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How I Shop

I worked in retail for a decade. I was a personal shopper, retail manager, apparel visual merchandiser, salesperson racing from fitting room to denim wall to register. Because of this, I enter a mall maybe twice a year, and always at off-peak times.

I also don’t shop in malls because I find them frustrating, overwhelming, and demoralizing.

Near my office, there is an Ann Taylor, a Gap, a Nordstrom Rack, and a few other shops. Near my home on my way to the bank or Emerson’s dance class there’s a Marshall’s, a Ross, an Old Navy, a Target, and a couple smaller shops. I will occasionally shop these retailers if I have time or they are near my necessary errand locations, but otherwise I shop online.


I shop online because the selection is better.
I shop online because I have flattering lighting.
I shop online because I trust my own mirror.
I shop online because I am then never pushed to buy something by someone who doesn’t know or care about me.
I shop online so I can be sure the item works with my shoes/bra/purse.
I shop online because they have my size.
I shop online so I can take the time to sit in something, see it from behind, make sure it works with my body and movement.
I shop online so I have time.
I shop online so I don’t become a sweaty frustrated mess who wants to drink all the wine at California Pizza Kitchen and enjoy all that wine with spinach artichoke dip.
I shop online so I get what I want in a manner I deserve.

I don’t shop in person, and that includes thrift stores, because I just don’t have the time. I work over 40 hours a week and commute almost 10 hours more. I blog, I help my husband with his business, I have a child and family and friends. When I have free time I don’t want to spend it shopping, I want to spend it living. I spent too much of my past using shopping as a source of entertainment and all it gave me was a lot of debt and crowded closets. When I do go to stores I so often see bored kids in carts, whining to leave. I have limited time with Emerson, I’d rather spend it doing something we both can enjoy.

Where I mainly shop:

  • Nordstrom. They have petites and larger sizes and great reviews from fellow customers to help me choose the right size or to not buy an item. They have free shipping and free returns. Nordstrom also has surprisingly awesome prices – their sales are fabulous, and brands like Halogen and Caslon give you current trends for reasonable prices.
  • Ann Taylor. The brand fits me. Sometimes I love their stuff, sometimes I hate their stuff, but I find the quality and sizing to be relatively consistent and their style to fit my lifestyle. Oh, and they too have great sales and take returns in-store.
  • Talbots. Consistent sizing and quality, great wardrobe staples, great customer service. I swear by Talbots skirts, very flattering and classic.
  • Zappos. Extensive selection, free shipping and returns.
  • 6pm. If you know what you like, check here and you may find it cheaper. Free shipping.
  • Amazon. Same with 6pm, it’s a good place to find very specific items at a great price.
  • Gap. I like them for basics – tee shirts, summer dresses, the occasional pair of jeans. Their sizing and quality is inconsistent so I don’t shop there as much as I used to. But they have a broad range of sizes, and I can do returns in store.
  • eBay. I buy a large percentage of my wardrobe from eBay because it’s saving stuff from landfills, saving me money, and giving me variety. I like to look for last-season’s items on there (I’m the crazy person who remembers the names of different dresses and jackets).

How I shop:

  • I always go to Ebates first. I have written about Ebates before, but it’s a no-strings, no-spam way to get true cash back (not points, not gift cards) on where you shop. Big fan.
  • I always make a list and try to stick to it. Very little virtual window shopping, which can be bad for the wallet.
  • I often sort items from lowest to highest price so I see the more budget-friendly options before falling for one that is more expensive.
  • If the site doesn’t have reviews, I Google the name of the item and “review” to see if I can find them elsewhere. Many blogs do product reviews these days which are super helpful when determining brand or size.
  • I don’t usually veer from brands I know unless there’s a lot of reviews letting me know about quality and fit.
  • I don’t like shopping places where the clothes aren’t on human beings. While some models are smaller than mannequins and clothes are often clipped and pinned to fit, a human model gives me a better feel of drape and fit than a mannequin or having it on a white background.
  • If an online retailers has a PITA return policy, I won’t shop there unless I know before I buy that I will not want to return (specific size and style of shoe, an accessory, etc.).
  • If I want a very specific item and the site doesn’t have my size, I will Google to see if I can find it elsewhere.
  • If I want a specific item (say a Western shirt) I will search my favorite haunts, then I will Google the item with “2013” to see what blog reviews or sites have something with that description. This saves me time and often brings to light new and interesting retailers.
  • I never check out before searching for a promo code. RetailMeNot is my favorite place. I also subscribe to emails from my favorite retailers to get promo codes.
  • I don’t rack up debt, but I do have Nordstrom and Banana Republic (which also works for Gap, Old Navy, and Athleta) credit cards and put my purchases on them. I pay them off right away, but I acquire points on purchases which earn me store credit.
  • I have a box at home where I keep all receipts and packing slips. As soon as I buy something, the receipt goes there in case I need to do a return or exchange. Also helpful if I want to replace something via eBay, I know the name and SKU.
  • I also have a box of shipping materials. In there goes all the shipping bags that deliver product, as well as any tissue paper or bubble wrap used to protect accessories. This way I have free materials for returns as well as old items I sell on eBay.

I have become a bit of an online shopping pro. I know how to find what I want with minimal time, and how to get the best price (or cash back). I know my body, I know what brands usually flatter, so it reduces my number of returns. Online shopping is like any other activity, you become more skilled with time. I have found this to be a good skill to hone because it saves me time, saves me money, and saves my confidence.

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How to Shop: eBay

For a long time, I was terrified of eBay. I didn’t understand it, and felt that I could easily be scammed by sellers who were passing off fakes as authentic, taking my money and not sending me items, pretty much getting screwed by the whole process.

A few years ago, I fell madly in love with the Sandhurst hobo bag from Banana Republic. I went into the store often to drool over it. I would stand in front of a mirror, hold it in my hand, sling over my shoulder, and admire my reflection. However, I just couldn’t afford the price. A friend suggested I look for it on eBay. I did, found a seller who had the exact style and color I desired and was able to get the bag brand new in its dust cover for 30% off the retail price.

After that I was hooked on eBay for brand-name accessories. If I loved a certain necklace from J. Crew or bag from Rebecca Minkoff, I would get the style number and name, the color, the measurements, and then head to eBay. Often times I could find it, and for far cheaper than retail.

I don’t claim to be an eBay expert, but many of you have asked about how I go about shopping on the site. Here’s some of my tips and tricks for navigating eBay:

Accessories on eBay


Shopping for Accessories on eBay

When You Know Exactly What You Want
So you want the Essex bag from Kate Spade? Before you buy retail, head to eBay. There are lots of reasons why people are selling items on eBay. Maybe they got it as a gift or won it in a contest, possibly they are thinning out their collection, maybe it’s a store sample, and yes maybe it’s hot or a fake.

The search function on eBay is pretty robust. I usually start by typing in the brand and style name into the search function (you can often find this info on Google if you don’t already know it). If that doesn’t give me the results I desire, I will make the search broader and just enter the brand name, and then the type of item (handbag, jewelry, sunglasses, etc.). Often times sellers do not know the style name or number, so by adding that to your search you may end up with zero results.

I then search through the selections and in a separate browser tab/window, open any that fit my criteria. I then look at each different auction. Are they really the same item and color? What is the condition of each? Who has the better options and price for shipping? What are their return policies?

I look at the seller – I care less about how many thousands of sales they have had, and more on the quality of their feedback. I go and read the feedback; I am especially interested in negative and neutral feedback. Recently I purchased a blouse from a seller who claimed the item was New Without Tags, never worn, pristine condition. When I received it, it was missing a button. I left neutral feedback, as that the blouse was as described except for the fact that a very important button (cannot be replaced) was missing and this was not in the description. The seller contacted me, angry about the neutral feedback and asked for me to return the blouse and remove my feedback. I again looked at her feedback and saw that in the past six months she had two other neutral feedbacks from folks stating their items were not quite as described. I chose to leave that feedback to warn future customers; I wonder how many either didn’t notice their purchase’s flaw or accepted the seller’s offer to return the item and remove the feedback.

Once I find the item and seller that I like, I stop and think, what is the maximum amount I would pay for this item? I then write it down so it is more concrete. I bid, and I NEVER go over that number. eBay will let you know when you are close to being outbid and when you have been outbid, and it’s so tempting to add a couple more dollars just to stay in the game. DON’T. I have a friend who admitted she spent $50 more on an item on eBay than it cost in the store just because she got caught up in the thrill of the auction. I feel that if you are bidding within 30% of the actual retail price for something on eBay it’s usually not worth it. Wait until you get a store coupon so you have the customer service to go with the item in case there is an issue/need for repairs or a return.

Nine times out of ten what you are bidding for on eBay you don’t need in the first place, so if it’s not in your price range, let it go. Seriously, let it go.

Once you get your item, carefully open the shipping package and inspect it from head to toe. Does it match the photos and description of the item? Were you extravagantly overcharged for the shipping? If you are happy, leave quick and detailed feedback about the shipping, the price, the quality, the communication of the seller. If you find an issue, let the seller know; she may offer a quick solution. If you’re wildly unhappy, don’t keep it to yourself – let the seller know and let the world know with your feedback. Feedback isn’t just for the seller, it’s for future customers, future yous who want to buy and know they are getting their money’s worth.

