Search Results for: label/resort wear

Ask Allie: Capsule Wardrobe for Cruise and Resort Evenings

I LOVE your wardrobe capsules. They are always amazing. I would love to see a simple mix and match capsule for evening. Specifically, I just returned from a 10-day cruise of the Caribbean. It was amazing, with one glitch. The evening dress code was smart casual; and on a cruise ship this is more dressy than I expected (I’m from California, where jeans are cocktail attire!). I was woefully underdressed with dowdy shoes. I usually travel with black and white clothing, but a color capsule would be awesome too!

While I haven’t been on a cruise for a few years, I have experienced the issue of “smart casual” and formal nights on cruise ships, and understand how hard it is to dress appropriately for the situation. Not only are you dealing with limited luggage space, but you have folks from all over the globe dressing in all sorts of different manners. I found it’s best to pack simple garments and statement-making accessories.

Three years ago, I was asked to be in my friend’s wedding and she let me pick any black dress I desired as my Matron of Honor gown. I got a black matte jersey maxi dress from Calvin Klein that had twisted straps that were thin but thick enough to cover my bra, a faux wrap skirt, and a self-tie belt. I wore that dress for the wedding with black heeled sandals and a statement necklace. A few months later I attended a destination wedding in Charleston, South Carolina and wore that same dress with flat gold sandals, gold dangly earrings, and an armful of gold bangles. I also wore that dress with beaded earrings and a weathered brown leather belt and brown leather thongs. My point is that such a dress is surprisingly versatile. Choosing a silky jersey (Rachel Pally dresses fit the bill, are a classic style and come in a broad range of sizes) or matte jersey (Calvin Klein continues to have great options season after season) maxi dress means you can dress it up or down with ease and it will travel well (few wrinkles, any you get can come out easily if in the room with a hot shower).

Here I took a simple black maxi dress and showed how a switch of accessories can completely transform it. I know you mentioned comfort shoes in a different part of your Ask Allie request, so I chose shoes that aren’t sky-high. The wedge can easily be lower or even flat – another perk of maxi dresses is that they look great with flat shoes and said shoes aren’t the focal point of the ensemble.

A black maxi dress is a great choice if you have a formal night, but many cruises and resorts just require “smart casual” or “festive” attire. This capsule wardrobe helps you pack light but with many options:

  1. Maxi skirt with sequined tank and black sandals
  2. Maxi skirt with orange top and gold sandals
  3. Maxi skirt with a simple neutral tank or tee in your luggage, gold belt and gold sandals
  4. Black jersey pants with sequined top and black sandals
  5. Black jersey pants with orange top and black sandals
  6. Black jersey pants with sheer top and black sandals
  7. White jeans with any of the three tops and gold sandals (add the hoops, bracelet, and belt for discothèque drama)
  8. Black jersey tee shirt dress with black sandals
  9. Black dress with gold belt and gold sandals
  10. Black skirt with any of the tops and either sandals

This can be dressed up with a different choice of shoe (a heel is always seen as more formal), switching the pants to a tuxedo or shantung cigarette pant, the skirt to something sparkly, the dress to something more form-fitting or dramatic in silhouette. However, I used this based upon my own experiences on cruises and at resorts, where some nights you will find folks in full-length gowns, the other nights in club attire or sundresses. Solid colors and fabrics like matte jersey and stretch silk look elegant while being travel-friendly and versatile. These pieces can also be worn during the day – the orange top would be adorable with olive chino shorts, either of the skirts with a simple tank top, the dress could even be a beach coverup.

Choosing a single concept for accessories lightens your luggage load – I chose gold jewelry because it’s easier to find decent-looking costume pieces and instantly adds glamour. I really believe in a long necklace of chain or sparkly beads like jet – it really changes the silhouette of any ensemble and can make the simplest dress look chic. The addition of a belt, be it a scarf cummerbund, a leather obi, or a gold chain can quickly change the shape of a dress, add definition to a monochromatic ensemble, or dress up a simple tank and maxi skirt. Using color sparingly and thoughtfully will give extra miles to neutral pieces – the skirt could easily be switched to a neutral or a bold hue, the orange top could be a print or another dressy fabric, all the black pieces could be gray or ivory. This just gives an example of how very simple pieces can create an elegant and festive evening wardrobe for a vacation.



 

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What I Wore: Foxcroft (plus a giveaway!)

foxcroft collection sweater
Sweater: Mixed Stripes Cardigan c/o Foxcroft | Tee: c/o SixTwenty | Jeans: NYDJ | Boots: DUO (similar) | Bag: c/o Fossil (similar)

foxcroft collection shirt
Shirt: Mixed Sateen Stripe Non-Iron Blouse c/o Foxcroft | Skirt: c/o CAbi (similar) | Shoes: Nine West | Bag: c/o Adora Bags

I’m proud to be partnering with Foxcroft again. For over 25 years, Foxcroft has provided impeccably made, well-constructed clothing that makes style simple. I’ve featured their clothes before, styled a photoshoot for them, and have gotten to know the people behind the quality brand. I’m excited to introduce the latest looks from Foxcroft, that’s now helmed by head designer, Laura Poretsky-Garcia. Laura, a CFDA member since 2007, has brought a chic, updated attitude to the brand while continuing to give women easy, wearable fashion.

foxcroft collection giveaway review resort collection

Stripes and dots – in bold, sophisticated colors – are the key themes for Foxcroft’s resort collection and all pieces in the collection are under $100. Foxcroft understands a woman’s body, creating clothing that flatters curves and comes in regular, petite, and plus sizes. Foxcroft sent me two pieces from the resort collection – one of their famous shirts and a sweater. The Mixed Stripe Blouse is a silky cotton that feels luxurious and doesn’t wrinkle. Foxcroft has different cuts of their shirts; this one is tailored to fit the figure, making it a great choice to wear tucked in and under blazers and cardigans. Their Mixed Stripes cardigan is a new favorite. The strategic stripes and waterfall front flatter the figure and make quite a statement – when I wore it to work I received many compliments, even from strangers. I wore it with a simple black shell and trousers to the office, but liked it for the weekend with a white tee and boyfriend jeans. Learn more about Foxcroft and their latest collection by following them on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

Giveaway

If you like the pieces that I’ve featured in this post, Foxcroft is offering one Wardrobe Oxygen reader this shirt and this sweater in the size of their choice (if items are not available in your size, we will work with you to find replacement pieces at the same or lesser price).  Giveaway is open to residents of the United States.  Winner will be chosen by random and contacted via email.  If winner doesn’t reply within 48 hours of receiving email another winner will be chosen.  Giveaway ends December 30, 2014.

