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Quality AND Quantity

This Sunday I went to the mall. As a previous mall employee, I try to steer clear of shopping arenas between Thanksgiving and New Year, however the receipt of a generous mall gift certificate, a change to bitter cold weather (and me a different size from last winter) and an upcoming company holiday party forced me to break my rule.

For those on a budget or with a certain lifestyle/fashion style may only visit certain stores in the mall. Be it a mall in California, Montana, New Jersey or Florida, many women will first visit their “safe stores.” When I worked at express, I was always fascinated by the women on vacation who would make time in their holiday schedule to check out the local Express. Yes, stores carry some different items based on clientele and geography, but the stores are usually 85% the same.

If you have the time, it is good on occasion to visit those stores you don’t usually frequent. Artsy creative spirit? Try visiting a Talbots – you may find something surprising and wonderful. Conservative look? You may find the perfect “something” in a store like Bebe or Cache. Budget is more Wal Mart? It doesn’t hurt to take a lap around Sigrid Olsen or Banana Republic”, see the season’s new styles and peruse the sale racks for a gem.

I went to my local mid-range mall. Anchors are Hecht’s, JC Penney, Lord & Taylor, Nordstrom.

I always start with Nordstrom. Their sale racks are amazing to find high quality clothes at amazing prices. Found a gorgeous pair of Enzo Angiolini boots for $59.90, originally close to $100.00. And they came in wide width for my sausage feet! I had similar boots from Payless that I purchased three years ago that had to be retired. I was worried to find a pointy toe and slim high heel black leather boot may cost me close to $100. For a boot that may last me for another three years, for jeans and business casual and even suits – I find $60 to be a fabulous deal.

I then headed to Ann Taylor. Ann Taylor sells sizes from 2 to 16, most styles in Petites. Ann Taylor usually has a pretty extensive sale rack with many current pieces and a multitude of sizes. I have found that different malls seem to carry different sizes in their sale rack. When I head toward the ritzy part of the city, I seem to find larger sizes left in the sale department. If I head to the suburbs or more remote malls, the sale rack holds more small sizes (something to consider for your big shopping trips).

At Ann Taylor I found a ton of wonderful pieces in their sale section. A black merino cowl neck sweater for $29.99 (not shown on website). A pair of winter white heavy sueded cotton cuffed trousers for $29.99, and a pair of black trousers the same fabric as an Ann Taylor suit jacket in my closet at home for $39.99. I had purchased a Love Cures card, which gave me 15% off any purchase of $100 or more. This brought my purchase of three classic items to about $85.00. The prices were equivalent to stores like Target or Old Navy, but still the pieces had quality, great fit, great style. It really is possible to find quality at low prices.

Since I was with my mom, we then headed to Chicos. This is my mom’s favorite store as that they sell easy-care and artistic clothing that fits her body shape as well as her personality. The clothes are not my type, but I have found some great pieces of jewelry in there. This time while my mom was in the fitting room I found some classic ribbed crew neck sweaters in a silk blend that skimmed the body and came in some wonderful saturated colors. Regularly $49, these sweaters were on sale for $39 and my mom had a discount club card for an additional 5% off. I bought the sweater in basic black and a rosy red, seeing these sweaters go from being a suit shell, to business casual with trousers, to weekend wear with jeans. I had a similar sweater from Express a few years ago that got mangled in the wash. I was thrilled to find a substitute, and even in a similar color in a store I rarely even enter.

I went to the mall reciting my mantra of “Versatile sweaters, work pants, black boots. Versatile sweaters, work pants, black boots”. I saw many fabulous things in many great stores, stores I don’t always frequent, stores I don’t always have success in or feel match my personality. If you have the time during your shopping adventure, be daring and visit a new store. You may be pleasantly surprised! Often it is possible to find quality as well as quantity in your local mall!

Quality, not Quantity

I cannot stress this enough for a wardrobe.

Quality, not Quantity.

Consider fashion icons – Jackie Onassis, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Princess Diana, Diana Vreeland, Coco Chanel, Gwyneth Paltrow

These women have always looked polished, stylish, but not over the top.


These women in 2005 would never wear sweats with words printed on their bums. They would never wear shoes made of plastic, or clothes that were ill fitting, overly trendy or poorly made. Their style didn’t change much from season to season. They understood what flattered their figure, expressed their personality, and stuck to it, making slight modifications each year to not look overly dated.

So you’re not a millionaire. You don’t have a limitless fashion budget. Your clothes come from malls, big box retailers, discount stores. Your priority is not image, but family, work, LIFE.

Buying quality, not quantity fits that budget, and fits that lifestyle. If you shop CORRECTLY, you will spend less, shop less often, and require less “prep time” each morning. Having a wardrobe you like, and you trust (quality allows trust) gives you freedom, as well as personal style.

When I was 23, I got a “real” job, a job where I had to dress professionally every day and interacted with clients. I was at the mall every weekend, leaving with bags full of fun things, yet every Monday I had a mini breakdown at my closet doors, not having a thing to wear. I couldn’t understand it. I didn’t understand it until a few months later when I moved to a new apartment. As I was packing up cocktail dresses, pencil skirts, glittery halter tops (some with tags still in place) I realized the problem. I was shopping, but not for my lifestyle. I was shopping as though I had the life of Paris Hilton, not an entry-level person in suburban corporate America, living paycheck to paycheck and only going to clubs and bars once a week. Once I made that realization, and held on to that realization each time I entered a mall, I found that shopping may not have been as exhilarating, but it was more efficient, and weekdays weren’t as distressing.

I didn’t have the party life I had in college, nor did I have as much spending money. I needed to adjust my shopping to match my lifestyle.

My dear friend had a different situation.

I like fashion, but I can’t afford Gucci, Dolce and Gabanna or Chloe. One day I wandered into Forever 21 and found knockoffs of some of the things I adored on the pages of Vogue. The prices were more my speed. Yes, the fabric was not quite right, the fit was a bit off, but wearing that skirt or that jacket, I felt I was a bit closer to looking like a fashionista. Every few weeks I ran to the mall to get cheap reproductions of popular styles.

I went to a friend’s birthday party. I was dressed in what I thought to be my most trendy outfit. Another friend videotaped the evening. A week later I saw the video and wanted to faint. I was not a fashionista. My pants were too short and too tight. My belt obviously was not made of leather, and it looked stupid with the top. My bra straps were visible all night, and not in a sexy way. I wasn’t a fashion maven, I was a fashion victim. I noticed the other guests looked nice, and I noticed many were wearing pieces I have seen them wear before. It was a huge eye opener, I saw that fashion isn’t what’s new, but what’s stylish. I started buying less, but pieces that fit well, looked nice, were less trendy and more stylish. Suddenly people were telling me I looked as though I lost weight, asked if I had changed my hair, giving me compliments. I realized the compliments of the past were on an article of clothing. The compliments I got now were for me – the total package. It felt really good.

How do you start the road to quality not quantity, and more importantly, how do you do it without breaking the bank?

1. Standards.
What is your lifestyle? Single working woman in the city? Stay a home mom of four? Retired world traveler? Make a list of “events” you attend in your life. This does not mean black tie galas, but day to day activities where you need to get out of bed and face the world. Grocery store. Regular day in the office where most people dress business casual. Business meeting where a more formal business look is needed. Date with the significant other. The occasional wedding/christening/bar mitzvah/funeral/holiday party. Attending your house of worship. Job interview. You get the picture. Drinks with the girls after work.

Stop and consider your wardrobe. Does your current wardrobe fit the lifestyle you have? What are spending a lot on? Are there things in your wardrobe that still have tags on them after a few weeks have passed? How many pieces in your closet have been worn once and then left to collect dust? What events in your life leave you in a clothing panic?

Write down these events. Write down the clothing that gets the most wear, and write down the clothing that gives you the most pleasure when worn (not the pieces that look gorgeous in your closet or possibly on your frame if only you lost 10 lbs.). What correlates with one another? Do any of them match up?

2. The Down and Dirty
I have before written about the standards that are needed in every woman’s wardrobe. This may vary based on climate, age and lifestyle, but is a pretty basic starter wardrobe for most women. Do you have pieces like this in your wardrobe? Basics you can fall back on at a moment’s notice? Pieces like this are the types of things that style icons would have in their wardrobe. Classic pieces that go from casual to dressy, summer to winter, wedding to funeral.

3. After You Have Gotten Down and Dirty
Now that you have a base wardrobe, it’s time to bring your personality into it…. slowly. Looking at the basics in your wardrobe, consider another sweater in a different neckline and color. A necklace that can really jazz up multiple outfits and makes you happy every time you see it. A pair of pants in another color – a neutral like gray, brown or camel. Or possibly something fun yet basic like a dark red, plum or a pinstripe. Your mantra at the mall is Quality, not Quantity. You don’t need 30 sweaters that don’t fit quite right, show your bra and are yucky colors. Instead, invest in three sweaters that fit great, look great, and are built to last. Though those three sweaters will cost more individually, it will be cheaper to buy those three, than keep replacing the cheaper ones as they pill, fade, stretch out, or get shoved to the bottom of the drawer for not being quite right.

