Sunday, October 24, 2010

The New Rules of Shopping

Like I've said numerous times, entering a new phase of my life - one in which I spend approximately 80% of my waking hours wearing professional clothing, and appearing put-together is my primary goal when I get dressed in the morning - has completely shifted the way I shop.

But you know what's helped a lot? Laying down a few specific, straightforward rules, to be observed every time I plan on buying something. And while I realize these aren't exactly earth shattering, they've been extraordinarily helpful to me, so perhaps they'll be of benefit to you, too!


BCBG Jeweled Sweater Top, $168

This might sound like I'm suggesting that you always choose expensive things that are made to last, but I'm not (although I do think this is true, in general, of shoes). What I mean is, make sure you buy pieces that are immediately wearable and have a lot of mileage. Does it coordinate with the rest of your wardrobe? Does it fit? If not, can you - will you - take it to the tailor? I cannot tell you how many times I've bought something when the fit was just slightly off - shoes that were a little too big, rings that were a bit loose, vintage clothing I loved but couldn't zip without sucking in - and then was surprised, months later, when I realized it had been sitting idle in my closet, unworn.


Forever 21 Mesh and Lace Skirt, $19.80

Until quite recently, I avoided stores like Forever 21 and H&M... not out of snobbery - I'm all for the democratization of fashion - I just assumed I wouldn't find anything that wasn't poorly made or would fit with the rest of my wardrobe. I was missing out! For one, these fast-fashion retailers are perfect for indulging in trends that have a short shelf life - the other day I bought a rocker-chic purple feather vest which, at $25, I won't feel silly only wearing a few times. (Side note: last night I worked at event with Kim Kardashian, who was wearing - a presumably more expensive version of - the same vest. I don't know what this says about me or my style... I just wanted to share.)

But there are also reliable basics to be found at these stores if you're willing to dig through the trendier pieces. My favorite swingy cardigan - $12! - is from Forever 21. And I have a cropped H&M cotton blazer that's perfect for summer.


BR Monogram Rose Applique Jacket, $198

For awhile, I kept trying to "incorporate more color" into my wardrobe and failing. I was wondering why I was having such a hard time with this seemingly simple task when I looked in my closet and realized that nearly everything is either black, navy, brown, tan or olive green. And that's okay! For one, nearly everything matches, so getting dressed in the morning is a cinch. For another, those colors look good on me! There are a few deviations - a turquoise blouse, a silver leather jacket - but for the most part, I clearly know what works for me and stick with it.

Take a look at your wardrobe. Do you notice an overarching color theme? Could this mean that you, too, unconsciously (or, perhaps, consciously) gravitate toward what works best for you?


J. Crew "Gemini" Satchel, $238

As long as I'm continuing to beef up my work wardrobe, I have a system: each week, I take a portion of my paycheck that serves as my shopping allowance. This week, that allowance went to investing in a few pairs of opaque tights - as the ones I've had for several years are beginning to run and pill - and a blazer. Next week, I'm hitting up Macy's and Bloomingdale's for gloves and scarves.

Is this the sexiest way to shop? No! It would be much more fun to blow all my cash on some rad, esoteric contraption of a dress at an overpriced Lower East Side boutique. But being an adult means spending one's money judiciously. And that means, if you notice a hole in some essential aspect of your wardrobe, you've got to take care of that before you unleash yourself upon the Brooklyn Flea Market or go crazy at a Tory Burch sample sale.


Vintage Art Deco Rhinestone Belt Buckle, $8

First of all, let me say that I love vintage clothing - the obsession began when I was 14 and unearthed a polka-dot 1950s dress in a dingy thrift store in Flagstaff, Arizona. But I'll also be the first to admit that vintage shopping is a fickle mistress. When you're in the throes of it, you must keep your wits about you and remember that just because it's vintage doesn't mean it's good. Just because it's designer vintage doesn't mean it's good, either - we all make mistakes, and Yves Saint Laurent is no exception. In nearly a decade of collecting, I've acquired some amazing things: a terrific black brocade swing coat, an armful of carved Bakelite bangles, a Pucci dress I plan to someday pass on to my fashionable daughter or gay son. But I've also purchased some duds (that purple wool secretary dress that's so dated, it looks like a castoff from Mad Men's costume department - what was I thinking?).

Two important things to keep in mind when vintage shopping: 1.) make sure your find can be worn in a way that modernizes it (this may mean you'll have to swap out the buttons or have it hemmed shorter or whatever) and 2.) remember that the label means nothing! One of my favorite pieces, a navy blue wide collar jacket, is from "Styled by Rudy." I have no idea who Rudy is, but I'm a fan of his work.


Anthropologie Golden Fleece Bolero, $158

So, we've established that I basically wear the same five neutral colors pretty much exclusively. Boring, right? No! That's because I love jewelry, and my collection is as extensive as it is eclectic. I've got everything from giant rhinestone-encrusted cocktail rings, to strands of faux pearls, to tinkly chandelier earrings, to this crazy necklace with a huge amethyst stalactite as the focal point, and I wear it all. I think every woman should wear jewelry everyday as a celebration of her femininity and beauty, and I honestly don't think you can wear too much jewelry (look at Iris Apfel and Eva Jeanbart-Lorenzotti: two sartorial maximalists who look fantastic).

