Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sometimes it's OK to be an adorable little nugget

My 16-month-old daughter is obsessed with a leopard-print satin scarf. She drapes is around her neck and tosses one end over her shoulder. She presses its softness against her cheek and holds it between her tiny fingertips.

She has preferences now.

The other day, Bettie Anne picked out red sparkly shoes, a pink floral-print sundress and, of course, the leopard-print scarf to wear to the park. The combo was risky, yet fashionably brilliant.

I wanted to say (while clapping and jumping), "Oh my goodness! Look at you, you adorable little nugget!"

Instead, I said something like, "Wow, Bettie. The choices you made display adventurous creativity, as well as respectable practicality; the scarf is an intelligent choice because, in addition to boasting a visually stimulating pattern, it will help protect your neck from UV rays. And well done on using multiple facets of your brain to achieve this level of self-expression. You are an intelligent and capable woman who is worthy of respect and so much greater than your physical beauty -- which is undeniable, yet only a fraction of your identity and value."

In response, she yelled "Hi!" and then ran off to pull the dog's hair.

Trying to raise a healthy daughter is like putting together a puzzle blind, with no hands, on the Mind Eraser roller coaster while the pieces keep falling away. Summed up in three words, it feels like: "Expert. Moron. Repeat."

According to ABC News, nearly half of 3- to 6-year-old girls worry about being fat. A recent column in the Huffington Post revealed that 25 percent of young American women would rather win "America's Next Top Model" than the Nobel Peace Prize.

"Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything," wrote author Lisa Bloom in the article. "It sets them up for dieting at age 5 and foundation at age 11 and boob jobs at 17 and Botox at 23."

Interesting theory. But it's not as simple as calling every little girl smart instead of cute.

I happen to think that beauty is not an evil or shallow thing. After all, wouldn't strong confidence in your individual beauty from day one help counteract society's confusing messages about dieting and plastic surgery?

The problem is our definition of "beauty" -- and calling a child beautiful if you think that beauty means conforming and disrespecting your body is sending the wrong message.

But if your baby girl knows that beauty is in the unpredictable way the clouds morph around a full moon, and in the way that the red canyon rocks reach toward the sun, and in the way her nose crinkles when she laughs -- in addition to the rituals of taking care of your skin and loving your body by filling it with healthy food that will fuel the day's adventures -- then damn straight, she is the most beautiful thing in the world. And damn straight, I'm going to tell her.

Little girls worry about being fat because their moms worry that they look fat. Not because anyone called a girl an adorable little nugget instead handing her a dictionary.

I think of the book, "Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman's Soul," by John and Stasi Eldredge. About women, the book asserts: "We desire to possess a beauty that is worth pursuing, worth fighting for, a beauty that is core to who we truly are. We want beauty that can be seen; beauty that can be felt; beauty that affects others; a beauty all our own to unveil."

Strength in her own unique beauty. That is what I wish for my daughter. And that does not minimize or objectify her any more than it diminishes the ocean to admire its surging waves.

The next time Bettie picks out that satin scarf, I want to let her know, unapologetically, how beautiful it looks. Because Mama's Little Girl will always know that beauty is as deep as you let it be.

Although I'm not going to lie: I'll still probably slip in a little promotion for its UV protection factor. And maybe the word "facet," just to keep her vocabulary challenged. To prepare her for her Nobel Peace Prize speech some day.


Brittany: The flow of fashion

Photo by Flickr user CastawayVintage.

My BFF Brittany was browsing through the racks at the Goodwill near her house when she came across the perfect red-and-black plaid jacket.

Granted, it was the middle of summer, and she wouldn`t be able to wear it until fall, but it was only a couple of bucks, super cute and it fit her perfectly. She eyed it in the dressing room mirror and stuck her hands in the pockets. The pockets weren`t empty.

She pulled out lipstick -- and did a double take. It was her exact shade, the tip even bearing her signature lip shape. (Lipsticks are like fingerprints for our mouths.) Could it be destiny?

Then she remembered she had a winter coat similar to this at home. Actually, no, identical. This was her coat. How did it get here? She didn`t remember selling it. She still liked it.

Obviously, right?

Now what? In an unsure daze, she decided not to buy the coat -- her own coat, again -- and instead called her dad to tell him the confusing coincidence.

He agreed it was pretty funny, and then casually mentioned, "Speaking of thrift stores, I went ahead and brought all of the clothes that you don`t want anymore to the Good Will."

"What clothes?"

"The ones in trash bags in the back of the spare closet."

Oh, those clothes. The seasonal winter clothes that Brittany had cleared out of her closet to make space for the summer stuff. The bags that contained her red and black plaid jacket.

They tried to buy her winter wardrobe back -- classifying the cost as a donation to the nonprofit -- but they never did track down the plaid coat again.

Which was just as well. Because by the time this fall rolls around, plaid will probably be out of style.


Have a heart

Photo by Tres Benet.
I didn't have the heart to tell the man at Shooters Grill and Bar that the autopsy-style y-cut stitches on my chest were just makeup, not a real tattoo.

Wait for it.

Didn't. Have. The. Heart. Zing. Groan.

Someone punch me.

"It takes real kahunas to get a tattoo like that," he had said, and far be it from me not to accept an undeserved compliment.

It took real, albeit slightly smaller, kahooties to wear the temporary markings out to the Boulder bars, too. I could have washed off my zombie makeup, after my performance with the Dollhouse Pole Studio's dance fundraiser. But beyond Halloween, how often do you have an excuse to wear neck stitches and fake blood out in public?

That's a rhetorical question.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

My mom: Welcome (back) to the '60s

My actual mom and my actual dad at age 15. Their marriage was arranged at birth, which you can see here by their pure misery did not go over well. You can see my mom's knees in this photo, so you can tell she was a total rebellious man-eater.

My mom got sent to the principal's office in middle school because her green shift dress was too short.

So naturally, she wore it again -- on the day of class pictures for the yearbook. The teachers told her she couldn't wear that short dress in the class picture. So naturally, she sat in
the front row.

This photo of my mother is one of my favorite objects on this planet. Before printing the yearbook, some brilliant yearbook editor took a marker and colored my mother's gorgeous legs black, down to mid-calf, where any good girl's hemline should have landed.

My mother insists that she was a good girl -- a total June Cleaver. But her edited yearbook legacy also proves that my mother was a fearless fashionista. A bit of a Bettie Page. And that delights me.

Not only did my mom own -- and wear -- a mini the size of a wrist cuff, but the date of the yearbook indicates she wore it before it was mainstream. Therefore, until anyone can prove me otherwise, I am starting the rumor that my mom singlehandedly started the mini-skirt trend of the mid-to-late-'60s.

Or maybe she was 40-plus years ahead of the curve, a mere teenager setting the stage for the up-and-coming style for fall 2009. Because the '60s are It right now.

Thank AMC's show, "Mad Men, " or give Michelle Obama and her ubiquitous sheath dresses a nod. But you can find pencil skirts, brooches, pearls, chiffon, vintage scarves and wristlette gloves on the runways, red carpets and increasingly more clothing racks.

Photo from

My mom's favorite '60s style was Cher, circa 1966, with long hair and long bangs. In fact, in eighth grade, Mom got sent home on picture day because her bangs were in her eyes and she refused to push them to the side. I see a trend.

As for '60s clothing?

My mother is innocent: "Call your grandma. I borrowed that infamous shift dress from her."

Tip: Check out the official "Mad Men" fashion flipbook here:

Water-proof fashion

I am an earth sign, for Pete's sake.

That's my excuse as to why I've never been a fan of water. And by "not a fan, " I mean I used to be terrified to splash water on my face because I thought I was going to suffocate.

Maybe my water terror stems from a past life. More likely, from watching Stephen King's "It" at a young age in my friend's basement. Every horror flick -- "Psycho, " "Arachnophobia, " "From Dusk Til Dawn" -- seems to have a creepy shower scene.

So don't blame me that my skin care regime was a little less than spa-worthy until I got into college. In fact, I used to wash my face (but not eyes or I would be blind) with isopropyl alcohol.

You may know of what my father affectionately called IPA for its ability to remove hot glue and disinfect hospital needles. But as an antiseptic, it also kills all kinds of bacteria and fungi, which left my skin all but zit-free, even in puberty.

My father -- who also washes his hair with the same bar of soap he uses for showering, cleaning his hands, the dishes, the car and the counters -- introduced me to IPA. It worked as an almost-viable skin treatment, if you could get over the violent burning sensation, and the way it dried out my flesh to the point that I developed scales.

As I got older, I learned that a murderous clown was not going to crawl out of the drain, and I also learned that there were many other (non-burning) options to skin care.

