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My mother-in-law kept about the cleanest house of anyone I knew and she was sweet to boot, so whenever she offered a tip, I would listen because she always did it to share information and never to criticize.  One tip she gave me was to never use fabric softener on towels – it does make them soft but also makes them less absorbent.  So I haven’t used fabric softener on my towels for years.  I was visiting my sister last week and noticed that while her towels were a little silkier than mine, it was harder to get dry.  My towels are by no means rough and I much prefer having them be very absorbent rather than a little bit of added softness.  In addition, I recently bought a set of hand towels that are a cotton/bamboo blend.  I have noticed that they so far are a little silkier than my other towels without using fabric softener and still very absorbent.  These towels are Vera Wang towels from Kohl’s – I got them on sale with a 30% off coupon so they were very reasonably priced.  Next time I get another good coupon I will probably replace a few bath towels.

But back to fabric softener.  Yesterday I was washing bedding and ran my son’s blanket and an afghan through the washer.  I have completely stopped using fabric softener at all – I have read and heard in various places that it essentially deposits a coating on your clothes that can build up on your clothes and in your washer.  When we bought a high efficiency (HE) front loading washer last year (my 20 year old washer blew its transmission and spurted transmission fluid all over a load of sheets – what fun!), I did a lot of research and much advice about keeping the machine running clean and efficiently recommended using only HE detergent and avoiding additives like fabric softener as much as possible.  So I just stopped using fabric softener on most occasions and don’t really see a difference in our clothes.

Yesterday, however, I did add just a dribble when I washed the blanket and afghan.  They seem to build up a lot of static electricity and a touch of fabric softener seems to help with that.  But I just added a dribble to the dispenser – certainly did not need a whole capful.  In the dead of winter when everything is quite dry, I might also add a tiny bit of softener to loads of wash, but otherwise I don’t use it.  I think the bottle I have may last me for several years!

So my household tip for the day is to try leaving out the fabric softener if you use it and see what you think.  If things are too rough or full of static, start using it again, but start with a really small amount and build up until you get the results you want.  Not only will you save money and reduce the amount of unnecessary manmade chemicals you come in contact with, but it’s possible you might extend the life of your clothes and appliances.

Hope this tip helps.

Best regards,

Lynn

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A few weeks ago I wrote a post about trying to update my wardrobe before I start back to work in fall.  I started by getting a cute new haircut and buying some moderate height heels to replace my usual flats once in a while.  I determined that the most needed additions to my wardrobe included a stylish spring/fall coat, a couple of pairs of more stylish jeans to wear with heels, at least one tailored white blouse, and some interesting accessories.

I did do some looking around locally, but did not find anything to get me too excited, so I decided I would have to venture someplace bigger to have some better shopping choices.  My sister was on vacation last week, so I went to visit her in the Chicago area, where I could have more shopping options than I would know what to do with.

On our first afternoon out, she took me to Nordstrom Rack.  What a great store!  I must have tried on 20 pairs of jeans and about a dozen tops.  It gave me a chance to try some of the high end brands, like True Religion and 7 for All Mankind and to realize that those brands are cut for juniors with the very low rise and just were not what I was looking for.    On the other hand, a brand like Not My Daughter’s Jeans, which is supposed to cater to someone like me, still had that dreaded high-waisted “mom jean” feel.  However, I was rewarded for my trouble – I found the perfect compromise in a pair of Jag jeans – nice fit and waist that was not too high and not too low.  The only catch was that they only had them in one length that would be even too long on me with heels, but I bought them and will take them to be hemmed.   I called several local shops to get prices on hemming and it looks like it should be no more than $12 when I figure out where I should take them.

I also found a very cute pleated cotton jersey top that can take the place of one of the old boring polo shirts I always wear to work.  I knew it was ok when I brought it home and my teen daughter exclaimed enthusiastically, “wow, that’s cute!”  I also got a very soft plain white tee to wear under a low cut tunic that I bought last year and have been unable to wear to work because of the neckline.  I am not a fan of camisoles (I want better than the little bit of built in support they come with), so this tee is a good compromise.  Last, I bought a very classy looking lined lace shell.  The lace is sort of variegated in shades of brown and beige and I love the colors.  I don’t know about wearing sleeveless tops at work, so I will look for some kind of light shrug to wear over it.

So, 3 tops and one pair of jeans at Nordstrom Rack for $93 with tax.  I will definitely pop back in up there whenever I have time during future trips to Chicagoland.

