Tag Archives: fashion

Body scanner + sales help at Bloomingdales = perfect fitting pants?

16 Aug

Could this be the pants-finding solution that all hard-to-fit booties are looking for? Bloomingdales has installed a body scanner that recommends the best fitting, and flattering, pants for your body dimensions. My immediate association from seeing the photos: Star Trek, everyone gets to see you with your clothes off. Of course that isn’t really the case (your avatar wears a bikini) but it will still take some courage to put myself under the microscope. However, in the interest of good journalism for this blog, I think I’ll gather up my courage and check it out, and report back…

From today’s San Jose Mercury News:

High-tech help in finding jeans that fit

By Troy Wolverton

twolverton@mercurynews.com

Posted:   08/16/2012 09:12:53 AM PDT
Bodymetrics body scanning cabin created to help women find jeans that fit

No it’s not airport security – it’s the Bodymetrics body scanning cabin, created to help find jeans that fit. It’s available for a test drive at Bloomingdales in the Stanford Shopping Center.

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Making the Most of Online Sales

24 Jul

Ever have the feeling you have 17,000 email messages in your inbox? I actually did – I signed up to receive “marketing communications” from all my favorite online stores, and then fell behind on reading all the messages. After more than a year of neglect, I finally sat down to clear out the backlog, and was amazed at the volume of email urging me to buy, buy, buy… message after message saying “hurry” or “last day” (only to announce another sale a few weeks later).

They just keep coming...

They just keep coming… over 20 marketing messages received by 10am.

Truth is,  you don’t need to be on a store’s email list to take advantage of the best sales of the year.  They always happen twice a year: after Christmas, and right now – in late July and August, when Fall and Winter clothes begin to arrive in stores. But email marketing offers you the advantage of early access and sometimes an additional discount.

I recently needed a dress to wear to a summer wedding in Sonoma, and I was hoping to land a deal.  So when Boden (one of my favorite online stores) announced their end-of-summer sale, I jumped on the site the same day. I loaded up my cart with 10 “maybe” items, then quickly narrowed down to the best five. I gulped at the total dollar amount and then ordered all five items, knowing I’d be sending half of it back – because in a real store, you take more stuff into the dressing room than you intend to buy. I even paid $15 for express shipping to find out quickly if I had “the right dress” for the occasion. The next day, a large box was on my doorstep!   (It’s my first time using overnight shipping, and I have to say, I could get used to this.)

As it turns out, of the two dresses I ordered, one was a winner. Even with the extra shipping charges, it ended up costing less than $160 – not bad considering I never even had to leave my house. No raking through cluttered clothing racks. I could try it on at home with my own shoes and accessories. As a footnote, less than a week after ordering it, my size is already sold out – so I’m glad I acted quickly.

boden silk petal dress

A recent score from Boden’s online sale – just the dress to wear to a summer wedding.

The unexpected winner from the order was a funky 60’s print tunic – I had my doubts about the crazy retro print, but when I put it on, it felt so good that I decided to keep it. I live in tunic length tops, and the print offers a welcome pop of color.  The fit is great too – flattering neckline, not too tight around the hips, long enough to wear with leggings (or as a super-mini dress if you are feeling daring). $58 is more than I usually spend on tops, but I know it will get plenty of wear.

Boden Fab Jersey Tunic on Sale

The stretchy cotton jersey material was so soft and comfy that I ended up keeping this one.

In a nutshell, here is how I make the most of online sales:

1) Use a separate email account for online shopping. Then, ignore the account unless you’re looking to buy something.

2) Be stingy with your time. Delete all marketing emails older than a week without reading them.

3) If you do intend to buy, respond to online sales early, because popular items can go out of stock in a few days.

4) Order more items than you intend to keep. (You may need to pay for return shipping, but perhaps ordering more means you get free shipping with your order.) Order two sizes of the same item if you have trouble finding your size in a real store.  Yes, you’ll have to float the cost of the additional items until your return is processed, but you’re more likely to end up with something that you’re excited about.

5) Look for coupon codes before you check out  – it only takes a minute and may save you shipping or 20% off with very little effort. My favorite site is Retailmenot.com

6)  Be picky when trying on your clothes at home. Using the best mirror in the house, force yourself to make quick decisions based on gut-level reaction. When in doubt, send it back.

7) Bang out the logistics. To make returns easy, keep your computer connected to a printer for creating return labels, and keep a roll of packing tape in your desk for sealing your package. Fill out the paperwork for the return as soon as you can (to avoid losing it). Find the most convenient place near home or work to drop off UPS packages (using UPS.com). If your package has prepaid postage, don’t stand in line at the post office – walk up to the front of the line, make eye contact with a clerk, and he/she will tell you where to leave it.

8) Log off and get back to real life.  It’s easy to get sucked into hunting for deals online – so I give myself a time limit. If nothing clicks in the first 1 or 2 minutes on a specific site, I ditch out, knowing there will always be a next time.

Do you have another tip to share? Leave it in the comments section below!

Bathing Beauty

16 May

I’m digging through my shoe bin in search of my flip flops. That can only mean one thing – bathing suit season is coming!

