Case Study: Cotton Poplin Dresses

Twas a tough year, January, but what seemed impossible, did finally happen, and we’re now firmly into February. February is good. It marks the lunar New Year and the Chinese New Year. I do not have strong feelings for either, but January always is bit of a test case, so I’ve taken to start my actual New Year in February.

As we embark on a new year, some with Marie Kondo, some with dry January and me, with hibernating for one more month before February, one starts craving for freshness. Satin-y conference pyjamas in rich jewel-tones no longer seem right for the season. Enter cotton poplin dresses.

Dresses in general are brilliant workwear. No hassle with buying coordinated tops and bottoms. No stress in finding the said items in the rush of the morning. A guaranteed pulled-together look. Sceptics say that one needs to have lots of dresses in circulation as opposed to having a couple of tops and bottoms to mix and match. Yes and no. I have observed male colleagues’ packing habits for work trips. They often make do with just one suit, with a daily change of shirt, for trips as long as five days. It is nonsense to think that women should change their entire garment daily.

Cotton poplin dresses are very easy,  the only downside being that they tend to crease more than silk jersey and wool. Generally this is not the end of the world, though. The stripy dress below looks OK even when it’s not freshly ironed (also because it features drawstrings at the waist). I wear this dress a lot, and while it is not necessarily the most flattering shape ever, it has everything a proper dress needs to have:

marimekkopariisi

Photo: Heli Sorjonen

1. Length

I have a selection of Diane von Furstenberg wraps that hit the knee in my closet  – the length du jour in the early 2010s. It inevitably looks too short and dated now. I’m keeping the dresses because what goes around will surely come around, but the above mid-calf length is something I’ve come to really like. It’s flattering, and I can wear the dress both with and without tights. 

2. Pattern

The pattern and colours are very subtle and classic, but I hesitated for a long time before going for something so white. The good thing is that the dress is easy to combine with almost everything. While the pattern might be a bit meh, it also comes across quite timeless. 

3. Shirt collar and proper cuffs

These both make the dress look dressy and office appropriate, but also add to the versatility. I rarely wear the sleeves down, office or not. Buttoned cuffs are important. It is maddening to see how often proper cuffs are replaced by simple seams in women’s shirt dresses. 

4. Pockets

Don’t buy clothes that do not have pockets. Pocketless clothes are an anti-women conspiracy. Trousers, jackets, dresses and skirts must have pockets, otherwise they are totally pointless. Where else are we supposed to keep our hands? Our mobile phones, tissues, lip balms and coins? If there are no pockets, where are we to put the stones, if we were to walk into a river à la Virginia Woolf

5. Material 

Cotton poplin is a very carefree material. Washes easy, irons easy (though must be ironed) and has a nice 50s vibe to it. The white colour of this dress means that especially the collar gets easily smudged with makeup. This can be taken care of as a separate exercise without having to wash the whole dress every other day – I use natural stain removers and hand-wash/rinse only the collar-area regularly (you will want to do this quite regularly, because makeup is literally oil and it can leave permanent stains when left unattended). 

The green/white striped dress in the cover picture (and the zoom below) is also cotton poplin and by the same brand Marimekko

Where I Store My Stuff

Remember the bit in the Sex And the City in which Carrie told Miranda that she stores knitwear in her oven? And how that was supposed to be hilariously outlandish?

Dear reader, herewith a rare view of my fridge:

storing-cosmetics

Those with excellent eyesight might spot an actual item of foodstuff there. Yes, that’s Angostura on the far left. 

This might seem excessive and bizarre, even. It very possibly is. However, as much as I enjoy trying on new products and usually do not hesitate spending big monies on them, I cannot stand waste and things going rancid ahead of time. This includes perfumes that start turning. 

Therefore masks and perfumes that I do not use regularly are kept in the fridge. I also find eye-masks and under-eye patches to have much more firepower when they are cold when applied. 

I do not hoard. I likely have amassed a collection of skincare that exceeds what’s considered the bare minimumfor any individual, but I still don’t like stuff piling up uncontrollably. To avoid this from happening, especially as regards makeup, transparency is the operational word (it’s also a great principle for running states, international organisations and media operations). I store things in transparent containers so that I can see what I have. Unfortunately even this has not prevented me from purchasing several vaguely lavender eyeshadows in the last 6 months. 