When You Don’t Know What You Want
You can search more general terms like “Stella and Dot ring” or “Ann Taylor” and then use the eBay-offered categories to break down to jewelry or shoes or bags. From there you can usually break it down even further by color, size, and specific type of item. I usually don’t, and let my mouse do the walking through dozens of pages of auctions while I eat my lunch or wait for a friend to arrive. If you don’t know what you want, it’s good to really take a tour because you may be pleasantly surprised with what you find. A search for peacock-feather earrings ended up finding me a great dress for Bonnaroo; a search for a charm bracelet got me my Anthropologie crystal bracelet.

As with others, investigate your seller, and write down a final price. Be sure to check shipping prices – sometimes they are so high (or coming from overseas) that it’s not worth it to wait for it to arrive, or you might as well buy it retail.

Clothing on eBay


Shopping for Clothing on eBay

I hardly ever go outside my brand comfort zone on eBay. I shop brands whose fit I know is consistent. It is either something I have already tried on in a store, or a designer with whom I am very familiar (hello Ann Taylor). Keep in mind, even your go-to brand (hello Ann Taylor!) changes its sizing over the years – you may be an 8 at that brand, but if the item is five years old you may find an 8 to be a bit snug.

The only time I will go outside my complete comfort zone is with vintage clothing, and then I have to have very detailed clothing measurements in the description. If you have questions, ask them! Ask the seller for a photo of the back view of the dress, ask if the skirt is lined or what type of slit it has in the back. Ask if it’s more of a midnight navy or a dark blue, and ask for the fabric content. If you are unsure of the year, ask to see a photo of the label (most retailers slightly change the logo or look of their label every couple of years – you can often Google to find a timeline of the brand’s logo). It sucks to receive an item that isn’t want you believed it to be and go back and realize the seller didn’t misrepresent, you just filled in the blanks without asking.

I prefer a seller who has multiple pictures of an item, and of the actual item, not a JPEG lifted off of Google Images. This way I really know I am getting what I desire.

eBay Shopping Support

PayPal: If you don’t already have a PayPal account, you will need one to shop on eBay. I prefer PayPal to credit cards for online shopping because I have less chance for identity theft. PayPal is very user secure and friendly, and you can easily set it up to your checking account (or multiple bank accounts) so when you have a $0 PayPal balance, it will just withdraw right from your bank.

PayPal can be used at so many other sites online (hello Etsy, drugstore.com,Lands End Canvas and Zappos and more!) that it makes sense to have an account with them.


eSnipe: I haven’t used eSnipe in a while, but loved it back when I was looking for my Sandhurst bag. My hairdresser told me about it, and it has helped me score some great prices on eBay auctions. Instead of having to constantly stalk your auction to ensure you have the highest price, eSnipe will do it for you. Tell them your maximum price that you are willing to pay and in the last couple of seconds of an auction eSnipe will bid on your behalf, helping you win the auction, and not go above your budget.  FYI, eSnipe is now only free for a trial period, and then has a slight cost.

Ebates: I have a love affair with Ebates.  Sign up for free, visit Ebates before heading to most online shops and get cash back on your purchase.  They have popular online retailers like Sephora, Nordstrom, Target, Ann Taylor and Old Navy, but Ebates also gives you 1-4% cash back on all purchases on eBay! 

Ebates gives you an actual check once a quarter, no points to redeem, no gift cards, actual cash.  No spam, no strings, just 30 seconds for money back.  Be sure to sign up and visit Ebates each time before you head to eBay!

Some eBay Acronyms to Know:

  • NWT – New with Tags. This means the tags should be ATTACHED unless otherwise stated in the description
  • NWOT – New without tags. This means new condition, an item could be found at a store like this. No perfume, no dog hair, no creases from wear.
  • NWOB – New without box. (everytime I see this acronym I think NKOTB)
  • NRFB – Never removed from the box
  • EUC – Excellent used condition. Means like-new, though not as perfect as NWOT.
  • MNT – Mint condition (again doesn’t mean new, but is closer to NWOT)
  • VGC - Very good condition.  This means the item was worn, but is still in wearable condition (no stains, holes, etc.)
  • GUC or GU – Good used condition. This description has many shades of gray and it’s important to know details, see detailed photos and ask questions to fill in the blanks.
  • NBW – Never been worn
  • TTS – True to size
  • S/S or SS – Short-sleeved
  • L/S or LS – Long-sleeved
  • FB – Feeback
  • DBL – Double
  • FP – Fixed price
  • GBP - Great British Pounds
  • ITF – Impossible to find (often used in title for limited-edition pieces)
  • VHTF – Very hard to find (ditto, often in auction titles)

eBay Etiquette
Leave feedback. No matter what you purchased, or how many times you shopped from the same seller, leave feedback for every individual purchase you make. Many people make their living off of eBay auctions, and your feedback supports their livelihood. Feedback also helps your fellow shoppers, letting them know who to trust, and who to avoid.

Pay promptly. If you don’t have the money, you shouldn’t be bidding in the first place. When I win an auction, I pay within 24 hours. I have sold on eBay and it’s frustrating to have to chase down a customer to beg for your money. Not paying promptly is like being rude to your waiter – he will care less about pleasing you and you may get spit in your soup… or a delayed shipment.

Pay. Again, if you don’t have the money, you shouldn’t be bidding. Winning an auction and then never paying won’t just give you negative feedback, but will also screw over the seller. There is a lot of steps a seller has to take to prove that you didn’t keep up your end of the bargain, to get back their selling fee, and finally be able to re-list the item. A good month could go by and that’s possibly the rent or grocery bill for that seller.

If something unexpected happens where you just can’t pay… contact the seller. Let them know as soon as possible. Don’t hide and ignore the invoices you will receive. Bad things happen to good people, we have all been there. Don’t leave your seller high and dry.

Accept the seller’s terms. As a previous eBay seller, nothing is more frustrating than having a person from Belgium try to bid on an item when I clearly stated I only ship to the US. I have had sellers try to pay via money order when I write that I only accept PayPal, ask me to ship FedEx when I use USPS, request I take the item off auction and just sell it at a reduced price to them. Read the description, all the fine print. It doesn’t hurt to ask if it’s a small change (offer to pay additional for expedited shipping or delivery to Canada from the US), but remember these are people, not major corporations. They don’t have the time, resources, money or desire to be your personal valet.

Have you had success shopping on eBay?  What are your tips and tricks for navigating the site and getting great fashion deals?

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How to Shop: Inspiration

How do I find inspiration? How do I know what to buy each season and how I know it will flatter not only my figure but my personality?

Fashion is a form of art, just like painting and sculpture and music. When you look at it as a form of art, it’s easier to see what you like and don’t like. Instead of looking at what is hot for the season, just look. So Pantone has decided that honeysuckle (a bright pink) is THE color for 2011, that doesn’t mean you need to wear it to be stylish. Feel silly in maxi skirts and dresses? Don’t wear them!

We live in a great time for fashion – a time where one can find her personal style. There isn’t one single denim wash or leg opening that everyone wears, there isn’t just one silhouette of dress that is fashionable this season. Though certain silhouettes, fabrics, and colors are deemed by fashion authorities to be “hot” or “not” each season, it doesn’t mean the rest are unwearable. It really is possible to find that which flatters you and your personality.

Where I Get Inspiration

Fashion Blogs
As a blogger, I love following fellow fashion bloggers. I find them just as inspirational as the issues of Vogue and Bazaar that arrive in my mailbox every month. With fashion bloggers, you are able to see how clothing works on non-model bodies, how creative women can make couture street fashion, creative ways to mix high-end with Target or thrifted pieces, and unique ways to style pieces to flatter curves, a petite frame, a conservative work environment. Some of my favorite blogs for fashion inspiration:

Atlantic-Pacific – When you want to see how to do a trend right, visit this blog. She is able to pair polka-dots with leopard print and make it look chic, not desperate. I love her mix of clean lines and strong colors with her armful of random bracelets and watch, her bold use of lipstick, her ability to make Hunter willies look downright chic.

Stylish White Female – Rarely do I find a fashion blog whose personal style I could actually see myself wearing. Terra from Stylish White Female is one of those bloggers. Like Atlantic-Pacific, she has a very clear voice – bright clear colors, lots of solids, great use of accessories. Ensembles that are unique yet very wearable for real life. For expecting women, Terra is currently pregnant and total proof that you can be a fabulous and fashionable woman, no matter the trimester.

Extra Petite, Petite Early Morning Style, and 9 to 5 Chic – Three wonderful blogs if you are working in Corporate America but don’t want to look like a cubicle drone. I hate to lump these stylish women together, because they are very unique women. However, they are favorites to visit because they are able to make classic pieces look elegant, unique, and always appropriate. I know that I can always find an excellent Ann Taylor review from Extra Petite, and one for LOFT from Petite Early Morning Style; and I know from all three they will give inspiration on how to make the mass-produced look unique and personal.

Artfully Awear – Have you ever created an outfit inspired by a Matisse or Rothko? Artfully Aware states on her blog, “Plainness in clothing is the enemy of art.” Each post shows her fabulous eclectic style, and then the painting that inspired her ensemble. I doubt I would ever wear what she wears (or be able to pull it off), but I love her sense of color, her joy for life and her passion for art.

Fashion for Nerds and Style Odyssey Stephanie at Style Odyssey and Audi at Fashion for Nerds are so clearly aware of their personal style, it’s impressive. They don’t dress for society, they don’t dress for others, they dress to express themselves and please themselves. By doing this, they have a very clear message and always look so utterly chic. Both women have personal styles drastically different from mine, but through their blogs I find inspiration on how to simplify, and try unusual combinations while staying true to myself.

