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I Hate Style Books

I hate style books.

I have dozens at home, and almost every time I purchase one I want to kick myself. Yes, there are a few out there that offer some worthy and unique advice, but the majority are utter crap and cruel.

Cruel?

I said this to a friend today and she thought I was being harsh. Well let’s take a portion from a new book, Nina Garcia’s The One Hundred: A Guide to the Pieces Every Stylish Woman Must Own.

Bootie Call (a chapter discussing the merits of ankle booties)
• When wearing with pants, keep the colors the same. Black pants tucked into black booties will elongate the leg and make you feel fabulous.
• When wearing with miniskirts, try them with Black Opaque Tights (#10) to keep your line going and going and going. Unless you have fabulous legs, illusion is our master craft.
• Make sure the bootie does not cut off straight at the ankle like a traditional bootie – these boots are made to be worn under pants and will chop off the leg and make it look stumpy.
• It is a great alternative to the pump – always consider it if the pump seems too safe.
• The bootie is a classic way to mix the masculine with the feminine, so don’t be afraid to flaunt a little femininity when you have this more masculine shoe on. One must mix it to risk it…

Okay, this sounds pretty fun and helpful. I agree, combining a black pant or tights with a black shoe hides flaws and makes the leg look long. But let’s take this apart…

In general, the woman who purchases and reads this book is one who feels as though she does not possess a sense of style, thinks she is not fashionable and is looking for advice.

Black pants tucked into black booties… well what type of black pants? Can one wear her black twill chinos? Black polyester pants that she wears to the nightclub? Black suiting trousers? And can any ankle bootie work? The previous page mentions Louboutin and Prada as bootie designers… not really brands that most women can afford (or even find at her local mall). So are we looking for a pull-on style? One that laces up? Chunky heel? Wedge heel? Stiletto heel? Flat boot? Suede or leather or microfiber? How about contrast stitching or trim?

A miniskirt with black tights and black booties. A miniskirt? Well she does mention in another part of the book that a miniskirt may be too short, but black opaque tights makes a very short skirt fashionably short. So this look of mini skirt, black tights and booties will work for the office? And since this works with miniskirts, that means it can look good with my denim skirt? How about my purple floral rayon skirt that shrunk a bit in the wash but is still cute?

Okay, so now we hear we don’t want a bootie that cuts straight across and the illustration shows one that dips down in front, is black with a stiletto heel and a red collar of sorts around the ankle (see illustration above, taken directly from her book). Is this the style of boot we should be looking for? This is the boot we should wear with black tights and denim miniskirts or with our black chinos?

Hitting up the most widely accessible retailers for American women (Payless, Target, Wal Mart, Zappos and Macy’s), the only boots I could find under $100 that seemed to slightly fit the description Nina Garcia gave (black, ankle bootie, not a straight cut, black) were these pleated suede numbers from Abaete for Payless (left), and the “Darcy” bootie by Alfani (Found at Macy’s) (the boot on the right).

So next, Nina tells us that this boot can replace classic black pumps. So pretty much, one can get the Darcy bootie (which has a two-tone look JUST like the bootie that Nina suggests) and be able to wear it with black pants tucked in them, pair it with black tights and a denim mini skirt, or wear them to a wedding this weekend with a black crepe sheath dress and pearls! Awesome!

Please know I am saying this with pure sarcasm, and that I don’t think either boot pictured would work for what Nina is suggesting.

On top of all this bootie confusion, what if the woman is 4’11”? Or maybe she is 6’2”? What if she is a size 16? Has a size 12 foot? What if she is 21? Or what if she is 71?

How is this “wardrobe staple” advice?

I’ll admit it, I have seen some women look utterly fabulous with black pants tucked into boots like these. Thing is, the woman usually works in a creative field, has legs a mile long, wears a single-digit clothing size, and knows that the pants need to be very skinny and the boot a little bit of slouch/definition to actually look cool and appropriate. The same holds for the bootie with a mini – she already knows that this will look best with a solid colored dress or skirt of either a substantial fabric or a special fabric (leather, sequins). She also knows how short is short, and what would be appropriate for her workplace. Finally, she would rock the heck out of those boots with an LBD, but she knows the look is for the wedding of her artist cousin’s Big Day in Chicago, not the one of her college roommate who lives in the next town and is a private-school teacher.

However, women read these books, try their darnedest to emulate the stylish author with what they have available – a far smaller budget, limited shopping locations, a far more traditional social calendar, a more conservative or casual work environment, and a body that is usually not built thanks to home-delivered Zone diets, a nutritionist, yoga instructor and personal trainer. The reader gathers that which she can afford or replicate on the list, feeling that if she at least has a few Hanes tee shirts or an H&M trench she will be that much closer to style success.

However style doesn’t come with what you collect, or what list you follow. Yes, even I have a list but I know it won’t necessarily work for all women and I know it doesn’t create instant style. My list is created for those who do not know exactly where to start – my hope is it is a canvas, a survival kit so all women have a base wardrobe. Style does not come from aviator sunglasses or diamond studs, style does not come from imitating another. Style comes from getting to know and understand yourself, your life, your body, your mind. Having a base wardrobe helps free up the mind to get creative and personal; it takes guesswork out of every day. It forces you to think… what will make this simple sweater and pants combination more ME?

I adore Nina Garcia – I find her style to be unique yet full of class, I love her brutal honesty and view on Project Runway, and always gobble up her articles in Elle. However Nina Garcia’s books (and the books by many celebrities and celebrity stylists) are more so Chick Lit than reference; they are a peek into a fabulous world of a fashion editor or actress who jet-sets, works in a field where daring fashion is expected, and has drinks with celebutantes. To read Garcia’s list of one hundred items that create style is to peek into her closet and her life, not to help one find her own sense of style.

The problem is America is full of women who are confused. Dove tells us to love our bodies yet stores predominately sell clothing for a different shaped person. We are told to manage our money, yet are told that we can’t be chic without an It Bag. We are celebrated for being intelligent, and trashed for not donning the latest fashions. Magazines, television shows, even the news informs us of what is hot, what is a must-have without considering finances or lifestyle. We are bombarded with products to make us look younger, be thinner, pretend to be richer, attempt to imitate the latest hot celebrity. All these so-called “style” books just add to the frustration and confusion, and it’s just plain cruel. It’s taking advantage of these confused women, stealing away their precious pennies in hopes of finding Fashion Nirvana between the pages.

I know that most women I encounter are just trying to figure out how to get through the day looking presentable and appropriate, not what to wear to a black tie gala or a trip to Ibiza. And most women I encounter can’t or wouldn’t wear half of the things suggested on must-have lists or as style savers.

Point is, enjoy the books as you would a great piece of Chick Lit, or even a coffee table art book. See the beauty, get lost inn the fantasy, and even use it for a bit of inspiration. But know that most of these style books are not gospel, and are normally not written for the average woman.

Some style books that I have found to actually be helpful:

The Pocket Stylist: Behind-the-Scenes Expertise from a Fashion Pro on Creating Your Own Look – This book from Kendall Farr breaks things down for different shapes of bodies, and different weights. She offers timeless tips on how to shop, maintain clothing and build style. It is easy to read, easy to reference, and easy to connect to your actual life. This is one of the few books I have purchased that has not caused me to roll my eyes every chapter.

Simple Isn’t Easy: How to Find Your Personal Style and Look Fantastic Every Day! – Olivia Goldsmith (RIP) and Amy Fine Collins know the fashion world, the society world, and the real world. These teensy book may lack helpful photographs and illustrations, but jams in TONS of really helpful, realistic and fabulous advice on creating style and a working wardrobe. I bought this book in college and it still works with today’s trends. It also has been a wonderful reference for me as well as my mother – different generations, different lifestyles, different personal styles.

