Search Results for: label/Dress Empire

Ask Allie: Styling a Not-so Little Black Dress

I am trying to pare down my wardrobe and have it higher functioning and recently found a black crepe lined dress at a thrift store that fits me like a glove. It has a round neck, short sleeves, darts and seams that make it fit really nicely but not trashy and it comes to my knees. Thing is, I have no clue how to make it look cool and look like me. I like color and modern lines and am known for my unique jewelry and want to make this dress work for everything from work to a wedding to a work party. Suggestions?

That sounds like quite the thrifting gem! A versatile fabric that dresses up and down with ease and a silhouette that can work year-round. I am guessing this is a silhouette you’re not familiar with, which is causing the frustration. No worries, here’s some suggestions to get your creative fashion juices flowing!

Such a dress can seem quite ordinary on its own, but a simple and classic silhouette is easy to accessorize to put your personal style spin on it. With such clean lines, it’s the perfect backdrop for great accessories. For the first ensemble, I accentuated the waist with a wide black leather belt. Having the belt the same color as the dress prevents it from cutting the figure in two, but adds interest and an edgy vibe. a funky scarf looped at the throat and some sleek pumps completes a look that would work at the office and even for a daytime wedding.

The second ensemble shows how a seemingly conservative dress can have a rocker vibe if properly accessorized. Have your dress work from desk to dinner with a quick change of accessories – a statement necklace, unique clutch, and studded booties transform this classic frock into a rocker’s dream.

This style of dress is perfect for the office, even if you’re known for having the more funky or creative personal style. A jacket with a crisp, modern silhouette will give a whole different shape to the dress. Add modern silver accessories and a funky shoe to put your spin on boardroom attire.

Black is the perfect backdrop for colorful accessories. A leather obi belt in pumpkin orange will add a fun pop to the sheath and tie in unique bangles you may have picked up from your travels. To keep from looking too matchy-matchy, a pair of tan snakeskin pumps complete the ensemble.

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Ask Allie: How to Dress for a Wedding Without a Dress Code

I have a wedding to go, and ever since the wedding where I dressed fancier than the bride (I wore a simple velvet sheath!) I have a horror of wearing the wrong thing. The wedding is at 4, with cocktails, dinner, and reception to follow, all at the same venue, an “event center.” Essentially a ballroom. I did email the bride and she just said “We don’t really have a dress code. Not black tie but not sweats and a t-shirt. Well, there’s a LOT in between there. Jersey maxidress? Sparkly mini? My feet are likely to be swollen so I’m leaning toward something I can wear flat sandals with, but other than that I’m kind of at a loss what to wear.

Event planners and brides to be… please understand that a dress code isn’t snooty or pretentious, it’s a helpful guide for loved ones who want to ensure your event is great. A specified dress code will reduce stress on your guests and ensure you don’t end up with anyone in black tie or sweats and a tee shirt!

That being said, this is the type of event where I pull out my black crepe sheath dress. Sleeveless, simple neckline, skims the figure, hits the knees; it’s simple and easy to dress up or down. For a wedding that starts at 4pm you can accessorize a dress in a multitude of ways to make it look festive yet appropriate for a crowd in khakis or a dancefloor full of sequins.  Of course, the dress does not have to be black, but it’s a color you often already have in your closet.

You mentioned the desire to wear flat sandals, and for a wedding at an event center I’d keep flat sandals to a midi to maxi length dress or skirt. While traditional jersey maxi dresses would likely be too casual for a wedding at this hour, one in matte jersey or with a chiffon overlay would be perfect and just as easy to fit in with a more casual or more dressy crowd.  Again, black is not the only color; a bright or pastel hue would be quite festive and appropriate for an August wedding.

Both types of dresses are extremely versatile. A lined sheath in crepe, triacetate, silk, or a blend can be worn to work, dressed up for a cocktail party with strappy heels and sparkly jewelry, or made more casual with nude pumps and wood accessories (see my post on how to style a black sheath four ways). A matte jersey or chiffon maxi dress can also lead multiple lives; I wore a black matte jersey maxi as the matron of honor at a relatively formal wedding, then wore to a garden wedding with gold flat sandals and even wore to a bridal shower with brown sandals and wood and leather jewelry. Not only that, these fabrics are seasonless making a dress purchased in the summer wearable for holiday parties on your event calendar!

A Life, Replotted: Dressing the Part

chelsea henderson for wardrobe oxygen

I used to have a closet full of dresses. Expensive dresses. I justified the investment (doesn’t that sound better than splurge?) because not only were they appropriate professionally, but one dress required little thought in the morning, whereas a two-piece suit also required a blouse option, and three wardrobe components were two too many for me to coordinate when also getting my young kids ready for school. Yeah, that’s what I told myself every time I handed over my credit card. “I need this dress. It will make my life easier.”

To complement all those dresses, I had a closet full of pumps. I’m ashamed now to admit how many pairs of shoes I once owned. I freely handed over the plastic for these too, all in the name of looking the part. Speaking of looking the part, I never went to work in lower than a three-inch heel, unless of course it was casual Friday, and I could get away with riding boots and skinny jeans.

Sigh. Skinny jeans. I didn’t wear any other style of denim.

“Oh, check out Chelsea’s shoes today,” co-workers would gush as I walked by their offices. “Chelsea can get away with wearing jeans to work. She just wears them differently.” The compliments fueled me to try even harder, and a vicious circle of vanity and debt was created.

My Life in Shoes

Then I left the face-numbing job in a stressful industry to pursue the crafts that fulfill me. I no longer wake up at the crack of dawn to figure out what dress-shoe combination to put on for the day. And since it really isn’t comfortable to sit at my home office desk in skinny jeans, I’ve traded those in too. In fact, I’ve cycled out of my closet most of the wardrobe I once spent so much time and money in cultivating.

“I used to be so intimidated by how you dressed,” my best friend admitted to me over drinks one night. It saddened and shocked me, but also got me questioning: why I was as obsessed with my clothes as I used to be?

The truth is, my clothes provided body armor. If I looked confident, I’d be confident, or convincingly act the part. I could walk into a meeting in the U.S. Capitol and be taken seriously. Not that I ever wasn’t. The crazy thing about insecurity is it’s often unwarranted. But I wasn’t fulfilled in my profession, so I compensated with budget busting clothing purchases and used my miserable job to justify the expense.

These days, I don’t need designer dresses and sky-high heels to bolster me. I’m just as happy to put on yoga pants and a sweater, a look I often take from desk to mat to casual dinner with my best friend. It’s nice to know I don’t intimidate her anymore. And likewise, I’m no longer scared of my credit card bill. Living authentically is not always easy. People question my choices, and the old attachments can still present temptation (oh, Frye boots). But a nourished soul grounds me more than any outfit ever did.

chelsea hendersonChelsea Henderson is an aspiring novelist and recovering Capitol Hill staffer. When she isn’t sneaking time to finish writing her second book, she advocates on behalf of clean energy and environmental policy, reads, practices yoga, and single parents her perpetually hungry pre-teen boys. She also periodically contributes to her lifestyle blog, the Chelsea Chronicles and is intermittently good at Twitter.

What I Wore: Not So Little Black Dress

karen kane wrap dress love cortnie bag review size 12 14 fashion blog petite mom

Dress: c/o Karen Kane | Watch: Citizen c/o WatchCo | Bracelet: Nordstrom | Bag: Love,Cortnie | Shoes: Nine West ‘Flax’

I adore Karen Kane for comfy, flattering pieces with a bit of sex appeal. Karen Kane was kind enough to send me this dress a long while ago (talking no cast on my arm part of the year), and I have worn it so many times, though this is it’s first appearance on the blog. It’s jersey, so it dresses up and down with ease. Here I wear it for Date Night with pumps and a clutch, but I’ve also worn it on the weekend with my silver Birkenstocks and a pair of aviator sunglasses. The draping is in all the right places, and the fabric never wrinkles, making it great for travel or long days.

