Athleisure Wear Is the New Denim

I was recently thinking how the fashion industry is not really as inventive as the music industry. Sure there are regular new trends lasting approximately a decade in both, but fashion seems to be much more influenced by the past (sometimes even the recent past!) than music. Sometimes you’ll hear musical influences of other artists in music, but rarely do you hear ‘new’ music that harkens back to a previous era. Fashion is much more cyclical.

Having said that, fashion has been sliding along the comfort continuum for some time now; corsets moved to girdles and brassieres, and then to bras alone and now to sports bras without wires. Ok, sure, the shapewear market is alive and well, but no one would think to wear it on a daily basis. And frankly, I’m glad that I can support my girls without whalebone!

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But this comfort shift has brought an accompanying casualization of style. No woman in the 1940’s, no make that even the 1960’s, would ever been seen out of her house without a hat and gloves, and certainly never in her pajamas. And yet I regularly see people in my neighborhood popping to the shop in their pajamas. But not nearly as often as I see athletic wear, or ‘athleisure wear’, for all occasions.

Originally designed to make for an easy transition from the gym to real life, the comfort and ease of athleisure wear has been adopted by huge swaths of the population for nearly every occasion. Deirdre Clemente, a professor of history at the University of Nevada who studies culture, describes athleisure as a "weird hybrid" of business casual and athletic wear, which has essentially created an entirely new category of clothing. Many of the clothes that people now consider work-appropriate incorporate sports-inspired materials, like spandex, Lycra, and other synthetic fibers. "People want less maintenance of their clothes," Clemente said. "Technology is such a pervasive part of our lives. To want it in our clothes is simply natural." (Business Insider 2/17)

Which is something I’ve been seeing in the pages of Vogue and the windows of Nordstrom for some time now. And it’s backed up by sales figures: It has been the lone star in a waning apparel industry, with an estimated market size of $44 billion in the US alone, according to research firm NPD Group. While the apparel sales, as a whole, increased 2% year-on-year in 2015, the rise in activewear sales was a whopping 16%. (Forbes 6/10/2016)

From left to right: Marine Serre dress in Vogue Jan 2018, Nordstrom window Feb 2017, No Ka 'Oi in Vogue Jan 2017, Versace dress in Vogue May 2017.

But what's more interesting to me as a fashion observer is how this trend has become ‘stylish’. Rihanna has an entire line for Puma done in collaboration with Fenty, the Italian fashion house famous for it’s fur. The Puma website describes the collection this way: "Beachy and badass, it’s a vibrant, unexpected mashup of high fashion, extreme sport and beachwear."

All images Fenty Puma by Rihanna.

But Rihanna doesn’t just throw on a pair of sweats, her athleisure wear is styled. She’s consciously chosen her look and is accessorizing her athleisure for high style impact.  As Vogue puts it, “But don’t go thinking she’s running around in drabby sweats and sneakers—the singer’s take on athletic dressing is anything but unpolished.”

 Kendall Jenner in Vogue, Feb 2018

Kendall Jenner in Vogue, Feb 2018

Kendall Jenner too. In her role as a brand ambassador for Adidias she puts her own spin on the athletic clothing and takes it into a league that is definitely not athletic wear. Note the tights with white heels and what can only be described as a tracksuit.

But it’s not for everyone. While I’m in favor of clothes that are comfortable and practical, my personal style veers more towards ‘elegant’ than ‘street’. And athleisure is both more ‘street’ and more casual than I like for myself. But I have a funny feeling that I am going to find myself on the wrong side of history on this one – my ten year old daughter refuses to even wear jeans, stating that they’re ‘uncomfortable’. Should anyone be surprised that the athleisure wear trend has filtered down to the teen and tween market?  

 

What will be interesting is how this ‘trend’ shakes out as the new normal. Remember, there was a time when older folks didn’t wear denim, and it wasn’t all that long ago. Perhaps I’ll be spending my twilight years in athleisure wear, because let’s face it, comfort is pretty key when your mobility is compromised!