There are many household objects you can use on your face (and I`m not talking about Drano).

Denver stylist Jenece Amella ( offers these summer skin care tips:
Strawberries -- If you`re sunburned, these are a great bleaching agent for hyperpigmentation and freckles. Throw strawberries in the blender and add some honey to help it stick together. Apply the strawberry mush to your face like a mask. It will sting a little (hey, I`m used to that), but it`ll reduce redness. Be careful if you have sensitive skin.

Tomatoes -- If your sunburn stings, pop open a can of tomatoes and spread them across your face. The acid in the tomatoes alleviates the burn. Amella learned this trick in Costa Rica.

Queen for a day

Photo by Flickr user anyjazz65.

I grew up in the mountains, on a ranch, with horses. But somehow I never got bit by the cowgirl bug, er, horsefly.

Maybe it was because I was allergic to every single thing in a barn. Especially dirt. Maybe it was my Barbie "tent bed" that kept me locked in my purple bedroom with a castle of books.

From my purple tower, I watched many childhood friends grow into cowgirls. Beautiful, huge-haired, glittery statues of elegance perched a top those dusty creatures whose manure I was supposed to shovel every Sunday, if it weren't for my (achoo) allergies, sorry Mom.

One friend, Tiffany (of course that was her name), competed for rodeo queen. She got fake nails, her teeth bleached and hair extensions, and every other inch of hair from her body removed. She even waxed her face.

I remember the horror when she was riding around the arena in the blistering heat, and her cake of makeup began to droop down her cheeks on a Slip 'n Slide of sweat, no longer supported by the tiny folicules of hair. Her blush was on her shoulders by the time she finished. But she won.

It ain't easy being queen.


Groupie distress

Photo by Flickr user tncountryfan.

Two weeks before the concert, we began wondering what to wear.

It's not that my sister Devon and I thought Kid Rock would care -- although having backstage passes did make it a possibility.

Possible was enough.

I've had a long-standing, (completely) one-sided love torrent with the so-trashy-he's-hot-singer.
And the fact that he sings country, hip-hop and rock -- three distinctly different fashion genres -- was further complicated by the location of the concert: the Greeley Independence Stampede.

Greeley plus the Fourth of July weekend equals a cruel combo. The "no gang clothing" signs plastering the fairgrounds took red and blue out of the equation. There should have also been "no white clothing" signs, what with the dusty arena and Colorado's new schizophrenic rain disorder. Patriotism would not be my fashion fall-back.

A week went by. I considered wearing a veil and wedding gown, but I decided it was too subtle. Plus, the dust.

Devon suggested wearing silver star pasties and a long trench coat. But once again: too subtle.

It was now crunch time, the night before the show. As I walked into the Flatiron Crossing Mall in Broomfield, a jinx-text popped up from Devon, announcing she was walking into the Loveland mall to hunt down her concert duds. Just inches inside Macy's, I spotted a sage-colored, above-the-knee, strapless tube dress with mini pleats -- and pockets. How could I resist a dress with pockets?

That's when a text popped in from Devon: "I just bought a pearl necklace longer than most dresses. It won't work for the concert, but I had to get it."

As always, I ended up in Guess, where I spotted a cream and white button-down tube dress with a ribbon belt. It was almost as ill suited as the polka-dot pumps Devon announced she had just purchased. But not quite as ridiculous as the floral ruffle dress she said she got to match. We agreed that small-floral print is one of our favorite summer 2009 trends, but that Kid Rock wouldn't be impressed.

Jealous-slash-inspired by Devon's finds, I found myself in Denver in the Forever 21 check-out line carrying a satin and chiffon ruffle dress in dark blue; a multi-strand braided bead necklace; and a black headband covered in feathers and fake flower petals.


I stopped. I had lost my focus. I'd bee-lined to the back right corner of the store, where I always find the laces and sparkles. My style staples. My rut.

While shaking my head, I texted my realization: "Devon. We are incapable of dressing casually."

And suddenly, I realized how uncomfortable it can be to push your fashion boundaries. For most Boulder women, it's just the other way around: They get stuck in the Bermuda Triangle of T-shirts and jeans. I was being smothered by satin and bows.

I looked around the store with a fresh perspective and realized the first 300 items of clothing I'd
charged past were plaid, checkered, jean or otherwise cowgirl-inspired. And cute. I grabbed an armload. I could do this.

I ended up wearing a short leopard-print dress.

Devon wore zebra-print. With a red flower brooch. And the 4-foot strand of pearls.

Kid Rock didn't care.

And it turned out leopard-print camouflaged the stinky rodeo mud surprisingly well.


Reba: Fashion layers

Reba and me dissentegrating in Africa.

I knew it was going to be a great trip when the text chimed in, "I can't wait to disintegrate with you."

The love note came from my childhood friend, Reba, just hours before we boarded planes from opposite sides of the United States to meet up in a cockroach-infested airport in Africa.

The text was referring to our impending hygiene decay. The refugee camp where we were headed had no running water or electricity. Getting ready came down to digging under your black nails with moist towelettes and splashing in a bucket of sub-zero rainwater. (Repeatedly shouting "Water World" helps. Water World's slides are always cold and people pay good money to splash in them.)

My dad calls the refugee camp "low-tech camping." In other words, it makes two weeks in a tent in the Rocky Mountain National Park look like the Hilton. In fact, after I tried but could not shake the ants out of my green breakfast bread, I began daydreaming about dehydrated backpacker's chow; just add water and the prepackaged powder transforms into a steak. Creepy, yes. Not crawling? Also, yes.

Most people back home are flabbergasted when I tell them about my annual refugee excursions. How can a fashion columnist handle the deepest and dirtiest ditches of humanity? Joyfully. But how can I survive without dresses and lipstick?

I don't.

I don't have to.

That's the thing that really freaks people out. You see, it turns out women are complex, multi-dimensional beings. We do not have to be either/or. We are all (seeming) contradictions in one way or another. And it's these opposing features, placed side-by-side like gold eye shadow with blue eyes, that make a woman stand out.

That is my justification for packing lipstick, mascara and one beautiful necklace -- a pick-me-up for those extra-rough days. Simple pleasures gain a new value after sleeping in an orphanage for orphans of war and AIDS. Happy thoughts become the only lifeline back to sanity.

But not too happy of thoughts; those hurt even more. Just something cheery and misplaced, like a fresh coat of "Amplified" pink M.A.C. lipstick. As Plato said, "The good is the beautiful."

Sure, it's taken out of context to prove my point. And I have no doubt Plato would have laughed at me when my backpack of beauty supplies tipped over in the graduated-floored latrine, sending my "lifelines" to the bottom of Bog of Eternal Stench.

It's all about balance -- in this case literally, but also figuratively, says Courtney Allen, a marketing intern with Boulder's Women's Wilderness Institute.

Allen, a University of Colorado graduate, rocks hiking boots, as well as stilettos. She just knows when to wear which.

Allen admits she hikes with make-up on. She shops at the Nordstrom Rack, Common Era in Boulder and Pink, a boutique on University Boulevard in Denver. She knows the best spa to get a mid-day mani/pedi (Fingers and Toes in Denver, because they also provide a boxed lunch).

She also adores her vintage outdoor clothing her parents passed down to her. Allen wants to start a blog called "Waterproof Mascara, " sort of a support group for outdoorsy girly girls.

She says too many women limit their style, and with that, their capacity for self-expression, personal growth -- and fun.

"It's about learning to appreciate different parts of who you are, " Allen says. "If you're comfortable throwing on make-up before you hike, that's fine. It doesn't take away from the hike at all."

No more than it diminishes a night on the town for an athlete who feels like wearing a twirly dress but doesn't want to wear glow-in-the-dark lipstick.

Just don't forfeit the breathtaking hike because you don't own Patagonia like the rest of the hikers. And don't forfeit that rooftop cocktail because you only wear Patagonia.

Allen says she hears too many women say the evil words: "I wish I could pull that off." What does that even mean?

"You can pull it off, " she says. "If you really want to, you can. You can be whatever you want."
Which is the heart of the Women's Wilderness Institute ( The institute helps local women uncover their inner outside-self in a safe, personal and fun environment.

"Everyone comes from different backgrounds, but you're all dirty, slimy, sweaty girls three days into the course, " Allen says. "The course peels away the first level, and you grow from there."
Or disintegrate from there, as it were.

Maybe Plato was off. I don't think the good is the beautiful.

The real is the beautiful.

Whatever shade of pink or mud-brown or ant-covered-green your personal reality comes in.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Twirl Factor

Not me. My petticoat was bigger. Photo by Flickr user Penelope Felicity.

