Going Shopping in Your Closet

I first heard the expression "going shopping in your closet" from a lady I worked with. She complimented me on a blouse I was wearing, and it was really an older item. I just hadn't worn it in a while because I'd gotten little bit of blue ink on the hem of the mint green silk blouse, and it was meant to be worn untucked. I loved the blouse so much that I finally tucked it in, put a jacket on over it, and wore it to work. When she complimented me on the outfit, I realized that she'd seen it many times before, but because I was wearing it in a new and unexpected way, it made it seem new. That to me is the essence of the expression "go shopping in your closet."

I thought of that expression this morning as I got dressed. I've been dying to go shopping and splurge on some vintage inspired fashion, but I don't have the budget for it right now - and as my husband is quick to point out, my closet is brimming with skirts! It might be brimming with skirts, but I'm tired of them and lately I've felt as if nothing was "right" or matched.

I decided to go shopping in my closet and put together a new outfit today. It was similar to this one I wore while leading a workshop last year, except I put on a navy blue sweater and a belt over the sweater.

I wish I had a full length mirror and a small camera so I could snap a new picture today. You'd see what I mean about how changing a few things - in this case, the sweater color (it's the exact same sweater style and manufacturer, just the color is different) and adding a belt really helped.

  • I'm wearing a navy blue sweater today with the black corduroy skirt. The dark colors form a single, unbroken line, making me look slimmer, but the blue keeps it from looking too dark and gloomy.
  • I added a belt. It's a simple braided black leather belt worn around my waist, and it transformed the sweater into a tunic. It took about 10 pounds off, instantly. Belts are amazing for that. My waist is still fairly slender despite a weigh gain elsewhere so it works!
  • Silver accessories. I'm wearing a silver chain I bought in Mexico years ago and silver and crystal earrings I picked up in New York City. They're cheap costume jewelry but the glittery effect along with the blue sweater perked up the outfit.

I never would have thought of adding the belt over the sweater except for some photos on ModCloth, a favorite website. ModCloth offers customers an online photo gallery where they can post images of themselves wearing their purchases. Many women use belts to add definition to the waist, and to give the outfit a more pleasing shape. I tried it today and it works! I hope to pick up more belts over time.

I liked "shopping in my closet" and hope for some new outfit inspiration this week as I try to pair other sweaters, skirts and shirts in new and different ways. How about an outfit challenge? Can you shop in your closet this week and try to come up with some ways to refresh your wardrobe?

Learning to Sew

I’m trying to teach myself to sew, and it’s not easy. I grew up in a sewing family. Before she got sick, my mother loved to sew, and I considered her an expert seamstress. She sewed my eldest sister’s prom gown, and many of the outfits I wore as a little girl were sewn by my mother. My sister Mary sewed my first “grown up” business suit, a gorgeous riding-habit style jacket and skirt in a deep, grayed plum wool that suited my complexion perfectly. My sister Ann sews beautifully and a quilt she made adorns my bedroom; her work has won prizes in the state fair.

Then there’s me. I rejected everything feminine when I was a girl, preferring to romp in jeans and play in mud puddle to sewing, cooking and the feminine arts. But I’ve mellowed with age, and now that I’m in my 40s and frustrated by the lack of stylish, feminine, modest clothing available in the stores, I feel as if my only option is to sew my own.

I have a few challenges when it comes to sewing, not the least of which is that I never learned how! I took an adult education class at the local high school when I was in my 20s, but I never completed the course, and dropped out after I’d mangled the pattern cutting on the test dress I started for the class. At least I learned a little bit in the class, like how to read a pattern and how to thread a machine.

My husband bought me a beautiful sewing machine for Christmas back in 2010 and I’ve used it to make catnip mice for the cats, to sew a pillow for the house, and to try to make a skirt. The skirt project is what I’m hoping to finish this weekend. It’s a plain, simple knee-length navy blue skirt. I’m up to the last stages of it and I’m so nervous I won’t finish it properly, or I won’t wear it once it is finished!

I think I suffer from comparison syndrome and from intimidation. I’m intimidated by my sewing machine, and by the patterns that remind me of blueprints, and by the instructions that force me to keep looking things up in the glossary of the Reader’s Digest sewing book I bought.  

For instance, the instructions on sewing on the zipper said to “baste” it onto the material first. Baste? I thought you only basted a turkey.

Yet I keep looking at the fashion patterns from the 1940s and 1930s that I see online, and the beautiful dresses, elegant skirts and gorgeous accessories, and I want to make them. I really dislike 99% of modern fashions.  Somewhere starting in the early 1990s the fashions changed for the worst. Sure, the 60s had a lot of monstrosities - baby doll dresses, anyone? And the 70s weren’t much better. But the 1980s had a lot of wonderful fashions if you could overlook the gigantic shoulder pads and hoop earrings hanging down to your shoulders. The long skirts, flower patterns, Jessica McClintock blouses with seed pearls and lace,  Chanel retro-inspired sweater sets, and even some nods back to fashions of the 40s (the tulip skirt and the peplum dress) and the 50s (poodle skirts) make me nostalgic for those days.

