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Ask Allie: Casual Capsule Wardrobe for a Woman over 40

Can you help a fashion impaired over-40 woman? Do you have any suggestions for a black and navy wardrobe in a very casual work place setting (think: jeans are the norm)? I also like to accent with chartreuse and maybe some plum items…I’m at a bit of a loss as to how to approach this.

casual capsule wardrobe over 40 jeans denim

When creating a capsule wardrobe, it’s important to start with basics, but basics with an edge. Good fit (that means size up if need be and go to a tailor or even your local dry cleaner for a nip, tuck, and hem), and the best quality you can find and afford. Also, don’t think that a wardrobe staple has to be ordinary – choose necklines that are flattering, interesting cuts, and luxe fabrics to show personality and help you not tire of them after a few wearings. Choose pieces that have a touch of your personality – feminine, rocker, boho, or country touches will look more chic than trying to be as basic as possible. With this capsule, I have a bit of a feminine classic feel.

With a casual work wardrobe, even though you’re permitted to wear jeans it doesn’t mean you should go full-on loungewear. It’s possible to be relaxed and casual while having an air of professionalism and respect for your company and your personal style. While the core of this capsule is denim and cotton knits, choosing knits with refined silhouettes, shoes in a glossy leather, and classic shiny accessories of gold and silk keep the look polished.

Three-quarter sleeves are quite flattering and especially in a climate-controlled office, work year-round.  While many women over 40 fear sleeveless blouses, they are usually more flattering than cap and short sleeves blouses and one with detail like a pleated neckline distract from the arms.  A pair of jeans in a dark wash with a straight leg won’t go out of style; let your second pair of denim be a bit more trendy.  I chose a black skinny jean for its versatility and more classic look.  Cropped pants have become a classic from spring to fall; choose a crisp fabric and a very clean front to not add bulk or look dated after a season.  If you find a denim shirt that has the perfect color and fit but it’s too stiff for comfort, soak overnight in a basin of eight cups of hot water and one cup white vinegar and then launder as usual.

Though your office is denim-friendly, a simple knit dress is so useful for days where you need to get dressed in a hurry or have an event after work. Loose shift and tee-shirt styles in heavy jersey and ponte knits don’t wrinkle, are as comfy as sweats, and quite versatile with a switch of accessories. This dress could be worn with the chartreuse flats for the office or even a pair of Chucks or casual sandals come summer but can dress up easily with the statement necklace or scarf and the booties.

Black combined with navy used to be a no-no but these days the pairing is seen as fresh and quite chic. It’s important to have the colors saturated; faded blacks and navy will look sloppy and not have the combination look purposeful. Choosing fabrics with a bit of silk or lycra will keep the colors rich.

Since plum and chartreuse are accents in this collection, it would be very easy to switch them out for other colors.  Pink, green, red, mustard, orange, and even leopard print would be great alternatives.  It doesn’t have to be limited to two colors either; the belt could be one color, the flats another, the cardigan another as long as all the colors played nice together.  Jewelry can be switched out for silver or styles that you prefer.  Accents and accessories are where you can infuse your personal style into a capsule wardrobe.  Belts are a place where you can scrimp, and right now delicate necklaces and statement pendants are in style so they are easy to find at every pricepoint.  But for the rest of the accessories try to buy the best quality you can afford; a cheap bag or pair of shoes can really take down an outfit.  If these are your signature colors, it makes sense to spend more, care for the piece, and make it a long-term accessory you regularly wear.

To winterize this look for now, replace the cropped pants with full length ones (ponte knit pants are comfortable and not too dressy for your office), a pair of thick black tights for the dress, and maybe replace the chartreuse flats with a black Mary Jane or wedge with a closed toe. The sleeveless blouse can be replaced with a long-sleeve blouse and the denim shirt replaced with a sweater coat in navy or black. But with the current capsule of 11 garments I was able to create 25 different outfits.

When shopping for a capsule, don’t buy anything unless you know it will work with three other items in your closet. No matter the bargain price, if it’s not versatile it’s not worth your hard-earned money. The same goes for quality and fit – it’s better to own few piece in your closet than a stuffed wardrobe of pieces that don’t look quite right. Shop slow, shop thoughtfully, and you have a closet full of pieces that look great and work as hard as you do!

Cropped black pants with striped top, chartreuse flats | Cropped black pants with navy sleeveless blouse, chartreuse flats | Cropped black pants with black boatneck, plum cardigan, plum belt, delicate necklace, chartreuse flats | Cropped black pants with black sweater, black booties, silk scarf | Cropped black pants with black boatneck, statement necklace, chartreuse flats | Jeans with denim shirt, chartreuse flats, delicate necklace | Jeans with denim shirt tied or unbuttoned showing navy tank, black booties | Jeans with striped tee, plum belt over it, black booties | Jeans with striped tee, cardigan, Black booties | Jeans with navy sleeveless blouse, statement necklace, black booties | Jeans with navy tank, plum cardigan, delicate necklace, black booties | Jeans with cardigan buttoned up, silk scarf, black booties | Jeans with black boatneck, denim shirt tied at waist, black booties | Jeans with black boatneck, statement necklace, chartreuse flats | Jeans with black sweater, silk scarf tied on belt loop, black booties | Black skinny jeans with striped top, chartreuse flats | Black skinny jeans with denim shirt, black booties, silk scarf | Black skinny jeans with navy sleeveless blouse, plum belt, black booties | Black skinny jeans with black v-neck with plum belt over it, black booties | Black skinny jeans with black boatneck tucked in, plum belt and cardigan, black booties |  Black skinny jeans with plum sweater buttoned up with the last two buttons open, silk scarf tied “cowboy style” and tucked into neckline, plum belt over sweater, black booties | Black dress with statement necklace, yellow flats | Black dress with plum cardigan, black booties | Black dress with silk scarf, black booties | Black dress with denim shirt tied at waist, yellow flats

 

 

Capsule Wardrobe: No Fashion Victim, No Frump for Women Over 40

Dear Allie, I’m having a hard time shopping. I may be old, but I’m not dead! I’m 55, in pretty good shape though my midsection does show age and giving birth to three wonderful sons and I don’t feel confident in short skirts or sleeveless blouses. I want to look fun and cool and hip but I don’t want to look ridiculous or that I’m not happy with my age. Where can I shop, what shapes should I look for?

I’m 45 and suddenly feel that Talbots and Ann Taylor are too old for me. Does that make sense? When I was in my thirties I could wear a suit or sheath dress and feel chic but now it just makes me feel frumpy. I’m not ready to be frumpy but I can’t wear H&M any more. Advice please.

Would you do a capsule wardrobe for women over 50? We can’t wear the skinny jeans and spike heel ankle boots and sheer blouses but also desire to be stylish.

I am so glad to read your letters because fashion should not stop being fun just because of an age on your driver’s license! While you may not feel comfortable in a lot of the popular current trends, you’ll be surprised at how many styles, fabrics, and brands out there can be quite flattering to your figure, lifestyle, and personal style without making you feel frumpy.

Capsule Wardrobe over 50 style

This capsule wardrobe was created for the woman who wants to look modern but not a fashion victim, wants comfort but also a polished style. I kept the color palette very simple – black, grays, and pops of cool jewel tones. This way your wardrobe stays in style for many years; no having to update each season with the new hues. Minimal prints – some stripes and blocks of color, with interest in the accessories – scarves, shoes, and jewelry.  Between the paragraphs below are widgets that have links to similar pieces currently available online; there are regular, plus, and occasionally petite and tall sizes available.  Click the arrows to activate the carousel to see all the options; hover over the graphics to see prices.

Speaking of accessories, you’re likely in a better situation financially than you were at 25 so shop with care, looking for quality, and occasionally considering a higher-end brand for longevity of quality but also style. While a pashmina is always a smart choice (loop around the throat or wear as a shawl or even use as a blanket on a plane flight), lighter-weight scarves of silk and fine linen will have less bulk at your neck and bust. I specifically chose two designer scarves (Alexander McQueen’s famous skull scarf and a gray leopard from Saint Laurent) because such details, if in your budget, show you’re aware of trends, care about style, and shop with purpose. If you cannot afford, don’t choose a cheaper copy – it’s better to choose something completely different than try to fool people into thinking you have the real thing.

Bold silver accessories are also purposeful – bold, confident, clear in your message. A bag that has a current silhouette without being too trendy will also make your outfits look more hip, current, purposeful.

For the shoes, I chose styles that won’t cause pain but will add style. A low wedge works with most any length of pant or skirt; a mid-heel pump will dress items up for evening or a special occasion. I chose a sneaker that is also on-trend and hip, but not too trendy (Jack Purcells) – pair with jeans or even cropped pants for an on-trend but not too trendy vibe. A pair of flats are always a wise choice – instead of sticking to a safe neutral consider an unexpected color, print, or embellishment so they aren’t just footwear but an accessory; pointed toes look more current than round.  With sandals, choosing a wide, modern strap and black or a metallic will look modern and chic.

For bottoms, I chose pants that have classic silhouettes and comfortable fabrics. Ponte trousers, stretch jeans with a waistband that won’t dig into your midsection, classically cut white jeans. Yes, white jeans! White jeans are extremely versatile, chic, modern, and if in a heavyweight denim just as flattering as darker shades. For cropped pants, keep them closer to the ankle bone than calf, have the cut slim or straight (no super wide or tapered) so it’s modern and crisp.

Dresses are an easy way to dress for day or evening. Choosing unusual fabrics, silhouettes, details, and colors will show you’re aware of trends and have a specific sartorial point of view. The black dress has a faux leather details while the rest is ponte, making it modern but also comfortable and washable. Pair with pumps for a special occasion, with wedges for work, with the sneakers for a day at the museums. The same holds true for the gray dress – it’s something that will look like an old grocery bag on a hanger but will look very modern and architectural on and can dress up and down (even pair with leggings) with ease. The other two dresses are more traditional, but the colors keep them from looking dowdy.

Layers are a great way to transition between seasons and also to flatter the figure. A soft blazer out of ponte is not only comfortable and flattering, but will easily make your ponte bottoms into a suit. Soft jackets add interest and in a lightweight fabric with stretch will flatter the figure. For tees and tops, look for softer fabrics (silk, poly, rayon blends) that will drape nicely and not add bulk. Instead of a classic crew neck which can look severe, consider rounder necks, surplice and drape necklines.

To look modern but not a fashion victim, it’s important to shop with a clear sartorial message in mind. Create a mood board or use Pinterest to collect images of the personal style you have or want. Celebrities, clothing pieces, vacation spots, makeup that inspires you. Keeping it very specific will make it easier to add to your wardrobe, mix and match, and get your point across to others.

For the capsule I created, you may visit the Polyvore collage I created for specific brands, but some brands I have found that can give you this look:

capsule wardrobe over 40 over 50

How to be a Stylish Woman in her Thirties

Years ago I wrote a piece on the Closet Cleanout for women over 30, and then an update on that post. Many complained that it was too extreme, dated, ridiculous, judgmental, whatever. Since writing that piece, style has changed a lot. To make this more timeless, I decided to focus less on the specifics and more on my eternal beliefs for being a stylish woman over 30:

1. Pack Away the Crazy Statement Necklaces. I know they’re fun, they’re cheap, they’re an easy way to add a pop of color to a simple knit. Thing is, they’re over, dunzo, passé and by wearing them you sacrifice your style.

