Posts Categorized: guest post

Guest Post: Pondering Midwest Style with Lauren of This Life Styled

My amazing friend Amy Guth – who recently became publisher at RedEye in Chicago – dropped me a note to introduce me to one of her style writers, Lauren Krause. And when Amy makes an intro, I pay attention. Lauren not only covers style for RedEye, but she also works on audience engagement at the Chicago Tribune and runs her own blog, This Life Styled, on the side. So she’s probably not doing a lot of sleeping. Since it’s a question that I couldn’t answer myself, I asked Lauren to weigh in on what defines Midwestern style (because I’m cruel and twerpy like that) and totally love her response. Read on for Lauren’s thoughts, and input from some her her favorite Midwestern style bloggers!

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When I think of West Coast style, my mind conjures up images of relaxed women looking cool and content under the California sun. Cue the long skirts, cut-offs, and Bohemian vibe stirred by the breeze wafting off the Pacific Ocean. My perception is that East Coast style is remarkably different, erring on the side of structured sophistication and traditional elegance, not to mention black piled on black. Both coasts have unique styles to call their own, but what about the Midwest? The quintessential style of women living in the center of our country isn’t as easy to define, but that doesn’t stop thousands of bloggers and fashion lovers alike from “working it,” if you know what I mean.

As a Midwest gal myself – born in Cleveland and currently living in Chicago – the primary factor I consider when dressing is the weather. Unlike the breezy, consistent weather of sunny Southern California, Midwestern weather can be changeable and fickle. After spending the coldest winter in years cocooned in my cold-weather clothes, I have finally started to reappear from underneath layers of wool, scarves, and bulky outerwear. Dusting off my spring wardrobe – which has been sitting patiently in the back of my closet – I feel ready to re-emerge as a stylish, Midwestern lady. Unfortunately, spring dressing in the Midwest can prove more challenging than ever. Temperatures jump daily and a sudden rain shower can totally ruin a look. I absolutely must rely on layering and rain gear to survive a Midwestern spring. Although I’m still not convinced that weather is the sole factor when it comes down to the wire. Choosing the right jacket is important, but am I only drawing influence from the changing seasons? Are other fashion forces inspiring myself and the styles of other women living in the Windy City and Midwest?
Still puzzled by this question, I sought advice from a few of my fashion blogging friends and asked what Midwest style means to them.

“To me, style in the heartland of America is chic yet practical. We Midwestern girls want to look stylish, but still be able to make a mad dash to catch the train! We take basic, classic pieces and spice them up with statement necklaces or pop-of-color heels that express our own individuality.”
– Jesi, Pepperminting

“When I think of Midwest style I think of a girl on the go who is confident in her unique, trendy, and multi-layered look. She isn’t afraid to mix patterns/colors/textures and can put herself together at a moment’s notice.”
– Peggy, Hallways are My Runways

“Midwest style is a mix of current trends, sophistication, and a laid-back attitude. People here aren’t afraid to take risks, push boundaries, and define who they are through what they wear. Unfortunately, weather plays a big role here so leggings, boots, and chunky knits are great go-tos for the colder months. Hopefully it will get warmer soon so we can break out the maxi dresses, gladiator sandals, and rompers!”
– Samantha, Gold Coast Girl

So what’s the common theme in all of their answers? There isn’t one! It seems that Midwest style is so varied and inconsistent because that’s quite literally how our climate forces us to dress. We are confident, trendy, sophisticated, and laid-back, but practicality is something we must consider. While much of the West Coast has the luxury of gorgeous weather and the East Coast often prioritizes elegance over pragmatism, women of the Midwest aim to practice self-expression but with a side order of function.

Whether we’re dashing to catch a train, running errands, or attending a great party, we must be prepared. So our closets contain a combination of practical and personal style. Practical style consists of layers, seasonal jackets, and fun, chic accessories. Personal style includes both trendy and timeless pieces, garments and accessories that catch our eyes, and items that make us feel great. The bottom line: Midwest style is its own breed of logical fashion. The weather informs our outfits, but it hasn’t stopped us from combining the fabulous with the functional.