I took myself shopping last week and left three stores empty handed.  All of the clothes looked ugly to me. They hang like shapeless sacks on the racks; on the female form, they look even worse. Women have curves, wide hips, and narrow waists. All of the fashions this season are straight. We aren’t stick figures or young boys; we are women. And mature women like me who want to dress elegantly, femininely and modestly have such a tough time finding affordable fashions. Even stalwarts like Talbot’s lack affordable, modest clothing.  Chadwicks of Boston had some nice skirts and dresses, but they’re still too plain for my taste.

It’s supposed to rain on Sunday, and I promised myself a nice relaxing day of sewing. I’ve got a knitting project going; I’m making a shawl, which I hope to make nice enough to wear around the house. My last knitting project, a poncho, so resembles something a homeless person might don out of the trash can that I’ve relegated it to the cat house on the front porch where my kitties snuggle into it at night. They, at least, don’t seem to mind my amateur attempts at the fiber arts.

Wish me luck this Sunday as I drag the sewing machine back out and attempt to finish my skirt, as well as repair a favorite skirt with a broken zipper.

I need all the luck I can get!

A Free Christmas Gift for You

Christmas is my favorite time of the year, and this year I thought I'd start a new tradition - a free Christmas short story for all of my readers! Each Christmas starting in 2014, I'll publish at least one free short ebook via Smashwords. You can download it and read it on any ebook reader or download an Adobe Acrobat PDF ebook to print at home or read on your computer. It's absolutely free, no strings attached.

This year's ebook....

The Christmas Fox

Download your free copy from Smashwords or wherever fine ebooks are sold. 

One cold December night, I headed down to the barn where I boarded my horse on Long Island. I was cranky, tired, and had about as much Christmas spirit as Ebeneezer Scrooge. But a magical encounter with a wild fox showed me how to regain the peace of the season.  In this short true story, I share the encounter with the Christmas fox, and what it meant to me.


Season's Greetings

Old Fashion Fall modest 2014

red and black bows modest 2014



Roland Mouret skirt

Zip shoes

Alligator handbag

Wide brim hat

Cateye glasses

Black and white home decor
$92 - oliverbonas.com

Fashions shared via the Polyvore.com license.

I love this modest, retro look!

Why Legging Are Not Pants

I stumbled over this wonderful blog post today in which a fellow blogger laments wearing leggings as pants. Say it loud, say it proud, but cover up when you're outside, please!

Sharing the link - Deep Thoughts on Leggings

Just Say No to Sweatpants (Unless You're Working Out)

Yesterday, I had a meeting in town with a friend. We were meeting at a fun little cafe to share lunch and talk writing. My friend is a newspaper reporter, and it's fun to "talk shop" with another writer, especially when you're like me and work from a home office all day.

After lunch out, I ran errands. That's when I noticed something odd; not one single woman shopping at any of the stores I visited wore what I would consider "real" clothing. I'm not talking about anything fancy, mind you; I'm talking about lace up shoes, clothing with zippers and buttons. Instead, all I saw everywhere was sweat pants, pajama pants (at 2 in the afternoon?), ratty, faded t-shirts, and flip flops.

Contrast that with how people have dressed historically. One wore comfortable "day" dresses or leisure clothing inside the home, but people changed to go outside of the home.

Whenever I bring up the subject of people wearing sweatpants as day attire, I get a lot of arguments. "They're comfortable!" is the biggest argument of all, as if one can't be comfortable in jeans, nice slacks, a skirt of a dress.

Throughout history, comfort was actually the LAST thing people thought of when they dressed themselves in the morning. Suitability, refinement, taste and social class were all considered, sometimes to the point of lunacy. Corsets, stays, sky high heels for men and women, wigs and knee breeches were never very comfortable for anyone, and both men and women dressed in some astonishing outfits throughout history.

But we as a society have sunk to an all time low with this wearing of fleece pajama bottoms outside of the bedroom; wearing sweatpants and worn t-shirts in public; and wearing flip flops and shorts in November.

Here's my challenge to those seeking a Return to Elegance; just for the rest of November, whenever you leave the house, dress up a little bit. If you are a woman, wear a skirt instead of slacks, or wear nice slacks instead of sweatpants. For the gentlemen, wear a collared shirt - a cotton polo shirt, a nice clean button down flannel shirts - with clean, neat jeans or chinos. Wear real shoes, even sneakers, instead of flip flops.

How you dress tells the world quite a lot about you. Unless you're headed to the gym to work out, just say NO to sweatpants, please!