Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Humble Closet Essential Pieces

Following up on my previous post discussing the five things I have implemented to help green up my day to day life, I thought it would be fun to start doing weekly “Top” lists. I got thinking about this week’s list as the weather has been getting more spring like in the Northeast and I am starting to switch my closet over from heavy sweaters and wool pants to skirts and linen tops. As our apartment is very small, and closet space is limited, it is a necessity to switch out some seasonal pieces to make way for more weather-appropriate wear. Even though the switch over is usually quite extensive, there are always a few pieces that stand the test of time for just about any season, and have made it through years on their classic styling. I have always been a big champion of finding great deals on clothing and accessories, but for some pieces, I really feel like it is well worth spending a little extra on something that is timeless and classic, as classic looks never really go out of style, and a well made piece can last you for decades- I should know, I still have some of my mom’s vintage pieces! So without further ado, my Top Closet Staples:

1) Oxford Buttondowns: No matter what your preferred brand (Ralph Lauren, Brooks Brothers, Vineyard Vines), a well made Oxford will never let you down. They’re easily layered, can be worn year round, and always look crisp and fresh. Although I have more than my fair share of these collared beauties, if I could only have two, I would have to go with the classic white and light blue for their versatility.

2) The Black Dress: It is impossible to make a wardrobe staple list and leave the illustrious black dress off! Through the years, I have had various renditions of the LBD through the years, and have loved each one dearly. My favorite for a long time was a simple satin strapless a-line; I think I cried the day that it finally gave up the ghost. I currently have two, one knee length in wool with a square neckline, and the other is an off shoulder in satin and falls just below the knee. They really are the most timeless piece of women’s wear- everyone looks good in black, and there is no limit as to what you can pair it wth to keep it fresh.

 3) A Classic Trench Coat: The trench never goes out of style, and for good reason. Although many times I can be found in a foul weather jacket when it turns rainy outside, a trench makes a bit more of an adult statement. They are the perfect cover up for an evening out, and can be worn daily. Many makers offer detachable wool liners, creating more versatility for your trench, and allowing you to get more out of the wearing season.

4) Cole Haan Driving Mocs: These are probably the most comfortable shoes I own, next to flip flops. They are easy to slip on, made of beautiful, buttery leather, are great for driving (as intended), and comfortable for the office. I currently have them in navy and black croc and will probably wear them until they fall apart.

5) Brooks Brotters’ Golden Fleece Polo Shirts: Much like the Oxford, these pique polos go the distance. Some years ago while my brother was a salesman at Brooks Brothers I stocked up on these polos, and they still look just as fresh. BB is renowned for their attention to fit and detail, and their polos are no exception to that rule. They’re perfect for spring and summer, and hold up well to frequent washings.

6) High-Waist Khaki Skirt: I actually have two of these, one in twill with sailor style buttons and pockets and the other in plain-front linen, and I now that the weather is warming up, I find myself constantly reaching for them. Even in cold weather, I’ll pair them with a great sweater and knee length boots and they work well. They’re perfect if you’re headed out after work and don’t have time to change as they go from day to night effortlessly, and look just as great with heels as they do with sandals. For many women, the area just under their ribcage (where the natural waist is) is the narrowest part of their torso, and a high-waist skirt is a great way to accentuate this.

7) A Great Jean: There are so many jean styles out there, that it literally makes my head hurt, and I have tried just about all of them. I would have to argue that of all the denim I’ve tried, J.Crew has got to be the tops, for both their skinny and bootcut versions. Being that I am no longer 18 (or 21, or 25…) the super low cut is really not a flattering look on me, especially given my short leg line. The J.Crew jeans sit at a comfortable rise that don’t leave you worrying about “exposure”, are offered in regular, tall and short inseams (score!) and stand up well to wear and tear year round.

8) All Day Heels: Ahhhh- the elusive “comfortable” heels. Many think that this is an urban legend, but there is truth to this tale. Anyone that knows me knows that I am a great connoisseur of shoes in all shapes and sizes. It really is a weakness, and I am always working to resist temptation when it comes to purchases. I love a heel with a little personality, but no woman should be without a great pair in black and brown. I’ve had a pair of Kenneth Cole’s in black patent leather that I swear by, and my brown Cole Haan’s are a dream. Both sport a subtle internal platform to give a little added height boost (great for those of us under the 5’5” mark), and the Cole Haan’s have the added bonus of the Air technology- as in the same stuff used in Nike sneakers, making it the most comfortable heel to wear. You may scoff, but I would run a 5k those little beauties.

9) Long Waisted Cardigan/Sweater: For a while, cropped and short cardigans were extremely popular. While they work well for a lot of folks, I’m a bit long in the torso, so they make me a little disproportionate. I first came across Vineyard Vines’ Capeside Cardigan at the Newport Navy Exchange and fell in love, subsequently picking them up in both navy and green. These simple four button cardigans are a bit longer than many traditional cardigans and aren’t clingy- a huge plus in my book. The silver whale buttons add a touch of whimsy, and they pack well for throwing in an overnight bag. Sadly, I believe they have been discontinued, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed they bring them back! For a traditional pullover, I have relied on a pair of Brooks Brothers cowl neck merino wool sweaters that I would probably fall apart without- once again in navy and green. They are great for layering, and being from the Northeast, it’s never a bad idea to have a good sweater close at hand for chilly spring and summer nights. I can usually be found in one of these at pretty much any given time (as in I’m wearing the navy version right now while I write this list!), and their simple leather toggle button at the neckline adds a little classic charm.

