growing a minimalist wardrobe: extended sizing.

    April 25, 2019

    extended sizing in ethical fashion | reading my tea leaves
    The Tie-Dress from Hackwith Design, offered in sizes +1-+4.

    When we talk about ethical clothing, we’re often talking about how clothes get made. We ask questions about the where and the what and the who of what happens before clothes are ever worn. Less often, we ask questions about what happens after clothes have outlived their usefulness. (What do we do about clothing waste? Are we repairing, or donating, or digging clothes back into the soil?). Still more rare is to question the ethics of who gets to wear what. Who’s represented and included in the ethical fashion conversations—not to mention on the racks and in the lookbooks—from a consumer point of view?

    68% of American women wear size 14 and above. Indeed, the average American woman wears between a size 16 and 18—a range that’s considered plus-size by the majority of the fashion industry. And yet the options available in these sizes remain incredibly limited. Why is it so difficult for folks searching for ethical and sustainable options to find clothing sized to fit?

    This week, I invited Aja Barber to help us crack open the subject of plus-size fashion and extended sizing, especially as it relates to ethical fashion. Aja offers her tried-and-true tips below.

    The Bel Skirt from Elizabeth Suzann, offered in sizes XXS-4XL

    Here’s more from Aja:

    Clothes shopping and fashion can be an arena that leaves large groups of people feeling intimidated and left out in the cold. Because we exist in a world that doesn’t make space for everyone, we have large groups of the population who feel forgotten when it comes to fashion and style. (Raises hand.)

    Changing the landscape of fashion means that folks of all sizes need to start joining the conversation and speaking out too. It’s going to take all hands on deck in order to fix these problems. For far too long, people who fall into the category of standard size haven’t been forced to look at or acknowledge the problem. Now that we are on the precipice of what is a new dawn for fashion production, consumption, sustainability and ethics, it’s high time we start to look out for each other and realize that ethical fashion also means fashion that’s inclusive and diverse. In the last twenty years, I have been a variety of sizes. Navigating my own changes in size have allowed me the unique opportunity to view the fashion industry from multiple sides and to see exactly where some of the problems are. Even when I was at my smallest and would have been considered “standard size” by the industry, I still couldn’t fit into some designers’ trousers, which says a lot about who the majority of clothing is made for.

    Today, when I’m not microblogging on Instagram, or writing, or helping my clients of all sizes pick out clothing they’re going to love, I am actively reaching out to brands that I enjoy to ask for more inclusive sizing, in addition to better representation of all kinds in their spaces and lookbooks. Often I make headway but sometimes I don’t get a response at all. It’s tiresome and it’s SO worth it.  Until every brand and designer is as diverse as we’d like it to be, here are some of my pointers for shopping more ethically when you don’t fit into “standard size” (whatever that means).

    The Charli Dress* from Reformation, offered in sizes up to 3x.

    Try avante garde (and secondhand):

    I personally gravitate towards more avant garde designers because they tend to make clothing that I can move in freely and that fits a variety of shapes. I was in Japan last month and I was on the lookout for designers like Issey Miyake,Comme Des Garcons, and Junya Watanabe. I ended up with a gorgeous dress and two very nice jacket/sweaters by sleuthing in secondhand shops for the names of designers who I love

    Buying second-hand, in my opinion is the most sustainable shopping one can do and I never feel guilty about it. I’m saving something from the landfill and I’m not driving the demand for fast fashion. Luckily there are even a few places to shop online:

    + thredUP*: As a stylist many of my clients have had good luck with thredUP which has a dedicated plus-size section.  Being able to filter through the entire inventory of clothes to find clothes that you know might fit can feel so encouraging. Be sure to filter by size so you’re not hit with a flood of material.

    + eBay*: When you really truly know what brands you like and you know your size and how the clothing fits, you also can’t lose with eBay. I just bought a Junya Watanabe x Marimekko dress on eBay recently and I’m so excited to get it.  It’s also great for brands like Universal Standard.

    Go custom:

    If you know your style and you really know what you want, consider having someone make you exactly what you’re looking for, made to measure. You could find a local tailor to work with, but increasingly I turn to the internet. There’s a wealth of tailors and makers all over the world who can make exactly what you’d like, and sometimes for not that much more money than fast fashion brands. Cost aside, having clothing made to order isn’t nearly as wasteful as the fast fashion process is. It gives me great personal joy to see my money going directly to the maker. Sure, it takes a bit more time, and you need to know your measurements, but what you receive in return is going to be made JUST. FOR. YOU.

