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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.

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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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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Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

True Fashionista: Sheree

I must admit, I visit many blogs where it seems that women are not wearing fashion, but fashion is wearing them. They have a passion for the art, but they don’t know when to say no, or when a trend is just not appropriate for their personality, lifestyle, figure, or soul. So when I come across a blog where a real woman really knows herself and how to wear current trends well, I am addicted. And that is how I have been with Sheree’s blog, It’s Not That Deep. Sheree knows herself and her personal style; she knows how to stay true to herself while incorporating the hottest trends, and for that I find Sheree to be a True Fashionista.

Sheree incorporates thrifted pieces with designer with mall-friendly brands like H&M and Vince Camuto, brand new fashion splurges with pieces she has owned for a decade. I love the badass-ness of not just her ensembles but the attitude that comes through her photos.  I also love how she incorporates color – there’s no Rainbow Brite ensembles but carefully chosen pops that add edge, whimsy, and femininity.

Sheree knows fashion, loves fashion, and proves that you can be stylish and be a wonderful parent. Sheree may have a killer wardrobe and killer body, but she’s also a wife and mother to two adorable kiddos.  I love her inspiration posts – you can really see how her mind is working and often the outfit posts that follow incorporate the trends that inspired her. 

Sheree’s personal style is so clear and defined, I find it inspiring.  Looking at her blog is like looking at attainable style of a fashion editor.  Clean, crisp, modern but with a personal touch that makes it unique.  I can see images of fashion insiders like Kate Lanphear, Eva Fontanelli, or Giovanna Battaglia but know I couldn’t afford (or likely fit) a single thing on their bodies; Sheree makes such specific style achievable for the every woman. 

As with every other True Fashionista, I asked Sheree to answer the same five questions:

How would you describe your personal style?
I would describe my personal style as feminine with an urban edge.

Where did you get your passion for fashion?
I have been into fashion for as long as I can remember. When I was younger my bedroom walls were covered with pics of Kate Moss, I live an hour from Manhattan and I would always insist that my dad take me to the city to go shopping even as a teenager. I always insisted I have unique, modern pieces..even as a teen. It continued into my 20’s. I was a womanswear buyer in Manhattan before going back to school to get my Masters in Social Work,

Where do you find sartorial inspiration?
My inspiration definitely comes from street style looks. I just search StreetStyle in Tumblr and get loads of inspiration. Designer wise I am obsessed with Phillip Lim and just seeing his runway collection inspires me to try different looks even if I can’t afford all of his pieces. I also love Christine Centenera, the Editor of Vogue Australia.

What is the difference between fashion and style?
Fashion is fashion plain and simple. Your style is what distinguishes you from everyone else. To develop your own personal style is something that you evolve into over time. I also usually find that people with a true sense of style transcends into their home and other areas of their life. It’s about really knowing who you are as a person and being able to get that across.

Any advice for a woman who is starting to find her personal style?
I think that developing your own personal style takes time. I used to constantly buy things, bring them home and ask “what was I thinking?” I rarely do this anymore because I know my style. I think that you have to pay attention to what looks you like via Pinterest, other blogs, etc and dissect what attracts you to them. Take that and add in what you feel comfortable in and what feels like you and there you go. I think it takes trial and error and trying things on and figuring out why this feel like me or why it doesn’t. I can appreciate really put together looks (ie, Atlantic Pacific) but it’s not my style, I have a more edgy casual street vibe. So it’s not necessarily just what you like but what is “you”. That’s why I said earlier it’s about knowing who you are. My blog is called “It’s Not That Deep” but I guess sometimes it can be 😉

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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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Tuesday & Wednesday

No pictures from yesterday – I got to work at 6:45 am so taking pictures was when it was too dark to see in that room (have to work on it), and the rest of the family was asleep and didn’t want to disturb in any way. However I decided to wear my black matte jersey wrap dress from Old Navy with a gold chain from J. Crew and my gold twig bangles form Ann Taylor and my black suede Mary Janes from Sofft. Hair was straight, makeup was basic. It was totally appropriate.

After work I stopped by the Talbots near my job because everything in there is 20% off, they have petites that go up over size 12. I ended up getting two dresses, one with a surplice neckline, one a wrap style, both together came to less than $140 which I felt was pretty good. Both are a 14 petite. I couldn’t find a pair of pants that fit this weird body except some like yoga pants, and well… if I am going to go with pants like that I might as well stick with the ponte maternity ones I have been sporting. But I gave my husband a fashion show and he thought both dresses flattered my figure and were fun prints (you will see in upcoming posts).

I am still struggling with shoes. Before Emerson, I was a 7.5 medium. I could buy certain brands like Nine West, BCBGirls, Enzo Angiolini and Jessica Simpson and know that they would fit in that size. After her… I am not sure. These two pairs of Mary Janes from Sofft are 8.5W and they are a tiny bit big, but in a “wow they don’t hurt at the end of the day” sort of way, and don’t rub at the heels. My city boots are an 8W and feel good. My Duo Boots still fit, but in a different way from before/do feel almost half a size small since I usually buy boots big. I can get my foot into some of my 7.5M shoes but that’s about it – no walking or even standing.

So I decide to order a pair of classic black patent pumps from Circa Joan & David. I order 8W and 8.5W, since I have free shipping and returns. The 8W is ginormous on me in width and length. So big, I think even a 7M may be good. What the heck? I ordered an 8W in a boot from Sudini and I can’t even get it on, it’s so tight. These are two brands I have worn before so I am very confused. I have an event this weekend where I need to dress up, and figured one of my new dresses and some basic black pumps would be perfect. I ended up ordering like 5 pairs of shoes from Nordstrom because they are doing free shipping on shoes and they do super fast delivery. I will not have time to hit a mall until Sunday at the earliest, and honestly I hate malls. Fingers crossed one of these pairs works!

Oh, and yesterday in the fitting room at Talbots I look at my ankles and they look all bruised. Nope, it’s just that I had my ankles crossed at the conference I attended and the black of the shoes rubbed off all over my skin. Awesome.

Today I am working from home and I am glad because I need a chance to go through my clothes and figure out what to do for the time being. A Bella Band is not an option because of my height. If I wore one, it would show with all tops I wear. Also I don’t wear baggy tops because they hide my waist, and an zipped pants covered by a Bella Band would show lumpy under tops. And these breast feeding boobs make it impossible to wear anything but stretchy knits.

Sorry to vent on here, but fashion isn’t always easy. However I would rather wear the same thing three days in a row than go out of the house looking like a shlub. I feel far more confident and myself in repetitive wardrobe than in something that I know makes me look less than what I can possibly be! As I always say, it’s about quality, not quantity! :)

Age is But a Number

Age is but a number.

Really people, it is. It’s not a euphemism that allows adults to wear Care Bear shirts and skip across the parking lot to Starbucks, but it isn’t a steadfast bar where you have to adjust your life to fit it.

I spent my lunch in Borders, pouring over fashion magazines while enjoying an iced coffee. Bazaar (which ya’ll know is one of my very favorite fashion magazines) had an article about Diane von Furstenberg (who is one of my very favorite designers).

Diane von Furstenberg is 60, beautiful, sexy and confident. She shows skin, wears her hair long, attends interviews with a face free of makeup and wears garments many would say should be reserved for her younger clients.

All of this, yet the woman exudes amazing style, confidence and class. Why? She isn’t adhering to a number, but to her self. She knows what works and what doesn’t by having a good relationship with her body and her mind. She doesn’t feel that since she hit a certain age bracket she now needs to dress in Chanel suits and sensible heels. Look at the pictures above – that is not “typical” attire for a woman in her 60s yet on von Furstenberg, it is perfect and stylish.

My friend is 29 and used to be a manager of a Talbots store. She was always amazed at the type of people who bought the different styles of clothing the company carried. It was as though once a woman hit 40, she felt as though she must own a pair of cropped capris with embroidered palm trees all over them. Pink polo shirts, quirky capris and uber-comfortable conservative slides and sandals seemed to be the expected uniform of that age, especially if she had children. She would suggest alternatives that seemed to fit the person’s figure and personality better – soft knits, shirtdresses, stronger colors but they usually refused, saying they were too old for anything but the standard conservative prep uniform.

Now for some, this look is cute and appropriate. However for most, it is stupid and well… corny. It’s the same with the over-50 set who feels she is now expected to dress completely in the Chico’s Travelers collection. The closet is full of slinky black pieces that drape all over, pulled together with an artistic and bold necklace or hip belt. Again, fabulous look on some, but totally wrong on many.

When my mom was growing up, she remembered very specific styles that every female HAD to have in her closet. A charcoal piped blazer, a circle skirt, a pencil skirt, a tucked in white blouse. All pieces that looked horrific on her petite curvy frame. Luckily, style is not so rigid anymore, and one can truly walk a mall (or surf the Internet) and find pieces that fit one’s personal style AND figure.

Age-appropriate dressing usually has to do with how much skin you are exposing. The thing is, a 55-year old woman who is a marathon runner and yoga enthusiast can better carry off a little silk sundress and strappy heels than a 21-year old woman who has a few more curves. A curvy woman in her 20s often has firmer arms and décolletage than a woman in her 40s, and then can more easily carry off a strapless top with a plunging neckline. So it’s not as much about how much skin you are showing, but what type of skin you are showing.

In my 20s, I was less concerned with my torso showing and often wore tops that hit right at the waistband. However I was less comfortable with my upper body and chose short sleeves over straps and wore higher necklines so not to expose any cleavage. I wore looser pants feeling that my bum was too round, and never wore skirts for thinking my legs were too thick. Now in my 30s, I wear lower necklines to elongate my body and accentuate my curves; I love skirts and dresses because they show off my feminine shape and find that slimmer fitting jeans make me look smaller and taller. It’s not about changing my wardrobe because I hit a new decade in my life, but changing my wardrobe according to my relationship with my current body, my lifestyle, my career.

There are some style I am drawn to but choose not to wear because of my lifestyle and profession more than my age (gosh if I was independently wealthy I think I may get a Mohawk and re-pierce my nose) but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be worn by anyone. I have a former coworker who is in her 40s. She loves working out and has a great toned body, a short spiky black hairdo, wears a lot of eyeliner, sports a few tattoos and looks amazing in jeans and a ribbed tank. Because of her personality and her lifestyle (musician and makeup artist) it doesn’t look foolish, it doesn’t look as though she is attempting to be younger, she seems comfortable in her skin and expressing her personality. I have an old college friend who is the opposite. She is 30 years old, wears very conservative and subtle attire. She looks at home in knee-length tweed skirts, cashmere turtlenecks, conservative suits and clothes often associated with a teacher or librarian. She is never without her pearls or her classic style of Coach purse and always looks confident, feminine and chic. She works in a conservative field and even in college when we attended frat parties, she arrived in crisp khakis, a button-down shirt and loafers. No one mocked her because this is what made her… well her!

One can be in beautiful clothing yet still not be considered well dressed. One can dress appropriately for her age group, but still look inappropriate. The only way to truly achieve style is to know yourself. A good way is by answering the questions below, then reading them aloud. You may be surprised by your answers…

  • Who is your favorite artist?
  • Why?
  • Who is your favorite musician?
  • Why?
  • Looking at all the colors in a box of Crayola crayons, what color are you drawn to?
  • Why?
  • What wardrobe item from your past do you remember most fondly?
  • Why?
  • What female celebrity’s style do you admire most?
  • Why?
  • Where would you go for a dream vacation?
  • Why?
  • What color did you want to paint your childhood bedroom?
  • Your first residence when you moved out on your own?
  • What is your favorite movie or play?
  • Why?
  • If you had a free weekend, what would you do with it?
  • When you are in a meeting or seminar, do you ever doodle or write during the lecture?
  • If so, what?
  • What is your favorite holiday?
  • Why?
  • What is your favorite food?
  • What are the five most important things in your life (things being actual things, people, beliefs, anything)?
  • What item in your current wardrobe makes you feel:
  • Beautiful?
  • Fun?
  • Powerful?
  • Feminine?
  • Boring?
  • Uncomfortable?

You and your best friend could answer these questions and both have completely different answers. Your favorite shopping buddy, the one you always borrow clothes from will most likely have different answers from you. This is why though you may have similar frames and similar tastes, a dress will look great on her but not quite right on you. This is why a dress can seem slutty on one woman, and seem chic on another, even though they are the same age and size.

Take your answers and make them into a paragraph, a short story about you and only you. This is who you are, not who you are trying to portray, who you attempt to be at work, what your social groups expect from you.

Think about a woman you know who you think has great style. Why? Is it just because she accessorizes well, or is it what she accessorizes with? Is it the clothing, or the combination of clothing and her shape and personality? Often times, we are attracted to those who have style that is flattering to their figure, but also their personality. We admire the woman at church who always seems so feminine and pulled together. She wears soft colors and fabrics that match her sweet and gentle demeanor. We admire our hairdresser who wears combat boots, a vintage dress and a blue streak in her hair, yet walks down the street as though she is Grace Kelly. We notice the corporate powerhouse at the intersection on her Blackberry. Her perfect blonde highlights, the expertly tailored gray pantsuit accented by amazing snakeskin heels. Her whole demeanor exudes confidence and strength. Imagine what they would write in their short story, and think how your appearance is assisting you with your story.

Yes, one should respect social norms – don’t attend a wedding in a strapless bright red leather mini dress, don’t attend a cocktail party in cargo shorts, don’t go to a client meeting in flip flops and yoga pants. Also respect your personal beliefs – if you feel that as a woman you should and should not wear certain things, then by of course adhere to that – this is what makes up your personal story. But outside of that, respecting your figure, your lifestyle, your personality… those are the rules to having great style. Just ask Diane von Furstenberg!

Listening to Life with a Capital L

In 2004, I got fired from my job. I was managing a very busy, high volume and high profile shop and was also a trainer for new managers for the company. I took off a long weekend before the holiday rush to do some planning for my wedding that following summer, and recruited a couple managers from neighboring shops to cover shifts for me. I returned to the shop to find that not a single deposit had been made in my absence, the safe overflowing. I gathered up all the bags, dashed to the bank and deposited them before the mall opened. When the next staff member arrived that evening, I headed to the back to reconcile the deposits. Just as I noticed one deposit slip was missing the phone rang. It was the corporate office.

People were questioned, people were suspected, and one stopped showing up to work mysteriously but the money was never found. And while everyone knew it wasn’t me who took the money, I was the store manager, a leader within the company, and had to set an example. After the holidays (of COURSE, had to have me to get through the Christmas rush), my boss came to visit, gave me a hug, and handed me my walking papers.

