Category Archives: fashion

How England has changed me, part 72

I had never been to a “black tie” event before I moved to England. I now go to about a half dozen a year. And this has required a significant change in my wardrobe. These are all additions, tucked back in the depths of my wardrobe/closet for most of the year, but I need to have clothes available for such occasions. When I first moved here, I focussed on more traditional attire–I now have several ankle-length ball gowns. But I’m a tomboy, an engineer/physicist who wears trousers (BrE)/pants (AmE) [blame @lynneguist for my language-based notation] all of the time. So I’ve been searching for a way to be both comfortable and appropriately dressed at said occasions.

When I was in China earlier this year, I had the chance to drool around the Shanghai (Xintiandi) store of Shanghai Tang, one of the premiere Chinese fashion brands. I was in love. Interesting clothes, beautifully made, and distinctive compared to what I normally see when I try to shop for things to wear to fancy occasions. I bought a top, which was the single most expensive piece of clothing I have ever had and I hope you agree with me that it was worth it:

Black, of course. Just as in the photo.

Tonight it made its debut, at the black tie dinner I had to attend for work. I wore it slightly open at the top, with a sequined silky tank underneath and plain black trousers. I jazzed it up with chunky gold and semi-precious stone jewelry. I am not a super fashionista, but I have to admit that I felt special in this ensemble, and far more comfortable than I’ve ever been wearing a ball gown at a dinner thing. Shanghai Tang, you have my loyalty and given what I see in your online catalog, I’ll be back for more.

You can take the girls out of America…

but you can’t take the American out of the girls. I had been i-chatting with Kat this week and we realized that we both had some shopping to do on the weekend–she for shoes for her girls, and me for fall/winter clothes for work. So we made up a plan for her to come gather me, from the outskirts of my market town, and to go into town and do our shopping. I thus got to catch up with Kat in between our shopping missions, which was great because it had been ages since I’d seen her. The funny thing about friends made via blogs and Twitter and the like is that even though I had not seen her in a while, we were not exactly out of date. So hanging out is just fun, not about catching up with details. She also brought her lovely daughters, who are my adopted nieces.

Navigating the English shopping mall’s multi-story car park in Kat’s vehicle is an adventure in and of itself. She has a very brightly colored SUV brought over from America, which means it has the driver on the left (as it bloody well should be!) But this is England so the ticket machines to get into and out of the parking deck are on the right-hand side of the car. This means that I have a little job to do when sitting in the passenger seat, one that prevents Kat from having to crawl across or even around the car to deal with the ticket machines. And that challenge surmounted, we go on to attempt to park an American SUV in a car park optimized for tiny little VW Polos and the like. Amusement all around.

Having finished our shopping, we decided to go to McDonald’s for an early dinner. I know, I know, I already said you can’t take the American out of the girls. And her daughters are particularly big fans. We had intended to go in to eat, but the parking lot was inexplicably full. We thus decided to go through the drive-through and go back to my flat, which is about two blocks from McD’s. (And although I’ve in this strategically located flat since July, I had not been there even once yet, I swear!) And here’s where I become amused: at the McD’s drive-through here in England they did not have one of those microphone things into which you yell your order. No siree. They had two boys, standing outside in the pouring rain in fluorescent jackets, taking your order by walking up to your car window, asking what you wished for and then punching it into one of those little hand-held computers with a stylus. I for one was relieved, because I thought at first that as the passenger person on the right, I would have to relate the entire order into the microphone thingy myself, thus potentially making myself responsible if there was a slight cheeseburger disaster with one of Kat’s girls. In the end, we got back to my place after collecting all the food and the jerks got the kids’ cheeseburgers right and shorted us adults one of our packets of fries. Oh well. All in a fun day out being super American and all of that.

Unexpected Celebrity Sighting

I was walking in an English town today, wearing jeans and a red hoodie and carrying a very large cup of Starbucks coffee (i.e. looking as much the hapless American as is humanly possible) when I saw something up ahead. A police motorcycle, blue lights flashing, was waiting in a zebra crossing. I looked up the road and saw more blue flashing lights. Several more police. They started moving towards me. Then a fancy black car. Funny, it had a flag on top. I peered in the large car window (not even frosted–perfectly clear) and saw an elderly couple sitting there in the back seat. She had on quite the outfit, a peach hat and matching jacket. No, it couldn’t be… yes, yes it was.

I had accidentally stumbled on the Queen’s motorcade.

