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Kings Mountain, North Carolina, United States
"A mind lively and at ease" is a blog by a first-generation Russian-Ukrainian immigrant Maria K. (Maria Igorevna Kuroshchepova). An engineer by education, an analyst by trade, as well as a writer, photographer, artist and amateur model, Maria brings her talent for weaving an engaging narrative to stories of life, fashion and style advice, book and movie reviews, and common-sense and to-the-point essays on politics and economy.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Random fashion impressions

I love people-watching. It is a very relaxing exercise and a lot more fascinating and authentic than any "reality" show on TV (considering we already know those are scripted). Being a big fashion and style fan I naturally cannot help but notice what people wear. Some outfits make me go "ooh" and some - unfortunately - "eww" (in my mind only, of course). Here are a few fashion impressions from people-watching at Charlotte's Southpark Mall, in St. Augustine, FL and in Black Mountain, NC.

At the mall

The good...

It was great to see more women dress up a little bit for a Saturday of shopping with a potential for a casual dinner or coffee and dessert. My two favorite women's outfits that looked both pretty and comfortable were:

1) A shapely knee-length dress in a fun color or pattern worn either with ballet flats or comfy wedges. The hem falling just at the knee flatters both legs and works equally well with flats, low heels or wedges. The dress feels, well, dressier for an outing (definitely nicer than jeans and t-shirts), but can still be comfy in a variety of lovely cool and skimming fabrics with a nice drape (cotton, jersey, or silk with a touch of spandex).

2) Jeans in a dark wash or nice crisp khakis - not the baggy slouchy kind, but the ones picked out with a good understanding of what is flattering (wide leg and boot-cut ones work almost for everyone) worn with pretty tops and jewelry and nice sandals or trainers. This combination has a great balance to it: properly fitted pants are just as practical as baggy ones but look loads better, trainers or cute sandals are just as comfy to run around all day but a lot more attractive than ginormous white sneakers, pretty top and lovely earrings, necklace or a set of bangles dress up the otherwise casual look. Perfect!

It was also nice to see at least some guys making an effort by opting for short-sleeve shirts, khakis and trainers instead of jeans or cargo shorts, t-shirts and sneakers or (shudder) Crocs.

The not-so-good...

I saw a lot of outfits that were this close to being great but fell short, because the wearer followed convention. A change in the outfit would have taken no more time than the original and would not have compromised the comfort, but would have drastically improved overall effect.

1) A young mom shopping with her three kids (ages from 2 to about 6) - understandably, comfort and washability are hugely important. She was a pale-skinned brunette with really pretty brown eyes and wore a really great fitted tee in a fantastic vibrant shade of coral. Unfortunately, she followed the "black goes with everything" convention and wore black yoga pants, killing the beautiful color dead because the heavy black took all the subtlety out of it. Not only that, but with her petite curvy figure the vibrant top and heavy dark bottom made her look cut in half.

Had she worn the same exact outfit, but with the pants in a shade of gray or rich brown, she would have had the same benefits of a comfortable, washable and stain-hiding outfit, but the top would have retained the color depth (better for bringing out the woman's natural coloring) and the overall look would have been less "blocky".

2) A guy in a crisp pair of khakis and a nice casual shirt... with huge beat-up sneakers. A pair of nice trainers or sandals would have made the outfit perfect, and would have been just as comfortable as the sneakers. As it was, the sneakers dragged down the whole look.

3) A teenage girl wearing a very nice crisp shirt and a pair of great-looking dark-wash boot-cut jeans with cute-looking wedge sandals... except the shirt and the jeans are clearly at least one, if not two sizes too small. Yes, size 6 appears to be a natural disaster among teenage girls these days. So, they either torment themselves with ridiculous diets or try to prove that they can, in fact, wear designer clothes sold in stores that specialize in super-tiny sizes. The same outfit would have looked great, had it been the right size for the girl. As is, the young lady was practically bursting out of it, creating the opposite effect to the one she was trying to achieve: the too-small outfit made the girl look bigger.

The icky...

1) When a group of three young men walks by and the one in sweatpants, sneakers and an un-tucked short-sleeve shirt looks the most dressed up... that's just bad.

2) Yes, these shoes are designer and cost a fortune - but 3" heels and pointy toes are only going to make you miserable after a day of roaming the stores. Look at you, you are already limping. Why not forgo the prestige and opt for ballet flats or wedges that would go just as well with your outfit but won't break your ankle in the process?

3) Gym clothes and BO belong at the gym - keep them there. Why not make an effort for your mall outing and take a shower and put on something more becoming. (Incidentally, this observation was inspired by a woman.)

4) Why ruin a great outfit by carrying a huge ugly black nylon computer backpack? This is the 21st century - there are ways to minimize what you carry around and get it all into a smaller and better-looking bag.

5) Your date looks great in her pretty cocktail dress and cute strappy sandals - perfect for a casual-yet-special outing. Then what the heck are you doing in your bright orange college t-shirt, cargo shorts and sneakers? Don't you realize that she went to some length to look nice for you and deserves at least a fraction of an effort on your part? A great personality and sense of humor only compensate for looking like a slob so much.

