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Plus Sized Work Attire Options

Dear Allie:
I am getting back into the workforce after five years as a SAHM. I’m really excited, but am having a hard time finding nice work clothes. I am a size 18, 5’5” and an apple and all I seem to find are lowcut dresses and polyester pants. Do you know where I can find suits and work clothes like dresses and blouses for my size?

Why are all plus sized suits made out of polyester? Where can I find a suit that is equal in quality and price to J. Crew but goes above a size 16?

I was recently promoted and my new position requires me to travel on business several times a month. For such trips, I will need to wear a suit while at the office I can usually get away with casual pants or even nice jeans. While I have a great wardrobe of business casual pieces, it is proving difficult to find more corporate of attire for my size (I vary between a 20 and 22). Do you know of any retailers who specialize in suiting and corporate attire for plus-sized women?

Hi Allie, I need to improve my look at work. We’re allowed to wear anything we want but I don’t want to look like a slob any more and think if I look good I may be more likely to get a raise or promotion. I’m 5’7”, a size 20 with a large bust and don’t even know where to start looking for nicer work clothes. HELP!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Summer Sartorial Rules for Corporate America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For some suggestions on appropriate office attire, please visit:

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Weekend Attire

Saturday Barbecue
Creased denim trousers from Ann Taylor. White ribbed Favorite Tank from J. Crew with a light aquamarine cashmere tank from The Gap layered over it. Turquoise chunky necklace from Target on my neck, silver cuff bracelet on my wrist. On feet are tan think heels from Target’s last summer collection.

Hair is beachy/curly. Hair is slightly damp, Marc Anthony Strictly Curls gel applied to it, dried with diffuser. Hair covered with layer of Marc Anthony Strictly Curls Humidity Spray, and occasional pieces are curled around a medium-barreled iron. Then a fine coating of Bio Silk is put on the hair for shine and ant-frizz.

Makeup is i.d. Bare Escentuals foundation and concealer, a touch of Nars Orgasm blush. Eyes have a touch of Clinique Snow in the inner corners, a touch of Body Shop’s Fawn Pearl in the crease, lashes curled and mucho MAC X mascara applied, and then a fine line of black Ultra Liner by Maybelline on the lop lash line. On the lips is a teeny coral lipgloss from Target that my mom put in my Christmas Stocking.

Sunday Jaunt to the Mall
Brown merino ¾ sleeve v-neck sweater from The Gap, same creased denim trousers. Same turquoise necklace and same tan leather sandals. Same hair too – second day curls restored with a bit of misted water and a few hits with the curling iron. Wow, déjà vu – the makeup is exactly the same too!

Oh, and of course, have to share what I purchased:
Navy twill blazer from Talbots – on sale for $44 and darn cute and hip looking! I was roaming looking for a dress and pants for my mom and came updon this cutie in the sale rack. Can’t wait to pair it with some cropped pants, a little tank and some wedge espadrilles!

White tonally striped suit from Tahari – it was on sale for $180 and it is magnificent. The pants fit like a dream (I heart Tahari suits) and would look great for work with a little sweater and heels. The jacket fits perfectly and would be so stylin’ with a pair of black trousers and a brightly colored shell. I also liked it with my denim trousers. Together with some rocking black heels and a shell, well I look like a celebrity. No fricking clue where I plan on wearing this white suit, but I adored it and so I bought it.

Dark coral crinkly gauze baby-doll tunic from Nordstrom. Crocheted lace on edges, and a great oclor with my skin tone.

Pale blue/aqua ribbed tank from Nordstrom.

Black stretch v-neck sweater from Banana Republic – I already have it in emerald green, and I am without a lightweight black sweater for Spring!

Putty colored cropped trousers from Banana Republic – sort of a chino fabric with a sateen finish. Flat front, and on sale! Amazing to find cropped trousers that are flattering on my petite/big calved frame. These are not even a petite cut!

Of course with all this, I didn’t find what I am needing/desiring for spring:
- Flat front wide leg stone colored chinos
- The olive rip-stop cotton drawstring skirt from J. Crew
- The bronze and straw wedge espadrilles from J. Crew
- A pair of dark cuffed cropped jeans (found almost perfect ones at The Gap but too low-slung)
- A dress that is not as low cut as my LBD but just as versatile
- A colorful jacket (olive, white, dark red, maybe coral) that would look cute with jeans
- A leather hip-sling belt that doesn’t look too trendy or too dorky (found an almost perfect one in Eddie Bauer of all places, but couldn’t stomach $50 right now for just a belt)

I have two dresses arriving in the mail from Nordstrom, hopefully one will be the spring/less low-cut version of my beloved LBD!

Back to Work!

The husband took the pictures, so forgive me for looking so cheesy! The First picture makes me look like Tammy Faye with a Dolly Parton wig – I swear I don’t really look like that today!

Ivory faintly ribbed blazer from Ann Taylor. Black sweater tank from Ann Taylor Loft. Denim trousers from Ann Taylor (see a theme?). Pearls from the Limited. Black leather thng heels from Mossimo for Target.

As for makeup, L’Oreal True Match foundation in C3, The Body Shop stick concealer in 03, a touch of Chanel pressed powder around the eyes to set, and Physician’s Formula Magical Mosaics bronzer on the face for color. On lips is Sally Hansen’s Diamond Lipgloss in a bright sheer pink. A bit of Clinique Snow shadow in the inner corners of the eyes, a line of black Ultra Liner by maybelline on the top lids and two coats of L’Oreal Voluminous mascara in balck on lashes curled thanks to Shu Eumura.

As for hair, it was rinsed with Suave/Redken wannabe conditioner, complimenting curling mousse added to damp hair, dried with a diffuser and a bit of a curling iron on the unruly sections. Ready to go back to work after a week off!

Late to Work

Said the dog was sick, but that was the equivalent to saying the dog ate my homework. I was late, and my dog was feeling fit as a fiddle. Oh well. I am always on time. I won’t feel guilt.

Electric blue cap sleeved square neck tape yarn sweater from a no-name brand and bought for less than $10 at Marshall’s. Denim blazer from Ann Taylor. Black trousers from Ann Taylor. Black pumps from B.P./Nordstrom. Silver and black leather necklace from Chico’s, silver cuff and silver hoops.

Makeup is i.d. Bare Escentuals foundation and concealer. Nars Orgasm on the cheeks. Pale pink gloss from Sally Hansen. Pale taupe/pewter shadow from the Body Shop. Think line of black liquid liner from Maybelline. Black mascara – MAC’s Zoom Lash.

Work, then Stones!

My friend got tickets to see the Rolling Stones. If I leave work 15 minutes early, we will get to the concert on time.

This leaves me about 3 minutes to get ready. Attire for a concert – a little different than that for work.

Screw jeans on Fridays. I am wearing them today with a pair of pointy black heeled boots from Nine West. On top I am wearing a plum v-neck sweater shell and a pink stretch courdoroy slightly shrunken style blazer and a pink brooch. Hair is straight, makeup is a bit more intense, but not frightening.

Plan of Action come 4:55 PM: Switch to strapless bra, black off the shoulder dolman sleeve sweater. Big black and silver chandelier earrings I got at the beach. A bit of bacc combing and hairspray will make hair fun. Brought gray shadow and mascara to oomph up eyes, and a reapplication of gloss and I am ready to rock!

never saw the Stones in concert before… should be a good time!

Working Lunch

So I want to look nice. Nothing too conservative or severe due to the attendees, but still professional.

Orange-red silk knit tank from Banana Republic. Orange-red stone necklace from a boutique at the beach. Denim blazer from Ann Taylor. Black textured trousers from Ann Taylor Loft. Black pumps from B.P./Nordstrom.

Hair was dried in a hurry with a paddle bruch, then a round brush on the edges. I was running so late this morning! Some BioSilk on the ends so they don’t look grossly raggedy.

