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Forecastle Festival 2012 – What I Wore

This is the first in a series about my experience at the Forecastle Music Festival. Additional posts will be about what I carried in my bag, and the festival itself.

This weekend I attended the Forecastle Music Festival in Louisville, Kentucky. The festival was over three days, we were staying in a hotel less than a half mile from the festival grounds and there was a good chance of rain. We miraculously were upgraded free to VIP which gave us access to air-conditioned bathroom trailers but we fully expected to be using porta-potties all weekend. The music was a mix, but mostly alternative, singer-songwriter, rock, and electronica. Music was taking place from around 2-3pm until midnight. Unlike our trips to Bonnaroo, the hotel was close enough to do an outfit change if it got cold at night or we got rained on.  Everything I took I fit in the largest size of Lands’ End tote bag.

We entered the festival grounds around 5:30pm. I wore a white ribbed tank with a crocheted sweater over it (from Ann Taylor last year – seen here) and a pair of denim shorts from Target that I distressed myself. I don’t usually wear denim shorts this long and loose, but knew they would be good for walking, if I got sweaty, etc. On my feet I wore my Softspots Tatianna sandals. Since I knew we wouldn’t be there terribly long, I took my J. Crew suede tote (seen here).

The day started a bit earlier for us because we had tickets to see My Morning Jacket’s soundcheck. I wore a tee shirt with Keith Richards on it that I had cut up a while ago to give a more feminine cut. With it I wore a pair of denim cutoffs I have had for eons – they originally were gauchos and I cut them when gauchos were past their prime. Again the Softspots sandals, though this time I switched to my Kelty backpack. I knew I would be standing in line in the sun so I added a straw fedora I picked up at Target. The night before my shoulders hurt from the crossbody, and this bag has attended all Bonnaroos and similar events with me and is always comfortable.

After the soundcheck, we went back to the hotel to grab lunch. We went to a casual café in the hotel, so I just changed into a long-sleeved tee and some flip flops.

When we went back to the festival, I changed tee shirts since the morning one was sweaty and gross. I wore a bandanna around my neck to have for mopping sweat or protecting my head/neck from the sun, and changed into my DUO “Bern” boots since it had rained earlier in the day and I worried about mud. I wore Ray Ban aviators and carried my Kelty backpack.

When the festival ended for the night, we were hungry so we went back to the room to change and get food at the hotel’s sandwich shop. I wore a pair of old beat-up Gap Long and Lean jeans, a gray Vintage v-neck from Old Navy, and my Lolly Clothing scarf (seen here) with flip flops.

We started the day by checking out more of Louisville and grabbing brunch. I wore a brown Gap maxi dress, this necklace, and my Softspots sandals; I carried a tan leather tiny crossbody bag from HOBO.

When heading back to the festival, I dressed down, ready for sweat, dirt, and the possible beer splashed in my direction. I wore another tee shirt (seen here), and the same shorts from Friday evening. Since I didn’t experience much mud on Saturday, I went back to my Softspots sandals which are more supportive and comfortable when walking and standing.

On the ride down I wore the Gap jeans with a tee shirt and my sandals, on the ride home I wore white jeans, my blue-gray Vintage Old Navy v-neck, and my flip flops.

What Else I Packed:

  • Workout clothes. The hotel had a gym and I wanted sneakers in case we wanted to take an early-morning hike or walk.
  • Poncho (will detail this in future What’s in My Bag post)

What I Packed that I Didn’t Use:

  • Dresses. While I love cotton dresses at Bonnaroo, they just seemed too fancy and complicated for Forecastle. While there were many women in skirts and sundresses, I felt most comfortable in a pair of denim cutoffs so I could sit on the ground and not worry about strapless bras or bike shorts.
  • Long-sleeved shirts. I brought my orange plaid cotton voile button-front and my chambray shirt, thinking I could toss them on when the sun went down, but they weren’t necessary.
  • Nicer outfits. I knew there would be after parties at various bars and clubs in Downtown Louisville and brought clothes for them. However, we were pretty done after each day and headed back to the hotel.
  • Hair dryer. Hotel had one, but I never had a need to use it anyway – I let my hair air dry, and only used my curling iron for when we went to brunch.
  • Canvas cross-body. I bought this for Bonnaroo, but for Forecastle I always wanted a bag big enough to carry things like water and a chair.
  • Second pair of sunglasses. Good to have just in case, luckily that situation never happened.

All in all I felt really prepared and comfortable at Forecastle.  In fact my husband and I mentioned that we felt like professionals – never lacking for anything, not over-burdened but always had what we needed, quite comfortable and had a blast!

Details on the actual festival to come!

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What I Wore: Festive

Dress: c/o Gwynnie Bee | Belt: c/o gift card from Nordstrom Rack (similar) | Tights: DKNY | Shoes: VC Signature (similar) | Bracelet: J. Crew (similar) | Lipstick: Revlon Matte in Real Red

One great thing about holidays is the permission to wear something that would otherwise be seen as cheesy. This dress came from Gwynnie Bee with a tasteful black skinny belt with gold buckle. Such a combination looked adorable, and I figured I could wear to work with a black cardigan. But for Christmas Eve at my sister’s house, I decided to up the holiday cheese factor and switched out the belt for something that made me look a bit more like a present!  Speaking of presents, if you’re a size 10 or larger, a Gwynnie Bee subscription is a great present for yourself – a whole new wardrobe for the price of a single dress!

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Ask Allie – What to Wear to a Music Festival?

Hi Allie, I know you recently went to the Bonnaroo Music Festival in the US. I am going to the Oxegen Festival. I was wondering what you suggest I wear to it?

Dear Allie,
Are you going to Bonnaroo again this year? I am going too! What do you suggest I pack?
Dear Allie:
My boyfriend got us tickets to Outside Lands (it’s a fest in CA). What sort of clothes should I wear to such an event? I haven’t been to a fest of this size before. Thank you so much!
Image courtesy of the NY Daily News

Ah, the music festival. A life-changing event for anyone, no matter how large of a music fan. Music festivals are all-day or multi-day events full of music, art, food, and sights you may never seen before. I have been to a few one-day festivals and have now attended the Bonnaroo festival in Tennessee for three years. Bonnaroo is four days, and I have done general admission, which is camping sans electricity or proper bathrooms (hello porta-potties!)and a lot of walking in extreme heat. As a slightly high-maintenance woman, I feared my first music festival, but found that with the right wardrobe and supplies, anyone can be comfortable AND stylish at such an event.

Surviving the Heat
Most music festivals are during the hottest months of the year. This is great for those in school – no need to skip classes to see your favorite artist. However it’s pretty tough to spend 12+ hours in high heat for multiple days. It is important to dress and pack correctly so that you protect your skin, your energy, and your health during a festival.

I highly recommend wearing 100% cotton (not jersey) dresses. Pure cotton will float away from your body with the slightest breeze and will dry quickly when wet from sweat or a Super Soaker. In the summer, it’s not hard to find adorable cotton sundresses at most any retailer. For this year’s Bonnaroo I scored several sundresses for under $20 each at Ross, and also saw plenty of dresses that would be perfect at Old Navy and Target. Don’t take your designer duds – no matter what you do, clothes can get dirty. Not only is there the potential for mud (even if it’s dry, there can and will be mud), there will be messy carnival food, large crowds of people bumping into you and possibly spilling their food/drink, and folks trying to get into the spirit with water guns, glitter, glo-sticks and other various things that can be tossed into a crowd. If you do find a great score at a discount place, be sure to secure the straps. A friend and I both had a strap break on a sundress while at the festival this year (and be at the ready with a mini sewing kit and some safety pins just in case of any wardrobe emergency).

No matter your size, many women experience that which we lovingly call, “chub rub”. Many women have curvy thighs, and when walking long distances and sweating, you can get a rash on the inside of your legs. I have found the best thing to combat this is a pair of bike shorts under my sundress. In 2007, I bought two pairs of moisture-wicking black bike shorts from Kmart for $9.99 each and have used them ever since. They do a great job of preventing chafing, and also offer modesty so I can easily sit cross-legged on the ground during a show. I know many women who prefer using BodyGlide (or use it along with the shorts). BodyGlide can be applied like a stick deodorant and will help prevent chafing, even if you sweat.

When there is heat, there usually is sun. A music festival is not the place to work on your tan. You won’t realize how much sun you have gotten until you end up with a nasty burn that evening. I have found that even when I wear SPF 30 sunscreen, I will come home from a festival with plenty of color. This year I used SPF 30 on my body and 55 on my face, and carried both with me all day for easy reapplication. Aerosol sunscreen is a great choice for such an event because you can reach your back, you don’t have to run it in with grubby hands, and that type of container is less likely to leak in your bag. I also take a stick or tube of higher SPF sunscreen with me to the shows to apply to the face and any sun-sensitive places (shoulders, back of neck, tops of feet) on a regular basis. It’s also wise to get a lipbalm with SPF – your lips will get dry from the heat, and they are quite susceptible to sunburn.

Image courtesy of the Nashville Beauty Blog – the Blogger at Bonnaroo 2009

With so many cute hats in fashion right now, it’s silly to not wear one to a music festival. A basic straw cowboy hat is always stylish at such an event, and will do a good job of keeping your neck and nose protected. Fedoras and porkpie hats are trendy now – they aren’t really good at protecting you from the sun, but will offer protection to your scalp. The best choice is a floppy hat with a large brim – I have a crushable straw one that I have had for over a decade. I can roll it up and stick it in my bag when I am indoors or it gets dark, and easily pull it out for when it’s sunny. I have found great sun hats at Title 9, Athleta, Lands End and Macy’s. I also recommend checking out Etsy – you can find some really unique and cute sunhats there – check out these adorable numbers from Bonniesknitting!

Another great item to pack for sun protection is a bandana (or two!). A bandanna can be tied around your neck to protect it from the sun, it can be tied over your head like a kerchief to protect the scalp and tip-top of your forehead, and it can be dunked in cold water and used to cool you off in a jiffy. I tie a bandanna to the zipper of my bag to have at the ready – it’s also great to mop sweat off your brow. If you don’t like the look of bandannas, any cotton scarf will do. This year I took a candy-colored cotton voile scarf from Lands End’s Canvas line and it worked just as well (and laundered just as well) as a classic bandanna.

You MUST stay hydrated! Don’t expect a water bottle or two from a vendor to suffice. It’s easy to get dehydrated and not even notice. Next thing you are feeling dizzy or worse. Even though they are not chic, I carry a backpack that has a hydration pack inside it. I have one from Kelty that I bought several years ago – it is very small and fits right between my shoulder blades, but has room to hold 50 ounces of water along with my essentials. If you can’t imagine carrying a Camelbak-type bag, I recommend having a large aluminum or Nalgene-type bottle that you can hook to your bag and can be filled quite often from water stations. If you have to carry your bottle in your hand the entire time, it very well may be discarded for being a nuisance. I don’t want to be all TMI, but if you haven’t had to hit a porta-potty in a bit, it’s a good chance that you aren’t drinking enough. And know for every alcoholic beverage you consume, that much more water you need to consume to stay properly hydrated.

Be smart – find shade between shows, be it under a tree, from the shadow of a tent, or even if you decide to head back to your tent or hotel for a quick break. You really need to pace yourself – prioritize the performances you wish to see, so if you’re feeling a bit woozy, tired, or overheated you can take a break. Beer gardens, movie tents and vendor tents are great places to duck in and get some shade. In 2007 I almost passed out from the heat, and this year a person I knew died from the heat at a music festival. I would hate this to happen to any of you, so please stay cool, stay hydrated, and pace yourself.

Surviving the Lack of Plumbing
Be you attending a one-day fest or a multi-day camping adventure, you will likely be dealing with porta-potties. No one enjoys them, but they are a fact of life. Here’s a few things that can make your bathroom experience quick and less painful:

  • Don’t expect each porta-potty to have toilet paper. Bring your own. I see many people who enter porta-potties with a whole roll of T.P. I personally don’t like that option because then there is something you need to hold while in there. I will fill a sandwich baggie with pre-torn piles of toilet paper. Then before I enter a porta-potty I will tuck the little pile of TP into my bra strap or pocket. Nothing to have to hold, and I am prepared in case the porta-potty isn’t well equipped.
  • Not only will portable toilets be sans toilet paper, they will also be disgusting. I carry a second sandwich baggie with Clorox wipes. I take one in with me (tucked in the other bra strap or pocket) and wipe down the seat before attempting to do anything in there. I am a petite woman, and there is no way I can properly hover over a porta-potty and not make a mess. It is far easier to clean the seat than try to not touch it. Also, it is a “pay it forward” sort of act for the woman in line after you who may not have thought to bring sanitizing wipes!
  • If you can, head to the porta-potties with a friend. Then she can hold both of your bags while you are in there, and then you can reciprocate the favor. If you don’t have this option, it’s great to have a cross-body bag or backpack that you can put on the front of your person and keep from touching any surfaces.
  • Bring hand sanitizer! I prefer sanitizing wipes to the liquid in this case, so I can use it to scrub off stuff instead of rubbing it in. I wait until I am out and out of way of the line before attempting to use this. Some porta-potties come with sanitizer, but you can’t rely on that.
  • If you will be at a multi-day event, I recommend a third sandwich baggie with personal cleansing wipes in it. In case your carnival food doesn’t sit well with you, or just if you want to do a wipe down to feel refreshed and less sweaty. Be sure to mark the bags so you know which baggie is Clorox and which is Cottonelle!
  • If you are going to be at a festival at night, it’s a good idea to clip a headlamp or LED light to your bag so you can see what you are doing. Some porta-potties are perfectly set up near outdoor lighting, but many times, especially in camp sites, they will be located in a dark corner of the grounds. My husband picked up a cheap LED head lamp for me (small light on an elastic band) from some Big Box retailer – I never stick it on my head, but I have slung it around my neck when walking in dark locations, have held it in my hand to light my path, and have switched it to the red light and attached to my backpack so my friends can find and follow me in a crowd.

Porta-potties are another reason why dresses are a great option for attire. To have to wiggle off sweaty jeans or shorts in a rush can be awkward, difficult, and can give you more opportunity to accidently bump into a surface in there. Also jeans and pants can drag on the floor. Every woman I know agrees that dresses and skirts are FAR more porta-potty friendly, especially in the heat!

If you are staying in general camping, running water may not exist, or if in the case of the Bonnaroo Music Festival, it may be ice-cold well water running from spigots in a metal trailer. It’s pretty much a given that you won’t be spic n’ span at a fest, but you can still be comfortable and relatively stink-free.

If you have running water (troughs, spigots, etc.):

  • My sister thought of the brilliant idea of bringing a child’s play bucket – the type one uses at the beach. In it, put your soap, shampoo, washcloth, etc. Then you can place it on the floor or hang it off a hook or fence and have all your necessities at arm’s reach and not getting gross. Sometimes the floors at these water stations can have several inches of water, so your regular shower caddy with open sides won’t always be a good bet.
  • You can’t get fully naked (unless you are very daring), so I have found it best to wear a bikini or a bra-tank or bikini top with a skirt or pareo when you go bathing. Be sure to wear shoes with good grip because it can get slick and muddy at the water stations.
  • Though I am a stickler for high-quality shampoo and conditioner for my highlighted hair, at a fest I go with a travel-sized bottle of 2-in-1 shampoo/conditioner. It’s easier.
  • For cleaning the body, I take a bar of Ivory soap. I can then use it to clean my whole body and even clean clothes if need be. My husband prefers a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s soap because he will even use it as his shampoo. Either way you look at it, a multi-tasking product makes the most sense. I find a washcloth to be easier than a shower poof or just my hands – easier to scrub grubby feet and to get sticky sunscreen off shoulders.
  • I also pack one of those small, lightweight microfiber hair towels. It’s usually too hot to bother with drying my body, and these towels dry fast, will sop up moisture from your hair without having to rub, and can make a really great turban or tuck into your bag or bucket when finished.
  • If you know the water station will have spigots with threads on them (like a spigot off your house), it’s a great idea to take an old hose, cut a couple feet off the female end and take it to have a DIY shower. One can often find old hoses for offer on Freecycle. Home improvement stores also carry short hoses specifically for washing machines that have finished ends – this is a nice alternative and also means you can attach a nozzle to control water flow.

If you have shower stations (shower trailers, pay showers):

  • Don’t expect the luxury of even the cheapest motel – these showers are small and cheap. At Bonnaroo they have pay showers sponsored by Garnier Fructis. For $7 you get a teeny plastic stall (think RV bathroom – we’re talking a space not wider than your shoulders) and a very thin shower curtain that has been torn and trashed by previous users. The floor of your shower stall is littered with leftover packets of sample shampoos and balls of hair. These stalls will be lined up along the wall of the trailer, there rarely are mirrors or a changing area.
  • Wear shoes in the shower. Not only can you scrub them clean, but you keep your tootsies safe from fungus and other grodiness.
  • The bucket again can come in handy, it can be placed on the floor, a shelf, even over the shower head if you are tall enough.
  • Bring a bigger towel, and hang it over the shower curtain for some modesty.
  • Wear something that is super easy to get off and back on when you are damp. Again this is where a cotton sundress comes in handy.

Other ways of staying clean:

  • Outdoor stores sell personal cleansing cloths that are thicker and larger in size than ones you can find at Target. However either type is wonderful to wipe down with after a sweaty, sticky day.
  • Outdoor stores also have what’s called solar showers. Pretty much these are bags you can fill with water and hang from a tree, a hook, or even buy a tent created just for a solar shower. Just be sure that it’s not set up in a way that the runoff will spill into a neighbor’s campsite.

Surviving a Day Away from your Home/Hotel/Campsite
The way to have a successful day at a festival is to be fully prepared. Yes you want to look stylish, but there’s no point in looking cute if you have blisters, sunburn, and no camera to take a picture of your fine self.

As previously mentioned, my day bag of choice is a very small backpack with a hydration bladder in it. What I fill it with:

  • My three baggies for the porta potties
  • Two hair elastics
  • A few safety pins of varying size
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Sunglasses with case and little cloth to clean them
  • Camera, in a plastic bag (protect from condensation from the hydration bladder, and also if it rains, someone spills a beer on my bag, etc.)
  • Lip balm with SPF
  • Face sunscreen with high SPF
  • Body sunscreen (aerosol) with high sunscreen (or if a friend has a bigger bag and I know I will be with them the whole time, they can carry it)
  • Cell phone with the numbers of every darn person I know at the festival PLUS the number for the nearby tow truck or taxi company (usually comes with your tickets)
  • Booklet/map provided with the festival
  • Cash in small bills (never more than $40 unless I know I will be buying a souvenir)
  • Sharpie (you never know when you may bump into a celebrity and want their autograph!)
  • Business cards (I have ones from VistaPrint which are cheap, have my name, my cell, my email, my Website. Great to trade with new friends you make, and can always make notes on the back with your Sharpie)
  • A snack (Clif bars, granola bars, cheese and crackers packet, baggie of granola – something that will give you long-running energy and will hold up to the heat. Lines may be long at vendors, you may run out of money, you never know and it’s nice to have a snack just in case)
  • Bandanna or cotton scarf, tied to the exterior

I highly recommend you get a bag you don’t mind wearing for long periods of time and you can wear while dancing. Cross-body bags can be great if they are small, but can but a pain if they keep banging into your thigh while rocking out at your favorite show. A regular purse will not be comfortable on your shoulder for long periods of time. Look for a sleek and smaller cross-body bag or a backpack. Fill it with everything before you go to see how it feels on your body and try walking around and dancing. You don’t want to put your bag on the ground for fear of mud and thieves.