As for the clutch, isn’t it awesome? It’s by Maryland blogger and bag designer Cortnie Elizabeth. I’ve been wanting one of her bags for a long while and finally pulled the trigger when I saw this unexpected leopard print (and we all know I love leopard!).

Ask Allie: Dressing for your Belly

I’m not fat per se , but I’ve gained back all the weight that I lost in the first few months after giving birth. My stomach has gotten enormous, like 6th month pregnancy enormous and I hate it. I can’t find anything to wear that doesn’t make it even more obvious at least to me. I tend to wear jeans + t-shirt like top 99% time. Skirts are supposed to be flattering on me but I couldn’t find anything I like + know what to pair with + can handle my daily commute of 1.5 hours in the bus , each direction. Shoes wise -same rut. I got wide feet and wide calves and am yet to find boots I can wear.

I have a belly. When I used to go to the gym daily and was a size 4, I still had a belly. Before I had a child, I had enough of a belly that more than one person asked when I was due. And now, after having a child and gaining/losing weight and not making much time for crunches I have a very soft midsection that Emerson finds to be the best pillow in the world. She likes it far more than I do, to me it looks as though I have one big monoboob below my actual breasts. But it’s a belly that created a human being, it’s natural, it’s me, and so I have learned to dress it and come to terms with it.

You can dress a tummy without drawing attention it, or hiding it in layers of fabric that will make you look like a big blob. Luckily, such pieces that flatter a figure with a belly also have stretch which hold up nicely through a commute or long day, and often are available at retailers of different pricepoints.

Wrap Dresses
Be they a true wrap or faux, such a dress gives the illusion of an hourglass figure and have a double layer right at the tummy, which disguises the shape and gives it a bit of added control. Choose a style that comes to your knees to flatter your figure and be more work-appropriate. If the neckline is too low, consider a camisole or strategically-placed safety pin.

Matte jersey doesn’t wrinkle, it doesn’t stretch out, and you can throw it in the washing machine and hang it up from your shower curtain rod and it’s dry and ready to wear the next day. This fabric is stretchy polyester, but has a matte crepey feel that is more refined, not clingy, and dresses up and down with ease. I have found such dresses at Old Navy, Target, ASOS, and they are often at thrift stores (I know I have donated quite a few from my days as a merchandiser at Express).

Other fabrics I like for such a style of dress are chiffon overlay with a polyester lining (also doesn’t wrinkle easily, but can be more delicate when it comes to laundry) and ponte (a very heavyweight and tightly-woven knit that is more refined than jersey and less likely to show lumps and bumps and can be laundered like matte jersey).

How to Wear in Winter: With opaque tights (I love the Spanx Tight End Tights for extreme durability, a control top that doesn’t cut you in half, and matte opacity) and boots or shoes of most any heel height. Keep the tights and shoe the same color to lengthen the leg, black is a safe bet with most any color, even brown and navy.

Vintage-inspired Dresses
The vintage trend isn’t going away any time soon, and women with bellies are rejoicing. Be it Modcloth, eShakti, or true vintage, these dresses have a slightly higher waistband which hits at the smallest part of your torso, giving you more of an hourglass shape and allowing the skirt to hide your tummy.

With such dresses, fit is paramount. Go up a size if necessary and have it tailored, but don’t let it pull at the shoulders or bust, cinch the upper arms, or ride up in the torso. A too-small fit will only make your figure look larger.

With many of these dresses, they have a percentage of polyester which will resist wrinkles. A print also can disguise creases that may take place on your commute (or keep a bottle of Downy Wrinkle Releaser in your desk for a douse once you arrive).

How to Wear in Winter: Opaque tights yet again, make such dresses perfect for the colder weather. Again, black is a safe bet with most any color or print, keep the vintage vibe going with a T-strap or Mary Jane shoe with a thicker heel.

Wrap and Surplice Necklines
It’s amazing that a neckline can change the look of a midsection, but it really does work. A wrap or surplice (faux wrap) neckline elongates the neck, enhances the bust, and draws attention to the smallest part of your torso (bottom of your rib cage). Like a wrap dress, you end up with a double layer at the torso which disguises the tummy. Surplice tops may not have that double layer, but they often have gathered side seams which provide strategic ruching at that part of the torso.

After I had Emerson, I lived in faux wrap, wrap, and surplice tops. Sure, they were great for nursing, but they also made my figure look amazing. I’d wear a wrap sweater with a black cami and black pants for a cohesive outfit; a necklace would draw the eye up and add interest. I had a half-dozen outfits of this style and looked great without a lot of effort.

Fit and Flare Styles
When trying to draw attention away from a body part, the worst thing to do is make the fabric on that body part too loose. A baggy top over a small belly will make it look Second Trimester. A fit and flare style will skim over the slim part of your figure, flare out right where your curves are, and work with, not against your figure.

Blazers often achieve this fit and flare look for you, if they fit well. Roll up the sleeves a couple times to let your slender wrists show, wear a top underneath with a v- or scoop-neck, and the line of the open jacket will disguise the tummy and allow for that fit and flare shape. Jackets of ponte and unlined stretch fabrics will give that shape nicely without adding bulk.

Wide Calf Boots
I have very wide feet, short toes, and ginormouse calves as well as thick shins and ankles. And yet, I own several pairs of tall boots. Get out of the mall and get online to find wide-calf boots that fit your feet and your legs. Check out these posts regarding wide calf boots:

Ponte Knit Pieces
Ponte de Roma, otherwise known as ponte, is one of the greatest fabrics on the planet. It’s stretchy like jersey, but heavy enough to hide lumps and bumps. It’s a very tight refined weave that looks appropriate for work or social events, but is as comfortable as yoga pants. It is a pretty uniform fabric, so often a pair of pants from one brand will work with a jacket from another. With a fabric so heavy and tightly woven (no stretching out or bagging), it flatters soft curves and even gives them a bit of support.

I own ponte pants (fitted to slip into boots or wear with flats, fuller to wear with heels), ponte jackets (blazer style and longer trendy cuts), ponte dresses (all styles worn year round), ponte skirts (pencil, drop waist, fit and flare… you name it), ponte tops (drape-neck tanks, wrap-style tops, boatneck shells and more). I love how I can put two ponte pieces together for relaxed yet polished look appropriate for work or Sunday brunch. I love how I can usually machine wash the pieces to save time and money. And I love how the fabric works with my belly.

The goal with ponte is to find pieces that do not cut at the widest part of your belly. Drop waists, tops that end between the waistband and high hip, or shapeless styles that can tent out making the abdomen look even larger. But with styles that work with your curves, you can have a stretchy yet polished collection of garments that will survive a long commute and a busy day.

Build a ponte collection that can mix and match with itself and other fabrics for multi-season versatility. 

Powerful Accessories
The person who notices your belly the most is yourself. I bet the majority of the people you see each day don’t even notice its size. That being said, accessories do a great job of drawing the eye to another part of the body:

  • Statement Necklaces will draw the eye up to your face. Right now such necklaces are very popular, so it’s easy to find them in any style or pricepoint. Wear inside the collar of your shirt or over a round neck for a dramatic disguiser.
  • Heels are a great way to elongate the legs, make the tummy appear to be smaller with extra height, and also draw the eye away from the middle of your figure. I believe in commuter shoes – wear one style en route, and change once you get to your desk.
  • Wide belts worn above your natural waist can create an hourglass shape and provide subtle gathering over your midsection. You’ll see in my outfit post archives that I own several wide belts and wear them at this location over dresses, cardigans, blazers, and more.

