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Giving the Gift of Fashion: Dos and Don’ts

Although the other 99.9999% of people will be giving out electronics or gift cards this year, I can’t help but give my favorite things:  clothes, accessories and jewelry.  The question is, how do you give something that won’t wind up in the ‘return’ pile?

With a few basic guidelines, I guarantee your gift will be loved instead of grimaced at this holiday season.


-Stick with an item that can’t be “the wrong size.” Some great ideas are scarves, gloves (fingerless ones are trendy and can be worn indoors), and long necklaces.  When looking at scarves and gloves, stick with something that isn’t strictly outerwear.  Buy a scarf that is beautiful instead of a chunky, utilitarian knit one.  Choose the long glove that looks like something from a glamorous 1930s movie instead of a box of Isotoners.  If you decide to buy jewelry, a long necklace can’t fail.  There is no chance it will be too tight or uncomfortable, and the item can be worn all year round.

-Try a purse or handbag. The trick here is to select a small, simple bag of good quality.  Go for a small, basic black designer bag over the larger, more flamboyant, cheaper brand.  A Cole Haan clutch will be appreciated as a gift much more than an entire set of hideous Kohl’s luggage.  Just don’t go so small that you wind up buying the key chain.  No one wants a key chain for Xmas.

-Buy handmade for grown-ups only. Let’s face it, anyone under 18 isn’t going to appreciate the uniqueness of a handcrafted item.  I strongly encourage everyone to try handmade items this year.  They are trendy, likely to have value in the future, and can be purchased at a bargain.  Just don’t buy one for your tween-age niece.  Kids of a certain age just want to look like everyone else, literally.  Give the one-of-a-kind items to the mature people who can appreciate them.

-Shop the special edition makeup sets. There are ridiculous deals on makeup sets released for the holidays, and many of them are not only good for almost anyone but also adorable.  A big make-up set in a cool case is to young women what Legos are to first graders:  just fun.  Fun to own, fun to look at, fun to get as a gift.  Grab them up right before Xmas for the best values–these items are meant to move, and make-up doesn’t stay good once unwrapped and put out on the floor of Bath and Body Works.


-Buy anyone a hat.  Ever. It’s a simple fact of probability that most people look goofy in most hats.  Everyone looks good in one, maybe two specific styles of hat.  Unless you know the head of another person intimately, the likelihood of grabbing the right one from a rack at Urban Outfitters is almost nil.  Combine this with low incentive to exchange or return a hat, and what you have is potentially the worst gift of all:  an eyesore that has no place in one’s home or even on one’s chore list.

-Buy pajamas as a gift.  Ever. By ‘pajamas’ I mean the flannel-esque long, patterned pant with drawstring waist and ersatz t-shirt accompaniment.  These are fine for parents to give their children to shut them up on Xmas eve.  As for any other situation, I offer the following three words:  lamest gift ever.

-Buy any holiday-themed garment.  Ever. This is kind of a no-brainer, but I know that somewhere lurks within each frazzled, mall imprisoned mind the kernel of thought that it is acceptable to purchase a garment as a holiday gift because (said garment) is adorned with snowmen, reindeer, Santa, kittens, or some other festive insignia.  No one wants that ugly sweater.  Even your grandma doesn’t want that thing.  She wears them to mock you.  If you find yourself grabbing for one, stop immediately and seek sustenance at the nearest food court.  You need fluids, and possibly fries, STAT.

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Wardrobe Essentials: Handmade Fashion

Handmade, one-of-a-kind jewelry, handbags, accessories, even garments, are in a renaissance.  Not only are more and more artists selling individual pieces instead of mass producing them, the whole culture of artists, shops, and DIY is on fire.  Mixing an item made by an artist and not in a factory into one’s wardrobe is not just a trendy thing to do right now;  if you select a piece with quality construction that you genuinely love, you’ll be getting comments and “OMG, where did you get that??” on that same item when you’re ninety.

Buying wearable art is not a trend.  It is a statement that no one outgrows, leaves behind, or looks back at with embarrassed anguish (tight-rolled jeans, the ‘Flashdance’ look, fabrics that catch fire if stared at for too long, you get the idea).  It can, however, be intimidating or confusing to purchase.