The great thing with accessories, is that you can jump on a new trend bandwagon without breaking the bank. However, if you decide to go down the trendy accessory highway, you need to know when to get off. Pearls never go out of style, you can wear diamond (or CZ) studs every day of the year, but a lot of larger flashier pieces of jewelry go with the trends. If a Dannijo or J. Crew piece is being recreated in Claire’s or Charlotte Russe it’s time to let the trend go.  If you love big, flashy, and bold jewelry I can relate – shop craft festivals, Etsy, and shop on your travels to acquire a collection that is as unique as you and far more timeless.

2. Better No Boots than Cheap Boots. Seriously ladies, I know boots are expensive and I know how hard it is to find a pair when you have wide calves or narrow calves or wide feet or need orthotics or are very petite or very tall. I get it. And I get when you have that feeling of euphoria when a pair actually fits everywhere, you want to strut up and down the street and style every piece of clothing in your wardrobe around them.

The thing is, when the boots are cheap pleather or trying desperately to look like a designer version or is trying to distract the eye from shoddy construction with a pound of buckles and baubles… it doesn’t matter how well they fit. They look cheap and tacky, and they will ruin your style.

I have hard to fit legs, I understand the issues and the desire to have boots.  But if you can’t afford quality and style and fit in one pair… it’s better to go without any pairs. Save your money, you don’t need a closet of boots if you can find one pair that does it all.

3. Find a Tailor. You’re not an undergrad anymore, and it is not acceptable to have your blazer sleeves swallow your hands or have your trousers drag in puddles. For simple alterations like a pant hem, your nearby dry cleaner can usually do the job quite nicely and for a nice price. However, when it comes to tailoring suiting, preventing waist gap on trousers, or nipping in a dress I strongly suggest you visit Yelp or a nearby suiting or bridal boutique and get advice on a local reputable tailor or seamstress.

4. Invest in Your Edges. When you’re 30, you can still carry off a top from Forever 21, a pair of cheap jeans, a wacky thrift-store score. However, you are no longer a teenager or poor college student, and you need to take care of the edge details: hair, hands, bag, shoes.

When I was in college, I could go a year without a haircut. I’d often trim off split ends with a pair of cuticle scissors and had been known to sport a crazy cut or new color that I did in my bathroom at 3am. I could carry off crooked bangs or a botched dye job with some fun makeup, a couple barrettes, and confidence. The thing is, when you’re over 30, such things don’t look edgy, they look sloppy.

Take care of your hair; this doesn’t mean you need a $200+ salon visit every month, but get a proper cut, quality color (if applicable), and keep it maintained. If you keep slicking back your hair into a bun or ponytail it may be life telling you it’s time to hack it off and choose a lower-maintenance style. You can still be edgy and wacky and different, but do it with a bit of polish and more care.

5. Take care of your Hands. This is something I put off until the end of my 30s and I wish I hadn’t. If you’re a nail and cuticle biter like me, consider regular manicures, taking NAC (with your doctor’s approval), or even hypnosis to break the habit. If you work a lot with your hands, keep your nails short and your polish long-wearing or else naturally colored or buffed so chips aren’t as much of a factor. Moisturize regularly; hands show age and weather-related stress faster than any part of the body.

6. Purchase a Quality Bag. In my 20s I had a different purse for every day of the month. I’d buy one to go with a certain dress or pair of shoes, caring more about the fun than quality. The older you are, the cheaper that cheap bag will look. I don’t expect you to buy a Birkin, or even a bag with a designer name, but look for quality over trendiness or color.

Faux leather looks the fakest when on a bag; with all the stitching and angles the material catches the light and has more chance for stretching and tearing. If you don’t wish to carry a leather bag, consider a bag of a higher quality fabric or a durable material like microfiber. Avoid wacky glazes and finishes, too much bling, or obvious logos; even if you can afford the real deal logos always cheapen a look and they look dated far faster than plainer styles.

Once you have your bag, care for it. Use cuticle scissors to trim fraying straps, invest in a leather conditioner, stuff with paper and store in an old pillowcase when not in use, don’t overstuff it and when you get home, don’t hang it full from its straps (weakens the straps and alters the shape of the bag). Cobblers can perform repairs on handbags and even replace handles, zippers and re-dye exteriors.

7. Care for your Shoes. Be they from Prada or Payless, care for your shoes. Let a day go between wearings so they can air out and retain their shape. Get them reheeled and resoled when necessary. Polish to keep a nice shine. Consider commuter shoes to keep your best footwear protected from city streets. Don’t shop for trends but your actual lifestyle and needs, purchasing the best quality your wallet can justify. It’s better to have one great pair of well-maintained black pumps than a rainbow’s worth of heels.

8. Find a Cobbler. Speaking of shoes, a cobbler can be your best friend, right after your tailor. A cobbler can stretch too-tight shoes, add an elastic gusset in tall boots, reheel and resole years-old shoes to make them look brand new, and much much more. You’re old enough to start buying quality, and that means having a team who can protect your investment. it’s far easier to stomach a high price for a pair of boots when you know that for about $25 each fall you can have them looking brand new and prepared for the weather.

You’re old enough to care for your shoes, and you should. Unless you can afford to toss your footwear after each season (and if you can why the heck are you reading my blog?), it’s worth your time and money to baby them a bit. Let a professional help you extend the life and style of your footwear.

9. Get Professionally Fitted for a Bra. A professional bra fitting doesn’t mean the teenager working at Victoria’s Secret. Go to a higher-end department store’s lingerie department or a bra boutique and get sized. Invest in bras that better the bust you have; no matter your size a proper bra can enlarge, reduce, lift, separate, and make all your clothes fit better. Get measured once a year; your body changes with age, exercise, weight, and life experiences.

While we’re discussing bras, care for them properly. If you must machine wash them, do it on the gentle cycle in a lingerie bag. Always line dry, bras should never go in the dryer. Replace when they get stretched out, and be sure to own more than one so you can let them rest between wears (extends the life of the bras).

10. Wash your Face. Wash your face every evening. Seriously, it’s worth it. If you’re too tired or drunk or whatever to accomplish this, put a packet of facial cleansing cloths on your nightstand so you can swipe with your eyes already closed. You’re at the age where things like clean and moisturized skin now can drastically affect how your face looks in a decade. Along with this…

11. Moisturize. Moisturize your face. Moisturize your body. Apply hand cream on a regular basis. Use conditioner. Baby your body; as I mentioned above you’re at the age where what you do now may not seem important but it will affect how you look in ten years. Your 40-something self will thank you.

12. Wear Sunscreen. I spent my college years in a tanning bed, and my post-college summers baking on the shores of Dewey Beach. I was tan and felt I looked healthy and hot with a glow to my skin. And then at 29 I acquired my first age spot. A decade later, I have wrinkles and stretch marks in unfortunate locations and dark spots on my face, chest, and legs. I feel extremely lucky that I haven’t gotten melanoma from my bad habits.

It doesn’t matter your skin color, your ethnicity, or if it’s cloudy… wear sunscreen. Not only will it help prevent skin cancer, it will keep your skin looking younger, softer, and healthier far far longer. Learn from my mistakes.

Do you have any advice for women who have reached their Thirties?

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UPDATED: Closet Clean-out – The Woman in Her 30s

One thing with having a blog for this long is that some of my “classic” fashion advice stops being classic. While one may try to buy pieces that will work for decades, few pieces really accomplish just that – shoulders slightly change, the taper on a skirt will increase or decrease over a decade, and items that seemed to be utterly passé return as “fashion staples.” So every so often, I revisit some of my old posts and update them for the new decade.

I have seen a lot of forums and sites complain about my post “Closet Clean-out – The Woman in Her 30s.” They find it too limiting, and out of date. I did write it three years ago, so let’s take another look at that list, and how it fits for women in 2011:

You aren’t 25 any more and you feel it in almost every aspect of your life. Do you feel it in your wardrobe?

No matter how young you can pass for or how many hours you spend in the gym, when you are over 30 you look ridiculous trying to dress like a 25-year old. Now this doesn’t mean once that birthday hits you have to chuck all your indie labels and head to Ann Taylor; it just means you need to add a bit of polish, refinement and respect to your look. You’ll be surprised – a proper closet clean-out in your early ‘30s will improve your reputation at work, your chances at finding a mate, and will actually make you look younger and more confident.

The Standard Closet Clean-out for a Woman in her 30s – Updated for the New Decade

What to Toss:

1. Half your rubber flip-flop collection. Oh this one gets a lot of flack. Am I really asking you to toss ALL OF YOUR BELOVED FLIP FLOPS??? Nope, read it again – I wrote HALF of your rubber flip flops, and note I say RUBBER. There is a difference between a leather flip flop and a cheapy pair from Old Navy, there is a difference between the silver thongs that look so great with your maxi dress, and your smelly pair of Havaianas that have seen far better days.

Keep your Reefs and your Rainbows, but thin out the collection. No need for a pair to match every top in your wardrobe for flip flops are not real footwear.  The more pairs you own, the more likely they will creep into everyday fashion.  Keep a pair that matches your bathing suit, a pair for running out into the yard, a standard black or brown pair in great condition for casual events.

Flip flops are for the beach, the pool, the neighbor’s cookout. They are not street shoes. They are terrible for your foot health, they are dangerous on an escalator, and they look tacky when trying to pretend to be true footwear. Instead, look for flat sandals or leather thongs which are just as easy and comfy, but far more stylish.

2. Ironic tee shirts. Again, another item that gets folks up in arms. So you keep your Hello Kitty tee shirt just for trips to the gym, or your Star Wars shirt just for trips to the grocery store and Home Depot. Don’t you see people when you go to these places? Anytime you leave your home, you have a chance with destiny. Dress for it. Don’t let people make assumptions about you.

Ironic tees are perfect for events like Comic-Con or a music festival; an event where like-minded people get together. These are places where such a tee shirt will be appreciated. When an adult woman heads out into public wearing a tee shirt with Tigger on the front, she will not be taken seriously, no matter how intelligent or composed she is.

3. Any top made out of denim. I type this the same day I ironed my relatively new chambray shirt. Who would have thought that in three years denim shirts would have made such a big comeback? Obviously not me.

So denim is back in, but that doesn’t mean every woman should hold on to her Express denim jacket from 2001 or her L.L. Bean chambray shirt from college. The silhouettes are washes are slightly different this time around, and style is in those tiny details. Unless you are the queen of vintage and can rock Brenda Walsh’s wardrobe in a new and funky way, keep your denim shirt shopping to a minimum. As a 36-year old woman, I chose to purchase only one denim-ish shirt this season, and went with a version from Target so I didn’t make a big investment. Denim went out of favor just a few years ago… and I have a good feeling it will be passé again in a couple years more.

4. Miniskirts (and skorts… and shorts). So shorts are back as well. Leather shorts on starlets, silk shorts on fashionistas, and candy-colored chino ones on anyone who loves J. Crew. Shorts are great when it’s hot out, and they are easy fashion for casual weekends.

