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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!

How Does One Get the Polished Look?

This, or different variations of this question show up in my keywords on my blog’s stat counter every day. It seems that most women are searching for the Holy Grail of style instead of working on those spreadsheets or proposals at work!

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Looking polished… well some women are born with that skill. They are able to wear a simple tee shirt, jeans and flats and look like Audrey Hepburn. Their hair never frizzes, their lipstick never gets on their teeth, they have perfect yet natural posture, and possess effortless confidence and style.

I am not one of those people. I always spill my Starbucks latte on my sleeve while walking into work. Friends are always picking a piece of lint out of my hair or a crumb off my sweater. I wear more bruises and scratches than articles of clothing and due to my shape can quickly look dumpy or dowdy in a simple tee shirt or sweater.

The first step toward achieving a polished look is to destroy that mental picture of Grace Kelly, Jackie Onassis, Cate Blanchett and Audrey Hepburn. If you are asking how to look polished, I can bet you weren’t one of those born with their frame, their personality, their “polished” look. To attempt to force yourself into an ideal will never be successful, look authentic, or be enjoyable.

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For a week, keep a style journal. Note what you wore (and what condition it was in), how you styled your face and hair and what events took place during the day. Notice how people look at you, respond to you, what comments or compliments you receive (not just on your outfit, but on your work, your talent in another aspect of your life, your health or weight). Also note how you felt when you looked in the mirror before leaving that day, and how you felt when you returned in the evening.

If you leave your house in something that you don’t love and does not love you, you will not look polished, composed or comfortable. Maybe it’s a dress that is a smidge too tight, a blouse that requires a few carefully hidden safety pins to keep your bra from public view, a sweater made from a fabric that itches and of a color you don’t really like but seems popular this season. I always say style comes from quality and not quantity; donate or re-gift those items that make you uncomfortable and save up for worthy replacements.

How does the garment wear throughout the day? Does that chic pencil skirt end up resembling your venetian blinds by noon? Are you constantly adjusting the neckline of your blouse so all your feminine bits are not on display? Did the sleeves of your sweater stretch out so much from pushing them up on your forearms that now they are saggy bells around your fingertips? Again, these items do not deserve a place in your closet. Who cares how sassy you feel at 8am if you feel like a recycled grocery bag by happy hour.

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But what pieces make you walk tall and feel good? Maybe it’s that matte jersey wrap dress you found for $10 on a clearance rack at Macy’s, or a cashmere turtleneck in robin’s egg blue that you bought with your holiday bonus. Possibly it’s a frilly feminine confection that makes you feel as though you have been transported from a different time period, or a black suit that has been tailored to fit your shape like a glove. When I say “good,” I don’t mean comfortable. I don’t mean an item that reminds you of your mom because she knit it for you back in college, or because it’s of cozy fleece and hides your lumps. Women often mistake feeling good for feeling safe. Again and again we see on What Not to Wear and How Do I Look? women who cry over a pair of threadbare flannel pajama pants or a college sweatshirt with a paint splatter across the stomach. These are not clothes that make you feel beautiful, strong, confident, sexy, creative, unique, daring or feminine. These are clothes that attempt to recreate the womb or your bed. Whether we like it or not, we have to get out of bed and we have to face the world. Best to armor ourselves with the type of garments that make us feel strong and true, not passive and unimportant.

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So you have gutted your closet of the ugly, the uncomfortable, the meek, the shape-shifters. What do you bring to your wardrobe to make you polished?

Keep it Simple

You never see a “polished” woman in cabbage roses, brand logos and bedazzled fabrics. The simpler your pieces, the more versatile they are, the more flattering they are, the more timeless they will be. It is tempting to buy the blouse with the kicky embroidery, but more often than not, you will tire of the pattern, the look will be out of fashion in less than three months and people will think, “oh there she is again in that embroidered shirt!” Fun and flashy pieces are added once a simple working wardrobe is created.

All About Fit

Look at the cut of garments – a polished woman is never in a muumuu or a shapeless shift dress. No matter her shape, size or age, a polished woman has accepted her frame and purchases garments that work to her advantage. An oversized sweater does not hide your stomach, if anything it draws attention to it. Whether you like it or not, everyone can tell that you have a tummy, very small breasts, large hips, short legs, back fat or heavy arms. Hiding these things under swaths of fabric tricks the eye of no one but you. Find garments that work with your lines, and if you cannot find well-fitting pieces, have them tailored. A great pair of black trousers can easily survive a decade in your closet if they flatter, fit, are made of quality fabric and are treated well.

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And accept your size. I agree, it SUCKS when you are sure you are size X and you go into a store and you need to try on a size Y or even Z to get the zipper closed. This does not mean you are fat or bad or weirdly shaped. This is just proof that the sizing in stores these days is all out of whack. Once you let go of the “oh, I’m a size 6” mentality, you will have a better time shopping. If need be, cut the tags out once you purchase these garments. Heck, I have even removed the tag advertising the brand of a garment if it makes me uncomfortable (no one needs to know if your dress is from H&M, Lane Bryant, Mossimo or Prada). When you wear garments that are too big or too small, you look uncomfortable, and you never look polished.

