Search Results for: label/career wear

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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Ask Allie: Starch-Free Corporate Capsule Wardrobe

Hi Alison – I love your blog and visit daily! Your capsule wardrobes are what really drew me in. The ability to mix-and-match separates to create versatile outfits is such a plus, and something I’d like to ask about. You see, I’m considering starting my own business, and will need professional attire. But, I hate suits and suiting material. Starchy button down shirts make me squirm. My wardrobe is built around denim and jersey knits, and I can do business casual with these pieces. But I feel like I need to break down and buy a pantsuit to do “official business,” go to interviews and be taken seriously. Any advice? Thanks for your consideration!

I hear you on this. While I don’t mind a well-fitting blazer, I go gaga for career wear that has stretch and flexibility. Good thing suiting and professional attire has come a long way and there’s a great variety of textiles that offer give, stretch, and comfort.

capsule wardrobe professional wear to work

shop this capsule: black pants | gray pants | pink blazer | black blazer | bow blouse | silk tee | printed tee | gray dress | black skirt | black pumps | gray pumps | necklace | watch

This is a spring capsule wardrobe for a professional environment that doesn’t have a single starched or stiff garment. I chose a simple palette of black, gray, and pink but this could easily be replicated with jewel tones, neutrals, or any other color mix. Black is a popular suiting color, but it can be seen as too severe, especially if you are starting your own business. Gray is a great color alternative that also tones down black without losing the professional edge. Pale pink softens the look for spring, adds a feminine touch, isn’t too memorable, and isn’t too bubble gum or girly.

The black pants, black blazer, and black skirt are all made of ponte knit. Ponte de Roma knit is a very tightly woven heavyweight knit that is as stretchy as yoga pants but gives a professional look. The pink blazer is also in ponte knit. Many companies now offer suiting in this fabric, both lined and unlined, to create a suiting collection with comfort.

The gray pants and dress are both made of a suiting fabric with Lycra, which moves with you while still looking professional. Not only that, the percentage of Lycra helps resist wrinkles. Such material is available year-round from retailers of all pricepoints and is a fabric that is office-appropriate all four seasons.

Work blouses don’t have to be starched cotton to look professional, yet when you’re choosing softer fabrics like ponte for your suiting it’s important to be thoughtful with your top’s fabric. Silk and silk knits are a great choice because their luxe feel and subtle lustre add elegance and formality to any ensemble. Many silk blouses are made with a hint of Lycra, providing a better fit, more opacity, and more comfort. Choosing one with a detail like a bow neckline, pleats, or ruffles adds interest to a suit without losing professionalism. Silk and silk jersey tees are a great alternative to button-front blouses and shirts and look great under jackets. For less formal business meetings, they can be worn on their own tucked into a pencil skirt or pair of trousers. No need to stick to just solids; a print, especially in silk can look elegant, professional, and add a touch of personality to your workwear.

If you’re not wearing such attire every day, there’s no need to buy a ton of accessories to coordinate. I have two different shoes featured but honestly you could get away with this entire capsule wardrobe with a single pair of black pumps. A necklace finishes a look; I chose one that incorporates the colors but isn’t too trendy so it can be a signature piece, worn on a daily basis. A watch is a great way to mix fashion with function; it adds a bit of shine and it looks far nicer to check the time in this manner than whipping out your SmartPhone.

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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Spring has Sprung in my Closet

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Plus Sized Work Attire Options

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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My Wardrobe Today – Monday

Jacket – Josephine Chaus (via eBay – similar)
Blouse – Ann Taylor (similar)
JeansNYDJ
BootiesCole Haan
Brooch – Unknown (have had for at least a decade – similar)

I wasn’t looking for a jacket like this on eBay, in fact I was looking for a sequined skirt. This showed up in the search, and I totally fell for it. I know Josephine Chaus is more of a department store career wear sort of brand, but I loved the colors, the embellishment, and the super duper low price (less than $20). It’s a hair small (can’t close over my bust), the shirt is a hair large (a 14 regular, last worn here), but together I think they really work nicely.  I think this jacket will also be adorable come spring – I have tried it over sheath dresses and like the effect.

This post also shows how desperately I need jeans – my size 12 NYJDs look dumpy, my 10s look like jeggings, and with my weight loss I need a lower rise.  This has been a frustrating search all fall and winter – this body is not yet made to wear jeans and trousers (or else a silhouette that flatters it is not currently popular).  I will continue to search – in fact I just ordered two pairs of denim trousers from two different retailers and hope at least one pair fits a bit – I’d be happy to have a pair altered to fit if they at least look good enough from the get-go that I would need to have them completely recreated!

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Attention Washington DC Area Women…

For this month, bring your gently used career wear to any nearby Zips Dry Cleaning location, and they will donate it to Suited to Succeed, a non-profit that assists women in transition from training programs and unemployment to self-sufficiency by providing free professional clothing and workshops. We all have some random suits and dresses in our closet that we hang on to but don’t really need or wear; why not simplify your closet and help a fellow woman in the process? Goes pretty well with the recent closet-gutting project!

Gone Thriftin’

In college, the majority of my wardrobe came from thrift stores. It was the grunge age, and every woman’s attire for the campus bars was a fitted baby tee, some baggy vintage jeans with a flannel around the waist. Oh, and of course a well-loved pair of Doc Martens or chunky black Steve Madden loafers. My friends and I would pile into the one car amongst the six of us and we would head to the suburbs, coming home with musty-smelling bags of men’s oxfords, old jeans, wool peacoats and ironic tee shirts from the 70s.

As styles changed and I got into the career world, I visited thrift stores less often. I was in the fashion field and needed to be current – and in the late 90/beginning of the millennium the look was very polished and vintage rarely looked right. I had a steamer trunk full of old clothes I felt may come back eventually – Shetland cardigans, classic blazers, 60s inspired dresses and such. I realized the majority of my “classics” were purchased at thrift stores.

Over the years, my career has changed, my lifestyle has changed and fashion has become less rigid where classic pieces are admired and quirky combinations are applauded. With the change in style, thrift stores have come back into their own – not just scouring for the perfectly worn pair of Levi’s, women are finding career pieces, cocktail dresses and brand names. Companies are made just to scour the thrift stores to stock popular vintage shops and with all this popularity, it can sometimes seem that all is left at your local Goodwill or Salvation Army are stained polyester blouses and pleated tapered trousers from an itchy synthetic blend. But thrifting is about the thrill of the hunt – never was shopping at a thrift store as convenient or easy as hitting your local mall, but with some patience and the right preparation, thrifting can still be rewarding and add amazing pieces to your wardrobe – no matter your personal style. A few tips:

1. Do your homework. Find out what shops are in your area, ask friends about their experiences at locations. I know in my area, some seem to specialize in furniture, some have sales on Tuesdays, some put out new merchandise on Thursdays. Knowing this before you schedule your trip will save you time and headaches. Also, many companies donate old sale product and overstocks in November and December to thrift stores to get that end-of-year tax deduction. Also consider location. The best thrift stores for designer duds are often near wealthier and more fashion-conscious communities.

2. Know this will not be a quick trip.
Thrifting is a long process where you slowly go through racks and rounders and try on more than you would expect. Schedule accordingly – I find a thrift store with a medium to small selection will take a minimum of an hour to get through the clothing section. For bigger locations, plan for more. And to enjoy your time, either go alone or with a friend who works well on her own – this is not a shopping trip with Starbucks lattes and giggles through the fitting room walls. You will do a lot of digging, thinking and analyzing. Keep the giggles and coffees to after the event.

3. If you have allergies, be prepared. Take your Claritin/Flonase/Benadryl before going and bring a bottle of water. Thrift stores are known to be musty and are harboring items that have been stuffed in attics and basements for years before seeing the interior of the shop.

4. Dress for the event.
Like shopping for bridal dresses or heading to Loehman’s, the fitting room situation is not the best. Often meager cloths cover doors, actual doors have broken latches and privacy and modesty can be compromised. I shop in short bike shorts and a cami under a pull-on skirt and knit top so it’s quick changing and if a door opens, you aren’t exposing all your little bits. Wear slip-on shoes so it’s easy changing, and leave your big purse and coat in the car so you can throw garments over your arms and not have a lot of extra stuff to lug around. And don’t think holding an item up to you will do the job – pre-worn garments often have a different fit from new pieces and don’t always match the size on the tag. Most thrift stores do not do returns so take the extra 5-10 minutes to try on a garment before purchasing.

