It goes without saying that anybody in the know realizes that Washington is shedding is reputation as a city for the frumpy and fashion-clueless. New boutiques are opening, vintage shops are all the rage, and we haven’t seen a pantyhose/running-shoes combo in, oh, at least a month.
With that in mind, we’ve invited two of our favorite Washington fashion bloggers (and Washingtonian.com contributors) Rachel Cothran and Betsy Lowther in for a chat on all things fashion and shopping on Friday, May 16, at 3 PM. You might know Rachel from her popular fashion photography blog, Project Beltway, where she snaps pictures of fashionable people on the streets of Washington. Betsy comes to Washington via a stint in Asia, where she filled in readers on the best shops and fashion from Toyko to Singapore. When she’s not showing up at style events around town in one of her signature vintage dresses, she’s penning sartorial advice for her blog, FashionIsSpinach.com.
Ask them about everything from their favorite local tailors to what’s trendy for summer to their style inspirations. Submit a question in advance, and check back in on Friday, May 16 for the live chat.
Meanwhile, you can check out fashion coverage on our blog, Shop Around.
Sadly, that's all the time we have here for Rachel and Betsy's excellent chat. But don't despair! It was such a success that we'll surely try to bring them back. In the meantime, get your shopping and fashion fix on our blog, Shop Around. And check out more washingtonian.com chats here.
Betsy: It's been about five years since I suffered through a D.C. summer, but I just spent two years living in Singapore – where it is pretty much 90 degrees and 90 percent humidity year-round – and so had ample opportunity to master the art of sweltering-weather style. For me, the less fabric, the better, so skirts and dresses are key – look for light cottons and breathable synthetics for optimal air-flow. I often pair skirts with light cotton blouses (the sleeveless bow-tie neck ones that lots of stores are stocking now are both cute and work-appropriate) and throw on a fitted blazer, cropped jacket or simple cardigan when I'm in an office environment or an air conditioned building.
A sleek little short-sleeved belted dress is another great option – you can throw a blazer over it if you're in a conservative office, but it's a chic look (and, more importantly, not too heavy) to run around in on a hot day. I've scored great work-appropriate belted sheaths recently at both H&M and Filene's.
And, I always keep a compact of light pressed powder in my purse at all times in the summer, to keep that pesky "shiny glow" to a minimum.
Rachel: Anything cotton! Eyelet is very summery and is cool by nature (little vents!). A lot of retailers are putting a modern spin on the fabric (larger eyelet, on unexpected garments, for example) so it doesn’t come off as too sweet or too young. It adds agreat graphic/textural element to the outfit. What about a breezy dress with ¾-length sleeves with a big cuff bracelet?
Rachel: The ones where I actually *buy* stuff, or the ones I desperately want everything from but can’t? ( : I’ll include a few of both. This is hard though.
Annie Creamcheese: never leave there without something.
Muleh: I want every.single.thing.
Circle: great designers here.
Meeps: not really a boutique, sorry! I love the thrill of the hunt, which you have to be willing to do when you go.
Club Monaco: also not a boutique but eh, rules are meant to be broken I always say. Well tailored, classic pieces that are relatively affordable and not too trendy.
Betsy: As readers of my blog know, I can't get enough of Meeps and Annie Creamcheese for my vintage fix – they both frequently run nice sales and good specials, so get on their e-mail lists to be in the know about such things.
I can't afford much (okay, anything) in Relish in Georgetown, but it is my number one spot to go drool over an impeccable selection of seriously gorgeous clothing (Junya Watanabe! Marni! Dries!) and also find styling inspiration from their incredibly well-dressed mannequins.
Muleh is another store that I think offers a really well-selected range of pieces, and while it's also pricey, they have pretty fantastic end-of-season sales. I love me some Phillip Lim, but I really love Phillip Lim at a significant discount.
I'm also a huge fan of the local consignment boutiques – Secondi is on my regular shopping route (honestly, you can find great, barely worn pieces there at a fraction of the retail price and they have a constantly updated selection. I've seen everything from Orla Kiely bags to Club Monaco cashmere to fantastic vintage.) Inga's on MacArthur Boulevard is the same deal, but somewhat higher end: I scored the most unbelievable Tuleh dress – with the Neiman's tags still on it – for less than 10 percent of the original price a couple of months ago. It is one of my very favorite finds.
Oh, and I almost forgot about Treat, the "sample sale boutique" in Alexandria! They've got an amazing selection of a-season-or-two-old finds at great prices, like Hayden-Harnett bags and Trina Turk clothing.