The next day we went to one of those outlet malls.  One of the first places we walked into was Michael Kors.  They had a nice above the knee trench coat on clearance for $79.  While I was trying that on, my sister found a navy oil cloth coat with a different cut and when I tried that on, I thought, “this is the coat.”  Unfortunately, its price tag said $179 and the saleswoman said it was not on clearance.

We decided to continue shopping and I found a well-fitting pair of jeans at Ann Taylor.  I also had an epiphany.  Under current vanity sizing trends, I usually wear a size 4 (funny – I used to be a size 8 and I am no smaller than I was then, but suddenly I am a 4…).  However, when I try on a size 4 and  it doesn’t fit quite right, I conclude it is a problem with the style and not the size.  At Ann Taylor, the size 4 was not quite right so I tried a size 2 – perfect!  Same with a blouse I tried on.  It fit OK in the size I thought I wore, but when I went one size down, it fit much better.  I concluded that I might be buying clothes too large and need to start with smaller sizes and work my way up rather than try on something, see it “fit”, and end up with something that’s actually a little too big and boxy.

Anyhow, after paying for my jeans at Ann Taylor ($47 with tax – way more than I usually spend but way less than some of the premium brands I thought I might need to go to for a good cut and fit, and these should not need hemming), we returned to Michael Kors to look at jackets again.  As I was painfully concluding that even if it was $100 more, I preferred the navy jacket, the saleswoman came over to apologize profusely because she had not actually checked the current price at the register when I had first asked if the jacket was on clearance and it turned out that it was.  I told her that it made my day to find out the coat I wanted most was on clearance for $79, so I cheerfully bought it.

With that, my sister and I ran out of steam and headed home.  I still have about $150 left in my self-imposed budget to find my tailored white shirt and some accessories.  I thought it was a productive shopping trip.

Best regards,

Lynn

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I bought some new shoes yesterday.  I needed to go out for some groceries and thought that as long as I was driving, I would head back to the mall and look again at the heeled dress shoes I had admired last week.  You may recall that I photographed them with my cell phone since I wasn’t sure of my own taste, and all my favorite style critics (hubby, daughter, sister) said they were cute, so I figured I would go back, try them on again, and buy them if I still liked them.

They still had my size and indeed the shoes were as comfy and stylish as I recalled, so I took them to the desk to be held while I continued looking.  They had a buy one get one half off deal, and being an inveterate bargain hunter, I had to make every effort to find a second pair of shoes.

My current favorite comfy shoes are a pair of Van’s slip-on clogs in beige suede with red trim that dyes my socks pink when my shoes get wet.  The beige isn’t very beige anymore and the soles are wearing away, so I knew that these shoes needed to be replaced and thought that style be darned, I wanted to replace my comfy shoes.  Due to narrow heels, I get the best fit using clogs as every day shoes.  Clarks are a favorite brand, but they only had one pair of Clarks clogs in the store and I didn’t like the style.  I found a pair of light brown suede clogs that were very comfortable and a bit narrower through the upper than my old clogs, making them look a little less clunky.

Combined with the BOGO offer and my university discount, I walked out with two pair of shoes for just under $55 including tax.   Here is a photo:

IMG_2365

I am happy with what happened here for a couple of reasons.  Reason number one was that I have two new pairs of fairly comfy shoes, both of which are somewhat stylish, or at least not old lady looking.  I was able to meet my shopping criterion of improving my style while still satisfying my desire to be comfortable.  Reason two; I got some new things for my fall wardrobe without spending a fortune.  Between my haircut last week and my new shoes, I still have $385 left in my arbitrary fall budget.  Lastly, I am pleased because I was able to find things in balance.

I don’t know that this is true for everyone, but I am most content when things are in balance.  Not too cheap, not too expensive.   A little stylish, yet still comfortable.  It is nice to know that sometimes in life; we can have a little bit of what we want, along with what we need.  (Did I just steal an idea from a famous rock band?:))

That’s all I’ve got for today.  Let’s all strive for balance, eh?  A little work, a little play.  A little healthy food, a little indulgence.

Best regards,

Lynn

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Yesterday’s haircut appointment was a wonderful success.  The salon I went to is a spin-off from a salon I have gone to off and on over the years.  It’s probably the most expensive place in town, but likely cheap relative to more cosmopolitan places.  The last salon I went to was only slightly cheaper and their products were WAY expensive.

