It's So You!

No no no! (It's the Fashion Police, Part II)

by Mary Sheehan Warren on 09/06/12

Because no woman needs the stress which comes from a life of crime, the fashion police have arrived with the law of do’s and don’ts. Yes, it’s Part II of the Dress Code

1. Do invest in a great fitting pair of trousers or jeans. ISY Tip: If you choose jeans, go for a crisp, dark, denim, with minimal embellishment to get the greatest number of occasions out of your investment. If you choose dress trousers for work, update with a subtle pattern or texture.


Don’t forget about tasteful fit. For that matter, don't yank, shift, and/or pull up your trousers even if they're the new “high waist” style. Fit means that nothing (in particular) is outlined.



And don't wear those shoes either.

2. Do wear a skirt or dress this season.  ISY Tip: Wear the hemline that’s best for your leg and body shape, and (for casual wear) try a slightly uneven, asymetrical hemline or a mondern maxi to update your look.


DON'T choose something that makes you seem, uh, indecisive


Gosh, maybe if the shoes were different...

3. Do choose only flattering tops in your best colors. ISY Tip: Wear the appropriate bra for the top and choose a more structured style for the workplace.


DON'T just hang knits on yourself. You're better than that.

Kind of cute. But not for you. (I ran with this image only because I was a little scared of what might pop up if I googled "tight t shirts" or "bad tops.")

4. Do update your shoes. Choose flattering looks which are in proportion with the rest of your outfit (or body). Also, high heel thongs are not dress shoes. Slides and mules are not only not dressy enough, but they ruin your look.




DON'T (see below) teeter on the edge of a fashion disaster with both heels and very little foot coverage.

 And they are out of style.

5. Do try newer silhouettes which require leggings or skinny jeans. ISY Tip: The focal point of an ensemble which includes leggings should be 1. your face; and 2. the interesting top. One's rear in tights or leggings should be covered by aforementioned top.


DON'T go out half dressed. Please.

No. Please don't.

Do's and Don'ts from the Fashion Police: Part 1 Attitudes

by Mary Sheehan Warren on 06/29/12

Because no woman needs the stress which comes from a life of crime, the fashion police have arrived with the law of do’s and don’ts. See if you can guess which statement is a do and which is a don’t: (Taken from my talk for Chocolate Cake for a Mommy’s Soul at Mary Magnor’s – Thanks Mary for giving me a deadline for getting this done!)

1. Do or Don’t? Arrange your outfits so that your sexiest feature becomes the focal point of your fashion.

Do if you know that your sexiest feature is your face. Don’t do this if you think your breasts or your upper thighs or midriff or provocative tattoo counts as sexiest. Yeah, they are sexy indeed, but only a part of the whole…and the whole you is who’s sexiest.

2. Do or Don’t? Dress for yourself and don’t worry about anyone else.

Wouldn’t that be fun? I could just roll out of bed, not brush hair or teeth (What morning breath?) and go around in flannel jammies all day. I could even wear a fanny pack to hold my cell phone, chocolates, and novel, and I’d never have to worry about matching my socks. Or my shoes. It would be fun, true, but also a little lonely.

Well, you (or most of you out there) do worry about others when you dress. In a way, when we really understand ourselves in our roles as professionals, friends, wives, and mothers then dressing for ourselves means dressing for others as well.

So, it’s a trick question. Do dress for yourself because when you do, you dress for others as well.

3. Do or Don’t? Dress your husband and children better than you dress yourself because that’s true generosity.

I see this all the time and it always reminds me that this indeed is a DON’T! What kind of message is, “Dress well my dear even if you see that I don’t because, after all, motherhood doesn’t deserve respect”.

4. Do or Don’t? Arrange items of an ensemble so that your body type is flattered.

Didn’t I just say DO keep the focal point on your face? So, why do I talk about body type? Should you care?

Well, do this because by ensuring that no one part of your silhouette is out of proportion (or "sticking out" to borrow the phrase) you continue to keep the focal point on your face.

