Laureen’s Corner: Thoughts on Fashion

Those of you who know me have almost certainly encountered – by reputation or in person – my mother-in-law Laureen. Unlike the stereotypical mother-in-law/daughter-in-law conflict, Laureen and I get along superbly. We share some common loves (like her son and grandsons) and we’ve developed some common interests. When I first started dating her youngest son, I thought fashion was definitely for other people. Over the twelve years since I married her son, Laureen has persistently and patiently introduced me to a wider world. Every time she comes, she brings an entire season’s worth of clothes for me (paying attention to my preferences and feedback). She’s gifted me appropriate jewelry from her collection – or made me bespoke jewelry from her business at Jeweled Dreams. She’s pushed, prodded, gotten me to buy new things and told me I looked fabulous for years now.

She has also agreed to be a guest commentator on this blog. So, with no further ado, I give you Laureen.

Laureen and Adam before the ballet this winter

Laureen and Adam before the ballet this winter

Ahhh fashion, a constant preoccupation.

One of my earliest memories is of sitting on a couch at age four reading my aunt’s issues of Vogue and Mademoiselle. My aunt was a graduate of Katherine Gibbs and New York secretary for over 50 years, her timeless elegance influenced me all my life. For me the word timeless is where fashion begins and is the starting point for all clothing in all situations. This seems especially relevant for young professional women who are expected to play all roles to all people while still giving credence to their femaleness, balancing comfort, practicality, professionalism and still qualifying as pretty and put together is not out of reach by any means.

Cooking, architecture or brain surgery all start in the same place: with a foundation. Make certain your appropriate parts are covered and supported before you start to embellish. Next, the basics are not necessarily expensive, but if you put in some initial thought they allow you the freedom of expression and personal taste that makes a look yours. Fit of anything including a basic T-shirt is important. With well fitted dark washed jeans, a white T and a nice blazer you can go almost anywhere including the red carpet (though you might want to add accompanying bling). Brenda and I are still working on the shoe issue Ed note: this is totally true, though I concede to the need for marathon walking and comfort. However, having walked for miles in boots and low heels on the cobblestones of Europe I highly recommend gel insoles for all. (I buy a half size larger for all shoes and immediately insert the insole.)

Humans as a species are highly visual so our first impression of one another is usually by sight. As such we make immediate judgements about another person based on what we see. If we are shocked or offended we may never overcome that first reaction to discover other more worthwhile qualities. As most of what this blog is referencing is in relation to the working world consider the politics of the work jungle. As if working with wild animals the professionally pretty woman wants to generate smiles not raised eyebrows. To do this protective coloring is required. That means initially wearing outfits that fit in with what others are wearing. Again the words timeless and classic come into play. Some of the best visual examples of this type of dressing can be found in any photos of such as Katherine Hepburn (especially great tailored pants) and Jackie Kennedy (wonderful sheaths and suits) to name only two. This year is especially bountiful for tailored dressing in everything from Target, to Ann Taylor and Ralph Lauren and more. Just remember, classic and tailored are not synonymous with stodgy or looking like your mother (though even we can be fashion forward).

Having established a comfortable basis you are now free to add those elements that make a look yours and speak to your preferences and personality. Whether it is the color of a blouse or purse a quirky shoe or scarf or in the case of my darling daughter-in-law one of a kind jewelry (which I delight in creating for her) you are icing the cake. If you have established your basics, little thought is required except to choose the decorations each day. Hopefully this cuts down on time and stress.

Ultimately for me, fashion is everywhere, color, shape, textures,, even as in the case of something like leather, smell and the sound fabric like silk makes. It plays to all the senses and weaves in and out of all my life bringing energy and pleasure.

And now for a final initial bit of advice-GET A FULL LENGTH MIRROR. You may look like Venus rising from the sea in front but if you haven’t checked the back view… disaster will surely follow. Literally.

Having been given the amazing gift of a daughter-in-law who is willing to let me shop for her I am enjoying our adventure as we explore the path to technically pretty.


