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Back in January, when I had my near miss of an epic blogger meetup with the lovely Katie, I was out in Denver for a very special purpose. My sweet sister-in-law, E., graciously asked me to come out to Denver to visit her, her sweet husband and their adorable dog, and to help her find a few key pieces to refresh her wardrobe. We started with a few constraints. First, we wanted to incorporate the contents of her existing wardrobe as much as possible, supplementing rather than supplanting her existing collection. Second, we wanted to stick to a $500 total budget, looking for a balance of investment-quality pieces and fast-fashion items to experiment with. Third, we had to steer clear of black and dark grey knits, to accommodate the occasional, er, fiber donations from her (blonde) dog, who is as generous with the fur she leaves behind as she is with her appetite for snuggling. While E. has been remixing these pieces for quite a while now, here are a few of our favorite looks we styled while I was there.
Lesson 1: Belting and Other Proportion-Enhancing Strategies
- Black Suede Boots: Dansko, from my closet
- Black Ribbed Tights: Eddie Bauer (new)
- Brown Tweed Pencil Skirt: Banana Republic (new)
- Long Teal Cardigan: Nordstrom (new)
- Navy Tank: Old Navy
- Silver Beaded Necklace: Hand-me-down from Grandmother
- Brown Sweater Dress: Loft (new)
- Navy Cami: Charter Club, via Macy’s
- Tights and Boots
- Silver Belt: Forever 21 (new)
- Red Scarf: found on the sidewalk!
E. has great proportions naturally, but felt like she was dressing in ways that masked, rather than emphasized, her best features. We looked for new pieces and new ways to wear her existing workhorses in ways that would define her waist and emphasize the length of her legs, including making judicious use of the accessories department at Forever 21 to start a belt collection. E. didn’t have a classic straight skirt in her closet, so we were thrilled to find this brown tweet pencil skirt from BR, which is a mid-weight woven fabric with a good bit of stretch to it. The seaming gives it structure while the stretch makes it super flattering, and the high waist provides significant waist definition without the addition of a belt. This soft, cozy long cardigan adds a dose of modesty without looking frumpy, adding warmth and easing any anxieties she might have about wearing a tighter skirt at work. This outfit also makes use of one of the great signature aspects of E.’s style: her love of jewel tones, which provides her wardrobe with a cohesive, endlessly remixable quality.
We found this sweater dress on super sale at Loft, and though it’s definitely not a seasonless piece, it’s one she should get a lot of wear out of during the fall and winter. The hemline is great for pairing either with boots or another pair of heels, and the warm neutral should be a great base for pops of color in the form of tights, tanks and scarves. And E. gets huge props for the ultimate budget find: she found this scarf abandoned on the sidewalk, and (after a thorough cleaning, of course), has given it a new life in her closet!
Lesson 2: Skinnies!
- Skinnies: Levi’s CurveID “Bold Curve” (new)
- Brown Riding Boots: Etienne Aigner, via Zappos (new)
- White Cami: Kirkland, via CostCo
- Black Belt: Forever 21 (new)
- Long Teal Cardigan
E. and I have talked a lot about our conflicted feelings about skinny jeans, but she was willing to contemplate a step outside her jeans-wearing comfort zone if we could find a pair that really, really fit her. After striking out at a number of stores, we checked out this pair from the Levi’s CurveID series, which E. loved. They have some stretch, but are definitely not jeggings; their sturdier weight and flattering dark wash makes them both significantly more modest and dressy enough for a casual Friday at work or dinner and drinks out with friends. To reduce some of the exposure anxiety that sometimes accompanies wearing skinnies, she’s styled these with a longer cardigan and boots, but belted the cardigan to define her waist and keep the long, soft cardigan looking really polished.
Lesson 3: Layering
- Grey Cardigan: The Limited
- Black Flats: Kenneth Cole Reaction, via Off Broadway Shoes
- Purple Tank: Old Navy
- Printed Scarf: Old Navy
- Maroon Dress: Target
- Black Belt: Forever 21
E. loved these pants so much she quickly moved on to what we might call more advanced skinnies-wearing: cuffing them with flats and pairing them with a tank and sweater that hit higher on her hips. She’s also demonstrating the amazing versatility of this grey cardigan, a staple piece she’s had for a while. Despite having an awesome collection of tanks and cardigans, E. didn’t tend to wear layered looks, so we tried to find ways to pair more of these pieces together to both refresh her perspective on them and better accommodate Denver’s quickly-shifting weather patterns. I loved the subtle way she’s defining her waist in both of these looks, with the dark belt over the dress and the vertical line of the brightly patterned scarf with her jeans.
Applications: Friend N.
After I left, E. did some additional shopping with her sweet friend N., and helped her pick out a few new pieces for a mini wardrobe refresh of her own, just in time for N. to start her new job! She sent me a few photos of some of the looks she and N. styled together, demonstrating the versatility of this great pair of black trousers. Don’t you think she did a great job? I love the way she’s helped push N. to wear a number of things that are outside the “rules” of dressing a petite woman (flats, longer tops, etc.), and helped her find pieces that pair so well with N.’s skin and hair color!
Even though I was pretty green around the gills, I had a blast on my trip, getting to spend time with E. and her wonderful family and friends, and visiting my little brother, G., who is also a recent transplant to Colorado. Helping E. with her wardrobe refresh project was great sartorial inspiration for me, as well, helping me to think critically about my own wardrobe and to remember, as Sal has often so wisely said, all the ways that a changed and empowered relationship with style can affect so, so much more than the reflection we see in the mirror every day. Seeing the look on E.’s face when she realized how great she looked and felt in things she never thought she “could” or “should” wear was more than worth the cross-country flight, as was hearing about the compliments she was getting from her boss on her chic new office style!
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