A few more cars, a few police, and it was over. And I was shellshocked. I had a stupid grin on my face for at least the next five minutes. The locals I spoke to later in the day were impressed, none of them had seen her in person before. (Contrary to popular belief, not all Brits actually know the royal family.) And yet there I was, minding my own business, walking down a random street being all American, blissfully ignorant of what the royals were up to. (I now know that there’s a website where you can find out where they are and what they’re doing.)

Of course, when I emailed my sister with the “you won’t believe what I just saw” news, her retort was almost as incredible:

I ran afoul of Obama’s motorcade in Seoul today. Good day for us.

Clickers, anyone?

England is pushing me back to the 80s. When I was in junior high and high school, it was that transformative time in women’s hair styles where big, tall curled and hair-sprayed bangs and the required associated implements, curling irons, were all the rage. At some point, the “must have” item in my adolescent world became the “clicker” or cordless curling iron. Called a “clicker” because it had fuel cartridges and an ignition mechanism that made a loud clicking sound, it was the thing that defined a girl as cool. I had to have one. I did have one. C’mon ladies, surely you remember?

Fast forward somewhere between 15 and 20 years and I’ve bought one again–that’s right, I have a brand new “clicker” cordless curling iron for my newly shorn tresses. The reason I needed such a device, of course, is the lack of electrical outlets in the bathrooms in the UK–coincidentally the only place in my flat where I have a large mirror, but in which I can’t have electrical tools for styling my hair. Unless I use the webcam on my computer in my living room for styling, I’m sunk and regular use of the webcam is just too silly to admit.

After chopping off my hair yesterday, I realised that at the new length I could do my favorite 40s movie star looks if I had some curling implement. Went to my local Boots and sure enough, the “clicker” is everywhere–available in 3 different sizes and refill fuel cartridges also available aplenty. I now wonder where the thing developed–was it really a portable hair convenience tool in the US, or did it grow out of necessity in the UK due to this strange electrical code that forbids curling irons in the bathroom? I’m sure I’ll never know. But I was sporting fabulous 40s hair at the work dinner I attended this evening, and I’ll be happily using my cordless “clicker” in my UK bathroom in weeks to come.

Health and Safety and School Uniforms

In the category of “so ridiculous I had to laugh” is this piece from the BBC: “Schools switching to clip-on ties.” It’s one of those things that makes you notice you’re not in Kansas any more: small children, male and female, wearing men’s ties with their school uniforms. Now apparently there is a concern about ties, “catching fire in science lessons, getting trapped in technology equipment or ties getting caught when pupils were running.” The British answer? Switch to clip-on ties instead of traditional knotted ties. Right. As opposed to just saying that ties are not a sensible part of a school uniform (or any uniform, really) and getting rid of them altogether. Added bonus: loss of individuality in the way the ties are knotted, which could be another one of those class signals that we Americans so easily miss. Another example of “health and safety” being used as an excuse for something else? Probably. A really silly thing for a kid to have to wear to school? For sure.

Some days, better than others

Managed to bend the frames of my favorite glasses last night. Can only sort of get them to sit right on my face again, might need to seek professional advice. Wearing one of my other pairs of glasses now; fortunately over the years I’ve learned that being a klutz (and one who occasionally does really, really stupid things like fall asleep while reading or watching tv) means that it’s not a good idea to have fewer than 2 pairs of glasses for when catastrophe strikes. Actually at the moment I have three pairs, which is great, although only one of those three has never been bent out of shape! Fortunately with time, patience and a bit of hot water, they can normally be fixed. Still working on it with this pair, and it’s a real shame because they really are my “Tina Fey glasses” — she has the same pair. Sigh.

youtube and the UK

I was at the gym tonight and I caught the tail end of the crazy video for Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” and was mesmerized… seriously, I totally blame Madonna for the ridiculous trend of women doing suggestive dances while wearing leotards in videos. And it’s really caught on over here, sigh. (Although Cheryl Cole’s bottom sets a new gold standard, ha ha ha.) After I got home I decided to find the video and watch the whole thing to see if I had gotten an odd impression by just seeing the end (where Beyonce and co. mime like they’re riding something and smacking their own bottoms) only to get the dreaded “We’re sorry, this video is not available in your country” message. I had forgotten about the war over music videos and youtube in the UK. Because, well, I spend so little of my free time watching pop videos online. But I was sure the music video was out there somewhere. Back to my search results, and four items down is the link to MTV and the video, which played just fine. So exactly how is the youtube ban helping? You can still see the video, just not on youtube. And the point of this is … ? In the end, although the song is catchy, I’m just not into the video, either in fashion or in dance. Or I’m just getting old and very uncool.