I drove home in a daze.  I was a great employee, I’ve always been proud of my work ethic.  And now I had been fired from a job I poured all my blood, sweat and tears into.  But I soon realized this was a GOOD THING. I was free! I had worked in some aspect of retail for over a decade and it was wearing me down. That Christmas all the gifts I received from my loved ones had one thing in common – they were designed to reduce stress. It was clear I was near my breaking point.  I would work 20 days in a row without a break, I’d leave work at midnight and have to be back at 5am and had an hour-long commute. I was getting varicose veins and living off Mountain Dew and venti Frappucinnos. I wasn’t doing what was best for me and my future so Life with a capital L intervened.

Instead of spending those six weeks unemployed with a bottle of wine by my side, I celebrated my freedom. I wallpapered our bathroom with my dad’s old playbills from the ‘60s and ‘70s. I cleaned out my closet, my attic, and every drawer in the house. I went to the gym. I planned the rest of our wedding (and was even more diligent about having it all be on a budget), taught myself enough HTML to make a “bio” for my TheKnot profile, and I got my nose pierced.

2004-02 alison and karl

February 2004

No matter what company I worked for, how liberal or creative or funky, dress code always stipulated no visible tattoos or piercings other than ears unless for religious purposes. So hells yeah Life with a capital L, give me freedom and give me holes in my face! I went to the place where I got my tattoo, I knew they did piercings and I knew the place was clean.  It hurt like hell. It hurt more than when Karl and I got all cutsey college grunge couple and together went to get our cartilages pierced, and it hurt more than all the times I self-pierced my ears in high school (even more than the time I pierced my ear with a safety pin and it got stuck in there for two weeks and got infected). But screw The Man, I was now a badass face-pierced woman.

Until a week later when I was drying my face with a towel, the stud got caught in the terry and the nose ring was yanked out. I tried to get it back in, Karl even tried, fighting back bile as the nostril got inflamed and began to bleed, but no success. The next day I was at the door of the tattoo parlor before it opened but the piercer said it was too late; the hole had already healed and they’d have to pierce through scar tissue to get it back in. And I thought the original piercing was bad, this pain almost made me faint. But dammit, I am going to be a badass with my nose ring!

Funny, that “badass” nose ring didn’t seem to even be a blip on the radar of those companies who interviewed me during those six weeks of freedom, as I received a few great offers and took one at a firm only five miles from home. A week into working there I made mention of my nose ring in a conversation with colleagues and they all looked at me in surprise, none of them had noticed I even had one.

A couple months later, I was on the phone with a client, my elbow on the edge of my desk, twirling my nose ring when I lost my balance, my elbow fell off the desk and my hand yanked the stud right out of my nostril. Just as Life had intervened when I was fired from my job, I felt Life with a capital L was doing so again.

Alison, you don’t need a nose ring to be a badass. Don’t try so hard, just be.

I often get caught up in the need to define my personal style. How can I spew fashion advice when I don’t have some covetable wardrobe or enviable and defined personal style? What a hack. If I just had some cooler clothes, if I created a more minimalist wardrobe, if I dieted down to a size easier to fit and shop, if I got an edgy haircut, a new pair of boots, a new designer bag. And then I think of those months of the nose ring. That nose ring didn’t make me any cooler, in fact few even noticed it. What made me badass during that period was making lemonade out of that big lemon of losing my job. Seeing it as an opportunity, not a failure. Taking advantage of that forced staycation, doing things I had been meaning to do and jumping on ideas that came to me while brushing my teeth or driving to the gas station. The nose ring wasn’t badass, but the reasoning behind it was. I didn’t have to wear my badass on my sleeve or on my face, I didn’t have to try so hard, I just had to be.

You don’t need to prove yourself to anyone. If you’re trying to impress, I can tell you right now you’re failing. Cool comes from inside, from confidence, from knowing yourself. And when you know yourself, listen to yourself, and believe in yourself that’s when personal style shines. And that my dear, makes you a badass.

Let’s be a bunch of badasses in 2015, shall we? Let’s own this life, and let’s do it for our badass selves.

Ask Allie: Career Wear on a Budget

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Night With Andre Leon Talley

Last night I went to the Corcoran in Washington DC to see Andre Leon Talley give a lecture on his opinions of the Spring 2007 lines and to have a Q&A. For those who have never heard of this man before, Talley is the Editor at Large for Vogue. He has been there since 1983, previously working for Women’s Wear Daily and other fashion powerhouses in New York, and was part of Andy Warhol’s entourage.

Andre looked dapper in a black suit, dove gray shirt with white collar, gray silk tie and white pocket scarf. He wore burgundy socks and black flats with pave “Ben Franklin” buckles that were custom made for him by the designer who originally designed the shoes for Jackie Kennedy and her sister Lee Radziwill. He started the lecture with a slide presentation he created of his favorite collections from the Spring 2007 shows in New York, Paris and Milan. It was fascinating to see the clothing as we see it in Vogue, and then see the models backstage and how real the clothing seemed to be on relaxed women chatting and giggling. Suddenly sequined bikini bottoms with a silk blazer seemed wearable, and not just art on the runway. We also learned some inside stories behind the collections and designers. Vera Wang’s father passed away less than 24 hours before her show. Talley told the story of how she received the call from her father’s caretaker and dashed to his bedside in time to say goodbye, then raced back to New York to conduct her show. Miuccia Prada’s collection may have seemed to be full of unrealistically short dresses that no person on earth could carry off. In fact, a few days before her show the skirts for the collection arrived and she didn’t like them. Instead of sullying her collection with incorrect skirts, she just sent the models down the runway in only the tunic tops. Suddenly the strange collection of ultra-minis and skinny leggy models seemed to work – you focused on the gorgeous jewel tones of the silk tops and how they were cinched with an unexpected rough-hewn leather belt. Knowing the back story made the collection all the more beautiful.

It was also funny to hear Talley speak of Vera Wang as “Vera.” An elegant name for a simply elegant woman, but when her first name is used alone suddenly I imagine a blonde waitress chomping on gum and screaming, “Kiss my grits!” It really humanized Wang. Talley was discussing Wang’s fame, how she originally was an editor and was getting married and couldn’t find an appropriate gown. She designed her own and ended up getting into the business, now having lines of china, crystal, lingerie, and even clothing at Kohl’s. “What next Vera, Vera Wang coffins?” Talley laughed when speaking of a recent conversation with Wang and her new business ventures.

Talley has elegant and sophisticated tastes; the lines he found the best of a “super bad” season were classic standards like Balenciaga, Chanel, Ralph Lauren and Versace. Lots of white, platinum and silver metallic pieces, 1940’s inspiration and great textures. The theme for shoes was as he put it “ugly.” Large clunky sandals with huge platform heels and studs holding the leather to the wood soles. Dancer-inspired flats with lots of elastic straps. Very tall platform wedges with patent leather peep toes. “This Spring it’s all about the ugly shoe. Get yourself an ugly shoe,” Talley told the crowd to gales of laughter.

After the slide presentation, Talley took questions from the audience. I was expecting an audience full of well-dressed fashionistas but was surprised to see quite a variety of attendees. College kids in jeans, older women in artistic home-crafted designs, elegant socialites of the city in all ages, and many women who look as though they are interested in and learning about fashion, heading to the Corcoran after a long day at their government job. Women in couture, women in chain store pieces, women in vintage, women in Target. Talley noted some well-dressed women in the audience and asked them to stand. One was in a black and white heavy tweed shift with a foldover collar. She wore it over a lightweight white ¾ sleeve tee and carried it off with black flats. He loved the texture and the simplicity of the outfit. She admitted that she bought the dress at Antrhopologie. The second woman was in an off-white puff sleeved chiffon dress with a full skirt. The dress was covered with black oval polka-dots. She had a very large Fendi-inspired black patent belt around her waist, black tights and black heeled Mary Jane shoes. She admitted that the dress was vintage and the belt from Target. A cheer came up from the crowd when she mentioned Target and Talley smiled and said, “Oh I love Target, I love Tar-jay, I got there all the time!” Another cheer from the crowd.

Talley skirted away from the tougher questions, and didn’t really admit much about his personal opinions or thoughts. When asked about the movie The Devil Wears Prada, Talley said he never saw the movie nor read the book so he could not discuss it in any manner. He did admit that Anna Wintour, Editor-in-Chief of Vogue did attend opening night and found the film “entertaining.” Talley would not discuss the thinness of models in the industry today, stating that he feels that designers should be able to use any model they feel shows off their clothes best. He noted that Prada did use unusually thin and leggy models this season, but designers like Jean Paul Gaultier use models of varying heights, weights and bust sizes. When asked about the show Project Runway, he admitted that he has never seen an episode and that he watches little television other than the news. “The McLaughlin Group is the best show on television, I love the McLaughlin Group!” He also admitted loving Hardball with Chris Matthews.

The conversation changed to fashion, the current trends of American fashion and more specifically, the lack of care and respect in today’s fashion. This is something that bothers me as much as it did the woman in the fur vest in the front row who asked the question. She was most concerned with the fashion of Americans in places like airports. Talley believes that we live “in a spin-cycle world” and need to accept that. He told a story of him and Diane von Furstenburg visiting the Google headquarters and one of the first rooms he saw at the complex was a Laundromat. He found it brilliant that the employees were able to bring their clothing to work to clean and believes that is the way of America. Talley believes that a woman does not need to spend a fortune to look stylish, that one can update her wardrobe just by changing accessories. He said for Spring a woman should invest in some colorful flat shoes, a beaded necklace and a fabulous bag. He disagreed with an audience member who said that style is all about self-confidence. I agree with Talley, some people have oodles of confidence but terrible style. He was most impressed by simple, classic, basic outfits in the audience and during this conversation noted the outfit of a woman in her 40’s in the back row. She was wearing a basic black suit, but an elaborate necklace of varying lengths of jet beads. The accessory made the outfit.

After the Q&A session, the audience adjourned to the hallway where a reception was set up just for us. High-top tables wrapped in orange organza, waiters passing out feta and watermelon skewers, grilled shrimp and chicken . Bars were set up serving sparkling water, club soda, chardonnay and a signature-tini with a ginger/orange flavor and color. DC magazine passed out their latest issue. The crowd was 90% female, everyone checking out one another’s attire and chatting about the lecture. After about 20 minutes Talley came out to the reception, signing autographs and shaking hands. It was a wonderful evening, well put together, and I found Andre Leon Talley to be a funny, passionate and charming man. I am glad I was able to experience it.

Practicing What I Preach

In my previous life, I was a retail gal. I worked my way up from a part-time manager in training while I was in college, to being a personal shopper, store manager and eventually a visual merchandiser. Having a past in apparel retail will affect you for the rest of your life – for some, it’s the desire to color-coordinate their closets. For others, they will catch themselves sizing rounders while shopping at The Gap. I know one of my friends who still folds her jeans in the same exact manner as she did when working at Express and snagged a sweater folding board to fold her knits at home into perfect rectangles.

For me, other than the desire to size every store in my local mall, it is to finger space all the hangers in my closet. When I worked at Express in the late ‘90s, this was something that you did to the entire store after closing. All garments facing the same direction, hanging properly on the hangers. Everything sized from smallest to largest, and then you would take one hanger hook between each finger and slide everything to the right of the bar. All hangers would end up a finger’s width apart from each other. This would leave a very tidy look in the store, and nasty black marks on the bottoms of your digits.

After leaving retail, I was pretty big about keeping my closet as organized as my old stores. Matching hangers (black plastic ones I got from work that do great with monkey-hanging), everything separated by style (all dresses together, all pants together, etc.), everything color coordinated, and everything finger spaced. Having a tidy and attractive closet calmed me, and made getting dressed all the more easy and enjoyable. I could open those accordion doors and immediately be able to put together an outfit, or know what piece I should buy that season to make my wardrobe more cohesive.

Then I had a baby.

Suddenly I had no clue what size I was, and had no time to really care for my hair, let alone my closet. I had everything from size 10 to 18 hanging in there – winter clothes in July, sundresses in January. Piles of shoes on the floor collecting dust – either too high for my postpartum body or too small with my now size-8 feet. My husband tried to help and any clothes that came out of the dryer he hung up. This meant I had to dig through yoga pants and hoodies to find something appropriate to don for work. Let’s add to this mess the fact that the closet was a fun hideout for my dogs (and once she started walking, my daughter). Amid the dusty shoes and dirty laundry on the floor, one could always find giant puffs of blonde dog fur, a chewed up stuffed animal, or a Sandra Boynton book.

As Emerson gets closer to the age of two, I get closer to being Alison again. Baby steps towards reclaiming myself, finding balance in this new world. This week, my goal was to reclaim the closet.

I started with my bureau. As that many items in the closet should actually be there, I wanted to start with a clean slate. Out went the beat up nursing tanks, the oversized yoga pants, what the heck is a maternity tee still doing in there? Out went the white pants, the stained tee shirts, the icky yellowed and grayed ribbed tanks. While at it, gone were the stretched out postpartum granny panties and all the nursing bras that didn’t lift and support and act like a regular bra to my bust. I made two piles – what to donate, and what to turn into rags.


Green Tip – Take your old tee shirts, cut off the sleeves and hems and cuffs and you will end up with two nice-sized rectangles perfect for dusting and quick clean-ups! Have a basket under your kitchen sink or in your linen closet, toss in the wash when dirty and you will be amazed at how easy it is to go paper-towel free! you can also do this with old yoga pants and other knits – just cut to size and the edges will roll on themselves, keeping them from fraying.

I then tackled the closet. I removed all the items that should be in a drawer (pajamas, casual knits, jeans, bras that were line drying in the bathroom and moved to the closet by my husband). When I put them away, I put them away with purpose. A drawer for lingerie, a drawer for nicer knits (tanks and shells and tees that I will wear out in public), a drawer for jeans and casual bottoms, a drawer for workout wear and lounge wear (and the one or two bummy tees I kept for when I paint a room or work in the garden).

I then went through what was leftover. I had a box for what was out of season and needed to go into the attic, a bag for that which needed to be donated, a bag of what I thought I could sell on eBay, and then I added some more to the rag pile.

Wow, I just whittled my closet by more than half! Instead of feeling sad that I had a smaller wardrobe, I felt liberated. I looked at what was left and felt so… creative! Hey, wouldn’t that top look really cute under that sweater? What if I wore that dress as a tunic with skinny jeans and boots? Oh the options!

Before continuing, I decided to clean. I took a rag and water with a drop of Dr. Bronner’s and wiped down the metal bars and the shelves.

Finally I took everything and hung it up properly a la Retail Alison. All facing the right way on the hangers, gripper hangers for the slippery pieces, using garment loops to keep items from falling off hangers. I even hung my skirts so they were flush with one side of the pant hanger. I organized by style, with the most worn pieces at the center of the closet. And finally, I finger-spaced the garments. I knew I wouldn’t maintain it, but it was a nice way to finish that portion of this project.

