Friday Follies: Some Style Solutions

Contemporary women’s fashion has had one of its sea changes into something strange and androgynous and blocky. Mainstream retailers aren’t handling this well – clothes in most of the stores along Lambton Quay in Wellington look nearly identical, spookily corporate. Here’s some options on the independent continuum.

Wellington femmes: run, don’t walk, to Honour Fashion. This preloved shop is exceptionally well curated, with a full range of sizes up to 18 (with plenty in size 14 and 16), and has a very tempting range of dresses. The prices are just what they should be, too.

Clothing by Desiree came to my attention at a fabric sale, Fabric-a-Brac. I’m one of those awful, awful people who shops for clothing with my hands. And based on Desiree’s fabrics, they pass the touch test! Contemporary, but a lot more wearable  and interesting than many of the season’s alternatives.

RutshireForeverUpper-end Wellington designer Twenty-Seven Names is taking the UK by storm with their latest collection, based on the writing and characters of Jilly Cooper. It’s all rawther too preppy for me but it would be ideal summer-wedding wear for those who like contemporary classic garb. Rutshire Forever, indeed.

If it’s all too much or you just don’t have time, here’s another option. I ran into a long-term Woman in Tech colleague who was looking smashing, and asked admiringly where she’d found her sophisticated red shirt. She said she’d received a substantial promotion at work and felt that she needed more than her usual uniform of jeans and casual shirts. “I used the personal shoppers at Farmers. It was fantastic.”  Importantly, my colleague didn’t just look polished, she looked like herself. Farmers has also vastly improved their online shopping experience. I wish they didn’t rely so much on synthetic fabrics, but they are still New Zealand owned.

Meanwhile, my wardrobe continues to be its usual mix of 40% thrifted/swapped items, 40%  items from US and UK petites retailers, and 10% new NZ purchases. I’m wearing a lot of olive-with-leopard-print this spring.

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Friday Follies: Redhead Edition

This week I was charmed by the blogs of two redheaded New Zealanders. There’s Daily Oxford – useful tasteful makeup advice for mature faces combined with a rural New Zealand life rich with horses, dogs, and weather worries. Helga von Trollop is magnificently extreme. I particularly enjoyed this post of hers here, where she illuminates her circumstances and shares her sharp wit as well as her smashing red-white-and-blue outfit.

Whenever I’m in doubt as a curvy redhead, I seek the middle ground between Oxford and von Trollop and ask myself: what would Christina Hendricks do? The talented and privileged actress is in a position to try most stylish looks. If something in her many style ventures didn’t work out for her, she took one for Team Redhead and I appreciate it. A 109-image look book for her is here.

Eyebrows often vex redheads and redheads-by-choice. Us redheads-by-choice  benefit from a bit of brow makeup to bring our face and hair together with the next level of polish. Refectocil has two dye options for redhead brows: Chestnut (good for auburns and henna hues) and Red (good for cherry/punk shades). And this sane, cheerful video shows us how to do everyday redheaded brows with powder and pencil. Note that the eyeshadows she’s using to create auburn-ish brows are soft, not dramatic, and the result is balanced eyebrows, not cinnamon caterpillars.

Not to dis caterpillars, by the way. I love the irresistible cinnamon wooly-bear caterpillars – I remember petting them gently as a child in New England. But I try not to recreate them when it’s brow time!

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BRB, Being a Woman in Tech

Ever So Scrumptious has been a little thin on entries this year partly because I’ve been busy being a Woman In Tech ™. With the many dialogues about Women In Tech lately,  and because today is Ada Lovelace Day, when we honor and share stories about women in STEM, here’s my experience.

I consider myself a Woman in Tech who focuses on documentation, communication, design, and usability. Like many Women In Tech, it’s a second career for me, and I made the transition with a master’s degree in Scientific and Technical Communication at an engineering-focused school. (In New Zealand, I see people transitioning into tech comms with this diploma, and into programming with intensive Dev Academies like this one.)

A high percentage of web administrators, STEM marketers, and technical writers are women. Is this an interstitial way to be a woman in tech? Yes. Am I “not as technical” as a programmer? Yes. Does it mean that I am one of 4 women out of 100 technical employees at my workplace? Yes. If you aspire to be a Woman in Tech, those of us in interstitial roles have been dealing with tech office politics and sexism for you, often years in advance, and smoothing your way.

