Fashion & Beauty

Don’t call it a pocketbook: A guide to handbags

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A few of my favorite things.

It’s recently come to my attention that I have too much stuff. This slow-burning realization was of course catalyzed by my move across the country, which has forced me to take a hard look at my belongings and truly contemplate the meaning of the word “necessity” in a way I never really had before. (It’s a weird and annoying word that just sounds prissy and precious, in my opinion. Let’s do away with it.)

We’ve all read articles about how to pare down your wardrobe and do more with less. That’s all well and good when it comes to clothing, and it makes sense when your living quarters afford limited room for excess. But one area where I refuse to compromise is in the handbag arena.

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Fendi oyster bag, Paul & Joe Sister tote, Cambridge crossbody.

I get questions all the time (from concerned friends and family, not like, the media or anything) about why I need so many bags. “Don’t you just use the same one every day, anyway?” (This is my dad.) The answer here is a resounding no.

I can be a reasonable person when pushed, but I’m not budging on this. If you’re hauling around a faded, fraying, ancient leather sack with the intention of replacing it only after it releases a final groan of agony and sends your laptop and gum wrappers tumbling to the floor, please just delve deep into the reserves of your compassion and put the damn thing out of its misery.

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Tan clutch: Aimee Kestenberg, mini backpack: Coach, black tote: Botkier, tan/cream tote: vintage Dooney & Bourke.

You need more than one bag. You don’t need 20+, but you do need more than one. Like shoes, bags are designed for different occasions, and there’s no one-size-fits-all fix. The tote you use to lug your computer to work just isn’t appropriate or practical to carry at a wedding, or out on New Year’s Eve. A bag is meant to make a statement and complement your look, and while it serves a functional purpose, it shouldn’t just be something you’re grudgingly dragging around because you need somewhere to stash emergency tampons. That’s sad, and in my opinion, wrong.

Rue La La has done a great job piecing together this [actually informative] guide for handbags with a simple breakdown of classic handbag silhouettes. There’s even a section on authenticating designer bags if you’re inclined to splurge on vintage or consignment. Based on the guide, here are my personal MVPs for building a collection from the ground up:

— a classic, polished tote for work & everyday
— a larger hobo for weekends and the days you’ll need to carry more
— a small clutch or evening bag for more formal occasions

I’m obviously a person with a passion for purses, and I do understand if that’s just not your bag (ha). But there’s nothing that can class up an outfit more quickly than some arm candy. And unlike your favorite pair of jeans, a bag won’t look shittier on you after a weekend of bingeing on beer and pizza.

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Gucci tote, vintage YSL tote.

Happy shopping!

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Fashion & Beauty

Malibu

Anyone notice my new header photo? Apparently I’m the last person in the free world to figure out how to take a panorama photo on an iPhone! How cute and endearing!

You can stop guessing about the location; I spent a lovely 4th of July weekend with my family in Malibu. It was perfect because I’m one of those incredibly lucky people that has family members who would be cool enough to hang out with even if we weren’t related. I’m pretty sure this is a rarity.

In all seriousness, the women in my extended family– on both sides– are really cool, and have fantastic style. Each of them has such a unique and inimitable aesthetic that when I’m around them, I find myself feeling a lot like I did when I was young and clueless and still wearing Talbots. My outfits are like stirrup leggings and Keds compared to their effortless, eclectic chic.

Dana outfit

On Dana: J Brand tee, BB Dakota overalls, Converse shoes, vintage Coach bucket bag and bracelet, Madewell bracelet.

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On Megan: Le Specs sunglasses, “cheap Asian store” Marilyn Monroe crop top and maxi skirt, BC shoes.

We spent a gluttonous weekend lounging on the beach and hunting for celebrities (well, I did, because I’m declasse and also not accustomed to being around people who are on TV). Ladies, Brody Jenner ain’t all that. His bro, though.

And of course, there was a little bit of shopping. I got a couple of new cosmetics that I’m really excited about: Santigold for Smashbox’s Limitless Double-ended Liner in Azurite/El Dorado, and Benefit’s Cha Cha Tint and Sun Beam Highlighter. How beachy is this look?! (Ignore my unkempt eyebrows, please. Or don’t, ’cause summer is for letting loose, and I just can’t be tamed.)

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Benefit’s stains can double as lip & cheek color.

But anyway, here are some pics of my gorgeous fam.

