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Ask Allie: Plus Size Wardrobe Staples

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wardrobe Staples for the Mom-to-Be

Many of you over the years have asked me about a maternity wardrobe. As that I have yet to be pregnant or a mother, I really didn’t feel qualified to properly answer this question. Luckily fellow reader Leta Boylan has taken on the task. Thank you so much Leta!

“Dear Allie:
Using your original list, and a few other “just maternity” lists that I found, I have synthesized a list of what pregnant women need to buy, clothes wise. I know that you have no kids, but trust me, as someone who has one and is planning on another, maternity clothes are important and difficult.”

For maternity clothes, you will need a smock, a caftan, a muumuu, a half-apron, and some white Keds… okay, bad joke. Just kidding.

Maternity clothes are only worn for a narrow window of time, so it helps to need to decide if you plan on having multiple pregnancies or not. Clearly, if you intend on having eight or nine kids, it makes sense to buy pricier, better made clothes.

Accept the fact that unless you have unlimited shopping time, money, and storage space, you will be making due with a much smaller wardrobe than what you normally have.

If you are buying new maternity clothes, Old Navy and Target’s Liz Lange line are inexpensive, and widely available both online and in brick and mortar stores. Ann Taylor Loft, though much pricier, has a wonderful line of maternity business wear.

Used maternity clothes are easier to find and usually of better, newer quality than normal (non-pregnant) thrift/consignment store stuff, and eBay abounds with wonderful maternity stuff. If you can find a garage sale with maternity stuff in your size, that can be great, but keep in mind that you should not buy maternity clothes just because they fit you. You will be wearing and re-wearing the same small number of pieces for at least a few months, so it’s important that they are clothes you like, that are flattering, and are in colors you normally wear.

I am generally in favor of buying maternity clothes, rather than regular clothes that are just too big, because they are cut for a pregnant belly, they will fit you better, you will look better in them, and you will be more comfortable, both physically and emotionally. There are a few exceptions to this, notably underwear and sweats, but be aware that the stretchiness in non-maternity clothes will be shot after enduring a pregnancy, so these items should be replaced once the baby is born.

Supposedly, you need to buy maternity clothes in your normal size. There are two problems with this thinking. One is that your butt, boobs, hips and thighs all grow during pregnancy- not just your belly. (Not to mention your ankles, nose, fingers and feet.) The second is the fact that, more so than regular clothes, maternity clothes tend to be sized XS, S, M, L, XL, and so on, rather than 8, 10, 12, and so on. Coupled with the recent, widespread spate of vanity sizing, making sizing even less consistent and more obtuse, it makes things rough on the expectant mom. If you can’t try on clothes prior to purchase, try to take detailed measurements of yourself and get detailed measurements of the clothes. And always, always, always, err on the side of too large rather than too small.

A big consideration in maternity clothes is your due date. Clearly, if you are due in February (in the Northern Hemisphere), you won’t need a bunch of maternity shorts, as most people don’t move into maternity clothes until the beginning of the second trimester. (If you are pregnant with multiples, however, all bets are off, and you may well wear maternity garb throughout your entire pregnancy.)

The First Three Are Essentials
I know a few lucky women who didn’t grow too huge during pregnancy and were able to get by with only these items.

1. A Belly Band
All this is is a wide, smooth piece of strong elastic. It can be worn folded in half, like a sandwich where your waistband is the cheese, or unfolded, covering your entire belly for support.

This little item will keep your normal pants on longer, allow you to look non-awkward in maternity clothes while your bump is still small, and help to keep your midriff covered. While the Bella Band is the most widely known brand, you can find far less expensive but nearly identical items on eBay. You may even be able to find a tan-colored version at a medical supply store.

2. Comfy, stretchy bust support.
In early pregnancy, your boobs hurt. Later, they grow. As a busty woman, I love underwire, but even I couldn’t hang during pregnancy, when I renamed them “torturewires”. If you have a certain neckline or event that requires a lot of support, then by all means wear a real bra, but for the most part, accept that being pregnant means less boobie-hoisting. You will need a minimum of three comfy, stretchy bust supporting garments.

Conventional wisdom dictates that you should go ahead and buy nursing bras, as these will be comfy during pregnancy and useful afterward. I have a hard time with this, because nursing bras are horribly overpriced, and I have not yet found one of even decent quality, much less one that lived up to it’s inflated price. I’m sure this has to do with being a 34F, but nursing bras were nearly useless for me. Also (and this complaint is not size related), nursing bras tend to require either special nursing tops, or limit your selection of normal shirts, which is why I would rather use tank tops and layer, as I discuss below.

A more frugal and practical alternative to nursing bras is to buy slightly bigger than normal sports bras. This won’t break the bank, so if you need to size up a couple more times during pregnancy, that’s okay. Also, a low cut, kinda loose sports bra works fine as a nursing bra. However, sports bras often have weird backs and very wide straps, making them harder to wear discreetly.

Therefore, my favored choice is nursing tank tops from Mamalama Wear. I started out with three and ended up with one in every color.

These have a built-in bra, and the straps unhook on either side for easy nursing. Besides the fact that these are obviously very useful once your newborn is out in the world, the bra is stretchy to accommodate growing/shrinking breasts, and they are soft and comfortable, with nary a wire to be found. Like all tank tops, these are seasonless, as they are wonderful for layering or wearing alone in hot weather. While a similar, Gillian O’Malley nursing tank top can be found at Target, Mamalama tanks come in a wider variety of colors, as well as coming a long version for those of us with long-torsos. If you carry very high, as you get bigger and bigger, you may find the tanks bunch up between your bust and your belly, making them harder to wear. Therefore, you may have to resort to the bigger sports bra or too-expensive nursing bra. However, many of us pregnant ladies will be able to sport nursing tanks the entire nine months and beyond with the help of the next garment.

3. Topless Undershirts
The only brand name that I know of for these is Blush, though I don’t doubt that knock-offs will soon appear on eBay. These are stretchy, though not made of heavy-duty elastic the way a belly band is. These allow you to stay in your normal shirts a lot longer, essentially by adding a lengthening layer. This is especially nice during in the second trimester, which tends to be the sticky wicket of maternity dressing, as most maternity shirts are still way too big. These are great with a cropped cardigan (or blazer, or jacket) and one of those nursing tanks. Isn’t this a cool look?

These are nice for post-partum modesty, too, because even if you’re thin enough to fit into your low riders again, it make take a while to get your tummy taught enough to want it to peek out. These are also nice if you are using a nursing bra and need to lift your shirt- the topless undershirt keeps your tummy covered, and the shirt covers your breast.

Again, get a least three, but buy one in every color if you want.

Everything Else

4. & 5. Two pairs of maternity jeans, the same sorts as Allie’s recommended jeans:
Get a casual flattering pair, and a dressier, darker pair. As a fan of low waists, I had a really hard time with belly panels, especially on denim. I much prefer the low rise, elastic band version, as it is more versatile during early pregnancy and post-partum.

6. Cardigans
These are the pregnant ladies’ friends. Get at least two in a regular length, one in black or gray and one in your signature color. Go ahead and buy some more if you want to try the sassy cropped look from above. Cardigans are great for layering and if you have your essential items from the list above, you need not worry about leaving those buttons undone and letting your belly poke out. You can get cardigans in virtually any weight, so no matter what seasons you’re pregnant in, you can find some that will work. This is one of the rare non-maternity items that will work well for a pregnant woman. These are also nice post-partum, as the front panel of a cardigan works well as drape for modest breastfeeding.

7. Seasonal Items
Thinking of the due date….
If you are due in winter, you will probably need a coat that fits and comfortable, solid footwear in a half to full size larger than what you normally wear.

If you are due in summer, you will need a bathing suit, 2-4 pairs of shorts and/or capris, and at least one flowy sundress or skirt. (As hard to believe as it is, when you are huge and it’s hot, you really are more comfortable in a skirt.)

8. Black Maternity Pants
Okay, this is a no-brainer. Even if you do not work outside the home, or work in a very casual environment, these are a pretty key item, for all the same reasons that Allie discusses on her list. Yes, these are dressy, not sweats or yoga pants.

9. A Black Jersey Dress, A Black Knit Dress, Or Both
This is the preggo-version of Allie’s Not-So-Little Black Dress. The hem on these should be just above the knee. I know it’s hard to believe, but the bigger you get, the more you will like dresses. They tend to be less constricting the most vital, burgeoning areas, and, unlike pants and skirts, have no waistband to do battle with.

I know some people will groan at more black (and there’s even more to come!), but we are shooting for versatility here, and like it or not, black is the most versatile clothing color there is. If you detest black, by all means, buy gray or another neutral, but be aware that you will get neither as much wear, nor as much use out of a dress of another color.

It should be easy to find both black knit and black jersey maternity dresses. These fabrics have a lot of give, but are still body skimming, making them perfect for expectant mamas. Clearly, if you are cold-weather pregnant, you will want knit, and if you are hot weather pregnant, you will want jersey, but both are seasonless enough to justify purchasing one of each, especially if you are in need of a professional maternity wardrobe.

10. Suiting
I am generally not fond of what some catalogs refer to as “wardrobers”- a blazer, skirt, and pants, all in the some color and material- because I feel that some of the pieces get more wear than others, and end up looking weird together.

However, if ever there was a time when such a thing was needed, that time would be during the pregnancy of a professional woman. Because you will be wearing them for such a short period of time, wear is not really an issue.

I would get two 3-piece wardrobers, one in black, and one in another neutral, navy or perhaps some shade of khaki. This will give you four suits, as well as four business appropriate bottoms. If you buy four shell tops to wear under your blazers, and eight other tops to go with your four bottom pieces, you will have three full workweeks worth of clothes. If you also pair the blazers with jeans on casual Fridays, you may never have to wear the same outfit to work twice.

11. Maternity Tops
This is the one you’ve all been waiting for, I’m sure. This is both where maternity fashion gets fun, and where the room for error grows enormous. If you are lucky enough to make it through pregnancy in your normal shirts with the aid of some topless undershirts, great. If not, here are a few rules of thumb:

-Don’t go through pregnancy swimming in your husband’s tees and oxfords. No matter what the magazines say, this is not cute. It looks goofy, or sloppy, or both.

-As in all clothing, avoid any sort of graphics or silly slogans.

-It will probably be worth it to buy one fancy evening top to go with your black pants.

-Maternity tops tend to be the least expensive maternity item, as well as being the maternity item with the most variety, so buy as many as you want/can afford/have room for.

-These are the wardrobe pieces that will reflect your personality more than any other, so have fun. This is where you get into color, and buy stuff with interesting details, or flattering necklines, or unusual sleeves. However, try to avoid button-downs. Most maternity versions end up looking like your husband’s oxford.

-As with all maternity clothes, keep the season of your due date in mind.

12. Shoes
Shoes are tough. Your feet and ankles will probably swell, and it’s a drag. If you must buy new shoes, buy cheap microfiber ones, not just because they won’t be worn long, but also because they will stretch. This is important, because pregnant feet are pretty normal in the morning, but swell to balloon-like proportions by mid-afternoon. Buy insoles and try to stay comfortable. And yes, after your baby’s birth, your feet will, in all likelihood, go back to normal.

Clearly, few people will need everything on this list. In trying to be comprehensive, I hit some things twice- I know that a professional woman who buys suiting will have no need for an extra pair of black maternity pants, and a woman who dresses casually almost all the time and is pregnant in warm weather will have no need for new shoes when she can live in flip flops. But I found so difficult to find even the most rudimentary maternity wardrobe lists that in compiling this, I wanted to be thorough yet flexible.

As a final note, don’t be conned into thinking you need a breastfeeding drape- these tend to be in the most awful patterns imaginable. If you can’t use your shirt, use a pashmina and remain chic.

I would love to hear any other suggestions; place them in the Comments so we can all reap the rewards!

The Staples For Every Woman’s Wardrobe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few facts to consider with underwear:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wardrobe Staples: An Alternative to Basic Black

Sorry but black is NOT flattering to most women especially those of us who are of a certain age, have silver or gray hair and drier skin. I find it frustrating that you constantly recommend black when the majority of your audience would look atrocious in such a shade.

What if you cannot wear black near your face. The colors I look the best in are fall colors.

I am very fair with light eyes and hair. When I wear black I feel it is too extreme of a contrast. I like being fair and delicate in complexion and would love suggestions on what to wear in place of black to flatter my complexion.

The goal with this blog is to provide advice that will work for the largest percentage of its audience. Black is a color that is available year-round, at all types of retailers, in all sizes. Black is a color that can dress up and down with ease, is less likely to look dated after a few seasons, and can look more luxe even at a lower pricepoint. I have written more about my love of black in my piece, “Wardrobe Staples: Why I Promote Black.”

That being said, you all are correct, not every woman looks good in black. It can be too harsh for some complexions and hair colors, and just be too severe for some personal styles. I have a list of wardrobe staples for women that I often refer to on this blog; below I will offer non-black alternatives to them.