Makeup is L’Oreal True Match foundation, Chanel powder and concealer. Nars Orgasm (just a little) on the cheeks. Eyes? Well a real hodgepodge as that I was rushing and didn’t have a plan in my head. Some Clinique Snow in the corners/tear ducts. The same brown as my brow powder on the crease and around the lash line. A touch of a shimmery peach/beige over all this. MAC’s X mascara in black. On the lips is just some Cranberry Lip Balm from The Body Shop.

Not my finest fashion or beauty effort, but I look presentable and I was not late for work!

Office Attire Essentials

Whether you work in finance or fashion, physics or a philanthropy, there are some basic needs for a corporate wardrobe. Maybe you will speak at a conference, possibly you will be interviewing for a new position, possibly you are traveling on business. Below are the top six things I have learned over the years in different fields, to be the items necessary for a completely polished, professional wardrobe. These items are the pieces I see women most often NOT own and by not owning it usually diminishes their professional appearance.

1. A Suit. Seriously, you should own a suit. While a crisp shirt and trousers or a simple dress will work for most work events, there is always that situation where you wished you had a suit. Possibly you’re being interviewed on TV, or maybe you’re speaking at a conference. Maybe you’re chosen to give clients a tour of the facility, or you’re having your headshot taken for the company website. Murphy’s Law, if you don’t own a suit a situation will arise where one is necessary.

Skirt suits are no longer a necessity, and they leave you wondering about appropriate footwear, if hosiery is necessary, and the proper length or need for a slip. I deal with conservative government clients and find none of them blink at a woman in a pantsuit. If you choose black, it’s extremely versatile, slimming, seasonless, and less likely to look dated in a couple of years. Buy quality – a cheap suit looks cheap from a mile away. No need for designer, you can find sale suiting quite easily at chain retailers like Ann Taylor, Lord & Taylor, and J. Crew.

2. A Simple Leather Tote Bag. This item is the inspiration for this post. The other morning I was walking past the Mayflower Hotel and I saw a woman leading a group of individuals, most likely from the hotel to a place for breakfast. It was all men in gray and navy suits looking confused, and this woman, on a cell phone, looking extremely competent and in control. Sleek bob, a black skirt suit with cobalt blouse, expensive black pumps… and a canvas and lemon yellow patent leather tote bag with a stain on it.

In 2001 when I changed jobs, I treated myself to a black leather tote from J. Crew. It was on sale for $99 and I questioned the idea behind spending so much for something I didn’t necessarily need. In the past decade, I have used this tote on numerous occasions – for interviews, to carry my laptop to business meetings and conferences, as my carry-on for day flights to client sites. It’s sleek, structured, free of logos and embellishments, and some of the best money I have spent.

It’s better to buy a lesser-known brand free of a logo than a big fancy It Bag with logoed fabric or a big brass plaque on the front. Visible logos are never professional, and interest in certain designers change from year to year. Have it structured so it can hold your laptop in a sleeve, keep your resume from getting creased, and sit on its own on a table or the floor. Have at least once zippered compartment for small essentials and keep it clean and conditioned so it looks great now and five years from now.

3. Black Pumps. No more than a 3” heel, slightly pointed or almond toe, no visible decorations, no platforms or peeptoes or wedge heels. Smooth leather, no fancy finishes. Have them comfortable, classic, sleek. Polish them regularly and take them to the cobbler each season to be reheeled, resoled, and to have nicks on the heels covered. Wear with everything from cocktail dresses to trousers with twinsets. Buy wisely, and be willing to spend more than $50. If you care for them, these shoes will last you for many years of stylish professional wear.

4. Black Commuter Flats. there’s nothing worse than seeing a professional woman in a fabulously-tailored power suit, dashing across K Street in a pair of dirty TOMS or puffy sneakers. Not only that, there will be times when you will need to leave your office and walk to another location, give a tour of the campus, hoof it from one end of an airport to the other to catch your connecting flight. Be prepared with comfortable, broken-in but not beaten-down commuter shoes that have a closed toe and can be tucked in your tote and slipped on in a second. As with the pumps, polish them often and keep them looking clean and fresh.

5. A Simple Phone Cover/iPad Case/Laptop Skin. So you’ve been given a big break at work, the woman upstairs has asked you to lead the presentation. You head to the boardroom in your sleek black suit and power pumps, set your black structured tote on the table and whip out your hot pink laptop with band stickers all over it. Or maybe you attend a conference and end up at a table with some power players in your field, you go to tweet the event on your iPhone with a Swarvoski crystal-encrusted cover. The point is, having a fun or fancy cover for your technology destroys any credibility.

I love my iPhone and I take it everywhere. I love me some leopard print and was tempted to get a cover of that print. But then I realized that while I use my iPhone to Instagram my outfits and friends at events, I also use it to handle business for my day job. So I use a matte black cover from Incipio that protects, doesn’t slide off tables, and is subtle and professional.

Go ahead and have the Hello Kitty iPad case, but have a simple one on standby for those times when it’s important to look polished and professional.

6. A Nice Pen. It doesn’t have to be a Montblanc, but it looks impressive to whip out a nice-quality pen when you have to jot something down or loan one to a colleague. Luckily my company has really nice hematite ones with the logo etched into the side; at my old job I had a Cross which I carried in my work tote. You wouldn’t believe how many times people commented on the pen in a positive way.

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The rest? It can vary from profession to profession. Some offices are more conservative, some more laid-back. Needs depend on your industry, your location on this planet, and your position with the company. However these six simple things can take your good work look and make it great. Having such pieces in your wardrobe already means less stress and scrambling when you get that opportunity to lead, impress, or represent your company.

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Casual Holiday Attire…

Since I have been a few places over holiday where there were cameras, so I figured I would share what pictures I have…

Christmas Eve we had a lovely dinner at my sister’s house (blue cowlneck merino and black pencil skirt both from Ann Taylor sale rack, tall black boots).  I don’t have a picture of me, but I do of Emerson in her lovely red holiday dress:

As you can see she was QUITE the life of the party! :)

Here I am with Emerson on Christmas Day.  Christmas Day is pretty casual for my family.  We go to my mom’s house for breakfast and to open presents, and then have a late lunch/dinner with friends.  I am wearing a pair of Seven jeans I picked up at Filene’s Basement for $39, a black pima cotton tank from Banana Republic, and a chunky beige cardigan from Ann Taylor (pricey but got an email for 40% off one item and I decided to use it on the cardigan).  I believe I was wearing my black city boots.  As you can see Emerson is more casul – this is the Santa’s Elf outfit – green and white striped long-sleeved tee, red pants (both from Old Navy) and a “Baby’s First Christmas” bib that was from a friend.

The Sunday after Christmas we celebrated the holiday with my husband’s family.  We were to get together the Sunday prior, but there was quite the snowstorm in the DC area and no one wanted to go out in that mess.  No picture of me (wore my Seven jeans, my burgundy dolman-sleeved sweater tunic from Ann Taylor Loft and some hammered brass jewelry) but here is Emerson playing with her new presents:

The dress and tights were a gift from her Aunt Debbie.  Baltic amber teething necklace (totally swear by it – kiddo has acquired four teeth in the past month and not a bit of fussing!) from PBi.

