Search Results for: label/shopping tips

My Savvy Shopping Tips…

I am often asked how I can afford all I purchase, and how I am able to maintain a
wardrobe without giung into debt. Well here’s a few of the things I do when shopping (most of my shopping is done online).

1. Credit card debt won’t help you… but credit cards occasionally will. I have made a concerted effort the past couple of years to get out of credit card debt. If there isn’t cash in my checking account, there isn’t a garment that will be purchased. Credit cards are too easy, you can say, “oh I’ll pay it off with my next paycheck,” but then you forget and interest starts racking up. To avoid temptation, I have gotten rid of most of my credit cards.

Most, but not all.

Some credit cards are beneficial, if you take care of the accounts. Often, a store card has a lot of perks for the user; if you shop at that company regularly it may be in your best interest to have a credit card with them. For example, I have a Banana Republic credit card. Banana Republic offers its Luxe cardholders (I have had the card for over a decade so I am Luxe) free shipping at Banana Republic, Gap, and Old Navy online. Many promotional emails are sent only to cardholders, and I receive coupons in the mail almost monthly. When I make a purchase on my Banana Republic card, I immediately head to my checking account’s online banking and write a check for the exact amount I spent. No interest is accrued, yet I still rack up points towards savings rewards with the company. This concept also works for major credit cards that help you rack up miles or points.

2. Google it. There are two ways that Google can save you money. First, before you enter your shopping cart at an online retailer, Google the retailer’s name and something like, “promotional code,” “discount,” or “coupon.” Usually within your first three clicks you will find out whether there are any available discounts for that retailer. Nine times out of ten, this five-minute Internet search saves me shipping costs, and sometimes gets me free gifts with purchase or even 25% off my entire order.

Google also helps when trying to find the lowest price. Say you fell in love with a pair of Franco Sartos at Nordstrom. You tried them on, they fit great and look even better. Before dropping dough on these shoes, get the style name and head to your computer. Googling the brand and style name of the shoe will help you find the lowest-price retailer, or at least a company that offers free shipping and returns or No Final Sale (always great if what you believe to be comfy shoes end up tearing your heel in half by lunchtime).

3. Shop through another site. I personally am loving Ebates, where in just one month I have made over $10 cash for normal online shopping. Ebates is a free service that works with hundreds of online retailers – get to your favorite company through the Ebates Web site and you will get back a percentage of your purchase in cash.

There are many other sites that do this; one of my best friends uses Upromise for this to help pay off her student loans, and many love Points.com to collect points toward flights and hotel stays.

4. Check eBay. I never purchase a new bag at full price. Purse owners are often fickle, getting a new one and tiring of it a month later. By checking eBay for the brand and style name or number of a bag I am coveting, I can always find a few sellers offering new or gently used versions of the bag at major discounts. This spring I bought a bag I was drooling over at Banana Republic for 50% off on eBay. Bag came in mint condition, just sans price tag. Two years ago, I purchased a different bag through eBay and got it 60% off the current retail price, with the tags still attached and the dust cover.

I also do this with style names and brands I know. Maggy London, Banana Republic and Gap dresses look great on me; I search eBay by brand name and then size and can often find last year’s styles in mint condition (often with tags still attached) or this year’s style new or gently used for a great price. If you know what you want and shop with a reliable seller, it makes sense to first check eBay.

5. Make a list and check it twice. You go to a Web site to purchase jeans and 30 minutes later, your total is for over $1200 and not a speck of denim is in your shopping cart. Cresting a list of what you need each season will help you stay on track, benefit your budget, and make dressing easier each day. Who need another printed top when you don’t have the proper trousers or skirt to pair with it? Do you homework – read magazines, visit blogs, watch RV and get a sense of what is in style this season and what appeals to you. Then narrow down that list to what will flatter your frame and work with your lifestyle. Make a list and put it in your wallet or purse so it is with you every time you shop. Tell yourself you won’t buy anything else until you acquire these essentials. Items like new bras, jeans, swimwear and the perfect black pants are hard to find, and the search can be utter torture. It’s very tempting to give up and buy a great purse or little frock. Problem is come Monday you will be crying in front of your closet because you have nothing to wear. So stick to your list and you’ll save and be more stylish!

Weekend Sale Shopping

Sales, sales, everywhere is sales… yes I am changing the lyrics to this song (which is a cover of this original) but there’s some insanely good sales going on this weekend that I just HAD to share with you.

Old Navy – 25% Off

At Old Navy, get 25% off your entire purchase with the code TREAT. Code is valid until the end of the 18th. A few restrictions: not valid on Everyday Steals, Hot Deals, Clearance (anything ending in $0.97 or $0.99) or Today Only Deals.  I think this top is an office attire staple and I love the variety of colors available; this chunky turtleneck would look great with skinny jeans or ponte pants for the weekend; I love the leather-look pockets on this dress (and love that it comes in regular, tall, and petite!).

Banana Republic – Up to $50 off Full Priced Items

Up to $50 off full price dresses, jackets, sweaters, and more. Note this doesn’t include their Monogram collection or leather jackets. No code necessary, deal through October 18.  I love their Gemma Wrap Dress and this print is something that would look great all seasons of the year; this lace pullover is fantastic – wear over a white shirt for the office and a camisole for a night out!  Other favorites on promotion:

Ann Taylor – 50% Off Tops, Shoes and Accessories

I know, right? 50% off? Get thee shopping, pronto with code STYLE50, this deal ends October 20th.  I think this bird print shirt is amazing, this faux leather pocket cape looks even better in person, and their buttoned-up boiled wool cape is so awesome, I wish I could justify the purchase (for the record, I’ve tried it on, it fits great, I am a Large Petite).

LOFT – 40% Off Tops and Sweaters

No specific date that this is to end and no code needed. Do note it’s not valid on Lou & Grey merchandise, but it IS valid on in-store purchases as well as online.  It does feel that LOFT is constantly having deals, but they’re also constantly getting in new merchandise that doesn’t seem to last long online.  So if you see it and love it, get it while you can!  I’m loving this belted cardigan, and think this variation on the chambray shirt would look modern and fresh with jeans or a midi skirt.  Some other pieces I like that are on promotion:

Lands’ End – 25 to 30% Off

Lands’ End is my go-to for quality yet reasonably priced winter weather gear. They have two promotions going on right now. Get 30% off select “fall essentials” (not sure exactly what that is but seems like a lot) with code LEAF, PIN 9223 through October 20th. But you can also get 25% off all full-priced merchandise with code MAPLE and PIN 1610 through October 21st. I love my packable down vest so much, I’m seriously considering this packable down jacket from Lands’ End and can’t decide between the polka dots or basic black. I’ve also had this Sport Knit skirt in black in my shopping cart for a while and may pull the trigger now that it’s 30% off.  These and a few other pieces I’m admiring:

Madewell – 30% Off Sale Merchandise

Madewell continues to impress, and a 30% off sale prices makes it easy to buy some fab fall and winter fashion. Use code PICKMEUP, which is valid through October 20th.  I love the classic look of their Otis boot, the unique color and slouchy coolness of their Firelight Pullover, and the perfect color and shape of their Berliner Satchel.

