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Squeezing Lemons

self care when life gives you lemons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why I Care

It’s Saturday morning, and I am having a mild panic attack. My father-in-law’s memorial service is in less than two hours and I am the officiant for the service. The idea of speaking in front of hundreds of people while trying not to sob was not causing my anxiety… my wardrobe was.

I couldn’t find my black dress. Okay I could find one black dress – the matte jersey one with the tie-belt and the polo collar, but I couldn’t find THE dress, the one I imagined wearing. Lightweight black jersey, surplice neckline, empire waistband, blouson sleeves. Appropriate for an outdoor memorial service, but still stylish and flattering to my 32-week pregnant frame.

“Who cares what you’re wearing,” my husband said. “People won’t expect you to be stylish, you’re in mourning.”

But it’s not about what other people think, it is about what I think, and how I feel.

I put on the dress with the polo collar, tied the belt in a bow, untied it and did it in a knot. I hated it. The collar was limp, the belt hokey, my breasts looked strange, and the hem was now a bit too short this late in my pregnancy. I did my hair and makeup, hoping it would improve my reflection in the full-length mirror. I felt tacky, I felt awkward, and I felt wrong. I added black hose and the only black shoes that fit at 32 weeks – my Naturalizer flats. I didn’t look like myself. My husband came by the door, “you look beautiful Alison.” I knew he meant it, but I didn’t feel it. I got on my hands and knees and dug through the closet, hoping THE dress fell off a hanger and was hiding behind some shoe boxes or suitcases. No such luck.

Time was running out, so I wore the dress with the polo collar. I jazzed it up with a skinny croco belt with a pave buckle and my large silver cuff bracelet. A feeble attempt to make it more “Allie” of a look. I arrived at the service where friends and relatives greeted me, telling me I looked so lovely, and they were so sorry for my loss. I tugged at my hem, wishing it was closer to my knees and looked down at the swollen masses that used to be very cute feet.

I attended my 15-year high school reunion this summer. At the restaurant, I went to greet a fellow classmate who I hadn’t seen since graduation. I asked her how she was and how her life had been the past decade and a half. She told me about her travels and job and then said, “Well I already know how YOU have been doing.” I asked her how; she replied, “[Fellow classmate] sent me your blogs. Some days your hair is curly, some days your hair is straight. Not much else going on, huh?” She smiled and walked away. My first feeling was embarrassment. Then I stopped and thought, why should I be embarrassed? The only difference between me and she is that I put my daily look on the Internet. I looked at her sculpted hair, her lined lips and bold earrings – she had to spend at least as much time as I did this evening to look good for the reunion. How dare she belittle me for doing the same darn thing she does? I then felt pity for her – for someone to be so snarky to a person she hardly knew in high school and hadn’t seen in 15 years… well she must have some issues with her self worth, her self esteem or her placement in this world.

I am often teased for caring about how I look, and I get more emails and comments than I can count where people blast me for being superficial, for being clueless, and as one email said, “for killing everything women have fought for the past few decades.”

I don’t do these blogs to gain fame, to force my views on others, or to try to make Allie clones. I do these blogs because for me, clothing is armor. When I feel good in my skin and in my attire, I gain strength. I can stand in front of large crowds and officiate my father-in-law’s memorial service. I can feel pity, not fear for the classmate who teases me after all these years for caring about my hair. I can work harder, care more, and do more because my appearance is one thing that I know I have control over. I cannot control the weather, I cannot control other people’s actions, but I can control the armor I put on each day. I can walk, can talk, can smile and feel good about myself and concentrate on other things such as my thoughts, my beliefs, and how I interact with the world.

I cared about what I wore this Saturday because I didn’t feel confident I could get through that service. I loved my father-in-law terribly so, and it hurt so much to see my beloved husband hurting so much. I knew I would be surrounded by people hugging me, kissing me, feeling for me and I needed that armor to get through it all, to present a service, to present a strong face for my husband and his family. Some drink, some smoke, some get angry, some withdraw, some make jokes. I find it far more healthy and intelligent to spend a little more time smoothing my skirt and fluffing my hair to gain that strength to get through it.

Women are amazing creatures. We are often portrayed as the softer sex, but studies have proven that we have a higher pain tolerance than men, we live longer than men, we are able to create human beings, feed them from our bodies, care for our loved ones while being able to manage multi-million dollar companies and even countries. Women are beautiful, and work so hard, they deserve to feel beautiful, know their beauty on a daily basis.

