Shopping for clothes isn't easy, & if you've ever watched "What Not to Wear" or other makeover shows, you realize that immediately. It's not just difficult for "hard to fit" women -- let's face it, we're all hard to fit because clothing is manufactured in arbitrary sizes that vary from one brand to another, & that is simply not going to correspond to the myriad of shapes that actual human beings come in! No, no, shopping is difficult for everyone because we have a huge variety of needs, wishes, desires, budgets, time available, *and* sizes to deal with, not to mention we have to take the current trends into account since that will affect what's available in many stores or online (& may or may not affect how we wish to present ourselves to the world).
Still, with all those caveats, it's possible to find clothing pieces that will suit you at many shopping venues, in a range of prices, most of the year. You have to keep an open mind & be willing to work at it, however.
Here are some of my tips, specifically for ladies interested in gothic/alternative styles & needing office-appropriate fashions...
Start with the basics. Every woman needs items like straight skirts, simple blouses, layering pieces (like long-sleeve & short-sleeves tees & camisoles), classic trousers, a good jacket, cardigans, & maybe some jeans & leggings. These are wardrobe building blocks. A goth gal might have them primarily in black, with a few in grey, white, & jewel tones.
Look for the structured pieces like skirts, jackets, & pants at department stores & higher quality boutiques & chains. This is where you shop very mainstream -- think Talbots, Loft, NY & Company, Express, Macy's, Dillards, Nordstrom. You want simple, classic garments that will last for 5-10 years & will go with anything. You can pair a black pencil skirt or A-line skirt with a million different tops, it could go from the office to a nightclub, from lunch with your parents to cocktails with your pals, it will be a true wardrobe workhorse. Don't skimp on price or quality!
On the other hand, you can go cheaper with tops, especially layering pieces. Buy a half-dozen T-shirts & camis at Old Navy or Target -- black, white, every dark shade, & any dark stripe. You can wear these under sweaters, jackets, & dresses or wear them alone with skirts & pants. They'll go with work outfits & with weekend gear.
Get creative with the top layer. Sweaters, blouses, & jackets are a good place to add fun to your outfit. Look for patterns, prints, & details like ruffles & pleating, even sequins or metallic threads. Go for unusual or rich fabrics such as velvet, velveteen, silk, & leather, either in whole garments or in accents. Dark, rich colors will be more common in the stores during fall & winter, & they'll be on clearance after Christmas / New Years.
Consider all styles of dresses. While skirts & pants are wardrobe workhorses, dresses can be lifesavers on busy mornings. Just throw on a dress, & you're essentially done. So it pays to find out what dress styles suit your body shape & personal preferences. Unfortunately, this means trying on a ton of different dresses!
You may think that you're not the "dress" type or that only certain dresses work for you. But maybe the real issue is that you haven't tried on enough dresses, pure & simple. A-line skirts, empire waists, sheath dresses, tunics, V necks, scoop necks, different sleeve shapes, etc., etc. -- all of these details look different on different bodies.
Don't forget to accessorize. Interesting belts, scarves, hair do-dads, jewelry, & shoes can really complete an outfit & make it personal. Plus, you can draw attention towards the best parts of you & away from whatever you might not be as interested in. For example, a belt can define an hourglass figure, a statement necklace can point towards fabulous cleavage, earrings can show off a delicate neck, scarves can elongate a short frame.
Don't forget that different types of accessories work differently -- wide vs. skinny belts, belts placed at different spots on your waist, long vs. short scarves, scarves tied in various ways, etc.
Bonus point: Accessories can be cheaper than clothing pieces! Buy wacky, fun accessories at Forever 21, Hot Topic, & Claire's, or find unique stuff on Etsy or ArtFire, or make your own from craft-store parts. For a few bucks, you can change an outfit from plain & simple to snazzy & wild.
Consider alterations. Yeah, it's expensive to have a garment tailored. But it's not crazy-stupid expensive. It's not like buying-a-designer-handbag-or-shoes expensive. You can pay $10 to $20 to get pants or skirts or jacket sleeves shortened or $50 for more major alterations. Add that to the price of the original clothing item, & sure, you've paid more, but then you'll have something that fits well & flatters your unique shape.
Did you know that most everything celebs wear & all the stuff on those makeover shows is altered to fit? It's true, & Clinton Kelly admits it. For that matter, all the clothes worn before about 1920 were custom-made or at least finished to fit -- mass-produced sizing is a pretty new concept. So if you want a truly good fit, no matter your size, the best bet is to make changes to the garment. If you're petite, have hemlines & sleeves taken up & waistlines snugged up. If you're tall or busty, buy a larger size & have the garment fitted to you by a pro.
Obviously, this is a better investment on higher quality garments, not cheap stuff from Target. But tailoring a few good dresses, jackets, & skirts, will give you some awesome go-to outfits for any day of the week.
All of these basics will give your wardrobe a grounded place to start from for an artsy, creative, yet office-appropriate look. It's not simple or fast, of course, because it does require a lot of shopping & trying many things on, including things you may not think will work for you. But experimentation, looking at items & in stores you might never have looked before, is how you'll discover what really works & where you can shop in the future.
- Styling a Single Piece Multiple Ways
-- Sal of Already Pretty shows how a basic black skirt can look totally
different just by combing it with other wardrobe items.
- How to Find a Blazer Jacket That Fits -- Excellent tips from Alterations Needed on what to look for in a great jacket, plus ideas of what reasonable alterations might be needed in even the best of them.
- How to Buy Good Trousers -- Super-detailed analysis of the construction details that separate high-quality pants from poor quality ones, from No Signposts in the Sea. Once you recognize good trousers, those are ones worth alterations too.
What I'm wearing: Black piped jacket, Spiegel | Black T-shirt, Target | Black & white print skirt, White House Black Market | Black tights, Hue | Black kitten-heel pointy shoes, Aldo | Black & white beaded necklace, made by me