Lauren Krause is a Chicago fashion blogger, journalist, and the brains behind This Life Styled, a Chicago fashion and lifestyle blog with a focus on how to’s, outfit compilation, and styling tricks.

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Guest Post: Reclaiming the Ancient Girls’ Club

Today’s post comes to us from one of my best friends in the whole world. I met Tehilah Eisenstadt in a college poetry class. After two classes together, I stopped her on her way out and told her that I liked her poetry and that we should be friends. That was 18 years ago. She lives in Brooklyn and I live in Minneapolis, but we talk every week. (Or at least try to.) She is one of the smartest, kindest, most resilient and amazing people I have the honor to know and I am certain we’ll be friends until we’re absolutely ancient old ladies. And beyond.

Tehilah and I have talked a LOT about the mikva over the years, and because she has had a variety of experiences with the ritual herself and countless conversations with others in the Jewish community about its significance, I’ve asked her to write about this fascinating practice here. Although it has nothing to do with style, it has plenty to do with body image, womanhood, community, healing, strength, and so many other issues central to the mission of this blog. I’m sure you’ll find her experiences and reflections as fascinating and inspiring as I did.

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Reclaiming the Ancient Girls’ Club

By Tehilah Eisenstadt

I imagine in ancient times, there existed a world of clear, rigid, gendered roles in which a Jewish girl became a woman, wife, and mother within a 2-year span. She led a domestic life: mothering, wife-ing, cooking, and teaching. Creating, and creating order out of chaos; A godly role. Then, once a month when she was not full of life or nursing a child, she bled and went to a ritual bath, the “mikva.” The mikva is the culmination of a Jewish religious cycle of separation that usually occurs when a woman begins her period, and ends a certain number of days after bleeding ends. Immersion in a mikva pool marks a change in spiritual status, including a transition back into her sexual relationship with her partner, which has been on hold since the onset of bleeding. At the mikva, she marks time, maybe notes a few stretch marks or crows feet, and nurtures her friendships with those on her cycle who also revel in the rare in-between moment. Released from being a life-, food-, and love-giver, she joins her fellow-cycled women for a leisurely catch-up. I imagine them wrapping each other in storytelling, recipes for healing, theories on small-joy-taking, while they wait for their turn and the touch of the mikva waters.

That’s how it might have been. And though I readily see the drawbacks of life in ancient times, I like the image of what might have transpired at the mikva and how it could have been a place of healing and remedy. In modern times, the way I have most commonly experienced this women-and-body ritual can best be encapsulated by the night before my friend’s wedding. We went to a secret building. (Really, the city cab driver was convinced the address didn’t exist.) There, we passed silent, ancient men staring down their noses from picture frames above us, and my best friend prepared her body in a tiny bathroom for one hour. Next at the ritual pool/mikva, a woman looked her over, urged her towards the pool, and watched my friend immerse. She received bridal blessings and candied almonds afterwards.

Except for my friend, myself, and the ritual attendant (“the mikva lady”), the women who shared this ritual space with us did not speak to or look at each other. This silent isolation reflects the modern-day Eastern European tradition, encouraged by religious societal norms. Since mikva rituals mark when a religious couple can return to one another sexually, this private celebration is considered inappropriate to share with anyone other than your partner and the “mikva lady.”

What feels inappropriate about this ritual for me is that – as a city girl, used to small living quarters – trips to the mikva are among the only times I find myself in front of a mirror allowing a 360-degree view. As a mom to a young son, I seldom have the bathroom all to myself with no one calling my name or banging on the door. What do I end up doing with this time? Scrutinizing myself for flaws, every extra pound, and (potential) wrinkle. I find grey hairs I swear don’t exist anywhere except for when I am within the mikva’s walls. I pluck my eyebrows, I shave, and I say to my reflection “Is this really what you look like?” Then – though I perfected the art of changing underneath a towel in day camp at age eight – I have to stand before a woman I barely know so she can ritually scan me to make sure that there is nothing between me and the water and to make sure I am fully immersed. An experience that could offer a rejuvenating way to connect with other women – or, at the very least, an opportunity to relax and meditate alone – becomes an exercise in self-scrutiny and criticism with a bit of meditation (often focused on the self-scrutiny).

