By Amanda Causey
What is fashion, or style? And how do you make it work for you? At the individual level, clothing has evolved from garb to protect us from the elements into a form of personal expression. Outfits can communicate social status, subculture (goth, punk, etc.), mood or even favorite brands.
On a larger scale, fashion is a multi-billion dollar global industry with huge economic, political and cultural impact. As demonstrated in the 2006 film “The Devil Wears Prada,” strategic research and marketing often determines what is available and popular to wear.
In the film, fashionista Miranda Priestly (played by actress Meryl Streep) chastises an intern who thinks that fashion trends don’t inform her choices. “That blue [sweater]represents millions of dollars and countless jobs,” explained Priestly, “and it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you.”
Short product life cycles, erratic consumer demand and an abundance of product variety also characterize the industry. Constant change is a hallmark of fashion. What is new soon becomes old, and what was old becomes retro and cool again. The bell bottoms of the 1960s reemerged as today’s boot-cut or flare jeans, and flipped-up collars from the 1980s tried to sneak back into fashion a few years ago.
What we wear can also reflect current pop culture phenomena, such as the disco era’s notorious polyester men’s pantsuits or grunge rock’s wrinkled flannel shirts, which Vogue described as a “Goodwill aesthetic.” There’s also the workout leotard of the 1980s, popularized by fitness celebrities such as Jane Fonda, and the now ubiquitous yoga pants worn by women everywhere.
Locally, Prince William is home to a full spectrum of fashion options. Shoppers can find national brands at Potomac Mills mall in Woodbridge and at Manassas Mall as well as at numerous shopping centers throughout the area, such as Stonebridge at Potomac Town Center in Woodbridge and Virginia Gateway in Gainesville. Additionally, more unique styles are available at local boutiques, such as The Clothesline in Occoquan and Off the Hook in Manassas.
Finding a Style of Your Own
With so many options and influences in the fashion world, though, how do you develop a look that is all your own? “I know what I like. So when I am out, and I see something, I can take five minutes to try it on and buy it,” said Prince William native and self-avowed fashion addict Andrea Whaley, who works at the Prince William Chamber of Commerce. “I don’t typically go out and drop a lot of money at one time. It’s just something I integrate into my everyday life.”
Whaley caught the fashion bug while employed at a high-end retail store years ago. “I got into different designers and started wearing higher-end stuff,” she said. Whaley pays attention to how other women look in outfits that she likes. “If … you like their style [and]their body type is similar to yours … you can wear pretty much everything they wear,” she explained.
Eric Williams, managing broker of Exit Choice Realty, which is headquartered in Woodbridge, regularly earns compliments on his style, which he developed over time. Williams recommended striking a balance between being cutting-edge and conservative. “I try to stay seasonal with my colors and materials,” he said.
Fashion bloggers also have tips that can help. “Never dress for anyone but yourself. Fashion is about letting your unique personality shine,” advised Northern Virginia blogger Heather Paulding, who covers beauty and fashion on her site, www.spunkyrealdeal.com.
Paulding called her style inspiration “clean and classic … Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren. I love classic lines that fit with modern times. Trends come and go, but classic is timeless.”
Aracely Collins, founder and editor of the blog Mama Fashion Files (www.mamafashionfiles.com ), shared her fashion philosophy. “I think how you dress says a lot about who you are. I keep my style classic, but sophisticated, and I watch the trends and incorporate what best works with my style,” she said. “I like looking put together and feeling confident in what I wear as well as staying current, but I’m not buried in a trend where you’re unable to see my true style.”
Collins recommended browsing fashion magazines, blogs and Pinterest to see what is on trend and to find styles that appeal to you. “It helps when you know what you’re looking for instead of shopping aimlessly for hours,” she said.
Building a Versatile Foundation of Timeless Style
While flair and personal touches are what make fashion fun, the consensus of those interviewed is that both men and women should invest in classic articles of clothing that offer versatility and timeless style. To accomplish this, they must understand which pieces will survive changing fashion trends and which will seem dated by next season.
“J. Crew cardigans are a good piece that you can use every season, and you can get them in so many different colors,” said Whaley, who advised going with name brands for wardrobe staples.
“Another good piece everyone should have is a simple black maxi dress. You can add layers, wear it with flats, heels, boots and accessorize it with scarves,” she said.
“The pencil skirt is a wardrobe staple every girl should own, and it’s a versatile piece, which makes it work year round,” said Collins. “I tend to wear pencil skirts to work with a button-down shirt and pumps, but I have also styled pencil skirts with a t-shirt and Converse sneakers for a more casual look. In the fall/winter I replace the button-down with a cashmere sweater and add tights and booties.”
Look around the men’s section at department stores, and you’ll see that men are starting to move beyond the classic three-piece suit. The fashion industry now encourages men to mix and match sports jackets and dress shirts with jeans and casual tops, further personalizing traditional outfits.
Where to Look
Once you have an idea of what types of clothing you are looking for, the next step is finding them. In addition to shopping at retail stores (for those who prefer to try on clothes for size), the Internet shopping is another option and provides nearly limitless options. Sites such as www.polyvore.com even offer a virtual shopping experience, allowing users to mix and match pictures of clothing and accessories to preview outfits online. Additionally, Polyvore provides information for both in-store and online purchasing.