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Saturday

Saturday I started off working my part time job – I sell The Body Shop at Home. Anyway, I had an event, so I wanted to look simple but tasteful. I chose to wear my black merino cowl neck from Ann Taylor with my Ann Taylor suiting trousers in charcoal. Black Enzo boots, silver cuff and silver hoops.

Hair was second-day (washed before bed and allowed to air dry with some Marc Anthony Strictly Curls gel mixed with a touch of Lubriderm), so piecey and wavy. I accentuated the wave with a large-barreled curling iron and a bit of Sebastian Mud on the tips.

Makeup was i.d. Bare Escentuals foundation and concealer, Almay bronzer all voer and a touch of Nars Orgasm on the cheeks. Eyes were done with the Cool Simmer Cubes from The Body Shop – smokey look with the purple color and a touch of the silvery color on the lids. Much mascara – MAC’s X in black. On lips was The Body Shop’s Sheer Lip Color in Sheer Pink.

After working, my husband and I went to visit our friends who live in a resort town. I switched from the suiting trousers to a pair of distressed chinos in stone from Old Navy.

Plus Sized Work Attire Options

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Special Events and Excursions: The Beach Holiday

Yes, you have built your standard wardrobe that will take you from work to the grocery store to happy hour and maybe a wedding, funeral or baby shower thrown in. Now what do you wear for those other moments?

Beach Trip

I just came back from a girl’s getaway to the shore. I realized by looking at the other women on the sand, in the bars, at the restaurants that many do not know how to pack for the beach or a vacation. I was aware of this on my last jaunt to Costa Rica where I stayed at a resort full of improperly dressed ladies.

The beach is hot. It is often humid. It is not the tidiest of places; sand and salt air wreak havoc on your hair, your skin, your pedicure and many fabrics. Unless you are a celebrity or having a holiday at a very posh resort, this is not the vacation for silks and chiffon. For most of us, a beach weekend is tromping to the sand with umbrella, blanket, chairs, toys for the kids, huge tote and possibly a diaper bag in tow. Dinner is often seafood in a place where tablecloths are replaced by brown paper. Evening events are often at a bar where the floor is made of concrete. Hotels or rental houses usually do not have laundry service.

I recommend easy clothes that allow the body to breathe yet look sassy.

Skirts.
You cannot go wrong with a skirt. Be it a denim mini, a gathered knee length piece of floral cotton, a calf-length sarong, skirts let you breathe, are gentle to sun and wind burned skin, look festive and pack up nicely. Again, this is not the place to bring out your shantung ballskirt or your chiffon overlay bias cut piece with beading. Even “dressy” affairs in this atmosphere are a bit more relaxed. Go for cotton, linen, lightweight denim or canvas, chino, rayon challis. This weekend I took a denim jean-style short skirt I picked up at Old Navy for a steal. This skirt became a beach coverup, a comfy thing to slide over my slightly burned thighs for brunch and looked sassy with a tank and funky necklace for an evening concert at a club. My friend had a gauzy drop waist gathered skirt that fell just below her knees. She wore it once with a ribbed tank and flops for a daytime brunch, and later with an off the shoulder top and chandelier earrings for a dressier event.

Tanks. You may hate your arms, you may think your bust is too big or too small. You are uncomfortable in more fitted clothing. Well at the beach, it’s not an issue. Planning for a beach trip I become overly conscious of how pale I am, how much I have gained, how large my belly is, how saggy my breasts are… and once I am there I realize how silly I was to worry. Women are there in all shapes, colors and sizes in various levels of undress. The ones you notice are not those whop have bad bodies, but those who have bad posture and bad fashion sense. That being said, you deserve to be comfortable. Tanks are a wonderful choice. Be it spaghetti strap with the built in bra, a ribbed “wifebeater” style, or something more refined, tanks will take you from sleep to the beach to the nightclub. They go with capris, skirts, jeans and even a towel wrapped around your waist.

And with that notice I did not mention
Shorts. I think shorts are the most unflattering thing ever created for women over the age of 21. Yes, shorts look positively adorable on a child, or on Jessica Simpson in a music video. However, in real life, adult women never look flattering in shorts. Be you small, tall, with a fabulous figure… shorts are not made for social events. They are made for driving kids to play group, gardening in your yard, working out and playing sports. I know many of you are getting angry reading this. You live in warm climates, the summer gets hot, shorts are comfortable…. Well I want every woman reading this to do an experiment. The next place you are in warm weather I want you to people watch. More specifically, people watch women in shorts. I did this at the beach. Beautiful tanned, lithe bodies around me. Every woman in shorts looked… wrong. Be it one leg hiking up, the shorts causing a mild wedgie, the outfit looking too casual/slutty/grungy for the event, or just that shorts cause bulk in an area that women do not need more bulk. It makes the flattest tummy look a little paunchy. The slimmest thighs a bit heavier. The roundest firmest tush a bit saddlebagged. Short shorts may elongate the leg, but shrink the torso so you look a bit deformed. Longer shorts cut off the body. Tight shorts are restricting, loose shorts add girth. Please, send me a photograph of a woman looking great in shorts in a “normal” situation (no music videos, red carpet walks or Hooters restaurants) and prove me wrong. I would love to be proved wrong, but until then, I highly recommend you keep your shorts for exercise and manual labor, and catch a breeze from a skirt or a pair of capris.

Update: With Bermuda shorts back on the scene, I do feel that these can look quite lovely on ladies with slim, long legs and small hips and thighs. However the best Bermudas are those that are crisp and pressed. This is the antitheses of beach attire so they should be left at home for cookouts, trips to the mall and sightseeing.

And back to what you should bring to the beach….
Jewelry. I don’t mean diamonds and pearls and feather earrings. I mean something to jazz up an outfit. This last beach trip I brought a strand of chunky wood and tiger eye beads. Wore it with a little tee shirt, previously mentioned denim skirt and flops and looked smashing. I had compliments from both women and men. Without the necklace? I would have faded into the background. Bring that crazy necklace you usually wouldn’t dare to wear. Those hoop earrings that are a bit too big for everyday use. That hip-slung belt you haven’t worn since the last time they were in fashion. Somehow a bit of sun, a cold beer, a gaggle of friends and that lovely salt air will give you the strength and the courage to go a bit more daring. I say go for it! Show some personality to your outfit!

