July 10, 2007

Wardrobe Basics- A Plea for Help

I have a very pathetic confession to make. I barely know how to dress myself. There, I said it. Now you know. I do a great job picking out adorable outfits for the girls. Even Maddie at the age of almost 14 thinks I have great taste. For them. When it comes to buying clothes for myself, not so much. Part of the problem is that I don't want to dress like a cliche. I'm 36 and lets face it, there are just some things that I should not be wearing. On top of that, I'm a real woman, currently sized 12 with child-bearing hips, thighs that go on forever and not everything looks as good on me as it does on the size 2 model in the catalog. Think skinny jeans!

Yesterday while at Old Navy for the girls, I discovered this denim jacket was on sale for $20. I've been coveting one for a couple of years but I'm very bad about justifying clothing purchases for myself. I only bought it because Maddie made me & the whole time I'm thinking I'd probably return it. Then when I got it home I realized that I love it and that it will work with so many things I already own. It's inspired me to want to put together a real wardrobe, to put more effort in how I dress. I want to be more stylish but still act my age. So this is my challenge. Where do I shop if my taste leans towards classic (not stuffy), preppy, youthful (not teenager), artistic (free spirited) clothing and I'm on a budget? What do I buy to put together a good basic wardrobe for a stay-at-home Mom, who volunteers at school & occasionally has date night with her Sweet Hubby? Are there any good magazines or websites for grown women, where I can get the fashion advice I so clearly need so that I don't embarrass my family in public?


  1. Definitely try the Boden catalog for inspiration, some of their clothes are pricey but they are very well made. I have a bunch of outlets near where I live and I find the Gap Outlet and the J Crew outlet have a lot of classic clothes there with just a touch of hipness. (I am 36 as well)

  2. Hi Jen,
    What about Kohl's? I went there this spring and got nine tops in one trip along with a couple of things for my daughter and it totalled only $150. They had nice, normal, classic stuff that still felt stylish. For your artistic side, think accessories...a fun wicker purse, a wooden bracelet, some silver jewellry, a funky scarf, etc. I'm seeing that jacket with a pretty white cotton skirt.
    Good luck!!

  3. I agree with Jessica. Gap, JCrew, Old Navy. Boden is very expensive, but you can get a lot of ideas out of their catologs! Ann Taylor and B Moss also have a lot of classic clothing with give. I am almost 30 and have hips that go on for miles.

  4. Oh I so know this feeling! And I'm about in your same boat--30's, stay-home mom etc. I'm definately no fashionista either but I do use a lot of other places for inspiration pieces and then try to recreate the look for less.

    I like JCrew and Kohls as was mentioned, but I also like these websites: http://preppychicblog.blogspot.com/
    http://www.shopstyle.com/ (browse through looks other people create)

    And since I'm so horrible at coming up with ideas of my own, I created a blog for myself to post ideas I like that I find if you want to check that out too


    That jacket is cute btw!

  5. Hi Jen...Darling jacket and yes, I too am in the same little boat as you. Three kids later and wanting to come off as a classic yet stylish mom. I would pair this with a white tee (my favorite staple) and a pair of black or kakhi capri's. Add a bracelet, sandals, cute earrings and a touch of lip gloss and you'll look like a million bucks! I love to shop at Banana Republic! The clothes are wonderfully made and do fit right. Granted they do go through so rather weird style changes sometimes... but if you want a classic look they fit the bill. Plus the price is fantastic when they have a sale. Have a great week!
    Helen :)
    PS. TJ MAXX is also a wonderful place to spend an hour or two also!!

  6. I have the same problem-I came across this blog recently-I love her creative style and all the links.I actually print out the pics so i can recreate some of the outfits!

  7. I completely understand your issues. I read once that women tend to wear clothes they wore at the happiest time of their life (like college, etc.) I have always remebered that and tried not to get "stuck" in 1985. So anyway, I'm 44 but will always wear at least one (and only one) thing that is a little more "hip". Your jean jacket is a perfect example of that...wear it!
    As far as stores go, my sister told me about Ann Taylor Loft and it is (when on sale) pretty reasonable.

  8. Just wanted to tell you that I enjoy your blog. When I read today's post I could soooo relate. All summer I've been trying to find clothes that aren't either "old lady" or "teeny bopper". Haven't had much luck. I'll have to check out some of the suggestions.

