How To: Develop Your Own Style

Madame Chaos presents her eighth post in her ongoing guest-blogger series.

I have broached the subject of personal style before, but in the context of home decor. I would like to turn the spotlight on a more personal canvas: the adornment of one’s self. For me, the year 2008 was one of unparalleled fashion triumph, a veritable mindspring of creativity born of personal ingenuity and an innate sense of style–and, astonishingly enough, utilized only those things readily available in my own house.  In my quest to offer self-improvement choices beyond traditional expectations, I submit to you that attention to detail in the way you physically present yourself will both reflect and encourage your inner fabulousness, and needn’t be prohibitively expensive.  Here are my tips for exploring the identity you want to project without breaking the bank:

1. Repurpose

Not only is repurposing a thrifty choice, it is a green one. You will exude and encourage eco-consciousness when you take to heart the Proustian adage: “The voyage of true discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes, but in seeing with new eyes.” With four older sisters, I have at my disposal a collection of costumes from uncountable ballet, clogging, and tap recitals–but what is the fun of merely recreating those costumes? Instead, repurposing showcases my personal style when I take a dotty skirt with an inset panty, and make it my own by flipping the panty inside-out and creating a one-shouldered bodice:



(**Note: my longtime readers will recognize my application of Tough-Love in the above photo.)
Adding mismatched heels makes a statement–and checking the “spin” of the skirt is mandatory:


This particular outfit was a staple of my at-home wardrobe for much of the year.

A second example of repurposing makes a comment on the convergence of the sociopolitical and ecopolitical in a single item: The Wal-Mart plastic bag. Fashion becomes the vehicle for voicing the questions: what are the long-term effects of pandering to and literally clothing ourselves with homage to the corporate machine? Are we trading our local control over natural and financial resources for a flimsy and ultimately unsatisfying relationship with international conglomerates who wish to transform us into consumerist sycophants?


It is my hope that such an outfit gives my older sisters food for thought on their and their friends’ unenviable position of being sellout corporations-with-legs advertising for American Eagle, Hollister, Old Navy, Abercrombie, and Aeropostale. Ah, but such musings perhaps deserve their own series installment, and I should resume my take on the subject at hand.

2. Alter To Make it Your Own

As the youngest of 6, 5 of them girls, the bulk of my wardrobe has consisted of hand-me-downs. While I’m resigned to being forever designated as “Missy/Kiwi/LouLou/Dee’s Younger Sister,” I certainly don’t have to be simply a smaller victim of their fashion choices. One of the quickest way to alter a tired hand-me-down is with my tried-and-true friend, scissors.


See how these old pants went from drab to fab with just a few snips? Now they are REALLY wild, instead of just wild-print wannabes.

More clever scissor-surgeries include this ingenious alteration I like to call The Port Hole: it reveals my “novel naval navel,” get it?

Of course, there’s no reason you can’t take a stylish snip out of the crown of your hair; however, it virtually guarantees that your mom will require you to wear a carefully-placed ponytail for the rest of the year, which defeats the purpose. Still, you can enjoy knowing that the snip is there, and that *you* created it:


Another alteration involves the simple application of lipstick in an unexpected place–an older sister’s coveted dress (one with lots of the aforementioned and highly-sought-after “spin”):
“Making it your own,” you see, can be code for “Render it unwearable by anyone else.” The effect is the same.

3. Add Surprising Accents

Too much of one particular style can appear uninspired. Mix things up! Why have just “Princess Ballet” style or “Cool Cowgirl” style when you can have “Cool Princess Cowgirl Ballet” style?


Friends, family, neighbors, and livestock alike will appreciate your ingenuity–particularly 4H hogs named Romeo and Juliet, another unexpected mixture of good-taste and tastes-good in the “in-love-and-destined-to-die” kind of way:



Set yourself atop a horse and you’ve created an unmistakeable style that reflects your unique personality:


The ultimate unexpected accent is . . . . Nothing. Juxtapose layers of skirts and accessories with . . . Nothing . . . on the top–Wow!


For further surprises, launch the Nothing in a public place like the zoo, draping your clothing on whatever is handy while your mom has her camera focused elsewhere. When she turns the paparazzi device on you, you will be ready!


4. Don’t Forget The Face

It makes good fashion sense (and just good plain fun) to remember the face when deciding how to self-present. Lipstick is a truly indespensible tool not just for sisters’ dresses, but for the nose and hair (and mirror–why not?):


While you’re at the mirror, practice the facial expressions you think will reflect who and what you wish to show the world to be your truest self:


Passive? Nah.


Aggressive? Maybe.

How about this one?



Until next time, dear readers . . . . . . .

Madame Chaos


How To: Administer Tough Love

Installment seven of Madame Chaos’ guest series on living hell well.

One of the curses of being three and its accompanying cuteness is that my  mother — who has nursed a fragile hope of becoming a decent photographer for years — thinks that I am a natural subject for pixellation by her fancy digital camera.  Maybe she thought that throwing over a thousand bucks at a camera and lenses and books and classes and editing software would make an iota of a difference to the fact that she just doesn’t have the EYE for anything beyond being a snapshot-taker.  Read the rest of this entry »

How To: Ruin Your Mom’s Diet

Installment Six in Madame Chaos’ informative series.

Nothing could be simpler than this little tip.  It requires only luck and timing, but I do give some credit to the fortunate circumstance of being lastborn.

All you have to do is lie in wait while your mom is frantically sewing your big sister’s very complicated Renaissance costume that must be done by Saturday night’s costume party.  Do little distracting things like whine to be held and “help sew,” get close to the iron, complain about every movie Mom suggests to put in the laptop for you, smear the Bribe Cookie on the fabric, and disappear out of the sewing room often to go on mysterious and nefarious errands.

