Fancy Me Up
January 10, 2018 12:12 PM   Subscribe

Short version: I have to look good NOW. Limited budget. Upcoming events that I feel woefully unprepared for. These range from very fancy dinner parties, openings, and other events that will include well known and wealthy people in the arts and fashion world. These are obligatory events I will be attending for my spouse’s job and I have to feel confident and look put together.

The problem is, I am not feeling confident at all. I’m in my late 40s but it’s even hard to write that because I don’t feel that old. I haven’t had the money or need to keep up with the level of of stylishness that these upcoming events are going to require. I am terrified!

I am aware of fashion though and even pop into Dover St. Market sometimes to have a look around. I do have trouble with fit sometimes and I am on the shorter side (5’4”) so I can’t often just pick things off the rack and wear them. Anyone have a clothing shop suggestion for non skinny shorter women? I also don’t want to show up to everything in a black uniform because I got too nervous to wear anything else.

My plan is to continue with the basics that I have been doing (running, better diet) and I need to add in some effective skin care. My routine is basic moisturizing, and a retinol and Vit. C based cream at night. I would love suggestions for a NYC based dermatologist or skin care place that doesn’t cost thousands where I could get ongoing skin care as well as a facial especially before a big event. I would like my skin to look fresh and as good as possible. What techniques could I do myself at home to brighten and smooth my complexion?

I would like a stylish look that is also reflective of my love for all things avant garde, punk or gothic. I have fun with street wear too and I’m all about things that are unconventional. I am able to make my own cool accessories. But I do not have youth on my side and I don’t want to look out of place. Are there stylists for folk like me?

Another problem to solve, my husband is extremely tall. I don’t normally wear heels but I think for these kinds of events I should just to help erase some of the difference. Any suggestions for shoes that are comfortable and high heeled? (haha). Are platforms in or out?

What other things will help me to look put together, somewhat dressing for my age but still looking like an artist? I was thinking I should be manicured (I’m a sculptor so don’t often mess with that). Any secret weapons for fitting into situations that might be on the Upper West Side but feeling more like a downtown chic? I am irreverent in general- wear what I want, work for myself- but I need some serious confidence building advice.
posted by anonymous to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (27 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Might MM Lafleur have some options that work for you? Just slightly unconventional basics that would be a good canvas for a more outre accessory or two.
posted by praemunire at 12:34 PM on January 10, 2018

Well I do a mini makeover from time to time and the heavy hitters where I get a lot of bang for my buck is with a "green peel", teeth whitening and baby Botox... i like the ysl highlighting pen as well... in textiles it's the deeper colors that are more expensive to dye so keep your eye out for that over light pink for example... I also invested in really comfy heels because my feet hurt so bad but they don't make them anymore otherwise I'd recommend them... oh! And some jewelry?
posted by catspajammies at 12:42 PM on January 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh! And eyebrows shaped and colored... that's another one where you look much better for not a lot of money...
posted by catspajammies at 12:44 PM on January 10, 2018 [10 favorites]

Anyone have a clothing shop suggestion for non skinny shorter women?

EShakti. Even their standard clothes are adjusted for height, and for an extra $10, you can get them custom-made with your measurements. That $10 also includes adjustments in length, neckline, and sleeves, for most dresses. Oh, and they all have pockets. Real pockets, "phone wallet and keys together" pockets, not those little "maybe your whole hand but maybe not" pockets.

If you need them a bit faster, browse the overstock section, and filter by your size. (They have a size chart. It's accurate.)

