The Simple Wardrobe, Part IV: Dresses and Skirts

 
Dress: Secondhand, similar here
   
I don't believe in the little black dress- even when I owned one, I always wished it were red. Though many women prefer separates, for ease, versatility, and impact, nothing beats a fitted dress. When carefully chosen, it can serve as a skirt, top, or stand-alone ensemble. While there's no specific formula for how many you should have, or what types you should wear, a good dress should always have a transformative effect, not necessarily on appearance, but on mood. The best dresses uplift and energize us; they are like armor, galvanizing and invigorating. I think of them as weapons in my arsenal. It can be a power move, wearing a dress to a big interview or meeting- in this day and age (or at least, in this city), it feels original and unexpected.

I still express myself fully through my clothes. When I'm in a sunny mood, I wear the shirtdress. The navy dress makes me feel assertive and confident. Pink is for quiet, introspective moods, when I want to look feminine or serious. Fun, celebratory occasions merit the red dress- I can wear it backwards, with or without a cardigan, for a more office-appropriate look. This summer, I have two sundresses, washable, cotton and linen; I swam through rivers, bicycled, and climbed mountains in them. They're relaxed enough for lounging around or entertaining in the apartment, but respectful enough to wear on a city street or vacation.

I've had one black wool skirt since 2010. It was one of my first really nice pieces, secondhand, reflecting a desire to be taken more seriously at work. I love the subtle flared hem, the way it flips when I walk, and the rustle of the silk lining. Woven wool and hemmed just below the knee, it's one of those seasonless classics I'll still wear when I'm fifty.

Choose fully lined dresses and skirts if you'll be wearing them year-round, and natural fibers for seasonal, unlined pieces. Air and brush regularly to extend life span, and use wood hangers and ribbon loops to preserve the pretty neckline or waist of each item. Wide, molded hangers reduce stress on the fabric- skinny velvet, plastic, and wire hangers won't do the trick!

Read the rest of the simple wardrobe series:


Paris to Go

25 comments:

  1. Hi Ariana! Do you purchase your secondhand items online, or in shops as you find them? I've been trying to adopt buying secondhand, but I've had trouble finding the pieces I've been envisioning. Thanks!

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    1. Hi, thanks for your comment! I mostly purchase in thrift shops, but for specific things (like bridesmaid's dresses, or my winter coat) I buy online. I like The RealReal because they post measurements, have major sales, give store credit, and use the least packaging possible, including paper tape. Usually Etsy or eBay sellers are really accommodating too. The red dress is from The RealReal and the rest were from shops. Sometimes I go a long time without finding anything in secondhand stores! Actually, I didn't like the skirt or navy dress at first, but I needed them, so I hemmed and adjusted them- now they're my favorites. What pieces are you looking for in particular, if you don't mind sharing? Maybe someone could help!

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    2. Thanks for the reply! I have used the RealReal once...I ordered an Alexander Wang blazer that I loved but it just didn't fit me correctly (his shoulder pads were huge on my frame). I'd like to use them more but their return shipping can get pricey if items don't fit well. I have been searching for a simple white dress that can be dressed up or down. It needs to hit mid thigh on me, and I want to be able to wear a bra with it. You think that would be easy to find, but sometimes the simple basics are the most difficult. I just recently discovered Reformation. They are made in America and are environmentally conscious. I think they might be a good option for those foundation pieces that I want to keep for a long time. Thanks for all the inspiration- I love your blog!

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    3. Ah, I didn't know they charged for return shipping! Before I got married I used them more, especially to sell clothes, but at the time it was free returns and free clothing pickup. They have changed a lot and I find the website harder to navigate and the prices... well, pricier now. I have two items from there now- my winter coat and red dress- I just couldn't find anything that fit all my requirements in stores here. I just heard about Reformation, I think I read about it on the Notepasser? Hopefully more companies like that spring up- plus it's something different from Everlane. Do you know the brand Base Range? They are based in France, with production in Turkey and Portugal, and they know all their workers and pay them a fair wage. They use bamboo, linen, wild silk, and cotton, and divert as much waste as possible. Anyway Base Range has a lot of clean, simple basics. Several readers have recommended Rennes as well for sustainable, well-made basics and special pieces, although I'm not familiar with the brand.

