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Small Business Saturday: AlmaRose Bags

2014 for me was the year of the bag. I curbed my clothing shopping, I purchased fewer but better chosen pieces, but I fell hard for handbags. There was the Isabella Fiore tote, the blue Chancebanda, and a few bags I acquired before this year ended up getting more play in 2014 than ever before (hello Latico crossbody, Fossil satchel). I also received some amazing bags from amazing brands, and one is AlmaRose.

Almashea’ Spotser was a busy working mom who left Corporate America when her Navy husband was transferred to a new duty station. She took her love of sketching, and while pregnant with her second child, created AlmaRose Bags. Being a busy mom, Almashea’ considered this with her bag creation and made each bag a great merging of fashion and function. As stated on the brand’s site, “Each bag was created with the woman who happens to be a mom in mind first.”

almarose bags maxine

AlmaRose bags are diaper bags, and I am (thank goodness) a couple years past that point with Emerson. However, the brilliant part of these bags is that while they have have that function, they work so much further past diapers and wipes. AlmaRose was kind enough to send me the Maxine, which I saw to be a gorgeous statement-making weekender bag or work tote. I slipped out the changing pad to enjoy a quality leather tote with perfect pockets to store everything and find everything at a moment’s notice. The water and stain resistant interior keeps it looking gorgeous even if the cap falls off my lipgloss or I spill a bit of my bagged lunch. The feet on the bottom of the bag and the shape of the Maxine keeps it upright no matter the contents, making it a great choice for those of us who always seem to have their hands full when their phone starts ringing in their bag. I love the included Express Bag, which is a removable pouch perfect when you need to dash to the restroom or Starbucks but don’t want to take your entire tote; it also makes switching from day tote to evening clutch a breeze. There’s even a padded pocket to store my tablet or Kindle! And come on, who can resist the gorgeous green tumbled leather exterior?

almarose bag review

AlmaRose has two other styles of bags: the Claire and the Lydia. These totes are also classic shapes and come in classic colors making them either a chic alternative to most diaper bags, or a brilliantly-designed day tote. With the same great features of the Maxine, these have elasticized side pockets that can hold bottles, but are also great for stuffing in gloves, water bottles, or even your current novel. The leather is thick making all AlmaRose bags built for longevity.

Right now the Maxine is 50% off, making it only $145. Where else can you find such a beautiful large leather bag in such a beautiful color for such a low price? And at the time of writing this, AlmaRose is offering free shipping on their bags.

The Small Business Saturday series on Wardrobe Oxygen features US- and/or women-owned independent brands and artists that focus on style with substance and soul. Stay tuned to learn about more great small businesses, and if you know a business that deserves to be featured please share it in the comments!

What I Wore: Foxcroft (plus a giveaway!)

foxcroft collection sweater
Sweater: Mixed Stripes Cardigan c/o Foxcroft | Tee: c/o SixTwenty | Jeans: NYDJ | Boots: DUO (similar) | Bag: c/o Fossil (similar)

foxcroft collection shirt
Shirt: Mixed Sateen Stripe Non-Iron Blouse c/o Foxcroft | Skirt: c/o CAbi (similar) | Shoes: Nine West | Bag: c/o Adora Bags

I’m proud to be partnering with Foxcroft again. For over 25 years, Foxcroft has provided impeccably made, well-constructed clothing that makes style simple. I’ve featured their clothes before, styled a photoshoot for them, and have gotten to know the people behind the quality brand. I’m excited to introduce the latest looks from Foxcroft, that’s now helmed by head designer, Laura Poretsky-Garcia. Laura, a CFDA member since 2007, has brought a chic, updated attitude to the brand while continuing to give women easy, wearable fashion.

foxcroft collection giveaway review resort collection

Stripes and dots – in bold, sophisticated colors – are the key themes for Foxcroft’s resort collection and all pieces in the collection are under $100. Foxcroft understands a woman’s body, creating clothing that flatters curves and comes in regular, petite, and plus sizes. Foxcroft sent me two pieces from the resort collection – one of their famous shirts and a sweater. The Mixed Stripe Blouse is a silky cotton that feels luxurious and doesn’t wrinkle. Foxcroft has different cuts of their shirts; this one is tailored to fit the figure, making it a great choice to wear tucked in and under blazers and cardigans. Their Mixed Stripes cardigan is a new favorite. The strategic stripes and waterfall front flatter the figure and make quite a statement – when I wore it to work I received many compliments, even from strangers. I wore it with a simple black shell and trousers to the office, but liked it for the weekend with a white tee and boyfriend jeans. Learn more about Foxcroft and their latest collection by following them on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

Giveaway

If you like the pieces that I’ve featured in this post, Foxcroft is offering one Wardrobe Oxygen reader this shirt and this sweater in the size of their choice (if items are not available in your size, we will work with you to find replacement pieces at the same or lesser price).  Giveaway is open to residents of the United States.  Winner will be chosen by random and contacted via email.  If winner doesn’t reply within 48 hours of receiving email another winner will be chosen.  Giveaway ends December 31, 2014.

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What I Wore: Monet

gwynnie bee spruce sage dress review hobo bag red leather clutch

outfit blog size 14 mom over 30 wardrobe oxygen

Dress: Spruce & Sage c/o Gwynnie Bee | Shoes: Nine West “Flax” | Bracelet: Nordstrom | Bag: Hobo Bags (similar) | Cast Cover: c/o CastCoverZ! | Lipstick: NARS Red Square

Emerson said this dress looked like rose petals underwater. I said it reminded me of a Monet, she quickly agreed which freaked me out because we haven’t really taught her that much about artists. A Monet fan in a past life? Besides the dress being a pretty print, it’s pretty comfortable too. It’s fully lined, but the lining is a bit stretchy and not as hot as a traditional acetate one. While this would look cute with a skinny belt or shoes in one of the great colors of the print, I decided to keep it simple with nude pumps and a fun little bracelet.  And this bag was a Hobo Sample Sale purchase that has given me years of happiness; it has a chain strap making it uber versatile and an unexpected classic.

This dress is a perfect example of why I love Gwynnie Bee; it’s a pretty dress that I kept for more than one wear, but it’s the type of dress I would purchase and then grow tired of before the season is through.  With Gwynnie Bee I can keep and wear as long as I wish and the return for a new dress to love!

Fab Bags For Spring Under $100

The best way to update your wardrobe each season is with accessories. It’s an easy and lower-cost way to incorporate current fashion trends, and it’s more likely for that accessory to be wearable past the trend (or when the trend returns) than a garment. Right now is a great time to buy accessories for many are on sale to make room for new merchandise. But that doesn’t mean the sale merchandise is outdated. Knowing current trends or your personal style (which transcends fashion trends) can help you score some great deals for less. Below I share some fantastic bags I’ve seen online, and all are under $100!

Blush is the hot color this spring and looks great on more skintones and with more personal styles than you would think. I love it with denim and chambray, paired with white or cream, but it’s also gorgeous as an accent with black or even a jewel tone like ruby or teal. A blush clutch is a great choice for spring weddings, giving a fresh look to your LBD; a blush wristlet will hold all your essentials and look adorable with boyfriend jeans or a floral dress; blush is on trend yet looks professional enough to pair with a business suit.

You all know I love a touch of hippie chic in a wardrobe, and it’s the perfect way to infuse spring into your wardrobe. Be they paired with a band tee and cutoffs, a sundress and slip-on sneakers, or even boyfriend jeans and a lightweight blazer, boho-inspired bags are more versatile than you think for the everyday as well as for a concert, wine festival, or picnic in the park.

