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The Not-So-Little Black Dress

The Little Black Dress, a term used so frequently it has its own acronym (LBD). Every celebrity stylist states a woman should have at least one in her closet. Who knows when you may be invited to the White House, to a gallery opening, the Oscars?

Let’s get real, most of us do not have lives that revolve around cocktail parties and gala events. To add to that, most of us do not have the bodies or lifestyles that warrant that little of a black dress.

However I agree with the celeb stylists – it IS good to have a simple black dress in the closet – but more for the events that REAL LIFE throws your way. A wedding, a company holiday party, a Bar Mitzvah, cruise to the Bahamas, PTA silent auction, an evening church event, your son’s college graduation, a night where the kids are at grandma’s and your husband wants to take you out on the town.

Most of the events arrive suddenly on our radar, and the last thing we want to do is head out to the mall and search for an ensemble that “will do.” And, no matter how hard you try to kid yourself, these are not usually affairs where chinos and a button-down will look good (and a knit top with bedazzlement does not make a tee a formal garment). The easiest thing to do is already have that not-so LBD on hand. If made with the right fabric and silhouette, it can work from day to evening, from summer to winter. Here’s a few gems I have seen around the Internet…

The Plus-Sized LBD
Even if you aren’t a perfect size 6, you still can look utterly feminine and stylish in a simple black dress. Black is slimming, it doesn’t look dated quickly, and cheaper brands can look far more expensive and elegant when in this color. If the dress fits and flatters, no one will be looking at your arms or tummy – they will be checking out the whole glamorous package!

It’s better to go up a size and pay for alterations, than be tugging at your bum or bustline all evening. When shopping for a dress, wear the undergarments you plan to wear oce you own the dress – this will ensure a better and more realistic fit.

The Lola Ruched Dress from Kiyonna is a winner. The fabric is a poly-lycra blend which make care easy (gentle cycle and line or flat dry) and wrinkles non-existent.

The gathered waistband whittles the middle, and the sleeves make it comfortable for those who don’t love their upper arms but still want a feminine and modern silhouette.

Check out the reviews on the site to hear real women’s experiences with this awesome dress!

The Nina Dress from b&lu is a classic style that works on almost every shape of woman.

This is the same poly/spandex blend as the first dress; this means it will work every season and dress up or down with ease.

The full skirt will be fin on the dance floor, and the crossover neckline/gathered waistband will flatter your figure.

The Wearever Knotted Wrap Dress from J. Jill is a simple yet elegant style that is available in Misses, Petite, and Women’s sizes up to 4X.

The crossover neckline elongates the neck and torso, and the slightly a-line skirt skims over hips giving an elegant feminine shape.

Pair these dresses with leather pumps or flats and nude legs for day, strappy silk or crepe heels in black, metallic or a fun accent color for night. Your personality can shine through with accessories – pearls, metal chains and hoops, colorful baubles – almost anything goes with these sorts of dresses. Keep it simple and daytime appropriate with simpler pieces and bring out the bling for evening. A simple shawl or pashmina can provide warmth for evening; a cardigan in cashmere or a silk knit will work during the day.

The Petite LBD
A dress is a garment that really needs to fit the body well – if you are petite or short-waisted, you will rarely find a non-petite sized dress that fits well, or can be worn nicely without many expensive alterations. Often the petite selection of dresses in the mall is scarse, and pretty boring. However the Internet has a larger selection and can usually provide every style of woman with a dress that fits her petite frame as well as her sense of style.

The Matte Jersey Party Dress from Talbots is as classic as one can get for an LBD. The ruched crossover bodice is slimming and flattering and adds just the right amount of detail and interest.

The fabric is easy care (can spot clean at a moment’s notice) and will travel well (nothing better than an LBD for a vacation!).

Such a silhoutte will not be going out of style any time soon – this is a great dress to have on hand for whatever life throws your way!

The Petite Silk Tricotine Cecelia Dress from J. Crew is so elegant in its simplicity. The cap sleeves and crossover bodice is flattering and works for day or evening. The dress hits right at the knees so it works with most any shape of woman.

This fabric is a bit more formal, but can still work beautifully for day with simple, minimal accessories and sandals or flats.

Though the dress is of silk and dry clean only, it is a classic fabric that will withstand time and trends for many many seasons.

The Louben Sheath Dress from Nordstrom is LBD perfection. Such a simple dress can be worn to work, or to a cocktail party with ease. Fully lined and of the versatile Triacetate fabric, this dress will last for years and work for most any occasion, any time of year.

As with any other LBD, formality is gained by accessories – strappy heels or D’orsay pumps in silk will make any of these dresses after five worthy; switch out your day handbag with a clutch purse to dress up the look. Nude legs work for day or night, but very sheer black hose can add a dramatic look to an evening ensemble.

The Seasonless LBDThe Tropical Wool Bateau Neck Dress from Ann Taylor is a surprisingly versatile dress. In tropical wool, it works all year long. With the patent belt, it’s great for work or even a day wedding. Switch the belt to a beaded or pave belted number, and it would work for many evening affairs.

Purchase the matching wool jacket and you have the perfect 9-5 ensemble – go from boardroom to dinner with such a classic combination.

Available in Misses and Petite up to Size 16.


The Donna Ricco Crepe Sheath Dress from Nordstrom is a perfect style for the woman who isn’t terribly comfortable with her arms, but wishes to show off her feminine shape.

The crepe is made from polyester which means it will have stretch and work with a woman’s figure. It also means it is a frabric that will travel well, wash easily, resist wrinkles and transtion with ease from day to evening.

This style could be made to be more conservative with a black matte jersey camisole tucked underneath, or leave as-is for an evening affair.

The Calvin Klein Jewelneck Dress from Lord and Taylor has the same classic styling as the Louben sheath, and the same versatile and forgiving Triacetate fabric.

Pair with pearls and pumps for work, switch to a bit more glitz and some strappy heels for evening.

You may also wish to visit:The Power of Accessories
Expensive Doesn’t Always Equal Appropriate
The Staples For Every Woman’s Wardrobe
How Does One Get the Polished Look?

Ask Allie: Styling a Not-so Little Black Dress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What I Wore: Not So Little Black Dress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wardrobe Staple: The Not So Little Black Dress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Plus Sized Work Attire Options

Dear Allie:
I am getting back into the workforce after five years as a SAHM. I’m really excited, but am having a hard time finding nice work clothes. I am a size 18, 5’5” and an apple and all I seem to find are lowcut dresses and polyester pants. Do you know where I can find suits and work clothes like dresses and blouses for my size?
 
Why are all plus sized suits made out of polyester? Where can I find a suit that is equal in quality and price to J. Crew but goes above a size 16?
 
I was recently promoted and my new position requires me to travel on business several times a month. For such trips, I will need to wear a suit while at the office I can usually get away with casual pants or even nice jeans. While I have a great wardrobe of business casual pieces, it is proving difficult to find more corporate of attire for my size (I vary between a 20 and 22). Do you know of any retailers who specialize in suiting and corporate attire for plus-sized women?
 
Hi Allie, I need to improve my look at work. We’re allowed to wear anything we want but I don’t want to look like a slob any more and think if I look good I may be more likely to get a raise or promotion. I’m 5’7”, a size 20 with a large bust and don’t even know where to start looking for nicer work clothes. HELP!

I am not sure why the world thinks women over a size 12 don’t hold professional jobs. They must think that with the poor selection of career wear for plus-sized women. While quality suits and stylish business casual clothing does exist, it’s hard to find. Below I feature some brands who realize that just because you wear a larger size doesn’t mean you wish to sacrifice style, quality, or professionalism.

If you’re plus sized, I’m sure you already know about Lane Bryant, Avenue, Ashley Stewart, One Stop Plus/Woman Within/Roamans/Jessica London, and other retailers who specialize in plus size fashion. Below are some suggestions on brands I know who aren’t the typical shops, and who provide quality, well-crafted and stylish career wear in plus sizes

Nordstrom
I know, I know, Nordstrom again? Thing is, they offer a great selection of quality brands and style for plus sizes. MICHAEL Michael Kors, Rachel Palley, Calvin Klein, Karen Kane, Eileen Fisher, Tahari Woman, Vince Camuto, Kenneth Cole… all these brands and more are offered in plus sizes at Nordstrom stores and online.

Unlike many other department stores who think a woman in a size 22 dress wants a muumuu or a flowing polyester pantsuit, Nordstrom buyers find brands and pieces that are in the same vein of style as the rest of the store. Great colors, fun silhouettes, lots of options. Nordstrom has free shipping and free returns, will perform alterations onsite, and have personal shoppers that can help you secure a professional wardrobe for your job.

Macy’s
Macy’s is another department store who offers a fantastic selection of brands and styles for plus sizes. Alfani, Calvin Klein, Lauren by Ralph Lauren, Jones New York, and then their in-house brand INC International Concepts are great resources for great plus size office wear. Like Nordstrom, Macy’s provides a good amount of real estate in most of their stores for plus-sized fashion.

Macy’s always has promotions for discounts and shipping deals. Macy’s has a great return and exchange policy, where you can return by mail or at any nearby store.

Talbots
Talbots Woman comes in sizes 12-24 regular and 12-22 petite. Each season they offer several styles of suit separates so you can mix and match for the perfect career look. Talbots also specializes in business casual looks, with tailored trousers, well-crafted skirts, polished knits and sweaters and even shoes and accessories.

While many retailers hide their plus size department in a dusty corner or keep it only online, Talbots often has separate stores just for their Woman line, or else it gets plenty of real estate in their mixed-size store. Talbots is phenomenal with customer service, seeking out sizes at other locations, taking returns in-store, and giving you honest feedback and offering suggestions at the fitting room. When I was a size 18, Talbots was my go-to store, where I knew I would find quality, style, and a supportive staff.

Jones New York
While Jones New York is a department store staple, they also have their own online boutique that has a large selection of career wear in extended sizes. Since you have to return by mail (they offer a pre-paid shipping label), it’s good to try out JNY in a store to know how it fits, and then go online to find a larger selection.

