Thursday, September 25, 2008

Stylists: Not Just for Celebrities

This year I have come even closer to evolving into an adult woman. Though I have yet to complete my transformation entirely, I feel much more like an adult than I did one year ago. Some of the maturing occurred in personal relationships, others in attempting to find a work-life balance. Still others remain to be achieved.

Fortunately, my image has seen dramatic improvement, being the natural easier focus of my efforts. It's less troublesome, after all, to revamp one's wardrobe and get a new hairdo than to actually learn the art of compromise or tackle anger management. But hey, it's something. Here are 3 things I accomplished this year for my appearance:

1. I purchased at least 20 pair of bonafide high-heeled shoes (and learned to walk in them).

2. I resolved to stop coloring my hair and embrace my (light) brunette spirit.

3. I hired (semi) professional stylists to create a collection of career ensembles for me.

All 3 had powerful effects on my ego.

Mastering the art of walking in high heels felt the most empowering. I had often envied women who could strut confidently in stilettos, my mother one of them. But for the vast majority of my life, I lived in flats, only stepping up to kitten heels in the past 5 years. Then, I nudged my way up to a mature 2-inch heel before finally diving into real, grown-up 3-inch-plus pumps. The height increase alone was a tremendous rush. This cannot be understated for a girl of petite stature. For a person who has spent most of their life observing people from down below, what a difference 3.5 inches makes! Now, I find myself having more face-to-face discussions at parties. And, others no longer have to peer down to the floor to make eye contact with me. Don't get me wrong -- I'm still short compared with a good portion of the population. But now, I'm acceptably petite, not microscopically miniature.

My hair has seen a serious overhaul too. In just one year, I went from being reddish-brown to golden-blonde to ash-blonde to almost-black to a happy acceptance of light-medium ash-brown. I realize that I'm never going to look as dramatic as my naturally redhead mother (at least in her younger days), nor am I fit to be a blonde beach bunny any longer. Also upsetting is the realization that my natural roots aren't nearly as dark and sultry as the Mediterranean climate that I dream of escaping to daily. Alas, I've accepted myself as a pale, middle-of-the-road brunette. The kind that doesn't get noticed for her hair color, but one that doesn't have to dye her hair anymore to be content. Maybe that's why I doubled my efforts to glamify my closet.

By far the most measurable (I mean that literally) area of improvement has been my wardrobe. I painstakingly pruned it month after month, leaving only the very best. I gave away truckloads to friends, relatives, and complete strangers. In place of the dearly departed I brought home shopping bag after shopping bag of fresh fabulous finds, some from long loved labels and others from new sources. J.Crew carved out a generous portion of my closet space, while much of Ann Taylor/Ann Taylor Loft that survived the purge was demoted to the space behind. Previously sweater-heavy, my wardrobe started to see more sweater jackets and jackets in general -- sans suit. Jeans of varying fits, from trouser to bootcut, received extra doses of glamour thanks to my newfound love for heels as well as an influx of bright camis paired with deconstructed jackets. Bold jewelry and accessories completed the transformation from ho-hum to va-va-va-voom.

So pleased was I with my handiwork that I let it go to my head. I started getting facials and booking regular massages. I splurged on a fancy, grown-up car (used of course) to match my new sophisticated image. I even hired someone to mow my lawn on a schedule, knowing that the neighbors might actually take notice of me now. I felt not unlike a celebrity. So much so, that I woke up one day with the bright idea of acting like one for a day.

I decided that it would be swell to do what all the fashionable celebrities do: I hired a personal stylist. How, you might ask, did I find such a creature in the oh-so-unglamorous political center that is the Washington, D.C. region? Well, the same way one finds just about anything else local these days. I went on Craigslist. Having searched for styling services but not finding what I was looking for, I set out to compose my own want-ad. Although I was prepared to be pampered and primped for success, I was not quite prepared to pay up like a real celebrity. True to my bargain hunting nature, I figured I would track down an aspiring stylist -- before they made it big. Here's what I posted:

"Are you a wannabe creative stylist or a fashion design student? Do you want to build your styling portfolio while earning a few bucks?

I need some wardrobe inspiration. I have an enviable collection of strong staples, cute shoes, and some great accessories. I shop like nobody's business and love to collect cute pieces. Sometimes though, too many choices can stress me out and leave me short on time with no fabulous outfit to show for it. I need someone to help me discern the top winners from each category, put them all together with cool accessories, and create several ready-to-go outfits that I will be excited to wear and feel stylish and confident in. Basically, I need a creative eye that also understands a city working girl's everyday needs.

My style right now is more modern classic than bleeding-edge trendy, but I welcome a little mixing-it-up as long as it doesn't compromise my petite figure or get too complicated. Ideally, my new look will be:

*put-together yet creative
*sophisticated while feminine
*clean-cut with a touch flirty
*classic but not forgettable

Once we put together a nice collection, I need you to photograph me and catalogue the outfits. The idea is to wake up, find my mood, and pick a fab outfit that is already complete -- right down to my shoes. This way, I have a fighting chance of making it to my appointments on time.