Color Me Beautiful – I know this is terribly Old School (gosh some of you younger readers may not even know about this book), but Carole Jackson’s classic really has helped so many women get a grasp on color. I have never been one to stick to my seasonal palette (I am a Winter but gosh do I love me some orange!!!), but it helped narrow down things, and realize it’s not me that looks terrible, it’s the seafoam green sweater that is causing it. One can wear an expensive dress and look like death warmed over, or a cheap dress and look like a million bucks purely based upon the colors on her face, in her hair and on her body. The book I have linked is the original from the ‘80s – do take the makeup and shoulder pad advice with a grain of salt. However do not be afraid to tear out the color sheets and take them to the mall, your hairdresser, and to your best friend’s house.

Little Bits of Luxury: Books

I love libraries, we as a family visit our local library regularly and do what we can to support it. But there’s something so lovely about owning a book. To not feel guilty about breaking the spine or dog-earing a page, to take a favorite from the shelf, find an old plane ticket or receipt in there from the last time you read it, to see the book take on more memories and love and wear with each reading. Sorry Mrs. Arnold, but I stole my high school copy of The Handmaid’s Tale, it was such a powerful 11th grade reading assignment. In it I highlighted and took notes when I read it in your class, when I read it again for a college course, and the dozens of times I have read it since. I have loaned it to so many different people, and some of them have left their mark by forgetting their receipt or concert ticket bookmark. It makes it not just a story, but a scrapbook of sorts.

But books cost money, and they take up a lot of space. While we did put an addition on our home when Emerson joined our family, our house is still far smaller than most standard townhomes and space is a hot commodity.

Space: If you want to organize your bookcases by color or arrange them creatively to have a good amount of negative space and ways to showcase art and knick knacks, I commend you. However, in the Gary household, we constantly rearrange our bookcases (three tall ones in the living room, a chest-high one in the dining room, and a few shelves in the office) to fit more books. Our neighborhood does a book drive every summer, and sells the books they receive at the Labor Day Festival to fundraise for the elementary school. Each summer I go through our bookcases and see what books don’t HAVE to be part of our family. We inherited books from Karl’s dad when he passed away and as the years go by, we realize that some don’t have sentimental value or are a topic we care for. We’ve also pared down the college books, the airport paperbacks, the books that made us realize for the 4th time that we didn’t belong in a book club. We’re now considering adding bookcases to the bedroom, imaging that extra space will give us the room to organize our collection better and possibly have room for mementoes between the books.

Money: New books cost money. Every year for Christmas and my birthday I ask for books. Not novels, but those fancy coffee table, art, or fashion books that I would never buy myself. I’ve done this for years, from Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams in high school to now where I prefer Tom Ford to a new sweater. But when I want something that isn’t under the Christmas tree:

  • Amazon Used: You can find books for a penny on Amazon. Granted, if they’re that cheap you have to pay $3.99 shipping, but $4 is still cheaper than retail, and you’re keeping a beloved book out of the landfill. I have bought pretty much every level of condition, Acceptable means you will likely have a bit of damage, some highlighting, maybe stickers from a university book store on the spine, but the way I look at it I would likely provide such wear anyway, and I’m quite handy with the packing tape. More often than not, the books come in near-mint condition and one couldn’t tell if they were bought new or used.
  • Library Book Sales: When books have newer editions, aren’t as hot (what library in 2014 needs 50 copies of a John Grisham novel?), or have a bit of damage, many libraries sell them either at a special event or maybe in a room in their basement. You can find wonderful books for pennies, and your money goes towards supporting your library. Win win!
  • Thrift Stores: Recently I found Diane von Furstenberg’s Book of Beauty at a thrift store. I have found gorgeous art books still in their shrink wrap, the very version of a beloved book from high school, and the best autobiographies and memoirs I didn’t even know were written. 
  • Kindle: Well a Kindle completely goes against the beginning of this post writing about my love of tangible books, but sometimes you just want to read something that you don’t care to own or reread in the future. Sometimes you need the convenience of something small and handheld. You don’t need an actual Kindle to enjoy e-books, the Kindle app is free and is available for Droid and Apple devices. And if you do a bit of searching, you can find so many books for free or nearly free. I use my Kindle to read books I don’t want people to see me reading on the Metro (hello all three 50 Shades of Grey books) or know I won’t read again (I could again say 50 Shades, but I’d also include chick lit and romance novels) or books that are more of a reference and I’d want to reference easily (books on blogging, what I do at work, etc.). There’s a few Facebook and Twitter accounts you can follow that will notify you of free books, I cheat and have friends whose taste I trust and wait for them to share on social media when they find a bargain Kindle book. I don’t feel so bad getting lost in Passions of Lust when it’s free, and I can save my money for books that I will read again and again and again and will smile down at me from their shelf, remembering the memories we’ve shared over the years.

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Required Reading: Fashion Books

Clothing is fun, clothing is pretty, but clothing also has history. When I think about this (or share my opinions on the importance of fashion to those who find it superficial) I always think of this scene from The Devil Wears Prada:


If you love fashion, it is smart to know the story behind it. While it’s fun to know the name of the models or what colors Pantone expects to be hot that season, I also love knowing HOW that trend came to be in every Macy’s, Dillards, and Kohl’s across America. I also find I often have to defend my passion for fashion, to explain to people how fashion is a form of art just like sculpture, dance, or painting. It’s far easier to defend your opinion when you are armed with facts and figures.

Over the years I have collected quite a library of style and fashion books – some are entertaining but not terribly informative, some are quite pretty but don’t have a lot of history, many are so dry it’s hard to get through a single chapter. Below are books I have read about fashion and its history that I have enjoyed, found informative, and worthy of space in my library:

The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed
I despise the title of this book because it makes it sound like a Jackie Collins novel. In fact, this is non-fiction, chock-full with the history of the Gucci company. Learn how the company came to be, how it almost shuttered in the ‘80s, and came back on top. While the book is based on fact (to the point that sometimes it feels more like a history book), it is quite an interesting story that will keep you riveted from beginning to end.

Isabella Blow: A Life in Fashion
Do you know who Isabella Blow was? If not, you need to read this book. If you admire the lovely hats worn by royalty at Kate and William’s wedding, or covet Alexander McQueen fashion, you need to read this book. If you find Stella Tennant a fabulous model, or have anything decorated with Swarovski crystals in your closet, you need to read this book.

When Blow passed away, many books came out about her life – it was a bit of a battle of the biographies. The two biggest were this one, and one by her husband. I have yet to read the one by Detmar Blow, but feel that the difference between the two will be more based upon emotion, than fashion history. This one did a fabulous job of showing how Isabella Blow affected fashion in a drastic way, and I care more about that than what type of relationship she had with her spouse.

D.V.
If you don’t know who Isabella Blow was, I sure hope you do know of Diana Vreeland! This book isn’t the smoothest read – while it claims to be written by Vreeland and edited by George Plimpton and Christopher Hemphill, it’s pretty clear that these gentlemen sat down with Vreeland and transcribed what she discussed over several interviews. Stories are repeated and occasionally different (embellished? Poor memory?), there is no clear chronology of events, but gosh is it an exciting read. I could go into detail, but encourage you to read the summary on the Amazon.com page – this book will make you want to develop your personal style, try red lipstick, and read more fashion biographies.

The Fashion Book
There are three sizes of this book available, I am lucky to have received the largest “coffee table book” version of it for Christmas. This book is an A-Z guide of the most famous names in fashion from the 1860s until the late 1990s. Amazing pictures, a glossary of terms, and easy-to-absorb biographies and facts about iconic designers, models, photographers, and fashionistas. I love this book because it is like a fashion Bible – easy to look up a name and learn more while completely enjoying the act.