FutureLint and Work With What You’ve Got – I suck at thrifting. I head to a local shop and get overwhelmed by the racks of randomness. Christine at FutureLint is my hero – she is able to take an almost completely thrifted wardrobe and make it work for her job, for parties, for dates. Erin at Work With What You’ve Got and I seem to have been separated at 9th grade – she makes me wish I didn’t do a major purge of my clothes when I went off to college for she is able to make Doc Martens and Smiths tee shirts look absolutely cool, modern, and fresh. I really like both of these women for their unique senses of style and great voices – it’s awesome to read a blog for years and still want to meet them IRL.

I love so many fashion blogs, but when thinking offhand of my faves without looking at my Google Reader or Blogroll, these were the few that came to mind. My faves often change with the seasons, and with my life. Blogs I adored before Emerson may seem inappropriate now, blogs I followed when I worked in a different field may not be as inspiring now that I have my new job. It’s important to notice when your tastes change and think as to WHY that is happening. It’s impossible to stay stagnant in fashion – you as a human being change and adapt to your environment, your wardrobe should also adapt.

Fashion Magazines


Fashion Magazines
I know in a previous post I said one should get rid of the fashion magazines to save money. However, if you have a grip on your finances, fashion magazines still are an amazing way to be inspired by current fashion. We may have Style.com and Fashionista, but paper magazines will always be one of my favorite sources for fashion inspiration. I can tuck one in my purse and read it on the Metro ride to work, I have them in my bathroom so I can read them while straightening my hair, I have them on my bedside table so I can flip through before bed or on a lazy Sunday morning.

I flip through magazines not really looking at details, but looking at colors and silhouettes. Bazaar had a page of blue and white printed pieces – Ikat and batik and tie dye and even toile. I loved how the trend looked, envisioned a dress or lightweight cotton top in such a print with my current wardrobe – with my gold flat sandals from Lands End, with white jeans or denim cutoffs. I thought about how I could make it work for the office setting.

With fashion magazines, I treat them like a coffee table book for an artist. I don’t take it literally, I look at the clothing as art. Instead of examining who the designer is, I examine the drape the silhouette, the choices of color and fabric. I can’t afford designer, and I don’t want to try to get the same look for less. However I do know that if a designer shows a certain type of fabric or color on the runway, within a year that choice will be available at chain stores for a price I can afford.

Television
I find a lot of inspiration on television. Of course, you can get fashion advice from shows like What Not to Wear and How Do I Look, but inspiration can be found on non-fashion shows. My mom often gets fashion and hair ideas from watching Days of Our Lives, I decided to finally get bangs after watching an episode of Fringe, and I always get makeup and fashion ideas from Gossip Girl and reruns of Sex in the City. Shows like How I Met Your Mother and Modern Family show you very simple wearable weekend style for regular folks – yes the character may be wearing a simple cardigan and jeans, but it can often be inspiring to see the choice of footwear, how a belt is placed, the unusual color pairing.

What’s great is that often when you see a piece of clothing worn by your favorite host or actress, it’s pretty easy to find out online where to buy a version for yourself. As with fashion magazines, it’s less about knowing WHO created the piece, but HOW the piece is worn, how it hangs, the choice of fabric and color and accessory.

Online Stores
I love Nordstrom.com. I love to just look at ‘What’s New Now” and see the models wearing the fashion. Somehow, Nordstrom’s images of items seem more relatable than the same dress on a different model at Saks or Macy’s. I see what sort of shoe they decided to pair with a dress, how they styled a bag for a display or on a model.

Some retailers may have gorgeous clothes, but I hate shopping their sites because I find them boring and uninspiring. I may love Ann Taylor’s clothes but I hate their site – it’s gloomy and the photos are uninspiring, far too simplistic for my tastes. I was a visual merchandiser in a past life, and I like to see very subtle styling that not only enhances a garment, but encourages the customer to purchase additional pieces to recreate the same look.

I look for base inspiration – models that look to have eaten a sandwich in the past week and got at least six hours of sleep last night. White, light, or natural backdrops that either highlight or add interest to the subject. Good lighting. Good styling – the piece fits the model properly, doesn’t hang off her bony shoulders, looks as though it could be worn with traditional underpinnings.

Then I look for ideas – colors, draping, fabric choices. If I like a dress from a designer, say Milly (who I am loving the past couple of seasons), I will Google Milly and check out other pieces from the line, and how it is styled on the Milly site versus Nordstrom versus Neiman Marcus. I use online stores the way I do fashion bloggers – lets see how different bloggers style the Tucker for Target dress; let’s see how different retailers style Milly’s ‘Caroline Maxi’ dress.

The Street
I don’t live or work in the most fashion-forward part of the globe, but that’s actually a good thing. I can find inspiration on the street not just with what I may want to wear, but what I should not wear. I see fellow petite curvy women in cropped pants and ballet flats and see it as a constant reminder of what I should never wear. I see a pale blonde look washed out in blood orange but think I bet I have the coloring to be able to wear it and should try it. I see a woman wear a silky cocktail dress with colored tights and find it an odd pairing, but do get inspired with trying to merge more “After 5” pieces into my work wardrobe.

Life
I am always drawn to bright green, whether it’s the logo for a Healthy Choice frozen entrée, the color of the chain-link fence around my neighbor’s yard, or the straw in my morning Starbucks. Whether or not green is popular, it is a color I seek out for my wardrobe.

The other day I was looking at a painting that my cousin Amy painted for me and my husband as a wedding gift – she was inspired by Gaugin and there is this beautiful blood orange color in the picture. I started thinking how a deep red-orange color is so beautiful, and how it can look great with other colors. In my head I imagined it with white, with denim, with hot pink, with purple, and with my beloved Starbucks Green. I started thinking about my current wardrobe and what piece in blood orange would work with my current collection. A scoop tee or tank and/or a pencil skirt seemed the most logical – a way to add the pop of color without changing the concept of my closet.

Love the look of the pale yellow honeysuckle against its green leaves? Try that color combination on your body. Drawn to street graffiti that combines orange, purple, and cobalt? Why not incorporate that trio into your next ensemble. Love the liquid-look of your grandmother’s favorite vase? Consider a Grecian-inspired dress for your wardrobe. Fashion is not black and white, and inspiration can come from anywhere.

What I Do With My Inspiration

I am not rich, I cannot purchase each item that tickles my fancy. I have to figure out what to do with my inspiration – what do I need, what do I want, and what to think of my ideas.

I always use my current wardrobe as a launchpad – what do I have now that works? What do I need to make it work even better? I like this current trend, but can it play nice with what I already own? How much work does it take to make it work with my wardrobe/how many additional items do I need to make it a cohesive part of my collection?

How to Shop: Inspiration

I love having my inspiration notebook. This is a tiny little hardcover reporter’s notebook that I bought at the grocery store several years ago. If a stranger opened this notebook, they wouldn’t understand the scribbled randomness inside. I write down song names, recipes from the back of a package, Website URLs, lists of clothing that I am seeking to complete my wardrobe, notes of beauty products and books to research and albums to download. This notebook reminds me of my inspiration, and keeps me on track. If I am out and see a woman with a great dress or bag, I will describe it, sometimes ask her who made it and jot down the info in my notebook. Later, I can go online and search for the item and see if I still like it when it’s not on her body. Then I will think about my current collection and lifestyle and see if that item would fit. If so, I then look for the item at a price I can afford – usually it’s a similar piece and not the original (hate to say it, but I have expensive tastes and not the wallet to support them). If I can’t find it, I remember it for future inspiration.

I often make lists on the same little netbook I am using to write this article. If I had unlimited funds and access to any clothes I wanted, what would I get? I rarely write down specific brands or designers, more so actual garments. A blood orange pencil skirt, fully lined, fabric slighty textured, back zip. A purple silk blouse – sleeveless or very short sleeves, ruffles or detail on the front and around the scoop neckline. A white blazer of stretch twill. Dark rigid straight-cut jeans free of adornments. A canvas wide belt with brown leather (preferably croco or snakeskin) buckle. Chambray shirt with feminine details – puffed sleeves, ruffles, or bow neckline. A long statement necklace of silver and turquoise. Black scoop or boatneck dress with flared midi-length skirt. Tan peeptoe heels.

Making this list, freeing myself of what is on trend, what is hot by what designer, and what I can afford gives me a good look into my true personal style. The list above shows bright solid colors, crisp lines with a touch of femininity, classics with a hint of current trends. When I see an item that doesn’t fit with the rest (cue, “One of these things is not like the other”) I stop to ask WHY is it there. Am I swayed by a fashion blogger or celebrity? Is it my alter ego trying to step out (I have a hidden rock star, hippie, and prep inside me)? Is it something that my alter ego would love but I can make work with my classic, clean collection? Am I in a rut? Before I shop, I analyze.

Finding Your Own Inspiration

Fashion is art – there is great art, there is awful art. With art, you can see the progression of the artist – the difference between his art school sketches and his oversized oils from his ‘40s, and the pastels from his ‘70s. How an artist changes his style based upon finances, lifestyle, environmental influences. Don’t be limited by what “they” tell you is en vogue, what “they” tell you is a must-have for every wardrobe. Not everyone likes the same home décor or art or even food; why should we women all like the same designers or trends? Embrace your opinions and tastes. Write them down, look at them, analyze them, embrace them.