What I leave back at camp, locked safely in my car:

  • iPod
  • Wallet
  • Rest of money
  • Chargers for cell and camera
  • Anything else of value

Festivals are a great place to meet very friendly, like-minded people, but they also attract jerks and thieves. Protect yourself by not carrying everything in your bag, having a bag you don’t mind carrying at all times, and putting all your valuables into your car out of sight. If you drove a car there, keep a key to your car safety pinned into your bag or clothes, and leave the rest of the keyring in the car. Also hide a second car key at camp or give it to a friend in case your bag is stolen.

Treat Your Tootsies Well
Finally, one of the most important things for a good long day at a festival is proper footwear. This is not the time to try out your cute new gladiator sandals or to wear your $1 Old Navy flip flops. You want a pair of shoes that will treat your tootsies well for hours upon hours on end of standing on hard ground and asphalt, cushion you over walking on rocky terrain, can handle a sloshed beer or a mudpuddle, and have traction.

When I say traction, I don’t just mean on the bottom of the shoe. This is why flip flops are not the best option. Have you ever tried to run in a pair of soaking wet flip flops? It’s a recipe for disaster and a sprained ankle. I have been to festivals where it has rained; even a 20-minute sunshower can create ridiculous mud which will literally suck flip flops right off your feet.

A great choice are athletic sandals like Tevas, Merrells, or Chacos. These will stay on no matter the conditions and won’t leave you with a blisterful pair of feet. Many people like lightweight canvas shoes like Chuck Taylors or TOMS; I have a special place in my heart for Sanuks – a company with a good heart that makes super comfy “Vans”-like shoes with a sole as cushy as your favorite flops.

 Photo courtesy of The Girl’s Girl

I have worn my brown leather DUO boots (the Bern) to many a concert and festival – they are shearling lined (keeps me cool) and I have added a waterproofing spray to the exterior. They have a low heel, good traction, an additional cushioning insert and let me tromp through most anything feeling secure. I despise despise DESPISE Crocs, but I have to say they are the perfect festival shoe – they cushion your feet, let them breathe so they don’t get sweaty and stinky, will stay on in even the muckiest of mud, and can easily be rinsed off at the end of the day. They also give a bit of protection to the foot if a beer bottle is dropped on you or you have to enter an especially soggy porta-potty or water station.

Whatever your footwear, be sure they are broken in prior to heading to the festival. Nothing will cramp your good time more than painful, chafed, blisted, cramped toes.

So, What Should I Pack?
If you are staying onsite or at a hotel nearby, I recommend two outfits for each day. If it’s hot or rainy, you will want to change into dry clothes. And when I mean a separate change of clothes, I include underwear in this. Pack two pairs of underwear for each day (if your clothes are sweaty, so will be your undergarments), and bring a bra that you can switch into while the other is hanging up to dry.

Picture courtesy of BallerinaGrape

On top of this, I recommend some clothes to keep you warm when the sun goes down. I don’t recommend jeans (see above re: porta potties, also jeans suck to put on when you are achy or sunburned). If you are wearing a dress, pairing it with a pair of full-length leggings or some floaty linen pants is a great idea. I often just change into a maxi dress or a completely different outfit with a long skirt. Also if you bring a hoodie, it’s usually enough and then you can tie it around your waist or on your bag when you warm up from dancing.

Pack more than one pair of shoes. Even if you have broken in your shoes, they can very well give you some pain after wearing them for 12+ hours at a time. It’s healthy to switch your shoes each day anyhow. I also like to pack a simple pair of basic flip flops for when at camp or for the drive there and back.

Bring two pairs of sunglasses – you never know if you may lose a pair and it would suck to go without.

Pack a survival kit. Safety pins, a small sewing kit, extra hair elastics and Bobby pins or clamp barrettes, Shout wipes or a Tide to Go pen, Immodium AD and Pepto Bismol, pain reliever of your choice, something with electrolytes (Propel, Gatorade, I really like u hydration tablets, which aren’t full of all the fake stuff and sugar of many other electrolyte tabs and they taste really great), if you are within a week or so of your period pack some feminine hygiene products just in case, an extra pair of contacts or glasses, first-aid basics (band-aids, something to clean a wound), extra car key, insurance and AAA card, a hidden $50 that you won’t spend at the festival in case you need a jump, tow, taxi, etc.

Pack some clothes that are fun. When the sun goes down, the party gets crazy at music festivals. Bring your face glitter, your neon pink lip gloss, your angel wings or tutu. You may not feel brave enough to don them, but festivals have a way of bringing out the party girl in most any woman!

But I’m not a Dirty Hippie/Hipster/I’m a Music Newbie!

 Photo courtesy of Music Festival Junkies

If you Google photos of people who have attended music festivals, you may think that all of them are young and cool, or else decked out in tie-dye and hemp. Neither is true, festivals are great because they attract every type of person. I have returned to Bonnaroo so many times because it is a festival that offers pretty much every genre of music.

No need to buy a whole new wardrobe of peasant skirts and rope sandals, or fedoras and Ray Bans. I buy sundresses for music festivals because they are comfortable, and they can also be worn again on summer weekend days. When doing your summer shopping, instead of buying clothes just for this event, see if you can find things that will do double-duty. Instead of buying a dry clean only frock, look for one that can be washed in the machine. Instead of polyester, look for cotton. In place of safe black, consider a cheery print.

Keep in mind that a festival is a laid-back environment. No need for a ton of accessories, coordinated pieces, perfectly polished ensembles. Simple is better, you will get sweaty, you will get dusty and you will want to dance. I leave at home my wedding set and the only jewelry I bring is a turquoise necklace my husband brought back from his yoga teacher training in Mexico, and a pair of silver hoops.

If you are the type of woman who can’t leave your home without at least five pieces of makeup, you may want to adjust your routine for this event. Makeup doesn’t hold up too well in 100-degree heat, and you won’t have regular access to a mirror for touch-ups. That doesn’t mean you need a bare face. At Bonnaroo I wear waterproof mascara, bronzing powder dusted on my cheeks, and Burt’s Bees tinted lip balm. I carry Urban Decay’s De-Slick to combat shine. If you have a bad zit, it’s fine to try to touch it up with some concealer and pressed powder, but a fully “done” face will only leave you with a mess and a smear.

And if you are not familiar with most of the artists, well all the better! Some of my favorite bands in 2010 are ones I never heard of three years ago. They became faves because I saw them perform at a music festival. Festivals are great places to learn about new music, and find your personal music style without being biased by corporate radio, TV, or friends. At a festival, every artist will have an audience of raving fans, so there isn’t any bias, you can’t choose wrong. Go ahead and see a performance or two by yourself – you will make instant friends with the other excited people in the audience!

What to leave at home:
Heels, tight miniskirts, tight jeans, hairspray, flat iron, anything that is dry clean only or delicate or can’t handle getting wet, expensive jewelry, designer anything, your favorite purse, anything that won’t be comfortable enough to dance in or sit in on the ground.

Also leave at home any snark, eye-rolling or criticism. Seriously, you will see EVERY type of person at a festival. Many people travel from fest to fest because they are huge fans of music, but also because festivals are a place where they can feel accepted. That woman in the chain mail bikini and Indian headdress may actually be upper management at a stuffy corporation during the week, the “dirty hippie” may be her college’s fashionista come fall semester. Relish in the fact that you are able to go somewhere where you can be totally relaxed, not stressed over hemlines or heel heights. Be comfortable, feel attractive in your own way, and wear the best accessory out there – a big happy smile.

And be sure to come back and share your experiences at your next fest!

Ask Allie: How to Dress Fun, Festive, yet Professional

I am a 42 year-old who has recently gone back to school.  I have been invited to a girl’s night out on a cruise ship. A majority of the women that are invited work for the school, with one being the Dean. I know that it is completely a social event, but I want to make a good impression. I am a plus-size woman with a full chest and am only 5’4″. It is a fun, dress casual event. What would you suggest that I wear? I would love something with a fun beachy or nautical feel, but I do not want to look like Thurston Howell (If you are even old enough to know who I am talking about. LOL!).

LOL I totally know who Thurston Howell is, and I will not suggest a navy blazer and ascot! But I think it is wise of you to consider not only the situation but the attendees and wanting to have fun but also make a good impression.

A great and easy way to get a nautical feel is with white pants or jeans. Somehow this change from indigo to white gives a more polished look, but also a sea-worthy vibe. I have the NYDJ “Marilyn” straight leg jeans in white and love how crisp, opaque, and polished they are. The NYDJ “Barbara” is a subtle bootcut that won’t look dated, but can balance out a top-heavy figure. Both come in plus size, but not petite; if you purchase them at Nordstrom they will do alterations for free; if you purchase them elsewhere white jeans are an easy alteration even at your local dry cleaner because there’s no need to keep the original hem. I used white jeans as the basis for three different outfits that give a but of a nautical feel, are fun and festive, yet aren’t going to be inappropriate when schmoozing the Dean.

A quick way to get a nautical effect is mixing white with navy. This tunic from Old Navy has a preppy/nautical vibe with the print, and I love the concept of a primarily white top with white jeans for a very crisp summery feel. Paired with gold sandals and chains, it will be very yacht-esque while still fun. A swipe of hot pink lipstick will make this more Girls Night Out than Thurston Howell III.

No better way to get the nautical feel than with a striped top! Instead of a traditional Breton tee, a peplum tank is feminine, fun, and better for a party. An accent color will keep it from looking too uniform. While yellow and red are traditional accent colors for navy or black and white, I decided to switch it up with bright orange. I thought the necklace was fun since it has a rope/nautical feel. To keep it from looking too daytime or preppy, let your hair be in loose beachy waves and add a second coat of black mascara.

You can get a real beachy vibe just by your choice of colors. This drapey top has all the colors of the surf with a fun pop of lime. I continued the color with lime wedges which are surprisingly versatile and can look great with this, as well as denim, neutrals, black and white, and even bold colors like pink and turquoise. A bold statement accessory like a large gold cuff makes the outfit fun, add a lip gloss in an unexpected color like hot pink or red-orange to amp up the party feel.

You don’t have to wear stripes or boats to get a nautical vibe. Since you will be on a cruise ship, I really got into the yacht feel with this ensemble, and it’s a bit dressier than the rest (you will know better if it’s too glam for this event). Black and white is classic and chic, adding tan and gold accents makes it luxe. Switch out the belt of this top with something that makes more of a statement and add some sexy shoes. Gold hoops and black liquid liner will make this glamorous while still appropriate.


You’ll see the outfits I chose are pieces that can be worn again, but also can be worn be you 22 or 42.  I don’t think your age necessarily has to change your style if the pieces are relatively classic.  Don’t be afraid to wear statement necklaces, trendy details like peplums, origami structured pieces, or a funky shoe – accessories are a great way to modernize a wardrobe of staples and show that you are aware of trends without being too trendy.  Accessories are also a great way to make your day or work clothing suddenly look perfect for a girl’s night out.

Do check if there are any specific dress codes before choosing your outfit. Most party/cruise boats can handle heels and all types of shoes, but some may ask you to wear flats and shoes with certain types of soles. It may be a bit chilly, consider bringing a pashmina to wrap around you once the sun goes down. As for a purse, switching from a handbag to a clutch always makes an outfit look more dressy and festive; a simple tan leather bag would look great with all three outfits and be a good buy for future events as well.

Note: Some links are not to the exact item.  I tried to find the exact pieces, but when I couldn’t I chose very very similar alternatives that provide the same effect.

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Forecastle Fashion: What I am Thinking of Packing

When we decided to attend Forecastle last year instead of Bonnaroo, I thought it would be a one-time thing. My Morning Jacket was curating and headlining the event, we were ready for a change, and I hadn’t been to Louisville since college for a trade show. But we went, and we fell in love. A smaller festival, staying in a nice hotel just a couple blocks from the festival grounds, the gorgeous views and the friendly city. We loved being able to leave and have oysters for lunch or Eggs Benedict for brunch. I loved being able to take a nap in air-conditioning mid-day or change into pants for evening. I also loved not having to pack my car to the gills with survival gear and plan months in advance how to dress for comfort and long days.

Even though Forecastle is far more cushy of a festival, it’s still important to dress properly. Clothes that can hold up if you are in fact roaming around the grounds for 12 hours straight. Clothes that won’t drag on a porta-potty floor, stick to you when you get caught in a mid-day sprinkle or when you have sweat coming out of every pore. An outfit that can handle sitting on the ground, being yanked on and off in a hot porta potty, doesn’t chafe and doesn’t make you look like a goober. Because while I do desire comfort, I also desire style.

Last year I took sundresses, but spent almost the entire festival in beat up denim shorts and band tee shirts. Big aviators, a bandanna around my neck and old boots and I felt like a veteran festie goer, a festie survivalist. This year though, I’m not totally feeling that. Not only is this a festival, but it’s also a vacation for me and my husband. Last year was pretty awesome for the two of us, and I want a bit of a romantic or feminine vibe to my look.

So while I will pack the denim cutoffs and my old Ramones tee shirt, I have the desire to go back to dresses. Not short little cotton babydolls of my Bonnaroo days but something more sophisticated and more like me now.

So what I am considering:

  • This dress from LOFT is not what I wanted. It’s jersey, which clings in sweat and humidity. The straps are too thin to wear with a standard bra. But man, it’s a pretty fabulous dress. The straps are adjustable, the skirt is the right amount of fullness for mobility but doesn’t make me look huge, and it has pockets! I bought it just for life, but think I’ll take to Forecastle and wear with bike shorts so it won’t cling too much.
  • The second dress is from Cherry Velvet and I received it from Gwynnie Bee expecting it to look costumey on me, but ended up loving it. Great fit, cute print, nice cotton that doesn’t cling. There’s a double neckline that’s not really my style, but my sister also borrowed this dress from Gwynnie Bee and told me she pinned the halter straps inside the dress and it worked great. I tried it myself and she’s right!
  • The third dress you saw recently on the blog. It’s a dry clean only dress and considering the fabric I figured it was because it shrinks so I threw it in the washer and dryer. Yep, it shrank to almost the perfect length but the hem did not shrink. I took it to the tailor yesterday to have it hemmed in time for Forecastle. Don’t know if I will wear it during the festival, but may wear it for brunch or during off time.
  • This printed top is gorgeous and also via Gwynnie Bee (original brand Eloquii). I haven’t received it yet but I’m imagining it with distressed denim and gold aviators and liking it.
  • And then of course a trusty band tee with shorts and boots… always a safe bet!

As for shoes, I will have at least my Softspots Ventura sandals and my DUO Bern boots, but I will likely bring flip flops and possibly Chucks.  I’ll also bring my army jacket, a pair of jeans, and maybe a maxi dress (such the perfect thing for a sleepy Sunday brunch!). With Forecastle, since we’re staying in a hotel and don’t have to fill our car to the brim with camping equipment, I can take a couple extra things in case I change my mind and in case the unexpected comes up (since the festival doesn’t start until later in the afternoon and we’re staying in a hotel, we have a bit of time to explore Louisville).

I went and bought a new bag for Forecastle… and then returned it. I have my Kelty backpack which has done me well to all my previous festival experiences. It’s not “cool” but it’s small, comfortable, and can hold all I need. I’ll also bring a crossbody bag for mornings before the festival – likely my Latico. And then of course my Ray-Bans, sunscreen, and a bandanna to cover my head if it gets too hot.

As I did last year, I will be sharing my outfits on Instagram and will do recap posts on what I packed and what I wore and of course how it was!

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What’s In My Bag: Forecastle Edition

This is the second in a series about my experience at the Forecastle Music Festival. I already wrote about what I wore, I will also be writing a festival recap.

For my first Bonnaroo, I purchased the Kelty “Tecate” hydration pack. I wanted something small that would fit pretty much between my shoulder blades, and this did the trick. Problem is, once the bag has a full bladder of water, there’s not much room to hold anything else. Over time, I have switched to attaching a Camelbak reusable bottle to the bag’s strap with a carabineer – this makes it easy to refill, I can take a sip without detaching the bottle, and I have plenty of backpack space for festival necessities.

Since 2007, this bag has attended four Bonnaroos, a trip to Vermont, various hikes around the region, a few smaller local festivals and now Forecastle. My husband says it’s bad luck to wash your hydration backpack; I have only washed it once when a bottle of bug spray exploded in it. It was fun to pull it out of the closet and see it still coated in Tennessee dust from Bonnaroo 2011. The buttons I have gathered from different festivals – I lost two since last Bonnaroo and will have to get some new good ones soon!

This year my husband and I said we were “festing like a boss.” Over time we have learned what is a necessity, and what is superfluous; what will increase our comfort level without leaving us burdened with a heavy bag. Never during the festival did I feel I lacked for anything, and had many people wanting to try out our chairs!

What’s in my Bag:

  • Packable poncho. My sister got this one for me several years ago from Bed Bath and Beyond; it’s fun to have a change from the typical blue, yellow, or clear ponchos and it’s a ripstop fabric that has held up nicely over the years.
  • Alite chair. This thing is totally awesome. It’s the size of a Camelbak reusable bottle and not only fit in my Kelty bag, but also the J. Crew tote I carried the first night. Not too tall to piss off those in the field behind you, but tall enough to keep you out of the mud and dirt; you can also recline in it for a very comfy outdoor concert experience!
  • Sunglass case. I wore my sunglasses until sunset, but didn’t want to get them scratched or lost. Ray Ban makes a nice slimline case that makes it easy to fit in the bag. I also had the cleaning cloth tucked in it.
  • Saline solution. I used to carry moisturizing eye drops, but usually I just need something to wash funk out of my contacts or rehydrate if it has been a long day. I have found that saline solution does it better.
  • Barrettes and elastics. I start the day with hair down, but if it gets too hot, too sweaty, too whatever it’s nice to be prepared. I usually do a messy updo and clip back my bangs, but I always want extras in case I lose or break one, or if a fellow attendee is in need.
  • Safety pins. I even take a couple diaper pins which could secure heavier fabrics or even hang things from my backpack.
  • Pen and Sharpie. Pen to jot things down or share info with new friends, Sharpie in case I meet an artist and want their autograph.
  • Plain lip balm. With SPF.
  • Tinted lip balm. Give the sweaty bare face a hint of color.
  • Philosophy mineral foundation. This is only there in case I get a chance to say, meet a musician and get a photo op, go backstage, end up leaving and going to a place where a sweaty bare face may be a bit much. It can go on sans mirror and look like me, just a bit more polished and it doesn’t itch or drip when I sweat.
  • Gum. One pack of minty, one pack fruity. A day in the heat, drinking a lot of water and the occasional beer can leave a gross feeling and taste in your mouth. Gum is amazing, and you can make a ton of friends by offering gum to those around you!
  • Business cards. To share contact information with new friends.
  • Face sunscreen. Small so it fits in the bag, dry so it will go on the face and stay there. One in our group will carry a can of spray sunscreen for all of us for the day.
  • Comb. My sister got this one for me from Sephora and I adore it.
  • Non-essential wallet stuff. On my person will be my ID, cash, and credit card. However, in my bag I will have things such as my insurance card or fan club membership card and festival schedule.