The Calendar Versus the Weather: Five Ways to Win the Battle

I don’t know about you, but I am ready for it to be spring. There are some brave blossoms out there, we’ve had lots of blue, blue skies and Easter is just around the corner, but the weather is not exactly cooperating. Snow on the first day of spring? Sigh.

My soul is positively yearning to don pretty spring clothes, but it’s not just chilly, it’s downright cold. And yet, the brighter light and longer days make the deep colors of winter just feel wrong.

What’s a girl to do? How can you embrace the calendar, and yet still dress for the weather?

Of course, before too long those of us south of the Mason Dixon line will be having the opposite problem – it will be too warm for the clothing that the calendar might suggest is appropriate. An equally vexing problem!

Not to worry. I may have spent far too long thinking about this problem so that you don’t have to. Here are my suggestions for how to handle this transitional season conundrum.

1.       Add some spring color

2.       Lighten the layers, both in fabric weight and in style

3.       Bring out the florals

4.       Show a little skin

5.       Just say ‘yes’ to spring accessories

Please note for those of my readers north of the 49nd parallel (did you see how I’ve incorporated some geography lessons here too?) some of these suggestions may require further calendar advancement before the application will be appropriate. I’ll assume you all have good, sensible judgement.

The problem for most of us is how to transition our winter clothing into spring without a) feeling uncomfortably chilly and b) looking like we’ve just returned from a tropical vacation and didn’t have time to change.

Add Some Spring Color

I suggest that you stay with the neutral basics you have likely been wearing through the winter, switching out the sweater under the jacket for a pretty blouse in a spring color, or changing the jacket for one in a decidedly spring hue. Or, just wear a sweater in a pretty spring color. Millennial pink is still big this spring, although the runways also showed lavender and a deeper hued pink. Personally I wish I could pull off the pretty peach color I saw in the stores – it’s something new we haven’t seen in a while and is just so, oh I don’t know, hopeful.

Lighten the Layers

There’s no need to lighten up from head to toe, pick one piece and consciously make it over into spring. For example, your black or navy bottoms can easily become more spring-like with a lighter colored sweater or jacket. Or add some broderie anglaise or eyelet (big this spring!) under your regular jacket and you’ll still be comfortable, but spring-like. You could also continue wearing a winter weight sweater or jacket with a lighter hued or weight skirt or pant. I had some fun finding pieces like these that will all layer well with warmer, more wintery items, but still give you a nod to the season AND transition nicely into summer.

Alternatively, you can choose a 'feels like spring' dress (without becoming a garden party all by yourself) and either wear a layer under it or top it with a sweater or jacket and keep your tights and boots on for now. The blue shift dress, above, is ideal for this transition. The key is to add in a spring element somewhere.

Bring out the Florals

I don’t think florals will ever NOT be a spring thing. Because fashion reflects nature, after all. Having said that, extreme floral prints really do belong in summer weddings, garden parties, and your aged aunt's closet. If you feel yourself drawn towards florals, incorporate them in a blouse or scarf, or perhaps in a skirt or dress if they aren’t too over the top.

Show a Little Skin

Depending on how chilly it is, you might be able to wear your fashionable ankle pants without socks, either with boots, or maybe even with a more open, transitional shoe. Personally, until it is actually warm enough to bare my legs (and they’ve had some weekend opportunities to be sun-kissed), I’ll still be wearing tights or ankle pants. Note: these are not sandals. It really, truly needs to be spring to successfully pull those off! I'd consider these options all transitional as they can be worn with socks or tights as well as without.

Say Yes to Spring Accessories

The easiest way to add spring! Try a pretty patterned scarf, shoes in a lighter color, or a pastel handbag. If you really aren't wanting to invest heavily in spring, this is where a little careful shopping will sweep you into the season without breaking the bank.

 

 

 

 

Aren't these fun for the weekend?

 

 

Yes, it may be chilly outside, but when it’s nearly April, I think it’s ok to carry a pink handbag. Or this one! Doesn’t it just make you feel lighter and happier?