5. Don’t expect five-star service. Most employees are volunteers so say hello, give them a smile and don’t expect them to be at your beck and call. Do not expect the store to put items on hold or to help you find anything. This is also not a place to haggle price – remember what you are purchasing is usually sold to make money for a charity. Bring cash as that credit card machines cost money and are not always available (and bring small bills).

6. Save time – shop the top of the rack. Look at textures and colors – no point in pulling our a purple angora piece if you hate angora and look awful in the color purple. This method is also great for discount retailers like Ross, TJ Maxx and Marshalls. Save time and search for textures and fabrics that you would like on your body, and then search by color. Many thrift stores organize by color which helps you save time by passing up the pea-green rounder and heading straight to the blue one.

7. Be realistic. If it’s missing a few buttons or is an inch or two long, this can be remedied and the cost is justified because of the low thrift-store prices. However if the knit is unraveled, the item is obviously stained, the seat is shiny or an elbow is looking threadbare, you may be spending more than you like to get the item to be in wearable condition.

8. Don’t be blinded by the brand. Digging through a rounder of jackets, you may come across a gorgeous Calvin Klein blazer that is in great condition, a classic fabric and shade but maybe has 80s shoulderpads, is a size too small and has weird embellishments on the lapel. If you are not loving it, do not purchase it, no matter the label. I have seen designer dresses and vintage brands, but the garments are too small, in poor condition, not a flattering style and so they stay on the rack. Also, if it looks great but is a brand you never heard of, don’t put it back. Style comes from cut, fabric and color and not from the name sewn into your neckline.

9. Consider refashioning a garment. Fabulous color and style on a dress but calf-length and dated? Consider having it shortened to a mini or even tunic. A bottle of RIT dye can make the most humdrum knits look brand new and spectacular. A nip and tuck if you’re crafty (or have a reputable tailor) can make mediocre pieces become stylish must-haves.

10. Give back. If you’re en route to a thrift store, why not scan your closet for any garments that aren’t worn or past their prime and donate when you shop?

11. Don’t give up. So you hit the Community Thrift and find only duds. Consider how often you donate clothes, and how often others do too – that store will be full of completely different garments a month later. An hour once a month can be a great investment – I think of that every time I see my Diane von Furstenberg silk blouse in my closet that cost only $1.25 or my classic blue J. Crew oxford I got for a quarter.

A few links to find a thrift store near you:
-The Salvation Army of the United States
-Goodwill Store Locator (and check out their fashion blog too!)
-National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops
-The Thrift Shopper

Happy Hunting!

Fashion Undressed: Executive Style

alison santighian for wardrobe oxygen

I never consider my age in my wardrobe. I sit squarely in the “if you love it, work it” camp. For heaven’s sake, I own and wear a peach crop top with a crocheted elephant. Heck, I never consider my age in anything. I have to pause when I’m in conversation and make a Seinfeld or Friends reference, and I get a blank stare, and then realize the person across from me isn’t old enough to have watched those shows religiously. My age just isn’t part of how I choose to dress, whether for weekends or for work. I’ve been fortunate to work in roles that, while certainly not in the “creative-wear-what-you-feel” realm, and are even in the conservative camp (my last company was an accounting firm), I can push the envelope. I have no issue being the one in the lava colored “powerpants.” Ever.

I thought carefully when I picked out the clothes I wore last Friday, and the ones I put on this Friday. I thought twice when I tried on a dress I ordered so I’d have an easy, professional go-to in my closet, and it was just a bit shorter than I like to wear in the office. I checked the mirror again when I put on a dress that should be a reliable knock-’em-dead standby, but it hugged my body with at least five pounds more force than it did a year ago.

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I considered a lot when I went to buy a few new pieces for my closet because I have a new role in my career. Because I love clothing and fashion, choosing them should have been a small joy. Clicking through the spring sales should have been a celebration of my professional accomplishments. Normally, it all would be.

Over the last month my clothing choices felt weightier. Though I’ve been in similar positions for the better part of 10 years, this new one is unabashedly, formally executive. That label seems to have effected me sartorially, and I’m off kilter. As I get dressed each day, I’ve noticed I shy away from things I used to wear easily: a sheer top I’d wear with a camisole and balance with conservative trousers, a dress I bought (and love) that’s about half an inch shorter than I’d like, or stepping into higher heels with a skirt for fear the hoochy factor would go too high.

That last one, especially? It blew my mind.

I have absolutely no issue with using what I’ve got at my disposal. I’m a tall, well-proportioned, and fit woman with an unusual haircolor and strong, shapely legs. I know my appearance can be powerful. If I have a major meeting or presentation, I turn to my snakeskin and vibrantly colored sheath dresses. I put on my Stuart Weitzman pumps. I add rhinestones to my ears and wrists. I put nothing on to distract, mind you, but I know what works.

So why am I hesitant, all of a sudden, to use the tools and armor on which I’ve relied for years, and, quite frankly, push women around me (of course you can pull off the print mixing and the unusual heels or the blouse with the progressive cut, go for it!) – all because of a formal role shift? I’ve been mulling over the phenomenon probably way more than it warrants. It’s stuck in my craw, so I’m going to wonder out loud.

Putting this out into cyberspace is scary. I’ve known many of my colleagues for years, but some don’t know me at all. That fear aside, I suspect there are other women out there wondering and thinking the same things, so here we go.

So far, the most significant reason I can find for my hesitancy is that I don’t quite believe that I’m an executive, and part of a team making decisions for the strategic direction of a company.

There. I said it. I can’t imagine I’m not the only woman to share this insecurity out loud. Sure, maybe there are men out there with doubts; those doubts show up differently for them, I’d think. For me, it’s showing up most clearly in my clothing choices. I’m hesitant to wear the strong things I wore not 2 months ago because I don’t trust my own abilities.

Daily, I remind myself to not couch my opinions with conditional phrases. Daily, I bite my own tongue to cut off the modifiers to hedge my statements and proposals, both virtually and literally, so I do say I mean. Daily, I push forward in areas new to me, just beyond my comfortable expertise, and hope that no one sees through me. Daily, I stop and think twice before I ask a question, for fear someone will interpret that question to mean that I don’t know my job.

As an accomplished 41 year old, it seems incongruous to me that I feel this tentative. I feel silly worrying about my clothes. I’m ashamed that I don’t believe outright in my abilities and capabilities. If they even notice it, those around me don’t see my clothing other than as acceptable. Rather they see me as able, capable, and strong.

I wish I could say writing this, getting it off my chest, is helping me work through it. I hope it will. At the moment, though, I’m still feeling tentative and wary. So I’ll just bundle it up and use it. I’ll coach myself through those timid moments. I’ll put on my Big Girl Panties, hike them up high, and march forward. I’ll remind myself that I can use clothing as armor, as strength, and if I need it, it’s there. But more than any of it, and pardon the Stuart Smalley moment, but I’m strong, I’m able, and I kick ass. And gosh darn it, people know that.

I put clothes on daily, and I love the challenges I’m conquering in my role. Each moment holds some confidence and a dash of fear. I’ve decided that’s the way I want it right now. I don’t have the answer as to how to feel as strong and capable as others see me and as I know I am, nor do I know what any of this means for my closet, if anything. I’m going to keep thinking and writing about it over on my site under the tag “Executive Style.” If you’d like to join the conversation, I’d love to have you.

Alison SantighianBy day, Alison Santighian is a contractor for the federal government, using her super powers to serve our country, but by night (after bedtime for her “Beans” now 7 and almost 5), she pines after the “it” factor. Alison and “H” (better known as #besthusbandever) don’t believe badass has an expiration date, so they hit concerts, shows, restaurants, and openings across the globe. Alison also writes for Glass Magazine, adding a business woman’s eye to fashion week reviews and style features. Follow her on Twitter.

