Meerkats and Vintage Clothing

I was woken up at around six a.m. this morning to a National Geographic video discussing meerkats’ mating habits. If that isn’t a fantastic alarm clock, I don’t know what is.

Nothing makes me ready to greet the day than a researcher narrating how male meerkats choose their mate.

However, it is an upgrade over screaming, do I’ll take it.

On a completely different note, today Pippa and I went into the city to go shopping and I tried out some vintage clothing I haven’t gotten a chance to wear yet. Everything I’m wearing is at least forty years old.

I’m still not so sure how I feel about having paired a lacy top with the skirt, and my hair could definitely be improved upon as you can’t see it in te shot.

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French Grandmothers, Vintage Clothing, and Me

There has been much excitement in our house this evening.

First, my father is spending more time winning than losing when playing FIFA, leading to a drastic decrease in the amount of cursing coming from the family room. (Darling Pippa, we did a fantastic job with his Christmas present this year.)

But mostly it’s because I have new–or should I say old–clothes, and I’ve been enthustiastically been playing dress-up for hours.

It would be one thing to just post a picture of the clothes and shout, “Hey! Look! I have more fancy vintage! And this is a terrible iPhone picture of me wearing it!” But everything is so much more exciting when the back-story gets told, so here is the very long-winded explanation:

My mémé, grand-tantes, and grandmémé are/were the sorts of women who wear custom clothes made in Paris and London and dress for dinner. They believe in elegance, class, and criticizing, in French, seven-year-olds who can’t scoop up their peas without getting a few on the tablecloth. Tee-shirts belonging to thirteen-year-old must be steamed if they get wrinkly in a duffel bag, and you’d have to be insane to think about so much as going to the bathroom before making your bed. They can also tell from over twenty feet whether or not you’ve used hospital corners. (Not that I’ve leaned any of this from experience, of course) chafes at the rigidity, but I enjoy it immensely. They amuse me and annoy me, but they’re like no one else I’ve ever met, and I love them dearly for it.

Their wardrobes are amazing–a wonderful collection of fashion from the 1920s onward. There are woolen coats from the forties, sleek cocktail dresses from the sixties, and long Laura Ashley skirts from the eighties. There are more clip-on earrings than you can imagine and one of my grand-tantes, Yvette (Amusingly, all of the women are either Yvette, Victoire, or Camilla, which leads to much confusion, though this generation seems to have thankfully broken from that tradition), will happily supply you with the story of how every item of her outfit was selected, if you so much as mention liking her shoes. (I can tell you about most of her pairs of black pants, thanks to an off-hand comment I made three years ago while we were sailing. It was a fascinating forty-five minutes, I assure you.)

And occasionally, I get given some of their clothing. When I was younger, there were children’s clothes: Merimekko frocks and dresses with matching bows.

Poor Natasha. Pippa was overenthusiastic about that cat when she was little. To be fair, though, I was probably the one who directed her to hold the cat and pose for this picture.

Anyone who has ever been forced to wear big bows like these, will surely be able to commiserate over how much they would tug at your hair, often ripping it out, but still manage to slip down to your ears at least twice during the meal.

Pippa, our cousins, and I are professionals at amusing ourselves at parties intended for adults. At this one, I believe we hid under a table and tried to decide who was wearing the best shoes. Well, that, and making funny faces at the photographer.

And, of course, who doesn’t let their six-year-old wear a hat from the twenties, fur, and a sixties cocktail dress, pinned up so that it won’t drag on the ground?

Isn't she glamourous?

It’s odd what you often remember from events. I’m quite forgetful when it comes to food, but I will remember the clothes. I can tell you in great detail what it felt like to wear that pink dress in the first photograph, just how stiff the fabric was, starched so profusely so that it would be impossible for me to wrinkle during the car ride, and the way that the back of the dress stood straight up on its own when I sat.

Cecelia is forever mentioning the way that I can recall what other people were wearing, and I have to consciously remind myself not mention the last time somebody was wearing something, so that I don’t make them uncomfortable.

But back to my mother’s side of the family and clothing.

Around the time that I was fourteen, I really started to appreciate fashion. It was interesting and exciting and not something designed for kids’ dress-up parties or boring events.

Old clothing has stories. Dresses get worn to dinners where husbands are met or while traveling across Greece to study architecture. Maybe it was what one of them was wearing when World War II ended or when the USA won the hockey gold metal in the 1980 Olympics. When I put on some of their clothing, I feel like like I’m becoming part of a history that doesn’t just begin and end with traveling from a factory to a store to my dresser.