Not seen: carabineer holding my Camelbak water bottle

And here’s how everything fits in the bag. There’s still room to fit a can of sunscreen, a bandanna, a snack. There’s bungees on the back so I can attach a tee shirt if I buy one, or even strap my empty water bottle back there (I tuck the base in the mesh pocket to keep it from jangling around). Sometimes I take a waterproof blanket or groundcloth instead of a chair; for that I usually bungee it to the outside of the pack. If I know I will be using grody porta-potties I will have a sandwich bag of Clorox wipes and one of toilet paper.  If it’s a more rural festival, I will also pack a headlamp.

Wearing my backpack with Camelbak bottle attached – hands free to dance… or enjoy a beer!

My husband says I look like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle with my “shell” on my back, but it’s very comfortable, doesn’t dig into my shoulders, nicely disperses the weight, and I can dance without having to put my stuff on the ground.

I know many may find this to be excessive; I see many a festival attendee having a great time with just that which is in their pockets or a small crossbody bag. And it’s true, you can have a blast without all these creature comforts. I personally like to have these creature comforts so I can better enjoy the shows and not have to spend unexpected cash on things like disposable ponchos or bottles of water. It works for me, and it helped me have a fantastic time at Forecastle!

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Festival Fashion from a Festival Lover

Every year around this time, fashion blogs, sites, and magazines offer their opinion on great music festival fashion.

And every year around this time you’ll find me shaking my head and getting ragey.

Their fashion advice SUCKS. Sorry magazines, blogs, and sites that I love… don’t give advice on something you know nothing about. You can’t base festie fashion advice on what Emma Roberts wore to Coachella, or what an Olsen sister wore to Bonnaroo. The thing is, celebrities have VIP areas – places with air conditioning, cushy seating, real bathrooms, places to get a bottle of icy water and have a moment to freshen up. They see shows either from the very front row (without having to shove through thousands of sweaty bodies), or from the side of the stage. They roll around the grounds in golf carts, and have shady places to rest and sip a beer.

Fergie, Paris Hilton, Dita Von Teese, and Emma Roberts all wearing celebrity-specific fashion at Coachella 2012

If you’ve been to a music festival, you know this is not how the majority of people roll… and therefore we regular folks need to dress differently.

Music festivals take place during warmer months – even if it’s April, there’s a good chance that it will be blazing hot. If it’s not blazing hot, there’s a good chance it will be raining. What started off as a lush green pasture in just a couple hours’ time will become a dusty dirt pit or else a mucky mud pit. As for the bathrooms? Well get used to very well-used porta-potties that have been sitting in that blazing heat (and are surrounded by that mucky mud).

While fashion experts will suggest white crocheted sundresses, rompers, and wedges, here’s some advice on what to wear to a music festival when you are not on the A List.

1. Flat Shoes. Be they flip flops, leather sandals, or boots… a music festival is NOT a place to wear a heel, a wedge, or even a flatform. You will be walking a lot, and on bumpy, dirty, and possibly muddy terrain. You will be standing a lot, and you won’t have an opportunity to switch out your footwear.

For a single-day festival, a flat sandal that has already been broken in is a great choice. Many like flip flops, but I have seen mucky mud suck flops right off people’s feet. Having a few straps to hold your shoe in place is the best bet. This is a time where TOMS, Vans, Chucks, desert boots, and other lightweight lace-up shoes are a great choice.

For multiple-day festivals, choose comfort over style. A shoe with cushioning, arch support, and protection from mud as well as dry scratchy grasses is perfect. Again, a desert boot or lightweight sneaker is stylish yet comfy; I wear my DUO “Bern” boots to fests and add new inserts for extra cushioning.

Whatever you do, don’t wear your favorite shoes. They may get muddy, may have beer (or something worse) splash on them, and will be pretty beat up come the end of the festival. Choose shoes that can handle a beating (or at least a tumble in the washing machine).

2. Sunhat. So you have a base tan. Maybe you’re a lifeguard and are in the sun all the time. Even if you slathered on the SPF 55, the sun can be brutal at a music festival. To accommodate the crowds, the venue is usually pretty free of trees and shady spots and you will spend the majority of your time uncovered. Keep your head cool and your skin safe with a hat.

While some just like a fedora or baseball cap to look cute and have a bit of shade on the skull, a music festival is a perfect place to look chic in a large-brimmed floppy sunhat. This is a venue where such a hat will be admired, so don’t be afraid to go bright, quirky, or big. Not only will you have people coming up to you complimenting you on your accessory, you will be sun-smart and be better able to enjoy the festival.

3. A Comfortable Bag. You won’t have a place to stash your stuff while standing in line for the porta-potty or rocking out to your favorite band, so you need a bag that is comfortable when worn for long periods of time, and also can hold a lot. While I have been known to sacrifice style and wear a Camelbak, you can also consider a crossbody, which will leave your hands free to take pictures, drink a beer, and put your hands up with the crowd. Test such a bag before going – pile in a bunch of stuff (a jacket, full bottle of water, camera, sunscreen) and see if it digs into your shoulder or inhibits your ability to walk and dance before taking it to the music festival.  As with everything else, be sure your bag is one you don’t mind getting dirty or damaged.

4. Porta-Potty Friendly Fashion. I don’t know WHY every fashion outlet encourages rompers at music festivals. Who wants to strip down naked in a porta-potty? Those locks don’t always work, and you’ll have drunken people with bursting bladders trying anything to find a free john. My friends and I have often accidentally walked in on someone who forgot to lock the porta-potty or had one with a busted lock, imagine how awful it would be to have that happen to you while your entire outfit is at your knees.

Along with this, keep in mind that porta-potty floors are pretty disgusting and there is rarely a shelf or hook available. You need a bag that you don’t need hands to hold, and clothes that won’t drag when you are doing your business. This means overalls, maxi dresses, white and light colored dresses, fitted jeans and pants, and long fringe are poor choices unless you don’t mind wearing the floor muck for the rest of the festival.

Celebrity fest fashion that is actually wearable – Busy Phillips, Vanessa Hudgens, Kelly Osbourne, Kate Bosworth

What I Do Suggest:

  • Cotton Sundresses. They’re cute, they’re breezy, and they can look adorable with comfy shoes like TOMS and boots.
  • Denim Cutoffs. This is something fashion experts suggest and I can agree on. As long as they aren’t skin tight and cover your rear, they are durable enough to withstand a music festival, and may even look better after the experience!
  • Bikinis. If you have the figure, a music festival is a place to flaunt it. A bikini top makes a cute pairing with denim cutoffs or even a gauzy peasant skirt and swimwear means you can hop in a fountain or water activity, hose down after a muddy mosh pit, and you can cover and support your bust without additional layers.
  • Cheap Sunglasses. Leave your Chanels at home and head to your local Target (or even gas station) for a pair of oversized aviators or big plastic shades. Your sunglasses can get lost, broken, scratched, stolen, or dulled from dusty winds, it’s not worth it to take the designer shades. Also, this is an environment where a pair of neon yellow faux Wayfarers can actually look cool.

For more music festival fashion advice, check out my post, “What to Wear to a Music Festival.”

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Recap: Virgin Mobile FreeFest

Each year I clear my calendar for when Virgin Mobile FreeFest tickets are available. It’s a mad scramble using my SmartPhone, multiple browsers, and Facebook but I usually score at least a pair. And each year, something comes up where I end up not going. This year I didn’t score tickets… but I actually attended!

I kept trying to win tickets, entering contests weekly. It seemed all my friends were going and it would be great to go with them. The thing was we didn’t have babysitting available for the whole day and through the night. So when my sister asked if I wanted to be her date with her extra ticket, Karl said I should go and he’d stay home with Emerson. As it drew closer to FreeFest day, more friends were bailing due to work schedules, family emergencies, and other conflicts. It ended up being me, my sister, and our friend Tiffany who went together.

What I Wore: I wanted to be comfortable for 10 hours straight so I worried more about comfort than style.  I wore my blue-gray Old Navy Vintage V-neck, Karen Kane jeggings, my black DUO riding boots, and in my bag was a cotton plain shirt from Lands’ End Canvas.  When it got super windy I put a bandanna (vintage Vision Street Wear) on my head.  Aviators, silver jewelry, and last minute switched from my crossbody to my festival backpack (smart decision).

My sister wanted to arrive in time to see Allen Stone. While I had heard his name, I couldn’t place him and didn’t care one way or another whether I saw his show. We had a late start but arrived before his set, and was able to get a place down center in the Pavilion for it. And I am so glad we did. Allen Stone looks like a grown up Napoleon Dynamite with his oversized glasses, toothy smile and long blonde curls, but he sounds like a young Chris Robinson (from the Black Crowes). While he did two covers (a great rendition of Tell Me Something Good and a bluesy yet hokey version of Bob Marley’s Is This Love), what really stood out were his original songs. Great voice, great songs, great energy… Allen Stone has a new fan!

Who I Saw: I bumped into Tammy from A Loyal Love, Emily from Capital Style, and we met Jason Holt (the drummer for Allen Stone)

After Allen Stone, we headed for the Festival Stage which was in a field back behind the ordinary Merriweather Post Pavilion grounds and caught the majority of the Portugal. The Man set. I know I have Portugal. The Man on my iPod, but I haven’t really listened to them in a while and was pretty impressed by their set. Enough that I added more of their tunes to one of my Spotify playlists. I got pretty close during their set and after they finished I was right on the rail and planned on staying for The Dismemberment Plan, but my friends were hungry so we went to grab lunch.

Who is that short person behind the guy in the furry red hat?  Oh yeah, that’s me in the audience at Nervo!

It was around 4pm and I really wanted to see Santigold so we headed back to the Festival Stage. We ended up passing through the Dance Forest and Nervo was on stage. There was a perfect path from the grass right into the crowd and without any wiggling I ended up almost on the rail. The show was super fun, though the crowd was young enough to be my children. We didn’t care, we danced and jumped and had a blast. However, I decided to leave so I could get a decent spot for Santigold.

This is where I made a major festie mistake – I left without my friends and without a way of contacting them. In just three hours, I had completely drained my phone battery just trying to get reception. I guess this was also a major festie mistake by Virgin – their festival WiFi was practically nonexistent. I was able to get it once at 1:30 or so, and never again. There was no reception for my AT&T phone, and same for those I met who were on Verizon, Sprint, and T Mobile. Maybe it was a calculated plan by Virgin to get people switch to them as their provider? Anyway, with a dead phone in my back pocket, I hoofed it back to the Festival Stage.

Being alone and a woman over 35 has its advantages at a festival. No one messes with you because you could be their mom and you must be cool to be at a festival, and if solo it’s easier to wiggle into a crowd without pissing anyone off. At Santigold I had tall boys regularly see me behind them, and offer me the space in front of them to see better. Within minutes I was only about 10’ from the rail on the left side of the stage. I hadn’t see Santigold live before and have loved her for a while. She didn’t disappoint and she still has a big fan in me.

The fabulous Alabama Shakes

After Santigold, I decided to head back towards the pavilion since I figured at least my sister would want to see Alabama Shakes and they were already playing. I wandered a bit and decided the best chance to see someone I knew would be to stand at the bottom of the lawn, center, right along the sidewalk. I saw fellow blogger Tammy from A Loyal Love; she let me borrow her phone to text my sister my location, but she didn’t get it or didn’t see me. I decided them to enjoy the show and a bit of people watching. Alabama Shakes rocked it, but I didn’t expect otherwise. I saw them at Rams Head Baltimore a few months prior and I recommend seeing them to anyone – truly awesome.

After Alabama Shakes, I decided to stop looking for my friends and just have fun riding solo. We all were adults and knew where the car was, we had all attended many shows and festivals in the past so I knew each of us would likely see the solo experience (I later learned that Debbie and Tiffany got separated soon after losing me) as a blessing and adventure. I headed back to the Festival Stage to catch part of Nas’ set… but soon left. While Nas sounded great, the crowd totally sucked. A lot of jerks, a lot of drunk kids, a lot of aggression. I decided to just wander. I got a beer, moseyed through the lawn, soaked up the atmosphere. I walked past the pavilion where ZZ Top was ready to perform and thought… there’s no other show I REALLY have to see so maybe I’ll check out the situation to get in the pit for Jack White.

I ended up in line along the right side of the pavilion for Jack White with some hardcore fans and ended up catching ZZ Top’s set. I wouldn’t have normally stayed for ZZ Top but was glad I saw it. Those guys are PROS. Their set was tight, they understood their crowd and played the right songs at the right time. They sounded amazing, and I knew my father in law would have been pleased that I saw the performance. I also met some nice people in line and had the opportunity to use my age to my advantage.

While standing in line, some guys started walking right past us, wiggling between our line and the seats. I asked them where they were going. “Getting in line to see Jack White.” I told them we had been waiting for the past hour and the line ended back behind me. They said, “Whatever lady” and tried to push past me. Maybe it was the beer, but I stood my ground and said, “Do you know who I am?” They looked at me, and the lead guy looked a bit scared and said, “Oh, sorry, I didn’t realize” and walked away. Thank goodness they didn’t ask who I actually was! But seriously, if you think you’re too old for such events, stop and think how badass you look having confidence and walking through all those teenagers. You’re not old, you’re what they wish they could be in 15-30 years. Wear that with honor!

Jack White did every song I could desire – songs from White Stripes, Raconteurs, the Dead Weather, and his solo album!

So finally they started letting us in to the pit. There were already a bunch of people in the pit (VIP? Fan club?) so we tried to find the best places possible. I ended up being right in center, again about 10’ from the rail. Unfortunately though I was close, I had about eight men over 6’ tall in front of me. I had a woman to my left who was about 5’ tall and a woman slightly in front of me to the right who was about my height. We all craned our necks from left to right and if the wind was just so we could see Jack White between shoulders. The pit was pretty packed – there wasn’t any dancing and I couldn’t even raise both hands over my head, but the crowd was pretty awesome… for the most part.

We all had our spots and were getting settled. The guys realized us shorties were behind them and didn’t sway too much. Jack White and his all-female white-gowned band were killing it, and this guy in a Hillbilly Casino Tennessee jacket starts pushing through the crowd. The guy next to me was very zen about it – he told his friends to let Hillbilly Casino go, don’t ruin your own good time getting angry over one human. I liked his mindset… but then Hillbilly Casino tried to get past the tallest guy in the crowd (me and a new friend called him Michael Phelps because he had a similar build and face shape) and NotMichael put out his hand and stopped him… in front of me.

I wasn’t super stressed, Hillbilly Casino was shorter than most of the guys in the area so it actually improved my view. However, this guy had some serious negative energy. He was staring to the left, not to the stage the entire time. He was so angry he was literally shaking, clenching his fists. You could feel the anger radiating off him. The more time that went by, the angrier he got and he started bouncing from one foot to the other like a boxer before a match. I ended up tapping him on the shoulder telling him the crowd was too tight, it was too late in the show, just sit put and accept his place. I couldn’t deal with this hostility and nervous energy less than a foot from my face. He just looked at me as though I was insane and kept on with whatever mission he was on.

See those tall people to the right in the crowd? Yeah, that’s where I was!

We found out what his mission was when the set ended and he took a swing at NotMichael Phelps. Immediately, I grabbed Hillbilly Casino to pull him back (yeah, he was right in looking at me earlier as though I was insane) and two guys also grabbed him. We pulled him back and I pushed him in the chest and we all told him to leave immediately. Luckily he left; those who still had cell phones working (seriously folks, 90% of the people I met had no juice left because of the poor reception) lit them up and we found NotMichael’s cap which flew off during the punch and we all settled in happier and more relaxed for the encore. Oh and to have Hillbilly Casino gone, the thrill of helping to kick him out, extra space, happy neighbors AND Seven Nation Army? Perfect ending to a phenomenal set!

I really wasn’t pressed to see anything after Jack White. the lawn was empty except for trash, the place was clearing out. However, Skrillex was still playing so I decided to walk that way. It had gotten very cold so I put on my plaid shirt and buttoned it all the way up. I was walking from the lawn down near the barn and stepped over some of those plastic plates that cover cables. It was damp, I was tired, and in slow motion I slipped and landed on my ass. I looked up and there were three little girls half naked in fur boots and Native American headdresses and face paint. “Are you okay ma’am? Do you need help getting up?” I know they were just being nice but to be tired, be 37, just semi-fight some guy twice my size, and be literally on my feet for nine hours was too much. I said I was fine, got up, brushed off my ass and my pride and headed to the Festival Stage.

I got to the bridge to that part of the grounds and could see the craziness before me. The stage was lit up, kids were dancing everywhere, the Ferris wheel was spinning, and I just didn’t want to get into all of that. I leaned against the chain link fence enjoying the bass and people watching. A couple slammed against the fence behind me, making out as though they hadn’t seen each other for a year. It didn’t bother me, I actually thought it was sweet but a minute later another couple slammed against the fence in front of me. I decided that was life telling me the day was over so I headed back to the car. My sister was already there, my friend Tiffany arrived soon after and us three old, tired, yet happy women headed home.

Would I go back to Virgin Mobile FreeFest? Yes, in a heartbeat. Sir Richard Branson knows how to throw a party. I was impressed with the little details – the phone booths where you could get a call to win anything from a beer to a meet and greet with a festival performer. That the schedule was set that the folks who prefer rock (and likely were older) had their last shows near the main exit and they ended a bit before the dance music. This way we could get out of the parking lot before all the teens on acid and Ecstasy. Fun additions like a circus (I didn’t see but Debbie and Tiffany caught). Plenty of staff, be it Merriweather folks or the 9:30 Club staff. It was very well organized and a pretty fabulous lineup for a free festival. I also liked it being post-festival season and not when it’s a kazillion degrees. Yes, the crowd is primarily under the age of 25 and I think the majority of those folks were there for the drugs and hook-ups and not music, it was still a lot of fun and look forward to next year’s fest!

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Out and About: The Shindig Festival in Baltimore

Last weekend, Karl, my sister, and our two friends headed to Baltimore, Maryland for the 2014 Shindig Festival. It was the weekend before Karl’s birthday (the big 4-0 yo!), and the festival was featuring some pretty great bands that he and I both love: Clutch, Jane’s Addiction, Gogol Bordello, Fishbone, and more.

Since it was Karl’s birthday, we splurged for VIP tickets (regular were $35, VIP $70) and I say if you can swing it, VIP is the way to go. There were two VIP areas with shade, seats, trailer bathrooms in place of porta-potties, separate food and drink vendors, and all the bottled water you’d like was included. The VIP areas had space to the side of each stage where you could get a decent view without being in the crowd; there were also observation decks for each stage just for VIP. The ticket also came with a merchandise packet of one of those backpack/string things, a mix CD and a Shindig tee shirt.