Get Over the Name

Stylish, polished women hardly ever wear obvious brand names. So many times, a fashionista is stopped after attending a runway show or a gala and is asked who she is wearing and we find out that fabulous frock is from Club Monaco or that perfect-fitting shirt is from Gap. Walk the mall and scan the internet and catalogs looking at cut, style, fabric composition. Crap is sold at all price levels, and so is quality. Wearing an ill-fitting, and un-you dress from Stella McCartney is far worse than wearing a well-fitting simple one from Ann Taylor Loft.

Know Thyself

You got rid of the impossible dream to be Grace Kelly, now get rid of all those lists that say you need X perfect pieces to be well-dressed. I’m talking about that crisp white shirt, that trench coat, that pencil skirt, and the little black dress. Yes, these are great pieces for many women, but not all women. You’re an artist, you’re a weekend warrior, your wedding registry was at R.E.I., you have more curves than Marilyn Monroe, you live hundreds of miles from a city and heck, it never rains where you live.

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Go back to your style journal. Did you feel strong in that rust-colored turtleneck with your brown tweed trousers? Did someone ask you if you lost weight, or notice your green eyes while wearing it? How about that turquoise sundress you bought on your trip to Mexico, the one that you were wearing when your husband told you that you looked beautiful and when your son’s teacher was shocked by your actual age, thinking you were a decade younger? More often than not, these pieces feel good to you AND to those around you because they express your personality best.

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Personally, I love the look of a crisp white shirt tucked into a pencil skirt with some fabulous slingbacks… on another woman. A tucked-in blouse accentuates my short torso, my tummy and large breasts, most pencil skirts are unforgiving to my solid legs and round bum, and I have thick ankles and not enough definition from them to my heel to keep slingbacks up all day. However, I feel great in short shift dresses in stretchy fabrics and tall boots because they work with my petite frame, de-emphasize my midsection and wide calves, fit my lifestyle, and make me look pulled-together, stylish AND true to my personality. Accepting and embracing your exterior AND interior is the key to achieving personal style, and looking polished.

General Guidelines

These don’t always work for every woman, but a few tips that may help you on your journey to a polished look:

  • Purchase a new purse. More often than not, a woman’s purse is a mess. It’s fraying, overstuffed, stained and tired. Look for a bag that fits your style, but will also be timeless. Try to find something that is stylish instead of trendy, relatively free of logos and shiny decorations so it will span seasons and trends.
  • Get a new haircut. A polished woman does not have her hair in a claw clip or a messy bun 24/7. Get a cut that fits your lifestyle as well as your personality. Only have five minutes in the morning and have wavy fine hair? Don’t try Katie Holmes’ new bob – you won’t have the time to keep it looking good. Talk to your stylist before he shampoos your mane. Let him feel the texture, get to know you as a person before those scissors get anywhere near you. And be realistic – unless you want to spend a lot of time on your hair, you can’t make curly locks pin-straight, you can’t have a head of romantic curls when your locks are fine and straight. Just as you should accept your body, so should you accept your tresses.
  • Stop purchasing prints. A few prints tossed in every so often are great, but polished women are those decked out predominately in solids. A solid blue sweater will look more polished than a striped one, a simple white shirt will get you more miles and compliments than a paisley one, and a black pencil skirt will look far more elegant than a purple tweed one with a satin-trimmed hem.
  • Cut down on the cosmetics. A polished woman many have one facial feature accented, but that is about it. A polished look is clean skin, groomed brows, an elegant and simple look. If your brows are sparse, invest in a brow powder or gel – brows define a face and also your look. Instead of multiple products on the face, consider a great concealer and a highlighting tinted moisturizer to give the look of fresh, healthy skin. Lips are soft, moisturized, and either subtly colored or the focus in a subtle red or wine shade. Glitter, high gloss and shimmer are not in the makeup bags of polished women. As for eyecolor, it should be subtle neutrals to accent the eye, lashes curled and defined, but never thick, heavy or false looking. A blush or bronzer should give only a subtle flush to the skin and not attempt to recreate the look of the sun, cheek implants or a trend seen on the pages of Allure.
  • Take care of your shoes. They say shoes define the man, but they also define the woman. Be they ballet flats, classic pumps or knee-high stiletto boots; your shoes need to be cared for. Get them re-heeled and resoled each year, polish them, store them carefully and immediately treat them for stains, scuff or any other damage. Instead of five pairs of fun and cheap shoes that will last a season, use that money to invest in one pair that will last you a generation. Simple black leather pumps will provide you with miles of wear, a tall boot with a classic heel and toebox will work for decades, and there are many adorable flats out there that can be just as comfy as your ratty trainers. No matter how beautiful the woman, how sassy the outfit and how perfect the hair, a pair of scuffed, cheap and worn down shoes will destroy your image.


Images via The Sartorialist .

The Glamorous World of Personal Style Blogging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How to Shop for Clothing and Define Your Personal Style

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

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

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

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

Know Yourself

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

Consider your Current Wardrobe

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

Make a List and Check it Twice

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

Be Prepared

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

Stop Pinning and Pining for Pretty Closets

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

Narrow Your Search

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

Keep your Closet Clean

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

Don’t look for Happiness on a Hanger

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

The Multiple Personality Closet

The ever-inspiring Une femme d’un certain age wrote a post on her blog about the two personalities in her closet. I think this is something many women deal with and find to be a fault as they seek out their personal style. The thing is, we women are complex creatures. We are not robots, we do not feel the same every day, look the same every day, or want the same things every day. While it is important to find your personal style, it is also important to realize that your style should support all aspects of your personality, and to do that rarely can you have one “personality” in your closet.

