How to Get Rid of the Back-to-Work Blues

When I’ve had a particularly lovely long weekend with my family and friends, it can be difficult to head back into the office (and consequently, part with the men in my life). To ease the pain, I like to wear the pieces in my wardrobe that make the day feel a little more special and fun.

black with taupe blouse

I bought this skirt in Belgium earlier this year and have nearly worn it out already! I don’t know how such a voluminous skirt can look slimming, but it somehow manages to make me feel sleek every time I put it on. The ballet pink silk lining doesn’t hurt, either.

Also, there’s something about a V-neck blouse that falls at just the right point. This one has enough beading and bejeweling that it renders further bedecking unnecessary (but not necessarily unwelcome, depending on your taste). I couldn’t resist adding my two currently favorite bracelets to the sentimental wristlet I always wear (with charms bearing my family’s fingerprints).

black skirt with taupe blouse2

I don’t know why moms even try to buy groceries for themselves. I hardly ever get to eat all of my own food anymore; I’m such a sucker for the eyes this kid makes at me.

 

Unpacked:

Bubble-stamped Scuba Skirt, Bitte Kai Rand.

Satin Jewel-encrusted top, Banana Republic Heritage Collection.

Waxed Denim moto jacket, Mango.

Berry pumps, Cole Haan.

Stainless steel chain bracelet, Kohl’s.

Leather and metal square bracelet, Boondock Studios.

Shades, The Loft.

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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

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.

 

Unpacked:

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

Bubble Butt

Weather in Florida can be fickle, so it’s a rare day when I experience the pleasure/obligatory vexation of wearing tights. I actually had a 10-minute conversation with my neighbor the other day about my sincere abhorrence of tights. I really don’t like to wear anything too restrictive (I also hate turtlenecks).

black skirt full shot back

On the days they are unavoidable, I wear a pair by Spanx. I know, I know-it’s counterintuitive: I hate restrictive clothing, yet go for the most restrictive version of said clothing. But I really like the finish of the Spanx version, and the waistband doesn’t roll like some other brands I’ve tried.

black skirt top

To wear black and still make a statement, look for interesting cuts or textures. I bought this black skirt in Belgium, and have just fallen in love with it and its bubble-shaped imprints (the sales clerks were probably thinking, “Crazy American!” as I tested its twirliness factor). Bonus: it has a gorgeous pink silk lining, which I adore (there’s a special place in my heart for the designer who considers details that aren’t immediately apparent to everyone).

black skirt shirt wrap

Years ago, I saw a shirt wrapped like this and immediately took to wearing all my button-downs this way. I’m glad to see the trend is back in rotation, just make sure you employ the services of a strategically-placed safety pin before venturing out into public!

 

Unpacked:

Mattress-ticking shirt: Generic, thrifted for $1 (yes, you read that correctly).

Black Skirt:

Belt: Saks Fifth Avenue, thrifted.

Tights: Spanks Assets, via Target.

Shoes: Lauren Ralph Lauren.

Necklace worn as bracelet: Sorrelli.

Shades: Betsey Johnson.

Ghent

Ghent was beautiful in a different way than Bruges; each city had its own personality. At night, the entire city is lit, making it perfect for a romantic walk on the cobblestone streets.

Green windows yellow coat

Remember my love for doors? It’s exceeded only by my love for color-coordinated buildings topped with storytelling sculpture.

I picked up this stunning bright yellow coat by a Danish designer in Bruges and it it so warm! I can’t wait to have it perfectly tailored; I can already tell it’s going to earn it’s keep in my wardrobe.

 

telescope on castle turret

If you like architecture, you’ll love Ghent. There are so many superbly-designed buildings to check out, and many of them have marvelous views of the city.

 

church ceiling

I would advise you to check out the gorgeous cathedrals, but I haven’t yet thought of a word adequate to describe their beauty. Pulchritudinous? Resplendent? Prepossessing? The Thesaurus is failing me here. Just go see them. Bring a handkerchief (you can find an elegant lace one at the shop around the corner).

 

tethered boat

Seriously. Way cool buildings. And boats. Boats everywhere. Swoon.

 

 

mustard pour

When Shane visited Ghent last year, he brought home some mustard from a little shop called Tierenteyn-Verlent. Tucked away in the corner of a square, they’ve been making this mouthwatering mustard for generations in huge barrels, from which they freshly dispense it when you place your order. We bought several containers as gifts for family and friends (and of course some for ourselves!). If I share a bit of this mustard with you, you know I consider you a true friend (I don’t give it away to just anyone)!

 

gas mask angel

I love how Ghent has a knack for mixing historic and modern elements. This angel atop the wall of a former monastery warns of the dangers of environmental pollution.

 

vibrant cherry blossoms

The most beautiful flowering trees covered in vibrant green moss blanketed the town. Absolutely gorgeous.

Ghent was a lover’s paradise, and I haven’t even talked about the food. Photographing one’s food is not seen as an acceptable hobby there, so you’ll just have to take my word that every bite was mouthwatering.

 

Unpacked:

Acid-yellow coat, Bitte Kai Rand.