Bright, Patterned and Skinny: Top Fashion Trends in Fall 2012

Part of the inestimable service I do for you by writing this blog is to read the fashion magazines, so that you do not have to discover that Victoria Beckham (aka Posh Spice) loves Lily Collins’ “little freckles and frizzy ponytail” because they make her look “fresh and less polished”. You’re welcome. I have just spent three commutes working my way through the Glamour September 2012 issue – taking notes in a notebook to identify trends and their strengths – in order to bring you information about What the Cool Kids are Wearing.

J Crew Shows off some pink pants

J Crew Shows off some pink pants

So the #1 hottest trend this fall?

Really flashy pants.

This trend seems to take two paths: brightly colored jeans and highly patterned pants. Lots of really crazy patterns are definitely a theme of the season – I’ve seen it in shirt, blouses, jackets and especially manicures. But the pants seem like the #1 trend. Even on the guys they’re showing orange, green, yellow and other solid but bright jeans.

I haven’t seen any in the wild yet, but as soon as the weather turns, expect your most fashionable colleagues and compatriots to begin wearing purple and pink paisley patterned skinny jeans. Here are some examples of what I’m talking about:

Here’s some of the bright, unpatterned pants at The Gap:

Colorful, unpatterned pants at the Gap

Colorful, unpatterned pants at the Gap

Juicy Couture apparently did an entire show with much crazier patterned pants than they’re offering for sale. Still, here’s what’s hit the market:

Crazy patterns

Crazy patterns

Kohl’s and Target are dipping their toes into the trend in terms of offerings, but you can see that they’re focusing on it with ads:

Kohl's Add shows bright pants

Kohl’s Add shows bright pants

So… should we buy into this trend or pass on it?

– Patterns are really fun
– One or two purchases could notch your “dresses like it’s this year” cred up considerably – especially since this is a breaking trend and if you buy now you will be a front-runner with it
– Colors are also really fun
– Usually we can’t get away with wearing stuff like this

– I suspect that if you’re larger than a size six, some of these patterns could be highly unflattering
– When something is this fashionable, you cannot wear it for more than a year … if it lasts even that long
– When something is this noticeable, you can’t rewear it very often. No one notices when you wear the same pair of black slacks twice in a week. But if you wear your leopard print pants twice in a week, people will notice.
– There’s no guarantee this trend will take off… at which point you will not look like a trend-leader, you will look like a person wearing weird pants
– You can’t buy it on sale – or even at discounters like Target – yet. It’s too early in the fashion cycle. And by the time it is not too early, the trend will already be passing by. Woosh!

Buy a pair of these pants if:
– You are not budget strapped, and it’s ok with you if you have a pair of pants you only wear 20 times before you get rid of them
– You really like pretty designs
– You really like colors
– You want people to notice you

Do not buy these pants if:
– You have a minimalist wardrobe
– You hate waste
– You’re trying to stretch every dollar as far as it can go
– You don’t like being noticed for what you wear

Be careful about whether the colors and patterns look good on your body type. When in doubt, take a picture of yourself in the dressing room mirror and look at the picture. Is it just too much? Then stick with khakis. However, some of the asymmetrical designs I’ve seen would look good on larger legs. As usual, it just means you have harder shopping in front of you.

So what do you think? Is this the trend you’ve been waiting for since Hypercolor went out of style in the 90s? Have you spotted a real life pair of these pants yet? Do you find this trend fun or terrifying? Would you consider buying some, or have you already bought some? Do these pants make people look good?

Made Up

An Intro To My Makeup

$25 of pretty

$25 of pretty

Just over two years ago, I switched jobs from a pure-programming, behind-a-computer-all-day, best-dressed-because-my-jeans-don’t-have-holes job to a terrifyingly corporate environment. I went from a place where the CEO wore shorts, to one where the click of high heels rang through the halls. This was a job change I wanted to make. I like people. I like writing. I like coding too… but I wanted a mix, and this was my chance to get it.

And I did.

But before I showed up at my first day at the new job, I thought very carefully about how I wanted to look. How did I want people to see me? I could get by with my wardrobe for a while. My hair was ok. (Not great, but ok. That’s another post.) But I had just crossed the threshold of 30, and borne my second child. It was time for me to start wearing some makeup. Oh, and moisturizer.