Black and white are classics that work year-round; paired it is a fashion trend that won’t quickly look dated. It’s also a trend that is office appropriate. A structured tote or large bag can carry your purse essentials as well as lunch, a laptop, or commuter shoes. Classic ladylike shoulder bags are back in vogue and look smart with business suits and work dresses; a cross body that’s structured with metal details looks crisp enough for the workplace. When it comes to basic black and white, any colors pair nicely.

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The Best of 2014, Swag Edition

I have often written about the difficult parts of blogging, but there’s some pretty sweet parts too. The friends that have been made with fellow bloggers, readers, and even some brands. The ability to get paid for a hobby or passion. And yeah… swag. We bloggers can get a lot of free stuff. Granted, that free stuff isn’t without strings – we get with the expectation that we will share with you folks (with stipulations on number of photos, links, social media touts, first born…). Because of this, I have become pickier with what swag I’ll actually accept. In the past I’ve been stuck trying to be tactful in a mention of a subpar something and I don’t want to have to do that again.

PicMonkey Collage

But not all swag is wack, and through blogging I have learned of some awesome companies and many pieces I have received for free have become some of my favorite pieces in my wardrobe. Since it can be hard to tell in posts which C/Os are truly adored, I’m going to share the best items I have received this year and why.

DUO ‘Santana’ Boots

I did a little squeal of joy when DUO finally contacted me. I’ve been writing about this high quality footwear brand for almost a decade and have purchased two pairs of their custom width calf boots with my own money. So this fall when they asked me to pick a pair of boots to feature on the blog, it wasn’t hard to say yes. I chose the ‘Santana’ boot in brown leather and they have become a weekly wear. In fact, I am wearing them right now as I type this post! The quality of leather is fantastic, and it’s nice to get stylish yet classic boots that fit my very large (44cm) calves and thick shins. These are especially flattering because they’re a bit shorter than knee-high, hitting at a better place on my petite frame. The color and subtle distressing rival Frye boots and I find them to be comfortable enough to walk and stand in them all day. A bit of a backstory – since I tore my left calf muscle last year my calf is even BIGGER than before so when I ordered my normal size in DUO they were too tight. DUO was amazing about the exchange, I spoke to them on the phone, we discussed how it fit to determine the correct replacement size, and they were so super nice and helpful. It’s so great to work with a company that you can feel cares about their customers.

Adora Bags Leather Tote

Guess this one is a bit unfair because it hasn’t yet been featured on the blog (yet!), but it’s darn awesome. I’ve loved the looks of the unfinished edge simple leather totes that have been in style, but couldn’t justify buying once since I already own totes that work as well (even if they don’t look as nice). So when Adora Bags contacted me and offered to send me a tote I was psyched. They come in black, a gorgeous blue, and a rusty orangey natural color; I chose black thinking it would be the most practical and timeless. The leather is insanely delicious – tumbled but soft. The straps sturdy and fit over my shoulder while wearing my parka yet short enough to carry in my hand. The shape isn’t too structured, but not a lumpy sack. It comes with a removable pouch on a strap so it can be an easy-access pocket for essentials, or pulled out to be a clutch. Mine also came with a little empty book/agenda in the same leather which was a lovely touch. This is a true tote, it wouldn’t really make for a great handbag, but it’s a good size for an overnight trip, a carryon bag, or for running errands. It’s handmade in Italy, smells divine, feels luxurious, and makes me carting 250 flyers for the Girl Scouts or returns to Ann Taylor feel a bit more posh. And speaking of customer service, they followed up with me to ensure the bag came in perfect condition and have been so lovely to work with. A super nice company.

Karen Kane Jersey Pants

Before my arm broke, Karen Kane contacted me and asked if I’d like some pieces from their Spring collection. I got a pair of wide-leg drapey pants from them they year prior and wore the heck out of them so when I saw their blue paisley jersey pants I knew I had to have them. I envisioned them with a drapey jersey top in white, lots of silver jewelry, flat sandals and a hint of a tan come Summer, but I ended up wearing them quite a lot while convalescing. They were one of the few bottoms I owned that weren’t pilled and faded yoga pants that I could get on and off with my left hand, were comfortable enough to rest in them, but felt sassy enough in them if a friend came to see how I was doing. Even better, since I lived in them they went in the washer and dryer dozens of times yet are still as rich in color, no pills, no shrinkage, and looked cute enough that when I was healed I did pair them with a drapey top and silver jewelry! Obviously the pants they sent me are no longer available, but these look to be the same pants in a different print. And we all know I love Karen Kane, in fact it was hard to pick one item from them to feature. I love the black drapey jersey dress they sent me and the lace overlay dress from them was not only a fave of mine, but I loaned it to a friend to wear to a wedding! Karen Kane continues to have my heart and a place in my closet.

SOREL Joan of Artic Wedge Boot

In my sponsored post I stated I was a fan of SOREL boots and I have been, but I’ll be honest – they never fit over my calves. So when they asked me to do a sponsored post with their boots I was excited… and terrified. Last year I did a footwear post with a brand and the boots they sent did NOT fit my legs and I had to cobble together a wonky outfit to make it work. But after last winter and my broken arm, I couldn’t pass on a pair of quality boots that are made to handle inclement weather. So I chose this style of boot, figuring it laced up and was softer leather higher up so it could possibly flex over my ankles and shins. I also ordered a half size bigger than usual to give a bit more space. And well, I’m glad I took the risk. In the post I wore the boots folded down because they did look a bit goofy laced up on my legs, but I have been wearing them both ways. I wear them folded down, cuff my jeans, and have rag socks slouched between the two for warmth and a bit of a ‘90s vibe. But I also wear them laced up which may look weird but feels comfortable and wear my pants over them to hide the tops. However when it snowed the other week, I laced them up over a pair of jeggings and had my wool socks peek out over the tops of them and while no one would give me an award for figure flattery, it looked casual cute. The boots are super grippy, super comfortable, waterproof, and warmer than my other boots. They stay at the front door because I wear them so often now that the temps have dropped and I know once it gets icy they may not leave my feet.

Dobbin Clothing Sophie Silk Crepe de Chine Blouse in Leopard Print

We all know I love me some Dobbin Clothing, but I’ve mainly stuck to their dresses. This year I tried their tops and I am a mega fan. While the green silk tunic they sent is lovely, this leopard blouse has become a closet favorite and I wear it almost weekly. I tuck it in and wear it with black or ivory trousers, I wear it untucked with skinny jeans or black ponte skinny pants and boots. It’s a top that works when I’ve gained a bit, but also looks lovely when I’ve lost a bit. It says dry clean only, but I have put it in a lingerie bag on the gentle cycle and it has come out quite nicely. I like the gold buttons, the mate crepe finish, and how the leopard is elegant, not cheesy. As with all the other Dobbin Clothing I own, the quality is stellar and it’s a piece that’s stylish now and likely will be stylish for many years to come. And from a blogger standpoint, they are one of my favorite companies to work with!

Talbots Leopard Coat

Talbots sent me their fall look book and it impressed me so much I shared it on the blog with all of you. You all reacted so positively (and I’ll be honest, clicked those affiliate links in the post and bought a lot of Talbots merchandise) that I let Talbots know how successful a post it was. And they asked me what size I wore and sent me this coat in thanks. I wore it in this post, but if you follow me on Instagram you know I wear it quite often. It looks great with jeans, is chic with workwear, and has become one of the coats I wear with dresses for evenings out. I got a 12 Petite and it fits as though it was tailored to my frame; the fuzzy texture gives an almost vintage feel but is a classic piece.

Dagne Dover

I don’t usually reach out to brands, call me a “Rules Girl” but I like to be approached by brands instead of cold pitching (I mentioned this before). But when you guys ask me about a brand unknown to me, I do my homework. And I did my homework with Dagne Dover, reading reviews online and being bold enough to email them. They were awesome, replied in less than a day with a super sweet email and the offer to choose the bag of my choice. We’ve stayed in communication and I look forward to sharing more from the brand in the future. They’re a small brand, but one with heart and one that makes well-made and cleverly designed bags. I’ve had really demoralizing experiences reaching out to brands, but my experience with Dagne Dover has given me confidence to keep doing it with companies that seem like a good fit for this blog.

