Search Results for: label/what to wear to work

Trying Le Tote: My Experience with the Clothing and Accessory Rental Company

You all know my love for Gwynnie Bee, but many of you have asked if there is a similar program for those who are smaller than a size 10. Le Tote is also a clothing rental company, but with a different concept.

A review of Le Tote by Wardrobe Oxygen. Opinion as a size 14 and discussion on whether the clothing is a good fit for women over 35.Le Tote helps you curate a box of not just clothing but accessories. For a $49 monthly fee, you receive a box with three garments and two accessories. You can keep items as long as you wish, and anything you love you can keep forever and Le Tote will charge your card. Send items back, and get news ones – you have unlimited Totes for your subscription fee. If you love and choose to keep everything in your shipment you get a free month of Le Tote. Le Tote wants you to love what you receive; you fill out a style profile upon joining, you can customized your delivery and know exactly what you will receive, and Le Tote has stylists on staff to help choose the perfect items for you and your personal style.  Not only that, when you go to the page for a certain item, you can see photos from other Le Tote members wearing the piece, helping you decide if it’s a good choice for your figure.

I received the opportunity to try out Le Tote free for one month. When you join, you will fill out a survey about your size and style and from that certain items will be suggested. However, you can look at all items available and add anything you desire to your virtual closet. Unlike Gwynnie Bee, you can choose exactly what items will arrive in your next shipment – this is great if you’re planning around an event or travel. Like Gwynnie Bee, shipping is free and return packaging and shipping label is included. While it’s called Le Tote, my items arrived in a sturdy Le Tote branded box, wrapped in tissue. Le Tote is big on communication – you’ll receive emails and texts when your next tote is ready to customize, when it ships, and more. You have the ability to control what kind of communication you receive.

le tote review

A few of the Fall 2015 New Arrivals at Le Tote

Le Tote features popular department store brands like Vince Camuto, Max Studio, French Connection, and BCBGeneration and some lesser-known brands that I have seen at TJ Maxx and Marshall’s. While Le Tote offers clothing up to an XL or 16, pickings get slim when you go larger than an L or 10. While the majority of the vibe of Le Tote is relaxed simple fashion, they do offer a few cute dresses or jumpsuits for a night out, and lots of separates that would be office appropriate.

I tried out LeTote at the end of August and had a very hard time finding anything I wanted in my first collection. The accessories weren’t my style – very delicate, simple, a bit too trendy, and as a 40 year old professional, a bit too young and cheap looking for my taste. The clothing felt very… basic. One thing I love about Gwynnie Bee is that it often forces me out of my comfort zone and introduces me to new brands, silhouettes, and prints. Le Tote is simple clothing, which could be amazing for one who doesn’t like or have the time for shopping or really isn’t into fashion but felt too simplistic for me. I ended up going with a black and white striped knit tee shirt inspired dress, a spaghetti-strap midi dress, a blazer, a delicate necklace with a pave circle, and a pair of ear jackets.

Everything fit like Juniors. The black and white dress was a nice heavy weight and well constructed, but so short it hardly covered my bum. The midi dress was a gorgeous teal color and one of those convertible pieces that has a smocked bodice that can be worn with the adjustable straps, styled strapless, or slid down and turned into a maxi skirt. It was fine, but it really felt like something I’d see on the rack at TJ Maxx for $19.99 in 50 different colors. The jacket was very tight in the arms and shoulder, unlined, and just looked and felt cheap. The same with the accessories; the necklace was pretty but looked like it was from Claire’s Boutique and the earrings were a weird overly yellow shiny gold that just looked too cheap for me. The only piece I wore was the teal midi dress, and it was because I was going to be outside volunteering at a fair and knew it would be hot out. It was perfect for such a situation, but not awesome enough to keep or even wear a second time.

I hate to dismiss Le Tote because it truly could be a great option for some. If you are a size 10 or smaller, if you’re not terribly tall or petite, if you’re under 35 and you’re looking for a reasonably priced way to add a bit of variety to your wardrobe without looking too trendy or outlandish, Le Tote could be a great option. The price is also pretty great – it’s easy to spend this much on a sweater or casual dress that only gets worn a handful of times; with Le Tote you get three garments for the price of less than one plus two accessories to complete the look.  And like Netflix, send back and get another one right away.  Le Tote could prove to be a great way to shop and build a wardrobe as the company will adjust recommendations based upon your reviews and what you choose to keep. Just don’t expect to find any garments that will stop people in their tracks, transform your personal style, or find a ton appropriate for weddings and more formal social occasions. Their fall collection looks more promising and stylish than their summer selections, if you did want to try such a service this looks to be a good season to do so.

If you’re interested in trying out Le Tote, use code LTWO20 and receive 20% off your first month’s subscription.  Code expires October 31, 2015.

Have you used Le Tote? What are your thoughts on the clothing and accessories rental service?  Do you think it’s worth it for me to try it again?

Cool New Blog…

One of the coolest things about blogging is making new friends all over the world. I have been blogging since early 2005 and have made friends that I have met, that I have gotten to know on a personal level, and that have helped me become a better blogger.

One of these friends is Melissa Street, a very talented professional makeup artist. I don’t know who found whom first, but we have communicated via blog comments, email and social networking for quite a while. I have learned so much from her – cosmetic brands to try out, products that have changed my life, etc. And just wait until Emerson is big enough to sport the adorable “Gucci Gucci Goo!” tee shirt Melissa got for her! :)

Anyway, Melissa has a new blog entitled, “In My Professional Opinion” and I adore it. Melissa has over 20 years in the TV and film industry, so has a great idea of what beauty products can really work for special events or every day wear. Her blog isn’t just high-end lines; Melissa will mix drugstore with higher end brands.