The personal qualities that have helped me in tech are: being resilient and persistent, being totally transparent with employers and clients, being personally on the geek continuum*, and making time for a second shift of self-education. People in Tech have a second shift of staying informed, via self-driven learning, going to talks and conferences, and participating in professional groups. My American accent has also helped in workplaces where the programmers come from around the world. I’ve been told, “You sound like the TV and we can understand your English!”

For me, working in tech is fulfilling because I love intellectually engaging work that makes a difference. Often, I’m providing training, and trainers know that empowering reluctant tech users can be the hardest part. Male reluctant users are more stubborn than female ones. A freelance client who never really gets a grip on their web site/social media and comes back to me for changes is more profitable, but the clients I never hear from again because they GET it, and run with it – those ones give me a warm happy glow. (And referrals.)

What about the negatives? Harassment, ageism, men not wanting to work with a woman? I have encountered all of these, but in the earlier part of my tech career – later I learned to seek out employers and workplace cultures that made gender less of an issue. They are out there! A good guideline: even though I don’t have children myself, workplaces that support parents with their policies are often OK workplaces for women with their culture. This is vital: when women leave tech, it’s usually because they are fed up with the culture. I have noticed a quiet dynamic of software development teams hiring 1 – 2 women, but no more, and replacing this woman with another woman if she leaves….

Another factor about working in tech is that, to anyone not in your immediate field, more than two sentences about what you actually do will zone them out of your conversation. (Someone once actually fell asleep while I told them.) I have a few glib, nimble sentences to describe what I do, and unless my fellow conversationalist is in the field, we usually leave it at that.

Do you want to be a Woman in Tech? But not in marketing? May I suggest the following, based on your personal strengths:

  • Good at math but hate programming – Search results optimization and web site/software use analysis.
  • Great with people – Training and support.
  • Multi-lingual – Localization/translation management. This is an enormous field.
  • OK with both programming and interpersonal communication – Information architecture. Documentation. Wrangling WordPress or Drupal. 22% of websites around the world are now WordPress. And I was recently asked, “Do you know any Drupal programmers looking for work? Drupal experts? Please?

Also note that:

  • If you have an undergraduate/graduate science degree but aren’t working in the field –particularly with physics, mathematics, and geology – tech employers will pay attention.
  • In New Zealand, about half of the interesting jobs with open-minded companies are in out-of-the-way industrial neighborhoods. The other half are in the cities where we’d all prefer to work.
  • There’s an increasing trend of women operating tech businesses with women as clients – for apps, e-commerce, and communications. I’ve just wrapped up a site for one independent business owning woman and I’m about to do another. Mind you, I do see some of these businesses peddling very girly blog designs that, perplexingly, cost 30% – 50% more than non-girly blog designs. Because, presumably, they are DESIGNED?

To bring this back around to style…As part of the Women In Tech dialogue, we are getting scrutinized in fashion magazines and style spreads. 70 Startup Women Show Us What They Wear to Work is an interesting glimpse – look at who’s there and who isn’t. This piece, How to dress for a conference like a fashionable lady scientist, is one of the best guides I’ve seen.

From what I’ve seen, if you are very good at being a Woman in Tech, you enter the blessed realm where you can wear almost anything you want. I’ve seen bushels of goth jewelry, pink hair, and other forms of edgy dressing. As a mere mortal, my default Woman in Tech outfit is: a third layer/jacket, sleek comfortable trousers, booties, and business-time makeup with lipstick. Eyeglasses are important and often strategically deployed. Modest tops are essential, because if I’m not framed sitting at a desk or table, I am walking up to someone at their desk, or leaning over them at their computer. With their eyes at my chest level. I’ll fill necklines in with necklaces (jewelry is where vintage fits into my work wardrobe).

None of this is as chic as these women here, but I’m not a forward-facing staffer of a retail website or Marisa Meyer: I’m writing about programming microwave radios to send cellphone transmissions, or setting up websites. When I want to wear a skirt or dress, I will, but usually in the same colors the tech guys are wearing – blues, grays, blacks.