Unfortunately, I am the smallest female, both in height and in width. My mémé is nearly six feet, and an eight-inch height difference is quite a bit. But I’m handy with a sewing kit or–in a pinch–safety pins, so I’d happily wear whatever was given to me.

Perhaps whatever is a bit of a strong word in this case, as there is a puce green velvet blazer, which I have no idea how to wear. And my mother also refuses to let me leave the house if it looks like I’m wearing a “costume,” a rule that I am forever trying to disobey.

I mean, I understand that wearing a calico prairie-style dress from the seventies isn’t really grocery shopping attire and wearing a white Puritan-style bonnet with it makes me look like the Amish met Laura Ingalls Wilder, but it’s not like I’m baring my midrift or wearing a lime green wig (both ideas I had for school outfits when I was ten). And maybe wearing a felt hat to babysit a six-year-old is a little much as well.

But isn’t clothing about having fun? I love wearing flannel nightgowns that come up to my chin and down to my ankles or gingham matching pajamas to bed and skirts from the fifties to school!

Sadly, I have heard, “You are not leaving the house until you look normal,” too many times to count, and Pippa loves laughing at me when I decide to pretend that it’s a different decade. And when I am intentionally dressing up for an event, I tend to go overboard with trying to make things look period (cue 1940s victory rolls for a dance marathon that took about two hours to perfect.) Then, of course, there was the theme day in middle school when I decided that it would be hilarious to dress up like the 1880s instead of the 1980s, because “no one specified what century!” and everyone laughed at me for wearing petticoats I had fashioned out of white eyelet peasant skirts.

So when my mother announced that she had some new clothing for me from her latest trip down south, I practically squealed. And by practically squealed, I mean that I got very excited. I prefer to leave squealing to pigs and easily excited Justin Beiber fans (I get the feeling that they’d be the squealing type).

Of course, my mémé had not only carefully re-ironed everything after it had come back from the cleaners, but had also packed it with tissue paper in sealed bags, so as to keep it as neat as possible.

I now have the most amazing cream colored white blouse, with beautiful lace detailing, and a long flowered dress with a Peter Pan collar and a sash. Plus, my mémé is also sending two coats from the forties and another hat! I’m a very, very, very happy girl. My mother promised that I could finally get some of my other vintage skirts taken in, as most of them are around a size six and I’m a double zero, so my wardrobe will be expanding even more!

I wanted to get proper photographs of all of the outfits I put together, but both digital cameras were dead. Instead, enjoy a terrible picture my Dad took with my iPhone. You can’t see any of the detailing on the blouse, the interesting waist on the skirt, or my shoes, but it’s better than nothing. You can also tell that I am busy trying to give my father instructions while he’s taking the picture, hence the strange expression.

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As always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.

In Which Ella Apparently Belongs on SNL

After spending the day out with Eliza, I returned home only to have my dad announce that I look like Father Guido Sarducci.

The hat is similar, I guess, but other than that, I don’t see it.

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http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/313497/june-23-2010/prophet-glenn-beck—father-guido-sarducci

I’m not sure whether I should be amused or offended.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! I hope that you had as great a day as I had!

(Even if I do think it’s a ridiculous holiday.)

I also hang out at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, where I posted some very nerdy and funny valentines today.

In Which Ella Gets Her Haircut

This is the second time within two weeks that WordPress has saved a post as a draft instead of posting it. I’m not sure what’s happening, but even if this appears on the blog over twelve hours too late, it’s better than if it disappeared forever.

I am notoriously indecisive when it comes to getting my hair cut.

My first impulse is to cut it off to an absurdly short length, simply because I love the sound of scissors snipping hair, but reality quickly sets in, and I remember how bad my hair looks when it gets any shorter than my jaw. Of course, this is not to say that I have cut my hair that short before–I haven’t had it that short since I was around seven–but I still feel that urge. However, common sense grows as you get older, and the allure of a sharp pair of shears is slowly fading.

Now, I just plop down into the chair and announce that I have no idea what to do. It is not a very helpful set of instructions, but with fine and incredibly thin hair like mine, the limits of what will actually look good do create a rather strict set of confines. Not too long or short, parted on the side, some sort of bangs, and lots of layers. So we set off into the world of trying not to make Ella look stringy haired. Thankfully, with a good hair-dresser like mine, it always turns out well, and I’m set for the next four months. This time I have a proper fringe after three years of side bangs, and my constant war with the hair dryer and round brush is about to begin.

You can also find me collecting lovely images and words on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/. I’d love for you to follow me on my trek into the wilds of tumblr.

Young Ella and the Unfortunate Outfit

I recently discovered this picture of me from elementary school.

