Coloring Outside the Lines.

By: Jen Shoop

When I lived in France, the landlord who owned and rented the small room I lived in told me two things that I will never forget.  I’ll recount them as they actually unfolded, though we were speaking in French at the time, which is mind-boggling in that I now forget so much of the language:

Me: Madame, we have a mouse problem in my apartment.  We’ve had to hang our food in bags from the chandelier — it’s the only way they won’t eat into everything.

Madame: Yes.

Me: [Making face the equivalent of the thinking emoji, before trying a different, more direct tack:] Is there anything we can do about it?

Madame: [Long pause.]  Mon cherie, bienvenue a France!  [Translation:  My dear, welcome to France!  Alternate translation: Hell no!]

The second conversation:

Me: I can’t believe how meticulous my French classmates are — they use rulers while they’re taking notes and write in the most perfect script.

Madame: You know the difference between French and American students?  If you were to observe a French Kindergarten, all of the students would be quietly, carefully coloring inside the lines.  If you were to observe an American Kindergarten, there would be stray marks all over the place, coloring all over the page.

It was a funny observation in that, in many ways, my understanding of the French brought to mind a very different mentality.  I noted that many French took pride in “skirting the law” and were deeply sarcastic towards anything that smelled of bureaucracy, though they lived very comfortably–resignedly?–within it.  As an example, a Frenchman told me that it was a point of pride for French people to find ways to evade taxation.  A tension, here: a culture caught up in its own rules and regulations and histories, and at the same time very annoyed by it all.  I relate to this tension.  I am a rule-follower by nature — rarely late; anxious about getting caught for even minor infractions like checking the time on my phone at my parents’ country club, where cell phones are not permitted; easily angered by people who flout traffic rules by double parking or swerving into oncoming traffic in order to speed ahead to the left hand turn lane.  But, on the other hand, I’ve never exactly lived my life by “the rules.”  I’ve followed a sort of organic and idiosyncratic career path, swinging my way from a M.A. in literature to executive product roles in technology start-ups to launching a fashion blog (well, fashion-ish…what shall we call this lovely frankenstein of a blog?) on my own and with nary a credential to do so.

At the end of the day, though, at least when it comes to fashion, I’ll take the kid coloring outside the lines.

It’s a good reminder for me to live up to my American heritage and step out of my comfort zone when it comes to fashion.  It’s so easy to wear the tried-and-true, but damn does it feel good when I take a risk and it pays off in a major way.  This Zimmerman dress, for example.  I wore it to a wedding in a gorgeous citrine yellow color and have never received more compliments.  (See my full wardrobe for the wedding weekend here.)

In this vein, I’ve been crushing on Alexa Chung lately, and she’s pushing me to test out some “out of my comfort zone” pieces — pieces with unique shapes, like balloon sleeves and boxy lines, and looks with interesting contrasts, like sneakers with blouses.

The Fashion Magpie Alexa Chung 1

The Fashion Magpie Alexa Chung 2

The Fashion Magpie Alexa Chung 3

The Fashion Magpie Alexa Chung 4

My top picks for nailing that Alexa fashion-forward vibe:

+A loose-fitting smock dress ($56).  I love the grommet and bow detailing at the neck.  The shape is a touch daunting but could also be incredibly chic with the right accessories (i.e., a simple pair of slides).

+This eyelet-sleeved, striped dress ($116).

+Masculine loafers ($425) — or a pair of classic Guccis.

+This balloon sleeved, floral blouse ($105).  (Could I pull it off?!?!)

+This loose + gauzy printed, dramatic-sleeved blouse ($98).

+This printed Saloni blouse ($325).

+This amazing OTS Tibi dress (on sale for $247) I featured a few weeks back that looks strikingly similar to the Alexa Chung red stunner above.

+This frothy printed dress (on sale for $225).

+These funky printed loafers ($225).  Love that tiger print!

+This chic white blouse ($329) — have you seen the amazing pieces from this new-to-me line?!  Dying over this dress.

+The coolest sweater ever (SEA, $350).  I need this for fall.  NEED, people.  Can it go on sale, plz and thank you?

+This chambray playsuit ($65), preferably over a striped tee.

P.S. — Another fashion risk I took recently.

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3 thoughts on “Coloring Outside the Lines.

  1. I love your story about your French landlord … reminds me of my experience living in Paris for a year when I was in college. Such a formative experience in so many ways. I am still saddened by my atrophying language skills, particularly when it comes to speaking (reading & writing were always my strong suits), but I do try to read in French from time to time to try and keep it up!

    And and and … I couldn’t not comment on Alexa Chung, who has long been one of my fashion icons. How do you feel about her new line? I feel like I haven’t investigated it enough, but have enjoyed seeing pieces here & there while perusing Moda ‘Operandi.

    1. I know: people say “it will all come back to you” if you have the opportunity to immerse yourself,” but I just can’t imagine a time where I’ll be able to speak as fluently as I could then, coming off the heels of close to 8 years of French coursework. Le sigh. Maybe one day? I have a daydream about living in France for a summer with my whole family at some point…YES, I love Alexa’s style. I’m lukewarm on her collection. Some pieces are TDF, but others are dated-looking instead of “retro-inspired,” IMHO. What about you?

    2. I fully agree, re: fluency … I’ve been back to France several times since 2005 and it’s definitely not the same. Maybe if I lived there? I would love to, one day!

      I like a select few ALEXACHUNG pieces I’ve seen, but overall I wasn’t as impressed with it as I thought I might be. I remember really liking her capsule collection for Madewell that came out about 6 years ago (I had the black watch mac coat and LOVED.IT.), but certain pieces from her new line do feel dated — I think you’re right about that. I think my style has changed a bit as well … I’m 7 months younger than A.C. herself and I feel that I’ve started to age out (?) of some of the pieces she’s come out with.

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