Friday, January 22, 2010

Multiple Wardrobe Personalities

How does a girl-about-town manage multiple fashion personalities on a meager budget?

It's true that I sometimes look forward to certain events for the sole reason that they provide an excuse for a new outfit. I hardly need one. It's pretty easy to justify purchases - I'm a seasoned pro, groomed for years by the master herself (my mother). Now though, with Alex potentially being out of "real" work very shortly, I need to tighten my belt. An already owned belt this time - this is not an excuse for a new one. In 2010, we have committed to brown bag lunches, office coffee (in lieu of $6 lattes), and take-out only once per week (ack! I am craving makhani already). Chipping away at debt is a tough gig. While food has been our biggest money obstacle as a couple (we love to eat), my personal hell is cutting my fashion budget.

It becomes easier if I avoid retail contact altogether and we have nothing more than couch surfing planned, but i work for a retail organization and my store visits involve serious temptation - I pass a BCBG, Zara, Holt Renfrew, Brown's Shoes and a Starbucks on my way through mall/hell each time. Soon, too, if the band schedule picks up, I'll have plenty of reasons to pick up a new dress here, a pair of shoes there, glittery tights everywhere. Where does it end?!

I'm kidding myself if I think I can quit clothes cold turkey. The key is smart shopping. I already have a keen eye for deals (again, I am well educated by mom) but the challenge is to make purchases with style longevity and versatility. Slowly, I have realized that spending less doesn't necessarily guarantee value. I remember years of buying multiple cheap trendy dresses only to offload them at a clothing swap or the Goodwill bin only a few months later. Buying classic pieces, though, always had me fearing blending in - I'm not good at it.

Two years ago, I splurged and bought a black pencil skirt at Femme Carriere. I paid a whopping $130 for it. Whopping, that is, for a girl who used to build wardrobes on consignment store finds. I still have this skirt, and wear it almost every week. It's in impeccable condition and looks amazing with everything. It transitions from day to night effortlessly. While it has a bit of an edgy "me" detail - an exposed industrial zipper on the back - it's very classic (*gasp*). I expect I'll have it for years. My big "Aha!": mix classic, timeless pieces with technicolour tights and bold jewellery and it's still me! It's really me!

So now, in 2010 - the year of the Budget - I need to spend wisely, on great quality, versatile pieces that will take me through potential tough times to come (when I may REALLY have to curb spending). The challenge: I lead many fashion lives. How do I pull off 9-to-5 office-babe sophisticated, front-row rock show edgy-chic, Bloor Street brunch eclectic, boho dog-walking cool, and fitness fashion-forward with fewer wardrobe dollars to go around?

Here are my picks for good investment pieces that work day jobs, go all night, still look great on the floor of the green room (oh my. I am SO kidding) and carry through all four lovely seasons:

THE BLACK PENCIL SKIRT. In my case, the above-mentionned. I've paired it with anything from serious pinstripe dress shirts to acid green racer back tanks, and sensible heels to patent peep-toe wedges.

LAYERING PIECES. A great tank in other-than-cotton fabrics (say, silk) can pair with jeans or skirts, be worn alone for more skin-appropriate occasions or layered under cardigans, vests, or blazers, when you don't need your 10am meeting staring at your bits. Love: Club Monaco's mini-pocket racerback silk tanks and Wilfred's cotton version with a little extra detailing than your average undershirt.

BUBBLE SKIRTS. Skirts, rather than dresses, can be more versatile because of the pairing options. My favourite silhouette is the bubble. Sure it's not an ideal shape for all body types, but for me, a good bubble skirt looks sensible for work with a turtleneck, opaque tights and flats, but rocks out after hours with lace tights and booties. Since I don't really do pants, this is my alternative. For the rest of the population, this category would likely be well-tailored trousers.

DARK WASH SKINNY JEANS. I haven't found my perfect fit yet, but maybe losing 6 pounds of pure thigh fat (my impossible goal) will help. Skinny jeans, if you can find your fit and  pull them off, are so versatile. A good quality pair can even waltz into the office, matched with a snappy button-up. Luckily, our office is denim-friendly, although some people take advantage. Stacey and Clinton would probably suggest a straight leg jean, but I'm pushing this skinny thing as far into my 30s as possible. I hear yoga jeans may be my friend.... must investigate.

I'd also settle for a good wide leg, but I've yet to find a good fit here too.

BEN SHERMAN DRESS SHIRTS. Every time I go to New York, Ben has another reason for me to love office fashion. My two beauties - a long-sleeve bold black and white stripe version and a short cuffed sleeve orange and taupe number - are two dress shirts that are anything but stuffy. Plus, they're well made and fit not-so-chesty frames. The colour combos seem to work in any season, too.

LEATHER, REAL LEATHER, SHOES AND BAGS. Yes, I may be the worst vegetarian on the planet (and may not even one at all, since I added seafood to my culinary repertoire) but I believe in buying leather over "vegan" alternatives. Sure, it bothers me that it was once an animal. But from an environmental standpoint, leather is the winner - it is natural and therefore eventually biodegradable AND here's the biggie: it only looks better with time. Real leather softens with use, and can be polished and repaired to look like new. It lasts forever, unlike it's vinyl counterparts which crack and end up in a landfill for 500 years. I was having to replace my bags/shoes every year. I justify it because leather is a byproduct of the meat industry (right?) and the whole animal is being used, which is good (right?). I clearly still have internal conflict. But anyway, I won't be wasting any more fashion bucks on PVC handbags - even if Mat+Nat do a very, very good job with the stuff. My birthday present last year, an almost grey moss-green leather jacket from Danier may be the last one I ever own, and my Jeanne Lottie shoulder bag is mine for the longhaul.

SENSIBLE SHOES. OK, so stillettos are hot, but how many times do you have to get your damn heel stuck in the sidewalk before you say enough is enough, ladies?! Comfy footwear CAN be sexy, and of course, well built shoes designed for comfort last much longer. Even Hush Puppies came out with a totally amazing foot-happy line last season. I shop at Feet First quite alot...but you'd never know it!

STATEMENT JEWELLERY. Splurge on something big and flashy, something you love-love-love. The best intricate bib necklace of your life could make you look glam in just jeans and a tee. My current version is this beaut from Anthropologie (center) in NYC ( I need to validate, as the new Toronto location peeves me...more on that another day).

NOT-YOUR-GRANDMA'S CARDIGAN. Casual fabrics, "boyfriend" styles, pearl or bejwelled buttons - a cardigan doesn't have to be matronly. In fact, unless you spend your days in a super conservative work environment, a cardigan can easily take you from day to night. I like belting them over a sleeveless top and a circle skirt or a little-black-dress (another runner-up wardrobe staple) - very 50's secretary chic. Again - layering.

OK, so a plan then? Flexible, well-made pieces with timeless styles - yes. One piece purple jersey halter jumpsuit - no. (Yes, I own this... seemed like a good idea at the time. Cruisewear, really, and I've never been on a cruise.)

It has been um, forever, since my last confession. Since New Years Day, when we began with "The Budget", I have already bought jeans, gold glitter tights, 2 lace tanks and a yellow suede belt. OK, somewhat within the rules, but still excessive. 

Yet another fashion emergency is imminent. I am powerless. But hopefully, with now firmly established shopping guidelines (see! see! they're in writing!)  I won't have to freeze my credit card. Just yet.

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