The Pantsuit
I think a black pantsuit is a great wardrobe piece because the color can be worn to a job interview with a blouse, on a date with a silk camisole, or even to a cocktail party with a beaded shell. Few colors are quite as versatile.

An ivory suit can be a great choice and be as versatile if you have the right lifestyle. While I don’t think an ivory suit is the best choice for most interviews, it can be quite chic with a black shell if you’re interviewing in the creative field. Ivory isn’t the best to wear to a wedding, but it can look elegant for evening with a beaded shell or camisole. Pair the ivory blazer with everything from denim to black; the trousers would look chic with a sweater in an autumnal hue or another neutral like taupe or gray. Right out of college, I had a silk twill pantsuit the color of French vanilla ice cream that I found incredibly versatile; I wore for business meetings with a black blouse, and wore it to a holiday party with a cream beaded bustier. It was hard to find shoes that finished the look; I usually wore black with a black blouse, and for evening had a pair of dyable crepe pumps tinted to the right shade after searching forever and not finding a good choice.

Gray is an elegant color, but can be hard for a versatile pantsuit. While classic gray suiting fabric is perfect for the office and any interview, it’s not really a fabric that can dress up for evening. A softer and solid dove gray can work for the office and could be paired with a pink silk shell for a day wedding, or possibly a gray beaded tank for evening, but you would have to be very careful with accessories to ensure it doesn’t look like a work suit. A pale tan, beige, or taupe would work the same as gray; with very careful choice of color, fabric, and cut it could possibly be as versatile as black. With soft neutrals like tan and gray, you need to be extra careful about quality, construction and fit as every seam is visible and they are colors that can easily look cheap.

The Trousers
Use the advice for a pantsuit and consider your current wardrobe. A pair of camel, ivory, or soft gray trousers for you can be just as versatile as black if the rest of your wardrobe complements such a shade.

The Not-so Little Black Dress
I’ve written about this before, but your LBD or NSLBD doesn’t have to be black to be versatile. I’m not a big fan of navy since it’s hard to find matching shoes, but a deep espresso brown, dark plum, rich teal, indigo, or dark gray can be a great alternative. All of those colors would still work for the office, a day wedding, or an evening affair. However when you choose a color that is not black, you need to be careful about shoes, bag, and hosiery. Black should work for most of the colors I mentioned, but it’s more important for you to gauge the pairing than assume black goes with everything. Again, a paler color will show quality and fit more, so be sure to buy the best quality you can find and afford, and consider having the dress tailored for a custom fit.

The Classic Pump or Court Shoe
A pair of black leather pumps with a single sole and slim heel is a classic. My MICHAEL Michael Kors “Flex” pumps are a walkable heel height, and the slightly pointed toe makes them look great with a skirt or peeking out of a pair of trousers. Heck, I’ve even worn them with boyfriend jeans!

There really isn’t a color that is as versatile as black. Choosing a pair of versatile pumps for your wardrobe will really have to do with what you already own. A “nude” shoe can be pretty versatile (that is if the color available is anything similar to your skintone), but doesn’t work with opaque hosiery or with a dark colored pants-based ensemble. Dark brown can be a good alternative, but I wouldn’t suggest it for evening affairs. A soft metallic is a great alternative for evening affairs, but can be too flashy for the office and should not be worn for interviews. Again, I suggest black for those who are sartorially challenged because it is so easy to mix and match.

The Leather Boot
From my wardrobe staples post from 2005, “‘Fashionable’ browns change from year to year. One year it’s distressed, next year it’s glazed. It’s a reddish brown, then a chocolate, then more of a tan. It clashes with the belt, the purse, the coat.

If you have a brown-based wardrobe, a pair of brown boots can be quite chic. I’d choose a dark espresso brown that veers more towards a cool or black-brown than something warm. This way, it will be more of a neutral and less likely to contrast with other neutrals.

For more information on this subject, please check out these other posts on the blog:

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Transitioning Summer Wardrobe Staples Into Fall

As I walk to work this month, I see so many missed style opportunities. September is a confusing month – one day it’s 85 degrees, the next day it’s 50. In a single city block I can pass white linen, canvas espadrilles, parkas, tall leather boots and winter gloves. How does one dress for the season without buying a specific wardrobe just for this transition period? Can you actually make your summer clothes work for fall?

While you won’t see me walking around DC in white linen pants and floral sandals, I do think a lot of summer clothing can transition beautifully into fall. The key to make this work is balance – balance of warm clothing with cool, light fabrics with heavier pieces, light summery colors and prints with darker autumnal shades.

This morning, I saw three summer pieces worn in ways that just seemed wrong for this crisp fall day. I am taking those pieces and offering a couple suggestions on how to wear them this season without sacrificing your style or looking as though you time traveled from the middle of July.

Mint skinny jeans were a wardrobe staple this past spring and summer, and such a color will be popular yet again this spring. However, this fall such a pale pastel sticks out like a sore thumb in a sea of jewel tones and autumnal hues. If you’re not ready to retire your mint green skinnies, here’s a few ways to help them transition into fall.

The less mint you see, the more it is an accent color instead of the main event. For the first outfit, I used it the same way you could with most any color of slim denim jeans – with a black blazer, striped tee, and black riding boots. This is a classic look and easy to achieve on most any budget or figure. A silk scarf in a floral print that has a hint of mint makes the jeans color purposeful and add a feminine touch to the ensemble.

For the second look, I used the soft shade as inspiration and paired with soft gray.  A “boyfriend” cardigan and lace-trimmed cami in pale gray look sweet with mint, yet not at all summery, suede booties make it clear this look is for fall, and an infinity scarf combining both colors makes the look cohesive and seasonally appropriate.

For the final look, I used a classic fall fashion color – camel.  A slouchy tunic sweater is very on trend, cozy, and sexy and makes the mint jeans look like an unexpected yet chic accent color.  A pair of tall boots in a similar color pulls the outfit together, and a print scarf adds a bit of luxe to the whole look.

With the return of grunge fashion, many a young woman has a frothy or lacy skater or babydoll dress in white or ivory. An adorable look this summer with sandals, but come September it can look inappropriate. Balancing the pale color and fabric with a tougher and heavier layer and footwear will make such a frock look quite appropriate this fall.

A denim jacket is a great layering piece for this season, and gives a Western feel to such a dress; pair with tall boots in brown or even black to reduce the amount of skin visible and make the dress feel quite Back to School. Continuing the grunge trend, pair your white dress with a leather biker jacket and engineer boots and you’ll look quite fashionable for the season.

Finally, I love the power of a long v-neck “grandfather” sweater – it will keep you warm, but also cover a good portion of the dress so it peeks out and looks less summery. A pair of tall riding boots will give a collegiate feel to the ensemble.

Florals just scream spring and summer, but you don’t have to pack them away once Labor Day arrives. The way to make them work during the colder months is to bring out the darker shades of the print and balance with more cold weather silhouettes.

In the first ensemble, I drew out the deep dark red shades with a v-neck cardigan. You could wear this sweater over a simple camisole or a blouse; button the cardigan all the way up and cinch with a leopard belt for a subtle hint of pattern mixing and to also incorporate a seasonal print. A pair of brown closed-toe pumps will continue the autumnal feel.

A long sleeved, high neck blouse is something that would never be worn in summer, so it makes the skirt look purposeful during this season. Again, I incorporated a leopard print which is hot for this fall, showing you are familiar with current trends and wearing the floral skirt in a purposeful manner.

Finally, tall boots are always a quick way to make a garment look appropriate for fall. A lighter brown color won’t overwhelm the soft floral; a simple fitted sweater in one of the darker shades in the skirt balances the whole look.

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Unexpected “Staples” for a Summer (and beyond) Wardrobe

Yes, there are the staples. But everyone needs to add to their wardrobe to fit their lifestyle, personality and climate. Below are a few tried and true additions that seem to work with many women I have met and interacted with across the country, no matter their age or figure:

1. White jeans. White jeans are a whole other beast from traditional jeans. Though they are as easy to slip on and feel the same, adding white dresses up and polishes the simplest tops and tees in the summer. White jeans are dressier than denim, and are perfect for those in-between social situations like evening outdoor parties, concert in the park, going to a restaurant or bar for happy hour. White jeans look smashing with black, but also add pop to red, turquoise, cobalt, emerald, yellow and many other brights and sorbet shades.

Try switching out your jeans or khakis for white jeans and you’ll see it adds newness to your traditional pieces. Make sure they are of heavy denim that holds up nicely, doesn’t show through and has simple pockets so they can double for pants.

Winter white and off-white jeans can look smashing come winter as well – try pairing them with a black turtleneck or a chunky tan sweater and boots.

2. Animal-print shoes. Animal print is the unexpected neutral. Black turtleneck and jeans is suddenly chic with leopard-print ballet flats. You have a dress in an odd color and don’t know what color shoe to pair it with? How about a cheetah-print pump? A simple black suit goes from conservative to creative with zebra-print pony hair mules.

Styles come and go, but animal prints seem to stay in style if they are subtle. Currently I have a pair of cheetah peep toe heels that get more wear than any of the black, brown or tan shoes in my closet. Since they are in a classic shape, they can fit in my wardrobe for years to come.

3. A Casual Dress. Especially in the warmer months, nothing is easier than slipping on a dress to be about town. This is the season to get them, because cute casual dresses are showing up at every department store, boutique and big box retailer in the states at every price range and size. Feel like bumming it today? You can still be as comfy as you were in your nightgown, but look polished in a great cotton or knit dress. In summer, pair with ballet flats or sandals; come winter slip on some tall boots with your dress for ease and style.

This summer I am loving the tee shirt dress, but wrap styles are always a sure-fire way to show off your feminine shape and be comfortable as well. A dress with cap or short sleeves can easily transition in to the cooler months, a shift style in a sturdy fabric can often be paired with a button-down shirt or turtleneck to make it winter-worthy.

Solids will be more versatile from season to season as well as from day to evening, they are usually more flattering. Find a fabric that has a nice drape, doesn’t cling and doesn’t show everything underneath. A dress right to the knees is a good length on most every frame.

4. A large Square Silk Scarf. I have tried over the years to be the chic woman with a scarf. I am not the type who can knot it so casually at the throat or toss over a sweater. However, I have a scarf or two that get tons of action in my wardrobe.

A few years ago, my sister traveled to London and brought me back a scarf from Liberty – it’s a pomegranate color with oval dots in ivory, gray and candy pink. I was immediately in love with the pattern and the colors, but wondered if I could really get use out of it as that I am more an artsy/funky style of dresser and not the chic elegant scarf-type. Boy was I wrong! I take that scarf on every vacation, and wear it at least once a month. I tie my hair back with it like a headband, I have worn it tied in a knot over a low ponytail, and even like a bandanna in the summertime. I have tied it around my neck with a collared shirt, worn it as a belt, and have knotted it off a belt loop or purse strap for a bit of flair. The bigger the square the more versatile (if it’s big enough it can double as a halter top on warm days or made into a triangle and tied at the waist to accent a simple dress or over trousers or jeans). This weekend at the beach, I wore a simple black tank and jeans, but made the pieces an outfit by knotting my Liberty scarf at a belt loop, having that bit of color and my personality jazz up the ensemble. You will be amazed how often you grab this item to add color and pizzazz to a simple outfit. Make sure it fits your personality and has colors that compliment your current wardrobe.

5. A Great Tote Bag. Be it a traditional L.L. Bean Boat and Tote, a simple black leather item, or a hand-made number you picked up on a world travel, a tote will be a welcome addition to your bag arsenal.

When I say tote, I am not meaning the free faux Boat and Tote you received at a conference, the one you got for making a donation to public television, the one you bought for 50 cents at the grocery, or one of those canvas one from Michael’s that can be decorated with a puffy paint pen or a bedazzler. This tote has structure, substance, style. It fits comfortably over your shoulder, and doesn’t hang to your knees. It has a zipper or flap on top to keep your items safe. It’s clean and is in a style and color that compliments your current personal style. It has a sturdy bottom so water bottles and the such can sit up, and everything doesn’t drop to the center, ruining the shape of the bag. It’s not so big that you can put a weekend’s worth of clothing in it, but it’s big enough for a small water bottle, a book, a cardigan or shawl, a camera and your usually purse necessities. This tote is in place of your purse (not in conjunction) for sightseeing, field trips, long days away from home. In conjunction with your purse, it’s your plane carryon. It works as your bag for the pool or beach (if you don’t stuff your towel in it) and holds small purchases and kids snacks and toys on day trips.

Nothing is more unsightly than a stained and overstuffed bag, a tote will ensure you don’t end up using your purse like… well like a tote. I replace my purse (taking my wallet and purse contents with me, the smaller items in a cosmetic bag to keep them organized) for days at the outlets, on sightseeing, to the pool, the park. Anyplace where I will need more than my traditional purse contents, I make the switch. When not in use, the tote is empty and at the ready. For a flight, I put in it reading material, a pashmina, even my slim laptop.

