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Contest: Tolani Scarf from

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get to know
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Good luck!

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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Seasonless Black Trousers

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

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

Examples of good trousers:

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

Here is a great example from Lane Bryant:

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

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

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

Age is But a Number

Age is but a number.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Shop for Clothing and Define Your Personal Style

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

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

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

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

Know Yourself

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

Consider your Current Wardrobe

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

Make a List and Check it Twice

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

Be Prepared

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

Stop Pinning and Pining for Pretty Closets

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

Narrow Your Search

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

Keep your Closet Clean

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

Don’t look for Happiness on a Hanger

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

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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How to be a Stylish Woman in her Thirties

Years ago I wrote a piece on the Closet Cleanout for women over 30, and then an update on that post. Many complained that it was too extreme, dated, ridiculous, judgmental, whatever. Since writing that piece, style has changed a lot. To make this more timeless, I decided to focus less on the specifics and more on my eternal beliefs for being a stylish woman over 30:

1. Pack Away the Crazy Statement Necklaces. I know they’re fun, they’re cheap, they’re an easy way to add a pop of color to a simple knit. Thing is, they’re over, dunzo, passé and by wearing them you sacrifice your style.

The great thing with accessories, is that you can jump on a new trend bandwagon without breaking the bank. However, if you decide to go down the trendy accessory highway, you need to know when to get off. Pearls never go out of style, you can wear diamond (or CZ) studs every day of the year, but a lot of larger flashier pieces of jewelry go with the trends. If a Dannijo or J. Crew piece is being recreated in Claire’s or Charlotte Russe it’s time to let the trend go.  If you love big, flashy, and bold jewelry I can relate – shop craft festivals, Etsy, and shop on your travels to acquire a collection that is as unique as you and far more timeless.

2. Better No Boots than Cheap Boots. Seriously ladies, I know boots are expensive and I know how hard it is to find a pair when you have wide calves or narrow calves or wide feet or need orthotics or are very petite or very tall. I get it. And I get when you have that feeling of euphoria when a pair actually fits everywhere, you want to strut up and down the street and style every piece of clothing in your wardrobe around them.

The thing is, when the boots are cheap pleather or trying desperately to look like a designer version or is trying to distract the eye from shoddy construction with a pound of buckles and baubles… it doesn’t matter how well they fit. They look cheap and tacky, and they will ruin your style.

I have hard to fit legs, I understand the issues and the desire to have boots.  But if you can’t afford quality and style and fit in one pair… it’s better to go without any pairs. Save your money, you don’t need a closet of boots if you can find one pair that does it all.

3. Find a Tailor. You’re not an undergrad anymore, and it is not acceptable to have your blazer sleeves swallow your hands or have your trousers drag in puddles. For simple alterations like a pant hem, your nearby dry cleaner can usually do the job quite nicely and for a nice price. However, when it comes to tailoring suiting, preventing waist gap on trousers, or nipping in a dress I strongly suggest you visit Yelp or a nearby suiting or bridal boutique and get advice on a local reputable tailor or seamstress.

4. Invest in Your Edges. When you’re 30, you can still carry off a top from Forever 21, a pair of cheap jeans, a wacky thrift-store score. However, you are no longer a teenager or poor college student, and you need to take care of the edge details: hair, hands, bag, shoes.

When I was in college, I could go a year without a haircut. I’d often trim off split ends with a pair of cuticle scissors and had been known to sport a crazy cut or new color that I did in my bathroom at 3am. I could carry off crooked bangs or a botched dye job with some fun makeup, a couple barrettes, and confidence. The thing is, when you’re over 30, such things don’t look edgy, they look sloppy.

Take care of your hair; this doesn’t mean you need a $200+ salon visit every month, but get a proper cut, quality color (if applicable), and keep it maintained. If you keep slicking back your hair into a bun or ponytail it may be life telling you it’s time to hack it off and choose a lower-maintenance style. You can still be edgy and wacky and different, but do it with a bit of polish and more care.

5. Take care of your Hands. This is something I put off until the end of my 30s and I wish I hadn’t. If you’re a nail and cuticle biter like me, consider regular manicures, taking NAC (with your doctor’s approval), or even hypnosis to break the habit. If you work a lot with your hands, keep your nails short and your polish long-wearing or else naturally colored or buffed so chips aren’t as much of a factor. Moisturize regularly; hands show age and weather-related stress faster than any part of the body.

6. Purchase a Quality Bag. In my 20s I had a different purse for every day of the month. I’d buy one to go with a certain dress or pair of shoes, caring more about the fun than quality. The older you are, the cheaper that cheap bag will look. I don’t expect you to buy a Birkin, or even a bag with a designer name, but look for quality over trendiness or color.

Faux leather looks the fakest when on a bag; with all the stitching and angles the material catches the light and has more chance for stretching and tearing. If you don’t wish to carry a leather bag, consider a bag of a higher quality fabric or a durable material like microfiber. Avoid wacky glazes and finishes, too much bling, or obvious logos; even if you can afford the real deal logos always cheapen a look and they look dated far faster than plainer styles.

Once you have your bag, care for it. Use cuticle scissors to trim fraying straps, invest in a leather conditioner, stuff with paper and store in an old pillowcase when not in use, don’t overstuff it and when you get home, don’t hang it full from its straps (weakens the straps and alters the shape of the bag). Cobblers can perform repairs on handbags and even replace handles, zippers and re-dye exteriors.

7. Care for your Shoes. Be they from Prada or Payless, care for your shoes. Let a day go between wearings so they can air out and retain their shape. Get them reheeled and resoled when necessary. Polish to keep a nice shine. Consider commuter shoes to keep your best footwear protected from city streets. Don’t shop for trends but your actual lifestyle and needs, purchasing the best quality your wallet can justify. It’s better to have one great pair of well-maintained black pumps than a rainbow’s worth of heels.

8. Find a Cobbler. Speaking of shoes, a cobbler can be your best friend, right after your tailor. A cobbler can stretch too-tight shoes, add an elastic gusset in tall boots, reheel and resole years-old shoes to make them look brand new, and much much more. You’re old enough to start buying quality, and that means having a team who can protect your investment. it’s far easier to stomach a high price for a pair of boots when you know that for about $25 each fall you can have them looking brand new and prepared for the weather.

You’re old enough to care for your shoes, and you should. Unless you can afford to toss your footwear after each season (and if you can why the heck are you reading my blog?), it’s worth your time and money to baby them a bit. Let a professional help you extend the life and style of your footwear.

9. Get Professionally Fitted for a Bra. A professional bra fitting doesn’t mean the teenager working at Victoria’s Secret. Go to a higher-end department store’s lingerie department or a bra boutique and get sized. Invest in bras that better the bust you have; no matter your size a proper bra can enlarge, reduce, lift, separate, and make all your clothes fit better. Get measured once a year; your body changes with age, exercise, weight, and life experiences.

While we’re discussing bras, care for them properly. If you must machine wash them, do it on the gentle cycle in a lingerie bag. Always line dry, bras should never go in the dryer. Replace when they get stretched out, and be sure to own more than one so you can let them rest between wears (extends the life of the bras).

10. Wash your Face. Wash your face every evening. Seriously, it’s worth it. If you’re too tired or drunk or whatever to accomplish this, put a packet of facial cleansing cloths on your nightstand so you can swipe with your eyes already closed. You’re at the age where things like clean and moisturized skin now can drastically affect how your face looks in a decade. Along with this…

11. Moisturize. Moisturize your face. Moisturize your body. Apply hand cream on a regular basis. Use conditioner. Baby your body; as I mentioned above you’re at the age where what you do now may not seem important but it will affect how you look in ten years. Your 40-something self will thank you.

12. Wear Sunscreen. I spent my college years in a tanning bed, and my post-college summers baking on the shores of Dewey Beach. I was tan and felt I looked healthy and hot with a glow to my skin. And then at 29 I acquired my first age spot. A decade later, I have wrinkles and stretch marks in unfortunate locations and dark spots on my face, chest, and legs. I feel extremely lucky that I haven’t gotten melanoma from my bad habits.

It doesn’t matter your skin color, your ethnicity, or if it’s cloudy… wear sunscreen. Not only will it help prevent skin cancer, it will keep your skin looking younger, softer, and healthier far far longer. Learn from my mistakes.

Do you have any advice for women who have reached their Thirties?

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Ask Allie: Career Wear on a Budget

I am a young professional without a “mentor” or any experience in the professional world other than the two years at my current job. I am getting a new boss in January and she is beautiful, powerful, and extremely sharp. I am the girl with the hot pink iPhone case, the ubiquitous plastic venti coffee cup, wearing Teva sandals with my work outfits, trying to pass black jeans as “dress pants,” and still wearing the same bangle bracelets that I had in high school. I desperately need an upgrade in… everything… but I’m broke.

Are there any suggestions that you can make about taking my college student wardrobe and upping my game while still being able to feed my family?

You are not alone. It’s hard to be new and rise the corporate ladder without going into debt. You come into the workforce already with student loans and then have to shell out a lot just to look as though you want the job you fought hard to get. Jobs are hard to get, so you want to show that you care and have the drive but you don’t have the money to build a professional wardrobe from scratch. A few tips:

Thrift It. I know from your email that you’re already hitting Goodwill, but it can be frustrating to weed though racks and racks of faded knit tees in hopes of finding one decent pencil skirt or blazer. Make it a weekly date – find out when they stock the floors and visit that day. Befriend the folks working there – it may just get you a new friend, or it may get you friends who will see pieces and hold them for you or give you a heads up when they are stocking the floor.

While there, consider going up a size or two. A thrifted pair of pants can easily be altered by the nearby dry cleaner, and the price for both is still going to be cheaper than a new pair of pants on the sale rack.

Join Freecycle. My local Freecycle often has people giving away large bags of clothing in a certain size. People who have lost or gained weight, passed away, retired. While a good portion of the bag’s contents may be wrong for you, you could end up with a real gem in the process. And that which doesn’t work, re-Freecycle or donate. Once you have established yourself on your local Freecycle as a person who gives as well as takes (great way to clean out the house of old toys, knick knacks, and that dusty treadmill in your basement), you can request certain things. I did this once and was amazed with the generous people who replied with items or suggestions on how to get what I needed for less or free.

Find Local Swaps and Consignments. Twice a year, my community has a swap where people bring old baby clothing and equipment and trade for that which they need. It has grown to where this swap often has adult clothing. Local fashion blogging communities will often host or know of swaps where for a small price or a bag of clothes to donate, you can attend and pick up some amazing scores. Consignment sales are another place to find thrift-store priced clothing but a more carefully curated collection. At such events, you can also network with other frugal shoppers.

Nothing in your community? Set one up! It can be anything from a happy hour at your home with a few friends and neighbors, or you can set something up at a local community center.

A sample capsule wardrobe of simple pieces: how you can create over 20 different business casual outfits from just eight pieces of clothing.  Every outfit works with black pumps or flats.

Buy Simple. Simple blue oxford, gray pencil skirt, black blazer, plum cardigan, black pants… pieces like these can be mixed and matched a hundred ways to create completely different ensembles. Don’t buy difficult silhouettes that only go with one piece – create a bit of a uniform with few silhouettes so they are more versatile and less memorable.

Prints and bold colors are memorable; stick to neutrals and soft hues until you can afford a larger wardrobe.

Make a Priority List. What holes are in your wardrobe? Focus on those first. Don’t worry that this season is about oxblood or that a pair of leopard shoes would update your look. Get those basics you need to not be naked or in inappropriate fashion at the office. While I usually encourage buying accessories to switch up basics, at this point I’d say save your money. It’s better to go without any accessories at all than to try to make do with cheap pieces or spend your budget on a bracelet.

Unless you find one for an incredible price and it’s gorgeous, focus more on separates than dresses. Separates can mix and match for more outfits, and can better be tailored to fit (or made to look tailored with belts, Stitch Witchery, and strategically placed safety pins).

When you buy, stop and think what in your wardrobe can it work with. If you can’t imagine three outfits, don’t buy it. Even if it’s only $3 or only $5, that’s $3 or $5 you could save for the right wardrobe addition.