Much of this comes from the concept of “crafting” as “lifestyle.”  Sorry, lots of quotes going on here.  I have a distaste for activities promoted as how to attain a desirable lifestyle one lacks, and an even stronger distaste for the term ‘craft.’  There are no crafters; only artists.  Just because an item is practical doesn’t mean it can’t be art.  In fact, in our world of disposable goods, practical art can be an antidote to the dull, endless cycle of buying and replacing the same old designs.  Don’t be discouraged by the ‘too-cool-for-school’ counter-culture of crafting, and don’t blame the artists, either.  Any trend attracts its share of posers.  The truth is, however, the actual artists do have a vested interest in what they do.  Otherwise, they wouldn’t finish any projects and instead just loiter around hipster hideouts carrying a record in one hand and a laptop in the other.

If you want to try your hand at making something yourself, DO IT!  Women today are busy.  We work.  We have mile-long lists of things to keep track of:  meetings, appointments, relatives, sleep.  So don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t turn your entire life into owning an Etsy shop.  Don’t think you must dedicate more time than you have, either.  The whole point of making something is to enjoy it.  Lord knows, there are enough things in life we must put up with.  Style, clothes, make-up, a craft kit:  these are the fun bits.  If you don’t care for any aspect, you can and should just walk away.  It’s your time, your life, and your look.

Now, on a slightly separate note, how do you find other artists’ hand made items to purchase?  Although I realize that the online shops are convenient, I am personally asking you, from the bottom of my Fash reMash heart, to see if you can buy local before turning to the global marketplace.  Is there a boutique in your area that sells hand crafted items?  Are there any art galleries that sell home furnishings or other cool stuff that’s a departure from the expected paintings and sculptures?  Coffee houses, beauty salons, and local food markets frequently have some accessories available.  Any flea market or a neighborhood fair is another great place to look for one-of-a-kind wearable art.  Don’t be afraid to go into a ‘gallery’ if you are not the artsy type; many of these are your basic specialty store offering stylish, off-beat items akin to something in Anthropologie, but without the Anthropologie price tag.  If all else fails, ask your friends or co-workers if they or someone they know well makes what you are looking for, and buy directly from the artist.  You may be surprised how many people have a creative altar-ego, or an artist family member.

Finally, and most importantly, there is a special opportunity in this point and time to buy this art at prices affordable to everyone.  Most of us will never own a Van Gogh, but can purchase a work of wearable art of equal or even greater cultural importance (old Vincent, after all, was in his day living off his brother and is rumored to have stared at the sun to get high).  So, invest in a unique piece, and revel in the fact that although anyone with enough funds can order a Kenneth Jay Lane statement necklace, the only way to get the necklace YOU are wearing is to beg.  And you’d still say ‘no.’

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Online Bargain Hunting

There are many benefits to shopping online.  The mainstream retail industry is literally hemorrhaging in the current economy.  Wipe aside a tear, and look on the bright side:  clothing is cheap, cheap, cheap!  Now, you may not know it if you pledge loyal allegiance to purchasing items in a store at the Westport Galleria.  In this installment of ‘Shopping Online’ are a few basic strategies for shopping online to get more bang for your buck.

Shop Major Retailers – Don’t shop the unique, independent online ’boutiques’ if you want to save.  Just go to the website of any mainstream apparel chain and immediately click on ‘clearance.’  With the advent of online shopping, many stores don’t stock clearance items anymore.  Instead, they post them online exclusively and ship them directly from the warehouse.  If you want the best deals (department stores are an exception here) you’ll find them on your favorite retailer’s website, not in the store.

When in Doubt, Stall – Most times an item that has already been marked down will be marked down further.  If an item on a store’s website is already tagged with a discount, it means they need to move it by next season.  Unless it’s an absolute must-have, keep an eye on the item and watch the price fall.  Think of it like stocks:  buy low.  Take a look at the range of sizes available when the item first shows up in the sale section.  If all sizes and colors are in stock when an initial discount is applied, you can probably save 50% on the item or more before it gets pulled or sells out.