Yesterday we went to my cousin’s house to see her recent renovation and to celebrate the holidays.  This isn’t a great picture, but it shows me and my outfit:

This is a new sweater from Banana Republic – teal merino shawl-neck and only $27.99 (they had a kazillion of them at Columbia Mall on New Year’s Day – red, green, black, two-tone…)!  With it I wore my New York & Company trousers, a black pima tank from Banana Republic and my black city boots.  Silver and blue and green stone cuff and matching earrings from Anne Koplik Jewlery
Emerson is again rocking the red pants from Old Navy (their sales on kids’ clothes are SO good and then they have 30% off promotions and free shipping… 99% of her wardrobe is Gap and Old Navy) and a sweater also from Old Navy that she received as a Christmas gift. 
Emerson is not yet walking but is darn close – lots of cruising, pulling herself up, standing.  It is really hard to find soft-soled shoes for her at this size – they all seem too small or too large (too bad because she got some cute Robeez for Christmas!).  These are the same Mary Janes she wore the Sunday after Christmas (Gap) because they are the only ones that properly fit her.  When she’s home we let her pad around in grippy-bottom socks or footie sleepers but since we were going out we wanted additional warmth and protection.  She’s just like Dorothy rocking her ruby slippers…
So what did I get for Christmas?  I got some gorgeous purple cashmere-lined leather gloves from Nordstrom, a pair of fleece slippers from Lands End, some yummy body wash and my husband, sister and I bought ourselves gifts – we are returning to Bonnaroo this summer together!
My husband I decided to spend New Years at home as a family.  They often say you should spend New Years Eve doing what you would like to do the rest of the year – well we would like nothing better than have a quiet, lovely time together in our house with our baby.
Emerson will be a year old this Friday and we are having a party for her Sunday – nothing huge, just family and our very closest friends.  We have asked for no gifts.  Family and friends were so generous this Christmas, and we jsut bought new “Big Girl” car seats for my husband’s and my mom’s car.  So really… nothing is needed and wanted except love and fun for her big day!
I hope all of you had a wonderful holiday season.  I am back to work tomorrow after having off since before Christmas so it will be hard to be away from Emerson and my husband all day (hope she remembers how to drink from a bottle!).  However I am looking forward to a new year at work – we have a larger team, some great contracts we are working on and a lot of opportunity for growth and development!

Friday: Work from Home

Sweater: Rafaella c/o Gwynnie Bee
Tank: Caslon (similar)
Brooch: Ann Taylor (similar)
Jeans: Gap
Shoes: Ivanka Trump
Lipstick: Revlon Just Bitten Kissable Balm Stain in Crush Begun

Friday I worked from home. While it’s tempting to stay in pajamas, I like to wear something appropriate so I can answer the door, say yes to a friend who asks me last-minute to lunch, or step out to run errands. On this day, I knew after work I would be heading out with my husband (and Emerson!) to photograph a friend for an upcoming True Fashionista post.

I decided to wear comfortable clothes that look put together; this ruffle-trim cardigan arrived in my most recent Gwynnie Bee box. This is NOT a color I usually wear but I always love. Good use for Gwynnie Bee – try out a new color! I ended up loving this color so much I bought another sweater in the same shade. This sweater is pretty awesome – it’s free of closures, so you can wear hanging open, belt it, or do as I did and cinch it with a brooch. I bought this pin at Ann Taylor a few years ago and love that brooches have come back en vogue so it can get more play!

This weekend was pretty crazy – we found out our hot water heater was slowly leaking so we had some major cleanup to do (and still do), and Sunday we helped my mom take down her 30-year old steel toolshed. But to make up for the weekend, tonight I am going with my friend to see Gossip at The 9:30 Club! Woot!

As a reminder, if you are interested in trying Gwynnie Bee (read more about it here), they are offering your first two months half-price!  Just mention Wardrobe Oxygen when signing up to get the promotion.  Deal valid until September 30, 2012.

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Personal Style Should Not be Work

Fashion should not be work. Fashion is a form of art – when art becomes work, it no longer is artistic.

Many women I know both in-person and through this blog seem to work too hard in becoming chic, fashionable or stylish. When style becomes frustrating, tiring, annoying or exasperating, it no longer exists. If a painter becomes so famous that he creates works of art in an assembly-line fashion, those paintings no longer are true art – they no longer hold part of the artist’s soul.

If style doesn’t come to you naturally, you are in the MAJORITY. Just as the majority of the population cannot sing, cannot sculpt, cannot dance well. It is something that you work on, and with passion it may grow to either a talent or something you enjoy behind closed doors. The problem with personal style is that it cannot be kept behind closed doors. Every day you are seen and judged by your wardrobe; and so the pressure for style skill is ever present.

If you stick to very simple basics in your wardrobe, dressing will be far simpler. So stovepipe jeans are in, as are platform sandals with dark hose. This does not mean they should be in your wardrobe. The hot color is yellow but just the thought of wearing that color makes you turn green, then for all means DO NOT WEAR IT. If you feel safest in a wardrobe of black and gray and denim, then until you feel more confident and skilled, there is no reason to venture into blue and red territory. Keep it very simple at first, stick with simple until you feel secure.

When you first ride a bike you have not only training wheels, but often a parent holding on to the back of the seat. The parent lets go, you wobble on the training wheels and then begin to feel steady. The training wheels are removed, but the parent is back to keep you straight. Once you have the hang of it, the parent lets go of the bike, you coast down the sidewalk and suddenly you can ride. Now, once you ride, you won’t be popping wheelies and jumping of 5’ cliffs in the mountains. You get acclimated to concrete and asphalt. You master turns and quick stops. After a long time perfecting your basic pedaling skills, you may move on to rougher terrain, or maybe tricks or long journeys. You will move from the standard bike to maybe a road model, one for trail rides, or one for BMX. Possibly you may find that you really don’t want to go farther than the occasional ride on the street and are perfectly happy with your first bike. You dabble in one style, find that you have a passion for it, and only then do you invest in the proper tools to follow that passion.

We women often try to be Lance Armstrong when we haven’t even taken off the training wheels. We want it all, and we want it now. We’ll buy every self-help book out there, subscribe to a dozen fashion magazines and TiVo What Not to Wear and how Do I Look. We go from a wardrobe of sweats to stilettos and complicated frocks. We feel frustrated and lost and hopeless.

Go back to my staples. These are simple items you can find at the local mall, big box retailer and often even a thrift store. If you are scared of color right now, then replace the colorful tops with muted shades. If you don’t ever wear jewelry, then hold off on the hoop earrings. Get some basic, well-made pieces that fit you properly and make you feel secure when you wear them. You have pieces that you can wear to work, to church, to pick up your son from pay group, to head to the grocery store. You have stepped from covering your body to dressing it. Stay at this point as long as you like, be it a couple months or a couple years. Don’t push it. There are things in life far more important than finding your proper colors or the It bag for the season.

You know you’re ready to take off those training wheels when you start admiring fashion in magazines, on TV and in stores. Like paintings, you can find beauty in a Dali, a Monet and a Warhol. The thing is to see which styles really capture you and tug at your soul. Is it the feminine lacy and sheer blouses in whites and pale shades this spring? Maybe it’s the yellow patent leather clutch in your recent fashion mag. Whatever it is that appeals to you, really think about it and how it connects to your personality. Slowly allow yourself to indulge in a piece of clothing or an accessory that you adore. Maybe it’s a modern silver bangle bracelet or a woven straw purse. Possibly it’s a biker-inspired leather jacket or a floral silk scarf for your throat. Take this one item and infuse it into your wardrobe. Examine your reflection before you leave for your day and in shop windows and restroom mirrors. Do you like what you see? Do you feel comfortable and yourself with this piece? If not, that’s okay. We all impulse shop. Take this as a learning experience and give the piece to a friend or donate it. Don’t hold on to it just because you bought it. Having items in your wardrobe that are wrong is far worse than having a miniscule wardrobe of things that are right.

When you wear this new piece, see what types of reactions you receive. Do people say you look as though you lost weight in that turquoise shade? Did a stranger compliment you on your necklace? Did someone ask you directions (this is a good one, because it often means that you seem to be confident and knowledgeable and approachable)?

You will see that your fashion tastes will most likely be in line with your tastes in movies, music, art and home décor. A person who loves Laura Ashley sheets will often like more feminine and delicate styles. One who loves indie flicks will often like styles that are one of a kind and have a funky, artsy vibe. If your favorite genre of music is rap, you may be drawn to strong lines and bold colors. Just because celebrities and models and fashionistas wear it does not mean you need to wear it too. The reason certain celebrities are celebrated for their style is because they have dressed to fit their personality, not a how-to book or a glossy page from Vogue.

