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A Confused Consumer.

September 9, 2009

As many of you know, I recently turned the ripe old age of 24. I always thought that by the time I turned 24 I would be comfortable enough and knowledgeable enough to know exactly how to shop for myself. Where to go, what to buy, how to put an outfit together. The basics. But this weekend, as I was getting ready to spend the day in the city with Erik, I was ready to tear apart my entire closet and throw everything in the general direction of Goodwill. Now, I’m hardly dowdy or unsophisticated, so it’s not like I’m a prime candidate for What Not To Wear, and the clothes I purchase are exactly bad… they’re just… not… SOMETHING COOL. Or whatever.

So, I’ve developed a bit of a girl crush on this teen named Jane. Jane Aldridge. You probably haven’t heard of her, but you probably will someday and when you see her on the cover of Vogue or Elle you’ll say I HEARD ABOUT HER FROM ALLISON. Anyway, Jane is this 18-year-old (I thought she was younger but apparently not) girl from Texas who has this super awesome fashion blog called Sea of Shoes. Go read. And drool. The girl is gorgeous (I’d kill her if she didn’t seem so nice) with a fashion designer for a mom and a closet the size of my apartment and a shoe rack that rivals Saks Fifth Avenue. If I could do my life over again, I’d want to be her. I don’t necessary want to be her now because I think wearing five-inch-heels to my desk job in New Jersey would be a bit silly. But what I envy is the fact that at such a young age this girl knows exactly how to put together an outfit that is her and that she loves and that people admire. I don’t necessarily want to go crazy and wear a dress with a gorilla on it, but the girl’s got guts.

So I threw out half my wardrobe instead and now I’m thinking, what do I want to wear. Not what should I NOT wear (I’ve got that covered) but what should I replace it with? I went to Macy’s with Erik on Monday, with $150 in gift cards, and walked around forever and looked at the selection and all I could do was say, “I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO BUY.”

I don’t have a ton of money so I have to do this slowly. I don’t want to go with trendy pieces yet. I’m not ready for trendy. I’m ready for, you know, non-trendy stuff… the normal, basic, stuff-I-should-keep-for-twenty-years kinds of things. What do you consider ESSENTIAL? Not cute bootie boots, not frilly headbands that make look like a wannabe Gossip Girl walk-on, and CERTAINLY NOT LEGGINGS (my thighs don’t do leggings, mmmk?).

I’m feeling inspired by a lot of fashion lookbooks I’ve been reading online and of course, just being on the subway last night in Union Square is enough to make a girl want a whole new wardrobe (the most fashionable people are on the L at Union Square, I swear to you). I have always wanted a wardrobe of things that I’m happy and excited to wear and show off instead of just having just “another blue T-shirt.” But I don’t know where to start.

Any suggestions? My shopping list is waiting to hear from you.

11 Comments
  1. tmana permalink
    September 9, 2009 6:38 PM

    Strangely enough, the “classics” on which the non-accidental portion of my wardrobe is based also go out of style. If you’re looking for basics, one that has stood by me for several years is a sleeveless black merino wool knit dress that I purchased at Lord & Taylor. I can dress it up with jewelry, office-ize it with a jacket, or keep it casual with a longsleeved cashmere sweater beneath it. Seven years out, the armhole shape and length are beginning to show their vintage — but I’d purchase an updated version in a heartbeat.

    Going into fall/winter I like to have one or two good pair of wool dress pants and coordinating jackets, or a tailored pants suit plus a second pair of dress slacks and a second jacket. Add a tailored skirt and dress for the office, and a flirty dress or bottom for dates. You may also want to add a cashmere or merino sweater or two.

    It’s almost impossible to have too many white shirts, as long as the designs have a bit of flair. I also like to have a black button-down shirt, either in a crisp silk or in a soft and feminine design.

    If you are willing to put some effort into shopping, you may want to try an outlet mall. FWIW, I shopped the Atlantic City outlets in May for some business attire. With a budget of about $250 and about four hours of shopping time I bought two pair of slacks (a pair of Brooks Brothers lined wool dress slacks and tailored pinstripe dress slacks from Van Heusen), two cotton Brooks Brothers shirts, a pair of Easy Spirit half-boots, a vest, and a trendy Brooks Brothers belt (marked down from $250 to $28).

    • September 10, 2009 4:12 PM

      I love outlet malls and Erik lives not too far from a great one. We’ll have to make a trip sometime.

  2. September 10, 2009 6:54 AM

    Stores like the Macy’s you went to often have free personal shoppers. Most will pull some items for you ahead of time or will help you while you are there. Don’t be afraid to tell them your budget.

    I’m not much of a help. I have a very casual life both at home and at work.

    But here’s my advice:

    Get trouser-style jeans. They look nice on just about every figure and can be dressed up or down.

    Get a very dark rinse pair of boot-cut jeans (and wash inside out to keep dark). Again, dress up or down. These will look great with some sassy shoes (I prefer red!).

    I love my flat-front Dockers chinos.

    I wear t-shirts almost every day. But not ringers, usually. I go for t-shirts that have a little detail on them. Maybe a bit of smocking, a cap sleeve, or interesting stitching.

    When I find something that really works, I buy it in a gazillion colors!

    I did a webinar with Sam Samboura and he said not to spend substantial money on anything trendy. In fact, he said to go to Forever 21 or Target for these items.