Flip Flops. Be they the $8 ones from Old Navy, high performance leather ones from Merrell or something in-between, these are a must-have. Not just for trekking over hot sand, flip flops (or thongs, or flops) are the standard footwear. A stacked pair or a beaded pair is totally appropriate for a dinner out. They dry quickly, don’t hold the smell of stale beer and saltwater, and are pretty comfortable for long periods of time on your feet. I do take a pair of nicer heeled sandals on each trip, but usually they don’t leave the suitcase. My favorites are a pair of stacked flops from J.Crew in black. The platform gives them a bit of panache and separates them from the Eckerd Drug peers. They go with everything, are very comfortable between the toes, and hose off at the end of the day.

A Flattering Bathing Suit (or two!). I don’t care that the fashion is hip-slung bikini bottoms or boy leg shorts or halter tops… the important thing is to have a suit that is flattering and won’t fall off with the next wave. The most flattering suits are usually solid colors. Yes magazines will tell you that strategically placed stripes can fool the eye and prints can make a bust look larger. Honestly, a person can see your body, whether it’s hidden behind hibiscus, a bar code or a swath of black lycra. It is tempting to choose black if you are insecure about your figure. I encourage you to do the opposite. Again, color will not hide anything, it will just act as a mirage from very far away. If you wear a great color, people notice that more than the body around it. Also color looks better on both pale and tanned skin.

There are some very wonderful companies and stores out there to make the bathing suit shopping process less painful. Water Water Everywhere is a year-round swimsuit store in many malls across America that sells separate bottoms and tops for a more expert fit. They also have a multitude of one piece styles. I was able to find a strapless one piece suit for my pre-wedding beach holiday that held up my large breasts, sucked in my tummy a bit and did nice things to my rear. J.Crew sells individual pieces and also carried D cup styles. Lands End has an amazing array of styles, colors and fabrics. My suit from them has held up for three seasons of chlorine, saltwater and even the clothes dryer and still looks brand new. Newport News carries suits in a Long Torso cut – no more ride-ups! Though the department stores may have a huge selection, you rarely get the attention, the flattering lighting or the sizes and cuts you desire. I highly recommend doing your suit shopping in specialty stores or by mail order. It’s much nicer to try on a suit in the comfort of your own home with a mirror you trust.

Get what you like, not necessarily what you feel you have to wear because of your shape or what fashion magazines show. A tip: skirts on suits do not cover up your legs. A short flippy skirt can look quite sassy and retro, but the longer skirts do similar things to what shorts do for a woman – they make you look bigger than you are. You may think you need to wear a skirted suit due to age or size, but I disagree. These types of suits make you look older and heavier than you need to, or really do look.

Look for a lined suit (Less likely to show things you don’t want to when wet. Also holds in a bit like control top hose), a suit that supports the breasts (Underwire is often available in suits. Look for soft cups, strong straps, back straps to assist with this.), a suit in a fun and flattering color (I am partial to red, various blues and aquas and leaf green), and a suit that works with your body type, doesn’t fight it (one should not look naked, like a sausage, saggy or lumpy in your suit).

A Beach Coverup. You have spent time on finding the perfect suit, do not cover it up with an old college tee shirt of your husband’s. Or, gosh forbid, a dreaded pair of shorts where your wet rear drips through and darkens the back. Beach coverups can make you look elegant, slim, stylish, tall, fun or sexy. Luckily cover ups are quite hip right now and there is a great selection out there. Sarongs are great with a bikini. Caftans and their shorter counterparts look amazing over any style of suit and can often go from beach to bistro with ease. These come in sheer organza, cotton or my favorite – a wrinkled gauzy linen-like fabric. Just a hint of transparency, these coverups can be smashed into a beach bag, have a wet towel placed on top of them and can still come out looking great. I have a berry colored one that was actually a dress I purchased a few years ago and thought was too short.

A beach coverup doesn’t have to have a label in it saying “made for coverup use only.” As I did with a too-short dress, you may have items in your closet that already fir the bill. My friend likes to wear a crisp white oxford of her husband’s. She wears large black sunglasses, that and flops and looks like a movie star. My sister has a terry cloth a-line mini skirt. Probably meant for street wear, the color compliments the trim of her favorite bathing suit and looks quite sassy.

Sunglasses. Gosh this should be a given, but yes, even fashionistas can forget the essentials. I went to the shore sans shades. My sister, the ever prepared fashionista brought two pairs so my contacts did not have to dry out on the beach.

Sunglasses are worn 80% of the time when you are in a sunny locale. Do not get by with those free plastic wanna-be Ray Bans that pharmaceutical companies used to give out – the ones with the neon earpieces with logos screenprinted on to them. Also, one should not wear broken, scratched, obviously dated or unflattering sunglasses. These will be worn more than your bathing suit. This doesn’t mean they need to be expensive, they just need to be worthy of sitting on your face for long periods of time.

A few tips for successful sunglass purchasing:
1. If you can see your temples on either side of your sunglasses (meaning your face) when looking head-first into a mirror, the sunglasses are too small. Nothing can make you look more out of touch with trends and nothing can make your face look wider and fatter than too-small sunglasses. Too large is safer than too small. You know you have seen those women in the tiny black cat-eye sunglasses and they look as though they have borrowed them from their prepubescent daughter.
2. If you are unsure, go with black or tortoise shell. Usually fair skinned folks look better with amber or tortoise plastic shades and darker complexions with black plastic. Do not always adhere to this. I have a very fair skinned friend with strawberry blonde hair that has a huge pair of black sunglasses that look smashing on her. However, if you are shopping alone and clueless, this is a safe rule to follow.
3. Ask the opinions of others. I know what pants looks good on me, I know what haircut will flatter my face, but I am clueless when it comes to sunglasses. I ask a friend, a salesperson, but find the best suggestions from perfect strangers. Strangers seem to be more honest about accessories than clothing when their opinion is asked. I suppose they don’t have to judge your figure or your personality when it comes to sunglasses. The most favored sunglasses of my past were picked out by complete strangers who happened to walk by as I was trying to peer into those incredibly tiny mirrors on the tops of sunglass racks.
4. Don’t be a slave to fashion. Everyone is wearing rhinestone encrusted frames? Doesn’t mean you need to. Fashion is not as cut and dry as it was several decades ago. You can wear all types of things, styles and trends and not look terribly dated or tacky. If anything, trends change so rapidly in this day and age by purchasing a very trendy pair, you will only be able to wear them for 2 weeks before they are considered passe. Think about those frameless sunglasses with the rhinestone heart in the corner. Those were all the rage 4 years ago. Now? Fashion victim.
5. Look places you wouldn’t usually consider. The grocery store, the kiosk at the mall’s food court. Clothing stores that sell clothes you may not usually fit or be caught dead in. My friend has a pair of sunglasses I drool over. Great shape, great color, stylish without being trendy. Fit her perfectly. She got them at a kiosk at the mall, 2 pairs for $10.00. Look so much cooler than the Gucci shades I bought in a drunken stupor the last time I visited Italy.