Once Mom leaves the room, pick up her Sacred Sewing Scissors and use them to cut the cord to the sewing machine pedal.  Since Mom has a house rule that I (her baby!  Her sweet, sweet baby!) can’t be punished for destroying something if people leave their stuff unattended and in my reach, I know I’ve created the amusing situation of entangling her in her own web.  All that’s left to do is acknowlege to her that yes, I did indeed cut the cord, say something cute like, “I fix it, okay Mama?”  and sit back and watch her beeline for the chocolate chips.

I can’t believe she wouldn’t give me any.


How To: “Ride the Potty Train”

The indefatiguable Madame Chaos presents the fifth installment of her informative series.

I call this “riding the potty train,”  or, as you techies might prefer, downloading a recompiled version of my breakfast into the deleted files folder.  I’ll keep this user-friendly with minimal instructions NOT translated from Korean.

1. Employ the user interface:

(it’s not the most ergonomic of designs, but I’ve found it serviceable)

2. Check for backup files:

3. Transfer complete!

4. Depress the “delete” key:

Any questions? I’m getting good at this now.

How To: Get Your Mom Busted

Fourth in a series by Madame Chaos, resident expert in keeping life interesting.

Yesterday I discovered the astonishing fact that there is a higher authority than my mom, and I’m absolutely giddy to convey such extraordinary news.  If you would like to test my theory that one needn’t be older than two to humiliate one’s parental unit(s) in the eyes of the law, simply follow these directions:

First, use impeccable timing:  In my house, timing cannot be underestimated, because the measures used to facilitate control over my freedom and creativity can be draconian; in this case, my parents have installed those infernal doorknob covers on all outside-access doors.  While I have no doubt that I will soon find a way to render them useless, in the meantime I can occasionally circumvent them by my vigilance and a bit of luck.  In this case, I noted that Mom was both making sundaes for nine kids AND participating in a phone survey for the CDC; I needed merely to lurk by the back door until one of our naive guest children opened it and allowed me outside.

Second, use the real estate adage of location, location, location:  I’ve held an enduring fascination with the road that runs in front of our house because I discovered early on that if I run straight for it, I’ll get everyone’s attention.  It is a rural, dead-end road and cars are rare, but my presence on or near it is charged with irresistable excitement.  I hesitate to give the precise nature of my activities near the road yesterday because my Mom doesn’t know the details, but suffice it to say that I was not disappointed with what followed.  So if you’re going to try this at home, sufficient proximity to any road will do.

Finally, wait for the magic:  As I was conducting my business above, a black-and-white car with pretty lights on top stopped and two men in brown suits and hats with shiny accessories got out and ushered me to the front door.  Knock knock.  My sister opened the door to reveal a house full of kids in swimming suits, and I stepped in while one of the men said, “Is your mom or dad home?”  Sis fetched Mom in the kitchen, who came to the door with the phone in one hand and a jar of fudge sauce in the other.  This is what followed:

Hat man: Ma’am, we had been responding to a call up the street aways and saw your daughter alone by the road and thought we’d better stop.

Mom: We have those doorknob thingies on all the doors . . . . (looking around and seeing the back door ajar), but I see that one of the doors is open.

Hat man: An escape artist, huh?

Mom: Yes, but usually she’s naked, too.

Hat man (gesturing to my shirt pulled down so the neck is around my waist and the sleeves are flapping jauntily by my hips): Well, she’s halfway there. So you’ve taken some precautions then?

Mom: Well, those doorknob thingies don’t help if the door is left open . . . we’ve got extra kids today playing in the water in the backyard and I didn’t notice what had happened. Thank you for bringing her in.

Hat man: Have a good day.

Now THAT’s entertainment.  Unfortunately, I’m the one behind bars:


Until next time, sign me . . . . .
Madame Chaos

How To: Surprise Your Mom for Mother’s Day

To celebrate Mother’s Day, guest poster Madame Chaos presents the third installment in her series on the art of delightful living.  The first two installments are here and here.  Fortuitously, this piece also can be cross-linked to Rebel Holiday as the events depicted transpired on a Friday.

I believe it to be no coincidence that Mother’s Day falls in May, when many garden perennials are in their first heady flush and the annuals planted in early Spring have taken root nicely.  The beauty of flowers and the beauty of motherhood do indeed complement each other, but the truly thrifty (and unemployable) among us know that nature’s bounty exists primarily for our convenience in creating astonishing and unique gifts in record speed and on a budget.

For this particular project I had to strategize a bit–I lulled Mom into thinking that she could take a few minutes to download and review her Australia pictures while I played with the older kids in the sprinklers.   (A tip for my readers:  if you can’t distract your mom, try neutralizing her neural pathways with unrelenting whining and pestering until she either retreats, twitching, to her master bedroom closet or enters a catatonic state.  But beware, this can backfire if she decides you need a nap.  Then you’re hosed.) Read the rest of this entry »

How To: Do-It-Yourself Decorating

The second installment of a guest-post series by the divine Madame Chaos.  Read her first post here.

Few things are more rewarding than personalizing your home to make a statement about yourself.  My mom has put up her pictures, placed her furniture, and arranged various elements to suit her taste, and then has left everything that is my height to do with as I see fit.  I’d like to share with you some tips for creating an environment that is unmistakably YOU.

Let’s begin with the entryway; people should know who lives in a home immediately upon stepping through the door.  Peanut-butter colored Venitian Plaster is so blah, don’t you think?  Liven it up with freeform artwork:
IMG_3583 Read the rest of this entry »

How To: Have a Great Afternoon

 An informative guest-post series by inhouse expert, Madame Chaos.

First, while your mom is gardening, strip down to your diaper and find a mud hole.  Wade, slather, spread, fling, bathe, revel, even eat:

Read the rest of this entry »