Viewing: Personal Style

Winter uniform: Isabel Marant for H&M

As a Catholic school girl, the word “uniform” always brings me back to years of white starched blouses and strictly monitored hemlines. I couldn’t wait to break free of my school uniform and was happy to leave that word behind. Well, here I am using “uniform” to refer to my personal style for the first time in years.

Confession time: I’ve fallen into the habit of wearing tight bottoms with oversized tops. Honestly, it took me a few months to realize I was dressing as if I was still pregnant! Once I discovered I didn’t need to be in an Outfit to drop off Tala at the gastouder or to swing by the Kruidvat for a pack of diapers, it was easy to succumb to the warm, forgiving embrace of sweatshirts and leggings. Winter, when it seems pointless to dress up because it all gets covered up by a coat anyway, has simply reinforced that attitude.

But wait! I haven’t given up just yet. Comfort and style don’t have to be mutually exclusive. I figure if I’m going to stick to the basics, those basics ought to look good. If I’m going to just throw on a sweatshirt to pick Tala up from daycare, it might as well be a cool one, right?

This was how I justified the madness of queuing up for the Isabel Marant for H&M collection last November. It turned out to be a logical decision, because I’ve been living in my Isabel Marant loot all season long.

Mom style Isabel Marant for H&M Balenciaga

In the earlier half of winter, I could get away with just a warm angora cardigan over this black-and-white linen t-shirt—which is, by the way, from the men’s collection. Seeing the clothes-crazed violence in the women’s department forced me to sneak up to the men’s floor as both a shopping and survival strategy. I barely escaped with my life, plus a few good buys!

Mom style Isabel Marant for H&M duffle coat

This is the coat I throw over everything: my navy wool blend duffel coat from Uniqlo. I love how roomy it is, although I wish it was more resistant to pilling.

Mom style Isabel Marant for H&M

I thought I would swear off roundneck t-shirts after turning 30, but I couldn’t resist this cute feather-printed linen tee. With a pop of fuschia stretch velvet and SuperCosy fleece tights from Primark, it’s one of my more dressy errand outfits that’s surprisingly comfy.

Mom style Isabel Marant for H&M red sweatshirt

Another menswear score: my favorite sweatshirt of the season! This sold out almost instantly, and I wasn’t prepared to inflict bodily harm on anyone to grab the last piece in the women’s department. I just love the combination of color and comfort, print and practicality.

Mom style Indian silver and lapis lazuli necklace

Isabel Marant’s modern spin on bohemian chic inspired me to dig out some of my favorite pieces of ethnic jewelry, like this silver and lapis lazuli necklace I bought while on honeymoon in Jodhpur. I thought it was a bit much for laid-back Amsterdam, but somehow it works with the casual ease of a sweatshirt and boots. I’m glad to get a little more use out of it!

Do you have a “uniform” too? What are your go-to outfits, and how do you keep them fun and fresh?

Manila shopping: The new & improved Bleach

I may have been adventurous with dining out on my recent trip home, but when it comes to shopping I’m completely a creature of habit. I have a roster of favorite shops in Manila that I hit for what I’ve come to think of as a kind of annual restocking.

My shopping list might not all be the stuff of Pinterest-worthy blog posts (plastic file folders and Japan-made pens at National Bookstore, for example), but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the store that’s consistently at the top of my list got a major makeover. I’m talking about Bleach, formerly known as Bleach Catastrophe.

Bleach Greenbelt new look

In the six years I’ve lived away from home, my yearly trips home are never complete without a few new goodies from this store. Some of my favorite shirts of Marlon’s are from here, and I wore Bleach all throughout my pregnancy (which says a lot about their roomy yet flattering cuts).

Bleach Greenbelt menswear

Alongside the launch of an updated look for her store, Bleach owner Tinay Villamiel also expanded into home and interior items with a pared-down, modern sensibility.

Bleach Greenbelt new interior

I love that these are designed and made in the Philippines, using natural materials (linen, canvas and cotton), but offer a younger, hipper alternative to the usual Asian-Filipiniana fare.

Bleach Greenbelt new home items

Bleach Greenbelt banquet placemat

Bleach Greenbelt eggs and bacon tote

Maybe I’ve just gotten used to seeing a lot of gray, but after the sensory overload that is Manila, Bleach was a welcome visual break with its subtle palette. It’s refreshing to see something a little bit different, like these French- and Scandinavian-inspired details tucked into Bleach’s clothing, homeware and interiors. We all crave a little something that will transport us elsewhere, which also explains the proliferation of Buddha heads in homes across Europe.