Ebay is Dead – Be skeptical of the online marketplace.  Go directly to the website of the retailer selling whatever you want to buy to compare prices before purchasing.  Certain sites can help you find what you are looking for by virtue of better advanced search options–like zappos or ebags, for example–but they still typically pull items from retailers’ sites.  Most will say where the item is from, many with a link.  Sometimes these discounted items are exclusively sold through the ‘middle man’ site, but don’t let this sway you.  Keep in mind, virtual marketplaces have no rent to pay;  they can afford to keep a handbag or coat listed at a price that isn’t selling until the end of time.  There is much less pressure to move the merchandise, so prices are unlikely to drop below their original discount.  You may find a comparable item at a lower price if you look outside the online mall.  (Oh, and don’t shop on ebay.  The site is so outdated I wouldn’t use it to buy toothpaste.  Think about it: when was the last time you attempted to bid below the asking price and actually got that item?  Never?)

When to Ignore My Advice – The points, while valid, have some important exceptions.  Some retailers still have physical stores where they stock reduced price inventory.  The Banana Republic-Gap-Old Navy group of stores comes to mind.  If you want a discount, you’re better off just going to Old Navy.  With shipping, you might pay more online.  This is also true of all department stores, which, as a rule, still stock the clearance items in-store.  This means the item you see online isn’t collecting dust in a warehouse; it’s displayed on the floor for any shrewd shopper to grab up.  Chances of getting these bargains are much better in person.  Also noteworthy for stocking clearance items in the store:  Target.  Keep an eye on merchandise on in particular to make sure it isn’t pulling from Target’s website.  If you are on a budget or in need of basics, the clothing stocked in-store at Target is the best mix of low cost/cute style you’re likely to find.  Just don’t buy shoes there.  Or a business suit.


Update Your Jewelry in Five Minutes

Don’t we all fantasize a little about making our own, one of a kind clothing and accessories?  I’m pretty obsessed, but I’m also a person who likes simple but creative ideas.  Here are a few ways to re-invent the jewelry you already own for a quick, easy new look.

Brooches Make Great Pendants – Vintage brooches are popular and fun, and irresistible to buy.  Yet wearing a new or vintage brooch on a jacket or blouse looks a bit too mature sometimes.  Why not string one on a chain like a pendant?  As long as the pin is closed, there won’t be any major slippage, and the angular way it hangs will look artsy and cool.

Make a Statement with Traditional Necklaces – Big, bold, statement necklaces are everywhere, and yes, they are fabulous.  But what if you don’t have the budget to buy new enameled bibs and mixed-media pieces?  One idea:  take multiple short to choker length chain necklaces (the kind that come with crosses, small charms, etc) and wear three or four at a time.  Move the charms so they are grouped together on the middle chains, or any way they look good.  Don’t be afraid to mix metals.  Chokers are slowly coming back in fashion, and I predict the look of layering dainty, ladylike chains will be huge.

Attach Bracelets and Chains Together – This look works best with mixed metals and textures, or gemstones.  Just attach a pretty bracelet to a chain using the clasps already on both pieces and you have a new necklace.  If you have a lot of linking bracelets, try putting those together, too.  Adding any kind of hardware in between, such as safety pins or paperclips, is completely on-trend and a good way to make fancy items feel more punk.  You can also mix in any bead, button or charm that will link in without weakening the overall piece too much.

Ribbon Magic – A pretty ribbon can turn anything into a necklace.  As long as it doesn’t fall off, you can string an earring, charm, pendant, brooch, bead (or beads) or anything else on a ribbon and tie it in back.  Tying a substantial fiber (like ribbon, silk, jersey)  at the back of the neck instead of using a traditional clasp is extremely popular in jewelry design right now, and super easy to copy at home.