Proper Underpinnings
Control garments that cut you in half, hipsters that slide under the belly by lunchtime, bikinis that cut lines into hips… such pieces won’t make your tummy area look any better. For control garments, I like the ones that either strap to or around your bra or else come right up to the bra line. This type of garment won’t cut or emphasize your belly and give a smooth continuous line. For regular underwear, I like Hanky Panky’s Retro Thong which has a higher waist so it doesn’t cut or slide under the belly. A brief is better than a bikini for the same reason; some styles may look like granny panties but some brands make them high enough to stay put while looking darn feminine or sexy. Consider the same things when purchasing tights – Spanx makes tights that have a higher waist which prevents your tummy from being cut in half; DKNY does a good job of making an opaque durable tight with a control top that doesn’t give gas pains, fall down, or cut you in half.

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Ask Allie: Plus Size Wrap Dresses

You’re always saying how flattering and versatile stretchy wrap dresses are. But as a plus sized woman I can’t find any. Well I have found a couple but they’re cheap and the neck is so big my bra shows. Can you help me find one?

Oh pish posh, there’s plenty of retailers who offer plus size wrap dresses! The thing is, when you’re a less popular size, be it tall, short, plus, very slim… well very something, you’ll have to look beyond your neighborhood strip mall to find clothing that fits and flatters. But these days, online shopping is a breeze. So many retailers offer free shipping and reasonably-priced or returns, it’s easy to create your perfect wardrobe from the comfort of your bedroom. Wrap dresses don’t have to be a true wrap; often a faux wrap will give a better fit (and more modesty on a windy day) but offer the same figure-flattering shape and versatility.  You don’t have to take all advice literally; pick and choose to find what works best with you.  Here’s some great plus size wrap dresses to update your wardrobe for spring and summer and many that will work for the majority of the year:

plus size wrap dress

Printed Plus Size Wrap Dresses

I’m not a huge prints fan, but I do like them when it comes to the occasional blouse and the occasional dress. I have a couple printed wrap dresses and find them to be the perfect go-to for work, a day wedding, a date night, and everything in between. A print camouflages lumps and bumps, and makes a statement on its own without having to think too much about accessories. A maxi wrap dress is a great piece to have in your wardrobe – it dresses up easily and is such a fun yet comfortable choice for a party or evening out.

  1. Adrianna Papell Ruched Sleeve Faux Wrap Dress
  2. IGIGI Dominique Dress
  3. Fuzzi Tulle Faux Wrap Dress
  4. Kiyonna Essential Wrap Dress (available in four prints)
  5. MYNT 1792 Jersey Wrap Maxi Dress (available in solid and print)
  6. Tiana B. for HSN Printed Faux Wrap Dress
  7. BESPOKEfit Asymmetric Mock Wrap Dress
  8. IGIGI Lindsey Dress
  9. Kiyonna Flirty Flounce Dress (available in two prints)

plus size maxi dresses

Solid Plus Size Wrap Dresses

A wrap dress in a solid color is a wardrobe workhorse. Pair with pumps for the office, switch to a sparkly necklace and statement heels for a night out, change to slingbacks and pearls for a wedding. Matte jersey and silk jersey are great choices because the fabric can dress up and down with ease. Choose one with anything from an elbow-length to bracelet-length sleeve and get wear three seasons out of the year.

  1. ASOS CURVE Wrap Dress With Bow Front In Longer Length (available in two colors)
  2. ASOS Curve Obi Wrap Dress in Longer Length
  3. Kiyonna Maritime Maxi Dress (available in three colors)
  4. Kiyonna Wrapped in Romance Dress (available in three colors)
  5. Adrianna Papell 4/4 Sleeve Wrap Dress
  6. Avenue Classic Hi Lo Wrap Dress
  7. Kiyonna Winona Hi-Low Wrap Dress (available in two colors) – I’ve borrowed this one from Gwynnie Bee and think it’s a great fit
  8. Wendy Williams for HSN Fashion Wrap Dress (available in one print and four solid colors)
  9. Pink Clove Kimono Sleeve Dress (available in two colors)

Shop More Plus Size Wrap Dresses:

Wardrobe Staple: The Not So Little Black Dress

I believe in the power of the not so little black dress. While the LBD is famous, the NSLBD is one that can get far more wear and is far more versatile. From the boardroom to the ballroom, a black dress in a versatile fabric and cut can work for most anything life throws your way, and is a smart wardrobe staple for any woman.

Dobbin Clothing recently sent me their Simone Dress and as soon as I put it on I realized what a perfect NSLBD it is. The stretch wool fabric has a subtle sheen and a refined finish that looks elegant and classic. The asymmetrical neckline provides allure and interest without being so unique people would think, “Oh there she is in that black dress again.” The seaming and waistband flatter curves and also add interest without stealing the spotlight.

Dress: c/o Dobbin Clothing | Bracelet: Ann Taylor (similar) | Watch: Citizen c/o WatchCo | Bag: c/o Fossil | Shoes: Ivanka Trump

For this look I styled the Dobbin Clothing Simone Dress for work. The dress is classic, and doesn’t require a bunch of accessories to look polished. I added a wrist of bracelets and a watch for a bit of shine and my own personality, but otherwise let the dress do the talking. This dress looks great on its own; the interesting neckline would also look quite lovely under a blazer.

Dress: c/o Dobbin Clothing | Tights: Spanx | Boots: Ros Hommerson | Bag: Rebecca Minkoff (similar) | Scarf: c/o Nepali by TDM | Watch: c/o Fossil | Bracelet: c/o Lulu Avenue

The Simone Dress would also be perfect for an afternoon with friends, having lunch and going shopping. The stretch wool resists wrinkles so it would hold up through a long day or business travel.  The length is perfect for boots as well as pumps; I added a scarf for color and to show how you can hide the neckline of the dress and give it a different life. Using accessories like scarves are great when on travel to make a small wardrobe look larger and more varied.

Dress: c/o Dobbin Clothing | Bracelets: Ann Taylor (similar) | Bag: Aldo (similar) | Earrings: vintage (similar) | Shoes: Nine West

I did say boardroom to ballroom, didn’t I? This dress is elegant enough to dress up perfectly for a gala. Adding sparkly accessories, the Simone Dress becomes black tie. I also can’t resist an opportunity to pull out the wedding jewelry; the tiara made me feel very Holly Golightly and doesn’t look too insane paired with such an elegant dress.

With a dress like this from Dobbin Clothing, you can get a great dress now for the holidays, but know you can wear it later too. Pair with a cardigan or blazer this winter, with nude peeptoes and pearls for a spring wedding, with tan sandals and a wood necklace for a summer Date Night.

Dobbin Clothing on Wardrobe Oxygen
Top row:  1 | 2 | 3 | 4       Bottom row: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

I’ve been a fan of Dobbin Clothing for over a year; while there’s posts above with me wearing Dobbin Clothing, I also wear this line on a regular basis off the blog. Sophisticated silhouettes, wardrobe staples that dress up and down with ease, high quality fabrics and construction, and made in the USA. While my other Dobbin dresses are made from ponte knit (and you know how much I love ponte), the Simone in wool is just as comfortable and figure flattering and I am impressed by the cotton used for their trousers. Dresses I got from Dobbin a year ago and have washed a dozen times still look brand new. Not just that, Jess and Catherine are awesome people who care about their product, and their customers.

Dobbin Clothing is offering 30% off their entire shop until Midnight tonight with the code THANKS30. They’d like to thank us for being customers, and I’d like to thank them for great clothes and this great discount!