Just ignore everything that doesn't fit your sense of style. They even allow you to filter by color and fabric type.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 12:53 PM on January 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

i'm not in NYC, so i am not entirely sure what the local options there are, but for me -- RENTING DRESSES from an awesome purveyor was the best discovery for fancy events EVER. the people there will make sure you look fly af, you'll FEEL fly af, and get to wear something super baller without breaking your piggy bank. and if you have several events, maybe even get to wear several fun dresses! i'm not much of one for playing dress-up, but this one discovery has really made my inner glam macho femme princess come to the surface :)
posted by crawfo at 12:55 PM on January 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

1. Get your hair colored and high lighted. It improves your skin tremendously. Get your eyebrows done too
2. Get Peter Thomas Roth unwrinkle peel pads and use as often as your skin is ok with. WEAR SUNSCREEN.
3. See a dermatologist to remove age spots and maybe some botox if you can afford it. Do not get a chemical peel if you have events coming up, too risky. Skip the facials and save your money,. You can do it at home.
4. Exfoliate. Buy good moisturizer, not necessarily expensive. People rave about Burts Bees intensive line and it is good. If you haven't seen results from the retinol, ditch it and move on. It doesn't work for everyone. Try Strivectin or something else with some science behind it instead if you want to.
5. Do a weekly mud mask or similar for cleansing and moisturizing. It really does help if you do it regularly.
7. Shop at Nordstroms etc. Be conservative. If you've been out of the fashion game for decades don't try to jump back in at an advanced level, which is what "street style on a late 40s woman at high faultin events" is. But a couple navy/black or jewel tone dresses in a modern silhouette and some comfy pumps and call it good. You can gradually work your way towards a more hip place starting with accessories and hair
7. Eshakti does not make formal enough dresses for what you describe. Go to Nordstroms or Nordstroms Rack. You don't need a new dress for each event, but versatile pieces .
8. Makeup. Pay someone. Totally worth it at least the first time.
9. Get a decent coat. They are all on sale now so it's a good time. Gray is ideal as it goes with everything.

Spend money: hair, brows, coat
Scrimp: makeup and brushes, products in general. Shoes.
posted by fshgrl at 1:25 PM on January 10, 2018 [17 favorites]

Spend money: hair, brows, coat
Scrimp: makeup and brushes, products in general. Shoes.

I agree, except that foundation is for spending not scrimping.
posted by jgirl at 1:55 PM on January 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

Since in NYC you might check out Skin Laundry. They do “no downtime” laser facials. They claim that a series of facials can have cumulative anti-aging effects, though I’ve heard criticism that the lasers are too weak for lasting change. However, they DEFINITELY DO WORK for making your skin look way more glowey for a few days afterwards, and I sometimes book one before super-important events. Obviously, you’d want to try it to see how your skin reacts before doing it right before something important though!

I usually wear my hair curly or chemically straight, but all my friends swear by blowouts from Drybar. They’re all over New York. I recently got married, and my mom and two best friends all went to Drybar (independently) before.

I also super agree with everyone about the importance of brows!
posted by sometamegazelle at 2:09 PM on January 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Seconding that Rent the Runway is made for situations like this. The selection at their physical location in NYC has been poor, in my experience, but, if you plan ahead, I think you can have them send stuff there for you to try on. Otherwise, I'd block out some time to comb through Century 21 to try to find a good deal on a cool piece (whether shoes or a jacket or whatever) that will make you feel stylish when you combine it with whatever more basic pieces you already have or decide to pick up.

You could also go in a punkier direction and get some of the heeled doc martins (which I hate, but are probably pretty comfy and get you both some height and also take you into deliberately subverting normal cocktail party standards territory). Those with a cool, kind-of-short cocoon dress could be pretty rad for openings, cocktail parties, etc. I have a couple cocoon dresses that I wear with high-heeled ankle boots and those have gotten me through a lot of NYC parties.

Also, get your hair professionally done (blown-out or whatever is appropriate for your hair) before the events. Manicures are good too (I have ripped up hands/nails all the time and it's amazing how much I don't notice in my day-to-day life but feel self-conscious about it as fancy events).

I wouldn't mess with botox and peels right before you want to look nice, just in case you don't like it/have a bad reaction. But, yes to eyebrows and I would figure out how to do your makeup in a way that's pleasing to you if you're a makeup wearing person. I think good makeup will get you where you want to go with your skin for a night, anyway.
posted by snaw at 2:14 PM on January 10, 2018 [5 favorites]

I'm 5'4" and not skinny, like you, and I've had to get fancy for events before. My natural state is 'does it fit? is it clean? great, let's go!' but the following things helped:

- Getting good quality underwear, and a properly fitted bra - NOT Victoria's Secret, preferably Nordstrom (I got mine done at Marks and Spencer) or somewhere indie. Makes such a difference.