Local bargain hunters can sift through the many consignment shops and nonprofit thrift stores in Prince William, including Black Swan Boutique in Manassas and ACTS (Action in Community through Service) Thrift Store in Dumfries.
“I’ve found over the past few years I’m not willing to pay full price retail. So I shop at consignment shops, and there are a lot of them here in Prince William,” Whaley said.
Williams is also a thrifting fan. “I go to thrift stores with my daughter because she likes to incorporate that into her style,” he said. Williams said he likes bow ties, “and sometimes I see a good tie sale, but the best ties are at thrift stores.”
Thrifting to Paulding means being able to find designer labels in a low-key environment. “I score Calvin Klein dresses on a daily basis and many other ‘like-new’ designer labels,” she said. “I can also take the babes with less fuss, spend less money and incur less anxiety than at your regular upscale clothing stores.”
For super-trendy items that will only be worn for a few seasons, Whaley said that she goes to T.J. Maxx and Target, which both have locations in Prince William. Clothing at these retailers tends to be less expensive than at some other department stores. She also shops at H&M, which can be found at Manassas and Potomac Mills malls and features lower-cost versions of hot fashion trends.
“Anything you have ever seen in a fashion magazine is going to be [at H&M]in some way. Anything you would need for any occasion is going to be there,” said Whaley.
Collins advised signing up for emails from favorite stores for alerts of sales or new inventory. “I get email sale alerts daily, which can be annoying at times, but it’s great when I’m actuallylooking to shop,” she said.
Williams also follows the sales. “I like to look for advertised sales, the buy-one-suit-get-one-free deals that occur around holidays. Over time you accumulate a nice wardrobe,” he said.
Fashion on the Go
Of course, not everybody has time to keep up with sales or sift through racks at a thrift store. “Men and women juggle their busy schedules on a daily basis, and it may not be easy to get away to shop, so enlisting the help of a personal stylist/shopper may be an option. Many stores have stylists on hand and are free of charge,” offered Collins.
How does she save time while shopping? “I rely on the Internet to do most of my shopping,” she said. “I’m a busy mom and wife who works full-time and maintains a blog. So finding the time to shop at all is a challenge.”
Another option for the time-crunched are mobile boutiques, such as StyleRide, which delivers curated fashion to women in the Washington, D.C. metro area. The company’s truck, filled with clothing and accessories in various price ranges, can be found at festivals, rotating public locations and customers’ homes.
Locally, StyleRide, which is based in South Riding, Va., is a vendor at the Gainesville Farmers Market, where its truck can be found Thursdays from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Aug. 14 through September. The market is held at The Marque at Heritage Hunt apartments (13550 Heathcote Blvd.). StyleRide’s truck will also be at the 26th annual Haymarket Day celebration on the town’s main street on Sept. 20.
“Our target market is really the suburban woman,” said Jen Nemerow, who co-founded StyleRide with Cindy Perkins.
“There are other [mobile fashion truck companies]in D.C. that cater to younger customers. We are both moms.… We don’t have a 20-something body. We want to carry styles for real women, but we also want you to look fresh, in style and appropriate.”
With a fitting room on the truck and attentive service and style advice from self-appointed “fashionistas,” StyleRide customers can enjoy a boutique experience without spending time in traffic. “We get new merchandise every week, and we keep the truck stocked and fresh at all times,” Nemerow stated.
Whether your style is glamorous or “normcore”—being hip by dressing square—applying these fashion tips could serve you well: Find what works for you, invest in the classics and allow yourself a little fun with trends.
Time-Saving Fashion Tips
Shopping for clothing can be expensive and time consuming. These fashion tips can help maximize your time and budget and manage quality versus cost.
- Analyze and clean. Before you step foot in a store, go through your closet and drawers. Start by clearing out old clothing. If an item hasn’t been worn in a year or more, donate it. With less in your closet, it will be easier to pull together outfits, find new pieces to match existing ones and avoid duplicating an outfit that was languishing in the back of the closet.
- Browse online. Get a sense of what you are looking for and identify local retailers or online stores with the best pricing. While there’s something to be said for trying on clothing in person, Internet shopping can provide a greater selection of sizes and styles, along with online only deals. To save on shipping, look for free shipping codes or “in-store pickup” options.
- Rent for the occasion. Skip the full cost of big-ticket items for a one-time event. Companies such as Rent the Runway and The Black Tux let you rent high-quality attire for special occasions at a fraction of the cost of buying. Plus you will never be photographed wearing the same outfit twice.
- Care for clothes. Protect your fashion investment by following the manufacturer’s care instructions. Proper care enables clothing to last longer and maintain a high-quality appearance. That way you can spend your time and money adding to your wardrobe, not replacing it.
Visit princewilliamliving.com/business-directory to find a list of area retailers, from national clothing brands to unique shopping experiences.
Amanda Causey, Prince William Living’s marketing director, is a photographer, crafter and blogger and owns Beau Monde Photos. To reach her, email [email protected] .