The first time I stepped into this ritual for myself was quite different. Two incredible friends (disclosure: one of them created this incredible blog space) accompanied me to the mikva a little less than 24 hours before my wedding day. They took my phone (genius) gave me loving smiles, and sparked conversations that led to joy and laughter. We celebrated together and then they sent me off to soak and meditate. Afterwards, we shared some chocolate from my family. This was my first reclaiming of mikva, and one of the only times I prepared for “inspection” with care and love instead of major-to-minor self-loathing.

Because I wanted more women to experience the mikva the way I had that night before my wedding – as a communal and enjoyable sacred ritual – I joined ImmerseNYC’s “mikva guides” dedicated to helping each other (and strangers) mark important transitions by joining bodies with water. We help women acknowledge divorce, childbirth, abortions, marriage, menopause, a new job, a round of chemo, and more. The list of transitions varies, but vulnerability is the common thread. Most importantly, we help shift the mikva experience away from the alienating rooms, staring at body flaws, being inspected by a stranger doing her job (sometimes kindly, sometimes by rote), all amidst other silent women cloistered off unto themselves.

Mikva experiences with best friends or ImmerseNYC guides turn the ritual bathhouses into female spaces for laughing, crying, asking, and sharing intensely intimate transitions. Women from different generations, neighborhoods, socio-economic strata, and religious streams meet without barriers. For me, this practice reclaims the ritual from Rabbinic ownership and places that ownership firmly in the hands of the women who undertake the ritual. It also transforms those moments of staring forlornly at a mirror image that can’t compare to Photoshopped advertisement facades into moments of gazing at the warmer image of myself as a friend, partner, mother, leader, and teacher.

Before I bring a woman to the mikva with ImmerseNYC I have two ritual blessings/meditations I’ve created in preparation:

  • May I be able to facilitate an experience that is meaningful for each woman.
  • May I recognize every body as holy and thus beautiful.

Interestingly enough, while I’ve been changing into and out of bathing suits behind a towel since my day camp days, I have also been careful to avoid looking directly at other female bodies, assuming we all shared levels of bashfulness or modesty. As a mikva guide I am sometimes asked to witness a woman’s immersion. I’ve had fears of how I might react to seeing strangers’ or friends’ bodies because it is so uncommon for me. But on the few occasions a woman has asked me to witness her immersion, I have been struck by how sacred the moment becomes. It’s not about her body being “right” or “wrong.” There’s no notion of judgment, just the beauty of sacred water met with great intention. As I head into my first experience with an ImmerseNYC guiding me as I dip into the mikva, I hope that this realization can transform my self-judgment. Bodies are sacred, including my own, and judgment – at least in the mikva – is misplaced.

Even if mikva is not a part of your spiritual life vocabulary, I urge you to find a friend with whom you can celebrate your physical self. Together, consider any and all of your significant transformations on a monthly or a yearly basis. Mark changes in community, not in solitude – where, with only one perspective, scrutiny can flourish. I believe a lot of female body self-hatred comes from solitude. It is far too unusual for close female friends to share all the intimacies of the hard, physical reality of being a woman. It is rare and precious for us to come together to usher each other into something new. I would love to see a world in which we hold hands, share stories, sobs, questions, or maybe just a towel.

Tehilah Eisenstadt is a Jewish educator, consultant, community builder and storyteller. She has worked in various leadership roles with prominent Jewish educational agencies and non-profits: Covenant Foundation, Huntington Jewish Center, Pardes Institute and Storahtelling. Recent projects include helping to open Kings Bay Y’s new community center in North Williamsburg, creating programs that serve multi-faith families and developing a unique 5-day a week Jewish cultural after-school program for children of all backgrounds in Sheepshead Bay, and working as an ImmerseNYC volunteer guide. She has been hosting poetry workshops since she met Sally in Binghamton, and has been hosting mikva conversations on and off since 2005. If you have questions or are interested in ImmersionNYC, please drop her a note.

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Before I open things up for comments, several points must be made:

  • This post discusses a religious practice. Even if you are not a member of this religion or disagree with this specific practice, bear in mind that what has been described is sacred to some people.  Express your views respectfully and civilly or they will not be published.
  • Be courteous and kind to each other when responding to remarks from other readers.