I stood back… and felt such serenity. There was my wardrobe, my options, my suit of armor. Looking at it all nicely organized made me realize I had a pretty good collection and didn’t want for much. Having my clothes so tidy made me want to keep them tidy – not just when in the hanger, but caring for them properly when wearing and laundering so they would stay looking pretty and tidy.

I haven’t finished my closet project – the floor is still littered with cardboard books and summer flip flops and old dusty boots. The bags need to be stored properly (great use for old pillowcases). But I did weed out the shoes and they are now in the properly-labeled box. My hanging organizer is organized, though not yet weeded. I hope to have this project complete before this coming Monday, but wanted to share photos with you now. It’s proof that style doesn’t come with quantity, but with having a useful wardrobe of staples. Stick to one color story and style for more versatility and the ability to mix and match with little thought. Keep it simple, use accessories to show personality and change up wardrobe basics. Respect and love your clothes and they will be more likely to love you in return!

My side of the closet – what I have accomplished so far.  The boxes hold all the shoes I own – boots and flip flops are stored on the floor of the closet.  Bags have yet to be sorted and properly stored in cloth bags. And nope, the hangers are no longer finger-spaced!

My wardrobe collection.  You can see I pretty much stick to a base of black and gray with the occasional pop of color.  This season I am really loving striped shirts and have added a few to my wardrobe – very classic, touch of French chic, and a cheap way to add a current trend to my collection of basics.
I know with this collection I have something to wear to work every day of the week, something to wear to a holiday party, a cocktail party, a wedding, a funeral, or most any event that life throws my way!

My accessory collection.  I purchased this hanging organizer almost 20 years ago.  First shelf are seasonal accessories like scarves and mittens, plus my baseball caps that I only wear to baseball games (two for the Orioles, two for the Nationals).  Second shelf are dressy or small purses I use most often.  Third shelf are pashminas and scarves I use most often.  First drawer holds more pashminas and shawls that I don’t wear as often.  Second drawer holds my scarf collection, and the bottom drawer holds the rest of my clutches and dress purses.  My husband and I house our belts together on the two contraptions to the right.  More belts are stored in a box on the shelf with my shoe boxes – those belts are novelty pieces that I rarely wear.

The reason I love this closet – the skylight!  Natural light, hardly ever the need to turn on the electric light (except at night like this photo), and a beautiful scene to help me every morning as I contemplate what to wear!

Dressing for Your Date With Destiny

I am tired. Dog tired. This week is kicking my tail, and it’s only Wednesday. Today I had to get to work pretty early. I knew I had no meetings today, will pretty much be holed up in my office. I even brought my lunch. I would be on the subway so early, I could end up with an entire car to myself, the streets of DC would be pretty empty. I may only bump into a handful of people by 5pm, and I won’t be able to take outfit photos. With that sort of day, it’s tempting to roll out of bed, throw on something “presentable,” toss my hair in a ponytail and head to work.

Instead, I took a shower, put on an outfit I had worn before and knew was flattering and office-appropriate, did a one-minute makeup application of the basics (concealer, mascara, lip color) and headed out the door.

It’s so easy to justify a slob day. You’re tired, you’re hungover, you’re sick. It’s only a trip to the grocery store, you work in IT and don’t interact with humans, it’s raining, you just don’t FEEL like putting forth effort. I’ve been there. Today after two cups of coffee and looking longingly at a can of Diet Coke… I’m there.

The thing is, you never know where your day will take you. Your seemingly quiet work day may be changed by a visit from the CEO or a last-minute client meeting. Your early Sunday morning trip to the market could be the time you bump into your ex… and his new fiancée. You’re just driving your kid to preschool… and am asked to attend a quick parent/teacher meeting about your child’s behavior. You’re walking to the bank and bump into the person who conducted your job interview the day prior, or the person you really liked and went out on a first date with the past weekend.

You can’t predict your future, so you might as well dress for a date with destiny.

This doesn’t mean I expect you to don a party frock and heels on a rainy Saturday when you’re running to Target for a box of tampons. What it means is shopping for and owning a wardrobe that works, even if you don’t want to. What I have found is by limiting my shlubby clothing collection and simplifying my entire wardrobe it’s EASIER to get dressed when your heart isn’t in it:

– When an item gets stained, torn, misshapen, faded or no longer fits it gets removed from the closet. I have a box on the floor of my closet for pieces that need to be fixed, and a bag near my dressing table where I stuff pieces that need to be donated. It’s so easy to just hold pieces in your closet until you get around to fixing or tossing them… but that makes it all the more easy to put that piece on one day and regretting it later.

– Don’t hang wrinkled pieces in the closet. When they come out of the laundry looking like a crumpled paper bag, they go in that “repair” box and stay there until I get the time to iron it. Again, it’s so easy to justify wearing a crumpled garment – I have done it in the past. I tell myself it will get creased just getting to work or to my destination, or that the humidity will steam it out. Nope, a wrinkled from the dryer item looks very different from a pressed garment that got wrinkled with wear. This process prevents the temptation of “making it work.”

– I have one drawer for lounge/gym/painting a piece of furniture and that’s it. If that drawer starts getting stuffed I know it’s time to pare down. No one needs 20 pairs of sweatpants and 50 free swag tee shirts from every 5K race and conference they have attended. If the shirts have sentimental value, consider framing them or making a quilt (or store them elsewhere and switch out the tees every so often).

When I work out or paint, I only wear these clothes. I also change my clothes when I get home from work or an event so I can keep my nice clothes nice. This prevents nice garments from verging into bum around territory, and keeps my lounge clothing drawer streamlined.

– Even the clothes I paint in are flattering. There’s always a need for a Home Depot or Starbucks run when working on a home project. When the yoga pants get stretched out, replace them. Stalk Old Navy sales for replacement pairs – I have never paid more than $15 for a pair and I think their quality is pretty good. When white tees turn yellow or gray, hit them with some sunshine or oxygen bleach or get rid of them. Instead of those swag tees, consider getting some feminine-cut tees in flattering colors – Target and Old Navy are great places to find them for less, and this is one item where I always have success finding when I thrift.

– Buy casual clothes. This is something I didn’t do for quite a long time. It was either sweatpants or silk blouses and I didn’t own any shades of gray. I regretted it. Now I own some shorts, flattering jersey tees and pullovers, comfortable jeans and refined knit pants that can be worn out in public without feeling embarrassment. For summer, I love simple sundresses from H&M and other discount retailers (again another easy thing to find at thrift stores) – they can be thrown in the washer and dryer, worn with a pair of sandals and look like an ensemble while having the comfort and ease of a nightgown.

Can’t really tell it was a rough morning thanks to my uniform and choice of color

– Have a uniform. This doesn’t mean every single day you need to wear the same type of ensemble, but it means you have some go-to pieces that you know will work with little effort. For me, it’s merino v-neck sweaters with a pencil skirt or pair of wrinkle-free trousers – I can get dressed in the dark with this combo and feel attractive and put together. Many a very early and dark morning, I have gotten dressed by feel – here’s my Gap Perfect Trousers, here’s a v-neck sweater. I’ll grab my black ankle booties, a necklace or bracelet and I’m pulled together in five minutes.

– Embrace color. If you feel green, you won’t look as green if you are in a flattering hue instead of a neutral or black. You’ll also feel better when you’re looking at your reflection in a pleasing color. For me, it’s pink – be it bubblegum or berry, a pink color will flatter my skintone and lift my spirits.

How my closet was organized in January – slightly different now but same concept

– Organize your closet. If you open your closet on a rough morning and the first things you see are cocktail dresses and complicated blouses, you’ll get frustrated and seek out your jeans and flip flops.

For me, I find it helpful to have pants and skirts in the center of the closet. To the right are tops, to the left are jackets and cardigans, and then to the left of the jackets are dresses. To the right of the tops are the things I don’t wear on a daily basis – cocktail dresses, interview suits, out of season pieces that won’t survive being boxed in the attic. This way, I can quickly find pieces and get dressed with less stress.

I also find it helpful to have similar hangers throughout the closet. If you have those white plastic tubular hangers, hefty wooden hangers, clear plastic ones that come free with the dress your ordered online and a few of those skinny velvet ones, garments can get lost. For years I have stuck with the plastic hangers you can buy or get free with some retailers – they’re a consistent size, are great for open neck and spaghetti strap pieces, and often “monkey hang” to save space. Lately I have started switching to the slimline velvet hangers, but I am only doing it by category – all my tops first, then all my jackets and cardigans at a separate time when I acquire more. This way I don’t lose my black cardigan because it’s hiding behind my neon yellow linen blazer and black tux jacket.

My early-morning look – simple makeup, messy updo with polished bangs
 
– Create an emergency beauty routine. If you’re like me, you don’t have easy wash-and-go hair and you look better with some concealer and blush. And if you’re like me, some days you need to leave your bed but the idea of brushing your hair sounds like torture. When you’re feeling bright and bubbly, try out simplified beauty routines so you have them in your back pocket for days where you don’t feel your best or are short on time.

For me, it’s a messy updo with smoothed sideswept bangs – the messier the better because it will hide roots, grease, and bedhead. I let a few tendrils down so it looks purposeful, and use an iron or my dryer and a round brush to just make the bangs look polished. Takes less than a minute and is way better than a slicked-back ponytail with random bumps missed in haste. As for my face, I focus on what is most obvious – for me it’s the dark circles under my eyes and the redness around my nose and lips. A couple pats of concealer will even my skintone, making me automatically look more awake, healthy, and polished. I find mascara really opens my eyes, and I swear by Burt’s Bees Tinted Lip Balm in Rose for quick color on the lips AND the cheeks (so easy, can apply without a mirror while dashing to your car). I also keep a concealer, travel-sized tube of mascara (they often sell them at the counter of Sephora or come with a gift with purchase) and the Burt’s Bees balm in my purse so if I can’t get the face on before I head out the door, I can at least do it once I arrive at my destination.


What are your tips for looking polished when you don’t feel so fab?

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Fashion is Stupid

I am often attacked for my belief that style is a necessity for all people. I am told that people don’t have time, don’t have money, and feel that trying so hard to look good makes one appear superficial, materialistic, shallow and not a true reflection of their intelligent/feminist/scientific/minimalist self. Here’s the down and dirty.

You are judged by what you look like. Accept it.

Whether people realize it or not, they make assumptions about you by your appearance. This affects how you are treated at work, in a store, by your peers, your neighbors, a waiter, a doctor, a minister.

You may say you don’t care, that if a person gets to know the real you, that appearance is no longer an issue.

False.

I had a coworker, a brilliant and hardworking woman. She worked in a different office from me, but we were on many projects together and got to know one another via phone calls and emails. She was a higher position than I, and she soon became a bit of a mentor to me, and then a friend. She admitted to me after many months that she was looking for a new job because she felt as though she wasn’t respected within the department. I agreed that she seemed to lack the respect, and I couldn’t understand why. She was poised, professional yet warm. As a mentor, she gave constructive criticism, challenging tasks and plenty of feedback. In her role, she was quick, detailed and talented. Clients wrote letters about her great performance with a project, however upper management spoke of her as though she was an idiot and a bit lazy. I never understood why until nine months after we first started working together, I met her in person. She was slim and tall, though seemed uncomfortable in her skin. She hunched over and let her long straight brown hair hang over the majority of her face. When she laughed she covered her mouth as though out of embarrassment. Her hair never seemed to be brushed, she never wore makeup and her clothes looked as though she inherited them from her grandmother – they were all too large, too short for her long legs, and seemed to be from the 1980s (shoulder pads, peplum jackets, weird large floral boxy jackets with matching long broomstick skirts, etc…). Though she was in her mid-30s one would guess that she was closer to 50.

She soon left the company and got a job where she telecommutes. When she left I overheard management discussing it, thinking it was no great loss, “not like we could put her in front of a business meeting!” I thought it was a shame, some of the best work and brightest ideas just left the company. But they were right… how could you put a person who seemed so ill at ease in front of clients trying to sell our company, and make them believe that we are the best decision?

When I was in high school, I was the previous millennium’s equivalent to goth. I had black hair, shaved off part of it, lived in a motorcycle jacket, Doc Marten boots and torn stockings. When I walked in the mall, mothers would hug their purses closer to their sides. I was once asked to leave a store even though I had done nothing but walk in and flip through a rack of clothing. As the statistician for my school’s soccer team, I once had a busload of players from another school taunt me and one player spit on me calling me a “psycho.” Funny thing was I was an honor roll student, president of many clubs at my school, attended church and had a very healthy and close relationship with my parents. I was considered a “goody goody” by my friends, not partaking in drugs, drinking, smoking or mature relationships with my boyfriends. However I had black hair and lots of eyeliner so those who did not know me considered me to be a derelict of society.

In college I was a blonde for a couple of semesters and saw how differently I was treated. People were more willing to come up to me and ask directions or speak to me, I had a more relaxed rapport with teachers, and people thought I seemed “happier” during that period of time. Funny thing was that I was actually having the most miserable year of my college career, but no one took me seriously when I complained. I guess I didn’t “look” unhappy enough to school counselors or friends.

I have a dear friend. She is a gorgeous woman inside and out. She oozes confidence and femininity and is incredibly intelligent. One place she does have problems is in everyday society. We meet for drinks and she tells me how for the fourth time that month someone has literally slammed a door in her face because he didn’t see her behind him. She goes from job to job, having much success in the interview but after a few months somehow ends up taking up the responsibility of the intern, the receptionist and the admin while those with less education and time with the corporation move up in the ranks. She goes to the bar and ends up standing there far longer than anyone else, never getting the attention of the bartender. She has found that in the love department, she has had the most success in online dating where a relationship via IM and email is established prior to meeting one another. Once they meet, the man is usually positively smitten. I thought about all of this while I sat across from this beautiful woman with insanely green eyes and long lashes, who has the cutest laugh and the most graceful movements. Then I thought about how she dresses herself. On that night at the bar, she was wearing a moss-green short sleeved cotton shirt, black trousers and black shoes. The shirt was fuzzy from far too many washings and looked garment-dyed probably from use and not from design. It looked to be 100% cotton and it looked as though she tried to get out the wrinkles with a run through the dryer. Her attempt was not successful as that the shirt looked like she pulled it off the floor of her bedroom. Her trousers were leftover from her 20 pound larger frame three years ago and bagged everywhere they shouldn’t. They dragged on the ground from the extra inches and the hem was torn and muddy. Her shoes were big chunky black loafers; a pair I had myself in the mid-90s that looked like clown shoes on her petite frame. Her hair was a blunt cut to the jaw, parted in the middle and tucked behind the ears. No jewelry, no makeup, no adornment whatsoever. I knew her as a fiery brilliant woman, but those on the street (and in her office and behind the bar) probably find her to blend into the woodwork, seem mousy and unsure of herself.