Costume 1066 – 1966
From the preface: “The aim of this book is to present a systematic documentation of the changes in costume of both men and women since 1066. I have used the reigns of the kings and queens of England as a framework, and have selected examples which represent the main changes in each period, which best show the continuing development of costume style, and which reflect similar trends in continental Europe. The order within each reign is also chronological.”

This book is a sketch book, with notes about the details specific to that era.  For example, looking at one page with a sketch of a typical evening ensemble during Elizabeth II (1952-1956) it notes the style of short hair, an organza stole, strapless boned bodice, short gloves, embroidered fabric, ‘ballerina’ length skirt, and gold sandals.

This book isn’t as much a book about designers, but about trends. A great resource when you see new looks on the runway, and wonder if it’s typical of the ’40s or ’30s, Victorian or Elizabethan, or if you are trying to create an Anne Boleyn-esque look. This book is British so the trends are slightly different from those in America, but still a fabulous resource. I got this book in middle school and still reference it on a quarterly basis.

The Thames & Hudson Dictionary of Fashion and Fashion Designers
Another book I have had for eons (since high school) and often reference. It’s like a mini paperback version of an encyclopedia, just about fashion designers, terminology, and famous fashion insiders. Did you know a bertha is a mid-19th century cape-like collar usually made of lace? Or that Jacqueline Onassis popularized the chain-strap purse? Or that t-shirts were created during World War I? These and other fascinating tidbits can be found in this easy-to-navigate book. I need to purchase a more recent version of this book so I have information on trends and designers from the past two decades!

DailyLit – Fashion Classics
Ten short little emails in your inbox giving you a brief history of iconic fashion pieces such as Diane von Furstenberg’s wrap dress or Christian Louboutin’s Pigalle Pump. It’s free, it’s convenient, why wouldn’t you subscribe?

Please note, this list is about fashion history books – I have written about style books before here, but plan to revisit that category of books in the near future.

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Ask Allie: How to Style a Kilt

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

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

how to style a kilt women

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

how to style a kilt scottish woman

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

how to style a scottish kilt women

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

Guest Post: Which Necklace with Which Neckline?

Guest post by Rosana Vollmerhausen

I gave a talk recently about necklaces and necklines. It’s a typical question we get here at DC Style Factory: Go long? Go choker? Go statement?

The easiest necklaces to wear with just about any neckline is a longer one. The length of the necklace clears any v, scoop, drape or boat neckline. Whether you decide to go longer or shorter, you don’t want your necklace bumping up against your neckline. So either select one that is about an ½ an inch to an inch above your neckline or one that drops under your neckline at least several inches.

Longer necklaces, much like v-neck tops, lengthen your neckline, which in general is more flattering. Chokers shorten your neckline, which sometimes can sometimes be a more challenging style to wear. If you are petite, pay attention to how long the long necklace goes. Right below the bustline is good – grazing your bellybutton is too long.

Here is quick, easy guide for selecting which necklaces go best with which neckline.

V-neck Top

Wear with:

what necklace v-neck top

Smaller drop/pendant necklace that flows into v of the top

what necklace v-neck top

Longer non-pendant necklace that clears the v of the top and flows with the draping.

Pass on: Wearing with a choker, which shortens your neckline and counteracts to the lengthening effect of the v shape.

Scoopneck

Wear with:

what necklace scoop neck top

A statement necklace that mimics the curved shape of the neckline covers expose neck/chest surface area.

Pass on: A choker that will leave too much empty surface area and not cover enough neck/chest area.

Boatneck Top

Wear with:

what necklace boatneck top

what necklace boatneck top

A longer necklace, which draws attention up and down, and balances the high, horizontal neckline.

Pass on: A choker/collar necklace that will bump up against with the neckline.  A statement necklace higher up on the neck that will grab and pull at the horizontal neckline.

Collared Button-down Shirt

Wear with:

what necklace button collared shirt

A statement necklace under the collar for a “brooch” effect.

what necklace button collared shirt

A statement under the shirt with some color peeking out.

Pass on: A long necklace that will compete with the vertical button placket on the shirt.

Crewneck

Wear with:

what necklace crewneck shirt

A longer necklace that lengthens your neckline since the high neckline of the crewneck top shortens it.

what necklace crewneck shirt

A statement necklace that “creates” a new, longer neckline. Select a statement necklace that covers the top of the crewneck.

Pass on: A collar necklace; it just further shortens your neckline.

Strapless

Wear with…

what necklace strapless

A shorter statement necklace that leaves about 1/2 an inch of space between the necklace and the neckline, a longer necklace that clears the neckline, or the two together as pictured!

what necklace strapless

Another fun option is to wear with a collar necklace.

There are a multitude of other necklines and variations on necklines, but just remember, you simply want the necklace you choose to make sense with the neckline of the top. If you are fussing with it too much or it just doesn’t feel right, then it probably isn’t. But selecting the right necklace can really make a difference in adding polish, personality and finish to your look. Happy accessorizing!

DC Style Factory is a personal styling and shopping business based in the Washington, D.C. area. The company creed is that style is for anyone who wants it – regardless of size, age or budget. Clients include high-profile experts in the public eye who need polish for television appearances and stay-at-home moms juggling carpool. Our job is to prepare them to look and feel good for different events in their lives no matter how big or small.

Stylist and owner, Rosana Vollmerhausen, has had more than a decade of fashion retail and styling experience, including owning, running and buying for an award-winning boutique in Washington,D.C. She has styled local fashion events and photo shoots, and has written expert fashion tips for local publications. Her true passion, though, is one-on-one work with clients, building wardrobes that make sense for where they are in their lives. As a wife and mother of three, she is a firm believer that you don’t have to sacrifice personal style because life is busy. If key wardrobe pieces make sense for who and where you are, personal style can be accessible to anyone who wants it.

Learn more about Rosana and DC Style Factory at www.dcstylefactory.com or on the blog at www.dcstylefactory.com/blog.

Stacy London’s The Truth About Style Book and Tour

Thursday night I had the pleasure of seeing Stacy London speak at Sixth and I Historic Synagogue in DC. Her book, The Truth About Style came out this past Tuesday and after seeing the book trailer I knew I had to be at the speaking engagement.


I met Stacy London a few months ago when she was at a local mall promoting the partnership between her company Style for Hire and Westfield Malls. The experience made me a London fan for life – she’s so real, and she truly cares about helping women feel beautiful and comfortable in clothing. Thursday night, I realized that she cares even more so about women feeling beautiful and comfortable in their own skin.

I don’t want to give much away about what she discussed or what the book is about because I truly think this is a style book that you should read. Borrow it from the library, loan it from a friend, sneak into a nook of Barnes and Noble or splurge on a copy – you won’t regret it. I can just say that Thursday night gave me such motivation regarding this blog.

When I started this blog, I wasn’t terribly happy about my body. I had a lot of opinions about fashion and style, a lot of rules, and a lot of snark. Through blogging, I got to know so many readers – you weren’t pageviews but people. I saw that I wasn’t alone in not liking the body I was in, and I saw that my snark wasn’t benefiting anyone. What’s the point of a fashion blog (or book for that matter) that dismisses those who don’t “get” fashion, that pigeonholes all women into one lump who needs a white shirt, tan trench, and a strand of real pearls?

