Posts Categorized: accessories

How to Switch Handbags Quickly and Easily

Not so long ago, I owned one handbag. ONE. It was a black hobo with two external pockets, and I used it for everything. But when I began to want my bag to align more closely with my outfit, I realized that one slouchy black leather hobo didn’t actually feel right with everything I wore. And now, several years later, I’ve got a lovely collection of bags. I would say that I generally swap bags every day or every other day, even on the weekend. My bag choices are similar to my other accessory choices: I want them to feel harmonious with my chosen clothes. And that means the one-bag-fits-all philosophy no longer works for me.

I’ve gotten loads of questions over the years about how I swap bags so frequently without leaving items in various unused bags, wasting gobs of time in transferring items, or just getting frustrated and fed up with the process. I’ve tried to answer them individually, but now I’m going to answer them generally and visually. And the answer I’ll give? Compartmentalization.

how to switch handbags

This is what you’ll find inside any bag I carry every day of my life. OK, in the dead of winter there might be gloves/mittens and sometimes I’ll shove a book in there. But this is the bulk of it. Eight items: Sunglass case, wallet, makeup bag, checkbook (I’m old-fashioned) handkerchief (I’m allergic), phone, keys, miscellany pouch. All of them easy to grab and transfer. When switching, I’ll dump everything on the bed, put the previous bag away and pick my new one, pop everything inside and go. Usually takes three minutes or less.

makeup bag

The black bag is my LeSportsac makeup bag and there are probably five or six glosses and balms floating around in there, but I also keep a Tide pen, Band-Aids, fashion tape, a pill case, a foldable brush/comb combo, anti-shine powder, nail clippers (no lie), and lots of other stuff. I may not have kids, but I’m as prepared as many moms for everyday personal emergencies. This little makeup bag came with a larger handbag, and it is one of my most valuable possessions. I have had bottles of hand lotion and cheek stain burst in there dozens of times, and the inner coating has prevented any leakage. I LOVE YOU, INDESTRUCTIBLE MAKEUP BAG.

compartmentalized handbag

The polka-dotted pouch is my real secret weapon. Inside is my gum, tissues (sometimes you need something disposable for your nose issues, ya feel me?), business card holder (I didn’t mean to match my phone case and card holder, it just happened), and ANOTHER pouch that holds the various loyalty/rewards cards that would otherwise bulk up my wallet. Many items, one pouch. Mine is Cath Kidston and the smaller one hails from Etsy. I recommend oilcloth or other coated materials that are water repellent. Not that it’s wet inside most handbags, but just makes them less likely to get gunked up quickly.

And there you have it: My not-so-secret secret to swapping bags on a near-daily basis. Could this system work for you?

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DIY-plus Fringed Handbag

fringe_handbag

I may have mentioned that I’m pretty useless when it comes to DIY projects. I can do some basic jewelry repairs and overdye the occasional garment, but anything more complex than that? I am more likely to bung it up than I am to make it work. So I buy things that are just right instead of almost-right, knowing that my attempts to “fix” them may render them useless or unwearable.

BUT. Sometimes I get a wild hair and things work out. And this bag represents one of those times, thank goodness. Because I kinda love the look of fringed bags this season, but all of the ones I wanted to buy were in the $300+ range. And I don’t mind ponying up for a quality bag, but since fringe is trendy and I may end up carrying this bag for two years or less, I wanted a cheaper option.

Enter this 100% leather bag, which cost a whopping $35:

orignal bag

Those are the stock product shots because I never expect my DIYs to work and always forget to take “before” shots. This bag has potential, but a couple of things about it bugged me. The slider on the strap seemed like a detail you’d see on a gym bag, not a trendy Boho one. And the plain top zipper opening seemed oddly utilitarian, too.

This photo is post-alterations, but will give you a sense of what the bag looked like in person initially:

fringe bag before

I happen to live in a town with an AMAZING fabrics, notions, and crafting supply store called S.R. Harris. Trinknitty took me there years ago, and I’ve since been back with Audi and Mark as well as my dad. Mark bought leather for his Etsy shop, Dad bought leather for the seats of dining room chairs he was building. So I knew I could get some quality, affordable leather there. I bought a small hide for $19.

Then I took my bag, my hide, and my vision to George’s in Arden Hills. (There is also a great place in St. Paul called George’s that does leather repair. The Arden Hills guys tend to be less busy, so I went to them. If I remember correctly, the two families are related!) They were very patient and game to give my project a try. In fact, the two young ladies and gent behind the counter seemed pretty jazzed to be tackling something other than a re-sole job. I wanted a rough, Boho look to the bag and it turned out that the reverse side of the hide matched the bag’s leather the best. So we mocked it up and I left it in their capable hands.

fringe bag after

They removed the buckle, reattached the strap, and stitched a portion of the hide onto the back of the bag’s opening. The flap conceals the zipper completely and tones down the fringe a bit. But plenty is still visible. These adds/changes cost me an additional $25. So $35 for the bag, $19 for the hide, $25 for the alterations. $79 isn’t super cheap, but it’s far less than I would’ve spent on any of the pre-made bags I’d been eyeing. And this bag is completely unique and exactly what I wanted.

fringe bag before after

I’m extremely pleased with the finished product. I’ll need to be careful of the raw leather flap as it won’t be water- or stain-resistant in any way, but I love how mottled and rough it looks and hope that any additional wear will just make it look cooler. Not a true DIY, I’ll grant you, but about as close as I’m gonna get!