My family nearly disowned me the Easter of 1990. I decided to wear a 12-layer pink petticoat to church.

My 10-year-old brain thought it looked royal. The mutha of all ballerinas. Plus, the slip had incredible twirl action, rivaling a helicopter blade when I got going.

As the fashion horror story goes, we were late (I was probably busy spinning), and, of course, the only open seats were in the front row. I remember walking through the tight aisle, the itchy tulle of my massive skirt scraping the bodies I pushed past. The shuffle was loud enough that the pastor stopped and waited for us to sit (which took awkwardly long because I couldn’t find the pew).

My mom looked physically ill. And now that I think about it, we never returned to that church.
Some people just don’t have an appreciation for the Twirl Factor.

Style pains

Photo by Flickr user swister_p.

I was asking for this.

I’ve been swaggering in skyscraper-high heels since I learned how to balance in them, long before I could even drive a car. It’s tough being 5-foot-nothing-tall. I tried to compensate.

Until my brown and gold suede wedges did me in last month. The walk home from the club that evening was like walking on nails. I woke up in the middle of the night with electric shocks going through my feet. Now I can’t run without fighting bucking charley horses in both arches.

My dad, who is definitely not a doctor, diagnosed me with “plantar fasciitis.” Dr. Dad says no running. No tall shoes until it goes away.

Dr. Dad has relegated me to sneakers. With arch supports. I’ve had to entirely reinvent my style. Pretend I’m Sporty Spice instead of the love child of Posh and Baby.

Granted, my red Saucony kicks beat grandmotherly orthopedic flats. But it hurt my heart on Saturday to pair them with my satin corset and lacy cardigan, while a pair of stilettos was shining, abandoned, in my closet.

Plus, now everyone knows my true height.


'50s style goes to my head

My grandma washes her hair once a week. I now understand why.

I am recovering from a bouffant.

My mother-in-law turned 50 on Saturday. In celebration, we held her a ’50s-theme party, complete with an inflatable juke box, retro record decorations and sloppy joes from Barbecue Bob’s (yeah, I wasn’t quite sure how that fit in either, but no one complained – except me when I sloppy joed on my white apron. Yes, apron. Read on).

In typical overboard Heckel manner, my mom and I decided to get our hair professionally “did” at a Loveland salon, Serenity Hair Designs.

Four hours later, we fox-trotted out with flippy ends and roots ratted toward the heavens. My bouffant incorporated a thick headband. My mom’s: a droopy white bow. She rocked the bobby socks and canvas shoes, a swing skirt, pearls and a pink polka-dot scarf.

I accented my white eye shadow with a pleated, June Cleaver button-up dress and square-toed buckle shoes. I added a white apron for the funny factor (I don’t know how to serve cookies even if they come straight from the Safeway bakery).

I thought my costume was totally the cat’s pajamas.

Until several days later – still scraping the hairspray out of my locks – I stumbled upon and learned my look was entirely ’60s. The fifties were soft, feminine and curly. No blow dryers and tangle towers.

Golly, if I’d known that then, maybe I could comb through my hair today.

I blame the inspiration for pouf-head on my gramma, who to this day sleeps in a satin cap as to not disturb her stiff hair-cocoon. She gets her tresses washed and formed at the parlor every Saturday. (By Friday afternoons, she’s usually reaching for a fork or candle snuffer to itch her scalp without disturbing the ‘fro.)

And after hours of cooking under the astronaut-helmet hair-dryer, I don’t blame her for trimming her beauty routine to a weekly affair.

Of course, unlike mine did, my gramma’s ‘do looks timelessly stunning. I can’t imagine her with any other style. It’d throw my world off axis, like when your teacher gets a bad haircut or when my dad shaved off his beard after 21 years.

Some styles should never change. And could it be that everything comes back in style if you just wait long enough?

Tell that to the poor kid at McDonald’s who was too confused to give me my soda on Saturday.
My husband was supposed to pick me and my mom up from the hair place, but he couldn’t find it. I sucked down a Diet Coke in about 8 seconds and therefore needed another one, so we told him to meet us under the nearby big yellow arch.

By how he scowled at me, I’d say the cash-register kid didn’t appreciate my ensemble. I wanted to grab him by the ears and ask him if his mama didn’t teach him no manners. That lil’ whippersnapper looked about 10 years old, anyway. Don’t know what they’re doing hiring toddlers. And the only straws left were too short for my cup. I almost asked for my 79 cents back.

Oh, heavens. My gramma’s hair has gone to my head.

Photo by Iman Woods.

Giselle: Shea for life

Photo by Hollywood Calling.

Giselle is very concerned about the welfare of women in Uganda.

She rarely makes eye contact with anyone. Mostly, she sits and stares into the horizon, silently contemplative and thoughtful. An emotive desperado. She is waiting -- for something.

That something is animal crackers, or topical ointments of any kind. Especially shea butter.

Although her skin is somewhat dry, she prefers shea butter in her mouth; she could easily slam a large tub of the stuff in one sitting. And if you put shea butter on your skin, you best sprint out the door. Otherwise, you will be chased around the house with a poodle tongue velcroed to your lotioned leg.

My apricot poodle would like every human in the world to buy and generously use shea butter.

And the Boulder nonprofit BeadforLife just started selling shea butter made from nuts harvested by poverty-stricken women in Uganda.

That`s how I know Giselle is an advocate for women in Uganda.


Listen to your inner child, or my outer child

I used to think one of the main responsibilities of being a mom was to teach your children how to survive and thrive in this world. Now that my daughter is 1, I realize it is her main job to teach me.

Being a mom has taught me a lot, such as how to decipher the fine line between OxiClean and Dumpster; between overturned milk and upchucked milk; and between "ba-ba," "bay-bay," "buh-buh" and "beh-beh" (respectively, that would be bottle, baby, bye-bye and encyclopedia).

But even beyond improved stain-removal, Bettie Anne has also taught me a lot about fashion.

Here are six of her Rules of Excellent Style:

1. Be adventurous with hair products.

Why limit yourself to Burt's Bees shampoo and spray-on conditioner? (In fact, any kind of soap should be avoided by employing such high-pitched, hysterical screaming that the dogs start whining. More on bath time below.)

Don't be limited by societal norms. Apple sauce makes a great mousse. Vanilla yogurt can craft a strong Mohawk. Tip: Be careful not to get any of these styling products in your ear canal, or it will completely destroy your mood and thereby your parents' day.

2. Shoes are the most important thing in the world.

The absolute first thing you should do when you wake up every morning is look for all of the shoes in your bedroom and point them out. Then, before you get out of your pajamas or eat or do anything, make sure at least one pair of shoes is on your feet. Even better if you can succeed in putting two pairs of shoes on each foot. Tip: The way to put shoes on is to simply lie them on top of the foot and clap proudly.

The remainder of the morning should be spent taking all of your shoes out of their cubbyholes and then replacing them in a different order. This inventory-stocking and reorganizing method will help keep your shoe supply at the forefront of your mind.

At the end of the day, make sure you bring all of your shoes and at least three pairs of socks into the bathtub with you to make sure the water does not eat you alive. Which brings us to point three.

3. Enjoy your beauty regimen; avoid that which doesn't delight.

In my case, that means bathe sparingly. Water is liquid Satan and will probably melt your face off if it touches it. Plus, it removes the pureed pears from your hair and will destroy your updo (and any yam-mush mascara you may have applied earlier). If you hear the evil hiss of bath water, hide under your purple unicorn pillow and look cute.

Tip for surviving bath time: Make sure your tub is filled with enough shoes to ward off the bubbles, which actually erase your feet, which means you have nothing to put shoes on, which is why you need to fill the tub with shoes and socks. It's obvious and very logical.

4. Twirl until you fall down.


5. It's OK to indulge.

When you think you're wearing enough jewelry, put on three more necklaces. Wear bracelets from wrist to shoulder. There are never "too many bows." Bettie Anne's favorite outfit involves 17 different ruffles. Tip for boosting your ruffle ratio: Beautiful socks can pack at least three more layers.

6. Remember: Your clothes are only as versatile as your imagination.

Drape your leggings around your neck like a scarf. Sit on your hat. Put your pants on your head.
In fact, almost everything looks wonderful on top of the head: underwear, wash clothes, books, cups. Warning: Sometimes cups are filled with (shudder) water. This is why it's always good to have at least four pairs of shoes within screaming distance. For protection.

Highly advanced tip: Look for cups filled with applesauce. Then you can style your hair with your hat. It's like hat hair. Only sticky. And totally food-based and organic, in honor of Earth Day.

Photo by Iman Woods.

Every thorn has its rose

There are so many ways to describe the crowd at the Bret Michaels concert, and all of them start with "you might be a redneck if."

