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Ask Allie: Machine Washable Business Casual Capsule Wardrobe

I’m 42 and just went back to working in an office after years being a SAHM and then a WAHM. The office is business casual and with three boys at home and a crazy schedule I’d like everything machine washable. I am petite and carry my weight in my hips and rear. I also have foot problems and need to wear comfort brands of shoes (Sofft thanks to your recommendation, Softspots, Naturalizer). I look best in blues and purples. Is it possible to look hip and professional or am I stuck in golf shirts and pleated khakis?

Do you have any suggestions for machine washable clothes that can be worn at a business casual office setting? I’m a pear shaped 40-year-old with small kids at home. I usually wear blacks and browns and creams and fall colors and flat shoes and have a tendency to end up looking either very frumpy or too “hiking casual” a la L.L. Bean catalog.

Oh my dears, please do not fall into the deep dark dank hole of pique golf shirt and wrinkle-free chinos. As for L.L. Bean, I adore the brand, but “hiking casual” is not the effect you likely wish to give off at the office. There are other options that are machine washable, kind to your feet, and will better flatter your figure and your personal style!

capsule wardrobe business casual machine washable

This is a very simple capsule wardrobe for a business casual office and all the pieces are machine washable. I know each of you provided the colors that you prefer to wear; please know that while this collection is brights with primarily black, it can be changed to other tones and I will break those down later in the details. However, I chose this color story to show the two of you the power of going outside your color comfort zone. Choosing a wardrobe of neutrals or sticking to just one or two shades you were told are flattering is safe and easy, but I’ve found that this is often what causes women to quickly tire of their wardrobe and also quickly get into a rut. You’re coming to me for advice, and my advice is to get a bit out of your comfort zone to reassess your personal style. You’re going to have to do a bit of self-analysis to prevent spending a ton and floundering each morning in front of your closet. The capsule wardrobes I provide are guides, not gospel. The work needs to come from you. Buy slow, feel out each piece, each new trend or shade. I’m one who was always told that she was a Winter yet I feel most alive when wearing orange. I can recall in 2000 despising skirts and proclaiming that I would even wear pants for my wedding; 15 years later more than half my wardrobe is skirts and dresses. I’m not saying throw out your entire closet; on the contrary. Just recall why you emailed me, and don’t be afraid to dip your toe into new-to-you trends, colors, silhouettes, and combinations. The results may surprise (and flatter!) you!

This capsule wardrobe for a business casual environment is classic, crisp, and quite versatile. Black and charcoal gray bottoms may seem heavy come the warmer months, but remember you are in an office environment with air conditioning. These colors are versatile, transition well from season to season, you have to worry less about matching shoes and belts, and best of all black and heathered gray and charcoal hide stains. For this capsule, I chose a skirt that skims over the hips and hits right around the knee, providing a flattering length that works well with flat shoes. Even if you’re not comfortable with skirts, one of this length is so easy; pair with a refined knit you already own and BAM! An office outfit. To keep it machine washable, look for matte jersey (has a nubby crepe texture but is stretchy) or ponte knit (heavier than jersey, has the same finish on the front and back of the fabric unlike terry or sweatshirt material, very tight weave). Even if the item says dry clean only, these fabrics can be washed on cold on the gentle cycle and hung to dry without a ton of wrinkles and no shrinkage. The pants featured are also in the ponte knit fabric – ponte has become quite a popular fabric because it’s heavy enough to give a smooth line on the body, is budget-friendly, and as comfortable as yoga pants yet appropriate for the office. One ponte piece often matches another so you can buy pants at one store, a skirt at another, a jacket at another and pull together a suiting collection. As for the pants, they are more traditional of suiting fabric, but unlined (linings often get wonky when machine washed) and of a washable material. I was envisioning my LOFT pants; I have them in every color available and they have been in the wash dozens of time (cold, gentle cycle, line dry) and still look like new.

If you cannot stand black and heathered gray, consider taupe, other shades of gray, cool olive, cream, and heathered brown. True brown is hard to find the right color – too warm and it can quickly look dated. Khaki, even if made of silk can still look like a pair of chinos if you’re not comfortable yet with your personal style. There’s something terribly chic about pairing warm neutral tops with crisp black bottoms, so don’t feel that adopting black pants means you need to build a wardrobe of cool tones or brights.

Even if you’re not used to dresses, you can’t deny how darn EASY they are. When you’re a busy mom, you can’t beat one-piece outfits! Again, I chose ponte and matte jersey because they are refined enough for the office but machine washable. The blue ponte dress is one of those cuts that flatters so many figures; elbow-length sleeves work almost every season of the year, the fit and flare cut flatters your figure, and the knee length is modest without being frumpy. The matte jersey dress has a wrap cut which creates an hourglass shape; the ruched waist whittles you even more and brings the eyes up. This concept could be with a skirt length anywhere from just above the kneecap to the bottom of your calf muscle; the sleeves could be anything from cap sleeves to flutter to long sleeves. There is nothing wrong with purchasing a dress like this in multiples – different cuts, different prints, different lengths. With a switch of accessories such a dress could be worn on the beach boardwalk for a stroll or donned to attend a evening dressy affair.

I’m the queen of the not-so-little black dress but I don’t think black is a good choice when picking a work dress. Especially in a business casual environment, a black dress can look too severe and serious, especially if you’re wearing it on a more regular basis. This is a chance to show your personality, so embrace olive green, pumpkin, plum, cobalt, or whatever color makes you feel great. While I recommend having at least one dress a solid (more versatile and easy to transform/dress up and down with accessories), the other dress can have a print or texture.

The tops all have something in common – an unexpected something. When building a small yet mighty capsule wardrobe, it’s tempting to buy basics. However, you’ll find those pieces with the little bit of interest will be the most worn and the most versatile. The teal top is in matte jersey and has a drape neckline that is modest enough for the office, yet provides interest, makes the piece dress up more easily, and balances a pear shape. The striped top has bracelet-length sleeves, a heavier weight, and a boatneck to keep it from looking like a basic tee shirt. The orange shell has pleating detail and a shirttail hem. And even the cardigan is a bold contrast color in place of basic black or tan. However, except for the striped top (which is still in very basic colors), everything is a solid. A solid is more versatile, and if in a stand-out color, will be a piece you love for many seasons. Prints can look dated quickly, are prone to looking cheap, and are far too memorable. That teal top can be paired with the cropped pants and flats, tucked into the skirt and styled with a wide belt, belted over the gray pants, or tucked into the gray pants and topped with the cardigan. You may have as much versatility with a printed top, but you (and others) may be more aware of the piece being worn so often and grow tired of it.