PicMonkey Collage

Karl resting his foot in VIP, wearing his “steel toe boot” c/o CastCoverz! and me in my “OOTD.”  Wore a white tee from rag & bone with my old battered and better with time self-distressed Target shorts, my “festival boots” (the DUO boots I bought in 2007 and wear to every music festival and most concerts), and I tied my Gap plaid flannel around my waist to put on when it got colder after dark.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it here, though I’ve shared on Instagram and Twitter, but Karl got a stress fracture in his foot a few weeks ago and has been rocking a boot and had to stop teaching yoga for a while. While the boot helps, he really should keep off his foot as much as possible and I was worried about this festival. However, with VIP (not just the seating and close locations, but closer parking and a shorter line to get in), he was able to rest his foot between must-see sets.

We arrived 1pm and got a lay of the land. The fest was pretty dead at that time, but I wanted to see Charm City Devils. We got there in time to catch a bit of Bad Seed Rising; gotta love young talent and this band rocks it. And Charm City Devils was just as great as I thought; I’d like to see them again in a dark club where the music would be more appropriate. We then went to VIP to get drinks and a snack but returned to see Larry and his Flask. I never heard of this band before but LOVED them! What a fun group, I would totally see them again if they toured the DC area!


The crowd at Fishbone, that yellow dot is Karl (being the shortie I am and in front of K you can’t see me)


A picture I took of Fishbone lead singer Angelo Moore crowd surfing during the Fishbone show; we then met Angelo during the festival and Karl got a photo with him.

One of the must-sees of the day was Fishbone. When Karl was stationed in Mayport, he saw Fishbone live and it was one of his most memorable shows. Though few of the original members remain, Fishbone’s performance was tight and terribly entertaining. The crowd was also amazing. We were in deep, just a couple people from the pit and the energy was infectious. The pit was one of the most… is courteous a weird word to use? Well it was a courteous pit, where people were aware of one another, having a blast instead of getting angry. I think it helped it was earlier in the day, fewer drunks. There was this one woman on the edge of the pit and she was totally my hero. With my arm and Karl’s leg we had to stay a safe distance away but she was raging for me and it was an awesome sight to see. She probably found me crazy but I had to give her a hug after the show, she proved that you don’t have to be young or male to enjoy a hard rock show.


Lzzy Hale of Halestorm, photo via the Shindig Facebook page

This woman was one of many badasses at this festival. The woman power was fierce at Shindig, from female rockers in Bad Seed Rising and Halestorm, to the amazing staff and attendees. I saw a woman wearing a baby in an Ergo rocking the heck out of denim cutoffs, fishnets, and Doc Martens. I stopped a gorgeous woman with white pigtails, a gauzy white dress and combat boots to compliment her on her look, and was in awe by the personal style of so many female rock fans of every age, size, and style. Saturday was such a great reminder to not let the age on your driver’s license dictate your wardrobe, your taste in music, or how you choose to spend your free time.

So back to the festival! We wandered a lot during the day, caught Lucero (who was great), Halestorm (who was phenomenal), J Roddy Walson and the X (they were fine, I know their music and it’s good but it’s not my jam), and returned back to the Babe Stage for Clutch.


Photo credit: Cassandra Mullinix of Bucket of Rock Blog

Clutch was another awesome crowd, we saw faces we recognized from previous Clutch shows, one guy even recognized me from the Clutch show at Forecastle! We befriended a couple from North Beach and again were near the pit so we totally vibed off that energy. The crowd was a bit older for Clutch, and since it was later in the day we encountered a few drunk and disorderly people, but we as a fan group took care of one another and quickly got rid of those causing a disturbance. Clutch was awesome as always; I’m sad their 9:30 December show is New Years Eve because I always look forward to it every year but am not going to spend NYE with a bunch of drunk men in a mosh pit and then attempt to drive home.


Photo Credit: Cassandra Mullinix of Bucket of Rock Blog, via the Shindig Facebook page

Anyway, back to the fest. We didn’t dig deep into any crowd after Clutch. It had gotten dark but not cold, the moon was shining and we really enjoyed just walking through the fest seeing the scene. We headed over to the Bird Stage to catch Gogol Bordello but missed the beginning and the crowd was super packed so we stayed on the edge. Karl’s foot was starting to ache and while we really wanted to see Jane’s Addiction, we saw them a couple years ago with NIN and didn’t think it was worth possibly hurting Karl’s foot further. So we headed out after Gogol Bordello and went to a nice dinner with our friends. I heard Jane’s Addiction was amazing, but with so many shows under our belts and how busy our lives are, having a leisurely and delicious meal with some of our best friends was the perfect way to end a very fun day.

We usually hit a big music festival every summer, but with my arm and Emerson starting kindergarten that didn’t happen. Going to Shindig got our music festival fix, but it also makes me super excited for the next show on our calendar!

Legit Music Festival Fashion Advice

Oh April, the time of year where every fashion blog and website claims to be an expert on what to wear and take to a music festival yet fails miserably. As soon as I see a romper or designer picnic blanket recommended I know that author has never attended a music festival, nor likely an outdoor concert.

Now I don’t claim to be some sort of expert and hey, you may be double-jointed and find wearing a romper and peeing in a steaming hot porta-potty easy, but here’s my tips for attending a music festival:

1. Read the FAQ. Before you start packing, see what you’re allowed to pack and what the festival organizers suggest. Many do not allow umbrellas, even the small travel type. Quite a few do not allow detachable lens cameras, glo-sticks, or chairs of any height . The festival planners will be able to let you know if there’s access to drinking water, shade, lockers, charging stations, and more.

2. Expect a lot of Sun. Even if the festival is in a grove of trees, expect to be doused with a ton of sun. Bring a floppy hat, large sunglasses, a bandanna you can dip in water to cool off or tie around your neck to protect it, wear sunscreen and bring more. I like the spray sunscreen because it doesn’t have to be rubbed in and you can spray as you walk to the next stage performance. The higher the better – I can wear SPF 50 for an entire festie weekend and still go home with a tan. Seriously, nothing ruins a festival experience faster than a raging sunburn.

The sun not only can exhaust you, but it can also quickly exhaust your electronics. Keep your phone out of the sun and bring a charger for a long hot festie day will sap your battery. Don’t expect to find an outlet; plan ahead with a pre-charged battery backup or bring a solar charger. Do note that many festivals have poor cell reception, so have a Plan B if your original idea for organizing with friends involve texts.

3. Prepare to Walk. You can easily walk a half mile from your campsite to see a performance, and walk five miles in just a couple hours around the festival grounds. Not only that, the ground will be bumpy, can have sharp grass or rocks, very well will be muddy or dusty. Wear shoes that are comfortable for long spans of time. I wear old boots with new insoles, but a pair of desert boots, sneakers with arch support, athletic sandals or a canvas slip-on with a good insole will also do well. Bring a second pair of shoes in case your first pair gets wet or ruined, and bring socks (you may find them dorky looking but may be glad to have them Day 2 after Day 1 gave you blisters or sunburn).

4. Pack to Dance. And to walk, and drink beer or water, to chat, to eat an arepa while racing across the grounds to catch up with your friends, to use a porta potty. Use a bag that can handle all that without cramping your style. Fanny packs are back and great for day fests or places that don’t need a lot of equipment to be comfortable for long spans of time. For longer festivals far from camp, consider a small backpack or a crossbody that doesn’t dig into your shoulders when completely full.

5. Leave Designer at Home. A stranger may accidently step on your Karen Walker sunnies and your Design Within Reach throw blanket may get lost in a muddy mosh pit. A festival is a place where people dance and mosh and run and do it all while on little sleep and often lots of alcohol or drugs. Protect your much-loved items and leave them home; a festival is a perfect place for a chic DIY tie-dye bedsheet and truck stop sunglasses.

6. Stay Hydrated. Bring a water container – be it a Camelbak backpack with bladder or a reusable bottle, make sure whatever you have can hold at LEAST 22 ounces and you refill it often. Dehydration can happen quickly when you’re in the sun, heat, drinking, and dancing. Protect yourself, and keep the fun times going with regular water replenishment.

7. Prepare for Porta Potties. No rompers, no overalls, no jumpsuits unless you don’t mind stripping naked in a hot overflowing porta potty with a broken lock. Sundresses are awesome; slip a pair of bike shorts underneath to prevent chafing and to provide modesty when sitting on the ground. I like looser beat up denim shorts that look better with the dirt of the day and don’t stick to sweaty skin.

Along with that, tuck some toilet paper and maybe some Clorox wipes in your bag so if you encounter a grody or unstocked porta potty, you’re set.  I put a little of each in Ziploc baggies; if my friend is holding my bag while I go in, I just grab a bit of each and tuck in my bra strap so my hands are free.

8. Have fun! The fashion mags and sites will lead you to believe that a visit to Coachella or Bonnaroo is the sartorial moment of the year. Yes, some may treat it as such, but the rest of us dress to enjoy the real purpose of the festival – the music. Go ahead and wear fun jewelry or a boho-inspired tunic or a cut up band tee shirt, but dress in a way that doesn’t require you to check your reflection every hour, lets you run and dance and lie in the grass and sit in the dirt. I promise you, the majority of the people at the festival won’t care what you’re wearing, they’ll care more about how you’re feeling and enjoying the event!

For more about music festivals, feel free to visit my previous posts:

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Ask Allie: Music Festival Fashion with Boots

I can’t imagine wearing boots to a music festival! I saw your post on Inforoo saying you wear them but it seems so hot I plan to wear some TOMS what’s the benefit of boots?

I know you’ve been to music festivals before, what do you recommend for shoes?

I’ve been to Bonnaroo several times, attended the Virgin FreeFest and Forecastle and have worn a variety of shoes. Sandals, flip flops, Chucks, even Crocs (I know, I know!). However for the past couple of years my go-to shoes for music festivals are boots. Yes, even in the dreadful heat of summer in Tennessee, I wear boots.

Why Boots Rock for Music Festivals:

  • They are Sun Protection. You can’t imagine how many people get the tops of their feet burned at fests. It’s the part you forget, the part that gets dirty and the sunscreen rubs off, the part (other than the top of your head) that gets the most sun as you walk from stage to stage.
  • They are Injury Prevention. I know someone who had the scary spiky grass of Bonnaroo pierce her flip flop and spike the bottom of her foot. I’ve had many a person step on my feet as they are wiggling to get closer to a stage, and my sister hobbled through one Bonnaroo because an unfolded E-Z Up tent fell on her foot. Mosh pits, hot cups of coffee, setting up camp accidents… boots keep your feet protected so you can enjoy the festival.
  • They are Cooler Than You Think. I wear a pair of DUO Boots I bought eons ago, they’re calf-height, very low heel, leather but have a shearling lining. They keep my legs warm in winter and surprisingly cool in summer. I wear with cotton or wool socks to add cushioning and breathability.
  • They Support Your Feet. TOMS are cute and may be comfy when walking around town, but they don’t have arch support or cushioning that can be quite nice after 12 hours of standing and walking on hard ground, rocky terrain, and concrete. Trust me. A boot can also be made even more comfy with insoles; I buy a new pair of insoles made for work boots prior to each music festival.
  • They Can Take a Beating. I spray my boots with waterproofing spray before I go and don’t even blink when I have to tromp through mud, dust, or worse. Most boots look better with some wear; when I get home I clean them, give them a good polishing, take out the insoles and have them ready for weekends and casual affairs.

Be they a pair of tall boots with a babydoll dress, lace-up granny boots with a peasant skirt, some Docs with denim cutoffs, or Western-inspired booties with a boho-inspired dress, a low-heeled boot can offer comfort, protection, and miles of style at a music festival. Don’t sacrifice your comfort for fashion when there’s alternatives that can give you the best of both worlds!

Do note that the sample ensembles feature some important things for festivals – sunhats with decent sized brims (no fedoras or beanies), large sunglasses, and bags that can be worn while you dance and rock out.  Your accessories are just as important as your shoes to ensure you have a fabulous time this summer at the music festival/s of your choice.

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What my Ears Have Been Absorbing: July and August

The past month has been a bit of a blur, especially when it comes to music. I’d love to write an individual post about each musical experience, but it’s summer and I’m spending my weekends outdoors soaking up the sun and hanging out with loved ones and I hope you’re doing the same! So to keep us all enjoying real life instead of the computer, here’s a quick recap and mini-reviews.

Forecastle Music Festival
If you follow me on Instagram (which you really should because I share more outfits on there and what I am doing on weekends and lots of cute pictures of Emerson and not a rehash of the blog) you know I had an amazing time. This was our second year going, and we felt even more like bosses. We stayed again at the Galt House, which is a short walk to the festival grounds. Last year we got VIP by accident, this year we decided to splurge to confirm that upgrade. Totally worth it – no porta potties, shorter lines to get in, free mug for the bourbon tent, free poster (and Karl ended up getting a free bandanna at the same time), shorter beer lines and a special pit area so we could get pretty close to the two big stages.

This year I wanted to dress in a more feminine manner, but once I got there I went back to my standard festie uniform of beat-up denim shorts and band tee shirts. The weather was excellent until the end of the last day, when we got utterly soaked during the finale of Robert Plant’s set.

Speaking of Robert Plant… I SAW ROBERT PLANT LIVE! I saw him before when he was touring with Alison Krauss, but it was underwhelming. His set at Forecastle was not, it was epic. He did new music mixed with Zeppelin hits – he did put a fresh spin on the classics but not so much that you didn’t recognize or get excited by them. I was excited to have experienced it, and while I wish it didn’t rain (because I think he would have played far longer), it was still a fab performance.

Other memorable shows were Jim James (shocker), Killer Mike and El-P, Big Boi, and Bombino. Were there others that were amazing? YES! However some I had seen before (Alabama Shakes, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Houndmouth, FLips, Black Keys), and some were great but didn’t change my opinion of the band or help me find a new favorite artist.

And well… we didn’t see everything we wanted to see. We were very relaxed this year. Miss a show? No worries. Spend time chatting with a stranger or drinking bourbon or eating a burger at a bar that is supposedly visited by ghosts? Just as awesome as a good set. The weekend wasn’t just about music, but about Louisville and getting away for a mini-vaca. And it was a mini-vaca, I came back refreshed and happy!

Americanarama Festival
The Americananarama fest is a four-band tour, and it stopped in Maryland about a week after we got home from Forecastle. Close enough to still be on a buzz from previous festie fumes, and I went with the same peeps (Karl and my sister Debbie). The show was Ryan Bingham, My Morning Jacket, Wilco, and Bob Dylan. I KNOW, Bob Dylan! To see two legends in one month is pretty darn fantastic!

Ryan Bingham was good. My Morning Jacket was outstanding. I think it was the first time I saw them perform in daylight. We had 5th row pavilion seats (not going to pit it for seven hours) and a great view, but the time of day for MMJ’s set and the seats made it feel as though we were watching a high school talent show performance. Sounds bad, but it made it even more awesome. The band seemed to be having a blast, and I think it was one of my favorite My Morning Jacket performances!

Wilco was good, and if you’re a Wilco fan you’d likely be gushing over the set like I did for MMJ. Try as I may, I just haven’t caught the Wilco bug. I like them, I respect them, but they’re not my jam. And 2013 Bob Dylan isn’t my jam either. While Dylan is a legend and I should be honored to experience him live, his set was so dreadful we actually left before it was over.

Music I’m Enjoying
Before each music festival, I research bands who will be there who I have never heard of before. Thanks to Spotify (IMO the paid subscription is totally worth it) I could make playlists of whole albums to really get a feel for the band, and not just their single. In fact, I do this for most artists who I hear about but don’t know. Karl is famous for playing an album over and over and over again until it’s fused into our brains and we did that with some Forecastle artists, and some albums that one of us heard about and decided to investigate. Here’s the albums we have been listening to the past month that we like enough to hear more than twice:

  • Valerie June – Pushin’ Against a Stone: Gospel, Memphis blues, bluegrass, country, a bit of Jack White, a bit of Dinah Washington. A unique voice that at the same time sounds familiar. I didn’t like the singles I heard, but I adore listening to the album from beginning to end.  Seriously good stuff, unique stuff, stuff you should check out.
  • The National – Trouble Will Find Me: each summer Karl seems to get a pet band. He plays their album/s to death, stalks their live performances on late night TV, and sings random lines from songs at strange times which confuses the heck out of everyone around him. Last summer it was Band of Horses, the summer prior The Decemberists. This year it’s The National. I first heard the album and wanted to cut my wrist with a butter knife. Then I heard an interview on NPR, a couple live recordings and of course this album on repeat each day when I get home from work and Karl is cooking dinner. And now I love it… and The National.
  • Capital Cities – In A Tidal Wave of Mystery: Karl likes himself some Clutch, is a fan of Umphrey’s McGee, Eddie Vedder is his spirit animal and each summer he gets obsessed with some sad/lonely/depressed/whiny band, but he is also secretly a cheesy poppy techno fan. So when I heard more than the single from Capital Cities’ album and heard they were great live, I shared them with Karl. And he ate it up, and so did I. Seriously, love the album just for, “Like Michael Jackson’s Thriller, like Farrah Fawcett hair, it’s good shit.”
  • Jake Bugg – Jake Bugg: He has been compared to Bob Dylan, but don’t think that makes him cliché or a copycat. Jake Bugg has his own modern sound, modern lyrics, and this album is awesome. We’re actually seeing him at the 9:30 Club in September, we like the album so much. In the words of Capital Cities, it’s good shit.
  • Rubblebucket – Omega La La: I downloaded this album since they were going to be at Forecastle. I liked it okay, Karl LOVED it. We missed their set but kept listening and liking more and more.
  • Katzenjammer – A Kiss Before You Go: A friend of a friend told us this band was, “A modern-day Norwegian ABBA.” How can one resist? It’s actually a crazy mishmosh of an album, some sounds as though it should be played at the Maryland Renaissance Festival, some sounds as though it was originally recorded by ABBA, and some is just wacky. But it’s fun, it has an interesting cover of Genesis’ Land of Confusion, and Emerson knows the lyrics to almost every song.
  • Savages – Silence Yourself: I absolutely positively love this album. I listen to it and am transported to the good part of high school when I am wearing Doc Martens and rocking out in my bedroom to Siouxsie and the Banshees. Karl doesn’t get this album, but then when I was wearing Docs he was wearing shelltoes. I am going to see them at 9:30 next month and I cannot wait.
  • Diiv – Oshin: I think we saw them perform on Palladia or Jools Holland or Jimmy Fallon. Not sure, but we liked that short set on TV enough to download the album. This is good music to listen to when cooking dinner or reading a book or driving home from work.  It’s not Farrah Fawcett’s hair, but it will grow on you.
  • Portugal. the Man – Evil Friends: I feel as though I am going to go to hell listening to this album, but it is SOOO GOOD! Seriously, the lyrics are downright evil, but the music is amazing. I’ve seen Portugal. The Man at Bonnaroo and was underwhelmed, I listened to a previous album and it wasn’t memorable. Danger Mouse produced Evil Friends and wow he brought it. This album is catchy and memorable and you don’t tire of it. And there’s such good catchy lyrics even though they’re really evil thoughts. I hate to love this album, but dammit I do.

