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Ask Allie: Machine Washable Business Casual Capsule Wardrobe

I’m 42 and just went back to working in an office after years being a SAHM and then a WAHM. The office is business casual and with three boys at home and a crazy schedule I’d like everything machine washable. I am petite and carry my weight in my hips and rear. I also have foot problems and need to wear comfort brands of shoes (Sofft thanks to your recommendation, Softspots, Naturalizer). I look best in blues and purples. Is it possible to look hip and professional or am I stuck in golf shirts and pleated khakis?

Do you have any suggestions for machine washable clothes that can be worn at a business casual office setting? I’m a pear shaped 40-year-old with small kids at home. I usually wear blacks and browns and creams and fall colors and flat shoes and have a tendency to end up looking either very frumpy or too “hiking casual” a la L.L. Bean catalog.

Oh my dears, please do not fall into the deep dark dank hole of pique golf shirt and wrinkle-free chinos. As for L.L. Bean, I adore the brand, but “hiking casual” is not the effect you likely wish to give off at the office. There are other options that are machine washable, kind to your feet, and will better flatter your figure and your personal style!

capsule wardrobe business casual machine washable

This is a very simple capsule wardrobe for a business casual office and all the pieces are machine washable. I know each of you provided the colors that you prefer to wear; please know that while this collection is brights with primarily black, it can be changed to other tones and I will break those down later in the details. However, I chose this color story to show the two of you the power of going outside your color comfort zone. Choosing a wardrobe of neutrals or sticking to just one or two shades you were told are flattering is safe and easy, but I’ve found that this is often what causes women to quickly tire of their wardrobe and also quickly get into a rut. You’re coming to me for advice, and my advice is to get a bit out of your comfort zone to reassess your personal style. You’re going to have to do a bit of self-analysis to prevent spending a ton and floundering each morning in front of your closet. The capsule wardrobes I provide are guides, not gospel. The work needs to come from you. Buy slow, feel out each piece, each new trend or shade. I’m one who was always told that she was a Winter yet I feel most alive when wearing orange. I can recall in 2000 despising skirts and proclaiming that I would even wear pants for my wedding; 15 years later more than half my wardrobe is skirts and dresses. I’m not saying throw out your entire closet; on the contrary. Just recall why you emailed me, and don’t be afraid to dip your toe into new-to-you trends, colors, silhouettes, and combinations. The results may surprise (and flatter!) you!

This capsule wardrobe for a business casual environment is classic, crisp, and quite versatile. Black and charcoal gray bottoms may seem heavy come the warmer months, but remember you are in an office environment with air conditioning. These colors are versatile, transition well from season to season, you have to worry less about matching shoes and belts, and best of all black and heathered gray and charcoal hide stains. For this capsule, I chose a skirt that skims over the hips and hits right around the knee, providing a flattering length that works well with flat shoes. Even if you’re not comfortable with skirts, one of this length is so easy; pair with a refined knit you already own and BAM! An office outfit. To keep it machine washable, look for matte jersey (has a nubby crepe texture but is stretchy) or ponte knit (heavier than jersey, has the same finish on the front and back of the fabric unlike terry or sweatshirt material, very tight weave). Even if the item says dry clean only, these fabrics can be washed on cold on the gentle cycle and hung to dry without a ton of wrinkles and no shrinkage. The pants featured are also in the ponte knit fabric – ponte has become quite a popular fabric because it’s heavy enough to give a smooth line on the body, is budget-friendly, and as comfortable as yoga pants yet appropriate for the office. One ponte piece often matches another so you can buy pants at one store, a skirt at another, a jacket at another and pull together a suiting collection. As for the pants, they are more traditional of suiting fabric, but unlined (linings often get wonky when machine washed) and of a washable material. I was envisioning my LOFT pants; I have them in every color available and they have been in the wash dozens of time (cold, gentle cycle, line dry) and still look like new.

If you cannot stand black and heathered gray, consider taupe, other shades of gray, cool olive, cream, and heathered brown. True brown is hard to find the right color – too warm and it can quickly look dated. Khaki, even if made of silk can still look like a pair of chinos if you’re not comfortable yet with your personal style. There’s something terribly chic about pairing warm neutral tops with crisp black bottoms, so don’t feel that adopting black pants means you need to build a wardrobe of cool tones or brights.

Even if you’re not used to dresses, you can’t deny how darn EASY they are. When you’re a busy mom, you can’t beat one-piece outfits! Again, I chose ponte and matte jersey because they are refined enough for the office but machine washable. The blue ponte dress is one of those cuts that flatters so many figures; elbow-length sleeves work almost every season of the year, the fit and flare cut flatters your figure, and the knee length is modest without being frumpy. The matte jersey dress has a wrap cut which creates an hourglass shape; the ruched waist whittles you even more and brings the eyes up. This concept could be with a skirt length anywhere from just above the kneecap to the bottom of your calf muscle; the sleeves could be anything from cap sleeves to flutter to long sleeves. There is nothing wrong with purchasing a dress like this in multiples – different cuts, different prints, different lengths. With a switch of accessories such a dress could be worn on the beach boardwalk for a stroll or donned to attend a evening dressy affair.

I’m the queen of the not-so-little black dress but I don’t think black is a good choice when picking a work dress. Especially in a business casual environment, a black dress can look too severe and serious, especially if you’re wearing it on a more regular basis. This is a chance to show your personality, so embrace olive green, pumpkin, plum, cobalt, or whatever color makes you feel great. While I recommend having at least one dress a solid (more versatile and easy to transform/dress up and down with accessories), the other dress can have a print or texture.

The tops all have something in common – an unexpected something. When building a small yet mighty capsule wardrobe, it’s tempting to buy basics. However, you’ll find those pieces with the little bit of interest will be the most worn and the most versatile. The teal top is in matte jersey and has a drape neckline that is modest enough for the office, yet provides interest, makes the piece dress up more easily, and balances a pear shape. The striped top has bracelet-length sleeves, a heavier weight, and a boatneck to keep it from looking like a basic tee shirt. The orange shell has pleating detail and a shirttail hem. And even the cardigan is a bold contrast color in place of basic black or tan. However, except for the striped top (which is still in very basic colors), everything is a solid. A solid is more versatile, and if in a stand-out color, will be a piece you love for many seasons. Prints can look dated quickly, are prone to looking cheap, and are far too memorable. That teal top can be paired with the cropped pants and flats, tucked into the skirt and styled with a wide belt, belted over the gray pants, or tucked into the gray pants and topped with the cardigan. You may have as much versatility with a printed top, but you (and others) may be more aware of the piece being worn so often and grow tired of it.

Shoes can be flat and comfort brands and still have style and elegance. Both shoes featured are by Sofft, my favorite brand for comfort, extended sizes, and classic style. A black flat is a great choice as it goes with pants and skirts; choose a style with structure and an almond (not round or square) toe so it feels graceful and is more office-appropriate. Leather is the most versatile and easiest to polish up if it gets dirty or scuffed. A soft metallic sandal is far more versatile than a neutral, is as leg-extending as natural or tan, but can also dress up more easily. This sandal has a subtle wedge that will likely prove more comfortable than a true flat shoe. If your office doesn’t allow sandals or the weather is cooler, you can switch this shoe out for a Mary Jane or flat also in a soft metallic; the goal is to have a different feel from the black and something that will look appropriate with pants as well as skirts.

Accessories are what gives a capsule wardrobe personal style. Since you both stated you were pear shaped, I chose accessories that highlight the smallest part of your figure and draw attention up. A wide belt is an awesome accessory to have in your closet; I love elastic ones with a leather (or faux) buckle. Consider wearing a touch above your natural waist where your torso is slimmest – this makes you look long and lean. A skinny belt in a contrast color is extremely useful. Belt an untucked top to give a different effect (I have done it here and here), belt a cardigan to highlight your small waist, or give a different effect to dresses. The color doesn’t matter – it’s better to contrast than match. Just be sure if there’s a metal buckle it’s the color you usually wear for your jewelry. For necklaces, I chose ones with a lot of impact, but available at most any pricepoint. A beaded necklace is fun, whimsical, and gives you much bang for your buck. Not only that, you won’t be too upset if one of your little ones accidentally tugs and breaks it. While you can buy your initial necklaces at the mall or big box retailer, keep an eye out for cool pieces when on your travels – it’s a wonderful way to remember your vacations and add a unique and personal touch to your wardrobe.

