Wardrobe Essentials: The Foundations

For the first five or six years of my bra-wearing-life, I wore the wrong bra size. I went to Victoria’s Secret and got a “fitting” (using that term loosely) and wore these little skimpy bras which gave no support and were too large in the ribcage, creating some lovely bulges on my back. Then one day I read an article online about the importance of getting a proper bra fitting by a professional (i.e. someone who does bras for their career). So I marched on down to Bloomingdale’s and found out I was not a 36D like I thought but a 32F (!) and discovered the beauty and support of a well-fitting bra.

Finding the proper “foundations” for your wardrobe can literally make everything you wear look more tailored and expensive. And you’ll feel absolutely fabulous.

The Essential Foundations

1. Several Well-fitting bras. One in each black and nude. It is also good to have a well-fitting sports bra (Lululemon’s Ta-ta Tamer is excellent for running) as well as a deep plunge bra for evening dresses. You don’t need to have twenty bras, just three well-fitting bras will serve you better. Just remember the golden rule for bras: replace them every three-to-six months since they get a lot of wear. I was taught to buy a ribcage size that is supportive on the largest clasp and too-tight on the smallest – that way as the bra stretches with wear, you can tighten the bra with the smaller clasps.

Favorite Bra Brands: Wacoal, Natori

2. Spanx. Some may disagree with me on this but I think having spanx for special occasions and tight skirts can be a god-send. Having smooth fitting clothing and a streamlined panty line will always be classy. Even if wiggling into spanx can be less than classy.

3. Camisoles. For layering, lounging around the house and for adding a little mystery to that low-cut evening gown.

4. Seamless underwear. I am a huge fan of the lacie thongs from Victoria’s Secret! If you haven’t tried them, do – they work fabulously even with my tightest pants.

5. Tights. I know colored tights are big right now but I tend to gravitate towards the classics. Good basics include nude, sheer black and solid black. I’ve tried expensive brands (DKNY) and cheap ones but my favorites right now are the Nordstrom brand. Does anyone know a good brand for tights? I’m always looking for value since I have to wear these so often to work.

What foundations do you use?

Ashley

What’s in My Make-Up Bag

Seeing what a woman keeps in her make-up bag is like being let into a secret back room of her personality. It’s the invisible arsenal she depends on to present her image of herself to the world. Sydney, over at The Daybook, just did this (http://www.thedaybookblog.com/2012/01/mama-beauty.html) and I couldn’t help but be inspired to do my own version.

My kit is the result of a long journey involving years of poor decisions (I used to have a thing for bronze eyeliner, oh the shame) which taught me the golden rule: less is more. Generally, I focus on highlighting one feature – either my eyes or lips and keep the rest as simple and natural as possible.

My favorite products have evolved over the years but I feel I have finally found a core set of cosmetics which I can turn to everyday. Typically I turn to products which multi-task the most and that can be layered to create a dramatic look if necessary.

Starting at the top and then moving clockwise:

1:: Bobbi Brown Sheer Finish Loose Powder in Pale Yellow ($35 at bobbibrowncosmetics.com). This is the best loose powder I have ever found – it helps my make-up stay put for hours and is very sheer and clean-feeling.

2:: a generic Eyebrown brush (usually under $1 at most Walgreens). Even though I have very thin and light eyebrows, I still need to keep them groomed. This little brush works like magic after I apply my eyebrow mascara – just wait a minute for the mascara to set and then swipe it through your eyebrows to soften and polish the look.

3:: blinc Mascara in Black ($24 at birchbox.com). This is the most expensive mascara I have ever tried but I really love it. All of the blinc mascaras have ‘tube technology’ which coats your lashed in a tube and which come off in the shower with a little soap and water. It’s so much less messy than normal mascara (and less harsh than waterproof mascaras) and it’s actually fun to slide off your mascara at night. Weird but worth a try if you’re looking for an innovative beauty splurge.

4:: Cargo Eyeliner in black. This isn’t actually made anymore as far as I can tell but any well-formulate black eyeliner can really emphasize your eyes. I love a demure cat-eye for work – it looks wonderful and still professional.

