Friday, November 30, 2012

Holiday party - What to wear?

I personally think the holiday season is not only a time to celebrate the joy of the year - family and friends gathering, festive food, exchanging of gifts - but it can also be the most emotionally volatile time of year as well.  Everyone, whether in their companies or in their families, tends to take stock of themselves and their situations as the holidays also coincide with year-end.  There is always pressure to “look good” or “look successful,” as well as to feel good and successful ourselves and please those important to us.  Retailers understand this, and they know how to pull the heartstrings to get us to open our wallets.  Kids write their wishful letters to Santa, and those of us who are parents want to do our best to fulfill our kids’ wishes even sometimes when doing so gives us conflict.  And of course, we have the holiday party invitations and the pressure that comes with celebrating the season with friends and colleagues before we spend time with our families.

I can’t really tell you how to handle the kids’ gift wishes - this is primarily a fashion blog after all - but I would like to share my thoughts about what to wear to the holiday parties you’re likely preparing to attend.

First, take a deep breath!  (Doesn’t that feel better?)

It is very possible you already have just what you need to put your holiday look together, sitting right there in your closet.  Or maybe you will just need to buy one or two dazzling pieces.  

Let me help you to put some potential outfits together!

Let’s start with a basic check list - if you already have one of the following, you are in good shape!

  • Little black/navy/red/wine (you name it, any dark color) dress
  • Dark wash, well fitted jeans
  • Dark blazer
  • Silk blouse
  • Simple pencil skirt
  • Pumps
  • Wool/Cashmere/Cotton & silk sweaters

Here’s my suggested additions to complete your outfit!

Gloves:   Many of us forget about this fabulous winter accessory that can marry fashion and function.  Have fun and try on different colors, prints and lengths.  Long leather or satin gloves that reach the elbow can add a bit of style and sophistication to sleeveless attire.  Wear a pair in a deep-jeweled tone like garnet, sapphire or emerald to add a pop of color to a simple black dress.  If you don’t care for long gloves, go with a shorter pair with embellishment.

Scarves:  I do love me some scarves!  I am a big fan of scarves with unique prints.  One of my favorite things about scarves is that you never need to fit INTO a scarf!  Extra holiday indulgences have zero impact on your ability to wear a scarf, and adding one to your look creates an instant dressed-up feel.  If you have a busy working day with an event on the schedule afterwards, you may not have time to go home and change.  Add a silk scarf on your neck, and off you go! 

Sequins or paillettes: Get ready to shine!  A sequined dress in black, gold, or silver makes for the perfect outfit this holiday season.  Too much of a good thing?  Try a sequined tank or jacket you can pair with practically anything – from your favorite dark wash denim to a go-to-work pencil skirt or simple trouser.  For just a bit of sparkle, add a narrow sequined belt or clutch.  Remember, the more sequins you have, the less jewelry you need.

Red: If you have your favorite shade of red living somewhere in your closet, this is the perfect time to bring it out.  Scarlet red, rust red, plum red, any shade of red can be the base of a great festive outfit.  If you feel red is a bit too much for you, opt for red nail color or a red lipstick instead. (Be sure to wear a nude lip liner to avoid any bleeding of color into fine lines around the mouth.)

Statement jewelry:  This can be as simple as a diamond stud necklace, a drop of pearl, or can be as dramatic as a pair of chandelier earrings or a chunky necklace, or as fun as a holiday theme broach. Make sure it suits your personality.  If you struggle to decide, remember simple is beautiful. 

If you’re going to be driving, please drive safe and alert!  I don’t know if it’s just me, but it seems that every holiday season I see more accidents and near-accidents - I think people get more easily distracted at this time of year.  Stay alert, use these tips, RELAX and enjoy your holiday season!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Fashionomics 101: Maximize Your ROI

A recent Wall Street Journal article, “Fall Fashion Forecast” comes to the conclusion that trend is dead.  This further emphasizes the points I made in June when I wrote,  “Follow your style- make the trend work for you”.  

But this leads to another question:  how should we manage our wardrobes?  Do you feel overwhelmed and unsure of what to add to your wardrobe?  Or, conversely, are you in the other camp and feel like you might not be able to control yourself?  