4. What Am I Looking For?
You can find quality at a boutique, you can find quality at Target. It’s all about looking for the signs of quality, style and durability.

Think “if Jackie O was on a budget, what would she purchase?” Keep this in your head as you scour the racks. Visualize your style icon, her trademark pieces, what she did to become a style icon and not a fashion victim.

Pills and Fuzz – do the pants have pills or fuzzies on them when on the hanger? Then leave them on the hanger. They will be a fuzz magnet, no matter how often you wash them or what fabric softeners you use. History has shown the pants and jackets that collect fuzz seem to fade the quickest as well.

Buttons and Zippers – Are the buttons the right size? This means, if you sit down, do they slide out of the button holes? Are they hard to button and unbutton? If you answer yes to either, put the piece back. This will look sloppy once worn out of the store, and will either make the button fall off or you get frustrated with the piece. As for zippers, slide it up and down many times. Think about how you will be wearing it – will you be handling that zipper with gloves and a bag of groceries in one hand, or will you be yanking it down several times a day int he restroom? Is it sewn in correctly so it won’t get jammed, won’t break, won’t slide down with wear. Give it a test-run in the fitting room.

Pockets – You shouldn’t be able to see the lining of pockets through your clothes, be it a suit jacket, skirt or pair of pants. If this is the case, leave it onthe rack. That is a sign of cheap fabric, poor construction and a bad cut. Pockets also shouldn’t bow out. If you have curves below the waist, it’s best to usually pass on slash pockets as that they will gape open, causing you too look wider than you are. Flap pockets on the bum are rarely flattering, get bent when sitting, and usually are an add-on cheaper brands use to make their clothes look more… gosh knows what, maybe fancier? I usually steer clear of flap pockets on the bum. As for faux pockets, mini pockets that can’t hold anything larger than a quarter, or any other weird form of pocket that cheaper designers place on their clothing – STAY AWAY. These are signs of cheap manufacturing, quick trends that will die soon, and frustration (you’ll constantly try to put your hand in that faux pocket, I just know it!).

Fabric – If you can’t afford cashmere, that’s okay. The only thing I won that is cashmere is a pashmina I got as a gift. However, because you can’t afford it doesn’t mean you can wear a poor knockoff. Silk/cashmere blends usually pill and thin. Pleather makes you sweat and doesn’t stretch. Faux fur is far more PC, but any fur is overly trendy, overly controversial, and would not be part of a new millennium fashion icon’s wardrobe. Your undergarments should not show through the clothing. This is never an attractive or stylish look. The fabric should not make you itch. If you push up sleeves, it shouldn’t case the arm band to get permanently stretched out. Sit in the clothes, dance in the clothes. See how the fabric stretches with you, moves with you. Rub it against a different piece of clothing. Does the color transfer? Does have the decoration fall off? Does it shed on everything on on this planet? If so, leave it in the fitting room.

Cut – Are they perfect pants except…. Is the top exactly what you need if it only….? Almosts and Not Quites do not have room in any woman’s wardrobe. These items either gets one wear (if that) and then retreat to the back of the closet, or get plenty of wear but look dreadful every time they don your body. The world will not end if you don’t have a pair of black pants NOW NOW NOW. It’s better to go without than to go halfway. Jackets should be able to button across your torso. Pants should be able to be sat in, legs crossed without straining. A belly button should never show through an article of clothing. Pant legs should be long enough to hide your ankle bones and be no more than an inch from the bottom of your heel. Long sleeves should cover your wrist bone. Shoulders should be appropriate, not an inch from your actual shoulder (oversized shoulders make you look heavier and shorter). Try sitting. How does the piece lie? Can the world see your bra? Your panties? When you stand, do you have weird creases at the crotch that won’t disappear? Does it take two minutes just to put the outfit back in place? Do you need to buy a new bra, new camisole, new tummy cincher and a pair of silicone breasts to make the dress fit correctly? If you say yes (or yes but….) to any of these things, leave the article of clothing at the store.

Style – A sign of cheap clothing is over embellishments. I mentioned the use of flap pockets. Cheap clothing often tries to mask faulty manufacturing with brooches, bedazzling, contrast stitching, applique and other adornments. These adornments may be fun and quirky, but I suggest you stick to simpler pieces that will go from year to year, and get your fun and funky adornments through accessories that can be retired when the trend passes. Overly embellished garments make impact – these are pieces that can only be worn a few times a season or people will soon be saying “…look she’s wearing that pink sweater with the leopard collar and cuffs AGAIN.” Having pieces that are that limiting in your wardrobe are not what you need – they will be a waste of money if you are on a budget.

Color – This season it’s purple, next season it may be green. Whatever the fashion magazines dictate, buy what you enjoy. Neutrals aren’t always the best choice. Neutrals fade into the background and you lose your personality. Pick colors that make you happy, make you feel powerful, make you feel beautiful. Black can be versatile, and khaki doesn’t show stains, but you will feel better about yourself and present a better image to others if you wear color. Look for saturated fabrics, ones that will hold their color after washings. The thread in the stitching should perfectly match the fabric. Again, rub it against another garment, check for color transfer (this often happens under the arms when the fabric gets warm and humid). Consider the color, will it compliment the rest of your wardrobe, or will you have to buy eight more articles of clothing to match it? Only buy clothing that brings you happiness. You wouldn’t hang artwork in your home that made you feel depressed, why decorate your body with depressing art?

Accessories – These don’t have to be made of platinum, gold and emeralds, but should be able to withstand multiple wearings, a bang against a table or a kid playing with it. I have found great accessories at Target, at Claire’s Boutique, at discount stores like TJ Maxx, Burlington Coat Factory and Marhshall’s.
These should be pieces that compliment an outfit, not compete with it. Signature pieces, like Jackie O’s pillbox hat, Grace Kelly’s scarf, Coco Chanel’s red lipstick. Pieces that help make you… well you! For me it’s a bold silver cuff that is my signature piece. I compliment it and my wardrobe with Silver hoops, chunky silver rings. Artsy pieces that I feel help reflect my creative side. I have mentioned before what accessories belong in every woman’s wardrobe. Now you need to think quality, taste, elegance, style.

Shoes should be comfortable. They should have classic lines. Leather lasts longer than pleather, can be shined up to look beautiful again, stretches to mold your feet perfectly, and is more versatile. Heels should be wide enough at the base of the shoe to properly support your foot and not cause pain. Toe cleavage (when you can see the spaces between your toes out of the top of a pump or shoe) is an extreme no-no. It is cheaper to buy a pair of quality pumps and get them resoled and reheeled each year than to buy a new cheaper pair each year. Invest in shoe shine tools – you can find them at your grocery store. One hour, every few months will give years to your footwear. Invest in classic pieces. Hot pink suede booties may be adorable, but will you still adore them and wear them weekly after three months? If in doubt, purchase black leather or brown croco. Both fabrics and colors will wear nicely over the years. My mother still wear a pair of black ankle boots she purchased in 1968. The soles have been replaced, the heels reheeled. New inserts have been purchased but the leather is still supple and rich and she is still complimented when she wears them. That is quite an investment, and a fabulous example of how quality can save you money.

When you go shopping, take pictures for assistance. Tear out pages from magazines. Take a headshot of your fashion icon. Take a photograph of you in an outfit you regret as motivation. Make a list of what you believe you need, and don’t let a salesperson or friend tell you otherwise. Consider purchases of clothing as you would consider a purchase of an appliance or a car. Do your homework, don’t buy the first pair of black pants you see. Take them for a test drive in the fitting room or around the store. Do price comparison, fabric comparison, and don’t settle. You deserve the best, and you can find it, no matter what your budget may be.

Quality versus Quantity – Tights

When it comes to winter, a few pair of tights in the lingerie drawer are a must. However it’s so frustrating when those tights bag, sag, or run after just one wearing. I know I have run to the nearest big box retailer or discount mart for a pair of black tights when my current pair are unwearable, just to have that new pair be just as disappointing and unappealing.

A couple years ago I stopped the cycle of bad tights and decided to invest in higher-quality legwear. I figured buying several pairs each season (and then disposing of those same pairs after just a handful of wears), if I could find a more expensive pair that were higher quality, it would save me time and effort.

Everyone raves about Wolford tights, and I believe the hype, but my body shape (they only fit up to 176 pounds) and wallet (styles range from $50 – $70 for standard opaque tights) couldn’t afford to try them at the time. However after some online investigation, I found that Spanx tights also got great reviews for fit, opacity, and durability.

Years later, I am still wearing my Spanx tights. I have three pairs of them, and they are all amazing. They hold their shape all day, are truly opaque, and extremely durable. I can walk without shoes on the uneven hardwood floors of my 1948 home and not worry about a snag. I can throw them in the washing machine and then hang them up to dry and be ready the next day. They don’t roll down mid-day, don’t sag at the ankles, and they have sizes to fit short and curvy women like myself.