5. Do or Don’t? Own lots of clothing because this increases one’s chances of dressing stylishly.

Your math is wrong if you think this is a do. Remember, owning less is really owning more. You want every single outfit to be a winner, and that’s just not the case if you have a hundred things clogging up the system. So, it’s a don’t.

6. Do or Don’t? Only buy the highest quality of clothing.

This might be the most difficult question to answer because the smartest dressers know that quality is always more important than quantity. Nowadays, however, a high price is not a guarantee for quality. In fact, you just have to accept that some kinds of quick updates to your wardrobe should be considered “disposable.” The core pieces of your wardrobe, however, should be your investment pieces: Work trousers, suits, the suit jacket, dress shirts, blue jeans, every day shoes, and handbags for work. The disposables might include “fun” tops, update cardigans, some jewelry, novelty bags, and some kinds of dress shoes and sandals.

So, the answer is do for your investment pieces.

Stay tuned for more do’s and don’t related to the current fashion season.

Am I Too Old For This?

by Mary Sheehan Warren on 05/21/12

Me: Am I too old for this top?

Husband: No, not at all. It's just that it kind of looks like you're one of those ladies who actually looks really good in it but because everyone knows your age they think you are too old for it. But you look great in it. And you're not too old for it. Did I say you look great in it?


I married this guy partly for his clever use of words, (yes, he talked me into it) but I honestly never pictured an exchange like this while walking down the aisle twenty years ago.

Did I just say twenty years ago?

Was it really twenty years ago that I sported big curly bangs, a plastic headband, and mattress-sized shoulder pads? Was it really twenty years ago when I last had a flat little tummy and cute size 6 feet?

Well, yes, and 1992 can keep it. I've earned my stretch marks, and man-hands, and size 8 feet. Every infant asthma attack, call from school, and unanswered Saturday night text has each resulted in a healthy tuft of gray hair, and many of my laugh lines actually came from crying.

But I held on to the love of my life (that would be my husband) and I now know and love five additional human beings whom I could never have imagined while belting out B52 songs from the driver's seat of my 1979 Ford Fairmont. Indeed, if they had been in that particular car at that particular moment, they would have ordered me to change the radio station and clear the Big Mac cartons off the vinyl seats. There's no way I could ever have imagined that!

So, I respect the gray hair (dyed, of course), laugh lines, and man hands. So should everyone else. This is why I ask questions like:

"Am I too old for this?" Which, translated, means, "Do I look like I regret my age? Regret all the great stuff I've done? Do I appear to deny the existence of my children, long credit history, and laugh lines?

It's a legitimate question. It's legitimate because, over time and through a growth in wisdom, I have an extra sort of dignity: I'm someone's wife; I'm someone's mom. When I'm someone's grandma, then I'll have an even larger dose of this special dignity.

Even without these someones, I'm now at the stage where, honestly, my opinion holds more weight on more matters then any little cutie under the age of forty. I don't mean to sound harsh, but that's how it works.

So, what is age-appropriate fashion?

In honor of all the "someones," the wisdom, and the fact that I'd never go back to 1992 or even the body I had, here is a visual explantion:


Yeah sure, skinny jeans are great with boots. Here in Wisconsin we've been tucking our jeans into our boots since the time of the bell bottom. In summer, things can get a little tricky because everyone seems to forget that skinny jeans should work like leggings which should work like panty hose. That is, you wouldn't wander out of the house with a cropped top or t shirt over your panty hose. So, don't forget the longer top, tunic, or wrap for good rear coverage.

Of course, "trouser-cut" jeans and trousers take first place for flattery:


Overall proportion is important but a little trickier at the later stages of wisdom because current fashions cater to a taller, androgynous (boy-like) silhouette. (Yeah, I got curves and I know how to tastefully clothe them.)

Forget the boy stuff:

 Remember thinking, "Oh, that's really pretty but I'm too young to wear flowy things like that"? Well, here's a flowy thing that your daughter will want to borrow. Below is a flowy thing for when it gets a little hotter. (Or, you get a little hotter.)

 Soft Surroundings

 Wear beautiful colors around your face. Go for a scarf or a breathtaking pendant or chunky necklace.

Independent Boutiques are best for accessories.


