Fashion, Style, and How to BeYOUtiful

(Written for

“Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself” (Coco Chanel). After speaking with Jessica Sweeten, owner and operator of the online fashion boutique, Sweetly Striped, a theme emerged as she described her perspective on style− Just. Be. You.

Jessica Sweeten of Sweetly Striped, Photo by Brandi Schutt, @thoughtsby_brandi

I met and interviewed Jessica in mid September for the fall fashion edition of the Gals That Brunch blog. Jessica, based out of San Diego, California, met with me via FaceTime whilst I worked from my home office in L.A. During our discussion we touched on several topics like family, finding yourself, and of course, fashion. In the following interview, you’ll learn about Jessica’s journey to running her own business, tips for fashion on a budget, trends this coming season, and her take on style as a tool for empowerment. Read on dear ones, and enjoy this dialogue with the lovely, Jessica Sweeten.


JL: Hi Jessica! Thank you for talking with me today.

JS: Thank you so much for interviewing me!

JL: You have an online boutique, Sweetly Striped, where folks can shop all kinds of fabulous items like bags, tops, denim, shoes, and accessories. Tell me about how the site got started and how you got into the fashion world.

JS: Absolutely. We launched the site in January of this year [2017], and it was a long time coming. I went to school for fashion, studied abroad in London, and did a couple internships, so I’ve been in the fashion industry for quite a while. But when I moved to San Diego− because my husband had a great work opportunity− it was really hard for me to get into the industry the way I wanted. So I took some time off, did other sales jobs, and had a little-one; and, it just dawned on me one day. I was like, “You know what? I’m not being true to myself and I want [my daughter] to be true to herself and I need to be a good example of that.” And literally that day I told my husband, I’m opening a boutique! And my husband was like, “Okay. Well all right, we’re doing it, then!” and I hit the ground running. That was October [2016] and we launched in January. It’s been fantastic.

JL: Wow. That’s amazing!

JS: Yeah, it was inspiring to have that time where I lost myself and had to go through finding out what was important to me again and making goals happen. I was able to really see the importance of how I could help other women through fashion and help them find their identity. Dressing everyday women for me is not only fun but also something that I can do to give back. I’m able to meet so many amazing women, work with them and dress them so it’s definitely a rewarding career, to say the least.

JL: That’s fantastic. It sounds like it’s been a long journey and now everything is culminating. It’s great to do what you love.

JS: Yes!

JL: So, before we get into the knitty gritty, I want to know, what is your philosophy on style?

JS: Absolutely. I think it’s a matter of being true to yourself. There are a lot of great trends always coming into play but at the end of the day it’s about knowing who you are and how you want to present yourself. Really know your body type and the colors and fabrications that work for you; and then go into that world of trends to see which ones make you feel good and confident− that’s how you conquer fashion.

JL: Thank you for sharing. So tell me, what’s on trend this coming season?

JS: One word to encompass a lot of what’s going on right now is fabrication. With fall and winter it’s such a fun time to play around with it. Another theme right now is cozy. And you’ll see a lot of very generous size silhouettes and that fluffy, cozy feel− which I love.

Photo by Angela Garzon Photography @angelagarzonphoto,
Model Carly Summers @carlysummersb

JL: So do I!

JS: Yeah! I have a few looks right now that are just so easy and fun to incorporate, that also add comfort. I think all of us can get behind that message. Fur is also a fun one. Maybe it’s just because deep inside I’m this Old Italian lady that loves fur and glam. Bring on the faux fur!

JL: I love it!

JS: Just by having a [fur] vest or a little jacket that you can throw on over a white tee and denim and a pair of booties, creates such a fun contrast! I’m also obsessed with the whole burgundy thing. It’s such a rich, beautiful color and adds an aspect of sophistication. It’s pretty cool that a color can do that much. Also neutral plaids− they’re kind of a fall/winter staple that never goes away. [This season’s plaid] is a little bit more muted with warmer undertones. For example, I have an ivory and plaid top that I pair up with a camel tone skirt.