Too often we collect bags yet never have the right one for the right occasion. Consider donating those random free totes and investing in one good one that will withstand a beating and time and look as chic as the rest of your wardrobe. Consider a style that is a darker color to not show stains, and one of a sturdy fabric that can deal with being stuffed under airplane seats and tossed in the back of SUVs.

Scarf and toe from Nordstrom, jeans by Joe’s Jeans, shoes by J. Crew, dress by J. Jill

Wardrobe Staples: Why I Promote Black

Ever since I wrote my original Wardrobe Staples for Women post in 2005, I get at least one comment or email a week asking, “Why black?” Why do I suggest black suiting, a black dress, and black shoes as the best choice for all women? Black is harsh, black is somber, black washes some people out.

Yes, black can bring to mind funerals and goth kids loitering in shopping malls. Black washes some people out, and is not the best color choice as you age. But black has so many perks and there’s not really any other color that accomplishes all that black can do:

Black is Stylish Every Month of the Year.

Some browns only seem appropriate in fall, others only appropriate in summer. The same holds true with grays, navys, and greens.

Black isn’t Trendy.

Maybe this year it’s a dark chocolate brown that’s hot, next year it may have more of a camel tint to it. Three years from now, both shades of brown can be seen as passé for it’s a gray-brown that’s the hot hue. This never happens with black – black is always chic. Black also hides trends better – a black blazer looks more on trend in five years than one in a color.

Black Matches Black.

Have you ever tried finding a pair of shoes to match a navy suit? What do you do if you damage your gray blazer for the suit you purchased three years ago? What do you do when you have a new position that requires pantsuits (construction, science, etc.) and your expensive perfectly-fitting brown suit only has a skirt? Point is, it’s easier to match black to black. It’s simple to buy shoes, bags, and accessories. It’s easier to match separates to build your suiting wardrobe, and you’re more likely to be able to replace a pair of pants that stretch out or a skirt that is no longer a current silhouette.

Black Hides Stains.

Not only does it hide stains, but it hides your attempt to get rid of the stain with Tide-to-Go, hides sweat, and even hides many creases and wrinkles. Black is a frequent-flier’s friend, and a good buddy of us working women with toddler grubby hands giving us a hug goodbye.

Black isn’t Memorable.

At my last job, I traveled a lot for business. I actually started blogging my outfits to prevent wearing the same thing twice to see a client. I started this… because I went to visit a client in another state and she said, “Oh you wore that cream suit again, it’s so nice on you.” I had only met her three times over six months, and twice I wore the same suit. While I wore different blouses and shoes, the suit was so memorable that I became The Woman in the Cream Suit. That wouldn’t have happened with black. When you have black in your wardrobe, you don’t need to purchase as much to look as though you have variety.

Black is Versatile.

A black gabardine pantsuit can be worn with a crisp button-front shirt and loafers to a client meeting, with a silk blouse and pearls to a business lunch, with a beaded camisole and silk heels to a cocktail party or wedding, with a bustier and red lips for a hot night on the town. You can’t do that with gray, navy, or brown.

Black Looks More Expensive.

Put a $200 black suit next to an $800 black suit, and you will see the difference, but those differences won’t be as visible from a distance. Put a $200 navy suit next to an $800 navy suit and you can tell the difference a mile away. Colors better show the quality of the fabric, the stitching, the choice in buttons and details. Black not only hides figure flaws, but also many manufacturing flaws.

Black Goes on Sale.

My Ann Taylor Triacetate suiting collection was all bought on clearance. A blazer this year, a skirt another year, a sheath on eBay, a pair of pants during a promotion. It’s far easier to buy suiting piecemeal from a retailer if it’s a color they offer season after season. Not only do colors change from season to season, but they sell out faster because they are a change from basic black. If you’re looking to start a suiting collection on a budget, you’ll have more luck with black than any other color.

Black is a Neutral.

I surely hope you’re not heading to a client meeting or a holiday party in a black suit with black blouse, black hose, and black shoes. If you do that, you will give off the funeral/death/goth/sadness/anger vibe, and yes, it may wash you out. However, if you pair a black pantsuit with a shell pink silk blouse, or a cobalt button-front shirt, or a peacock-blue print shell it will highlight your face and take center stage. With a flattering color, black becomes a frame and a platform for your ensemble. My mother regularly tells me that black washes her out, yet she wears it. She wears it with a colorful scarf at her throat, with a cheery shade near her face, with bold jewelry to distract.

Black is Budget-Friendly.

You can spot clean it, you can wear it year from year and season to season. You can dress it up and down. You don’t need a closet full of shoes and bags to accessorize properly for each occasion. Black doesn’t show wear as quickly as a color. With black you can have just one suit, one pair of pumps, one dress, one bag. You can truly buy quality instead of quantity.

***

So what do you do if you absolutely cannot and will not wear black? I recommend gray. Navy is the hardest color on the planet to match, brown can look dated and dumpy if not done correctly, and any other color is too memorable. If you buy gray in a classic menswear-inspired gray fabric, you will get a classic look that will complement pastels, neutrals, and jewel tones. It’s a fabric that will stay en vogue for a considerable amount of time, and you can find at all sorts of price points. However, it won’t be as versatile (can’t wear to a cocktail party, evening wedding, etc.) and may be hard to match later on down the line. But gray is chic, traditional, and classic.

And as with all my posts, these are suggestions, not gospel.  I am not expecting all the world to agree with me.  I just have learned from many years as a personal shopper, visual merchandiser, and employee in Corporate America that black is a great choice when trying to purchase versatile wardrobe staples.


Now I ask you wise readers, what do you choose if you do not choose black? How do you make it versatile, and where do you find quality wardrobe staples in classic but non-black colors?

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The “Wardrobe Staples” You Don’t Really Need

So on here I have a list of staples for every woman’s wardrobe. Often I am asked why I didn’t include X or Y, or that I may have missed A or B. Many items are considered staples in books and websites. The thing is, most books are not geared for every shape. They don’t consider those with a very slight or “boy figure,” they don’t consider those who are plus-sized and not just bigger but curvier. They don’t consider things like large busts, small busts, thick appendages, short torsos, cankles and booties made for rap videos. I made this list several years ago, and haven’t had much need to change it drastically (do know it’s being renovated with fresh pictures that don’t disappear and verbiage for all items) because as a woman who has been large and small, friends and relatives with women who are tall, shorter than I, heavier and smaller and all sorts of lovely shapes… I know there are some “staples” out there that do not work on the majority of society – those of us who do not relate to the sample sized women in the fashion mags. And so, the “staples” I feel do not work for everyone:

1. Classic white shirt. Oh this one is almost on everyone’s list. If you are a regular reader, you know I posted about this before. If you have a very slight figure, if you are like me with large bust and shoulders and short neck, you know this item rarely looks good on you. If you’re tall you may have to order a specialty shirt (costing more, offering less selection) to get it to not be a belly top. Those with busts often have trouble with it fitting across your chest and not being too big elsewhere (yes there are custom shirt companies that sell by bust size, but the often assume you are a straight size elsewhere and the prices are quite high). And let’s got get into the fact that a huge percentages of complexions just don’t look good in white.

If you are not trying on a white shirt in a fitting room and finding yourself looking crisp, classic and elegant, then don’t buy it no matter what the how-to books tell you. I have owned one white shirt in the past couple of years and today I donated it because I realized that my figure has changed and again it is a shape where it just doesn’t look right in a white tailored shirt.

2. Black pencil skirt. If you have a belly, large legs, no curves, a large bum or an athletic figure, chances are you don’t look good in a black pencil skirt. If you are not a “skirt person,” you will feel utterly awkward in this garment. If you like soft neutrals, a black skirt will stick out in your wardrobe like a sore thumb. Wrong cut, and your skirt isn’t classic – it’s only appropriate at a night club or else terribly dowdy.

I own a black skirt, and it still has the tags on it. It was an amazing steal and matched my suit jacket perfectly so I bought it if I ever had the type of client where a skirt suit would be more appropriate than pants. A skirt is a good thing to have in your wardrobe, but often your black dress or your printed skirt will be more flattering and just as versatile.

3. Ballet flats. Ah, if we all were built like Audrey Hepburn, we could all sport skinny black trousers and ballet flats and be utterly chic and comfy. But we are not, and some people just shouldn’t own this type of shoe. First thing, they are small and round. If you are not-so small and round, a tiny flat shoe like this will make you look even bigger and quite top-heavy. If you feel more yourself in loose styles, ballet flats may easily make you look as though you don’t have feet. Feet help balance out your look and your figure, that’s why I recommend at least a slight heel and considering pointy toed shoes. Finally ballet flats are often lacking good support. You may consider flats for comfort but find that a ballet flat is actually painful after a bit of time. The foot is more naturally comfortable with some arch support, cushioning and a very slight bit of lift. Consider slight wedges, kitten heels, or if a flat – something with an interesting toe to complete your look. And if you are channeling Audrey and have the figure, then I say go for it! Ballet flats are adorable and classic.

4. A classic trench. Take it from someone who looks like crap in trenches and lives in a rainy part of the country – this is NOT a necessity. Trenches often have flaps, double-breasted buttons, a self-belt and all sorts of other things that can make a curvy or petite woman look as though she has wrapped herself in cardboard. Be it black, taupe or a fun color, a trench can be bulky, overwhelming and a non-essential in most climates in the United States. I live in The Land of Summer or Winter and No In-between so my jacket wardrobe is a rain slicker for torrential downpours, a pashmina for breezy nights and a couple heavy winter coats. If you live in an area that has more mild of climate, you may need a coat for cool and sprinkly days. Consider a Macintosh – these are single breasted, sans belt and a bit more figure-flattering. I say brighten up the rainy days with a cheerful color, a robin’s egg blue or candy pink can be a surprising complement to the majority of your wardrobe and will bring a smile to your face on the gloomiest of days. If you have a more casual lifestyle, consider a twill jacket – anywhere from mid-hip to mid-thing, with a zipper or buttons it can be fun and keep away the wind very nicely. There are great coats out there, but honestly the classic trench looks beautiful on some, but dumpy on many.

5. Pearls. Really, if you are not a pearl person you know it. And that’s okay. Accessories are great for expressing your personality and individuality; I don’t believe in classic accessories or trendy accessories. If you love it, it usually works. This also goes for diamond studs, cameo pins, Tiffany-logo necklaces and bracelets and Hermes scarves. If it doesn’t scream out to you, don’t buy it. Good accessories are those that you love to wear over and over and make a basic sweater or dress YOU. Now if you like pearls and diamond studs, that’s lovely and I say wear them even with jeans and tees – they always say that pearls lose their luster when not worn!

6. A black cashmere turtleneck. If you have a short neck, a double chin, a large chest, I say stay away from the turtlenecks. They are not flattering. Also if you get claustrophobic or itchy with things on your neck, do not become a slave to fashion. You can be totally toasty in other styles.

7. Knee-high boots. Yes they are lovely and a good pair with the right wardrobe can become an item in regular wardrobe rotation for years… only if that is your style. I personally cannot wear tall boots because I have very large calves. Styles made for large calves do fit, but I see that the boots then hide any shape to my legs making me look heavier and shorter. Maybe you are not a skirt person, then tall boots are pretty much pointless in your closet. If you have very slender legs, you may feel that an elegant pair of leather knee-highs look more like Wellingtons on you. Very tall or petite people may feel that they hit at an unflattering point on the leg. As with pearls, you know if you like this style – and if you do, look at yourself in a full length mirror with both pant legs rolled to skirt-length or in a skirt to REALLY see how they affect the whole picture. Nothing is chic or stylish if it ruins your shape.

8. A great watch. Maybe your signature is funky watches you have picked up around the globe. Maybe your signature is never wearing a timepiece. My mom has a wonderful watch that she has worn for years and has the band replaced every so often to keep it fresh. Where did she get it? At Target. It’s a classic white face with silvertone trim, she wears it with a black leather band and it’s small and unassuming. She loves it, and it fits her body and her style. Me personally, I don’t own a watch. I have no problem asking others the time or checking my cell phone. But that is just me. As with any other accessory, buy what you really love, make sure it fits your lifestyle and is of quality that makes it a worthy purchase.

9. Khaki pants/chinos. Unless you are the casual Lands End/L.L. Bean style of woman, these pants are NOT a necessity. The heavy fabric often adds bulk and is unforgiving to curves. Pleats and slanted front pockets do horrible things to a woman’s figure, and worn with a simple tee or polo often makes a lady look as though she works at Blockbuster. Khaki can be a great neutral, but so can black, beige, winter white, ivory, camel, brown, gray, olive and many other shades. Lighter weight stretch poplin, cotton sateen or versatile soft fabrics like crepe, triacetate, wool and linen blends are often more flattering and can easily look great with a tee or polo for casual events and dress up with a jacket or sweater for work.