The thing is, no matter how much you hit the gym, your 30-something gams won’t be as fab as your 20-something ones. Gravity, desk jobs, spending too many hours on your feet… these take a toll on a woman’s legs and thighs. So wear the shorts and even wear the shorter skirts, but be realistic. Make sure you can sit and pick up something from the ground without flashing the world, do the fingertip test (one should never wear a skirt that is shorter than her longest fingertip when arms to her side), and if unsure, choose the longer version for more versatility (mini skirts and shorts are not professional looking nor appropriate for weddings and religious events).

One item I would add to this list that I would not have in ’08 are the distressed denim mini skirts. While this was a fun look a couple years ago with a fitted tee and beaded necklace, this look now is dated and a bit Rock of Love. Instead choose denim cutoffs in a flattering length or a dark denim refined skirt, free of tears and bleach spots.

And as for skorts? Leave them to the tennis players.

5. Cheap bras. Read my recent post on getting a professional bra fitting. Look at my before and after photos. Read the comments from fellow readers. A quality bra that fits can totally transform not only your look, but your posture and health. You’re an adult, and you deserve quality underpinnings that support and flatter this beautiful adult body.

6. Laura Ashley Dresses. Another item that has gained popularity thanks to the vintage fashion darlings. I know some women (the blogger La Petite Marmoset comes to mind) who looks utterly adorable in a Laura Ashley dress. She knows how to rock it with some big chunky sandals, a hat, and a crazy accessory. She inherently knows how to make it work for her, make it look modern.

If you’re reading this, you probably don’t have the innate creative fashion sense of these vintage fashion bloggers. That’s okay, neither do I. And for that, we must steer clear of the polyester rayon challis calf-length dresses covered in calico prints.

7. Cheap polyester skirts. I still see these skirts being sold in some department stores like Kohl’s and PC Penney and it makes my stomach turn. A polyester tube of fabric covered with a tube of polyester mesh is not a flattering look on ANYONE. For a similar and more stylish look, consider a pencil skirt. I have found some great pencil skirts at all price points of stretchy Ponte de Roma, stretch denim, lined wool crepe, sturdy chino, lined silk and more.

8. Club Tops. Club tops are slowly disappearing from retailers (unless you shop at Frederick’s of Hollywood) but what is in their place are the teeny tiny camis that can’t be worn with a stitch of underpinnings. Be they spandex tubes or flimsy silky camisoles with lingerie straps, they can be seen as sexy… or desperate.

In my original post I mention both camis and tube tops as good alternatives, which can be seen as a conflict with the paragraph above. The difference is that I mention pieces that are flowing, blouson, silk. You don’t need to show off the indentation of your belly button to be sexy. Elegance and confidence are far more sexy attributes to show off.

9. Cheap suiting. Cheap suiting still exists, I see it in every discount retailer and on the Victoria’s Secret website. Unless you work at a very high-powered corporation or on The Hill, you probably don’t need to wear a suit to work every single day. Invest in one or two simple, basic suits in colors like black and gray so they can mix and match and work year-round. For other days, consider separates – trousers that don’t cling to your rear, skirts that hit around the knee, blouses and dresses that aren’t too tight.

If you do need to wear a suit every day, again choose quality and subtle colors so you can get away with wearing each piece more often. Break up the monotony with blouses and shells and subtle accessories.

And per my original post, shop career-friendly retailers in their sale departments for reasonable prices, and if you are torn between a cheap suit and a crisp shirt and skirt or trousers… go with the latter. Fit trumps uniform for interviews, business meetings, and corporate events. You will lose credibility faster in an ill-fitting polyester suit than in a blouse and trousers that fit and flatter.

What else I would add to this list:

  • Cheap pleather bags. This isn’t saying you can’t use vegan bags, but look for bags that are well-made. No more patent-leather designer knockoffs from Target, vinyl blinged-out purses from Payless, and NEVER pay for a fake designer bag (read this if you’re still considering fakes, & do a little Googling to see the true cost of purchasing fakes). If you can’t afford a designer bag, you’re not alone. Choose bags with fewer details – less metal, fewer studs, fewer trends. Go to the classics – even a small L.L. Bean Boat and Tote can be a chic summer handbag. Buy vintage – it’s en vogue and a stylish way to recycle and reuse while staying on budget.
  • Belly rings. Unless you are one who rocks piercings and body modification, little rhinestone belly rings are past their prime.
  • Silly Bandz/Cause Bracelets. My daughter wears Silly Bandz, and she is two. As for cause bracelets, my husband is a cancer survivor, but my Livestrong bracelet has been tucked very far in the back of my jewelry box for almost a decade. You can show your support for a cause without wearing rubber around your wrist.

Do not think that once you have your 30th birthday you have to dress in all gray with skirts past your knees. On the contrary. The point of this list isn’t to make you a Stepford Thirty-something, but to help you be realistic with your wardrobe. Show your personality with color and prints, use your post-college paycheck for some fabulous pumps or a well-made handbag. Notice what you are drawn to, and work on creating a signature look. Every woman’s personal style is different, instead of hiding behind your dated and inappropriate closet pieces, embrace this new stage of your life and find that look that is unequivocally, completely you.

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Ask Allie: An Active Casual Capsule Wardrobe for a Woman Over 60

I am about to retire and would love to have advice about a capsule wardrobe to fit my new situation. I am a young 62 and pear shaped. I’m planning to focus on travel, enjoying grandchildren, blues festivals, yoga and walking. I like classic styles and love blues and greens.

Congratulations! That sounds like an amazing way to spend this new point in your life. And I love that you’re considering a capsule wardrobe so you can focus on life instead of what to wear each day. Purchasing carefully, slowly, and while considering all you currently own can get you to the point of having a small quality wardrobe of hard-working pieces that have you ready for whatever comes your way.

capsule wardrobe casual active over 60

For this casual capsule wardrobe I didn’t focus on yoga and walking as I figure you have gear for those activities; however I did try to create a collection that will move with you, be comfortable for long spans of time outdoors taking the grandchildren sightseeing or to the park, or sitting on a blanket in the grass enjoying live music.

As a pear-shaped woman, it can be hard to find bottoms that fit and flatter. For skirts, those with an a-line, a flare from the waist, or that are softly gathered will flatter your figure. A skirt at or below the knee not only balances your frame but provides modesty when chasing after little ones or sitting on the ground. While many women avoid shorts, they’re so practical and so many lengths and styles are now available making it so any woman can find a cut that she likes. For a pear shape, a straight short that hits right at the top of the knee is best. Here I offered a stretchy denim style with a cuff, and a stretch twill Bermuda that can dress up or down nicely. A “boyfriend” jean is great for pear shapes because they’re more relaxed in the hip and thigh area and the cuff makes them have just the right amount of taper and color contrast to not shorten the leg like traditional cropped pants. Many women choose dark bottoms to minimize their hips and rear, but a pair of opaque white jeans can be quite chic and flattering (and it also makes primary and jewel tones look so luxe). It’s not ridiculous to pay to have jeans tailored (if you purchase them from Nordstrom they will tailor them on-site); go up a size for a comfortable fit in the hips and thighs and have the waist and hem adjusted for a custom fit. A straight jean is on trend yet will still be stylish next year; such a cut also balances hips nicely.

For tops, I kept things simple but incorporated elements to balance your curves. Boatnecks, cap sleeves, and gathered necklines add interest and also balance the bottom half of your figure. Choosing tops that highlight the slimmest part of your torso are also great; look for empire waists, built-in belts (or add one at the waist or at the ribs over an untucked top), and details like ruching and knots that define. Notice I kept prints to a minimum and those prints quite classic – prints can look dated very quickly. Sticking to solids and classic simple prints will keep your wardrobe from looking passé or frumpy. Breton stripes are a classic and look chic on women of all ages; while florals can be seen as mumsy this simple white and blue print in a stretch silk or synthetic will look quite modern, especially when paired unexpectedly with boyfriend jeans or shorts.  A graphic print in your favorite color can easily be switched out for the floral.

With dresses, I incorporated the same concepts from the skirts and tops.  Fit and flare styles, cap sleeves, details to emphasize the waist, and skirts that hit at the knee or lower.  Do know that models are often taller than average; a dress that looks thigh-high on a website may be knee-length on you.  Consider the measurements offered as well as the photo (and customer reviews, if available) before judging a dress or skirt.

While a shoe with a bit of a heel will balance a pear figure, I believe in function over fashion and a flat shoe will do you better with your new lifestyle. Choosing shoes that match your bottoms or are low contrast to your legs will be the best choice; a metallic flat is a great way to dress up casual pieces but they’re also a great way to get away without wearing heels to a wedding or other social event.


Accessories are what take a capsule wardrobe from ordinary to extraordinary. Statement necklaces are a great way to draw attention to your face, add personality and also a youthful touch to your outfit. A silk scarf can look matronly, but in a bold print it adds personality and class to simple knits.

As for bags, choosing a crossbody means you have your hands free to hold on to your grandchildren, take a photo, or grab a pair of drinks for you and another at that next blues festival.  I can’t stress the importance of accessories enough, especially with a pared-down wardrobe of staples.  Accessories show your personality, show that you are young at heart, and that you are aware of current trends and care about style.  Don’t be afraid of a sparkly necklace, a metallic slip-on sneaker, or a statement watch or bag from a popular brand.

A pair of black plastic sunglasses are a classic; I recommend purchasing a classic yet popular brand and a style that is pretty classic to show you are aware of the trends but wearing them in the way that is best for you.  While I featured the classic Ray-Ban Wayfarer in the collage, other styles are equally chic; I chose a few that caught my eye and have them in the widget above.  With sunglasses and bags, I recommend buying the best quality and brand you can afford.  These are accessories you likely will wear every day; quality will last and also elevate your basic wardrobe staples.

Ask Allie: How to Style a Kilt

I have a knee-length red plaid woolen kilt I picked up on a college trip to Scotland almost 20 years ago. I trek it out once a season or so, usually around the holidays, but I like it and am trying to think of ways to get more wear out of it beyond the expected “Going to the Nutcracker” kind of look. Any ideas?

Yes, that skirt deserves to come out more than once a year! However I do understand the issue with looking too holiday, as though you’re wearing a costume, or trying to be Mid Life Crisis Britney. The best way to wear accomplish this is to style it as though it is not a kilt. Steer clear of traditional pairings and add something unexpected and it will look fresh and modern.

how to style a kilt women

Gray will tone down the red and keep it from feeling Christmas-y. While a cashmere crewneck and white button-front is pretty classic, pairing the look with modern black leather ankle boots keeps it current. Hair and makeup can really make this look; keep both relaxed and a bit disheveled. Beachy waves and a bit of kohl will go a long way and look far more modern than polished hair and red lips.

how to style a kilt scottish woman

Add a bit of a tough edge to your classic kilt with leather. A black leather jacket and biker boots will be a modern contrast. Unlike the above look, style such an ensemble with very polished hair and face to keep it from looking like a costume; smooth hair with red lips and gently flushed cheeks will look fresh.

how to style a scottish kilt women

A bit of purposeful rumpling will take a look from prep overload to modern cool. A gray tweed blazer with a tailored fit is a great pairing for your kilt; roll the sleeves and maybe pop the collar to keep it from feeling like a uniform. A classic Breton tee is a pattern that will mix nicely with the plaid and also keep it from feeling too much like a uniform. A pair of tall boots with a solid heel will finish the look and keep you warm.

