One and Done: The Daily Dress Code

Could you wear a dress everyday? I often look at pictures of women from earlier times and envy them their simple wardrobe of dresses. * Dresses are flattering, and can be fantastically comfortable, but… an all-dress dress code? As it happens, I have two friends who manage to do just that.

And no, these women don’t spend their days in idle relaxation. Sarah Prater is a respected teacher of writing. She’s that English teacher who asked hard things of you and actually got you to do them. Yana Gorskaya is a film editor and writer in LA who has made scores of films including What We Do In the Shadows and Spellbound.** Both women have families, hobbies and sixty billion things to get done in a week. So they’re just like us.

It’s so simple

“I didn’t always just wear dresses, though I have always had a fondness for them.” Yana says, “But a few years ago I put one on and didn’t look back.”

Yana, with adorable dress, boots, daughter.

Discussing dresses with each woman I was struck by just how easy their mornings are. There is no matching, no balancing of proportion, no trying to get yourself to wear something other than the jeans you’ve been wearing all week. Ultimately, there is, “No thinking!” according to Yana. “Just pull one out of the closet and go.”

Sarah notes that dresses have also simplified packing for vacations. “Since a dress is a complete outfit, it takes up less room in a suitcase. As long as I’m traveling to warm places, which I always try to do, I can take dresses almost exclusively.”

Sarah, not worrying on vacation.

Could you do the same? Here is some wisdom that will set you on the right track.

Start with the right set of dresses

“I’m curvy and lots of things look pretty terrible on me, but I’ve worn dresses long enough now that I can recognize a silhouette or brand that will generally work for me,” Yana says. “Wrap dresses are a good bet. As is anything that ties in the middle. Or has an A-line, loose hanging cut. I’m also a sucker for bright patterns.”

How could you not be a sucker for this pattern?

Sarah says, “I am all about comfort…. I like thin straps in the summer and I can throw a cardigan over some of these for school. Most of my dresses are knee-length.”

Both women advocate a closet of abundance, “I wear dresses every day,” Yana says, “so it helps to have a lot of them.”

Below are a few styles that flatter most body types. These are worth a try.

Fit and flair, wrap, sheath, swing; looking good.


Styling dresses can be as easy or complicated as you want it to be, according to my friends.

Sarah says, “I can accessorize if I want to dress it up, jewelry or a scarf or nicer shoes, wild leggings, a sweater. Or I can go very simple: Just a dress and sandals.”

“I like a good pair of high heeled boots with my dresses,” Yana says, “brown goes with everything, but I also have a black pair. I also own a wide variety of comfy flats.”

Altering the accessories to face the weather is pretty straightforward. “I can throw on leggings if it is cold,” Sarah says, “Birkenstocks in the spring and summer, or boots in the fall.”

Sarah, on a simple style day.

Shopping secrets of the masters

The common theme of shopping between these two? The internet. Both women shop online, and Zulily is a favorite site. Apparently the site has interesting dresses and amazing sales.

Yana simply bypasses the annoyance of returning dresses that don’t work for her. “Because I can’t try them on beforehand, I limit myself to spending $35, often much less. Zulily, Modcloth, Nordstrom Rack all frequently have excellent sales. 4 out of 5 things I buy look good on me, the fifth I pass on to a friend. Everyone wins.”

Friends, did you hear that? This is an excellent plan.

According to Sarah “Since the dresses are not form fitting, online shopping works. I am also a sale shopper. I buy on discount sites like Hautelook, Zulily, two of my faves.”

Sarah, with her equally stylish family.

But all these sharp deals are fleshed out with an intermittent investment for Yana. “I will occasionally splurge and go to a local dressmakers in Silver Lake, called Matroshka. They make dresses custom fitted that are super adorable. But that’s a rare treat.”

That’s a new life goal. Thanks Yana!

It’s more than just a dress

As I am constantly uncovering on this blogging journey, clothing is never as simple as covering our bodies in a creative manner.