J. Crew – 30% Off Sweaters and Outerwear

Code SHOPFALL will give you 30% off at J. Crew through the 19th of October.  Their Majesty Peacoat truly is perfection and a classic piece that will be chic for years to come; their Jackie Cardigan is always a popular piece and nice to get on sale; and I am loving the pale lavender shade and the cool size zips of this lambswool sweater.

J. Crew Factory – 40-50% off Outerwear and an Additional 30% Off Clearance Merchandise

One of my favorite stores for great style at great prices; 30% off clearance makes it even nicer! Use code YAY30 through the October 19th to save.  As for the deal on outwear and cold-weather accessories, no code is needed.  Some of my favorites like this camo tee (imagine it with something dressy like a sequined or lace pencil skirt or under a denim jacket), this adorable flared leather skirt in black or brown, and this pleated maxi which I own and adore.  As for outerwear, I love the color and details of this coat, find this long hooded belted puffer to be something any city commuter would love, and think the price is nice on these leather tech gloves.

Any sales I missed?  Share them in the comments!

What if I Hate Shopping?

I think one reason women are famous for loving shoe shopping is because no matter what mood you are in, how many extra pounds you are carrying, what hips you inherited from your mother, shoes fit and are sexy, fashionable and fun.

Woman can not live on shoes alone, so how does one make the trek out of the shoe department and into the rest of the mall more appealing? How does one survive the fluorescent lights, the snooty salespeople, the tiring hikes from one end of a mall to the other?

PROPER ATTIRE. Yes, there is proper shopping attire. What you choose to wear can make or break your shopping experience.

1. The proper undergarments. The best undergarments are those that are the most flattering under clothes, and the most invisible under clothes. A seamless bra with great support in a nude color is a wise choice. It’s hard to really know the tranparency of a white shirt when you are wearing a black bra. Same with your underwear. A skin toned pair that does not show panty lines, and give a smooth look under clothing is a good choice.

2. Comfortable shoes in a height you regularly wear. You may look positively fabu in those spiky heels, but your feet will be very angry after just a few stores. A pair of casual flip flops are not the best option either. If you plan to shop for trousers, wear shoes with the heel height you would wear most often with trousers. If you are shopping for skirts, it’s not the best idea to wear boots and socks – it is pretty much impossible to know how shorts, capris or a skirt will look when wearing socks. A great choice is a mule, a slide, or a pair of pumps – shoes with a comfortable fit, a familiar height, easy to slip on and off and would flatter your legs as you try on clothes.

3. Wrinkle-resistant attire. Not the best idea to wear linen trousers when you plan on pulling them on and off over and over again in stuffy cramped fitting rooms. After two stores, you will look like a discarded shopping bag and grimace every time you catch a glimpse of yourself in a shop window. Knits, matte jersey, synthetic blends – you cannot go wrong and you will feel comfortable all day.

4. Dress to impress. I have over ten years of retail experience and though I hate to admit it, salespeople do judge their customers by their appearance. If there are ten customers and only one salesperson, that salesperson will approach the best dressed person first. Usually those who are well dressed will spend more money. This doesn’t mean you need to wear a dress or suit to the mall. A nice sweater and a pair of trousers, capris or fashion denim will suffice. They will hold up through many changing rooms, and you will maintain a polished look.

5. Accessorize! Wearing the jewelry you would normally wear with an outfit will help your try-on seem more realistic and appealing. If you don’t feel comfortable wearing these pieces to the mall, bring them in your purse. If you are shopping for a job interview – bring your pearls. For a wedding… bring your chandelier earrings or wrap.

6. Do your hair and face. Without a polished face, those fluorescent lights are even more brutal. Somehow a greasy ponytail and a blank face in a department store fitting room can make you look like a convict. Also, it’s hard to see if a color is good with your skin tone, or a neckline is flattering if you don’t look like how you normally look when wearing that type of clothing. Bring powder and lipstick to reapply after multiple trying-ons.

I promise that if you follow these suggestions, you will have a more pleasurable shopping experience once you actually find clothes worthy of trying on.

Now, how do you find clothes? It is an awful experience walking into stores and not finding a single flattering or properly fitting article of clothing. Nothing is more depressing than taking a huge handful of clothing into a fitting room and none of it fits. Here are some tips to having more shopping success:

1. Judge a book by it’s cover: The look of the window displays, the marketing throughout the store, the type of music playing over the speakers, and most importantly – the attire and style of the salespeople will tell you quickly what type of clothes are sold in that store. Why even waste your time walking into a store playing loud club music, salespeople in electric green eye makeup, store window mannequins in leather micro minis and halter tops when you are shopping for an interview suit for a government agency? Yes, you may find a gem in an unexpected store, but save that gem hunt for days when you have your base wardrobe, feel good about your collection and are looking for great pieces to accent.

2. Map out your journey. Before wandering aimlessly through the mall, getting frustrated by the step, start out with a map or a directory of a mall. Circle where the stores you want to visit are. This will give you focus and a goal. You will waste less time too.

It’s great to online pre-window shop before heading out for a day of shopping. Websites usually set the tone for the type of clothing that is sold in a store, the color stories they plan to focus on that season and the major trends that they will be showcasing.

3. Make a grocery list. It is so easy to get off track in malls if you don’t have your priorities clearly defined. For each store you enter have your mantra: “Black pants, pencil skirt. Black pants, pencil skirt.” This will help you search harder for said needed items, and help prevent spending your budget on that awesome green sequined mini skirt that goes with nothing and will do nothing for you except blow your budget and stuff your closet with yet another item that will go to the Goodwill in ten years with the price tags still attached.

A bikini wax is not fun, but necessary if you want to look good on the beach in a skimpy bathing suit. A gym workout is not always fun, but necessary to fit into that great dress for your high school reunion. Underwire bras are not the most comfortable things, but necessary if you have medium to large breasts and want them to look perky and well-shaped. Same with shopping. There may be 50,000 things you would like to do more than spend the better part of a day at the mall, but it’s necessary to get the wardrobe you need and deserve – a proper collection of clothing that will flatter, support your lifestyle, and make you feel more confident and attractive.

Shopping Karma

Everyone is getting on the Amazon bandwagon and I couldn’t be more thrilled about it. Everywhere I look, another online retailer is offering customers to rate and/or review previous purchases. The trouble with shopping online is that you can’t touch, feel, or try on your item before purchase. Even with easy (and sometimes free – hello Zappos!) shipping and return policies at many retailers, returns are still a hassle and take time.

Enter the beauty of customer reviews. Reading them, you can see that a fellow pear-shaped woman found the trousers flattering, but a fellow tall woman found they ran short. And look, that dress you are considering to wear to your friend’s wedding? Well some other woman bought it and admitted it was perfect for such an affair, and wore it to one recently garnering many compliments and feeling perfectly dressed.