Know No One is Keeping Track. It’s okay to wear the same black pants two or three times in a week as long as they are clean. It’s okay to wear the same shoes every day until you can afford more. You can even carry off the same shirt multiple times in one week – one day on its own tucked in to a skirt, another day untucked under a sweater with pants. As long as the pieces are clean, in good condition, and properly pressed no one is going to care. The effect is far more important than the individual pieces.

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No Apologies

I am writing to let you know after three years I am unsubscribing from your blog. My friend recommended it as a fashion resource for women over 40 and while I have gained some benefit from your capsule wardrobes, I can no longer support a site that will sell out to the highest bidder. In just the past month you have sold articles to promote cookies, men’s watches, a dress from a retailer I have never seen you before promote, and now underwear to prevent as you put it, chub rub. Obviously you care more about the almighty dollar than your self-respect or the approval of your followers. Good luck to you, you will need it with the direction you are going.

And good luck to you, for you too will need it if you feel that your fellow women shouldn’t be compensated for their work and instead should worry about gaining approval from others.

In the past month (May 10 – June 10) I have published 22 posts on Wardrobe Oxygen. Five are outfit posts; while these posts may feature some gifted merchandise I chose to feature it because I like it and wore the merchandise in real life. Four are straight-up fashion advice posts, two are reviews of clothing or beauty products I purchased with my own money, three were by my monthly columnists, four were on non-fashion or outfit content (about blogging, retail, my arm surgery and one about weight), and four were sponsored content. Less than 20% of my content is sponsored.

Cookies? When I accepted the sponsorship, I was told the piece would be about self-care and “me time,” which I felt was completely relevant to the blog (I had recently written about coloring, written before about self care).  And while the final contract requirements expected photos and specific wording about said cookies, I didn’t feel the final post was in poor taste because I legitimately love those cookies. In fact, I had two Tuesday night with a glass of wine while finishing my newsletter.

Men’s watches? I may not write regularly about men’s fashion, but I do on occasion. I have also provided gift guides in the past and I truly believe a watch to be a great gift. And to be honest, the pay was really good for that one and I really like partnering with Nordstrom because while I am given guidelines (write about men’s watches, write about flats for summer, etc.), I am allowed to write whatever I want in whatever format feels authentic. I shop at Nordstrom, I love Nordstrom’s customer service and selection, I featured Nordstrom a TON before I ever was offered a sponsored post from them and I work hard to provide quality content, advice, and details in every Nordstrom-sponsored post I write.

Christopher & Banks? I think it was a smart partnership. When they approached me I was thrilled. The pricepoint for their collection is good, and many of you have complained in the past that I feature brands that are too expensive for your budget. The brand offers a broad range of sizes, which is refreshing to see. And honestly, that dress is amazing. I’ve worn it a half dozen times, thrown in in the washer and dryer and it still looks great. Many of you let me know you ordered the dress after my post and also adore it. I wouldn’t have known about Christopher & Banks if they hadn’t reached out to me; many of my favorite brands are ones I learned about thanks to this blog.

As for the Jockey Skimmies I will not apologize for getting paid to promote an that I love. Come on, I wrote a completely unpaid review last year and raved, why should I say no to being paid and given another pair? I legitimately wore them to that wedding and they legitimately saved my skin during the event. And while you may not approve of me discussing chub rub, I’m not ashamed to admit I experience it and I’m thrilled to offer a reasonably-priced product that battles an issue many many women deal with.

Writing this blog takes time. Time I could be spending with my family, hitting the gym, working my way up the career ladder, gardening, writing the next great American novel, sewing the dropped hem in Emerson’s favorite skirt (I really need to get around to that…). Being compensated justifies the time I spend (and enjoy) on Wardrobe Oxygen. If I were a professional wardrobe consultant I’d be paid by the hour. If I were a book author people would purchase my book. If I were a teacher I’d be paid a salary.  I have a day job so I can’t do most speaking engagements or have time to write e-books and freelance content.  I’ve made a choice to put my family first so I decline most sponsored activities like hosting events, going on trips, or speaking at conferences so I can be home to put Emerson to bed.  Sponsored posts and affiliate links are my income for the service I provide, and I work hard for the money. I strive to have quality content and a good balance of sponsored content and regular posts.

In the past I have taken on too much sponsored content, and I will admit some of the sponsored posts weren’t the best fit. I also had a few of you upset that you couldn’t tell posts were sponsored until the end so I have made a concerted effort to be clearer with the partnership.  I’m learning as I go, working to constantly improve this site and my processes to run it.

Once I made What Every Woman Wanted in Her Wardrobe dot Blogspot dot com into Wardrobe Oxygen, I considered it a business. That doesn’t just mean I made money, it meant I made a decision to be more professional with how I handled the blog.  More regular content, more on-topic content, higher quality images, a more consistent schedule.  I do that because I take pride in my job, and I consider Wardrobe Oxygen a job. Just because I don’t have a book deal or storefront doesn’t mean I should have to work for free.

I wish you the best in finding a resource that is a better fit for you. But please consider the effort put into making that advice that you benefit from; don’t you think everyone deserves to be compensated for their work?

The Mall and the SAHM

This week, I ran to the mall at lunch for some retail therapy. I recently bought a pair of black trousers that had such a perfect fit, fabric and cut that I returned to get them in two other colors. While strolling the mall sipping my iced coffee, I realized that the majority of the mall was occupied by mothers with their children. Women with slings holding sleeping infants, women with strollers holding up to three kids at a time at varying ages. Women and children hand in hand at the food court, on benches, in stores. As varying were the ages of their children were the appearances of these mothers.

This mall is in a community where every economic level of person lives. On one side of the mall are million-dollar townhomes in a gated community, the other side are rent-controlled apartments. A mile up the street are McMansions and in the other direction, cozy blocks of split-level and rancher-style brick homes built in the 50s. I used to work at this mall, and saw people from all walks of life enter my store. This day of retail therapy and my years of retail management remind me that money does not equal style.

My mom often tells me about my childhood. We were not well off and she had to save up to buy clothes for herself and us kiddies. Weekends were spent at yard sales for clothes, furniture and even Christmas presents come winter. Though my mom had a limited budget, she always looked great. She learned to sew to be able to dress for less and flatter her petite frame. She scoured sale racks and when something worked, she would buy multiples in varying colors to make things simple. Since she was a Stay at Home Mom (SAHM), she needed clothes that didn’t wrinkle, could handle multiple washings and were so easy to pair with one another, she could dress in the dark. Pictures of her during this time shows her in jeweled toned knit tops, black knit trousers, black shoes and a silver pendant necklace almost every day. Not too exciting, the sleeve and pant length seemed to change with the seasons, but the premise was the same. Considering it was the 70s and 80s, my mom had a shoulder-length perm that flattered her face but was low-maintenance. You couldn’t look at her and know her income level or that I had vomited on that shirt two days prior. She was a parent of two rambunctious children, a volunteer in our schools, the editor of the church newsletter, active in the community and always overextended. Though her life may have been frazzled, her appearance was not.

It really is possible to look good and be a SAHM. And this is possible without spending much more time every day. It’s all about mindful shopping. I know I have written about this before, but this is something that is important to all women, no matter our lifestyle or responsibilities.

As I walked down the mall, I had two women in front of me pushing strollers. They were friends, chatting with each other as they window-shopped. They were both in their 30s, both of average size, both with straight blonde hair and I believe even had the same strollers. That was where the similarities ended. One was in baggy over-washed black cotton capris that ended at the widest part of her calf. She paired this with a pink, black and white horizontally striped polo shirt that hit right at her waistband and with it a pair of black flip flops. Her hair was half up in a claw clip, though most was slipping out and fanning out around her head. She looked dumpy, disheveled and her clothes looked cheap. Her friend was also in black capris, but they were of a very heavy knit and fit her frame quite well. Paired with it was a turquoise boatneck ¾ sleeve top that hit at mid-hip. On her feet were black ballet flats and her hair was held back with a black elastic headband. Her outfit was just as low-fuss and easy care, yet she looked slimmer and more polished. Both wardrobes can go in the washer and dryer. Both outfits were comfortable and easy. The difference was that the woman in the turquoise seemed more mindful of what she was purchasing.

1. Don’t buy 100% cotton unless you love to iron. It wrinkles, and even an extra 10 minutes in the dryer won’t get those wrinkles out. Also, cotton is known to fade after many washings. Cotton clothes soon look rumpled, old and worn. You don’t have the time and money to replace them, so don’t buy them in the first place.

2. If your tummy is not your best feature, then don’t showcase it. Tops that hit right at your midsection draw attention to that area. Tucked-in tops emphasize the lower abdomen, and tops that are too tight do not flatter anyone. Look for tops that hit around mid-hip. This length is slimming to the torso without making the legs look short. No need for baggy tops – they often add bulk instead of hiding it. Look for something that either skims the body or sits pretty darn close. This will show you have the figure of a woman, not a sack of potatoes.

3. Flip flops are for the beach, not the mall. I say this often on here, but flops are bad for your feet. Your arches sink, you pull muscles between your toes and they do more harm than good. They are great when hopping in the car to drop the kid off somewhere, tooling around the garden, the pool or the shore but that’s about it. To preserve your feet for your future and not look sloppy, invest in some real shoes. Ballet flats are a great alternative and can be found for less than $20 at retailers like Target. A leather sandal in tan will go with 90% of your wardrobe and be more structured and attractive than a flip flop. This change affects your personal style as well as your personal health.

4. With skirts, dresses, shorts and capris, have them end at a slim part of the leg. Your thigh and your calf are the widest parts and when clothing ends there, it gives the appearance that your entire leg is that size. Do your figure a favor and if the garment is perfect except for the length, take them to the tailor. For about $5 they can hem it to a better place.

5. Consider solids. Stripes and patterns may add variety and you may think they hide stains, but they often look cheap and quickly look dated. A solid polo in French blue can look crisp with a pair of khaki Bermudas; a striped one can make you look bigger and often looks cheaper. The best way to make your bargain piece look more expensive is to buy it in a solid color, free of garment-dyed finishes, contrast stitching or elaborate details. Go for simple and you’ll go for gold.

6. Read the label. If it says Dry Clean Only, don’t buy it unless you have time and money for such a service. If it tells you to dry flat, it’s telling you not to buy it. You don’t have the time for this, and if you don’t follow the instructions you will probably ruin the shape or finish of the garment.

7. If it’s great, buy two. As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, I went and bought two more pairs of pants that I already owned and loved. They were the right length, color, fabric and fit. No one is taking a tally of how many styles of garments you own, all people notice is if you look nice. You found a great wrap top that flatters and fits and is easy care and perfection? Get it in black, pink and teal. Found a wrap dress that can hit the dryer as well as the dance floor? Get it in solid black and also in the red print. This is also true for shoes – get them in the neutral you wear most often (black or brown) and then get them in one other color (tan or a contrast shade like red pr green). If they are awesome, they are worth it.

8. Adjust your hair to your life. If you don’t have time to blow out your hair every morning, then get a cut that allows you to wash and wear. If you have bad hair days, you are human. Work with it with flattering accessories. Claw clips seem like a quick fix but look sloppy more often than not. Headbands are hip right now – great time to stock up. Also nothing is wrong with a low ponytail; side parts are flattering on rounder faces and a little hairspray on your brush or comb will help battle flyaways.

9. Buy a new bra. Whether or not you breastfed, your breasts will not be the same as they were pre-baby even if your waistline is. With any weight changes, your breasts change as well. Nothing makes you look firmer and fitter than a supportive bra. Also nothing makes you feel more like a woman than to have a gorgeous red satin and lace number under your standard tee shirt.

10. Keep the active wear for the gym. Knit shorts, baggy tee shirts from a vacation destination, matching hoodies and pants are not appropriate for “the real world.” It is just as easy to buy a feminine cut of tee shirt than to buy an oversized one.

11. Don’t shy from a skirt or dress. If it hits around the knees, you can still crawl on the floor and run around without trouble. A skirt is always more polished, and a great tee-shirt style dress is easier to put on in the morning than a whole outfit. The one pictured is less than $40 by Jones New York, I found it at Nordstrom.

12. Show your personality.You are more than a mom, you are an amazing and vital woman.Wear your favorite colors, buy a leopard print shoe or a bold necklace.Small touches take your standard day wear from uniform to amazing with little work.