A stylish woman is one who is confident in her skin, her wardrobe. If you choose pieces not true to your self, you will always feel awkward. One reason I hate makeover shows is that the subject doesn’t have the time or the power to cultivate a collection – she is swiftly stripped of everything familiar and left in a foreign closet. Personal style doesn’t happen overnight – it is something you learn like any other skill. Take time, listen to yourself, get to know yourself. Start small with an accessory or a simple dress that can be worn for many different situations. Begin with a blank, yet properly primed canvas with wardrobe staples and then grow from there.

My inspiration will not be yours, and that is a good thing. Use fashion to help express the amazing and unique person that you are!

Please check out the previous posts from my How To Shop Series:
How to Shop: An Introduction
How to Shop: Sticking to a Budget

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How to Shop: Sticking to a Budget

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips to Stay on Budget:

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

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



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

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How to Shop: An Introduction

Reader Lisa recently contacted me asking, “How do you shop? I mean literally, how do you find what you need? when is the best time to go? Do you trust yourself or the salesperson? How do you build a wardrobe from scratch with workable pieces? How do you decide how much money to budget?”

When discussing fashion with women, I realize that most people are clueless about fashion because clothing shopping can be so overwhelming, demoralizing, and just plain not fun. It’s hard to have a grip on your personal style when you dread shopping for fashion.

Lisa, I thank you for your honest question, and I am going to create a series of posts about this exact topic – how I shop. I may love fashion, but I have not always enjoyed shopping for it.

My Shopping Education

I really learned to shop by being a salesperson. I worked for almost a decade in retail, most of that time in apparel where I worked my way up from sales associate to personal shopper to manager to visual merchandiser. I worked in about a dozen different malls and boutiques in the DC area over that time, women of all income levels, ages, sizes, and lifestyles. I saw what they did right, saw what they did wrong.

I knew their bad habits – maxing out their credit card and returning a week later with 90% of their purchase. Wearing items only once and admitting to me that they give trash bags on a monthly basis to Goodwill or their friends. Getting stuck in a rut and only wearing the same exact silhouettes/brands/colors even though a different choice would probably be more flattering or appropriate. Showing extreme fear and rejecting any help, assuming all salespeople were either mocking and judgmental, or only caring about making a commission.

I also learned good habits from these women:

  • Visit your favorite shop often – get to know the salespeople on a personal basis (ensure more honesty at the fitting room, heads up on sales, holding of new items in your size and calling you to try on before others, etc.)
  • Stalk the sale racks
  • Start in the back of the store – that’s where the sale clothes are usually located
  • Purchase in bulk if it’s a staple and it’s perfection
  • Don’t buy it unless you love it and really see a purpose for it
  • Spend on your hair, shoes and bag – they make the most impact and are worn a heck of a lot more than a pair of designer jeans or a beautiful dress
  • Buy trendy pieces cheap – you can always find the must-have scarf, beaded necklace, or belt at lower-end shops and get the same effect
  • Never shop on an empty stomach
  • Wear the right undergarments
  • If you’re not positive, put it on hold – come back after a latte, a stroll around the mall, a discussion with your best friend, a good night’s sleep
  • Be honest – with your salesperson, your self, your wallet

I may have left retail in 2003, but the lessons I learned have stayed with me ever since.

In future posts, I will discuss how I find inspiration for my wardrobe, how I go about choosing items, where I shop and how I shop a store, how to look great and stick to a budget, how to get the most out of your friendly sales staff, and more.  Not every woman is the same, and not every woman’s shopping rules and tips will work for another. But hopefully these posts will helpful to some!

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Ask Allie: How to Style a Kilt

I have a knee-length red plaid woolen kilt I picked up on a college trip to Scotland almost 20 years ago. I trek it out once a season or so, usually around the holidays, but I like it and am trying to think of ways to get more wear out of it beyond the expected “Going to the Nutcracker” kind of look. Any ideas?

Yes, that skirt deserves to come out more than once a year! However I do understand the issue with looking too holiday, as though you’re wearing a costume, or trying to be Mid Life Crisis Britney. The best way to wear accomplish this is to style it as though it is not a kilt. Steer clear of traditional pairings and add something unexpected and it will look fresh and modern.

how to style a kilt women

Gray will tone down the red and keep it from feeling Christmas-y. While a cashmere crewneck and white button-front is pretty classic, pairing the look with modern black leather ankle boots keeps it current. Hair and makeup can really make this look; keep both relaxed and a bit disheveled. Beachy waves and a bit of kohl will go a long way and look far more modern than polished hair and red lips.

how to style a kilt scottish woman

Add a bit of a tough edge to your classic kilt with leather. A black leather jacket and biker boots will be a modern contrast. Unlike the above look, style such an ensemble with very polished hair and face to keep it from looking like a costume; smooth hair with red lips and gently flushed cheeks will look fresh.

how to style a scottish kilt women

A bit of purposeful rumpling will take a look from prep overload to modern cool. A gray tweed blazer with a tailored fit is a great pairing for your kilt; roll the sleeves and maybe pop the collar to keep it from feeling like a uniform. A classic Breton tee is a pattern that will mix nicely with the plaid and also keep it from feeling too much like a uniform. A pair of tall boots with a solid heel will finish the look and keep you warm.

The Bandana is Back!

Some trends come on the scene that make me wonder what designers and street style icons were smoking or ingesting when they decided on them. And recently, a lot of trends were impossible to recreate on a budget. I’m loving how so many trends this spring and summer are honestly achievable on any budget; it’s less about the logo and more about the look.

Bottom Row, Left to Right: Louis Vuitton via GQ | Stockholm Street Style | Vanessa Jackman | The Blab

And one of those trends is the bandana. That white-pattered cotton scarf you can pick up at the dollar store or take from your college Halloween costume is now an on-trend accessory. I’ve always loved the classic bandana print and prefer a cotton scarf to a silk one, so I am thrilled about this trend. But how do you wear a bandana without looking like an extra from a John Wayne movie?

    • Create a Contradiction. A bandana with a chambray shirt is cliché, a bandana with a leather moto jacket or a silk blouse or a crisp blazer is unexpected.

 

  • Keep it Crisp and Classic. For now, keep your pink and purple bandanas in the drawer and stick to classics like navy, red, and black. These should also not be the weathered, worn, and torn bandanas you use to mop sweat when gardening or to hold back your hair on a camping trip. The classic color and the crisp finish makes the bandana purposeful and not a leftover from cleaning out the garage.

 

 

  • Simplicity is Key. Leandra Medine’s all-white outfit with the bandana tucked into the collar of her shirt is a fabulous example of how to wear a bandana this spring. Minimal color, no competing prints, use the bandana as you would a silk Hermes scarf and let it take center stage.

 

 

  • Get Creative. A bandana doesn’t have to be worn knotted in back and draped in front. Check out The Not Vanilla’s post and how she wore it knotted around her throat, and even as a purse and wrist accessory. I recently rolled a bandana , wrapped it twice around my neck and had it peek out of a white button-front shirt; I think it’s fun to spice up a monochromatic look with a bandana tied to a single belt loop at the front of a pair of trousers; don’t be afraid to use a bandana as a headband, kerchief, headwrap, or tied around your ponytail.

 

Last week when I shared my outfit featuring a bandana, I received a few styling questions from you folk:

    • When You Have Short Hair. If you’re draping the bandana in front and the “ears” are peeking out making you feel as though you’re wearing a bib, consider a bit of fashion tape to hold them down. I keep all those tiny safety pins that hold garment hang tags and find them great for a situation like this (I pin the “ears” to the underside so they don’t ruin the line of the scarf).

 

  • When the Bandana is Too Stiff. A brand new bandana can be as stiff as a piece of paper, and often have hard creases in it. Before trying anything, wash it and throw it in the dryer, preferably with bulky items that would make it bounce around a lot. This often does the trick. If it’s still too stiff for you, an overnight soak in fabric softener or vinegar will soften cotton without fading the fabric. Rinse and tumble dry.

 

 

  • When You Want a Bigger Bandana. I desired this very thing to have more variety (and to double-look around my big neck). On eBay I found “Texas Size” bandanas which are 27” (most are 22”). If you search for 27” bandana, you’ll find that many online stores like Amazon offer them, which will give you the length you desire.

 

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Spring has Sprung in my Closet

Spring has sprung here in DC! Hooray for bare legs, packing up the hats and mittens, and being able to expose elbows and toes! With each change of season, there’s usually a change of wardrobe. I’ve found that closet organization has been good physical therapy for me; the pinching of clips to hang skirts, holding the weight of a full hanger, folding scarves and jeans. With my arm, this process has been extremely slow, but that time is great for really thinking about what is in my closet, what I really need, and what I really need to remove from my collection.