The other day I was chatting with two coworkers about tights, and one mentioned she was wearing Spanx tights (the ones that are reversible – brown on one side, black on the other). She started raving about their fit and durability and I chimed in. Soon the third coworker was convinced it was time to try a new brand of hosiery and get out of the routine of buying tights that only last one or two wearings.

For lighter-weight tights, I have been a longtime fan of Nordstrom’s basic opaque control top tights.  They are a great price – if you buy three pairs at once it’s only $8/pair.  Not as durable or opaque as Spanx, but a great standard denier that works great for fall and with tall boots.  I have pairs I bought three years ago and they still fit and look great.

My mantra is quality over quantity, but I believe that quality can be found at most any price point. However if you are finding that your low-cost good-enough item is only good-enough, it may not be worth your time and money. Do a little homework, for a bit more money, you may find a replacement that isn’t that much more expensive and makes your life, and your style far more wonderful!

Ask Allie: Plus Size Wardrobe Staples

Dear Allie, I found your wardrobe staples post many years ago and it changed my life. I cut my closet in half but finally had the right clothes for everything. Since then, I have had two children and some health issues and I’m now a size 22. I gave up on fashion the past five years but my New Year resolution is to get back in shape and in style. Thing is I go to the mall and I can’t find anything on your list, everything is so ugly and old looking and cheap in plus sizes. Help!

My first suggestion to you is to get the heck out of the mall. While more and more brick and mortar shops are offering plus size fashion, most neighborhood malls have pretty slim pickings. Shipments are done by a buyer, one who just looks at generic demographics and statistics for the store, mall, and zip code and makes general decisions on whether to feature more plus size or less, more suiting or more weekend wear, more formal dresses or cotton sundresses. While you could drive around town to find plus size fashion Mecca, you could also head to your computer.

I hardly ever enter a mall anymore because I find them frustrating, messy, and overwhelming. When I do visit, I plan out my trip and head first to my go-to stores where I know the clothes fit my body and my personal style. Then if I still have some energy left, I’ll investigate other retailers. However, I find far more luck sticking to online retailers. Better selection of styles as well as sizes, easier to find discounts, and I can try on pieces in my bedroom with flattering lighting and proper shoes and undergarments.

I did a little searching online and was able to quickly find all the wardrobe staples I suggest in plus sizes. These days many retailers offer free or near-free shipping and returns; I did a review of my favorite plus-size retailers here. Keep in mind that this time of year is awesome for deals, but awful for selection. We’re entering inventory season, and every retailer tries to have as little merchandise as possible for inventory to make the process easier. If you’re looking for bargains you’re likely in luck, but if you’re striking out in sizes, wait until mid-March when spring collections will be stocked in the stores.

In the collage above, I left out the wool coat and accessories from the staples list because I find them relatively easy to find and likely you have the accessories already in your collection. Here’s a list of some of my go-to retailers for specific plus size fashion:

I also recommend you check out some plus size blogs and forums. I personally am not part of any boards or forums so I suggest you lurk some and find a good fit. While there are so many blogs out there who showcase their fabulous plus size personal style, here are few plus size-specific blogs I find to be quite helpful in reviewing lines and offering fashion suggestions. I also recommend reading their blogrolls and comments for additional blogs and online resources:

I’m so happy that you are using this year to care for yourself. Everyone deserves to feel fabulous and you’re gorgeous no matter your dress size. Dressing to flatter your current figure and personal style makes you feel confident and helps showcase your beautiful self. Don’t let the malls get you down, head online and you may find just what you were looking for!

Readers, I look forward to your comments on this subject, as I am not an expert.  Where do you find plus size wardrobe staples?  Who are your favorite plus size bloggers?  What online resources do you recommend?  

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Quality vs Quantity – My Current Makeup Faves

This morning as I was “putting on my face” I realized that my beauty routine has drastically changed over the past couple of years. While I still find it important to look good every day, I have found ways to streamline the process so I have more time for my family. As with my closet, I find it is easier to do my makeup each morning if I have fewer options. Just three years ago, I had a drawer and train case busting open with pots, potions, lotions, and creams. Now, I can fit the majority of my cosmetic collection into one makeup bag. I also find that before I used to hop from brand to brand; now I keep re-purchasing products that get the job done – work well, are reliable, versatile, quality.

It’s important to look for quality instead of quantity in regard to fashion, but I agree it also holds true for cosmetics. And like clothing, quality can be found at any pricepoint. Below are the products I use on a daily or at least weekly basis, help me create my daily face, and not have to worry about it for the rest of the day.

I reviewed this before here and here, but now I am on my third tube of this product. It’s a great pricepoint, it blends perfectly into my skin while still covering skin irregularities, it doesn’t make me break out, and it doesn’t melt away by lunchtime. I can wear a light layer over just-moisturized skin for more of a tinted moisturizer look, I can also apply a heavier application to really cover up and give a flawless face. It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s reliable.

This is my HG of concealer (reviewed here and here). I first tried it with Laura Mercier’s Flawless Face Kit (review of kit here) and became a convert. Secret Camouflage kept my pregnancy under wraps the first trimester by hiding my pallor and dark circles. It made me look like Super Mom the first year of Emerson’s life by covering the ashen complexion and bags under my eyes from lack of sleep and stress. And now, it keeps me looking more even, yet not overdone.

If I apply with a brush, it hides most anything without caking; applied with a warm ring finger, it blends effortlessly to provide daily medium coverage. It doesn’t fade or melt through the day, and the choice of two colors lets me create a perfect tone for dark circles, redness, zits, or the weird little stretch marks on either side of my mouth. It also lasts forever; I have been using this for almost four years and am only on my third compact (and the first one was a mini size).

I got this as a sample from Sephora in 2008 (review here) and haven’t yet needed to buy an actual full-size of it. I only use a very tiny bit – shake it into my palm, swirl a large domed brush and buff onto the face. It will give a more finished look to my face, take away shine, set my concealer and foundation. Doesn’t get cakey, doesn’t settle into pores, just makes my face look natural yet matte.

This stays in my purse for touch-ups throughout the day. Like the MUFE powder, it doesn’t add a layer of stuff to my skin, just gives a natural matte finish. The compact is utterly gorgeous so I don’t mind whipping it out of my bag. It also lasts forever; I broke my old one a year ago and my current one isn’t even anywhere close to showing metal.

It’s the bomb. It layers great – can have a subtle flush for casual days, a stronger color for certain outfits. A touch of shimmer that doesn’t really show, just makes the skin look dewy. It also lasts forever – I have been using this blush exclusively for six years and just got my third compact of it earlier this year. I have written about it before here and here; I still believe it is the perfect blush for me.

Reader April got me addicted to this product, and addicted I am (you can read my past review here). I wear a light touch on my cheek bones, inner corners of my eyes, brown bone, and bow of my lip. It makes my skin look young and plum and dewy. A little goes a VERY long way – I only tap my finger once on the compact to get enough for a cheek. It’s super shimmery in the compact, but on the skin (especially under foundation), it’s very natural and subtle highlighting. April, can’t thank you enough!

I have raved about this shadow before, and I have to again. It’s perfect. A matte ivory for highlighting, a shimmery golden khaki that is a perfect neutral, a gorgeous olive that makes for a fun colorful smoky eye, and a deep dark chocolate that is perfect for contouring; I have also used it with this brush or wet with a liner brush to be eye liner. All that, and the color lasts all day. The only thing I find fault with this product is that the khaki color crumbles when you get to the pan – the rest of the colors hold up but I usually have the khaki fall out before the other colors have been fully used.

I have been using the same compact of this color for six years. The cover has disappeared, there’s a bunch of holes in the product where I have hit the pan, but I bet I’ll be using it for at least a year longer. I use it with the Trish McEvoy brow brush, which is not too stiff, not too soft, and gives a natural fill to my brows.

I use this as my brow groomer. I always used Body Shop because I worked for them and got it cheap. Once I left that company, I looked for the cheapest clear mascara on the market and that day it was Maybelline. I am about ready for a replacement tube, but have been using this one since I was at my last job (four years I guess). I never use it on my lashes; mascaras and liquid liners should be replaced after a couple months but I figure this is just like gel for my brows and it’s not so bad.

This is my favorite liquid liner, hands down. While I have Indelible Wink from Tarte and like it, I love Maybelline. The little brush gives me a perfect line, makes for an easy side swoop, and it stays on ALL DAY. No flaking, no smearing, no fading. This is a hardcore product, but it’s reliable and for me, very easy to use. Need to replace this every two months or it starts to thicken and is hard to use.

I ask for this as a Christmas present and will treat myself to a tube if I get a bonus at work. It’s expensive, it doesn’t last long, but gosh it’s perfection (mentioned here). Thick, lush, long lashes. No flaking, no smearing. Gorgeous. It’s just so pricey. I keep trying to find a drugstore or cheaper equivalent but have yet to find it.