Beauty doesn’t come from having the perfect little black dress or pair of pumps. It doesn’t come from finding that perfect foundation that hides imperfections and is invisible on your jawline. Beauty comes from loving yourself, being proud of whom you are, and having comfort in your own skin. It’s finally falling in love with your crazy curls, getting off the diet train and understanding that maybe you are most wonderful at a size 14 instead of 4, respecting the heritage that gave your porcelain skin, and knowing that nurturing your body and it’s appearance is just as important as nurturing your soul and your mind.

And what’s wrong with a little armor to fight through the battle which is Daily Life? My goal with these blogs is to help every woman realize her immense beauty, and help provide her with a little armor to maintain that confidence and self-love. I blog because I care. I care about women, I believe in our worth, our strength, and that we are capable of anything we set our minds to.

Today I did a deep cleaning of my bedroom, and did all the laundry. It felt good, to wash away all the stress and anxiety and sadness of this week; to prepare my armor for the upcoming week where I have to return to the Real World, still mourning the loss of a very special man. I already feel the confidence as I look as my organized closet and neatly folded drawers; knowing I have what I need to go into Monday’s battle.

However I still can’t find that darn dress…

Bad Hair Don’t Care

Shirt: Ann Taylor | Jeans: Gap | Bracelets: c/o lifetherapy | Sunglasses: Gucci | Flats: c/o ECCO | Necklace: Etsy

Bad hair, don’t care! This is Day 2 and I used some dry shampoo and it gave it the body and the non-greasy look I desired, but the ends looked super scraggly and I didn’t want to iron everything flat. So I used one of those curling wands… and it was bad. Like retro super strong frizzy curls but from the ears down only. So I tried to go retro and pinned back my bangs and I looked strange so I said fuggit and threw it up in a ponytail.

I felt pretty much the same about my outfit.  I had plans to wear the shirt with a skirt, some fab heels… but then I just decided it wasn’t worth my time.  I threw on some jeans and flats, added a necklace to show I wasn’t trying to look like a bum, and spent the time eating breakfast with my family.  Gotta have priorities!

BTW, got these jeans Monday.  Wanted some “summer jeans” that would look good with a simple tank or camisole and flip flops.  Plan to further distress them along the hem, but I like the fit (though I am wearing my Beltaway!).

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Review and Giveaway: Dove® VisibleCare™

The older I get, the dryer my skin becomes. I am always searching for a product that will keep my skin feeling hydrated and looking soft and supple. I have used Dove® body washes with NutriumMoisture™ and am impressed by how they keep my skin looking soft and dewy all day long.

Well Dove® has come out with Toning Crème Body Wash, a body cleanser designed to help promote skin’s elasticity and strength. Built on the brand’s heritage in cleansing and caring for skin, Dove® VisibleCare™ Toning combines the best of Dove® technology into a luxurious experience for beauty seekers. With the highest concentration of NutriumMoisture™ of all their products, Dove VisibleCare Toning actually improves the look of your skin. The body washes are available in three variants each of which cue different skin care needs, thanks to BlogHer I was able to try out Dove® VisibleCare™ Toning Crème Body Wash.

Dove® VisibleCare™ Toning Crème Body Wash is designed to promote skin’s elasticity and strength, which is important to me as I get older and see the lack of elasticity in my skin. While it contains a mild cleanser, this body wash also includes glycerin, stearic acid and Vitamin E to heal and hydrate the skin. The scent is a blend of ylangylang, wood, mandarin and bergamot which I honestly found a bit overpowering. Some like their body products to be fragrant, I prefer a more subtle scent so it doesn’t compete with my perfume. I love the rich lather, and that the product rinses clean, leaving my skin feeling fresh but still soft and supple. And VisibleCare™ is the proper name for this product – after one use I saw my skin looking softer, plumper, and all over happier (which does make it look younger and firmer). On days where I was in a rush and forgot body lotion, my skin still felt and looked soft and hydrated thanks to Dove® VisibleCare™ Toning Crème Body Wash.

