August 12, 2012

Basics Stepping Up – Who Knew?

The fall catalogs are rolling in – mostly from the other  part of my life – the part that involves the purchasing of t-shirts, polar fleece and the other not-quite-as-fashionable items that come with living with and dressing Mr. Commando.  Ah yes, the all-American steadfast and true retailers who use terms like “outfitters”, my good friends LL Bean, Lands’ End and Eddie Bauer.

Now these are GREAT resources for my beloved boy’s everyday wear – shorts and t-shirts that are “long enough” and will hold up well, khakis hemmed to order, and proper oxford shirts that are cut for real men with real necks, arms, shoulders, and (ahem) tummies, instead of being cut so narrowly they only fit ultra-skinny hipsters.  Better still, while there have been a few missteps in the quality department, generally these guys have kept a pretty steady level of quality and dependability through the rough economic times.  Hey, even Nordstrom has had a few issues in the quality department as cost-cutting has pushed almost all retailers into selling garments that would have previously not met the mark. 

I am also a big fan of these stores for my own cold-weather and boating basics.  Here is where I look for reasonably priced layering turtlenecks, polar fleeces, and even cashmere sweaters.  Good basics like pima cotton t-shirts or the occasional cardigan that won’t rock the fashion world but are classic everyday building pieces.  And then, every once in awhile they will surprise you with a super find like a cashmere sweater in an amazing color – oooh yeah.  

Can you tell I am fantasizing about cold weather?  Yes I am!  So, while it is still 100 degrees out I thought it would be fun to see what they outfitters are up to for fall.  Over at Eddie Bauer it’s pretty quiet so far.  But they do have a corduroy Workwear jacket in a trendy vintage yellow that with it’s layered collar and short cut could be very fun in a northwesty way and would make a nice change from the same ol’ denim jacket.  They also had some cords with flared legs in tangerine or fennel that I think are a great riff on the colored denim shown everywhere.  There are also some good high heeled oxfords and boots, but not much else that is rocking just yet.  (Psst –  if you are a skier or other snowbound type there are some jackets and layers like their down shirt that are great technical gear and fairly fashionable – well worth checking out.)

Speaking of oxfords and boots – I simply LOVED the Cap Toe Boot and Spectator Oxfords in LL Bean’s Signature collection – very nice!  The Signature collection is intended to appeal to the young, hip crowd who buy J Crew, and while the individual pieces are a bit higher quality (and price) most of the trendy comes from how the pieces are styled together – definitely a step up.  But not every piece is basic, there is a structured Seersucker jacket that is really pretty fab – with clever seaming giving it a modern edge.  And the Linscott dress is a basic sheath but in a funky mod print of grey, cream and mustard.  They show it both worn alone and layered as a jumper with a mustard tee.  This piece clearly has a bit more ummph and will be a great transitional piece this season.  I also like the silk/cotton/linen slub textured boatneck top with exposed zipper in steely blue – actually kind of edgy and chic, in a basic sort of way.

Moving on to Lands’ End, imagine my pleasant surprise upon opening their Plus Size catalog to find a much more fashion forward collection than I think they have ever managed before.  Now much of this, like LL Bean, is attributed to good styling – they definitely stepped it up accessorizing with bold necklaces, lush leather totes and satchels, pretty scarves and cool belts – triple wrapped in colored suede, funky ringed in saddle brown.  And among the tarted-up basics there were a few really fun and almost truly fashionable gems in there!  First up are colored chinos in modern cuts and fits – think boot cut or wide leg with a lower rise or a true skinny cut, all in modern colors well beyond khaki – I thought the  Raspberry Wine and Dijon gold especially fun and I know the bolder among us will just adore the red.   

Lands’ End didn’t stop at modernizing their chinos either, they showed a boot cut denim pant that is definitely not from their usual mom-jean repertoire.  Also well past their usual fare are the leopard print pumps and driving mocs – yes, you read that right, leopard print – and a heeled ghilly that is really quite sexy.  Have you ever put sexy and Lands’ End together?  Yeah, me neither.  Wow.  For me the two must-try pieces are an on-trend knit blazer with twill tape trim and a lace tee.  The jacket is particularly snappy in heather grey with contrasting navy that I am itching to play with and see where I can take it.  As for the lace tee, it comes in aubergine or bittersweet with its own matching cami and if the reviews are anything to go buy, it’s a winner.  Lace from Lands’ End?  Who knew?   

