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What Every MAN Needs in HIS Wardrobe

Reader Valerie asked me to discuss what every MAN needs in his wardrobe. Like women, men are bombarded with tons of overly trendy, unflattering and plain bad options in fashion. Men get stuck in ruts too, and don’t find the time or importance for worrying about what they wear.

My husband is 6’5”, has a 36” inseam, but is slim (34” waist). For years he has stuck to one or two pairs of Levi’s jeans (he liked the baggy style from his high school days because he believed it covered up his slim build and “no-butt” shape), cargo shorts even in Summer, and plenty of tee shirts with band and surfing logos on them. When he dressed up he had a navy blazer bought at a Today’s Man Going Out of Business Sale and one pair of tan dress pants. He’d wear the same tie to weddings that he wore to his high school graduation over a decade earlier.

A few months ago he was promoted to a manager position in his company. This required him to wear collared shirts, ties, jackets and nice shoes on an almost daily basis (the off days he could downgrade to a polo and khakis). He finally realized that he was a 30-something professional dressing as a teenage skater boy. He needed a new wardrobe, but didn’t want to break the bank. What’s the point of a raise if it’s all spent on a new wardrobe?

We did our homework – men’s magazines, looking at websites of classically stylish men’s clothing websites, observing what subtly stylish celebrities wore.

1. Crisp white cotton shirt They do sell shirts that are not see-through; invest in one. This is crisp cotton, not an oxford. Take this shirt to the cleaners to keep it’s fresh look unless you want to spend forever sprinkling, ironing and starching. To have it the most versatile style, forego any detail on pockets, a button-down collar or any other trimmings. Unless he is a cufflink-type of guy, go with traditional buttoning of the cuffs. Where to wear: with suits for interviews and more dressy of events (weddings, theater, etc.), with khakis for a more casual affair, with jeans and a blazer for parties and social occasions.

2. Comfortable bootcut jeans in a semi-dark color – Confused? So were we when looking for new jeans for my husband. What works with a tucked in shirt or a casual sweatshirt? What looks modern without being overly trendy? The best color is darker than stonewashed. A traditional bootcut ends up being too tight on thicker men, and look awkward on tall slim men. Gap carries a style called “standard fit” that I have seen look great on tall men, short men, stocky men and slight men. It has the stylish cut, but the room in the thighs and rear so that they don’t look too cowboy or too hipster.

3. A black merino v-neck sweater A lightweight black merino sweater can look refined, elegant and even dressy. With a collared shirt and suiting trousers a man is ready for a party or dinner out. With a white tee and jeans or khakis, one is ready for a trip to mall or a business-casual office. The lightweight merino dresses up nicely and doesn’t get lumpy over collared shirts.

4. Flat front tropical weight wool trousers in gray – Black can be too severe, tan will look dated and cheap if not the right quality, brown and navy aren’t terribly versatile. Gray works all four seasons and compliments most other colors in a wardrobe. With a collared shirt, a blazer, a matching suit jacket, a sweater or even a polo, these pants will get much wear. Pleated pants may seem like a safe bet, but they add bulk to heavier men and look odd on slender figures. Pleats are passé, your best bet is to choose a flat front or no more than one or two pleats.

Your pants should make a bit of a bend where the ankle meets the foot. Many men wear their pants either too long or too short. If pants are too long, it doesn’t cost too much to get them hemmed at the local dry cleaner’s. As for cuffs, they are optional for all but the very short – short men should stay away from cuffs because they cut the leg and make one look even shorter.

5. A black suiting blazer Paired with matching trousers, a black suiting blazer creates an elegant ensemble for a formal event. With the gray wool trousers it’s perfect for a business meeting. With jeans and a collared shirt, it’s hip at a club or party. Keep it simple – no fancy fabrics, colorful or glitzy buttons, trendy details. The more subtle, the more stylish and the more versatile.

A three-button single-breasted jacket is a classic and flattering style for all shapes. A rule of thumb with buttons I saw once on What Not to Wear – Sometimes, Always, Never. Sometimes you can have the top button buttoned when standing, always button the middle button (your choice), and the bottom button should never be buttoned, no matter what.

6. A gray suit – Now you can cheat and have a blazer in the same fabric as the tropical weight wool trousers, or have a separate suit. Like the black blazer, keep it very simple and subtle. This suit should be able to be worn to a wedding or an interview. If there is a pattern, pinstripes or detail it will be memorable, and it won’t be timeless. Again, the jacket should be single breasted with two or three buttons.

7. Three solid colored polo shirts – Little boys and college kids wear striped polos. Adults wear solid colors. Look around you at the men who wear stripes, and those who wear solids. Who look to be in better shape and better dressed? You’ll see the more elegant and trim looking men are in solids.

As for colors, that is up to you. However I recommend one in gray, navy or black. This is a simple neutral that is flattering and classic and a bit dressier than other colors. As for the others, pick colors you enjoy. My husband has a sage green that looks great with khaki, navy and gray, and a dark plum that is an unexpected neutral that looks great with olive, khaki, gray and black. Wear with khakis or tropical weight wool trousers for business casual jobs, with cargo shorts for a summer cookout, with jeans on the weekend.

8. Flat front chinos in a khaki color (AKA khakis) – Please stop buying pleated khakis. They do not look good on anyone, and they make men look unfashionable. As for the khaki color – this is the most versatile and flattering. Lighter colors (often called stone) are not as popular and do not look appropriate past Labor Day. Darker and more yellow colors (British tan, taupe, sand) are memorable and often look more casual. As with the gray trousers, have them to the length where they make a bend (or “break”) where the ankle hits the foot.

Khakis look great with everything. Pair with a black blazer and white shirt for dinner, with a polo for work or a day on the links, with a collared shirt or sweaters for casual affairs. These pants will be so versatile, I recommend you buying two pairs. They are so neutral, no one will realize they are two of the same pants. You do not want these too stiff, or too tight. J.Crew offers a style called “relaxed fit” that is very flattering on many shapes and sizes of men. The chino fabric is lightweight enough that it doesn’t crease or bunch, but is refined enough for work, dates and social occasions.

9. A pair of sandals – I do not mean Birkenstocks and I do not mean those woven hurrache-style shoes. A simple sandal or thong in brown leather will be worn almost daily come summer. With shorts and tees, with jeans and a polo. There is nothing more attractive than a man in a crisp white shirt, well-fitting khaki chinos and a stylish pair of leather sandals in the summertime. Sandals will replace your Tevas and flops for casual affairs, sneakers with your shorts and jeans in the warmer months.

10. Longer shorts in olive or khaki – Get rid of the pleated shorts that are 4” above your knee, the faded navy and black chino shorts that you have owned since college, the beat up and threadbare stone-colored cutoffs. These shorts are a clean line without being too stiff, longer without looking sloppy. The ones shown have a 9″ inseam. The shorts should land close to or at the knee, but not below.

11. A casual sweater with a crew neckline – Keep it simple. No stripes, argyles, or overt details. A cableknit in navy, a Shetland in charcoal, a ribbed commando-style (featured) in a dark green. It should cover the wrists even when arms are extended, cover the waistband of pants even when stretching, and be a trim fit – not slim, but not overly baggy. Think refined, classic, simple. The color should be one you enjoy and you find flattering, without being too strong. Navy instead of royal, olive or forest instead of bright green, russet instead of red. This will be the most versatile with all your bottoms. These colors go with khaki, with gray, with denim. A crew neckline will look nice with a collared shirt or on it’s own.

12. Black leather slip-on dress loafers – The best buy I have ever made for my husband. Being a slip-on style, they can transition from dress to casual with ease; a laced-up oxford can often seem too prim. These shoes look great with an oxford shirt and khakis for Thanksgiving dinner at the grandparent’s house. With his suit for work, or for a wedding. With the merino v-neck and trousers for a party at a friend’s house. These shoes go with every pant in my husband’s wardrobe except jeans, and fit every occasion where pants other than jeans are appropriate. On top of that, they are comfortable!

13. A pair of Euro sneakers or rugged leather oxford shoes – These are what you wear when you can’t wear the black loafers. Euro sneakers are leather, subtle in color and sleek in design. They are a dressier version of traditional tennies. If Euro sneakers are not your thing, consider a pair of sturdy oxfords – my husband has a pair of brown lace-ups from Merrell that have contrast stitching, sturdy laces and a chunky sole. My good friend has stayed tried and true to his black Dr. Martens for the past two decades. Like Euro sneakers, these shoes can fill in where the black loafer cannot – with jeans and to dress down khakis.

14. A wool winter coat – The parka is great for cold days, and the fleece is an easy layer for weekends. However for work, for evening, and for special occasions you need something not made of Gortex. A wool coat in black, charcoal or dark navy will get years of wear. Consider a traditional peacoat style – it works well with jeans and tee shirts or with suits. A single breasted style will make a thicker man look leaner and a shorter man look taller. As with the rest of these wardrobe basics, keep it simple. Buttons should be the same tone as the coat, collars and shoulders should not have adornments. A simple lining is good for moderate climates, consider a Thinsulate lining for those residing in the more northern of states.

15. Black leather dress belt – you need something to keep up those khakis and tropical weight wool trousers. A dress best is not like your casual belts – the leather is stiff and glossy. The buckle is polished and minimal. The whole style is slim, sleek and refined. The rugged brown leather belts with the hammered steel buckle is fine for the weekends, but should never be paired with suits or nice trousers. Your belt should always match the color of your shoes – as that I have only recommended black dress shoes, you will only need a black dress belt.

Additional Items You May Need:

  1. A bathing suit in a simple pattern or solid that hits near the knees, without going below the knee
  2. A French blue dress button-down shirt
  3. Ties – stripes for work, solids for formal affairs, patterns for festive occasions. You should own at least two.
  4. Casual button down shirts – for work with khakis, for play with jeans. Look for wrinkle-resistant styles so they can be easily washed and dried. Subtle stripes, solids in colors you enjoy and fit your personality, muted plaids. These shirts should be tucked in, one button unbuttoned without an undershirt, two buttons unbuttoned with a tee shirt underneath.

What to Remove from Your Wardrobe:

  1. Any jeans with bleached out areas, sandblasted, or stonewashed
  2. Any classic fit, overly baggy or tapered jeans
  3. Short sleeved dress shirts – these look goofy on everyone. If you’re hot, roll your sleeves
  4. Plaid flannel shirts as work shirts – just because you tuck it in does not mean it is work or socially appropriate. Flannels are for casual affairs: camping, cold nights and weekends in the yard (my husband asked me to include Pearl Jam concerts)
  5. Tee shirts with witty logos/cartoon characters/lewd jokes – these are corny, crass and tacky. Silly shirts are for college kids, not adult professionals.
  6. White socks unless you are performing an athletic activity.
  7. Sports jerseys unless you are attending a sporting event, participating in a sporting event, or going to a sport-themed party. Rappers can carry off a sports jersey for a red carpet event; until you have the bankroll of a rapper, you cannot dress like one. You will look childish or goofy.
  8. Sweatpants with elastic at the ankle. Any sweatpants or athletic bottoms should be reserved to the gym and your home when you don’t have guests. However, traditional elastic sweatpants are horribly unflattering and tacky.
  9. That brown leather bomber jacket you have had since college. It was hip in the 90’s, it is NOT hip today.
  10. Athletic sneakers with shorts. Invest in some leather or athletic-inspired sandals. Sneakers with shorts look ridiculous and immature. Traditional sneakers are only for athletic events.
  11. Denim shorts. NO buts about it, there is NEVER a good time to wear denim shorts.
  12. Cliff Huxtable sweaters. Get rid of the jewel tones, the funky patterns and textures. Solids are safe and flattering. The crazy patterned sweaters look dated.
  13. Mock turtlenecks. Whoever invented these should be shot. The only version of turtleneck you should be wearing would be on the ski slopes or part of a chunky sweater. There is never an appropriate place for knit mock turtlenecks

What Every Man Needs in His Wardrobe – Updated for 2010

A few years ago, I wrote the post, “What Every MAN Needs in his Wardrobe.” Since then, I seem to get comments and emails about it every month, and it has been mentioned in many articles on sites all over the Web.

What Every Man Needs in his Wardrobe

Men’s fashion is so difficult because it is so simple. A man can’t feign style with trendy colors, bold accessories, or an It Bag. A man has a harder time making a Tarjay purchase cut it in the corporate world. Men’s retailers don’t help the situation – with women’s retailers we can tell that Mom Jeans are passé because they can only be found at cheaper Big Box retailers; men can find all sorts of Fashion Don’ts at the nicest brands and shops.

However just as with women, if a man has a very simple base wardrobe of staples, he can get away with adding some trendy or fun pieces to the mix without looking like a fashion victim. Purchasing quality, classic pieces means one’s wardrobe can stand the test of time and be far more versatile.

Re-reading my list of wardrobe staples for men from back in 2006, very little has changed. The good thing about men’s fashion is that it isn’t as quickly changing as that for women. Jeans you buy in 2007 will most likely be stylish in 2011, and silhouettes don’t change as drastically as those for women. However some trends have happened that aren’t TOO trendy, and can adjust the staples for any man. So let’s revisit that list.

