Change 1 Thing–Jack[et] Up

My last Change One Thing post focused on how simply changing your shoes can bring a different vibe to an outfit. I hope it inspired you to try on some unusual combos and stretch out of your style comfort zone a little.

Today we’re going to look at how a quick jacket swap can instantaneously change your look.

Linda Allard, the Director of Design for Ellen Tracy in the 1960s, said, “The jacket is the mainstay of a woman’s wardrobe.” With nearly 20 jackets to my name, who am I to disagree?

A jacket can change the line and flavor of an ensemble. Next time your outfit feels a little rote, switch up the jacket to breathe some new life into it.

Corsten reaching out to Mom

This canvas navy jacket serves as a non-competing topper to a floral and leopard mix.


Mom walking with Corsten on grass

Its cinched waist and stand-up collar provide a flattering but utilitarian extra layer perfect for weekend activities.


Mom carries Corsten

But exchange it for an army-inspired wrapper instead, and now you’ve got a great foil for the girliness of the other patterns. The internal drawstring waist on this one gives it a shapelier silhouette.

Corsten and Mom Army Jacket

Bonus: Lots of pockets for pacifiers, puffs, lip gloss and phone.

Mom and Corsten walking right

We’re constantly on the move.

Mom and Corsten out of focus


Floral shorts, J. Crew.

Cotton tank, Everlane.

Navy Jacket, Ann Taylor.

Army Jacket, J. Crew.

Leopard flats, Cynthia Vincent via TJ Maxx.

Lilliputian skull necklace, Banana Republic.

Fingerprint charm bracelet, gift.

Shades, Ann Taylor Loft.






10 Things to Spend Your Style Money On Instead of Clothes

Reading on couch

Wait a minute—aren’t fashion bloggers supposed to tell you all the price-of-a-mortgage-payment clothes YOU MUST BUY to be in style? And shouldn’t I be dripping in Louis Vuitton bags and draped in a monogrammed Burberry blanket poncho while I wax poetic on the absolutely life-changing power of Manolo Blahniks (then again, perhaps someday on the latter)?

Potential Sponsors–Stop Reading Here

I’m probably not going to secure too many sponsors with this post, but you don’t need to have a closet full of expensive clothes to exude style (in fact, “logo chasing” can often be a symptom of a severe lack of confidence in one’s personal style; it screams “insecurity” to the style-conscious).

Indeed, phenomenal personal style is built from many sources, and stems from much more than one’s most recent trip to the mall. Hence, here are ten things to spend your style money on that go beyond clothes.

After all, as Grace Coddington, former Creative Director of Vogue, said:

“Keep your eyes open, because whatever you see can inspire you.”

1. Books

I try to regularly banish clutter in my home, but that rule does not extend to my books. I’m happy when wherever I sit, there’s a book within reach. Indeed, “she is too fond of books, and they have turned her brain.” (Louisa May Alcott)


2. Travel

I’m a little biased here, because, as many of you know, my husband orchestrates custom travel experiences through Lugos Travel. But science totally backs me up on this one, because it turns out that experiences make us a lot happier than possessions (or so suggests a  recent study at Cornell University).

Also, travel opens up your eyes to different people, different architecture, different philosophies, and different ways of doing things, all which amp up your creativity in the style department.


3. Patronizing the Arts

Go to the symphony. Visit your local museum. Roam an art festival or a music festival (bonus points if they feature art or music you wouldn’t normally appreciate). Go to an opera or a play. These experiences shape us in ways unlike any other. They speak to the commonality of the human experience (I double-dog-dare you to watch Fantine sing “I Dreamed a Dream” and not be reduced to tears by the hopelessness of her position).

Many times your community will host arts events and exhibits that are low-cost or even free. My hometown has an arts-focused high school that produces incredible plays for less than $15. Do some research to find out what your community offers, then get out there. Truly stylish people have an appreciation for the arts.