Now I am off to take advantage of their 25% off everything sale and giving a few garments a try and maybe that triple-wrap belt in purple suede, too.

July 29, 2012

She Who Hestitates….

It got away

Despite my reputation as something of an impulse-buying, immediate gratification kind of girl, I am actually fairly deliberate in my purchases.  Especially when it comes to more expensive items, I am far more likely stalk the coveted item online, visit in a store if possible, and assess the potential for long-term love by seeing if a little time makes me love it just as much as I did at first sight.  Through the years this has left me with some good near misses and a few pretty sizeable regrets.

For example while I love the Louis Vuitton Theda bag, after years of seeing dozens of knockoffs I am very glad I passed on the Multicolore craze.  Ditto at least one pair of shoes every season.  You know the ones – so achingly gorgeous and a dead cert to be just plain aching as well.  Or that one trendy piece that is so in style everyone has one and the specialness is gone before the stores do their first markdowns.  These I look back on and then smugly congratulate my own self-control. 

On the regret side, well most are relatively minor.  The pricey silk maxi dress in the wild print – as fab as it was it wouldn’t have gotten all that much wear so I think I will get over it.  And that gorgeous and dramatic black top I resisted, I have several black tops so the regret faded easily.  But others are a bit tougher – those fabulous Jimmy Choo mid-heel sandals this season, for example.  I am always on the hunt for really great mid-heels but they seemed a bit extravagant when I started my spring/summer shopping and I held off.  By the time I decided I really would get a lot of wear out of them, they were gone; snapped up by wiser shoppers than I, so much for self-righteous frugality.    

But there are the BIG regrets that rather annoyingly stick around.  For example, two timeless evening bags have slipped my grasp and I rue the day I let them pass by.  The first, a silver Chanel mini flap bag I stumbled upon in the downtown Portland, Oregon Nordstrom’s Chanel boutique of all places, featured in a case in the doorway.  I was  killing a few hours before a flight at the time and thought “I LOVE that, but this is a silly time to buy it, I can get it when I get home” – idiot!  And even more regrettable was passing up the Louboutin black mink ball bag from two years ago – that I regret even more because I happened upon one at Saks on sale and I had a momentary lapse of frugality and passed it up. Every time I start planning an evening outfit I think of those bags.  Foolish foolish girl. 

For the deliberate among us the post-crash retail world is treacherous.  Hesitation is going to lead to disappointment more times than not. Retailers are keeping their inventories low – so low that if you delay you run a really good risk of missing out!  Remember the good old days when you would find something you really loved in a store but thought “It’s a bit too expensive, I will just wait until it goes on sale”?  Well, those days are long gone!  And if something does go on sale you had better be there the first day.  I was at a recent end of season “event” and the disappointment factor on what was left was really high.  What a bunch of junk, in un-wearable sizes and unbearable colors.

Even on pre-season sales one needs to get in on the first days.  I got a pretty frustrating lesson in this recently.  I stole a few minutes to hit the Nordstrom Anniversary sale preview on their website opening day.  I found a few good items for myself, and more importantly a pair of shoes that would be perfect for my bridesmaids – a good color, right style and unbelievably reasonable price.  But I really wanted to check with the B-maids to see if they were going to work.  So I did, which since I have been so busy took a few days.  Sadly, when I returned to the site to buy them – they were down to size 5’s and size 11’s.  Worse yet, Nordys isn’t planning on doing a reorder.  Drat drat and double drat. Yes, I know, with their great return policy I really should have just ordered them on the spot and returned them later, but its such a nuisance.  What WAS I thinking?

So now I am scouring online for a good replacement and trying not to ponder not only how perfect those would have been, but those darned Jimmy Choo’s as well.  Lessons learned and next time I have an “ah ha” I make sure that coveted item doesn’t become yet another “one that got away”!

