This is an account of how my sense of style came to be. When I wonder why I’m so preoccupied with clothing, I only have to look back on my childhood and it’s pretty clear I how I grew up to be obsessed.
Vintage kilt and saddle shoes
Alice in Wonderland look.
Pretty epic pair of overalls.
When I was very small, my mother dressed me, as I like to joke, “like a character in a Truffaut film.” She scoured yard sales and the like for simple, understated items she considered cool. I didn’t think much about it at the time. I just wore whatever she picked. I do have one early memory where I insisted on picking out my own outfit and I’m pretty sure it was a checked top and stripped pants and she said it did not look good, that I couldn’t wear two patterns at once. We got into a heated debate about it which ended with her saying, “Well it doesn’t matter what you think you look like, it’s what others think because they’re looking at you!” Other than that, my early childhood was a blissful time filled with shopping together, handmade dresses from Marimekko fabric and the seasonal tradition of taking clothes out of the attic and making me try every single thing on to see if it still fit.
When I was seven, my mom left my dad and went to California. My brother and I stayed in DC with my dad. My stepmother arrived soon after and a new chapter in my fashion life began. Now all my clothes came from Sears and the only criteria for them was they were 1) inexpensive and 2) covered my body. This time from age eight to about 14—those very critical years for a girl—were very bleak but ultimately formative.
Hardy Boys t-shirt.
Dead shirt and jeans.
Strapless crop top and cut offs.
Every time I asked my dad for clothes he’d say, “Let’s look at what you have.” I’d have to open my dresser, take out all my jeans and explain why they weren’t perfectly good or try them on.” If it was determined I needed new ones, we’d walk four blocks to Sears and I got to pick out a pair of Toughskins or something similar. It was horrible. And that was the good part. A lot of my clothes were hand me downs from my older brother. My sneakers were Sears brand and everyone knew it. My shoes had 4 stripes on them, not 3 and definitely not a swoosh. I did everything I could to talk my dad into cooler shoes. He said, “We’ll see” which obviously meant “Probably not, or no, never.” But when my sneakers finally got holes in them, (I might have dragged my feet while bike riding), he relented and I got my Nikes.
My stepmother made an effort to intervene in the clothing department, insisting to my father that “Girls need pretty things.” She was an accomplished seamstress and would occasionally let me pick out patterns and fabric and then she would sew things for me. One item that I remember distinctly was a full length wrap skirt made out of baby blue satin. One Christmas she bought me a book of Japanese fashion and I fell in love with Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto. I know, right?
It wasn’t until I had my first jobs, at Subway, then Baskin-Robbins, that I had the money and the power to buy what I wanted. I feel like I bought a pair of Jordache jeans with my own money. I distinctly remember trying them on and thinking I looked amazing. I don’t have any photos of me in them so maybe I just imagined it. I didn’t have much to spend in high school so I mostly shopped at thrift stores. Or wore my friend’s clothes. In these days my peers were wearing Polo and Izod shirts, Tretorns and Bass shoes. Some of them were Goth, but mostly just very plain and somewhat anti-fashion. We dubbed our style “the no-style style.”
Oversized blazer over a cardigan and a beret.
Vintage houndstooth coat, vintage flannel, pearls.
College and the years after are one long, painful string of bad choices. With clothing, I mean. Okay, with everything, but mostly I bought many odd and unrelated items, from Ross or Marshall’s or maybe the Gap sales rack that I look back on and wonder, “What on earth was I thinking?”
Ever budget conscious, I shopped at H&M, Gap, Banana Republic and J.Crew either at their factory stores or if it was on sale. I found pieces I liked but nothing really went together, at least not the way I wanted. My style looked hodge-podge and cheap.
A french bulldog.
Argyle looks French, right?
In 2007, I got to fulfill a lifetime dream of visiting Paris. I always imagined how I’d look like a native and feel like a character in a Camus novel, or again, a Truffaut film. It didn’t really work out that way. Still struggling with what to wear and still on a budget.
After Paris came a long-awaited and very joyful pregnancy and birth of twins. From then on, there weren’t many photos taken of me. Just me taking thousands of pix of the kids. And really I didn’t think a lot about clothes. I just wanted to get back in shape and maybe have a full night’s sleep.
