Wardrobe Planning, Part One: Planning For Climate....

....or, Why I'm Skipping the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale...

Recently, a chance remark made me re-assess my wardrobe...   

An online acquaintance commented that, while she lives in the South, which is warm most of the year, she is always buying clothing for cooler climates.   The result is that she has a lot of clothing, but nothing to wear.

Mind = BLOWN.   I do this.

I buy suede shoes and fabric handbags - unless there is a drought, 100% of my life is spent places with heavy rain or snow.   It is above 65F most of the year, but I have more black wool jackets and leather bombers than I can count.   I don't work in a corporate environment, but I have business suits.   I have a collection of leather skirts that would make a stylish Domme sigh in admiration.

And then there is special-occasion wear - but that's a conversation for another day.   

Today, I want to talk about how climate and weather affect my wardrobe planning.  

Last Christmas, our holiday travels took us from Toronto to South Florida.   The two climates could not have been any different, but the feeling was the same:   I was disappointed with what I was wearing.  At a very festive time of year, I didn't feel very festive.   I didn't feel cute, sleek, elegant, sophisticated, or dapper, all of which I aspire to. 

I felt bland and invisible.

What went wrong?   Well... my closet and my choices did not reflect my needs.  I did not take into account climate, weather, or the wisdom of tried-and-true.

In Toronto...

Instead of sticking to my beloved black-based palette, which always makes me feel sleek and elegant, I decided to lighten things up.   I packed uninspiring neutrals, mostly grays and browns, to wear with my dark blue jeans.   I included pops of cobalt, which I have since realized is a washout color for me.

Lesson #1:  stick to the script, and wear what you already know works for you.

I also realized, that, despite having a lot of "fall" clothes... I do not have good outerwear for very cold, snowy city weather.   Sure, my fur-lined bomber is toasty-warm, and adorable in Atlanta when it's 20F out, but it rides up and shifts around when dragging a suitcase and carry-on through snow.   

I also packed one pair of boots, some ballerina flats, and a pair of high-heeled pumps.   Guess what I wore the entire, snowy-slushy week?   That's right, just the boots.   Which I quickly tired of, and didn't really like with skirts.

Lessons #2:  Don't be unrealistic in your choices.   Four-inch heels in snow?   No no no.  

Lesson #3:  Try on and photograph your outfits before you pack, so that you know your shoes will go with your outfits.

Another mistake: packing a lot of heavy turtleneck sweaters, aka, 'crumbcatchers'.   I dislike most turtlenecks, and I don't wear them very often.   I prefer just about any other neckline.   If my neck is cold, I add a scarf.   The turtlenecks fit under the shifting furry jacket, but overall, I felt bulky and somehow stifled.

Lesson #4  Why would you pack a bunch of something that you already know you dislike?  PACK THE STUFF YOU LIKE.

We don't go to Toronto every Christmas season, but I noticed we have wound up there four times in the past five years, and we're usually there 7-10 days.  

And then... Florida....

We had a one-day stopover home, between Toronto and Florida.   Go figure, I packed a lot of black - because I had missed it in Toronto.   I didn't pack shorts.   One pair of shorts (non-black) would have made all the difference.   I've been back to Florida a couple of times since Christmas, and I realized that a black t-shirt + any other color skirt or shorts = me feeling very happy.  Same with black shorts paired with a white or color top.

I have been down to Florida five times in less than a year, and I'm planning another visit soon.    My visits are usually 7-10 days, before my family drives me nuts.  (Just kidding, family!  I love you guys!)

January-July in the South

It was cold in January-February, but never as cold as Toronto, and no snow.   I got to wear my 'cool-weather' clothes, but there simply weren't enough days and occasions to wear everything I have.  Most weekdays this year, I have had dance class, acting class (requiring physical movement), or rehearsals for a show, which means that button-down blouses, delicate silks, tailored clothing, and brocade jackets are kind of pointless.   By mid-March, I had switched to lightweight zip cardigans as outerwear, skinny jeans and ponte stretch pants, and stretch skirts.

Around Memorial Day Weekend, all layers were gone.   My wardrobe is lightweight top + lightweight bottom + Shoes That Don't Make My Feet Feel Hot.

What I need:

  • A Very Cold/Snowy Weather Capsule Wardrobe for 7-10 days
  • A Very Hot & Humid Weather Capsule Wardrobe for 30 days
  • A Seasonless Wardrobe that allows for eight months of temperate weather, and three months of cool weather.

What I don't need anymore of:

  • Fall jackets
  • Suede Anything (it rains or snows regularly everywhere I go)
  • Fabric bags or Shoes (see the previous)
  • Half-way shoes - i.e., booties, or shooties.  If it's warm enough for shooties, it's too hot for shooties.  And I would rather wear pumps than booties.
This is why I'm skipping the NAS - I have more than enough 'fall' clothes.   I need clothing for High Summer.