The trends this spring and summer are so refreshing; after seasons of bright and bold, fitted and funky there’s a move to subtleness, quality, detail, and drape. I saw it on the runways, I see it in the stores, and I feel it in my heart. I started gravitating toward simpler pieces and colors in 2013, but desire it even more in 2014, especially after my broken arm. After six weeks predominately in loungewear, I crave dressing, but simple, easy, yet elegant dressing. Here’s a peek into my Spring/Summer mindset:

For clothing, it’s not terribly different from the past, but now it feels more cohesive. I’m liking (1) midi-length skirts, but somehow they look more right on me when part of a dress. I have pretty much this same dress; last summer’s LOFT collection, and know it will get a ton more wear this year. (2) White feels really right this year, even before Memorial Day. I’ve been wearing white jeans, boyfriend jeans, and pants quite a lot already (if you’re new to white outside of summer, start simple by pairing it with black). Each season I end up having a signature color without even thinking about it and based upon my closet, this season it’s (3) orange-red.  I type this while wearing a linen sweatshirt of this color, and desire a shift dress like the one pictured.  I’m really digging classic trousers this spring, paired with everything, from blouses to sweaters to tee shirts; I’m on the hunt for the perfect pair in (4) navy.  I’m loving how there’s a trend towards draping and purposeful slouchiness this season and have been gobbling up things that are (5) off the shoulder; I’d pair a top like this with slim white jeans.  I also like the trend of purposeful draping, a top like this (6) can be worn with jeans for a night out, or slipped under a suit for the workweek.  I’m always happy when weathered, worn, and distressed denim (7) are on trend; they please my inner Lita Ford and love the contrast with more classic pieces.  And it wouldn’t be my wardrobe if it doesn’t have a few striped shirts (8) in it!

For accessories, I’m craving fewer pieces, fewer necklaces, and again am drawn to orange-red accents.  Thinking about my faves, I saw they are sort of lumped into three categories:

  • Vacation Inspired: I love white Panama hats and fedoras, I know they’ve been in style for a while and may be less trendy but I think they’re quite classic and these days I’m doing all I can to protect myself from the sun.  I love them with jeans and striped tees, I love them with sundresses, and I love that they hide bad hair days!  I’m also loving my new Converse Shorelines, which make Chucks finally comfortable for me.  With the elasticized back and lower profile, they’re comfy and easy to slip on and off.  Aviators are always my favorite, as are scarves.  Now that bandanas are back in style, I’ve been pulling out my collection of them and square scarves and using them to jazz up simple knits.
  • Bold Silver:  This is nothing new, silver is my signature metal and I’ve been wearing my big sterling cuff for 17 years.  Now I’ve added a pair of silver Birkenstocks to my wardrobe, increasing my silver.  I love mixing shiny silver with a more relaxed material; the bracelets from Lifetherapy are a fave of mine.  I have several of them and love looping one of their wrap bracelets (especially in this season’s signature color of orange!) over the cuff to switch it up. 
  • Classic Gold: When my arm was in a cast, I relied on a watch since pulling out my phone was more difficult.  I’ve come to really like the convenience and style, and adore my Citizen Ciena Eco-Drive.  I recently got this cuff from Rebecca Minkoff which is smaller than what I’ve been known to wear and I like it.  Again, been wearing a lot of square scarves, be they around my throat, tied in my hair, or hanging off my purse.  I got a pair of Nine West “Flax” pumps in Natural and they’re a great nude pump, a comfortable height and go with almost my entire wardrobe.

My makeup has also been influenced by my time with a cast; it’s hard to have precision with your non-dominant hand. While I spent much of the winter with bold lips and liquid liner, lately I’m more into a subtle smoky eye, bronzer over blush, and glossy lips in a more natural hue. Miracle Skin Transformer has become my go-to while dealing with a broken arm since it’s so easy and so many beauty products in one.  I’m a mascara junkie and I love Too Faced’s Better Than False Lashes enough to buy a second time. It’s not a product to use when you’re short on time, but they do make my lashes look lusher than any other brand.  I got the Urban Decay lipliner in Naked as a freebie with a Beauty.com order and I use it almost daily with a natural colored gloss (adoring NARS Viva).  And then the original Naked palette from Urban Decay is still a fave for a no-makeup makeup look, a soft smoky eye, or to even replace liner.


Has spring sprung in your closet?  What are you loving this season in regard to trends or new to you classics?

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Shop My Closet!

Do you like what I wear?  Well now is your chance to buy some of it.  As I remove weight, I am posting my old, gently used clothing and accessories at Shop My Closet: Wardrobe Oxygen.  Some items aren’t even worn.  I try to give very clear descriptions of all items, links to this blog if I have worn them recently, and reasonable prices.  Shipping is $5.00 (US) for most items, and I will combine purchases for reduced shipping fees.

So check it out – you may find just what your wardrobe was looking for!

Where to Shop for Size 16?

Hey readers, I thought you may be able to assist with this reader question:

“Allie, I know this is a huge request, but what brands/stores would you reccomend for a plus size (missy 16) women that aren’t too expensive? I have a definite waist but a large stomach.

I’m just a SAHM, with dogs, so I don’t need anything too fancy but I don’t want to look schlumpy either.”  

This is not a huge request, for this is what I love to do (for those who don’t know I have another blog – Wardrobe Oxygen where all I do is talk about style for women)! 
 
Since having Emerson I hover between a 14 and a 16.  I have a petite frame, so many plus size brands are too large for me in the shoulders, rise, length.  This makes it terribly hard to find decent clothing.  Many brands stop at 10, many brands have their size 14 and 16 just be larger versions of 8 (which means lots of gaping, bunching, sagging and overall poor fitting clothes), and petites are often TOO petite for me.
 
Stores I Frequent Because They Have Good Size 14 and 16 Clothing:
- Ann Taylor.  Yes, Ann Taylor is NOT cheap, but they have ridiculous sales.  When I enter their store, I go straight to the sale section.  I have found $150 trousers for $29.99, cashmere sweaters for $40, and some of the best made tee shirts for only $9.  You can’t head to an Ann Taylor sale rack expecting to have success, but every time I do visit a mall, I stop in their Ann Taylor.  You never know what you may find!
 
Another great thing about Ann Taylor is that their sizing is pretty consistent.  If you try on a size 16 dress in blue at the store but wish for it in green, you can pretty much guarantee that if you order it online it will fit.  They have a couple specific cuts of trousers in their stores, so if you know you fit great in their Signature cut, you can order it season after season online in new fabrics and slightly different leg openings.
 
The Ann Taylor Web site has a more extensive size selection than the stores (online they go up to size 18 and XXL in petite, regular and tall).  I have found that Ann Taylor stores in metropolitan areas or large malls will have more of these sizes in stock (people will return unwanted online purchases).  Also Ann Taylor is a retailer that still (usually!) has good customer service – befriend a sales associate, show that you are a serious customer, and they will be known to put things on hold in your size and call you when they are available.

By the way, Ann Taylor isn’t all suits and cocktail dresses – I have found great jeans, tees, sweaters and casual knits at this store.  Nine times out of ten, what I buy at Ann Taylor is still in great shape a couple years later so I find the quality and style timeless and worth it!
 
- Ann Taylor LOFT.  Ditto everything previously stated about Ann Taylor… EXCEPT that they aren’t as consistent with sizing (a 16 in one pant may not fit as well in another), and I haven’t found as personalized of customer service in their stores.

I used to buy a lot from LOFT but these days I find the color schemes to not quite be my personal tastes, and their styles to not be as classic/clean as I like.  However if you have a more sporty or feminine style you may have a ton of luck at LOFT.

- Gap.  Gap is really wacky with their sizing, most things seem to run large.  I have size 14 Long & Leans and they end up too big by the end of the day.  Their petites are too short for me, their regulars too long, but I often find some true gems there, and they have a very extensive size range.

I like Gap because I can find basic pieces there and the quality is usually pretty decent.  Recdently I have found some nice cashmere-blend cardigans in rich colors that did well in the washing machine on the gentle cycle and then hung overnight to dry.  They always have cute knits that are more interesting than the boring tee shirt (right now they have two henley styles in stock that are cute, come in some fun colors and stripes, and look great with jeans or casual pants and a cami or tank underneath), and they are usually well made.  And like Ann Taylor, Gap often has a goldmine of a sale department.  Sometimes all you find are shell-pink colored XS tee shirts, but sometimes you will find an online return of a woman just your size and shape and end up grabbing five pieces for under $100.

Gap’s Web site has even more sizes and styles, and they are always having some promotion for X percentage off or free shipping.  Sign up for their emails and you will always be in the know when they are having a reat promotion – that is always when I stock up.

- Old Navy.  I have a love/hate relationship with Old Navy.  I have some things from there that I adore (yoga pants, a couple dresses, a pair of shorts) and some things I despise (pretty much anything I have ordered from their Web site over the past six months).  That being said, Old Navy has a great range of sizes (especially online), they often take popular trends and make them budget-friendly, and they use simple fabrics which means they are kid-friendly, dog-friendly, and washing machine-friendly.

Old Navy has no consistency with sizing though.  You could order 6 pairs of jeans in the same wash and size and they would all fit differently.  You could order two of the same tee shirt in the same color, size and fabric and not only would they fit differently, one may be see-through and one may feel almost spongey because the knit is so thick.  No rhyme or reason.  It is truly hit or miss.  That being said, they too often have great promotions and free shipping online so it’s a great place to find cheap summer dresses, tank tops and loungewear that is fun looking and fits your size.  And once in a while, you may find quite a gem.

- Caslon for Nordstrom.  Nordstrom?  That is NOT budget-friendly!  However the Caslon brand at Nordstrom is quite reasonably priced and usually from very good quality materials.  Caslon clothing comes in petites and plus sizes, and their sizing is pretty generous (I usually purchase a Large instead of an XL).  Caslon makes simple pieces in rich colors that always have some little detail that keeps them from being boring.  They also do a great job at taking current trends and making them wearable and budget-friendly. 

The Caslon line is usually found on the second floor of your local Nordstrom store, and mixed in with other brands.  I have had the best luck online because there is a more organized and extensive selection and more sizes available.  Nordstrom is now offering reviews of their products so you can often find out from other customers how an item fits or feels.

