Room to Breathe

LOCATION: GIENS, FRANCE

A few years ago I never would have worn this piece. I wanted everything to be fitted. Not tight all-over, but without realizing it, I had told myself that I needed to prove that I was thin, that if I wore clothes too blousy, baggy or big I would look heavier.

[Backstory, I was 20 pounds heavier at one point which at 5’4” and at the time a professional dancer going to work-aka-auditions in a leotard, was a tough season.]

Many women have the opposite instinct — if they keep everything a little roomy, layered, not too tight, they’ll make sure to never expose a back roll or stomach bump. As a stylist when I encourage them to wear clothes that simply flatter their shape, it feels like they’re showing too much rather than simply no longer making themselves look larger than they are.

Neither choice is better or worse. What I’m passionate about is simply disrupting, questioning, hopefully resetting and shifting the voices in our head about our style and beauty.

This is not the most flattering dress I own as far as my shape. But I’m betting you didn’t think that when you saw these photos? You saw a beautiful color, flowing fabric, a big smile? In fact, wouldn’t it be worse if your first thought was “she’s skinny”? Do you find your mind exclaimed “beautiful” while registering the colors, flowers, smile all superseding shape or size?

Unless you’re auditioning for the Rockettes [the day the executive director told me I looked skinny I was thrilled] or on a sexy date, why is how slim our shape appears the first thing we’re concerned with?

I know that’s a big question. And I don’t expect either of us to let go of it overnight. But I do have a theory, that if you start dressing more joyfully, more colorfully, you’ll receive more compliments that have nothing to do with whether or not you lost ten pounds.

[ dress: thrifted, amsterdam // shoes: boutique, gains // purse: street vendor, gains // belt: vintage, london // sunglasses: target // photographer: christophe serrano // location: gains, france ]

P.S. A few tricks from this particular dress:

  • Ignore sizes when shopping thrift or vintage

  • If it’s a size too big, try belting it

  • If it has shoulder pads cut them out [as I did here]

  • If it’s rather modest, you can get away with a lower neckline [especially if you’re small chested]

  • Remember the better you’re dressed or the more stylish you look, the more you can get away with, including a 2-sizes too large $10 thrifted dress in the French Riviera [wink]

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The Everyday Dress

LOCATION: AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS


I have a new every-dress. I found her while shopping in London and after weeks of traveling realized her versatility.

Step one: Keep it neutral. Black, navy or any jewel tone, camel — stick with a solid color to give it maximum versatility. [You’re much more likely to get tired of or self-conscious frequently re-wearing a print.]

Step two: Seek an unbelted flattering shape. I love a belt. I belt everything. I find it so flattering. Often when I put on tunics I find they’re unflattering on my stomach, a little too clingy. However this one seemed to fall away from the body beautifully, meaning I could wear it confidently sans belt. I used this as a beach cover up to throw over a bikini for breakfast, a modest nightgown to sit around with our friends for a nightcap, wore her day or night.

Step three: Which can be belted to change the silhouette. Then I would belt it to change up the feel. Sometimes that felt more casual or fancy, sometimes more or less sexy, depending upon what I paired it with, but regardless there was a second shape to give me more diversity.

Step four: Accessorize it up and down. I wore this with flats or heels, simple jewelry or my peacock feathered necklace. I paired her with a denim jacket and an emerald silk coat, a colorful woven beach tote or a sensible leather laptop bag. The neutral color and easy shape were like a blank canvas with plenty of room to play based on the city or scenario.

[  dress: and other stories // necklace: j crew // rings: and other stories // bag: boutique, paris // photography: xenia udalove // location: amsterdam, netherlands ]

Step five: Where her everywhere. She became my most worn and loved travel staple. She made up for not having an endless closet, by giving me a super classic item I knew I’d feel good in. And when I got home, she became the warm weather alternative to the easy pants and sweater I’d throw on to work from the coffee shop or home office. 

I love diversity, wearing new things, playing with color and pattern. But sometimes you just want a classic you know works, zero time analyzing, out the door and back to your fabulous life …

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A Style for Every City

LOCATION: AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS

Traveling throughout Europe for a few months I became aware that certain cities have a style aesthetic. Of course there are tourists, but if you pay attention you can spot the locals and start to see a trend.

In Paris the style is drapey, slouchy. It’s fashionable, they’re not drowning in their pieces, there’s a cool cut or hem or fabric happening. But everything nonchalantly says “Oh this? I just threw this on”.

I’ve heard this from multiple Parisian friends or ex-pats. French women rarely paint their nails, jewelry is minimal, clothing is mostly black. Beauty, should be effortlessly chic. Trying too hard is tacky. Parisian women put forth effort in looking like they just rolled out of bed. [wink]

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Amsterdam style is black leather jackets, dresses and tennis shoes. It’s a feminine/sporty blend in a city of women bicycling to work, dinner and dates.

With weather that always tends to be a bit overcast and chilly, so you want that jacket on hand, yet since you’re riding a bike hitting at the waist is practical. Lots of black, white, gray — similar to the fresh spacious modern design of shops and home decor you find throughout the Netherlands.

 

In America, we embrace color, pattern, accessories and generally more diversity in our style. Most shop windows whether at a mall in the midwest or a trendy neighborhood in a big city show all of the above.

Of course some Americans prefer more neutral or simplistic style, but no one thinks twice if you show up in something bright, busy or bold.
 