Have you been listening to any great music lately?  Seen any awesome concerts?  Tell me about it in the comments, I learn so much from all of you and I’m always on the lookout for new tunes!

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Forecastle 2012 Recap

While I have attended Bonnaroo several times, I had yet to attend a city-based music festival like Forecastle. Unlike Bonnaroo where you camp on the same grounds as the music festival, you have to stay offsite with Forecastle. We chose to stay at The Galt House, which was less than a half mile from the grounds and also had a great price for festival attendees.

The Galt House was HUGE! Two giant towers, restaurants, spa, gym, shops, pool and more! We reserved a room with a king bed but it wasn’t ready at check-in time. They apologized, gave us a room with two queen beds and a river view and even comped our parking as an apology. Even better, our new room ended up right across the hall from my sister!

The room itself was lovely – pretty basic but a huge bay window overlooking the Ohio River.  We bought a bottle of bourbon (when in Louisville…) and had cocktails enjoying the view.  My husband said it was looking at a live train set with the bridges, barges and boats, trains and more.

The music started just after 5pm; we arrived around 5:30 to get a lay of the land. The festival site is predominately under a major highway which was actually pretty awesome because it shielded attendees from the sun and possible rain (it was set to rain all weekend). While the stages are far enough apart to prevent too much audio bleed, the grounds are small enough that you can easily dash from one stage to another to see every set you desire. The two biggest stages are right on the water, so through the stages you saw the Ohio, the bridges, and the most spectacular sunsets.

We bought a packet from the My Morning Jacket fan club which gave us access to the MMJ sound check, pit access for their performance, and access to the VIP entrance the whole festival. Friday when we went into the festival for the first time, we handed them our ticket and got a black bracelet. Then a woman saw our Roll Call cards and said we were missing a bracelet and gave each of us an orange VIP one. We were confused but soon realized that either they messed up or the package was far better than we expected because suddenly we had VIP access all weekend! We were able to get into VIP which had tons of seating, an air-conditioned lounge tent, air-conditioned bathroom trailers and their own beer and food vendors. I swear, this festival kept getting better and better!

We did a lot of bouncing around from stage to stage Friday night and caught a bit of Rebelution, The Head and the Heart, Atlas Sound, Atmosphere, Sleeper Agent, and Bassnectar. The only show I saw in its entirety was Sleigh Bells, and I got a great spot about a dozen people from the pit, a little right of center. I loved every artist I saw except Atlas Sound and Atmosphere. While both are extremely talented and put on a good show, Atlas Sound was bibbing about the “digital” coming from Atmosphere’s stage, and when we left and went to Atmosphere, we found that he was being a of a Gloomy Gus too, with negative snarky lyrics and conversation between songs. Such things wouldn’t usually bother me, but it just felt like a bad way to start the first night of a festival so I moved on.

After jumping up and down for a full hour at Sleigh Bells, I ended up catching most of Bassnectar from VIP – not a good view, but good sound and it was fun to watch the crowd (and also take advantage of VIP!).

I was already impressed with Forecastle by the end of Friday. Most of the grounds are gravel or concrete which means no mud and little dust. The views of the Ohio were amazing and we were treated to spectacular sunsets each evening. Enough water, more than enough porta-potties, plenty of food and trinket vendors. However the best part was the people – real music fans, few pretentious hipsters, no age-ists who looked down at us parents rocking out – a real mix of happy music lovers.

As previously mentioned we splurged on a special pass for members of the My Morning Jacket fan club to attend their sound check and get pit access for their actual show. The sound check was at 11am, before the festival grounds opened to other attendees. We got there… and it began to storm. They couldn’t let us out to the stage with lightening so they had us wait under the overpass until it blew through. Soon it was clear that the storm wasn’t going anywhere, but instead of cancelling and disappointing their biggest fans, My Morning Jacket gave us a special treat – they came to us! Jim James and team walked over to our group under the overpass and did an intimate acoustic set for us! It was amazing – they sounded phenomenal and did some of my favorite songs – they started with Tonight I Want to Celebrate With You (me and my husband’s song), even did Old September Blues, and everyone joined in to sing Wonderful (The Way I Feel) (do check out the links, they are YouTube videos of the actual sound check!).

After that amazing experience and being in blazing sun and then rain, we headed back to the hotel to rest up for the evening. And what an evening it was! We did a bit of wandering, catching a bit of Justin Townes Earle, The Ravenna Colt, Galactic, Dr. Dog, Andrew Bird, and Real Estate. However, we were all feeling a bit distracted thinking about later that evening. As previously mentioned, we had a package to go into the pit for My Morning Jacket – they had one side of the pit for those who waited in line, and one side for us. This made for a very comfortable pit – not too packed, and only holding those who truly love the band.

The show was epic. I have seen My Morning Jacket in concert four times prior, and each time the show is different. I think that since they did most of their lower-key songs for us in the morning they amped it up for the evening show. The craziest part of the set was their cover of George Michael’s “Careless Whisper” where they started changing the “nah-nah-nah-nah-nah” part to “Ba-na-na-na-na” and started throwing bananas at us!  Here’s a link to the entire performance.

While many of our friends went to see Preservation Hall Band and MMJ play on a paddle boat, we didn’t splurge on that and instead headed back to the hotel to rest up for the next day.

Like Saturday, the day started rainy, but cleared up in time for music. We had no major plans in the morning so we headed into town for brunch and ended up at Dish on Market. I had the most utterly sinful corned beef hash and one too many Bloody Marys; thank goodness the food was amazing because the place was understaffed and service was at a snail’s pace. Later, my husband and I went for a walk around Louisville and stopped at two different bars – one for a cocktail, and one for a lunch of oysters, tuna tartare, and another cocktail. Why? Because we COULD! Seriously, it feels so utterly decadent to be eating oysters one moment and rocking out in the pit of a festival the next.  As I said in my previous post, we really felt like we were festing like a boss!

We headed back to the festival in the afternoon, and again wandered around from stage to stage. Ones that stood out were Fruit Bats, Gramatik, Beats Antique, and Clutch. As a DC-native, I love me some Clutch. Since they were playing at the same time as Wilco, I was able to get right up in front in the pit, and have plenty of room to rock out. I often felt that Neil Fallon was singing right to me – at one point I jumped off the yellow jackets (the plastic things that cover wires and a great riser for short folks at concerts) to get out of the way of moshers, and Neil looked out into the crowd a bit confused. I jumped back on the yellow jacket and started cheering again and he went back to singing – I doubt he missed me but it was fun to think so!

After Clutch I watched Wilco from VIP. They sounded great – so great that this gal who is pretty “meh” about Wilco now wants to see them live again. However I was wiped from the weekend and my VIP futon was too comfortable to leave and venture into the crowd. Oh well, next time!

A big thanks to Cate, Allison, and Krista for connecting with me and offering suggestions on where to visit and eat while in Louisville. Much love to Hollie, Sarah, and the other Inforoosters I bumped into at sound check and didn’t get enough time to hang with while there – next festival for sure! And finally, a big thank you to Louisville, AC Entertainment, and My Morning Jacket for putting on a well-run, fun, and friendly festival. We had a blast and will be back!

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What I Wore: Cause for Celebration

myhabit silk maxi dress myhabit silk wrap maxi dress

Dress: Melissa Masse via MYHABIT (no longer available, more from the brand) | Shoes: SoftSpots (similar) | Bracelet: Had Forever (similar)

What do you wear to an outdoor wedding taking place during a public music festival when it’s hot as the dickens, so humid the air feels like pea soup, and there’s a strong chance for thunderstorms?  Oh let me add I am the wife of the photographer so while I am a guest and enjoying the event with Emerson at a moment’s notice I may be crawling under tables or running across the town square to assist Karl?

I chose this stretch silk maxi, a recent MYHABIT purchase.  With my referral credit (if you click on the links for MYHABIT in this post and sign up I get a $20 credit and then you can do the same with your friends) I was able to get this for around $40.  The dress has a built-in snap to keep the neckline modest, a self-belt, and pockets. With the heat and humidity, too much jewelry would be annoying so I stuck with my trusty sterling cuff.  Makeup was simple, relying on liquid liner, waterproof mascara, and Revlon’s Lacquer Balm in Vivacious for a pop of color to match the dress print.  Since I knew I’d get sweaty as soon as I walked out the front door of my house, as mentioned in my Friday Favorite post, I pinned back one side with a clip and sprayed with Oribe Dry Texturizing Spray and tried to not touch it.

The dress was perfect, it didn’t cling, it looked festive, didn’t show sweat stains, dried quickly, and the pockets made it so I could go without a purse (I totally was in Mom Mode though and safety pinned my pocket containing wallet-like things shut).  This was a total impulse purchase but I know it will get a ton of wear this summer!

IMG_1951 IMG_2053 11090960_10152892577423372_9199020732269765514_o

As for the wedding, it was magical.  The couple are talented musicians who host this music festival every spring.  Having their ceremony during it made so much sense, and it was awesome as a long-time resident of Greenbelt to see friends say I do in front of the historic Mother and Child statue. It was the first wedding in Roosevelt Center!  They sang during the ceremony and our friend Amethyst (featured in my True Fashionista series) was the officiant.  Their reception was in the New Deal Cafe, a restaurant and music venue in the town square, but they also had The New Deal cater a buffet meal for the entire community!  Tents were set up and neighbors brought baked goods and bands performed way into the evening as the entire town of Greenbelt celebrated their union.  Such a special day!

Plus Sized Work Attire Options

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Staples for Every Woman’s Wardrobe – Updated for the Next Decade

I originally wrote my staples for a woman’s wardrobe almost a decade ago, and finally put it on a blog almost five years ago. I have been a size 4 and a size 16 and no matter my job or lifestyle, these staples were always essentials in my wardrobe. Knowing many women over the years – be they clients of mine when I was a stylist, friends or family – these simple items worked on virtually all of them, regardless of their age, their figure or their lifestyle.

Fashion experts will toss around catchphrases like “wardrobe classic,” “fashion essential” or “investment piece” all the time, but it rarely holds true. A white shirt may seem classic, but if you are one of the lucky few women who looks good in white and a button-up, you will find that either the cut of the collar will look dated or the cotton will yellow before a decade is through. Pencil skirts have been in style for decades but the actual silhouette of the skirt does change from season to season.

It also is hard to find a garment that not only stays stylish from year to year, but also flatters your ever changing figure. Just as you need to be refit for bras every year because your bustline changes, as does the rest of your body. You may have remained a perfect Size 6 since your senior year of high school, but with age, life events and activity, different parts of you will spread, will sag or will become more firm.

We may feel that we purchase classics, but five years later these simple pieces just may not seem as useful or flattering as they once did. I always suggest that people reassess their wardrobe each season – replace that which has not held up, donate that which is no longer flattering and fill any “holes” in your closet (need another pair of black pants, want to get a cardigan to update a dress, etc.).

Well it is time to reassess my original list of wardrobe essentials. As we head towards a new decade, what is still relevant and what needs to be updated for the times?

Here’s a recap of the list from 2005:

  1. Black Tailored Pantsuit in Seasonless Fabric
  2. Black Seasonless Trousers
  3. Jeans
  4. Dressy Jeans
  5. Black Heeled Boots
  6. Black Leather Pumps
  7. Not so Little Black Dress
  8. Silver Hoop Earrings
  9. Black or Grey Merino V-neck Sweater
  10. Trendy Skirt
  11. Trendy Jacket/Blazer
  12. Slim V-neck Sweater in Signature Color
  13. Signature Accessory
  14. Sparkly Evening Shell or Top
  15. The Perfect Tee – or Two
  16. Well-fitting Wool Winter Coat
  17. Great Fitting Bras
  18. Panty Line-free Underwear
  19. Pashmina or Wrap
  20. Clutch Purse
  21. Daily Purse
  22. Sexy Shoes that Can Be Worn for at Least Five Hours
  23. Sunglasses

So, what is still a classic? What could be revamped for the new decade? What is totally passé?

1. Black Tailored Pantsuit in Seasonless Fabric. When I wrote this list, I found a black pantsuit essential, and had one in my closet at all times since my junior year of college. I may have worked retail, creative, corporate but always found a use for a black suit. I would pair it with a sparkly top for a cocktail party, was so relieved to know it was ready in my closet for an unexpected interview or client meeting. If I was visiting a house of worship or a daytime event, I knew the black suit would usually work with a silk blouse or fine knit shell. I would use the suit as separates.

I currently do not have a black suit in my wardrobe. I have been at my current job for two years and have only had ONE occasion where a suit could be useful, and I was able to wear a dress and closed-toed shoes and looked completely appropriate. When I speak to many women my age, they say that they do not own a suit. Many find suits to be stuffy, to be uncomfortable, to evoke images of lawyers and politicians.

The thing is… now that I do not own a suit, I find so many times when it would be useful and a perfect choice. That work situation – yes I looked appropriate in a black wrap dress and pumps, but a suit would have made me look more like a manager and less like a subordinate. The room was cold and it was a hot summer day – a suit would have been great – throw the suit over my arm as I walked to the conference, slip on the jacket when I feel the chill of the A/C. As for other situations, a black suit would have been great for my friends’ daytime wedding. They married outside in a garden and had the reception at an elegant restaurant. If I wore a sleeveless or short-sleeved blouse, I would have been comfortable at the outdoor portion, but nicely covered for the indoor reception. I had my daughter with me and placed her in a baby carrier. Wearing a baby with a dress isn’t the best look – the carrier hikes up the skirt, yanks open the neckline and armholes and a dress is never the best attire when crawling after an active baby. A suit would have given me just as much polish with more coverage and moveability. I will be speaking in front of an audience in November, and it’s not work related. I really could wear anything I desire, but a suit gives one the air of authority and competence and provides a bit of personal armor for a time when I will most likely be nervous. And the Le Smoking is not going out of fashion any time soon – a black suit with a silk camisole is always chic and always a great choice for that holiday gala, evening wedding or fancy date.

A black suit does not have to be dowdy, and I really discourage you from purchasing one that has too conservative, masculine or boxy of a shape. Single breasted, notch collar, a seasonless fabric with nice drape, a silhouette that skims your curves, a pant leg that can work with loafers or kitten heels. This will ensure such a suit can move from day to evening yet still look polished, classic, elegant.

2. Black Seasonless Trousers. I don’t think this needs to be explained. Many people are anti-black in a wardrobe and I respect that; however when you are new to building a wardrobe, black is a great neutral that can dress up, dress down, work with most any color, match shoes with ease and hide a multitude of sins (figure flaws or that dribble of salad dressing at lunch).

I must admit I haven’t shopped in an Express in years, but I do know such pants can be found in most every shop in your local mall. I recently acquired a great pair from New York and Company for a song, and have a pair I bought at Ann Taylor a few seasons ago that are still in heavy rotation in my wardrobe.

As for silhouette – no need to stick with bootcut, though this is still a cut that is flattering to those with curves and those who are petite. Straight cuts are also a great choice – you are looking for a flat front, a waistband that becomes invisible under knits, a leg opening that works with boots or with heels. The skinny trouser is currently all the rage and it is quite cute with the right top and figure, but it is not a wardrobe staple. You need a simple pair of black pants that will work for work, for play, for romance, for business and everything in between. A flat, straight or slightly bootcut trouser will be your best bet.

3 and 4. Jeans, Jeans, Jeans. When this was written, jeans were a top priority in any fashionable woman’s wardrobe and they would pay out the nose for them. No one blinked an eye when gossip rags would state that an It Girl paid upwards of $500 for a pair of dungarees. Brands like True Religion, Seven (now found at stores like Lane Bryant and Express), Paper Denim and Cloth and Hogan were brands as familiar as Marc Jacobs and Chloe. It was important to have a certain look to your jeans, no matter your budget.

Luckily the tides have changed and it is no longer expected to own jeans that cost as much as a month’s rent. Those It Girls are now often seen in classic Levi’s or distressed pairs from a vintage store. This doesn’t mean everyone should run out and purchase a pair of stovepipes or boyfriend jeans, but it means that there are more options out there than tacky, over-embellished knockoffs of chi chi brands.

The style is the same – keep them dark, keep them crisp, keep them free of adornment. The jeans-buying process can be more stressful and exhausting than the purchase of anything in your wardrobe. But if you keep at it and find denim nirvana, it is totally worth it. Great jeans can make you look taller, slimmer, firmer and more stylish.

5 and 6. Black Leather Shoes. Oh gosh, the emails I receive about shoes! How dare I encourage women to purchase heels, how dare I mention an animal-based product, why only black and why not brown?

First to all of you – I am not telling people how to dress. This site, and these posts are advice for those who desire it. I believe women should dress in a manner that makes them feel good and in clothes that garner them the respect and admiration that they deserve. If you feel that your current wardrobe achieves that, kudos to you. You may stop reading. For the rest…

Heels change a woman’s posture – it pulls back her shoulders, lifts her bottom, tightens her calves. It changes her walk and makes her look taller and leaner. Society sees heels as the female equivalent of a suit and tie – a wardrobe addition that may not necessarily be comfortable but adds a level of formality to attire. And a low heel is actually more comfortable and healthy for the foot than a flat.

Black is chosen because this wardrobe list is based off of black. Black can go from day to night and from season to season more easily than any other color of footwear. Black isn’t as hard to match with other blacks as say brown or tan. And leather is chosen because leather can be polished, repaired, dressed up or down. Leather lasts longer because it can breathe and can be maintained. If you are vegan or don’t believe in leather, there are great alternatives in faux leather and microfiber. However these alternatives are less likely to last in your wardrobe (they crack, stain, stretch out and stink) and they often aren’t as versatile.

The cut is the same – very classic, not overly pointy, tall, round, chunky, etc. Keep it simple and it will stay stylish for far longer.

7. The Black Dress. I have written about this piece many times. I believe it still holds true. I understand some religions frown on wearing black for weddings and other occasions – before you wear black to a religious event, do ask the host or someone familiar with the family’s culture what is appropriate. However many events (including most church weddings) will find a black dress to be completely appropriate and not at all somber. Tone is made with how you wear black, not the color itself.

8. Silver Hoop Earrings. Again, many criticize this choice, but it is a simple way for the accessories-shy person to branch out and jazz up an outfit. If you have feelings that another earring choice is more stylish/cool/flattering/appropriate, you probably don’t need this list.

9. Black or Gray Merino V-neck Sweater. Okay, it doesn’t HAVE to be a v-neck. There are some lovely round necks out there. The thing is, some round necks are too wide, too deep, too high. Square necks are not flattering on many figures, and crewnecks are not doing favors to any woman with a short neck, thick neck, large chest, broad shoulders or soft arms. V-necks are always available, v-necks don’t really go out of style, v-necks layer nicely with button-downs, shells or camisoles, and v-necks flatter the female figure.