Last year, it took me months to find a bathing suit I was truly happy with. I ended up with a Patagonia bikini and swim short which I still like, but this year, I am feeling like I could use a little more coverage in the mid section. So I geared up to search for a bathing suit with a tankini top, or possibly a one-piece. Expecting the search to be long and grueling, I was shocked when I  found a bathing suit that worked for me in the first store I tried.  Great fit – cute print – comfortable – and reasonably priced. Here it is. (Ta da!)

Title Nine "Impossible" Tankini

The Title Nine “Impossible” Tankini – the bathing suit that will carry me through summer. (Also comes in solid blue and other patterns)

The cut of the front offers plenty of support and coverage, and the pads add some shape without looking phony. I also love the tie closure in back, which is more comfortable than a halter (those hurt my neck after a while) and easy to adjust. Here’s a view of the back – even though I could tie the closure myself if I had to, it stays put way better than a regular string bikini, so I hardly ever need to. It also comes in a solid blue color.

Title Nine "Impossible" Tankini - adjustable back

The Title Nine “Impossible” Tankini

It must have been a lucky shopping day because on the same trip, I stumbled across this ultra comfortable top to match – I intended it as a coverup to match my bathing suit, but find myself reaching for it for everyday. Paired with a tank top and jeans, it’s the perfect weight for cool and sunny spring days.  I only spent 45 minutes shopping, but felt like I had seriously scored by the end of it.

Stripy Stretch Hoody from Title Nine

If you have a Title Nine store near you, I recommend starting there for your bathing suit shopping. If not, check out their web site or catalog – their returns policy is reasonable and they carry much more online than they do in the store. Their sizing is pretty straightforward (my real life size matches their sizing in bathing suits). Their stuff is geared toward active pursuits like sporting or adventure travel – which I think describes the average day of a mom with young kids. Their prints are fun and colorful, and their fit is made to stay put, which really makes a difference – even if we’re not surfing or playing beach volleyball like the toned and tanned models in the catalog, our bodies are in motion all day long. Whether it’s splashing the kids in the water, bending over to make sand castles, or lugging piles of beach toys to and from the car, we need all the cooperation we can get from our swimwear (even if we can’t get it from our kids).

UPDATE: As of 8/1/12, The items listed above are on sale at Titlenine.com – if you’ve been waiting for the prices to drop, now’s the time to act! (The hoodie is sold out in the color on this post, but there are other colors still available. The tankini comes in two other colors and all are still available.)

Go, Go, Pants

1 May

A few weeks ago, I wrote about an easy method for finding the items of “deadwood” in your closet. In the process, I uncovered a black pair of black skinny capris from Target, which hung in my closet unworn all of last summer, despite the fact that black pants should pretty much “go with everything.”  I found them quite by chance at Target for about $30 while picking up some plastic bins and Kleenex for the household. Score! I thought. At that price,  it wasn’t hard to spend another $30 on taking in the waist (something I have come to accept as a necessity with my body shape).

But, after coming home from the tailor, the pants sat in my closet. And sat, and sat. During my recent closet clean-out, I told myself it was because the fabric was too light for winter (Target pants are notoriously thin, in my experience). Then warmer weather started to appear, and I still passed them over. Using the hanger trick described in my recent post, I was confronted with the reality that I was resisting wearing these pants – they were the last pair to remain unworn. With an open mind, I chose a warm-ish day to put them on. After going through the day in them, I realized why I had been resisting wearing them. I just didn’t feel good wearing them.

It wasn’t the fit – I had them tailored to my exact body type. The fabric was cotton with a bit of stretch for ease of movement, and nothing was obviously itchy or uncomfortable. They were reasonably flattering. Still, I felt like I was trapped in them, and couldn’t wait to take them off. What went wrong between now and the fitting room at Target?

I had a careful look in the mirror and realized what it was. The closure loop at the waist was straining, making it look like my middle was bursting open. Because I had these pants tailored to my exact body type, and they didn’t feel gut-binding, I realized that they suffered from poor construction; the fabric was too lightweight to carry the strain of the closure, and the tab wanted to separate from the pants. Cheap pants! I cursed. Even though I could explain away the problem without blaming the size of my midsection, every time I looked down at my bursting closure, I got the feeling that my body was the source of the problem. Before Kids, I thought, these pants would not have given me a problem. 

{Now imagine me with a dark cloud hanging over my head.}

The Black Capri Pants Disaster

Disaster?

Well, there was just one thing to do about that. I only hesitated a moment before chucking them into the give-away pile. Yes, $60 is a lot to pay for a pair of pants you only wear once. But the money is spent, and now I have a choice to make. Berate myself every time I put them on for my thick middle, or make the problem go away.  Isn’t the choice pretty clear?  What would you tell your girlfriend to do? Battered women must choose whether to stay in an abusive relationship or cut bait.  Well, sister, we wouldn’t live with a man who insults your body type, so why should we put up with a pair of pants that does?

I am sure there’s another pair of black capri pants waiting for me that will love me more than those cheap old pants. Even if I was hoping the relationship would last longer, it’s always better to look ahead than try to put energy into a direction that has no future. The hardest thing, of course, is feeling the sting of my mistake, and admit that this love affair was over before it started. But that’s ok, nobody walks a straight path in life, we all make mistakes. Buying a bad pair of pants certainly doesn’t rate up there with running a ponzi scheme, or sailing an Italian pleasure boat too close to the shoreline.