Photo by Angela Garzon Photography @angelagarzonphoto,
Model Carly Summers @carlysummersb

JL: Awesome! Now, lets talk about fashion on a budget. What can we do in those times when we’re on a tighter budget but still want to look our best?

JS: I think it’s a matter of finding those brands that offer good quality at good price points. For example, denim- it’s such an important thing, because you can dress it up and you can dress it down. Add any top, any sweatshirt. It’s such a core piece. Finding a good denim brand that you really feel comfortable in is kind of like the foundation of a house. Brands that I really like and stand behind are Just Black Denim and Articles of Society. I’ve chosen these denims because they’re all under a hundred dollars. I know some people will disagree but I don’t believe in spending over a hundred dollars for denim, especially because I know where they’re all made. And guess what? They’re all made in the same place!

JL: *chuckles

JS: When you find denim that works for your body type and that you feel comfortable in, you’ve found gold. So you have your pants and then moving into your next level− tops− just basic tops that you can layer with different things. A white top for example, is one of the most understated, most amazing pieces out there. You can throw it on with a moto jacket; if you want to throw a leather bomber on, you’ll have a whole different look than you would if you wore it with a lace kimono. You can go from very edgy to very feminine. A white top is so versatile. So really, look at basic pieces that you can style in different ways. You can get four or five different looks off just a few pieces, which will make your money go far.

Photo by Angela Garzon Photography @angelagarzonphoto

JL: So you’re saying, find what looks good on you, set your price point and style up some basics.


JS: Exactly! I’m such a dork I can talk about this all the time, clearly.

JL: That’s a good thing! Tell us more!

JS: Another thing is often times people get so excited over all the new trends, which is great, but when you’re on a budget, [know that] there are investment pieces and there are trendier pieces that you don’t spend a lot on. I’ve been doing my own fall looks on the website and a major trend right now is the fringe. But maybe having a fringe dress is not realistic for everybody. As a mom, I might wear that one time to a wedding, or one time to go on a date, but I don’t want my two year old pulling fringe off of my jacket or off of my dress and then I look like a hot mess! So maybe put that [trend] into an accessory and know how to utilize it in a way that is more realistic for you. I think that’s a big part too− know that trend items shouldn’t be expensive items.

Photo by Angela Garzon Photography @angelagarzonphoto, Model Randi Cantrell @randiscantrell

JL: So, what would you advise women to wear when they’re meeting new people in a social setting?

JS: I think there are a lot of factors. First of all, where are you going? If you’re in cute little hipster North Park [San Diego], that’s going to be a whole different vibe than going downtown to a rooftop place to get mimosas and brunch. But I think at the end of then day, it’s so simple! What do you wear that makes you feel good? If you’ve got something on that you’re going to be constantly messing with, don’t wear it! The last thing you need is a distraction! So wear those pieces that you feel good in and make you feel like you’re able to be you. Focus on what’s at hand− meeting other people, hearing their stories, telling them yours, and making the most of that time.

JL: I totally agree. I know I’ve been guilty of going out wearing pants that are so tight they make my stomach hurt− and then I end up not having a good time! Enough about me though, let’s talk a little bit about body type. What advise can you share?

Photo by Angela Garzon Photography @angelagarzonphoto, Model Constance Polamalu @constanceanna

JS: I think one of the toughest parts is knowing your body type and dressing for it. Our body type is always changing due to the events that are happening in life. I can’t remember the percentage but it’s crazy how many women don’t even wear the correct bra size… for years! But like we were talking about wearing pants that are too small− be aware and find the things that you feel comfortable in. Obviously, don’t live in a bunch of leggings− you deserve more than that. There’s a difference between being comfortable and being frumpy. I’m definitely a pear shape, so doing things that capture that empire waist by synching the middle, is going to work for me. So, having that awareness of what I need to do to look my best is what I need to focus on.

