Designer Bags, Purse Budgets, and Investments

designer bags and purse budgetsLadies, how often do you buy purses and bags? Do you prefer to make one big purchase and buy a quality, name bag — or do you prefer to make more frequent, smaller purchases? Does having a trendy bag matter to you, or do you want a classic style? 

I’ve been thinking about this recently because I’ve been helping a friend look for her first big bag purchase in a while — she’s finally out of the diaper bag phase of her life, has almost 2 of her 3 kids in school, is settled into her “forever” house, etc. Accordingly, she and I have been trolling resale sites like Tradesy and The Real Real, as well as discount sites like Last Call and Rue La La. She’s inclined to make one big bag purchase, and carry the bag everywhere — and she’d like to find a designer bag for around $500.  (We’ve yet to find the perfect bag at that price point — I’ve suggested she look at discounted but new Furla bags for quality, stylish bags, as well as lightly used bags like Mulberry, Ferragamo, and Saint Laurent.

In the past I’ve gone the other way, buying bags frequently but at lower price points. In my lawyering days before kids, there was a steady stream of discounted bags that I paid between $150-$350 for, all with original MSRPs of $500-$700. (You can see a lot of them pictured/discussed in this older post on purse budgets.)  They were all quality, leather bags — lots of Cole Haan, Furla, Botkier, Dooney & Bourke, with the occasional Coach or Kate Spade thrown in — but none of them really qualified as “designer” bags on the same level as my friends with Chloe, YSL, Prada, Chanel, Bottega, etc.  So I’ve wondered over the years — should I have just saved the money up and spent my “purse budget” on a single designer purse each year, instead of four or five little ones? Would that be a better “investment”?

Here’s the interesting thing I’m finding while looking for a purse for my friend: a lot of the designer bags I’m seeing seem incredibly dated to me.  Much, much more so than the fun, sometimes offbeat bags my closet is filled with.  Some of the bags I see are particularly tied to very old memories, such as:

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Going Out Clothes After 25

going-out-clothes-after-25Today was supposed to be part two of our suits roundup but, well, it’s taking too long and I don’t want to slap something up half-finished. So here’s an interesting question that came up yesterday in the comments — can you wear denim for going out clothes after 25? Is there an age limit, or is it just not cool to do anymore? What are your favorite things to wear for going out?

For my $.02, I still occasionally wear denim for going out, but our date nights are usually pretty casual, as are girls’ night outs as most of my good friends have small kids at this point and we’re either too tired to paint the town red, or because someone needs to stay at home for lack of a babysitter so we go over there instead.When I was dating I never liked to wear dresses on early dates — guys reacted weirdly as if I had “dressed up” for them, and when things started to get physical, I found dresses too binary, if that makes sense — they’re either on or they’re off. (Interesting to ponder: in Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn explained “the Cool Girl,” which to my mind always meant jeans + cool top — dresses or a jumpsuit would seem too fussy to me.) Of course all of this is just more information — what ultimately matters is what you want to wear when you go out, not what your partner wants you/expects you to wear, or what other friends or some mythical Cool Girl are wearing.

So let’s hear it, ladies — what do you like to wear to go out? Do you dress differently than you did in your early 20s for going out?  What are you looking forward to wearing for summer evening outings?

Pictured: maybe I do need a place to wear this jumpsuit, these leather pants (40% off!), or this off-the-shoulder sheath dress to… 

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What Not to Wear to Work

what not to wear to workHere’s a fun question as we slide into summer with lots of summer interns and summer associates: what NOT to wear to work?  Obviously: every office is different, so know your office.  My usual guidelines for readers are these:

  1. If it’s on this list (below) of questionable items, do NOT wear it until you’ve seen your boss several midlevels wear it. Note that these people do not count as “your boss:” another summer intern, a staffer/subordinate, or someone else very junior at the company (e.g., a first-year associate). (See the interesting discussion in the comments — a lot of bosses have earned their right / have enough credibility to get away with dressing however the heck they want — just because they feel ok about wearing something doesn’t mean they’d want to see a summer intern or first-year wear it.)
  2. When in doubt, stick with classics. If it wasn’t commonly worn as workwear five years ago, question whether it’s appropriate at your conservative office — classic styles and prints tend to go over best. Track pants, culottes, ballerina-style lace up shoes… these are in a different ballpark than pencil skirts, button-front blouses, sheath dresses, and blazers.
  3. If it makes noise at all, it isn’t appropriate for the office. Cheap fabric — arm parties — loud necklaces — any sort of a shoe that makes a loud sound: be wary.