While this post was sponsored by Dobbin Clothing, they left the text, images, what item/s I featured, and even the topic completely up to me.  I chose to feature this dress because I really do believe in it, and I chose to partner with Dobbin Clothing because I really do believe in them.

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What I Wore: The Not-so Little Black Dress [Sponsored]

christopher and banks 4Dress: c/o Christopher & Banks | Hat: J. Crew Factory (similar) | Sunglasses: Ray-Ban | Bracelets: c/o RocksBox, Coin Collection, c/o Lifetherapy | Bag: c/o Adora Bags | Shoes: Softspots (similar)

christopher and banks 1Dress: c/o Christopher & Banks | Necklace: MYHABIT | Bag: Brahmin (similar) | Shoes: Nine West | Watch: Citizen

christopher and banks 6Dress: c/o Christopher & Banks | Necklace: c/o Rocksbox | Bag: c/o Handbag Heaven | Bracelets: had forever (similar), Coin Collection, c/o Lifetherapy, c/o LiveTheLook, Shoes: Bella Vita c/o Shoebuy

I feel a not-so little black dress is a must in most wardrobes.  Christopher & Banks reached out and asked if I’d like to feature something from their current collection and as soon as I saw this dress I knew it was the perfect choice.  Ponte knit is one of the most figure flattering and versatile fabrics; it’s a tightly woven knit that doesn’t wrinkle, stretches, and smooths curves.  It’s great for travel, works for every season, and can dress up and down with ease. The Sleeveless Fit & Flare Ponte Dress from Christopher & Banks has a flattering shape and classic silhouette.  It would be great to wear for a day at the wineries; pair with flat sandals and a straw hat for comfort and style.  For work, pair the dress with a statement necklace and pumps for summer office style; add a ponte blazer or cardigan in a favorite color for warmth and additional corporate coverage.  The Sleeveless Fit & Flare Ponte Dress is the type of thing I’d wear to work when I have plans after; a switch to a lightweight crossbody bag and shoes with a chunky comfortable heel for dinner and a show.

The Sleeveless Fit & Flare Ponte Dress from Christopher & Banks comes in Missy and Womens sizes 4 to 24W and is under $75. It’s a perfect wardrobe staple for summer and seasons to come.

Ask Allie: Career Wear on a Budget

I am a young professional without a “mentor” or any experience in the professional world other than the two years at my current job. I am getting a new boss in January and she is beautiful, powerful, and extremely sharp. I am the girl with the hot pink iPhone case, the ubiquitous plastic venti coffee cup, wearing Teva sandals with my work outfits, trying to pass black jeans as “dress pants,” and still wearing the same bangle bracelets that I had in high school. I desperately need an upgrade in… everything… but I’m broke.

Are there any suggestions that you can make about taking my college student wardrobe and upping my game while still being able to feed my family?

You are not alone. It’s hard to be new and rise the corporate ladder without going into debt. You come into the workforce already with student loans and then have to shell out a lot just to look as though you want the job you fought hard to get. Jobs are hard to get, so you want to show that you care and have the drive but you don’t have the money to build a professional wardrobe from scratch. A few tips:

Thrift It. I know from your email that you’re already hitting Goodwill, but it can be frustrating to weed though racks and racks of faded knit tees in hopes of finding one decent pencil skirt or blazer. Make it a weekly date – find out when they stock the floors and visit that day. Befriend the folks working there – it may just get you a new friend, or it may get you friends who will see pieces and hold them for you or give you a heads up when they are stocking the floor.

While there, consider going up a size or two. A thrifted pair of pants can easily be altered by the nearby dry cleaner, and the price for both is still going to be cheaper than a new pair of pants on the sale rack.

Join Freecycle. My local Freecycle often has people giving away large bags of clothing in a certain size. People who have lost or gained weight, passed away, retired. While a good portion of the bag’s contents may be wrong for you, you could end up with a real gem in the process. And that which doesn’t work, re-Freecycle or donate. Once you have established yourself on your local Freecycle as a person who gives as well as takes (great way to clean out the house of old toys, knick knacks, and that dusty treadmill in your basement), you can request certain things. I did this once and was amazed with the generous people who replied with items or suggestions on how to get what I needed for less or free.

Find Local Swaps and Consignments. Twice a year, my community has a swap where people bring old baby clothing and equipment and trade for that which they need. It has grown to where this swap often has adult clothing. Local fashion blogging communities will often host or know of swaps where for a small price or a bag of clothes to donate, you can attend and pick up some amazing scores. Consignment sales are another place to find thrift-store priced clothing but a more carefully curated collection. At such events, you can also network with other frugal shoppers.

Nothing in your community? Set one up! It can be anything from a happy hour at your home with a few friends and neighbors, or you can set something up at a local community center.

A sample capsule wardrobe of simple pieces: how you can create over 20 different business casual outfits from just eight pieces of clothing.  Every outfit works with black pumps or flats.

Buy Simple. Simple blue oxford, gray pencil skirt, black blazer, plum cardigan, black pants… pieces like these can be mixed and matched a hundred ways to create completely different ensembles. Don’t buy difficult silhouettes that only go with one piece – create a bit of a uniform with few silhouettes so they are more versatile and less memorable.

Prints and bold colors are memorable; stick to neutrals and soft hues until you can afford a larger wardrobe.

Make a Priority List. What holes are in your wardrobe? Focus on those first. Don’t worry that this season is about oxblood or that a pair of leopard shoes would update your look. Get those basics you need to not be naked or in inappropriate fashion at the office. While I usually encourage buying accessories to switch up basics, at this point I’d say save your money. It’s better to go without any accessories at all than to try to make do with cheap pieces or spend your budget on a bracelet.

Unless you find one for an incredible price and it’s gorgeous, focus more on separates than dresses. Separates can mix and match for more outfits, and can better be tailored to fit (or made to look tailored with belts, Stitch Witchery, and strategically placed safety pins).

When you buy, stop and think what in your wardrobe can it work with. If you can’t imagine three outfits, don’t buy it. Even if it’s only $3 or only $5, that’s $3 or $5 you could save for the right wardrobe addition.

Know No One is Keeping Track. It’s okay to wear the same black pants two or three times in a week as long as they are clean. It’s okay to wear the same shoes every day until you can afford more. You can even carry off the same shirt multiple times in one week – one day on its own tucked in to a skirt, another day untucked under a sweater with pants. As long as the pieces are clean, in good condition, and properly pressed no one is going to care. The effect is far more important than the individual pieces.

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Dressing for the Holidays

I have never understood the desire to look like a total fool on a holiday. Tunic sweaters with appliqué bunnies for Easter, American flag shorts, socks and scrunchies for Independence Day, light-up pumpkin earrings for Halloween, tacky theme ties for Christmas, green everything under the sun for St. Patrick’s Day.

Why America, why? Do you see other countries sporting Quacker Factory sweaters, battery operated jewelry or unnatural hair and lipstick shades for their holidays? Do they decorate their person as much as their tree? I think not.

It is possible to look festive, have fun and not portray yourself as missing a few chromosomes.

For Work:
Do Wear:

Holiday colors. Nothing wrong with a green sweater on St. Patty’s Day or a red dress to your holiday party. Today on St. Patrick’s Day I am wearing a bright green refined tee under a denim blazer with chinos, with a green beaded bracelet. I look festive, but I still look appropriate for work. For men, a subtle holiday tie is appropriate if you have children – if you are young or single, these ties look pitiful and corny.

Do NOT Wear:

Theme clothing – sweaters with crocheted Easter eggs, “Kiss me, I’m Irish” tee shirts (or any other message or logo-ed tee shirt), overly casual clothing just because it fits the holiday, holiday themed makeup (emerald green eyeliner, sparkles, holiday colored lipstick) or visible theme socks (if your socks can be seen while standing or walking, your pants are too short. If your socks are neon orange or red or candy pink – wear them with boots or at home, not the workplace).