I personally keep my shopping choices as simple as my wardrobe – searching high and low in various stores in the mall only makes me exhausted and feeling fat and awkward.  I do a lot of online shopping so I can try items on with the wardrobe I already own, the proper shoes, the proper undergarments, flattering lighting.  I am less likely to buy something out of desperation or frustration, and less likely to get home with buyer’s remorse. 

I do a lot of Virtual Window Shopping where I will look at an item, place it in the Web site’s shopping cart and then leave it there for a couple hours or even a day or two.  I will look at my current wardrobe and stop and think – will this work with what I have?  Is this something I need?  What are the washing instructions – will it sit in my trunk for three weeks until I get to the dry cleaners? 

Once I have determined that I like it and think it will be a good purchase, I often look for the same item on other sites so I can see how it fits on differnt models.  That which looks adorable and work-appropriate on one model may look tight and club-like on another.  I also google the item because you can often find reviews on style blogs of a popular item from a store like Gap or J. Crew.

So readers, if you are a size 16, what are your favorite places to shop?  Where do you have luck?

Ask Allie: Where to Shop?

Gretchen asks:

I have a question: Where can I find affordable, stylish, chic clothing for myself, a woman over 40 who is also petite and roundish. In other words: clothing that is not sleeveless, mini-skirted, ultra-tight, or frumpy? I am discouraged by recent visits to Ann Taylor Loft, J. Jill, and Talbots, formerly good sources.

Hey Gretchen:

I feel your pain, and have many times over the past several years. It’s awful when our go-to stores decide to change their concept and leave their regular customers in the lurch. When Ann Taylor got matronly again, when Express changed their sizing, when J. Crew started charging an arm and a leg for a basic knit top… been there, experienced that. On top of such corporate changes, it’s hard when the season seems to be all about silhouettes and trends you wouldn’t be caught dead wearing. My petite curvy body is NOT made for a jersey maxi dress that can’t be worn with a proper bra, and these study legs look ridiculous in pedal pushers.

So what do you do when you hit the mall and hate everything that you see? A stylish woman doesn’t cave in to trends she doesn’t find flattering and she doesn’t settle for less-than-fabulous frocks. A lot of effort and planning goes into having effortless style regardless of the trends. Here’s a few tips to get through the bad fashion spells:

Shop year-round for what you like and what you look good wearing. Find a great dress at a department store in the after-summer sale? Grab it, and maybe in two shades. You may not be able to wear it for several months, but you will be prepared for the next warm spell. When you visit outlet and factory stores, don’t look just for the now, but the five months from now. This is the best way to score cheap quality cashmere, classics like suiting, pencil skirts, boots and trousers for far less. If you buy classic pieces that fit your lifestyle and personality, you should be just as in love with them next season as you are when you purchase them.

Dig a bit deeper. I recently received a J. Jill catalog in the mail and was horrified by many of the fashions on the pages. J. Jill has never been my personal style, but I admired the flowing fabrics, natural colors and feminine silhouettes. This catalog was filled with dowdy, matronly, cheap looking knits in those semi-pastel hues that flatter no skintone on this planet. Melon-colors tanks with nautical-printed elastic-waist shorts in the most awful of lengths, dresses of gaudy florals that made the slim models look as though they were in their third trimester, even the shoes were the most unflattering T-strap (leg-shortening) styles with matronly heights of heels. What the heck happened?

Heading to the J. Jill Web site, I see that this wasn’t the new look of a popular brand, but just one aspect of their current collection. They still had simple pieces (personal fan of their Splendid linen dress) with elegant lines… they just were trying out a new look with a fancy-dancy little catalog sent out to a certain market.

Often times retailers will try out a new look to a test market, or in a small section of their stores. If it sells well, you may see more of the same in the next season. If not, it will be quickly sent to the sale rack. Stores will often put these new collections in the window and on front tables in hopes of enticing new customers. If you usually have luck in these stores, don’t be deterred by the new look; take a walk inside and often you will find your favorites along the side walls.

Speak up! You detest the direction your favorite brand has taken? Let it know. Tell a store manager (in a calm and pleasant way), write a letter or send an email. I have a friend who works for a popular women’s retailer. A couple of years ago they tried a new feel for the stores and for their line of clothing. The new concept hardly lasted a season – though their sales didn’t drop significantly (they still had plenty of staples and accessories), regular customers made quite a stink with letters, emails, calls and complaints to store staff. The company understood that these who took the time to comment were their bread and butter customers; to upset them could mean losing them all. They listened, made changes and kept their customers as well as profit margins.

Most Web sites have a hyperlink at the bottom of the home page for feedback or customer service. Usually an email address is offered along with a toll-free number and mailing address. In this day and age, I have found emails to be responded to far more quickly and professionally than phone calls. However, use the method that makes you the most comfortable. Let your voice be heard – you are the one holding the purse strings!

Go outside the box. You’re a Talbots gal? Well before you walk in those red doors at the mall, take a quick peek in some other retailers. You never know, you might find the perfect garment in Eddie Bauer, J. Crew, Coldwater Creek or Eileen Fisher. Despise the color story in Ann Taylor Loft? You may be shocked to find your new favorite tee at American Eagle, Banana Republic, Chico’s or Limited. Another good place to hit up are the big box discounters like Marshall’s and TJ Maxx. Loved last year’s fashions? You will be more likely to find them at these shops, and for great prices too. You also have the ability to shop a variety of brands in one location.

Clothing shopping can be tough, especially when you aren’t a wealthy 21-year old with the body of a mannequin. Don’t let the trends or the retailers own you; you ultimately have the final say for you hold the power – the wallet. In these financial times, retailers care even more that their customers are happy and returning again and again. Don’t be afraid to flex your shopping muscle and say your piece or take your money to another store.

Body Shop Contest Winners

Congratulations to readers Nora and Jackie for winning the Satsuma gift set from The Body Shop. Excellent ladies, as that again over 100 people applied for this contest! Enjoy!

I hope to have at least one more contest prior to the end of the year, and as always – any new products I offer for a contest, I will also provide an honest review!

For those of you who have your own business or product that you would like featured in one of my reviews and contests, please email me for more details!

Current Sales and Giveaways – Shop and Save!

I don’t usually write about sales since I have many international readers, but there are some REALLY good deals going on right now (and a cool giveaway too!):

LOFT and Ann Taylor: 40% Friends and Family
40% off your entire purchase (including sale) in stores and online for both LOFT and Ann Taylor – use code FRIENDS at checkout. Starts today and continues through November 13, 2011

Lands End: 25% off Outerwear and Free Shipping
Ends TODAY (November 9, 2011) To get the discount online, use code SHIPOUTERWEAR and PIN 2198

Lands End and Lands End Canvas: 25% Friends and Family and Free Shipping
25% off site-wide, including Lands End Canvas, and free shipping, no minimum. Code: FAMILY SAVE and PIN: 1142. Runs from November 10 – 15, 2011.

Talbots: 50% off Jackets and Outerwear and Free Shipping No Minimum
This promotion ends TODAY – works on all full-price jackets and outerwear, including vests.  Use code COLD.

Hobo International: Win a Lomo Bag and an iPad!
“Like” Hobo International on Facebook and enter their giveaway. When it asks how you heard about the giveaway, say you learned about it from Wardrobe Oxygen! Contest ends December 9, 2011

Hobo International: Sample Sale
Live in the Annapolis, Maryland area? Hobo International is having a sample sale at their Annapolis headquarters November 19th and 20th 10:00am – 6:00pm I went last year and got some amazing deals on beautiful leather bags, wallets, and belts (see here). Get there early, a line starts to get in! Hobo International is located at 9025 Junction Drive, Annapolis Junction, MD 20701

Nordstrom: Half-Yearly Sale
They seem to be adding new things almost daily, so check often. Nordstrom now has free shipping and free returns, which makes it easy for those of you not near a store to take advantage of the deals!


Do you know of any other great deals taking place now? Please share with others in the comments below!

Note: By mentioning me as the referral with the Hobo International contest I too may win the bag and iPad; by mentioning the Lands End Friends & Family I may be able to win a $25 gift card. I doubt I will get either because I didn’t race to share this info, but wanted to keep you on the up-and-up!

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Contest – Satsuma from The Body Shop

Body Shop Satsuma Contest Wardrobe Oxygen FashionThe Body Shop is a company I have loved for many many years. In middle and high school, my friends and I would hop on the D.C. Metro and head to Georgetown to visit The Body Shop, using babysitting money to buy little soaps and perfume oils. Come college, it was a place I knew sold good products that didn’t make me break out and also didn’t test on animals. After college I ended up in the retail industry and when I decided to leave the apparel industry, one of the first companies I looked to transfer to was The Body Shop. I was a trainer for them, and when I left retail, I ended up being an at-home consultant for them.

I have stopped being a consultant, but I still love the company, its beliefs, ethics and of course the awesome products. One of my favorite lines is the Satsuma range – this is a sweet orange scent that is delicious, addictive and raises your spirits. They have had this scent for years and it is always a best seller.

Body Shop Satsuma ContestWell I recently received two Satsuma gift sets from The Body Shop and would love to give them to two of you readers! The kits are in a great little box, hold the lotion, shower gel and soap in this scent and a little bath poof to match. Keep it for yourself to enjoy (these are great travel sizes), or give as a small gift to a loved one. These gifts retail for $15 each.

