Sneakers, monochrome & finding calm ft. Chinese New Year in 2021 | February outfit diary
February was a weird month - it was Chinese New Year, but not really (with strict MCO lockdowns). Emotionally as well, it was a rollercoaster - a wild ride that kind of manifested in a tendency for black & white outfits.
I hesitated to pen these emotions at first - the unexplained frustrations and mental breakdowns that plagued the month. Talking to friends, finally letting it out, helped. So I write. I write to remember, to reflect, to remind myself : that life isn't always about glitz and glamour. And this, along with all the happy memories in this blog, is still as much a phase of the journey.
Chinese New Year 2021 was odd to say the least. The atmosphere was very subdued, Chinese New Year decorations sparse. Everyone was just waiting for the lockdown announcement.
For the past few years, as there were no official breaks for Chinese New Year in university, this occasion was typically celebrated amongst friends. Usually in desperate calls for dim sum or homemade hotpot (shoutout to my amazing friends and their cooking skills.) Occasionally, messy, laggy Skype calls with family may occur.
Last year was my first year home for this period. It was a chaos I'd forgotten: the cousins were all home (yay!!!). And then there was the frenzy of relatives and red packets, jars of cookies and hidden spaces to disappear to when social anxiety hit out of a sheer terror for the huge amount of people. That chaos inspiring my very first article last year of a quiet cafe escape to Norm.
Chinese New Year Day 1
- The only day of the month I was in colour. -
A very special thank you to @laoyongofficial for helping me deconstruct a dress and transforming it into this gorgeous halter!
Recently, I've really taken to dressing in pants - pants with heels being my latest fad. In this case, I went for plain cream pants and block heels such as to balance out the detailed beading of the halter. I never thought face masks would become an accessory and I simply could not resist this cute graphic one.
So. 20+ years later, I still struggled to dress properly for Chinese New Year. In fact, in my melange of outfits, this halter was probably the closest I've ever gotten to a traditional Cheongsam. Or whatever traditional Chinese-motif clothes one is supposed to wear for the occasion. And since black is frowned upon by the elders, this day was an exception.
In comparison to the hot, humid chaos of last year, this year was eerily quiet. Of course, no one, except extremely close aunts were at my grandparents'. Lunch was eaten in peace. The air-conditioning was working. A few rounds of cards were played. The day ended by lunchtime. Wow.
Valentine's Day / Chinese New Year Day 2
- A note on self-care -
Here comes the monochrome and sneakers phase!
IF I had actually stepped out of the house in this black-dress-beret combo, it would definitely be sneakers I'd style it with. Comfortable, no-fuss, practical sneakers. Kind of a casual, more sporty touch to these already rather dainty details (in my opinion).
Usually, Day 2 of Chinese New Year was reserved for visiting relatives on the maternal side (all of whom were in different states). Alas, interstate travel was banned. I worried for my grandparents' sanity but thank god for technology, they were very spirited! T'was great.
It was a warm morning as I mindlessly scrolled through Instagram. The notion of self-love came up. I thought of the flowers I used to buy myself, the chocolates I would send amongst friends just for the fun of it. I'd forgotten about these little treats.
I was gripped by a sudden yearning to wear this dress that I know not when will see the outside world. A need to put on makeup. I felt So. Much. Better. I felt human. Happy.
I went back to my desk again, content.
Amazing how a little makeup, even some nice clothes can go such a long way in building confidence. Anyone relate? :)
- Another dress-sneaker combo -
That was another little black dress. Unfortunately, this was the last of its kind that I snatched off a sale rack, so the cutting and buttons were a bit wonky. I wore it as a skirt instead with an oversized white tee over it. And to match the Chinese New Year period, I opted for my kimono belt to hide that awkward shirt-dress transition.
Late night thoughts:
Please excuse the extreme randomness. But I wonder when we will actually be able to walk around without having to wear a mask anymore. Also, out of curiosity, when will we KNOW that it is okay to do so? As in, masks have become such an integral part of life. I don't think that this is going to be something that is so easily taken off, you know what I mean? Is someone going to announce, 'Take off thy mask! We are free!' or is the virus going to just completely disappear with this mask phenomenon?
The Last Days of Chinese New Year
- Plant paradise -
A very stylish friend once told me, if you have a patterned bottom/top, the other should be plain. I liked how the shirt looked half-tucked, with the other side spilling over the gold belt. Seemingly, the older I grow, the more dishevelled I become! I wore sneakers for a very casual look. But I'd probably exchange it for heeled ankle boots for a more formal occasion
(and tuck my shirt properly).
I am no gardener/plant expert - I struggle to keep the few plants that adorn my room alive. I water them, give them sunlight, feed them sugar if they are flowers - that is all I know. And when they die, I am left, confused. As ever.
This was an extremely lovely find. It was beside Kafka - a popular brunch place in Penang. The noon sun was bright, the air unusually cool. I loved the sudden quiet in this hidden enclave, the shadow-play from the leaves. Plants have such an unusually calming effect, don't you think? They seemed to form some kind of barrier that blocked out all the negativity of the world. They gave me a refuge to just enjoy the moment.
The Last Week of March
- Calming moments -
Shirts are so comfortable, and so easily adaptable to casual and formal settings. I love wearing an all-white outfit as much as an all-black one. But I find that white somehow, does not look as structured as black clothes? I added a thick black belt here to cinch in the waist a little. Again, back with the same pair of sneakers but I think stilettos would work well if you are going for a more girl-boss kind of look. Inspiration : Kelly Wearstler!!
Emotionally, February was a struggle. I think it really manifested itself in my outfit choices. I found myself losing my motivation. In turn, making it harder to keep up with online classes, Zoom marathons, schoolwork. Stress, frustration, anger, misery- it piled up. It didn't help being in a design course, where creativity is so interlinked with emotion. Hence, the blacks, the whites, the sneakers - all represented these dark, I-really-can't-be-bothered, don't-mess-with-me kind of emotions.
In the midst of all my frustration, a voice kept chiding myself to stop being negative. That many others have it worse. Work harder. Everyone is in the same boat.
Just last week, I read about the notion of 'fake positivity' and 'real optimism'. Fake positivity is toxic: I think repeating all these ' you should be smiling' kind of notions when you really don't want to is just damaging. And frankly, it subconsciously puts yourself down for not feeling the way you think you should be feeling.
That's my theory anyway.
I finally shut that annoying voice out, and just let my emotions flow. The anger, the misery - let it all out in a torrent. And oh boy, did I feel better. Talking as well, to close friends, helped. Or heading over to @buthonestly - an account encouraging people to open up to the unspoken, but important conversations.
Or pamper yourself! One of my favourite activities that really helped me find some zen was to read in my favourite couch, with a cup of tea (my soul is that of a grandma's) before sleeping.
Some favourites that have been getting me through :
TV shows /
Books & magazines /
Currently, I'm reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. It's very philosophical and on the heavier side. Set in Prague during the World War period, it contemplates love and life. I really enjoy the way Kundera writes though- he really prompts thoughts on the way life is perceived.
But for something lighter, I'm always a sucker for design magazines - my favourites being Design Anthology and Monocle. They spill the tea on everything art, architecture, fashion, travel and photography - the perfect companions for when you miss travelling but are unable to. Plus, they have so much content in them that I can literally read one issue months!
It honestly feels so good to get these words out. Even though this post is *ahem* very overdue. Anyway, I hope March is treating you well!
I've found quite a few cute spots in Penang on my weekend adventures which I can't wait to share in this space soon!
Till then, thank you for reading :)