COCO BORDEAUX

Discourses on developing timeless style by a fast-fashion abstinent faux-Frenchwoman.

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Now that I'm officially more than one month into my "no new things for a year" challenge, I'd like to step on to my soapbox for a moment and tell you what I've learned over the past four weeks of controlling my impulses to shop and living with what's already in my closet. It been much easier than I anticipated, and I love that it's a built-in excuse to wear things that I bought, love, but never wear like the Theory knit poncho in the above photo. (Which I've owned for ages but never actually wore out of the house until this month!)

In no particular order, here are the eight tactics I've been employing to find fresh ways to style my closet:


Although this blog is devoted to developing the visual component of personal style, the most important elements of style are the way that we think, act and carry ourselves. Our thoughts, words and deeds have power to influence the people around us more than anything we could wear, drive or own, but this is something that we forget very easily. 

Remember you have influence, and it's your purpose to use it for good

A couple of years ago, I was on a really tough project with a demanding schedule and difficult client. Although I tend to be an optimist, I allowed it to get me down and complained to my trusted colleagues, husband and friends as an outlet for my negative energy. 

A few months into the project, my boss pulled me into a conference room and said: "Colleen, I get that this is tough, but I need you to remember your purpose. The junior staff on this project look to you as their example of how to act. They're like sponges, and you need to think about whether you're teaching them the right way to handle themselves."

Ouch, right? But I needed to hear it. I was literally infecting others with my negativity. Stepping out of my self-centered view of that situation and considering it my job to guide these new analysts by setting an example for them inspired me to re-frame my perspective. Simply recalling that brief discussion with my boss has helped me stay positive in many challenging situations after I left that project. It also helped me to reflect on all of the people in my life who have had an enormous positive impact on my direction and probably don't even realize it.

(P.S. The dog is Sophie, my little boxer mutt, who spreads so much love it's ridiculous. And a little fear too, for the runners she chases. Can't be perfect all the time.)

Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier

When I was in middle school, I had a wonderful teacher who somehow intuitively knew how out of place I felt as a skinny, bespectacled oddball violinist-slash-painter who read a book every week. She once pulled me aside, and told me to think of every person in my life who believed in me, loved me, spent time with me, and had an investment in who I was meant to be, and to remember them when I felt like giving up on something I cared about. Then she gave me a printout of this E.E. Cummings poem on being true to yourself and told me that someday I would realize why it's a good thing to be different. (I can recite it by memory even to this day.)

This conversation got me through the rest of middle school, and some rough patches in high school. One conversation I had at 12 years old helped shape my mindset today. It's funny how easy it is to recall the people who've influenced you in positive ways. It makes it obvious that each of us has power over others in our world, and that it's our choice whether to use that power in a negative or positive way. 

*Cheeseball warning: the remainder of this post is going to get really misty-eyed and sentimental, continue at your discretion...*

To inspire myself to do a better job "paying it forward" and being cognizant of my ability to influence others in a positive way, I made a list of all the people in my life who helped to shape the best parts of who I am. I'm sharing part of that list here in hopes that it will inspire you to reflect on who those people have been to you and how you can "pay it forward" to those around you.

In no preferential order…


#1 My mom, for demonstrating every day what it means to put others first

She's an elementary school special education teacher who embodies what it means to be kind and patient. She also single-handedly fed a family of eight and managed to keep the house clean, throw fabulous dinner parties, volunteer at the hospital every Saturday and hand out communion every Sunday. She is also an incredible listener, extremely thoughtful, and has a circle of lifelong friends so big that it almost made me guilty to accept so many presents at my bridal shower. She gives amazing advice on a wide range of life topics, including dealing with mean people: "Any time someone says rude things about you behind your back, take it as a compliment because it means you have something they want" and marriage: "Before you criticize Wes, remember the things he has to put up with about you." She's also the best company to share a couch, blanket, bottle of wine and a bag of SkinnyPop.