JL: This is all really great information. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. Is there any other overarching advice that you want to share with our readers before we say goodbye?

JS: There are so many things that we go through in life and so many distractions. The most important thing is to focus on what makes you happy. Whether that’s going to a yoga studio, or whatever you’re going to do, incorporate that into your wardrobe. I saw a video the other day and it was about this woman who only wears green. She’s worn green everything for the past twenty years and people call her, Miss Green. She says it’s a happy color and she’s dedicated her life to that. So, just figure out what looks you like. It doesn’t have to be the latest thing. Just be true to yourself. That’s my whole goal− to give women confidence through fashion and embrace their personal style.

Photo by Angela Garzon Photography @angelagarzonphoto, Model Stefanie Bales @stefaniebalesfineart

JL: I appreciate that. Last question− where can we find Sweetly Striped?

JS: I’m online based, so you can find all of our looks on and on social media @sweetlystriped (Instagram and Facebook). I like to do online shopping made even easier and in my Sweetly Striped VIP Facebook group I offer stuff to [group members] first, like free shipping and other things like that to keep it fun. So you can definitely find me. Whenever I do pop-ups I always share on social media, so always on Instagram and Facebook.

JL: Thanks for talking with me today, Jessica.

JS: Thank you!


(Hair & Makeup in photo no. 1 by Sophia Lesberg @makeupandmamahood; Makeup in photos no. 2 – 8 by Sarah Anne, @beauty bespoken; Hair in photos no. 2 – 8 by  Holly Dargavell, @holly_dargavell)












On Jealousy & Envy- Don’t Shoot the Messenger!

On_the_Beach_--_Two_Are_Company,_Three_Are_NoneI don’t think you’re ready for this jelly. And hell, neither am I!

I’m not talking about the kind of jelly that ya spread on toast, though. I’m talking about jealousy- the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.

Just writing the word jealousy makes my stomach jump. That’s probably because he’s paid me a visit a time or two, having strolled into my life unannounced only to solicit painful responses and induce copious amounts of regret. And embarrassment.

Now as I mentioned a moment ago, I am not ready to deal with jelly in a blog post- at least not just yet! But I’ll have you know that jealousy is not menacing my world these days, and so I would like to use this time of jelly-freeness to talk about jealousy’s less destructive and more informative cousin, envy.

Until now I didn’t understand the distinction between jealousy and envy. They seem so similar and in some regard they are; but as it turns out envy can be much kinder company. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Envy is something that occurs between two people while jealousy occurs between three.

Envy is the uncomfortable experience of noticing that someone else has something that you want, like a dream job or the complexion of a newborn.

Jealousy on the other hand is the even more uncomfortable experience of fearing that you will lose something, or more likely someone, to an enviable rival. Fortunately, the feeling of jealousy isn’t something that we experience everyday because it’s not everyday that we’re threatened to lose something or someone we care about.

Feelings of envy on the other hand can be a bit more chronic with its roots embedded in comparison.

And so we continue with envy.

Earlier I mentioned that envy is better company than jealousy and what I mean by that is that envy, in spite of the discomfort it can create, is also a telling messenger.

I believe that envy can offer clues to help us discover what is missing in our lives. From this perspective then, feelings of envy can be embraced, explored and turned into something new.

So, the next time the feeling of envy emerges, ask the question, what is the envy trying to tell me? Try not to stuff it down or beat yourself up for feeling challenged by, let say, the flawless complexion of the barista at Starbucks, because you might discover what the envy is really trying to say, for instance, I want to work towards improving the health of my skin, please.

Do you feel me?

Once the message emerges from the muck, commit to taking action! This is one way to overcome the discomfort of envy and turn it into something beautiful, or more specifically, let it’s message inform choices that lead you to create the life and circumstances that your heart truly desires.

