Fashion Inspiration

Well, here we are: five days from my departure, with hurricane Irene about to descend on the northeast. I'll be at home in a self-imposed bedroom lockdown as soon as the rain hits, and I will not leave until I've finished packing my suitcases for London (with snack breaks, of course). As I mentioned before, packing for a semester abroad is a very selective business. How can I bring all of the necessities (for weather, work, etc.) and still ensure that I'll look stylish? I may have found my answer in the form of style and fashion blogs. 

Recently, I’ve been overdosing on British fashion (and fashion in general). I cannot stop reading 'street style' blogs, and the blogging community is often so tight-knit that clicking on one website will lead me to another and another, until my tangential searches have lead me to upwards of twenty new websites in an hour... Some of my favorites have been added to my “Websites I Love” sidebar. Overall, American fashion in the everyday sense is classic, laid back, and revolves around a few key items of clothing (recent phenoms Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Nicki Minaj notwithstanding). British fashion is never too polished, usually a little bit edgy or eccentric, and follows trends a bit more. British women are also excellent at layering. 

In the spirit of searching for packing inspiration, I have compiled a list of young British women (around my age) whom I find to be fashionable yet accessible. Theirs is the sort of British fashion I hope to emulate. 

Emma Watson: age 21, actor.

I adore Emma Watson – I mean, just look at the Fashion & Editorial section on her website!  In color photos, I think there’s something leonine about her boyish hair cut and light brown eyes, but in black and white photos she looks just timeless, almost flawless, simply beautiful. She’s a chameleon, and her age isn’t something you can pinpoint by looking at her – sometimes she looks far older than she is, and at times, far younger – just as I often feel at twenty-one. I think this young girl-young woman aspect of her look works strongly in her favor, and it’s slightly provocative. This girl is just dynamic, and I can’t wait to follow her career.

Florence Welch: age 24, singer-songwriter.

In my opinion, the best accessory Florence has is her gorgeous red hair, and she’s working it every day, with every ensemble. That being said, when it comes to her vintage-inspired look, the major fashion lesson to be learned here is flow. All of her costumes have movement, seemingly changing with the lighting. The colors are a big part of it, as well as embellishments like sequins, fringe, and print.

Carey Mulligan: age 26, actor.

Carey’s preppy style epitomizes my previous ideas of British fashion: classic, well-tailored, and tasteful bordering on safety (with plenty of trench coats). She is always dressed impeccably, and hardly ever looks even a little bit deconstructed. It could be the simplicity of the outfits she chooses or her short haircut, but everything she wears appears purposeful, deliberate, and organized. In any case, uncomplicated as her look may seem at times, she never looks plain – and the simplicity of her wardrobe doesn’t make it any less enviable!

Aimée Ann Duffy: age 27, singer-songwriter.

Duffy is Brigitte Bardot circa the 1960s reincarnate. She covers her curves as minimally as possible, with a black or white t-shirt or dress, but doesn’t need to show a lot of skin. Duffy allows all attention to focus on her heavily lined eyes, teased blonde hair, and full lips. Words like “bombshell” and “sex appeal” spring to mind, reinforcing the link in my mind between the iconic French actor and the Welsh singer. Her sultry singing voice doesn’t detract from the similarity either!

Alexa Chung: age 27, MTV presenter.

Oh, what can I say about Alexa Chung? Anyone who knows how to Google can type “Alexa Chung” into the search engine and discover her cult-status following. Her sense of style was formally recognized in 2010 when she was awarded the British Style Award by the British Fashion Council. It’s no wonder, either, as her style is so distinctive and unique! Not too polished or matchy, but not too festival either – lots of boyish pieces, stripes, and vintage. I’ll join the rest of the fashion world in saying I Love Alexa Chung! She’s an inspiration.

Sienna Miller: age 29, actor.