I get most of my containers at Muji. They do good quality boxes and travel packages, which brings me to the next sub-topic: if you travel regularly, be prepared at all times. I have written extensively about work traveland its various perils. Unless you have a glam-squad or a herd of ladies in waiting, you likely have a job, a life and do your own packing. You want to focus on your meetings, presentations and after dinner G&T’s, not panicking whether people will notice the absence of your deodorant because you forgot to pack it in the mad rush before scooting to the airport to catch the red-eye. 

Just because you’re travelling for work does not mean you suddenly must start relying on toiletries the hotel might (or might not) provide. If you want to do that, knock yourself out. My experience of work travel is that it ain’t no picnic, though, and any stress that can be minimised in advance, must be done. I suggest you pack all you need. I’m willing to make an exception with shower-gel, though (hotel shower-gel is perfectly passable).

You will likely only be able to take carry-on, so take this into account. Get a bunch of containers for shampoo and conditioner, body cream, lotions, moisturisers, facial sprays, masks, scrubs, everything. Buy little pill-boxes for vitamins and meds. There’s no time, ever, in this universe for you to amass all the required bottles the night before your trip. Have them ready.

This is not being crazy. This is ensuring your face does not suddenly flare up, or hair do something inexplicable. These are not the biggest worries in this world, I do recognise that. However they can easily take the edge off your work performance. We’ve all been there – a ladder in tights. Emergency tampons ​nowhere to be had. Stressful interview or presentation, and no powder within the blast radius to blot away a shiny forehead. Life happens also when we are traveling for work. 

storage3

As you can see, I also keep my makeup in a see-through bag. The one above is airtravel-approved, and frankly also makes life easier when items need to be fished out in sub-optimally lit circumstances, such as from handbags. 

I keep skincare samples that come in decent sizes (such as the Diptyque-samples on the right). They can be used for overnight deals or office (although in all honesty, I’ve never had any use for them at the office). You are not alone if you’ve ever found yourself crying frustrated tears in a hotel bathroom, trying to jinx open a tiny, slippery shampoo sample-bag – I don’t even know what material they use for this purpose other than it’s evil. EVIL. Avoid. You are worthy of a cosmetics product that comes in a container that does not require you to attack it with your teeth.

Some sample body washes and facial cleansers are ideal for cleansing makeup brushes (I’m yet to buy a designated, special cleanser for this purpose. Also I almost never wash them, which is disgusting.)

So here we are. This is where I store some of my stuff. At regular intervals I also keep food in my fridge, so no need to worry.

On Answering Simple Questions

Phew! Will be another 350-something days of peace until my daily grind again becomes punctuated by George Michael’s wailing about his Christmas heartbreaks. On a more shocking note, we’re about 24 hours away from 2019 and I’ve barely checked a few items off my “2018 to do -list“. 

I am hopeless with sticking to New Year’s resolutions, but have decided to work on the following:

Having answers to easy questions. 

My job, if you wish to simplify it, is mainly to answer questions. Thus you’d be excused for supposing that I have a knack for being able to muster a response to pretty much anything that comes with a question-mark in the end. I have no problem with taking people’s breath away with lengthy elaborations on issues of ridiculously technical complexity. However, I freeze to the point of debilitating cul-de-sac when surprised with the following:

What do you want?

I bet we all can easily come up with a long list of items to place under the headline “things that I do not want”. But turn it around. If you could want anything, what would it be? If prompted by a “if you are allowed to dream really big now, what would you want to be, do and have?“, would you be willing and able to say it out loud?

I am about to finish a career coaching process, which greatly helped me with rehearsing a response to such a question. More importantly, the process showed me why it is important to have the reply figured out, even if no-one asks. I was as sceptical as anyone in the beginning. Used to mulling things over in my own head with the sporadic help of self help and occasionally a friend and a bottle of wine (also known as the birth of all brilliant ideas), I was convinced I would essentially be wasting my money.

Well, no surprises here: I wish I’d come up with the idea earlier. Much. Earlier. It’s a bit like hiring a personal trainer or a nutritionist. We do know how to lift dumbbells and operate the majority of appliances at a regular gym. We do know that we cannot subsist on crisps and wine alone. In principle we also do know how to cut hair, but still sometimes it is a better idea to pay a professional to give a hand to achieve optimal results. 

