casual chic

89541_bk0001_m_hol07 Well, you cannot very well be wearing J.Crew when you walk into J.Crew.  It’s like wearing a mink to the zoo.  Dressing in splatter-painted jeans, a navy and Smelly green striped belt, a gray England tee, and a green, gray, plum and cream argyle cardigan, I walked into J.Crew.   It was like feeding a chicken chicken.  And while I was acutely aware of it, I simply didn’t care.

Nothing to me says fall like preppy back to school clothes.  It is not school that I long for (though I do love being a student).  It’s simply that preppy clothing makes me think of Rob Lowe in Oxford Blues.  Of women who look good without makeup, early in the morning, as they scull, cheer, or sit tight as coxswain.  Navy blazers and argyle knee socks.  I just can’t help myself!  Aside from the worn jeans, no bra, thrill, I do love that pleated wool skirt, starched white collar, polished shoes look.  And I truly admire a woman who can pull off pigtails.  Though I haven’t been able to do this since I was eight, and even then, I wasn’t very convincing.  Your hair begins to hurt. 

Another thing I apparently cannot pull off: anything in vogue right now.  I come home excited about my new modern purchase.  Finally, I’m back, caught up with the nines, or at least at a six instead of a two.  I’m ready for a cocktail party invite.  Oh, I’ve got stuff to wear now.  That is, until I put it on.  "That does nothing for you," Phil says. 

"It doesn’t have to," I say as I re-examine my reflection.  "It’s in style right now.  That’s what it does.  It says I’m current, and current feels good."  It feels like I’m paying attention, can do it too, not be left too far behind in a safe boring world.  If all I wanted to do is flatter my figure, I’d continue to only wear v-neck tops that allow for a plunging bosom, then I’d wear something A-line on the bottom, a skirt because I like my calves and all my heels–and never get a chance to really wear them. 

"Just tell me," he says, "what part of you is that top supposed to flatter?" 

88879_wc9632 At this point I usually give up, throw a fit that there’s nothing to wear, and wear the same old thing as always, something v-neck and safe, updating with accessories.  But he’s a guy.  What the hell does he know?  He knows that he doesn’t care what’s in fashion, only what looks good on a woman.  And then he adds, "wear what you want.  I think you’re beautiful no matter what.  You asked my opinion, but what do I know.  If you say it’s in, and it’s what you feel comfortable in, then wear it."  Which drives me to keep safe on and put the new "does nothing for me" clothes back into the bag with the receipt.  I need shopping girlfriends who know how to be honest and not just read my reaction before mimicking it back to me.  Girls that say, "I know it looks like shit on the hanger, but trust me, this coat will update your look and make everything you wear look enviable.  Yes, you wear it with black long ladylike leather gloves."  Where are personal shoppers when you need them?  And please don’t say they’re hanging out at By George in Austin.  I don’t need a 21-year-old telling me, "well, I’ll check in the back for a larger size."  Some people actually show up to a place like Saks, and have a room chockablock of clothing in their size awaiting them. 

All the things I like, really like, the fitted suits and silky sheer tops, that actually do flatter… "where the hell am I going to wear this?"  To work.  "Um, technically, I guess I’m on strike, WGA member and all."  Even if I weren’t, work involves slippers and an unmade bed, not tweed.  I need casual chic, you know, stuff I can wear while shopping for a stroller, to a Mommy and Me thingy, to the occasional dinner.  I still need to drop twenty pounds, mind you, but I’m taking my sweet ass time with that.   Refusing to drive myself crazy about it, especially when there are so many other fun things about which I can drive myself crazy (er).



  1. I've heard that past a certain age women dress for other women, not for men. I thought about this and realized that while I am certainly not trying to impress women, I could care less what my dear husband thinks of my look. I dress for myself. If I like my look, I feel great. If he likes it too, even better.

  2. I hate to shop (must have missed that girly gene). Doesn't matter what size I am– can be a 2 or a 10– I still hate it. So, I've given up trying. Me?… I walk into the store, point to the mannequin I like and then buy the entire outfit– down to the accessories– in my size. If it fits when I get home (despite how I think I look in the outfit), I wear it. Fuck it. Problem solved.