My Cold-Weather Capsule Checklist:

  • Allows for 7-10 days in snow and slush, at temperatures from below zero F, to the teens
  • Makes me feel sleek and fabulous
  • Includes a longer winter coat
  • Includes a pair of low-heeled dressy leather boots that look great with skirts and dresses 
  • Includes slim-fitting underwear and layering tops that aren't bulky and fit closely to the body
  • Lined leather gloves
  • Warm hat
  • Soft scarves

My Hot & Humid Weather Capsule Checklist:

  • Several pairs of shorts in black, white, and tan.   Cotton and linen are preferred
  • Basic short-sleeve tees that fit closely to the body without being too clingy.   In black, I like cotton, viscose, or linen-blend.   In white, viscose or cotton.
  • Slim-fitting skirts in black, denim, or khaki
  • Makes me feel sleek, cool, and happy.  And not over-exposed.
  • Wedge sandals in nude, beige, or light-brown leather, that can be dressy-casual with skirts, or very casual with shorts
  • Shoes That Don't Make My Feet Feel Hot.   My litmus test is EPCOT.   If I can wear the same shoes all day at EPCOT without whimpering, they're summer keepers.

In summary, I have most of the things on these checklists already.   There are some things I anticipate I will be refreshing every year:  shoes for the hot and cold capsules, and tees and shorts for the hot weather capsule.

For the rest, I am going to experiment with a no-shop until Labor Day Weekend, and see where it gets me.

So on to you... do you plan your wardrobe according to your climate?  

Learning the Charleston, or, How I Work With a Dance Tutorial

I'm currently in rehearsal for Agape Player's production of "Thoroughly Modern Millie", which opens at the end of this month.

In the show, I play two roles:   Miss Flannery, the grouchy office manager, and a 20's flapper in the ensemble.  I whimsically decided to name my flapper character 'Buffy Vanderslut' (pronounced van-dehr-SLOOT).

I am in several dance numbers.  My process in all of the choreography is that I break it down, and practice in chunks.   I work on hitting my marks and poses, I work on having relaxed and fluid arms.   I came to dance later in life, so I try not to leave anything to chance, or improv - because when I do, my dancing looks very weak.  

In the title song, Thoroughly Modern Millie, I've spent a lot of time cleaning up my movement, and trying to work in that 1920s devil-may-care, Jazz-Age attitude.    In this number, we do a Charleston step.   It's not for very long - maybe four bars.   But watching other cast members, I quickly realized, there are Charleston steps, and there are The Charleston Steps.

I really want to do a proper Charleston.   So, I searched on YouTube, and found several great tutorials, but this is the one I keep referring back to...

The thing is, it's only a couple of minutes long.   How do you learn and drill a dance step to a tempo that is faster than a tutorial?   This is my current break-down, to learn and practice...

1.  After I stretch, I watch the video a couple of times and mark the movements.   The first time, I just watch.   The next few times, I try to mark just the feet.  By 'mark', I mean, I just sort of imitate the movement.   I do this a couple of times.   Then I watch the video a couple more times, and try to mark the arm placement.    This usually takes me about 5-8 minutes.

2.   Then I break this video down into chunks.  

00 - 0:44    This is the basic step.    I spend maybe 5-6 minutes on this part of the video.   I do the movement along with the video, then I pause it, do the step repetitively on my own, a few times, and add the arms, which are pretty simple.   Then I do the movement with the video again, making sure the arms are correct.   I also practice keeping my head up, looking through the wall, and smiling, so that I can connect with the audience when we actually perform.

0:45-1:13   This is the swivel movement that I'm trying to work into the steps.   I do the movement along with the video, then pause, and drill the swivels for maybe 5 minutes, stopping for periodic calf stretches.   Then I move on to the next part... which is where the real struggle begins.

1:14-1:22    This eight seconds requires more time and effort than the previous two chunks put together.   I try to mark the movement with the video, then I pause and drill.   I usually get progressively worse over the course of 3-4 minutes, and when that happens, I intersperse the movement in the previous segment (just the swivels), with this movement (one leg moving up and down)

1:24-1:27   This is seriously the mindf*ck part for me.   I work this into the previous drill:  swivels for 16 counts; switch to right leg for 8 counts, switch to left leg for 8 counts, and then this segment, which I find hideously tricksy, switching back and forth between the right and left legs.

1:28-2:38    The rest of the video...   I am still working through this.   I cannot do it up to the tempo she does it at (which I think is slower than the tempo for the show).    How I am working on/will eventually work on these movements:

Do a basic Charleston (as seen at the beginning of the video) for 16 counts
Do swivels for 16 counts
Do same-leg swivels for 16 counts
Do alternating leg swivels for 16 counts
Do a basic Charleston again
Work the swivel into the basic Charleston.

Repeat all of the above, adding the arm movements.

Once I get the step consistently, I will work with a metronome, using the advance-two-speeds, lower-one speed method.

I am finding that for this particular dance, 30 minutes of practice is about my limit, before my hips flexors tell me to go find something else to work on. 

