Vulnerability 101

Posted: December 4th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Clothing, Housewife Fashion Tips, Husbandry, Misc Neuroses, Style, Working World | 10 Comments »

We do more than drink wine in my book club. We also eat. And talk about our kids. And sure, there’s some book talk too.

Last time we met our conversation led to my friend Margot mentioning Brene Brown’s 2010 TED Talk, which she’d just seen on YouTube. It’s worth watching if you haven’t checked it out.

Margot was telling us how Brene’s research is centered around shame, vulnerability, and imperfection. If I’m getting this right, she says that being vulnerable—something a lot of people tend to think of as negative—actually allows you to make human connections. And it turns out that human connections are what bring us joy. A surprising, and very cool, cycle.

So I started a new freelance gig a few weeks back. (Hence my shameful blog neglect. Apologies if you’ve been forced to read a good book during my hiatus.) I’m doing some client relationship management for a creative agency in San Francisco. And even though I know a couple folks there, I’ve never worked with anyone on the team I’m on. So I’m in that mode where I’m hyper-aware of the first impressions I make. You know, sharpening my pencils and brushing my teeth even more than usual.

Now, creative workplaces present a special kind of fashion quandary. As the new freelancer you want to look professional and polished, but nearly everyone in the office has jeans on. Over-dressing is downright dorkish. Under-dressing can come off as cavalier—especially if you’re in a management role. So for my first day, I attempted to strike the right balance. As I left the house the girls and Mark gave me a thumbs up. I had on wool pants, boots, a white long-sleeved t-shirt, and a chunky necklace. As I dashed out the door I grabbed a cardigan.

As my first meeting started, the project manager launched into an overview of the work we’d be doing. She mentioned that Sam—another employee at the agency—had been invited to join us, but she wasn’t sure if he was going to make it.

About 10 minutes in, this Sam guy arrives. He slides into a seat at the conference table, smiles, and holds out his hand to introduce himself. He’s in a hoodie, but it’s probably cashmere. He’s got on jeans and some huge watch that’s sporty and probably pretty schmancy. He’s clearly clearly cracked the clothing code of the place, and for that alone I am humbled.

After a brief pause before launching back into our agenda I asked, “So, Sam, what do you do here?”

“Brand strategy,” he said brightly. And then he added more quietly, “And, I’m also the founder.”

Yes, boys and girls, I asked the president of the company I’m working at what he does. As if he was like, the Latte Boy or something.

By gum, I was off to a good start.

I got home later that afternoon feeling excited about my new gig. The agency folks were smart, the client was cutting edge. There were cute dogs and good snacks in the office.

The Husband was in the kitchen. He’d been working from home. He looked up from the sandwich he was assembling and said, “Hey! How was your meeting? Your sweater’s on inside-out.”

I looked down in a panic. Two bright white tags emerged from the waist of my chocolate brown cardigan. Ridiculous. Why do they even need those Care Instruction tags anyway? For God sakes, don’t people know how to manage wool at this point?

As Mark sliced his sandwich in two he said, “You’ll get the hang of this work thing soon, honey.”

I dashed to the bathroom mirror and twisted to see my back, hoping my hair covered the label at the top of the sweater. But OF COURSE IT DIDN’T. It was sticking out proudly just below my hairline.

I also saw that the exposed seams were jagged and thready-looking. I mean, Helen Keller would have noticed this sweater was on inside-out.

I could only hope that I distracted the meeting attendees from my madwoman fashion stylings by asking the president what he did at the company. I mean, if I was lucky one of my humiliating faux-pas might have overshadowed the other one.

In bed that night I whispered to Mark in the dark, “Do you think I should tell them I was recently struck by lightning? Maybe that could explain the sweater thing at least.”

Last weekend we went to a weird fun performance called Mummenschanz with Lily and her fam. In the endless concession line at intermission I stood behind a heavyset woman and her young daughter. As the three tones rang out indicating our break was ending—as was our hope of getting a snack—I noticed the mom in front of us had her long, tan cardigan on inside-out. I didn’t know her, but in that spinach-in-your-teeth way of the sisterhood of woman, I felt it was my duty to tap her on the arm and quietly point it out.

“Oh God,” she harrumphed, as she peeled her sweater off to turn it around. “Thank you.”

“Trust me,” I said as I took Kate’s hand to head back to our seats. “I’ve been there.”

What I really wanted to say was, “I too am seeking joy by making myself vulnerable! The clothing trick is only one of my moves.” But I thought there was a good chance she’d have no idea what I was talking about.


Get It in Writing

Posted: April 14th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Daddio, Holidays, Husbandry, Shopping, Style | 2 Comments »

You really should do something divine for me so I’ll send you a thank you note. Not because I need a favor or anything—though I’m not actively discouraging them—just because I got new stationery and it’s so damn fab-u-luss. My note card alone, without a word on it, should be all the thanks you’ll need.

I’ve been wanting to get my own stationery for about ever. And I don’t think of myself as indecisive. But every time I looked at all the options for fonts, colors, or even the damn paper liner for the envelopes, I’d get light-headed and woozy. I’d have to sit down and pour myself a bourbon to steady my nerves.

Add to that the size and shape of the card. Flat or folded? And the paper stock. I was flummoxed.

At one point I even enlisted my uber-stylish gay friend Larry to help me. No doubt he’d have strong opinions and excellent taste. We met at Gumps, a high-end department store that’s a San Francisco institution. But our field trip was fruitless. He flipped through the books and mocked half the designs. “Too Holly Hobbie.” “Too country club.” “I used something like that for my sweet sixteen party.”

And when the snooty saleswoman stepped away for a moment he whispered, “You can get this MUCH cheaper online.” So we left and went to lunch.