4. Learning Experiences

“In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”– Eric Hoffer

Don’t be satisfied with your current education. Don’t rest on your laurels. Neuroplasticity allows the brain to adjust to new situations and changes in environment-definitely a requirement for an evolving personal style.


5. Exquisite Stationery

There’s been a resurgence in the world of paper lately (on a recent trip to Belgium, I couldn’t begin to count the number of paper artisans operating out of the most fantastical little shops) and for good reason–fewer things can bring a smile to your face than a gorgeous handwritten note from a friend.

Our stationery is like an extension of our personal brand. Quality stationery seems expensive up front, but if you amortize the cost over time and write friends personal notes instead of buying them $8 birthday/condolence/congratulations cards, it actually offers significant cost savings. Bonus: I daresay your friends would much rather receive a few heartfelt sentiments from you (instead of the commercial card makers) on their special or difficult day.


6. Connection

As in, anything that connects you with the people you love. Shared experiences. Walks. Game nights. Drinks. Coffee. Participating in their creative endeavors.

When it comes down to it, your people are all you have. So spend wisely here, but spend.


7. Flowers

In my experience, people who display flowers in their offices and homes tend to be more stylish. But whether or not my perception’s on point, research suggests that at the very least, they’re probably in a sustained better mood (at least according to this Rutgers study) and that can’t hurt their style, right?


8. Tools of Your Trade

Everybody’s got a thing. A thing that might seem trivial to other people but that you love doing. Knitting. Photography. Playing an instrument. Mountain biking. Scuba diving. Tennis. Cooking. Gardening. Pottery. Dancing. Painting. Sewing. Basketball. Geocaching. Writing. Motocross. Hiking. Rowing. Camping. Archery. You get the picture.

People will tell you that spending time on your thing is irresponsible. That spending money on your thing is ridiculous (especially if they perceive that you’re not good at it).

Well, with all due respect for people, screw them.

Your thing makes you YOU. It enhances your creativity and helps you prove to yourself that you can survive challenges and exceed expectations. If you approach it enthusiastically, your thing makes you better than you ever thought you could be, regardless of whether anyone else ever recognizes that.

Your thing informs and enhances your style, so go do your thing.

(If you don’t have a thing, I highly suggest you get out there and try ALL THE THINGS until you find one that’s yours).


9. A Stellar Haircut

“The right hairstyle can make a plain woman beautiful and a beautiful woman unforgettable.” –Frederic Fekkai

Perhaps hair is on my mind because I just took the leap and had bangs cut (check out a full frontal of my fringe game on Girl About Downtown’s Instagram), but PEOPLE, hair can change your life.

While in college, I saw Ann (Audrey Hepburn) saunter into that neighborhood barbershop in Rome and get the chop of her life, and while everything seemed to eventually return to normal (to the relief of her attendees), she flashed those doe eyes at me through the silver screen and I knew her life was forever changed. I immediately pranced into a new barbershop in town and had my long locks sheared off into a bob.

You don’t have to go to the most expensive salon in town to get a hair cut that makes jaws drop, but you definitely don’t want to go the $10 route here. Find a stylist you trust, who continues their education, and gets your hair. Bring them pictures. Talk with them about it. Then close your eyes and leap.


10. Shoes

Oops–I guess some would consider those clothing related. But a girl can’t behave herself all the time now, can she?

nothing but shoes


Mint Fringe face hide.jpg

a fly that annoys horses and other livestock
a person who upsets the status quo

Apparently, it can be a little unnerving to have a style blogger for a friend. At a party, someone once confided to me that they get a little nervous when they know they’re going to see me, concerned that I am critiquing every aspect of their attire during our time together.
Rest assured, I do not go around secretly evaluating people’s fashion choices (unless you wear scrunchies. I have a preternatural hatred for scrunchies).
However, I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel a little internal leap of joy when I see someone dressed in a way that showcases all the best of who they are. There’s nothing like seeing someone’s essence expressed in art, and if I may be so bold, I consider personal style an art.

