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

Apollo, King of McQueen

My McQueen scarf finally came in the mail! However, Apollo seems to want to keep it all to himself so I have dubbed him Apollo, King of McQueen (and possibly McQueen’s first pug model).

He enjoyed modeling the scarf until he got himself all tangled up (look at those sad eyes)…

Ashley

P.s. Do not attempt this shoot yourself unless you want your lovely new silk scarf covered in pug fur.

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 

5PFWM: Winter 2011/12

On November 22nd I wrote a post about the 5 Piece French Wardrobe Method (5PFWM) which is a way of building a quality wardrobe without being completely overwhelmed by choices. The whole theory is that every season you should pick five pieces you would like to invest in to build up your wardrobe. I think subscribing to this method is a huge Lifevestment simply because it forces you to concentrate on what your wardrobe needs and to find quality (not quantity) to fill the void.
 
Here are some pictures of my Fall 2011 5PFWM pieces. To re-cap, I added (1) a classic Anne Klein trench coat with single-breasted buttons, storm flaps and an a-line flair, (2) a black-and-white patterned wrap dress from Eliza J, (3) a velvet peplum blazer from Winter Kate, (4) a basic black sweater and (5) waterproof booties from Aquatalia (so in love with these boots)!
 

My Fall 2011 5PFWM loot

Trench Coat, Patterned Wrap Dress, Velvet Peplum Blazer

My absolute favorite addition from the fall season was my Aquatalia ‘Royal’ booties. They are so comfortable and the suede is so luxurious! They were a gift from Ian for Christmas and are the best investment shoe I own.
 
Aren’t they gorgeous (can you tell I am crushing on these boots)?
 

Aquatalia 'Royal' booties

They have a cute plaid interior (this photo doesn't do it justice)

Aquatalia makes a fabulous boot

These boots have me absolutely convinced (as if I wasn’t already) that wardrobe essentials will last so much longer if you invest in quality. A good mantra to remember is: Quality is always worth the price (though a high price isn’t always indicative of quality). I really tried to keep that in mind when picking my Winter wardrobe additions.
 

My Winter 2012 5PFWM includes:

1. An Alexander McQueen Silk Skull Scarf in Black/Blue. I have lusted after this scarf for a long time – to me it’s as versatile as a Burberry scarf. And the Black/Blue combination will work perfectly with jeans or a black suit.

McQueen Silk Skull Scarf

2. This fabulous Pleated Jersey Dress from Issa. I have always wanted a green dress and on my bucket list I did promise myself I would buy a nice designer dress with all my own money. Isn’t the cut so interesting? Plus this is dressy enough to wear to a party or wedding but the jersey fabric makes it easy to wear all-day at the office too. LOVE!

Issa's Pleated Jersey Dress, available at Net-A-Porter

3. A pair of well-tailored skinny jeans. J Brand makes the best for my body but I would suggest trying on a few brands before purchasing to make sure the fit is right (not one likes ‘wrinkly-knee’ skinny jeans).

J Brand Cigarette Leg Jeans

4. An L.K. Bennett Davina Dress is another investment piece which I have had my eye on for some time. I know this is my SECOND dress on a short list but a red dress is such a classic and L.K. Bennett really makes quality clothing. Plus the cut on the Davina is so flattering and timeless.

L.K. Bennett's Davina Dress in "Lipstick"

5. Cole Haan ‘Air Violet’ Patent Pumps in Black. These beautiful pumps actually contain Nike Air comfort technology which would make them extremely versatile and comfortable for all-day wear. Not to mention that black patent is such a wardrobe staple!
 

Cole Haan 'Air Violet' Patent Pump at Nordstroms

 What are you looking to add to your wardrobe this winter?

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

The 5 Piece French Wardrobe Method (5PFWM)

I was inspired to write this post after reading whatpinksoundslike’s post on the 5 piece French Wardrobe Method which was inspired by 0000’s post here.