Bleach Greenbelt merci dress

Bleach Greenbelt oui pillow

Bleach Greenbelt French inspired details

I like the new home items, but I do miss the wider clothing selection of the old store. I’ve always loved Bleach’s comfy basics with a twist—although every time I visit the store, there always happens to be some kind of pearl-earring-and-Lacoste-wearing preppy girl who’s walking out looking like she doesn’t get it. Haha.

Naturally I couldn’t leave without picking up a couple of things for myself: this cozy charcoal gray graphic sweatshirt…

Bleach Greenbelt gray sweatshirt

and this little black dress with an asymmetrical hemline for just Php 495, or €7. Ridiculously affordable, even if you’re not converting to Euros!

Bleach Greenbelt little black dress

Looks like this LBD will have to stay hidden for a few more months before it makes a debut. Can it be spring now, please?

The cardigan that (almost) got away

We’ve all heard of buyer’s remorse, but you ever been haunted by something you didn’t buy?

It rarely happens to me, but when it does, I’m capable of obsessing for a ridiculously long time. I’m still haunted by purchases I passed in 2006 (gorgeous silk Persian carpet in Mumbai, way out of my budget as a copywriter); Marlon and I still talk about the black, silver and gray pashmina bedspread we didn’t buy on our honeymoon.

When I passed up the chance to buy this outfit in Santorini, I immediately regretted it.

It’s from Heel Athens Lab, a Greek label that makes fun, artistic clothing with a sense of whimsy. I was drawn to Heel’s colorful, chic boutique, which stood out by leaps and bounds from all the tourist shlock in the center of Fira, and fell in love with this backless halter dress and Greek toga-inspired cardigan. But with the prospect of fall and winter in Amsterdam, I felt I had to be practical and let the outfit go.

It began to haunt me almost immediately. I  took the bus back to Fira from Imerovigli (twice!) but was never able to catch the boutique open again before we left. Then I begged a friend who was traveling to Santorini to buy it for me. Finally, two months later, Heel put up the cardigan on their online shop.

Here I am, happily reunited with the cardigan that got away! Well, almost.

Heel Athens Lab polymorphic cardigan

What I love about this cardigan is how it can be worn in different ways. You may be familiar with that staple of late-night home TV shopping, the infinity dress; this is a cooler version of that dress.

By the way, thanks to Heel Athens Lab, I don’t have to ever utter the embarrassing and slightly awkward phrase “infinity cardigan.” I can use the far cooler term “polymorphic” instead.

Heel Athens Lab polymorphic cardigan front

Call me crazy, but I just love me some clothing that needs its own instructional video!

Heel Athens Lab polymorphic cardigan back

Even after watching the video, I spent so much time swishing around and entangling myself in this cardigan that Tala was able to take a snooze during our little photo shoot.

Behind the scenes outfit shot

But I guess getting lost in your own cardigan is all part of the fun of dressing up. It is fun, Tala, I promise! Just wait a few years, you’ll see.

Do you have a fashion equivalent of the one that got away? Were you ever reunited with it? And have you, like me, spent too many late nights watching the home TV shopping channel? Hit the comments and let me know I’m not alone!

Mrs. Purple Hair

Three months after I gave birth to Tala, it struck: the dreaded post-partum hair loss. The thick, glorious, shiny hair I had accumulated during nine months of pregnancy decided to flee the scene all at once. My hair’s mass exodus lasted for three months; mercifully, it showed signs of slowing down a few weeks ago. But to my horror, the new hair around my face started growing back white. Yikes!

I had grown out my hair to its natural black after a year without coloring. My last color job (just the usual reddish brown) was during my first trimester, which always shocks folks back home; meanwhile, people here laugh when I tell them that in the Philippines, dyeing your hair during pregnancy is strictly forbidden.

Black had gotten boring. It was time for a change.

Dark hair with purple tint

We girls with black hair don’t have many options, do we? Much as I needed color in my life, I didn’t want to bleach my hair to get streaks put in. Tala has black hair, and I still want to look like her mom. My brief to my fabulous kapper Iris, who gave me my first Amsterdam haircut two years ago, and has been doing my hair ever since: black with a shot of color.

“What about purple?” she suggested. Bingo!

Black hair purple tint

I love how she did my crown and bangs in a natural black, then the rest of my hair in a rich, plummy purple shine that really comes out in the light. It’s subtle, but interesting. I am totally loving this wine-meets-amethyst color for fall. Iris also gave me shorter layers that make my waves (the loyal ones who decided to stay behind!) look fuller.

Also, the color reminds me of Kodachi Kuno (the Black Rose of Furinkan High!) from my all-time favorite anime series, Ranma 1/2. All I need is a black rose, a leotard, a hot brother, some rhythmic gymnastics slash martial arts talent, and I’d be a dead ringer.