5:: Bobbi Brown Eyebrow Mascara in Brown. This, unfortunately, is also no longer available but a good eyebrow mascara can help you shape your brows and fill in sparse spaces without looking theatrical.

6:: Physician’s Formula Gentle Cover Concealer Stick in Fair ($6 at the Physcian’s Formula website). This concealer is a fabulous all-purpose which swipes on cleanly. I always blend this in around my under-eye area with my ring finger (gives the least amount of pressure) and it stays on all day. And let’s be honest – you can’t beat the price!

7:: Maybelline Dream Mousse Blush in a shade no longer available but very similar to the #25 Pink Frosting shade (about $7 at Walgreens). A bright pink shade in a sheer formula looks so flattering on every skin-type and this formula is easy to use and blend.

8:: Pür Minerals 4-in-1 Pressed Mineral Foundation with SPF 15 in Light ($25 at birchbox.com). I received a sample of this in my July Birchbox and have been obsessed since. This sheer formula have be built-up to cover just about anything and it lasts all day (not to mention the added SPF protection).

What do you keep in your make-up bag?

Ashley

Lifevesting’s First Guest Post: Wardrobe Essentials – Dark Wash Jeans

Today, Lifevesting is doing its first guest post over at leahmariev’s fabulous blog. If you haven’t checked out her posts yet, you must! She has fabulous ideas about DIY projects and delicious recipes – I always feel so inspired after stopping at her page.

Check out my Wardrobe Essential: The Dark Wash Jean guest post here: http://leahmariev.com/2012/01/12/wardrobe-essentials-by-ashley-at-lifevesting/

J Brand Cigarette Leg Jeans

What’s your favorite way to wear jeans?

Ashley 

Wardrobe Essentials: The Little Black Dress (LBD)

How do you even begin to talk about why the Little Black Dress (LBD) is a wardrobe staple? It is versatile. It is chic. It is wearable and figure-flattering on every body. It is easy to find and care for. It hasn’t gone out of style in almost a century.

The LBD IS the wardrobe essential.

Originally made “en vogue” by Coco Chanel in the early 20th century as women yearned for more practical clothing, the LBD became Chanel’s most recognized contribution to fashion.

Since its appearance, this staple has made many famous appearances:

Princess Diana’s LBD (above) actually managed to steal the spotlight from her then-husband Prince Charles’ publically admitted extramarital affairs that same night.

The LBD is everyone’s confidence booster and ultimate comfort piece all wrapped into one. Whether you’re single, married, divorced, a student, a professional, a stay-at-homer or a fashionista, a LBD is a vital piece of artillery to have in your wardrobe arsenal (because let’s face it – the LBD is part of a woman’s weaponry).

What to Look for when buying a LBD

1. Fit. I know I almost always put this as the first tip when buying a wardrobe essential but that is because it is the most vital when investing in staples. That dress make look fabulous on the hanger but the most important thing to see is if it will look fabulous on you. Closely examine a potential addition to your wardrobe and pay attention to how the garment fits you on all sides. Make sure the dress is flattering and accentuates elements of yourself that you want to highlight. If the piece doesn’t fit perfectly can it be tailored (and more importantly: will you take it to be tailored)? Don’t forget to figure tailoring expenses into the dress price.

2. Quality. A LBD is something you will likely wear hundreds of times so take a moment and examine the stitching, the seams and the hem. Make sure everything is straight were it should be: an uneven hem is attractive on no one.

3. Details. The details are what will make your LBD special so look for something that really speaks to you. A few years ago I found my perfect LBD at Banana Republic: it had an illusion wrap effect thanks to some well sewn pleats around the waist. Pleats, wrap effects, belts and ruffles can make a LBD really wow: just be sure the details aren’t going to date the dress in five years. Simple and small details are the best if you are looking for something timeless.