Bruges

After a year of intense focus on keeping another human alive, Shane and I decided it was time to take a little trip as a couple. He had a work trip in France, so it was decided that I would meet him afterwards in Bruges and we would spend a little time in Europe.

My flight suit was super comfortable, but after 17 hours of travelling in it, I decided to change into “real clothes.”

Christina against teal door navy coat

 

The weather in Bruges (pro tip-the locals call it Brugge; pronounced like Brew-hu with a rolled r) was pretty grey, but to make up for it the doors were brightly colored. Since I have a thing for cheerful doors (orange on a grey building is my favorite), most of my photos involved standing by a door that I found intriguing for whatever reason.

Christina white bldg navy coat

At one point in our first day in Bruges, Shane asked if I’d like to get a hot chocolate. I said no, but he insisted I try one.

PEOPLE, a Belgian hot chocolate is unlike any hot chocolate you’ve ever had. It is heaven in a cup. They melt the solid chocolate into the milk right in front of you, and give you a spoon encased in chocolate to stir it with. I’m converted.

lace spools

Belgium is known for its lace. I was really hoping to tour a lace-making factory before meeting up with Shane, but this was as close as I got. Apparently, the art is not as widely-practiced as it once was. I wouldn’t call my personal style particularly lacy, but found the painstaking process of crafting the intricate designs intriguing.

christina bridge

Bruges is full of canals, and there are interesting bridges everywhere. I fantasize about living over the water; can you imagine hearing the water lap underneath you as you lay down to sleep in this house?

dragon vane

The Maison le Dragon is officially my favorite place in the world. Next time I visit (and there WILL be a next time!), I plan to hole myself up in the sitting room next to the fireplace (or perhaps on the private patio, or in the mammoth four-poster bed), reading and writing to my heart’s content. Its golden weather vane topped with a dragon is like a beacon leading you back home from anywhere in the city. Boasting a select four suites, the owners Emmanuel and Maka ensure it’s the most peaceful little sanctuary.

Check out Girl About Downtown on Instagram for some more fun pics from Bruges.

Next stop, Ghent.

 

Unpacked:

Navy Wool Coat, MICHAEL Michael Kors (via Burlington coat factory and tailored within an inch of its life).

Gloves, Leopard calf-hair, Banana Republic.

Jeans, Level 99, Hattie’s Branches.

Nude Flats, Franco Sarto, TJ Maxx.

Earrings, Silver (I don’t remember where I bought them).

Shades, Betsey Johnson, TJ Maxx.

Handknit hat, Boondock Studios.

 

 

Flight Suit

flight suit.jpg

I’m flying to Belgium today.

It’s a little embarrassing to admit (being 37 and all), but this is the first time I’m traveling to Europe.

Naturally, I have been doing a hefty amount of research on what to wear on the flight (because I can’t take the word of my husband who does this all the time. On the upside, I discovered several delightful blogs in the process).

The travel experiences I’ve had so far have generally allowed me to retain some dose of elegance (I must combat the slew of velour jogging suits at the airport. How is it that Juicy Couture is still cranking those out?!).

Since this is a much longer flight than I’m used to, I’m capitulating to all those battle-scarred jet-setters who insist I keep comfort in front of mind. However, I find myself unable to totally abandon attempts at glamour because, well, have you met me?

I’ll be gallivanting around Brussels for a full day on my own before I can check into the hotel, and so many wildly exotic things could happen—I must be prepared for them, at least sartorially.

Kara Mulder of The Flight Attendant Life recommends a pair of Zella Slim-Fit Live-in leggings (random question: are there any kind of leggings other than slim-fit?). They’re moisture-wicking and reversible, but struck me as being passable for non-athletic clothing, so I ordered a pair.

This silk tunic is loose-fitting but upgrades the outfit a notch above athleisure.

Anyone who’s ever navigated an airport knows the importance one’s shoes play in molding the other passengers’ feelings toward you. Wear shoes whose intricacy requires a 20-minute removal and re-application process, and the people behind you in the TSA line will shoot daggers into your back with their eyes. Wear shoes with no sock/stockings/inner lining, and people will harbor secret misgivings about your hygiene.

To be on the safe side, I am wearing simple polished loafers. I can wear a sock liner with them, so I can easily slip them on and off and still not have to touch the floor in the x-ray booth.

Finally, I am cold. Always. I could be on a tropical beach in 90-degree weather, and I guarantee you, I will be cold. One of the BEST. INVESTMENTS. I ever made was this full-on blarf (blanket scarf)–it’s great for flights and layovers.

Since it’ll be a tad chilly (!) when I disembark, I’m packing my coat in the top layer of my luggage. I’m not-so-secretly hoping to find a killer coat in Belgium, so I picked up a coat at Burlington that looks passable with a few alterations, but I can leave there if I need to.

 

Unpacked:

Zella Live-in Leggings, Nordstrom.com

Silk tunic, Michael Kors.

Black pebbled leather loafers, Coach.

Cashmere Travel Wrap, White + Warren.

Navy Wool Coat, Michael Kors.

Shades, Betsey Johnson via TJ Maxx.