Either way, now could be just the time to assess your fashion capital and re-balance your fashion portfolio.  Here are some guidelines that I have learned:

Capitalize on your assets.  Take a long, hard look at your body from head to toe.  What are your most valuable assets that make  your look uniquely yours?  What are you working with - fabulous curves, great legs, high cheekbones etc?  Only when you know what your assets are can you make sound purchases that naturally highlight them.  Because assets change over time, be sure to focus on what is working NOW rather than what has worked in the past.  You have evolved, and your clothing should as well.

Take stock.   It's difficult to put together great outfits if you are low on inventory.  Just before the fall and spring fashion seasons hit, assess what you already own.  Do your clothes fit and flatter you?  Are they current and in good condition?  Do they represent the best version of you and the image you would like to project?  If there's inventory in your closet that's not working for you, it's time to write it off and then re-stock.  Remember the three step process: inventory, edit, and shop. Invest the time just twice a year and enjoy the dividends all year long.


Minimize your liabilities.  First know that you are not alone.  We all have liabilities that seem to stay with us for longer than they should.  Here is a sampling of some liabilities that my clients have shared over the years:

  • Shopping to fill an emotional void ("retail therapy") rather than shopping for items that are needed
  • Not shopping because there are too many choices and it seems overwhelming
  • Inaccurate or out-of-date self-image
  • Getting all fashion advice from an opinionated friend or family member rather than building your own personal style
  • Buying based on price rather than need
  • Investing in high-end items without a wardrobe plan

Whatever your fashion liabilities, make friends with them and make a plan!  Get out of your clothing rut by breaking habits that are not serving your best interests.

Diversify your fashion portfolio.  Smart investors have a diversified portfolio.  Similarly, savvy dressers have clothes for every aspect of their life; they are not just invested in one area of their life (i.e. work clothes).  A diverse fashion portfolio includes outfits for dressy parties, informal social gatherings, work, weekend activities, exercise, travel, and more.  Do you have enough of the right clothing for all of the different situations you find yourself in?  Think about how you spend your time and then add to your wardrobe accordingly.

Accrue interest. Your fashion choices tell the story of who you are or aspire to be. You should be getting results from the time and money that you are investing into your wardrobe.  Those results might include compliments from others, more confidence, and an overall feeling of well-being.  They might also result in a job offer, a promotion, a date, and so on.  Now THAT is the kind of accrued interest you are looking for, so go ahead and put your style to work!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Seasonless Style Made Simple

This time of year is tricky to dress for, even though stores and magazines would have us think otherwise.  Many of us are still in summer mode, and rightfully so - while temperatures can vary widely, there are still enough warm days that it's still a bit early to say goodbye to summer clothing.  So how do you begin to migrate your closet (and your state of mind) to fall?  Here are some tips I’ve learned on how to make a smooth and stylish transition.

Take Cover - A good rule when transitioning into fall is to always have at least one part of your body covered, whether it is your legs or your shoulders.  Try pairing a summer dress, skirt, or even heavier fabric shorts with darker hosiery to give off a sleek, fall effect.  Alternatively, cardigans, or blazers easily take your sleeveless tops or dresses into fall, and can be added or subtracted as needed.  

Embrace the Dark Side - By all means, keep wearing your summer whites and creams as long as temperatures permit, but pair with darker neutrals or one of this fall's colors.  For a list of fashion's favorite hues of the season, check out Pantone's Fashion Color Report here.

Accessorized and Dangerous -  Balance is the key concept with accessorizing.  If you wear a sundress, opt for chunky statement jewelry.   Also, don't forget to swap out your handbag.   It is time for us to say goodbye to straw and canvas bags, and hello to embossed leather and suede!  The addition of a lightweight scarf - especially one showcasing this season's prints - is another great way to embrace the new season. And why not give a nod to the menswear trend and top off your look with a fedora?

It's a Shoe In - Sandals are still fine at this time of year, as long they have more coverage and 'visual' weight than a strappy summer sandal.   With summer skirts and dresses, why not try a shoe with one of this fall's chunkier heels, or even an updated ankle bootie?  Similarly, your summer capris will find new life this season when teamed with an oxford or 'slipper' flat.

