Fashion & Style

Girl with Pink Shoes by Viktor Janacek

Someone I know posted an article on Facebook a while back with this provocative title: “Is there an age limit on wearing jeans?” It only took me a second to answer it in my own mind: No way, jeans forever!

I love jeans and wear them all the time – dressed up and dressed down. My mother, who’s in her 70s, still wears jeans and looks great. Not everyone does feel comfortable in denim, though, and I can see a person getting to a place where they don’t like to wear them anymore. But, if you’re still digging jeans and they make you feel good, why not keep wearing them for as long as you want?

Generally, I think a person should wear what they want to wear… to a point. I mean, we all have lines we draw, right? There are certain styles or pieces of clothing that feel too “young” for me to wear now. For instance, I still wear short skirts, but not as short as I wore in my 20s and 30s. And aside from the gym or the beach, I wouldn’t be caught dead showing my midriff. When you do that in your 40s it just screams to me: “I still want to be 22!” And who wants to be 22 again? Well, maybe some of us do, but I don’t.

A lot goes into wardrobe choices, of course, besides the sensibilities that come with age. There are things like culture, weather, taste, budget, etc. For me it’s also about appropriateness and respect. Sweat pants at church? No. Ripped jeans at a professional meeting? Don’t think so. Does this make me old-fashioned? I don’t think so. I think respect for the people and situations we’re in, as well as for ourselves, should never be ignored no matter what we prefer to wear.

So what do you think? Are you a jeans-forever person? Are there certain things you don’t wear anymore or things you’ve begun wearing and wouldn’t be caught dead in anymore? Spill the beans!

Image: Viktor Hanacek for Picjumbo

 

 

 

 

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Handmade dresses

Among my mother-in-law’s many gifts is her ability to sew. And I don’t mean simply fixing hems or mending holes. This woman can make stuff. As a young woman, she made her own clothes that were fashion magazine worthy — people would stop her on the street and ask where she got what she was wearing. She has sewn all kinds of incredible things over the years, and I would add kids Halloween costumes to that list as the ones she made for the girls the past two years were really something.

I marvel at this talent because sewing is not something I grew up with. My mother never learned — she was left-handed and refused to do it the right-handed way, which is the only way anyone would teach it when she was young. And I had such a crummy experience in home economics class myself that it put a bad taste in my mouth when it came to sewing so I didn’t pursue it. Neither of my grandmothers seemed to sew, either, at least as far as I remember.

One of the highlights of our trip to Kentucky this month for S and H was being introduced to sewing by B’s mom. She had them practice using the machine, and then she took them to a fabric store where they picked out fabric for sundresses she helped them to make. They were quick to know what they wanted — and both knew they wanted their dressed to be long.

The results are above. Aren’t they beautiful? (They also look so grown up — sniff, sniff!) For Father’s Day on Sunday, the girls insisted on wearing them — to church and out for brunch — and as predicted they made a statement everywhere they went. (These girls can wear any color and look dynamite – I’m so jealous.)

Coming home with a beautiful dress that they can say they made (with Nana’s help!) is indeed special, but perhaps even better is the memories this made. Sewing with their grandmother is something the girls can treasure for many years to come. I guarantee they’ll remember these first outfits they made.

Do you sew? Would you like to learn? If you could make something with a sewing machine, what would it be?

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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Woman with Handbag Like most people, I like to look my best, though some days you’d never know it. Over the years, I’ve noticed that there are certain things that make a big difference. Here are my top five tips for looking your most beautiful:

1. Good posture.

This is number one in my book. You can almost make anyone forget you’re wearing a stained t-shirt and old yoga pants if you have good posture. It automatically ups your beauty quotient, communicates confidence and self-possession, and makes clothes look better on your frame.

2. Heels you can walk in.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen an attractive, well-dressed woman walking down the street in beautiful shoes — shoes that she can’t walk in. Very few women can pull off really high heels. Walking awkwardly or half-way tripping in your shoes is not attractive. I think we all look lovelier when we’re able to walk effortlessly.