One big reason Amazon is so successful is because not only do they have customer reviews, but they have so many. When I was searching for a convertible carseat for my daughter, I was able to weed through literally hundreds of reviews for each brand and style – reviews organized by rating, by date submitted. Reviews were rated by fellow shoppers for their helpfulness, and many reviews had comments on them providing additional insight. I had narrowed down my choice to two brands, and these reviews on Amazon helped me make the final decision – a decision I have been happy with for months.

Do you practice shopping karma? When you make an online purchase, do you return to that retailer to offer feedback? Often we read the reviews, make purchased based upon the reviews, and then never go back to offer our own feedback. Give that which you wish to have in return – lots of constructive feedback on your purchases.

Speaking of constructive feedback, think about your review before you hit the ‘submit’ button. When saying the dress was tight in the bust, did you also mention your shape, your size, and what size you purchased? If you think the pants run long, please be sure to mention your height and if you believe yourself to be long- or short-waisted. Did you end up having to pin the neckline or wear it with a camisole? Was the hemline too short for work but perfect for drinks with friends? Did the color state it was emerald green but you found it to be more of a muted leaf color? Let other people know. Your detailed, constructive feedback may encourage other shoppers to do the same. And their detailed review may be the very one that helps you pick that perfect something that has been missing from your wardrobe!

Online Shopping

I am a huge fan of online shopping. I work a lot, I have a home and family to care for, and really, malls often frustrate me. I head to malls at least once a season to really touch, feel and try on the new fashions, but often head back to my computer for many of my purchases. Shopping online, you have more variety, often times better prices and what is better than surfing the ‘net, looking at beautiful clothes and accessories at work between tasks?

Many of you readers have told me your favorite online shops. I try to update the sidebar as I receive new links for online shopping. I have most recently updated the links for fuller figured women’s clothing. Unlike many malls where you have department stores and 1-3 stores geared toward clothing over a size 14, the internet has tons of sites geared toward all shapes, curves, sizes and heights. As a woman who comes from a family of curvy women – very tall on my father’s side and quite petite on the other, I am happy to see that there are so many options for women on the internet. Plus size AND petite? What a wonderful concept! Not dressing a woman over a size 12 in a mu-mu? Fabuloso!

As you find gems of online boutiques, do let me know in a comment or email. I would love to offer reader-tested shops for those who are not exactly 5’7” and a size 4 with medium-width size 8 feet and a perfect B-cup chest. Tall? Petite? Narrow feet? Large breasts? Long torso? Where have you had success online? Let’s share our fashion successes! I will soon be updating this page to make it more reader-friendly and link-friendly. Would love to update it with many great sites!

Shopping With Mommy

Pictures taken in the Nordstrom Women’s Lounge.
It was my birthday, plan was to go to brunch at a favorite restaurant, head to the mall for some leisurely window shopping.

Black silk cashmere tank from Banana Republic. Ivory sueded cotton trousers from Ann Taylor. Denim blazer from Ann Taylor. Gold Chandelier earrings and gold bangle. Black Enzo boots.

Makeup is a touch of MAC’s Studio Tech on the face, a hint to Nars Orgasm blush, Fawn Pearl shadow from The Body Shop and black Zoom Lash mascara from MAC. On the lips was Sally Hansen gloss in a brownish pink color.

Hair was straightened, but it got all weird from sweaty trying on of clothes. These are pictrues from the end of our shopping trip. The luggage int he first pic is what my mom bought for her trip to Africa in February. $50 off at L.L.Bean!

Shopping with Intention and Changing Shopping Habits with #Project333

Reader (and friend after all these years) Linda made me aware of the blog, Project 333. Project 333 is a minimalist fashion challenge that invites you to dress with 33 items or less for three months. Linda has been really interested in minimalism, and recently I have been as well. Linda asked me to think about what 33 pieces from my wardrobe I would save from a fire.

As the next three months are spring/summer, I had to get into the warmer weather state of mind. I went through my outfit posts from last summer and thought about what was currently in my wardrobe. I wanted to consider work of course, but also casual weekends and the occasional date night, concert, wedding, or other social occasion. What I came up with:

Gray leather hobo purse (Banana Republic) | Black leather clutch (HOBO Bags) | Black Ray-Ban aviator sunglasses | Vintage brown leather belt | Black leather and stretch wide belt (Lauren Ralph Lauren) | Black pumps (MICHAEL Michael Kors) | Tan sandals (Softspots) | Orange heeled sandals (Naturalizer) | Black flip flops (Reef) | Black silky slouchy tee (Leith) | Black and white striped shirt (Armour lux) | Printed V-neck tee (OBEY) | White ribbed tank (Caslon) | Chambray shirt (Target) | Gray V-neck tee (Old Navy) | Orange Ikat-print cotton sheath (Maggy London) | Black twill skirt (Limited) | Gold and white floral cotton skirt (Talbots) | Black blazer (Limited) | Orange matte jersey drapey camisole (Ann Taylor) | Black ponte dress (Felicity + Coco) | Pink jersey maxi dress (Gap) | Black cardigan (Only Mine) | Black trousers (Tahari) | Boyfriend jeans (Gap) | Black and white striped tank (Ann Taylor) | White jeans (Kut from the Kloth) | Distressed denim shorts (Target) | Silk Scarf (Liberty) | Cadet blue zebra-print long scarf (Nepali by TDM) | Silver cuff | Silver chain with personal charms | Statement necklace (Etsy)

Trying to use images available in Polyvore, this is only a representation of my actual items (for example the floral dress represents my orange Ikat-print dress). I have linked to the actual pieces when they have been featured on my blog or Instagram (the zebra scarf to the site, the pink dress to an image I found online). However I think this collage gives the right effect.

When thinking what to keep, the most important thing was to have appropriate attire for work. I am lucky to work in a relaxed business casual office, where jeans are acceptable on Fridays and colored denim can make a pass during the week if it’s crisp, saturated color, and dressed up like pants. With this collection, I was able to create 40 different work ensembles for a possible 60 days in the office during a Project 333 period of time.  (I know the actual project suggests swapping only three items at the end of the period of time, I am just trying it in this manner for now.)

What this exercise really did was make me realize how woefully inadequate my current wardrobe is. My body has changed, but I have also had a transition in my personal style. With the warming temperatures, I am finding my closet more and more frustrating, the pieces I currently own so mismatched. I’m trying to buy less, and just filling holes, but it feels as though there’s more holes than current wardrobe. This made me realize that instead of filling holes, I maybe need to start from scratch in some ways. Not buy what works, but what is right. Knowing that the whole season will only be 33 pieces (including shoes and accessories – even sunglasses!) is a relief. When you see it’s only 33 pieces, you don’t feel as much as though you’re going to go bankrupt to dress for a season. I looked at this collection above and felt I could really live with these pieces, and only needed a few minor changes to make it perfect.

Will I be taking part in Project 333? No, at least not now. My blog is my part-time career. I have made my outfit posts a way to offer inspiration and creative ideas for fellow women who may have similar figures or lifestyles. I also use the posts as a way to feature brands I like or have just learned about. However, Project 333 really forced me to look at what I buy and why I buy it; it has also transformed how I plan to shop and dress myself this year. You can expect to see a change in future purchases (as well as more items I will likely be selling on eBay – follow me on Facebook for updates when I am having sales).