I'm willing to pay $60 for up to a 3-hour styling session. And, you can take photos for your portfolio if you want.

Female preferred. Please email me if you're interested. Also, let me know what (if any) experience you might have and what your fashion style type is.

I look forward to a fun styling session! I'll provide champagne and bonbons."

I received no less than 40 responses. So whom did I choose? A very down-to-earth, friendly sounding local student who had worked some fashion shows and was studying design. She brought along her assistant (how awesome to have a stylist with an assistant hovering around me!). Just for the heck of it, I also invited a sweet little Asian girl who didn't have any professional experience but was an avid shopper with somewhat similar tastes.

After sipping some bubbles and enjoying a few snacks, the 4 of us set about turning my (thankfully) large bedroom into a veritable warehouse sale. I had pre-hung all my beloved belongings on a movable wardrobe rack and filled my remaining floor space with shoes and accessories. While the girls debated the virtues of this or that shoe with various outfits, I tried on over three dozen ensembles in my dressing room. While I scrambled to change into each new getup, a stylist was busy laying out each completed look to photograph all the individual pieces together, including jewelry and accessories. Modeling each creation in front of the scrutinizing panel while they snapped away with a digital camera, I felt no less than a local superstar.

Four hours, a bottle of champagne, and a memory card full of photos later, we produced a fair number of winners. Some were for everyday work, some for high profile appointments, others were for social functions, and still others took me from place to place as I mixed errands with work with dinner on the town. Finally, I could look equally fabulous while I attended meetings, took my cat to the vet, visited in-laws, and shopped for groceries. Or, what if I needed to do lunch with a client, dinner with friends, and a getaway with the honey? Life requires so many outfits, yet there is so little time to choose... Now, I wouldn't have to. The choices were made, the ensembles were picked out and accessorized. All I had to do was flip open my personal "Look Book", pick an occasion, pick a mood, and voila -- I had a guaranteed hit.

Nine months later and with two-and-a-half closets bursting at the seams, I realized that I once again needed to revisit my wardrobe decisions. The fact is, I had added so much to my collection that I didn't know exactly how to incorporate everything. Many of my newer purchases became my go-to pieces while some of the older ensembles hung unappreciated and virtually forgotten. It was time to reassess and reorganize. Wanting to call in the stylists, it occurred to me that they may have graduated from college and moved on to loftier career positions. Also, I was placed under a severe shopping ban due to my latest unapproved overspending, so I knew that a $60 styling session (plus a bottle of champagne) wouldn't go over well on the home front. Especially when I had to ask for money to help pay the mortgage.

Enter a marvelously unexpected find on my recently discovered daily read, J.Crew Aficionada. One of her recurring posts is labeled "Dear FFM: Help Put Together A J.Crew Outfit For Me" and features an uber-talented blogger, Fabulous Florida Mommy (FFM), as she composes dozens of stylish ready-to-go outfits for various requesters in the J.Crew Aficionada forum. With her fun creativity, impeccable sense of color balance, and meticulous eye for just the right detail, FFM transforms a motley assortment of simple threads into a punchy, totally put-together package that's chock full of visual interest yet completely flattering on the girl next door.

The beauty of FFM's styling creations is that they are customized to work for a person's specific lifestyle needs, using items that you may have recently purchased or can easily add to your wardrobe. Need comfy toddler-friendly gear that also channels sophistication? Looking for the perfect thing to wear to an October wedding? How about a posh but not over-the-top ensemble for a girl's night out? Or a go-anywhere casual chic outfit that works in the classroom and for mornings at the farmer's market? Great vacation multitaskers that pack a lot of wear? Check. Elegantly tailored dresses that can go from boardroom to bedroom? Check. Indoor/outdoor jackets that can be dressed up or down? Double check. It's all there -- just seek and ye shall find. Can't find it? Ask and ye shall receive. It's as simple as that.

Utilizing Polyvore's mix n' match tools to combine images of clothing and accessories available on the web, FFM artfully constructs the perfect ensemble using the season's top picks. A bonus for those of us on a moderate budget is that most of the items come from affordable, easily attainable mass retailers like J.Crew, not obscure labels known only to Hollywood stylists with large shopping allowances.

Needless to say, I'm brimming with inspiration. So many incredible outfits in one place! One for every occasion and all completely season appropriate. I can't really choose my favorites -- I would love to wear them all. I've included some ideas throughout this post to get you started.

Want more fabulosity? Visit FFM's designs on Polyvore and observe the secrets of the most stylish celebrities. You're guaranteed to be the best dressed in town!

Follow Up on 10/25:

FFM now has her own fabulous blog to showcase her beautiful Polyvore creations. Check out Fabulous Florida Mommy on Blogspot and get your daily dose of fashion fabulousness!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

10 Things I Hate About Fall

What's going on with fashion these days? Who the hell knows. I liked the return of vintage and a little dabbling in '60s retro mod. Fur seems to have made a comeback and cashmere is in everything now, even underwear. Arguably, we've seen a lot of instant hits. So what's up with so many misses?