How To Dress After Losing Weight (Guest Post)

Yes, that’s right, occasionally we do something right with our lifestyles and lose 15 pounds, two dress sizes and reshape our bodies! This happened to me a few years ago when I quit smoking. Three months after I quit, I started doing aerobics twice a week, went on a semi-diet and lost 15 pounds, gained a waist for the first time in 10 years and have more or less kept it off through a pregnancy and various other life changes. I’ve also cut my hair from super-long to chin length, changed its color and am now over 40, the years when bodies begin to change in other ways and sometimes not for the better….. I’m stronger, healthier and more confident than ever before, and I would say it shows because of the clothes I wear.

Many ladies take large-size dressing down to their smaller size without success. You may see them out and about – clothes that may still fit somewhat around one part of the body but don’t fit well, hang baggily, are dated, may have been expensive when they were first purchased but are still held onto like security blankets. Excuses are made, closets are full of things you don’t want to wear, you stand for several minutes in front of the closet every morning trying to think of something that makes you look like the person y`ou now are. This post is how to emphasize your gains as well as your losses!

Michelle ObamaPick one body part you have worked hard to improve and emphasize it. Got great arms now due to weightlifting? There’s a reason Michelle Obama wears a lot of sleeveless items when being photographed, when most of us look 10 pound heavier! She works hard for those muscles and likes to wear things that emphasize that body part.

I started wearing wrap dresses, higher waists and really anything that defined a waist again. I used to have a lot of quasi-maternity style dresses – my sister and I call them “fitted and then vaaaaaague….” and those went to Goodwill almost immediately. Once I was asked all the time if I was pregnant, now it rarely happens.

Keep a close eye on proportion. One thing I discovered is that although I am petite and a size 10/11, I can look even thinner if the proportion is right. Wide-legged pants call for a sleeker top. Blousey top calls for a pencil-like or straight skirt, or narrower pants.

I will often wear a swing-style cropped suit jacket with a dark straight skirt, and it makes me look a lot taller. Being more fit means you can feel confident about being sleeker.

Great Fitting JeansShop for or tailor basics you need to replace first. One thing I see thinner people do a lot is to keep wearing their old jeans. That stiff fabric makes them look a lot heavier than they really are – it’s time to invest in either getting them tailored to fit you or new pairs. Same thing with suits – if you really really love it and it’s not dated, get it tailored.

Don’t forget the foundation garments. When you lost weight, did The Girls get smaller too? I even had to buy new panties! I didn’t lose so much weight that my shoe size changed, but for some of you this may be something you need to invest in! Lucky you! I do still need the control top tights in the winter, but it’s more so that they stay up rather than that I need the firmness per se. Although that never hurt anyone….

Kate Winslet Tailored DressTailored items make everyone look thinner. When we are heavier we wear a lot more stretch fabrics, and especially if you’ve lost inches, that stretch fabric hangs oddly and is ill-fitting. I had some great pairs of jersey pants and dresses that when I decided to ditch ’em, I replaced them with more tailored items. Not only was it a way to present a more professional image (I wanted to also advance my career with my new look), the additional seaming and pressed creases in the tailored pieces allowed me to make straight lines where I wanted them to be, and to be more polished overall.

So congratulations! You’ve worked hard to drop that weight, and every little bit counts. Whether it’s 10, 20 or 70 pounds, celebrate your accomplishment, your new life and your new body and rock it with the clothes you wear!

KayBug, guest blogger and avid Jazzerciser, cyclist and very occasional power walker/jogger on the dreaded treadmill.

Interested in being a guest blogger on Wardrobe Oxygen? Send me an email with your idea and your qualifications!

True Fashionista: Pearl

We “old school” bloggers stick together. We remember when the fashion blogosphere was much smaller, less commercial, and just about sharing personal style and connecting with like-minded folks across the globe.  While we may lose touch a bit from time to time, there’s always a place in our hearts for one another.   Pearl Westwood is one of those “old school” bloggers who I have followed over the years. While she has always had killer style, it has been so much fun to see her hone it over the time on her blog, Fashion Pearls of Wisdom.

Pearl really knows herself, and how to use clothing to express it. Her look shows that she is an individual, celebrates it, yet has a passion for fashion. Pearl epitomizes what I think of as British fashion – edgy, eclectic, yet relaxed.  The Brits see the fun in fashion, yet take it quite seriously.  It is no surprise that Pearl’s favorite fashion designer is Vivienne Westwood.   

Pearl’s blog Fashion Pearls of Wisdom doesn’t just feature her personal style and recent purchases, but breaks down the latest looks and runway shows, analyzing the concept, thought, and designer. Pearl understands and respects the talent and history behind fashion.  She will often feature a designer I had never heard of but instantly love and respect thanks to her analysis.  I love how she will drop a fact about an obscure brand or a designer’s collection from a decade ago as easily as many speak of reality TV or current events.  Sharing of such information isn’t for Pearl to show off her immense fashion knowledge, but because she loves and lives fashion.

While Pearl is quite aware of what is current in fashion, she stays true to her personal aesthetic, and only takes on the trends that adhere to her personal style.  I think what I admire most about Pearl’s style is how consistent it is.  Consistent isn’t a bad thing – one look at Pearl’s blog and you can see that her style is anything but boring.  But she knows herself, what she likes, and what she wishes to say with fashion and is always true to herself.

Enough of me raving about Pearl, here’s her side of the story.  As with every other True Fashionista, I have asked her to answer the same five questions:

How would you describe your personal style?
‘Like Vivienne Westwood vomited all over me’ is how one friend likes to describe me ha ha good job we share a wicked sense of humour! I hold my hands up and have to admit Vivienne Westwood features heavily in my wardrobe, I just love everything about her designs. I don’t think there is any other designer who pushes the boundaries quite liker her and the fact that many of her pieces come with political messages, such as to save the rainforests, they have have meaning as well as style. Mixed in with that are other carefully chosen designer pieces and a stack of vintage. I don’t really care where my clothes come from, it’s not about the label, but about how they look. I would rather have one thing that I am totally obsessed with and wear everyday than a bag full of things I wasn’t all that fussed about. My key items are jackets particularly vintage sequin ones, ankle socks and crazy heels.

Where did you get your passion for fashion?
You know I’m not really sure, it has always been something I was interested in. My mum says I get it from my maternal grandmother, who I sadly never met and since my mum is totally glam herself I would say it runs in the family. I think my mum really helped by encouraging me to experiment with fashion as a child, when I was a kid she would braid multi-coloured ribbons into my hair so I could look like 80’s pop star Boy George!

Where do you find sartorial inspiration?
I gobble up everything and anything fashion, from runway shows, glossy magazines and hundreds of blogs it is my job to know about all the latest trends and I love to learn so I can’t deny this has influence on me. But what I really find inspiring is vintage shopping, just getting to examine beautiful and unique things sets my imagination off. I also really like to see what other people are wearing, I find it fascinating how two people can wear the same thing in such a different way. I admire people who dress for themselves regardless of current trends such as Dame Vivienne Westwood and the late Anna Piaggi. I try to take all this on board to feed my own imagination but most of all the one thing that inspires me are the clothes themselves. Nothing can beat that feeling of finding a item which you just fall for head over heels, be it for it’s beauty or unusual construction, the pieces that you put on and want to twirl around in, fashion should be fun above all else.

What is the difference between fashion and style?
Ah the ago old question! I think anyone can go out and buy fashion but it takes style to be able to wear it well. That said everone has their own opinions on what defines the two. Personally I love fashion, I love a new trend and I love getting dressed up. Perhaps it is more to do with your attitude, you could wear a bin-bag and be stylish so long as you had the confidence. I am reminded of a story about Vivienne Westwood, when she had gotten caught out in the rain whilst riding her bicycle to a meeting. Ever the DIY advocate Vivienne had fashioned herself a hat out of one of her store carrier bags to save her hair getting a soaking. Pulling up under the window to park her bike, those she was meeting laughed and ridiculed her, even taking a photography and publishing it in a mocking way. So Vivienne went and embroidered that very photo inside her couture clothing, the eccentric lady with a plastic bag on her head grinning at you as you handed over thousands of pounds to her. I think we can safely say it was Vivienne to get the last laugh. Have faith in yourself and take your own opinion, it is you who has to wear the clothes at the end of the day.