(Okay, and this doesn't count as a boutique, but I spend an inordinate amount of time in Filene's, especially the shoe section. The Penn Quarter location – which is much, much less hectic/crowded than Conn. Ave or Friendship Heights – has a fabulously large shoe area. I recently went a little crazy there, but scored some amazing pairs that they didn't stock at any of the other local stores.)
All right, I'm stopping now!
Rachel: As a one-time Washingtonian “Best-Dressed”er, I can tell you that I *definitely* don’t have the money to buy expensive stuff! I agree with you – to me, style is the result of a great hi/low mix…and healthy doses of imagination, adventure and self-awareness (the good kind). People who might make my list…hm, this is tough! A lot of them are nameless people on the street. Sheldon, who manages over at Marvin, always looks great.
Rachel: The first thing that comes to mind is Proper Topper, but they might be a little pricey and maybe not the right style(not sure what their prices are exactly, though). There are a bunch of great ones on this site, but again, they’re a little on the costly side (for me, anyway). If I were you, I’d poke through the stores in Georgetown and see what turns up.
Betsy: I'm just back from a few days in New York, and I was definitely seeing seriously cute fedoras in all the stores! I'm hoping Rachel can pinpoint a couple of local retailers – I think they're definitely coming in stock around here too, but I haven't been out and about much in the past few weeks to know who has them in already.
One place to check would be the men's department of trendier retailers like Urban Outfitters and H&M (I find the men's department to be pretty great in general! You can often find cool sunglasses, scarves and other unisex accessories that they're not putting out on the women's side.) I'd bet both retailers might be stocking fedoras for men this season, and you can probably find one that look just as cute on you.
That said: I love the hip vibe at Marvin (the rooftop bar, while a bit packed on weekends, has a stylish scene that just makes me want to rock some cute ensembles. Plus: the chicken 'n waffles? Worth the hype!) I also love upscale hotel bars for cocktails – the Madera is right by my apartment, so that's one of my faves (though any of the Kimpton hotels are fun for swanky drinks) and the Mayflower is always a good spot for old-school-style cocktails (you can rock a LBD there easily. I recently did and had my bar tab secretly picked up an older gentleman, Spitzer-style. Which was kind of gross but kind of funny too. And then I was able to use the money I'd just saved to go buy shoes.)
Rachel: Marvin, Rock & Roll Hotel, the Kennedy Center!
I see your point on the cross-chest needs. Perhaps you might look for a large handbag that also has an extra-long detachable strap in addition to the regular handles? That way, you can have the chic handbag effect when you want, but strap it on across the body for those long schleps.
Betsy: The gladiator trend doesn't really speak to me and my vintage-heavy style tendencies, so I haven't been following the options much. That said, I recently featured two fabulous Stuart Weitzman versions on my site — if you've got the money to spend, they look so awesome and offer a more unique take on the trend than some of the lower-priced, traditional versions that are currently everywhere.
Betsy: A lot of places carry classic jersey wrap dresses nowadays – I've seen them everywhere from H&M to Filene's to Macy's. I think the key is to look for higher-quality fabrics and classic, understated patterns –a cheaper jersey cotton or an overly big/busy fabric tends to make them look less chic and more cheap.
And keep an eye out for DVF at consignment shops and on sale – I have two DVF wrap dresses that I've been wearing for years (the wrap style doesn't really change, just the patterns – so it's actually a great investment piece and worth the splurge). Both of mine were found on sale, but I'd say they are leagues beyond what you'd find at your local fast-fashion retailer – they're made in a 100% jersey silk that holds up really well and fits the body cleanly but not weirdly clingy (like some cheaper fabrics), and the patterns are so sophisticated, muted and detailed that they really stand out. If you can, I'd say investing in one DVF dress is much better than a slew of cheaper alternatives.
But sliiightly more realistically, I've heard good things about Field English Custom Tailors in G'town and that lower-level place on P Street around 22nd (which I can't remember the name of. Anyone?) I can't vouch for them personally, but they might be worth checking out.
If you haven't already, you might also poke around a few big & tall men's specialty shops – they might have an off-the-rack option they can alter to his specifications.
Rachel: Try Pierre Mohan. My friend Pepper is basically the exact same size n’ shape as your fiancé and he swears by this guy, who’s a Hong Kong tailor who comes in to DC a few times a year for appointments. You can check out Pepper here. I’ll email Pepper right now and ask him about the cost, but I’m almost positive your budget is more than plenty, depending on the fabric you chose. Also, Pepper found a suit at H&M that he was shocked to discover he could wear off the rack.
