This Week Kinda Stinks; Let’s Focus on Fashion

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

It’s grim out there this week. So much bad news and scary shit happening, it’s hard to keep my shoulders from crawling into my ears. And this unbelievable government shutdown feels like the sour cherry on a rotten banana and spoiled-milk smoothie.

Let’s talk about something bright and light to cut through the grey, if only for a few minutes, I say. Let’s talk about fashion. (Plus, there’s a giveaway in there as well.)

Here’s my latest piece on xoJane, all about finding my own fall fashion rules. You can read it below. And I tacked on some intel from my longtime friend, the “style guy” himself, Lloyd Boston on the 10 things women should have in their closets this season.

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From xoJane.com

The Style Rules Keeping Me Sane This Fall

Fall is officially here! So…what are you going to wear to it? Yeah, I have no clue either.

And I like this time of year. It’s my favorite season, actually. I’m often singing the praises of autumn’s promise of fresh starts and newness. If only my fall wardrobe would stay on message.

It’s not as though my closet is some “Hoarders”-style crapshoot. I have some good staples from the checklist* in there — LBDs, tailored skirts, cashmere, smart-cut dark denim, white button-down shirt, varied leather pumps, knee boots — timeless pieces that have saved me many, many times from having to run to the shops with every invite and event.

Just last weekend, I went to a lovely wedding in the Dallas heat without an ounce of pre-packing agita around what to wear. I had four solid options hanging in the hall cedar closet. I kind of felt celeb-fab going in there and just pulling looks from my “fashion closet.”

OK, it took some willing suspension of disbelief, and there was no stylist shoving designer labels and jewels at me…but life felt easy and privileged for about 10 minutes. Let it play, man.

The point is, I’m not completely fashion senseless. No ambush makeover needed here. The challenge, though, is assessing what other things I could add to the current collection to step my whole game up this fall. I’m talking pieces that make sense for my writer/home office/mama life.

Because I can tell you what I’m not going to do: rock sky-high, fly pumps and an eggshell, wool pant with a brandy brown lightweight leather jacket to the grand opening of — what — my son’s cheddar bunnies pouch? To the official reading of my editor’s emailed notes at my desk, after starting another load in the washer? That’s a “no” from me.

Practical, stylish, effortless, that’s what I’m looking for this season, but I’m a little lost about where to find it. Forget the fashion bibles and blogs. Translating what’s coming down the catwalk into clothing that can be worn in my real life is not something I have a ton of time for anymore. Look, I just want to pick up a few new tops and bottoms and maybe a pocketbook that make me feel warm and good wearing them.

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And the trends — no matter how bedazzled, cropped, drop-crotched, crocheted, puffy shirted or absurd (hey there, sneaker wedges) — have been driving the train, while driving us all a little mad as well. The number of times I’ve pulled something out of the storage stack, while making the seasonal clothing switcheroo, and wondered if this is what it feels like to wake from a brief soap opera-style coma with amnesia. Why? How? What? Who am I?

Then I think about my mum’s closet. And that’s where the style rules that will end up keeping me sane come in.

Growing up, she was a definite style icon for me. The lady was always ready for every season, fashion-wise. She knew what worked for her body, and was completely fine with the host of things that didn’t. There was no squeezing herself into the too-short or too-long or too-young thing skimming the mannequin’s body in the window display. My mum bought classic clothing, with a few trendy pieces mixed in for accent. (Oh, indeed, shoulder pads factor in here.)

For her, it wasn’t just, “Does this skit/shirt/jacket fit me,” but more, “Does it fit my lifestyle?” It was the unspoken one of her style rules: Work with what works for you.

As I start plotting my strategic fall closet fix, I’m keeping my mother’s advice and influence on the front burner. Her other two rules are equally straight-forward and easy to follow: Always wear quality, supportive undergarments. And rock fabulous shoes. See? Already feeling confident about waking up my wardrobe and the oatmeal cookie I just ate while writing this. Body love.

Best part is, I’m not feeling so anxious about building out my fall wardrobe this time around. So this weekend when I do the seasonal clothes switchover, I’ll have an actual plan, some structure and fresh fashion ideas to sow.

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*And here’s what Lloyd Boston had to share on the 10 things he thinks all women should have in their closets this season.

It’s all about working within your means and style, Boston says. “None of these will break the bank, and it varies with your particular lifestyle,” he says, “but these 10 items will always serve you.”

All right. Pull on your shapewear and good undies, people, and let’s begin:

