Search Results for: label/career wear on a budget

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.

Ask Allie: Two Weeks in Europe, What to Pack?

Allie I found you on Pinterest through your list of what to wear to Paris. I’m going to England and Europe for two weeks and need help knowing what to pack. No offense, can my capsule have some actual color and no leopard? I love bright colors and want to fit everything in one suitcase. Can you help me?

what to wear to europe spring capsule wardrobe

When I travel I usually stick to primarily neutrals (okay to be honest, it’s primarily black) with a couple pops of color because I find it hides stains, is more versatile, and dresses up and down with ease. However, I do know I often rely too heavily on black so for this wardrobe is a base to showcase the colors and keep everything cohesive. Last year I made a capsule wardrobe of what to wear to England in the spring, but this capsule is for warmer weather and with brighter colors. I’ll admit I made this capsule a month ago but it got lost in my files and I hope isn’t too late for your travel. You didn’t specify what parts of Europe and England you’ll be visiting or what sort of activities you will be partaking in, so I made some assumptions and geared this towards sight-seeing, but also visiting nice restaurants and possibly staying with friends and family.

A jacket is a must when traveling; while I often feature trenches in capsules because of their classic elegance, an anorak can also work if it’s a longer length and has clean lines. Look for something water resistant which will also resist wind; a hood is a lifesaver and also provides warmth. Packable versions can handle being shoved into the bottom of a tote when seeing museums and will take up less space in your suitcase. This is an item where it’s a great idea to choose a favorite color; while it may not dress up as easily, it’s far more enjoyable to wear a cheery hue than khaki or black on a gloomy day!

Dresses and skirts are a great idea for travel; they take up less space, can dress up easily, and are quite comfortable and wrinkle-resistant if you choose fabrics carefully. Matte jersey, modal, silk jersey, and ponte are all fabrics that give and stretch to continue to look great after being shoved in a suitcase and then worn for several hours. Solids are less memorable and easier to mix and match. While the tee shirt dress and skirt are black, consider them base pieces to feature colorful tops and accessories. I love wrap dresses, which are figure flattering and usually made of matte jersey, a very travel-friendly fabric.

I recommend always bringing a pair of trousers as well as jeans. While jeans have become more commonplace across the globe, a pair of pants are an easy way to make your knits look more dressed up. Choosing a pair of pants in a ponte knit means they won’t stretch out or wrinkle with wear, and are easy to spot clean. A pair of leggings don’t take up a lot of room and are a godsend under dresses and skirts if the temps drop, are great to have for any athletic activities, and make for comfy loungewear. As for jeans, a hint of lycra stretch will be more comfortable for long bus rides or days on your feet.

With tops, go for pieces with a bit of Lycra which will resist wrinkles. A striped tee is quite versatile, can be tucked into a skirt, worn under a jacket with jeans, or left untucked with leggings. A flowing tank or shell in silk or a synthetic with a hint of shine can look casual with jeans or dress up nicely with the trousers or skirt. Knits with interesting necklines (scoop, surplice, etc.) immediately look more dressy than a standard tee and are also more flattering. A few tanks tucked in your bag are great for changing the look of a wrap dress, slipping under other tops for warmth, wearing under jackets and sweaters, or on their own if there’s a heat wave. As for cardigans and toppers, I recommend going with lighter knits which fit better in your bag and can more easily tuck into a tote if it gets warm. Merino wool is a great choice for warmth without bulk, plus it repels odors and water.

Accessories are a great way to switch up the look of a capsule wardrobe. A pashmina is a travel must – wear looped around your neck for the flight and have it as a blanket for the plane. Wear to change up your outfits, as a shawl when it’s chilly, or to cover shoulders when entering a house of worship. Scarves are a great accessory to purchase while on your trip – they don’t take up much space in your suitcase and each time you wear you will remember your vacation. A couple bold necklaces will dress up simple knits. A watch is stylish as well as handy. Bring along a slim belt in a contrast color to switch up the silhouettes of dresses, cardigans, and untucked tops. A pair of classic wayfarers are chic sunglasses that will go with everything in your suitcase. A tote and a small crossbody in black leather are all you need – use the tote as your carry-on or fold into your suitcase. The tote can be for sightseeing, lounging by the pool, and shopping. The small crossbody carries essentials close to your body to prevent pickpockets, but can also dress up for the evening. Tights and an umbrella don’t take up much room but can be very useful is the weather isn’t on your side.

As for shoes, if you keep them all around the same height they will work with skirts as well as all the pants and jeans in your capsule wardrobe. While sneakers seem like a smart choice for a lot of walking, you can find just as much support and comfort from brands like Sofft, Naturalizer, and Clarks yet a style that will be more elegant and more able to dress up. Depending on the time of year you attend, a pair of tall boots can be a great choice; protect with a waterproofing spray before you go and they will be great for inclement weather.

two weeks Europe what to pack what to wear

Budget Savvy

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to look good, smell good, decorate your house nicely or have style in your life. Often those who have money do not have style, they get caught up in the “It” beg, the brand names, what the celebs are wearing. When I see a stylish woman in the airport or on the street and compliment her on her boots, her coat, her dress I am often told that the garment or accessory was inherited from a mom, bought on sale, found at a thrift store. Women of style know that quality is far more important then quantity, and a high-dollar price tag does not equate quality.

I am happy to know I am not alone in these beliefs, and there is a new eMagazine that is all about this concept. Budget Savvy is a magazine created by Melissa Tosetti; it is about living a fabulous life without breaking the bank. Food, entertainment, home, beauty and fashion can all be achieved beautifully and at a reasonable price. This magazine has articles, links and tidbits to help you achieve a gorgeous, budget-savvy existence. Enjoy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ask Allie: What to Wear to a Summer Funeral

I know it’s a somber topic, but I live in a hot climate and I have a relative who is ill and in hospice. I realized today that I have no idea what is okay for a funeral in a VERY hot climate.

what to wear to a hot summer wedding

The most important thing to factor when dressing for a funeral, is dressing out of respect. First, consider the religion of the service, then dress in a way that shows you understand the formality of the situation and that you know you are not the subject of attention. A good rule of thumb is that if you wouldn’t wear it to church or to an office where it’s Business Attire (not Business Casual), it’s not appropriate for a funeral.