Sarah’s dresses have become legend among the girls at the high school where we teach. I’ve heard heated debates about favorite dresses, and philosophical speculation about just how many dresses Sarah owns. Given that Sarah’s job is to push kids past their comfortable limits in writing, she has to be down with being the hardline teacher most of the time. The dresses show a whimsical, relatable side of Sarah beyond deadlines and draft revisions.

A rare glimpse into the fabled closet of Ms. Prater.

Yana’s love of dresses, too, is about more than simplicity and flattery. “My mother never wore pants a day in her life. She grew up in a cosmopolitan Russian city and she always found pants on women kind of provincial. I think I saw her in a jumpsuit once. She wore it with high-heeled sneakers. She passed away when I was in my early twenties, and I think wearing dresses has made me feel connected to her, in some small, deeply comforting way.”

So for ease and comfort and human connection, I am challenging myself, and my readers, to a week of dresses. No need to buy anything new, (unless you find a sweet deal on Zulily…) just pull out the dresses you own, boots or sandals depending on the weather and give it a try. I’m not saying it’s gonna be easy. Yana and Sarah have had years to perfect this. You and I are gonna have to give up pants for seven days, cold turkey. But I suspect this will be fun. Next week I’ll post about my journey, and look forward to hearing about yours.

Can I do this for a full week?

* Meanwhile, those women are gazing back at me, envying my ability to earn a steady income, vote, enjoy central heating and access to quality dental care.

** Spellbound is one of my all time favorite films. It’s a documentary about kids in the national spelling bee competition, and it is riveting. It also won nearly every award known to humans, and was nominated for the rest.

Survival Strategies for Discount Shopping

Fall leaves arched above us in a golden canopy as we tromped down the mountain on a perfect October day. Our minds, loosened from the stress of daily life, turned to ponder deeper issues. Politics, love, the human condition, and how to shop at a discount store without completely losing your sauce and melting down like a child.

“I know you can find some great deals in there,” Lynette said. “I just get so overwhelmed.”

It is a little scary looking.

While I don’t have answers for most of the questions posed that day, I do feel qualified to speak on the topic of TJ Maxx. Because I’ve become a bit of a ninja when it comes to discount shopping.

Hunter boots, Max summer blouses, Lucky Brand jeans, an incredible $384 Nicole Miller cocktail dress for $60, a no-name maxi dress for $10 that I have worn regularly for 9 straight summers; these are just a few of the items I have scored at TJ Maxx, Nordstrom Rack and other discount retailers. I go to these stores in hopes of finding a few trendy pieces to enliven a basic wardrobe, and maybe find a high quality piece that would otherwise be out of my budget.

I think I may have cracked the code.

But it’s not like I walked in one afternoon, picked them all up and got home in an hour. And this list of great finds is a lot shorter than the list of items I bought, then returned, at discount retailers because I got over excited and made bad decisions on the spur of the moment.

Similar to second hand shopping, but with more snares and a larger potential impact on your wallet and the environment, these stores can be tricky. Here are a few rules I use to keep myself on the straight and narrow:

Know what you’re buying

Where do they get all this stuff, anyway? TJ Maxx purchases past season deadstock, cancelled orders prepared for other stores, overstock, and merchandise not originally made for the American market. Nordstrom Rack stocks items that didn’t sell in the regular Nordstrom stores, but also orders goods specifically for the Rack.

So they’re like my Grandma’s Last of the Garden Relish; some stuff’s fresh, some stuff’s a little past it’s prime but it’s all good after sitting for a month in a little vinegar and salt.

This zipper pocket camel coat didn’t sell well the first time around, but there’s a lady out there who could rock this.

Part of the success of these retailers is the speedy inventory turnover. TJ Maxx boasts new shipments daily, and they have a “door to floor” policy that results in new merchandise on display throughout the day.

Get to know their strengths

Before choosing a discount retailer as a serious destination to meet your wardrobe needs, get to know their strengths and weaknesses. In Eugene, OR, the TJ Maxx has excellent luggage. Nordstrom Rack has great shoes. Our DSW has a fun sneaker collection, but I rarely find classic boots there. Explore the stores, then go when you need something they do well.

I can’t justify one more piece of luggage.