July 25, 2012

THE White Dress – Part Two

Hello all – first let me apologize for being out of touch for sooooo long.  What can I say? Between my real job, getting a nasty summer flu, and needing to plan and host a rather sizeable baby shower for a very good friend somehow June and July have run away without me!  I can’t even use the wedding as a true excuse, as my beloved wedding planner, Christie,  at Christie Rose Events (christierose.com),  has that so organized that all I do is provide my input on what I do and don’t want, like or need, show up for a few appointments and let her get on with making things fabulous.

The wedding items that are my main responsibility – all things fashion, of course – are, after a few nerve wracking months, well in hand at last!  While the wedding party’s attire has come together nicely, my dress…well I guess *something* needed to be stressed about and it certainly was a bit trying there for a bit.  Let me catch you up….

As I wrote back in February I had done that first salon appointment, tried and rejected quite a bit of advice and renewed my vision.  In early March, armed with an updated inspiration board, Christie and I headed off to one of OrangeCounty’s premier bridal salons.  It was lovely – dozens of simply amazing dresses, many available in my size, some meeting some of my key critieria, and each more beautiful than the next.  But as I looked at dress after dress and worked with their terrific sales team, my spirits began to sag as still nothing was jumping out at me and yelling “YES!!! I am YOUR dress!!!!” 

Holy Moly.  I began to wonder what on earth was wrong with me – I know I am super picky but this was getting downright silly.  As I sipped champagne and we looked at my inspiration pictures, even the salon staff was in agreement, they didn’t have what I was looking for, but they DID have a great idea.  They sent me to Shelley Vann, proprietress of Dressing Up, who specializes in custom bridal and eveningwear design and alteration. 

So I sent Shelley my inspiration photos and an outline of what I was going for, and what might work in terms of shapes, style, etc.  Since I didn’t have a concrete idea of what I wanted I didn’t want to squelch her ideas by over-defining things.  Shelley and I conversed via email and I looked forward to seeing what she came up with at our face to face appointment. 

And then it happened.   The ah-ha moment.   Two days before my appointment I was watching a TV show and there it was – the perfect dress.  It had the right shape, joyous movement, and it was different.  My fiancé was watching as my jaw dropped, and my eyes got teary.  He immediately said “That’s it, isn’t it?” and I could only nod I was so overcome.  The catch – the dress was a one of a kind, for that show only, and designed for a six-foot-tall, size-two model with no chest.  Sigh….  But now I did have a vision, so I tracked down a photo of the dress and I was ready to meet with Shelley, fingers crossed that she could make magic happen.

At our first appointment we looked at the sketches Shelley had come up with and while Shelley helped another bride, my wedding planner’s concerned eyes met mine – there were three good concepts, but each was very similar to something I had already seen and not loved.  Even Shelley wasn’t totally excited by them.  I held up a finger and when Shelley came back to us I pulled out the picture of THE dress and asked “what about this?”  Shelley began literally dancing and jumping around!  Here was an idea to get excited about.  We spent the next hour sketching, discussing fabrics and construction, and how we could adapt this concept into a dress that would work for me. 

And so the adventure began.  I spent a very hot Sunday afternoon selecting fabrics at a downtown Los Angeles fabric wholesaler in the fashion district – not the swankiest place in the world, but the one place to find things like satin in over forty colors, along with every other bridal and evening fabric, trim and notion imaginable.  I have made several appearances at Shelley’s workshop – a fascinating trove of sewing materials, and all things wedding from twenty different veils to countless petticoats – for fittings.  And there are more to come.  

And the dress…well you didn’t think I was going to spoil the surprise did you?  Of course not, so let us just say it is coming along well.  Really well.  So I have been able to move on to more momentous bridal decisions and obsessions – like shoes and accessories… stay tuned!

June 2, 2012

Day Sailor

Day Sailin'

Summer is here!  And with the start of warm weather comes invitations to outdoor functions – beach parties, barbeques and other outings.  Most are pretty casual and it’s easy to put your self together and head out.  Just throw on something cute, grab your bikini and go.

But every once in awhile comes one of those casual but not-really-totally-casual events that demand you bring on your fashion A game.  You know the ones – the boss has invited everyone over for a pool party or the firm’s new partner is hosting a “casual” cocktail party at his beach house or you are heading out for a day sail with business associates on a snazzy boat.  This is still casual, and will in some cases even require a bathing suit – EEK!!! – but it is decidedly NOT run of the mill, wear your oversize university tee, casual.  Moreover, these tend to be the events where you want to feel totally confident and totally fabulous. So, what to wear???