One of the questions readers posed about travel: how to dress to fit in where you’re going.

On the one hand, I’m a fan of being you. (Muslim countries or places like cathedrals with modest standards of course being respected.) On the other hand, I think it can be fun to let yourself be shifted and shaped by a new culture.

When in Paris, I found myself seeing my closet with that ease, embracing messy hair, leaving my accessories at home. 

Meanwhile in Amsterdam, I maintained my belief that I’m just not a black leather jacket kind of girl.

However, I sought out more neutral color combinations and that feminine/sporty blend — an athletic tank with a 50’s skirt, edgier booties, a bold stripe in an easy slouchy style.

[ tank dress: thrifted, paris // skirt: vintage, brooklyn // sweater: urban outfitters // boots: dsw // necklace: boutique, brooklyn // hat: street vendor, paris // photographer: xenia udalove

There’s nothing inherently refined about blending in.

Standing out can be confident. Your unique style can inspire someone else in their own country.

Yet I love the fresh inspiration of new places, styles, and ideas.

It’s that combination — your unique style blended with the people, places, experiences that only you have encountered altogether — that creates a style just for you.

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Pink Outside The Box

LOCATION: PARIS, FRANCE

I used to hate pink.

I’ve always been feminine, but sure to distance myself from that girlie girl aesthetic -- Charlotte in Sex and The City, boutiques with “keep calm and buy more shoes” mottos next to tiara decor.

My feelings about pink were a story I had created.

Which is valid. We all create stories. And sometimes we should listen to them. Your friend could think that floral dress looks amazing, but if it reminds you of your grandmother’s curtains …

You can either choose to stand strong in one way — “No matter how chic, it’s always going to make me feel dated, it’s a no.”

Or you can choose to stand strong in another way — “I guess I used to see floral as grandma, but now that I think about it I keep earmarking floral dresses in magazines, noticing it on other women at work, so maybe my desire have changed.”

A couple years ago, I started craving pink. Color palettes in every combination of blush, peach, coral, tangerine, watermelon, raspberry, red had me swooning. [I feel happy just writing that sentence.]

I’d grown up. Perhaps I became more confident in my maturity, in my ability to put together chic outfits that had nary a hint of princess or prissy Upper East Side.

I realized I love the way the color looks against my blue eyes, my brown hair. And especially the pairing of multiple hues together — the freshness of color blocking, of two hues combined in tops and bottoms or stripes or accessory pairings.

Question your stories.

You’re not the same woman you were six years ago or six months ago.

Perhaps there’s some pieces in your closet that need to go. You used to be a girl who wears pink. And now you haven’t in years, but not noticing, those items are still sitting there slowing down your morning outfit decisions.

top + skirt: thrifted, paris // belt: thrifted, london // shoes: sperry top sider // photography: federico guendel //  location: paris, france ]

And perhaps there’s more color, pattern, delight waiting for you if you’ll just pause when your brain thinks “I don’t wear yellow, I can’t do stripes, I’m not a dress girl” and ask yourself “Are you sure? Why?”

See if perhaps the more mature you, has the confidence or craving to make something old new again.

Tay says shake it off, I say shake it up. Your stories, your thoughts, your combinations. You can wear and love so much more than you believe you can right now.

Take it from the anti-pink girl draped in blush, peony and magenta, feeling marvelous on a picnic with Beau in the shadow of Notre Dame ...

P.S. Are you a fellow entrepreneur, small business owner? Or dreamt of being a freelancer, maker, working for yourself?

In not just your style but vocation it might be time to question your stories and embrace a new season of maturity. If that sounds like you check out my free workshop How to Get Paid to Be Creative.

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A Place Of Yes

LOCATION: SANTA MARGHERITA, ITALY

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You see the woman walking towards you, “I love what she’s wearing” you think, quickly trying to decipher what exactly it is that makes her look so chic.

This simple afternoon on the Italian Riviera ensemble has multiple style principles occurring -- fabric, neutral colors, the waistline, the neckline, the skin tone, the accessories.

In the flash that she’s passed, you’ve likely not catalogued them all, or maybe none in the visual overwhelm of loveliness.

These aren’t rules as in “don’t break them”, they’re principles as in “use these as your secret weapons if you so choose”.

If you don’t know them, you’re not necessarily doing anything wrong, you simply don’t have your full range of motion. My desire is for you to stretch out your arms to the full breadth of possibility when it comes to what you wear.

One example in this ensemble: Yellow.

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“Love it, can’t wear it” think most women. Myself included for years. But I believe you can wear almost anything you want, you just have to wear it in the right way.

 

Three ways to pull off any color:

1. Try different hues. Not all shades of yellow are created equal. Be you fair, olive or dark skinned, blonde or redheaded, some look more lovely or more like you’re slightly seasick.

2. Wear it away from your face. A skirt, shoes, purse.

3. Pair it with a color that flatters you, which is why I’m wearing a beautiful turquoise necklace.

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top: thrifted, longod // skirt: vintage, brooklyn // necklace: street vendor, italy // shoes: dsw // photographer: erin + gabri // location: santa margherita, italy ]

Now yellow is not the secret to happiness or chicness. It’s simply today’s encouragement that you can wear more than you think, you simply need to understand the principles at play, and learn some secrets from your personal stylist.

Life’s too short to not wear all the colors in the rainbow, if they make you happy.

Stick with me and I’ll teach you when it comes to your style, in the words of Obama, “Yes we can”.

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