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HALFWAY THROUGH 2020

We’re almost exactly at the halfway point in this year and I think, whether we are ready to admit it or not, 2020 has changed us all. As jobs, relationships, health and homes have shifted externally, many of us have also been internally examining our priorities, goals and privileges. It’s a lot to process for just 6 months time. And who knows what the next 6 months holds? It feels like we’re in that muddy, middle period. Which is often so uncomfortable. But it also serves as a good check in point so that you can make sure you’re pointed in the right direction for the rest of the year.

When I look back on my resolutions for this year – I wanted to prioritize health and happiness. There have been some obvious stumbling blocks on those fronts – but overall I think I’m still doing my best to make those areas a focus. It’s just that how I achieve both looks slightly different now. With my gym closed for the foreseeable and my commute now consisting of nothing more than the walk from my bed to my desk – I’m taking long walks every morning instead. While work/life balance has been tricky in this time with my job being more demanding than ever – I’m making it a point to go to bed earlier and set hours aside on the weekends to read.

Aside from my resolutions I also make a lower pressure list every year (19 for 2019, 20 for 2020 and so on) that I don’t share here as they’re more personal. Some are totally fun, frivolous things – like see a Broadway show. And some are bigger picture items, such as specific financial goals. This list feels the most out of touch when I look at it now – as so many of the things on it that seemed totally achievable at the start of the year are completely impossible now. They’ve closed Broadway until January 2021 after all! I’m thinking of making a revised list, drafted with our “new normal” in mind?

This year looks nothing like any of us thought it would on January 1st. But on July 1st – we can set intentions, no matter the circumstances – for what the rest of the year might look like. Here’s to braving the unknown and checking a few things off our 2020 lists along the way.

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LET’S CATCH UP 6.19.20

This week felt like the first of what will be our “new normal” around here. Meaning Adam started commuting back to his office in New Jersey and I started working, permanently, here at home. As with any big change, it’s going to take some adjusting but overall, after 12 years behind at desk for 9+ hours a day, I’m pretty excited by the promise of a little bit more flexibility in my day to day life. Below – a few thoughts before we head into the weekend.

ON MY MIND:

  • Today is Juneteenth in America. In brief summary – while the 4th of July celebrates independence from Britain – that freedom only applied to White Americans, while Black Americans remained in slavery. Even after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, the state of Texas continued the practice of slavery until over 2 years later, when on June 19th, 1865 slavery there was finally abolished – and truly all Americans were free. You can sign the petition to make this a national holiday here.
  • My 25 minute walk to the office and back was among the best parts of my day and I miss that daily time spent out and about in the city – and my legs sorely miss the routine of 3+ miles it entailed. With my new commute only about 3 steps from my bed to my desk, I’ve been talking myself for a “faux commute” each morning and afternoon. Just to get out and get some added exercise in. Without the rushed stress of an actual commute and with the added benefit of making up a new route each day – it’s felt great so far. Stop me before I become David Sedaris – his essay on becoming obsessed with beating his FitBit goals is one of my favorite pieces of his writing.
  • As restaurants begin to reopen in new, modified and socially distanced ways – I miss the particular buzz of a crowded NY eatery more than ever. I loved this article (found via Cup of Jo) where authors share their favorite restaurant stories.

ON MY BOOKSHELF:

  • I’m thrilled that after years of toying with the idea I’ve finally started not one but TWO book clubs. The first will meet in person here in NYC and the other will meet virtually so that anyone, anywhere can join. For the NYC book club this month we’re reading Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo and for the Virtual club we’re reading The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. If you’d still like to join but missed the sign-ups send an email to jessica @ thesteelemaiden . com
  • One of the easiest ways that you could honor Juneteenth is to take the time to learn more about the history of our fellow Black Americans. I just finished The Nickel Boys by author/journalist Colton Whitehead which is based on the story of a real Jim Crow-era Boys Reform School and was so heartbreaking and beautifully written. I immediately ordered The Underground Railroad by Whitehead too.
  • In honor of Pride Month I’ve been reading Sissy by Jacob Tobia – a “coming of gender” story that recounts their experience growing up gay and gender non-conforming and how they hid/grappled with that and then finally learned to live out loud. It reminds me a lot of Mindy Kaling’s writing – with humor and pop-culture references thrown in alongside more difficult personal truths.
  • You may have noticed if you clicked on any of the above book titles – I’m now sending book-buying traffic to Bookshop instead of Amazon. If you make a purchase I will receive affiliate commission, but far more importantly – this site supports independent bookstores nationwide. See my full Bookshop store here.