Kiyonna
Kiyonna knows how to dress a woman. They make well-made pieces that are stylish and flattering to a plus-sized figure. No muumuus and garish prints here, Kiyonna offers beautiful dresses, and also a beautiful selection of separates. While their bottoms are very basic, they are well-made and classic. Some of their tops can run on the sexy side, but many are great pieces for business casual environments or fabulous shells under suits. Their return policy is pretty standard but I hear their sizing is quite consistent so once you know how you fit in Kiyonna you won’t have to make as many returns and exchanges.

Ann Taylor
If you enter an Ann Taylor store, you may think they don’t care about anyone over a size 12. However online they go up to size 18 and XXL on the majority of their pieces. I also find Ann Taylor runs a bit large and many of my readers have agreed that their size 18 can often fit a size 20 woman.

Ann Taylor regularly has promotions for free shipping and percentages off select items – it’s smart to sign up for their emails or follow them on Facebook or Twitter so you stay updated. Their online selection can sell out pretty quickly when they have such sales, so shop early. While Ann Taylor doesn’t offer free returns, they do accept returns even of larger sizes in any store. And if you have to do a return, check out their sale rack where I have regularly seen larger sizes from other women who have made returns.

Lands’ End
Lands’ End may not be the retailer you would think for career wear, but they do have a pretty great selection of workwear staples. While their summer selection is more geared towards shorts and dresses, they always have a good selection of blazers and coordinating bottoms and come the cooler months have an even greater selection of suiting and work-appropriate pieces.

Lands’ End often has promotions for discounts and free shipping so sign up for their emails to get the latest news. Lands’ End also accepts returns at Sears stores which makes shopping with them even more convenient.

Eddie Bauer
Like Lands’ End, Eddie Bauer mainly focuses on casual weekend fashion. However, like Lands’ End they have a few stand-out pieces each season for career wear. Eddie Bauer often focuses on easy-care pieces, and you’re likely to find wrinkle-free suiting, no-iron button-front shirts, and machine washable trousers and dresses. Eddie Bauer offers free exchanges and accepts returns by mail (they will provide a pre-paid shipping label or you can send by your own method) or in store.

Overstock
I’m quick to head to Overstock to find a toaster oven or an area rug, but I have now learned to go to this site for fashion. Popular brands like Tahari, Kasper, Calvin Klein, and Ann Klein are featured by Overstock, and at nicer prices than at the department store. While some of the styles offered on Overstock are a bit strange, you can also find some gems – often pieces being sold right now at your nearby Belk or Macy’s. Overstock has customer reviews, ridiculously cheap shipping, and a reasonable return policy.

TJ Maxx
While most of my local discount big box retailers will have some plus size fashion, it’s usually a small section, messy, and full of strange pieces I wouldn’t be caught dead in. Not so for TJ Maxx, who usually carries higher-end brands than similar stores, and they usually have a larger and better organized plus size department.


Where do you find stylish and well-made plus size career wear? I’d love to know your suggestions!

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Tuesday’s Tip – Making the Clearance Rack Your Friend

When I go into a store, the first place I look is the clearance or sale rack. I don’t want to be tempted by full priced items when a good equivalent is available at half the price in the back of the store. Even when planning my wedding I first scored sample sales and discount bridal shops before even looking at a single full-priced gown. It is better to buy quality instead of quantity, but just because it’s on a sale rack does not mean it’s poor quality or lacking style or fashion.


Take Your Time
Clearance racks are a mess. Why waste good salespeople hours in cleaning up the back of the store when the real money making is in the front displays of new product? Because of this, do not limit your search to the section designated with your size. Take the time to flip through all the racks. You may find a size 10 amongst the size 2s or a great size Small blouse hidden amongst size 14 blazers. Grab everything that even remotely appeals to you, and a few things you would not usually consider. The best way to spend money on trendy pieces and unusual finds is to pay for them at a discount – less buyer’s remorse.


Sizes Can Be Deceiving
Sometimes items are on sale racks because they are missized. I have tried on size 6 jackets that are too big for me and size 14s that are skin tight. Don’t just look at the label – pull the item from the rack and see if it may possibly fit. Often the missized items are at a super reduced price because they are being looked over.


Consider a Tailor
I decided to write this post because of my clearance rack prize of yesterday. Sueded cotton trench, hip cut, gorgeous color, originally $179 on sale for $29.99. No obvious flaws but the coat was too large for me – I am petite and it is not. It is an XL and a generous cut, I am not. I bought the awesome bargain after trying it on and seeing that the shoulders were fitting decently, though the sleeves were past my fingers, the waist was too big and the length too long. I took it to my local dry cleaner and for $35 she is shortening the arms and hem and nipping in the waist. So for $65 I got a $179 jacket that is perfect for the upcoming fall.


Sleeves that are too long, hems dragging on the ground, gaping waists and baggy jackets can all be easily fixed by a neighborhood tailor or dry cleaner. They can also replace missing buttons, broken zippers and some torn seams. If the price is right, often the tailoring still keeps the garment at a discounted price. I have bought suiting pants 75% off just because the zipper is broken, a suede blazer at 80% off because the lining had pulled away from the jacket body.


Do not invest in garments that are stained (salespeople usually try to remove the stains with a cleaning fluid, if it’s still stained it probably won’t come out in the wash or at the cleaners), torn (resewing a seam may make the item fit differently), irregular (remember quality is key – no one should be wearing a sweater with two different sleeve lengths) overly large (tailor costs will be insane and the true look of the garment will be lost) or too small (don’t buy for the body you hope to have, buy for the current you. Also tailors can’t make things larger – there’s usually not enough fabric at the seams and if they attempt the fit of the garment will be compromised).


If You Don’t Love It…
Don’t buy it. Would you buy it if it were full price? If the answer is a quick “no” leave the item in the fitting room. Just because an item is cheap does not mean you can scrimp on cut, style or fit. A 50% markdown does not justify a gaping armhole, an unflattering color or even a staple that you really have enough of already. The world sees you and your outfit, not the reduced price. They don’t know if what you bought cost $200 or $20, they just know it doesn’t look good, doesn’t flatter your body or your personality. Every dollar in your wallet is precious, don’t waste it on crap. If you can’t imagine the item with at least two other things in your closet, it’s not worth your time or money.

Ask Allie: Plus Size Wardrobe Staples

Dear Allie, I found your wardrobe staples post many years ago and it changed my life. I cut my closet in half but finally had the right clothes for everything. Since then, I have had two children and some health issues and I’m now a size 22. I gave up on fashion the past five years but my New Year resolution is to get back in shape and in style. Thing is I go to the mall and I can’t find anything on your list, everything is so ugly and old looking and cheap in plus sizes. Help!

My first suggestion to you is to get the heck out of the mall. While more and more brick and mortar shops are offering plus size fashion, most neighborhood malls have pretty slim pickings. Shipments are done by a buyer, one who just looks at generic demographics and statistics for the store, mall, and zip code and makes general decisions on whether to feature more plus size or less, more suiting or more weekend wear, more formal dresses or cotton sundresses. While you could drive around town to find plus size fashion Mecca, you could also head to your computer.

I hardly ever enter a mall anymore because I find them frustrating, messy, and overwhelming. When I do visit, I plan out my trip and head first to my go-to stores where I know the clothes fit my body and my personal style. Then if I still have some energy left, I’ll investigate other retailers. However, I find far more luck sticking to online retailers. Better selection of styles as well as sizes, easier to find discounts, and I can try on pieces in my bedroom with flattering lighting and proper shoes and undergarments.

I did a little searching online and was able to quickly find all the wardrobe staples I suggest in plus sizes. These days many retailers offer free or near-free shipping and returns; I did a review of my favorite plus-size retailers here. Keep in mind that this time of year is awesome for deals, but awful for selection. We’re entering inventory season, and every retailer tries to have as little merchandise as possible for inventory to make the process easier. If you’re looking for bargains you’re likely in luck, but if you’re striking out in sizes, wait until mid-March when spring collections will be stocked in the stores.

In the collage above, I left out the wool coat and accessories from the staples list because I find them relatively easy to find and likely you have the accessories already in your collection. Here’s a list of some of my go-to retailers for specific plus size fashion:

I also recommend you check out some plus size blogs and forums. I personally am not part of any boards or forums so I suggest you lurk some and find a good fit. While there are so many blogs out there who showcase their fabulous plus size personal style, here are few plus size-specific blogs I find to be quite helpful in reviewing lines and offering fashion suggestions. I also recommend reading their blogrolls and comments for additional blogs and online resources:

I’m so happy that you are using this year to care for yourself. Everyone deserves to feel fabulous and you’re gorgeous no matter your dress size. Dressing to flatter your current figure and personal style makes you feel confident and helps showcase your beautiful self. Don’t let the malls get you down, head online and you may find just what you were looking for!

Readers, I look forward to your comments on this subject, as I am not an expert.  Where do you find plus size wardrobe staples?  Who are your favorite plus size bloggers?  What online resources do you recommend?  

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Random Notes…

  1. I am really craving a new hair color. I am not worried about dying my hair while pregnant – it’s been proven that this is now safe. What I am worried about is having my hormones cause a bad decision. The recent color (brown with caramel highlights) was done during morning sickness and I just wanted to feel pretty and feminine and not like a woozy green monster. I haven’t really liked it because it’s a bit too girly and a bit too pretty for my tastes. Looks fine, but just doesn’t completely feel like me. What I REALLY want is the dark dark brown/black I had back when I felt like Sara Ramirez, but with some unexpected highlights like an indigo-purple color. Not big streaks, just bits where in the light people say, “wait, is your hair PURPLE?”