  3. I have thought this exact same thing when I've shopped at J. Crew. Except for I just KNEW that the salesperson would KNOW that my pants were soooo four seasons ago! Reading minds is something my neurosis allows me, though it is highly fallable. I thought I might spot you at the Tx Book Fest this last weekend, there is a new book called The Lone Stars of David, a brief history of Jews in Texas. The author said the Jewish community tends to be overwhelmed by the amount of coverage given to the Jews of NY; therefore, Texan Jews have difficulty in identification, as their population numbers below 1 % of the community! Thanks for posting so much, it a treat to live vicariously.

  4. I say keep taking your sweet ass time on the 20 lbs and by the way…………give us a hair update!

  5. After five years of marriage I have finally learned not to ask my husband anything fashion related unless the question is "Does this make my butt look big?" to which he knows to answer "of course not honey!" Everyone ends up happy.
    I love jcrew. Unfortunately I can't justify my cashmere sweater obsession since moving from SF to Austin a year ago. Now I try to cram wearing all of them into just a few short months. I love living in Austin but hate wearing summer clothes. I also love that back to school preppy look so much that my husband teases me that I look like I should live in Boston. I'm having my first child this Jan. and I can't wait to dress them in back to school clothes.

  6. Oh my, I was just at JCrew yesterday too, and that blouse in the first picture, I really want to like on a theoretical, arty, Marni-type level, but I just don't know if I can. You've written about "model-ugly" hats before I think, maybe this is like a skinny-ugly top… something that only really skinny people can get away with because everyone assumes they don't have to care if things are flattering or not? I never know how to mediate the flattering/stylish thing myself, but I think there are lots of silhouettes now that can be flattering and also current. I guess the problem with buying things that are only current is that after the moment has passed, you might never want to pull it out of the closet again.

  7. Stephanie, you're gorgeous as you are! Judging from the recent "hair" blog entry, you don't look like 148 lbs. That's what I'm guessing you weigh since you say you're happiest at 128 lbs. and this post says you have 20 lbs. to lose? I've always wanted to know, exactly how tall are you?

    FROM STEPHANIE: I'm 5'5", and yeah, you're right, 128 is good. Though 123 is good, too. I'm at around 135-140 lately. I know myself and know for me, the 20s are good for me, not anyone else 5'5", just me. When I met Phil, I was probably around 128, so I'd like to get back there. But am I willing to do what it takes? Eh. I really need to set my mind to something to make it happen. And, "eh," isn't exactly digging in my heels and recording everything I eat in a food diary.

  8. I think Phil has the right idea. It's better to wear clothes that flatter you, even if they aren't the newest, trendiest clothes. The clothes you seem to favor (preppy), while not my style, are pretty classic and probably more flattering the clothes in the photos.

  9. You stated in a previous post that " I am not one of those people who thinks you should go darker, richer, for the fall. I think you should look your best, in your favorite colors, no matter what the weather. I don't believe in going darker with your makeup or clothes, and certainly not with your hair, just because it's fall. I like a sun-kissed look, natural, healthy, all the time."
    Then why would you want to wear clothes just because they are in this month, if they do nothing for you? Or you don't look you best no matter what the weather? It just sounds a little silly to me, I agree with the first post that you dont change what looks good on you just because its "cool" today.

    FROM STEPHANIE: Because sometimes, you just want to mix things up and get out of a rut, not to your own permanent detriment, though. Henna is so not feeling semi-anything right now. Still hate it. And clothes do have seasons, as does make-up and hair, I suppose. But I think most women, self-included, are probably best off following the whole, how to look like you're not wearing makeup advice… which, too, can be boring. Sometimes you want your mood to come through. And sometimes that mood happens to be, "takin' names, child."

  10. I left the house this morning in too many layers, cable knits, a scarf, feeling like I stepped out of a j.crew catalog. Such a timely post! I do have an inner hippie that comes out during the warmer months, when all I want to wear are loose cotton dresses and pretty sandals, but come september, it's right back to the cable knits and driving mocs. I recently left my job and entered a Phd program and I definitely feel your pain about the casual chic. I need something between business casual and typical "grad student" sloppy, and it's so hard to find (especially on a grad student budget). But preppy always seems to fit the bill. If you have enough layers on you always look put together.

  11. I just chopped off all my hair on Saturday, and the first thing I said to my friend after announcing the new 'do is "I bet it'll look great in pigtails."

    I wore pigtails all day yesterday, and it did look super cute. I'm not sure you'd look good with my haircut, but I could see you working french braid pigtails just fine.