It was 2011 that I took my first mirror selfie. I had started looking at stuff online about putting together outfits. I followed J’s Everyday Style, Kendi Everyday and Unfancy to name a few.
In January of 2012 I started the blog “Women’s Work”, originally as a place to discuss the challenges of balancing work, childcare, etc. but it was really just a place to explore random thoughts and teach myself WordPress and blogging in addition to working as a Graphic Designer and being a mom of twins. Later I renamed it LeighFeather and committed to focusing on my three favorite things: Fitness, Fashion & Food, posting sporadically. And now it’s seven years later! I feel like I’m just starting to know my style and like what I wear. And it’s funny, I’ve probably known it all along. It’s simple and understated, sort of vintage/retro and a little masculine. It’s jeans and t-shirts and a good amount of black. And I feel good.
If you’re from Philly, you say, “KOP”
Although The Mall of America claims to be the biggest mall in America, The King of Prussia Mall states that it is “the largest shopping mall in the United States in terms of gross leasable area, with a gross leasable area of 2,900,000 square feet.” Okay. Why is it called “King of Prussia”? Because it’s in King of Prussia, PA. Why is the town called that? Because it was named after a 18th century inn of the same name, which is named after Frederick the Great.
This is THE mall. Where I live, there’s a little mall, a “big” mall and then there’s KOP which has practically every store there is. Drive time is 15 minutes, 30 minutes and 60 minutes respectively. If I want, I could drive into NYC in about an hour and 45.
So, we are in a place and time where we can buy almost anything online. And I do. But so often I think, I want to see it all, touch it, try it on. I only really like to order online if I get free shipping both ways. I know, I’m spoiled. This is what led me to drive an hour to Philly. I had ordered some things from J. Crew and didn’t want to spend money to ship them back. No, instead I’d spend money to drive really far to return them at what is now the closest J. Crew. We used to have a J. Crew up here but it closed. But, I’d also get to look at some other brands we don’t have here like Madewell. And it was an excuse to get out of the house.
To say that place is overwhelming is an understatement. I logged over 12,000 steps that day! I went into a few places I’d heard about from other bloggers and always wanted to experience in real life but in the end I really didn’t get excited by much that I saw. I was prepared to be a little bit “bad” and spend more money than I should and I actually left empty handed.
Here’s a list of all the stores at King of Prussia (skipping food, men’s and sportswear), divided up by where I’ve shopped, where I want to shop someday and where I’ll pass:
BEEN THERE, BOUGHT THAT
Aerie – used to be my fave for underthings, now it’s GAP
Ann Taylor – A little too “office” for me
Anthropologie – I’m over it
Athleta – All the time
Banana Republic – Sadly, my go-to
Clark’s – I’ve had some luck here
Coach – A couple splurges
DSW – I live here
GAP – All the basics please
H&M – Fun times!
J. Crew – So much. Closest is KOP
LOFT – Too much
Lucky – Less these days
Madewell – Pretty in love. Closest is KOP
Nordstrom – Dangerous. Closest is KOP
Old Navy – Just for the kids, and PJs
Steve Madden – Many shoes have I owned
Urban Outfitters – A bit young, but still good. Closest is KOP
Vans – Sk8rgrl
Zara – Once or twice. Closest is KOP
IN MY DREAMS
COS – This was my fave part of my recent visit to KOP!
Diane Von Furstenberg
Lord & Taylor – THE department store when I was growing up in DC
Rag & Bone – Want!
Tiffany & Co.
Vince – bought a jacket from a thrift store in NYC
THANKS, I’LL PASS
Abercrombie & Fitch
Brooks Brothers – I bought one pair of used chinos that I love
Calvin Klein Underwear
Everything But Water
Express – not since the 90s
Free People – kind of cool
Johnston & Murphy
Joie – I did take a look…
New York & Co.