4. Strapless vs. Straps. I tend to only buy dresses with straps simply because they are more work-appropriate but a strapless LBD can be the perfect party outfit:

5. Fabric. I think there are two fabrics which make the best LBDs: a wool-blend (for winter, but make sure it isn’t itchy) and a jersey. Jersey dresses are absolutely fabulous because they are figure flattering (unless the jersey is super-thin which is unattractive on every body type) and they don’t wrinkle making them perfect to travel with. A wool-blend has some structure but is still comfortable and warm. But LBDs are made in every fabric so just remember to examine how the fabric fits you and whether it is comfortable and easy to care for.

6. Length. If you are looking for something timeless look for a knee-length LBD: almost all other lengths, from maxi to mini, are easily dated after a year or two. That said, I have an Elie Tahari black maxi which I practically lived in all summer so just be sure the length you choose compliments your lifestyle.

How to wear a LBD

The best way to wear a LBD is with color – every color looks fabulous with black. The LBD is like a blank canvas so have fun with your accessories and enjoy the confidence boost from looking chic. A great look for a holiday party is a LBD with a sequin jacket or belt and some fabulous heels.

What’s your favorite way to wear a LBD?

Ashley

P.s. I found this fabulous paperdoll set of LBDs – wouldn’t this be a fabulous holiday gift for the budding fashionista on your list?

Supplemental Reading:

http://www.coolbeanmommas.com/2011/04/little-black-dress.html

http://apieceoftoastblog.com/a-piece-of-toast/2011/11/17/black-dress.html

Wardrobe Essentials: The Black Blazer

Old Navy Black Blazer

Why is it that so many modern women’s clothing essentials were born from menswear? When I wrote my piece on trench coats I remember asking myself this same question. I mean what wasn’t realistic about a turn-of-the-century woman’s wardrobe? Corsets, impractical fabrics, impossible-to-move-in-skirts, restrictive cages socially, politically and fashionably… what wasn’t to love?

I kid, I kid…

Historical fashions are wonderfully romantic but the modern woman, thanks to some nudging by Coco Chanel, craves a more accessible, practical and yet equally chic wardrobe. And with that the black blazer was born. With small adjustments this closet staple is updated from season to season and has been interpreted by countless designers. Zippers, pockets, flaps, lapels, sequins, buttons all help to make no two black blazers quite alike. The key is to find one that echos your distinctive style while performing the heavy double-duty of being a life-long staple.

The Daring Coco Chanel

What to Look for When Buying a Black Blazer

1. Fit. I am partial to blazers that create an hourglass shape but a slouchy boyfriend blazer can really amp up a weekend ensemble. The key is to find a coat that fits you and boosts your confidence, as with all wardrobe essentials.

2. Fabric. Black blazers come in a variety of practical and impractical fabrics. My best advice here would be to find something you can machine wash time and time again and the fabric will maintain its shape. A plus: a comfy, non-starchy fabric.

3. Embellishments, accoutrements, lengths and details. Similar to coats blazers have more choices than you can imagine in terms of details: double-breasted vs. single breasted, three-button, single-button or zipper?, pockets vs. no-pockets, Sequins or velvet vs. minimalism? Deciding which will work with your wardrobe is an important element to think about prior to investing in this staple.

4. Purpose. This part will help you decide on what you should look for in terms of #3 – is the purpose of the blazer to be a chic weekend topper or is it for the office? I’m partial to the black blazers you can pair with everything (all-purpose) but I couldn’t resist when I found a holiday party worthy velvet blazer.

5. Quality. This is a component I look for in every wardrobe essential. Make sure you’re getting what you pay for: inspect the seams, stitching and lining for imperfections or poor craftsmanship.

6. Patience. Finding the right blazer for your body type/style/budget can be a challenge so be patient. Don’t buy a black blazer that isn’t what you were looking for – trust that the perfect one is out there and wait!

Long One-Button Blazer

How to Wear a Black Blazer

Black blazers are sooooo simple to style and that is what makes them a staple. Pairing a blazer with a delicious dress can help turn an evening dress into a day dress. And let’s not forget how easy the black blazer with jeans look is to pull-off on weekends.

What’s your favorite way to wear a black blazer?

Ashley

P.s. Looking to find a more feminine version of this staple? Victoria’s Secret does a gorgeous peplum black blazer:

Victoria's Secret Peplum Blazer

I bought this blazer back in August and it instantly became my favorite – the peplum helps create a fabulous hourglass shape. I would highly recommend adding this piece to your Christmas List!