Some companies I recommend to find beautiful, comfortable and durable garments:

      • Lands End – I love this place. I buy knits from there that never shrink, fade or pill. They have petite, tall and plus sizes and offer fit guides to ensure you get the right size. I recommend you use this guide for many of their pieces run big. Best part? Their prices are very reasonable!
      • Chico’s – Fabulous colors, fun accessories and lots of fabrics that resist wrinkles and fading. Do note their sizing is a bit different from most companies and they do not carry plus sizes. As with Lands End, they often run a tad big.
      • J. Crew – J. Crew is the Mecca for pretty solid colored tops. Flattering cuts of polos and tees, high-quality cashmere, cotton and wool sweaters, and all with flattering yet not risqué necklines and cuts. J. Crew often runs small, especially in their bottoms but the quality is good, the cut is usually flattering and their return policy is fabulous. The price may be a bit higher than you’re used to, but the quality usually makes it worth the investment (I am still wearing J. Crew skirts and sweaters from a decade ago).
      • I.N.C. by Macy’s – You may find this a strange choice but if you regularly visit this section you would understand. They carry petites and plus sizes, they always have the most gorgeous colors and a large selection of pants, shorts and capris for the season. I.N.C. does a fabulous job of taking what is on the runway and making is realistic and wearable for every woman. They carry prints, but also a plethora of solids every season in some high-quality knits and other washable fabrics.
      • Boden – Feminine cuts, pretty colors, and great basics for any wardrobe. Do note this is a UK site so their sizes run differently than the us (they have a handy fit guide on the site). They don’t have many extended sizes, though some trousers are offered in long lengths. This company has mastered simple elegance with their basic style.


Fashion is Stupid

I am often attacked for my belief that style is a necessity for all people. I am told that people don’t have time, don’t have money, and feel that trying so hard to look good makes one appear superficial, materialistic, shallow and not a true reflection of their intelligent/feminist/scientific/minimalist self. Here’s the down and dirty.

You are judged by what you look like. Accept it.

Whether people realize it or not, they make assumptions about you by your appearance. This affects how you are treated at work, in a store, by your peers, your neighbors, a waiter, a doctor, a minister.

You may say you don’t care, that if a person gets to know the real you, that appearance is no longer an issue.


I had a coworker, a brilliant and hardworking woman. She worked in a different office from me, but we were on many projects together and got to know one another via phone calls and emails. She was a higher position than I, and she soon became a bit of a mentor to me, and then a friend. She admitted to me after many months that she was looking for a new job because she felt as though she wasn’t respected within the department. I agreed that she seemed to lack the respect, and I couldn’t understand why. She was poised, professional yet warm. As a mentor, she gave constructive criticism, challenging tasks and plenty of feedback. In her role, she was quick, detailed and talented. Clients wrote letters about her great performance with a project, however upper management spoke of her as though she was an idiot and a bit lazy. I never understood why until nine months after we first started working together, I met her in person. She was slim and tall, though seemed uncomfortable in her skin. She hunched over and let her long straight brown hair hang over the majority of her face. When she laughed she covered her mouth as though out of embarrassment. Her hair never seemed to be brushed, she never wore makeup and her clothes looked as though she inherited them from her grandmother – they were all too large, too short for her long legs, and seemed to be from the 1980s (shoulder pads, peplum jackets, weird large floral boxy jackets with matching long broomstick skirts, etc…). Though she was in her mid-30s one would guess that she was closer to 50.

She soon left the company and got a job where she telecommutes. When she left I overheard management discussing it, thinking it was no great loss, “not like we could put her in front of a business meeting!” I thought it was a shame, some of the best work and brightest ideas just left the company. But they were right… how could you put a person who seemed so ill at ease in front of clients trying to sell our company, and make them believe that we are the best decision?

When I was in high school, I was the previous millennium’s equivalent to goth. I had black hair, shaved off part of it, lived in a motorcycle jacket, Doc Marten boots and torn stockings. When I walked in the mall, mothers would hug their purses closer to their sides. I was once asked to leave a store even though I had done nothing but walk in and flip through a rack of clothing. As the statistician for my school’s soccer team, I once had a busload of players from another school taunt me and one player spit on me calling me a “psycho.” Funny thing was I was an honor roll student, president of many clubs at my school, attended church and had a very healthy and close relationship with my parents. I was considered a “goody goody” by my friends, not partaking in drugs, drinking, smoking or mature relationships with my boyfriends. However I had black hair and lots of eyeliner so those who did not know me considered me to be a derelict of society.

In college I was a blonde for a couple of semesters and saw how differently I was treated. People were more willing to come up to me and ask directions or speak to me, I had a more relaxed rapport with teachers, and people thought I seemed “happier” during that period of time. Funny thing was that I was actually having the most miserable year of my college career, but no one took me seriously when I complained. I guess I didn’t “look” unhappy enough to school counselors or friends.

I have a dear friend. She is a gorgeous woman inside and out. She oozes confidence and femininity and is incredibly intelligent. One place she does have problems is in everyday society. We meet for drinks and she tells me how for the fourth time that month someone has literally slammed a door in her face because he didn’t see her behind him. She goes from job to job, having much success in the interview but after a few months somehow ends up taking up the responsibility of the intern, the receptionist and the admin while those with less education and time with the corporation move up in the ranks. She goes to the bar and ends up standing there far longer than anyone else, never getting the attention of the bartender. She has found that in the love department, she has had the most success in online dating where a relationship via IM and email is established prior to meeting one another. Once they meet, the man is usually positively smitten. I thought about all of this while I sat across from this beautiful woman with insanely green eyes and long lashes, who has the cutest laugh and the most graceful movements. Then I thought about how she dresses herself. On that night at the bar, she was wearing a moss-green short sleeved cotton shirt, black trousers and black shoes. The shirt was fuzzy from far too many washings and looked garment-dyed probably from use and not from design. It looked to be 100% cotton and it looked as though she tried to get out the wrinkles with a run through the dryer. Her attempt was not successful as that the shirt looked like she pulled it off the floor of her bedroom. Her trousers were leftover from her 20 pound larger frame three years ago and bagged everywhere they shouldn’t. They dragged on the ground from the extra inches and the hem was torn and muddy. Her shoes were big chunky black loafers; a pair I had myself in the mid-90s that looked like clown shoes on her petite frame. Her hair was a blunt cut to the jaw, parted in the middle and tucked behind the ears. No jewelry, no makeup, no adornment whatsoever. I knew her as a fiery brilliant woman, but those on the street (and in her office and behind the bar) probably find her to blend into the woodwork, seem mousy and unsure of herself.

We discussed fashion and she told me that no offense to me, but fashion depletes brain cells. One hardly ever sees a person with a PhD and a pair of Jimmy Choos. My response is that looking good does NOT have to equate with current fashion. It is possible for every person n the planet to look good, look appropriate and look the part of their culture/personality/lifestyle. That your insides have to be reflected on your outside to truly have personal style. I thought back to my years of black hair and torn clothes and wouldn’t have changed a thing – though I may not have fit into a crowd, I fit into my life and my personality. When I went to church I traded my monkey boots for loafers and my plaid miniskirts for a more conservative sweater with trousers. I thought about her, and wondered how that green wrinkled top expressed what kind of person she was. Her wearing that top was just as conflicting as her wearing my leather biker jacket from high school, or a cabbage-rose adorned dress from Laura Ashley.

  • There is nothing wrong with having a uniform. The staples (see the sidebar) are tools to help it be effortless to look nice. I know many women who have just a handful of items in their closet all of the same color story yet they always look pulled together. I know moms who are always rumpled, and those who always look crisp. I notice how some of my mother’s friends look a decade older than the others, and some who look a decade younger based just on hair and clothing.
  • Like my good friend, I am not a “crisp” person. If I wear white, I will spill coffee on it. If I wear cotton, it will get wrinkled. My hair falls flat, I sweat, I eat off my lipstick. To battle this, I hardly ever buy things that need to be ironed. I rarely wear white, and I buy a lot of knits. I always carry a Tide to Go pen with me, and I have learned to wear my hair in a way that works with my afternoon-limp hair, not fight against it. Why spend money on things that contradict who you are and make you uncomfortable?
  • My friend’s favorite color is purple, yet I don’t think she owns a single purple thing in her wardrobe. She lives in neutrals, yet is a primary color personality. It is possible to be simple, classic and comfortable in a blue top as much as it is to be so in a tan one. Wear what you like, and it usually looks far better than what you think is easy, safe or comfortable.
  • If you love to travel, then show it with jewelry you pick up on your travels. Are you an artist? How will anyone know in your drab, neutral frocks? Be an extension of your works with the colors and patterns that you wear. Want people to believe you are smart and serious? Then wear smart and serious with clean lines, simple pieces and strong yet minimal accessories. Love the outdoors? You can be stylish and still wear clothes that let you hike and climb at a moment’s notice. Hate consumerism? You can show your beliefs and look good with great items from Goodwill or your sewing machine.
  • Be mindful of what you buy. Before you ever spend a dollar on a piece of furniture, an item in your grocery cart, or a piece of clothing take a minute to stop and think. Visualize this thing in your life – imagine it on your body, your plate or your home. Does it bring you joy? Does it make you better? Does it work with your life or against it? You have to buy pants, you have to buy shoes. Why not buy that which works for you as well as with you? Life can be tough, taking a few moments to think before you spend can make the road a bit easier and more pleasurable to travel. And you never know, that moment of mindfulness may get you a promotion, a date or a faster drink at the bar!

How to Look Rich

Dress sharply and they’ll remember the outfit; dress impeccably and they’ll remember the woman.
– Coco Chanel

The other day I was sitting on the subway across from an attractive woman. She was wearing a yellow sheath dress in a heavy textured/boucle weave – something I could see on a stylish professional woman like Michelle Obama. In her lap were two pristine Louis Vuitton bags – one purse and one tote. She was wearing a gold watch that looked expensive, a few gold rings, bracelets and a pair of gold hoops. On her feet were black patent leather Tory Burch flats (a popular commuter shoe in Washington DC).

Her outfit probably cost in the thousands… yet she looked cheap. Why?

It’s all in the details.

Her hair was not fresh – she had obvious roots and raggedy edges. She pulled it into a messy low ponytail with a cheap Goody elastic (you know the ones with the gold threads through them?). Her shoes were scuffed and looked as though the backs sometimes were stepped down on and they had their share of being stuffed into an overfull tote. Her nails were manicured, but a flat salmon pink color that neither flattered her skintone nor the current trends. Her blush was too red, her eyeliner too pronounced. Her dress was a twinge too tight – puckered slightly at the bust, caught the bottom curve of her bum. All these details combined with the first paragraph details took expensive and lovely pieces and made it all into a very ordinary and cheap looking ensemble.

So what can a woman do to look as though she is worth a million… whether she is or not?

I don’t understand how a woman can leave the house without fixing herself up a little – if only out of politeness. And then, you never know, maybe that’s the day she has a date with destiny. And it’s best to be as pretty as possible for destiny.
– Coco Chanel

Who cares who made your purse if your skin or hair is a mess? The best investment is the body you have – no matter your dress, you will be wearing your hair, your face and your skin. Great skin doesn’t have to come from $200 bottles of potions and monthly spa treatments. Cut back on the sodas and spirits and add more water to your diet. Be sure to wash off your makeup before you go to bed. Don’t overwash your skin – your skin should never be tight after cleansing. Visit a dermatologist if you have skin concerns. Take the time that you use to peruse celebrity gossip Web sites and read up on cosmetic ingredients – irritation, acne and redness can often be due to an allergic reaction in a product you use.

As for your body, keep it exfoliated, keep it hydrated inside and out, and love it no matter its shape. It is far easier to love the body you have if the skin is soft and happy. Again, see a dermatologist and read up on ingredients to be sure you are purchasing the right products.