And I was sent back to square one. Stymied now by which website offered the best price, and left to fend for myself with my own inadequate straight-girl taste.

The thing is I’ve spent so many years working with companies on their branding that this kind of design decision is out-of-whack important to me. As if the recipients of my correspondence were some sort of customers with whom I was delivering an emotional experience that I wanted them to associate with me.

Absurd, yes. But I still couldn’t shake the thought that these cards would be a representation of me, albeit a small one. And I was gripped with the dismal realization that I had no idea who that ‘me’ was.

Perhaps other people don’t suffer identity crises when they buy note cards. At least, I hope not.

Or maybe Cranes is somehow in cahoots with the American Psychiatric Association. I mean, I don’t want to start some conspiracy theory or anything. I’m just saying it’s possible.

I watched one of those horrible fashion reality shows once where the husband of some poor sweat-pants-clad woman who’s altogether given up on herself sticks a team of fashionistas and a crew of hidden cameras on his wife for a week. And by the end of the montage of her myriad fashion faux-pas you find yourself screaming at the TV, “Could she at least COMB HER HAIR before picking up the kids from school?”

And then at a commercial you run into the bathroom and comb your own hair really quickly.

Anyway, one of the sniveling show hostesses said something about how people’s clothing choices tend to get stuck in the happiest periods of their lives. So, like, if your glory days were in the 80s, you still gravitate towards neon lime green FRANKIE SAY RELAX t-shirts when you’re out shopping.

I found this theory interesting. I do sometimes find myself reverting to a preppie fashion comfort zone. Sometimes I’ll look at a pair of Pepto-Bismal pink capri pants with royal blue clams embroidered on them and actually take them off the rack to the dressing room.

What’s scarier is half the time I go on to buy them.

And it doesn’t take years of therapy to know that this harkens back to my teen years. I don’t have any tattoos, but if I’d gotten one back then it would’ve probably been an alligator on my left breast or a ribbon belt of nautical flags around my waist. Thank God for my fear of needles.

So was high school the happiest time in my life? I had fun but, God, I hope not. I’ve been lucky to be blessed with lots of happiness. Hell, I was happy during both my pregnancies but have never considered buying elastic-waistband jeans while out shopping for a cute new outfit.

Anyway, when I’ve tried to come up with personalized note cards I kept finding myself reverting to that bad preppie juju. Yet I knew that a conservative navy blue monogram wasn’t what I was really looking for.

So thank God for Mark (once again), who deftly put an end to this whole quandary at Christmas. He researched old-world printers and found an exceptional authentic engraver in New York City. He even got the process started by working with an art director there to develop some initial designs. My gift allowed me to see the process through—coming up with whatever I liked.

Turns out I loved one of the typefaces she originally comped, and from there picking a color (orange) was easy. She matched the envelope papers to the font ink exactly, and in the matter of a few email exchanges and some samples sent via mail, I finally hammered out my personal stationery. In the end it seemed weirdly easy.

And it rocks.

Best of all, there isn’t a single whale, anchor, or martini glass on it anywhere.

A couple weeks ago I called my dad as if I was announcing I’d had a baby. “Guess what?” I gushed. “I got my new note cards today and I feel like the Duchess of Glam.”

“Ho ho ho!” he responded, the enthusiastic reaction reserved only for him and Santa. “Tell me!”

Dad, it turns out, takes his stationery VERY seriously. Since as far back as I can remember he was childishly excited about selecting letterhead for his law firm. He’d get the boxes from the printer and lift off the lids like a pirate opening a trunk of gold. He’d run his fingers over the raised engraving, remark on the heft of the paper, point out the watermark, then turn to five-year-old me asking, “So ho ho! Whaddaya think?”

To which I’d reply, “Can I get some graham crackers?”

I was perhaps the only eight-year-old to have her own letterhead as well. I had reams of the stuff in two colors—a pastel pink and a kinda minty green. The lettering was a darker shade of each color. My name and address was along the top of the paper, and on the envelopes too. I think I wrote a total of eight—maybe 12—letters (from the 200+ sheets I had), but Dad got a thrill out of the stuff.

I remember the year he ordered European-sized business cards. They were slimmer than standard ones, and extra long. “They don’t even fit in American wallets!” he declared triumphantly. Sorta like, fuck my clients of they can’t handle high style. If they wanted his cards on hand they could damn well buy European wallets.

So then, Dad was riveted by the news of this gift from Mark. (As if he needed more reason to adore his youngest son-in-law.)

“Send me a caaahd!” he urged in his Kennedyesque New England accent.

Dad is also a fountain pen collector. He has a crazy vast collection, and if you’re ever suffering from insomnia he can lecture you on the historical background and artistic merits of each one. (I’m sure he’d be happy to do this via phone.) He aims to “keep the aht of lettah writing alive.”

“And what kind of pen are you using with this new stationery?” he asked with reverence.

“Uh, Bic? Or… felt tip?” I stammered lamely.

“Now then,” he said in his we’ll-sort-this-out lawyerly fashion. “You send a me note cahd and I’ll find some pens—and I’ve got some wonderful inks—a brown Italian one that’s really first-rate. A real first-class ink. The cahds are orange? The brown could look quite smaht with them. Trust me.”

Within days four pens arrived in the mail. And once he got a copy of the card and was able to creative-direct an ink choice, a package with inks arrived too.

So then, here I am, exceptionally well-poised to send out a note. I’ve got the stationery, I’ve got the pen. I’ve even got some designer brown ink that’s apparently worthy of kings.

And I’ve got two great men in my life to thank for making me look so good. I really should send them both notes.