Shopping: One Theory Dress, 5 Ways

I’ve long admired Theory from afar. Something about easy to wear, flattering workwear just appeals to me. I also like the fact that at one point in time, their clothing was mostly  made in the US. I think that’s less true now, but there are still a number of basics that are made stateside.

Theory Miyani Dress in Deep navy
Theory Miyani Dress in Deep navy

Take the Miyani dress, for example. I kinda fell for it the minute I saw it. It’s a basic navy (or black, gray, or red) dress, made out of a stretch, lightweight wool. It’s not a sheath, as there’s a slight A-line to the skirt. The skirt is loose enough that I’m able to bike in it (bonus points!).

Like most of Theory’s clothes, it’s a bit expensive, but I was able to get it on a price match from Nordstrom for 25% off, I think during Theory’s Friends and Family event (if you’re interested in an even cheaper version, LastCall has one in dark green for less than $200. Since it’s from the outlet, the sizing is pretty limited). I debated whether to keep it or not, since it is pricey, and that was part of the reason why I went with Nordstrom, since they have a great return policy.

After assessing the quality of the dress by checking the stitching, whether the wool is see-through or not and whether it wrinkles or not, and after playing outfit matchmaker with it several times, I decided to keep it.

After all, it is a really versatile dress.  It also fits well, it’s comfortable, and I can see myself getting a lot of use out of it. It’ll be a great addition to my winter capsule wardrobe starting in December.

Here are just a few of the outfit ideas I came up with (complete with somewhat crappy photos):

theorydress_way1

I was just playing around when I threw the Cedez tank from Anthropologie over the dress. But, hey, it looks pretty good, right? I can add a drapey blazer if things are too chilly.

theorydress_way2

The dress looks a bit more casual with a short sleeve T-shirt underneath it (this one’s from J.Crew). The undershirt also adds some warmth, since there’s sleeves and an extra layer.

theorydress_way4

With a cropped, embroidered cardigan, the simple dress gets a bit of flair. I got this cardigan at a boutique in Oxford, UK called Aspire Style. The picture isn’t so great, but it has embroidered foxes, rabbits and squirrels on it (here’s a similar one). If you’re not a pattern and print person, Boden has a solid version in a lot of colors.

theorydress_way3

Finally, how you’d expect to see a Theory dress styled, with a blazer. Of course, this blazer is a bit more casual than usual, since it’s a rust-orange color and the cut is a bit looser. It’s the long-gone, much beloved Schoolboy from J.Crew. The closest version they seem to offer now is the Campbell blazer, which is also made of wool flannel and available in a variety of colors.

You might be thinking: That’s just four options. I’m also counting the dress on its own as a way to wear it. Even though it’s pretty plain, I think it’s really flattering as is.

Get the looks:

Shopping: Boden Reviews Fall 2015, Part 2

A few weeks ago, I ordered the Julia Patch Pocket skirt from Boden. Thinking, “hey, I’m tall,” I ordered the long version of it. As I noted in my previous review, the long wasn’t too long, but it was too wide at the hem, and the look overall wasn’t too flattering. So, I sent it back and re-ordered the skirt in a regular length, in the same light purple shade.

Julia patch pocket skirt, long length
Julia patch pocket skirt, long length
Julia Patch Pocket Skirt, regular length
Julia Patch Pocket Skirt, regular length

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The regular length version is much better. It’s less wide at the hem, so it doesn’t stick out so much. I also think having it fall a few inches above the knees is more flattering the the just above the knee cut of the longer version. The regular length still runs a bit big in comparison to Boden’s usual sizing – the 6R is a bit loose in the waist.

Boden fringed loafer
Boden fringed loafer

Every few years, a shoe style that I love becomes the trendy style for the season and they are suddenly so easy to find. A few years ago, it was menswear Oxfords. This year, it’s loafers. I ordered the fringed loafers in aubergine from Boden during their mid-season sale. Since I’m not sure of my shoe size, I went with a 42 (10.5). I could probably  have gotten away with a 41.5 (10), as these are just a touch too big. But, I was able to walk around in them for a while without developing blisters and without having them fall off of my feet, so I think we’ll be OK.