As you begin to understand your personal style, your wardrobe will grow. You will make mistakes, you will get frustrated, you will occasionally feel lost. This happens with all aspects of your personality and life. If you can have a midlife crisis over the state of your life and your direction, so can you about your wardrobe. In college I lived at J. Crew. Lots of sundresses, chinos, polo shirts and cardigans tied around my neck. I was attracted to simple lines and neutral colors. My hair was long and wavy and often in a ponytail. Makeup was some mascara and a swipe of tinted lip balm. After college I got into a creative field and my wardrobe morphed with my tastes in music and books. Suddenly I had a lot of leather in my wardrobe; I counted six pairs of leather jeans and ten black turtlenecks at one time. I straightened my hair and dyed it a very very dark brown. I wore lots of animal prints and had my nails short and often a strange shade like dark green, black or silver. As I got older and got married and comfortable with myself, I saw my tastes change again. I liked natural fabrics with stretch that grazed over my curves and were comfortable. I mixed bright cheery colors with neutrals and began wearing almost only silver jewelry, much that was made by my Great Aunt or picked up on trips around the globe. I preferred a night in with the husband and a nice bottle of wine over an evening of club-hopping in the city. None of these changes were overnight, they were subtle transformations. Keep this in mind – your style will change based on your place in life. Be aware of how you tastes change with food or movies or music; this is often a way to help you know when it’s time to let your wardrobe catch up to your self.

Often we hold onto clothing because it reminds us of our past self. I’ll admit that I have red leather jeans hanging in my guest bedroom closet. They are three sizes smaller than what I wear now, and I look at them and see a very confident, strong me who was skinny, powerful, and a bit frightening. I feel that if I could wear those jeans again, maybe I could still be that person. But then I realize that I wouldn’t want to be that person. Now I am a calm, happy and comfortably confident person who doesn’t need a suit of armor to work a room. We all have that dress, pair of boots or jacket that reminds us of when we may have been thinner, happier or hipper. The thing is, you are not that person any more, and that’s okay. You can’t go back in time, and if you could you probably wouldn’t find the past to be as wonderful as you remember it to be. The only way to be happy now is to live in the now and that peasant skirt or leopard-print trench is holding you back from the person you can be. Celebrate the you are now by tuning into your interests, your passions, your loves and your unique personality. Find objects and garments that show you off. If you tune into who you are on the inside, it becomes easier to figure out how you should look on the outside. Next thing you know, you may be giving Lance Armstrong a run for his money!

Forgot My Camera at Work….

So I wasn’t able to take pictures of me. Sorry!

Black merino turtle/cowl neck from Ann Taylor. Like a full turtle, not as unflattering as a regular turtle, but not as droopy as a cowl.

Ivory sueded cotton trousers from Ann Taylor. Creased flat front, cuffs.

Black pointy high skinny heel boots from Enzo.

Silver hoops

Subtle smoky eyes, a bit of bronzer in place of blush, brownish pink gloss from Sally Hansen.

I like this outfit. I think I may wear it to the casual holiday party I am going to on the 17th. Dinner, drinks, TV sort of event. told to dress casually, but you know me – I don’t own casual. it’s business casual or paint-splattered. Little in between! Better to be over dressed than under dressed!

Friday: Working for the Weekend

Shirt: Lands’ End Canvas
Jeans: Jag (similar)
Bracelets: Nordstrom, Ann Taylor, Lauren Ralph Lauren, c/o Soft Surroundings
Shoes: Halogen (similar)
Sunglasses: Ray-Ban
Bag: Banana Republic (similar)

I really should have had my husband get a shot of my travel mug – it’s for Saturn of Bowie.  My dad got it when he bought his 1994 Saturn, which I inherited when he passed in 1998 and drove into the ground until 2002 or so when I took over the loan on my mom’s ’99 Saturn, which I drove into the ground and replaced this past Easter with my Kia Soul.  The more I have the Kia, the more I like it.  I no longer feel like a hamster in a track suit – it’s great for carrying a ton of stuff, is good on gas (went to SC, KY, and DE with us this summer), and is roomy and comfortable.  And it’s my first non-inherited car!

This week has been busy. So busy, I haven’t done laundry in quite a while. I started trying to pull together fancy-shmancy outfits, thought maybe I’d go all kitchen sink today… but then realized I just want to get through today so I can enjoy the weekend. So I went to closet basics.

Last night I went back to Weight Watchers… for the first time in three months! Ack! We’re doing a wellness challenge at work so I figured it was time to get back on the Weight Watchers bandwagon. I was surprised I only gained 1.6 pounds in the past three months but no gain is a good gain. We’re moving offices soon and I am excited because the new one has a gym in it – a few of my coworkers and I have already decided to make good use of it, coming in early a couple days or using our lunch hours when we don’t have client meetings later in the afternoon.

Tomorrow we’re going to see Band of Horses and My Morning Jacket at Merriweather and I couldn’t be more psyched. Favorite band, and also get to spend time with some of my favorite people! What are your weekend plans?

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Friday – Working for the Weekend

Dress - Lands’ End (on sale!)
Scarf - c/o Ann Taylor (similar)
BraceletsJewelMint, c/o Soft Surroundings, Lauren Ralph Lauren, Nordstrom
Necklace – LOFT (similar)
ShoesSofft “Pavia”
Bag - Nordstrom (similar)

The past few weeks at work have been a killer. Early mornings, late days, hardly have time to heat up a Lean Cuisine for lunch. And today? Not a single meeting, no deadlines, no frenzy. I felt that called for a celebratory outfit, something that makes me feel as though the weekend is already here.

I love this dress from Lands’ End – I threw it in the washer and dryer and it came out a bit wrinkled, but in a good “oh this is linen and linen wrinkles” sort of way. Though I must admit I took my hair flat iron to the straps to smooth them out enough to cover the bra!  And I shared the random picture of me talking to Emerson not just because I think she’s a cutie and I love her sense of style (she now picks out her outfits from head to toe), but to show the back view of this dress, which I know I will be wearing weekly all summer long.  And did you see, the dress has pockets! Perfection!

This weekend we have a relative’s 5th birthday and will be having a chill time for my husband on Father’s Day. Do you have any fun weekend plans?

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Ask Allie: Summer Office Attire

Do you already have an article on work clothes for suffocating summers? Am already dreading summer in the South.

I wrote about office-appropriate sandals here, and casual polished summer clothes here, but I have never addressed how to dress in a professional manner come summer. Not only is the heat difficult, but you also have to deal with frigid overly air-conditioned offices. Here’s what I do to beat the heat while still looking appropriate at the office:

Click image for item details

 
Dresses
Seems so simple… because it is! No need to tuck in a shirt, no lined trousers, and a silhouette that doesn’t cling to the majority of your body. A dress can let you go sans sleeves on your trip to the office, then easily cover up (if necessary due to dress code or air conditioning) with a cardigan you had tucked in your bag.

Not all dresses are created equal – some can be of heavy synthetic fabric lined with more synthetic fabric, and others can end up looking like a crumpled paper bag by noon. Even others would be perfect at a backyard barbeque, but are completely inappropriate in the workplace.


Cotton Dresses. Cotton is a natural choice – it’s breathable, it doesn’t cling, and will catch a refreshing breeze on a hot summer day. However, cotton can be sheer, can wrinkle and can easily look casual. A stiffer cotton – sateen, twill, cotton with a hint of Lycra, or a high quality version will hold up better throughout the day. When it comes to cotton, I usually look for a non-fitted silhouette – a swing or a-line style, or one with a seamed bodice and fuller skirt will hold up better in the heat and humidity and won’t stick to your legs. A lining can also help with cotton looking fresh, but it will make the dress hotter. A fuller style will offset the lack of breeze to keep you cool.