    Thanks for your wonderfully creative blog.

  9. Hi Jen,
    Well, Inc. at Macy's is good. Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, Gap. Just to name a few. I don't like catalogs, because you need to try things on. They all fit so differently. One store you might be one size and in another, a different size. I wish we could go shopping together. I would have fun with that.
    I love the jacket, by the way. You will use it with a lot.
    You can't go wrong with a nice crisp white shirt and nice fitting jeans.
    Good luck!

  10. I could have written your post! But about a year ago, I took myself by the scruff of the (scruffy) neck and frogmarched myself to one of those scary image/colour consultants. Yes, it cost some ££s, but it was the best investment. I came away with an idea of how I wanted to look, what suited me and how to shop for it.

    Now I'm really not the type to do this sort of thing and I think that's why I really needed it. An early Christmas present to yourself maybe?

    I blogged it at the time here

  11. Hi Jen
    I don't know what kind of stores you guys have, but one comes along very well when you know what to buy.

    Ever heard of Trinny(Woodall) and Susannah(Constantine)?? Two brithis girls who had a show on BBC: "What not to wear" I think they vivsited on Oprah last year, or the year before...

    They have written several books on how to dress. I recomend#1 " What not to Wear" and #2 "What you wear can change your life"

    The books have been very helpful for me. I'm not a size 6 , more like 12-14... With childbearing hips ( yeap, know all about them....)and a solid chest...

    I'm certain they have the books on www.amazon.com

    Good luck :O)

  12. I love the Victoria Secrets cloths catalogs. You have to weed out the slut clothes, but they really do carry clasic styles that are not frumpy....

  13. hey jen.
    i agree with j crew and old navy and gap. have you heard of Bitten by Sarah Jessica Parker? it is at Steve and Barry's stores and the sizes go from 0-22 and on top of that nothing is over $20! i saw the line on oprah and it is really classic and cute. i don't have a store near me but my sister does and says its really cute stuff. i also like H & M. they have a nice selection and their sales are pretty good. any way i hope that helps. love the jacket!

  14. Hi, Jen - I've been reading your blog for a while, but just lurk. Today, you inspired me to post!

    I think you can find the types of things you're looking for almost anywhere. I buy stuff all over the place, but if I'm going for bargains...Old Navy is a good bet, TJ Maxx and Ross are even better. You have to weed through, but there's a lot of great possibilities.

    My best advice - shop with a friend! Especially one who seems to have the kind of wardrobe you want to create, who's not afraid to make suggestions and pull stuff off the rack you might not pick for yourself.

    I also steal outfit ideas all the time from people I see walking down the street. :-)

  15. I, too, could have written this post. Since having my daughter two years ago, I've really struggled with clothing. My body changed and I have no idea how to dress said changed body. Also, no matter what I'm wearing, it ends up with goop on it in about two seconds flat. How do other people cope with the toddler slobber factor?

    I recently bought a top at Boden. Can't afford a whole lot from there, but the top was well worth it.

  16. Old habits die hard, & I still buy most of my clothes (when I actually buy clothes) at the Gap. The jeans, as long as they're not cut down to my nether-regions, fit me the best & are just trendy enough for me to feel hip & not like I'm trying to be 16.

    Old Navy has cute, cheap summer tops, but they seem to be built for bustier women, of which I am not. The fabrics are not of great quality either, but you get what you pay for.

    I love Ann Taylor & Ann Taylor Loft, but now that I can wear jeans to work every day, I haven't bought anything there in years.

    My wardrobe mainly consists of white, off-white, blue, green, black, grey, brown, & camel. I normally buy what I feel is classic in style so I don't have to go shopping every season. Most of my tops are solid in color; very few patterns.

    I also love JCrew & Banana Republic, although I think they're overpriced, and I used to love Tweeds before they disappeared.

    Good luck!

  17. Ann Taylor Loft is having a great sale, with lots of cute clothes greatly reduced, buy one item on sale and the second one on sale for half of the sale price! I bought a beautiful cardigan to wear over a sleeveless tank in the a/c for $7.00! They have very pretty things. T. J. Maxx and Marshalls are also great stores, but you really have to hunt there, and spend lots of time. Good luck!