In other words, don’t shoot the messenger! I think he’s trying to tell you something.

P.S. I’d love to hear from you! Feel free to leave a comment and start a conversation about what your envy might be telling you! Or perhaps you’re not in a place of feeling envious. Good stuff! Would you share with us what some of your past feelings of envy have told you?

with love,



imgresOf the hundreds of times I sat on the couch across from my therapist in her office, a handful of moments would become life lessons.

It must have been a Saturday morning. The light outside was bright, illuminating the shrubs and trees that grew just outside her office. Instead of walls, two sides of the room stood tall with windows from floor to ceiling, creating the feeling of being in nature as we sorted through my tangled thoughts.

I sat there feeling dreadfully heavy, as though I just received the news that something I loved very much had gone away. And in a way, something had.

My face felt droopy, as though it would take two full-grown men to lift the corners of my mouth in order to fake a smile. I was emotionally spent, disappointed, broken hearted and afraid.

With a damp face from drying tears and a voice hardly louder than a whisper, I shared with Jody what I had just realized. I realized two things actually. But let me start with the first.

I was ruined.

Not my life circumstances or my relationships or my livelihood. Me. I was ruined. Like a pristine white gown sullied with burgundy two-buck-chuck from Trader Joe’s.

Up to that point in treatment, I had already been diagnosed with PTSD and to boot, struggled with depression. I felt ashamed and embarrassed about the condition of my mental health. The troubling thing about living with mental illness is that in order to get better, you need to make good choices. You need to practice good self-care, but the feelings of shame that often accompany mental illness aren’t exactly motivating.

And so I felt stuck. Desolate, even. I felt ruined. I felt like my life was stained by the past that I had no power to change and a present that was doomed on account of my diagnosis.

In the same moment that I put words to the way I was feeling (ruined), another thought waltzed into my mind.

I remembered, Sukhothai (pronounced Soo/kō/tī).

Sukhothai was the first capital of Siam (present day Thailand) and is regarded as the birthplace of Thai history. Although the kingdom of Sukhothai was short lived, its legacy is in its architecture, literature, bronze sculpture and ceramic art. You can still visit this historical province and marvel at the ancient palaces and temples by bicycle or foot. It really is a lovely place.

I visited Sukhothai when I was in college. I remember walking down the meandering paths throughout the park and climbing in and out of partially restored structures. Although no one had lived there for centuries, each year still thousands of visitors wandered its antiquated roads and buildings to explore not only the ruins of this city, but perhaps to explore something inside of themselves, also.

And that’s when it hit me- realization number two.

Sure, maybe I felt ruined, as though something un-take-back-able happened and marred my very existence- but in the end and in the now, what is ruined isn’t necessarily something to hide and become ashamed of.

Something ruined is something that can be restored. Something ruined and restored can become a place that one can visit, to remember what life was like back then or there; it can become something to explore and to learn from, something one might marvel over, like the ruins of an ancient city or the glued-together pieces of a once broken life.


It’s been a few years since that day on the couch in my therapist’s office. I don’t feel ruined anymore. I feel restored in most ways, most of the time.

When I started to write this post, I did some research on Sukhothai to refresh my memory and came across something interesting on Wikipedia:

Sukhothai is from the Sanskrit word sukha (सुख ) meaning happiness and udaya (उदय) meaning rise or emergence, and thus, Sukhothai means, “dawn of happiness”.

So after all, perhaps a place of ruins is also a place where happiness may begin to emerge.

With lots of love,






On Neurotrophic Factors and the Good Wolf


Aaah, yes. The cornerstone of any important gathering, holiday party, birthday celebration, office meeting… you get the picture. The sites, smells and tastes of a favorite dish are liable to make anyone smile and hum with delight.

But what about food for thought? Literally.

A few months ago while reading my physiology textbook, I came across a passage that gave me a stroke of insight. In its dense scientific jargon, the passage described the survival mechanism by which neural pathways in the brain are maintained- via neurotrophic factors secreted by neurons and glial cells (i.e. cells of the brain).