Shoes can be flat and comfort brands and still have style and elegance. Both shoes featured are by Sofft, my favorite brand for comfort, extended sizes, and classic style. A black flat is a great choice as it goes with pants and skirts; choose a style with structure and an almond (not round or square) toe so it feels graceful and is more office-appropriate. Leather is the most versatile and easiest to polish up if it gets dirty or scuffed. A soft metallic sandal is far more versatile than a neutral, is as leg-extending as natural or tan, but can also dress up more easily. This sandal has a subtle wedge that will likely prove more comfortable than a true flat shoe. If your office doesn’t allow sandals or the weather is cooler, you can switch this shoe out for a Mary Jane or flat also in a soft metallic; the goal is to have a different feel from the black and something that will look appropriate with pants as well as skirts.

Accessories are what gives a capsule wardrobe personal style. Since you both stated you were pear shaped, I chose accessories that highlight the smallest part of your figure and draw attention up. A wide belt is an awesome accessory to have in your closet; I love elastic ones with a leather (or faux) buckle. Consider wearing a touch above your natural waist where your torso is slimmest – this makes you look long and lean. A skinny belt in a contrast color is extremely useful. Belt an untucked top to give a different effect (I have done it here and here), belt a cardigan to highlight your small waist, or give a different effect to dresses. The color doesn’t matter – it’s better to contrast than match. Just be sure if there’s a metal buckle it’s the color you usually wear for your jewelry. For necklaces, I chose ones with a lot of impact, but available at most any pricepoint. A beaded necklace is fun, whimsical, and gives you much bang for your buck. Not only that, you won’t be too upset if one of your little ones accidentally tugs and breaks it. While you can buy your initial necklaces at the mall or big box retailer, keep an eye out for cool pieces when on your travels – it’s a wonderful way to remember your vacations and add a unique and personal touch to your wardrobe.

How to Keep Your Wardrobe Looking Like New

I wrote this post, looking at a huge mound on my dining room floor of clothes that need to go to the dry cleaners. A week ago, the mound was in the laundry room, and the week before that on the floor of my closet. Maybe today I’ll get around to bagging them and putting them in the trunk of my car and hopefully they’ll get to the cleaners before it’s July. I get you with wanting a machine washable work wardrobe. Dry cleaning is difficult, not as environmentally friendly, and costly. Here’s a few tips to keep you dressed for the office without having to go to the cleaners:

  • Invest in a Lingerie Bag. The problem with washing machines isn’t as much the water as it is the wringing and spinning. I have two lingerie bags and use them often; in one I put bras (with the hooks hooked so they don’t snag on anything else) and underwear, the other I put silk and delicate blouses. Using the gentle cycle on the machine, loading halfway but having the water for a full load, and choosing delicate detergent, I find this is a safe way to wash my work blouses. I then hang them on a plastic hanger off the shower curtain rod in the bathroom until they’re dry. If they’re wrinkled, often being hung in the bathroom during a hot steamy shower will do the trick.
  • Spot Clean. You do not need to wash your clothes after every wear. Usually if you let them air out they’re ready to wear a couple more times. I often spot clean clothing so I don’t have to launder or dry clean the entire piece. I always have a Tide To Go pen in my purse and I also have one in my pencil cup on my office desk. At home, I’ll use a little bit of Ivory Soap to lather a spot and then a clean rag or washcloth to dampen and then blot.
  • Go Liquid. Powder laundry detergents may be a better value, but often leave residue when using cold water and the gentle cycle. I use Biokleen for my gentle washes because it rinses clean and doesn’t leave any coating on my clothing. I find it does a better job than specialty detergents like Woolite.
  • Buy Peroxide and Dawn. This is the best stain remover ever. Seriously. While at it, keep an old toothbrush with the two bottles, it works well getting into the weave of ponte, twill, and cotton.
  • Baby Your Wardrobe. I had a high school boyfriend who as soon as he got home off the bus would change out of his Champion sweatshirts and Guess jeans into older rattier sweats and jeans. I found this so weird, but I gotta say he always looked so crisp at school and was the only person I knew who could keep white sweatshirts looking brand new. Take a lesson from this guy and take off your work clothes as soon as you get home. While ponte and matte jersey may be as comfortable as loungewear, babying it will keep it looking nice much longer. Fold sweaters; when placed on hangers they can stretch and get misshapen. I hang pants upside down, matching up seams and either folding over a bar or clipping to a hanger; this helps keep a crisp leg and a bit of a crease down the front, elongating the leg. Be careful when hanging so nothing gets creased or mushed.

Sunday

Sunday was the day to take care of the house – laundry, dishes, scrubbing the bathrooma nd vacuuming everywhere. I put on some black toga pants from Land’s End, a berry colored crewneck tee from Mossimo/Target and a dark purple v-neck lightweight fleece from North Face. I wore this to the grovcery store when I realized my husband threw away the sponge but didn’t have a replacement one. I wore it when I went to scoop up all the dog poo in the back yard. I wore it as I made my 5th trek up the stairs with a load of fresh laundry.

Makeup was i.d. Bare Escentuals foundation and concealer, touch of Nars Orgasm blush, a coat of mascara and Burt’s Bees tinted lip balm in berry.

Hair was allowed to air dry and was held back with an accordion headband. Nothing fashionable, but not atrocious.

Plus Sized Work Attire Options

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Not Completely Awake

It’s Saturday morning. I am up, did my crunches and some yoga. Now trying to get the house taken care of. My husband is running with a friend – they are training for a marathon. I am doing laundry, washing dishes and cleaning.

Therefore, all I am wearing is a tee shirt from my hometown’s Boys and Girls club, with a pair of Banana Republic boxers that belong to the husband.

This is always a good time to take care of the body. I have slathered my hair with conditioner and held it up with a Goody Ouchless elastic. I also have on a face mask from The Body Shop to deep clean and condition the skin. I have Bag Balm on my feet, covered with some clearance socks from The Gap. All about the multi-tasking!

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:

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
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.

How to Be Stylish on a Budget

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more tips, check out:

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Contest: Tolani Scarf from chickdowntown.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck!

A Proper Bra Fitting – My Experience

I believe a woman should be fitted for a bra every year. Our bodies are constantly changing with age, weight loss and gain, changes to our exercise routine, childbirth and nursing and so much more. Getting properly fitted for a bra does not mean heading to your local Victoria’s Secret to have a teenager who works 4 hours a week try to figure out your size and get you to buy a bra at that store, even if your size isn’t in stock. Getting properly fitted doesn’t mean trying to measure yourself at home and cross your fingers that your online purchase fits.

What it means is going to an expert who can measure you, and then offer you a few styles and brands to try so you can find not only your band and cup size, but the specific type of bra that gives you the best shape, support, and style.

I have been putting off being fitted for far too long; the last time I was fitted was a little over a year before I got pregnant. Since then, I lost weight, carried a child, nursed it for over two years, gained weight, and lost it again. My breasts were sitting like deflated water balloons in my molded-cup bras, they were obviously the wrong size and on top of that, stretched out and in need of replacement.