#2 My dad, for teaching all of his children the importance of thinking critically, having a sense of humor, and treating everyone the same

He spent years demanding his children to bring the dictionary to the dinner table and look up words they used but could not define, consequently leading to high SAT scores, snap judgments of people who use big words incorrectly, and a mild distaste for mainstream media. He's a litigator who laughs at his own jokes, considers the doormen part of his social circle and occasionally takes homeless people out to lunch. He single-handedly supported a family of eight while reminding each of his children that he owned everything about them and managed a demanding schedule of family chores that led (almost) all of us to develop great work ethics and have zero desire to ever live in his basement. He has an incredible amount of hope and belief in the people he loves, even when all the facts might be working against him. He is also quite possibly the least materialistic person you will ever meet and an "old school minimalist" who truly believes you really only need three pairs of pants, two pairs of shoes, and a good winter coat.

#3 My grandma, for being the brightest example of why life's better as an optimist and demonstrating exactly how one should giving zero "cares" about the opinions of negative people. 

(I wrote a tribute to her memory here.)


#4 My husband Wes, for showing me how much fun it is to let go, be yourself and live life according to your own standards

One of the first things I admired about him (besides his crisply pressed dress shirt and handsomeness) was his sense of self. In the nearly 6 years we've been together, Wes has never wavered on who he is and what he wants. He has an infectious enthusiasm for life, an amazing sense of humor, and strong sense of justice and can be extremely charming and very edgy depending on the circumstance. His wit, intelligence and natural curiosity constantly keep me on my toes. I'm not sure that I've ever seen him embarrassed or self-conscious. He's a natural risk taker who is willing to learn, flex and change in order to get where he wants to go. He's incredibly loyal, sometimes to a fault. He's extremely brave, the first to put himself in harm's way to help others (except when it comes to centipedes and other basement-dwelling critters). He is the best influence on my life, career and creative ventures, pushing me to stop questioning and doubting myself and instead put my energy in going after what I want.


#5 My mother-in-law, for demonstrating the power of incredible fortitude and generosity 

Carolyn is an astounding woman. Her life story deserves a separate post but here it goes in a nutshell: she built an empire from the ground up entirely on her own, got married and helped her husband build a second empire, adopted my now-husband, raised him into the best possible man he could be, and bought a bazillion rental homes and helps her tenants get their acts together to lead better lives. Oh, and while doing all of that, she also taught herself to be a gourmet-grade cook and travel the world. Literally every time I call her she is off exploring some new place. Last but certainly not least, she showers me and my husband in generosity, taking us to see places we couldn't possible afford to on our own; cooking, cleaning and caring for us; and passing along a seriously amazing collection of fine jewelry that I cherish. (Such as a 1970's antique gold-and-opal ring that I've worn on my right-hand ring finger every day since she gave it to me.) She also does this for everyone she loves in her life, and somehow still saved for retirement. Sorry, Marissa Mayer, but you don't really have much on Carolyn.


#6 My sister Karen, for showing me and all of my siblings the power of personal responsibility 

There are not many people who I would follow blindly over a cliff, but Karen is pretty much #1 on the list. She's unquestionably one of the most focused, driven, successful and responsible people I have ever met and I say with 100% certainty that having her as my older sister has made my life and path easier. She can bring order to our raucous group of siblings with a degree of efficiency that causes us to both fear and admire her. There have been countless occasions where Karen took the backseat, gave up the last slice of pie, or took dish duty when it wasn't her night to demonstrate to me and my siblings the power of taking the high road. There are so many things that I've learned by watching her, it is impossible to count. She gives her time, money and attention freely, to anyone who asks or needs her. There are literally hundreds of employed millennials in America who got their foot in the door of some company because they spoke to Karen Kelly, took her advice and benefited from whatever connection she passed along. Copying everything I could from her was one of my best life decisions. (I even have a mental hashtag for this: #wwkd, which stands for "What Would Karen Do?") She is having a baby girl in three weeks who will definitely be the president or cure cancer.