Disaster!

Keeping my pants-buying failure in perspective, I put  the old (new) pants on the curb with the other Goodwill stuff, happily imagining someone out there getting a brand new pair of pants for cheap.

As for buying pants from Target – part of me says, Never again – My booty deserves better! Part of me can’t resist the temptation that I’ll find another good deal. I’ll definitely proceed more cautiously now, and perhaps opt for the casual pants with the elastic waist. (I have a $25 pair of baggy linen Merona pants from Target that have already lasted me for several years.)

So, there are two lessons here:

1) When shopping cheaply, it’s hard to go wrong buying pants that are styled like pajamas. For pants with a more tailored fit, it probably makes sense to shell out a bit more for a better quality product.

2) Never, ever, keep anything in your closet that causes a black cloud to appear over your head and follow you around wherever you go. Put that thing away at once. (In other words –  it’s not you, it’s the pants. It’s always the pants.)

My Closet, Reimagined

19 Apr

In my last post, I discovered that sometimes the stuff in my closet is not so old and boring after all, when combined in new ways. Here are a few more strategies I have been using to breathe new life into my wardrobe. I am using these pics to illustrate the point, but of course I only wish these were my clothes! They are street style shots photographed by Elle in Paris at Fashion Week and elsewhere. (If you click on the image, skip the Elle.com ad and go to the full slide show of photos for more inspiration.) The point is not to copy the look wholesale, but if you squint your eyes, maybe you can imagine your own version of these trends, using stuff that’s already hanging in your own closet.

Layering

layered-knits

Ordinary items can look very new again if combined artfully. Biker gloves and sequin pants don't have a place in my closet at the moment, but a little patent leather and a little sparkle never hurt an outfit that I know of.

Electric Color: I haven’t sprung for this much electric color at once, but I do have a few electric tank tops from the Gap that I am layering under other tops and showing just an edge of bright color.

Somehow this lady pulls off wearing electric blue pants with ease. If kids love bright colors, shouldn't we? What bright color are you going to try this season?

Another take on electric blue. The grey coat with soft texture really tones it down pleasantly.

White on Neutral: I’m pretty scared to white around my kids, but it makes sense to me if you’re going to wear it, wear it on top, out of reach of dirty hands. A clean white shirt feels so luxurious to me, I might just opt for that on me next date night.

all-white-ensemble photographed by Elle

Here's one way to wear white - multiple white layers, grey pants and a black accessory. (I love to imagine what shoes you could wear with this outfit- anything from Converse high tops to wedge boots would work.)

Color on Color: Our kids aren’t afraid of bright colors, whether painting with them, wearing them, or eating them. An outfit with a great combination of colors has instant appeal. When asking yourself if two colors look good together, I always go with my gut, even if the answer isn’t immediately obvious to others. After all, there’s no reason getting dressed shouldn’t be fun.

Is there such a thing as being too old to wear green nail polish?

Neon: There’s nothing like a pop-of-80’s-neon to liven up a neutral top and pant. I’ve seen neon on everything from T-shirts to shoelaces, but I use it sparingly because don’t like the color to be overpowering.  

A-pop-of-neon photographed by Elle at Fashion Week

One way to tone down a slightly garish pattern is to show just a peep of it. Also, a-pop-of-neon bag livens up a neutral top and pants.

Sweater with Bold Print: I don’t have a chunky sweater with stars on it, but this photo makes me wish I did.

Even the brown paper bag in the other hand can't take away from the freshness of this outfit. I love how the orange bag brings out the warm tones of the stars in her sweater. I also love the pairing of a**-kicking boots with a preppy tweed vest.

Easygoing Leather: It’s not cheap, but a good leather jacket can last for decades, and can take on a range of personalities. It’s warm too! I got one last year with simple styling, and I am not afraid of getting it dirty, because I can wipe it clean with a damp cloth. (And dark colors hide dirt well.)

Wait! Here's an outfit that I could actually imagine wearing as-is.

Boots with Skirts: Just a reminder that boots don’t just go with pants – I love boots so much they probably deserve their own blog post. I keep mine waterproof by taking it to the shoe place for waterproofing at the beginning and end of every rainy season. I don’t mind if my boots take a beating – unlike with more delicate shoes, it only adds to their character. (I do avoid suede boots for kid-related activities because they age less gracefully than standard leather.)

Boots with Skirt

Sometimes pairing opposites like clunky boots and delicate skirts can make for a fun contrast.

Just for Fun

Let's play dress up

I can't imagine what you could take away from this photo, other than, "Ouch, those shoes look like they hurt." On the other hand, my 3 year old daughter would love to play dress up with that skirt (which appears to come straight out of the remnant bin at Joanne Fabrics.)

Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained: Not every outfit has staying power. This one should probably have stayed in the closet – though without taking risks, you might miss out on creating the outfits you end up loving the most!

Sarah-Rutson puffy vest

I was really glad to see the sporty puffer vest featured as a haute couture item on Elle.com - I pretty much live in mine, though I don't wear it with platform ankle boots and a trippy Native American long john pant.

Last Look: Are moms cool enough to pull this off?