  18. OMG, I am so with you. I just turned 38, and I really want to dress age-appropriately, but I don't want to look frumpy and old. And since I don't know what to wear, so I just keep wearing t-shirts and jeans that are wearing out, I look...frumpy and old! Sigh. I'm so glad you posted about this. I have a friend who went to a stylist and I am seriously considering it, because I am clueless! Part of my problem, too, is that I don't know how I *want* to look--I vacillate between arty, country, funky and classic. So I have no idea. ~A :-)

  19. oh my goodness i LOVE YOU! i feel the same darned way!!!!!! glad YOU posted this cuz i need a good kick in the rear in this department. i could ramble about it forever but i'm anxious to read your comments...so i can apply it to myself. love you...seriously!!! blessings!

  20. Christopher and Banks! Love their clothes and when they are on sale, they are a steal. I bought a $60.00 jacket for 9.99!!

    Coldwater Creek is another great place for classic clothing. A little pricey, but they have good sales too.

  21. The jean jacket is classic. Perfect for everyone in my opinion.

    I'm having a similar problem with my wardrobe. I'm 42, want to be fashionable, comfortable, and not ridiculous looking for my age.

    I shop the sale racks at Ann Taylor and Ann Taylor Loft a lot. I also like the Gap for casual clothes.

    Kimberly :)

  22. I know what you mean...I'm 38, and I definitely think some items of clothing have an expiration date regardless of your size. Jeans are my biggest issue...the whole low-rise thing is awful if you've had children. Also, I'm very straight up and down with no real waist. My current quest is the perfect pair of jeans as I wear them with everything.

    I agree with all of the stores that have already been mentioned. I also like Lands End, and their items can be returned to Sears. Check out TLC's "What Not to Wear" on Friday nights too...they have some great suggestions. Oh, and bravo to you for your candor and willingness to put it out there!

  23. Hi, Jen, what a great post! You've gotten some wonderful advice on what to look for. I love classic clothes too (and I'm 50). I want to be stylish too without looking old-lady, so I try to stick to the classics that look good on me. I love shopping at TJ Maxx, Marshalls, & Ross too..I've picked up lots of designer clothes in there for a fraction of the dept. store costs. Talbots & Ann Taylor are great too if you shop their sales. But, don't rule out thrift or consignment stores (or yardsales for that matter) either if you're really trying to stick to a budget. I have found wonderful clothing at yardsales just this summer (2 skirts from Harolds for $4 each). Well-made clothes really do last a long time, but I sure don't like paying full price for them. Lots of consignment stores in my town have great designer clothing too for a fraction of the cost of new.


  24. Do you ever try Ann Taylor, or Ann Taylor Loft? I'm a huge J.Crew fan, but they are pricier. I also love Banana Republic. I have a cute jean jacket too, and I wear it with cute summery skirts, knee-length and flowing (not tight and short). I usually wear a white short sleeved button up shirt underneath or a tank top. They I pair it with a really cute necklace, something vintage, or a bit chunky, some cute sandles, and a cute wicker bag. Just some thoughts. Good luck Jen.


  25. i love a good jean jacket :) i wear mine all the time. worth thir weight in gold - and twenty bucks - that is a steal!!!

  26. Your jacket is very cute. You will get tons of wear out of it and you got a great deal. I wear mine from Old Navy a lot. I have 3 vintage sparkly pins on one pocket and boy do I get lots of compliments on them. People ask if they're old or where I got them and often say that it reminds them of an aunt or grandmother, a fun conversation piece and it makes your jacket a little different from the others.

  27. Oh that is a great basic piece. Fun to spiff up or wear plain, too! Add some of your fav colored solids to your wardrobe now. Black here and there for sure. Brown probably, too. Solid colored tshirts....the ones at The Gap are stretchy are my very fav.

  28. I am so excited to see this post. I too bought my first jean jacket this summer (after seeing my cousin wear hers with a lot of different clothing..she looked great!). I'm in the same boat as you looking for inspiration. Thank you for talking about this!

