Design Within Reach
I love being stylish, but sometimes the time, effort, and expense it takes to be fashionable is exhausting.
I am the queen of changing outfits 10 times before leaving the house, only to walk out the door wearing the first thing I tried on. I buy fancy shoes that torture my feet — and therefore they see more of my closet than the street. Or I order dresses that look amazing on the model online, but less so on me — yet they remain in my closet as I reassure myself they'll fit after I lose five pounds.
But I’m convinced it could be easy, or at least easier, to look good. My proof? Local fashion plate Aimee Jenny Song, who posts photos of her outfits on her popular blog Song of Style. Launched in 2008, the site gets 700,000 page views every month, and her posts often receive more than 100 reader comments.
Aimee knows a thing or two about sartorial presentation. She makes her living partially from the blog, while finishing her architecture degree and working at an architecture firm – which means she shops on a budget. She’s also efficient. I was thinking about Aimee when I came across a 2007 survey of British husbands who found that on average, over the course of their lifetime, they would wait for their wives to get ready for 20 weeks. In contrast, Aimee’s boyfriend praises her speed at both shopping and grooming. My husband would never flatter me for my quickness in getting gussied up.
I wanted her formula.
I’d met Aimee at a media event a while back and we’d exchanged cards, so I already had her info. I emailed her about trying to glean some of her secrets, and we arranged to meet at Mocca on Maiden Lane. She arrived wearing a silver, off-shoulder sweater, faux leather leggings, motorcycle booties, and the perfect touches of gold jewelry with large, colorful stones: a picture of effortless chic.
The more we talked, the more Aimee confirmed that achieving her signature style really is a piece of cake. Her first bit of advice: know what you like. This reminded me of my first attempts at business attire. As a staff reporter at a technology news website, I filled my closet with work-appropriate suits and sensible shoes. But since I'm a bit of a rebel at heart, this made getting ready for work downright depressing. I eventually realized that statement jewelry, platform shoes, or fun shirts underneath jackets made me feel like myself but still professional.
Next, know specifically what you want before you walk into a store. Don't be a deer in headlights faced with too many choices – that's the surest route to buyer's remorse. If, say, you need something for an event, examine what you have in your closet, then decide what you most want to add and determine your budget. Most important: know what you love to wear and let that help you formulate a shopping plan.
Then pick a neighborhood. Decide on three or four stores max. To narrow down your destinations, check out the stores' websites or call ahead to see if they carry what you're looking for. When you head out the door, bring along your will of steel to prevent distractions from your plan.
By the time Aimee and I finished our lattes, I felt like I’d gotten some new fashion and shopping insights. I decided to test out her guidelines on Valencia Street. My goal was to find a party-ready outfit that was inexpensive, unfussy, and suited my style. I wear a lot of black, so I really needed to find accoutrements to jazz up a dark outfit, whether it’s skinny jeans and a blouse, or a simple black dress. And finally, I wanted to accomplish all this in one hour or less.
As I walked by Weston Wear, a gray faux fur bolero vest caught my eye. A vest would definitely add some flair to my wardrobe, and would work with my efficiency requirements: A precise fit isn’t necessary, and it can be thrown on over just about anything to create a festive look. The store opens around noon on weekdays – and the day I was there, it was still empty. Generally, if you can shop during your lunch break, you're likely to get great service and be in and out quickly.
Upon entering the newly renovated store (it had suffered fire damage last year), I was greeted by Bridget Moore, Weston's friendly general manager and buyer. I asked for the vest in the window, and she grabbed a small and a medium size. The price was $90 – a little steep for such a small item, but it had a beautiful, watercolor silk lining and looked $90 cute when I tried it on over the shirt I was wearing. I decided on the medium, and was at the register in seven minutes flat.
As I continued down Valencia, I approached Therapy – a possible destination for the perfect over-the-knee boots. That particular style has been a big trend this winter, but I hadn't yet found a pair that I loved and could afford.
Unlike the sea of shoes you find at department stores, Therapy carries a nicely edited collection of trendy but wearable styles. I bee-lined to the back of the shop for the footwear (cute dresses, skirts, and tops tempted me on the way, but I remained strong), and found three pairs of over-the-knee boots. Two were flat and one had a three-inch heel. I am not a flats girl, so I asked Shannon Lindquist, one of the helpful sales clerks, for my size in the latter. It was available only in a half-size smaller than I usually wear, but I tried it on anyway and it fit perfectly. The best part was the price: $82.
Shannon said she owns a pair of the same boots. "Are they leather?" I asked. She said they weren't, but that they didn't make her feet sweat, quelling my major concern. Ten minutes later, I was the proud owner of a pair of super hot "vegan" boots.
For my next stop, I wanted some bling. I craved a statement necklace as the finishing touch on my all-black-with-embellishments outfit. I also wanted to buy from a local designer. I was willing to pay a little more for the perfect design, but my limit was $200.
I remembered seeing a variety of locally designed baubles at Candystore Collective, located just a block away from Therapy (remembering that completing an outfit in one neighborhood is key), and headed over there. Its jewelry case was on prominent display, and I steeled myself for the indecision and desire that I knew would ensue – I love jewelry.
The first piece to catch my eye was a giant cast brass owl claw hanging from a long gold chain. It was from San Francisco artist Nico Lopez's 1228 line. It cost $195, and was the perfect blend of shiny and tough.
I wasted about 20 minutes asking the amazingly patient sales manager Michelle Barnett to show me nearly everything else in the case (secretly hoping I would love something less expensive). I decided to splurge on the claw necklace, realizing that it’s generally safe to go with your gut choice when shopping.
In the end, I’d put an hour's worth of quarters in the meter, and it was an amazing feeling to return to the car with the perfect outfit and no parking ticket. I wasn’t stressing out that I had purchased extra items that might induce remorse. I’d made a plan and stuck to it.
I was elated and ready for my next party – and I might even be ready to head out the door before my husband this time.
For style inspiration, check out Aimee's site at SongOfStyle.com. You can also check out other local style bloggers like Christina Topacio at Profreshstyle.com or Jenny Lodge at GoingWest.net. Before you leave the house, peruse CandystoreCollective.com, ShopAtTherapy.com, or WestonWear.com to see if they’re carrying what your heart desires.