We discussed fashion and she told me that no offense to me, but fashion depletes brain cells. One hardly ever sees a person with a PhD and a pair of Jimmy Choos. My response is that looking good does NOT have to equate with current fashion. It is possible for every person n the planet to look good, look appropriate and look the part of their culture/personality/lifestyle. That your insides have to be reflected on your outside to truly have personal style. I thought back to my years of black hair and torn clothes and wouldn’t have changed a thing – though I may not have fit into a crowd, I fit into my life and my personality. When I went to church I traded my monkey boots for loafers and my plaid miniskirts for a more conservative sweater with trousers. I thought about her, and wondered how that green wrinkled top expressed what kind of person she was. Her wearing that top was just as conflicting as her wearing my leather biker jacket from high school, or a cabbage-rose adorned dress from Laura Ashley.

  • There is nothing wrong with having a uniform. The staples (see the sidebar) are tools to help it be effortless to look nice. I know many women who have just a handful of items in their closet all of the same color story yet they always look pulled together. I know moms who are always rumpled, and those who always look crisp. I notice how some of my mother’s friends look a decade older than the others, and some who look a decade younger based just on hair and clothing.
  • Like my good friend, I am not a “crisp” person. If I wear white, I will spill coffee on it. If I wear cotton, it will get wrinkled. My hair falls flat, I sweat, I eat off my lipstick. To battle this, I hardly ever buy things that need to be ironed. I rarely wear white, and I buy a lot of knits. I always carry a Tide to Go pen with me, and I have learned to wear my hair in a way that works with my afternoon-limp hair, not fight against it. Why spend money on things that contradict who you are and make you uncomfortable?
  • My friend’s favorite color is purple, yet I don’t think she owns a single purple thing in her wardrobe. She lives in neutrals, yet is a primary color personality. It is possible to be simple, classic and comfortable in a blue top as much as it is to be so in a tan one. Wear what you like, and it usually looks far better than what you think is easy, safe or comfortable.
  • If you love to travel, then show it with jewelry you pick up on your travels. Are you an artist? How will anyone know in your drab, neutral frocks? Be an extension of your works with the colors and patterns that you wear. Want people to believe you are smart and serious? Then wear smart and serious with clean lines, simple pieces and strong yet minimal accessories. Love the outdoors? You can be stylish and still wear clothes that let you hike and climb at a moment’s notice. Hate consumerism? You can show your beliefs and look good with great items from Goodwill or your sewing machine.
  • Be mindful of what you buy. Before you ever spend a dollar on a piece of furniture, an item in your grocery cart, or a piece of clothing take a minute to stop and think. Visualize this thing in your life – imagine it on your body, your plate or your home. Does it bring you joy? Does it make you better? Does it work with your life or against it? You have to buy pants, you have to buy shoes. Why not buy that which works for you as well as with you? Life can be tough, taking a few moments to think before you spend can make the road a bit easier and more pleasurable to travel. And you never know, that moment of mindfulness may get you a promotion, a date or a faster drink at the bar!

How to be a Stylish Woman in her Thirties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Mall and the SAHM

This week, I ran to the mall at lunch for some retail therapy. I recently bought a pair of black trousers that had such a perfect fit, fabric and cut that I returned to get them in two other colors. While strolling the mall sipping my iced coffee, I realized that the majority of the mall was occupied by mothers with their children. Women with slings holding sleeping infants, women with strollers holding up to three kids at a time at varying ages. Women and children hand in hand at the food court, on benches, in stores. As varying were the ages of their children were the appearances of these mothers.

This mall is in a community where every economic level of person lives. On one side of the mall are million-dollar townhomes in a gated community, the other side are rent-controlled apartments. A mile up the street are McMansions and in the other direction, cozy blocks of split-level and rancher-style brick homes built in the 50s. I used to work at this mall, and saw people from all walks of life enter my store. This day of retail therapy and my years of retail management remind me that money does not equal style.

My mom often tells me about my childhood. We were not well off and she had to save up to buy clothes for herself and us kiddies. Weekends were spent at yard sales for clothes, furniture and even Christmas presents come winter. Though my mom had a limited budget, she always looked great. She learned to sew to be able to dress for less and flatter her petite frame. She scoured sale racks and when something worked, she would buy multiples in varying colors to make things simple. Since she was a Stay at Home Mom (SAHM), she needed clothes that didn’t wrinkle, could handle multiple washings and were so easy to pair with one another, she could dress in the dark. Pictures of her during this time shows her in jeweled toned knit tops, black knit trousers, black shoes and a silver pendant necklace almost every day. Not too exciting, the sleeve and pant length seemed to change with the seasons, but the premise was the same. Considering it was the 70s and 80s, my mom had a shoulder-length perm that flattered her face but was low-maintenance. You couldn’t look at her and know her income level or that I had vomited on that shirt two days prior. She was a parent of two rambunctious children, a volunteer in our schools, the editor of the church newsletter, active in the community and always overextended. Though her life may have been frazzled, her appearance was not.

It really is possible to look good and be a SAHM. And this is possible without spending much more time every day. It’s all about mindful shopping. I know I have written about this before, but this is something that is important to all women, no matter our lifestyle or responsibilities.

As I walked down the mall, I had two women in front of me pushing strollers. They were friends, chatting with each other as they window-shopped. They were both in their 30s, both of average size, both with straight blonde hair and I believe even had the same strollers. That was where the similarities ended. One was in baggy over-washed black cotton capris that ended at the widest part of her calf. She paired this with a pink, black and white horizontally striped polo shirt that hit right at her waistband and with it a pair of black flip flops. Her hair was half up in a claw clip, though most was slipping out and fanning out around her head. She looked dumpy, disheveled and her clothes looked cheap. Her friend was also in black capris, but they were of a very heavy knit and fit her frame quite well. Paired with it was a turquoise boatneck ¾ sleeve top that hit at mid-hip. On her feet were black ballet flats and her hair was held back with a black elastic headband. Her outfit was just as low-fuss and easy care, yet she looked slimmer and more polished. Both wardrobes can go in the washer and dryer. Both outfits were comfortable and easy. The difference was that the woman in the turquoise seemed more mindful of what she was purchasing.

1. Don’t buy 100% cotton unless you love to iron. It wrinkles, and even an extra 10 minutes in the dryer won’t get those wrinkles out. Also, cotton is known to fade after many washings. Cotton clothes soon look rumpled, old and worn. You don’t have the time and money to replace them, so don’t buy them in the first place.

2. If your tummy is not your best feature, then don’t showcase it. Tops that hit right at your midsection draw attention to that area. Tucked-in tops emphasize the lower abdomen, and tops that are too tight do not flatter anyone. Look for tops that hit around mid-hip. This length is slimming to the torso without making the legs look short. No need for baggy tops – they often add bulk instead of hiding it. Look for something that either skims the body or sits pretty darn close. This will show you have the figure of a woman, not a sack of potatoes.

3. Flip flops are for the beach, not the mall. I say this often on here, but flops are bad for your feet. Your arches sink, you pull muscles between your toes and they do more harm than good. They are great when hopping in the car to drop the kid off somewhere, tooling around the garden, the pool or the shore but that’s about it. To preserve your feet for your future and not look sloppy, invest in some real shoes. Ballet flats are a great alternative and can be found for less than $20 at retailers like Target. A leather sandal in tan will go with 90% of your wardrobe and be more structured and attractive than a flip flop. This change affects your personal style as well as your personal health.

4. With skirts, dresses, shorts and capris, have them end at a slim part of the leg. Your thigh and your calf are the widest parts and when clothing ends there, it gives the appearance that your entire leg is that size. Do your figure a favor and if the garment is perfect except for the length, take them to the tailor. For about $5 they can hem it to a better place.

5. Consider solids. Stripes and patterns may add variety and you may think they hide stains, but they often look cheap and quickly look dated. A solid polo in French blue can look crisp with a pair of khaki Bermudas; a striped one can make you look bigger and often looks cheaper. The best way to make your bargain piece look more expensive is to buy it in a solid color, free of garment-dyed finishes, contrast stitching or elaborate details. Go for simple and you’ll go for gold.

6. Read the label. If it says Dry Clean Only, don’t buy it unless you have time and money for such a service. If it tells you to dry flat, it’s telling you not to buy it. You don’t have the time for this, and if you don’t follow the instructions you will probably ruin the shape or finish of the garment.

7. If it’s great, buy two. As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, I went and bought two more pairs of pants that I already owned and loved. They were the right length, color, fabric and fit. No one is taking a tally of how many styles of garments you own, all people notice is if you look nice. You found a great wrap top that flatters and fits and is easy care and perfection? Get it in black, pink and teal. Found a wrap dress that can hit the dryer as well as the dance floor? Get it in solid black and also in the red print. This is also true for shoes – get them in the neutral you wear most often (black or brown) and then get them in one other color (tan or a contrast shade like red pr green). If they are awesome, they are worth it.

8. Adjust your hair to your life. If you don’t have time to blow out your hair every morning, then get a cut that allows you to wash and wear. If you have bad hair days, you are human. Work with it with flattering accessories. Claw clips seem like a quick fix but look sloppy more often than not. Headbands are hip right now – great time to stock up. Also nothing is wrong with a low ponytail; side parts are flattering on rounder faces and a little hairspray on your brush or comb will help battle flyaways.

9. Buy a new bra. Whether or not you breastfed, your breasts will not be the same as they were pre-baby even if your waistline is. With any weight changes, your breasts change as well. Nothing makes you look firmer and fitter than a supportive bra. Also nothing makes you feel more like a woman than to have a gorgeous red satin and lace number under your standard tee shirt.

10. Keep the active wear for the gym. Knit shorts, baggy tee shirts from a vacation destination, matching hoodies and pants are not appropriate for “the real world.” It is just as easy to buy a feminine cut of tee shirt than to buy an oversized one.

11. Don’t shy from a skirt or dress. If it hits around the knees, you can still crawl on the floor and run around without trouble. A skirt is always more polished, and a great tee-shirt style dress is easier to put on in the morning than a whole outfit. The one pictured is less than $40 by Jones New York, I found it at Nordstrom.

12. Show your personality.You are more than a mom, you are an amazing and vital woman.Wear your favorite colors, buy a leopard print shoe or a bold necklace.Small touches take your standard day wear from uniform to amazing with little work.

 

 

Some companies I recommend to find beautiful, comfortable and durable garments:

      • Lands End – I love this place. I buy knits from there that never shrink, fade or pill. They have petite, tall and plus sizes and offer fit guides to ensure you get the right size. I recommend you use this guide for many of their pieces run big. Best part? Their prices are very reasonable!
      • Chico’s – Fabulous colors, fun accessories and lots of fabrics that resist wrinkles and fading. Do note their sizing is a bit different from most companies and they do not carry plus sizes. As with Lands End, they often run a tad big.
      • J. Crew – J. Crew is the Mecca for pretty solid colored tops. Flattering cuts of polos and tees, high-quality cashmere, cotton and wool sweaters, and all with flattering yet not risqué necklines and cuts. J. Crew often runs small, especially in their bottoms but the quality is good, the cut is usually flattering and their return policy is fabulous. The price may be a bit higher than you’re used to, but the quality usually makes it worth the investment (I am still wearing J. Crew skirts and sweaters from a decade ago).
      • I.N.C. by Macy’s – You may find this a strange choice but if you regularly visit this section you would understand. They carry petites and plus sizes, they always have the most gorgeous colors and a large selection of pants, shorts and capris for the season. I.N.C. does a fabulous job of taking what is on the runway and making is realistic and wearable for every woman. They carry prints, but also a plethora of solids every season in some high-quality knits and other washable fabrics.
      • Boden – Feminine cuts, pretty colors, and great basics for any wardrobe. Do note this is a UK site so their sizes run differently than the us (they have a handy fit guide on the site). They don’t have many extended sizes, though some trousers are offered in long lengths. This company has mastered simple elegance with their basic style.

 

Ask Allie: Purses, Bags, and Totes

Dear Allie,
I don’t go out a lot, but each time I do I wish I had something other than my big day purse to take with me. What would be a good choice of bag that I can have for when I get invited to a bachelorette party or a wedding or my husband’s office Christmas party?
Thanks,
Tonya

To have a bag that works for all those situations and to span seasons (and years) you will need to either go very simple, or choose something really unique.

As soon as I read your email, I thought of my patchwork clutch from Novica. It’s a mix of cotton and leather and it contains most every color in the rainbow. The bag is so unique and eye-catching it can dress up and down pretty easily – I have paired it with a LBD, and as you see in this post, wore it with a chambray shirt and wool skirt. A clutch is a smart choice because it’s a more timeless silhouette – bag shapes and sizes come and go but clutches have maintained popularity over the past decade and will continue to be popular and stylish.

Nicole Ritchie shows how a snakeskin bag can work with all sorts of colors and styles

Something out of snakeskin or leather (real or a quality faux) is a classic choice and will hold up over the years; however don’t rule out an unexpected finish. A twill or canvas bag with beading or feather detail can often be just as versatile. If there is a variety of colors, a print, or a statement color, you can have it work with most anything (even if the color of your dress is not in the bag).

If you would like something more classic, you can’t go wrong with a soft black leather clutch. Classic size (around a foot to 18” in length and slim) and silhouette (pouch or envelope). The leather should be soft, buttery, no funky glazes, no flashy details. This is the type of bag you can wear today and 20 years from today. You may have to pay more to find such a bag (or search vintage boutiques), but it will be a wardrobe staple for a lifetime.

Hi Allie–
I was advised by my physical therapist to consider wearing a cross-body bag, rather than a bag with a shoulder strap (to help with my neck/shoulder problems). However, I’m busty and feel uncomfortable with the ‘boobage issue’ created with a cross body strap. Any thoughts on how best to work with a cross-body bag?
Marcy

Like you, I shied away from cross-body bags for years because of my large bust. They always seemed to accentuate them, falling right between the breasts, often pushing them to the side. However, once I became a city commuter, I realized how very necessary they can be. Now I have several cross-body bags in my collection. A few tips:

Be picky about the strap. My Brahmin handbag can be carried in my hand, worn as a shoulder bag, or the strap lengthened to become a cross-body. More often than not, it is worn across my body when I go to work so I can have hands free to hold onto a support bar on the Metro, read the paper, or hold a cup of coffee. The reason this bag works so well is because it is very narrow (about a half an inch), yet extremely sturdy (no chance of it breaking or cutting into my neck). The combination of narrow yet thick/sturdy helps with comfort… and it also helps with the ‘boobage’ issue by being too stiff to really slide between and under the breasts.

For smaller cross-body bags (I like to use these when going to concerts and festivals), I go the opposite route with a very lightweight strap. By being so lightweight of a bag and strap, it doesn’t fall between the breasts causing separation.