Any advice for a woman who is starting to find her personal style?
Enjoy it! I actually started my blog because I wanted to record the style journey I was on. Having had an interest in fashion for many years it wasn’t until I finished my undergrad degree at uni and I guess started to grow up that I really found myself conscious of fashion again. I was on a personal journey as I had to decide on my career and also a journey of self discovery as I finally lost the weight I had been wanting to shift for the past couple of years. Suddenly fashion became something I was able to play around with instead of just having to wear whatever I could find to fit. I realise now that most of my problems with fashion had been in my own head, it was more to do with confidence than dress size. So now I would advise everyone to stop worrying about what anyone else thinks, stop worrying about all the ‘style rules’, pick and choose what tips you like and get out there and start having fun. If you want to wear bright pink and orange do it! If you want to go into a designer boutique do it, don’t be intimidated. Have no fear! 

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The purpose of the Friday True Fashionista series is to show women who use clothing to express their personal style.  Each woman has a different, unique look and opinion on clothing and fashion.  These women inspire me in my clothing choices, and possibly their bold sartorial statements will inspire you.  Stay tuned, there will be a featured  True Fashionista every Friday for the next few weeks. And if you know of a True Fashionista in your life, tell us about her in the comments!

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Revlon: My Secret Weapon (and a Giveaway!)

Products for this post were provided by Revlon. All opinions are my own.

As a blogger as well as a full-time working mom, I sort of feel like a super hero. Having a child has taught me how to work on less sleep. Working and managing a blog has made me a maestro of time management. Having a happy family and successful career is thanks to being a multitasking rockstar. But all of this is thanks to secret weapons I have gathered over the past couple of years.

One of my best secret weapons is having a uniform. It’s clear from this blog that I don’t wear the same thing every day, but with time and experience I have pared down silhouettes and color stories to make getting dressed each morning far simpler. I no longer fight my figure or lifestyle, but shop to incorporate these two first, current trends second.

The same comes with my beauty routine. My secret weapon of a uniform is just as important with my cosmetics. I do the same exact face every single day, and then add variety with one simple change of eyes or lips. I recently shared how I switch up my beauty routine to incorporate eye color, but this fall I am a bigger fan of keeping my eyes uniform, and adding punch with my lips. I really like my lips, and I find making them the focus gives the look more impact, and really puts my uniform secret weapon to good use!

Revlon recently sent me three of their Revlon ColorBurst™ Lip Butters to add to my beauty routine. I’m a mega Revlon fan, and have used their ColorBurst™ Lip Butters before and have enjoyed them so I was thrilled by the gift. Available in 20 fabulous shades, the Revlon ColorBurst™ Lip Butters are a buttery balm with shiny color. The hydrating mango, Shea and coconut butter formula boosts lip moisture by 156%; in a study 94% of women felt lips were softer, smoother, and instantly hydrated after using Revlon’s ColorBurst™ Lip Butters. I love this product because it feels so good all day, wears quite nicely, gives great shine without stickiness, and is one of those products you can put on sans mirror and look amazing.

The three colors I received were Pink Lemonade, Peach Parfait, and Berry Smoothie. All three are wearable shades of pink that would be flattering to many skintones no matter the season; I was especially thrilled to receive Berry Smoothie because I owned it previously but lost it on a vacation.

Berry Smoothie–it’s like my lip color, but better.  Not too pink, not too mauve, just a more polished me.  I love wearing this color on weekends and I keep it in my purse for quick touch-ups during the workday.

Peach Parfait – A great way to try the coral lip trend without too much intensity.  For someone who prefers cool tones, this is a very flattering peachy shade.  A hint of shimmer, this is a great lip color to balance a bolder smoky eye.

Pink Lemonade–like the beverage, sweet but with an edge.  The tube may make you think this is a teenybopper pink, but the color is quite flattering to all ages and looks great with flushed cheeks and defined lashes.  It’s also a great topcoat on lip stains for a bit of shine and necessary hydration.

With a uniform of same face, cheeks, and eyes each day, there’s the time and money to be more daring or creative with your lip color. I love that I can get ready in just a couple minutes because I have perfected my uniform face, and I love that a switch from a dark stain to a bold lipstick or a fresh glossy balm like Revlon’s Lip Butters can completely transform my look.

Giveaway:
The giveaway is now closed and the winner notified.  Thank you for entering!

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Saturday

In the morning, I ran to get my hair cut and colored in the nearby town, and then run a few errands. Olive ribbed tank from J. Crew, white ribbed tank from Old Navy, Joe’s Jeans in “Provacateur,” brown stacked flops from J. Crew, silver hoops from The Icing, silver cuff.

Hair was brushed out but on the second day; blew the bangs straight.

Makeup was Body Shop bronzing powder in Light as face color, Max Factor Lash Perfection mascara on curled lashes, Revlon Super Lustrous Lip Gloss in Pink Afterglow.

Kathleen did her magic – all I told her is that I wanted to go darker and that I wanted heavier bangs. I trust her, and was not disappointed. Choppy layers that can work straight, wavy or curly, fun sideswept bangs, and a very rich multi-tonal color of dark brown that looks closer to what I was born with.

Got home and had to dash to get dressed. Friday night I had a friend over so I didn’t have time to play dress-up and figure out my theater outfit. Thank you soooo much to everyone who wrote in suggestions, you guys are awesome and have good ideas! For the one who suggested my Old Navy dress… I completely forgot about it. I had set to wear my black cashmere tank from Banana Republic and my orange-red shantung full skirt also from Banana (seen here), but when I saw how spiffy and sleek my husband looked (flat front gray tropical wool trousers from J. Crew, white tailored shirt from some brand sold at Mens Wearhouse, black blazer from… J. crew? Not sure…, black slip-on sleek shoes from Ecco) I decided my outfit may look a bit like a costume. I tried a few different skirts, but settled on the black matte jersey dress from Old Navy, my red stone necklace, my leopard peep-toe heels from BCBgirls,silver hoops from The Icing, and silver cuff natch. :-)

Didn’t have to do my hair since it was done by Kathleen my talented stylist. She used the Pureology line on me, and swears by it for protecting color. I bought the shampoo and conditioner and once I can wash my hair (was told to go as long as humanely possible without washing) I will be using it and let you k now how it is.

Same makeup as earlier, just a re-touch of the bronzing powder, a bit of Smashbox Soft Lights in Tint on my cheekbones, a medium line of Maybelline Ultra Liner in black on the top lash line, a quick swipe of Maybelline Great Lash waterproof mascara in black over existing mascara, Body Shop Lip and Cheek Tint with Revlon Super Lustrous Lip Gloss in Pink Afterglow over it.

We took the Metro and it was not even a block to the little restaurant (I don’t know if there are even 20 tables in the place). The menu seemed different from the one online and the only entrees that were vegetarian were spaghetti with tomato sauce (yawn) and a risotto with corn and truffle shavings. My husband and I chose the risotto, we shared a bottle of Pinot Grigio (not sure the label, our friend chose the wine) and had a nice, yet not inspiring or overwhelmingly unique meal. We then walked not even three blacks to the Kennedy Center where my friend and I sidestepped grates in our heels (she too wore a black sheath and heels) while the men tromped over everything and got there in time to marvel at the acre-sized curtains in the lobby and get a cocktail in the Terrace Bar prior to the performance.

The performance was great! As I said, I had never seen The Phantom of the Opera other than the movie. Back story – 1992, for Christmas I got my first boom box with a CD player in it, and with it two CDs – Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera. For several months until I got my high school arsenal of REM, Depeche Mode, Pearl Jam and Nirvana, I listened solely to these two soundtracks. Come 2007, I am silently singing along to this performance and even a tear came down my cheek at finally seeing live what I had in my head 15 years ago. I think also seeing Shakespeare in Love the night prior made the theater experience that more intense.

Our friends live in Virginia and parked at the theater; it was a gorgeous night and declined their offer to drive us to the Metro and decided to hoof it. All in all a lovely evening!