Une Femme has a very defined personal style – she knows herself, her life, her tastes and yet she admits, “There are two women sharing space in my closet. Both are actually me, which used to cause no end of consternation as I stumbled and bumped along toward that milepost known as Signature Style™. But I’m learning to make peace with this split style personality, and find balance and harmony between the two. Les deux femmes have arrived at a mutual understanding, and even step out together on a regular basis.”

I too have multiple personalities in my closet, and I find that with the beginning of each season those personalities become more defined, change rank, and sometimes move out to make room for a new tenant. However over the past decade, there are a few women who have kept residence in the penthouse suites of my wardrobe:

Rock-n-Roll Mama
This lady loves the color black, bold silver hardware, lots of leather, and tee shirts with the necks cut out. She’s heavy handed with the kohl liner and loves a shoe that can double as a weapon. She doesn’t feel that one can wear too many accessories and an exposed bra strap from time to time can be kinda sexy. She’ll mix a girly skirt with an old tank top and a leather jacket and finds her hair often looks best the morning after a late night out on the town.

Hippie Chick
This is the girl who attends music festivals and loves spinning to feel her skirts float around her ankles. She loves tie dye, batik prints, and patchwork. She finds cool accessories at festivals, craft shows, and on trips around the world – nothing is better than a garment or accessory with a story. She wears white cotton voile tunics with cutoff denim shorts, maxi dresses with flat sandals, an arm full of bangles, a cross body bag decorated with embroidery and/or fringe, and loves her hair best when it air dried and decided to do what makes it happy.

Madame Manager
This woman feels power with her pointed-toe pumps, pencil skirts, and silk blouses. She finds strength in classic pieces with a bold touch. She’ll wear jeans, but they will be paired with a blazer and heels. While she loves strong colors, she balances them with classic silhouettes and steers clear of prints (unless they are of the leopard variety). On weekends she likes Breton stripes, merino crew and boatneck sweaters in dark neutrals, dark crisp jeans, and heels. She loves a statement accessory, be it a bag in a bold color or a large sterling silver cuff. She feels best with sleek hair with lots of shine and control.

All three like the power and versatility of black and dark denim, how accessories can transform wardrobe staples into an intriguing ensemble, aviator sunglasses, and a fun shoe. All three have an aversion to pastels, feminine floral prints, and anything that binds or constricts the body. All three find her breasts to be one of her best assets and prefers hair that is long.

Thank you to Une Femme for this exercise, I found by defining the personalities in my closet, it made it clearer what my personal style is, and what pieces do not belong in my closet. This season, I plan on reminding myself of my three personalities to stay on track and not be swayed by trends. Now I ask you readers, do you find multiple personalities in your closet? Have you taken the time to define them, and have you found benefit in such and exercise? Who are the women in your wardrobe?

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My Personal Shopping Rules

When shopping for clothing, it is so easy to get off track. Maybe you need a new pair of trousers, but by time you leave the mall you have several bags and none of them contain a pair of pants. It’s also easy to get off track when it comes to your personal style. You are a hopeless romantic who feels at home in ruffles and flounces, but after some pressure from a very enthusiastic salesperson you find yourself at home with a very structured severe black sheath dress.

I have found the best way to stay on track is to have a list and take it with you. I have a small note pad I got at a drugstore that I keep in my purse. I date the sheet and write my shopping list. I never toss the list because looking at old lists help you remember not only what you own, but the style of your wardrobe and life. These lists for me are like a mini journal of my life – a list including a bathing suit and flip flops in August, a cocktail dress in December, silver shoes for when I was a bridesmaid in a wedding, a new pair of jeans to celebrate a weight loss.

In this little notebook I not only keep lists of what I need, but also what I believe. What fashion “rules” do I hold for myself? Each woman’s “rules” will be different. At first you may not know your personal style, but you do know what you will NOT wear. Making this list will help you leave the mall or boutique with only purchases that make you feel good – be it more ruffles instead of structured shapes, or leather instead of lace. Here is my list of fashion “rules,” ones that over time I have felt fit me, and fit many other women.



1. Color over Neutrals. Color makes me look thinner, as though I have a better complexion, am younger. Color makes cheaply made clothing look more expensive. When I feel glum, putting on a bright cheery color automatically makes me smile.

2. Never Let Lingerie Show. I was raised to never have a bra strap or panty line show. Trends come and go where it seems acceptable to have lingerie peek out of sweaters, jackets, and blouses. I have never succumbed to those trends and never will. On top of that, if an item requires a fancy-dancy backless/halter/strapless/zero-gravity bra that I do not already own, I won’t buy the garment. And if an item requires me to pin, tape, suck, squish or cover up part of it to make my current lingerie work, again I won’t purchase.

3. Prints to a Minimum. I am not a prints person. When I start buying printed items, I start finding I wear those items less often – so rarely they are not worth their purchase price. Prints are memorable, less able to be coordinated with multiple items in my closet, so they are purchased sparingly.

