Fashion

I don’t know about where you live, but here in northwest Alabama/northeast Mississippi, it’s hot already. Summer definitely is here, and that means pared-down style — the simpler, the better. That’s why it’s good to have treasures like this sundress in your closet. I bought this in Birmingham I think about three years ago for around $150 and it’s one of the best buys I’ve ever made. This has turned into my go-to summer dress from May through September. I wear it everywhere for everything and I never get tired of it. “Why?” you ask. (You did. I could hear you.) “What’s so special about this dress?” Let me tell you. For one thing, it’s lightweight and comfortable, yet not so flimsy as to be transparent if I forget to wear a slip (you know we Southern women will not give up our slips.) It’s the perfect length — not so short as to make sitting down problematic but not too long as to look dowdy. Also, the straps are wide enough to cover bra straps but narrow enough to keep it in the sundress category. Plus, this fit is so flattering. With its shirred cummerbund-like empire waistline, it’s what Stacy and Clinton continually preach on “What Not To Wear” — have the emphasis at your narrowest part and let the skirt flow from there. And this dress is one of the most versatile things I own. The print isn’t so large as to be overwhelming yet it’s enough to camouflage spills. And I get a lot of spills because I wear this dress constantly. (Also: I’m a slob.) But the print almost qualifies this dress as a neutral, and as a neutral it’s easy to mix things up with a change of accessories. I’ve worn this dress with flats and heels, with big clunky jewelry and simple earrings, with blazers and sweaters. I’ve punched it up with yellow, green or blue accessories as well as white and black. I’ve worn it to casual cookouts and to fancy weddings, to graduations and baby showers, to church and out to eat. I love this dress! And your assignment is to go out and find one, too — and then let me know where it is so I can get another one.

Shopping

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to pay more attention to my appearance. Now I’m not really a shallow and image-conscious person — okay, maybe I  am — but I was definitely in an ongoing style slump. You see, ever since I traded writing in a newspaper office for writing at my kitchen table a couple years ago, I’ve been going steadily downhill, fashion-wise. Not that I always wore full-body business attire when I worked fulltime, but I did usually try to look professional and put-together when I had an office to go to. But despite everybody’s advice to treat working-at-home just as if I was working in an office, it felt so liberating — at first — to hang out in three-day-old jeans and an old “Save the Manatees” T-shirt. I mean, if I’m interviewing unseen folks on the phone and fighting only the cats instead of cubicle-mates for leftover doughnuts, who’s going to notice? The problem was that I noticed. And as my fashion-sense gradually eroded, I started to feel dowdy and frumpy. All the time. And lazy. If, for instance, a friend would call at 10 a.m. for coffee or lunch and I was still in my PJs, I’d be inclined to decline — too much trouble to get cleaned up. (Although I promise I always got dressed by lunchtime. Or around there, anyway.) In addition, the severe reduction in my clothes-budget due to that whole leaving-a-good-paying-fulltime-job thing meant I had the perfect excuse for just shlumping around.  And that is not good. Not good at all. So as 2009 wound down, I knew I had to make an effort and make a change. Luckily, Younger Daughter moved back home after college graduation to work part-time — and she does not allow style slacking. Or pity parties. So I’ve promised myself to do better — and I’m working on it, even if it means just putting on good jeans and a sweater that doesn’t look as if it were born in the 1980s. And to get myself back in the fashion mood, I’ve been perusing magazines and Web sites for inspiration. Then I head to TJ Maxx — or my own closet. Here are my new favorite style sites — see if you like them, too.

Stylecaster, http://www.stylecaster.com/, is like getting your own personal edition of Vogue in your mailbox every day. This “fashion social network” offers articles on style, trends, designers, jewelry, hair and makeup, but the best part is the personalization aspect — for instance, you can get e-mailed style suggestions for the day based on your town’s weather. How cool is that? It’s like when the TV weather folks say, “Make sure the kids have a coat for the schoolbus this morning,” but for grownups. I also like the trend breakdown of putting together separate elements to come up with a unified look. And you can buy things and upload your own photos — but I mainly just read and look.

The Gilt Groupe, at http://www.gilt.com, is all about luxury and designers and Things You Wish You Had Somewhere To Wear Them To but it’s perfect for looking and dreaming. And being on the lookout for affordable versions of the real thing. You have to be invited so there’s sort of a behind-the-velvet-rope feel to this, but e-mail me if you want in. I mean, if they take me nobody else should have any problem.

And then there’s Shopbop, at http://www.shopbop.com/. This totally is a retail site but it covers all price points and the daily e-mails are full of the latest trends so you always know what’s hot and what’s not.

Christmas Style

My two daughters, 25- and 23-years-old, are the most stylish women I know. I am constantly in awe of them and have no idea where they picked up their fashion sense — not from their mom, that’s for sure.  Take Younger Daughter, for instance. Now, she didn’t knowingly pick out a dress that’s identical to her sister’s shower curtain — she just  recognized style and creativity when she saw it. Her look is the perfect expression of who she is: A smart and funny young woman who’s her own individual self. Older Daughter, mom to 21-month-old Capt. Adorable, excels at chic budget-friendly and I’ve-only-got-two-minutes-to-myself style, such as these skinny jeans, high-heeled ankle boots and black top accented with a chunky and easy-wearing necklace. (Also, please note the Captain in his Christmas pajamas — I couldn’t resist when I saw them at Target! — topped with a striped Gap hoodie. Seems as if he’s got his mom’s fashion intuition — at least until he can dress himself.) I love hanging out with my daughters — they make me up my game from my preferred winter uniform of jeans and boring black turtlenecks. I just wish I could fit into their clothes. I’ve never understood why they can borrow mine and look great but it does not work the other way!!!

P.S. Don’t forget to send me your funny and creative New Year’s resolutions for my Jan. 1 newspaper column. E-mail to cathylwood@gmail.com and include the way you’d like to be identified. You can be anonymous if you’d like, but I have to be able to tell the paper that you’re a real person. I’ve already gotten some great resolutions, but I want yours!

Fashion

Photo by Daniel Giles of the Times DailyI am pretty much the messiest eater ever. I literally cannot get up from a table without a shower of crumbs, I carry stain removal products with me at all times and my husband begs me not to drink my favorite strawberry-flavored drink mix in the car because I leave splatters of red everywhere. This problem led me to create the Cathy Wood Method of Wardrobe Selection, or, How to Coordinate Your Clothing with Your Food So You Don’t Look Like the Slob You Truly Are and Your Family and Friends Will Eat with You Again. Intrigued? It really works! No more hastily pulling on a sweater to hide the coffee dribbles. No more holding your purse in front of you to distract from the gravy droplets. You will be free to eat and enjoy without fear! Read more at http://www.timesdaily.com/article/20090826/SW/908259959/1085.

And while you’re there, read other Shoals Woman articles, such as the story on Halloween food, http://www.timesdaily.com/article/20090826/SW/908259955/1085 with my friend Kara Sams, and  another story I wrote — a guide to retirement planning, http://www.timesdaily.com/article/20090826/SW/908259973/1085.