Reese Witherspoon in a Crossbody Bag

For a large heavy bag (daypacker, to carry your laptop), there are bags made with an usually wide strap which ends up working more like a sash across your body.

Adjust the strap. Sometimes one inch can make all the difference with a crossbody destroying the line of your figure. Look for an adjustable-strap bag so you can play in front of the mirror to find the perfect length for your body. For me, I find a longer strap (bag hitting lower on the hip) works better with my bust if the bag is heavy and large; I will do a shorter strap for smaller crossbodies.

Minimize. A big problem with current handbags is the size – the larger a bag, the heavier it will be, and the more room to hold everything except the kitchen sink. The heavier the bag, the more likely it will divide your body.

Look for the absolute smallest bag you can handle – if you need a bag to carry your laptop or iPad, find a slimline style to minimize bulk. If you don’t need a bag to carry your electronics, shrink the size all together. Seriously look over your bag contents – do you really need 5 lipsticks, 2 paperback novels, and that travel umbrella even though there isn’t rain on the horizon for weeks? I find it’s easier to organize and pare down when I keep my bag contents in smaller bags – one for cosmetics, one for purse essentials such as safety pins and gum, my wallet, and then my phone etc. When it is already compartmentalized it’s harder to justify a random addition.

Hi, Allie!
I have recently started a new job in the finance industry at a more “corporate” location as opposed to “business casual.” With my new position my manager wants me to bring my work laptop home with me each day. I have been carrying both my purse and small laptop bag each day, along with a water bottle, and if I pack my lunch a lunch bag. I’m looking into consolidating it all into just one bag. Do you think it would be better to get a laptop/tote bag with a padded section for the laptop and carry all my necessities in it, or should I get a basic work tote that would be large enough for all my stuff and buy sleeve to protect my laptop? Do you have any suggestions for a work bag that would accommodate carrying a laptop daily?
Thanks!
Karla

I guess it depends on you and your lifestyle. I personally have a laptop bag that I use for everything when I need to carry my laptop. My work laptop is pretty large and integral to me being productive at work, so I have chosen to have a bag that best supports and protects it. It’s not glamorous – it’s black microfiber and clunky, but it keeps my bag safe and looks professional for onsite client meetings.

If I had a smaller standard-size work laptop, I would consider a sleeve, but the problem is that a sleeve can slide around in a non-structured bag, making it feel heavy and clunky and possibly stretching out your purse. I have carried my netbook in a sleeve in my structured leather J. Crew tote – the netbook and sleeve fit perfectly in the large center zipper compartment leaving plenty of space for my personal purse contents. I can then slip out the netbook and carry a lighter bag to after-work events or a lunch meeting.

As for your lunch… it may be hard to find a bag that can carry that and everything else. My laptop bag is the size of a piece of carryon luggage and I still can’t seem to fit more than a Lean Cuisine in there, and if I do I don’t have room for a water bottle. With all the padding to protect your laptop, it becomes hard to carry everything in one without dragging around a bag the size of a small child. It may less cumbersome to just carry your lunch separately.

Before you decide you need to consider:

  • The size of your laptop – is it standard (meaning it’s easy to find a sleeve and easy for it and the sleeve to fit in a standard-size bag)
  • How often you need to carry your bag sans laptop (lunch or client meetings, after-work events where you can slip your laptop in the trunk of your car, etc.)
  • How much walking will you be doing – would it be more practical to get a rolling laptop bag? I know my laptop with it’s cord and extra-large battery is ridiculously heavy and I have considered getting a rolling bag to transport it and all my other essentials. With such a bag, also carrying your lunch wouldn’t be an issue.

A few laptop bags I have seen that are stylish while being professional:

The MobilEdge Milano Tote


MobilEdge Milano Tote – This bag holds a lot without looking bulky or as though it was purchased at REI. Online reviews state the faux croco finish looks quite nice and expensive in person. The strap is long enough to fit over your shoulder even while wearing a winter coat. While the version I link to fits a 17” laptop, there are other retailers (like this one) who have the same bag for a 15” laptop. This is regularly rated as a top choice for professional women (if you like it, Google it to find the best price as it is available on a variety of online shops).

McKlein “Deerfield” Laptop Tote – A very sleek modern look, Italian leather, and a variety of amazing colors makes this 17” laptop bag a winner. Special compartments for business cards and pens, while still having room for essentials such as a wallet, cosmetic bag, and bottle of water. The dark red would be quite elegant with classic gray and black suiting, while the choice of other colors could be a fun choice for more creative offices.

Piel Multi-Pocket Laptop Tote – This one even has a side pocket specifically for a water bottle! This bag gets rave reviews from business travelers which means it would have all the space and organization for one who wants to use this in place of a separate purse. Available in classic brown, black and cognac as well as a few subtle shades that would also work in most professional settings.

Royce Leather Cosmopolitan Computer Brief – Very simple style, tons of pockets for all your essentials, and a size to fit most standard-size laptops. While black is a safe bet, I really like the red to add a conservative pop of color to a corporate wardrobe.

While there are thousands of different types of bags out there, I chose ones that were pretty conservative in silhouette and made to be primarily a laptop bag. If you find that a sleeve or a rolling bag is more appropriate for your needs, do check out these sites that have a great variety of bags:

  • eBags – a fave of mine because of the extensive customer reviews
  • Kolobags – amazing variety of fashionable bags designed for laptops and other technology
  • McKlein USA – laptop bags specifically designed for women
  • Handbags.com – quite a large selection of work-appropriate laptop bags
  • Overstock.com – I have a laptop bag from there that I got at 75% less than a similar (and same brand) bag at Macy’s. If you know what you want, this site is worth a gander.

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My Beauty Must Haves

There is a blog tradition where on your 100th post, you write 100 things about yourself. As that I have already done this on my other blog, I have decided to log my 100 favorite beauty items. And yes… I believe I can log 100!

1. Vitamin C Face Wash from The Body Shop: I have sensitive skin in the winter, it dries out quickly, produces oil quickly in the T-zone and will turn red, peel, or itch if someone looks at it the wrong way. This face wash is a cream, non-foaming, non-soap. I use it after a makeup remover to gently remove any dirt and impurities. Works great with a face brush without making my skin more angry. The faint citrus smell is nice in the morning. When I worked at the Body Shop, some clients found this product to be too caustic for overly sensitive skin (Vitamin C can be irritating) but I have liked it. Vitamin C is an antioxidant – it fights free radicals which helps you have fresh and healthy skin.

2. Vitamin E Face Spritz from The Body Shop: Trains, planes and automobiles. This face spritz is great for hydrating your skin when on the go. I spray it every hour when on a plane. I have one in my desk drawer at the office. One in the bathroom which is used as a gentle toner and a great way to create a dewy finish post-foundation and powder. It’s very light moisture, a slight rose scent and a cooling feel to the skin. People use it under makeup to make it apply better, over makeup to help set it but give a more dewy finish. It’s a great pick me up.


3. Nivea Eye Makeup Remover: This stuff is very gentle, non-irritating, and packs a punch. I put a bit on a cotton pad and hold it to my eye for a few seconds. No need to rub – when I wipe all my makeup comes off. It even removed liquid liner and waterproof mascara! You need very little, a tube will last you for MONTHS and it doesn’t make me have to rub and tug at the skin to get rid of my eye cosmetics.

4. Oil of Olay Total Effects Cleansing Cloths: I am a lazy bum. I’ll admit it. When I am tired, I just want to go to bed. I don’t want to wash and tone and moisturize. I just want to curl into bed and leave black smears of mascara on my pillowcases. I store these wipes in my nightstand and can wash my face as I fall asleep. They don’t work as well as face wash, but they’re better than going without.


5. Bag Balm: This stuff doesn’t smell too good, but it works well. I read an interview where Shania Twain said it was her favorite beauty product. I decided to try it out – I liked the retro looking tin. Each night I slap this stuff on my lips, heels, cuticles and wake with smooth and soft skin. In the winter I often slap it all over my hands and go to sleep with socks on my hands, and in the winter I do the same to my feet.

6. Nars blush in Orgasm: You HAD to know that this would be on the list! I swear by this product, as do many other celebrities and bloggers! This is a peachy pink color that can go from a sheer wash to a burst of color depending on how you layer it. It has a slight shimmer to it, but nothing that recalls ravers, more of a slight glow or dewy finish to the cheeks.

7. I.D. Bare Escentuals Foundation: I had watched the infomercial dozens of times, and have even watched Leslie on QVC sell her wares. I was skeptical, but finally decided to try it. I ordered the trial kit available on the QVC website and was SO GLAD I DID! This foundation lasts all day, it covers my ruddy cheeks and allergy dark circles without making me look as though I am painted. Somehow it covers all that I want covered, but still lets my freckles show through! It’s tricky to apply and gets all over the sink and my top, but it’s worth the trouble for the natural end result.

8. M.A.C. Zoom Lash: When I first got this stuff I HATED it. I found it too goopy and was constantly wiping the wand with a Kleenex so I didn’t look like a raccoon. Soon I got the hang of it, and was pleased with the result. Long, thick lashes that survive eye rubbing, tearing, sweating and naps. It’s a bit tricky, but it’s worth the time for the end result – especially if you are like me and have allergies!

9. Lancome Defincils: This is one of the best mascaras out there! It doesn’t make you have drag queen lashes, but it gives very clean, separated and defined lashes. A great day mascara, or a mascara for those who fear eye makeup. No irritation with contacts or allergies, and it lasted all day. I wore the waterproof version on my wedding day – applied it before 10 a.m. and still had lovely lashes at midnight!

10. Body Butter from The Body Shop: I fell for the fragrance of the Coconut Butter, but was committed with a touch. I was in the mall, window shopping and crossed my arms. My hand touched my other arm’s elbow – just a brush. I felt as though I had touched a stranger’s skin. My elbow was soft and silky to the touch. An ELBOW! And in the WINTER no less! Celebrities can afford million dollar creams, but many celebrate the benefits of The Body Shop’s Body Butter for good reason. Unlike many replicas, this company’s butter is predominately moisturizer, not water. No waxes or petroleum – the moisture comes from shea nuts, cocoa nuts, brazil nuts. The nuts have oil that melts at a lower temperature than many other moisturizers, letting it seep into the skin more easily than say, Vaseline or regular body lotion. Try it – they sell travel sizes. I’m sure after one use you’ll run back for the big container… or two!

11. OPI’s I’m Not Really a Waitress Nailcolor: The red with the most class. I don my tootsies with it 75% of the year. Goes with everything, and isn’t too tartish for the office.

12. OPI’s Coney Island Cotton Candy Nailcolor: the pale pink/nude that doesn’t look chalky or cheesy. The only nailcolor I will allow on my hands, and I like it on my feet in the spring, when I am wearing open toed shoes but am still pale. Very elegant. I wore it on my wedding day.

13. L’Occitane Shea Butter Hand Cream: Amazing stuff. It is so decadent – so rich, but not greasy. No candy scent, and it really seems to heal my hands. My sister says it’s one of the greatest gifts for a woman, and I agree. I don’t think any woman would be disappointed with a tube of this in her stocking or from her Secret Santa!

14. Short Sexy Hair’s Play Dirty Dry Wax: I borrowed this product from a friend when at the beach. My hair was too… clean. It was hanging limp and was boring. I lifted some pieces and took a few spritzes, figuring that if it looked like crap I could throw it all up in a ponytail. No need, for that night I had the best hair I had worn in months. The wax separated the hair gently. It didn’t feel gross to the touch, and the scent was not overpowering. It held better than hair spray, even while sweating and running around. It gave my hair body, texture and all the stuff other products claim to do and really don’t. I find it works on my hair from shoulder length and shorter. Anything longer, and it can’t seem to fight gravity.

15. Chanel No.5 Parfum: Wanna feel like a goddess? Spritz this stuff on your wrists. A little goes a long way, but once you get a whiff, you will be standing taller, walking more gracefully, and feeling like a lady. A sexy lady. Think Marilyn (who wore it as her signature scent). My mom has worn it since college, and every time I smell it on her I think of weekends as a kid watching her get gussied up for a night on the town with my dad. My sister bought me a bottle a few years ago. I don’t wear it often because it is my mom’s scent. I do spritz a bit when I need to feel more confident – a job interview, a presentation, a high school reunion. Every time I wear it, and smell it on those around me I feel as though I posses a bit more confidence, a bit more class.


16. Sephora’s Bronzer Brush: I am a brush snob. I have brushes from M.A.C, Trish McEvoy, Shu Umera, Bobbi Brown. However when I can find a bargain brush that’s worthy, I stock pile. I have two of these brushes – one for my powder foundation, one for my bronzer. This brush has tightly packed bristles, but they are very soft to provide even application. It fits well in the hand, washes nicely without losing bristles, and has worn well – they look brand new after a couple of years of use! I fully believe in buying the best tools possible – they last you for years and make all cosmetics apply and wear better.

17. M.A.C. Blot Powder: This stuff is wonderful. You can apply over and over all day without getting cakey. It really controls the shine. I used this powder on my wedding day and through tears, sweat, hugs and kisses I only needed to reapply once in a twelve-hour span. I was never a huge fan of pressed powder until I was introduced to Blot.

18. Victoria’s Secret Lip-Gloss in French Kiss: I have bought this little pot over and over through the years, always go back to it. I will buy designer lipglosses, but I find this gloss to have the prettiest natural shimmer, the most elegant nude color, the right amount of stickiness without being gross. It lasts a long time, doesn’t have an overwhelming scent, and applies well over lipsticks and pencils to add a subtle wet look without being “too much.” I have even added it to my cheeks and lids in the summer – really highlights a tan nicely.

19. A Face Brush: I pick mine up at The Body Shop because I like the length of the handle and the softness of the bristles. A face brush can make any gentle cleanser a scrub. I wash mine regularly (along with my makeup brushes) so that it doesn’t harbor bacteria and yuckies. A circular motion a couple of nights a week with your regular face wash will really help the skin stay clear, revitalized and fresh. Once I started using one regularly I saw a marked improvement in my skin – especially those pesky blackheads on the nose.

20. The Body Shop’s Soy and Calendula Face Scrub: This product is sold for sensitive skin, but I highly recommend it for any skin types as a scrub. The gel base of the scrub rinses clean and is not drying. Soy is a great product for the skin and is toted as an age deifier. Calendula is an anti-redness ingredient. The granules are round beads that don’t scratch the skin like many face scrubs. It’s not overly harsh, but does the job of removing the bad and leaving the good.

21. Aveda Be Curly: This is a lotion-like product for curls. When I used to wear my hair in long layers, I would go to bed with wet hair; a large dollop of this product mixed in, and would wake up with ringlets and beachy waves. Amazing stuff, and a little goes a long way. It seemed to keep the waves all day as well.