A Life, Replotted: Finding My Path

chelsea henderson for wardrobe oxygen

In my adult life, I’ve been an English as a Second Language Teacher, a school administrator, a Capitol Hill staffer, an environmental advocate, and an energy lobbyist. I’m also a single mother, a wannabe writer and an intermittent blogger with the best of intentions to post more frequently. I’ve toyed over the years with becoming a stylist and spin instructor, and I’ve interviewed (albeit unsuccessfully) for two CEO positions.

To say I was lost is an understatement.

A year and a half ago, driving to work one morning, the left side of my face and neck went numb. I thought I was having a stroke. A doctor friend I texted (yes, while driving) ran me through a series of tests.

“You aren’t having a stroke. You’re having a panic attack,” he determined. “You need to find a stress reliever.”

That numbing sensation returned every time I hit the same intersection in my daily commute. A friend suggested we go to yoga; I reluctantly said yes, kicking and screaming internally the entire way to the studio. Then, as I lay in savasana (corpse pose) at the end of the class, I started sobbing. Call it an epiphany, a reawakening or just a moment of clarity: the stress of my job was killing me, and I had to get out of it.

I left my lucrative high-pressure job and founded my own one-woman policy consulting firm. Between some strategic budgeting, a separation package and a few clients I picked up, I made the financial transition work for my family. But the tug to leave the career I’d spent eighteen years cultivating was strong; I found myself spending less and less time seeking policy clients and more and more time on the yoga mat and working on my novel.

Fast forward to today. I have written not one but two novels, both of which I’m in the process of pitching to literary agents. By the end of January, I will have completed a 200-hour yoga teacher training certification. I also manage a boutique fitness studio and get paid a small sum to write for an energy policy blog.

My income is not the highest it’s ever been. We don’t eat out much, and I didn’t take a “real” vacation in 2014. I’ve consigned many of my old work duds and the heels I used to don religiously Monday thru Friday. I don’t mind spending most of my time in loungewear. I write and practice yoga daily; hope to add yoga teacher and author to my bio; and I’m home when my kids get out of school.

What else do you need to know about me? Someday I will tell you about how my son got his name. Let’s just say it involves a certain handsome brooder from literature. I love wine, books, red lipstick and George Clooney, though I’m trying not to let his recent nuptials depress me. And whatever walk of life you find yourself in, I’m here to inspire, cheerlead and support. I recoil at the label midlife crisis. For the first time in my life, I feel authentic.

I look forward to sharing tidbits of my journey here.

chelsea hendersonChelsea Henderson is an aspiring novelist and recovering Capitol Hill staffer. When she isn’t sneaking time to finish writing her second book, she advocates on behalf of clean energy and environmental policy, reads, practices yoga, and single parents her perpetually hungry pre-teen boys. She also periodically contributes to her lifestyle blog, the Chelsea Chronicles and is intermittently good at Twitter.

Contest: Tolani Scarf from chickdowntown.com

jessica alba tolani scarfTo celebrate me coming back to work and to blogging, I have a great contest for you readers!

One of you can win a Tolani scarf that has been seen on the likes of Jessica Alba (pictured), Sienna Miller, Vanessa Minnillo (pictured), Halle Berry and Mary-Kate Olsen.

The Tolani scarf is courtesy of chickdowntown.com, an awesome site that sells hip women’s designer clothing from the likes of Black Halo, Marc by Marc Jacobs, Diane Von Fürstenberg and Vera Wang Lavender Label.

I am so excited, because you KNOW I love scarves, and these beauts from Tolani are fabulous!

vanessa minnillo tolani scarfHow to enter:
Send an email to mywardrobetoday@gmail.com with the word “TOLANI” in the subject.
In the body of the email, please provide your name and mailing address (I promise these addresses will only go to me – except for the winner, and will be deleted once the contest is over). Winner will be chosen by random.

Contest ends Friday, March 20th, 2009 at midnight ET. Winner will be contacted by email. Scarf will be mailed out from chickdowntown.com. Sorry international readers, but the contest is only open to those in the United States.

Get to know chickdowntown.com:
Facebook (friend “shop chickdowntown” and/or become a fan of the chickdowntown page)
Twitter (twitter.com/chickdowntown)
YouTube (chickdowntownTV.com or youtube.com/chickdowntowntv)

Good luck!

Talbots Fall 2015 Plus Size Collection and Style Guide

Talbots Fall 2015 Woman Collection Style Guide

I know I just shared Talbots last week, but I was pretty psyched to see that they’re recognizing their plus size/Woman collection with its very own style guide.  Talbots invited the stylish Tanesha Awasthi from the blog Girl With Curves to share her insights and style tips. While I see style guides on a pretty regular basis in my inbox, it’s rare to see one so polished and featuring nothing but plus size fashion and models. I’ve recommended Talbots for years as a destination for extended sizes (and hello to the rare to find Woman Petite sizing!) but this is the first time I’ve seen them really embrace this line and put so much effort into styling and promoting it.

Talbots’ Woman Collection isn’t just the same pieces as their regular line but made bigger; thought is put into the shape, the location of pockets, the length of sleeves.  As a 5’3″ woman I find it thrilling to be able to find larger sizes that aren’t also made for a taller person.  I mean, the average American woman IS 5’3 and a size 12!  Anyway, I think I am preaching to the choir because so many of you love this brand already; below are some of my faves from the style guide and collection (they sent me a few hi-res images of pieces not shown in the PDF). BTW, they’re all in stock on the Talbots site AND they’re having 25% off regularly-priced items through September 7, 2015 (discount in shopping cart).

talbots 2015 fall plus size collection

I shared the Mixed Stitch Poncho in Forest in my last Talbots post and am thrilled to not only see it in plus size, but see it modeled in this size and in a very similar fashion to the straight size model.  It’s styled with the Denim Shirt in Marina Wash,  Ponte Zip Ankle Legging in Indigo, and Easton Driving Mocs. Gosh that green is gorgeous!

Talbots Fall 2015 Woman Collection Style Guide

I live in sweaters like this Ribbed Poncho Cardigan all winter long.  I usually style them over striped tees but love how it’s layered over the Basket Weave Yoke Sweater in the same oatmeal color – warmer and more elegant.  It’s styled here with the Dalton Riding Pant, Geometric Link Necklace, and Tonie Bit Trim Boots.  On the right, the Paisley Scarf that is utterly delicious and will brighten every winter neutral in a closet.

Talbots Fall 2015 Woman Collection Style Guide

I remember when I shared Talbots’ Fall 2014 Look Book some of you asked in email and comments about their quilted jackets and flattering vests.  Not to fear, Talbots has kept them this year as well.  I love the look on the left because it truly shows the power of accessories.  Very simple look (their Poplin Shirt with their Flawless Five Pocket Straight Leg Jeans), but elevated with the Faux Fur Vest, the Geo Link Necklace, Kelsey Doctor’s Bag (which looks better on their site and in person), and those yummy Porsha Wedges in Leopard Haircalf (which come in medium and wide widths).  I’d love to see that vest with a turtleneck sweater, or even belted over a long-sleeve ponte dress.  On the right, a very realistic weekend or workout look featuring the Quilted Brush Back Jacket, Liberty Hoodie, Fresh Jersey Stripe Tee, Athletic Ponte Leggings, and Preston Sneakers (not so good for working out but would be adorable with boyfriend or cuffed jeans!).  Can I also just take a moment to say Hallelujah to a brand featuring plus size athletic gear?!? Yes, all sizes of women like to work out and look good while doing it!

talbots fall 2015 plus size lookb womens

Some more realistic casual looks, hooray! I love the mixing of grays in this first look – the Ribbed Shawl Cardigan is another piece I could see myself wearing all winter long (jeans on the weekends but with trousers for the office when I don’t meet with clients). While the gray is nice, the Black Current option they have online is calling my name. While I like the Audrey Donegal Cashmere Sweater, I don’t love it with this look and would likely switch for a soft knit in steel or maybe even a stripe (you know I love stripes!). The Talbots Windsor Pants comes in five colors and is a perfect wardrobe staple for fall and winter and comes in classic and curvy cuts and long lengths in a few sizes.