Let's Make Up - It's a good time to transition to fall makeup shades, but the switch doesn't have to be drastic.  Simple adjustments like opting for tawnier shades can make all the difference.  Swap your sheer summer lip gloss with a creamy lipstick formula.  And don't forget about your nails!  Exchange summer shades of aqua and mint green for a burgundy, purple, or deep red.

Quicker than you can say "fall fashion," cooler days and nights will soon be upon us.  Until then, continue to enjoy your favorite summer items - albeit in a fall-friendly kind of way.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Casual Chic - the solution for Austin's lifestyle

When I visited Austin for the first time in November 2003, I had been living in Toronto, so unsurprisingly I quickly fell in love with Austin’s weather.  Wearing shorts to Baby Acapulco to sip my first-ever margarita provided me with an unforgettable introduction.

I’ve also learned that Austin presents a fashion challenge for many - how do you “keep it Austin weird” while staying well-dressed?  It can be very easy for casual to slouch over into sloppy or lazy.  Readers have recently emailed me questions like:

  • How would you define “casual chic”?
  • How can one dress well during a full day that includes roles as businesswoman and soccer mom?
  • What can I wear during the Austin fall and winter, when the “seasonal” looks I see online and in stores is not imagining Austin weather?  I’m not going to wear sweaters with temperatures still in the 90s!

First, let me say that if someone tells you that “fashion is pain”, ignore them.  Whether or not the statement is true (I for one don’t think it is), the point is that you must be comfortable to appear stylish.  It is simply not sustainable to force yourself into something that either isn’t you or isn’t comfortable for the situation.  Fashion does not serve you if it doesn’t fit you, physically and psychologically.  You want to be yourself, not a mannequin.  Whether it happened in high school or last week, most of us can remember some first date where either we or our date tried too hard to impress, through excessive boasting or extravagant behavior of some kind.  How did that work out?  As with dating, your style needs to fit you as a whole person to work for the long run.    

Casual chic seems to be the unofficial dress code that embodies the Austin lifestyle.  The way I define this broadly is:

  1. Fabrics that are easy to wear and easy to wash
  2. Clothes that are traditionally comfortable to wear, like jeans, khaki pants, skirts, knit tops, cotton shirts, flowing dresses etc.
  3. A look that is stylish, personal and a bit fashion forward with the right accessories. It projects a sense of easiness and effortlessness  -  meaning one does not spend too much time to much the look together, yet everything visually goes well with each other.
  4. The outfit is not label oriented and the look does not attempt to project wealth and power.   
  5. The outfit can be used for multiple functions.  For example, most creative or high-tech industry working environment, family gathering, friends' party, after work cocktail, and some dinner party etc.

To be clear, this does not mean t-shirts, shorts and flip-flops.  There needs to be some effort to put the outfits together initially, and the looks that result can be casual but should “look” effortless.

Casual chic as described above is also the answer I would provide to the businesswoman soccer mom who needs to juggle multiple roles during a day.  Here are some examples of well put together casual chic looks.

Now, all the photos I’ve used here are fashion photos.  You absolutely don’t need to wear heels to be “casual chic”!  Use the looks from the ankles up as a guideline, and add some casual, comfortable flats (but not sneakers), and you’ll have it.

In my next post I will answer the fall-winter question.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Why do we need to dress well? Where is the line?


From late August to early September I was traveling for a family/business trip to the east coast including New York and the Washington DC area.  Our last stop was Alexandria VA, just across the Potomac River from Washington, where we attended a friend’s wedding.  As usual, I travel in casual wear.  The moment I stepped in our hotel, I started feeling like I was the most dressed down woman in the lobby.  The next day, when I went to Starbucks for my morning coffee in shorts and a T-shirt, I found myself in most casual situation again. Even guys were super dressed too.  There was a young guy, maybe barely 30, wearing a bow tie and sport coat ordering coffee in front me.  I don’t know if any of you share this feeling with me or not - when I am the least dressed women in a group, I felt very uncomfortable.  I started to think, what’s going on with this town?

Being as close as it is to the nation’s capital, many politicians and lobbyists live and work in Alexandria.  In the professional world, it should go without saying that dressing well is very important.  Princeton psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov said "First impressions are formed in less than a tenth of a second."