Sandals with socks

The caption to this photo on Elle's site is "Keep your spring sandals in rotation year-round by pairing them with thin cashmere socks." My caption for moms (or anyone over 30) would be, "Don't try this look at home, because on anyone but hipsters in their 20s, this look is reminiscent of wearing socks with your Birkenstocks." (Then again, what do I know, I wasn't the one photographed for Elle.com, was I?)

Overall, I am impressed by how wearable these looks are by us regular folks on the street – putting aside the pricey handbags, on the whole they seem quite achievable with ordinary wardrobe items. There is very little fuss visible in putting these outfits together, especially considering these ladies are among the who’s-who of the fashion world. Rather than conforming to the latest trends, they look like they are having fun expressing themselves through clothes – which is really the point of all this, isn’t it?

Free closet help (really!)

16 Apr

I discovered a really cool closet trick that I’ve been meaning to post about, but I have had writers block from seeking an interesting way to introduce it. So, in order to get the idea up quickly, allow me to skip the intro and get right to the meat of the discovery. Maybe you will appreciate it on the day before income taxes are due – who couldn’t use a little closet help without spending more money.

The idea came from something I read online someplace (if I remember where, I will update this post with the credit) and it goes something like this:

It’s pretty clear that a closet cleared of clutter serves the owner much better than a closet full of unappealing or ill-fitting stuff. Yet, the problem is finding the time to get it organized.  Well, now you don’t have to set aside special time to do it, if you follow this handy little trick.

Image

After you wear something, hang it back up in your closet with the hanger backwards. Try to wear everything at least once, before wearing the items again with the hanger turned around already. After a few weeks, you will have identified the stuff that you’re not wearing, which you now need to take a closer look at.

The clothes that are left unworn will probably fit into these categories –

1) Don’t like anymore -> Get rid of it. Give away to charity, offer it to a friend, sell it, or go to a clothing exchange. (I always have a plastic bag in my closet that I am filling up with stuff to give away.)

2) Doesn’t fit -> If it can be fixed by tailoring, create a pile for “take to tailor”. Otherwise, let it go into the “get rid of” pile. (Caveat: If you are within one year of having given birth, cut yourself some slack, but put away what you’re not wearing and pull it out again in a few months. The point is to only leave stuff in your closet that you are actually wearing *now*).

3) Out of season -> Box up and put into the garage/ attic/ storage space until the weather changes.

4) Need something to wear with it -> Start a “wish list” of what item you are missing to go with it, whether it’s a matching top, bottom, shoes, belt or bra.  Keep the list somewhere in your closet with a pen nearby, so that you can add to it easily, as inspiration strikes. When filling in the gaps, shop your closet first, and encourage yourself to re-imagine wearing something with it that you already own. (Pick up a good fashion mag like InStyle or Elle for some inspiration about unexpected combinations that work, like below. I’m not saying you need to wear avant-garde runway looks to the playground, but don’t be afraid to go a little outside your comfort zone.)  And next time you go shopping, take your “wish list” with you.

Elle magazine spring collection

Check out a fashion mag like Elle magazine for inspiration; sometimes combining two patterns and textures can look fresh and inspired.

By sticking to this system for about three weeks, I freed up about half of my closet by putting away the stuff that was not being worn. After filling a large box with stuff for warmer weather, and another bag for give-away, I was looking at a closet full of stuff I could actually wear. Now, looking at my closet doesn’t start a panic attack – getting dressed is faster, feels better, and I can get creative with new combinations.

Street style photographed by Elle magazine

Orange and burgundy? Consider re-imagining color combinations in your wardrobe, in any way that feels right for you.

I haven’t applied the weeding out to the folded part of my closet, but I think the same technique should work, if I start with an empty drawer and only put the stuff I’ve worn in there, leaving the questionables behind to be sorted out.

Why I love this approach:

1) it points honestly to the “deadwood” in your closet – either it’s been worn or it hasn’t

2) it has inspired me to find ways to wear the stuff I was passing over before

3) it has caused me to feel grateful for the stuff I already own

4) I did this at my own pace and felt no time pressure to complete the task – you can take as much time as you need to get to the end result.

Because I stopped wearing the same three pairs of jeans every week, I got myself out of a fashion rut. I even got myself to wear a skirt, and realized with tights and boots on colder days, I really enjoyed it. When I found something missing a top or bottom to go with it, I reconsidered which colors and patterns could go together. You might be thinking “uh oh”, but it doesn’t mean you have to look like a kid dressing themselves for the first time.  Most moms I know (myself included) could stand a little kick of color in their wardrobe – and certain bright colors are very “now”. (Even neon and printed pants are making a comeback, with 1980’s flair, though I don’t think I am ready to go there just yet.)

Printed pants are making a comeback from the 80's

With all the 80's trends being revived lately, it was just a matter of time before pants with patterns made their comeback. I'm going to stay on the sidelines for that trend, at least for now. (Fashion week in Paris, 2012)

I am especially loving yellow, coral and turquoise, as a promise of the warmer, sunnier weather soon to come. And for the stuff I wasn’t wearing because I didn’t have the right shoes, I took the time to pull out all the shoes I had, and, looky here – I had forgotten about several pairs which actually filled the gap.

