At the beginning of Spring this year, I was certain I had to buy new clothes. I had nothing to wear, a cry I believe started in the Garden of Eden when Eve first realized she was naked and fashioned fig leaves to cover herself. My budget this year was very slim and I had decided to spend a good chunk of what I had on a gift for someone else and making over my kitchen. No regrets...but no money left either.
So I inspected my closet and asked myself, 'What do I do?' Obviously I rely on that old axiom, '...Make it do...'
I thought I'd share one last post.
My personal fashion history. I have always loved clothes. I haven't always loved the clothes I've had to wear. I was late developing my own tastes because until I was 18 and working, my mother made or bought all my clothing without any input from me whatsoever. If she liked it, she made it, or cut it out and insisted I sew it up and wear it. It took me a few years to determine my style, which is a little casual classic, a little bohemian romantic. It took me a long time to learn how to put an outfit together. I still struggle with it but have found that not waiting until the last minute is the best way to accomplish my goal of being fairly well put together on most occasions.
Several years ago, while in one of my favorite clothing stores shopping, I glanced upwards at the outfits that were compiled on the mannequins above the clothing racks. I happened to be in the store when the consulting stylist had stopped by and she suggested alternative looks to the manager, using some of the same elements in the outfits currently being displayed. These 'looks' are called 'story boards' and are meant as suggestions to the customer. I think it was at that moment that the idea of using story boards as inspiration to dress myself was born.
In a perfect world, I'd simply buy all the pieces on the story board and walk out with complete outfits, but budgets seldom stretch that far and what's more the availability of sizes often constricts choices as well.
I have used magazine photos, watched many and many an episode of What Not To Wear, read Bridgette Rae's blog, listened to my youngest daughter and my niece (both are very fashionable girls on a budget), and sat up and noticed story boards in stores or people who caught my eye in the street.
Here of late I've used Pinterest. Polyvore is another good site, too.
How I Shop. I do not have the perfect figure as any of you who have seen Katie's wedding photo can see. I never have had. From earliest childhood I was a big girl and as the years went on I got bigger. Nowadays buying clothes is far easier than it was as a child growing up plus sized in a world that refused to even acknowledge plus sized people.
As an adult I've been blessed that the clothing industry recognized plus sized individuals wanted to be dressed nicely and in a currently stylish way. Now and then we even luck out and see honest to goodness real plus sized women modeling these styles as well...but I digress.
Most everything I have comes from a clearance rack. Despite the current plus size clothing market, finding things that fit properly is not always easy...especially on a budget. The two favorite stores for me currently are Dress Barn and Cato. I admit freely that I seldom find bottoms (skirts or pants) at Dress Barn. At Cato, I do, but it's hit and miss. If I went in weekly, when they got in new shipments I'd stand a lot better chance, but I don't shop that often for clothing, so when I find pants in my size, I try them on immediately and if they fit, I purchase them even if I don't need them at that time.
Tops on the other hand are easily found more often. With tops my rules are simple enough: I like sleeves of any length but not cap sleeves as a rule. I like the hem to at least cover most of my hips and from there I am wide open. I look at just about any store I happen to be in, though I prefer the styles at some more than others. Dress Barn, Cato, Ross for Less, TJMaxx, Target...I usually can find a style that fits me in most. Target is my least favorite, at least the store nearest me, as the plus size department is beyond depressing. It's where that store chooses to push all clearance racks, maternity clothes and baskets of goods that need to be delivered back to various departments. Ugh.
Now I've shared where I like to shop, let me tell you where I normally avoid shopping: plus sized catalogs. Lane Bryant/Woman Within/Roamans. Why? Because the items are overpriced and seldom change from one year to the next. Because they never ever show a plus sized model, but instead put over sized pieces on thin women which is so totally misleading to the consumer. Because often the materials are cheap and unattractive. Because clothing is cut oddly to accommodate a plus sized person who has never been near the pattern department of any designer in their industry yet.
(The Lane Bryant stores are quite nice and well worth visiting if you have one near you. They are so far away from what the catalog carries that it's as though they just happen to have the same name and are not related at all otherwise.)
I don't shop thrift stores. I've tried. I am so overwhelmed by the way the thrift stores in my area batch things by color. I can never think what color I am looking for (my fault for not shopping with a list), and I am overwhelmed at the idea of looking at sizing on 109 pink shirts and 93 yellow ones. If your stores sort by size, how lucky you are! If you have the stamina to look through thousands of pieces to find a few in your size, you are certainly one determined soul!
And last, I don't always shop to purchase. Sometimes, I'm just window shopping, looking for inspiration in the stores or store windows. I carry along my camera and take photos of those outfits that really just speak to the clothes loving woman I am.
Get Over the Size Thing. Clothing varies by as much as two or three sizes even within the same style line. This is because the manufacturer is all about filling orders. If a store purchases so many each of small, medium, large, x-large, etc and they have only so many of say x-large, but loads of large, they will fill the remaining order with large sizes marked as x-large. How do I know this? From someone who worked in clothing manufacturing. It happened all the time. So for goodness sake try things on. This includes pants, shoes, bras, everything!! Try it on. Buy the size that fits you best. Well fitting clothes will never make you look larger than you are. Tight fitting clothes are never going to make you look thinner. Some pieces that are too large can be altered but be realistic. If you know you're not going to have it altered and it is obvious that it needs it, don't buy it. Spend the money on something that does fit you instead.
Be Open Minded. I will try on any style, even if I've never worn that style before, at any price point, simply to see how the style suits me. If I can't afford an item, I at least have a new style to look for that is in my price line.