    I know, random and not what I have had since having this blog. However in my past life I had hair of all sorts of colors and wacky cuts. My last job was very conservative – my wardrobe and shoe choices were already far more risqué and strange than my coworkers (except the fabulously stylish Katie who is keeping down the taste front now that I have left). On top of that, I did regular business trips and workshops with conservative clients in the military, government and pharmaceutical fields – not the arena where purple highlights would be welcomed. So now I work for a company that embraces individuality. I have coworkers with full sleeves of tattoos, nose rings, eye shadow to match their shoes, and creative clothing that fits their culture or personality. I am already seen as a more formal/dressed up person than many of my coworkers (gosh I love my dresses!), and have already sported the cherry red highlights several months ago without even a bat of an eye. The majority of client interaction is via phone or webcam so it won’t really matter that I have some Jeannie Mai-like tresses.

    Anyhoo, pregnancy is making me feel a bit frumpy and I kinda miss my funky side (why do all interesting maternity fashions have to be so darn expensive?). Have an appointment next Wednesday with my beloved stylist Kathleen… still not sure of what exactly I will do once there…

  2. I am in real need of some new shoes. My gold sandals from Lands End are comfortable, but are slippery when it rains or I am on glossy marble floors (like the lobby of my office building). Today in the rain I almost did a belly plant in the middle of the sidewalk and that will NOT do, especially since I am pregnant. I just don’t want a high heel, my feet are naturally wide and are already growing a bit, I walk up to two miles a day and I swear I will go as long as humanly possible without wearing tennies or flops to work (hopefully that won’t happen at all). However I don’t want to spend on some shoes that should only be left to grandmothers with hip replacement surgery. One would THINK there would be chic styles under 2” of a heel and aren’t slingbacks or sandals, but it’s hard to find something that is Allie-like. I don’t want a plain black pump or wedge… what I would really like is something like a black zebra-print pony hair kitten heel, or maybe something in a green croco leather. Heck, this upcoming season is all about purple yet I can’t find any sassy purple shoes in my price range (which is the “I don’t want to kick myself if these shoes no longer fit this time next year” price range). I have black ankle boots and a pair of black round-toe wedges, so I really want something that is low, comfortable, preferably with a pointed closed toe that can look cute with dresses but really jazz up trousers.
  3. Speaking of trousers, I am really in a maternity pickle. It seems most companies make maternity trousers out of twill or chino. Twill and chino are HORRIBLE on women with curves. They crease, they do a weird diaper-look at the crotch when you sit a long time, they get shiny, they fade with washing, they accentuate sturdy thighs and tummies. They make me look as though I work at Blockbuster Video, which is NOT the look I am going for. I currently own one pair of decent black trousers (which do not have the chicest silhouette but are a nice fabric and are comfortable) and one pair of faded washed chino ones that I think are heinous but were donated and a bit big now so I will wear in a couple of months when nothing else fits and I am desperate. Problem is, cool weather is coming and my company dress code no longer lets me wear denim (which I have about eight pairs in my drawer).

    I can’t find attractive maternity pants that don’t have slash pockets, aren’t made of icky twill and chino, aren’t some super delicate fabric that must be dry cleaned, aren’t itchy, aren’t ugly, aren’t pinstriped (never has worked for my solid legs), and aren’t $85 (yes, they take the $40 pants that are in the regular store, add an ugly knit waistband and then double the price). Le sigh.

  4. My eyebrows are out of control (thank you belly baby). I need a brow wax, but for some reason I keep forgetting every time I pass a day spa. I even got a pedicure this weekend and in the car before entering the salon I reminded myself to get a brow wax and yet I forgot. Does this forgetfulness hold some secret meaning, or is it just pregnancy brain?
  5. I hate all my clothes, but refuse to splurge on a bunch of maternity clothes that I won’t be able to wear in a few months. However these New York & Company dresses are starting to turn my stomach and non-maternity pieces I was fitting into two weeks ago no longer fit (olive shift, J. Crew knit dresses) so my options are dwindling.
  6. I’m a bit sad I am pregnant with this great fall look coming out. Every shop window I pass makes me drool – such pretty colors, fabrics and silhouettes! Everyone needs to go buy some purple for me!
  7. I ordered a pair of wide-calf boots from Duo. They fit in the foot, they fit in the actual calf, they do not fit from ankle bone to calf muscle. I am highly annoyed because I contacted their customer service, informed them of my large leg (not just calf muscle) and they specifically suggested this style. I was really hoping for some black riding boots to make a bit of style out of my humdrum maternity dresses and now am not sure what I can do. And now I have to go through the stupid and expensive return process to the UK. Really disappointed. I have raved about them so much on my other blog and then this happens. Need to write them an email pronto.
  8. Renovations on the house have yet to begin. Drawings are pending approval from the co-op and then the city. I have a feeling it won’t be finished in time for the baby and we will be living in my childhood bedroom at my mom’s house. Adds a bit of stress to the day…
  9. I feel as though this is all complaining. Sorry about that – in fact life is pretty darn swell these days. Very busy, but very fulfilling and enjoyable!

Blogging and Motherhood

I have to say… motherhood isn’t really affecting my blogging. I know people are thinking that as that I have been pretty sporadic in my posting. But it’s not motherhood, it’s work and priorities.

Work has been busy, to put it mildly. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and I have a wonderful team that I work with and a great supervisor who appreciates a job well done and provides comp time (which almost completely covered that staycation I had the other week). Our clients are demanding, disorganized and drop things on us at the last minute, but are greatly appreciative that my team and I make them look flawless to the public or THEIR clients. So I am very busy, but outside of sometimes (like last night) getting home after E has gone to bed or sometimes (like this morning) leaving before I can do anything but feed E… I feel good.

The house is still coming together. Taking care of a parent’s estate, no matter the size, is not quick or tidy work. This past weekend was full of moving furniture, packing boxes, burying ashes. A positive look on the weekend – we were able to move in most of my husband’s dad’s furniture that we chose to keep. It is exciting to see his beloved books mixed with ours on his bookcases, and to eat at my husband’s childhood dining table (it is also exciting to have Craigslisted my dining set that I bought at IKEA in 1998… good set but good to have it finally gone).

Having three dogs… is three times the work of having one! A year ago if I had to get to work early, I would turn off the alarm, slip into the bathroom, dress in the dark, kiss the husband, shush Ruckus and be gone in 20 minutes. This morning, the alarm goes off and three dogs are dancing around as though they hadn’t been outside in 50 years. 12 sets of doggy nails on bamboo floors woke Emerson, so I fed her back to sleep. I try to shush them, have them go back on their beds but they weren’t having it so as I went down the stairs they all bounded down with me, went outside, and proceeded to bark their heads off (it’s 4:30 am) at a cat on the other side of the fence. So I had to round them up, feed them, give them their appropriate meds… and I ended up leaving a bit late and without breakfast.

There are many fun and exciting things taking place in my personal life. Very good friends have recently married, I will be the Matron of Honor in my best friend’s wedding Labor Day weekend, and officiant for my dear friend’s wedding Halloween weekend. So there are showers and bachelorettes to attend in the near future. Since we have a new house and a new baby, we are hosting an all-family (my family, my husband’s family from both his mother and his father’s sides) cookout this weekend.

With a social calendar like that, you can understand that when I get home, I do not turn on my computer! :)

The only thing blog-related that motherhood DOES affect is my wardrobe. I think I am even more concerned with finding pieces that have many functions. Dresses are great because I can wear them to work, to a bridal shower, to a daytime wedding, to a memorial service, to dinner out with the husband. Dresses also don’t require much thought or preparation. Oh, going to wear the blue print dress? I will then wear the red heels, the black bra, the black Spanx, the silver jewelry. Same thing goes for trousers – much more versatile than jeans. My gray/blue chinos from Gap can be worn to work, to a cookout, to walk the dogs. I have very few tops right now, so pretty much each one goes with one or two different bottoms and that’s about it.

I also need clothing that will allow me to pump at work and nurse when home or out and about. This cuts out a good 70% of current fashion, which streamlines my wardrobe and helps me stay on budget.

The body is constantly changing and morphing. I can feel the weight coming off, but it is making the sagging show much more. I think my double chin is more pronounced now that it isn’t bloated, the belly sags in a strange way, the arms are now a bit saggy and there is still more weight that needs to be lost. I know a lot of this can be cured with exercise and muscle toning, but I am just trying to stay afloat with what is currently on the schedule and haven’t found much time for proper exercise. I just try to walk a lot and do at least three sun salutations each morning to keep me limber. But with this changing body, I find skirts and pants very difficult to fit. Again a plus for dresses!

The only thing I really have seen change is my personal grooming – I could have time for regular pedicures, cut and color and baths where I slough off everything. The thing is… I would rather sit out on my deck having an omelet and a cup of coffee with my husband, my daughter cooing in her seat, the dogs basking in the sun than sit in a salon and get buffed and polished. To me, I find more rest and relaxation in my backyard. But that is a personal thing more than a Motherhood thing.

I have always felt that mothers can still maintain a sense of style, and even with this busy life I still believe it. Maybe one shouldn’t invest in sequins and the most delicate of silks, but it is possible to be professional, to be stylish, to be attractive, to be more than “just presentable.” I think most women have a busy life prior to children – long hours at the job, evenings out with friends and family, weekends dashing about town getting errands finished. A baby does affect your life in so many ways, but I think it’s less about fashion and more about priorities. But as I always say – said pre-Emerson and say now… you aren’t worth a thing to anyone if you do not take care of yourself first.

So I am logging off so I can get back to work. Tomorrow should start at a semi-reasonable time so I hope to capture a picture of what I am wearing. Today I am wearing my gray and yellow cashmere cardigan from Gap with a white ribbed tank, tan sandals from Lands End and my gray/blue chino trousers also from Gap. Silver chains, silver hoops, hair in a low ponytail with sideswept bangs. Tarte’s Blushing Bride, plenty of black mascara and some lip gloss. Good look for leaving the house at 5am. :)

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 “Read” Fashion Magazines

Pre-pubescent women below 100 lbs. showing off dresses in the thousands. Ads for Armani, Versace, Missoni, Chanel and any other brand you couldn’t possibly afford (and possibly couldn’t even find for sale in your neck of the woods). Crazy outfits of sheer blouses without camisoles, plaids with polka dots, turquoise false lashes and 6″ platform wedges. How are these magazines supposed to help the typical woman in America? How can Vogue, W, Bazaar and Elle assist you in your journey to the suburban shopping mall?