The salon I went to yesterday was clean and bright and very modern looking.  Everyone working there was dressed in black, with matching black aprons for the stylists.  Only moments after I arrived, the stylist came out to greet me.  At her chair, we spend a good 5-10 minutes discussing what to do with my hair and she was attentive and asked several questions.  Next step was a seated massage and hand steam in a dim room – ah, pampering.  Then on to the shampoo room, then back to the chair for the cut.  She took her time and adjusted a bit of the cut when I had a concern.  She also spent a good time styling my hair and discussing how I might go about it at home.  Lastly, she took me up front for a “makeup refresh” – a light dusting of powder and some lip color.

At no point did she try to sell me product, in fact she was pretty conservative in her use of product – only mousse and root lifter.   On our way to the desk to check out, I asked her about products and she said, “well, the hairspray and root lifter you said you were using at home will work fine.  You can always come back later and get the mousse if you want.”    I told her that I’d like to get the mousse while I was there, so she took me over to get some and showed me the prices before I went to pay.  Cheaper than the other salon and these are Aveda products, which I love.

My total bill including product and tip came to $60.  I was there just over an hour.  I thought it was a great experience and will go back.  She also told me that in between haircuts I can pop in for a $5 bang trim if I need one – that is one of the issues I have with haircuts – the bangs grow out so darn fast and I really don’t like to go back for a haircut any earlier than 8-10 weeks later.  What can I say – I am cheap, busy, and lazy!

So, what kind of cut did I get?  Well, I went from hair that had been growing out for a year, so not much of a style – hitting mid-back and bangs pushed to the side since they were down to my chin!  She gave me a cute chin length bob that is layered such that it has some volume when dried.  Piecey bangs cut comfortably about my brows.  She said I could push them to the side if they got too long and I couldn’t get in for a trim.  Really cute and I was amazed how well the Aveda mousse held the style all day (and it was over 90 and WAY humid) without any other help.  My hair is pretty straight and fine and tends to collapse easily.

It still looked good this morning and I debated whether I should try to wash and style myself or try to preserve what she had done.  I figured I had to do it sooner or later, so I gave it a try.  Not as cute as when she did it but not bad.  I am a bit klutzy trying to work a round brush and a blow dryer at the same time!

As long as I was out, I decided I would get to work on the wardrobe planning as well.  Driving to the salon, I got the idea that it might help me if my wardrobe revitalization plan was not too open ended – I have my list of things I am looking for, so I decided I also needed to narrow down a bit and focus on one season and set some kind of budget.  So I thought, let’s set a budget of $500 and focus on the fall wardrobe.

Now to most fashionistas, a $500 budget is nothing.  But to a conservative Midwesterner like me, it feels quite generous.  To those who might say it is outrageous (and there will be a few, I’m sure), let me say that I have a decent job, am extremely conservative about spending, and could not tell you the last time I actually bought a piece of clothing and if I did, it probably cost no more than ten bucks!  It seems like a good amount to let me stretch for some good pieces without being ridiculous.  And it will include my haircut, shoes, accessories, etc., so we are already down to $440…

Anyhow, as I was leaving the salon, I spied a cute little boutique across the way and popped in.  Generally I don’t go to boutiques – too expensive and I like big anonymous stores where I can dash in and out without anyone trying to help me.  The lady working at the boutique was friendly in her greeting and then left me alone.  I saw some cute trench coats on sale, but despite the store being nice and cool inside, mentally I just did not want to try a coat on in 90 degree heat!  When I got home, my husband said, well, that’s the best time to shop for a coat, because they are on sale.  Oh well.  I may try to go back soon.  They had some really cute chunky pendants in their jewelry case – bold amber pieces, which I love, and they were pretty reasonable.  But I figure I need a few staples first before I move on to accessories.

I decided to head to our mall and assess just what they had before I assumed I had to go to Indy or Chicago for good shopping.  Macy’s was full of old ladies and old lady clothes.  They do have a juniors department, but most of that looked too young.  With work, I could find something there, but probably need to focus elsewhere.  They did have an incredibly crisp white button down shirt in the petites by Jones New York.  Price was about 60 bucks and it was nicer than the one I saw at the Gap for $44.  I just worry about a $60 white shirt – ooooh, I am sooooo klutzy, I know I would spill mustard on it the first day I wore it!