    +Etsy*: When looking for custom-made clothes, I almost never go wrong with Etsy. From my perspective, Etsy stores really give makers back their power and help build small businesses in communities worldwide, which seems to be good for everyone. For the most part, I’ve been incredibly happy. People often write to me worried about bad experiences, but I’ve only had one experience with a shop I wouldn’t patronize again. One pro-tip: Read the feedback from other customers carefully before taking the plunge with a new shop you don’t have experience with.

    Hire a professional:

    If all of this still sounds daunting to you (it’s not everyone’s cup of tea), consider working with a stylist. It’s more affordable than most people think and sometimes it’s good to have someone to hold your hand, help you make new outfits with combinations you wouldn’t normally wear, and push you to have the courage you need to try a new styles. Ultimately, you save money when you buy clothing you like because there’s a lot less trial and error than when you’re wandering around trying to do it on your own. No matter what, everyone deserves to wear beautiful clothing that they feel happy in and I hope you find something out there which makes you feel good.

    The Pleated Culottesfrom And Comfort, offered in sizes 0X-4X.

    A few of my favorite brands for new ethical clothes with extended sizing:

    +Universal Standard (My clients’ personal favorite.)

    + Elizabeth Suzann  (A favorite among my Instagram friends’.)

    + Hackwith Design House (They just introduced some cute swimwear pieces.)

    + Girlfriend Collective  (I have a pair of their leggings that I love.)

    +Tuesday Bassen (A lot of fun clothes that remind me of the best bits of the 90s.)

    + Reformation* (I hope plus sizes are here to stay this time!)

    +And Comfort (A great place to start building a capsule wardrobe.)

    The Retie One-Piece in Thistle from Hackwith Design House, offered is sizes XS-+4.5.

    What about all of you guys? Favorite places to shop ethically that serve a wide range of sizes?

    Aja Barber is a writer, stylist and consultant who lives in London. Aja writes about fashion, style, race, and feminism because all of those things intersect! You can read and support her work on Patreon and follow along with regular updates on Instagram. She enjoys matcha lattes and helping people shop better for clothing they’re really going to love.  

    * Denotes affiliate links. Reading My Tea Leaves might earn a small commission on the goods purchased through those links. Several of the brands mentioned above are current or past sponsors of this site. This post is not sponsored and brands were included at the author’s choosing.

    make your own: violet syrup.

    April 23, 2019

    make your own violet syrup | reading my tea leaves

    Recommended: A spring afternoon spent playing with flowers. My kids are on spring break this week and we’re spending a few extra days at my parents’ house, half working and half playing and mostly getting all the way muddy.

    My mom and dad’s yard is an early spring dream this week: all daffodils and violets edged with a bright yellow forsythia hedge. The patches of wild violets are mostly of the white variety, streaked with painterly purple, but there are are—or at any rate, there were—a handful of patches populated with dark purple flowers, perfect for experimenting with violet confections.

    make your own violet syrup | reading my tea leaves

    I’d never made a violet syrup before, but what better way to please a four year-old enamored with the color than to make a bright purple syrup for her tasting pleasure? Together, Faye and I harvested as many deep purple violets as we could, popping the cheery heads off of their stems like two not-so-gentle giants.

    Most recipes for violet syrup call for a quantity of violets that surpasses what my parents have in their yard, so here’s some encouragement to go ahead and give the recipe a try even if you don’t find yourself in the middle of a violet metropolis. I found the recipe to be forgiving and amenable to changes and fairy-sized portions. Here’s what I did; feel free to adjust according to the size of your patch and ambition.

    make your own violet syrup | reading my tea leaves


    + ~1 cup of packed dark purple violets, stems and green base removed.

    + Water, enough to just cover the violet petals

    + Lemon juice, just a few drops

    + ~ 1/2 cup sugar

    + Sieve

    + Cheesecloth or other clean fabric

    + Small sauce pan and heat-safe bowl, or a double-boiler if you have it.

    + Clean bottle or jar for storing the syrup

    make your own violet syrup | reading my tea leaves
    Violet petals, stems and small green cap removed.


    + Lightly rinse violet petals in sieve under cool water to be sure they’re free of bugs and insects.

    + Place cleaned petals into a non-reactive glass or stainless steel jar or bowl. Pour boiling water on top of the petals until just barely covered. Use a wooden spoon (or your fingers once the water is cool enough) to gently agitate mixture and press the petals. Let sit covered for as little as a few hours, or overnight.