Some fashion magazines are more helpful than others. Lucky magazine not only tells you what is hip, but where to purchase these hip items. They categorize trends, with a page dedicated to the lace trend, a page dedicated to wedge shoes, a page dedicated to croco bags. While encouraging the shopper to visit New York boutiques, a few chain stores are mentioned. Even if you cannot afford the Prada skirt, you can see the length, fabric and cut and can look for a similar version at Macy’s.

Bazaar is one of my favorite magazines. They show celebrities and socialites in what’s hip for the next season, have all the hot new ads from the most luxurious brands, but also breaks fashion down for the Every Woman. So the trends for Spring are a bit of cowgirl, a bit of nautical and a bit of safari? Bazaar will show how a woman in her 20’s can wear the trends, a woman in her 30’s and all the way up to her 70’s. They also will have a spread informing the reader about the hot new trends. As always, they have a What’s Hot/What’s Not on the very last page.

Every fashion magazine can be beneficial to you, no matter your age, dress size or income. It’s not about going into debt for a Dior bag or even for trying to replicate a Dolce and Gabanna ad with pieces from Target. No, it’s getting concepts.

Look at the ads. Really examine them as you would a painting in a museum. What colors are being worn? What does the shoe look like? What kind of fabric? Is there a specific print that is the theme? Now flip the page and look at the next ad. Is there any similarity? Though each high-end designer has their own signature style, there is often a theme for each season that resonates on the runway and in the ads. Maybe it’s lace trim, maybe it’s wood heels on the shoes. It could be a lot of black – it sure was this winter. Don’t look at these ads and roll your eyes over the age or weight of the models, the astronomical prices and ridiculousness of the garments. See it as art, and then break it down.

Be Realistic. If the magazine says every woman needs the new Fendi purse, don’t buy the Fendi purse if you don’t make enough money to buy a Fendi purse for fun. The purse will be passé in a year. Don’t go on a street corner and buy a faux Fendi purse. It will look fake, and it will look tacky and desperate. Don’t wait two years and buy a cheesy knock-off of what the Fendi purse was shaped like from Wal-Mart. Again tacky and desperate. Instead, break it down. What makes that bag new and hip? Is it the oversized shape? Use of silver hardware? A short handle? Croco leather? White with black trim? Take those details with you when you go shopping. Look for something that is beautiful on it’s own, fits your lifestyle and needs, but may incorporate those details. I for one adored the Balenciaga Motorcycle bags that celebs like Nicole Ritchie and Jessica Simpson were sporting. I couldn’t afford the bag, and didn’t want to look like an idiot with a faux silver or turquoise pleather wanna-be bag on my wrist. Therefore I analyzed the look of the bag. What about it did I like? The hardware. The large size. The short handle. The way the leather looks a bit crackled and a bit glazed. When I went to buy a new purse I found a slouchy oversized purse with lots of hardware and metal detail in a similar leather finish and a color that complimented my wardrobe. Not Balenciaga, couldn’t be mistaken for a Motorcycle bag, but receives many compliments, holds all my stuff and keeps my image current.

Don’t be a Label Whore. I was in an elevator yesterday with a woman. A gorgeous woman with a gorgeous figure. Her beauty was not the first thing I saw. She was wearing a puffy Baby Phat coat with a faux fur trim in a weird olive/taupe color. She had on extremely tight Seven for All Mankind jeans that were too low on the waist and too long on her ankles. She had on a Tiffany bracelet AND a Tiffany necklace. She had on a Coach logo purse – quite large and quite pink. Under her coat was a black fitted tee with “Bebe” in rhinestones across the chest. She had on false eyelashes, very pink glossy lips and barely any other makeup. Her hair was in a formal updo with tendrils around her face, her hair obviously meticulously highlighted, lowlighted and streaked on a regular basis. And then on her feet were those high-heeled Timberland-esque dress boots. Her outfit probably cost a ton of money, but she looked terrible. Her clothes didn’t compliment her figure, or one another. She was a walking fashion victim, a slave to the name brands. By caring so much about the names, she lost sight of what the brands were trying to create – FASHION. I highly doubt you are going to the Academy Awards any time soon. No one is going to stop you walking down the street and say “Who are you wearing?” Even if they do, how cool would you be by saying, “This old thing? I picked it up at Target last season.” Think Sharon Stone when she wore a Gap tee shirt to an awards ceremony. No one wrote her off as cheap or tacky. Instead she was celebrated for that fashion move.

It is understandable to want to buy luxury, to splurge on designer. You work hard, you want to reward yourself. I respect that, and I indulge in that as well. Just when you do, think about the rules you hold for all other aspects of your life:
Does it fit into your life?
Does it flatter?
Will it work for the long haul?
Is it worth it?

If you got that promotion, go ahead and buy a Coach purse, but buy one that will go with your current wardrobe, and will still be beautiful next year. My friend has a Coach bag that she bought herself after getting her degree in 1998. She still carries around that camel colored tote, and still gets compliments all the time. She bought something luxurious, something obviously a brand name, but something that fit her lifestyle, fashion style and something that works in the 90’s as well as the new millennium. A few years ago I found a beautifully tailored black wool coat from Calvin Klein. I put it on and felt like a socialite. I felt elegant, tall and slim. It was at a discount store, but still out of my price range. It was the first item I ever put on layaway. When I made the final payment, I still adored the coat. Now a few years later, I still love the coat, it’s cut, it’s feel. To me, it was worth the money. I wear it and look expensive, but I am not shouting “This is a Calvin Klein coat from 2001!” I am whispering “I am wearing an expensive, well made garment and it is designer.”

Again, look in the magazines. Look at the spreads of celebrities at galas and fundraisers. Are they showing up in head to toe labels? Unless you’re Kimora Lee Simmons or Missy Elliott, the answer probably is no. The women who look polished, elegant, sexy and expensive do not flash their designer labels. They wear what is stylish, flattering and beautiful.

Don’t Believe Everything You Read. When a magazine totes a certain top or moisturizer as great, it’s not always because it’s great. Magazines receive free stuff all the time, and are encouraged in different ways to promote this stuff. These freebies end up in fashion spreads, articles about great new things for the season, or advice columns. Don’t take what one magazine says as gospel. It’s best to have something to compare it with. Don’t worship Vogue if you won’t also pick up In Style. Don’t read Lucky without W. By reading more magazines (even in the line at the grocery or at the pharmacy while waiting for a prescription) you get a more well-rounded view of what is hot, what is trendy, and what is utterly ridiculous.

Make it Age and Shape Appropriate. Anyone over 27 and a size 4 should not be wearing dress shorts. Mischa Barton and Nicole Ritchie and Lindsay Lohan are all wearing short creased shorts to red carpet events. Well good for them. Are you built like Lindsay Lohan? Are you the age of Mischa Barton? If you answered yes to both, God Speed and Good Luck. For the rest of us, STEER AWAY FROM THE SHORTS. Just because it’s hip, doesn’t mean to wear it. We don’t live in the era of cut and dry fashion. My mom speaks of circle skirts, piped charcoal blazers and cigarette pants while growing up. They weren’t flattering on her, but she wore them because EVERYONE wore them. That, and nothing else. Fashion has changed and has become more flexible and forgiving. If this season is all about olive green and you look terrible in olive green, then don’t wear it. If magazines are telling you that leggings are hot this season (which they are) but you are over 25, you’re over 105 lbs. and you wore in an office setting you shouldn’t pick up a pair your next trip to the mall. If the new look is nautical, that doesn’t mean you need to go buy a navy and white striped boat neck shirt to make your torso seem twice it’s size. Instead consider pieces that may be more appropriate. Crisp white trousers with a solid navy sweater. A navy blazer with gold buttons paired with a white shirt and vintage washed jeans. There are different ways to incorporate trends without looking like a fashion victim or worse… unflattering.

Make a List. So you like the polka dots featured in Bazaar. You like the new width of jeans seen in In Style. You love how navy is coming back into vogue on the pages of Vogue. Write these things down, or tear out pages from your glossy magazines and take them with you on your shopping excursions for inspiration. When you get overwhelmed in a sea of fabric at Lord and Taylor’s pull out your list. It will keep you centered and less overwhelmed.
And finally, See Fashion as Art. If you stop looking at fashion as the unobtainable, you’ll despise it. The majority of our country cannot afford a pair of Manolo Blahnik shoes, a Prada dress, a Chanel suit. That’s okay. Just look at that Chanel suit or that Prada dress in the magazine’s fashion spread and try to figure out why they chose to display it. Is it the color? The cut? The fabric? What about makes it less insane (because much high fashion is totally insane and unwearable in normal society) and more beautiful? Take that one thing with you as you go shopping this season. If you try to see the beauty and detail in fashion, you will be more likely to buy what makes you look more beautiful when you wear it.

Behind the Scenes

I don’t think people realize the behind the scenes of being a fashion or style blogger in 2013. While I don’t know how it is for other bloggers, here’s a peek into may daily life as a part-time fashion blogger.

I wake and grab my phone and head to the bathroom. While I pee, brush my teeth, and straighten my hair, I read emails, reply to comments and mentions on my blog’s social media channels. I need to stop after 30 minutes, because if not this could go on for over an hour. Time zones across the globe mean you can receive 20 emails at 3am asking to buy a text link, improve your SEO, or gift you with a scarf and ten more at 4am trying to spam your comment sections with links for cheap Fendi bags.

I try to figure out an outfit. I have that gifted scarf I need to incorporate before the end of the week, I have to wear that dress for that brand before the month is through but it looks stupid with tights and it’s only going to be 45 degrees that day. I already wore black for my last two outfit posts, if I do it again I’ll be hit with a dozen comments asking me if I’m depressed or gained weight or having marital issues. If I wear more than one c/o item in the outfit, will I be seen as a sell-out even though I really really like those c/o pieces? As I pull something together, I am thinking about what I will write, what the title will be for the post.

