Project 333: a lack of casual chic

TL;DR: I don’t know what to wear when I want to look chic but not too dressed up. I’m going to donate my aqua lace top, which was supposed to fill that role. It doesn’t work for me. So I’m going to need to do some shopping to fill the gap in my wardrobe.

btw, I hate shopping!

And now, for those who enjoy a long story about getting dressed…

Last weekend we were invited to celebrate a birthday with our extended family. We had a lovely dinner out at a nice restaurant, took some long overdue family photos, played with my nephew, and laughed a lot. Hubby had a chance to relax and have a drink and a chat with the guys after a very (VERY) busy week. We had a great time.

BdayDinnerBlog My only issue was what to wear.

It wasn’t exactly a crisis. And the problem was mostly of my own making. I had a vague plan for what to wear, but I didn’t give myself much time to get ready, and when I rushed to get dressed, I discovered that the outfit I had in mind didn’t work at all.

My plan was to wear a fancy top that I bought for just this kind of occasion. It’s a lovely vibrant aqua color, lacy, something a little special for a night out. I have to layer it over something, of course, so I chose a black tank and paired it with my black knit jersey skirt. When I looked in the mirror the neck of the lace top was pulling down below the tank, which looked bad. The neckline has never sat quite right. The top is a bit too long as well, so I tucked it up under the tank top. There was no way to tuck it into the skirt, and fully tucked isn’t a great look for someone with my curvy short-waisted figure anyway.

So far, not too bad. But I didn’t feel my best, that’s for sure. I would have decided it was good enough… if it had been a warm night. I tried adding my black cardigan, but it’s far too faded to pair with a black skirt. It didn’t look good. Nor did any of the other cardigans I have. They are shorter so they look great with dresses, but they look a bit odd with a top and skirt/pants combo, which I wear several inches below my natural waist. They’re all very bright, rich colors too, and they were making more of a color statement than I was in the mood for.

Gah! At this point I was panicking a bit. I just couldn’t see any way to make this top work. What I wished for in that moment was either a dressy knit cardigan or some kind of black jacket or topper that would be appropriate to wear at the dinner table. I don’t really know what that would look like. Maybe a flowing knit cardigan? I don’t really like wearing structured jackets, especially not in relaxed settings.

(I should take a moment here to say that I could have worn anything. This town is not dressy. There were people in the restaurant wearing rain jackets. There was no dress code. And my family really doesn’t care what I wear.)

My sisters-in-law are both masters of the casual chic look. They don’t usually dress up a lot, except of course when it’s really necessary, like for weddings. They don’t often wear dresses, or even skirts. For this kind of dinner out I knew they would probably be wearing nice jeans or pants with cute, chic tops – something fancier than a tshirt, with some cute details, but loose and comfortable and still pretty simple. (I was right). I wanted to dress like that, but I also wanted to dress like myself.

By this point hubby was home and waiting for me to be ready so we could get to the restaurant on time. I stood in front of my P333 wardrobe at a complete loss. I had 5 dresses I could have chosen, but I had worn them so many times before in front of these people. They didn’t feel special. It’s not that I wanted anybody to think I’d gone out and bought a new outfit for this dinner, but I didn’t want to wear the same things I had worn so many times before (for work, gardening, at the beach, shopping, and babysitting) because I wanted to wear something “special.” I considered whether I should pull out the ankle boots I had just put away and wear the lace top with jeans. But I still didn’t feel like I would be warm enough or feel good. I didn’t have another “special” top to wear with jeans, especially not one that would be warm enough. I almost just gave up and put my black cashmere sweater on over the lace top, but it was covered in white dog hair… sigh…

So I pulled down my “emergency” box from the top of the closet – the things that I had excluded from my 33 but thought I might need to switch out as the weather got warmer (or if my willpower got weak). I had three special occasion dresses in there – one that’s very fitted (too fancy), and two soft chiffon-ish (polyester) styles that I got at Target a couple of years ago to wear to several weddings. I threw on the black and white polka dot one, paired it with my hot pink cardigan, considered getting out my nice shoes, but opted for my black/white/pink converse, which are much more “me,” and walked out the door.

The dress was fine. (Anything would have been fine.) I was annoyed by the static cling of the polyester underskirt which I hadn’t had time to notice and fix at home. I didn’t feel my best. (The weather was really wet and sad, so maybe nothing was going to feel right. I always feel better in the sunshine.) And then, when I was hanging the dress up later, I saw that the back neckline had several tears in the fabric that can’t be fixed. How depressing.

clothes that don't really work for me. I have donated the olive print top, and the 2 aqua tops at the right are now on their way out.

I have already donated the olive print top, and the 2 aqua tops on the right are now on their way out.