Of course, this noun can be swapped out for any of its synonyms, including but not limited to: Grizzly Rose regular, "Rock of Love" contestant reject, non-ironic mullet-sporter, star and candidate for "What Not to Wear."

Now, I'm not excluding myself from this scene. I recently cut my hair into a concoction that looks like if Joan Jett's hair invited David Bowie's wig in "Labyrinth" out for a drunken night at the strip club. And I'll be gosh darned to heck if I don't want nothing but a good time. Which is exactly what I got at this brief concert -- yes, double-negative and all.

This experience also taught me how tragically many folks out there need a few style tips.
Like for reals.

Read more here:

Photo of Bret Michaels? by Flickr user camknows.

Treat your meat

In college, I used to write horoscopes. The catch: I'm not psychic. At all.

Now that I'm geriatric and wiser, and also not even remotely trained in the medical field, I do medical prognostications. For example, my recent self-diagnosis.

Symptom: Busted and bloody knuckles.

Diagnosis is one of the following:

1. I was in a cage fight with Hellboy's giant red fist of destruction.
2. I have been playing Quarters, a game I haven't played since seventh-grade lunch, whereby your opponent flicks a quarter across the table at your knuckles. The point: to bleed and not weep, to show the pre-pube world how tough, careless and stupid you are.
3. I am a self-punishing zombie cannibal. live in Colorado, and it is the dry season, which is every season.
4. live in Colorado, and it is the dry season, which is every season.

You don't need a psychic to tell you that obviously the answer is number three.

I also live in a parched and crackled prairie field in east Boulder County, and when I'm not gnawing on my hands for lunch, I spend my spare time picking at my hangnails and trying different hand lotions. In fact, the entire top three shelves of my pantry is a reject pile of lotions that worked great for 20 minutes, before my thirsty scales sucked out all of their moisture and turned them into pathetic bottles of dust.

I think my scales have found their match: Weleda Skin Food, discovered at Boulder's Pharmaca (or, $18 for 2.5 ounces). Besides magic, this German-brand hand lotion also contains essential fatty acids and vitamin E in organic sunflower seed oil; organic and antiseptic pansy (what'd you call my mama?); and other ingredients -- with no synthetic preservatives, fragrances, chemicals or anythings.

It's been two hours since I put on Skin Food and my hands still haven't returned to feeling like they got caught in the garbage disposal.

Photo by Molly Plann.

Some beauty comes naturally. Some is forced.

This is one of those stories it will be hard to explain to the grandchitterlings, as well as Saint Peter at the golden gates of heaven.

I believe that all humans are innately good, including me and my little brother on the night that we duct-taped our babysitter to the kitchen chair.

We just wanted to do her hair and make-up. And the girl needed it.

She was our neighbor in a mountain dust-hole of, oh, a dozen houses. Our nearest "big city" was Masonville, whose current population -- about 700 people -- has more than quadrupled since I was a kidnapping kid. And little miss Babysitter's Club didn't even have electricity. In the '80s.

Think about that.


Luckily/unluckily for her, we did.

She thought we were playing a game, until the third roll of duct tape and the realization that she couldn't, in fact, get out of the chair. It was easier to reach her bangs after she rocked the chair onto the floor. We broke her throne and cut her hair, and from her lips we drew a "I'm gonna tell your mom!"

As a talented and, ahem, highly motivated 7-year-old, assisted by my 4-year-old brother, we transformed Laura Ingalls Wilder to Cyndi Awesome Lauper.

Needless to say, the babysitter swore she'd never return, and my parents had to leave her a major tip. That is, after my mom casually remarked, "Your hair looks great. The elephant ears were a risky but good choice," followed by, "Only duct-tape, eh? You got off easy."

Photo by Flickr user Hanna-.

Miss Kitty: Rough ruffles

Karen Mandery is the mad scientist of fashion. The Lady Gaga of Boulder County.

Except better. Mandery is like the mysterious creative genius who crafts Lady Gaga`s outfits, thereby transforming her from a forgettable bubble in pop-star soup to a headline-coloring legend.

Mandery is also known (and henceforth be referred to) as Miss Kitty, because the dresses she creates out of mixed media and found (and sometimes stolen from her unwitting husband) objects are so eccentric that they resemble circus costumes.

Hence the Lady Gaga parallel. Although let it be known that Miss Kitty created her dress out of abandoned stuffed animals at the thrift store before she knew that Lady Gaga also had one. (Don`t you hate it when you show up to a party and someone has the same Care Bear gown as you? Hate that.)

Miss Kitty has, however, designed dresses adorned with black and white photos, old jewelry, lights, a vintage light fixture, gravel -- you name it. She made one dress, called "Sometimes it`s hard to be a woman," bedecked with 65 vintage dolls wearing various Girl Scout-style sashes. Miss Responsibility. Miss Courteous.

"All of the things that we`re taught to be," Miss Kitty says.

Ah yes, all of Miss Kitty`s dress art contains a provoking message.

She created one dress, called "21st Century Mantra," after she was evacuated from her house during the Four-Mile Fire. She had to quickly decide what handful of objects to take with her. She left with her passport, bikini, dog, bike and computer.

Inspired, she hand-stitched the words "I have everything I need" onto a basic slip. She designed several clear pockets, placing in them objects symbolizing shelter, food, love. She put a TV in there, too.

"I was honest," she says.

Around Easter, Miss Kitty walked into Savers and was shocked to see aisles upon aisles of "unwanted, unloved, forsaken" stuffed animals."

So she bought them all up and gave them a second life: in fashion. The dress, called "Love is Who I Am," is designed partially as a statement about loving the unlovable, and making choices from a place of love instead of judgment and reaction.

Miss Kitty originally started designing artistic dresses after her degree in fashion design left her feeling unfulfilled. Another artist suggested she use dresses as canvasses, and Miss Kitty says a light bulb went off in her head.

Soon, she affixed the literal physical manifestation of that light bulb to a dress to hang on the wall. Using her husband`s belt.

Miss Kitty`s glorious gowns will be on display at the Dairy Center for the Arts, along with four other area artists` dress designs, through July 8. The exhibit, called Rough Ruffles.

Which, as Miss Kitty sees it, is "anything goes." And explains why one of her dresses is actually a pair of jeans.

Let`s see Lady Gaga try to pull off something that crazy. Jeans. She wouldn`t last a minute in denim.

A little more vestite: High-contract, high-fashion but not high on cocaine like Courtney Love

Before I launch this tornado of insults, let me disclaim that no one -- not even my gay cousins who are semi-famous for their exquisite interior design knack -- loves Cher more than I do.

In fact, one of my go-to karaoke songs is "Believe." (The other: "Time After Time," with dramatic pantomime and improvisational jazz-dance leaps.) I adore Cher's frog voice and her pointy face and, above all, her excess.

I love how they suggested she was a transvestite in "Burlesque." (They did suggest that, right?) In fact, Cher and I are both Tauruses, ordained by the stars to be the ultimate female, the "vestite" (sans trans) that expresses its femininity as an over-the-top caricature. Beauty, for the Taurus, is part of a tribal ritual, deeply spiritual and the outward expression of her lifelong pursuit of understanding the feminine dimensions of the world.

Or so says this one book I flipped through but didn't buy.

I imagine that Cher wears feather headdresses and black leotards around the house, toted on a Greek chariot pulled by a herd of oily men.

Obviously this is my ultimate goal in life, too. However (gulp), I don't exactly aspire to look like her when I turn 129 like she currently is. She is just -- well, too much. Too poked and pulled and stretched, heading in the same direction as Joan Rivers or an inflatable doll, and away from glamorous over-40 stars like Sharon Stone and Madonna.

As I get older (now having celebrated my 21st birthday 11 times), my old makeup techniques and colors are beginning to look scroungy and rotting. Eye shadow sticks in skin creases and I have this weird red patch on my right nostril crevasse. My black hair looks harsh. Something is just off.

I can't go au naturel. It is unsatisfying and not true to my spirit. Red lipstick is my crack.
So how do you do high-contract and edgy without looking like Kat Von D after a night of binge tattooing, or like Courtney Love, in general? There is a dangerous line between being the uber-Venus dramatic goddess that I want to be, and looking like a washed up cougar raccoon.

I submitted this impossible request to Jessica Licata, a Boulder hairstylist at Salon Salon and makeup artist who does faces on TV ("Food Network Challenge," "Last Cake Standing," and the DIY Network's "Renovation Rescue"). She also does makeup for boudoir photo shoots and special occasions, like weddings.

Licata ( is a makeup prodigy, feisty redhead and single mom who instantly won my vote for one of Boulder's best makeup artists the moment I witnessed her draw a single eyeliner line. Nary a line hath appeared so clean, sexy and precise.