- Getting your hair cut and eyebrows done. That right there is half the trick. Getting a professional blowout (or learning to blowdry your hair) also helps.

- It's better to be comfortable in flats than totter about in heels, but I always liked the simple black pumps from Clarks. Wedge/block heels are more comfortable than stiletto, and try to stay under 3' if you can.

- Rent the Runway is an excellent idea, but I've found that you can get away with wearing the same simple, classic dresses and changing up the accessories.

- Sephora does a thing where if you buy a certain amount of makeup they teach you how to use it. I did that as a birthday present to myself and it was SO worth it. I'd try makeup first before futzing about with peels - you never know if you'll have a bad reaction.
posted by Tamanna at 2:26 PM on January 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

Not so cheap, but Cole Haan heels are elegant and somehow walkable. I don’t know how they do it, but I don’t wear any other brand.
posted by frumiousb at 2:26 PM on January 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

Also, for shoes, take a look at United Nude. Usually pretty comfortable and very cool. You can often find them for sale or on ebay. They're the only shoe company I've seen that makes a selection of actually fashionable wedges.
posted by snaw at 2:30 PM on January 10, 2018

Get thee to a consignment shop!
posted by donaken at 2:32 PM on January 10, 2018

Don't wear heels if you're not used to them. No one cares about the height difference, there's no need to add a whole nother layer of discomfort to a situation that's already stressing you out.

I think COS might hit the right level of avant garde/conservative for the kinds of events you're describing. They have lots of styles that are meant to be loose/drapey so maybe you can find something that works for your shape? Its sister store & Other Stories might have something for your trendier side but they definitely lean towards young skinny amazons. They are both H&M brands (so relatively affordable), and right next door to each other near Bryant Park.

Also, I've never tried it but frequently see Nordstrom's personal shoppers recommended on the green.
posted by yeahlikethat at 2:36 PM on January 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

Look up similar events from last year in New York Social Diary or the Sunday Style party section of The New York Times to see what kinds of things people wore at similar events. Yes, check out Rent the Runway but have a great pair of comfortable but quirky shoes, not necessarily heels, that will work at multiple events. Browse through consignment and vintage shops for interesting well-made evening bags, shoes, vintage jewelry that you can use to accessorize basic outfits dramatically. Nordstrom's might be a little too conservative, but you could get, say, a great fitting black evening skirt, then pair it with a top from a vintage or consignment shop.
posted by Elsie at 3:08 PM on January 10, 2018

Platforms (flatforms, specifically) are a great option for getting height comfortably. They also work very well with your punk/goth aesthetic bent. And, for all of the jokes about wearing black, black can really work to make you look chic and put together.

Don't get a facial right before a big event. Get one a week or week and a half out. Facials that solve problems (extractions and stronger exfoliation) can be irritating and your face can look puffy and angry for a couple of days. Get the facial and then let your skin calm down. Or, if you're going for a gentle facial (which honestly don't do anything I can't easily do myself at home), make sure you do a test run before a big event. You never know how new products or techniques will come out and a surprise before a big event is just stress.

I love the skin care products from Make Up Artists Choice. They will consult with you by phone, you can get samples to see what works best for you, and the prices can't be beat for their very high quality (I like them so much better than pricey prestige brands, which I've tried). They're my most favorite skincare secret. They also have great acids for aging skin (very gentle to strong) and will walk you through what will work best.

Hair cut and brows are key to looking your best. Go get your brows shaped professionally and then keep it up yourself with tweezing. I tint mine at home, but getting them tinted makes a huge difference, even if you're already filling them in a bit. I go for relatively neutral makeup: foundation, some contour under my cheekbones instead of blush (I use a face powder that's several shades darker than my shade, no need to get into those mega-step contouring ordeals), mascara, eyeliner, brow fill-in, and a bold lip. Watch out for anything glittery on aging skin, especially around the eye. I avoid eyeshadow because of glitter and because doing eyeshadow really well is a major skill that I've chosen not to develop - blending can be really tricky and a poor job of it does you no favors.