 

 

 

 

I saw a woman just this week who was managing to do just about all of these things in one outfit. It was a coolish day,and she was wearing pale blue, cropped cotton trousers trimmed with eyelet, a jersey shirt tucked into these pants and finished with a black belt, a cropped black leather jacket and a multi-hued plaid wool scarf draped over the top. I can’t quite remember the shoes, but I think some sort of ankle boot with no socks. Granted, this is not something I could pull off, but she looked fashionable, seasonably appropriate and comfortable.

So go, have some fun shopping your closet for what you already have, and add in a few pieces that will take you from this spring that isn’t a spring into the summer.

Enjoy!

 

 

2-For-1 Shoes, Perfect for Packing

When I’m packing for a trip I always start with the shoes. Since you can only take a small subset of your entire shoe closet, they need to do double, and even triple duty. Tricky, when you’re on a city holiday and need to look stylish and put together, but you’ll be walking miles every day. 

Traveling for business might be even worse – you can’t turn up in the same shoes day after day when meeting with the same people, but you don’t want to fill your bag with a lot of shoes.

I think I may have found a completely workable, and totally fun solution: ShoeCandy shoes. Developed by two women who clearly had these issues when travelling, these high-quality shoes are crafted in the leather shoemaking capital of Brazil, and have been designed to be accessorized for multiple looks. You buy your shoe, then you purchase your ‘bag of candy’, the heel covers and sparkly bits to completely change the look.

Kara Mac of ShoeCandy told me that their idea was to provide two complete looks with one shoe; day into evening, or work into weekend. And of course, you’re not limited to just two. Add as many accessories as you like to build a shoe wardrobe.

So I spent some time on their website creating my own shoe looks. What fun!

 Here's the shoe I designed

Here's the shoe I designed

 

With spring fast approaching I played with the celebrity sandal, a great looking sandal that I know I could walk some serious distance in and still look stylish. I created a sparkly and colorful combination using the Fiji ivory t-strap and the multi-floral heel. You know I like a little bit of bling.

I was a little frustrated that I couldn’t ‘see’ all the accessory options for different heel and t-strip combinations because I would want to be 100% certain that I was getting something that was going to work. But I think my excitement at the varied functionality would probably trump both the fairly high price (not outrageous given the quality materials – they’re designed to be worn more often after all) and this minor inconvenience. Apparently they are aware that this is a problem with their online shopping experience and are working on ways to remedy it.

 This one is just pretty, but you should check out the animal print!

This one is just pretty, but you should check out the animal print!

I love these stunning sandals too (their spring/summer bestsellers). How much fun are these for a warm weather holiday? So many options for both t-straps (I count a total of 18) and heels (25 different options). I checked with my super math husband and that makes a total of 450 different combinations! So really no excuse for not having the perfect shoe for all your favorite summer outfits.

Kara told me that new heel cover styles are chosen by ShoeCandy fans voting on social media. And they’re now all made in the US. What a great way to engage with your customers!

ShoeCandy has definitely stayed on the conservative side of shoe design, but I think that makes their shoes and boots more wearable by a wider range of women. The point is really the accessories, and that’s where your personality gets to shine.

And yes, your shopping cart can get pretty pricy in a hurry, but I think for the quality and amazing flexibility of the product, cost per wear is probably pretty good. I kinda wish I had more holidays to need such a practical, yet totally fun shoe.

Have some fun creating your own ShoeCandy shoes and let me know what you come up with!

A Revolution in Women's Wear: Pockets! And a Reversible Suit!

Clothes for the Serious Business Lady

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I have a friend who’s been talking about creating a line of products for the ‘serious business lady’. Because women ARE serious business ladies, but we don’t necessarily want to surround ourselves with bland, colorless office products, nor wear black and gray all the time. And after attending many networking events trying to manage my drink, my bag with laptop, and my coat, all while attempting to exchange business cards and establish rapport with the fascinating new people I was meeting, I mentioned to her that she needed to include a ‘networking suit’ in her line of serious business lady products. Something feminine, professional and smart, flattering to most every woman, and with pockets to handle all those business cards.

