination, Morocco seemed like it would provide some adventure. We were not disappointed. Our journey began in Paris, France where we spent a few hours in the city. I’d never traveled to mainland Europe before, so I didn’t know what to expect. When we finally exited the RER B train at the Jardin du Luxembourg station, I realized that in my white summer dress, I was inadequately clothed for the gusty winds and grey Parisian skies. I was freezing in June!

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We stopped at a restaurant in the 6th Arrondissement called Le Comptoir du Panthéon (which was so-so) for a quick bite, and wandered through the Latin Quarter neighborhood taking in the fashion and stopping for chocolate and macarons. Finally, we arrived at the River Seine, took out our blanket and photographed the Pont des Arts and Notre Dame.

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After Paris, we headed to Casablanca and finally down to Marrakech. By the time we arrived, we were exhausted, but the city, especially in the medina (old city center), was wide awake. While in Morocco, we decided to stay in riads (small bed & breakfast style houses) in the medina to have the full urban experience. We chose riads with terraces and wading pools, since we could take advantage of the cooler mornings and evenings by lounging on the roof, and cool off from the 44 degree afternoons by dipping into the pools. One thing that we were not expecting in Morocco were all of the city cats!

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1st riad

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During our first full day in Marrakech, we gained our bearing in the medina, explored the souks (market places), and visited the Médersa Ben Youssef. The Médersa, an Islamic college built in the 14th century, had exquisite architectural details. Later that day, we experienced a private hammam which included Moroccan ghassoul clay for extracting impurities from the skin and of course, Moroccan Argan oil which has gained popularity in the beauty world. To say that we desperately needed time at the spa was an understatement.

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On our second day in Marrakech, we joined two French medical students and two nurses from Seattle and Canada for a full-day cooking class, which began with a trip to the food souks to negotiate for and buy ingredients. During an interactive session in the spice souk, we learned about saffron, tumeric, and fenugreek among other popular seasonings. The class itself occurred in a riad near the food souks, and we each had our own work stations. Two Moroccan women instructed us as we prepared 8 dishes (including tajine de poulet and zaahlouk, my new favorite hot salad with aubergines and tomatoes). At the end of the class, we enjoyed our dishes and a nice glass of wine.

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I can’t wait to share our other experiences from our honeymoon. Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3!

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Dreaming of Paris and Morocco

Life, Travel

This summer, my husband and I are finally going on our honeymoon. To say that I can’t wait is an absolute understatement. This trip will provide the city, beach, desert, mountains, architecture, and culture that I have always wanted in my “dream” honeymoon. Though we’ll only be in Paris for a long layover, we hope to explore the Luxembourg Gardens, sip wine, tea, beer, and coffee (maybe all at once?), and snack on desserts while we watch the world go by.

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For the past few months, I’ve been working on my French (and learning some Arabic) but I think we’ll probably return to the States with a funny story or two about things getting lost in translation. We don’t like to travel with much technology, but we’ll be sure to take many pictures!

The Majorelle Garden, created by the French cabinetmaker Louis Majorelle, and restored by the couturier Yves Saint Laurent, Marrakech, Morocco

Jardin Majorelle

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I’m so excited to have the chance to return to Africa. Last year, our trip to Nigeria prepared us to handle anything! Though I normally enjoy a faster pace, it will be nice to go with the flow and be spontaneous. Not only will we celebrate life and love on this trip, but we’ll probably meet some incredible people, certainly enjoy learning about a new culture, finally get to relax.

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Of course, I already have my shopping list prepared and look forward to getting the best deals at the souks.  I anticipate that much creative inspiration will result from this trip!

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Building a Wardrobe: The Basics

Fashion, Style Guide

Congratulations! You’ve graduated from college. Now, it’s time to update your wardrobe and bring your clothes into adulthood to match your new professional life. Goodbye crazy theme parties, hello brunch! So where do you start? After you sell or donate the items that are no longer suitable for your new lifestyle, consider adding the following to your soon-to-be chic closet. Take note of major retail sales dates and save up for quality. Your future self will thank you for spending so wisely today.