There are also things you should not take with you on a beach holiday:
1. Evening or going-out purses. A black satin clutch is perfect for a date, a cocktail party, the theater. It is not perfect for the beach. Throw your necessities in a small tote or canvas bag. I prefer to shove my ID, money, lipgloss and gum in my pockets. My dear friend relies on a small backpack. My sister uses a mini L.L.Bean Boat and Toe bag. Like any other event, consider the situation when you dress.
2. Spike heels. Okay, they may look fab with your outfit, but most often you will be on grass, sand, boardwalk or damp concrete. In college there was a bar called the Rendevous Inn. For short we called it the ‘Vous. Well this place was dirty and always had an inch of stale beer on the floor. We girls all owed a pair of shoes we called ‘Vous Shoes for when we visited this watering hole. These were shoes that could handle being hosed down if need be. These are the best kind of shoes for the beach. Flip flops, wedges, sandals. Nothing with beading, sequins, delicate fabrics, spike heels or complicated lacings. You never know when you will want to take a romantic walk on the beach, when a kid may dump a sand pail of water on your foot, or when a drunken frat boy may spill a Corona on your perfect pedicure.
3. Hosiery. Okay, socks for your sneakers are fine. Knee highs, stockings, trouser socks, tights… all are no nos. The only people who wear hosiery at the beach are the waitresses at Hooters.
4. Anything that looks bad when you sweat or get rained on. I own this gorgeous silk top from Ann Taylor Loft. Got it for a steal off their clearance rack. Fits great, flatters my figure, the color is so great with my skin and hair color. Looks good with jeans, with black pants, with a skirt. Even with these amazing facts, I did not pack it for my trip. Why? I wouldn’t want to sweat in that silk top. I would not look cute with damp ringlets and that top. That top does not belong at a “taco toss” outdoor happy hour with a chance of rain. That top is meant to sip cocktails in a nice club or bar. Or maybe be worn on a date with the hubby.

So along with fabulous silk tops, I will include complicated tops, anything made of lame, or delicate crocheted lace, leather or suede, expensive jewelry (other than those standards you always wear and possibly sleep in), intricate makeup (heavy shadow, dark lipstick, heavy foundation, false eyelashes…), debutante quality dresses (yes this sounds weird but at my last beach trip I saw an adorable woman in a strapless dress with a satin sash at the waist and a full skirt held up by a crinoline), complicated shellacked hair (humidity, wind, sweat and salt air will ruin that look, don’t even try!), or anything else that will require maintenance throughout the day. Enjoy yourself! This is a vacation, right? Let your mind and your wardrobe take a rest!

Summer Office Wear – Beating the Heat with Professionalism

When the temps and humidity rise, the last thing you want to do is wiggle into a crisp button-front shirt or shrug into a tailored blazer or lined suiting trousers. How to stay polished at the office when it’s the peak of summer outside? My go-to look is a breezy blouse. Below I share ways to style such a blouse; all pieces featured in this post are under $100.

summer office wear silk top ankle pantsShop Summer Office Blouses:

A drapey or fuller blouse in a breezy fabric like chiffon, challis, crepe, or silk feels great on a hot summer day but if styled incorrectly can add bulk to the body and also give off more of a pajama or loungewear vibe. Styling such a top with a pair of crisp and trim trousers balances the volume and adds a professional touch. While it may feel too hot for closed-toe shoes, such a choice clearly makes the outfit officewear. Consider commuting in a pair of sandals and slipping on the pumps once you arrive at your air conditioned destination.

Shop Straight Pants for the Office:

A drapey pair of pants (joggers, harem pants, pleated crops, culottes) can also work if you tuck in your top or choose a more fitted top. Again, your shoes determine if this outfit is for weekend or the workplace; a pump, mule, or slide with a heel will add a level of formality to an outfit with a lot of volume.

summer office fashion loose pants blouseShop Loose or Slouchy Pants for the Office:

A blouse in a thin fabric can tuck in nicely without adding too much volume. Pairing with a pair of wider leg trousers also in a fabric that drapes (linen, poly blends, rayon, tencel) works if you choose accessories to temper the volume. Tucking in the blouse shows the figure; consider adding a belt with a bit of shine to better enhance the figure and also add polish. A pendant necklace holds down the blouse, again showing the figure. A flat shoe keeps you grounded; while it may be tempting to throw on a pair of flip flops or even leather thongs, your shoe with such an outfit determines if the look is good for a resort or an office. Sandals with wider straps in polished leather or a metallic, slides with soles to match, and pointed toe flats are all great choices. Even if your outfit is made of linen, it’s important to iron or steam your look for the office. There is a clear difference between creases from the car or office chair and rumpled fabric from lack of care.

office fashion cropped pantsShop Summer Office Wear Under $100:

No matter the heat, there is never an excuse for exposing lingerie or too much skin when at the office. While sleeveless tops are acceptable in many office environments, racerback, tanks, spaghetti straps, halter necks and strapless tops and dresses are not appropriate, even if you attempt to cover with a cardigan. Crop tops, exposed backs, and cutouts are not for the office. Check our reflection when standing in front of a window or light source and if you’re exposing too much, consider a slip (I love this one, it doesn’t add too much warmth in the summer and works with most every piece in my wardrobe).

Saturday

In the morning, I ran to get my hair cut and colored in the nearby town, and then run a few errands. Olive ribbed tank from J. Crew, white ribbed tank from Old Navy, Joe’s Jeans in “Provacateur,” brown stacked flops from J. Crew, silver hoops from The Icing, silver cuff.