How to Keep Your Wardrobe Looking Like New

I wrote this post, looking at a huge mound on my dining room floor of clothes that need to go to the dry cleaners. A week ago, the mound was in the laundry room, and the week before that on the floor of my closet. Maybe today I’ll get around to bagging them and putting them in the trunk of my car and hopefully they’ll get to the cleaners before it’s July. I get you with wanting a machine washable work wardrobe. Dry cleaning is difficult, not as environmentally friendly, and costly. Here’s a few tips to keep you dressed for the office without having to go to the cleaners:

  • Invest in a Lingerie Bag. The problem with washing machines isn’t as much the water as it is the wringing and spinning. I have two lingerie bags and use them often; in one I put bras (with the hooks hooked so they don’t snag on anything else) and underwear, the other I put silk and delicate blouses. Using the gentle cycle on the machine, loading halfway but having the water for a full load, and choosing delicate detergent, I find this is a safe way to wash my work blouses. I then hang them on a plastic hanger off the shower curtain rod in the bathroom until they’re dry. If they’re wrinkled, often being hung in the bathroom during a hot steamy shower will do the trick.
  • Spot Clean. You do not need to wash your clothes after every wear. Usually if you let them air out they’re ready to wear a couple more times. I often spot clean clothing so I don’t have to launder or dry clean the entire piece. I always have a Tide To Go pen in my purse and I also have one in my pencil cup on my office desk. At home, I’ll use a little bit of Ivory Soap to lather a spot and then a clean rag or washcloth to dampen and then blot.
  • Go Liquid. Powder laundry detergents may be a better value, but often leave residue when using cold water and the gentle cycle. I use Biokleen for my gentle washes because it rinses clean and doesn’t leave any coating on my clothing. I find it does a better job than specialty detergents like Woolite.
  • Buy Peroxide and Dawn. This is the best stain remover ever. Seriously. While at it, keep an old toothbrush with the two bottles, it works well getting into the weave of ponte, twill, and cotton.
  • Baby Your Wardrobe. I had a high school boyfriend who as soon as he got home off the bus would change out of his Champion sweatshirts and Guess jeans into older rattier sweats and jeans. I found this so weird, but I gotta say he always looked so crisp at school and was the only person I knew who could keep white sweatshirts looking brand new. Take a lesson from this guy and take off your work clothes as soon as you get home. While ponte and matte jersey may be as comfortable as loungewear, babying it will keep it looking nice much longer. Fold sweaters; when placed on hangers they can stretch and get misshapen. I hang pants upside down, matching up seams and either folding over a bar or clipping to a hanger; this helps keep a crisp leg and a bit of a crease down the front, elongating the leg. Be careful when hanging so nothing gets creased or mushed.

Ask Allie: Denim-based Office Capsule Wardrobe

I really like the capsule wardrobe posts that you have been doing. Would you consider doing one for a jeans work environment? Our company recently switched policies to allow casual dress everyday, as long as the jeans are dressier.

My last three places of employment have allowed jeans as long as they were dressed up. This post I wrote about work-appropriate denim is a great start in figuring out which jeans are considered business casual, and which are best left for weekends and evenings. For a denim-based capsule wardrobe, I recommend at least three different silhouettes and washes. For this capsule, I chose a dark wash of a traditional cut (straight, bootcut, etc.), a denim trouser which is a bit more refined and usually has a wider leg, and then a novelty piece. Depending on your personal style, it could be a subtle brocade print, corduroy, velour, or even a dark color like oxblood, black, or olive green. With all your work jeans, narrow and slim is acceptable with longer tops but skin tight is never appropriate.

Twenty Possible Combinations:


The best way to make jeans versatile is to have a variety of footwear. Narrow jeans look drastically different with flats than they do tucked into tall boots. Since you wrote in your email that you recently had a baby, I chose shoes that are more comfortable – a low-heeled boot, flat with arch support (I actually own these very flats from Ecco and find them extremely comfortable and cute), a wedge which is easier to wear than a standard heel.

Accessories can really transform an outfit – a tunic sweater is slouchy cool alone, streamlined when cinched with a wide belt. Thinking of my own wardrobe, I added a patterned skinny belt and a statement-making wide belt because I find these two types of belts to be the most versatile and best at transforming wardrobe staples. Scarves give denim a chic vibe – a patterned silk scarf with anything from a tank and cardigan to a striped tee makes a look instantly sophisticated, a lightweight pashmina adds interest and is a makeshift shawl in drafty offices.

Also since you said you recently had a baby, I chose fabrics and silhouettes that have stretch, are comfortable, and can look polished without being super fitted and structured. These pieces will also work if you lose any weight in the next couple of months – you can tuck in, belt, and adjust as your body changes. I stuck with solid colors because they are more versatile and less memorable. I used a lot of neutrals with pops of extreme brights, which always look so great next to denim.

When wearing jeans, it’s more important to think about what is on top. While one could carry off a simple knit top with pants or a skirt, with jeans such a top could easily veer into cleaning-out-the-garage territory. Soft-structured jackets, sweater coats, and cardigans help make jeans look polished as well as making more narrow silhouettes office-appropriate. All of these pieces would easily work with pants and skirts as well if there are days where you need to dress up for a visit from corporate or clients.

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What is Business Casual?

I walk the halls of my office building, observe the gaggle of women smoking in the courtyard, the ladies on the subway and in the line at Chipotle for lunch and I have come to the conclusion:

WE DON’T KNOW WHAT BUSINESS CASUAL IS!

I think this term was created by a man. A man who can just change from suit pants to chinos, a tie to a polo shirt and look appropriate. Oh how easy it is to be a man – three pairs of pants, five shirts, a pair of brown Rockports and you’re done. Yes there are the more sassy men who don’t wear athletic socks, iron their shirts and own more than one pair of shoes made in the current millennium. But women, we have it tough. What shoes are acceptable? How short is too short? How sleeveless is too sleeveless? What crosses the line into “quick trip to the grocery store attire?”

Early in my career I was told by a supervisor that I admired and desired to emulate that one should “not dress for the position he has but the position he aspires to have.” This caused me to have some idol worship purchasing similar suits, necklaces and even glasses as this supervisor. After getting over my professional crush, I realized that her motto held true. If you dress as a person of respect, you will be given that respect. If you dress as though you just rolled out of bed, no matter your intelligence or qualifications, you will never gain the same amount of respect by your colleagues. No matter how hard we try to believe that looks do not matter, THEY DO. What separates you from your intellectual equals is often the superficial: the firm handshake, the confident air, the better resume paper and the attire you chose.

So you have landed the job and your company says that the attire is Business Casual. How do you dress on that first day in the office? And how do you maintain a professional demeanor without feeling stuffed into suits and pinched into heels?

Better Too Much Than Too Little
It’s better to be safe on your first day and dress a bit nicer. This shows that you respect your new position and company. You don’t want to arrive in a suit and hose, but if you are torn between the chino capris or the lined suiting trousers, go with the latter.

Suggestions for Outfits:

  • Tailored button-down shirt and lined trousers with boots, mules or pumps. The shirt should meet in the middle. Do a sit-down check to ensure it doesn’t gape open. If it does, put a safety pin inside where it cannot be seen, but keeps the clothing secure. Pants should not be tight. If they hug the top of the bum, that’s not bad. If they hug the sides and bottom, they are best kept for nights out with the girls. As for shoes, be safe and wear a closed-toe pair. Ensure they are not scuffed, torn or run-down.
  • Sweater or twinset with lined trousers or skirt. Keep the color a bit more subtle – not always the best to start your career in a lime green silk scoop neck. You will be forever remembered by your sweater, not your attributes. As with the above outfit suggestion, try to keep the clothes tailored but not tight. Again, consider a closed-toe shoe. Your skirt should come just above the knee or longer. Miniskirts are not work appropriate, no matter how casual the atmosphere. It is perfectly acceptable to consider that Business Casual equals No Stockings. If you prefer them, it’s is totally fine, but not required.
  • More causal pants (denim trousers, chinos or stretch twill) with a shell and blazer. Again, the clothes should skim, not cling to the body. The shell can have a v or scoop neck, but should not show a lot of cleavage. Again, stay conservative with closed-toe shoes. A pair of kitten heel mules are great for the warmer months – they look adorable with jeans, capris and skirts and don’t require hosiery.

I’m Established, Now What?
So you have felt out the environment, you have seen people wear khakis, cropped pants, sleeveless tops and open-toed shoes without a blink of an eye. How do you know what in your closet is appropriate and what should be left for the weekend?

No-Nos No Matter the Office Culture:

  • Spaghetti straps (unless under a jacket/cardigan and the cover is NEVER removed)
  • Mini skirts
  • Torn denim
  • Foam flip flops (there are many leather versions that are just as comfy but more professional)
  • Tight clothing
  • Low-cut tops (if one can see more than ½” of a cleavage line, the top is too low. Consider changing or donning a camisole under the top)
  • Backless tops
  • Pants and skirts that cling to your rear (we all have heard our share about office romances, but office one night stands are totally distasteful)
  • Panty Lines (if they can be seen, it’s usually because your clothes are too tight)
  • Clothing made of terry, fleece or sweatshirt material
  • Casual tee shirts (especially with funny slogans)
  • Yoga pants, hoodies, athletic tunics, leggings (this is an office, not a gym)
  • Gym sneakers (some offices accept trendy tennis like Pumas, but Nikes and New Balances are never appropriate)
  • Low rise and short tops. It is a safe bet to keep your torso under wraps. Even when you bend over or sit, your entire back (and backside) should be under wraps. When you stretch to get a book off a shelf, your tummy should be completely covered.

Keep in mind that a client, a member of upper management or even a potential recruiter could see you, no matter the day or time. The one day you come to work in yoga pants and flops will be the day that there is an unexpected visit from the corporate office. And if your office mates are wearing the above, consider how they are seen by the rest of the team. Are they respected as much as the woman in the crisp blazer and suiting trousers?

How to Stay Comfy and Professional:
Stretch. Stretch is key. For blazers, consider ones that are unlined and have at least 5% Lycra. They will stretch with you and keep their shape throughout the day. Same with pants – consider ones with a bit of stretch, they will feel far more comfy and look better after eight hours sitting in a chair. As for tops, a button-down with stretch will move with you, reducing gapping at the bust and creases on the back and elbows. Knit tops are great and comfy on those days where you don’t feel that hot. Sweaters in merino wool, cotton/lycra blend and cashmere blends wear well, maintain their shape and color after multiple washings and look professional. With shirts, consider a tailored shape. Your boyfriend’s wool rollneck from J. Crew that hits to your knees is NOT work appropriate, nor is that cotton sweater you have had since high school that is faded, covered with fuzz balls and 2” too short on the sleeves.

