Fashion Fridays: The Work Dress

Today’s post is going to be pretty short because I’m writing this after 10 pm and have a big speech I’m waking up early for BUT I couldn’t miss another Friday.

This is what I bought this week to spruce up my summer work wardrobe:  The Work Dress!

Too many women think they can’t pull it off because of their legs or their middle or whatever, but you absolutely can if the style is right.

Take these two acquisitions I recently made:

1.  This irresistible dove gray dress is sophisticated and simple but interesting.  The tulip hemline is unique and it actually detracts from my knees which I don’t love.  It’s summer weight and has beautiful pleated cap sleeves.  The belt slenderizes my middle and I recommend pair it with Spanx stockings and the coordinating blazer if you want to make it more formal for work.

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2.  This bright but classically cut popover sheath is super versatile.  I wore it to a conference this week with stockings, stilettos, and pebble-colored blazer but you could just as easily wear it to a shower or church with bare legs and sandals.  The bright pink geometric pattern makes it an interesting twist to freshen up your work ensembles.

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Let me know what you’re buying these days.  What’s your must have summer work wardrobe piece?

Fashion Fridays: S.W.A.P., Personal CFO

I have a fabulous friend who hasn’t gone shopping in a LONG time.  She’s lost a little weight which was one of the primary reasons holding her back, and now she’s got a great reason to shop: a new business!

Here’s her Shopping With A Purpose submission: I will soon be meeting with prospective private clients as I build my business. These people would be high net worth individuals needing a “Personal CFO.”  I would mostly meet them in their homes, although some might have me come to their offices, but my work for them would not be in an office. I would work for them personally, not for their company. I want to look professional, but a black suit would be over the top. What type of outfits should I consider? Would your answer be different if I was meeting with a woman versus a man/couple? Or if I’m meeting them at their office versus their home?

This is a momma of three who is busy and working on a budget.  So first things first: don’t worry about different outfits for different gender clients or different meeting locations.  Stick with a few basics that you can mix and match; otherwise shopping will be a nightmare.

Importantly, if you’re serving high net worth individuals, you need to look high net worth even if you’re not.  One great way to do this is to buy a few well made “investment” wardrobe pieces.  People with extensive budgets will notice.  Also, regardless of your personality, go for understated.  It reflects good judgment and stability which someone will be looking for in the finance industry.  Look for unique detailing that speak to quality without being too over the top.

A great way to shop luxury on a budget is to look at the “outlet” branches of high-end stores that would normally be out of reach.  Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, and Saks Fifth Avenue all have stores in Houston (where she lives) but far more options available on-line.

I suggest, for the most part, sticking with trousers.  The driver for this recommendation is it’s a lot harder to manage creeping hemlines if you’re sitting on someone’s sofa for a meeting than if you’re parked under a desk in an office chair.  If you are comfortable in your clothes, and not pulling and tugging, you will come off more at ease and put the client at ease.

And, for the most part, sticking with a blazer looks more professional than a sweater, though there are certainly exceptions to this formula.  Before you go shopping, pick up some magazines (like Town & Country or Vogue) and pull some ideas.  While you don’t have to shop couture, the pictures can serve as your inspiration for style or color as you shop.

Finally, before you start, you must have a great handbag.  Quality leather.  Buy it on eBay or on sale or at an outlet, but you need a great bag.  It’s what you will carry every day and will be one of the first things the women notice.  This is where you spend your money.  And buy a big enough bag you can include your folder with any papers you have for your client.  This Diane von Furstenberg has been marked down from $450 to $200 and this Badgley Mischka has dropped from $475 to $240 – both at Last Call:

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Here’s a few great individual piece options:

This gorgeous ivory blazer with a muted giraffe print is Lafayette 148, it reads luxury and won’t need any accessorizing – it normally runs over $500 but you can get it for less than $200 at Last Call.

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This is a simple ice blue Cacharel jacket that normally runs $700, but is just over $100 at Rack.

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One way to soften your look is to get a belted sweater jacket, like this one on sale at Nordstrom by Vince (I’d pair it with something brighter underneath).

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If you can afford the splurge, get a couple of fabulous bottoms since you’ll be wearing them all the time.  These not quite ivory lined wool blend Giorgio Armani trousers would normally run you close to $1000, but at Rack, they’re less than $200.