Turns out she doesn’t need to. Because Sali Christeson and Eleanor Turner have already done it with Argent.

 

Women’s Suits With Pockets

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I’m not even sure where I first came across Argent, but I was immediately interested in what they have to offer; fully reversible suits (the pants too!), jackets made with cool-max breathable linings, blouses with hidden elastic on the sleeves so you can push them up and they stay pushed up, and a sweater that can be worn four different ways. And pockets, lots of pockets. Taking men’s suit design a little farther and not just incorporating the interior pockets, but adapting them to today’s woman – pockets for pens, pockets for your phone and earbuds, and yes, pockets for your business cards. And no, you don’t suddenly appear bulky and strangely shaped when using said pockets, you look smart and actually turn heads because the jacket you’re wearing is attractive and distinctive too. Argent likes color as much as I do!

After combing through Argent’s website and seeing a lot of things that got me very excited, I needed a field trip to see, and more importantly, feel the fabrics for myself. Because as you may know, I’m a big fan of natural fibres, and dare I say it, a little old-fashioned when it comes to what I wear. I am increasingly disheartened at having to pay a lot of money for the essentially polyester suiting that is available at most retailers.

My dear friend and sometime style advisor (everyone needs a friend like this!) and I planned a field trip for a cold, cold January day to visit Argent’s pop-up DC location.

Field Trip to Argent

And oh, what fun we had! Because the stars aligned that day, and even though the first two places had hour-plus wait lists, the third let us sit down for lunch, and by some amazing luck, we got to Argent and discovered that the two founders were not in San Francisco and New York as they usually are, but here, in person, in DC. And they were thrilled that we were there too. And we got to hear first hand about the thinking behind this amazing design, how the fabrics are sourced and why they are chosen, and the reason Argent was started in the first place. Like most innovative businesses, out of frustration, but also because there are studies that show that the way a woman looks can impact her earning potential by as much as 40%.  Ugh. Clearly, we need functional, serious business lady clothes that make us look as amazing as we are.

The Completely Reversible Suit

I had to start with the reversible suit. I mean, really, how cool is that? A fully reversible suit? Yes, indeed! With interesting contrasting stitching details, a fun multi-length hem, and non-wrinkle, super packable fabric. I HAD to see this in person!

It didn’t look as fantastic online as I had hoped it might be, and truth be told, this is no wool suit, but it doesn’t matter. Because in real life it looks smart, professional, and a little sassy, and it FEELS amazing on. I almost never put on a pair of pants that actually fit properly without tailoring and these didn’t just fit, they were comfortable and I could really move in them. And all three pieces, the jacket, the pants, and the shell top are completely reversible. So, while you may pay a little more for this ensemble than you would at Ann Taylor, you’ve actually got the foundation of most of your working wardrobe right there. Argent manufactures all their garments themselves, in Manhattan’s garment district, and so removes the wholesale middleman. You get a made-in-the-USA piece that is the quality you’d find in a department store, without the big scale pricing.

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Now about those pockets. Argent’s jackets are either reversible, made with breathable linings, or constructed with an entire portable office’s worth of pockets. Which I road tested because my need for business wear (and pockets!) is more about local networking and less about traveling. I bought their most popular jacket, the crossbody, in tomato. And I tested it out, filling up the pockets with all that essential stuff I would normally carry in my handbag. I can say that I looked professional (and comfortable – every jacket has a little bit of stretch) and my loaded pockets didn’t make me look misshapen. I think I’m going to really love having this super versatile and super practical jacket in my wardrobe!

 

Pinstripes, Please

Here’s another of their fantastic, I’m no shrinking violet, suits. Now that’s a pinstripe! The top was also something unusual – things that fall away from the body don’t normally work for my shape, but this one did somehow. And what an interesting piece with its asymmetrical hem and multi-layer design.  I also tried the simple navy cropped blazer which fit and flattered me and had not just those amazing pockets, but a fun red contrast stitching.