CastCoverz!

I spent about 25 weeks this year in a cast. If you’ve ever worn a cast, you know how utterly disgusting they can be. While my second doctor replaced them bi-weekly for me, they still got sweaty and dirty and stinky and grubby. My sister told me about CastCoverz! and I bought two long-arm covers to make my broken arm a bit more stylish – I got leopard print (naturally), and a sparkly disco gold one. I featured them in a post , CastCoverz! saw it and offered to send me covers for when I graduated to a short arm cast. That short arm cast came in the middle of the summer when there was no way to keep my cast looking halfway decent after a day or two. The cast covers didn’t make the cast any hotter, but they covered the grubbiness with fun patterns and color while keeping my cast from scratching me and wearing against my knit tops. When Karl broke his foot at the end of the summer, CastCoverz! was sweet enough to send him two boot covers. While their cast covers (and other supplies for those in casts or wearing crutches) are awesome and high quality, what won me over was CastCoverz! customer service and kindness. Everyone I interacted with, from the person on the phone to Annette the owner were so genuinely kind and cared for me be it when I was any old customer, or when I was a blogger promoting their products. Amazing company run by amazing people.

Boden Ravello Silk Top

I had a partnership where I was provided a specific amount of money to spend at Boden and I was PSYCHED. However it was when I had my cast and when I had gained a lot of weight and I worried I wouldn’t be able to find anything to fit properly. But it’s Boden, and Boden is awesome. I had to call them to place my order and chatted with the sweetest person on the phone. We discussed everything from my arm to my bust size to my weight gain and she helped me pick this top (and a basic striped tank because I love stripes and I couldn’t afford at the time to spend more than the store credit). And well, I freaking LOVE THIS TOP. I wear it ALL THE TIME. And every time I wear it someone raves about it. The colors are amazing, the fit is great, and it’s one of those tops that looks cute tucked in or left out, that shows I go in under the chest, and doesn’t make my arms look like hamhocks. The post where I featured it doesn’t do it justice; I had JUST gotten off my cast a day or two prior and was feeling pretty darn awful and was just glad to fulfil an obligation. But if you follow me on Instagram you know how often I’ve worn this top and I likely will wear it to death again this coming spring.

Reebok Skyscape Sneakers

This is another post that took place right after my cast came off and I was in a very dark place emotionally and uncomfortable place physically. But I signed contracts and had to comply. So Karl rolled out his white backdrop, took pauses between my cryfests and makeup reapplications, and we got it done. Another behind the scenes being a blogger – one ad network contacted me the year prior about partnering with “an athletic footwear company” and had me fill out a form to be considered. Then a couple months later, a different ad network contacted me and asked if I’d like to be considered for a campaign with Reebok. Well I said yes to both, and come to find out both were for Reebok Skyscape and set to take place the same week. So the second company who contacted me to confirm my participation, I declined explaining the situation. They’re a great company and understood, and told me to let them know when the shoes arrived so they could mail me a return shipping label. They arrived, I contacted them, two weeks later they finally got back and said don’t worry about it, I could keep them. Well what the heck am I going to do with two pairs of black Reebok Skyscapes with pink soles? At the time, I didn’t know if I’d even wear the pair I wore in the post. And now it’s December and you couldn’t pry BOTH pairs of Skyscapes from my dead cold hands. These things weight nothing and fold easily making them the best commuter shoes. They are uber cushy and cozy, flexible, but have grip on slick sidewalks. One pair I keep at home, one pair is at the office, and these are the sneakers I take with me when I travel because of size and weight and comfort level. I’ll admit I don’t love the pink details; both pairs came with pink and black laces so I switched them to black. Not only that, one pair I took a Sharpie to the pink grommets and exposed sole. I did this so I could wear them with my outfit for Halloween, but it does make them less athletic-shoe looking and have become the ones I slip in my bag (like I did last night) to put on after a long day in heels. They are utterly awesome shoes and while I didn’t get the hype when I wrote my post, I totally get it now.

 

Please don’t think that because I didn’t mention an item or brand here I think it’s bunk. Far from it. I think I’ve gotten better and better over the years in picking the appropriate brands to partner with so I can provide completely honest and positive reviews. I feel truly honored to partner with such amazing companies, and proud that I can introduce them to you. The older I get, the more I experience ageism and sizeism as a blogger when connecting with brands. When I feature a brand, it’s usually after establishing a relationship with them and making sure they understand you all, Wardrobe Oxygen’s audience. While swag is pretty cool, what’s cooler is the relationship I have built with all of you. I want to maintain your trust, I want to continue our honesty, and I want to be able to continue to introduce you to the companies who respect the Wardrobe Oxygen reader and deserve your attention.

Ask Allie: Durable Commuter Bags

I have been finding it a challenge to find a work tote/satchel that can handle all of my work items (iPad, shoes, book, and occasionally lunch) without having the handles break. I am preparing to take my latest two off to the great purse surgeon for some love and repair and am wondering if you can recommend a great tote/satchel for work that can carry all of the above and handle the weight of it all? I’d like to stick to a price tag of no greater than $200.

Some things I think are worth the price – well-crafted tall leather boots, a winter coat, and a work tote. It’s very hard to find a decent tote that can handle wear and tear without looking like crap. Honestly, few bags can carry all that on a regular basis and survive nicely unless you purchase a heavy-duty tote. While I recommend a black tote for business, for your commute a bag like the L.L. Bean Boat and Tote or Lands’ End Canvas Tote is a brilliant choice since it will hold up with a lot of weight, wear, and tear and won’t be worn outside of the commute. The version with elongated straps will fit over your shoulder even if you have on a heavy winter coat, and they have options with open or zip tops and storage compartments. Choosing a darker color will be better for public transportation and city life as these totes can’t be thrown in the washer and do best when spot cleaned.

I often carry multiple bags instead of stuffing my work totes to preserve their condition and shape, but it’s still great to have a bag that doesn’t look sloppy and can carry both your Kindle and your bottle of water without bursting at the seams. My two favorite work totes were both purchased on sale and would have been over $200 otherwise.

However, price doesn’t equal a good work tote – you want to look for heavy straps that are sewn into the body of the bag (even better if they wrap around the body of the bag), metal feet to protect the bottom of the bag, and a bit of structure so it keeps it shape over years and random contents. The two bags I have are leather with leather straps, fully lined, and one has a center dividing compartment which keeps the shape and structure of the bag, even when seated on a table or the floor. While a crossbody can seem convenient, I find that if you plan on stuffing a bag, a crossbody can be hard to carry, dig into your shoulder, and put far too much wear on the straps.

The bags I suggest below have not been seen in person and I cannot vouch for their quality and appropriateness; their style and fabrication lead me to believe they would be good choices and are all around $200:

Love the canvas boat bags but yearn for something more polished? Lands’ End has you covered with this brown leather tote with brass feet and organizing interior pockets. Reviews are positive and show owners use it for everything from hauling books back to the library to packing for a trip. Supple leather, classic design, smart styling and less than $200!

No frills, but who needs them when you’re trying to cart your work essentials via mass transit? Plenty of pockets, full grain leather, and a variety of subtle shades make this a great commuting tote. The reviews are positive and seems many use this to lug around heavy 17” laptops with no issue. A classic style and less than $90 makes this bag a great option.

The best thing about this tote are the straps that continue through the body of the bag – this will keep your straps in one piece far longer. Generously sized, and fun yet work-friendly fabrics and colors. Currently on sale for less than $140 and free shipping.

