27/09/2016

Charity Shop Tuesday: A Dress Inspired by a Top

When I was a teenager, I dreamed of being a Proper Goth. In actual fact I spent most of my time wearing jeans and a polo shirt - no exaggeration, I owned a bright blue polo shirt and a lime green polo shirt and the biggest dilemma of my weekend was deciding which of these awful items to wear first.

Every time I'd pass a goth on the street I'd try to sneak looks at them without making it obvious. For a while I had Matrix-style mirrored sunglasses, and that was great for this. Goths just looked so dramatic! I loved clothes that made a statement, that bordered on being a costume. I still do, I've just realised that it's the drama I like, and the clothes don't actually have to be black.

Anyway. I was way too shy to actually dress like a goth until sixth form, when, embolded by my sister, who was also going through a goth/rocker/emo phase, I finally started to buy some fancier clothes, thinking that I'd stopped growing. More fool me, I had a final growth spurt in Year 12, and outgrew those purple cords.

Of course, I didn't have a job so I was trying to stretch my pocket money and birthday money to as many purchases as possible. I hadn't yet discovered charity shopping (if only I had!) so this meant trawling the fast fashion shops and carefully examining every section with a 'SALE' sign above it. Mostly I repeat-wore my one pair of black jeans and a black button-down shirt with a vest top in blue or purple underneath. At least it was an improvement on those awful polo shirts.

And then one day, I fell in love with this top in H&M. It basically looked like underwear. Like a basque with no boning. Black lace and ribbon over a green mesh lining. They didn't have it in my size at my local store, but my mum managed to track it down in Croydon.

The quality was terrible. After one or two wears the elastic in the straps disintegrated, and my mum had to sew ribbon to the backs of them to hold them together. I was still really shy so I generally wore it under a black button-down shirt like the vest tops (WHY?). But oh, how I loved it. I even wore it occasionally as a student. Here is a photo of me, aged 20, wearing it at Studio Valbonne, a terrible but opulently decorated nightclub off Oxford Street.


What is that pose. Also, the skirt I was wearing looked crap with it unless I tucked it into the top of my tights.

Alas this top, lovely and fun as it is, could not be described appropriate for everyday adult life. And thus it has languished, unworn, at the back of my wardrobe for many a year. And then a couple of years ago, the memories of that top and how cool it made me feel inspired me to buy this dress when I saw it in a charity shop.


This dress is impossible to photograph well! I had to crank up the brightness and contrast and mess with the saturation. Hopefully you get the idea. It's black. Over a teal lining - but unlike the top, it's not slightly rough mesh, it's soft, comfortable viscose. And although it's got all the drama of the the top, it's much more demure - falling to below my knee and rising quite high on my bust. I even wore it to work the other day.


Do you have a particular aesthetic in mind when you look at clothes? Is there an item from the past that haunts you?

20/09/2016

Charity Shop Tuesday: Green Floral Dress

I have a lot of clothes. So many, in fact, that they're spread over two wardrobes in two homes. Currently, most of my summer clothes are in my flat and most of my winter clothes are at my parents' house. Over the next couple of months I'll be swapping them over again, rediscovering old gems, and hopefully keeping myself inspired and excited by my clothes so that I resist the temptation to buy any more.

I am trying to save money, and also live a slightly more streamlined life - I'll never be an minimalist, but I'd like to get rid of some of the excess, and most importantly, stop buying more.

With all this in mind, I decided to start this new weekly blog series in which I will show you something I bought from a charity shop in the past, and tell you why I bought it, and why I love it. I want to inspire more people to give charity shopping a try, and this should also serve to remind me that I don't need any more clothes!


First up is this green floral dress. The year I bought this dress I'd got the idea in my head that I wanted to look all ethereal and nature-loving. This notion wore off pretty fast, because it is difficult and kind of boring to try to look ethereal and nature-loving when you are assertive, witty, and wasp-fearing.

But I still love this dress. It is fun to pretend to be those things sometimes, even if you're only actually walking to the shops. I imagined going to lots of barbeques and for walks in the park in this dress, and wearing it with Doc Martens for the contrast. Plus, if you wear a blazer over the top of any dress you look 400% more assertive, so I often do that.

It is not the best quality. It doesn't have a brand label, only a fabric information one (100% cotton, apparently), and the fabric is very thin, translucent and delicate-feeling. It was also originally a little too low in the bust, but a few stitches at the top sorted that out.

It ties at the back, which is cool. Because the fabric is so thin, it's really comfortable on hot days, though I do need to be careful what bra I wear as it's not lined above the waist.