That’s how I feel about coaching. Instead of ending up in an exhausting exasperation after days years of to and fro inside my head, there was a professional by my side to help me find my way out (the coach is not there to take any decisions for me, I still have to do all the pesky work myself, but she’s there to see that I do not fall back into the loop). 

There’s another question that deserves preparing for, as it is likely to materialise in the most surprising of situations: 

Tell us about yourself.

How can something so benign-sounding be so horribly difficult to reply to? “I was born in this small town…” and you’ve lost your audience. (By the way, have you ever paid attention to the trendy phenomenon of “storytelling” that has spread like pest? How each and everyone has been taught to start their interventions with “I’m a storyteller”, which very often ends up being a poor excuse for a spur-of-a-moment, non-rehearsed, structureless ramble that is supposed to come across as a story, just because it lacks all the characteristics of a presentation?)  

​”I have a long experience from this field…”  – thanks, but we’ve already seen your CV. And even if we haven’t, what you’re saying is remotely not interesting. Why do you babble on about what you have accomplished in your professional life when all I asked you was to tell me about yourself?

In short, we are talking about mastering the skill of replying to simple questions “who are you?” and what do you want?. Both sound so terribly simple but are far from it. Also, I cannot help but wonder what it says about a person if she cannot reply to either of them? On the other hand, acing these two questions quite possibly holds the fundaments to pretty much everything else we’re ever being asked. 

So, here you are. With this short introduction, which hopefully didn’t come across too consultant-y or Linkedin-y, that’s something I am going to work on next year.

Photo: Heli Sorjonen

Packing for Work Trip Part 2: Face

The annual work trip bootcamp is getting closer and preparations are stepping up. Today it’s about the face – body was dealt with in a previous post. I have but one advise: hydration. Regardless where you travel and for what reason, you’ll never go wrong with extra hydration. 

In most cases work travel accommodation conditions are not much different from any other trip – you’ll be staying in a hotel, which is likely to have running water and a mirror. However, you will be mostly on the road, and for good parts of the day separated from your belongings (I’m not saying I have all my stuff on me all day every day when I’m not traveling – what I’m saying is that there is no office desk drawer that houses makeup and other things for touch-ups during the day).

I have come to notice that slotting in even the shortest quarter of an hour for checking hair, makeup and the state of one’s tights in the daily work trip itinerary generally speaking is impossible. 

Thus be prepared for anything, and have your routine mastered so that it takes a nanosecond to do, and that it an be performed to perfection anywhere, usually with random people looking on. Good places to practise: rush-hour metro/tram/bus or in the toilet of a (moving) train or an airplane. The latter two are particularly challenging because of the ghastly lighting. 

Makeup essentials

We shall rule out any kind of wild experiments, which are much welcome at any other time. The main goal is to look presentable and fresh when feeling exactly the opposite. 

Anything that does not smudge, budge or make you look like a cakey extra from the Addams Family can be packed along. I like the ​Glossier Stretch Concealer that I often use together with Laura Mercier’s Tinted Moisturiser for a light yet lasting base. 

I have taken to love whatever Hourglass do – ​Ambient Lighting Palette is an old favourite (not too dark, not too red). Their highlighters are of fantastic quality, and should you need to look decent on camera/in pictures, they work really well for that. They give the right amount of sheen without being Saturday Night Fever spectacular. So the palette is coming with. 

For eyes the quick go-tos are Fenty Beauty Pro Filt’r that ensures any eyeshadow is not moving anywhere until I absolutely want it to – I am talking about round-the-clock durability here. A very subtle eyeshadow I’ve come to love is by Kjaer Weis, in shade Angelic. German organic brand und Gretel have interesting makeup, and I like their multi-use Creme Eye Stick, which is a surprisingly nice coppery tone (it only comes in one shade) also for pale skin and blue eyes. 

I always pack a ton of lip products regardless where I am going, ranging from balms to lip liners and lipsticks. They are the quickest and easiest way to either divert focus from my bloodshot, tired eyes or to simply take the makeup situation to another level (red lip = never fails, though it’s high maintenance. Always have a compact mirror at hand).

A quick pick me up: Spritz face with a mist. Caudalie’s Grape Water spray is excellent for this, and it comes in a handy travel size.

workface2

As for skincare, I have no surprises here. Everything needs to perform and nothing must break out my skin. The products in the picture make for a very solid selection of skincare to be taken for a work trip – there are no masks and/or scrubs, but I find there’s never time for them. Also, they tend to take up rather a lot of space, unless one decants everything in small Muji – containers (which brings us to the time – situation again).