Through blogging and through changes in my life (hello new awesome job and new awesome child) I began loving this body.  It’s not perfect… but then no one has a “perfect” body. I came to terms with it, and decided to work with it. And I also changed my voice on this blog – women don’t need another person telling them what they’re doing wrong, we need voices to give us food for thought and tips on how to feel comfortable, feel ourselves, and recognize our beauty.

 

I still have strong opinions on fashion and style, but now when I write I don’t just think about me and my little patch of Earth, but I try to make it more universal, more accepting. And Thursday night I learned that through her ten years on What Not to Wear, Stacy London has had the same experience. Dealing with real women has made her more sympathetic, sensitive, and understanding to others and also to herself. And her book The Truth About Style is about just that. This book won’t give you a list of ten must-have items in your closet, or tell you how to hide your hips or tummy. It won’t tell you what color to wear if you’re a brunette or redhead, and it won’t inform you of what items should be purged from your closet. But it will help you realize how fellow women have learned to find personal style… and may help you find yours along the way.

 

At the event with friends and fellow bloggers Nancye, Heidi, Alison, Chelsea, and Dana

And if Stacy London’s book tour is coming to a city near you, I encourage you to get a ticket to attend. She is funny, she is raw, she is honest, and she is inspiring. And she may just renew your faith in fashion, style, and yourself.

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Ask Allie: Career Wear on a Budget

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Bandana is Back!

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

Top Row, Left to Right: Rosy Cheeks | Man Repeller | The Not Vanilla | ELLE España via Le Fashion
Bottom Row, Left to Right: Louis Vuitton via GQ | Stockholm Street Style | Vanessa Jackman | The Blab

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

  • Create a Contradiction. A bandana with a chambray shirt is cliché, a bandana with a leather moto jacket or a silk blouse or a crisp blazer is unexpected.
  • Keep it Crisp and Classic. For now, keep your pink and purple bandanas in the drawer and stick to classics like navy, red, and black. These should also not be the weathered, worn, and torn bandanas you use to mop sweat when gardening or to hold back your hair on a camping trip. The classic color and the crisp finish makes the bandana purposeful and not a leftover from cleaning out the garage.
  • Simplicity is Key. Leandra Medine’s all-white outfit with the bandana tucked into the collar of her shirt is a fabulous example of how to wear a bandana this spring. Minimal color, no competing prints, use the bandana as you would a silk Hermes scarf and let it take center stage.
  • Get Creative. A bandana doesn’t have to be worn knotted in back and draped in front. Check out The Not Vanilla’s post and how she wore it knotted around her throat, and even as a purse and wrist accessory. I recently rolled a bandana , wrapped it twice around my neck and had it peek out of a white button-front shirt; I think it’s fun to spice up a monochromatic look with a bandana tied to a single belt loop at the front of a pair of trousers; don’t be afraid to use a bandana as a headband, kerchief, headwrap, or tied around your ponytail.

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

  • When You Have Short Hair. If you’re draping the bandana in front and the “ears” are peeking out making you feel as though you’re wearing a bib, consider a bit of fashion tape to hold them down. I keep all those tiny safety pins that hold garment hang tags and find them great for a situation like this (I pin the “ears” to the underside so they don’t ruin the line of the scarf).
  • When the Bandana is Too Stiff. A brand new bandana can be as stiff as a piece of paper, and often have hard creases in it. Before trying anything, wash it and throw it in the dryer, preferably with bulky items that would make it bounce around a lot. This often does the trick. If it’s still too stiff for you, an overnight soak in fabric softener or vinegar will soften cotton without fading the fabric. Rinse and tumble dry.
  • When You Want a Bigger Bandana. I desired this very thing to have more variety (and to double-look around my big neck). On eBay I found “Texas Size” bandanas which are 27” (most are 22”). If you search for 27” bandana, you’ll find that many online stores like Amazon offer them, which will give you the length you desire.

Ask Allie: Which Jeans with Which Boots?

Can you give me some guidance about which boots to wear with which jeans? There are skinny jeans, straight-leg jeans, mini-boot cuts, boot-cuts, boyfriend jeans, cropped jeans, jeans that people cuff above the boot, jeggings, and everything in between. There are ankle boots, cowboy boots, mid-calf boots, knee-high boots, UGGs, shooties, and fakers (they look like boots from the front but the back is open like a mule/clog). Which jeans do I pair with which boots so that I look proportional and not like a farmer? And when do I tuck the jeans inside the boots, and when do I leave them out?

how to style jeans boots which wear

Boots and jeans should be easy… I mean we’ve been wearing the combination for eons, right? But with all the different leg widths, lengths, and boot styles you may feel as though you need to get an advanced degree in footwear/denim matching!

Skinny Jeans

The skinny jean is a heavier weight than a jegging (legging made out of a lightweight stretchy denim), has all the trimmings of a typical jean (pockets, zippers, belt loops, etc.), but has a very narrow fit. What was originally found to be a cut only models could carry off, skinny jeans are now a commonplace silhouette worn beautifully by women of all shapes and sizes.

The skinny jean is perfect for tall boots, be they over-the-knee heeled boots, flat riding boots, cowboy boots, calf-height harness boots, or a slouchy suede wedge. The skinny jean hugs the leg making it less likely to bag at the knee or wiggle its way out of the boot shaft. The slim silhouette makes the bulk of a boot look more elegant, and works with the chunky and slouchy knits this season.

The skinny jean is also perfect for ankle booties. Be they short harness boots, lace-up combat boots, or ankle-high cowboy boots, a skinny jean tucks into the boot nicely and shows the shape of your calf above the boot’s opening. If you find your jean likes to wiggle out of booties, consider tucking the hem into a pair of socks; they also sell suspenders specifically for this purpose!

If you are going to wear UGGs or similar shearling or thick boots, I think they look the best with skinny jeans. Again, the bulk of the boot is balanced by the slim silhouette of the denim, elongating your legs and keeping you from looking like the Michelin Man.

Jeggings

As mentioned earlier, jeggings are like skinny jeans but with legging details. Usually a lighter weight fabric with more stretch than your typical stretch denim, jeggings often are without front pockets, a proper zipper, and sometimes have an elasticized waist. Since jeggings are such a thin fabric, they look best with tall boots that cover a bit of the body and balance the frame. I’d offer the same advice I did for skinny jeans, but add that you should also consider what you wear on top. Jeggings are best with tunics, longer cardigans, and jackets that hit around the hip to again balance the fabric but also provide some modesty.

Straight Jeans

The straight jean is a classic and flattering to most figures. That being said, it can be one of the hardest to style with boots. Often times too loose to tuck into tall boots, too baggy to slip into ankle booties, you may feel you’re stuck with flats when wearing straight jeans. In fact, a straight jean is a perfect partner for the slim-heeled booties and shooties that have been hot the past two seasons. Sort of a blend between a pump and an ankle boot, shooties have a lower vamp, a slim streamlined silhouette, and slip nicely under a straight leg jean letting the toe and heel peek out.

When it comes to straight jeans, the best boots are those that are meant to go under the jean’s leg. Wedge boots, granny boots, city boots, Chelsea boots, and shooties are often made with simple openings and elastic gussets to make them easy to slip on and off, but not as attractive on display over your jeans. The medium leg opening keeps your jean from dragging on the ground and covering your entire boot and gives a nice break at the front of the shoe.

Bootcut Jeans

No matter the size (hello mini and baby boots), bootcut jeans are named that because they flare out a tiny bit at the bottom to make room for a pair of boots to be worn underneath. With this bit of flare, you can carry off harness and cowboy boots without their shape showing through your jeans. Many women give their tall boots a second life (and give themselves a bit of warmth in the winter) by wearing their slimmer tall boots under bootcut jeans.