Dove® has three versions of their new VisibleCare™ Body Washes:

  • Dove® VisibleCare™ Toning Crème Body Wash – the one I tried, which promotes skin’s elasticity and strength
  • Dove® VisibleCare™ Renewing Crème Body Wash – this wash nourishes and replenishes skin
  • Dove® VisibleCare™ Softening Crème Body Wash – this formula softens skin and gets rid of dry spots

This new line of body washes from Dove® helps you be proud to show off your skin this summer! Visit Dove® VisibleCare® to get a coupon for $1 off!

This giveaway is now closed, thanks to all who entered!

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One-armed Style: What I’m Wearing

Man it’s hard to look stylish with only one working arm! The cast is too thick to work with any blouse, shirt, coat, blazer, or many sweaters and knits in my wardrobe. Dresses ride up with the sling or when brushing against the cast. I can’t button jeans or pants that are fitted, can’t maneuver a belt or sash or shoe laces, and can’t tuck or blouse a top without looking as though I got caught in a tornado. Yeah, all of these things are standards in my wardrobe.

After a couple of weeks of just trying to function and heal, I began to care about my looks. Here’s what worked:

Bottoms: I bought NYDJ ponte pants and the NYDJ Hayden straight jeans in petite (to work with flat shoes) and a size larger than I need (extra fabric to be able to zip and button closed on my own). I also have worn my Spanx Star Power leggings quite often; pants with built-in slimming features help me look a bit more pulled together (literally and figuratively).

Tops: Boatnecks with elbow-length sleeves have been perfection; the longer sleeve covers the top of the cast, keeping it from riding up into my armpit or having the entire shirt twist. Lightweight v-neck tees have also been great and regularly worn as a base layer. A simple black ribbed tank is a lifesaver, especially when shirts shift and ride up and necklines get stretched. I have two sweaters – a slouchy black merino and a slouchy marled gray tunic that fit over the cast; both are oversized so they work with leggings and jeggings and also fit over base layers.

Dresses: 99% of my dresses are unwearable, but I do have a bracelet-sleeve stretchy black and white dress from Ann Taylor (seen here) that fits over the cast. It is fully lined which helps prevent riding and shifting. I wear it with leggings and tall boots or flats.  Not pictured but terribly awesome has been a brightly-printed caftan I thrifted; one-piece dressing and far more cheery than faded stretched out sweats!

Outerwear: It’s darn cold outside, too cold to throw a coat over my shoulders. My mom made a thick wool cape back in the late ‘60s and loaned it to me during this time. I also have a black packable down vest that I wear over tees inside or under the cape for extra warmth.

Shoes: Shoes should to be flat for security and balance, have decent grip, easy to slip on but unlikely to slip off. I’ve been wearing tall boots with dresses, jeans, leggings, and jeggings, but recently got these stretchy Mary Janes that aren’t subtle and don’t really match, but will work this spring and summer after the cast is removed.

Accessories: A pashmina is excellent as a wrap to ward off chill, especially since I can’t fit a lot of sweaters. I then loop it around my neck to make my winter scarf. A beanie traps body heat… and also hides bad hair days. There’s no way I can lug around my heavy day purse; I switched to my Rebecca Minkoff purse which is light and is a crossbody. Finally I recommend a bold lipcolor which makes all the cozy knits look cohesive and shows you’re stepping up your style!

One of my favorite accessories are my two CastCoverZ, they hide the grody cast and show my personality.  Also great for sleeping since a cast can be scratchy.   Get two so one can be in the wash; I got leopard and a sparkly gold but sort of wish I also got something more subtle to blend in when I’m wearing a print or don’t want strangers to ask about my injury.

Tips:

  • A molded cup bra is easier to get on by yourself.  For the first couple of weeks  I had Karl help me with my bra, but I hate feeling helpless so I figured out how to do it myself.  Using a piece of furniture about hip height to hold one side against your body, wrap the bra below your breasts, hook in front.  The furniture holds that side in place, and then use your good hand to do the hooks (you’ll get better with practice).  Then rotate, pull up the straps and wiggle breasts into place.
  • Necklaces are a pain in the neck… literally.  With a sling, necklaces get tangled and dig into your skin.  Scarves are a great alternative to add interest and not sacrifice comfort (or a delicate chain).
  • Go up a size.  Be it a dress, top, pants or underwear, extra fabric means more give over a cast, less riding up, and easier to put on and take off with your non-dominant hand.
  • Consider a caftan.  A couple weeks before my accident I bought one but never wore it.  Then I broke my arm and wore it all the time.  It’s easy to pull on and off alone, you can get away with going bra-free, it’s easy to slip up when you use the bathroom, and doesn’t stick to the cast.  It was the BEST right after the surgery when I spent most of my time on the couch.  There’s plenty on eBay and at thrift stores; choose a heartier fabric like polyester or cotton so it doesn’t cling, won’t snag on the cast, and can be tossed in the washer and dryer.  Go shorter than you think (calf to ankle bone, not a true maxi), you don’t want to trip or have it tangle around your ankles. 
  • With this, a kimono-style robe is also nice to have.  The only robe that fits me now is a shortie, I was super temped to cut the sleeve off my terry robe so I’d have SOMETHING since I can’t even wear a cardigan or sweater coat.  Someone wants to buy you a get well soon gift or want to give one to someone who broke their arm?  Simple jersey calf-length robe with wide kimono sleeves will make their month!
  • If you have long hair and want to tie it back, I got this tip from my neighbor who broke her wrist shoveling snow this summer… take and old-fashioned scrunchie and loop it around your hair.  Then stick a pencil in the middle and twist around and poke into the new knot to keep it in place.  Not terribly elegant but times like this you gotta do what you gotta do!

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Take Good Care of Yourself, You Belong to You

Last week on my Facebook page, I shared a New York Times article about Martha Stewart’s beauty routine.  I was surprised when so many news outlets reported on her OMG $2,000 beauty routine, and surprised by how many of you were critical of her skincare process. 

We don’t blink when a celebrity has thousand-dollar designer purse, a closet containing dozens of pairs of heels, or owns more than one car. These days, a bit of Botox or Restylane, lasering off body hair, or monthly facials is the norm for the rich and famous. So why are we all freaking out over the fact that Martha Stewart’s skin care regimen costs $2,000 and has so many serums, creams, and masks?

I believe in quality, not quantity, no matter your income. I also believe in spending your money on things that have the biggest bang for your buck. A dress may be worn once a month, a pair of boots once a week, but your skin is worn 24/7. Be you in haute couture or thrift store scores, your skin is always part of your look, and often gets noticed more than what you wear. Why not pamper it and buy the best products possible? Dresses can be donated when they wear out, but your skin is yours for the rest of your life, and how you treat it determines not just how it looks today, but decades from now.

I love it when I can find a great beauty product that gets the job done for far less than department store brands. I don’t care how awesome La Mer is, I doubt I will ever own anything from the line because it would require me to take out a second mortgage. But for my budget and lifestyle, I always am willing to spend more and do more for my skin and hair than I am for my wardrobe. A designer bag is not an investment, a proper skin care routine is.

And so I say, go on with your bad self, Martha. You have always been a gorgeous woman, and you look phenomenal at 72. And while you do dress in a tasteful subtle manner and have lovely hair that flatters your personal style, people remark on your beauty because you have taken impeccable care of your skin. You inspire me to care more for my own skin, and I found your piece in The Times to be interesting, honest, and proof that caring for your skin is the best thing one can do to look great at any age.

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Product Reviews – Night Time Skin Care

Philosophy’s The Microdelivery Pads
I bought these on a whim after hearing a couple online reviews and overhearing a conversation on the Metro where a woman, “Owed her skin and her renewed sex life” to these pads.  I figured, what the heck.  I read online that the pads were sort of big, so cut them in half to have the container last longer.

The directions say to use once a day or once a week depending on how sensitive your skin is.  I usually have sensitive skin, but these pads do NOT cause any burning, irritation, or redness.  I wash my face as usual at night, use half a pad on my face, then my neck/collarbone.  I then add my nightcream (more on that).

I didn’t really see much difference after a week.  After two weeks, I still didn’t see much of a difference, but I did realize that my skin wasn’t breaking out pre-period.  After a month, I realized I went an entire month without any breakouts, and need far less foundation to look healthy.  I also see that my brown spot on my cheek is a bit more faint. 

So… I am a fan.  I love a product that makes me look like me, only better.  I love how utterly gentle it is.  I love that I have found a product that keeps me bump-free and doesn’t have Salicytic Acid in it (allergic).  And I love that though it IS $55, I have enough for 200 evenings of treatment – that’s a major bargain!  This product can be used anywhere on the body – I think it would probably be great for those weird bumps/clogged pores I and many other women get on their upper arms, I use it sometimes on my forearms and hands to counteract sun damage, and think it is doing great things for my décolleté!