I have learned a lot from Melissa Street; I hope you will check out her blog and enjoy it as much as I have! :)


Dressing in the dark – I got to work at 6:45am this morning.  Blech.  Pictures taken at the bathroom at work.

Super big scarf from H&M, black merino short-sleeved dress from Banana Republic over dark straight jeans from NYDJ, gray shoes from Miz Mooz, silver hoops and cuff, hair in messy updo, makeup basic, with Bare Escentual Buxom Eyeliner in Leatherette (love it!).
The shoes:

I have worn them before, totally adore them.  Surprisingly comfortable too!

Will be another early day tomorrow, think I will be wearing my white gauzy peasant top from Old Navy with my Seven jeans.  If it’s warmer than today, I will wear with my brown croco Carlina heels from Sofft.  If not, might wear these shoes again!

I am considering upgrading my cell phone.  I currently have an “old school” cell phone – it does everything that I need – takes pictures, I can text, get calls.  My plan is a reasonable price – I never go over minutes, have unlimited texts.  I don’t have picture texts (have to pay for each) and don’t have Web features (canceled that to keep the price low).  Well the phone is starting to get a bit old – doesn’t hold a charge as long as it used to, scratched up.  I find I am texting much more than I used to be – even for work I often have to text and a QWERTY keyboard would make life easier (and texts faster).  I also wonder if I used my cell to check email, I would be on the actual computer less.

So I can get a free phone with my cell provider, but I would have to change plans to accommodate a “fancy” phone.  This would be an increase of $20 a month.  I don’t see any other “old school” phones that are any nicer than the phone I have now so I don’t see the value in upgrading from regular cell to regular cell.  But I don’t know if it’s worth the $20/month to become high-tech and modern with a phone that can surf the Web, hook up to my email account and calendar, have GPS (I don’t have one for my car), blah blah blah…  What’s your opinion?

Wednesday: Lazy

Shirt: Target (similar) | Jeggings: c/o Karen Kane | Boots: DUO (similar) | Necklace: Years old (similar) | Silver cuff

I feel ridiculous posting this outfit on a fashion blog. I mean REALLY, I even have a hair elastic on my wrist!  I was so lazy this morning, I tried to straighten the placket of this shirt with my flat iron, and it’s pretty clear that it didn’t do that stellar of a job. I was planning on getting to work by 7am to work on a project before the office got distracting, but Emerson woke hearing me in the shower, Cindy started barking at some animal in the woods behind the house, I couldn’t find my iPhone, and well life happened so I ended up leaving over an hour later than expected and since Karl was driving me to the Metro… might as well take some pictures. So now you see what I wear when I wake up at 5:45 to leave the house at 6:20 and have no in-person meetings. Tres glamorous, no?? 

The one cool thing about this ensemble is the necklace. E from District of Chic recently wore a squash blossom necklace that is so amazingly gorgeous, but it reminded me that I too had a squash blossom necklace somewhere in the depths of my house. Over the holiday season, Karl and I did some serious cleaning and I found it in a rarely-used tote bag in the office closet.  I promise to wear it with a far better ensemble in the near future, it deserves it!

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Plus Sized Work Attire Options

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Wardrobe Today – Wednesday

A very early morning today – dressed and left in the dark. So I didn’t have pictures, but felt the need to take some as that today I am wearing some purple to support Spirit Day.

What is Spirit Day (taken from GLAAD site):

The idea behind Spirit Day, first created by teenager Brittany McMillan earlier this month, is a simple one, not dissimilar to the idea of “Spirit Week” held in many high schools, and can be summed up in three words: Everyone Rally Together.
Spirit Day honors the teenagers who had taken their own lives in recent weeks. But just as importantly, it’s also a way to show the hundreds of thousands of LGBT youth who face the same pressures and bullying, that there is a vast community of people who support them.
Purple symbolizes ‘spirit’ on the rainbow flag, a symbol for LGBT Pride that was created by Gilbert Baker in 1978. As one of the event’s Facebook pages says: “This event is not a seminar nor is it a rally. There is NO meeting place. All you have to do is wear purple.” Wearing purple on October 20 is a simple way to show the world that you stand by these courageous young people and a simple way to stand UP to the bullies. Remember those lives we’ve tragically lost, and show your solidarity with those who are still fighting.

So I apologize for the randomness of the pictures – hey, at least you get to see a bit of my office where I live for 45+ hours a week! :)

Looking through my wardrobe this morning, I realize I don’t own a lot of purple.  I have a Gap cardigan and matching ribbed tank from last year, but both are a bit too large now.  I decided to wear a simple outfit with a purple accessory.  Originally I planned on wearing the purple cardigan tied around my neck, but instead decided to wear a purple belt.

OxfordLands End Canvas
BeltOld Navy
Denim Pencil Skirt Ann Taylor (no longer available online)
Black Leather PumpsNine West “Madeup”
Silver Cuff

As I mentioned, it was an early day for work so makeup was done in a jiffy by a dim light and hair was a rush.  I washed, conditioned, added my Suave root lifter and Tresseme heat protector and dried with a round brush. 

