Sally McGraw

Sally McGraw is a stylist, blogger, and freelance writer whose massive shoe collection is threatening to overtake her tiny, North Minneapolis bungalow. Her popular daily fashion blog, Already Pretty, explores the intersection of personal style and body image, offers practical figure flattery advice, and urges women to love themselves regardless of weight, age, height, or body type. She firmly believes that style is a tool for self-love that should be accessible to everyone. Including you.

Reconsidering Investment Pieces

Posted by: Sally McGraw under Clothing, Women, Shopping Updated: March 23, 2012 - 9:49 AM

The following items have long been viewed as investment pieces: Handbags, winter coats, classic shoes. Why? Because those three items get more use, wear, and abuse than other items. Even a favorite pair of jeans is unlikely to be worn every single day for the duration of a winter, and no dress or sweater will ever be worn as hard as a pair of shoes. Bras are occasionally added to this short list by style experts who recognize the importance of a good foundation, but everything else is up for grabs. You can invest in whatever you'd like, of course, but if you're seeking expert advice, it's generally bags, coats, and shoes.

And I've been thinking: If we based our level of investment on use patterns, wouldn't we also want to plunk down the big bucks for pajamas? Gym clothes? Panties? PJs get worn and washed constantly, receiving more wear-time and abuse than many coats and bags. And what could be more important than bodily comfort during sleep? Many of the new-fangled workout gear vendors seem grossly overpriced, but is $90 really an outrageous price for a pair of comfy, flattering, wicking pants that will get worn several times per week for years on end? And panties! My gosh, if we're investing in bras, why not knickers, too? There's nothing quite as excrutiating as having your privates pinched or squeezed, and if top-quality panties eliminated discomfort and doubt, wouldn't they be worth the dough?

It seems that the idea of an "investment piece" is linked to visibility and status as well as quality and use. After all, few people see our pajamas and even fewer our undies. We CAN invest in them, but those investments will only ever benefit our own bodies. Great bags, coats, and shoes help to construct our public sartorial personas, which adds value. At least, that seems to be how style experts are viewing things.

I am all for buying top-notch bags, coats, and shoes. It is good, sound advice that has endured because it makes sense, pretty much across the board. But I think that investing in items that get loads and loads of use, contribute to bodily comfort, and make us FEEL great is worthwhile, too. And that includes clothes that have little public exposure and virtually no glamorous appeal.

What do you think? Does it make more sense to invest in durable goods that are worn in public, or are private clothes investment pieces, too? Anyone already spending big on workout duds, PJs, panties, or other items? What are YOUR criteria for an "investment piece"?

Image courtesy Gap.

Sally McGraw is the author of Already Pretty, a daily blog about the intersection of style and body image. 

Multiples that Make Sense

Posted by: Sally McGraw under Clothing, Women, Shopping Updated: March 14, 2012 - 6:17 PM

When you're on a strict budget, the very idea of buying several versions of a single item seems laughable. You may imagine Kim Kardashian fondling her collection of Birkin bags and think that multiples are a luxury. And they absolutely are. You need more than one pair of panties and more than one pair of socks, but you needn't purchase multiple identical pairs and you needn't purchase them all at once, should finances prohibit.

However, some items can be so difficult to track down that buying them in multiples really does make sense. And might be worth fudging the budget for a month. In my opinion, the short list includes:

Bras

I'm relatively sure that few women can saunter into a lingerie department, pick up any old 34B, and walk out with a perfectly fitting bra. When you find that ideal brassiere - the one that fits, feels amazing, works under your clothes, and makes you feel sassy - it's probably wise to nab more than one in a single shopping trip. Of course, if you're a lingerie connoisseur, this may not appeal. But if you shed bitter tears every time you go in for a fitting, consider buying multiples when you DO stumble across a fabulous bra.

Tights

If you're anything like me, you snag a pair of tights every time you THINK about nails or barbed wire or sandpaper. Especially patterned or sheer tights. If you splash out on a pair of neon green tights that have extremely limited use within your wardrobe, buying one is fine. But if you happen upon a fabulous-fitting but slightly delicate black patterned pair that will work with half your closet, or suddenly find that your burgundy pair is getting weekly wear, pony up for multiples. And stop thinking about barbed wire.

Layering tops

Depending on your climate, your layers may be long-sleeved, short-sleeved, sleeveless, or all of the above. But regardless, if you unearth a 3/4 tee that fits perfectly to your torso and plays well with your unique proportions, it might be worth your while to buy it in multiple colors. You could also consider purchasing and stashing extras in black, white, or your preferred neutrals ... but only if your budget allows and only if you wear out your duds fairly quickly. Backup clothing in storage is great in theory, but often gets forgotten or supplanted by newer, better versions.

Perfect jeans

Another Holy Grail item, am I right? Fantastically flattering jeans get frequent, hard wear and can be extremely difficult to find. That combination of factors makes them ideal candidates for multiple purchasing. I prefer to do two pairs in the same size/fit but different washes, when possible.