Send me an email to the address in the left sidebar and I will pick two readers at random to win the prize. All emails need to be received by this Sunday, November 18th at midnight. Winners will be notified on Monday.

Have you used the Satsuma line from The Body Shop? If so leave a comment and share your experience with it!

For everyone else: The Body Shop currently has their world-famous Body Butter moisturizing creams (yeppers the one that every other company is copying) on sale 2/$30 – this is a savings of $10. Be like Victoria Beckham, Jennifer Lopez, Megan Mullally, Susan Sarandon and more and check out this amazing addictive moisturizer!

Friday Favorite: The Body Shop Satsuma Shower Gel

body shop satsuma shower gel

From fall 2001 to the beginning of 20014, I was a trainer for The Body Shop stores. After many years in apparel and merchandising I desired a change. I was making a concerted effort to get out of debt, and it would be easier without temptation around me and the need to be dressed in the latest and greatest (hello all-black dress code!). And it worked, I not only got out of debt, but I learned a lot about skincare and ingredients, how to be profitable and philanthropic at the same time, and finally how to properly apply eye shadow!

When I worked for The Body Shop back in the early oughts, we would burn fragrance oils in an aroma jar at the front entrance. I learned quickly that a blend of Satsuma and Exotic oils would bring in customers from all over the mall, and it would be easy to sell them a jar, bag of candles, those two oils and much more. After two and a half years with the company I couldn’t stand the smell of Exotic but I never tired of Satsuma. After leaving the company I’d still buy the shower gel and glycerin soap bars. It’s a sweet orange scent that doesn’t get weird, isn’t too fruity or pungent, and is a nice pick-me-up in the morning. But with time I forgot about Satsuma and moved on to new brands and different scents.

When my arm broke, I realized simple things like squeezing shower gel onto a pouf or washcloth were nearly impossible. I went on a hunt for spray and pump products that could be used with one hand and came back to The Body Shop. I ordered a bottle of Satsuma shower gel… and I don’t think I’ll go back to any other bath products!

Not only do I love the clementine scent, I love how it doesn’t dry my skin. It doesn’t scent my skin, so no competing with perfume or lotions but it does scent the main floor after a hot bath or shower. Even Karl uses it! A little goes a long way; I bought a 25 oz. bottle in February and just hit the bottom of the label and that includes all the times I indulged in very bubbly baths. While it’s a perfect summer scent, I know I’ll love it in the colder months too. A little bit of sunshine with every shower or bath!

Marshalls Shoe MegaShop Does it Again!

Marshalls Shoe MegaShopCompanies spend so much on advertising and marketing… I love it when they do it well. This time last year I posted about a fabulous truck I saw on the DC streets – Marshalls filled a glass box with tons of covetable shoes. I know it stopped me in my tracks and had me look up the address of my nearest Marshalls location…

Thursday as I was heading home from my job in DC I experienced another brilliant campaign for Marshalls Shoe MegaShop! A giant red stiletto car, and a bunch of cute guys with fab shoes on silver platters! They were all over Connecticut Avenue at every intersection passing out cards where one could win a shoe wardrobe from Marshalls. Brilliant contest cards where you have to visit your closest location to see if you have won.

Click on photos to see them larger…

Marshalls Shoe MegaShopMarshalls Shoe MegaShopMarshalls Shoe MegaShop

And so, Allie headed to Marshalls on her way home!

I didn’t win a shoe wardrobe, but I was impressed with the shoe collection in their MegaShop. The perfect shoe for fall – a pointy-toed black patent high-heel pump was available from popular brands like BCBGirls and Impo for far less than department stores. Amazing riding boots from Coach and Cole Hahn, oxford booties from Nine West, round-toe flats from Aerosoles and more were there at reasonable prices (and with plenty of sizes available!). If I was currently plagued with swollen pregnant feet, I would have been grabbing boxes left and right!

It’s awesome to see a company not only get their marketing right, but also their product. I commend Marshalls for a job well done – and an awesome place to find current footwear styles and hot brands for less!

Black Friday Tip – Online Shop & Save!

Before you do any online shopping, use Google (or I prefer Good Search – online search engine that donates a penny to the charity of your choice every time it is used!).

Today I made a purchase at Ann Taylor Loft. When I got to the checkout it asked me to add any promotional code. I didn’t have a promotional code, but I searched “Ann Taylor Promotional Code” on Good Search, and the third site I went to had a code that gave me 20% off my order! Last week I ordered a gift for my mom and the site also asked if I had a promotional code. After doing about two minutes on a search engine, I found a site that offered me 15% off AND free shipping!

A few minutes on your favorite search engine can save you lots of money on your holiday and personal shopping. Take the time and reap the savings!

How You Doin’?

Hey folks, long time no chat! I gotta say, blogging isn’t easy with a cast. While I have gotten the hang of typing with both hands (I’m glad Dragon exists comma but by time I have a sentence written out comma I have lost track of what I was trying to say period next line), it’s not as quick, editing photos is near impossible, and creating links literally cramped up my hand when using my laptop trackpad.

I miss writing, be it for the blog, or in my journals. This weekend watching Sunday Morning, they had a piece about the benefits of doodling. I Alison Gary, am a mega doodler. Doodling helps me clear my mind, focus on a presentation, craft a blog post, think of blog posts, and remember facts from a lecture or in a book. I realize the inability to doodle may be contributing to my lack of focus and mild ditziness that is driving me bonkers. I have half-written posts all over the place, in my Notes on my phone, my laptop, my work computer, on a flash drive… but when I go back to them I can’t remember what I was trying to say or else I don’t have the same opinion or voice. The lingerie post I shared Monday? Yeah, I started that post in May.

Friday, I went to the orthopedist knowing there was a chance my cast would come off. My previous appointment was just with the PA since my doctor was out of town and the PA told me the 20th the cast may be removed, and if not, July 7th. I was called back to the examination rooms and a tech told me he was going to help me “be free from prison.” He led me to the cast room and cut off my cast; I couldn’t stop smiling, even through the X-rays. My face hurt, I was so happy. They had a new computer system and a few glitches caused the schedule to be off, they let me know I may have to wait a bit to see the doctor. I sat in the examination room with my naked arm, so excited that I Instagrammed a photo of it, giving the thumbs up. The doctor came in and let me know that though the healing is going well, due to the damage the broken plate caused in my arm and the severity of the situation, I needed to go back into another long arm cast for 4-6 more weeks. Oh well, freedom was awesome while I had it! And really, this is worth it to have a functioning arm for the rest of my life. I again went with a pink cast, though I have a few CastCoverz! Armz! to switch up my look!

emerson kelis 930

This time is so different from the last time. No pain, and no fear. I’m living life as much as I can. Last weekend Emerson had her dance recital and I went to see Kelis at 9:30 with my friend Nicole.  This weekend I took Emerson to a birthday party at Pump It Up, and even picked crabs at a neighborhood cookout (not a drop of Old Bay on the cast!)! Karl and I have a Date Night this Wednesday and a couple more concerts on the docket later this summer and the annual Girls Weekend at Rehoboth come August. Sleeping is hard, little of my wardrobe works with the cast; and my hair is a ridiculous mess; but I’m healing correctly and all of this will be a blip in the grand scheme of life.

Speaking of which, after ten weeks so far of cast living I have learned some amazing hacks to be semi-independent and functioning:

  • Put a silicone or rubber mat on the floor, a peanut butter or mayo jar on it, and grip the jar with bare feet; now you can open the jar with your non-dominant hand.
  • Take one of those rubber bands that comes around broccoli or asparagus; clamp down a hand-crank can opener, put the band around the handles and you can use your cast hand to hold it upright and crank with the left hand and successfully open a can!
  • Though I’ve tried all the gadgets out there to protect a cast while showering, none seem to work with a soft fleshy short arm. Reader Amy told me to try Glad Press’n Seal and it is amazing. While I still can’t take a traditional shower or go swimming, this product sticks to the cast, the cloth part of the cast, and even my arm making the whole thing resistant to splashes while I take a bath or fake shower (use a shower head on a hose). I still need someone to wrap my arm for me (Karl is a saint), but it’s far easier than a trash bag and electrical tape!
  • Flossing picks.  A broken arm isn’t an excuse to shirk your dental responsibility!
  • I now wear a wide knit headband when I wash my face and put on makeup. I think many people wear some sort of headband or clip to hold back their hair, but it never seemed necessary to me until now where I am constantly getting foundation or facewash in my hair. The wide stretchy band is nice because it covers from the forehead back, not a single bit of hair is exposed, and I can throw it in the wash with my reusable cotton rounds.  And to put on one-handed… well it does involve teeth…
  • My left hand is getting far more work than ever before, and having acrylic nails has helped greatly. My hand is more like a tool, and I’m not breaking or splitting nails. A coat of gel polish keeps me chip free for weeks.
  • Kindle.  Even the phone app will do.  Impossible to hold a book and flip pages and keep your place without muttering a few swear words; a Kindle will maintain your sanity.
  • Surf spray makes unbrushed untamed frizzy hair look more purposeful.  Spray hair products are a must, don’t try to be a hero and use a mousse or cream, you’ll only end up with a gooey mass at the very back of your head that you can’t fully reach when bathing.
  • If you end up wearing a cast you MUST get a CastCooler. It attaches to the hose on your vacuum and the suction pulls cool drying air into your cast. Great if you do get your cast wet, great when it gets all sweaty from being in plastic while bathing or swimming, and just great when it’s been a hot summer day and you wish you could scratch that darn itch.
  • They now have contacts that you can leave in for 30 days and nights. I got a box before my May surgery, and with my allergy eyes I can’t go longer than two weeks with them in, but it’s two sweet weeks of not having to wear glasses sliding down my nose and getting filthy from being pushed up by my awkward left hand. Another situation where I can praise Saint Karl, who pries my eyes open so I can put in the contacts (and I use these tweezers to get the contacts out).

outfit photos

Life may be awkward, but it’s pretty darn wonderful. Emerson is growing like a weed (how can she already be starting kindergarten this fall????), the garden is flourishing (already enjoying spinach and lettuce, the tomato and pepper plants grow a foot every day), Karl is swell (we celebrated our 10 year wedding anniversary earlier this month!), and I feel pretty darn blessed. I have some phenomenal fashion from brands like Kika, Dobbin Clothing, love,cortnie, Sanuk, and Karen Kane I can’t wait to feature in outfit posts (until then follow me on Instagram for near-daily outfit photos) and look forward to arm freedom and truly getting back to all aspects of this blog. Thanks for being on this journey with me!