When you dress to project an authoritative image, people tend to listen to you more.  For ladies, my personal experience is, when you dress well, you get treated well.  Newsweek columnist Jessica Bennett said, "In this economy looking good isn't just vanity, it’s economic survival."  

Inevitably, dressing well can go extreme. So the question arises: in the professional field, how can one dress well while maintaining their own style?  Where is the line between stylish and fashion slave?  I’d like to share my thoughts.

1. Smile! - this is the best, most sustainable and easiest (no cost) accessory you can ever have. And also please take care of yourself, eat well and exercise! You can attract more bees with honey than vinegar! In virtually any professional setting, a smile and a good attitude will get you a long way.

2. If you are a professional, when you manage your wardrobe, set professional needs first and play needs second.   This is a very personalized topic, it depends on your professional goal and image goal.  For one example, make dressy slacks a priority ahead of jeans.  There are also shopping guidelines you can follow from my previous post.

3.  Once you have established your core wardrobe, you can use the looks within that wardrobe that work for you - you won’t need to “work for looks” any longer.  If you like to shop, work from the core wardrobe and add a few pieces each season along with the trend.  It is not necessary to become a fashion slave, to panic each new season, to overbuy and still feel like you have nothing to wear.  Well-selected, quality professional clothes should last for at least a couple of years.  Being organized and having a plan can help you avoid feeling lost.

The good news about my time in Alexandria was that I was simply visiting while the folks surrounding me were working and dressing to impress.  The “underdressed” impulse I felt was quickly followed by the realization that these people were here to work and I was here to relax and enjoy my friend’s wedding.  I enjoyed my time in Alexandria, and I did look good at the wedding - I just didn’t pack “wedding clothes” for everyday use!  

Do any of you have the same issues when traveling - how to pack when mixing business, pleasure and other activities?  Please share your stories and questions in the comment section.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Uniqlo in New York - Online vs. Storefront Fashion Retail

Last week, I joined Google+ after being frustrated with Facebook forcing me (and all its users) into using its Timeline. While exploring Google+ I found this recent the New Yorker article discussing one of my favorite retailers, Uniqlo, through one of my friend's share.

I have been a fan of Uniqlo since going to their stores in Shanghai in 2002. Uniqlo’s parent company, Japan’s Fast Retailing, also owns other of my favorite brands in fashion retail, including Theory and Comptoir Des Cotonniers. In the decade since becoming a loyal customer of Fast Retailing’s brands, I’ve found the products to be fashion forward, price competitive and high quality - and equally as importantly, I’ve had good experiences as a customer at their stores in various parts of the world.

The New Yorker article led me to think about how retailers should balance the needs of providing staffing and in-person customer service versus expanding their online business. Uniqlo in the U.S. only sells out of its stores - they do no Internet and no phone order business. I think they have made a conscious decision to focus on building their store business, hiring more people to offer fast, accurate and convenient customer service on site. However, in today’s market, offering store business only is not complete customer service. Customers want and expect both!

I don’t need to tell you how much the Internet has changed the way we live, interact and shop. During the five years I spent working at a major luxury retailer, I witnessed a substantial decline in the number of customers visiting the store over the years. Many of those customers have stayed loyal to the company but have moved more of their shopping to the company’s website. Will my old employer and their competitors look at closing stores when the next downturn forces them to look at reducing costs to stay profitable? I bet you they will. At least, we are already seeing a trend of slowing down the opening of new stores.

Will the Internet completely take over store business? No, I don't think so. As the New Yorker article explains, there is still an important role for a positive in-store experience and for customer service in the fashion industry. Especially for luxury retailers, the high margin is mainly built from customer service. Honestly, based on my personal experience, for basic items like T-shirts, casual pants etc., I don’t see a big quality difference from the products one finds in JCPenney or Kohl’s compared to full-line retailers. What customers are paying for is the service. We expect salespeople to tell us honestly and competently what colors look good on us, and if the fit is right etc. If they don’t meet this basic expectation, there is almost no reason to go to the store, other than to have to have some visual stimulation. (This is part of what hurt electronics retailers like Best Buy - people looking at the product in the store, and then ordering online from Amazon where they can get a lower price, if they aren’t getting great service anyway.)