IN MY SHOPPING CART:

  • After taking advantage of some big sales back in May, I haven’t bought a thing yet this month and might even do another “no shop month” in July like I did last year as a kind of mid-year reset. That being said – being at home so much has really turned my attention to the fact that we could use some more bowls in this household. I like the look of these light blue ones.
  • Same goes for workout wear, as I realize I’m in desperate need of gym shorts. Am I brave enough to try the bicycle shorts comeback trend? This very simple pair look comfortable but still chic – with in the world of workout shorts seems like no small feat.
  • Okay – and just for fun – something impractical and splurge-worthy that I’ve been eyeing. How pretty are these shoes? Even if I would have to make up a reason just to walk them around the block.
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SUMMER CAPSULE WARDROBE: 10 PIECES, 10 WAYS – WITH TALBOTS

One of my favorite posts these past few seasons has been a “capsule wardrobe” type round-up featuring 10 core pieces, styled 10 ways with my friends at Talbots. A full IGTV try-on video is live on my Instagram now, but I wanted share the photos of each look + outfit details here for reference. These pieces really can be mixed and matched in endless ways and be worn from work to weekend depending on how you style them.

To note: almost all of these pieces are available in petites, regular and plus sizing (sizes 0-24) and I really can’t say enough good things about the quality and the fit. I’m wearing a size 2 or XS in everything except for the pink sweatshirt (size S) and the checked blazer (size 4) as I wanted a bit more room to layer. I’m 5’4″ for reference.

I love this dress – it makes me think of something Betty Draper would wear on a picnic. It’s perfect on it’s own, but on the left is how I’d wear it at the lake house (where it gets cool at night) – with a sweatshirt over top and the belt tied into my hair as a headband.

LOOK 1:

LOOK 2:

You all already know how much I love a blazer. This lightweight version in a fun check print is great for the office (where the A/C is always blasting) but cute too on the weekends with a pair of white jeans.

LOOK 3:

LOOK 4:

One of my favorite styling tricks is to later a skirt over a dress to make it look like a top. The secret is to pick pieces with similar waistlines and to use a lightweight dress and a fuller skirt so that you don’t add bulk. You practically double your wardrobe this way!

LOOK 5:

LOOK 6:

A sleeveless button down shirt is a great summer layering piece. Underneath this striped linen jumpsuit it adds just a tiny bit of pattern mixing, and on the left – I tied it up high at the waist for a very ‘Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday’ vibe.

LOOK 7:

LOOK 8:

This cute little embroidered berry t-shirt is unexpectedly one of my favorite pieces from the collection. I’ll be wearing this tossed on over a bathing suit, on trips to the farmer’s market and for ice cream dates all summer long.

LOOK 9:

LOOK 10:

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ON MONEY: BUDGETING FOR ACTIVISM

Between a worldwide pandemic and a nationwide uprising, for the first time – maybe ever – a lot of us have seen just how fragile (and often downright broken) our economic ecosystem truly is. And it’s compelled a lot of people, myself included, to spend their money differently. From donating to an organization that provided meals to healthcare workers from local restaurants to placing orders with Black-owned small businesses.

And that’s great. But these efforts need to be a movement and not a moment. Money is power and if we want to see change, we have to start distributing that power in a more responsible way. For most of us though, especially in the aftermath of said pandemic, money isn’t just endlessly abundant. Which means we need to budget for activism. In my opinion this can be done in two ways.

DONATIONS: The donations that I made in the past have been in response to an immediate need. A hurricane, pandemic, social injustice, etc. The problem is that this spending has been “discretionary” when it really needs to be “fixed”. I’ll explain. Discretionary money in a budget means that you see you’ve got $50 leftover at the end of a week after paying all of your bills and buying groceries and you choose to use it towards a donation instead of a new skirt. But to make long-lasting impact in our communities, we really need to move donations to monthly reoccurring payments and consider these fixed costs in our budget. Just like our electric bill. And if you think you don’t have $20 extra a month to give – I encourage you to call your electric, cable and phone companies and negotiate your bill. I promise you between the 3 of them, they’ll offer you at least a $20 discount per month to keep you as a customer. Boom! You just saved yourself $240 a year that can go straight to an impactful non-profit organization of your choice.

SHOPPING: This category falls into discretionary spending, but even within that part of your budget we can make conscious changes. Can 50% of your discretionary spending go to small businesses this year? How much of that can go to businesses owned by people of color or the LGBTQIA+ community? I, for one, want to do much more to support the small business community, especially here in New York City. Going forward I plan to share brands I’ve shopped and love or am inspired by in this space. Be that an awesome Black-owned wine bar/bookstore in the Bronx or a vintage-inspired handbag brand owned by two sisters here in Manhattan (gingham bag shown above!). I’ll be spending my money with activism and equality in mind. And if you aren’t in a place where you can be shopping right now – don’t forget that a “follow” on Instagram is free. And engaging on social media helps to bring exposure to new brands which might mean PR opportunities in a bigger publication or better placement in google ads that will reach consumers ready to shop.

