Posts Categorized: reader requests

Reader Request: Modernizing the Denim Skirt

modernizing the denim skirt

Reader Courtney had this request:

For years, jeans skirts have been a wardrobe staple for me, always just above the knee, dark and pencil shaped. I have a pretty casual work environment, so they have been a 4 season staple. I wear them with t-shirts and flip-flops, with nice sweaters and heeled boots, and everything in between. My most recent one was due to be replaced a few months ago, and as I began looking for one I realized not only could I not find what I was looking for, no one is wearing them anymore! Most of my favorite fashion bloggers don’t wear them, nor do any of the stylish ladies I see on the street, and the only stores that carry them are frumpy looking to my eye. So I’m guessing that my wardrobe staple has fallen out of style. What do you recommend I replace it with, and how can I be more aware in the future of when a staple-for-me is becoming dowdy?

Several years ago I listed a denim jacket as one of my wardrobe staples and many readers raised eyebrows. But I stuck to my guns. Denim jackets have risen, fallen, and risen in popularity since back then and I’m sure they’ll continue to ride that roller coaster more or less forever. But I love them and will wear them throughout.

Denim skirts may not be trendy right now, but the kind that Courtney is describing – an unembellished, dark wash, pencil-style denim skirt – is something I think of as a “fluctuating staple.” The magazines aren’t touting it as the next big thing and that means it may not be readily available in mall stores everywhere, but it has classic design and versatility going for it. And that means it’s also got staying power. It will fall back into favor, and out of favor, and back in. I hope you’ll feel free to wear it throughout, if you love it and it suits your style.

I own the a-line denim skirt shown above – a Nic + Zoe skirt that is now sold out – and it took me an age to find it. Many full and a-line denim skirts are stiff, overly embellished, or costume-y so they are much harder to find in a classic dark wash and a cut that works with a variety of outfits instead of just casual/Western ones. Other denim skirts that don’t have classic design and versatility going for them? Denim maxis, distressed or heavily sanded, micro minis, and super light washes. If, like Courtney, you want a denim skirt that will look modern and classy for years to come, a dark wash pencil is the perfect choice. Dark wash a-line runs a close second.

Where can I buy a great denim skirt?

A few denim-focused mall brands like Gap will stock them in spring and summer, but they’ll be a little trickier to find in fall and winter. Here’s where I’d look right now:

  • Not Your Daughter’s Jeans (NYDJ) – Definitely my top pick, as their skirts are high quality, classic in design, and available in a few petite and plus sizes. Also check for this brand at Macy’s, Zappos, and 6pm.
  • Boden – Nearly always in stock in a few styles, and virtually always classic, dark-wash.
  • Nordstrom – There will be an awful lot of very short, distressed, juniors-focused options, but some great classics, too. Nordstrom stocks denim skirts almost year-round.
  • Zappos and 6pm – A great resource as you’ll have a shot at past-season skirts from various brands.

What should I wear with it?

Naturally, the answer this question will vary depending on your personal style, figure flattery priorities, lifestyle, work and workplace, and place of residence. So consider these merely loose guidelines to be used as they best apply to you as an individual.

To dress up a dark wash denim skirt, try cardigans and pullover sweaters, printed blouses and button-front shirts, and knit tops. Super structured and traditionally conservative tops like blazers and solid button-fronts may clash somewhat with the laid-back vibe of a denim skirt. You can also go for edgy accents like leather jackets, chunky jewelry, or graphic tees. Anything that leans in a super Western direction – a chambray shirt or jacket, snap-front shirts, and even some ditsy florals – may edge you over into the costume-y direction if you don’t actually live out West. Which definitely can be fun, but won’t feel classic in most cases.

If your top is long, try tucking and belting. Shorter tops will look great untucked and may feel more natural with a denim skirt. If you’re doing a cardigan, try tucking and belting your inner layer. In terms of top shape, base your decisions on your skirt’s shape: A denim pencil skirt is just like any other pencil skirt – slim-fitting – which means you can do a looser top and still create balance within your outfit. A-lines have more natural volume, so a more fitted top will help show your figure’s true shape.

How about shoes?

Again, this will vary quite a bit depending on YOU, but aside from monster snowboots and gym shoes nearly anything can work. Heels can make a denim skirt feel sexy, low-top fashion sneaks (think Chuck Taylors) will look cool and funky, ballet flats will be classic, sandals will be wonderfully summery. Tall boots can be a bit tricky – especially cowgirl-style boots if you want to keep your look neutral – but they can work, too, especially in rich browns. Pick a shoe that works with your style and activity level.

Anyone else out there a fan of denim skirts? Do you favor pencil style, a-line, mini, something else altogether? How do you style yours? Any other tips you’d share with Courtney and the rest of us?

Images courtesy Zappos

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Reader Request: Managing a Massive Closet Purge

how to purge your closet

In a comment on my post about shifting my style, r.s. asked if I would talk a bit more about what it’s like to purge out a third of your wardrobe. And although I talked about some of the actions I took to make more focused and informed choices, I didn’t get into the nuts and bolts of the purge. And now I will!