grey dress kick

Art Is Personal

In college, I had a roommate whose parents lived in a charming country house not far from campus. My group of friends spent many idyllic weekends at their house, studying in a hammock on the spacious front porch, wandering with the dragonflies and carpenter bees through the gardens, and savoring late breakfasts while watching deer contentedly chew through the daffodil fields.
None of this halcyon lifestyle happened by accident. As it turns out, my roommate’s mother had completely designed the house and its grounds from well, the ground up. Every nook and cranny was intentionally crafted to evoke a particular feeling—from the compact but well-appointed library in the nook at the top of the staircase to the perfectly positioned laundry chute (the laundry went straight from the master bedroom into the washing machine—talk about an efficient process!). Creativity was king, and while some aspects of her home represented significant monetary investment (I can still remember her quite comprehensive set of Wedgewood China in a design run over by wild strawberries), small touches like elaborate and expensive-looking table decorations conjured up from willow branches commanded an equal amount of territory.
In a rundown town where the biggest form of entertainment was people-watching at the Waffle House (closely followed by activating the entire Walmart aisle of then-popular Tickle Me Elmo dolls simultaneously), she had instead opted to dedicate time and resources into ensuring her sanctuary reflected her self perfectly, and it was deeply felt by everyone who darkened the doors. Being in her house or gardens was like getting to know her, and like her home, she was irresistibly intriguing.


Mom and Corsten steps

We adore climbing steps.

Defy the Status Quo

My friend’s house so clearly stood out to me as art because its very essence defied the mass production with which our society seems to be so comfortable, not only in buildings but also clothes.

Our yoga pants epidemic is completely understandable; with all the other stuff being thrown at us ALL DAY EVERY DAY, it’s a wonder we remember to leave the house wearing pants at all! However, in my daily travels, I still encounter those brave souls who proliferate joy by expressing themselves through their clothes. At first glance, I may not immediately cognize every aspect of their person, but I do get a pretty good read on who they are (Artist? Minimalist? Drama-lover? Conservative? Whimsical?)

By spurning the path of least resistance, by proclaiming their truest selves instead of sending the message currently approved by the “style authorities,” they are gadflies that remind us how piercingly we touch others when we embody the best version of ourselves.


In honor of these irrepressible Devil-May-Cares and the joy they bring to my world, I’ll be highlighting them on the blog and GAD’s  Facebook and Instagram feeds, and tagging them #gadfly–a nod to their blithe disregard for whatever anyone else is wearing and also to the name of this blog (see what I did there?).
I’d love to see pictures of the #gadfly’s you encounter, so feel free to use the hashtag yourself when snapping pics and tagging Girl About Downtown so I can pay homage with you.


Bunny tail

I have an “audience” for nearly all my photo shoots.


Pleated Tunic, Ya Los Angeles via friend’s closet sale (I replaced the shell buttons with glam glass ones for a totally different look!).

Over-the-knee boots, Michael Kors via Zappos.

Tiger’s Eye earrings, Sorrelli via Anna’s.

Tiger’s Eye pendant, Polk Museum of Art Gift shop (unfortunately, I lost the paperwork naming the artist).

Mint Fringe bag, gift from my BFF picked out by my adorable Goddaughter.

Silver Fingerprint Charm bracelet, custom-made gift from the two handsomest men in my life. 🙂


Pattern Play

emerald and stripes2.jpg

Sometimes I think I have three settings: dark, white, and high-wattage.

While I’m usually covered head to toe in neutral shades, I sometimes decide to go for ALL THE COLORS at once. This usually happens when, veering from my normal routine of planning my outfits in advance, I let a particular outfit evolve subject to the day’s whims.

Today I thought, “Why stop at colors? Let’s add some patterns into the mix.”

The result: a cheeky mix of emerald, stripes, leopard, and plum (on my lips). Perhaps it’s because the fashion world uses stripes and leopard so often that I pretty much view them as neutrals (thank you, Jenna Lyons), but somehow, it all just works.

emerald and stripes.jpg

With such a variety of patterns and colors, I thought it best to keep my jewelry simple.



