Fashion Fridays: To Mix or Not To Mix Neutrals

Thank you to ALL of you who answered the call for new Fashion Friday topics; I’ve got enough material to last two months, YAY!

This question came in a few weeks ago and is one I’ve confronted myself:  What are matching guidelines? I was always taught not to wear black with brown, brown with gray, blue with black – but I see all of these things regularly and they (usually?) look good.

There are five basic neutrals (all of which you should have in your career wardrobe): ivory/white, gray (everything from dove to charcoal),  black, navy, and brown (this is the messiest one to manage – from tan to taupe to chocolate).

Let’s tackle the easiest two first:  gray and ivory.  You can literally match any color, including any neutral, with these two neutrals.  I’m particularly fond of the gray/black or gray/navy combo.  It always reads super sophisticated.  Also, most women look universally good in navy and yet, of all the neutrals, tend to have it in their closets the least.  If you’ve wondered if you can mix neutrals with other neutrals, these two shades should put that worry to rest.

Are you dying over the gorgeous examples below that mix ALL these neutrals?  This dove gray cardigan paired with a black belt, white button down and navy pencil skirt?!?!  Then the buttoned up military inspired navy blouse with ivory pencil skirt and taupe accessories – mercy, it’s just perfection.

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Next we’ll tackle black.  I personally don’t love to pair navy with black, some folks do, because all too often the shades are so close that it just looks like you grabbed the wrong jacket when you were getting dressed in the dark.  If it’s done intentionally in something like a cocktail dress (I’ve seen pretty pairings of midnight blue and black), then it’s easier to manage, but I don’t do it in separates.

My theory on black with other neutrals is contrast.  If you can find a lighter shade neutral to pair your black piece with, so there’s a marked contrast between the shades, or even break it up with a bright color (like this green blouse breaking up the black jacket with taupe trouser), then that’s the best way to mix black with other neutrals.

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Then we get to our pesky friend brown.  Let me admit to a predisposition to dislike brown.  I’ve never worn it much.  Tan/khaki can come off bland and uninspired.  Middle brown shades can read badly on an assortment of skin tones.  Darker browns like cocoa are better but somehow hard to pull together in an outfit for me personally.

You see examples of way to mix browns and blacks above – I emphasized contrast.  With this color, so much depends on the shade that works for you.  It’s less important in bottoms, but it’s critical if you’re dressing your top half.  Brown and black, in my humble opinion, is VERY shade dependent.  If you’re pairing very dark brown with black you run into the same problem you do with navy.  Yet I think taupe and navy or black combinations are incredibly sophisticated as are even lighter shades of brown paired with black.

But as these gorgeous ensembles illustrate, brown does work with virtually every other neutral if the shade is right (think this gorgeous caramel and navy dress, or using an animal print to bring a brown and black outfit together).

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What say you?  Sound off?  How do you (or do you) pair neutrals?

The Arena and The Sniper

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Two things happened yesterday.

I read this:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Excerpt from President Theodore Roosevelt’s speech “Citizenship In A Republic,” delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on April 23, 1910

And I saw American Sniper with Bray.

This is what hit me at my deepest core:  You Are Too Comfortable.

I have relied on perfectionism being my enemy of progress.  But I believe now it’s really comfort that I am battling.

We make a nice living and live in a comfortable house and raise comfortable kids and go to church on Sundays and eat out on Friday nights.

I want to live braver than that.

I want to make bolder decisions that may result in folks criticizing the hell out of me or in epic failures, but at least I’ll be actually moving at a great clip toward progress with enthusiasm and passion and devotion.

Comfort is sitting in the pot that slowly gets warmer and warmer until you’ve ended up boiled alive because you never risked jumping out.

American Sniper was hard to watch last night, but what I saw there was this:  an unwavering commitment by the hero to follow what he believed in.  It doesn’t matter if you believe in what he believed in.  He believed in it, and he followed it tirelessly until the very end.

We care too much about what everyone else will say.  I have two friends that I talk to regularly, and we often begin our conversations with, “well people will think I’m crazy.”  The good thing about these friends is they go ahead and take the bold step even with crazy faces staring back at them.

Don’t you love the end of that quote?  Who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Don’t you want that?  To at least not to be left at the end with neither victory or defeat? Wouldn’t you rather fail while daring greatly ? I would.  And I’m drawing a line in the sand.  I will consciously evaluate decisions against the backdrop of comfort, and I will not let my personal ease or people’s opinion be the determining factor in whether I follow the bold trail God is blazing for me.

 

Art: The Battle of the First June, by Philippe-Jacques de Loutherbourg, 1795

Accommodating Change

I have been a lawyer now for over 16 years.

Thankfully, I experienced constant employment during that period although twice I wondered if that would be the case.  I have worked for four employers and have been in my last position for two years.