Hair is the accessory you wear every single day – to work, to play, for formal events and trips to the market. Why is it that we will spend hundreds on jewelry, a pair of boots or a bag but will sacrifice our Crowning Glory to Great Clips and whatever box of Dark Golden Brown that was on sale at CVS? If your budget cannot afford professional color treatments, research brands that are gentle and natural looking. Invest in a highly-recommended conditioner. Take vacations from the heating tools so you aren’t fried. Reconsider that champagne blonde/cherry red/blue-black hue – a softer shade may be much more flattering, require less maintenance and look more rich.

If it’s a bad hair day – no need to hide under a hat (or Goody elastic). There are ways to work the tresses without screaming to the world that you had no time for a shampoo or roots touch-up. Dry shampoos are back en vogue and can be found at many specialty retailers and online beauty boutiques. Colored ones not only are less obvious on darker shades, but they also help hide roots. Thanks to Gossip Girl, even those over 21 can sport headbands and look chic. A skinny plastic one with teeth in black, blonde or tortoise can hold back too-short bangs and make a bit of slick look purposeful. A low ponytail right at the nape always looks chic – if you take a piece of your own hair from the bottom of the ponytail, you can wrap it around the elastic and secure it with one Bobby pin and make Goody look glam. Finally, make time for your hair – get off the computer, get away from the TV, wake up 15 minutes earlier. It is amazing how much more sunny your outlook is on life when you feel confident about your appearance.

Fashion is architecture: it is a matter of proportions.
– Coco Chanel

Shoes make the man… and the woman. Shoes should be appropriate to the outfit first, then worry about quality, and brand name should be last on the list. The woman on the subway would have looked far more chic if she was wearing tan leather sandals. They could have been flat or with a slight chunky heel or wedge and been just as comfortable as the Tory Burch flats, but have coordinated with the outfit far better. We live in a society right now that is very caught up in brand names; often those brand name items don’t serve us much of a purpose. Flats are great with a flowy dress, a pair of capris, your favorite jeans. But if you have curves and are wearing a straight-fitting dress, flats will make you look as though you were cut off at the ankle bone.

Once you have your shoe collection, no matter the pricepoint you should take care of them. Get them reheeled and resoled at a local cobbler. Keep them in a place where they won’t get dusty or tripped over. Store them properly when out of season. I had a pair of black boots I bought at Payless five years ago and I just had to retire them a year ago. They had a chic narrow heel, an elongated toe, the pleather was soft and looked like a more expensive patent. They were less than $20 but looked perfect with certain trousers for nights out on the town. I babied them as much as I did my designer pumps, and in turn they gave me many years of great use (and compliments!).

I love luxury. And luxury lies not in richness and ornateness but in the absence of vulgarity. Vulgarity is the ugliest word in our language. I stay in the game to fight it.
– Coco Chanel

If cheap, go neutral. Yellow, green, and pink are hot colors this season, but if the item is of cheap quality it will look it far faster than the same piece in black, tan, beige or gray. Those black boots from Payless that I owned also came in racy red and navy. One may think that the red would be fun with black trousers or neutrals, but the red LOOKED as though they were $14.99 pleather boots from Payless, while the black just looked like boots. I have found many a great dress at Target, but the ones that survive to the next season are those in very neutral colors. Colors can easily fade, can easily look dated, and better show shoddy workmanship or lower-end fabric.

Fashion passes, style remains.
– Coco Chanel

Minimize the trends. The rich are stylish; those who WANT to be rich are trendy. Steer clear from obvious logos, extreme trends and anything that is worn by Paris, Lauren, Lindsay or Britney. You don’t want the look of the moment – the rich and stylish never adhere to extreme trends (and if they DO adopt a trend, they do it small or in a neutral hue). Buy a cardigan in the hot color of the season, switch up your lip product, consider a statement necklace or cool bracelet in the popular metal of the moment. There are ways to update your look without making yourself look like a fashion victim.

In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different.
– Coco Chanel

In turn, those who always have the latest look get lost in the shuffle. Your expensive Tory Burch flats are yet another pair hopping onto the subway or into a cab. That monogram Coach purse is so popular, every lower-end designer is making a knockoff of it. Let’s not even get into Ugg boots… point is – trends are not stylish, and they do not make you look wealthy or successful.

Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury.
– Coco Chanel

Accept your size, and your budget. Sample sale items that are a size too small, hot designer shoes on sale that are an inch taller than you feel comfortable wearing, oversized sweaters because you haven’t come to terms with your new shape (and gosh that sweater is cashmere!)… these are not items that make you look stylish or rich.

When accessorizing, always take off the last thing you put on.
– Coco Chanel

One less ring, one less chain, that cardigan around your shoulders, that anklet. The rich and stylish keep it simple. The woman on the subway would have been far more elegant if she had worn only that expensive watch, and not the five gold bracelets on the other wrist.

Look for the woman in the dress. If there is no woman, there is no dress.
– Coco Chanel

There is nothing more appealing than a vibrant woman. Are you sitting down reading this? Well pretend you have a string coming from the top of your head that is lifting you gently from the ground. Sit up – you are a phenomenal woman. Good posture improves the fit of your clothing, how you are perceived by others, and how you end up feeling. Every time you look at your reflection – find that one part of you that is unique and you love. Get off the computer and get into your community. Ask a neighbor or coworker for a book suggestion and try an author or genre you have never before experienced. Take five minutes every evening to think about your day – it may be in meditation, in prayer, with a journal or just as you doze off. Think about the positive things, how you impacted those around you, and how this world is different because of your interaction with it. Who cares what or who you are wearing if you aren’t an interesting, involved and positive woman!

Tuesday Tip – For the Fashion Fearful

Many of you may be reading this for entertainment. You are stylish, you are hip to trends. You know what looks good on you and what is positively ghastly. You wear your shape with pride and class. You don’t need assistance, you’re just cruising by.
Others, you care, but you don’t know where to start. You have been wearing the same pieces for over a decade, even though your shape, lifestyle and tastes have changed. Clothing has been something you use to not get arrested for indecent exposure, not something you care about. Now for whatever reason, you have started to care. And this terrifies you. Where to start?
First things first, fashion does not have to be scary. Let’s scratch the word FASHION. It evokes 3-inch thick Vogue magazines, stiletto heels, clothes you cannot sit in and designers one’s name cannot pronounce (or ever be able to afford). I like the word STYLE. Style does not disappear when a hemline goes out of the limelight. It does not waver from season to season. It does not offer free advertising for brand names and it spans generations and waistlines. Style is available for all, no matter your shape, your age or your budget.
I am going to ask you to do a very terrifying thing. Purchase a full-length mirror if you do not already own one. They are available for less then $20 from Big Box retailers like Kmart and Target. This can be most anywhere – the back of the bathroom door usually hidden by your robe, on the inside of your closet door, in your hallway closet in the foyer I even have one in my office/gym/spare room (which explains the Bowflex in every picture on my other blog). Place it anywhere you want and what works with your home. Now USE IT. So many women do not own a full-length mirror. This must explain why so many women walk around in too-short trousers, clunky shoes with trim pants, and panty lines visible a mile away. Each day before you leave your home, LOOK AT YOURSELF. Do you like what you see? Now you can’t remove the hips, the wrinkles, the breasts or the nose with a flash of a wand, but that is not what you are looking at. Are you “wrapping the package” in a flattering way? It doesn’t matter what you like and dislike about your figure or your face; you do not have immediate control over that. What you do have control over is how it is covered.

Do those trousers dig into your midsection causing the dreaded “muffin top?” Is that skirt hitting in the middle of the widest part of your calf, causing your legs to look shorter and thicker than they really are? How does that turtleneck REALLY look with your round face? Is that skirt really work appropriate or more dance club appropriate? Does that baggy sweater cover your bumps or accentuate them?

Once you have become comfortable with said full-length mirror (at least two weeks of daily views) you will see your wardrobe will change slightly. The pleated pants will be worn less, and possibly donated to a charity. The beloved dress that is “a little tight but not bad” may take a place farther back in the closet until you again reach goal weight. And those tunic sweaters that you feel hide all your sins? You will see that they really don’t achieve much at all. This is a good thing. A GOOD wardrobe is based on quality, not quantity. So you only like two pairs of trousers in your closet now. Who said you can’t wear the same pants twice in a week? Unless they are lime green with fuchsia polka-dots, I highly doubt anyone will notice. What they will notice is the stained, threadbare too short chinos that you are sporting in the sensible trousers’ place. If you don’t like something on you, you should not hang on to it. You will not miss it after a short period, and if you keep it, you may actually wear it again. Even if you end up with only three bottoms and four tops, you will survive. Slowly you can add to this collection with pieces you love and that love your body.
Now how does one go about buying new clothes? Malls are scary places, sensory overload of sights, smells and sounds. Online shopping is a game of Russian roulette and can be quite costly with returning those items that are not right. Boutiques are quaint but often costly and have a minimal amount of sizes and selection.
As I have mentioned before, I find malls to be the best for the new to wardrobe building. Clothing is something you wear every day and effects every aspect of your life. You would take a half day for a doctor’s appointment, why not schedule a wardrobe doctor appointment. Malls are lovely before the lunch rush. The stores are pretty empty and the salespeople are bored. Bored salespeople equal helpful salespeople and less frantic of salespeople. They will take their time with you, bringing you other sizes to the fitting room and giving you advice and opinions. Managers usually work on Monday early shifts and they usually have the most experience and the best sales skills. If you cannot take off a morning to shop, consider early on a Saturday or later on a Sunday.
Go to the mall with a list. A pair of black trousers, a new pair of brown boots, a couple of business casual tops. Then stick to that. If you need work clothes, do not even walk by the yoga pants, the jeans or the hoodies. They may be safe, but they are not necessary right now.
Consider solids. Solids may seem drab and boring, but they are the most versatile. A solid top will most likely match your solid bottom, and it’s less memorable, meaning you can wear it more often without anyone noticing. You see when your neighbor wears that floral skirt again, but when she wears a blue dress, you only notice the color, not the date of when it was worn. Find your personality through scarves, jewelry, shoes and handbags. No clue what colors go with what? Here is some assistance. This is not all-inclusive, but a simple list to help with those crazy colors shown in stores this season:
Color Bottom
Color Top
Complimenting Accessories (shoes, belts, bags)
Most any color except a medium brown or browns and navys that are almost the same shade as the black
Black is a safe bet. You can go with a contrast color (anything but brown, tan and navy) as long as the top is also black or a dark basic color (red shoes with a khaki sweater and black skirt)
Ivory, brown, tan, red, pink, lighter shades of blue, dark orange/rust/terracotta
Again, safe to go with the same color and only use a contrast if the top and bottom are both neutral (ivory sweater, brown pants and green pumps)
Brown, pink, black, ivory, plum, dark greens, navy, French blue, red, dark purples
If you have camel already, great! If not, consider the top. If it is a warm color (red, ivory, plum) brown is a nice compliment. If it is cool (black, purples, French blue) consider black. Navy is a shade that can go either way, though I think darker shades look better with black and lighter shades with brown.
French or baby blue, pinks, white, camel, ivory, dark red, lighter shades of green
Again, if you have navy shoes that closely match the bottom, wear them. I personally find navy bottoms hard to match and just never wear them. If you like navy, consider the rules above. Darker navys with black and lighter with dark brown or camel.
White (no matter what the fashion mags say, should only be worn from June through August unless you are a true expert fashionista)
Most any color except beige, ivory or a very pale shade of a color.
I do not believe white shoes should be bought by anyone except nurses, brides and true expert fashionistas. Since these white skirts and pants are being worn in the summer ONLY, consider a neutral like a tan shoe. If you are wearing a bright colored top (colbalt blue, hot pink, red) consider black shoes instead.
Black, brown, medium to dark greens, pinks and blues, red, navy, tan, purples and oranges
If it is a warm shade (orange, brown, tan) consider brown. If cool (black, blue, green) consider black. No one needs to own a pair of ivory shoes.
When you are shopping, consider your lifestyle. If you are reading this, you are probably not the type to have 40 pairs of shoes. Try to build your wardrobe around one shoe color. If you are fair haired, you may feel better in browns. If you are a brunette, you may be like me and prefer black. I only own one brown pair of shoes and no navy; I shop and think, “would this go with black shoes?” If it won’t go with a pair of shoes already in my closet I will not even try it on. It is far too expensive and complicated to buy a pair of pants and then have to search for matching shoes, belt, top and accessories to match it. If you like black shoes, consider only buying bottoms in black, ivory and tan or camel. If you prefer brown, consider only brown, khaki and camel. Personally, I find navy too difficult to match and blend into a wardrobe. If you cannot think of at least two things and one pair of shoes in your closet that an item will match, don’t buy it. It will cause you too much strife.
As for WHAT to buy, check out the sidebar. I have some suggestions as to what basic items every woman could use in her wardrobe. Also consider your lifestyle. If you are a stay-at-home mom, you may not need a pantsuit as much as quickly as a woman who meets with clients at work on a daily basis (though trust me, once you have a new wardrobe and a new look on life, almost all women will find needs for all the items on the list!).