You mentioned “fakers”, those boots that are actually mules, and I think they are perfect for bootcut jeans because the extra width makes it less likely that the hem will slip under the heel, and it hides the back of the shoe. For such a shoe, a bit longer of a hem is good because it will better hide the mule back, keep your foot warm, and flatter the bulkier style of the boot.

Bootcut jeans also look great with ankle boots and shooties… if worn UNDER the jeans. Bootcut jeans (no matter how mini the bootcut) have too much volume to tuck them into any style of boot. The extra fabric will be uncomfortable wrapped around your ankle and show bulk. Remember the reason for this silhouette and wear boots under your bootcut jeans.

Cropped and Boyfriend Jeans

This is a cut of denim that is far harder to carry off with boots, and I often recommend the pairing to just True Fashionistas. However there are two popular manners in which to pair shorter jeans with boots…

A slim cropped or capri jean can pretend to be a full-length skinny jean when tucked into tall boots. This is a great way to get extra mileage out of your summer jeans; white and pale colors look seasonally appropriate when half covered with brown or black leather and topped with a wintry knit or jacket. I have been known to do this trick; I recommend wearing knee socks to keep your shins warm in the winter and also to hold down the jeans so they don’t bag at the knees.

Baggier cropped jeans like boyfriend jeans can get a downtown cool vibe when paired with a heeled ankle bootie. I’ve worn my ankle booties with a wooden heel with my boyfriend jeans and like how the extra height and slight platform balance the fullness of boyfriend jeans. A slim, sexy bootie, caged heel, shootie, or a lower vamp with a chunkier heel or wedge is the best choice for boyfriend jeans.

To provide balance, I recommend having a sliver of skin show between the jean and the boot. This elongates the leg, makes the combination more purposeful and on trend.

Cuffed Jeans

I know many people carry off this look, but I find it just as hard to carry off as those who wear tall boots under cropped pants. For every one woman who looks utterly awesome in this combination, there’s 30 women who look as though they got dressed in the dark.  I can’t offer advice that is universal, and recommend that unless you feel confident carrying off this trend, stay away until boot and jean styles have morphed over seasons to make it easier to pair.

What I Wore: Suit Up

wo2 7 wo2 3 alison gary wo2 2 wo2 4
Jacket: LOFT (similar) | Top: ELOQUII via Gwynnie Bee | Belt: Lauren Ralph Lauren (similar) | Pants: LOFT (similar) | Shoes: Nine West | Bag: HOBO (similar) | Bracelet: Had forever (similar) | Lipstick: Revlon in ‘In the Red’

With the change in my company and role over the years, I have fewer and fewer needs for a proper suit. However I can’t stress the importance of still having one for those unexpected moments – an interview, client meeting, conference, business workshop… the pieces can be used separately increasing the price per wear. I purchased this jacket over a year ago from LOFT (last seen on the blog here) and figured it would match black pants from LOFT that I already owned.  Notsomuch, the jacket was a refined twill with a sateen “tux” detail while the rest of my LOFT suiting was more like gabardine.  Then I found these pants on clearance at LOFT this past fall; I think they were meant to be with this jacket!  With the same tux-details and trim as the jacket and the same fabric I have made a match; though it took over a year it also cost less than $100!

I haven’t shared Gwynnie Bee on the blog lately, but that doesn’t mean I am not still a subscriber AND fan!  With the colder weather, I’ve been choosing more casual pieces from Gwynnie Bee; ways to maintain style even when bundled up.  But I saw this ELOQUII top in their collection and had to try it.  As a cusp-sized woman I find ELOQUII to be a hair too big; I sometimes have success with tops and dresses but sometimes find them a hair big for my 5’3″ self.  This top was a bit loose, but adding a belt cinched it and gave it a subtle peplum look that worked with the ruffles at the shoulders and hem.  The top is from a scuba fabric that is uber comfy and doesn’t cling.  I’m a huge fan of ELOQUII and am glad that Gwynnie Bee features them and other hot cusp and plus sized brands!  Gwynnie Bee is offering a 30-day free trial of their program; if you’re size 10 or up it’s worth a try.  I love that for the price of one item I can get three pieces each month in current trends and try out brands I may not otherwise be able to afford.  Click this link to learn more!

I wore this look last Thursday; my dear friend Rosana of DC Style Factory had an event, Skirting the Issue, at Betsy Fisher, where she educated the audience on what skirt was best for each figure and lifestyle need and then had custom fitting by Betsy Garcete at Zophia and personal styling by Rosana and her team.  It was a really fun evening; if you’re in the DC area I can’t recommend DC Style Factory enough for personal styling, closet cleanouts, shopping support and helping you find your personal style.  I’ve recommended DC Style Factory to many Wardrobe Oxygen readers and they have all reported back with rave reviews.  Be sure to follow DC Style Factory on Facebook to learn when they have their next training seminar; I know I’ll be at that one too!

Shop the Looks Featured in this Post:

Ask Allie: Collars and Crews

The ever lovely Natalie emailed me and asked,

“Allie, when I try to wear a crew neck over a collared shirt, I look dumpy. How do you look so un-dumpy? What am I doing wrong?”

My email response:

My secret is… the only two buttons buttoned are the second one (the very top one makes me dumpy) and the bottom one (so the untucked shirttails look straight). The rest is gaping open underneath. I did this the first time with this shirt because it’s now too small, but was amazed at how it improved the look of a shirt under a crew, and now do it all the time with all my shirts whether they fit or not!

So there you have it!  I find this helps since I am so top heavy – somehow the buttoned-up shirt emphasizes all my roundness, but when I let it gape open, my figure shows a bit better.  Of course this works far better with a thick sweater that won’t show the buttons and gaping fabric, but if it’s a thinner crew, I will not button the last button, let the shirt sort of go to the sides of my body and tuck it in so it’s out of the way and more invisible.  Sort of like a dickey with sleeves!

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Summer Sartorial Rules for Corporate America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For some suggestions on appropriate office attire, please visit:

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What I Wore: Simple Isn’t Easy

mom fashion personal style blog handbag heaven molly review wardrobe oxygen

instyle essentials shirt NYDJ hayden jeans

Shirt: c/o InStyle Essentials | Jeans: NYDJ ‘Hayden’ | Shoes: Vince Camuto ‘Effel’ | Necklace: Tasha | Watch: Citizen | Bangle: Rebecca Minkoff | Stretch Bracelet: Nordstrom | Sunglasses: Ray-Ban | Bag: ‘Molly‘ c/o Handbag Heaven

Isn’t every woman supposed to have that crisp white shirt and dark pair of jeans in her wardrobe? Aren’t they supposed to be simple, versatile pieces you can throw on in a pinch? Yeah right, how many of us have actually found those things to fit and flatter not only our body but our lifestyles? Yet in the past year I have found both, and it’s pretty darn exciting. InStyle Essentials sent me one of their shirts last year and while it fit… it justfit. I learned that if you’re not just busty but soft and curvy, it’s good to go up a size to make it truly work. This year they sent me another one in the size up and I have been wearing the heck out of it. And as for the jeans, I adore the Hayden style from NYDJ. The petite is too short, the regular too long, so when I saw the Resin color on clearance and Neiman Marcus for $40 each (see don’t judge a department store by its reputation, deals can be found everywhere!), I bought two pairs of regulars and took them to the tailor to be shortened. Having these “simple” wardrobe pieces hasn’t been simple, but very much worth it!

As an aside, this necklace is more awesome than it looks. You may recall I mentioned it was a good buy at the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale and how I wanted to buy it but was “good” and saved my money. Well a reader I have been emailing with for a while contacted me asking my opinion on some pieces she was considering for the sale including this necklace and she went and bought it for me as a thank you/get well soon gift! Not only is the necklace such an incredibly sweet gesture, but her card with it brought me to tears.