As I’ve said before, I really love Boden’s shoes. They’re well made (leather, leather, leather), they fit well (even when you order a half size too large), and they come in interesting styles. These aren’t your basic loafers. Sure, they’re not those furry backless loafers Gucci made, but they’re also not your typical preppy penny loafer, either. The shoes feel very sturdy and I get the sense that they will last for years to come.

In case those don’t do it for you, here are a few more loafers, from the everyday and practical, to the less so:

Shopping: J.Crew Factory Pleated Wool Skirt

Outlet stores aren’t what they seem*, and after a few too many purchases from J.Crew Factory that left me with garments that shrunk, got holes or otherwise fell apart, I swore off outlet shopping pretty much altogether.

Until recently, when I saw this skirt at J.Crew Factory that I really thought I wanted.

J.Crew Factory Pleated Wool Skirt
J.Crew Factory Pleated Wool Skirt

Before I launch into this not-very-positive review, a bit of back story. I have a favorite skirt. It’s navy and pleated, falls a few inches above my knees, and I wear it a few times a week. I got it at J.Crew about three years ago. Since I’ve had it for awhile and have worn it so much, I’m always a bit nervous that it’s going to fall apart soon or that something bad will happen to it, and then I’ll be out of a favorite skirt. And sad.

So, I’m on the lookout for a backup favorite skirt. Which is how I came to order the Factory pleated wool skirt the other day. It’s very similar to my favorite skirt in several ways. It’s navy. It’s pleated. It’s kind of short, but not too short.

jcrew_factory_pleated_wool_skirtAnd it’s different from my favorite skirt in several ways. It’s made of merino wool, not polyester. It’s pretty thin and unlined. And, the quality leaves a lot to be desired.

jcrew_factory_pleated_wool_skirt_closeup
Close up of the not-so-great construction of J.Crew Factory pleated wool skirt.

Over at the blog Into-Mind (which is fantastic blog about personal style and smart shopping), there’s a Cheat Sheet for assessing the quality of garments. One of the things the cheat sheet recommends looking at is the stitching. Another is the fabric quality and a third is the fit.

To get a sense of fabric quality, it recommends holding the fabric up to the light. You shouldn’t be able to see things clearly through it. When I held the skirt up, I could see shapes and make out some details through it. Not exactly what you want from a winter skirt.

Additionally, the skirt’s construction isn’t so great. There are lumps and bumps on it at the seams and pleats and it just isn’t stitched together all that well.

OK, at this point you might thinking, stop whining. You get what you pay for, after all. And, this skirt was cheap (I got it for less than $30, including shipping). But here’s the thing. Factory claims it’s valued at $88, which while that isn’t earth shatteringly expensive, it also isn’t exactly pocket change.

Here’s the other thing. I’m pretty annoyed because I know that the quality isn’t there at Factory, and yet I still let myself get roped into buying something because it was cheap. So, really, I’m not annoyed with the skirt or with J.Crew. I’m annoyed with myself.

Fortunately, I got the skirt before it went on final sale, so I am able to return it. Though, I guess if I wasn’t, it would be a $30 lesson in remembering to always be cautious and conscious when shopping.

*Many brands make lower quality cheaper products for their outlets, according to this Racked article. back to top

Capsule Wardrobe: Month 2

A few outfits from my capsule.
A few outfits from my capsule.

I’m a little bit past the halfway point with my fall capsule wardrobe. Although things got off to somewhat rough start, I’ve gotten more used to the concept and am actually pretty into it. Getting dressed each day is a lot easier, for a couple of reasons.

For one thing, almost all of my clothes are in one small closet, in the bedroom, now. Before, I had dresses and skirts in one closet and my tops in a second small closet, in the hallway just outside the bedroom. The configuration made picking an outfit each morning tough. Now, all my off season clothes are in the second closet. I still find myself going towards it to pick something out every now and again, but then I remember that everything’s in the other closet.