Again, multiples aren't for everyone. They take up space, create redundancy within closets, and require some budgetary leeway. But, in my experience, certain high-use, difficult to locate pieces may be worth the risk.

Do you buy multiples of any items? How do you determine which ones should be bought in bulk? Frequency of use? Fit frustrations? Or do you avoid buying multiples altogether?

Sally McGraw is the author of Already Pretty, a daily blog about the intersection of style and body image. 

Return, Repurpose, Resell

Posted by: Sally McGraw under Clothing, Women, Shopping Updated: March 7, 2012 - 2:41 PM

If you bat a thousand when it comes to style-related purchases, you're my hero. I've never known anyone who adores and uses every item she ever buys and never makes a shopping blunder, but if you are she, you are AWESOME. For the rest of us mere mortals, purchasing missteps must be dealt with on occasion. In my experience, there are three main choices for items you feel won't work in the long run: Return, repurpose, and resell. Here's how I break down my choices.

 

RETURN

I return anything that doesn't fit, is damaged, wasn't what I expected, doesn't work within my wardrobe, and, of course, is returnable. Seldom do I purchase anything that I'm unsure about if it's a final sale situation, but it has happened once or twice. I'm more inclined to return items quickly if they are expensive, since I absolutely hate to have money missing from my account that should eventually be mine again, but once I've decided to return something I get a bit obsessed. Even small items will get whisked back to their respective stores or dropped into the mail within hours of the decision being made. Nothing irks me like missing the return window on an item that I have no intention of keeping or wearing.

REPURPOSE

I generally only repurpose thrifted, used, older, gifted, or non-returnable items. As I'm sure is the case for most of you, if I can get my money back, I'd prefer to do so. But if I can't, and there's a way to make something work, I'm willing to give it a whirl. And I'll also repurpose items if they're extremely close to being perfect, and I'm quite certain I can nudge them into perfection using my own skills and tools at hand. My repurposing projects are pretty slapdash, and include things like hacking already-washed jeans into clamdiggers, over-dyeing eBayed skirts, and cutting dress hems into infinity scarves. I've also had help from my tailor with tasks like hemming and taking in, but consider that to be a bit different than true repurposing.

RESELL

For whatever reason, I only feel comfortable reselling or consigning shopping duds that have stuck around a while. I don't give up easily on challenging items and prefer to have several rounds of battle with them before admitting defeat. But once it becomes clear that something simply won't work for my style or figure, and if it has any resale value whatever, I'll hit up my consignment haunts. I have two main reselling criteria: Excellent condition and recognizable brand name.

Items that don't fit those two criteria slide into an important fourth category: DONATE. Giving quality, undamaged items to your favorite charity shop is always a good option since you can write off the donation, feel fabulous about supporting a good cause, and know that your goods will continue to get used even though you're done with them yourself. I donate far more than I repurpose or resell, but if I've bought an item myself, I feel like it's perfectly fine to either try to utilize it or attempt to recoup my losses.

When do you return, repurpose, and resell your shopping misfires? How do you decide what to make work and what to let go? What to resell and what to donate?

Sally McGraw is the author of Already Pretty, a daily blog about the intersection of style and body image. 

Yet More Reasons to Thrift Shop

Posted by: Sally McGraw under Clothing, Women, Shopping Updated: February 27, 2012 - 3:51 PM

So. You already know that when you thrift, you're saving money, doing something great for the environment, and supporting your favorite charities. But here are some less obvious reasons why thrifting ROCKS:

Unique takes on trends

If I've said it once, I've said it ... well, three or four times. At least. Nothing is truly new, and the best place to get trendy garments and accessories is your local thrift emporium. But what makes this trend-tracking technique even more appealing is that it can grant you access to sartorial uniqueness. Sixty bajillion people will have that same striped boatneck from Target. But the one you thrifted with the button details at the collar and sleeves? It'll set you apart while keeping you current.

Fit variety

It's true that thrift stores have a notoriously narrow range of sizes for sale. At least, most of them do. But they frequently offer fit variety that malls lack. Whenever trends come up around here, a few folks always mention that trends have an infuriating way of eclipsing the styles that preceded them. And it's true. In the early 90s, it seemed like no mall store in America was selling anything but scandalously low-rise jeans. My impression is that mass retailers are attempting to offer variety more consistently, but they can't keep everything in rotation at all times. Thrift stores, however, can. More variety is present because more eras of clothing production are represented. If you like a really high rise or low hemline, if you prefer longer blazers or boxy sweaters, they are ALL represented. Next time you are scouring a mall store for a fit they no longer sell, consider thrifting as an alternative.