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Another great “trouser” light option is the ankle pant.  Pair an overlong sweater/jacket with heels and an ankle pant and you’re comfy and sophisticated. These Vince ankle trousers are over half off at Last Call and come in under $100.

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And despite my recommendation to favor trousers, a number of this season’s skirts are lowering their hemline.  Depending on your figure and what you pair on top to balance it out, one of these sophisticated past knee numbers would be lovely.  (This inspiration is courtesy of Neiman’s and well outside most of our budgets…)

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How do you pull your pieces together?  Consider mixing a color palette that you wouldn’t typically.  Nothing in the neon family, but deep rich hues that show your sophistication.  Add a simple piece of jewelry.  Buy a new lipstick.  Try a few things out and text your best girlfriends pictures!

This is a great example of an outfit you could pull off in an office or home for a client meeting.  The jacket is courtesy of Rack (and on sale for $30, someone please stop me from clicking buy), but I love the pairing of the gold jacket with a thin maroon sweater and narrow black trouser (polished off with a skinny belt which actually does make you look thinner regardless of what you’d think).

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Here’s another great way to mix color and texture to achieve a polished, but not overly formal, look.

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For second meetings, feel free to break out the sweaters.  Pair it with a gorgeous pearl or gold necklace (quality, but simple) – think this top layered sweaterwith camel trousers (adding an oxford underneath or a blazer over immediately upgrades a little sweater).

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Don’t match – just play with patterns and colors.  But most importantly, have fun!  Wear what you feel beautiful in and buy clothes that fit well.

Fashion Fridays: S.W.A.P., Work Maternity Challenges

I have a hysterical friend.  She is pregnant with her second child.  This is an email she sent me to vent: 

Maternity clothes dressing for work is seriously challenging.  Stores have little selection and ordering online is hit or miss, resulting in multiple returns. (I do have some clothes from last time, but some items were worn and I need more.)  The worst was a cashmere and silk black sweater (sounds good so far) with a ruffle at the bottom that I tried on this weekend shopping with Mom.

This is what it looked like on.

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Runner up was a cute dress with a poorly placed print.  It looked like this.

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Sigh.

Well my friend, and any other friends out there struggling with looking professional for work with a growing belly, this is for you.  Today’s Shopping With A Purpose (S.W.A.P.) is having an affordable sophisticated work wardrobe during those pregnancy months (and maybe even after maternity leave…).

First of all, what are your options:  Seraphine (mainly on line, as most areas don’t have stores and that can be hard), Pea in the Pod (smaller size ranges but great selection), Destination Maternity (career and quality aren’t high on their list), Ann Taylor Loft (limited selection), Motherhood (not sure their “work wear” would work for some careers), and department stores (size issues can occur here).

Second of all, what do you need at a minimum for work:  two awesome pair of maternity pants, ideally black and camel; a great work maternity dress; one maternity suit; at least five maternity blouses (and if you dare, a skirt to give you more options).

Accessories are key when you are pregnant, so purchase some fun and diverse scarves and necklaces; since you’re never going to have an expansive maternity work wardrobe, accessories can make the outfit look different.

Here are a few basics, but try for quality as you’ll be wearing these pieces a lot.  Also accept  you may have to order on-line several times from several places.  Almost all of these pieces are under $100:

1.  This navy and white dress from Seraphine is a perfect work staple.  You can change it with a blazer or sweater, or in the summer you can just throw on a bold colored scarf to keep it light.  And Pea and the Pod has the widest variety of work dresses – this aqua and green shirtdress is lovely.

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2.  These are excellent trouser leg work pants from Ann Taylor Loft and will grow as your belly does.

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3.  Blouses are the EASIEST pieces to find to add interest and diversity to your work wardrobe.  Here’s a few of my favorites:  a bright and classic tie blouse from Ann Taylor Loft, a gorgeous ivory pintuck blouse from Seraphine (if you don’t mind wearing white while you’re pregnant), this classic navy and white striped tunic from Destination Maternity can be paired with slacks for work or jeans for weekend, and the bright blue short sleeved blouse from Macy’s will add the dose of color you need.

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4.  As far as I can tell, A Pea in the Pod is nearly the only place you can get a work suit if you need to don business formal for meetings during your pregnancy.  This blazer is tailored twill and actually looks like a jacket you’d wear if you weren’t pregnant which is a plus (but it is my rare item over $100).  They also have the largest selection of blazers which are pretty and feel more modern than most maternity clothes on the market.