3. A flattering haircut.

I’m still looking for a hair stylist in Baltimore who can do something wonderful with my board-straight hair, and not having much luck. Hair is one of the first things we notice about people and a flattering haircut that compliments your face — and works with your lifestyle — goes a long way.

4. Good health.

Healthiness is attractive. When you eat well and exercise, your skin looks more vibrant, your hair looks more luxurious, you move better in your body, you have more confidence and energy. A healthy person has a vitality that translates into natural attractiveness.

5. Personal style and grace.

I think as we age, personal style matters even more when it comes to looking and feeling good. And there is grace involved in accepting whatever phase of life you’re in, as well as your individuality. Developing personal style is about being yourself, creativity, dignity, freshness, class, and ease — which all adds to our true beauty.

These are the things that strike me when I’m out and about, and what I aspire to myself. What would you add to the list?

Image: Viktor Hanacek at picjumbo

 

 

 

 

 

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JORD box
I’ve been eager to tell you about an accessory I took on our TV shoot trip: a super cool handmade wooden watch.

A  U.S.-based company called JORD reached out last month to ask if I’d be interested in reviewing one of their watches. One look at them and I was on board. The watch showed up in some of the loveliest packaging I’ve ever seen: wrapped around a hand-sewn cushion in a hand-carved wooden box with a beautiful wooden tag attached to it. It was impressive. JORD packaging
Of course, gorgeous packaging is one thing; what about the watch itself? Of the styles available to me, I chose the simple Ely version in the light maple. It’s one of the more petite styles, which I thought would work best since I’m a small person, but since I like chunkier jewelry I’m happy the watch has some substance to it. It’s a fabulous combination of elegance and natural simplicity. I love it!

Ely wooden watch by JORD in maple
JORD — a Swedish word for “earth, soil, and land” — is a small company of artists, designers, and seasoned watchsmiths based in Missouri. Their style is guided by a deep appreciation of natural elements and modern design, which you can see in every detail of their gorgeous watches.

With our smart phones on hand to check the time, watches aren’t as common these days, but there are two reasons I still love to wear them: For one, they can be great style pieces. You can choose to wear it the way you’d wear any other piece of jewelry, depending on your outfit or the occasion.

I also really like the the idea of a simple turn of the wrist to check the time, rather than digging around for my smart phone. It’s one less reason to be staring at a screen, especially in public.

Wearing Ely watch
With graduations, Father’s Day, and summer birthdays on the horizon, a wooden watch would be a beautiful surprise. I only write about and endorse products I can stand behind, and I’m pleased to say my lovely JORD watch is one of them. I’ve worn it constantly since it arrived two weeks ago!

Do you wear a watch? What do you think of wearing one as a fashion statement? And which JORD watch style is your favorite?

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul

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Winter Fashion Have you seen the “19 things only women with a low maintenance fashion sense understand“? I could relate to more of them than I care to admit. I really straddle the line between apathetic simple woman and wanna-be fashionista.

Take shoes, for example. I love shoes, but you’d never really know it. I have far fewer shoes than any woman I know: a few for special occasions and one or two regular pairs I wear daily with everything, until they wear out. Usually, it’s not until I’m taking a trip that I buy something new…and that’s always a big mistake.

My daily go-to outfit is jeans and a top — a cashmere turtleneck in the winter (usually with a couple of other layers, of course, because I’m cold-blooded) and something much lighter in the summer. I love skirts and dresses, but I wear them more in the fall and winter when I can wear tights, as I never seem to find time to get my pale legs summer-ready enough to feel comfortable showing them off.

I’m probably most guilty of being low maintenance when it comes to my hair and beauty routines, though. It’s no coincidence that my hair is long — it’s just way easier this way. Unless it’s a special occasion, I wash my hair once or twice a week, never blow dry, and go between three hairstyles: down, pony tail, and bun. This has been the case for the past, well, 20 years.

