Listening to Life with a Capital L

In 2004, I got fired from my job. I was managing a very busy, high volume and high profile shop and was also a trainer for new managers for the company. I took off a long weekend before the holiday rush to do some planning for my wedding that following summer, and recruited a couple managers from neighboring shops to cover shifts for me. I returned to the shop to find that not a single deposit had been made in my absence, the safe overflowing. I gathered up all the bags, dashed to the bank and deposited them before the mall opened. When the next staff member arrived that evening, I headed to the back to reconcile the deposits. Just as I noticed one deposit slip was missing the phone rang. It was the corporate office.

People were questioned, people were suspected, and one stopped showing up to work mysteriously but the money was never found. And while everyone knew it wasn’t me who took the money, I was the store manager, a leader within the company, and had to set an example. After the holidays (of COURSE, had to have me to get through the Christmas rush), my boss came to visit, gave me a hug, and handed me my walking papers.

I drove home in a daze.  I was a great employee, I’ve always been proud of my work ethic.  And now I had been fired from a job I poured all my blood, sweat and tears into.  But I soon realized this was a GOOD THING. I was free! I had worked in some aspect of retail for over a decade and it was wearing me down. That Christmas all the gifts I received from my loved ones had one thing in common – they were designed to reduce stress. It was clear I was near my breaking point.  I would work 20 days in a row without a break, I’d leave work at midnight and have to be back at 5am and had an hour-long commute. I was getting varicose veins and living off Mountain Dew and venti Frappucinnos. I wasn’t doing what was best for me and my future so Life with a capital L intervened.

Instead of spending those six weeks unemployed with a bottle of wine by my side, I celebrated my freedom. I wallpapered our bathroom with my dad’s old playbills from the ‘60s and ‘70s. I cleaned out my closet, my attic, and every drawer in the house. I went to the gym. I planned the rest of our wedding (and was even more diligent about having it all be on a budget), taught myself enough HTML to make a “bio” for my TheKnot profile, and I got my nose pierced.

2004-02 alison and karl

February 2004

No matter what company I worked for, how liberal or creative or funky, dress code always stipulated no visible tattoos or piercings other than ears unless for religious purposes. So hells yeah Life with a capital L, give me freedom and give me holes in my face! I went to the place where I got my tattoo, I knew they did piercings and I knew the place was clean.  It hurt like hell. It hurt more than when Karl and I got all cutsey college grunge couple and together went to get our cartilages pierced, and it hurt more than all the times I self-pierced my ears in high school (even more than the time I pierced my ear with a safety pin and it got stuck in there for two weeks and got infected). But screw The Man, I was now a badass face-pierced woman.

Until a week later when I was drying my face with a towel, the stud got caught in the terry and the nose ring was yanked out. I tried to get it back in, Karl even tried, fighting back bile as the nostril got inflamed and began to bleed, but no success. The next day I was at the door of the tattoo parlor before it opened but the piercer said it was too late; the hole had already healed and they’d have to pierce through scar tissue to get it back in. And I thought the original piercing was bad, this pain almost made me faint. But dammit, I am going to be a badass with my nose ring!

Funny, that “badass” nose ring didn’t seem to even be a blip on the radar of those companies who interviewed me during those six weeks of freedom, as I received a few great offers and took one at a firm only five miles from home. A week into working there I made mention of my nose ring in a conversation with colleagues and they all looked at me in surprise, none of them had noticed I even had one.

A couple months later, I was on the phone with a client, my elbow on the edge of my desk, twirling my nose ring when I lost my balance, my elbow fell off the desk and my hand yanked the stud right out of my nostril. Just as Life had intervened when I was fired from my job, I felt Life with a capital L was doing so again.

Alison, you don’t need a nose ring to be a badass. Don’t try so hard, just be.

I often get caught up in the need to define my personal style. How can I spew fashion advice when I don’t have some covetable wardrobe or enviable and defined personal style? What a hack. If I just had some cooler clothes, if I created a more minimalist wardrobe, if I dieted down to a size easier to fit and shop, if I got an edgy haircut, a new pair of boots, a new designer bag. And then I think of those months of the nose ring. That nose ring didn’t make me any cooler, in fact few even noticed it. What made me badass during that period was making lemonade out of that big lemon of losing my job. Seeing it as an opportunity, not a failure. Taking advantage of that forced staycation, doing things I had been meaning to do and jumping on ideas that came to me while brushing my teeth or driving to the gas station. The nose ring wasn’t badass, but the reasoning behind it was. I didn’t have to wear my badass on my sleeve or on my face, I didn’t have to try so hard, I just had to be.

You don’t need to prove yourself to anyone. If you’re trying to impress, I can tell you right now you’re failing. Cool comes from inside, from confidence, from knowing yourself. And when you know yourself, listen to yourself, and believe in yourself that’s when personal style shines. And that my dear, makes you a badass.

Let’s be a bunch of badasses in 2015, shall we? Let’s own this life, and let’s do it for our badass selves.