10. Trendy Skirt
11. Trendy Jacket 
12. Sweater in Signature Color
13. Signature Accessory. Ah, another piece I no longer have in my wardrobe. Well, let me be truthful – there are about six lovely skirts in my closet but none of them fit my postpartum body. I have yet to purchase a new skirt because I can’t find a silhouette that will change with this ever-changing body, fit my personal sense of style and flatter. And yet, I have survived the past nine months of existence.

Same holds true for the trendy jacket. I am still nursing, and because of it I still have nursing-sized breasts. Jackets that fit my bust do not usually fit my waist and shoulders. I could tailor, but since my body is constantly changing that which fits like a glove one month will be utterly wrong the next. So I have held off.

Some suggestions I made aren’t necessarily stylish any more – I have since donated that denim blazer and even though you may love animal prints, a leopard-spotted pencil skirt may be downright tacky on some people.

So does that mean one does not NEED a trendy skirt or jacket? In this case, I say yes… but only under the condition that you have an alternative. Woman cannot live on wardrobe basics alone. If you swim in a sea of black pants and solid v-neck tops in neutral tones, you are losing your identity. Items like trendy skirts, statement necklaces and funky blazers bring YOU into your wardrobe. If you are using this list to build from scratch, then I say these items are a must-have. For help with finding your personal style check out these posts:

14. Evening Top. Those who say they don’t need a top like this are often those who are dressed inappropriately for an event. I see you women – you in the oxford and chinos at a wedding, in a cotton sundress at your company’s holiday party at the hotel ballroom, in a dowdy suit at your nephew’s Bar Mitzvah. You are the women who frantically run to the mall three hours before your blind date and grab the first printed sequin-embellished polyester knit top you find on the racks.

So, you may only wear this top once a year at most. You don’t date, you don’t go to nightclubs or bars with your girl friends, you don’t have a social calendar full of cocktail parties and gala events. That’s okay and totally normal. But occasionally… I bet this top would be a better choice than what you pull from your closet.

That dark red silk top I mention in the original post? Yep, I am still wearing it. Last May I was the officiant at a dear friend’s wedding. For the ceremony I wore my black pantsuit and under I wore this cranberry silk top. After the recessional, I removed the jacket and added some darker lipgloss and was ready to hit the dance floor with the other guests. Earlier that year, I was invited to the theater with a group of friends. I wasn’t sure how formal everyone else was going to dress – in DC people will wear full-length gowns or jeans to the theater. I decided to wear this red silk blouse with wide legged black drapey trousers, black jet bead necklace and some strappy silk heels. This outfit was perfect for dinner before, was comfortable when seated in the theater, and worked when we decided to grab some cocktails at a bar after the show. I have worn the top to holiday parties at hotels and studio apartments, on dates with my husband at chain restaurants and romantic little bistros. You will be surprised how many times a sparkly top can fit into your current life.

15. The Perfect Tee. I think this is a given for all women, regardless of lifestyle. Donate all those faded, stretched-out, oversized, undersized tees and grab a couple that really look good and make you feel good.

One thing that has changed a bit – styles have become more refined over the past couple of years. In 2005 a stylish woman could easily wear a fitted tee or tank with a summer skirt and sandals and look polished. These days, you need a bit more effort. These tees are not replacements for merino sweaters in that they are as professional or formal. They are still great wardrobe staples to wear on weekends, under jackets, with casual skirts and jeans and trousers, they just have taken a backseat to more refined fabrics in regard to current style.

16. Well-fitting Wool Winter Coat. So you live in Florida, or Thailand, or Guam. You really don’t need a wool coat. If so, please disregard. However if you live somewhere that requires a coat, it’s a wise choice to invest in a well-fitting wool one. Add Thinsulate lining, a pashmina at your throat, gloves and a hat and you can brave even the coldest climates when dashing from car to destination.

For those in the Northwest and colder parts of the globe – keep your puffers. I don’t want anyone to catch hypothermia. This coat is a coat for the days when a puffer isn’t required, and when you do need to look more polished (evening affair, job interview, etc.).

17. Great Fitting Bras and 18. Panty Line-free Underwear. I would think this is a given but as I walk the streets of this great country, I see that it is not. Please ladies, do yourself a favor and get a professional to fit you for bras, and check out your back view in a full-length mirror. Who care what you spend on the rest of your wardrobe if you ruin the line and look with your undergarments.

19. Pashmina. If you don’t have one, go get one. They always have them at a great price at discount marts like Filene’s Basement and TJ Maxx. You will find so many uses for it. Right now I have one at work for chilly days, and I wear my other ones all the time when there’s a slight breeze, in place of winter scarves and as a shawl with my dresses.

20. Clutch Purse. Your regular daily handbag is NOT appropriate with a cocktail dress, even if it is of black leather. Just as with the sparkly top, if you purchase quality and a classic style, you won’t need more than one and it will be okay if you only use it once a year.

Just this past weekend I went out for my friend’s bachelorette party. We went to dinner and then bar hopping. I wore a black top, black pants, black heels and then to add to the look, a printed clutch. The clutch transformed these wardrobe basics. I had worn this same ensemble to work and to a more casual group gathering. What brought this to Festive Evening status were the accessories, and the clutch was the cherry on top.

21. Daily Purse. Your purse and your hair are the two accessories you wear pretty much every day. Spend money wisely – keep these items well cared for, maintained, current and ensure they are flattering to you and your lifestyle. I know a purse is a given – it’s not so much having a purse but what purse you have.

22. Sexy Shoes. I don’t think this wardrobe staple has become passé or will any time soon.

And yes, I am still rocking those Pucci-printed heels I mentioned in the original post. In fact I loaned them to a friend and she also received tons of compliments on them.

23. Sunglasses. Also a classic. Trends come and go, so if you want to be the height of fashion with your sunglasses, I don’t recommend spending an arm and a leg. Classic styles like aviators and large black plastic frames can be found at any pricepoint.

As you see, this list hasn’t really dated all that much. The examples may look at bit 2005 come 2012, but the concepts will most likely hold true. Get your inspiration from catalogs and shop windows; subscribe to one fashion magazine so you are still hip to the current trends in accessories, colors and silhouettes. And always, be true to yourself. One who copies is never stylish. This list is a platform, a place to start on your journey to personal style. As you become more confident with yourself and your wardrobe choices, you may see that a few of these staples are pushed to the back of your closet. That’s okay, not every woman or her life is the same. But I hope this list can get you on track and help you gain confidence and along the way, you find your personal style.

How to Shop: Sticking to a Budget

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips to Stay on Budget:

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

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

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

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Closet Clean-out – The Woman Over 50

I may not yet be this age, but I am surrounded by coworkers, friends and family that are in this category. I have done many closet cleanouts and wardrobe consultations for women of this age and often times see the same themes in each of their closets, no matter their lifestyle, figure or age.

A woman over 50 has spent the greater part of her life taking care of everyone but herself. She may have worked up the career ladder to corporate success, raised several children, cared for home and spouse, was a leader in her community, and usually a combination of many or all of these things. To do all of this successfully, something often has to give and the first thing a woman is known to give up is herself – her time, her sleep, her budget for fashion and personal care.

This is nothing to criticize – we women are amazing creatures who have the ability to kick butt and take name in the corporate sector while nurturing a family at home and supporting causes close to our hearts. We can multi-task like nobody’s business and work beautifully with what life has given us.

The thing is, we often say it to our friends – we are no good to another if we are not first good to ourselves. Taking care of our exterior does a world of good in feeling good about ourselves and being understood and respected in the world. We can often feel taken advantage of by coworkers, children, significant others and peers; when you are over 50 it is time to reclaim yourself and show the world that you are still a successful and compassionate person, but you are no one’s doormat, you aren’t to be retired to a shelf, you are a phenomenal woman.

The quickest way to do this is by honestly analyzing your closet. Here’s a few things that every woman should toss from her collection:

Short-sleeved Camp Shirts. This seems to be the staple of many women’s wardrobe. In a poly blend, silky challis, actual silk or a cotton blend, these shirts have a boxy shape, a notched collar and are often worn untucked with trousers or tucked into skirts. They usually come in a floral or abstract print though they also do come in solids. They are wonderful because they are breezy on hot days, easy to wash and dry, resistant to wrinkles and seem to dress up a simple pair of shorts or pants.

Ladies, these are the equivalent of a man’s Hawaiian shirt. They are cheap looking, dated and a bit corny. They don’t flatter your figure, and they don’t honestly state to the world your personality and sense of style.

The Poly-blend Elastic Waist PermaPress Trouser. Again, these are popular because they are so easy – comfortable, easy to care for, work almost every season of the year. Black can look dressy in a snap, colors add pizzazz to outfits (usually with the camp shirts that are mentioned above).

I understand comfort and convenience, and I understand that it isn’t easy to shop for a figure that may not look or feel the same as it did 25 years ago. However that does not mean you need to succumb to what my dear friend calls Nursing Home Couture. You are not having someone else dress and bathe you, you have the ability to pull and zip up your own trousers, so you should invest in a few pairs that are easy to care for but look elegant and flattering.

Unlined trousers of cotton blends and synthetics usually can take a run on the gentle cycle of the washing machine with a gentle liquid detergent; drying synthetics is an overnight process from a hanger on your shower curtain rail. A tab-waist trouser will not dig into your midsection and lay smooth over your curves. A straight trouser or one that slightly gets wider as it goes down the leg is the most flattering to the majority of silhouettes. Black is great for dressing up; white is amazing with brights or pastels in the summer (look for lined or a heavier fabric with these to prevent VPL), and you will get more wear and look far more polished in neutrals for trousers – tan, camel, ivory, gray, brown will get you far more miles than baby blue or mauve.

The Man-sized Polo Shirt. They’re on sale at L.L. Bean and never shrink or fade. It was given to you at your company retreat. It’s comfortable/easy to care for/your favorite color/hides all the lumps and bumps/is simple come summer with a pair of shorts.

You are not a man, and you should never dress like a man. The oversized style went out a decade ago and we should be grateful. Oversized shirts actually make us look more lumpy and bumpy, and hide any curves we wish to showcase. A polo collar is not flattering to most, and those blousy-then-banded sleeves make everyone’s arms look like ham hocks.

I could suggest a feminine cut of polo shirt, but I find these styles of tops are not flattering on most women. If you are busty, curvy, or have a very athletic frame these tops usually accentuate the negative and hide the positive. If you have a slight figure with a few feminine curves and like the preppy style, go ahead and purchase some that are nipped in at the waist and cut to flatter your bustline. Stick with solids in cheery colors as that they look more expensive and elegant than stripes and prints. As for the rest of us women, a great replacement is a refined tee. Same great color choices, made of a silky yet sturdy jersey knit, with a flattering neckline and well-fitting sleeves it is just as easy to care for and far more flattering to one’s face and figure. No matter your size, look for one that glides over curves – no more oversized shirts!

Suntan-colored Pantyhose. Let’s add white, taupe, navy and ivory to this list. Not, I am not going to tell you to get rid of all your hose, but to be more particular with what quality and color your purchase.

Skin-colored hose can cover up a multitude of leg issues, offer some tummy control, help skirts glide better and make an outfit look more polished. However a leg that is obviously a different color from the rest of your body doesn’t look polished, it looks cheap. White hose should be left to nurses, and colored hose should be tossed or left to True Fashionistas.

Good hose will not be found at the drugstore – it’s best to head to your local department store where you can test out the colors against your skin, see the denier and feel the quality. You want sheer hose that do not have a lot of shine – are just a hair darker than your legs (should be the color of your face), and seem durable. Black hose are still acceptable for formal and conservative events if paired with black shoes – these should also be of good quality, sheer and not with a lot of shine.

There really isn’t need for any other color of hose – keep your selection minimal and then you can afford the higher-end brands. Care for them by gently washing and storing them and they should survive many wears.

As for knee-highs… they only work with trousers. There shouldn’t be a single skirt in your wardrobe that can handle knee-highs as well as walking and crossing of legs without the band showing. All hose should be above the knee or left to wear with pants.

Overly Matchy Matchy Anything. It’s nice to have your belt match your shoes, or even occasionally have your lipstick match the print in your blouse. What I am speaking of is the overly-matched set. The lime green shirt jacket and matching fabric capris with the same lime green printed tank, same lime green sandals, a headband of the same print as the top, and a lime green bangle to match your lime green hoops. I often see this with animal prints, unusual colors (lime, yellow, orange), and with novelty fabrics (corduroy trousers, jacket, purse and shoes).

Shopping channels and mail-order catalogs will often encourage this matchy-matchy obsession, telling their audience that it makes one look more polished, coordinated, festive. It doesn’t; it looks gaudy and cheap and tacky.

I remember a client showing up in her favorite outfit – a denim dress with leopard print trim, leopard print belt, leopard print pumps, a leopard print clutch with denim trim, and a denim and leopard printed fabric hair scrunchie. She even admitted when she wore this outfit, she donned her favorite leopard print bra and panties set. She said the coordination made her feel as though she was well dressed, strong, organized and powerful. She said she often got many compliments on the ensemble. When I asked her what type of compliments, she thought back and realized they were not about how she looked, but how coordinated and unusual the outfit itself was.

Over-coordination does not make you look better; you are the backdrop and this ensemble ends up taking center stage. One does not see your sparkling eyes, your engaging smile, but instead they are overwhelmed in a wash of candy pink or purple paisley. A matchy-matchy outfit is not an outfit, but a costume. A woman of style uses clothing to accentuate herself, never to hide herself.

You can usually keep most of these items, but pair them with different pieces. My client’s leopard shoes became a staple in her wardrobe and were paired with black, red, brown and rust colored garments. The dress was still worn with a black belt and heels. She did end up getting rid of the scrunchie and clutch because they were purchased more for the coordination factor, not because they were attractive or made of quality.

Toss the scrunchies, the headbands, the sun visors, the socks, the clutches and fabric belts that were not purchased out of use, but because they perfectly matched another part of your wardrobe (and do yourself a favor and do not purchase another scrunchie or fabric visor or headband again – these do not accentuate your sense of style). From now on, accessories purchased should be able to work with at least three ensembles from your current closet (this includes shoes). This may not be seen as “fun,” but fun can be found in quality versatile pieces as well. Animal print and red shoes are surprisingly neutral and versatile, an ornately beaded clutch in many colors will work with almost every cocktail dress in your collection, a colorful hand-painted wooden bangle will brighten up basics in your closet and become a conversation piece, not a costume.

The Silkscreened Tees. Yes, you may be the world’s greatest grandmother, #1 scout leader, a patriot, and you may have gone to Florida, the Bahamas, New York and Mexico this past year. This does not mean you need to exclaim this on your bosom. Many times these are gifts from others and I understand that. However that means you are the type that seems wanting of a silkscreened memento. My mother is over 50, one of my best friends, a world traveler, a ton of fun, and I would never purchase her a silkscreened shirt as a gift. That doesn’t mean I don’t buy her trinkets from trips and gifts for special occasions, it’s just that I know she is the type to far more appreciate a framed photograph, a dish towel (she collects them), a small bottle of her beloved Chanel No. 5. Does this mean she doesn’t own silkscreened tees? No, she has ones from her alma mater, various programs she has been a part of, one advertising the yoga studio she attends… but these are worn for yoga class, when gardening, and they are always in pristine condition.

See above regarding alternatives to the man’s sized polo for what can replace the silkscreened tee from your daily wardrobe. Pare down your collection, keep the ones in best condition and that hold the most meaning to you and donate the rest. A woman only needs a handful of these for times when she doesn’t want to get her higher-end knits soiled or sweaty.

The Buxton Purse. I don’t like to call out name brands, but felt this one gave the best description. Have you seen the advertisement on television that advertises this leather purse from Buxton? It is made to hold everything including the kitchen sink in various little compartments and has an adjustable strap so you can wear it across your body.

Buxton is a brand that has been around for years and makes good quality items. I have no doubt that this is a well-crafted handbag. However, these purses… these mobile command centers are not as useful as one thinks, and not very stylish.

The larger your purse is, the more you will stuff into it. The more compartments you have, usually the more you lose things, not the more organized you will be. Carrying a purse across your person is not the most flattering look (usually causes you to walk lopsided and cuts right between your breasts) and should be only used when sightseeing and being on vacation.

Anyway, back to the bag. Many women carry a mobile command unit – a bag with a cell phone, calculator, notepad, wallet for money, wallet for credit cards, change purse, checkbook, cosmetic bag with a full day’s look, panty liners, safety pins, a full sewing kit, tissues, snacks, receipts, eight pens, two pencils, a highlighter, a Sharpie, a hairbrush, pain reliever, stain remover, extra pair of glasses, two pairs of sunglasses, hand cream, a bottle of water, a book, a cardigan sweater, mace, three sets of keys and a separate key ring just for savings cards at grocery and specialty stores. Some of you are a Godsend to us, being able to quickly fish out just what a stranger or friend needs at that instant. More women I meet end up spending several minutes fishing through wadded up tissues and sticky cough drops just to find a pen or a ringing cell phone.

A handbag is a worthy investment. One of high quality, durable fabrication and classic style will offer you years and years of use. One that has handles that are comfortable for you (are you a hand-holder, an elbow-crooker or a shoulder-slinger?), a way to quickly retrieve that which is most important (designated spot for keys, cell phone, subway farecard/token) and offers structure so that not everything sinks to the bottom center. Buy a bag that is big enough to hold what you honestly need on a daily basis, but not so big that you can slowly add more to the collection. More than four pockets usually means for women a good two minutes more to have to search for something. This doesn’t mean we are disorganized, it’s just that we have too much stuff and too many options.

I have written before about a purse survival kit, I recommend reviewing it when replacing or reorganizing your purse. Once you have your current purse pared down or in possession of a new bag that fits your needs and your sense of style… take care of it. Don’t sit it on the floor of the public bathroom, use retractable pens so they don’t ink up the interior (or exterior), if it’s light in color be sure to not seat newspapers or rub denim against it, take it to a cobbler to have it repaired as soon as there is a tear or issue so it doesn’t worsen, and clean it out monthly.

Embellishment Overload. This goes hand-in-hand with the overly matchy-matchy ensembles. Tee shirts covered in appliqué and Bedazzlement, jackets with fringe and patches, holiday-themed sweaters, velvet and sparkle for daytime… these are not the garments of polished or stylish women of any age.

Keep the embellishment for scrapbook pages, the Christmas tree, even attire for your precious pooch. Removing the bling will actually make your clothing look more expensive, chic, and will stay stylish far more seasons. Find luxury in purchasing less but higher quality garments – cashmere sweaters, silk blouses, a handful of thin silver bangle bracelets, dangly earrings with a cocktail dress… these can provide as much shine and texture but in a more elegant manner.

Must Haves for Your Closet:
The LBD. Yes, every woman of every age needs a little black dress. Granted, your dress may not be as little as your daughter’s, but it still should be simple, hitting around the knee (just above to just below), could be sleeveless, have cap sleeves or ¾ sleeves – whatever you feel most comfortable in. Neckline can vary again with what is flattering and comfortable for you. Fabric would be crepe, silk, or some sort of blend that gives a very subtle shine, is free of texture (damask), embellishment (beading, chiffon sleeves, velvet or satin trim, etc.) and can be comfortable almost every season of the year. If black is too harsh with your coloring, a very very dark indigo, eggplant, gray or espresso can replace it; however this dress should be simple enough that you can wear it to every event in a year and no one would realize it is the same dress. This dress can work for day or for evening if purchased correctly: with leather pumps or silk heels, with a silk shawl or a wool coat. You’ll find that this dress seems too severe or too dressy for your lifestyle, but you’ll end up wearing it to holiday functions, evening weddings, religious events, and nights out on the town. If it’s well made and well fitting, it doesn’t matter if you wear the dress 20 times a year – style is in the garment, not the amount of garments.

