Paris To Go

DIY: Minimalist Copper Clothes Rack

You know that feeling when you're an adrenaline junkie or a regular junkie and you have to keep getting higher and old stuff you tried doesn't have quite the same effect? That's how sustainability is for me. Now it's like, shopping secondhand isn't enough anymore, so I've become a real garbage person lately. Since I'm in Cleveland now, I'm interested in repurposing forgotten but valuable industrial materials. It's as much a part of my heritage as kimchi and compulsive cleaning. I want most of what I consume- from plywood project boards and hairpin legs to organic produce- to be diverted from landfills (but more on that later). I guess that's the same as secondhand. The only difference now is, I'm tired of spending money on things.

Anyway I've wanted a garment rack for as long as I've had a Pinterest account, but I could never justify getting one because I had closets. Also, I hate everything. Then I found two ten foot copper pipes in the basement of an old building, stamped "Chase Brass & Copper Co.," from the tube mill on E. 260th in Cleveland. The owners wanted to throw them away. Instead I lugged them, alone, to Home Depot (thanks for the help, gentlemen of Tremont) for cutting (it's easy to cut copper, you just twist the clamp thing or use a hacksaw, but I don't have a cutter and didn't want to buy one).  Technically Home Depot is supposed to charge $3 and up per cut- this was free. Eventually my goal is to have a complete set of nomadic furniture that transports easily and assembles / disassembles quickly without tools or screws, so I wanted something using minimal material which could be constructed in minutes.

To prevent wasted tubing, I had them cut one 10' pipe in half and the other into two 42" pieces and four 9" pieces. I bought four unpackaged 3/4 inch x 3/4 inch 90 degree elbows, two 3/4 inch pressure tees, and two 3/4" tube caps. There was gum, grease, and some unidentifiable animal fur stuck to the pipes, which I cleaned with lemon and salt. Just put salt on a lemon slice and rub directly- you could also use vinegar, though it's less acidic and won't clean copper as well. Attach elbows to the top of the 5' foot pieces, connecting them with a 42" pipe. Insert 5' pieces in the tees, then 9" pieces with caps. On the other side of each tee, attach 9" pieces with elbow joints, and connect with the final 42" piece. I was going to make a gif showing how I assembled it but I thought that would be patronizing so I ate a pizza instead.

I've never done a DIY here before because frankly, if I can avoid doing something myself, I will, but this is easier than Legos. The project cost me $8, $10 if you count gas money, lemons and salt (I used the lemon slices for water and tea beforehand, further amortizing my purchase). If you were to buy all new materials, it would cost about $55, more if you wanted 1" pipes. But I see a lot of people throw away copper and other valuable materials like they're nothing. I don't understand why thieves break into cars for spare change or GPS systems when there's so much copper headed to landfills.

Zero Waste Hair Removal: Sugaring

Everyone knows safety razor shaving is the Jennifer Lawrence of plastic free switches- the zero waste community's freaking sweetheart, smart and sexy and a little bit dangerous (years of presenting mercurial sales associates bulk goods in my own bags colored my perception of what constitutes "danger"). I've been a staunch proponent for years, doggedly packing surgical steel blades in carry-on luggage. But something changed this summer- namely, I ripped the front of my leg open climbing a fence, leaving several small scabs I kept shaving over. Trying to avoid them yielded prickly results. A profusion of insect bites, collected while living in a three story open air treehouse in the middle of a permaculture farm, gave me legs like bitter gourds, rendering me unable to shave entirely. Besides, after fifteen years, I'm getting tired of shaving. I have so little time these days (like, I don't even know who Taylor Swift is dating rn, that's how busy I am), I don't want to spend it fighting a Sisyphean battle against body hair. 

Enter sugaring. You know that feeling when you decide to upgrade from Ikea furniture to ABC Carpet & Home? Sugaring is the ABC Carpet & Home of hair removal, only affordable and accessible (no strips needed and everybody has the three basic ingredients necessary for a good paste... actually this metaphor does not hold up, that's pretty much the opposite of ABC). I can't believe I wasted so many of my pretty years shaving! For some reason I thought sugaring was not good for thick or coarse hair, but it works best on stubborn hair. I tried DIY Oriental cire wax once, years ago, but I didn't use a great recipe (it had weird extra stuff in it, like xanthan gum), and while I loved the results- it doesn't hurt, because it doesn't pull the skin- my legs and Brazilian took all day. I switched to Studio Habeas Corpus' method (recipe here) and within two batches I was hooked. Now I can sugar my entire body in an hour and a half, and the hair loss appears to be permanent in certain unmentionable areas. 

What nobody tells you is that hair- replete with follicles- encased in sugar is about as beautiful a sight as insects fully preserved in amber. Then there's the smoothness. I found I kept staring at my underarms, because I never knew they could look so good. I have skin like a baby again! And sugaring is so addictive. I have to restrain myself from ripping out too much, so satisfying are the results. No ingrowns, no bumps, no breakouts or irritated skin after. At first little dots of blood would appear when I ripped hair out by the root, but this doesn't happen anymore. Some people put their hands immediately over each sugared area to lessen pain. I don't bother. It's really not painful at all (even if it were, I love to suffer). If you have sensitive skin, dusting the area with cornstarch or baby powder first apparently eases discomfort. 