This is the face of a woman in tech – me! Photo courtesy of a fellow woman in tech, Sarah Wheaton.

If you too are a Woman in Tech, be it coding, STEM academia and research, or interstitial roles, I’d love to hear about your experiences and style thoughts in the comments.

* The social meaning of being a nerd/geek has changed tremendously over the past 30 years – a great piece about that here.

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Friday Follies: Only the Best for You

Two don’t-miss events for this weekend and next weekend: the Wellington Orchid Society Show is on at The Dowse art museum. A mere $2 opens the doors to a botanical wonderland, including cultivated New Zealand native orchids and a plant sale to die for.

Next weekend, on Friday the 17th, get ready to Charleston at the down-low delicious Black Rabbit Speakeasy. Assembled by some of Wellington’s cabaret finest, this is: “Our very own, one-night-only, custom-built speakeasy and dance hall. We’ve taken everything that made the the 1920’s twinkle and roar, and bound it with contemporary prohibition and the lasting need to party. ” Tickets are $20, a bargain considering the lineup.

There’s a new made to measure clothier in Wellington, Velvet Cherry. Full disclosure: I helped with her website and some catalog/portfolio photos, which meant I got to look at her steampunk, lolita, and Victorian garments from the inside out. And I was impressed. She does wonderful formal and occasion wear, costumes, AND fuller-than-usual-but-not-full-out-crinoline petticoats that are ideal under pinup dresses. She focuses on natural fabrics and excellent finishes.

Slider-Victorian2And finally our Jo Malone giveaway winner, chosen by random draw, is….Chrissi! Chrissi, I am getting in touch with you.

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Jo Malone Boutique Launch and Giveaway!

More fragrance adventures! This Tuesday, I was invited to attend the launch of the Jo Malone fragrance pop-up boutique at Kirkcaldie and Staines here in Wellington. Of course, I went!

They’ve carved a corner out of the second floor of Kirk’s. It’s not the the serene sanctuary of the Jo Malone boutique in Auckland, but it is enough room for the full Jo Malone range, and it’s next to the cafe to allow time to make fragrance decisions. We were pampered with flutes of bubbles or juice, delicate canapes chosen to offset the fragrances, and the soothing tones of a harpist.

MaloneLaunch-partyThe full Jo Malone range was there -26 fragrances and additional home scents for candles and diffusers.


The full Jo Malone fragrance line within reach

Based on the crowd, the powers that be might have underestimated Wellington’s appetite for Jo Malone. Tuesday night, after two days of operation, they had already sold out of the Cologne Intense of Tuberose Angelica.


A tremendous crowd around the Jo Malone brand ambassador (center, floral dress)

In the Jo Malone line, the standard colognes have fewer notes than other lines – the idea is that you combine and layer two or three of the colognes to create your own scent. But I enjoy a simple fragrance with clear notes, and I think they’re very wearable on their own, especially in New Zealand.


The promise of elegance in serried ranks of bottles – the 30ml sprays are well within reach

I asked the Jo Malone acolytes what they would recommend for…

  • Someone just getting started with fragrance? The clean and crisp international favorite of the line, Lime Basil Mandarin.
  • Someone femme? “Peony and Blush Suede layered with Wood Sage and Sea Salt.”
  • Someone intense and edgy? One of the Cologne Intense line. These seem to be less for layering – even on the sample slip they were oily and strong. Once sprayed on the skin, these weren’t going anywhere.

Blue Agave and Cocoa wasn’t in the forefront but it’s the sample slip I keep coming back to. Wood Sage and Sea Salt is just made for New Zealand. And there’s a green tomato scented candle??


Trying to choose a scent diffuser: challenge accepted

I look forwards to going back to revisit some of these – the pop-up boutique is open until the end of December. Mark Conroy (our scent sommelier from here) also says that there are going to be some other interesting new fragrances launched at Kirk’s in the lead up to Christmas.

Thanks to the Jo Malone brand ambassador I have a FABULOUS giveaway for you – a boxed Pomegranate Noir candle. MaloneLaunch_candleThis is 200 grams of lush, ripe fragrance deliciousness with a 45 hour burn time. I will be selecting the winner at random this Friday night. To be in to win, leave a comment on this post telling me when you would light up this candle. Getting ready for a glam night out? A romantic night in? A decadent party? Telling sad, romantic ghost stories?