The horrible tragedy in Bangladesh really got me thinking about what I buy. One can’t just blame H&M or Forever 21 for such situations, bargain basement to high end designer lines ship their manufacturing and/or fabric weaving to other countries where it can be done for far less. We expect to get more for less and to accommodate, retailers sometimes do shifty things to still make a good profit. Be it purchasing used, or purchasing darn near perfection to reduce how often I spend, I’m trying to make a difference. Project333 really forces one to shop with thought, with a plan, with intention. Imagine if we all shopped with intention instead of in desperation, purchasing good enough, using shopping as therapy or entertainment.  Imagine our wardrobes, they would be full of quality, well-fitting pieces, signature items, pieces that both flatter and inspire.

This won’t be my only post on this topic, I plan to think about what I wish was in my closet for the 333 Project, and how I plan on taking the lessons learned from this with me as I do shop, and how it will affect my fall/winter wardrobe.

What do you think of Project 333? How does it make it look at your current wardrobe and your shopping habits?

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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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My Personal Shopping Rules

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday and Shopping Update

Sorry for pics before my hair was dry.  Running a bit late today, and with this humidity, my hair was still a bit damp even by time I got to the office!

 Now it’s all full and beachy waves and goes far better with the dress.

Dress: LOFT, picked up during their Friends & Family event last week
Belt: Vintage
Shoes: Sofft
Bracelet: Twisted Silver

I actually bought quite a lot of stuff from Ann Taylor & Ann Taylor LOFT for their Friends & Family event.  And all is going back except this dress (which I honestly think will look better next week when I’m not all PMS-y bloated).

What I got from LOFT:
Petite Abstract Waves Woven Dress – This is the dress I am wearing.  I have to say if I didn’t have the F&F discount and a store credit, this dress wouldn’t be worth it.  It’s polyester, and that weird textured crepe polyester that from far away may look like silk but once you touch it you know it’s synthetic something.  Super super simple pattern, no fancy details.  The waist is elasticized and covered with a black grosgrain ribbon which on its own looks very much as though something is missing.  The dress has side pockets which is what made me consider returning this dress – the pockets make the sides stick out a bit weird, and make it look as though it’s junk in my trunk and not extra fabric.  I may use Stitch Witchery to close them up.

However I kept this dress because it’s lightweight, it’s summery, I know it will look better if I lose weight or bloat, and my husband told me I look hot in it. :)

Petite Flutter Silk Dress – I saw this in several magazines and thought it looked gorgeous.  Also thought it could be a nice red wardrobe replacement for my “secretary dress.” 

First, the dress doesn’t flutter.  It’s packed so those ruffles lie completely flat.  Smooshed flat, and the ruffles have raw edges so it just looks as though the dress is inside-out.  I tried hanging the dress in the bathroom while I took a shower, thinking the steam may help flutter up the ruffles but no, they still looked awful.  Oh, and the dress is see-through, like could see the lace on my skin-colored bra.  And petite?  I actually had to double-check the label and packing slip because this “petite” dress hot me mid-calf.  FAIL.

Pleated Collar Shell – This doesn’t seem to be still in stock, and may be because it was on sale.  Anyway, it is a lightweight cotton voile (like my lovely JNY top), looked to have a deep notch v-neck with a multi-ruffled stand collar.  The color was called Poppy Red, which looked more like hibiscus or watermelon to me.

This was NOT petite but it fit like it.  Raised my hands and you could see my belly.  It fit nicely over the bust, but was tight over the midsection (when does THAT happen?).  The collar didn’t stand as well as I would like because the fabric was so soft.  And the neckline didn’t fall open so it looked like a high-necked shell with a deflated clown collar.  Another FAIL.

What I got from Ann Taylor:
Denim Pencil Skirt – At the time of my order, they didn’t have 14 petite in stock.  And after the skin-tight scary denim skirt I recently got from Gap, I was thinking maybe I should stick with 16.  No 16 petite.  So I ordered 16.

Yep, I am a 14 petite.  This skirt is far too big.  Even though I was swimming in this skirt, and even when I pulled it up to my ribcage it still hit below my knees, I knew it was a good choice.  So good I am going to exchange it.  The denim is heavy enough to not be clingy, but not so heavy that it looks stiff.  It has fantastic seaming that enhance a curvy figure, a tiny kickpleat, a gorgeous dark hue that looks like real denim, but is totally work appropriate.  I hate that my local Ann Taylor doesn’t offer petites over 12 in their shop, so I have to order online.  But I really think the 14 petite will be a great fit and just what I have been looking for.  WIN.

Petite Cotton/Silk Blouse – No longer online but it was on mondo sale at the time of Friends & Family.  Anyway, it is a gorgeous bright pink, is a non-stretchy cotton/silk blend shell with size zipper at the bottom side.  The scoopneck is trimmed with small stiff ruffles.  Fully lined.

If I wore suits on a regular basis, I would keep this top.  The neckline is super flattering, the color and fabric gorgeous, it fit well, slightly loose in the body but no bra showing under the arms and more of a conservative fit perfect for Corporate America.  However alone, it looked like a suiting shell.  It is seamed, very tailored, and I couldn’t make it look fun with trousers, skirts, or jeans.  Not a FAIL, but not an Allie WIN.

Coralized Micro CZ Pendant Necklace – The one I got is no longer online, but it’s sorta similar to this.  The one I got has a longer, thinner chain and is solid gold with little CZ dots, no mother of pearl in the center.  I think it’s a cute pendant, like the old brushed gold look, and can totally see it this fall with simple dresses and come winter it will be fab with a merino turtleneck and a pair of dark slim jeans.  the chain is adjustable, which is always a big plus with me.  I always have major success with Ann Taylor jewelry!

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.

I Went Shopping…

Yesterday was pretty hectic at work. I met my good friend at the mall for some retail therapy.

At Aldo I got a silver pleather clutch for $9.99. It’s funky, kitchy, and perfectly adorable with a black outfit and my trademark silver jewelry. They had a great sale on shoes and bags.

At Ann Taylor (who I ADORE) I headed straight for their sale section. The black merino turtle I have been sporting lately I found in a dusty rose/salmon color. $29.99. I also found some tweed pants to match – shades of cream, brown, tan, coral and rose. $34.99. I also bought a pair of ivory crisp trousers. Flat front, creased leg, stiff sueded twill. I know, I know I own like 50,000 pairs of ivory/cream/winter white trousers but they always look so smart and there is always a pair at the cleaners! They were $39.99. Then I had my Love Cures card which gave me 15% off the purchase. Score!

Today I am wearing the merino turtle with the tweed trousers. Camel pointy pumps on the feet. Sivler hoops and silver cuff.

I forgot my camera at home, so you get the picture of me in the office elevator at the end of the day.