Aura Cacia Natural Skin Care Oil, Sweet Almond, 16-Ounces (Pack of 2)Almond Oil for Night Cream
So I was reading a blog of a woman who obsesses over fabulous long, thick lashes.  She did some reviews of the new prescription-only products and had many comments about OTC products that also guarantee fabulous lashes.  Since having Emerson, I notice my lashes are a bit more brittle, and they have never been as lush and long as I would like (my sister has amazing lashes and Emerson has fab lashes and I would love to have even half of the lashes they do).  Anyway, in the comments I read that someone uses almond oil on their lashes at night and it keeps them supple and strong.

So I got a bottle of pure almond oil.  Hey it can’t hurt, right?  Put a little on my lashes and while I’m at it, rub some into my cuticles.

Well I ran out of my night cream (Olay Pro-X from the starter kit) and I thought hrm, why not almond oil all over my face?  I guess I was feeling bold since the Philosophy Pads were keeping me zit-free.  So I put a bit in my hand, rubbed it into my hands and cuticles and then rubbed it all over my lashes and whole face, neck and collarbone.  The next morning I didn’t wake up all greasy and zitty… in fact my skin looked fantastic.  It was really soft and dewy looking, plump and healthy.  My cuticles and hands looked healthier too.

The almond oil from Aura Cacia is organic and very pure – no almond smell… no smell at all.  A little goes a very long way (been using for over a month and have only used maybe 1/6 of the bottle).  My lashes don’t look that drastically different, but I seem to have less breakage and lash loss. 

I know this wouldn’t work for all skin types, but for my sensitive, combination skin that is super dry and unhappy in winter… this is a total winner!

I am slowly cleaning out the linen closet and medicine cabinet of my half-finished bottles of not-yet-expired products and am going to need a face wash in about a month.  Any suggestions?  I would prefer something that isn’t full of chemicals (figure I am getting my daily chemical allowance from the Philosophy pads), and no individual use/wipes stuff (want to keep it as eco-friendly as possible).  I don’t need a scrub, just a gentle face wash.  Used Cetaphil in the past and for some reason it doesn’t like me and I don’t love it in return. Right now I am using Purpose and a travel sized bottle of Philosophy Purity Made Simple and neither is bad, but neither really makes me write home to mom.  Your suggestions will be very welcome!

Review and Giveaway: Suave Professionals® Moroccan Infusion Body Care

I was slow to the argan oil craze, but looking back I wonder why I waited so long. Known to be rich in nutrients and antioxidants, Moroccan argan oil is great for the body from head to toe. I know own many beauty products that include Moroccan argan oil and love how it penetrates deep, hydrates, and protects. When BlogHer and Suave asked me to review the new Suave Professionals® Moroccan Infusion Body Care line I was excited!

For the first time, Suave® Body Care is launching products in the Suave Professionals® line, offering women everywhere access to premium quality products with the finest skincare ingredients. Suave Professionals® Moroccan Infusion features authentic argan oil from Morocco and this new premium range claims to leave skin looking and feeling beautifully silky and and leaves skin radiant. The Suave Professionals® Moroccan Infusion Body Care line includes Body Lotion, a daily moisturizer that absorbs quickly for up to 24 hours of non-greasy hydration, and Dry Body Oil Spray, a non-greasy formula that absorbs instantly, locking in long-lasting moisture. I received one of each for this review.

I’m not usually a fan of dry oil, I worked for a beauty company many years ago that carried it and while it felt dry going on, it always left some weird oily residue on my clothes. I have to say Suave Professionals® Moroccan Infusion Dry Body Oil Spray truly is a dry oil spray. I can spray it on my arms and legs, rub it in, put on clothes and not be a smeary mess. If you want gleaming shoulders and knees, this is the product for you. It made my skin look so soft and supple, a perfect product for a winter getaway to a tropical locale where you can don sundresses and want radiant skin.