Here’s a recap of the original list from 2006:
1. White dress shirt
2. Bootcut jeans
3. Black merino v-neck sweater
4. Flat front gray trousers
5. Black blazer
6. Gray suit
7. Solid-colored polo shirts
8. Flat front chinos/khakis
9. Sandals
10. Longer chino shorts
11. Casual crew neck sweater
12. Black slip on loafers
13. Euro sneakers
14. Wool coat
15. Black dress belt

1. Crisp White Cotton Shirt. This is a given. Every man needs at least one of these, as that they are so versatile and look best when very white, very crisp. Over the past couple of years, trimmer cuts have taken center stage. If you are a lean gentleman, do not let your white shirt balloon around you – this look will completely kill any style. European brands like French Connection offer narrower cuts, American retail favorites like Banana Republic and Gap also offer dress and casual shirts in fitted silhouettes.

If you are tall, look for brands that cater to tall men. My husband is a big fan of the Banana Republic line for Big & Tall men – the quality is good, and the cuts really do fit far better than standard brands. If you are shorter, you will always be better off heading straight to a shop like Brooks Brothers or a department store to get the right length of arms along with right size of neck.

Image courtesy gap.com

2. Comfortable Bootcut Jeans in a Semi-dark Color. This is one of the items that has changed the most drastically since the original post. Jeans are a wardrobe staple for most any person on this planet and retailers know this. Styles in denim change faster than with any other type of garment.

The mentioned relaxed bootcut jean is still a decent choice – it’s not too trendy, yet not dated. However since then other cuts and washes have become classics.

A very dark crisp jean, often called “rinse” in color or described as “rigid”, “selvedge”, or “raw” denim has become a classic for men as well as women. This is not a dark wash, but a deep, even dark indigo where the denim looks untouched. Often the inside seams are stitched in red, and the denim is far heavier-weight and stiff than most jeans in the store. In a slim, straight or slight boot cut, this look can be a great staple for most men. Adding the slight bootcut or a more relaxed cut is a good choice for very tall and lean men, as well as for shorter or heavier men. You want to balance out your shape, so you don’t look top heavy. A great classic choice for this type of jean is the Levi’s 501.

The vintage jean is a jean that is supposed to look as though it has been weathered through use. This jean doesn’t have the pronounced whiskering I mentioned in the original post, but all-over wear. We’re not talking shredded jeans a la the Glam Rock days, but something that looks as though a farmhand took a pair of raw denim and wore them for an entire season out in the fields. This look can be a bit looser and more relaxed than the dark denim, but it is still not baggy or loose. Again, a straight or slight boot cut will be your best choice.

Jeans now can be cuffed, but you are treading into trendy territory with this choice. If you don’t feel confident in knowing how to cuff your jeans in a fashionable manner and only plan to cuff to achieve the proper length, I encourage you to instead buy the right length or head to a tailor to have them properly hemmed (ask them to keep the original hem or at least hem style so it doesn’t look as though Mommy did it for you). If you know your length, many online retailers offer extended lengths and waist sizes online so you can get the right fit from the get-go.

3. A Black Merino V-neck Sweater. Yeppers, this is still stylish. Just be sure it fits you, and isn’t overly baggy. The only thing that has changed in the past few years is that cuts are now more trim. If you have some meat on your bones, don’t try to hide it with an oversized sweater, but don’t go too skinny. A straight fit in your regular size will actually make you look more slim than something that is baggy.

In the original post, someone commented that cashmere is a better choice. Cashmere is always in style, but it requires a bit more upkeep. If your budget and lifestyle can handle cashmere, by all means choose it. However most men I know are better off with a sweater that can handle being thrown in a hamper or sent to the cleaners to be cared for. Cashmere is best cared for with hand washing and being laid flat to dry. If you don’t have the life for that sort of care, it’s okay. Merino wool is a wonderful alternative and holds its shape great, wear after wear.

Image courtesy jcrew.com

4. Flat Front Tropical Weight Wool Trousers in Gray. Another classic. My only suggestion is that if you are deciding between cuffs and no cuffs, go without the cuffs. Cuffs are being seen less and less and are becoming something that is trendy – let those pants be stylish for many years to come and choose to go without cuffs, or any other trendy embellishment.

The narrow pant has become very stylish in the past couple of years. If you are reading this for clothing advice, I recommend you do NOT go for the narrow pant. The narrow pant is a hard look to pull off and can only be worn with certain shoes, certain tops, and on certain shapes of men. Keep it simple, keep it classic, stick to a flat front, standard leg, standard length.

Image courtesy nordstrom.com

5. A Black Suiting Blazer with Three Buttons. Classic. Simple. Just keep with current trends and keep it well-fitted. Get it properly tailored to fit your body – it will make you look more muscular, more fit, more trim if you have a well-fitting jacket.  As for figuring out fit, I love these tips from a Suitable Wardrobe and this link for sizing from SuitUPP – every man should bookmark them, print them out and take with you to the tailor when you get your jackets fitted (for no jacket fits properly off the rack – sorry to tell you guys, but it’s worth it to get them tailored.

When I originally wrote this, I chose black over navy for the same reason I choose black as the base color for my list of women’s wardrobe staples – it’s easier. You can’t get the wrong shade of black, and with black you always know what color shoes to wear. Navy is a wonderful choice for a blazer – it is classic and elegant, but the problem is navy can look more like blue if the wrong shade, navy will show the fabric better so if you don’t have high quality fibers it will be obvious, and often people pair navy with colors that don’t compliment well (hello black trousers). If you can find a dark navy of quality fibers, it is a worthy replacement of black. But if you’re unsure, stick with black for it’s safe and in this day and age, considered as versatile as navy.

6. A Gray Suit. Yep, this is still a classic. Far more versatile than any other color available, and more likely to look elegant in five years. Make sure it is tailored to fit you properly, and it should work for most any event that life throws in your direction.

 Image courtesy bananarepublic.com

7. Three Solid-colored Polo Shirts. There are more hip, more trendy, more fashionable choices than polo shirts, but nothing that is as timeless, budget-friendly, and versatile. My only update is again about fit – keep it trim (not tight) and be sure the length is correct. I constantly see men who have polo shirts that barely cover their belts, and other men who wear ones that hang to their knees. The current look is no longer baggy, so even if you are short and stocky, you should be able to find a polo shirt that doesn’t look like a dress. Tall men, almost every online retailer offers long lengths – you can easily get a few polos on sale at J. Crew or Gap and replace your belly-baring tops.

Keep your polo shirts looking better for longer and don’t wash them with your jeans, towels, or any athletic wear with grommets or Velcro. My husband washes his with other knits and they don’t fade or stretch out as quickly.

8. Flat-front Chinos in a Khaki Color. Still a classic. If you wear khakis for work, keep one pair that is only for social events. Often I see men at weddings and happy hours with stained or snagged chinos, and it’s obvious they are the same ones they wear on the job.

Again I have to mention length. It’s better to get them too long and have them hemmed than go too short. Any drycleaner can hem your pants and get them back to you in a couple of days. J. Crew and Lands End are two of many retailers that sell unusual lengths online. J. Crew even offers a raw hem so you can have them hemmed by your own tailor for the perfect length.

9. A Pair of Sandals. Magazines and Web sites will talk about all sorts of other summer shoes, but if you are a Fashion Freshman, I don’t suggest many other trendy alternatives that are out there.  I recommend checking out Zappos, a site with a HUGE selection of shoes. When I recently searched for men’s leather sandals, they had 545 options. It is possible to find a pair of thong or slide sandals that look manly, will be comfortable, and be a great choice with shorts or jeans.

10. Longer Shorts in Olive or Khaki. I am not saying your shorts should hang past your knee. You’re looking for that happy medium that is between the thigh and the knee. The baggy look is out guys, so pass on the pleats, the millions of cargo pockets and any pair that can’t stay on your hips without a belt. A heavier-weight chino will keep a crisp, sophisticated look.

I mentioned cargo shorts as a good alternative, but since that original post cargo shorts have started going out of style. I really think every man need a clean, crisp pair (or three) of cargo-free chino shorts. It’s far more modern, flattering, and stylish.

11. A Casual Sweater with a Crew Neckline. There are a lot of thin cotton sweaters out there that end up clinging to your tee shirt, stretching out in the wash, blousing out weird at the hem. It’s better to have fewer sweaters in your closet and know that the ones you have fit well, launder well, and will keep their shape and color. If you buy quality, this sweater can still be one you love to wear a decade from now.

If you have this crew sweater, you can definitely branch out with necklines. More v-necks, a shawl collar, etc. Start with crew, a crew is a wardrobe staple and a good first choice to build your proper wardrobe.

12. Black Leather Slip-on Dress Loafers. These are so versatile, you may even want a second pair. Seriously.

And with the new dark, crisp looks in denim, these loafers can now be worn with that type of denim and look stylish.

13. A Pair of Euro Sneakers or Rugged Leather Oxford Shoes. This is probably the only item on this list that has really changed over the years and isn’t still considered a perfect wardrobe choice. Really, that’s to be expected – a shoe like this is more of a novelty piece and will change with the times and trends. You’re looking for a casual shoe – something more socially acceptable than an athletic sneaker, but not as dressy as the black loafer. .

A popular choice for this type of shoe is the Converse All Stars “Chucks” sneakers. In black, with a low rise, these are a wonderful choice to add to your wardrobe. My husband’s friend has a pair of loafers, but they are a dark brown with a more rugged sole that look great with his chinos and jeans. I love the look of engineer boots or chukkas – a great choice with this season’s trim dark jeans.

Pick a style that works with your personal style. Into the music scene? Consider some Doc Martens. A bit preppy? How about some Sperry Topsiders? Like sports? Instead of a pair of old Nikes, consider some Adidas “Shell Tops” (just be sure they stay in immaculate condition). Desert boots are a good choice if you have more of a beachy or boho sense of style.

Image courtesy omiru.com

14. A Wool Winter Coat. Still a classic, and still a wardrobe essential.

15. Black Leather Dress Belt. If you own #12, you need #15.

Additional Items You Should Have in your Wardrobe:
1. Oxfords shirts in blue and white. These shirts are different from the dress shirt. They are more casual, have a heavier textured weave, button-down collars, and aren’t meant to be worn with a suit. Go for a trim cut, and you can wear them tucked in with jeans and pants, or even untucked with chinos or shorts. If you have a sense of flair, feel free to stray from the basic blue and white – real men DO wear pink, and other hues are hot and surprisingly versatile. This sort of shirt also looks great under a sweater come winter. For summer, here’s a great link that tells you how to roll up your cuffs.

2. Other casual button-down shirts. Right now, the button-down shirt is hot, as long as it’s the right fabric and fit. Shirts shouldn’t be blousy, and they shouldn’t have texture or shine. The vintage look is hot for casual wear. Plaids have come back in style, and we’re talking cotton, and not grunge-era flannel. Stripes are great too.

Before I stated that short-sleeved dress shirts are goofy. I still believe that. However, since the original post, fashion has made great strides with the short-sleeved casual shirt. For lean men, the semi-fitted button down in plaid is a nice look; for stocky men the more casual beachy short-sleeved shirt in chambray or a lightweight cotton looks great untucked with shorts or chinos.

3. A light blue or French blue dress shirt. Same rules apply as for the white dress shirt.

4. Ties. Just as stated before, solid for more formal events, stripes for work, patterns and more casual fabrics for festive occasions. Please get your ties cleaned occasionally, and especially after any event that includes cigars and/or large consumption of alcohol. Nothing worse than a stained or rumpled tie. And for some wonderful tutorials, here is a fabulous site that shows you with diagrams as well as videos on how to tie a tie with the four most popular knots (I recommend four in hand for pretty much any affair, Half Windsor for the more formal affairs).

5. Dress socks. Your black SmartWool socks are NOT a choice when wearing a suit. You should own at least two pairs of socks that are meant to be worn with suits. As a rule, have your socks match your pant, not your shoe.

6. A leather wallet. Get rid of your Velcro-closure one from Billabong, and get rid of the one you have had since you high school graduation. A man’s wallet is like a woman’s purse – it should be well cared for, not overstuffed, and match your sense of style. Regularly remove receipts, business cards and other things that will make it be the size of a Dagwood sandwich.

7. Bathing trunks. Keep it simple – simple print or a solid. Trim but not tight, length similar to the abovementioned shorts.

8. An umbrella. This is not some swag you got from your last work conference. Get a travel one that will fit in your laptop bag, and can withstand fierce winds. My husband and I have a couple from Lands End that are classic, sturdy, reliable. Black is a safe bet, or you can add some color to your look with a muted plaid or solid color.  Any woman will tell you that she would find it terribly gallant for a man to pull out an umbrella to protect her during an unexpected rainshower…

9. Sunglasses. It’s time to retire the Oakleys (or keep them for sporting events and the most casual of situations). Variations of the classic Aviator or the Wayfarer are popular now, but I recommend you visit a high-end department store or sunglass boutique in the mall to try various styles to find what fits your face as well as your lifestyle.

10. White tee shirts. You should own a couple crisp, well-made white tee shirts to wear under things. Those Hanes ads with Michael Jordan are right – the cheap tees that buckle at the neck look terrible. Be sure to wash your white tees with other whites, use some oxygen cleaner or line dry to keep them white.

11.  Casual belt.  If your casual shoes are black, look for a more casual black belt.  If they are brown, look for brown.  My husband always has luck finding casual belts on clearance at Banana Republic that are well-made, timeless, and budget-friendly.

Since the original post about what every man needs in his wardrobe, I have added several Web sites and blogs to my Blogroll that specialize in Men’s Style.  Unlike me, their expertise is in men’s fashion, and I trust them for advice and input on new trends.  Do check them out.

