A reader recently posted this on IBC’s Facebook page:
Dear IBC. I need help. I have been in a fashion cave for about a year (pregnant) and as I am slowly getting my body back I am really craving some style back in my life… But yikes. Where do I start? I don’t live in Brooklyn and I’m too old for retro-’90s … I like simple classy pieces but I’m also on a budget… Advice?!
We get all sorts of questions and comments, but I don’t think we’ve ever created an advice column-style post to address a reader’s question. Maybe we should start! I’ve never had children, but I also don’t live in Brooklyn and I simply don’t like the retro-’90s look, so I’m going to give it the old college try.
My mom was never one to dole out sage bits of wisdom, but one time she told me something about being a mom that has stuck with me. She said that she thought the best parents, the parents who really let their children become their own people, were also the ones that let themselves be their own people separate from their identities as “parents.” I always liked that she said that. You don’t often hear people encourage parents in their identities outside of parenthood.
I say this because the best place to start is with yourself if you want out of a fashion cave. Style is just another facet of identity, so beginning again stylistically is a great opportunity for rebirth, to figure out who you are (with babies and without).
Good news! There’s a lot you can do on a budget, especially if simple and classic is your thing. A variety of 1940s styles are floating around this spring and summer, which lends itself really nicely to the simple, classic look. I always get myself stoked for a new look by looking at people who do the look I want to look like well. Did you keep up with that convoluted sentence? Great!
No one has ever done simple and classic better than Katharine Hepburn.
So. THE CHALLENGE…
BUDGET: a TOTAL of $200
WHERE: Washington DC
STYLE: Simple and classic
One thing you might consider doing is starting a collection of loose fitting blouses and button up tops in a variety of colors, including black because that’s always a color you can use. Tops and accessories are more important than bottoms. And bottoms (dark jeans, skirts, shorts, etc.) are a deeply personal thing anyway, so I’ll leave that to you–so much depends on your body shape, waist length, comfort level, height, etc. I do always highly recommend tennis-like shorts in fun colors, as well as a couple of pairs of standard black tuxedo shorts. They’re indispensable in the humid summer.
BUILD A NEW WARDROBE WITH TOPS
Flow-y silk tops are really easy to come by right now and they look great on just about everyone. With a new baby, you’re likely not going to want to go with real silk–dry clean only + poop and vomit don’t go well. But silk-ish blouses will work just as well, won’t make you roast in the summer heat, and can give you a lot of breathing room. So if you’re working on getting your pre-baby body back, you can throw one on and look like a million bucks regardless of where you are in that process. I found an amazing silk blouse at the secret miracle Goodwill in Boston (where wealthy people and students throw away designer labels and silk and Barbour like gum wrappers) and wore it throughout the late summer with a variety of shorts of varying colors.
Point being, a blouse is an easy thing to incorporate into your wardrobe. Other point being, go to second hand stores in the university sections of town and also the wealthy areas of town, and go with a goal (e.g. a specific type of top, shoe, etc. in mind).
For Internet shopping, I tell everyone on a budget that their first stop could/should be ModCloth. If you’re looking for highly original or high-end things, they don’t have much. But if you want to build a foundation for multiple outfits and need inexpensive/good looking basics, they’re great!
ModCloth’s “Never Gets Bold” top is made from something called a “silky fabric,” which sounds a little like “meat product,” but it’s a cute top, is only $32, and will get the job done!
For a few dollars more, they also have this black top that’s loose fitting, and has a couple of nice little details like a subtle cowl neck and a semi-transparent panel down its back.
I don’t know if you read the piece I wrote about utilizing the amazingness of what’s going on in menswear to your advantage, but visiting menswear sites isn’t a bad idea if you have a sense of how your sizing would translate.
The following suggestion might be controversial for new moms who are nursing (thinking increased chest size here), but you really can’t go wrong with the jaunty look of an Oxford shirt! I mean, you won’t be nursing forEVER, right? Topman is a great go-to place for smaller menswear for women working within a budget.
That might look like an unassuming, slightly boring Oxford shirt, but it’s one of the most versatile items of clothing you can own.
This look isn’t for everyone, but here’s an example of how you can build off of an Oxford:
I also really like this striped Oxford, which bears a slight resemblance to Kate’s look up top.
Imagine that paired with this sort of jam:
Speaking of the Sartorialist, I know that site is super old news, but I still check it every season. I have gotten more than a few ideas from folks in other countries that I was then able to reproduce through my own lens and with my own [small] budget. Think about it. Say you liked the above look. You think it suits you. You WANT it. You don’t need to be in Brooklyn to find a striped shirt, A-line denim skirt, and vintage leather wedge sandals. I bet you could make that outfit happen for under $30 through a combination of thrifting and any given shop that carries striped shirts! And it’s simple and classic.
If you ever have a little extra to splurge, Madewell often has great stuff in their sale section. Like this ribbon stripe top that is also “silky” not silk and comes in still under $100, but over $50:
You also might want to think outside of the box and use weird descriptors. Briefly searching “Tennis Dress” in the vintage section of Etsy yielded this:
OBVIOUSLY AWESOME AND ONLY $30!
Searching literal descriptors can also be useful. “Striped Shirt” in the same category gave me this $28 number that is super cute:
CLASSIC WITH A LITTLE FLARE!
And searching “classic dress” netted this (more ’60s, than Hepburn ’40s, but still kind of fun):
This is a man, but this whole outfit would look amazing on a woman:
So, to recap at this point in the budgeting, two BRAND NEW tops and one AWESOME VINTAGE top would set you back a total of $97 before any taxes. Throw in that super cute tennis dress and that’s $127. Assuming you own other clothes that you could mix and match with, you’ve got a whole new base for $127! Nevermind what a skillful thrifter could do. I am not a skillful thrifter–no patience for it–but if you are, you could find equally compelling items for $20 or under…so I hear.
So, you’ve spent $127 on your new style foundation. That leaves a whopping $73 for accessories and/or shoes! Baby’s searching hands probably rule out shiny things around your neck.
FEEL LIKE A NEW WOMAN WITH SHOES:
For the non-sneaker option, there’s always the classic brown leather slip-on loafers:
I like ones with little tassels. This is something you shouldn’t bother buying new. New ones hurt your feet for six months while you break them in, don’t have as much personality, and are overpriced. Leather loafers/slip-ons are super easy to come by secondhand and you’ll rarely pay more than $10-$15 for them.
So assuming you go ahead and buy some versatile Ked’s and a pair of snappy leather loafers, you’ve spent between $180 and $190, which includes THREE tops, ONE dress, and TWO pairs of shoes. AND you have between $10-$20 left of your total $200 budget, so throw on your new look, leave baby with a loving family member and get yourself a relaxing lunch out, a fancy coffee, or a movie.
For more inspiration, Charlotte Gainsbourgh, who is a contemporary example of simple and classic, a parent, and someone who says some kind of weird shit:
Most importantly, like my mom said, get in touch with your own, independent identity and think of creating your new look as an exciting adventure. Dream about who you want to be and then find clothes that reinforce your dreams! One day your kid might send in pictures of you to a website all about super stylish moms.
GOOD LUCK! And if there are any other new/newish moms reading this who have suggestions and tips, please post them in the comments!