The Suave Professionals® Moroccan Infusion Body Lotion has a lightweight silky formula that really does absorb quickly. No need to apply to warm skin right out of the shower, I found this lotion could even be applied to dry winter skin and not just see results but have it absorb enough to put clothes on right away. While I did feel the lasting effects of the lotion and do believe it provides 24 hours of non-greasy hydration, this lotion didn’t offer enough hydration for the cold winter days we’re experiencing. I found it worked best as a layer over a heavier cream, or as a touch-up of moisture later in the day. I do feel it makes the skin look silkier and more supple than a traditional lotion, and it has the classic Moroccan argan oil scent.

I must say Suave® has yet again figured out how to provide quality at a nice price. If you are a fan of Moroccan argan oil, I suggest you try out the Suave Professionals® Moroccan Infusion collection. Find more information about the Suave Professionals® Moroccan Infusion Body Care products at Facebook.com/SuaveBeauty. When you visit the Suave Beauty Facebook page, check out the tips for radiant skin as well as style advice from celebrity stylist Brad Goreski. Also be sure to enter the “Radiant Wishes” sweepstakes for a chance to win Suave Professionals® Moroccan Infusion products, a spa day or a trip to Los Angeles.

Giveaway
This giveaway is now closed and the winner notified.  Thank you for entering!

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Ask Allie: How to Clean Suede, Sweat Stains, and Care for Fabrics

What is the best way to clean suede shoes? I have a pair of teal suede wedges that I adore but that are looking a little rough. The teal is very bright and I don’t want it to fade. Any suggestions?

1. Get thee a suede-cleaning kit! Suede cleaning kits can be found at most big-box retailers (and I found this one on Amazon). Kits will have the basic tools you need to clean and protect your suede footwear. The two most important parts of these kits are the suede brush and the suede eraser.

A suede brush is not a typical brush – some have various types of bristles, some only come with one type of bristle. However all have fine metal bristles that will help remove stains and maintain the nap of the suede. Brush in one direction to pull up dirt and restore the look of your suede.

A suede eraser is not your typical pencil eraser – it will crumble while being used, but those crumbles will grab all the dirt and debris lurking in your suede’s nap.

2. Fight water with water. If your suede is stained from water, take a spray bottle of plain water and spray evenly over the entire shoe. Blot dry with a cloth, stuff the shoe with paper to maintain the shape, and let air dry. Your shoes will end up a slightly darker color, but will no longer have the water spot.

3. Rough it up. Suede shoes often end up with shiny spots from wear. A suede brush can help rough up the nap, but sometimes you need a bit more help – use a fine grade of sandpaper and it should help make your shoes look even.


4. Erase it away. Small spots can often be removed with a classic red eraser. If your suede is a light color, consider a white art gum eraser. Again, brush the suede afterwards to restore the nap.

5. DIY at your own risk. Looking online I found all sorts of DIY methods for cleaning suede. Many people claim to find shaving cream as good of a suede cleaner as the kits sold at mass retailers and shoe repair shops. If you decide to go this route, test in an inconspicuous location on the shoe before proceeding.

Many people find a new nail brush to be a quick fix when you do not have a proper suede brush. As with a suede brush, only brush in one direction to prevent shine.

I’d love if you could do a post on caring for fabrics. How do you handle armpit stains on white shirts? What about pilling on synthetic fabrics or cashmere? How do you know when a garment has reached the end of its useful life?

Sweat Stains
It’s funny, I don’t really own that many white shirts any more so I haven’t dealt with this in a long time. I can remember soaking shirts in a slurry of Oxiclean and hot water for days before washing with bleach. Usually I would just donate the shirt and move on.

However these days I wish to have my clothes last a long time, and don’t want to fill landfills with my pit stains. I have done some research lately and here’s some suggestions I have found:

1. Relieve the pain. Dissolve two standard aspirin in one cup of hot water. Apply to the stains and let soak. Then wash as usual.

When researching this, I found an alternative to this recipe which requires three aspirin tablets, one tablespoon of Cream of Tartar, and a cup of warm water. Scrub into fabric with a toothbrush, let sit for a half an hour (or even overnight) and then launder as usual.

2. Let it bake. As a cloth diapering mom, I have found the ultimate best stain remover on this planet – the sun. It seems too easy to work, but leaving items stained by human protein or waste can get back to being snowy white with some hours soaking up the rays. Dampen the item and place in direct sunlight (a windowsill can work, though not as quickly). This may not work in one sitting, but a couple days of re-wetting and line drying in the sun can work wonders on sweat stains.