Makeup is standard:
Laura Mercier Secret Camouflage
Laura MercierBronzer
Revlon Colorstay shadow quad in Neutral Khakis
RevlonSuper Lustrous Lip Gloss in Nude Lustre
TarteIndelible Wink in Plum (liner on top lash line)

Basic Black and White

Blouse: Jones New York c/o Gwynnie Bee | Jeans: NYDJ | Shoes: Cole Haan | Necklace: Cameron Pendant c/o Kristin Biggs, Stella and Dot | Watch: c/o WatchCo | Bracelets: c/o Lifetherapy, Nordstrom, had forever | Glasses: c/o

This top is perfect for this weather – billowy and breezy for the commute, but enough coverage that I don’t freeze to death in the office. This is totally the kind of top I buy, wear once or twice, and tire of the print because it’s too memorable. Love that with Gwynnie Bee I can wear it once or twice, and then return it for something new without buyer’s remorse. Interested in trying Gwynnie Bee?  Use this link, tell them Wardrobe Oxygen sent you and get a 30 day free trial of the program.

I just got these glasses Friday evening but have already fallen in love. When I got new glasses back in December, I wanted something classic, stylish without being trendy, something appropriate for work as well as every day. My Issy and La “Gloss” frames are perfect for that, but now I want more frames, and fun frames. I love the bold look of these, and it’s exciting to find frames that are big enough for my ginormous noggin. I did get these frames for free (review here), but I would totally order from again. Great prices, good service, and shipping is lightening fast. In fact, if you go to this link (not an affiliate link, not getting paid to share, just me being jazzed about sharing this with you) and pick any of these frames and add your prescription and use the code FIRSTPAIRFREE you get… well your first pair free! You do have to pay for shipping (which is around $9.00), but what an awesome steal of a deal. It’s always good to always have a spare pair or a fun pair that gets you out of your comfort zone.

Speaking of great deals, I have been wearing my Lifetherapy bracelets quite a lot and get so many compliments on them.  They have offered Wardrobe Oxygen readers 20% off on ALL Lifetherapy products (body care as well as jewelery).  Use code WARDROBEOXYGEN at checkout; this code is valid until 7/1/2013.

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Seasonless Black Trousers

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

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

Examples of good trousers:

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

Here is a great example from Lane Bryant:

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

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

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

A Life, Replotted: Finding the Edge

chelsea henderson for wardrobe oxygen

“I’m not bound by time” I used to say in my 20s when asked why I didn’t wear a watch. Now in my 40s, I still don’t wear a timepiece, but to say I’m not connected to the unavoidable ticking of the clock is far from the truth.

I time nearly everything I do. Obviously, I have to keep meticulous time of the yoga classes I teach. They run for 45, 60, 75 or 90 minutes, and before class starts, I assign a “trigger song” on my playlist, a song to signal it’s time to wind my students down. For my consulting firm, I bill clients to the quarter of an hour and detail how long I worked on what project. I maintain a timesheet app for one of my projects; there is little I find more depressing than getting an email from the app asking if I forgot to turn off the timer when the answer is no. I may have the luxury of working from home, but part of what I’m adjusting to is I’m on all the time.

In yoga teacher training they taught us to seek the balance between effort and ease. That is to say, if your practice doesn’t feel like work, push a little harder. But if you find yourself struggling, take it down a notch. In yoga I embrace this lesson, but in the rest of my life I have trouble with the stepping back part of the equation. It all came to a head last week when I taught eleven yoga classes, billed 45 client hours and had the kids for all but two days. It took a minor breakdown to get it; in order to strike a balance, I have to know where my edge is. And once I recognize where the edge is, I have to respect the boundaries to keep myself off its ledge.

So as I write, this column is 36 hours late, I haven’t practiced yoga yet today and my laundry basket overflows. But I spent time in the garden, had a rained out barbeque with dear friends and watched Star Wars: A New Hope with my younger son. To maintain the point between effort and ease, I decided to not check email. My professional life abounds, but it’s just one part of who I am. And for other aspects of my life, I have to save time on and off the clock.

chelsea hendersonChelsea Henderson is an aspiring novelist and recovering Capitol Hill staffer. When she isn’t sneaking time to finish writing her second book, she advocates on behalf of clean energy and environmental policy, reads, practices yoga, and single parents her perpetually hungry pre-teen boys. She also periodically contributes to her lifestyle blog, the Chelsea Chronicles and is intermittently good at Twitter.

How to Shop: Sticking to a Budget

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips to Stay on Budget:

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

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

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

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Dressing Like a Grown-Up

When I shop for clothing, I first look for clothes I can wear to the office.

Date Night clothes are usually work clothes with a pair of cool shoes and a bit more mascara.

I buy fewer prints because I don’t want people to remember that I’ve had that same dress for three years.

Because I shop planning on wearing the same dress for three years.

Because I know three years is here in the blink of an eye.

I don’t wear a lot of pants because pants stretch out.
 They emphasize the softness, saginess, and lack of crunches that happens when you’re over 35.
And had a baby.
And like sleep more than gyms.

Back to pants… they need to be pressed.
And have shoes the right height.
And pants seem to collect dog hair faster than skirts.

I buy trends, but fewer of them because I know that flatform/wedge sneaker/clear neon purse/feather hair extension is going to be seen as tacky in less than six months.

Or I already did the Doc Marten/army jacket/neon/creepers/culottes trend the last go-round and just can’t imagine bringing those years back into my closet.

But then, I’ll buy trends because I DO remember those years I wore them before and know I can rock them far more authentically than women 20 years my junior.
And I do.

My lingerie drawer is far less colorful and fun than it was a decade ago, but it’s the hardest working part of my wardrobe.

I realize I can’t carry off bedhead, yesterday’s makeup, oversized, skintight, or 5” heels any more.
The biggest part of the last sentence is the self-realization.