Makeup is the usual foundation, concealer and blush. Pale dusty pink shadow over the lids of my eyes, Damson in the crease and along the lash line. Another of the mini lipglosses I got for Christmas on my lips – this one is a brick color. Ended up looking like a darker version of the sweater. Hair is straight, deep part for sideswept bangs, tucked behind one ear. I used a good dose of BioSilk in my hair as that the winter is wreaking havock on my tresses. BioSilk is a great product, good glosser for the hair that doesn’t look greasy, and a great moisturizer for the skin too! I got mine free with purchase at Trade Secret about two years ago – a trial size bottle I still haven’t used half of (a little goes a looooong way!).

Today we are leaving for the beach. I plan to trade the tweed trousers for a pair of vintage Gap jeans and my black boots.

Review: Swimsuit Shopping with SwimSpot.com

Be you a size 6 or a size 26, it sucks shopping for woman’s swimwear. The fluorescent lighting in the fitting rooms, trying to gauge proper fit over your underwear, dealing with clueless shop staff, and being forced to examine all the trouble spots on your body.

Click here to read about my experience of swimsuit shopping with SwimSpot…

Recent Purchases: Spring Clothing Shopping

Been doing a bit of shopping lately, a bit more misses than hits:

recent spring purchases clothing

1. Halogen Roll Sleeve Maxi Dress

This dress looked like perfection for spring through fall. I imagined it with my vintage brown leather belt and heeled sandals for the office, with my silver Birkenstocks for the weekend. I have pieces from Halogen in this fabric and knew it would be great for travel. Since it’s a maxi, I chose a petite. I went with XL since it’s not stretchy and I need room for “the girls.”

The arms were so tight I could hardly get it on, and the front placket bulged. However, the torso felt a bit too long, the waist was too big and the skirt was loose. The length was perfect, just like the model so I knew switching to Regular wouldn’t work. Sadly this was returned, but if you’re smaller busted or taller scoop this baby up; it’s very similar to dresses sold by brands like Vince for four times the price and the fabric is nice – feels and looks like silk yet is machine washable.

2. Madewell Raw Edge Denim Skirt

I swore I wouldn’t buy a denim skirt this season. I did denim skirts a decade ago, and did them five years before that and a decade before that. There’s a point when you just don’t want to do a trend again. But then I saw a woman around my age wearing one with a Breton tee and Chucks and Wayfarers and gosh she looked so casually cool and classic. I didn’t want it crisp, I wanted a casual version, and I wanted it to come down to my knees. This one from Madewell via Nordstrom looked perfect.

And it is almost perfect. So almost perfect I’m wondering if it’s worth alterations. For the problem with this skirt is that it’s completely straight and if you’re curvy like me, a straight skirt turns into a bell. From the front, it’s cute enough but the side and back view is dreadful. However, if the skirt was tapered about an inch on either side, it would be awesome. I love the soft denim, I love the raw edge and subtle distressing that looks authentic, not torn apart in a warehouse. And I tried it on with the striped tee in this post and my Converse Shorelines and I loved the concept on me.  I should have also checked it out on the Madewell site where it’s not pinned in back and looks more a-line.

So the skirt is sitting in a box in the corner of my room while I decide whether it’s worth additional alterations or if I find a better choice. If you’ve seen a similar skirt that’s more a true pencil, please let me know!

3. Gap White Linen Shirtdress

I’ve always wanted a dress like this – buttons all the way down, sleeves rolled, pockets, knee length, a self-belt that can be switched out for a different look. I’ve never bought one because white dresses are usually too sheer and they rarely end up looking good after a day of wear. But this dress got great reviews for opacity and wearability so I took a chance.

Again, I worked a hell of a long time trying to style this dress. Skinny belt, wide belt, raffia belt, braided belt, no belt, collar popped, cami underneath. It just isn’t flattering. The pockets are very bulky (why make the actual pocket of the same heavy linen? Use a lightweight cotton for gosh sakes!), there’s no loops for the belt so the belt slides around, and yes, it is too sheer to wear without a slip (though I have a cotton slip and that didn’t bother me).

4. Ann Taylor Stripe Shoulder Zip Cotton Top

I know, do I REALLY need another striped top? My gray striped J. Crew Factory tee now has a hole in it, and I wanted another gray stripe. I know, I know, but all my striped tops DO get regular wear!

This top is a heavy weight, the zipper detail adds a nice touch. It’s a structured top, too heavy to tuck in and far more substantial and less stretchy than a tee. I actually like that feature, it looks more polished when paired with jeans and can be worn in a Business Casual work environment. It was machine washed regular but line dried and turned out well. It’s not the best striped shirt I have ever had, but it’s a nice one that has already been worn a handful of times!

5. Gap Cinched Scoop Dress

I’ve worn the heck out of this dress from Lands’ End Canvas (RIP) and it got too worn out to look nice. This dress in navy looked like a great replacement. And it’s sooooo close. I ordered a petite because I feared the armholes would be too low and the skirt too long. And while neither of those were an issue with the petite, the problem was that the waist was at this weird point that isn’t empire and isn’t traditional. The elastic waist is begging to be covered with a belt, but is wider than all of my wide belts, and with the high waist, it just looked super wonky. I kept trying to make it work and realized that if a dress takes this much effort to style, it doesn’t belong in my wardrobe. But if I were taller and could carry off the regular, I think all the issues wouldn’t be issues. If you’re 5’6” or taller, don’t rule this one out as it’s that great fabric that can look good wrinkled or crinkled and will get softer with washings, it has pockets, is a classic style and quite comfortable. It could be dressed up or down and will dry quickly.

6. Banana Republic Brenna Slip-on Sneaker

I mentioned in this post that I purchased these shoes. I must say I really dig them. I have short toes,a high arch and a fat foot thanks to lots of padding on the ball from childhood toewalking, so slip-on shoes don’t usually work for me. However, I have had luck with Banana Republic in the past so I took a chance. Glad I did, these shoes are freaking awesome. The silver is shiny, but it’s clearly metal and not cheap. The fit is comfortable, and the leather has a bit of give. The perforations keep you cooler than a solid shoe, but you can slip a pair of peds underneath without them showing.

Wednesday, I created an outfit around these shoes and asked Karl how it looked. He agreed the shoes are badass, but do I NEED shoes like this? I have my silver Birkenstocks, I have my Converse Shorelines. I hate to admit it, he’s right, so the shoes are going back. But if you need such shoes in your wardrobe, these are even better in person! Do as I did, wait until Banana has one of their 40% off deals; while these are awesome I think the price is a bit cray for a trend piece.

Have you made any recent purchases? Anything we should check out? Anything we should avoid at all costs?

Reader Question – Shopping for Swimwear

Reader Laurie asked:

I am wondering where you shop for swimwear. I have a body type very similar, although I’ve got quite a few years on you (55). I am in decent shape, would like a tank suit with medium high cut legs, but need a D cup underwire, if possible, or at the very least, good support for the girls. I don’t want to look 18 but I also don’t want to look 80 – difficult to find that middle ground. Any suggestions?

Hey Laurie:

Swimsuit shopping can be one of the most horrific experiences for a woman. Suits that have proper support often make one look heavier and older than reality, and cute suits usually don’t have the proper fabric or cut to flatter anyone but a pre-teen. As with any purchase, I recommend going for quality with a swimsuit so it fits, flatters, and maintains its shape and condition after many seasons in the sun, sand and chlorine.