    Next time you're in SF let me know – I'll go clothing-shopping with you and be honest.

  12. Love the first shirt. I think you can do both. To dinners with girlfriends, mommmy and me, etc. wear what you like, the new the hip, what expresses you. When you go out with your husband, maybe wear the more fitted, the things he prefers. Then you have a good mix of both. Does Austin have an Anthropologie yet?

  13. For some reason I always feel like I get better service from the sales girls if I am wearing something bought in that store. Not that I make it a point to do that, but I get a feeling they are a little more at ease with you. Because (gasp!)god forbid you are wearing an Old Navy tank top in JCrew!

  14. That's what I miss most about work — the clothes! Being a stay at home mom means never ending casual days. That's great and all, but I look so much better in dress slacks and heels. Silk and wool garbardine. Oh well… I bought a gorgeous pair of shoes with leopard and I get so many compliments. I tell everyone that I can only wear those shoes when I go out without my kids, becasue at ages 4 and 6, they still step on my feet all of the time….

  15. Clothing dilemmas!! You mentioned sheer blouses. I've been admiring them when I see them on other women so I thought I should get one. I picked out a black sheer blouse with tiny white dots on it, looked cute on the mannequin. There was a line up for the dressing rooms so I didn't try it on before buying it. I get home and it looks like 'old lady' on me. Why? why would this happen?! Good luck with the new threads.

  16. Its really a tough one, sometimes you fall in love with something and let it wear you, sometimes you let the trend pass knowing its not good for you. I have to say, I do love what's in this fall, black is back and the dresses are really cute. Of course they just hang in the closet with the cute boots while I wear stretch pants and fleece… I try to do outfits, but out of New York it's not the same level of effort… What about those cute big cardigans tho, so cute!

  17. I'm feelin' ya on this one! Ever since I had my son (14 months ago) it's been a constant struggle for me. Now that I'm pregnant again, I'm back to maternity threads, which is actually pretty easy for me to do. But I know as soon as this one is born, I'm going to be at a loss again.
    My MO is just to stick with the basics that I know are flattering on me (i.e. my fave jeans, v-neck tees and blazers) and then try to "update" with accessories. This Fall/Winter I'm loving the dark tights and Mary Janes look, always love anything JCrew (argyle=yummy!), and am seriously craving a red leather bag…I have my eye on the Coach Carly. Those swing jackets are adorable, but you're right, they can be a bit tough to pull off. Good luck on the fashion front!

  18. If the top in question is the grey jacket w/ side bow, I'll have to agree with Phil. I'm big chested and 5 Ft. 4, and that would NOT look great on me either. It's cute, but think "flat chested, tall waif…"
    Sorry! Us busty "petites" can't always properly keep up w/ all the trends!

    FROM STEPHANIE: I wasn't speaking of anything in particular. It's just a general I come across quite a lot. I chose those items, in particular, not because I necessarily want them but because they're just the kinds of things "in vogue" but definitely not for me, or my figure. Figures.

  19. The latest J. Crew catalog is to die for! I love the preppy chic vibe. My problem is that I look at the catalog, fall in love, and then walk into the store and can't seem to find a thing. They do such a great job of styling the catalog and then in the store, nothing ever looks the same. I did just buy their cheetah pony hair flats and have worn them nonstop – so perfect with jeans and a belted turtleneck sweater, and so fall!

  20. I just finished reading/looking at the pictures in Susanna Salk's book, "Celebrating WASP Style: A Privileged Life" this very morning. That book + the arrival of fall weather = a strong urge to rock some argyle and a headband.

  21. Um, yeah. I think a lot of the stuff that's in style right now doesn't look good on anyone. Leggings, tapered pants, blousy-flouncy tops and shapeless dresses…ug. Phil's right – who does that flatter besides a stick figure who needs a few extra curves? Seriously. Wide leg pants are in now, too. Maybe pair those with a v neck top or turtleneck (also in style right now…as if it ever went out) and a wide belt. Still pretty preppy. Or…a scoop neck top with the puffy sleeve tops that are in style. I bet those would work for you. They're what I, in all my pearness, will be aiming for.