Ribbon Magic Part II – I have seen a lot of fabric and ribbon wrapped bangle bracelets popping up lately.  You can wrap any bangle in a strip of fabric, and as long as you do not glue anything to the bracelet itself, you can have two looks in one.  Make sure the loose ends are tucked, knotted, or glued to fabric ONLY and as soon as you get tired of it, just cut off the fabric and you have your original bracelet back.  Experiment with adhesive, and be careful.  Any precious metal bangle should not be touched with glue.  Double stick scrapbooking tape will hold the fabric to the cuff for a few hours, and shouldn’t damage silver or copper.  I’m not an expert on gold, but if you have a gold bangle, why are you covering it anyway?

If you have your own jewelry update ideas, please leave a comment to share with the group.  Not your best secret, of course, but your 3rd or 4th favorite.  What’s that saying….imitation is the sincerest form of flattery?  Be imitated!

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Accessories=Shopping Nirvana

As author of a style blog, I love to shop.  Over the years, I’ve learned a few tricks to tailor my shopping experience to create maximum pleasure and minimal frustration.  The key to fun, stress-free shopping trip is as easy as this:  shop for accessories.

Accessories, along with flattering basics, are the very foundation of a look.  The popularity of jewelry and handbags seems to have waned in the 2000s, which is a shame.  Why?

No Accessory is Ever Too Small – Nothing ruins a jaunt to the mall with a wallet full o’ cash more than finding out this year’s cut of jeans at Banana Republic requires one to go up a size.  Pure vanity?  Yes.  Maybe it shouldn’t matter if I have to buy a 10 instead of an 8 but, frankly, it’s enough to make me pack up my Mastercard and head to Target to buy housewares.  The clothing in most stores is unreliable in the way it is cut and sized, probably because the garments are shipped in from overseas.  But if I have to buy sweatshop pants, can’t I at the very least have the number I want on the tag?

Fashion advisers and pop stylists constantly preach the ‘size doesn’t matter’ philosophy as they coach some hapless, frustrated woman into buying a size 16 when she thinks she can wear a 14.  This is wrong on multiple levels.  First, plus-sized clothing is more expensive.  Styles have improved (thank God) but the cost can be double what it is for the same item size 14 or under.  If you are on the cusp of these two sizes, go on HSN and order a case of shape wear, then get the 14.  Sometimes going down a size is unnecessary, but in this instance it actually makes sense to do so.  Second, like it or not, size does matter.  If I can still fit a pair of Express jeans in size 6 that I bought five years ago, I shouldn’t have to buy a 12 today.  It’s just yucky, like getting picked last for dodge ball or red rover.  Retailers, if you want to play switcheroo with your sizing, let us all go down a size.  Maybe then your sales wouldn’t be sinking faster than a lead pipe in still water.

Accessories Speak Louder than Garments – You can have a closet full of the most basic pieces and still have style that turns heads.  A fabulous dress, pant, or blouse will get looks, but accessories start conversations.  Picking the extras wisely, like jewelry, shoes and bags, says the wearer has a keen eye for detail.  In today’s over-worked, multitasking world of henpecked citizens about to grab a sniper rifle, taking time on the little things has an unparalleled power to impress.  It’s all in the fact that earrings or tights are NOT necessary, but by choosing to spend that little bit of extra time, you have essentially sprinkled yourself in fairy dust and confidence.  The woman who can find the energy to choose accessories she loves hovers just a little higher than the daily grind.

Buying Accessories is Fitting Room Free – I realize I mentioned the size issue, but that simply doesn’t do justice to the cramped, stressful, frequently awkward experience of a retail fitting room.  The ones that are monitored closely inevitably subject the customer to ‘close calls’ of handles turning and knocking on doors, only making it more urgent that your five items are tried on in five minutes or less.  The unmonitored rooms, while safe from pesky floor managers, tend to contain some nasty surprises, such as piles of hanger-less prom dresses, clothing strewn around like streamers, or a suspiciously bad smell.

Last, and most importantly, the way to choose the perfect accessory is as simple as this:  buy what you like.  Be creative; accessories are like playtime for women.  And if your significant other mocks you for the price tag, just make a mental note.  The sports car he eventually splurges on will be more expensive than your Dooney & Bourke bag.  I promise.