10) Scarves: Although it’s more of an accessory than an actual wardrobe piece, a great scarf is a ridiculously easy way to add a splash of color or dress up an outfit quickly. I think my husband is overwhelmed with the amount of scarves I have, but I get a lot of miles out of them and can be found wearing one most days. I’m guessing I inherited this love of scarves from my mother, as she has a beautiful collection of scarves for all occasions. Long scarves are great for cooler weather, and a couple of well made silk scarves are perfect for warmer weather (for great designs and colors, my personal favorites are Brooks Brothers and Liberty). If you’re short on hanging space, here’s an easy way to store them and keep wrinkles at bay: Using a paper towel (or toilet paper, depending on the size of the scarf) tube, secure the edges of the scarf to the tube with plastic coated paperclips and roll up, securing ends in the same fashion. This will save your space and make it easy to grab one on the way out the door without ending up with a big tangle of scarves.
Anna and I love a good scarf set!
So there’s my Top List on style and wardrobe basics. I’m looking forward to doing more lists as time goes by, and look forward to hearing any thoughts you might have, or what your go to pieces are in your closet. What’s that one thing that you absolutely can’t live (or get dressed) without?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Whales of Stellwagen Bank

When my husband prompted the slightly eyebrow raising text question of “what do you have planned for Saturday?”, I was slightly apprehensive about answering. Unsure of whether his plans involved cleaning out the guest room, going for a 12 mile sprint or cleaning out the cat box, I cautiously answered back that I thought our schedule was open. “Great!” he responded, “Wanna go see some whales?”. I was thrilled and jumped at the chance. Through his job, he was offered the chance to assist in taking out a BBC documentary crew to film the whales off of Stellwagen Bank for part of a program they were doing. He got the green light from the powers that be to bring me along to help with general boat handling, and so we spent Friday night packing provisions and getting ready for our adventure.

At 4:30AM the alarm sounded, and we pried ourselves out of bed. I kept repeating the mantra “It’s worth it to see the whales” as I one-eyed the world and shuffled about getting ready. We hit the road around five and pointed the car North towards Scituate, Mass where we would be meeting the rest of the voyagers for the trip out to the Bank. We made good time and were introduced to the marine sanctuary that would be guiding the trip and headed down to the docks to load up the boat. We were taking a 50 foot aluminum cat out to the banks, with about an hour and a half ride time to get to the sanctuary. Driving up, we had ridden through a couple of hearty thunderstorms, but the skies looked as though they might break, so we kept a positive outlook, and our raingear within arm’s reach.

The film crew showed up in high spirits, and Captain Bob gave them a brief safety and operations talk before departing the docks. I was given the chance to bring us out of the harbor, and I eagerly took position behind the wheel for a while before relinquishing back to the Captain. We had a good laugh as the head scientist Dave pulled out bags of fresh baked treats from a local bakery and watched the film crew pounce on the offering. Being the old school boaters that we are, Kyle and I had packed 5 sandwiches, 3 bananas, 3 water bottles, 2 bags of chips, half a bag of grapes and a few other small snacks, and the rest of the sanctuary crew hand done likewise. Apparently, no one had told the film crew that you always pack like you’re going out for a week when boating, because you just never know. They had looked a bit concerned while taking into account their non-existent provisions until they realized that the scientists had all intentions of sharing, and they gratefully dove into the confections.

After our jog out to Stellwagen Bank, Dave gave a brief interview to the film crew, and we began our search for a pod of whales to film. We spotted a fair amount of dolphins as we circled the bank, and it wasn’t long before the telltale flock of low hovering seagulls gave way to a couple of water spouts, and we made our way over to the whales. Denise, one of the scientist on board counted approximately 10 humpbacks grouped together bubble feeding. The Captain dropped the engines down and we nosed up to the group.

I have lived my entire life on the East coast, and much of that in the Northeast, and I don’t think I have ever seen anything this incredible. We literally had one big fellow right off our nose, and he was continually bubble feeding- a trick they use where they will dive down and circle around blowing out bubble to force the fish to the surface in order to feed. It was amazing! They were so close that we could have just about reached out and touched them, although not something you want to do with a wild animal! All of us- scientists, film and boat crew- were out in on the deck in 6 foot seas and sideways rain just to get closer to these incredible animals. As we were heading back into the harbor, there was a pair of humpbacks breaching. Sadly, I wasn’t at the ready with my camera, but it is a sight I will never forget- those great bodies coming clean out of the water and landing with a spectacular splash- a perfect way to cap off our trip!

The work that they are doing at the Stellwagen sanctuary is truly outstanding, and I am grateful I got an up close opportunity to witness their efforts first hand. Whales have always had a special place in my heart, and it is incredible to see the hard work put in by the entire team to protect the population. I would encourage anyone who gets a chance to get out to the bank and witness the whales for yourself, even in pouring rain and high seas, it is well worth the effort. To read more on the valiant work of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, visit their website.