4. I Don’t Go to Cocktail Parties. This is something I have to say to myself on a regular basis. I am constantly drawn to sequins, beading, shimmer, shine. I love cocktail dresses, silky camisoles, contrast outfits like fitted tee with ball skirts and cashmere turtlenecks with sequined minis. However I do not have a lifestyle for such a wardrobe. I go to places that warrant such attire maybe twice a year, so I try to get my bling-fix in necklaces I can wear to work as well as play, and fun clutches and purses that I can use to jazz up my arsenal of LBDs that can work for a day wedding or that unexpected cocktail party.

5. Accept it, Your Arms, Breasts and Calves are Not Standard Size. It’s exhausting, frustrating, and demoralizing to try to zip up tall boot after tall boot, try to wiggle skinny rigid jeans up past my ankle or have a short-sleeved oxford or shirtdress fit over my limbs and bust. Even when I was a size 4 I couldn’t wear such items because my calves, breasts, and arms are just bigger than fit models. This doesn’t mean I am unattractive or deformed, it just means I should wear other items. And I have to remind myself that even if I can fit it, if it feels tight and awkward, it will look tight and awkward.

6. Don’t Buy it If It’s Not Comfortable. I am not one to live in sweats, and I despise when people tell me they buy items purely because they are comfortable. However I don’t believe in pain for the sake of style. There is a happy balance. I won’t wear something that restricts my arms, pulls on my back, won’t let me walk three blocks to and from the Metro to my office, forces me to suck in my stomach so that buttons won’t pop, when I take it off I have marks from where the item zipped or cinched.

7. You Aren’t a Girly-Girl. Yes, I am occasionally drawn to calico prints, ruffles, lace, flounce. A romantic blouse, a vintage-inspired dress. Then I get it home and realize I have no shoes, no jewelry, no other wardrobe items to work with it. I have to change my makeup, I need to change my hair, my purse doesn’t fit with the look. Instead of reinventing the wheel, don’t buy the wheel.

8. You Hate Black Purses. This is a weird one, and one I have learned over time. Black makes sense – I wear a lot of black and colors that look great with black. Most of my pants are black, shoes are black. However every time I buy a black purse I don’t like it for some reason – it’s too stark, it’s too somber, it’s too wrong. I currently own two black bags – a casual shoulder bag for day and a satin clutch for night. Both are collecting dust and are constant reminders for me to not make that mistake again.

9. Loose Items Don’t Make You (or anyone) Look Smaller. When I am between two size, I often catch myself choosing the larger one because I fear the smaller one will make me look like a sausage. The thing is, usually the smaller one fits, and the larger one is loose. Loose is comfortable, loose is safe. However, loose makes my unusually large arms look larger, my bust look bustier, my tummy look as though it’s wrapped in a diaper. As a petite woman, fit is of the utmost importance – a dress that is too long in the torso will make a hump in my lower back, show my bra under my arms, cause pants to droop in the rise. Slight adjustments – going with the smaller of two fitting sizes, choosing petite will make me look slimmer and make my clothes look more expensive.

10. If you Love it, Buy Two. I am not ashamed to own the same item in multiple colors. I have been known to buy the same trousers in threes – one in gray and two in black. No one is keeping tally, seeing how many different pairs of black pants you own. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I have the same wrap dress from Ann Taylor – one in solid black and one in a blue print. I have the same trousers from Gap – two pairs of white and one of oxford gray. Same with a pair of trousers from Semantiks – one in black, one in brown. When I worked retail and my employer expected us to wear all black I had five pairs of the same pants – they fit great, held up well after a long day, and could be thrown in the washer and dryer.

11. Unless it’s Formalwear or a Suit, if it’s Truly Dry Clean Only, Leave it on the Hanger. I have items in the trunk of my car that need to go to the cleaners. They have been there since Emerson was four months old. If I do actually get to the cleaners, I then forget the items are there and don’t pick them up for months. Many items (merino wool, synthetic fabrics, matte jersey) claim to be dry clean only, but aren’t. You won’t see me in much wool, silk, heavily embellished items or delicate fabrics. I don’t have the lifestyle for them. Not worth to buy if they spend most of their life in my car or at the cleaners!

What are your “rules?” What do you follow to stick to a wardrobe that fits not just your body, but your personality and life?

My Personal Mertaugh List

I am a huge fan of How I Met Your Mother, I feel this show is highly underrated. Every time I watch an episode, I fall more deeply in love with it.

Roger Mertaugh Lethal Weapon Danny GloverA recent episode was called, “The Mertaugh List,” after Danny Glover’s character Roger Mertaw in the Lethal Weapon movies. Many times in those films, Mertaw would catch himself having to do something and he would say, “I’m too old for this s**t.” Ted had created his own “Mertaw List” of things one shouldn’t do after a certain age. Barney decided to do all of them, and made a list of things that they were too young to do (which Ted then decided to do).

My husband and I have been using this catchphrase ever since, seeing and experiencing things, and saying, “that is SO on the Mertaugh List!” This morning in the shower, I was thinking about how certain fashion should be on the Mertaw List. I went to Facebook and saw a friend of mine was selling many of her old witty sayings tee shirts on eBay – one thing that I feel should be on anyone’s personal Mertaw List. With that, I decided to share my personal style Mertaugh List:

Allie’s Style Mertaugh List:
Witty tee shirt– Any tee shirts with witty sayings

– Any pants or shorts with writing on the bum

– Going braless

– Embellished jeans – embroidery, blinged-out pockets, bleach spots, fabric insets, purposeful holes and tears, etc.