The gist of the 5PFWM is that Americans have a tendency to overload and buy many clothing pieces every season whereas we ought to take inspiration from our French counterparts who are more interested in quality over quantity. The French generally buy five quality wardrobe pieces each season and use that to build a chic but uncluttered wardrobe. As a proponent for quality clothing, I full-heartedly support this wardrobe building theory, most especially because it forces you to really consider what your wardrobe needs in terms of good quality pieces.

My 5PFWM for Fall 2011:

1. A good trench coat. I wrote a post about this wardrobe staple back on November 3rd after doing a bunch of research on different types of trench coats. But it wasn’t until two weeks ago that I actually found my perfect trench coat: a water-repellent fabric, single-breasted with generous A-line cut, shoulder storm flaps and a cute pleat down the back from Anne Klein. What I especially love about the coat I found was that it has a removable wool lining which means this coat can transition well into winter or spring.

2. Aquatalia by Marvin K ‘Royal’ booties. I haven’t finished saving the money for these yet but once I have them I have no doubt that I will wear them for the next several years.

Black Crew-neck Sweater

3. A classic black sweater. I don’t know how I survived so long without a flattering black pull-over sweater. It’s so easy to layer with and matches most of my work outfits.

4. Another wrap dress in a fun print. Wrap dresses are so figure flattering and after writing my post on them back on November 8th I really wanted to find a great, wrinkle-free one. I managed to find the perfect one at Nordstrom Rack in a brilliant black and white pattern.

Winter Kate Jacqueline silk-velvet jacket

5. A velvet jacket. A black velvet jacket screams winter holidays and this one will go perfectly with my holiday dresses. Plus, I have a huge soft-spot for anything with a peplum and this one has the cutest!

If you had to choose five quality pieces to invest in right now, what would they be?

Ashley

Who’s Your [Style] Inspiration?

I was inspired to do this post after I saw Style Meganzine’s post on ‘Who’s Your Inspiration’: http://stylemeganzine.wordpress.com/2011/10/22/whos-your-inspiration/

In my ‘How to Build A Wardrobe’ post from Monday I mentioned that building a list like this can really help you ‘hone’ in on what you enjoy and what type of style really expresses who you are. So I’m following my own advice and building a list of women whose style I admire.

The thing I admire most in all the women below is how their personalities shown through their clothing – their clothing didn’t define them, it enhanced them.

Lauren Bacall

Lauren Bacall – to me, she is the quintessential American woman – versatile, clever and chic with a small sinister side. She gave forties and fifties glamour an intelligent edge. Did I mention that she was also perfectly matched to her talented and suave husband, Humphrey Bogart?

Kate Middleton

Kate Middleton – Despite being labelled at this year’s fashion icon, she has been criticized repeatedly recently for her ‘boring’ style. Someone really needs to notify Webster’s that ‘boring’ now means elegant, classic and well-tailored. Kate’s look is perfect for the modern woman – she sticks with flattering silhouettes and always wears the best accessory – her smile. I admire Kate – not many of us could be photographed and criticized with as much scrutiny as she is without a single bra strap falling out-of-place. Elegance, poise and composure will never go out of style.

... Grace Kelly

Image by x-ray delta one via Flickr

Grace Kelly – Grace was stylish and composed, inspiring an Hermes bag and snatching herself a prince. The first time I ever saw her on film was when I watched ‘Rear Window‘ and I literally couldn’t take my eyes off her. She carries herself beautifully and speaks with such distinction that a paper bag would look timelessly elegant on her.

Princess Diana

Princess Diana – Diana wasn’t afraid to take risks – remember when she used that choker the Queen gave her as a headband? And she always dressed up for the occasion wearing military and naval-inspired frocks for army functions and a chinese inspired hat when she visited China. And she always wanted her clothing to do more – she often sported clothing from some of her favorite charities and donated dresses for charity.

I admire so many different women for their unique style but I would have to say that these four women are the ones who materially influence my personal style. While I love the Olson twins and their bohemian threads, I must admit that most of their outfits would look ridiculous and out-of-place on me. I lean towards elegance and timelessness but in a relaxed and approachable way – I suppose that’s why so many royals made my list. I really enjoyed trying to narrow-down my style influencers, maybe I’ll do this type of list for other influencers in my life.

Who is on your style list?

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