My favorite place for swimwear is Lands End. They have a really extensive collection; you can shop by body type (minimize shoulders and bust, tummy control, minimize hips and thighs, plus size, petite, tall, maternity, even mastectomy suits) or by cut (leg height, bra type silhouette). I bought one of their faille tankinis in 2002 for a trip to Jamaica and that suit still fits, has maintained its shape and elasticity and also the color. Can’t say that for many suits these days!

I love this adjustable bandeau swim top from Lands End; it can be strapless, halter, or regular straps. The side rouching is adjustable so you can have a gathered top or more of a swim dress. UPF 50 swim protection and specially made for a D-cup figure. This is part of a mix and match line so you can easily find a bottom that flatters your figure. Black is a safe bet, but I think a color can be more fun and less looking like “I wear black because I don’t like my body.” Try a hot pink or aqua for a pretty yet not teeny-bopper hue.

How about a custom suit? This halter tank can be made by Lands End to your specifications. I am adoring the Coastal Green color too!

Another place I have had luck at is the store Everything But Water. You can shop by designer, silhouette or even D-cup online, and I have found the stores to have a very good selection year-round. This pretty black one-piece by Christina with a flower design is quite elegant.

In the past I have found many cute suits from J. Crew, however this year their D-cup line has dwindled to boring one-pieces and a handful of bikini tops. Pretty unfortunate and surprising as that so many companies are starting to see the need for the not-your-average-size suit.

I have been pleased with the suits at Athleta. Known as a place to buy activewear, Athleta also has a large selection of street wear and swimsuits that are great for kayaking, or even lounging at the pool.

I love Athleta’s halter one-piece. Simple, elegant, flattering and made for the larger busted woman with a floating underwire and shirring. Their quality is awesome; a suit like this can give you years of wear.

Hope this helps, good luck with your search!

How to Shop: eBay

For a long time, I was terrified of eBay. I didn’t understand it, and felt that I could easily be scammed by sellers who were passing off fakes as authentic, taking my money and not sending me items, pretty much getting screwed by the whole process.

A few years ago, I fell madly in love with the Sandhurst hobo bag from Banana Republic. I went into the store often to drool over it. I would stand in front of a mirror, hold it in my hand, sling over my shoulder, and admire my reflection. However, I just couldn’t afford the price. A friend suggested I look for it on eBay. I did, found a seller who had the exact style and color I desired and was able to get the bag brand new in its dust cover for 30% off the retail price.

After that I was hooked on eBay for brand-name accessories. If I loved a certain necklace from J. Crew or bag from Rebecca Minkoff, I would get the style number and name, the color, the measurements, and then head to eBay. Often times I could find it, and for far cheaper than retail.

I don’t claim to be an eBay expert, but many of you have asked about how I go about shopping on the site. Here’s some of my tips and tricks for navigating eBay:

Accessories on eBay


Shopping for Accessories on eBay

When You Know Exactly What You Want
So you want the Essex bag from Kate Spade? Before you buy retail, head to eBay. There are lots of reasons why people are selling items on eBay. Maybe they got it as a gift or won it in a contest, possibly they are thinning out their collection, maybe it’s a store sample, and yes maybe it’s hot or a fake.

The search function on eBay is pretty robust. I usually start by typing in the brand and style name into the search function (you can often find this info on Google if you don’t already know it). If that doesn’t give me the results I desire, I will make the search broader and just enter the brand name, and then the type of item (handbag, jewelry, sunglasses, etc.). Often times sellers do not know the style name or number, so by adding that to your search you may end up with zero results.

I then search through the selections and in a separate browser tab/window, open any that fit my criteria. I then look at each different auction. Are they really the same item and color? What is the condition of each? Who has the better options and price for shipping? What are their return policies?

I look at the seller – I care less about how many thousands of sales they have had, and more on the quality of their feedback. I go and read the feedback; I am especially interested in negative and neutral feedback. Recently I purchased a blouse from a seller who claimed the item was New Without Tags, never worn, pristine condition. When I received it, it was missing a button. I left neutral feedback, as that the blouse was as described except for the fact that a very important button (cannot be replaced) was missing and this was not in the description. The seller contacted me, angry about the neutral feedback and asked for me to return the blouse and remove my feedback. I again looked at her feedback and saw that in the past six months she had two other neutral feedbacks from folks stating their items were not quite as described. I chose to leave that feedback to warn future customers; I wonder how many either didn’t notice their purchase’s flaw or accepted the seller’s offer to return the item and remove the feedback.

Once I find the item and seller that I like, I stop and think, what is the maximum amount I would pay for this item? I then write it down so it is more concrete. I bid, and I NEVER go over that number. eBay will let you know when you are close to being outbid and when you have been outbid, and it’s so tempting to add a couple more dollars just to stay in the game. DON’T. I have a friend who admitted she spent $50 more on an item on eBay than it cost in the store just because she got caught up in the thrill of the auction. I feel that if you are bidding within 30% of the actual retail price for something on eBay it’s usually not worth it. Wait until you get a store coupon so you have the customer service to go with the item in case there is an issue/need for repairs or a return.

Nine times out of ten what you are bidding for on eBay you don’t need in the first place, so if it’s not in your price range, let it go. Seriously, let it go.

Once you get your item, carefully open the shipping package and inspect it from head to toe. Does it match the photos and description of the item? Were you extravagantly overcharged for the shipping? If you are happy, leave quick and detailed feedback about the shipping, the price, the quality, the communication of the seller. If you find an issue, let the seller know; she may offer a quick solution. If you’re wildly unhappy, don’t keep it to yourself – let the seller know and let the world know with your feedback. Feedback isn’t just for the seller, it’s for future customers, future yous who want to buy and know they are getting their money’s worth.

When You Don’t Know What You Want
You can search more general terms like “Stella and Dot ring” or “Ann Taylor” and then use the eBay-offered categories to break down to jewelry or shoes or bags. From there you can usually break it down even further by color, size, and specific type of item. I usually don’t, and let my mouse do the walking through dozens of pages of auctions while I eat my lunch or wait for a friend to arrive. If you don’t know what you want, it’s good to really take a tour because you may be pleasantly surprised with what you find. A search for peacock-feather earrings ended up finding me a great dress for Bonnaroo; a search for a charm bracelet got me my Anthropologie crystal bracelet.

As with others, investigate your seller, and write down a final price. Be sure to check shipping prices – sometimes they are so high (or coming from overseas) that it’s not worth it to wait for it to arrive, or you might as well buy it retail.

Clothing on eBay


Shopping for Clothing on eBay

I hardly ever go outside my brand comfort zone on eBay. I shop brands whose fit I know is consistent. It is either something I have already tried on in a store, or a designer with whom I am very familiar (hello Ann Taylor). Keep in mind, even your go-to brand (hello Ann Taylor!) changes its sizing over the years – you may be an 8 at that brand, but if the item is five years old you may find an 8 to be a bit snug.