I understand that when one goes out to celebrate a holiday, the outfit may get to be more… festive. Festive is great, as long as it does not ruin your reputation or image.

For Play:
Do Wear:
Again, holiday colors. Orange top in place of a Halloween costume (for those of you who don’t like to dress up), a cute green chino skirt with a top for St. Patty’s Day, a sparkly red shell at Christmas. This is where theme and logo-ed tee shirts fit into the wardrobe – they look great with chinos or jeans as long as they fit well and are clean. This is where costumes can be appropriate – leprechauns, elves, Mrs. or Santa Claus, Halloween costumes that are flattering, well constructed and tasteful.

Do NOT Wear:

Holiday color from head to toe – just because it’s St. Patrick’s Day does not mean you should wear olive cargo pants, an apple green tee shirt and a forest green vest with green sneakers. If you wouldn’t be caught dead in it on a non-holiday day, then don’t wear it on the holiday. Don’t wear ill-fitting or old/stained/dated clothing just because it is holiday-appropriate. Again, if you would not wear it on a non-holiday day… Do not wear costumes that are not age-appropriate. Yes you may have great gams for a 50 year old women, that does not give you license to dress as a French maid (and Madonna, I saw your Purim costume, I am including you in this!). Think about the crowd you will be in when planning your costume – a crowded bar is not the best place for wings, balloon “grapes” or other large pieces on a costume. If it’s cold, plan to have an appropriate cover or tights so you don’t freeze or hide your costume under a coat. On the other hand, do not wear heavy wigs, longs capes and tons of makeup if you will be in a hot or humid location – your hard work will be ruined in just a few sweaty minutes. Do not wear a garment or outfit that makes you look foolish – why wear green lipstick or a giant foam hat or a belly shirt or antenna when you normally wouldn’t – remember when there’s holidays, there are cameras. Your outfit will be forever immortalized, and often you don’t have the time to strike that small tummy/small hips pose before the flash goes off.

So after all these don’ts, how does one know what to buy? What are safe bets?

For Work:

  • Sweater, blouse, twinset or shoes in a holiday color
  • Sheer red lipstick for Valentine’s Day or Christmas
  • If you are of the appropriate elegant age, a brooch (not plastic chicken pin ) can be lovely on the label of your suit
  • Costumes only come out when you know it’s a popular act of your coworkers – then make sure they are tasteful.

For Play:

  • A dress or one piece of clothing in a holiday color
  • A costume that is well fitting, tasteful and age appropriate – if unsure, leave your costumes to Halloween.
  • Mardi Gras beads are a safe way to make your outfit more festive – they are always being passed out, and now at every holiday
  • Festive makeup – red lipstick, green eyeliner, smoky eyes. Just don’t do all of them at once.
  • Fun tee shirts – bring out the “kiss me I’m Irish” and silly references to mistletoe – these are appropriate at bars, casual parties and festivals.

Dressing for the Holiday Party Season

Dress: c/o Dress Empire
Tights: Nordstrom
Booties: Miss Sixty (similar)

Thanks to Dress Empire, I am totally ready for the holidays, no need now to shop for New Years Eve dresses! I took this Shail K dress to Key West with me, thinking it would be fun with some black strappy sandals, but decided to style it for the blog with opaque tights and booties for a more cold-weather holiday look. The dress runs a bit big – I ordered a 14 because usually formalwear runs small, but think a 12 or even a 10 would have been a better fit.  I like that this dress is festive but also quite comfortable – I could enjoy a couple of glasses of egg nog without feeling like a stuffed sausage.  I do need to wear it with a strapless bra as it will shimmy off a shoulder when dancing.  The dress is well made – no itchy threading inside, a nice stretchy elastic drop-waist and well-matched stripes and seams.I think this could also work as a tunic with a pair of leggings. 

Want to know more about Dress Empire?  Visit them on Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr.

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What I Wore: Garden Party

Wardrobe Oxygen outfit post featuring Taylor Dresses floral maxi wrap dress and fringed bag Wardrobe Oxygen outfit post featuring Taylor Dresses via Gwynnie Bee and Handbang Heaven Wardrobe Oxygen wearing a floral wrap maxi from Taylor Dresses via Gwynnie BeeDress: Taylor Dresses via Gwynnie Bee (same dress in plus size, similar dress in straight sizes) | Shoes: Bella Vita c/o Shoebuy (similar, similar) | Bag: c/o Handbag Heaven (similar, similar) | Silver cuff: had forever (similar) | Necklace: c/o LiveTheLook (similar)

This dress is why I love Gwynnie Bee and continue to be a member year after year.  I’ve been eying this dress at Nordstrom for over a month but wasn’t sure if I’d wear the dress often enough to justify the pricetag.  When I saw it available at Gwynnie Bee I rushed to put it in my virtual closet.  It arrived Friday and I wore it that evening when we went to Annapolis for dinner.  The dress runs long on me, so I paired it with my most comfortable summer sandals for walking along the docks; this bag makes the dress look more boho than summer wedding.  I love this dress and don’t plan to return it any time soon; if I love it enough to keep it, I’ll be able to purchase it through Gwynnie Bee at a price cheaper than standard retail!  If you’d like to try Gwynnie Bee for yourself, click this link for a free 30-day trial of the service!

Shop My Picks for Floral Maxi Dresses:

Maxi Dresses Are Not Made For Speedwalking

 It happens to everyone, even runway models who are paid to walk…

I walk fast.  If you are married to a person who is over a foot taller than you, you learn how to walk quickly.

At work, I am often on Webinars and conference calls and online trainings where I have to type, “BRB!” into a chat and dash to the bathroom once I have another person who can take over my role.   Because of this, I can pee faster than any man.  Get it done, get back to work.

Today I had to get to work super early, like it’s dark out and the husband and dogs and baby are still asleep early.  Get dressed in the dark early.  Feel around in the closet… hey that’s my Merona maxi dress.  One-step dressing.  Done.  I put on the maxi dress, feel through the drawers in my jewelery armoire and find my two silver bead long necklaces from H&M and my silver cuff and I am dressed. 

I haven’t worn the maxi dress to work before because I really don’t think it’s work-appropriate.  Somehow if the dress was knee-length I think it would be nice for work with a pair of heeled sandals and maybe a cardigan.  But a maxi dress… it seems to festive and tropical.  Today, I was tired, didn’t feel like wearing Spanx and knew my trusty black pants were in the hamper so I decided to go with the maxi dress.

About 20 minutes ago, I totally ate some office carpet when dashing to the bathroom.  Awesome.  Glad that the office near my maxi-crash was empty so I did not have an audience.

Not only are maxi dresses not work appropriate, they are also a workplace safety risk.  I think this was fate reminding me to adhere to my personal style laws at all times.  Break them, and receive punishment!

Dressing Like a Grown-Up

When I shop for clothing, I first look for clothes I can wear to the office.

Date Night clothes are usually work clothes with a pair of cool shoes and a bit more mascara.

I buy fewer prints because I don’t want people to remember that I’ve had that same dress for three years.

Because I shop planning on wearing the same dress for three years.

Because I know three years is here in the blink of an eye.

I don’t wear a lot of pants because pants stretch out.
 They emphasize the softness, saginess, and lack of crunches that happens when you’re over 35.
And had a baby.
And like sleep more than gyms.

Back to pants… they need to be pressed.
And have shoes the right height.
And pants seem to collect dog hair faster than skirts.

I buy trends, but fewer of them because I know that flatform/wedge sneaker/clear neon purse/feather hair extension is going to be seen as tacky in less than six months.