For starters, even after this purge I still have lots of clothes. I had been focused on accumulation and wardrobe building for many years leading up to this change, so I had a lot to sort through and still have lots of options at my disposal. I say this because getting rid of a third of your wardrobe has considerably more impact if you’re already a minimalist who only owns 50 wardrobe items. That doesn’t mean that you can’t, potentially, cast off a large portion of them; If I’ve learned anything from this experience, it’s that what we think we need to dress stylishly and what we actually need to dress stylishly can be pretty far apart. But I want to be honest, here: I got rid of a lot. I still have a lot. And although Grechen’s journey toward minimalism has had a huge impact on me, I don’t feel ready to commit to that path myself. Not yet, anyway.

Another important bit of information: I started purging long before I made the conscious decision to change my personal style. In fact, I was purging on a near-weekly basis for about four months. And since I found that staggered purge to be helpful, let’s start there.

Do it in stages

If you’ve decided to drastically change your style, or are moving to a new space with less storage, or have settled on any reason at all that makes you want or need to jettison a big chunk of your wardrobe, the process will be less painful and more effective if you can do it over a relatively long period of time. The first closet purge is usually the low-hanging fruit: Stuff that doesn’t fit or is damaged or hasn’t been worn in a decade. But if you ditch that stuff, walk away, and come back in a week? You’ll see the next tier of potential castoffs: Items that are pretty but not really “you,” stuff that’s super delicate and/or dry cleanable and therefore never gets worn, a few things you’ve been telling yourself are awesome but that you might just be hanging onto because they were expensive. Come back in ANOTHER week? Even more items you don’t really need will come to hand.

In my own case, I found myself becoming more and more brutally honest as the weeks rolled by. Items I couldn’t part with the week before were ripped from their hangers and sent to new homes. And doing it all in stages allowed me to live with less, but gradually. To see if the loss of any of these items made an impact. (Never did.)

Have a plan or a focus

Might seem like the place to start, but it doesn’t need to be. I think if you’ve committed to a large-scale purge you are likely someone who realizes she has more than she really needs. The first few passes at purging can just be used for skimming off the stuff that simply isn’t working or clearly isn’t necessary. But once you find yourself making hard decisions about skirts you adore but just aren’t using, you’ll need some sort of guiding principle. In my case, this became, “Would a badass wear this?” And if you have a specific aesthetic that you’re trying to achieve, “Would a romantic/prep/rocker/siren/steampunk/retro-gal wear this?” could work for you, too. But since many of us draw from multiple influences and looks, you can also consider other parameters: Creating a defined color palette and jettisoning anything that doesn’t fit within it (which I also did), being honest about your comfort priorities and ditching items that aren’t comfy enough (also did this with my high heels), and although I don’t generally push time-contingent parameters you can certainly opt to get rid of items that haven’t been worn for X number of months/years. Purging willy-nilly will work for a while, but once you’re facing down items you still love but aren’t really working, having a plan or focus for your culling will be helpful.

Create a holding area

Purging often yields three main categories: Items you definitely want to keep, items you can part with easily, and items you THINK you can cast off but aren’t totally sure. If downsizing is your goal and you’re getting rid of lots of garments and accessories, consider moving items in that third category to a temporary holding area away from your closet. This will allow you to live with a smaller wardrobe for a few weeks and figure out if you miss any of those “maybe” pieces. If you do, you can bring them back into the fold. This prevents “donator’s remorse,” the lesser known sibling to “buyer’s remorse.” I’m lucky enough to have basement storage, so I’ve moved some of my “maybe” items downstairs for now. If you don’t have any out-of-closet storage, just take the items off the hangers or out of the drawers, fold them, and put them in another room. Get them out of your regular line of sight so you’ll know if you truly miss and need them.

Consider selling what you can

If you’re financially secure enough to just donate without worry, by all means do so. There are countless charities that will take and re-sell your gorgeous duds and put the profits toward a good cause. (Dress for Success is a particularly great one, if you’ve got lots of office-appropriate attire. Just sayin’.) If part of what’s keeping you from downsizing is pondering all the money you’ve spent on these things, that stress can be slightly mitigated by consigning items, putting them through online consignment sites like Twice and thredUP, or selling them on eBay. I must’ve visited my local consignment stores two dozen times over the course of my purge, and it was helpful to get a bit of cash back. Now, if you go this route you should be prepared to get pennies on the dollar for your items: Do not expect to get anything near what you paid for your clothes back. And for some people, the stress of being offered $5 for a $250 pair of shoes will be worse than just bagging them up for Goodwill and letting go. Your call, obviously.

A sidenote to this: Unless you have tags and receipts and are within the return window, the money you’ve spent on your wardrobe is now gone. Try to think of it as gone. Although recouping some money can help ease you through this process, focusing on what you’ve spent – and therefore lost – will just trip you up. It doesn’t really matter if you spent $500 or $5 on something you’re not wearing. You’re still not wearing it. And you may feel guilty or foolish for spending lots on something that you didn’t end up using, but those feelings won’t get you your money back. And they also won’t make you wear something you don’t naturally want to wear. Sell it if you can, donate it if you wish, and try to move on.