Same thing with my beauty routine. Someone commented once that I looked younger than my age and wanted to know what skincare regimen I used. I said, “Uh, water…and whatever moisturizer is hanging around.” I don’t think it was quite the answer they were looking for.

All that said, the former stage performer in me loves to be a little dramatic, especially when I dress up. I believe that fashion, at its best, is about good design, art, and creative expression, and I envy the bloggers I read who have a strong sense of style and always look effortlessly put together. (They must have giant walk-in closets, I like to tell myself, and not a 9-foot wide row home with no storage space.)

While I might always be a little laissez faire about fashion and beauty, I think part of aging gracefully is being more intentional about your style choices. Like any other woman, I like to look good, and I think there’s a way to blend my low-maintenance simplicity with my desire to be more fashionable.

What about you — are you a low-maintenance kind of person when it comes to style and beauty? What is your go-to daily outfit? And what is your typical makeup or skincare routine? I’d love to know!

Image: Viktor Hanacek at picjumbo

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Are You a Hipster?

January 12, 2015

Hipster Sign
While reading an article last week in the Huffington Post called “The 22 Most Hipster Foods On the Planet,” I found myself kind of annoyed — and then a little confused. On the list is stuff like kombucha, healthy vegetables, fermented and artisanal food products, using mason jars, and more.

I’ve been drinking kombucha before it ever hit grocery store shelves, because my Dad used to brew it years ago. I’ve used mason jars, like, forever, for a whole bunch of things. And kale, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts? Everyone’s supposed to be eating those! And while I don’t like beer and tend to stay away from donuts, what’s wrong with pickles, food trucks, and kimchi?

Pretty much everything on that list screamed my name, yet I’ve never even remotely considered myself a hipster. (Besides, I’m too old to be a hipster, aren’t I?)

But what is a hipster, anyway? Maybe I’m woefully ignorant on the matter. I’ve always associated the term with people under 35 who live in Brooklyn, wear beards and skinny jeans, and listen to the latest undiscovered indie band. Maybe they drink coffee or brew their own beer, a process they document with their vintage camera. That was about it. So I decided to do a little sleuthing…

Wikipedia says that the word hipster is “often used as a pejorative to describe someone who is pretentious, overly trendy or effete.” The Urban Dictionary would seem to agree: “someone who is smart enough to talk about philosophy, music, politics, art, etc. with you all day long, but not smart enough to see how big of a tool s/he is.”

Wikihow is more polite: “Hipsters are people who enjoy clothing, music, food and activities outside of the social mainstream.”

Seems like there’s a little wiggle room when it comes to the definition of a hipster — but I’m still not going to call myself one. I’m curious what you think of the label: When you hear “hipster,” what do you think?

Image via Pinterest from Buzzfeed

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How’s your December going so far? Have you made progress on your holiday gift lists, or are you still trying to find time to even think about it? Before it gets too close to Christmas, I wanted to mention a few companies I really like for holiday gifts for kids, in case you need some ideas…

Barefoot Books

Barefoot Books Christmas
I love Barefoot Books. Started by two moms in 1992, Barefoot is all about combining beautiful art with captivating storytelling. What also drew me to their products was their attention to cultural and social diversity. It’s not always easy to find books that I’m excited to give my daughters, and Barefoot delivers.

Under the tree for S and H this year will be two books from this new princess series, as well as the award-winning World Atlas, which I can’t wait to see. Barefoot’s Greek Epic Book set with CD would be perfect for a child over 8, and I love their Greek Myths set, which is on sale right now. Barefoot has lovely bedtime books for little ones, too. (I’m eyeing a couple for my two-year-old nephew.) Here’s their Holiday Gift Guide, if you want to check it out.

(For Christmas delivery, be sure to order before 11 a.m. EST on December 15; after that you’ll pay extra for faster shipping. Shipping is free on orders of $60 or more.)

