What Diplomats Wore

The annual, global diplomacy-fest that is the United Nations General Assembly is in full swing in New York. On my first morning, as I was waiting in the main entry hall, I couldn’t help but notice with fascination the outfits people were sporting as they made their way to the assembly.

I realised there and then that I must present evidence that first of all, women are numerous at these meetings, and second, the stuffy old diplomat dress code (similar dark suits for both men and women) has largely been replaced by fantastic, bold and feminine choices.

As I am principally supposed to be working during my work trips instead of checking out people’s outfits (shocking, I know), the quality of some of the pictures is not as good as the subjects would merit, as I was snapping away in a hurry. Also I did not capture nearly all of the super intriguing choices, as photographing was not appropriate everywhere. However, herewith a small selection of what diplomats wore, the 2019 edition.

  1. Dresses

A dress was the choice du jour, a favourite all the way up to the highest political level. Among the Head of State -level dress-wearers I spotted at least the Presidents of Estonia and Slovakia.

This is an important signal to women in all stages of their career: a dress is a serious and appropriate workwear alternative. There’s hardly ever a compelling reason to wear a black trouser-suit to work, unless you work as a pallbearer.

First exhibit: The Austrian Federal Chancellor (the Head of Government).

Second: The Foreign Minister of Norway (colour-matching with her adviser)

Please also note the matching of tones for dress, shoes and handbag:

A classic with polka-dots:

The perennial workwear-classic: the wrap-dress!

2. Shoes you can actually walk in

Forget about any Sex and the City –related Manolo-fantasies of running around Manhattan in vertiginous heels. We are adults here.

My personal conference-day walking record is 14km. That is a very long way to walk in any shoes. Heels can be fabulous, but I would still advise to carry flats in your handbag. This is annoying, because it adds to the amount of stuff that needs to be schlepped around. But your feet will swell, making afternoons pure agony. Slipping into ballerinas or trainers will be a blessing by the time it’s 5pm.

Also, trainers have officially become appropriate footwear to high-level gatherings.

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3. Pattern

Mix, match and be bold.

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4. Uniforms

A woman’s workwear can also be a uniform. Herewith two different examples:

An official uniform:

A fashion uniform, in this case head to toe Gucci:

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Here you are. Quite a family-photo they would make together, the women above.

Pits, Lips, Legs

Cheerio and apologies for the radio silence. Suddenly things started piling up on my plate and messed up with my carefully crafted scheduling. But hey, I’m here with a London edition for pits, lips and legs. I did a short visit this weekend, part pleasure, part work. I miss the UK terribly and the looming Brexit does very little to alleviate the pain. Every visit since about 2016 has been clouded by the inevitable “is this the last time I’m doing this without a bloody visa?”

Continue reading “Pits, Lips, Legs”

Why I Walk

I love walking, and walk almost everywhere. I cannot deal with public transport first thing in the morning, so I try to avoid it as much as possible, so weather permitting, I’m also doing my work commute by foot. The best walking, however, is flânerie, or boulevardier-ing. This means to wander around aimlessly, or with very little aim, absolutely without rush or particular purpose. Flânerie is my all-time top favourite pastime activity.

Until just a couple of decades ago, aimless wondering in the city was considered a masculine privilege – possibly also dictated by the realities of life: it was rare for women to have all kinds of time in their hands to think deep thoughts while pounding the streets. City streets were dangerous places for women, and any female caught walking around without a chaperone and without a particular purpose was most certainly considered a prostitute.

In the olden days camouflages were necessary, and the French writer George Sand was known for dressing like a boy to be able to lose herself in the 19th-century Paris. The emergence of department stores was a big, liberating breakthrough for urban women – finally a place to spend time, do lunch and catch up on goss and merch while feeling safe. 

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In a student coffee shop near NYU, two young women are talking.
​"Guess what?" one says. "I saw Romeo and Juliet on Broadway last week."
"Oh, yeah?" the other says. "Is that thing modern?"

I walk around cities to clear my head, to observe people (in a non-creepy way) and to find interesting things par hazard. Recently in New York I walked into one fashion shoot, one TV- shoot and went to check out how far the renovation work of ​Sarah Jessica Parker’s house had advanced (still ongoing).

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Each day I leave the house, I tell myself I’m going to walk up the East Side. Yet I seem always to find myself on the West Side. On the West Side life feels positively thematic. All that intelligence trapped inside all those smarts. It reminds me of why I walk. Why everyone walks.

