Category: Personal Styling

A girl and a closet: Sarah

Sarah grew up in Fort Saskatchewan, and moved to Edmonton after university. She works full time as a personal assistant in an office setting, and part time at a jewelry store that specializes in custom jewelry – which is one of her passions. She’s a self-described “old lady” at heart – she likes to keep busy with yoga, quilting, Bible study and cooking. Oh, and watching TV with her husband and their (super cuddly) cat. Sarah describes her style as basic, but with feminine touches – she loves to accessorize, especially if it involves scarves, lace and/or lots of pearls. Some of her fave shopping destinations are Jacob and Old Navy. Her goal for our session was to bust out of what had become a bit of a style rut and have more fun with her clothes.

Because Sarah works in a fairly informal environment, her work “uniform” was a close relative of her everyday “uniform”: a solid colour tank top, a solid colour cardigan, pants (dress pants for work, jeans for everything else). This is one example:

Apart from the ennui inherent in wearing the same things day in and day out, this outfit had other, more basic concerns. Sarah is tall and has a long torso but a high waist, and the proportions of this outfit were all wrong for her shape. The cropped cardigan draws attention to her hips, making them look out of proportion. The tank top hit her at the widest point of her body, somehow managing to make her slender frame look stocky. The gap between the cardigan and the tank top makes her torso look even longer, while the pants are doing no favours to her lower half. She could probably smuggle her  adorable cat in one of those pant legs!

So the first thing I wanted to work on with Sarah was proportions. Here is a tweaked version of the same outfit. 

The jacket is longer and the tank top shorter, and the gap between them narrower. The tank top, especially, no longer hits Sarah at the widest point, but rather just above the hip bone, which creates better proportions all around. The pants are a much better fit too. We added different shades of plums and pinks in the outfit to create visual “depth” and interest. Yellow/gold-tone accessories really pop against those shades.
Here is another side-by-side comparison between Sarah’s original outfit (left), and one we put together (right).

On the right, the longer cardigan works because it hits right below the widest point of her body; Sarah is tall enough to pull off a long cardigan without looking “swamped”. The length of the cardigan is also offset by the fact it’s a slim cut, and by the fact we tucked in the shirt – again, this serves to draw the eyes upward.[For other high-waisted girls: tucking in your top into skirts and/or pants that sit lower than your actual waist (but not too low if you are also pear-shaped) helps to create the illusion of a “lower” waistline, balancing proportions.]

Another thing Sarah wanted to work on was incorporating more “visual interest” in her outfits. Sarah has a lot of solid colours in her wardrobe, which poses a bit of a challenge in terms of putting together really different looks. That’s where patterns and prints come in handy. Since Sarah does have a few print skirts in her closet, I wanted to show her how to build outfits around prints, the easy way.

When it comes to colour mixing, prints are almost a “cheat” – all the hard work is done for you. Just look at the colours found in the print itself, and get your inspiration from that. You already know the colours are going to work together – otherwise you wouldn’t like the print in the first place! So, yes, pair red and purple together – they work! So do blue and brown and yellow. And, when in doubt, you can always anchor the outfit together with black.

The other thing I love about these outfits is that (i) they can work for fall/winter (just add black opaque tights and boots), and (ii) they incorporate Sarah’s amazing collection of scarves. Her scarves are so beautiful (and colourful) that they can easily take the place of jewelry … and are ever so practical for the season.

The other thing I wanted to show Sarah was how to tweak outfits in order to get slightly different looks. That way, if she really likes how certain pieces look together, she can wear them more often without getting bored.

We both loved this tulip-shaped print skirt in Sarah’s closet, and it was a great match for her brown belted jacket. A great way to spice up brown is to add some red accents. Here are two different takes on the look.

Don’t be afraid to replace the belts that come with an item like this jacket with one of your own belts. It’s an easy way to get more looks (and more wear) out of the piece. 

The next item we used to create multiple outfits was a knit, sleeveless wrap-dress that Sarah bought on a trip to New York, but didn’t really know how to deploy in her wardrobe. As it turned out, it’s a really versatile piece. First up, a work look.

We layered a bright coloured tank underneath, added a grey jacket and some beautiful grey pearls and – voila! Instant polish. Again, Sarah can add some black (or purple or grey) tights to winterize this look.

Next up, two weekend looks – one casual (left) and one dressy (right). In the first case, we layered a 3/4 sleeve top, added a long pendant (remember, longer necklaces tend to have a more casual vibe) as well as leggings and flats.  Sarah looks beautiful in this look, which really flatters  her frame. In the wintertime, Sarah could substitute a turtleneck and boots for some added warmth. For the second outfit, we kept the top and leggings, added a cool belt, boyfriend blazer and heels – and Sarah is ready for a night on the town!