For every day I wear heels I have one wear I wear shoes below 1” in height.

I wash my face every night because I now see the results of not doing so.

I never buy anything if it will show a bra strap.

I love ponte, matte jersey, and merino because they’re stretchy but thick enough to hide lumps and bumps.
And they don’t have to go to the cleaners.

I have more disposable income but shop less often because I’ve learned that a “fun” closet is a surefire way to get back into debt.

And I’ve been there where my pretty closet is still full of pricetags come the end of a season.
I dress for me.

I make mistakes, and I own them.

I still have fun with fashion, but now I do it on my own terms.

I may be a grown-up with the kid, the semi-minivan, the mortgage and the wrinkles, but I still rock it.
In fact, I rock it better now than I did a 22.

You know what?  I love being a grown-up!

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Ask Allie – Long Necklaces

Hi Allie —

I love both your wardrobe blogs — thank you so much for putting the time in to do them! Do you have a recommendation for where I might look for a long chain-type necklace that will come down past the bust, almost to the waist? I don’t wear much jewelry at all, so I don’t have a set of go-to stores or websites to look for something like this.


Hi Amy:

I love long necklaces because they elongate the torso, make the neck look longer and thinner, and don’t draw as much attention to the bust. Thing is, one can see all the celebs rocking long necklaces, but when we look in stores, we can only find 16″ or 18” necklaces, 20” if we are lucky.

Image courtesy of Rose Blossom Cottage

Best bet, before you even go shopping is to measure what length will work on you. What seems right in a picture or on a jewelry card may end up being far too long or short for your frame. Also know that most necklaces come in standard lengths – I often look for necklaces that have a chain at the clasp that will allow a necklace to be lengthened an extra inch or two – that often makes the difference on a necklace dangling from my bustline or looking lovely with my outfit. The image above gives a general idea of how popular necklace lengths will hang on a standard female frame, this site and this site also give great information on different necklace lengths.

As for where to buy them, well I personally have the best luck in the least expected places. For years, my go-to store for long necklaces was Express – I could find fashionable chains and other costume jewelry at reasonable prices. Most recently, I have become a fan of the Norstrom half-yearly sale (though really they always have sale, especially online). At Nordstrom’s sales, I have always been able to find long chains from quality brands for the price that one can find at Claire’s Boutique. Speaking of Claire’s – I shouldn’t knock the store because I have found some very simple chains there that have given me years of use. I have also found some fabulous long necklaces – chains and tiny silver beads at H&M – their accessory selection changes almost weekly so it’s best to check in from time to time to see if they have anything that fits the bill. Finally, I often go to eBay when I need just a standard chain for a pendant or charm. I sometimes wear my wedding band on a chain, and being the mom of a jewelry-loving toddler, the chain has had to be replaced. I will search 30” silver box chain on eBay and find a ton of retailers offering such an item, usually with free shipping and prices that beat the shopping mall. If you know what length and what material you desire, eBay can be a great resource for finding long chains.

Readers, do you have any favorite necklace retailers?

My Wardrobe Today – Thursday

Black sweater coat – MICHAEL Michael Kors
Gray pima tee – Banana Republic (no longer available)
Black trousers – Talbots (bought last year on clearance)
Black city boots – Fitzwell “Andrea”
Silver hoops and cuff

Yep, an early work morning!

So I have been stalking this sweater for a long time.  I saw it on the Nordstrom site, but it was never in my size.  I searched online, and again could never find it in my size.  I would Google, but it looked differently on other sites than it did on Nordstrom so I was confused.  I knew this was the type of sweater coat I desired – tight, heavy weave, not clingy, the cool silver turnlock hardware, a length that would work with pants, jeans, or skirts.

At Nordstrom, this sweater was $180.  Snap.  That’s a pretty hefty price for a sweater, but I thought that if it really was what I thought it could be, it would be my new millennium version of my “Trinity” sweater from The Limited.  I bought that sweater… gosh maybe 2000?  Well I still own it, if I get back to a 10 I will probably continue to rock it, and that sweater was a MAJOR staple in my wardrobe for nearly a decade.  If one can find that perfect of a garment, well $180 seemed like an investment.

Then Nordstrom sent me a $20 rewards certificate (I keep a Nordstrom credit card just for these rewards).  I felt it was a sign, and went back to their site to look for this sweater.  They had it… no Large, but they did have an XL.  I snapped it up and it arrived last night.

The many faces of the MICHAEL Michael Kors Turnlock Sweater

I now see why it looked differently on the Nordstrom site than it did on any other site.  This sweater has a matching cowl.  A tube about a foot in length of the same knit as the ribbed cuffs.  It’s held on to the cardigan by a sole button on the back of the collar, but easily removable. Removed, this sweater coat was exactly what was missing from my closet.  A bit big, but not too large.  But then I get to work, and I see this sweater is really big.  Like a size too big.  I really need a Large in this.  I am glad I didn’t wear perfume today, because I am going to return it or sell it.

So I look online, now that I realize this sweater has a wacky detachable cowl (which is super cute, but I don’t think goes with the silhouette of this sweater).  And guess what?  It’s currently $88.79 at Overstock AND if you go through Ebates you get 5% cash back AND Overstock right now has FREE SHIPPING!

So I ordered it in a Large.  There were six left in Large Black, and a variety of other sizes and this sweater also comes in Gray.  I really like it a lot, think it can be casual with a tee and jeans, but has refined enough of a finish that it could be worn with a sheath dress to a business meeting. And I really like that I found it for more than 50% of the original price!