Next month, when Uncle Sam isn’t knocking on my door, looking to get paid, I may take my  own “wish list” and hit the stores. But then again, I am liking the challenge of trying to shop my own closet for everything I am missing – because I am convinced, as I let go of my own rules, I am bound to make even more new discoveries of what to wear inside my own closet. You might even say where creativity leads, inspiration follows. Or something like that.

I Am Sparkle Princess

3 Mar

I am sure anyone reading this post has noticed that metallic shoes are “in” right now, in shades of silver, gold, copper, etc. When this trend first appeared a few seasons ago, I rolled my eyes and avoided it, as it reminded me too much of Vegas, or else of country club ladies who lunch with little fluffy dogs in their lap.

Metallic Pump

I can't decide who is likelier to wear a shoe like this: Cinderella, or a Vegas Showgirl?

Recently, though, I have started to come around to the playful side of metallic, thanks to my 3-year old daughter. She fell in love with a silver pair of Mary Janes and wore them into the ground (no thanks to Old Navy quality, which didn’t even last long enough for her to outgrow them). The point is that she enjoys feeling fancy and is not shy to show them off to visitors or to checkout clerks in the grocery store. She loves her princess shoes, and fully expects others to love them as she does. She simply loves the way she looks in them, without any self-consciousness.

Watching her shamelessly pointing out her beautiful shoes to strangers, it became clear to me that even though I don’t plan to wear a tutu skirt in public anytime soon, her attitude is a path to freedom for me and moms everywhere.  I realized that dressing up for her and for adults is not that different. She is channeling her inner fairy princess, and I am channeling my inner carefree bohemian urbanite, even though my real life bears very little resemblance to the person I dress up as on some days. (Case in point: sometimes my day includes chasing a runaway turd escaping from a diaper.)

Sorry for that reference. I hope you’re not reading this while eating lunch. Anyway, at a recent Macy’s sale I came across a pair of greyish-copper flats by Clarks (below). Shelving my own prejudices for the moment, I tried them on, and discovered they had a very comfortable sole. Sold! With a skirt, they look dainty and feminine, and with jeans, they add some casual chic. And for about $45, they were a no-brainer even if I get tired of them by the end of summer. Suddenly I belong to an unspoken sisterhood with other wearers of metallic shoes. Although I don’t call attention to my shoes in the checkout line of the grocery store. I wait for the sisterhood to notice my shoes and pay a compliment. 😉

Clarks Metallic Flats

Ok, I confess: Sometimes, I enjoy wearing sparkly shoes like my 3-year old daughter.

I think the key to wearing metallic is to have fun with it, and only wear it if the look tickles your fancy. To avoid looking like you came from a princess dress-up party, avoid wearing too much sparkle at once (I would avoid a matching handbag or a belt, or too much bling elsewhere, for example). Though of course, don’t expect your daughter to respect this rule. As you probably know, there there is no such thing as “too much sparkle” for any girl under 10 years old.

Just as I am finishing this post, the weather is turning sunny and warm in Northern California, with daffodils busting out of the ground everywhere. I guess it’s pretty clear that I should finally put away the Christmas decor this weekend. On the other hand, if the weather is good, forget tidying up the house – we’re taking the family to the beach. If no one in my house has noticed that the Christmas decorations are still up past Valentines Day, they probably won’t say anything if they make it to St Patrick’s Day either.

___

Worth mentioning: The products and companies I am featuring in this post are of my own choosing – I have no relationships with the companies or products that I spotlight.  If that ever changes, I’ll be sure to post a disclaimer to that effect.  It’s not that I have anything against receiving products to review – it would enable me to give more firsthand performance reviews. After all, there are only so many pairs of metallic shoes a woman can justify to her skeptical husband. 🙂

Discovering the Upscale T-shirt

25 Jul

I’ve been shopping at Target, Gap, and Old Navy for t-shirts for as long as I can remember. Why not – they are conveniently located, cheap, and when I see a color in a style that I like, I don’t think too hard about buying it. I wear it to bed, to the gym, and around town. It’s a no-brainer wardrobe item in the morning – paired with jeans and a hoodie or cardigan, it makes getting dressed effortless.

gap favorite tshirt

Gap's Favorite T-shirt is an economical and reliable layering piece. Yawn.

So what’s the problem? Well, the plain t-shirt is a bit like eating popcorn for lunch. It’s not that it’s bad for you, but if consumed in excess, it doesn’t leave room for more satisfying options. That’s how I recently found myself in a t-shirt fashion rut.

Seeking inspiration, I recently wandered into a boutique in downtown Palo Alto, enigmatically named GV, which keeps irregular store hours but carries a wonderfully edited selection of fashionable clothes sourced mostly from Paris and LA. Golrukh, the store’s owner and sole staffer, prides herself on scouring the fashion trade shows to bring her clients the freshest looks every season.  The store has the intimate feel of a Parisian clothing atelier – dimly lit, with just a little bit of this and that, from casual to evening wear, complete with a tasteful display of high-end underwear. The salesperson is tactful and attentive. Although I enjoyed looking at myself in the mirror wearing $180 haute couture jeans, strategically ripped and distressed, I passed on them after remembering that just about every pair of jeans I own are already stained or otherwise compromised by the demands of motherhood. After a few suggestions from Golrukh, though, I did fall in love with an $80 long sleeve cotton tunic by Nation Ltd.

nation ltd white tunic

In search of a more stylish alternative to t-shirt dressing, I paid $80 for a comfy, well-cut cotton tunic.

