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Personal Style Should Not be Work

Fashion should not be work. Fashion is a form of art – when art becomes work, it no longer is artistic.

Many women I know both in-person and through this blog seem to work too hard in becoming chic, fashionable or stylish. When style becomes frustrating, tiring, annoying or exasperating, it no longer exists. If a painter becomes so famous that he creates works of art in an assembly-line fashion, those paintings no longer are true art – they no longer hold part of the artist’s soul.

If style doesn’t come to you naturally, you are in the MAJORITY. Just as the majority of the population cannot sing, cannot sculpt, cannot dance well. It is something that you work on, and with passion it may grow to either a talent or something you enjoy behind closed doors. The problem with personal style is that it cannot be kept behind closed doors. Every day you are seen and judged by your wardrobe; and so the pressure for style skill is ever present.

If you stick to very simple basics in your wardrobe, dressing will be far simpler. So stovepipe jeans are in, as are platform sandals with dark hose. This does not mean they should be in your wardrobe. The hot color is yellow but just the thought of wearing that color makes you turn green, then for all means DO NOT WEAR IT. If you feel safest in a wardrobe of black and gray and denim, then until you feel more confident and skilled, there is no reason to venture into blue and red territory. Keep it very simple at first, stick with simple until you feel secure.

When you first ride a bike you have not only training wheels, but often a parent holding on to the back of the seat. The parent lets go, you wobble on the training wheels and then begin to feel steady. The training wheels are removed, but the parent is back to keep you straight. Once you have the hang of it, the parent lets go of the bike, you coast down the sidewalk and suddenly you can ride. Now, once you ride, you won’t be popping wheelies and jumping of 5’ cliffs in the mountains. You get acclimated to concrete and asphalt. You master turns and quick stops. After a long time perfecting your basic pedaling skills, you may move on to rougher terrain, or maybe tricks or long journeys. You will move from the standard bike to maybe a road model, one for trail rides, or one for BMX. Possibly you may find that you really don’t want to go farther than the occasional ride on the street and are perfectly happy with your first bike. You dabble in one style, find that you have a passion for it, and only then do you invest in the proper tools to follow that passion.

We women often try to be Lance Armstrong when we haven’t even taken off the training wheels. We want it all, and we want it now. We’ll buy every self-help book out there, subscribe to a dozen fashion magazines and TiVo What Not to Wear and how Do I Look. We go from a wardrobe of sweats to stilettos and complicated frocks. We feel frustrated and lost and hopeless.

Go back to my staples. These are simple items you can find at the local mall, big box retailer and often even a thrift store. If you are scared of color right now, then replace the colorful tops with muted shades. If you don’t ever wear jewelry, then hold off on the hoop earrings. Get some basic, well-made pieces that fit you properly and make you feel secure when you wear them. You have pieces that you can wear to work, to church, to pick up your son from pay group, to head to the grocery store. You have stepped from covering your body to dressing it. Stay at this point as long as you like, be it a couple months or a couple years. Don’t push it. There are things in life far more important than finding your proper colors or the It bag for the season.

You know you’re ready to take off those training wheels when you start admiring fashion in magazines, on TV and in stores. Like paintings, you can find beauty in a Dali, a Monet and a Warhol. The thing is to see which styles really capture you and tug at your soul. Is it the feminine lacy and sheer blouses in whites and pale shades this spring? Maybe it’s the yellow patent leather clutch in your recent fashion mag. Whatever it is that appeals to you, really think about it and how it connects to your personality. Slowly allow yourself to indulge in a piece of clothing or an accessory that you adore. Maybe it’s a modern silver bangle bracelet or a woven straw purse. Possibly it’s a biker-inspired leather jacket or a floral silk scarf for your throat. Take this one item and infuse it into your wardrobe. Examine your reflection before you leave for your day and in shop windows and restroom mirrors. Do you like what you see? Do you feel comfortable and yourself with this piece? If not, that’s okay. We all impulse shop. Take this as a learning experience and give the piece to a friend or donate it. Don’t hold on to it just because you bought it. Having items in your wardrobe that are wrong is far worse than having a miniscule wardrobe of things that are right.

When you wear this new piece, see what types of reactions you receive. Do people say you look as though you lost weight in that turquoise shade? Did a stranger compliment you on your necklace? Did someone ask you directions (this is a good one, because it often means that you seem to be confident and knowledgeable and approachable)?

You will see that your fashion tastes will most likely be in line with your tastes in movies, music, art and home décor. A person who loves Laura Ashley sheets will often like more feminine and delicate styles. One who loves indie flicks will often like styles that are one of a kind and have a funky, artsy vibe. If your favorite genre of music is rap, you may be drawn to strong lines and bold colors. Just because celebrities and models and fashionistas wear it does not mean you need to wear it too. The reason certain celebrities are celebrated for their style is because they have dressed to fit their personality, not a how-to book or a glossy page from Vogue.

As you begin to understand your personal style, your wardrobe will grow. You will make mistakes, you will get frustrated, you will occasionally feel lost. This happens with all aspects of your personality and life. If you can have a midlife crisis over the state of your life and your direction, so can you about your wardrobe. In college I lived at J. Crew. Lots of sundresses, chinos, polo shirts and cardigans tied around my neck. I was attracted to simple lines and neutral colors. My hair was long and wavy and often in a ponytail. Makeup was some mascara and a swipe of tinted lip balm. After college I got into a creative field and my wardrobe morphed with my tastes in music and books. Suddenly I had a lot of leather in my wardrobe; I counted six pairs of leather jeans and ten black turtlenecks at one time. I straightened my hair and dyed it a very very dark brown. I wore lots of animal prints and had my nails short and often a strange shade like dark green, black or silver. As I got older and got married and comfortable with myself, I saw my tastes change again. I liked natural fabrics with stretch that grazed over my curves and were comfortable. I mixed bright cheery colors with neutrals and began wearing almost only silver jewelry, much that was made by my Great Aunt or picked up on trips around the globe. I preferred a night in with the husband and a nice bottle of wine over an evening of club-hopping in the city. None of these changes were overnight, they were subtle transformations. Keep this in mind – your style will change based on your place in life. Be aware of how you tastes change with food or movies or music; this is often a way to help you know when it’s time to let your wardrobe catch up to your self.

Often we hold onto clothing because it reminds us of our past self. I’ll admit that I have red leather jeans hanging in my guest bedroom closet. They are three sizes smaller than what I wear now, and I look at them and see a very confident, strong me who was skinny, powerful, and a bit frightening. I feel that if I could wear those jeans again, maybe I could still be that person. But then I realize that I wouldn’t want to be that person. Now I am a calm, happy and comfortably confident person who doesn’t need a suit of armor to work a room. We all have that dress, pair of boots or jacket that reminds us of when we may have been thinner, happier or hipper. The thing is, you are not that person any more, and that’s okay. You can’t go back in time, and if you could you probably wouldn’t find the past to be as wonderful as you remember it to be. The only way to be happy now is to live in the now and that peasant skirt or leopard-print trench is holding you back from the person you can be. Celebrate the you are now by tuning into your interests, your passions, your loves and your unique personality. Find objects and garments that show you off. If you tune into who you are on the inside, it becomes easier to figure out how you should look on the outside. Next thing you know, you may be giving Lance Armstrong a run for his money!

Spring Wardrobe Additions

Now that the cast is off and the swelling has gone down, I can finally get into the spring fashion spirit! Here’s a few things I have recently purchased and like very much:

1. Well all know my adoration for stripes; when I saw this shirt at J. Crew Factory was only $21 I had to try it. I love the fit, the shape, the fabric, everything. It’s tempting to get it in gray as well!

2. I don’t ever shop Walmart, but I was on vacation in a small town where it was the only place to go to get a pair of shorts for Emerson. While there, I found these shorts by Faded Glory for $12.94 and I must say they’re pretty great. Good length that is comfortable yet not dowdy, a bit of stretch so they’re flexible but also keep their shape, and a nice non-dorky wash. Totally got rid of the cheesy neon skinny belt and will likely do an at-home distressing on them, but not too shabby. As with any shorts, I went a size up for a better fit.

3. I don’t own this EXACT shirt from Boden, but unfortunately the one I got is no longer on the site. This shirt featured is the Eliza Top, and I own the Eliza, but in a cerulean and navy stripe (yep MORE stripes!). I absolutely positively LOVE this shirt; I love silk but hate washing it (this shirt is machine washable); I like ¾ and bracelet-length sleeves now to protect my scar but stay breezy (this shirt has it), and I love a top that is casual like a tee but can dress up for work (wearing it right now with a pair of trousers and pumps, looks great tucked into a pencil skirt, and this weekend wore with boyfriend jeans). The Eliza Top from Boden is a regular in their collection and a great addition to many wardrobes!

4. I now own five pairs of Nine West’s Flax pump (black, natural, silver, peacock print, red and black spotted haircalf). I know that seems a bit insane, but it’s a pretty perfect shoe. Single sole, pointed toe, walkable heel height, and a nice price. I’ve been wanting a “nude” leather pointed toe pump for over a year, but find each pair is too pale, too dark, too pink, too something for me. The Flax’s Natural Leather is a pretty perfect shade for me, and I love having a shoe that looks great with both pants and skirts.

5. Another silky shirt with an in-between sleeve length! This is the Sophie Blouse from Dobbin Clothing, and while it has the same basics I like from the Boden Eliza Top, it gives a completely different effect thanks to the details. Slightly crinkled silk, gold buttons down the front, and blousy sleeves. The color makes it work with black, brown, ivory, and denim quite nicely. I often wear this blouse untucked with dark wash narrow jeans, but also wear to work tucked into ivory tropical wool trousers.

6. I mentioned my desire for delicate gold this spring, and I am still loving my Rebecca Minkoff cuff; I also picked up this dangly but not too jingly bracelet from Nordstrom for $24; it doesn’t look cheapy, it’s stretchy and doesn’t get in the way when I type.

7. This Panama hat is only $17 from J. Crew Factory. Runs a bit wide, but I like that because I can twist up my hair and tuck it in the brim to keep my neck cool (or hide bad hair).

8. Me and my Lifetherapy bracelets – it’s an addiction! I love turquoise, I have a few bracelets from the company in blue (see here) so it brightens up my current collection, and this one has an Aquarius symbol! I like that these bracelets are just one long cord; I’ve been known to also wear them as a long necklace with tanks in the summer!

9. Seriously, the Converse Shorelines are my jam! I’ve missed having casual tennis shoes for spring and summer, and these are so easy to slip on, no heel blisters, and no looking as though I’m wearing shoeboxes on my already chubby feet.

10. Linen always looks like such a mess on me.  Well this spring I’ve given up being crisp, and have embraced the casual wrinkled-ness of linen.  My J.Jill white linen big shirt is great knotted over distressed jeans, and these pants (the Julie fit from LOFT) I love with a simple cotton knit sweater, silk blouse, or with a denim shirt.  

***

Outfit posts have been few and far between because it was slow and difficult getting dressed with the arm, and honestly pretty depressing. I gained weight and lost muscle being so sedentary during my time on disability, and just putting on a tee shirt could leave me in tears. And then, much of my wardrobe didn’t work with the cast, only having one arm to put myself together after using the bathroom, the stiff swollen arm and all that jazz. But I feel SO much better, have much more flexibility and less swelling and am feeling like myself again. So stay tuned, for actual posts of me wearing these new pieces!

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The Glamorous World of Personal Style Blogging

Several weeks ago, there was an event at a local store. A blogger I like was hosting it, I emailed all my real-life blogger friends (and friends who would not want to slit their throats attending a “blogger event” with bloggers) to round them up. Let’s go to the event, support our friend, get our swag bags, and then go to a nearby bar or restaurant and consume something other than room temperature Korbel and mini cupcakes. Friends agreed, we set the date. The date came… and I had NO DESIRE to go.  I was tired, I was having a bad hair day, I didn’t like my outfit, I just wanted to go home.  And sometimes a blogger event just sounds like a lot of work, especially after a long day at the 9-5.  On top of it, Karl had to prep for a shoot the next day so I couldn’t leave him home alone all night. But these were real friends, and we’d balance the air kissing and Instagramming with gossip and cocktails. I psyched myself up… and then I spilled a cup of coffee all over my dress.