For the weekend, I love this look. It’s super wearable and like Tanesha says in the style guide, thinner layers give you warmth without adding bulk. The mix of subtle patterns and neutrals and the pop of color with the bag is awesome and again, realistic style for real lives. Featured is the Quilted Dot Vest, Space Dyed Pullover, Flawless Five Pocket Ankle Jean in Vanilla, Double Pocket Crossbody (which comes in eight different colors and is perfect for travel), and again the Preston Sneaker.

Talbots Fall 2015 Woman Collection Style Guide

Some great dresses and career wear, Talbots is always a great place for that not-so little black (or blue or plum or red or…) dress that goes from desk to drinks with the switch of accessories.  The Double Knit Sweater Dress has a touch of camel piping that keeps it from looking too ho-hum and also makes a gorgeous ensemble when paired with the coordinating Topper.  The Ponte Fit and Flare Dress in the middle comes in four delicious colors and is that perfect go-to dress for most any occasion.  Wear as seen for the office, style with a cardigan or soft blazer, pair with a sparkly necklace and nude shoes for a day wedding, come winter pair with tights and tall boots or wedge ankle booties.  The last look is great together, but each separate is so perfect and versatile.  The Milano Sweater Jacket comes in six colors and has the weight and weave to skim, not cling and would look great unbelted with everything from jeans to work trousers or a sheath dress.  The black and white pattern of the Pleated Crepe Skirt works so great with most any color and won’t look odd come winter when paired with tights and/or boots.  Also, this is an extremely flattering skirt that would look adorable with a tucked in top.  The Eve Pumps (which have a nice sturdy thick heel in a good height) and Mixed Bead Necklace give necessary personality and color to this look but are both versatile pieces that will get a lot of wear all fall and winter long.

talbots 2015 womens plus size

These looks would be great for a casual office or a stylish weekend.  Like the Leopard coat I have from Talbots, these are toppers that can be for warmth or for fashion.  On the left we have the Bold Plaid Wrap, Merino Ballet Sweater, and Vanilla-colored Ankle Jeans styled with the Frannie Spectator Slip Ons and Kelsey Doctor Bag.  On the right, I would wear this entire look in an instant: the Fancy Tweed Jacket, Flawless Five Pocket Jegging, the Porsha Wedges in Leopard Haircalf, and the Double Tassel Necklace.

How to Shop for Clothing and Define Your Personal Style

“Ok Allie, I have a question, how do you shop? I typically only shop when I need an item for work or an event. Wish I had a closet of items I could dress up or down as needed. I feel overwhelmed by the options and am tired of looking at pics online only to not find those items in the stores. Any suggestions? You always seem to be getting new things that are easy to drop into your current wardrobe. I think it’s a skill I’m missing.”

“Allie, I don’t know how to start when it comes to updating my wardrobe. I see something I like on a blogger and buy it but it never looks the same on me. I’m trying to have a smaller closet but I just keep shopping looking for the right thing but never find it. How do you know what to choose when shopping?”

Learning how to shop for myself is an ongoing process and education. Below are the tips I use to stay on track.

How to Shop: Define your personal style without breaking the bank by Wardrobe Oxygen

Know Yourself

You are not me, you are not any blogger or celebrity or person in your neighborhood, no matter how relatable or similar that woman may be. This is a GOOD thing, we women are snowflakes not only when it comes to body shape and size, but coloring, personal style, lifestyle, and temperament. So when you see something great out there you need to say (and sometimes you need to say it out loud), okay it looks great on her but would it look great on me? Does it make sense for me and my current life and wardrobe? This isn’t covering the blogger or model’s head, it’s being completely honest with who you are, knowing and embracing your current self and situation.

Consider your Current Wardrobe

What gets the most wear and why? Do you keep wearing that sundress because it’s comfortable? Because it covers what needs to be covered running after kids yet doesn’t cause you to overheat? Because the color or print makes you happy? Because your partner said you look pretty in it? There is no wrong answer, but delving into the why can help you figure out what NOT to purchase in the future and truly assess your current situation.

Make a List and Check it Twice

Do you regularly get dressed in the morning and wish you had a pair of nude pumps, a navy cardigan, a white blazer that fit well? Do you find situations where you wish you had an LBD on standby or will be attending a destination wedding and need dressy flat sandals? Don’t just think about what you need, jot it down and put it in your wallet or purse. Stick to this list. Remember, you are you now. Don’t shop for the old you, the future you, or the fantasy you. Shopping when not being realistic is the quickest way to waste money and lose any personal style.

Be Prepared

If you only shop when you have an event on the calendar, you will be shopping in desperation having to buy something ANYTHING. And that something will likely only be worn once. Be prepared. Look at your upcoming social and career calendar, look at your past, and factor in what may happen. If you know you have a public speaking engagement once a year for work, be ready with a perfect suit that can look different each time with a switch of shell and accessories. If friends are getting engaged this year, begin looking for wedding, shower, and bachelorette appropriate dresses and outfits. I believe a not-so little black dress is a smart investment because it ensures you’re ready for that unexpected funeral, wedding, cocktail party, luncheon, and can even be the base for many a costume for Halloween or theme nights. I actually have a list I made a decade ago of wardrobe staples that is a good starting point – adjust for your life and style but do factor in what may come down the pike.

Stop Pinning and Pining for Pretty Closets

I find it strange that the most pinned images from my blog are those of big and colorful closets and they are pinned on boards just of big and colorful closets. Don’t try to make your closet pretty, a pretty looking closet usually equals a lost personal style. I know, I’ve been there. The more varied and exciting your wardrobe, the harder it is to get dressed and the more of a need to buy more to make everything work.

Narrow Your Search

I’ve had readers complain that it seems everything I buy is from Gap, Ann Taylor, LOFT, and Nordstrom. I do this for a reason – it makes my life easier. These retailers carry petite and up to 14, they have free shipping promotions, and either have free return shipping or have a location near my home or office where I can drop in and return what doesn’t work. I know some people will Google a type of garment and search for it or go blindly to the biggest mall in the area, but I find doing either sends me down a rabbit hole, leaves me sweaty and overwhelmed, and usually ends up emptying my pockets on things I don’t need. There is nothing wrong with shopping at the same retailers all the time if they fit your figure, your budget, and your lifestyle. Life is short, don’t spend it getting overwhelmed and frustrated at the mall or in front of your computer.

Keep your Closet Clean

We’re all short on time, but taking care with your closet (and drawers and jewelry boxes) will save you time and money in the long run. Carefully hang everything on hangers all facing the same direction. Organize your drawers so everything is visible. A place for everything and everything in its place so you can clearly see what you have, what you need, and what would improve the current wardrobe. When I start feeling the need for new clothes, I step away from the laptop and step into my closet to reorganize. Touching the garments, carefully buttoning and smoothing, organizing by category (I put all dresses together, all tops, all pants, etc.) and removing that which is damaged, doesn’t fit or isn’t appropriate to the season or your life keeps you connected and helps you really know if you need to shop and what you actually need to buy.

Don’t look for Happiness on a Hanger

No dress will transform your life. A well-fitting pair of pants won’t make you look 10 years younger and 20 pounds thinner. You’ll make your ex seethe with jealously more by having a blast on the wedding dance floor than wearing that dress you searched three months for. While it’s important to dress with and for respect for an interview, if a job won’t hire you because your suit is three years old or your pants and blazer don’t perfectly match the company likely won’t be a happy fit in the long run. Clothing should be used to keep yourself from getting arrested for indecent exposure, to represent your emotion or intention. And to express who you already are. Money can’t buy happiness and clothing can’t change you. If you’re looking for a big change, look within before opening your wallet.