Many of the biggest offenders are thoughtfully borrowed from the wasteland that was the '80s and early '90s. Others are modern creations. Here's my take on the good, the bad, and the utterly inexcusable:

1. Polyurethane leggings. The unfortunate re-entry of this ridiculous excuse for a fabric into mainstream fashion is unforgivable. Even more unforgivable is how much some stores are charging for a material that should only be used to coat floors, provide thermal insulation, and produce pipes. Um, $405? Are you high on paint thinner? Suffice it to say that this combustible polymer's decomposition products include include carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen, and hydrogen cyanide. Chemistry aside, it's just plain disgusting to wear. For any price.

2. Leggings, period. Just when I finished reusing the leggings from my adolescent days as rags, a new bumper crop just had to proliferate. Why oh why must we encase our meaty thighs in constricting elastic when there are so many stylish pant options? It has never been acceptable in my book to leave your house in leggings and a tee shirt unless you're going out for a run. And I don't mean to run errands. But really, isn't the widespread availability of yoga pants (even at Target and Walmart) along with an attractive array of Juicy-inspired velour track pants enough to get you through your rigorous workouts and shopping trips? Here's a thought. Unless you're a stripper, it's not really appropriate to pair leggings with stilettos. And please don't wear leggings under dresses. Been there, done that. We don't need to revisit granny dresses and Doc Martens unless you live in Seattle and are the offspring of platinum recording artists from the 1990's.

3. Open-toed booties. Am I missing something here? What possible purpose could it serve to make my feet sweat while freezing off my toes? I can't really wear these in the early fall when it's still warm, and I sure as heck don't want to leave my toes hanging out there in the cold by November. I supposed I could wear tights or socks under them, but wouldn't that sort of defeat the purpose of showing off my toes? C'mon people, think.

4. Dark teal and deep fuchsia. I'm not kidding. I've walked into some departments at well-known retailers that consist almost entirely of the aforementioned colors. Exactly what about these shades channel fall? Or any other season, for that matter? It's possible that small numbers of the female population actually look good in broad expanses of these largely unflattering hues draped across their bodies. The rest of us would prefer to substitute dark aqua with pleasing shades of azure, subdued turquoise, and uplifting greens. Maybe bold berries, a range of reds, and sunny oranges instead of deep fuchsia. I don't mind a top here, a little accessory there. But is it really necessary to define an entire season's collection in dark teal and deep fuchsia?

5. Campfire plaid. Okay for eating jerky and beans. Not okay for the office (unless your career involves making bales of hay). Look, it's not as if plaid is entirely bad. Showcased in more refined incarnations, it can be darned cute and even pass for sophisticated. I love to rock a nice tartan skirt with tights and a fitted sweater. But in my humble opinion, campfire plaid belongs on a blanket, not a dress. And men: come out on a first date donning a plaid flannel shirt and you'll look like you just woke up from the couch - in the late '80s, after watching Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. I would probably suspect your hygiene to boot.

6. One-shoulder tops and dresses. The toga party is over. Please go back to the '80s. I don't know about you, but dresses with only one shoulder strap make me look like a deformed alien. Will you just make a decision already? Either go strapless or use both straps.

7. Runaway fringe. No one loves tassels more than I do, and I can understand a little fringe trim, but designers have gotten lazy. Can't you come up with any other detailing? Unless it's in my benefits, fringe needs to be pared down.

8. Homeless-style long puffer jackets. It was never attractive, and it's frankly not necessary to look like a street residing bag lady to stay warm. Have you tried a nice shearling, svelte goose down, cozy fur, cozy faux fur, or luxurious cashmere-wool blend? Even fleece is preferable to shiny, puffed, and quilted garbage bag. If you're going to sell us garbage, just recycle it, okay? Don't charge us $235. Yes, J.Crew, I'm talking to you.

9. Ombre. Just when I mistakenly rejoiced after having finally found the perfect taupe bag and a killer burgundy patent shoe, it started to bleed all over into various, unwanted shades. Now, why would you take a perfectly nice color and purposely make it look dirty or like it was tie-died by a pre-teen in camp? I supposed this looks artsy and can have limited uses in a knit sweater or tee. But please, leave my $2390 Prada satchel one color. I intend to carry a bag to places other than a rave, and I'm hoping to hold onto it for more than one season -- even if it is discounted to a mere $1912.

10. Knits gone wild. For the love of God, would somebody please take away the knitting needles from high-end designers? I'm thrilled that the mass population has once again discovered knitting. Let them knit baby socks and mittens. But don't insult our intelligence by attempting to peddle ugly, bulky knits as haute couture. The sooner you acknowledge that the homemade look is simply not intended for formal occasions or for business functions, the faster we can all move on. Which means I'm not going to pay over $100 for a long cardigan or sweater-vest-dress that my grandma (and now 3 of my friends) can knit me -- even if it is made by St. John and modeled by Angelina Jolie.
Let's hope the next season properly puts an end to these 10 heinous trends.