Now, even if you’re not a blogger I think you can understand how awful of a situation that is. I burned my belly, my underwear was soaked, and I had a big brown stain on my light colored dress. This was beyond the capabilities of a Tide-to-Go pen. So I mopped up what I could, hid in my cubicle the remainder of the day, then skipped work half an hour early and raced to Ann Taylor, one of the few stores between me and the Metro with clothes larger than a size 10.

I raced around Ann Taylor in a panic. I had to be at the event in an hour, especially since I needed to leave at a reasonable time to get home to my family. I had a pair of leopard pumps under my desk, so I looked for something that would match them instead of my coffee-soaked sandals. In the fitting room I tried on a dozen different items, all looking awful. Did I mention I was wearing my Comfy-But-Makes-My-Breasts-Look-Wonky bra, the one that is so high cut that it peeks out of a v-neck? Yeah, good leading by example, Ms. Fashion Blogger.

Thanks to a lovely salesperson, I ended up with a dark red ponte dress with a peplum that covered the muffin top from my bad undergarments and a neckline high enough to cover my dreadful bra. I snagged a bracelet that coordinated, tried to make my sweaty so now curling hair calm down and redid my face, though it was still blotchy from stress my lips were all splotchy as though I finished a marathon makeout session. I did yoga breathing to try to cool my core and my mindset, shoved my coffee-drenched original outfit into the bottom of my (thankfully large) purse and headed to the blogger event.

I never was able to cool myself down, it was as though I had actually drank that cup of coffee and five more after it. I was stressed, I felt anxious. Why am I going to a blogger event instead of going home to put my daughter to bed? Why did I just drop almost $200 in Ann Taylor on a dress I don’t even really like? WHY DO I BLOG? WHAT IS MY POINT IN LIFE?? Yes, I started having a blogger crisis in the overheated Metro car.

I got to the event, and it wasn’t bad. Zero calorie pastel-colored drinks in place of Korbel (though still warm), iced cookies in place of cupcakes, A DJ playing pop music through big speakers, bloggers who are just as nice in person as they are on their blogs. Met some new people, tried to relax and enjoy myself and the good company, but it just seemed really warm and crowded and overwhelming. I was still sweating, and for some reason it was focused on my face and scalp.  Dry body, dripping from the neck up and it just wouldn’t stop.

FLASH FLASH FLASH there’s the pro photographer for the event. I’m flushed, I’m sweaty, and my boobs look as though they’re 400 years old and have minds of their own. I know that these photos will be used by the brand and be on a couple different blogs within the week, all linking back to my blog (which is good blogging etiquette but I’d be okay with bad etiquette at this point).  I go into a corner of the store and try to do some damage control, slicking back my hair into a low ponytail and adding more lipstick. I put the bottle of pastel water to my forehead, then back of neck hoping it will cool me. I then guzzle it, thinking maybe that will help. Straighten my wonky boobs and head back into the throng.

My friend Instagrammed a picture with me in it (yep, the one right above).  She adores me, I adore her, and I know she would never share a photo where she felt I looked bad (Yes we bloggers have a unwritten rule that we try to never share an unflattering photo of a fellow blogger we like or respect.  If a blogger shares a really unflattering photo, she likely doesn’t like that blogger, or is new to the blogging scene and is not familiar with the Blogger Code.).  I saw that picture while still at the event (because we were Instagramming like mad because that’s what we bloggers do to show off that we were there, to possibly win a prize, and sometimes because we promised the brand to be nice or to get paid) and knew it must have been a good look for how insane I must have been in real life.  I saw that photo and knew it was time to head home.   My style, my heart, and my mind wasn’t in it, I wanted to be home in air conditioning and comfy pants.  I gave air kisses to those I hardly knew, big sweaty hugs and kisses to those who loved me in spite of it, and headed back to the Metro.
 
On the ride back to the ‘burbs, I munched on an iced cookie in the shape of a corset and drank more lukewarm pastel water, ignoring the Metro rules about no food or drink.  It’s was late, this was going to end up being my dinner.  Luckily I got an air-conditioned car that wasn’t too full, I could have a seat to myself and let my sweat turn into icicles.  I thought about why I subject myself to such torture… and realized those who see such events from the outside probably think they’re pretty glamorous and fun.  And I thought… they CAN be fun, if I had the right mindset.

Maybe I’m jaded because I have been doing this for so long.  Maybe it’s because I have a family at home I really adore and feel I don’t see enough as it is.  Possibly it’s because I still have a full-time not blog related job that I care about.  But I find blogging events to just be more work, even if I am not the one hosting it.  I feel the need to dress a certain way, to look super polished because I know there will be flashbulbs all over the place.  It’s like attending a networking event where you get photographed a hundred times, wearing your highest heels and carrying your smallest or most expensive purse.

At the same time, gosh I have the coolest part-time job on the planet.  I feel blessed to be based out of DC where so many bloggers are really amazing human beings and friends.  That we do have a thriving fashion and social scene, where companies court us and pay to host events that we can go to.  That Instagramming like a fiend is showing our appreciation for them realizing that DC is just as influential of a shopping town as the other big cities in this country.  That some events are pretty darn spectacular (hello Goodwill’s Art of Fashion) and renew my faith in blogging and the community.  That with the growth of the blogging community, I find it even more important to support those I respect and believe to do a good job.  That it IS cool to attend an event and get free food and free nail polish, and to complain about such perks of the job is being a spoiled brat.

I think the life of a personal style blogger is very different from what most choose to share on their blog.  Many bloggers complain that we get criticized for just sitting around, eating macarons, sipping pumpkin spice lattes, and taking pictures of ourselves spinning in skater skirts and gifted ankle booties.  I think people feel that because they don’t know the actual work behind being a blogger.  Bloggers who who are the most successful create a fantasy world of white lacquer, gifted purses, and crisp Autumn days where they skip down cobblestone streets with their adorable puppy or boyfriend.  Brands want relaxed and happy and carefree.  Whether you realize it or not, most of you readers (as we bloggers can tell by our pageviews, subscribers, and affiliate income) also desire this aesthetic. The blogs with the largest bank accounts and the largest following have the most glamorous or enviable looking lives.

I’ve talked about the behind the scenes of blogging before, and I continue to do so because I think it’s important for readers to realize that be it a fantasy or reality, blogging is hard work and much of it isn’t glamorous.  It’s not just sweaty blogger events in place of family time.  It’s doing a photo shoot you are contracted to do even though you’re sick, you had a death in the family, your boyfriend just threatened, “it’s me or the blog.”  It’s working your 9-5 (which is often more like an 8-6:45) and then coming home to 70 emails from PR people and brands and potential advertisers, 20 new comments (half either trying to spam their company or telling you that you suck), three contracts to go over with a fine-toothed comb to be sure you’re not getting screwed or signing your life away, a handful of business calls, collages to create, blog posts to write and schedule, gifted items that take mega skill to figure out how to tastefully incorporate into a post or upcoming outfit, emails from readers asking for advice or to offer feedback or criticism on what you are doing.  Then you check your stats and find another blogger or a message board saying you’re lazy or you lack talent or you’re stupid or your blog sucks.  It’s constantly networking, constantly educating yourself about new technology and updates to Google and WordPress.  It’s being up on the latest social media, the latest brands, the most recent news about technology, fashion, and the blogosphere.  It’s working until 1am and still having a mile-long to-do list and you have to get up in four hours to take care of your family, go to your day job, speak at a conference, hit the gym to maintain your enviable figure, plot out three shoots before the noon sun ruins your light and you have race to meet a brand at their headquarters and then race home for a Skype interview.

Yes, there are crappy bloggers who make dough off of putting together mediocre outfits, Photoshopping them to death, and posting them with a short paragraph laced with grammatical and spelling errors.  The occasional collage to bring affiliate income and a couple tweets sucking up to brands and promoting their same blog post for the fifth time.  But the majority of bloggers I know… our lives aren’t that glamorous whether we lead you to believe it or not.  Blogging is a job, a sweaty, stress-inducing job that often costs us as much or more than what we make from it.  But we do it because we love it, and we hope you love it in return!

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Personal Style: Starting from Scratch

This past weekend I spoke at an event where I discussed closet organization and using that to hone your personal style. I pretty much shared what I have shared before on this blog; at the end of my talk I opened the floor to questions and a woman asked one I that I actually receive quite often.


How do you even start?

This woman was a mom, recently had a child, and reminded me of myself four years ago. I remember right around the time that maternity leave was up, standing in my closet hyperventilating, sobbing, laughing like a lunatic, feeling completely overwhelmed. Before me were clothes that may never fit again, clothes that kind of fit, clothes that fit but I hated, maternity clothes that I shouldn’t wear but were safe and comfortable, and a bunch of clothes for a different person – the person I was before I became a mother.

I told this woman to do exactly what I did. I told Karl to take the baby, I turned on some music really loud so I couldn’t hear Emerson, locked the bedroom door, and tore everything out of the closet. I threw it all on the bed, and then went through everything, piece by piece. I started big, just deciding, would I be caught dead in public wearing this? If the answer was no, it was tossed into a box. It was amazing how much was purged with that simple and obvious question.

The thing is, life is crazy and busy and hectic. When you’re running on little sleep, living in a strange body, and having to care for lives other than your own, what you wear is very far down on the priorities list. Some days, you feel you deserve a medal just for remembering to put on pants before leaving the house. But it’s hard to get back to feeling like yourself and accepting this new body and life when each time you look in the mirror you feel miserable.


So start big: Would you be caught dead in public wearing it?

Next think, would you want to wear this if you bumped into an old friend? Don’t make it an ex boyfriend or anything stressful like that, make it a nice girl you went to high school with or an ex coworker. Someone who liked you and wasn’t a raving fashionista. Just putting a face to the public will help you purge more, especially those “make it work” garments like maternity jeans and stretched-out knits.

As you continue, paring down more and more you may have a minor panic attack thinking that you won’t have anything left to wear. Consider doing what I did – stop before you get to that point, but note what you can already tell you need. I bought two wrap dresses, a pair of ankle boots with a low heel, and a couple sweaters and knit tops that would let me nurse but didn’t look like maternity. I spent about $200, and that is all I spent for a while. Then as the body kept shifting, I would take a moment to reassess the wardrobe, and reassess again.

One thing I brought up this weekend in my talk is that you don’t need a huge wardrobe. In fact, a pared down closet makes it easier to dress every day. No one is keeping a tally of how many times you wore that blue cardigan or those black pants. It is better to wear the same black pants every day than mixing it up with pieces that don’t fit, don’t flatter, and make you curse your reflection.

The goal right now is not to become a fashion maven, but to like yourself and your reflection again. Only go as far as you feel comfortable, but don’t give up. Keep addressing the situation, not because you’re a hot mess, but because you deserve to feel good. Whatever the situation in your life that got you to this point, it does not own you, it does not define you. You are a complex, fabulous, deserving human being. You have earned the right to feel beautiful on a daily basis – you ARE beautiful. You are a better caretaker when you first care for yourself. You are a better role model to your children if you have confidence and feel good about yourself . You deserve to take a couple hours one day a few times a month to lock yourself in your bedroom and reassess your wardrobe. Join forces with fellow parents for a sit swap to achieve this, maybe even take a sick day at work and don’t let anyone know. But take a bit of time for yourself. This investment will reap the rewards tenfold over the next year with your style, and your self image.

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Ask Allie: Finding Personal Style

Dear Alison,
 
I’ve been trying so so so hard to find my own personal style…and it’s not working. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. I get dressed in the morning, sometimes several times before I find an outfit that I think works, and feel okay about. And it seems like the second I get to work I feel disgusting and hate what I’m wearing and wish I could go back home and switch into something that would make me comfortable, namely a pair of old jeans and baggy shirt. Is this normal??? I read your blog and several other style blogs every day. I watch What Not to Wear marathons. I see things I like. I try to keep my wardrobe simple, like you suggest. But it has me in tears. I don’t know what to do. I feel like something is wrong with me!