Ask Allie: An Active Casual Capsule Wardrobe for a Woman Over 60

I am about to retire and would love to have advice about a capsule wardrobe to fit my new situation. I am a young 62 and pear shaped. I’m planning to focus on travel, enjoying grandchildren, blues festivals, yoga and walking. I like classic styles and love blues and greens.

Congratulations! That sounds like an amazing way to spend this new point in your life. And I love that you’re considering a capsule wardrobe so you can focus on life instead of what to wear each day. Purchasing carefully, slowly, and while considering all you currently own can get you to the point of having a small quality wardrobe of hard-working pieces that have you ready for whatever comes your way.

capsule wardrobe casual active over 60

For this casual capsule wardrobe I didn’t focus on yoga and walking as I figure you have gear for those activities; however I did try to create a collection that will move with you, be comfortable for long spans of time outdoors taking the grandchildren sightseeing or to the park, or sitting on a blanket in the grass enjoying live music.

As a pear-shaped woman, it can be hard to find bottoms that fit and flatter. For skirts, those with an a-line, a flare from the waist, or that are softly gathered will flatter your figure. A skirt at or below the knee not only balances your frame but provides modesty when chasing after little ones or sitting on the ground. While many women avoid shorts, they’re so practical and so many lengths and styles are now available making it so any woman can find a cut that she likes. For a pear shape, a straight short that hits right at the top of the knee is best. Here I offered a stretchy denim style with a cuff, and a stretch twill Bermuda that can dress up or down nicely. A “boyfriend” jean is great for pear shapes because they’re more relaxed in the hip and thigh area and the cuff makes them have just the right amount of taper and color contrast to not shorten the leg like traditional cropped pants. Many women choose dark bottoms to minimize their hips and rear, but a pair of opaque white jeans can be quite chic and flattering (and it also makes primary and jewel tones look so luxe). It’s not ridiculous to pay to have jeans tailored (if you purchase them from Nordstrom they will tailor them on-site); go up a size for a comfortable fit in the hips and thighs and have the waist and hem adjusted for a custom fit. A straight jean is on trend yet will still be stylish next year; such a cut also balances hips nicely.

For tops, I kept things simple but incorporated elements to balance your curves. Boatnecks, cap sleeves, and gathered necklines add interest and also balance the bottom half of your figure. Choosing tops that highlight the slimmest part of your torso are also great; look for empire waists, built-in belts (or add one at the waist or at the ribs over an untucked top), and details like ruching and knots that define. Notice I kept prints to a minimum and those prints quite classic – prints can look dated very quickly. Sticking to solids and classic simple prints will keep your wardrobe from looking passé or frumpy. Breton stripes are a classic and look chic on women of all ages; while florals can be seen as mumsy this simple white and blue print in a stretch silk or synthetic will look quite modern, especially when paired unexpectedly with boyfriend jeans or shorts.  A graphic print in your favorite color can easily be switched out for the floral.

With dresses, I incorporated the same concepts from the skirts and tops.  Fit and flare styles, cap sleeves, details to emphasize the waist, and skirts that hit at the knee or lower.  Do know that models are often taller than average; a dress that looks thigh-high on a website may be knee-length on you.  Consider the measurements offered as well as the photo (and customer reviews, if available) before judging a dress or skirt.

While a shoe with a bit of a heel will balance a pear figure, I believe in function over fashion and a flat shoe will do you better with your new lifestyle. Choosing shoes that match your bottoms or are low contrast to your legs will be the best choice; a metallic flat is a great way to dress up casual pieces but they’re also a great way to get away without wearing heels to a wedding or other social event.


Accessories are what take a capsule wardrobe from ordinary to extraordinary. Statement necklaces are a great way to draw attention to your face, add personality and also a youthful touch to your outfit. A silk scarf can look matronly, but in a bold print it adds personality and class to simple knits.

As for bags, choosing a crossbody means you have your hands free to hold on to your grandchildren, take a photo, or grab a pair of drinks for you and another at that next blues festival.  I can’t stress the importance of accessories enough, especially with a pared-down wardrobe of staples.  Accessories show your personality, show that you are young at heart, and that you are aware of current trends and care about style.  Don’t be afraid of a sparkly necklace, a metallic slip-on sneaker, or a statement watch or bag from a popular brand.

A pair of black plastic sunglasses are a classic; I recommend purchasing a classic yet popular brand and a style that is pretty classic to show you are aware of the trends but wearing them in the way that is best for you.  While I featured the classic Ray-Ban Wayfarer in the collage, other styles are equally chic; I chose a few that caught my eye and have them in the widget above.  With sunglasses and bags, I recommend buying the best quality and brand you can afford.  These are accessories you likely will wear every day; quality will last and also elevate your basic wardrobe staples.

Ask Allie: Creating a Bra Wardrobe

 

Allie, I hope this isn’t too personal but you have large breasts and they always look great no matter what you wear. Can you let me know more about your bra collection? What styles work best for you?

I breastfed my son for three years and my breasts are now saggy. I know you breastfed Emerson, but your breasts look perky even in fitted tops, what bra do you wear?

What kind of bra do you wear with all these spaghetti strap dresses?

I can’t stress this enough – get a professional bra fitting. Sure, there’s instructions online on how to do it yourself, and chain stores like Victoria’s Secret claim to be bra experts, but you will get a better and more honest fitting, especially if you are large busted or have special needs, if you go to a bra boutique or lingerie section of a high-end department store. Who cares what brand you’re wearing or what trends you’re sporting if your foundation isn’t its best?

Seriously, I don’t believe in scrimping on bras. Go ahead, get cheap jeans, cheap tops, cheap dresses. But things that you wear every day and determine the look and fit of everything else deserve the money, time, and effort. If need be, get fitted and don’t buy anything but note the brands, style number, and size and look for it cheaper online, but the same size but a different brand won’t necessarily fit the same or give you the same shape and lift. And while I am preaching, just because it looks online that you and I have similar figures, I still stress you should get fitted and find the right style for YOU. Some bodies are built for Bali, others look wonderful in Wacoal.

That being said, here’s my bra wardrobe:

Molded Tee Shirt Bras – Two Nude, One Black
I have two in nude because I mainly wear nude in the summer, and you shouldn’t wear the same bra two days in a row, and often one is hanging from the shower curtain rod drying while the other is on my body. These are my everyday bras, worn under blouses, sweaters, tee shirts. They are free of bows, jacquard, lace, or any adornment that would show through a lightweight white tee. The straps are plain as well so if one peeks out of a neckline it’s not as obvious. I strive to have the nude be my nude color, but find the less I allow sun to tan my skin, the harder it is to find a good match.

I do not own a white bra because I don’t see the point – it positively glows under white shirts, and is dreadful under a black knit. My skin isn’t white, so there’s always going to be a contrast. Black under dark colors, nude under the rest.

I choose a molded cup because I think it gives my breasts a nice lifted, youthful shape. I also find the extra support awesome when it’s that time of the month and my breasts are 50 pounds each. Also, less issue with headlights, which can be darn sexy and a natural occurrence but not the best for the office.

What I Own: Fantasie Moulded Smoothing Tee Shirt Bra and the Fantastie Esme

Molded Strapless Bra – One Nude
The type of bra I get has removeable straps, so it can be strapless, but can also be halter, crisscross, one shoulder. Again, I like molded because of the shape, and I think it makes a strapless bra more natural looking and more comfortable.

And yes, large-busted women can find strapless bras that stay up, hold breasts up, and don’t hurt after an hour of wearing. This is when I again stress getting yourself fitted, I have spent hundreds on disappointing strapless bras and with one try I found my Holy Grail strapless at a bra boutique.

I don’t wear strapless bras often enough to find a need for more than one, I choose nude because it’s the most versatile.

What I Own: Simone Perele Velia Strapless Plunge

Sports Bra
I’m not one to workout on a regular basis – I’ll wear a normal bra for yoga and walking, but sometimes you need a bra that can handle high impact and sweat. I choose black because it usually DOES end up being seen, and I think it looks less bra-like in black.

What I Own: Freya Active Underwire

Bras That May be Seen
I have two bras that I call “fun bras.” One is red with violet lace overlay and lacy violet straps, one is a molded cup, but a berry color with lace detail and prettier and slimmer straps. Both have matching panties, and a couple other pairs of underpinnings that coordinate nicely. Both I got on clearance because I can wait on these.

These are worn when I want to feel a bit more sassy, and are also worn when I wear pieces that sort of work with an exposed bra strap. I don’t usually promote visible lingerie, but sometimes when you’re walking to the farmer’s market on a hot July day, you wear a breezy hot pink cotton voile camisole with denim shorts, and a berry bra strap, aviators, and a straw hat just seems to work.

What I Own: Josie Etoile Underwire and Wacoal Embrace Lace Tee Shirt Bra

And that’s it. Six bras, and I must admit some of them seem to collect dust from time to time. I replace the nude bras every 6-8 months because they get grody, the others every year or when they start to get misshapen, lose elasticity, or my size changes.

Bra Tips:

  • Be gentle with your bras. Hand wash if possible. If you’re like me you’d end up with crusty stinky bras before you have time for hand washing, so put in a lingerie bag and wash on the gentle cycle and hang them off a hanger on your bathroom shower curtain rod until they’re fully dry.
  • Don’t turn one cup inside-out to be able to fold your bra in half – let them lie flat in your drawer so one boob doesn’t get misshapen.
  • Your bra should be comfortable on the middle hook, then you can go to the tightest hook when it gets a bit stretched out and then when that’s stretched out it’s time to get a new bra.
  • Your straps should not be what is holding up your bra. If your back strap is up over your shoulder blades or you have mega dents in your shoulders from your bra, you need a different size.
  • Quad boob is not sexy. If your breasts are being dented by the top of your bra cup, you’re wearing the wrong size or the wrong style.
  • Not every woman can wear a demi or balconette, not every woman can wear a molded cup, not everyone looks best in unlined. Just because your best friend’s boobs look great in a certain bra doesn’t mean yours will. Your breasts are like you – unique and wonderful and deserving of custom style.
  • Quality, not quantity. You don’t need 50 bras, honestly you only need two… maybe a few more if you do sports or wear strapless dresses. Buy quality, get professionally fitted, care for them and enjoy better fitting clothes, people saying you’ve lost weight, and less back and shoulder pain!

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Capsule Wardrobe for the Weekend Warrior

The older I get, the less complicated I want my wardrobe. I remember a time when I bought things less to wear than to have hanging like art in my closet. Now, serenity comes from a smaller closet, fewer choices, but more pieces that make me happy each time I reach for them.

capsule wardrobe casual weekend winter fall

This winter I really created a great capsule of casual clothing. In the past I spent so much time focusing on work clothes and cute outfits for nights out that I ended up spending weekends in weird hybrids of work blouses with ill-fitting jeans or schlubby sweats. I decided to make a casual fall and winter capsule based upon the one I have created and share why it works for me.


When it comes to a casual capsule wardrobe, it’s best to stick to similar silhouettes. The more pant widths and blouse lengths you add, the more you need to adjust, and the less chance things will pair nicely together. Choosing all straight or slim leg pants keeps things simple. This winter you’ll find me in heavyweight ponte leggings from NYDJ, black twill skinny jeans from NYDJ, and a few different straight or skinny jeans in different washes and finishes (my favorite this year is the Real Straight from Gap, which can fit into a pair of tall boots or look great with regular shoes). I wear skirts a lot on weekends; with a pair of fleece tights a flippy ponte skirt can be as easy as leggings but be more figure flattering and fun. I baby all the pieces as much as my work clothes, washing them on gentle and line drying to keep their color and shape.

Sweaters have been big this season, making it easy to find classic styles in most any color that you’ll love now and years from now. I purchased a cream cable-knit sweater which makes an appearance most every weekend. I’ll pair with the skirt and tights for dinner with friends, or slip on with jeans and tall boots to run errands. A thicker “grandpa” cardigan slips more easily over thicker knit base layers, keeps your hips and rear warm, and gives a slouchy cool vibe. I’ll pair it with black skinny jeans, a band tee, and chunky silver jewelry to give a bit of a rock and roll feel, but it can get classic with a striped tee and brown boots or the black skirt. This has been my year for ponchos – I have this one from BP. that I love pairing with a striped tee and tall boots. Cinching the poncho with a wide leather belt gives a completely different effect and can dress it up quite nicely for dinner out.

My three main base layers have been a plaid flannel shirt, striped tees, and band tees. I usually wear the flannel peeking out of the cream cableknit or under my puffer vest, but often use it as an accent, tying it around my waist to add interest to a dress or outfit. Striped tees are my signature and I have many of them, but find a blue-black or dark gray slim stripe on a light ground to be the most versatile and flattering. Band tees are another signature piece for me, I cut the hems off the sleeves, cut off the collar and stretch out the neck for a more feminine fit. I love how they fray and stretch more with wear and washing, becoming more and more a custom piece. Nothing better than an old weathered band tee under a crisp blazer!

Sweater and sweatshirt dresses have been popular this year and that’s great for us weekend warriors. I have this navy sweatshirt dress from last year and this year purchased this sweater dress. While I can wear them to work, I usually wear them on weekends with fleece tights for a pulled-together look that’s as comfy as sweats. I’m loving the mix of gray, black, and brown leather and think this gray sweater dress would look fantastic with black tights and black Chelsea boots, or even with the tall brown boots. Add a belt to change the look completely.