Sienna is well-known for her casual and often slightly bohemian look. Although she doesn’t experiment with different looks and colors as often as most of the other women on my list, she can work the red carpet, the characters she plays always have sensational wardrobes, and there is something to be said for having a facile, innately effortless sense of style. We Americans are big fans of key pieces and the laid back look. Sienna consistently chooses blacks, whites, grays, nudes, and lots of denim; her staples are jeans and ankle booties. She usually keeps her make-up very simple, but sometimes adds a red lip for glamour. And I might mention that she’s not intimidated by luxurious fur coats, dramatic capes, and eccentric hats. 

Also very inspiring, but not included: Kate Middleton, Fearne Cotton, Holly Willoughby, Kate MossVictoria Beckham, Helen Mirren, Twiggy. 

Working Vacation

This has been an extraordinarily busy summer. Compared to last summer, which was packed with the usual trips to the beach and the standard summer job, this summer has been double the workload. But not necessarily half the fun!

In addition to acing two summer classes at West Chester University (social psychology and psychopathology) I worked multiple summer jobs to save money for London. In between these commitments, and occasionally during, I’ve had some great times.

I’ve had plenty of opportunities to go into Philadelphia. On father’s day, I saw the Marc Chagall exhibit at the Art Museum, and more recently, Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus. At the Ritz East Theater, I saw Incendies, a foreign film in my second language – French.

In May, I attended the Radnor Hunt horse races for the first time; this year’s theme was the Great American Novel. I donned rain boots to wade into the stream at the Great Valley Nature Center, looking for bugs with my six-year-old neighbor. I spent several weekends in Ventnor, where I ran the Fireman’s 5K, learned how to crack open lobsters, and biked the boardwalk to Atlantic City.

I have also stretched my gourmet muscles quite a few times. I tasted my first chicken wings at Adobe Café in south Philly (crispy, spicy, and sweet). I also tried a ‘Lhasa Apso’ chicken sandwich and a ‘Whippett’ turkey burger at Doghouse Gourmet Burgers in Downingtown – and enjoyed both so much that I hardly came up for air between (gigantic) bites. I found a new obsession at Starbucks: the soy latte with toffee nut syrup.

Overall, I’m glad that I can look back and honestly say that I enjoyed myself. I worked hard and played hard… and I think I’ve earned a few adventures :)

concerts = briefly feeling infinite; forcefully emotional; electric energy; unlikely human harmony

"After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music." [Aldous Huxley]
There are so many things - circumstances, prejudices, fears - that keep human beings apart. Music is such a beautiful way to lessen the gap between us. And, I sense that music will be especially important to me now, moving to a big, impersonal city such as London. That big city feeling of isolation and loneliness can aggravate even minor homesickness. 

I believe that the antidote could be losing my individuality for a while in a crowd of people sharing a love of music. It's the most incredible moment, being at a concert, in which we, as a crowd, are indivisible - an unlikely union, tacitly agreeing to a feeling of solidarity. I love that feeling of belonging, loving, and comradeship. Bottle that up and sell it. And so concerts, my friends, are definitely on the agenda for London

Adele at the HMV Hammersmith Apollo on Sept. 19 or 20 (£26-36)
Gym Class Heroes at the Electric Ballroom on Oct. 7 (£14)
Katy Perry with Oh! Land at the O2 on Oct. 14 or 15 (£30)
Feist at the London Palladium on Oct. 17 (£20-30)
Arctic Monkeys & the Vaccines at the O2 on Oct. 29 or 30 (£32.50)
Tinie Tempah w/ J. Cole at the O2 on Nov. 4 (£23.50)

one girl, two suitcases, four months (or, how to pack for a semester abroad)

Once again this unshakeable sense of anticipation (eleven days!) has driven me to my laptop with the hope that blogging will allow me to release some of my enthusiasm and energy. The subject today, evidently, is packing. My normal packing-for-Pitt ritual begins with an enormous pile on my bedroom floor as I attempt to locate everything I think I’ll need. Then, there is a frenzied effort to shove as much of that pile as possible into duffle bags, backpacks, and boxes; when every standard form of luggage is at full capacity, I’ll stuff empty shopping bags and, finally, toss those last few things on top. Once finished, the trunk, back seat, and passenger seat of my car are crammed to overflowing.