So to back up a moment beginning with neural pathways, what are they exactly and why do I care whether they survive?

I like to use running water as a metaphor to describe these pathways, which are in essence, the physical connections between neurons in the brain.

Think about water flowing down a stream on a hillside. The stream, although perhaps a lovely find, is likely narrow, shallow and weak. Not much to see here!

Now imagine a river- it’s wide, deep, and depending on the time of year, contains waters that are dangerously strong.

Each person’s brain is a network of neural pathways. Neurons (the basic functional unit of the brain) make connections with other neurons to create these pathways (you can also imagine this network as a web). These connections give us the ability to use language, remember names, drive cars and think all of the tens of thousands of thoughts each of us has in a single day.

As described with the running water metaphor, some of these pathways are very weak. Have you ever tried to sing along to an old favorite tune, only to find yourself mumbling the lyrics in perfect pitch? The reason for your butchering is due to pathways that, although still survive, are very weak. You can think about it as a sort of neuronal atrophy.

Following that same logic, think of something that you do on a daily basis, for example driving your route to work. The neural connections here are strong. So strong that you probably don’t even think about what you’re doing while you’re doing it.

So, if using language, remembering names, and how to get places in a car are things that one values, it’s safe to say that the survival of these pathways is important; and if their survival is dependent upon neurotrophic factors, I’d better get me some of those!

Now that we’re familiar with neural pathways (what they are and why they’re important) lets learn about the neurotrophic factors that feed and sustain these pathways. And in the true spirit of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, we must begin with the origin of the word, neurotrophic.

Neuro comes from the Greek word neuron, which means sinew and is defined as “the parts of a structure… that give it strength and bind it together.” Next, trophic comes from the Greek word trophikos, which means to nourish. And lastly factor, is a “circumstance or fact that contributes to a result or outcome.”

Do you see where this is going?

Our brain cells secrete chemicals that literally FEED (and therefore strengthen) the trillions of neural connections in our brains! The same connections that empower you and me to do all of the things we do, everyday.

Can you even? Because I can’t!

You might be asking yourself, how is this practical information? So what if my brain releases chemicals that helps it survive? I kind of already knew that!

 And maybe so!

Which leads me to my final point… my stroke of insight.

Many years ago I heard a Native American story, called Two Wolves. In the tale, a grandfather tells his grandson a story about the human condition. He described that within each and every person there is a war that goes on- a war between two wolves. He told his grandson that one of the wolves is angry, bitter, jealous, ego driven and unforgiving while the other is loving, kind, compassionate, honest and faithful. The boy pondered this for a moment and resigned to ask his grandfather, “which wolf wins?” And the grandfather, in all of grandfathery wisdom, replied, “the one you feed.”

So what does this all mean?

The way I see it is, when a person sets out to make a change in their life, whether it be breaking a bad habit or developing a new perspective, real sustained change happens at the level of the brain; it happens at the level of neural connections. We have to feed the good wolf (i.e. constructive habits, healthy perspectives, etc.) in order to strengthen the connections we want, and starve the connections that we don’t.

How do we create new neural connections in order to facilitate change at this level? By experiencing things that are novel! How do we strengthen healthy neural connections that already exist? By continuing to do and practice the things that work for us!

Our brains change when we break out of our routines and tweak them, just a tad. We can’t change our brains by thinking “positive thoughts”, but we do so by practicing the habits, qualities and characteristics that we desire to have come naturally to us.

So there you have it. Neural connections are important. Their survival depends on being fed. Some of our neural pathways are weak (because we don’t use them) and others are strong (the ones that we use everyday). We can create new, healthy neural connections by trying new things and strengthen existing connections by continuing to use those pathways.

What’s our job?

Practicing the habits that we want our life to be about. Because after all, which wolf will win?

The one you feed.