I have a Brahmin and can attest to the fact that they are sturdy, well-made bags. My tote has a thin crossbody strap but easily supports a bag full of heavy things like leftovers and bottled water. Though the straps aren’t sewn deep into the body of the bag, they are wider at the bottom and secured all the way around for a strong foundation. Metal feet, interior organizing pockets, and a variety of conservative and fun colors make this a great work bag. While it is a bit over $200, it’s a classic style that should give you years of wear and is polished enough to use for corporate meetings and conferences and work travel. In fact, if you’re interested in splurging, the larger ‘Melbourne Large Anytime’ tote has a padded compartment inside just for your iPad.

I feel inauthentic recommending a brand I wore strapped above my fanny in the ‘80s, but LeSportsac is known for high-quality, sturdy, and lightweight bags that last forever. The Travel Tote is famous for being the perfect tote you didn’t know you needed. Lightweight, durable, expandable, and not covered with overly visible logos or prints, this is a LeSportsac that can fit with most any personal style and will comfortably carry everything from your gym clothes to your netbook with ease. Less than $100, and many say they are still happily using the same LeSportsace Travel Tote that they purchased over a decade prior.

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Ask Allie: Purses, Bags, and Totes

Dear Allie,
I don’t go out a lot, but each time I do I wish I had something other than my big day purse to take with me. What would be a good choice of bag that I can have for when I get invited to a bachelorette party or a wedding or my husband’s office Christmas party?
Thanks,
Tonya

To have a bag that works for all those situations and to span seasons (and years) you will need to either go very simple, or choose something really unique.

As soon as I read your email, I thought of my patchwork clutch from Novica. It’s a mix of cotton and leather and it contains most every color in the rainbow. The bag is so unique and eye-catching it can dress up and down pretty easily – I have paired it with a LBD, and as you see in this post, wore it with a chambray shirt and wool skirt. A clutch is a smart choice because it’s a more timeless silhouette – bag shapes and sizes come and go but clutches have maintained popularity over the past decade and will continue to be popular and stylish.

Nicole Ritchie shows how a snakeskin bag can work with all sorts of colors and styles

Something out of snakeskin or leather (real or a quality faux) is a classic choice and will hold up over the years; however don’t rule out an unexpected finish. A twill or canvas bag with beading or feather detail can often be just as versatile. If there is a variety of colors, a print, or a statement color, you can have it work with most anything (even if the color of your dress is not in the bag).

If you would like something more classic, you can’t go wrong with a soft black leather clutch. Classic size (around a foot to 18” in length and slim) and silhouette (pouch or envelope). The leather should be soft, buttery, no funky glazes, no flashy details. This is the type of bag you can wear today and 20 years from today. You may have to pay more to find such a bag (or search vintage boutiques), but it will be a wardrobe staple for a lifetime.

Hi Allie–
I was advised by my physical therapist to consider wearing a cross-body bag, rather than a bag with a shoulder strap (to help with my neck/shoulder problems). However, I’m busty and feel uncomfortable with the ‘boobage issue’ created with a cross body strap. Any thoughts on how best to work with a cross-body bag?
Marcy

Like you, I shied away from cross-body bags for years because of my large bust. They always seemed to accentuate them, falling right between the breasts, often pushing them to the side. However, once I became a city commuter, I realized how very necessary they can be. Now I have several cross-body bags in my collection. A few tips:

Be picky about the strap. My Brahmin handbag can be carried in my hand, worn as a shoulder bag, or the strap lengthened to become a cross-body. More often than not, it is worn across my body when I go to work so I can have hands free to hold onto a support bar on the Metro, read the paper, or hold a cup of coffee. The reason this bag works so well is because it is very narrow (about a half an inch), yet extremely sturdy (no chance of it breaking or cutting into my neck). The combination of narrow yet thick/sturdy helps with comfort… and it also helps with the ‘boobage’ issue by being too stiff to really slide between and under the breasts.

For smaller cross-body bags (I like to use these when going to concerts and festivals), I go the opposite route with a very lightweight strap. By being so lightweight of a bag and strap, it doesn’t fall between the breasts causing separation.

Reese Witherspoon in a Crossbody Bag

For a large heavy bag (daypacker, to carry your laptop), there are bags made with an usually wide strap which ends up working more like a sash across your body.

Adjust the strap. Sometimes one inch can make all the difference with a crossbody destroying the line of your figure. Look for an adjustable-strap bag so you can play in front of the mirror to find the perfect length for your body. For me, I find a longer strap (bag hitting lower on the hip) works better with my bust if the bag is heavy and large; I will do a shorter strap for smaller crossbodies.

Minimize. A big problem with current handbags is the size – the larger a bag, the heavier it will be, and the more room to hold everything except the kitchen sink. The heavier the bag, the more likely it will divide your body.

Look for the absolute smallest bag you can handle – if you need a bag to carry your laptop or iPad, find a slimline style to minimize bulk. If you don’t need a bag to carry your electronics, shrink the size all together. Seriously look over your bag contents – do you really need 5 lipsticks, 2 paperback novels, and that travel umbrella even though there isn’t rain on the horizon for weeks? I find it’s easier to organize and pare down when I keep my bag contents in smaller bags – one for cosmetics, one for purse essentials such as safety pins and gum, my wallet, and then my phone etc. When it is already compartmentalized it’s harder to justify a random addition.

Hi, Allie!
I have recently started a new job in the finance industry at a more “corporate” location as opposed to “business casual.” With my new position my manager wants me to bring my work laptop home with me each day. I have been carrying both my purse and small laptop bag each day, along with a water bottle, and if I pack my lunch a lunch bag. I’m looking into consolidating it all into just one bag. Do you think it would be better to get a laptop/tote bag with a padded section for the laptop and carry all my necessities in it, or should I get a basic work tote that would be large enough for all my stuff and buy sleeve to protect my laptop? Do you have any suggestions for a work bag that would accommodate carrying a laptop daily?
Thanks!
Karla

I guess it depends on you and your lifestyle. I personally have a laptop bag that I use for everything when I need to carry my laptop. My work laptop is pretty large and integral to me being productive at work, so I have chosen to have a bag that best supports and protects it. It’s not glamorous – it’s black microfiber and clunky, but it keeps my bag safe and looks professional for onsite client meetings.

If I had a smaller standard-size work laptop, I would consider a sleeve, but the problem is that a sleeve can slide around in a non-structured bag, making it feel heavy and clunky and possibly stretching out your purse. I have carried my netbook in a sleeve in my structured leather J. Crew tote – the netbook and sleeve fit perfectly in the large center zipper compartment leaving plenty of space for my personal purse contents. I can then slip out the netbook and carry a lighter bag to after-work events or a lunch meeting.

As for your lunch… it may be hard to find a bag that can carry that and everything else. My laptop bag is the size of a piece of carryon luggage and I still can’t seem to fit more than a Lean Cuisine in there, and if I do I don’t have room for a water bottle. With all the padding to protect your laptop, it becomes hard to carry everything in one without dragging around a bag the size of a small child. It may less cumbersome to just carry your lunch separately.

Before you decide you need to consider:

  • The size of your laptop – is it standard (meaning it’s easy to find a sleeve and easy for it and the sleeve to fit in a standard-size bag)
  • How often you need to carry your bag sans laptop (lunch or client meetings, after-work events where you can slip your laptop in the trunk of your car, etc.)
  • How much walking will you be doing – would it be more practical to get a rolling laptop bag? I know my laptop with it’s cord and extra-large battery is ridiculously heavy and I have considered getting a rolling bag to transport it and all my other essentials. With such a bag, also carrying your lunch wouldn’t be an issue.