The only time I will go outside my complete comfort zone is with vintage clothing, and then I have to have very detailed clothing measurements in the description. If you have questions, ask them! Ask the seller for a photo of the back view of the dress, ask if the skirt is lined or what type of slit it has in the back. Ask if it’s more of a midnight navy or a dark blue, and ask for the fabric content. If you are unsure of the year, ask to see a photo of the label (most retailers slightly change the logo or look of their label every couple of years – you can often Google to find a timeline of the brand’s logo). It sucks to receive an item that isn’t want you believed it to be and go back and realize the seller didn’t misrepresent, you just filled in the blanks without asking.

I prefer a seller who has multiple pictures of an item, and of the actual item, not a JPEG lifted off of Google Images. This way I really know I am getting what I desire.

eBay Shopping Support

PayPal: If you don’t already have a PayPal account, you will need one to shop on eBay. I prefer PayPal to credit cards for online shopping because I have less chance for identity theft. PayPal is very user secure and friendly, and you can easily set it up to your checking account (or multiple bank accounts) so when you have a $0 PayPal balance, it will just withdraw right from your bank.

PayPal can be used at so many other sites online (hello Etsy, drugstore.com,Lands End Canvas and Zappos and more!) that it makes sense to have an account with them.


eSnipe: I haven’t used eSnipe in a while, but loved it back when I was looking for my Sandhurst bag. My hairdresser told me about it, and it has helped me score some great prices on eBay auctions. Instead of having to constantly stalk your auction to ensure you have the highest price, eSnipe will do it for you. Tell them your maximum price that you are willing to pay and in the last couple of seconds of an auction eSnipe will bid on your behalf, helping you win the auction, and not go above your budget.  FYI, eSnipe is now only free for a trial period, and then has a slight cost.

Ebates: I have a love affair with Ebates.  Sign up for free, visit Ebates before heading to most online shops and get cash back on your purchase.  They have popular online retailers like Sephora, Nordstrom, Target, Ann Taylor and Old Navy, but Ebates also gives you 1-4% cash back on all purchases on eBay! 

Ebates gives you an actual check once a quarter, no points to redeem, no gift cards, actual cash.  No spam, no strings, just 30 seconds for money back.  Be sure to sign up and visit Ebates each time before you head to eBay!

Some eBay Acronyms to Know:

  • NWT – New with Tags. This means the tags should be ATTACHED unless otherwise stated in the description
  • NWOT – New without tags. This means new condition, an item could be found at a store like this. No perfume, no dog hair, no creases from wear.
  • NWOB – New without box. (everytime I see this acronym I think NKOTB)
  • NRFB – Never removed from the box
  • EUC – Excellent used condition. Means like-new, though not as perfect as NWOT.
  • MNT – Mint condition (again doesn’t mean new, but is closer to NWOT)
  • VGC – Very good condition.  This means the item was worn, but is still in wearable condition (no stains, holes, etc.)
  • GUC or GU – Good used condition. This description has many shades of gray and it’s important to know details, see detailed photos and ask questions to fill in the blanks.
  • NBW – Never been worn
  • TTS – True to size
  • S/S or SS – Short-sleeved
  • L/S or LS – Long-sleeved
  • FB – Feeback
  • DBL – Double
  • FP – Fixed price
  • GBP – Great British Pounds
  • ITF – Impossible to find (often used in title for limited-edition pieces)
  • VHTF – Very hard to find (ditto, often in auction titles)

eBay Etiquette
Leave feedback. No matter what you purchased, or how many times you shopped from the same seller, leave feedback for every individual purchase you make. Many people make their living off of eBay auctions, and your feedback supports their livelihood. Feedback also helps your fellow shoppers, letting them know who to trust, and who to avoid.

Pay promptly. If you don’t have the money, you shouldn’t be bidding in the first place. When I win an auction, I pay within 24 hours. I have sold on eBay and it’s frustrating to have to chase down a customer to beg for your money. Not paying promptly is like being rude to your waiter – he will care less about pleasing you and you may get spit in your soup… or a delayed shipment.

Pay. Again, if you don’t have the money, you shouldn’t be bidding. Winning an auction and then never paying won’t just give you negative feedback, but will also screw over the seller. There is a lot of steps a seller has to take to prove that you didn’t keep up your end of the bargain, to get back their selling fee, and finally be able to re-list the item. A good month could go by and that’s possibly the rent or grocery bill for that seller.

If something unexpected happens where you just can’t pay… contact the seller. Let them know as soon as possible. Don’t hide and ignore the invoices you will receive. Bad things happen to good people, we have all been there. Don’t leave your seller high and dry.

Accept the seller’s terms. As a previous eBay seller, nothing is more frustrating than having a person from Belgium try to bid on an item when I clearly stated I only ship to the US. I have had sellers try to pay via money order when I write that I only accept PayPal, ask me to ship FedEx when I use USPS, request I take the item off auction and just sell it at a reduced price to them. Read the description, all the fine print. It doesn’t hurt to ask if it’s a small change (offer to pay additional for expedited shipping or delivery to Canada from the US), but remember these are people, not major corporations. They don’t have the time, resources, money or desire to be your personal valet.

Have you had success shopping on eBay?  What are your tips and tricks for navigating the site and getting great fashion deals?

Please visit my other “How to Shop” posts:

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How to Shop for Clothing and Define Your Personal Style

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

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

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

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

Know Yourself

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

Consider your Current Wardrobe

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

Make a List and Check it Twice

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

Be Prepared

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

Stop Pinning and Pining for Pretty Closets

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

Narrow Your Search

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

Keep your Closet Clean

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

Don’t look for Happiness on a Hanger

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

How to Shop: An Introduction

Reader Lisa recently contacted me asking, “How do you shop? I mean literally, how do you find what you need? when is the best time to go? Do you trust yourself or the salesperson? How do you build a wardrobe from scratch with workable pieces? How do you decide how much money to budget?”

When discussing fashion with women, I realize that most people are clueless about fashion because clothing shopping can be so overwhelming, demoralizing, and just plain not fun. It’s hard to have a grip on your personal style when you dread shopping for fashion.

Lisa, I thank you for your honest question, and I am going to create a series of posts about this exact topic – how I shop. I may love fashion, but I have not always enjoyed shopping for it.

My Shopping Education

I really learned to shop by being a salesperson. I worked for almost a decade in retail, most of that time in apparel where I worked my way up from sales associate to personal shopper to manager to visual merchandiser. I worked in about a dozen different malls and boutiques in the DC area over that time, women of all income levels, ages, sizes, and lifestyles. I saw what they did right, saw what they did wrong.

I knew their bad habits – maxing out their credit card and returning a week later with 90% of their purchase. Wearing items only once and admitting to me that they give trash bags on a monthly basis to Goodwill or their friends. Getting stuck in a rut and only wearing the same exact silhouettes/brands/colors even though a different choice would probably be more flattering or appropriate. Showing extreme fear and rejecting any help, assuming all salespeople were either mocking and judgmental, or only caring about making a commission.