I also keep my nails short and I find that you can go with much more dramatic colors with short nails. I often go very dark (blacks, charcoals, navy blue) or use wild colors or metallics. It's easier to get away with wild polish colors when you've got short nails.

Fashion-wise, I've always been most comfortable in leveling-up casual looks I already love. For me, that means pants always along with dark colors and interesting structural and texture choices in the garment. I'm much more Issey Miyaki than Chanel and I have the most fun when I don't have to spend mental time thinking about being uncomfortable or not myself in clothes.
posted by quince at 3:22 PM on January 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

First of all it sounds like this is all causing you a lot of stress and I'm sorry if that's the case. You seem to be a person who can enjoy fashion as a means of self-expression, but there also seems to be an undercurrent of panic -- one that I can't imagine from a man in a similar situation, because men simply aren't evaluated on their appearances the way women are.

So as much as you are able, remember to take a deep breath, enjoy the self-expression and self-care aspects of this, and try to ignore the parts of it that feel like your appearance is a measure of who you are as a person, and whether you're cool enough, chic enough and attractive enough to be there, or be a credit to your husband.

I also don’t want to show up to everything in a black uniform because I got too nervous to wear anything else.

Is this because it will be more fun for you to have a variety of outfits? Or because showing up to everything in a black uniform will make you feel like you're not passing the test of being fashionable and creative?

If it's the former then yes, put in the effort to find a variety of fun outfits because you'll enjoy it. If it's the latter, I really would not worry about it. This kind of thing is a lot of work, people who do it a lot usually have a lot of professional help because it's hard. Not just celebrities -- magazine editors have corporate clothing allowances and professional stylists, for example.

And know that you're overestimating how much other people will pay attention to what you're wearing. So unless you really do want the fun of picking a bunch of new outfits, I'd say a couple of simple black dresses, a nice coat, and a variety of fun, statement-y, expressive jewelry is all you need. Especially since you can make your own accessories. What better way to highlight such a cool, expressive ability, than to put them front and center on a plain black background? People will probably comment, and it'll be a built-in conversation starter and way to remember who you are, what your identity is, at these events that are otherwise all about your husband.

What other things will help me to look put together?

What is important in these situations is looking well groomed, which I would say to a man as well as a woman. For women they key things are: clothes that fit well, makeup applied skillfully, manicure, and whatever your version of "good hair" is. For a lot of caucasian women that's a blow-out for volume, shine and smoothness, but if your hair is curly it could just be about well-defined curls, or a natural style that is well-shaped.

Luckily in NYC there are many services that will come do hair/nails/makeup for you in your own house, for not appreciably more than it would cost to go out and get them done. This is handy because getting that stuff done is super time-consuming, hopefully you can try a few, find one you like, and just set up recurring appointments for the duration of your events season. A few to check out: Stylebee, Glamsquad, Mainstreem, Bella on Demand, Beautylynk... and there are many, many more.

A few other miscellaneous pieces of advice --

I'm short and the added height from heels generally makes me feel more confident. It will also be easier to find the kind of polish you're looking for in heeled styles than in flat styles. IMO the key to being able to walk comfortably in heels is ankle straps. You should also consider heeled boots -- both over-the-knee and ankle styles. I thought I was too old for over-the-knee boots, but tried on these and was surprised to find I could "pull them off" (metaphorically) and walk comfortably in them. These would also be really versatile, though a blockier heel is going to be easier on slippery sidewalks than a kitten style.