Prima Princessa
Prima Princessa
Prima Princessa sent me one of their DVDs a couple of months ago, and I was curious if my daughters would like it. They did–and many other kids apparently do, too. Another company created by two moms (moms run the world), Prima Princessa focuses on teaching children ages 3-6 dance steps while exposing them to professional ballet performances. In each show, a ballerina fairy named Prima Princessa takes a group of preschool age children to see a condensed version of a classical ballet, and in between acts the children practice ballet steps they’ve just watched.

The DVD we saw, “Prima Princessa Presents The Nutcracker,” would be a perfect stocking-stuffer for a little dance enthusiast. It features England’s Birmingham Royal Ballet and includes mini-ballet lessons from students at the School of American Ballet, the official academy of the New York City Ballet. The show has aired on more than 400 PBS and public television stations nationwide, and you can find it on Amazon both as a DVD or instant download.

Princessa Productions also has DVDs for Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake, and on their website you can find a Ballet for Beginners book, a ballet dictionary, ballet coloring pages, crafts for kids, preschool games, and listings of ballet schools and ballet companies nationwide.

Tea Collection

Tea-Collection-Fall-2013
I’m currently a little obsessed with the children’s clothes at Tea Collection. (I managed to snag a few dresses for my girls online during the Black Friday sale.) Founded by (yet again) two moms, Tea’s mission is to “bring worldwide culture and modern design to children’s fashion.” And they seem to do it well. I was impressed with the quality of the garments when they arrived and love the way they mix colors and patterns.

Their new Citizen Blue line is sweet — I love this Java Garden Keyhole Dress. And this Backpacker Happy Hoodie would look adorable on any of my (many) nephews.

I’ll be sticking to the sales at Tea Collection — especially since I usually need two of everything — but it’s great to know about ethical clothing companies for kids that do high-quality stuff. If you’re looking for some special clothes this season, you may want to check them out.

Any companies or products your eyeing for kids’ gifts this year? I’d love to know!

Images: Barefoot Books, Prima Princessa, Tea Collection

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If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that I love talking to social entrepreneurs — particularly adoptive parents who find innovative ways to connect with and help the countries where their children were born. Lisa Scott is one such person. She found my blog one day and dropped me a line: Not only are we both from Nova Scotia (she still lives there), but each of us is privileged to be raising Ethiopian daughters.

When Lisa shared the launch of her new business, Second Life Ethiopian Artisans, I knew I wanted to tell you about it. Lisa has curated a gorgeous collection of handmade Ethiopian goods, and some may be ideal for your holiday gift lists. Plus, Lisa’s own story is pretty fascinating… 

Scott Family

Zoe Saint-Paul: Congratulations on your new business, Lisa! Everything about it is right up my alley. What inspired you to launch Second Life Ethiopian Artisans?

Lisa Scott: Thank you! This business was a slow and natural evolution. It originated during my first visit to Ethiopia as a new mother. In 2008, I travelled with my husband and 5-year-old son to Ethiopia for a month to meet our daughter and prepare her for the journey home with us. Our primary concern was her adjustment, but we also wanted to use our time there to learn about Ethiopian culture firsthand.

Like many adoptive parents, we were firmly committed to maintaining our daughter’s culture. We live in Eastern Canada where our city has fewer than 1,000 Ethiopians, and only about six kids adopted from Ethiopia. The community here has been so loving to our family, but opportunities to come together are limited. I felt the need to travel back to Ethiopia and experience more of the country, and this opportunity came in 2012 when I volunteered with Canadian Humanitarian. It turned out to be one of the most valuable experiences of my life.