Her anti-Cher antidote: Keep your edgy style (whether it's smoky eyes, cat eyes or Gwen Stefani lips), except with:

More neutral colors. Instead of black liner, try dark brown. Instead of cherry red, switch to brick. Instead of black shadow, try a deep purple. The right neutral shadows are like the little black dress of makeup: You can do almost anything with them as the base.

Use sparkle as an accent, not main attraction. Almost all of my shadows, lipsticks and blush contains some kind of shine, which can look cheap and childish and reflect the light in unflattering ways on older faces. Instead, switch to matte, which can create more depth and focus. Add sparkle in the inner edge of the lid or shiny gloss instead.

Quality makeup brushes are the best investment you can make.

Cheap products make you look cheap, with the exception of Maybelline Great Lash, which continues to be the king mascara and always will be.

Going tribal: Putting the ‘ugg’ in Uganda


It was like a potentially explosive science experiment: Send a fashion columnist to a refugee camp in Uganda for 10 days.

I traveled to east Africa with a local, student-run group, Educate (, that grants scholarships to orphans and refugee students.

Truth be told, I’m more wildery than I give myself credit for. Colorado native, raised on a farm.

Mastered the art of climbing Russian olive trees in a petticoat and wrestling the tulle off of the thorns without tumbling to my demise. Age 9, I ate dog food on a dare and found it surprisingly tasty.

Good thing for that training. I coasted past the cholera-infested water without even a bellyache, much less death, and even ate soupy beans with my fingers. I scaled a mango tree and didn’t flinch at the thought of cobras and vipers sharing my wobbly branch.

But for heaven’s sake, I wasn’t prepared for my hair.

Ten days without washing my thick ‘fro is bad news. Africa is dusty. I’m talking red dust that coats your locks like another crust of the planet. At first, I went ponytail. Then pigtails. Then braids. Then sweatband. Then bandanna. Then baseball cap. Then all three at once, plus braids, no kidding.

On the flight home, I took my hair out and realized it had formed mini dreads. They were kind of cute (in the same way that dog food was kind of yum). But the woman sitting next to me didn’t think so. She changed seats.

“It’s not you, I swear,” she said.

But the desperate look she sent me indicated otherwise.

I waged war against that red dust. My futile artillery: wet wipes. Tan lines turned out to actually be grime lines. Blue jeans became red jeans. It mysteriously stained my bra. It formed a mustachey line around my lips, glued on to my lip gloss, which, yes, I packed – and used regularly. Until it fell out of my backpack and rolled into the dark abyss of the latrine. I briefly considered fishing it out, but instead murmured a small eulogy and walked away.

The biggest mystery of Uganda to me was the clothes. It was humbling; I was the nastiest looking person there.

The locals do not have running water. They live in mud huts with dirt floors and make 20 cents a day digging in the field. Yet they all looked immaculate. Their whites were from a Tide with bleach commercial. Many wore Air Jordans. Sean Jean and G-Unit T-shirts. I saw a guy wearing a Dolce & Gabbana button-down.

Either P-Diddy has a big heart for refugees, there was a mass explosion of an urban clothing production facility hidden in western Uganda or some rich and very hip nonprofit had recently stopped by.

I was too baffled – and busy with my wet wipes battle – to ask.

An example of the opposite of beauty followed me days after I’d left the country.

While heading to the airport, the driver tossed my backpack under the bus, where it had a bad encounter with a pool of rotting milk. The pack was soaked in dairy sludge, which further fermented in the back of a hot taxi and then two additional days of airplane travel.

Got it home, threw that stinky thang on the floor and left it to die.

Came back in the room later and found my dog gnawing on the straps, trying to pull the pack across the room to the rug where he likes to chew his bones.

And no, I didn’t try this doggie delight. Not even on a dare.

Photo by Iman Woods.

The Devil Wears Prana

I knew nothing when I went for my first interview at the Daily Camera three years ago, and climbed up the metal stairs – the pathway to All Things Boulder.

I had never slept in a tent, intentionally sweat or gone more than 24 hours without showering.
I had never smelled patchouli. I thought dreadlocks were an urban myth created to frighten young girls into combing their hair.

I had never laid eyes on Iron Men or adventure racers. And here, every Boulder body was perfectly toned and rippling underneath sweat-wick-away shirts and Spandex. Even the faces in the newsroom looked like they’d stepped off an infomercial for the Chuck Norris home gym.

I’d heard from a friend of a friend – someone who’d once journeyed beyond our impossibly average Fort Collins city limits – that such an alternate universe existed under the pointy nose of the Flatirons. I’d heard it called the “Boulder Bubble,” and I was about to learn why.

Until now, my reality had revolved around designer clothes and mascara. I never wore sweat pants – not even to bed – and I reserved jeans only to tone down overly embellished Guess corsets.

The newsroom was dim and yellowy, accented by pillars of fading newspapers and old school-board agendas.

Interesting, I thought, but I meant it in the same way the Pearl Street contortionist is interesting: eye-catching and talented, but honestly, a little gross.

And intimidating. A chiseled body rolled past me, pushing a bicycle with tires still warm from the pavement. An editor was hammering on his keyboard, but hadn’t had the time to change out of his sweat-drenched Nike shirt. A reporter wearing a Prana yoga outfit conducted an interview while balancing on a blue fit ball, like she was floating.

I recognized columnist Clay Evans. He wore running shorts but no shoes – not phased by the 1,000 years of grime coating the old building’s floors. I wondered if he had run the nearby trails barefoot, too, and concluded he likely had.

I looked down at my freshly pressed designer pantsuit and pointy Jimmy Choos and wondered why I’d even bothered.

I’d heard about health reporter Lisa Marshall. I’d seen her mug in the paper, too.

I’d been hired – either for entertainment value or to fulfill some sort of refined-sugar-eating, non-athlete quota – and several years later moved into the features department. Marshall’s territory.

One day, she stopped by my desk wearing tiny running shorts and a sleeveless top.

“Ai-mee,” she said, eyeing the bag of M&Ms and Diet Coke that represented my breakfast, lunch and dinner. “I’m heading up to Mount Sanitas. What’s your favorite trail up there?”

Blank. Completely and totally blank. Mount what? I stammered for a moment, before answering, “Uh, well, I like the long trail. You know, the hardest one.”

She stared at me and shifted between her perfectly chiseled legs. Then a nod and a smile. Apparently that was the right answer. Maybe I had a chance in this city, after all.
Inspired, I decided to get in a little exercise.

I needed another Diet Coke, and it was a good five-minute trek to the vending machine.

I straightened my black-and-white striped strapless top and set out on my matching stilettos, which I justified buying from an overpriced boutique in the Dominican Republic because their brand was “Aimee’s.”

As I turned the corner, I felt eyes on my outfit. It was Sue Deans, the Camera’s editor, known for her intense blue gaze and blond hair. I’d recently dyed my blond locks dark brown. Hair dye – in Boulder! So unnatural. What was I thinking?

Deans also was known for the rare ability to balance femininity, professionalism and Boulder-worthy healthiness. She wore a long-sleeved black cardigan that made my fully exposed shoulders feel wanton.

“Wow, don’t you look trendy?” she said.

She was smiling. I thought I felt a wave of acceptance.

But then, “Have you seen ‘The Devil Wears Prada?’ Meryl Streep is great, and her outfits are just fabulous in that movie. Very classy.”

That’s when I realized she probably meant I looked “trendy” in a childish, Forever 21 kind of way.

The natural-blond beauty continued talking over her (clothed) shoulder as she walked away.

“Well, you should really see it,” she said. “And Ai-mee, could you get me a Pellegrino while you’re in the break room? That’s all.”

Photo by Flickr user TheImageGroup.

My dad: Geek chic


My dad doesn’t wear Armani.

He never has and never will wear leather pants or silk anything. He likely thinks chenille is a type of meat, like veal, but from France.

But my dad is fashionable in his own right. He wrote the book on IT style.

To people who interact with humans – like face-to-face and not through flashing Instant Messaging screens and virtual meetings – “IT style” is an oxymoron. But there are actually fairly developed standards on how to rock men’s high-tech geek chic.

My dad calls it “Post-50 High-Tech Crony” style, aka P50HTC. I have no idea what that means, but I figure that’s because I studied liberal arts.

Wardrobe basics include slip-on loafers, jeans and polo shirts, preferably from Sam’s Club, located between the 26 pounds of bacon and 8-gallon tub of horseradish sauce.

Want to wear tall white socks with your sandals? Go ahead. The rules of the street don’t apply.

