Posts Categorized: reader requests

Reader Request: Handbag Basics

handbag_basics

Melinda dropped this question into the suggestion box:

I’d be interested in a post on purses and bags. I always feel ridiculous carrying any kind of purse. If it’s big, I imagine myself as a 4 year old girl playing dress up. If it’s small, it just seems too twee and fiddly. I admire women who can carry contrasting colored or interestingly structured bags as if they are natural parts of their wardrobe (instead of, oh-god-I-need-somewhere-to-stick-my-wallet-and-phone). So I’d like to see sort of a “Getting Started for the Bag Wary” post.

I am simultaneously excited to tackle this request, and extremely daunted. I am still fairly new to a multi-handbag lifestyle and all things bag still thrill me, so I’d love to share my tips. But even with my thoughts here and yours in the comments, I’m not sure we can cajole Melinda into overcoming her bag reluctance. Well, let’s try and see how we do.

What do you need to carry with you?

Most of us take things with us when we leave the house, and many of us take more than can fit into our pockets. So if you’re curious about adding a bag or two to your life, the first thing you need to consider is the specific things that you need to cart around. How big and heavy are they? Are any of them awkwardly shaped? (For instance, do you carry a tablet with you? Is your wallet the size and shape of a brick? Do you need to keep a pair of flats on you at all times?) If you are curious about the multi-bag route, can you compartmentalize your stuff so it can be switched easily and quickly between bags?

Your stuff will help you determine how big your bag needs to be, how durable its material needs to be, and which shapes just won’t work.

What do you want your bag to do?

Carry your stuff, I know. But secondary bag considerations may include: Look corporate and professional, work with your winter coat, enhance your outfits, go with everything you own, express your creativity. This bag is going to travel with you wherever you go. What is its visual job? What elements of your body or style does it need to work harmoniously with?

What are your comfort priorities?

Since this bag is going to travel with you wherever you go, it would be great if carrying it didn’t irritate the hell out of you. Do you need to have both hands free? Shoulder bags only for you. Back or neck pain? A lightweight crossbody or stylish backpack, perhaps. Can’t stand fighting with your parka and purse strap? Try a hand-held design. If you’re not currently a handbag person, think about other bag styles you’ve tried – messenger bags, school knapsacks, briefcases. Which of these felt natural and comfortable?

I’ll use myself as an example: I can do a handheld bag, but am much happier if it also has a shoulder strap in case I unexpectedly need my hands free. I generally prefer a bag that has a wide strap so it doesn’t cut into my shoulder, and ideally it would be long enough to sling over my shoulder but short enough that I can carry it in-hand without dragging it on the ground. I have one rectangular bag (this style), the rest are flat. I don’t care if bucket bags are all the rage, if a bag bonks against my side like a tetherball I see red. I need my bag to hug my side.

Which bag styles appeal to you?

Hobos, satchels, totes, crossbodies … got a favorite design? Try not to think about this until you’ve considered your stuff-hauling and comfort priorities. You may love the look of a frame bag, but if you can’t wedge your stuff into it and need a shoulder-slung style, you’ll have to love it from afar.

And then? There’s gonna be some trial and error. If you haven’t habitually carried a handbag in the past, it will take some time to get used to it. And once you’ve gotten used to it, you’ll probably discover a few things about your bag that drive you bananas. You need to know your use patterns before you can really hone in on the perfect bag. (Having to deal with top zippers is my pet peeve. Trying to unzip a bag to reach a ringing phone while simultaneously balancing the bag makes for an odd little jerky dance. For me, anyway.)

So what should Melinda do? I’d highly recommend either borrowing a few bags from a bag-loving family member or friend, or thrifting a couple of promising shapes and sizes. Explore a handful of styles, and try to carry each for a couple of days before passing judgment. Before you can start making your bag an element of your outfit, you need to find out which style suits your needs and get used to carrying it. And honestly, people who incorporate bags as outfit elements generally LOVE handbags. That route is not for everyone. There’s nothing wrong with having one versatile purse for 99% of your life and a sparkly clutch for the other 1%. (Clutches can be thrifted!)

Hopefully that was helpful, but I’d love your input, too. Do you remember how you became accustomed to carrying a handbag, and which styles you tried before you found your ideal? Or are you just now trying to figure all of this out and have other tips to share?

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Image via 6pm.com

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Reader Request: Pairing Earrings and Statement Necklaces

earrings and statement necklaces

Reader Sarah e-mailed me this question:

I tend to gravitate toward matchy-matchy pieces, perhaps because they seem safe and that’s primarily what was modeled growing up in a rural community. In particular, I struggle to find earrings that go with statement necklaces, especially when one or the other contains colored stones or beads. Most of my earrings tend to be relatively short drops, but at times they seem to detract from or contrast with the necklaces. If I go without either the earrings or necklace, my look seems incomplete; earrings tend to disappear into my curly hair or my neck feels too open. Any advice?