Hair was brushed out but on the second day; blew the bangs straight.

Makeup was Body Shop bronzing powder in Light as face color, Max Factor Lash Perfection mascara on curled lashes, Revlon Super Lustrous Lip Gloss in Pink Afterglow.

Kathleen did her magic – all I told her is that I wanted to go darker and that I wanted heavier bangs. I trust her, and was not disappointed. Choppy layers that can work straight, wavy or curly, fun sideswept bangs, and a very rich multi-tonal color of dark brown that looks closer to what I was born with.

Got home and had to dash to get dressed. Friday night I had a friend over so I didn’t have time to play dress-up and figure out my theater outfit. Thank you soooo much to everyone who wrote in suggestions, you guys are awesome and have good ideas! For the one who suggested my Old Navy dress… I completely forgot about it. I had set to wear my black cashmere tank from Banana Republic and my orange-red shantung full skirt also from Banana (seen here), but when I saw how spiffy and sleek my husband looked (flat front gray tropical wool trousers from J. Crew, white tailored shirt from some brand sold at Mens Wearhouse, black blazer from… J. crew? Not sure…, black slip-on sleek shoes from Ecco) I decided my outfit may look a bit like a costume. I tried a few different skirts, but settled on the black matte jersey dress from Old Navy, my red stone necklace, my leopard peep-toe heels from BCBgirls,silver hoops from The Icing, and silver cuff natch. :-)

Didn’t have to do my hair since it was done by Kathleen my talented stylist. She used the Pureology line on me, and swears by it for protecting color. I bought the shampoo and conditioner and once I can wash my hair (was told to go as long as humanely possible without washing) I will be using it and let you k now how it is.

Same makeup as earlier, just a re-touch of the bronzing powder, a bit of Smashbox Soft Lights in Tint on my cheekbones, a medium line of Maybelline Ultra Liner in black on the top lash line, a quick swipe of Maybelline Great Lash waterproof mascara in black over existing mascara, Body Shop Lip and Cheek Tint with Revlon Super Lustrous Lip Gloss in Pink Afterglow over it.

We took the Metro and it was not even a block to the little restaurant (I don’t know if there are even 20 tables in the place). The menu seemed different from the one online and the only entrees that were vegetarian were spaghetti with tomato sauce (yawn) and a risotto with corn and truffle shavings. My husband and I chose the risotto, we shared a bottle of Pinot Grigio (not sure the label, our friend chose the wine) and had a nice, yet not inspiring or overwhelmingly unique meal. We then walked not even three blacks to the Kennedy Center where my friend and I sidestepped grates in our heels (she too wore a black sheath and heels) while the men tromped over everything and got there in time to marvel at the acre-sized curtains in the lobby and get a cocktail in the Terrace Bar prior to the performance.

The performance was great! As I said, I had never seen The Phantom of the Opera other than the movie. Back story – 1992, for Christmas I got my first boom box with a CD player in it, and with it two CDs – Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera. For several months until I got my high school arsenal of REM, Depeche Mode, Pearl Jam and Nirvana, I listened solely to these two soundtracks. Come 2007, I am silently singing along to this performance and even a tear came down my cheek at finally seeing live what I had in my head 15 years ago. I think also seeing Shakespeare in Love the night prior made the theater experience that more intense.

Our friends live in Virginia and parked at the theater; it was a gorgeous night and declined their offer to drive us to the Metro and decided to hoof it. All in all a lovely evening!

Contest: Tolani Scarf from chickdowntown.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck!

Seasonless Black Trousers

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

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

Examples of good trousers:

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

Here is a great example from Lane Bryant:

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

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

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

Outlet Mall Shopping

Yesterday I visited a major outlet mall in my area. Over a mile of stores – some with great bargains, some with great piles of crap. There have been many stories about discount stores – how some of the product is not on sale, the clothes are made specifically for the outlet and are not the same quality that the brand name usually delivers, etc. After all that, you find designer duds for less, when is it worthwhile to spend, when should a bargain be passed by?


Fit
If it doesn’t fit well for $300, still doesn’t fit well for $150 and even for $65, don’t buy it. Just because it’s a great bargain does not make the fit any better. Shoes that are too tight or too big, jackets that pull at the back, pants that would be lovely if you just lost 15 lbs., no matter the bargain these items should just stay on the rack.

If the jacket’s sleeves are too long, the skirt’s hem at an awkward length, the shoulders a bit too big, these things can be altered easily by a tailor. You must be in love with the piece and find multiple places and ways to wear it to justify the tailor expense. I found a cream silk linen suit at a discount store – the suit fit perfectly except for a broken zipper and too long of sleeves and legs. I bought the suit for $65, regularly $350, and for $40 had the zipper and hems all modified. I have worn the suit to work, to religious events and as separates for three years. That purchase was worth the added tailoring expense.


Style
Often times the items at the discount store are there because they are leftover from last season. When it comes to classic pieces like suits, dresses and knits, this is not a problem. A blue merino v-neck is lovely almost every year, and more lovely when 50% off. The problem comes with the trendy p[pieces.


If Lindsay, Mischa, Nicole or Chloe was wearing it last spring, it’s a good chance that piece is passé now. Pass on the embellished jeans, the metallic leather bags, the rainbow-hued sunglasses and most other accessories. Just because it’s on sale does not mean it is a good buy. When it comes to scouring outlets, your best deals are the ones that will last through more than one season. Sweaters, suits, outerwear, cocktail dresses, leather goods and most shoes are great bargains if you find quality and value in the same item.


Name Brands
Just because you found a pair of Manolo Blahniks for $100 at the Saks Fifth Avenue outlet does not mean they need to be purchased. Do they fit your current style? Are they comfortable? Are they current or classic?

We have all seen the label whores – those women with a Coach purse, Jimmy Choo shoes that JLo wore last year, Baby Phat jeans, a Bebe tee with the rhinestone logo, Chanel sunglasses and a Pucci scarf in her hair. These items weren’t bought for the quality or the style. They were bought because a stranger could spot the brand a mile away. She looks trashy, obvious and victimized by fashion. None of these are appealing. Labels do not suddenly make you well dressed or well liked.


If you can find a Furla bag for 40% off and it suits your style as well as lifestyle – then go for it. If you are buying a bag purely because it’s Prada and you don’t like the style, size or fabric… well you have become a label whore.