    I shop at Kohl’s a lot because their sales are so great (grab cute tees, Dockers, and jeans there).

    Find an item that is your trademark. Maybe it’s a particular style of shoes or a signature color. Something that people will always say, “Oh that reminds me of Allison.” I have a fondness for red shoes. I don’t wear them every day, but whenever someone buys cute red shoes, they always show them off. A girl can never have enough red shoes! And I was so proud when my daughter recently picked out red ankle boots for this fall. That’s my girl!

    Good luck! You’ll look cute in anything.

    (Or you can totally ignore this advice from a 30-something mom!)

    • September 10, 2009 4:10 PM

      Hey, 30-something moms can be stylish! Thanks for the suggestions. I agree with Sam Samboura. I can’t fit Forever 21, but Target is great. I also have a gift card for that too! I’ll have to think about what my trademark will be. Something to ponder…

  3. Nicole permalink
    September 10, 2009 2:32 PM

    Hi, Allison. “In Style” Magazine just had a fall essentials issue. It might still be out; if not, the library will have last month’s. It was incredibly helpful and fun to look at, too. Happy shopping!

    • September 10, 2009 4:09 PM

      Hey Nicole,

      Thanks! I think I may have found the article – or at least something like it – on their website. Thanks for the head’s up!

      Cheers,
      Allison

  4. Sarah S. permalink
    September 10, 2009 9:37 PM

    I’m a big fan of New York @nd Company for business and nicer casual stuff. They have a frequent buyer program that can save you big $ with coupons and reward points. I would have to agree with the majority of suggestions (esp. Target and also Kohls) – my only addition would be that in buying shoes, go with function and comfort over fashion. My mom didn’t and had to have corrective surgery when she was in her forties, and again a couple of years ago. SO not worth it.

    • September 10, 2009 11:06 PM

      Sarah, I’m actually not a big fan of NY and Co. because they don’t have very good materials in the fabrics. Lots of Rayon that doesn’t hold up well, but it’s cheap. Target is OK. That’s too bad about your mom, but a good warning. Will definitely keep that in mind!

  5. September 11, 2009 3:22 PM

    I think Jane Aldridge is a lot more well known that you might think. She is pretty popular online.

    My advice on your wardrobe question:

    1. If you aren’t quite sure what your ideal wardrobe looks like, go through magazines and clip out images you’re drawn to and save in a scrapbook, over time you’ll get a much better sense of your own style.

    2. Read this book:
    http://www.amazon.com/Nothing-Wear-Five-Step-Common-Closet/dp/1594630283

    Though I’ve known my style very well for some time now, I didn’t always shop very well and so had a less than adequate wardrobe for my needs (had plenty of clothes, just not the right clothes). “Nothing to Wear” absolutely taught me how to shop, how to put together a wardrobe so that I always have something to wear for every occasion in my life.

    I’ve since come to believe that like any other skill in life, learning how to shop and plan a wardrobe well isn’t something that’s just known innately; it requires forethought and explicit learning. For anyone who needs help putting together, or editing, a wardrobe, I can’t recommend this book enough. Based on what you’ve described, I think it’s perfect for what you’re looking for.

    (By the way, I am in no way affiliated with this book, its authors, etc. just love it and found it incredibly useful. I realized my enthusiasm for it may have made it sound as if I’m trying to sell the book for my own gain–not at all the case.)

    • September 11, 2009 3:26 PM

      Hi M,

      Thanks for the book tip. I appreciate your suggestions. I think for some people clothes is more “natural” but for a lot of people, I agree, it’s something you learn to do.

      Also, regarding Jane, I agree that she’s very popular in some circles online – like fashion blogs – but this blog is primarily read by people with diabetes, and who are a bit older, so it’s unlikely (in my opinion) that many of them would have heard of her unless they are regular readers of modern, contemporary fashion blogs.

      Though she was in the Wall Street Journal today, so hopefully I will be proven wrong soon!

  6. liz permalink
    September 12, 2009 9:36 PM

    Hi Allison! I’ve done the whole need-a-work-wardrobe-on-a-budget thing, so here’s my list of must-have staples:

    1) Classic white button down shirt. Fitted.
    2) Dark Pencil Skirt. Everyone looks good in a pencil skirt, and thanks in part to “Mad Men,” curves are SO in again.
    3) Dark straight leg trousers. They’re not cheap, but in my opinion, there’s no better pant out there than the Express Editor trouser. I buy a new pair anytime I can find them on sale. “Every ass looks good in the Editor,” I always say.
    4) Black leather wedge pumps. Comfortable, chic, and professional.
    5) Shift dress. This year, I’d go with a jewel tone.
    6) Camel trench coat. Timeless and completely versatile.
    7) A cardigan you love. (I have a cardigan I love in almost every color.)
    8) Wrap dress(es). These look fabulous on girls of any size.

    As for stores, Target can be great, especially the “go” collection. NY&C, I agree, is not great for pants or sweaters, but I have several of their tops (especially button-downs). H&M is also a good place to go for inexpensive classics, although you’ll have to wade through all the trendy stuff to find it. I stay away from trendy except when it comes to accessories, and H&M has super cute cheap accessories. The Limited’s website has fabulous clearance sales that can save you a ton of money, too.

    Good luck!

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