We took a similar approach to a midi skirt from Sarah’s closet, which I fell in love with. The fabric and the colour were so unexpected and cool – definitely a statement piece. Again, Sarah is tall and has the frame to pull off this mid-calf length and elongated A-line style that could be problematic for shorter gals.

For the office, we paired it with the chocolate brown belted jacket and silvery (comfy) flats, and turned a long necklace into a three-strand piece perfect for the work week.
For the weekend, we again created two looks. On the right, a cardigan and braided belt give the skirt a bit more of a  relaxed, boho vibe. On the right,  a more sophisticate belt, black jacket and heels work great for dressier occasions.

Last, but definitely not least, I could not resist “playing” with another one of Sarah’s skirts – a similar style and cut as the previous one, but in black. It’s a fantastic piece for semi-formal occasions; the sheen of the fabric and the structured volume give it tons of elegance. There is something so timeless about a black-white-and-red combination …

But, to be honest, as soon as I saw this skirt, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it. Here was my chance to re-create the retro glam look that so dominated the runways for Fall 2010. And I could not have asked for a more stunning model.

Got a style question? Want your own style session or shopping trip with me? Contact me at or on Facebook.

A girl and a closet: Shanna

Shanna was born in Montreal, but moved out here when she was eight. She is a realtor, and enjoys golfing, traveling and salsa-dancing in her spare time. She also loves to shop, especially at the outlets in the U.S., though she is also a fan of Mexx, Jacob and Dynamite. Her love of shopping is readily apparent: Shanna is not only stylish, but her closet is one that can easily rival mine. A girl after my own heart! Shanna describes her style as “classic” and “straight-forward”. Her goal for our session was to develop a more polished, “put-together” approach to weekend dressing. In terms of her professional wardrobe, she knows exactly what she likes, what looks good and what works; but when it comes to her off-duty wardrobe, she tends to dress at the very casual end of the spectrum. Here is one typical look:

Right off the bat, Shanna told me that the key for her was comfort … and staying warm. She wanted to find a way to amp up the style of her weekend wear, without sacrificing comfort and practicality. A bonus would be to incorporate some of her work pieces into the mix, but again without going all the way to the “dressy” extreme.
So that’s what we set about doing. The basic approach was to take one work piece and build an outfit around it while minimizing its dressiness. In each case, we put together two looks: both appropriate for weekend activities, but one more casual (brunch, running errands, etc.) and one a little dressier (dinner, drinks, etc.).
The “preppy” option: dress shirt + cable knit sweater

More casual                                                                  Less casual

Why this works: a chunky cable-knit sweater has the  just the right casual vibe to “dress down” a collared shirt, and it’s the right weight too. A too-lightweight sweater can look bunchy on top of a shirt, plus it offers less warmth. To further enhance the casualness of the outfit, leave the shirt untucked.
A long, simple necklace is a great way to accessorize a weekend look, because it looks more casual than shorter pieces but has tons of style. The necklace we used here (a piece I picked up at Banana Republic without realizing just how useful it would turn out to be) is fantastic because it’s the right length (hits around the navel) and shape (small, round stones, no extra embellishments), and it’s also a great accent colour. The turquoise pairs well with lots of colours (including the navy and orchid pink in these outfits) and it manages to stand out in a discreet, not overpowering, way.

The “girly” option: print cami + solid-colour cardigan

More casual                                                                  Less casual


Why this works: these print camisoles work really well with Shanna’s work suits, but they can also do double-duty on weekends. Just pair them with cardigans or sweater coats. The chunkier the knit of the sweater, the more casual the vibe. If, like Shanna, you find yourself frequently feeling cold (and who doesn’t in this climate), then layer a coloured tank top underneath the camisole. Again, this will also serve to “dress down” the outfit; for evening looks, it’s better to skip the tank top, or wear one with a lower neckline so that it doesn’t show. As before, a long necklace completes the look.

The “Gwyneth” option: blazer + T-shirt

More casual                                                                Less casual

Why this works: I call this the “Gwyneth” approach to weekend wear because Ms. Paltrow has practically made this look her off-duty uniform. A blazer, a print T-shirt, jeans … done! A good trick for transitioning a work blazer into the weekend is to push up the sleeves – it instantly transforms the look of the blazer from “business” to “fun”. You can also control the level of dressiness here through the choice of T-shirts. The one on the left has a more casual-looking print; the one on the right, by virtue of the print, the darker colours and the sparkles (which can’t be seen in the photo) is dressier. I’m a huge fan of crew-neck T-shirts – as long as they don’t look like they’re swallowing up your neck – but V-necks can work just as well, if they’re more to your taste. 
Another way to control the level of dressiness in an outfit is through fabric. Here are two outfits made up of very similar pieces, but with very different vibes.