Start off slow. A pair of pants to replace the ones that accidentally got washed and now don’t hang right. A new sweater to replace the baggy tunic you have sported for a decade. A dress for that upcoming wedding that will also be appropriate for your company holiday party AND your niece’s christening. A pair of simple black pumps that will go with your work pants AND that dress for the upcoming wedding. Go slow. No one is keeping a tally of how many pieces of clothing you own. Scour sale racks. Once you are comfortable with your size and what styles flatter you, venture to the online vendors and boutiques for variety (and often for better prices). Note the designers that fit you well and be loyal to them. Also be loyal to the shops that fit you and treat you well when you visit. Good salespeople will take down your information and notify you of sales and special events in their shops. This can save you money and time when adding to your wardrobe. Try to stay away from malls at holidays and on Saturday afternoons until you feel very strong and comfortable with shopping – these times will make you want to crawl back into your home and cover yourself with fleece.

And finally, believe in yourself. Wearing flattering, well made and fitting clothing is something you DESERVE. You work hard, you care about others, you are an important person on this planet. You deserve to feel good, to look good, and to present yourself to others as the wonderful person you are.

Dare to be Bare of Hair

So Frida Kahlo sported a mono brow and mustache, and was still seen as a beautiful and sexual being to many men. When you become as talented as she, then you too can do as you wish. Until then, you only get one chance to make a first impression, and let’s not have it be you as Teen Wolf. Though you may find those random hairs to be barely noticeable, I bet everyone you meet is aware of them and wondering why you haven’t done anything about them.

People thread, tweeze, sugar, wax and chemically remove the hairs between their eyes and brows (and some above the brows). How do you know which method is best, and how much is too much?

If you are a novice and a low-maintenance woman, I believe tweezing is your best method. It is the least painful, the easiest to do at home, and can give the most natural results. Experts say to take a white eyeliner pencil and draw the shape of the brow you wish, then tweeze above and below.

Companies such as Paula Dorf and Anastasia offer brow stencils to help you make a shape and also fill in with color if they are sparse. Other experts tell you of using that pencil in a different manner: place the pencil parallel with your nose, touching the widest part of your nose and the inner tip of your eye. Where the pencil hits at the brow, that is where your brow should start (or where you should begin plucking the monobrow). Then angle the pencil and have it still at the widest part of your nose/nostril, but now have the pencil cross over the center of your pupil. Where the pencil hits on your brow is where the peak of your arch should lie. Then have the pencil travel from over your pupil to the outer tip of your eye. Where the pencil hits on the brow is where the end of your brow should be.

If you have never tweezed before, both of the above can be quite daunting. I know many women who leave the first time to experts. They find a reputable salon or spa (not the little nail place down the street where they wax 20 pairs of brows in a 30-minute span), explain what they want (it’s okay if you want exactly what nature gave you, minus the hairs popping out in random places. However if you do not tell your esthetician this, you may end up with a much sleeker look) and have the excess removed by a multitude of processes. Waxing is by far the most popular and widely available. The pain is not as bad as sitcoms portray it to be, but do know that you will probably leave the salon with redness (do not schedule a first date or interview the afternoon after a waxing).

For maintenance, I highly recommend doing it yourself. Repeated waxing can pull at the delicate eye area, casing bagging after repeated use. Also, why pay on a monthly basis for something you can do at home? These days, perfectly sculpted brows are not en vogue. For several ears now, all types of brows have been popular. Take the shape that the esthetician gave you and maintain it on a daily basis with a pair of tweezers. I am a huge fan of Tweezerman tweezers. These days they can be found at any discount beauty supply store, department store’s cosmetics department or specialty beauty boutiques like Sephora and Ulta. Tweezerman tweezers are expertly made and offer free sharpening for life (keep that original casing!). I like the slant tweezers – They have the point to capture little dots of hairs just appearing, and can easily grab actual hairs; even the very soft fine ones. Keep your tweezers protected and try not to drop them – this dulls the points and changes the balance. If treated properly, you will never need to purchase another pair of tweezers. Only remove the hairs that are obviously out of place. The biggest mistake women make is over-tweezing their brows.

I like using a two-sided lighted mirror; one side has magnification, the other is normal. I look at the regular reflection for stray hairs, twist the mirror, use the magnification to pinpoint the hair, then turn back to see the result. If you only use a magnification mirror you will easily end up with overly tweezed brows; same with a regular mirror – without magnification you may end up grabbing six hairs instead of one, leaving a bald spot. The mirror shown was found at Target for about $30.00.

Other Facial Hair
Do you think it’s so light that no one notices? That if you were born with it, it belongs there? How about that you have no time/money/energy to deal with that fuzz above your lip or on your chin. Well people do see it, no matter how blonde. A platinum mustache is still a mustache; it is just a different color. Be you a proponent of cosmetics, a feminist, a Stay at Home Mom, a woman dealing with menopause, or a woman with a similar heritage to me, if you have a few stray hairs and leave them be, you are not representing yourself in the best manner. They are seen, and they and you shall be judged. Harsh? Superficial? Yes, but as a woman who too needs to do hair removal on a monthly basis, I accept it just as I accept it as I accept that style dictates what people think of me, that my home and office and posture dictate what people think of me.

If you have one or two little pesky hairs on the chin, they can be easily whisked away with tweezers. However those who have a bit more hair, other methods may be more successful. Depilatory products are far more gentle, better smelling and simple than the products of the past. Ones made for the face, such as Surgi-Cream and Sally Hansen’s Crème Hair Removal have almost no odor, are applied to damp skin, allowed to sit less then 10 minutes, and removed with a damp cloth. They are gentle enough that they can be applied as you are drying your hair or making breakfast and will be able to go to work or school that day and not worry about redness. Depending on the speed of your hair growth, this method would be completed every 2-4 weeks. Unlike shaving, hair removed via depilatory grows back soft – no stubble. Just ensure the formula you purchase is exclusively for facial hair – your face skin and hair is far more delicate than other parts of the body.

Many women choose to wax excess hair on the face. As one who has had little success with at-home waxing kits and just can’t stomach the time and money to hit the salon on a regular basis, I personally do not use this method. However this is an easy way to zap all hair away, and is especially good for the peach fuzz that someone get on the sides of their face, and can be done at the same time as brows, bikini line or any other places that you have hair removed. Threading (where a licensed person uses two threads to twist and roll across the skin to remove hairs gently) is another good choice for stray hairs, though again requires regular visits to a salon.

Arms (and belly)
Many may disagree with me, but I feel that a woman’s arm should have hair on it. If you were born with little hair on your arm, you are a lucky girl. However is you have dark or thick hair on your arms, you may be wondering what to do.

I spent the majority of my high school and college years bleaching my arms with Jolen Creme Bleach. This product is gentle, does not create reddish or brassy tones and seems to thin the hair as it lightens it. In about 10 minutes, my arms suddenly looked slimmer and more feminine. As I got older, it seemed that my arm hair thinned on it’s own. Since college, the only time I have bleached my arm hair was for my wedding, again via Jolen. Jolen can be found in any local drug store.

Many women have the trouble with a faint “treasure trail” on their bellies – a bit darker of hair running from their belly button down below the waistband. This also can be remedied with cream bleach. As that the tummy does not see sun as often as other body parts, this skin is delicate. A facial formula of bleach is a good choice for this skin as well.

Rest of the Body (armpits, bikini line, legs and thighs)
Due to differing opinions on what is appropriate, I will not divulge into this area. Shaving, waxing, bleaching, sugaring, laser removal and electrolysis are all options, though many are controversial. The belief of removing this hair is often based upon cultural and religious beliefs. As that these areas are easily covered by clothing, it is your personal choice as to what you do with that hair.

Electrolysis and Laser Hair Removal
I have never tried either of these methods, and do not have any friends who have either; therefore I do not have “real-world” experience from real people to share. These two methods have proven results, but can be quite costly. If hair is affecting your daily life and other over the counter methods have not been successful, I do encourage you to research these methods.

We will spend hundreds on a television set, but hate to spend a dime on our own face. The next time you buy a latte, a CD, another home appliance, think if it will give you as much long-term pleasure and happiness as something done for your body, the vessel that carries you around for the rest of your life. Taking care of yourself is not selfish, it is pleasant survival. Your body works very hard and is the reason why you are where you are today. It deserves presents and pampering for it’s lifetime of dedication. If it is not performing to standard, even more the reason to pamper it. You only get one body, respect it.

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

Your Maternity Wardrobe – Being Stylish Without Breaking the Bank

You’re pregnant, you have nothing to wear, you can’t fit into your current clothing too well, hate or can’t afford most maternity clothing, and feel as though you will have to hide in your house in a muumuu until the little one makes his or her appearance.

You search the Internet looking for creative ways to make due with what you have, getting confirmation from complete strangers who don’t know you from Adam that it IS okay to wear your husband’s work shirts with yoga pants, that it IS okay to let your current bras give you quad-boob for just a few more weeks, that it IS okay to have your clothes be too tight and feel horrible on that growing stomach.

Well I am never one to tell people to spend money they do not have. There really are ways to stretch your current closet, stretch your wallet and still look pulled together and polished through your pregnancy.

However, not all pregnant women are created equal. You must STOP comparing yourself to your older sister, your husband’s cousin, your coworker, your mom, your best friend. One may have started showing at six weeks, another may not have shown until 26. Your breasts may have gone from B to DD in a month’s time while your neighbor’s only went up a half of a cup size. Your colleague survived an entire pregnancy with only a Bella Band and a maternity LBD while you don’t seem to fit into your old size 8s, or even new 14s. Your friend is only a week ahead of you, yet she has a perfectly mounded baby bump and you look as though you ate two bags of Cheetos.

It’s okay. The biological aspect of your pregnancy won’t be exactly like someone else’s and how your body reacts won’t be either. This doesn’t mean you are deformed, unhealthy, fat, or wrong in any way. It just means you are human, and you are working your body to create another human as fabulous as you!

So stop going to those message boards to see if you’re a freak of nature, stop crying in front of the mirror, and love those new curves and that baby bump, even if it currently looks more like a loaf of challah bread instead of a basketball. Read the next few suggestions – not all will work for all women, but hopefully some will help you find a way to feel good, look good, and still have money left over to furnish that nursery!

1. Empty Your Closet. Your life may be a whirlwind right now, but this is a project that will save you time and money in the end. Take everything out of your closet – those bridesmaid dresses, your power suits, your out of season garments and your current attire. Then honestly assess each item. Those that can NOT fit no matter what but are items to treasure and baby (the suits, the dresses, the wool coats); store in a cloth garment bag or other closet so they are out of vision. Nothing is more depressing than feeling as though you’re fat or deformed and seeing your favorite cocktail dress mocking you from the corner of the closet. It’s okay and completely expected that it won’t fit right now – treat it well, and take it out of sight until after.

Now look at the rest of the collection. Anything else that is in great shape but either doesn’t fit now or won’t fit by time that season rolls around, carefully pack up and put on a high shelf, under the bed, or in an attic. This means the tailored shift dress, the nipped in blazers, the lined slim-fit trousers… anything that is uncomfortable before even pulling up the zipper or buttoning the front. Again, this process is about saving time each morning and saving your sanity.