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So what about you?  What did you do when you were pregnant?  How did you manage to stay professional for work?

Fashion Fridays: S.W.A.P., Gala (Shopping with a Purpose)

Alright.  I apologize to all my friends that I totally bumped from their allotted Shopping with a Purpose (SWAP) slot.

But since it’s my blog, I’m taking a point of personal privilege.  I seriously need some input, friends.

I have a very fancy event coming up.  Black tie gala with star power, dinner and dancing.  This event is also my first time I’ll have a seat at my company’s sponsored table (normally lawyers don’t get those seats; I go as invited guest of other companies, not mine).  Inevitably, this will be located at the front of the room.  My hubby has it easy.  He just throws on his tux.

I have not attended a black tie gala since I birthed triplets.

This is the only dress I have.  It certainly is an option and is classic and formal.  (With industrial Spanx.)

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However, I’d also like to really blow this out of the water.

If you know me personally, you know (approximately) my size.  I’m 5’10 and most of the time wear a size 12.  I carry weight in my post-triplet middle, and while I can disguise it with suits and blazers at work, most gala dresses are column.  I used to embrace column dresses, but now feel like I look like a spare tire has run loose.     
 
Here are the Pros & Cons of the gala dresses under consideration:

1.  galaPros – Elegant, well draped for body type concerns, reasonable;
Cons – While I love me some gray, this pale shade won’t be that flattering, and I’m a little worried about those pleats over my middle.
 
2.  gala1Pros – this has a wow factor, I love this bright red, and it feels sophisticated with an awesome back (without actually showing a bare back);
Cons – this is the fitted column that may not work for my current figure.
 
3.  gala2Pros – so lovely, great cut, both for my arms and hips, and the bright blue color won’t go missed;
Cons – this may be too much on top, and I worry sometimes the royal blue “cheap” looking, I always hesitate with this shade for formals.
 
4.  gala3Pros – so dressy, which this event is, and charcoal gray is a flattering shade on;
Cons – it’s still probably cut too narrow and puts sequins across my middle; plus the fabric could read inexpensive. 
 
5.  gala4  Pros – classic, black, slimming, timeless;
Cons – unclear how the inset will fall, and definitely understated (which may be fine, but obviously I’m drawn to color), and it basically feels like another version of the dress I already have. 
6.  gala7Pros – also classic but with color; I love the crepe-y feel of the dress with that gorgeous back, but the green is also one of my best colors;
Cons – it is very simple so I feel I’d have to dress it up with hair and accessories, and there’s no room to hide flaws.
 
Here’s the thing.  I don’t know that any of these really WOW me.  I have a budget, so nothing may, which means I can live with the classic dress in my closet.  Just for perspective, if I had an unlimited budget, and I most certainly do not, these are the two dresses that would top my list.  I really love the color, fabric and style:
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{An Aidan Matton encrusted blue dress and Sherri Hill emerald embellished gown.}
 
Would you VOTE on your favorite one or two dresses (on FB, Twitter or in the comments) OR (for extra bonus points) propose an entirely different dress you’d recommend?  Pretty please with sequins on top.  Are their colors you think I should avoid?  Is bright color frowned upon?
I promise, we’ll return to others challenges next week.

Fashion Fridays, Closet Essentials, Part 3

Today wraps up this series on closet essentials.  It has been such fun!  First, I visited Cyndi and offered tips on how to diversify her work wardrobe.  Then I hung out with Mary to learn great closet reorganization tips from her closet expert.  Today, you get to meet Julie and see our no-to-low budget closet makeover.

First, let me tell you hanging out with Julie feels like home.  Julie and I have been friends for over 12 years.  We traveled to Italy together in our first year of friendship and that cemented it (I know she has a weird thing about brushing her teeth all the time, and she knows I have a weird thing about not being able to listen to someone brushing their teeth). 

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There are only a few houses in Houston my car will autopilot to without checking directions.  Julie’s house is one.  When I visited her this week, we’d both had bad days, and the ability to decompress with someone who gets your life stage and challenges is like medicine for my soul (we both are lawyers at energy companies who have young kids).  Julie’s friendship is a gift. 

Julie is also a trooper.  She lets me come in her closet (this is her second go round with me) and let me say “um, NO ma’am” and toss a Christmas themed sweatshirt on the floor.  There almost no one else I could be so honest with (to her detriment!).  (Her adorable three year old snapped this shot of us.  So we photographed her back.)