I wrote about this here. It’s still a favorite. While I love it alone for pretty flushed lips, I have been using it with my longwear red lipsticks to keep them soft and slightly shiny between applications. Smells good, looks good, feels good. I have tried other colors but don’t like them nearly as much as Rose.

I currently own three different colors but have tried about a dozen of them over the years. Great price, great shaped bottle, perfect applicator, nice feeling gloss that stays on… as long as any standard gloss. I can’t justify spending more on a fancier brand of gloss – Revlon has the right formula, and a great selection of colors.

What are your tried-and-true beauty products? What is out there that I am missing?

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Tuesday’s Tip – Making the Clearance Rack Your Friend

When I go into a store, the first place I look is the clearance or sale rack. I don’t want to be tempted by full priced items when a good equivalent is available at half the price in the back of the store. Even when planning my wedding I first scored sample sales and discount bridal shops before even looking at a single full-priced gown. It is better to buy quality instead of quantity, but just because it’s on a sale rack does not mean it’s poor quality or lacking style or fashion.

Take Your Time
Clearance racks are a mess. Why waste good salespeople hours in cleaning up the back of the store when the real money making is in the front displays of new product? Because of this, do not limit your search to the section designated with your size. Take the time to flip through all the racks. You may find a size 10 amongst the size 2s or a great size Small blouse hidden amongst size 14 blazers. Grab everything that even remotely appeals to you, and a few things you would not usually consider. The best way to spend money on trendy pieces and unusual finds is to pay for them at a discount – less buyer’s remorse.

Sizes Can Be Deceiving
Sometimes items are on sale racks because they are missized. I have tried on size 6 jackets that are too big for me and size 14s that are skin tight. Don’t just look at the label – pull the item from the rack and see if it may possibly fit. Often the missized items are at a super reduced price because they are being looked over.

Consider a Tailor
I decided to write this post because of my clearance rack prize of yesterday. Sueded cotton trench, hip cut, gorgeous color, originally $179 on sale for $29.99. No obvious flaws but the coat was too large for me – I am petite and it is not. It is an XL and a generous cut, I am not. I bought the awesome bargain after trying it on and seeing that the shoulders were fitting decently, though the sleeves were past my fingers, the waist was too big and the length too long. I took it to my local dry cleaner and for $35 she is shortening the arms and hem and nipping in the waist. So for $65 I got a $179 jacket that is perfect for the upcoming fall.

Sleeves that are too long, hems dragging on the ground, gaping waists and baggy jackets can all be easily fixed by a neighborhood tailor or dry cleaner. They can also replace missing buttons, broken zippers and some torn seams. If the price is right, often the tailoring still keeps the garment at a discounted price. I have bought suiting pants 75% off just because the zipper is broken, a suede blazer at 80% off because the lining had pulled away from the jacket body.

Do not invest in garments that are stained (salespeople usually try to remove the stains with a cleaning fluid, if it’s still stained it probably won’t come out in the wash or at the cleaners), torn (resewing a seam may make the item fit differently), irregular (remember quality is key – no one should be wearing a sweater with two different sleeve lengths) overly large (tailor costs will be insane and the true look of the garment will be lost) or too small (don’t buy for the body you hope to have, buy for the current you. Also tailors can’t make things larger – there’s usually not enough fabric at the seams and if they attempt the fit of the garment will be compromised).

If You Don’t Love It…
Don’t buy it. Would you buy it if it were full price? If the answer is a quick “no” leave the item in the fitting room. Just because an item is cheap does not mean you can scrimp on cut, style or fit. A 50% markdown does not justify a gaping armhole, an unflattering color or even a staple that you really have enough of already. The world sees you and your outfit, not the reduced price. They don’t know if what you bought cost $200 or $20, they just know it doesn’t look good, doesn’t flatter your body or your personality. Every dollar in your wallet is precious, don’t waste it on crap. If you can’t imagine the item with at least two other things in your closet, it’s not worth your time or money.

Shop My Closet – On Poshmark!

WardrobeOxygen on PoshmarkI’ve been saying for a while that I needed to get off my tuchus and sell all the clothes I don’t currently wear. While I may clean out my closet I do have a dirty secret… I have bins and bags full of clothes in my attic (and there were a couple full contractor bags in my home office). I regularly donate career wear to a charity and have Freecycled and donated all my maternity clothes and clothes that are in “well loved” condition, but the nicer stuff I’ve been holding on to.

No more. All this clothing is doing no one favors being boxed and bagged up in my attic. A couple weekends ago, my best friend came over and for eight hours we dug through three bags. All pieces were photographed, packed up, labeled, and ready to ship. While I have used eBay and a Shop My Closet blog in the past, this time I decided to use Poshmark. My friend Alyson has raved about it for a long time and many of you have told me you use it with great success. It seemed simpler than eBay too.

For the past two weeks I have been using Poshmark and I have become as big of a fan as my friend Alyson! It’s an app-based program; while you can visit Poshmark on your computer, to buy and sell you need to do it on your phone. As a seller, I think this makes the process uber easy – my pictures are already on my phone so I can easily upload them, write a quick description, and even answer questions and negotiate counteroffers. I’ve found the customers to be more… reasonable than on eBay. You’re not usually expected to offer 5,000 measurements for a $6 LOFT tee, people are super friendly and quick to share and comment, and while I have had a couple ridiculous counter offers (no, I will not sell that NWT original retail still in the store $250 item for $15), in general it has been a friendly and painless experience.

Tips for Selling on Poshmark by Wardrobe OxygenA couple of you saw on social media that I was on Poshmark and have joined to buy and sell. If you’re interested, if you use this link and code PMZYS you’ll get $5 off your first order and I too will receive a $5 credit (find me, I am wardrobeoxygen).  There’s no auction or bidding, you can counter-offer and some sellers (myself included) offer  “bundling” where you can purchase multiple pieces from a seller at one time and save on shipping ($4.99/order).  If you’re interested in selling on Poshmark, here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • Be Honest.  Like other selling sites, Poshmark has a rating system.  Buyers can give you up to five stars for orders.  It’s not worth it to ruin your reputation by trying to pass off replicas, lie about the condition of a garment, or its original price.
  • Provide Details.  Is it an XL but fits more like a L?  How did you style it?  If you recall the original style name or number or even color name, include it.  While Poshmark won’t let you write a novel, you can offer quite a lot of information.  The more details you provide, the more likely the item will sell and the more likely the buyer will get what she expected and leave you a favorable rating.
  • Take Good Photos.  I use my iPhone 6s and take the pictures in natural light near a window.  For Christmas I got this dress form; it’s not high quality (in fact I cracked the base the day my friend and I were on a Poshmark selling spree and it’s now held together with packing tape) but it gives a better idea of how an item will fit than lying a sweater on your bed or floor.  If you have a photo of you wearing the item, include that too.  I also search the internet for stock photos of the item.  A mix of all three is a great way to get an item sold.  Poshmark lets you upload four photos per item with the first photo being your cover photo.  I’ve found the most successful cover photos are those with me wearing the piece.  If you don’t have a photographer taking your picture in items for a blog, a mirror selfie in a well-lit room is still good (and you can cut off your head in the photo if you wish to be anonymous).
  • Stock Up on Free Priority Mailers.  Your post office has Priority Mail Tyvek envelopes and boxes for free; these are perfect for shipping out your orders.  Included in the cut Poshmark takes from your sales (20%, or $2.95 if the item sells for $5 or less) is a shipping label.  When you make a sale, Poshmark emails you this Priority Mail label.  You can order shipping bags and boxes from for free but know it takes up to two weeks to receive your order.  If you have a post office nearby, grab a few to get your sales going.
  • Take Care with your Sales.  I fold nicely, wrap in tissue, tie with a bit of curling ribbon, and carefully slip into the box or bag.  I got a pack of cheap tissue paper; you only need 1-2 pieces per order.  The curling ribbon I purchased when I attended a baby shower where all presents were to be wrapped in blue.  That yet-to-be-born baby is now 5 and as you see in the photo above, there’s still plenty left even though every shower and birthday present since the shower had turquoise ribbon on it.  I bought some rolls of packing tape, and because I’m a dork like that, ordered some cheapy business cards from VistaPrint (this is a referral link that will give you $10 off your first order) that thank the buyer for her order, have my name and my Poshmark address on them.  The overall cost is minimal, but it makes the experience much nicer for the recipient.
  • Raise Your Rates.  Poshmarkers LOVE to counter-offer.  Consider this when making your prices.  It’s worth it to up the price a few dollars to be ready for a counter-offer (if you accept a counter-offer the item sells immediately to that individual).  Also, if you have stagnant items that don’t want to sell, you can then lower the price without too much heartache.  A plus to lowering the rate is anyone who “liked” the piece will end up receiving reduced shipping.
  • Be Quick with Communication.  If someone asks for additional details or makes a counter-offer, be polite and reply within 24 hours.  Since Poshmark is on your phone, it’s easy to quickly type in a response and move on with your day.
  • Follow the Rules.  Don’t accept sales through PayPal or offline.  Don’t try to sell used makeup or clutter Poshmark with items they don’t allow to be sold on their app (home goods, electronics, health and wellness products, used underwear and makeup).  Don’t label something a blouse when in fact it’s one of those belly wrap things that spam social media.  And don’t call something Chanel-esque or like Louis Vuitton – that’s a trademark violation and such names can only be used if the item is legitimately from that brand.
  • Be Part of the Community.  Share other people’s sales (I only share that which I actually like), follow other accounts, leave comments and reply to comments.  Poshmark is very social, and by being part of the community you’ll get a larger audience to see your closet, resulting in faster and more sales!