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On Megan: Daughters of the Revolution caftan. On me: Tom Ford sunglasses, Rachel Roy caftan, stolen hat from my aunt and uncle’s beach house.

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On Dana: Prada sunglasses, Planet Blue bikini top, Zara shorts.

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On Tina: Old Navy Dress, Vix swimsuit, Tom Ford sunglasses, Wanawake hat, Stella and Dot tote.

And of course, Snackers, the unrequited love of my life.

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Hates me.

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Fashion & Beauty

Cheryl Lofton & Associates

If there’s one piece of advice that I’ve absorbed from What Not To Wear‘s Stacy London (a polarizing figure, I know), it’s that one should have her clothing tailored. As much as humanly possible.

Think about it: the fashion industry caters to a very limited range of sizes, and sizing between brands– and even between styles– is an often imperfect science. While I happen to have a body type that most would deem “easy to dress,” I’m also about the height of a fourth grader. Or a really big toddler. I don’t know, whatever, most children look the same to me. When I have my pants hemmed (which is an utter necessity, not a choice), there’s usually about eight inches of loose fabric to be axed. Enough to make a bandeau top, or at the very least one of those fake bandana headbands that we all wore in 1999.

Hemming, for many, is a given. It always has been for me. But what if all of your clothes could fit better? I bit the bullet a couple of years ago and decided that yeah, mine definitely could. From there, I set out to find the best tailor in the DC area. Because you know, go big or go home.

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Cheryl.

Well, I found her. Cheryl Lofton‘s custom tailoring abilities are second to none. She’s also a badass, and a lovely human being. I’ve known Cheryl for a couple of years now, and have taken countless garments to her shop in Shaw. Almost every coat in my closet and all of the dresses I own have been touched by her magic hands. Isn’t it expensive, having everything altered? Sure, but I’ve never been one for math or budgeting; numbers are ugly things. (But seriously-– I’d rather own less clothing and have it all fit like a glove.)

Cheryl comes from a long line of tailors, all of whom have worked for D.C. elites, including presidents and first ladies (like the lovely Michelle Obama). Though she tried to resist for a while, she couldn’t suppress the talents that run in her blood. Now she owns the family business, continuing a 75-year Lofton legacy. She was kind enough to share her fascinating history with me, as well as a few insider tips.

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The shop.

I know your family has been tailoring in DC for generations. Who taught you how to sew and build garments? Did you always know you’d go into the business?

I learned to sew by several different means. Of course you already know that my grandfather was a tailor, and he did teach me lots about sewing. But he was old school, and believed that women were to be seamstresses and nothing more. He spent time making sure I could be a good tailor’s assistant like all the other women who worked for him. In order to learn garment construction, a woman would have had to be enrolled in his tailoring school which was for veterans– most, if not all of whom, were men.

All the boys in the family got to learn how to build men’s clothes from the ground up, but not the girls. Well, I was born a feminist and a tomboy, so I was determined that I was going to learn to make boy clothes. I watched everything my grandfather did and then went home and tried to do it on my mother’s sewing machine. It also helped that my boy cousin (and the favorite to take over the family business) would show me things that he had learned about sewing boy clothes when nobody else was around.

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Custom suit and dresses.

My mom actually taught me a lot, not only about sewing but also about fashion. She was a mother of five and needless to say, there was no money for designer clothes. My mom could whip up an outfit in a heartbeat and was always fashion forward. I was always in awe of how that clump of fabric on our dining room table/weekend cutting table would be transformed into an awesome ball gown by the end of the week.

My father was in the upholstery business, and that helped too. I watched him for countless hours in the basement of our home transforming furniture from old and lack-luster into something bright and beautiful. He taught me everything I know about clean and piped edges.

I actually had no intention of going into the business. I used to see my grandfather and father covered in thread on a regular basis and decided that that was not an option for me. I wanted to be in advertising, and went to school for it. During my college years, I was able to make money by altering and making clothes for my friends, and that’s really where it began for me. I loved transforming ill-fitting clothing into perfectly fitted garments that made a statement. Immediately after I finished college, my grandfather became ill and passed in that same year. My father passed as well a few years later, and none of the boys in the family seemed interested in all that my grandfather spent his life building. I could not let the business die, and that’s how I came to be in it.

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Michele.

What makes up the majority of your business? (Weddings, custom gowns and suits, tailoring?) 

The majority of my business is definitely alterations. The wedding business is good, but it’s seasonal, where as alterations are all year round. I used to do more men’s than women’s alterations, but I have put a lot of effort into educating women about their need for alterations over the past few years, and now it’s finally paying off. Now women are finally starting understand the importance.

