I’ve had quite a few requests for a guest post from la mère, and so here it is! I called her a few weeks ago and asked her to put together some notes on her general musings about style, and more importantly, being stylish on a budget which la mère is an absolute pro at. I then promptly forgot about it until she announced at our lunch last weekend that she had finished said post and would be sending it to me shortly. I have been anticipating this just as much as some of you, and so I am happily introducing you to la mère who has taught me nearly everything I know about fashion. These are her thoughts on style, budgets, and a few other things that she snuck in as well:
What mother does not love to dispense with advice? Few things make me happier than a request for guidance accompanied by a gin and tonic.
I am thinking that to make this brief bit of notes seasonal would be the most helpful. So, our little fille stylée is on a budget and trying to stretch the pennies to allow for clothes, shoes, a haircut, and Thursday night happy hour? Oh, and rent, too? Have no fear; all is well.
First off, lets have at some of the basics of what makes up a solid fall/winter wardrobe, shall we? Note to the rookie: I’m assuming you own a very good pair of black mid-heel pumps, proper fitting bras, and pearls.
You’ll need a good coat in a high quality fabric and not necessarily black. Avoid brown, please, unless you’re stuck in Connecticut. Hunt for a lovely color, such as red or cobalt. Really, trust me on this. A brilliant color in a quality wool trumps black any day. Just watch the color – avoid the trends like “eggplant” or “olive”. Think classic. True green is okay if you’re truly a redhead but I’d avoid it. Now where can we find this coat? Try the major department stores and wait for the sale – these coats always go on sale. If you have dollars to spare and live in a moderate climate with cool, rainy days, opt for a well-tailored trench with a removable lining. Stick to classic lines, princess seaming (double-breasted only if you’re rail thin) and if you’re under 5’4” it really makes sense to buy a petite size. Smaller women really need to be alert to a coat appearing as if it’s wearing them instead of the other way around. Really, I find the women’s chain stores wickedly overpriced for these items and the quality just seems hit-or-miss. So if you really love your Banana Republic or Ann Taylor, go forth. Just remember to eye the quality with a critical eye. Don’t assume that a “wool” coat is necessarily of quality – I’ve seen some awful coats of poor quality that were labeled “100% virgin wool” that had puckered seams and a stiff hand.
Alright, so fille stylée has snagged her coat at 30% off. What next? This is where we build on some good quality basics. A good wool pencil skirt (always fully lined) in black, navy, or charcoal will give you years of service. If you find a great style and the price is right, pick up a second in a bright color. Not too short, make sure the fit through the hips is adequate, and avoid a kick pleat arcing up to your bum. If the skirt is pulling through the hip area, it’s too tight. Don’t discount navy as a basic. Navy and black are so chic and unexpected together. Please do not resort to navy pumps with a navy skirt – black pumps, love. Follow up with a good cashmere sweater in a neutral, an ivory or white silk blouse, and another blouse or sweater in a bright color.
I believe it’s time for another gin…
Now it’s time to tackle a good sheath dress. Again, pay very close attention to fit and fabric. A good tropical weight wool in black, navy, or charcoal is what we’re aiming for. Fully lined, good seaming for shape, and make sure the darts are hitting your bust-line properly. No gaps at the armholes, a nice even finished hem, and a well-made zipper are all the features we must insist on. Again, wait for the sales and be cautious of the chain stores. A sheath will see you through year ’round with a fun pin in the summer and a cardigan in winter. I’m sorry if you’re rolling your eyes, but a grown woman (anyone over twenty) needs to be prepared for funerals, interviews, ect and that silly print frock from the Gap just won’t do. Knock it off.
With this basic wardrobe, you at least have an intelligent foundation from which to work. Keep your eyes open for some additional pieces as the sales roll around. I love wrap dresses and this is an area where some moderate polyester blends work so well. Throw them in the wash on delicate with just a tiny bit of softener on the rinse, pop them on a good dress hanger to dry, and out you go. Most women look fabulous in a good fitting wrap dress (not too tight and watch the cleavage) plus men absolutely love them. And what’s the harm in appreciative male assessment? This is where you can play with prints and more unusual colors and not fret about breaking the bank. I also love silk scarves as an accessory. You can really score some deals if you’re observant. I have picked up some gems at discounters like Marshalls or TJMaxx. They’re never there when you’re specifically searching for them so get in the habit of doing a quick troll through the accessories departments and see what’s on clearance. No kidding – I have silk scarves that are twenty-five years old.
I think if I could finish up with some truly motherly advice, it would be to address some of the areas where I see young women really struggling. First off, wear a proper bra. Most young women are trying to march the girls around in an unflattering bra. Unless you’re in the escort business, and la mère knows little of this, skip the push up bra as well as thickly padded cups. Fine for the bedroom but, alas, a disaster under a sweater. The cups should fully contain your breasts and the back of your bra should rest comfortably beneath your shoulder blades. Most good department stores have trained fitters who will assist you if you feel you’re an absolute imbecile around all things lycra. Secondly, watch the fit of your clothing and really look at yourself in the mirror. Nothing adds pounds to a woman worse than too-tight clothing. Try to keep your weight stable throughout your life. This is how you get the years of wear out of that wool skirt. Thirdly, take proper care of your clothes. Dry clean woolens regularly, get that trench cleaned, take shoes to get heels repaired, and hand-wash lingerie. Proper cleaning keeps everything looking fresh and helps extend the life of your clothing. Try to get in the habit of assessing a garment when you’re taking it off at the end of the day: any stains, drooping hems, perspiration stains, scuffs, ect should be taken care of as soon as possible. Mom hint: Dawn dishsoap is a marvelous remover for a grease stain – just spot check first! Finally, avoid fads and things that should be considered fads. For example, no one over twelve years old should wear UGGs. Unlike my daughter, I can be inflexible on the UGG issue. Tights are not pants; cover your bum. Sweats and athletic shoes are for the gym, not to be worn when meeting la mère for lunch. Oh, I can see your eyes rolling again, but as sure as I am on my third gin and tonic, I am telling you the raw truth.
People DO notice how you are dressed. It says a lot about you as a woman. If you value yourself, you’ll value the image you present to the outside world. I have little comfort to offer you if your skirt rides up your bum, your blouse gaps at the bust, and your heels are scuffed. It says to me that you either don’t care, you don’t know any better, or both. None of it’s good. So go into your closet, grab a garbage bag, and toss the items that don’t fit, you haven’t worn in a year, just plain look awful on you, were a gift from your Aunt Becky Sue in Nebraska, or the like. Pitch it. Build a basic wardobe. Get a grown-up hairstyle. Find a good fragrance and stick with it. Remember that fewer items of better quality are always preferable to the rummage rack at the Gap.