Everyone has days where they feel fantastic in the mirror, but feel disgusting by time they arrive at their destination. Me included. It’s really bad when I think I put together an outfit that feels so awesome, get to work, look at the memory card from my husband’s camera and think, “Why in the world did I allow myself to leave the house in this?” I look awkward, I feel awkward, and I can’t wait to dash home and get into my version of your old jeans and baggy shirt (which is my favorite tee shirt and a pair of lightweight cropped cargo pants from Express circa 1999 – here’s a pic of the winter version with a cardigan). The best thing to do is learn from these days, what I call wardrobe mistakes.

Learning from Wardrobe Mistakes

What made you feel disgusting? Was it the fabric? The print? The silhouette? Was it too fussy? Too boring? Too extreme? I often feel the worst when I wear an outfit that is too… done. Too matchy-matchy, too complicated. Button-down shirts in stiff cotton often make me feel awkward, short flippy skirts make me self-conscious, flats remind me that I have very thick ankles and calves and feel even more short and squat than I already am. While I love blue and it flatters my complexion, I don’t feel as… me in it come mid-day as I do when wearing a warm color.

Take these wardrobe mistakes and use them as lessons on what not to wear, and what not to purchase. Don’t let history repeat itself.

To Thine Own Self Be True

I often feel wrong when I try too hard to embrace current trends. I see another blogger with a similar figure carry off cropped jeans with ballet flats so I try it, wear it, and feel miserable. Every store seems to be selling a certain style of skirt and I buy one to find I wear it only once for feeling so out of my element. It’s hard to know where to draw inspiration, when to embrace a trend, and when to let it pass.

When trying out a new trend or silhouette, I recommend doing it solo. This is not a time for your girl friend’s opinion in the fitting room at Macy’s or the saleswoman’s suggestion at LOFT. Peer pressure can steer you off course and make you spend money you shouldn’t. Hit the restroom, freshen your makeup, get a cold drink and spend time alone in that fitting room. If it’s a crummy, stinky, cramped fitting room get the heck out of there. Try the trend in another shop that has more space, better energy, better lighting. Then if you do indeed like a mullet skirt or cropped boyfriend jeans you can return to the first shop and get the exact style/price you desire. I often shop places with flexible return policies so I can take pieces home, try them with the proper shoes and undergarments and see how they work with what is already in my wardrobe.

Point is, your best friend may tell you that you look great in pink, but you feel like Petunia Pig in the shade. A saleswoman doesn’t know your lifestyle and may suggest a white linen dress when you know it will end up creased and covered in marinara by noon. If a trend, color, silhouette or brand makes you feel wrong, don’t buy it. I really believe it’s better to wear what you own which may not be exciting rather than spend money on clothes you have to force yourself to like or feel right in.

Baby Steps

I adore What Not to Wear and as I mentioned before, I have totally drank the Stacy London Kool-Aid. However, makeover shows and books make one feel she needs to do a complete makeover all in one whirlwind weekend in New York City. Even Stacy and Clinton would agree that such a drastic change is not a good idea. Take baby steps. Assess your current wardrobe – what are the worst offenders or the biggest holes in your closet and tackle those first. Don’t go out and purchase 5 pairs of shorts, instead buy one pair and see how you like them and how the color and silhouette works with your body, your wardrobe, and your personality. Let new pieces marinate in your wardrobe before you bring in new garments. See how they resonate with you, how they improve or don’t improve your personal style. Personal style is a marathon, not a sprint. The reason the personal style of the women on the blog Advanced Style is so awesome is because these women have had a lifetime to hone it!

Seek Professional Help

If you were building a home from scratch, you would consult an architect. If you’re building a wardrobe from scratch, consult a personal stylist. While I try to provide advice, it is very generalized to assist multiple people at once. A personal stylist will come to your home, get to know you as a person, assess what you already own and help you build a strong foundation.

When many think of stylists, they think of Rachel Zoe dressing celebs for awards ceremonies and red carpet events. However, stylists have become more commonplace and have prices that the average person can afford. I wrote about the Westfield Style Lounge and Style for Hire here, and I think they are great services to help everyday women get on the right track. Many of your favorite fashion bloggers are also stylists; see if there’s one in your town you can hire for a closet consult or shopping trip. Many malls and higher-end boutiques will know the names of reputable stylists in your area.

The difference between a stylist and a stylish best friend is that a stylist is trained to not project their tastes on you, and will guide you in the right direction when you feel that everything in your closet should be burned. A personal stylist doesn’t usually work on commission with a store, so he or she will find the stores that fit your body, your budget, and your personality. A personal stylist also knows where to shop in your area, being quite familiar with the merchandise and staff. While a personal stylist may seem like a crazy expense, an hour or two may be all you need to move in the right direction towards finding your personal style and can cost quite less than several wardrobe mistakes.

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Personal Style – How to Make Time

Over the past couple of years, my life has changed drastically. New job, new work responsibilities, new baby, new addition doubling the square footage (and amount of bathrooms) to clean in my home. With these changes, it has been hard to maintain personal style.

Hard, but not impossible.

You will never find time for anything. If you want time, you must make time.
-Charles Bruxton

We have the time to do what we want, we just need to prioritize things. I know for me, the weeks where I feel as though I can’t get everything done are the weeks where I watched a lot of TV, spent a lot of time surfing the Internet. When I don’t actively consider how I am using my time, I find it can slip through my fingers, leaving me stressed and overwhelmed.

Even weeks where I feel I have a grasp on my schedule, I can still find that I don’t have time to accomplish that which is important to me. And for me, fashion is important. This isn’t just because I write about it, but because I honestly love it. To me, fashion is a form of art, a form of expression, a way to share myself with the world – a sartorial business card. When I make effort with my appearance, I feel more myself. I am more confident, calmer, more in control of my day. To be able to make time for fashion, I have created some systems and shortcuts to ensure it always fits into my life.

Many of you email me and leave me comments stating that my advice isn’t realistic for your lifestyle. I can’t imagine what your life is like, but I can share my systems with you, and maybe they can help you create time for achieving personal style.

Just 30 Minutes a Week
It’s hard to get dressed if you have to weed through a bunch of clothes that don’t fit, don’t work for your life, aren’t in the best condition. After Emerson was born I had a closet full of maternity clothes, clothes in my pre-baby size, and then clothes that currently fit. I would spend half an hour each morning rifling through hangers, varying between near-tears and hyperventilating trying to find something that would pass as appropriate attire.

After having a baby, the way I got a grasp on my wardrobe was to use 30 minutes a week to work on the closet. Often this was at 2am after a feeding when I just couldn’t sleep. Instead of getting on the Internet or watching a rerun of The Real Housewives of Orange County, I went into my closet. I pulled from hangers anything that no longer fit. I boxed up the clothes I hoped to fit in the future, bagged the too-large clothes for donation, and had a box for that which needed to be dry cleaned or repaired. I would also use this time to put away laundry, and also gather clothes to be washed. I never let it go past 30 minutes, because then I would be overwhelmed and I just didn’t have that sort of time to invest in this project.

Now, I still do this. I usually do it on Mondays after putting Emerson to bed. From 8:15 – 8:45 I put away laundry, put clothes back on hangers, shoes back in boxes. I’ll iron pieces that are wrinkled, mend fallen hems or start a load of gentle cycle pieces that my husband fears. Of course I don’t get all of this done each week, but every little bit helps. I probably only iron clothing every four weeks or so, I have yet to take clothes affected by the hurricane to the dry cleaners, and this week I finally washed delicates that have been patiently waiting for three weeks. But every bit helps mornings be simpler, and my personal style more achievable.

Plan in Advance
Many of you tell me that you plan out your outfits in advance. For some, it’s the night before; for others you tell me you plan out the week each Sunday. My mom has a file box, and on each index card is an ensemble – she lists everything from sweater to shoes to scarf. She notes when the ensemble is worn so she doesn’t repeat too soon. These are all great ways to shave time and stress off getting dressed each day.

I rarely plan my outfits that specifically, but I never buy anything without imagining how I can wear it with pieces already in my wardrobe. Usually when I get a new piece, I spend about 15 minutes in my closet trying it with different items to see if it really works the way I envisioned. I think of my sleeveless bow blouse from White House Black Market – I bought it in Delaware when on vacation. In the fitting room, I imagined wearing it untucked with dark jeans and booties on the weekend, tucked in with my blue or yellow pencil skirt, and under a black blazer. When I got home, I tried it with all these pieces – I didn’t like it under the black blazer or with the blue skirt, but I liked the other two looks. When the dotted blouse caught my eye that next week, I paired it with the yellow skirt since I already knew the two looked good together. The next time, I tried my pleated black skirt because I knew that the blue skirt didn’t look good because it was too thin and tight for the blouse’s fabric. The black skirt was lined, pleated, shorter and a bit fuller so it did all the blue skirt did not. Tried it, liked it, wore it.

As soon as I know I am going to a special event (wedding, high school reunion, etc.) I start contemplating my outfit. When I have a free moment, I play with my existing wardrobe to create an ensemble. Sometimes this is two months in advance. This gives me time if I don’t love my outfit – time to try something else, purchase the missing accessory. This also gives me freedom when I get closer to the date – I don’t have to stress about what I am wearing, I can save my energy for other aspects of the event.

Trim Down the Closet
The fewer pieces in your wardrobe, the easier it is to get dressed. When I find my closet rails filling up, I find myself struggling to get dressed each day.

If it doesn’t fit, either get rid of it or pack it away for when you are a different size.
If it is damaged, repair it or get rid of it.
If it is wrinkled or stained, take if off the hanger and don’t put it back until it’s ready to wear.
If it doesn’t fit your life, it doesn’t deserve space in your closet.
If it’s for a special occasion/seasonal piece, it needs to be in the very back of your closet.

The front and center should be your daily wear. To make it easier to find things, separate by style (all dresses together, all shirts together, all skirts together). Have similar styles of hangers so a piece on a skinny dry cleaning hanger doesn’t get lost behind one on a molded wood one.

When you put away your laundry, you can do a bit of paring down. Again, if you have a box on the floor of your closet, it’s easy to toss “to be fixed” pieces in there and not have to find a special place for them. Keep it simple, keep it clean.

Toss Half your Makeup
If you’re a busy woman, you don’t have time to rifle through various highlighters and powders each morning. Create a daily face – a combination of cosmetics that are flattering, reliable, and easy to apply. Who cares if you wear the same taupe shadow and same pinky-brown gloss every day of your life?

I have a daily look that is in a shallow bin in my dressing table drawer. In there are my essentials – my concealer, foundation, highlighter, blush, shadow compact, lash curler, mascara, brow powder and gel. This way, I can practically do my face in the dark. I have another bin for lip colors, another for eye products, and one way in the back for random things like face shimmer and bronzer.

After having a baby, I realized I don’t have time for cosmetic upkeep – this is having unusual looks for every outfit, as well as replacing expired products. Instead of fretting over this, I tossed the metallic blue liner, the purple mascara, the red lipstick that never looked quite right, the body glitter. The fewer beauty products, the simpler the application each day.

I also did this with nail color – before having a baby I was a monthly pedi addict. I often bought the bottle for at-home touch-ups. Now, I am lucky to get a pedicure once a season. I have narrowed down my nail colors to two – a clear pink for a natural shine, and OPI’s I’m Not Really a Waitress, a classic dark red with a hint of shimmer. Both colors work year-round and with any fashion trend. Too many options means wasting too much time.

Embrace Color
You can wear a simple v-neck sweater in black or gray, or you can wear it in hot pink or tangerine. It’s the same sweater, but the colorful one will brighten your face and make you appear to be more vibrant, happier, and more concerned about how you look to others.

Before I had Emerson I wore a lot of black. Since having her and seeing all the changes to my body, it was tempting to hide all my lumps and bumps (and stains) in black. The thing is, if you are exhausted and stressed black only exacerbates the situation. It makes dark circles and spotty complexion more pronounced. It actually showcases stains far more than colors. And while it’s a chic color, it’s not really a shade to brighten anyone’s mood.

Feeling overwhelmed? Try wearing green. Tired? Consider a top in pink. You will be amazed at how a pop of color will improve your mood, your complexion, and how the world relates to you.

Spend More Time on your Hair
Say what? After all these tips on how to shave time off the routine I now say to use that time for your hair? Well not exactly.