Jeans and Work
My job allows jeans on all days. Those of us in middle management keep them for Fridays, and keep them clean. Those who wear jeans are usually those in the types of positions where they do a lot of carrying of items or the type that hole up in their cubicle 12 hours a day.

When the jeans do make it to work, keep them on the darker side. The lighter the jean, the more casual it looks. Refrain from holes, frayed hems or very low rises. Jeans can look professional with a nice blazer and shell, a tailored shirt or a twinset. Jeans with Lycra often look more refined.

Basics for a Business Casual Wardrobe:

  • Twinsets in cotton, cashmere or merino wool blends (a cardigan and sleeveless higher necked or short sleeved any neckline shell are the most versatile – you can remove the top layer without looking indecent).
  • Denim trousers – a safe and sophisticated alternative to jeans. When you hang them or get them dry cleaned, have them pressed to create a front crease – this will distinguish them from their dungaree relatives.
  • Lined trousers with 5% Lycra – buy them in black, charcoal or brown and a lighter color (camel, ivory, khaki). These should be a weight heavy enough to give a good drape, but light enough that can transition from season to season effortlessly.
  • Heavier weight tailored cropped trousers – I find black to be the most professional looking. In warmer months with knits and oxfords with slides or mules, in cooler months with a blazer or turtleneck and ballet flats for a beatnik vibe.
  • Stretchy unlined blazers – I have a khaki twill and a denim one. I wear these every week with jeans, skirts, cropped pants, trousers and even dresses.
  • V-neck and crewneck sweaters in lightweight fabrics such as cotton, merino and silk/cashmere. Consider your favorite colors, nothing is nicer than a cheerful color on a dreary Monday.
  • A black pantsuit – always cleaned and pressed for those last-minute client lunches or corporate visits. the pieces can be worn separately for variety and a less severe look, but should always be cleaned at the same time to maintain a consistent color and wear level.
  • Black ankle boots – can be worn year round and look great with jeans, pants and suits. Also weekend appropriate!
  • Cotton button-down shirts with at least 5% Lycra – nothing looks smarter than a crisp shirt and a pair of pressed flat-front trousers. These look nice with skirts and cropped pants too. Solids are less memorable than prints and stripes and are easier to wear week after week without feeling like a rerun.
  • Sleeveless shells with a conservative neckline – if skin is showing on the arms, it shouldn’t show on the collarbone. Sleeveless shells can be worn under cardigans or jackets in the colder months, and be worn alone without looking risqué come summer.
  • Two or three interesting necklaces – I know your boyfriend bought you that thin gold chain with the diamond studded heart pendant and you love it so much, but really it gets lost in the outfit. A couple chunky necklaces will add pizzazz and personality to your basic outfit. Target has a wonderful accessory department where you can get some fun beads or pendants at a low price. Chico’s also has some really terrific and unique pieces.
  • Black pumps – it doesn’t matter the heel height, get what is comfortable but looks polished. These can be worn with dresses, skirts, pants, suits and even long enough jeans. Consider insoles so they are comfy for a longer period of time.

Summer Capsule Work Wardrobe – Business Casual with Color

Living in the hot and humid DC area, I understand the difficulty of appearing polished and professional when the temperatures rise. Though it’s tempting to throw your hair in a quick ponytail and wear the skimpiest and lightest weight clothing in our closet, it’s important to dress appropriately for the workplace, no matter the weather. Many of you have emailed lately asking how to dress for the weather, some of you work in creative fields, some in business casual environments, and many of you are teachers. Below is a sample summer capsule wardrobe for the workplace that is high on color and personality.

Summer capsule wardrobe - Business casual with color and personality, perfect for teachers! By Wardrobe OxygenShop the Capsule Wardrobe:

Fabric choice matters when it comes to creating a summer capsule wardrobe. Plenty of retailers will have synthetic and jersey knits filling the sales floor, but such fabrics are not comfortable on a hot or humid day. They’re also more likely to cling, and quicker to look cheap or too casual for the workplace. Seek out cotton, linen blends, silk and silk blends, and tencel for fabrics that breathe and don’t cling when the temps rise.

Shop Pants and Skirts:

Ankle and slightly cropped pants give a bit more airflow than traditional trousers and are available in cotton, twill, and other summery fabrics. While it’s tempting to stick to neutrals, bright colors and prints are surprisingly versatile. A pair of orange or red pants will go great with basic black or white, be a great contrast to denim and neutrals like khaki and olive, and are gorgeous when paired with other colors like turquoise, coral, and violet. Treat a pattern as a neutral; the green printed pants featured would work well with the chambray shirt or black silk shell, but also would complement the melon-colored wrap top or the aqua silk tee. Stripes are brilliant for pattern-mixing and would also go with these pants; to tone it down consider adding a black or white blazer or cardigan. Culottes of all widths and lengths are back in style and really great for hot days; treat them like a midi skirt and pair with flats or pointed toe low heels for a feminine vibe. Fuller skirts of fabrics with body (cotton, sateen, twill, ponte) will stand away from the body giving you air flow and comfort on hot days; a hem ending at the top of the knee to mid-calf will provide modesty while still keeping you cool. Again, a print can often be more versatile than a neutral solid; this orange print skirt would look great with the striped top, a simple tank of any color and the dotted cardigan, the chambray shirt, the aqua silk tee, and even tucking in the melon-colored top for a monoblocking effect.

Shop Dresses:

Dresses are brilliant in the summer for both ease and comfort. Again, choose fabrics that have some body so they don’t cling to the body and provide a breeze. Dresses that provide focus at the waist automatically look more polished than shift or tee-shirt style dresses; if you choose cotton or breathable fabrics it won’t be much hotter. A dress with a subtle fit and flare shape looks equally great on the weekend with a pair of flat sandals as it does to a day wedding with heels; a fun print distracts from red faces and dripping necks. A shirtdress is a classic style that will be flattering for summers to come; a bright color keeps it from looking like a uniform. Switch up belts (or tie a scarf at the waist) to change the look. While matte jersey is a synthetic knit, it doesn’t cling like traditional jersey and doesn’t wrinkle making it a good choice for summer. A simple dress in a graphic print provides impact with simple one-piece dressing; switch out the self-belt for a different one in your closet to give a frock a new look.  Be sure dresses have necklines and backs appropriate for the workplace; if you need a special bra it’s likely exposing too much.

Shop Tops:

With tops, look for ones that can have two lives. All of these tops can look great untucked or tucked in, adding variety. Tuck the denim shirt into the skirt, tie it at the waist of the culottes, or wear untucked over the ankle pants. Tops are where solids are often more versatile and can dress up more easily; the turquoise silk tee with the printed pants is perfect for a basic day at the office but if you add a black blazer the outfit is suddenly appropriate for a client meeting.

Shop Cardigans and Blazers:

No matter the temperature, it’s good to have at least one layering piece in your wardrobe for too-strong air conditioning, transition weather, and when you need a bit more coverage. For this capsule wardrobe I added a black and white polka-dot cardigan, but this could be switched out for a simpler cardigan in a neutral or signature color, or a blazer. It’s not a bad idea to keep such an item at your workplace to slip on when unexpected situations arise.

Shop Accessories:

Summer is a great time to get more creative with your accessories. One or two statement necklaces in the focal colors of your wardrobe can truly pull the entire capsule together. To minimize the number of accessories you need, consider sticking to one color metal to keep things cohesive and styling simpler. Instead of a bag to match your shoes, consider a bold signature color that will coordinate with everything in your closet. With shoes, you don’t need a lot. For this capsule I chose a gold flat sandal and a black patent kitten heel; both work with all the skirts and dresses and give completely different effects. A skinny black patent belt can offer a layer of polish, whether it’s through the beltloops of ankle pants with a tucked in blouse, or worn at the waistband of the skirt. Finally, consider a sunglasses upgrade this season; a pair of designer frames in a classic silhouette shows you’re aware of trends yet appreciate quality. If treated well, such sunglasses will provide you with many years of sun protection with style.

Plus Size Capsule Wardrobe – Business Casual with Color

I’ve been a SAHM for seven years to three great kids while hopping across the globe as a military wife, but I’m ready to head back to work and will hopefully go back to teaching high school English this fall. My wardrobe is VERY bare bones and consists of cheap, well-worn clothes. I really don’t like all the dark clothes that so often plague plus size work attire and I would love a wardrobe of bright, fun clothes that are appropriate for work. At 36, I’m finally giving myself permission to buy a real wardrobe and a capsule wardrobe would be ideal for me. Do you have any ideas on where I can start?

I have no idea why so many plus size retailers feel that their customers want dark dreary clothing. It seems they either go the black and bland route, or the other direction with garish polyester prints or sexy silhouettes inappropriate for the workplace. Luckily, there’s a lot of new plus size retailers on the scene who get that women of every size and shape want fun and flattering fashion in cheerful colors. Below is a sample capsule wardrobe for a plus size professional in a business casual setting and some tips on where to shop for colorful and chic plus size fashion.

plus size capsule wardrobe business casual work fashion with colorWhen dressing for the workplace, especially in an educational setting, color is great. However, it’s good to have a couple neutrals mixed in to balance the brights and keep you from looking like a cartoon. For this capsule wardrobe, I chose black and black and white prints to temper the bold colors. Black could be traded out for khaki, gray, navy, or olive though black (and you already know from the limited color selection you’ve encountered) is the easiest to find in plus sizes and works year-round. Having a few staples in a neutral – a cardigan, a pair of well-fitting trousers, a skirt that hits at least the knee and is easy to move in, a shell or blouse… these can really extend your colorful wardrobe.