First, some inspiration:

Tops

A silk blouse, a soft cotton tee, and a v-neck grey cashmere sweater are three of the most versatile tops you can own. Silk provides instant polish, the tee can be dressed up or down, and the sweater will keep you cozy on rainy or snowy days. I wear my silk blouses and cashmere sweaters to work, brunch, on dinner dates, out to run errands, and on vacation. Some people recommend only buying silk blouses in bold prints and colors, but I enjoy having silk blouses in solid neutral colors (e.g. pale blue, cream) as well.

Bottoms

Focus on finding the most flattering cut of jeans you can in a dark or black wash, a pair of polished shorts or a versatile skirt, and ankle skimming tailored wool pants. I’m still working on finding a few of these bottoms, but my jeans from Madewell look fantastic with my silk blouses, tees, and sweaters. I hope to add polished shorts and a navy or black skirt to my wardrobe since I’ve seen so many chic women wearing such simple basics this spring. Unfortunately, I haven’t spotted the perfect pair for me.

Dresses

I am a self-proclaimed dress girl and find dresses to be the easiest thing to wear. Because of my budget, I tend to look for dresses that are appropriate for work AND an exhibit opening at an art museum or a date. The wrap dress, invented by Diane von Furstenberg, is universally flattering, and you can’t go wrong with adding a little black dress (LBD) and a little white dress (LWD) to your closet as well. Everyone knows about the LBD (which can be dressed up by switching to bolder accessories such as a cuff, colored necklace, belt, etc.), but its compliment, the LWD, can also be a great option year-round. I own a knit off-white dress that I wear with an oversized grey cardigan, belt, and ankle boots in the fall, and short gladiator sandals in the summer.

Coats

Since coats and jackets are expensive, focus on purchasing classic styles first. The trench coat, tailored blazer, and casual jacket (I prefer a leather jacket, but an anorak can work here as well), will position you to be appropriately covered in casual, rainy, and formal settings. In addition to considering a classic style with classic details (avoid leather sleeves on that trench unless you can afford to buy a more basic one as well), make sure your first few coats are in neutral colors (navy, black, grey, camel, brown, and hunter green).

Shoes

Shoes are highly personal, but I think four styles generally suit any occasion. For professional settings, add a power flat or loafer, and a tan or black pump. The power flat is a great option for commuting or working in an environment where you are constantly on your feet. After you have considered professional footwear, add a casual flat (neutral-colored sandal or white, grey, or black sneaker) and a boot. Ask friends and confidants to help you decide if tall boots or ankle boots flatter your figure more.

Extras

Finally, the fun part! With all of these basics and neutrals, you will need to inject some personality into your adult wardrobe. Face-flattering sunglasses, a versatile bag, and signature accessories can help you complete any look. In terms of signature pieces, a watch, colorful scarf, meaningful jewelry, and makeup can help you personalize a classic outfit.

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A Review: Dior & I

Fashion

I watch a lot of documentaries, particularly when I am curious about new issues or subjects. Last Tuesday, I saw Frédéric Tcheng’s documentary, Dior & I. It’s probably the best fashion documentary I’ve ever seen.

Color, music, story, and character are the four elements that stood out to me. In other fashion documentaries I’ve seen, black and white were the prevailing colors. Perhaps it was the fact that this documentary covered a spring collection, but the footage was so crisp and captured the bold hues in a very invigorating way. In my opinion, fashion people tend to be very knowledgable about the other arts and the soundtrack in the documentary was engaging and purposefully used in a way that stirred emotions in the audience. From a sensory stand point, this film did not disappoint.

Appealing to my inner anthropologist/psychologist, Tcheng makes good use of storytelling and presents interesting character dynamics in the film. Dior & I showed not only designer Raf Simons’ personality as he develops his first haute couture collection for Dior, but it also highlighted the people he relies on the get the work done. Throughout the film, I felt everyone’s frustration, fear, passion, and joy. I learned that though the designer makes the final call, there are so many other key players sitting at the table. Additionally, Tcheng and his team interwove history with the present while educating the audience on Dior’s and Simons’ philosophies.