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On to the closet!  Julie’s closet bones are good, but she underutilized her storage space.  In addition to her closet bars and shelving , Julie also has shelving outside her closet (previously linen space) and a bedroom dresser she rarely uses.  We looked at some of the most valuable real estate in her closet, the shelving unit in the dead center, and decided to restructure: 

1.     She had a small shelf of knick-knacks as well as boxes of knick-knacks further down.  Those weren’t being used and the “sentimental” keeps should be stored in the attic.  Wah-lah…new space opened up.  (Also note the tiny jewelry storage boxes. These are rarely useful. Practical jewelry storage needs to be bigger and viewable.)

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2.     She had top shelving filled with costumes.  Julie actually uses costumes because she does some theatre and is a Halloween enthusiast, but costumes needed to be moved to the spare room closet (including her disco ball hat, saddle shoes, wigs, and wacky dress up jewelry). 

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3.     She had jewelry in a conspicuous spot which was smart, but the peg board wasn’t nearly large enough to keep the area uncluttered.  She plans to buy a couple of low cost peg boards/hanging sticks for that interior jewelry unit/shelf to make it more functional and keep less items stacked on the ledge. 

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4.     She wears big fluffy house shoes which, along with shoes she no longer wears, take up space in the center of the closet. The shoes we gave away, and the house shoes we moved out of the way to the back of the closet. 

As for shelving, her clothing shelves were overstuffed and cluttered.  We pulled out a stack of unused and unusable scarfs from a dresser drawer and agreed to put pajamas or off season items in that drawer, thus freeing up space in her main shelving unit.  We edited her pajamas, which had multiplied like bunnies, and particularly focused on the ones that were worn or had Loony Tunes on them (nothing harder on a marriage that wearing Tweety on your bum). 

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With her t-shirts, out-of-date shorts, unused purses, sweatshirts, and pajamas gone, she now had shelving open for her jeans which currently took up a decent amount of space hanging in her closet.  Jeans are ideal for folding, and this gave her room to better organize her clothes and evaluate if anything was missing.

Her hanging clothes were in pretty good shape.  We donated worn items or those we couldn’t update with tailoring, and then looked to see what pieces she needed to polish her professional wardrobe.  She has a solid base but should look for a handful of items to round out her wardrobe:

1.     Blouses with pattern, color, and/or texture – she has several solid color shells to wear under her blazers, but they don’t add much interest.  Here are a few versatile (and reasonable) layering pieces she could pick up:

This simple timeless blouse from ModCloth features a versatile lavender and blue pattern.

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I love this mosaic neutral colorblocked blouse, especially if paired with a brighter skirt or blazer.

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Julie loves blues, so either this bold blue anchor print or aqua paisley blouse would be a perfect addition.   

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This great tunic blouse from Nordstrom’s comes in TEN colors and could be worn tucked in under a suit or worn out over jeans on the weekend.  Same goes for this classic tile print dressy tank from ModCloth. 

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2.     Accessories – she doesn’t love necklaces with color but is comfortable with the idea of purchasing, and using, scarves.  Particularly since Julie likes to match like color with like color, rather than mixing colors and patterns, adding a scarf is an easy way to tie an outfit together which has different color or patterns.  Any of these would do the trick: 

This whimsical bird scarf could be used on any number of her outfits. 

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This Loft scarf combines different neutrals and two patterns that could add a layer of sophistication to most of her work wardrobe (it’s all I can do not to buy this now, I am so in love with this scarf!). 

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And for a little more money, I love the patterns and colors infused in this Hinge scarf from Nordstrom’s. 

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3.     A pair of camel or chocolate trousers – she has a lot of black trousers and light tan trousers, but she needs some darker neutral browns to diversify her neutral options.

4.     Knock Around Clothes (Julie’s term) – her casual wardrobe was sweats and outdated shorts.  She hesitates to wear yoga pants around the house because she, like every other American woman, doesn’t love her legs.  But a solid colored tee and a comfy, but more modern, set of bottoms can be lovely AND functional for a mom with young kids.  I recommend trying things on versus ordering on-line like usual.  Start at Athleta or Academy or similar store to try different styles and fabrics to see what works for your body type.  (This is my go-to “knock around” skirt from Athleta!)

Now that we’re done with closets, what’s your favorite tip?  And we’re starting our Shopping With a Purpose (SWAP) series up again next week – let me know if you have an event or situation dilemma.