Seasonless Black Trousers

A pair of black trousers in a seasonless fabric is a necessity to any woman’s wardrobe. What deems a fabric “seasonless?” This means the pants are not wool, they are not cotton. They are most likely a blend of fabrics, usually a good portion synthetic. Ann Taylor has a seasonless fabric they call Triacetate. Express’ seasonless fabric is called Microtwill. J.Crew (and many other brands) calls their version Gabardine. All different fabrics, all seasonless. Maintains it’s shape, often has a bit of stretch, has a slight texture or sheen (great for dressing up and dressing down!), and sort of blends into the background. Not only should these tousers be seasonless, they should be eventless (if that is a word). You want trousers that can go from work to a happy hour to a cocktail party to an interview, to a night club. What cut achieves this? A bootcut leg, not tight, but not Palazzo pants (those pants that look like a skirt on each leg). A tab waist if often a good choice. You never need to worry about a belt, it lies flat under fitted, untucked shirts, yet looks smart with a tucked in oxford. Due to a tab-wait trouser having a wider waistband, it is less likely to cut into the torso, creating a spare tire above the waistline. Very flattering on women with hips, bellies, rears, or straight shapes.

These trousers should not have front pockets. I do not care what your body shape is, front pockets ruin a smooth line and make trousers look more casual and less versatile. These pockets often bow out, wrinkle under the tousers, and look messy. They can make Kate Moss look like Kathy Bates. Back pockets are okay, as long as they are small besom pockets, and not patch pockets (again, detroy the versatility and make the trouser more dated and casual).

Examples of good trousers:

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Yes, I said these trousers should be black, but I chose a lighter color so you could see the detail. The bootcut leg adds a modern look to the pant, elongates and slims the leg. This is an example of a tab waist. See how it is a wider waistband, less likely to cut into the middle. The lack of pleats, seaming and pockets in the front minimizes a belly and gives a smooth line. The strong crease down the front elongates the leg and gives a long, lean look. See how you could see these pants with an oxford and matching blazer with pumps for work, a beaded camisole and pointy toed heels for a night club, a cotton v-neck sweater sweater and some boots for a jaunt to the mall. These pants are from Ann Taylor, and are a cotton/rayon/spandex blend (rayon gives it the seasonless fabric, strech gives it the smooth fit wear after wear).

Here is a great example from Lane Bryant:

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These pants are a seasonless nylon/rayon/spandex blend. They are cut just below the waist (reduces the look of tummy bulge), have a bootcut leg, and smooth lower torso. These pants would look great with strappy heels, a beaded shell and matching jacket for a cocktail party, or a merino turtleneck and some crocodile pointy boots for lunch with the girls. At the time of writing this, these trousers are on sale for $20, regularly $45. You really can find stylish classic pieces for a steal at your local mall. I cannot stress this point enough.

The point is that with the right black trousers, you can dress for almost any event. I have black trousers I purchased five years ago, and still wear weekly. They do not have to cost a lot, most of the trousers I buy on sale and get for less than $50.00. Do keep in mind that though a bargain is always great, black trousers is one thing you do not want to look cheap. They will be worn more than most anything else in your wardrobe, so don’t settle for a chintzy fabric with a cheap sheen, a pair that wrinkles easily, isn’t lined, isn’t the right length, the right cut, the right anything. I do believe in buying in bulk. If you find the trousers of your dreams, you may wish to invest in a second pair in black, and possibly a third pair in another versatile color (gray, brown, tan, white). Consider this especially if you buy the matching suit jacket. I purchased a pair of amazing trousers and the matching jacket at Ann Taylor four years ago. I often wore the trousers without the jacket. One day my dog jumped up to greet me as I returned home from work, his claw got caught in the fabric and ended up snagging and tearing the thigh of these coveted trousers. Ann Taylor no longer makes pieces in this same fabric, so I have a lovely well-fitting jacket and no trousers to match. Since then, I always buy two pairs of pants for every suit jacket, allowing one pair for every day wear, and one pair to preserve to wear with the jacket or for special occasions.

As for care of these pants. I will let you know ahead of time that often these pants say “Dry Clean Only.” I DESPISE spending money on dry cleaning. I end up taking my clothes to the cleaners and forget to pick them up for two weeks. Most of the knits and sweaters I purchase I ignore this “Dry Clean Only” label and wash in Woolite on the gentle cycle of my machine and hang to dry. I have tried this with trousers, and rarely have had good luck. They end up wrinkled, losing that nice front crease and long line. They look cheaper, they often get tighter, the legs shorter (often leaving the lining the same length, which is NOT a good look!), the threads weaken, leaving the potential for an embarrassment the next time you sit down. I have a stain remover I actually purchased in the lingerie department of a department store. I spot treat with that or a Shout! Wipe (always have 5 or 6 in my purse – available at your grocery store in the detergent aisle) and then take them to the local discount dry cleaners. Every so often, they get a better cleaning at the higher end dry cleaners. This may seem like a pain, especially if you have children, a busy schedule, a tight budget. I must tell you this is an investment. If you take care of your clothes correctly, they will take care of you in return, looking gorgeous and lasting for years. Though it may be more appealing to buy all clothing that can take a tumble in the washer and dryer, you lose that polished look, that classic look, the look that shows you care what you look like and others should as well. If you can’t go beyond Tumble Dry Low, you will have a hard time following the closet rules of this book.

Ask Allie: Casual Capsule Wardrobe for Post-college Orientation

I’m starting an internship and I’m really excited about it! But first, I have a 10 day orientation in North Carolina. The internship directors told us to dress “casual” but to me (as a very recent college grad) that’s whatever t-shirt is clean and shorts that have seen better days. I want to pack everything in my carry-on and I’m assuming I’ll need clothes to wear for nights out! I really need help figuring out what to pack!

For such an event, if they say casual, then you can stick to casual. Some clean-front chino shorts, denim in good condition, and casual knit dresses with sandals or even sneakers will be fine. However, I know you will need nicer clothes also for your internship so why not buy pieces that do double duty – work casual now and more polished once you’re at the office? This capsule wardrobe is for a warm climate, a casual environment but with a touch of polish. I usually stick to brights or black-based collections so I switched this one up with navy as a base and accents of soft neutrals and pastels.  Add casual tee shirts to the mix to keep from looking too dressy for your orientation.

casual capsule wardrobe warm weather after college or casual workplace

Shop The Look: short | skirt | bag | sandals | sneakers | bracelet | necklace | ankle pants | boyfriend jeans | striped knit top | sleeveless top | drapey top | drapey tee | wrap dress | tee shirt dress | cardigan

Shoes really set the tone for an outfit. The dresses seen here are both made out of jersey knit; pair them with heels and they could work for the office or a summer outdoor wedding. But paired with flat sandals in a neutral color or even a pair of sneakers (TOMS, slip-on canvas shoes, or any type of tennis shoe that is on trend right now) it’s perfect for a casual orientation or weekend out with friends. The same holds true for cotton ankle pants, a denim skirt, or tops in dressier fabrics.

Denim is expected for a casual setting, but don’t get too casual with a bunch of rips and tears. I chose boyfriend jeans which are more comfortable than fitted jeans and give a casual vibe. They’d work great with a simple tee, but can be polished up when you half-tuck a silky or drapey top with them, or style with a crisp Breton tee. A denim skirt is great because you can dress up with a cardigan and the sandals, or pair with sneakers and even a logoed or band tee for casual cool.  Considering your workplace once your internship starts, you may be able to wear the denim skirt with pumps, tall boots, blouses and blazers.

Solid cotton chino pieces with clean lines are a great way to look casual and polished. A pair of shorts with a bit longer of a hem (these are 7”) are still stylish but more appropriate for an environment where you will be interacting with supervisors. Ankle or cropped pants are more casual than long pants and look adorable with sandals or low-profile sneakers, but once you’re in the office can be dressed up with a pair of pumps or pointed toe flats. Don’t be afraid to embrace color for these pieces; color can often be more versatile than khaki or black and will dress up simple knit tees and tanks you can buy cheap at big box retailers.

When it comes to tops, it’s okay to wear simple solid or striped tees, but consider buying pieces with an interesting detail that can dress up for a night out, or transition into your career wardrobe. A sleeveless top in a silky fabric will look great untucked with the shorts or half-tucked into boyfriend jeans, but come the fall you can style tucked in to trousers or a pencil skirt. A blouse with built-in drape adds interest without being too revealing for your situation. Pair with any bottom in this capsule wardrobe and come fall style with ankle pants and pumps or work trousers and low heels.  A lightweight cardigan is a great piece; it can get cold in air conditioned places and is small enough to tuck into a bag. Once you’re working in an office, this will become a wardrobe staple you’ll pair with pants, skirts, and dresses.