Secondly, not having too much to choose from gets rid of decision fatigue. Depending on my activities for the day, I have between 3 and 7 bottoms to pick (2 jeans and 5 skirts), and something like 12 blouses. All the blouses pretty much go with all the skirts (with the exception of the telephone print skirt, which only goes with a few things), so I can pretty much grab anything as long as it’s ironed.

Some more capsule wardrobe outfits.
Some more capsule wardrobe outfits.

If I plan on riding my bike somewhere that day, I know I can’t wear one of the pencil skirts, which further helps when picking something out. I try to save the four dresses for special days, but sometimes I decide to wear one just for fun. Jeans I typically reserve for the weekends, just because. Now that it’s chillier, I’m likely to throw a cardigan or blazer on over whatever it is I’m wearing and I’ve started wearing opaques again on most days.

So far, I haven’t had any “ugh, I hate this outfit” issues, though I’m not so sure I like the grey pleated skirt, on the end of the photo above. Although it’s a neutral, it’s somewhat harder to style than the others and I don’t find myself reaching for it all that often.  Plus, I tend to think I look wide in it, so it doesn’t make me feel that great about myself. It probably won’t make it into a capsule again.

I’ve noticed that I haven’t really been reaching for accessories lately. I’m not sure if that’s due to the capsule or not, or if I’ve just been lazy. Recently, I got my watch fixed, and that’s pretty much been all I’ve wearing. Maybe I’ll get back in the habit of throwing on a necklace to put the finishing touch on an outfit, but I haven’t been feeling it of late.

What’s going on in my capsule:

Top Picture, left to right:

Bottom Picture, left to right:

 

 

Shopping: J.Crew Regent Topcoat

Ah, the Regent. Never has a style of blazer (and now, a Regent topcoat) led to such heated debate. Some people  love the style. Others loathe it, mainly because of the upright collar. Is it a cost cutting move on J.Crew’s part? Is it their attempt to cash in on what seems to be a trend? (the female attorneys on the Good Wife were wearing straight collar suit jackets several seasons before J.Crew’s made its debut.) Is it just because a straight collar can look pretty flattering?

Who knows. All I know is that I wanted a black topcoat that looked similar to the 12th Doctor’s black Crombie coat but that didn’t cost more than $1,000 like these ones here and here.

j.crew regent coat
J.Crew Regent Coat buttoned up.

J.Crew’s Regent Topcoat seemed to fit the bill. It’s got some nice menswear styling, like the little chest pocket, a slim fit, and it’s 100% wool. Sure, it lacks the vibrant red lining of a real Crombie coat and the collar is wrong. But, I like it.

jcrew_regent_topcoat_unbuttoned

Now for the details. I got the coat in a size 6, my usual size. It’s only available in regular or petites, or I might have gone for a tall size. As it is, the 6 regular is fine, in terms of arm length and overall length. It hits at about my knees and falls slightly below the hem of my skirt.

There were some reviews on J.Crew’s website that said that the sleeves were a bit tight. I put that to the test by trying the coat on over top of a cardigan and a Schoolboy blazer (which seems to have been replaced with the much less beloved Rhodes blazer).

Did it work?jcrew_regent_topcoat_layers

Yes, but… it’s not the best look. It definitely makes my shoulders look a bit more like a footballer’s. So, I think I’ll skip the excessive layering with this one.

J.Crew Regent topcoat collar
Closeup of the collar

Now for the collar. I dunno — I think it looks pretty sharp. It’s a bit scratchy, but here’s the thing – it also folds down. So, if the stand-up collar really bugs you, but you like the rest of the coat’s details, you can just fold it down. jcrew_regent_topcoat_lining

The coat is made of a soft serge wool, which J.Crew calls “double serge.” I don’t actually know what the “double” means — are they referring to the weave of the wool or its thickness? Or is it just some slick marketing thing?

Who knows. It’s a somewhat fuzzy wool and I am slightly concerned that it will pill, especially in the under arm area. We’ll see. Apparently, there’s no way to tell if a fabric will pill or not. There are actually special machines out there that will test fabric, but there’s no guarantee that something won’t pill until you bring it home, even if you drop hundreds of dollars on a garment. So, fingers crossed that the coat doesn’t pill, because I’m quite a fan of it.