Unfortunately NYC doesn't have a Nordstrom or else I would echo everyone else's recommendation. I do agree you should check out Rent the Runway, since you can try on things in their showroom. Finally, do you have a friend whose sense of style and honesty you trust? Getting a thumbs up on your outfits from someone else may help you feel good about what you're wearing.
posted by mrmurbles at 3:34 PM on January 10, 2018 [5 favorites]

As a short and not slim person I agree with the following:
— grooming: hair and eyebrows need to be professional. I love the make-up advice from Bobby Browns, and I'm an all in Kiehls fan for skincare. A couple of my friends have outrageous hair and if you can deal with it, it works really well. Personally, I can't spend the time needed to maintain it but YMMV.
— the best underwear. One of my mother's friends is a master tailor, and even though his living is making dresses, he admits that good underwear is the real key to good style.
— simple but interesting clothes; I'm a huge fan of COS because I can't afford Miyake. They have great geometric pieces every season.
— great shoes; they really don't need to be heels, but shoes is where you can stand out. I also have other quality accessories like special purses and watches. I like Camper shoes because they are comfortable as well as interesting, but shoes are where I really splurge and buy all the big French and Italian brands to compliment my mainstream clothes. Great shoes keep for ages.
— statement jewelry: I don't feel comfortable with chunky stuff, you might, but interesting personal stuff is always good. It can be vintage, home-made or artisanal.
— scarves! It's a bit of a joke about Europeans that we all wear scarves all the time, but it is just really an economic way of adding brightness to a monochrome wardrobe, deluxe quality to highstreet wear etc.
posted by mumimor at 4:48 PM on January 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

There are NYC-adjacent Nordstrom department stores, in Garden City, White Plains, and Paramus, if that helps. (There will be stores in Manhattan: Men's Spring 2018, Women's Fall 2019.) The personal shopper service, bra fittings, and alteration services are nifty, and the makeup reps (at each counter, or there are Beauty Stylists who take appointments) are great, too. The company is known for its customer service, and you can get much of what you need in one place. (Brow services are available in-house at those three locations via Anastasia's Brow Studio.) (Nordstrom has restaurants at some locations, and is always less than 5 minutes from some eatery, should you want to bring a friend and spend a few hours knocking stuff off your list.)

In the short term, on a limited budget, you may want a terrific, well-matched concealer and foundation, with proper blending brushes and pro application instruction, for the skin appearance you want for these events. An ongoing relationship with a dermatologist is a solid idea, but the process may take longer than you're anticipating to see results.

Echoing everyone above: get your eyebrows shaped, consider a heeled boot for comfort and height, and avoid intensive facials close to an event. Artsy and avant-garde can be had with a basic black outfit and a statement necklace (which, if not something you've made, can be costume, or wood, or brass, or ___) and/or an unusual haircut or color. A well-placed streak of color can look great and punk, especially if your hair is trending silver or gray.

Though -- You're a sculptor; be prepared for everyone to be fascinated by you and your art, regardless.

You're going to be there to support your husband, but please have a good time for yourself, too! The people-watching opportunities (and the snippets of conversation you'll overhear) at these types of galas = some amazing entertainment.
posted by Iris Gambol at 5:12 PM on January 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

One more idea that no-one seems to have raised yet is to hire a stylist - you want to find someone to go through your existing wardrobe, see what will work and to suggest outfits and combo's of things that you already have. Or who can at least identify holes in your wardrobe and suggest items to look for that will help flesh it out. Having a professional to support you might make this a little less stressful and take out some of the "oh god what do I buy" drama.
posted by ninazer0 at 7:21 PM on January 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Nthing Nordstrom's, which can be a one stop for trying on shoes, underpinnings, and outfits guided by a caring stylist. (You don't have to buy everything there, but it's an easier way of getting acquainted with different brands.) If you're not used to heels, break them in before so you're comfortable in them and so you know which trouble spots to address before an event, like heel pads or insoles or hot spots with blister tape. Don't discredit the power of a single, interestingly cut (but not too crazy) dress in a nice black fabric like silk with different shoes and blazers; I have a shift dress from Everlane that's probably been to a dozen museum events without commentary. Pick a statement jewelry thing per event. You'll be great. You sound cool and I bet your art is fascinating: don't sell yourself short, here!
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:34 PM on January 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

My two cents:

*Everyone talks about bra-fittings, as though American women don't understand their own sizes. It's not that we don't get it right; it's that American manufacturers don't get it right, and there is very little size and shape range. I went to Bradelis for a fitting a while back, and it completely changed the shape of my body, and made me look slimmer because they fit me with European bras, which offer myriad more sizes and shapes than their American counterparts.