There is a learning curve. In the beginning a friend who I shall call Rory was like "No human should ever have to do this," and I agreed. It can be a very dehumanizing experience, as you contort your body in positions only cats should be able to do (like you know how they put their legs behind their head when they groom themselves? That's what you'll do when you try a DIY Brazilian). And you can't do it in the bathroom after the shower, or if it's too humid or if your skin is even slightly wet. But under optimized conditions, it's so gratifying. Once you experience two weeks of utter smoothness- hair grows back finer, and skin looks great afterward too- you'll find yourself eagerly anticipating your next at home sugaring session. You won't need deodorant after either, just a little coconut oil to moisturize. I've been trying to reduce my baking soda usage for ages, and this is the perfect renewable solution.

I used cheap white (unpackaged) sugar and reverse osmosis water, working in small sections for underarms and Brazilian, but large swathes for legs. I also dump the lemon juice in at the same time as all the other ingredients now and no longer measure, but it's probably best to do as I say, not as I do. My technique is this: barely wet 1/2 cup sugar and cook with one teaspoon salt and tablespoon lemon juice on medium heat; when the sugar starts dissolving, add 1/4 to 1/2 additional cups sugar. I find watching YouTube hinders rather than helps me, so I spread the resulting sugar paste on thick in the opposite direction of growth and remove it quickly. If it stays too long on skin it becomes a sticky mess. I also tend to sugar one side of my body at a time, reusing the same wax ball on the same area in a single session (professionals would be horrified). Sometimes the skin gets too humid so you'll need to take a break, perhaps even stop and start again the next day. Throw the resulting wax in your compost (not your vermicompost, because sugar ants will eat the worms), wash your materials with warm water and Castile soap, and dump the dishwater in your garden after. I actually did this in my little garden in Puerto Escondido because I forgot my safety razor blade and there were no stores nearby and without electricity to entertain myself I was like, "Eh, I have nothing better to do, may as well try my hand at some ancient Oriental dark arts."

Paris to Go

Zero Waste Wardrobe IV: Dresses


When it comes to dresses, only Dior survives the scorched earth policy I apply to my wardrobe. Fully lined in silk, with hook and eye closures above a concealed zipper and attached belts, in smooth wool and crepe, they handwash (or machine wash) beautifully and dry wrinkle-free overnight. I love dresses because I'm lazy- put on a coat and shoes and you have a complete outfit without needing any other accessories (I'm over cardigans and would rather die from pneumonia than put a sweater over a dress again). Plus I love seeing people's minds explode when I tell them how much I paid for each, and where I found them- "This was $36 at a thrift store," I say, before walking away, leaving them to recall their last, more expensive Zara purchase- mic drop.

I realize that, as much as I loved my Prada shirtdress in a Bianca Stratford kind of way, full skirts and unlined dresses are problematic for me, a person who never met a subway grate she didn't accidentally step on. Or I'd ride the Metro from Barbes to Chatelet and struggle to keep the skirt down whenever a gust of wind came through the car. Plus, cotton is a pain to take care of. I always felt messy in that easily wrinkled dress, which my more polished sister owns now.

These days I stick to close fitting dresses, with open necks (the black Dior scoops down just enough) for freedom. All my dresses have the advantage of looking kind of nice with sneakers, especially with a coat on top. They hit just below the knee, which is the most versatile length- as appropriate in the office as at dinner or Silencio (does anyone still go there? Does it even exist anymore). My dress collection isn't extensive, but I never need anything else:

  • 1 crepe Dior dress (similar but not really), for formal events, cocktails, dinners, work, and funerals. The simpler the better, especially if it's black. I learned the hard way that black clothing must be extremely well designed and well made, because the shade betrays every error of cut and finishing.
  • 1 wool navy dress, pictured here (similar). I chose wool because it's seasonless and navy because it's the official color of Paris. This is my everyday workhorse, and the longest lasting piece in my wardrobe. I've never needed a tailor to fix anything on it, only to take it in.
  • 1 grey wool dress (similar). I chased this down because I remember seeing the actress Nora Arnezeder wear it to the 2009 Dior Haute Couture show and thinking, "It will be mine someday." It surfaced years later on the secondhand market, and I had the skirt, which hung straight down, taken in on an angle to make it more fitted. I don't usually wear the attached belt with it because I'm short and I feel it cuts off my torso (I prefer the belt with jeans), but it's nice to change up the look once in a while. This is my go to for interviews, presentations, or big meetings. I wore it to COP21.
  • 1 ponté foil American Apparel dress, $12 at a thrift store, my casual dress to wear with sneakers (pictured here). I unexpectedly fell in love with it and remember thinking every roll would show in the ponté but a girl in tiny disco shorts shook her head and said, "Tu es mince." That was it. With her blessing I've worn it to picnics, Versailles, lunches, nights out, shopping, hot chocolate runs, donut runs, and with heels at the Chedi. It's my favorite because it packs so easily and rolls up really tiny.
  • 1 grey ribbed cotton American Apparel henley dress. I mostly wear this around the house and to bed now, after my friend's chic Parisian daughter told me it looked like pajamas. Sometimes I'll wear it to a barbecue or to play outside with friends' kids though. As a house dress, it has the advantage of not being embarrassing when someone drops by unexpectedly (which seemed to happen every week I lived in France- we were too liberal with our code. Also: our gardienne was the worst), and I could run out quickly for groceries or whatever without feeling indecent.
Since I collected them over many years, and cared for them over several more, I love these dresses more than I love most people. Also, I just found the Reformation Capri dress in Marley secondhand and ordered it, so we'll see if it works, but who knows. I get a sick thrill from the restrained, somber simplicity of my dresses now. I might be too neurotic to handle something patterned.

Paris to Go