When it comes to packing for a study abroad trip, I’m faced with the task of fitting everything I’ll need for three and a half months into two suitcases and one carry-on. Time to pare it down to the absolute essentials. Armed with a minimalist attitude, I compiled the following list. Thoughts and advice are welcome!

Laptop + charger
Camera + charger + USB cord
iPod + USB cord
DVDs (My homesickness cure is one of my favorite movies, so I usually pack a few.)

Vitamin C pills or Airborne
Band Aids
Any medicines you need (bring the prescription with you for airport security!)

SCHOOL – Only bring school supplies if you feel like it. In France, all notebook paper is graph paper, not simple lined paper like in the USA. I brought two notebooks with me for the semester and was glad to have them. Not sure what the case will be in the UK. Items to consider: pens and pencils, stationary, notebooks.

Face wash
Shampoo + conditioner
Hairbrush, hair ties, bobby pins
Toothbrush + toothpaste
Nail Polish (just one or two!)
Towel (Optional: A towel is not provided with housing, but would be easy to buy in London.)
Feminine products

Shoes (One pair each of boots, flats, rain boots, sneakers, heels – flip flops for hostel showers come in handy!)
Sweaters (In Britain, I’m told, layering is key.)
Pants (Leggings, tights, jeans, work pants)
Outerwear (Windbreaker, rain coat, winter coat)
Gloves + hats
Reading glasses

Passport and official documents (plus photocopies)
Flight itinerary
Driver’s license
Earplugs, eye mask, neck pillow for traveling
Ziploc baggies

Reusable shopping bag for groceries
Bottle opener (It’s small anyways, and I love to bring one when I go for picnics :)
Room decorations (for example, sticky tack and photos)

Bring a cool keychain for the key to my new flat!
In France, the very notion that coffee could be taken “to go” is simply ignored. I couldn’t find a travel mug in any supermarket, and I cherish my coffee throughout the day. This time, I’ll bring my own!
I usually put an extra change of clothes in my carry-on, just in case (heaven forbid) my suitcase were to become lost. I also keep a laminated copy of my passport with me. Last, I throw something distinctive on my luggage, such as a pretty ribbon. 

My First Trip to London

Only 15 days until I leave for London! I don’t mean to gush, but I just can’t help it. As the date approaches, I spend more and more time reflecting on the city that will become my temporary home. Most days, this involves reminiscing about my first (and only) visit to England – which I will recount for you here. This is primarily a travel blog, after all.

The plan to visit London really began in March of 2010, while I was abroad in Aix-en-Provence. One of my closest friends, Brittany, had offered the sofa in her apartment to her sorority sister, Becca, who was completing an internship in London that year. Becca offered her time and her flat to Brittany to return the favor, and when Brittany extended the invitation to me, I jumped at the opportunity. We made plans to fly from Marseille to London at the end of our program in May: five days of sightseeing before Brittany boarded her flight to America and I boarded my bus to Paris to begin backpacking.

As fate would have it, in the days before our arrival Becca was vacationing in Northern Ireland. Her flight was delayed several days due to the ash cloud produced by the eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull several weeks prior. Luckily, Brittany and I were still able fly into London and use her flat in Bermondsey as our base for touristy activities while Becca was stranded on the other British Isle.

Brittany and I arrived in Heathrow Airport on Saturday, May 15th. We navigated the Tube, identifying the Piccadilly Line as our transport into the city. We hailed a standard red taxi from the London Bridge tube stop to Becca’s flat. Her flat was spacious and modern, with a bedroom, bathroom, and combined living room and kitchen – it was easy to make ourselves at home. We had tickets for a Third Eye Blind concert that night in Kentish Town at the HMV Forum. Although we had standing room tickets, an exceedingly kind usher led us upstairs to the cushioned red benches on the balcony. It was an unforgettable experience.