The winner will be selected at random from the comments. You can enter until 6 PM Friday the 10th, New Zealand time. This giveaway is only for people with a New Zealand mailing address.

The only problem with the Jo Malone approach emerged later in the evening. I was at a gathering of friends. Someone said, “You smell nice. What perfume are you wearing?” And, after the fragrance layering, the answer was complicated…

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Fragifert Fragrance in Wellington, NZ

In late September,with the Capital! Steampunk group, I spent an hour and a half at Fragifert: a small, exquisite boutique perfumery in Wellington. It was a wonderful way to beguile a rainy, early spring afternoon.


Francesco van Eerd, the master perfumer at Fragifert, shows us German camomile extract – which is naturally blue!

For visitors, Fragifert is conveniently located at the top of the Kelburn cable car next to the Botanic Gardens. To Wellington perfumistas, I say: don’t be dismayed by its tourist-target location. Visitors make Fragifert sustainable as a business, but behind the fantastical Victorian displays is a deep love and knowledge of perfume as an art. Francesco van Eerd, the perfumer and proprietor, has studied in Europe and got started in Wellington’s markets before establishing his salon and expanding his range.

Van Eerd enjoys visitors, and gave us a tour and shared a video of the Fragifert concept with us. Serious perfumistas were delighted by the distilling technology, and felt our fingers itch when we looked at his “perfumer’s organ” desk.


Fragifert’s recreation of a “perfume organ” – the classic center for composing and creating scents from base notes.

You can have a sample…but you need to work for it by getting 4 out of 7 results right in an interactive fragrance quiz! We worked our way through the scents hiding in the bell jars on the wall. I was shocked to only get the minimum number right, as was my botanically knowledgeable partner.


A friend who won a sample after running the fragrance gauntlet.

Scented paper slips awaited us, but many of the fragrances underwent a profound transformation on our skins. Our favorites were the seasonal Autumn and Winter scents, velvety Satrape, and the newer men’s scents. The on-note single botanicals also had their fans. Violet and carnation spurred us to discuss popular Victorian perfumes. “This lilac! It smells exactly like the lilac growing outside my window when I was a little girl.”

For our group, Fragifert’s most controversial scent of all was the gorse botanical fragrance. “Oh, I love this. It smells like summer.” “I HATE this – it reminds me of cutting gorse, that’s a pig of a job!” We detected the warm note of gorse in the Autumn scent.


Prepared fragrance slips: a great way to share many scents with a group of 15 people.

Capital!Steampunk dressed for the occasion – between the rain and the fact that I had just come from a photo shoot for a web client, I didn’t. We were all welcome, though those who were in their steampunk finery looked perfect in the jewel-box of a shop. Afterwards, everyone was invited by Capital!Steampunk to a hotel high tea.


I was sadly short of photos of steampunk attendees on the day, but here’s a handsome couple, with the lady in red the mistress-mind of Steaming Stiches and Elisabeth vM.

Fragifert is launching a unique, custom-distilled NZ botanical range later this Antipodean spring, and provides perfumer’s workshops if you want to make your own unique scent. I’m going to sound like a commercial here but with the holidays coming, Fragifert’s scents are great unique gifts to send overseas in small packages. Important now that NZ Post has raised their rates, and now that I have bombarded my relatives and friends with fifteen years’ worth of merino, tinned butter, wildlife and plant magnets, and other Kiwiana.


More fanciful Fragifert furbelows

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Where I’ve Been

Happy Spring Equinox! What did I do in the second part of winter? I was…

…exploring the deliciously austere and windswept Palliser Bay with my fiancée…

WinterCapePalliser…emceeing two great shows in August (look, I got memed!)…

…helping out with a wonderful event, Glory Days’ Winter Vintage Fair

WinterVintage…and surviving a busy period at Ye Day Jobbe while doing a surprising amount of web freelance work. WordPress, SEO, online advertising, and content. Here’s a preview image from a freelance site in progress.