Don’t buy that jacket just because it’s designer. Pretend that it is an unknown label – do you still like it? Do you still find it attractive and necessary? If not, put it back on the rack. That goes for ill-fitting designer duds, last season’s “It Bag,” obvious logo advertising (if it’s that obvious, it will be that obvious from last season – not worth your time or money) and damaged designer goods.


Damaged Goods
Many discount retailers sell the irregulars from a label. Some irregulars can barely be seen by the naked eye – may be an incorrect dye lot or the wrong buttons sewn on a jacket. Some may work in your favor – pants cut too short or sleeves that are too long or too narrow. Often times these stores received the garments that were damaged in production, transit or through many jaunts to the fitting room. Broken zippers, missing buttons, fabric snags are all defects that can easily be repaired or covered up if the price and style is right. However there are other defects that are not worth the purchase, no matter how low the price. Runs in nylon, stains, button holes at the wrong height, linings that do not align with the trouser, two pieces stitched together from two different dye lots. Even if it is Versace, it will look like Gallo Clothing on you if it is this defective.


Buying in Bulk
I used to be a huge fan of buying in bulk – find a tee shirt you love, buy it in eight colors and three of white and black. Flattering trousers? Buy one in every color. I then found that my wardrobe was like one big uniform… one big boring uniform. Mixing basics with fun pieces offers versatility, ease but individual style.


At outlet malls, buying in bulk is a good idea. Yesterday I was at the Banana Republic outlet and found high quality stretchy tees in tons of colors – $9.99 each. I bought one in black, one in white, one in gray and one in red. These shirts can be worn with jeans on weekends, with a little skirt for happy hour with the girls or under a suit for work. I found a great pair of wool trousers at Off Fifth, bought them in brown, gray and black. They were so standard and fit so amazingly well (and were only $39.99 each) that it was worthwhile to buy every color I liked. I knew with my work and lifestyle I would find regular use for such trousers. Another time I found a pair of really cute studded pointy heels from NYLA. They were 75% off and tres cute. I decided to buy them in hot pink, ivory and black, thinking that if they fit well, they would get much use. I was imagining sparkly tops and designer jeans with the ivory, a sexy power suit with the black, and envisioned an outfit a la Carrie Bradshaw for the pink. I took them all home, have worn the pink ones multiple times, and have barely touched the other two. I don’t wear designer jeans with sparkly tops on a regular basis, and don’t own a single chic black power suit. Those two shoes have barely seen the light of day. Consider your current lifestyle when considering to buy in bulk – items that look too familiar may not be worn and too many of the same thing may make them all too boring to regularly wear. Also, if you don’t wear red patent stilettos now, you probably won’t after purchasing a pair.


In conclusion, don’t buy just because of a label, or just because of an amazing price. Less money for an item is still money, and money should be spent carefully. Be willing to take the time to find quality purchases, not pick up every shiny bauble that sort of resembles what Gwen or Jessica wore last Spring. Fashion is not about the specific item, but the allover look. A Louis Vuitton bag or a pair of Chanel sunglasses will not make you a fashionista, the pairing with appropriate and complimentary pieces is what takes you from being a label whore or a fashion victim to fashionista status.

Fashion Undressed: Attention to Detail

alison santighian for wardrobe oxygen

I just read a piece on a American school for what should be a defunct trade. Nay, an art. The North American Institute of Swiss Watchmaking teaches new craftsmen building and repairing watches in the Swiss tradition. We’re talking about those timepieces you put on your wrist and marvel at their heft, wondering what could possibly make them so heavy. It’s just cogs and wheels. Isn’t it? Truth is, we’re not talking about Swatches, people (except we are, as the Swatch company had a hand in the the Swiss watchmaking revival). These are the most reliable machines on the earth, built entirely by hand, not a single minuscule piece machine-made. They, and the way they continue to operate, second after second, for generations, are works of art. They also cost tens of thousands of dollars.

In today’s pushes for minimalism and living with fewer things and increased austerity, it would seem that couture fashion, like Swiss watchmaking, should be history. Who has the resources – both for commissioning and maintenance – to own a piece of art made wearable only for its owner? And yet, the shows continue, year after year. I’ve wondered about the runways’ relevancy before, with increasing showmanship inching into our fashion consciousness more than the designs and the workmanship behind them.

PicMonkey Collage

This past couture season (there are two major ready-to-wear “fashion months” a year, then the Paris couture shows; we won’t go into the oddities of the in-between “resort” collections), Viktor & Rolf (1) showed crinolined babydoll dresses topped with headdresses that make Africa’s grey crowned crane look plain. Galliano returned via Maison Margiela (2) with models wearing masks a cross between a department store mannequin and the Terminator. Armani Privé (3) on the other hand, showed a deceptively simple silhouette in muted colors. Then there was the embroidery and beading like Elie Saab (4) (an American movie star red carpet favorite). Like the careful mosaic work in a Middle Eastern square, or recalling the delicate scenes on a European church nave, the gowns are worth just seeing.

This kind of detail takes hours upon hours of painstaking work. There are reports that artisans need 400 hours to create a single piece in Chanel collection. Like the Swiss watchmakers, the couturiers who measure, fit, cut, piece, sew, and finish the designs are a dying breed. They work with the same tools their predecessors centuries before used. With so few pieces even created, there are only so many spots for new artists to join their ranks.

The Swiss watch started it all, then Swatch figured out how to replicate the clockworks and its precision timing with plastic pieces. That revolution became a resurgence for a lost craft. In the same way, when a seam lays just right, vice the one that never, no matter how much ironing you do, is never, ever flat – and it bugs you all day, even to the point of not wearing something because you’re distracted by it. Couture, as it started, with its intricacies and detail work, stems from and is responsible for, the craftsmanship we have in our daily garb.

Alison SantighianBy day, Alison Santighian is a contractor for the federal government, using her super powers to serve our country, but by night (after bedtime for her “Beans” now 7 and almost 5), she pines after the “it” factor. Alison and “H” (better known as #besthusbandever) don’t believe badass has an expiration date, so they hit concerts, shows, restaurants, and openings across the globe. Alison also writes for Glass Magazine, adding a business woman’s eye to fashion week reviews and style features. Follow her on Twitter.