What is left? Most likely it will look an awful lot like what I had leftover when I did this process – lots of dresses with some percentage of stretch in them (or made in a trapeze/babydoll fashion), a few pairs of jeans, pants, capris and shorts; a handful of knit or slightly unstructured jackets, some sweaters and knit tops. Now you need to try these items on and be honest with what is in the reflection. Is the skirt too short now that it has to accommodate a changing body? Can it REALLY look flattering and appropriate with dark tights or over jeans, or are you trying to fool yourself? The top fits in the belly, but are you exposing too much cleavage to feel comfortable? Can it work with a cami underneath, or will it ruin the silhouette? Does it fit everywhere, but is cutting off the circulation in your arms? As I always say – it’s better to have quality than quantity. Anything you feel you need to justify will just leave you feeling awkward and uncomfortable when you finally wear it. You have enough on your mind – remove all the items that you will have to constantly adjust and fiddle with to keep yourself properly and comfortably covered.

Now, what to do with those pants and skirts that do fit if you could wear them unbuttoned? Keep them in your wardrobe rotation. There are fabulous products out there called belly bands that are made specifically for this. Crafted of stretchy lycra or a similar material, these items can go over your open waistband to keep your bottoms up, and your underwear out of sight. I have one in black and they have extended the life of my work trousers, and even weekend Bermuda shorts. Ingrid and Isabel is famous for their BellaBand, but you can find similar products in maternity stores, on eBay, and if you’re feeling crafty, can whip up a few on a Sunday afternoon. You don’t need 50 – choose one or maybe two (if they are on sale) in colors that will work with your wardrobe. I invested in only one in black since most of my wardrobe is black. They may poke out under tops, so choose one that fits your sense of style as well as your wardrobe palette.

Now consider all those tops and dresses that would be fine if they covered more cleavage. You may want to either invest in a cami or two, or modify a few you already own. The great thing about cleavage-covering camis is that all people see is a little triangle of fabric. No one needs to know that you sliced off the bottom half, sliced it open, cut off the front, etc. Take a pair of scissors to your current black or white camis and make them belly-friendly. Make sure to trim carefully so it doesn’t roll under your clothing or get a run in the fabric. Don’t want to destroy what you love and plan to wear after the baby is born? Get thee to H&M, Target or even Goodwill and get a few super cheap camisoles. Don’t spend dough on maternity ones if all they are doing is keeping your breasts covered; save that money for the baby (or a pedicure!).

Now that you know what you have, and what you need to make it really work, put it back in your closet and drawers in an organized manner. Your body can change from day to day, it is very possible that you will think Monday night you will wear your blue dress but by Tuesday morning it will no longer fit. If you keep your wardrobe tidy, it will make last-minute outfit changes less stressful and time consuming. Hang up still-clean clothes as soon as you take them off, spot clean when possible and make an effort to have these few items at the ready as often as possible.

2. Invest in Transitional Pieces. Get yourself that belly band and a few camis. Don’t put it off, because that just makes your wardrobe all the more frustrating. No time to head to the mall? These items are so simple and standard you can usually score them from an online boutique at an equivalent price. Search on your lunch hour or while pasta water is heating for free shipping, coupons, or sites like eBates that will provide you with cash back on your purchase. Go ahead and put the items in a Shopping Cart and have them ready come payday to purchase.

3. Realistically Assess Your Lifestyle.
The staples for a woman’s wardrobe can sort of go out the window at this point. Your wardrobe doesn’t need to be ready for whatever life throws you, but what you realistically will be encountering over the next couple of months. You don’t need to get a LBD if you know there won’t be any dressy events in your near future. If you are an SAHM, you don’t need tailored trousers and silk blouses. If you are a corporate woman, you may not need more than one pair of jeans and a knit top or two. However, do think about what you DO need. Do you have client meetings? Church? A conservative office? Think about your pre-pregnancy wardrobe and what items got the most wear, and keep that in mind for your pregnancy clothing additions.

4. Borrow from Friends. This hasn’t worked for me because I am short and curvy, and all my friends who have children are not that same combination. However, many women who are pregnant know other women who were and will be happy to give or lend some wardrobe staples. They may not have trousers in the right length, but they may have a few knit tops, or even a belly band they would be willing to offer for a few months.

However when borrowing, use the same discretion you used when digging through your current wardrobe. Just because it’s free doesn’t mean you should take it. If it’s not in good shape, if it doesn’t fit properly or isn’t something you would enjoy wearing, it’s okay to say no. Our friends are our friends because they are unique and fabulous in their own way – you don’t have to like everything they like. You love blues and greens and your friend is offering three yellow dresses? Don’t take them just because they are free. You will already be having a hard time adjusting to a rapidly changing body, changing hair and skin; you don’t need to feel weird in a color or style that doesn’t fit your personality. It’s better to have less that you like, than a bunch of things you don’t.

Also if you have friends, who wouldn’t be offended, borrow or get non-maternity clothing from them. Maybe your mom has a few cute tunic tops from Chico’s that you usually wouldn’t wear but now seem like comfortable and fun wardrobe options. A friend who recently lost weight may have kept hold of some of her old clothes that are just a size or two larger than your original size and may now work for you. This is especially great for things like casual knits and outerwear. Again, don’t take what you won’t feel good wearing. You’ll be happier in the same black pants every day, than in garments that make you feel less than pretty, or less than yourself.

5. Hit The Thrift. Visit your local thrift and consignment stores. Yes, you will have to dig through tons of stonewashed denim jumpers and shorts, but occasionally you may strike gold. A friend found a Diane von Furstenberg maternity dress with tags still on it at her local Goodwill for only $8; a petite friend of mine found her entire maternity wardrobe at thrift stores (just as with sales racks, thrift and consignment stores often have the best stuff in the smallest sizes). She spent $40 in total and ended up with enough clothes to properly outfit herself for an office work environment and even a few weddings and holiday parties.

If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Your first visit may be horrible, but the next trip may be fabulous. Find out when they restock racks, if they receive shipments on a certain day, and even ask friends and family to search shops on your behalf. Give them guidelines (8,10 or medium, no denim, no prints, only the brands X, Y, and Z), but know that with such low prices, if they get you something you don’t love you can always re-gift to another expecting lady or re-donate without losing out.

6. Be Friends with eBay. As I type this, I am wearing a dress I got for $6.90 including shipping. Last night when I got home from work, I changed into one of three tees I got as a bundle for 99 cents plus shipping. eBay can be a pregnant woman’s best friend, or worst enemy.

As with any other eBay purchase, you need to be careful. Shop from reputable shoppers, know the brand they are offering and how it fits, as questions if the listing doesn’t answer everything. Have a price you aren’t willing to cross, and don’t cross it. So many times friends tell me they get so caught up in the thrill of the chase on eBay that they end up paying the same amount (or more!) that they would in a store. Do your homework and know what price this item is currently (or would currently) sell at a store. Shop for specific things, don’t wander aimlessly and remember what you bid on so you don’t suddenly get hit with having to pay for five different won auctions at the same time.

I have spent a total of $18 (including shipping) on eBay since I have gotten pregnant and from it have a pair of Gap jeans, a Liz Lange for Target dress, a casual knit dress, and three pretty tee shirts. You honestly can’t find those sorts of bargains at your local maternity store’s clearance rack.

7. Accept Your Changing Body.
Your breasts are going to get larger. How much and how quickly, that changes for every woman. Not only will they get larger, they will get heavier, more sensitive and often time just plain hurt. To try to stuff these breasts into your old bras is sheer torture and not healthy. Yes, bras can be expensive, but as with clothing you can often score some great bargains. Victoria’s Secret often has their bras on a two-for deal. I got two of their lightly lined cotton bras for 2/$20, online found a coupon for 15% off AND free shipping. $8.50 a bra, and they are smooth enough to go under lightweight knits and are in fun colors that make me smile. No, they aren’t the best made bras, but they will do and they keep my breasts feeling comfortable and shaped properly. Gap Maternity Online also has some good deals on bras – I got a smooth skin-colored tee shirt bra for only $11.99, had a coupon from a previous online purchase and had a promo code for free shipping. Often times you can find better prices online than you can at your local Big Box retailer – it’s worth a quick Google search before you head out to the mall.

As for underwear, if you can still fit into your pre-pregnancy underwear, awesome! I, the queen of thongs has had to retire most of them due to my new figure. Don’t tell anyone, but my cotton boyshorts from Vickie’s are now more comfortable worn backwards, and at 21 weeks I find the best fit and the least VPL from traditional briefs. I am one to encourage women to wear beautiful and feminine lingerie, but there’s nothing beautiful or feminine about pulling wedgies, having dents in your hips, or binding panties on a woman. Look for lightweight fabrics to discourage VPL, and fun colors cost the same amount as white or gray.

The end of the first trimester you may start feeling a bit unsteady on your feet and as you get into your second and third trimesters, you may have a fear of falling. You may have been a high-heel woman but by now, the extra weight, the lack of balance and the swelling tootsies may make that near impossible. I know it’s hard, I am a heel girl myself. However save yourself, your baby, your feet and your back and get a few shoes lower to the ground. If you do feel you can still rock the heels, consider a thick heel or a wedge for more stability and look into attaching non-skid pads to them. I am one who adores my shoe collection, but has started to wear the same 2-3 shoes all the time because they are comfortable and sturdy. Keep those shoes in the closet and use them with your post-baby transitional attire to get yourself back into the style swing of things. For now, be realistic, be comfortable and be safe. If you wear black a lot, a pair of black flats, Mary Janes or booties may be a great choice – look for a versatile style that can work with skirts, jeans and pants. Softer leather and fabrics will be more comfortable as feet swell. Consider a second pair in a color that makes you happy – much maternity clothing is in black and neutral colors – a pair of magenta ballet flats or emerald peep toes will add cheer and personality to your look.

8. Get out of the Maternity Boutique. There is nothing more overwhelming than a maternity boutique, especially if you are early on in your pregnancy and are starting it off with a less-than-perfect figure or budget. They are good places to stop to see many styles, and to also use that little stuffed belly attachment under clothes to ensure they will fit months from now. However if you do decide to shop at a boutique, walk past the front display, and work the store from the back to the front. Hit the sales racks first, and then look at full-priced items. Grab what size you think you are, and then one bigger or smaller (each brand seems to run differently). Take a friend who will give you an honest, yet gentle opinion. Bring a bottle of water to rehydrate. If the store his too crowded, too hot, too messy, the salespeople are too pushy, LEAVE. Return policies on maternity clothing are usually very strict and the last thing you want is buyer’s remorse with raging hormones.

Visit maternity sections of department stores and big box retailers. Shops like JC Penney will have surprisingly reasonably-priced and simple styled pieces year-round. These departments are often more relaxed (no pushy salespeople or jammed racks) so you can take your time to try things on, and usually have a better chance of getting your money back if you get home and change your mind.

Also don’t ignore the online boutiques. Shops like Old Navy have extensive online maternity collections, and most shops that sell maternity provide free return shipping if you change your mind. Gap, Target and Ann Taylor Loft often have amazing sales on their online maternity collections. A bit of Googling will often find you coupons for free delivery or at least a couple bucks off your entire order. I have found great career-wear, dresses and weekend attire most for under $12 each at the above mentioned shops and find the quality to exceed what I find in maternity-specific boutiques. If you sign up for these stores’ emails you will often receive a welcome coupon, and be notified before the public of upcoming sales.

9. Don’t Buy Maternity. When trying to have a budget wedding, experts often suggest a bride choose a bridesmaid dress in white or ivory because it will be a fraction of the cost of an actual bridal gown. The same holds true for maternity clothing.

Now, this suggestion doesn’t work for all shapes of women, but for many of you, searching the clearance racks in a size or two larger can often find you some gems at great prices. Look for items with stretch and that would flatter a bulging baby bump. Many knit pieces like yoga pants, matte jersey and sweaters with lycra will work quite well through many months of your term. If you are petite, you may want to also look at the regular sizes so you have enough length to accommodate the belly, and alterations may have to be made in shoulders or hems by a tailor. However, you can often score some amazing deals that will make these adjustments worth the money.

10. Accept Style, Not Fashion. These are really two different things, and there is no better time than when you are pregnant to accept this. You don’t need the current trend of jeans, designer brands, It shoes, accessories and certain fabrics to look fabulous through your pregnancy. In all honesty, the simpler maternity fashions are far more stylish than the overpriced or the ones attempting to recreate a runway trend. On the other hand, don’t think that just because you’re dressing for two, you have to dress in a manner that is outside your normal look. One can still be simple, chic, funky, artsy, bohemian, a rocker, an artist, a lady, a prep and be pregnant. If you didn’t live in cotton button-downs and capris before the baby, you don’t have to succumb to them now. If you didn’t like black before you were expecting, you aren’t doomed to wear it for the next few months.