Guest Post: Which Necklace with Which Neckline?

Guest post by Rosana Vollmerhausen

I gave a talk recently about necklaces and necklines. It’s a typical question we get here at DC Style Factory: Go long? Go choker? Go statement?

The easiest necklaces to wear with just about any neckline is a longer one. The length of the necklace clears any v, scoop, drape or boat neckline. Whether you decide to go longer or shorter, you don’t want your necklace bumping up against your neckline. So either select one that is about an ½ an inch to an inch above your neckline or one that drops under your neckline at least several inches.

Longer necklaces, much like v-neck tops, lengthen your neckline, which in general is more flattering. Chokers shorten your neckline, which sometimes can sometimes be a more challenging style to wear. If you are petite, pay attention to how long the long necklace goes. Right below the bustline is good – grazing your bellybutton is too long.

Here is quick, easy guide for selecting which necklaces go best with which neckline.

V-neck Top

Wear with:

what necklace v-neck top

Smaller drop/pendant necklace that flows into v of the top

what necklace v-neck top

Longer non-pendant necklace that clears the v of the top and flows with the draping.

Pass on: Wearing with a choker, which shortens your neckline and counteracts to the lengthening effect of the v shape.

Scoopneck

Wear with:

what necklace scoop neck top

A statement necklace that mimics the curved shape of the neckline covers expose neck/chest surface area.

Pass on: A choker that will leave too much empty surface area and not cover enough neck/chest area.

Boatneck Top

Wear with:

what necklace boatneck top

what necklace boatneck top

A longer necklace, which draws attention up and down, and balances the high, horizontal neckline.

Pass on: A choker/collar necklace that will bump up against with the neckline.  A statement necklace higher up on the neck that will grab and pull at the horizontal neckline.

Collared Button-down Shirt

Wear with:

what necklace button collared shirt

A statement necklace under the collar for a “brooch” effect.

what necklace button collared shirt

A statement under the shirt with some color peeking out.

Pass on: A long necklace that will compete with the vertical button placket on the shirt.

Crewneck

Wear with:

what necklace crewneck shirt

A longer necklace that lengthens your neckline since the high neckline of the crewneck top shortens it.

what necklace crewneck shirt

A statement necklace that “creates” a new, longer neckline. Select a statement necklace that covers the top of the crewneck.

Pass on: A collar necklace; it just further shortens your neckline.

Strapless

Wear with…

what necklace strapless

A shorter statement necklace that leaves about 1/2 an inch of space between the necklace and the neckline, a longer necklace that clears the neckline, or the two together as pictured!

what necklace strapless

Another fun option is to wear with a collar necklace.

There are a multitude of other necklines and variations on necklines, but just remember, you simply want the necklace you choose to make sense with the neckline of the top. If you are fussing with it too much or it just doesn’t feel right, then it probably isn’t. But selecting the right necklace can really make a difference in adding polish, personality and finish to your look. Happy accessorizing!

DC Style Factory is a personal styling and shopping business based in the Washington, D.C. area. The company creed is that style is for anyone who wants it – regardless of size, age or budget. Clients include high-profile experts in the public eye who need polish for television appearances and stay-at-home moms juggling carpool. Our job is to prepare them to look and feel good for different events in their lives no matter how big or small.

Stylist and owner, Rosana Vollmerhausen, has had more than a decade of fashion retail and styling experience, including owning, running and buying for an award-winning boutique in Washington,D.C. She has styled local fashion events and photo shoots, and has written expert fashion tips for local publications. Her true passion, though, is one-on-one work with clients, building wardrobes that make sense for where they are in their lives. As a wife and mother of three, she is a firm believer that you don’t have to sacrifice personal style because life is busy. If key wardrobe pieces make sense for who and where you are, personal style can be accessible to anyone who wants it.

Learn more about Rosana and DC Style Factory at www.dcstylefactory.com or on the blog at www.dcstylefactory.com/blog.

Stacy London’s The Truth About Style Book and Tour

Thursday night I had the pleasure of seeing Stacy London speak at Sixth and I Historic Synagogue in DC. Her book, The Truth About Style came out this past Tuesday and after seeing the book trailer I knew I had to be at the speaking engagement.


I met Stacy London a few months ago when she was at a local mall promoting the partnership between her company Style for Hire and Westfield Malls. The experience made me a London fan for life – she’s so real, and she truly cares about helping women feel beautiful and comfortable in clothing. Thursday night, I realized that she cares even more so about women feeling beautiful and comfortable in their own skin.

I don’t want to give much away about what she discussed or what the book is about because I truly think this is a style book that you should read. Borrow it from the library, loan it from a friend, sneak into a nook of Barnes and Noble or splurge on a copy – you won’t regret it. I can just say that Thursday night gave me such motivation regarding this blog.

When I started this blog, I wasn’t terribly happy about my body. I had a lot of opinions about fashion and style, a lot of rules, and a lot of snark. Through blogging, I got to know so many readers – you weren’t pageviews but people. I saw that I wasn’t alone in not liking the body I was in, and I saw that my snark wasn’t benefiting anyone. What’s the point of a fashion blog (or book for that matter) that dismisses those who don’t “get” fashion, that pigeonholes all women into one lump who needs a white shirt, tan trench, and a strand of real pearls?

Through blogging and through changes in my life (hello new awesome job and new awesome child) I began loving this body.  It’s not perfect… but then no one has a “perfect” body. I came to terms with it, and decided to work with it. And I also changed my voice on this blog – women don’t need another person telling them what they’re doing wrong, we need voices to give us food for thought and tips on how to feel comfortable, feel ourselves, and recognize our beauty.

 

I still have strong opinions on fashion and style, but now when I write I don’t just think about me and my little patch of Earth, but I try to make it more universal, more accepting. And Thursday night I learned that through her ten years on What Not to Wear, Stacy London has had the same experience. Dealing with real women has made her more sympathetic, sensitive, and understanding to others and also to herself. And her book The Truth About Style is about just that. This book won’t give you a list of ten must-have items in your closet, or tell you how to hide your hips or tummy. It won’t tell you what color to wear if you’re a brunette or redhead, and it won’t inform you of what items should be purged from your closet. But it will help you realize how fellow women have learned to find personal style… and may help you find yours along the way.

 

At the event with friends and fellow bloggers Nancye, Heidi, Alison, Chelsea, and Dana

And if Stacy London’s book tour is coming to a city near you, I encourage you to get a ticket to attend. She is funny, she is raw, she is honest, and she is inspiring. And she may just renew your faith in fashion, style, and yourself.

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Ask Allie: Career Wear on a Budget

I am a young professional without a “mentor” or any experience in the professional world other than the two years at my current job. I am getting a new boss in January and she is beautiful, powerful, and extremely sharp. I am the girl with the hot pink iPhone case, the ubiquitous plastic venti coffee cup, wearing Teva sandals with my work outfits, trying to pass black jeans as “dress pants,” and still wearing the same bangle bracelets that I had in high school. I desperately need an upgrade in… everything… but I’m broke.

Are there any suggestions that you can make about taking my college student wardrobe and upping my game while still being able to feed my family?

You are not alone. It’s hard to be new and rise the corporate ladder without going into debt. You come into the workforce already with student loans and then have to shell out a lot just to look as though you want the job you fought hard to get. Jobs are hard to get, so you want to show that you care and have the drive but you don’t have the money to build a professional wardrobe from scratch. A few tips:

Thrift It. I know from your email that you’re already hitting Goodwill, but it can be frustrating to weed though racks and racks of faded knit tees in hopes of finding one decent pencil skirt or blazer. Make it a weekly date – find out when they stock the floors and visit that day. Befriend the folks working there – it may just get you a new friend, or it may get you friends who will see pieces and hold them for you or give you a heads up when they are stocking the floor.

While there, consider going up a size or two. A thrifted pair of pants can easily be altered by the nearby dry cleaner, and the price for both is still going to be cheaper than a new pair of pants on the sale rack.

Join Freecycle. My local Freecycle often has people giving away large bags of clothing in a certain size. People who have lost or gained weight, passed away, retired. While a good portion of the bag’s contents may be wrong for you, you could end up with a real gem in the process. And that which doesn’t work, re-Freecycle or donate. Once you have established yourself on your local Freecycle as a person who gives as well as takes (great way to clean out the house of old toys, knick knacks, and that dusty treadmill in your basement), you can request certain things. I did this once and was amazed with the generous people who replied with items or suggestions on how to get what I needed for less or free.

Find Local Swaps and Consignments. Twice a year, my community has a swap where people bring old baby clothing and equipment and trade for that which they need. It has grown to where this swap often has adult clothing. Local fashion blogging communities will often host or know of swaps where for a small price or a bag of clothes to donate, you can attend and pick up some amazing scores. Consignment sales are another place to find thrift-store priced clothing but a more carefully curated collection. At such events, you can also network with other frugal shoppers.

Nothing in your community? Set one up! It can be anything from a happy hour at your home with a few friends and neighbors, or you can set something up at a local community center.

A sample capsule wardrobe of simple pieces: how you can create over 20 different business casual outfits from just eight pieces of clothing.  Every outfit works with black pumps or flats.

Buy Simple. Simple blue oxford, gray pencil skirt, black blazer, plum cardigan, black pants… pieces like these can be mixed and matched a hundred ways to create completely different ensembles. Don’t buy difficult silhouettes that only go with one piece – create a bit of a uniform with few silhouettes so they are more versatile and less memorable.

Prints and bold colors are memorable; stick to neutrals and soft hues until you can afford a larger wardrobe.

Make a Priority List. What holes are in your wardrobe? Focus on those first. Don’t worry that this season is about oxblood or that a pair of leopard shoes would update your look. Get those basics you need to not be naked or in inappropriate fashion at the office. While I usually encourage buying accessories to switch up basics, at this point I’d say save your money. It’s better to go without any accessories at all than to try to make do with cheap pieces or spend your budget on a bracelet.

Unless you find one for an incredible price and it’s gorgeous, focus more on separates than dresses. Separates can mix and match for more outfits, and can better be tailored to fit (or made to look tailored with belts, Stitch Witchery, and strategically placed safety pins).

When you buy, stop and think what in your wardrobe can it work with. If you can’t imagine three outfits, don’t buy it. Even if it’s only $3 or only $5, that’s $3 or $5 you could save for the right wardrobe addition.

Know No One is Keeping Track. It’s okay to wear the same black pants two or three times in a week as long as they are clean. It’s okay to wear the same shoes every day until you can afford more. You can even carry off the same shirt multiple times in one week – one day on its own tucked in to a skirt, another day untucked under a sweater with pants. As long as the pieces are clean, in good condition, and properly pressed no one is going to care. The effect is far more important than the individual pieces.