The only negative was that once the film ended, I wanted an encore!

I highly recommend this film for anyone who’s an artist or interested in working with artists. It will leave you feeling inspired. One of my favorite quotes from the film is “when you have a big stage, you step up”.

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Food for Thought

Career, Life

Dream-Big

Why do we allow our present to define our future?

It is so easy to feel trapped, stuck, limited by our current situations.

Over the weekend while driving to the beach, I was chatting about careers and fears with a friend. During our discussion, I realized that Martha Stewart, the well-known American media mogul and domestic diva, actually started her career working in finance on Wall Street. And not many people know this fact or care. She didn’t let her position as a stockbroker hinder her creative spark or confine her to one career path. Rather, she succeeded in a male-dominated field and switched careers when the time came. Yes, she was convicted of insider trading and paid the price, but she’s still known today for her domestic skills and success as a businesswoman.

This led me to think that I’m not bound to my current path forever. Nor do I have to allow my position to define me. I can be as creative, expressive, and analytical as I want, and that’s an amazing feeling.

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Recently on Instagram

Life

Life has gotten busy now that the weather is warming up. Last weekend, I ran my first race of 2015 with my husband (he placed 11 out of 800+). The weekends before have been spent entertaining family (and cooking for my inlaws!), going to brunch with friends, cleaning my wardrobe, and taking long walks around the neighborhood to see the blossoming flowers.

On Pinterest: I created a secret board to share with my tailor. My husband and I are finally using fabric we bought in Nigeria to design matching his-and-hers formalwear for a family event next month. We both love prints but prefer slim, modern silhouettes. Thankfully there are so many chic people on Pinterest that we didn’t have trouble finding inspiration.

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At the Cherry Blossom Festival: While walking around the Tidal Basin in Washington DC, I felt so lucky to see the cherry blossoms and the beautiful sky, but I also felt anxious to return to civilization uptown! The crowds were massive that day.cherryblossom

We bought tulips for our Easter table and they bloomed just in time. This was our first Easter as a married couple, with just the two of us. It was quite special and we had a feast!

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I enjoyed this exhibit at my local museum.  Man Ray, formerly known as Emmanuel Radnitzky, used mathematical formulas and models to inspire his artwork.

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Next month will be full of travel and family time. Many things to celebrate and remember.

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Would you ever wear a uniform to work?

Career, Fashion, Life

This week, the internet went ablaze after a NY-based art director wrote an essay in Harper’s Bazaar about why she wears the same thing to work every day. The author, Matilda Kahl, argued that by eliminating the choice, she has freed her mind to produce some of her most creative work. On weekends, she wears what she pleases. And the work uniform looks great, is professional, and helps her get out of the door sooner.

The timing of the article couldn’t have been better as many Americans are taking advantage of the warmer, spring weather to clean out their homes and their closets. Additionally, many bloggers/ bookworms are reading Marie Kondo’s book “The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” (1800+ Amazon reviews and counting!), and thinking about ways to simplify their lives.

Through books and articles I read, I’ve learned that there is a thing called decision fatigue. If you spend much of your time consciously making decisions, you risk tiring your brain before you need to make a critical decision. Many successful people wore/wear uniforms including Karl Lagerfeld, Steve Jobs, and Barak Obama. On the other end of the spectrum, through the fast fashion movement, people buy more than they need of poorly made, unflattering, ephemeral clothes. These garments end up in landfills or in overstuffed, decision-hampering closets.

Something, (a counter movement?), must be done! I get it.