I go downstairs and start the outfit post – I write the title, get all the links for the products. I usually use ShopSense for my affiliate links because it’s profitable, easy to use, and they don’t harass me all the time with emails on how to improve my results or added widgets and giveaways and such. However, if ShopSense doesn’t have my link, I have to take some extra time to find that item online. I write a bit of the copy, just to get the ball rolling, tag the post, and do all the blogging back-end stuff.

On days when I don’t have to be at work super early, my husband drives me to the metro to save costs and reduce the number of cars on the road. He brings out his camera, I give him a memory card, pictures are taken in our court or the street nearby. He shoots about 12 pictures. Pose, pose pose, pose, pose, pose. Okay get up close for detail shots. I don’t see any of the pictures, he pulls out the memory card and I slip it in my purse and we drive off. While in the car or when waiting at the Metro for the train I may Instagram my outfit, and will again check emails and mentions on social media. Karl makes a joke about how I’m addicted to my phone, I laugh, guzzle coffee, and keep scrolling because it’s not something I can do once I get to work.

When I take my lunch break, I eat it at my desk so I can work on the blog. I upload the pictures to my desktop, delete the ones with my eyes closed or where I have five chins, and quickly use PicMonkey to adjust the color, clone out Emerson’s handprint on my pants, and resize. Load the pics, finish the copy, and post all within about 15 minutes. My posts are automatically mentioned on Twitter, but I have chosen to manually share on Facebook because I can then add a photo, tag brands or fellow bloggers and make it a bit more personal. I also share on Pinterest – I feel goofy promoting myself but I’ve found over the past year that many people have found my blog because of that.

If I still have some time leftover (I rarely get full lunch hours), I’ll check my Google Doc for comments from my comment form, check out blogs I follow on Feedly, reply to some emails, chat with folks on Twitter. In all honesty, this time is usually taken up with emails, and not emails from readers.

Can I write a guest post where I throw in a bunch of links for my brand but not pay you?
I will offer you $25 to write a sponsored post on your site with 50,000 links about casinos or weightloss products or a brand of clothing that is derogatory towards women.
I’d like to give you $50 to put a bunch of crazy code in your sidebar which looks like an innocent button ad, but will in fact destroy your SEO and improve mine tenfold.
I have a scarf I’d like to send to you (always scarves!!) for free, but you need to feature it within two weeks, share it on every social media channel under the sun, use a special hashtag and link to this specific page. 
Your price is too high for advertising, how about I give you $30 and some SEO tips for a giant ad in your sidebar that will be there for three years? 
Have you had a chance to try out the skincare you didn’t ask to receive in the first place and when can I expect a review on your blog?

Even though Alexa and Quantcast and my Advertise page exist and you sent me your stats in the last email, can you please again give me all the statistics on your blog for the past year, specific stats that you’ll have to dig up on Google Analytics so I can see if your blog is worthy enough for me to send you a bracelet? 
Sorry, we cannot send you a pair of our shoes to review, but here’s a high-res image of it, I’ll be sending the shoes to a blogger who may have a much smaller audience but is younger and thinner but I hope you will still write about us and be sure to mention us on social media!

At the end of the workday, I am often rushing out of the office to get home in just in time for Karl to leave to teach. The days where he doesn’t work, I’d love to leave on time so we can have dinner together as a family, but usually I stick around at work for another hour. I catch up on things without the office bustling with people, but I also get blogging done. All that behind the scenes stuff – updating ads and links, making new Pin-able images for old posts that still get a lot of traffic, creating Polyvore sets for upcoming posts, creating posts and scheduling them for the future. I don’t get time like this often, so when I do I try to bang out at least one or two posts.

As soon as the Metro is aboveground, I’m on my phone checking emails and social media. Again, writing myself an email of tasks to accomplish. I get home, put my phone on the charger and spend time with Emerson. I give her a bath, put her to bed, and usually go right to my laptop where I deal with 50,000 more emails of companies wanting text links, to send me stuff, do giveaways, have me mention their brands or events, or speak on their panel. It’s tempting to delete every single one, but you never know what PR person can give you your next big break. I delete the ones that are obviously sent to 500 bloggers at once, but reply to all that are personal or make an effort.

When I’m home, I try to answer all the emails from readers, but I’m trying to do that more on weekends because I’m finding the personal interactions before bedtime really mess with my sleep patterns. For every compliment, there’s someone telling me I am fat or tacky, my child is ugly or my husband is gay. For every email that asks an honest question about fashion or style, there is one where someone is pouring out their entire story and hoping I can fix their life. For every email thanking me for my advice, there’s someone telling me my advice is wrong, damaging, or offensive. It’s hard; I love how my blog helps women so when I get such feedback it’s hard to not take it personally or change yourself.

I rarely read books anymore that don’t serve a blog purpose. I read fashion and style books, fashion and lifestyle magazines. I need to keep current with trends, style beliefs, up and comers. You all will hit me with some major whoppers of comments and questions and it reminds me that to be a good blogger you need to be well-informed on your subject. Every so often, I throw in a chick lit or crime novel to keep the fashion and style reads from being work.

Saturday mornings, Karl teaches yoga and Emerson and I have an hour or two before her ballet class. We eat breakfast on the couch, she usually playing ABC Mouse on her computer or apps on my phone, me with laptop and a fashion-related show on the TV. Project Runway, Rachel Zoe Project, It’s a Brad Brad World, something on the DVR I saw when going through The Guide. I get a post done, this is usually when I do capsule or more creative posts because I’m fresh, I can see nature outside my window, and I have little cold toes tickling me under the afghan and a warm furry dog on my feet.

Sundays, I usually do administrative work on the blog. Update graphics, coding, my social media channels. I know I do a lot less of this stuff than many bloggers, as I don’t know PhotoShop, don’t know the intricacies of SEO, and hell, I’m still on Blogger because I’m lazy.  I’ll send invoices to advertisers, reply to emails I have been avoiding, and the emails from you readers that deserve a bit more time and thought. I try to stick to viewing my stats on Sundays because it can be quite addictive, depressing, and cause competition.  Sundays is also when I start crafting the True Fashionista posts. I take over a week to finish those, since I pretty much stalk the bloggers online, finding where they have been mentioned, where they get their inspiration, what makes them so interesting. I try to do this while Emerson sleeps and Karl watches his sort of TV (Dual Survival, Vikings, etc.). Sundays are also when I clean up my bedroom – it can get pretty trashed trying to figure out outfits in a rush (and planning ahead just never feels right to me), so I put all the rejects away and do a bit of thinking about what I will wear for the upcoming week.  If things are going well, this is when I take the time to truly visit other blogs.  I find that lately I don’t have enough time for this, and I miss it terribly.

For someone to blog consistently, it has to be a passion.  It’s not just posing in a park with a clutch purse, at least it isn’t any more.  I think of big full-time bloggers who regularly have events to attend, retail headquarters to visit, interviews to conduct and I think they must work more than 50 hours in a week to keep it going and to stay in the black. Being a for-profit blogger can be a very isolating, soul-selling, and exhausting profession, especially when to be successful you have to hide all that under a gleaming white smile and pair of covetable heels.  I can’t imagine how it is for those who have chosen to make their blog their full-time job.  When you start dissing a blogger for being too big, a sell-out, for turning off comments or being distant, realize you don’t know what is actually going on behind the scenes.

This will be the last post about the business of blogging for a while (at least until I get riled up again).  Thanks for letting me vent and share, but I want to get back to the fun stuff – fashion and personal style!  Next week I have a few more beauty reviews and I’ll have some outfit posts as well!  Thanks for sticking through!  

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Ask Allie: Fashion Advice for a Petite SAHM

Dear Allie,
I am currently rocking the awful “mom” look aka yoga pants and huge t-shirts and I am so over it! Could you direct me to a few classic pieces to start my wardrobe? I am a stay at home mom with two under two, so I need a practical look. I live in Ohio where the weather is always changing. I am very petite (5’ and less than 100 lbs). I also have trouble finding comfortable shoes that look stylish and fit my size 5 feet. Any advice?
– Megan

Dear Megan,
I am so glad you realize that one can be an active mom while maintaining style. I recently wrote an article on Savings.com about new mom fashion, but will offer some basics that should get you on track without looking like a mom, or like a college student:

Dark Straight Jeans
A dark straight jean is classic, can be worn any season of the year, looks more polished than lighter washes, and doesn’t need a fancy label to look chic. Having a straight leg means this jean should work with most any length or style of top in your wardrobe – simple tanks and tees, longer tunics, blazers and cardigans, blouses tucked in or left untucked. Add a bit of spandex so that you won’t be showing your undergarments or cutting into your stomach when crawling on the floor after your little one.

The Lee Slender Secret 5-pocket Jean is a classic style that is great for women who may have a bit of that baby pooch still left. Oprah recently rated them as a top jean, and reviews state that these jeans in petite are not needing of hemming for those who are 5’ tall. $29.99

 


Levi’s 512 jean is a straight, classic style that is made for a woman’s shape. Their Perfectly Slimming 512 Jean has the Lycra to keep your body looking smooth, and giving you the flexibility you need to keep up with your children. Again, this jean is rated great for the really petite woman – they run short so you won’t have to spend an arm and a leg on alterations. $40.00

A Versatile Trench
When the weather is chilly one day, hot the next, and rainy the third it’s hard to be prepared. A simple trench or mac in a water-resistant fabric that is lined will keep you looking stylish yet comfortable on those in-between days.