I wear sparkly jewelry to the office everyday. Sparkly clothing, though, is a different beast entirely. Matte sequins, like the ones that adorn this Anthropologie jacket, work for day - but probably not in a corporate environment. Approach with caution.

My point, though, is that many women consider jewelry - especially their nicest, most expensive jewelry - to be something that should be reserved exclusively for special occasions. It's not! If something makes you happy, you should wear it everyday.


I know "rules are made the be broken" is a huuuge cliche, but it's never more true than it is in fashion. Shopping should be fun, and if there's not a tinge of naughtiness to it, how much fun can it be? If I obeyed these rules all the time, I wouldn't own a fantastic Diorling velvet floor-length coat from the 70s or ridiculously high Steve Madden platforms I can barely walk in.

If acquiring these wonderful, outrageous things also means making the occasional mistake (I'm looking at you, ugly secretary dress), so be it. In my mind, it's worth it.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Borrowing from the Boys

I work in a heavily male-dominated environment. Often, I'm the only person sporting a two X chromosomes in meetings and at events.

The women I meet through work often disappear into the background with drab, all-black separates, while the men dress with personality, whimsy and panache. However, I've learned that, for a working woman, there are many nuggets of sartorial wisdom to be culled from the dudes - reinterpreted, obviously, with a girlish slant. Here are the lessons I've learned so far:


I used to be terrified of pants, and with good reason: finding a pair that flatters you and makes you feel good is a bit of a challenge. Shopping for skirts is much easier. But it's worth taking the time to search for a few just-right pairs; besides being warmer and more practical during the winter months, there's something so sexy and alpha female about a chick in trousers - like Faye Dunaway's character in Network.

I still think of Express as the chief purveyor of pants, even though they also sell lurex cardigans and cheesy leopard-print rayon blouses. So, I probably should have stopped shopping there about five years ago, but I'm a sucker for their "Editor" pant: the fit is flattering and the price is hard to beat. I like that it's available in on-trend olive green, too.


The check-patterned wool is sexy precisely because it's so sexless: it's like golf pants by way of those slim trousers sported by Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face. The ankle length is challenging though: how do you wear these once the cold kicks in? With mid-calf height boots? Socks and heels? Discuss.


It doesn't matter if you still instinctively pull out your cell phone whenever you need to check the time. You will look like an adult when you're wearing a watch.


I love that the band and the face of this watch are gold. All gold! Imagine wearing this with tweedy separates - or, in the summer, with an all-white outfit. It's just gaudy enough to add an irreverent touch to an otherwise serious ensemble.


I've noticed that men accessorize much more cavalierly in the workplace than women do. How sad! Obviously, you don't want to go crazy - work time is not the time to bust out that vintage Dior turban I used to love - but a classic hat or carefully chosen piece of jewelry never hurt anyone.


You guys, I think it's safe to wear fedoras again. For awhile, they were strictly relegated to the likes of Pete Wentz. However, I think the dust has settled, and fedoras are once again acceptable for non-douches. Do you agree?


In the words of the inimitable Kristopher Dukes (seriously, I would give my hypothetical first-born child to be half as witty as she is): "I love how those bell-shaped hats half-cover your eyes, so that you have to hold your head up hyper-high to look at the world. That’s how a lady should always walk." Amen!


There's something so self-affirming about sporting a monogram. It says, "Here I am, world. This is me, and this thing that bears my initials? It's mine." I could wax poetic about how women are, due to societal conditioning, less comfortable with taking ownership of their possessions - of their lives - than men are. But I just want to write about fashion.


I have a client - who is a rather heavy-hitter in the financial world - who wears a monogrammed pinky ring everyday. So did Coco Chanel. Either way, you can't lose.

But don't stop there - monogram everything! Your dress shirts! Your bathrobe! Your towels and bed linens! Even your underwear! Until I can afford custom-made shirts from Thomas Pink, I'll be taking my $60 Banana Republic shirts to Mary Monograms in the garment district.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Recycle your denim, not your denim mistakes

I've always felt like denim is a weak spot in my wardrobe. Yes, of course I own plenty of jeans in various washes and cuts, and I even have a favorite pair that makes me feel skinnier (although that pair is quickly starting to fall apart--I should put a visit to Denim Therapy on my To Do list). But my jeans selection is so weak that in my mind, they're a step up from yoga pants. You know, what I wear when it's more important to be comfortable than hot.

So for a while I've been thinking I should invest in jeans that make me feel as hot as when I'm wearing a little black dress, and yesterday I walked by the Gap. On the windows, they had the words "Recycle your blues"--bring in an old pair of jeans from October 6th to 20th, and they'll recycle it into building insulation for families in need.  Plus, you then get 30% off a new pair of Gap's 1969 jeans. So I thought, "Oh, that's perfect! I can get rid of all those old pairs I never wear!" But then I looked past the words and saw what the mannequins were wearing:
STIRRUP JEANS. If this isn't a sign of the apocalypse, I don't know what is. I wanted to march right into that store, demand that they get Patrick Robinson on the phone, and say, "STIRRUP JEANS ARE A PUNCHLINE. Unless you're an equestrian rider or a kindergartner (yes, wee little Julia York loved purple Land's End leggings...18 years ago), you should never, ever even think about wearing stirrup pants. You, Mr. Fancypants Designer, are turning the Gap into a joke and someone needs to stop you."