Are you on Poshmark?  I’d love to hear your experiences and feel free to share your closet in the comments!

Friday Food for Thought: Fast Fashion Fixes

This year it’s creative nail art.
Last year it was braids.
The year before… feathers.

Before the recession, it was anything with logos on it. Canvas Coach bags covered with Cs, Tory Burch flats, limited-edition tee shirts by trendy designers.

Have you heard of The Lipstick Index? This phrase was coined by the chairman of Estée Lauder to explain why their sales went up after 9/11. From the late ‘20s and into the start of the Great Depression, the economy went down the tubes yet cosmetic sales rose.

Time and time again, when the economy is down, women find budget-friendly ways to still feel fashionable and beautiful. And when the economy is good, the masses clamor to get the hottest trend they can at the highest pricepoint they can afford.

I understand this, and I too have bought a trendy accessory or beauty product to make me feel better, feel fashionable. And it works. It’s amazing how a new color of lipstick or some fun nail art can change your look as well as your outlook. However, it’s important to understand that these budget-friendly trends are just that – trends.

We seem to be living in a time where people are sacrificing quality for quantity. Cheap polyester dresses that don’t fit quite right, sky-high platforms that tear heels to shreds, neon accessories that will be passé come October. We’re spending $30 a month on mystery boxes of travel sizes of beauty products or mediocre-quality shirts and accessories. We’ll buy Starbucks every day, but balk at the idea of spending three figures on a pair of shoes or trousers that will be en vogue years from today.

I encourage you to do an experiment – for the next month track all the money you spend on nail polish, fun lipstick colors, self-tanner, Starbucks, super trendy jewelry, and novelty clothing (witty tee shirts, pieces that can only be worn for specific situations, fast food fashion a la Forever 21). Don’t stop your regular routine, just gather up the receipts and a month from now, tally them and see how much you spent.

How much was it? Enough for a cashmere sweater? A pair of perfectly-tailored trousers? Designer jeans that make your rear look amazing? A classic designer bag?  Black pumps that are chic, slightly sexy, and wearable for eight hours straight?

With Weight Watchers I often have an internal debate with food – which is more important, short-term pleasure or long-term satisfaction? The same could be said for fashion. There is nothing wrong with trendy splurges – in fact I recommend them to keep wardrobe staples looking current. However take a good look at your closet, your dressing table, your makeup bag – are all those quick fixes keeping you from achieving quality personal style?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Plus Sized Work Attire Options

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Night at Rogue 24 with Maynard James Keenan

Last year Karl and I didn’t attend a music festival. The arm put a cramp into our capabilities and also our finances. This year, we decided again to not attend a music festival. While we love them, they can be pretty intense and we usually feel we need a vacation after our vacation. We both had broken limbs and crazy drama last summer; this summer we want to relax with our music. We have a couple concerts on the books this summer, but when I received an email from Rogue 24 earlier this month I knew we HAD to attend.


Tool is one of Karl’s favorite bands, and because he has listened to their albums so much over the 20+ years we have been together, I too have come to appreciate the music and respect Maynard James Keenan, the lead singer of Tool (as well as A Perfect Circle and Puscifer). Along with music, Keenan owns Caduceus Cellars, a group of vineyards in Arizona and New Mexico. To be able to attend such an event at a highly-rated restaurant with such an artist was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up.


After work, Karl met me at the Mount Vernon Square Metro and we walked to Blagden Alley, where there’s a hidden cluster of bars, restaurants, a coffee shop and a few other businesses. We got there early and found Chef RJ Cooper outside; he recommended we head over to Lost & Found for a quick drink. When we came back, the alley was filling with others who were there for the dinner. It was a fascinating group of folks – there were the wine enthusiasts, the foodies, and those who were there as fans of Keenan. A Donald Trump lookalike was leaning against the wall next to a woman in calf-high Doc Martens and dyed black hair, a woman in an St. John dress and diamond ring the size of a gumball in line behind a gentleman wearing a faded Tool tee shirt under a blazer with worn jeans and Chucks. I loved it, such an example of how food, wine, and music can bring all sorts of people together.

rogue24 chef rogue24 2

The restaurant is small, I don’t think even 50 chairs. The tables surround the kitchen, the stage for the evening’s performance.  We were placed at a table near the back of the restaurant that we shared with two other couples.  The couple next to us were there for the food and wine; they were big foodies who had been to Rogue 24 before and have even flown across the globe to visit highly-rated restaurants.  And the table next to us held four guests… and Maynard James Keenan.  As Karl said, he was as close to James that night as he was me!

rogue24 6 rogue24 4

This was not an event where Karl wanted to whip out his camera at every moment, but he did bring his “pocket camera” and captured a few images.  If you follow me on Instagram you know I too caught a few pictures with my phone; once the wine started flowing people were more liberal  their phones, taking pictures of each course.

rogue24 courses

And the food was phenomenal; we ate things we had never eaten before and combinations that blew us away.  The evening started with a buffet of canapes (little macarons made of sour cream puffs with caviar, and freeze-fried cabbage with a hemp butter and mustard cream) and a tequila and wine cocktail that was light and refreshing.  Each of the seven courses was served with a different wine from Caduceus Cellars, perfectly paired.  My favorite ended up being the most expensive course Rogue 24 has ever served – goose liver agnolotti with Sicilian pistachios, buffalo brown butter and balsamic vinegar aged for 100 years served with Caduceus Cellars ’13 Chupacabra red. Dessert was again a buffet, with little bite-sized treats and a coffee station.

rogue24 3 rogue24 5

The charming and knowledgeable staff of Caduceus Cellars and Rouge 24 were eager to share information about the food and the wine. I think people can find such events intimidating, but everyone was so friendly and warm. It was surreal to be joking with a James Beard Award winning chef and making eye contact with a rockstar you have admired for so long.

rogu24 7

It’s crazy, I don’t even know how I got on the mailing list for this event; if I hadn’t received the email I likely wouldn’t have known about it.  I am so glad were were able to go and share such an experience.  I feel this is a #ThisIs40 moment; the evening was not cheap, it would have been easy to pass it up saying we can’t afford it.  But it was far cheaper than a weekend at Bonnaroo and it was an equally memorable and unique experience.  This is an event we would have likely passed up a decade ago, but now see the value on so many levels.  As I preach with clothing I also preach with life – it’s better to have quality than quantity and Wednesday evening at Rogue 24 was definitely quality.

Tuesday & Wednesday

No pictures from yesterday – I got to work at 6:45 am so taking pictures was when it was too dark to see in that room (have to work on it), and the rest of the family was asleep and didn’t want to disturb in any way. However I decided to wear my black matte jersey wrap dress from Old Navy with a gold chain from J. Crew and my gold twig bangles form Ann Taylor and my black suede Mary Janes from Sofft. Hair was straight, makeup was basic. It was totally appropriate.

After work I stopped by the Talbots near my job because everything in there is 20% off, they have petites that go up over size 12. I ended up getting two dresses, one with a surplice neckline, one a wrap style, both together came to less than $140 which I felt was pretty good. Both are a 14 petite. I couldn’t find a pair of pants that fit this weird body except some like yoga pants, and well… if I am going to go with pants like that I might as well stick with the ponte maternity ones I have been sporting. But I gave my husband a fashion show and he thought both dresses flattered my figure and were fun prints (you will see in upcoming posts).

I am still struggling with shoes. Before Emerson, I was a 7.5 medium. I could buy certain brands like Nine West, BCBGirls, Enzo Angiolini and Jessica Simpson and know that they would fit in that size. After her… I am not sure. These two pairs of Mary Janes from Sofft are 8.5W and they are a tiny bit big, but in a “wow they don’t hurt at the end of the day” sort of way, and don’t rub at the heels. My city boots are an 8W and feel good. My Duo Boots still fit, but in a different way from before/do feel almost half a size small since I usually buy boots big. I can get my foot into some of my 7.5M shoes but that’s about it – no walking or even standing.

So I decide to order a pair of classic black patent pumps from Circa Joan & David. I order 8W and 8.5W, since I have free shipping and returns. The 8W is ginormous on me in width and length. So big, I think even a 7M may be good. What the heck? I ordered an 8W in a boot from Sudini and I can’t even get it on, it’s so tight. These are two brands I have worn before so I am very confused. I have an event this weekend where I need to dress up, and figured one of my new dresses and some basic black pumps would be perfect. I ended up ordering like 5 pairs of shoes from Nordstrom because they are doing free shipping on shoes and they do super fast delivery. I will not have time to hit a mall until Sunday at the earliest, and honestly I hate malls. Fingers crossed one of these pairs works!

