Friday, September 24, 2010

Why I love Starbucks

There are 2 groups of people in the world - those who love Starbucks and those who hate it. The haters have their reasons - the most common one I've heard is - "$4 cup of coffee!!. I'm not crazy!" That's fair. I fall in the other camp - I love Starbucks. And the other day I had an incident which made me realize why I love it. I had a rare morning to myself - kids dropped off at school, husband was out of town and I wasn't going to work. Although I'm getting closer to the appropriate age for it, I've had the longest mid life crisis going on - for about 10 years now, I've struggled with reconciling my passion for writing, reading and learning with my professional life which is not always about those things. Every couple of months, my internal struggle raises its head and either spurs me to do something (this blog was created during one of those fits) or pushes me deep into general melancholy. So, on this particular day, I was tending more towards the melancholy and I decided some quiet time with coffee and the New York Times would do me good.

I was lucky enough to grab one of the comfy, overstuffed chairs next to 2 other women. Both of them were considerably older than me - one by about 10 or so years (I'll call her the tall lady) and the other maybe 20-30 years my senior (I'll call her the D&G lady for the stylish bag she was carrying). As I sat there browsing the Times, I overheard the most fabulous conversation ever. The D&G lady complimented the tall women on her elegance. They got to talking and I learned that the D&G lady had just published her first book and it was on Amazon's bestseller list in it's category. Then the tall lady told her that she used to be a professional runway model and now she was working on her PhD through a University in California. She was also an essayist and was working on a dissertation. I couldn't catch more details about the book or the topic of the dissertation, but I heard enough to leave me feeling inspired and refreshed. I couldn't believe that I had been beating myself up about not having written anything and for feeling that I was out of time for doing "something".

So I'm glad that I spent the $3 that day for that cup of coffee. It gave me so much more than my morning caffeine fix. I'm also grateful that I got to hear this conversation between these two amazing and inspiring women. They'll never know that they left me so much more energized and hopeful than what I was when I walked in.

And that's why I love Starbucks. For creating not just a place to get coffee but that ambiance where people can get together over coffee, over music, over books. Sure you could brew that cup at home but sometimes, its nice to be forced into the company of folks, even if you don't talk to them.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

My adventures in fashion

Today I picked up the September issue of Seattle magazine - its the STYLE GUIDE issue for those of you who have not seen it. I realised then that the only magazines I buy anymore are a copy of fashion and style related magazines every few months.

Fashion is definitely not a first language for me although I've come to enjoy it as I've started to study the nuances. Growing up in India, I was a bright student and encouraged to be just that - a good student and a good girl. And good girls, in the circles we moved in, did not attract attention through their clothes or their style. I'm devoting a chapter to my early sartorial struggles in the memoirs that I hope to publish someday. For now though, I thought it might be fun to share the lessons I have learned through watching stylish people, reading the style guides and experimenting with trends and clothes. This is what works for me - so take what sounds good or comment on what does not sound right. If you, like me, are piecing this together as you go, please share your tips and pointers!

1. Wear work clothes to work - This is for the ladies that work outside home, obviously. When I worked in New York, there were actual dress codes and since I worked at Time Inc. - home of People, InStyle, Real Simple magazines, dressing for work was..well, real work. And then I moved to Seattle and started working at Microsoft. Lets just say that things are a little bit more laid back about work attire here. I've been here 4 years and have come back to the realization that while its nice to have the flexibility to show up for work in jeans and T-shirts, as a rule, you might want to be err on the side of too formal rather than too casual at work. For me, it puts me in a different frame of mind and attitude and I think that changes attitudes of other people towards me. I recently went back and bought some more formal pants and dresses and while I am not giving up my jeans, I'm feeling a little more professional in my black pants and high heels.

2. Invest in the basics - On the topic of black pants and high heels, after going through countless pairs of pants bought on sale or at a bargain price, my personal choice is now to buy the best that I can afford in the basics like black and gray pants, a white shirt, a good pair of jeans, classic high heeled pumps etc. I'm still not going overboard on these but I'll get the best that my money can buy and then experiment more with the tops and the accessories. I've realised that buying clothes only to donate them to the thrift shop in 3 months is not necessarily a route to saving money on clothes.

3. Play with accessories - This is an area I continue to experiment with but watching many, many fashion forward women and my little steps into the field have shown me that having fun with accessories pays off. I just got rid of a pair of purple shoes that never failed to brighten up any outfit I wore and were surprisingly not completely in your face either. Last year, I had surgery on my neck and I was forced to try on scarves which are now my favorite outfit enhancer. I've tried hats too - my current favorite is one my husband brought back from one of his trips to London. Rings, earrings - I don't change them as often as I should but I'm happier when I do. I definitely recommend venturing out and experimenting with these little fun add ons.

4. "Pick me up" buys - I am the prudent shopper in my family - not one to spend too much or spend lightly. That said, my favorite activity in New York was to slip out during lunch or after work and wander into one of the countless New York stores. I picked up a sweater here, a pair of shoes there or a dress sometimes. It kept my wardrobe fresh and updated and gave me the little boost I needed in the middle of a work week. Its harder to do when you work on the Microsoft campus but I fit in a trip to the mall on my way back from work or after grocery shopping - keeps things fresh!

5. Consult the experts - As I mentioned in the beginning, every few months, I'll buy a copy of Lucky or InStyle or whatever magazine catches my fancy on the checkout stand. Although I almost never buy the stuff featured in the magazines, it gives me a sense of what's new and current and I can be on the lookout for stuff that works for me. I like to see how the professionals put an outfit together and take tips and tricks from them. I also check in with a few blogs regularly. One of my favorites is written by a Mom who is a stylist and dresses celebrities for work. I bumped into her virtually on a parenting site where she offered style advice to Moms looking for the same. You can submit questions to her on her blog and she will come back with thoughtful and ever stylish options for you.
I also love Polyvore,com - for the sheer creativity and enthusiasm with which members put together outfits and ensembles there. Again, the point is not to buy but to get inspiration. Combining the best of above, check out the below collection or "set" in Polyvore lingo, created by LA Stylist Mom.

So that's the fashion wisdom that I've gathered in my time here - if nothing else, I'm a good student and I'm great at learning from the experts. Some of these have worked well for me and hopefully will help some of you too. If you have advice, tips or tricks - bring them on! Stay stylin!