(Pictured at top, in case you like them for the weekend or evenings, clockwise: romper / eyelet cami / maxi skirt with slit / pencil skirt with slit.)

My list of “please do not wear this to your conservative office” would include:

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The Hunt: Comfortable Ballet Flats

comfortable ballet flats for work roundupSure, we all know what basics professional women are supposed to have in their closets, but if you’re buying one for the first time or replacing one you’ve worn into the ground, it can be a pain to find exactly the right incarnation in stores. In “The Hunt,” we search the stores for a basic item that every woman should have.

We’ve talked a lot about flats over the years, but I don’t think we’ve ever done a major roundup of the most comfortable ballet flats for work.  So ladies, let’s hear it — which are your favorites? What are your favorite ways to break in a new pair of flats, or make them more comfortable for your feet? (As someone with narrow heels I’m always adding these heel pads.) Although rounded toes have come really far for work, I still think the best flat for work is one that has a bit of a point to it, in a durable leather, preferably with a rubber sole or rubber heel for comfort and grip. I know some people hate the look of patent leather flats, but I don’t mind them, particularly in a tumbled patent leather (like the Calvin Klein flat pictured below) or a color other than black, like a nice gray. We’ve rounded up some of the best-selling, highest rated styles below — which brands and styles are your favorite?

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Weekend Wednesday: Stylish Travel Dresses

This is the first in a new occasional Wednesday feature where we explore weekend-wear more in depth.

travel dresses for summerI wouldn’t wear any of these to work, but if you’re on the hunt for a packing-friendly, easycare dress for any upcoming summer travel (or, hey, just brunch or other weekend activities), I thought we’d round up a few. I like that all of these are able to be dressed up and down — wear them with flip flops and a beach tote one day, with a nice necklace, clutch, wrap and fancier heels the next. The plus-size option from Travel Smith is even four dresses in one — two necklines and a reversible fabric! Ladies, do you have any favorite travel dresses, or favorite adventure clothing companies? What is your must-pack item for every vacation you go on? 

Pictured: Woolrich / Eddie Bauer / Lily Pulitzer.

(The full roundup is after the jump!)

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The Hunt: Stylish Work Dresses

stylish work dressesSure, we all know what basics professional women are supposed to have in their closets, but if you’re buying one for the first time or replacing one you’ve worn into the ground, it can be a pain to find exactly the right incarnation in stores. In “The Hunt,” we search the stores for a basic item that every woman should have.

The sheath dress: it’s one of the most stylish work dresses a woman can have, and if you buy the right dress, it can be a workhorse for your wardrobe, whether your office is formal or business casual. Get one that matches your blazer and wear it as a suit! Top it with a fun blazer (like this morning’s) for a more casual but still formal look, or with a cardigan or denim jacket for a more casual look.  Layer it in colder weather with a light jersey turtleneck, a crisp collared blouse, or even a long-sleeved jersey tee that best matches the neckline (or, ahem, raises it where it needs to).  It’s hard to go wrong with the sheath dress, but watch out for these pitfalls when buying it: is the cleavage too low? is the hem-length appropriate? does it have any trendy detail that will make it more memorable and thus less wearable in regular rotation (exposed zipper, embellishment at neck, etc)? is the slit too high? does it look “tailored” (good) or “body conscious” (less good) to you? is the back inappropriate for work? (In general, look for a high neckline in the back, not a scoopneck in the back or other “tank dress” type of vibe. Definitely nothing cut like a halter, at least for a traditional sheath dress in a conservative office.) Once you’ve purchased it: make sure you cut your vents. Hang it up immediately after each wearing and let it air out a bit.  If it’s part of a suiting set, be sure to dryclean all your pieces together so they show the same wear and tear. (While today’s feature is focused on sheath dresses, fit and flare dresses can also be workhorses; our last roundup is here.)

First, we’ll link to a few stylish work dresses in specialty categories before getting to our featured pieces for today:

favorite work dresses

Hall of Famers, pictured above: Limited / Theory / Calvin Klein / Lands’ End / Ellen Tracy

Curious for past roundups of sheath dresses? Here they are from 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, and 2011. For other sizing issues you may want to check out our last discussion on bespoke dresses, which you can order fit exactly to your measurements.

Pictured at top: Vince, Reiss, Halogen.

Note that even if a color is shown below, all of the featured dresses also come in black. 

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