 The sheath is back and it's a keeper. I'm going for below the knee. I'll add a cute black bolero jacket because the air conditioning is on full blast.

On a good day, and maybe for a few hours, I'll wear a pair of platform shoes that the younger set still hasn't figured out how to walk in:

 "Fly London" is almost always comfortable.

 It doesn't matter if you get the great stuff at H&M or Chicos or Coldwater Creek. Be an ecclectic shopper so no one can peg your shopping.

Yeah, Chico's

So, maybe my exchange with my husband should go something like this:

Me: What do you think of this top?

Husband: You're just too good for it darling.... so let's go to Tiffany's to pick you up a little something for our 20th.




Making a Spectacle of Myself

by Mary Sheehan Warren on 04/18/12

Once I couldn't see my food at dinner, I decided to finally give in to getting my eyes checked. Or, at least, give in to thinking about getting my eyes checked.

Once checked, it then took months to actually fill my prescription for glasses. (Yes, the doctor's words were "Eye sight fades as we get old" and "Don't worry this is normal for your forties; just like your gray hair and wrinkles.")

All this angst was played out before my family, especially at dinner.

"Get over it," said my sixteen year old daughter.

"I didn't know you could be so vain," said my friend.

"This is something you need just to function," pleaded my husband. "Don't worry about how you look."

Meanwhile, in public, I would fumble with my phone, hold things closer to the light, and sort of look illiterate to the occasional acquaintance.

But I think my anxiety was deeper than the well-known, garden variety vanity. I really suspect that years of saying "accessories should frame the face," "the eyes should be the focal point" and "makeup is a human right" finally made its way to my basal ganglia.

Getting a pair of glasses is a really really big deal.

Just think: It not only restores vision (and that's a big one) but it's the very first thing people see when they look into my face. It's more noticeable than my earrings, necklace, scarf, and even hair. If I don't get this right, then nothing else matters.

That's heavy, I know.

Consider the fashion of lenses. Back in the nineties when my eyesight was perfect and I could see the little bits of pesto on my pasta, Mr. Pitt (the one from Seinfeld) was wearing ...

 Jarring, isn't it. But many women imitated this look in the quest to appear literate and employed if not sexy.

Imagine the first time I saw the frames favored today. It was 2000 and I was teaching English as a Second Language. A 26 year old Bossa Nova singer from Italy (she was as exotic as this sounds) brought the future into my classroom with lenses that looked like these:


Of course, this pinched-face-librarian look is now old news. (Yes, this is sour grapes because I could never look good in these.) This is the look we expect now. This is the look we see not only in fashion ads but on the homemakers featured on laundry detergent ads, the lady at the Department of Motor Vehicles, and on the mug shot of a famous female killer. This is the look we expect when one is not wearing the opposite round-bug-eye-Jackie-O sunglasses.

(Now that's style!)

 Younger people like the mildly vintage Buddy Holly (or Woody Allen) look.

But I have gray hair. And wrinkles. I can't go around in something like that.

How about a compromise?

So, I looked around at all the styles:

 (Mary Ellin Barrett , daughter of Irving Berlin. Pretty classy, eh?)

 Prada (I'd just look like a dork in these.)


Whoopie! Look at those!

(Iris Apfel, textile guru - My children talked me out of this.)

So what did I decide?

Well, I don't have a photo of myself, but let's just say that in the slight-off-chance possibility that I happen to need to eat or read in your presence, and successfully locate my glasses in my bag, and actually place them on my face, you will experience sensational style that will go straight to your basal ganglia. For the time being, however, you'll just have to use your imagination. Kind of like she does:

 Rita's Advanced Style



by Mary Sheehan Warren on 02/29/12

I think it's safe to admit publicly that I am indeed just about finished my book for a slightly younger set on fashion and communication. I've read and researched and interviewed all sorts of "sources" and now I've come to the point where the most difficult part must be tweaked and perfected.

Body type? Color analysis? Psychology of Shopping? Etiquette?

Nope. Fashion Personality. It's always the most difficult to perfect because it's not only an emotional subject, but it involves a quiz for which I must anticipate all sorts of freakish combinations of answers and reactions. (Not to say that anyone's combinations of answers and/or reactions are freakish.)