For retailers with a storefront business, I believe there are four key elements that will bring success even against online retailers:

  1. Intelligent store design - making the store highly visually appealing, items easy to find and the store easy to navigate
  2. Having the right selection of products in stock and available
  3. Providing excellent in-store service
  4. Hiring well (and enough)

By successfully executing on these four elements, customers will come back to you either online or offline. None of this is easy, but neither is putting together and operating an online supply chain. The continued migration of customers to the Internet is unstoppable, but stores will continue to provide a vital human link in the minds of customers as part of their overall relationship with the brand.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Lessons from my skin care quest

Even though my primary interest in fashion and style is clothing, accessories, jewelry and shoes, I have always had a strong interest in the skin care and cosmetics industry. From a business perspective, cosmetics and toiletries are huge - 2010 sales in the U.S. alone were $36.5 billion - and many fortunes have been made (think Mary Kay, Avon, Revlon, Estee Lauder...) selling potions and lotions to make us look younger and prettier. The profit margins and the market are so big that it seems like anyone can sell you something out of their kitchen with fancy marketing and bold claims. And it always seems there are people willing to buy.

I want to share with you the story of my own skin care quest. Like many people, I have had a long term problem with acne. Now that I’m in my thirties, my acne problem has been joined by a wrinkle problem. Call it the onset of a midlife crisis or just part of getting older, but a few years back I went on a frantic search for the ideal products that could cure my acne and prevent me from getting wrinkles.

My quest led me to try many, many brands, from the least expensive things I could find at the drugstore to the extreme high end. While I poured a lot of cosmetics onto my face, I also poured a lot of money into the hands of those cosmetics companies! One thing that should have helped was the fact that my job at a major luxury retailer gave me access to many samples. This led not only to temptation but also potentially to conflict, as I was not only expected to try products but to recommend them to my customers.

In 2010, we started introducing the La Mer skin care brand to our customers. If you’re not familiar, this so-called “Miracle Skincare” product is very expensive - a 3.4-ounce jar of moisturizing cream sells for $395.00. Our La Mer salespeople were very friendly, and provided me with a lot of samples to use as well as brochures to pass on to my clients. Because they were so nice, they ended up selling me La Mer as well.
Unfortunately, the La Mer products I bought did not work for me - in fact, my acne got worse. This led me to wonder what was actually in La Mer. When I asked my colleagues why La Mer was so expensive, I was told it was because one of the ingredients was seaweed extract, and was so rare that humans could only harvest it twice a year. This claim made me very suspicious. If seaweed was so rare, how could Japanese and Korean people eat it as a main part of their diet? Why aren’t sushi rolls ten times more expensive?

I had to do some more research. As part of the research process, a client and a friend of mine recommended the book “Don’t Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me” by Paula Begoun, who calls herself “The Cosmetics Cop” and has done in-depth research on cosmetics ingredients for decades. I downloaded this book on my iPad and started reading it. I was surprised to learn many interesting facts about La Mer, and I learned why it would never work for me. With more reading, I learned what kind of ingredients would help clear acne, prevent aging, and what kind of packaging will best preserve the ingredients etc. I became a self-appointed deputy cosmetics cop in our store. I used my iPad book often to guide my clients what kind of products should they buy throughout our store. And I recommended Paula’s book to my family, friends and clients.

What I like most about the book is the fact that there are references for virtually every claim made. You can go to the exact page of the academic dermatology journals to learn more details of what the author says. And Paula also has a website,, that provides very detailed reviews of over 45,000 cosmetics products on the market. Her reviews are unbiased and science-based. (She has a university degree in science, which may be more than many cosmetics moguls can say.)

After many years of research, Paula started producing her own line of skin care products, branded as Paula’s Choice. I decided to give some of her products a try. They tend to be reasonably priced, and of course they follow scientific sense to attain the desired result. Her products don’t contain alcohol (which dries the skin) or fragrance (which can overstimulate the skin and cause breakouts). There was definitely a trial-and-error period for me to get my own product combination right, but I got a lot of help from the company’s customer service team. They are very knowledgeable, and they make doing returns and exchanges easy.