Betsy: I've got some work-y activities this afternoon and evening, so I'm going for a "professionally chic and very competent" vibe at the moment. But the details: 3.1 Phillip Lim white blouse, with a short tie-neck and front pleats (from Bird, an amazing little boutique chain in Brooklyn). Worn untucked and belted with a wide vintage gray leather belt (from the little basement consignment store at 18th and S-ish). Super-soft and super-dark Bica Cheia trouser-cut jeans (recently found on sale at Anthropologie), and my beloved Calvin Klein "Tassie" flats, in quilted pewter. They're my run-around-town staple shoes — they have a great, slight sliver wedge heel, which makes them incredibly comfortable.
To go out later, I'm going to throw on a fitted, knee-length vintage khaki trench and grab my big black leather all-purpose work tote. Oh, and I just picked up a seriously huge rainbow-spectrum umbrella for $10 in a trashy New York tourist shop this week, which is a more affordable version of the MoMA design one I've loved forever, so I'll probably have to bring that along too.
Jewelry-wise, I'm also wearing an oversized men's watch with a black metal finish by Victorinox Swiss Army (it was the closest thing I could find to the Chanel J12 without paying J12 prices) and a set of six stacked rings in different hammered metal finishes by Kevia.
Rachel: Heh, I totally planted this one. To celebrate the occasion and because I’ve got a casualish theater-date later, I’m wearing the thing I love the most in my closet: a pink vintage brocade embroidered jacket. I bought it at a vintage store in the Outer Banks (random, right?!) and the memory of that summer (spent living in a beach shack right on the beach with friends) is just as good as the find. I paired it with dark-denim skinny-ish Zara Woman jeans and a simple white tank. Something embellished like that is a great thing to have on hand when you need insta-glamour!
That said, you don't necessarily need to spend tons to get a nice bag. My current favorite is an oversize black leather tote that I got at Zara for about $100ish a while back. It is a super-soft but sturdy black leather, has distinctive but low-key detailing and minimal hardware, and looks waaaay more expensive than it actually is. People have literally chased me down the street to tell me they love it, which is always kind of amusing/satisfying. So check out the options there – not everything they have is that good of a find, but you just might score something great. Another good resource would be end-of-season sales at higher end retailers like Saks, Neiman's or Nordstrom's – if you stick to more classic shapes and styles, last season's bag is usually just as good as this season's, and cheaper.
Rachel: Depending on how you live/what you do, a perfect pair of jeans or a fantastic handbag. Ultimately, the coolest and best thing in your wardrobe is something totally YOU and unique, so if you can develop a signature (you ALWAYS wear a ring your mom passed down, for instance), that’s even cooler. Think Gwen Stefani’s hair and red lipstick.
Betsy: I'm really into Bethesda right now – sure, it's slightly suburban, but it's easily Metro-accessible and has lots of different shopping options, including vintage/thrift (see my recent round-up here), mid-priced (the new, non-consignment stock at Mustard Seed is often pretty cute) and higher-end (the Bethesda Row area is really shaping up with some great retailers, plus it's got that charming, walkable vibe). The brand-new, in-the-midst-of-opening-right-now boutique section of Bethesda Row really has me very excited – Ginger is already open and it's just awesome, and I hear great things about the new shoe store too. You've got some of the usual G'town haunts (Urban Chic, bluemercury) moving in as well, but by the time it has all opened up, I think it will be a great destination to do some fun boutique shopping in a cute, pedestrian-friendly environment. Plus: Tons of fun restaurants for refueling! (See here for more of what's open and what's filling in the last spots in the next month.)
I also enjoy hitting up the Courthouse-Clarendon area in Arlington – on weekends, you can start at the Courthouse flea market (biggest and best on Sundays), and then make your way up to Clarendon via Current Boutique and the newly relocated Shoefly, and finally pop over to South Moon Under, Free People, Crate & Barrel and The Container Store in the Market Common complex. (Plus, I always enjoy stopping by the Apple store to drool over the iPhone for a few minutes.)
Rachel: Actually, I would urge you to look closer and venture a little deeper into those neighborhoods. Have you been to Mercedes Bien in Adams Morgan? She has awesome vintage including some really great accessories. Smash! Across the street carries some cool local designs. Walk a little further east on U Street and you’ll find that it is totally blowing up with boutiques: Lettie Gooch over on 9th, Fly Betty on 11th, 4NxChange at the corner of 11th & U, Profile just opened on 11th.
Something with a fluttery, uneven hemline that’s somewhere between short and long would be gorgeous. And don’t forget the pedicure!
Betsy: Wow, that's a tough one! I'm a little inclined to skip the barefoot part – like Carrie Bradshaw said, the shoes are part of the outfit! That said, the "formal" option to me means "floor length" (a light colorful summery chiffon would be great in a floor-length dress), but you could be a little more casual/beachy with your shoes, like a Grecian-style sandal or kitten-heeled sandals or flipflops. (But no rubber, please! Keep it chic!) I don't think you're going to want to be navigating the sand in sky-high heels anyway.