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What I Wore: Simple Isn’t Easy

mom fashion personal style blog handbag heaven molly review wardrobe oxygen

instyle essentials shirt NYDJ hayden jeans

Shirt: c/o InStyle Essentials | Jeans: NYDJ ‘Hayden’ | Shoes: Vince Camuto ‘Effel’ | Necklace: Tasha | Watch: Citizen | Bangle: Rebecca Minkoff | Stretch Bracelet: Nordstrom | Sunglasses: Ray-Ban | Bag: ‘Molly‘ c/o Handbag Heaven

Isn’t every woman supposed to have that crisp white shirt and dark pair of jeans in her wardrobe? Aren’t they supposed to be simple, versatile pieces you can throw on in a pinch? Yeah right, how many of us have actually found those things to fit and flatter not only our body but our lifestyles? Yet in the past year I have found both, and it’s pretty darn exciting. InStyle Essentials sent me one of their shirts last year and while it fit… it justfit. I learned that if you’re not just busty but soft and curvy, it’s good to go up a size to make it truly work. This year they sent me another one in the size up and I have been wearing the heck out of it. And as for the jeans, I adore the Hayden style from NYDJ. The petite is too short, the regular too long, so when I saw the Resin color on clearance and Neiman Marcus for $40 each (see don’t judge a department store by its reputation, deals can be found everywhere!), I bought two pairs of regulars and took them to the tailor to be shortened. Having these “simple” wardrobe pieces hasn’t been simple, but very much worth it!

As an aside, this necklace is more awesome than it looks. You may recall I mentioned it was a good buy at the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale and how I wanted to buy it but was “good” and saved my money. Well a reader I have been emailing with for a while contacted me asking my opinion on some pieces she was considering for the sale including this necklace and she went and bought it for me as a thank you/get well soon gift! Not only is the necklace such an incredibly sweet gesture, but her card with it brought me to tears.

I wrote you a number of years ago because you revolutionized getting dressed for me. You made it expressive and showed me that a curvy woman could be fashionable and classy. I love getting it together to go out, no matter what size I am. Especially having lived in Europe for 9 years, everyone is always dressed up upon stepping out the door. Thanks for helping me give up the sweats and inspiring me on the daily.

Well S, thank YOU for inspiring me to keep blogging and loving it! This necklace, and your whole letter will be items I will treasure. I feel blessed to have connected with you, and with all of you who read Wardrobe Oxygen on a regular basis. THANK YOU!

P.S. I almost called this post I’m My Sister’s Sister because I couldn’t believe I had a picture with one eyebrow up. I didn’t think I could do it, but I did and I look JUST like my sister in that photo!

What I Wore: Suit Up

wo2 7 wo2 3 alison gary wo2 2 wo2 4
Jacket: LOFT (similar) | Top: ELOQUII via Gwynnie Bee | Belt: Lauren Ralph Lauren (similar) | Pants: LOFT (similar) | Shoes: Nine West | Bag: HOBO (similar) | Bracelet: Had forever (similar) | Lipstick: Revlon in ‘In the Red’

With the change in my company and role over the years, I have fewer and fewer needs for a proper suit. However I can’t stress the importance of still having one for those unexpected moments – an interview, client meeting, conference, business workshop… the pieces can be used separately increasing the price per wear. I purchased this jacket over a year ago from LOFT (last seen on the blog here) and figured it would match black pants from LOFT that I already owned.  Notsomuch, the jacket was a refined twill with a sateen “tux” detail while the rest of my LOFT suiting was more like gabardine.  Then I found these pants on clearance at LOFT this past fall; I think they were meant to be with this jacket!  With the same tux-details and trim as the jacket and the same fabric I have made a match; though it took over a year it also cost less than $100!

I haven’t shared Gwynnie Bee on the blog lately, but that doesn’t mean I am not still a subscriber AND fan!  With the colder weather, I’ve been choosing more casual pieces from Gwynnie Bee; ways to maintain style even when bundled up.  But I saw this ELOQUII top in their collection and had to try it.  As a cusp-sized woman I find ELOQUII to be a hair too big; I sometimes have success with tops and dresses but sometimes find them a hair big for my 5’3″ self.  This top was a bit loose, but adding a belt cinched it and gave it a subtle peplum look that worked with the ruffles at the shoulders and hem.  The top is from a scuba fabric that is uber comfy and doesn’t cling.  I’m a huge fan of ELOQUII and am glad that Gwynnie Bee features them and other hot cusp and plus sized brands!  Gwynnie Bee is offering a 30-day free trial of their program; if you’re size 10 or up it’s worth a try.  I love that for the price of one item I can get three pieces each month in current trends and try out brands I may not otherwise be able to afford.  Click this link to learn more!

I wore this look last Thursday; my dear friend Rosana of DC Style Factory had an event, Skirting the Issue, at Betsy Fisher, where she educated the audience on what skirt was best for each figure and lifestyle need and then had custom fitting by Betsy Garcete at Zophia and personal styling by Rosana and her team.  It was a really fun evening; if you’re in the DC area I can’t recommend DC Style Factory enough for personal styling, closet cleanouts, shopping support and helping you find your personal style.  I’ve recommended DC Style Factory to many Wardrobe Oxygen readers and they have all reported back with rave reviews.  Be sure to follow DC Style Factory on Facebook to learn when they have their next training seminar; I know I’ll be at that one too!

Shop the Looks Featured in this Post:

The Bandana is Back!

Some trends come on the scene that make me wonder what designers and street style icons were smoking or ingesting when they decided on them. And recently, a lot of trends were impossible to recreate on a budget. I’m loving how so many trends this spring and summer are honestly achievable on any budget; it’s less about the logo and more about the look.

Top Row, Left to Right: Rosy Cheeks | Man Repeller | The Not Vanilla | ELLE España via Le Fashion
Bottom Row, Left to Right: Louis Vuitton via GQ | Stockholm Street Style | Vanessa Jackman | The Blab

And one of those trends is the bandana. That white-pattered cotton scarf you can pick up at the dollar store or take from your college Halloween costume is now an on-trend accessory. I’ve always loved the classic bandana print and prefer a cotton scarf to a silk one, so I am thrilled about this trend. But how do you wear a bandana without looking like an extra from a John Wayne movie?

  • Create a Contradiction. A bandana with a chambray shirt is cliché, a bandana with a leather moto jacket or a silk blouse or a crisp blazer is unexpected.
  • Keep it Crisp and Classic. For now, keep your pink and purple bandanas in the drawer and stick to classics like navy, red, and black. These should also not be the weathered, worn, and torn bandanas you use to mop sweat when gardening or to hold back your hair on a camping trip. The classic color and the crisp finish makes the bandana purposeful and not a leftover from cleaning out the garage.
  • Simplicity is Key. Leandra Medine’s all-white outfit with the bandana tucked into the collar of her shirt is a fabulous example of how to wear a bandana this spring. Minimal color, no competing prints, use the bandana as you would a silk Hermes scarf and let it take center stage.
  • Get Creative. A bandana doesn’t have to be worn knotted in back and draped in front. Check out The Not Vanilla’s post and how she wore it knotted around her throat, and even as a purse and wrist accessory. I recently rolled a bandana , wrapped it twice around my neck and had it peek out of a white button-front shirt; I think it’s fun to spice up a monochromatic look with a bandana tied to a single belt loop at the front of a pair of trousers; don’t be afraid to use a bandana as a headband, kerchief, headwrap, or tied around your ponytail.

Last week when I shared my outfit featuring a bandana, I received a few styling questions from you folk:

  • When You Have Short Hair. If you’re draping the bandana in front and the “ears” are peeking out making you feel as though you’re wearing a bib, consider a bit of fashion tape to hold them down. I keep all those tiny safety pins that hold garment hang tags and find them great for a situation like this (I pin the “ears” to the underside so they don’t ruin the line of the scarf).
  • When the Bandana is Too Stiff. A brand new bandana can be as stiff as a piece of paper, and often have hard creases in it. Before trying anything, wash it and throw it in the dryer, preferably with bulky items that would make it bounce around a lot. This often does the trick. If it’s still too stiff for you, an overnight soak in fabric softener or vinegar will soften cotton without fading the fabric. Rinse and tumble dry.
  • When You Want a Bigger Bandana. I desired this very thing to have more variety (and to double-look around my big neck). On eBay I found “Texas Size” bandanas which are 27” (most are 22”). If you search for 27” bandana, you’ll find that many online stores like Amazon offer them, which will give you the length you desire.

What I Wore: Pleats Please

Shirt: c/o InStyle Essentials | Belt: Vintage – Belonged to my Mom | Skirt: J. Crew Factory | Bracelet: Rebecca Minkoff | Shoes: Vince Camuto

I gotta say, style rules be damned, I love me a pleated chiffon maxi skirt.  I’m short, I’m overweight, and I don’t care.  I saw this one at J. Crew Factory and felt it was a perfect replacement for my beloved Ann Taylor maxi skirt, which now has a broken zipper, stretched to twice its original size and hasn’t held up well with time.  This new skirt is a 14, and I didn’t have to have the length altered.  I wore this skirt with the brilliant InStyle Essentials shirt (hello shirts sized by bra size!) for a more work-friendly look, but found it also looked fab with a simple gray Old Navy Vintage v-neck tee (see here on Instagram).  I love how skirts like this can dress up and down with ease and are nice and breezy for the upcoming warmer weather.

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Ask Allie: Which Jeans with Which Boots?

Can you give me some guidance about which boots to wear with which jeans? There are skinny jeans, straight-leg jeans, mini-boot cuts, boot-cuts, boyfriend jeans, cropped jeans, jeans that people cuff above the boot, jeggings, and everything in between. There are ankle boots, cowboy boots, mid-calf boots, knee-high boots, UGGs, shooties, and fakers (they look like boots from the front but the back is open like a mule/clog). Which jeans do I pair with which boots so that I look proportional and not like a farmer? And when do I tuck the jeans inside the boots, and when do I leave them out?

how to style jeans boots which wear

Boots and jeans should be easy… I mean we’ve been wearing the combination for eons, right? But with all the different leg widths, lengths, and boot styles you may feel as though you need to get an advanced degree in footwear/denim matching!

Skinny Jeans

The skinny jean is a heavier weight than a jegging (legging made out of a lightweight stretchy denim), has all the trimmings of a typical jean (pockets, zippers, belt loops, etc.), but has a very narrow fit. What was originally found to be a cut only models could carry off, skinny jeans are now a commonplace silhouette worn beautifully by women of all shapes and sizes.

The skinny jean is perfect for tall boots, be they over-the-knee heeled boots, flat riding boots, cowboy boots, calf-height harness boots, or a slouchy suede wedge. The skinny jean hugs the leg making it less likely to bag at the knee or wiggle its way out of the boot shaft. The slim silhouette makes the bulk of a boot look more elegant, and works with the chunky and slouchy knits this season.

The skinny jean is also perfect for ankle booties. Be they short harness boots, lace-up combat boots, or ankle-high cowboy boots, a skinny jean tucks into the boot nicely and shows the shape of your calf above the boot’s opening. If you find your jean likes to wiggle out of booties, consider tucking the hem into a pair of socks; they also sell suspenders specifically for this purpose!

If you are going to wear UGGs or similar shearling or thick boots, I think they look the best with skinny jeans. Again, the bulk of the boot is balanced by the slim silhouette of the denim, elongating your legs and keeping you from looking like the Michelin Man.