Few observations about walking in cities:

Boulevardier is a solitary hobby,  best done alone. This consequently, unfortunately means there are safety issues to be considered. I only ever walk around on a daylight (in a city I don’t know, obviously this is less of an issue in a place I know well). I never take risks, which possibly makes me a boring flâneuse, but so be it. I’ve only ever had to take a sharp U-turn once. Parks: never after sunset.

– Google maps is your best friend, therefore a properly charged mobile phone is a must.

– I avoid the generic high streets of zero character (= the ninth circle of Hell with all the chain clothing stores and McDonald’s of this world) and the obvious tourist traps. In most cities the old towns are most interesting, have the best cafés, parks and urban landmarks, and small streets almost always come with more interesting, independent things to see, buy and eat than the big boulevards.

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“Did you hear?” the woman in pink says. “The pope appealed to capitalism to be kind to the poor of the world.”
The woman in blue responds, “What did capitalism say?”
As we’re crossing Seventh Avenue, the woman in pink shrugs.
​”So far it’s quiet.”

– I try to have as little stuff with me as I possibly can. Mobile, keys, wallet. If it’s hot, a bottle of water. Sometimes I take my camera. I can’t be bothered with umbrellas (generally in life). If I’m going to be doing hard-core people-watching, a book makes for a nice camouflage.

– Always sunscreen. Always, always. City favourites at the moment: Tatcha “Silken” with SPF35, de Mamiel “Daily Hydrating Nectar” with SPF30 and Drunk Elephant “Umbra Tinte Physical Daily Defense” with SPF30. I will go for higher SPF in the summer.

– Shoes. No heels, no ballerinas. Asphalt is tough on your feet. Have proper footwear. 

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New York belongs to me as much as it belongs to them: but no more so. We are all here on the Fifth Avenue for the same reason and virtue of the same right. We have all been walking the streets of world capitals forever: 
actors, clerks, criminals; dissidents, runaways, illegals;
Nebraska gays, Polish intellectuals, women on the edge of time. 
Half of these people will be lost to glitter and crime - disappearing into Wall Street, hiding out in Queens - but half of them will become me:
a walker in the city; here to feed the never-ending stream of the never-ending crowd that is certainly imprinting on someone's creativity.

Why do I walk? Because I want to explore places at my own pace. Because I want to see and do my own thing. To me it’s the only way to understand my surroundings. Some people do a bus/tram/metro –tour d’horizon in a new city to get an idea where everything is. I walk.

I also walk because I can, and because the joy of walking in the city belongs to me, too. Space is not neutral. Space is a feminist issue. As ​Lauren Elkin writes: The space we occupy – here, in the city, we city dwellers – is constantly remade and unmade, constructed and wondered at. A female flânerie not only changes the way we move through space, but intervenes in the organisation of space itself. We claim our right to disturb the peace, to observe (or not observe), to occupy (or not occupy) and to organise (or disorganise) space on our own terms. 

For aspiring female city-walkers I would like to recommend two excellent books about this exact topic, namely The Odd Woman and the City by Vivian Gornick (all quotes in cursive are from this book, which is a memoir about walking in New York City) and Lauren Elkin’s Flâneuse (her book covers flâneuse-ing in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London). 

Campy Notes on Fashion

I went to see the MET Camp: Notes on Fashion exhibition the other day. Camp famously was the theme of last week’s MET Gala, and the exhibition opened as soon as the confetti had been hoovered from the entrance hall. Those who are planning a trip to the Big Apple, the exhibition runs through 8 September.

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I’m peppering this post with pictures, as otherwise there’s no way to describe what was on display. The exhibition was well curated, as can be expected of the MET -people – it is not huge, but it was really well put together. Unless you meditate and reflect in front of every single exhibit, you will be done in an hour. There was a fair amount of literary references (hello Oscar Wilde!), and the first several exhibition windows presenting the outfits were all emblazoned with quotes from Susan Sontag’s Camp- essay with the recorded sound of an old-fashioned typewriter on the background. Otherwise the music was campy classics à la “​Somewhere over the rainbow”.

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The exhibition space was fabulously flamingo-pink (walls, ceilings, floors, light), and there were clearly lots of people, but not disturbingly many, and many  iconic pop culture outfits were there at arm’s length. The ticket gives access to see the MET permanent collection as well, and I went to see my favourites, the sculptures, also because the sculptures hall was conveniently close (the MET is huge) and there was plenty Rodin in the corridor already. 

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Because America, the curators of the exhibition had also spent a moment to think about merchandise. Gucci and Balenciaga, amongst some other (apparently) campy labels had provided exclusive swag for the shop (600 dollar T-shirts and 200 dollar paperweights. I resisted.). The regular MET Gift Shop is a tourist attraction in itself, it is bigger than most European department store floors. 