The next morning was ominously overcast but dry, and we set out on foot to the Old Spitalfields Market in east London. We took what I’ll refer to euphemistically as the “scenic route” to the market, but which in reality was the worst, most indirect route possible through northeast London. We jogged past Petticoat Lane on our way, dashing inside the Victorian market hall just as it started to rain. The market was fantastic – we tried on hats and scarves, admired framed photos of work by Banksy, and sampled some Caribbean-inspired vegan food for lunch from one of the vendors. Brittany purchased a comic pair of reading glasses. Afterwards, we made our way through the light but steady rain to the British Museum (the Underground made this trip considerably shorter and more direct!). We spent a couple of hours inside winding through hallways and exhibits, then fooling around in the gift shop. We bought a few souvenirs across the street and then made our way to the British Library. Both were impressive.

Another early start on Monday morning! It was a short Tube ride in the London Underground to Westminster Bridge station. This should be a first stop for any tourist: as soon as we climbed the steps outside, Brittany and I were delighted by this iconic panorama: a red double-decker bus crossing Westminster bridge from Big Ben to the London Eye, with the Houses of Parliament reflected in the Thames. After consulting our map, we chose a route to Buckingham Palace that would lead us through St. James’ Park. Our promenade through the park was like a fairy tale – I saw strange birds; one man was feeding some friendly squirrels out of his hand; the colors were soft but I still remember them vividly. At 11:15 am, crowds were building as hundreds gathered to witness the changing of the Guard.
It was a beautiful, mild English day and we decided to ramble down the Mall to Trafalgar Square. We breezed through the square and into the National Gallery. I especially enjoyed an exhibition of paintings by the Singh twins, who combine traditional Indian artwork with contemporary art practices, creating an aesthetic that straddles East and West and makes a sociopolitical commentary. We gawked at the chaos of Piccadilly Circus before choosing Wagamama Noodles for lunch. Later, we found ourselves in Camden Town, where we soaked up the youth and alternative culture at the markets.

On Tuesday, Brittany’s friend Caitlin joined us in London (she had just ended her own study abroad program in Florence). We began our day at the Imperial War Museum, in a remarkably quiet area of the city. I enjoyed the recreated trenches, and they were showing an arresting video. We took a leisurely stroll along the south bank of the Thames, stopping to pose with graffiti so bright it seemed electric and the painted elephants “on parade” placed throughout the city to raise money for Asian elephants. 
[Side note: Elephants are my favorite animals, so I was pleased to read recently that the auction of the 260 elephants on exhibition that summer succeeded in raising over £4 million.] Our next formal cultural experience was a visit to the Tate Modern.
Later that afternoon, the three of us wandered through Kensington Gardens, searching for the Peter Pan statue, becoming miserably lost, and eventually crossing into Hyde Park. There we paused for a bit of rest and a photo shoot in the grass. We exited through the Edinburgh Gate and found ourselves at the top of Brompton Road – we just had to walk down to Harrods to window shop, you understand. From there we walked (yes, more walking! Sightseeing can be such spectacular exercise) down Constitution Hill to Buckingham Palace, which Caitlin had yet to see, and from there down the Mall to Trafalgar Square. This time, we climbed up onto the Nelson’s Column monument to pet a majestic bronze lion. However, cuddling with a bronze lion does not erase the exhaustion of trekking back and forth across London on foot. We were eager to head back to Becca’s flat afterwards, where we found – surprise! – Becca! Yes, our gracious host had arrived from Ireland. That evening, she led us through windy back streets to a flare bar, where one English bartender and one Spanish bartender chatted us up whilst tossing bottles and shakers expertly.
Wednesday would be another long day. I am happy to report that by our fourth day, Brittany and I had finally learned to look left for traffic! We safely made our way across Tower Bridge to the Tower of London, where for £16.50 we saw armor, weapons, and jewels – not to mention beefeaters! It was overcast that morning, but the weather cleared up for our afternoon trip to Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, located roughly 10 miles from central London. We loved every part of it. We even saw a peacock and a few hens wandering around. Don’t ask me how we found the time, but we also investigated the Covent Garden Market. We mulled over a tea purchase, took on the role of spectators at more than one street performance, and spotted a bunch of trendy university students grabbing a pint of beer. That evening, Brittany and I said our good-byes, and I boarded an overnight bus from Victoria Station to Paris. I was off to new adventures.
Obviously there is plenty that I still want to see! And soon I’ll return – I can hardly wait. 

