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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 Cowboy Boots

I have a cowgirl ball to attend soon. I live in Texas and think I may need to add cowboy boots to my wardrobe. However my style is more classic and ladylike (think Talbots, Ann Taylor) and have a hard time doing “cowboy”. Can you recommend something for this cowgirl ball plus how to add cowboy boots to my wardrobe going forward?

Up north, a ball usually means black tie. However I’ve noticed further south ball can mean a multitude of things. Thanks to your information, I was able to confirm that the type of ball you’re attending is more casual than you’d expect. Think sundresses, jeans with cute tops, denim shirts with skirts. It would be completely acceptable to choose a dress like this one from Talbots, this one from Boden, or this one from Ann Taylor or something already residing in your closet.  If you wish to have it look more “cowgirl” consider topping it with a denim jacket, but honestly from the looks of the pictures while some will go all-out with cowgirl regalia, most seem to wear clothing you could find at your favorite mall retailer, just paired with boots.

When you’re new to an area it can be pretty intimidating to attend such events; thanks to social media it’s easy to search for photos or articles about previous years of the event or similar functions. Even if you don’t have a Twitter account, if the event you are attending has a hashtag, enter it into the search function at the top of twitter.com and all the tweets using that hashtag will show up. Some of them may include photos showing what attendees wore. If there isn’t a specific hashtag, enter the name of the event and likely tweets will show up. Instagram isn’t as easy to search if you don’t have an account; visit http://websta.me/search and put in the hashtag (or try making the event’s name into a hashtag like #XYZcowgirlball) and you should find relevant photos. I admit I do this quite often; it’s a great way to get a feel not just for the attire but the feel of the function and you can be prepared.

As for cowboy boots, it’s actually not that difficult to incorporate them into a classic wardrobe. I’d recommend your first pair to be a single color, simple in design, and the leather color that best matches your current wardrobe (black or brown). There’s no need to go out and buy a whole wardrobe of chambray, eyelet, and bandana prints to wear such pieces. Go slow, and incorporate them at first in the same manner you would a tall pair of boots. Here’s some ideas to get your creative juices flowing:

How to style cowboy boots

Here, I took a classic look of narrow jeans and a crisp white shirt which would often be styled with riding boots, and switched them out for cowboy boots. The white shirt could be topped with a blazer or cardigan and easily replaced with a simple knit top. The point is to show you can easily pair cowboy boots with your regular casual or business casual attire. There’s no need to change your normal accessories because you changed your boots; go ahead and wear your pearls, your sparkly statement necklaces, your delicate chains. The same holds true for your bag; wear a style and shape that fits your personality first.

how to style cowboy boots

A cowboy boot looks great with a skirt with some volume, but that doesn’t mean you need to look like a square dancer. Fit and flare, pleats, gathers, and a-lines nicely balance the weight of a cowboy boot. Like me, you likely already own pieces like this in your wardrobe and paired them before with sandals or nude pumps. A switch to cowboy boots won’t look unusual; if you feel the cowboy boots are too rugged for your look up the femininity quota with a pastel bag and floral necklace. As an FYI, this look is an easy one to dress up for an event; switch out the skirt for a full length version, change the shirt into a crisp white one (or keep the denim if appropriate to the occasion) and have a super sparkly necklace and you’re evening-ready.

how to style cowboy boots

A boot also looks great with a looser shift dress. If you choose it in a drapey fabric like silk or rayon it won’t look too boxy. Even add a longer or heavier necklace to hold down the dress and reduce volume on top. Again, no need to buy a whole new wardrobe of bags and necklaces to accommodate your boots.

how to style cowboy boots

I must say this look was inspired by a woman I saw several years ago in the city. She had a similar outfit but in all greys with some well-worn brown cowboy boots when one would usually wear riding boots. The look was so chic and looked so right. A midi skirt is a great pairing for cowboy boots; the soft gathering gives a bit of volume to balance the footwear without overwhelming the frame. Keeping all the colors similar helps the boots blend into the look. A necklace with a natural element to it helps the boots look purposeful.

Do you wear cowboy boots? What are your recommendations for styling them?

Ask Allie: Boho Chic with a Bust

I would love to add a more boho vibe to my closet but I’m feeling so stumped where to shop- especially given that I’m carrying some additional weight & am big busted naturally. I admire Free People but I’m at serious risk of dislocating joints trying to get in and out of their sizes and I’ve got lingerie more modest than some of their stuff. 😉 Do you have some suggestions on where to shop and/or other bloggers to follow?

how to achieve boho chic with a bust and curves

Oh how I can relate! Especially once the weather warms, my inner Steve Nicks wants to come out and play in floaty layers and vintage-inspired prints. Thing is, many of the popular brands that carry on-trend boho-inspired fashion don’t carry larger sizes and often are not modest enough for everyday wear (let alone cover a supportive bra).