My community parenting group scheduled a bra-fitting party at A La Mode in Annapolis, Maryland and I jumped at the chance to go. I had been meaning to be fitted but kept putting it off… too busy, not enough money, too lazy. The event was yesterday and it was amazing.

A La Mode Intimates in Annapolis 
Click for a larger version (and to see my mom being rung up at the counter!)

I had heard of A La Mode before, but never visited. They have a new location at the Annapolis Towne Center and it is gorgeous. Bright and airy, yet romantic. The sales area is broken into little rooms which made shopping more fun, and you felt less on display when fingering a lovely charmeuse camisole or reading about nursing bras. Through curtains is their lounge. They set up a lovely little spread for us of brie with crackers and grapes, wine and ice water. They had a couple chairs, a couch and coffee table that were surrounded by gigantic fitting rooms with large mirrors and flattering lighting.

Rebecca assisted me; she whipped out her tape measure and in about three seconds flat had measured me over my shirt. From that she brought me a bra to try. I didn’t look at the brand, I didn’t look at the size, I just tried it on. And I was amazed. My breasts looked smaller, firmer, younger. I had a waistline! Then I looked at the tag…

When I was last fitted, they said I was a 38D. When I got pregnant, my breasts grew and I made the decision to go to 38DD. After Emerson was born, I seemed to be at 38DD and stuck with the same bras. As I have lost weight and stopped nursing, my breasts shrunk. I bought a 38D but kept falling out of the top, and it irritated me under my arms. I went back to my 38DD bras which looked crazy, but at least were reliable.

This bra was a 36F
F as in Frank
F?!?! 

How could that be? I have these deflated, smaller breasts! An F?? But this bra was a perfect fit, it almost felt as though I wasn’t wearing a bra, it was so comfortable. Rebecca informed me that different countries have different bra sizing methods. The US goes from D to DD and then skips E for F, but Europe skips DD and goes straight to E. In the UK they use both single and double letters. This means that a bra from Wacoal, a bra from Elomi, and a bra from Chantelle may fit the same but have different cup letters on the label.

Rebecca checked the bra on me, informed me that the straps shouldn’t really be doing the support (which I do, tightening my straps in an attempt to lift), the bra itself will do the work. She showed me how the band should sit low on my back, not up near my shoulder blades – this prevents your skin from pouring over the bra, and also helps with support. She asked me my bra needs (something that is invisible under thin knits, something that won’t show when I wear a scoop neck, and something that gives me a great shape) and came back with a couple more bras to try. I am a fan of the molded cup and she brought me some of those, as well as a couple other types I may not have considered. I got plenty of time to try on by myself, I didn’t feel as though a salesperson was breathing down my neck, yet if I just said, “Rebecca?” she was right there to bring a different size or color.

 Me in my original bra

 
Me in the bra I purchased

I had two bras that I loved, but unfortunately they didn’t have either in a skin color.

The Winners:
Fantasie Moulded Smoothing T-shirt Bra. Very basic, but gives amazing shape. No lace, no frills, no nothing so it’s invisible under knits. Incredibly comfortable, with incredible lift. I fit a 36DD.

Fantasie Ava. Another simple t-shirt bra, but with a bit of lace detail and pretty straps. Again, I fit best in a 36DD.

I don’t need two black bras right now, so I chose the one with the thinner, less-decorative straps (makes more sense for summer with sleeveless tops). A La Mode will let me know when the bras are back in stock in skin colors.

I went to be rung up… and remembered I needed a strapless bra. Since Rebecca had helped me try on a good dozen different bras, it was easy for her to guess which styles and brands would work best for me. She handed me a skin-colored strapless and I tried it on. Did you know that there are strapless bras out there that are comfortable? I put on my shirt and came out into the lounge to show the other women in my group. “THIS IS A STRAPLESS BRA!” I exclaimed, and they all ooohed and aaahed because really my bust looked almost as good in this strapless as the Fantasie bras above. On top of that, this strapless has straps that can be attached, so you can make it a one-shoulder, criss-cross back, halter or standard bra.

I tried on another strapless, but it didn’t compare to this one in regard to fit and comfort.

THIS is a strapless bra!

The Winner:
Simone Perele Velia Strapless Plunge in Praline. I wanted a strapless that wouldn’t peek out of a sweetheart or surplice neckline and this one did the trick. I tried it last night with my new Gap maxi dress I was going to return because it can’t be worn with any bras I own. Now the dress looks adorable and I am still uber comfortable!

Now this strapless is more than I have EVER paid for a bra… but to have a strapless that is invisible under thin knits, hides under plunging necklines and is so comfortable that I am wearing it all day today as a standard bra… sounds like a worthy investment to me! Also with researching online, I found that A La Mode’s prices are competitive with what I found at department stores and online boutiques (I paid the same price for this bra as it is listed on the Simone Perele site Bare Necessities, Neiman Marcus, and HerRoom).

The benefit of going to a bra boutique or lingerie department of a higher-end department store is you will find an educated bra specialist, and a large variety of brands and sizes. When you visit your nearby Victoria’s Secret, all you have to choose from is Vickie’s bras. Your breasts are just like every other part of your body – unique. What may be Holy Grail jeans to one woman may be terribly unflattering on you; the same holds true with bras.

Bras aren’t cheap. As Rebecca said yesterday at the bra fitting, “You get what you pay for.” Before Bonnaroo, I was desperate for a bra and went to Target and got one from their Gillian and O’Malley line. It itches, it makes my breasts look a bit square in shape, and come the end of the day I can’t WAIT to get it off. I have purchased bras at Frederick’s of Hollywood that lifted my breasts practically to my neck, but I found them horribly uncomfortable after a couple hours, and they would fall apart after a few months (even with proper laundry care). A bra that properly fits, supports, and is comfortable will completely change your figure, your posture, the way your clothes fit. This morning, I wanted to wear a light-colored top and put on my old nude bra. It was… fine. I then tried the new strapless and I looked as though I had lost ten pounds and was five years younger. Seriously, this is the difference between and okay bra and a great bra.

So what are you waiting for? Get yourself fitted, and get yourself some quality bras. You won’t regret it!

Note: I was not compensated in any way for this post; A La Mode did not contact me or know I was going to write this post.

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#GivingTuesday and The Health Wagon

giving tuesday

We had a day for giving thanks. We had two for getting deals. Now, we have #GivingTuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back. Today, Tuesday, December 2, charities, families, businesses, community centers, and students around the world come together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give.

It’s simple: find a way for your family, your community, your company or your organization to come together to give something more. Then tell everyone you can about how you are giving. Join and be a part of a global celebration of a new tradition of generosity. Share on social media how you gave and use the hashtag #Giving Tuesday.

