Jona, May’s Facebook Group Member of the Month, is one of the most interesting people I have ever met.  With her permission, I can reveal she is a client of mine and, as she recently reminded me, has been one for nine years.  Due to the nature of Jona’s profession, which involves moving to a new country every few years, our time together has spanned three countries, with each country having different climates, and different dress codes due to religious observances, among other things.  Jona is who I wrote about when I shared a post about helping a client pack for living out of a suitcase for a year.  Yes, a year.  

I could go on and tell you what I know about Jona, or I could just let her tell you herself as this month’s member of the month.

Name:  Jona Lai

Location: Dakar, Senegal

Age: 47

Q: What do you like most about being a member of Bridgette’s Facebook Group? 

A: I love having the little glimpses into everyone’s lives as we help each other with figuring out what works with an outfit or for a particular situation. We are such a diverse group of women and this really comes through whenever someone asks for advice. I always learn about new solutions or shops I have never even heard of, and it’s so great to explore beyond my usual go-to shops.

Q: The biggest benefits you have received from being a Group member 

A: The group is very active, and I have learned so much from the others about how they combine colors, and how their personal styles have (or are being) developed. Since I have been around for a while, it feels like a group of friends chatting, and we get to go window shopping in many parts of the world when members take pictures of beautiful things wherever they are. I especially love the packing posts and seeing how those work out in real life afterward and stealing many many ideas for things throughout the years.

In a recent fashion emergency when the airlines lost my luggage I reached out to another member for instant tips on the best places to shop in her city and it was a real lifesaver when I needed to replace things fast for me and my daughter! The funny thing is that I haven’t meant anyone in person but feel like I would love to take a day and go shopping with a whole bunch of them!

Q: What would you tell women who haven’t joined The Group yet?  

A: Just join, it’s such a fun corner with really nice women of all different ages and backgrounds. You can post, or just hang out in the background and learn along with the rest of us.

Facebook group member of the monthQ: How would you describe your style? 

A: My style is grounded by practical and comfortable clothes that can do double or triple duty for work, school events, or weekend activities with special attention to the small details. My style evolves pretty frequently because my work takes me to different countries with very specific cultural contexts and what I wear has to be appropriate for each country. I am also very petite, so I have learned over the years what works and doesn’t work for me. I have a pretty good set of classic foundational pieces in neutral colors that works pretty much everywhere, and then I try to add pieces that reflect the local fashions, but in a way that works for me. My secret weapon is to find an awesome tailor to make sure things fit me right and to add colorful separates to punch up the basics and to add hidden pockets to different pieces so that I always have a place to stash things.

My job is also very challenging in that in a given week, I could be sitting in a car for 8 hours to get to a field visit, reading stories with second graders in a school, or going to a gala to celebrate International Women’s Day with beauty queens and celebrities. So for events, I have some pieces that are meant to make me stand out in a sea of gray and blue suits or to help me recede into the background when I am in a supporting role.
On weekends, I am very much a jeans and tee shirt kind of person and I am so lucky to have lived in year-round warm climates for a long time so my casual wear reflects that.

Q: How did you discover your style?  

A: Style was not something I thought about growing up, and it wasn’t until I was expecting my son and trying to figure out how to do more external events where I had to represent my organization that I realized I was going to need more help to figure things out. I reached out to Bridgette who worked with me on figuring out some outfit formulas that took me from being mistaken for the new summer intern to heading up an office or launching new programming.

I have always loved and hoarded beautiful fabrics from around the world, and once I realized what great tailors can do, it was off to the races from there. I use Pinterest and Google photos to save ideas that I love, and will eventually translate those into real outfits. Not everything comes out as I planned, and I am never afraid to cull mercilessly at the end of my time in one country to get ready for the next.

Facebook Group Member of the MonthQ: What advice do you have for others trying to find their style?  

A: There is lots of advice about what works for this or that kind of wardrobe, and for the longest time I would try to follow what works for petites. There are also clothes that “everyone” says should be in your closet. In the last few years though, I have thrown all that out and tried to make sure that my style reflects me, not someone else’s idea of me. My friends who are more than a foot taller than me have gotten me to try new shapes and new colors and definitely not all of it works. But you will never know will until you put it on your own body, and walk around in it for a day or two!

Q: What fashion issues are you currently struggling with? 

A: Trying to use up all my fabric so I don’t have 3 giant tubs with me to our next country, looking for comfortable waterproof shoes, and keeping my daughters out of my closet! I also destroy my shoes constantly and am competing with a country of supermodels.

Q: What are the most versatile items you have in your closet? 

A: A Theory belted cardigan that goes with everything and saves me from the arctic blast of conference rooms
Black linen jumpsuit that is appropriate everywhere and dresses up or down with minimal effort
A series of white tops that go with every single piece of crazy wax fabric!

Q: If you could go back and change the way you dressed in the past, what would you change?  

A: I used to think that I needed to dress like everyone else at the office to fit in, but never really felt like it was very comfortable or a reflection of me. My office has a standard uniform for the men and women, but everything would just look off on me.
Once I figured out the fit and fabrics that were better for me, the climate, and the kinds of events, putting together outfits is now easier and much more fun.

Q: Is there a fashion purchase you made that you found more useful than you thought it would be?  

A: A floor-length maxi skirt in crazy wax fabric. It covers everything I need to, matches everything and I can hide leggings underneath when it is cold. Bonus points in that gliding down a set of stairs in it just makes me feel amazing.

Q: What about a fashion purchase that you thought would solve all your problems, but didn’t?

A: A white blazer. In theory, it should go with everything, but in the current environment, everything is sandy and dusty and I just feel like I am constantly worried about keeping it clean.

Q: How do you envision yourself when you look your best?  

A: Easy, comfortable, polished, and ready to take on whatever happens in the day. I love adding special accessories to make me happy and to reflect whatever event I am attending at the moment.

Q: What are your biggest fashion goals for the year?  

A: To make everything fit into our suitcases again when we move to our next country. It might mean new clothes and new shoes for the entire family and it’s always a process to figure out what to keep and what to give away!

Q: What is the best fashion advice you ever received? 

A: There is nothing wrong with you, it is the clothes, so we just have to find a better version of this to fit you!

Q: The first thing you take off when you get home? 

A: Shoes and earrings.

Q: Favorite color(s) to wear 

A: Blues berry tones, white, gray, and black.

Q: Favorite stores to shop? 

A: Theory, MM Lafleur, Giordano Ladies, and Hobbs are my go-to stores for traditional workwear and basics. Everything else is a mix of things I pick up on travel or the results of some really good tailors over the years.

facebook group member of the monthQ: What makes you happiest? 

A: The moments of quiet in the morning before everyone else wakes up and the responsibilities of the day take over. Spending time with my family and friends, usually surrounded by giant piles of food! Exploring new places, and learning new things.

Q: What inspires you? 

A: Watching young people in whatever country figuring out how to help develop their own communities or solve their own challenges. The countries where we have lived have more than 50% of their populations under 25 and what they have been able to accomplish is awe-inspiring.

Q: Use One Word to Describe Your Style

A: comfy-with-a-pop!

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