Shop Jackets and Cardigans:

When looking to have a varied wardrobe with fewer pieces, toppers are tops. While blazers may feel too stuffy for the classroom, when paired with cropped pants or slipped over a dress it can be chic and give you a different silhouette. The blazer featured has a single closure and shorter length making it work nicely over fit and flare dresses or fuller skirts while also looking great with trousers, pencil skirts, and even a pair of jeans on Casual Friday. Cardigans are a great way to transform the look of tops and dresses and useful when you work in an overly-air conditioned environment. A solid color that complements your capsule wardrobe is a great choice, but I also encourage you to consider a print. Again, a black and white print is a great complement to bold colors and when you choose a classic print like animal, polka dots, or stripes it is a print that mixes nicely with other patterns like florals, plaids, and watercolors.

Shop Dresses:

Dresses are easy one-piece dressing, but you need to consider professionalism along with personal style and figure flattery. When collecting dresses for this post I was floored by how many dresses are deemed “work appropriate” by plus size retailers yet were far more appropriate for a third date to a nightclub. No matter your figure or place of work, it’s never appropriate to have large cutouts, any stomach or lower back displayed, skirts so tight you can see where your legs join your body, the indentation of your belly button, or the separate cheeks of your rear; a neckline that shows more than a small portion of cleavage, or any garment that displays your underpinnings. If in doubt, size up and take to a tailor to nip and tuck for a great fit. Wrap dresses are a great choice; consider a demi-cami for modesty in the workplace. Fit and flare dresses are flattering and look great topped with a jacket or cardigan. Lined or double-layer dresses smooth the figure and usually look more expensive. Especially when working with students and being active, look for skirts that hit at the knee or lower.

Shop Skirts and Pants:

When it comes to skirts and pants, balance is important. It’s tempting to wear loose clothes when you’re larger but all that does is make you look sloppy. A straight, a-line, or pencil skirt can be quite flattering with a tucked-in blouse or fit and flare top. If a tucked-in top makes you feel awkward, top with a cardigan for a bit of coverage. Ankle pants that are straight or slightly fitted are a great addition to a capsule wardrobe; they make blazers look trendy, make tunics and floaty tops look hip, and are quite flattering when paired with pointed-toe heels or even flats. A pair of basic trousers are a must; pair with a printed top for those days where you aren’t up to creating a creative look or wear with a blazer for that assembly or conference. Also consider a ponte or scuba knit skirt that is a bit flippy or full and hits below the knee; paired with a knit top and cardigan this is a great look for the classroom and comfortable to boot.

Shop Tops and Blouses:

When it comes to shells and tops, this is where you can really show your personality. Fun prints, bold stripes, interesting necklines, ruffles and pleats and bows oh my! Again, don’t be afraid to consider tops that fit for they will actually be more flattering than dressing in blousy and oversized pieces. As with the dresses, consider appropriateness for the office. Watch necklines, steer clear of too much sparkle or bedazzlement, cut-outs, and “cold shoulder” tops. Sometimes it’s worth it to spend a bit more for these tops to get higher quality materials that drape better, prints that are more elegant, and better fit. In a business casual setting, you can get away with jersey and synthetic knit tops, but it still is important for these more casual pieces to fit well and be in great condition.  I love a printed

As for retailers, there’s far more color online than in stores. As a previous retail merchandiser, selection in brick and mortar stores is chosen by the mall or shop estimated demographic. When I worked in Annapolis, my store received more dresses, pastel colors, and neutrals than when I worked in Wheaton, Maryland where I received every color under the rainbow and more “going out” tops and dresses. Online, shops cater to all demographics and you can find better selection. There’s also a lot of great online-only plus size retailers who embrace color. Check out ELOQUII – their Kady Pant collection alone will thrill you with the rainbow of work-friendly options. Hey Gorgeous! sells a ton of fantastic plus size brands like Carmakoma, MYNT 1792, and ABS by Allen Schwartz that have color and work-friendly silhouettes. Karen Kane is a great choice for color, print, and comfort with style. The JONES Studio collection at Dress Barn is great for plus size work fashion with color. Nordstrom has a really fantastic plus size department and carries many of the previously mentioned brands plus many more.

What I Wore: Business Casual

Jacket: Vince Camuto (similar) | Tee: c/o Six Twenty | Jeans: NYDJ | Shoes: Nine West “Flax” | Necklace: c/o Stella and Dot | Watch: c/o WatchCo | Bracelet: Nordstrom (similar)

September 22nd is National Business Women’s Day and as a women-owned business, Six Twenty wants to celebrate with a campaign around female entrepreneurs and business women they admire. I was chosen by them as a female business owner and entrepreneur to showcase Six Twenty’s collection and celebrate this day.

Owned by Angeli Tarsadia Reddy who started the company with the mission to create the highest quality clothing at ridiculously good prices, Six Twenty’s mission is to refine the process and pricing behind the amazing basics we all wear to death. By existing solely online, Six Twenty eliminates the traditional retail markup and brings you their own designer quality essentials from the factory straight to your doorstep. Six Twenty let me choose one of their Classix designs, and I decided to try their black scoop tee. As a woman with curves, I find such a shirt extremely hard to fit and flatter.

I was a bit nervous since the shirts only go up to size L, but they reassured me that it would fit and flatter. And both it does, seriously this shirt is AMAZING. While it looks like a regular tee shirt, the fabric is really lovely – a dense knit that is silky yet matte, stretchy yet doesn’t cling. No stretching across my bust, no sleeves riding up into my armpits, no clinging to my torso, yet it doesn’t look frumpy or square. The shirt has a back vertical seam which I think helps achieve the fabulous fit. The length is also great – I can wear untucked without it hanging to my knees or showing my belly when I raise my hands yet can comfortably tuck in as well. It’s awesome when a chance meeting like this helps me find a new favorite brand!

I chose to style this tee in a business casual look – crisp dark jeans, ivory blazer, classic jewelry and a pop of interest with the shoes. This look would be great on Friday or for a more casual networking event or meal on a business trip.

Stay tuned on my Twitter and Facebook channels, where I will be sharing more about this awesome promotion and the other amazing women part of this campaign!

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Ask Allie: Capsule Wardrobe for Business Travel

I loved your SAHM capsule – any chance of you doing something similar for the Road Warrior? I have worked with the concept but still am missing a few pieces that I can’t for the life of me figure out what they are.

I got a new job in November that will have me traveling quite a bit this spring. I will visit client sites, and will be away from home for up to three weeks at a time. I haven’t had to travel for work before more than a couple days or a conference and have no clue how to do this. My coworker is a man and he says he keeps his suitcase always packed and ready to go, how does a woman make three weeks of professional clothing fit in one carry on suitcase? HELP!

In my past career lives, I did travel for business. While I was never away for more than a week, I often saw the same clients multiple times in a month, and often only had a week between trips before I was again on the road. It may seem daunting to look professional and pack smart, but it is possible. These days professional attire is found with Lycra, spandex, and fabric blends that make it comfortable and travel-friendly. Matte jersey, stretch wool, ponte knit, crepe, and gabardine can be your friend when you are a road warrior. I made a sample capsule wardrobe based upon my experiences with business travel. Only the suit in this capsule is high-maintenance fabric; pack wrapped in dry cleaning bags to prevent wrinkles, hang up as soon as you arrive and it should be okay for the big presentation. The rest are work-appropriate separates that all have some sort of stretch to keep them looking great right off the plane or train or out of the suitcase.

Over 30 outfits with only 14 garments (details):

 

Lots of ponte separates. I’m a ponte addict, I can’t deny it. Heavyweight knit that works year-round, doesn’t wrinkle, and can be machine washed. Pretty spectacular. On top of that, it looks refined enough for the workplace. In this capsule I have black ponte pants, an ivory ponte blazer, black ponte dress, black ponte top, and gray ponte skirt. Since they are the same fabric, they mix and match with ease and the combinations looks more like ensembles. Ponte is also great when you have to fly or take the train and immediately head to a business meeting – you won’t be full of wrinkles and will be comfortable sitting for long spans of time.

Strategic pops of color. While it seems smart to pack an entire suitcase of neutrals, that can look pretty boring pretty quickly. Choosing suit shells and soft jackets or cardigans in colors will stretch your neutral capsule further. Mix two for a bold look, or just have one piece to give a neutral you already wore a new life. The choice of color is dependant on your personal style and profession. For more conservative fields, consider softer or more traditional hues; if you’re in a creative field you can amp up the color and even add more to the capsule.

Stick to solids. While prints can break up a wardrobe monotony, they are also so incredibly memorable that you can’t easily wear the same print twice with a client. If you are in a more casual or creative field, you can consider a print like leopard for some accessories, but having solids for your Road Warrior wardrobe means you can likely wear the same garment twice in a week without a client being the wiser.

