Help me with clothes for my lifestyle--SAHM/Travel/exercise/errands/small town/comfort/classic
August 24, 2008 8:09 AM   Subscribe

I would like some direction about making my wardrobe work well for my lifestyle that I see as diverse.

I am home much of the time in our smallish conservative town (SAHM to teens)
I do yoga/biking/weights/run
I run errands/clean house/do yardwork/cook
I am the wife of a business exec and we do a fair amount of travel to board meetings and dinners (international and US) where I must dress nicely and walk for hours
I go to church about once a month
belong to a knitting group

The other parameter for me is that I am comfortable when walking a lot in foreign places but still want to look good!

Please help me find classic/timeless practical clothes and shoes that I might feel good in!

Thank you!
posted by seekingsimplicity to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (12 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Not to Pepsi Blue the hive mind, but Clarks shoes are simple and easily used with different outfits in varying circumstances.
posted by ShadePlant at 9:52 AM on August 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Dresses can be dressed up or down, and are very comfortable, particularly during hot summer months. I can't get enough dresses. Here's an example of the sort of thing you should look for- the silhouette is universally flattering, it could be dressed up with heels and a nice cardigan, dressed down with sandals and a casual handbag.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:05 AM on August 24, 2008 [3 favorites]

Your lifestyle and activities sound very similar to mine. I'd love to share some brands and fashion tips that have really made a difference for me. I actually travel with the clothes I've described below, and have done everything from treking around in the jungle to formal dining.

You definitely need one or two great pairs of great jeans. Go to Nordstrom, Saks, or a similar high-end department store, and ask for help. Ask for a slight bootcut or straight leg, medium to low rise, and stretch (this is key for fit and comfort).

Lululemon is the brand you need for workout clothing.

For something you can wear from the gym to the grocery store to coffee with friends without looking too much like you just came from the gym, pair one of their jackets (I love the Shape Jacket) with the Boogie Pants in black, charcoal, or dark brown. For travel, I pack these pants in my carry-on bag and change into them as soon as I get on the plane. Other bottoms I like are the Boogie Crop and any of their shorts with built-in underwear. For tops, I love the: Ujjayi Y Tank II*C (tank with awesome built-in bra) or any of the Ujjayi tops.

For travel and life at home, I absolutely live in wrap dresses. They pack easily, don't wrinkle terribly, are very versatile, make you look great, and are comfortable! It's a no-brainer outfit that makes you look like a million bucks. Just add a necklace, great shoes, boots if it's cold, and you look polished and fashionable.

Diane von Furstenberg invented the wrap dress in the 70s, and this classic solid dress is a must-have basic. Dark brown, navy, or charcoal will look softer than black, but any dark color will be great.

Issa also makes wonderful silk jersey wrap dresses. They tend to be a bit more modestly cut. I have this dress and it is so comfortable. And in another color.

Here are some more fun options here, here, and here. Banana Republic and J. Crew also make nice less expensive knit wrap dresses.

As for shoes, I love ballet flats. If you don't already, buy shoes online at Zappos, they offer free shipping, free return shipping, and you can search by size, color, etc.

I have a sport ballet flat by Lacoste that I wear running errands, to casual dinners, and for treking around cities when I travel. I bought two pairs, and my only regret is that I didn't buy five as they're now discontinued. I've worn them to death. Here are some similar models: Capero, Papilliion Shine. Great choices by other brands: Nartan by Puma, Beverly by Clarks.

As for dress shoes, try everything from Cole Haan's Nike Air line. The heels are more comfortable to walk in than some sneakers I own, no joke. Try the Jena Air High Pump, Jena Air Low open toe, and the Jena Air Mary Jane. Mary Jane straps make heels better for lots of walking, also try Max Studio's Andes, Clarks Apple Snow, and Clarks Apple Jane.

I shy away from prints when it comes to separates like skirts and blouses; solids are so much easier to mix and match, and don't go out of fashion. Try to keep everthing either dark (black, brown, charcoal, navy) or light (white, cream, tan, khaki), plus two or three bright colors that looks best on you.