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  2. I have the same problem, coupled with a tiny budget. I've had to settle for placeholders, and because I don't particularly love them, I find I have a lot of clothes because I just keep shopping. It's stressing me out. Right now I primarily shop on Twice, but hopefully now that my closet is full, I can save up and replace items that wear out with things I like better. I love your wardrobe, it's something I aspire to, having a carefully curated wardrobe of a few really lovely flattering pieces. I saw that red dress on TheRealReal, after it sold! I wonder if it was the same one you bought...

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    1. Hi Emilie! Thank you so much, you are so sweet. Could any of your placeholders be refashioned into something you like better? Or are there any clothes swaps in your area?

      I originally started shopping at thrift stores, not for environmental concerns, but because my budget was so woefully limited. The right reasons came later... Some of my friends use Twice and Threadflip, would you recommend the site to other readers? How funny that you saw the dress!

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    2. I hope you can see my reply to myself...that sounds strange. Sadly, I live in a very casual Canadian city, not much Dior over here, so clothing swaps are out. I have one blouse set aside for refashion (actually, it's tent sized so I'll just be using the fabric to make a whole new blouse). It's nice clothing, just nothing spectacular, and I don't love it, but it serves me for now. I do recommend Twice, their prices are fair, and I've found some nice pieces (including my new favourite cardigan). For American readers, it's likely better, as you can return items. Canadians can't sell or make returns, but as they include duties and taxes in the checkout price, it's nice to know I don't have any additional fees to pay before I can claim my package. I'm just very careful when buying anything, and go into it with the understanding that there may be a bit of wasted money along the way. Up to now it's the only less expensive consignment store I've found that ships to Canada.

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    3. Thanks for the information! I'm curious to see how you refashion your blouse. I wish I was better with a needle and thread and brave enough to refashion certain pieces. I grew up in a country town in Ohio so I know the feeling of not being able to find others with similar clothing tastes... although most of my designer pieces came from thrift stores there, it was such a surprise! I find better brands there than in shops here sometimes.

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  3. OMG, so so sorry about the identity theft issue. Nightmare. Reading a fabulous book I'd recommend to all of your readers who lean a little on the nerdy, info-gathering side. It's called "The Art of Dress" by Linda Przybyszewski, an academic, so this is not fluffy- it's fact heavy and fascinating. And incredibly informative in terms of why, technically, certain clothing looks stunning on women and certain pieces just can't. Why certain color combinations work better than others. Truly, I rarely deem a book worthy of purchase (extremely limited book shelf real estate to spare) but am considering this one. That or I'll go back and take copious notes. Thanks for the new post- missed you (no judgement!)

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    1. Hi Darcy! Thanks for the recommendation... and the sympathy :) I just read the New York Times review of the book. Intriguing! I wouldn't mind if gloves came back either... and I think along similar lines when it comes to the Internet. It's really democratizing / globalizing when it comes to fashion. Not sure about footwear being the product of narcissism.... but I'd love to read it. Thank you for sharing!

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  4. Whoops, it's the LOST art of dress. I'm only a few chapters in so perhaps should have waited until the end to recommend but so far, so good (and no mention of shoes or internet thus far.)

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    1. I'll see if they have it at the American Library! I'm very interested in this sort of stuff. The one book I have about clothing is Elegance by Madame Antoine Dariaux, and I refer to it regularly. I like the history and insight in books like that, so I'd love to check it out.