Huge thanks to my dearest Tehilah for being willing to share her experiences with and views on the mikva with us all.

Image courtesy Rose770

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Guest Post: Pretty in the Bedroom

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Today’s guest post comes to you from Theresa Philbin, owner of Touch Boutique. Theresa is a registered nurse, and through her shop she helps ladies of all ages and all shapes feel confident and comfortable in the bedroom. She loves fielding any and all questions about relationships, intimacy, and bringing back the spark and strives to make Touch a thoroughly woman-friendly store. Check out the Touch website here, but be aware that the shop sells lingerie and intimate accessories and toys so not safe for work!

Theresa has offered to share some ideas for those of us who struggle to feel beautiful in intimate situations, during sex, and in the bedroom.

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Just before I opened my lingerie store I had an interesting conversation with a dear friend that has influenced the way I buy for my store. It began by me asking her, “When, if ever, do you wear lingerie in the bedroom?”

Her: ”Lingerie??!! I sleep in boxers and an over-sized t-shirt. I feel like I’m wearing lingerie when my PJ’s match.”

Me: “Why?”

Her:” I wouldn’t know what to buy and all those stores seem intimidating when you don’t have the body of a 20-year-old anymore.”

As her husband quietly nodded, I realized the mission of Touch would be to find lingerie that would fit women of all shapes and sizes and give them the same level of comfort and security that a pretty pair of matching PJs could.

What makes a woman feel pretty in the bedroom is as varied as what makes a woman feel pretty going out to dinner or shopping. At the end of the day it’s about what makes each of us feel attractive and comfortable as individuals. With that in mind, here are some ideas for selecting your perfect P.M. ensemble:

  1. Fabrics that feel good on your skin: Lace is undeniably gorgeous but bad lace is just itchy. When selecting lingerie, I recommend putting your hands on the garments to see if you like the texture of the silk, modal, or cotton. It’s hard to feel like you are at your best when things are chafing and you are itching to the point of distraction.
  2. Items that fit and play up your favorite assets: Love your legs? Go short. Gorgeous, ample bosom? A top with good support is a must. Prefer to downplay your tummy or hips? The baby-doll style is your best bet. There are sizes and styles to fit every body shape, though many lines will have sizing discrepancies from item to item. Try multiple sizes in each garment, and remember that an item that works in a medium in one brand may need to be a large in another. Work with sales associates to make sure you’re getting the best fit, and don’t be shy about asking for recommendations that will help you show off your favorite figure aspects.
  3. Color: When it comes to lingerie women gravitate toward black because we’ve been taught that black “hides a multitude of sins.” (We all know that there are no real sins when it comes to body shape and size, right?) But looking good in bright colors has a lot to do with the correct fit and style, and colorful lingerie can actually be more flattering as the right colors will warm and brighten your skin tone. Opting for colorful bedroom attire can lift your spirits and change your mood.
  4. Who are you wearing it for? This question trips people up at times. Many women say, “I don’t have anyone to wear it for,” to which I reply, “How about wearing it for yourself just to feel pretty?” Marie Colvin, a famous war journalist, always wore La Perla lingerie under her clothes on assignment because doing so reminded her of her femininity and was something just for her. Lingerie is meant to make you feel good and if your partner happens to like it as well, that’s just a bonus! I share this approach with the well-meaning significant others that come in to buy something special for their partners. “How will she feel in this?” and “Is the pasty-garter-thong set the ‘real her’?” are just a couple of the questions that are asked. I frequently recommend a soft cotton and lace sleep set in place of more complex or revealing options. It covers just enough that most women feel great but not over-exposed, and getting up with kids in the middle of the night won’t make anyone feel uncomfortable.
  5. Attitude: None of the above will be worth anything if you put an item on and immediately shrink into yourself. At Touch Boutique we know when you’ve put on “the right one.” A smile, a spin, and a little giggle is exactly what we look for in our customers, and all women deserve to look and feel their best. Looking pretty is feeling pretty, and sometimes both can be accomplished just by putting on a pair of matching PJs.

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What questions do you have for Theresa? Let us know!

Image via Touch FB page.

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