So if you love these items and love the way you look in the mirror, by all means purchase them. However if you try and try and these items just don’t seem to work with your body type… it’s okay. It is more important to be true to you than be a slave to fashion. Just as one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, so it is with fashion. If you are looking for help for some basics to begin a wardrobe, try my list in the sidebar. And if you find that items on that list do not work for your body, send me an email. I really appreciate feedback like that, because my goal is not to force everyone to look a certain way, or “my” way, but to be happy, comfortable and stress-free in their wardrobe.

Summer Lingerie Must-Haves

When summer arrives, I don’t just switch out my sweaters and long-sleeved shirts for tanks and shorts, but I also switch out my lingerie drawer. Sweat, heat, and lightweight fabrics just NEED different underpinnings. My lingerie drawer must-haves for when the temperature rises:

Summer lingerie essentials

Tee Shirt Bras

Slub knits, linen and linen blends, and cotton voile are brilliant in the heat and humidity, but are prone to transparency. Tee shirt bras are a must with such fabrics as they are slightly padded, molded in shape, and free of adornments to virtually disappear while providing modesty. I always have a couple in a color close to my skintone for white and light shades, and a black one to wear under dark colors. My personal favorite is the Fantasie 4510 Smoothing Balcony T-Shirt Bra.

Nude Slip

Warmer weather is far more comfortable with lighter weight fabrics, but these fabrics (even in darker colors) can be quite transparent, especially on a bright sunny day. Having a nude slip can prevent embarrassing exposure, and if you choose wisely it won’t add too much weight or heat. I love this slip from Calvin Klein, which skims the body without adding bulk under slim dresses and doesn’t cling even in high humidity. Free of adornments, it won’t ruin the look or line of your summer frocks. Adjustable straps and plenty of stretch make the slip comfortable and well-fitting.

A little tip: For years, my favorite summer slip was the cotton lining of a dress I thrifted but didn’t like. It came with a beige cotton slip only stitched in at the shoulders, so it was easy to snip it out. It was breathable, the right length, and virtually invisible under my dresses and cost about $4.

Another tip: Check eBay for traditional slips. I find gently used, vintage, and never worn half and full slips of all colors and styles for pennies on the dollar.

Nude Thongs

I know some of you despise thongs, but I find nothing better to prevent visible panty lines (VPL) with white or lightweight pants. The Godiva Thong from Hanky Panky is a new favorite; the nude color is a perfect match for my skin and the fabric seems to mold to my body, preventing shifting, wedgies, or cutting into my waist without feeling grody on a sweltering summer day.

Black Briefs

If I’m not wearing a pair of bike shorts or slip shorts under my sundress, you can bet I’m wearing a pair of black briefs. Also my undies of choice with denim shorts. My favorite is Hanro, they really are worth the hype and the money. They hold up great and last eons longer than cheaper versions from Target meaning it’s a better value in the long run, also they fit like a dream.  Another favorite is Knock Out! Panties, which have a moisture-wicking cotton gusset to keep you dry and comfy even if the rest of you is a sweaty mess.

Nude Briefs

Same deal, for white and light colored shorts and sundresses.  I forgot to mention Hanky Panky’s Retro Vikini Briefs, some of the most comfortable undies I have worn, and pretty lace that doesn’t dig or chafe even on the hottest summer day.

Black Bike Shorts

Bike shorts are brilliant under dresses and skirts for preventing chub rub and offering modesty. I recently reviewed Jockey’s Skimmies Slipshorts which are great for this, but you can also use most any bike shorts. Check out the comments on this post for a ton of great options.

A little tip: Pettipants are a pretty alternative and easily found at online lingerie shops. I have found many on eBay; there are sellers who offer overstock and sellers who make brand new product.

Bra with Pretty Straps

I don’t think it’s stylish to purposely show your underpinnings, but summer clothes often cause bra straps to show no matter how careful you are. I’m not talking about wearing a straight bra with a racerback tank (PLEASE don’t do this, wear a racerback bra or buy one of these gadgets), but traditional tanks and camisoles sometimes slip and you get a peek. Instead of showcasing your nude tee shirt bra, having a bra in a pretty color and with attractive straps can make it less awful. This spring and summer I picked up this bra, but love the leopard straps on this one.

Strapless Bra

Comfortable and supportive strapless bras DO exist, check out my post on a bra fitting to see proof! Since realizing this, my summer wardrobe has grown exponentially. I recommend getting one similar to a tee shirt bra – very simple, smooth, one that will disappear under your clothing. As for color, it depends on your wardrobe. I choose one in nude (the Fantasie 4530) since I wear more light colors in the summer, but if your wardrobe is mostly dark colors a black one would be wiser.

What are your warm-weather lingerie must-haves?

The Staples for Every Woman’s Wardrobe – Updated for the Next Decade

I originally wrote my staples for a woman’s wardrobe almost a decade ago, and finally put it on a blog almost five years ago. I have been a size 4 and a size 16 and no matter my job or lifestyle, these staples were always essentials in my wardrobe. Knowing many women over the years – be they clients of mine when I was a stylist, friends or family – these simple items worked on virtually all of them, regardless of their age, their figure or their lifestyle.

Fashion experts will toss around catchphrases like “wardrobe classic,” “fashion essential” or “investment piece” all the time, but it rarely holds true. A white shirt may seem classic, but if you are one of the lucky few women who looks good in white and a button-up, you will find that either the cut of the collar will look dated or the cotton will yellow before a decade is through. Pencil skirts have been in style for decades but the actual silhouette of the skirt does change from season to season.

It also is hard to find a garment that not only stays stylish from year to year, but also flatters your ever changing figure. Just as you need to be refit for bras every year because your bustline changes, as does the rest of your body. You may have remained a perfect Size 6 since your senior year of high school, but with age, life events and activity, different parts of you will spread, will sag or will become more firm.

We may feel that we purchase classics, but five years later these simple pieces just may not seem as useful or flattering as they once did. I always suggest that people reassess their wardrobe each season – replace that which has not held up, donate that which is no longer flattering and fill any “holes” in your closet (need another pair of black pants, want to get a cardigan to update a dress, etc.).

Well it is time to reassess my original list of wardrobe essentials. As we head towards a new decade, what is still relevant and what needs to be updated for the times?

Here’s a recap of the list from 2005:

  1. Black Tailored Pantsuit in Seasonless Fabric
  2. Black Seasonless Trousers
  3. Jeans
  4. Dressy Jeans
  5. Black Heeled Boots
  6. Black Leather Pumps
  7. Not so Little Black Dress
  8. Silver Hoop Earrings
  9. Black or Grey Merino V-neck Sweater
  10. Trendy Skirt
  11. Trendy Jacket/Blazer
  12. Slim V-neck Sweater in Signature Color
  13. Signature Accessory
  14. Sparkly Evening Shell or Top
  15. The Perfect Tee – or Two
  16. Well-fitting Wool Winter Coat
  17. Great Fitting Bras
  18. Panty Line-free Underwear
  19. Pashmina or Wrap
  20. Clutch Purse
  21. Daily Purse
  22. Sexy Shoes that Can Be Worn for at Least Five Hours
  23. Sunglasses

So, what is still a classic? What could be revamped for the new decade? What is totally passé?

1. Black Tailored Pantsuit in Seasonless Fabric. When I wrote this list, I found a black pantsuit essential, and had one in my closet at all times since my junior year of college. I may have worked retail, creative, corporate but always found a use for a black suit. I would pair it with a sparkly top for a cocktail party, was so relieved to know it was ready in my closet for an unexpected interview or client meeting. If I was visiting a house of worship or a daytime event, I knew the black suit would usually work with a silk blouse or fine knit shell. I would use the suit as separates.

I currently do not have a black suit in my wardrobe. I have been at my current job for two years and have only had ONE occasion where a suit could be useful, and I was able to wear a dress and closed-toed shoes and looked completely appropriate. When I speak to many women my age, they say that they do not own a suit. Many find suits to be stuffy, to be uncomfortable, to evoke images of lawyers and politicians.

The thing is… now that I do not own a suit, I find so many times when it would be useful and a perfect choice. That work situation – yes I looked appropriate in a black wrap dress and pumps, but a suit would have made me look more like a manager and less like a subordinate. The room was cold and it was a hot summer day – a suit would have been great – throw the suit over my arm as I walked to the conference, slip on the jacket when I feel the chill of the A/C. As for other situations, a black suit would have been great for my friends’ daytime wedding. They married outside in a garden and had the reception at an elegant restaurant. If I wore a sleeveless or short-sleeved blouse, I would have been comfortable at the outdoor portion, but nicely covered for the indoor reception. I had my daughter with me and placed her in a baby carrier. Wearing a baby with a dress isn’t the best look – the carrier hikes up the skirt, yanks open the neckline and armholes and a dress is never the best attire when crawling after an active baby. A suit would have given me just as much polish with more coverage and moveability. I will be speaking in front of an audience in November, and it’s not work related. I really could wear anything I desire, but a suit gives one the air of authority and competence and provides a bit of personal armor for a time when I will most likely be nervous. And the Le Smoking is not going out of fashion any time soon – a black suit with a silk camisole is always chic and always a great choice for that holiday gala, evening wedding or fancy date.

A black suit does not have to be dowdy, and I really discourage you from purchasing one that has too conservative, masculine or boxy of a shape. Single breasted, notch collar, a seasonless fabric with nice drape, a silhouette that skims your curves, a pant leg that can work with loafers or kitten heels. This will ensure such a suit can move from day to evening yet still look polished, classic, elegant.

2. Black Seasonless Trousers. I don’t think this needs to be explained. Many people are anti-black in a wardrobe and I respect that; however when you are new to building a wardrobe, black is a great neutral that can dress up, dress down, work with most any color, match shoes with ease and hide a multitude of sins (figure flaws or that dribble of salad dressing at lunch).

I must admit I haven’t shopped in an Express in years, but I do know such pants can be found in most every shop in your local mall. I recently acquired a great pair from New York and Company for a song, and have a pair I bought at Ann Taylor a few seasons ago that are still in heavy rotation in my wardrobe.

As for silhouette – no need to stick with bootcut, though this is still a cut that is flattering to those with curves and those who are petite. Straight cuts are also a great choice – you are looking for a flat front, a waistband that becomes invisible under knits, a leg opening that works with boots or with heels. The skinny trouser is currently all the rage and it is quite cute with the right top and figure, but it is not a wardrobe staple. You need a simple pair of black pants that will work for work, for play, for romance, for business and everything in between. A flat, straight or slightly bootcut trouser will be your best bet.

3 and 4. Jeans, Jeans, Jeans. When this was written, jeans were a top priority in any fashionable woman’s wardrobe and they would pay out the nose for them. No one blinked an eye when gossip rags would state that an It Girl paid upwards of $500 for a pair of dungarees. Brands like True Religion, Seven (now found at stores like Lane Bryant and Express), Paper Denim and Cloth and Hogan were brands as familiar as Marc Jacobs and Chloe. It was important to have a certain look to your jeans, no matter your budget.

Luckily the tides have changed and it is no longer expected to own jeans that cost as much as a month’s rent. Those It Girls are now often seen in classic Levi’s or distressed pairs from a vintage store. This doesn’t mean everyone should run out and purchase a pair of stovepipes or boyfriend jeans, but it means that there are more options out there than tacky, over-embellished knockoffs of chi chi brands.

The style is the same – keep them dark, keep them crisp, keep them free of adornment. The jeans-buying process can be more stressful and exhausting than the purchase of anything in your wardrobe. But if you keep at it and find denim nirvana, it is totally worth it. Great jeans can make you look taller, slimmer, firmer and more stylish.

5 and 6. Black Leather Shoes. Oh gosh, the emails I receive about shoes! How dare I encourage women to purchase heels, how dare I mention an animal-based product, why only black and why not brown?

First to all of you – I am not telling people how to dress. This site, and these posts are advice for those who desire it. I believe women should dress in a manner that makes them feel good and in clothes that garner them the respect and admiration that they deserve. If you feel that your current wardrobe achieves that, kudos to you. You may stop reading. For the rest…

Heels change a woman’s posture – it pulls back her shoulders, lifts her bottom, tightens her calves. It changes her walk and makes her look taller and leaner. Society sees heels as the female equivalent of a suit and tie – a wardrobe addition that may not necessarily be comfortable but adds a level of formality to attire. And a low heel is actually more comfortable and healthy for the foot than a flat.

Black is chosen because this wardrobe list is based off of black. Black can go from day to night and from season to season more easily than any other color of footwear. Black isn’t as hard to match with other blacks as say brown or tan. And leather is chosen because leather can be polished, repaired, dressed up or down. Leather lasts longer because it can breathe and can be maintained. If you are vegan or don’t believe in leather, there are great alternatives in faux leather and microfiber. However these alternatives are less likely to last in your wardrobe (they crack, stain, stretch out and stink) and they often aren’t as versatile.