22. Conair’s Dry N Style Iron: I know there may be better straightening irons out there, but I love this one because I travel so much. In one product I have a large barrel curling iron and a ceramic straightening iron that gets very hot. Also, this product claims to be a dryer. The drying tool sort of sucks, but is great for getting those little damp ringlets at the nape nice and straight. It was less than $20 at Target and has traveled the country without causing me any trouble.

23. Large Round Boar Hair Brushes: I didn’t realize how great these brushes are until this past weekend when I forgot my brush and used my friend’s large barreled brush with a metal barrel and black plastic bristles. The brush helped my hair get super straight with the dryer, but I returned home with a heedful of split ends. A boar bristle brush protects the hair, adds shine, and gives body to hair that is being straightened.

24. The Body Shop Lip Liner in Beech: This is the SAME EXACT color at M.A.C.’s Spice lip pencil that is ravced about by all makeup artists. Wet-N-Wild’s 666 pencil is as well, but I don’t find it to glide as nicely as The Body Shop or M.A.C. This is a brownish pink color that blends with 99% of lipsticks and 99% of skin tones. Great color to fill your lip in with and top with a gloss for a long-lasting color for day. I know I am mentioning a lot of products from The Body Shop. No, I don’t work for them though I did. While there I saw that some of their products SUCK, and some are really amazing enough for me to still buy now that the discount is gone. This is one of them. My pencil is about an inch long – I’ll have to go soon to get a replacement!

25. The Body Shop’s Shimmer Cubes in Warm: I have raved about this shadow set in many posts before. I used to give this as a prize to my staff for achieving sales goals and always got great results. Black, Asian, White, Latina, whatever… you will find that these shadows are flattering, shimmery without being childish, and easily blendable. The quad of shadows lasts FOREVER. I bought one in 2003 and am not even halfway through. I use the pale on my whole lid, and the dark in the crease and around the lash line. I have used the copper on darker complexions for a wonderful effect.

26. Smith’s Rosebud Salve: This is a treat. It’s really just Vaseline with a feminine smell, but the whole experience – the retro tin, the pale pink color, the faint rose smell all is wonderful, and the product is quite soothing to lips. It’s also smooth enough to actually work under lipsticks for more of a wash of color.

27. Trish McEvoy Brush #29: This is an essential brush for eyeshadow application. The length of the bristles, the softness, the rounded shape all create the perfect contour on the crease. I have used this brush on multiple people with the same result – a gentle sweep of color in just the right place. It’s easy to use also – just swish-swish from side to side and you have a perfectly applied contour. The price may be frightening, but I have had my brush for about a decade and it is still going strong and working well.

28. Neutrogena Oil Free Moisturizer with SPF 15: Ladies and Gentlemen, if you are not wearing a MINIMUM of SPF 15 every day (even in the winter) you better START before you look like a leather purse! I love this moisturizer because it absorbs well, hydrates the dry cheeks and doesn’t drown the oily T-zone. I recommend a higher SPF in the summer, but in the winter, this is a great choice for oily/combination skin.

29. Bath and Body Works Breathe Energy Fragrance Mist: This crisp green scent is light enough to spray all over my skin and hair. I found the other pieces in this fragrance line to be too herbal, but the spray is fresh. It wears well and just makes me feel Springy without being a Mitchum Man. I wore it a lot this summer in place of perfume.

30. C.O. Bigelow Clementine Superb Body Cleaner: It’s a relatively gentle soap, the smell is utterly divine. Sweet oranges, similar to The Body Shop’s old formula for their Satsuma shower gel (that I MISS HORRIBLY SO!). The smell is a sweet wake-up. There is a matching lotion that matches but is mediocre in moisturizing. If you don’t mind mixing fragrances, I recommend this body wash!

31. Goldie Lip Gloss in Blossom: A pale coral color that just looks as though you have been licking your lips. Goes on smooth, smells like cake batter and is pretty hydrating. This is not a gloss that will last all day, but with it’s texture and flavor, you won’t mind reapplying.

32. BioSilk Silk Therapy: Buy the smallest bottle they have, you don’t need a lot. I have the travel size and have been using the same bottle for three years. Just a drop on dried hair will make it soft, silky and never greasy. A little in damp hair will help it wave softly and not look frizzy. Whatever leftover on your hands makes a phenomenal moisturizer. I know people who use this product on their feet, their elbows, whole body and even face for moisture. It feels amazing and has barely a scent. I use it on curls for definition and shine, and in straight hair for slight separation and a smooth sheen. The best glosser I have ever tried.

33. Maybelline Ultra Liner: I am a fan of liquid eye liner. I know it goes in and out of style, but I have always stuck to it. I like the Audrey Hepburn/Playboy Playmate looks it can create, and I like how it lasts through most anything. I have tried dozens of liquid liners, from Chanel to Trish to Cover Girl. I have tried the dry that you wet, the pen styles, the brush styles (hard and soft). This liner pleases me the most. It’s just the right length of brush (soft) and thick enough to give a strong line in one swoop. This may not be the best liner for those new to the liquid scene, but for an old pro, I love the price, I love the texture, I love the wearability and I love me some liquid liner!!

34. Chanel Quick Cover Concealer: This concealer claims to be waterproof. I don’t know about that, but it’s rub-proof, cry-proof, sweat-proof and hug-proof. Again, I chose this product for my wedding day and was thrilled with the results. It is not cheap – I keep this concealer for very special occasions. It dries fast with a matte finish and works well either over or under foundation… and well alone too!

35. M.A.C. Studio Tech: This is a compact foundation. It’s best applied with a synthetic foundation brush. It gives some major coverage. Perfect to cover ruddiness, dark circles and faint scars. It layers well to add more coverage, or can be applied with a damp brush for a more sheer effect. Though it’s a heavy foundation, I like it in the summer because it STAYS through sweat and even through a dip in the pool. There are plenty of colors to find your right match. I wore this also on my wedding day and had much success and little rub-off on those I hugged.

36. Smashbox Photo Finish Foundation Primer: Yet another product I purchased thanks to watching QVC. This product can be worn alone as a mattifier in the Summer, or under foundation to give a smoother look and a longer lasting finish. Usually I found primers and toners and this kind of stuff as being all hype, but this time I found this product to be useful and quite lovely!

37. Chanel Chance Eau de Toilette: I’m biased. My husband bought me this for my 30th birthday. I didn’t express an interest in this specific fragrance. He saw the ad on the back of one of my magazines, knew my mom wore Chanel, and headed to the counter alone to find a fragrance he thought smelled like “me.” I really like it. It’s feminine without being too girly, sexy without being too much for day or work. It smells elegant, classy and expensive without being pretentious. It’s a lovely scent.

38. Olay Total Effects Eye Transforming Cream: I am a fan of eye creams. As someone who rubs her eyes a lot, I have seen the skin is not so elastic as I get older. I started using eye creams about four years ago and have seen a marked improvement in the skin around my eyes. This is the most recent eye cream I have used, and I like it. I use it every morning and every night. It is very gentle, non-irritating, not greasy. It hydrates the skin without making it puffy, and I think all the anti-aging stuff is working a bit!

39. Jergens Soft Shimmer Moisturizer: I am not one for body bling. I fond body glitter tacky, hate fake bakes, and am grossed out by crazy sparkle on the face. I bought this product because a male client of mine said it made his muscles look more toned without him looking feminine or greased up. I bought a bottle that night. The very subtle shimmer makes your skin look dewy a la Mandy Moore. It does seem to add definition, and just makes the skin look luminous, not sparkly. I wear it every time I get gussied up, or when I go to a beachside bar in a sundress.

40. DiorShow Mascara: If you want drag queen lashes, you have found the right product. This is not your day mascara, your office mascara, your demure mascara. This is mascara for a night at a club, a hot first date, a dancing till dawn sort of event. DiorShow will plump, thicken, lengthen, and if you don’t watch out will clump all over. If you use a light hand you will have bat-worthy lashes all night.

41. Cargo Bronzer: I don’t own any right now because I am thrilled with my discontinued Almay bronzer (not worth noting since it has gone bye-bye), but once the current stuff is gone I plan to pick up a tin of this goodness. It has a faint amount of shimmer that works similar to the above mentioned Jergens Soft Shimmer Lotion, but for your face (and collar bone and cleavage). I like the Light in the Winter and the Medium in the summer.

42. The Body Shop Bronzer: It’s cheap, it’s neutral, it’s matte. Light skinned Black women often use this color for pressed powder. I like it for a hint of color and just that. Not contour, no straight from Bali look, just a faint hint of color to whisk away the sallowness of winter. Be warned: the packaging is annoying, the lid will pop off and the compact does not travel well (crumbles easily). However if you want a very natural look from a bronzer, this product will give it to you with not too many greenbacks.

43. Fresh Umbrian Clay Treatment Bar: I would have NEVER picked up this product if it weren’t for this adorable Sephora salesperson with the loveliest skin. I asked her what she used and she grabbed me a bar of this stuff. It doesn’t lather, it doesn’t “do” much of anything when in the shower, but used as a face wash, it removes impurities while not removing moisture. As a mask it leaves skin baby soft and glowing. I know people have used it on mosquito bites, rashes and other irritations to calm the skin and reduce redness. I have put it as a mask on knees and elbows to help soften and have had success. It’s a really interesting product. Just don’t leave it in the shower or it will crumble away. Keep it dry except when in use and that will make it last.

44. Aveda SPF 15 Lip Tint: I realized while researching my favorite beauty products that I have thought forever that my beloved lip tint was from Origins. Nope, it’s from Aveda (same company, so I don’t feel too awful). It gives more color than many lip tints, moisturizes, but is dry enough that it doesn’t get all over your teeth and face. They carry intense colors (like Spice, which I wear often) and very subtle shades for those more wary of strong colors. I really like the feel and look of this product. My lips do too!

45. Benefit’s High Beam: So I usually don’t like shimmer and shine, but sometimes the situation calls for it. Bachelorette party, New Year’s Eve, sassy summer night… this product gives me EXACTLY what I’m looking for. Ethereal shimmer, dewy shine without looking overly made-up. I put some on the cheekbones, on the brow bone, in the corner of the eye. A bit on my shoulders and collar bone. You can make it as subtle or as shiny as you like. The pink tint is quite flattering. It works best when I moisturize my fingers before applying – makes it glide better.

46. The Body Shop’s Damson Eye Shadow: This is a dusty purple color that works well as a contour or liner color. I have the most success wetting the brush before applying it to the last line, as that Body Shop’s shadows go on light and work better in layers. I think this is a flattering color on a multitude of skin tones, and is soft enough to give me a doe-eyed look when under the edges of the lower lash line.

47. Sally Hansen Extra Strength Crème Hair Remover for Face: Yes, Dilly gets a ‘stache if she doesn’t take care of herself. That Eastern European blood coursing through my veins. I have used varying products, but like this products the best. Least offensive smell, doesn’t leave my upper lip numb, and no redness. Eight minutes, rinse off and apply the balm and you’re ready to head out the door.

48. Sally Hansen Diamond Lip Treatment: I am such a sucker for a lip gloss. These smell good, feel good, have a nice soft brush to apply with, a trim bottle that fits in the tightest jeans and the colors are very natural. I own five different colors, I am that much of a fan. Not the longest lasting, but not terrible, and a lovely shine that isn’t to little-kid-like.

49. Clean and Clear Oil Absorbing Sheets: I always have these in my bag. They don’t add any powder or product to my face, just remove the shine. The packet is durable and can handle a night at the bars in my jeans’ back pocket.

50. Wow, I have gotten to 50. I really can’t think of 50 more today so I will have to continue this. Say, with Post #200?

Your Maternity Wardrobe – Being Stylish Without Breaking the Bank

You’re pregnant, you have nothing to wear, you can’t fit into your current clothing too well, hate or can’t afford most maternity clothing, and feel as though you will have to hide in your house in a muumuu until the little one makes his or her appearance.

You search the Internet looking for creative ways to make due with what you have, getting confirmation from complete strangers who don’t know you from Adam that it IS okay to wear your husband’s work shirts with yoga pants, that it IS okay to let your current bras give you quad-boob for just a few more weeks, that it IS okay to have your clothes be too tight and feel horrible on that growing stomach.

Well I am never one to tell people to spend money they do not have. There really are ways to stretch your current closet, stretch your wallet and still look pulled together and polished through your pregnancy.

However, not all pregnant women are created equal. You must STOP comparing yourself to your older sister, your husband’s cousin, your coworker, your mom, your best friend. One may have started showing at six weeks, another may not have shown until 26. Your breasts may have gone from B to DD in a month’s time while your neighbor’s only went up a half of a cup size. Your colleague survived an entire pregnancy with only a Bella Band and a maternity LBD while you don’t seem to fit into your old size 8s, or even new 14s. Your friend is only a week ahead of you, yet she has a perfectly mounded baby bump and you look as though you ate two bags of Cheetos.

It’s okay. The biological aspect of your pregnancy won’t be exactly like someone else’s and how your body reacts won’t be either. This doesn’t mean you are deformed, unhealthy, fat, or wrong in any way. It just means you are human, and you are working your body to create another human as fabulous as you!

So stop going to those message boards to see if you’re a freak of nature, stop crying in front of the mirror, and love those new curves and that baby bump, even if it currently looks more like a loaf of challah bread instead of a basketball. Read the next few suggestions – not all will work for all women, but hopefully some will help you find a way to feel good, look good, and still have money left over to furnish that nursery!

1. Empty Your Closet. Your life may be a whirlwind right now, but this is a project that will save you time and money in the end. Take everything out of your closet – those bridesmaid dresses, your power suits, your out of season garments and your current attire. Then honestly assess each item. Those that can NOT fit no matter what but are items to treasure and baby (the suits, the dresses, the wool coats); store in a cloth garment bag or other closet so they are out of vision. Nothing is more depressing than feeling as though you’re fat or deformed and seeing your favorite cocktail dress mocking you from the corner of the closet. It’s okay and completely expected that it won’t fit right now – treat it well, and take it out of sight until after.

Now look at the rest of the collection. Anything else that is in great shape but either doesn’t fit now or won’t fit by time that season rolls around, carefully pack up and put on a high shelf, under the bed, or in an attic. This means the tailored shift dress, the nipped in blazers, the lined slim-fit trousers… anything that is uncomfortable before even pulling up the zipper or buttoning the front. Again, this process is about saving time each morning and saving your sanity.