For trousers, skirts, sweaters and blouses, some good brands for basics are Theory and Elie Tahari. What you'll see online might look too trendy, because they do throw trendy things into every collection, but look for their like knit tops, linen pants, stretch khaki pants, basic button-down shirts, and you'll love what they have to offer. Two more really excellent brands for classic basics are Ralph Lauren's Purple and Black lines, and Brunello Cuccinelli.

Finally, I would highly recommend you enlist the services of a fashion consultant. A good one will take the question you've asked here, look at what you have in your closet now, and either make recommendations or even do the shopping for you - then return what doesn't work. They absolutely love to design classic, timeless, and flattering wardrobes! Google keywords like image advisor, wardrobe consultant, personal shopper, fashion stylist, etc. to find someone near you. Or, contact the personal shoppers at your favorite department store. They'll provide similar services for free, but with a less personalized approach.

Writing this posting has gotten me started on my fall/winter shopping!
posted by Snower at 10:40 AM on August 24, 2008 [9 favorites]

There are a few things to make this easier -

Select a color palette that flatters you. Getting dressed is infinitely easier if you consistently select clothing that will coordinate. Black is a popular choice for many locations, but I live in Southern California and black usually looks too heavy during the day. My neutrals are navy or beige (and all soft cooler toned whites). My colors are cool tones in clear brights or pastels - generally picking greens, pinks and purples. At this point, you can pair almost any bottom with any top in my wardrobe.

Accept your size(s). If you vary between 6 and 8 or 10 and 18, then accept that. Have clothing that fits you in all your sizes.

Know your shapes. I'm a classic hourglass (with a little extra sand in the bottom when I'm at the top of my weight range). There are shapes that consistently flatter me and I always try to buy those shapes: A line skirts, shaped tops which focus on my waist, v-necks to break up my broad shoulders, dresses, knee length skirts. It's not boring to have the same shape, if those are the shapes that flatter you.

Be realistic. If you're running after kids you need some coverage. Maybe a shorter length top or skirt isn't practical. It may be sensible to buy less expensive, but polished tee shirts. If they get stained or a bit worn you toss them. I won't iron. I never buy blouses that I could wash, but would need ironing. I buy lightweight sweaters instead.

Pick luxury fabrics. Okay, that's just me. I like to pair luxury items with more commonplace ones - cashmere with denim.

Great bags are your friend. In fact, all accessories are. A tip for good bags is to consider the placement on your body. Your bag adds bulk to where it lands. If your pear-shaped a bag that lands at your hip make your hips look wider. Choose a bag that is shorter and adds width at your bust. Reverse that if you're top heavy. It's almost never flattering to have a bag hit at your waist where women's bodies should curve. It makes you look a bit rectangular.

Find the designers that fit you consistently. I can go to Anne Taylor and buy almost anything. They have a classic, hourglass fit. Nothing in Anne Taylor Loft is ever going to fit me correctly, because it's for the slim hipped women. You can tailor items, but it's very difficult to completely reshape a garment that's meant for a different body type. Don't waste time looking at a designer that will never fit you.

Tailoring. You need it.

Designers - I do well with Talbotts (but they can be frumpy), Ann Taylor, Elie Tahari (size up), and some Nordstrom private label items. These lines are the backbone of my basics wardrobe.
posted by 26.2 at 12:24 PM on August 24, 2008 [4 favorites]

All that - and I still forgot a few things.

You will rarely look out of place in clothing that fits you well. Even if you're a bit more casual or formal than other people in the room, good tailoring makes you comfortable in your clothing. That makes you look appropriate.

Your basic shapes should be conservative enough to go to all of your activities with the exception of fitness. Fitness clothing is a separate entity. A skirt should be able to pair with different items and go to a school event, club event and church.

Layers can convert an outfit. A sweater set is more formal than just a shell sweater. If you have a few events in one day think about what item you could add or remove to the basic outfit. Let's say you wear and simple skirt and light silk sweater. Maybe you wear a blazer when you need a more conservative look and use a tissue weight cashmere wrap when you want to be a bit more dressy. It'll extend your outfit to the different elements of your day. When you do that, make sure your bag, shoes, belt and jewelry can carry both looks.
posted by 26.2 at 12:49 PM on August 24, 2008 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Oh My thank you!

This is so helpful.