Kodachi Kuno Ranma 1/2

The funniest thing is, my best friend Justine and I used to call Marlon Mr. Purple Hair. We used to sit in the back of our English class and make random observations about everyone. Marlon’s hair is black with bluish-purple highlights, so one day Justine nicknamed him Mr. Purple Hair, and it stuck. When we got married, she addressed her wedding wishes to me as Mrs. Purple Hair. And now I guess I am Mrs. Purple Hair!

How do you like the new ‘do? And have you ever dyed your hair a really funky color? Inspire me with your bravery, please!

Maternity style: Tropical edition

By the time I flew home for the holidays, I was tired of piling on ten million layers before going out. So I was looking forward to wearing my “real” clothes (which is how I think of my summer clothes) and feeling like myself again for three weeks.

What I loved about dressing for pregnancy in the tropics:

  • Getting to wear sandals. Pretty toes, yay.
  • Packing only two pairs of shoes, because staying with my mom and sister means a bottomless shoe and accessory closet—and a trip to Landmark means shopping for cheap flats!
  • Putting away my thick, woolly maternity tights and seeing my legs again

What I didn’t love:

  • THE HEAT. OMG. Being pregnant, your body temperature is already higher because of increased blood circulation and being plunged into tropical heat does not help. At all. On my last few nights, I couldn’t sleep unless I had both the aircon (set to 21 degrees) and the electric fan on. December showed no mercy to this pregnant mama.
  • Bloating and expanding because of said heat. I didn’t go up a shoe size, thank goodness, but I gained FIVE POUNDS of water—which I lost the day I returned to wintry Amsterdam.
  • Humidity-triggered frizzies. Good thing there’s The Twist!
  • Sweating your way to that dewy (read: oily), no-makeup look. I found myself quite startled to see how much makeup women pile on in Manila (some women really need to lay off the foundation!) until I remembered that it melts off in minutes.
  • Being forcibly reminded of how everyone dresses in the same preppy/simple girl uniform. I lost count of the number of neat ponytails, Longchamp Le Pliage bags and round pearl earrings I saw in my two weeks back home!

All that aside, what I loved most about dressing for the heat was getting to dig out some of my favorite outfits from storage—like the printed vintage shirtdress I hadn’t seen since August…


and being able to wear my normal, non-maternity clothes… even in my third trimester.

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Maternity style: Welcome to the third trimester

What better way to start one’s third trimester with a 12-hour transcontinental flight? That’s what I always say.

Thankfully, the flight from Amsterdam to Singapore was surprisingly comfortable, for someone in her 28th week of pregnancy. Booking Singapore Airlines and having a prenatal shiatsu massage the night before (my neighbors are yoga and shiatsu therapists) definitely made a difference. I also walked around, did a lot of hip circles in the toilet, and packed a Ziploc bag with chocolate chip cookies and bananas, and checked my ankles every five minutes to see if they were still there (I’ve heard one too many cankles horror stories from pregnant flyers).

I’m happy to report that I made it to Singapore in one piece, with minimum discomfort and intact ankles. Hurray!

Asymmetrical dress by from Uniqlo’s Designers Invitation Project: Costello Tagliapetra, H&M copper headband, Ona leather camera satchel, Vincci patent leather wedges, and five-spike necklace from WeAreLabels.  

Heavy, clinging humidity swallowed me up the moment I stepped out of Changi Airport (a forceful reminder of why mentholated facial wash was created), but right now I’m happy to be dressing like myself again, minus all the winter layers. I’m glad to still be wearing my pre-pregnancy clothes, too. And sandals, oh sandals… what a glorious feeling.

I give myself two days before I start complaining about curly bangs and oily skin, and generally cursing this climate. But for now, the tropical heat and I are cool—no pun intended.

Granada: Carrera del Darro

Right on the doorstep of our hotel in the Albayzin, a UNESCO World Heritage district with a medieval Moorish past, was the Carrera del Darro—a narrow, scenic path that runs along the Rio del Darro.

Granada Rio del Darro

Lined with centuries-old buildings, punctuated by picturesque stone bridges and paved with cobblestones, the Carrera del Darro is a lovely place for a stroll—especially in that magic hour before sunset, when the sun bathes everything with a sheer golden coat. As you can see, quite a few people seem to agree.

Granada Carrera del Darro

Remember this dress from my first trimester? Something about the colors and print just made it seem like something I should wear in Spain. Thankfully, it still fits and the peplum falls right over the bump.

Maternity style Week 23 Spain

So, come walk along the Carrera del Darro with me! And let’s see what we can find along the way.

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Hola from Marbella!