After a lengthy break I wanted to try new stuff by ​Sunday Riley, and find their ​Ceramic Slip Cleanser to be really good. Gentle, effective, very mildly scented, works both evenings and mornings. As a second cleanse, which can also double as a (quick) treatment I use ​9 Oil Cleansing Tonic. Autocorrect by Sunday Riley is a great eye cream for tired and puffy eyes.

For the day it’s Odacité’s  All-Embracing Serum first, followed by de Mamiel Daily Hydrating Nectar  mixed with the legendary carrot seed oil by Odacité. In the evenings I find Vintner’s Daughter to be enough. 

These are all very potent products that deliver in unusual circumstances. I have tried taking sheet masks to trips (thinking why not because they hardly take up space), but cannot really say they would deliver much improvement as far as extra hydration is concerned. 

Top tip: Forget about in-flight beauty treatments

The classic beauty-blog travel tip of applying either sheet masks and/or other visible treatment ointments on your face when boarding an aircraft is rarely an option on a work trip. Especially if you are seated next to your boss who wants to go through the briefings during the flight.

Packing for a Work Trip Part 1: Body

I wrote about the perils of work travel quite exactly one year ago, and dear reader, it’s time again to get ready for the annual work trip bootcamp.There are precisely two kinds of work trips:

1. Short visit to a glamorous city. You will be whizzing around in the backseat of a black limo and will not need to think about queuing or having an overcoat with you. You eat in places that are not restaurants, nor open to public, the food is sublime and with some luck you are seated only 3 tables away from Christine Lagarde. After dinner you have a G&T with at least three different dried spices in it, as well as an elaborately arranged cucumber flower, and then retreat to your insanely plush hotel room.

2. A multi-day stay at an international conference that takes place in an ad hoc – tent village. Transport sûr place means cramming into tiny shuttle-buses together with all your earthly belongings and the rest of the universe – and in the case of UN-conferences, this is an actual fact, not a metaphor. You spend each day locked up in the said conference center, soon losing grip of whether it’s day or night. Which is just as well, because towards the end the talks drag on to the small hours in any case (“Someone moved a comma! This changes everything! We shall start the whole thing from scratch!”). You subsist mainly on processed wheat and Diet Coke, with the odd salmon puff and vinegary white wine thrown into the mix. 

I am currently preparing for scenario 2, and have updated last year’s lessons for you. We shall focus on body and gadgets in this post, face and clothing will follow soon. 

Lesson 1

Never, ever assume you will be able to buy things once you arrive at your destination. This is delusional in every way. You will not have time to go shopping. If you were to be so lucky as to have this opportunity, you will not find what you need. There are no exceptions to this. Always pack everything you need. 

Lesson 2

Pack nifty gadgets. My diplomat friend, who is also a frequent work-traveller, jokes that she could perform an open heart surgery with all the medical- and other paraphernalia she schleps around in her handbag. You don’t need a safety pin, individually packed, pre-soaked nail polish remover or industrial strength painkillers when you leave the house, but I’m telling you, you will eventually. But only if you don’t have them on you. There are no exceptions to this rule. 

Also pack:

– Travel-size sticky roller to easily remove fluff from clothing

– Cotton buds and pads

– Small scissors and tweezers 

Lesson 3 

Special creams for your feet. There will be elements of flying, walking, more walking, and then all the rest is sitting. 

My favourites:

Tata Harper Soothing Muscle Gel

​Weleda’s Skin Food

Dr. Jacoby’s Extra Pferdesalbe (it’s originally intended for horses, but let’s not concentrate on that, but rather on the fact that it is a gel that can be applied over (sheer) tights and it is really good if you don’t have the time to put your legs up for 20 minutes after a 16-hour day of running around)

​Lesson 4

Only pack the bestest of your stuff. This is no time to experiment with new hair products, for example. Also, don’t fantasise about doing elaborate beauty rituals in the evenings in your plush hotel bathroom. Only have your most trusted products that deliver. This is also good for keeping you in good spirits while you’re exhausted and on the road. 