A Proper Bra. I say this in every post – get yourself fitted, and get yourself fitted again every year from now on. The size bra you wore 20, or even five years ago very well may not be the size you wear now. We lose weight, we gain weight, we exercise, we change jobs, and we all experience gravity. Bras that lift and separate and shape take more years off you than the best facial in town, and they also often end or reduce back pain.

Non-VPL Underwear. Comfortable, breathable, yet invisible under pants? It is possible to have all three in a pair of underwear. Take your time, and venture out of the Big Box or Department store to find a pair. Many brands now advertise styles that are supposed to eliminate Visible Panty Lines (VPL); buy one pair and try them on (or wear your thinnest trousers shopping and try these on over your own panties and under said trousers). If they don’t work, don’t give up. And if you have found a company that does offer these sorts of undergarments, please mention them in the comments so fellow women can benefit from your find!

Proper Outerwear. One thing I love about my job is that I now use public transportation and see all sorts of people in all walks of life heading to work or out on errands. One thing I often see are women of a certain age who do not have proper outerwear. When it rains, they are wearing a yellow poncho or getting soaked under an umbrella. Come winter, they are wearing what looks to be their husband’s barn coat, or a puffy full-length parka that looks as though it has seen better days.

A wool coat that comes anywhere between mid-thigh and mid-calf will work with skirts as well as trousers for winter months. If you live in an especially cold climate, invest in a wool coat that has a Thinsulate or other extra lining. For rain and cool fall and spring days, a classic trench or Mac will work (a detachable lining may be a plus if you live in an especially cold climate). Both coats should be simple in style, free of adornments, buttons the same color as the coat, no chest pockets, and preferably no self belt (belts are only flattering on slimmer figures – tying a belt behind you usually is uncomfortable when sitting and can be a pain. If you don’t look good with a nipped/belted waist in a dress, pass on it for a coat). Depending on your personal sense of style, you can go with a classic black, brown or taupe… or switch it up with a Robin’s Egg blue, fire engine red, Kelly green or another color that makes cold and dreary days a bit more cheery. These two styles of coats rarely go out of fashion and can provide you years of wear.

The City Boot. The city boot is a short boot that hits just above your ankle bone. It usually sips up, but occasionally has an elastic gusset so it can be slipped on and off. The city boot is sleek, elegant, classic, and comfortable to, ahem… boot. It works with trousers and jeans from September to May, and can usually replace a third of the shoes you already have in your closet.

Invest in a boot from a company known for comfort and support, and this will be a great travel shoe too. Consider additional insoles for added support and cushioning, and keep them regularly polished. A low heel, a slightly squared toebox and no embellishments (fancy stitching, variety of fabrics, etc.) will make these boots a staple in your wardrobe for years to come.

Flattering Glasses. Do you wear glasses? When is the last time you purchased a new pair? If it has been over five years, get thee to a glasses shop pronto! These days, most insurance companies cover a portion of glasses – if not, there are so many styles out there at reasonable prices.

Other than hair (see below), the other accessory that can age and even disfigure a woman’s face quick are unflattering glasses. With the wrong glasses you can look older, heavier, have larger bags under your eyes, broader of a nose, wider of a face. Very small metal-rimmed glasses were quite the look several years ago but have gone by the wayside for people have realized they only looked flattering on the glasses models – the rest of us put them on and looked like Ben Franklin. Large plastic frames are best kept to hipsters and ‘80s-themed parties.

That being said, there are so many styles and materials for glasses these days, you are sure to find a pair that fits your budget, your face, and your personality. Take a friend or family member with you who has taste you respect. If you also own contacts, it’s a good idea to wear them on this visit so you can properly see your reflection and how you look in the sample glasses. Don’t be afraid to ask the salesperson if they can order a different size or color of frame, or if they have additional similar styles in back or elsewhere in the store. Most glasses boutiques are overwhelming – employees know the store far better and can search around for styles that you may have missed. Also don’t stick to just the women’s section – my most recent pair of glasses are actually men’s but they look far better on my face than any style I could find in the women’s category!

A Hair Plan. Have you been dying but now want to go to gray? Is your hair starting to go salt and pepper? Do you want it to continue, or do you want a way to gently hide it? This is not an at-home project. As hair goes gray, the texture changes. You may find your brown hair is straight, while the gray hairs are curly; blonde hair is fine while the white hairs are coarse. This greatly affects how haircolor, styling products and even haircuts work on you.

If you don’t have a stylist you trust, this is a good time to audition one. Remember – you are the one holding the purse strings. Ask around your community – women who have hair you admire, ask them for the name of their stylist. Read reviews in neighborhood magazines and papers – they often give annual awards to salons and other personal care businesses. Call them up and tell them your mane desires and ask them if you could have a consultation with a stylist best suited for the job. These consultations should be free. Come in wearing your favorite outfit, and style your hair as usual. Be honest with your desires – do you want a wash and wear look? Let the stylist know so you don’t get stuck straightening and moussing for 45 minutes every morning. Tell the stylist your regular beauty routine, your lifestyle, and your goals for your look. Your hair is the accessory you wear every single day – it should be given the utmost care and attention, and a great stylist will respect your desires and offer great suggestions to achieve them.

Please note that all photographs are taken from current online boutique or department store collections; do not think that just because they are selling it in stores right now that the style is current or stylish. Many companies sell that which will make money, not that which follows the trends. Read magazines (Bazaar and InStyle offer current trends changed to flatter a woman over 50, magazines like O and More regularly show models who are over 50, and “real life” looks can be seen far better in a parenting or lifestyle magazine than through a subscription to Vogue), watch television (sitcoms are a great place to see comfortable and easy-care fashion on women), and observe the women around you. If you see a woman with a similar figure in a garment you love, tell her and ask her where she purchased it.

You may also wish to visit:
Age is But a Number
The Staples For Every Woman’s Wardrobe
How Does One Get the Polished Look?
Crimes of Fashion
Dress Your Age, Not Your Shoe Size

The Staples For Every Woman’s Wardrobe

I made this list a few years ago, and this list still applies to today’s trends. If you buy the correct pieces, you will have to purchase fewer pieces and you will have more options each morning as you decide what to wear. A rule to a wardrobe – QUALITY NOT QUANTITY!!! Repeat this mantra as you ponder over buying those pink pleather pants or that faux fur handbag. Will you like in in two months, let alone two years? Does it go with anything else in your wardrobe? Is it flattering? Comfortable? Versatile? Well made?

1. Black Tailored Pantsuit in Seasonless Fabric
Boy I use the term “seasonless fabric” a lot. This is triacetate, gabardine, crepe, something with a bit of polyester in it. Note that I wrote a BIT. This shouldn’t look like scuba wear, a bathing suit or a rain jacket. No more than 5% stretch. Look at the fabric of men’s suits. It’s a fabric that is smooth, doesn’t wrinkle easily, looks good in winter and in summer. You want an equivalent.

This is a suit that is right for work, or even for a cocktail party. I am a huge fan of the Triacetate line from Ann Taylor. It’s seasonless, classic, travels easily, and due to being synthetic, is slightly stain resistant. J. Crew has a few great lines of suits as well – it’s a good idea to buy from a reputable brand that is known for suiting so you can replace or add to this suit over the seasons. My Triacetate suit from Ann Taylor is now a skirt, two different cuts of trousers and two different cuts of jackets – all found on sale, different seasons but all the same color and fabric.

2. Black Seasonless Trousers
See above for the type of fabric. These really should be a separate pair from your suit because they will get more wear. These are pants for work, for dinner, for nights out.

Express carries a Microfiber pant called the Editor Pant. It is a stretchy crepe-textured fabric that wears well. Stretchy but not shiny, can dress up or down. They often sell coordinating suit jackets. These are a great choice for women up to size 10 or 12, as that they come in lengths and you can wash them in Woolite and hang them to dry.

You are looking for a pant with a slightly lowered rise, a straight to slight bootcut leg that is not too tight in the thigh. A classic fit. These are trousers that go with a fun top for a night out, with a twinset for work, with a cute jacket and tank for dinner, with a sweater for a jaunt to the mall. Sometimes it’s nice to give the jeans a vacation and dress up a smidge. You’ll find that the right black trousers will be more comfortable and as easy care as your favorite denim.

3. Jeans and I Don’t Mean ANY Sort of Jeans
I mean a pair of FLATTERING jeans. Jeans can be stylish, comfortable and flattering. It may take several attempts, but when you find the right jeans, both you and your butt will know. A lower rise is more flattering to the belly. Having the waistband start just below the belly button will flatten the tummy and lengthen the torso. This will also make the jeans bind less when you sit. The leg should be slim, but not tight. A slight bootcut leg opening is the most universally flattering. It lengthens the leg, looks great with sneakers or boots or heeled sandals, and it’s look won’t be going out of style for several years. The color should be a bit darker than stonewashed. Having the fading on the thighs often makes the leg look slimmer. A slightly vintage look is always flattering, and will be less likely to show wear as you wash and wear these jeans month after month. Darker means slimmer, and more stylish. Toss your faded jeans, your high waisted jeans, your tapered jeans.

Great and flattering jeans can be found anywhere from high-end denim boutiques to your local Old Navy. When you go to try on, plan to spend a good hour or so in the fitting room. Befriend a salesperson – I know they often can be annoying but they usually know their product. Tell them, “I am a size 8, but sometimes buy a 10 for my hips. I hate my hips, I usually buy a regular length, but sometimes they’re short on me…” and things like that. The more information, the better. Stores really push denim at Back to School time. They often have the biggest supply, largest selection, and most knowledgeable employees. I know stores like Express and Levi’s have “Denim Experts” who they hire at Back to School time to spew out denim information and find the right fit for everyone. I have had a lot of luck with Gap with having a good variety and tags to explain which jeans work for which figures. Same with Nordstrom and Old Navy.

4. Jeans Again – But These Have a Totally Different Purpose.
These are dressy jeans. Jeans are not just for everyday, jeans have become haute couture. Not all of us can afford a pair of $250 denim, but we can acquire a pair that is a bit more refined, a bit nicer, reserved for special occasions.

These jeans can have a similar cut to the above mentioned jeans, but you want to be more specific with the type and color of denim. Again, you want them darker than stonewashed. You want them to look a bit more… crisp. The hem not so frayed. Maybe even with a crease in the front. Many like jeans with appliqué and sequins on them, but I find those to be too trendy – they won’t be wearable in two years. A lot of denim is called “premium denim,” “ringspun denim” or “Japanese denim.” These mean a higher quality denim resulting in a more refined look. These are jeans that you baby. You wash inside out and dry inside out. Some don’t even dry, they let hang dry and then iron. Consider them dress pants. These jeans are for nicer nights out, going out with friends to a club, when you want to look a bit more dressy or sassy.

Another option is denim trousers. These are very popular now, and can be found in many stores. They are usually lighter in weight, sometimes have a cuff and/or a front crease. These are nice enough for business casual, yet look very sassy with a silk camisole to a club. If you go this route, do not get patch or flap pockets on the rear – this draws negative attention to that area and look dated. Slash front pockets are usually a poor choice for anyone with hips or a tummy. Look for coin pockets or go pocketless and reduce the bulk.

These jeans may seem silly, but trust me – once they are in your wardrobe you will find uses for them. I convinced my 60+ year-old mother to buy a pair, she wore them to a concert, to a church dinner and on a first date with a guy she met online. She even wears them to the mall when she wants to look sassy.

5. Black Heeled Boots
These can be knee high or ankle height. The point is to find a well-constructed, well-fashioned pair that look great with jeans, with trousers, for work or for play. Knee high is a great option because they can be hidden under pant legs, worn over jeans for an equestrian look, or paired with skirts or dresses. For those who do not find knee high boots comfortable, an ankle height is perfectly fine. You want a pair that covers your ankle when you cross your legs.

Heel should be at least an inch and a half tall. If you find heels uncomfortable, look for a heel of rubber, and look for a thicker heel. Heels may be hard to get used to at first, but they make you walk straighter, they make your clothes hang better, your butt looks better, your calves more toned.

The heel should be black as well. Many boots have the heel covered with leather, but this is prone to being scuffed and torn. If you can find black rubber or black stained wood, all the better. Otherwise, take your boots to a cobbler at the beginning of each season to have the heels cleaned up. The toe should not be overly round or pointy. You want a shoe that is comfortable, but stylish. A more squared toe or almond toe has been stylish for years, and there is plenty of room for all your tootsies. Steer clear of platforms – they occasionally have their day in the sun, but normal leather or synthetic soles persevere. Stay away from adornments. The more decoration, the more likely the boots will seem dated next fall. I have a pair of black boots I got from Nine West in 1999. They are 3 inch heels (I like ’em high), classic toe, ankle height with elastic gussets on the inner side of the boot. Each year I have them re-heeled and resoled. Each year I receive compliments on these years-old boots I got on clearance for $35.99. What a bargain! These boots have been worn to bars, parties, work, interviews, the mall, the grocery store, the zoo. They slide on easily, sit right at the front door in case I need to jet out at any time.

Why not brown? “Fashionable” browns change from year to year. One year it’s distressed, next year it’s glazed. It’s a reddish brown, then a chocolate, then more of a tan. It clashes with the belt, the purse, the coat. I realized recently that I own own one pair of brown shoes, and they are alligator pumps. I have not owned a pair of brown boots since college, and I am no worse off from it. You will see that black leather is more readily accessible, easier to match, blends with more of your wardrobe and is less likely to show age.  You can read more about my opinions of black and brown in this post.

6. Black Leather Pumps
These shoes should be able to take you from the boardroom to the ballroom. Leather, basic soft leather is the most versatile, and the easiest to maintain season to season. A simple pump with an almond to pointy toebox and at least an inch and a half of heel will be stylish for years to come. Like the boots, forgo adornments; they only age a shoe, and make it more memorable and less versatile.

It’s okay to go with comfort over trends with these pumps. Just don’t forgo heel height. Think feminine, think classic. Think “What Would Jackie Wear?” Jackie Onassis wouldn’t wear 4″ stilettos in patent leather, but she wouldn’t wear dowdy black microfiber elastic shoes with a clunky heel.

I take my black leather pumps to a cobbler every year to reheel and resole if needed. Every couple of months I sit down with all my black shoes and give them a shine with polish and a brush – just like my dad used to. When these pumps are not worn, I stuff newspaper in them and put them in a box in my closet to maintain them. These pumps have been worn to every job interview, every night at the theater, every funeral, client proposal presentation, Christening, or Bat Mitzvah.

7. Not So Little Black Dress
This is not a “hot date” dress, a “sexy siren” dress, yet not an “old fuddy duddy” dress. This is a classic, simple cut that would be appropriate for any season, in an easy-care, versatile fabric. One would look for a dress in crepe, silk, triacetate, matte jersey, gabardine or something similar in weight.

This dress is your “in a pinch” dress. With pearls you are ready for a day wedding. With a cardigan, it’s perfect for a christening or funeral. Add jet beads and dangly earrings and you are dressed for your company holiday party. A white oxford underneath some styles, and the dress becomes a sassy jumper appropriate for the workplace.

The dress should not be tight, but skim your curves. The most flattering length (and most versatile) is either right above the knee or right below it. A kick pleat in the back adds panache and the ability to walk effortlessly. If the dress is lined, it will be less likely to bunch, crease, or cling.

The neckline should be classic, yet flattering. A conservative v-neck or scoop, a slightly draped neckline, jewel neck or boat neck are all winners. The armholes should fit well that they don’t cut into the skin, yet do not show your bra even when boogieing on the dance floor. Sleeveless styles are the most versatile for day to night and winter to summer, but three-quarter sleeves are a good second choice if you are uncomfortable with your arms (or desire more coverage). I however do believe that fabric over arms adds girth and you notice the flesh more than others. Sleeveless is often more slimming than sleeves, and sleeveless is more flattering to larger arms than cap sleeves.

The best dress is one with little adornment. Your pizazz comes from the accessories. This is a dress that fits well, but is so basic you can wear it to event after event without people noticing. Simple, flattering cut, seasonless fabric, conservative yet not school marm-like hemline. This dress will last you for years and years of special occasions.

8. Silver Hoop Earrings
Gold is lovely and colors can be a lot of fun, but silver is a budget-friendly bit of flash for your wardrobe. Sterling silver can be found at the mall kiosk, your favorite boutique or the department store at a very reasonable price. With a bit of rubbing with a polishing cloth, these can look gorgeous for years. You may love gold, but most women cannot afford larger real gold hoops, and goldtone soon becomes green, copper or brown with wear and tear. These staples are about longevity and quality.

These hoops should be larger than a quarter, and if you ears can handle it, larger than a silver dollar. This may be a change from your norm, but these are not necessarily earrings to wear every day. Nothing jazzes up a simple outfit better than a visible pair of hoops. They add shine and sparkle, make a simple top and pants into a “look,” and dress up everything in your wardrobe. Wear with your simple black dress for your company’s holiday party, your merino v-neck and skirt for a date, with a simple tank and jeans for a night out with the girls.

These hoops should be slim, well constructed with a clasp that will hold tight through dancing and a whole evening out. If they are slim, they won’t be as weighty and be more wearable for long periods of time. Once you have these in your wardrobe, you will see how often you will end up wearing them to add flash to all your basics in your closet.

9. Black or Gray Merino V-neck Sweater
Merino wool is amazing – it’s lightweight enough to wear the majority of the year, it can be washed on the gentle cycle of the machine and hung dry without needing to reshape, it has a refined finish that is dressier than many other knits, it doesn’t pill or fade easily and it looks expensive even after multiple washings. What’s nice about this fabric is that it has give and it glides over curves without clinging or adding bulk.

This is a basic go-to sweater. Pair with jeans and boots for most any casual affair, with your seasonless pants for work or dinner, with a skirt, even with capris and cropped trousers in the spring and fall months. Having a basic like black or gray is a must – this is a color that will not go out of style. I have a merino v-neck in charcoal from J. Crew that I purchased in college and still wear a decade later. The merino v-neck will replace your sweatshirts, faded knit pullovers and bulky cotton sweaters; it is just as comfortable but far more refined.

A v-neck elongates the neck, makes one look slimmer, adds interest without being too trendy or flashy. The v-neck should be elegant – low enough to elongate the neck, but not so low that you are showing major cleavage. It should be wearable at work without raising eyebrows. As for fit, it should be a feminine cut without being too tight, and the length should end around mid-hip so you do not show off your tummy when raising your arm, but do not overwhelm your figure in a tunic of fabric.