As for accessories, I’ve been wearing more brown leather and gold accessories than in the past and find it easiest to have a bag that’s neither black nor brown and with subtle hardware. This way, I don’t have to keep changing my bag, and my bag becomes an accent piece. I’ve been loving my distressed brown leather tall boots, they add a touch of class to oversized knits and band tees; short black ankle boots work with jeans of all leg width and also look cute with leggings and skirts. Choosing quality brands and comfortable fit, I don’t miss my sneakers. I used to match my sunglasses to my jewelry, but now just always wear my gold and green Ray-Ban oversized aviators; they’re a classic and go with everything. An oblong scarf in cotton or lightweight wool adds warmth as well as interest to an outfit; in the past I’ve always chosen a signature solid colored scarf but lately like mixing patterns and have been gravitating towards the printed scarves in my collection. A brown leather belt is such a great accessory to have; if it’s a tone similar to the boots it can pull a look together, and it looks great cinching knits, dresses, and replacing the cheesy belts that come with many dresses. Finally, I can’t recommend Revlon’s Just Bitten Kissable Balm Stain in Romantic enough. It is a sheer cherry red that makes you look like Snow White. It hydrates, adds a natural bit of shine, can be applied without looking in a mirror and fades away slowly and evenly. I carry it with me everywhere; my weekend face is brows, mascara, and Romantic.

There’s nothing wrong with having a uniform. There’s nothing wrong with wearing the same pair of jeans two (or three!) days in a row. And there’s nothing wrong with people seeing you in the same outfit twice. If something works for you, stick with it. Life is busy enough, save the time trying to make outfits and use it for living the life in those outfits!

Ask Allie: Creating a Wardrobe Wish List

How do you go about making a ‘wish list’ for each season? I’m at a loss as to how to kick it off. In fact, I’m not even sure what I want. I know what I like when I see it but I don’t know that I can conjure it up in my head first.

First things first, before you create a wish list be sure your closet holds only that which you can wear. You can use this post on honing your personal style through a closet clean-out as a guide.

Once you have cleaned out your closet in this manner, you should have a better idea on what is missing, what you need to make the current closet more cohesive. Before you have wishes and dreams, you need a secure foundation. Clothes to get you dressed for work, for ordinary social events, for the grocery store and your son’s playdate.

Once you have that, you’ll get a feel for your personal style. With a wardrobe full of things that fit and work with your life, you’ll start gravitating toward certain pieces because they make you feel great or are so perfect for your life. Note these feelings, be it in your mind or in a journal. Be aware of colors, patterns, cuts, and silhouettes that feel right and those that garner compliments (sometimes a great piece doesn’t get a compliment, but you may get one about how you have lost weight, look rested, possibly changed your hair when you didn’t).

Only then, should you be able to craft a wish list. Each season you’ll pull out the clothes you already own, try them on, see what still fits and flatters and what holes are in your wardrobe. As you scroll through blogs and flip through magazines you’ll see current trends. This is the perfect time of year because every fashion website is sharing what is hot for the season; check Harper’s BAZAAR, Style.com, Glamour, Fashionista.  Note what appeals to you, be it a certain color, a popular pattern, a fresh new accessory or silhouette. It’s not about if you can wear the exact item or afford the specific designer, it’s about using it as an idea launching pad.  Can a similar item or trend work with your wardrobe and personal style? Sometimes it’s better to admire than to own.

When you do have down what you like and will work with what you have and who you currently are, make the list and carry it with you. Don’t veer off course, use your wish list to stick to your budget as well as your personal style. Cross off items as you get them, and adjust as you actually try such pieces and find a better alternative.

Personal style is not something you figure out over night, in fact it is something that is improved by taking the long route. Baby steps, small revelations will make the most impact over time and help you figure out not just your current style, but what items you desire to better hone it. Best of luck!

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Ask Allie: Starch-Free Corporate Capsule Wardrobe

Hi Alison – I love your blog and visit daily! Your capsule wardrobes are what really drew me in. The ability to mix-and-match separates to create versatile outfits is such a plus, and something I’d like to ask about. You see, I’m considering starting my own business, and will need professional attire. But, I hate suits and suiting material. Starchy button down shirts make me squirm. My wardrobe is built around denim and jersey knits, and I can do business casual with these pieces. But I feel like I need to break down and buy a pantsuit to do “official business,” go to interviews and be taken seriously. Any advice? Thanks for your consideration!

I hear you on this. While I don’t mind a well-fitting blazer, I go gaga for career wear that has stretch and flexibility. Good thing suiting and professional attire has come a long way and there’s a great variety of textiles that offer give, stretch, and comfort.

capsule wardrobe professional wear to work

shop this capsule: black pants | gray pants | pink blazer | black blazer | bow blouse | silk tee | printed tee | gray dress | black skirt | black pumps | gray pumps | necklace | watch

This is a spring capsule wardrobe for a professional environment that doesn’t have a single starched or stiff garment. I chose a simple palette of black, gray, and pink but this could easily be replicated with jewel tones, neutrals, or any other color mix. Black is a popular suiting color, but it can be seen as too severe, especially if you are starting your own business. Gray is a great color alternative that also tones down black without losing the professional edge. Pale pink softens the look for spring, adds a feminine touch, isn’t too memorable, and isn’t too bubble gum or girly.

The black pants, black blazer, and black skirt are all made of ponte knit. Ponte de Roma knit is a very tightly woven heavyweight knit that is as stretchy as yoga pants but gives a professional look. The pink blazer is also in ponte knit. Many companies now offer suiting in this fabric, both lined and unlined, to create a suiting collection with comfort.

The gray pants and dress are both made of a suiting fabric with Lycra, which moves with you while still looking professional. Not only that, the percentage of Lycra helps resist wrinkles. Such material is available year-round from retailers of all pricepoints and is a fabric that is office-appropriate all four seasons.

Work blouses don’t have to be starched cotton to look professional, yet when you’re choosing softer fabrics like ponte for your suiting it’s important to be thoughtful with your top’s fabric. Silk and silk knits are a great choice because their luxe feel and subtle lustre add elegance and formality to any ensemble. Many silk blouses are made with a hint of Lycra, providing a better fit, more opacity, and more comfort. Choosing one with a detail like a bow neckline, pleats, or ruffles adds interest to a suit without losing professionalism. Silk and silk jersey tees are a great alternative to button-front blouses and shirts and look great under jackets. For less formal business meetings, they can be worn on their own tucked into a pencil skirt or pair of trousers. No need to stick to just solids; a print, especially in silk can look elegant, professional, and add a touch of personality to your workwear.

If you’re not wearing such attire every day, there’s no need to buy a ton of accessories to coordinate. I have two different shoes featured but honestly you could get away with this entire capsule wardrobe with a single pair of black pumps. A necklace finishes a look; I chose one that incorporates the colors but isn’t too trendy so it can be a signature piece, worn on a daily basis. A watch is a great way to mix fashion with function; it adds a bit of shine and it looks far nicer to check the time in this manner than whipping out your SmartPhone.

Capsule Wardrobe: Skinny Jeans for Winter

Allie you shared something on Facebook about skinny jeans aren’t stylish any more. I just bought three pairs of skinny jeans in brown, jean color, and a tan cord. How can I make them look okay this winter? What tops are best with them, what shoes? I live in Michigan so I need to be warm.

The conversation on that article went deeper into what jeans are coming back en vogue, and how even though they say skinnies are dead they aren’t going anywhere. Like boot cut jeans, peasant tops, a-line shift dresses, and tall boots; there’s some trends that won’t go away even though fashion “experts” say they are dead. They don’t ever die because we real women with real bodies find these trends flattering and extremely wearable. It’s funny how five years ago many of us refused to adopt the skinny jean trend and now we refuse to let the trend go. But just because one news article says skinnies are passé doesn’t mean you need to find a whole new wardrobe. I’m still rocking my skinnies because though I was a late adopter, I now LOVE THEM.  And what matters most when it comes to style is wearing what is true to you, wear what you love!

capsule wardrobe casual winter skinny jeans cold weather

I’ve found the best way to incorporate a trend, whether hot off the runway or something the New York Times deems dated, is to wear it with similar colors. Create a color story with your wardrobe, mixing varying shades of similar hues or going monochromatic. For this capsule collection based off your skinnies wardrobe, I stuck to a warm palette of neutrals that will look luxe and show the skinnies are a purposeful addition to your closet.

When wearing skinny pants, it’s important to balance the figure or you can quickly look like a lollipop. Luckily, this is easy to do when it’s cold and you want lots of weight and layers. The first row of tops are the type that can just be thrown on with skinnies and look chic: tunics, slouchy sweaters, ponchos, and chunky knits that balance the frame. The second row is all about the layers; a knit blazer adds polish without sacrificing comfort or warmth, and waterfall cardigans and sweater coats are cozy and on trend while balancing the frame.

Shop the Look:

Speaking of base layers, this year has really embraced layering, and practical layering at that. Turtlenecks are easy to find at all pricepoints, henleys are back in style, and there’s nothing wrong with even putting another layer under these pieces. Because I’m Allie, I added a striped knit which adds interest to an outfit of solids, and I also find to be the easiest pattern to mix with other patterns.

As for shoes, I also believe balance is important and I also believe in the importance of function over fashion. I chose three different shoes that will balance the skinny jeans while keeping you warm and dry through the winter. A pair of tall boots are a perfect pairing over skinny jeans. A pair of ankle boots are also a great pairing and this season chunky marled socks have come back in fashion and look great filling the space between cuffed skinny and boot (or over tucked-in skinny for extra cold weather protection). Use a waterproofing spray on your leather shoes and put rolled magazines in them to improve ventilation and help them keep their shape. Finally, if you’re in an area that has snow and slush, by all means wear boots appropriate for the weather! A traditional lace-up style of duck boot is back on trend and looks great laced up over skinnies.

Accessories are what pull a look together. Pashminas and infinity scarves are stylish while adding warmth and color to an outfit. A wide leather belt can cinch those sweaters to create a completely different look. Having a quality bag can add a luxe look even to discount mart knits and make the wearing of snow boots quite chic. Choosing one in a color similar to your leather shoes ties an entire ensemble together.

Sample SAHM Capsule Wardrobe for Summer

Some of you have requested it, and some of you have asked for it on forums (I see you BabyCenter peeps and welcome you to my blog!). I created a SAHM capsule wardrobe previously, but here’s an update for the warmer months of the year.

I don’t like a lot of prints most of the time – they are too memorable to wear often, and they look dated more quickly. However, my opinion changes for summer and for a few reasons:

  • They hide sweat and stains nicely
  • They are distracting during a season when so many silhouettes are fitted and shrunken

A solid blue tank can look cheap and dumpy if you have curves or if it gets washed too much, a printed tank creates an optical illusion, and also looks more expensive. A pair of solid capris can be a bit too harsh in summer and the thin fabric may show more than you like; a printed pair camouflages curves, adds a bit of light and if you choose wisely, a print can actually fade nicely with regular washings (I’m partial to light-background retro florals, Ikat prints, and dots). A print can also dress up and down nicely with a quick change of accessories.

I have a lot of dresses in this capsule, and it’s because I find them to be more wearable, more simple, and more comfortable in summer than skirts and separates. While you can find jersey dresses anywhere, they can cling with sweat and humidity if too thin. I’m partial to cotton, chambray, linen and silk (and blends with these two fabrics). Such fabrics dry quickly, catch the slightest breeze, float away from the body and don’t cling. If you choose a style with a bit fuller of a skirt (even a-line) that comes to knee or lower, you can still chase after your toddler and crawl under a table to capture a lost sippy cup. My secret for summer dresses? Bike shorts. Get a pair of moisture-wicking bike shorts in a solid color, and they will prevent chafing as well as provide modesty.

Social events in the summer are never as dressy as those in the colder months; you can get away with a night out with the girls in a pair of white jeans and an interesting top; leather sandals with some metal detail will be a dressy enough shoe and is just as comfortable as cheap flip flops. For summer weddings, a dress in a silk or linen blend paired with wedge or heeled sandals and an interesting necklace will be lovely, and such pieces can be incorporated into your daily wardrobe.

Switching out black accessories for tan makes most everything look more summery. This is a great way to make winter staples (chambray shirts, darker colored knits) look seasonably appropriate. Not only that, a tan bag doesn’t have to be stowed away come September. I always prefer leather bags over fabric because they can be cleaned and conditioned, and look good with a bit of wear. Fabric bags can be very hard to clean, and a stained tote can really ruin your overall look. A bag with a shoulder strap as well as a crossbody strap means you can sling it over your body when your hands are full, or carry it on your shoulder or the crook of your elbow if in a rush or have a little one on your back.

Shorts are terrifying for most women, but these days there’s more than 2” inseams and skintight cutoffs. Last summer I lived in two pairs of shorts – weathered denim and a pair of white chinos. With my curves, I find it best to size up with shorts – this way you get less creasing with sitting, less VPL, they’re more comfortable, and aren’t fitted on the thighs. I also like to cuff them once to get a better length on me – petites are too petite, regulars are too long; in denim and chino a single cuff isn’t a bad thing. When it comes to denim, I encourage a more distressed look so you have a modern and hip look to your outfits. Summer is the time for prints, and for a more distressed or boho feel to your wardrobe. Very dark denim shorts and longer denim shorts with a very severe cuff can look dated and dowdy. Last summer I bought a pair of denim shorts at Target and self-distressed them. Check out this post that has many tips on how to DIY denim. But once you get over your shorts fear, you’ll find they can be as flattering as skirts. If need be, take them to a tailor – a great fitting pair of shorts is worth the trouble. White is a great summer neutral and in denim or heavy chino they are relatively opaque. If you fear white, consider olive (military inspiration is all over this season’s fashion), or a signature color (I have a pair of faded orange chino shorts I love and pair with everything from hot pink to Breton stripes to a simple white v-neck).

