this month's conversation is with the beautiful and accomplished Jade – i love her global, multi-disciplinary approach to life and work and her funky, girl-meets-tomboy style. and did i mention she has quite possibly one of the best collections of gentlewomanly shoes ever?
read on for the interview!
hello! please introduce yourself to LAM readers.
my name is Jade. i am an internal medicine resident and part-time poet. i was born in Chicago, Illinois. but, i always think about where i’m from in a more complicated way since it’s normally a loaded question. a Jamaican mom and a Greek dad will make you think about identity in a weird way!
1. how would you describe your personal style these days? how has your style evolved over the past decade?
gosh, my personal style has gone through so many cycles. i feel that i am finally settling on a way to express myself through dress now that i am nearing the end of my twenties.
i used to define myself as “anti-fashion” and wore a lot of baggy jeans, thrifted clothes, or items from the past i found in closets — stuff from the 70’s passed down from cousins, aunts, my mother! i was a hipster tragedy before the term “hipster” even came on the scene! there must have been a hipster hippie hybrid universe, and i totally inhabited it! 80’s track jackets with men’s jeans—adidas sambas and birks! it was HORRIBLE! i started to incorporate more batiks and wax prints into my wardrobe during this time, but the styling was off—longer skirts, head wraps, buubuus (caftans). but there was something about it all that formed a sense of self. i was clearly ignoring my body during this phase, and really working on self-acceptance from other angles.
"i felt like i didn’t have to be beautiful to be cool, fun, or smart. in a way, i felt like being beautiful didn’t matter to me. it was liberating in a way, but it was also kind of sloppy, when i look back at it. i am so glad i had that phase, though. i wouldn’t want to go back there in the world of 'not caring' but i also love the fact that i was bold enough to de-emphasize appearances. now, i think i can have both beauty and substance."
i guess i would describe my current style as funky, feminine, a little avant-garde, and a little tomboy. i need to have my boots and my skirts, too. i want there to be a tough edge every now and then. but, now i revere my inner dandy. dressing in a way that makes me feel put together gives me an extra boost of confidence. it also allows me to communicate my point of view in a less over the top way—maybe even in a professional way.
2. do you have any wardrobe essentials / a style uniform? what's on heavy rotation for you right now?
i have to say that my dieppas are a wardrobe staple. i have calis, dinas, coca colos, and 2 pairs of the lady boots. all of them are in different colors! i love boots, in general. i am also a sucker for a brown ankle boot—ariana bohling philippe or my trusty cobra rock boots. my uniform is normally separates. i typically wear a skirt and top, then am more ass-kicking from the ankles down!
these days i never leave the house without a chain and pendant i bought in Ghana this past may. the charm is a tiny gold pick—called a “duafe”. it’s an adinkra symbol for “beauty and wellness”. i also am rarely seen without my wedding band on my right ring finger and my mociun ring on my left ring finger. i would say my jewelry is always in heavy rotation.
3. what do you typically wear to work? as a doctor, how does your work and work 'uniform' affect how you approach weekend/off-duty style?
i definitely have a uniform for work. i am almost always wearing a skirt, a long sleeve tee, and dieppa restrepo oxfords. skirts are the new pants! i tend to get funky with the prints i wear in my skirts—from batik to wax or something nubby and textural. if it’s not a long sleeve tee, it’s usually a silk tee—ERMIE, Rachel Rose with a more basic skirt. wearing skirts, at first, was an exercise in pushing myself out of my comfort zone. now they ARE my comfort zone. my shoe colors are funky too—i am really drawn to greens and blues. there’s something about a lace-up shoe that makes me feel like “yes, i got dressed today and i am ready.” it’s a little nod to my inner man.
when i am off-duty i like to have a harder edge. i wear more jeans—i am a big fan of Raleigh Denim. i wear the Surry style to death—it is dark and skinny with little stretch. i only have 2 pairs of jeans and they are both by RD. typically i will wear a very printed tunic, normally batik, or a long silk top, and boots. i get a chance to rotate my purses more when i am off duty, which i really appreciate. i love to have a small bag with me like the Eatable of Many Orders Tin Bag in Medium or a vintage red Anne Klein bag from my aunt. i love a good blazer. my favorite one is a grey wool blazer from the Pendleton Portland Collection from Fall 2012. if i’m getting dressed up for a nice dinner, i normally wear my lady boots and a dress—usually kind of a tunic dress that is belted.