When I'm shopping, I like to take a moment to think, "Five years from now, am I going to see photographs of this outfit and think, 'Jesus, what was I wearing!? Damn, the 10's were a rough time for fashion." This is probably symptomatic of my issues with living in the moment (and part of me thinks, if I look cute and feel good this year, who cares about what future Julia will think?), but it has also prevented me from investing in shortlived trends. For example, when Mariah Carey wore jeans with the waistband cut off in her "Heartbreak (Remix)" video, I, along with the rest of the world, thought, "Oh shit, that looks so sexy!"(And it's funny to see the video now and realize how high-rise those jeans were, comparatively.)

But don't even get me started on Gap's acid wash jeans and huge mistake of a new logo. 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Countdown to Paycheck

I just started a new job (yay!), but it is going to be a looooong two weeks until I get my first paycheck.  So while in real life I may be struggling to turn a can of chickpeas I bought six months ago into a satisfying and filling lunch, in my fantasy life I've already got my hard-earned cash already spent. Thank god I don't have a credit card, because I would on a steep, slippery slide into debt.

That's why I have this blog--I get almost as much satisfaction of writing about pretty things as I do about buying them, and writing is free!  Here's what's making me want to freeze my wallet in a block of ice:

Sanctuary English Boyfriend Blazer, $158. I've been obsessed with this blazer since I saw it in InStyle Makeovers; it took about a month, though, for it to show up online, and it quickly sold out at Piperlime (where it was a few bucks cheaper, I believe). But has it, so now I can make my sexy-professor dreams come true. I'm especially in love with the elbow patches, which I think are out-of-control charming on women's blazers.  On men's blazers, they're insufferably twee and/or pretentious, unless you look like Christopher Gorham and are legitimately both brilliant and absent minded.

I have to give Sanctuary props for taking a stock costume, such as the professor's tweed jacket, and girling it up; they do the same thing for the boy's prep school blazer. 

The Military Schoolboy Blazer, $148, would make me feel like I'm in some sort of teen comedy that's a cross between The Dead Poet's Society, Just One of the Boys, and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landeau-Banks. Yeah, this is definitely the sort of thing you want to be wearing while coming of age, confronting gender stereotypes, and pissing off your parents.

The temperature has been falling very quickly here in New York, and I'm trying to be prepared by pulling out my jackets from under my bed and buying new buttons for my staple wool coat. I could also get ready for freezing cold mornings with this Knit Sweater Hood from Land's End Canvas, $39.50.

How freaking cozy is this? And a hood is much less danger than a hat to your carefully-styled hair, and on harried mornings I'd be able to grab this, instead of untangling a scarf from my coat rack and finding a matching hat.  I'm tempted to search for a similar knitting pattern, so I could make this instead of buying it, but first I need to make the Olympic hat I vowed to knit last winter.

Yes, it is undeniable that I shouldn't buy any more jewelry until I start wearing the stuff I already have; I tend to wear the same one necklace and watch every day, and maybe on Friday night I'll throw on a pair of dangley earrings. I'd love to be the sort of woman who is constantly playing with her accessories, and maybe if I had better toys I would--let's pretend that's logical. Available at Piperlime, the Hive and Honey gold and peach drop necklace, $28, is the sort of statement necklace that is eye-catching but not distracting. In fact, I bet it'd look great with this Banana Republic dress:

I've extolled the virtues of the grey work dress before, but they haven't gotten any less essential to one's office wardrobe. And yet, I don't have one! BR must have sensed this and came up with the perfect version in order to tempt me. The wool fabric is clutch in a winter dress, and the girly details (cap sleeves, v-ncck, defined waistline) will definitely get you hit on by guys in blue striped button-downs at Tuesday night Happy Hour. The winter wool v-neck dress is $150.

I'm also eager to make some upgrades in my apartment.  Let's start with my crappy Ikea couch, whose beige cover has gotten many mysterious food stains over the course of the last year.  Yes, I need to take the cover off and just wash it, but would it be easier to throw it out and get a fun, brightly colored cover?  I like this vivid blue, $49 (PS to Ikea: it's totally bullshit that the bleh beige cover is $19 and the colored ones are thirty bucks cheaper. Dye cannot possibly cost that much!):

A big upgrade would be getting a sparkly new Tivo Premiere. My current Tivo is almost five years old, and it can't even record two things at once! It makes our lovely hi-def TV look like an old home video, and forget about accessing Netflix Instant or YouTube. But my current Tivo has a lifetime subscription, which isn't transferable to another machine, so that makes a big purchase even bigger.  I know it'll be worth it (especially so I can record Community while my roommate is watching Bones), I just need to save for a few more months before I go for it.