Better quality than new

Plenty of brand new garments, shoes, and accessories are beautifully made and will last for decades. Plenty more are cheaply constructed and monstrously overpriced. All it takes is a spin through a thrift store handling older goods to see how manufacturing policies and practices have changed over time. Clothes from bygone eras are heavier, better designed, crafted from better materials, and built to last. When you buy a used garment from a thrift store, you may end up with a more durable, quality product than you would if you bought new. (Emphasis on "may," especially if you're buying recent goods ... but still!) Are you an avid thrifter? Why do you think thrifting is a fabulous way to stay fashionable? Image via weheartit.

Sally McGraw is the author of Already Pretty, a daily blog about the intersection of style and body image. 

Closet Alternatives

Posted by: Sally McGraw under Clothing, Women, Shopping Updated: February 13, 2012 - 1:54 PM

Discussions of wardrobe organization always center on closets. How big is your closet? What kind of shelves and racks are inside? What gadgets do you use to keep it in ship shape? But many of us have dinky, cramped, turn-of-the-century closets (see me waving my hand in the air?), and are forced to find other, creative ways to store and organize our goodies. Here are some of the most common non-closet clothing-storage solutions:

 

Armoires

These monsters are, essentially, freestanding closets and are sometimes referred to as "wardrobes." What better place to stash your clothes? The one shown above is among the most common layouts, with a cupboard-like section up top that typically features a hang bar and a drawer or two below. I've got one with sliding doors on both sides and shelving above the hang bar, so there are definitely variations on the theme.

ADVANTAGES: Armoires are generally big, so they hold a lot. They're also pretty grown-up looking - even the cheap, Ikea versions - so they may enhance your bedroom's decor. Certain versions are configured to accommodate short hanging pieces only, but it's still nice to have a non-closet option that can store must-be-hung items.

DISADVANTAGES: Armoires are generally big, so they take up a bunch of space. If you're living in a microscopic studio apartment, a hulking armoire may look comically out of place. Big can also mean expensive, although you can certainly go the thrifted/Target route to minimize cost.

Chests of drawers

Yeah, I know: Duh. It's that base-covering urge that I just can't seem to squelch. Very few furnished houses and apartments are without a chest of drawers or two. (Chest or two of drawers? Hmmm.) This storage staple comes in all shapes, sizes, materials, and configurations and can be nabbed at virtually every price point if you're willing to buy used.

ADVANTAGES: Again, generally qualify as grown-up furniture. Chests of drawers often serve as dressers since they have open space up top for jewelry boxes, accessories, and miscellany.

DISADVANTAGES: Obviously, everything stored in a chest of drawers must be folded. Or wadded. Anyway, nothing delicate, easily wrinkled, or required-to-be-hung is gonna thrive in there. Although these guys can be procured for cheap (or even free), some show wear-and-tear pretty easily. Simple to spruce up, but buyer beware.

Beneath-the-bed solutions

Although some beds are actually equipped with drawers built into their frames, there are plenty of less permanent options: Bags, bins, and boxes designed to slide under a bed and out of sight.

ADVANTAGES: For most people, this is a wasted space anyway. Why not fill it with clothes? Since many closet-less spaces also lack basements and deep storage, under-the-bed storage is a great alternative for less-used or off-season items.

DISADVANTAGES: Out of sight, out of mind! I always make sure to utilize under-the-bed storage for items that get infrequent use yet are extremely memorable because otherwise, they're as good as gone. This solution is obviously best for foldables or durable goods like shoes and bags, since anything fussy will get wrinkled and mussed. And unless you've got a mondo bed on stilts, the storage area itself is pretty limited.

Roll racks

Although they were designed for use in retail environments, roll racks have made their way into the bedrooms of many fashionistas. Some use them as 3D inspiration boards, but others employ them for extra storage.

ADVANTAGES: If you're the type of person who draws inspiration from what's right in front of her, this is a great way to let those sparks fly! Roll racks are obviously mobile, so they can be temporarily stashed in another room as needed.

DISADVANTAGES: Even a roll rack hung with gorgeous duds is still a roll rack, and probably won't look terribly sophisticated. This solution is more fun and less grown-up, in most cases. Roll racks are limited, too, since everything on them must be hung.

Wall displays

Pinterest is absolutely lousy with wall display ideas: Towel racks for your scarves, corkboards for your jewelry, crown moulding for your shoes, and on and on. I've even seen photos of clothing on hangers tacked directly to walls. There are infinite ways to transform your wardrobe items into displayed works.

ADVANTAGES: Nearly all wall displays are DIY-able, and therefore, cheap. If you're a fashion-y, arty person showing off bits of your wardrobe in creative ways can feel rewarding and fun.

DISADVANTAGES: This is another option that may seem a little casual or young to certain eyes. Items on display in full light are likely to fade eventually.

So! Those of you with small or non-existent closets, do you employ any of these alternatives? What others would you suggest? 

Image via Linens N Things

Sally McGraw is the author of Already Pretty, a daily blog about the intersection of style and body image. 

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