The irony of paying $80 for a t-shirt, after I had come into the store looking for a t-shirt alternative, does not escape me. So what gives? Well, these shirts have several upgrades from the basic model:

Feel: the light, gauzy all-cotton fabric is welcoming from the moment I put it on – it feels like something I could live in around the clock (although I don’t, to preserve its life span).

Cut: this top sits snugly below the hip, allowing ease of movement without looking baggy. The neckline is generous enough to flatter the neck and collarbone without being too baggy. It can be worn loose or belted.

Texture: the “burnout” semi-sheer fabric feels airy and feminine, and has more visual depth than solid cotton.

Color: I sprung for the shirt in white, as well as a shade of regal turquoise that makes my skin glow.

Golrukh is a great sales person. When she saw my hesitation with the price tag, she pointed out that a lot of busy moms choose these tops because “it’s the shirt you’ll wear day after day”. So far, she has been right – I reach for it every chance I get, especially the one in turquoise. (I am still afraid to wear white for anything but occasions that exclude children, but at least I know I have at least one clean white shirt in the closet when such an occasion arises.)

Golrukh also left me with a valuable bit of advice, worth passing along: even though these shirts are more expensive than the stuff you normally wear, she says, “Don’t save them for a special occasion. Wear them. Don’t worry if they cost a little more. Just wear them.” I thought about that, and decided to agree with her – it does not make sense to buy clothes you love, only to put them away in the closet waiting for that special occasion that happens all too rarely. So I decided to treat myself to a little everyday luxury in the form of an $80 t-shirt.

And has the theory proven out, do my $80 t-shirt days feel a little more special? Was it worth blowing my month’s clothing budget in a single shot? In a small way, yes – on my fancy t-shirt days, I pause to think about what shoes or pants to pair with the top, rather than picking up yesterday’s pants off the floor like a college student. The opportunity to wear a belt opens up fun possibilities as well. I treat my $80 t-shirt with extra love – I don’t put it in the dryer, and I try to hang it instead of stuffing it on the shelf with my other low-brow t-shirts. It feels good to wear something that has been well taken care of.

Despite all this devotion, it’s showing signs of wear – perhaps because the material is less beefy than a standard t-shirt, and perhaps because designers, like the Maytag man, don’t want their wares to last forever, to bring you back to the store to buy some more. And because the glow is fading, this love affair has a finite life span, limited by the power of the shirt to continue looking fabulous in the face of a full toddler assault. I am glad I turned the flirtation in the dressing room to a full-fledged fling, but it’s not going to last. When the sleeve finally snags on a tree branch, or my lap lands a stain that just won’t budge, the magic will be gone, and I will return to my stack of tried and true Target t-shirts. I will fondly remember my days with the $80 t-shirt, but when it’s time to update my wardrobe again, I’ll check Target and Gap first – chances are, a few seasons from now, they’ll have a pretty darn good knock-off.

Momma, let’s go swimming!

11 Jul

Summer has been my favorite season as long as I can remember – whether it’s for long days with nothing to do, getting wet, or frequent ice cream breaks.  Unfortunately, anyone who puts on their bathing suit after giving birth to a baby will have a reminder of their pregnancy belly staring back at them in the mirror. It’s been six summers since the birth of my first baby, but even though I am happy with my overall weight and fitness level, my fanny still won’t fit into my old bikini bottom.  After five years of searching, though, I think I’ve finally arrived at a reasonable middle ground between showing too much skin and covering up with a sack.

For the first summer post-baby, I got away with wearing my $25 maternity bathing suit from Target- I was just a month or two postpartum and the thought of going bathing suit shopping while breastfeeding seemed very daunting indeed. (It was a great value – I’ll secretly admit that I still wear the bottoms sometimes.)

maternity swimwear by Target

Two summers after giving birth, I was still wearing maternity swimwear to the pool with my toddler.

The following summer, I found myself reaching for my maternity swimsuit, even though my little darling was now walking and talking. I realized it was time to explore some age-appropriate bathing suit styles (which, incidentally, I would not be caught dead in my younger days, when I was hip and hanging out on the beach with my friends).  I tossed my pride aside in an effort to conquer my largest figure challenges – more ample hips and a wider, less firm midsection. I tried a one-piece bathing suit at Lands End which looked cute on the model – it had some shirring and pattern to help define the waistline – however, the bathing suit fit so tightly that it has ended up abandoned on the bottom of the swimwear drawer.  I think my problem may be my long torso, but there’s nothing like trying to squeeze into a bathing suit to make me feel deflated even before stepping foot outdoors.

Lands End One piece

Lands End offers many figure-friendly styles for post-baby bodies. Sadly, I couldn't make the fit work for me.

I also started getting catalogs from Athleta, an activewear company with a broad selection of swimwear. Their models are toned and muscular and look like they’re putting their swimwear to the test- so I finally sprung for a two-piece and swim skirt, on sale. (It’s always easier for me to take a fashion risk when the cost of entry is lower.)