I travelled with a group of people, including several doctors, to do medicals on children, and my role was to do presentations on grief and loss to the guardians of orphaned children. I was allowed into the lives of so many women, mainly grandmothers, who wanted to share their grief around the loss of their child and their desire to help their grandchildren deal with it. It connected me face-to-face with the different degrees of loss for these women and children. I, too, had lost my mother as a child, and my daughter had lost her birth mother through adoption, so I was proud of the work and honored to do it. While I was there, I found time to visit carpet makers, weavers, and art galleries. I brought home bags full of treasures — and while I didn’t know it at the time, this was the birth of Second Life Ethiopian Artisans.

The adjustment home from this trip was difficult. There was so much to process and I jumped right back into my professional life supporting vulnerable families at a pediatric hospital. I wouldn’t trade the trip for the world, but I knew it wasn’t something I could do regularly. I couldn’t really talk about it with anyone — even my family — because it was too hard to verbalize. What I could share were the amazing gifts I bought home. They gave me an opportunity to share stories of the people I met and the culture of the country.

Second Life Toys
ZSP: For any budding entrepreneurs out there, can you share what the process was like to get this business off the ground?

LS: The recommended way to start a business is with a business plan. I consciously didn’t do that. Not that I advise this approach; it depends on your expectations. I wanted to share the high-quality handmade products made in Ethiopia and to show consumers that you can get some of the best quality goods in the world at a fair price and provide fair working conditions. I also wanted my son and daughter to hear the daily dialogue of doing business with Ethiopians, and for them to understand both the process of importing, as well as how it translates to quality of life in that country.

I started to research the importing process and the access to goods. I thought long and hard about the name of the business and the image it would project. I knew I wanted to start very small, and to feel the direction of the business and respond accordingly. My first shipment arrived in the fall of 2013. I financed the shipment on my own and, through word-of-mouth, I sold out. I resorted to more of a plan for my subsequent orders: I sourced out a graphic artist to take photos for the website and began a catalog of products. I tailored my order to the quickest sellers and took a bit of a risk on some of the items I had no experience with, such as household goods like throws, towels, and tablecloths. The household goods have been crazy popular, and this fall I’ve been developing the next stage of business: wholesaling.

My word of advice when starting a business is to be conservative with your financial risk and follow your gut. I started this business while I was still employed part-time. I left that job recently, for a variety of reasons, but I never expected to have immediate personal revenue from this business.

Second Life Ethiopian Towels
ZSP: Where do you source your products, and how do you select them?

LS: Fibers have always been one of my main loves, and during my first trip to Ethiopia, I visited the former wood-carrying women who were working in a cooperative as weavers. The products they produced were outstanding, and I was buying one for everyone I could think of. The weavers work in a compound at the base of Entoto Mountain, where so many women carry wood to earn a living. These women were producing, on average, two scarves a day and were involved in all aspects of running the business. Their children were in a preschool on site, and they all had access to health care. Each season, these women release a new line of colors and patterns and I select from them. It’s very difficult to choose which ones, and sometimes I get them all! This year, these weavers also fulfilled a custom order for my business: Together we designed and produced a child’s striped scarf in four different colors. The proceeds from the sale of this scarf will go to vulnerable children in Ethiopia through Canadian Humanitarian.

The jewelry came to me through my cousin — also a mom to a beautiful Ethiopian daughter. During her last trip to Ethiopia I asked her to pick me up some interesting jewelry — and she delivered! My socks were knocked off when she told me how this jewelry was being produced on Entoto Mountain by women living with HIV. I took the little brochure provided with the bracelets and started an online search. Once I made contact, I reached out to another business that worked with this group to ensure the organization was sound and fair.

The third group of artisans came to me via word of mouth. Internationally known for their superb products and world-certified as fair trade, I felt they were a great fit for the types of products I wanted to showcase. My first order was a few scarves from their catalog, and my orders have increased each time.

I purchase products that I myself would want to wear or have in my home. The older I get, the less I buy — but I want the best quality and something meaningful. Every piece I carry is something I would purchase myself and would be proud of to give as a gift.

Second Life Jewelry
ZSP: How often do you get new products in? Would you recommend anything in particular for the holidays?