I don't worry about dressing too young. I use to worry about this and one day when I was 50 my darling teen aged daughter said to me, "Stop dressing your age, Mom. You may be 50, but you look 35 and you can wear a lot more stuff than you think." Well I took her advice and I did just what I said in the above paragraph. I started trying on every thing. If it's in style, and modest, I have probably tried it on! Some things just don't work with my body type. Some things look better on the hanger than on me. Some things are a total hit and look fabulous and you could knock me over with a feather, because never in a million years would I have believed it to be so just by how it looked on the hanger.
Don't limit yourself because you can't wear cute shoes. For years I could only walk if I wore athletic shoes. Eventually I was able to branch out and wear flats in some styles and I have a small shoe wardrobe now...but believe me, if you're dressed nicely overall, most people will ignore the orthopedic shoes or braces you may have to wear.
What I Look For In Story Boards. Or magazine pages, mannequins, etc. When I look at a fashion story board I am not looking at the skinny jeans or high heel shoes and thinking, "Pfft! I can't wear that! Oh well..." and sit back moping that I'm not skinny enough or bemoan the injuries that keep me from wearing the very high heels I loved in my former life. I am not looking at the skimpy/sheer blouse. I am looking at how colors are combined, what accessories are used, what each individual piece is like. If a story board has caught my eye it's because more than one element on that board is similar in some way to something I already own.
Never assume you can only wear something one way. Scarves can become cute belts, shawls, bags, cover ups, vests, skirts. Suits can be worn as separates. All sorts of colors go well together if we just try them, instead of sticking with the most obvious. You can use a variety of accessories to dress up or down any outfit you put together. Neutrals can be any color. In the 1950's you chose navy, black, brown or gray. These days your neutral can be anything from red to orchid, depending upon your personal style and tastes.
You can wind a necklace about your wrist and make a statement bracelet.
Pair up unexpected colors. If I learned one thing from the show "What Not To Wear" it's this: Pieces do not have to match...they should go with one another. That's why you've seen my inspiration story boards that combined blue and orange, or brown and turquoise...Combine colors that you like. I remember when Amie was little that she wanted to dress herself. She pulled out a purple pair of pants and a golden yellow shirt. I told her they didn't match but she would hear none of that. No, she insisted on putting that on and you know it looked just lovely together. I'd never have believed it in a million years but it did 'go with' very nicely.
(By the way, coming home from Florida I wore the brown chiffon top with blue jeans and the turquoise bib necklace. I walked into a restaurant and was immediately complimented by the hostess! It made me feel I'd done well with my rambling about Pinterest!).
Don't underestimate the value of being well dressed. I hear it now and then from women that 'It doesn't matter how I dress, my husband loves me just the same." or "I don't have time for all that stuff." Well good for your husband that he's a man of his word but it doesn't do any harm to look nice, even when you're working hard at home! When I first became a stay at home mom I enjoyed being lax about clothing and makeup...but it was really brought home hard to me the day I made a little effort to look nicer and I was asked by every single individual in the house, "Where are you going?" It made me sit up and take notice of the fact that my family liked seeing me look nice, too. What a shame they felt only people outside our home were deserving of seeing the better dressed me!
What's more, how I look affects how I feel about myself personally. I noted that two or three of you said this same thing to me as you've been experimenting with your own wardrobes. It makes me feel better physically if I look well, and it makes me feel better mentally, too. It gives me a little boost of confidence.
My at home wardrobe is by no means as nice as my out and about wardrobe but I do try to keep decent at home clothes. If it's badly stained or torn, out it goes. I get long wear from my things, so by the time it hits the trash can (you can also donate to animal shelter if you have one nearby), it's paid for itself hundreds of times over.
And my last point:
Build an accessory inventory. I pick up vintage pieces at flea market and thrift stores, buy costume pieces everywhere from Walmart to Kohl's. I seldom pay full price for anything (Walmart is the exception, and there too there is often clearance priced items). I buy what I like. I have held onto pieces for years before I ever had anything to wear the piece with. I've never regretted but one purchase and it was a necklace bought last year specifically for an outfit. I paid top dollar for it too, though it was costume jewelry. It turned my neck green the second time I wore it. I've never been so disgusted or disappointed in my life!
I like bangle bracelets, too. I have quite a few of them, all purchased over the last 35 years and they range from dollar store to vintage.
And brooches. Brooches have been out of vogue but they are returning or so a fashion spread promised just the other day. I have some rather nice elaborate sorts that are vintage. I still buy the occasional one when I go into thrift shops and see an especially pretty one. Brooches do very nicely to fasten at the top of a button front shirt. You can pin them to a lapel, hang from a chain to make a statement necklace, pin them to a scarf or hat or purse.
Purses are an individual thing. John offered to buy me a nice leather bag a few years ago. I declined. Truth told, I suffer from bag boredom. I like to change them out and often. I'd rather have ten bags at a time than one really good one. I've looked at higher end bags and frankly I don't see what all the fuss is about. I generally pay between $20 and $30 for a purse, usually at Ross for Less which nets me a better quality bag. I've had some of my purses for years and they hold up well. I've bought a few in other places but mostly I prefer Ross for Less.
I love scarves, have for years. At one point in my life, scarves were my signature piece. If you saw me during my working years, 9 times out of 10 I was wearing a scarf. I have quite a few vintage ones and a few of the more modern infinity scarves. I've already suggested above wearing a scarf as a belt or shawl or vest...There are videos on YouTube about how to tie scarves in interesting ways. I'm currently looking out for vintage chiffon scarves. I remember Mama had a drawer full of them in all sorts of colors when I was a child. I'd love to have a few of them as a fun accessory now.
And that's it. That's how I shop, what I look for and how I built up my wardrobe so that I can see my way through this season of not purchasing new right away. Just yesterday, I pulled out another piece that I'd been holding onto and styled it into an outfit I've never worn before. I think I'm going to wear it tomorrow when we're out.