The cut is the same – very classic, not overly pointy, tall, round, chunky, etc. Keep it simple and it will stay stylish for far longer.

7. The Black Dress. I have written about this piece many times. I believe it still holds true. I understand some religions frown on wearing black for weddings and other occasions – before you wear black to a religious event, do ask the host or someone familiar with the family’s culture what is appropriate. However many events (including most church weddings) will find a black dress to be completely appropriate and not at all somber. Tone is made with how you wear black, not the color itself.

8. Silver Hoop Earrings. Again, many criticize this choice, but it is a simple way for the accessories-shy person to branch out and jazz up an outfit. If you have feelings that another earring choice is more stylish/cool/flattering/appropriate, you probably don’t need this list.

9. Black or Gray Merino V-neck Sweater. Okay, it doesn’t HAVE to be a v-neck. There are some lovely round necks out there. The thing is, some round necks are too wide, too deep, too high. Square necks are not flattering on many figures, and crewnecks are not doing favors to any woman with a short neck, thick neck, large chest, broad shoulders or soft arms. V-necks are always available, v-necks don’t really go out of style, v-necks layer nicely with button-downs, shells or camisoles, and v-necks flatter the female figure.

10. Trendy Skirt
11. Trendy Jacket 
12. Sweater in Signature Color
13. Signature Accessory. Ah, another piece I no longer have in my wardrobe. Well, let me be truthful – there are about six lovely skirts in my closet but none of them fit my postpartum body. I have yet to purchase a new skirt because I can’t find a silhouette that will change with this ever-changing body, fit my personal sense of style and flatter. And yet, I have survived the past nine months of existence.

Same holds true for the trendy jacket. I am still nursing, and because of it I still have nursing-sized breasts. Jackets that fit my bust do not usually fit my waist and shoulders. I could tailor, but since my body is constantly changing that which fits like a glove one month will be utterly wrong the next. So I have held off.

Some suggestions I made aren’t necessarily stylish any more – I have since donated that denim blazer and even though you may love animal prints, a leopard-spotted pencil skirt may be downright tacky on some people.

So does that mean one does not NEED a trendy skirt or jacket? In this case, I say yes… but only under the condition that you have an alternative. Woman cannot live on wardrobe basics alone. If you swim in a sea of black pants and solid v-neck tops in neutral tones, you are losing your identity. Items like trendy skirts, statement necklaces and funky blazers bring YOU into your wardrobe. If you are using this list to build from scratch, then I say these items are a must-have. For help with finding your personal style check out these posts:

14. Evening Top. Those who say they don’t need a top like this are often those who are dressed inappropriately for an event. I see you women – you in the oxford and chinos at a wedding, in a cotton sundress at your company’s holiday party at the hotel ballroom, in a dowdy suit at your nephew’s Bar Mitzvah. You are the women who frantically run to the mall three hours before your blind date and grab the first printed sequin-embellished polyester knit top you find on the racks.

So, you may only wear this top once a year at most. You don’t date, you don’t go to nightclubs or bars with your girl friends, you don’t have a social calendar full of cocktail parties and gala events. That’s okay and totally normal. But occasionally… I bet this top would be a better choice than what you pull from your closet.

That dark red silk top I mention in the original post? Yep, I am still wearing it. Last May I was the officiant at a dear friend’s wedding. For the ceremony I wore my black pantsuit and under I wore this cranberry silk top. After the recessional, I removed the jacket and added some darker lipgloss and was ready to hit the dance floor with the other guests. Earlier that year, I was invited to the theater with a group of friends. I wasn’t sure how formal everyone else was going to dress – in DC people will wear full-length gowns or jeans to the theater. I decided to wear this red silk blouse with wide legged black drapey trousers, black jet bead necklace and some strappy silk heels. This outfit was perfect for dinner before, was comfortable when seated in the theater, and worked when we decided to grab some cocktails at a bar after the show. I have worn the top to holiday parties at hotels and studio apartments, on dates with my husband at chain restaurants and romantic little bistros. You will be surprised how many times a sparkly top can fit into your current life.

15. The Perfect Tee. I think this is a given for all women, regardless of lifestyle. Donate all those faded, stretched-out, oversized, undersized tees and grab a couple that really look good and make you feel good.

One thing that has changed a bit – styles have become more refined over the past couple of years. In 2005 a stylish woman could easily wear a fitted tee or tank with a summer skirt and sandals and look polished. These days, you need a bit more effort. These tees are not replacements for merino sweaters in that they are as professional or formal. They are still great wardrobe staples to wear on weekends, under jackets, with casual skirts and jeans and trousers, they just have taken a backseat to more refined fabrics in regard to current style.

16. Well-fitting Wool Winter Coat. So you live in Florida, or Thailand, or Guam. You really don’t need a wool coat. If so, please disregard. However if you live somewhere that requires a coat, it’s a wise choice to invest in a well-fitting wool one. Add Thinsulate lining, a pashmina at your throat, gloves and a hat and you can brave even the coldest climates when dashing from car to destination.

For those in the Northwest and colder parts of the globe – keep your puffers. I don’t want anyone to catch hypothermia. This coat is a coat for the days when a puffer isn’t required, and when you do need to look more polished (evening affair, job interview, etc.).

17. Great Fitting Bras and 18. Panty Line-free Underwear. I would think this is a given but as I walk the streets of this great country, I see that it is not. Please ladies, do yourself a favor and get a professional to fit you for bras, and check out your back view in a full-length mirror. Who care what you spend on the rest of your wardrobe if you ruin the line and look with your undergarments.

19. Pashmina. If you don’t have one, go get one. They always have them at a great price at discount marts like Filene’s Basement and TJ Maxx. You will find so many uses for it. Right now I have one at work for chilly days, and I wear my other ones all the time when there’s a slight breeze, in place of winter scarves and as a shawl with my dresses.

20. Clutch Purse. Your regular daily handbag is NOT appropriate with a cocktail dress, even if it is of black leather. Just as with the sparkly top, if you purchase quality and a classic style, you won’t need more than one and it will be okay if you only use it once a year.

Just this past weekend I went out for my friend’s bachelorette party. We went to dinner and then bar hopping. I wore a black top, black pants, black heels and then to add to the look, a printed clutch. The clutch transformed these wardrobe basics. I had worn this same ensemble to work and to a more casual group gathering. What brought this to Festive Evening status were the accessories, and the clutch was the cherry on top.

21. Daily Purse. Your purse and your hair are the two accessories you wear pretty much every day. Spend money wisely – keep these items well cared for, maintained, current and ensure they are flattering to you and your lifestyle. I know a purse is a given – it’s not so much having a purse but what purse you have.

22. Sexy Shoes. I don’t think this wardrobe staple has become passé or will any time soon.

And yes, I am still rocking those Pucci-printed heels I mentioned in the original post. In fact I loaned them to a friend and she also received tons of compliments on them.

23. Sunglasses. Also a classic. Trends come and go, so if you want to be the height of fashion with your sunglasses, I don’t recommend spending an arm and a leg. Classic styles like aviators and large black plastic frames can be found at any pricepoint.

As you see, this list hasn’t really dated all that much. The examples may look at bit 2005 come 2012, but the concepts will most likely hold true. Get your inspiration from catalogs and shop windows; subscribe to one fashion magazine so you are still hip to the current trends in accessories, colors and silhouettes. And always, be true to yourself. One who copies is never stylish. This list is a platform, a place to start on your journey to personal style. As you become more confident with yourself and your wardrobe choices, you may see that a few of these staples are pushed to the back of your closet. That’s okay, not every woman or her life is the same. But I hope this list can get you on track and help you gain confidence and along the way, you find your personal style.

Shoe Staples

Reader Liz emailed me about shoes. I concentrate so much on clothing, but what are the shoe staples that one needs in her wardrobe? And no Liz, I will not cop out and say all shoes are staples! :-)

Like many, I am drawn to shoes. They are mini works of art, and no matter how many pounds you may have gained recently, shoes usually still fit and look fabulous. Shoes can take a simple outfit and make it fun, classic, elegant or chic. In a wardrobe full of staples, shoes are an accessory that can make your clothing current and full of personality.

Though shoes can be fun and creative and colorful, there are a few staples every woman needs in her wardrobe so she can get through the day to day events. Shoes she can go to when she doesn’t have the time, the money or the energy to be creative, fun and colorful. Shoes that no matter the mood, she looks pulled together, stylish and appropriate.

A Pair of City Boots
These are boots that come up to the ankle bone. Cross your legs, you do not see sock or leg. They can pull on or have a zipper. I have had a pair of black city boots in my wardrobe since the early 90’s. The heel and toe style may have changed with the times, but the concept is the same – these boots are perfect for almost every pant and jean in your closet.

Last year at the Nordstrom Half-Yearly sale I found a pair of black faux leather (but look quite real!) city boots from Enzo Angolini at a wonderful price. They have a chic heel, elongated toe (great for us petite gals) and I wear them with jeans, with trousers, even with suits for business meetings. When I go on business trips, the only shoes I take are my city boots. I wear them on the plane with jeans, wear them out for drinks with clients with black pants and a blouse, and wear them to the client meeting with a conservative suit. You can’t get more basic than that!

Now, how do you know a pair will be that versatile, that classic? To keep the style versatile, forego on textures (glazes, croco-embossing, distressed look, suede, lots of buckles and studs) and keep them pretty minimal. You want leather, or a leather look – this fabric is the most versatile. This is a shoe where I recommend finding a very realistic faux leather – they stretch around your ankle with comfort and they are rain and snow-resistant (and easy to clean).

As for style, as I mentioned above, though round toes may be in one season, a pointed toe the next, an elongated toe is usually elegant looking and it makes a petite woman look taller and looks great peeking out of longer pants and jeans. An elongated toe is forgiving to your tootsies, giving them plenty of room to move about. They look more stylish than a standard snub toe, and can jazz up a basic pair of black pants and a sweater.

Now for heels. I believe get the highest heel you can stand. A heel makes your legs look longer, your body look taller. Heels force you to have better posture, and to walk gracefully. Heels are not comfortable for everyone, so make sure what you buy is comfortable. A delicate kitten heel is low but elegant. With your heel, you do not want chunky. Chunky is not versatile, it is reserved for jeans and weekends. A slimmer heel is elegant and a bit dressier. Can still look great with jeans, but also can be appropriate with dressier trousers. Wedges are popular this season and far more comfortable than regular heels, but I do not see them as staples. They do not look classic enough to transcend seasons. Feel free to buy wedge heels for other shoes, but for this city boot staple, stick with a classic slim heel.

Shoes shown are available from Zappos.

Black Pumps
I know, all this black. The reason I suggest black is because there are a multitude of browns and navys out there, and only one black. If you followed my clothing advice, you already own black pants and possibly a black suit or a black skirt. It makes sense to have the majority of your shoes black. A black pump can go with any color in your wardrobe, and always looks classic, simple, understated and elegant.

A black pump can be worn with cocktail dresses, work dresses, skirts of silk or of denim. They can be worn with black pants and a camisole for a night on the town, or with your power suit for an interview. Be it a wedding, funeral, business meeting or cocktail party, your black pumps can be appropriate footwear for the event.

Here is where I recommend real leather. Real leather can be polished and maintained. They mold to your feet for a perfect fit. Unlike boots that are mostly covered by pants, a pump is on display most of the time. You want to have quality fabric. People say you can tell a man’s worth by his watch and shoes – the same applies for women. Nothing will ruin your look faster than a cheap pair of shoes. Like the city boots, keep these shoes free of adornment. It’s fine to have croco, snakeskin, patent, suede and studded black pumps in your wardrobe, but you need a simple pair of black leather ones for all occasions.

Like the city boots, I recommend the highest heel you can comfortably wear, and a slim lady-like heel. This will give you the most mileage in your wardrobe. A chunky heel may be fine for work, but won’t go with your crepe sheath to a wedding or your silk dress to your company holiday party. A graceful pair of black pumps can be worn to most any event.

As for the vamp, you do not want to see toe cleavage, but you don’t want it to look dowdy. Have a curved vamp that covers the toes completely, but shows a lot of the top of the foot. This will elongate the leg and look dressier. It is okay to have a peek of skin show between your pant leg and your pumps, but pumps look best with longer trousers.

As for the toe, there isn’t a standard style that is best. I have a pair with an elongated pointy toe that look great with most everything, but I also have a round toe pair with a slim high heel that I find adorable with dresses. A pointed toe is more classic and will dress up your clothes, but if you find your style is more fitting with a simple curved toe or a retro curved toe, I say go for it. As long as you have an elegant heel and a good leather, it will look nice.

Shoes shown are available from Nordstrom.

A Fun Shoe
If your wardrobe was made completely of staples, it would be a boring wardrobe indeed. What type of person are you? Artsy? Romantic? Modern? Let it show in your shoes.