LS: I get orders in the spring, and in the fall for the holiday season. The products take quite some time to produce, so I typically order three months in advance. It’s hard to make recommendations, as I love everything!

In the under-$30 price point, the earrings are beautiful. Hoops are very fashionable at the moment, and the hoops have beads of silver, copper, and brass, so they go with everything. And who doesn’t love a scarf? Grandma, babysitter, teacher, sister, aunt, or uncle. They are easy to ship and no sizing necessary. Our scarves are made from hand-spun Ethiopian cotton or silk, hand-dyed and hand-woven.

The runaway hit has probably been the organic Omo towels. You’ve not felt cotton until you’ve touched these. The hand towels are popular in the bathroom and the kitchen and make perfect hostess gifts. You can wrap one around a bottle of wine or a bag of coffee and have a one-of-a-kind gift. The larger towels can be used for so many things: In our home we use them as bath towels — they easily wrap around my 6’5” husband, dry quickly, and just get better with each wash. Most of my customers have been purchasing them as couch throws, tablecloths, yoga mat blankets, and baby blankets. They’re beautiful and feel so good that I find customers looking for a reason to buy them.

Lisa Scott and Daughter

ZSP: What are your dreams for Second Life Artisans?

LS: My dream is that this business will never waiver from its roots and spirit. I want the products to speak for themselves, for my customer to never look at a mass-produced product the same way again. I also want people to feel connected to the people behind the products by knowing the stories behind what they buy.

On a personal level, my dream is that this business will allow my family to continue to discover Ethiopia and build relationships there. My daughter is Ethiopian-Canadian; I am not, but through the miracle of becoming her mother, I fell in love with her birth country. So much is gained in love and life through adoption, but so much is also lost. I cannot replace all my daughter has lost, but I can show her that her family is invested in her culture. My dream is that this business will generate enough income for us to make regular visits to Ethiopia and that both of my children can participate in knowing the artisans and in selection of our goods. It would be pretty neat if my kids’ first jobs were working for Second Life Ethiopian Artisans.

*****

Lisa, thanks so much for sharing the story of your inspiring new business! I love how you’re finding a way to incorporate Ethiopian culture into your family’s life. I must say, those towels sound divine and are now on my Christmas list! I’m eyeing a few other things for gifts, too.  

I hope SlowMama readers will consider supporting businesses like Second Life Ethiopian Artisans this holiday season: Not only will you end up with handcrafted, high-quality items, but you’ll be helping lives on the other side of the world. Besides her website, you can connect with Lisa on Instagram, too.  

Images: Lisa Scott

 

 

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by Margaret Cabaniss

clothing_rack
Capsule wardrobe, conscious closet…whatever you call it, it seems like everyone’s doing it. Something about the changing seasons apparently makes everyone want to throw out all their clothes and start over with a smaller but more versatile, well-chosen wardrobe.

And I am definitely one of those people: I realized when I was (over)packing for a trip recently that the reason I brought way too much stuff was because I didn’t really love any of the clothes I had, so I could never be sure I’d want to wear anything I’d packed (or that it would go with anything else), and therefore I had to bring a ton of options — and on and on it goes. But for all those choices, I end up wearing the same five things anyway, so why not just clear out the clutter and stick to what I actually like? It would mean less waste — of money, time, and rarely worn or cheaply made clothes — less laundry, less clutter…it’s kind of hard to see the downside here.

Anyway, it’s a project I’ve been meaning to take on for a while, but as it’s suddenly popular on every blog I read these days, I’ve found lots of handy guides to help me think through the whole process — not just what to get rid of, but what (if anything) to replace it with when I’m done.