This year, I am supporting The Health Wagon for #GivingTuesday. Earlier this year I saw a piece on 60 Minutes regarding The Health Wagon and have been a supporter ever since. I donate a portion of my revenue from the blog to The Health Wagon and for those who visit Wardrobe Oxygen’s actual site will know I donated ad space to promote the organization.

Nearly one million Virginia residents lack health insurance. Those who work full time at minimum wage make too much to be eligible for Medicaid, but not enough to afford healthcare even via the ACA. On top of that, many parts of Southwest Virginia have little medical access or health resources. The Health Wagon is a nonprofit organization providing mobile health services in Southwest Virginia since 1980. Every dollar donated to The Health Wagon is approximately $100 reaped in health care benefits. In 2013, the Health Wagon assisted more than 11,000 patients obtain access to care valued at over $1 million.

The Health Wagon strives to meet the unique challenges of health care delivery to the medically under-served and indigent in poverty-stricken areas of rural Appalachia. Through the use of this innovative mobile health unit, health care doors are opened to many needy individuals, families, and communities; doors that would have otherwise remained closed. The Health Wagon visits eleven sites in Southwest Virginia’s Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott, and Wise counties on a weekly, biweekly, and monthly basis. Accessibility to culturally sensitive primary health care services that emphasize education and prevention is considered the key to improving the health status for populations residing in these rural areas. Services are rendered essentially free of charge; however, donations are encouraged and accepted.

Please consider participating in #GIVINGTUESDAY and donating to The Health Wagon by clicking here or texting WAGON10 to 41444 to donate $10.00, WAGON20 to 41444 to donate $20.00 or WAGON (enter amount) to 41444 to donate any amount.  To donate online visit this link to go to The Health Wagon’s donation page via Network for Good.

I’d love to hear how you are participating in #GivingTuesday, do share your stories in the comments below!

Don’t Let Purchases Haunt You

nothing haunts us like the things we didn't buy

Have you seen this quote floating around Pinterest? I have and every time I see someone I know pin it I cringe.

I believe in the power of clothing. A great outfit can be a suit of armor that helps you feel confident during a stressful or difficult situation. Wearing a certain type of clothing can show respect to your workplace, to a house of worship, for the deceased, or those hosting an event. And sometimes just the right cut of a dress can take you from schlump to sex goddess.

However there isn’t a single purchase you can make for your closet that will change who you are. I don’t care what name is on the label or how amazing it makes your boobs or ass look, it’s not going to change your brain, your heart, or your soul. And maybe I sound like your mom, but it’s what’s inside that counts.

clothing is only the book jacket to your life novel

Clothing is only the book jacket to your life novel. Choosing clothing that fits and flatters not just your figure but your lifestyle and personality help better represent your novel and may attract more interested readers, but they don’t affect the plot or the outcome.

I’ve caught myself many times doing what I know many of you have done – shopped for a new self. This year I’m going to wear more power colors, I’m going to embrace my femininity, if I start over with a new minimalist capsule wardrobe my life will be simpler, I’m not going to be “that” mom, “that” corporate drone, and yes “that” blogger.

And the closet gets new additions, but one’s core, one’s self is unchanged. Because money can’t buy happiness, and it can’t buy a new soul. It’s easier to throw money at a closet than do self-analysis and work to improve our selves, but it doesn’t work. You have to do the work, not your wardrobe. Life is more than clothes, don’t let purchases define you, don’t let that which was unpurchased haunt you. You’re so much more than what you buy and own, so much more precious and interesting and beautiful. Believe that, and remember that a book jacket is just marketing; the plot of the novel is what really matters.

Scrimp or Splurge – What’s Your Number?

scrimp or splurge

Tuesday’s post about white tee shirts got me thinking. I believe we all have a number, that price we won’t cross for certain items for our closet. I often read interviews with style icons and they’ll say how they scrimp for X but splurge for Y, and often I feel the complete opposite about those items. That our numbers are personal based upon our age, our figure, our lifestyle, our budget. They are as unique as our personal styles.

While I wouldn’t have spent over $30 for a tee shirt two years ago (maybe $45 if striped or embellished), I now obviously will drop $80 for a plain white v-neck to stop the hunt and finally be satisfied. I couldn’t imagine spending more than $75 on a pair of jeans (but owned over a dozen pairs), but now don’t even blink at a $100 pricetag; though I now only own a handful of pairs.

On the other hand, some things I won’t pay as much for now that I used to. I can recall putting designer wool and leather coats on layaway because I considered them a worthy investment; now I buy my coats on clearance in the spring and don’t care the label inside as long as I like how it looks on me. Most of my makeup bag contents are from CVS, and I’ve learned some natural budget-friendly products like witch hazel, coconut oil, and jojoba oil do just as well as the high-end skincare lines.

The part missing from the tee shirt conversation was lifestyle and budget. What are the white tee shirts worn for, and how much can you spend on clothing in general? For some people $150 is a drop in the bucket, for others it’s the food budget for a month. For some, a white tee shirt is a piece of fashion as important as an It Bag or designer jeans while others just see it as what they slip on under their sweaters or wear on weekends with shorts.

So I ask you, what are your numbers? What’s the max you’d pay for a pair of jeans? A winter coat? A pair of tall boots? A handbag?  A dress to wear to a wedding or gala event? Where do you scrimp and where do you splurge? I know there’s such a variety of people who read this blog, this conversation would be interesting to highlight your unique lives and personal styles, but also help me know what to share on Wardrobe Oxygen in the future!

Thursday and Friday

Thursday:
Attire:
Ann Taylor – White Jeans, Gold hoops
Gap – Turquoise 3/4 sleeve tee
Tolani – Blue Zig Zag scarf
Lands End – Gold Sandals
Ralph Lauren – Gold bangles

Hair:
What I hate people doing – leaving the house with wet hair. But this week has been INSANE and I was running late and had to get to work tres early. It was pretty much dry by time I got to the Metro and I had ringlets by time I was at work. Wash, condition and Frederic Fekkai Luscious Curls Cream.

Beauty:
Estee Lauder – Nutritious Vita-Mineral Makeup in Intensity 2.0
Cargo – Matte BeachBlush in Tenerife
Stila – Lip Glaze in Fruit Cake
Pop Beauty – Shadow palette for Brown Eyes: The beige and celadon blended together
Maybelline – UltraLiner in Black
Cover Girl – LashBlast mascara in Rich Black

Friday:
Left very early in the morning and drove myself to the Metro, so no full-length shot.