What is left? Most likely it will look an awful lot like what I had leftover when I did this process – lots of dresses with some percentage of stretch in them (or made in a trapeze/babydoll fashion), a few pairs of jeans, pants, capris and shorts; a handful of knit or slightly unstructured jackets, some sweaters and knit tops. Now you need to try these items on and be honest with what is in the reflection. Is the skirt too short now that it has to accommodate a changing body? Can it REALLY look flattering and appropriate with dark tights or over jeans, or are you trying to fool yourself? The top fits in the belly, but are you exposing too much cleavage to feel comfortable? Can it work with a cami underneath, or will it ruin the silhouette? Does it fit everywhere, but is cutting off the circulation in your arms? As I always say – it’s better to have quality than quantity. Anything you feel you need to justify will just leave you feeling awkward and uncomfortable when you finally wear it. You have enough on your mind – remove all the items that you will have to constantly adjust and fiddle with to keep yourself properly and comfortably covered.

Now, what to do with those pants and skirts that do fit if you could wear them unbuttoned? Keep them in your wardrobe rotation. There are fabulous products out there called belly bands that are made specifically for this. Crafted of stretchy lycra or a similar material, these items can go over your open waistband to keep your bottoms up, and your underwear out of sight. I have one in black and they have extended the life of my work trousers, and even weekend Bermuda shorts. Ingrid and Isabel is famous for their BellaBand, but you can find similar products in maternity stores, on eBay, and if you’re feeling crafty, can whip up a few on a Sunday afternoon. You don’t need 50 – choose one or maybe two (if they are on sale) in colors that will work with your wardrobe. I invested in only one in black since most of my wardrobe is black. They may poke out under tops, so choose one that fits your sense of style as well as your wardrobe palette.

Now consider all those tops and dresses that would be fine if they covered more cleavage. You may want to either invest in a cami or two, or modify a few you already own. The great thing about cleavage-covering camis is that all people see is a little triangle of fabric. No one needs to know that you sliced off the bottom half, sliced it open, cut off the front, etc. Take a pair of scissors to your current black or white camis and make them belly-friendly. Make sure to trim carefully so it doesn’t roll under your clothing or get a run in the fabric. Don’t want to destroy what you love and plan to wear after the baby is born? Get thee to H&M, Target or even Goodwill and get a few super cheap camisoles. Don’t spend dough on maternity ones if all they are doing is keeping your breasts covered; save that money for the baby (or a pedicure!).

Now that you know what you have, and what you need to make it really work, put it back in your closet and drawers in an organized manner. Your body can change from day to day, it is very possible that you will think Monday night you will wear your blue dress but by Tuesday morning it will no longer fit. If you keep your wardrobe tidy, it will make last-minute outfit changes less stressful and time consuming. Hang up still-clean clothes as soon as you take them off, spot clean when possible and make an effort to have these few items at the ready as often as possible.

2. Invest in Transitional Pieces. Get yourself that belly band and a few camis. Don’t put it off, because that just makes your wardrobe all the more frustrating. No time to head to the mall? These items are so simple and standard you can usually score them from an online boutique at an equivalent price. Search on your lunch hour or while pasta water is heating for free shipping, coupons, or sites like eBates that will provide you with cash back on your purchase. Go ahead and put the items in a Shopping Cart and have them ready come payday to purchase.

3. Realistically Assess Your Lifestyle.
The staples for a woman’s wardrobe can sort of go out the window at this point. Your wardrobe doesn’t need to be ready for whatever life throws you, but what you realistically will be encountering over the next couple of months. You don’t need to get a LBD if you know there won’t be any dressy events in your near future. If you are an SAHM, you don’t need tailored trousers and silk blouses. If you are a corporate woman, you may not need more than one pair of jeans and a knit top or two. However, do think about what you DO need. Do you have client meetings? Church? A conservative office? Think about your pre-pregnancy wardrobe and what items got the most wear, and keep that in mind for your pregnancy clothing additions.

4. Borrow from Friends. This hasn’t worked for me because I am short and curvy, and all my friends who have children are not that same combination. However, many women who are pregnant know other women who were and will be happy to give or lend some wardrobe staples. They may not have trousers in the right length, but they may have a few knit tops, or even a belly band they would be willing to offer for a few months.

However when borrowing, use the same discretion you used when digging through your current wardrobe. Just because it’s free doesn’t mean you should take it. If it’s not in good shape, if it doesn’t fit properly or isn’t something you would enjoy wearing, it’s okay to say no. Our friends are our friends because they are unique and fabulous in their own way – you don’t have to like everything they like. You love blues and greens and your friend is offering three yellow dresses? Don’t take them just because they are free. You will already be having a hard time adjusting to a rapidly changing body, changing hair and skin; you don’t need to feel weird in a color or style that doesn’t fit your personality. It’s better to have less that you like, than a bunch of things you don’t.

Also if you have friends, who wouldn’t be offended, borrow or get non-maternity clothing from them. Maybe your mom has a few cute tunic tops from Chico’s that you usually wouldn’t wear but now seem like comfortable and fun wardrobe options. A friend who recently lost weight may have kept hold of some of her old clothes that are just a size or two larger than your original size and may now work for you. This is especially great for things like casual knits and outerwear. Again, don’t take what you won’t feel good wearing. You’ll be happier in the same black pants every day, than in garments that make you feel less than pretty, or less than yourself.

5. Hit The Thrift. Visit your local thrift and consignment stores. Yes, you will have to dig through tons of stonewashed denim jumpers and shorts, but occasionally you may strike gold. A friend found a Diane von Furstenberg maternity dress with tags still on it at her local Goodwill for only $8; a petite friend of mine found her entire maternity wardrobe at thrift stores (just as with sales racks, thrift and consignment stores often have the best stuff in the smallest sizes). She spent $40 in total and ended up with enough clothes to properly outfit herself for an office work environment and even a few weddings and holiday parties.

If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Your first visit may be horrible, but the next trip may be fabulous. Find out when they restock racks, if they receive shipments on a certain day, and even ask friends and family to search shops on your behalf. Give them guidelines (8,10 or medium, no denim, no prints, only the brands X, Y, and Z), but know that with such low prices, if they get you something you don’t love you can always re-gift to another expecting lady or re-donate without losing out.

6. Be Friends with eBay. As I type this, I am wearing a dress I got for $6.90 including shipping. Last night when I got home from work, I changed into one of three tees I got as a bundle for 99 cents plus shipping. eBay can be a pregnant woman’s best friend, or worst enemy.

As with any other eBay purchase, you need to be careful. Shop from reputable shoppers, know the brand they are offering and how it fits, as questions if the listing doesn’t answer everything. Have a price you aren’t willing to cross, and don’t cross it. So many times friends tell me they get so caught up in the thrill of the chase on eBay that they end up paying the same amount (or more!) that they would in a store. Do your homework and know what price this item is currently (or would currently) sell at a store. Shop for specific things, don’t wander aimlessly and remember what you bid on so you don’t suddenly get hit with having to pay for five different won auctions at the same time.

I have spent a total of $18 (including shipping) on eBay since I have gotten pregnant and from it have a pair of Gap jeans, a Liz Lange for Target dress, a casual knit dress, and three pretty tee shirts. You honestly can’t find those sorts of bargains at your local maternity store’s clearance rack.

7. Accept Your Changing Body.
Your breasts are going to get larger. How much and how quickly, that changes for every woman. Not only will they get larger, they will get heavier, more sensitive and often time just plain hurt. To try to stuff these breasts into your old bras is sheer torture and not healthy. Yes, bras can be expensive, but as with clothing you can often score some great bargains. Victoria’s Secret often has their bras on a two-for deal. I got two of their lightly lined cotton bras for 2/$20, online found a coupon for 15% off AND free shipping. $8.50 a bra, and they are smooth enough to go under lightweight knits and are in fun colors that make me smile. No, they aren’t the best made bras, but they will do and they keep my breasts feeling comfortable and shaped properly. Gap Maternity Online also has some good deals on bras – I got a smooth skin-colored tee shirt bra for only $11.99, had a coupon from a previous online purchase and had a promo code for free shipping. Often times you can find better prices online than you can at your local Big Box retailer – it’s worth a quick Google search before you head out to the mall.

As for underwear, if you can still fit into your pre-pregnancy underwear, awesome! I, the queen of thongs has had to retire most of them due to my new figure. Don’t tell anyone, but my cotton boyshorts from Vickie’s are now more comfortable worn backwards, and at 21 weeks I find the best fit and the least VPL from traditional briefs. I am one to encourage women to wear beautiful and feminine lingerie, but there’s nothing beautiful or feminine about pulling wedgies, having dents in your hips, or binding panties on a woman. Look for lightweight fabrics to discourage VPL, and fun colors cost the same amount as white or gray.

The end of the first trimester you may start feeling a bit unsteady on your feet and as you get into your second and third trimesters, you may have a fear of falling. You may have been a high-heel woman but by now, the extra weight, the lack of balance and the swelling tootsies may make that near impossible. I know it’s hard, I am a heel girl myself. However save yourself, your baby, your feet and your back and get a few shoes lower to the ground. If you do feel you can still rock the heels, consider a thick heel or a wedge for more stability and look into attaching non-skid pads to them. I am one who adores my shoe collection, but has started to wear the same 2-3 shoes all the time because they are comfortable and sturdy. Keep those shoes in the closet and use them with your post-baby transitional attire to get yourself back into the style swing of things. For now, be realistic, be comfortable and be safe. If you wear black a lot, a pair of black flats, Mary Janes or booties may be a great choice – look for a versatile style that can work with skirts, jeans and pants. Softer leather and fabrics will be more comfortable as feet swell. Consider a second pair in a color that makes you happy – much maternity clothing is in black and neutral colors – a pair of magenta ballet flats or emerald peep toes will add cheer and personality to your look.

8. Get out of the Maternity Boutique. There is nothing more overwhelming than a maternity boutique, especially if you are early on in your pregnancy and are starting it off with a less-than-perfect figure or budget. They are good places to stop to see many styles, and to also use that little stuffed belly attachment under clothes to ensure they will fit months from now. However if you do decide to shop at a boutique, walk past the front display, and work the store from the back to the front. Hit the sales racks first, and then look at full-priced items. Grab what size you think you are, and then one bigger or smaller (each brand seems to run differently). Take a friend who will give you an honest, yet gentle opinion. Bring a bottle of water to rehydrate. If the store his too crowded, too hot, too messy, the salespeople are too pushy, LEAVE. Return policies on maternity clothing are usually very strict and the last thing you want is buyer’s remorse with raging hormones.

Visit maternity sections of department stores and big box retailers. Shops like JC Penney will have surprisingly reasonably-priced and simple styled pieces year-round. These departments are often more relaxed (no pushy salespeople or jammed racks) so you can take your time to try things on, and usually have a better chance of getting your money back if you get home and change your mind.

Also don’t ignore the online boutiques. Shops like Old Navy have extensive online maternity collections, and most shops that sell maternity provide free return shipping if you change your mind. Gap, Target and Ann Taylor Loft often have amazing sales on their online maternity collections. A bit of Googling will often find you coupons for free delivery or at least a couple bucks off your entire order. I have found great career-wear, dresses and weekend attire most for under $12 each at the above mentioned shops and find the quality to exceed what I find in maternity-specific boutiques. If you sign up for these stores’ emails you will often receive a welcome coupon, and be notified before the public of upcoming sales.

9. Don’t Buy Maternity. When trying to have a budget wedding, experts often suggest a bride choose a bridesmaid dress in white or ivory because it will be a fraction of the cost of an actual bridal gown. The same holds true for maternity clothing.

Now, this suggestion doesn’t work for all shapes of women, but for many of you, searching the clearance racks in a size or two larger can often find you some gems at great prices. Look for items with stretch and that would flatter a bulging baby bump. Many knit pieces like yoga pants, matte jersey and sweaters with lycra will work quite well through many months of your term. If you are petite, you may want to also look at the regular sizes so you have enough length to accommodate the belly, and alterations may have to be made in shoulders or hems by a tailor. However, you can often score some amazing deals that will make these adjustments worth the money.

10. Accept Style, Not Fashion. These are really two different things, and there is no better time than when you are pregnant to accept this. You don’t need the current trend of jeans, designer brands, It shoes, accessories and certain fabrics to look fabulous through your pregnancy. In all honesty, the simpler maternity fashions are far more stylish than the overpriced or the ones attempting to recreate a runway trend. On the other hand, don’t think that just because you’re dressing for two, you have to dress in a manner that is outside your normal look. One can still be simple, chic, funky, artsy, bohemian, a rocker, an artist, a lady, a prep and be pregnant. If you didn’t live in cotton button-downs and capris before the baby, you don’t have to succumb to them now. If you didn’t like black before you were expecting, you aren’t doomed to wear it for the next few months.

Yes, the maternity stores will be chock full of overpriced designer jeans, crazy prints, sexy tops, and more pastel striped cotton tunics than you can shake a stick at. If these are within your sense of style and budget, go for them. However most of us are the type who want simple versatile pieces, coordinating colors, and items that won’t itch, bind or put us into debt.

It’s okay to have just two pairs of pants, one or two dresses and a few tops. So what if you wear the same black pants three times in one week – if they are clean and flatter, it’s totally okay. You are not entering a fashion contest, you are pregnant! Look for simple pieces that are less memorable so they can be re-worn often. Choose fabrics that are easier to care for – that cotton top is adorable, but do you want to have to iron it before each wearing? Same goes for dry cleaning – the more you can clean in your home or laundry room, the more often you can wear the garments, the less clothing you actually need in your wardrobe.

Choose a palette and stick to it. If you keep a wardrobe of browns, creams, reds and purples your collection will go farther. Blacks, grays and jewel tones like purples and greens also work nicely together. Whites and khakis can go with most any neutral or bright. Having a palette of 4-5 colors will make it easier when shopping, easier when making an outfit each day, easier when purchasing shoes and accessories. A simple color palette is also a great way to make cheaper items look more elegant. Stick with mostly solids, few pieces that fit well and wash well, and bring out your personality in accessories.

You may also wish to visit:
Maternity Fashion Review – Liz Lange for Target Tankini
Wardrobe Oxygen and Maternity Fashion
Wardrobe Staples for the Mom-to-Be
Before and After Maternity Clothing

The Story of Emerson’s Birth

As most of you know, my plan was to have a completely natural birth. I switched early in my pregnancy from a highly-respected OB/GYN group to a birthing center with midwives after much research. Call me a hippie or a masochist, but I really wanted to experience the birth of my child sans medication, surgery and in as natural yet safe of a setting as possible.

My sister’s boss once told her that every woman he knew who wanted a natural birth ended up getting the opposite; those who scheduled c-sections and desired epidurals upon admittance often came early… too early for meds. Murphy’s Law. Well Murphy’s Law surely hit me with this birth!

Emerson’s due date was switched to January 2nd from December 28th after her 20-week sonogram. I was happy because I really wanted her to “cook” as long as she desired and not be forced to induce. January 2nd came and went, and the Monday after, due to high blood pressure the last couple of weeks, I was asked to take a NST and get a biophysical/sonogram to see how the baby was doing. The NST was great, but the sonogram showed less than 5 centimeters of amniotic fluid – a number that concerned the doctor enough to call the midwives and tell them he strongly suggested induction… that very day.