How to Rock a Crop Top

How to Style a Crop Top

The crop top is back. I know, I know, I hear your moaning through the Internet. I wore crop tops in high school when I was channeling Kelly Kapowski, when this trend showed up on runways I KNEW it was one I would not revisit. However, brilliant style bloggers across the globe have been proving that anyone can carry off a crop top this summer, and here’s some tips on how to rock the crop without looking like a Fly Girl:

Pair with a High-waisted Bottom

When a crop top is partnered with a skirt or pant that starts above the belly button, a crop top can be downright flattering. The smallest part on a woman’s body is usually at the bottom or right below the rib cage; a crop top and high-waisted bottom highlight this area, and your sliver of skin flatters in the same manner a wide belt does. Having the visible skin so high prevents muffin top, and showing your belly button or post-baby stretch marks. While this pairing can work with most any type of top and bottom, the combination of a fitted top and fuller skirt or pants is both figure flattering and on trend (and with a fitted top there’s no chance you’ll flash your bra). Great examples of this trend can be seen on Jay Miranda and Girl With Curves.

Wear Over a Dress

Gosh, why didn’t I think of this? I’ll admit, seeing this outfit on The Classy Cubicle was when I started realizing crop tops can look modern and be age-appropriate. Treat a boxy crop top like a cropped jacket and pair with a simple sheath to update your workweek wardrobe staples or to freshen up your Date Night LBD. Also on Refinery 29, they featured an editor wearing a striped tank dress with a different striped crop top over it and the combination was fun and very wearable.

Layer over a Longer Top

You’ll see retailers have already thought of this combination, styling mannequins in this manner and also selling shirts that create this effect. I love this top from Vince Camuto; it looks like two tops, achieves the crop top look, but has enough coverage to wear at more casual workplaces or weekends when you don’t want to flash a ton of skin.

Get Matchy Matchy

When the top and bottom are the same color and/or fabric, the flash of your midsection isn’t as obvious and doesn’t feel so risqué. Mindy Kaling wore a jacquard crop top and skirt to an event and it worked because it was a matched set, the skirt was high, and the sliver of skin showcased the slimmest part of her figure.

Play with Volume

Not every crop top is fitted, and a bit of volume can make this shorter silhouette far more wearable.  The Tiny Closet shows how a floaty crop top can be quite flattering; while the post linked has her wearing it with higher-waist pants, she wears this top often with all sorts of bottoms. The August Diaries pairs a boxy crop with a high-low hemline with a skirt that is fitted on top, creating a balanced silhouette. I love this eyelet crop top with matching full maxi; both pieces in the same color gives a feel of a dress, the cropped top flattering the figure in the same manner as a belt. Adding volume is a great way to balance your frame and keep cool as the temps rise.

 

What do you think about the return of the crop top? Are you willing to try this trend?

 

How I Stay Organized

A couple years ago I attended a blog event; I had to meet fellow bloggers at a boutique and take a party bus to the venue. Typical Alison, I am either early or late so I was early. Super early. Early enough to leisurely window shop all the boutiques up and down the street. I went into a stationery store and flipped through wedding invites and thank you cards and then saw a display of agenda books. These weren’t trying to be Moleskine, they weren’t trying to be a Franklin Covey from 1997, they were well made and of the coolest fabrics. Leopard, glitter, snakeskin… the momAgenda.

Sometimes products have the worst names (I’m looking at you NYDJ), but make the best product. Even though I am a mom, I don’t want anything advertised just for moms. I’m not trying to schedule soccer practice and Girl Scouts, I just want something that will fit in my purse, let me see a month at a glance, and some room for addresses and birthdays to keep me organized.  Good thing momAgenda that your products are better than your name!  My momAgenda of choice is the myAgenda Mini (which only says myAgenda on it, nothing mom-related on the cover!).

The myAgenda Mini isn’t small, it’s a little less thick and a little bigger than a paperback novel, but I find I can even slip it into my Rebecca Minkoff Mini M.A.C along with a small cosmetics pouch and overloaded wallet. But the features make it so much better than one of those cheapy engagement calendars you can pick up at Hallmark or the grocery store.

  • Month at a Glance. This is why I prefer paper to electronic. I like to see my entire month, so I don’t overbook every weekend or realize that I’m scheduling something the Sunday before a crazy week at work. I carried an engagement calendar for this very reason, but the day boxes were so small I couldn’t clearly write work, blog, and personal events as well as birthdays and anniversaries. The myAgenda Mini is big enough that I can easily write all the events, appointments, birthdays, and BUY GRANDMA A BIRTHDAY CARD messages I need.
  • Week at a Glance. I’ll be honest, when I first bought this planner, I found this section pointless. And now it’s my favorite portion because I use it FOR BLOGGING! The month at a glance is for work and personal and if there’s any blog events I am attending in person, but the week at a glance is for the blogging business. I write down which posts are scheduled to go live, which brands I am promoting so I can keep track, when I have phone calls, when I received product, when giveaways and sponsored posts are to go live, when to send out invoices or reminder emails, when I should get paid from different projects, when ads are set to expire. It’s utterly brilliant and works far better than any electronic method I previously had.
  • Years at a Glance. Yes, I would like to see what day of the week May 12, 2013 was, and what day of the week it will be in 2015 and it’s nice to have the calendar right there for quick reference.
  • Sturdy.  While it’s flexible, it’s a hard cover with a quality binding.  They still look nice at the end of the year!
  • Two Bookmarks. One ribbon for the month, one for the week. Brilliant!
  • Addresses. I know, in this day and age such things are EVERYWHERE but I’m old school and I like having my Christmas card list on me at all times. I also like that if I go to a hair salon and the stylist says she’s from Vermont I can whip out my myAgenda Mini and let her know where Karl’s cousin lives in that state; I can quickly look up the names of my second cousin’s kids or quickly GPS a friend’s addy. Oh, and this portion is removable so you can transfer it to next year’s book.
  • Holidays. I know you can find this online, but it always seems I need to know what day is Father’s Day when I am in a car or at a relative’s house or at a restaurant and it’s far easier to whip this baby out. It also is great for planning my blog editorial calendar.
  • Accessories. Self-sticking pockets? I love pockets in my skirts and I adore them in my planners. They fill up with business cards and menus, receipts and photos. I keep them in there, as a bit of a scrapbook from the year.  They have other accessories available, but the one I “need” is the pockets!
  • Listmania. Built-in areas for lists of wines, books, movies, parties, fashion, and more. It makes this paper planner more like a journal, and something interesting to look back at 10 years from now. 
  • August One Year to December the Next. I know this is a “mom” feature to keep track of a normal year and school year, but it’s really helpful for those who are in school themselves, those who have jobs that have a calendar that doesn’t start in January, and it’s nice to have a 17 months there for you to review instead of the standard 12.  I start filling up next year’s planner before this one is through, which makes the leap into January less painful.
  • Pretty. After many years of fake leather and ugly plastic, it’s nice to have something trendy, elegant, fashionable, or fun in my purse. Last year I had a gray snakeskin cover which wasn’t too crazy to pull out at a work meeting, but felt stylish. This year I really wanted their leopard cover but bought too late; instead I have a soft shimmery gold fabric that is probably a better choice as it’s subtle, tasteful, yet still fun and fashionable.  They have solids, prints, textures, and pretty much a cover that fits any personal style.

The momAgenda products can be bought at stationery stores, at their site, and other retailers like Organize.com and The Container Store.  Most recently I bought mine from momAgenda directly because I put it off until the end of December and couldn’t find any I liked in local stores.  Check online for discount codes for momAgenda if you shop there directly, I found one on RetailMeNot, and once I ordered I now get regular emails from them about sales and discount codes. And of course if you do buy from somewhere like Organize.com or The Container Store, first go to Ebates for discount codes and cash back!

I may be old fashioned, but I still love paper. I love to journal in actual notebooks, I love writing lists and thank you notes and leave post-it reminders in place of texts. And yes, I love paper calendars. I have a shelf in my office where old planners and agenda books are stacked against one another and it makes me happy to look at them, snapshots of that year and who I was at that time. And the MyAgenda Mini fulfills this need and fits my current life. Yeah, this totally ended up sounding like an infomercial; wasn’t planning on it, but it’s just that perfect of a product for me!


What do you use to keep yourself organized? If you are a blogger or have a similar business, what do you use to keep it tidy and properly scheduled?

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