Choose pieces that can dress up and down. While you may be meeting with clients and needing a professional wardrobe, not every moment of your day is suit-worthy. Maybe you’re meeting colleagues for happy hour, or your client is taking you to a baseball game. Be ready without having to stuff a suitcase with a casual wardrobe. A striped tee with a flattering neckline and fabric can be dressed up under a suit jacket, or paired with jeans and flats for a barbecue or sporting event. Pair the jeans with the cardigan for a casual meal, or with the ivory blazer (maybe tuck a band tee shirt or simple tank into your suitcase) or just a sweater shell with pashmina or statement necklace for drinks at a neighborhood bar.

As for dressing up, a ponte or crepe dress can work for the office or for a cocktail party. The black dress I featured could work with a blazer or cardigan by day and with red lips and mascara will make it perfect for an evening affair. Use the pashmina as an evening wrap.

Pack smart accessories. While I am all for having a large accessory collection for changing the look of wardrobe staples, when you’re a Road Warrior you need to keep your wardrobe to a minimum and keep it super easy. A statement necklace that isn’t too sparkly or too arts and crafty can jazz up a classic suit, or dress up a work dress to look cocktail appropriate. A pashmina can be your travel blanket on the plane, add interest to a simple dress or ensemble, be your evening wrap for a cocktail party, and ward off chill in overly air-conditioned office buildings. If you know you will be there longer, consider wearing tall boots on the trip for they will give a completely different look to skirts, dresses, jeans and narrow pants. Finally, choose a structured and polished bag to be your purse, your carryon bag, as well as your work tote. Find one that can hold both your laptop as well as a bottle of water and copy of InStyle for the flight.

Pack repair and care supplies. Stitch Witchery, a small sewing kit, bar of Ivory soap or a small bottle of laundry detergent, Shout Wipes or Tide-to-Go pen, safety pins, a black Sharpie (covers snags in tights and fabric, tears in leather, etc.), lint remover. When I used to travel on business, I had my toiletries kit already packed and ready to go with mini versions of all my beauty products, and I also had an emergency outfit kit in a small bag with these essentials. Both stayed in my suitcase when I was home, only removed to replace that which ran out. This way, I never forgot them and was already ready for any situation (or any stain). Most hotels have a shine cloth for shoes and an iron to get out wrinkles and fuse Stitch Witchery.

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Ask Allie: Band Tees and Business Casual

I work in a corporate office as a call center representative. My office has a business casual dress code, but we took the last two months off and were just casual. I was very excited about this, because I can wear t-shirts – specifically band t-shirts. Alas, casual months is coming to an end. Is there a way to incorporate band t-shirts in a business casual setting?

Guessing by what you shared with me, your office may have a business casual dress code, but they are pretty relaxed in regard to how that code can be translated and do allow such tops. For many offices, a band tee shirt, no matter how awesome looking, is not appropriate. I have worked in offices that specifically state no crew tee shirts, and others where they ask us to use discretion.

At my current office, while I do push the sartorial boundaries on occasion, I have only worn band tee shirts a couple times (seen here and here). My position requires the occasional client meeting, I am in management, and there’s always clients visiting the office so I choose to not wear such shirts.

When trying to incorporate a tee shirt into a business casual outfit, it’s important to choose one that has a more refined silhouette (a classic tee that fits well or one of the modern tees with a trendy fitted or slouchy silhouette) and is in good condition (no faded black or holes). It’s also important to think about what is on the shirt – the workplace is not where you should wear words or images portraying or referencing sex, drugs, alcohol, obscenities, offensive language, or violence. It’s also important that the shirt isn’t the focal point. You are at work, not a concert. Consider a band tee shirt in the same way you would a camisole – it will pull a look together and add pizazz, but it won’t be the star of the show. Here’s a few ways to incorporate a band tee shirt into a creative business casual office environment:

Shop Similar Pieces: Jacket | Skirt | Tee | Booties | Necklace

Crisp Black: With a monochromatic ensemble, it’s easier to incorporate an untraditional piece. With this look, I chose a blazer with white piping so it would pick up the print of the tee and make it look purposeful and more a print than a logo. A simple black pencil skirt keeps the look professional. Black leather booties continue the rocker vibe while still being office-friendly, a sparkly statement necklace pulls together the look and keeps it from being too severe.

Shop Similar Pieces: Blazer | Jeans | Tee | Bracelet | Shoes

Fab Friday: Fridays are usually more casual than the rest of the week, and a great time to try out a band tee shirt in your casual or creative workplace. The key is to keep the rest of the look polished. Paired with crisp dark jeans in a slim but not tight silhouette, the tee shirt doesn’t look as bummy. Topped with a tux-inspired blazer with strong lines, the tee shirt is an accent and not the focal point. Pointed-toe flats and a feminine bracelet keep the look from looking too rock-n-roll and is a fun contrast to the band you are featuring.

Shop Similar Pieces: Shrug | Skirt | Tee | Necklace | Shoes

Feminine Flair: Another trick to incorporating an nontraditional workplace piece is to pair it with contrasting garments. A rock tee shirt is casual, tough, and a bit masculine. By pairing it with a full midi skirt, kitten heels, and a pearl necklace, the tee shirt is upgraded and seems more appropriate for the office. A shrug will tone down the tee shirt without covering up the print. The neutral color palette is purposeful – printed shoes or a brighter skirt would veer into Cyndi Lauper territory, subtle shades keep the look elegant and more professional.

Finally, I cannot stress it enough.  If you are unsure whether a band tee shirt is appropriate at your office, it likely isn’t.  It is never worth it to sacrifice your position and credibility for a fashion moment.  Unless you work in a creative, laid-back, or eclectic work environment, it may be best to save such shirts and these types of ensembles for weekends and after office hours.

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Ask Allie: Business Casual with Steel Toe Boots

I recently accepted a position at a manufacturing plant. I’ll be in an office, where the dress code is business casual. I was told that I’ll need steel toe shoes while on the manufacturing floor, but a site-wide steel toe shoe mandate will be policy soon. Do you have any advice for keeping it feminine above the ankle while sporting steel toes below?

While there’s a decent selection of steel toe boots online, the style is not varied, or too feminine. However, gone are the days where your only options were black Doc Martens and tan Red Wings. Now retailers like Ariat, Reebok, Sketchers, Justin, Caterpillar, and yes Dr. Marten have styles that can blend pretty well into business casual attire.

business casual steel toe boot justin women
Shop Similar: dress | boots | sweater | necklace | pants | striped top | skirt | yellow dress | bead necklace

Just as with a traditional office setting wardrobe, decide on the color palette before purchasing shoes. Steel toe boots and shoes mainly come in brown or black, so your first pair should match the majority of your existing wardrobe. While lace up construction-style boots are the norm, a cowboy boot with a steel toe may be a good first purchase since it has a slimmer toebox and profile to work with trousers, but also look adorable pulled over jeggings and paired with more casual dresses and skirts. Justin is famous for cowboy boots and has a good selection of steel toe styles with style; I’m partial to the Stampede which has a very slim profile and a classic cowboy look that will be cool even after the work day is through. For these looks I worked with the distressed brown leather, choosing soft colors, natural fabrics and accessories, and fuller bottoms to balance the heavier shoe.

business casual steel toe boot doc marten
Shop similar: sweater | gold necklace | pants | scarf | cream sweater | trousers | tunic | leggings | dress | necklace | boots

Dr. Martens are back en vogue, and not only does this mean your work boots are considered “cool,” but it means there’s a greater selection for you to choose from. I love their Wellington Boot, which is a pull-on style that can slip under trousers, or be worn over tights or skinny jeans. With this collection, I used the boot as an accent color, pairing with neutrals for a more traditional business casual look.

business casual steel toe boot lehigh
Shop similar: dress | boots | tunic | scarf | leggings | top | skirt | blazer | trousers

When it comes to lace-up steel toe boots, they don’t all look like hiking or construction boots. If you prefer a black shoe, this boot from Lehigh is taller than most, giving a grunge rocker vibe that would look great with black tights or leggings and appear as a standard shoe under trousers. For this look, I was channeling the ‘90s by mixing feminine dresses and skirts with the masculine boot, but also a bit of grunge with the black tunic and leggings with a drapey scarf. Your workplace expects sturdy shoes, so don’t be afraid to pair a well-polished boot with a suit for business meetings.

As a rule, skinny pants that can tuck in or wider legs that flow easily over the boot are best; for skirts and dresses have some volume (looser shift style or a fuller skirt) to balance the look. Play up the industrial feel of the boots and take advantage of the return of grunge and ‘90s trends when Doc Martens played a pivotal role.

The important thing to remember is everyone will be wearing such footwear; no one will be able to pair it seamlessly every single time and your colleagues will end up not even noticing your shoes because they’re part of a uniform, just like a lab coat or hard hat. Don’t worry about making them disappear or look like regular footwear, they’re a smart and important part of your industry and something that should be worn with pride!

Small Business Saturday – The Shine Collection

After spending time as a stay at home mom, Dianne Brickman began The Shine Collection. With years of marketing and management experience working in New York City for such iconic brands as Barneys New York, Nike and DKNY Coats, Dianne decided to take her skills and create her own line of clothing and accessories that merge style with heart.