I went home to get my bag (was in my husband’s car but he didn’t take me to the appointment) and to do last-minute things around the house. Due to needing an induction, I was admitted not to the birthing center, but to the hospital that was associated with it. I have never been in the hospital before – never a broken bone, stitches or surgery. By 1pm I had a saline lock on my arm, a wristband with my stats and a very uncomfortable hospital bed.

They started me off with a dose of gel that was supposed to open and ripen my cervix. When the midwife (the midwives from the birthing center attended to me even though I was in the hospital) checked me upon admittance, she said I was “only a nub” and they obviously needed more dilation before they tried to progress the birth.

By 8pm I was maybe 2 centimeters dilated at most. They said they could do another dose of gel, but it probably wouldn’t do enough. They recommended a low dose of pitocin overnight to begin mild contractions, hoping it would open up things. I really didn’t want pitocin, but there wasn’t much else of an option. The low dose wasn’t bad – they monitored it very carefully so I always felt in control and relatively comfortable.

Tuesday, they checked my cervix and it was not even 3 centimeters. Argh! They took me off the pit so I could eat and shower, but stuck me on it again and at higher doses. Due to being on the pitocin, I had to be on a constant fetal and contraction monitor, which tied me to the bed (another thing I was very against). One nice nurse found a telemetry unit which would let me walk laps around L&D; we tried it out and the baby’s stats rose and couldn’t always be checked (she moved a LOT when I walked) so I had to get back in bed. They got me a birthing ball and rocking chair for some variety and relief. My contractions were one on top of another, sometimes not even with five seconds between them. I was handling them well and using Hypnobirthing and yoga methods to breathe through them and focus, but they were worried that the speed of them and lack of dilation would cause too much stress to me and the baby.

Tuesday night, they decided to try a different route – a pill that is actually for ulcers but has been shown to cause contractions. I agreed to try it out – 24 hours of contractions and no dilation was utter torture. I got off the IV (hooray!) and swallowed the pill.

I knew the pill didn’t work when I realized I slept for six hours straight. They checked me Wednesday morning and I was still three centimeters, though supposedly “paper thin.” They decided to go with pitocin again, but really carefully monitor and adjust the dosage. I started at 8am; by 8:30 I was feeling pretty strong contractions. They were like the day prior, but with more build-up and time between… the nurses, the midwife and I all felt confident these were more “productive” contractions that would get the job done. Two midwives said “your baby will be born today!” I was so excited…

Until around 1pm… when the contractions got stronger. Stronger as in horrific, painful, unable to think, to breathe, to control. They were in my lower abdomen and my lower back. I couldn’t stand because the darn monitors would fall off my belly; bending over helped the back but hurt the stomach, I was in too much pain to be able to handle the birthing ball any longer, and the rocking chair decided to get some horrible loud squeaking noise every time I glided it back and forth. I tried to breathe, to moan, to flow but it wasn’t helping. I never clenched or strained, but it went to the point where I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t control my body and I just knew something wasn’t going well. I started crying, I felt like such a failure. I became that woman who screams for Jesus and makes everyone in the lobby roll their eyes. My birth plan said to not offer me an epidural – if I needed one my husband or I would state it. Speaking of which, my husband was the most phenomenal birthing partner – I didn’t have to say a word and he seemed to KNOW when to press on my back, when to play with my hair, when to offer light massage, when to back off. He got the iPod going with my labor playlist, and even seemed to know when I needed it turned up to drown out machines and myself.

So anyway, he looked at me, without me saying it, and said, “I am so impressed and proud of you, and think you would still be very brave if you had an epidural.” It was what I was thinking, in my head I was begging and pleading for one but I didn’t say it out loud because I felt like a wimp and failure. But with his support… I asked for one. By now it was around 4pm.

An epidural is so terrifying, even when it’s taking place. It hurts, your body is shaking, the room is overflowing with medical professionals and it’s a horrible experience. My husband held my hands and supported my body as I leaned over the side of the bed to get it inserted in my spine. I was grateful, yet also hated how things had turned out. Pitocin, bed ridden, hospital, and now an epidural. Way things were going, next thing I knew I was going to end up with a caesarean.

The epidural kicked in and it was a very weird experience – my right hip to toe was so numb it was as though it disappeared; my left leg felt more the way one does when a limb falls asleep. I still felt contractions, but more a slight wave in my crotch and hardening of the top of my belly. They decided to check to see how far my cervix had progressed…. Now I was almost four centimeters… almost. After all those hours of extreme pain I didn’t even get a full centimeter of dilation. They tried breaking my water but couldn’t do it – either not enough water or weird positioning of the baby’s head. I was so exhausted and frustrated with my body. Luckily, through all this the baby was completely strong, happy and healthy.

They gave me some time to rest while I had almost unknown contractions. My husband started looking a bit worse for wear – sweaty, red eyes, pale. He had been with me since admittance, only leaving once to shower and change clothes. He said he was feeling a bit weird and went to the bathroom, and didn’t emerge for over an hour. He asked if it was okay to use the shower, thinking it would make him feel better. It didn’t. By 8pm he had chills, aches and couldn’t keep anything in his system. He internal reflexes were in overdrive, and he was dry heaving and puking bile after his stomach had emptied.

The midwives come in around 10pm and say they think the baby won’t come until the next day. My husband goes home to medicate himself, rest up so he can see the birth. My sister and mom come to sit with me. They check me and decide after my husband has left that a few pushes may help the cervix get going.

We push for about three hours and things are going far better. They can see the baby’s head and say she has hair. My water broke. I started dilating and next thing was around eight centimeters. They try different pushing positions, but keep me on my back because the baby’s head was behind my pelvic bone and they needed her to move toward my back. So I was in the typical position I never wanted to be in – legs in stirrups, back on the bed, pushing for all life’s worth. Between pushes I visualized her head descending but they said after each push which would descend the head, a relaxation would cause her to slip back up behind the bone.

They brought in an obstetrician, who said they could try forceps or vacuum, but she didn’t think it would work and most likely would need a cesarean. My husband wasn’t there, my sister called him and he was in such bad shape he was on the bathroom floor unable to move. This is a man who does 100K hikes for fun, gets sick maybe once a year, dealt with cancer and chemo without a tear. For him to be crying in the fetal position at home while I was in labor… we ALL knew it was really really bad.

So I keep pushing and I start getting the feeling back in my right leg. They say this is normal due to gravity and body positioning. I push and can feel when contractions come and how my pushing affects things. They say this is good and I feel productive, yet so sad and frustrated my husband isn’t there. I start to cry, they tell me the baby could possibly come with any push if it is a good enough one. My sister is holding one leg. My mom is helping me curl up into pushes, the nurse and midwife are both so supportive but my husband isn’t there.

Now I am feeling contractions, and ask my mom to press the while button on the epidural drip. She does, the nurse says it will take 15 minutes for it to kick in. The contractions are so strong now, and with each contraction I can feel the catheter ballooning inside me which is utter torture. I cling to the side of the hospital bed and watch the clock tick down. The time is up and I have no relief… in fact it feels even stronger. My mom looks at the machine, and sees a cord on the ground. Somehow the epidural drip disconnected from my back. No wonder! They call in the anesthesiologist to reattach it. Takes ten minutes for him to arrive, and then another fifteen minutes after reattachment for it to kick in. Two minutes after he finishes reattaching, the obstetrician arrives saying we’re going to try forceps, and try right then and there.

The catheter feels like some archaic torture device, the contractions feel like the last scene of Braveheart, and now they are putting what looks like metal car fenders in me and asking me to push like I never pushed before. My husband is not there.

In the middle of the first push, I feel the warmth of the epidural kick in and I feel as though it is a sign that it’s now, it’s this way, and I need to block out all the pain and frustration and do it. Three rounds of pushes, and I feel enough to feel her head, and then her shoulders come out. Omigod, that seemed so… quick! 5:35 AM, Thursday January 8th. She isn’t crying, she is coated in meconium so they whisk her to the other side of the room to clean and suction her. I am up in stirrups, slid down to the bottom of the bed, unable to move in any way. They tell me I have a fourth degree tear and have to sew it up. The obstetrician and my midwife get to work, I am at such an angle that I can’t really see the warming table where Emerson is located. There seems to be a dozen medical professionals in the room scurrying about, my mom is holding my hand, my sister is checking on Emerson. Finally we hear a cry… and it seems as though it’s from another room, another person’s baby. I ask my sister to cut the umbilical cord. I feel sad… my husband missed it, and really I missed it too. I feel so detached and deflated and wrong.

Finally I am stitched up and Emerson is clean and healthy. They bundle her up and place her on my chest; I still am numb almost in my entire body and have my legs propped up, but I am able to hold her up to my face and look in her eyes. And I think she looked in mine and she looked like me, and like my sister and like my husband in the brows and my mom’s side of the family and so… beautiful. Not alien, not like a wrinkled old man, but even with all the red stripes of forcep marks, just so delicate and feminine and beautiful and I started to feel connected.

She got a 3 on her first APGAR, but a 9 on the second one. She got healthy very quickly and we were finally left to hang out with one another. I asked to have her exclusively breastfed, so we got the chance to bond over her first meal. I needed a nurse’s assistance but it was nice that it was the nurse who was with me through the whole evening.

Around 11am on Thursday they move me to a different room on a different floor. This room has a far more comfortable bed (not one that morphs into a birthing chair) and a whole different staff and a good energy. It doesn’t even smell like a hospital as the L&D room did.

This is where Emerson and I resided until Saturday afternoon. The hospital was amazing – the techs were so helpful and sweet, the nurses were total saints. I was visited by five different lactation consultants who showed me all sorts of techniques and holds. One day I was so exhausted, a nurse came and swaddled Emerson tight, and took her to hang with the nurses for a bit and at that time, I could sleep for two hours and even a massage therapist came by for a complimentary back rub. The OB and my midwives came by to say hi, meet Emerson, congratulate me on being such a trooper. The only thing that sucked was that my husband still hadn’t healed. He had a high fever so he couldn’t come see Emerson. He didn’t want to see pictures because he wanted his first view to be her in person. But he called several times a day so I could let him hear her and tell him what she did and how we were doing.

I have never been a baby person – as a teen I preferred sitting toddlers and when friends have had children I may coo and play with a little foot but I never like to hold or cuddle with infants. I don’t know what to do with them, and I always find them a bit weird and slightly scary. I feared parenthood – gosh I didn’t even know how to hold a baby and had never changed and diaper. No need to worry, it seemed like instinct. The nurses taught me basics, but really it was as though I delivered the baby, the placenta, and then Service Pack B for my brain to know what to do with a baby. Also, once her skin touched mine, it was instant passionate love between us two – totally surreal and awesome experience.

Saturday, my husband arrived around 9am and instantly fell in love with Emerson. Nothing more wonderful than to see our baby with him, them getting to know one another.

Since then, I have been very tired… my body has gone through quite a lot with the healing from the tear as well as other things (TMI, but I think trying to poop after pregnancy and stitches is scarier than having to push a baby out). But it has been awesome – my husband doesn’t have to work right now so we’re working together to take care of Emerson. My mom and sister have been AMAZING – last night was my mom’s birthday so they made dinner and brought it over and we had cake and watched the Golden Globes together. While at the hospital they came to the house to prepare the place for Emerson – setting up the Pack & Play in our bedroom, washing laundry and dishes, etc. Right now I am in bed with my husband and a very gassy Emerson, chilling after a marathon feeding. Ruckus is on the floor and we’re a tired, overwhelmed but happy family. It wasn’t the birth I had envisioned, but it doesn’t really matter because of the final product.

As for fashion… well due to the stitches I am far more comfortable in dresses. The summer dresses from New York & Company, the gray jersey Old Navy dress and even my black matte jersey Old Navy dress that I wore to my friend’s wedding are awesome. All have surplice necklines that work with breastfeeding, are soft fabrics and are a length where I am covered but not twisted up. I have a navy jersey robe from Lands End that I can throw over it for comfort. Due to not being a perfect size anything before the baby and still not one, I have yet to find a nursing tank that is comfortable, fits and flatters. I do own one from Bravissimo, it gets the job done but due to the weight and size of my breasts it cannot be worn outside the house without getting arrested for indecent exposure. As for nursing bras, I got an underwire one from Nordstrom that is awesome… but I haven’t tried it now that my milk is coming in. I have tried several others and they weren’t working pre-milk so I fear they won’t now. So anyone who had large breasts and some curves pre-pregnancy and then found a bra or tank that actually worked and didn’t leave everything hanging out, hanging down, or smooshed do let me know. Preferably online… don’t think I’ll be getting to a mall any time soon!

For those who want to know additional pregnancy and motherhood related details – where I went, what birthing center I used, reviews of products, natural remedies I am trying for PPD, healing, and what I tried to naturally ready myself for labor (and they said actually did help in the long run) feel free to email me. I do not want this blog to become a baby blog, and my views are naturally not going to be the same as all those who read here.

I respect everyone’s decisions on how they want their pregnancy, labor, birth, and motherhood to go. No one knows what is best for you and your baby more than you. Don’t think my views here are saying I am anti any other birth plan – in fact this experience helped me respect more plans and methods alternate to my views before giving birth. To all those who have sent well wishes, we thank you so much! The blogging community is amazing and I am glad to know all of you through it! For those who are expecting, I wish you much health, luck and happiness with this journey!!!

And for those who want some baby pics… we have baby during and after her first bath at home (with proud Daddy who did the honor), what I like to call “Dr. Evil Emerson,” and “Emerson in Pink.” Due to her size, no chi chi outfits of yet… pretty much rocking the tee and diaper look with a blanket or gown. But do know when she gets some weight on her and some regularity, I will be showing her decked out in her baby duds. :)

UPDATES:
My sister (and best friend and fabulous birthing partner!) read this and saw I missed a few details or got them wrong. Love her! Here’s her view (more accurate since she wasn’t drugged or crying out for mercy ;P )

* your water broke at some point before 8pm, possibly while [husband] and I were out for dinner or a little before that
* [Husband] left around 10:30pm – or at least that’s when you called me
* you pushed for 4 hours before Mommy realized the epidural was unattached. I first called [husband] at 11:10 to tell him you were about to push and it was only 5 minutes later that you did. The nurse and midwife told the OB at one point and said you had only been pushing for 30 minutes when really it was about an hour, hour and a half. I don’t know if they were confused or if they did it on purpose to prevent the OB from talking c-section too soon.
* you fell asleep once the epidural was working again and were asleep for about an hour. Then around 5am, they came back in and it was only at that point that they decided to use forceps. Before it was only vacuum and threat of c-section.
* it was Mommy who got them to use forceps by telling her birth story with you to the OB.

Thanks sister! 😀