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You can get into a campy mood already on the 5th Avenue, where some major shops (Valentino and Bergdorf Goodman in particular) have fabulously campy window displays, referencing the exhibition. 

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One of my favourites: an exquisite beaded cauliflower headpiece. Design by British Deirdre Hawken in 2013, using silk satin and chiffon, synthetic pearl beads and black elastic. An absolute must for any summer weddings  – or why not autumn’s harvest festivities?

Whether you enjoy camp or not, Camp: Notes on Fashion is an excellent break from the NYC shop floor muzak, and history of fashion is always fascinating. Much recommended. Also, the now-famous posh NYC hotel The Mark (because Meghan Markle’s baby shower) is almost around the corner, so you can lurk around to see if there are any celebsconveniently stepping out. I personally had no luck. 

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Balenciaga’s take on Finland’s favourite national summertime footwear: Crocs. I finally have the ultimate validation to what I have been saying since the plastic “shoes” hit the shops:  Crocs belong in the museum of camp.

I thank the curators of the MET for their understanding.

Influencing in the City

Pictures of Master Archie’s toes have made it to this side of the Atlantic, thanks for asking. It’s a relief to see proof that he has all ten of them. Other than that it was a quiet Sunday as the weather was horrible, but I found refuge in a bookstore around the corner and observed people (in a socially acceptable, discreet manner – I’m not a stalker) in the hotel lobby bar the rest of the afternoon. 

I knew I had to leave Manhattan to see another woman with short hair, so I took the L-train to Brooklyn today. If you don’t follow the Accidental Icon yet, I would strongly recommend you start now. Her Instagram account @iconaccidental is fantastic, as is her blog. Lyn Slater is a 65-year old professor of social work and a blogger/social media influencer, and I met her today. 

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The deal was to do a one-hour photo-walk in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, organised by Apple, and learn form a top influencer the tricks of the trade for taking interesting pictures for social media. The truth is of course that the pictures of Accidental Icon are taken by her spouse, who is a professional photographer, but all the same, it was very interesting to do something like this.

Lyn Slater told us about why she started the blog five years ago (boredom, could not find interesting content online that would really resonate with her) and how she started out on Instagram (black & white photos, because no-one else was doing it). All this was super interesting, because she has kept her day job all along, and is only taking outfit photographs in New York, doing “a lot with very little”, as she said herself. 

About the event itself, we were about 20 today, schlopping around Brooklyn in pouring rain, stopping to take pictures of the Accidental Icon as well as of ourselves. We received a quick introduction to how to make the most of the cameras in our iPhones, and after the walk we were again instructed on how to make best use of the editing tools.

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It is very obvious that I do not have the luxury of having a photographer in tow to document my outfits on a daily basis. Also I have not been 100% convinced that featuring what I wear would be of much interest – it might also end up a short-lived and boring exercise as I have very few clothes, and was never really meaning to make this blog about what I wear. 

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Lyn Slater’s spouse Calvin is taking a picture of her – he’s the one with the black ponytail.

I don’t have anything to share as far as today’s ​lewk is concerned. I had thought about an outfit for this event, but the weather continued to be unbearably shitty and cold, so I ended up wearing everything I had with me and looking like a hobo instead. But here we are. Inspired by the experience, I will think about how to incorporate pictures of outfits in the blog. Eventually. Hope you enjoy today’s harvest. 

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And do check out the Accidental Icon. It is bloody refreshing to see people over 25 years do style. Love it.

I have taken all pictures here, except for the ones with me on them, which have been taken by Lyn Slater’s spouse. 

P.S. This is not a sponsored post in any way despite the Apple-mention. I saw the advert for the event on @iconaccidental feed and signed up. The Apple-store in Williamsburg organised the photo walk and facilitated the editing of the pictures. I am not doing this post (or anything else) at their request, also I’m getting nothing from them.  

Notes From the Big City

Observations from New York City:

1. I am the only woman in Manhattan with short hair. 

It’s like religion here, for women to have long hair. The only woman who did have short hair was the Saks Fifth Avenue salesperson. She complemented on my hair, and while I know she’s paid to do exactly that, I immediately bought three Gucci-lipsticks.

I envy all the unreal manes that come my way, and then try to remember the reasons why I cut mine: in short, mine was never going to be an unreal mane. In a good way.

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I am presenting you evidence above. It is bad quality because I used filter to get rid of the yellowness. I went to a book signing by one of my favourite Instagram illustrators, Julie Houts (@jooleeloren) at Kate Spade store on Madison Avenue. I was basically going almost directly from the airport, except that I had a quick cocktail with a friend before, but so yes basically directly, and once I was in the shop I realised it was going to be a very intimate affair. We were a handful of people. Which is just as well, because Houts’ mane clearly needs a room to itself. 