Keep jewelry to a minimum, the more shine the more dressy an outfit can look. However, if you buy accessories consider buying fewer pieces but ones that are a bit better quality. I have a necklace from Kendra Scott and a bracelet from Gorjana; both brands offer costume (not real metal) jewelry, but it’s better quality that will hold up nicely and bring your outfits up a level. A long necklace can make a knit tee look polished and adds weight to loose tops and dresses to show your figure without being revealing. A simple bracelet in silver or gold is often all the shine a look needs; I have this bracelet and it has survived several months of being stuck in doll houses, junk drawers, and purse pockets. A watch is a great alternative and has function as well as style. Even though they’re costume jewelry, treat them well (don’t get them wet, store in a jewelry box or even a Ziploc bag) so they can provide you with many seasons of stylish wear.

Shop the Capsule Wardrobe:

Age is But a Number

Age is but a number.

Really people, it is. It’s not a euphemism that allows adults to wear Care Bear shirts and skip across the parking lot to Starbucks, but it isn’t a steadfast bar where you have to adjust your life to fit it.

I spent my lunch in Borders, pouring over fashion magazines while enjoying an iced coffee. Bazaar (which ya’ll know is one of my very favorite fashion magazines) had an article about Diane von Furstenberg (who is one of my very favorite designers).

Diane von Furstenberg is 60, beautiful, sexy and confident. She shows skin, wears her hair long, attends interviews with a face free of makeup and wears garments many would say should be reserved for her younger clients.

All of this, yet the woman exudes amazing style, confidence and class. Why? She isn’t adhering to a number, but to her self. She knows what works and what doesn’t by having a good relationship with her body and her mind. She doesn’t feel that since she hit a certain age bracket she now needs to dress in Chanel suits and sensible heels. Look at the pictures above – that is not “typical” attire for a woman in her 60s yet on von Furstenberg, it is perfect and stylish.

My friend is 29 and used to be a manager of a Talbots store. She was always amazed at the type of people who bought the different styles of clothing the company carried. It was as though once a woman hit 40, she felt as though she must own a pair of cropped capris with embroidered palm trees all over them. Pink polo shirts, quirky capris and uber-comfortable conservative slides and sandals seemed to be the expected uniform of that age, especially if she had children. She would suggest alternatives that seemed to fit the person’s figure and personality better – soft knits, shirtdresses, stronger colors but they usually refused, saying they were too old for anything but the standard conservative prep uniform.

Now for some, this look is cute and appropriate. However for most, it is stupid and well… corny. It’s the same with the over-50 set who feels she is now expected to dress completely in the Chico’s Travelers collection. The closet is full of slinky black pieces that drape all over, pulled together with an artistic and bold necklace or hip belt. Again, fabulous look on some, but totally wrong on many.

When my mom was growing up, she remembered very specific styles that every female HAD to have in her closet. A charcoal piped blazer, a circle skirt, a pencil skirt, a tucked in white blouse. All pieces that looked horrific on her petite curvy frame. Luckily, style is not so rigid anymore, and one can truly walk a mall (or surf the Internet) and find pieces that fit one’s personal style AND figure.

Age-appropriate dressing usually has to do with how much skin you are exposing. The thing is, a 55-year old woman who is a marathon runner and yoga enthusiast can better carry off a little silk sundress and strappy heels than a 21-year old woman who has a few more curves. A curvy woman in her 20s often has firmer arms and décolletage than a woman in her 40s, and then can more easily carry off a strapless top with a plunging neckline. So it’s not as much about how much skin you are showing, but what type of skin you are showing.

In my 20s, I was less concerned with my torso showing and often wore tops that hit right at the waistband. However I was less comfortable with my upper body and chose short sleeves over straps and wore higher necklines so not to expose any cleavage. I wore looser pants feeling that my bum was too round, and never wore skirts for thinking my legs were too thick. Now in my 30s, I wear lower necklines to elongate my body and accentuate my curves; I love skirts and dresses because they show off my feminine shape and find that slimmer fitting jeans make me look smaller and taller. It’s not about changing my wardrobe because I hit a new decade in my life, but changing my wardrobe according to my relationship with my current body, my lifestyle, my career.

There are some style I am drawn to but choose not to wear because of my lifestyle and profession more than my age (gosh if I was independently wealthy I think I may get a Mohawk and re-pierce my nose) but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be worn by anyone. I have a former coworker who is in her 40s. She loves working out and has a great toned body, a short spiky black hairdo, wears a lot of eyeliner, sports a few tattoos and looks amazing in jeans and a ribbed tank. Because of her personality and her lifestyle (musician and makeup artist) it doesn’t look foolish, it doesn’t look as though she is attempting to be younger, she seems comfortable in her skin and expressing her personality. I have an old college friend who is the opposite. She is 30 years old, wears very conservative and subtle attire. She looks at home in knee-length tweed skirts, cashmere turtlenecks, conservative suits and clothes often associated with a teacher or librarian. She is never without her pearls or her classic style of Coach purse and always looks confident, feminine and chic. She works in a conservative field and even in college when we attended frat parties, she arrived in crisp khakis, a button-down shirt and loafers. No one mocked her because this is what made her… well her!

One can be in beautiful clothing yet still not be considered well dressed. One can dress appropriately for her age group, but still look inappropriate. The only way to truly achieve style is to know yourself. A good way is by answering the questions below, then reading them aloud. You may be surprised by your answers…

  • Who is your favorite artist?
  • Why?
  • Who is your favorite musician?
  • Why?
  • Looking at all the colors in a box of Crayola crayons, what color are you drawn to?
  • Why?
  • What wardrobe item from your past do you remember most fondly?
  • Why?
  • What female celebrity’s style do you admire most?
  • Why?
  • Where would you go for a dream vacation?
  • Why?
  • What color did you want to paint your childhood bedroom?
  • Your first residence when you moved out on your own?
  • What is your favorite movie or play?
  • Why?
  • If you had a free weekend, what would you do with it?
  • When you are in a meeting or seminar, do you ever doodle or write during the lecture?
  • If so, what?
  • What is your favorite holiday?
  • Why?
  • What is your favorite food?
  • What are the five most important things in your life (things being actual things, people, beliefs, anything)?
  • What item in your current wardrobe makes you feel:
  • Beautiful?
  • Fun?
  • Powerful?
  • Feminine?
  • Boring?
  • Uncomfortable?

You and your best friend could answer these questions and both have completely different answers. Your favorite shopping buddy, the one you always borrow clothes from will most likely have different answers from you. This is why though you may have similar frames and similar tastes, a dress will look great on her but not quite right on you. This is why a dress can seem slutty on one woman, and seem chic on another, even though they are the same age and size.

Take your answers and make them into a paragraph, a short story about you and only you. This is who you are, not who you are trying to portray, who you attempt to be at work, what your social groups expect from you.

Think about a woman you know who you think has great style. Why? Is it just because she accessorizes well, or is it what she accessorizes with? Is it the clothing, or the combination of clothing and her shape and personality? Often times, we are attracted to those who have style that is flattering to their figure, but also their personality. We admire the woman at church who always seems so feminine and pulled together. She wears soft colors and fabrics that match her sweet and gentle demeanor. We admire our hairdresser who wears combat boots, a vintage dress and a blue streak in her hair, yet walks down the street as though she is Grace Kelly. We notice the corporate powerhouse at the intersection on her Blackberry. Her perfect blonde highlights, the expertly tailored gray pantsuit accented by amazing snakeskin heels. Her whole demeanor exudes confidence and strength. Imagine what they would write in their short story, and think how your appearance is assisting you with your story.

Yes, one should respect social norms – don’t attend a wedding in a strapless bright red leather mini dress, don’t attend a cocktail party in cargo shorts, don’t go to a client meeting in flip flops and yoga pants. Also respect your personal beliefs – if you feel that as a woman you should and should not wear certain things, then by of course adhere to that – this is what makes up your personal story. But outside of that, respecting your figure, your lifestyle, your personality… those are the rules to having great style. Just ask Diane von Furstenberg!