These shoes should follow the rules of the pumps – have them work with dresses, skirts and pants. This will give the most versatility and the most bang for your buck. They can be pumps, or wedges, peep-toes, Mary Janes, something that can go from season to season and something that has panache. This year I invested in leopard print peep-toe heels. I can wear them with a black sweater and black pants and suddenly look sassy. They are an unexpected neutral with a color – I have worn them with a teal blue dress, with a dark denim pencil skirt and burgundy top. I have worn them even with dark creased jeans and a black blouse with a gold necklace. Two years ago I bought a pair of hot pink leather pointy-toed pumps with studs on them. Totally crazy purchase, but those shoes still get a regular rotation in the wardrobe. I will spice up a classic black sheath dress and pearls with the pink heels. I have cuffed my jeans to a cropped length, worn a white tank, black blazer and these pink heels. Black suit with the pink heels and a sheer bright pink lipgloss to pull it together. A black sweater piped in the same pink with jeans and the pumps. It’s amazing how your basic wardrobe can really handle a wild pair of shoes. My sister has a pair of caramel-colored patent leather pointy pumps. She got them at Payless for a song and wears them often. Dark blue dolman sweater, jeans and the shiny shoes. Brown twinset, camel wool skirt and the same shoes. A simple black dress, yellow pearls and the caramel heels. You will see that a spunky pair of shoes will be more versatile than your black pumps!

Shoes shown are available from Macy’s.

A Comfy Shoe
No, I do not mean a pair of sneakers, or slipper, or Birks or Crocs. This is a shoe that looks presentable, but doesn’t kill your soles. These shoes are for tours of Italy, weekends in the Napa valley, a marathon day at the mall, even a daytime garden wedding. Shoes that can tackle pounding the pavement, tromping through fields, but looking appropriate with a sundress, a pair of sateen capris or hiking pants.

What kind of miracle shoe can this be? There are great shoes out these days that blend the comfort of a sneaker with the style of a dress shoe. BORN carries amazingly comfortable and fashionably appropriate shoes. I found a great pair of black shoes that look like Mary Jane flats but feel like clouds at Title Nine. My mom has a pair of black leather wedge sandals that look tres cute but are super comfy and from Easy Spirit.

Most of my clothing is black or looks good with black, so I invested in black comfy shoes. I find black works for all seasons. Brown can work too, but do know that brown and warm tones do not look as dressy and may not be quite as versatile. Try to find solid shoes – veer from piping, contrast stitching or colorful soles. These will only highlight the fact that these are comfort shoes, not fashion shoes.

Nothing screams tourist more than a pair of sneakers, and nothing can ruin your vacation more than blisters and screaming toes. You may not think your lifestyle warrants these shoes, but once you buy them, you will see you will love them for every jaunt to the outlet mall, every one of your kid’s field trips, every time you decide to go to an outdoor festival. Capris look classic with black flats, and dowdy with sneakers. A sundress looks trashy with flops, but festive with sandals. This is an investment for your health and your sense of style.

Shoes shown are available at Title Nine.

Where are the Rest???
Where are the strappy black heels you may be wondering? How about the black flats? Sneakers? Tall boots? A summer shoe like a slide? I am not mentioning those or any other shoes because they are not staples. They do not transcend seasons and trends.

Three years ago I couldn’t live without my black silk strappy heels. I wore them to every wedding, cocktail party and company bash. I wore them out with the girls with jeans and a silky top. Two years ago, I switched to gold strappy heels. And this year? I don’t even wear strappy, I find peep toes to be more flattering and chic. Dress shoes get trendy. The heel changes, the straps change, the fabrics change. If you think you have a classic pair of strappy dress heels I’ll bet $5 that they are not.

As for summer shoes. For years I lived in black slides from Steve Madden. Everyone I knew had either the same exact shoe or a slight variation. Black leather band over the shoe, slightly stacked platform sole. Worn with capris, skirts, dresses, jeans and pants. They were perfect, and quite comfortable. And for the past few years, they have been horribly out of style. This past summer it was chunky platform wood wedge heels with leather straps encrusted with stones. Next summer, who knows? Point is nothing seems to stay in style outside of a leather variation of a traditional flip flop, and that is not always apropos for all outfits and occasions (and hey, may be passé in 2008!).

Black flats. People have emailed me and commented here about how I never mention flats. Flats are comfortable. Flats are chic. Who can dare think that Audrey Hepburn wasn’t chic, and she always sported little black flats. Well Audrey Hepburn had the figure for flats, and skinny black pants with turtlenecks, and all kinds of other fashion choices that the majority of society cannot pull off. Like me. I am 5’3” and not a waif. I look ridiculous in flats. It’s as though someone cut off the last few inches of my leg. A flat shoe looks worse on a curvy or many petite person than being barefoot. It cuts the line of the leg, it makes you look short, dumpy, unfinished. Just as I don’t think a black pencil skirt is a staple, or a turtleneck, I don’t think flats are. These are items that can look amazing on some, and dreadful on others.

As for tall boots… well I love them. I adore them. I drool over them, but I do not own a pair. I am short, with large calves and tall boots make me look wider and shorter than I already am. I do not believe in being a slave to fashion. If a look is not flattering, no matter how often you see it in shop windows and magazine pages, do not buy into it. Tall boots look weird on very slim legs, on very long legs, short legs, and very thick legs. Not only that, they are hard to figure out what how to wear. I see women try to stuff their bootcut jeans into tall boots to emulate Kate Moss. By noon, they have puffs of denim at their knees and look as though they dressed in the dark. I see women wear heavy leather boots with delicate chiffon skirts, with too short skirts (hello Red Light district), bunched under jeans, and the greatest horror of all? Trying to get a few more months of wear out of your summer capris by pairing them with tall boots (honey, they’re not gauchos).

My Personal Staples:
I do have a lot of shoes, but that is because I treat them well, store them properly and stock up a collection. I only buy one or two pairs a season, and I try to choose wisely. Before I buy a pair of footwear, I stop to think if they can go with at least three different outfits. If I cannot envision that, they go back on the rack. The shoes I currently wear a lot:

Winter/All Year:

  • Black leather pointy toed pumps (work and play, skirts and pants)
  • Black leather round toed high heel pumps (work and play, skirts and pants)
  • Black silk peeptoe heels (dressy skirts, dresses and pants)
  • Black faux leather city boots (everything, absolutely everything that is a full-length pant or jean)
  • Brown leather peeptoe pumps with a stacked wood heel (pants, suits in warmer months, dresses and casual skirts)
  • Black athletic-inspired Mary Janes (travel, work, long days on my feet)
  • Leopard print peeptoe heels (work and play pants, dresses, jeans)
  • Teal suede wedge-heel pumps with a knotted design in front (jeans, casual pants, dresses)

Summer:

  • Summer Sandals – wood low wedge heel, thong style completely beaded with tiny bugle beads in bronze, brown, dark red and a bit of turquoise (with jeans, dresses, capris, skirts, most everything)
  • Summer Sandals – tan leather thong style with a low kitten heel (with EVERYTHING, they are my primary work shoes and party shoes)

Ask Allie – Cheap Closet Staples, Cocktail Attire When Over 50

Dear Allie:
I don’t have an unlimited budget for clothes. Where can I get some cheap closet staples? I need to do a closet redo STAT!

Allie, I follow My Wardrobe Today but there is no way I can afford places like Ann Taylor and Nordstrom. How do you afford those places, and do you know where I can get similar things for cheaper?

I am one who often believes you get what you pay for it. Buy a pair of cheap black pants from Wal Mart, expect them to turn greenish after one washing, shrink, bunch at the crotch and collect lint faster than a Swiffer.

However I have found some wardrobe staples at unexpected places. I mentioned here about my clearance rack black matte jersey wrap dress I found at Old Navy – this dress has given me years of great wear – it is made well, it is a classic style that looks great at work or a night out. I find matte jersey is a great fabric to buy at lower-end stores – it usually looks pretty expensive even if the item is a low price.

Target is a fantastic place for dresses. One can often find simple sheaths or cheery sundresses for half the price of similar items at other retailers. Target’s Merona brand has really improved over the past year; the silhouettes are classic, the manufacturing can rival more expensive brands. I bought a maxi dress from Merona this summer that fits great, is made very well and gets tons of compliments. They always have wonderful dresses appropriate for work, a summer wedding or date night that will still be stylish in a few seasons.

I love scouring the sale racks at my favorite retailers. I have acquired several pieces of matching suiting from Ann Taylor from different sale racks over different seasons. A suit that would cost $400 full price I have been able to get for $100 because I troll the sale racks. If you know your shape won’t change, don’t be afraid to buy winter items in summer and vice versa. One can really acquire quality pieces for cheap when you shop off-season items that are on clearance.

I don’t believe any store is cut and dry in regards to cheap quality and high quality. You can spend a fortune on something from a chi chi boutique and have it fall apart, and like my $19.99 Old Navy dress, you can spend very little in a store known for bargains and have it be a wardrobe classic for years.

Don’t scrimp on quality with wardrobe staples, for staples are items that should be able to last longer than a single season. But don’t think you can only find quality at high-end retailers. For a list of my wardrobe staples, click here.

Allie, I am a 56-year old woman.  I have a few events coming up on my calendar where I need cocktail attire.  Where should I shop for cocktail dresses for a woman over 50?  Thanks.

I don’t believe that when you hit a certain age you can’t shop at certain stores. I don’t mean that a grandmother should be buying clothes at Forever 21 and a teen should be shopping at Chico’s, but don’t rule out a brand purely because of the number on your driver’s license.

I am assuming by adding your age, you are looking for something that doesn’t show too much skin, isn’t too trendy, but is still elegant, flattering, and stylish. If so, you are looking for what most women desire and you will actually have a lot of luck online.

Department stores like Nordstrom and Macy’s are great for online shopping because they have such an extensive collection of dresses. They will categorize the dresses for you so you won’t accidentally buy a dress in cotton when you wanted something more appropriate for after 5. Department stores often have customer reviews which can also assist in the shopping experience.

For more niche of retailers, I have found success at Ann Taylor, Talbots, J. Crew (yes, you need to check them out – they are no longer frat row attire!), Chadwicks (hit or miss, the reviews come in handy), Shabby Apple, and Eileen Fisher. And don’t forget to check Overstock.com where popular department store brands can be found for great prices.

As for what to buy, a solid color is always elegant.  Don’t feel that you need to stick to muted pastels or boring black just because of your age.  Jewel tones are flattering to almost every skin tone and can make a very simple silhouette look far more stylish, unique, and festive.  Keep the embellishments to a minimum – crocheted and beaded overlay and jackets, chiffon layered pants, sequin flower brooches, etc. scream Mother of the Bride and kill any sense of style.  An occasional crystal pin or button accent can be lovely, but keep the dress details to a minimum and add glitz with accessories like a bracelet or dangly earrings.

Consider your best body feature and look to highlight it.  A portrait, “popped collar”, v-neck or slightly off the shoulder style (or a wrap) will cover upper arms while elongating your neck and showing off a lovely collarbone; if you have great arms but don’t love your decollete a cap-sleeve dress with higher neck that is accented by a great necklace can look just as elegant for cocktail affairs.   Rouching and gathering is a woman’s best friend and can do a fantastic job of adding glam to a gown while also whittling a tummy or arms.  If you have great gams, don’t hide them under a dowdy long hemline – age doesn’t mean you can’t wear a shorter dress that ends right at the top or bottom of the kneecaps.

When accessorizing, keep your pieces elegant yet modern.  Ditch the shoulderbag for a clutch, switch out the leather pumps for something a bit more delicate, consider a stronger statement in your bracelet than in your earrings or necklace, and only have one piece of jewelry be the statement.  These little changes will add class, style, and elegance to any cocktail dress!

Wardrobe Update

As the weather changes and the body continues to change (and change and change…), so the wardrobe changes.

New additions:
Leaf green fine gauge jewelneck cardigan from Lands End (not exact sweater – one I got is sold out). This color was on sale, which is why I picked it. However, I love this color. It is the color of new grass in spring – not eye-popping apple, not Kelly or emerald, and not olive. Just a fresh color that is an unexpected neutral and looks fantastic with tan, white, cream, navy, brown, denim, and colors like pink and orange. This weekend I wore it with my Seven jeans, brown croco Sofft heeled sandals and a white ribbed tank for brunch and Twilight movie-thon at a friend’s house. Yesterday I wore it with a navy jersey dress and my Duo Bern boots for work.

Denim trousers from Gap. Gosh, this is what, the fourth pair of these pants that I have purchased? I just love these pants. Right now I fit in a 14 regular when wearing a bit of a heel. This is exciting because this time last year I wasn’t even able to look okay in their size 16 trousers and was between petite and regular and feeling frustrated. I love denim trousers – I am allowed to wear them to work (wearing today with my black deep cowl sweater from Ann Taylor and black city boots), and they are more polished and flattering than classic jeans.

More Banana Republic Pima Tanks. They are like $15.99 right now online, and this weekend there was 30% off Gap, Inc. stores. I bought every color they had in my size. Haven’t yet received them, but they should be arriving this week.

