Tag Archives: personal style

“How To Dress”: 10 Essential Clothing Items All Women Should Own


I have been such a slacker on my book, “Project Dreamcatcher” and the “How To Dress” series. I am so sorry, you guys! My computer had to be reloaded from scratch with all of our data and photos and movies (thank the LORD we backed everything up) because of the Hard Drive Fiasco of 2013 and that took ages – all last week.

(And the reloading isn’t done yet, but at least now I can work on my Mac while the reloading occurs. Although weird things like right clicking don’t work. And Internet access is really iffy (because of the backing up) and WordPress keeps shutting down. Best intentions, excuse flapjacks, blah, yadda. Basically, I’m a YUTZ. BTW, can we bring back that word? I love it so.)

Kathy had some really useful questions for the “How to Dress” feature. I wanted to tackle her meatiest query, because I think it’s a great place for any woman to start when she’s building (or rebuilding) her wardrobe. And that question is:

What are the 5-10 essential clothing items all women should own?

Obviously, seasons, locations and dress codes will vary from country to country. (And even state to state, in the US.)

Here are my picks.

1. A Great Coat

I see a fantastic coat as an investment piece. Even if you wear a coat a few times a year or only when you travel somewhere cold, YOU WILL NEED A COAT IN YOUR LIFE. Obviously, for those in snowy areas, this is an easy investment to make as you will wear one every day in some months, and probably own quite a few in your lifetime.

Here are some classic styles that aren’t going anywhere any time soon.



I bought one of these many years ago before moving to London. I wore it so often I’ve replaced the lining. This model, by Max Mara, doesn’t add bulk because it’s lambs wool. It’s handsome and won’t be going out of style, well, pretty much ever.



Originally worn by sailors and Navy personnel, the Pea Coat is a durable and versatile garment that is ideal for fall or spring, when the temperature is chilly, but not arctic. There are many different lengths and colors that you can chose, depending on body type and your style. I always choose ones that end mid-thigh to balance my hips and emphasize my long legs. Ones cropped at the waist or just ending at the thigh would be great for apple shapes or petites. The above model is by Lands End.



The Classic, the Ultimate in rain gear. I’ve always wanted a Burberry, like the one above, but I’ve never had the scratch. I love London Fog as an alternative brand. My dad has a London Fog trenchcoat and a Burberry umbrella. He looks so dapper when it rains!

A note on coats: coats are one of the best items you can buy vintage. Check out estate sales, in particular. The 1940s-early 1960s were a time when many women owned beautifully made coats with the kind of craftmanship we don’t see today except with very pricey brands. At estate sales, you can pick up gorgeous Princess Coats (also A GREAT COAT) in the $30 range sometimes. Also? Check out your grandma or (if you are lucky) great-grandma’s closet.

2. An Excellent Pair of Jeans


Is there a more obsessed-about item of clothing? I think not. We all think about how we look in jeans, we all shop for jeans, we all wonder what to wear with jeans and how to pair jeans on Casual Friday. The list goes on and on and on.

Obviously, there is a huge variation in styles of jeans: skinny jeans, flared jeans, high-rise jeans and overalls (two trends from the 90s, back again). There’s all sorts of denim washes and jeans with holes are back, too.

A superior pair of jeans should fit well, make you feel good, and be versatile, taking you from Casual Friday to Date Night. I think we ALL have many pairs of jeans, but a truly fabulous pair of jeans? That is a truly special item. Here’s what I recommend to find your pair:

Try on a variety of jeans. See which style and brand fits the best for you, whether it’s Skinny, Curvy, Diva, etc. I would argue that a dark rinse denim is best for most situations. (A light denim rinse is pretty casual.) Next: have your jeans tailored for you. Yes, tailored. Take them in at the the waist if they’re too big there but fit everywhere else (common), hem the bottoms if they are too long.

Note about length! My SPECIAL pair of jeans? I exclusively wear them with heels. (Heeled half-boots or wedges or stilettos.) They are longer than any of my other jeans, which I wear with sneakers, moccassins or flats.

If you are petite and or/have slim hips: J. Crew and Rag & Bone should work well for you. Those with curves? Old Navy is the best for pears, I’ve found. Joe’s Jeans is good, too, for all around curves. Hourglasses: you lucky dogs will do well with 7 for All Mankind, classic Levi’s (like the ones above).