My mission was fact-finding so I hadn’t planned on trying things on, but I did see some nice medium heeled shoes in The Rack Room and tried them on.  Cute and comfy but I got paranoid about my taste and took pictures with my cell phone to go home and ask people for opinions.  The Gap had some promising jeans.  I went ahead and tried on some Levi’s in Kohl’s – am I the only one who gets annoyed with vanity sizing??  I started and finished college as a size 8, have had two kids, and am certainly no smaller  now than I was 20 years ago, and yet somehow a Levi’s size 4 is now too big on me!  Are they really fooling anyone?

My conclusion was that a trip to Indy is indeed in order.  Keystone at the Crossing has a Nordstrom’s and a Sak’s as well as several smaller stores to check out.  I will try to make a day trip there sometime in the next few weeks.  I will keep you posted.

For now, stay cool!  My cousin in Germany is freezing in 50 degree weather and I am roasting in 90 degree weather – wish we could put our climates together and average them out!

Best regards,

Lynn

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I just finished reading Kendall Farr’s The Pocket Stylist and found it quite interesting and helpful.  I only wish she had some pictures!  What I learned meshed well with the plan that has been formulating in my head for the reworking of my wardrobe.    I preferred her message of dressing to flatter your body type rather than that of Christine Schwab, whose book, The Grown-Up Girl’s Guide to Style,  seemed like a giant book of “don’ts” with not a lot of help on the “do’s.”

Before reading Kendall Farr’s book, I had started to formulate a plan.  My work environment is somewhat casual.  Most of the other professors wear khakis and button downs or polo shirts unless they need to be in a suit for a meeting or jeans to work in the lab.  I developed a similar uniform of khakis with flats and polo shirts in warm weather, then switching to turtlenecks in place of the polos when the weather turned cool.  Last year I did add a few belts to my wardrobe at my husband’s suggestion and they did help pull my look together and also emphasized that I have a nice waist.  Overall safe and appropriate, but BORING.

I also have several pairs of jeans in my wardrobe – last year I bought a couple pairs of dark wash flared jeans that were in current style, but somehow they didn’t look quite right on me.  From Ms. Farr’s book, I realized that with my small frame, I might be better off with less of a flare – maybe a boot cut.  AND, here’s the biggie, maybe it’s time to move away from those comfy flats to at least a small heel to get a little length in my legs.

I fall pretty clearly into Ms. Farr’s type B body type, which is shoulders and hips of about the same proportion with a defined waist.  She suggests that for this body type you emphasize your nice waist but wearing clothes that are fitted to show off that feature.  Since I am also petite, I need to work on getting more of a long line.  Really, it is not rocket science, and I can DO rocket science, so fashion should be a snap, ha!

So, here’s the plan.  I am going to start reworking my wardrobe gradually.  Over time I would like to accumulate the following as the foundation of my wardrobe:

  • At least one pair of knockout perfect fitting jeans – time to relax my spending limit on jeans – I hate to pay over $20 and tend to shop the sales at Kohl’s , but one nice pair of high end jeans might be better than 3 or 4 pairs of so-so jeans.
  • A couple of tailored button down shirts, with at least one being white.  I have a white button down, but it is a bit oversized and now I see I need to move away from bulky.
  • I struggle with coats.  My husband finally made me throw out several coats that I inherited from his mother, but I still wear her very nice, but a little too big trench coat.  I need to find a more fitted trench coat, maybe starting with a mid-thigh length rather than the longer ones, which tend to overwhelm my height.
  • Let’s not even talk about winter coats, but I do need one.  Rust colored puffy coat that my husband bought me a few Christmases ago is sporty, but not very stylish.
  • Shoes are a struggle for me.  I really worship comfort.  I love the look of pumps but can’t stand to wear them day in and day out.  I need to find some mid-height heels (Ms. Farr says shoot for 1.5- 2.5 inch heels for everyday) and convince myself to incorporate them into my day to day wardrobe.
  • This isn’t really part of the wardrobe, but I am WAY overdue for a haircut.  Last summer I cut off about 9 inches of hair to donate to Pantene Beautiful Lengths (I was inspired by a magazine ad showing that Hilary Swank had donated her hair) and ended up with a nice, new look.  I went to the same salon for the follow-up haircut and started to realize that it was ok, but didn’t really excite me and though the stylist was nice, I wasn’t really connecting with her.  I got too busy to try to find someone new and so my hair has been growing out for almost a year.  I could almost donate again!  But I am definitely looking shapeless and overgrown.  I am not too salon paranoid so I just have to give myself a kick and call one of the nicer salons in town and make an appointment!  Ok, ha, I just made an appointment for this afternoon!
  • Lastly, I will work on accessories.  I have found that I love belts and want to incorporate them more into my look, since they seem to work for my figure.    I always wear a necklace, watch, rings, and small stud earrings, but often wear the same pieces out of habit rather than what pulls together the looks, so I will start thinking more about that.