Nick + Zoe – I checked it out this trip
White House Black Market
HONESTLY, NO CLUE
Rigby & Peller
South Moon Under
That’s it. Let me know if there are any brands you know and love. Do you think I should I rethink any of these? The great thing is I realized I am not missing out. Also, I now know what they have at KOP and that it’s not that far. I might have to go again soon for the Shake Shack alone!
[Updated to include the entire year and notes on whether or not I made good choices]
Last year around this time I turned over the finances to my husband. In 14 years of marriage I have aways managed the money but a new level of soul searching and letting go led me to “try” something new. We don’t have an unusual amount of conflict around spending—just the normal amount. 😉 But when we look at where we’ve been overspending it’s almost always the same: clothing, dining and recreation. We set a budget and go over that budget. And, honestly, the clothing category is all me. So, all this to say, I had to start being “good.” For the last year I was given a monthly cash allowance of roughly what I should have been spending all along. Allowance is for anything outside of the budget. Oh yeah, “Clothing” ceased to be a category. My “mad money” was to pay for clothing, make up, hair, nails, etc. But, it gets tricky when ordering things on-line. I have to use a Credit card and then pay it back with cash. It got pretty confusing and so I kind of gave up keeping track. I honestly didn’t know if I had been good. I mean, I kind of knew I wasn’t when the Nordstrom sale came around in the Spring. (Stitch Fix also contributed to my downfall.) A lot of what I bought has been underwear and workout-wear which I don’t think should count toward “additions to my closet” but whatev. I’ll also mention that I justified overspending by selling clothes on Poshmark. I made about $225 from Postmark sales.
The following is what I added to my wardrobe this year:
Gap – bras & undies $94 – Excellent additions!
J. Crew – Shirt-jacket in buffalo check $43 – I LOVE this jacket and get lots of complements!
Stitch Fix – Mavi jeans $6 (w/ giftcard) – Mistake, have since donated them.
Old Navy – gray hoodie $28 – I wear this ALL THE TIME.
Old Navy – gingham shirt $20 – Never wear.
LOFT – boho print dress $36 – Mistake, wore twice. Donated.
DSW – Puma sneakers $50 – Great purchase.
Poshmark – J Brand army shorts $14 – Meh.
Poshmark – Gap jeans in black $26 – Great purchase!
Gap – Sports Bras in black & gray $24 ea. – Wear all the time.
Gap – Workout tank in white $16 – It’s okay.
Asics – workout tank $13 – Have worn a few times.
Poshmark – J. Crew straw market tote $26 – Perfection.
Poshmark – NB workout tank $16 – Never wear. Donated.
DSW – nude ballet flats $40 – Not sure I needed these.
Poshmark – Madewell heels $66 – I like but rarely wear.
Banana Republic – Camisole $25 – Don’t wear much but think it was a good purchase.
Banana Republic – Striped tank $25 – Wore SO MUCH this summer.
Stitch Fix – Joie tee $148 – I don’t wear it much but don’t regret it. It’s lovely.
Nordstrom – Amour Vert long sleeve striped tee $88 – Excellent addition!!!
Nordstrom – Vince Camuto sandals in red $53 – They were my go-to all summer.
Nordstrom – Topshop cigarette pants $38 – The jury is still out…
Poshmark – Gap workout leggings $19 – Good choice.
Poshmark – Madewell tank $19 – Mistake.
J. Crew – denim shorts $56 – THE PERFECT CUT-OFF JEAN SHORTS. Why am I shouting?
Gap – long sleeve striped tees in gray/white & navy/white $11 ea. – Probably the best staples in my closet.
Gap – tank top in gray $15 – Yes!
Gap – undies $16 – Yes.
Athleta – bikini top $30 – So pretty!
Famous Footwear – Nikes $75 – Absolutely great choice/needed addition.
DSW – Roxy flip flops $25 – Essential.
Athleta – bikini bottom $21 – Love it.
Snap back hat – $24 – Needed it. Love it.
Nordstrom Rack – Steve Madden flats in black $50 – Not sure I needed these.
Banana Republic – A-line skirt in olive $39 – Nice. Can’t seem to choose skirts over jeans.
J. Crew – A-line midi sweater skirt $63 – Never worn, but not sure I regret it.
Gap – Vintage Wash Short Sleeve Tee in “Glass of Water” blue $10 – I wear this more than any other tee.