I also learned good habits from these women:

  • Visit your favorite shop often – get to know the salespeople on a personal basis (ensure more honesty at the fitting room, heads up on sales, holding of new items in your size and calling you to try on before others, etc.)
  • Stalk the sale racks
  • Start in the back of the store – that’s where the sale clothes are usually located
  • Purchase in bulk if it’s a staple and it’s perfection
  • Don’t buy it unless you love it and really see a purpose for it
  • Spend on your hair, shoes and bag – they make the most impact and are worn a heck of a lot more than a pair of designer jeans or a beautiful dress
  • Buy trendy pieces cheap – you can always find the must-have scarf, beaded necklace, or belt at lower-end shops and get the same effect
  • Never shop on an empty stomach
  • Wear the right undergarments
  • If you’re not positive, put it on hold – come back after a latte, a stroll around the mall, a discussion with your best friend, a good night’s sleep
  • Be honest – with your salesperson, your self, your wallet

I may have left retail in 2003, but the lessons I learned have stayed with me ever since.

In future posts, I will discuss how I find inspiration for my wardrobe, how I go about choosing items, where I shop and how I shop a store, how to look great and stick to a budget, how to get the most out of your friendly sales staff, and more.  Not every woman is the same, and not every woman’s shopping rules and tips will work for another. But hopefully these posts will helpful to some!

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Ask Allie: Where to Shop?

Gretchen asks:

I have a question: Where can I find affordable, stylish, chic clothing for myself, a woman over 40 who is also petite and roundish. In other words: clothing that is not sleeveless, mini-skirted, ultra-tight, or frumpy? I am discouraged by recent visits to Ann Taylor Loft, J. Jill, and Talbots, formerly good sources.

Hey Gretchen:

I feel your pain, and have many times over the past several years. It’s awful when our go-to stores decide to change their concept and leave their regular customers in the lurch. When Ann Taylor got matronly again, when Express changed their sizing, when J. Crew started charging an arm and a leg for a basic knit top… been there, experienced that. On top of such corporate changes, it’s hard when the season seems to be all about silhouettes and trends you wouldn’t be caught dead wearing. My petite curvy body is NOT made for a jersey maxi dress that can’t be worn with a proper bra, and these study legs look ridiculous in pedal pushers.

So what do you do when you hit the mall and hate everything that you see? A stylish woman doesn’t cave in to trends she doesn’t find flattering and she doesn’t settle for less-than-fabulous frocks. A lot of effort and planning goes into having effortless style regardless of the trends. Here’s a few tips to get through the bad fashion spells:

Shop year-round for what you like and what you look good wearing. Find a great dress at a department store in the after-summer sale? Grab it, and maybe in two shades. You may not be able to wear it for several months, but you will be prepared for the next warm spell. When you visit outlet and factory stores, don’t look just for the now, but the five months from now. This is the best way to score cheap quality cashmere, classics like suiting, pencil skirts, boots and trousers for far less. If you buy classic pieces that fit your lifestyle and personality, you should be just as in love with them next season as you are when you purchase them.

Dig a bit deeper. I recently received a J. Jill catalog in the mail and was horrified by many of the fashions on the pages. J. Jill has never been my personal style, but I admired the flowing fabrics, natural colors and feminine silhouettes. This catalog was filled with dowdy, matronly, cheap looking knits in those semi-pastel hues that flatter no skintone on this planet. Melon-colors tanks with nautical-printed elastic-waist shorts in the most awful of lengths, dresses of gaudy florals that made the slim models look as though they were in their third trimester, even the shoes were the most unflattering T-strap (leg-shortening) styles with matronly heights of heels. What the heck happened?

Heading to the J. Jill Web site, I see that this wasn’t the new look of a popular brand, but just one aspect of their current collection. They still had simple pieces (personal fan of their Splendid linen dress) with elegant lines… they just were trying out a new look with a fancy-dancy little catalog sent out to a certain market.

Often times retailers will try out a new look to a test market, or in a small section of their stores. If it sells well, you may see more of the same in the next season. If not, it will be quickly sent to the sale rack. Stores will often put these new collections in the window and on front tables in hopes of enticing new customers. If you usually have luck in these stores, don’t be deterred by the new look; take a walk inside and often you will find your favorites along the side walls.

Speak up! You detest the direction your favorite brand has taken? Let it know. Tell a store manager (in a calm and pleasant way), write a letter or send an email. I have a friend who works for a popular women’s retailer. A couple of years ago they tried a new feel for the stores and for their line of clothing. The new concept hardly lasted a season – though their sales didn’t drop significantly (they still had plenty of staples and accessories), regular customers made quite a stink with letters, emails, calls and complaints to store staff. The company understood that these who took the time to comment were their bread and butter customers; to upset them could mean losing them all. They listened, made changes and kept their customers as well as profit margins.

Most Web sites have a hyperlink at the bottom of the home page for feedback or customer service. Usually an email address is offered along with a toll-free number and mailing address. In this day and age, I have found emails to be responded to far more quickly and professionally than phone calls. However, use the method that makes you the most comfortable. Let your voice be heard – you are the one holding the purse strings!

Go outside the box. You’re a Talbots gal? Well before you walk in those red doors at the mall, take a quick peek in some other retailers. You never know, you might find the perfect garment in Eddie Bauer, J. Crew, Coldwater Creek or Eileen Fisher. Despise the color story in Ann Taylor Loft? You may be shocked to find your new favorite tee at American Eagle, Banana Republic, Chico’s or Limited. Another good place to hit up are the big box discounters like Marshall’s and TJ Maxx. Loved last year’s fashions? You will be more likely to find them at these shops, and for great prices too. You also have the ability to shop a variety of brands in one location.

Clothing shopping can be tough, especially when you aren’t a wealthy 21-year old with the body of a mannequin. Don’t let the trends or the retailers own you; you ultimately have the final say for you hold the power – the wallet. In these financial times, retailers care even more that their customers are happy and returning again and again. Don’t be afraid to flex your shopping muscle and say your piece or take your money to another store.

What I Wore: Shopping Local

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Shirt: c/o InStyle Essentials | Skirt: buythedress on Etsy | Shoes: Fitzwell | Bracelet: Had forever (similar) | Rings: Etsy, Argento Vivo (similar)

One trend I am LOVING this season is the full midi skirt (those of you who follow me on Facebook already know this). However, I don’t have the budget to afford one from Tibi or another designer. When I see a trend I love that I think can be easily recreated, I don’t go to Forever 21 or Zara, I head to Etsy. This way I know that I am supporting a small business or independent artist while getting the designer look for less.  While I was desiring a solid color, I found this gorgeous wax print print skirt from buythedress. Even better, this Etsy seller lives just a few towns from me!

And I know some of you are thinking… what is this white chick doing wearing Ankara?  Actually, some of you may just find it to be a pretty print.  Many mass retailers these days are taking Ankara, also known as Dutch wax print and silkscreening it on all types of fabrics and all types of garments and calling it a “floral” or “tribal print.”  It’s hard in the land of fast fashion to always know what exactly you are wearing and if it’s cultural appropriation.  Ankara has gained popularity in the past seasons, and has been seen far more often on celebrities and runways so here’s a few links providing the history and origin of Ankara:

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