I mean, just imagine the pressure of writing something that you know people will read and rewrite (at least mentally), because, after all, aren't we all experts on fashion personality?

This new fashion personality quiz, however, will hopefully remedy a problem which women point out to me every time I provide a service: Is fashion personlity really about how you are or how you'd like to be?

That is such a valid question, that I had to address both in the way I take on the issue. However, without giving too much a way, I think that this particular fashion season (Spring 2012) is the perfect time to consider the how you'd like to be part.

So, how would you like to be? For what look are you shooting? What inspires you? Who is your muse?

Often, I recommend to my clients to record their sources of inspiration (objects, landscapes, art, fashion, etc.) onto a board or into a notebook. My Gracie creates her own Power Point presentations for her different areas of interest. You can see why a site like is so popular.

A good exercise in noting your inspirations is to create a timeline of things that have inspired you in the past. Those past inspirations are what have shaped you and can't be put aside as embarrassments even if they were something like:


(I really really wanted a pair in elementary school.)

But it's spring 2012 and we could all benefit from a look around at the fashion.

Below are some of the looks which inspire me:

Vivienne Tam

T.J. Maxx has this for well under half the price of this one.

No, I wouldn't wear this shoe. I just like to look at it.

Elie Tahari

I guess you can see that cherry blossoms inspire me.

Are you laughing? I do have one...but in a different color combination. I got it at Tuesday Morning last week. I like the idea of my children remembering me in this just as much as they'll remember me in painter's pants patching the bathroom ceiling.

Very fresh...

Blue again...this time in a prom dress at Nordstrom.


The Best Gift is a Smile

by Mary Sheehan Warren on 12/13/11

Last month I had the privilege of signing books at four Northern California clothing stores. In the ebb and flow of customer traffic, I had many chances to witness first-hand what sales associates experience in their day to day. I gained a new respect for these women as they moved from the basic need to sell clothing to customers , to the genuine desire to help these customers look fantastic. I watched faces light up with the thrill of finding something that


works, and I heard conversations on the possibilities of feeling confident in beautiful clothing.

But for every pleasant face, cheerful comment, or engaging conversation, there was a slew of sullen sourpusses. Anyone who has ever worked in retail knows exactly about whom I speak: The woman (or man) who walks into the store, ignores the cheerful "Hello, welcome to..." and shifts to the merchandise as if she's coming way down in her standards to sift through your racks of rags. And, in a nasty ironic twist, the number of these types increase once the Christmas decorations are hung.

This got me thinking about myself as a shopper. Do I glower when I walk into a store? Do I view sales people as no more than pesky store-gnomes out to get my money?

Do I walk in thinking, "Oh no...I don't want to have to talk. I just wanna grab the goods, pay up, and get the hec out of here!"?

While she might be thinking, "My son's cold is getting worse, maybe I should have kept him home today...but I can't miss  another day of work...Is that scratchiness I feel in my throat?...Oh Lord, my health insurance sure stinks...Did that woman just glower at me like I'm the enemy?"

Well, wouldn't it be nice to let our service related friends know that we don't think they're the enemy.Wouldn't it be wonderful to spread a bit of Christmas cheer among the people who help to accommodate our need to shop, ship, or pay the water bill?

Yes? Then smile! That one simple bit of connection shows that you see her as a human being who's on your side. I promise you'll get a smile right back - even though her feet hurt or her son is sick or her health insurance stinks. (And, if you don't get a smile back, give a bigger smile and let it sink in for a few days; A smile is like therapy sometimes.)

"Wear a smile and have friends; wear a scowl and have wrinkles." - George Eliot



History of Fashion

by Mary Sheehan Warren on 11/21/11

I knew Mary Martin was talented, but now I'm going to add this performance on the history of fashion to the list of the best out there. It's more illustrative than most of the books I've read. Watch it and see for yourself! (Be sure to get to the end: 1953)

Watch video



What's scary is that the narration (the woman's voice from the magazine) says many things I hear today in our own fashion magazines. The irony has not escaped me:

"Oh What to do with our shapes?"