Oh, and yesterday in the fitting room at Talbots I look at my ankles and they look all bruised. Nope, it’s just that I had my ankles crossed at the conference I attended and the black of the shoes rubbed off all over my skin. Awesome.

Today I am working from home and I am glad because I need a chance to go through my clothes and figure out what to do for the time being. A Bella Band is not an option because of my height. If I wore one, it would show with all tops I wear. Also I don’t wear baggy tops because they hide my waist, and an zipped pants covered by a Bella Band would show lumpy under tops. And these breast feeding boobs make it impossible to wear anything but stretchy knits.

Sorry to vent on here, but fashion isn’t always easy. However I would rather wear the same thing three days in a row than go out of the house looking like a shlub. I feel far more confident and myself in repetitive wardrobe than in something that I know makes me look less than what I can possibly be! As I always say, it’s about quality, not quantity! :)

Product Review – Sephora the Smokey Eye Kit

I believe in purchasing quality instead of quantity when it comes to beauty products as well as clothing. Almost a decade ago, I received a major promotion that would require me to travel for my job teaching people about my company’s line of clothing, how to pair it with other pieces and how to merchandise it in the store. This required me to be very polished and I thought a makeover was in order. I visited the Trish McEvoy counter and left with a whole new palette of colors, and an arsenal of wonderful, high-quality brushes to accomplish most any look. I really feel that with the right tools, you can achieve wonders and often those wonders can be accomplished with a lower-end product. I use my Trish McEvoy brushes to this day, often with drugstore brands of eyeshadows, bronzers and lipcolors.

Thanks to Coutorture, I recently received Sephora’s Smokey Eye Kit – a cute metallic wallet holding Sephora’s idea of the tools necessary to achieve the proper smokey eye.

Like me, they saw the necessary tools to be brushes, not shadows. The kit contains four brushes, a brow and lash groomer, a tube of Sephora Brand Volume Mascara and a how-to card. I was interested in trying this – makeup styles come and go but a few trends (matte red lips with simple eyes and a smokey eye with lighter lips) seem to endure.

The case is well made, beautiful gray metallic leatherette with a black nylon interior that is made to not just be pretty, but to properly protect the brushes and make the kit easy for travel. The case does not have extra compartments, so it really is meant to only hold this ensemble. The left flap had a clear pocket to hold the how-to card.

The brushes are quite nice – larger than most kits have (almost “regular” size), nice weight in the hands, easy to hold and maneuver, and soft bristles. I have a Sephora Brand bronzer brush that I love; these seem to be of the same material and quality. Each brush has it’s name (small dome, all over shadow, etc.) so it is easy to know which tool .to use to achieve your desired look.

This morning I decided to try out the kit and follow the how-to to the letter to see how it actually works. Is this Smokey Eye Kit worth the $42 price tag? The appearance says yes yes yes, but will the experience match?

The kit says first step is to use the Allover Color brush to apply a shimmery light shade from brow to lash line, concentrating on the brow bone area. It also suggests the Sephora Brand champagne shade.

I do not have that shadow, instead I used my Pop Beauty shadow set for Brown Eyes – the sparkly beige shade. The shadow picked up pigment nicely without scratching up the shadow, application was good – these are not natural hairs in the brushes so the application wasn’t as perfect as say with sable/squirrel; but a very excellent job for a synthetic.

Next, I was to use a darker shade (again a Sephora Brand shadow – charcoal, was suggested) and apply with the Wide Crease brush from lash line up to crease. I chose to mix the dark brown and soft black of the Pop Beauty kit for my own version of a warm charcoal. This brush I wasn’t as happy with. The shadow didn’t seem to “grab” onto the brush and even with a very gentle hand, dark shadow flicked off the brush and everywhere – in my eye, on my temple, under my eyes. I knew it was not the shadow as that I had used it several times before with my Trish brushes. The size also was a bit awkward for my personal lid shape, and it was hard to maneuver from lash up, instead of from side to side. This ended up with me brushing away shadow and re-applying powder so I didn’t look as though I had been in a fight.

Next step was a tad confusing – the kit instructs to use the Detail Brush with a dark color and line both top and bottom of the eye AND to use the Sephora Brand black pencil (not included). It does inform you to make the line heavier on the outside part of the eye, but doesn’t explain HOW to apply the line and WHY to use powder and pencil. It also doesn’t explain how thick said line should be for either the top or bottom lash line. I tried applying my black shadow with the liner brush and it went on well, though faint. Again, this is an issue with synthetic brushes and powder. By moistening the brush (not mentioned in the kit but I know from past experience) I was able to get a stronger line of color along both lash lines. As for pencil, I used my Black Eye Definer from Body Shop, and just ran it along the lower lash line, for fear of ruining the line I made with the powder already. For a makeup newbie, I found this step of the directions confusing and if in the wrong hands, leaving a very 1980s raccoon-eye look instead of a smokey finish.

The next step was to take the Small Dome Brush and smudge the line you made, from lash up toward crease. This worked, and I really liked this brush – the angle was well done, the bristles were packed enough to give some oomph without ruining the finish. I have always done this step with my finger – this gave a far more refined finish and helped blend all the layers of color nicely.

The steps then instruct one to curl lashes (with the Sephora Brand lash curler, natch) and apply the Sephora Brand Volume Mascara (included). I instead used my Shu Eumura curler, and tried out their mascara. It’s not bad… not really volumizing (especially in comparison to my believed DiorShow mascara) but it applied well. It has a brush that has four mini combs to apply the product – I found it went on relatively well – few clumps but it was a bit sticky/gooey. It dried well, but to add a second layer of product, I definitely needed the Dual Sided Brow Brush/Comb (included) to separate my lashes.

Final opinion? This kit is an amazing value for someone who does not have the tools to achieve this look. For $42, you are getting decent quality of synthetic brushes, a decent mascara for day wear, and a great carrying case. This is a wonderful shadow brush starter kit for someone who is considering starting a brush collection or has none. The All Over Color brush is one you would probably use every day, and the Detail Brush is a very good tool to make your eye shadows double as a liner. By using other references for shadow application (check the net, some beauty blogs, and my favorite resource are the books by the late Kevyn Aucoin) you will be able to have steps that may be clearer and more appropriate to your lid shape and personal style.

And if you are considering investing in this, right now Sephora is having their Friends and Family promotion. Use code FF2007 at checkout (until November 21, not applicable in Canada) and you will receive 20% off your entire order!

Have a smokey eye day!

(all photos can be clicked to enlarge. I apologize for the quality – hard to photograph yourself with your eyes closed on a mediocre camera!)

Ask Allie: Fashion Advice for a Petite SAHM

Dear Allie,
I am currently rocking the awful “mom” look aka yoga pants and huge t-shirts and I am so over it! Could you direct me to a few classic pieces to start my wardrobe? I am a stay at home mom with two under two, so I need a practical look. I live in Ohio where the weather is always changing. I am very petite (5’ and less than 100 lbs). I also have trouble finding comfortable shoes that look stylish and fit my size 5 feet. Any advice?
– Megan

Dear Megan,
I am so glad you realize that one can be an active mom while maintaining style. I recently wrote an article on about new mom fashion, but will offer some basics that should get you on track without looking like a mom, or like a college student:

Dark Straight Jeans
A dark straight jean is classic, can be worn any season of the year, looks more polished than lighter washes, and doesn’t need a fancy label to look chic. Having a straight leg means this jean should work with most any length or style of top in your wardrobe – simple tanks and tees, longer tunics, blazers and cardigans, blouses tucked in or left untucked. Add a bit of spandex so that you won’t be showing your undergarments or cutting into your stomach when crawling on the floor after your little one.

The Lee Slender Secret 5-pocket Jean is a classic style that is great for women who may have a bit of that baby pooch still left. Oprah recently rated them as a top jean, and reviews state that these jeans in petite are not needing of hemming for those who are 5’ tall. $29.99


Levi’s 512 jean is a straight, classic style that is made for a woman’s shape. Their Perfectly Slimming 512 Jean has the Lycra to keep your body looking smooth, and giving you the flexibility you need to keep up with your children. Again, this jean is rated great for the really petite woman – they run short so you won’t have to spend an arm and a leg on alterations. $40.00

A Versatile Trench
When the weather is chilly one day, hot the next, and rainy the third it’s hard to be prepared. A simple trench or mac in a water-resistant fabric that is lined will keep you looking stylish yet comfortable on those in-between days.