It has been two years since I started using Paula’s Choice, and my breakouts are few, far between, and quick to clear up. My wrinkle situation is also under control. I feel very good about how my skin looks these days, and I think between using Paula’s Choice products and following Beautypedia’s recommendations for other products, I should be able to maintain it.

Whomever you are reading this, your situation will be different than mine. Even if your complaints are similar, your age, skin type, and the products you currently will use will be different, as will your goals. I cannot urge you enough to educate yourself objectively before spending more money on skin care that doesn’t work or makes your problems worse. A paper or e-book copy of Paula Begoun’s book, or a quick trip over to, is a small investment for a bit of knowledge that could save you thousands of dollars over a lifetime, and bring you better results.

If you’d like to ask me questions here, please do! I’ll do my best to answer them in the comments section.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Professional summer style

Summer is my favoriate season of the year.  The Texas heat does not bother me much.  I love the slower pace, more relaxed attitude and of course more swimming time!  I love the fact it is practically effortless to get dressed, a white top with a skirt or denim shorts, a pair of flat sandals, and a hat, or an easy dress. 

But, what about dressing for professional business enviornment? How can you be office-appropriate, stay cool, and still enjoy the best of summer style? 

Read on for some helpful tips from my teacher Carol Davidson from Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. 

Crack the code. What's considered to be appropriate business attire varies by geography, industry, company, and corporate culture. That said, you should always remember that business comes first in any business casual equation. For clarification, consult your official company dress code if you have one. If not, take some visual cues from what your company's authority figures are wearing. When in doubt about a particular item, ask yourself the following question: "Would this clothing item be worn at the beach, park, or pool?" If the answer is yes, you should probably not wear it to work.

Too much of a good thing? In general, exposed skin sends a less-than business-like message, so avoid showing too much. If you decide to go sleeveless, avoid tank tops, halters, and camisoles. Instead, opt for a sleeveless style with more coverage and a modest neckline. Be sure you have a jacket or cardigan at the ready, in case you're called into an unexpected meeting. Remember that balance is the key to coverage.If you are wearing a skirt, pair it with a ¾ or long sleeve blouse. Similarly, if you are wearing a sleeveless top, opt for pants.

Lighten up. When it comes to keeping cool, it's all about the fabric.  Natural fibers pull heat away from your body, keeping you happily air conditioned.  A dress made of rayon may appear lightweight and floaty, but it will do nothing other than trap heat.  Look for clothing contents that include cotton, linen, and hemp, and avoid high percentages of rayon, polyester and nylon. Color also plays an important role in beating the heat.  The darker values attract high temperatures, so opt for lighter ones which actually deflect the sun and are more relevant for the season.  As a side note, lighter fabrics are sometimes sheer.  Remember to check your reflection under bright lighting to make sure your undergarments don't show under that pesky fluorescent office lighting.  Very often a little cami can go a long way.

Say "yes" to the dress. Dresses are the easiest way to look effortlessly chic in warm weather. With so many shapes and styles to choose from, there's something for everyone. For work, considering keeping the silhouette simple, but opt for a pop of color or one of the tribal, tropical, or floral patterns that are so strong this season. With your legs on display, attention to grooming is a must. In addition to shaving, waxing, self-tanning and the like, you can also apply a bit of concealer to cover bites, bruises, or cuts. BTW, in case you are wondering... dresses and skirts worn to the office should be long enough that they reach the top of your knees when standing.

Put your best foot forward. I hate to break the news, but not only are flip flops never appropriate for the office, they're not even suitable for the commute.  (You never know who you might run into on the street or in the elevator.)  Instead, opt for a more office-appropriate peep-toe pump or slingback. A dressy sandal can also do the trick, provided that there's a fair amount of coverage. A great pedicure not only completes your look, but is also soothing to hot and tired feet.

In general, as temperatures rise and dress codes relax, you'll want to pay extra attention to the finishing touches such as grooming and accessories. Ditto for clothing maintenance. Remember, when it comes to summer office attire, no need to sweat it! With these few simple tips, you can keep it cool, casual, and professional...and embrace summer in style!