  29. I agree with those who have mentioned Ann Taylor & Ann Taylor Loft.

    I've found that Lucky magazine shows the new trends in a more wearable way than many other fashion magazines. Though, I still have to adapt many of the styles to my age (34) & lifestyle. Another *great* resource is the Lucky shopping guide. Its really a guide to building a great wardrobe to fit your lifestyle & its so practical.

  30. Prairie Home-SherryJuly 11, 2007 10:58 AM

    Love your style girl!!!Added you to my "Fav's"
    Fashion tip...Think classic...Darling demin jacket mixed with a target tee shirt,jeans or skirt...whimsy vintage jewels & bag...

  31. I hear ya girlfriend!! I pretty much exclusively shop at JCrew. I will sometimes find things at Banana Republic. I can't shop at department stores....just too overwhelming for me.
    Good Luck!

  32. Start TIVO'g TLC's What Not To Wear. Great tips for EVERYONE on how to dress for YOU and look FABULOUS. Great entertainment, but honestly alot of really good advice. Seriously. Also, I think Talbots and Chico's have great clothes and sales people who are really helpful. And doesn't Nordstroms even have personal shoppers? You might try that, but seriosly-Clinton and Stacy-that's all I'm sayin'.

  33. I love that jacket!

    Have you tried eBay? You can find a lot of Ann Taylor and Talbot's (and other brand) items on there, many new-with-tags. I second the Christopher & Banks recommendation...very tailored and classic, but with updated motifs and colors (great sweaters!).

    The "stuck in your favorite era" thing is probably quite true. I still dress quite a bit like I did in the early 80s...thank goodness things were pretty preppy/classic then (I'm seeing a lot of the same things now). I guess the style that I gravitate toward is the "Kathryn Hepburn" look.

  34. Jen, I just noticed that you are a size 12. 12 is my "skinny size" due to my bone structure, and I have some things I've barely worn...some haven't been worn. Email me the types of clothing you like and I will be happy to see if I have anything you could be enjoying. I would love to be able to adopt some of my favorite things out :) If I get that skinny again, I will just buy new stuff to celebrate!



    truesouthernheart at yahoo dot com

  35. Hi

    I'm not going to be much help telling you which shops to go to as I live in Australia but for excellent stylish advice check out the site below. She also has a free weekly ezine that offers fashion advice as well as dos and don'ts. It may look like it is specifically for business attire but it covers everything from casual to formal and at home to business


  36. I love Coldwater Creek and they have an online outlet store where you can pick up some great buys. I also like to browse the Spiegel catalog for ideas. The last one I picked up had ideas for 20, 30, 40 and 50 yos and all of them were stylish. I have had great luck with Liz Claiburne for cuts that work for a "real body" and yet are stylish. Joneswear is another good brand, though her body cut runs a bit on the petite side and are nto always long enough for my 5'9" frame.

    I agree with the poster who suggested expressing your artistic side in your accessories. It's especially fun to have a "signature" look that people recognize as being your own definitive style. I'm known for my funky flats, cowboy boots, charm bracelets and vintage southwestern/turquoise jewelry.

  37. I'm finding the sale rack at J.Jill to be all of the style you're seeking out...plenty of grace, elgegance but not stuffy apparel....fit for todays, hip Mom...size 12...it's the most common size in the universe

  38. Gaah! Boden! Summer sale!! Go NOW! Bodenusa dot com. Pleaase note, they have UK sizing. Classic, some fun elements. I live in their clothes and J.Crew (which I always buy on sale.) Gap got all weird and trendy on me, and J.Crew's jeans fit me better, so I've all but abandoned Gap entirely. I completely relate with you on this, though. Have fun building your wardrobe!

  39. I say TARGET and ON if you really want cheap..i feel the same way..i can dress my son adorable and my house look great but sometimes when i look in the mirror it is scary. and i am much larger than a size 12 so it is really a challenge...i try to keep a cute well kept haircut and buy essentials often (like white tees and black comfy pants)...my philosophy is buy cheap for everyday stuff that gets stained or whatever otherwise i wont wear it..i just "save" it..my denim jacket is a fave too...and cool funky jewelry and shoes...i feel better spending more on those things..

    GOOD LUCK..you deserve it!

    oh and I have been trying to find Sarah White's photos on Great Expressions..no luck;( tell her to email me;;ha!