What I Wore: Date Night

wardrobe oxygen what I wore leopard talbots dobbin dress wide calf boots wardrobe oxygen what I wore dobbin clothing ponte dress wide calf boots wardrobe oxygen wide calf boot fashion blog wardrobe oxygen what I wore dobbin clothing ponte dress
Dress: Belle Stretch Ponte Twist Dress c/o Dobbin Clothing | Jacket: c/o Talbots (similar) | Bag: Rebecca Minkoff (similar) | Boots: Ros Hommerson ‘Maryland’ | Lipstick: Revlon ColorBurst Balm Stain in Romantic

This outfit makes me realize my closet is really heading in the right direction for my lifestyle, my personal style, and my desire to have more style with fewer pieces.  Dobbin Clothing sent me this dress in 2012 (see it on me in January 2013) and it remains the most versatile dress in my closet.  Worn to a wedding, a funeral, many times to work, and several date nights I love how I can dress it up or down with a switch of accessories.  The boots I purchased almost a decade ago; while some winters I don’t wear them as much and some years I adore them.  This is one of those love years; I’ve been wearing them weekly with skirts and dresses but also over skinny jeans (as seen here).   This bag was super trendy when I purchased it in 2013 (first seen here) and while many bloggers have moved on from the Mini M.A.C. to other bags, I continue to love it because it encompasses everything I love (leather, leopard, calfhair, tough silver hardware) with a perfect size and great craftmanship.  I’ve removed the strap to carry it like a clutch, and the length makes it a good shoulder or crossbody bag.  The coat only joined the wardrobe this past fall, but I wear so often.  Back in my sorority days it was considered a faux pas to “double letter” and wear your Greek letters on more than one garment at a time; I guess I “double leoparded” with this look but I don’t care.  I love me some leopard, it’s who I am.

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Saturday night Karl took me to Republic for my birthday.  Karl is the master of getting somewhere at the right time; we only had one quarter in the car and that’s all we needed for the meter until meters weren’t needed any longer.  We decided to sit at the bar and arrived just as another couple got up to leave.  We had an amazing bartender who totally geeked out on mixology and we learned so much from here about cocktails and oysters.  Soon after settling in the place got packed so we’re glad we got there when we did.  We felt like we were on vacation; we usually find a place that has oysters when we travel so we continued the vaca-feel by getting two burgers to go, heading home, putting on bathrobes and watching a movie and enjoying our favorite “room service” dinner.  Couldn’t think of a better way to ring in my 40th!

Fashion Undressed: From the Runway, with Reason

alison santighian for wardrobe oxygen

As a child, I was one of those (misguided) girls with a smidgen of artistic talent who sketched teal gown after teal gown (it was the 80s, after all). I dreamed of attending fashion school and presenting at runway shows in New York. But then I wanted to be a marine biologist, a biology teacher, a history teacher, a German teacher, and then ended up in the current day job, nowhere near fashion.

Then it all changed with bad pageant wear. There were batons, an off key opera, a stilted sonata, too. The Miss Virginia pageant was on a local cable channel, and a woman I followed on Twitter, known only to me as a pair of red soled black shoes in her profile pic, was snarking it up.

I tuned in, snarked along, and the rest is history.

Fast forward through childbirth, new jobs, new businesses, a lot of writing, opportunities made and grabbed, and I ended up right back in fashion, thanks to that snarky woman on Twitter whom I now call colleague and friend. Through social media we connected, realized our shared love of fashion, design, and the well-written word, and then of more “mundane” things like motherhood and reality TV. She was an editor for Glass magazine, and brought me on as a contributing writer, covering New York, London, Milan, and Paris runway shows.

And she asked me to come with her to NYFW to report from the tents. New York Fashion Week, my lifelong dream.

As the email correspondence between my editor and the designers’ PR reps hit my inbox, the whole thing got more surreal and more real simultaneously. I was a mess. Quickly, I had to learn the app used for RSVPs, invite etiquette, and all sorts of other logistics. All while juggling significant day job deadlines, activities for my kids (whom I call “the Beans”), and, oh yeah, had to still complete writing reviews from previous runway presentations.

It wasn’t until the night before the trip that I could even think about packing. How to pack for the most stylish event I’d ever attended, and in below freezing temps? I had no idea where to start. What I did know was that I wasn’t in the least bit worried about standing out. I wasn’t vying to be photographed by the tents (we’ve all seen the pictures of the “celebrities” and, now the bloggers, posing). I wanted, above all else, to simply look like I was meant to be there, even though I felt like a big ol’ pretender. In a bit of an existential fashion insider crisis, though, I realized on Friday night, that not only do I belong, but I have something to contribute to the fashion conversation. And just as my writing is what got me the gig at Glass, my writing is what earned me a spot next to the runways where I would soon almost literally feel the fashion fly past my face. That realization calmed me, and made it easier to pack. I put in four ensembles that make me feel good and strong and powerful, and off I went.

When I arrived in NYC by train, the train pulls into Penn Station through dark tunnels. I couldn’t see New York. I didn’t know where I was. Out of the platform, then up to the street I came. It’s bright, alive, and the world was zipping around.

Into a cab I went…off to experience my lifelong dream and get deeper into my passion for writing about fashion.

Look. Fashion with a capital “F” might not be your thing. You might look at those same runways I practically drooled over and think “Pshaw! That’s a crazy dress. Not only does she not look like me – at all – but there’s no way on this green earth that I’d put that on my body.” What I’ve learned over the years I’ve been reading and writing about fashion is that there’s a fascinating business of art and design behind it all. Sure, there’s drama about who’s taking over which fashion house, or hullabaloo about the gaffe someone made on the runway, but for most of us, that’s not the interesting bit. What’s interesting, and even useful, to the average woman buying clothes is where a textile began or why all the stores are carrying that infernal color that suits no one or their mother.

There are reasons, I promise you, and I hope to shed a little light on mysterious halls of Fashion in my time here at Wardrobe Oxygen.

Alison SantighianBy day, Alison Santighian is a contractor for the federal government, using her super powers to serve our country, but by night (after bedtime for her “Beans” now 7 and almost 5), she pines after the “it” factor. Alison and “H” (better known as #besthusbandever) don’t believe badass has an expiration date, so they hit concerts, shows, restaurants, and openings across the globe. Alison also writes for Glass Magazine, adding a business woman’s eye to fashion week reviews and style features. Follow her on Twitter.