Or I already did the Doc Marten/army jacket/neon/creepers/culottes trend the last go-round and just can’t imagine bringing those years back into my closet.

But then, I’ll buy trends because I DO remember those years I wore them before and know I can rock them far more authentically than women 20 years my junior.
And I do.

My lingerie drawer is far less colorful and fun than it was a decade ago, but it’s the hardest working part of my wardrobe.

I realize I can’t carry off bedhead, yesterday’s makeup, oversized, skintight, or 5” heels any more.
The biggest part of the last sentence is the self-realization.

For every day I wear heels I have one wear I wear shoes below 1” in height.

I wash my face every night because I now see the results of not doing so.

I never buy anything if it will show a bra strap.

I love ponte, matte jersey, and merino because they’re stretchy but thick enough to hide lumps and bumps.
And they don’t have to go to the cleaners.

I have more disposable income but shop less often because I’ve learned that a “fun” closet is a surefire way to get back into debt.

And I’ve been there where my pretty closet is still full of pricetags come the end of a season.
I dress for me.

I make mistakes, and I own them.

I still have fun with fashion, but now I do it on my own terms.


I may be a grown-up with the kid, the semi-minivan, the mortgage and the wrinkles, but I still rock it.
In fact, I rock it better now than I did a 22.

You know what?  I love being a grown-up!

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Dressing for Your Date With Destiny

I am tired. Dog tired. This week is kicking my tail, and it’s only Wednesday. Today I had to get to work pretty early. I knew I had no meetings today, will pretty much be holed up in my office. I even brought my lunch. I would be on the subway so early, I could end up with an entire car to myself, the streets of DC would be pretty empty. I may only bump into a handful of people by 5pm, and I won’t be able to take outfit photos. With that sort of day, it’s tempting to roll out of bed, throw on something “presentable,” toss my hair in a ponytail and head to work.

Instead, I took a shower, put on an outfit I had worn before and knew was flattering and office-appropriate, did a one-minute makeup application of the basics (concealer, mascara, lip color) and headed out the door.

It’s so easy to justify a slob day. You’re tired, you’re hungover, you’re sick. It’s only a trip to the grocery store, you work in IT and don’t interact with humans, it’s raining, you just don’t FEEL like putting forth effort. I’ve been there. Today after two cups of coffee and looking longingly at a can of Diet Coke… I’m there.

The thing is, you never know where your day will take you. Your seemingly quiet work day may be changed by a visit from the CEO or a last-minute client meeting. Your early Sunday morning trip to the market could be the time you bump into your ex… and his new fiancée. You’re just driving your kid to preschool… and am asked to attend a quick parent/teacher meeting about your child’s behavior. You’re walking to the bank and bump into the person who conducted your job interview the day prior, or the person you really liked and went out on a first date with the past weekend.

You can’t predict your future, so you might as well dress for a date with destiny.

This doesn’t mean I expect you to don a party frock and heels on a rainy Saturday when you’re running to Target for a box of tampons. What it means is shopping for and owning a wardrobe that works, even if you don’t want to. What I have found is by limiting my shlubby clothing collection and simplifying my entire wardrobe it’s EASIER to get dressed when your heart isn’t in it:

– When an item gets stained, torn, misshapen, faded or no longer fits it gets removed from the closet. I have a box on the floor of my closet for pieces that need to be fixed, and a bag near my dressing table where I stuff pieces that need to be donated. It’s so easy to just hold pieces in your closet until you get around to fixing or tossing them… but that makes it all the more easy to put that piece on one day and regretting it later.

– Don’t hang wrinkled pieces in the closet. When they come out of the laundry looking like a crumpled paper bag, they go in that “repair” box and stay there until I get the time to iron it. Again, it’s so easy to justify wearing a crumpled garment – I have done it in the past. I tell myself it will get creased just getting to work or to my destination, or that the humidity will steam it out. Nope, a wrinkled from the dryer item looks very different from a pressed garment that got wrinkled with wear. This process prevents the temptation of “making it work.”

– I have one drawer for lounge/gym/painting a piece of furniture and that’s it. If that drawer starts getting stuffed I know it’s time to pare down. No one needs 20 pairs of sweatpants and 50 free swag tee shirts from every 5K race and conference they have attended. If the shirts have sentimental value, consider framing them or making a quilt (or store them elsewhere and switch out the tees every so often).

When I work out or paint, I only wear these clothes. I also change my clothes when I get home from work or an event so I can keep my nice clothes nice. This prevents nice garments from verging into bum around territory, and keeps my lounge clothing drawer streamlined.

– Even the clothes I paint in are flattering. There’s always a need for a Home Depot or Starbucks run when working on a home project. When the yoga pants get stretched out, replace them. Stalk Old Navy sales for replacement pairs – I have never paid more than $15 for a pair and I think their quality is pretty good. When white tees turn yellow or gray, hit them with some sunshine or oxygen bleach or get rid of them. Instead of those swag tees, consider getting some feminine-cut tees in flattering colors – Target and Old Navy are great places to find them for less, and this is one item where I always have success finding when I thrift.

– Buy casual clothes. This is something I didn’t do for quite a long time. It was either sweatpants or silk blouses and I didn’t own any shades of gray. I regretted it. Now I own some shorts, flattering jersey tees and pullovers, comfortable jeans and refined knit pants that can be worn out in public without feeling embarrassment. For summer, I love simple sundresses from H&M and other discount retailers (again another easy thing to find at thrift stores) – they can be thrown in the washer and dryer, worn with a pair of sandals and look like an ensemble while having the comfort and ease of a nightgown.

Can’t really tell it was a rough morning thanks to my uniform and choice of color

– Have a uniform. This doesn’t mean every single day you need to wear the same type of ensemble, but it means you have some go-to pieces that you know will work with little effort. For me, it’s merino v-neck sweaters with a pencil skirt or pair of wrinkle-free trousers – I can get dressed in the dark with this combo and feel attractive and put together. Many a very early and dark morning, I have gotten dressed by feel – here’s my Gap Perfect Trousers, here’s a v-neck sweater. I’ll grab my black ankle booties, a necklace or bracelet and I’m pulled together in five minutes.

– Embrace color. If you feel green, you won’t look as green if you are in a flattering hue instead of a neutral or black. You’ll also feel better when you’re looking at your reflection in a pleasing color. For me, it’s pink – be it bubblegum or berry, a pink color will flatter my skintone and lift my spirits.

How my closet was organized in January – slightly different now but same concept

– Organize your closet. If you open your closet on a rough morning and the first things you see are cocktail dresses and complicated blouses, you’ll get frustrated and seek out your jeans and flip flops.

For me, I find it helpful to have pants and skirts in the center of the closet. To the right are tops, to the left are jackets and cardigans, and then to the left of the jackets are dresses. To the right of the tops are the things I don’t wear on a daily basis – cocktail dresses, interview suits, out of season pieces that won’t survive being boxed in the attic. This way, I can quickly find pieces and get dressed with less stress.

I also find it helpful to have similar hangers throughout the closet. If you have those white plastic tubular hangers, hefty wooden hangers, clear plastic ones that come free with the dress your ordered online and a few of those skinny velvet ones, garments can get lost. For years I have stuck with the plastic hangers you can buy or get free with some retailers – they’re a consistent size, are great for open neck and spaghetti strap pieces, and often “monkey hang” to save space. Lately I have started switching to the slimline velvet hangers, but I am only doing it by category – all my tops first, then all my jackets and cardigans at a separate time when I acquire more. This way I don’t lose my black cardigan because it’s hiding behind my neon yellow linen blazer and black tux jacket.