Shift Dresses. Be they short sleeved or sleeveless, a shift dress is a great summer piece. While it is usually tailored to a female shape, it is looser and straighter of a cut than a sheath. A shift dress in cotton, gabardine, Ponte de Roma (ponte), or even tropical weight wool can look professional, stylish, and help you beat the heat by letting there be air between you and your clothing.

Matte Jersey Dresses. Oh matte jersey, how I love you! Matte jersey won’t cling even if you’re drenched in sweat, it doesn’t show sweat, is thick enough to not need a lining, and it dries quickly. While it is a synthetic, it doesn’t seem to be as suffocating as a traditional poly/lycra blend. A matte jersey wrap dress can look quite sophisticated even on the hottest of summer days – I had a ¾ sleeve one for years that I would wear all four seasons – it was a faux wrap that wouldn’t flip up on windy days, was black so it worked with black pumps or boots in winter or nude sandals come summer, and literally no one could see me sweat.

Be wary of jersey knit dresses – they can cling to your body, leaving little to the imagination by time you hike it in the heat from parking lot or bus stop to the office. Even if you think you look professional in your home, a bit of heat and humidity can make a simple jersey dress quite scandalous.

Maxi dresses are hard to make work in many office environments – I have only done it a handful of times and each time I felt a bit too casual or flamboyant. Such dresses are best kept to those who work in a creative field.

Just because you pair a sundress with a cardigan or put a tank top or tee shirt underneath, it doesn’t mean it’s work appropriate. This means tissue-weight flippy floral cotton styles from Forever 21 and Old Navy, dresses with spaghetti or halter straps, strapless frocks, bodycon dresses, or anything that would look best with sand between your toes and a Pina Colada in your hand.

Pants
Pants are a given no matter the time of year or occasion, however many office-appropriate pants are downright torture on a hot summer day. Lining plus pockets plus heavy fabrics can mean feeling like a suffocated soggy mess by time you reach your office. There are some styles that will look professional yet still help you beat the heat.

Cropped Pants. These aren’t the cropped pants of a few years ago – this season’s cropped pants are stylish, sleek, and office appropriate. Crisp fabrics, straight lines, chic with pumps or delicate sandals, cropped pants can replace your heavy suiting trousers once the temperature rises. I have these cropped pants from Halogen that are a cotton twill that hold their shape through sitting and humidity, and come in rich colors that will give your wardrobe staples have a new life. They aren’t lined, which helps with the heat, but they still look crisp and professional. Wear pants like these with a sleeveless top and slingback peeptoes, slip on a cardigan or blazer once you enter the office.

Wide-legged Pants. An office-appropriate version of a maxi skirt, the full-legged pant has made a return to the stores, and just in time for summer.

A sailor-inspired trouser in stretch cotton twill or refined denim looks great with a boatneck sweater and statement necklace; pair with a short-sleeved blazer or a twinset for a classic look.

Fluid wide-leg, or palazzo pants have returned but this time they are sleek and more sophisticated. The leg is tailored so you don’t look like a clown, and they can easily be paired with a sleeveless silky blouse and skinny belt for a professional ensemble. While white or ivory may seem like a natural choice, such colors usually need lining and can show sweat stains. A darker color will let you breathe with just one layer; prints have also returned and a subtle Ikat or textured print can look corporate with a simple blouse or shell.

Skirts
Skirts are like dresses – not every skirt will be comfortable or appropriate for the office come summertime. While I love pencil skirts in the colder months, I find such a silhouette suffocating come spring and summer. It’s also uncomfortable to have a blouse tucked into a lined skirt in the heat – three layers across your midsection can get creased, sweaty, and icky pretty fast.

Come summer, I like my skirts how I like my pants – either crisp cotton, or fluid. This season has a bunch of micro-pleated skirts – be they chiffon or jersey, such a style can look professional while still feeling breezy. Pair such a skirt with a lightweight short-sleeved sweater or cotton blazer for a work-appropriate ensemble. A-line skirts are great come summer – they don’t cling to the skin and can handle a slightly heavier fabric without feeling too hot. A crisp cotton or twill a-line skirt looks office-ready with a cotton voile blouse or a lightweight sweater set.

Blouses
I don’t know why everyone wears knit tees in the summer – they cling in the heat and can make you feel pretty uncomfortable. The best bet is to choose fabrics that will float away from the body without adding bulk to your frame. A blouse in tissue-weight cotton, lightweight linen, silk, or chiffon will let your body breathe while still looking professional. Such fabrics can be transparent – instead of adding layers, consider getting an underwire camisole in black, navy, or nude to wear under such blouses. Also if you choose a darker color or a print, your underpinnings are less likely to show. Many find silk to be difficult in summer because it shows sweat – tissue-weight cotton or voile is a good alternative that can still float and breathe.

I am not much of a fan of the classic sleeveless cotton button-front shirt. Rarely do shirts of this style look good on a woman’s figure – they are too stiff in the body or else cling to the frame, they rarely flatter the arm, and the neckline usually seems too severe without sleeves. There are always exceptions, but a standard sleeveless button-front shirt can quickly look like Dowdy Soccer Mom or Parks and Planning Department Employee if not the right fabric, cut, and color.

An alternative to a blouse is the shell. A shell is like a half-shift, with a similar silhouette but ending between your waistband and mid-hip. While most any sleeveless top in a store may be called a shell, such a piece is usually of a straighter cut so that you have air between you and your garment. This year, I am seeing more shells in crisp cotton or linen – just to or just past the waistband, they look great with gathered skirts, wide-leg trousers, and crisp cropped trousers. Add a scarf or bold necklace to pull the look together.

Peasant tops are a popular choice come summer since they float away from the body and are of lightweight fabrics; problem is they rarely look professional. Even out of silk, such blouses have smocking, laces, and often have embroidery or beading which can make it look costume-y in the workplace. Keep such blouses for the weekend, or at least Casual Friday.

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Ask Allie: Wedding Guest Attire

Hi Allie! I just bought this dress for an upcoming wedding reception (cocktail attire for women, black-tie welcomed for men). I would love to hear any ideas you have on how to accessorize it in order to glam it up. Thanks for any feedback! -Saundra

Dress via Ann Taylor

What a lovely dress, I love that icy lavender color! This is a great dress for such an event and very easy to glam up. A couple ideas:

- Silver Sparkle. Delicate silver strappy heels, delicate chandelier earrings of silver or white gold and diamonds (or CZs), a coordinating bracelet, be it a thin pave bangle or a chain of silver with crystals. Add a bit of subtle shimmer to your face with a highlighter on the brow bone, inner corners of the eyes, cheek bones, and the bow of your lips.

- Golden Glam. Some nude heels in a dressy fabric like silk – could be a strappy sandal, a D’Orsay heel or a platform peeptoe with a blingy shoe clip. Choose one accessory to make the statement – a large crystal-encrusted bangle or cuff, or a sparkly statement necklace; just have the metal be gold. Hair in a soft updo and a bit of shimmery golden tan hues used for the face.

- To-die-for Tonal. If you can find a great necklace with crystals or stones in the same pale lavender color, it can really glitz up this simple dress. Keep everything else very simple – nude dressy heels, simple hair, pretty makeup. If you really want another accessory, have it be your purse which could be a clutch in a metallic gray snakeskin or a subtle print that picks up the color of the dress.

This dress is of a formal fabric; if you have formal shoes and up the ante a bit with your makeup (darker lashes, bit of shimmer, etc.) you already are appropriate. Take a cue from celebs when they walk the runway – usually the dress makes the statement and the accessories only highlight. They usually only have one statement accessory, whether it’s a jeweled cuff or a pair of fantastic chandelier earrings.

Though it’s tempting, don’t try to match the color of the dress with your makeup – this lavender is so beautiful and so icy you can go with a bronze/gold subtle shimmer concept, a classic face with liquid liner, a simple fresh face with stronger lip.