Further Reading:

How Celebs Wear Black Blazers

Life Upgrades: 10 Ways to Stay Warm This Winter

It’s official: the first snow fell here in Chicago. Nothing stuck on the ground but I have officially switched over into ‘winter hibernation mode’. After living in India for a semester in 2007 my ‘cold’ tolerance has never been the same – even though I went to college in chilly Wisconsin. Every November I try to pull out all my winter clothes and other warm essentials to help me transition into the bitter cold months. Here is a list of 10 life upgrades you can incorporate into your hibernation ritual as we move into the winter months.

1. Heated Tower Warmer & Dryer. I had never even heard of this until Ian and I visited some friends in London in August. Apparently these are considered a household essential across the pond and for good reason – nothing feels more indulgent than a warm towel after a relaxing shower. I also keep Apollo’s small puppy towel on our rack and I wrap him in it after coming in from a frosty morning walk.

Towel Warmer and Dryer

2. Fleece-lined Leggings. I was skeptical that I would get too hot in these and that they would be bulky and unattractive but after trying them on I was in heaven. These are perfect for lounging around the house and wearing under dresses on my commute to work. They are thin and comfortable while warm – essential for winter layering.

Fleece-Lined Leggings from Anthropologie

3. Cuticle Cream. A winter must! My skin gets very dry in winter so I keep a package of this at my desk and at home. It smells like summer which helps with the winter blues too!

Burt's Bees Lemon Butter Cuticle Cream

4. Lip Balm. Every girl needs a good lip balm in her arsenal. I got a sample of Jouer Lip Enhancer from Birchbox and it is the silkiest lip moisturizer I’ve tried. A little price-y at $14 but will keep your lips chap-free for the entire season.

Jouer Lip Enhancer

5. Mulled Wine. I love mulled wine and this blend from William Sonoma is delicious and perfect for brewing a warming cup. Just mix with a basic red wine (I use Burgundy) and some sugar (I use organic) and bring to a boil on the stove. Strain and serve with a cinnamon stick. Warning: Have your favorite hangover cure handy for the next morning.

William Sonoma Mulling Spices

6. Waterproof Boots. I love these Aquatalia booties – all the positive reviews speak for themselves and the waterproof fabric will keep your feet dry and warm when trudging to work during the next snowstorm. Though the $398 price is a shocker, a good, well-made pair of work-appropriate black booties will be something you will use for years to come.

Aquatalia "Royal" Booties at Nordstroms

7. A Tailored Wool Coat. A classic, well-constructed coat is the winter closet’s ‘bread and butter’. Make sure to get one large enough to layer under but with some structure so you don’t look like a walking sleeping bag.

Victoria's Secret Wool Trenchcoat

8. A Plush & Cozy Blanket. This is the most important winter essential. Restoration Hardware has been making these fantastic plush blankets for a few years now and I am obsessed with how wonderful they are. I bought the red one last winter and couldn’t have been happier with how cozy, cuddly and warm this blanket was. Plus it washed well and doesn’t lose its ‘coziness’ after three washes.

Restoration Hardware Luxury Plush Throw

9. Ugg Scuffette Slippers. I wish I could get these – they look so warm and cozy. But I think there might be too much fur to tempt poor Apollo into being a slobber-puss on these slippers. But for any pug-free family these look like a fabulous winter home staple.

Ugg Scuffette Slippers

10. A Pug Cuddle. Nature’s best defense against winter: Fur. Cuddling with a pug can be one of the coziest winter activities. Though be warned: you might get snorted on.

Apollo is a snuggler

What are your favorite ways to stay warm in winter? 

Ashley
 
 

Wardrobe Essentials: The Trench Coat

A Burberry Trench

Building a wardrobe takes time, some investigation and a lot of trial-and-error. The wonderful thing about the ideal wardrobe is that it is unique to the person wearing it. But building a working wardrobe with longevity and pizzazz can be a daunting task – the best place to start is with some core essentials to build on. The modern trench coat is one of the best essentials to start with – it works in almost any climate and is comfortable, waterproof and transitions easily from day to night outfits.