What I Wore and a Giveaway – Ruth Barzel Jewelry Design

Shirt: c/o Foxcroft | Jeans: Gap | Shoes: Halogen (similar) | Necklace: c/o Ruth Barzel Jewelry Design | Watch: Citizen c/o WatchCo | Bag: Brahmin (similar)

Accessories can transform the most basic wardrobe staples and make pieces a cohesive outfit. I just received this necklace from Ruth Barzel Jewelry Design and while it is BEGGING to be styled with an LBD for the holidays or worn with a beautiful silk blouse, I thought it could really make a statement with a simple white shirt and dark jeans. I haven’t carried my Brahmin bag in a while, and I thought the bright blue really made the emerald necklace pop!

Giveaway:

If you like this necklace and the other beautiful pieces I have featured from Ruth Barzel Jewelry Design, well today’s your lucky day! One Wardrobe Oxygen reader will win a $100 store credit to Ruth Barzel Jewelry Design!

Ruth Barzel makes all her unique pieces in the United States and is a local-yokel to me.  Not only that, she’s an awesome human being!  While I love the Emerald Quartz Nugget Statement Necklace I’m wearing here, I also love wearing her Blue Quartz Pendant Necklace and wear her Mixed Metal Chain Bracelet on a weekly basis. Ruth has offered all Wardrobe Oxygen readers 20% off her entire store, just use code OXYGEN20.  This discount will be in effect until the end of November, 2013.

How to Enter:
Please use the Rafflecopter form below to enter. This contest is open to both US and international readers. Contest ends November 30, 2013 at midnight ET.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
As a reminder, if you can’t wait for the giveaway to end and want to get yourself some jewelry from Ruth Barzel, use the code OXYGEN20 at checkout for 20% off your order!

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Wednesday – Black and White and Red All Over

Sweater – Banana Republic (similar)
Shirt – c/o CAbi
Pants – Ann Taylor (similar)
ShoesMichael Kors “Flex”
Silver cuff (similar)
LipstickNARS “Heatwave”

Last week it felt like summer, this week it has returned to typical DC March weather – windy and chilly.  Glad I kept my sweaters in the closet!

Today I will be walking from my office to Georgetown to meet my sister for her follow-up MRI (proving she is tumor free!) so I wanted to wear comfortable shoes – these pumps are perfect for this – work-appropriate yet can handle a 20 minute walk in the city.

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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: 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 Savings.com 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

Shoes
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:

What I Wore: Real Red

Dress: Belle c/o Dobbin Clothing | Bag: “Erin” Satchel c/o Fossil | Tights: Nordstrom | Boots: Ros Hommerson  | Bracelets: had forever, Nordstrom (similar) | Watch: Citizen c/o WatchCo | Coat: Via Spiga

Fossil was kind enough to send me this bag and I immediately fell in love with the color. It’s not cherry, it’s not tomato, it’s not ruby or oxblood or any other fancy terms. It’s as clear and true of a red as a crayon. I checked the bag’s label and it’s called Real Red. I like that, no crazy made-up name, just what is exactly is. This bag is pretty phenomenal, and perfect for a commuter like me. Two side zipper pockets to hold things like farecards and lip balm, and inside there is a zipper pocket on one side, and the other side five different pockets to hold anything from a Smartphone or your keys to business cards and a pack of gum. And in this bag I have my wallet, Kindle (did you enter my Kindle giveaway?), makeup bag, myAgenda, sunglasses, gloves, journal, and two reusable containers to hold my lunch. Impressive! The crossbody strap is adjustable to become a shoulderbag, or it can be removed. I know this bag is going to be used quite a lot this season!

I never understand why street style models and bloggers wear their coats on their shoulders like a cape.  How can they move their arms?  Why not just put on the coat?  Then I realized on cold days I do this very thing – I wear the coat like a cape from the house and over my shoulders until Karl gets ready to take pictures.  This way my outfit doesn’t get as rumpled and I’m less likely to mess up my hair.  Karl got this picture of me in the coat at the beginning of the shoot and it showcases the coat I bought last winter on a whim and still adore a year later (and it’s still available at Nordstrom and now on sale!).

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Saturday: Weekend Warrior

Vest: Shaggy Vest” c/o Lisa Holt, CAbi | Tee: Polish Tee” c/o Lisa Holt, CAbi | Necklace:Leona Pendant” c/o Kristin Biggs, Stella and Dot | Jeans: NYDJ | Boots: Fitzwell

Cardigan: Shadow Sweater” c/o Lisa Holt, CAbi | Tee:Forum Tee” c/o Lisa Holt, CAbi | Necklace: Bought when in Key West | Jeans: NYDJ | Boots: Fitzwell

On weekends, it’s so easy to resort to old jeans, sneakers, and a sweatshirt but there’s a lot of clothes out there just as comfy as sweats but with far more style. One thing I really like about CAbi is how the clothes can dress up or down and are comfortable enough to lounge in or run around town accomplishing errands. My weekend uniform is usually jeans and tall boots, a knit top and layering piece, so I styled these CAbi pieces to fit my weekend style.  I don’t think the Shadow Sweater looks as good in these pictures as it does in person – it’s hard to tell but it’s a perfect circle with arms, really flatters the figure and has such interesting detail.  The grays and taupes have a cool tone to them making them work great with colors like navy and plum.  The Forum Tee is freaking brilliant, such a flattering cut that it looks awesome by itself with a pair of jeans and would even look cute with black pants and boots and a funky necklace for a night out.

A few other pieces from the CAbi line that I tried and liked but weren’t featured on the blog:

  • Side Pocket Blouse – if it weren’t the same exact color as my skin, I would love it.  Wear with a black bra underneath for a sexy night out look, pair with a cami and wear to work.  It’s incredibly flattering of a cut, and machine washable even though it looks like silk chiffon.
  • Ultimate Tank – this tank is deceiving, on the hanger it looked like a man’s undershirt, but Lisa told me it was sexy on the body.  Lisa was right – it’s slightly sheer so you can go all-out sexy with a solid black bra peeking through, or layer with another cami.  Racerback, but not so much you can’t wear most regular bras.  A long length, but not clingy – would look stellar with skinny jeans or pants and booties and a bold necklace.  Also looks cute peeking out from the White Shirt Tunic.
  • Horizon Poncho if I were 2″ taller I would buy it.  Great colors, great cut, just not for a 5’3″ woman who needs to wear a larger size.
  • Cocoon Top – Wear with jeans and heels for a night out with the girls, wear under a gray or black suit for the office.  Very flattering print, cut, and fabric.
  • Keys Please Top – Always love a blouse that looks professional yet it of a really wearable fabric.  This is a very soft viscose/poly blend that feels like a perfectly worn tee, yet has all the polish to make it wearable to the office or even date night.  Wear tucked in under a suit or cardigan for work, untucked with skinny jeans and heels for after hours.  
  • Ponte Legging – Love ponte, love the heave weight and great fit that didn’t suffocate my calves yet looked streamlined, and LOVED the little detail of ankle zippers (which was still comfortable when under tall boots)
  • Ponte Riding Pant – Runs a bit bigger than the leggings in the top, but still a great fit and the suede patches were a nice touch.  They made me wish I had brown tall boots to wear with them, would look amazing with the Horizon Poncho.