A few laptop bags I have seen that are stylish while being professional:

The MobilEdge Milano Tote


MobilEdge Milano Tote – This bag holds a lot without looking bulky or as though it was purchased at REI. Online reviews state the faux croco finish looks quite nice and expensive in person. The strap is long enough to fit over your shoulder even while wearing a winter coat. While the version I link to fits a 17” laptop, there are other retailers (like this one) who have the same bag for a 15” laptop. This is regularly rated as a top choice for professional women (if you like it, Google it to find the best price as it is available on a variety of online shops).

McKlein “Deerfield” Laptop Tote – A very sleek modern look, Italian leather, and a variety of amazing colors makes this 17” laptop bag a winner. Special compartments for business cards and pens, while still having room for essentials such as a wallet, cosmetic bag, and bottle of water. The dark red would be quite elegant with classic gray and black suiting, while the choice of other colors could be a fun choice for more creative offices.

Piel Multi-Pocket Laptop Tote – This one even has a side pocket specifically for a water bottle! This bag gets rave reviews from business travelers which means it would have all the space and organization for one who wants to use this in place of a separate purse. Available in classic brown, black and cognac as well as a few subtle shades that would also work in most professional settings.

Royce Leather Cosmopolitan Computer Brief - Very simple style, tons of pockets for all your essentials, and a size to fit most standard-size laptops. While black is a safe bet, I really like the red to add a conservative pop of color to a corporate wardrobe.

While there are thousands of different types of bags out there, I chose ones that were pretty conservative in silhouette and made to be primarily a laptop bag. If you find that a sleeve or a rolling bag is more appropriate for your needs, do check out these sites that have a great variety of bags:

  • eBags - a fave of mine because of the extensive customer reviews
  • Kolobags – amazing variety of fashionable bags designed for laptops and other technology
  • McKlein USA – laptop bags specifically designed for women
  • Handbags.com – quite a large selection of work-appropriate laptop bags
  • Overstock.com – I have a laptop bag from there that I got at 75% less than a similar (and same brand) bag at Macy’s. If you know what you want, this site is worth a gander.

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Vendor Review – MetStyle Bags

MetStyle is a very cool company concept, offering professional bags for women that are feminine and stylish while still giving the owner the respect she deserves in the business room. This is a hard task for any company, to have all the features necessary for your laptop, writing supplies and lipgloss without being boring and bulky like the carry-all that came with your computer, but not frou-frou and frivolous. In this day and age we all need to carry around our gadgets; we should ahve the ability to do it with style and class.

I received the Champs Elysees Hand Bag (pictured) in the mail this week and boy am I impressed! Do not let the photograph on the website fool you into thinking this is a utilitarian piece. The dark purple quilting has a slightly iridescent satiny finish that is chic yet professional. The hardware is polished silver, the trim and handles a high-quality faux leather that has the flexibility and sheen of the real thing. I am petite with thicker arms and I found this bag comfortable in my hand or over my shoulder. My Dell D610 fits comfortably (and my husband’s larger 17” Dell just fit if no notepad or accessories were included) with my portable mouse, USB, Blackberry, digital camera, a slim notepad and a few goodies like gum, powder and lipstick. Inside compartments keep everything organized and the slim look doesn’t resemble a purse in any way. I love the dark plum shade – very subtle yet adding a bit of panache to the subdued business suit ensemble. My husband even liked it saying it “looks very Art Deco and classy.”

Prior to this bag, I was using a black microfiber laptop tote from the Michael Graves collection at Target. I found the Dell shoulder bag that my company gave me to bee too heavy, bulky and useless. Not just that, but it was hard to carry around with my petite frame. I purchased the Michael Graves tote because it was a more feminine shape, but professional enough for the toughest client. I found even that seemed to be too bulky for business meetings and travel and desired something smaller. Usually smaller pieces were just a sleeve with a strap with no room for accessories or personal effects, or else they were too girly (my clients would not appreciate a glossy pink croco bag with a tassel). I found appropriate bags online, but they were often way over $100 – not appropriate to my budget.

The bags from MetStyle are a good price for the quality, they achieve style without compromising your level of respect with your colleagues, and they are made to really accomplish all the tasks of a true business bag – hold the laptop, the legal pad, the pen, the computer accessories, the wallet and the lipstick and powder for lunchtime touch-ups. Visit the site and find a retailer near you to check out this great new brand!

What I Wore: Air Flow

wardrobe oxygen what I Wore Gap Real Straight Jeans Karen Kane Messh Top Nine West Pumps wardrobe oxygen what I Wore Rough Tumble bag Ray Ban Aviators Nine West Flax wardrobe oxygen what I wore Gap Real Straight Jeans Karen Kane Top Rough Tumble Bag

Mesh top: c/o Karen by Karen Kane (similar) | Tank: c/o J.Jill | Jeans: Gap | Shoes: Nine West (similar) | Bag: Rough & Tumble | Sunglasses: Ray-Ban | Bracelet: Had forever (similar) | Lipstick: MaryKay ‘Mystic Plum’

If you follow me on Instagram you know I wore this look to work Friday. Karen Kane was sweet enough to send me this awesome mesh sweatshirt this spring but then the whole cast situation made it impossible to wear. Once the cast came off this was one of the first long-sleeved tops I made sure to wear.  The jeans are the ones from Gap I mentioned in this post; after some weird years I find Gap to again be a destination for quality but reasonably priced denim.

And this bag I continue to adore; no need to buy a trendy brand name to enjoy high quality and style.  I found Rough & Tumble on Etsy and am thrilled to see they are growing, now with an e-commerce site.  A woman-owned business with everything made here in the USA?  Yes please!

Shop the Post:

My Wardrobe Today – Monday

Green silk blouse – Ann Taylor (similar)
Navy trousers – Ann Taylor (similar)
Black pumps - Nine West (similar)
Haircalf beltLauren by Ralph Lauren
Necklace – Shop in Rehoboth Beach
BagBrahmin

It’s funny when you’re removing weight, you don’t really notice the body changes until you try on something you haven’t worn in a while. I wore almost this same outfit back in February and it’s amazing how differently these pieces fit now! I really think these pants are now a very strange fit on me, probably will be the last time you see me wear them unless I find it not too costly to alter.

On Twitter, I said I would share pictures from this weekend but I left the cord for my personal camera at home. Tomorrow I promise!

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What I Wore and a Giveaway – Ruth Barzel Jewelry Design

Shirt: c/o Foxcroft | Jeans: Gap | Shoes: Halogen (similar) | Necklace: c/o Ruth Barzel Jewelry Design | Watch: Citizen c/o WatchCo | Bag: Brahmin (similar)

Accessories can transform the most basic wardrobe staples and make pieces a cohesive outfit. I just received this necklace from Ruth Barzel Jewelry Design and while it is BEGGING to be styled with an LBD for the holidays or worn with a beautiful silk blouse, I thought it could really make a statement with a simple white shirt and dark jeans. I haven’t carried my Brahmin bag in a while, and I thought the bright blue really made the emerald necklace pop!

Giveaway:

If you like this necklace and the other beautiful pieces I have featured from Ruth Barzel Jewelry Design, well today’s your lucky day! One Wardrobe Oxygen reader will win a $100 store credit to Ruth Barzel Jewelry Design!

Ruth Barzel makes all her unique pieces in the United States and is a local-yokel to me.  Not only that, she’s an awesome human being!  While I love the Emerald Quartz Nugget Statement Necklace I’m wearing here, I also love wearing her Blue Quartz Pendant Necklace and wear her Mixed Metal Chain Bracelet on a weekly basis. Ruth has offered all Wardrobe Oxygen readers 20% off her entire store, just use code OXYGEN20.  This discount will be in effect until the end of November, 2013.

How to Enter:
Please use the Rafflecopter form below to enter. This contest is open to both US and international readers. Contest ends November 30, 2013 at midnight ET.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
As a reminder, if you can’t wait for the giveaway to end and want to get yourself some jewelry from Ruth Barzel, use the code OXYGEN20 at checkout for 20% off your order!

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My Wardrobe Today – Wednesday

Dark denim-look jacket with white pinstripes - Ann Taylor (no longer available)
Orange-red tank - Ann Taylor
White jeansKut from the Kloth
Beige sandals - Sofft “Pavia”
Blue bag - Brahmin “Melbourne Chelsea Selia”
Silver cuff and chain with wedding band

I bought this jacket a decade ago. I remember wearing it to a training seminar with khaki capris and a dark red cowl-neck sleeveless sweater. Back then, I wore the sleeves unrolled and believe I wore tan kitten heel sandals. The fabric is like suiting, it’s fully lined like suiting, but the dye of the jacket makes it look as though it is made from denim.

As you see, mama’s got a brand new bag! I got an annual bonus and promotion this year and thought long and hard how to use the money. I decided to put some in savings for summer, got myself a netbook, and then got this bag. I have been obsessing over Brahmin bags for a long while and wanted a bag that was unique, yet a good bag for work. This bag is amazingly designed; I can fit my netbook in here and still have room for a paperback novel and all my purse essentials. There’s a pocket for my SmarTrip card, my phone, and every other thing you can image. I know it will be great on travel because it is so organized!  Right now in it I have my “Diane” wallet from Hobo International, my sunglasses in a hard case, my camera, a cosmetic bag, phone, small paperback, my WeightWatchers guide, a sandwich, a comb, two pens, a pack of gum and my ring of keys in there (oh and a top to mail out today from Shop My Closet!) and it’s not stuffed and not heavy.  Check out my review on the link above – had to give a shout-out on Nordstrom!

I still have my fun purses for everyday – my Sandhursts in brown and black, my new tan Banana Republic bag, my red Hobo International purse, and all my smaller novelty bags. but this is my first fancy bag, and one I think I will be using for years to come.

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My Wardrobe Today – Tuesday

Blouse - c/o Ann Taylor
SkirtHalogen
Necklace – J. Crew (similar)
Shoes – Nine West (similar)
Bag - Brahmin (similar)

Almost every morning, my husband makes us coffee so we can get through the day. We recently got reusable cold cups, so on muggy days like today we sip homemade iced coffee in place of hot. Each Sunday we head to our local farmers market and bring these cups for iced coffee and sip it while we shop and catch up with neighbors and friends. It’s funny, a decade ago I never drank coffee -found it gross.  Now I drink it almost every morning and love the flavor in other things (coffee ice cream and hello! dark chocolate-covered coffee beans!).  I figured a picture of the “real me” in the morning would be appropriate (though no picture this morning of me wrangling Emerson into her carseat prior to the photo shoot!).

My closet it in progress!  Yesterday the contractors came, fixed the hole in the actual bedroom (no more daylight peeking through our ceiling!) and spackled all the cracks and chips from the tree damage.  I came home and my bedroom looked like a meth lab – they had taken down all the curtains and had plastic dropcloths surrounding the entire room, taped to the top of the walls, and then more dropcloths over the bed and nightstands.  The closet is full of buckets, drywall, ladders and tools; today they are supposed to fill the old skylight space with insulation and cover with drywall.  I think I will be able to use my closet again by the weekend!  I can’t wait, I am so sick of digging through my clothes in cardboard boxes and a teeny tiny rolling rack.  My bags and shoes are stacked in a corner of the office and I can never find what I am looking for.  Do know, once the closet it repaired and filled I will be having a post about the contents and why I organized it in the manner I did!

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My Wardrobe Today – Thursday

Scoop tee- Ann Taylor
Cardigan - Only Mine (no longer available – similar)
Belt - Hobo International (no longer available – similar)
Skirt - Calvin Klein
Shoes - Nine West (no longer available – similar)
BagBrahmin (gosh I look like an ad for them, it was just the two pics that look best!)
Silver cuff

I totally wanted to say that today is Wednesday in the post’s title. I can’t believe how ridiculously fast this week has flown by… this month for that matter! Omigoodness it’s JULY TOMORROW! How?!?!

This morning I woke up on time, no snooze. I did my sun salutations, a 10 minute exercise video from OnDemand, had a nice Weight Watchers-friendly breakfast of 50 gallons of water (really 22 ounces per my adult sippy cup), a handful of blueberries and a half of a cup of oatmeal (with blue cheese and hot sauce in it, you may find that gross but I love it and 1 tbsp of blue cheese is only one pointsplus). I felt so calm, so centered. I sat on the deck, enjoyed nature, let my mind wander… and then it was 7am! I have to be at work early today! So I pulled together a few old standbys for my outfit and ta-da, this is what you have!

If you follow me on Twitter you know I have a love/hate relationship with the DC Metro system. I love that I can read a book on the way to work instead of cursing my fellow drivers, I love that it is still cheaper than gas and parking to my office, and I love that I am doing something Green for this planet. But boy does it suck some big hairy dogs some days, and today is one of them. I got to the metro by 7:30, and I didn’t get to work… until 9:05. WTH? We sat for 15 minutes at one train station, five minutes in a tunnel, and it took ten minutes just to change trains at Fort Totten because of the crazy crowds there trying to run away from the Green Line as fast as they could. Lucky for me, my meeting wasn’t until 9:30 but there went my chance to check email and get settled prior to it starting. If I were Donald Trump, my next season of The Apprentice would be in DC and they would have assignments to figure out how to get Metro out of the red and running better. The winner could be the head of Metro for a year. I think some fresh faces who could win the chance at a high-profile position could bring some great ideas to the table.

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Ask Allie: Handbags for Corporate America

What types of handbags should the average career woman have in her closet? Also, could you advise me on a classic, plain, black everyday bag?

A career woman should have some sort of tote or satchel that is preferably black and can carry the unexpected – materials for a presentation, swag from a conference, a change of clothes for an after-work event. I wrote about commuter totes here, they are a good choice for this.  I also wrote about career essentials and what to put in your work bag.

I also recommend a subtle and polished looking purse that is big enough to tuck in a tablet, notepad, or even your laptop. Leather is a good choice for it can look great for many years with care and conditioning. A few bags I have seen lately that would look classic now and a couple years from now.  While I show different colors, all the bags featured come in black.

For purses and totes, it’s good to choose a classic color that works with the majority of your office attire (black, gray, camel, dark navy or brown if that fits your wardrobe and personal style). Don’t choose styles with obvious logos or weird textures or color accents because they can look tacky to some and dated far more quickly. A bag with structure will look more professional, and will also do a better job of keeping the contents organized. Test the strap to be sure it will fit over your shoulder even if you are wearing a bulky winter coat.

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What I Wore: A Place for Everything with Dagne Dover

wardrobe oxygen what I wore dabne dover mini bag review dagne dover mini tote review wardrobe oxygen what I wore dagne dover bag review
Blazer: Ralph Lauren (thrifted – similar) | Tee: armor-lux (gift from reader – similar) | Jeans: NYDJ | Shoes: Cole Haan (similar) | Bag: c/o Dagne Dover

Reader Missy recently contacted me regarding the bag company Dagne Dover. She saw there was a pop-up shop taking place in DC and asked if I may be attending, and if so could I report back on what the bags were like in person. See, Missy has had the Dagne Dover Mini Tote on her wish list for months but was afraid to pull the trigger on such a pricey bag if she hasn’t seen and experienced it. Unfortunately I had plans the day of the DC pop-up shop so I contacted Dagne Dover to see if there would be another show in my area in the near future. To be honest I hadn’t heard of this brand before Missy’s email.  They were kind enough to send me one of the Mini Totes for me to experience and share with all of you.