This post at Everygirl is a great way to start thinking through the closet-cleaning part. Going down the list of questions to ask yourself about every item — does it fit? Is it damaged, and will you repair it? — makes me realize that there are lots of pieces in my own wardrobe that wouldn’t pass the keeper test. (A pilled and stretched-out t-shirt I bought on sale five years ago? Why do I still even have this?) If you’re not quite ready to get rid of something for good, try boxing it up and putting it away for a few months. If you don’t pull it out before the end of the season, you didn’t need it or love it anyway.

jeans
(If this looks like your closet, you might have a problem, is all I’m saying.)

Once you’ve cleared out the mess, how do you keep it from growing back? That’s where the idea of a capsule wardrobe comes in: limiting yourself to 30 (or 40 or 50) pieces — pants, tops, dresses, everything — that you wear throughout a whole season, and nothing else. Frankly, I’m not sure I currently own 50 pieces to rotate through, but the important part is to pick a number that makes sense for you and then try to work within it.

Caroline at Un-Fancy has a free wardrobe planner to help you think about your own style, your daily activities, the colors you’re drawn to, etc. — at which point you can figure out what’s still missing from your basic wardrobe and how much money you have to fill the holes. But then, once you’re done shopping, you’re done. (Honestly, the “no more shopping” thing might actually be my favorite part of all.)

Looking for some more ideas? I like some of the wardrobe essentials laid out over at Say Yes and In Honor of Design — but your mileage may vary. And, of course, there’s always Pinterest… But before disappearing down that rabbit hole, I try to remind myself: The goal, as Caroline puts it, is to “be really happy with a lot less.” I can get behind that.

Have you done something like this before? I want to hear all your tips! Anyone interested in trying it out with me?

Images: Vintage pipe clothing rack via Pinterest. The fancy, open display means you have to keep it organized. Wall o’ jeans via Pinterest, too.

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Mekelle, Ethiopia
When B and I were in Ethiopia, I found myself thinking a lot about head coverings on women. I was used to seeing women with veils or scarves occasionally in religious settings, and on Muslim women in public, but in Ethiopia, women of all kinds wears scarves on their heads all the time, and they look beautiful. It’s part of the culture there, and I soon discovered that, if I wanted less harassment on the streets of Addis Ababa, covering my head helped — so on my second trip, I donned a scarf whenever I went out in public. Although I certainly didn’t look Ethiopian, I drew far less attention to myself, as I was no longer immediately identified as a Westerner.

Head coverings of some kind or another are common in many parts of the world, and this interesting piece in the Seattle Times is a good reminder that many women in the U.S. wear them, too. Most do it for cultural or religious reasons; for others, it’s simply part of traditional garb for a special ceremony, liturgy, or event. It makes me think of the veils that many of us wear at our weddings: head coverings with a traditional meaning, to be sure. I’m fascinated by the different styles and ways women and girls wear head coverings around the world.

I draw my lines, though — perhaps unfairly. I find a lot of head scarves to be lovely, and I respect many of the cultural traditions behind them, but the niqab always takes me aback. (The niqab is the veil covering the face that some Muslim women wear with the hijab, or head covering.) There’s something about covering most of the face that I find jarring, even frightening. We encounter people in public through their faces; it’s how we read them. When you can’t see someone’s face, you can’t connect, which then makes it difficult to feel safe with them, or to communicate. When I encounter a woman wearing the niqab (which I do occasionally where I live), it’s like there’s a wall between us. And while that’s perhaps the point, I don’t see it as a positive.

My reaction is certainly based in my cultural biases, as well as my beliefs about women, so I think it’s important to hear from women whose beliefs and practices are different from my own. I read with interest the story about Choclit’ Angel Handley, 27, in the article mentioned above. A convert to Islam, she’s a single, professional woman who says the niqab helps her find worth and self-esteem from within. I can understand that, and it offers me a different perspective, though I personally don’t believe that greater dignity and freedom as women comes from covering ourselves head to toe.

The topic of head coverings can be a loaded one, with so many different facets to it, but I’m interested in what your immediate reaction is to seeing a woman with a head scarf or covering. Have you ever worn one yourself, or do you have loved ones who do?

Image: B

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