3. Little Black Dress


Yes, that old cliche.

Here’s the thing: we all go to special events. Cocktail parties, weddings, baptisms, Bar Mitvahs, etc. Who wants to deal with the cost and effort of buying a new dress each time? Not me.

Here’s where my little Black dress comes in. Mine is a Bebe number from a while back, before they went full Kardashian. (Ew.) It’s A-line, knee-length, with a halter top. I probably tried on 40 dresses before finding this one. I can pair it with statement jewelry, nude Prada basket heels, a hat, a delicate clutch, belt it: the list is endless with possibilities. I can wear it in the summer with pink sandals, I can wear it in the winter with a coat. It is one seriously freaking versatile item.

Things to keep in mind when shopping for a LBD: it should be made of the best fabric you can afford, it should be lined, and it should make you feel like Holly Golightly. Without the trips to the powder room, of course.

Above, Anthropologie.

4. A Crisp, Clean Button-Down White Shirt


This one is tricky. I know a lot of us who have any kind of cleavage dread button down shirts. And rightly so. However, a great white button-down is one of those classic items that can be paired in so many ways.

For example, a white button-down with jeans and a great blazer? Such a simple but stunning look. A white button-down with a black pencil skirt and a jean jacket? So Chic. A white button-down can be a truly magical garment.

I have yet to find a new one, because since I had the twins? I went from a B to a D even though my weight stayed the same, so everything else fits right. But this is my goal for fall.

Here’s where sizing gets TRICKY. There’s nothing worse than gaping buttons around the bust. Am I right? You CAN avoid this: buy bigger and get the shirt tailored and brought in at the waist (again with the tailoring!) or, you can wear the white shirt open, layered over a tank top or camisole. This would look gorgeous with layered pearls or sweet, funky gold necklaces. I used to also wear dresses OVER mine, like the picture of Miroslava Duma, above.

You can go with a classic purveyor like Brooks Brothers, or the Gap or even Talbots. (They did a makeover recently and they aren’t just for your bridge-playing grandma any more.)

5. The Pencil Skirt

Jcrew pencil skirt

I made mention of this piece of clothing already. I never, ever thought a pear shape like me would look good in a pencil skirt. BUT, with the right cut and fit, I honestly think anyone can find the right one. I did. AGAIN with the versatility: it’s a beautiful item you can pair endlessly with your wardrobe. Wear with a funky Anthro or Boden top. Dress it down with a jean jacket and cute T-shirt.

I actually have two of these: one is black, one is tan. I wear them both a lot. I had them both tailored at the waist because I bought them to fit my hips.

Above: J. Crew

So, that’s Part One! What do you think? Do you agree (so far?) Do you hate any of these? Love them? Any tips for buying these items? What am I missing?


Filed under personal style

How to Dress: Funky and Hip For Work

I’m having a great time tracking down answers for all of your requests! Here’s a good one from Rachael, that I think will resonate with a lot of you.

Here’s my request. I tend to be fairly casual and would live in jeans and t-shirts if I could. In fact, I work at a university where jeans are okay as long as they’re paired with something funky and hip because that’s the prevailing aesthetic. My problem is that I cannot figure out how to be funky and hip. I sometimes *think* I’m putting together a cute and fairly hip outfit, but I get to work and look like I walked out of a Lands End catalog. I guess what I’m really asking is how I can avoid looking so conservative without looking ridiculous. What is funky and hip and where do I get it? I see women in the hallways at work looking adorable, but I can’t figure out where they get these cute things. I must be shopping in the wrong stores. Maybe that’s really my request: what stores/catalogs/online shops might be the best for a funky and hip, but casual, aesthetic? I’ve tried Boden, but it looks too little-girlish on me and the sizing is often not right for my body (I’m a 14/16). Other suggestions?


This is a great question for a few reasons. First: The workplace has certainly seen a dramatic upheaval in the level of casualness now appropriate. But in certain professions and cultures (eg: media, academia and creative professions in general) I think fashion is playing a more important role than ever. Also: I think in some ways professionals are using their wardrobes to communicate authenticity and uniqueness in a way we haven’t seen since the late 60s.