The Sunshower Coat from Lands End is a favorite – it’s a classic style, breathable, and wrinkle-resistant. Lands End is known for their quality and service so you know you will get a great piece that will give you years of wear. Khaki is a safe bet, but a more memorable color like their Wine Grape will look great with neutrals, make your skin glow, and will give you a sunnier outlook on the day, even if the sky is cloudy. $99.50

Macy’s Style&Co brand offers great style for a reasonable price. This double-breasted trench has a shorter length that won’t dwarf your petite frame, and the soft sage color will look great with neutrals, but be a fresh change from beige and black outerwear. $79.00

Solid-colored Seasonally-appropriate Tops
Toss the oversized tees and stiff striped button-downs. It’s easy to be comfortable, get dressed in an instant yet look great if you have an arsenal of flattering, well-fitting knits in your size and colors you adore. Wash on the gentle cycle, line dry and these pieces can give you years of great wear. Look for pieces with 5% spandex or more – they will be more likely to keep their shape, not need to be ironed, and maintain their color longer than 100% cotton tops. For winter, I love merino wool because it acts like a knit in keeping its shape and flattering the figure, and can also be washed on the gentle cycle.

Ann Taylor LOFT is a fave of many petite women thanks to their extensive collection, reasonable prices, and truly petite sizing. Their Petite Twisted Boatneck Tee is a fashionable version of the comfy tee shirt. The neckline adds drama to a casual day look, and would fantastic under a cardigan or casual twill blazer. Great colors like Balsam Green and Ocean Depths will complement dark denim, khaki, white, gray, and black. $19.50

I love Nordstrom’s Caslon line – great wardrobe basics of great quality. The petite Caslon Ballet Neck Tee is a feminine and flattering twist on a simple knit top – the ¾ sleeves make it wearable almost year-round and a scoop neck is lovely on most every woman’s figure. $24.00

A Casual Blazer
A great way to jazz up simple tees and jeans is with a casual blazer. If it’s unlined and has a bit of stretch, it’s as comfortable as a hoodie but with far more polish.

 


Ann Taylor LOFT’s Petite Urban Twill Blazer is a great choice. The grosgrain trim gives it a unique, higher-end look, and in navy it would go with most any color tank or tee in your closet. $69.99

The striped blazer from Banana Republic would look amazing with neutral tanks, tees, and bottoms. It would also look quite chic with a pop of color underneath – try candy pink, blood orange, or apple green. The standup collar elongates the frame, making you look taller. $149.99

A Trendy Knit
Right now, striped tees are a hot look – this is a great way to add some variety and current fashion to your wardrobe without looking passé in a season. Striped tees look great with a simple denim or twill skirt, under a blazer, with shorts, capris, jeans, and even dressed up with a fuller skirt or with trousers. Add a bit of contrast with a turquoise or coral necklace, or a cardigan in a color like leaf green, tangerine, or yellow.

This black and cream striped boatneck from Lauren by Ralph Lauren isn’t your ordinary tee shirt – the silver buttons and boatneck make it a refined piece that would look great with jeans, and also with a white twill skirt for spring outings. $59.50

 


I own the Striped Sailor Tee from Ann Taylor and adore it – the scoopneck is flattering, the knit heavy and durable, the epaulets give a bit more style and panache. It comes in three colors. $38.00

A Not-so Little Black Dress
I have a black wrap dress from Old Navy that I bought years ago on clearance. I wear it with leggings and flats around the house, with heels for a wedding or funeral, with tall boots to work. It’s so versatile, and the matte jersey is a fabric that stretches, gives, washes easily, and looks timeless and seasonless.

The Petite Gemma Wrap dress from Banana Republic is a great choice – ¾ sleeves work year round, and a true wrap style means you can cinch the waist for a more custom fit. $98.00

 


Merona for Target has really come a long way in the past year – the quality has improved immensely, and the style is quite on-trend yet classic. The Merona Petite Faux Wrap Knit Dress is a great choice – the empire waist hides any post-baby pooch, and makes it dress up or down with ease. $20.98

Shoes
It often impossible to find size 5 footwear in stores, however the selection is pretty impressive online. Sites like Nordstrom and Zappos have a great selection of smaller sizes that are still stylish and comfortable. I recommend investing in:

  • A sandal with a low wedge heel (more comfortable than heels, able to wear with shorts or with a dress).  The “Amber” wedge-heel sandals from Munro is a great summer choice – uber comfortable, thin elegant straps, will look great with skirts and dresses of all lengths, as well as shorts, trousers, and cropped pants. Munro is known for comfort and quality – these shoes should be wearable even for a day of sightseeing or a trip to Disney World. $179.95
  • A pair of ankle boots you can slip on with jeans and a sweater (low heel, brown or black depending on your wardrobe – more versatile than flats as that they can dress up and also be waterproofed for rainy days).  The “Wisteria” by Merrell has a wedge heel which is comfortable when standing or walking for a long period of time, but can still be paired with casual trousers. They get great reviews for comfort. $140.00
  • A pair of tall riding boots (wear with dresses, over jeans and you will be amazed how they will transform wardrobe basics into something stylish – waterproof them for more versatility).  These riding boots from La Canadiene are so classic – waterproof Italian leather, moisture-wicking lining, memory foam insole, low heel, elegant styling. These are boots you buy now and will still be wearing a decade from now. $256.00
  • A pair of simple black leather pumps for those times when you do need to dress up (they work with pants, dresses, and even with your dark jeans for a Date Night or drinks with your girl friends).  The Nuncio pump from Nine West is a classic pump that will look elegant year-round and years from now. 2.5” heel, elongated toe, and available in narrow and wide widths. $69.95

For additional petite inspiration, check out:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Fashion Related – Halloween

While Emerson did Trick or Treat last year, she was too young to fully understand it. This year… she got it. She was so excited for the whole event – wearing a costume, going from door to door, saying, “Trick or Treat!” and being able to be outside when it’s dark out.

Emerson as Tinkerbell at the birthday party
Emerson and our good friends’ son E

Emerson had a costume birthday party to attend a couple weeks ago, she went as Tinkerbell – my sister made her a fabulous green tutu, we put her in white tights, a green top, and green wings. The wings got pretty beat up at that toddler fete, but I figured would be fine for Halloween as well.

Yesterday I got off work and saw as I was driving home that kids were already out in full force. I ran inside, grabbed Emerson who was wearing a black long-sleeved tee and black leggings and just put the tutu on over that. It was cold out, so I put her in a white faux fur coat that her Aunt Debbie gave her as a Christmas gift last year. Wings on top of that. Plastic pumpkin basket and a “magic wand” and we were ready to go out!

As that we were in a rush, I only captured pictures of Trick or Treating via my phone…

 Emerson and her best friend Captain America

Digging in to her first-ever Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup

We didn’t go to a lot of houses – about six in our court, three in the court across the street.  We were going to visit a third court but it required us walking past our own home, and Emerson decided she wanted to Trick or Treat Daddy, who was home passing out candy!

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Not The Best Combination

Pink merino v-neck from J. Crew with an orchid wifebeater from Old Navy. Gray suiting trousers from Ann Taylor, teal suede wedges from Seychelles. Silver hoops.

i.d. Bare Escentuals foundation and concealer (need some more foundation!), Nars Orgasm on the cheeks, pale pink shadow from The Body Shop, black liquid liner from Maybelline, black mascara from MAC, pink lipgloss in a pot from The Body Shop.

No clue my reasoning behind this outfit. My nude bra is wet, hanging in the the bathroom. The sweater and tank would have looked better with jeans, but my jeans were dirty or… well I felt like wearing something comfy. I don’t feel very diva today. Considered calling out but didn’t want to waste PTO. So I am here… but not mentally. but I am comfy!

Quality, not Quantity

I cannot stress this enough for a wardrobe.

Quality, not Quantity.

Consider fashion icons – Jackie Onassis, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Princess Diana, Diana Vreeland, Coco Chanel, Gwyneth Paltrow

These women have always looked polished, stylish, but not over the top.


Elegant.
Classic.
Tasteful.

These women in 2005 would never wear sweats with words printed on their bums. They would never wear shoes made of plastic, or clothes that were ill fitting, overly trendy or poorly made. Their style didn’t change much from season to season. They understood what flattered their figure, expressed their personality, and stuck to it, making slight modifications each year to not look overly dated.

So you’re not a millionaire. You don’t have a limitless fashion budget. Your clothes come from malls, big box retailers, discount stores. Your priority is not image, but family, work, LIFE.

Buying quality, not quantity fits that budget, and fits that lifestyle. If you shop CORRECTLY, you will spend less, shop less often, and require less “prep time” each morning. Having a wardrobe you like, and you trust (quality allows trust) gives you freedom, as well as personal style.

When I was 23, I got a “real” job, a job where I had to dress professionally every day and interacted with clients. I was at the mall every weekend, leaving with bags full of fun things, yet every Monday I had a mini breakdown at my closet doors, not having a thing to wear. I couldn’t understand it. I didn’t understand it until a few months later when I moved to a new apartment. As I was packing up cocktail dresses, pencil skirts, glittery halter tops (some with tags still in place) I realized the problem. I was shopping, but not for my lifestyle. I was shopping as though I had the life of Paris Hilton, not an entry-level person in suburban corporate America, living paycheck to paycheck and only going to clubs and bars once a week. Once I made that realization, and held on to that realization each time I entered a mall, I found that shopping may not have been as exhilarating, but it was more efficient, and weekdays weren’t as distressing.

I didn’t have the party life I had in college, nor did I have as much spending money. I needed to adjust my shopping to match my lifestyle.

My dear friend had a different situation.

I like fashion, but I can’t afford Gucci, Dolce and Gabanna or Chloe. One day I wandered into Forever 21 and found knockoffs of some of the things I adored on the pages of Vogue. The prices were more my speed. Yes, the fabric was not quite right, the fit was a bit off, but wearing that skirt or that jacket, I felt I was a bit closer to looking like a fashionista. Every few weeks I ran to the mall to get cheap reproductions of popular styles.