I appreciate this so much.
posted by seekingsimplicity at 1:58 PM on August 24, 2008

I'm a jeans, sneaks and pony kinda girl (sneakers and ponytail). A collection of funky head-scarves, some singlets and t-shirts, jeans, slacks and pants. Beautifully cut, thick, stiff cotton or cord. Lots of pockets and crisp details. Tip - pockets or similar detailing on your butt = good! High waist and no pockets/details is just... universally bad!! (Sometimes if the pocket is placed too low it's not so good either though.)
If you want to dress up a bit - you can wear a pretty top.

These same pretty tops you can wear with nice skirts. Ditch the sneaks and funky scarves. Always (!!) wear skirts and dresses when you're doing your husband's work stuff though. Pants are always more practical but.. hey, I didn't make the rules. Then you would just need some dressier/night time attire. (I'm tall-ish so I always prefer calf length stuff..?)
Simple, timeless and classy is never going to be unacceptably over or under dressed.

Spend money on getting your hair done. And always smell good (light/fresh).
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 7:30 PM on August 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Cosign on lululemon. Their stuff is pricey but I got a simple black zip up jacket (heavy sweatshirt material) that looks extremely sharp, can wear with work trousers and to things like yoga class, were I so inclined, since it's workout gear after all. It's very well made.

Camper also makes some very cute shoes, comfortable, easy to walk in - not dress shoes but great for going around town. I think, if you like very classic, simple shoes that are well made and won't go out of style, Delman is a good label (I buy them on when a pair I like is on sale). They have ballet flats and heels.

Here in DC among politicians and those in that world who are on their feet quite a lot, Ferragamo shoes are much preferred - classic, good taste, comfortable, and they make every size and width you could want.

I also like J Crew's sweaters, especially the cardigans. They have one called the Jackie cardigan that would definitely be very versatile and could be buttoned up almost like a classic top, worn over a dress, but go casual too. It's cotton so you wouldn't have to worry so much about ruining it if you're on the go, and it's not expensive. They seem to make them every season now. Their cashmere sweaters are very good quality for the price in my opinion.

I find a good polo shirt in a slim cut (Ralph Lauren? Lacoste?) is quite versatile as well, not for a business meeting but definitely for travel, errands, etc.
posted by citron at 9:18 PM on August 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, and a French label, Agnes B. Very simple and classic basics that will last quite a long time and never go out of style. Unfortunately I think they don't make larger sizes if you might need that. But, I can say a t-shirt from there is a wonderful cotton fabric, beautiful slim fit, looks very neat and will not wear out. Same goes for their plain white button-down shirts. You could wear them for years and years. On the pricey side.

As a very good value, LL Bean French sailor shirt is another classic piece, there was an article in the New York Times style section last year on how they were quite popular. Also regarding J Crew, for casual wear, their chinos are good quality. I would recommend against some of their trendier items, but.. never hurts to go try things on and see.
posted by citron at 9:31 PM on August 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

As far as developing a personal style, look for someone whose style you like a lot, analyse what you like, and go replicate 1 outfit. Try wearing it and see if it works for you. Especially look for people with your body type, so you can see what shape works, what doesn't.

I hate to fuss over clothes. I want to get up in the morning, choose a skirt of pants, and have several choices of top. So I stick to a few colors, mostly solids, and a few wildcards. There are a few colors that I know work especially well for me, so I try to wear them, with a few exceptions because once in a while I can't resist something in a non-optimal color.
posted by theora55 at 4:31 AM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding Talbots. They're a little hit-or-miss, but I've found a few great pieces there that can be easily worn to a conservative workplace but are comfortable and durable enough to wear anywhere. It's also one of the only stores both my mom and I regularly shop at, which might give you an idea of the clothes' relative agelessness.

Lululemon may or may not be a good choice for you, depending on your shape and activity level. I like them for casual/work and lighter workout stuff (and in fact am wearing a wrap from them now) but when I run I prefer a strap-em-down sports bra and pants with a higher rise, which I've had difficulty finding there.

I love a ton of the stuff in the Title Nine catalog and it might be right up your alley. They've got both casual and workout clothes that are designed to look good dressed up or down and travel well.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:24 AM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

of should be or
posted by theora55 at 8:31 AM on August 25, 2008

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