The Sunshower Coat from Lands End is a favorite – it’s a classic style, breathable, and wrinkle-resistant. Lands End is known for their quality and service so you know you will get a great piece that will give you years of wear. Khaki is a safe bet, but a more memorable color like their Wine Grape will look great with neutrals, make your skin glow, and will give you a sunnier outlook on the day, even if the sky is cloudy. $99.50

Macy’s Style&Co brand offers great style for a reasonable price. This double-breasted trench has a shorter length that won’t dwarf your petite frame, and the soft sage color will look great with neutrals, but be a fresh change from beige and black outerwear. $79.00

Solid-colored Seasonally-appropriate Tops
Toss the oversized tees and stiff striped button-downs. It’s easy to be comfortable, get dressed in an instant yet look great if you have an arsenal of flattering, well-fitting knits in your size and colors you adore. Wash on the gentle cycle, line dry and these pieces can give you years of great wear. Look for pieces with 5% spandex or more – they will be more likely to keep their shape, not need to be ironed, and maintain their color longer than 100% cotton tops. For winter, I love merino wool because it acts like a knit in keeping its shape and flattering the figure, and can also be washed on the gentle cycle.

Ann Taylor LOFT is a fave of many petite women thanks to their extensive collection, reasonable prices, and truly petite sizing. Their Petite Twisted Boatneck Tee is a fashionable version of the comfy tee shirt. The neckline adds drama to a casual day look, and would fantastic under a cardigan or casual twill blazer. Great colors like Balsam Green and Ocean Depths will complement dark denim, khaki, white, gray, and black. $19.50

I love Nordstrom’s Caslon line – great wardrobe basics of great quality. The petite Caslon Ballet Neck Tee is a feminine and flattering twist on a simple knit top – the ¾ sleeves make it wearable almost year-round and a scoop neck is lovely on most every woman’s figure. $24.00

A Casual Blazer
A great way to jazz up simple tees and jeans is with a casual blazer. If it’s unlined and has a bit of stretch, it’s as comfortable as a hoodie but with far more polish.


Ann Taylor LOFT’s Petite Urban Twill Blazer is a great choice. The grosgrain trim gives it a unique, higher-end look, and in navy it would go with most any color tank or tee in your closet. $69.99

The striped blazer from Banana Republic would look amazing with neutral tanks, tees, and bottoms. It would also look quite chic with a pop of color underneath – try candy pink, blood orange, or apple green. The standup collar elongates the frame, making you look taller. $149.99

A Trendy Knit
Right now, striped tees are a hot look – this is a great way to add some variety and current fashion to your wardrobe without looking passé in a season. Striped tees look great with a simple denim or twill skirt, under a blazer, with shorts, capris, jeans, and even dressed up with a fuller skirt or with trousers. Add a bit of contrast with a turquoise or coral necklace, or a cardigan in a color like leaf green, tangerine, or yellow.

This black and cream striped boatneck from Lauren by Ralph Lauren isn’t your ordinary tee shirt – the silver buttons and boatneck make it a refined piece that would look great with jeans, and also with a white twill skirt for spring outings. $59.50


I own the Striped Sailor Tee from Ann Taylor and adore it – the scoopneck is flattering, the knit heavy and durable, the epaulets give a bit more style and panache. It comes in three colors. $38.00

A Not-so Little Black Dress
I have a black wrap dress from Old Navy that I bought years ago on clearance. I wear it with leggings and flats around the house, with heels for a wedding or funeral, with tall boots to work. It’s so versatile, and the matte jersey is a fabric that stretches, gives, washes easily, and looks timeless and seasonless.

The Petite Gemma Wrap dress from Banana Republic is a great choice – ¾ sleeves work year round, and a true wrap style means you can cinch the waist for a more custom fit. $98.00


Merona for Target has really come a long way in the past year – the quality has improved immensely, and the style is quite on-trend yet classic. The Merona Petite Faux Wrap Knit Dress is a great choice – the empire waist hides any post-baby pooch, and makes it dress up or down with ease. $20.98

It often impossible to find size 5 footwear in stores, however the selection is pretty impressive online. Sites like Nordstrom and Zappos have a great selection of smaller sizes that are still stylish and comfortable. I recommend investing in:

  • A sandal with a low wedge heel (more comfortable than heels, able to wear with shorts or with a dress).  The “Amber” wedge-heel sandals from Munro is a great summer choice – uber comfortable, thin elegant straps, will look great with skirts and dresses of all lengths, as well as shorts, trousers, and cropped pants. Munro is known for comfort and quality – these shoes should be wearable even for a day of sightseeing or a trip to Disney World. $179.95
  • A pair of ankle boots you can slip on with jeans and a sweater (low heel, brown or black depending on your wardrobe – more versatile than flats as that they can dress up and also be waterproofed for rainy days).  The “Wisteria” by Merrell has a wedge heel which is comfortable when standing or walking for a long period of time, but can still be paired with casual trousers. They get great reviews for comfort. $140.00
  • A pair of tall riding boots (wear with dresses, over jeans and you will be amazed how they will transform wardrobe basics into something stylish – waterproof them for more versatility).  These riding boots from La Canadiene are so classic – waterproof Italian leather, moisture-wicking lining, memory foam insole, low heel, elegant styling. These are boots you buy now and will still be wearing a decade from now. $256.00
  • A pair of simple black leather pumps for those times when you do need to dress up (they work with pants, dresses, and even with your dark jeans for a Date Night or drinks with your girl friends).  The Nuncio pump from Nine West is a classic pump that will look elegant year-round and years from now. 2.5” heel, elongated toe, and available in narrow and wide widths. $69.95

For additional petite inspiration, check out:

How to Look Current: Fashion Trends to Keep or Retire for 2014

We’ve had a few crazy seasons of fashion, where color, statements, and whimsy were embraced. And I think that’s great, it gave women a true opportunity to have fun with fashion, to embrace something new and step out of the box that we were in for quite a long while. But when a trend is good, it often ends up becoming too popular and ends up losing all the charm that made it popular in the first place.

I don’t believe in chasing every fashion trend, and I believe that if something really fits with your personal style you can wear it even after it has left the retail stores. Look at a street style blog (or Advanced Style my favorite site for style inspiration) and you’ll see many a fashionista sporting last year’s hemline, heel height, color, or It Bag with amazing style. But if you haven’t yet defined your personal style, it’s good to be aware of trends, and to know when to let go of passing trends to stay current. Wearing trends past their prime overshadows any progress you have made in defining your personal style. With a new season upon us, I ask you to reexamine the trendy pieces in your wardrobe and decide if you’re wearing them because they help define your personal style or if you’re riding a trend train that has already left the station.

Bubble Necklaces. When there’s a display in Walmart featuring these necklaces in every color of the rainbow for only $5.00, it’s time to let the trend go. Bubble necklaces were great, they added a wonderful pop of color to a neutral outfit and really dressed up a simple knit top or dress. Heck, I wore my red bubble necklace to death (see here and here). But this style of necklace is no longer popular. J. Crew started the bubble necklace trend, and you won’t find anything on their site that even slightly resembles them. Look at celebs and style bloggers and you’ll see they aren’t wearing them any more.

Alternative: If you desire a big pop of color on top, consider a scarf; for spring a gauzy lightweight scarf won’t add too much bulk or heat and can look very on trend. If you desire a longer necklace, consider a chain with a pendant (a horn, crystal, or natural-inspired piece is current but not too trendy). If you like the bold statement, statement necklaces are still popular, but they’re shorter and more about pastels and sparkle than big pieces of primary-colored plastic and enamel.

Shop this look: skirt | scarf | bag

Chevron. Oh gosh, has chevron been popular! From infinity scarves to maxi skirts to area rugs and cell phone covers, I think chevron print will always be synonymous with the beginning of the ‘10s. Chevrons remain popular for those with a preppy personal style but for others the print may look quite dated.

Alternative: To achieve the clean look of chevron stripes, consider classic straight stripes. This season I’ve seen a lot of mixing stripes, be it different colors, or a mini stripe mixed with a larger bolder one. If you’re looking for a scarf to jazz up wardrobe staples, consider a fun floral, or a mixed-print scarf. But don’t be afraid to leave the crispness of chevron and try something a bit softer, more unexpected, or subtle. You may find the transition to be a refreshing change!

Sock Buns and Topknots and Barbie Hair. This season is letting hair be hair, with all its bendy, unruly, wacky glory. The slicked back, very crisp looks are over, and we should all celebrate. It has been a few years of hard hair to achieve without a lot of hot tools and many have resorted to falls and extensions to make it work. Retire the fake hair and keratin treatments and allow your hair to show its true self. Let it be long, cut it into a pixie, or consider the lob – a long bob that is long enough for a quick ponytail but not so long it takes an hour to perfect.  A good way to see the change in hair trends is to look at Taylor Swift; Google pictures of her in 2013 and see thick straight bangs and long hair.  This year she has allowed a bend, texture, and even cut off some of that length.

Alternative: If you wish to put up your hair, allow it to be relaxed and a bit messy. Consider putting it half up and allow it to be disheveled a la Brigitte Bardot. Let it be down, and embrace your Bad Hair Day. I type this with what I have decided to call Diane von Furstenberg Hair; my hair is frizzy, it parts in the middle and likes to feather away from my face. This spring I am going to allow it to do it more instead of forcing it into submission with bangs and perfectly crafted waves or curls.