" caress your alabaster throat" (Okay this one I haven't heard in a long time; maybe not in my lifetime, but it's almost quaint.)

"lower the neckline a daring 3 inches admit the fresh air" (That's a new one.)

"Hey baby get out of those rags... Women have the vote!"

"Take off that skirt if you want to be an 'it' girl!" (Beware of the guy who says that!)

"Identify your waistline."

"We bear our shoulders in a snazzy bateau neckline..."

"Relieve starkness with a simple strand of pearls."

"It's now chic to smoke...even in public" (Now, fill in the word "smoke" with any other verb.)

"Good heavens, what are you doing in that getup?" (I've said that to my children.)

"We are all going to be very pretty this season." (or else)

"Can't you find your waistline?"

"This year it's smart to be the broad shouldered, healthy, idependent vital American girl like Joan Crawford" (Yes, she was exactly the person I was thinking of!)

"...for a much more exotic view..."

"Above all we have lip allure. Our lips are delicious this year." (They are delicious this year as well.)

"Fashion has come to grips with reality." (Now that's whopper!)

"...American career girl has freed herself from fashion..."

"...welcoming the next day's challenges knowing that she has defeated countour delinquincy..." (a little 1950s humor here)

The more you learn about the fashion cycle, the funnier it all becomes.



To Hose or Not to Hose?

by Mary Sheehan Warren on 10/14/11

In Style Magazine (On-Line) beat me to this topic. For that matter, many others have as well:

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Pippa Middleton are fans of the nude pantyhose! Thanks to the sisters, sales of the hosiery have spiked nearly 85 percent in England, The Telegraph reports. Buckingham Palace enforces a strict dress code for women—they must wear stockings and closed-toed shoes, and royals like Queen Elizabeth, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie all slip them on when they’re out. The look is also practical, as pantyhose provide extra warmth on chilly nights and a layer of protection against the sun. See

Well, I've been meaning to tackle this topic, but my previous plans revolved around simply longing for the good old days when a girl could keep her legs warm and her spider veins private. (Now how is leg makeup easier than hosiery?) My beginning sentence began something like, "What dastardly dark force lay behind the revolt against panty hose..." or something like that.

Anyway, it seems that Anne Hollendar is right. The only way to influence a woman's choice for tasteful fashion is to provide inspiration and an appeal to the imagination rather than rational arguments. (Never fear, I make the same claim for men's fashion!) In her book, Sex and Suits: The Evolution of Modern Dress she cites the Rational Dress Movement of the middle of the 19th century as lacking that kind of inspiration. Truth is, women just found the look of a ridiculously pinched bodice as pretty.

So, Go Kate Go! You look great and I'm going out to stock up on my own nude hosiery.

Packing Under Pressure

by Mary Sheehan Warren on 09/19/11

Picture this: Miles of concrete city sidewalks, gaps between the cobblestones, slick subway platforms, and high speed escalators. What shoes does one choose for such an itinerary?

Why, platform stilettos, of course.


 (silly, silly girls)

This was the very question I faced as I packed for a few days at Fashion Week in New York with my friend Molly and a sylist named Bjorn. Sure, I confidently tossed into my suitcase a simple black sheath dress, a gray maxi skirt, and a dark denim pair of trouser jeans. Those were the obvious choices for such a trip. I am, after all, a fashion consultant.

But what about the shoes? I imagined glossy, fashionable people ruling the sidewalks in strappy 4 inch heels, each with her perky bag slung nonchalantly over a forearm. Wow. That's poetry in motion.

No, that's podiatry in motion. A snap back to reality gets my bunyons worked up and a second disk begins to herniate in my lower back. I can't help but wonder at the physics of a shoe like that. Is the adoption of this style defying some physical or physiological law meant never to be challenged? Oh the quandary!

So I developed general shoe angst over the choices (also known as GSA). I wanted to be glossy and fashionable. But I also didn't want to slip onto the third rail of the subway tracks. I searched DSW, Goldi's, Nordstrom, Macy's and even Kohls for some ideas. Then, I hit and the Walking Company. Finally, Stan's Fit for Your Feet.