Continue your Admiration and Use it as Inspiration

I too love Free People, and occasionally I do find pieces that fit, but mainly I use the brand as inspiration. I see how they combine prints, note the length of the skirt, the length of the vest, how they’re showing a cold shoulder or a certain type of fabric and look elsewhere to get that same effect. The key to successful boho is to keep it current. Free People really gets this right, knowing to combine a full peasant skirt with a top that is lean, to have sexiness from a bit of back or shoulder instead of full-on cleavage, to have everything a bit slouchy versus baggy or droopy, to always have some modern touch that lets you know this isn’t from the Salvation Army and it is not 1969.

I’m not the biggest Pinterest fan because it can quickly become a timesuck of no-bake cookie recipes and how to make things you don’t need from pallets or popsicle sticks but it is really good for its original purpose – to create inspiration boards. By seeing everything in one place it’s easier to see the details that make boho successful and those details you can bring into your own wardrobe.

One note when pinning – before you pin, ask WHY the picture resonates with you. Is it the beautiful lighting through the model’s hair, or is it the drape of her dress? We can often get caught up in the beauty of a picture and when you’re pinning to build your own wardrobe, such photos may not help in the long run. Such pictures evoke a feeling and create a mood, but in the long run, especially if you don’t look like that model or live a life like the picture, those pictures may make you feel such style is even further from your grasp. I often make my inspiration boards private so they can be less “pretty” but more functional for my life and my wardrobe.

Go for Accent Pieces

boho accessories

Band of Gypsies Kimono, Kendra Scott Necklace, Steve Madden Bag, Capelli of New York Kimono

The boho vibe is all about the details. A simple black dress can go from preppy to punk, classic to crunchy with a quick change of accessories. A fringed kimono, chunky turquoise rings, leather gladiator sandals, wrist of silver bangles, a suede fringed bag… pieces like this can take simpler garments and make them boho chic in an instant.

Accent garments can often be purchased from retailers who may not normally fit your figure or your budget and give the right vibe to your existing wardrobe. Last summer I had a fringed kimono jacket from MINKPINK and wore it often with denim cutoff shorts, Birkenstocks, a white ribbed tank and a bunch of bracelets. The shorts were from Target, the tank J. Jill, but the kimono made the whole thing looks boho and pulled together.

Shop Spring and Summer

Right now is festival season, and every retailer jumps on the bandwagon offering their most hippified pieces, usually styled with a fringe bag and some beaded bracelets. Seriously, your favorite retailer for corporate suits or formalwear come May will be showing crocheted vests, turquoise rings, and peasant skirts. Take advantage of the trend and stock up on boho chic while it’s hot.

Go Outside your Retail Comfort Zone

soft surroundings

Soft Surroundings Country Weekend Sweater, La Paz Dress, Boho Beach Dress, Terrific Tencel Duster

I’m going to tell you a little secret about where I find my boho clothes – Soft Surroundings. Their target market may be older than you and seem to all have lanais to relax on but that doesn’t mean they don’t have some really beautiful (and well made) boho pieces. Use your inspiration as a guide and look past the caftans and shark bite tunics and see what may be just as lovely as Free People. I have a few skirts from Soft Surroundings that I’ll pair with a cut-up band tee or fitted ribbed tank to give them a modern boho vibe. See the pieces as separates instead of ensembles and use your inspiration for styling tips.

eileen fisher

Eileen Fisher Short Sleeve V-neck Maxi, Silk Jumpsuit, Chain Print Sleeveless Jumpsuit, Ikat Square Neck Crop Shell

Eileen Fisher is another brand you may not connect to boho, but pieces on their own can be quite chic and fun. Be sure to check out their collection The Fisher Project, which has some really unique silhouettes and modern ideas.  Again, take all preconceived notions out of your head and shop not seeing the model or the styling of the photo but the actual garment.

modcloth

Modcloth Rooftop Balcony Jumpsuit, Ink Positively Dress, My Antique Fair Lady Dress, Raise the Barbados Dress

Modcloth is known for adorkable cutesy frocks, but they also have a pretty big boho selection. Much is cheap and not everything comes in a decent range of sizes, but if you’re a careful shopper and willing to scroll, you can find some fab pieces at fab prices.

ASOS

ASOS Gypsy Midi Dress, Fringe Dress, Halterneck Crochet Maxi, First & I Paisley Dress

ASOS is one of my favorite summer fashion destinations. While they have their in-house line, they also carry other brands for a real variety of styles, prices, and sizes. They do trends well, and there’s plenty of boho styles to choose from, many in plus, petite, and tall sizes.

boho style with a bust

Sun & Shadow Handkerchief Hem Dress, City Chic ‘Festival Border’ Dress, NIC + ZOE Fringe Cardigan, Hinge Lace Trim Maxi Dress

Department stores are a surprisingly great place for boho chic. While a brand may not be known for boho, they may have a piece or two that give the vibe you desire. I’ve found Tart, Karen Kane, MICHAEL Michael Kors, Topshop, and Sanctuary all have great boho pieces within their collections that come in a broader range of sizes and can accommodate a larger bust and a bra.