I went to a friend’s birthday party. I was dressed in what I thought to be my most trendy outfit. Another friend videotaped the evening. A week later I saw the video and wanted to faint. I was not a fashionista. My pants were too short and too tight. My belt obviously was not made of leather, and it looked stupid with the top. My bra straps were visible all night, and not in a sexy way. I wasn’t a fashion maven, I was a fashion victim. I noticed the other guests looked nice, and I noticed many were wearing pieces I have seen them wear before. It was a huge eye opener, I saw that fashion isn’t what’s new, but what’s stylish. I started buying less, but pieces that fit well, looked nice, were less trendy and more stylish. Suddenly people were telling me I looked as though I lost weight, asked if I had changed my hair, giving me compliments. I realized the compliments of the past were on an article of clothing. The compliments I got now were for me – the total package. It felt really good.

How do you start the road to quality not quantity, and more importantly, how do you do it without breaking the bank?

1. Standards.
What is your lifestyle? Single working woman in the city? Stay a home mom of four? Retired world traveler? Make a list of “events” you attend in your life. This does not mean black tie galas, but day to day activities where you need to get out of bed and face the world. Grocery store. Regular day in the office where most people dress business casual. Business meeting where a more formal business look is needed. Date with the significant other. The occasional wedding/christening/bar mitzvah/funeral/holiday party. Attending your house of worship. Job interview. You get the picture. Drinks with the girls after work.

Stop and consider your wardrobe. Does your current wardrobe fit the lifestyle you have? What are spending a lot on? Are there things in your wardrobe that still have tags on them after a few weeks have passed? How many pieces in your closet have been worn once and then left to collect dust? What events in your life leave you in a clothing panic?

Write down these events. Write down the clothing that gets the most wear, and write down the clothing that gives you the most pleasure when worn (not the pieces that look gorgeous in your closet or possibly on your frame if only you lost 10 lbs.). What correlates with one another? Do any of them match up?

2. The Down and Dirty
I have before written about the standards that are needed in every woman’s wardrobe. This may vary based on climate, age and lifestyle, but is a pretty basic starter wardrobe for most women. Do you have pieces like this in your wardrobe? Basics you can fall back on at a moment’s notice? Pieces like this are the types of things that style icons would have in their wardrobe. Classic pieces that go from casual to dressy, summer to winter, wedding to funeral.

3. After You Have Gotten Down and Dirty
Now that you have a base wardrobe, it’s time to bring your personality into it…. slowly. Looking at the basics in your wardrobe, consider another sweater in a different neckline and color. A necklace that can really jazz up multiple outfits and makes you happy every time you see it. A pair of pants in another color – a neutral like gray, brown or camel. Or possibly something fun yet basic like a dark red, plum or a pinstripe. Your mantra at the mall is Quality, not Quantity. You don’t need 30 sweaters that don’t fit quite right, show your bra and are yucky colors. Instead, invest in three sweaters that fit great, look great, and are built to last. Though those three sweaters will cost more individually, it will be cheaper to buy those three, than keep replacing the cheaper ones as they pill, fade, stretch out, or get shoved to the bottom of the drawer for not being quite right.

4. What Am I Looking For?
You can find quality at a boutique, you can find quality at Target. It’s all about looking for the signs of quality, style and durability.

Think “if Jackie O was on a budget, what would she purchase?” Keep this in your head as you scour the racks. Visualize your style icon, her trademark pieces, what she did to become a style icon and not a fashion victim.

Pills and Fuzz – do the pants have pills or fuzzies on them when on the hanger? Then leave them on the hanger. They will be a fuzz magnet, no matter how often you wash them or what fabric softeners you use. History has shown the pants and jackets that collect fuzz seem to fade the quickest as well.

Buttons and Zippers – Are the buttons the right size? This means, if you sit down, do they slide out of the button holes? Are they hard to button and unbutton? If you answer yes to either, put the piece back. This will look sloppy once worn out of the store, and will either make the button fall off or you get frustrated with the piece. As for zippers, slide it up and down many times. Think about how you will be wearing it – will you be handling that zipper with gloves and a bag of groceries in one hand, or will you be yanking it down several times a day int he restroom? Is it sewn in correctly so it won’t get jammed, won’t break, won’t slide down with wear. Give it a test-run in the fitting room.

Pockets – You shouldn’t be able to see the lining of pockets through your clothes, be it a suit jacket, skirt or pair of pants. If this is the case, leave it onthe rack. That is a sign of cheap fabric, poor construction and a bad cut. Pockets also shouldn’t bow out. If you have curves below the waist, it’s best to usually pass on slash pockets as that they will gape open, causing you too look wider than you are. Flap pockets on the bum are rarely flattering, get bent when sitting, and usually are an add-on cheaper brands use to make their clothes look more… gosh knows what, maybe fancier? I usually steer clear of flap pockets on the bum. As for faux pockets, mini pockets that can’t hold anything larger than a quarter, or any other weird form of pocket that cheaper designers place on their clothing – STAY AWAY. These are signs of cheap manufacturing, quick trends that will die soon, and frustration (you’ll constantly try to put your hand in that faux pocket, I just know it!).

Fabric – If you can’t afford cashmere, that’s okay. The only thing I won that is cashmere is a pashmina I got as a gift. However, because you can’t afford it doesn’t mean you can wear a poor knockoff. Silk/cashmere blends usually pill and thin. Pleather makes you sweat and doesn’t stretch. Faux fur is far more PC, but any fur is overly trendy, overly controversial, and would not be part of a new millennium fashion icon’s wardrobe. Your undergarments should not show through the clothing. This is never an attractive or stylish look. The fabric should not make you itch. If you push up sleeves, it shouldn’t case the arm band to get permanently stretched out. Sit in the clothes, dance in the clothes. See how the fabric stretches with you, moves with you. Rub it against a different piece of clothing. Does the color transfer? Does have the decoration fall off? Does it shed on everything on on this planet? If so, leave it in the fitting room.

Cut – Are they perfect pants except…. Is the top exactly what you need if it only….? Almosts and Not Quites do not have room in any woman’s wardrobe. These items either gets one wear (if that) and then retreat to the back of the closet, or get plenty of wear but look dreadful every time they don your body. The world will not end if you don’t have a pair of black pants NOW NOW NOW. It’s better to go without than to go halfway. Jackets should be able to button across your torso. Pants should be able to be sat in, legs crossed without straining. A belly button should never show through an article of clothing. Pant legs should be long enough to hide your ankle bones and be no more than an inch from the bottom of your heel. Long sleeves should cover your wrist bone. Shoulders should be appropriate, not an inch from your actual shoulder (oversized shoulders make you look heavier and shorter). Try sitting. How does the piece lie? Can the world see your bra? Your panties? When you stand, do you have weird creases at the crotch that won’t disappear? Does it take two minutes just to put the outfit back in place? Do you need to buy a new bra, new camisole, new tummy cincher and a pair of silicone breasts to make the dress fit correctly? If you say yes (or yes but….) to any of these things, leave the article of clothing at the store.

Style – A sign of cheap clothing is over embellishments. I mentioned the use of flap pockets. Cheap clothing often tries to mask faulty manufacturing with brooches, bedazzling, contrast stitching, applique and other adornments. These adornments may be fun and quirky, but I suggest you stick to simpler pieces that will go from year to year, and get your fun and funky adornments through accessories that can be retired when the trend passes. Overly embellished garments make impact – these are pieces that can only be worn a few times a season or people will soon be saying “…look she’s wearing that pink sweater with the leopard collar and cuffs AGAIN.” Having pieces that are that limiting in your wardrobe are not what you need – they will be a waste of money if you are on a budget.

Color – This season it’s purple, next season it may be green. Whatever the fashion magazines dictate, buy what you enjoy. Neutrals aren’t always the best choice. Neutrals fade into the background and you lose your personality. Pick colors that make you happy, make you feel powerful, make you feel beautiful. Black can be versatile, and khaki doesn’t show stains, but you will feel better about yourself and present a better image to others if you wear color. Look for saturated fabrics, ones that will hold their color after washings. The thread in the stitching should perfectly match the fabric. Again, rub it against another garment, check for color transfer (this often happens under the arms when the fabric gets warm and humid). Consider the color, will it compliment the rest of your wardrobe, or will you have to buy eight more articles of clothing to match it? Only buy clothing that brings you happiness. You wouldn’t hang artwork in your home that made you feel depressed, why decorate your body with depressing art?

Accessories – These don’t have to be made of platinum, gold and emeralds, but should be able to withstand multiple wearings, a bang against a table or a kid playing with it. I have found great accessories at Target, at Claire’s Boutique, at discount stores like TJ Maxx, Burlington Coat Factory and Marhshall’s.
These should be pieces that compliment an outfit, not compete with it. Signature pieces, like Jackie O’s pillbox hat, Grace Kelly’s scarf, Coco Chanel’s red lipstick. Pieces that help make you… well you! For me it’s a bold silver cuff that is my signature piece. I compliment it and my wardrobe with Silver hoops, chunky silver rings. Artsy pieces that I feel help reflect my creative side. I have mentioned before what accessories belong in every woman’s wardrobe. Now you need to think quality, taste, elegance, style.

Shoes should be comfortable. They should have classic lines. Leather lasts longer than pleather, can be shined up to look beautiful again, stretches to mold your feet perfectly, and is more versatile. Heels should be wide enough at the base of the shoe to properly support your foot and not cause pain. Toe cleavage (when you can see the spaces between your toes out of the top of a pump or shoe) is an extreme no-no. It is cheaper to buy a pair of quality pumps and get them resoled and reheeled each year than to buy a new cheaper pair each year. Invest in shoe shine tools – you can find them at your grocery store. One hour, every few months will give years to your footwear. Invest in classic pieces. Hot pink suede booties may be adorable, but will you still adore them and wear them weekly after three months? If in doubt, purchase black leather or brown croco. Both fabrics and colors will wear nicely over the years. My mother still wear a pair of black ankle boots she purchased in 1968. The soles have been replaced, the heels reheeled. New inserts have been purchased but the leather is still supple and rich and she is still complimented when she wears them. That is quite an investment, and a fabulous example of how quality can save you money.