Don’t be afraid to use a bag that doesn’t “go” – this is a look that can add some real personality to your look. I have a pale yellow snakeskin clutch that I use quite often even though I don’t own anything that color in my wardrobe. I find it is an unexpected pop of color that works so well, and the pale color makes it more dressy and versatile than typical black. A clutch in a texture (beading, embroidery) or print (snakeskin, a Pucci-inspired silk) can be far more versatile and stylish than a “basic” bag in black, silver, or gold.

Hi Allie:
I’ve been invited to two weddings this summer. Neither wedding is formal, but I would like to look nice. Do you have any suggestions for what would look appropriate, but fun?

I love being invited to casual weddings because it’s a great chance to wear fun fashion that doesn’t seem to have a proper place anywhere else in Real Life. As soon as I read your question I thought of maxi dresses.

Maxi dress via Mossimo for Target

Last summer I had a cotton maxi dress from Target that was a bright coral and white print. Being cotton, it was comfortable and also very versatile. I wore it to many an event with flat sandals and a long strand of turquoise beads; I even would wear it sans jewelry with a pair of flip flops for hanging out with friends. A plus to maxi dresses is that you keep your legs protected from the sun and from mosquitoes, and it’s easier to sit on the ground and not be exposed.

A maxi dress in a gauzy or cotton fabric would be festive choice for these weddings. To not try to overshadow the bride, keep accessories very simple and pair with flat sandals. Wearing your hair down and casual will make it feel more beachy and less bridesmaid.

Dear Allie,


I am a bridesmaid in a wedding this summer – it’s a destination wedding on the beach. We are allowed to wear anything we want as long as it’s black. Do you have any ideas on what would travel well, be comfortable in the heat, and would work with shoes that won’t sink into the sand? Thanks so much! – Dana

When I read your question I thought of what I wore to my friend’s wedding in November ’09. It was a spaghetti strap black maxi dress from Calvin Klein, and I paired it with big gold earrings, a pile of gold bangle bracelets, and wore flat gold sandals and my hair loose at my shoulders. When I put together the outfit, I thought about how great it would be for a tropical vacation.

Maxi dress via Ann Taylor LOFT

A maxi dress is a great choice for a beach wedding because you don’t have to worry about the breeze taking your skirt for a ride, and it makes it easier to sit in the sand or a low chair without feeling exposed. With a long skirt, you also don’t have to worry about a tall shoe to balance out the dress.

Matte jersey is a fabulous fabric for travel as that it doesn’t wrinkle, packs up small, and is easy to spot clean with a Tide to Go pen (or a little Ivory soap and then an overnight air dry). Matte jersey is also figure flattering – it has stretch but doesn’t cling to curves. It can be found at most any pricepoint and retailer – I have matte jersey dresses from Old Navy and Target, and found my black maxi dress at Macy’s on sale for less than $100.

If you pair with dressier sandals and jewelry, a dress of this fabric can easily go from casual to formal. However, keep the location in mind and don’t try to get too stuffy with heavy statement necklaces, formal updos, or lots of makeup. Embrace the beach and consider beaded chandelier earrings, stacks of bangles, or longer pendant necklaces and let the shore breeze have its way with your hair!

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Flat Work Shoes for Fall and Winter

A big request that comes in my mailbag is suggestions for work-appropriate flats. I’m glad to see such requests, because not every flat is created equal. I hate to burst your bubble, but standard issue ballet flats and the patent elastic-backed flats do not give an air of professionalism, no matter the brand name. Not only that, such shoes offer so little support they aren’t very comfortable or healthy for your arches. Luckily, flats have come back en vogue the past few seasons and there’s a wonderful assortment of stylish, chic, and supportive heel-free shoes available that will give you an air of professionalism. A few styles I am loving this fall:


The Oxford
I wrote about the oxford or brogues trend last fall/winter, but this trend is still quite hot. With the second season, there’s more variety and style available. From animal-print calfhair to metallics to more classic wingtips, there’s an oxford shoe that works with most any personal style. A plus to the oxford is it is a style of flat that looks quite chic with hosiery.

Such a shoe looks amazing with trousers, be you channeling Katharine Hepburn with a wide-leg menswear style, or a trim ankle-length cut. I also like oxfords with boyfriend and ankle-length straight jeans. I have seen many women carry off oxfords with fuller skirts of every length from mid-thigh to ankle, but you need to have a very defined personal style and understanding office to carry off that look.

The Smoking Slipper
Another flat trend that has carried over from last year, the smoking slipper, is easy, comfortable, elegant, and work appropriate. Such a shoe looks great with trousers of any leg width, and with all the prints and fabrics available, can add a personal touch to a more traditional suit.

The Loafer
The loafer has returned, and in all styles and heel heights. The flat loafer is a classic and looks excellent with jeans and trousers, as well as pleated skirts and kilts. The collegiate look is trending this fall, and a tassel or penny loafer fits the bill perfectly and comfortably. Like oxfords, this style of flat looks chic with a sock or other form of hosiery.

If your style is more eclectic, consider a loafer with a pointed toe, an unusual fabric or finish, or unexpected hardware. I love the juxtaposition of a tough leather moto jacket, jeans, and then a classic penny loafer.

The Pointed Toe Flat
While a pointed toe may seem like torture for a heel, a pointed toe is more of an accessory on a flat shoe. Without the angle, the toes aren’t shoved into the narrow front, but sit comfortably in the normal-width body of the shoe.

As a petite woman, I love the pointed toe flat because it extends the look of the leg. It looks fantastic peeking out of trousers, as well as being paired with cropped and narrow pants. I also find it more flattering with skirts than rounded-toe ballet flats.


Flat Booties
This season, two popular flat ankle-height boot styles are the Chelsea boot (more of a riding boot style with elastic gussets on the side) and the Beatle boot (very sleek, slim profile with an elongated pointed toe). Both styles are far more professional looking than the chunky bulbous ankle boot styles that are also available in stores this season. Like the oxford and loafer, this form of flat begs to be worn with socks to keep you warm this winter.

Both styles of bootie are extremely versatile and lend to the season’s pant trends. They can peek out of classic or wide-leg trousers, but also look very on trend with narrow, cropped, and pleated styles. Both also look quite modern with skirts, from a pencil to a pleated midi. A black flat bootie with black tights is a wonderful winter base for dresses and skirts.

How to Determine if a Flat is Work Appropriate:

  • Fabric.  Canvas, denim, metallic twill, jelly, rubber, cartoon prints… if you’re looking for flats for Corporate America you should likely steer clear from these fabrics.  Leather, patent, haircalf, matte velvet, suede, croco-embossed, snakeskin… choose a more traditional fabric for a more traditional and professional feel.
  • Details.  While I find the stud trend to be quite fun, it may not be appropriate for the office.  With the return of the flat has come some very wacky details – rhinestone-encrusted toes, plastic heart shoe clips, 1″ long spikes, clear vinyl cutouts… if it’s not appropriate to be worn to work on your torso it likely isn’t the best choice for your feet.  Also look for details that make shoes too casual – lug or gum soles, visible stitching, visible logos, industrial-style lacing.
  • Trim.  The quickest way to make a shoe look casual is the trim around the opening.  A lovely leather flat, and then a polka-dot grosgrain trim.  Sleek patent shoe, and then an elasticized opening.  A work shoe should be more polished, and an easy way to achieve that is having the shoe be consistent from top to sole.
  • Structure.  If one can see the shape of your toes through the shoe, they’re not structured enough for the office.  If your foot is spilling over the sole onto the ground, they’re not structured enough for the office.  If you look as though you don’t have feet under your trouser legs, they’re not structured enough for the office (ballet flats are infamous for such a travesty). 
  • Condition.  Color worn from the toe, sole peeling away from the shoe, scuffed, the back bent up from wearing as slides… your place of work is why you can buy shoes in the first place so show it a bit of respect.  Keep those shoes for the commute to the office and change once you arrive; this way your work shoes last longer and stay looking crisp.