Troentorp – Da Vinci Clogs in dark blue $99 – I have to force myself to not wear these every day.
J. Crew – High-Rise Jegging in blue indigo wash $16 – Great choice!
Lucky Jeans – Hayden High Rise Skinny Jean in Farolito $129 – I bought to replace the jeggings and then kept both. Look great. Kind of tight.
So that’s the extent of it. I know that may seem like a lot to spend to some people (or very little to others) and I hesitated to include prices but for me it’s important to drag it out into the light of day. To be true to myself. Throughout the year I bought and returned quite a few items. I knew they weren’t right, that I wouldn’t wear them. Some of what I bought (and kept) turned out to be great decisions, and others were not. Live and learn, I guess. It makes me see that I can stand to be a lot more intentional in my buying process. To my credit, I tend to pin things to a wish list board and then wait a while before pulling the trigger.
My ultimate goal is to enjoy what I wear, how I look and then get on with it. You know? I hope somebody somewhere gets some inspiration from this, on how to have fun with clothes, but, like in a grown-up-y way.
My new favorite thing is Poshmark. I originally heard about it through another blogger Lindsey Kubly. It’s the perfect place to sell clothes you no longer wear and find things you want to buy for really good prices. Selling is so easy. The phone App makes it really simple and quick to post items. When they sell, you get an email with a prepaid mailing label and when the buyer accepts the shipment the money goes right into your Poshmark account.
Here are some of the items I’ve gotten so far this year:
ATHLETA LEGGINGS: $30
GAP BLACK GIRLFRIEND JEANS: $20
JBRAND ARMY SHORTS: $8
MADEWELL EMBROIDERED TOP: $13
JCREW STRAW MARKET TOTE: $20
I got a few other things not pictured (a pair of like-new Gap capri leggings for $13, a pair of Madewell shoes for $60 and Lancome makeup set for $20) and I’ve been happy with everything I’ve bought. Some of my purchases were exact items I was searching for, like the above tote that I used to own and lost last year. So far to date I’ve sold a total of $275 worth of clothing. That’s money I either used to buy stuff on Poshmark or transferred into my bank account to cover things I bought that were outside of my clothing budget. Win-win! Try it out.
SHOP MY CLOSET https://poshmark.com/closet/leighfeather
I love Nordstom… “à la distance.” There’s no store near me but since they offer free shipping both ways and were having a sale, I thought, why not order a bunch of stuff online? I won’t keep any of it, I’ll just try it on, from the comfort of my bedroom.
None of these items were impulse buys. They were carefully selected over months of pinning and researching and waiting. I’ve curbed my clothing purchases this year partly due to a new family budget and because I “don’t need another thing.”
Here’s what I got:
VINCE CAMUTO CARRAN PLATFORM SANDAL (IN HOT AND SPICY LEATHER)
I picked these sandals because I have been wanting a comfy slide forEVER. I love a platform and I love a shoe I can just slip on and off and honestly that’s what I’m going to pick all summer. I can only wear my two dollar Old Navy flip flops so much. I chose red (very unusual for me) because it compliments all the blue in my wardrobe, but these come in a few great colors/patterns. The straps are leather, the insole is leather (bonus) and they have espadrille-style soles. I love them! The only con is the straps have a manmade lining that smells like a pool raft. I had to get them as my best friend Joan told me to. VERDICT: KEEP
J. CREW EVIE BALLET FLAT (IN BLACK)
I don’t know why but I didn’t take a pic in these. These ballet flats are perfect in every way. They tick all the boxes. Classic. Black. Comfortable. Leather. Well constructed. No weird embellishments. And they were on sale! And yet, when I searched deep into my heart of hearts I knew…they just aren’t me. After years of searching for the perfect classic ballet flat I realized I don’t need a classic ballet flat. VERDICT: RETURN
HINGE JERSEY TANK (IN HEATHER STEEL)
One needs a gray tank top. If you haven’t gone hunting for one recently, there are so many versions. Many of them have some weird detail: twist front, twist back, tie front/back, lace, high-low hem, etc. I tried this very basic option and sized up from my usual medium to a large and you can see it’s a very unflatteringly skin-tight. Grrr. VERDICT: RETURN
BTW, I think I ought to change my name to “Heather Steel.”
