Q: I recently purchased what I thought was a dress — handmade from a very pretty green fabric — from my local Goodwill. I did not thoroughly inspect it or try it on because the lines for the dressing rooms were so long. When I did try it on, I realized that it was a type of traditional, possibly Indian clothing that has long slits up each side and that is meant to be worn like a tunic with a matching pair of trousers. It’s beautiful but I’m afraid of looking out-of-place or offending someone if I wear it. I’m appreciative of other cultures but do not want to appear as if I’m trying to appropriate their style of dress.
A: You’ll never believe this, but I did the exact same thing back in 2008. I thrifted what I believed to be a handmade dress, tried it on at home, realized it had specific cultural roots, and immediately questioned whether it was inappropriate to wear it. A few of my blog readers identified the garment as a kameez or qamis — a garment commonly worn by people from several cultural groups in south Asia — and assured me it would not cause offense. I gave it away anyway.
It’s best to do as much research as possible on individual pieces and, once their origins are determined, try to talk with someone who was born into that culture. Connecting with the culture of origin is key. I’ve been told, for instance, that buying American Indian-inspired jewelry from Target is insulting. Instead you should spend your money buying directly from an American-Indian artisan. After all, that artisan would never sell a piece with sacred roots, can tell you what the piece truly represents and is directly supported by your financial investment.
I’m not comfortable wearing garments and accessories that hail from other cultures without first understanding the potential religious, historic and cultural implications. But to each her own. If you have a personal connection to a garment from another culture, or know for certain that a specific item won’t cause offense, it’s certainly your choice to wear it with pride.
Q: I am now 8 weeks pregnant and have come across a slight problem — the lack of options for pregnant plus size women. Overall I have found the clothing choices to be disturbingly few or just so awful to look at! Any ideas would be greatly welcomed.
A: There’s a dearth of stylish plus-sized maternity wear, which frustrates many expectant moms. The online triad of Motherhood Maternity, A Pea in the Pod and Destination Maternity have a handful of basic options, most of them office-friendly, but none terribly trendy or eye-catching. Kohl’s Oh Baby offerings come in 1X through 3X and are both affordable and versatile but again, not exactly thrilling style-wise. Yours Clothing is a promising online resource, showing updated pieces like off-the-shoulder tops, polka dot palazzo pants and chambray tunics in sizes 12 through 30.
If you’re willing to do some serious digging, try eBay. Your options there will include a handful of foreign brands and some lines that have closed up shop but whose garments are still in circulation. Also consider custom options like Etsy clothing vendors or the designers at Ureshii, a line of colorful jersey-knit clothes that are all custom-made to customer measurements.
Finally, bear in mind that simple clothes can always be amped up with great accessories. Finding a few minimalist staples like dark jeans, black tees and clean-lined blouses to glam up with statement necklaces, colorful scarves and quirky shoes is a great strategy when the plus-sized maternity clothes you find just don’t live up to your standards of fabulosity.
Q: I’m curious about impulse buying. Sometimes my impulse buys are bad, but sometimes they are the greatest. I bought a pair of Sperry high-tops last year on a total whim. Hadn’t been looking for anything like them, weren’t even really my aesthetic, just bought them, full price, just went for it — and I wore them probably five times a week all winter and spring. But not all my impulse buys are like that. How did I make this happen, and can I get better at it?
A: Just about everyone I know — myself included — has had similarly confounding experiences with impulse buys. Ninety percent prove relatively useless, but 10 percent are pure wardrobe gold. It’s virtually impossible to predict which buys will fall into that elusive 10 percent, and that phenomenon keeps us convinced that impulse buying isn’t a ridiculous waste of disposable income.
While I don’t believe that prediction is possible, I do believe we can analyze our successes and determine what they have in common. Grab three to five items you bought on a whim, and consider: Do they include a color that isn’t part of your palette, but that works beautifully with your main shades? Are they in a style that you adore but only dabble in? Do any of the clothes have design elements in common, like princess seams, specific neckline shapes or hidden plackets? Ask yourself why you like these items — are they beautifully designed, expressive of a particular part of your personality or somehow nostalgic? Then ask yourself why you wear these items — are they extremely comfortable, versatile or timeless? If you can boil all this down to a few insights, you can use that knowledge to be more strategic when trolling the clearance racks or pondering an out-of-the-ordinary purchase.
Sally McGraw is the author of Already Pretty, a daily blog about the intersection of style and body image.