Markets & Macaroons

Ladurée is opening their first stand alone London tea salon in Covent Garden, and it just looks gorgeous. They can expect me in September! Click here to see the article.

Anglophile: Required Reading for a Student in London

My fellow college students, I am about to reveal something about myself to you that may change our relationship. You may love or hate me for it, but I am a student. It’s not a part I enjoy playing so that I can wear serious-looking boots and meet cute study partners. I genuinely enjoy learning (are you gasping in disbelief?). I actually read the textbooks, attend the lectures, and take meticulous notes – and most of the time, I enjoy it. Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t love a party. To be sure, there are plenty of situations in college where the opportunity to challenge your liver and exercise your social skills is more compelling than anything a classroom has to offer you, and often we go in search of vodka redbulls instead of intellectual stimulation. When the keg and the econ homework beckon, which call do you answer? Do you head to the Hillman, or to a house party on Semple to celebrate thirsty Thursday?

Anyways, I wouldn’t like to make you choose, so back to my topic du jour. Last semester, my economics professor declared that time is the most valuable commodity in the world. I agree. This is why we buy guidebooks, hire travel agents, and browse websites that compare options for us: it allows us to make an informed decision with minimal time and effort.

The constant struggle of the study abroad student, with limited time in Europe and a shoestring budget, is to maximize time and minimize spending. Planning becomes ultra important, to make the best use of both time and money. 

The first time I went abroad,I often travelled on weekends, and my budget on these trips was usually around 150 euro (for transportation, lodging, food, admission to museums, tours, and shows). This tight budget was always compounded by a 36-hour time constraint. Thankfully, I found the solution to this dilemma one afternoon in my favorite cafe/bookstore, Book in Bar, in the form of a Rick Steves guide book. Rick Steves had been recommended to me by friends in Florence, who referred affectionately to his guidebook as “Rick,” or occasionally as “Rick Steves, Travel God.” I soon felt the same way. Reading his book taught me a valuable lesson: with precious little time and money, researching in advance is the only way to make the most of your trips. 

With Rick's help, I discovered that the art of travelling when you’re low on time and money is being able to live in the moment with a full awareness of its significance. Don’t waste time and money by getting lost or overpaying. Research. Plan. Enjoy. 

So, being the enthusiastic student that I am, I have typically acquired a mini-library of books on London, England, Britain, the United Kingdom, and the British Isles. I want to know where I’m going to minimalize culture shock and hit the ground running with new experiences. So what books am I reading now, in preparation for my semester-long sojourn abroad? Read on. 

Rick Steves, of course, and LIFE magazine's Royal Wedding Feature. 
Prince William and Kate Middleton are the world's most famous newlyweds. The April ceremony at Westminster Abbey was broadcast internationally, and several billion people tuned in. The married life of Will and Kate (or the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, if you please) will certainly be very closely observed in the British tabloids. It would be foolish to go to the capitol of England without being at least conversational on the subject of the royal family. 

More guide books on London and Great Britain, published by DK Eyewitness Travel. 
These are my mother's guide books, and I think her favorite thing about them is their photographs, illustrations, and maps. They are not strictly pictorial, however - they have lots of useful information and interesting facts. Worth a read if you have the time, but although they are thin books they are so much heavier than my Rick, and I'd probably rather leave them at home than tote them on trips. 

And a few quirky extras. 
The Traditional Shops and Restaurants of London and eat. shop. london. are not quite so practical as travel guides... but they are loads of fun to read as they catalog quirky boutiques and restaurants. They focus on the one-of-a-kind, the original, the unique, the inimitable. The women that write them actually have a voice that comes through in their reviews and recommendations, and their personality is the antithesis of many dry, objective travel guides. If their interests match yours, they can be a spectacular resource.