– Baseball caps when not at a sporting event

belly button ring– Belly button rings

– With that, piercings anywhere other than the nose and ears (and the nose better be very small or for cultural reasons)

– Cheap bras that are bought because they look pretty, not because they look pretty AND lift & separate

– Any skirt or dress that can’t let me pick up something I have dropped on the ground and still maintain some dignity

– Lacrosse shorts

home hair color– Having a bad dye job – be it blue or blonde, there is a point where no matter your favorite color of crayon, you better have some serious talent or else leave it to the professionals

– Anything tight enough to show the dent where your cleavage is, where your belly button resides, the separation of your butt cheeks, or the cellulite on your thighs

– Cheap boots – tall boots made of obvious pleather, stretchy microfiber, faded suede; boots with flimsy buckles, plastic heels, cheesy details; boots that are too loose, too short, too tall. Cheap shoes can often times be played off as good quality; cheap boots are too much of a focal point to get away with it

Messy updo ponytail– Messy updos and ponytails – the type made with an elastic or *gasp* a scrunchie while talking, eating, driving, or doing something else where your mind and time is focused on anything but your hair

– Cheap club tops

– Hello Kitty/Disney/Warner Bros.

Gossip Girl Ray ban Sunglasses– Ray Ban Wayfarers

– Anything from Hot Topic

– Gummy bracelets

What is on your personal Mertaugh List?

Personal Style Should Not be Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personal Style: Starting from Scratch

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


How do you even start?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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Ask Allie: Finding Personal Style

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

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

Learning from Wardrobe Mistakes

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

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

To Thine Own Self Be True

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

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

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

Baby Steps

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

Seek Professional Help

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

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

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

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Personal Style – How to Make Time

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

Hard, but not impossible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t have time for this!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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Guest Post: Redefining Personal Style through Friendship

By Erin Twitty Johnson

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


And then.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Personal Style Journey – Spring 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I have figured out so far:

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

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

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Ask Allie: Comfort Shoes and Personal Style

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

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

Creative Ways to Update Leather Shoes from Across the Web:  

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

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Honing your Personal Style through Closet Organization

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Personal Style, Inspiration, Jealousy, and Knowing Yourself

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

I will never be her.

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

 
I will never be her.

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

I will never be her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eat Your Veggies – Finding Personal Style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Covet Fashion: Finding Personal Style on Your Phone

I blame Megan.

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


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

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

Example of some of the events you can enter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Spring Wardrobe Additions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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My Personal Best Buys from the Past Five Years

We often purchase a new sweater, shoes or dress that seems fantastic but a year or two later is either in the donation bag or the dusty back of the closet. Even though I try to be careful and thoughtful with my purchases, this happens to me as well.

Last week I was on the DC Metro heading to work and I looked down at my outfit to realize most of the pieces I was wearing were things I had not purchased recently. I decided then to make a list of the top ten best purchases I have made over the past five years. These are not necessarily the best purchases for others, but have been great buys for me – a 30-something petite, curvy professional who lives in the Mid-Atlantic portion of the United States. I encourage you to share your best buys as well, and the reasons WHY they are best buys. You never know, your best buy may be exactly what another reader is needing for her wardrobe!

1. Lands End Commuter Coat – Two years ago I changed jobs from one where I drove to a building in the DC suburbs, to one where I took the Metro and walked a few blocks in the city to my workplace. This change affected my wardrobe, especially my outerwear collection. No longer could I get away with a pashmina and umbrella for the majority of the year – I needed garments to properly protect me from the elements.

My first purchase was a proper winter coat – after many online reviews and great previous experience with Lands End, I purchased their Commuter Coat. I needed a coat that would keep me warm without bulk, work with pants or a dress, keep my bum warm on a cold bench and also work if snow turned to sleet.

This coat did it all and more. The Commuter Coat is a simple silhouette that doesn’t look dated even though it is being worn for its third season. It’s super warm, but thin enough to be stuffed into a tote bag when the Metro car is 95 degrees. The coat is reversible (though I find the non-quilted side to look a bit dowdy) which means there are always secure interior pockets. Speaking of pockets, they zip close and are deep so I never fear losing my SmartTrip card or cell phone. Being a petite curvy woman, a quilted coat can easily make me look as though I am wearing a sleeping bag; this coat is far more flattering than any other quilted coat I have ever dared to try on. The high neck protects me against cold winds, and the style is tailored enough that I can wear it with a business suit and not look like a confused Sherpa, and it always looks great with a colorful scarf, jeans and boots.

I am a woman who finds a wool coat to be more stylish and versatile than a quilted nylon coat, but sometimes a woman needs more function that wool can offer. This coat gets the job done without sacrificing all style.

(Style I own currently not available on Lands End site but it has been available on their site for at least the last three winters – so check back this fall!)

 

2. My Bern boots from DUO Boots – Part of me didn’t want to put these on the list because I have recently been frustrated with DUO, but I love these boots so much.

DUO makes amazing, high quality boots and shoes for all widths of calf and foot. If you live in or visit the UK, I recommend you check them out in person. However if you live outside the UK, the shipping is so much and the return policy so difficult, it may not be worth it to try this company. I currently have a pair of boots from them that I need to put on eBay because the boots were backordered so long that by time they arrived, I was on pregnancy bedrest (and they were shipped to my office, not my house). By time I was able to get ahold of them, it was past the return period and I found they didn’t fit over my ankles. I have asked them twice for advice on what boots could fit my large ankles like the Bern and both times I have gotten emails that either misunderstand what I am asking (they tell me wide foot styles) or else offer suggestions that do not fit in any manner like the Bern (hence me having a pair of boots in my office that need to be put on eBay).