Virtually anything’s a go in the maze of cubicles at an Agilent or Texas Instruments office. You’ll find everything from shaven heads to man ponytails, sunglasses to pop-bottle glasses.

Cleanliness is optional.

“The operative concept is comfort, pure and simple,” my dad says.

He adds because human interaction is rare, “business casual” means “wear whatever you want and back up your egos by writing complex code, managing impossible projects and even more impossible workloads.”

He compiled the following questions to help you build an appropriate P50HTC outfit:
1.) Is it comfortable? (Answer must be yes.)
2.) Is it functional? (Ditto above.)
3.) Can you wear it multiple days in a row? (This is helpful on business trips.)
4.) Does it easily show dirt? (Desired answer here is no, but can be traded off for either above three answers.)
5.) Is it cheap? (Should be yes, but balanced by overpriced camping/outdoor clothing for the weekends.)
6.) Will people know what you do by looking at the way you are dressed? (Should answer no. You could be either a custodian or software engineer.)

Tattoos also are fine, despite the naggings from your sixth-grade teacher that “no one will ever hire you with a flaming poodle on your left shoulder.”

My dad has a tattoo on his arm (not a flaming poodle, although that’d be cool). My uber-conservative mom has one on each ankle. I have a hip/buttical region tat of a fleur-de-lis that matches my mom’s, aunt’s, sis-in-law’s and 70-something-year-old grandma’s.

More than a third of all 18-to-29 year-old Americans sports a tattoo, according to the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. Twenty-four percent of all 18-to-50 year-olds do. And that doesn’t even count 70-year-olds.

Out of nowhere last week I decided I wanted to get a tattoo of a cross on my left wrist. I thought it seemed unique. Until I looked online and found links to wrist tats on celebrities such as Christina Aguilera, Pink, Aaliyah and, worst of all, Lindsay Lohan.

Have I been subliminally influenced by pop culture? Am I unknowingly imitating celebrities? Because otherwise, I don’t know where my idea came from.

Unless – yes, that’s it. I think a data-warehouse manager at my dad’s office has a wrist tat. A flaming poodle or something.

I have been subliminally inspired by geek chic.

Photo by Flickr user RocĂ­o Lara.

Ball and chain

I need to break up with my handbag. We’ve been together way too long, and he’s starting to smother me.

(Yes, my handbag is a “he.” Everything I own is a “he,” as to ensure I am always the Ultimate Feminine.)

Said handbag is sexy and complimentary, both tan and black, so he matches everything I wear. He is tough, with silver studs and a chain strap that is deliciously chilly on my shoulder when I’m walking down the sweltering Pearl Street Mall.

I was initially attracted to his fun, urban attitude (made by Rocawear) – a slight gaudiness I find imperative for any worthy accessory this season.

But I have outgrown him. Literally. I can’t zip him anymore, so when I accidentally drop or knock him over, a tsunami of coins, lip glosses, receipts, earrings and iPod accessories rages forth.

I would have to give up a lot to make this relationship work. He is cramping my ways. Stifling me.

Plus, we’ve been monogamous for about two months, a record uncomfortably outside of my normal faithless ways. I’m an accessory-hopper. A new bag every week. Nay, every night. I am a fashion rolling stone, and I cannot be tethered.

No more. I’m ending this right now.

Photo by Flickr user eightfivezero.

Daylight is putting a cramp in my style

It’s hopeless to look fashionable when you hate mornings as much as I do.

I’ve never woken up feeling rejuvenated or even remotely joyful. My mom used to joke that I have no internal alarm clock. Like some twisted Newton’s Law of Sleep: If I am at rest, I will stay at rest unless acted upon by some outside force. I know you won’t believe me, but I promise after New Year’s 2000, I slept until late Jan. 3.

I am a night-showerer. Back in the day of poufy bangs, I used to do my hair before bed and sleep in a night cap. Everything I do is to maximize the amount of time I can hit snooze in the morning.
And even then, while lying there despising every ounce of sunlight dripping through my blinds, I come up with brilliant ways to compress my morning routine: I can do my mascara in the car (even though most eye injuries are wand-related). Who needs breakfast? Ponytails are cute. My dog can hold it nine more hours while I’m at work; he already held it through the night. Heck, I can hold it, too.

As a little girl, I used to sleep in the clothes I wanted to wear the next day. And by “little girl,” I mean intermittently throughout college. And maybe on Tuesday.

My mom did uncover one magic way to crack my eyelids without receiving my fist to her jaw. She would peek through my bedroom door and remind me of my new jelly shoes or banana clip (we’re back in the day, here, folks), and I would feel a flicker of excitement.

Almost enough to drag me out of bed. Almost.

Photo by Flickr user ParanoidMonk.

Brittany: Beturn, the dark side of shopping

I have three white dresses, a black gown and a jacket that I didn’t really want and certainly couldn’t afford, but I now own.

You see, I tried — unsuccessfully — to join the cult of the beturners, folks who buy something with the explicit intention of using it one time and returning it. It’s part stealing, part retail-borrowing, and pure evil. We all know about beturning, but no one likes to talk about it.

The five flaws with beturning, as well as the barriers that keeps me safe from its tempting grasp, are as follows:

1. You cannot lose the receipt. (Bam, I am already doomed.)

2. You cannot squirt spaghetti sauce/cranberry juice/red wine on, say, your white dress(es).

3. You have to be willing to wear your clothes with itchy tags grinding on your armpits, and be willing to slither away in shame when someone sees said tags.

4. You must be versed in every store’s specific return policies. Remember this one. It will come into play when we talk about the “beturn block.”

5. You have to have no soul.

The only exception to No. 5 is the what I call the hurried beturn. You’re scrambling for an outfit because you are too important and busy to set aside proper shopping time, or you are a procrastinator. So you grab the first five things to try on at home, or in the car on your way to the fundraiser, and you plan on returning the four reject outfits.

That is how my boyfriend ended up with three pairs of black pants and four white button-ups. Late for fundraiser. What receipts?

I told him he should get a job as a waiter to pay for the unneeded items; after all, he’s now got the closet for it.

Some stores have more relaxed policies than others. For example, according to urban myth, you can beturn anything at Wal-Mart.

Here are three real-life examples of the Worst Beturns In History, Ever:

3. The hoses. It was the Fourth of July, and we wanted to fill up water balloons in the park. But parks don’t have spigots. So my friend bought about 25 garden hoses, hooked them together and attached them to the spigot at her house. She then carried the hose chain through the neighborhood, across busy streets and to the park. As the tale goes, when she beturned them, they were dripping water and were covered in fresh tire tracks. Wal-Mart didn’t flinch.

2. The carpet cleaner. Judy (name changed to protect the guilty) had a carpet cleaner. Her carpet cleaner quit working, but she had thrown the box away. So she bought another carpet cleaner. She put the old carpet cleaner in the new box, and used the new receipt to beturn it. Wal-Mart didn’t flinch.

1. The snake. I can’t bring myself to tell this story in full sentences, so here goes my best staccato effort. Toilet. Clogged. Home Depot. Plumber’s snake, aka electric eel. Unclogged. Snake in a box. Snake back on the shelf. Poor Home Depot.

There is yet another kind of beturning: the beturn block.

Brittany was checking out at Forever 21 when she noticed the sales associate had accidentally scanned a nearby yellow striped shirt and placed it in Brittany’s bag.

“Oh, that shirt wasn’t mine,” Brittany explained.

She was shocked by the associate’s response: “Yes, it was. It was in your pile.”

Brittany explained that it must have already been on the counter or somehow got into the mix, but she really did not want it. The woman said, “It was in your pile.” The fight raged on.
“No. I don’t want it. It’s ugly and not even my size.”

“Well, I’m sorry, but we don’t take returns.”

“What? This is not a return. I never wanted it.”

“We don’t take returns, ma’am.”

“Let me see your manager.”

Manager: “What is the problem?”

“She accidentally charged me for this shirt that I don’t want.”

“Well, our computers cannot return anything. Sorry.”

I suggested Brittany just beturn the shirt to Wal-Mart. Even with Forever 21 tags and no receipt, I’m sure the Mart would take it. I mean, this one wasn’t even run over or dunked in a toilet. It was Wal-Mart’s turn to benefit.

Photo by Flickr user gandhiji40.

Sharing makes friends

I am wearing Lisa’s black rocker jeans.

I borrowed them this weekend, which means I claim stake on them for at least another two weeks. It’s OK. Lisa has my white fur jacket, so we’re even.

And anyway, Molly has my jeans.

It’s amusing to watch the circulation of clothing among siblings and close friends — as long as those friends are not only children. Only children, raised without the constant threat of others in their closet, don’t understand the fluidity of possessions.