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Reader Request: Transitioning to a More Formal Workplace

dressing conservative workplace

Reader K emailed me this question:

I have a new job at a law firm and a lot of my clothing is a bit too informal and brightly colored and I’m not sure if it will be appropriate. I’d love to see a post about holding on to your your fun and colorful/statement necklace style when you find yourself having to conform and fit into a much more conservative environment (no more sandals at work, no more casual Fridays, no more it’s OK to wear jeans if I just have to in order to make it through the day on a Thursday, more jackets/blazers, less tees, no more cotton sundresses, how to dress up some of your more informal clothing for a pseudo corporate world, etc.)

I pointed K to a few previous posts that you’ll find below, but feel this topic merits its own discussion. On all things law-related, I defer to Corporette so if you’re looking for dressing guidelines that apply to lawyers specifically, do peruse her archive.* But if, like K, you are transitioning from a casual or business casual environment to a more buttoned-up one, here are my suggestions for making your wardrobe work in your new role:

Jackets and blazers make everything seem more formal

OK, maybe not everything. Throwing a blazer over frayed denim shorts and a Mickey Mouse tee might look cute, but it’ll never be office-appropriate. However, any structured jacket or blazer will up the formality ante on most dresses, especially ones that are more substantial than thin, drapey knit or lightweight cotton voile. And adding a blazer to a solid sweater shell and subtly printed skirt will work in many offices, as will pairing a jacket with a colorful printed blouse and dress pants. Structure is key here, though that doesn’t necessarily mean actual suiting. Wool blends are best, but some heavy twills will work. Tweeds are another good option, especially for fall and winter. Steer clear of ponte and knits for conservative workplaces.

One colorful or sparkly piece per outfit

K is hoping to continue expressing her personality through clothing and accessory choices even in this new environment, and that’s definitely possible. A good guideline – especially to start out when you’re not sure how far you can push the dressing envelope – is to limit yourself to one “fun” piece per outfit. This can mean a bright or printed top, a funky necklace, eye-catching shoes, or a patterned skirt. (Probably best to keep your jackets and pants on the tame side, and tread cautiously with dresses.) You can build your outfit around your “fun” piece: Start with a multicolored floral silk shell and add a sleek pant suit, simple pumps, small earrings, subtle necklace (if any), and a watch. The shell is the wild card, everything else is classic and balancing. Don’t ditch all your interesting clothes just because your job has changed. Instead, introduce them a tiny bit at a time.

Bright colors can work in conservative shapes

In most cases, structure trumps shade. While a blazing red jersey wrap dress will look out of place in a formal workplace, a blazing red ponte sheath dress – especially worn with balancing pieces like a blazer and simple pumps – can work. Again, be careful with jackets and pants: Muted colors like burgundy, olive, navy, and aubergine may be acceptable in some offices, but not in others. A citron jacket or pair of emerald green trousers done in fine wool might squeak by, but you’re better off sticking to tops and dresses if you splash out on colorful clothes. Any bright colors you’ve already got in your closet may still be viable if they’re done up in classic, conservative shapes.

Mind your fibers

You may have noticed some fiber name-dropping in this post, and that’s quite intentional. We’ve talked about fiber formality before, and while I don’t have a problem with anyone wearing cashmere with twill I do think that certain fabrics won’t be conservative enough for many offices. Drapey jersey is on virtually every mall store rack, but it’s not substantial or formal enough for the average law firm. And that goes for tops, dresses, and waterfall cardigans alike. Ponte is fabulous for dresses and some skirts, but doesn’t lend enough gravitas to blazers and jackets. In terms of fiber winners, wool tops the list (and remember, tropical weight wool can be worn year-round in many places) and can be worn in any format from pants to skirts to blazers to dresses. Silk and polyester and rayon are all fine for blouses, but avoid drapey jersey and tee shirt/ribbed cotton. For sweaters, just about anything will work since by their very nature sweaters are more formal than tees: Cotton, cashmere, wool, and manmade fibers will all work so long as you’re not going for an intarsia owl or neon floral print. Cotton twill for blazers, skirts, and pants will be questionable in truly conservative offices, but completely fine in others. Look through your closet to see which fabrics and fibers will work in the new, more formal workplace.

Utilize fun accessories but sparingly

I hate to say it, but the average pair of Irregular Choice shoes will get you the side-eye in many offices and enormous rhinestone bib necklaces probably don’t belong in conservative work environments. Less embellished shoes in bright colors, on the other hand? Definitely possible, especially if most of the other outfit elements are classic and quiet. Rhinestones can be totally fine, especially in smaller necklaces and bracelets. Consider tucking sparkly jewelry into a button-front shirt collar and/or inside a blazer to tone it down. Again, if you want to wear a particularly bold accessory go for it, but try to make it the only bold element in your outfit.

Observe and adapt

I’ve held seven office jobs over the course of my career, and I’ve always found that it works well to dress on the conservative/quiet side for the first few weeks on a new job while performing Dress Code Reconnaissance. An office that looks incredibly buttoned-up on the surface may reveal itself to be more accepting the longer you work there. K may feel more comfortable and secure doing lots of neutrals, suiting, and simple shoes for the first few weeks, and then begin incorporating more personality pieces, colors, prints, and patterns once she’s got the lay of the land.

Those are my tips! What else would you tell K? Have you had to transition your work wardrobe from casual or business casual to something more conservative and formal? What carried over? Anything? How can you make fun and funky pieces law-office friendly? Or do you feel like they just can’t make the leap?

*Also my understanding is that office days and court days can have drastically different dress codes. Every lawyer I’ve ever met wears suits to court, period. So in this post, I’m assuming we’re talking about office days.

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Images courtesy Nordstrom left | right

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for alreadypretty.com. See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details.

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