These days, a sleeveless dress and bare legs is appropriate at most American funerals, especially when it’s a very hot climate. Consider a lightweight cardigan if there’s a service inside the house of worship and a hat to protect yourself from the sun at the grave site. If your shoulders are bared, your neckline should be very modest, the fit not too tight, and the hemline at the knee.

In your email, you mentioned a maxi dress and while it wouldn’t be inappropriate to wear a long skirt, many maxi dress styles these days are lightweight jersey and have low necklines. If you have one that is of a dressier fabric (cotton sateen, crepe jersey, linen, silk blend) and doesn’t show off your décolleté, it can work. Again, if you wouldn’t wear it to church or to work, I’d consider something else.

Pants are acceptable for less religious funerals, and can be far more comfortable in the heat. Linen trousers (not drawstring slouchy pants) with a silk or crepe shell is perfectly acceptable.

As for color, black is not necessary these days; as long as the color doesn’t scream “look at me!” it’s acceptable. Muted colors like navy, olive, plum, mauve, gray, taupe, and brown are acceptable. If you wear a print, it should be very subtle (watercolor prints, tone on tone). Again consider the religion before choosing the color; some only wear black, some wear white, and some encourage bright jewel tones.

As for fabric, as long as it’s not too casual (denim) or too formal (satin), it’s okay in such heat. Linen and cotton is acceptable if it’s in more formal of cuts and ironed before wearing.

Accessories set the tone for your outfit; keep the sparkly necklaces and statement shoes at home. A simple pair of leather shoes in a neutral, a delicate chain necklace or a strand of pearls, a leather bag free of adornments that complements the color of your outfit. If there is a grave site service, choose a wedge or flat shoe so your heels don’t sink into the grass. Though you may be seeing many people from your past, it’s not a high school reunion and not a time to show off your sartorial skills.

Finally, what you wear is not as important as your attendance. Few will even notice what you’re wearing; as long as you don’t dress to receive attention you will be just fine. My heart goes out to you and your family during this difficult time.

Ask Allie: Capsule Wardrobe for Cruise and Resort Evenings

I LOVE your wardrobe capsules. They are always amazing. I would love to see a simple mix and match capsule for evening. Specifically, I just returned from a 10-day cruise of the Caribbean. It was amazing, with one glitch. The evening dress code was smart casual; and on a cruise ship this is more dressy than I expected (I’m from California, where jeans are cocktail attire!). I was woefully underdressed with dowdy shoes. I usually travel with black and white clothing, but a color capsule would be awesome too!

While I haven’t been on a cruise for a few years, I have experienced the issue of “smart casual” and formal nights on cruise ships, and understand how hard it is to dress appropriately for the situation. Not only are you dealing with limited luggage space, but you have folks from all over the globe dressing in all sorts of different manners. I found it’s best to pack simple garments and statement-making accessories.

Three years ago, I was asked to be in my friend’s wedding and she let me pick any black dress I desired as my Matron of Honor gown. I got a black matte jersey maxi dress from Calvin Klein that had twisted straps that were thin but thick enough to cover my bra, a faux wrap skirt, and a self-tie belt. I wore that dress for the wedding with black heeled sandals and a statement necklace. A few months later I attended a destination wedding in Charleston, South Carolina and wore that same dress with flat gold sandals, gold dangly earrings, and an armful of gold bangles. I also wore that dress with beaded earrings and a weathered brown leather belt and brown leather thongs. My point is that such a dress is surprisingly versatile. Choosing a silky jersey (Rachel Pally dresses fit the bill, are a classic style and come in a broad range of sizes) or matte jersey (Calvin Klein continues to have great options season after season) maxi dress means you can dress it up or down with ease and it will travel well (few wrinkles, any you get can come out easily if in the room with a hot shower).

Here I took a simple black maxi dress and showed how a switch of accessories can completely transform it. I know you mentioned comfort shoes in a different part of your Ask Allie request, so I chose shoes that aren’t sky-high. The wedge can easily be lower or even flat – another perk of maxi dresses is that they look great with flat shoes and said shoes aren’t the focal point of the ensemble.

A black maxi dress is a great choice if you have a formal night, but many cruises and resorts just require “smart casual” or “festive” attire. This capsule wardrobe helps you pack light but with many options:

  1. Maxi skirt with sequined tank and black sandals
  2. Maxi skirt with orange top and gold sandals
  3. Maxi skirt with a simple neutral tank or tee in your luggage, gold belt and gold sandals
  4. Black jersey pants with sequined top and black sandals
  5. Black jersey pants with orange top and black sandals
  6. Black jersey pants with sheer top and black sandals
  7. White jeans with any of the three tops and gold sandals (add the hoops, bracelet, and belt for discothèque drama)
  8. Black jersey tee shirt dress with black sandals
  9. Black dress with gold belt and gold sandals
  10. Black skirt with any of the tops and either sandals

This can be dressed up with a different choice of shoe (a heel is always seen as more formal), switching the pants to a tuxedo or shantung cigarette pant, the skirt to something sparkly, the dress to something more form-fitting or dramatic in silhouette. However, I used this based upon my own experiences on cruises and at resorts, where some nights you will find folks in full-length gowns, the other nights in club attire or sundresses. Solid colors and fabrics like matte jersey and stretch silk look elegant while being travel-friendly and versatile. These pieces can also be worn during the day – the orange top would be adorable with olive chino shorts, either of the skirts with a simple tank top, the dress could even be a beach coverup.