Inspired by the unique, hand blocked fabrics made in India, Dianne launched The Shine Collection in the summer of 2013. Dianne is a self-described “tunic girl;” she ordered a few from a catalog and wore them to the pool. After receiving compliments from women aged 16-68, she saw a market for such garments. She originally sourced the fabrics locally (she’s a Maryland gal like me!), but then found the perfect hand blocked fabrics in India. She works directly with the manufacturer to ensure the exact fit and quality Dianne desired. The Shine Collection offers handmade tunics for women and girls as well as lightweight cotton scarves perfect for spring and summer.

The Shine Collection tunics have a relaxed fit making them great swimsuit coverups, worn as a short dress on vacation, or paired with white jeans for a warm summer night. When I contacted Dianne asking if I could feature The Shine Collection on my blog, Dianne was sweet enough to send me and Emerson coordinating tunics. The fabric of the tunics is soft and doesn’t tent out like many other cotton tunics I have tried, the craftsmanship is excellent and the colors rich. Stay tuned for another post featuring us in them!

The Shine Collection feels a strong commitment to giving back to the community and currently donates to local schools and Childrens National Medical Center. You can find The Shine Collection at Dianne’s online store, but she will also be at the URBNmarket Bethesda May 18th, makes house calls, offers trunk shows at her own home, and the collection is featured in the latest issue of Bethesda Magazine.

To learn more about The Shine Collection visit their site or find them on Facebook!

 
The Small Business Saturday series on Wardrobe Oxygen features US-based independent brands and artists that focus on style with substance and soul. Stay tuned to learn about more great small businesses, and if you know a business that deserves to be featured please share it in the comments!

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Ask Allie: Two Weeks, One Carry On, Business Casual

I was just today offered a position for a job (yay!) that requires two weeks of training out of state. So the question is: How to pack a capsule of two weeks worth of “business casual” clothing (plus p.j.’s, work out gear and perhaps one business outfit) in a CARRY ON (thinking Tom Bihn Aeronaut) for a plus/cusp sized individual?

First things first, I had never heard of the Tom Bihn Aeronaut so I went to their site and fell in love. What a well-thought out bag!  It’s nice to know the specifications of your bag to better imagine packing it with two weeks worth of clothing.

Sample Outfits:

  1. Gray dress, yellow cardigan, silk scarf, black tights, black booties
  2. Gray dress, black blazer, black tights and pumps, gold jewelry
  3. Gray dress, orange cardigan, leopard belt, black tights and either shoes
  4. Jeans, striped tee, black blazer, booties
  5. Jeans, drapey top, pumps
  6. Jeans, white tee, yellow cardigan, leopard belt, booties, gold jewelry
  7. Jeans, peplum top, leopard belt, pumps
  8. Jeans, striped tee, pashmina, booties
  9. Jeans, lavender shell, black blazer, silk scarf, pumps
  10. Black pants, black blazer, lavender shell, pumps
  11. Black pants, striped tee, yellow cardigan, booties
  12. Black pants, peplum top, gold jewelry, pumps
  13. Gray pants, white tee, black blazer, silk scarf, ankle boots
  14. Gray pants, drapey top, pumps, gold jewelry
  15. Gray pants, striped top, yellow cardigan, black booties
  16. Gray pants, white tee, orange cardigan and necklace, leopard belt, either shoes
  17. Black skirt, peplum top, leopard belt, black tights and pumps
  18. Black skirt, striped tee, yellow cardigan, black tights and booties
  19. Black skirt, white tee, orange cardigan, pashmina, black tights and booties
  20. Black skirt, lavender shell, black blazer, black tights and pumps

This wardrobe is primarily knits, which roll nicely in luggage to prevent wrinkles, can spot clean in a hotel sink for another wear, will be comfortable on a long flight or train ride, yet are business casual appropriate. The pants, blazer, skirt, and peplum top are ponte knit so they mix and match with ease, are comfortable, but can be pulled together for a business-appropriate ensemble. Adding a couple prints will break up the look so it’s not too boring.

Accessories are key to take simple separates to the next level. A pashmina is great for the trip there, but looks chic looped around the throat with a dress or business casual ensemble. A square silk scarf takes up no space in a bag and can dress up knits in an instant. No need to take your entire jewelry collection, two necklaces (one that makes a statement, one that adds shine and sophistication) and one bold bracelet can achieve plenty. As for shoes, try to have them all at the same height so you can have them work with all the pants you packed. I recommend a classic pair of black leather pumps in a walkable height and an ankle boot that looks good with tights as well as under pants (Chelsea boots are on trend this year and fit the bill nicely).

If you’re going to be gone for two weeks straight, you need to consider that there may be after-training activities. Colleagues inviting you to dinner, a weekend brunch, happy hour. If you have room, you may want to pack a second pair of jeans or a dressier dress (matte jersey travels really well and can look cocktail party-appropriate with pumps and gold accessories). While you’ll likely want a larger structured bag or tote for training to hold your laptop, manuals, and such (and is a great purse for the flight), a small bag will be good for after hours. If you choose one that has a detachable strap, it can become a dressier clutch in a pinch.

When you travel, wear your bulkiest pieces. Use the tote as your purse, wear the booties, the blazer, maybe even the jeans. Loop the pashmina around your throat to have as a blanket for a nap on the plane. Hotels have laundry services, so don’t be afraid to wear part of your capsule on the trip there to save space in your bag.

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What I Wore: Bandana Badass

Tee: Leith | Jacket: ASOS (similar) | Bandana: Vision Street Wear (similar) | Jeans: Gap | Shoes: Vince Camuto

The bandana is back this season, and it gives me an opportunity to pull out some oldies but goodies like this one from Vision Street Wear. It’s always fun to take something old from the wardrobe and give it a new life with new trends.

Though my cast is off, my arm is still healing and my hand isn’t strong enough to perform many daily tasks.  Clothing is still best when it’s a bit loose, but I’m liking jackets because they cover the still healing scar and provide some protection.  Adding the jacket and the bandana make me feel less like an invalid and more like a badass!

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Small Business Saturday – Lifetherapy

My friend Sarah introduced me to the brand Lifetherapy last year and I have been a fan ever since.  I’m a bracelet junkie with a New Agey heart, so the brand really spoke to me.  Since then, I have added a Lifetherapy necklace to my collection and have enjoyed their body collection.  Lifetherapy is a US-based company run by Lynette Lovelace, a true labor of love for this inspiring woman.

Lynette believes fragrance and color are the most influential ways she can create awareness in others of how the mind works and the power of thought. After experiencing some difficult life experiences, Lynette found fragrance and color to provide a natural healing place and now hopes to share those healing powers with others through Lifetherapy.

Lynette has a strong background in retail. Before starting Lifetherapy, she owned a boutique and bistro in a Chicago suburb for 20 years.  Lynette sees Lifetherapy as an extension of her personality and loves connecting with users and sharing stories about how simple awareness can alter one’s mood and reaction to things.  Lifetherapy does carry bracelets as well as necklaces and body care products that are formulated by mood.

The body care line is different from others in that the five fragrances featured are meant to create the sense to PLAY, ESCAPE, CHILL, VACATION, and FLIRT. Lifetherapy’s MOOD boosting fragrances are alcohol free, paraben free, phthalate free, mineral oil free, petroleum free, not tested on animals and made in the USA.  I’ve tried products from the VACATION, FLIRT, and PLAY collections and find the products high quality. My favorite are the Pulse Point Oil Perfumes which are long lasting and their packaging is perfect for travel.

I have several of Lifetherapy’sPositivity in Color bracelets which bring about awareness of MOOD with the use of 12 different colors, each color representing a different strength, keeping you mindful of the positive. Each accessory is adorned with the brand’s signature turquoise bead for protection and good fortune. Also, all bracelets are handmade in the USA.

My new favorite collection from Lifetherapy is the Zodiac Copper Collection, which has delicate pendant necklaces and wrap bracelets decorated with charms.  There’s a bracelet and necklace for each astrological sign.  Lynette got the idea for the collection from visiting her husband’s place of work where he deals in metal fabrication. One day she noticed small copper scraps on the floor and asked if she could recycle them and turn them into jewelry.  Copper is a great conductor of electricity and is often used by healers to conduct life energy (also known as qi, chi, or prana).  Copper is believed to smooth and amplify the flow of energy within the body and in doing so it also soothes the thoughts, emotions, and energies.  Lynette already used turquoise in her line as it is known for drawing negative vibrations from a person; one of the main compounds of turquoise is copper so it seemed like a perfect pairing and a way to increase the power of turquoise.  I have the Aquarius bracelet and wear it often (see it here on my Instagram profile); the necklace’s chain is a bit short but I have moved the charms to my favorite charm necklace.

Maybe you believe in the power of color, elements and fragrance to heal and improve mood. If you don’t, you can still appreciate the beautiful handcrafted jewelry and delicious body care products and that they are made by a woman who truly believes in her product and who truly cares about her customers.  I started as one of Lynette’s customers but now consider her a friend. If you want to know more about Lifetherapy and Lynette, visit Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.

 
The Small Business Saturday series on Wardrobe Oxygen features US-based independent brands and artists that focus on style with substance and soul. Stay tuned to learn about more great small businesses, and if you know a business that deserves to be featured please share it in the comments!

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Business Blue

Blouse: Ann Taylor | Pants: Tahari | Shoes: MICHAEL Michael Kors “Flex” | Necklace: Etsy | Watch: Citizen | Bracelets: Had forever, Nordstrom, JewelMint | Bag: Brahmin (similar)

Some days I just want to look a bit more corporate, be it for a client meeting or just to steel myself for a difficult project. While this blouse looks very office-worthy, it has a nice shirttail hem so it will look nice untucked with white jeans, or even belted with a skinny belt. I also like it with its sleeves rolled for a more casual effect. While I liked the slouchiness of a Regular, I went with a Petite Large to have the neckline more office-friendly and the sleeves a proper length.  And gosh, how can I resist an outfit that encourages use of my Brahmin??