And I have to wonder, why on earth did I think that this was a good idea? My mother’s sneakers, my soccer socks and shorts, various bizarre necklaces, a vintage negligee*, pink feather boa, literal rose-tinted glasses, and blue bow clip. I have memories of actually wearing this to school and running around at recess trying not to trip over the toes of the too big shoes.

Though I must admit that as crazy as this outfit was, I’m very blessed to have parents who were okay with me wearing it out of the house. It was rare that I was ever constricted creatively, and it’s always fun to look back at the insane things I managed to get myself into.

*Thanks to my grandmother and great-grandmother, I have a lot of (very conservative–we’re talking ones that go down to your toes) negligees from the early twentieth century. They make excellent wall art or fit wonderfully in Pippa’s closet where I occasionally drag them out and wonder what to do with them. I have determined that whatever I did in that photograph is not a good look.

In Which Ella Has a Costume Change

Above ground again, I started walking. I like the city. It’s near impossible to get lost with its even grid of numbered streets and avenues, so I headed north towards the nearest park. And as I walked I became more and more aware of just how awful of an outfit choice I had made. Silk, as it turns out, is not the most breathable material, no matter how thin it is, and when it’s over eighty degrees, wearing a three-quarter length sleeved silk blouse, jeans, and cowboy boots is a spectacularly poor idea.

This is what my shirt looked like:

So I marched myself north, running straight through the university campus, past dogs and their owners, construction sites, and nannies speaking to each other rapidly in foreign languages while the kids in their strollers hugged stuffed animals and blankets. I listened to the determined smacking of my boots against the pavement and caught snippets of people’s conversations, trying to imagine what their stories were. The girl on the cellphone had to be a student. She had a large backpack on her back and was walking too purposefully to be a tourist. Sure enough, I saw her open a university building and walk into the lobby as I passed. One point for Ella.

I began to search for a clothing store to buy a different shirt. I have way too many clothes, but another tee shirt wouldn’t hurt. Something white or black would be nice. They match everything, and I wear all of my black or white shirts to death already. But by the point I had determined what I was going to buy, I was nearly at the park, and turning around to head to the more interesting stores and boutiques would take quite a while, so I settled for the American Eagle.

Walking into the really large chain store in the city is never a pleasant experience. It’s always somewhat chaotic and loud, even when there aren’t loads of people inside. The space is big, there’s music playing, encouraging you to buy more, more, more, and salespeople everywhere with little black headsets. And because it was two p.m. on a Tuesday, it was just me, a Japanese family, a large group of German teenagers, and absolutely no black or white tee shirts. I mean, they had black or white tee shirts with giant eagles and words printed on them, but no nice, plain tee shirts in those colors.

I have a strict rule about clothes that tell everyone where you bought them. It goes like this: Don’t wear it. The only reason why they print the store’s logo on it is so that everyone knows the store where you bought and can guess how much it cost, thereby determining your coolness factor.

So I picked up a grey-blue shirt without any offending eagles, designs, or text and purchased it, ducking into a Wendy’s to change. But I still had hours and hours to kill before the book launch, so I wandered over to the park and sat down to finish The Help.

I’ve been up for eighteen hours now, and I am falling asleep. This will be finished tomorrow.

You can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if, you know, you’re into me rebloging pictures of pretty houses and clothes, modern art, quotes from books, poetry, cats, and the occasional tv or movie related .gif. Also, the layout has a particularly pleasing shade of green at the top. You should click on the link just to assess the quality of the color for yourself. I’d love to hear what you think of it.

Oscar Night

Tonight, in an attempt to run away from all that is awful and scary, I will be at Audrey’s house, watching the Oscars. I’m bringing sparkling cider and we’re going eat Chinese food, because we’re pretty classy people. (I am hopeful that the combination won’t be comparable to the time that I mixed falafel mix with pink lemonade.) I’ve got Oscar predictions sheets printed out and ready to go. I’m even wearing a dress (not a fancy one, though) and some silvery blue eyeshadow on to match the navy material to get into the glamour spirit. I can barely contain my excitement!

On the Freezing Cold, Godmothers, Sun Dresses, and Chocolate Frappes

Today, I headed into the City with my mother to meet up with my godmother and her daughter, Isla, to spend the morning shopping, before having lunch at a restaurant specializing in chocolate.

It snowed last night, so when we got up this morning, we had to shovel out, before driving to the only train station in town that’s open on holidays and weekends. We got there, and we were standing on the platform, staring at the train waiting on the other tracks until someone told us that the trains were running on the opposite sides of the tracks today. Then, we had to run lickity-split up three flights of stairs through the glass overpass and back down the other set of stairs. Normally, I would have required five minutes to inch my way up and down the stairs and God knows how long across the overpass, but I was moving too quickly to even think about the height. Skidding our way onto the train, we collapsed into our seats, and endured a train ride riddled with delays and passenger confusion at every stop.