My mom had an at-home daycare, so I never owned anything. Clothes were constantly ebbing and flowing out of and into my closet; a wardrobe wave. So it’s a bit ill-fitting that two of my best friends today are only children.

I liked Brittany’s necklace, so I put it on. I would have probably worn it five times and returned it, naturally shedding five or six other accessories all over her apartment in the meantime. But when she saw me wearing her necklace, she tilted her ear to one side, like a dog trying to decipher a conversation but only recognizing one word. She knew I was not being deceptive or mean, but why was I jacking her stuff?

Loss is freedom. That’s what I tried to explain to her. And friend-borrowing is implied consensus; no contract or prenup necessary. In other words, as her best friend, her stuff is my stuff is her stuff. By letting go of what we have, we both end up with double. This extends beyond necklaces and into life in general.

Regardless of whether it comes back in one piece, the eventual return is what distinguishes borrowing from stealing, and anyway, it is impossible for friends or sisters to steal from each other due to the Law of Circulatory Clothing, which states, “Let she whose closet is without borrowed objects cast the first stone.”

My entire trunk is packed with O.P.P. (other people’s possessions) — some they forgot, some I borrowed. The exact means of acquisition is irrelevant. Instead, we live by klothing karma: For every dress I lend or lose, I will eventually acquire another. I consider my trunk an extended, mobile closet. I occasionally use the stuff — jackets, skirts, aprons, wigs, a blender (yes, Vanessa, I still have your blender) — but keep it on hand in case I run into that friend and either of us remembers that I have the item.

But be careful with your boundaries. Friendship or blood borrowing is not the same as neighbor or coworker borrowing.

While growing up, I had a neighbor who was a habitual borrower, driven by envy but trapped by cheapness. Whenever my family got something new — a car, trash can, lawn mower, garden spade or fishing pole — the dude asked if he could borrow it.

In this case, he should have just bought his own tent poles. His addiction to borrowing drove a wedge (or spade) through what sliver of fellowship he ever had with my dad. Taken to the extreme, you could probably borrow everything for life, never making purchases if you did it right.

Hmm, isn’t that the same concept of our credit-hungry society?

Photo by Flickr user Ed Yourdon.

Lisa: Step up

Napoleon once said there is only one step from the sublime to the ridiculous.

It must have been an Irish step.

My friend Lisa was an Irish step dancer for nine years. So obviously, with it being St. Patrick’s Day Week Month — yes, that’s how we Irish celebrate it (I am 0.004 percent Irish so I have deep pride) — I needed Lisa to teach me a jig.

Turns out, there’s a lot more to Riverdancing than just stomping, kicking with a pointed toe and bouncing your overcurled hair.

There’s also velvet. Oh, the velvet.

Yes, Irish dresses were obviously designed on a dare: (said with accent of Brad Pitt in “Snatch”)
“I double dag dare you to move your bottom half as fast as possible while not moving your top half whatsoever — in a 40-pound sweaty velvet dress.”

With a cape. And rhinestones, satin embroidery and copper lame — as in “fabric woven with metallic threads,” and also as in “pathetically lacking” and, heck, probably also as in “drunk and unfit for service” ( Then, in the middle of the dress: an embroidered design featuring an Irish dude smoking a doobie. With a fish.

I couldn’t even make this up if I were the dude smoking a doobie with a fish; this is Lisa’s competition dress.

Bridging the seemingly ridiculous back to the sublime was a little research. I learned the costumes evolved from women wearing their “Sunday best.” And the fish smoker represents an ancient legend of “The Salmon of Knowledge.” Although I couldn’t find any explanation for the joint; must have been embroidered in Boulder.

Still, a fly-by understanding of the Irish heritage did not help my feet during my fly-by step lesson. So, unwilling to wear velvet, ever, tradition notwithstanding, I needed another costume to compensate for my slow and mostly French feet.

That’s when I found Derailed Ink, This T-shirt line, designed by two Fairview High School grads, began after the economy “derailed” their lives, per the name. But instead of getting run over, Rob Bell and John McCaskill used the momentum to carve a new path.

If you went to a home Broncos game last season, you know them. They’re those loud, hyper and hilarious characters hawking T-shirts outside the stadium. They probably taunted you. You probably bought a shirt.

Because the shirts are legitimately cool. Much better than wearing the same generic jersey as every other 12-year-old and gangsta in the state. Bell, a contemporary artist, calls Derailed’s designs “instant vintage” or “retro nouveau,” the kind of shirts you could only find at Saver’s, except these are new and don’t smell like moth balls. The “Eddie Royal with Cheese” and “What would JC do?” (as in Jay Cutler, to which the proper response is “Throw an interception”) shirts even boast the original Bronco orange that I totally think the team should revert back to.

But before my boyfriend gets too excited that I am using the “f” word (football), here’s really why I dig Derailed Ink: Their fashion line — including an Irish “Lucky Charms Make You Fly” design.

The tees ($20 each) are all locally made and printed. Plus, they’re made from that soft, ultra thin cotton — much more ideal than velvet for Irish stepping. Or stomping and clomping, as it were.

Derailed Ink, available online and at Boulder’s Buffalo Exchange, also sells a shirt proclaiming, “It’s not the (the other “f” word in gerund form) ’80s.”

Which is true.

It’s the (f-word) ’90s. Fashion leaders across the world are resuscitating fluorescents, grunge, flannel, Docs and sleeveless sweatshirts.

My friend Brittany hates St. Patrick’s Day because of “all of that loud clapping and shouting.” But she does love her fluorescents.

In fact, her first fashion memory was of her fluorescent pink, orange and green swimming suit. She wore it everywhere: to church, school and, oh yeah, swimming, and one day, to the lake with her mom and her Snoopy fishing pole. That’s when Brittany’s mom read something horrifying in the Detroit paper.

“Fluorescents are out, dear.”

Initially, Brittany wanted to cry. But instead, she retorted, “So? I’m wearing them anyway,” and she did, until they resurfaced 15 years later. Granted, at the time, she had worn her fluorescent suit so much that it was actually pastel and fuzzy.

But still. That was the day Brittany learned the most important fashion lesson of all, incidentally another quote about the “ridiculous,” by Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi. And my justification for shunning stinky velvet dress in lieu of a breathable tee.

The quote: “People are ridiculous only when they try or seem to be that which they are not.”

Instead of step shoes this weekend, I’ll be stomping in my Docs. Celebrating the circle of fashion, and the Salmon of the Sublime and Ridiculous.

The living dead

This fashion tale begins with death.

The living dead, to be exact.

I was week four into recovery from an abdominal surgery, and had only recently began walking again. (Read: Hobbling like a rickety swamp creature.) That afternoon, Women’s Magazine stylist Angel Garcia asked me if I had time to pose of a fashion photo shoot for her portfolio.

Obviously I had time. My entire month’s social activities centered around Brian “Bulldog” Moore and Frank Azar. And I had already determined I didn’t want to consolidate my debt into one easy payment, become an automotive repair technician or partake in a class-action lawsuit for the drug Rybotrichomatomatein.

But fashion? Judge Judy would object. In addition to my hunchback posture, I had been wearing the same sweats for so long they were beginning to grow into my flesh. Probably.

“Perfect,” Angel said. “That’s why I asked you. It’s a zombie shoot.”

Um, thanks?

With no legitimate way out, I traded daytime TV for a black tutu and (for once) nodded approvingly at my tangled bedhead and the circles under my eyes that rivaled an entire baggage cart. I could not do much, but I could do zombie.

When my boyfriend walked in that night — expecting his little injured fawn curled around a heating pad — he instead found me with more stitches than before, hunched over the table with bloody hands and a fake heart dangling out of my mouth. Without a word, he slowly backed out the door. I found him a while later, locked in his car rocking back and forth humming nursery rhymes.

I had gone too far. Again. It was time to head into the light.

In fashion (and life), we must constantly re-invent ourselves. Sometimes, the change is sparked by boredom, or nature (i.e. the “angel wings” I am growing where I used to have triceps) or, as in this case, the need for balance. And a scared boyfriend.

The depth of my fashion rut became clear when I realized most of my closet qualified as a zombie costume. Perhaps it was a way to free myself of Westwood College’s exquisite commercials, but I became obsessed with finding the perfect white dress.

Not for marriage. For balancing out my dark side.

Enter: The innocent age.

I have long criticized the white wedding tradition, believing white is a universally unflattering color, not to mention almost universally deceitful. I have a vase of near-black roses in my living room. (Yes, next to the fake heart with a stake through it.)