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What To Wear: Interviews, Conferences, Business Trips

After years in different jobs in the corporate arena, I have learned to have a staple career wardrobe.  These are pieces that are versatile, work with one another, and have me ready for whatever my job throws my way.  Below I address three common work situations and what to wear for these events.  You’ll see I reuse the same pieces – there’s no need for an enormous wardrobe to be stylish and professional.  If you shop smart, knowing when to invest and when to budget, you can have a hard-working career wardrobe that will support you through all work experiences, including the ones below.

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The Interview
Each great job starts with a great interview.  While dress code will vary depending on the field of work, you can’t go wrong with a well-tailored black pantsuit.  Black is a versatile color that can then be used in other aspects of your life – you can dress up with silk heels and sparkly jewelry for a cocktail party or wear the pieces separately in your everyday work wardrobe.  A pantsuit is a safe bet that will keep you from stressing over hosiery and will be appropriate no matter the time of year.  Buy a suit free of adornments, embellishments, and memorable details so it can be worn over and over for many years to come.  Popular retailers like Ann Taylor and J. Crew sell quality suiting at reasonable prices – stalk their clearance racks and you may be able to find a classic and stylish suit for up to 50% off retail.

Don’t be afraid to show your personality in your interview ensemble – choosing a shell in a signature color with an interesting neckline will help your interviewers understand you better as a person.  A solid color is a better choice as it will also be more versatile in your everyday work wardrobe.  Be sure that no cleavage is showing and that you can take off your jacket without exposing lingerie or too much skin.  A sleeveless or short-sleeve blouse will be more comfortable when you’re sweating or getting hot with the stress of the situation.  This is a piece you could find at any pricepoint – as long as it fits well and is modest, you could find a great blouse anywhere from Goodwill to Target to your favorite department store.

As for accessories, keep them simple, polished, and classic.  A structured handbag large enough to hold a copy of your resume or laptop is a wise choice – as with the suit keep it free of too many details so it is professional and timeless.  As for shoes, any heel height can work as long as the shoe has structure, simple details, and a polished finish.  A leather pump with anything from ½” to 3” heel is appropriate, choose a closed toe so that it is appropriate no matter how conservative the office environment.  This is a type of shoe that can be worn anywhere from the office to a wedding to a funeral so it’s smart to invest in a pair that fits well and is crafted with care.  As for jewelry, feel free to wear it but be sure it doesn’t wear you – keep the bold statement necklaces, jangly bangles, and chandelier earrings for another occasion.

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The Conference
Whether you are attending representing your company or attending to learn new skills, a conference is a regular aspect of corporate life.  While you want to look professional, this is an environment where you can be a bit more relaxed, and also truly showcase your personality.

Wearing clothes with stretch (stretch wool, ponte, heavyweight jersey) will keep you looking crisp after hours of sitting and socializing.  I recommend wearing color so you stand out in a crowd of gray, navy, and black.  A signature piece is also helpful so people will remember you as the woman with the leopard-print belt, the purple scarf, the green snakeskin pumps.  Wear layers or pack a cardigan in your tote for conference rooms can really blast the A/C.

Carry a structured bag, but one that is large enough to hold your iPad or laptop as well as all the swag you will collect from vendors.  A bag similar to the one for an interview is perfect, though in this environment a color would be acceptable.

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The Business Trip
Often you will have to travel by car, train, or plane to another location and head right into a meeting.  It’s important to have on hand an ensemble that can survive hours of sitting and still look crisp for your client.

A variation of the interview ensemble is a great choice, and another reason to invest in a quality black pantsuit.  To be budget-friendly, I have kept the black pantsuit and pumps as the foundation.  The interview bag would also be a wise choice – it is already in your wardrobe and can hold all your meeting essentials while looking professional.  Since you will be traveling, it is wise to wear a blouse that has a lot of stretch to it.  Many knits can look too casual, a silk jersey or matte jersey will look professional while keeping its shape all day.  A blouse with at least a cap sleeve will be professional enough to wear on its own if it’s warm.  As with the interview blouse, this is something you can find at most any pricepoint as long as you look out for good fit, structure, and fabric.  This is also a piece you can wear time and time again – with trousers or a skirt to the office and even with jeans for a night out with the girls.  To keep your jacket crisp, I recommend not wearing it until you arrive at your destination; to ward off chill (and also have an alternate look if you wish to go out to dinner after the meeting), consider a cardigan or soft jacket in a complementary color.




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Small Business Saturday

I worked a decade in retail and I know that as much as the last Thursday in November is about eating turkey with loved ones, the Friday after is about getting the best deals on holiday gifts. The malls are packed, the roads clogged, people frantic for a crazy price on a flatscreen or that last pair of clearance booties.

America needs another tradition this weekend, and since 2010 today has been deemed Small Business Saturday. Though Small Business Saturday was created by American Express, it has grown beyond their brand. No matter your form of payment, Small Business Saturday is a day to support those businesses in your backyard, explore local artisans, and shop small. Be it the boutique down the street, your independent grocery store, or visiting Etsy to score a unique holiday gift, I hope you will support Small Business Saturday today and #ShopSmall.

Sometimes you just have to hit the big box retailer or mega-website for your purchases, but often you can find just as good or better of an item at an independent or small retailer. Not only that, but when you shop local, you keep your money in your neighborhood; your money does more than purchase a bracelet or cup of coffee.

Together, let’s make Small Business Saturday become as much a Thanksgiving weekend tradition as pumpkin pie!  

Are you supporting Small Business Saturday?  Share the website or social media channel of your favorite small business in the comments and your favorite small business may become the favorite of another!

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Small Business Sunday: Appalatch

In the past year, I have made a concerted effort to feature more brands with heart. Be they companies who produce their product in the United States, products made with sustainable materials or created via Fair Trade, brands that give back to their communities, or small businesses who want to change the face of retail, I’m honored to provide a platform and introduce them to you readers. As a blogger, I receive many pitches from small and new companies and many of them go right into the Trash. However, some really stand out, and I’d like to introduce them to you. Therefore, I am starting a series called Small Business Sunday, where I’ll be sharing businesses and artisans who aren’t big retailers, but are creating amazing things worth noting. This series won’t be every Sunday, just when I learn about a brand that really is something new, fresh, and inspiring.

This Sunday, I’d like to introduce you to Appalatch. Appalatch is a company that wishes to make custom fit wool sweaters, ethically made in the United States.

Choosing the classic trend-proof crewneck sweater, Appalatch will use a 3D printer to ensure a custom fit for each of their customers. Be you tall, short, busty, athletic… Appalatch will made a classically designed wool sweater for you to enjoy now and many years from now. Not only are these sweaters ethically made, but by being made with quality and classic design they should be a piece that lasts and is worn for many years, becoming an investment not just for your wardrobe but the environment.

Appalatch currently has a KickStarter to raise the funds to finance a 3D printer for these sweaters. Appalatch is already an ethically driven company that offers tees and small accessories, this KickStarter will allow them to expand the brand to offer the custom fit which I think so many people desire in a wardrobe staple or investment piece. I was so impressed and inspired by their story, I kicked in a few dollars for their KickStarter.

I think these sweaters are brilliant. Pair with jeggings and riding boots for the weekend, wear over a crisp button-front shirt with a leather skirt and heels for the office. With a custom fit you don’t have to worry about oversized shoulders, bagginess, tight arms, or the other issues found when purchasing sweaters off the rack. All that, and Applatch’s sweaters will be ethically made in the USA, using the finest wool in America. Manufacturing these sweaters will create virtually zero waste, choosing classic style and quality materials means it won’t be landfill waste in a couple seasons.

If you’d like to learn more about Appalatch please visit their website, their Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook accounts; if you’d like to support them making these custom wool sweaters consider giving to their KickStarter.

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Ask Allie: Two Week Business Trip Without Checking Luggage

I need help putting together a travel wardrobe for the following trip this August that will all fit in a carry-on and I sure hope you can help me. I’m dealing with 2 very different climates and both business and leisure situations:

  1. Fly to Honolulu where I’m speaking at a national convention for my professional association. I would typically wear a suit for the presentation, but I’m guessing everyone will be more casual given the location.
  2. Two days sightseeing in Honolulu.
  3. Fly to Maui where we’re spending three days at a beach resort for some R&R.
  4. Fly to San Francisco where I’m speaking at a different national convention. This one is usually pretty straight laced and formal, but I’m loathed to bring a suit just for a two-hour presentation. I’ll also be attending a cocktail reception and going to dinner at a few dressy places.
  5. Two days sightseeing in San Francisco then fly back home.

I checked out the weather in San Francisco for August, and days are in the low 70s and evenings in the 50s with a relatively low chance for precipitation, and most precipitation will just be a light drizzle. Honolulu and Maui will be high 80s during the day and high 70s at night with a very low chance of any sort of precipitation. Considering the suggestions I have in my two-week vacation in one carry-on bag post, I created this capsule wardrobe:

It’s easiest to pack if you stick with a single color story. I decided to choose cool tones and neutrals for this collection. As with my two-week vacation wardrobe post, I stuck to fabrics that are versatile, washable and wrinkle-resistant – ponte knit, silk, crepe and traditional jersey.