Jeggings

As mentioned earlier, jeggings are like skinny jeans but with legging details. Usually a lighter weight fabric with more stretch than your typical stretch denim, jeggings often are without front pockets, a proper zipper, and sometimes have an elasticized waist. Since jeggings are such a thin fabric, they look best with tall boots that cover a bit of the body and balance the frame. I’d offer the same advice I did for skinny jeans, but add that you should also consider what you wear on top. Jeggings are best with tunics, longer cardigans, and jackets that hit around the hip to again balance the fabric but also provide some modesty.

Straight Jeans

The straight jean is a classic and flattering to most figures. That being said, it can be one of the hardest to style with boots. Often times too loose to tuck into tall boots, too baggy to slip into ankle booties, you may feel you’re stuck with flats when wearing straight jeans. In fact, a straight jean is a perfect partner for the slim-heeled booties and shooties that have been hot the past two seasons. Sort of a blend between a pump and an ankle boot, shooties have a lower vamp, a slim streamlined silhouette, and slip nicely under a straight leg jean letting the toe and heel peek out.

When it comes to straight jeans, the best boots are those that are meant to go under the jean’s leg. Wedge boots, granny boots, city boots, Chelsea boots, and shooties are often made with simple openings and elastic gussets to make them easy to slip on and off, but not as attractive on display over your jeans. The medium leg opening keeps your jean from dragging on the ground and covering your entire boot and gives a nice break at the front of the shoe.

Bootcut Jeans

No matter the size (hello mini and baby boots), bootcut jeans are named that because they flare out a tiny bit at the bottom to make room for a pair of boots to be worn underneath. With this bit of flare, you can carry off harness and cowboy boots without their shape showing through your jeans. Many women give their tall boots a second life (and give themselves a bit of warmth in the winter) by wearing their slimmer tall boots under bootcut jeans.

You mentioned “fakers”, those boots that are actually mules, and I think they are perfect for bootcut jeans because the extra width makes it less likely that the hem will slip under the heel, and it hides the back of the shoe. For such a shoe, a bit longer of a hem is good because it will better hide the mule back, keep your foot warm, and flatter the bulkier style of the boot.

Bootcut jeans also look great with ankle boots and shooties… if worn UNDER the jeans. Bootcut jeans (no matter how mini the bootcut) have too much volume to tuck them into any style of boot. The extra fabric will be uncomfortable wrapped around your ankle and show bulk. Remember the reason for this silhouette and wear boots under your bootcut jeans.

Cropped and Boyfriend Jeans

This is a cut of denim that is far harder to carry off with boots, and I often recommend the pairing to just True Fashionistas. However there are two popular manners in which to pair shorter jeans with boots…

A slim cropped or capri jean can pretend to be a full-length skinny jean when tucked into tall boots. This is a great way to get extra mileage out of your summer jeans; white and pale colors look seasonally appropriate when half covered with brown or black leather and topped with a wintry knit or jacket. I have been known to do this trick; I recommend wearing knee socks to keep your shins warm in the winter and also to hold down the jeans so they don’t bag at the knees.

Baggier cropped jeans like boyfriend jeans can get a downtown cool vibe when paired with a heeled ankle bootie. I’ve worn my ankle booties with a wooden heel with my boyfriend jeans and like how the extra height and slight platform balance the fullness of boyfriend jeans. A slim, sexy bootie, caged heel, shootie, or a lower vamp with a chunkier heel or wedge is the best choice for boyfriend jeans.

To provide balance, I recommend having a sliver of skin show between the jean and the boot. This elongates the leg, makes the combination more purposeful and on trend.

Cuffed Jeans

I know many people carry off this look, but I find it just as hard to carry off as those who wear tall boots under cropped pants. For every one woman who looks utterly awesome in this combination, there’s 30 women who look as though they got dressed in the dark.  I can’t offer advice that is universal, and recommend that unless you feel confident carrying off this trend, stay away until boot and jean styles have morphed over seasons to make it easier to pair.

Ask Allie: Collars and Crews

The ever lovely Natalie emailed me and asked,

“Allie, when I try to wear a crew neck over a collared shirt, I look dumpy. How do you look so un-dumpy? What am I doing wrong?”

My email response:

My secret is… the only two buttons buttoned are the second one (the very top one makes me dumpy) and the bottom one (so the untucked shirttails look straight). The rest is gaping open underneath. I did this the first time with this shirt because it’s now too small, but was amazed at how it improved the look of a shirt under a crew, and now do it all the time with all my shirts whether they fit or not!

So there you have it!  I find this helps since I am so top heavy – somehow the buttoned-up shirt emphasizes all my roundness, but when I let it gape open, my figure shows a bit better.  Of course this works far better with a thick sweater that won’t show the buttons and gaping fabric, but if it’s a thinner crew, I will not button the last button, let the shirt sort of go to the sides of my body and tuck it in so it’s out of the way and more invisible.  Sort of like a dickey with sleeves!

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Summer Sartorial Rules for Corporate America

These days it can be confusing when trying to dress for the office. With retailers showing “secretary” dresses that hardly cover one’s behind, painted-on pants paired with blazers, and cleavage-baring blouses with suits, you wonder what actually is acceptable these days. Add to this a sweltering hot summer, and one could easily stray in the wrong sartorial direction. From one corporate employee to another, here’s some rules on summer office fashion that apply to you whether you’re a cubicle dweller or reside in the corner office.

Even if they’re metallic or beaded, they’re still flip flops. And if they’re flip flops, they don’t belong in the office. Period.

A cardigan doesn’t make a strapless dress work-appropriate. Seriously ladies, we can still tell it is strapless. This also goes for low-cut dresses, spaghetti straps, and every other dress more appropriate for happy hour on the terrace than the boardroom.

If I couldn’t wear spaghetti straps when working at the mall, you can’t wear them to the office. When I worked in apparel, even at trendy companies like Express, we had a dress code. That dress code restricted many things like sneakers, but it also restricted revealing attire such as spaghetti straps. If I couldn’t be a 21-year old in Express with spaghetti straps, you sure as heck shouldn’t be an adult with them at work. It’s just not professional.

Even if your bra strap is the same color as your tank, it doesn’t make it invisible. A peach racerback tank with peach bra straps is still a shirt exposing bra straps. A navy x-back sundress with a navy traditional bra is still a dress exposing your lingerie. I commend your attempt, but it’s still not appropriate for the office.

Hemlines shouldn’t rise with the temperature. Your skirt should be near your knee, not near your rear. If you can’t bend down to pick up your pen or sit on a standard chair without fear of flashing, your skirt is too short.

A hoodie is not an appropriate layer for offices that blast the A/C. Even if it’s cashmere, if it zips up the front, has two pockets and a hood, it’s not professional looking. Switch to a cardigan, pashmina, or soft jacket.

White is almost always transparent. I personally think thin white cotton and twill and light-colored linen should not be worn to the office, but if you do, wear with skin-colored seamless undergarments. No lace, no bows, no stripes, and not even sheer (the better to see the cotton crotch and waistband, my dear). If it’s a dress, wear a slip, if in doubt, don’t wear it to work.

Cleavage isn’t appropriate, no matter the season. Somehow, those who understand office attire let everything literally hang out come summer. Low-cut tanks, deep Vs on wrap dresses, strapless tops under cardigans… and none of it is appropriate for the office. If you wouldn’t show your décolleté in December, you also shouldn’t in July.

Dress code still applies. If it’s business casual, that means nice pants and skirts with refined tops or a simple dress. It does not mean chino Bermudas, seersucker sundresses with flip flops, logoed tee shirts with capris, tropical printed maxis with beaded sandals, or super-short cotton skirts with ribbed tanks. This is your office, not a tiki bar. You can beat the heat without dressing for Margaritaville.

Dress for respect. Again, this is your place of work. This is how you pay your rent, buy groceries and gas, and where you should be striving to move up the corporate ladder. Dress the part, no matter how hot it is outside.

For some suggestions on appropriate office attire, please visit:

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Friday: Black and White and Teal All Over

Jacket: Payton
Pants: c/o Lisette L
Tee: LOFT
Shoes: Jessica Simpson (similar)

My hair has jet lag.  A week in South Carolina, a week home, a long weekend in Kentucky and back to the DC are and it doesn’t know whether to be curly or straight, frizzy or flat.  If you can believe it, today is better than the past two days where it looked as though I had limp flat hair and stuck in frizzy extensions in a haphazard manner.  Also desperately due for a cut and color but that will have to wait until after next weekend.  Yep, heading out of town again, this time for the annual Girls’ Rehoboth Trip!

And thank you to Lisette L for these adorable pants! These pants (Style #801 ankle pant) aren’t just cute, but they also flatter the figure by slimming the lower abdomen, contouring the hips and shaping the behind without the feeling of being bound in tight. These pants suck your tummy in a bit but let you breathe, in fact I think they’re just as comfortable as my yoga pants! The fabric is a nice dense weave that is work-appropriate and they have a pull-on style that keeps the midsection smooth. I only wish they came in petite and tall sizes (maybe soon!).  Visit their site for more info or follow them on Twitter!

Any exciting weekend plans?  Considering how exciting our last weekend was, we plan to lay low.  Emerson has ballet class and we have our friends’ daughter’s second birthday but otherwise I plan on catching up on laundry and other utterly thrilling things!

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Wednesday – Black and White and Red All Over

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

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

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

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Closet Clean-out – The Woman Over 50

I may not yet be this age, but I am surrounded by coworkers, friends and family that are in this category. I have done many closet cleanouts and wardrobe consultations for women of this age and often times see the same themes in each of their closets, no matter their lifestyle, figure or age.

A woman over 50 has spent the greater part of her life taking care of everyone but herself. She may have worked up the career ladder to corporate success, raised several children, cared for home and spouse, was a leader in her community, and usually a combination of many or all of these things. To do all of this successfully, something often has to give and the first thing a woman is known to give up is herself – her time, her sleep, her budget for fashion and personal care.

This is nothing to criticize – we women are amazing creatures who have the ability to kick butt and take name in the corporate sector while nurturing a family at home and supporting causes close to our hearts. We can multi-task like nobody’s business and work beautifully with what life has given us.

The thing is, we often say it to our friends – we are no good to another if we are not first good to ourselves. Taking care of our exterior does a world of good in feeling good about ourselves and being understood and respected in the world. We can often feel taken advantage of by coworkers, children, significant others and peers; when you are over 50 it is time to reclaim yourself and show the world that you are still a successful and compassionate person, but you are no one’s doormat, you aren’t to be retired to a shelf, you are a phenomenal woman.

The quickest way to do this is by honestly analyzing your closet. Here’s a few things that every woman should toss from her collection:

Short-sleeved Camp Shirts. This seems to be the staple of many women’s wardrobe. In a poly blend, silky challis, actual silk or a cotton blend, these shirts have a boxy shape, a notched collar and are often worn untucked with trousers or tucked into skirts. They usually come in a floral or abstract print though they also do come in solids. They are wonderful because they are breezy on hot days, easy to wash and dry, resistant to wrinkles and seem to dress up a simple pair of shorts or pants.

Ladies, these are the equivalent of a man’s Hawaiian shirt. They are cheap looking, dated and a bit corny. They don’t flatter your figure, and they don’t honestly state to the world your personality and sense of style.