Right now my hair is a hot mess. Roots, gray hairs, damage, bangs at a weird length. I haven’t been to the salon in far too long. Instead of sucking it up and going to see my stylist, I create work-arounds to make my hair be “presentable.” I buy more products to seal split ends and control the frizz. I end up spending more time in the morning with hot tools trying to tame this mane. And yes, I often end the day with my hair in a messy ponytail or updo out of sheer frustration.

I don’t have time for this!

The thing is, when I go to see my stylist every other month, I don’t have to deal with such hair drama. My hair is free of split ends and damage, my roots aren’t as noticeable, I need less product, my hair is happier and therefore I am happier. It can seem that it’s too costly to visit the salon, but when you consider the $5.00 here and $7.00 there spent on conditioners, styling lotions, end menders, and fancy flat irons, you probably make out better with the regularly scheduled salon visits.

And regularly scheduled is key. The only reason I see the dentist twice a year is because they schedule my next appointment when I am there for my current one. When you get to the salon, schedule your next appointment when you are paying for your current cut and/or color. Treat it like a doctor’s appointment and plan it into your schedule. Get to know a stylist, so he or she can get to know you, your hair, and your personal style.

Schedule Showers
I only shower every other day. One day, I wake at 5:15 to shower before the rest of the house is up. The other day, I sleep in until 5:45. As I figure out my week, I also figure out my shower schedule. If I know I have to get to work early, I plan ahead so that is not a shower day. I remember in the first couple of months of Emerson’s life I would shower at 2am after a feeding because I knew there wouldn’t be any other guaranteed time in the day for me to get clean.

Knowing which days I shower means I can plot out my outfits (sleeveless on shower days, sleeves when I have stubble), my hair (Day 2 means hot tools and/or dry shampoo to get a decent look), and my morning (I don’t exercise on shower days because I know if I go downstairs before the shower, I will get off schedule, end up late, baby will wake before I have bathed, etc.).

I know my friend takes her showers at night so her son doesn’t wake during it, and she can let her hair air-dry overnight. I have another friend who takes her showers right after work when her husband is off getting the kids from day care – by time they are home she is finished and even got a chance to blow dry her hair. For you, a shower may be a daily (or twice daily) necessity; whatever is best for you – just make these personal care routines as important a part of your schedule as work, doctor’s appointments, and meals. This will ensure they take place, and don’t put the rest of your day off schedule.

Create a Signature Look (AKA Uniform)
I wear a lot of pencil skirts. A LOT of pencil skirts. I do this because I know they are stylish, flattering, and work-appropriate. If you scroll through my outfits, you will see I rarely veer from my favorite styles and silhouettes. Partially this is because it fits my personal style, but mainly it’s because it’s EASY. Switch the color of the skirt and top, it’s a completely different looking ensemble but with familiar silhouettes.

If I like a pair of shoes a lot, I will buy them in more colors. My leopard pumps I also have in black; I wanted them in patent but couldn’t find them so I got almost the same style of shoe but with a peeptoe. After Emerson was born, I lived in wrap dresses – they flattered my postpartum body and were great for breastfeeding. I found one I liked at Talbots – and then bought it in every color available. A month later I found a different wrap dress at Ann Taylor and bought it in solid black and a blue print.

No one notices I wear the same things over and over and over. They just see that I am wearing flattering silhouettes and colors. This makes life so much easier each morning, and also when shopping for new clothes. No need to reinvent the wheel each morning or on each shopping trip – keep it simple, keep a uniform until you have time to develop your look in more detail.

***

Not all these suggestions will work for everyone, but I encourage you to try to create little systems in your every day to make time for your personal style. You deserve to feel great and look great. Caring about your appearance shows the world that you are important, a person to respect. Taking time, even if it’s 15 minutes a day for just you can make a world of difference in how your day plays out. Remember, you can’t take care of others unless you first take care of yourself!

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Squeezing Lemons

self care when life gives you lemons

I believe in the power of positive thinking. When I feel down, I take a moment to force myself to smile (studies show that just by smiling your mood improves) and think about good things. The awesome weather we’re having, last night snuggling with Karl watching Sherlock on his phone, Emerson telling me I am her best friend, hearing my unemployed friend found a great job, that sort of thing. And it usually works. I stop focusing on the craptastic and fill my brain with the fantastic and next thing I know, I’m singing along with the radio and looking forward to the rest of the day.

But sometimes, that down won’t go up with a fake smile and a thought of puppies. And while I am positive on this blog, you bet your Jockey Skimmies I have had a lot of down days in the past few months. I’m damn good at making lemonade out of life’s lemons, but sometimes I need to kick myself in the pants to get to squeezing the hell out of those lemons.

Many write about self care, and I often discuss how you can’t properly care for others unless you first care for yourself, but it’s all a bunch of gentle incense burning meditating post-it notes of YOU’RE BEAUTIFUL! bullshit when you’re in thick. I’ve tried meditation apps and videos, self-help books, morning walks but my head is spinning and what’s spinning in there isn’t puppies and blue skies.

When I was younger, I could cure this brain tornado with something drastic. A tattoo, a piercing, a new hair color, white water rafting, a new job, a trip somewhere new. But with 40 right around the corner, a family and a mortgage I can’t just up and run to Costa Rica or quit my job. But that doesn’t mean I can’t DO SOMETHING. And that SOMETHING is self care.

I’m a vain, superficial person. Come on, we all know it, I run a FASHUN BLOG for God’s sake. And when I think I look good, I feel better. For years I maxed out credit cards in an attempt to feel better about myself and it gave a temporary fix, but left me more miserable. But personal beautification IS a gateway to self care; it forces you to realize the bod you’re in, take time to focus on it, improve it, and thereby think better of it and yourself.

When the doctor confirmed that yep, the arm was re-broken and yep, I’d need to go through surgery again, I was devastated. Pull over my car to the side of the road and scream and cry until I was ill devastated. Get home, see my mom (who was watching Em so I could go to the doctor) and begin sobbing again in my Mommy’s arms devastated. Tearing up right now thinking about that day devastated. I gave myself that weekend to be a mega Boo Boo Kitty. I slept a lot, I cried a lot… and yes I drank a lot. I didn’t shower, I never put on a bra, and I listened to a lot of sad music from my angsty high school days. Come Monday, I put on a brave face for my last three days at the office and got shit done. I thought about puppies and forced many smiles while I wrapped up loose ends at the office though my personal loose ends began fraying.  That Thursday lying in the surgery center waiting for my turn I gave up trying to be brave and mature and cried some more, curled up in the fetal position (as fetal as possible with a nerve block).

But after I got out of surgery? I decided I wasn’t going to be the miserable sack on the couch I was last time. I was going to DO SOMETHING, and I made a decision that if DOING SOMETHING didn’t help, I would SEE SOMEBODY. And I told my husband this, making it concrete, holding myself accountable.

Each day of my short term  disability, I brushed my teeth, washed my face, put on a bra. Each day I drank at least eight glasses of water (we’d make a pitcher of Belly Water  – delicious and beneficial). Each day I ate a proper breakfast. Very simple things, things I knew I could commit to, even in a Percocet haze. And once I had those down pat, I added to the list. I would go outside for at least 15 minutes to get fresh air. I resumed dry brushing each morning, something I used to do a decade ago but somehow forgot about (this is a great e-book to teach you a gentle way to incorporate this habit, written by someone who had been in a very dark place). I started walking each morning, first day just to the entrance of my court and back, next day to the end of the block and back, and up to 30 minutes with no distance or intensity goals. Very very simple things, not adding one until I had gotten to a comfortable place with the previous.

After two weeks, I went back to the doctor feeling incredibly rested and positive. I chose a hot pink cast, and that night I swiped on some hot pink lipstick to match (Revlon’s LacquerBalm in Vivacious) and went to a party with friends. The next night, I accompanied Karl to a local café where he was hired to photograph the band. Though it was a place where I could wear shorts and a tee shirt, I put on a fancy dress, did up my hair, and again wore the hot pink lipstick. Fuck this cast, it’s not going to get me down. I am amazing, and I am going to continue to be amazing.

But with a cast came real life. Back to work, back to the DC commute, back to bills and car repairs, problems with the blog switching to WordPress (um hello losing all my Feedly subscribers and 75% of my comments), job stresses, home stresses, and all that stuff that on a normal day I can handle no problem, but with a hot encased arm that’s giving me a bit of claustrophobia and making daily tasks all the more complicated, well that darkness started returning.

But I’m fighting it, dammit, and with each act of self care, I squeeze those lemons a bit harder and add more sugar to that lemonade.  Some lemon-squeezing acts I’m performing:

  • Dry Brushing. Seriously, it’s amazing what a $10 brush can do for the mood and the body. I can’t do yoga or exercise much, but in three minutes each morning and evening, I have seen my legs more toned, my skin glow, and I get a charge that keeps my pumped enough in the morning that I can sometimes go without coffee or at least wait until I get to work.
  • Walking. I promise myself I don’t have to do more than 30 minutes, I don’t have to do a certain distance, and I can even take a route that is completely flat. but I have to do it. In my bathroom are my shorts, bra, and tee shirt. I fumble in the dark for socks and underwear, go in the bathroom, dry brush and brush my teeth, get dressed, and go downstairs to drink a big glass of water, put on my shoes and go out the door. No checking email, no letting out the dog, no turning on lights. I started doing this in silence but found I was more motivated with music. Now I’m mixing it up by listening to audiobooks.
  • Beauty Treat. When I feel fat and none of my wardrobe works with my cast and I see some comment on the web saying something not nice I want to go to Nordstrom or ASOS and drop some money. But a new dress or bag won’t fix things, it will only spend money I don’t have (twice-broken arms are NOT cheap). My replacement is CVS. I let myself go in there and buy ONE THING. Maybe it’s a new hair product, maybe a lip gloss or body scrub. Just one thing, and I pay cash so I can’t go bonkers. And then I go home and give myself a half hour to play with that new thing alone.
  • Hair Maintenance. Last week, my sister came over and dyed my hair for me. Two weeks prior I shared an Instagram photo boasting about my great hair, but since then split ends had grown and my hair had faded to a sad light brown and grays were all over the place. I can hardly style my hair as it is with the cast, and the dreary head of fried locks made me feel old and lame. Oh the power of a box of Natural Instincts and a good friend, I now feel like I can conquer the world.
  • Sleep When Tired. I try to be Super Woman. I get up early to blog and look nice for work, I work a minimum of eight hours with an hour commute each way, I come home and spend quality time with my daughter, and once I put her to bed, spend quality time with my husband. Weekends, I cram in errands, chores around the house, community events, birthday parties and dance class, time with loved ones and the occasional Date Night or Girl Friend Brunch. And next thing I know, I’m cranky and sick miserable; so tired my stomach hurts and my head is pounding. Who wants to hang out with a bitch? I promote quality instead of quntity on the blog, I need to do it with my life. So if I’m tired at 9pm, I go to sleep even if my only QT with Karl was a kiss when I walked in the door from work and he was walking out to teach. If just thinking about my weekend makes me hyperventilate, I cancel. I’m okay with saying no, my true friends will still love me even if I haven’t shared a cocktail with them in months, and I know my child will grow to be a fabulous human being even if she hasn’t been to the children’s museum or zoo in over a year.
  • Music. I have a Spotify membership and I make damn good use of it. I have playlists for walking, for driving, for bathing, for doing my hair. I learn about new artists from Bust or Rolling Stone and add their albums and listen to them straight through three times before passing judgment. I sing in the car, I sing while weeding, and I air guitar, drum, and wail while walking in the morning. Karl and I discuss music, we watch ACL or Palladia together (and often with Emerson) and Date Night, more often than not, includes a concert. Music keeps me current and keeps me curious. It gives me words for my pain and my joy, and it helps me realize all the feelings I am feeling aren’t felt by me alone. And it gets me up off the couch!
  • Get Gussied Up for No Reason. Last week I was battling a summer cold, bad hair, and a bad outlook on life. It was tempting to throw on my office equivalent of pajamas (knit or ponte pants and a jersey top), but instead I got up a bit earlier and did myself up as though I had somewhere special to go. I curled my hair (which with a cast is a feat of flexibility), did my whole face (more than one color of eye shadow and concealer!), put on a dress and heels. This with freshly dyed hair, new lipstick, new tunes to listen to on the way to work, and a big-ass fake smile helped make smiles later that day genuine.