 

Books: What I’ve Read This Summer

Another season is over, which means it’s time for another book round-up. I might start doing these monthly, since it’s a bit challenging to write capsule reviews of about 12-13 books at once. At any rate, here we go . . .

July

Look at Me by Jennifer Egan (novel)

I love Jennifer Egan. She writes innovative and challenging novels, and Look at Me is no exception. The main focus of the story is Charlotte, a model whose face is completely transformed after a car accident and reconstructive surgery. Although Charlotte tells most of the story, the narrative also jumps back and forth to the point of view of other characters. It challenges you to think about the way things look versus the way they really are.

An interesting bit about the novel is that it was written well before 9/11, but features a character planning some massive terrorist attack. Although the comparison wasn’t Egan’s intent and she had no way to know what was going to happen when she wrote the novel, it’s impossible to read it today without immediately leaping to 9/11 and making those comparisons. But, she has a note in the back asking you not to do that, so try not to.

Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz

Since I just confessed my love for Jennifer Egan, it might go without saying that I do not love Dean Koontz. Odd Thomas was the first novel I’ve read by him and it will be the last. Sure, it’s a plot-based, fast-moving thriller, and despite the fact that I hated it, I couldn’t put it down. But, ugh. It was like being lectured by an old man, through the voice of a clueless 20-year-old character. So many things bothered me about the book; it’s not even worth going into it. In case you’re wondering why I read it — it was a pick for book club.

Absurdistan: A Novel by Gary Shteyngart

I first read Absurdistan in 2006, when it was first published. I remembered it as being an epic tale of adventure, starring an obese Russian man who ends up in the middle Absurdistan when he’s denied re-entry to the US. During his time there, Absurdistan breaks out into a civil war and things get weird. The novel felt less gigantic on second read but much more satirical. Maybe I was too dumb to catch it as a 20-something?

Like Egan, Shteyngart is one of my favorite writers. He’s self-effacing (there’s a character based on him in the book) and very funny.

Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick

I’m not single, in the sense that I have a partner, but I don’t ever plan on getting married, and for that reason, Kate Bolick’s Spinster resonated with me. It’s part memoir and part biography of some of the single ladies who have inspired or influenced Bolick (she calls them “awakeners,” which I have to admit, I find corny). The writers she profiles include Charlotte Perkins  Gilman, Edith Wharton, Neith Boyce, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Maeve Brennan. It’s worth a read, even if you’re not a spinster or don’t plan on going through life unattached.

August

The Buried Giant: A novel by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Buried Giant is Kazuo Ishiguro’s fantasy/Arthurian novel. It’s about an older couple journeying to find their son while a strange mist coats the land that makes it hard to remember things. Before reading the book, I saw Ishiguro speak about it at the Free Library, and all people were going on about was how there’s a dragon in the book. Some man was really flipping offended about the dragon.

Although it has all the trappings of a fantasy novel, the book is still very literary. Along with the theme of memory, there’s the question of the value of love. There’s a tale of a couple who need to cross a river, but the boat can only fit one at a time. Only couples who can prove their love is true can travel together. The concept of the promise of undying love is found in another Ishiguro novel, Never Let Me Go, in which two clones hope to escape the death that is pretty much guaranteed them because they truly love each other. As in that novel, there’s the hope that love can conquer all, but not the guarantee.

The Art of Racing in the Rain: A Novel by Garth Stein

Here’s another book club read. The Art of Racing in the Rain is written from the point of view of a dog on the last day of his life. I had to wonder about the narrator choice, since it limited the writer’s choices and made the narration so very simplistic. The book is somewhat heartbreaking, and not only because you know the dog is going to die. Denny, Enzo’s owner, has been dealt a rough hand (things get better for him, though). His wife’s family is awful, his wife’s cousin accuses him of rape, and he has to fight a custody battle to get his daughter back from  his late wife’s parents.

Although it seems like such as simple and wholesome book, it’s actually been banned in some schools, because of the rape accusation part. I also took issue with that part. There are so many instances of women being raped in real life where they are not believed or where they have to really fight to be listened to that to have a character crying wolf about rape in the book felt irresponsible to me.