Why the employment history?  Well, during all 16+ of those years I have had an office.  You know, the kind with walls where you hang your overpriced framed diplomas and talk loudly on the speaker phone because you can shut the door.

Until yesterday.

That’s right.  No walls.  No doors.  Just open air all around the entire floor for me and my colleagues.

Holy crapoly.  (You know my colleagues are saying that even louder.  See my penchant for speaking loudly on conference calls noted above.)

Since this is a post on what is typically “Leadership Tuesday,” maybe I shouldn’t be so honest about the fact that I needed a brown paper bag when I saw the little cubby I would be sharing with a co-worker for five months until our permanent digs are ready (which will also be wall-less, but at least my wall-less space won’t be shared).  I was one of the first to arrive, so as I unpacked my little moving crates, I could see people’s faces as they walked in and surveyed our very new working environment.  By the time full-scale panic set in for the people in my little area, I started passing out hugs instead of paper bags (I only temporarily rose to the occasion).

Interestingly, we were watching Pollyanna in our house.  It takes us about three nights to make it through the movie, so when I arrived home last night, Day 1 of my new office down, we were in the thick of the glad game.  Do you know classic Haley Mills Pollyanna?  Oh, you must watch it.  I cry at the end every time.  In the movie, Pollyanna has had a hard life but her father taught her the glad game.  That no matter how hard the circumstance, you find something to be glad about.

Well, that Pollyanna knew something about successful leadership.  All the research actually bears this simple principle out: optimists lead well.  And change takes some serious optimism.  Whether you are leading the change, and casting your vision for the potential on the other side of working through the change, or whether you being caught up in the change, and engaging others to keep moving even when the change is remarkably unsettling, it is critical to keep a positive outlook and even a sense of humor.

If you are accommodating change in your life, then channel your inner Pollyanna (it’s there somewhere) and play the glad game.  Write it down.  Canonize the good because that internal voice will hound you with the bad if you’re not careful.  So here’s my glad game list from yesterday – not epically visionary for the most part, but glad nonetheless:

1.  I’m glad for the awesome new bathrooms.  Well, more specifically the toilets.  Y’all, don’t laugh, this is serious business.  There are two kinds of toilets: the kinds with handles you have to flush, icky germs, and the kinds that automatically flush and inadvertently flush too early and you get pee-pee water on your bottom.  C’mon, let’s be honest.  It’s happened to you, right?  Just nod your head diplomatically in either event.  But THESE toilets, well you just wave your hand over this sensor and then they flush.  Revolutionary in public bathrooms!  No icky germs and no early flush spray!

2.  I’m glad for my girlfriends.  I have some precious girlfriends at my work.  Friends like I’ve never had at any other job before.  Girls I’m excited to go to lunch with or moon over the cupcake shop together (and yes, I’m glad there’s a yummy cupcake shop – glad and sad simultaneously).  Girls I’m going to take a Pilates reformer class with because we like each other enough to show our uncoordinated, less than perfect self.  I love that we can just pop up and see each other and say, “hey, let’s run up the stairs for a cup of coffee.”  What a gift.

3.  I’m glad for being shaken out of my comfort zone.  Sixteen years in an office has been nice.  I am SAD my walls are gone.  But the people casting vision for the new campus (which is really beautiful, for which I’m also glad) designed it for the next generation.  To build bridges and increase collaboration.  I think there are going to obstacles in the legal world, but I also saw today that I did in fact bump into more people and ones that it’s good for me to bump into.  Even if it is hard, it will stretch me and that’s where growth comes, right?  From the stretching.  Moving into the learning zone as the authors of How Remarkable Women Lead put it for leaders.  Out of the comfort zone and into the learning zone.

So take a deep breath, fill that glass half full, and begin accommodating changes hurling toward you this New Year!

Fashion Fridays: The Leggings Debate

When’s the last time you saw this?

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This afternoon probably, right?

I mean not at the office.  (Hopefully.)  But you saw it somewhere else this week.  At the airport or the grocery store or the birthday party or the movies.  It’s sort of everywhere.

So what’s the verdict on leggings?

This might be the point where I say all views expressed here are my own and not necessarily reflective of the most edgy fashion advice in the marketplace. I’m not 20 and I live in Texas and I have a career at an oil company – not exactly the hallmarks of cutting edge fashion.  But I do think I have a good sense about sense.  That’s right, a little common sense in a fashion marketplace that seems to be losing most common sense.

However, I don’t wear leggings and would love to master them because without them, as I’ve mentioned, wearing riding boots over my jeans give me elephant knees.  Here are the rules I have gathered based on my market research:

1.     Leggings are NOT pants.  If the occasion calls for trousers do not substitute leggings/jeggings/or any other eggings.  This includes anything work related if you have a desk career and are ambitious (in the best way).