Some darkness can’t be improved with a box of hair dye or a new lipstick. My father battled depression and I am all too aware of its power and need for professional care. But sometimes, we just need to give ourselves a kick in the pants to get out of a funk, to get us back to squeezing those lemons and make a big cold glass of lemonade.  I don’t know, maybe sharing my methods of self care could help you think of some ways to get through a dark patch. You’re a phenomenal person, and you deserve to feel good. Sometimes it sounds like a bunch of hokey mumbo jumbo, but you need to care for yourself  before you can truly care for another. Self care is important, you and those who love you deserve it!

Guest Post: Redefining Personal Style through Friendship

By Erin Twitty Johnson

I spent a couple of years, in retail management, specializing in resale. There is a lot of freedom in your wardrobe when you work in resale. A lot. I stretched out into it. I met all that freedom right at the edge of crazy, and it felt like home.


And then.

I decided to take a job as a usability analyst. For the first time in a long time, I had to dress like a professional. And it was terrifying. I had become accustomed to dressing with no rules. I had to find a way to navigate my personal style in a direction that was work appropriate, but still felt true. Still felt like me. I have always felt I say a lot with my clothes, and I don’t like the idea of not saying what I mean.

I had no idea where to begin. I struggled to get dressed every day. I felt lost in my own closet. My husband encouraged me to move towards basics, but I hate basics, they have always seemed so boring. So I started nowhere. I made do with what I had, supplemented with a couple of blazers from Zara. And I thought about it. For a few months.

I started by simply taking a look around at my girlfriends and co-workers. What were they wearing? What did I like? Dislike? Who was consistently dressed in a way I found appealing? I narrowed the list down to three friends who always looked amazing, and chose to focus on them.

Jessi, Stevie and Vicki. Paying close attention to Stevie’s style was nothing new, to be honest. I have always paid close attention to what Stevie is wearing and copied as much of what she was doing as I could. I never even bothered to hide it. She just knows what she’s doing. She’s a rock and roll bohemian princess. She is amazing. She has evolved in our time together to become a much classier, high fashion version of the girl she was when we met. Her style would be the anchor. To bring the old into the new.

Jessi and Vicki though. They were something else. I started to watch what they were wearing. And something started to show up as a pattern. They were wearing basics. A lot of them. I liked what they were wearing, and on them, basics seemed wonderful. They served as building blocks, holding together outfits with amazing jackets, or show off shoes. And they were never boring.

But I had no idea how to translate what they were doing into my own closet. My husband and I went shopping several times, he pointed out basics and suggested things to try on. And I hated all of it. It was so defeating. I knew what I wanted but I didn’t want it.

And then we went to Zara. And something clicked. I found tees in shades of grey and black and they drape on them was so pretty I didn’t mind. And a blazer in dark grey jersey. I had found the thing that separates bad basics from good. Fit. I found great fitting tees at Zara and Everlane and stocked up.

My new go-to look consists of a black or white t-shirt, black ankle pants or dark wash denim, and a blazer or long cardigan. It sounds boring, I know, but the truth is that it just highlights all of my great shoes, jackets and jewelry. I can wear as many accessories as I want, and not look overdone. And it’s so easy and quick to get dressed in the AM now! I feel like myself again. And I owe it all to a few girlfriends and the joy of good basics.

Erin used to blog (and you may recognize her from my True Fashionista series), but now she takes selfies in the bathroom at work.  Follow her on Instagram!

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Covet Fashion: Finding Personal Style on Your Phone

I blame Megan.

Megan is a friend I met through this blog. We were pregnant at the same time, she contacted me, something pregnancy-related, and soon a friendship grew. Though we live across the country from one another, we stay in touch via social media. One day, Megan posted a link to my Facebook page asking if I had seen the app, Covet Fashion. I had not. I’m not one to play games on my phone – my apps are useful or social media-related, except for a couple fun/educational ones for Emerson when she gets fussy during an extra-long meal at a restaurant. But I trust Megan’s taste, so I checked out Covet Fashion


My name is Alison Gary, and I am a Covet Fashion addict.

Covet Fashion is an app available on Apple mobile devices, and will soon be available on Android.  Playing Covet Fashion is like grown-up paper dolls with real-world designer duds. You get to create your own avatar (and they don’t look like Bratz dolls, but actual humans), choose your hair, makeup, skintone, and style her in current season clothing and accessories from over 80 hot designer brands like Rachel Zoe, Dannijo, Joie, Rebecca Minkoff, J Brand, and Nanette Lepore. You get feedback on your looks and can win virtual money and designer pieces for your virtual and even your real closet.

Example of some of the events you can enter

The main part of Covet Fashion are the events. These change daily, and are pretty interesting. Maybe it’s a rainy day in Paris and you are going to the Lourve, possibly you’re attending a Cynthia Rowley event and need to wear a piece from her current line, maybe you’ve been invited to a presidential gala, possibly you’re going apple picking. You are provided with the scenario, occasionally specific details (wear orange, incorporate pumps and a blazer, wear a piece of Fallon jewelry or Madison Harding boots), and how much you can earn from entering the event. Use the virtual money for entering to purchase pieces for your closet. Fellow Covet Fashion users vote on your outfit, and a score of four stars or higher earns you a new addition to your wardrobe (something special that cannot be purchased with virtual cash). To earn tickets to attend events, you vote on other Covet Fashion users’ looks for these events.

Two outfits I made for events – the score received and the prize won.  As you can see, you receive extra credit for wearing current season and previously unworn pieces from your wardrobe.

The app reminds me of the life of a personal style blogger. As a blogger, you are asked to attend events based upon your audience size and influence (tickets), you are often asked to wear a certain type of item (event specifics), paid to attend (cash for entering event), and if your look is really great you will be rewarded with more blog traffic and more swag from the company (prize). There’s the friendly style competition, checking out one another’s outfits (voting), and supporting friends in the blogosphere (connecting with Facebook friends).

A peek into my virtual closet on Covet Fashion, and some of the outfits I created in the app.

Covet Fashion is also a virtual way to define your own personal style in the real world. You have such an extensive selection of items to buy – do you buy what looks fun, or what will work with what is already in your wardrobe? Do you style yourself in a way that makes you happy, or will garner the highest votes? With time, you learn to shop knowing what sort of events will be in your future, and how to get a high score while still being true to your personal style. Not surprisingly, my virtual closet on Covet Fashion is full of leather, black, and bold silver accessories.

What I also like about Covet Fashion is that you’re exposed to new designers and can imagine how pieces could really be styled before buying them. Sure, that dress on the hanger in your favorite boutique is cute, but how would it look with your new suede ankle booties? Would it look good as a tunic over leather leggings? How will it hang when worn under a biker jacket? Would that dress look better with soft waves, or a messy updo? Not only that, if you see something you really love on Covet Fashion, you can click “Buy Online” and be taken to a site where you can purchase that very garment for your real-life closet.

I’m still not a “game gal.” I’ve never played Angry Birds or Words with Friends, and find Kindle to be my most-used app when a flight is delayed or I’m on the Metro… but I do love me some Covet Fashion. I love the competition, I love the real-world fashion, and I love that Megan introduced me to an app that helps define my personal style and have fun at the same time!

This post brought to you by Covet Fashion, but do know I was using the app way before they contacted me and all opinions in this post are 100% mine.

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My Personal Style Journey – Spring 2013

There’s this place between creativity and quality where I always get stuck.

I used to have a very simple, minimal wardrobe based upon my list of wardrobe staples. It worked, I always was ready for any event, was dressed well… but it felt stifling after a while. As I have gotten older I feel the need to better express my personality through my wardrobe. When I was 29, a blazer, tank, and trousers looked crisp; now it looks matronly and dumpy. While I won’t be rocking a lot of the current trends, I find by playing with fabrics, colors, and silhouettes I look modern without a fashion victim or trying to look young.

The thing is, the more you play, the more you spend. You can either do it with cheap pieces that are lucky to last a season and end up in a landfill, or pay more and choose pieces that are on trend, but won’t be passé in a year. I have chosen the latter as it better fits with my motto of quality not quantity. But it ends up costing more, and variety needs more variety.

This past week I cleaned up my closet. No more dresses that fell off hangers, all shoes back in their boxes, the heavy sweaters and coats piled up to head to the attic. I looked at what remained and it was a strange assortment. I didn’t feel inspired, and I didn’t feel calm. I just saw so many holes and opportunities.

These days I would rather be inspired by my wardrobe than calmed by it, but inspiration costs either time (thrifting, sewing, tailoring, DIYing), or money. Serenity has a nicer pricetag, but I just don’t feel authentic lately. I sort of think it’s the body – it’s harder to dress a body that is larger, is softer, is curvier, and is older. Classic silhouettes and simple choices can look extremely boring and dated on such a frame. I often see women with similar figures to mine as I walk to work. They’re in gray trousers, low heels, twinsets. I recognize the pieces being from retailers like J. Crew and Banana Republic yet on them they might as well be from that weird store in the mall that sells Christmas sweaters and elastic-waist polyester pants. I go in the attic and pull out flat-front lined tropical wool trousers from Ann Taylor that I adored on me a few years ago but now they make me look twice my age. In fact, all pants (except my Tahari Hazel trousers) make me feel shorter, wider, and older than I actually am.

I would tell myself it’s good to be aware of this change, this desire, this transformation of my personal style. To write about it, think about it with each purchase. To take a Sunday afternoon and try on my wardrobe and see how each piece makes me feel, and what I need to make it work. To look at that list of needs and then see if I do need them, or if I need to let go of some pieces I own that are holding me back or taking me to the poor house. And so I will take my advice, and I welcome you on this journey.

I always state one should choose quality over quantity and be authentic to her personal style. Body changes and the blogosphere have caused me to lose my way, but I am getting back on the road to personal style self discovery.

What I have figured out so far:

  • Cropped pants don’t flatter my figure or my personal style
  • I had too many colors in my wardrobe; I prefer black, gray, shades of blue and the occasional pop of red and orange but I feel self-conscious and cheesy when dressed like a rainbow
  • I hate ironing and shouldn’t buy much that requires it
  • I’m more of a separates gal than one who likes dresses (except in summer when it’s just too easy and comfortable)
  • I should never buy anything brown or tan ever ever again
  • In the winter I feel more like a modern rockstar, in the summer I prefer the boho rockstar vibe. But with both, I like denim, silver, leather, band tee shirts and blazers. I am not twee, I am not girly, I am not preppy. Those trends may flatter my figure but they don’t fit my personality and always make me feel inauthentic.

I will continue to track my lessons learned and how my wardrobe adjusts with it. I’d love to hear how your personal style journeys go as well!

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Ask Allie: Comfort Shoes and Personal Style

Dear Allie,
Due to foot issues I can’t wear most stylish shoes. In fact, I now only wear [specific brand of shoe] which is a lace-up that looks like old lady shoes. They’re ugly but they give freedom to walk and stand for longer periods of time without pain. I won’t sacrifice my health and comfort for fashion but feel quite frumpy, any advice?

I agree with you – no one should sacrifice health or daily comfort for style. Dress for your soul, not your shoes. Seriously, pretend your feet and shoes don’t exist and dress in a way that gives you joy. This way, people won’t focus on your shoes and if one does, it’s clear they are worn for health reasons and not because you lack personal style.  You’ll be amazed – when you don’t focus on your shoes, others will be less likely to as well.

Creative Ways to Update Leather Shoes from Across the Web:  

And there’s nothing wrong with jazzing up a pair of your shoes. I think of my friend Amethyst, who wears comfort shoes. She has ones that look as though they are owned by elves, have painted designs and embellishments that fit with her bohemian personal style. If these shoes are a daily feature, make them feel and look more like you. Pinterest has so many ideas on how to embellish shoes with painted details, adding studs, glitter, and other decorations you can take those “old lady shoes” and make them more fun, funky, and fabulous.