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  5. I just love these posts. Thank you for sharing everything with us. I have whittled down my wardrobe to lovely pieces, and I am having so much fun. Thanks for the tip about The RealReal. I have been using eBay up till now, and I'm excited to have another spot to search when the time comes.
    On another note, I love the link to your Bali trip. We just moved from Indo to Africa. We are Americans who lived 8 years in Indo on the island of Borneo, it was/is home to my kids, and we all still miss it dearly. I miss the beauty, the people, the food, and speaking the language.
    Have a lovely day, and so sorry about the broken toe and stolen identity.

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    1. Hi Joy, thank you so much! What an awesome experience for your family, especially your kids. I really love the people, granted the people on Bali are very different from the people in Borneo, but I have friends from Borneo and East Timor, and they are so gracious and welcoming so I like to generalize and imagine they are all as wonderful as my friends :) Do you cook Indonesian food? It is our new favorite here at home. But now you get to experience the beauty of a new culture, what a great way to live. Thank you for sharing your experience!

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  6. I'm sorry your life is so hectic right now! But I'm looking forward to your upcoming print articles. Don't forget to link them when they're up!

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    1. You are so sweet! Also I'm reading your blog now, I need to get a Tumblr account so I can like your posts. I didn't know New Balances weren't made in the US, either. Man, nothing is completely guilt-free anymore!

      It's been good hectic for the most part (if that makes any sense). I will definitely link to the articles, they should be out in September. Thank you Rachel!

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  7. These are my favorite posts as well. I'm glad you share your rationale, as it's become a great guideline for me in thinking about what pieces I actually need in my closet. Since you read the Note Passer, I am wondering if you saw this post on bare nails. I noticed you mentioned adopting bare nails in a previous post, but before I wondered about how people with a zero waste lifestyle find compatible nail varnish (I hope this doesn't alarm you, it just struck me as unusual that in none of your pictures are you wearing nail polish). Did you give it up for sustainability reasons, or for reasons similar to those outlined in the article?

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    1. Hi Jane! Thanks you so much! I did not read it yet but I will now, I confess, I found the Note Passer recently when doing research on ethical lingerie brands, and I read the textile primer as well... I will delve into the archives soon as it seems well-written and beautiful. I'm told some zero-wasters use Kure Bazaar. I've never tried it, it's been awhile since I've worn nailpolish, and I think I gave up on it because it smelled bad, there was too much work involved and too many toxic chemicals when it came to remover, etc. Plus I don't have the patience to let it dry anymore :) It really was hard giving up polished toes- nails not so much, I played piano and gardened and did dishes so it never lasted anyway- but now I like the way my feet look, haha. What an interesting question! I'm curious how other sustainability-minded individuals deal with nailpolish, too.

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  8. No rush, Ariana. I'm sure I speak for many readers when I say we appreciate the quality, thoughtfulness, and personal nature of your posts. They are refreshingly honest and I love your beautiful clothes, beautiful apartment, beautiful cats, everything! Thank you for sharing your experience in Paris with us. Louisa

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    1. Hi Louisa, you are so nice! The cats are pretty beautiful :) I notice when I post more they lack quality so I want to focus on that a little bit more from now on. Thank you so much for the feedback!

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  9. A little shop next to where I work sells reworked vintage dresses based on contemporary patterns. I have bought from them often as no two dresses are alike and they have such unusual prints and cute retro buttons you just don't see anymore. I wish more shops were offering this sort of thing as I'm also pretty terrible with the sewing machine...

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    1. That is so cool! There is a shop like that near Liberty's in London. I've never seen another like it. I love vintage styles so much, many modern styles look too casual for my tastes. +1 for the sewing machine- hand sewing is much easier, I think!

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  10. Gorgeous dress. It's a very flattering cut and a great length. I find so many cute dresses are just way too short for me from Clothing Stores for Juniors

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  11. Hi Ariana,
    Who is the beige shirtdress by? It looks like it is impeccable piece of clothing.
    Thank you

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    1. Hi Manuela! Thank you! It's Prada. I just found a secondhand version of the dress in a batik pattern at Mon Depot Vente for a very reasonable price if you're Paris-based and looking for the same one :)

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