  22. So, you know there is an Anthropologie in Austin, It's on North Lamar. I get the whole Prep, Monied, yacht club/country club vibe. But it seems to me that J.Crew has sold out on the very threads that made them a staple for that set. They seem to be designing for a more trend driven crowd. AND the cut of their jackets ages everyone, beanpole to juicy. I dig the need to stay current yet be true to what I think is sexy. I love Anthropologie for that, I recently tried on a plethora of garments there that I would normally never have tried. And I actually cooed at the mirror. It's been a long time since I found a jacket or dress or sweater that was coo worthy and made me feel hot and sexy, yet comfortable at the same time. Okay and can we talk about that look that Rob Lowe sported in Oxford blues, The ruddy cheeks, and that scarf, oh that scarf and that jacket. I am telling you if I ever ran across a man in the United States that dressed in anyway reminiscent of the British standard of that Movie. It would be wrong…. very bad, very dirty and very wrong…. Sigh.

  23. So you wanna be a W.A.S.P? The east coast/preppy thing does make fall seem cozier somehow. I agree wear what makes you look feel good but in the same vein you want to break out of your rut. I have mostly 'classic' taste but the times I do strike out and buy something different I think I look awkward because I just feel uncomfortable.

    Not everyone can pull off funky/artsy and not everyone can do the preppy thing either. A personal shopper sounds ideal- they must have them in Austin if you look do some research. Maybe just wait and shop in NY your next trip home.

    I laughed at the not wearing JCrew when you shop there bit- good to know I am not the only neurotic who thinks like that.

    PS-'Closetmom' Yes they do have an Anthroplogie in Austin.

  24. I really like Boden for "mommy" clothes. They have fast, free shipping and free returns (which is great since they are UK-based and the size differences can take some getting used to) and the clothes are classic, but "different." I'm a redhead, too, and they have great colors for redheads:
    cute kids stuff, too

  25. You may have to go to Houston to get a really good personal shopper… I would try Nordstrom. I use one here in SF and she helps me see things that I don't see (in that she's more critical of fit than I am) and in the long run I look better and save spending $ on things I'll never feel good in.

    I have skipped a number of trends – lately empire waist blouses because I've done maternity three times and am DONE with that look! I think it's absolutely OK to do, thought I agree that it's fun to feel with-it.

  26. I'm like the others who think you're awesome, no matter what you wear. BUT I also wanted to tell you about a friend of mine in Austin, who happens to do the personal stylist thing. Her blog is:

  27. Way before it was fall in these parts, I bought a bag that sums up the season. I am particular when it comes to red things – it has to be just the right shade and I couldn't help but coo at this one. Something tells me I'll be carrying long after the season.
    And if you haven't discovered Hobo International, do yourself a favor. They're designed by women (read contrasting linings so you can actually find things and lots of pockets) and they last forever. Thankfully.

  28. as a personal shopper and stylist (in the SF bay area) I can tell you Jcrew rarely has anything interesting that works well on women with boobs(just the *stretchy* basics). stay away from shapeless pieces, they usually only work on women with no chest – besides, why would you want to wear a shapeless sack anyway? especially with all those great structured pieces out there now that show off a real body!
    Also, I advise my clients that have young kids to wear cute shoes and a great jacket, then if they are wearing jeans and a basic sweater underneath, they still look polished.

    FROM STEPHANIE: Yes, it is all about good accessories. I'm off tomorrow to an Anthony Nak sample sale, where I will no doubt only people watch since even the smallest of trinkets is well over a grand. But good advice. A good bag, jacket, watch, and shoes. Things that will fit, even if you're having a fat day.

  29. I live for their argyle socks. And I actually bought the first top pictured here. Brought it home all kinds of tickled.

    "Interesting," was all he said.

    'Interesting' only ever means one thing when it comes out of his mouth.

    So I threw a strop and gave the top to a friend.

    Ugh. I'm still annoyed.

  30. Stephanie, if that is the top Phil is referring to, he is right, take it back.

  31. In my 30's, I owned a trendy clothing boutique. When my oldest child left for college and I realized how short our time with our kids really is, I closed the store and became the soccer/ballet mom to my two children still at home. My cute clothes were no longer practical. The heels looked stupid on the soccer field and my trendy outfits were over the top. I got very comfortable. I was a curvy size 2(in a dress) size 4-6(in pants). Last year, I started seeing pictures of myself and I hated what I saw. I had turned 40, gained about 10 lbs and had gotten sloppy. I was now a size 6 (in a dress) and a size 8-10(in pants). My body had shifted. I now big flabby boobs and the cellulite was much closer to my knees, and being older, what used to work for me, no longer did. As I looked through magazines and tried to figure out what to do, I realized that there is a reason that Chloe, Marni, Gucci and Miu Miu, look so good and cost so much. They are designed and engineered to flatter us and the fabrics have weight and linings that help disguise our flaws. Spending thousands on clothing is unrealistic and impractical, but I still want the Chloe dress, the Marni top, the Gucci purse and the Miu Miu shoes!!!