6) Pants worn somewhere between hips and knees are not sexy (especially if your underwear is showing). They do not show your personality and do not inspire respect. They just... look... stupid.

In St. Augustine

Those who live in or frequently visit Florida, know what I mean when I say that summer begins sometime in late April or mid-May. Temperatures soar, making the already-humid air feel like soup you are having to breathe and walk through. The very high humidity makes sweating a chore. Oh, you still perspire buckets, but hardly any of it evaporates, which means you still get all the dehydration minus the cooling effect.

All of the above makes it extremely puzzling for me to understand why so many people visiting St. Augustine during the hot part of the year pack the eternal t-shirts, jeans, white socks and sneakers - all the things that trap heat and do nothing to wick away moisture. Yes, they are comfortable - to a point, when you first put them on, but wait till you spent three hours in them! Some opt for cargo shorts, which is a slightly better option in terms of coping with hot weather, but are ugly as hell and, combined with shapeless t-shirts, make people who wear them look rectangular regardless of gender.

People, people, people - there are other options out there for you! They cost the same, but are better for hot humid weather and look better.

- Instead of a baggy t-shirt, consider a fitted t-shirt or a wrap top (for the ladies) and a buttoned short-sleeve cotton, linen, or silk shirt (for the gentlemen). All of the above can be had for a fraction of a price in the clearance sections of Travel Smith and Magellan's.

- Tapered ankle-length jeans (or any pants) are the root of all evil. Burn them. Make s'mores over the fire and dance naked around it. Consider straight-, wide- or bootcut leg khakis, chinos or linen beach pants (consider perusing Tommy Bahama outlet stores - their stuff is a bit more expensive, but wears like a dream and lasts longer because of better quality).

Ladies should consider adorable pleated skorts (Land's End has some adorable ones, so if your legs are good enough to show off above knee, go fir it) or long breezy skirts and dresses of light crinkly materials - they pack tiny and are ready to wear in minutes (Travel Smith and Soft Surroundings both have them in spades).

- For the fiftieth time - sneakers belong at the gym or wherever you do your running and exercise walking. Almost every store that sells shoes, sells trainers and attractive sandals for men and women. Some of the trainers and loafers have mesh panels specifically designed to allow your foot to breathe and destinktify. They are just as comfy, but a lot more stylish and provide better air flow for your feet. What's not to love?

In Black Mountain

An arts and crafts festival is a great opportunity to people-watch. In addition, many artists and visitors bring their kids - both of the two-legged and of the four-legged kind, which adds to the fun. That said, it is amazing, how many artists not only dress badly for the weather, but also give no thought to the fact that they attend these events in order to promote and sell their work and, thus, would benefit from looking a bit more professional. So what, if this is just a small festival in a small mountain town?

I always want to ask the artists, when they go shopping, who would they rather buy from: a t-shirt and baggy shorts-clad store owner in a sloppily arranged, disorganized and dusty store? Or from a small, but beautifully arranged place run by a casually classy owner who projects self-respect and professionalism? Granted, we have probably all had some great experiences in little hole-in-the wall art places and terrible experiences at the upscale-looking ones. But appearances do matter. Speaking for myself, I prefer places that are inviting, but well-organized and set to truly show off the pieces. I also prefer dealing with people who put some thought into how they look. In a small art festival setting, appearances become even more important, because you can only bring so much inventory with you and there is only a little bit of space for you to set it up in. So, more than ever, this is the time to put your best foot forward - both in terms of presenting your merchandise and in terms of looking the part of a classy, interesting, talented individual that you are.

As I watched festival visitors who bring their children, I am reminded how much kids' attire puzzles me these days. What is up with the miniature versions of the grownups clothes - complete with designer labels. Don't get me wrong - it's not that my parents didn't like to dress me up when I was little. My mom was an excellent seamstress and she loved making me new clothes. However, I was dressed to look like...well... a little girl - not like a miniature adult. My parents figured there would be plenty of time for me to wear grownup duds later.

With this army of designer-clad miniature-adult-like kids, it was really great to see this one little girl at the My Father's Pizza & Pasta restaurant where we had dinner. She was about 12 years old - very cute, blue-eyed, with long braids. She wore a cute green sundress with a little white cardigan, very pretty bronze-brown sandals and a purple cap. The color combination may sound vile, but actually the colors were subdued and worked well together. The cap was the same color as the daisies on the girl's dress. I didn't see any designer labels, and wouldn't be surprised if most of her outfit was home-made. However, she looked really great - very age-appropriate, but put-together and cute. I wanted to go over to the table where she sat with her parents and grandparents and thank them for dressing her so well.

Take notice parents. Let your kids be kids. Kids' clothes can be casual and sturdy for playing it, and dressy and neat for going to parties, weddings and other dress-up events. Having a designer label on any of the above is not the law - your kid is not a billboard or an accessory.

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