At this writing (three days into the learning process), I can do the footwork, but not fast, and not for more than about 16 counts.   I only need about 16 counts, but I want to build up to 64 counts of really solid, stylish, swivelling Charleston, so that the stamina is there.

So... that's how I learn dance steps, using video references.

How I Improve A Skillset

Photo compliments of Calo Gitano Flamenco Academy
JC went golfing on the Fourth of July.  I asked how it went.   “Gee got frustrated, and left early”.

I was very surprised at this – not at the frustration - I know our friend is often frustrated – but that he left the course, before he had even finished the front nine.   JC and his friends love to golf; they live for the times they spend out there on the greens. 

Gee has taken lessons with a pro, and he's upgraded his gear.  When they play, he constantly tries new things, to figure out how to improve his game.   JC says that his game has actually gotten worse.

To love something that much, and to feel like you’re not getting anywhere with it, is one of the worst feelings in the world.

I can certainly relate.

See that picture above?  It was taken last month, at the end of a Bata da Cola flamenco class I’m taking this summer.   I’m the red-headed woman on the right.   See my expression?   Perhaps it looks determined to you, but actually, I was very angry and frustrated with myself.

The Bata da Cola skirt is very heavy and unwieldy, with a long train.   The dancer flips the skirt around gracefully around herself as she dances.   There are too many niceties and technical points to outline here – suffice to say, this requires doing the most awkward rond de jambes in attitude, while keeping your foot flexed at bizarre angles, so that you can catch the ruffled underlayers at the right point, to successfully bring the skirt around, without catching your foot in layers of fabric, tripping, or slipping.    It's hard on the hip flexors, to the point of exhaustion.    And that's not adding in the arm movements, the floreos of the hands, and body positions.

After every class, I’ve been furious with my failure to consistently get these movements - usually to the point of tears.   It was only recently that I realized that I was not putting in adequate work, outside of class.   

My process for improving a skillset:

This is the process that I use, to learn and practice, in order to perform - as an actor, a dancer, or a musician.  I think this process could be adapted for just about anything - studying, learning a language, playing a sport.   

1.  I assemble my tools.   For dance:  dance shoes, practice clothing, a metronome,  videos I’ve taken in class or at rehearsal.  I also scour YouTube for tutorial ideas.    For music:  the score, a recording if possible, a metronome, and a sharp pencil with a clean eraser.  For acting:  the script, a folding chair, a table, and a pencil.

I always have a timer, and I work in 15-minute increments.

2.       I do a warm-up.   For dance:  stretching.   For acting:  relaxation and sense memory exercises.   For music:  vocal or piano exercises.   Whatever the activity, I warm-up for 15-30 minutes, which helps get my mind 'right'.

3.   I break down what I want to learn, into manageable 'chunks'.   I set my timer for 15 minutes.   I divide music into 32- or 64-bar passages.   If I’m singing, I learn the melody and rhythm first, then add in the lyrics.  For piano, I might even work one hand at a time.   I find the lowest common denominator of the dance step or choreography I’m working on, and gradually build on that I learn the monologue in chunks.  

4.  When the timer goes off, I move on to the next chunk of material, even if the previous chunk isn't perfect.   Alternatively... if I have gone through all of the chunks, I start over, doing clean-up and adding to what I've learned.

5.  I work for 45 minutes, followed by a 15-minute break.   This is so important.   It keeps me sane, and it keeps me from hitting a point where nothing makes sense anymore.

If I reach the “this makes no sense” point early, I revert to an easier form of what I’m working on, and try to break down the material into simpler terms, until that 15 minutes is up.   Then I move on to the next chunk.

 6.   For metronome work (dance and piano).... I start on a slow setting and make sure I can correctly execute the material three or four times.  I drill individual passages, and I try to sweep through the entire chunk of material, as a whole.   Then I advance the metronome two markings, and try to do it at the elevated tempo three or four times.   If you try this, expect to blunder here - you're just training the body and the brain to react more quickly.  Then I lower the metronome speed by one marking.

I keep doing this:  up two, down one, until I reach a tempo that is a little faster than the speed I want to perform at.

Some general thoughts about improving at any skill:

 You have to accept being uncomfortable, mentally or physically.   Don't let this discourage you - being uncomfortable is how you improve and grow.   Caveat:  if you are experiencing actual physical pain, STOP AND RE-ASSESS WHAT YOU ARE DOING.

A good teacher or coach can make all the difference in the world.   Find someone whose work you greatly admire, and ask them who they study with.   Or if they teach!   Or look online, read reviews, try and find videos of performers who have used a particular teacher or coach.

Remember that your teacher or coach can only guide you so far.   You have to put in the work.  

Also realize… you may eventually outgrow your teacher or coach, or you may find that they’re not the right fit.   Give it a fair shake – but if you’re putting in the work, and you’re not seeing improvement in three months, it may be time to find a new instructor.

*Gee is not our friend's real name, obvs.
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