    Love, Holly

  40. oh and i forgot:
    Marshalls and TJ Maxx

    and you can go look at things at JCrew, BR and Ann Taylor and then search for them on ebay! sometimes with staples jeans and pants they are easy to find...

  41. Jen, first - the jean jacket was a great purchase. You'll wear that 3 if not 4 seasons (there's always that balmy weekend in February!)

    You've gotten a lot of good advice, but I'll throw in one other suggestion that I don't think I've seen yet. L.L.Bean makes very good quality clothes for reasonable prices. If nothing else, you can get staples (khakis, t-shirts, polos) and use them with pricer or trendier clothes that you'd get at a place like Banana or J.Crew. They have a no hassle return thing where you can return an item YEARS later with no receipt and it's not a problem.

    Land's End (at Sears) is also a good choice for preppier clothes without the prices. I think their strategy is to look like J.Crew as much as possible. Have not tried them personally, but everyone swears by their beach towels, so I'm assuming the rest of the clothing line is good, too.

    Good luck, Jen! A little practice and you'll get the swing of it. It's like riding a bike. You're just out of practice and haven't devoted as much time to yourself as you have to your darling girls.

  42. hey there! i have a fashion blog (in addition to my lifestyle/food blog TCL)...I show lots of my outfits, but lots of them lately have been for work at a bank (so pretty formal), but you may like some of the others.

    As for stores, I think you'd like Gap or Ann Taylor Loft. Both have awesome sales, so be sure to hit them off after a new season has been released. ATL tends to go on sale a few weeks after it first goes up (at least that seems to be the pattern). They also have really good coupons - either if you sign up for their email list or credit card (can't remember which).

    I also like J Crew and Banana Republic, but to me, they're a bit on the expensive side. BR has good sales too though with classic items you could get lots of good use out of.

    Maybe try Chico's too? There are probably also some local places, but since I don't know where you live, I can't recommend those...haha. I know around my city, there are a couple boutiques that have affordable clothes, but they only have 3 locations in this one city (to my knowledge).

    TJ Maxx, Marshalls, and those type stores have awesome deals and really cute stuff.

    You may want to also check out a local consignment shop - you can find great stuff there.

    I've also found really nice stuff at thrift stores before, especially if they're close to a really nice neighborhood. One time, I found 3 Brooks Brothers shirts for my SO with the tags still on them! one of my best finds clothing-wise to date!

    Happy shopping!

    :) D

  43. I have that exact ON jacket and wear it all the time! With black capris, khaki capris, casual skirts. I'm 27 and work full-time, but in a relatively casual environment. My problem is trying to find things that can work for home, work, and church. Everyone has pretty much said what I would: Target, ON, Gap, Ann Taylor Loft, etc. You'll do great!

    I love your blog!

  44. Hi again! I can't wait to read your comments on this post! But I also wanted to tell you that I have been conciously TRYING (that being the key word, lol) to put more thought into my wardrobe. Since becoming a mom I have seemed to forget that I once knew how to dress. Although I do my hair and makeup everyday, I was wearing rags basically. Yet my kids always look nice and I was buying "home" stuff before clothes!!! I have discovered that I love brown on myself. And instead of a sea of black shirts in my closet I actually have COLORS now. I still love black and denim. It works all the time! I mostly shop at TJ's, Marshall's and loving Gap outlet lately. I never really liked the regular store, but the outlet is more appealing and seems to have a better selection. Also their prices are great. And I still shop my thrift and consignment shops. It's in my blood! I always find some great stuff there! :) Good luck and happy shopping!

  45. I see lots my favorites listed here, but usually one of my first stops is New York & Co or The Limited. They have classic styles along with things that are slightly trendy, but not too young for us 30-somethings. They both have good sales, but NY & Co's sales are a little better.

  46. I don't think you can go wrong with the GAP. I buy pants in the men's section, and have since I was a skinny college girl. :<) LL Bean might offer some clothes you'd like. JJill is a hit with some women. I've bought some capris and sweaters from them and have been very happy. As far as a budget goes, I'd rather have a few really good, long lasting clothes than many cheap, short lasting clothes. One of my favorite, favorite stores is Woolrich. I love your jacket!