Four Ways to Wear It

How about this for a great cost per wear piece? This sweater (also in black and white) can be worn four ways: front to back, back to front and turned inside out. That seems like a winner for anyone’s wardrobe. I think it would be fair to say that every piece I tried on could be dressed up or down, including this sweater.

Where to Find It

If you’re like me and you really appreciate good design, corporate color, and just plain old practicality, run, don’t walk, to Argent’s location in DC at 1921 8th St NW. And if you live somewhere else, Argent will ship to you at no cost, even including a free shipping return label if the item isn’t quite what you had in mind.

Aside from the fact that I really enjoyed spending time with Sali and Eleanor, (they clearly love what they do), I’m always going to support a woman owned small business when I can. And when that business is doing amazing things to revolutionize women’s office wear, I’ll be checking in regularly. My wardrobe needs more super cool clothing like this! Yours probably does too – give them a try – the clothes are much, much better than they look on the website.

About Argent

HI, WE’RE ARGENT—a collective on a mission to make clothing that equips women to take their seat at the table. Like many, we’re at our best when we look great, feel comfortable and don’t waste hate on our closet. So we made the wardrobe to achieve it.

We’re into those who take charge and make noise. But change can’t stop at the closet door. Join us in a community aiming to dropkick the glass ceiling.  

Here’s to changing the conversation—and your clothes.

NICE WORK.

Wool Winter Wonderland

We saw this amazing seamless, sequined cape worn by the designer herself! See video below.
We saw this amazing seamless, sequined cape worn by the designer herself! See video below.

My dear friend and I regularly find cultural events to attend; sometimes something artistic, sometimes something gastronomic. This past weekend we got a bit of both - a fashion show, with bubbly! and a whole new kind of people watching.

But that's not what this is about. This is about the fashions we saw: beautiful, forest nymph-like dresses fashioned from wool felt. It was the spring collection, but it got me to thinking about wool felt as a fiber choice.

Wool Felt IS Warm

Now you know I'm always looking for ways to stay warm. What I didn't know is that felted wool is much warmer than woven wool (nowhere for air to sneak in), and with a much greater warmth to weight ratio. It's incredibly time consuming to make (Elynn at Amano Studios has some great videos illustrating the process), and tends to be strictly hand crafted as a result. Which can be both good and bad.

Good because you end up with beautiful, one of a kind garments that can be truly show stopping. Bad because that could you mean you take your appreciation of the art form a little too far into the fringe. I think you know what I mean!

Wool Felt for the Office

So I set out to see what I could find that could be suitable to wear for statement making office dressing.  I had to get past all the slippers, hats, and other extremely arty things that are typically made from wool felt, but I did indeed find some wonderful felted items.

The brown sleeveless top and the red 'sweater' could work in just about any office setting and are certainly more defining than something from Ann Taylor. Interestingly enough, many of these felted items are made by craftspeople in Russia - they just might know a thing or two about handling cold weather! The white sculptural top is a little more casual, but the detail alone is interesting enough to pass muster in most environments. I think they all have tremendous versatility as well as maximum seasonable wearability on their own or with some carefully chosen layers.

Some more office worthy jackets that are decidedly statement making. Felt is so interesting because it is often shaped into garments without any seams, or combined with other fibers to make beautiful embellishments. The blue oversize jacket in the middle I can see both as a dressed up or a dressed down piece, either layered or not.

If full-on felt is a little too 'artsy' for you, you could still add that statement making impact with a felt scarf like these:

All by Elynn at Amano Studios.

Special Occasion Felt

Now for something really show stopping and ultra feminine, you could do much worse than these beautiful felted dresses. I'm fairly certain you would turn heads for all the right reasons wearing one of these! Left, emerald green silk with felted flowers. Right, all wool felt.

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As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, many of the wonderful pieces we saw at the fashion show were sylph-like and made me think of goddesses in the woods. Not necessarily what you want on a day to day basis. But for a special occasion, Irena Levkovich of Wool Wonders has some absolutely fantastic pieces, like this collar. I don't know where or how I would wear it, just that I desperately want to!