We hopped on the subway and headed downtown to spend some shopping before meeting up with my godmother. I insisted upon dragging my mother into my second-favorite independent book store (after Politics and Prose, of course). She kept insisting that she had never been there before, until we walked in. Living with my dad means that you will spend lots of time in bookstores, pouring over history books and getting antsy after it’s been an hour and a half, and he’s showing no sign of leaving. We bought Pippa some gifts for a care package and a cookbook, because cookbooks and do-hickeys are the sorts of things you buy when you go book shopping with my mother. I got happily lost in the new books and memoirs sections because that’s what you buy when you go book shopping with me.

We braved the terrible cold and mighty wind to walk over to agnès b where I fell in love with a million blazers that I most certainly did not need, but most certainly wanted. After meeting up with my godmother and Isla, we went to Free People, which is a store quite firmly on my list of places-where-I-walk-in-and-want-everything-in-sight. I milled around and wondering, for the millionth time, how do people come up with so many amazing designs? (I’m always wondering when and what will happen when all the creative ideas in the world will run out, when every idea will all be used up and already done, and they’ll be nothing else to find. I don’t expect that it will ever happen, but it’s a thought that keeps me going when I can’t sleep, and I’ve exhausted nearly every self-conversation topic in the book.)

My mother ended up getting me a bunch of things for my birthday. . .which is in late May. Though to be fair, a majority of the clothes were summer and spring oriented. I’m a very, very happy camper. My favorite piece that my mother bought me was this dress:

I can't wait to walk around barefoot at my beach house in this dress with my straw hat on my head.

I love dresses with low backs like this.

Then, my godmother surprised me by buying me the other dress that I really wanted. I still can’t believe my windfall. It’s just lovely. Lovely, lovely, lovely. Sun dresses are such the best, and I love them so so so much. Like big smiles and laugher much. This is what that dress looks like:

My love of eyelet knows no bounds.

I love the corset detail on the back.

Today was one of those days where shopping makes me feel beautiful and charming and attractive. Everything I put on fit, and I liked nearly everything that I brought into the dressing room. My godmother found the best pair of cargo pants (and I am not normally a fan of cargo pants) that fit me really well. Among other things, I now have another long-sleeved purple shirt. God, I love purple. The saleslady wrapped it all up and put it in the neatest bag. I swear, all of my favorite clothing stores have developed bags that I want to reuse again and again and again. I mean, look at it:

It just begs to carry home groceries and the like.

Lunch was amazing. The restaurant we went to is, essentially, a shrine to chocolate. There are pipes on the ceiling that are actually pumping chocolate, and right when you walk in, you see these giant vats, stirring gallons and gallons of chocolate. And the smell just hits you like…uh…a bulldozer carrying all things good and wonderful. The food is wonderful, the waffle fries are dusted with cocoa (and other spices), and every time I read the dessert menu my brain melts a little, and I feel tempted to order anything and everything on it. (Of course, the little voice of anorexia kicks in pretty quickly, and I start estimating the number of calories in whatever I’ve picked out and the number of calories I’ve burned by walking around.)

My godmother and I both had fish tacos, and Isla and my mom both had a B.L.A.T. (a B.L.T. with avocado). I really, really wanted to order for one of them and say, ” I’ll have the splat, I mean blat, please!” but I didn’t, because I’m seventeen now and mature (about three-quarters of the time). And the food was really, really good. There was mango in my taco, and for some inexplicable, yet awesome, reason, my mom gave me all of her waffle fries. I ate one and the rest are hanging out in the fridge in a doggy bag for when I feel less like a tub of jelly.

But while the food-food portion of the meal was excellent, the dessert portion was miles and miles better. I had a combo that came on the cutest tiny cake stand dusted with powdered sugar that had a little chocolate cake with a red raspberry heart, a shot glass with a chocolate frappe and loads of whipped cream, and a tiny saucer with vanilla bourbon ice cream with crêpe flakes. And I did a pretty good job of eating half of it and enjoying it, too.

While I really had to fight against the anxiety over all the calories that I was consuming and the worry that no one would like the restaurant that I picked, I managed to make it through the meal unscathed. I took lots of deep breaths, counted by threes to ninety-nine and negative ninety-nine, and did various mudras under the table. It was hard work not to talk about the nutritional value of the food, if I looked too fat, or if everyone was having a good time every five seconds, but I saved all of those concerns for therapy this afternoon. I consider that a job quite well done.

In other news, I have been asked to give the Senior Sermon at my Episcopal Church. I’m very, very excited and nervous, but mostly excited.