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Honing your Personal Style through Closet Organization

Last weekend I was asked to speak at IKEA for their BYOF event. They asked me to speak about honing one’s personal style through closet organization. Some of you fabulous people came to the event (and even drove long distances, which humbles me so), and some of you were unable to attend but wanted to know what I discussed. Earlier this week I shared some of the discussion during the seminar’s Q&A, but below is the script I made myself for the seminar (though I practiced a lot and tried to ad-lib as much as possible).

Think about it, we start every day in our closet. Our experience in front of that bar of hangers really sets the tone for the rest of the day. What I hope to do today is give you tips and tricks to make that first part of your day less stressful, more positive, and inspiring.

I am proof that when it comes to closets, size doesn’t matter. A little over a decade ago, I moved into the historic part of Greenbelt. If any of you have been in one of their row homes, you know they can be charming but boy are they small! My bedroom closet was smaller than the coat closet in my old bachelorette apartment, and as for a coat closet well there wasn’t one. It was a great learning experience on how to work with little space, and to choose wisely as to what deserved to be in that minimal amount of real estate.

75% of the stuff in our closets we don’t even wear. When I have performed closet cleanouts for clients in the past, I found that three quarters of the clothing in their closet is there for sentimental reasons. A dress worn on a first date, the suit you wore to the interview for your current job, the lucky sweatshirt you wore through every finals week of college. Today I’m not going to tell you to toss your sartorial memories, but I am going to ask you to make your closet more functional.

The only way you can truly know what you have in your closet is to take everything out and start fresh. As your best friend to watch the kids for a couple of hours, turn on Pandora radio, pour a glass of wine, and lock yourself in your bedroom. Take everything out of the closet and once it’s empty, give it a quick cleaning with a damp cloth. Now you’re going to go through each individual garment and put it into one of four piles. Keep, Purge, Fix, and Store.

Keep means you have tried it on that day, it fits, it flatters, it’s useful to your life and style and is in perfect condition. No missing buttons, no need for ironing, ready to be worn.

Purge means it’s time for the piece to leave your home completely. It’s too small, too big, too dated, too damaged, or just plain wrong. Often we keep pieces that we bought and then had buyer’s remorse. The garment is just plain wrong, but you feel guilty because you spent good money on it. Your money is not coming back by letting that dress collect dust in your closet, it’s time to let it go and move on. We’ve all been there. When I say purge, that doesn’t mean throw everything in a bag and set it out on the curb for trash day. The majority of clothes in your closets can be useful to others.

For things like that dress you bought and never wore, consider eBay or a consignment shop so you can get back a bit of what you spent on it. For gently worn pieces, consider setting up a swap with friends where you can trade clothing for free. For everything else, you can donate for a nice tax deduction, or even consider Freecycle. In my house, we cut up old stained tee shirts into squares and use them as dusting cloths.

So we have kept that which is still fabulous and purged that which is not. With what is leftover, they go into two other piles – Fix, and Store.

Fix is the pile of items that could be great if they just had a quick little repair or makeover. Maybe it’s a wrinkled oxford, a pair of pants with a dropped hem, or a jacket missing a button. I keep a box at the bottom of my closet where I store all the clothes that need to be fixed. When I have a spare moment, I sew on buttons, iron, or pack up pieces to take to the dry cleaner or tailor. Having this box keeps you from justifying wearing a stained shirt or a stapled hem.

The final pile is Store. Here’s your sentimental clothing, as well as anything that is in fantastic condition but just not right. Maybe it’s a skirt that’s a flattering yet not of the moment length, or a great interview suit though you are now a stay at home parent. Pieces that fit, are made well, flatter, and just aren’t right at the moment, though they may be in a couple of years. This pile, store carefully, but store them where they are out of sight and out of temptation. Even when at the back of the closet, it’s far too easy to grab these items during a moment of weakness and sacrifice your style. (Here I started speaking of the merits of breathable canvas storage versus plastic.)

So now, you have a closet just full of great pieces that fit your current body and your current lifestyle. It may look a bit empty, but that’s not a bad thing. A closet that can breathe makes for easier dressing each morning. You wouldn’t think it, but it’s easier to get dressed each day when you have fewer options. However you’re probably realizing you have a few holes in your wardrobe. Make a shopping list of what you feel you need to pull the current closet together, make it cohesive. Maybe it’s a black pencil skirt, or a replacement dress for weddings and funerals. Think about your life, your current life, and what you do and where you go in a typical month. What else do you need to dress appropriately for each occasion? Write the pieces down, and carry them in your wallet or purse. This way, each time you hit the mall, you can stay on track and only buy what you need instead of what looks great or is being pushed by the salesperson.

It’s important to stick to a budget – you shouldn’t have to sacrifice your quality of life to be able to dress well each day. A good rule of thumb is 5% of your income towards what you wear. Now this may be more or less based upon your lifestyle and it may be more while you’re filling in holes in your wardrobe. From this, figure out a monthly budget and stick to it. Sometimes you may not use it all, but that’s good because you can save it for other months where you may spend more, say for a new winter coat or a pair of designer jeans that make you look five pounds and five years younger. I recommend tracking your budget on the same sheet or notebook as your shopping list, so it’s there staring you in the face each time you consider buying clothes. My motto at Wardrobe Oxygen is style comes from choosing quality, not quantity.

So now you have a pared-down closet of clothes that work as hard as you do. Now it’s time to take care of them. In this day and age of Pinterest and reality shows about celebrities, it’s easy to get wrapped up in having a pretty closet. The thing is, you want a functional closet, a closet that makes your life more enjoyable, that makes getting dressed each day easy and enjoyable. Here’s a few suggestions.

I recommend having all the same hangers. Not only does this make for an attractive closet, but it prevents you from losing clothes. I once bought a new black cardigan thinking I lost mine, but months later I found it on a dry cleaner’s wire hanger hidden between two black dresses. With all the same hangers, you can easily see everything in your closet. Speaking of wire hangers… I may sound like Mommy Dearest but get rid of them. They stretch out knits and can even leave rust stains on clothing. Dry cleaners are happy to take them back and many areas will recycle them.

So your clothes are hung up on consistent hangers, it’s now time to organize them. I highly recommend zoning your closet. Have all jackets together, all dresses together, all shirts together. This way it’s easy to see what you have and make ensembles. For categories you don’t wear often, such as cocktail dresses, have that zone in the farthest back part of the closet.

For making the most out of the space you have, I like closet organizers. I have one of those hanging fabric shelf gadgets where one can store purses, gym clothes, and even jeans. Also they have bars that hang from closet bars so you can double hang and maximize your closet real estate. (I really ad-libbed here because IKEA gave me a wardrobe and storage containers that they sell as my props).

With shoes, people have differing views on this, but I again recommend consistency. Choose one manner of storage and stick to it to prevent losing shoes and spending more than you need. Shoes can be an investment, so choose storage that is kind to your shoes – I keep my shoes in their original boxes and label them, but some like clear boxes, some like shoe racks, and IKEA has these cool gadgets where you can store your shoes on posts. Whatever seems best for you and protects your shoes. (At this point I started rambling about how a tree fell through my closet and that’s why I use boxes for storage.) As for boots, they sell fancy boot trees, but I just roll up old magazines and tuck them in the shafts to keep them from folding over and creasing.

I never get rid of accessories unless they are damaged. Accessories take up so little space, it’s worth it to keep them and reassess them every couple of seasons. A belt that seems dated this spring may be completely on trend in a year. I store jewelry in plastic baggies to keep them from tarnishing, loosely coil belts into an old shoe box, and for purses I stuff them with paper and then tuck them in an old pillowcase to keep them from getting dusty.

I recommend doing a closet reassessment like this twice a year, once at the end of the summer or back to school time, and once around this time of year as the weather is getting warmer. Not only can you again clean out all which isn’t doing you any style favors, but you can pack up out of season clothes and make a fresh shopping list of what you need for the upcoming season. Keeping up with your closet keeps you in a style frame of mind. You shop for clothing more carefully, you think more about how your clothes work with your body and your lifestyle, and you are better able to hone your personal style.

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Personal Style, Inspiration, Jealousy, and Knowing Yourself

This morning I got off the Metro and ended up following a woman through the station, up the escalator, and waited next to her at the intersection for the light to change. She was probably around 30 years of age, slender but toned. She was wearing a dark navy trench with the belt perfectly tied behind her to cinch the waist, had a tan buttery-soft leather handbag from a popular designer, a flippy printed chiffon dress that ended at the perfect length with the trench. Legs that looked tan from outdoor summer activities, not a spray or bed. Bouncy blonde hair that swung when she walked and tan suede flats that were the perfect shade and likely a commuter shoe that would be replaced by some heels that would be the perfect shade and height.

I will never be her.

Yesterday I stood in line behind a woman. She had silver hair cut in a spiky, funky short ‘do, had creamy white skin and looked amazing with a fresh face and just a hint of lip stain. She wore multiple shades of gray – a gauzy open cardigan, double-layer tunic, cropped pants, and suede wedges. Humongous silver earrings that looked like car parts and a 4” wide engraved silver cuff on each wrist. She had perfect posture and even when studying the menu, had a slight serene smile on her face.

 
I will never be her.

This weekend at a local café, I saw a woman who must live in my community, for it is not the first time I have seen her. She had short curly hair that looked almost like a cap. her hair was light brown, almost the same color as her tan skin. A true heart-shaped face, with round cheeks but a pointed chin. She had a very toned body, muscles visible through her long-sleeved gray boatneck tee and filling out her dark skinny jeans that ruched perfectly at her slim ankles. Dark red ballet flats, an L.L. Bean tote over her shoulder, no jewelry other than a very slim gold band on the first knuckle of her right ring finger. Perfect skin that either was makeup-free or done up to look so. She looked casual, chic, polished.

I will never be her.

I will never be any of these women. These women who have such perfect personal styles for themselves, who catch my eye. These women who just seem so perfectly together, so confident in their look, so right.

I will never be any of these women, 
and that is a good thing because I am me.

It’s natural to see a woman perfectly pulled together and feel jealousy, or question your own personal style. It’s normal to be inspired by such a woman. But it’s also important to realize when you see personal style that is not appropriate for yourself. Admire, respect, but understand that while the look is perfect for that woman, it is not for you.

Fashion is a form of art. And like all other forms of art, no one expects you to like all of it all of the time. You can appreciate the talent, the beauty, the concept without having to actually like the piece. You can find Monet’s paintings beautiful without wanting to hang a print of his haystacks in your cubicle. You can appreciate the beauty of Michelangelo’s David without having a replica in your living room bookcase. You can see a woman on the street or a blog with fabulous personal style and admire it without having to adopt it. Having taste is knowing what is good, but also knowing what is appropriate.

I will never be a woman with bouncy blonde hair, who can wear a flippy chiffon skirt with suede flats. I am not a person who will ever look good in layers of gray linen and silk. And no matter how much weight I lose, I will never be able to wear matchstick jeans with ballet flats. That doesn’t mean I don’t have style, it just means I know myself, my limitations, and also what does work for me.

When you try to recreate a look you see on the street, in a magazine, or on a blog and hate the results, it’s not you, it’s the trend. The media may make you think that EVERYONE can carry off Trend X but they’re wrong. Those of us who maybe can’t carry it off aren’t less stylish, we’re just different. And maybe we can instead carry off Trend Y… or create our own trend.

You are amazing, and clothing should be used to show the world how amazing you are. Clothing is to enhance, not cause panic attacks, raging jealousy, or body hatred. If your clothes make you doubt yourself, they don’t deserve your time, your money, or the space in your closet. Don’t try to be another person, instead craft the true you. This isn’t going to happen overnight, this will be a slow process. Don’t expect to find a perfect wardrobe from one trip to the mall, or even through one season. Style takes time, a relationship with yourself takes time. Part of developing that relationship is seeing inspirational women, realizing what you like about their look, and realizing what you may be able to adapt for your personal style, and what you should just admire from afar. Enjoy the journey!

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Eat Your Veggies – Finding Personal Style

This Monday, my article at Savings.com was about fashion for new moms. So many women I know have the hardest time figuring out how to dress this new and ever-changing body so I offered some quick tips that helped me that first year or so. I received a comment saying women should be reminded to have fun when getting dressed. I agreed and said she made a good point, and later realized I didn’t agree.