Not all Pregnant Women Are Created Equal

When ordering maternity clothes, a basic rule of thumb is to order your pre-maternity size. This doesn’t always work – I am ordering items in Medium (though I haven’t worn a medium item since freshman year of college) and though I was a 12 petite pre-baby, I am ordering 10s, 12s and 14s and finding all sorts of fits. That’s fine, just as I found which retailers fit my body best pre-pregnancy, so I am having that journey with maternity!

One thing that is really irritating me though are inseams on maternity jeans and pants. Whether I am in my first or third trimester, I am still going to be 5’3”. Yes, as the belly (and bum and hips and thighs) grow with each month, fabric from the legs will be used up to accommodate this change. However, that doesn’t mean I need an extra 6” on my hems.

I have shopped at The Gap since I was 14. When I was thinner, I got away with the regular length of trousers and jeans. As I have gotten older and curvier, I flip flop between regular length (with heels) and ankle length or petite (which is too short for anything but sneakers and flats). The bigger my tummy gets, the less I feel like wearing heels (the less balanced I am feeling and the less strain my tootsies are willing to take) so I know petite or ankle-length bottoms is the way to go for maternity.

Gap and Old Navy both recently had major clearances so I ordered a bunch of stuff off their Web sites (gotta love free shipping with my BR card and free returns for all maternity wear). As that my job is changing their dress code to a more professional look (jeans only acceptable on Fridays) I was in search of short-length trousers, preferably in black. I found a pair of twill trousers from Gap for around $30 that were 12 Ankle, and a pair for about $20 from Old Navy, also 12 Ankle.

Here are the Gap trousers. IN 12 ANKLE:

I am not four feet tall. Usually I can purchase from a store off the rack. Ann Taylor, Gap, Banana Republic, J. Crew, all the major retailers I can usually get away with a regular length in a pinch, but always find the petite or ankle lengths appropriate and ready for me to wear.
And here are the Old Navy trousers in 12 ankle:
Same retailer, essentially. Rise the same (though different type of maternity waistband), same sort of fit in the bum and hips. Everything the same except the length (and that the Gap trousers are a crisper, darker black which would look more professional and probably wash better).

WHAT THE HECK PEOPLE? When women get pregnant they don’t grow a foot in height! Who in the WORRLD would think this is an ankle length on anyone under 6’ tall?

I would think this is an error in labeling or from the factory, but this is only one of SIX different petite or ankle-length maternity pants I have tried on from FOUR different retailers that would require several inches hacked off at the tailor. This is what grates my nerves and makes me wonder why retailers just hate all pregnant, short, tall and overweight women. I now have to decide if they are worth it to take to the tailor to make wearable, or if I just return them. The Old Navy pants are not something I would usually wear (not too chic of a cut) but they are cheap and don’t require the annoyance and cost of extra alterations. Argh.

Ask Allie – How to Accessorize a Sheath Dress

I have received so many emails recently asking for fashion advice. I figured I would share the questions and responses with you readers – what helps one may help many!

Dear Allie:
I have found my figure looks great in simple sheath dresses and I recently realized I have a good 8-10 of these in my wardrobe. What do I need to accessorize them so I don’t look like “The Sheath Lady”? I don’t really own a lot of accessories right now.  Thanks!

I think a sheath dress is one of the easiest things for a woman to accessorize. The classic, no-frills silhouette can be completely transformed based upon what accessories you choose to add to it.  I too love sheath dresses and find them flattering on many figures.  Ones in crepe, suiting fabric, silk, cotton and linen blends and in solid colors can be extremely versatile.

Classic – A strand of pearls (18-20”) and glossy leather pumps. This can take a solid colored sheath and make it appropriate for work, for a wedding, for a date night, house of worship (depending on how conservative – pack a cardigan or pashmina), a luncheon… most anything. If all else fails, this is a perfect go-to outfit when you don’t know your event or audience.

Elegant – A long strand of pearls or a gold chain with occasional crystals, delicate strappy heels, a clutch and you are ready for an evening event.

Summery – A wooden bangle bracelet and some sandals with wood or cork heels in a skin tone. Simple, stylish, current.

Preppy – Top the sheath with a cardigan tied at the shoulders, or a square scarf tied at the throat. Add a canvas tote in a candy-colored hue.

Weekend – A necklace of plastic or wood beads in a complimenting color, and a pair of leather thong sandals. Add a floppy straw hat and you are ready for the farmer’s market or winery.

Double – duty – Try a fitted white button-down shirt or a sleek black turtleneck under your heavyweight solid-colored jumper. Just today I saw a woman on the street in a dark gray sheath of suiting fabric; underneath she had a white shirt with puffed sleeves and a stand collar. She paired it with black patent heeled Mary Janes and some fantastic dark framed glasses and looked professional yet stylish.

Cover it Up – A “boyfriend” or longer cardigan and a skinny belt can transform a simple solid-colored sheath dress into something completely different (and much more comfortable in an over-air conditioned office).

Blingy – Choose one to three broaches and place over the heart in a cluster, like a corsage. Have all the pins of a similar family – all crystals, all cameos, all enamel. Let it be the focus and choose simple pumps, flats or slingbacks for the feet.

Change the Silhouette – Add a skinny belt and your sheath can end up looking like a completely different dress. Depending on the shape, you may also be able to do the same with a wide elastic belt either at the waist or right under the bust.

Dancing Queen – Planning on painting the town red tonight? Pair your sheath dress with some animal print or metallic heels and either a chunky bangle bracelet or a pair of dangly earrings. An envelope clutch will finish the look.