The Poly-blend Elastic Waist PermaPress Trouser. Again, these are popular because they are so easy – comfortable, easy to care for, work almost every season of the year. Black can look dressy in a snap, colors add pizzazz to outfits (usually with the camp shirts that are mentioned above).

I understand comfort and convenience, and I understand that it isn’t easy to shop for a figure that may not look or feel the same as it did 25 years ago. However that does not mean you need to succumb to what my dear friend calls Nursing Home Couture. You are not having someone else dress and bathe you, you have the ability to pull and zip up your own trousers, so you should invest in a few pairs that are easy to care for but look elegant and flattering.

Unlined trousers of cotton blends and synthetics usually can take a run on the gentle cycle of the washing machine with a gentle liquid detergent; drying synthetics is an overnight process from a hanger on your shower curtain rail. A tab-waist trouser will not dig into your midsection and lay smooth over your curves. A straight trouser or one that slightly gets wider as it goes down the leg is the most flattering to the majority of silhouettes. Black is great for dressing up; white is amazing with brights or pastels in the summer (look for lined or a heavier fabric with these to prevent VPL), and you will get more wear and look far more polished in neutrals for trousers – tan, camel, ivory, gray, brown will get you far more miles than baby blue or mauve.

The Man-sized Polo Shirt. They’re on sale at L.L. Bean and never shrink or fade. It was given to you at your company retreat. It’s comfortable/easy to care for/your favorite color/hides all the lumps and bumps/is simple come summer with a pair of shorts.

You are not a man, and you should never dress like a man. The oversized style went out a decade ago and we should be grateful. Oversized shirts actually make us look more lumpy and bumpy, and hide any curves we wish to showcase. A polo collar is not flattering to most, and those blousy-then-banded sleeves make everyone’s arms look like ham hocks.

I could suggest a feminine cut of polo shirt, but I find these styles of tops are not flattering on most women. If you are busty, curvy, or have a very athletic frame these tops usually accentuate the negative and hide the positive. If you have a slight figure with a few feminine curves and like the preppy style, go ahead and purchase some that are nipped in at the waist and cut to flatter your bustline. Stick with solids in cheery colors as that they look more expensive and elegant than stripes and prints. As for the rest of us women, a great replacement is a refined tee. Same great color choices, made of a silky yet sturdy jersey knit, with a flattering neckline and well-fitting sleeves it is just as easy to care for and far more flattering to one’s face and figure. No matter your size, look for one that glides over curves – no more oversized shirts!

Suntan-colored Pantyhose. Let’s add white, taupe, navy and ivory to this list. Not, I am not going to tell you to get rid of all your hose, but to be more particular with what quality and color your purchase.

Skin-colored hose can cover up a multitude of leg issues, offer some tummy control, help skirts glide better and make an outfit look more polished. However a leg that is obviously a different color from the rest of your body doesn’t look polished, it looks cheap. White hose should be left to nurses, and colored hose should be tossed or left to True Fashionistas.

Good hose will not be found at the drugstore – it’s best to head to your local department store where you can test out the colors against your skin, see the denier and feel the quality. You want sheer hose that do not have a lot of shine – are just a hair darker than your legs (should be the color of your face), and seem durable. Black hose are still acceptable for formal and conservative events if paired with black shoes – these should also be of good quality, sheer and not with a lot of shine.

There really isn’t need for any other color of hose – keep your selection minimal and then you can afford the higher-end brands. Care for them by gently washing and storing them and they should survive many wears.

As for knee-highs… they only work with trousers. There shouldn’t be a single skirt in your wardrobe that can handle knee-highs as well as walking and crossing of legs without the band showing. All hose should be above the knee or left to wear with pants.

Overly Matchy Matchy Anything. It’s nice to have your belt match your shoes, or even occasionally have your lipstick match the print in your blouse. What I am speaking of is the overly-matched set. The lime green shirt jacket and matching fabric capris with the same lime green printed tank, same lime green sandals, a headband of the same print as the top, and a lime green bangle to match your lime green hoops. I often see this with animal prints, unusual colors (lime, yellow, orange), and with novelty fabrics (corduroy trousers, jacket, purse and shoes).

Shopping channels and mail-order catalogs will often encourage this matchy-matchy obsession, telling their audience that it makes one look more polished, coordinated, festive. It doesn’t; it looks gaudy and cheap and tacky.

I remember a client showing up in her favorite outfit – a denim dress with leopard print trim, leopard print belt, leopard print pumps, a leopard print clutch with denim trim, and a denim and leopard printed fabric hair scrunchie. She even admitted when she wore this outfit, she donned her favorite leopard print bra and panties set. She said the coordination made her feel as though she was well dressed, strong, organized and powerful. She said she often got many compliments on the ensemble. When I asked her what type of compliments, she thought back and realized they were not about how she looked, but how coordinated and unusual the outfit itself was.

Over-coordination does not make you look better; you are the backdrop and this ensemble ends up taking center stage. One does not see your sparkling eyes, your engaging smile, but instead they are overwhelmed in a wash of candy pink or purple paisley. A matchy-matchy outfit is not an outfit, but a costume. A woman of style uses clothing to accentuate herself, never to hide herself.

You can usually keep most of these items, but pair them with different pieces. My client’s leopard shoes became a staple in her wardrobe and were paired with black, red, brown and rust colored garments. The dress was still worn with a black belt and heels. She did end up getting rid of the scrunchie and clutch because they were purchased more for the coordination factor, not because they were attractive or made of quality.

Toss the scrunchies, the headbands, the sun visors, the socks, the clutches and fabric belts that were not purchased out of use, but because they perfectly matched another part of your wardrobe (and do yourself a favor and do not purchase another scrunchie or fabric visor or headband again – these do not accentuate your sense of style). From now on, accessories purchased should be able to work with at least three ensembles from your current closet (this includes shoes). This may not be seen as “fun,” but fun can be found in quality versatile pieces as well. Animal print and red shoes are surprisingly neutral and versatile, an ornately beaded clutch in many colors will work with almost every cocktail dress in your collection, a colorful hand-painted wooden bangle will brighten up basics in your closet and become a conversation piece, not a costume.

The Silkscreened Tees. Yes, you may be the world’s greatest grandmother, #1 scout leader, a patriot, and you may have gone to Florida, the Bahamas, New York and Mexico this past year. This does not mean you need to exclaim this on your bosom. Many times these are gifts from others and I understand that. However that means you are the type that seems wanting of a silkscreened memento. My mother is over 50, one of my best friends, a world traveler, a ton of fun, and I would never purchase her a silkscreened shirt as a gift. That doesn’t mean I don’t buy her trinkets from trips and gifts for special occasions, it’s just that I know she is the type to far more appreciate a framed photograph, a dish towel (she collects them), a small bottle of her beloved Chanel No. 5. Does this mean she doesn’t own silkscreened tees? No, she has ones from her alma mater, various programs she has been a part of, one advertising the yoga studio she attends… but these are worn for yoga class, when gardening, and they are always in pristine condition.

See above regarding alternatives to the man’s sized polo for what can replace the silkscreened tee from your daily wardrobe. Pare down your collection, keep the ones in best condition and that hold the most meaning to you and donate the rest. A woman only needs a handful of these for times when she doesn’t want to get her higher-end knits soiled or sweaty.

The Buxton Purse. I don’t like to call out name brands, but felt this one gave the best description. Have you seen the advertisement on television that advertises this leather purse from Buxton? It is made to hold everything including the kitchen sink in various little compartments and has an adjustable strap so you can wear it across your body.

Buxton is a brand that has been around for years and makes good quality items. I have no doubt that this is a well-crafted handbag. However, these purses… these mobile command centers are not as useful as one thinks, and not very stylish.

The larger your purse is, the more you will stuff into it. The more compartments you have, usually the more you lose things, not the more organized you will be. Carrying a purse across your person is not the most flattering look (usually causes you to walk lopsided and cuts right between your breasts) and should be only used when sightseeing and being on vacation.

Anyway, back to the bag. Many women carry a mobile command unit – a bag with a cell phone, calculator, notepad, wallet for money, wallet for credit cards, change purse, checkbook, cosmetic bag with a full day’s look, panty liners, safety pins, a full sewing kit, tissues, snacks, receipts, eight pens, two pencils, a highlighter, a Sharpie, a hairbrush, pain reliever, stain remover, extra pair of glasses, two pairs of sunglasses, hand cream, a bottle of water, a book, a cardigan sweater, mace, three sets of keys and a separate key ring just for savings cards at grocery and specialty stores. Some of you are a Godsend to us, being able to quickly fish out just what a stranger or friend needs at that instant. More women I meet end up spending several minutes fishing through wadded up tissues and sticky cough drops just to find a pen or a ringing cell phone.

A handbag is a worthy investment. One of high quality, durable fabrication and classic style will offer you years and years of use. One that has handles that are comfortable for you (are you a hand-holder, an elbow-crooker or a shoulder-slinger?), a way to quickly retrieve that which is most important (designated spot for keys, cell phone, subway farecard/token) and offers structure so that not everything sinks to the bottom center. Buy a bag that is big enough to hold what you honestly need on a daily basis, but not so big that you can slowly add more to the collection. More than four pockets usually means for women a good two minutes more to have to search for something. This doesn’t mean we are disorganized, it’s just that we have too much stuff and too many options.

I have written before about a purse survival kit, I recommend reviewing it when replacing or reorganizing your purse. Once you have your current purse pared down or in possession of a new bag that fits your needs and your sense of style… take care of it. Don’t sit it on the floor of the public bathroom, use retractable pens so they don’t ink up the interior (or exterior), if it’s light in color be sure to not seat newspapers or rub denim against it, take it to a cobbler to have it repaired as soon as there is a tear or issue so it doesn’t worsen, and clean it out monthly.

Embellishment Overload. This goes hand-in-hand with the overly matchy-matchy ensembles. Tee shirts covered in appliqué and Bedazzlement, jackets with fringe and patches, holiday-themed sweaters, velvet and sparkle for daytime… these are not the garments of polished or stylish women of any age.

Keep the embellishment for scrapbook pages, the Christmas tree, even attire for your precious pooch. Removing the bling will actually make your clothing look more expensive, chic, and will stay stylish far more seasons. Find luxury in purchasing less but higher quality garments – cashmere sweaters, silk blouses, a handful of thin silver bangle bracelets, dangly earrings with a cocktail dress… these can provide as much shine and texture but in a more elegant manner.

Must Haves for Your Closet:
The LBD. Yes, every woman of every age needs a little black dress. Granted, your dress may not be as little as your daughter’s, but it still should be simple, hitting around the knee (just above to just below), could be sleeveless, have cap sleeves or ¾ sleeves – whatever you feel most comfortable in. Neckline can vary again with what is flattering and comfortable for you. Fabric would be crepe, silk, or some sort of blend that gives a very subtle shine, is free of texture (damask), embellishment (beading, chiffon sleeves, velvet or satin trim, etc.) and can be comfortable almost every season of the year. If black is too harsh with your coloring, a very very dark indigo, eggplant, gray or espresso can replace it; however this dress should be simple enough that you can wear it to every event in a year and no one would realize it is the same dress. This dress can work for day or for evening if purchased correctly: with leather pumps or silk heels, with a silk shawl or a wool coat. You’ll find that this dress seems too severe or too dressy for your lifestyle, but you’ll end up wearing it to holiday functions, evening weddings, religious events, and nights out on the town. If it’s well made and well fitting, it doesn’t matter if you wear the dress 20 times a year – style is in the garment, not the amount of garments.