"i like silk a lot and anything printed, dyed, or shibori. weird cuts and shapes intrigue me. i like to show my body in less traditional ways, and also feel comfortable doing it. i rarely wear anything that goes past the bottom of the knee. but, i am a sucker for cut-outs, especially triangle cut outs at the back. i will be totally covered to the neck, and then in the back—surprise!"
i think because my work style is so girly and “proper”, i like to channel a little bit of rock n’ roll and fun when i am not seeing patients. there is often pattern mixing and not taking things too seriously. it’s time to wear my light blue arc boots, and funky socks! more details and less tucking in.
4. what bag are you carrying lately, and what's in it?
the bag i carry the most is the Yvonne Koné zipper bag. what is in my bag is so NERDY! but, if you must know…a Harrison’s Manual of Internal Medicine (the pocket size), a baggu zipper pouch for my Burt’s Bees and toiletries, my Karen Walker tortoise shell sunglasses, a YK wallet, and my stethoscope.
5. what do you love / hate shopping for? is there anything that you've purchased multiples of?
i really like shopping for bags and shoes. particularly bags! my mom says that this is something 50 year old women do! there’s a reason why they call me grandma jade, after all! i love to change my bags with my outfits, and when it’s weekend times, it’s no holds barred! i am a huge fan of wendy nichol bags—the canteen bag in olive and the bullet bag in black. with shoes, BOOTS! there’s nothing better than a pair of boots. i feel like they mean business. i want people to think, hey, she looks like a nice person, but she doesn’t mess around!
i really hate shopping for pants! i still haven’t found my dream black pants. just a simple cotton pair that i could wear year round would suffice. i am working on it. in my world, where i am pretty busy, i prefer online shopping, but with pants i actually have to try them on to know if they are for me since i am curvier. it’s just easier to find a dress or a skirt.
i have purchased multiple pairs of dieppas and black long sleeve tees. i like Splendid and Michael Stars for that kind of stuff. and Gravel and Gold makes an awesome black linen tee with the perfect curved hem. i have that shirt in a white and green print also.
6. is there an item in your wardrobe that's particularly special? what's the story behind it?
my moon & stars ring is super special to me because my husband really saved to buy it for me when he was in residency. it was a birthday gift i had wanted for many years. the fact that someone would exercise that much restraint to give you something you’ve been thinking of for a long time is super sweet.
another item in my wardrobe that is particularly special is a silk handkerchief that belonged to my grandmother. my grandmother was my bff FOR LIFE!! so, this handkerchief has literally traveled with me on so many special trips—to Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Ghana, Zanzibar! it’s the perfect hair accessory, hair flattener, and camera lens cleaner! it has orange and green stripes with a white background, and always makes me think of her. i like to think that i am traveling to places she might have dreamed of going.
after college, i was in Tanzania for a little after a year. it was my second trip there after deciding I would learn Kiswahili in college. i was living in Arusha and kept noticing street children—EVERYWHERE. this really piqued my interest and i was able to get a grant to look into reasons children were living in the street. they taught me A LOT. the myth of the AIDS orphan was pretty much shattered after months of hanging out and interviewing some of the street youths. some were hungry, some had abusive parents, some just wanted a different life. it isn’t glamorous, but it has its own set of rules and protective measures. i am always amazed at some of the things i remember them saying—they had strong views about youth rights, and solving social problems, but not a lot of people to listen to them.
also, when we talk about “street style” we never look at the style of people who actually LIVE on the streets. this resourcefulness, this ability to see beauty in the trash of “the haves” can also result in some pretty interesting and cool styles. i think fashion doesn’t really give credit to these people because they are a little bit invisible. we say “rugged” and “distressed” and mean it to be stylish, but their clothes and shoes are rugged and distressed because they made them that way—from working, running away from a bad situation, wearing them every day. the used clothing market in Tanzania is pretty big—also in Kenya. there’s a lot of cool style that happens when imported goods from all over the world end up in a market place. you’ll see men rocking women’s jeans, old school running shoes, and t-shirts with American college names on them.
i took a short trip to Ethiopia by myself during this time—no friends, no contacts, no Amharic language skills! style there is really interesting. there’s a lot of white and gauzy material with beautiful and colorful borders. i brought back some netellas (scarves) and Ethiopian dresses. they are very angelic looking with an elastic waist. the necklines and the borders are so intricately embroidered, it is insane!