Yes, the maternity stores will be chock full of overpriced designer jeans, crazy prints, sexy tops, and more pastel striped cotton tunics than you can shake a stick at. If these are within your sense of style and budget, go for them. However most of us are the type who want simple versatile pieces, coordinating colors, and items that won’t itch, bind or put us into debt.

It’s okay to have just two pairs of pants, one or two dresses and a few tops. So what if you wear the same black pants three times in one week – if they are clean and flatter, it’s totally okay. You are not entering a fashion contest, you are pregnant! Look for simple pieces that are less memorable so they can be re-worn often. Choose fabrics that are easier to care for – that cotton top is adorable, but do you want to have to iron it before each wearing? Same goes for dry cleaning – the more you can clean in your home or laundry room, the more often you can wear the garments, the less clothing you actually need in your wardrobe.

Choose a palette and stick to it. If you keep a wardrobe of browns, creams, reds and purples your collection will go farther. Blacks, grays and jewel tones like purples and greens also work nicely together. Whites and khakis can go with most any neutral or bright. Having a palette of 4-5 colors will make it easier when shopping, easier when making an outfit each day, easier when purchasing shoes and accessories. A simple color palette is also a great way to make cheaper items look more elegant. Stick with mostly solids, few pieces that fit well and wash well, and bring out your personality in accessories.

You may also wish to visit:
Maternity Fashion Review – Liz Lange for Target Tankini
Wardrobe Oxygen and Maternity Fashion
Wardrobe Staples for the Mom-to-Be
Before and After Maternity Clothing

My VERY LONG Review of Bonnaroo… and a Little News!

Bonnaroo – this would be our second year going. For those who don’t know what Bonnaroo is, it is a four-day music festival on a 700+ acre field in Manchester, Tennessee. As for the type of music, well that is extremely varied. Rock, electronica, bluegrass, blues, soul, hip hop, rap, indie, heavy metal, jam bands, and even famous comedians. Over 100 artists are at Bonnaroo but a few names you may know that were in attendance this year were Pearl Jam, Metallica, Kanye West, O.A.R., Death Cab for Cutie, Vampire Weekend, Cat Power, Lupe Fiasco, Jack Johnson, Willie Nelson, B.B. King, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, and Chris Rock.

Bonnaroo is 11 hours from my home in the Nations Capital – each year we drive down to Bristol, TN and stay overnight and then head out the next morning for the festival grounds. This gives us a last chance for a hot shower and a cool room to rest for when we do the Roo, we do it in General Camping. This means tents, no electricity, porta potties and the only water available is freezing well water from water stations (a fancy term for troughs with spigots in a trailer). Last year four of us went and with much research and help from message boards like Inforoo, we were prepared with a decent camp setup and all the necessities to survive the heat and long days of music and activity. This year our party grew to be seven folks with an even more awesome camp setup and plan of action to get the most out of the fest.

I was ready for the heat, the possible dust or rain, the long days, the lack of sleep, the need to stay hydrated, to stay up until sunrise to catch the best shows, the ability to be comfy without a hot shower or a shave for almost a week. I just wasn’t prepared to go at it pregnant.

Yes pregnant. I am three months With Child. Knocked Up. Preggo. There’s a bun in my oven.

This was not an accident – my husband and I decided to start trying this past Christmas. However with his medical history (think Lance Armstrong) and my almost two decades on birth control, I didn’t think it would be so… swift. We were trying but not trying. Not charting, temping and “baby we better have sex NOW!” sort of stuff, but just not using protection and being a happy married couple. We thought it would be a couple more months… heck even a couple more years before we got pregnant. I joked with a few about how I could be pregnant at Bonnaroo but didn’t really think it would actually happen.

I was 11 weeks along – long enough to have the morning sickness subside, my need to pee not be every 15 minutes and me start to have a twinge of energy again. For that I am eternally thankful. If Bonnaroo were two weeks earlier, I may have spent the entire time crying or sleeping in the fetal position in my tent.

So with this information… here’s my review of Bonnaroo 2008!

As I mentioned, seven of us went together. It was me and my husband, his best friend and my sister (the four from the 2007 group) and then two close girl friends and one of these girls’ boyfriend. They were all Roo Newbies, but music fans who had been well prepped by us regarding what they would experience when once on the farm. We considered shoving into two cars to save on gas, but decided to take three so we would end up with a larger campsite (you park directly behind your car) and not want to strangle one another before we hit Virginia.

Traffic in DC was a beast on Wednesday morning; it took over an hour and a half to get from my house in the DC suburbs to my sister’s apartment in DC to Route 66. We ended up not getting on the highway until around 10:30 am. Two cars headed to my sister’s place, the other started their commute from near Baltimore at 10:30 and still caught up with us in time for lunch. We stopped at a little pizza joint in BFE, Virginia where I had an awesome mushroom calzone, refueled the cars and got back on the road. We arrived at the Bristol La Quinta around 5pm.

Our friend’s dad lives only about 20 minutes from Bristol so we met him and his wife for dinner at Chili’s. Did you know there is literally only ONE vegetarian entrée on the entire freaking Chili’s menu? WTF! I was so not in the mood for a black bean burger that evening so I got super Meg Ryan from When Harry Met Sally on our waiter and made a custom meal. I didn’t feel too bad when he then admitted he used to go to Bonnaroo too, but stopped “when all the crappy commercial MTV bands started taking over.” I hate jam band snobs – there were still TONS of original Roo artists there (Umphrey’s McGee, Widespread Panic, Disco Biscuits, Yonder Mountain String Band, Phil Lesh, etc.) so those snobs drive me batty.

After dinner, we hit the Wal-Mart for some necessities. Got some awesome battery-operated fans for $5 that were lifesavers at Bonnaroo, some Clorox wipes to prep the porta potty seats, eye drops for my allergy-prone and contacts-wearing eyes, and my husband got a water gun and a Frisbee. After, my friend and his girlfriend went to his parent’s house for the night and five of us went back to La Quinta. Four drank beer, one drank water and we all played Roo-themed Pictionary and wrote goofy raps (sounds lame but we were giggling for hours).

We headed out a bit later than expected the next day, but with some advice from our friend’s parents (construction in Knoxville, use Route 55 to get into the festival) we made great time and ended up in a very short line (less than an hour from highway to campsite) and funnily enough only about 100 yards from our camp location the previous year (Pod 6/Camp Dr. Rumack for those who went). Not a bad spot – like a 10 minute walk to Centeroo where all the events took place and less than a block from porta-potties and right near a main road so it was easy to find camp in the middle of the night.

Camp setup was pretty painless with seven people. Unfortunately it was near 5pm which is when I seem to get my Morning Sickness. I was really dragging, but trying to be helpful. Drank lots of very cold water, had some protein and plugged through. Soon we had our phat pad set up – two EZ up shelters, four tents (one for me and my husband, one for my friend and her man, one for our guy friend and one for the two gals), tarps over all to block from heat and pounding rain, a mini kitchen made from a grill and folding table, a bunch of tailgate chairs, Christmas lights around the shade shelters and even a shower/toilet tent!

We all cooled off with some beers (me with some Vitamin Water) and headed to Centeroo. One friend had a couple he knew who were also there and they suggested we start the evening with seeing Grand Ole Party. Never heard of this band before, but knew I would like them once I found out the lead singer was a woman AND the drummer! They totally rocked and put on a good show. After we took a quick walk through Centeroo to get our bearings and headed to see a few more shows (Grupo Fantasmo, Back Door Slam, The Sword). I would have LOVED to stay up to see Vampire Weekend and Dark Star Orchestra but the kumquat (that’s what size the books say the baby was at the time of Bonnaroo) wasn’t having it so back to camp I went. I was knocked out by midnight.

Day Two – Friday. Started the day with a makeshift shower at the Water Station. This entailed me tossing on a pair of cargo shorts holding a hair towel, bar of soap, shampoo and a razor. Got in line with all the other campers with my own spigot of well water and washed my hair, shaved my pits and washed what was accessible. This year I had no fear and stripped off my shirt to just a solid hot pink cotton Victoria’s Secret bra so I could really feel clean. For the rest of the body, I went back to the tent and made do with Tea Tree cleansing wipes from The Body Shop and some Target brand personal cleansing wipes. I must admit I did add some girliness to the day – brought my Matrix Contouring Milk to add to my air-dried hair and Cover Girl LashBlast waterproof mascara (BTW like it just as much as the non-waterproof version). Packed the Camelbak with Life Water, regular water, granola bars and fruit for snacks after slathering on tons of SPF 30 and donning a sloppy straw hat.

We started the day by attending a brunch for members of the message board Inforoo. May sound dorky, but it was totally awesome to meet so many people I had corresponded with for the past two years. We didn’t stay long because only half our group were members of the board and felt a bit left out. We also wanted to catch some music! We began the day’s music with Steel Train which I liked okay but found it more to be background music to my conversations with friends and People Watching. We then caught the end of Drive By Truckers’ set, which was pretty fantastic. We then headed to the Which Stage (second largest stage) to see Umphrey’s McGee. My husband saw them at Caribbean Holidaze this past December and we have a good friend that is a pretty rabid fan of theirs, but I had yet to experience them live. While half our group went near the stage to see the band, I stayed with a few friends near the back of the crowd under a tree to get shade and to relax. Still loved them and had an awesome experience. We stayed put for Les Claypool, who was on next. Another great performance.

After Les, I had great expectations. I wanted to see Swell Season, Rilo Kiley, M.I.A., Willie Nelson and Chris Rock. However Kumquat was exhausted so I headed back to camp for a late afternoon nap. I ended up sleeping until 9pm. Most of our group had left to go see Metallica; my friend Shelly and I chilled out, changed clothes, repacked and headed later into Centeroo to get good seats for My Morning Jacket.

My Morning Jacket is the reason we even went to Bonnaroo in the first place. My husband wanted to get his best friend a DVD for his birthday that showcased an amazing guitarist he didn’t know too much about (his friend is a guitar player). After doing some Googling he decided to get My Morning Jacket’s Okonokos DVD. We watched it together and I was addicted. I started researching MMJ and found they were regular performers at Bonnaroo. Though they weren’t performing in 2007, it still sounded like a cool festival so we decided to go. So this year they were performing and it would be my first time seeing them live and I was very excited.

We got a good spot (to the left of the beer stand for anyone who attended) and chilled out listening to Metallica’s set (not sad that I missed it) over the trees and enjoying the cool temperatures. Then it started to rain. Just a bit of drizzle, not too terrible. After Metallica, my sister, husband and my friend’s boyfriend caught up with us and it really began to rain. No worries, we were all prepared with ponchos and trash bags!

MMJ didn’t disappoint. It was so good, the vibe of the crowd and being with my favorite people and yes, even the rain made such a magical moment that I teared up. Definitely the highlight of the weekend. However the rain started getting to be very strong and my friends wanted to head out to see the Superjam (rumors were flying that Ton Waits was going to show up) so I regretfully left MMJ and headed with them to a different stage. We stopped at a tent selling hot tea and coffee to warm ourselves up. The barista told me my herbal tea was very hot, but I didn’t realize HOW hot it was. It was so hot, the cup collapsed on itself and spilled all over my left hand. I burned myself so bad the skin today is all leathery and wrinkled on my ring and middle fingers and I can’t get my wedding set back on. That, plus the rain, leaving MMJ, being tired and pregnant… I started to cry. No romantic tearing up, big heaving sobs. Friends got me ice for my hand and we all agreed it was a gross wet and very late night (around 2am) so we headed back to camp.

I was till a bit sad about how the night ended, but as I snuggled in next to the love of my life I heard MMJ perform “One Big Holiday” as clear as day and I smiled and knew things happen for a reason.