A warm hola! from Spain’s Costa del Sol, where I am playing the tag-along wife. Marlon had a work conference to attend in Marbella, and I was dying to escape the cold. I also didn’t want to be alone for a week, so here I am.

In the ’60s and ’70s, this was the summer destination for Europe’s wealthy and glamorous. As a kid in the ’80s, I remember going to a Batangas beach resort called Marbella, obviously modeled after this town. My mom caught the tail end of its heyday, but I never thought I’d get to see the real Marbella.

We arrived on Monday with just enough time for a stroll around the center before Marlon had to work. My impression of Marbella, at least from its old town, is more charming than glamorous, and I like that. Tourist season is over (though it’s still a good 8-10℃ warmer than Amsterdam), so the town is practically deserted. I like that, too.

I’m not really here to see the sights. If all I do is hole up in a nice hotel room, occasionally take some nice pictures, and spend time with my husband after his long conference days, I will be happy. Getting to eat churros con chocolate and wear sandals in November would be huge pluses, obviously.

They say the second trimester is the best time to travel, and so far I’m inclined to agree!

By the way, I’m trying two new things in this post. First is this Photoshop tutorial for vivid color photos from A Beautiful Mess. My photos sometimes turn out much darker than I’d like (especially in gray Amsterdam), so I like this quick fix. Do you like the results or do you find the images too bright?

Another one is a tip from The House That Lars Built. In her column called 15 Minutes to a Better Blog, contributor Tori Bowman suggests making all images the width of the post for a good flow. I like taking tall/portrait photos (vs the usual wide/landscape orientation) so I struggle with this a bit. I’m trying it out here, so let me know what you think: is the last image way too big or just right? If you have a good fix for these pesky tall photos, I’d love to know!

Brooklyn leather camera satchel

The best gifts come from people who know you best. Don’t you agree?

Take my husband, for example. He knows I’m always carrying around a DSLR with at least one spare lens. He knows I have a terrible habit of using my nice, “grown-up lady” bags as camera bags, which is great for me but not for the bags. (I once horrified a friend by taking my DSLR with the clunky wide-angle lens out of a buttery soft Bottega Veneta handbag.) He knows that I’ve been in the market for a sturdy brown leather bag for a few months now. Most importantly, he knows that I pin pictures of all my bag crushes on Pinterest.

This is how he completely bowled me over with his birthday gift: the Brooklyn leather satchel from Ona.

I absolutely love the vintage style of this bag, as well as the chestnut leather that’s just begging to get all nicely worn and beat-up. The cross-body strap makes it easy to carry… and it looks great with everything! I can totally see this becoming my go-to travel bag.

Not only is this a good-looking satchel on the outside, but it’s also a camera bag on the inside. Removable inserts (attached with Velcro) allow it to store a DSLR and up to three lenses. Generous padding cushions the whole kit.

As if this wasn’t awesome enough, tucked into the padded interior was another birthday surprise… a Canon 60mm Macro lens!

I discovered this lens at The Hive Berlin, when Yvonne of Fraulein Klein (who takes beautiful photos) used it during her photography workshop. Like my 50mm lens, it’s a fixed-focus lens with shallow depth of field. However, it’s a lot sturdier, more light-sensitive, and easier to use for macro photography.

I will post test photos when I’ve gotten to play around with it a little more. This definitely completes my photography wish list and I think I’ll be very happy with my current set of lenses—all four of them!—for a long, long while.

Maternity style: Halloween edition

Upon being invited to a toddler’s first birthday slash Halloween party, I was forced to ponder the question: what does a pregnant woman wear for Halloween?

Thinking of a good maternity Halloween costume stumped me for a while. My 21-week baby bump isn’t quite at pumpkin level yet, and it was too cold to bare the belly for a body paint job. With toddlers around, gruesome and scary was out of the question. My DIY pregnancy costume also had to be half of a couple costume, and be inexpensive.

I really, really wanted to be Mike Wazowski from Monsters Inc., but we didn’t have time to do a proper Sully costume for Marlon… who absolutely refused to go as Boo. I hounded him for days (“It’s just a big pink t-shirt and pigtails! Pleeeeease?!”) but he wouldn’t budge. I also considered Pugsley and Wednesday from The Addams Family (my pregnant belly would’ve given it a whole other dimension of scary), but that was a bit too easy.

Finally, I had it. With two €5 t-shirts from the Albert Cuypmarkt, a few squares of felt in different colors, and some fabric glue, Marlon and I spent an evening DIY-ing our of his and hers Halloween costumes.

With a little something poking out of my winter coat, I got more than a few funny looks on the tram! Does this give you any hints about my Halloween costume?

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