When it comes to finding your personal style, I really believe it’s like eating a meal:

You can’t have your dessert until you finish your vegetables.

Vegetables are your standard uniform pieces in your wardrobe – workhorses that will give you miles of wear and versatility. Classic pieces in my list – a simple dress, well-fitting trousers, a couple solid-colored tops, classic shoes. Your suit of armor so you can be dressed for a speaking engagement, play date, wedding, job interview, romantic weekend to the Napa Valley.

Pieces that do the work for you so you can live your life and be you.

Once you have acquired these workhorses, THEN you can have your dessert of fun, creative, and personal pieces. These basics will get you out of whatever rut you were in before – mismatched pieces, purchasing disposable fashion, not knowing your body and how to shop for it, etc. Having the wardrobe of staples – even if they are “boring” will give you the space to really get to know yourself and find your personal style. Instead of fretting over what is the trendy look for jeans or how you can get yourself to wear whatever some magazine has deemed the “It” shoe of the season, you can calmly peruse online and in-person boutiques, catalogs, magazines looking for those items that really grab you and your soul. Ignore what the celebs are wearing – what stirs YOU?

Slowly purchase these pieces – a scarf in the hot color of the season that also makes your complexion glow, a fabulous pair of leopard-print kitten heels after a work bonus, an amazing red leather blazer on your trip to Italy. Go slow, go with your heart. Enjoy your dessert – consume it with tiny bites, savoring every morsel. You have finished your veggies, it’s now time for crème brûlée!

Learning from Jennifer Aniston: Sticking to and Defining Your Personal Style

Jennifer Aniston in Dior at the UK premiere of the movie, We’re The Millers.

I think many of us saw Jennifer Aniston earlier this month in this Dior frock, and I think many of us thought the same thing – pretty woman, pretty dress, but the combination just seemed wrong somehow. I couldn’t completely figure out why until I was watching Fashion Police this weekend, Joan Rivers said the dress was too young for Aniston… and she’s partially right.

Jennifer Aniston has a smokin’ bod. Drool-worthy hair. Skin and a face that is in great condition, firm, elastic, practically ageless. She could rock a itty bitty bikini, she can slay a bodycon dress that hardly covers her rear end… but a full fit and flare style with flowers just felt too young.

However, the other thing is that Aniston for years has created a defined personal style of clean lines, solid neutrals; a relaxed and beachy yet polished aesthetic. For her to show up in something feminine, floral, and a bit frilly was confusing to her fans and contradictory to the personal style she worked so hard to perfect.

As I get older, I realize it’s important to constantly refine your personal style. With age, life experiences, and body changes it’s important to consider your wardrobe and be sure it truly matches the current you. It may be a change of color story, a different hem length, the addition of bolder accessories (or more subtle jewelry). I reassess each season – I pack up the previous season, pull out my current wardrobe for the weather and try everything on and see if it not only fits my body, but also fits my personality.

Previous movie premiere and event outfits worn by Jennifer Aniston

I’d understand if Jennifer Aniston was bored with her standard uniform and wanted to switch it up. In fact, Aniston has mentioned in recent interviews that she feels the need to get out of her style rut. Maybe she’s also realizing that with time it’s important to refine your personal style. However, this Dior dress was such a departure from her regular style that it made people question not just her personal style but her personal life. Having a clear personal style helps others understand you, when you veer drastically from it, it can make others wonder if you know yourself or are comfortable with yourself.

I’m one who tires quickly of a uniform. After weeks of tailored clothing I yearn for something slouchy, I swear I will pare down my color story and then NEED to wear all the colors of the rainbow at once. I wouldn’t expect anyone ever to sacrifice fun, spontaneity, and creativity for personal style. But a slow, thoughtful transition makes more sense.

Previous red carpet looks worn by Jennifer Aniston

I think about makeover shows like What Not to Wear and How Do I Look. Have you ever seen the episodes where they check in with previous guests? More often than not, the guest has gone back at least partially to their original personal style. It’s not that they didn’t feel fabulous in their new clothes, but it’s that it’s too quick and drastic of a change to immediately adopt.

I don’t believe that a certain trend is only for a certain age group. Heck, I often use Jennifer Aniston as an example of someone who dresses for herself, not her driver’s license. A 44-year old woman can wear whatever she damn well pleases, be it knee-length neutrals or a puffy floral skater skirt. It’s only an issue when the woman doesn’t know herself, doesn’t dress for herself. Now maybe Jennifer Aniston has secretly been a cabbage rose fan all this time and has hidden it under neutrals, gold, and well-fitting jeans… but interviews with her state otherwise.

“I pretty much have my uniform. A boyfriend jean, a wedge, a tank top. At night, I change the tank top to black and add some chains. Even on the red carpet, it has to be comfortable. I usually try to get some form of a T-shirt that looks like a gown. Like a longer tank top. A tank top, but with glitter on it.”
                                – Jennifer Aniston, Glamour, September 2013

I can remember being the type of woman who swore against skirts and imagined getting married in a sexy Le Smoking and a bustier and now I own just a handful of trousers. A couple years ago my closet resembled a bag of Skittles and now it’s more black and gray with pops of color. My style has had hits… and it has had misses, but through it all I realized that each time I veer too drastically and quickly from my personal style it has never gone well. That time, testing, and thought is the best way to find personal style, be it new or an update.

What to learn from Jennifer Aniston? That even if you can wear it and like it, it may not be the best choice. That who you are is far more important than what you wear. That your personal style does matter, and it helps the world understand who you are. Clothing can be armor, clothing can be fantasy, clothing can be a mood booster, an aphrodisiac, a way to show respect… but clothing is also your calling card and your elevator speech. Represent yourself well, and represent yourself as properly as possible.

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How To Create Capsule Wardrobes

A few of you have asked how I get the inspiration for my capsule wardrobes.  I think how I figure out these capsule wardrobes may also help you create simpler wardrobes for yourself and benefit you when packing for a trip. Below I share how I come to creating these capsule wardrobes (while sharing some of the most popular ones I have made), and how you can use this to help in building your own capsule wardrobes.

Imagine the Person
I don’t imagine myself, but I create an imaginary woman. I usually envision her around 5’6”, size 8-10. Not one who has to deal with petite or tall lengths or the trouble that cusp and plus size women do with finding quality options. As for age, that usually has to do with the reader question; if it’s not a factor I play with her age, imagining her 30, then 48, then 35 to see if the pieces are versatile across the general age of my readership.

When creating a capsule for you, imagine how another would see you.  In my head, I am taller and slimmer and smaller busted than I am in real life.  When planning for myself, I describe myself as someone else would describe me.  It not only helps me put my figure into perspective, but also my lifestyle and personal style.  If this is hard to do, ask a close friend to describe you.  Significant others often provide the most accurate descriptions of us, but I don’t recommend asking them because it can hit a bit too close to home and what they find to be adorable you may find to be a flaw.  Save the relationship, ask your bestie!

Imagine the Week
Be it a trip to Paris or the first few days at a new job, I work with dressing for a week. Most of us hate wearing the same look in one week, but don’t feel as weird wearing the same combination on Tuesday of Week 1 and then Friday of Week 2. Within that week, I think of what may take place – a networking event after business hours, a board meeting, drinks with a client, you make friends at a museum and they invite you to their party that evening.

I think about my own experiences. With my recent capsule wardrobe for Paris, I thought of my own trip to Paris and the items I wish I had packed. I remembered my longer trip to Italy and how varied my days and nights were and the pieces that got the most mileage (and how many were the same piece I wore the most when visiting Paris a year later). With work wardrobes, I remember changing from retail to a desk job and how I had to overhaul my whole closet. I think of my last job where I traveled on business on a regular basis and would have to pack for a hole in the wall barbecue joint, a fancy five-star restaurant, three client meetings and a bowling networking event in one carry-on.

Be it a family cruise or a business trip, you likely have a general idea of how each day will be laid out.  Prepare for the unexpected, but be realistic and know you likely won’t be invited to the White House or take part in a triathlon.  Do a bit of research online and see what the hot spots are in your destination, how people dress in your field, what excursions are available at your resort.

Start With the Star
So you’re going on a business trip, what’s the most important event of the trip? Usually it’s the first client meeting, so I start with that. For a trip, it’s usually an outfit to go sightseeing that first day. I try to make that be something my imaginary woman would already have in her wardrobe. Simple black pantsuit, pair of jeans and a lightweight jacket, LBD, that sort of thing.

Then I think of ways of incorporating that star into other situations. Can the jacket be worn with jeans or over a dress? Can the LBD be dressed down with flats and a cardigan? Considering she can wear the pants at least twice over a week, what could she wear with them that travels well and could pair with something else?

Never buy a whole new wardrobe for a trip.  Always start with pieces you already own, know, and love.  Save the money for the excursions and events.  Heck, the main purpose of a capsule wardrobe is to buy less and choose quality versatile items over quantity!

Stick to a Color Story
Along with that imaginary woman, I think about who she is. What is her favorite color, does she work in government or graphic design? Does she have short spiky black hair, or long blonde waves? Does she prefer shoulder pads or chiffon ruffles? That helps me narrow down what colors I use, and I try to stick to very few that mix and match with ease.

Look in your closet, you likely already have a color theme.  Work with what you have, and build from there.

Consider the Shoes
You’ll see I often have the same black pumps in every collage – the MICHAEL Michael Kors “Flex” Mid-Heel Pump. Why? Because I own them and I know they are comfortable, reasonably priced, and a heel height where my pants I wear with flats don’t look wonky with them. Seriously, I wear my Tahari Hazel pants with my flats (which do have a sole and a mini heel, they’re not ballet flats) and with these shoes and neither looks awkward. I also choose pant legs that look okay a bit shorter with that heel (not so full, more of a tailored look).

Not only in that regard, I look for shoes that are versatile in that they look good with pants and skirts, can be worn to a business meeting and a cocktail party, can be worn for hours walking on cobblestone streets but also be smart with a business outfit. I try to never have more than three pairs of shoes because shoes add the most weight and take the most space in a suitcase, and be the most expensive part of a wardrobe.

When shopping for new shoes, consider the wardrobe you already have.  If they don’t work with at least three different pieces (and I don’t mean three pencil skirts or three pairs of skinny jeans), they don’t deserve to be in your capsule.  It’s better to keep your shoes neutral and add interest with other accessories.

If it Doesn’t Hit Ten, Do it Again
I then make imaginary outfits from the pieces. I keep thinking about the imaginary woman and her itinerary or lifestyle. Who needs club outfits when you’re a new mom? Who needs tall leather boots when you’re vacationing in Key West? If I can’t break ten REAL outfits (no turning a top backwards and wearing a bulky dress under a sweater to pretend it’s a skirt and making a scarf into a blouse), I keep working. Sometimes it’s just removing one piece, sometimes I save it and come back the next day and start from scratch.

Never buy anything if it doesn’t go with at least two to four other pieces.  If you can’t sit in that fitting room and envision it working with a bunch of pieces in your closet, leave it at the store.  The point of a capsule is to have versatility.  If you shop thoughtfully, slowly, and carefully you will find that you can have fewer garments and build even more ensembles!

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Change for the Better: Creating a Walking Routine

With my second arm surgery, I made a decision to reclaim my body. I couldn’t control what happened to my arm, but I could take control of the rest of my body and make changes to better care for it and improve my health and well-being. I didn’t want to throw myself into something I couldn’t maintain, I’ve done that too many times before. This time was about small, lifelong changes that were not about dress size but longevity.

Walking-quotes-Few-people-know-how-to-take-a-walk.-The-qualifications-are-endurance-plain-clothes

One of these changes was walking. I could walk with a cast, I can walk no matter the season, and it doesn’t cost additional money. I committed to 30 minutes a day (though life happens and it’s usually more like five times a week than seven). No goal distance, no goal speed, and no need to take a path full of intensity. My 30 minutes could be slow meandering down the street, or power walking up the highest hill in town. I started at the beginning of June, and two months later I’m still walking almost every morning. Still, some days are a slow meander down a flat road, and some days I push myself and go a harder trail or a longer period of time.