Are you familiar with CAbi?  What are your favorite pieces from the current season?

Note: I was not compensated for this or any of the recent posts on CAbi.  All clothing was on loan from my consultant, Lisa Holt, and was returned to her at the end of the week.  All opinions are my own.

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Guest Post: Covered Style, Fashion in the Middle East

By Kim Kash

I live in Saudi Arabia, where Muslim women cover their hair (and sometimes their whole face except for their eyes) and wear loose-fitting, long garments.  I’m an American living on a very large, international compound where women do not have to cover. So I am hardly an expert on Saudi women’s fashion. However, I’ve been here for several years and spent plenty of time outside the compound covered up in what I call my “Invisibility Cloak.” Here, then, are my observations about Saudi women’s fashions.

First, a note: I’m talking here about women’s fashions when they are in public. In the U.S., women dress with the most care when they are going to be out and about. At home, likely as not, you’ll find us in sweatpants. In Saudi Arabia, women wear the cute stuff when they’re spending private time with family and friends, and cover it all up in public. The shopping malls are full of fun, young, sexy fashions—but you’ll never see a Saudi woman wearing any of that out on the street or even in offices or restaurants. So what I’m discussing here is the fashion that you see here on the street.

Abayas
In much of the Muslim world, women are free to use lavish color and pattern to create their own signature look. However, in Saudi Arabia, women wear black abayas (think of a graduation gown or a choir robe). They cover their hair with a black hijab, which is the drape that goes over the head and under the chin so that the face is tightly framed. Some also wear a niqab, which veils the face and leaves just a small slit for the eyes.

One might think these women give up on making any kind of fashion statement. On the contrary; many Saudi women create their own distinctive style despite the monochromatic color scheme. Many do it with beautiful abayas, trimmed with Swarovski elements, beaded sleeves, sequins, and other very formal decoration. In Saudi Arabia, it is perfectly normal for a woman to wear an abaya with sparkly trim to the grocery store or the shopping mall. The sweep and drama of the long black cloak is very formal, and many women make good use of this.

Shoes
In keeping with this formal look, many women wear very dressy, high-heeled shoes as their everyday footwear. (The shoes are also usually also in black). Alternatively, teenagers and younger women often choose surf and skate-inspired shoes to wear with jeans under their abayas. Interestingly, I haven’t often seen girls wearing overtly masculine-looking sneakers, such as Vans that are clearly styled for boys. Usually they are sporty but also bright and girly.

Handbags
Statement-making designer handbags are the fashion accessory in Saudi Arabia, along with watches that cost as much as a compact car. At Moda Mall, the ultra-high-end shopping mall just over the causeway in Bahrain, shoppers with discerning taste and deep pockets can shop at Burberry, Breitling, Cartier, Dior, Dolce and Gabbana, Armani, Fendi, Gucci, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Rolex, Tiffany, Valentino, Van Cleef and Arpels, and Versace, to name only the most easily recognizable labels. As in the U.S. right now, many women carry very large purses with prominent designer labels.

Sunglasses
Big, blingy, and black are the watch-words for savvy Middle Eastern sunglasses shoppers. A pair of oversized movie-star sunglasses really does look glamorous on a woman whose hair is swathed in a dramatic black scarf.

Makeup
Under those sunglasses, a stylish Saudi woman’s face is often heavily and artfully made up. Few western women could pull off smoldering, dark eye makeup and false eyelashes in the office. Here a heavily made-up daytime look doesn’t even raise an eyebrow. So to speak. Nails are also often carefully and dramatically manicured.

Scent
There is a very distinctive, exotic scent that many have come to associate with the Middle East. Traditional perfume shops here sell “oud,” a scent derived from the Southeast Asian agarwood tree. Oud can be worn as a perfume (there are blends for men and for women) or burned in a special oud burner. Western perfumes are also popular here, and many women (men too) apply it liberally every day. Expensive designer perfumes, of course, are also popular. Then again, half an aisle at my local supermarket is given over to cheapie perfumes and colognes. Scent is so popular with young Saudi men that if they stopped selling Axe here, Unilever might go into a freefall.

Kim Kash is the author of Ocean City Lowdown: A Jamie August Novel (2013). She also wrote the bestselling Ocean City: A Guide to Maryland’s Seaside Resort (2009), and is currently writing the next installment in the Jamie August series. Kim divides her time between Maryland and the Middle East, working as a freelance writer for American and Middle Eastern clients. For fun, she cooks, travels, practices yoga, and climbs.

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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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What I Wore: Issa for Banana Republic

I’m not a fan of designer collaborations. I don’t understand clamoring for a cheaper version of a designer piece. I don’t want a glued-together pleather bag or ill-fitting polyester blouse no matter what name is on the label. However, once the Issa Collection came out for Banana Republic I was intrigued. Banana Republic already has good quality and fits me relatively well, and the pieces in the collection were things I would buy no matter the designer. I liked the kimono dresses, and felt this print was one I would wear now and five years from now, in spring and in winter. For those considering this dress, I chose a 14, and yes, they do run short (it’s veering on not work appropriate and I am 5’3″). However it’s made extremely well, a heavy matte jersey that feels good and is a style that I think would work if I gained or lost weight. And you know me, I waited until it was on sale, Banana Republic was having a big sale, and I had reward dollars!

And how great is this bracelet? Wearing gold jewelery? No problem! Silver? No problem! Everything goes with this piece from Ruth Barzel, and I love that it’s rock and roll while still being elegant. I’ve been wearing this bracelet a ton lately (check my Instagram for proof), I like it mixed with other bracelets, but with such a bold dress, I felt it looked best all by itself.

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