Originally developed as an army coat, the trench has evolved into a chic yet practical coat for women as well and has made many famous appearances:

What to look for when buying a trench coat

1. Good solid seams and stitching

2. Knee-length (so I can wear it over dresses or pants)

3. No-wrinkle fabric (this is a must! I’ve seen so many chic coats turned to wrinkled messes after one ride on the subway). Cotton is the classic fabric but I actually prefer something with a more water-proof coating.

Single- and double-breasted suit comparison

Image via Wikipedia

4. Double-breasted buttons or single-breasted buttons? Double-breasted is more classic and single-breasted is more modern. If you are large busted like me, go for the single-breasted to eliminate bulk on the chest.

Beautiful bow-back trench from pluswomensclothings at Etsy

5. The rear “wow” factor (don’t you just love when someone walks away from you and you notice a great/chic detail you didn’t see before?). A bow along the back, good pleating, contouring seams, a surprise vent, ruffles, etc all add a surprise element to this staple coat.

6. Color. Tan and khaki are the classic choices but a little red trench coat can jazz up a spring or fall wardrobe perfectly.

How to Wear a Trench Coat

Honestly, there is not wrong way to wear a trench coat – if you get one in a neutral shade they pair well with any ensemble. When draped over the shoulders they can even be appropriate for more formal functions. My favorite weekend outfit for grocery shopping and morning walks to the Lake Michigan dog beach is a pair of dark wash jeans, black flats and my tan trench – chic and easy to pull together [when hungover].

Ashley

P.s. Your pup would enjoy a chic trench too! Check out these wonderful ones from RoverDog on Etsy:

The Westerly Trench from Roverdog on Etsy

How to Build a Wardrobe

glamorous granny

Image by zoetnet via Flickr

Confession: As much as I try to focus my attention away from materialism, I must admit that I really enjoy finding a high-quality item to make my life more stylish/easier/colorful, etc.

The key for me though is “high-quality”. I’m not a trendslave – when I spend my hard-earned cash I want it to be on something that I’ll use for years. I don’t care about being the first of my friends to own something, I care about owning things that help me… well, help me be me. In all aspects of my life I try to live by the following motto:

QUALITY VS. QUANTITY

When I made the transition from college to career my wardrobe was forced to evolve with me – those baggy jeans, over-sized hoodies and birkenstocks weren’t going to cut it in the draconian must-always-wear-nylons world of finance. The week after graduation I took the pitiful savings I had from my on-campus job and marched down to Nordstrom Rack, determined to buy my entire career wardrobe in one trip.

What… A… Mistake…

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, Rome wasn’t built in a day. And man did I learn that lesson the hard way with my wardrobe. In the spirit of honesty I have to admit that I have never been a ‘chic’ dresser – my past style offenses have been so bad that I’ve been inspired to write a ‘style don’ts’ post based on my ‘favorite’ outfits in high school. But despite past offenses, nothing was worse than what I tossed in my shopping cart that day – over-sized lilac sweaters, stiff white button-downs I couldn’t actually button, one-size-too-large-but-it-was-on-super-sale dresses and suits, an orange belt (to match with what? the lilac sweater?) and a single pair of cheap heels (which I promptly wore down and never bothered to have re-heeled). To make matters worse I dropped down a dress size in February and my already-too-big clothes looked even more clownish as I tried to ‘fix’ them by cinching my huge dresses with my orange belt…

Well, it’s true: experience is the best teacher. How will you ever know a ‘do’ if you don’t explore all the ‘don’ts’? So I’ve spent the last few months studying wardrobes and how to take care of them (so often over-looked). My sister was a big help – she’s the most stylish person I know with her model figure, blonde hair and her amazing ability of making anything look stylish (a la Marilyn Monroe). My mother, with her Kate Spade-esque love of fun, was also a huge influence in teaching me not to be afraid of color (though I still maintain that her best accessory is her infectious laugh). My grandmother showed me that you can be classic and fun at the same time with her unwrinkled silk blouses and overstated jewelry. Sadly even Kate Middleton influenced my evolving style with her knee-length day-to-night dresses and meticulous but understated accessories.