Attire:
Old Navy – Printed v-neck tee
Gap – Essential Jeans
Born – Orange leather thongs
Olive crocheted cotton scarf
Various silver necklaces and hoops
Ray Bans – Aviator sunglasses

Hair:
Next day, straightened while dry with round brush and dryer

Beauty:
L’Oreal – True Match foundation in C3 where needed
Nars – Blush in Orgasm
Stila – Lip Glaze in Fruit Cake
Cover Girl – LashBlast mascara in Rich Black
Revlon – ColorStay shadow quad in Neutral Khakis

This is a Casual Friday if I have ever done it – a silkscreened tee? But I have already put in seven extra hours this week and haven’t had time for laundry let alone hang out with Little Miss E. I am REALLY looking forward to this weekend, even though we have a sad affair tomorrow (burying my husband’s father’s ashes). It will be nice to spend time with family and loved ones and not be behind two computers with a headset on all day long! 😛

Friday

Attire:
Old Navy maternity: Dark patch pocket jeans (roll waist)
Banana Republic Outlet – Black ponte jacket
eBay (forgot brand) – White maternity tee, pinned in back so a bit of shape
Renaissance Festival – Silver necklace
Silver hoops and cuff
Sudini – Black leather booties

Hair:
Next day,large sections in curling iron

Beauty:
Laura Mercier – Flawless Face Kit in Sand
Nars – Blush in Orgasm
Pop Beauty – Shadow palette for brown eyes – khaki on lid
Maybelline – UltraLiner in black
Cover Girl – LashBlast mascara in Rich Black
Benefit – Her Glossiness in Next Question Please

So glad it is Friday! The past two days have been kinda tough. I feel that I have gained 20 pounds in two days, it’s hard to put on pants, hard to put on shoes (have to use my pant leg to pull my foot up on my opposite knee), torture when I drop something and have to get down to pick it up. I have to get up to use the bathroom a couple times a night and it’s difficult to get out of the bed. I feel like a Weeble Wobble. That plus getting hot so easily, it makes the commute to work pretty tough, and mental clarity and creativity at work a struggle. Glad to have the weekend where I can rest up and prepare for next week!

Tomorrow we plan on visiting the Maryland Renaissance Festival with a group of friends. Other than that, no real plans which is EXACTLY what I need! I hope to do some laundry, packing of stuff for the remodel (today they arrived with ladders so I think they are going to soon put up the new exterior walls) and lots of napping! :) Hope you guys have wonderful weekends!

Wednesday & Thursday

What a hectic day yesterday! Sorry for not posting, but there just wasn’t any time.

Attire:
Banana Republic: Black knit tank
Ann Taylor: Teal linen jacket
Liz Lange for Target: Black trousers
Callisto: Tan heeled sandals
Limited: Silver and teal necklace
Silver hoops and cuff

Hair:
Jonathan Silky Dirt
Let air dry, used dryer to smooth bangs

Beauty:
One big honking zit! Ack! Hot compresses and some zit cream and I hope it’s gone before the weekend
Philosophy: The Supernatural Color Correctors in Light
L’Oreal: Infallible lip gloss in Coral Sands
Cargo: Matte BeachBlush in Tenerife
Body Shop: Eye color in Taupe
Cover Girl: LashBlast mascara in Black
Avon: Luxury Eye Liner in Black
Maybelline: Brow powder in Dark Brown

The day started with my monthly pregnancy appointment. I changed medical practitioners, so this appointment was at a different office – a bit farther from my home. My husband couldn’t get off so I went with my mom and we first had breakfast.

Since it was the first appointment at this new facility it went quite long. No worries, I was totally thrilled with my decision to change practitioners and had a great appointment. Found out that my due date is actually January 2nd, baby’s heartbeat is upper 140s, I gained a little less than three pounds this month, the measurement from pelvic bone to belly is right in line with how many weeks I am, and had a lot of questions answered. I also got a referral to get a sonogram – should be scheduling it today once my husband gets his shoot schedule for next week.

Headed back toward DC and hopped on the Metro to find out that there was an electrical problem on one of the lines I have to take to get to work. Ended up sitting for 20 minutes at a station in a non-moving car (that luckily had A/C) and ended up at work a bit after noon. The plan was to move my office before I got in (yep, third office since here – we keep growing and growing!) but I arrived to my computers and equipment not yet set up. I know how to do it, but the IT guy was there and it makes him feel better to know that he did it so I roamed around for 30 minutes until my desk was usable. Here’s a pic of how my office still looks this morning – plenty of boxes, unhung art, but at least the computer and phone are functioning! :)

No time to relax or organize, I have a major deliverable due before the end of the week and I am off on Friday, a different client wants some changes to his product, and then the normal projects of every day. I ended up staying at work until 10pm to catch up. I don’t want it to, but this pregnancy has been affecting my work performance. I don’t feel as fast, I get sleepy and I catch myself making silly mistakes and having to re-do things, costing time. Staying late with the office all silent did help me focus and get back on track.

Got home a bit after 11pm, washed my face, brushed my teeth and crashed. My husband had tried to stay up and wait for me, but I had to wake him from the couch and have him follow me upstairs. Around 2:45 am I get rustled awake by Ruckus. He is tugging at the comforter and whining and pacing. I get up and let him out and he is out there for at least 15 minutes. He comes in, rushes to get some to drink, and I hear his stomach gurgling and he asks to go back outside. He seems to take care of whatever is going on with his tummy and we go back upstairs to bed… only to have him wake me again 15 minutes later. I ended up going out on the deck with my husband’s bathrobe and a throw blanket and slept out there for about 30 minutes while he paced and did whatever he needed to do to feel better. Anyone else’s dog eat the most disgusting things? We have many cats in our neighborhood, they catch moles and such and leave the carcasses and Ruckus will find them, snack on them and the next day he’s up all night with indigestion. Argh!

Anyway, he finally came and joined me on the deck so I knew he was good so we went back to bed to wake less than two hours later to the alarm. Le sigh.

So today needless to say I am not on my A-game. I hit snooze a thousand times, but then rushed when I realized I wanted to get in early to finish this deliverable and be able to do a load of laundry before heading out (heading to the beach tomorrow and I need some clean clothes!).

Attire:
Liz Lange for Target: Green, white and navy poly top
Ann Taylor Loft Maternity: White bootcut jeans
H&M: Silver necklace
Callisto: Tan heeled sandals
Silver hoops and cuff

Hair:
Second day
Straightened with Croc wet-to-dry flat iron

Beauty:
Zit finally popped and is in the crusty nasty healing process…
L’Oreal: True Match foundation in C3
Philosophy: The Supernatural Color Correctors in Light
Cargo: Matte BeachBlush in Tenerife
Body Shop: Eye Shimmers in Warmth
Cover Girl: LashBlast mascara in Very Black
Maybelline: Brow powder in Dark Brown
Revlon: Super Lustrous lip gloss in Pink Afterglow

I won’t be posting until Monday because I am headed to Rehoboth beach with my mom and sister for our annual girl’s getaway. Looking forward to some sun, no email, and plenty of relaxation. You KNOW I will be taking pictures and will return with a full recap. Hope all of you have a great weekend!

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.

 

My Head is Too Big to be Hipster: A Warby Parker Review

Once I got new glasses, I wanted more. A pair of red frames to channel my inner Sally Jesse Raphael, a funky blue or green pair to jazz up all-black ensembles, a funky shape to show personality at the office. I had heard a lot of great things about Warby Parker and decided to try a pair of frames from them.