MADEWELL HIGH RISE CUFFED DENIM SHORTS (IN GLEN OAKS)
I have been obsessed about finding a really good pair of jean shorts—more polished than the above pictured cut offs. It’s not easy, but nothing in life really is. Although these look pretty good to me now, I thought the size 30 I got was a little too big. I think a high rise short should be fitted not loose. I could have tried my usual 29 size but not sure I wanted a tight jean short? I really liked the stretch and the look but I couldn’t get comfortable with them being up high on the waist and on the thigh. Sad face. VERDICT: RETURN
TOP SHOP HIGH WAIST CIGARETTE TROUSERS
My favorite J. Crew Martie pants were starting to show their age and were quite tight on the booty (not in a good way) so I’ve been on the hunt for a new pair of cropped, tapered trousers that are stretchy and slimming. I’ve never owed anything from Top Shop (I know, “gasp”) and the price made me skeptical. I loved them the second I tried them on. I’ve been moving away from low rise pants and really love the rise on these. The fabric isn’t too thick. They’re machine wash/line dry and look great from the back. Yay. VERDICT: KEEP
AMOUR VERT FRANCOISE STRIPE TOP (IN MARINE STRIPE)
This shirt was the last to arrive and I was sure it would go right back. The day it arrived I had just gone to the Gap to look for shorts and got two long sleeve striped shirts that were beautiful and on sale. I didn’t need another striped shirt! When I took it out of the package I realized it was slinky and I read the fabric content and saw it was modal. I am not a fan of modal. I like a plain ol’ cotton. Then I tried it on and fell in love. I mean, I’ll let you know when I wash it… but, sigh, I had to keep it. It feels so good, drapes so good, looks so good. I’m in love. Green love. Amour Vert is one of those brands I keep hearing about for their sustainability. Read more at amourvert.com. VERDICT: KEEP
So, my just trying on/not buying plan clearly didn’t work very well. Damn you Nordstrom! Why are you so awesome?!
In other news, I have been cleaning out my closet consistently. I donate to friends and the local thrift store and I have sold quite a lot on POSHMARK. You can check out my closet here.
I thought it would be fun to see what I got from Stitch Fix recently. (I had forgot that I hadn’t turned the service off but just scheduled the shipments to be less frequent.) Here’s what was in my box:
OLIVE GREEN SHIRT
It would look better ironed. I loved the color and style, kind of a Anine Bing look, but I wasn’t sure it was really “me.”
These jeans fit good, felt good. I liked that they had a high-ish waist, some distressing and the drop hem, but I didn’t like how thin they were. I have two pairs of white jeans that are good. Starting to feel so sad/conflicted. My stylist really gets me, almost too much!
WHITE SHIRT & NAVY SHORTS
At this point I dragged my daughter into the decision-making process. She’s so savvy. 🙂 The shirt is so soft. It’s meant to be crinkled, btw. Again, I had to be honest with myself that I wouldn’t wear it. I have four white button downs that are neglected as it is. The shorts fit perfectly, felt comfy and looked great (from the back too), but I thought they were a little too preppy. Also, I have other chino shorts.
SHORT SLEEVE SWEATSHIRT
This top has the cutest sort of pleated sleeves. Its a soft, luxurious cotton that drapes nicely. And I love navy so much.
So that’s the five pieces. I decided since I was spending the $20 styling fee anyway, I was definitely going to keep at least one item. (This is how I talked myself into buying things the last two times. They’re so smart.) And it was at this point that I looked at the prices. I was leaning toward the shorts. But I loved the navy top…which was $148! It’s Joie, a somewhat luxe brand that I’ve never owed before. Ahh, decisions.
So, the next day, I tried them all on again, this time with other clothes, following the enclosed style suggestions.
And there you have it. Hardest decision I’ve ever made. In the end I chose to only keep the navy top. And I’m wearing it right now.
If you want to try out Stitch Fix here’s a referral code: