Search Results for: label/Commuter Bags

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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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!

Winter Weather and Commuting: Style Tips

Wind, rain, snow, and sleet can wreak havoc on a morning commute… and your commuting style. When it comes to dressing for inclement weather I learn so much from my fellow DC office workers and commuters. Some is what not to wear, but more often than not it’s tips and tricks on how to stay protected, comfortable and stylish when the weather outside is frightful. This week is cold, rainy, a bit windy and down-right gross in DC; here’s some things I’ve learned on my walks to work:

Go Monochrome. Walking up the escalator from the Metro, I was behind a woman in all shades of blue and green. Teal tweed wool coat that almost hit her knees, dark jeans tucked into seafoam wellies, indigo leather tote, and a navy umbrella. The monochromatic look made each separate look so cohesive, so purposeful, and like a true ensemble. I am not a fan of wellies  (how often does one deal with water over the ankle when walking to the office anyway? And I am not asking those of you in Seattle and similar climates or those in rural areas…)but with her look… it worked. I could imagine flats or booties in that indigo tote ready to be slipped on once she reached her desk.

The other day, I saw a woman in a black belted wool coat, a raspberry chunky infinity scarf, plum knit beanie, and deep purple wellies. None of the colors were the same, but the consistent color story made the ensemble cohesive and downright stylish. If each piece was a different color the chunky knits and shiny boots would have looked childish; the consistent color gave it polish and professionalism.

Have Neutral Commuting Shoes. I was walking behind three women chatting with one another. They were varying sizes, ages, and personal styles but all had one thing in common – black tights or pants and black flats. I could tell that these were their commuter shoes – they didn’t quite match their outfits, they looked well worn, and pretty comfortable. However, by them being the same color as their legs the shoes weren’t on display and didn’t take away from their outfits. I turned the corner and saw two women waiting for the light to change – one had gray tights and red flats, the other had black pants and yellow patent flats. While their shoes were in better condition than the women in black, their shoes looked just as out of place as a pair of white sneakers. While it’s tempting to add “fun” to a pair of shoes you only wear on your commute, it can really detract from your personal style.

Own a Tiny Umbrella. While many companies claim that they sell travel umbrellas, what it essentially means is a non-Mary Poppins style that has a collapsible shaft. However, some brands sell really small umbrellas that are reliable, but take almost no space in your purse or laptop bag. While you want a durable umbrella that can survive strong gusts, having this little bitty umbrella tucked at the bottom of the bag is a lifesaver for unexpected showers or if you accidentally leave your big umbrella on the train.

Have a Spare Pair of Gloves. Same reason as the umbrella. Especially handy when the bus is late, you have to carry large things home, or you need to hold the rail on the train and you don’t want to catch the flu. While I have gloves in my two work coats, I have lost a glove on the commute, have changed coats last minute, and have many times wished I had a pair tucked in the bottom of my purse or laptop bag.  Since I got another pair for Christmas, I have remedied this situation.

Wear a Hat. While you may be more likely to get Hat Head, a hood flies off in the wind, and the weather will already destroy your hairstyle. Having a hat, be it a cloche, beanie, fedora or otherwise will keep your ears warm, your hair in place, and your body far warmer than a bare head. If you loosely tuck your hair in your hat, you’ll be less likely to get dents in your ‘do.

Wedges Rock. While they give a bit of lift, they are far kinder on the foot when standing, walking, and even dashing across the street to make a light. I see many women who seem to have wedge commuter shoes – they don’t have to worry about cuffing their trousers but have more comfort than heels. Wedges have come back en vogue, be they on pump-like professional shoes or a pair of trainers or TOMS.

Own a Water-resistant Winter Coat. When there’s frigid temperatures, there’s often precipitation, and it’s not always fluffy white flakes. A wet wool coat can be a drag; if you purchase a quilted, waxed, or water-resistant fabric coat, you will be far more comfortable on those days that are both cold and wet. Choosing a style with a unique detail (read this post for great examples) will prevent you from looking as though you just came from the slopes.

Have Matching Bags. I regularly see this woman on the train who has a gray leather purse and gray leather tote. The combination is so lovely and she doesn’t look as hunkered down with multiple bags. Today walking to work, I saw a woman with a red leather purse and a red and navy print microfiber tote for her yoga mat and likely workout clothes. If you need to carry more than one bag, having the two bags match or coordinate really does add polish and cohesion to your ensemble. I wrote about work totes here, but this is something I hadn’t before considered and will be thinking about the next time I am purchasing a tote or everyday purse.

You Never Know Who You Will Bump Into. So you’re wearing a power suit and have a pair of sensible pumps tucked into your bag, yet on your commute you’re wearing a knit cap with earflaps and cat ears, have a hot pink sparkly faux fur snood, and sequined boot liners under your polka-dot wellies. And then you bump into your CEO at Starbucks. Sort of defeats the purpose of your power suit. If your job is a career, work doesn’t end when you walk out of that office door, and if you work in a city you are very likely to bump into a colleague on the train or street corner. Consider this when shopping for accessories and outerwear and have them match the professional style you show in the workplace.

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The Commuter Curse

One of the greatest things about my new job is taking public transportation. I know you must think I am crazy to say that, but I love the People Watching (a sport that deserve to be capitalized), and I love the interaction. For years I have lived in my car, alone on my rush hour commute and then alone in my office or cubicle for the majority of the day. Often I would spend a day never speaking to a soul outside of a hello when passing a coworker in the hallway. Now I get to read, listen to music, and be surrounded by my fellow humans. It’s pretty great… until I am assaulted by the hideous fashion of the Woman Commuter.

I too am a female commuter, and I understand why so many fellow women end up getting the Commuter Curse. It is so easy, so comfortable, and you think no one will notice.

Well ladies, though we may pretend that the sweaty mouth-breather may not be pressed up against us on the subway, we are not invisible. Think about your next commuter – try as you may to hide behind your New York Times Bestseller and iPod, you are aware of those around you. If you are aware of them, they are aware of you.

The Commuter Curse is when women (I hardly ever see a man succumb to this curse) begin to let certain elements of style slide. They feel that no one will notice, or justify it based upon cost or comfort. As someone who walks about a mile each day from her car in the commuter lot, through the Washington DC subway system to her place of employment, I too look for that which makes that trek the most comfortable and easy. The thing is, you are able to be a comfortable and organized commuter and not get The Commuter Curse.

Some steps to be cured of The Commuter Curse:

1. Don’t ever think swag is appropriate fashion. This means fleeces embroidered with your company logo, or microfiber messenger bags with silkscreened designs. It seems the higher up the corporate ladder (or the longer you work for a government agency) the more conferences and workshops you attend. With every workshop there seems to be at least one item with a logo on it: a travel mug, a tote bag, a polo shirt. These are great things to wear and use for your company retreat, to wear for your next conference or even to carry your groceries in, but they are not appropriate fashion.

2. If you must have commuter shoes, treat them with respect. I am starting to have knee problems, and realize it is due to me walking down so many stairs in subway stations while wearing heels. My commute home has me walk down five separate escalators, most that are out of service. I am looking into a pair of flat shoes I can tuck in my bag and put on just for my trip home.

This doesn’t mean I will be strutting around the Nation’s Capital in white Reebok Classics with black hose. Modern technology has given us many styles of footwear that are just as comfortable and supportive as a pair of tennies but look far more stylish. Every day I see women in gorgeous coats over stylish suits and outfits and then clunky sneakers ruining the whole look.

Nor will I be wearing a pair of old, scuffed and run-down flats that have been in my closet for a decade. These types of shoes are even more prevalent than the foot marshmallows. Yes, they have been molded to fit your foot perfectly after all these years, but they look disgusting and totally ruin your entire look. This also includes newer yet cheap flats that have lost their shape, been permanently stained or torn. They may be cute little yellow suede ballet flats, but they have a grease stain down the side, the sole is peeling from the shoe and you have walked on the back so much they have morphed from flats to slides.

I never understand it; many of us walk blocks and blocks passing hundreds of people in such monstrosities, and then get to the office, put on our nice shoes and then hide behind a desk all day, the only person seeing the fancy footwear is the receptionist or the one coworker in the kitchen when you went to grab your morning cup of coffee.

3. Don’t wear your bed linens to work. Yes, it can get quite cold, and it is silly to wear a cute jacket and chance frostbite or illness. However, this does not mean you need to walk around town in a down comforter with sleeves. Don’t get me wrong, I have a black quilted knee-length coat that I wear on blustery days; I am talking about the really puffy coats, the ones that fall to your ankles with a huge hood, fur trim and no shape. I am talking about the thick fleece and wool coats that look like bathrobes.

Again, modern invention have brought us wonderful materials such as Thinsulate, Gore-Tex, and Windstopper that are thin yet keep you warm and dry.

Keep in mind that your coat will be worn more than almost any other item in your wardrobe. It is worth the time and money to find the right style that will flatter and properly fit your figure, compliment your clothing collection and still keep you toasty.

4. Have your pants hemmed to match your shoes. I understand that a commuter shoe is flat and an office shoe may have a heel, however it is never acceptable to peg or cuff your work trousers to keep them from dragging on the street or spend the day in highwaters. If you feel a flat commuter shoe is a necessity, you may have to suck it up like I have and adjust your office heel height. Every day I see beautiful, well-dressed women in pants that are dragging, cuffed awkwardly or above the ankle bones. No point in spending good money on trousers if they make you look like Pee-Wee Herman.

4. Know you are never invisible. Often we women feel we are invisible when we have a less-than-perfect body, average wardrobe or what we deem as ordinary features. We think no one will notice if we go a day without brushing our hair or have our pants too short. We’re not important, right?

Wrong. You are never invisible, and you are important. Think about yourself when heading to work; don’t you notice those around you? Do you ever start daydreaming, and wonder about that person on the seat across from you? What is she reading, what does she do for a profession to warrant her attire? If you do it about another, be sure it is being done in regards to you.

When you feel you aren’t important enough to be noticed, it is as though you have a neon sign blinking above your head saying “LOW SELF ESTEEM!” I am not saying one should dedicate her whole life to looking good to impress others, but give your body the same respect you hopefully give your home or your office. You should be clean, tidy, and look as though you like yourself. You have this body whether you like it or not, make the best of it. As you would jazz up an apartment with new drapes and artwork to make it look less like a sterile white box, so should you decorate yourself. You are noticed, every day whether you realize it or not. Give the right first impression, the one that properly represents the true you!

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!

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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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Ask Allie: Commuter Shoes for Summer

I have to wear comfortable shoes during my daily commute, as I walk 20+ minutes each way. Okay looking shoes/boots are easy enough to find for the cold winter months but I’m at a loss for summer. Flip flops aren’t an option as I have high arches and can’t stand feeling of something between toes. Gym shoes are too dorky. Any ideas?

I am so glad to find a fellow woman who won’t wear flip flops on her commute. Not only do they not provide arch support and can be deadly on slick sidewalks (and feel weird between the toes), but they are just plain tacky looking with your corporate attire. Keep the flip flops to the backyard barbecues and beaches!

I also am anti-the beaten-down ballet flats; this morning when walking to get coffee, I overheard two women discussing their commuting shoes. A woman said she loved ballet flats from Gap, but admitted she was on her fifth pair in two years because they got, “Super gross, super fast.” I’m glad that she would replace them once they got “gross,” but think it would make more sense to invest in a higher-quality shoe that could survive more than a couple months. There are great quality summer shoes out there with comfort and arch support, here’s a few that have been on my radar:

I like that this pair of Ecco shoes isn’t your typical ballet flat which is free of structure and support. This shoe has a proper sole and a tiny bit of a heel to put your foot in a more comfortable position. Leopard is an unexpected neutral that will go with almost everything in your closet. This shoe also comes in solid colors.

I have a pair of Cole Haan shoes with Nike Air Technology and can attest to the fact that they are really comfortable, wearable for long spans of time, and great for walking. These adorable bow flats from Cole Haan have miles of style and great reviews for comfort when walking. While black is a safe bet, I am partial to the red for a fun pop of color on your commute.

A driving moc or loafer is always a classic choice, and looks fresh with everything from menswear-inspired trousers to flippy sundresses. I love the orange color, which screams summer and would also look smart come the weekend with twill shorts or cropped pants.

When I was pregnant, I had a flat from Naturalizer very similar to these. They were utterly amazing – so supportive, comfortable, and fit right out of the box. These may not be the most chic of flats, but your feet will be happy by time you finish your walk and the color is subtle enough to not destroy the look of your ensemble.

I own these sandals and adore them. They are so comfortable, they have become my sightseeing shoe and even wear them when attending concerts when I know I will be standing the whole time. While they have an ankle strap, once you wear them twice you don’t need to unfasten to get on and off, which makes it easy for commuting. I also like the covered toe, which will keep your feet clean and your pedicure intact when walking down city streets.

Very similar to the Ventura, but with a different heel or sole. I love that this shoe comes in widths so you can ensure a comfortable fit from the get-go.

Great selection of colors, great reviews on comfort and the ability to walk for miles in them. I like the adjustable straps for a custom fit, and love that they are under $100.

Do you have a favorite commuting or walking shoe?  Please share in the comments!

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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!

Ask Allie: Warm Winter Commuter Coats

I lived in Florida all my life, but am moving to DC for a new job and need to get a winter coat. I will be taking the bus for work and want a coat that looks professional but can survive public transportation and DC weather. Suggestions?

I need a new coat. I have the Squall from Lands’ End and have had a version of this coat for over a decade but want to get something more fashionable for work and stuff. I want it to be water repellant and I want it to have a hood and cover my [behind] when I sit on a bench. Where should I look?

I don’t wear wool but want a coat that looks nice, where can I find one that is stylish but also warm?

DC is a strange place, where it can be 70 degrees in November and 30 degrees in April. It is also quite wet in this area, many days that are cold are also with sleet, rain, or snow. In previous posts I have stated that a wool coat is more versatile and chic than one of a synthetic material, but I’ll admit it’s far more comfortable to deal with public transportation, walking, and commuting in general when you are both warm and dry and not worrying about your dry cleaning bill. Here’s some suggestions for winter coats that will keep your warm yet stylish all winter long.

 

I have a coat from Lands’ End that is very similar in style and made me a synthetic coat convert. The belt on this coat gives you a feminine shape and prevents the Michelin Man look, the faux fur trim on the hood adds a luxe feel, the longer length will keep your rear warm on cold metal benches at bus stops, and the large variety of colors and sizes means there’s a right one for each person. I like buying pieces like coats from Lands’ End because I feel confident that if a zipper breaks or there is some defect, I can easily return or replace it.

 

Quilting doesn’t have to add bulk and destroy your figure; strategic quikting and padding can actually accentuate your curves and emphasize a feminine shape. This coat from Betsey Johnson gets rave reviews even from those in Alaska for it being warm, but the shape, stitching, and belt give it a modern, fashionable, and flattering fit.

 

Wool doesn’t mean cold, on the contrary. If you live in a more mild climate like DC, you can get away with a wool coat for your winter. If the coat is long like this one from DKNY, you’re able to keep your legs cozy as you walk to the office or sit waiting for the train. While this coat doesn’t have a hood, it has a high collar to protect your neck and would look tres chic with anything from a cloche to a knit beanie.

Again, strategic quilting to the rescue! The varied sizes of quilting give this coat shape without sacrificing warmth. While black is a safe choice, the Prussian Blue adds a level of fashion and fun to a traditional long parka.  This coat is not only warm, but also water resistant – perfect for the woman who walks or takes public transportation to work!

 

Fit and flare with single breasted buttons makes this coat slimming, the traffic-stopping collar makes it stylish and extra warm. The cashmere blend will look equally at home with jeans and boots as with cocktail dresses and heels.

Tips for Purchasing a Stylish Warm Coat:

  • Look for a single statement-making detail. Fur-trimmed hood or collar, military-inspired metal buttons, belt, unique color or texture – such details will take a parka from play to professional. Keep such details to a minimum – only one statement needs to be made or it will go from chic to cheap.
  • Flatter the figure. Strategic quilting, a belt, single breasted, curved hem… such details can make the difference and have a coat be warm and chic.
  • Choose sophisticated colors. Some colors like yellow, orange, barn red, and baby blue scream ski slope or shoveling snow. Black, olive, navy, ivory, gray, dark plum, and teal give a more elegant feel to a parka.
  • Read the ingredients. Who cares what a coat looks like if it doesn’t keep you warm? Read the details – many outerwear retailers will state what temperature such a coat was made for. Wool, cashmere, down, Thinsulate – these are all materials that will keep you more warm than most synthetic blends. If you live in a wet climate be sure to find a coat that is also water-resistant or waterproof. If you choose the right textiles you can often achieve equal warmth to a bulkier coat of cheaper materials.

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What I Wore: Real Red

Dress: Belle c/o Dobbin Clothing | Bag: “Erin” Satchel c/o Fossil | Tights: Nordstrom | Boots: Ros Hommerson  | Bracelets: had forever, Nordstrom (similar) | Watch: Citizen c/o WatchCo | Coat: Via Spiga

Fossil was kind enough to send me this bag and I immediately fell in love with the color. It’s not cherry, it’s not tomato, it’s not ruby or oxblood or any other fancy terms. It’s as clear and true of a red as a crayon. I checked the bag’s label and it’s called Real Red. I like that, no crazy made-up name, just what is exactly is. This bag is pretty phenomenal, and perfect for a commuter like me. Two side zipper pockets to hold things like farecards and lip balm, and inside there is a zipper pocket on one side, and the other side five different pockets to hold anything from a Smartphone or your keys to business cards and a pack of gum. And in this bag I have my wallet, Kindle (did you enter my Kindle giveaway?), makeup bag, myAgenda, sunglasses, gloves, journal, and two reusable containers to hold my lunch. Impressive! The crossbody strap is adjustable to become a shoulderbag, or it can be removed. I know this bag is going to be used quite a lot this season!

I never understand why street style models and bloggers wear their coats on their shoulders like a cape.  How can they move their arms?  Why not just put on the coat?  Then I realized on cold days I do this very thing – I wear the coat like a cape from the house and over my shoulders until Karl gets ready to take pictures.  This way my outfit doesn’t get as rumpled and I’m less likely to mess up my hair.  Karl got this picture of me in the coat at the beginning of the shoot and it showcases the coat I bought last winter on a whim and still adore a year later (and it’s still available at Nordstrom and now on sale!).

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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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Weekend Sale Shopping

Sales, sales, everywhere is sales… yes I am changing the lyrics to this song (which is a cover of this original) but there’s some insanely good sales going on this weekend that I just HAD to share with you.

Old Navy – 25% Off

At Old Navy, get 25% off your entire purchase with the code TREAT. Code is valid until the end of the 18th. A few restrictions: not valid on Everyday Steals, Hot Deals, Clearance (anything ending in $0.97 or $0.99) or Today Only Deals.  I think this top is an office attire staple and I love the variety of colors available; this chunky turtleneck would look great with skinny jeans or ponte pants for the weekend; I love the leather-look pockets on this dress (and love that it comes in regular, tall, and petite!).

Banana Republic – Up to $50 off Full Priced Items

Up to $50 off full price dresses, jackets, sweaters, and more. Note this doesn’t include their Monogram collection or leather jackets. No code necessary, deal through October 18.  I love their Gemma Wrap Dress and this print is something that would look great all seasons of the year; this lace pullover is fantastic – wear over a white shirt for the office and a camisole for a night out!  Other favorites on promotion:

Ann Taylor – 50% Off Tops, Shoes and Accessories

I know, right? 50% off? Get thee shopping, pronto with code STYLE50, this deal ends October 20th.  I think this bird print shirt is amazing, this faux leather pocket cape looks even better in person, and their buttoned-up boiled wool cape is so awesome, I wish I could justify the purchase (for the record, I’ve tried it on, it fits great, I am a Large Petite).

LOFT – 40% Off Tops and Sweaters

No specific date that this is to end and no code needed. Do note it’s not valid on Lou & Grey merchandise, but it IS valid on in-store purchases as well as online.  It does feel that LOFT is constantly having deals, but they’re also constantly getting in new merchandise that doesn’t seem to last long online.  So if you see it and love it, get it while you can!  I’m loving this belted cardigan, and think this variation on the chambray shirt would look modern and fresh with jeans or a midi skirt.  Some other pieces I like that are on promotion:

Lands’ End – 25 to 30% Off

Lands’ End is my go-to for quality yet reasonably priced winter weather gear. They have two promotions going on right now. Get 30% off select “fall essentials” (not sure exactly what that is but seems like a lot) with code LEAF, PIN 9223 through October 20th. But you can also get 25% off all full-priced merchandise with code MAPLE and PIN 1610 through October 21st. I love my packable down vest so much, I’m seriously considering this packable down jacket from Lands’ End and can’t decide between the polka dots or basic black. I’ve also had this Sport Knit skirt in black in my shopping cart for a while and may pull the trigger now that it’s 30% off.  These and a few other pieces I’m admiring:

Madewell – 30% Off Sale Merchandise

Madewell continues to impress, and a 30% off sale prices makes it easy to buy some fab fall and winter fashion. Use code PICKMEUP, which is valid through October 20th.  I love the classic look of their Otis boot, the unique color and slouchy coolness of their Firelight Pullover, and the perfect color and shape of their Berliner Satchel.

J. Crew – 30% Off Sweaters and Outerwear

Code SHOPFALL will give you 30% off at J. Crew through the 19th of October.  Their Majesty Peacoat truly is perfection and a classic piece that will be chic for years to come; their Jackie Cardigan is always a popular piece and nice to get on sale; and I am loving the pale lavender shade and the cool size zips of this lambswool sweater.

J. Crew Factory – 40-50% off Outerwear and an Additional 30% Off Clearance Merchandise

One of my favorite stores for great style at great prices; 30% off clearance makes it even nicer! Use code YAY30 through the October 19th to save.  As for the deal on outwear and cold-weather accessories, no code is needed.  Some of my favorites like this camo tee (imagine it with something dressy like a sequined or lace pencil skirt or under a denim jacket), this adorable flared leather skirt in black or brown, and this pleated maxi which I own and adore.  As for outerwear, I love the color and details of this coat, find this long hooded belted puffer to be something any city commuter would love, and think the price is nice on these leather tech gloves.

Any sales I missed?  Share them in the comments!

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!

How to Look Rich

Dress sharply and they’ll remember the outfit; dress impeccably and they’ll remember the woman.
- Coco Chanel

The other day I was sitting on the subway across from an attractive woman. She was wearing a yellow sheath dress in a heavy textured/boucle weave – something I could see on a stylish professional woman like Michelle Obama. In her lap were two pristine Louis Vuitton bags – one purse and one tote. She was wearing a gold watch that looked expensive, a few gold rings, bracelets and a pair of gold hoops. On her feet were black patent leather Tory Burch flats (a popular commuter shoe in Washington DC).

Her outfit probably cost in the thousands… yet she looked cheap. Why?

It’s all in the details.

Her hair was not fresh – she had obvious roots and raggedy edges. She pulled it into a messy low ponytail with a cheap Goody elastic (you know the ones with the gold threads through them?). Her shoes were scuffed and looked as though the backs sometimes were stepped down on and they had their share of being stuffed into an overfull tote. Her nails were manicured, but a flat salmon pink color that neither flattered her skintone nor the current trends. Her blush was too red, her eyeliner too pronounced. Her dress was a twinge too tight – puckered slightly at the bust, caught the bottom curve of her bum. All these details combined with the first paragraph details took expensive and lovely pieces and made it all into a very ordinary and cheap looking ensemble.

So what can a woman do to look as though she is worth a million… whether she is or not?

I don’t understand how a woman can leave the house without fixing herself up a little – if only out of politeness. And then, you never know, maybe that’s the day she has a date with destiny. And it’s best to be as pretty as possible for destiny.
- Coco Chanel

Who cares who made your purse if your skin or hair is a mess? The best investment is the body you have – no matter your dress, you will be wearing your hair, your face and your skin. Great skin doesn’t have to come from $200 bottles of potions and monthly spa treatments. Cut back on the sodas and spirits and add more water to your diet. Be sure to wash off your makeup before you go to bed. Don’t overwash your skin – your skin should never be tight after cleansing. Visit a dermatologist if you have skin concerns. Take the time that you use to peruse celebrity gossip Web sites and read up on cosmetic ingredients – irritation, acne and redness can often be due to an allergic reaction in a product you use.

As for your body, keep it exfoliated, keep it hydrated inside and out, and love it no matter its shape. It is far easier to love the body you have if the skin is soft and happy. Again, see a dermatologist and read up on ingredients to be sure you are purchasing the right products.

Hair is the accessory you wear every single day – to work, to play, for formal events and trips to the market. Why is it that we will spend hundreds on jewelry, a pair of boots or a bag but will sacrifice our Crowning Glory to Great Clips and whatever box of Dark Golden Brown that was on sale at CVS? If your budget cannot afford professional color treatments, research brands that are gentle and natural looking. Invest in a highly-recommended conditioner. Take vacations from the heating tools so you aren’t fried. Reconsider that champagne blonde/cherry red/blue-black hue – a softer shade may be much more flattering, require less maintenance and look more rich.

If it’s a bad hair day – no need to hide under a hat (or Goody elastic). There are ways to work the tresses without screaming to the world that you had no time for a shampoo or roots touch-up. Dry shampoos are back en vogue and can be found at many specialty retailers and online beauty boutiques. Colored ones not only are less obvious on darker shades, but they also help hide roots. Thanks to Gossip Girl, even those over 21 can sport headbands and look chic. A skinny plastic one with teeth in black, blonde or tortoise can hold back too-short bangs and make a bit of slick look purposeful. A low ponytail right at the nape always looks chic – if you take a piece of your own hair from the bottom of the ponytail, you can wrap it around the elastic and secure it with one Bobby pin and make Goody look glam. Finally, make time for your hair – get off the computer, get away from the TV, wake up 15 minutes earlier. It is amazing how much more sunny your outlook is on life when you feel confident about your appearance.

Fashion is architecture: it is a matter of proportions.
- Coco Chanel

Shoes make the man… and the woman. Shoes should be appropriate to the outfit first, then worry about quality, and brand name should be last on the list. The woman on the subway would have looked far more chic if she was wearing tan leather sandals. They could have been flat or with a slight chunky heel or wedge and been just as comfortable as the Tory Burch flats, but have coordinated with the outfit far better. We live in a society right now that is very caught up in brand names; often those brand name items don’t serve us much of a purpose. Flats are great with a flowy dress, a pair of capris, your favorite jeans. But if you have curves and are wearing a straight-fitting dress, flats will make you look as though you were cut off at the ankle bone.

Once you have your shoe collection, no matter the pricepoint you should take care of them. Get them reheeled and resoled at a local cobbler. Keep them in a place where they won’t get dusty or tripped over. Store them properly when out of season. I had a pair of black boots I bought at Payless five years ago and I just had to retire them a year ago. They had a chic narrow heel, an elongated toe, the pleather was soft and looked like a more expensive patent. They were less than $20 but looked perfect with certain trousers for nights out on the town. I babied them as much as I did my designer pumps, and in turn they gave me many years of great use (and compliments!).

I love luxury. And luxury lies not in richness and ornateness but in the absence of vulgarity. Vulgarity is the ugliest word in our language. I stay in the game to fight it.
- Coco Chanel

If cheap, go neutral. Yellow, green, and pink are hot colors this season, but if the item is of cheap quality it will look it far faster than the same piece in black, tan, beige or gray. Those black boots from Payless that I owned also came in racy red and navy. One may think that the red would be fun with black trousers or neutrals, but the red LOOKED as though they were $14.99 pleather boots from Payless, while the black just looked like boots. I have found many a great dress at Target, but the ones that survive to the next season are those in very neutral colors. Colors can easily fade, can easily look dated, and better show shoddy workmanship or lower-end fabric.

Fashion passes, style remains.
- Coco Chanel

Minimize the trends. The rich are stylish; those who WANT to be rich are trendy. Steer clear from obvious logos, extreme trends and anything that is worn by Paris, Lauren, Lindsay or Britney. You don’t want the look of the moment – the rich and stylish never adhere to extreme trends (and if they DO adopt a trend, they do it small or in a neutral hue). Buy a cardigan in the hot color of the season, switch up your lip product, consider a statement necklace or cool bracelet in the popular metal of the moment. There are ways to update your look without making yourself look like a fashion victim.

In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different.
- Coco Chanel

In turn, those who always have the latest look get lost in the shuffle. Your expensive Tory Burch flats are yet another pair hopping onto the subway or into a cab. That monogram Coach purse is so popular, every lower-end designer is making a knockoff of it. Let’s not even get into Ugg boots… point is – trends are not stylish, and they do not make you look wealthy or successful.

Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury.
- Coco Chanel

Accept your size, and your budget. Sample sale items that are a size too small, hot designer shoes on sale that are an inch taller than you feel comfortable wearing, oversized sweaters because you haven’t come to terms with your new shape (and gosh that sweater is cashmere!)… these are not items that make you look stylish or rich.

When accessorizing, always take off the last thing you put on.
- Coco Chanel

One less ring, one less chain, that cardigan around your shoulders, that anklet. The rich and stylish keep it simple. The woman on the subway would have been far more elegant if she had worn only that expensive watch, and not the five gold bracelets on the other wrist.

Look for the woman in the dress. If there is no woman, there is no dress.
- Coco Chanel

There is nothing more appealing than a vibrant woman. Are you sitting down reading this? Well pretend you have a string coming from the top of your head that is lifting you gently from the ground. Sit up – you are a phenomenal woman. Good posture improves the fit of your clothing, how you are perceived by others, and how you end up feeling. Every time you look at your reflection – find that one part of you that is unique and you love. Get off the computer and get into your community. Ask a neighbor or coworker for a book suggestion and try an author or genre you have never before experienced. Take five minutes every evening to think about your day – it may be in meditation, in prayer, with a journal or just as you doze off. Think about the positive things, how you impacted those around you, and how this world is different because of your interaction with it. Who cares what or who you are wearing if you aren’t an interesting, involved and positive woman!




Outlet Mall Shopping

Yesterday I visited a major outlet mall in my area. Over a mile of stores – some with great bargains, some with great piles of crap. There have been many stories about discount stores – how some of the product is not on sale, the clothes are made specifically for the outlet and are not the same quality that the brand name usually delivers, etc. After all that, you find designer duds for less, when is it worthwhile to spend, when should a bargain be passed by?


Fit
If it doesn’t fit well for $300, still doesn’t fit well for $150 and even for $65, don’t buy it. Just because it’s a great bargain does not make the fit any better. Shoes that are too tight or too big, jackets that pull at the back, pants that would be lovely if you just lost 15 lbs., no matter the bargain these items should just stay on the rack.

If the jacket’s sleeves are too long, the skirt’s hem at an awkward length, the shoulders a bit too big, these things can be altered easily by a tailor. You must be in love with the piece and find multiple places and ways to wear it to justify the tailor expense. I found a cream silk linen suit at a discount store – the suit fit perfectly except for a broken zipper and too long of sleeves and legs. I bought the suit for $65, regularly $350, and for $40 had the zipper and hems all modified. I have worn the suit to work, to religious events and as separates for three years. That purchase was worth the added tailoring expense.


Style
Often times the items at the discount store are there because they are leftover from last season. When it comes to classic pieces like suits, dresses and knits, this is not a problem. A blue merino v-neck is lovely almost every year, and more lovely when 50% off. The problem comes with the trendy p[pieces.


If Lindsay, Mischa, Nicole or Chloe was wearing it last spring, it’s a good chance that piece is passé now. Pass on the embellished jeans, the metallic leather bags, the rainbow-hued sunglasses and most other accessories. Just because it’s on sale does not mean it is a good buy. When it comes to scouring outlets, your best deals are the ones that will last through more than one season. Sweaters, suits, outerwear, cocktail dresses, leather goods and most shoes are great bargains if you find quality and value in the same item.


Name Brands
Just because you found a pair of Manolo Blahniks for $100 at the Saks Fifth Avenue outlet does not mean they need to be purchased. Do they fit your current style? Are they comfortable? Are they current or classic?

We have all seen the label whores – those women with a Coach purse, Jimmy Choo shoes that JLo wore last year, Baby Phat jeans, a Bebe tee with the rhinestone logo, Chanel sunglasses and a Pucci scarf in her hair. These items weren’t bought for the quality or the style. They were bought because a stranger could spot the brand a mile away. She looks trashy, obvious and victimized by fashion. None of these are appealing. Labels do not suddenly make you well dressed or well liked.


If you can find a Furla bag for 40% off and it suits your style as well as lifestyle – then go for it. If you are buying a bag purely because it’s Prada and you don’t like the style, size or fabric… well you have become a label whore.

Don’t buy that jacket just because it’s designer. Pretend that it is an unknown label – do you still like it? Do you still find it attractive and necessary? If not, put it back on the rack. That goes for ill-fitting designer duds, last season’s “It Bag,” obvious logo advertising (if it’s that obvious, it will be that obvious from last season – not worth your time or money) and damaged designer goods.


Damaged Goods
Many discount retailers sell the irregulars from a label. Some irregulars can barely be seen by the naked eye – may be an incorrect dye lot or the wrong buttons sewn on a jacket. Some may work in your favor – pants cut too short or sleeves that are too long or too narrow. Often times these stores received the garments that were damaged in production, transit or through many jaunts to the fitting room. Broken zippers, missing buttons, fabric snags are all defects that can easily be repaired or covered up if the price and style is right. However there are other defects that are not worth the purchase, no matter how low the price. Runs in nylon, stains, button holes at the wrong height, linings that do not align with the trouser, two pieces stitched together from two different dye lots. Even if it is Versace, it will look like Gallo Clothing on you if it is this defective.


Buying in Bulk
I used to be a huge fan of buying in bulk – find a tee shirt you love, buy it in eight colors and three of white and black. Flattering trousers? Buy one in every color. I then found that my wardrobe was like one big uniform… one big boring uniform. Mixing basics with fun pieces offers versatility, ease but individual style.


At outlet malls, buying in bulk is a good idea. Yesterday I was at the Banana Republic outlet and found high quality stretchy tees in tons of colors – $9.99 each. I bought one in black, one in white, one in gray and one in red. These shirts can be worn with jeans on weekends, with a little skirt for happy hour with the girls or under a suit for work. I found a great pair of wool trousers at Off Fifth, bought them in brown, gray and black. They were so standard and fit so amazingly well (and were only $39.99 each) that it was worthwhile to buy every color I liked. I knew with my work and lifestyle I would find regular use for such trousers. Another time I found a pair of really cute studded pointy heels from NYLA. They were 75% off and tres cute. I decided to buy them in hot pink, ivory and black, thinking that if they fit well, they would get much use. I was imagining sparkly tops and designer jeans with the ivory, a sexy power suit with the black, and envisioned an outfit a la Carrie Bradshaw for the pink. I took them all home, have worn the pink ones multiple times, and have barely touched the other two. I don’t wear designer jeans with sparkly tops on a regular basis, and don’t own a single chic black power suit. Those two shoes have barely seen the light of day. Consider your current lifestyle when considering to buy in bulk – items that look too familiar may not be worn and too many of the same thing may make them all too boring to regularly wear. Also, if you don’t wear red patent stilettos now, you probably won’t after purchasing a pair.


In conclusion, don’t buy just because of a label, or just because of an amazing price. Less money for an item is still money, and money should be spent carefully. Be willing to take the time to find quality purchases, not pick up every shiny bauble that sort of resembles what Gwen or Jessica wore last Spring. Fashion is not about the specific item, but the allover look. A Louis Vuitton bag or a pair of Chanel sunglasses will not make you a fashionista, the pairing with appropriate and complimentary pieces is what takes you from being a label whore or a fashion victim to fashionista status.

Ask Allie: Fashionable Accessories for Fall 2012

What are the best accessories to choose for this fall to update your essentials? I am working with a pretty basic wardrobe for a conservative office, but I would love to know what trends can help me look a little more fashionable too. Thanks!!

While I did discuss my favorite fashion trends for Fall 2012 I have yet to discuss accessories!  You gotta love accessories – budget-friendly, take up little space, and can completely transform a closet of wardrobe staples into a collection of fashion-forward clothing. While this season’s trends are a lot about specific clothing silhouettes and genres, there are some accessories that can modernize your basics.

Structured Bags
For the past few years, the “It Bag” has been big, but slouchy. Something that hangs off the shoulder or from the crook of your arm and can hold everything from a pair of commuter flats to a copy of War and Peace. This year big bags are still hot, but they have more structure to them. Framed bags, heavier-weight leather that stands on its own, satchels and totes are all the rage.

While black is always a safe bet, a bag is a great way to incorporate a trendy fall color. Oxblood, merlot, burgundy and all shades of dark red are hot hot hot and a great accent color to a wardrobe of staples in more neutral of shades. Winter white is the new black and looks amazing against black, gray, camel, and oxblood. Fur is a great way to go with color – faux fur in a deep shade of purple, red, or green with a classic shape can be quite chic and quickly modernize a wardrobe. If you choose to go black, consider a finish – shiny almost to the point of patent, croco-embossed, fur, snakeskin – texture is a big trend this fall and can make a basic black bag look positively luxe.

Powerful Boots
While boots are always a hot look for fall and winter, this season a few sexy and strong silhouettes have joined forces with the classics. While you can’t go wrong with a riding boot in dark brown or black, runway darlings like Givenchy, Gucci, and Proenza Schouler showed boots with guts – over the knee, inspired by military boots and Doc Martens – these boots have guts and glam.

Menswear-inspired yet Ladylike Shoes
Heeled loafers, brogues, slippers, and lace-up booties are all the rage this season. While similar styles were en vogue last year, this year the details are what bring such shoes to center stage. Tortoise shell accents, gold details, rhinestone buckles, brocade fabrics take these shoes from staid to spectacular. 

Bib Necklaces and Collars
This season has showcased many neck pieces that steal the show. Everything from lace collars at Rodarte to beaded and studded versions, and large necklaces that can stand in for a collar on your simple sheaths. Out of all the accessory trends this fall, I think this one makes the biggest impact for the least amount of money. It’s very easy to DIY your own detached collar or bib necklace, and retailers of all pricepoints are featuring collars and bib necklaces. Such a piece will make a simple black sheath look very on-trend and modern, or will jazz up your simple sweaters and knits.

Brooches
Brooches are back and I couldn’t be happier. Be it a dangly gold pin peeking out from the collar of a button-front shirt a la Oscar de la Renta, a jeweled flower on your lapel, or a cluster of brooches on a tweed jacket, brooches add sparkle, texture, interest, and fall trends for very little money. Prada showed crystal and enamel brooches crawling on an orange trench like bejeweled bugs, Ralph Lauren tucked a jeweled brooch near the neckline of a simple black frock.

Gloves
If you need a new pair of winter gloves, this is the year to get them. While a pair of classic black leather gloves are always chic, this season you will be able to find intricate stitching, unique details, cool colors, and unexpected lengths.  Gloves have also returned as an accessory that can be worn indoors.  I indulged in a pair of black opera-length leather gloves to wear with my bracelet-sleeve coats (and possibly with a LBD for a holiday party!) and am seriously considering a pair in oxblood to update my basic black wool outerwear.

Pony Hair
The fall runway shows were all about pony hair (also known as haircalf) Be it a clutch from Armani, strappy shoes from Brian Atwood, or a Charlotte Olympia lace-up bootie, this is a hot trend I have loved for years. My Ivanka Trump leopard-print pumps are pony hair and they end up looking more luxe and also more versatile than basic fabric. Pony hair really gives depth to animal prints and makes them look classic, not cheesy. An animal-print pony hair accessory can do a lot to transform wardrobe staples, be it a shoe, bag, or even a skinny belt.

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My Wardrobe Today – Tuesday

Black Knit Moto Jacket – Gap (no longer available online but you may find in their stores in black or gray)
Black Ponte Dress with Exposed Back Zipper – LOFT (no longer available online which is a shame because I LOVE LOVE LOVE this dress!)
Belt – Ann Taylor (bought a couple years ago)
Black Patent Mary Janes – Nine West (see below)


Shop your closet, folks. Shop your closet!

I have been spending this week doing a hardcore closet clean-out.  I dumped everything out of my bureau and only put back that which I like.  I made one bag of things to donate, and one bag of things to put on eBay.  Now I am working on my closet.  I took everything out that is too small, too big, too ugly, too worn.  There’s a pile of items to repair, and then I added to my two bags.

I am putting all my shoes in boxes on the shelf, because the floor of the closet it a bit of a No Mans Land. My dogs sometimes like to take a nap in there, my husband uses it as a place to throw things and close the door when people come over, I often find Emerson’s books and toys hidden in corners… anyway it’s a bad place to keep shoes. I opened each box to ensure the shoes inside match the label on the outside… and found these shoes!

Long-time readers may remember them. I saw them at Nordstrom a couple years ago and HAD TO HAVE THEM. They only had them in 7. I ordered them, and they were far too small. I started searching online for these shoes from another retailer and found then for half the price of Nordstrom, but only in an 8. I ordered them anyway… and they were too big. I think I wore them twice, both times bad experiences with rubbing, blisters, and carefully shuffling from Metro to office. After that, I shoved them in the box, stuck them in the back of the closet and figured I would eventually put them on eBay.

Well last night I found them and tried them on… and now they fit! Not only do they fit, they are pretty comfy! I am so excited because on my shopping list I had a pair of patent Mary Janes. Granted, I wanted all black with a pointy toe and a slimmer heel, but these are pretty stellar. I had a stranger stop me on the street and ask me who made my shoes and two coworkers said they are “Fierce.” Hooray!

Tonight I hope to finish the closet and this weekend hope to tackle the attic. After that I will be posting even more stuff on eBay – check it out!

The Return of an Old Friend

I guess everything does come back in style if you wait long enough.

Anyone remember Generra? Hot brand of the 1980s most famous for creating the much loved Hypercolor shirts. I remember Generra well; my family was too poor for name brands and I found a yellow canvas pullover with lots of grommets and drawstrings and New Wave embellishments at a yard sale for 75 cents. Though yellow has never been my color and the top was at least two sizes too big, I wore that thing every week because I owned a popular label.

Generra, Outback Red, Benneton, Esprit, Guess?, Forenza… brands that were as much a necessity to a young girl in the 80s as a Liz Claiborne purse and matching wallet. How is it that brands like these that were such a hot commodity ended up being fodder for discount superstores and cheesy mail order fashion catalogs? Who decides when a brand is hot, or when it is not?

Many of these oldies yet goodies have tried to make a comeback. Heck it works for hair bands, why not for the clothes that complimented the Aqua Net? Gloria Vanderbilt and Jordache had their fifteen minutes of fame a couple of seasons ago. We saw the return of jelly shoes, clear vinyl bags, high waists, neon colors, even mullets.

But Generra? They aren’t having just fifteen minutes of campy fame. They are back, and they are far better than ever. Every hot boutique online and in town has a few of their pieces, there is even an in-store Generra boutique at Henri Bendel. This isn’t a flash in the pan, Generra has slowing been taking over the past couple of years, being seen on the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Hudson, Alexandra and Theodora Richards and also having their moment at New York Fashion Week 2007.

I like it when brands make a comeback. I may not purchase Lacoste, Burberry, Generra or Le Tigre, but I admire their tenacity and impressive marketing skills. I find Generra’s new line to be a bit too utilitarian for my tastes, both in cut and color; but am excited to see an old friend back up on the runway. Now I just need to dig through my mom’s attic to see if I can find that yellow canvas pullover with the grommets…