Choosing a single concept for accessories lightens your luggage load – I chose gold jewelry because it’s easier to find decent-looking costume pieces and instantly adds glamour. I really believe in a long necklace of chain or sparkly beads like jet – it really changes the silhouette of any ensemble and can make the simplest dress look chic. The addition of a belt, be it a scarf cummerbund, a leather obi, or a gold chain can quickly change the shape of a dress, add definition to a monochromatic ensemble, or dress up a simple tank and maxi skirt. Using color sparingly and thoughtfully will give extra miles to neutral pieces – the skirt could easily be switched to a neutral or a bold hue, the orange top could be a print or another dressy fabric, all the black pieces could be gray or ivory. This just gives an example of how very simple pieces can create an elegant and festive evening wardrobe for a vacation.



 

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How to Be Stylish on a Budget

The most popular question I receive is how to be stylish and look great when you don’t have a lot of money. I don’t believe that money equals style. Think of style like a college education. Jane gets a full scholarship to State U, Sara’s parents fund her entire four years at the same college, and Amy works full-time and takes classes when her schedule and budget permits. All three get degrees, all three have to work equally hard in the classes to get that degree, they just fund it in different ways. Your style can happen no matter your income level, it just may take a bit more time or a bit more effort and creativity.

Here’s some of my tried and true tips to be stylish and look great, no matter your budget.

Don’t Buy a Fake
If you can’t afford a real Birkin, don’t buy a fake one. That means don’t buy those faux designer bags that are sold on street corners in the city, and don’t buy bags from lower-end designers that are trying desperately to look like another. No monogrammed fabric, no padlocks, no trends replicated right off the runway.

This also goes for shoes and accessories. If you can’t afford the original, don’t buy a cheap copy. You are an original, make sure your style is as well. The only place where I think it’s okay to wear fake is when it comes to fur. Fake fur can be done well and can be darn fun, but don’t try to fool anyone with a floor-length faux mink!

Follow the Trends
No need to subscribe to every magazine under the sun and watch livestream of New York Fashion Week, but be aware of designer fashion. Know what the hot designers are featuring each season so you can stay one step ahead in translating it. Not only will this help you avoid fakes, it will help you understand how to style unique pieces and mix prints and colors in a modern manner.

Most fashion magazines do a web-based recap after each Fashion Week showing what trends were hot and what designers showed those trends. In these slideshows of 30 – 300 images, you’ll see the underlying themes of the upcoming season, be it a certain print, heel height, fabric, skirt silhouette, or lipstick color. This is also a great time to use Pinterest – follow Pinners who are knowledgeable about fashion and see what they pin the week after Fashion Week. See what appeals to you, and what is feasible to add to your wardrobe considering your lifestyle and budget.

Shop for Need not for Want
Shopping feels good. The ego is boosted when you put on a new dress. The idea of something new takes the stress off a first date or a job interview. I get it, I know, and I do it often. The thing is, when you shop, even if it’s for $5 clearance earrings, you’re taking away money that could be used for something better. Consider the Return on Investment (ROI) on each thing you buy, even if it’s 99 cents. Don’t buy just to buy, don’t buy to feel better. Buy to fill wardrobe holes and to look better today and a year from today.

Focus on Fit
One reason big box clothing is cheaper than designer is because more are made at once. The piles of fabric are higher when they are cut for the pattern, which can cause pieces to be different sizes. This is why sometimes a jacket has one sleeve a bit tighter or one pant leg a hair longer. Also, vanity sizing is more common in lower-cost stores.

Because of these two things, it’s imperative to try things on before you buy. Same dress and a 10 may fit but a 14 may be too small. Ignore the size on the label and if in doubt, buy a bit too big. It’s easier to style something a bit big than make a too-small piece look polished, and many simple alterations can be done at a reasonable price by your local dry cleaner.

And with everything, when you have the money, hit the tailor.  A tailor can make a clearance rack find look like a custom piece!

Choose Solids
This is my most controversial tip, but I stand behind it. A solid black dress will look more expensive than a floral. A solid blue top will be more classic than a plaid. Prints can look dated quickly. Prints can fade if not done well. Lower-priced garments often try to replicate runway prints and we already went over wearing fakes. Also, lower-priced prints aren’t as likely to be matched up, making the cheaper fabrication far more obvious.

Don’t Buy Any Old Fabric
I don’t buy 100% cotton shirts from lower-priced retailers because the cotton is often rough and more likely to wrinkle just if you look at it. I don’t purchase cashmere or cashmere blends from discount shops because the gauge is usually so low it’s transparent or else balls up and pills within an hour of wearing. Don’t just assume all fabrics are made the same; some are just better when purchased from reputable and higher-end brands. That being said, jersey knits, matte jersey, merino wool, ponte knit, chambray, polyester and blends are usually just fine at a lower price point.

Shop outside your Comfort Zone
You know where I do find budget-friendly cotton shirts? Lands’ End. Their prices are reasonable, their quality is stellar, and you can do returns at Sears. Lately I have received quite a few fab dresses from Gwynnie Bee and have been surprised to see they are from Coldwater Creek, a shop I previously considered to be “mom clothes.” My point is that there’s more out there than you may assume. Use blogs and Pinterest to learn about new retailers, Google them to see their ratings, and if they have a good return policy or a store nearby give them a try. You never know, the one item you have desperately needed may be for sale there and at a very nice price!

Baby your Purchases
Polish your shoes and get them reheeled and resoled when needed. Follow the laundry instructions. Hang up after wearing, don’t throw on the floor. Spot clean instead of laundering after every wear. Iron and steam to have pieces look like new after being worn or washed. Mend fallen hems, keep a jar of spare buttons so you can easily find and replace when necessary. It doesn’t matter if it cost $10 or $100, if you care for it, it will look better and last longer.