Dagne Dover The Mini Tote Review

The Mini Tote from Dagne Dover is an incredibly smart bag while still maintaining style. Though it’s called a “Mini” you can tell from the photos that this bag isn’t small. However, it’s a manageable size that seems to easily hold much more than my biggest hobos or satchels. It’s not as tall or wide as my Brahmin satchel, but it holds twice as much and is far easier to access everything. There’s a removable cup of sorts to hold an umbrella or bottle of water, a padded pocket inside for a tablet or small notebook computer (I use it to hold my momAgenda and a book or my Kindle), and a zipper exterior pocket that can also hold a similarly sized device (I slipped in my tablet). There’s a pouch to hold sunglasses so they don’t get lost in the abyss, a detachable cord to hold my keys, and pockets to hold and easily access everything from my SmarTrip to my iPhone to my lipstick.  Missy asked if the bag can hold an 8.5 x 11″ document or folder and the answer is yes.  While it wouldn’t fit in any of the pockets, the main interior compartment is wide and deep enough to accommodate.  As I type this, I have 250 flyers of that size tucked in there and still room for my sunglasses, wallet, and the ability to access all the pockets.

Not pictured is a detachable adjustable strap that can make the Mini Tote a shoulder bag or crossbody. The strap is even smartly designed with padding where it rests on your shoulder! For my 5’3″ self I put the strap on the shortest setting and it was right at that comfortable hip place as a crossbody.  The built-in short straps do fit over the shoulder; I could fit it with a thin knit but found it too awkward with this outfit and impossible with a winter coat.  A slimmer woman may find it easier.  Full, the bag may feel too boxy for comfort under the arm, but the other day I slipped it over my shoulder for a quick trip to get lunch (my agenda, book, tablet, and umbrella were not in the bag).  I use the crossbody to get to the office so I can have my hands free to carry coffee or hold on when standing on the Metro, but I feel most comfortable at my height and weight to carry this bag in my hand as I did in this post.

After reading about these bags and the loyal fanbase, I really wanted to see the bag in person.  Why so much for a bag not out of leather?  Seeing it in person and using the bag, the price and loyalty is justified.  The bag is of coated canvas but it could easily be mistaken for Saffiano leather.  All the trim including the handles are of butter-soft Napa leather, the hardware is heavyweight and utterly gorgeous, and the pockets and added details are made with thought and care (a tight pocket for a Metro card, a deeper pocket for a SmartPhone, the ability to put the key cord on the side of your choice for easy access, etc.).  The more I used this bag the more I liked it; to be honest I wrote this post Sunday and came back Wednesday to edit it with more raving and detail.

I find Dagne Dover to be a perfect bag for the busy woman on the go. Unlike my other big bags, I find it a breeze to wear it across my body, unzip it and be able to see and access everything with one hand. Yes, you can hold a cup of coffee and be able to grab your sunglasses, you can hold a child on your hip and find your ringing phone, and you can quickly access your keys in a mall parking lot without having to put down your packages.  The Dagne Dover Mini Tote has a place for everything, with everything in its place.  If you have any questions about the Dagne Dover Mini Tote, please ask in the comments.  While Dagne Dover did send me the bag, this post is not sponsored and they knew I would be completely honest in my review and in replying to any comments.

FYI: The links in this post are for Missy to Share + Score with Dagne Dover.  I wouldn’t have known about this brand if it wasn’t for her.  You can learn more about the Share + Score program on Dagne Dover’s site, but if you are interested in purchasing one of their bags I encourage you to use one of the links on this post and support a fellow Wardrobe Oxygen reader!

How to Shop: Sticking to a Budget

The best accessory I acquired in the past decade was getting out of credit card debt.

My Experience:
When I worked in retail, I found it far too easy to shop. I was spending at least 45, usually closer to 65 hours a week at a mall. Lunch hours were spent strolling through other shops, sipping on an overpriced coffee drink, or treating myself to a very nice lunch at a nearby restaurant. As a personal shopper and visual merchandiser, I felt I had to be a perfect example of style and current fashion and made sure to have the latest shoes, makeup, accessories and always a perfect professional manicure, pedicure, haircut and highlights. When our shop was thisclose to making the day’s sales goal, they could always count on me to purchase something from the new line to get us over the hump.

When I left working at Express, they gave me my associate purchase logs. In one year, after my employee discounts, I had purchased $7,000.00 worth of their clothing. When I maxed out my Express card, I opened a Structure card and used that (hey it was the late ‘90s/early ‘00s when Structure still existed). When I maxed that out, I found out that I could use my Limited or Victoria’s Secret cards and shop at Express. I won’t even go into details about the major credit cards I used for salon treatments, binges at Sephora or Nordstrom, and many a steak salad at the Nordstrom Café.

As women, we are constantly attacked by media telling us to spend, spend, spend. The dress that will get you the guy. The moisturizer that will make you look ten years younger. The bag you must have this season. The five or ten or hundred items every woman must have in her wardrobe. And then of course, the purchases you need so that you can be as lovely as Anne or Mila or Kate. Magazines like Lucky are completely geared towards assisting women on shopping, while glossies such as Vogue and W bring couture to Middle America, encouraging everyone to feel that they too need a fancy label on their dress to be special.

As you know, I love fashion. I love clothing. I find it to be a great way to express your personality, your individuality, your passions. Fashion can also help you feel more confident and more beautiful. But no garment is worth falling into debt. A woman cannot be strong if her finances are crumbling around her.

So how do you achieve personal style while sticking to your budget?

When I got to the point where I was fearing every telephone call, thinking it was a debt collector, I knew I had to make a major change – FAST. For me, it was changing careers. I had to get away from that which was causing the debt – easy access to current fashion. However I still had mountains of debt and wasn’t willing to sacrifice style along the way.

This was when I started understanding wardrobe staples. Pieces slowly collected that could multitask and make a woman ready for any event in her life. I looked at women I knew as stylish and really examined their wardrobes. They didn’t own a lot of clothes, they seemed to wear the same things over and over. And those clothes they wore were perfect. They were well tailored, high quality, flattering. Few prints, few trendy details. Classics like cashmere turtlenecks, crisp dark jeans, white tailored shirts, simple sheath dresses, elegant black leather pumps, simple pencil skirts. They would add their own look to these staples with accessories like scarves, bold jewelry, and belts.

I thought back to the exchange students we hosted when I was in high school – how they could survive weeks in another country with just a small suitcase of clothing. Even with their small wardrobes, they were ready for any event in the US. Their wardrobes were of simple pieces that mixed and matched with one another – pieces of similar fabrics, colors, and silhouettes so they made a true collection.

I looked in my own closet – spangled knit tops to wear out to clubs that still had tags on them, a dozen cocktail dresses, four pairs of leather pants (and one pair bright red!), three pairs of tall black boots, over 20 pairs of jeans. Who the heck needs 20 pairs of jeans?

I obviously had plenty of clothes at that time, and really tried to make do with what I had. My new job required me to wear all black, so when I didn’t have the right item in my wardrobe, I stalked sale racks until I could find what worked at the lowest price. I often bought in bulk – who cares if you’re wearing the same black pants every day as long as they are clean and fit well?

Over time, I got a grip on my finances, but realized yet another new profession and a changing figure required me to shop again. I decided to keep those stylish women and my exchange students in mind. I looked through my closet with fresh eyes and decided to purge. Gone were all the spangled club tops, the evening gowns, and any clothes that didn’t fit and flatter my current frame.

However for purchasing, I needed to figure out a budget so I wouldn’t get back into a financial mess. Before I went shopping, I took a month or two to look at where my money went, and what were my priorities. Thanks to my sister who is the Excel Spreadsheet Queen, I started tracking where all my money went – that pack of gum, that latte, that issue of Marie Claire. I didn’t just note how much I spent on groceries, but what exactly I purchased. I saw that a lot of my money went to food – dining out, alcohol, and purchasing items at the grocery store that I don’t really need (hello another lip gloss) or that I can’t afford (artisanal cheeses, sushi, out of season produce). I decided to adjust my current spending before shopping to see what I could cut and still lead what I felt to be a joyful and comfortable life.