The only thing I don't like about it so much is the brown trim and the brown buttons. I abhor brown. As far as I am concerned, brown is the worst colour for clothes. My hair is brown. My eyes are brown. That is enough brown for me, ta very much. I may try removing the brown by stitching over the trim in embroidery thread and replacing the buttons. Maybe in purple, because this dress doesn't have any purple on it. I have to always wear purple accessories with this dress, so that my friends and family feel comfortable and don't start to worry that I'm feeling ill or the world is ending.


I don't know why they worry about the latter. If the world was ending I would definitely be wearing purple, like a security blanket. My most comfortable boots are purple. I mean, come on.

Have you ever blogged about your favourite charity shop purchases? Let me know!

30/08/2016

10 Things to Remember While You Deal with Post-University Unemployment

Post-university unemployment is a very popular topic at the moment as the next load of graduates have just been unleashed onto the job market, and I thought that it was about time I weighed in.

My post-university employment was extremely sporadic. I finished my Masters in 2009 right when the recession hit and didn't get a permanent job until 2013. Now it's all good and I'm in a job that pays more than the average wage, but those years were not fun times.

So, what would I tell my bright-eyed, diploma-clutching 22-year-old self?

1. Remember you're not alone and it's not your fault



You're one of thousands of graduates who have finally come to the end of their educational careers to find themselves confused about what to do next. You haven't flunked. You haven't failed at the final hurdle. Unfortunately, you're outside of the world of tests and essays and it's not a straightforward meritocracy out here. There are all kinds of reasons why employers haven't chosen to give you a job that have nothing to do with you.

2. However, it is your responsibility

Full socialism isn't on the country's agenda, and the government we do have are dodging the notion that they should do something to get more people into proper jobs. So now you need to learn how to continue your education and skill development outside of a formal institution, and how to present yourself as an appealing potential employee. You have to put serious time and effort into this. You do need to tweak your CV for every job you apply for. You can't get away with just changing the addressee in your covering letters. You won't be able to just wait until a job that matches the skills and experience you already have falls into your lap.

3. If you can move back in with your family or into cheaper accommodation do it BEFORE you run out of savings



I was already living with my parents so this isn't something I personally experienced, but I know so many people who, having worked part-time through uni, had managed to save up enough money that, when the maintenance loan payments stopped, they were able to keep paying rent on their houses and flats. They figured they'd pay for the first couple of months out of their savings, and by then they'd have a job! Problem solved...

Except six months down the line they were deep into their overdraft (which was meant to be getting smaller!) and they still didn't have a full-time job, or the time to apply for one, being too busy signing up for every available shift at the minimum-wage part-time jobs they were supposed to be moving on from.

You don't need to be five minutes from the university library and ten minutes from all the pubs and clubs anymore. If you can move back in with your parents or to a less expensive part of town, do it. You'll save yourself a lot of misery down the line. And you can always move back if you want to, once you get a well-paid enough job.

4. Don't get obsessed with doing surveys on the internet

It's very tempting, when you have zero pounds coming in, to spend a lot of time poring over the Money Saving Expert forums and reading 'make money from home' sites and planning out your new part-time career as a mystery shopper. In reality there are thousands of people doing the same, you will get filtered out of about 70% of surveys, and you won't make more than the odd tenner. You're much better off spending your time applying for jobs, starting a real business, volunteering, or learning something new.

5. BEWARE THE CV GAP

I have put this in capital letters because it's so important. The longer you are unemployed and doing nothing else the worse it looks. You need to fill that gap. You need something to say other than 'between October 2016 and March 2017 I was unemployed'.

The easiest way to do this is to volunteer. You don't have to give up a lot of time - you need most of it for job hunting. I volunteered one afternoon a week in a charity shop and when required for Spread the Word and that meant I could say 'between x date and x date I was volunteering for The Children's Society and Spread the Word and looking for work', which looks much better.

6. Don't spend all day every day looking for work but also don't spend too much time with your friends

If you devote your whole life to job hunting you will lose your mind. This is another way in which volunteering comes in handy - when I was poring over job descriptions and person specifications on a Monday morning, I could look forward to going to the charity shop in a couple of days.

Spending time with the other volunteers was actually more beneficial in some ways than hanging out with my friends - obviously it was lovely to see my friends, but it was expensive travelling to meet them and they weren't all in the same position as me. In the charity shop I got to talk to people who were in a similar position to me in that they needed a job, but were also quite different - a refugee from Iraq who always wanted to practice his English, teenagers who were getting retail experience in advance of the Christmas temp season, a woman from Nigeria who was the youngest-looking 65-year-old in the world and had a pension that wasn't enough to live on... They were all enthusiastic and friendly and it was refreshing to spend time with them and get away from my computer screen.