Me in my new glasses – Lafont’s Issy & La collection, the frame is called “Gloss”

Warby Parker Eyewear’s mission is to offer reasonably-priced fashionable frames. On top of that, for every pair of Warby Parkers sold, a new pair is given to someone in need. Warby Parker is also proud to be a carbon-neutral company.

Warby Parker has a try-on program where you can pick five frames and try them on at home. They will ship the glasses to you for free and offer free return postage; I decided to take advantage of this program and see if I could find a new pair of signature prescription frames.

The Warby Parker site is very easy to navigate; click on your gender and then whether you desire optical or sunglass frames. From there you can choose material, color, frame shape, and width. From experience, I know my face is pretty wide, so I stuck to the medium and wide styles of frames. Since I already have a pair of tortoiseshell frames, I stuck to more unusual colors.

The glasses arrived quickly in a sturdy shipping box, and then a lovely navy linen box. Each pair of glasses was in its own compartment, wrapped in plastic and labeled with its name. Each pair of Warby Parker frames has the brand and style name inside on the temple. I found the quality to be stellar, especially for the price. These frames rival the more expensive designer styles I tried at my nearby glasses shop. The return process is simple – peel off the self-adhesive UPS label and drop it in a nearby UPS drop box. I couldn’t be more impressed with Warby Parker and their process… except that my face is too big for them.

Maybe I should have tried men’s frames, but I felt that almost every pair I tried (except for the Bensen, and they just weren’t a style I was looking for) was just a hair too small for my face. I often have this issue not just with glasses, but sunglasses as well. In fact, when I got my new glasses, they were the only ones I liked after trying on about 20 pairs – each other pair seemed just a bit too small for my face shape, even some of the men’s frames I tried.

So if you have a normal to small-sized noggin, I encourage you to try Warby Parker. The Warby Parker at-home program is completely free so you have nothing to risk; if you find a pair you like you can feel good that not only will you look great, but your purchase will also be doing good. As for me, I will have to look elsewhere, my head is just too big to be hipster.

Note: Warby Parker has no idea I am doing this review and I was not compensated in any way for it.  I just decided to try the brand and share my experience with you!

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A Life, Replotted: Finding the Edge

chelsea henderson for wardrobe oxygen

“I’m not bound by time” I used to say in my 20s when asked why I didn’t wear a watch. Now in my 40s, I still don’t wear a timepiece, but to say I’m not connected to the unavoidable ticking of the clock is far from the truth.

I time nearly everything I do. Obviously, I have to keep meticulous time of the yoga classes I teach. They run for 45, 60, 75 or 90 minutes, and before class starts, I assign a “trigger song” on my playlist, a song to signal it’s time to wind my students down. For my consulting firm, I bill clients to the quarter of an hour and detail how long I worked on what project. I maintain a timesheet app for one of my projects; there is little I find more depressing than getting an email from the app asking if I forgot to turn off the timer when the answer is no. I may have the luxury of working from home, but part of what I’m adjusting to is I’m on all the time.

In yoga teacher training they taught us to seek the balance between effort and ease. That is to say, if your practice doesn’t feel like work, push a little harder. But if you find yourself struggling, take it down a notch. In yoga I embrace this lesson, but in the rest of my life I have trouble with the stepping back part of the equation. It all came to a head last week when I taught eleven yoga classes, billed 45 client hours and had the kids for all but two days. It took a minor breakdown to get it; in order to strike a balance, I have to know where my edge is. And once I recognize where the edge is, I have to respect the boundaries to keep myself off its ledge.

So as I write, this column is 36 hours late, I haven’t practiced yoga yet today and my laundry basket overflows. But I spent time in the garden, had a rained out barbeque with dear friends and watched Star Wars: A New Hope with my younger son. To maintain the point between effort and ease, I decided to not check email. My professional life abounds, but it’s just one part of who I am. And for other aspects of my life, I have to save time on and off the clock.

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

Friday: Office Pajamas

Top: JANA c/o Gwynnie Bee | Leggings: Rubbish | Boots: Ros Hommerson | Necklace: eBay | Bracelets: Nordstrom (similar) | Earrings: Nordstrom | Lipstick: Revlon Moon Drops in “Orange Flip”

Some days don’t you just wish you could go to work in your pajamas? I can’t believe it, but I’m adopting a trend I wore back in high school – tunic sweaters with leggings. I know, leggings aren’t pants, but this top is long enough to justify it, and loose enough that it would just look dumpy with regular trousers. Thanks goodness for Gwynnie Bee, my latest box arrived when I was past due for laundry day. I love the bright colors, the fun shape, and yes, that this top is as comfy as pajamas!  As a reminder, if you’re interested in Gwynnie Bee, click this link and mention Wardrobe Oxygen for a trial month!

Still learning how to style this hair. I know it’s not drastically different from previous cuts, but I think it’s the difference between having your hair cut by any person and being cut by someone who knows your hair, your lifestyle, your personality. This morning my goal was to let the hair be wavy/curly with a bit straighter bangs. It just looked like a frizzy, messy hot mess, as though I just washed and went. So I brought out the flat iron. Since I had product for waves already in it, it created this messy piecey look which I like since I always like to pretend I am a rock star. A mistake gone good, and a new way to style this ‘do!

I do get a commission on each person who signs up for Gwynnie Bee and mentions me, but I have chosen to partner with this brand because they totally rock, offer a great service, and honestly care about their customers.

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Practicing What I Preach

In my previous life, I was a retail gal. I worked my way up from a part-time manager in training while I was in college, to being a personal shopper, store manager and eventually a visual merchandiser. Having a past in apparel retail will affect you for the rest of your life – for some, it’s the desire to color-coordinate their closets. For others, they will catch themselves sizing rounders while shopping at The Gap. I know one of my friends who still folds her jeans in the same exact manner as she did when working at Express and snagged a sweater folding board to fold her knits at home into perfect rectangles.

For me, other than the desire to size every store in my local mall, it is to finger space all the hangers in my closet. When I worked at Express in the late ‘90s, this was something that you did to the entire store after closing. All garments facing the same direction, hanging properly on the hangers. Everything sized from smallest to largest, and then you would take one hanger hook between each finger and slide everything to the right of the bar. All hangers would end up a finger’s width apart from each other. This would leave a very tidy look in the store, and nasty black marks on the bottoms of your digits.

After leaving retail, I was pretty big about keeping my closet as organized as my old stores. Matching hangers (black plastic ones I got from work that do great with monkey-hanging), everything separated by style (all dresses together, all pants together, etc.), everything color coordinated, and everything finger spaced. Having a tidy and attractive closet calmed me, and made getting dressed all the more easy and enjoyable. I could open those accordion doors and immediately be able to put together an outfit, or know what piece I should buy that season to make my wardrobe more cohesive.