Only then, could I figure out my fashion budget. Some months, I spent that money. Other months, I saved it up so I could get something really special. I stuck to my list of essentials, and decided I would only buy fun items when I got a work bonus, birthday cash, special events. This way, I not only stayed on budget but I was even more careful with my money and those special items not only were nice to buy, but had special meaning behind them.

Each woman’s budget will be different, but it is important to first pay yourself before you do any shopping. Pay off your debt, save and invest your money. Prepare for the unexpected. Yes, a great pair of shoes can make your day, help you land a job or perfect your wardrobe but shoes won’t pay the rent if you get laid off. Shoes won’t buy you a new car when yours dies on the side of the highway. Shoes won’t give you independence and freedom.

If your budget is small, that’s actually a good thing. Small wardrobe funding requires one to do homework to find the best quality for the price, to really get to know one’s body and lifestyle and only purchase that which makes sense. Keep your wardrobe small, hard-working, classic, elegant.

Tips to Stay on Budget:

  • Have a Life Budget. No point in having a clothing budget if you are blowing your paycheck already on other items. That being said, have priorities. Clothing is probably higher on my priority list than the list of many other women. Each woman is different – some budget for world travel, some budget for books, some budget for art supplies, some budget for home renovations. It’s important to first be true to you – prioritize and then figure out where fashion fits.
  • Make a List, Check it Twice. If you have an actual written list that you carry with you, you’re less likely to get off track when you hit the mall.
  • Do Your Homework. You need a black suit? Go to the mall, try on brands, and then go home. Research online for coupons, deals, maybe the same item on eBay or in a thrift or vintage store. Never accept full price unless it is absolute perfection, absolutely necessary, and still fits your budget.
  • Stay Away from Shopping Triggers. For me, it’s malls. I only visit a major shopping mall once or twice a year because I can get lost in there and leave hundreds poorer. Maybe for you it’s Target (can always justify another tee or a $19.99 sundress but it adds up), possibly an adorable boutique in your neighborhood or maybe it’s Net-a-Porter. Whatever it is, accept your trigger and control your visits. Schedule them according to seasons – maybe only allow one visit each season, or maybe once a month.
  • Cancel the Magazine Subscriptions. I am a magazine-aholic, but I know that when I read them, I end up shopping more. Magazines do a great job of making items look amazing, and seem necessary. The most recent Vogue made me spend an hour of my life looking for a certain Brahmin bag – something I don’t need, can’t afford, but loved upon first sight. I did stop before purchasing, but if I hadn’t received that magazine, I would have never known about that orange bag and would have still lived a happy and stylish life. For some, it may be fashion blogs instead of magazines – even if it’s my blog that encourages you to shop, unsubscribe and just visit maybe once a month or every other week.
  • Play “Which Would You Rather.” Sally McGraw of Already Pretty often hosts a “sudden death” question on her Facebook page – which would you rather do – wear only white for a year, or wear your high school colors for a year, and only your school colors. It’s a good exercise for shopping – which would you rather have – that It Bag, or a sushi and sake date night with your mate once a month for a year? Which would you rather own – the perfect pair of black leather pumps, or six pairs of sandals from Payless? Which is more important, your morning Starbucks, or a pair of riding boots? Break down the price of the item and compare it to other items in your life.
  • Get Creative. No one knows you’re wearing the same black pants every day if you switch it up. One day, wear with a tucked-in blouse, the next day with a blazer and shell. Another day wear a cardigan over them and belt the cardigan to change the silhouette. Use your small wardrobe as a brain teaser – who needs Sudoku when you can take the dozen or so quality pieces in your wardrobe and make dozens of outfits from them.

A woman should get fitted for a new bra every year. She should have the perfect LBD in her wardrobe to be ready for unexpected social events. And she should be able to sleep well at night, knowing full well what is going on with her finances. The best accessory I acquired was getting out of debt – the best accessory any woman can wear is self-confidence, and confidence comes from being true to one’s self, feeling strong, and being financially solvent.



Be sure to check out the first of my How to Shop Series: An Introduction

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Little Bits of Luxury: The Series

With age comes wisdom. It’s taken a while, but I have learned to truly buy quality instead of quantity. I unsubscribed from most retail emails so I am not wooed by 50% off (if I didn’t need it at full price, I don’t need it now), I rarely enter a mall because I know myself and I will leave at least $100 poorer with bags full of things I don’t need and will likely collect dust. When I visit a store like Target or TJ Maxx I have a written shopping list that will be a visible reminder to stay on track. And in the past year, when I have added to my closet I have looked for what I can remove – to store for the future, to donate, to sell, to admit defeat and cut up into rags.

And the things I purchase are better quality too. Now I am no Martha Stewart, so for me quality is likely Nine West, Etsy, L’Oreal. But I have learned it’s not about the name on the label, but how the piece works with my life and performs in the long run. Be it bras, BB cream, baking dishes, or boots I research, save, and buy the best within my budget. This also goes for luxury items (and items that are luxurious just to me). I have never admitted being a minimalist, and with age I have learned that some luxury items just make life better (and are far kinder to the body than cupcakes and nachos). I’ve also learned that luxury can come at all pricepoints, and some of the best indulgences are quite kind to my wallet.

I’ve found that series on this blog are some of my most popular posts on Wardrobe Oxygen. And so my newest series will feature little luxuries I indulge in, and how I budget for them, and why they are worth it. I hope you enjoy!





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Contest: Tolani Scarf from chickdowntown.com

jessica alba tolani scarfTo celebrate me coming back to work and to blogging, I have a great contest for you readers!

One of you can win a Tolani scarf that has been seen on the likes of Jessica Alba (pictured), Sienna Miller, Vanessa Minnillo (pictured), Halle Berry and Mary-Kate Olsen.

The Tolani scarf is courtesy of chickdowntown.com, an awesome site that sells hip women’s designer clothing from the likes of Black Halo, Marc by Marc Jacobs, Diane Von Fürstenberg and Vera Wang Lavender Label.

I am so excited, because you KNOW I love scarves, and these beauts from Tolani are fabulous!

vanessa minnillo tolani scarfHow to enter:
Send an email to mywardrobetoday@gmail.com with the word “TOLANI” in the subject.
In the body of the email, please provide your name and mailing address (I promise these addresses will only go to me – except for the winner, and will be deleted once the contest is over). Winner will be chosen by random.

Contest ends Friday, March 20th, 2009 at midnight ET. Winner will be contacted by email. Scarf will be mailed out from chickdowntown.com. Sorry international readers, but the contest is only open to those in the United States.

Get to know chickdowntown.com:
Facebook (friend “shop chickdowntown” and/or become a fan of the chickdowntown page)
Twitter (twitter.com/chickdowntown)
YouTube (chickdowntownTV.com or youtube.com/chickdowntowntv)

Good luck!

Business Blue

Blouse: Ann Taylor | Pants: Tahari | Shoes: MICHAEL Michael Kors “Flex” | Necklace: Etsy | Watch: Citizen | Bracelets: Had forever, Nordstrom, JewelMint | Bag: Brahmin (similar)

Some days I just want to look a bit more corporate, be it for a client meeting or just to steel myself for a difficult project. While this blouse looks very office-worthy, it has a nice shirttail hem so it will look nice untucked with white jeans, or even belted with a skinny belt. I also like it with its sleeves rolled for a more casual effect. While I liked the slouchiness of a Regular, I went with a Petite Large to have the neckline more office-friendly and the sleeves a proper length.  And gosh, how can I resist an outfit that encourages use of my Brahmin??

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