Everybody else was all glossy hair and cute dresses while I looked like an Upper West Side psychiatrist in (by now crinkled) linen getup. Also I had not prepared a question and felt massively intimidated, but then fuelled by the combination of the cocktail and jet lag I launched into a short, hyperventilatory presentation about how much we in Europe enjoy Houts’ observations on Trump. 

I only felt mortified afterwards when I realised that the point of the book signing was to actually buy the book, which I had already, but did not take with me on this trip because it weighs a ton. Again I was too intimidated to ask Houts to sign a random piece of paper or my notebook. Staring at the glossy crowd from my short-haired & middle aged corner, I kind of slouched down the stairs like a tired slinky and made an embarrassed exit from the store. So European of me.

2. I am the only person on Manhattan who does not have dietary restrictions.

– Any allergies, ma’m?

– No, I’m good thanks.

(Face emerges) – So just that you know there’s onion in the taco sauce.

– Yeah I’m good.

(Face shrugs and leaves)

Next time I’ll mention something about night shade legumes. I’m not sure what they are, but I read there’s a diet that makes you not eat them. I think it was keto. 

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3.Customer is King.

This is intimidating for someone whose favourite city is Paris and who’s thus become a sucker for punishment. I generally don’t want to cause inconvenience to the staff in a restaurant. In continental Europe you’re the waiter’s bitch and should be lucky if they bring you what you thought was what you ordered. Or anything, without being rude and/or obnoxious. 

On the other hand the megawatt-smile people over here also want you to haul your ass out of their establishment the minute you are finished with your coffee. And not, like, a second later. 

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4. Everybody is either talking about a wedding or a baby-shower

The very best thing about being out and about alone is the fact that one can pretend to read, but actually one is eavesdropping every conversation around and taking notes. NYC- uniform for women: an insanely thick ponytail, Lululemon fleece and black yoga pants, all-black Nike trainers and a big-ass diamond on their ring finger. Literally. Everyone. 

Overheard in a park:

– So what’s your workout tomorrow? I’m like doing a ten o’clock class on Spring Street because I have this baby shower later I have to go to.

– Oh so you’re going now?

– Yeah it’s like I had to pay an advance of fucking 100 dollars so yeah I kinda have to go now.

– So whose shower is it?

– It’s this Amy from office and it’s like ok, I went to her last shower and it was like so fucking boring though. I just wanted to get drunk but she had no alcohol there and it was just so boring.

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Overheard at an upmarket gift-shop that specialises in posh decoupage of insects*:

Male cashier: – Get out! You’re coming to Mike’s wedding too? That’s like so awesome!

Female customer: – I yeah I’m like his husband’s cousin so yeah I’m totally going.

Male cashier: – They’re registered with us so it’s like really exciting to see what people are getting them.

Female customer: – Oh wow I didn’t realise. Yeah totally exciting!

Male cashier: – I’m one of the flower-girls at the wedding by the way, I’m so psyched.

Female customer: – Oh that’s like so awesome.

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​5. Fantastic bookstores.

There are three absolute favourites: The legendary independent multi-storey bookseller Strand, another indy bookshop in SoHo, McNally & Jackson (they have an extremely comfortable adjacent café) and Rizzoli on Broadway, in the Flatiron district, which is beautifully curated and has an extensive section for art, fashion and photography. I spend inordinate amounts of time in New York bookstores, and still have not yet even proceeded to the second floor of Strand during this trip**. 

The nice thing about independent bookstores is that they are unashamedly liberal, and usually have huge selections of liberal, feminist literature and anti-establishment merchandise, or swag, as us Manhattanites like to call the weird crap you don’t need at all, but it’s situated conveniently next to the cashier and which, at the time, makes all the sense in the world.

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P.S. I’m writing this on a terrace and am listening in to the table next to me (crowd of four).

– Did you guys know that in Europe they speak like so many languages? It’s like so crazy.

– Yeah I heard they like have one mother tongue and then they like have to learn another language, so everybody in Europe is like bilingual.

– That’s so crazy.

– Like totally. 

– So they learn these languages even in like regular public schools? 

– Yeah like that’s what my friend tells me.

– I speak like ten words of Japanese.

– That’s so awesome man.

– So what’s like, thanks in Japanese?

– It’s arigatou

– Fucking awesome.

* This is mainly the reason why I take my holidays alone. Thank you for your understanding. 

** This is the other reason why no one wants to do city breaks with me.