Then I had a baby.

Suddenly I had no clue what size I was, and had no time to really care for my hair, let alone my closet. I had everything from size 10 to 18 hanging in there – winter clothes in July, sundresses in January. Piles of shoes on the floor collecting dust – either too high for my postpartum body or too small with my now size-8 feet. My husband tried to help and any clothes that came out of the dryer he hung up. This meant I had to dig through yoga pants and hoodies to find something appropriate to don for work. Let’s add to this mess the fact that the closet was a fun hideout for my dogs (and once she started walking, my daughter). Amid the dusty shoes and dirty laundry on the floor, one could always find giant puffs of blonde dog fur, a chewed up stuffed animal, or a Sandra Boynton book.

As Emerson gets closer to the age of two, I get closer to being Alison again. Baby steps towards reclaiming myself, finding balance in this new world. This week, my goal was to reclaim the closet.

I started with my bureau. As that many items in the closet should actually be there, I wanted to start with a clean slate. Out went the beat up nursing tanks, the oversized yoga pants, what the heck is a maternity tee still doing in there? Out went the white pants, the stained tee shirts, the icky yellowed and grayed ribbed tanks. While at it, gone were the stretched out postpartum granny panties and all the nursing bras that didn’t lift and support and act like a regular bra to my bust. I made two piles – what to donate, and what to turn into rags.


Green Tip – Take your old tee shirts, cut off the sleeves and hems and cuffs and you will end up with two nice-sized rectangles perfect for dusting and quick clean-ups! Have a basket under your kitchen sink or in your linen closet, toss in the wash when dirty and you will be amazed at how easy it is to go paper-towel free! you can also do this with old yoga pants and other knits – just cut to size and the edges will roll on themselves, keeping them from fraying.

I then tackled the closet. I removed all the items that should be in a drawer (pajamas, casual knits, jeans, bras that were line drying in the bathroom and moved to the closet by my husband). When I put them away, I put them away with purpose. A drawer for lingerie, a drawer for nicer knits (tanks and shells and tees that I will wear out in public), a drawer for jeans and casual bottoms, a drawer for workout wear and lounge wear (and the one or two bummy tees I kept for when I paint a room or work in the garden).

I then went through what was leftover. I had a box for what was out of season and needed to go into the attic, a bag for that which needed to be donated, a bag of what I thought I could sell on eBay, and then I added some more to the rag pile.

Wow, I just whittled my closet by more than half! Instead of feeling sad that I had a smaller wardrobe, I felt liberated. I looked at what was left and felt so… creative! Hey, wouldn’t that top look really cute under that sweater? What if I wore that dress as a tunic with skinny jeans and boots? Oh the options!

Before continuing, I decided to clean. I took a rag and water with a drop of Dr. Bronner’s and wiped down the metal bars and the shelves.

Finally I took everything and hung it up properly a la Retail Alison. All facing the right way on the hangers, gripper hangers for the slippery pieces, using garment loops to keep items from falling off hangers. I even hung my skirts so they were flush with one side of the pant hanger. I organized by style, with the most worn pieces at the center of the closet. And finally, I finger-spaced the garments. I knew I wouldn’t maintain it, but it was a nice way to finish that portion of this project.

I stood back… and felt such serenity. There was my wardrobe, my options, my suit of armor. Looking at it all nicely organized made me realize I had a pretty good collection and didn’t want for much. Having my clothes so tidy made me want to keep them tidy – not just when in the hanger, but caring for them properly when wearing and laundering so they would stay looking pretty and tidy.

I haven’t finished my closet project – the floor is still littered with cardboard books and summer flip flops and old dusty boots. The bags need to be stored properly (great use for old pillowcases). But I did weed out the shoes and they are now in the properly-labeled box. My hanging organizer is organized, though not yet weeded. I hope to have this project complete before this coming Monday, but wanted to share photos with you now. It’s proof that style doesn’t come with quantity, but with having a useful wardrobe of staples. Stick to one color story and style for more versatility and the ability to mix and match with little thought. Keep it simple, use accessories to show personality and change up wardrobe basics. Respect and love your clothes and they will be more likely to love you in return!

My side of the closet – what I have accomplished so far.  The boxes hold all the shoes I own – boots and flip flops are stored on the floor of the closet.  Bags have yet to be sorted and properly stored in cloth bags. And nope, the hangers are no longer finger-spaced!

My wardrobe collection.  You can see I pretty much stick to a base of black and gray with the occasional pop of color.  This season I am really loving striped shirts and have added a few to my wardrobe – very classic, touch of French chic, and a cheap way to add a current trend to my collection of basics.
I know with this collection I have something to wear to work every day of the week, something to wear to a holiday party, a cocktail party, a wedding, a funeral, or most any event that life throws my way!

My accessory collection.  I purchased this hanging organizer almost 20 years ago.  First shelf are seasonal accessories like scarves and mittens, plus my baseball caps that I only wear to baseball games (two for the Orioles, two for the Nationals).  Second shelf are dressy or small purses I use most often.  Third shelf are pashminas and scarves I use most often.  First drawer holds more pashminas and shawls that I don’t wear as often.  Second drawer holds my scarf collection, and the bottom drawer holds the rest of my clutches and dress purses.  My husband and I house our belts together on the two contraptions to the right.  More belts are stored in a box on the shelf with my shoe boxes – those belts are novelty pieces that I rarely wear.

The reason I love this closet – the skylight!  Natural light, hardly ever the need to turn on the electric light (except at night like this photo), and a beautiful scene to help me every morning as I contemplate what to wear!

How a Hurricane Can Help Your Wardrobe

We live in a very wooded community and the house backs to woods. Each major storm we hear of a tree falling and damaging someone’s fence, toolshed or even home. We have been lucky thus far – a few branches to clean up but no major damage. Well this weekend Hurricane Irene ravaged the Eastern Seaboard… and our house.

Our new roommate – for more pics visit my Facebook Page

Saturday night, 1am, my husband and I were woken to the whole house shaking and a loud BOOM. My husband had us keep our shoes by the side of the bed in case of broken glass from the hurricane and I was so glad I listened to him. An 80-foot tree from two homes away was uprooted due to the wind and over-saturated ground and fell on our neighbor’s house and ours. The tree destroyed our neighbor’s sunroom, and it broke our skylight, pierced our roof and broke off a different part of our roof. We have a part of our ceiling missing about ten feet from my husband’s side of the bed and it seems some pretty serious structural damage to the house (this damage happened right where the new part of the house connects with the original structure); the majority of the obvious damage happened to our closet.