My early-morning look – simple makeup, messy updo with polished bangs
 
– Create an emergency beauty routine. If you’re like me, you don’t have easy wash-and-go hair and you look better with some concealer and blush. And if you’re like me, some days you need to leave your bed but the idea of brushing your hair sounds like torture. When you’re feeling bright and bubbly, try out simplified beauty routines so you have them in your back pocket for days where you don’t feel your best or are short on time.

For me, it’s a messy updo with smoothed sideswept bangs – the messier the better because it will hide roots, grease, and bedhead. I let a few tendrils down so it looks purposeful, and use an iron or my dryer and a round brush to just make the bangs look polished. Takes less than a minute and is way better than a slicked-back ponytail with random bumps missed in haste. As for my face, I focus on what is most obvious – for me it’s the dark circles under my eyes and the redness around my nose and lips. A couple pats of concealer will even my skintone, making me automatically look more awake, healthy, and polished. I find mascara really opens my eyes, and I swear by Burt’s Bees Tinted Lip Balm in Rose for quick color on the lips AND the cheeks (so easy, can apply without a mirror while dashing to your car). I also keep a concealer, travel-sized tube of mascara (they often sell them at the counter of Sephora or come with a gift with purchase) and the Burt’s Bees balm in my purse so if I can’t get the face on before I head out the door, I can at least do it once I arrive at my destination.


What are your tips for looking polished when you don’t feel so fab?

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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: Dressing a Large Bust

Do you know what stores carry camis that are work-appropriate and fit well over large busts? I have a go-to black cami that is always falling down in front and I’d like to minimize my cleavage for the office.

Check out Second Base – I have camis from there and LOVE them. Second Base‘s camis are made for women with large busts – they have a band to keep them from riding up, adjustable straps to properly cover on top, and a variety of styles to fit most any cami need for your wardrobe.

I always have a hard time finding button-down shirts that will actually button up past my cleavage without gaping. I love your silk Ann Taylor button-down shirts; do you just size up when you buy them or do they automatically fit well without gaping?

I usually go up one size, but then choose petite so it’s not falling off my shoulders and covering up my hands. However there are brands that make shirts for curvy women – check out my post here for some suggestions!

I am on the chunky side and have a generous bosom, which causes a straight tunic to extend in front of me and hang in a way I find graceless (I hope I am describing this well). I suspect that many others have a similar problem. Any ideas on how to wear a tunic?

This is why I don’t wear tunics, they make me look as though I am either expecting, or I am wearing a cardboard box under my shirt. If you do want to wear a tunic, choose lightweight fabrics that will drape nicely, and look for styles that have seaming or a band below the bust (not an empire waist, but one a bit lower at your smallest part) to show more of your figure. I also swear by a wide elastic belt – use it on tunics and place at the bottom of your ribcage where you are smallest – the ribs will keep the belt in the right place and will give you a shape.

I am 5’3″ and average-sized but a 34DD, and finding clothing is a total pain. One piece of advice large-busted women always get is to avoid turtlenecks and cowl necks. I view turtlenecks as a necessity because I live in Minnesota and it is freezing–I layer them under absolutely everything. Any suggestions for warm clothes that are flattering to a large-busted shape?

I have a few turtlenecks and cowl necks (see here and here) and I do agree they aren’t the most flattering, but they can be quite lovely if you choose the right silhouette and fabric.

I choose turtlenecks that aren’t too tight – traditional knit jersey turtlenecks and ribbed fitted styles can really emphasize a bust. However, a cowl or looser turtleneck will flatter the face and distract from the bust. Since you are wearing the turtleneck under other pieces, that can also help distract. A blazer or v-neck cardigan will elongate the body and draw emphasis from the bust.

I also am a huge fan of wearing scarves – a cashmere pashmina looped around the throat can be adjusted to keep you cozy when in a chilly space, and can be relaxed when in a toasty location.

I have a question – can you recommend any options for those of us more voluptuous types who want to wear long pendant necklaces? They all seem to dangle from my chest in a weird way. I’m looking for on-trend, and inexpensive accessories – something to dress up plain tees and cardi combos.

Oh gosh, I hate when pendants do this! I might as well be wearing a bolo tie, the way pendants slide between the breasts and hang in one long line! A great alternative is a statement or bib necklace. I have one on here, here and here – the wider necklace won’t puddle in your cleavage but still elongate the frame.

Do you think I can wear horizontal stripes, because my top is quite wide in comparison to my bottom???? (size 8 pants, size 14/16 tops). I love your striped tops and am so lusting after them!

Hey, I’m pretty large on top and rock the heck out of them! I think it’s important that there is more of the light color than the dark, and the stripes are wide or well spaced.

Very small stripes of even sizes can really make arms and the bust look big, but a classic “Breton” stripe can be quite flattering!

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Summer Sartorial Rules for Corporate America

These days it can be confusing when trying to dress for the office. With retailers showing “secretary” dresses that hardly cover one’s behind, painted-on pants paired with blazers, and cleavage-baring blouses with suits, you wonder what actually is acceptable these days. Add to this a sweltering hot summer, and one could easily stray in the wrong sartorial direction. From one corporate employee to another, here’s some rules on summer office fashion that apply to you whether you’re a cubicle dweller or reside in the corner office.

Even if they’re metallic or beaded, they’re still flip flops. And if they’re flip flops, they don’t belong in the office. Period.

A cardigan doesn’t make a strapless dress work-appropriate. Seriously ladies, we can still tell it is strapless. This also goes for low-cut dresses, spaghetti straps, and every other dress more appropriate for happy hour on the terrace than the boardroom.

If I couldn’t wear spaghetti straps when working at the mall, you can’t wear them to the office. When I worked in apparel, even at trendy companies like Express, we had a dress code. That dress code restricted many things like sneakers, but it also restricted revealing attire such as spaghetti straps. If I couldn’t be a 21-year old in Express with spaghetti straps, you sure as heck shouldn’t be an adult with them at work. It’s just not professional.

Even if your bra strap is the same color as your tank, it doesn’t make it invisible. A peach racerback tank with peach bra straps is still a shirt exposing bra straps. A navy x-back sundress with a navy traditional bra is still a dress exposing your lingerie. I commend your attempt, but it’s still not appropriate for the office.

Hemlines shouldn’t rise with the temperature. Your skirt should be near your knee, not near your rear. If you can’t bend down to pick up your pen or sit on a standard chair without fear of flashing, your skirt is too short.

A hoodie is not an appropriate layer for offices that blast the A/C. Even if it’s cashmere, if it zips up the front, has two pockets and a hood, it’s not professional looking. Switch to a cardigan, pashmina, or soft jacket.

White is almost always transparent. I personally think thin white cotton and twill and light-colored linen should not be worn to the office, but if you do, wear with skin-colored seamless undergarments. No lace, no bows, no stripes, and not even sheer (the better to see the cotton crotch and waistband, my dear). If it’s a dress, wear a slip, if in doubt, don’t wear it to work.

Cleavage isn’t appropriate, no matter the season. Somehow, those who understand office attire let everything literally hang out come summer. Low-cut tanks, deep Vs on wrap dresses, strapless tops under cardigans… and none of it is appropriate for the office. If you wouldn’t show your décolleté in December, you also shouldn’t in July.

Dress code still applies. If it’s business casual, that means nice pants and skirts with refined tops or a simple dress. It does not mean chino Bermudas, seersucker sundresses with flip flops, logoed tee shirts with capris, tropical printed maxis with beaded sandals, or super-short cotton skirts with ribbed tanks. This is your office, not a tiki bar. You can beat the heat without dressing for Margaritaville.

Dress for respect. Again, this is your place of work. This is how you pay your rent, buy groceries and gas, and where you should be striving to move up the corporate ladder. Dress the part, no matter how hot it is outside.