Quality not Quantity
You don’t need a completely different outfit for every day of the month. You don’t need 10 pairs of $1 Old Navy flip flops, a dozen pairs of jeans, or even three purses. Style comes from choosing wardrobe additions thoughtfully. Not only that, if you didn’t buy 10 pairs of $30 jeans, you could afford a pair of $100 jeans and have them professionally tailored to the right length and to prevent gaping at the waist.

When it comes to quality, it can honestly be found at any pricepoint. One of the most versatile dresses in my wardrobe was $39.99 at Target; I bought it four years ago and still get compliments each time I wear it. My favorite denim shorts are Mossimo and I self-distressed (using this video as a guide) to make them look old and cool and expensive. Thrift stores are always a goldmine, but so are your neighborhood big box retailers.

For more tips, check out:

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How to Shop: Sticking to a Budget

The best accessory I acquired in the past decade was getting out of credit card debt.

My Experience:
When I worked in retail, I found it far too easy to shop. I was spending at least 45, usually closer to 65 hours a week at a mall. Lunch hours were spent strolling through other shops, sipping on an overpriced coffee drink, or treating myself to a very nice lunch at a nearby restaurant. As a personal shopper and visual merchandiser, I felt I had to be a perfect example of style and current fashion and made sure to have the latest shoes, makeup, accessories and always a perfect professional manicure, pedicure, haircut and highlights. When our shop was thisclose to making the day’s sales goal, they could always count on me to purchase something from the new line to get us over the hump.

When I left working at Express, they gave me my associate purchase logs. In one year, after my employee discounts, I had purchased $7,000.00 worth of their clothing. When I maxed out my Express card, I opened a Structure card and used that (hey it was the late ‘90s/early ‘00s when Structure still existed). When I maxed that out, I found out that I could use my Limited or Victoria’s Secret cards and shop at Express. I won’t even go into details about the major credit cards I used for salon treatments, binges at Sephora or Nordstrom, and many a steak salad at the Nordstrom Café.

As women, we are constantly attacked by media telling us to spend, spend, spend. The dress that will get you the guy. The moisturizer that will make you look ten years younger. The bag you must have this season. The five or ten or hundred items every woman must have in her wardrobe. And then of course, the purchases you need so that you can be as lovely as Anne or Mila or Kate. Magazines like Lucky are completely geared towards assisting women on shopping, while glossies such as Vogue and W bring couture to Middle America, encouraging everyone to feel that they too need a fancy label on their dress to be special.

As you know, I love fashion. I love clothing. I find it to be a great way to express your personality, your individuality, your passions. Fashion can also help you feel more confident and more beautiful. But no garment is worth falling into debt. A woman cannot be strong if her finances are crumbling around her.

So how do you achieve personal style while sticking to your budget?

When I got to the point where I was fearing every telephone call, thinking it was a debt collector, I knew I had to make a major change – FAST. For me, it was changing careers. I had to get away from that which was causing the debt – easy access to current fashion. However I still had mountains of debt and wasn’t willing to sacrifice style along the way.

This was when I started understanding wardrobe staples. Pieces slowly collected that could multitask and make a woman ready for any event in her life. I looked at women I knew as stylish and really examined their wardrobes. They didn’t own a lot of clothes, they seemed to wear the same things over and over. And those clothes they wore were perfect. They were well tailored, high quality, flattering. Few prints, few trendy details. Classics like cashmere turtlenecks, crisp dark jeans, white tailored shirts, simple sheath dresses, elegant black leather pumps, simple pencil skirts. They would add their own look to these staples with accessories like scarves, bold jewelry, and belts.

I thought back to the exchange students we hosted when I was in high school – how they could survive weeks in another country with just a small suitcase of clothing. Even with their small wardrobes, they were ready for any event in the US. Their wardrobes were of simple pieces that mixed and matched with one another – pieces of similar fabrics, colors, and silhouettes so they made a true collection.

I looked in my own closet – spangled knit tops to wear out to clubs that still had tags on them, a dozen cocktail dresses, four pairs of leather pants (and one pair bright red!), three pairs of tall black boots, over 20 pairs of jeans. Who the heck needs 20 pairs of jeans?

I obviously had plenty of clothes at that time, and really tried to make do with what I had. My new job required me to wear all black, so when I didn’t have the right item in my wardrobe, I stalked sale racks until I could find what worked at the lowest price. I often bought in bulk – who cares if you’re wearing the same black pants every day as long as they are clean and fit well?

Over time, I got a grip on my finances, but realized yet another new profession and a changing figure required me to shop again. I decided to keep those stylish women and my exchange students in mind. I looked through my closet with fresh eyes and decided to purge. Gone were all the spangled club tops, the evening gowns, and any clothes that didn’t fit and flatter my current frame.

However for purchasing, I needed to figure out a budget so I wouldn’t get back into a financial mess. Before I went shopping, I took a month or two to look at where my money went, and what were my priorities. Thanks to my sister who is the Excel Spreadsheet Queen, I started tracking where all my money went – that pack of gum, that latte, that issue of Marie Claire. I didn’t just note how much I spent on groceries, but what exactly I purchased. I saw that a lot of my money went to food – dining out, alcohol, and purchasing items at the grocery store that I don’t really need (hello another lip gloss) or that I can’t afford (artisanal cheeses, sushi, out of season produce). I decided to adjust my current spending before shopping to see what I could cut and still lead what I felt to be a joyful and comfortable life.

Only then, could I figure out my fashion budget. Some months, I spent that money. Other months, I saved it up so I could get something really special. I stuck to my list of essentials, and decided I would only buy fun items when I got a work bonus, birthday cash, special events. This way, I not only stayed on budget but I was even more careful with my money and those special items not only were nice to buy, but had special meaning behind them.