"the funny thing about style is that it is everywhere. it is in places that big box stores would never dream of going, but would gladly find ways to appropriate and not give credit where it’s due."
i was also in Ghana this year. i got a GE/NMF fellowship to travel there and work in some coastal hospitals. the work was pretty eye-opening. we don’t think very introspectively about what we do and don’t have in America. but, there, people improvise, and re-use things we would not even dream of reusing. this is not about saying, “oh poor them, they don’t have…” this is more about hey, look at what they ARE doing with what they DO have. it takes a lot of skill to work in an environment without things that we think of as necessary, but people are doing it. it’s encouraging to me to see one or two doctors running an entire hospital with a few physician assistants, midwives, and nurses. your primary care physician is also your surgeon. i hope i have more opportunities to work in both west and east Africa so that I can learn to be this resourceful now that i’m actually a doctor.
Accra had really great style. wax prints are everywhere—colored straight fit jeans (particularly on men). and the story behind them is particularly interesting. apparently, they were developed in Sri Lanka. the practice of making wax blocks and printing cloth was then appropriated by the Dutch, who now own some of the biggest names in wax printing like Vlisco, for example. the prints are often traditional African symbols or designs with a lot of emphasis on graphics and geometric styles, but they are then imported back into Africa—starting with West Africa, and then distributed throughout the rest of sub-Saharan Africa. these prints are so stunning, and the practice of knowing your tailor and getting a particular outfit or style is pretty commonplace throughout the continent. i love that entire work places will all have the same custom print with their work logo on it to show pride, or that they are a member of rotary, etc. there is symbolism even in the mundane.
"the best part about knowing where your products come from and knowing the maker is that you are now personally invested in the culture of what that person does, and why they do it. there is no better feeling than shaking hands with someone who is making something for you, naming their price, and knowing you are paying a fair wage for something you drew or imagined. it also never ceases to amaze me that many of the people making clothes are women who are managing their own business, and providing for their families. these women are powerful and talented."
8. what's the style scene like in your neighborhood / in Chicago?
i live in Logan Square, which i like to describe as “hipsters with jobs”. i really love it here and that’s mainly because i feel like modes of self-expression are so accepted—whether we’re talking about food, home, style, who you love. here there’s everything—flannel shirts, doc martens, that oh so appropriate pencil skirt with killer shoes. a couple of nights ago i saw a girl in a really cute blue dress, bare legs, flip flops, and an ankle-length granny sweater! i didn’t personally “get it” but that’s what i love about this environment. if you want to be a rockabilly librarian or have “Misfits” leggings on, wear your Airforce Ones, or a proper A-line dress, we’ve got room for you!
people like to say that Chicago is not a fashionable place, but i disagree. we simply have fewer rules, and not everyone cares about looking chic. but, if you want to go to Ikram or Robyn Richman or p45 and be “traditionally” fashionable or edgy or avant-garde, we’ve got you. there’s a lot of room for growth and experimentation here. i think people are open-minded about style in Chicago. we layer a lot, we wear our big coats for much of the year, but then there’s fringe and festival wear and puffy turtle backpacks at every summer event! Chicago, to me, doesn’t take it’s style too seriously. i think we know how to have fun, and not care too much, for the most part.
9. what are you passionate about? who / what inspires you?
so many things. i am really passionate about the nexus between medicine and anthropology, and keenly aware of how social structures (and barriers) impact health. i am also really dedicated to the idea of using my time wisely—treasuring small and beautiful moments, and doing as much as possible. writing—hopefully i will have a little book of poems published at some point!
i am really inspired by travel. there is something about being put in an environment where i don’t have all the conveniences of home, and am forced to make new friends and adapt to the daily power outage that makes me feel more me. the best part about travel is meeting people, and learning from them—coming closer and closer to mutual understanding. cultures and languages inspire me. the way someone dresses because of those things is that little piece of the story that helps contextualize where they are for the moment. and maybe, just maybe, a little window into where they’re going.