Lesson 5

Pack probiotics and vitamins. Then take them. I have taken to pack tubes of soluble vitamin tablets to trips. Also don’t eat and drink all kinds of crap that comes your way just because. This includes free chocolate/alcohol. I am not suggesting you pack little bags of seeds, nuts and dried fruit, because we are normal people after all. 

Lesson 6

Always pack woollen socks. Regardless whether you travel North or South, there will be air-conditioning somewehere that you cannot control. Your feet and soul will thank you for having proper woollen socks with you when you travel. Always pack them in carry-on, you will need them on the airplane.

How To: When You’re Invited

The first invitations have started to populate the inbox. After a blissfully uneventful lull of a couple of months, people I don’t know have started to request – with pleasure – my company at various gatherings. It’s as if the patron saint of Christmas Drinks sent my doubtful mind a confirmation today when the lingering scent of mulled wine hit me in the office corridor this afternoon: “Dear child, it’s here. End of year drinks season. Start running.”

So here you are, a 10-point plan from the Rita Konig* of networking cocktails:

1. Anyone who sends an invitation less than one week before the event is not serious. It is also possible that no-one RSVPd to their original invitation and they are now desperately scraping the barrel for warm bodies to fill the function room. You will not want to be one of them. Decline. 

2. Visualise yourself at the event the previous night when choosing your outfit. It will inevitably be hot. There’s alcohol involved. In my case the combination of these means that my face flares up to a colour far beyond “rosy”. This rules out chunky knits and polo-neck sweaters. Also remember that you will not be the only guest enjoying a hot, dark-red beverage from a flimsy paper cup in a room packed full of people. It is highly likely that someone will trip and pour the contents on your outfit: thus avoid white and cream. 

3. If there are colleagues present, small-talk will flow naturally. “Busy, huh?” is an opening line that has never failed me and easily elevates things to the next level. 

4. If you don’t know anyone, I suggest you busy yourself with the brochures. They are often displayed on a separate table, usually conveniently placed close to the entrance/exit. With any luck you’ll get an USB-stick/pen/reflector in exchange for your keen interest out of pity. Win-win. A more sociable option is to hover around the high tables and (always accompanied by a friendly smile) help yourself to the sweaty cheese-cubes or salted nuts arranged in ridiculously small little pots on the tables – all the while avoiding eye contact. 

5. No matter how famished you think you are, don’t attempt to casually enjoy hors d’oeuvres that make the rounds amongst the crowds, unless you have both hands free and preferably a set of steel cutlery in your purse. They are what I like to call the “gourmet burger- deceit”: visually pleasing, but impossible to eat. Bread-based cocktail snacks will become soggy the minute they leave the kitchen. Unless you shove the whole thing in your mouth in one go (and risk choking on it), the soggy base will suddenly give in and you’ll end up with greasy tapenade all over your fingers and the front of your outfit, possibly with the addition of various garnish stuck between your teeth in the most unbecoming way.

A word of actual warning: never attempt anything that at later inspection turns out to be a potato (often camouflaged with cream cheese and/or fish). Don’t –  even if they’d look manageably small in size. There might eventually not be enough space in your mouth to either chew it into smaller bits or to turn it around to attack it from a different angle. Potatoes can be surprisingly hard like that, even when boiled. The only way out of this situation alive, literally, is to make a discreet exit to toilet. You’re welcome. 

6. Try to arrive after the speeches if you can. Rather self-explanatory, but surprisingly many people seem to make this rookie mistake. (If you know of Christmas drinks where non-awkward speeches can be enjoyed with a side of beverage, please make these known.) 

7. This is not a style blog, but making comments/demanding explanations for why people are not drinking alcohol is a huge faux pas. It’s 2018 and there are more pressing issues in the world to worry about. Let people eat and drink what they want. For perspective, Tom Cruise wanted to eat his kid’s placenta back in 2006. 

8. Have a contingency plan. Dinner reservation is never a bad idea, because we need to eat, and meeting people you actually like will wipe away the networking experience. 

9. Remember, it’s not called networking for nothing. 99% of people at any work-related social function would rather be somewhere else. You are not alone. Once the horrors of the season are firmly past us, it will be another couple of months until people will  want to mingle in a depressingly lit hotel vestibule over flat Prosecco.

10. “I have to buy a scented candle and the shop closes in 15” is a valid reason not to attend any event.

*I used to be a big fan of Rita Konig and her tips for entertaining until I realised I don’t like entertaining.