I started keeping my shorts, tee shirt, and bra in the bathroom to prevent getting distracted and losing motivation. When I started, I just wore a pair of capri yoga pants or my J. Crew twill shorts and a tee shirt. I knew if I worried too much about the “right” attire I’d lose focus. But with time, I realized proper athletic gear would make for a more comfortable walk. Graced by Grit was kind enough to send me a pair of their Land & Sea Knickers and they’re fantastic. They do run small (I have XL and think they’re no bigger than a 12), but they’re super comfortable (no rolling down, no bagging), the fabric feels good even in the heat and smooths out lumps and bumps, and there’s a pocket in the waistband on the front AND the back so I can slip in a key in one and my iPhone in another. Every pair of Graced by Grit apparel also comes with a safety whistle that is lightweight enough to wear when exercising without being uncomfortable. I also ordered two pairs of running shorts from Old Navy. I was worried about shorts riding up and my legs rubbing together but it was way too hot and muggy to spend every day in my Graced by Grit knickers. The Old Navy Active Perforated Shorts are pretty much what I expected – ride up, don’t fit my curves well, not flattering. However I got their Side Mesh Running Shorts and I love them. They have a tiny pocket for a key or ID, they don’t ride up even when I’m really sweaty, and they’re comfortable and work with my curves.

When I started walking, I listened to a playlist I made on Spotify. Then I tried an audiobook and now I’m hooked and subscribed to Audible. I lose track of time with the book, while music I have the desire to pause after the end of each song. I mix it up, sometimes it’s a novel, sometimes it’s nonfiction.  I’ve really enjoyed listening to motivational books on my walks; #GIRLBOSS, Brené Brown, Thrive by Ariana Huffington. By only letting myself listen to the book on my walk it’s extra motivation to get up and move each morning.

I didn’t start with an app to track anything because I know that I can get obsessed with numbers. After a month I did download MapMyWalk to see how long I was actually walking. Like I expected, next day I went longer and harder to “beat” my previous day and I worked so hard I lost motivation and didn’t walk for two days. Since then, I stick to the same path if I use MapMyWalk so I don’t make it a competition and keep it just a daily habit. I do NOT connect it to social media because that just gets me into competition mode instead of lifelong change mode.

I haven’t weighed myself since I started because I don’t want to get too focused on weight loss or defined goals, but after two months of walking almost daily I feel more… lubricated. I don’t wake up stiff, my back doesn’t hurt at the end of the work day, and I sleep so much better and wake up more easily. Now, waking up this early is a habit, and a pleasure. I like walking, and find myself getting up from my desk and taking a trip around the block when I feel stuck on a project or overwhelmed by my inbox. I sneak squats in the elevator (oh what the front desk person must think watching the security video!), take the long way to a coworker’s office, and enjoy dancing and running around with Emerson.

I’m okay with being this size for the rest of my life, but I’m not okay with having my body fall apart around me. Choosing new habits like walking that I can do no matter my size or age can create a lasting change that will improve my health, my well-being, and improve the quality and length of my life.

Ask Allie: Creating a Bra Wardrobe

 

Allie, I hope this isn’t too personal but you have large breasts and they always look great no matter what you wear. Can you let me know more about your bra collection? What styles work best for you?

I breastfed my son for three years and my breasts are now saggy. I know you breastfed Emerson, but your breasts look perky even in fitted tops, what bra do you wear?

What kind of bra do you wear with all these spaghetti strap dresses?

I can’t stress this enough – get a professional bra fitting. Sure, there’s instructions online on how to do it yourself, and chain stores like Victoria’s Secret claim to be bra experts, but you will get a better and more honest fitting, especially if you are large busted or have special needs, if you go to a bra boutique or lingerie section of a high-end department store. Who cares what brand you’re wearing or what trends you’re sporting if your foundation isn’t its best?

Seriously, I don’t believe in scrimping on bras. Go ahead, get cheap jeans, cheap tops, cheap dresses. But things that you wear every day and determine the look and fit of everything else deserve the money, time, and effort. If need be, get fitted and don’t buy anything but note the brands, style number, and size and look for it cheaper online, but the same size but a different brand won’t necessarily fit the same or give you the same shape and lift. And while I am preaching, just because it looks online that you and I have similar figures, I still stress you should get fitted and find the right style for YOU. Some bodies are built for Bali, others look wonderful in Wacoal.

That being said, here’s my bra wardrobe:

Molded Tee Shirt Bras – Two Nude, One Black
I have two in nude because I mainly wear nude in the summer, and you shouldn’t wear the same bra two days in a row, and often one is hanging from the shower curtain rod drying while the other is on my body. These are my everyday bras, worn under blouses, sweaters, tee shirts. They are free of bows, jacquard, lace, or any adornment that would show through a lightweight white tee. The straps are plain as well so if one peeks out of a neckline it’s not as obvious. I strive to have the nude be my nude color, but find the less I allow sun to tan my skin, the harder it is to find a good match.

I do not own a white bra because I don’t see the point – it positively glows under white shirts, and is dreadful under a black knit. My skin isn’t white, so there’s always going to be a contrast. Black under dark colors, nude under the rest.

I choose a molded cup because I think it gives my breasts a nice lifted, youthful shape. I also find the extra support awesome when it’s that time of the month and my breasts are 50 pounds each. Also, less issue with headlights, which can be darn sexy and a natural occurrence but not the best for the office.

What I Own: Fantasie Moulded Smoothing Tee Shirt Bra and the Fantastie Esme

Molded Strapless Bra – One Nude
The type of bra I get has removeable straps, so it can be strapless, but can also be halter, crisscross, one shoulder. Again, I like molded because of the shape, and I think it makes a strapless bra more natural looking and more comfortable.

And yes, large-busted women can find strapless bras that stay up, hold breasts up, and don’t hurt after an hour of wearing. This is when I again stress getting yourself fitted, I have spent hundreds on disappointing strapless bras and with one try I found my Holy Grail strapless at a bra boutique.

I don’t wear strapless bras often enough to find a need for more than one, I choose nude because it’s the most versatile.

What I Own: Simone Perele Velia Strapless Plunge

Sports Bra
I’m not one to workout on a regular basis – I’ll wear a normal bra for yoga and walking, but sometimes you need a bra that can handle high impact and sweat. I choose black because it usually DOES end up being seen, and I think it looks less bra-like in black.

What I Own: Freya Active Underwire

Bras That May be Seen
I have two bras that I call “fun bras.” One is red with violet lace overlay and lacy violet straps, one is a molded cup, but a berry color with lace detail and prettier and slimmer straps. Both have matching panties, and a couple other pairs of underpinnings that coordinate nicely. Both I got on clearance because I can wait on these.

These are worn when I want to feel a bit more sassy, and are also worn when I wear pieces that sort of work with an exposed bra strap. I don’t usually promote visible lingerie, but sometimes when you’re walking to the farmer’s market on a hot July day, you wear a breezy hot pink cotton voile camisole with denim shorts, and a berry bra strap, aviators, and a straw hat just seems to work.

What I Own: Josie Etoile Underwire and Wacoal Embrace Lace Tee Shirt Bra

And that’s it. Six bras, and I must admit some of them seem to collect dust from time to time. I replace the nude bras every 6-8 months because they get grody, the others every year or when they start to get misshapen, lose elasticity, or my size changes.

Bra Tips:

  • Be gentle with your bras. Hand wash if possible. If you’re like me you’d end up with crusty stinky bras before you have time for hand washing, so put in a lingerie bag and wash on the gentle cycle and hang them off a hanger on your bathroom shower curtain rod until they’re fully dry.
  • Don’t turn one cup inside-out to be able to fold your bra in half – let them lie flat in your drawer so one boob doesn’t get misshapen.
  • Your bra should be comfortable on the middle hook, then you can go to the tightest hook when it gets a bit stretched out and then when that’s stretched out it’s time to get a new bra.
  • Your straps should not be what is holding up your bra. If your back strap is up over your shoulder blades or you have mega dents in your shoulders from your bra, you need a different size.
  • Quad boob is not sexy. If your breasts are being dented by the top of your bra cup, you’re wearing the wrong size or the wrong style.
  • Not every woman can wear a demi or balconette, not every woman can wear a molded cup, not everyone looks best in unlined. Just because your best friend’s boobs look great in a certain bra doesn’t mean yours will. Your breasts are like you – unique and wonderful and deserving of custom style.
  • Quality, not quantity. You don’t need 50 bras, honestly you only need two… maybe a few more if you do sports or wear strapless dresses. Buy quality, get professionally fitted, care for them and enjoy better fitting clothes, people saying you’ve lost weight, and less back and shoulder pain!

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Guest Post: Which Necklace with Which Neckline?

Guest post by Rosana Vollmerhausen

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

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

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

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

V-neck Top

Wear with:

what necklace v-neck top

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

what necklace v-neck top

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

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

Scoopneck

Wear with:

what necklace scoop neck top

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

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

Boatneck Top

Wear with:

what necklace boatneck top

what necklace boatneck top

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

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

Collared Button-down Shirt

Wear with:

what necklace button collared shirt

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

what necklace button collared shirt

A statement under the shirt with some color peeking out.

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

Crewneck

Wear with:

what necklace crewneck shirt

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

what necklace crewneck shirt

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

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

Strapless

Wear with…

what necklace strapless

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

what necklace strapless

Another fun option is to wear with a collar necklace.

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

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

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

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

Not all Pregnant Women Are Created Equal

When ordering maternity clothes, a basic rule of thumb is to order your pre-maternity size. This doesn’t always work – I am ordering items in Medium (though I haven’t worn a medium item since freshman year of college) and though I was a 12 petite pre-baby, I am ordering 10s, 12s and 14s and finding all sorts of fits. That’s fine, just as I found which retailers fit my body best pre-pregnancy, so I am having that journey with maternity!

One thing that is really irritating me though are inseams on maternity jeans and pants. Whether I am in my first or third trimester, I am still going to be 5’3”. Yes, as the belly (and bum and hips and thighs) grow with each month, fabric from the legs will be used up to accommodate this change. However, that doesn’t mean I need an extra 6” on my hems.

I have shopped at The Gap since I was 14. When I was thinner, I got away with the regular length of trousers and jeans. As I have gotten older and curvier, I flip flop between regular length (with heels) and ankle length or petite (which is too short for anything but sneakers and flats). The bigger my tummy gets, the less I feel like wearing heels (the less balanced I am feeling and the less strain my tootsies are willing to take) so I know petite or ankle-length bottoms is the way to go for maternity.

Gap and Old Navy both recently had major clearances so I ordered a bunch of stuff off their Web sites (gotta love free shipping with my BR card and free returns for all maternity wear). As that my job is changing their dress code to a more professional look (jeans only acceptable on Fridays) I was in search of short-length trousers, preferably in black. I found a pair of twill trousers from Gap for around $30 that were 12 Ankle, and a pair for about $20 from Old Navy, also 12 Ankle.

Here are the Gap trousers. IN 12 ANKLE:

I am not four feet tall. Usually I can purchase from a store off the rack. Ann Taylor, Gap, Banana Republic, J. Crew, all the major retailers I can usually get away with a regular length in a pinch, but always find the petite or ankle lengths appropriate and ready for me to wear.
And here are the Old Navy trousers in 12 ankle:
Same retailer, essentially. Rise the same (though different type of maternity waistband), same sort of fit in the bum and hips. Everything the same except the length (and that the Gap trousers are a crisper, darker black which would look more professional and probably wash better).

WHAT THE HECK PEOPLE? When women get pregnant they don’t grow a foot in height! Who in the WORRLD would think this is an ankle length on anyone under 6’ tall?

I would think this is an error in labeling or from the factory, but this is only one of SIX different petite or ankle-length maternity pants I have tried on from FOUR different retailers that would require several inches hacked off at the tailor. This is what grates my nerves and makes me wonder why retailers just hate all pregnant, short, tall and overweight women. I now have to decide if they are worth it to take to the tailor to make wearable, or if I just return them. The Old Navy pants are not something I would usually wear (not too chic of a cut) but they are cheap and don’t require the annoyance and cost of extra alterations. Argh.