Sunburst Pencil Skirt, buy here} 5th and Hall.

Mattress-ticking striped shirt [I’m wearing it wrapped instead of buttoned], via What’s New Consignment [scored for $1, people!].

Leopard kitten heels, Liz Claiborne, bought at Belk on clearance for $17 ages ago [I sometimes remember the most random facts about my clothes. This pair is proof that sometimes your shoes find you; they look like a luxuriously worn carpet and I’ve spent far more than $17 having them reheeled numerous times over the years. I don’t want to think of the “Tragedy of cataclysmic proportions” that will undoubtedly befall my wardrobe when they finally leave me].

Earrings, via TJ Maxx.

Chain link bracelet, stainless steel via Kohl’s [I have tiny wrists, which makes finding bracelets that fit a challenge. After searching for the longest time for a hefty chain bracelet that fit my tiny wrist but didn’t weigh down my arm, I finally found this men’s version at Kohl’s. I took it to the jeweler’s to have the extra links removed, and voila! the perfect bracelet (and being stainless steel, it never tarnishes). Today’s style lesson, kids: sometimes finding the perfect item for you requires a little creativity.

Charm bracelet, cherished personal gift.


Casual Cashmere


navy cashmere

Break the mold, not the bank.

You might assume that since I’m always preaching the gospel of buying fewer articles of clothing made of the highest quality that I advocate racking up zaftig credit card bills in chi-chi boutiques.


Interior designer Vincente Wolf said,

“Glamour doesn’t have to break the bank, but it should break the mold.”

(I love this quote so much I framed it on my bookcase).

I scored this navy cashmere classic v-neck sweater at a consignment store for $10 several years ago. I bet the cost-per-wear of this baby is something like 3 cents.

I love the way this sweater “breaks the mold” with its details. Upon close inspection, it appears to be sewn inside out with longer ribbing at the wrists and the perfect balance of slouchy and fitted cut. A classic item that has carefully thought-out details will become a cherished find; train your eye to look for exceptional details (have I impressed upon you the importance of “detail” enough yet?).

The key to scoring great items like this on consignment is to shop with a supremely critical eye and buy items that have a classic shape or can be altered easily. Don’t shop when you’re under pressure to procure something specific (ever!). Also, be ready to be pleasantly surprised by your finds–you never know what gem you’ll uncover!



Cashmere Sweater, Aqua via What’s New Consignment

Skinny jeans, Level 99 via Hattie’s Branches

Over-the-knee boots, Michael Kors via Zappos

Action, Boys, Action

blue trench black white windowpane

I adore a dramatic collar.

According to Charlotte Bronte’s character Jane Eyre, people “must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it.” I think Jane was onto something, because whenever I anticipate having a run-of-the-mill day, I feel obliged to wear a little something special, and this trench, with its oversized collar, front pockets, and bubble skirt, usually does the trick.

You would think that a punchy color like this would enjoy limited use in a wardrobe, but when you buy things in your favorite, most flattering colors, you’ll find yourself reaching for them over and over again.

White black windowpane

Along with my fondness for nearly theatrical proportions, I possess an incorrigible love of white and ivory pants. I insist on buying them, even though I have never been able to keep them clean or in good repair (we all have our vices). They do not pair well with park benches, coffee, pens, babies, or being in any sort of rush. I find it imperative to commute with a dark outer layer extending past the derriere for impromptu outdoor lunches, diaper changes, coffee on the drive in to work, etc.



Black and White windowpane top, Merona via a friend’s closet sale.

Pants, Elie Tahari.

Shoes, Cole Haan.

Earrings, ?.

Necklace, via Polk Museum of Art Gift Shop.

Bubble-skirt trench, Samuel Dong via a charming little shop in Charleston, SC called   Ooh! Ooh! Shoes