I decided that the lace top has been given all the chances it’s going to get with me. I’ve never really felt great in it. I always struggle to pair it with anything. I’ve worn it all of three times. I tried to make it work, but it’s not the right top for me. I’m sure someone else will love it. I can’t really donate the damaged dress. It wouldn’t be fair. Someone would probably buy it without seeing the flaws right away. Sooner or later it would (will?) end up in the trash. All I can do is try to arrest the fraying and wear it under a cardigan until it falls apart completely.

damaged dress

Now I’m determined to find at least one or two chic casual/casual chic tops that would work for this same type of scenario. I’ll have to do some uncomfortable shopping, venturing outside my comfort zone. Everything in my regular stores seems to be polyester. I don’t like polyester, and it’s a deal breaker if the style is fitted close under my arms – I hate that b.o. stink that never goes away. Silk or rayon would be nice, as long as it’s washable. I am really picky about the details that I like. My sisters-in-law both looked lovely, but I wouldn’t have chosen either of the tops they were wearing for myself. I’m really not sure what the top I want would look like. I’m going to have to do a lot of browsing and trying on, and I expect I’ll have to try shopping in some different stores. I really don’t like shopping very much, so I’m not really looking forward to this. I would like to be able to find something second hand, but that will probably require even more patience, persistence, and luck. I very rarely find nice tops at Goodwill.

maybe something like this? why oh why is everything polyester though?!

maybe something like this top from Nordstrom… why oh why is everything polyester though?!

I have to go into this process with a clear plan. I need one or two tops. At least one needs to be appropriate for cooler weather, which means at least elbow length sleeves. The fabric should be dressy, and there should be some interesting special details. It could or should probably have a print, since I plan to wear it with jeans.

Fingers crossed I find some nice options that aren’t too expensive.

Thanks for stopping by!


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9 Responses to Project 333: a lack of casual chic

  1. Renee says:

    1. I have been bingeing on Bridgette Raes’ style blog and I love it. I am also a fairly casual dresser and she has some good ideas with lots of visuals about how to make something simple look special (accessories, usually.)

    2). The neckline of that polka sit dress could be saved by making a pretty bias tape and using it to bind the edges. You could stick with black, go with white for contrast, or even up the interest by choosing a color (hot pink?)

    3) I bought a sequin-trimmed blouse by TINY from Anthropologie for those “dressed up in jeans” occasions and I love it. They aren’t in the store anymore but I found mine on ebay (for half price!) and they had a couple of different patterns. It’s the Deva blouse. I bought a large and it seems true to size.

    • Renee says:

      This one (Devas, not Deva).

      Might not be your style but just so you know what I meant. The interesting thing about it is the front panel is polyester (I know…) but the side, back and sleeves are cotton, so it’s cool and comfy. It will be interesting to see what it looks like a bunch of washes down the line when the cotton parts fade…

      • Thanks for the suggestions, Renee! I’m not usually one for accessories, especially not the ubiquitous scarf, but I’ll take a look. I’ve heard good things about Bridgette Raes. I didn’t think of bias tape for mending the dress. I’m not sure if there’s enough fabric left untorn to secure it – the fabric has disintegrated where the old bias tape neckline is fastened, so I suspect that it will continue to tear. But I’ll have one of my more experienced sewing friends take a look at it in person. Part of me wonders if the dress is worth saving. Thanks for the blouse suggestion too – I took a look at Nordstrom’s website and I am almost looking forward to trying a few tops on one of these afternoons. I’ll take a look in a few other local stores to compare. I might even ask the sales staff for help! I’m loathe to buy anything online that I’m not fairly familiar with – you would think that a top would be easy to fit, but 75% of the tops I try on look horrible on my body.
        I just found recommendations on Wardrobe Oxygen for shorts that might work on a curvy body, so I’m going to try those on too. I might be able to fill another gap in my wardrobe in one shopping trip. :)

  2. Dale says:

    Hi Jo, Nice photos. Nobody would have known about the dress because of your cardigan. It looked nice and maybe you could repair it? Dale

  3. Lauren says:

    I’m so glad I’m not the only person this kind of stuff happens to! : ) I’m finding that Project 333 is great for the kind of items you’re talking about–the stuff that’s never fit quite right or had a neckline that didn’t work or simply didn’t make me feel my best. I used to hang on to that kind of stuff “just in case,” but it’s so much easier to let go of now. It sounds like you have a great plan for finding new tops. Good luck!

    • Thanks! I haven’t managed to find anything online yet and I can’t bring myself to actually go shopping – maybe next week… (I keep saying, maybe tomorrow) But I’m also not stressing out about it. I have other things I can wear. I don’t want to make the same mistake again, so there’s no hurry :) Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Pingback: May is over! Time for another Project 333 review | adventures in the here now

  5. Emily says:

    I have this same problem. I had to go shopping after Lucas was born, because all the tops I finally got to fill in my wardrobe last year suddenly didn’t work with breastfeeding. My ideal tops have stretchy, low(ish) necklines so I can pull them down, but since that seems to be so rare, with Lucas I’ve decided to also allow in tops that can be layered and then pulled up (which still requires the bottom layer to pull down, but I’ve now got lots of tanks for that). Well so I went shopping to look for some nice casual chic blouses, tried on about 50 of them, and came home with like 10 stretchy tanks and 3 stretchy, plain t-shirts…. what? Fail! I’ve just pretty much given up on it this year. I spend so much time at home in comfy pants and comfy bras that I’ve just been wearing the stretchy tanks and not worrying about it, even when I go out in public a lot of times. Shopping for something that is both flattering but also comfortable is just awful! And esp when you have something moderately specific in mind.. might as well just go home. :P

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