That being said, my Bern boots from DUO are awesome. They fit my large “I was a child toewalker” ankles as well as calves and have a style similar to the Frye Harness boots. They are a pretty classic style that can be worn with jeans or with dresses. They are fleece-lined so they keep me cozy in winter and don’t make me sweat in the summer. But best of all – these are boots I can wear all day. Seriously, all day. They are just as comfortable as a pair of slippers – maybe more so because there is arch support. When I have a day where my heels kill me, I will come home and instead of going barefoot I will put on my DUO boots. When I went to the Bonnaroo Music Festival in Tennessee, I took my DUO boots. I used some waterproofing solution on them and wore them with my sundresses in the 100-degree weather, on the hot dusty days, and the rainy mucky days. These boots survived this four-day event (as did my feet) and they still look work-appropriate.

If I won the lottery, I would order another pair of Bern boots from DUO in black. I wish they had the same exact style with a slightly higher heel – if they did I would want them in every color.

3. Black Matte Jersey Wrap Dress from Old Navy – I am a huge fan of matte jersey, and of wrap dresses. I have owned at least a dozen in the past decade, but this one from Old Navy has by far been my best purchase. Unfortunately I can’t link to this item because even when I bought it two years ago, it was on the clearance rack in the store for $19.99 and I had never seen it online.

Why this wrap dress and not the one I have from Maggy London, Ann Taylor or Talbots? Because it has everything I could possible need for fit, style and versatility. It has a ¾ sleeve which means I can wear it in winter or spring without looking out of season. There are no details or adornments that make it memorable, and means I can dress it up with pearls and peeptoes for a day wedding or a beaded necklace and boots for work. The length hits right at the top part of my knee so it hides my knee bulge but doesn’t look matronly. It is a faux wrap so it won’t fly open with a strong breeze, yet the wrap belt lets me cinch the waist to create a nice silhouette. I can throw it in the washer on the gentle cycle, hang it up and have it ready to wear the next day. Finally, it fit me when I was a 10, fit me when I was in my second trimester of pregnancy, fit me postpartum when I was a lumpy size 16/18, and fits me now.

I always say to purchase quality and not quantity, and that quality can be found anywhere and at any pricepoint. Well this Old Navy dress proves it!

4. Pashminas from Nordstrom – I own five solid-colored pashminas and a few printed shawls that are the same size. They have been purchased at little boutiques, discount Big Box retailers, eBay shops, and have been given to me by online retailers so I can talk about them on my blog. I love them all and wear them all the time, but my pashminas from Nordstrom are the ones that get the most play and the most love.

Why? Because they are perfect. They aren’t too thick, and aren’t too thin. The fringe never unravels or gets tangled. The colors are rich and true and stay rich and true with multiple washings. They are so soft and cozy, you wish you had sheets and pajamas from the material. They are the perfect size to be a shawl with a dress, a scarf with a winter coat, a napping blanket on an airplane, even to be knotted at the breast and worn as a makeshift nightgown on business trips. They can be balled up and thrown in your carryon bag or purse and they come out looking fresh and fabulous.

Nope, they aren’t cheap (usually $99 unless you find one during their Half-yearly Sales), but they are completely and fully worth the money. I bought an aqua one almost 10 years ago and it still looks perfect except for a hole in it from having it get caught in my office chair. I bought an avocado-green one during a sale a couple of years ago and it’s a gorgeous color and still my favorite scarf in my collection.

5. Camel Banana Republic Sandhurst XL Shoulder Bag/Hobo – I bought this… three years ago I believe. This was my first Banana Republic leather bag, and my first “expensive” purse. Before this bag, I always got purses from places like Express or TJ Maxx or Target. Once I got a bag from the clearance bin at Nordstrom for $70 and thought I was going crazy with the dinero.

Well one time in Banana Republic I saw this bag and fell in love. The leather was soft, yet looked like a football. It had the perfect pockets – one for my Blackberry, one for my cell, one for my SmartTrip card, and one to hold things like pens and lipglosses and things that get lost in a main compartment. It also had a keyhook that was easy to reach and use even while the bag was over my shoulder. The strap was the perfect length – it fit nicely under my arm, even while wearing a winter coat. It was around $300 – too rich for my blood. But I returned again and again to Banana Republic to look at it, touch it, try it on. I checked out the green, the black, the dark brown but kept going back to the light brown/camel color. I never wear camel, but I wanted this bag.

So I stalked it on eBay. And I got it for $200 in new condition, even with the storage bag. It arrived and I could smell the leather through the USPS flat-rate box. It was a classic style, yet looked expensive. I loved that it wasn’t exactly brown and wasn’t black so it worked with pretty much any shoe in my wardrobe. The hardware was blackened brass so it didn’t clash with silver or gold jewelry. When I tossed it on a couch or over a chair back, I always got compliments. It didn’t have obvious logos and I was often asked if it was some designer bag or if I got it in another country on some fabulous trip.