We enjoyed Irena's Wool Wonders fashion show and I even had a chance to talk with Irena herself. She features tutorials online and runs felt classes in Northern Virginia - maybe something my friend and I will find ourselves signing up for in 2018.

And here's what we saw last weekend:

Surely a Shearling

Faux fur 'toque'. That's Canadian (well, First Nations) for 'fur hat'.
Faux fur 'toque'. That's Canadian (well, First Nations) for 'fur hat'.

Well, it looks like we might get our first seriously wintery weather in DC tomorrow. And as you probably know, I don’t deal so well with the cold. I’m still searching for that marvelous locale where there are seasons (for my husband), but mild and not so variable temperatures for me . . .

I’ve done my best to prepare for the impending colder weather; I’ve invested in 'fur' lined leggings, added some more wool and heavier weight jackets, bumped up my layers to cashmere plus underlayers, and bought this fun fur hat that I think will work even for ‘fancy’ outfits!

But it won’t be enough.

So I thought I would investigate some out-of-the ordinary options for staying warm. None of which are in my budget range, mind you. (If you’ve lived somewhere truly cold recently, please share with me how stylish people remain stylish AND warm when they aren’t in the top income bracket!)

Shearling Makes a Showing

Featured on the runways at Fashion Week for Fall/Winter 2017, shearling has for me always been something more casual and country. Think beige coat with shearling collar and cuffs. However, shearling is now neither casual or country, unless you want it to be. And it has a price tag to match. All photos Harpers Bazaar Fashion Week 2017 - left to right: Prada, Proenza Schouler, Miu Miu, Hermes.

Genuine shearling is the tanned hide from a sheep with the wool left attached. It can be dyed, trimmed, worn as leather or suede and with the wooly part either inside or out. It’s remarkably warm (you don’t see sheep shivering on the hillside do you?), hard wearing, and probably super cozy. I don’t know, because genuine shearling is in the four-figure price range. (!). These marvelous coats from Blue Duck are entirely too yummy - left to right: reversible shearling, grooved multi-texture shearling, color block shearling, karacul (astrakhan) reversible shearling.

Or something a little more street style. Both genuine shearling and therefore expensive. L: Badgley Mischka. R: Trouve. Both at Nordstrom.

What most of us wear and what you see in the store is faux shearling. Which really has none of the properties of the real stuff and is just about a certain sort of look, generally not the one I’m going for. But this can be had for three figures, the low kind. I do kind of like this velvet one, but can't see how you would ever fasten the belt at your hip? Both at Nordstrom. L: Blank NYC. R: Kut from the Kloth 'Abigail'.

Since this post is about staying stylish and warm, I started thinking about some of the more expensive clothing items that we KNOW are warm, but are out of reach of most of us. Shearling, fur, silk and wool are all known for their insulating properties, but hmm, seem to be the exclusive reserve of the wealthier among us. Even Canada Goose parkas, known to be the warmest coats around, are in the four figure range.

What they all have in common is an animal source. Now I came of age in the time when fur was not the thing to be wearing. Never mind that my Canadian relatives all wore it (Yes it is warm! Yes, it feels amazing!), I wouldn’t wear fur on principle for a long time. But in researching this post, I thought “how is shearling any different than fur?” In both cases the animal must give its life. Same for the goose down coat. And come to think of it, same for the leather shoes and boots I prefer.

The reality is that we rely upon animals for our health and comfort. Most of us eat meat. Most of us purchase and wear leather footwear and bags. We may own a leather or suede jacket. And we may even have a fur or shearling coat. Maybe it’s time for me to ease up on my fur ban and stop feeling so miserably cold during the winter. But since it’s not the done thing where I live, maybe I just need a fur-lined coat. Or maybe a shearling coat. I think I may have to find somewhere to try one of these on . . .

And if you've been horribly offended by my statements on fur and shearling, have a look at this article by National Geographic on fur rearing done right.