#7 My sister Patty, for demonstrating the power of diplomacy and the importance of quality time

If you met Patty, you'd love her immediately. She has the rare ability to make whoever she is speaking to feel like they are her best friend to the degree that they tell her everything they know. She does this almost methodically in our family, and I think carries around the deepest, darkest secrets of all our siblings. Which she is normally keeps in a lock box unless overserved and the right opportunity surprises it out of her.  She is calm and even keeled, but will not be pushed around. If that line is crossed, she will strike with the most overwhelming force that you won't dare try it again. Patty is the one person in my life, besides my mom, who can truly calm me down in life's most stressful situations and make me feel like everything is really going to be OK. The night before my flight to move my entire life out-of-state after college graduation, Patty sat with me on my parent's patio and talked me back into believing it was really a good idea to do what I was about to do. And I thought about her advice often to reassure myself as I sat freezing in my beige cubicle second-guessing myself. If she ever lives more than 2 miles away from me again, I don't know what I'll do.


#8 My sister Meghan, for being a living example of "joie de vivre" and the "you do you" brand of willpower the world may not be ready for

Meghan doesn't realize this, but our whole family admires and fears her absolute, unstoppable will. It's both her biggest strength and Achilles' Heel, but has helped her shape a life path that is truly her own. Where I followed in my older sister's carefully planned steps, Meghan ran as fast as she could in the opposite direction. She has an uncanny ability of seeing the good in people. She is the only person on Earth who has gone toe-to-toe with Paul Kelly in an argument and won, hands down, and then convinced him to think it was his idea in the first place. If she could somehow bottle this skill and sell it, she would be a billionaire. She knows who she is and what makes her happy, and does not apologize for it. She's the funniest person whose SnapChats routinely make me laugh so hard I cry. And, she's also just really fun to be around in general.


#9 My brother Tom, for showing what it means to be self-made

Tom is literally a self-made man. Sure, he had a few legs up given the family background he was born with, but he's done everything he can in life to make it for himself. But he never talks about it. In fact, he never talks about himself at all. (Probably because the rest of us were so busy talking he couldn't get a word in…) Most of what I know is from relentless prying, reading his mail, and from my mom. He's had a job of some sort for as long as I can remember. He paid for his entire college education himself, I'm pretty sure in cash. He joined the Army Reserves and spends one weekend per month training. He's on a hockey team, volunteers at the parks district and actually gives pretty good unsolicited advice with all of that time he saves from never mentioning any details about his own life. (I should also mention that he makes a mean waffle and animals flock to him as they would to Mary Poppins.)

...this list grows into the hundreds, with aunts, uncles, cousins,  beloved friends, colleagues and even baristas and hotel concierge staff. I figured you won't stay with me for that long, so I'll be sprinkling them in to future posts... 

This exercise, by the way, is incredibly uplifting, inspiring and made me feel so grateful for the amazing people in my life. Reading through it makes me want to be a better person for all those people who have helped me. Let me know if you decide to do this, would love to hear your stories!

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Let's just get over the cliché of American women wanting to dress like the French and accept that it's cliché for good reason: walk around Paris for a few days, and you'll observe that (with just a few exceptions) French women seem to be effortlessly stylish.
 
Although raised Irish Catholic, I've always been a Francophile at heart. Marrying into the last name "Bordeaux" added a whole new layer to my love of all things French, leading me to sharpen up my language skills for the flight attendants who greet me in French and try (almost) every wine on the market (for under $50) from my namesake region. Learning to dress like a French girl has been an aspiration of mine since my first trip to Paris, and one of the goals behind my decision to stop buying new things for a year. After all, French women are the standard-bearers for timeless style and working with what they have in their wardrobes. Here are some of the basic lessons I've learned from observing (and attempting to emulate) French style:

"Willingness to travel up to 80%" is one of the qualifications of my job as a management consultant. Although my "willingness" certainly ebbs and flows, I've got a few tricks up my sleeve that make traveling as easy as possible. In all my years as a road warrior, the best strategy for a painless trip is limiting myself to just one tightly edited carry-on for the following reasons:
  • It saves a lot of time - there's no waiting at baggage claim, no need for a bellman, etc. 
  • It prevents angst - you don't need to worry about a lost bag, there are fewer items to lose under the hotel bed, etc.
  • It makes you dress well - after all, it's the ultimate capsule wardrobe and necessitates thoughtful advance planning.
I'm back on the road this week after a long break from traveling, and thought it would be helpful to share some of my time-tested travel essentials that I bring along every trip and tactics for packing a well-edited carry-on.