Why not cashmere? Cashmere is an elegant choice, but cashmere requires more maintenance to launder and is often outside the pricepoint for many individuals.  Cashmere blends are known to pill and lose their shape over time; merino is known to keep its color and shape after years of wear and washing.

10. Trendy Skirt
This list is mainly of basics that one can wear from year to year. This description may seem as though it does not fit. On the contrary, it is possible to have a trendy skirt that spans the time of style.

Have a hankering for animal prints? Consider a leopard-print pencil skirt. Are you a crafty lady? Consider a twill a-line style with crewel work or felt embellishments and embroidery. Bit of a rocker? How about a dark denim slim skirt with stretch that comes to the knees. Love the classics? Consider your traditional straight skirt in one of your favorite colors or an unexpected textured fabric.

This skirt will jazz up your simple merino v-neck or tee shirt, it will add pizazz to your simple button-downs, sweaters and jackets. A fun skirt can add necessary humor, personality and even formality to a very basic wardrobe. Consider fabrics that have some give (about 5% Lycra), so they don’t wrinkle throughout the day, move with you and don’t get baggy with wear. A heavier fabric will hide the lumps and bumps and work better from season to season. If the fabric is more delicate, it should have a lining to keep the shape. Your lifestyle will determine what fabric is best. If you work in a conservative office environment, a straight skirt in a seasonless fabric would be a good choice. If you have a more casual lifestyle, a twill or denim may be a great choice.

A warning about twills, cottons and denims – they can easily look bummy or casual. This is a refined skirt that can dress up or down. A twill should have a slight sheen to its finish and have clean lines (no cargo pockets, drawstrings or flap pockets). Denim can be dressy if it has Lycra, a dark finish and fray-free edges. Cotton can easily wrinkle – consider an a-line or fuller style if you love this fabric and again stay away from adornments that make an item seem less like a skirt and more like active wear or fatigues.

11. Trendy Jacket/Blazer
Nothing pulls basics together and makes an outfit better than a jacket. A simple ribbed tank and jeans is appropriate for lunch with friends when topped with a blazer. Your basic black pants and a simple tee is work-appropriate when matched with a jacket. When it’s fun, funky, and “trendy,” it takes basics to the next level and adds your personality to your wardrobe.

I had a denim blazer that I wore to death. I wore it out on the town with a black cami and pants, a gold necklace and heels. I then wore it on Monday to work with a silk shell and suiting trousers. For a bridal shower, it was worn with white twill pants and a light aqua ribbed tank. In winter it was worn with a corduroy skirt and tights, in summer it was paired with white jeans and a lightweight shell.

For you it may be a stretch twill military-inspired jacket in your favorite shade of red, a washed velvet blazer in an unusual pumpkin hue, a collarless zip-up jacket in crackled black leather, a belted safari jacket in olive green cotton sateen. The point is that it can be appropriate for work or for play, it complements the majority of items in your wardrobe, and is a color and style that makes you happy. Sometimes the oddities in your closet get more wear than the simple pieces – this is a wardrobe piece where it’s okay to go outside the box and show a little flair. For a jacket to be versatile, it actually needs to be out of the ordinary.

Make sure this jacket fits well – even if you are tall if you have a short waist you may want to look at petites. Consider a tailor for a true custom fit. Unlined jackets are more forgiving to curvy shapes, adding less bulk and adding a bit of give. The jacket should button or zip comfortably across your body and not bind in any place. When you go to try it on, try it with a shell the weight you plan on wearing with it in the future.

12. Slim V-neck Sweater in a Signature Color
Don’t think you have a signature color? Look around you. What color is the wallpaper on your computer and phone? when you order Post-it notes, what color do you choose? What color are the towels in your bathroom, the undies you are wearing, your puppy’s collar, your beach towel? You’ll see that you are drawn to a certain color or range of colors. For me it is shades of bright pink and orange. My mom is always drawn to bright cobalt blue, and my good friend always seems to buy thinks in a pale shade of lemon yellow. this is the time to buy something that makes you smile every time you take it out of the closet or your dresser drawer. Don’t worry about what colors are en vogue, worry about what is right for you.

Since colors do go in and out of style, consider stores you normally don’t shop at for options. This is a simple garment (should follow the same rules as the merino v-neck in regard to fit), so you may have luck at the unexpected store or online boutique.

As for fabric, merino is always a great choice, but other fabrics can also work. A silk blend is nice for work and pairs well with skirts. A lighter weight cotton sweater, if treated well, can be a great choice. If your budget can handle it, consider cashmere for a long-term wardrobe investment. As with everything else on this list, look for quality – well made, well constructed, color-fast. This sweater will brighten the most gloomy days if you chose the right color. It can be worn with skirts, jeans, work pants, capris. With the right accessories it can work for a luncheon, work, the mall, the weekend, a cookout and even a cocktail party. Since it’s your signature color, you probably won’t ever tire of the color, making it a wardrobe mainstay.

13. Signature Accessory
Like the sweater, this is an item that makes you smile just looking at it. When others see it on you, they get a peek into your life and of your personality. For me, it is a wide silver cuff bracelet that I have worn almost daily for the past decade. I bought it after a job interview in a field that I always wanted to delve into. I bought this bracelet as a congratulations present to myself for having the guts to go out on a limb. I ended up getting that job, and consider this cuff to be a bit of a good luck charm for me. The bracelet fits my style – it’s bold, clean lines, modern with a hint of flash.

For you it may be a strand of pearls you inherited from your grandmother, a necklace of colorful clay beads you bought on a trip to Mexico, an amber ring that was given to you by your first boyfriend, a charm bracelet holding coins from all the countries you have visited. Maybe it’s a necklace you found in a local boutique and fell in love with because of the use of metal and glass or an Hermes scarf you bought with your first bonus check. Whatever it is, it should go with a good 70% of your wardrobe. On the days you feel a bit uninspired, putting that accessory on makes you fell more alive, more polished and more yourself. It should work with any other accessories you wear on a regular basis (wedding set, watch, earrings) without competing against it.

A signature piece has some heft to it – it is noticed by others and helps define your personal style. This is not a delicate gold chain with a small heart, it’s not the Tiffany bracelet that every other woman in America owns, and it is not your wedding set. This is something that you add to the picture, something that takes your staples and makes them a wardrobe.

14. A Sparkly/Evening Shell or Top
A night out on the town, a cocktail party, a company event, a date with your significant other… often these things come up unexpected and you scan through your knits and wovens trying to find the right thing to wear without any luck. Often you dash to the mall last minute and buy a dress you’ll never wear again or a cheap polyester top that “will do” for the event.

A great evening top will get miles and years of wear. Under your basic black suit, you are ready for a company event or cocktail party. With a simple black or ivory skirt, you’re dressed for a wedding. Pair it with black pants or dark jeans, you have a great outfit for a night of dancing.

I bought a top from Nordstrom a couple of years ago – it is blush-colored chiffon with flutter sleeves, a graceful v-neck and is covered in blush-colored sequins and tiny beads. The color is subtle, but the embellishment gives it pizazz. I have worn it to countless occasions with ivory trousers and pearls, with my black suit, with jeans and strappy heels. It’s not tight, so it works even when I am not feeling svelte.

Currently I have a dark red silk top – it is sleeveless, v-neck and an empire waist accentuated by a band decorated with a rosette in the same fabric. I have worn it with black pants, a black suit, with ivory pants, a black skirt and even jeans with great success. the silk captures the light and look formal, the color is flattering and looks festive, the rosette gives it interest.

Unlike your signature color, this should be a color that you like, but is versatile. Gray/silver, soft gold, blush, ivory, dark red, teal, bronze are all good choices because they are not exclusive to a time of year, they work well with a variety of neutral colors, and they are attractive without being so memorable that they cannot be worn again. If you choose to go with a lighter basic such as gray, ivory, blush or taupe, ensure it has beading or embellishments to make it look dressy and elegant. Brighter and darker colors can get away with being just of a more formal fabric.

You may not like your arms, but sleeveless is far more formal than sleeves (and far more classic). Often having sleeves accentuates the size of our arms, bare skin often recedes. If you do feel the need for sleeves for modesty or personal preference, consider flutter sleeves (loose short sleeves with a slit through them so they flutter from the shoulder), cap sleeves, or a more loose style (kimono or bat-wing). having the drape of fabric adds to the elegance, femininity and formality of the garment. On the other side of the coin, baring too much is never elegant and restricts the amount of places a top like this can be worn. Bustiers, tight tops, and low-cut tanks may be fun for a night out, but do not have their place at many other events. Tanks and camisoles are fine, as long as you can still wear foundation garments without them being seen, and you wouldn’t be embarrassed to see your in-laws, your minister or your boss in such a getup.

15. The Perfect Tee – or Two
This tee is not from Fruit of the Loom, it is not unisex, and it is most likely not 100% cotton. These are tees that are refined, feminine and flattering.

These shirts should hit mid-hip and like the sweaters previously mentioned, skim over your curves. It should not cling, it should not be see-through and it should be comfortable when you raise your arms, sit, and move around. As for a neckline, it depends on your personal preference, but do know that a standard crew-neck is not flattering on most people. A scoop or v-neck will elongate the neck and give a more feminine and flattering look.

If you can only get one, I suggest your signature color. I don’t recommend white because it isn’t a flattering color on most complexions, it gets stained easily, and can look old quickly. Same with black – nothing is worse than a faded black tee. However, if you do plan on buying a few, I recommend one white, one black, and two in happy colors, making sure to baby the heck out of them.

No pockets, no contrast stitching, no stripes or patterns or logos on these shirts. You are looking for true, clear saturated color free of adornments. Any detail, even that of a popular brand’s logo, will make the shirt less versatile, and eventually out of style. If you look at True Fashionistas, they are never wearing obvious logos or patterns. Clean, simple lines and solid colors are the foundation of a stylish and classic wardrobe.

When shirts have Lycra in them (and these should to ensure a good fit and a nice finish), they shouldn’t be thrown in the dryer. Heat destroys Lycra and your shirt will soon end up faded, misshapen, and thin. Treat them as you would your merino v-necks and you will have to replace them less often.

These shirts are your summer version of the merino and signature v-neck sweaters. They pair with most anything, and with an accessory prove to be a nice comfortable outfit. If they are of high quality, they can be work-appropriate under a jacket or cardigan.

16. Well-fitting Wool Winter Coat
Keep your parka for your ski trips and snowball fights in your backyard. You need a coat that will work for every other occasion in your life. We don’t all have the money or the room to house a closet-full of coats, so it’s best to invest in one coat that will work for every occasion that takes place in the colder months.

If you buy a single breasted lined coat that hits mid-thigh to just below the knee, you will be set. This length will work with skirt, jeans and trousers. the longer length is more elegant (and warmer!). A single breasted style is classic and far more flattering on curvy and petite figures. Look for simple styles – no epaulets, embellishments, decorative pockets. There should never be pockets at the chest (makes the style more casual and is not flattering to curvy shapes), the buttons should be the same color as the coat. the collar should be very simple – traditional or shawl style, also free of adornments.

As for color, you have options. Black is always a wise choice as that it can dress up or down, doesn’t show dirt, and is timeless. Ivory is a beautiful option – it also dresses up and down, is a fresh change from all the black in the winter, and can look quite elegant. Other colors can work depending on your sense of style – my personal preferences are camel, a very dark brown (works with black), dark red, robin’s egg blue, teal, and dark berry. these colors can be a great alternative, but if not of good quality can easily look cheap and dated.

To add a bit of personality to this basic, use accessories. I wear a bright turquoise pashmina looped as a scarf with my basic black wool coat. My best friend has a tangerine cashmere scarf and hat that she wears with her chocolate brown coat. Camel can look great with an unexpected bright like candy pink or apple green.

This is a worthy investment – a great wool coat can last you for decades, so take your time in choosing your piece. Look at discount places like TJ Maxx and Marshall’s – I found my Calvin Klein wool knee-length coat there for less than $60 in the mid-1990’s and it still looks stylish today.

17. Great Fitting Bras
There are bras for romantic evenings, bras that have pretty straps to wear with tanks. Bras that match your panties, bras to wear to the gym. This bra is not any of those. This is a bra that makes your bustline look fantastic. It may not be the sexiest bra, but when worn under a slim sweater, it makes you look taller, younger and slimmer.

No matter your size, underwire gives you the best all over support and shape. Straps should not be overly stretchy, or they will wear out and start to have your breasts sag. The bra should fit best when secured on the middle set of hooks. The cup should cover your breast entirely and not allow “quad-boob.” If you haven’t been fitted for a bra before, or ever you should run, not walk to your closest lingerie boutique or high-end department store. These places are usually better than Victoria’s Secret or the frantic messy lower end department store lingerie department – the employees are better trained and know not just how the measure, but what styles would fit your figure best.

If you can afford only one of these bras, get one as close to your skin tone as possible. The bra then can be worn under white, light colors, and even black without show-through. If you wish to pick up a second, I recommend black for dark colored tops (in case of showing at armholes or with flash photography).  Be sure to get fitted each year – your bust will change with age, weight gain and loss, and pregnancy.

18. Panty Line-free Underwear
Nothing ruins an outfit more than the wrong foundation. You now have the right bras, you also need the right underwear. Baggy, wrinkled or binding underwear DOES show, even through jeans, and can ruin your figure as well as your outfit.

Thongs are not the only style of underwear that provides a smooth line. Microfiber fabrics have seamless edges that are virtually invisible under even the thinnest dresses. Boyshorts are a comfortable style that has the hems below the bum, removing the chance of seams cutting into your back view.

As with bras, you may be wearing the wrong size of underwear. We gain and lose weight over the years and our shape changes drastically with exercise, children, and life changes. Consider trying on underwear before you purchase, either trying on over your thinnest undies you own or using one of the disposable panties that are found in most lingerie and swimwear stores. Underwear should not bind or dig into the skin. It should not give you the quad look to your bum. It also should not bag, and should be cut so that it will never show over the waistband of your pants.

A few facts to consider with underwear:

  • White is not invisible under white pants. In fact, it is often more obvious than a color. If you are wearing white pants or a skirt, invest in underwear that is as close to your skin tone as possible. Only this will provide a clean look.
  • If it is fraying, is stretched out or losing its elasticity, it has no place in your wardrobe. I may sound like your mother, but think about how much time and money you have invested in your wardrobe to end up at a hospital in your ragged and stained underwear. You deserve to look and feel great from head to toe; even if they are the cheap three-pack at Target, you need new underwear.
  • If you are wearing a dress, wear appropriate underwear. Us curvy women often do best with a boyshort or brief under a dress so that fabric doesn’t get caught in our rear curves. A high rise will make sure the tummy is not cut in half, and always consider that a draft could make you like Marilyn Monroe for a moment, so think before you dress.

19. A Pashmina or Wrap
Think this doesn’t fit your lifestyle or personality? Think again. In the right color and weight, this item may get more wear than your favorite pair of jeans. With sundresses to ward off an evening breeze, with cocktail dresses year-round it’s a great coverup. I usually use my pashmina as a scarf with my coat in winter, then have it to drape over my shoulders if it gets chilly inside. A pashmina around the neck adds intrigue to a simple sweater and jeans set and can be looped or knotted in a multitude of ways. When on a plane, I always take my pashmina – it’s small enough to toss in my carry-on bag, wards off chill and is far more cozy than the standard-issue airplane blankets. Once at my destination, it works for nights out, cold conference rooms, a light coverup when sightseeing and adds warmth and coziness when in your hotel bed. Make sure the fabric feels good against your skin, is lightweight enough to loop around your neck, and is in a color that you love (you’ll find a color is more versatile than basic white or ivory).

20. Clutch Purse
A clutch purse will add instant chic and formality to your outfit. Switch your day purse for one of these, and your suit is now cocktail-party worthy. Your simple black sheath is fine for day, but with a clutch it is evening attire. Black is a safe bet for a clutch, but this is a great chance to show your personality. A beautiful printed silk, a quirky beaded design, sequined Pucci-inspired pattern, vintage brocade… you’ll find an interesting fabric or print will get more mileage and be more versatile than a basic piece, and doesn’t then have to coordinate with your shoes.

Make sure the bag is big enough to hold your essentials – for some this is only your phone, your ID and a lipstick. For others, it may be reading glasses, a notepad, tissues, medication. Remember for a social affair, essentials are all you need – get a bag to fit your entire wallet, cosmetics bag and day planner and you are no longer able to be a social butterfly. Ensure the bag closes with everything in it without looking as though it strains at the seams. Treat it well, store it properly and you will have this bag for years to come.

21. Daily Purse
Most of women have a purse we carry every day, but how often do we really think about it? Your daily purse gets more exposure than anything else in your wardrobe and it’s often the least cared-for item. It gets the most wear, the most time, works harder than anything else you wear, so it should be purchased with care, maintained and replaced when past its prime.

I find that leather bags seems to wear better over time, but there are some great microfiber fabrics out there that are sturdy and easy to clean. If you are not one to change your bag with the seasons, go for a seasonless fabric like leather or microfiber. Black or brown is a safe bet, but like your winter coat sometimes a color can be a more versatile choice. Red, camel, purple, green are all great colors that will go with your gray suit as well as your favorite Levi’s.

Your bag should never be more than 70% full – more so and you will ruin the line and condition of the bag. Once a week or so, you should go through you bag and remove all the superfluous things that get caught in there – ATM receipts, gum wrappers, the 20 pens and 15 lip glosses that collect through a week, lint-covered tissues… you get the idea. Your daily bag should have what you need on a daily basis and no more. It’s great to have a purse survival kit, but you don’t need to keep all the contents of your kitchen’s junk drawer.

22. Sexy Shoes That Can be Worn for at Least Five Hours
I promise you, they really do exist! These shoes are sassier than your traditional leather pumps. Maybe a strappy heel in a matte gold, possibly a peeptoe heel in black satin. These shoes will take your basic black dress from day to evening, make your work suit suddenly cocktail party-appropriate, and even jazz up jeans and a sparkly top for a night out on the town.

Don’t get too creative with this selection – you want them to work from season to season. I have a pair of strappy heels that are in a Pucci-inspired pattern. The straps are very slim, the heel is slim and about 2″. The shoe is free of rhinestones, fancy bows or baubles and have gotten compliments every time I have worn them over the past five years.

Be careful with ankle straps – they often make your leg look shorter and thicker. A peep-toe or slingback style adds drama and formality to a usually conservative style. yet maintains support through the evening.

Unlike the other shoes, these shoes may be more versatile if not in traditional black. For strappy heels, a matte metallic can be quite beautiful with a multitude of colors. A contrast color like purple, red, or teal or even an animal print can often complement more pieces in your closet than a neutral.

23. Sunglasses
Every woman needs at least one pair of great sunglasses, and great sunglasses does not equal expensive sunglasses. I have some great metal aviators that are classic and chic that were found for less then $10 at a mall kiosk, and some Jackie O-inspired black plastic frames for a song from my local Target.

Sunglasses protect your eyes from glare and from sun damage. A large pair is good because they will also protect the skin around your eyes from the elements. Sunglasses are far more chic than squinting, and they pull an outfit together. Somehow that bit of mystery does really add to one’s appeal! I have written more about finding flattering sunglasses here.

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