Cotton is casual, even in a dressier print (above left); silk and other shinier fabrics are far less casual (above right). As I mentioned above, the same is true for longer versus shorter necklaces. A shiny patent belt and pointy stilettos complete the evening look. 
In addition to jazzing up her weekend wear, Shanna had one other request for me: helping her figure out how to wear her funky cut-out booties. Though she loved them, she always ended up wearing them with pants, which didn’t exactly show them off. As her goal was to do just that, I suggested that she pair them with a pencil skirt – I love the contrast between really funky and really classic pieces. Here are two ways that we accessorized the look.

For option #1, the slouchy cardigan echoes the slouchiness of the shoes, and the gun-metal grey echoes their “rocker” vibe. The silhouette is still streamlined, thanks to the slim pencil skirt and the waist-emphasizing belt of the cardigan. 

Option #2 is a slightly dressier take.

The sweater is less slouchy, but is a heavier knit which adds a little bit of extra volume on top. The belt adds definition to the waist and plays off the side buckles on the shoes. Fabulous!
Got a style question? Want your own style session or shopping trip with me? Contact me at or on Facebook.

A girl and a closet: Geeta

Geeta grew up in Toronto and moved to Edmonton about a decade ago. She currently works in an academic environment, and is also a part-time student. Her hobbies include jewelry design, writing, biking, painting, traveling and cooking. [I got to experience her cooking first hand, and can attest that she has honed her skills very well.] By her own  description, her style is “baggy” – which, as it turns out, is something of an understatement. But more on that later. Geeta loves clothes swaps and shopping at Goodwill, which makes her feel good about the environmental footprint of her wardrobe choices. She also likes to shop at Nokomis and Frog Kisser’s Den for unique pieces, and Eddie Bauer and The Bay for staples.
Geeta’s main goal for our session was to find ways to inject a bit of grown-up style into her work wear. As I quickly discovered, Geeta has a tendency to buy clothes that are one or two sizes too big for her petite frame. This, combined with her love of flats (she has one pair that she wears almost every day), contrive to make her appear like a younger and less professional version than the person her resume might suggest. Although she works in a fairly casual environment, Geeta is ready to bring a bit more polish to her everyday looks. 
Our biggest challenge in accomplishing her goal was her  minimalist wardrobe, which consists of only a couple of dozen pieces. Yes, you read that right. For example, Geeta has two cardigans (if you don’t count the one that she picked up after her grandmother discarded it – and I don’t), and no jackets. Nonetheless, I was determined to show her that she didn’t necessarily need a lot of extra pieces to add a bit of polish and pizazz to her outfits. In fact, all I used were 3 belts and 3 necklaces of my own, in addition to the pieces that Geeta already had. Ready to see the results?
This would be a fairly typical office outfit for Geeta. It’s pretty casual, and not particularly polished.

With the simple addition of a belt and a bright-coloured necklace, what a difference!

Here is another version of Geeta’s typical look. The polka-dot print of the cardigan is super cute, but the outfit as a whole doesn’t really feel “finished”. This might work for Geeta’s life as a graduate student, but not so much her professional life.

Here, again, all we added was a belt and a necklace; suddenly, the vibe is very different.

The same pieces also work with jeans; pearls help to balance out the casual jeans, keeping the look office-appropriate.
Geeta is really fond of long, hip-grazing tops, which can be a little bit overwhelming for petite figures. Still, she doesn’t need to take scissors to her favourite pieces – a belt can be an easy fix, helping to draw the eye upwards, emphasize the waist, and create the illusion of more height.

Of course, another solution is to tuck in a long top. A high-waisted skirt makes one’s legs look miles long – whether or not they really are. Just make sure that the waist line doesn’t get too close to the cleavage; you don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea about where your boobs sit in relation to your waist. 

This is also further proof that red is the perfect accent colour, especially for a simple black and grey palette. It adds just the right amount of understated sophistication.

If you weren’t already convinced about the transformative power of belts, here are a few quick takes that will hopefully make you a convert. Below, all we did was add a belt to each of Geeta’s three outfits. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

A braided belt is a perfect choice for a casual outfit (and works really well with hippie/boho styles).

A red patent leather belt is a key piece for a sophisticated wardrobe.

The braided belt – redux.

Got a style question? Want your own style session or shopping trip with me? Contact me at or on Facebook.