Switch up the Shoes – Always wear your sheath dresses with black pumps?  Consider a chunky heeled sandal for summer.  When it cools, try pairing your dress with a pair of tall (or even ankle!) boots.  Always wear heels?  Why not try a pair of flats with a girly feel?  A quick change of footwear can often times make all the difference.

My Wardrobe Today – Thursday

Black 3/4 sleeve sheath – Mossimo for Target (no longer available)
Black crocheted tights – c/o Coccolare Boutique
Blue suede heelsJessica Simpson “Evoni”
Silver cuff

I am such a chicken when it comes to hosiery.  I stick to what I know – opaque black tights.  I have a pair of dark gray ones, but I usually last-minute switch them out for black because I think black looks better on me. I like to accentuate the positive, minimize the negative and I know I have very large legs and ankles and feel that creative hosiery accentuates that.  However Coccolare Boutique, DWJ from The Art of Accessories, and Wendy Brandes forced me out of my hosiery box.

Coccolare Boutique contacted me, asking me if I would like to check out some of their luxury Italian hosiery.  I visited their site, saw some gorgeous legwear, but was terrified to try anything other than black tights.  I took a deep breath and decided to try a couple styles, including the Sebille Crochet Sweater Tights.  They arrived and looked more amazing than on the site – so soft, well-made, fit like a dream.  I tried them on with a few things in my wardrobe and everything felt wrong to me.  I felt as though it looked like HELLO LEGS!

Wendy Brandes has been showcasing fashion bloggers who rock the red leg – red tights or trousers.  I was chatting with Wendy and DWJ on Twitter this week about how I love the look of a red leg, but personally don’t think I can rock it.  Last night leaving work, I bumped into DWJ.  She admitted she stopped by Ann Taylor because of my recent posts about my great scores there.  We got to discussing my fear of creative hosiery and she really encouraged me to take the leap.  I hopped on the train, thinking about how I could really get a great look with my newly acquired crocheted tights from Coccolare.

Got home and found these shoes waiting for me.  I had seen them online in red and loved them; I know Jessica Simpson shoes fit me pretty well and are consistent with sizing so I decided to check on eBay and see if I could find the same pair for less.  I couldn’t find red but was excited to find them in this amazingly bright cobalt suede.  They were retailing online for up to $100, I got them for over 60% off, new and in original box (still wrapped up in original tissue and such).  Gotta love eBay (also yesterday got new, still wrapped bottle of Burberry London from an eBay seller at 1/3 the retail price)!

These shoes were BEGGING to be worn ASAP.  I tried them on with yesterday’s tights and liked the look of them with hosiery.  As that I am down to only one pair of black tights, it meant that to wear the new shoes, I would have to wear them with my Sebille Crochet Sweater Tights.  I decided with such an intense shoe and attention-grabbing tights, I had to keep it uber-simple on top.  I swear, I think this is the first time in the 21st Century that I have worn any hosiery that wasn’t opaque and black (or nearly black).  So what do you think of my first foray into creative hosiery?

And if you too would like a pair of luxe Italian hosiery at lovely prices, check out Coccolare Boutique.  If you join their fan club, you can get 20% off your purchase with the code “WARDROBE.”

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Ask Allie: Issues with the SAHM Capsule Wardrobes

I have had many mothers contact me regarding my SAHM capsule posts (winter capsule, summer capsule). Some are appreciative, some find my suggestions ridiculous, and some desire more information and assistance. I’d like to answer most of your questions here:

How Do I Shop with a Nursing Baby?
I went back to work six weeks after Emerson was born. Luckily my job let me transition back to full time at the office, having me work two days at home the first week, three the next, and so on. However, I was still working at least 40 hours a week and Emerson was consuming only breast milk. This meant when I wasn’t at work pumping, I was at home with a baby latched to my chest. I remember I went to Target ONCE in the first three months of Emerson’s life and it was a traumatic experience. I couldn’t even imagine going to the mall to shop for myself, let alone have the time to do so.

Online shopping. I looked at the clothes I already had and said… hrm this 12 doesn’t fit any more, but it’s only a tad too small so I likely am now a 14 in this brand. However, this 12 won’t even slide over my butt so I am guessing I am a 16 in this brand, but probably a petite since the 12s are just the right length with my 2” heels. I then went online and looked for retailers who had friendly return policies and free or near-free shipping.

Lands’ End. Talbots. Nordstrom. These three stores are the reason I survived the first year of Emerson’s life without resorting to Crocs and maternity pants. I stuck to a lot of dresses in stretchy fabrics like ponte because they were more forgiving and comfortable. Wrap styles which let me wear normal clothing but easily slip the bodice to the side for nursing. I found a pair of shoes from Sofft that I liked… and I bought them in three different colors and pretty much only wore those all summer long. I didn’t try to create a fabulous, cohesive and chic wardrobe, I just bought basics that worked. Then as Emerson slept more, started solids, my body started normalizing… then I started to create a new working wardrobe with this new body and new life.

You have so much going on in your life right now, the last thing you should worry about is creating a perfect wardrobe or hone your personal style. Keep what you buy simple – simple colors, simple silhouettes, simple pieces that flatter, work with your needs, and pretty much get the job done. The rest will come in due time.

Your Choices are Too Expensive!
When I make my capsules, I use Polyvore. To keep the collages clean and easy to get inspiration from them, I work with clothing in Polyvore that is not on a model, and is on a white background. Check out the online boutiques of your favorite budget-friendly retailer and you will likely see those garments on a mannequin or model.