Each woman’s budget will be different, but it is important to first pay yourself before you do any shopping. Pay off your debt, save and invest your money. Prepare for the unexpected. Yes, a great pair of shoes can make your day, help you land a job or perfect your wardrobe but shoes won’t pay the rent if you get laid off. Shoes won’t buy you a new car when yours dies on the side of the highway. Shoes won’t give you independence and freedom.

If your budget is small, that’s actually a good thing. Small wardrobe funding requires one to do homework to find the best quality for the price, to really get to know one’s body and lifestyle and only purchase that which makes sense. Keep your wardrobe small, hard-working, classic, elegant.

Tips to Stay on Budget:

  • Have a Life Budget. No point in having a clothing budget if you are blowing your paycheck already on other items. That being said, have priorities. Clothing is probably higher on my priority list than the list of many other women. Each woman is different – some budget for world travel, some budget for books, some budget for art supplies, some budget for home renovations. It’s important to first be true to you – prioritize and then figure out where fashion fits.
  • Make a List, Check it Twice. If you have an actual written list that you carry with you, you’re less likely to get off track when you hit the mall.
  • Do Your Homework. You need a black suit? Go to the mall, try on brands, and then go home. Research online for coupons, deals, maybe the same item on eBay or in a thrift or vintage store. Never accept full price unless it is absolute perfection, absolutely necessary, and still fits your budget.
  • Stay Away from Shopping Triggers. For me, it’s malls. I only visit a major shopping mall once or twice a year because I can get lost in there and leave hundreds poorer. Maybe for you it’s Target (can always justify another tee or a $19.99 sundress but it adds up), possibly an adorable boutique in your neighborhood or maybe it’s Net-a-Porter. Whatever it is, accept your trigger and control your visits. Schedule them according to seasons – maybe only allow one visit each season, or maybe once a month.
  • Cancel the Magazine Subscriptions. I am a magazine-aholic, but I know that when I read them, I end up shopping more. Magazines do a great job of making items look amazing, and seem necessary. The most recent Vogue made me spend an hour of my life looking for a certain Brahmin bag – something I don’t need, can’t afford, but loved upon first sight. I did stop before purchasing, but if I hadn’t received that magazine, I would have never known about that orange bag and would have still lived a happy and stylish life. For some, it may be fashion blogs instead of magazines – even if it’s my blog that encourages you to shop, unsubscribe and just visit maybe once a month or every other week.
  • Play “Which Would You Rather.” Sally McGraw of Already Pretty often hosts a “sudden death” question on her Facebook page – which would you rather do – wear only white for a year, or wear your high school colors for a year, and only your school colors. It’s a good exercise for shopping – which would you rather have – that It Bag, or a sushi and sake date night with your mate once a month for a year? Which would you rather own – the perfect pair of black leather pumps, or six pairs of sandals from Payless? Which is more important, your morning Starbucks, or a pair of riding boots? Break down the price of the item and compare it to other items in your life.
  • Get Creative. No one knows you’re wearing the same black pants every day if you switch it up. One day, wear with a tucked-in blouse, the next day with a blazer and shell. Another day wear a cardigan over them and belt the cardigan to change the silhouette. Use your small wardrobe as a brain teaser – who needs Sudoku when you can take the dozen or so quality pieces in your wardrobe and make dozens of outfits from them.

A woman should get fitted for a new bra every year. She should have the perfect LBD in her wardrobe to be ready for unexpected social events. And she should be able to sleep well at night, knowing full well what is going on with her finances. The best accessory I acquired was getting out of debt – the best accessory any woman can wear is self-confidence, and confidence comes from being true to one’s self, feeling strong, and being financially solvent.



Be sure to check out the first of my How to Shop Series: An Introduction

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The Bandana is Back!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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Ask Allie: Budget Friendly Interview Attire

I have decided to get a new job and find a healthier work environment. Thing is I don’t own a suit and I can’t spend more than $150 on interview clothes. Any suggestions on where to get a suit?

While you may luck out on the clearance rack of Ann Taylor or Banana Republic (and it can happen, I have a great matching blazer, pencil skirt and trousers from AT that cost under $200 thanks to coupons and clearance), you can’t guarantee that you’ll have success in time for your first interview. Some may recommend thrifting or consignment, but for an interview you need to put your best foot forward and again you can’t guarantee finding the right size and style in pristine quality in time.

I conduct interviews quite regularly at my job, for positions of all levels, and I have to say not wearing a suit is preferable to some cobbled together attempt at a jacket and trousers or skirt. It’s also preferable to wearing an obviously cheap suit. I’ve interviewed individuals with hems obviously stapled to the correct length, women in shiny tight Girls Night Out pants with a gabardine blazer, casual twill blazers with suiting trousers, tight thin knit skirts with a too-big power blazer clearly borrowed from Mom, and the cheap shiny hot pink pantsuit with beaded lapels and rhinestone buttons. Though these individuals strived to create a professional appearance, they focused too much on the need to create a suit than the need to create a polished, professional appearance.

So what do you do when you have limited time and funds but want to put your best foot forward for job interviews? Here’s some suggestions on how to create a professional look with few resources:

You Have Great Trousers (or a Great Skirt) but No Matching Suit Jacket

Great trousers means they fit – they don’t bag, they don’t hug your rear and thighs, they are the appropriate length (no ankle bone showing, no dragging on the ground). They are of a professional fabric (not shiny, not cotton twill, not stretchy), and likely lined to provide better drape and fit. These trousers are in a classic color – black, gray, brown, taupe, navy, possibly a dark muted green or wine.

A great skirt is a straight or pencil skirt that fits well, doesn’t ride up, doesn’t hug the rear, doesn’t wrinkle during a car or bus ride, hits the knees, and lets you walk a comfortable confident stride. It should be of a professional fabric and lined, free of embellishment and trendy details.

budget friendly interview outfit pants skirt
Pair with:

A crisp white shirt, necklace, and pumps. Purchase a wrinkle-resistant shirt that’s opaque and fits properly (no bulging buttons, not oversized, correct sleeve length), wear tucked into the trousers, and add a classic necklace that adds some shine. A pair of leather pumps in the same color as the trousers or skirt with an almond or pointed toe will look elegant, professional, and be a useful purchase after the interview.