Let’s put our money where our mouths are.

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HOW TO BE AN ALLY

(Artwork by @ohhappydani – her account is a wealth of beautifully designed resources)

I had a call with a work mentor of mine yesterday to discuss ways in which I could be a better manager right now. And she said to me “It’s important to remember – we’re all in the same storm, but some of us are in the boat and some of us are in the water”. And it’s so true. We’re all feeling the heaviness of the world right now, but Black people have been unjustly shouldering the heaviness of it for their entire lives (and their families lives before them). It’s our job to fix the system so that we are finally all paddling in the same boat.

It’s safe to say that many of us have acknowledged that responsibility this week – and that’s great. We no longer simply want to be passively “not racist” but instead, actively “anti-racist”. So what can you do in order to become a lasting ally to Black people – not to mention all other non-white people and LGBTQIA+ communities? Well, I’m certainly not an authority on the matter but below is my four part plan. I’ve put these steps together for myself this week after leaning heavily on resources from @therealkamie @theconsciouskid and @nicolettemason among many others. The work is long overdue in this country, and frankly I haven’t been doing nearly enough of this active work when I had every opportunity to. And it doesn’t end today.

  1. Admit your inherent privilege. White privilege doesn’t mean your life hasn’t been hard – it means that your skin color isn’t one of the reasons that it’s been hard. Read that again if you need to. Same goes for if you’re straight or Christian. If you’ve never been discriminated against because of your race, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, etc. – you have privilege. Let’s admit that and move on to step 2.
  2. Commit to adding diversity into your daily life so that you can learn to understand and empathize with stories that look different than your own. This can be in everything from the books you read and the accounts you follow on Instagram to the people that you hire and connect with socially and the businesses where you shop. Essentially, make sure they all don’t look like you and come from the same background as you do.
  3. Become an active ally. Using your privilege and the understanding that you’ve cultivated – listen closely to these communities when they call out for help. Be vocal in speaking up when there is injustice – both in large, systemic ways by using the power of your vote or in small ways like when someone in your family or office uses hateful speech. Even if it’s thinly veiled as a “joke”. Don’t stand for it. Speak clearly, look them in the eyes and tell them that their statements make you feel uncomfortable and would make X group feel less than. Is that their intention? Beyond your voice, donate your time and your resources to organizations that support these causes.
  4. Raise the next generation differently. Studies prove that children begin to absorb bias at an incredibly young age. They watch you closely to understand how they are meant to act and it’s never too early to start teaching them lessons of equality. Just like you diversified your life in step 2 – do the same for them. Buy dolls that look differently than them, buy books that show different lifestyles and cultures, speak openly and honestly in support of these sentiments. Raise them to be the next generation of allies.

There are a wealth of resources on all of these (I found this round-up to be helpful), but I want to specifically speak more to #2 on how to further diversify your life in a way that feels personal to me. Reading has always been a way for me to personally connect with worlds beyond my own. It’s important to read non-fiction to understand the full history of oppression, struggle and systemic issues that you might not have learned in school and to understand people’s unique experiences. It’s also important that you read fiction from Own Voices (meaning if it’s a story about a queer protagonist it’s been written by a queer author, if it’s a story about the life of a Black woman it’s been written by a Black woman). I think non-fiction often helps us to better understand our differences and fiction can be a great way to connect with the similarities (for example: if the characters in a romantic fiction novel are Black or Gay or Trans, the focus is a love story.. same as if the characters were white/straight).

I’m personally planning to be sure that my shelves look much more diverse. I had originally posted the 15 books on my Summer Reading List but there are not nearly enough own voices and stories that focus on BIPOC or LGBTQIA+ lives there. So I’m adding 10 more to that list.

  • The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
  • Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
  • Sissy by Jacob Tobia
  • Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo
  • Boys of Alabama by Genevieve Hudson
  • Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender
  • All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson
  • An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
  • Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

If you’re looking for more, here is a list of anti-racist books to further your education and here is a list by age group of books that address race for children and teens. While you’re at it – consider forgoing Amazon to order from one of the independent bookstores below.

  • A list of Black owned bookstores by states: here.
  • In NYC, I’ve already placed an order from The Lit Bar and plan to order from Sisters Uptown next.
  • Here is a list of LGBTQIA+ owned indie bookstores by country and state.
  • In NYC, I look forward to visiting Bluestockings when things reopen.

I can do better. We can all do better. Let’s get started.

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The Steele Maiden © 2012

Fashion, Travel & Lifestyle. Based in NYC.