My list is not all-inclusive.  There are many styles that are out there right now, and fashion is so accepting this day and age, you don’t have to stick to just the current hot trends.  The goal is to look polished, structured, and professional, and you can achieve this no matter the height of your heel!

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Ask Allie: Cheap Work Clothing

I am 22 and find myself coming into work every day looking a hot-mess. Unacceptable. I’ll admit I’ve stopped trying to put things together at this point. I am in serious need of advice as to a “starter wardrobe”. I’m working with an extremely tight budget where $50 is too much for a blazer.

I’m getting back into the work world after spending four years at home with my sons and my closet is pretty much jeans and T-shirts. Any suggestions for building a work wardrobe from nothing and with practically no funds?

I wrote this post recently, and it’s worth a look. You don’t need to spend a ton of money to look professional in the office, you don’t need to own a dozen suits or expensive garments. However, it is important to look for versatile, quality pieces for the office. I can’t stress this enough – it’s more important to have a few well-made and well-fitting versatile pieces than a closet packed with cheap junk. It’s okay to wear the same black pants three times in a week, to wear the same suit for each business meeting, to wear the same pencil skirt twice a week if it fits well, is classic, and versatile.

Quality can be found at TJ Maxx, at Target, at Goodwill. You don’t need to go to a high-end retailer to find quality pieces. Shop slowly, shop carefully, be picky. Again, it’s better to only have one pair of black pants if they fit well and flatter. It’s better to buy a pair of $29.99 clearance pants and get them hemmed to the perfect length via the local dry cleaner than to spend $80 on a pair of pants that don’t fit well.

Shopping Online
I find a ton of great business clothing for less online. Subscribe to sites that notify you of online deals, or follow retailers on social media to know when they are having free shipping or discounts so you can save big. Also consider joining Ebates, which will send you a check a couple times a year just for regular shopping online.

Thrifting
Schedule thrifting into your schedule the way you would doctor’s appointments or book club. You will have the best luck when you go regularly, and know where you are shopping. Never buy smaller than you size, but some pieces a hair too large can be easily tailored with a belt, some Stitch Witchery, or your nearby dry cleaners or tailor. Don’t buy pieces that are damaged just because they are a great deal – for office clothing it’s important to have pieces in great condition. Thrifting is a great way to find blouses to give a new look to wardrobe basics – a black pantsuit looks completely different with a turquoise silk ruffled blouse than with a crisp white button-front shirt than with a shell pink silk sweater tee.

Shopping the Clearance Rack
I worked retail for many a year, and highly respected those savvy shoppers who entered my store and immediately went to the back to the sale rack. Stores you may think are outside your pricerange can have some stellar deals on the clearance rack. I own $19.99 blazers from Ann Taylor, $30 cashmere sweaters from J. Crew, and beautiful lined trousers from Nordstrom for less than $40. Again, follow these brands online to know when they have deals – recently Ann Taylor had a “private sale” for regular customers and offered 40% off sale merchandise. For less than $100 I got a pair of work pants, two shells, a cardigan, a skirt, and a merino wool crewneck… you can’t find that much workwear eat any discount mart for that price!

Quality at a Discount
Some things just make a piece look cheap, no matter the price on the ticket. Shiny synthetics, too many embellishments, visible logos, unlined non-knit jackets, too tight trousers, blatant trends (wide flared legs, super cropped jackets, extreme shoulders, cutouts, etc.) will make an otherwise nice work garment look inappropriate. I have found simple suiting-fabric separates at Target and Old Navy. Fabrics like matte jersey and Ponte knit look great at lower pricepoints and are work-appropriate for separates and dresses. Check out sites like 6pm.com for quality footwear at great low prices; also consider stalking eBay for specific pieces you have seen at retailers for a nice gently-used price.

Capsule Wardrobe
In my last post about a work attire, I focused mainly on the entry-level employee. However, you can look professional at any level with a small wardrobe. This capsule wardrobe is only an example – while you can click the link below it to see the specific pieces I used, do know I was working with pieces that have images available online, not on a model, and on a white ground. I chose pieces that I know can be found a low pricepoints and can look like quality even if they are purchased from a discount retailer; pieces that can look current even if they are purchased from a thrift store.

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As you see, I chose a color story of black, gray, and shades of lilac as the accent hue. I chose black as a base because it’s a color that’s easier to mix and match from various retailers and easier to hide the price of a garment because the stitching and details are less visible. A gray “snow leopard” print adds interest and works with all the colors in the collection. All silhouettes are classic so they will work now and a couple years from now. Lighter-weight sweaters look more professional than chunky knits; warmth can be had with layers. I chose black pumps as the lone shoe since they are so versatile; if you can afford additional work shoes, a flat or a tall boot can be quite versatile and also classic. These pumps can be worn with bare legs (dress code permitting) in warmer months, with trouser socks for the pants, with tights or sheer stockings with the skirts come the colder months.

  1. Black jacket, black pants, ruffle blouse (can switch out pants for either skirt)
  2. Black jacket, black pants, white shirt (can switch out pants for either skirt)
  3. Black jacket, black pants, lavender sweater (can switch out pants for either skirt)
  4. Black jacket, leopard cardigan, black skirt
  5. Leopard cardigan, black pants
  6. Leopard cardigan, either skirt, ruffled blouse
  7. Leopard cardigan, white shirt, pants or either skirt
  8. Lavender sweater, gray skirt, leopard belt
  9. Lavender sweater, ruffled blouse, gray skirt
  10. Lavender sweater, white shirt, pants or either skirt
  11. Lavender sweater, black pants
  12. Black sweater, black pants, leopard belt
  13. Black sweater, white shirt, black skirt
  14. Black sweater, gray skirt, leopard belt
  15. White shirt, gray skirt, leopard belt
  16. White shirt, black pants, lavender sweater around shoulders
  17. Ruffled blouse, gray skirt
  18. Ruffled blouse, black pants

So with less than a dozen pieces, you can create over 20 different ensembles. An extra tank top or silk shell can add a handful more options. As you add to your wardrobe, keep in mind the color story and silhouettes so new pieces will fit effortlessly into your collection and increase the versatility of each piece.

When You Can’t Afford a Suit
It’s better to not have a suit than a cobbled-together mess. A blazer is expensive, and without stalking clearance racks, eBay, and your nearby thrift store you very well won’t be able to find a decent one under $50. So don’t buy one. You can look professional in a simple cardigan, blouse, and pants; a shift dress and pumps or flats, a button-front shirt and trousers. A matte jersey wrap dress, gabardine sheath or Ponte knit shift with a strand of pearls and simple black pumps can look just as sophisticated and professional while being far more easy to find at a low pricepoint. Don’t make it work, only own that which deserves to be in your closet.

So maybe now it’s a Forever 21 cardigan, Target pants, and a thrifted oxford as your work uniform – there’s nothing wrong with that. Take good care of them, launder them carefully, treat them like couture and they will be good to you in return. As you move up the corporate ladder you may replace these pieces with higher-end pieces once they wear out… or you may be pleased to find that quality doesn’t have to equal a higher price!

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On Making it Work (and when to give up)

I said it before, but it bears repeating…

It’s not worth it to “make it work.”

The other day I wore this skirt. While it looked cute in the photos, and even in my full-length mirror, it wasn’t a good choice for me. A tad shorter than I feel comfortable wearing, and a very lightweight fabric meant I spent the entire day with my arms pressed against my thighs trying to prevent a Marilyn moment. It was so bad, that I hobbled from my office to Ann Taylor a block away so I could sneak into their fitting room and change into a dress that had arrived in the mail earlier in the day. The dress I changed into was a maxi and too long, but I felt better carrying my skirt like a wedding dress train as I hopped Metro trains, than chancing a show of my skivvies during a breezy rush hour.