Do not take my capsules as gospel, but more as inspiration. I may show a $200 designer sundress, but look at it and realize WHY I used it – it’s cotton, it has a print, it is below the knee, it has straps wide enough to cover a traditional bra, it has a defined waistband. Such a dress can be found at your nearby Goodwill, at a big box retailer, your neighborhood department store, and most any online retailer. Always shop within your means – great style can be achieved at any income level.

You Don’t Feature Plus Sizes!
Again, my capsule wardrobes are made in Polyvore, and I have to work with what is available. Again, I ask you to check out your favorite online plus size retailers and you will see the clothes are usually featured on a model or mannequin. Also, as a woman who is cusp sized, I know that what works on a 5’8” size 20 woman with a large bust and long slim legs won’t necessarily work on a 5’6” size 26 woman with small breast and larger hips. I try to choose pieces that will work on a broad range of sizes and shapes of women, but we females are snowflakes and no two of us are built the same. Please use these capsules as inspiration, not gospel. And subscribe to the blog, I regularly provide shopping suggestions specifically for plus sized women!

I Don’t Have Time to Search for Deals!
Oh my darling, I hear you loud and clear! Since having Emerson, I shop less, and I shop less frugally. I don’t have time to scour the entire Internet for the lowest price on a garment, so I usually just go with the retailer with the best shipping/return policy. Hello Nordstrom, my best friend. Nope, Nordstrom is not the cheapest, but they ship quickly, they have a broad range of prices and sizes, customer reviews, good sales, and free returns.

If you narrow down the stores you shop at, you can become quicker shopping there. I used to find Nordstrom’s site a maze, but now I know how to quickly find what I want, the brands I know that fit, how to shop from lowest to highest price, narrow down by size or color or brand even before surfing.

I also recommend signing up for a site like Ebates which gives you cash back on every online purchase and usually has some of the most popular coupon codes. Once a member, use the search function at the top of the site to type in the name of the store you wish to shop. It will take you to that store’s page on Ebates, where there’s a button to take you directly to the store, as well as any codes. Takes about 20 seconds and you’re in decent shape. It may not be the best price in town, but time is money and as a mom you don’t have a lot of time to waste.

And finally… no need to buy a whole wardrobe all at once.  Buy what you essentially need to get out of the house, and then slowly build up.  Shop when you have the time, the beauty of online shopping is it’s available 24/7.  I have been known to shop at 3am when I can’t get back to sleep after a feeding or nightmare, even on Christmas day when my child is being cared for by family and I can sneak away for an hour with my Smartphone and a glass of wine.  Life first, then shopping.

I Don’t Wear Pants/I Don’t Wear Sleeveless
Again, please don’t use these capsules as gospel, but inspiration.

For the summer capsule, you can easily replace the pants and shorts with some skirts in a variety of colors and lengths. In place of the printed pants, how about a printed cotton lawn skirt that hits between the knees and the calf; instead of white jeans a white linen maxi skirt; in place of the shorts a chino straight skirt that hits around the knees and maybe a denim or chambray fuller wrap skirt that hits at the knees.  All the tops featured can be found in a similar style with sleeves.

For the winter capsule, I’d get a black skirt of ponte or another heavier fabric that is midi length, a dark denim straight or a-line skirt that hits anywhere between the knees and calf, and maybe another ponte midi skirt in charcoal or gray.  The shorter-sleeved tops can easily be found in similar fabrics and silhouettes with a longer sleeve.

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Accessories Make the Woman

“You always look so put together!”

“I love your sense of style!”

“What a cool necklace, where ever did you get it?”

“I wish I could put together outfits like you.”

“What a great outfit!”

I received 23 compliments on my outfit or a piece of my outfit today. No, I am not trying to brag about my sense of style. I am trying to make a point.

Want to know what I was wearing today? I was wearing a slightly faded black cotton sweater with a round neck, a bit stretched out from multiple wearings. With it was a pair of cream pants I have owned for too long. I have resewn the hem multiple times, and the lining in the pants had torn and raveled so much I finally tore it out in a fit of rage.

Why the compliments on such a mediocre (at best) outfit? I bet most of you women have similar pieces in your wardrobe. What made it special enough to compliment the person wearing such lackluster garments?


I wore a necklace. It’s long, hangs past my breasts and is made completely of shells. The shells are pretty much the same color as my pitiful cream trousers.

On my feet are a pair of $40 pumps I bought last season from Nordstrom. Slightly pointed toe, but not so much that they look overly trendy or are overly painful on the toes. 2″ heel. A classic, yet stylish look that was so flattering, so comfortable, and priced so nicely, I bought them in three colors.

Black leather purse in finish similar to shoes that I picked up at Marshall’s for $19.99 three years ago.

Soft eye makeup, blush, concealer and subtle lipgloss.

These accessories are not particularly fancy, and far from being expensive. What makes them work is that they have… personality. They help express my personality.

When looking for accessories, do not adhere solely to what the magazine pages tell you is hip. True fashion is timeless and is creative. Anyone can buy the “right” pieces. What matters is not what you wear, but how you wear it.

Shell necklaces are not considered “hip” or stylish. I found the necklace in my mother’s house in a box of costumes. I believe it was used one year when one of us kiddies was a hula dancer. The shells were beautiful, the necklace makes a cool clinking noise when you walk. Long necklaces help elongate a short body (moi). No one else I knew had a necklace like it. I decided to take it as my own, wear it with a subtle outfit that would not compete with the necklace.