So there I have the starting point.  It should help with both my work and casual wardrobe, though for the 90 degree days we’ve been having lately, all bets are off!  Summer is a whole ‘nother problem!

I hope to start with the jeans first.  We have a Macy’s in town, but that’s about as high end as we go.  I will look there for nice jeans, but I don’t think they carry some of the major high end labels.  I will be in Chicago soon but I won’t have time for shopping, so I may try a day trip to Indianapolis by myself later this month.

I will keep you posted!  Wish me luck with the haircut.

Best regards,

Lynn

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Don’t ask me how I got started on this, but the other day I told my husband, “I would like to go back to work in the fall with a really hot wardrobe.”  A few minutes later, I amended, “well, maybe not hot, but classy.”  He, my daughter, and I went on to have the discussion about what would happen if I went on the TLC show “What Not to Wear.”  I think Clinton and Stacey would throw out every single thing I own.  A collection of logo t-shirts from various vacation destinations is probably not a suitable casual wardrobe in their eyes.  And my work uniform of polo shirts and various dockers with slip on clogs probably wouldn’t make the cut either.  Should my family actually submit an application for me to the show, I think I might not make a good candidate since the people they show tend to be resistant, where I would be like, “woo hoo, please just tell me what to do.”   Then  again, I am not at all a big fan of skirts and dresses unless I am going to a wedding, and it seems to me that any “fashionable” wardrobe leans more than half towards skirts and dresses.   But, I am unlikely to be on TLC anytime soon, so I guess I am on my own.

How does a petite 40 something go about a wardrobe makeover?  Well, for starters, I need new shoes!  my go-to shoes have been a pair of ladies Vans slip-on clogs that I have had for several years.  I sort of bought them as a joke when my son got back into skateboarding (ha, Mom has skateboarding shoes!) but they are immensely comfortable.  I always have cold feet and will never be found without socks, even in the summer, and the Vans fit nicely with my socks.  But, they are dirty and wearing out on the bottom and let’s face it, they look really stupid with shorts.

Last year I did buy a couple pairs of slip on flats, which I wore to work with thinner black socks, so I suppose that’s a start.  I have never gotten the hang of wearing shoes without socks, with the exception of sandals.  And I have some nice heels, but the comfort monster rears its ugly head, so they don’t get worn too often.

But maybe the outfits come first.  I do have a tendency to buy cheaply.  I need to move away from that.  I was reading a style forum recently and one poster suggested putting together one really terrific outfit, one that makes you look in the mirror and go, “YES!”  From there, take one piece from that outfit and buy something else that goes with it to make a second outfit.  And so on.  Maybe that’s the thing to do.  I have been thinking, for cool weather, I absolutely LOVE cashmere, and have a collection of about 4 nice cashmere turtlenecks.  If you can believe it, two of them came from Sam’s Club!  I know, cheap cheap cheap.  The others came from Macy’s, on sale.  None are great quality.  So maybe a first step is to splurge on a REALLY nice piece of cashmere.

Of course, those of you who have been reading my blog are familiar with “Darwin’s Garden.”  Perhaps the same could be applied to my wardrobe – “Darwin’s Wardrobe.”  Survival of the fittest applies to clothing too – it it can’t be washed and dried in a machine, it is generally rejected, or wrecked.  The cashmere is the exception although it has been known to get a quick swish in the washer with some Woolite and then spun out.  I am not much for hand-washing and even less thrilled with the idea of weekly trips to the dry-cleaner.

So, any fashionistas out there?  Any advice?  Also, living in a relatively small college town limits some of my options.   I could take a trip to Indianapolis or Chicago to shop, but really wouldn’t know where to start.    I may start working on how to approach this wardrobe problem this week and let you know how it goes.  I read a good review for the following book:

Style Evolution: How to Create Ageless Personal Style in Your 40s and Beyond, by Kendall Farr

Pardon the shouting font – I copied it from Amazon that way and can’t seem to figure out how to change fonts!  Anyhow, it looks interesting but my library does not have a copy and I am not sure I want to buy it yet.  Instead I put one  of her earlier books on hold at the library to see how I like what she has to say.

Be healthy (eat your colorful choices – I have had 2 servings of fruit so far today) and be fashionable,

Best regards,

Lynn

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