Most of my comments from that post are lost in cyberspace due to a bug with my commenting system, but I had a good dozen comments, and even a few tweets, Facebook comments and emails offering suggestions on how to make the skirt work for me. Wear it with tights. Add a band of fabric to the hem to make it longer and weigh it down. Save it for when I have lost 10 pounds for that will make it longer on my body.

The thing is… I don’t want to make it work. Making it work makes sense when you’re in the 11th hour of a Project Runway challenge. It makes sense if the only skirt in my closet is this one and I have an event to go to in an hour where the dress code is Skirts Only. It makes sense if it was a gift from my husband’s grandmother and she asked to see me in it for her 90th birthday party. There’s no other reason why I should try to make a garment work.

If a garment doesn’t work, it doesn’t deserve real estate in your closet. 

Stop trying to make it work with belts and tights and control garments and half-baked DIY projects. All that effort does is make the same not-quite-right garment not-quite-right, but now decked out with opaque tights, a skinny belt, and a weird band of fabric that sort of ruins the flow of the piece. This isn’t to say that with a bit of sewing skill one could turn trash into treasure. What I’m saying is if a piece isn’t right and you don’t have the creativity, skill, and desire to make it right… get rid of it.

It’s better to have fewer pieces in your closet than a wardrobe of things that require effort to make them passable. This isn’t just that skirt that is a hair too short, it’s also the top that pulls at your shoulders, the dress that can only work with a strapless backless bra (and you don’t own a strapless backless bra), the dress that looked smashing 10 pounds ago but now looks like a potato sack, that other dress that looked great 10 pounds and 10 years ago but now looks like Saran Wrap, the blouse that is a bit too sheer but looks frumpy with a camisole, the pants that are cute except for wrinkling in the first minute of wearing and the fact that they give you camel toe.

Donate them. Sell them. Swap them. I don’t care what you do with them, but I beg of you, get rid of them and stop trying to make them work.

I thank you all for your amazing, caring, and creative suggestions. You women amaze me on a daily basis with your resourcefulness, knowledge, and heart. However, you will not see me in that skirt again. I really could make it work, and for a moment I considered keeping it and wearing it come fall with super opaque tights and a fitted turtleneck. And then I realized that it meant this skirt could ONLY be worn with super opaque tights, and it still would be short enough to cause a Marilyn moment on a breezy day. Enough to make the item too difficult to deserve to be in my closet. I’m not going to make it work, and because I care about you and your personal style, I hope you won’t either.

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Ask Allie: Budget Friendly Interview Attire

I have decided to get a new job and find a healthier work environment. Thing is I don’t own a suit and I can’t spend more than $150 on interview clothes. Any suggestions on where to get a suit?

While you may luck out on the clearance rack of Ann Taylor or Banana Republic (and it can happen, I have a great matching blazer, pencil skirt and trousers from AT that cost under $200 thanks to coupons and clearance), you can’t guarantee that you’ll have success in time for your first interview. Some may recommend thrifting or consignment, but for an interview you need to put your best foot forward and again you can’t guarantee finding the right size and style in pristine quality in time.

I conduct interviews quite regularly at my job, for positions of all levels, and I have to say not wearing a suit is preferable to some cobbled together attempt at a jacket and trousers or skirt. It’s also preferable to wearing an obviously cheap suit. I’ve interviewed individuals with hems obviously stapled to the correct length, women in shiny tight Girls Night Out pants with a gabardine blazer, casual twill blazers with suiting trousers, tight thin knit skirts with a too-big power blazer clearly borrowed from Mom, and the cheap shiny hot pink pantsuit with beaded lapels and rhinestone buttons. Though these individuals strived to create a professional appearance, they focused too much on the need to create a suit than the need to create a polished, professional appearance.

So what do you do when you have limited time and funds but want to put your best foot forward for job interviews? Here’s some suggestions on how to create a professional look with few resources:

You Have Great Trousers (or a Great Skirt) but No Matching Suit Jacket

Great trousers means they fit – they don’t bag, they don’t hug your rear and thighs, they are the appropriate length (no ankle bone showing, no dragging on the ground). They are of a professional fabric (not shiny, not cotton twill, not stretchy), and likely lined to provide better drape and fit. These trousers are in a classic color – black, gray, brown, taupe, navy, possibly a dark muted green or wine.

A great skirt is a straight or pencil skirt that fits well, doesn’t ride up, doesn’t hug the rear, doesn’t wrinkle during a car or bus ride, hits the knees, and lets you walk a comfortable confident stride. It should be of a professional fabric and lined, free of embellishment and trendy details.

budget friendly interview outfit pants skirt
Pair with:

A crisp white shirt, necklace, and pumps. Purchase a wrinkle-resistant shirt that’s opaque and fits properly (no bulging buttons, not oversized, correct sleeve length), wear tucked into the trousers, and add a classic necklace that adds some shine. A pair of leather pumps in the same color as the trousers or skirt with an almond or pointed toe will look elegant, professional, and be a useful purchase after the interview.

A suiting blazer of the same fabric but different color and a blouse the same color as one or the other. Take your trousers shopping, or note the fabric composition on the tag and look for a jacket that is the same or extremely similar. However, don’t try to match grays or blacks because 99% of the time it won’t work and you’ll look sloppy. To get the most mileage of this jacket, choose one free of patterns and details, one that is a classic cut (no double breasted buttons, no cropped or perma-rolled sleeves, no creative collars), and in another neutral (black, gray, navy, taupe, ivory, cream).

By having your blouse (and with a mix like this I encourage a blouse, not a crisp shirt or a knit shell) either the same color as the jacket or the bottom, it creates cohesiveness and a purposeful look. Add interest with a necklace, belt (if applicable), and a confident smile.

If You Have a Great Jacket but No Trousers or Skirt

A great jacket means it fits GREAT, and to fit great it likely has been to the tailor. Sleeves the right length, shoulders in the right place, able to button without straining, not too tight but not oversized. The jacket is of a professional fabric (no twill, knit, denim, or anything with a shine), lined, and a classic cut. In this situation, a color is acceptable but it shouldn’t be too bold of a hue (bright yellow, lime green, orange, hot pink), or have trendy details (statement buttons, creative lapels, cut-outs, colorblocking or a print).

what to wear to an interview no suit
Pair with:

A suiting skirt or trousers and a blouse of the same color. Take the same advice above, and create a polished and cohesive look with a neutral blouse and trousers and a classic pair of pumps.

A professional tailored dress. This is not your pink floral rayon fit and flare frock, it’s not your striped ponte tee shirt dress, and it is never anything with spaghetti straps, cutouts (even if hidden under the jacket), or anything that is above the knee. Best choice is a sheath dress with a classic neckline (V, not too low scoop, crew or jewel neck), lined, and a fabric that coordinates with the jacket. Second choice is a dress that has a defined waist (self belt or banded waistband) and hits mid-knee to top of calf in a coordinating fabric. It’s important for this dress to have a tailored fit; a blazer over a loose dress will look sloppy and encourage creases.

Coordinating fabric means both of the same composition (see above), or fabrics that flatter one another (silk with crepe, wool with tweed, that sort of thing). If you’re not sure about coordinating fabrics I say to NOT go with this direction. It can be confusing, and too easy to go the wrong way.

If You Have Nothing and Need to Start From Scratch

Buy a Dress. Seriously, forgo the suit and get a professional dress in a solid color or subdued pattern. Pair with leather pumps in a neutral, wear a simple necklace, have polished hair and makeup and a nice bag and you will look far more competent and serious than in a hodgepodge of so-called professional attire.

No sheer portions or cutouts, no cleavage, no twee prints, trendy details, or overly vintage silhouettes. A sleeve is a very good idea, and the length should hit the knees. The style should skim the figure (more professional than a shift or sack dress), and be of a substantial fabric and/or lined. A few options under $150:

Do you have any suggestions for this reader?