I wrote you a number of years ago because you revolutionized getting dressed for me. You made it expressive and showed me that a curvy woman could be fashionable and classy. I love getting it together to go out, no matter what size I am. Especially having lived in Europe for 9 years, everyone is always dressed up upon stepping out the door. Thanks for helping me give up the sweats and inspiring me on the daily.

Well S, thank YOU for inspiring me to keep blogging and loving it! This necklace, and your whole letter will be items I will treasure. I feel blessed to have connected with you, and with all of you who read Wardrobe Oxygen on a regular basis. THANK YOU!

P.S. I almost called this post I’m My Sister’s Sister because I couldn’t believe I had a picture with one eyebrow up. I didn’t think I could do it, but I did and I look JUST like my sister in that photo!

What I Wore: Pleats Please

Shirt: c/o InStyle Essentials | Belt: Vintage – Belonged to my Mom | Skirt: J. Crew Factory | Bracelet: Rebecca Minkoff | Shoes: Vince Camuto

I gotta say, style rules be damned, I love me a pleated chiffon maxi skirt.  I’m short, I’m overweight, and I don’t care.  I saw this one at J. Crew Factory and felt it was a perfect replacement for my beloved Ann Taylor maxi skirt, which now has a broken zipper, stretched to twice its original size and hasn’t held up well with time.  This new skirt is a 14, and I didn’t have to have the length altered.  I wore this skirt with the brilliant InStyle Essentials shirt (hello shirts sized by bra size!) for a more work-friendly look, but found it also looked fab with a simple gray Old Navy Vintage v-neck tee (see here on Instagram).  I love how skirts like this can dress up and down with ease and are nice and breezy for the upcoming warmer weather.

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Books Make Great Gifts: Kindle Paperwhite Review and Giveaway

I may splurge on a great pair of shoes or bag, but I’m frugal when it comes to electronics. I don’t have my own laptop, I’m still on an iPhone 4, and there’s not a single tablet in the Gary household. When I ride the Metro or travel, I’m always jealous of my fellow travelers with their lightweight, easy to handle Kindles, while I poke yet another innocent commuter in the back with the edge of my hardcover novel. While they hold their Kindles in one hand, easily flipping the virtual page with their thumb while sipping a coffee, I’m a klutzy mess with bag on one shoulder, coffee going cold from being tucked into my armpit so I can hold my heavy hardcover novel with both hands and apologize to the innocent commuter who got stabbed in the back with its cover. I’m awkward, uncomfortable, and seething with jealousy yet I don’t buy myself a Kindle.

Electronics to me are treats, toys, rewards. They’re a perfect holiday present. The other day on the Metro, I gave up trying to read my book (for those who follow me on Instagram, yes I am STILL reading Zelda), stuffed it in my poor stretched-out purse (it’s a darn big book), and considered asking Karl to buy me one for Christmas. While I prefer a true surprise gift, it’s something I not only need, but would really enjoy. Not just for the commute, but when reading in bed after Karl has gone to sleep, taking the train or plane for business, lounging on the beach or beside the pool on vacation. It’s compact, it’s lightweight, the battery lasts for eons, and for something that weighs nearly nothing it can house an entire library.

I guess Amazon was reading my mind that day on the Metro, for they sent me an Amazon Kindle Paperwhite. My Christmas wish has been answered!

The Kindle Paperwhite is pretty darn awesome. A little smaller than my momAgenda but as lightweight as my smartphone; unlike my smartphone it’s easy to read in bright sunlight and doesn’t strain my eyes in the dark. Oh, and unlike using an eBook app on my phone and draining my battery before I get to work, the Kindle Paperwhite has eight weeks of battery life. The Kindle Paperwhite has a couple other cool features that differentiates it from other eReaders:

  • It’s integrated with Goodreads, so you can see what your friends are reading, share highlights, and rate the books you read right from your Kindle.
  • In-line footnotes means I can read them in real-time and not lose my place in the book.
  • Vocabulary Builder makes a list of all the words I look up; I can then use these lists to quiz myself with flashcards and instantly see words in context.
  • Smart Lookup integrates a full dictionary definition with other reference information about a word, character, topic or book via X-Ray and Wikipedia. Instead of the definition of individual words, it comprehends important topics and phrases in a book and finds more appropriate information.
  • For parents like me, you’ll love the new Kindle FreeTime feature on the Kindle Paperwhite. Kindle’s built-in parental controls have been extended to give parents a simple, engaging way to encourage kids to spend more time reading. You can hand-select books for your kids to read and hand out achievement badges when they hit reading milestones. A progress report keeps you updated on total time spent reading, number of words looked up, badges earned and books finished.

I’ve been enjoying my Kindle Paperwhite for my commute, and I even created some reading lists on it. I like being able to organize my books, and this means I can have a reading list just for Emerson’s books – perfect when it takes longer than expected for a table at a restaurant or we’re on vacation and don’t want to cart a dozen books with us. The Kindle Paperwhite is a perfect holiday gift… and one of you will win some fundage towards a Kindle Paperwhite of your own, or give to someone else!

Giveaway
This giveaway is now closed and the winner notified, thank you so much for entering.

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My Favorite Simple Style Tips

Over the years I have learned a few things from trial and error, many from fellow bloggers, and a heck of a lot from you readers. A few style-based lessons I have learned that have improved my life that I thought may also help you:

Apply Dry Shampoo Before Bedtime. Colored dry shampoo can drip and gets on my hands if I forget and scratch my head and “invisible” dry shampoo makes my brown hair look ashy. One of you readers suggested I try applying dry shampoo before bedtime and let it work its way into my roots while I sleep. Brilliant! I prefer Klorane Dry Shampoo because it has a soft mist and subtle smell, but this also works with cheaper brands like Salon Grafix and Suave. I apply, I don’t really rub in so I go to bed looking as though I have gray roots. However when I wake… awesomeness. Enough time for it to really work in, not leave an ashy look, it’s not as sticky/dry feeling and gives that dry/full look I desire.

Buy Leather a Size Too Small. Leather stretches. Even lined leather stretches. My lined pleated leather skirt I almost returned because I bought a 10 and it was skin tight and I couldn’t fully zip it. So a couple days after work, I came home and changed into it. Made dinner, watched TV, and stretched it out enough to zip. Three nights and the skirt was ready to wear to work. Since then, the skirt has grown even more to where it sort of sits on my hips. Same holds true for leather pants – all my size 10 leather pants (that I shall wear again!) are actually 6 and 8 because they stretch and I broke them in with this method.

Buy Boots a Half Size Too Big. A little more room in the boot means you can wear thick cozy socks without an issue. Come winter, I often wear a pair of knee-high socks and then a pair of thick snuggly anklets over them so I have warm tootsies; the extra space gives my feet plenty of room to wiggle with all the layers.

When Line Drying Pants, Hang Upside Down. Fold the legs seam to seam and hang them in this manner, use those hangers with clips, and the waistband won’t stretch out and you end up with a nice clean crease down each leg.

Store Costume Jewelry in Plastic Bags. Fake gold and silver tarnish easily, and don’t shine back up like the real thing. If you store in Ziploc baggies (or save the plastic bags from purchases and shipments) you can see what you have and also make it look nicer longer. This especially holds true for rhinestones, which can dull over time. So you don’t have a pin-worthy jewelry collection, but at least your collection will last more than one season!

Polish Silver Jewelry with Toothpaste. Works so well, gets the job done fast, and you don’t have to dig around under your kitchen sink for the solution or in your junk drawer for the polishing cloth. Paste, not gel. Rub with your fingers, rinse off, dry with a towel or soft cloth.