Accessories are art. Clothing can be the canvas, while accessories are the medium.

Each year I buy a new purse. I don’t buy an expensive one, or a designer one. I buy one I like. A purse is carried with you every day, it should match your personality, compliment your wardrobe, but most important it should make you happy. A pleasing shape, a cheerful color. Something to make you love it, make you proud to fling it over your shoulder. My sister bought a turquoise vinyl purse from Payless Shoe Source this Spring for less than $20. She got more compliments on it than the designer purse she received as a gift. Why? Because it fit her personality, it was fun, it was pleasing.

Accessories can add to an outfit, can detract from an outfit, can overwhelm an outfit. See fashion not as a chore, but as art. Like music, painting, home decorating. See it as lines, shapes, color. Fashion is more than just covering skin. It’s more than trying to imitate celebrities. It shouldn’t be about your hips, your belly, your breasts, your budget. It’s about making your body a work of art, an extension of your personality.

Sounds daunting, but it’s not. Go with your gut. Color Me beautiful says you’re a Winter, yet you love orange. When you wear orange you feel happy, powerful, sassy. Then darn it, wear orange! You see a necklace that catches your fancy, but you fear it’s too ornate, it’s too flashy. Well then, don’t wear it with a silver lycra mini and pink maribou heels. Like a fine work of art that you wouldn’t hang on walls papered with cabbage roses, a great accessory should not compete with your outfit.

The right bracelet or necklace can take a faded sweater and a pair of pants too worn to donate and make it a stylish outfit. You may not have the budget for a new wardrobe every season, but a few key accessories picked up every few months can add live and vitality to your closet.

True Fashionista: Audi

Many readers contact me telling me that because of their job, they can’t dress to match their personal style. Many also tell me that once they hit 30, they don’t feel that they can show their personal style at work because it won’t be seen as professional or serious. When I get such emails, I often send these women a link to Audi’s blog, and that is a big reason (other than thinking she’s utterly fabulous and stylish) why I asked her to be part of my True Fashionista series.

Audi from the blog Fashion for Nerds is a scientist. She’s over 40. She isn’t one to fit in with the crowd. She loves to travel, loves living in San Francisco, and makes hats in her spare time. She has tattoos, and I am terribly jealous that she has been to Burning Man. She is able to have all this and be professional at work AND true to her personal style. She’s proof that you can be stylish and smart; a professional and a sartorial badass.

I have been reading Audi’s blog for many years and one thing that I love about her style is that while it is unique, it is never a costume. Audi can wear knee-high lace up boots, a harness, a scarf decorated with skulls and it looks polished and sophisticated. She understands not only herself, but her environment and knows how to merge the two.

A big part of why Audi’s style works so well is because she wears it with confidence. I often think of street style blogs – what the subjects may wear may not conventionally make sense, but their posture, their stance, and their visible confidence is the finishing touch that makes the look perfection. Audi carries herself with pride and confidence and it makes her fashions even the more fabulous.

Audi is the queen of the carefully edited closet. While she never shows the same exact outfit twice, you see the same pieces being used over and over, each time getting a new look. Pairing a biker vest with skinny cargos one day and a maxi skirt the other, you hardly realize it’s the same piece. Audi carefully purchases, be it a Helmut Lang dress, a Botiker bag, or an H&M top. And whether it’s ASOS or Alexander McQueen, those pieces get much wear over the years, having new lives as her personal style evolves.

I was so thrilled Audi was willing to be a True Fashionista for Wardrobe Oxygen; here are her responses to the same five questions I ask to each woman in this series.

How would you describe your personal style?
It can be all over the map, but the outfits I feel are really “me” are those that could be described as rocker professional, by which I mean that they look polished and tidy, but have plenty of rebellious elements such as skulls or leather, or that show my tattoos.

Where did you get your passion for fashion?
As a kid I used fashion as a means of creating a persona that I didn’t really possess; I was quite shy and reserved all though high school, and dressing in a bold way gave me an air of self confidence. By the time I hit my 20’s I had become genuinely confident, but my style only fully developed once I stopped working in the lab and was able to wear nice clothes to work without having to worry about being uncomfortable all day with my lab coat on over my outfit.

Where do you find sartorial inspiration?
Everywhere, really; other bloggers, people I see on the street, friends, coworkers, window displays, runway shows, magazines. Sometimes it’s just a color combination that I like, sometimes it’s an individual item that strikes a chord, and other times it’s an entire outfit.

What is the difference between fashion and style?
Fashion gives us the individual elements: the colors, shapes, patterns, textures, and genres that strike our collective fancy for a particular period of time. Style is how an individual puts those specific elements together.

Any advice for a woman who is starting to find her personal style?
I think the most important thing is to have an idea of what you want your wardrobe to say about you. If you want to come off as relaxed and approachable, then think of a few examples of people whose style appears that way to you, be it celebrities or people you know. Then start experimenting, understanding all the while that your style will morph over time as you find the garments that make you look and feel your best. The other thing to remember is that it’s one thing to admire a look on someone else, but it’s quite another to wear it yourself; before you buy a new item, ask yourself if you love it for you or if it’s better being loved from afar.


The purpose of the Friday True Fashionista series is to show women who use clothing to express their personal style. Each woman has a different, unique look and opinion on clothing and fashion. These women inspire me in my clothing choices, and possibly their bold sartorial statements will inspire you. Stay tuned, there will be a featured True Fashionista every Friday for the next few weeks. And if you know of a True Fashionista in your life, tell us about her in the comments!

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