Oreo by Fran Ross

I first heard about Oreo, which was published back in the 1970s, on NPR this summer. There’s a new edition of the book out, with an introduction by Danzy Senna, who wrote Caucasia, which is one of my favorite books. Oreo the book is one of those “forgotten classics” that resurfaces every decade or so (the version I read was actually published about 10 or so years ago, and didn’t have Senna’s intro).

Oreo is the nickname of Christine Clark, the daughter of a black mother and a Jewish father, who lives in Philly in the ’70s. Yeah, you’re going to think her nickname is Oreo because she’s black and white. But, that’s not it. Her grandma wanted to call her Oriole, but everyone heard “Oreo,” so that stuck.

The book’s a picaresque, meaning that Oreo is a scrappy hero who goes off on an adventure.  It’s modeled after one of the great Greek hero stories –that of Theseus, who sets off to find his father after years of living with just his mother. Ross even provides a handy guide at the end so you can see how Oreo’s story overlaps with that of Theseus.

In the intro to my copy of Oreo, the writer suggests that the reason the book didn’t do well when published (it was Fran Ross’ only novel, although she was a writer for a short-lived Richard Pryor sitcom) was that it was ahead of its time. Its intense satire and identity themes were just too much for an audience to take back then. I think that’s probably true, and for that reason, I really hope it finds its audience today. The world needs more stories featuring strong female characters who aren’t going to take it.

The Joy of Less by Francine Jay

In case you didn’t notice, I’m going through a bit of a minimalism phase right now. I tore through The Joy of Less pretty quickly and would recommend it to anyone looking for a guide to cutting back and cutting the clutter. I’d particularly recommend it to people who find Marie Kondo and her Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up to be a bit too much.

Jay  has her own method of decluttering which she calls “streamline.” (It stands for Start over, Trash/Treasure/Transfer, Reason for each item, Everything in its place, All surfaces clear, Modules, Limits, If one comes in—one goes out, Narrow it down, and Everyday maintenance.) Unlike Kondo, she recommends taking a room by room approach to clearing out, and she walks you through tidying up each room in your home.

The part of the book that I think I got the most from was this piece of advice: Enjoy things without owning them. I’m beginning to learn that I can appreciate the idea of an item or looking at pictures of items more as much as (if not more than) owning those items.

Stuffocation by James Wallman

Stuffocation continues the own less, do more theme. In it, James Wallman describes different methods of living that people have tried to get more out of life. He talks about the minimalists, who love counting how little they own, he talks about Thoroeau, who spent all that time in the woods, only to get bored of it and return, and he talks about a family who’s given it all up to live the rustic life, encountering plenty of challenges along the way.

His ultimate argument is that, in this era of over-consumption (what he calls stuffocation), investing in experiences is becoming more valuable and more enjoyable than investing in stuff. I agree, and I think we’re really starting to see a shift away from the stuff-filled life, at least among many people.

The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy

I think I first read about the Dud Avocado in Vogue about two years ago. At the time, I thought, that seems like a great read. But, then I forgot about it until I saw a copy on the shelf at a used bookstore this summer.

Similar to Oreo, the Dud Avocado is a book that keeps coming back into the public’s mind. It gets republished every so often and a new stream of think pieces and critiques are written about it. The story is about a young woman who travels to Paris, has adventures, learns about herself and the world around her, and comes home more mature. It’s a quick and enjoyable read and it’s part of the reason why I’m studying French right now.

Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids ed. Meghan Daum

Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed is a collection of essays written by childless (or child-free) writers about their choice not to have children. While some of the essays are exactly what you’d expect — women and men describing terrible childhoods — a number of them make pretty sharp arguments. My favorite essay in the book was written by Lionel Shriver. In “Be Here Now Means Be Gone Later,” she focuses on the fact that her generation’s focus on “me” and living for pleasure has the very real consequence of leading to the decline of specific (European/white) cultures. It’s a contrarian point of view and I think she argued it well, even though I don’t agree with her point.