7. Analyse person specifications and work out how to get those essential skills or that experience that you're missing

Is there a common theme in the jobs you can't apply for? Is it 'Microsoft Excel'? Get yourself to the library and take out one of the beginners books. Or ask your friend who is a whizz if they'll teach you if you clean their kitchen (note: I am officially 'Advanced' at Excel, will teach COUNTIFS and VLOOKUPs in return for sink cleaning).

If you don't have access to the software they're asking for expertise in and it's something an individual can buy, ask around - maybe someone you know has the Adobe Creative Suite and you can sit down round theirs with their laptop and work through Photoshop for Dummies. Otherwise, you might have to seek out volunteering opportunities that will let you use the required software.

The same goes for other skills, not just IT - read up on how to take minutes and then volunteer to do it for your Mum's badminton club AGM, or for a charity team. If you need experience supervising people, look at big events - the Southbank Centre recruit volunteers and volunteer supervisors for their major festival events.

The library is an amazing resource, but don't get too distracted by the fiction
8. Don't be a job snob

AKA the fastest way to lose friends and alienate people. You are not above retail because you have a degree. Your BA (Hons) does not exempt you from filing for the rest of your life. You need to fill that gap before all your CV becomes is a degree and a gaping chasm. And when you're temping in Debenhams or working in the local Costa, don't piss off your colleagues by whining about how you're too good to be there. Basically, don't be a dickhead. Not only because it's mean, but also because you never know where your colleagues will end up or who they're friends with.

9. On the other hand, don't waste time with dead-end jobs

And I mean, PROPERLY dead-end. Most jobs, even if there's no way to progress at the organisation, are going to allow you spare time to work on your skills, apply for other jobs, start your own business, etc.

What you want to avoid is jobs where you spend two hours or more a day travelling to them, jobs that sap all your energy so you have nothing left at the end of the day. If you get stuck in one of these jobs then it's very hard to leave. So unless it's completely unavoidable, don't take one up.

If you do, you need to get out as fast as you can, and as much as it sucks, the best thing you can do is get up really early so you can spend your most energetic hours looking or preparing for other jobs, before you go to work.

10. Read GetBullish

This is one of my favourite websites and has helped me enormously. Jen Dziura's advice is life-changing and if I had read it in 2009 or earlier instead of 2012, I would have got to where I am now a lot faster. Articles that are particularly relevant to this topic:

Where Job and Life Skills Come From (And How to Become an Expert)
Help! I Don't Have Any Job Skills (Does 'English' Count?)
Dealing With Gaps in Your Resume
Interview Advice

A note

Finally, before I end this post, I want to reinforce the point that this advice is all based on my personal experiences and those of my friends. Like many young people, I chose not to claim Jobseekers Allowance, even though I was entitled to it when I was between jobs. This is because everyone I know who did claim it found that the tedious courses, 'work placements' and poorly-trained advisors hindered rather than helped their job search. Mostly by wasting time that could have been better spent actually looking for work.

I had some savings, managed to get temp jobs for a couple of months at least once a year, lived with my parents, and almost never went out and never bought anything when I wasn't working - a way of life I was used to from when I did my Masters (which I self-financed out of my savings). Financially, I would have been more comfortable claiming JSA, but I decided I'd rather angst over every penny I spent than deal with the anxiety signing on would inevitably induce. I resented the fact that the government successfully put me (and many others) off claiming benefits and in doing so made their statistics look better, but I just couldn't do it to myself.

If you are claiming JSA, you may find that some of this advice is not relevant to you as you don't have the time to follow it. But I hope that you do find something useful in it.

Have you experienced unemployment after finishing university or college or school? How did you deal with it? Are you still dealing with it? Leave me a comment and let me know.

12/01/2016

this salmon obsession, with thoughts on the direction of this blog and getting older

Don't worry guys, I haven't lost the plot over the last year-and-seven-months. I still think salmon pink is a revolting colour. Purple 4 lyfe. Et cetera. I'm talking about the fish, the food. Yes, the food.

I've been wondering what to do about this blog for far too long. It fell by the wayside quite a while ago as I concentrated on book blogging and vlogging. Originally this blog was supposed to be about fashion and makeup, because they were my major obsessions at the time. But eventually I decided that I'd watched enough makeup tutorials to be able to do everything I wanted to do in the field of eyeshadow. I don't give a crap about contouring or strobing or anything cheeks-related really - most of the time I don't even bother to wear blush, or blusher as it used to be known - so I moved on. And fashion blogging...well...to take off as a fashion blogger you need three and/or four basic things:

A) A boyfriend/flatmate/family member who is good at photography, or amazing self-timer skills
B) Enough space in your home to stand far enough away from the camera to get a full-body shot, in a location with good lighting
AND
C) The time to set this up several times a week
OR
D) Enough space to leave your camera set up all the time

Trust me, I know. I'm a vlogger. I have enough space in my current flat to leave my tripod assembled and at the right height all the time - and this saves an enormous amount of time as all I have to do is plonk it at the right distance (measured against my kitchen tiles) test it once to be sure I'm in frame, and go!