Betsy: Yes, yes, yes! With a few pre-requisites: They should end as close to the floor as possible (I hate an ankle- or calf-length maxi dress – so awkward!). If you're petite, you should avoid big patterns, which can be overwhelming on a small frame. And look for dresses that have a slight fit through the bodice to keep others from thinking you're with child – empire waists are okay, as long as they don't suddenly billow hugely and instead taper out in a smooth A-line shape to the floor. Of course, the taller and thinner you are, the easier it is to pull off a maxi – more petite or curvy girls would probably do better in other summery styles.
Betsy: For guys? Sure! I feel like men never get to play much with fashion, so you should rock the trends that you love for as long as you'd like.
Rachel: Lots of questions! Hmmm, not sure if you’re looking for more traditional cuts or something more edgy/trendy, but swing by Club Monaco and see what they’ve got. I hear good things about Lucky jeans (there’s a store in Georgetown) too, and I know that Lori over at Redeem (again, I know!) keeps her male customers thrilled with her selection.
And honestly? Levi’s are still great.
That’s funny that you bring up The Container Store. Just last night I was marveling at that place: a whole store…full of containers?! As much as I’d like to be the kind of girl who has neat rows of shoes and an elfa system set up in my walk-in closet, I probably will never, ever be. I’m not sure what kind of “containers” you’re looking for, but you might scope some design blogs like Design Sponge, Décor8, or the magazine Domino’s Web site for links and ideas. Around here, check out Crate & Barrel or Storehouse. On the eclectic front, I love the consignment furniture shops Miss Pixie’s, Ruff n Ready, Good Wood, and Millennium, all in and around 14th and U Streets.
Betsy: Hmmm. Men's denim? We clearly need to bring in a guy co-host to help us next time! My guy friends pretty much swear by Denim Bar (hard to beat the selection) and Diesel (classic). I'd also check out some of the mid-priced retailers, like the Gap (where I buy a lot of my jeans) or Levi's. They both have good-quality denim, a wide range of styles and are pretty well-priced. Also, I don't know about men's per se, but Filene's, Loehmann's and the like get a bunch of really great high-end women's designer denim, which they sell for much less – I'd bet they have men's styles too.
On to storage: Well, I'm really a Container Store devotee, so… I do actually get most of my storage boxes/bins at Ikea (and it's much cheaper than CS or BB&B). And every once in awhile, I take a pilgrimage to NYC or another city to stock up at a Muji – a.k.a., the Japanese "no brand" brand. They've got cool, basic, utilitarian storage items (from shampoo bottles to big bins) at pretty great prices.
I'm happy to say I was Lasiked a few years ago after two decades of glasses, so I'm afraid I know not a thing about where to find eyewear anymore.
That said, I'd also look for items that are more classic/basic and have a lot of versatility. *Everyone* is going to remember a hot pink dress, but you can make a slinky black sheath look like a totally different dress by adding things like belts, statement jewelry (oversized necklaces; big bangle bracelets), a vintage brooch, etc. etc. Depending on my mood, I'll throw on a sparkly skinny belt or a wide hot pink sash with a basic LBD and it can look like a totally new dress. Or, I'd skip the belt and add a jeweled headband to focus the attention somewhere else.
Rachel: Are you a boy or a girl?
A leather jacket is actually on the top of my Dying-to-Buy list at the moment, though I'm looking for a perfectly beat-up, snug black one with a little biker flair. For women, leather jackets look great paired with something that's a bit softer and more feminine. And think of colors that look best with brown. I'd stay away from red, especially if it's solid. Look for a dress with some sweet details like ruffles or something in a small floral print.
Guys might try the jacket with a fitted T-shirt, jeans and some cool aviator sunglasses.
Betsy: Ooooh, I just got a camel-colored vintage leather jacket and am experimenting with new ways to wear it too! I like mine best with dark jeans and flats — most leather is just a little rocker/casual to pair with anything too dressy. If it's small and fitted, you can take some cues from this season's big look and throw it over little sundresses. (Mine unfortunately, is more blazer-like, so it's jeans for me.)
Now for vintage coats and sweaters, Dryel is an excellent low-cost option — be careful of course, but a hardy vintage wool can usually take that treatment.
In the summer, I'd invest in a pair of rubber ballet flats. Rainboots are *really* hot (waterproof = not breathable!). I'm not sure who would stock such a thing right now, but Sigerson Morrison started offering great little solid-colored rubber flats a few years ago, which is a really nice option for warm rainy days or when a boot won't do.
Also, everyone is still wearing them all around New York, and I feel like if they're still okay with it, then it's still definitely in.