It may seem too hot for jeans, but often you are spending time inside instead of out. Loose boyfriend jeans that cuff above the ankle bone are lighter weight denim, have some ventilation with distressing, and are a trendy way to update simple tee shirts and tanks. White jeans are a great way to dress up knit tops for the evening or even for a daytime event like brunch or a casual shower.

Come summer, I prefer beaded necklaces to metal. Costume jewelry doesn’t play nice with sweat – it will tarnish, peel, and often irritate your skin. Not only that, it gets hot when the sun beats down on it. You can find beaded necklaces for cheap, be it at craft shows, Etsy, big box discount shops, or the teeny-bopper jewelry kiosk in your mall.

Stick to a single color story and aesthetic for the season so pieces mix and match more easily. As you can see with the first collection, it’s black, white, and rusty orange shades. The second one, it’s black and ivory with aqua and yellow.  For some, it may be shades of blue, for others it may be tans and browns. I recommend at least one pop of color for variety, and consider summer accessories to switch things up.

Speaking of accessories, I am all for signature sunglasses. A pair that is well-made, comfortable for long periods of time, and on trend will improve all outfits. I’m glad oversized Ray-Bans are back in style, I have a gold pair and a black pair; my sister is more the type to wear oversized plastic frames and my mom has been rocking the same black plastic Fendi frames for a few years and they still look quite chic.

For shoes, it’s tempting to spend all summer in $2 Old Navy flip flops, but I highly recommend investing in at least one pair of leather sandals – they’re just as or more comfortable and add a level of sophistication and style to your casual outfits. Sandals in a skin color with a wedge or slight heel can be worn with pants, dresses, skirts, and even shorts of all lengths and add a bit of a dressy vibe. A pair of canvas shoes, be they Keds, Chucks, or TOMS are perfect for mulch playgrounds, walking to the farmer’s market, or running errands around town while keeping you cool.

Sunglasses and shoes are two accessories you can find mega cheap come summer (hello Old Navy flip flops) but the quickest way to ruin your style. Buy the cheap v-neck tee shirt (hello Old Navy Vintage V-necks) but buy the best quality your budget can afford for sandals and shades and you will look more polished, trend aware, and sophisticated.

Finally, a comment to all – do not sacrifice comfort because you have an issue with your limbs.  Your arms, your legs, we all find them to not be toned enough, too veiny, too soft, too pale, to lumpy, too something.  No one is analyzing your arms and legs as much as you are.  While there are lovely cropped pants, below-knee skirts, and floaty sleeved tops out there, sometimes you just need to wear some shorts or a sleeveless top.  You will look more conspicuous sweating in an elbow-sleeve top and cropped pants than having fun and living life with exposed arms and legs.  Live your life, enjoy yourself, and dress the part!

Other posts you may find helpful:

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Ask Allie: Capsule Wardrobe of Neutrals

Allie, I love your capsules but I don’t wear color like you and your series. My signature style is shades of cream, black, gray, tan, and ivory. Could you do a capsule of neutrals?

I am in love with the idea of capsule wardrobes. However I’m terrible at choosing pieces that mix and match in interesting ways. Do you have any tips on choosing versatile pieces and building a small wardrobe that does a lot? And/or do you have any capsule wardrobes WITHOUT skirts?

I work in an office where it’s smart business casual, blouses and jackets and cardigans with pants and skirts and ‘nice’ denim allowed on Fridays. I feel my closet is a big mess of super casual, super dressy, and nothing in between and my coworkers are a stylish bunch. Any advice on how to get my work wardrobe on track?

I don’t wear skirts, but I have a feminine personal style. Any suggestions on a capsule wardrobe that will embrace both my inner Emma Pillsbury and my inner Ellen DeGeneres?

The past couple of months I have been gravitating towards more monochromatic ensembles, focusing more on shape and texture. So when I saw these questions in my comment box, I got excited to have reason to make a more neutral capsule!

For this capsule, I was thinking of a woman who works in an office that doesn’t necessarily expect suits every day, but to be more polished than chinos and a knit top. Embracing the “Emma Pillsbury meets Ellen DeGeneres” vibe, I mixed clean lines and classic separates with pussy bows, peplums, and other feminine touches.

Over 30 Possible Combinations

When many think neutrals, they feel they MUST have certain colors of trousers – black, gray, and camel. Thing is, these are great neutrals, but they aren’t always the most versatile. Over the years, I have seen the value of a pair of ivory or French vanilla trousers. They are amazingly versatile and don’t make you look any larger than gray or camel. Paired with black, it’s crisp and modern, but ivory looks great with colors as well as other neutrals like white, gray, tan, and olive.

A tweed or glen plaid trouser is also extremely versatile and adds a bit of interest to an ensemble made of neutrals. Mixing a more traditional menswear fabric with a pleated silk blouse or feminine leopard sweater always looks polished and chic.

You can keep a wardrobe neutral without making it boring by choosing accessories with polish and a bit of interest. While many fashion magazines will encourage pops of color (and you all know how much I love a pop of color), you can also accessorize neutrals with more neutral. A scarf with a soft print, a snakeskin shoe, a leopard haircalf skinny belt, a unique looking wedge boot – such pieces will take neutral separates and pull them into a cohesive and chic capsule.

The best part of neutrals is that quality separates can be found at most any pricepoint. I have a great black gabardine sheath I found at Target for $30, my favorite ivory trousers were found on the Ann Taylor clearance rack for less than $40. Neutrals are regularly on sale, and can better hide cheaper manufacturing. However, neutrals need to have great fit to keep them from looking dowdy – there’s nothing wrong with taking a $5 clearance rack or thrift store find to the tailor and spend an extra $20 to make it look like a million bucks.

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Ask Allie: SAHM Capsule Wardrobe

Dear Allie, any suggestions for a stay at home mom’s capsule wardrobe? I left the workforce two years ago when my second child was born and I have a terrible wardrobe of cocktail dresses and stained sweatpants and never seem to have the right thing to wear anywhere. While most days are spent in comfortable knits playing with the kids or working around the house, I’d like a wardrobe that could get me back out of the house and not look a mess. Clothes for volunteering at the school and church, wearing to book club or an unexpected night out with my husband or the girls or just basic clothes that won’t make me look like a mess when running errands. Clothes have to be comfortable, be washable, and be versatile since I don’t have an income any more. Any suggestions?

This sample capsule wardrobe will have you ready for everything from your husband’s work party to book club to the market to the playground. Stretch denim, ponte black knit separates, and colorful knits keep you looking polished even when you’re spending the day on the floor with your little ones. Choosing solids makes the pieces less memorable and more versatile; fabrics like ponte and merino wool look luxe but are machine washable on the gentle cycle and hold their shape through washings and wears.

Twenty Possible Ensembles (though you can make many many more):

  1. Black leggings, striped tee, cardigan, boots
  2. Black leggings, black turtleneck, boots
  3. Black leggings, chambray shirt, boots
  4. Black leggings, gray tee, pashmina, boots
  5. Jeans, striped tee, pashmina, boots
  6. Jeans, turtleneck, flats
  7. Jeans, gray tee, pink cardigan, statement necklace, flats
  8. Jeans, purple sweater, boots
  9. Jeans, chambray shirt, statement necklace, boots
  10. Black pants, black turtleneck, pumps
  11. Black pants, purple sweater, flats
  12. Black pants, gray tee, statement necklace, pumps
  13. Dress, boots
  14. Dress, leggings, flats
  15. Dress, pumps
  16. Skirt, scoop tee, flats
  17. Skirt, striped tee, cardigan, pumps
  18. Skirt, purple sweater, boots
  19. Skirt, turtleneck, flats
  20. Skirt, chambray shirt, flats

Black ponte leggings are thicker than jersey knit, making them look more polished, are more opaque and better hide any lumps and bumps. With a boyfriend cardigan and tall boots, comfy leggings and a tee can look downright chic. The same holds true for dark narrow jeans with stretch – the added Lycra keeps the jeans in shape when you’re active and keeps them comfortable. A dark wash will look more sophisticated and stay stylish longer than a trendy wash. A pair of trousers in black ponte dress up easily but have the stretch and machine washability that makes them practical; pair with everything from a tee shirt to a silk blouse for a put-together look. For ponte, even if it says dry clean only, it can be washed on the gentle cycle and hung to dry.

A black ponte dress in a simple silhouette can be worn with leggings and flats for a weekday casual look, with tall boots for Date Night, or with pumps for a social engagement. Dress up with a statement necklace, dress down with a pashmina. A gathered or pleated skirt in cotton blend (100% cotton may need ironing, a bit of poly will keep the wrinkles at bay) or a heavy knit like ponte gives you the fabric you need to be able to get on your knees to retrieve your child’s toy from under the table but still looks polished. A skirt can make simple flats and an old v-neck tee shirt look chic and purposeful and a lightweight sweater sophisticated.

A mix of different necklines keeps your wardrobe from looking like a uniform and makes layering a breeze. A black turtleneck sweater is insta-chic when paired with everything from trousers to jeans to a fuller skirt.  Merino wool is a great alternative to blends or cashmere as it doesn’t pill and can be washed on the gentle cycle of your machine.  A striped knit is an unexpected neutral which looks great on its own or with a sweater or shirt layered over it. Stripes also do a great job of hiding spots that are visible even on dark colored solid knits.  Chambray is also an unexpected neutral which can add interest under the dress, alone with jeans, or tucked into a skirt.  Unlike a white shirt, chambray looks okay a bit wrinkled, gets better with time and wear, and easily hides stains.

A big slouchy leather bag in a statement color can hold everything from your Kindle and bottle of water to a bag of Goldfish crackers and change of clothes for your child.  No need to be matchy-matchy with your bag, choose one that you like the color and shape and it can become an accent to the rest of the hues in your wardrobe.  Steer clear of metallics, suede, crinkle glazes or patent – all show wear and stains much faster than regular leather or a microfiber. Owning a sleek purse and pair of comfortable pumps in classic black leather will make dressing up your staples simple and they’re easy to polish up for special events. No need for a ton of different shoes – tall boots are surprisingly versatile and quickly add polish to simple knits and jeans. A pair of flats in a print like leopard are often times more versatile than a solid. Simple black pumps are there when you need to dress up.  If you’d like another pair of shoes, some ankle boots with a low heel or slight wedge would look great with all the pants and if they have a Western or engineer look, can also work with casual skirts and dresses.

Update: I created some sample capsule wardrobes for the summer months, you can check it out here!

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Ask Allie: Machine Washable Business Casual Capsule Wardrobe

I’m 42 and just went back to working in an office after years being a SAHM and then a WAHM. The office is business casual and with three boys at home and a crazy schedule I’d like everything machine washable. I am petite and carry my weight in my hips and rear. I also have foot problems and need to wear comfort brands of shoes (Sofft thanks to your recommendation, Softspots, Naturalizer). I look best in blues and purples. Is it possible to look hip and professional or am I stuck in golf shirts and pleated khakis?

Do you have any suggestions for machine washable clothes that can be worn at a business casual office setting? I’m a pear shaped 40-year-old with small kids at home. I usually wear blacks and browns and creams and fall colors and flat shoes and have a tendency to end up looking either very frumpy or too “hiking casual” a la L.L. Bean catalog.

Oh my dears, please do not fall into the deep dark dank hole of pique golf shirt and wrinkle-free chinos. As for L.L. Bean, I adore the brand, but “hiking casual” is not the effect you likely wish to give off at the office. There are other options that are machine washable, kind to your feet, and will better flatter your figure and your personal style!

capsule wardrobe business casual machine washable

This is a very simple capsule wardrobe for a business casual office and all the pieces are machine washable. I know each of you provided the colors that you prefer to wear; please know that while this collection is brights with primarily black, it can be changed to other tones and I will break those down later in the details. However, I chose this color story to show the two of you the power of going outside your color comfort zone. Choosing a wardrobe of neutrals or sticking to just one or two shades you were told are flattering is safe and easy, but I’ve found that this is often what causes women to quickly tire of their wardrobe and also quickly get into a rut. You’re coming to me for advice, and my advice is to get a bit out of your comfort zone to reassess your personal style. You’re going to have to do a bit of self-analysis to prevent spending a ton and floundering each morning in front of your closet. The capsule wardrobes I provide are guides, not gospel. The work needs to come from you. Buy slow, feel out each piece, each new trend or shade. I’m one who was always told that she was a Winter yet I feel most alive when wearing orange. I can recall in 2000 despising skirts and proclaiming that I would even wear pants for my wedding; 15 years later more than half my wardrobe is skirts and dresses. I’m not saying throw out your entire closet; on the contrary. Just recall why you emailed me, and don’t be afraid to dip your toe into new-to-you trends, colors, silhouettes, and combinations. The results may surprise (and flatter!) you!