Get Out Any Stain with Peroxide and Dawn. Here’s the recipe, and yes, it works like a charm on most any fabric, stains old and new.

Wash Your Makeup Brushes Regularly. When is the last time you washed your makeup brushes? I wash mine once a month with baby shampoo, swirl them on the bottom of the sink to get out the suds, and let dry on their side with the brushes hanging over the edge of the counter or back of toilet so they get good air flow. Try to not get the metal part of the brush (where the bristles are attached) wet, but wash regularly for better pigment, more even application, and fewer breakouts.

Coconut Oil is Awesome. I get allergic reactions to metal from time to time, usually on the back of my neck or on my fingers. This especially happens on my hands, and I’ll end up with raw, red, flaky and burning skin. I have tried cortisone, prescription creams, and the only thing that has really worked is coconut oil. Take off my wedding bands, apply some coconut oil, go to bed and wake up with happy skin. I also use it on my hands and elbows as an intense moisturizer, as well as a hair conditioning treatment. My friend also told me it cleared up her Keratosis Pilaris (those little bumps on the back of upper arms). We use coconut oil in place of butter and most oils at home, so it’s easy to stop in the kitchen and scoop some out for beauty use. Google or Pinterest search coconut oil and you will be amazed by all its health, beauty, pet and home benefits!

Don’t Fold Your Bras. It’s so tempting to fold your bras, especially if they have molded cups, but this stretches them out and changes their shape. Lay them flat in your drawer and they will maintain their shape longer and be less likely to have the wires poke out of the fabric.

Stitch Witchery. It’s the bomb. Tear off a strip, stick it in a fallen hem, can even make it work with your hair iron. Good stuff.

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On Cyclists and Style

Yesterday at rush hour, I was pulling out of my parking garage onto a very busy street in the middle of DC. I checked the round mirrors before exiting the garage, slowly eeked out to be sure I didn’t accidentally cross with a pedestrian, and was about two feet from the street, watching a cab go by and was ready to pull out right after him. I hear, “HEY! HEEEEEYYYYY!” and a bike slams into the right front of my car, right where my tire is.

“WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM, LADY? WHAT. IS. YOUR. PROBLEM????? Do you just drive without looking? YOU COULD HAVE KILLED ME! WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM? WHAT. IS. YOUR PROBLEM????” He slams the hood of my car again, rides over to my driver’s side and stares me down. I apologize for not seeing him, but I must admit I am in shock. My tire is past the sidewalk, lined up with a tree surrounded by flowers and a short iron fence. I did look, and I didn’t see him. He again screams, asking me my problem, I again apologize, he rolls his eyes at me and continues on. I pull onto the street and head home.

I think about this interaction the entire ride home. I think about the guy, think about how he wasn’t wearing a helmet but was wearing headphones. How he was riding on the sidewalk and I swear I didn’t see any bicyclist when I looked in the mirrors or after I pulled out and actually looked left and right. That I was in the CBD where bicycles are prohibited on sidewalks. He must have been flying down the sidewalk, and he must not have seen me. I get angry – yes, one should yield to those on the sidewalk, but how am I supposed to account for a bike flying directly into me, I’m not a mind reader, I can’t see the future. I think of the times when I am a pedestrian on that very same sidewalk and have practically been steamrolled by bicycles who go as fast as they would on the road. I wish I thought faster on my feet, had a good comeback for this guy.

As I continue to drive, I calm down. And I am grateful that I am not quick with the comebacks, that all I could think of saying to this man is, “I’m sorry.” I think about how he just looked so shocked, so angry… but also so sad. He never swore at me, he didn’t call me names, he just kept asking me what was my problem. Maybe he had a problem, maybe he had something troublesome or upsetting happen to him and he was lost in his thoughts when it happened. Maybe he was in a rush to get somewhere that was upsetting or stressful, and all this emotion came out on the hood of my car. Maybe it was a good thing, he could yell at me instead of his boss, his mother, his partner.

Or maybe he’s not from DC or unaware of the DC sidewalk laws (honestly, I wasn’t either until a month or so ago). Maybe he was just in a hurry, and got a bit too comfortable riding down that smooth wide sidewalk. Maybe he caught a block that was relatively free of pedestrians and was caught up in the moment of smooth sailing, nice weather, a good song on the iPod, and my Kia ruined it.

I realized… it didn’t matter. I didn’t know his story, and having a snappy comeback wouldn’t improve the situation for either of us. He was scared and angry, I was scared and surprised, and the best thing either of us could do is what we did. He got to vent yet it made him more aware of his surroundings, I got yelled at because honestly you can’t be too aware as a city driver.

What does this have to do with fashion?

Often we judge others for what they wear. Ew, that woman is way too fat to wear that. Did she steal that dress from her daughter’s closet? Is she heading to work or to a clown convention? With that skirt you can tell what she’s looking for tonight. Doesn’t she care what people think?

When I get into judgy judge mode, I always recall an experience when I was working in apparel. A woman came in the store, greasy hair pulled up in a messy ponytail, wearing a blue work shirt and pants with dusty boots. She was ignored by almost every salesperson in the store who assumed she wasn’t a customer with money, just someone wandering the mall. One employee greeted her warmly, and asked if she could assist her that day. Come to find out, this woman in work boots had won the lottery and was looking for a full wardrobe makeover. That employee who didn’t judge a customer by her appearance ended up having a sale in the thousands, and that customer told us that our salesperson was the first person in the entire mall who greeted her and treated her with respect.

You don’t usually know why a person acts, or dresses the way they do. You don’t know their story. Judging, making snarky comments, and whispering to your friends isn’t going to help that person, and it doesn’t help you either. I started this blog back in 2005 with a lot of judgment and strong opinions, but through the years I have gotten to know the women I judged, got to know their stories, their reasoning. And with it, I have worked to transform this blog into a resource, a way to help instead of snark. Sometimes I lose my way, and sometimes I need a slap in the face… or a slap on my car hood to get me back on track.

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Spring Shoe Trends: Style Like a Pump, Looks Like a Sneaker

When writing this post, I could NOT get this jingle out of my head, but with the revised lyrics, “style like a pump, looks like a sneaker.” For it’s true, this spring sneakers have become THE hot shoe and their purpose goes way past the gym or tennis court.

The street sneaker trend started last year with the return of Vans and Chucks and variations of these shoes in fun textures and fabrics. Well the trend has only improved, offering more silhouettes, fabrications, and options to fit most any foot or personal style. While high-tops, lace-ups, and slip-ons are all en vogue, I am only featuring lower-profile shoes in this post because I find them more flattering and more versatile. A low shoe that can be worn without socks (or with Peds or socks like these which hide from view) can be paired with ankle pants, flared jeans (which are also back in style this spring), wide-leg trousers, midi skirts, pencil skirts (yes, seriously!), sundresses, and shorts of every length. This is a great shoe choice for travel as you can spend all day on your feet but still look on trend and style it with most everything in your suitcase.

This is not your gardening sneaker, and this is not your Keds or Tretorns of yore. This is a shoe that can easily replace your sandals on weekends, but also your heels for a night out or your slingbacks with a summer dress. Treat them as well as you would your leather pumps, and realize to have the style and comfort you deserve, you’ll likely have to pay more than expected for athletic shoes. Choosing a unique material, pattern, or metallic is actually more versatile than a neutral; let your shoes this spring be an accent piece like a statement necklace or a colorful silk scarf. Don’t match, complement or contrast with purpose.