How to Build A Wardrobe

1. Never Go Shopping Without a Plan – I am terribly guilty of shopping with no real goal in mind. I “window shop” and see if something inspires me, often forgetting to assess what pieces my wardrobe needs and whether I’ll use what I buy. It’s important to keep a list of pieces you think your wardrobe needs and put blinders on yourself in the store – if you really need a chic blazer, ignore that pair of wedge booties. Unless it’s fabulously unique pieces you buy without pre-planning will be the first to go to Goodwill.

2. Neutrals, neutrals, neutrals – For YEARS I ignored this ‘rule’. I never had tank tops to layer my looks with, never bothered to have neutral sweaters or a great camel skirt. Then all of a sudden I decided to start playing around with “boringggggg” neutrals and discovered that they were a lot of fun and so easy to mix and match. I have a set of belts, hats, shawls, tank tops, shoes and purses in several different neutral palettes. My favorites right now are nude and camel accessories – they balance out a black work wardrobe wonderfully.

jackie o

Image by throw her in the water via Flickr

3. Build a list of style influencers – Style Meganzine inspired this tip with her ‘Who’s Your Inspiration?’ post last week. If you are going to build a wardrobe that reflects you then you’ll need to have a deep understanding of what you really like. Building a list of people whose style you admire can help you assess what you really enjoy and what you don’t. Love Jackie O? Invest in a fantastic trench coat, an oversized pair of sunglasses and a great faux pearl necklace.

4. Invest in a few key pieces you will always need – I believe in putting your money where it will go to the most use. Investing in pieces you will use for years is a smart move and will save you money in the end. Some fabulous pieces to invest your money in: a great tote for work/weekends, a chic but warm winter coat (unless you’re lucky enough to live in a climate without winter!), a pair of diamond studs, the perfect black blazer, and the iconic little black dress.

5. Make at least three outfits in your head before buying – I just recently adopted this rule. When deciding whether to buy something really assess how it will work with other pieces in your wardrobe. You should be able to envision at least three outfits easily. If not, is the piece really worth your cash and [limited] closet space?

6. Be doubtful, prejudiced and meticulous – Really pick apart anything you’re planning on adding to your wardrobe. Will the piece need to be dry cleaned? Will it wrinkle easily? Could you easily take it on vacation? Is it made of good-quality fabric? Does it itch? Does it meet all your criteria? If not put it down and keep looking. My father always said if you wait just a little longer the perfect opening will come (he may have been talking about merging in traffic when I was learning to drive but the principle still applies).

7. Always try it ON – Every woman has a different body. Mass retailers make clothes that supposedly fit everyone but in reality fit only a small range of people. I can be anywhere from a size 4 at The Limited to a size 12 at Levi’s – don’t look at the size, look at the fit. And don’t be afraid to try on something that doesn’t look good on the hanger. Some of my favorite pieces were ones I didn’t really like on the hanger but tried on and loved how it looked on my body.

8. QUALITY – I saved the most important rule for last. I used to be obsessed with finding a good deal. Anytime I saw a cheap version of some designer piece I was lusting after I would snap it up, only to be disappointed when it would start deforming in the wash. Good quality clothing is key to wardrobe happiness. Remember, the more you wear something, the cheaper it is. The key to a long-lasting wardrobe is good quality so examine seams, clasps, buttons, fabrics, stitching and linings before buying. I’ve seen so many designer coats with cheap polyester lining it makes me sad. Unfortunately these days a high price tag does not necessarily mean high quality. I sometimes feel like Banana Republic and J. Crew take quality more seriously than the bigger luxury brands.

Always remember to assess what your use for the piece will be, not the price. Some of the more expensive pieces in my wardrobe are some of my most useless. In the next few weeks I’ll begin highlighting pieces I believe everyone woman should have in her [wardrobe] arsenal and what to look for when buying them based on my misadventures in the world of fashion.

What pieces do you think are crucial to a fabulous wardrobe?

Ashley