This capsule wardrobe for a business casual environment is classic, crisp, and quite versatile. Black and charcoal gray bottoms may seem heavy come the warmer months, but remember you are in an office environment with air conditioning. These colors are versatile, transition well from season to season, you have to worry less about matching shoes and belts, and best of all black and heathered gray and charcoal hide stains. For this capsule, I chose a skirt that skims over the hips and hits right around the knee, providing a flattering length that works well with flat shoes. Even if you’re not comfortable with skirts, one of this length is so easy; pair with a refined knit you already own and BAM! An office outfit. To keep it machine washable, look for matte jersey (has a nubby crepe texture but is stretchy) or ponte knit (heavier than jersey, has the same finish on the front and back of the fabric unlike terry or sweatshirt material, very tight weave). Even if the item says dry clean only, these fabrics can be washed on cold on the gentle cycle and hung to dry without a ton of wrinkles and no shrinkage. The pants featured are also in the ponte knit fabric – ponte has become quite a popular fabric because it’s heavy enough to give a smooth line on the body, is budget-friendly, and as comfortable as yoga pants yet appropriate for the office. One ponte piece often matches another so you can buy pants at one store, a skirt at another, a jacket at another and pull together a suiting collection. As for the pants, they are more traditional of suiting fabric, but unlined (linings often get wonky when machine washed) and of a washable material. I was envisioning my LOFT pants; I have them in every color available and they have been in the wash dozens of time (cold, gentle cycle, line dry) and still look like new.

If you cannot stand black and heathered gray, consider taupe, other shades of gray, cool olive, cream, and heathered brown. True brown is hard to find the right color – too warm and it can quickly look dated. Khaki, even if made of silk can still look like a pair of chinos if you’re not comfortable yet with your personal style. There’s something terribly chic about pairing warm neutral tops with crisp black bottoms, so don’t feel that adopting black pants means you need to build a wardrobe of cool tones or brights.

Even if you’re not used to dresses, you can’t deny how darn EASY they are. When you’re a busy mom, you can’t beat one-piece outfits! Again, I chose ponte and matte jersey because they are refined enough for the office but machine washable. The blue ponte dress is one of those cuts that flatters so many figures; elbow-length sleeves work almost every season of the year, the fit and flare cut flatters your figure, and the knee length is modest without being frumpy. The matte jersey dress has a wrap cut which creates an hourglass shape; the ruched waist whittles you even more and brings the eyes up. This concept could be with a skirt length anywhere from just above the kneecap to the bottom of your calf muscle; the sleeves could be anything from cap sleeves to flutter to long sleeves. There is nothing wrong with purchasing a dress like this in multiples – different cuts, different prints, different lengths. With a switch of accessories such a dress could be worn on the beach boardwalk for a stroll or donned to attend a evening dressy affair.

I’m the queen of the not-so-little black dress but I don’t think black is a good choice when picking a work dress. Especially in a business casual environment, a black dress can look too severe and serious, especially if you’re wearing it on a more regular basis. This is a chance to show your personality, so embrace olive green, pumpkin, plum, cobalt, or whatever color makes you feel great. While I recommend having at least one dress a solid (more versatile and easy to transform/dress up and down with accessories), the other dress can have a print or texture.

The tops all have something in common – an unexpected something. When building a small yet mighty capsule wardrobe, it’s tempting to buy basics. However, you’ll find those pieces with the little bit of interest will be the most worn and the most versatile. The teal top is in matte jersey and has a drape neckline that is modest enough for the office, yet provides interest, makes the piece dress up more easily, and balances a pear shape. The striped top has bracelet-length sleeves, a heavier weight, and a boatneck to keep it from looking like a basic tee shirt. The orange shell has pleating detail and a shirttail hem. And even the cardigan is a bold contrast color in place of basic black or tan. However, except for the striped top (which is still in very basic colors), everything is a solid. A solid is more versatile, and if in a stand-out color, will be a piece you love for many seasons. Prints can look dated quickly, are prone to looking cheap, and are far too memorable. That teal top can be paired with the cropped pants and flats, tucked into the skirt and styled with a wide belt, belted over the gray pants, or tucked into the gray pants and topped with the cardigan. You may have as much versatility with a printed top, but you (and others) may be more aware of the piece being worn so often and grow tired of it.

Shoes can be flat and comfort brands and still have style and elegance. Both shoes featured are by Sofft, my favorite brand for comfort, extended sizes, and classic style. A black flat is a great choice as it goes with pants and skirts; choose a style with structure and an almond (not round or square) toe so it feels graceful and is more office-appropriate. Leather is the most versatile and easiest to polish up if it gets dirty or scuffed. A soft metallic sandal is far more versatile than a neutral, is as leg-extending as natural or tan, but can also dress up more easily. This sandal has a subtle wedge that will likely prove more comfortable than a true flat shoe. If your office doesn’t allow sandals or the weather is cooler, you can switch this shoe out for a Mary Jane or flat also in a soft metallic; the goal is to have a different feel from the black and something that will look appropriate with pants as well as skirts.

Accessories are what gives a capsule wardrobe personal style. Since you both stated you were pear shaped, I chose accessories that highlight the smallest part of your figure and draw attention up. A wide belt is an awesome accessory to have in your closet; I love elastic ones with a leather (or faux) buckle. Consider wearing a touch above your natural waist where your torso is slimmest – this makes you look long and lean. A skinny belt in a contrast color is extremely useful. Belt an untucked top to give a different effect (I have done it here and here), belt a cardigan to highlight your small waist, or give a different effect to dresses. The color doesn’t matter – it’s better to contrast than match. Just be sure if there’s a metal buckle it’s the color you usually wear for your jewelry. For necklaces, I chose ones with a lot of impact, but available at most any pricepoint. A beaded necklace is fun, whimsical, and gives you much bang for your buck. Not only that, you won’t be too upset if one of your little ones accidentally tugs and breaks it. While you can buy your initial necklaces at the mall or big box retailer, keep an eye out for cool pieces when on your travels – it’s a wonderful way to remember your vacations and add a unique and personal touch to your wardrobe.

How to Keep Your Wardrobe Looking Like New

I wrote this post, looking at a huge mound on my dining room floor of clothes that need to go to the dry cleaners. A week ago, the mound was in the laundry room, and the week before that on the floor of my closet. Maybe today I’ll get around to bagging them and putting them in the trunk of my car and hopefully they’ll get to the cleaners before it’s July. I get you with wanting a machine washable work wardrobe. Dry cleaning is difficult, not as environmentally friendly, and costly. Here’s a few tips to keep you dressed for the office without having to go to the cleaners:

  • Invest in a Lingerie Bag. The problem with washing machines isn’t as much the water as it is the wringing and spinning. I have two lingerie bags and use them often; in one I put bras (with the hooks hooked so they don’t snag on anything else) and underwear, the other I put silk and delicate blouses. Using the gentle cycle on the machine, loading halfway but having the water for a full load, and choosing delicate detergent, I find this is a safe way to wash my work blouses. I then hang them on a plastic hanger off the shower curtain rod in the bathroom until they’re dry. If they’re wrinkled, often being hung in the bathroom during a hot steamy shower will do the trick.
  • Spot Clean. You do not need to wash your clothes after every wear. Usually if you let them air out they’re ready to wear a couple more times. I often spot clean clothing so I don’t have to launder or dry clean the entire piece. I always have a Tide To Go pen in my purse and I also have one in my pencil cup on my office desk. At home, I’ll use a little bit of Ivory Soap to lather a spot and then a clean rag or washcloth to dampen and then blot.
  • Go Liquid. Powder laundry detergents may be a better value, but often leave residue when using cold water and the gentle cycle. I use Biokleen for my gentle washes because it rinses clean and doesn’t leave any coating on my clothing. I find it does a better job than specialty detergents like Woolite.
  • Buy Peroxide and Dawn. This is the best stain remover ever. Seriously. While at it, keep an old toothbrush with the two bottles, it works well getting into the weave of ponte, twill, and cotton.
  • Baby Your Wardrobe. I had a high school boyfriend who as soon as he got home off the bus would change out of his Champion sweatshirts and Guess jeans into older rattier sweats and jeans. I found this so weird, but I gotta say he always looked so crisp at school and was the only person I knew who could keep white sweatshirts looking brand new. Take a lesson from this guy and take off your work clothes as soon as you get home. While ponte and matte jersey may be as comfortable as loungewear, babying it will keep it looking nice much longer. Fold sweaters; when placed on hangers they can stretch and get misshapen. I hang pants upside down, matching up seams and either folding over a bar or clipping to a hanger; this helps keep a crisp leg and a bit of a crease down the front, elongating the leg. Be careful when hanging so nothing gets creased or mushed.

Ask Allie: Capsule Wardrobe for a Fluctuating Figure

I’m going through a divorce and at the same time my only son has left for college [thousands of miles away]. I know I am self-medicating with food and I need to do something about it but in the meantime my clothes don’t fit. I don’t want to spend a lot of money because A. I don’t have it and B. I don’t plan to be this size for long but squeezing myself into too small clothes is doing nothing for my confidence. Any ideas on a capsule that can get me through this rough patch? I’m 48, average height, and right now a size 14 though usually I am an 8.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but a pair of too-tight jeans just make me want to raid the fridge. Having some flattering and well-fitting clothes will not only make you look better but likely feel better. Not only that, having a few garments that fit and are versatile will reduce stress over getting dressed, giving you energy to focus on caring for yourself.

What to wear when you temporarily gain weight: A Capsule wardrobe for the fluctuating figure

There are some fabrics that are more forgiving and budget friendly than others. During this time, ponte knit and matte jersey are your friends. Found everywhere from Target to the fanciest boutique in town, these fabrics have stretch, don’t cling, and can dress up and down with ease. Ponte is so heavy of a fabric it will smooth the figure while giving a nice drape. Matte jersey can dress up beautifully but be washed in the machine and doesn’t wrinkle.

Dresses are also your friend during this time, for they are more likely to adjust to your changing size without sacrificing your style. In this capsule I put two dresses that are extremely versatile and flattering to a softer or curvier figure. A wrap dress in matte jersey whittles the waist, flatters curves, and turns you into a bombshell. I purposefully chose a rich color in place of black so people will notice the color before anything else. This dress can be worn to work, but also can dress up for an after-work event, a wedding, or if you choose to do so, a date. The second dress is of ponte knit so it won’t cling; a fit and flare style highlights the smallest part of your torso and gives you an hourglass shape. A dress like this is just as versatile as the wrap dress but a bit more conservative. For work wear on its own, or pair with a cardigan or blazer; it can be worn with pumps, booties, or flats.

It’s worth it to purchase a simple skirt and classic-cut trousers in your current size, and if necessary tailor for a great fit. I recently purchased these pants from LOFT and found the price very nice for work-ready attire. Not only that, the pants are machine washable, reducing the money and time spent on dry cleaning. These pants from Old Navy are also machine washable and a classic fit.  A skirt in a heavyweight knit like ponte will look appropriate at the office, dress down with flats and a tee for the weekend, and also work with your changing size. This one from Target is a nice price and receives great reviews.  For Casual Friday and the weekends, it’s smart to buy one pair of jeans, a simple dark wash, free of trendy details that fit comfortably.  While my beloved NYDJ ‘Hayden’ jeans are pricey, you can often find them on sale at 6pm, and these jeans by Style&co are a nice alternative.

The best way to save money and feel comfortable is to forego wearing crisp button-front shirts, perfectly tailored wool dresses, and classic suiting and go for items with stretch. A v-neck cardigan with a longer line keeps you warm on crisp autumn days and dresses up a knit to make it office appropriate. As with the wrap dress, choose a cheery color that adds interest to your closet staples. A blazer is often necessary in Corporate America, but is also a great way to dress up denim for drinks with friends or weekend brunch. Choosing a blazer in ponte knit not only coordinates with the other ponte pieces in your wardrobe, but offers stretchy comfort. For this item, choosing a neutral will make the piece look more expensive and be more versatile; pair with fun printed and colored tops and simple dark or denim bottoms.

Finally, take care of the underpinnings. Though it may sound like torture right now, you need to be fitted for a bra. Our busts change with weight loss and gain as well as age; a well-fitting bra can make you look 10 pounds thinner, years younger, and have your entire wardrobe fit better. Speaking of underpinnings, consider purchasing a new pair of very opaque, well-made tights. Black tights with black shoes will elongate your frame and look modern with knit dresses and skirts; invest in a new pair that doesn’t sag or segment. I’m a fan of the Spanx Tight End tights which last me multiple seasons and can handle being machine washed on gentle in a lingerie bag. Little details like well-fitting underpinnings can make all the difference in how you look, but more importantly, how you feel.

I can’t stress this enough – it’s okay to wear the same pants two or three times in a week, to wear the same dress to every wedding, to only own two pairs of shoes. Style comes from quality, not quantity. Buy few items, but choose colors that make you happy and fabrics that are kind to your body. Keep it simple and add personality with accessories already in your wardrobe. Clothing can seem very important, but it’s really only important in that it covers you and lets you get through the day. You have far more important things in life to care about, first and foremost you. Buy what makes you comfortable, feel good, and give you the time to focus on what’s important. Sending you vibes of strength and love.

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Ask Allie: Feminine Capsule Wardrobe of Neutrals

I love the idea of capsule wardrobes and minimalism but I can’t seem to make it work. I buy basics but they don’t work with each other so I end up buying more and more. I like neutrals (camel, cream, grey with jeans and brown shoes) and I like a polished and professional but feminine look but I’m buying and looking like a forest ranger instead of Katharine Hepburn. Help me get on the right track!