So I did. Here were some of the things I weighed in my makeup decisions:
1) I didn’t want to wear a lot of makeup (or look really made up)
2) I didn’t want to spend a lot of time putting it on
3) I didn’t want to spend very much money on it
4) I wanted to be able to buy it in a store I already went to
5) I needed to come up with a good, non-obnoxious way of removing the makeup every night, so I didn’t seem young due to zits
6) I didn’t want to feel like I HAD to wear makeup to look normal. I wanted to feel makeup-free and confident on weekends and other days.

I’ve accomplished most of these goals. Here’s how I did it:

1) Moisturizer with SPF 35. (Target – $9.99) I use Neutrogena oil free moisture at least in part because it rubs in quickly and easily, and comes in appropriate portion controls. (I had trouble with some other kinds I tried giving me way too much.) Even if you do nothing else, if you ever might think you could care a little bit someday about how you look…. use a daily moisturizer with an SPF over 20 to prevent wrinkles. And by daily, I mean every day since you will burn much more easily if you use it regularly and then forget one lovely clear day in October. (Not that I ever did that. Ahem.)

2) Pressed powder. I use the Maybelline Shine Free Pressed Powder #4 Beige. (Target) It costs $4.94. The primary purpose of the powder is to reduce the shininess that comes from the moisturizer. (I actually brush my teeth between steps 1 & 2 in order to give the moisturizer time to “Sink in”). I think this has a pretty big impact on how I look – it gives me a more polished, even look.

3) Mascara. I have blonde eyelashes. I like to use brown mascara because I don’t like a look that screams EYE MAKEUP, but brown mascara is not an “in” color so I’m still wrestling with finding the perfect mascara. In the interim I use Maybelline Great Lash. ($4.44 Target) Beware if you wear mascara and have never worn makeup before… if I had even plausibly present eyelashes I’d probably skip it. When you are wearing mascara you cannot cry or rub your eyes while you’re wearing it, or you look awful. Waterproof mascara may be ok, but it’s really difficult to get off afterwards. Try both ways – and not wearing mascara. If you wear mascara, can you keep your hands off your eyes? Are you a cryer? Do you have darker lashes? These should all affect your decision about whether to wear mascara, and what kind to wear.

4) Eyeshadow but… for my eyebrows. I also have blonde eyebrows. They sort of vanish by themselves. So I more or less paint them on with brown powder every morning. You probably don’t need this, unless you also have pale facial hair. Once again I find myself with a $5 Maybelline product (Maybelline Expert Wear Eye Shadow – $4.49 at Target.)

That’s my daily routine. It takes two minutes. Nothing in that set costs more than $10 … you can stock up brand new for $25 at Target. (And most of that is moisturizer.) The powder goes fastest, followed by mascara, followed by moisturizer. I have yet to “finish” an eyeshadow.

At the end of the day, I remove it all with makeup wipes from Costco (~$15 for a bajillion). Chemicals yadda yadda, but awfully convenient and not at all messy.

There are a lot of makeup elements I don’t use, that you may need or want. For example I don’t:

– Use blush. I have a great natural blush and I don’t need it.
– Use eyeliner. I have not the skills. Nor do I want the “made up” look that eyeliner gives you.
– Use eyeshadow as eyeshadow. I only do this when I’m dressing up, and I have trouble making it look the way I want to look. The colors in eyeshadow are very particular to a season or trend, so you can easily go wrong in eyeshadow if you don’t know what you’re doing. (See also: blue, green, purple)
– Use lipstick. Proper lipstick is a dangerous thing, in terms of going where you don’t want it, being hard to maintain, and being hard to get a color that flatters. I use a lip gloss if I am feeling fancy, but most of the time I have naked or lip-balmed lips. Again, my lips have good natural color, so I don’t need it. Some lipstick colors are highly seasonal, so it’s easy to go wrong.
– Use foundation. I just never have. I have relatively good skin, so I don’t really need it. Also, when I see people whose makeup seems excessive to me, it’s usually with eyeliner, foundation and bright lipstick. That may be why I avoid those three.

Do you wear makeup daily? Do you feel naked without it? Do you know how to put it on? What mystifies you, and what have you mastered. Do you feel that expensive makeup is really that much better than cheap makeup at Target? What’s your makeup story? What do you do every day?