Boho Bloggers with Curves

As for blogs, I’d love to hear from you readers. I know many of you love the boho trend, and I bet you know many bloggers who rock this trend.  Who is your favorite?

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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.

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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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.

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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Stacy London and the Westfield Style Tour Come to Maryland

It’s official, I have drank the Stacy London Kool-Aid, and I have to say it’s pretty delicious.

I have been a fan of TLC’s show, What Not to Wear for many years. Unlike many makeover shows, What Not to Wear keeps it real, helping real women with real lives learn how to dress their bodies. Stacy London and Clinton Kelly focus on flattering the figure a woman has, instead of worrying about the latest trends. London doesn’t mince words on the show, though she provides real-life advice on how to dress one’s body as well as one’s lifestyle.

Along with offering advice on What Not to Wear, London and Cindy McLaughlin co-created Style for Hire, an online agency that matches women with trained stylists in their area. Style for Hire began in the DC area and is now available nationwide for consultations, closet audits, personal shopping sessions, and more.

This past weekend (as well as this coming weekend), Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda, Maryland is hosting the Westfield Style Tour. The Westfield Style Tour offers free beauty makeovers, free professional fashion consultations with Style for Hire stylists.  They created a pop-up in Center Court with mannequins showcasing spring fashions, racks of clothing and shoes from mall shops for five-minute fashion consultations, and stylists and makeup artists to provide on-the-spot makeovers.  This past weekend, they also offered an opportunity to meet and get your photo taken with London, who is also the Creative Director for Westfield Style.  

London and her Style for Hire stylists focus on geometry – the shape of your body and the shape of garments, coming up with the perfect flattering equation. They work with you to help shopping be enjoyable, and successful. They begin with a five-minute consultation, will take their clients to the mall to learn how to shop for their bodies, and help them find easy basics from which to grow their wardrobe. Seeing and hearing Stacy London discuss Style for Hire was awesome – I had heard of the program (and know a few talented folks who are part of it), but after hearing her passionately preach the benefits, I knew it was a program worth the money to consider.

I always wonder how a slim woman from the fashion industry like London came to be a woman who really “gets” the issues many find with dressing their bodies. From London’s Wikipedia page I found this quote from her:

“I have been every size in my life. I’ve been smaller than a zero, up through a size 16. I’ve had lots of issues with body image and weight my whole life and it really took a great deal of work to recognize that at all those weights, no matter how I felt, I could still find a dress that made me feel sexy and powerful.”

I was lucky to have an opportunity to interview Stacy London before the Westfield Style Tour, and asked her many of the questions that you readers regularly come to me to answer. Why not get a second opinion from an expert?

And this is where the Kool-Aid was gulped happily. Stacy was so gracious and personable, yet just as intense as you would expect. She looked me in the eye the entire time, and you could feel the passion she has for the subject of style for all women. I wanted to head to a bar with her, buy her a glass of wine, and blather on about hemlines and wrap dresses until last call. I wanted to share my experiences of being so many different sizes, that I too channeled Robert Smith in my high school sartorial choices, and where she got her amazing peeptoe booties.

And now onto your burning questions!

How to Dress a Postpartum Body – Stacy London suggests creating a waist where there isn’t one. While an empire waist can hide a soft tummy, creating one just above the belly and lower than an empire waist is more flattering and will look less like maternity clothes. She, like I, believes in the power of a wrap dress, and recommended that a woman NOT hide under fabric – the more you’re wearing, the bigger you look.

How to Dress when Losing Weight – London says it takes time to lose the weight, and you have to put a similar investment and effort into your wardrobe. It’s important to keep up your wardrobe with your body changes, and purchasing transition pieces are worth the investment.

Best Mall Shops for Women who are Petite and Curvy – London recommends Ann Taylor, LOFT, Banana Republic, and NY & Company for petite women who have curves or aren’t a size 2. She believes these brands have pant silhouettes and styles that flatter curvy frames, even if those curves are on a woman below 5’5” She also feels that J. Crew “does everything right.”

Best Mall Shop for Tall Women – Stacy London says NY & Company has a very generous seam allowance in their pants, so if their pant lengths aren’t long enough it’s easy to have a tailor or seamstress let out the pants to the perfect length.

If you are in the DC area, I encourage you to check out the Westfield Style Tour at Montgomery Mall. For those in other parts of the US, check with your local Westfield mall to see if Stacy London and her team of Style for Hire stylists will be visiting. And if you’re looking for some personalized help on how to shop and dress your figure, check out Style for Hire. Like me, you may find yourself guzzling the Stacy London Kool-Aid and loving it!

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What I Wore: Simple Isn’t Easy

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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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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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What I Wore: Suit Up

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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!

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