A Proper Bra. I say this in every post – get yourself fitted, and get yourself fitted again every year from now on. The size bra you wore 20, or even five years ago very well may not be the size you wear now. We lose weight, we gain weight, we exercise, we change jobs, and we all experience gravity. Bras that lift and separate and shape take more years off you than the best facial in town, and they also often end or reduce back pain.

Non-VPL Underwear. Comfortable, breathable, yet invisible under pants? It is possible to have all three in a pair of underwear. Take your time, and venture out of the Big Box or Department store to find a pair. Many brands now advertise styles that are supposed to eliminate Visible Panty Lines (VPL); buy one pair and try them on (or wear your thinnest trousers shopping and try these on over your own panties and under said trousers). If they don’t work, don’t give up. And if you have found a company that does offer these sorts of undergarments, please mention them in the comments so fellow women can benefit from your find!

Proper Outerwear. One thing I love about my job is that I now use public transportation and see all sorts of people in all walks of life heading to work or out on errands. One thing I often see are women of a certain age who do not have proper outerwear. When it rains, they are wearing a yellow poncho or getting soaked under an umbrella. Come winter, they are wearing what looks to be their husband’s barn coat, or a puffy full-length parka that looks as though it has seen better days.

A wool coat that comes anywhere between mid-thigh and mid-calf will work with skirts as well as trousers for winter months. If you live in an especially cold climate, invest in a wool coat that has a Thinsulate or other extra lining. For rain and cool fall and spring days, a classic trench or Mac will work (a detachable lining may be a plus if you live in an especially cold climate). Both coats should be simple in style, free of adornments, buttons the same color as the coat, no chest pockets, and preferably no self belt (belts are only flattering on slimmer figures – tying a belt behind you usually is uncomfortable when sitting and can be a pain. If you don’t look good with a nipped/belted waist in a dress, pass on it for a coat). Depending on your personal sense of style, you can go with a classic black, brown or taupe… or switch it up with a Robin’s Egg blue, fire engine red, Kelly green or another color that makes cold and dreary days a bit more cheery. These two styles of coats rarely go out of fashion and can provide you years of wear.

The City Boot. The city boot is a short boot that hits just above your ankle bone. It usually sips up, but occasionally has an elastic gusset so it can be slipped on and off. The city boot is sleek, elegant, classic, and comfortable to, ahem… boot. It works with trousers and jeans from September to May, and can usually replace a third of the shoes you already have in your closet.

Invest in a boot from a company known for comfort and support, and this will be a great travel shoe too. Consider additional insoles for added support and cushioning, and keep them regularly polished. A low heel, a slightly squared toebox and no embellishments (fancy stitching, variety of fabrics, etc.) will make these boots a staple in your wardrobe for years to come.

Flattering Glasses. Do you wear glasses? When is the last time you purchased a new pair? If it has been over five years, get thee to a glasses shop pronto! These days, most insurance companies cover a portion of glasses – if not, there are so many styles out there at reasonable prices.

Other than hair (see below), the other accessory that can age and even disfigure a woman’s face quick are unflattering glasses. With the wrong glasses you can look older, heavier, have larger bags under your eyes, broader of a nose, wider of a face. Very small metal-rimmed glasses were quite the look several years ago but have gone by the wayside for people have realized they only looked flattering on the glasses models – the rest of us put them on and looked like Ben Franklin. Large plastic frames are best kept to hipsters and ‘80s-themed parties.

That being said, there are so many styles and materials for glasses these days, you are sure to find a pair that fits your budget, your face, and your personality. Take a friend or family member with you who has taste you respect. If you also own contacts, it’s a good idea to wear them on this visit so you can properly see your reflection and how you look in the sample glasses. Don’t be afraid to ask the salesperson if they can order a different size or color of frame, or if they have additional similar styles in back or elsewhere in the store. Most glasses boutiques are overwhelming – employees know the store far better and can search around for styles that you may have missed. Also don’t stick to just the women’s section – my most recent pair of glasses are actually men’s but they look far better on my face than any style I could find in the women’s category!

A Hair Plan. Have you been dying but now want to go to gray? Is your hair starting to go salt and pepper? Do you want it to continue, or do you want a way to gently hide it? This is not an at-home project. As hair goes gray, the texture changes. You may find your brown hair is straight, while the gray hairs are curly; blonde hair is fine while the white hairs are coarse. This greatly affects how haircolor, styling products and even haircuts work on you.

If you don’t have a stylist you trust, this is a good time to audition one. Remember – you are the one holding the purse strings. Ask around your community – women who have hair you admire, ask them for the name of their stylist. Read reviews in neighborhood magazines and papers – they often give annual awards to salons and other personal care businesses. Call them up and tell them your mane desires and ask them if you could have a consultation with a stylist best suited for the job. These consultations should be free. Come in wearing your favorite outfit, and style your hair as usual. Be honest with your desires – do you want a wash and wear look? Let the stylist know so you don’t get stuck straightening and moussing for 45 minutes every morning. Tell the stylist your regular beauty routine, your lifestyle, and your goals for your look. Your hair is the accessory you wear every single day – it should be given the utmost care and attention, and a great stylist will respect your desires and offer great suggestions to achieve them.

Please note that all photographs are taken from current online boutique or department store collections; do not think that just because they are selling it in stores right now that the style is current or stylish. Many companies sell that which will make money, not that which follows the trends. Read magazines (Bazaar and InStyle offer current trends changed to flatter a woman over 50, magazines like O and More regularly show models who are over 50, and “real life” looks can be seen far better in a parenting or lifestyle magazine than through a subscription to Vogue), watch television (sitcoms are a great place to see comfortable and easy-care fashion on women), and observe the women around you. If you see a woman with a similar figure in a garment you love, tell her and ask her where she purchased it.

You may also wish to visit:
Age is But a Number
The Staples For Every Woman’s Wardrobe
How Does One Get the Polished Look?
Crimes of Fashion
Dress Your Age, Not Your Shoe Size

Tuesday’s Tip – Mind Over Matter

This is a post I have been thinking about writing; have made drafts but never completed. This is to many women in my life who fear that caring for their looks detracts from their intelligence. You are beautiful, you deserve to feel great about all aprts of you, not just your mind.

Many women, especially Americans feel that caring about their looks detracts from their intelligence. I remember my freshman year of college, attending study sessions with women wearing threadbare and misshapen thrift store sweaters, ill-fitting stained trousers and skirts, clunky shoes and unbrushed hair. It seemed that the less a woman cared for her appearance, the more intelligent she was.

Why can’t a woman be intelligent AND well put together? Looking good does not require a woman to invest many hours a week pouring through fashion magazines and watching only the Style network on television. You don’t need to hit the mall every weekend and you do not need to change your interests. It isn’t being hip to the latest trends that makes a woman look great; it is having a sense of style that transcends trends and accentuates the persona of the wearer.
Oprah Winfrey. Diane Sawyer. Ségolène Royal. Hillary Clinton. Anna Wintour. You may not agree with their politics or profession, but would anyone doubt the intelligence of these women? They are all smartly dressed females, yet their intelligence is able to shine through. What works for Diane Sawyer can work for you as well.
Just as you wouldn’t put any old painting on your wall, you shouldn’t place any old sweater on your body. If you don’t care for your person, why should others care? If you are intelligent, more often than not you are sharing your knowledge with others, be it for business lunches, discussion groups or presentations. You are interacting with people, and people will be judging not only what comes from your mouth, but the package holding that intelligent mind.
Without changing your entire world, there are a few things you can accomplish to maintain your lifestyle but add some personal style to it.
  1. Care for your hair. If it’s always in the way and you keep tucking it behind your ears, pulling it up in a clip or piling it in a half-hearted bun, you may need a haircut. Your profession causes you to bend your head down in concentration; long layers may not be the best for you. If you find your hair a burden, it’s often best to have less of it. Along these lines, care for the hair you have. Accept that it is curly, fine, straight or coarse and have it styled to accommodate that. This doesn’t require hours of time with tools and products, just a decent haircut that allows a low-maintenance regimen. Along with that, use proper shampoo and conditioner for your hair type. The cheap brands at the drugstore are just as bad as washing your hair with dish detergent – they will increase spit ends, frizziness and lackluster color. There are lower-end (and cost) brands that will baby your hair – consider the Suave Professionals line. It’s in most big box retailers and usually is less than $2.00 a bottle.
  2. Donate the distressed. Would you drive a client in a car with a hole in the window? Would you serve guests at your dining table with a broken chair? Then why are you wearing clothing with holes, stains and tears in them? Replacing these items will not cost you an arm and a leg – slowly replace them by carefully searching sale racks, discount stores or even thrift stores. You can be quirky, creative and intelligent with complete clothing.
  3. Show your personality. So you are an artist, an author, a Nobel peace prize winner. Why are you dressed all in gray, brown and black? You have a colorful mind, let it show in your dress. Love purple? Why not get a purple sweater, a purple scarf, a purple purse. Add some color to your wardrobe; this is the easiest way to freshen your complexion, add shine to your hair and improve your figure. Don’t believe me? Buy something in a color you are passionate about and see the compliments roll in. People will think you are thinner, taller, happier and in love just with a change of color.
  4. Go for simplicity. When you are busy, the last thing you have time for is matching outfits and worrying about your wardrobe. Make it simple. Buy solids and stick to simple cuts and fabrics. If you invest in simple flat front pants, a-line skirts, solid well made sweaters and basic dresses, you can wear them for years without looking dated, trendy or tacky. Prints are memorable, it’s harder to have a simple fuss-free wardrobe if it is full of plaids, paisleys and florals. It’s easier to wear the same dark red merino v-neck for five years, once a week than a striped one. Want to show your creative side? Do it with necklaces, bracelets, scarves, shoes and handbags. Invest in basic simple pieces – less worry about what you are wearing and more ability to transcend seasons, years and trends.
  5. Care for your skin. You don’t need to wear makeup to look polished; if your skin is healthy, you will glow. Wash it with a gentle cleanser, be fastidious with the sunscreen, moisturize day and night, do not overwash your skin (skin should never feel tight after cleansing). You will have your body and your skins forever; care for it now and it will be a good friend throughout your lifetime.
  6. Buy a new pair of shoes. Like your skin, your feet are with you forever. Your shoes should be in good shape, supportive and a joy to put on each day. Instead of basic black flats, why not try a pair of red, or even leopard spotted ones? Shoes should be reheeled and resoled every year or so; this will keep them from being permanently damaged or affecting your health (bad shoes can cause leg and back pain as well as feet woes). A woman does not need seven dozen pairs of footwear, but should have the basics for all events – sneakers for sports and activities, pumps for dresses and more formal events, boots or loafers for pants and jeans and a sandal that can be worn with skirts, dresses, cropped pants and shorts. The rest is up to you. As for these essentials, keep them simple and you will need fewer pairs. Keep them polished, maintained and in a safe place when not worn and they will last you for years.