A suiting blazer of the same fabric but different color and a blouse the same color as one or the other. Take your trousers shopping, or note the fabric composition on the tag and look for a jacket that is the same or extremely similar. However, don’t try to match grays or blacks because 99% of the time it won’t work and you’ll look sloppy. To get the most mileage of this jacket, choose one free of patterns and details, one that is a classic cut (no double breasted buttons, no cropped or perma-rolled sleeves, no creative collars), and in another neutral (black, gray, navy, taupe, ivory, cream).

By having your blouse (and with a mix like this I encourage a blouse, not a crisp shirt or a knit shell) either the same color as the jacket or the bottom, it creates cohesiveness and a purposeful look. Add interest with a necklace, belt (if applicable), and a confident smile.

If You Have a Great Jacket but No Trousers or Skirt

A great jacket means it fits GREAT, and to fit great it likely has been to the tailor. Sleeves the right length, shoulders in the right place, able to button without straining, not too tight but not oversized. The jacket is of a professional fabric (no twill, knit, denim, or anything with a shine), lined, and a classic cut. In this situation, a color is acceptable but it shouldn’t be too bold of a hue (bright yellow, lime green, orange, hot pink), or have trendy details (statement buttons, creative lapels, cut-outs, colorblocking or a print).

what to wear to an interview no suit
Pair with:

A suiting skirt or trousers and a blouse of the same color. Take the same advice above, and create a polished and cohesive look with a neutral blouse and trousers and a classic pair of pumps.

A professional tailored dress. This is not your pink floral rayon fit and flare frock, it’s not your striped ponte tee shirt dress, and it is never anything with spaghetti straps, cutouts (even if hidden under the jacket), or anything that is above the knee. Best choice is a sheath dress with a classic neckline (V, not too low scoop, crew or jewel neck), lined, and a fabric that coordinates with the jacket. Second choice is a dress that has a defined waist (self belt or banded waistband) and hits mid-knee to top of calf in a coordinating fabric. It’s important for this dress to have a tailored fit; a blazer over a loose dress will look sloppy and encourage creases.

Coordinating fabric means both of the same composition (see above), or fabrics that flatter one another (silk with crepe, wool with tweed, that sort of thing). If you’re not sure about coordinating fabrics I say to NOT go with this direction. It can be confusing, and too easy to go the wrong way.

If You Have Nothing and Need to Start From Scratch

Buy a Dress. Seriously, forgo the suit and get a professional dress in a solid color or subdued pattern. Pair with leather pumps in a neutral, wear a simple necklace, have polished hair and makeup and a nice bag and you will look far more competent and serious than in a hodgepodge of so-called professional attire.

No sheer portions or cutouts, no cleavage, no twee prints, trendy details, or overly vintage silhouettes. A sleeve is a very good idea, and the length should hit the knees. The style should skim the figure (more professional than a shift or sack dress), and be of a substantial fabric and/or lined. A few options under $150:

Do you have any suggestions for this reader?

Budget-friendly Fave – Old Navy Vintage Tee

This weekend my husband caught a bug so I took Emerson to a nearby strip mall to keep her entertained and have the house quiet so Karl could sleep. We grabbed a snack at Starbucks, went to say hi to the animals at PetSmart, and went into Old Navy. I only planned on checking out the clearance rack for Emerson, possibly grabbing a pair of shorts or pajamas, but we walked through the women’s department and they had a table full of perfectly-heathered and worn vintage tees.

While these shirts came in a variety of necklines, I was drawn to the v-neck. Without trying it on, I grabbed one in a heathered purpley blue (not online). I bought a Large; though the Medium may have worked, I figured such a tee would be better too large than too small. I got home, tried it on, and fell in love.

The heathering is perfect – not too extreme, a true vintage look and feel. The shirt is soft and weathered, but completely opaque. the v-neck is deep enough to look feminine, but high enough to not expose too much. It’s fitted, but not too fitted, the perfect length where you could tuck it in, or slouch it on the hips untucked. I had a hard time choosing a color as almost all of them look pretty darn fabulous and classic. This weekend I wore the tee with a pair of denim cutoffs, after washing and drying (it shrank only slightly but otherwise looks the same), I wore it again today untucked with white bootcut jeans, silver beaded necklaces and yellow heeled sandals. I can see wearing it with my Talbots Garden skirt and a wristful of colorful bangles, with a white blazer and distressed jeans, with a hot pink pleated skirt and a printed scarf at the throat. It’s the type of tee that usually costs $80 at the department store, but right now at Old Navy it’s on sale for $8.50.

There are some negative reviews, so I believe that like other retailers, the quality is based upon the factory where the tee was made. I can recall when I worked for Express I preferred their Metro tees made in the Mariana Islands for they had the right weight and amount of stretch compared to supposedly the same tees made in other countries. The tee I am wearing and loving is made in Vietnam.

When I find a budget-friendly fave, I just have to share it with you. The next time you visit Old Navy, check out their vintage v-neck tees – while the blue and medium gray are classics, don’t discount the dark pink, light purple or yellow for a subtle pop of color that can dress up and down with ease and may possibly become your favorite tee in your wardrobe!

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What I Wore and a Giveaway – Ruth Barzel Jewelry Design

Shirt: c/o Foxcroft | Jeans: Gap | Shoes: Halogen (similar) | Necklace: c/o Ruth Barzel Jewelry Design | Watch: Citizen c/o WatchCo | Bag: Brahmin (similar)

Accessories can transform the most basic wardrobe staples and make pieces a cohesive outfit. I just received this necklace from Ruth Barzel Jewelry Design and while it is BEGGING to be styled with an LBD for the holidays or worn with a beautiful silk blouse, I thought it could really make a statement with a simple white shirt and dark jeans. I haven’t carried my Brahmin bag in a while, and I thought the bright blue really made the emerald necklace pop!