But I do not have enough space for fashion blogging, still. I didn't have enough space for fashion blogging when I lived with my parents. I also still do not have A). I have quite an unphotogenic face. If I'm taking pictures of myself I have to take dozens just to get one decent shot. This is not a cry for compliments - I think I look perfectly fine in real life and on video, but still photography is another beast entirely. I just can't replicate the perfect facial expression on demand.



Some of my extremely high quality fashion blogger photos from back in the day. 
And all of this doomed my attempts to be a fashion blogger. There was a little while, at the start, when mirror photos were totally acceptable, and I kind of miss those days. I do occasionally put a mirror photo on Instagram, or just take a photo for myself. But it's not going to get me an audience, and I'm not one of those people who is happy to do this without an audience. I want people to read my posts. I want them to be useful or at least interesting.

So after several years feeling stymied by my lack of basic fashion blogger resources I have decided to go back to what this blog was supposed to be all along - a catalogue of my obsessions. Because I am still a woman who flits from obsession to obsession, eight years later. And when I started the blog, that was the idea at the forefront of my mind. It was supposed to be a place where I could write about anything I was obsessed with.

The thing is, my obsessions have changed a lot over the last eight years. I still like eyeshadow and nail varnish and purple and poofy skirts. But I am also obsessed with houseplants and cooking and business advice and other grown-up things. And that led me to another concern that held me back - would people give a crap now? But my 2016 blogging resolution is to just go for it, because worriedly procrastinating will not help.

So today (after nine paragraphs of preamble) I bring you a post about food. 

The salmon obsession had been building for a while. Since moving in with my boyfriend, I have become obsessed with Lidl. The random homeware goods. The cheap herb plants. The cereal that is clearly Dorset Cereals under a different name and for a much lower price. SEED MIX!

I'm not alone. Lots of people are obsessed by Lidl. You mention Lidl and either people turn up their noses because they'd never shop anywhere less middle-class than Waitrose or they react with unbridled enthusiasm. And one of the things other people raved about is the fish.

At the same time I've been worrying a bit about getting older. Now, as a feminist who thinks her 58-year-old mother is one of the most beautiful people on earth and is always reassuring friends and strangers that they look lovely because I genuinely think they do, it feels wrong to admit this. But I wasn't always a pretty person. I was an awkward lanky teenager with greasy hair and enormous glasses and limbs that were too long and skinny. I think I started to turn pretty at age 18 and I've been very happy with the way I look for several years now, to the point that I barely think about it anymore.

I think is why the idea of getting older has increasingly been playing on my mind. Because, I guess, I know what it was like to not be pretty. And I don't want to go back. It still feels like I've only just gotten to be happy with the way I look, although actually, it's been eight or so years. The halo effect is real. People do treat you differently if you look attractive. But even if they didn't - and they shouldn't - I like that when I see myself in the mirror, I smile. I like that it doesn't take up a lot of my time. There's a paragraph in the conclusion of The Beauty Myth that made me cry when I read it, that basically said, imagine all the things women and girls could do if they didn't spend so much time on the pursuit of beauty. And for years I've been living that paragraph!

But recently I've found myself spending hours poring over SkincareAddiction on Reddit, partly because I had some pesky cystic acne and partly to find out about anti-ageing stuff. Facepalms all round - though it turns out that a lot of the stuff that is good for your brain is also good for your face. So I don't have to feel so shallow, do I? One of the really good things, apparently, is omega-3 oils, which are best consumed via oily fish like salmon. And so the idea that salmon is a good cheap food from Lidl collided with the idea that salmon is good for your face and brain, and I got totally obsessed, and that culminated in yesterday's dinner!

I spent ages looking up salmon recipes and then of course my sister sent me the perfect thing, this recipe from a Jamie Oliver website. It was perfect because it also gave me an excuse to make pesto, something I'd been planning to do for ages - I had two ready-to-harvest basil plants.

I've got the hang of book photography, food photography must be next! View on Instagram.
This recipe is really flexible because if you don't like pesto, you don't have to use it. And if you like a stronger flavour, you can double the amount of garlic in the pesto, like I did, or add a red chilli pepper. I also have a chilli plant so I might try that next time.

I've bookmarked a whole load more salmon recipes to try in the future once I invest in a grill pan, but until then I think I'll be making this on a regular basis!

Have your interests and obsessions changed as you've got older? What has this meant for your blog, if you have one? How do you stop yourself worrying about aging? Do you have any salmon recipe recommendations? Let me know!
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