Shop this look: bucket bag | earrings | shoes

Neon. Don’t get me wrong, neon is still a fashion statement in 2014. However, we just went through a period where everyone was wearing big neon yellow statement necklaces, hot pink patent platform pumps, Breton tees done in acid green and fluorescent yellow, and lot of clear and Lucite neon accessories. It was a popular way to dress up a little black dress or make denim and chambray really pop. The thing is every time neon shows up, it comes on too strong and ruins the moment for everyone. Keep the neon tank, the skinny belt, the cashmere sweater but instead pair them with gray, khaki, and olive for an unexpected and more luxe look.

Alternative: Consider not needing that pop of color. Omigod, did I just WRITE THAT? Yes, it is possible to have your outfit look cohesive without a bright belt or necklace or shoe or bag or lip or jacket. After seasons of BRIGHT and BOLD and POP it’s a breath of fresh air to have an ensemble that isn’t carefully crafted and held together with accessories.  If you do desire color, consider a pastel or an icy pale version of the fluorescent brights; they seem subtle but can add much impact to your look!

Shop this look: blue dress | yellow dress

Peplum. I remember peplums from the ‘80s and swore I wouldn’t revisit the trend… and then I bought a peplum top and a peplum dress. I found the trend to be very wearable and an easy way to update the wardrobe. While I don’t think you have to burn every peplum in your closet, I don’t recommend purchasing any more of them and retiring the Judy Jetson-esque stiff extreme peplums you may own.

Alternative: Draping. An asymmetrical hem or draping and rouching can add that level of interest and architecture that made peplums so popular and at the same time flatters curves and camouflages areas you wish to not be on display.

Arm Parties. You all KNOW I love my bracelets. With large breasts and a metal allergy that makes earrings uncomfortable, my wrist is a way to play with jewelry and add color or shine to an outfit. But even I, the bracelet junkie, am paring down. This doesn’t mean get rid of all your bracelets, but wear fewer at a time. I used to wear my gold Citizen watch with a bangle, a chain bracelet, a stretch bracelet, and a bead one; now I pair it with only one or two pieces.

Alternative: Quality, not quantity. Stop buying the cheap flash, and save your pennies for a piece that really speaks to your personal style and makes a statement without yelling. As to what it is, it doesn’t really matter this year; you can wear any color of metal, any textile, any shape as long as it works with the rest of your wardrobe and isn’t paired with 20 other ones.

What trends are are you glad to see retiring this spring?  Which trends will you continue to embrace because they fit your personal style?

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How to Shop: Sticking to a Budget

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips to Stay on Budget:

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

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

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

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Ask Allie: Plus Size Rocker Chic

Allie, why does every retailer want fat girls to dress up like children or shower curtains? I am a size 20, 5’6” tall and 32 and I am sick to DEATH of every store being full of skater skirts covered in puppies or polyester shapeless dresses covered in Hawaiian flowers. I know that us bigger girls look good in vintage silhouettes but I feel like an idiot in a costume. Where can I shop for my personal style? I like hard rock, my husband rides a Harley, I work in a professional setting, I like martini bars as much as I like a dive bar. I want to be cool, I want to show my rock side, but I want to look sophisticated too.

Based upon the rest of your email, I know you live clear across the country from me and I find it such a shame because I think you and I would get along quite well. We’ll drink martinis and bitch about fashion while we rock out to an awesome local band on stage. But I know there’s so many other women out there reading this wishing they too could be part of this hypothetical Girl’s Night Out because they too can’t find their personal style available in their size.

I could tell you to find a seamstress, to learn how to sew, to scour the racks at your nearby thrift or vintage shop, but if you are like me you’d rather spend that time on the back of your husband’s Harley. So I am going to share what I am doing, using some awesome plus size bloggers for visual inspiration.

Over the past year, my personal style has transitioned and it is going in a more edgy, rocker direction. And like you, it’s still important for me to dress appropriately for work, and to have a sophisticated feel to everything I wear, be it for the office or after hours. When I realized I wasn’t really the person to wear a lemon-printed skirt or an adult tutu with pearls, I decided to make a list and slowly build up my wardrobe with what fits the current me. That list is still long because it has been a hard road to find pieces that fit my personal style as well as my figure and budget but I have found some alternatives and workarounds:

Tough but Sweet style from Curvy Girl Chic

Focus on Accessories
You can take a simple twinset and skirt and make it twee, or you can make it edgy and it’s all due to accessories. A bootie in place of a pump, a cuff instead of a delicate link bracelet, a chunky chain in place of a bubble necklace, a studded hobo over a candy-colored handbag. You’ll see in more recent outfit posts that I’m not usually wearing my colorful jewelry, have narrowed down my shoe collection, and use fewer clutches and usually a large slouchy black or gray leather bag. I even switched from elegant and on-trend tortoiseshell glasses to oversized black Wayfarer-style ones which are more bold, modern, and not at all cutesy.

I have a black matte jersey shift with puffed sleeves, I’ve owned it for several years. I have worn it before with peeptoe heels and a skinny patent belt with bow detail. I’ve also worn it with all black accessories and a biker jacket. This week I wore it sans belt with leopard haircalf pointed flats, a paisley scarf tied at the throat, and a bunch of chunky silver and leather cuffs on the wrist. It’s just an example of how accessories can transform very basic pieces.

Create a Color Story
Earlier this year, I was thinking about my wardrobe and what I like, what I REALLY like in it. I realized my favorite pieces are in black, white, gray, and shades of blue (especially navy and indigo). I looked at what I pinned on Pinterest and it was a lot in these colors, with the occasional pop of red, orange, or hot pink. So I stopped buying things in every other color. I decided to “brand” myself with this color story. It’s professional, it’s modern and classic, it can easily look rocker chic but also look boardroom-ready.

A lot of color in the closet is pretty to look at, but it’s hard to create an edgier look. Not only that, a simpler palette will better define your personal style, making that black skater skirt suddenly look tough, a touch of lace look badass. Think about what colors you gravitate towards, and what pieces you already own and love to death and start playing with a simpler color story.

Glam Rock via GabiFresh 

Boost the Beauty
With my change in personal style, I realized I needed a change in my hair and makeup. Before, I did a lot of “pretty” – big soft waves with caramel and auburn highlights, soft brown shades on the eyes and glossy pink lips. It just didn’t fit my personal style. Since then, I have cut down the highlights and added darker lowlights, I played with bangs, and my standard face is liquid liner, lots of lashes, and a soft red pout. Now that I am trying to maintain a manicure, I stick to a nude or else a dark bold color like gray.

Your clothing says a lot, but your hair and makeup is your signature, what separates you from other women in the same jeans and tee shirt. Be it nail art, a signature hot pink lip, a purple streak in your bangs, or flushed cheeks, there’s nothing wrong with wearing the same look each day and having it define your personal style. A switch in your beauty routine is often what you need to make a look more appropriate to your personality.

Shop Outside your Retail Comfort Zone
I can’t stress this enough to all women, regardless of age or size. The world doesn’t stop at Lane Bryant. Yes, it’s a popular retailer where you can find great pieces, but there is plus size clothing available at other places… places you may not have considered just a year ago. Lands’ End has amazing dresses as well as separates, Coldwater Creek is constantly improving and is having a new denim line this fall, Torrid may seem to be for younger women but they have some pretty adorable pieces that can incorporate into a professional woman’s closet. Companies like Simply Be, ASOS Curve, and H&M are offering on-trend fashion in extended sizes, and many of them are perfect for a gal with a rock-n-roll vibe. I also highly recommend checking out plus size bloggers; they often know about the best retailers before anyone else and can show how they truly look on a larger frame instead of on a size 10 “plus size” model.

You never know, you may find a new favorite retailer, or be surprised that an unexpected shop has staples and novelty pieces you have been craving for seasons! It doesn’t hurt to look, and these days more and more retailers have free or simple shipping/return policies!

Rockin’ Style via Margie Plus

Quality, not Quantity
You don’t need a whole new outfit for every day of the month. It’s better to rewear the same pieces over and over that perfectly fit your personal style, than spend money with items that “make do.” I think back about my black shift with the puffed sleeves – each time I consider buying another LBD I think about it, how versatile it is, and put that other frock back on the rack.

When you own and purchase fewer items, you not only hone your personal style, but you have more fundage to buy quality pieces that are perfect for you. I learned to step away from Old Navy, where I could easily drop $50 on knits and random accessories that are lucky to get two wears, and save that money towards a badass leather jacket that will give me years of wear and dozens of compliments from strangers. Another pair of jeans that don’t fit quite right, or highlights from a nice salon in town? A bag of baubles from Forever 21, or a signature sterling silver ring that is the cherry on top of your new wardrobe?

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The Mall and the SAHM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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


Tuesday Tip – For the Fashion Fearful

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

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

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

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

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

The Staples For Every Woman’s Wardrobe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few facts to consider with underwear:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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