I also really enjoyed the argument behind “Maternal Instincts,” in which writer Laura Kipnis points out that the so-called maternal instinct women are supposed to have innately is actually a social construct that came about with the Industrial Revolution.

There are many reasons why a person wouldn’t want kids and many reasons why people want them. The book helps shine a light on what it’s like to be in the no kids camp and lets people see that it’s more than being one of the three adjectives in the book’s title.

Shopping: Boden Fall 2015

Although we’ve just gotten into fall, I’m already looking ahead to winter and what to wear in my winter capsule (if I end up deciding to continue the project; I’m still on the fence about the whole capsule wardrobe thing). Luckily, my winter capsule planning happened to coincide with a few sales at one of my favorites, Boden. Unluckily, the items I chose didn’t really work out.

Annabel Knit Skirt

Boden Annabel Knit Skirt
Boden Annabel Knit Skirt

I currently have a black, pleated skirt in my wardrobe that I’ve owned since 2010. It’s one of those items of clothing whose provenance I can distinctly remember — I bought it at the BCBG outlet in the Berkshires while traveling up there to see James Taylor at Tanglewood. It’s a great skirt, works with a lot of outfits, and I can bike in it, but it’s too lightweight (it’s a very light woven poly) to wear in the winter. I’ve been on the look-out for a heavier black skirt that isn’t a pencil skirt, and I thought the Annabel knit skirt from Boden would be it.

But — you know where this is going — it wasn’t. I guess it’s hard to convey the nature of a skirt using just words and pictures. I was expecting a ponte-ish, jersey-like knit. Instead, the skirt is closer to a sweater knit. It’s somewhat soft and fuzzy to start with and when I pulled it out of the packaging my thought was “this is going to pill like you wouldn’t believe.” And if it doesn’t pill, it’s going to attract lint and fuzzies like it’s no one’s business.

Boden Annabel skirt up close
Boden Annabel skirt up close. There’s no sewn hem on the skirt, just a finished knit edge.

The fabric of the skirt wasn’t the only thing that it didn’t have going for it. The fit was a bit off, too. Although I’m typically an 8 in Boden’s skirts, I looked at the measurements for the item itself and went with a 6. It has an elastic waist that is apparently 29 inches around. On me, the elastic is loose, so the skirt sits just below my natural waist.

The big issue isn’t the waist, though. It’s the sweep of the skirt. There’s just too much fabric. I’m already a bit pear shaped. This skirt enhanced that look and that didn’t make me too happy.

Julia Patch Pocket Skirt

Julia patch pocket skirt, lavender
Julia patch pocket skirt, lavender

Carven has this amazing light purple mini skirt this season. It was very 1960’s looking and something like $595, so way beyond my budget. Boden also has a light purple mini skirt this season, the Julia Patch Pocket skirt, which looks very similar to the Carven one (although also very different). It’s made of a wool crepe and I very much like it, except for one thing. I ordered the long, which is about 21 inches and just too much fabric for my taste. The long has a wider sweep than the regular length skirt (51.5 inches around for the long, versus 48.5 inches for the regular length), which I think makes it stick out just a bit too much at the hem. Like the Annabel skirt, this one seems a bit big by Boden’s standards. I ordered the 6,  not an 8, as the waist for the 6 is apparently 30.25 inches. It sits a bit low on me, which is fine, but is yet another reason why I think the regular length will be just fine.

boden_Julia_Patch_Pocket_Skirt_lavender_6L

My favorite feature about the skirt is the pockets, and I think that’s why part of the reason why I’m willing to try the regular length.  My partner said it looked like a cargo skirt. But, clearly it doesn’t.

I’ll close with a little sale update — I got these two during the recent “flash sale,” when everything was 25% off. The day they arrived, I also got a postcard in the mail telling me that the mid-season sale was to start on Monday (that’s today!) and things would be up to 40% off. I kinda rolled my eyes, but as it turns out, the flash sale was a better deal in some ways. The Julia skirt is marked down 20-30%, based on the color, while the Annabel skirt is only 10% off. A few other items I like in the sale are below:

Has anything at Boden caught your eye lately?