Giveaway:

If you like this necklace and the other beautiful pieces I have featured from Ruth Barzel Jewelry Design, well today’s your lucky day! One Wardrobe Oxygen reader will win a $100 store credit to Ruth Barzel Jewelry Design!

Ruth Barzel makes all her unique pieces in the United States and is a local-yokel to me.  Not only that, she’s an awesome human being!  While I love the Emerald Quartz Nugget Statement Necklace I’m wearing here, I also love wearing her Blue Quartz Pendant Necklace and wear her Mixed Metal Chain Bracelet on a weekly basis. Ruth has offered all Wardrobe Oxygen readers 20% off her entire store, just use code OXYGEN20.  This discount will be in effect until the end of November, 2013.

How to Enter:
Please use the Rafflecopter form below to enter. This contest is open to both US and international readers. Contest ends November 30, 2013 at midnight ET.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
As a reminder, if you can’t wait for the giveaway to end and want to get yourself some jewelry from Ruth Barzel, use the code OXYGEN20 at checkout for 20% off your order!

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Guest Blogger at In My Professional Opinion

In My Professional Opinion LogoHi all, I recently was asked to be a guest blogger at In My Professional Opinion!

I love this blog and the two authors – Melissa Street (who has become a good blogging friend of mine) is a mom and professional, freelance makeup artist with 20 years of experience in the film, television and live event industries; Aileen Wrench has worked as a Strategic Marketing Professional for 13 years. The two offer very valuable advice on beauty and products from their “insider view.”

Piggy BankMy guest post is the second in a series of posts about How to Be a Budget Bombshell.

Many of us are feeling the pinch due to the current economic situation, and I have always believed that style can be found at any budget level, so I find this series of posts very beneficial to any woman.

I encourage you to go visit In My Professional Opinion (and check out what I wrote). Hope you find it entertaining and helpful!

Guest Blogger at In My Professional Opinion

In My Professional Opinion LogoHi all, I recently was asked to be a guest blogger at In My Professional Opinion!

I love this blog and the two authors – Melissa Street (who has become a good blogging friend of mine) is a mom and professional, freelance makeup artist with 20 years of experience in the film, television and live event industries; Aileen Wrench has worked as a Strategic Marketing Professional for 13 years. The two offer very valuable advice on beauty and products from their “insider view.”

Piggy BankMy guest post is the second in a series of posts about How to Be a Budget Bombshell.

Many of us are feeling the pinch due to the current economic situation, and I have always believed that style can be found at any budget level, so I find this series of posts very beneficial to any woman.

I encourage you to go visit In My Professional Opinion (and check out what I wrote). Hope you find it entertaining and helpful!

Ask Allie: Dressing for your Belly

I’m not fat per se , but I’ve gained back all the weight that I lost in the first few months after giving birth. My stomach has gotten enormous, like 6th month pregnancy enormous and I hate it. I can’t find anything to wear that doesn’t make it even more obvious at least to me. I tend to wear jeans + t-shirt like top 99% time. Skirts are supposed to be flattering on me but I couldn’t find anything I like + know what to pair with + can handle my daily commute of 1.5 hours in the bus , each direction. Shoes wise -same rut. I got wide feet and wide calves and am yet to find boots I can wear.

I have a belly. When I used to go to the gym daily and was a size 4, I still had a belly. Before I had a child, I had enough of a belly that more than one person asked when I was due. And now, after having a child and gaining/losing weight and not making much time for crunches I have a very soft midsection that Emerson finds to be the best pillow in the world. She likes it far more than I do, to me it looks as though I have one big monoboob below my actual breasts. But it’s a belly that created a human being, it’s natural, it’s me, and so I have learned to dress it and come to terms with it.

You can dress a tummy without drawing attention it, or hiding it in layers of fabric that will make you look like a big blob. Luckily, such pieces that flatter a figure with a belly also have stretch which hold up nicely through a commute or long day, and often are available at retailers of different pricepoints.

Wrap Dresses
Be they a true wrap or faux, such a dress gives the illusion of an hourglass figure and have a double layer right at the tummy, which disguises the shape and gives it a bit of added control. Choose a style that comes to your knees to flatter your figure and be more work-appropriate. If the neckline is too low, consider a camisole or strategically-placed safety pin.

Matte jersey doesn’t wrinkle, it doesn’t stretch out, and you can throw it in the washing machine and hang it up from your shower curtain rod and it’s dry and ready to wear the next day. This fabric is stretchy polyester, but has a matte crepey feel that is more refined, not clingy, and dresses up and down with ease. I have found such dresses at Old Navy, Target, ASOS, and they are often at thrift stores (I know I have donated quite a few from my days as a merchandiser at Express).

Other fabrics I like for such a style of dress are chiffon overlay with a polyester lining (also doesn’t wrinkle easily, but can be more delicate when it comes to laundry) and ponte (a very heavyweight and tightly-woven knit that is more refined than jersey and less likely to show lumps and bumps and can be laundered like matte jersey).

How to Wear in Winter: With opaque tights (I love the Spanx Tight End Tights for extreme durability, a control top that doesn’t cut you in half, and matte opacity) and boots or shoes of most any heel height. Keep the tights and shoe the same color to lengthen the leg, black is a safe bet with most any color, even brown and navy.

Vintage-inspired Dresses
The vintage trend isn’t going away any time soon, and women with bellies are rejoicing. Be it Modcloth, eShakti, or true vintage, these dresses have a slightly higher waistband which hits at the smallest part of your torso, giving you more of an hourglass shape and allowing the skirt to hide your tummy.