Before we even get to clothing, adding a quirky flair can start with accessories. Do you wear glasses? If you do, there are so many options and fun frames that will update your look on an everyday basis. If you want to go for a Zooey Deschanel hipster style, there are a ton of frames to choose from.


Including these cute frames, which were designed by Zooey herself for Oliver Peoples.


Or you can go for this hip retro cat-eyed look from Kate Spade:


There are literally thousands of frames to choose from. The best thing to do would be visit your optometrist. They usually are experts at finding a pair of glasses that matches the style (retro, hip, funky) you like to the best color and frame for your face shape. For example, my eyes are a bit close-set, so my optometrist picks out frames that make my eyes look farther apart.

Next: Jewelry. A great necklace can perk up the most conservative outfit and make you look updated and fresh. When I was in Austin a few weeks ago, I noticed a few things. 1. It was incredibly funky and fun, and I’ve never seen more vintage stores. 2. I saw a lot of the following jewelry: delicate gold-tone necklaces with an edge and/or chunky natural stones.

Like this delicate horseshoe necklace from Alexis Bittar.


Or this necklace, by Kelly Wearstler.


Or this cuff, by Dannijo.


TJ. Maxx, Ross and Marshall are jam-packed with necklaces and bracelets like this right now if you are on a budget.

A bold, fun necklace or bracelet will punch up a plain black V-neck shirt and a pair of jeans like you would not believe.

Other accessories worth considering: scarves and handbags.


Let’s move on to clothing brands. Boden can be really, really cute and funky (and I find it is a favorite of academics, which is interesting) but the sizes can be weird and you’re right: it’s not for everyone. There are a few other chains that might be of interest.

I love Anthropologie. My friend is a size 14 and she does very well there, but you’ll definitely want to try the clothing on as everyone’s proportions are different. What I like about Anthopologie is the clothing looks unique and it definitely has a retro, quirky vibe. It can be pricey but look for sales. AND TRY CLOTHES ON that might not be in your comfort zone. I bought two jumpsuits there recently and I thought I would NEVER wear a jumpsuit, like, ever.


Bird Sweater, Anthropologie


Tunic, Anthopologie

Also, Modcloth may be of interest. They have really cute clothes, mostly dresses, in that funky, hip style you may be interested in. Online only, but you can return clothes easily for another size if you need to.

I LOVE this dress. It would be super cute and work appropriate with a cropped jean jacket or a cardigan.


Other brands to check out: Zara and H & M.

Finally, there are a number of fashion bloggers out there who cover what to wear in Academia. Here is a list of a bunch of them. Academichic was really wonderful, but they stopped blogging in 2011. However, it’s still worth a look.


Filed under personal style

Style Scrapbook: YOU Take Center Stage

First of all, THANK YOU for all of your feedback, tweets and emails about my How To Dress posts! I’m so glad you are finding them helpful.

While I have guidelines and tips, one thing I DON’T like about certain guides and makeover shows is how they can erase people’s personalities AND values. (E.G.: not wearing leather or fur.) I’m trying to tutor myself and you all about how to make the MOST of how we dress, but I don’t want you to change your true essence, your own individual style.

Women have different muses: David Bowie, 90s grunge rockers, 20s flappers, Gilded Age heroines, 40s movie stars, yoginis. One of best things about BlogHer was seeing everyone’s outfits: from cool Chuck Taylor Converses, to brightly colored togs, to super cute eyeglass frames, to Martha Stewart’s fun coral platforms to Katie Couric’s sleeveless shift, emphasizing her strong guns. Everyone brought their own personality, and outfits reflected this.

Something else I have been mulling over: I want us all to stay in the frame, to continue being the stars of our own lives. We all matter.

So. I’d like to put together a Scrapbook, if you will, of YOU.

I will update with links, below, so here’s what I’m hoping you can do. If you are a blogger comfortable being pictured, link to a post (it can be old or new) in the comments where you are photographed, where you look like YOU.

You Being You!

From Too Many Fish To Fry
From Bloodsigns
From R. Sativus
From Stumbling Gracefully
From Stirrup Queens
From Silent Sorority: 1, 2
From Hard to be Human
From Write Mind Open Heart: 1, 2, 3, 4
From Mama On the Fly
From Road Less Traveled: 1, 2, 3
From Dragondreamer’s Lair


Filed under My Favorite Things