While I understand your desire to not pack a suit, a ponte suit in deep black free of decoration can look professional and sleek while being able to survive a long trip, and is also easy to mix and match. For the convention in Hawaii, you can wear the black ponte blazer with the blue dress and black pumps for a more relaxed look; for the San Francisco convention wear the black ponte blazer and trousers with the pumps and the blue silk shell.

For sightseeing and R&R in Hawaii, I gave you a variety of pieces that can mix and match. I created this capsule assuming you have access to laundry services at the hotels so pieces can be cleaned and re-worn in different manners, or can be spot cleaned in a pinch in your hotel bathroom sink. Both pairs of shorts are a bit longer to make them comfortable for long walks, hikes, bike rides, and other activities. The black shorts can even be worn with one of the silky tops for a more casual dinner or a night at a bar. Choosing a beach coverup that can double as a dress extends your wardrobe. I only have one pair of casual shoes for Hawaii in the mix; if you have room you may want to throw in a pair of flip flops for the beach and pool.

  1. Coverup dress and sandals
  2. Striped tee, black shorts, sandals
  3. Printed tank, denim shorts, sandals
  4. Teal tee, denim shorts, sandals
  5. Printed tank, black shorts, sandals
  6. White jeans, printed tank, sandals
  7. White jeans, striped tee, sandals

For sightseeing in San Francisco, you can wear a lot of the same things for Hawaii, but add the cardigan or the white jeans for a bit more warmth. I put in a pair of Tieks flats in a soft gold – they take up no space in a bag, are very comfortable, and will keep your feet warmer than in sandals when in California. 

  1. Printed tank, black cardigan, black shorts, sandals
  2. Striped tee, white jeans, black blazer, ballet flats
  3. Blue dress, black cardigan, ballet flats
  4. Teal tee, white jeans, ballet flats

For both locations, I made the sightseeing and R&R clothes pretty classic and veering on conservative since you will likely be spending that time with coworkers and doing a bit of casual networking.

For dinners out and social occasions, you have a pretty good variety, from white jeans and a silky blouse with sandals, to a crepe jersey cocktail dress with a sparkly statement necklace. Having two small polished bags on hand (a dressier clutch and a leather crossbody in black) helps up the dressiness factor with most of your wardrobe. A pashmina can be worn with a simple tee shirt, jeans, and flats for a day look, can be your plane blanket, and can also be your shawl for the cocktail affair. I specifically chose grey which can better dress up than a bold color.

  1. Blue silk shell, white jeans, ballet flats
  2. Blue dress, black sandals
  3. Blue silk shell, black pants, statement necklace, pumps
  4. Printed camisole, white jeansblack sandals
  5. Black crepe dress, black pumps
  6. Blue dress, statement necklace, black pumps
  7. Striped tee, black blazer, white jeans, black pumps
  8. Black pantsuit (jacket buttoned), statement necklace, black pumps

Speaking of bags, consider a packable tote or mesh market bag, which can double as a beach bag or for shopping. It takes up little space and is quick drying. Choose a dark color or a color that complements your bathing suit for a more purposeful and cohesive look.

One of the best ways to save space for a trip is to simplify your beauty routine. Since you have situations where you need to make a professional impression, you may want to make a very specific choice regarding your hair. When I used to travel on business, I would pack a bottle of styling lotion to make air-dry waves for casual times, but pack a mini flat iron to make my hair sleek and straight for presentations. This way I didn’t have to pack my entire bathroom to get a specific look. It also is worth it to get a cut and color touch-up before your trip so you don’t have to work so hard on a polished style. As I mention in the two-week vacation capsule wardrobe post, rely on your hotel for some toiletries and amenities – call ahead to see if you’ll have a dryer, razor, shower gel, etc.

Wear the biggest and heaviest things on the plane flights. Don’t have one of the small purses as your “personal bag” for the flight, make it as large as possible while still being acceptable to the airline. Pack your purses with your underpinnings to help them keep their shape and maximize space in your bag. Choose a soft bag which can expand nicely and also smush well into an overhead compartment. Buy sunscreen and such when at your destination and leave the bottle when you head home.

Have you had to pack for a similar type of trip? Any suggestions or tips on how to pack for such an occasion?

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Small Business Saturday: AlmaRose Bags

2014 for me was the year of the bag. I curbed my clothing shopping, I purchased fewer but better chosen pieces, but I fell hard for handbags. There was the Isabella Fiore tote, the blue Chancebanda, and a few bags I acquired before this year ended up getting more play in 2014 than ever before (hello Latico crossbody, Fossil satchel). I also received some amazing bags from amazing brands, and one is AlmaRose.

Almashea’ Spotser was a busy working mom who left Corporate America when her Navy husband was transferred to a new duty station. She took her love of sketching, and while pregnant with her second child, created AlmaRose Bags. Being a busy mom, Almashea’ considered this with her bag creation and made each bag a great merging of fashion and function. As stated on the brand’s site, “Each bag was created with the woman who happens to be a mom in mind first.”

almarose bags maxine

AlmaRose bags are diaper bags, and I am (thank goodness) a couple years past that point with Emerson. However, the brilliant part of these bags is that while they have have that function, they work so much further past diapers and wipes. AlmaRose was kind enough to send me the Maxine, which I saw to be a gorgeous statement-making weekender bag or work tote. I slipped out the changing pad to enjoy a quality leather tote with perfect pockets to store everything and find everything at a moment’s notice. The water and stain resistant interior keeps it looking gorgeous even if the cap falls off my lipgloss or I spill a bit of my bagged lunch. The feet on the bottom of the bag and the shape of the Maxine keeps it upright no matter the contents, making it a great choice for those of us who always seem to have their hands full when their phone starts ringing in their bag. I love the included Express Bag, which is a removable pouch perfect when you need to dash to the restroom or Starbucks but don’t want to take your entire tote; it also makes switching from day tote to evening clutch a breeze. There’s even a padded pocket to store my tablet or Kindle! And come on, who can resist the gorgeous green tumbled leather exterior?

almarose bag review

AlmaRose has two other styles of bags: the Claire and the Lydia. These totes are also classic shapes and come in classic colors making them either a chic alternative to most diaper bags, or a brilliantly-designed day tote. With the same great features of the Maxine, these have elasticized side pockets that can hold bottles, but are also great for stuffing in gloves, water bottles, or even your current novel. The leather is thick making all AlmaRose bags built for longevity.

Right now the Maxine is 50% off, making it only $145. Where else can you find such a beautiful large leather bag in such a beautiful color for such a low price? And at the time of writing this, AlmaRose is offering free shipping on their bags.

The Small Business Saturday series on Wardrobe Oxygen features US- and/or women-owned independent brands and artists that focus on style with substance and soul. Stay tuned to learn about more great small businesses, and if you know a business that deserves to be featured please share it in the comments!

Small Business Saturday: Kidogo Kidogo

In Swahili, Kidogo Kidogo means “little by little.” And little by little, the cell phone case company Kidogo Kidogo is improving the lives of Tanzanian women. By helping lift the financial barrier that prevents women in Tanzania from having access to mobile technology, Kidogo Kidogo offers stylish cell phone cases with a purpose.

Currently, only 36 percent of women in Tanzania own mobile phones, and the number one reason preventing them from ownership is the initial cost of a mobile handset. Mobile phones in Tanzania are prepaid; owners can buy credits at bodegas and other small stores around the county. For every iPhone case purchased from Kidogo Kidogo, a mobile phone or mobile phone credits are donated to a woman in Tanzania. To these women, a cell phone is a life-changing tool; a flashlight, a watch, a calculator, a camera, a doctor, a teacher, a radio. In Tanzania, mobile banking is extremely common, and a phone provides women a way to make secure banking transactions. Mobile phones are also used monitor consumer markets and are a way for expectant mothers to receive health reminders and updates. Women with mobile phones also report a much higher feeling of personal safety than those without.

The phones are distributed to women through established non-profit partners already working in Tanzania. One of the partners is FINCA, a global charitable microfinance organization, whose mission is to provide financial services to the world’s lowest-income entrepreneurs so they can create jobs, build assets, and improve their standard of living. Kidogo Kidogo has also also partnered with Sea Sense, an environmental NGO in Tanzania. A portion of the proceeds from the sales of the sea turtle case goes to Sea Sense, who works closely with coastal communities in Tanzania to conserve and protect endangered marine species.

This is not a new concept, many of us are already sporting a pair of TOMS shoes or Warby Parker frames. But it’s great to see such a charitable concept extend to other accessories and fashion items. Kidogo Kidogo was kind enough to send me two cases to try out; I have had the sea turtles one on my phone since it arrived in the mail and Karl snagged the flamingo one for himself. Not only are the covers gorgeous thanks to the work of Tanzanian-based artist Sarah Markes, they are well made, sturdy, and have a non-slip finish.

Kidogo Kidogo cases are $30 each and currently available for the iPhone 4 and 4s, iPhone 5 and 5s. Check out the designs and more information about Kidogo Kidogo on their site, the Kidogo Kidogo Facebook page, and consider following them on Twitter and Instagram.

I started this series last year and planned to have the posts on Sunday, but to make it better align with the national Small Business Saturday event I’m changing this series to Saturday. This series features small businesses in the United States that focus on style with substance.  Stay tuned to learn about more great small businesses!

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