With such dresses, fit is paramount. Go up a size if necessary and have it tailored, but don’t let it pull at the shoulders or bust, cinch the upper arms, or ride up in the torso. A too-small fit will only make your figure look larger.

With many of these dresses, they have a percentage of polyester which will resist wrinkles. A print also can disguise creases that may take place on your commute (or keep a bottle of Downy Wrinkle Releaser in your desk for a douse once you arrive).

How to Wear in Winter: Opaque tights yet again, make such dresses perfect for the colder weather. Again, black is a safe bet with most any color or print, keep the vintage vibe going with a T-strap or Mary Jane shoe with a thicker heel.

Wrap and Surplice Necklines
It’s amazing that a neckline can change the look of a midsection, but it really does work. A wrap or surplice (faux wrap) neckline elongates the neck, enhances the bust, and draws attention to the smallest part of your torso (bottom of your rib cage). Like a wrap dress, you end up with a double layer at the torso which disguises the tummy. Surplice tops may not have that double layer, but they often have gathered side seams which provide strategic ruching at that part of the torso.

After I had Emerson, I lived in faux wrap, wrap, and surplice tops. Sure, they were great for nursing, but they also made my figure look amazing. I’d wear a wrap sweater with a black cami and black pants for a cohesive outfit; a necklace would draw the eye up and add interest. I had a half-dozen outfits of this style and looked great without a lot of effort.

Fit and Flare Styles
When trying to draw attention away from a body part, the worst thing to do is make the fabric on that body part too loose. A baggy top over a small belly will make it look Second Trimester. A fit and flare style will skim over the slim part of your figure, flare out right where your curves are, and work with, not against your figure.

Blazers often achieve this fit and flare look for you, if they fit well. Roll up the sleeves a couple times to let your slender wrists show, wear a top underneath with a v- or scoop-neck, and the line of the open jacket will disguise the tummy and allow for that fit and flare shape. Jackets of ponte and unlined stretch fabrics will give that shape nicely without adding bulk.

Wide Calf Boots
I have very wide feet, short toes, and ginormouse calves as well as thick shins and ankles. And yet, I own several pairs of tall boots. Get out of the mall and get online to find wide-calf boots that fit your feet and your legs. Check out these posts regarding wide calf boots:

Ponte Knit Pieces
Ponte de Roma, otherwise known as ponte, is one of the greatest fabrics on the planet. It’s stretchy like jersey, but heavy enough to hide lumps and bumps. It’s a very tight refined weave that looks appropriate for work or social events, but is as comfortable as yoga pants. It is a pretty uniform fabric, so often a pair of pants from one brand will work with a jacket from another. With a fabric so heavy and tightly woven (no stretching out or bagging), it flatters soft curves and even gives them a bit of support.

I own ponte pants (fitted to slip into boots or wear with flats, fuller to wear with heels), ponte jackets (blazer style and longer trendy cuts), ponte dresses (all styles worn year round), ponte skirts (pencil, drop waist, fit and flare… you name it), ponte tops (drape-neck tanks, wrap-style tops, boatneck shells and more). I love how I can put two ponte pieces together for relaxed yet polished look appropriate for work or Sunday brunch. I love how I can usually machine wash the pieces to save time and money. And I love how the fabric works with my belly.

The goal with ponte is to find pieces that do not cut at the widest part of your belly. Drop waists, tops that end between the waistband and high hip, or shapeless styles that can tent out making the abdomen look even larger. But with styles that work with your curves, you can have a stretchy yet polished collection of garments that will survive a long commute and a busy day.

Build a ponte collection that can mix and match with itself and other fabrics for multi-season versatility. 

Powerful Accessories
The person who notices your belly the most is yourself. I bet the majority of the people you see each day don’t even notice its size. That being said, accessories do a great job of drawing the eye to another part of the body:

  • Statement Necklaces will draw the eye up to your face. Right now such necklaces are very popular, so it’s easy to find them in any style or pricepoint. Wear inside the collar of your shirt or over a round neck for a dramatic disguiser.
  • Heels are a great way to elongate the legs, make the tummy appear to be smaller with extra height, and also draw the eye away from the middle of your figure. I believe in commuter shoes – wear one style en route, and change once you get to your desk.
  • Wide belts worn above your natural waist can create an hourglass shape and provide subtle gathering over your midsection. You’ll see in my outfit post archives that I own several wide belts and wear them at this location over dresses, cardigans, blazers, and more.

Proper Underpinnings
Control garments that cut you in half, hipsters that slide under the belly by lunchtime, bikinis that cut lines into hips… such pieces won’t make your tummy area look any better. For control garments, I like the ones that either strap to or around your bra or else come right up to the bra line. This type of garment won’t cut or emphasize your belly and give a smooth continuous line. For regular underwear, I like Hanky Panky’s Retro Thong which has a higher waist so it doesn’t cut or slide under the belly. A brief is better than a bikini for the same reason; some styles may look like granny panties but some brands make them high enough to stay put while looking darn feminine or sexy. Consider the same things when purchasing tights – Spanx makes tights that have a higher waist which prevents your tummy from being cut in half; DKNY does a good job of making an opaque durable tight with a control top that doesn’t give gas pains, fall down, or cut you in half.

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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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Wednesday – Black and White and Red All Over

Sweater – Banana Republic (similar)
Shirt – c/o CAbi
Pants – Ann Taylor (similar)
ShoesMichael Kors “Flex”
Silver cuff (similar)
LipstickNARS “Heatwave”

Last week it felt like summer, this week it has returned to typical DC March weather – windy and chilly.  Glad I kept my sweaters in the closet!

Today I will be walking from my office to Georgetown to meet my sister for her follow-up MRI (proving she is tumor free!) so I wanted to wear comfortable shoes – these pumps are perfect for this – work-appropriate yet can handle a 20 minute walk in the city.

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