With a statement necklace, I always default to studs. Since the necklace and earrings are close to each other, you don’t want them to compete and long, dangly earrings will definitely group with a big necklace and give the impression of a lot of jewelry. However, my ears are entirely exposed because of my short hair, so all earrings are quite visible on me. In Sarah’s case, she’s got thick, curly hair that can obscure small earrings. A large stud may still work, but the next step is simple drop earrings. You want your earrings to stay fairly close to your lobes so true danglers may look like overkill, but something with a single gem or small dangly element should work in most cases.

If your necklace has colored stones or beads and you’d rather not match their color with your earrings, you can do studs or drops in whatever metal is used in the necklace’s hardware. If that creates a visual disconnect for you, repeat the metal in your bracelet or watch. So, basically, match your bracelet and earrings and let the necklace stand alone.

Those are my rules of thumb. What are yours? How to you pick earrings to complement your big, statement-y necklaces?

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Reader Request: Style Maturation and Individuality

mature style

K emailed me this question:

At least for me (I guess all of us dealing with the time continuum), we are all getting older so many of the style shifts coincide with wondering if what I need now is a more mature style, but not wanting to lose the youth we still still feel, no matter our age, but wanting to dress appropriately for our bodies, career positions, and body size and shape in a kind, gentle way. Sometimes I feel this fear that I can’t identify about my shifting style-wanting to hold on to the old me yet let it go, and worry that I won’t get it back when the unknown new style is an unknown thing. Then I just throw on some jeans and a cardigan (my default) and I’m OK. However, after a stint in a more formal work environment I find myself wanting a blazer instead of a cardigan…I somehow feel older (jaded?) in a way I wasn’t expecting that makes me both sad and happy.

I remember the day I yanked open my bottom drawer and realized I was never gonna wear those bright pink tights again. I was just too old. It wasn’t my birthday, no one had made fun of me for having blazing pink legs, it was just an internal shift that took place overnight. And, like K, I felt a bit sad and worried that episodes like this would become more and more frequent until I’d lost everything fun and unique about my style. But I didn’t let that happen, and K doesn’t need to either. Here are some actions to consider and paths to ponder.

Don’t donate, store

I have experienced donator’s remorse fairly recently, so I’ll admit that I don’t always stick to this one. But when I went through my massive wardrobe purge, I did remove a number of items from my closet and stash them in the basement instead of actually getting rid of them. This allowed me to live without them for a while and see if they were actively missed. They weren’t. Not a one. But it still felt less overwhelming to know that they weren’t permanently gone, and that I had the option to work them into my revised style if I wanted. And this technique will be helpful regardless of the motivation. In this case, if you want to move toward a more mature, sophisticated style, you can stash your quirkiest garments out-of-closet, dress without them for a few weeks, and see how you feel. If you miss them desperately, it’s worth finding ways to keep them in rotation. And speaking of …

Wear one personality piece at a time

Eye-catching, funky garments and accessories can be made more subdued when they’re worn one to an outfit. So if you used to do a large-print cardigan AND leopard booties, try just doing one of those and making the rest of the outfit solid or neutral or otherwise quiet. A single unusual, conversation-starting element will make you look interesting while the rest of your ensemble helps you appear professional.

There may be some pieces that just won’t pass this test: For instance, tulle skirts and novelty prints will be hard to work into outfits that feel buttoned-up and über-professional. That doesn’t mean they should be nixed or that women over a certain age can’t wear and own them. Just that they aren’t stellar candidates for featuring in more formal groupings.

Lean on your fun accessories

If garments from your former style feel too disconnected from the style you’re moving toward, keeping a few accessories in the mix can be a great way to preserve your visual personality. Necklaces and belts, scarves and earrings in unusual shapes and bright colors can be worn in otherwise conservative mixes without disturbing the overall aesthetic too much. And even if no one else actively notices them, they’ll remind you that you haven’t completely jettisoned your old style.

In terms of the emotional part of this question, I think it is natural to conclude that your style needs to grow and mature, and it is natural to mourn that transition. Our society has taught us to fear aging, and feeling too old for bright pink tights is a very concrete reminder that YOU are aging. But continuing to dress in a more youthful way that no longer aligns with your desired aesthetic won’t stop you from aging, just as creating outfits with fewer funky items won’t make you a dullard.

I do believe it’s true that once you let go of a previous style, it’s incredibly difficult to revert back to it. But that’s a good thing. Style should evolve. And if you find that you miss aspects of a previous incarnation, think about how you can revamp and revisit them in the context of your current style. Some people say you should never wear a trend the second time it comes around, but others say just wear it differently. Tweak it, shape it, make it as new as it is old. That will feel more like progress anyway.

Anyone else mid-transition and feeling apprehensive? How are you hanging on to aspects of your old style while still moving toward a new one? Have you ever opened a drawer and thought, “I am officially too old to wear [some item] ever again”?

Images courtesy Boden

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