When you go shopping, take pictures for assistance. Tear out pages from magazines. Take a headshot of your fashion icon. Take a photograph of you in an outfit you regret as motivation. Make a list of what you believe you need, and don’t let a salesperson or friend tell you otherwise. Consider purchases of clothing as you would consider a purchase of an appliance or a car. Do your homework, don’t buy the first pair of black pants you see. Take them for a test drive in the fitting room or around the store. Do price comparison, fabric comparison, and don’t settle. You deserve the best, and you can find it, no matter what your budget may be.

Not Completely Awake

It’s Saturday morning. I am up, did my crunches and some yoga. Now trying to get the house taken care of. My husband is running with a friend – they are training for a marathon. I am doing laundry, washing dishes and cleaning.

Therefore, all I am wearing is a tee shirt from my hometown’s Boys and Girls club, with a pair of Banana Republic boxers that belong to the husband.

This is always a good time to take care of the body. I have slathered my hair with conditioner and held it up with a Goody Ouchless elastic. I also have on a face mask from The Body Shop to deep clean and condition the skin. I have Bag Balm on my feet, covered with some clearance socks from The Gap. All about the multi-tasking!

The Glamorous World of Personal Style Blogging

Several weeks ago, there was an event at a local store. A blogger I like was hosting it, I emailed all my real-life blogger friends (and friends who would not want to slit their throats attending a “blogger event” with bloggers) to round them up. Let’s go to the event, support our friend, get our swag bags, and then go to a nearby bar or restaurant and consume something other than room temperature Korbel and mini cupcakes. Friends agreed, we set the date. The date came… and I had NO DESIRE to go.  I was tired, I was having a bad hair day, I didn’t like my outfit, I just wanted to go home.  And sometimes a blogger event just sounds like a lot of work, especially after a long day at the 9-5.  On top of it, Karl had to prep for a shoot the next day so I couldn’t leave him home alone all night. But these were real friends, and we’d balance the air kissing and Instagramming with gossip and cocktails. I psyched myself up… and then I spilled a cup of coffee all over my dress.

Now, even if you’re not a blogger I think you can understand how awful of a situation that is. I burned my belly, my underwear was soaked, and I had a big brown stain on my light colored dress. This was beyond the capabilities of a Tide-to-Go pen. So I mopped up what I could, hid in my cubicle the remainder of the day, then skipped work half an hour early and raced to Ann Taylor, one of the few stores between me and the Metro with clothes larger than a size 10.

I raced around Ann Taylor in a panic. I had to be at the event in an hour, especially since I needed to leave at a reasonable time to get home to my family. I had a pair of leopard pumps under my desk, so I looked for something that would match them instead of my coffee-soaked sandals. In the fitting room I tried on a dozen different items, all looking awful. Did I mention I was wearing my Comfy-But-Makes-My-Breasts-Look-Wonky bra, the one that is so high cut that it peeks out of a v-neck? Yeah, good leading by example, Ms. Fashion Blogger.

Thanks to a lovely salesperson, I ended up with a dark red ponte dress with a peplum that covered the muffin top from my bad undergarments and a neckline high enough to cover my dreadful bra. I snagged a bracelet that coordinated, tried to make my sweaty so now curling hair calm down and redid my face, though it was still blotchy from stress my lips were all splotchy as though I finished a marathon makeout session. I did yoga breathing to try to cool my core and my mindset, shoved my coffee-drenched original outfit into the bottom of my (thankfully large) purse and headed to the blogger event.

I never was able to cool myself down, it was as though I had actually drank that cup of coffee and five more after it. I was stressed, I felt anxious. Why am I going to a blogger event instead of going home to put my daughter to bed? Why did I just drop almost $200 in Ann Taylor on a dress I don’t even really like? WHY DO I BLOG? WHAT IS MY POINT IN LIFE?? Yes, I started having a blogger crisis in the overheated Metro car.

I got to the event, and it wasn’t bad. Zero calorie pastel-colored drinks in place of Korbel (though still warm), iced cookies in place of cupcakes, A DJ playing pop music through big speakers, bloggers who are just as nice in person as they are on their blogs. Met some new people, tried to relax and enjoy myself and the good company, but it just seemed really warm and crowded and overwhelming. I was still sweating, and for some reason it was focused on my face and scalp.  Dry body, dripping from the neck up and it just wouldn’t stop.

FLASH FLASH FLASH there’s the pro photographer for the event. I’m flushed, I’m sweaty, and my boobs look as though they’re 400 years old and have minds of their own. I know that these photos will be used by the brand and be on a couple different blogs within the week, all linking back to my blog (which is good blogging etiquette but I’d be okay with bad etiquette at this point).  I go into a corner of the store and try to do some damage control, slicking back my hair into a low ponytail and adding more lipstick. I put the bottle of pastel water to my forehead, then back of neck hoping it will cool me. I then guzzle it, thinking maybe that will help. Straighten my wonky boobs and head back into the throng.

My friend Instagrammed a picture with me in it (yep, the one right above).  She adores me, I adore her, and I know she would never share a photo where she felt I looked bad (Yes we bloggers have a unwritten rule that we try to never share an unflattering photo of a fellow blogger we like or respect.  If a blogger shares a really unflattering photo, she likely doesn’t like that blogger, or is new to the blogging scene and is not familiar with the Blogger Code.).  I saw that picture while still at the event (because we were Instagramming like mad because that’s what we bloggers do to show off that we were there, to possibly win a prize, and sometimes because we promised the brand to be nice or to get paid) and knew it must have been a good look for how insane I must have been in real life.  I saw that photo and knew it was time to head home.   My style, my heart, and my mind wasn’t in it, I wanted to be home in air conditioning and comfy pants.  I gave air kisses to those I hardly knew, big sweaty hugs and kisses to those who loved me in spite of it, and headed back to the Metro.
 
On the ride back to the ‘burbs, I munched on an iced cookie in the shape of a corset and drank more lukewarm pastel water, ignoring the Metro rules about no food or drink.  It’s was late, this was going to end up being my dinner.  Luckily I got an air-conditioned car that wasn’t too full, I could have a seat to myself and let my sweat turn into icicles.  I thought about why I subject myself to such torture… and realized those who see such events from the outside probably think they’re pretty glamorous and fun.  And I thought… they CAN be fun, if I had the right mindset.

Maybe I’m jaded because I have been doing this for so long.  Maybe it’s because I have a family at home I really adore and feel I don’t see enough as it is.  Possibly it’s because I still have a full-time not blog related job that I care about.  But I find blogging events to just be more work, even if I am not the one hosting it.  I feel the need to dress a certain way, to look super polished because I know there will be flashbulbs all over the place.  It’s like attending a networking event where you get photographed a hundred times, wearing your highest heels and carrying your smallest or most expensive purse.

At the same time, gosh I have the coolest part-time job on the planet.  I feel blessed to be based out of DC where so many bloggers are really amazing human beings and friends.  That we do have a thriving fashion and social scene, where companies court us and pay to host events that we can go to.  That Instagramming like a fiend is showing our appreciation for them realizing that DC is just as influential of a shopping town as the other big cities in this country.  That some events are pretty darn spectacular (hello Goodwill’s Art of Fashion) and renew my faith in blogging and the community.  That with the growth of the blogging community, I find it even more important to support those I respect and believe to do a good job.  That it IS cool to attend an event and get free food and free nail polish, and to complain about such perks of the job is being a spoiled brat.

I think the life of a personal style blogger is very different from what most choose to share on their blog.  Many bloggers complain that we get criticized for just sitting around, eating macarons, sipping pumpkin spice lattes, and taking pictures of ourselves spinning in skater skirts and gifted ankle booties.  I think people feel that because they don’t know the actual work behind being a blogger.  Bloggers who who are the most successful create a fantasy world of white lacquer, gifted purses, and crisp Autumn days where they skip down cobblestone streets with their adorable puppy or boyfriend.  Brands want relaxed and happy and carefree.  Whether you realize it or not, most of you readers (as we bloggers can tell by our pageviews, subscribers, and affiliate income) also desire this aesthetic. The blogs with the largest bank accounts and the largest following have the most glamorous or enviable looking lives.

I’ve talked about the behind the scenes of blogging before, and I continue to do so because I think it’s important for readers to realize that be it a fantasy or reality, blogging is hard work and much of it isn’t glamorous.  It’s not just sweaty blogger events in place of family time.  It’s doing a photo shoot you are contracted to do even though you’re sick, you had a death in the family, your boyfriend just threatened, “it’s me or the blog.”  It’s working your 9-5 (which is often more like an 8-6:45) and then coming home to 70 emails from PR people and brands and potential advertisers, 20 new comments (half either trying to spam their company or telling you that you suck), three contracts to go over with a fine-toothed comb to be sure you’re not getting screwed or signing your life away, a handful of business calls, collages to create, blog posts to write and schedule, gifted items that take mega skill to figure out how to tastefully incorporate into a post or upcoming outfit, emails from readers asking for advice or to offer feedback or criticism on what you are doing.  Then you check your stats and find another blogger or a message board saying you’re lazy or you lack talent or you’re stupid or your blog sucks.  It’s constantly networking, constantly educating yourself about new technology and updates to Google and WordPress.  It’s being up on the latest social media, the latest brands, the most recent news about technology, fashion, and the blogosphere.  It’s working until 1am and still having a mile-long to-do list and you have to get up in four hours to take care of your family, go to your day job, speak at a conference, hit the gym to maintain your enviable figure, plot out three shoots before the noon sun ruins your light and you have race to meet a brand at their headquarters and then race home for a Skype interview.

Yes, there are crappy bloggers who make dough off of putting together mediocre outfits, Photoshopping them to death, and posting them with a short paragraph laced with grammatical and spelling errors.  The occasional collage to bring affiliate income and a couple tweets sucking up to brands and promoting their same blog post for the fifth time.  But the majority of bloggers I know… our lives aren’t that glamorous whether we lead you to believe it or not.  Blogging is a job, a sweaty, stress-inducing job that often costs us as much or more than what we make from it.  But we do it because we love it, and we hope you love it in return!

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