Altheta's Swim Skirt provides extra coverage for modesty and ease of movement

Much to my surprise, the swim skirt was cute and didn’t make me feel like I was headed to the geriatric water walking class at the YMCA. Not that I don’t love active grandmas – I’m just not ready to be counted among them.

Now that my hips were covered, I still had my top half to contend with. (I’m going to leave aside the topic of my sinking bust for now – I think that deserves its own post on another day when I’ve had a bit more to drink with dinner.)  So there I was, looking for some extra coverage for my belly. As someone who spent their childhood summers at the beach, wearing a bikini felt very natural. However, the woman looking back at me in the mirror didn’t correspond to my self-image, which was formed when I was buying junior size clothes. And that’s how I came to love the tankini.

Carve Designs tankini

The tankini was a great compromise for my desire to wear a two-piece with the reality of a post-baby figure.

The tankini is a two-piece bathing suit with a long tank top that skims or covers the midsection. Because the pieces are often sold separately, it’s easy to fit a post-baby body. (For example, my first tankini purchase consisted of a size Small top and a size Medium bottom.) The coverage is reassuring, but it’s still more youthful and fun than that one-piece with a tummy tamer which makes me feel like an old person.

My other genius swimwear discovery – swim shorts – happened quite by accident. It’s not a secret among women who surf, paddle or play beach volleyball – but I’m hardly living the life of those Altheta models! (Though it does look nice. Surf in the morning, bike downtown for an organic salad for lunch, a centering yoga session in the afternoon.)

Athleta Model

Even though I don't live the life on an Athleta model, it's nice to know they design clothes for an active lifestyle.

Before kids, my husband and I liked to go snorkeling in tropical places. After coming home with a sunburned rear end one too many times, I finally purchased a pair of swim shorts to protect myself from the sun.  I generally reserved them for long days in the tropics, but one day at home while I was headed out to the pool with my toddler, I realized that I had – um – not made myself presentable for bikini bottoms so I threw on the swim shorts over my bathing suit.  Instant freedom! I could move and bend easily while carrying a baby and our loads of towels and pool gear, and although it wasn’t a huge fashion statement, the board shorts style had its own casual surfer-inspired relaxed cool.

I didn’t rush out to buy more swim shorts – instead, I got back on a regular exercise routine, determined to maybe fit into my old bathing suits before too long. Then I got pregnant again, delivered a second child, and continued to work out twice a week until I got back to a pants size that I could live with.

One day, I ended up at a Patagonia store and discovered a swim short that is now my staple swim wardrobe item – the Meridian Board Short. It’s stretchy, flattering, easy to get on and off, and very functional. The length is perfect, providing enough coverage while keeping a feminine silhouette. It dries quickly and is wearing great, it still looks like new one busy swim season later.

Patagonia Meridian Board Shorts

You don't have to be a surfer to wear these shorts - and they look cute in or out of the water.

I liked my Patagonia swim short so much, I went back to Title Nine to see if they may have something similar. Their shorts don’t have the same fit, either too tight or too loose, but I did find a great swimsuit brand that seems to fit better than all the rest – Carve Designs. I bought a great tankini top in a fun pattern and comfortable cut on sale, which I have been living in all summer. I only wish Carve Designs were more widely available in retail stores so I could add to my collection. Meanwhile, I will have to continue to ogle their online offerings – which are a bit cumbersome to browse, but for well-fitting tops and bottoms, it may be worth the effort (and they offer a reasonable return policy).

Patagonia shortie boardie

Shorter and sweet - Patagonia's Shortie Boardie is another option for extra coverage in the water

Incidentally, after falling in love with the Patagonia swim shorts, I went by the store to see if I could pick up another color. They sent me two different pairs in the same size which fit as though they were a size smaller – a good reminder that even a high-quality clothing manufacturer like Patagonia has to contend with inconsistencies in production.  This year, I sprang for a shorter, patterned swim short which I was terrified would be too short, but ended up being surprisingly flattering as well: TheShortie Boardie.

I even sprang for a matching bikini (I recommend wearing bikini bottoms under swim shorts for comfort and modesty).

Patagonia's Kupala top

The Kupala top stays put thanks to adjustable ties that cross in the back.

Patagonia Sunamee Bottoms

Judging by the fact that more swim shorts are in the stores than ever before, it seems that I’m not the only woman (mother or not) who appreciates the benefits of swim shorts.

Now, when I’m putting on my swim clothes, I refuse to curse the figure flaws of my post-baby self.  Yes, I still tend to suck in my tummy when I look in the mirror, but only for  a second – then I get on with my day, and have fun in the pool with my kids. My bathing suit stands up to two active kids hanging on me in the pool, but years from now, we won’t remember what I was wearing – we’ll remember the carefree, bright and easy feeling of summer.

Leggings – liberating dresses everywhere

29 Jan prana moxie dress

I exercise twice a week, and on those mornings, it’s hard to know what to wear.  I don’t feel fully dressed wearing only gym clothes, but I would rather not lug an extra change of clothes around on the way to class. Lord knows moms lug way too much random stuff around already. (The back seat of my car usually contains enough random stuff to fill an entire shopping cart — kids’ jackets and hats, sippy cups, empty reusable grocery bags, books, crayons, twigs, stones and other “treasures” my son picked off the driveway).  So on my exercise days, I put on black stretchy pants and my cami that I will exercise in, and build the rest of my outfit from there.