My top 10 travel essentials

#1 A high-quality carry-on that comes with a manufacturer's guarantee

Since I'm currently traveling via puddle jumper plane to Nashville, there isn't space for a traditional box carry-on; instead, I'm limiting myself to a Longchamp Le Pliage Expandable Travel Bag. I've carried this for years, and love the Longchamp quality guarantee. They've replaced the strap for me twice, no questions asked and no cost to me (not even shipping). If I had the luxury of a larger plane, I'd be carrying the Briggs & Riley Domestic Carry-on Upright Garment Bag - the wheels are on the outside to give you slightly more packing space, the garment bag is genius, and it comes with a lifetime guarantee.

#2 A reasonably large, sturdy leather work tote

That can carry basic travel essentials along with your laptop and other everyday items. My love of the Monserat De Lucca Large Docente Saffiano Tote is well-documented on my Instagram feed, and I have yet to meet a bag that equals it in design, style, size, and durability (my dog even went at it and it survived with just minor damage). It has a large zippered compartment to protect wallet, phone, keys, etc. and a basic tote structure to hold everything else. The cross-body strap makes it perfect for carrying around as an everyday bag, too.

#3 iPhone 6 Plus

It took me awhile to get used to the big screen, but this baby is perfect for reading email, editing documents, FaceTime-ing with my husband, watching videos, and taking decent-quality photos on the go. The battery also lasts a very long time.

#4 Kindle Fire

Flights are my dedicated 'self-education' time and I must have a selection of great books on hand. When I get to O'Hare at the crack of dawn on a Monday morning, I look forward to enjoying an Americano and cozying up with my Kindle to enjoy in-flight.

#5 A cashmere wrap

I've got these in multiple colors, and I bring one along to serve as an in-flight blanket, a scarf traveling to client site, a shawl at my desk, an umbrella if it's raining, etc. If I'm not wearing it, it's in my bag waiting to be called to duty and I absolutely never travel without one.

#6 Silk pillowcase, silk eye mask and ear plugs

As a woman in her late twenties, the anti-aging benefits of the silk pillowcase initially hooked me but getting into the habit of bringing my own pillowcase has transformed my experience. The silk eye mask and earplugs make hotel neighbors and bright city lights irrelevant.

#7  A satchel of everyday items

Everywhere I go, I carry a satchel with a nail polish remover pad, my current nail color, topcoat, cuticle cream, Advil, hand sanitizer, tinted moisturizer, concealer, lip balm, toothbrush and toothpaste, a comb and hair tie, along with other items that stay in the same satchel and travel from purse-to-purse. It's my survival kit for cancelled flights, late mornings, and last minute dinners with bigwigs.

#8 A satchel of electronics

My work tote also includes another case of my electronic must-haves: iPhone charger, Kindle charger, earbuds, and a USB drive.

#9 Mini makeup case

Because I use really expensive, quality makeup (all are MIRACLE products, in my opinion), my morning routine takes five minutes. It all fits into the LeSportsac pictured below: Laura Mercier Secret Camouflage for the occasional zit, Cle de Peau Beaute Concealer for days following long nights, Anastasia Beverly Hills Brow Wiz, a Shu Uemura eyelash curler, Estee Lauder Sumptuous Infinite mascara, Nars The Multiple in Orgasm, and MAC Mineralize Skinfinish Natural powder.

#10 Dry cleaners' plastic clothing bags

Seriously, I save them when I pick up my clothes from the dry cleaner and travel with at least two of these at a time. I put my dresses, silk and pressed cotton shirts and pants on hangers, drape them in dry cleaners bags, and roll them up like hot dogs to fit in my bag. When I get to my hotel, I unravel and hang them immediately and rarely have to iron or steam as the bags prevent wrinkles from forming.


My top packing tips

#1 Start with your shoes

Pick one pair of flats, one pair of heels, and your running shoes.

#2 Select a coat and tote that coordinates with your selected shoes

Since I almost always use the same tote, I typically wear calf-hair or printed shoes and a neutral boot in black or taupe. My coat falls into place once I've got shoes and bag selected - when in doubt, go with black wool in a simple shape as it goes with almost anything.