The next day, it was still raining. We trudged through off and on showers to get ready that morning. I can’t recall whether I took a shower or not – think that day due to the rain and mud I just washed with wipes in my tent. I decided to wear my Duo boots since I waterproofed them prior to Bonnaroo. I had brought Crocs as my main footwear because they are perfect for such a festival, but didn’t want nasty Roo mud seeping in through the air holes. As with the previous day, clothing of choice was a lightweight cotton sundress (Saturday was Old Navy, Friday was Target).

We started the day with an acoustic set by The Two Gallants at the Sonic Stage. Not bad, but I was distracted and spent a lot of time taking pictures of the crowd. We walked by and caught a few songs by Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings and then headed to the What Stage (largest stage) to see Ozomatli. I knew NOTHING about this band, but heard great things from friends on message boards. I again was not disappointed – had an amazing time and danced my booty off. It was a true Bonnaroo moment – fun music, good weather (rain had disappeared), good friends, thousands of friendly people dancing with me. We stayed for their entire set and then headed to the Which Stage for Gogol Bordello – another band I heard was amazing live. Maybe I was worn out from Kumquat or Ozomatli, but I wasn’t enthralled with Gogol Bordello. I pretty much chilled out (brought a Crazy Creek stadium seat which was phenomenal for field seating at these shows and easy to bungee to my Camelbak) with a frozen lemonade and People Watched. I then headed back to the big stage to see the legendary B.B. King. I stayed long enough to hear “The Thrill is Gone” and then found my friends at the That Tent where Zappa Plays Zappa was ready to perform.

Was never a fan of Frank Zappa, though I respected his talent. However I heard it was a must-see show and had a mini crush on Dweezil when I was a kid (I can still recall an interview with him on Nickelodeon where he said he hated making left turns while driving). They started and they sounded great, but I knew it was just the wrong scene for me. It was hot and dusty under the tent, a few guys near me smelled of BO and weed, a chick in front of me was smoking a cigarette, Kumquat was getting restless and Morning Sickness was starting (surprise, surprise it was a little after 5pm). I left my friends, wandered a bit and then decided to head back to camp to have a semi-healthy meal (as good as you can do with a 5-day cooler) and a quick power nap.

That power nap ended up being a doozy for I didn’t wake up until almost 10pm, completely missing the Jack Johnson set. Oh, no worries, I figured Jack would be kind of chill and I really was needing high-energy music to keep my own energy going through these long days. I changed into some long linen pants, a tank and a hooded long-sleeved tee and found my friends who were at the What Stage waiting for Pearl Jam.

Yes, Pearl Jam! One of my favorite bands and by far the most favorite band of my husband. Eddie and team have never disappointed us, and I was super excited to see them here were they would be more likely to play rarities and really jam out. Again, my expectations were exceeded. The show went over schedule, they played really rare songs, they jammed out, got personal with the crowd and sounded phenomenal. My Morning jacket made me tear up? Well my husband’s were shining during this set. Totally fabulous.

We then packed up and headed across Centeroo to see Lupe Fiasco at The Other Tent. We got a spot to the right of the tent. Standing, my husband and friend could see the stage pretty well. I was tired so I pulled out the Crazy Creek and had a seat. Lupe was pretty amazing and had the entire crowd wrapped around his finger. I was trying to get in a nap but couldn’t because the beat was infectious and the crowd so pumped.

We then headed BACK to the What Stage to see Kanye West. This was another must-see for me because I wanted to see what Kanye would pull out. There was much controversy about him even being at Bonnaroo – was he the right “feel” for the festival? Why did he get switched from a day spot on a smaller stage to a late night spot on the biggest stage? Would he be a primadonna? Would he live up to the hype? Rumor had it that he would performing the act from his Glow in the Dark tour which would have been pretty awesome to see.

We got a spot almost where we were for Pearl Jam – to the left side of the stage and a third from it. Good view, and good access to beer and porta-potties. I think we were settled by 2:30am and Kanye was supposed to start at 2:45am. I was pretty pumped, as were some of my friends. Others were starting to get sleepy. They were playing popular hip-hop tunes over the speakers until the show started and I was singing Rob Base and Beastie Boys with my girl friends. I was really shocked that no one in the audience knew all the words to Paul Revere. Is it because were are old? Because we grew up near DC? I feel that Beastie Boys’ Paul Revere is a rap classic, one that all ages would know all the words to. Anyway, us old ladies sand all the words and shook our booties!

3:00 and no Kanye. We get a message on the big screen that the show is delayed until 3:15. At 3:15 another notice of delay until 3:30. At 3:30 we get the message “Kanye West up Next!” There were a BUNCH of angry hippies by this point. People were booing, throwing things at the stage and many were chanting, “Fuck Kanye! Fuck Kanye!” I had pulled out my Crazy Creek again and got some shut-eye. I wasn’t going to miss this show, no matter how late it started. People started leaving and at 4am three of my friends gave up and headed back to camp. We persevered. The show FINALLY started at 4:29am. About 20 minutes into it, my husband and sister left because they were falling asleep standing up but somehow my one girl friend and I had a renewed sense of energy and stayed and even pushed forward so we were pretty near the front of the stage.

If you Google this show, you will get many mixed reviews, most negative. Most people were angry from the get-go for the show being almost two hours late. His show was also 30 minutes shorter than scheduled. It was NOT the Glow in the Dark tour performance, but one I had also heard about where he acts out having his space ship crash on an unknown planet.

Personally, I loved the performance, the cheesy parts and all. I knew many of his songs casually but found myself singing along to all of them. I wondered if the delay was purposeful when he began singing “Good Morning” right when the sun was rising, but honestly I didn’t care. I was pregnant, sober and up with the sun dancing my heart out to Kanye West with a good friend and a thousand new friends around me. I was damn proud of myself for sticking through. Kanye sung his heart out and I found him to be a powerful and talented rapper and singer (though his acting skills are SEVERELY lacking). The screens really added to the performance and I loved the lights, the video, the dancing, the whole effect. My friend and I were super pumped and glad to have had the experience.

The show ended around 5:30am and we trudged through Centeroo to head back to our camp. We were so physically and mentally exhausted we could hardly speak. However we were both so psyched by what we just shared.

Surprisingly, my body woke me up around 7:30am. Well maybe not so considering I rarely sleep past that point even on a weekend. Got up and got a burrito of egg and cheese from a nearby vendor. Sunday’s music started a bit later, so it gave me time to have a makeshift shower, even take another nap before heading back for our final day of music. It may sound disgusting, but I put on my same boots (new socks) and the same dress as the day before. I know, ME of all people! However I was going to be gross no matter what I did and the dress was so perfect – it was airy, not lined, super comfortable and my dress I had for Sunday had a lining that I KNEW would stick to my legs. Not only that, my breasts had grown a lot since I bought it and it just didn’t fit the way it was supposed to on top.

We started back to Centeroo around 2:30pm to catch Robert Randolph. He was phenomenal, and others thought so too. He was at the That Tent which is not a huge stage and the crowd spilled out from the tent to the side grounds, over an access road and into a common area. The sun was blazing and there was no heat and after about four songs I had to cry Uncle and move on. I think they put him on a smaller stage because he was with The Revival and not The Family Band, but honestly, he could have filled the What Stage just as well as Ozomatli the day prior.

I headed to the What Stage to catch Yonder Mountain String Band. The sun was insane, I was reapplying sunscreen every 30 minutes and kept wet bandannas on my neck and head. Guys were dancing around with misters and spray bottles which felt like droplets of heaven. I finished a two liter of water and had to go get more. My husband and I sat with our backs to the stage for a while so that the sun wasn’t beating on our faces. The rest of our friends met up with us just in time for the band to start.

Another Bonnaroo hit with Yonder Mountain String Band. Not my typical choice in music (bluegrass) but they were incredible talented, personable and the audience was energized. We were along the gravel access road on the left side of the stage and the road was full of dancing people – hippies, wookies, preps, rockers, ladies with hula hoops, tons of bouncing dreadlocks. It was an awesome sight and you couldn’t help but dance as well. My friend commented, “now I see why Black people say that White people can’t dance” and it cracked me up. It was true, the majority of the people had NO rhythm and seemed more to be doing a jig than traditional dancing, but they were so happy and full of life, it was beautiful! (picture depicts the feelings the next day by many festival attendees)

 We left and headed to get some sustenance and caught a few songs by Solomon Burke. Pretty talented man. We then went to catch O.A.R. It was 5pm and yet again, Kumquat was getting restless so I was feeling anxious, hot, sick and miserable. They were cleaning nearby porta-potties at this time and the smell almost knocked me over. There was no sun anywhere so we just tried to find a spot where we could hear the band and not smell sewage. My sister tells me she got a weird call from my mom on her cell. My mom was dog sitting and when she stopped by my house that morning, there was an alarm going off in my home. It wasn’t the smoke detector or a house alarm and she didn’t know what to do. By time we got the message and called her back, she had called my father-in-law who was also on vacation but called a neighbor of ours who is a handyman. He came over and helped my mom. Come to find out our water heater overheated and a bit overflowed onto the floor, where we have a moisture detection alarm. They cleaned up the bit of water, turned off the alarm and turned off the water heater’s circuit breaker and all was fine by time I called but to have that on top of Morning Sickness and heat and exhaustion… well I wasn’t as patient and nice to my mom as I should have been. I had to walk from my group of friends to hear her and when I returned I couldn’t find my camera. I totally went ballistic screaming that some wookie stole my brand new camera and then my friend found it under his backpack. I knew at that point I needed a major break from it all. The heat, the noise, the ridiculous crowds (65K in attendance), the music, the everything. It wasn’t bad being pregnant at Bonnaroo, but I did have a much shorter fuse than I usually would.

We headed for some food and some shade and I chilled out by myself regrouping. When I finally cooled down, my husband and I decided to go see Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, but find a spot in the shade away from the crowds. Eventually my friend and sister joined us. I lay down and relaxed and sort of vegged out. Honestly, I don’t remember much of that performance except that Alison Krauss’ voice can soar like an angel, and I heard Plant wail a la Led Zeppelin and it sent chills down my spine and made me glad I toughed it out.

After a bit, my sister and friend went to check on other shows. My husband and I decided to roam Centeroo alone, checking out various smaller tents and vendors. It was nice for when you go with a group of seven to a festival attended by 65,000 there’s little couple time available. We held hands and walked slow and it was a nice finale to the day.

At 8:00pm the whole crowd reconvened at the karaoke tent to see our karaoke-obsessed friend perform. This was not any old karaoke tent – this tent offered you to perform with a LIVE BAND. When we showed up it was a hard rock band all decked out in lycra and crimped hair and bandannas. It was fabulous, and T totally rocked the house with her awesome rendition of Bon Jovi’s Living on a Prayer. The karaoke tent shut down soon after her performance; a few went to see other shows, my husband and some went back to camp, my sister and I decided to get a trip on the Ferris Wheel. It had just gotten dark and we were able to see all of the camping and festival grounds lit up. It was a nice way to end the fest.

After the ride, my sister headed to see Widespread Panic. I was planning on seeing them but really felt it would be pushing myself too far. I instead kissed her goodbye and walked back to camp alone. I got myself a last Bonnaroo treat – an ice cream cone for the journey and took a long leisurely route so I could People Watch, Camp Watch, and see all the cars already leaving Bonnaroo.

I got back to camp and two friends were up drinking beer. I attempted to stay up and chat with them but soon started falling asleep in my tailgate chair. Said goodnight and was in bed by 10pm. I was so tired; I slept through all the fireworks and craziness of the last night of Bonnaroo. My husband did as well – we remarked that we had a surprisingly restful night of sleep!

The next morning my husband and I were up by 6am and we immediately started packing. I believe we were on the road by 8:30am. We stopped around 10am for breakfast at Cracker Barrel, made two pit stops and were home by 10pm.

All in all it was a wonderful and actually quite a restful experience. Four days without Internet, TV, newspapers, bills, work, and life drama was exactly what the doctor (and the kumquat) ordered. Finding nutritious vegetarian food was really not a problem – I brought plenty of snacks and there were many food vendors that offered healthy veggie-filled vegetarian and vegan meals. I really enjoyed being sober for the whole time because I didn’t miss a thing and never woke with a hangover or regrets. It was fun to have this crazy experience this summer, knowing next summer I will be caring for the new member of my family!