Skirt-BlackBlackRuffle-FullSmileThis lovely lady is modeling a spiral-ruffle circle skirt from Velvet Cherry on upper Cuba Street. If you like steampunk, lolita, gothic, or pinup, Velvet Cherry is ready to outfit you.

The last thing I was doing was getting my fitness back after a more-unwell-than-I-thought period in May. I have also learned that, if you’re in New Zealand, you should eat two Brazil nuts a day. Just two, to supplement your selenium. I stumbled upon doing this while following these nutritional guidelines here with the aid of a mixed bag of nuts, and now I have MUCH more energy.

I’ve got several beauty and burlesque events coming up that I’ll chronicle for you soon, including a very unique fragrance event from last weekend.

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Monday Follies: Between Friends

I admit it: the last few posts here at ESS were a nostalgia-fest. A friend of mine in the USA had her delightful wedding (sunflowers! Cape Cod! mini-reunion of university friends!), I wasn’t there, and it made me look homeward.

After reconnecting with wonderful Wellington friends over the past two weeks, I am feeling more grounded. This includes Joy from A Charm of Magpies. She of the flying crafty fingers and dancing feet has written a post about her talented Wellington friends, and I’m so honored to be one of them.

Trelise Cooper’s sale lines have many items marked down to 60% off and their very good returns policy applies to sale items.  They ship free in NZ and worldwide. Each line has its own sale category. Many of the coats and jackets are a great Steampunk Every Day look.


Still available in a size 14 at time of posting at the Trelise Cooper sale: all these jackets.

For Wellingtonians, hidden treasure Harry’s in Seatoun is also having their smashing 50% off winter sale, a good chance to pick up something posh. They stock striking NZ fashion in a range of sizes. Sale goes through Sunday the 13th! Nip into their gift shop for delicious candles and spring preview clothes, and a vintage designer rail plus vintage shoes.

Most adorable new comic book in the world: Lumberjanes! Buy it for your daughters, your sons, and your own sunkissed nostalgia for Bigfoot-chasing summers that never were. Friendship to the max! (Even I knew that Sasquatch wasn’t living in my neighborhood growing up, so I restrained myself to squinting at the skies for UFOs.)

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Book Review: Seven Sisters Style

Putting on my tatty Bryn Mawr academic robe here to review a book: Seven Sisters Style, a recent volume about the clothing worn by and inspired by women university students at Seven Sisters universities in America.


My copy on my table…keeping company with another BMC-related book.

You may be familiar with a Japanese photo book, Take Ivy, compiled by four Japanese photographers charmed by the style of young male Ivy League students in the 50s. While their contemporaries were making monster movies, they were at the campuses that incubated the academics for The Manhattan Project. A different way, perhaps, of capturing their post-nuclear monsters – the college sweatshirts and J. Press button-downs are described in brief captions with anthropological reverence and puzzlement. Take Ivy‘s combination of crisp photographs and otherworldly captions made it a long-term classic amongst style historians.

It’s taken another outsider to bring us an intended companion volume. The glamorous author of Seven Sisters Style, Rebecca Tuite, is originally from the UK and spent some undergraduate time at Vassar, the Seven Sisters university in Poughkeepsie, New York. And Vassar has been the focus of much of her fashion history study.

The Vassar connection is important. Through the history Tuite presents, Vassar also comes across as the most troubled locus of media fever-dreams about the American women’s university student. While a Bryn Mawr College article in Life magazine cemented the school’s reputation for “intensity”, a Vassar-focused article in 1937 sparked a fashion craze. These Vassar depictions reached their film zenith with Marilyn Monroe impersonating a Vassar student in Some Like It Hot and their print apogee with the novel The Group in 1963.

Back to the book: this slim volume is a history of clothing styles on Seven Sisters campuses from the 1920s through the late 1970s, far wordier than Take Ivy. These clothes have meaning: they were what women choose to wear at a time when women began to live independent, modern lives. At times Tuite’s connections between wider fashion trends and the university students come across as convoluted, and at other times, a tantalizing sentence and a small photo left me frustrated. Also, photo choices are a problem. In the second half of the book, most of the images aren’t from Seven Sisters schools or students at all, but from journalists visiting the schools or from modeled advertisements for clothes “in the style of.” Perhaps these were chosen to show that The Styles Truly Were An Influence – or perhaps because they tended to feature conventionally pretty students or actual models.