More Caslon ribbed tanks. Two white, one gray, and one black – nice and fresh for spring.  Man, this is the best tank I have ever tried – thick, stretchy, the right length, bra doesn’t show in the neckline, doesn’t stretch out, doesn’t fade…

Long strand of turquoise stone beads. I adore turquoise and this strand is long enough to double to hit at chest-level, or triple up and have a short necklace. The beads are lumpy and bumpy and natural looking – I expect to be wearing the heck out of them with sundresses and sandals this summer.

What I Need:
Nursing tanks. I have one I halfway like from Bravado, but it’s starting to look old. I would like one in white, one in black, and one in some color.

A couple solid-colored dresses. I ordered one from Lands End but I ordered petite and it is too short. But thinking black, gray, navy, that sort of thing. Dresses I can wear with flip flops in summer, or be able to dress up enough for work.

Black pumps. The black patent Mary Janes I have I despise – the straps stay closed with Velcro and they pop open while walking. I need some shoe that would work for work, but also if I need to go to a nicer affair (house or worship, daytime wedding, etc.).

At least one funky jersey top. We’re talking dolman sleeves, drapey neck, something interesting to it. Solid color, and a color I adore (blue, purple, berry, pink, aqua…). Something that will work with black pants or jeans. Lightweight enough that I could go dancing and not overheat.

A maxi dress. I don’t care that they are on their way out. I want a jersey or cotton maxi dress I can pair with flip flops or sandals and wear to a friend’s party. Or I can wear it to a music festival or to walk down to the farmer’s market. I bought one over the winter but it was a bit too boobalicious. I never wore it, left the tags on and after a few weeks in my closet I just had to return it. I don’t think I would have worn it anywhere except on a vacation to a tropical locale.

This weekend I plan to go up in the attic and look through what is up there – any clothes that may fit this spring/summer and what MUST be swapped/donated/Freecycled. Speaking of which, thinking of doing the blog again where I sell some of my old clothes that are in great condition. Another blogger who has a similar sense of style to me (J. Crew, Maggy London, Banana Republic, Gap, etc.) contacted me and has a few things in her old size (she has had great success with Weight Watchers) that she would also like to include in the sale. Not trying to make a big profit, just want our good stuff to go to a person who will appreciate it and wear it well (meaning not with sandals and pantyhose). Will keep you posted!

Wardrobe Alternatives

We all have safety nets in our wardrobe. These are items we collect because they are comfy, they are cheap and they often remind us of younger, happier and more fun days (come now, who doesn’t get excited when the weather warms up enough for flip flops?). Problem is, many of these wardrobe safety nets are devoid of any style and often end up destroying the personal style we otherwise may possesses on a given day. How do you keep it easy, breezy, yet maintain your personal style?

The Flip Flop Alternative
Don’t get me wrong, I love flip flops as much as the next gal. This weekend when grabbing a pair so I could play in the yard with my dog, I rifled through eight different pairs to find my beloved Reefs. I have stacked ones for longer pants, crocheted ones that are a tad dressier, aqua ones to match my bathing suit, ones that work well in wet conditions, ones that work with certain sun dresses or beach coverups in my closet. The thing is, flip flops are not real shoes. They don’t look like real shoes, they don’t wear like real shoes (any orthopedist will tell you they are terrible for your feet), they are often dirty, run-down and ruin the line of your silhouette. Flip flops are great for the beach, the pool, the casual cookout in your friend’s backyard or putting around your own; but what does a gal grab when heading to the market, to work and other places where flip flops are just not a chic choice?

The Gladiator Sandal – this style of shoe has been in style for many summers, and with good reason. It’s flat, it’s simple, and it looks chic. In a metallic leather and with a simple and low silhouette, this shoe works with cotton and linen trousers for work, simple dresses and skirts all week long, and can even be paired with a maxi dress for a wedding or social affair. Due to their versatility, look for a pair that is well-made, low on additional adornment (the metallic fabric and a few o-rings to connect the straps is all that is necessary) and comfortable. If you have large ankles, look for styles that don’t have straps that come all the way to the actual ankle; a lower-rise of sandal will be more comfortable and elongate the leg.

Some options:Lands End Casual Flat SandalIsaac Mizrahi for Target Gladiator SandalReport Gladiator Thong Sandal

The Flat - the flat isn’t going anywhere. Each season we seem to acquire more options in flat shoes. A classic ballet flat is a popular choice, but not the best for those with short or heavy legs. A style with a peep-toe, a slight wedge heel (even 1/4″), or a pointed toe will elongate the silhouette. Instead of opting for a safe pair in brown, tan or black, consider a bright color to add pop to your outfits. You will be amazed how a Kelly green, orange, or magenta color will work with the majority of your wardrobe. The shoe is so small and so far away from your summer dresses and shorter pants, colorful flats will be a great unexpected accent.

The Skimmer - skimmers usually have the tread and even sidewalls of tennis shoes, but a low profile. They offer more support than a classic flat, and can come in casual canvas, or even a more polished look of leather and microfiber. Be careful, in a neutral color and style skimmers can often look matronly (if in leather), or cheap (if in canvas or with sneaker-details). However with some knotted fabric detail, a buckle or variation on fabric a skimmer can be a great alternative not just to the flip flop but also the walking shoe.

The Leather Thong – If you must get flip flops, get them of a substantial fabric and with a bit more heft to the style. Every store seems to be selling a jazzed-up version of the flip flop out of leather, and often with hardware. Many leather thongs are just as comfy as your favorite foamies, but are chic enough to pair with trousers or skirts for work.

Some options:Indigo by Clarks Leather ThongAerosoles Winky Toe ThongsFrye’s Dani Thong

The Hoodie Alternative
Many times I see women wearing the cutest little outfits and then cover it with a hooded zip-up sweatshirt. Shrunken to fit, baggy, a color coordinating the outfit, a fun pattern… it is still a hoodie. Hoodies are for rainy Sundays on the couch, to ward off chill after a yoga class, to bundle in on a camping trip, to pair with jeans and sneaks for a day at Home Depot or 8am college classes. A hoodie is not appropriate wear for work, and it is not a go-to coverup for lightweight tops and sun dresses. This weekend I attended a wedding where I saw a girl in the cutest cotton floral sun dress, peeptoe heels, flowing hair… and a navy blue shrunken hoodie with a graphic on the back. Heading to work, I often see women in tailored shirts, pencil skirts and hoodies – it’s an afterthought.

Head out the door, find it’s not as warm as you thought so you grab an extra layer… we all do this. Well here are some hoodie alternatives that may prove to be more versatile and work with, instead of against your style:

The Pashmina – a pashmina is an easy way to ward off chill but maintain your style. Pashminas are great for weddings and more formal events for they compliment dresses and feminine silhouettes and can be tossed over a chair when you want to dance or move around. They are great for travel for they pack up to almost nothing and can be a nice alternative to a scratchy airplane blanket. Nothing makes an outfit seem more chic than tossing a pashmina over your shoulders (especially in your favorite cheery color!).

The Cardigan – cardigans come in various necklines and with a variety of closure methods. The classic crewneck cardigan with buttons is a great choice to throw over a tee, sun dress or tank. A v-neck style is great with collared shirts or even a simple ribbed tank peeking out. Choosing a one-button or style tat ties at the neck adds femininity to the look. There are also many styles that are drapey and even tie in front or wrap around like a pashmina – good choice for chilly offices or road trips. Do stay away from the sweater coats and long belted cardigans – these usually bunch up at the rear and add bulk, not style to your look. If you desire warmth in a longer style, choose a heavier knit or a boiled wool style so it skims along your body.

Some options:Lands End Fine Gauge Cotton CardiganTalbots Woman Textured Cardigan
Ann Taylor One-button Swing Jacket

The Casual Jacket – I have a collarless jacket with bracelet sleeves of Ponte de Roma knit. On a cool day, I toss it over my top or dress to stay warm but still stylish. My mom has a denim jacket that nips in at the waist, zips up and has a flattering dark hue. It’s the perfect spring-season coat that matches her style of bright colors and bold silver jewelry. Having a jacket with a bit of structure will keep your shape as well as your style on cooler days. If the jacket is low on adornments, it will be easily paired with most of your wardrobe. Consider a collarless jacket, a lightweight blazer with stretch, a denim jacket with shape, or a solid-colored heavy knit for something that is just as comfy as your favorite hoodie.

The Crop Pant Alternative
It’s too hot for long pants, and you would rather die than walk around in shorts (I agree, most styles are so unflattering). What’s a woman to do? If you visit stores like J. Jill you would think the only alternative is cropped pants or capris. Those wide-legged pants that hit between the calf and the ankle bone, often made of a wrinkled linen or stiff chino. Well ladies, these pants do not look good on ANYONE. But what is available for a woman who wants something other than Daisy Dukes?

City Shorts – the past couple of seasons have brought shorts to more flattering lengths. City shorts are a tailored, crisp look that can be paired with jackets and blouses for a work-worthy look (check with HR before you attempt this in your office). They hit at the knee, and usually have the same details as your favorite work pants (cuffs, creases, belt loops, even lining). Worn with a blazer and sandals it is a great alternative for a casual work environment (or even a trip to the mall); with a simple sleeveless top it is a nice look for the weekend or running errands.

Some options:Ann Taylor Loft Sateen City Shorts
IGIGI Plus-size Cuffed Shorts
Eddie Bauer Tab-front Denim Shorts

Bermudas – similar to city shorts, Bermudas are usually cut a bit more narrow in the leg and are without the cuff. Sold in almost every fabric imaginable, these are a flattering style for a woman with medium to slim thighs who likes her knees. They can be worn with tanks, tailored shirts and floaty peasant-style tops alike.

Some options:Old Navy Women’s Plus Sateen Bermudas
Gap Clean Bermuda Shorts
Mossimo for Target Bermuda shorts

Culottes – these are not the candy-colored poly-blend divided skirts of the 70s and 80s. Culottes have gotten a hip makeover. Often described as shorts or gauchos, these garments hit anywhere from just at the knee to right above the large part of the calf. In stiffer fabrics (twill, denim), they have a slight a-line to each leg that is as flattering as a skirt of the same cut. Culottes look best with a tailored top so that the excess width doesn’t drown you in fabric or lose your shape. Fabrics with more flow (jersey, ponte, matte jersey) will often have a fuller leg. This fabrication of culottes is a bit trickier to wear; look for tops in similar fabrication for a dressy lounge look and be sure your shoes compliment (flats and delicate sandals are good choices).

You Look Fab wrote an amazing post on this exact subject. She explains the difference between walk shorts and capris and offers some images to show how a shorter or slimmer pant is actually more flattering on a woman’s body.

The Messy/Gelled Ponytail Alternative
For many years I lived with an elastic on my wrist at all times. Work, dates, nights out, the gym, even as a bridesmaid in a wedding… that elastic was there as my safety blanket. I had long layered hair that never wanted to behave. It parted int he middle, feathered, would never be straight, my curls were frizzy and frustrating and most days my hair was piled into a messy topknot by lunch. I recognize you sisters with frustrating hair – you have it gelled into a very tight ponytail because nothing seems to handle the curls. Messy topknots cover grown out layers, roots, and split ends. A butterfly clip holds back those bangs you are growing out as you tend to your computer, your meal preparation or your children. There are just not enough hours in the day as it is, who wants to spend a lot of time with their hair?

The thing is, your hair is one of the first things people see. You wear it more often than any garment in your wardrobe and are judged by it faster than with a muffin top or tapered jeans. Yes, it can be a pain and time consuming, but there are ways to make your hair manageable, attractive, and still fit into your busy schedule.

Haircut/Color – first things first, hair that is not maintained looks like crap. No matter how many products or what accessories you put on it, hair that is overgrown, washed out and grown out looks messy and has people think you don’t care about yourself. If it has been a few months, at least go in for a quick trim. If you are living in a ponytail 24/7… stop and wonder what the point of a long mane is if it is always pinned up. Your life may be easier and your morning routine faster with a shorter ‘do.

If your hair is unmanageable even when straight from the hairdresser… you may need a new hairdresser. Before hitting up every salon in town, do a bit of homework. Google your hair texture and more often than not you will find many message boards, blogs and Web sites dedicated to your hair, full of fellow women with the same plight. You may be able to find resources on products to use, stylists who specialize in your hair, and cuts that work best for your texture. Jen at Mythbuster Beauty often reviews products for curly hair and discusses her specific hair type. She and many of her readers have recently taken on The Curly Hair Challenge, a new spin on how to manage curly hair.