However, as a fashionista who had to wear a uniform Monday – Friday during grade school, I couldn’t possibly imagine myself wearing the same outfit to work every. single. day. I need variety and love to dress to my mood. Also, I enjoy shopping (though if I had the skills, I’d create exactly what I have in mind). Clothing for me isn’t just a basic necessity; it’s my way of communicating to the world. Sure, the idea of a uniform works for some (my meticulous husband supports the idea). Instead of a uniform, I prefer to focus on a few areas to make dressing up for any occasion easier. That’s where the concept of a capsule wardrobe enters. I don’t have a complete capsule wardrobe, yet, but I’m working toward it by considering the factors below, learning more about my body, and exploring my fashion sensibilities.

1. Brands/Quality

For the most part, I stick with natural fibers (cotton, silk, wool, cashmere). Sure, this drives up the price, but I know that my coats, blouses, pants, and skirts will last and allow my skin to breathe. Once I find an item I like by a particular brand, I become a repeat buyer. For example, DVF makes amazing silk dresses and I pick up a new one for my birthday each year. I turn to Theory’s 95% wool blazers whenever I find them on sale and immediately have them tailored to fit my shape. By sticking with the same brands, I learn my size and learn the sale cycle! This helps my wallet and my decision-making process while shopping.

2. Colors and Shapes that Compliment my Skintone and Body

This is tough for me. I hated my broad shoulders growing up and have slowly grown to love them. Additionally, I’m starting to realize that just because something looks great on a hanger AND I can squeeze into it doesn’t mean I should buy it. Outfit photos and opinions from family/friends are helping me to learn which colors work best for me and which silhouettes actually flatter my figure. Through photography, I can see what I really look like from multiple angles. Blair Eadie of Atlantic-Pacific is a blogger who excels at consistently wearing  figure-flattering clothes.

3. Complimentary Colors

My shoes are mostly black or brown. I can easily group my clothes into “brown shoe” clothes (navy, red, green, camel, cream, purple) or “black shoe clothes” (white, grey, navy). This isn’t a steadfast rule, but thinking along these lines helps me to know that if I’m wearing blue wool pants and a cream silk blouse, I probably want to grab brown pumps to complete the look. Also, through online research, I’ve learned that I’m a cool. This means that I look better in jewel tones and in blue-based shades of warmer colors.

4. Regular Audits

Every 6 months or so, I take a look at what I have in my closet to assess what’s working and what’s not. What do I wear often? What needs repairing/ donating/ gifting/ replacing? I have a spreadsheet (I’m a management consultant after all) of my ideal capsule wardrobe, the status of those items (TBD or purchased), and the brands/sizes that I have found that work for me. I look at this spreadsheet before I go shopping, whether online or in-person.

By taking these steps, I know that my outfit combinations will flatter me and allow me to focus on other things.

What are your thoughts on the article? Do you currently (or plan to) wear a uniform to work everyday?

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What’s black and white…?

Fashion, Personal Style

This weekend as I cleaned out my closet, I realized that I’ve fallen into a rut. Perhaps because it’s been so dark and grey outside, I haven’t felt the urge to wear bold prints the way I normally do. Rather, I’ve been sticking to black, white, grey, and camel for months and months! Now that it’s warming up, I plan to slowly begin rotating my printed silk blouses, scarves, and dresses into my daily ensembles. Until then, this is my look.

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I got the camel cape years ago in college and it has stayed in great condition. It’s funny that capes are “in”  some years and “out” the next. Thankfully, mine is in a classic color, so I should be ok to keep this jacket long-term.

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I recently purchased these shoes and I have to say, I love wearing brogues everywhere. They’re more masculine than my typical shoe, but they are quite comfortable and make me feel more adventurous! I think there’s a bit of humor in wearing this shoe. Reminds me of my school uniform days back in elementary. Lately, I’ve been wearing these shoes with skinny pants, but I look forward to wearing them with skirts and girly dresses.

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My pants are by Vince, silk blouse is Iris & Ink via theoutnet.com, cape is by Helene Berman, and shoes are from Nordstrom. My sunglasses are Dior and necklace is Dogeared.

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While shooting this outfit, my husband and I had a little visitor! We have funny neighbors.

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