#3 Bring one simple sheath dress

And build three outfits around it: with a blazer for a meeting, a turtleneck underneath for a work dinner, and an oversize sweater for brunch or late night drinks.

#4 And a pair of cropped pants that fit you perfectly

Top it with that turtleneck and oversize sweater from #3 and you've got two more outfits. These will also keep you warm on days when you're hopping on a plane and can be worn with flats, heels, ankle boots, etc. Sprinkle in a select few tee shirts and blouses and you can dress for weeks!

#5 Add select statement accessories

Like a pair of Prada eyeglasses and a silk scarf. They can transform a simple outfit or black sweater instantly.

#6 Wear simple fine jewelry

 For me, this is easy as I wear the same jewelry every day. However, I make sure to have it all on before I leave the house for my flight on Monday mornings, including stud earrings. It can make you look pulled together even when you're rushed.

#7 Pack a bright lipstick

Honestly, I carry Emporio Armani Rouge Ecstasy Express Moisture lipstick with me everywhere I go and apply it if I'm starting to feel melted, frumpy or overtired. It's a great pick-me-up that can save for a lot of flaws!

#8 Purchase travel size versions of your favorite skin and hair-care products

Or create your own travel size versions using leak proof containers (I love these). There is nothing that makes me miss home more than washing my face with hotel soap. For my sensitive skin, it's a guaranteed breakout! Keeping my skincare routine going when I am on the road is non-negotiable.

#9 Bring a nightgown and wool socks

Seriously, hotel rooms are freezing and proper pajamas and wool socks (plus a glass of Malbec) are truly important comfort items, at least for me… (note that I am typing this in a Marriott hotel room heated to 72 degrees Fahrenheit and drinking a glass of Malbec in a nightgown).

#10 Make a spray bottle and lint roller permanent items in your bag

There is hardly any wrinkle that can withstand my spray bottle filled with hotel room water, and my black pants, sweaters and coats are lint rolled daily while I travel. The little details make all the difference, and they are easier to take care of when you have the right tools on hand.

So, that's what makes traveling much easier for me. I've even gone a couple of weeks of non-stop traveling with this 'capsule' and felt comfortable and stylish the whole time. This has a slant for work trips since those are the ones I take most, but would love to hear your thoughts on tips and tricks for international travel, weekend getaways, destination weddings, etc.

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Please allow me the liberty to go off-topic for a moment. There are a lot of really smart people that read this little blog. Some are my personal friends, but many have found this site on their own and some have taken the time to contact me with feedback (for which I am forever grateful).

My smart friend Sam (who's currently pursuing her MBA at the University of Chicago) texted me to get this book last night. After reading the first chapter on the L, it was enough to convince me to consider changing the direction of my life.

Getting in shape (and staying fit) is something we all struggle with every day. It's a topic we hear about over and over again after the holidays, and there are countless opinions on how to do it in the easiest, fastest way possible. Although I openly detest cardiovascular exercise and am guilty of Googling "How to lose 5 pounds in a week," I don't think it's crazy to think that getting into shape should be easier and faster.

A long time ago, my mom told me to buy expensive pants so that I wouldn't allow myself to go up a size. Might be a strange strategy, but it works well for me as a gauge. Instead of using a scale, I trust that when my pants are getting tighter, it's time to dial back. Post-holidays, my favorite above-pictured leather leggings were getting a little uncomfortable, so I employed my go-to five step plan for getting back to normal. It's something that works for me, stitched together with tips from nutrition books, my personal trainer, and trial and error:


My love of vintage and thrifted fashion dates back to my childhood: along with the blessing of my five siblings came the sartorial restraint of seasonal hand-me-downs from our much-older cousins. As a child growing up in the 90s and dressing in 80s clothing, I was unburdened with a need to be cool. Instead, I developed an attraction for all things unique and would customize my hand-me-down sweaters and jeans with boy's undershirts hand-decorated in puff paint and complete the ensemble with a backpack shaped like an elephant.

Years of sifting through all those old hand-me-downs helped me to become adept at selecting and styling vintage and thrifted pieces. In case you're considering picking up a vintage habit in place of your fast fashion addiction, here are the basic rules that I follow…