Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Chic hostess: Nothing to wear

Recently it came to my attention that not only can the clothing you have in your closet be unfulfilling for your parties and events, but even if you buy something new, you may not be leaving the store feeling you've accomplished what you set out to do: Look and feel your best.

Because it was both my career and my craft before media became my thing, I assure you: Clothing can be so moving and empowering when it is carefully considered. It disappoints me to find anyone unhappy with so much to choose from in this vast retail environment.

I can only share what my time wearing clothes and working with them has taught me. I hope you find it useful.

1. A little research, in every endeavor, is the best start.

I follow a number of magazines on-line which are style and age appropriate (I am in my 30's, if I followed Cosmo's page I would look ridiculous). There is absolutely nothing worse than attempting to dress younger that you are: Grow old gracefully. Style is not only for twenty-something's but it does need to adapt. Unwillingness to adapt is inelegant and foolhardy: Your Abercrombie t-shirt will not turn back the clock, sister.

But if everything you purchase is well-thought out, then even in "throwing something on," you cannot take a left at the intersection of gorgeous and "does she own a mirror?"

I follow resources which represent style, color trends, and stylist picks. I want a cross-section of information at the start of each season; Once I have all that, I know what is carrying over in my closest from previous seasons and years.

I follow a few brands which have done well by me, but not many. Fickle is admirable if you want to find the best options; see everything, raise your horizon line to the limit. I want to know about new brands: Not sales. Look, if it is ready-to-wear or off-the-rack, it will always go on sale. I am after the right pieces at the right times. I keep some of this intel in my back pocket for events. I like to know who has what dresses if I need them long before the moment arrives.

Two nights ago, I was advised I should appear for work at an event at the Governor's mansion. My boss and I might have had a thirty second conversation about clothing: I had the right dress in my closet. If not, I know who had the one for the job, follow? For those of you who, like me, work in the event arena, it is critical to take care of the clothing issue well in advance and deal with a season at once; Breakfast, lunch, dinner, cocktails, and black tie all in the bull pen.

2. I flip through a few things.

I gather for a season or two at a time. Once the recon in the closet is complete, I flip through a couple of realistic fashion mags (I read Vogue for inspiration, I read inStyle for my actual clothing at this stage in my life), whatever appeals to you - but, again, age appropriate.

Catalogs: I hate 'em. Aside from the tree sacrifice, each book is too stylistically narrow. I just want a larger selection. Nordstrom.com, eDressme.com, and sites like them go right across the board for all types of product, find the one you like and bookmark it.

3. I look carefully at mannequins in stores.

A stylist whose only job was to track trends and represent them correctly for the retailer agonized over the mannequins you see: This is not a store manager's decision. At a corporate level, all of this is styled by the real pros of the game alongside the designers, and then literal books, maps, and guidelines are sent to every store to tell them exactly which scarf and just how jaunty it is to be. Look at their work, and if you can put nothing together on your own, buy the outfit on the mannequin. Let the stylist do the creative work for you.

4. Ugh, vintage (aka pretty girls gone grannie)

Fact: If one does not have a great flair for fashion styling, this often looks more found-in-attic/ hidden-with-good-reason than glam, ok?

I know someone who, without fail, will turn up in a piece of "vintage" and whatever sneaker she deems hippest that day (Chanel jackets and Converse -
please hand over the Valium. I die, and not in a good way). It's just bad. It is not stylish (see point 1 above: research).

A lot of things have to be consciously jammed into place to get vintage working for you: The piece will likely need tailored. Your hair needs to be set or up (unless you want an unintended sartorial revisit to Woodstock from the neck up). Your make up should be correct in color, coverage, and there should be enough of it.

Too often, vintage is used as an excuse to look relaxed. However, these girls who are rockin' boho chic are coiffed, make no mistake. I mean, set and styled within 1 millimeter of their scalps, so, please, do not mistake older clothing or even vintage-inspired apparel for something relaxed. Keep in mind, we are the most casual society of any that came before and their clothing was meant for more high-maintenance looks, generally.

In moderation: If you really have a talent with styling.

5. Make sure it actually fits, not generally fits.

6. Buy quality over quantity.

7. If you can have only one very good thing and it is going to be a basic or a pivot point for a whole season, color black will have the most longevity.

To sum up then: Feeling fantastic in your clothing is possible but like anything else, it takes work and research. You will need to purge, and it will be hard to part with the old stand-by's, but getting it absolutely right is far better than maintaining a storage closest for useless (albeit well-loved) pieces.


DocP said...

Great discussion! I believe you meant to say "we are the MOST casual" (or the least formal) in your discussion of vintage looks.

DocP said...

Another thought: try on the complete outfit, undergarments, accessories, shoes prior to the event. If your event is far from home, last minute changes to an ensemble may not be possible. As I discovered last week, a hotel room several thousand miles from home is not the best place to discover a different bra would have been advisable. Also not the place to discover I really should have taken the time to re-try a dress after the alterations were complete.

Teresa at Splendid Sass said...

Thank you for this post. We don't plan enough ahead. Your tips are very helpful.

Donna in Potomac said...

I enjoyed this fashion post, and can't help but wonder if you have any thoughts on "best" fashion magazines for the 50-something woman, or any advice at all. Thanks!

LPC said...

And that's EXACTLY how it's done!

pretty pink tulips said...

Great suggestions....fit is so important and can make the least expensive item look like a million bucks!

pve design said...

Chanel haunts me, "One must be two things, classy and fabulous." - With that in mind, a simple black sheath dress or a fabulous suit always solve the mystery of nothing to wear. I bought a Chanel suit years ago and it has served me well. "Fashion fades, style endures."

Donna in Potomac said...

I enjoyed your post and wonder if you have any thoughts on "the best" fashion magazines for the 50-something woman. Thanks

Town and Country Mom said...

Excellent recommendations, although I think there are finds for every age in small shops and boutiques where the styling is done locally.