Never shop in the middle of a Saturday afternoon

Discount stores are often crowded and picked over by 3:00 on a Saturday. And because sale associates are busy helping customers, new merch isn’t being shuffled to the floor. Tuesday and Wednesday mornings are the best time to shop, as new goods are still flowing in and items that did not sell over the weekend are further marked down. Saturday and Sunday mornings can be good for a quick trip. Mid-week evenings aren’t too bad. Basically, the fewer people shopping, the more time sale associates will have to put out new items and discount older ones. Plus it doesn’t feel like some hideous, inhumane 19th century zoo.

Smith Rock is a much better destination for Saturday afternoon.

Narrow your search

In a store that holds everything from novelty napkin rings to infinity scarves, you can get sapped of energy and time pretty quickly.

Completely overwhelming.

Choosing one or two areas of focus can be really helpful. Make a plan to shop for pants and tops, or shoes and pillow cases, or whatever. Don’t try to cover the entire store.

Not overwhelming at all.

Don’t panic

When I stopped by Nordstrom Rack to take pictures for this article, this is the sight that greeted me.

At least 50 pairs of Frye boots, all discounter over 50%. I think my hands were shaking.

You may imagine my reaction. I approached the boots with as much restraint as possible. It wasn’t pretty. When I finally surfaced for air after tearing through the boxes I was miserably disappointed. No size 6.5.

I reminded myself why I was there in the first place (What is this thing hanging around my neck? The camera? Oh. I’m supposed to be taking pictures for the blog…) It took some doing, but I got back into the task at hand.

Even if you have a narrow search, it’s likely something off-list will catch your eye. Go try it on if you’re so inclined. But if it’s not something you came in for, and it doesn’t fit so you don’t buy it, no big deal, right? Which leads me to my next point.

Enormous rope/twill acorn and matching squash, anyone?

Don’t buy the next best thing

Never, ever buy the consolation prize. It’s like eating carob when you want chocolate.

Ultimately, you want a flexible wardrobe filled only with pieces you love. This concept has been covered in various posts but I’m going to keep harping on it. Run it past the Allan test, Lessons From a Chronic Closet Cleaner.  What you don’t buy is just as important as what you do buy, Shopping 101

Don’t buy it just because you can afford it

You will find some incredible items that might not be in your regular budget at these places. Twice I have nearly made it to the register with Rag and Bone sweaters in hand. Neither sweater looked particularly good on me. But they were Rag and Bone! And I could afford them! The “comparison price” on the tag should have no value to you whatsoever. Yes, this is cheaper than it was originally, but it’s only a good deal if you love it and wear it with joy.

This rock-and-roll look is never going to be me, no matter how much of a steal that jacket is.

Years ago, I was in regular contact with another mom from my children’s preschool. She was extremely wealthy. I envied what I assumed was the freedom that came with having so much money. Standing in the long, candy-and-wrapping-paper laden checkout line at TJ Maxx one day, I noticed this mom at one of the registers. Her cart was heaped high and over flowing with stuff: sweaters and ponchos and table clothes and shoes and clever black and white signs commenting on the value of family. She was buying with a sort of frenzied haste, laying one item then the next on the counter, a nervous steam of chatter directed at the check out attendant. I turned away, not wanting her to see me witness this panic-filled excess.

How fun would it be to have a pillow fight in this aisle?

The image of that frenzied mom sticks with me every time I shop at a discount store. Like any other shopping experience, I have to make the choice to buy responsibly with the goal of creating a wardrobe that makes my life easier and more fun. We can use discount stores to score some quality items we might not otherwise be able to afford, to try out new styles or brands, and to experiment with fun trends.

Keeps your goals in mind. You are in the store to build a wardrobe, not to buy twice as much as you would elsewhere. Ultimately an easy and functional wardrobe should equal less time shopping, less time attempting to get dressed, and more time hiking and pondering life with friends.

One of my favorite discount store finds. Lucky Brand.

For more tips on making the most of your discount shopping experience, check out Seattle-based blogger Morgann’s post on the topic from Glitter in the Grey. This woman knows shopping!