* I nth boots because a beautiful pair can be sleek, as well as comfortable, even with heels. Look for wedges, platform or flatform for comfort and height.

* Make sure your dress is above the knee a ways (though not too far). Between that and boots, you automatically send a message of youth. Plus the combination is comfortable.

* For dress styles — especially neckline and sleeves — I urge you to spend $20 and purchase Kendall Farr's The Pocket Stylist, which will help you analyze what styles look best on your body type. It is comprehensive and smart! (Note that she's got a similar book for women over 50 or whatever. It's not as good; ignore it.) My only comment about some of the contemporary styles being linked here is I think a lack of defined waistline is a mistake for anybody who doesn't still reference their college days regularly — and tends to make the slimmest of us look ... dumpy.

* Make-up trends on the whole are calming down, and a lot of the contouring is abating, thank God. Cateye eyeliner and a good lipstick (long-wearing near-mattes), with maybe a smidge of highlighting will take you far. Check out Paula's choice for skincare, and her sister site Beautypedia for makeup reviews. Between the two sites, you'll find both makeup and skincare tips.

* As for brows ... yes, brows matter. But all you really need is an okay shape, and to fill in any gaps in hair or color. The model Cara Delevingne who has, I believe, naturally dark eyebrows and dyed blonde hair is the one who set off the trend. A lot of her imitators have gone too far, and the result is more Joan Crawford than latter-day Brooke Shields. Note, too, that both Shields and Delevingne wore the eyebrows they had; Crawford wore the eyebrows she drew. Anyway, you be the judge.
posted by Violet Blue at 8:51 PM on January 10, 2018

p.s. You might find it helpful to check out neckline and necklace length charts ... just in case you haven't thought about this before.
posted by Violet Blue at 9:10 PM on January 10, 2018

I wasn't suggesting a chemical peel, a green peel is more like a really effective facial and they rub herbs and stuff on you're face... i like it better than the hydra facials I have now that are quite fancy. The glow lasts like a week or 2 :-)
posted by catspajammies at 9:27 PM on January 10, 2018

I’ve seen others mention it, but I’ll underline it: don’t sacrifice your feet and your happiness, just wear comfortable shoes. Nothing kills a fashionable outfit quicker than a miserable outfit-wearer.
posted by samthemander at 9:59 PM on January 10, 2018

There is so much good advice on here and I do not want to retread, but I will say this: for me, nothing screams "awesome artsy lady with good taste" like a nice, classy, artfully draped blanket scarf or wrap and (optional) a bomb-ass statement brooch. Like this, only fancy.

I also super agree re: focusing on accessories rather than dresses. That way you could track down one or two stylish, versatile pieces that fit well and that you like and then just sort of use them as a canvas on which to experiment with awesome accessories (like rad blanket scarves and statement brooches, if that's your jam). I wouldn't worry too much about heels if they're rough on your feet, but as a short lady, I sympathize with wanting that extra little boost at formal events. Formal wedges could be something to look into.

Good luck!
posted by helloimjennsco at 9:47 AM on January 11, 2018

Statement jewellery that makes you feel powerful. Here's where you get to express your punk, subversive tastes, particularly if you're wearing a chic, "tasteful" outfit and look otherwise groomed.

Eyebrow shaping, by a professional that you trust. Huge difference.

Shellac nails. Just tried shellac for the first time, and I am now a fan. It's like industrial nail varnish which lasts for 2 weeks or so. Like with big jewellery, my nails operate often as a canvas for my authentic style, no matter how else I might be presenting. So I have bright or glittery or whatever nails, as a subtle flash of that which adds interest to the rest of my groomed, more expected look.
posted by thetarium at 12:02 PM on January 11, 2018

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