3. Don’t bleach. Bleach seems like a good idea, but chlorine reacts with the proteins in sweat, and can cause the stains to become even darker. Better to use an oxygen cleaner or hydrogen peroxide.

4. Try an enzyme fighter. I always have a bottle of Bac-out in my laundry room. It smells delicious (like lime lollypops), it’s gentle to the earth, and it’s a workhorse. I found out about it from cloth diapering, but I use it for all sorts of stains. Works especially well on protein stains. I will saturate the spot, rub it or brush it with a toothbrush if the fabric can handle it, let it soak overnight and then launder as usual.


Pilling Sweaters
I have a sweater stone, and a sweater shaver and love both of them.

A sweater stone can make quite a mess, but you never are searching for AA batteries five minutes before you have to leave for work. It does a great job on large areas – I will take my stone to any thrifted sweaters that are looking old and sad.

Green tip: Don’t toss your sweater lint into the trash – if you compost, stick it in your compost pile; if not leave it out on a deck or balcony and a bird will happily take it to fluff his nest!

A sweater shaver is better for more precise pill-removal and for small spots. Be careful, a snag can not only jam the motor of a sweater shaver, but the shaver could nip the thread causing a hole or run in your knits.

Pilling Polyester
I hate when this happens, and I have yet to find a good solution. Both the sweater shaver and sweater stone can cause even more damage to synthetic materials like polyester. Usually I see pilling of such fabrics as a time for the item to be retired.

If it’s a small location, you can try using a standard razor for the body (choose a blade sans moisturizing strip). Do in a well-lit area and pad the fabric underneath so you only shave off the pill and not nick the fabric.

The best way to prevent pills on synthetics is to baby them. Launder them inside-out, launder only with like fabrics, use liquid detergent and line dry.

When It’s Time to End the Relationship
Sometimes, no matter how you baby a garment, it’s just time to let go. I find it’s time when it just LOOKS old – the color is faded, it’s covered with pills, the fabric is thin in places, the stains won’t go no matter what you do. I find with white shirts it’s time to make them rags when they are just too soft to keep their shape, even when ironing with starch.

Green tip: Don’t toss those ratty tee shirts, oxfords, and knit dresses. Make them into cleaning cloths! No need to hem the edges, just cut into squares that are best for your needs (I like a 12” square or so). Knits are great for dusting, flannel is a wonderful choice for wiping PB&J hands of toddlers (or washing your face), soft well-worn cotton ends up being lint-free and can make for a good rag when cleaning glass.

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Wear Red on February 1st – Heart Disease Doesn’t Care What You Wear

One of my favorite colors and a great campaign to support; National Wear Red Day. Join me next Friday in wearing red and spreading awareness about women’s heart disease.

Friday, February 1, 2008, is National Wear Red Day—a day when Americans nationwide will take women’s health to heart by wearing red to show their support for women’s heart disease awareness. Although significant progress has been made in increasing awareness among women from 34 percent in 2000 to 57 percent in 2006—most women fail to make the connection between risk factors and their personal risk of developing heart disease.

National Wear Red Day is an annual event held on the first Friday in February. On this day, women and men across the country will wear red to unite in the national movement to give women a personal and urgent wake-up call about their risk of heart disease. Everyone can participate by showing off a favorite red dress, shirt, or tie, or by wearing the Red Dress Pin (available at www.hearttruth.gov).

Join this national effort by wearing red on February 1, and encourage your family, friends, and coworkers to do the same.

By participating in National Wear Red Day, you are joining The Heart Truth. The Heart Truth is a national awareness campaign to alert women about their risk for heart disease and motivate them to take steps to lower their risk. The centerpiece of the campaign is the Red Dress—the national symbol for women and heart disease awareness. What’s a Red Dress got to do with it? A simple Red Dress works as a visual red alert to get the message heard loud and clear: “Heart Disease Doesn’t Care What You Wear—It’s the #1 Killer of Women.” Sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the campaign is reaching women with important heart health messages in community settings through a diverse network of national and grassroots partner organizations.

Please join in and help spread the word about women and heart disease. For ideas and tools to help you participate in National Wear Red Day or to order a Red Dress Pin, visit www.hearttruth.gov.

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:

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
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.

#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!

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!

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!

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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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! :P