For some suggestions on appropriate office attire, please visit:

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Ask Allie: Plus Size Wedding Guest Dresses

All my friends are getting married, I have six weddings already that I know I am or will be invited to and I know more are coming. I’m single and haven’t had a boyfriend in two years and on top of that I’m a size 20 while all my friends are tiny. I don’t want to go to these weddings and get stuck at the single people table and be the sad lonely fat girl but I know I need to go. Any advice on what to wear to boost my confidence?

It doesn’t matter what you wear to these weddings, if you feel you are a lonely fat girl and sit at that singles table looking sad you will look like a sad lonely fat girl. The best way to get through these weddings and life in general is to have a blast. When you live life completely it shows; it alters your face, your posture, your energy. So put on your favorite lipstick, slip on some heels (and a pair of ballet slippers tucked into your purse for the end of the night), and rock your fabulous self in a dress that is as full of life and joy and you and the event you are attending.

My personal recommendation is to steer clear of black unless it is a defining factor in your personal style. While black is versatile and acceptable at most American weddings these days, it can have one think you’re uncomfortable in your skin or depressed. Many choose black because they feel it looks slimming but it’s not going to make you look drastically different and can give the wrong impression. On the other hand, don’t wear anything too crazy flamboyant; the day isn’t about you and you can still look fun and vivacious without too much bling or cleavage. A bit of shape is far more flattering to the figure than a loose tent and shows you know style and you know your body. And I can’t stress this enough – don’t be afraid to spend money on this dress. If you choose wisely and it’s not the same exact crowd at every event, you can wear it several times over the wedding season and also bring it out for holiday parties. The harsh truth is those of us who are larger or softer need to take more care with our purchases. Buy quality pieces, invest in tailoring for a custom fit. We’re not built like mannequins and cheap fabric, unlined garments, and poor fit can make us look bigger and sloppy. If between sizes, go up a size and then hit your local bridal boutique to find someone to tailor it to a custom fit. A few dresses that have caught my eye and I would think perfect for weddings:

plus size wedding guest dresses

  1. Calvin Klein Ruffle Front Sheath Dress: The chartreuse color is phenomenal; if you think you’re too fair to wear such a color look up pictures of pale fashionistas like Nicole Kidman who have rocked this hue. Pair with hot pink or tomato red lips and nude heels, with a statement shoe in another bold color and lots of lashes, or go glam with metallic heels and sparkly earrings. The fabric is the type that can dress up and down with ease and work all seasons of the year.
  2. ASOS CURVE Premium Placed Nautical Mesh Insert Dress: I love the bold pattern of this dress, the flippy skirt, and the fresh color combination that would be so nice at an outdoor wedding. Let the dress make the statement with nude shoes and simple accessories, or pump up the look with a bold pout and shoes. No need to stick to a nautical choice of red; orange, pink, Kelly green, and yellow would all look fantastic with this frock.
  3. Carmen Marc Valvo Floral Jacquard Cocktail Dress: This is an elegant dress that will make a statement without shouting. Keep it simple with nude or soft metallic heels, make it more formal with a rhinestone belt, or add a pop of color with D’orsay heels or a skinny belt in a signature shade (hot pink would be awesome). This dress is also available via Rent the Runway.
  4. Adrianna Papell Gardenia Dress: Tailored without being tight, a pleated skirt that is begging you to be twirled on the dancefloor, and a bunch of customer reviews stating this dress is perfect for a wedding makes this dress a winner. Wear as-is with nude or soft metallic shoes or add a bit of shine with a sparkly or metallic skinny belt.
  5. MYNT 1792 Sequin Stretch Asymmetrical Drape Dress: Don’t let the description fool you, these tiny sequins give more of a look of liquid metal than Studio 54. The silver is surprisingly versatile and can be dressed up and down with a change of makeup, hair, and accessories. In the winter wear with a black clutch and shoes; come spring choose a nude shoe to lengthen the leg and let the dress steal the spotlight.
  6. Little Mistress Floral Placement Skater Dress: This sweet dress is feminine, flirty, and figure flattering. Perfect for a spring wedding, you can also pair with a cardigan and wear to the office. Don’t be afraid to switch out the belt for one that better fits your personal style or to dress up and down the frock.
  7. Marina Rinaldi Plissé-Panel Dress: I know, more chartreuse! But it’s a seriously versatile color. Wear this dress with the included gray ribbon, switch out for a metallic or sparkly belt, or choose a belt or sash in a bold contrast color like cobalt, orange, or hot pink. The cut of this dress is also very flexible if you’re like me and may gain or lose weight throughout the year.
  8. ASOS CURVE Hitchcock Pencil Dress: Va-va-va-voom! This dress will surely make a statement, and the color makes sure you won’t blend in with all the other frocks on the dancefloor. Adjustable straps give a better fit, and the dark green works year round. Wear in the warmer months with nude or soft metallic, but bring the dress back out this winter and pair with black or sparkle for holiday fetes.

If you are unable to spend for a dress, consider renting.

  • You all know I am a fan of Gwynnie Bee – they are like Netflix for fashion. For a monthly fee you can rent everything from jeans to blazers to sweaters to dresses for work or play. The customer reviews help you decide which piece will work best for your figure and personal style, and you can send back a piece quickly in the pre-labeled shipping bag and get a new one from Gwynnie Bee in a jiffy.
  • Another option is Rent the Runway who now offers plus sizes. This is an especially great option if you’re attending a more formal wedding and don’t want to drop hundreds on a gown you’ll likely never wear again. However, Rent the Runway has dresses appropriate for weddings of all formality and the rental price is that of a cheaper dress that may not make as great of a statement. With stylist notes and plenty of customer reviews with photos, you can get a good feel of what dress would be perfect for your occasion.

Go Ahead Put Your Red Dress On

Dress: c/o Dobbin Clothing | Necklace: Leona Pendant c/o Kristin Biggs, Stella and Dot | Watch: c/o WatchCo | Bracelets: Nordstrom (similar), Nordstrom (similar), had forever | Glasses: Derek Cardigan 7003 c/o Coastal.com | Shoes: Ivanka Trump

One thing bloggers get flack for is wearing too many c/o (courtesy of) items. How can a reader tell your true personal style or find you inspiring when you have a completely gifted outfit? I guess it depends on the blogger, but over the years I have learned to not accept every free thing that is offered to me. It does water down your personal style, it makes you seem less credible… and between you and me it is a pain to them take these gifted items that aren’t really your style and try to style them in a good way for the blog. I have had mornings when I have cried over not knowing how to make a garment or accessory look decent, and I feel guilty to my readers and to the brand that was kind enough to send it my way.

I don’t feel guilty wearing gifted items. One, it’s a lovely perk for working hard on this blog, but two it’s such a great chance to showcase lesser-known amazing brands. I for one may never have known about Dobbin Clothing if they hadn’t contacted me and sent me a dress. Dobbin Clothing has now become such a fave of mine – high quality garments made with fine fabrics from European mills but created here in the US of A.  They pride themselves in making tasteful stylish workhorses for your wardrobe.  The women behind Dobbin Clothing are just as lovely as their creations too!

So yeah, there’s a lot of c/o above… but every c/o up there is one you have likely seen before or will likely see many times again because I love the pieces and I find they fit my personal style. Each piece above I would purchase with my own money if I was able.  I think with blogs, it’s less about how one gets a garment or accessory and more about how they style it and whether it fits their style and message.

UPDATE: Like this dress?  This is the “Nora” by Dobbin Clothing, and they are offering all Wardrobe Oxygen readers 20% off it, in black or red.  Use the code WARDOX20 at checkout to get 20% off the Nora Dress in black or red.  No expiration date, but this code cannot be used in conjunction with the first-time buyer code.

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