Oh those must-have closet essentials, they get us every time! The thing is, what is considered a classic or essential to one woman can be useless or terribly unflattering to the other. The best way to figure out your personal closet staples or wardrobe must-haves is to look at what you already wear and love the most. Guessing by your forest ranger comment I’m betting you’re purchasing a lot of structured pieces like crisp button-front shirts, trenches, straight trousers and that may be the problem. I made a capsule wardrobe of very classic pieces, but with a softer, more feminine touch to steer clear of any park ranger vibes.

A good way to make neutrals look luxe instead of uniform is focusing on texture. Leather, denim with strategic fading or distressing, lace and crocheted fabric, silk, cashmere, wool, ruffles and draping, cable knits. Almost every piece in this capsule has some sort of texture to make it stand out. Instead of a crisp button-front, choose a silk blouse or a weathered denim shirt. Instead of a blazer or twill jacket consider toppers in tweed, boucle, denim, and leather. Strategic pleating and ruffles make a simple camel dress or silk shell showstoppers without affecting their versatility.

The best way to make pieces in your wardrobe work with one another is to imagine or write down potential outfits before you shop and as you consider every new purchase. If it can’t be incorporated into at least three outfits with what you already own, it doesn’t deserve space in your capsule wardrobe. The point of a capsule is to have everything work in harmony, and adding items that aren’t versatile can quickly cause your capsule to collapse and have you spend far more than you want. To help, make an album on your phone or jot down in a small notebook the current pieces in your wardrobe that work so you can stay focused when you shop. I also recommend wearing pieces from your wardrobe and the shoes you’ll likely wear with the future garment when shopping so you get a realistic feel for its versatility and appropriateness.

And finally, go slow. It’s not as though your closet is bare, it’s just not what you like. So shop with care, adding slowly so the pieces are ones you love now and will still enjoy a year from now. If you shop slowly and purchase fewer items, you can wait for great sales and invest in higher quality items that will last more than a season. The point of a capsule wardrobe is to have more with less, more style with fewer garments, more options while spending less money, more outfits with less stress of figuring out how to put them together each morning. It’s worth the wait for the right pieces that make you feel and look great and work nicely with one another.

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Ask Allie: Summer Capsule Wardrobe with Polish

“I’d love to know what you plan on wearing this summer, what are your top buys?”

“Can you do a summer capsule of business casual but that works with after work ball games, happy hours, and other events? I can’t figure out summer day to play like I can for fall and winter.”

Summer should have a wardrobe as fun yet relaxed as it is; it’s a time to embrace color, consider bold prints, and choose fabrics that can handle the heat and your more active lifestyle. Below is a sample summer capsule wardrobe, envisioning what I’d be buying and wearing this summer, featuring my favorite trends of the season as well as many wardrobe classics that could already be residing in your closet.

capsule wardrobe - summer polish

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printed shell | gray tee | band tee | white blazer | black top | blue camisole | striped tank | wedge sandals | Birkenstocks | printed pants | white shorts | denim shorts | hat | sunglasses | cuff bracelet | white jeans | boyfriend jeans | purse | belt | pencil skirt | midi skirt | scarf | necklace | printed dress | yellow dress

Tops:

  • A silky sleeveless top in a bold print is surprisingly versatile, it’s a hot trend this summer but a piece that will be stylish for many seasons to come. Wear untucked with white shorts, wedge sandals and gold jewelry for your friend’s annual summer bash, with jeans for happy hour, tucked into the chiffon midi skirt for a sweltering day at the office, with a pencil skirt and the white blazer or cardigan to ward against the frigid temps of an overly-air conditioned workplace. I even love the contrast of silk with distressed denim; pair with the boyfriend jeans or denim shorts and Birkenstocks and look comfy chic for an outdoor concert or barbecue.  I just got this one from Nordstrom and have worn a dozen times in just a month.
  • I love a gray v-neck tee, I have a couple Old Navy Vintage V-necks and have heard good things about Everlane; if linen or stretchy, it has a dressier feel that looks great knotted over a chiffon midi skirt or under a white blazer with boyfriend jeans. Also consider knotting over a dress to give it a completely different look.
  • I love band tees, a great way to show your personal tastes and incorporate a hot summer trend. I always cut the neck out of mine, and occasionally snip off a bit of length of the sleeves for a more feminine fit. Pair with the chiffon skirt or printed pants and Birkenstocks for a concert or weekend party, wear with distressed denim for the weekends and add the blazer for a more refined look.
  • A white blazer in a relaxed cut and fabric is an easy way to dress up a casual summer look or transform a “play” look into something “day” appropriate. I have a white linen blazer from LOFT; I roll the sleeves to get a casual summer vibe and pair with separates or wear over a dress.
  • A black drapey sleeveless top is a summer wardrobe essential for me; last summer I had this silky one from MICHAEL Michael Kors and this summer I added this jersey one from Two by Vince Camuto. It’s nice enough to wear to the office with the printed pants or either of the skirts or slip under a suit. However it can dress down and work with the white shorts or jeans for a casual dinner out or drinks at a waterfront bar.
  • A floaty camisole in a fabric like crepe, silk, or cotton voile is perfect for day to play dress. Wear under a blazer or cardigan for the office and remove the topper for drinks or dinner. If the color is in a similar hue as the pencil skirt (teal with cobalt, purple with navy, etc.) the two paired with a blazer makes for an elegant office look and without can make a lovely outfit for a daytime wedding. Wear untucked with any of the bottoms for breezy summer style.
  • You know I love stripes, and that love continues through the summer. A striped tank in a heavyweight stretch or refined knit can dress up enough for Business Casual; pair with the printed pants for black and white pattern mixing, with the chiffon skirt and wedges, or the pencil skirt and blazer. For play, it would look great with any of the bottoms, add a belt with gold details to dress it up.

Bottoms:

  • Printed pants are my new favorite wardrobe addition. In a lightweight fabric, it’s a way to look polished while keeping your cool all summer.
  • Shorts come in so many cuts and lengths this summer, there’s a flattering style for everyone. My favorites are a distressed denim (I self-distressed a cheap Target pair, see them here, and I used this tutorial), and crisp white. I find white versatile and easy to dress up, while many feel white is bad with pale legs, it’s less harsh than black and complements more colors and fabrics.
  • Some can’t fathom wearing denim in summer and I get that. For me, I like it for the evening or Casual Friday. White jeans can be flattering if you choose a heavyweight denim or a denim blend, and consider a looser cut or going up a size. Boyfriend jeans are still hot this summer, and their looser fit makes them more comfortable in the heat and great for sitting in the grass for a picnic or festival.
  • Skirts are a summer essential, especially if you work in an office setting. A pencil skirt in a cotton or linen blend is seasonally appropriate and office appropriate. A chiffon midi or maxi skirt floats in the breeze and dresses up and down with ease.

Dresses:

  • Gotta love one-piece dressing during the summer months! Featured are my two favorite summer dress cuts – the tee or shift dress and a more feminine fit and flare style. The tee dress can dress up for work with heels and a scarf or necklace and can dress down with a topknot and Birkenstocks. The yellow dress can be paired with nude heels and a sparkly necklace for a wedding, with a blazer or cardigan for the office, and simple sandals for play. Tie a tee over it or wear a belt (or a scarf tied at the waist) for a completely different look.

Accessories:

  • Wedge sandals are brilliant for summer; they can work for more casual office settings and won’t sink into grass at an outdoor wedding. They also work with pants, jeans, skirts and dressier shorts. Flat sandals are a comfy summer must; I’m loving the return of Birkenstocks and their availability in metallic and patent leathers but a simple sandal, gladiator, or thong style can also work.
  • It’s important to protect yourself in the sun, along with sunscreen it’s smart to don a hat and sunglasses. A white Panama hat is on trend, looks at home with a tee and denim cutoffs as well as a pretty summer dress and heels. Classic Ray-Ban Wayfarers also dress up and down nicely and are a classic that will still look cool next summer.
  • A small black leather clutch with a strap that can be removed or tucked inside is my favorite type of summer bag, and perfect for day to play. Use the strap for the office and transform it into a clutch for happy hour. Wear across the body for a daytime festival and without for a wedding.
  • A black leather belt with a bit of hardware is a quick way to dress up wardrobe basics. A thin belt isn’t as hot and can nicely cinch a floaty tunic or dress or add some polish to white jeans or shorts.
  • A square scarf in silk or cotton voile is extremely versatile. Tie bandana style and add interest to a simple tee and jeans, knot over a ponytail or to the strap of your bag. I sometimes tie a scarf to a front belt loop of my jeans to spice up a simple outfit.
  • In the summer, heavy jewelry can be hot. A simple chain and charm and a thin cuff of the same metal is enough sparkle needed to dress up wardrobe basics.

 

When it comes to summer dressing with a touch of polish, what are your wardrobe tips and suggestions?

Ask Allie: Young Professional Summer Capsule Wardrobe

I began graduate school this January and was able to hide in coats and jeans during winter months, but now it’s getting HOT. Do you have any tips for building a spring/summer capsule wardrobe for a college graduate student? I want to become a little more sophisticated than my sweat pants and flip flop undergrad days, but am not sure which direction to go.

I just graduated and got a job in an office where the dress code is business casual. While I can wear jeans on Friday, the rest of the week I’m supposed to wear pants, dresses and skirts. It’s hot out, how do I look business casual and stay cool?

I’m new to the workforce and have no clue where to start when trying to find clothes that are right for summer and right for an office and right for me – I am 24. I don’t need to wear a suit at work, can get away with khakis or even jeans but sometimes I need to look nice for a business meeting or corporate visit. Oh, and I have a limited budget. Help!

The summer does make it harder to look professional but still keep your cool. A lot of it has to do more with the fabrics and silhouettes you choose than how much skin is covered. Because no matter the number on the thermometer, showing a lot of skin is never appropriate at the office. Cotton, linen, fabrics that catch the breeze – this will help you keep your cool while looking professional. Even though it’s hot outside, it’s usually chilly indoors so having a couple easy layers to put on once inside keeps you looking great no matter the temperature.

All three of you mentioned relatively relaxed dress codes, so I considered the one I have at my current job. We are allowed sleeveless as long as it doesn’t expose bra straps, and they are okay with sandals and open-toe shoes as long as they are not flip-flops. A tee shirt is even acceptable if in a refined knit, tailored, and in good condition. If your office is more formal, it’s easy to find alternatives that cover the tops of the arms, are closed-toe, or an more polished fabric (switch tees for silk or synthetics). I decided to create a capsule that is youthful and age-appropriate yet still appropriate for an office.

Suiting separates are a smart wardrobe addition, even if you aren’t expected to wear a suit to work. You never know when you may be asked to travel on business, represent your company at a conference, or speak in front of clients at a meeting. I chose separates in ponte knit, which isn’t as stuffy as classic suiting, and works better as individual pieces in a business casual environment. Along with this, also have a pair of classic pumps on hand – while they can be worn on a daily basis to work, they are ready to go for a business meeting or even for a weekend wedding or social affair. Get them reheeled when necessary, polish regularly and they can provide you with years of stylish wear.

As you can see, I chose a collection of brights with black and white accents. In summer, brights are more acceptable and solids are always more versatile. The black and white keeps it looking clean, modern, and classic; black immediately gives an air of formality and will tone down cheery hues and give a business vibe. The same holds true for a pair of classic pumps with an almond or slightly pointed toe and is why I constantly recommend a pair in everyone’s wardrobe.

When shopping, keep in mind that these are clothes for the office – while a casual or business casual dress code is in effect, nothing should be overly tight, cleavage should be under wraps, skirts should be around the knee, shoes shouldn’t be too wild (too high, too big of platform, crazy colors or fabrics, etc.).

It’s better to err on the side of conservative until you have a better feel of the true office culture and dress code. Don’t base your assumptions on the look of the receptionist who greeted you for your interview or even the attire of the manager who interviewed you. Get to know your department, your clients. I know at my company, each department dresses a bit differently depending on if they meet with clients, have offsite meetings, have to lead meetings, or are holed up in a cubicle all day long looking at two monitors. Don’t buy your whole wardrobe before your first month is through.

Links below the collage are similar items at reasonable prices.  Some of the pieces used in the collage are no longer for sale or too pricey for an entry-level employee; collages should be considered inspiration only.

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Ask Allie: All Black Capsule Wardrobe

After a six year hiatus, I am back to sign language interpreting as my part-time gig. As a sign language interpreter, we are required to wear dark, solid clothes (they are the background for our hands, and anything else would be “visual noise”). Do you have any suggestions for spring/summer outfits that will make me look and feel fabulous?

My new job requires me to wear all black, and they encourage fashionable styles that aren’t too over the top. I work long hours and do a lot of standing and sitting so I need clothes that can hold up for it. Where do I start?

I just changed [retail store] companies and my new place has an all-black dress code. I’m a trainer so I need to look good but also be able to wear clothes that can handle a lot of business travel and washings. Suggestions?

For a few years of my life, I worked for a skincare company as a manager and trainer and had to wear black every day. At first I felt it was so limiting to be forced into one color, but over time I think it was a good experience for honing my personal style. By being confined to black, I cared more about fit, style, silhouette. I also found that black can be found at most any pricepoint, so I would purchase quality basics (well-fitting pants, nice dresses for speaking engagements) and have a bit more fun with budget-friendly tops that incorporated current trends.

Above is a sample all-black capsule wardrobe and it shows that you can have style and fun while sticking to a single color. I was channeling a modern-day Audrey Hepburn with this collection, choosing simple pieces with a touch of femininity.