2.     Cover your rear.  Y’all, there is nothing that bugs me (and certain of my friends) more than seeing someone wearing leggings with a shirt that stops at her waist.  Uh-uh.  No sirrie bob.  Cover your rear.  It may be a sweater or a long tee or a blazer but cover that up.  (See rule 1, leggings are not pants!)

3.     Test drive fabrics.  Leggings intentionally cling to you.  You may not have one spot of cellulite in which case you don’t need super heavy duty fabric but a lot of us, me chief among us, do have it.  And you can see that stuff right through leggings if you don’t test drive fabrics and materials.

4.     Don’t buy cheap.  Not only does the fabric often come too thin (see rule 3), but it doesn’t wear well, it fades or pills, and it cheapens your outfit.  Not to mention, all too often cheap comes in an assortment of bad patterns.  Please avoid bad patterns on your legs.  There’s WAY too many out there.

If you’re going to do leggings, here’s some great ways to do it:

The jegging with oversized top and boot. 

Perfect for running the kids to a party on Saturday or for meeting a girlfriend for shopping.  And think of colored denim when you’re investigating jegging options – a great way to combine several fun trends.

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My girlfriend recommends Jag Jeggings from Nordstrom’s.  Gap has an assortment, and they have them in black as well as denim.  From Anthropologie (for the budgetless among you) to Express, you can find a panoply of options just be willing to make returns if you buy on line.

Winter cozy.

Combine a patterned sweater and oversized scarfs or layers to make your outfit downright huggable.  For those of you in the great north, this look could work for you all the way til April.  For us Houstonians, we basically have one more month of this – by rodeo we’ll be done til next November.

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Sophisticated chic.

The best way to do this is with a gorgeous blazer.  Dress it up further with great accessories like oversized pearls.  (Are you dying for that gorgeous orange jacket?  I can’t find it!)

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The legging option with footwear other than a boot.

From chic flat to sophisticated pump – the legging can be paired with something other than a riding boot though that’s the look dominating the fashion field.

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So tell me, what’s your take on the legging?  Do you wear them?  What’s your favorite brand and way to keep them sophisticated?

When You Win An Award

A couple of weeks ago, this crazy thing happened.

This lady I’ve never met contacted me and told me I’d won an award I didn’t know about.  It turns out someone had nominated me, and I had been selected, as one of the 50 Most Influential Women in Houston for 2014.

My heart stopped momentarily and my stomach did a complete flip.  Because that made absolutely no sense whatsoever.

Then I may have running screaming down the hallway to tell my co-worker, and I may have even danced a little jig in front of my boss’ boss.  (Is that how you type that?  Because it’s not boss’s boss, but it looks wrong the other way.  Sheesh.  Rabbit trail.)

I got details about the awards celebration and the magazine and the deadline for headshots and bios and what not.  I called my husband with the news who was so impressed that in response to my yelping he replied, “what rank were you?”  When I noted it was just a compilation of the top 50 women rather than a ranking he pressed, “well, don’t you want to know your rank?”  (This is why God brought us together.  My husband is completely unfazed.  And that is really good for me.  And my kids still won’t eat their spinach so clearly not much influence there…)

The awards celebration and press release and all that craziness happened this Sunday.  And there are a lot of things that have historically happened when God is gracious enough to open a door like this for me.  I’d get sort of full of myself, wow, look at me, this is pretty dadgum impressive if you ask me, umm-hmm.  That’s the God’s honest truth.  I used to think these things made me awesome.  I also used to think the absence of these things made me not so awesome.  I would also do a lot of comparing.  I’d look around at the other people in whatever award mix or recognition group and see some real or perceived skill or talent they possessed that I did not.

So I stopped.

Not cold turkey.  And not perfectly.  I still looked around at the women on Sunday and nearly fell out.  Heck, my friends and co-workers who came to cheer me on could have been honored too!  But my worth does not come from whether or not I pick up another killer award this year.  Nor does it come from being completely unrecognized in any given year.

There’s this wonderful hymn I grew up hearing my grandparents sing.  The chorus says, On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.  All other ground is sinking sand.

That’s the truth.  Everything else is completely unpredictable.  Whether or not you’ll be deemed the best or the worst on a swinging pendulum of outside perception is no way to live your life or determine your value.  You have to find your solid rock to stand on or else you’ll spend your career chasing the imaginary pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

So yesterday was just gravy.  Goodness and fun and light.

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I spent it grateful for the mix of colleagues and family and dear girlfriends (even darling Kristin from Minnesota, whose birthday surprise you’ll read about later) that came together just to toast this fun recognition.  I am no more successful or worthy today than I was last month.  And I will be no less successful or worthy next year when everyone’s forgotten my name.  (See, I have written your name on the palm of my hand.  Isaiah 49:16)