Tell me your pet peeves when it comes to fashion and fit. What are the biggest faux pas that you see?

1) Wearing a skirt that’s too big in the waist but fits in the hips. Why: Because unless its spandex, its still going to rotate on your body. Then you’re walking around with a vent that belongs in the back of the skirt in some weird place, like on the side.

2) A hemline that falls smack in the middle of you knees. Why: Because knees are anatomically ugly. I don’t care how pretty you think your knees are, they should not be the focal point of the outfit. Go above or below the knee.

3) Button up shirts that gap open right at the bust line. Why: Because people can’t focus on what you’re saying if their busy looking at your lace bra. I have developed the perfect fix for this. (The first commenter can get this on one blouse for free!)

4) This is the first runner up for the worst pet peeve: Jeans that don’t fit in the waist or the length. Why: I don’t which one is worse, jeans that drag on the ground or jeans that sit three inches away from your actual waist but fit in the seat. Jeans are meant to be sexy on men or women. That can’t happen if they don’t fit properly, and yes, jeans can be altered. Many tailors don’t want to do it, but keep looking until you find one that will.

5) Drum roll please… Wearing the sleeves too long on anything is hands down the worst offense. I have been known to run after people in the streets with a business card in hand for this one. Why: because it makes your entire outfit look both too big and unpolished. The proper sleeve length is at the wrist bone, give or take a little. Sleeves should not come down to the knuckles. Don’t ever tell your tailor or seamstress to adjust your sleeves based on raising your arms up in the air or driving or typing, whatever. If you do, I promise your tailor will talk about you when you leave. Sleeves should be adjusted with your arms relaxed and at your sides… period!

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Cheryl consulting with a customer (my mom).

What’s the best fashion advice you can give?

I would say that everyone should focus on his or her personal look. People all too often focus on the trends, and they may not work for your body type or your personality. You will save yourself a lot of time, money and heartache if you stay in your look lane and avoid having a fashion collision.

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Fashion & Beauty

Style Spotlight: Erica

In honor of my lovely friend Erica’s 26th birthday, I’ve decided to feature her signature style on today’s blog!

Erica is one of those lucky people who was just born incredibly, infectiously likable. I don’t know what that feels like, but I imagine it is an awesome gift to have. She was also blessed with great taste, and has been gracious enough to answer a few questions about it.

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You always look polished and classy, but I think you have a wild side, too. What are your favorite brands/places to shop for work? How about for fun going out clothes? 

I definitely work hard and play hard, and I like to dress accordingly. For work I need to be comfortable, but I also (try to) look put together. I like to go to J. Crew, Nordstrom, etc. for work clothes. Loehmann’s was a favorite, but we all know how that ended (RIP). For going out, I love getting dressed up. Parker is so fun, South Moon Under always has great finds, Cusp has beautiful clothes, and RevolveClothing.com… I could scroll through Revolve all day.

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Top: Staring at the Stars (Urban Outfitters), Blazer: Yank.

Who’s your style icon? 

To be perfectly honest, when I’m looking for fashion inspiration, I turn to my friends. A lot of my closest friends live in NYC and work in fashion and they all have great style so I pull from them. As far as icons go, though, I love Jackie O. and Grace Kelly.

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Necklace: J. Crew.

What is your number one fashion must-have? 

I love accessories; I really think they can dress up any outfit. Fun earrings or an interesting ring, a big necklace– accent pieces that can make an outfit more interesting and unique.

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Watch: Michael Kors, Bracelet: Kenneth Jay Lane.

What’s been your biggest fashion faux pas? 

Woof. This is tough– basically any thing from high school… Mostly crop tops, though. If I could impart any sort of fashion wisdom on high school girls right now, it would be to stay away from crop tops. Even if Miley is doing it.

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Erica & Co. circa early 2000s.

What’s one rule you always stick to? 

I can’t say I’ve always stuck to it in the past (ahem, remember my high school faux pas?), but I do try to go by this rule. Pick one: really short, really tight, really low cut, really animal print, really sheer… I think these looks can all work on their own, just don’t overdo it!

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Jeans: Rachel Roy, Boots: Frye.

Fabulous tips from a fabulous girl. Love you, Erica, and Happy Birthday!

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My Erica caricature, complete with red wine/straw combo (so your lips don’t get stained)!

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