  47. J Jill is an artsy type of catalog & Store. Sometimes pricey but with good sales and often to be found on eBay. There used to be a great catalog called Tweeds. I don't know what happened to them but J Jill is that sort of sytle. Good luck and keep us posted - many of us share your dilemna.

  48. I've had the same dilemma!!! I am so glad you posted this. What made it hard for me is that I work in the fashion industry and there are soooo many totally fab girls running around in outfits I can't shimmy my size 10 butt into.

    On thing that works for me is classics. Not Ann Taylor classics, but cool classics. Here's what I think you should consider doing:

    1) Spend whatever it takes to buy some killer jeans. If that means $100 - $180, DO IT. You won't regret it. The cost-per-wear for denim is cheaper than anything else you will buy because you will get so much wear from those jeans. Avoid buying denim at the Gap. Their washes are not really current and the fit is notoriously bad. Spend a little extra to get cool jeans.

    I have about 8 pairs of denim in my closet that I never wear because they are just kind of "off." And I used to think it was criminal to pay more than $60 for jeans. Guess what? I spent way more than that on all those jeans I never wear. I am not on a 3-pair policy. I always make sure I have 2 pair I love and are good for work (since we can wear fashionable jeans to work) and one pair that's just a grungy around the house pair for weekend work. No more. I don't need 5 pair. I only need 2 and I wear them to death. No one notices how much I wear them at work because I mix them up with different jackets and tops.

    2) Invest in great basic white & black tees... all kinds. Boatneck, 3/4 sleeve, etc etc. Solid shirts in interesting cuts are always smart. Patterns are really tricky, and I just say avoid them altogether. You didn't see Jackie Kennedy in prints, right? A clean look is a cool look.

    3) Get a great black pencil skirt, a good fitted lightweight sweater to go on top (Banana Republic is a good resource...think audrey hepburn-ish, even if you aren't rail thin... it's a good look for nearly everyone) and get chic peep toe pumps or slingbacks (as high as is comfortable for you. This is a great go-to outfit for parent-teacher conferences, dinners with the husband, etc etc. Flaunt your curves. Size 12 is hot. Rock it!

    4) Wear your denim jacket with khakis or black pants, but never with denim bottoms. You probably totally know this, but, you know, some people rock the denim-on-denim look and that's a little risky.

    5) COOL EARRINGS. Serously. I am known for wearing black, black, black all the time but I throw in great silver hoops, gold disc-shaped earrings, and dangly-earrings with multiple delicate hoops interlocked and the accessories can really make an outfit look artful even if the clothes are just basic black.

    6) Chic flats. Splurge on metallic flats that you can run around in. And if you are a sneaker mom, get cool ones you will love like Puma, Gola, or other low-profile (flat sole) versions like Diesel.

    7) Wrap dresses. They can be tricky if you are more than a B-cup, but just put a matching cami underneath to keep that cleavage under wraps. Wrap dresses are so chic, they define your waist and you can be really active in them (read: comfy). Don't be afraid to spend a little extra to get ones you really love. Nothing is really a good deal if you never wear it, so spend a little more on fewer things and have a wardrobe you love and really wear a lot.

    8) Don't be afraid to call your mid- to upscale stores and have them shop for you. Seriously! Good stores do this for free (and the personal shoppers love it... it's their job and a fun job at that). You don't need to hire a style consultant when you can get these sassy girls to put your outfits together for you. You also don't need to spend a lot to have a good store do this for you.

    9) Buy the Lucky style book (from amazon.com). It's a really good guide to help you figure out what works for your body type and what things are timeless.

    10) Low-heel wedges are your friend! Adds height to you while easy to run around in.

    It's hard to spend time on yourself when you are a busy mom, but it's worth it and you totally deserve it. Good luck! Tell us how it goes!

  49. Run out and buy the nicest white t-shirt to wear under that jean jacket, then pin on the cutest fabric broohe you can find on Etsy (made by other bloggers) and then... we'd be twins!!! Good luck! I think I'm in the same boat you are!

  50. Seems I spell as well as I dress:

    Brooch...is what I meant!

  51. This comment has been removed by the author.

  52. A kindred soul! I just found your blog and this post spoke to me! I checked out modernest.blogspot.com and I think that's my favorite idea blog now! I'm off to go buy the Reese Witherspoon outfit!


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