We are so glad that we and all our neighbors are safe, and so grateful to live in a cooperative community that will take care of the repairs and has a stake in ensuring repairs are well-done and keep the home structurally sound. Knowing all lives are safe and sound (Emerson slept through the whole thing!), I am now able to focus on the superficial damage – the contents of my closet. When I texted my boss to let him know I would be out of the office yesterday because of this situation, he texted back, “How ironic is it that the fashion blogger had her closet decimated by Irene.” I must say at 1:30am, armed with poncho, headlamp and pair of sunglasses to shield my eyes from falling glass as I tried to save my wardrobe, I was actually thinking the same thing.

Yesterday I went through the contents of my closet that I literally threw across the room in haste mid-hurricane, and saw how some things survived the event unscathed, and others were completely destroyed. The fate of my wardrobe was completely based upon how I chose to store the pieces. While a hurricane probably won’t deposit a 70-year old oak tree into your walk-in closet any time soon, how you store your wardrobe contents can determine their longevity and looks. Dust, mildew, critters, water damage, and yes the occasional natural disaster can wreak havoc on fabrics and leather goods. Learn from my experience, and care for your wardrobe. Here’s some things I learned this weekend:

Keep your shoes in boxes. I think many of us have drooled over a closet of Loubies and Manolos all on display, looking like beautiful little works of art on the shelves. While this may make for lovely eye candy, it’s not too practical if you want to preserve your footwear. This weekend, the only shoes that survived were those in shoe boxes, the rest (even in shoe boxes sans lid) got damaged or destroyed.

Water and flying glass won’t happen to everyone, but dust does. If you keep your shoes in boxes, you won’t have to worry about them getting covered in dust between wears. I go old school – I keep my shoes in the cardboard boxes they came in, and take a Sharpie to write a description on the outside. If you want to see your collection, shops like The Container Store sell clear shoe boxes that will preserve your purchases while still making them visible. Many a fashionista has been known to photograph her shoes and stick a photo on the outside of the box for easy reference.

A place for everything, and everything in its place. You know what really got trashed this weekend? All the crap on the floor of my closet. The shoes I kicked off when half-asleep, my dirty clothes that missed the hamper, the belts that fell off my belt hook, the scarf that was hastily shoved in a drawer and was half-sticking out, and all the crappy shoes like flip flops and Chucks that reside in a pile in the corner.

If I took the extra few seconds to put things away carefully, I would still own them. I sound like my mom just typing this, but Mom knows best! I’ll throw another mom-ism there – haste makes waste. My haste made a waste of some very loved wardrobe pieces that cannot be replaced.

Invest in proper hangers. The other things that got destroyed in the hurricane were all the pieces I tried to make work on the wrong type of hanger. Wide-necked dresses on those slippery plastic tube hangers, heavy sweaters on skinny velvet “huggable” hangers, three skirts hanging on for dear life on one clip hanger. All the items that ended up sliding off hangers or were hanging by a thread (or dress loop) were damaged.

Use molded hangers for jackets to help them keep their shape and be able to support the weight. Hangers with rubber or velvet to grip silky fabrics, and ones with cut-outs to hold dress loops or spaghetti straps in place. Taking dry cleaning off the metal hangers so they don’t get creased (or if get wet, stain garments), and having enough hangers for the entire wardrobe. Hangers aren’t expensive, and at many retailers you can even ask for one with your next clothing purchase. Take good care of your pieces, and you will get many more miles of style from them.

Protect lesser-worn pieces. My husband has a gorgeous black suit from Banana Republic; it’s his wedding/Bar Mitzvah/special event suit. While his basic gray suits and blazers are in the front of his side of the closet, he keeps this suit in a canvas garment bag at the very end of the rod. This keeps the suit looking fresh, free of dust… and kept it looking pristine through the hurricane.

I have a few pieces that shouldn’t go in the attic but aren’t worn now (leather pieces that are a size too small, more formal of dresses, pieces with beading or sequins); most are in their own canvas garment bag but some were not… and they didn’t make it through the storm. While weeding through my clothes I saw that these pieces were not just torn and stained from the hurricane, but had pretty sticky dust on the shoulders from everyday exposure.

If you can’t afford canvas storage bags, use an old sheet or pillowcase and slice a hole for the hanger hook. Plastic storage (and dry cleaning bags) don’t let clothing breathe and can cause humidity and fabric decomposition. A heavy breathable fabric is best, but any fabric will help protect your special pieces from dust.

Use those dust bags. Most quality leather bags come with dust bags – a drawstring bag made of cotton, flannel, or canvas. As with shoes on shelves, many women forego these dust bags to be able to view their collections. Because I didn’t have all my bags in dust covers, I ended up losing a classic black leather tote from J. Crew that I purchased when I got my first “real” job. I bought this piece on sale for $199, and have used it for many a business trip, interview, and corporate event. Even though I cared for it with leather cleaner and stuffed it with tissue to keep its shape, it was ruined (may possibly be able to be restored by a leather person but nothing I can do on my own) due to a lack of dust bag.

Just as with your clothing and shoes, if you cover your bags you will protect them from dust, sunlight, and other naturally-occurring factors that hurt leather and fabrics. lately, I have been cinching my dust bags below the handle, so I can see a bit of the bag to recognize them on the shelf. If I had done this with all my bags, then I would have only had minor damage on a minor piece of the purse.

If you don’t have dust bags, old pillowcases will do just fine. I also know many who use plastic storage units for bags, storing one or two in each clear plastic drawer. Whatever is best for you and your space, but be sure to protect those items you found deserving of your hard-earned cash.

Be nice to your dirty laundry. I have a bad habit, when I am tired or short on time, I peel off my dirty clothes and just toss them on the closet floor. Then come laundry day, I collect them, throw them in the hamper, and take them down to the washer. I am so glad I did laundry earlier on Saturday so there were only a few pieces on the closet floor. Everything that was on the floor was destroyed.

Even if you aren’t having Hurricane Irene make a stop in your closet, you still should be kind to your dirty laundry. Just because it has marinara on it doesn’t mean it should be crumpled, stepped on, shoved in with dirty shoes and bags of last season’s fashion. Carefully place clothing in a hamper or laundry basket until Wash Day – protect the fibers and help your clothes look great longer.

It’s only fashion! Seriously, it is only clothing, and clothing can be replaced. Until I had the time yesterday to go through everything, I was living in my casual clothes from my chest of drawers – the same pair of denim cutoffs (two pairs of shorts were in the closet hamper and had to be washed), a few knit tanks and old tee shirts. Since all my shoes except my DUO “Bern” boots were in the closet, I wore this crazy getup with calf-high tan boots. And I survived just fine. I believe in having a functional, stylish wardrobe that fits your personality and life, but I believe that life is more important than what you wear for it.

***

I feel so blessed that we made out as well as we did with the storm. We are all safe, our house is still livable, and we didn’t even lose that much in the storm. I think, if I hadn’t had a system to store all my garments already I would have dealt with far more loss from my closet. Learn from my experience, and take care of your wardrobe!

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