One of the biggest topics of conversation around the ethical fashion water cooler these days is this: why does all ethical fashion look the same?
Whitney Bauck at Fashionista wrote a great piece on this last week. In her article, Whitney talks about the consequences of ethical fashion subscribing to a single aesthetic, most notably, that it erases women of color and their stories from the narrative. It’s a wonderful, refreshing read, and I highly recommend it.
Another consequence of buying into the presiding aesthetic is that we lose sight of our own individual sense of style. I’ll be the first to admit that I subscribe to The Look – a minimal, neutral color palette, lots of linen, leather mules, the works. I eat it up, without apology. But there are are trends that are huge right now that I don’t love (wide legged pants, overalls, and jumpsuits come to mind), and there are things I always go back to that aren’t exactly trendy, but are definitely 100% me.
Today I want to talk about the items in my capsule wardrobe that keep me feeling like I have ownership over my own sense of style. I mix these items with the regular suspects – the Tradlands button-ups, my Nisolo mules, Everlane everything – and they keep the whole thing feeling fresh and unique.
Before we dive in, I just want to make a quick note about capsule wardrobes. I keep a capsule wardrobe, which I loosely define as a small, curated collection of pieces that can be worn interchangeably for a full season. Mine comes in at somewhere between 40 and 45 garments, but I’m always editing it, even mid-season.
There are folks out there who are going to disagree with my definition and who might tell you that a capsule wardrobe has to include X number of pieces, or that each item in your capsule has to be a classic piece or a neutral color or whatever, but the truth is, no matter where the term originated or the many ways in which it has been interpreted over the years, “capsule wardrobe” is not a regulated term, and you can apply it however the heck you want. Don’t let the self-righteous jerks get you down.
Now that that’s out of the way, here are the statement pieces of my fall capsule wardrobe, and why they’re special to me.
FLORAL TAPESTRY BOOTIES
Purchased in 2013 at DSW for $50. Re-soled and re-heeled in 2018 for $65. No longer available.
These booties. It was love at first sight, you guys, and I really mean that. I still remember the moment I first saw them – I was at the Providence Place Mall just sort of killing time one afternoon, and there they were, literally up on a pedestal in the entry way of DSW. Even at that time I wasn’t one for loud colors or patterns in my wardrobe, but I couldn’t take my eyes off these.
I remember picking them up, trying them on, and forcing myself to let them go, because I wasn’t in the market for boots and I didn’t have the $50, anyway. I thought about them for a week until I finally decided to go back for them, and boy am I glad I did. I get more compliments on these little booties than on any other single item in my wardrobe, and they are surprisingly versatile despite the loud tapestry pattern. My sister-in-law even bought a pair shortly after I did! And she still wears hers, too.
These booties were in bad shape at the beginning of this season (my dog got a hold of them during her short-lived but very aggressive shoe-eating phase), and I thought I might have to say goodbye to them. Instead, I took them to a cobbler and paid more than what I bought them for in the first place to have them fixed, but it was completely worth it, and I think they’ll probably last me another few years.
VINTAGE DOONEY & BOURKE BAG
Purchased used on Poshmark in 2018 for $35. An excellent buying guide for vintage Dooney & Bourke bags can be found here.
Vintage Dooney bags are a dime a dozen on resale sites like eBay and Poshmark, but don’t let the price fool you – they’re awesome. For one, the All Weather Leather line is excellent. This line of waterproof leather bags was really popular in the 1980’s and for good reason. They look chic, hold up well against the elements, and are easy to clean and care for. These bags also tend to have a lot of pockets and convenient compartments for organizing small items. They’re cheap to buy used, and it’s easy to find a unique looking one since they were made in so many different colors and styles.
I went for this style of bag because I like that it evokes a somewhat masculine, almost briefcase-like vibe, and I also like that it’s small. It seems like giant leather tote bags are the everyday work bag of the 2018 woman, but mine was starting to give me shoulder and back pain, and I was sick of carrying around so much stuff all the time. Now, I bring just the essentials with me, and if I need to bring something that doesn’t fit in the bag (like lunch or extra shoes), I take it in a cloth tote that I can fold up and put in the Dooney bag once I’m done.
The most special thing about this bag, though, has nothing to do with it’s resilience to rain or its versatility in my wardrobe. Instead, it has everything to do with my mom. My mother has carried a Dooney bag every day for as long as I can remember. She doesn’t covet fashion, but she is stylish, and one of the hallmarks of her unique style is her collection of Dooney & Bourke bags. Starting my own little collection is a connection to my mother and a nod to how her style has influenced me as I’ve grown up and come into my own. Mom, I know you’re reading this. I love you. Please stop crying.
OLIVE GREEN BOMBER
Gifted by Coat Check Chicago in 2018. Available online for $395 (save %15 if you subscribe to their email list!).
This wool bomber jacket by Coat Check Chicago is one of the most beautiful things I own, made more beautiful by the fact that it was handmade by founder, owner, and designer of the company, Liz Williams. Liz has such a wonderful story that I’m just going to pop it in here, verbatim from her website:
In 2014, while attending a holiday party at Chicago’s Fulton Market Kitchen, designer Liz Williams checked her chic, hand-made, winter coat. The attendant remarked that she loved the coat and had been looking for something just like it. Liz graciously thanked her and mentioned that she made the coat by hand. The next day, Liz discovered a note from the attendant in her coat pocket, “Interested Buyer,” further encouraging Liz to launch her women’s outerwear line, Coat Check Chicago.
What I love most about Liz’s coats is that they are all modern plays on classic styles, and they all have a beautiful architectural element that makes them so striking to look at. Liz has built her company on a truly ethical foundation, using high-quality materials and hand-making her coats right in Chicago, IL. These are not the of-the-moment linen kimonos you’re sick of seeing all over your Instagram feed – these are special. When Liz asked me if wanted to try out one of her coats for a collaboration this fall, I couldn’t say yes fast enough.
I don’t wear a ton of color, but I do have to actively stop myself from buying green garments on a pretty frequent basis. I have owned at least five green coats in my life, and I have another green fall coat in my closet right now. In college I carried a lime green backpack and wore a kelly green pea coat. My husband gave me a pair of green leather gloves for Christmas two years ago (another item sadly lost to our dog’s un-watched maw). For the last year I’ve been carrying an olive green tote bag. I made my bridesmaids wear green dresses to my wedding. I have a problem.
But I couldn’t stop myself when I saw Liz’s green bomber. It’s so cool and badass and the perfect shade of deep olive green for fall. This jacket feels like me, whether I’m headed to the office or just out to walk the aforementioned very bad dog. The temperature is finally dropping enough in DC that I’ll be able to wear it with regularity, so plan on seeing this coat in many Instagram posts to come. And if you like it, I highly recommend following along with Liz on Instagram, especially if you’re in the Chicago area and you’d like to get in on the ethical fashion scene there. (Fun fact: Liz used to live in the DC area not far from me!)
So, there you have it, friends. Three little items that make a world of difference in an otherwise simple capsule wardrobe. Three little items that help define me as an individual, and that are meaningful to me in ways beyond just looking cool and achieving status on Instagram. What items do you have in your wardrobe that set you apart from the pack?