Evening get-togethers are fairly easy to attend looking super chic and appropriate.  It’s as simple as taking one great maxi dress in a sumptuous jersey (I find something amazing from Rachel Pally nearly every season) add a statement necklace or earrings, a bold bracelet, a great pair of sandals and you are good to go. Do consider the terrain you will be on – if you expect the event will be on sand or grass I highly recommend wearing a pair of platform espadrilles that aren’t too high and make sure your dress is easy to move in so that you negotiate uneven surfaces with grace.  Also consider the audience – you may want to keep the plunging necklines, strapless or thigh high slits for other times. 

Things get a bit more complicated when you add water.  Pool or beach side, and even in some cases boats, may require swimwear.  No matter how great your body is, you will really want to think about who will be at the party before you pack that new string bikini.  I would always recommend erring on the side of caution and stick with a one-piece or a two piece with really good coverage.  Especially if the party includes people who pay you or potential in-laws – unless, of course, you know them well, or the boss is married to a Kim Kardashian-esque trophy wife.  Make sure whatever swimwear you choose fits well, is not transparent when it gets wet, and is not prone to wardrobe malfunctions of any kind.  The last thing you want is your top departing when you dive in with your co-workers. 

For poolside you can add a cute cover-up dress or pull on a maxi skirt or pants over your suit.  If you plan on being there through the evening don’t forget some sort of light weight wrap or at least bring clothes that can be worn without your suit.  Sitting in a damp swimsuit as the evening cools is not going to be fun….brrrrrr.    

As for boating, well as a boat owner this one is near and dear to my heart.  Having had a few guests aboard in totally inappropriate clothes getting cold, getting wet, not being able to get around on deck, or getting painfully sunburned; I always try to make suggestions to my guests beforehand.  Boating can be a great opportunity for elegant socializing, but whether you get involved in the actual sailing or not, even just getting around on deck is pretty active.  So practicality is a must – skirts, maxi dresses and palazzo pants are only going to work if all you plan on doing is being carefully handed aboard, and then sitting decorously.   

First and foremost, to win the approbation of every captain – wear appropriate footwear – deck shoes, tennis shoes, or flat sandals with non-marking soles.  Polishing black scuff marks off of fiberglass is no fun.  Also, unless you are very comfortable walking onboard, I would steer clear of flip flops, slides or any other footwear that isn’t securely fastened to your foot.  I have been boating my entire life and I am still too clumsy to trust myself not to lose a slide overboard when I go from dock to deck.  Speaking of securely fastened, this is another place where a one-piece suit with fully functional straps is a good idea, as are a hat that doesn’t blow away (I love close-fitting baseball caps) and either lanyards for your sunglasses or bring along a pair you can afford to lose. 

Okay, now that the boring stuff is out of the way you *can* look super cute and chic.  For boating I love an All-American vibe so I scouted out the best of J Crew for this outfit.  First off, a pair of shorts with a fun sailor button detail – not too short or with too low a waist.  With that I added a tunic tee in a nautical stripe but with some funky embellishment to keep it fresh (I leave the anchor embellished, star-bedecked red white and blue looks for the really cute older ladies I see at the marina).  You can layer these pieces on/off with the swimsuit through the day – I chose this one piece in a bright red to add a pop of color, note the substantial straps (you bend over a lot on a boat, trust me).  As it gets cooler I always throw on my beloved cashmere hoodie – it doesn’t feel as damp as cotton, is wonderfully cozy but doesn’t get too hot – PERFECT!  And then I found yet another pair of awesome Sperry Topsiders – these have fun mesh side panels, still good deck shoes, but super cute too. Add a snappy tote bag big enough to hold your sunscreen, your extra layers, and a small cross body bag for shore-side scouting and you are ready to roll. 

So, with a little planning you will still be casual, just really posh casual.  And you will be one of THOSE women you see at these events, you know the ones – perfectly dressed in a way that makes trudging through sand, stepping across docks, and batting beach balls look fun and yet elegant all at the same time. 

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