The next year, I saw another Banana Republic bag I loved. Again I stalked it on eBay and I got it for even better of a steal. It arrived pristine in the storage bag… and there wasn’t the same love. It wasn’t as perfect. The leather wasn’t as supple and the color wore away on the strap. The pockets weren’t as perfectly sized and my cell would fall out and get lost in the abyss of the main compartment. The strap was just a hair shorter – enough that I looked awkward wearing it on my shoulder with my winter coat. The love was lost when I had it on my lap one time on the Metro and used it to prop up the newspaper – when I got to my station I folded the paper and saw that the ink transferred all over this bag. I went online to find ways to clean the leather. I tried a very gentle soap on a spot and the entire color and finish as well as the newsprint wore away. I took it to a leather specialist who said the dye and finish wasn’t study enough to handle a proper cleaning and he could possibly end up ruining it. I put this bag back in its storage bag and placed it in my closet. I returned to the Sandhurst and returned to weekly compliments and people asking where they too could get such a cute bag.

I kept using the Sandhurst until this past fall, when a bottle of expressed breast milk busted open and leaked all through the bag, the lining, through the leather and onto my lap. For those who have nursed and pumped, you know that breast milk goes sour very quickly. By time I had gotten home, the entire bag reeked of sour milk and no professional cleaning could completely get out the crunchy stain on the leather or the horrible smell. However I can’t let go – the bag is in my closet in its storage bag, right next to my other Banana Republic purse.

I currently have another purse that has all the right pockets and is a versatile color and nice leather… but it’s no Sandhurst.

6. Ray Ban Aviator Sunglasses – As with purses, I have always been a discount sunglasses woman. Black plastic frames have been en vogue for so many years – who cares if they are Dior or from the drugstore? Anyway, I am one to step on sunglasses, lose sunglasses or forget them in a boiling hot car – it never made sense for me to drop bucks on a pair of shades.

Two years ago, I won a contest through a magazine where I got a weekend trip to Miami and a $500 gift card to Bal Harbour Shops. I decided that with this money, I should purchase something I would never ever otherwise buy. My goal was to get an It Bag, but I never saw one that weekend that I actually liked. So on the last day, I went into Celine and bought a $250 pair of sunglasses. They were very cool – I thought I looked like a rock star. I used the rest of my gift card on a bottle of perfume, a couple sale items from Banana Republic and the rest went toward a necklace my sister wanted from Tiffany. Of course as we were leaving the mall I saw a Marc Jacobs bag that I loved that was on sale but it was too late.

The sunglasses fell apart at lunch later that day. I was so upset. I went back to Celine and after FOREVER, fighting with the salesperson to get a replacement, etc. I left with a new pair. That pair fell apart a couple weeks later. When I contacted Celine stating that I was in a different state, my $250 sunglasses fell apart I received a response that pretty much said, “sucks to be you!”

I decided to go back to my discount sunglasses. Aviators were back in style and I was so glad as that IU have a big face that needs a larger style, and metal frames are less likely to get warped when being left on my dashboard in August. I bought a pair from Target – they were cute but didn’t shield me enough from the sun. I got a pair from Ann Taylor Loft and they always sat funny on my ears. I found a pair at Marshall’s and always felt that they looked as cheap as they cost.

I was 39 weeks pregnant and felt like crap. I was on bedrest and could only stand for 30 minutes at a time. I felt like a beached whale. My hair was in need of a cut and color, I hadn’t seen my toes in weeks, my maternity clothes had been worn and reworn so often I wanted to burn them. My sister drove me to my midwife appointment and on the way home we passed a mall. My sister had a pair of shoes to return to Nordstrom and asked if she could do so. I said I wanted to come in – I would use my 30 minutes of standing that day for some much-needed retail therapy. In those 30 minutes I bought two pairs of silver earrings and a pair of silver aviators from Ray Ban. When 39 weeks pregnant, the only things I knew would fit me then and six months later were accessories. I then got myself a delicious fattening decaf coffee drink and met my sister to head back to the car.

It was a cloudy, dreary day. I didn’t care, I put on my new sunglasses and felt cute for the first time in months. I felt cute and sassy. A year later, these sunglasses still make me feel cute and sassy. Unlike the pricey Celine shades, these sunglasses are super durable. They are a classic style that I think I can wear for years, but still look current and on trend. They are silver, which is my favorite color of metal. They look cute with a bathing suit, a sundress, weekend duds or a nicer outfit. They fit my face perfectly – more perfectly than any other sunglasses I have ever purchased. And though they weren’t cheap, they are a value as that I have no need to purchase any other sunglasses as long as I have these. Again, proof of quality versus quantity and proof that money doesn’t equal quality.

7. Chantelle “Senso” Bra  – As I write this, I am wearing this bra. I think this is the fourth one I have purchased in the past five years.

I have large breasts, and it has always been hard for me to find a bra that is invisible under sheer knits, lifts and separates, doesn’t make my shoulders ache at the end of the day, doesn’t show with a scoop or low neck, and hides “high beams.” Well this bra does all of this for me.

The Senso is tight when you first get it – the band isn’t very stretchy. I have pulled a muscle trying to latch a new Senso bra. However this is one reason why it gives such amazing shape and doesn’t dig into my shoulders. This bra molds to your shape – after a week or so it’s easy to get on, yet it is still as supportive. For my fair complexion, I find the Nude color of the Senso to be almost the same exact color as my skin – not a weird yellow-tan color like many other “nude” bras. The cups are slightly molded and padded – not so much that it makes my bust look bigger, but enough to give me a nice shape and smooth professional look.