  1. Crisp, white shirt. “It’s a quintessential icon of style that is completely versatile.” Buttoned down and with a straight point collar, you can layer this shirt or accessorize it. You can also go more men’s style with it — literally shopping in the men’s or young men’s department — but avoid anything too boxy, Boston says. Stick to tapered, with darts or princess seams to give you an hourglass figure.
  2. Basic Black Dress. Boston typically stays away from calling it the LBD since “little” can be intimating for some women and what it means varies from figure to figure, he says.  For the dress, skip trendy details (gold panels, lace inserts, etc.) and stick with a classic, sheath dress with cap sleeves, he says. “You can do boat-neck, deep v-neck, sweetheart neck  — totally you choice is yours, but definitely keep the dress length short,” Boston says. The end of the dress should land so it “cuts the kneecap in half.” Although it boils down to your budget, do find a comfortable fabric, he says. The dress should that skims the body, not be skin-tight. And then accessorize the hell out of it. “Skinny belt in taxicab yellow or a pair of textured tights in the winter — accessories are your best friend here.”
  3. Good quality, dark rinse, indigo jeans. Boston highly recommends snagging a pair of straight leg trouser jeans with a slight flare. “Skinny jeans won’t always be in,” he says. “In all price ranges, from Gap to Gucci, it’s the jean that women don’t know they need, but it can be sexy and stylish.”
  4. Cashmere. “A little goes a long way,” Boston says. And the price of this fine wool has come down over the years, so it’s doable on nearly any budget. It’s super versatile, too. Boston says you can rock with a black or camel turtleneck, a crewneck, a sweater set, a sleeveless turtleneck, or just a cashmere tank. Basically, go with what you like. “It can elevate even your most casual pant: weekend cargo, denim, chino. Works with all of it.” Plus, think about how easy it is to throw on your cashmere flyness on top with your whatever bottoms, shoes, and you’re out the door and golden.
  5. Knee boot. This is a key part to any classical arsenal, Boston says. “It adds a sporty, sexy edge that pumps can’t necessarily deliver.” Again, you’ve got choices here: go flat, high heel, kitten heel, or somewhere in between. But make sure the boot fits your calf properly. “There should be no gaping,” Boston says. For color, start off with classic black or chocolate-brown leather. Later you can up your knee boot game with some fresh to def tans, taupes and suede options.
  6. A-Line skirt. Timeless, this shirt flatters most women’s figures, Boston says. When trying A-lines on, pay the most attention to how it fits your waist and hips. Everything else can be fixed with the help of a good tailor. (Another thing Boston recommends for grown women: Find an expert tailor and never let them go.) For fall, go with black, navy or charcoal grey, he says, but don’t discount the fabulous that is camel, eggplant or chocolate-brown for this wardrobe staple.
  7. Cream dress pant. Call it off-white, eggshell, or cream, Boston says you need a pair, and can roll with these all year long, if you find the right fabric (ex. tropical-weight wool). “It looks fresh, wealthy and elegant.” He recommends going for straight, but not too wide of a leg. Also, make sure you find pants that fit properly. “Even if you have to go up a size, don’t worry about the number on the inside tag. Focus on the fit!” There’s some work involved with finding the perfect-fit pant, but with your homey the tailor helping you out, you’ll get there.
  8. Lightweight leather jacket. Cropped (not bolero!), no-collar, racing style leather jacket can stretch your wardrobe. You can definitely get a lot of looks out of this one. Wear it indoors as a blazer replacement, Boston says, or outdoors with a heavier top underneath. “Most of your closet — about 95 percent — is matte, a little leather will add a subtle sheen to things.” You can go vintage here too. But, hold on, Fonzie. Vintage doesn’t have to mean the 1950s. Boston suggests checking out consignment stores as well. “Sometimes you can get a great bargain there on a piece that’s only four or five years old.” He also recommends stopping by the young men’s department at your favorite stores.
  9. Feminine Day-to-Night Top. Go for something “uniquely feminine,” Boston says. Think silk shell, sequined tank, ruffled top, secretary tie top. (Or, better, think Olivia Pope!)  If it feels smooth and sleek against your skin, rock with that. Boston says with this top as your base, you can slip off your workday jacket, add a fresh lip color and you’re ready for you’re an evening moment without having to head home.
  10. Elegant evening clutch. This poor thing usually gets the after-thought treatment or — let’s keep it funky — completely overlooked. “Women often try to pass off their 9-to-5 bag after 6 o’clock,” Boston says. “And it just doesn’t feel as elegant as having that statement evening bag.” Good news is, for a killer clutch, you can go vintage and bag one of 20 bucks or, if you have the means, breeze into Fendi and slink out of there with one for $1500. Boston says that the bag should be small enough that it fits securely in your grasp. But that’s it. The rules of the clutch end there. It can be slim and trimmed in satin or short and shaped like an envelope. It’s not about function; this bag is all fab and fun. “Sensible is fine, but whimsical is so much better,” Boston says. “This bag should be a conversation-starter, completely over-the-top. It matches nothing and therefore goes with everything.”

All right, friends, there you have it. Now, make it work … but make it work for you.

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Giveaway time! What are you buying for fall? What are your hard and fast style rules? Leave a comment below and you could walk away with a free copy of Lloyd’s book: The Style Checklist: The Ultimate Wardrobe Essentials For YouIt really is a good one to have on your shelf (or nightstand).

5 Comments
  • 1
    Patti says:

    I love blazers, so I need a navy blazer for Fall. Also, I wear what flatters me, not anyone else!

    • 1.1
      Ms. Mary Mack says:

      I recently got into blazers, and I have to say: They’re fantastic. The right blazer can dress up a casual look like a boss. And the cute cuts on the blazers these days do nothing but flatter a dame.

      Thanks for the comment, Patti!

  • 2
    Skye says:

    The knee boot, argh! I am searching for a pair that really really works for me but so far no luck.

    • 2.1
      Ms. Mary Mack says:

      About 8 or 9 years ago, I found my groove with the knee-high boot and was basically wearing all boots of all colors and styles for all things. In fact, my friend Sekou nicknamed me “Boots” — he still calls me that to this day! All this to say: Keep looking, Skye. There are so many brands and styles, you’ll find it. I’m going to just put it out there… THIS YEAR, Skye WILL find her boot match. :-)

  • 3
    Alyssa says:

    I so agree about how important it is to have a good pair of dark jeans! And now that’s it’s fall, it’s all about finding the perfect pea coat :)