    + Once steeped, the water will appear dark blue. Add a few squeezes of lemon juice and watch it turn a bright, very nearly luminescent purple.

    + Line a sieve with cheesecloth and strain the liquid into a bowl or pot. Squeeze the cheesecloth to get every last drop out of the flowers.

    + Add ~1/2 cup sugar (liquid to sugar ratio should be about 2:1) and stir. Place the bowl or sauce pan over a pan with boiling water to gently melt the sugar.

    + While still warm, add the the syrup to a clean glass jar or bottle. Cover and keep refrigerated until all used up in the making of sparkling seltzers, drizzled over cakes, stirred into frosting, added to cocktails or otherwise generally enjoyed.

    make your own violet syrup | reading my tea leaves
    Violet petals, prepared.


    + Always be sure that you’re harvesting edible flowers away from places that have not been treated with pesticides and/or that have also been recently treated to gifts from neighborhood dogs.

    + Recipes for violet syrup are abundant online. Some have you steep in cold water. Some have you cook petals over the stove. Some, like I have, used boiling water to kickstart the infusion process. If you’ve tried a different process that you’ve like, feel free to share in the comments!

    + I can’t say that the resulting syrup is the most floral or fragrant that I’ve made. It’s definitely purple, but it mostly lacks the signature violet taste of, say, the violet pastilles I loved as a kid. This is likely violet variety specific, and probably has to do with the delicate nature of the scent to begin with. Enjoy the process, and the thrill of drinking flowers, but don’t, perhaps, expect an extremely floral syrup if your flowers are not very fragrant themselves.

    make your own violet syrup | reading my tea leaves
    I steeped my violet petals in a glass jar.
    make your own violet syrup | reading my tea leaves
    Before adding lemon juice, the petal-soaked liquid is a beautiful blue color.
    make your own violet syrup | reading my tea leaves
    A few drops of lemon juice changes it to a bright purple.
    make your own violet syrup | reading my tea leaves
    I used cheesecloth in a colander for straining the violet-infused water, but any clean loose-weave cotton cloth would work just as well.
    make your own violet syrup | reading my tea leaves
    I heated my strained liquid and sugar over another pot of boiling water to melt the sugar without over heating the syrup.
    make your own violet syrup | reading my tea leaves

    borrowed words.

    April 22, 2019

    spring wildflowers | reading my tea leaves

    Put down that bag of potato chips, that white bread, that bottle of pop.

    Turn off that cellphone, computer, and remote control.

    Open the door, then close it behind you.

    Take a breath offered by friendly winds. They travel the earth gathering essences of plants to clean.

    Give it back with gratitude.

    If you sing it will give your spirit lift to fly to the stars’ ears and back.

    Acknowledge this earth who has cared for you since you were a dream planting itself precisely within your parents’ desire.

    Let your moccasin feet take you to the encampment of the guardians who have known you before time, who will be there after time. They sit before the fire that has been there without time.

    Let the earth stabilize your postcolonial insecure jitters.

    Be respectful of the small insects, birds and animal people who accompany you.
    Ask their forgiveness for the harm we humans have brought down upon them.

    On Earth Day, an excerpt from the poem For Calling the Spirit Back from Wandering the Earth in Its Human Feet from Joy Harjo’s 2015 book Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings.

  • my week in objects (mostly).

    1. this sunflower-to-be. {we’ll be on sprout watch over spring break.} 2. the return of this lightweight blanket*. {and faye’s quiet attempts to make her bed each morning.} 3. this little bundle. {for being…

    April 19, 2019 4 Comments
  • life in a tiny apartment.

    Tip #184: Hammer a few nails. I realize it’s not always possible. Wall construction and lease clauses and paint that can’t be matched can make hammering nails willy-nilly into your walls less appealing, or…

    April 18, 2019 12 Comments
  • make your own: tiny woven pouch.

    In case you need a tiny project to keep you company on a long train ride this week, or to help you quiet your mind and transition from work to wonder, here’s a tiny…

    April 16, 2019 5 Comments
  • my week in objects (mostly).

    1. these pink carnations. {left in little bottles by everyone’s bedside and still spritely nearly a week later.} 2. this ribbon. {and embracing a very persistent lavender moment.} 3. this borrowed colored pencil. {for…

    April 12, 2019 9 Comments
  • tea notes.

    Coming soon, the return of the newsletter, with a brand-new name. It’s been nearly a year since I’ve sent a letter and I’m so excited to get back in the habit. Tea Notes will…

    April 11, 2019 0 Comments