I can recall days where I was processing shipment or completing floor moves and was happy just in a black tee with a flattering silhouette, some cropped pants and flats. However, it was great to have a jacket or cardigan in the back room to pull the look together if I had to be out on the sales floor. Sticking primarily to fabrics with stretch (matte jersey, ponte, quality jersey) means the clothes will survive a long day and a lot of movement. Wrap dresses are one of the greatest inventions of our time – in matte jersey such a dress can look great at work with wedges or glam up for a weekend wedding with heels and sparkly jewelry. Even better, the fabric is resistant to stains, can be machine washed, doesn’t wrinkle and dries quickly. When I worked retail, a large percentage of my wardrobe was matte jersey for this very reason, and I regularly wore a wrap dress for training seminars.

A variety of shoes is a must to keep your feet happy for a long span of time. Wedges, flats, and kitten heels can look great with pants and skirts of all lengths without leaving you in pain at the end of the day. If your wedge and heels are the same length, you won’t have to have different lengths of long trousers. I learned quickly that if you wear a different shoe every day, even if it’s the same heel height, your shoes will last longer (they have a chance to air out and return to their original shape), and your feet will be happy.

To add personality, consider accessories. Your job may not allow colorful accents, but you can better define your style with a strand of pearls, a crystal statement necklace, or a studded leather cuff. Also belts in different textiles (haircalf, patent, tumbled leather) can really switch up the look of black wardrobe basics.

Finally, buy in bulk. If you find a pair of trousers that make you look three inches taller and ten pounds thinner, purchase two pairs. When I worked for the skincare company, I had five of the same black pants I found on clearance at Express. They fit, they flattered, they were machine washable, and no one was keeping count how many times I wore them because they were so great. I did the same with blouses and knit tops that were perfect for my career and style – black can fade over time so if the price is right, prepare of the future by having one in reserve!

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Ask Allie: Denim-based Office Capsule Wardrobe

I really like the capsule wardrobe posts that you have been doing. Would you consider doing one for a jeans work environment? Our company recently switched policies to allow casual dress everyday, as long as the jeans are dressier.

My last three places of employment have allowed jeans as long as they were dressed up. This post I wrote about work-appropriate denim is a great start in figuring out which jeans are considered business casual, and which are best left for weekends and evenings. For a denim-based capsule wardrobe, I recommend at least three different silhouettes and washes. For this capsule, I chose a dark wash of a traditional cut (straight, bootcut, etc.), a denim trouser which is a bit more refined and usually has a wider leg, and then a novelty piece. Depending on your personal style, it could be a subtle brocade print, corduroy, velour, or even a dark color like oxblood, black, or olive green. With all your work jeans, narrow and slim is acceptable with longer tops but skin tight is never appropriate.

Twenty Possible Combinations:


The best way to make jeans versatile is to have a variety of footwear. Narrow jeans look drastically different with flats than they do tucked into tall boots. Since you wrote in your email that you recently had a baby, I chose shoes that are more comfortable – a low-heeled boot, flat with arch support (I actually own these very flats from Ecco and find them extremely comfortable and cute), a wedge which is easier to wear than a standard heel.

Accessories can really transform an outfit – a tunic sweater is slouchy cool alone, streamlined when cinched with a wide belt. Thinking of my own wardrobe, I added a patterned skinny belt and a statement-making wide belt because I find these two types of belts to be the most versatile and best at transforming wardrobe staples. Scarves give denim a chic vibe – a patterned silk scarf with anything from a tank and cardigan to a striped tee makes a look instantly sophisticated, a lightweight pashmina adds interest and is a makeshift shawl in drafty offices.

Also since you said you recently had a baby, I chose fabrics and silhouettes that have stretch, are comfortable, and can look polished without being super fitted and structured. These pieces will also work if you lose any weight in the next couple of months – you can tuck in, belt, and adjust as your body changes. I stuck with solid colors because they are more versatile and less memorable. I used a lot of neutrals with pops of extreme brights, which always look so great next to denim.

When wearing jeans, it’s more important to think about what is on top. While one could carry off a simple knit top with pants or a skirt, with jeans such a top could easily veer into cleaning-out-the-garage territory. Soft-structured jackets, sweater coats, and cardigans help make jeans look polished as well as making more narrow silhouettes office-appropriate. All of these pieces would easily work with pants and skirts as well if there are days where you need to dress up for a visit from corporate or clients.

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Ask Allie: Capsule Wardrobe for Business Travel

I loved your SAHM capsule – any chance of you doing something similar for the Road Warrior? I have worked with the concept but still am missing a few pieces that I can’t for the life of me figure out what they are.

I got a new job in November that will have me traveling quite a bit this spring. I will visit client sites, and will be away from home for up to three weeks at a time. I haven’t had to travel for work before more than a couple days or a conference and have no clue how to do this. My coworker is a man and he says he keeps his suitcase always packed and ready to go, how does a woman make three weeks of professional clothing fit in one carry on suitcase? HELP!

In my past career lives, I did travel for business. While I was never away for more than a week, I often saw the same clients multiple times in a month, and often only had a week between trips before I was again on the road. It may seem daunting to look professional and pack smart, but it is possible. These days professional attire is found with Lycra, spandex, and fabric blends that make it comfortable and travel-friendly. Matte jersey, stretch wool, ponte knit, crepe, and gabardine can be your friend when you are a road warrior. I made a sample capsule wardrobe based upon my experiences with business travel. Only the suit in this capsule is high-maintenance fabric; pack wrapped in dry cleaning bags to prevent wrinkles, hang up as soon as you arrive and it should be okay for the big presentation. The rest are work-appropriate separates that all have some sort of stretch to keep them looking great right off the plane or train or out of the suitcase.

Over 30 outfits with only 14 garments (details):

 

Lots of ponte separates. I’m a ponte addict, I can’t deny it. Heavyweight knit that works year-round, doesn’t wrinkle, and can be machine washed. Pretty spectacular. On top of that, it looks refined enough for the workplace. In this capsule I have black ponte pants, an ivory ponte blazer, black ponte dress, black ponte top, and gray ponte skirt. Since they are the same fabric, they mix and match with ease and the combinations looks more like ensembles. Ponte is also great when you have to fly or take the train and immediately head to a business meeting – you won’t be full of wrinkles and will be comfortable sitting for long spans of time.

Strategic pops of color. While it seems smart to pack an entire suitcase of neutrals, that can look pretty boring pretty quickly. Choosing suit shells and soft jackets or cardigans in colors will stretch your neutral capsule further. Mix two for a bold look, or just have one piece to give a neutral you already wore a new life. The choice of color is dependant on your personal style and profession. For more conservative fields, consider softer or more traditional hues; if you’re in a creative field you can amp up the color and even add more to the capsule.

Stick to solids. While prints can break up a wardrobe monotony, they are also so incredibly memorable that you can’t easily wear the same print twice with a client. If you are in a more casual or creative field, you can consider a print like leopard for some accessories, but having solids for your Road Warrior wardrobe means you can likely wear the same garment twice in a week without a client being the wiser.

Choose pieces that can dress up and down. While you may be meeting with clients and needing a professional wardrobe, not every moment of your day is suit-worthy. Maybe you’re meeting colleagues for happy hour, or your client is taking you to a baseball game. Be ready without having to stuff a suitcase with a casual wardrobe. A striped tee with a flattering neckline and fabric can be dressed up under a suit jacket, or paired with jeans and flats for a barbecue or sporting event. Pair the jeans with the cardigan for a casual meal, or with the ivory blazer (maybe tuck a band tee shirt or simple tank into your suitcase) or just a sweater shell with pashmina or statement necklace for drinks at a neighborhood bar.

As for dressing up, a ponte or crepe dress can work for the office or for a cocktail party. The black dress I featured could work with a blazer or cardigan by day and with red lips and mascara will make it perfect for an evening affair. Use the pashmina as an evening wrap.

Pack smart accessories. While I am all for having a large accessory collection for changing the look of wardrobe staples, when you’re a Road Warrior you need to keep your wardrobe to a minimum and keep it super easy. A statement necklace that isn’t too sparkly or too arts and crafty can jazz up a classic suit, or dress up a work dress to look cocktail appropriate. A pashmina can be your travel blanket on the plane, add interest to a simple dress or ensemble, be your evening wrap for a cocktail party, and ward off chill in overly air-conditioned office buildings. If you know you will be there longer, consider wearing tall boots on the trip for they will give a completely different look to skirts, dresses, jeans and narrow pants. Finally, choose a structured and polished bag to be your purse, your carryon bag, as well as your work tote. Find one that can hold both your laptop as well as a bottle of water and copy of InStyle for the flight.

Pack repair and care supplies. Stitch Witchery, a small sewing kit, bar of Ivory soap or a small bottle of laundry detergent, Shout Wipes or Tide-to-Go pen, safety pins, a black Sharpie (covers snags in tights and fabric, tears in leather, etc.), lint remover. When I used to travel on business, I had my toiletries kit already packed and ready to go with mini versions of all my beauty products, and I also had an emergency outfit kit in a small bag with these essentials. Both stayed in my suitcase when I was home, only removed to replace that which ran out. This way, I never forgot them and was already ready for any situation (or any stain). Most hotels have a shine cloth for shoes and an iron to get out wrinkles and fuse Stitch Witchery.

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Ask Allie: Capsule Wardrobe for Cruise and Resort Evenings

I LOVE your wardrobe capsules. They are always amazing. I would love to see a simple mix and match capsule for evening. Specifically, I just returned from a 10-day cruise of the Caribbean. It was amazing, with one glitch. The evening dress code was smart casual; and on a cruise ship this is more dressy than I expected (I’m from California, where jeans are cocktail attire!). I was woefully underdressed with dowdy shoes. I usually travel with black and white clothing, but a color capsule would be awesome too!

While I haven’t been on a cruise for a few years, I have experienced the issue of “smart casual” and formal nights on cruise ships, and understand how hard it is to dress appropriately for the situation. Not only are you dealing with limited luggage space, but you have folks from all over the globe dressing in all sorts of different manners. I found it’s best to pack simple garments and statement-making accessories.

Three years ago, I was asked to be in my friend’s wedding and she let me pick any black dress I desired as my Matron of Honor gown. I got a black matte jersey maxi dress from Calvin Klein that had twisted straps that were thin but thick enough to cover my bra, a faux wrap skirt, and a self-tie belt. I wore that dress for the wedding with black heeled sandals and a statement necklace. A few months later I attended a destination wedding in Charleston, South Carolina and wore that same dress with flat gold sandals, gold dangly earrings, and an armful of gold bangles. I also wore that dress with beaded earrings and a weathered brown leather belt and brown leather thongs. My point is that such a dress is surprisingly versatile. Choosing a silky jersey (Rachel Pally dresses fit the bill, are a classic style and come in a broad range of sizes) or matte jersey (Calvin Klein continues to have great options season after season) maxi dress means you can dress it up or down with ease and it will travel well (few wrinkles, any you get can come out easily if in the room with a hot shower).

Here I took a simple black maxi dress and showed how a switch of accessories can completely transform it. I know you mentioned comfort shoes in a different part of your Ask Allie request, so I chose shoes that aren’t sky-high. The wedge can easily be lower or even flat – another perk of maxi dresses is that they look great with flat shoes and said shoes aren’t the focal point of the ensemble.

A black maxi dress is a great choice if you have a formal night, but many cruises and resorts just require “smart casual” or “festive” attire. This capsule wardrobe helps you pack light but with many options:

  1. Maxi skirt with sequined tank and black sandals
  2. Maxi skirt with orange top and gold sandals
  3. Maxi skirt with a simple neutral tank or tee in your luggage, gold belt and gold sandals
  4. Black jersey pants with sequined top and black sandals
  5. Black jersey pants with orange top and black sandals
  6. Black jersey pants with sheer top and black sandals
  7. White jeans with any of the three tops and gold sandals (add the hoops, bracelet, and belt for discothèque drama)
  8. Black jersey tee shirt dress with black sandals
  9. Black dress with gold belt and gold sandals
  10. Black skirt with any of the tops and either sandals

This can be dressed up with a different choice of shoe (a heel is always seen as more formal), switching the pants to a tuxedo or shantung cigarette pant, the skirt to something sparkly, the dress to something more form-fitting or dramatic in silhouette. However, I used this based upon my own experiences on cruises and at resorts, where some nights you will find folks in full-length gowns, the other nights in club attire or sundresses. Solid colors and fabrics like matte jersey and stretch silk look elegant while being travel-friendly and versatile. These pieces can also be worn during the day – the orange top would be adorable with olive chino shorts, either of the skirts with a simple tank top, the dress could even be a beach coverup.

Choosing a single concept for accessories lightens your luggage load – I chose gold jewelry because it’s easier to find decent-looking costume pieces and instantly adds glamour. I really believe in a long necklace of chain or sparkly beads like jet – it really changes the silhouette of any ensemble and can make the simplest dress look chic. The addition of a belt, be it a scarf cummerbund, a leather obi, or a gold chain can quickly change the shape of a dress, add definition to a monochromatic ensemble, or dress up a simple tank and maxi skirt. Using color sparingly and thoughtfully will give extra miles to neutral pieces – the skirt could easily be switched to a neutral or a bold hue, the orange top could be a print or another dressy fabric, all the black pieces could be gray or ivory. This just gives an example of how very simple pieces can create an elegant and festive evening wardrobe for a vacation.



 

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