Nowadays, I see a lot of young ladies wearing fitness type leggings in place of regular pants. Reminds me of how I used to dress in 7th grade. However, I (and my rear end) have long since graduated high school, and I feel comfortable with more coverage. For a while, I struggled to find a top long enough to cover the behind; even tunic-length tops feel like I am trying to pull off a miniskirt – which isn’t really the look I am going for. One exercise day, it occurred to me to try on one of the long-neglected dresses I had hanging in my closet. Revelation! An outfit is born.

Before kids, I always thought of dresses as reserved for special occasions. In grade school, I was the girl who wore shorts to school every day so I could swing on the monkey bars and turn cartwheels easily. At my first real job after college, I wore pants as often as I could to avoid a “Sharon Stone moment” while sitting at my desk.

Sharon Stone's famous miniskirt in Basic Instinct

It may be sexy in a movie, but sitting while wearing a skirt doesn't really work well when taking care of small children.

As a single woman living in the city, I chose black pants over dresses; they seemed too fussy, and I never really loved showing off my legs. After having kids, dresses only came out on special nights out with my husband. Even if I could find a washable fabric that had enough coverage, dresses seemed incompatible with essential mommy activities like nursing, climbing a playground structure, and sitting on the floor modestly.

Turns out, now that the nursing phase is over, dresses have found a place in my wardrobe, paired with leggings. Leggings address my below-the-waist modesty concerns, and also add a layer of warmth during the cooler months. They also make outfit picking totally brainless, since it’s a top and bottom in one. That comes in awfully handy at 6:30am when I have 5 minutes to put myself together.

Dresses have become much more mom-compatible, too; companies designing clothes for travel and athletics, such as Patagonia and Athleta, are making well-cut designs from stretchy, easy-care fabrics. (Athleta has even dubbed a category of clothing that works over leggings which they call “Yoga To Fro™.) My closet now contains at least 4 dresses that work well for active day with the kids.  So what do I look for when dress-shopping?

1) Coverage around the arms and neckline, and a skirt length to just above the knee, to make sure I am comfortable in all the athletic pursuits of motherhood – for example, lugging a toddler while carrying her baby doll and 2 bags of groceries, or bending over to pick up yet another toy off the floor without fearing that the nearest person can see down my shirt.

2) A flattering cut, comfortably executed. The dress should define my features (waist, arms, chest, hips, etc) without pinching or tugging. Ease of movement is a must. No Spanx required – it should make me look good without needing to suck in my belly.

3) A darker color (or a pattern) in a machine washable fabric – because I never know when a stray meatball in tomato sauce will land in my lap.

It turns out, quite a few companies are making dresses that fit the bill. My go-to stores at the moment are:

Patagonia, Boden, Garnet Hill,  Title Nine, and Athleta.

(If you have any other favorites, feel free to post them in the comments section below.)

The best thing about wearing a dress is that it feels like cheating – in a single piece of clothing, you have an entire outfit – no thinking required. If I can throw on a necklace or earrings, I can even manage to look “put together” with very little effort. And with a casual dress, finding shoes is easy because I can get away with boots, flats, or even lightweight, trendy sneakers.

My favorite toddler-compatible dress at the moment (which I happen to be wearing as I write this) is by Prana, a yoga clothing company that expanded into casual clothes.  I bought it at Title Nine in the Fall of 2010, but it doesn’t seem to be available anymore (the sales clerk said it was selling out quickly in the stores.) That’s ok, because there are plenty of similar ones out there.

 

Prana Moxie Dress from Title Nine

This stretchy dress by Prana is fun and easy to wear, and paired with leggings, can easily go from playground to civilized indoor pursuits.

This dress is super comfortable and stretchy, and the long sleeves add warmth. The pattern is plucky and adds a splash of color without any effort. It cost about $70, and will go from Fall to Spring without a problem.

Not so tight fitness pant from Title Nine

The "Not so tight fitness pant" from Title Nine costs over $50, but the easy, curve-hugging fit makes it my favorite pair of leggings.

Leggings are easy to find too – they are very trendy right now. I am wearing boot cut yoga pants at the moment for extra warmth, but slim, cropped leggings will work well with sandals as the weather warms up. They are available at a range of stores, from Target to The Gap to fancy athletic stores. I have found that the cheapest pants ($10 or less at Target or Old Navy) are not worth buying; they have a thin fabric which lose its shape faster. But after $20, it’s hard to tell the difference – the only difference between those and my $50 leggings is slightly better fit. If you want to add some leggings to your wardrobe that go from gym to playground, Title Nine or Athleta is a great place to begin your search. Both offer inexpensive of free shipping with minimum purchase. The Gap is a good option if you want to try on instead of buying online.

The only problem with wearing dresses at the moment is that my closet does not have enough room to acquire more. I guess it might be time to undertake another closet clean out, because there seems to be no shortage of cute, affordable and wearable dresses out there – and now that I can “childproof” them with leggings, I know I’ll keep putting them on in the morning, whether I am feeling dressy or just need to throw something on and get out the door.

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