Now that I have been nursing my daughter for almost a year, my breasts are not the same shape, size or firmness that they used to be. The Senso hides this fact, by still giving me a perky bustline.

After six months, even with gentle care I find the Senso starts to fall apart – the wires pop out, the elastic starts stretching out. I still find these bras worth it and just purchase a replacement bra. I fear this bra being discontinued because I love it so much and it loves me in return.

8. Shoes by Sofft – I have never been one to sacrifice style for comfort. Four-inch pointy toed pumps? Bring it on! However when carrying a baby in the third trimester, I found high heels not only painful but dangerous. I didn’t want to waddle around town in Crocs and tennies, so I needed some alternative that would be kind to my feet while still having at least a bit of style.
Enter Sofft shoes. I started off with their “Veronica” Mary Jane in brown suede. It had a vintage-inspired silhouette and a cute little leather flower at the strap. I bought them a whole size larger than I wore pre-pregnancy and went from a medium to wide width and was in footwear heaven. These shoes were wearable all day, even when I was at the end of my last trimester and was swollen with high blood pressure. I constantly got compliments on how cute and sassy they were – quite a feat when puffy and pregnant.

Postpartum I realized I didn’t fit into my old shoes and I no longer had the muscles or endurance for stilettos. However I just couldn’t resort to dowdy flats and clunky loafers. Sofft came to the rescue again with “Carlina,” a dark red patent leather T-strap sandal that again had a cute vintage-inspired look. These shoes were so comfortable yet so incredibly cute. The red patent leather was an unexpected neutral that worked with most of my spring and summer wardrobe. I loved them so much I bought them in black and wore those with pants as well as dresses and skirts. I have even rocked the red pair this winter with opaque black tights. I then bought the Sofft “Vanna” – a T-strap similar to the “Carlina,” but with a slightly higher stacked heel and in brown croco-embossed leather. These looked fantastic with dresses, with my ivory work trousers and with jeans. My summer shoe wardrobe was complete.

My foot muscles are coming back and I have slowly been infusing higher and skinnier heels back into the wardrobe. However I still have a, ahem… “Sofft” spot in my heart for Sofft shoes and am always looking to see what styles they have (and what styles are on sale).

9. Burberry London Eau de Parfum – I love fragrance. I must have two dozen bottles of perfumes and sprays on my dressing table. However I have spent the past two decades looking for The One. A fragrance that is me – not too girly, not too musky, not too fresh. A fragrance that I don’t even notice, and a fragrance that I don’t smell on every single other woman in the elevator. Many perfumes would give me headaches or cause me to sneeze so I needed one that didn’t irritate. Unlike some women who love a different fragrance for every season and reason, I wanted a signature scent that I could spritz every morning and make part of my routine.

My husband and I both played hooky from work a few years ago and went Christmas shopping at a nearby mall. We stopped in Sephora so I could get him a new cologne. He suggested I try a couple fragrances (at this point in my life I had given up on wearing perfume). I talked to the salesperson and we discussed my sense of style, my personality, what fragrances in the past I have loved (Chanel No.5 but my mom wears it) and what I hated (Calvin Klein’s Escape makes me have a migraine). We tried a couple scents that were… okay and then she spritzed Burberry London on the inside of my elbow. I inhaled… and I felt comfortable, elegant, myself. My husband smelled it and smiled. “This smells like you when you are having a good hair day.” I knew what he was trying to say, and it was exactly the type of scent I wanted for myself. He bought me a bottle and I have been wearing it almost every day ever since.

Unlike Chanel Chance or Narscico Rodriguez for Her or Chanel No. 19 or Dune or Opium or any other fragrance I have tried and eventually hated on myself, I haven’t lost the love for Burberry London. And now that I have a child, I love that I have a signature fragrance that she can smell and think of me (as I do with my mom and Chanel No. 5). I love that I do a spritz on my wrists and one on one throat and then go to kiss my husband and daughter goodbye and my husband sniffs and says, “you smell pretty.” I love that I finally have a fragrance where a friend can borrow my scarf and breathe in and say, “this smells like you” and has a face letting me know that it’s a good thing.

An Alison fragrance… what I have always wanted!

10. Dresses by Muse and Maggy London – When you are petite, over a size 12 and busty, it’s hard to find cute dresses. Most dresses that fit in the bust are too large in the shoulders. If they are petite in shape, they are too tight in the body. If they fit in the body, they are too long in the arms and hem. And everything seems to make me look like a porn star and require a camisole and some strategically-placed safety pins. Styles and brands I covet do not come large enough fit me.

Thank God for Maggy London and my new love – Muse. These brands made great variations of designer styles, with a broader range of sizes (and a more wallet-friendly price point). After finding these brands, I have become a Dress Person. Nine times out of ten, if I purchase a 14 petite in Maggy London or a 16 Petite or Large in Muse, I will have what seems to be a custom fit. Yes the safety pin is still needed to make many of these dresses work-appropriate, but these dresses fit, flatter, are on trend, wear well, wash well and aren’t overly trendy. Dresses I purchased five years ago still look new and stylish, and I love having a wardrobe of cute dresses I can easily toss on when I don’t have the time or the creativity to build a look.

So tell me readers, what have been the best buys that you have made over the past few years?