One of the book’s images that troubled me – Mount Holyoke women in 1945: posed and heteronormative (note the Dartmouth banner): in no way representative of the scintillating Mount Holyoke women I know.

Is Tuite’s book made, or undone, by her fondness for the proper, public, preppy side of Seven Sisters style? She’s certainly hit a nerve with everyone who grew up far away from American preppy but dreamed fond dreams about letter sweaters and camel coats. Dames in ragged racoon coats and dungarees are mentioned – they have to be, they were so prevalent – but Tuite only selected photos of them if they were pert-nosed or (with a caption exhaling a sense of relief) particularly neatly groomed. Instead, she lingers most lovingly over the idea of a Vassarite being swept away to New York City on the weekends, dressed in a clever town suit, with a valise containing a demure yet alluring ballgown.

Ahem. The Seven Sisters STILL ARE, Tuite, not WERE…

Tuite’s edited evocation of East Coast prep is so wildly successful that I – with my personal feelings about preppy after growing up in New Haven, CT - felt rebellious and prickly while reading it. After my first browse, I ran out to a local thrift store to feel like my present-day self again. No, wait, that’s where I shopped when I was at Bryn Mawr. AUGH!

An entire perplexing chapter is devoted to the designer Perry Ellis and … I picked up this book to see real Seven Sisters style and history and we were, it seemed, all out of that after Love Story came out.


Another image from the book that troubled me – the abbreviated preppy clothes, the pose, all summing up the ideal and inviting the viewer to see a (Vassar!) student’s body. The fantasy manifest.

The end result is a historical and social overview overwhelmed by the preppy dream: images of autumn leaves, sweaters, gowns, print books, and social status mingled with academic freedom. I truly wish I’d enjoyed this book more. Am I frustrated about the book itself, or about the perceptions of Seven Sisters universities that Tuite has revealed? Can one only enjoy this book if one hasn’t also read The Bell Jar? Tuite is at her best on Vassar, so an entire book by her on Vassar style and women would be a fascinating read. But the allure of the preppy dream led her to decline fully exploring actual Seven Sisters style and how it reflected the fun, freedom, stress, and variety of the students themselves. Ourselves.

I’d like to see a follow up by somebody less prep-invested that focuses on the style outliers and oddities and otherness consistently sheltered by these institutions. Barnard beatniks and Bryn Mawr medievalists, the millenial students going to class in their pjs (acknowledged yet dismissed by Tuit herself), the emerging trend for university-themed tattoos, and the students turning the style lens back on themselves in student-run style magazines.

Also, there was a Bryn Mawr blazer? WHERE IS MY BRYN MAWR BLAZER?

Bryn Mawr College imagery of actual students: simply irresistible. And, that blazer!

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Friday Follies: Wrong and Right

DapperQ #9, Alison Graham. Hello, papi!

Is it just me or is Wellington currently suffering from a wrong-eyebrow epidemic?  I’m not very happy after my brows got overdone recently – save yourselves from my fate with  some advice.

Poppy King’s No.7 budget lipsticks: I have tried them and come to the conclusion that they are lipsticks for people who don’t usually wear lipstick. More like a moistening gloss with some color. So if you are looking for a lipstick that won’t overwhelm your visage, give these a try. I picked up a few ($10 each!) but I’ll be saving them for softer summer looks.

Turns out three or four of my friends are also redheads courtesy of henna. They’ve all got it down, but for novices, Things You Should Know Before Using Henna is very useful.

After all that wrongness, here’s a treat that’s so very right: The 100 Most Stylish DapperQs for 2014. You may never wear a skirt again.

Ladypockets is …. I think this is parody of those shrill celebrity-focused “GET THE LOOK” features? But I find myself wanting to pick up those hints for great lipsticks as worn by Hillary Clinton and Mary Beard’s “Let It Go” hair. Until I can decide, I’ll be hiding my mediocre brows behind some Joan Didon glasses, and reading the Ladypockets’ creator’s essay The World Doesn’t Need Any More Costume Designers. She is from Philadelphia, and is one more reason I love my Philly.

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