    So…after a year of very intense study, this is what I have learned:

    1. All fabric must have weight. If you can see the flab through it, you must either wear something with some thickness under it or over it. I bought a sheer blue Libertine for Target blouse(they run small)and put it under a grey Vera Wang for Kohls blouson flat knit sweater. I got the trendy with the frilly colorful blouse, but covered it up with a modern dark, figure minimizig color. Very inexpensive and Mom friendly. I wore it with dark staight jeans, but it would also would be cute with a straight skirt. For you, Stephanie, leave the blouse open, so you get some cleavage for Phil, button it higher at the grocery store.
    2. Clothes must skim the body. Baggy clothes only add pounds. Too tight clothes do the same and make you look so much worse than you really look. I bought one of those sack dresses everyone is griping about on this post, but that I adore as it speaks to my inner "it" girl. It's a Rebecca Taylor I got on sale at NM(Needless Markup)this summer. The trick with these dresses is in finding one that is a little fitted. This one is royal blue and lined(very important), it has a plunging scoop neckline(to show off my larger fatter boobs), 3/4 sleeves(to hide the flab), it's short(it goes just to where my fat turns into the top of my knee) and best of all, it has an empire waist–only on the back of the dress(so in the front it hints at a narrowing of the waistline, yet skims right on over the flab), making me look oh so much trimmer than I actually am.
    3. Color is Good! It makes your face look more alive(and can we talk about what the hell is going on with my skin?), and men love to see women in color. I don't think they are concious of it, but they always respond favorably to rich colors. Not too much though! And to hilight your best assets. If yours is cleavage, put the color there peaking out of a darker sweater or jacket. If your legs are thin, put on a red knee length skirt and a darker top.
    4. 3/4 sleeves
    5. A little bit of a heel, almost always. You can find comfortable low heeled pumps, but it's difficult. I found a leopard print Kate Spade 1-2 inch shoe at the NM outlet in your lovely city last year. It's kind of like a Mary Jane, but the strap across is very thin and there's a little toe clevage so it's still sexy. The heel is kind of a wedge, but not clunky at all. I can wear them to the soccer field with jeans or my Banana Republic shorts from this summer.
    6. Straight jeans, unless you have stick legs, this really does work. I don't mean skinny, I don't mean tapered. I mean jeans that are the same with at your thigh as they are at your ankle. My best trick for buying jeans is to find the salsperson with your general shape(she will be smaller than you of course, but check for round butt, flat butt, thigh, no thigh girl and choose appropriately) and get her to show you what works for her. You will still have to try on a lot of pants, but its a good place to start. I was sick of paying so much for jeans when I just wanted a really plain everyday pair so I went to Levi's Original store, found the girl with a butt and thighs and about 10 pair of jeans later walked out with 2 pair of mid-rise straight 552's for $140.

    I have more, but I just realized this is really long and maybe only useful to me, so let me know if this is helpful or you need more advice.

    Oh, and I think that our husbands do not care or understand fashion, but that it is important to be pleasing to their eyes. It doesn't work for me when he puts on a sleeveless t-shirt even though he has great biceps. I can see how a sack dress might not work for him. I do think it's possible to be fashionable and beautiful at the same time.

    And I love reading your posts because they always remind me how parallel so many of our lives are.

  32. I didnt read the comments but have you checked out Ann Taylor's stuff? You can get great sales and some of the stuff is just classy and chic but it fits well especially on shorter chicks like us.

    Anyway, good luck. I think you look fantastic. 20 pounds my ass. You had twins. Love your curves and post some new pics of the babies for us if you get the chance. Oh! That reminds me, have you seen the reality show "Shot" on VH1? Or "The Shot" or something like that. Cant remember. Anyway it's a reality show about photographers. Figured it might be some reality trash you'd like to check out ;)

  33. I work in corporate at JCrew and we offer personal shoppers. They are talented and really know what works. If you have any questions of an insider, let me know.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.