Accessories – butterfly clips are great for holding sections of your hair when blowing it dry, they aren’t great for day (and never good for evening) wear. Snagging your daughter’s colorful baubles to hold back your mane isn’t going to improve your style either. Your best bet are simple, hair-colored accessories. Ouchless elastics in tan, brown and black are great – take a piece of your hair from underneath, wrap it around the elastic and hold in place with a Bobby pin and you have made a boring ponytail quite chic. Slim tortoise-shell and black plastic headbands with teeth are a great way to deal with bangs that are growing out; skinny elastic bands are excellent for the gym and casual looks, and headbands in fun colors and prints will add femininity and style to a simple outfit. Barrettes should be used in moderation – a small one to hold back a section of hair at the top of the head can work on some, but large barettes that hold all your hair or a bedazzled or decked out with bows are dated and should be disposed of immediately.

The Yoga Pant Alternative
It’s that time of the month, your nursing a cold or possibly a hangover. The last thing you want to do is suck yourself into a pair of rigid jeans or lined trousers. However heading out of the house in yoga pants or sweatpants isn’t going to make you feel or lookk much better. Gym wear is NOT streetwear, no matter how many tacky fake-baked women sport it at the local mall. This means velour loungesuits, yoga pants with matching hoodies, terry sweatsuits, bulky hooded sweatshirts supporting your favorite sports team, or athletic shorts. They don’t hide your bumps, they don’t help you blend into the woodwork, and they don’t boost your self-esteem. No matter your budget or figure, there are garments out there that are both flattering and comfortable.

Linen Drawstring Pants – I love my linen drawstring pants! I get them for a great price at places like Victoria’s Secret and Old Navy and wear the heck out of them. Paired with a tank and flops, I can sip my morning coffee on my back deck. With a cotton peasant top, long necklace and sandals, I am dressed for a casual day at work. With a coordinating linen tank and heels, it becomes an elegant look for a dinner date with my husband or a bridal shower. Do recognize that white and light colors are often quite sheer and require skin-colored (NOT WHITE) smooth undergarments. Black tends to fade, so wash them on the gentle cycle and invest in a colorfast clothing wash. Most companies have linen drawstring pants in basics like black, white, brown aand beige and in a laarge range of sizes and lengths. They are the chic equivalent to scrubs or yoga pants, and jsut as comfy.

Some options:Victoria’s Secret Linen Drawstring Pant
Old Navy Wide-Leg Linen Pants
Charter Club Drawstring Waist Linen Pant

Jeans with Lycra – denim may be the fabric of choice for Americans, but thyat doesn’t means its comfortable. Lack of stretch, bunching at the crotch, digging into the tummy, gaping at the waist, and the dreaded muffin top… jeans can be downtright horrible to a woman’s frame and torture to wear. Many companies offer jeans of a lighter-weight denim that have Lycra infused into them which makes them more forgiving to a woman’s curves and also far more comfortable.

Ponte Trousers – ah Ponte De Roma, my favorite fabric. This fabric was in every collection that Express carried when I started working there in 1997 – the District Manager who interviewed me was wearing a belted safari jacket and pencil skirt out of the fabric, and when I started I was encouraged to purchase a pair of the boot-cut, elastic-waist ponte pants in black “because they go with everything.” A couple years later, us employees would giggle when customers would come in the store asking where we kept our ponte pants for they had quickly become passe and the attire of the wanna-be hip grandmother and the mom-to-be. Too bad, as that ponte fabric is a densly-woven heavyweight knit that holds its shape, hides lumps and bumps and works in almost every season.

Well Ponte de Roma has returned and I couldn’t be more thrilled. No elastic-waist boot-cut leggings this go-round, ponte is being used for Jackie-O inspired jackets, shift dresses, suits and trousers. The fabric is refined and appropriate for work, yet is as comfortable as a pair of your favorite yoga pants. Even with a zipper and waistband, ponte fabric has enough give that a structured pair of trousers will not cut or dig into you. If dry cleaned or washed gently and left to line or flat dry, ponte fabric will maintain its shape and color for years.

Some options:Alfani Woman Ponte Pant
Sutton Studio Petite Ponte Pants

Tee Shirt Dress – when all else fails, through on a tee shirt. The tee shirt dress is usually a lightly heavier weight than your favorite top and hits at or slightly above the knee. If it is a straight or slightly a-line style, it will be forgiving even on the most bloated of days. Paired with a scarf or necklace and a sassy pair of sandals, a tee shirt dress will work for most daytime affairs. In a saturated color, people will notice the hue before they notice that it’s made of jersey, and if the quality of cotton is good, it will look totally appropriate at the office as well as at Target or book club.

Some options:Old Navy Cap Sleeve Knit Dress
Banana Republic Long-sleeved Geo Print Dress
C&C California Classic Tee Shirt Dress

No Wardrobe Today

I called out sick. I am in an aqua hooded lightweight jersey tunic from Old Navy with a white ribbed tank under from J. Crew. On my bottom half are my black lounge pants from Old Navy. New Balance trainers on my tootsies. No makeup, no hair, no nada.

I don’t feel terribly bad when I am not coughing up a lung. I jsut didn’t want to deal with the misery of work and coughing in a public space. Instead I began taking down holiday stuff, updated the Christmas Card list with the new addresses and children and such, and plan to do some laundry and take a nap.

LiveTheLook and Wardrobe Oxygen: #LTLStyleMe Twitter Chat

As a blogger, I have gotten to know a few companies in a more intimate way. Partnering with them, chatting with the CEOs and creators, I see the people in the companies, the heart, the effort, and it’s thrilling when I see them grow and achieve success. And LiveTheLook, a company I have partnered with in the past has been growing and changing, and a lot has to do with YOUR feedback! Seriously, your comments on previous posts about LiveTheLook helped LTL co-founder Francesca Helina develop the shopping site into what it is today.

LiveTheLook and Wardrobe Oxygen fashion twitter chat December 7, 2014 at 6pm ET #LTLStyleMe

LiveTheLook is a site that works with your current closet and offers pieces to help you achieve a stylish and cohesive wardrobe. It works very similarly to how I approach a wardrobe – buy classic staples and then use a few current trends and accessories to update and add interest each season. Upon signing up with LiveTheLook, you take a quick style profile test about what wardrobe staples are in your closet and what you consider to be your personal style. LiveTheLook takes this info and tailors its shopping suggestions for you.

While this is the same concept that I mentioned the last time I featured LiveTheLook, the shopping itself has changed. You asked for extended sizing? LiveTheLook now offers up to a size 20 and is currently working on partnerships with more brands that offer awesome style in plus sizes. You wanted more options, LiveTheLook has partnered with more retailers expanding their selection, pricepoints, and as previously mentioned, sizes. Gotta love a company who truly listens to feedback and truly wants to impress their customers! Register at LiveTheLook, take the quick profile quiz and check out the great new changes.

LiveTheLook and Wardrobe Oxygen Twitter Chat on How to Dress for the Holidays 12/7 6pm #LTLStyleMe

LiveTheLook is like a virtual personal shopper, completing your wardrobe. Well this Sunday, that virtual shopper will be ME! Come join me on Twitter this Sunday, December 7 at 6pm ET for a Twitter chat with @LiveTheLookNow and @Wardrobe_Oxygen. Follow the hashtag #LTLStyleMe where we’ll be discussing what to wear for all the holiday events on your social calendar. Want to know what shoes to wear with your cocktail dress? How to jazz up your favorite sweater for Christmas Eve at the inlaws? Tweet your questions with #LTLStyleMe and I’ll provide personal suggestions. If you tweet a photo of the item you need help styling (and are already registered with LiveTheLook), we’ll style you on the spot AND LiveTheLook will send you a free accessory. How awesome is that?

I hope you’ll join me this Sunday at 6pm ET on Twitter, I look forward to connecting with you and helping you look festive and fabulous this holiday season!

The Power of a Prepared Wardrobe

Last weekend I went to a wedding. It was out of town and would be outdoors with the reception in a tent. I knew I wanted to wear something with long sleeves and/or long length to keep me warm. I looked in my closet and everything seemed wrong. Too summery, too formal, too casual, and yes, too tight. So I did what I know so many of you do, I went on an online shopping spree at places I knew did free returns. I ordered four different things hoping SOMETHING would work.

I’ve done this before, and the results have never been positive. I often end up with something that is fine, and often that fine piece is the most costly of the bunch. I return the rest, keep the fine piece, wear it and feel awkward and usually never wear it again. But what am I to do? I was stuck, right?

Well the four things arrived and all of them were terrible. I had no time to visit a mall before our trip, so I had to make it work with what was in my closet. With a second trip through the hangers, I found garments that before I wouldn’t have considered, and ended up choosing my black Karen Kane jumpsuit. I wore it with two long strands of pearls from Nordstrom (seen on the blog here), and used the chilly weather as an excuse to don my grandmother’s sable stole.

Life happens. Weddings, funerals, court hearings, baby showers, job interviews. Be prepared. No need to have a closet full of cocktail dresses or business suits, but think about the potential year ahead when shopping for clothing. You may not have to attend a wedding this weekend, but you do know your niece just got engaged so likely an invite will end up in your mailbox in the next several months.  You know your company just won a contract with a client in California so you may have to do some business travel.  Live in the present, but consider the near future.

I’ve let my wardrobe of staples slide with my fluctuating figure and my arm, and it almost cost me with a mediocre dress I’d wear once and resent forever. My list of wardrobe staples for women is a bit dated, but the general concept still stands. Shop thoughtfully, shop with purpose, and shop for the actual life you lead and the events you’re likely to attend. Classic pieces like a black sheath dress and leather pumps don’t go out of style in one season, so they can be waiting when the next social event arises. A wrap dress in matte or silk jersey will still fit and flatter if you gain or lose a few pounds and can dress up or down easily with a switch of accessories.

Social events are stressful enough; do yourself a favor and always think not just about the upcoming season but your upcoming life when you shop for clothes. It will save your time, stress, and money in the long run.  I know I’ll be taking my own advice with future wardrobe purchases!

Capsule Wardrobe: Skinny Jeans for Winter

Allie you shared something on Facebook about skinny jeans aren’t stylish any more. I just bought three pairs of skinny jeans in brown, jean color, and a tan cord. How can I make them look okay this winter? What tops are best with them, what shoes? I live in Michigan so I need to be warm.

The conversation on that article went deeper into what jeans are coming back en vogue, and how even though they say skinnies are dead they aren’t going anywhere. Like boot cut jeans, peasant tops, a-line shift dresses, and tall boots; there’s some trends that won’t go away even though fashion “experts” say they are dead. They don’t ever die because we real women with real bodies find these trends flattering and extremely wearable. It’s funny how five years ago many of us refused to adopt the skinny jean trend and now we refuse to let the trend go. But just because one news article says skinnies are passé doesn’t mean you need to find a whole new wardrobe. I’m still rocking my skinnies because though I was a late adopter, I now LOVE THEM.  And what matters most when it comes to style is wearing what is true to you, wear what you love!

capsule wardrobe casual winter skinny jeans cold weather

I’ve found the best way to incorporate a trend, whether hot off the runway or something the New York Times deems dated, is to wear it with similar colors. Create a color story with your wardrobe, mixing varying shades of similar hues or going monochromatic. For this capsule collection based off your skinnies wardrobe, I stuck to a warm palette of neutrals that will look luxe and show the skinnies are a purposeful addition to your closet.

When wearing skinny pants, it’s important to balance the figure or you can quickly look like a lollipop. Luckily, this is easy to do when it’s cold and you want lots of weight and layers. The first row of tops are the type that can just be thrown on with skinnies and look chic: tunics, slouchy sweaters, ponchos, and chunky knits that balance the frame. The second row is all about the layers; a knit blazer adds polish without sacrificing comfort or warmth, and waterfall cardigans and sweater coats are cozy and on trend while balancing the frame.

Shop the Look:

Speaking of base layers, this year has really embraced layering, and practical layering at that. Turtlenecks are easy to find at all pricepoints, henleys are back in style, and there’s nothing wrong with even putting another layer under these pieces. Because I’m Allie, I added a striped knit which adds interest to an outfit of solids, and I also find to be the easiest pattern to mix with other patterns.

As for shoes, I also believe balance is important and I also believe in the importance of function over fashion. I chose three different shoes that will balance the skinny jeans while keeping you warm and dry through the winter. A pair of tall boots are a perfect pairing over skinny jeans. A pair of ankle boots are also a great pairing and this season chunky marled socks have come back in fashion and look great filling the space between cuffed skinny and boot (or over tucked-in skinny for extra cold weather protection). Use a waterproofing spray on your leather shoes and put rolled magazines in them to improve ventilation and help them keep their shape. Finally, if you’re in an area that has snow and slush, by all means wear boots appropriate for the weather! A traditional lace-up style of duck boot is back on trend and looks great laced up over skinnies.

Accessories are what pull a look together. Pashminas and infinity scarves are stylish while adding warmth and color to an outfit. A wide leather belt can cinch those sweaters to create a completely different look. Having a quality bag can add a luxe look even to discount mart knits and make the wearing of snow boots quite chic. Choosing one in a color similar to your leather shoes ties an entire ensemble together.

Spring Wardrobe Additions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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