Know that it’s a rolling process

I am so very NOT done purging my closet. It has been exciting to daydream about my new style direction, and I’ve already thrifted and bought some items that fit within my more defined aesthetic. Undoubtedly, some of them will turn out to be duds, and will need to be passed along to new owners.  I also hung onto cool bright colors and jewel tones for the time being, but I suspect one of those color categories will get ditched after a few months of experimentation. Since your style never stops evolving, your wardrobe will be in a near-constant state of flux. And that’s fine. This isn’t a project that needs to be tackled and completed within a certain timeframe. Let it unfold organically. When you feel like you’ve gotten rid of everything you can possibly part with, stop. But be open to culling more in the future.

Shopping and purging are really two sides of the same coin, both directly related to cultivating a useful, beautiful, unique wardrobe. Adding more can seem like the more exciting, glamorous option, but honing in on a defined, specific look can be just as rewarding. Most people probably aren’t considering a giant culling session, but all of us are in seasonal transition now and therefore living in an ideal state of flux for sorting the sartorial wheat from the chaff. Could you downsize? Would it help you to do it in stages? Do you have a vision for your style that could be honed in on through considered culling?

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Reader Request: Wearing Scarves and Necklaces Together

Reader Sarah sent me this question:

I love making and wearing necklaces. Between my own creations and the necklaces I have purchased, I have a large collection of necklaces, and wear a necklace most days. As a result, I have been slow to take up the scarf craze. Lately, I have seen women combining a necklace with a scarf. Can you offer tips on how to do this?

This is a tough one, but I’ll do my best!

Long strand and loosely tied square

scarf and necklace worn together

HOOOWEEE, that’s an oldie from the archive. This represents one of the few times I’ve done a necklace/scarf combo myself, and it looks fun if a little haphazard. I stole the idea from a catalog page and recreated it as closely as I could, right down to the long pearls and vintage-print scarf.

Strand wrapped around bias-folded square

pearlnecklace

I ADORE this trick, which I shamelessly stole from Mai Tai’s Picture Book, a treasure trove of scarf-tying resources. Take a large square scarf, fold into a triangle, roll into a snake. Then drape the snake over the back of your neck, and drape a strand necklace over the scarf. (Doesn’t have to be pearls. Chain works just as well, but you want something that is even in width along the entire length of the necklace.) Wind the necklace around the scarf, fasten in front, and knot over the clasp. There’s a video tutorial if you click through the link to Mai Tai’s.

Long pendant with tied square

Hermes-Locke-Artsy-Grand-Dame

This idea and image hail from Privilege, with commentary that this combo is for the skilled. I love the look but tend to agree: Most scarf/necklace combos are challenging, including this one. But I think a lot of it has to do with unity, assembly, and attitude. Here, there are gold tones in the scarf and necklace, which makes them harmonious (unity). There is space between the scarf and necklace, but they overlap a bit, too (assembly). And the scarf is tied jauntily and a bit messily, it’s wearer happy and confident in her accessorization (attitude). I’ve also seen a variation of this using a longer rectangle or infinity scarf looped large around the neck. Works best with a chunky pendant like this.

Looped scarf and looped necklace

scarf-necklace

These are actually single unit accessories sold (in 2011) by Anthropologie … but they can be re-created using your own scarves and necklaces. The easiest route is to use a long rectangular scarf: To create the two end looks (white and coral scarves), loop the scarf around your neck and let both ends hang long. Tie a loose slipknot toward the middle of each tail. Thread a lightweight strand necklace with a clasp through both openings. Do this several times until you’ve got as many draped strands as you’d like. Fasten the necklace inside one of the slipknots to cover the clasp. If the whole contraption feels insecure, knot the scarf tails together.

To create the center look, follow the same steps, but rotate the necklace portion to the side. In both cases a lightweight necklace with drape will work best. Chunky beads will weigh down the scarf and pull the whole thing out of whack. (Believe me, these pre-made combos would do that, too. This is an option that will take lots of readjusting throughout the day.)

Scarf grouped with outer layer and a distinct necklace

scarf and necklace

More from Mai Tai. She really is brilliant. Here, the slim scarf serves as a kind of false trim or lapel for her cardigan, and she adds a large, statement-y necklace in the space between. This could also work with a blazer or duster, and will probably look best if scarf length and outer layer length are close. Since you’re grouping the cardigan or jacket visually with the scarf, long dangling scarf ends will be distracting.

Draped chains and looped necklace

ScarfNecklace_lg

This is a slightly closer-to-the-neck version of the first option, and actually comes from instructions for sewing a scarf-necklace combo. But this look could be re-created with a cowboy-tied square scarf and a multi-strand chain necklace.

And that’s all I’ve got! Anyone else a whiz and creating scarf-necklace combos? How do you wear YOURS together? Share links and tutorials if you’ve got ‘em!

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