2015 spring shoe trends

Consider this your cue to drop the beat-up elastic-backed ballet flats or the frumpy “comfort sandal” for an upgrade that’s high on style but still comfortable. A few styles I’ve been admiring, and how to style them for spring:

1. Aerin ‘Liza’ Slip-on: While available in stone and white calf leather, I chose to feature these shoes in Azalea Multi because it’s proof of what I wrote earlier about a unique pattern can be more versatile than a neutral. Pair with jeans and a Breton tee for the weekend, or style with a midi-length boho sundress for the farmer’s market. Style with white jeans and a silk tank for drinks with the girls, or gray ankle pants and a crisp white shirt for a more relaxed workplace. The perforations keep you cool on a warm day and the ultra-slim profile makes these more like a loafer than a clunky sneaker. Aerin (as in Lauder, granddaughter of Esteé ) makes beautiful footwear that is classic with a touch of elegance and this slip-on is a perfect example of her aesthetic.

2. Chico’s ‘Agatha’ Champagne Sneaker Flats: Sometimes a lace-up is a necessity, and sometimes it’s a sartorial preference. I fell for this lace-up “sneaker flat” because it has such a great sole for pounding the pavement, but an elegant low profile that would look great dressed up. Pair with a tee shirt dress and denim jacket for a day at the museums, style with a midi skirt and a large-brimmed sunhat for an afternoon at the winery or flea market, with ankle jeans and a tee shirt for running errands, with wide-leg ivory trousers and a silk blouse for a creative or more casual workplace. This shoe can easily hide a pair of Peds for additional comfort.

3. bernie mev. ‘Verona’ Slip-on Sneaker: I bought a pair of bernie mev. shoes last spring and adore them. Super cushy insoles, and the body of the shoe is made of elastic strips woven together in a basket pattern. This makes the shoe stretch and give with your foot and movement, but also provides support and a bit of ventilation. I had a hard time choosing which color of this shoe to put in the collage as there are so many great options. While the Leopard and the Black Patent/Silver combos are pretty awesome, the Pewter (pictured) is a good basic that would look great with a black midi skirt or white boyfriend jeans and be comfortable enough for all the sight-seeing on your spring and summer calendar.

4. Rachel Zoe ‘Chandler’ Pointy-toe Sneaker: One of the best variations on last year’s sneaker trend is this year’s elongated, slim, and pointy-toe versions. A big problem with sneakers is that they can make a foot look blocky, which is tough to carry off if you’re petite or have larger legs and ankles. The slimmer and longer toeboxes on sneakers work like pointed-toe pumps and flats to elongate the leg and balance the figure. Available in black leather and ivory (which is more like a champagne) metallic, this pointed-toe sneaker will look amazing paired with any pant or skirt in your wardrobe. This is a statement shoe that will dress up a simple look of boyfriend jeans and a band tee, or look at home peeking out of tropical wool trousers or paired with a shirtdress.

5. Boden Slip-on Trainer: Boden is my go-to when trying to find casual shoes that look great with dresses or a more feminine wardrobe. Available in five different fun prints, this slip-on has a slim profile that will look great with casual cuffed ankle jeans or paired with a floral circle skirt. The Black and White Spot Pony is a brilliant choice; a calfhair finish adds interest, the brown trim ensures the shoe will go with most everything in your wardrobe, and the green elastic adds a bit of whimsy and humor to what could become your go-to shoe for the next two seasons.

6. Dr. Scholl’s ‘Sterling’ Sneaker: The bowling-inspired sneakers are coming back in style (the ‘90s are back baby, whether you like it or not), and it’s a great trend if you need a supportive comfortable shoe that still has style. The retro mix of cream and black will look great with denim or paired with a striped knit dress and can even be styled nicely with cream wide-leg trousers. This is a shoe that can accommodate an orthotic and sock without sacrificing style.

7. Nine West ‘Banter’ Perforated Suede Slip-on: The low profile and choice of suede upper makes this sneaker downright elegant. This is a sneaker you could pair with a silk midi skirt or shirt dress without looking confused, but it can also pair nicely with your favorite denim, shorts, or cotton dress. Pair with a black pantsuit to add a modern touch.

8. Trouvé ‘Evans’ Leather Slip-on: Available in black and a very pale gray, this streamlined leather sneaker is downright elegant in its minimalism. This is a shoe that can replace your Keds, your loafers, and your ballet flats! Gray (pictured above) is more wearable than true white, looking great with everything from a pastel pleated maxi skirt to a pair of khaki Bermudas. The black version is crisp and modern and would look great with everything from a modern art-inspired printed shift dress to vintage denim and a slouchy knit top.

9. Via Spiga ‘Gingi’ Leather Slip-on Sneaker: Available in four leather and suede options, this slip-on sneaker is a great alternative to canvas versions. While the other options available are quite lovely (I’m partial to the black leather), the Red Pepper Suede is my favorite because it’s that perfect pop of red that goes with most everything. Like a bold lip or glossy tomato nails, a hint of red is an elegant addition to a wardrobe of neutrals, a denim-based ensemble, or a look incorporating leopard or another animal print.

Inspired by this post, I ordered the ‘Brenna’ Slip-on sneaker from Banana Republic in Super Silver. Last summer I wore the heck out of my shiny silver Birkenstocks but wish I had something more substantial to wear for Casual Fridays and crowd situations where I wanted my toes protected. I’ll be sure to report back in a future post on what I think of them – they’ll either be featured in an upcoming post or rated a “fail” in a shopping recap!

Shop the Looks Featured in this Post:

Spring has Sprung in my Closet

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Style with Substance: Karen Kane

One of the best parts of blogging is getting to know brands on a different level. Not just a label in a boutique or department store, you learn the story behind the name, their purpose, their history, and sometimes, they become friends.

I heard of Karen Kane before I started blogging, it was a brand I’d see at the mall, just like all the other garments wearing some woman’s name. The alliteration was catchy, I figured it was made up to represent the ideal customer for the brand. But thanks to my blog I got to know that Karen Kane is a real woman who cares for and designs for fellow real women.

karen kane history

A little Karen Kane history, learn more at this link

Karen Kane has been a California Girl since she was 9 years old, attended the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in LA, and after graduation got a job as a pattern maker for a sportswear company. In 1979 Karen and her husband Lonnie begin the clothing brand Karen Kane out of their garage. After just one year the company reaches $1 million in sales. In 1986, their son Michael was born. To combine work and personal life, they brought Michael to work with them every day. Michael is now the Director of Marketing and the super nice person I work with when partnering with the brand (he even “likes” my Facebook page!). Karen and Lonnie still run the business. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to work with a company that sees me as a person, not just a blog, and who understands how Wardrobe Oxygen’s readers are different from another blog with different interests and needs.

karen kane blog love

My favorite Karen Kane outfits that have been featured on Wardrobe Oxygen

Before many other brands, in 1999 Karen Kane launched a Women’s division after hearing requests from their customers. And as of 2013, over 95% of Karen Kane’s collection is manufactured right here in the United States. The clothes are high quality, comfortable, true California style with a touch of femininity and sex appeal. Many of my wardrobe favorites, such as this dress, these pants, this dress, and this jumpsuit (sorry for the bad photo, I’ll have to do an outfit post in it soon, they still have it in stock!) are from Karen Kane.

This season I’m admiring the Studded Wrap Dress, Safari Jacket, Gold Sequin Front Dress, and can’t wait for this spring when Karen Kane will be offering jewelry and hats! I know I will be adding more Karen Kane to my closet this season and for many seasons to come.

I had a Small Business Saturday series before my surgery, but since then have realized how I love many brands who aren’t small but still have heart. I’m changing this series to Style with Substance and will be featuring brands who offer great fashion with great ethics or goals.