That’s why I had to seek help from the yang to my yin: My best friend, Brittany. Platinum blonde Brittany who has more white, eyelet and cotton in her closet than a Holister store.
I did a little research first and found out that hip trench coats, oversized necklaces and military jackets actually come in colors other than black. Who knew? And according to Glamour magazine, the little black dress has been replaced by a little-black-on-white-graphic-print dress.
Then Brittany arrived — wearing a black and purple tutu, black leggings, a black tank top, black vest and purple pumps. She looked like Coraline. Or me.

I grabbed up the first white satin dress I saw at Macy’s. It might have been a knee-length wedding gown. I don’t know. Or care. I just needed to reset the balance of the universe.

Plus, adding some light to my life sounded like an appropriate way to begin re-inventing myself. I put on the white dress.

It looked great with my black boots, black pearl necklace, black sash and long black jacket.
I left the fake heart at home.

Photo by Molly Plann.

Socks and the city

A letter to the lady in line behind me at Target:

You deserve an explanation for what happened last Saturday. It was yet another in a long list of damaging blows from socks to me.

First, the history. I have a hate-hate relationship with socks. This war was first waged during a kickboxing class in college. Front and center, I was kicking boxes like a trillion dollar baby. Bam. Uppercut, jab, jab, jump kick — and whoosh! Out of the leg of my sweatpants, with one particularly swift kick, I launched a sock rocket.

The sock wad — which had apparently smuggled itself inside my pants leg in the washing machine — landed with an audible “Wee!” in the middle of the studio. The other participants saw it and did not know how to respond. They subconsciously backed away, while not missing a kickbox beat, forming a sort of circle around the sock. It looked like a foot fetish tribal dance, or maybe like my sock was about to perform a breakdancing routine.

That was the end of my kickboxing passion.

So needless to say, what happened Saturday awoke in me Post Traumatic Socks Syndrome.

Now, the context:

1. It was my friend Vanessa’s birthday. She wanted to play trampoline dodgeball. But I was wearing a short leather skirt.

2. I ran to Target and bought a pair of sweats to change into. But by the time I returned, everyone had already jumped so much they were hyperventilating and now eating cupcakes. We’re getting old.

3. I never actually used the pants, although I did wear them for three minutes to eat a cupcake. I did not think that qualified as use, which brought me to the customer service line to return the pants.

Now, to address your unspoken (but obvious) concerns:

1. No, I do not live in a van down by the river. I had Old McDonald’s Swine Flu Farm living in my sinuses. Yes, I should have at least combed my hair.

2. My dog, which also happens to have the hairiest white rumpus of any creature on Earth, was in the backseat of my car. Even though the pants were caked in dog hair, once again, I swear they were within the bounds of an appropriate return.

3. When I shook the pants to remove their fur coat, I did not know a dirty sock had been hiding in the pants leg.

4. And no, I am definitely not Aimee Heckel, who writes a fashion column for the Camera. That was actually my sister Leah returning the pants for me.

Thanks for your understanding.

Dear Leah,
I’m sorry. Don’t go to Target for a very long time.

Ah, yes. Socks suck. One of the reasons I love spring is it means I don’t have to touch those things for a good three months.

Of all of my clothing items, socks cause me the most stress. They’re either where I don’t want them to be — i.e. the return line at Target — or nowhere to be found, kidnapped by sock gnomes and my poodles. I feel like I am constantly digging through my bucket of widowed socks for “the other” sock. In vain.

I recently reached such a critical mass of single socks that I began unapologetically wearing mismatched socks to the gym.

My friend Laura says my problem is that my socks are bored, so they’re running away. They’re all white or black.

Laura wears striped socks, toe socks, thigh-high socks, argyle and tie-dyed and homemade and theme socks for every occasion. Her “spring gym socks” are covered in bugs and turtles.
Laura’s socks live in a 30-gallon trashcan that she could hide a body in. More than 350 pairs of socks — 22 of which have monkeys on them. Laura doesn’t own a single plain pair, except for bright green thigh-highs. And she says she has never misplaced a sock.

“If you have fun socks, you can find their mate in the laundry really fast,” she says. “The lost sock is a white sock phenomenon.”

I don’t doubt her. She’s had a feeting frenzy ever since I met her at age 10. Some women spice up their outfits with wild shoes. But Laura is a self-proclaimed “lounger.” Lounging around the house drinking rum doesn’t lend itself to shoes.

“I can’t not buy socks,” she says. “I go to Target for shampoo and I end up with shampoo and socks. I go to PetSmart for food for the lizard and end up with socks.”

(Of course PetSmart has animal-themed socks, she says.)

Laura’s socks have sentimental value. She doesn’t like to get rid of old socks, so she learned how to fix holes. If she has trouble sleeping, all she has to do is slip into a pair of socks and she immediately nods off.

“I sometimes sleep totally nude but in socks,” she says matter-of-factly.

Which brings us to the question: Can socks be sexy? Laura insists they can. Striped socks are fashionable in a punk way. Argyle socks are hot on both men and women. Plus, if you need to shave or have gnarly feet, Laura adds, they “hide the gnarl.”

Image from Flickr user lux2night.

Rat’s nests, bad dye jobs and other hair tragedies

I heard on the radio this morning that the average woman spends 40 minutes every day doing her hair. Over a lifetime, that’s two years of combing, blow drying, gelling, curling and ratting — usually with the goal to look effortless.

I’d like to think I am helping lower that number. For the first 10 years of my life, I refused to
comb my hair.

I was born trapped under a heavy mountain of what feels like horsehair. A mutation of self-growing wire. And my thick mane wasn’t satisfied with just boiling my scalp to 159 degrees on a hot summer day. It is coarse and curly, so it also tangles easily.

I wasn’t the only person who hated wrestling my head mutant. After eight years of violent combing (thereby removing all sensory capability from my follicles), my mom — who has whisper-thin, straight locks — resigned. She threatened: I didn’t start combing my own hair at least once a week, she would just cut the “rat’s nests” out.

I spent several years of my childhood with an upside-down mullet: short on the underside, long on the top. This was a good five years before it became cool for girls to shave the underside of their hair, cut zigzags into the sides and pull it into a ponytail. Ironically, my mom wouldn’t let me do that.

My mom and I (God bless her on Mother’s Day) have always had a rocky hair relationship. She is a natural brunette who dyes her hair blonde. I’m a natural blonde who dyes my hair brunette. She hates that. Yet she is the person who got me hooked on hair dye — at the tender age of 9.
We constantly lament how expensive it is to keep up our hairy addictions, yet neither of us could imagine being our natural color. Gross. Shudder, shudder.

The economy (oh, the “e” word) doesn’t help. In fact, area hair salons report that beauty is one of the areas taking a big hit, as increasingly more people make cuts (zing!) to race away from the red.

Specifically, more people are opting for store-bought color, which promises you’ll get the same results as if you went to the salon.

But be careful, says Robert DiTacchio, creative director of Jon Ric International Salon and Day Spa in Denver ( More often than not, he says, people end up spending eight times what they would have if they’d just asked the pros. Eight. Times.
Boxed color costs between $15 and $30. Color correction services to fix your hair after it turns out leopard-spotty begin at $150. Salons across the area have reported a “drastic increase” in these color mess-ups — nearly double during the past year.

Unfortunately, this is a number I am contributing to. In March, I had to seek professional intervention from Fringe Hair Studio in Louisville to abolish a fire-truck red spot that I ignited near my bangs. It took three layers of bleach to conquer.

If only I had consulted someone like DiTacchio beforehand. He recommends calling in the pros when you are dealing with resisting gray, vibrant colors (perhaps fire-truck red?) and blonde. Blonde can turn green or orange. Reds can morph into dull pink.

If you do color at home and you’re not striving for a jungle pattern, get a friend to do it for you, DiTacchio says. It’s hard to see what you’re doing on your own head. The best at-home brand is L’Oreal Professional.

DiTacchio also recommends:
Even if your hair is not as thick and coarse as a cattle rope, hydrate it. Look for products with a low pH balance to seal your cuticles.

Wash color-treated hair in cold water to help close the cuticle and sustain the color longer. I have been doing this for several years, and it is completely miserable, but it works. To counteract the hair icicles, I put my towel in the dryer while I’m showering so it’s nice and toasty when I get out.

Wash your hair less to maintain the natural oils.

Use moisture-rich products, such as Aquage, Pureology and Kenra. If you can only afford drugstore brands, once again opt for L’Oreal.

And finally: Brush your hair — a lot. This is one of the best natural conditioners. Brushing your hair brings the oils from your scalp into the ends.

“I tell all of my clients to brush their hair while they’re watching TV,” DiTacchio says. “The old myth of brushing your hair 100 times before bed is true.”


DiTacchio, my mom totally told you to say that, didn’t she?