Isn't there such a thing as a platform stiletto heel that feels good after walking, oh say, about 10 miles?

I guessed not.

But then I wondered about the eternal quest for a happy marriage of form and function. Maybe I own a pair of shoes that fills the need. (Well, many of my boots do, but it was only early September.)

So I packed everything: Equestrian boots, sling back 1" inch heels, 2 pairs of ballet flats, traditional pointed toe pumps (what was I thinking?), tennis shoes, slippers, sandals, and platform stilettos. There.

I wore my wellies onto the plane and giggled at my brilliance. Choice means power. Power means confidence. Confidence means glossy and fashionable.

But by late Thursday night, my wellies pinched my toes. The ballet flats I wore Friday morning made the balls of my feet ache and the sandals weren't much better.

But what did I wear to the Lincoln Center?

Platform Stilettos. And proudly too.

Yeah, I lost feeling in my toes and a third disk herniated in my lower back. But I was glossy! And fashionable! (At least until I traded them out for the flats stowed away in my perky bag.)

And, as you might guess, my interest in shoes was enhanced by the experience. Why do we do what we do? What is it about those shoes? 

See my adventures at

And guess which feet are mine?

How to Win Friends and Influence People

by Mary Sheehan Warren on 07/16/11

Last week I finished reading Dale Carnegie’s 1936 classic How to Win Friends and Influence People and I just knew I’d love a book that speaks of Al Capone in the present tense and begins a point with “Or, take the Teapot Dome Oil Scandal. Remember it?”  

The book explained to me why salespeople speak the way they do. And while that may sound a bit cynical, I must say that I’m amazed at how many people in business don’t use the advice of this book. Clearly, there is common sense in a book which encourages its reader to continually remember the points of view of others and that a bad attitude rarely gets you what you want. The best part of the book for me was the chapter about wives who nag: Empress Eugenia, Countess Tolstoi, and my personal favorite, Mary Todd Lincoln. (No nagging husbands, but Disraeli scores points for never criticizing his silly wife.) 

Anyway, I decided to apply its techniques to my dealings with the adolescents in my home. After all, if it successfully influenced a generation of tough Capitalists, why not my crowd of creampuffs?

So, I began with the first principle, If you want to gather honey, don’t kick over the beehive (part 1, chapter 1). I suppose that this means I should say things sweetly to ultimately get them to do what they should do.

“Let’s hang the clean clothes on hangers and throw the dirty ones down the laundry chute. It’s so nice to have a clean and organized room,” I say in my nice-mommy voice to Adolescent#1.

“Hey!” Adolescent #1 snaps back. “I like it this way. Don’t touch my stuff. And don’t try to run my life!”

Okay, that was unpleasant. Let's try the next principle: Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves. (Part 2, chapter 4)

“So, you say I am trying to run your life. Tell me about that.”


“I certainly wouldn’t want to run your life. It’s just too big and too important for someone like me to even imply that I could.” (Make them feel important, part 2, chapter 6)

“Okay, now you are just creeping me out,” and adolescent #1 leaves the room.

Well, that didn’t quite go the way I intended, so I look to adolescent #2 . It’s time to tackle wardrobe choices:

“Don’t you want to look beautiful? And wouldn’t it be wonderful to always make the right first impression?” (Get the other person saying ‘yes, yes’ immediately, Part 3, chapter 5)

“Yes, I do,” Adolescent #2 replies. “Only I’d like to know what kind of reverse psychology you are about to use.” And she eyes me suspiciously.

“Ha ha,” I laugh nervously. “I just thought…well, I think I heard you say, that you would like to replace the shorts you are wearing with uh…. something from my own wardrobe. That’s right; I remember correctly, now. You said something along those lines and I know that you have such a lot of fashion sense. I mean, I would never come up with such a sensible idea myself (Let the other fellow feel that the idea was his, part 3, chapter 7)

I am met with silence and a withering stare. I know that silence and I know that stare. It means that I had better rise to the challenge and apply the time-tested shock and awe strategy (also known as rapid dominance). Only this application is a little more awe than shock as it leaves its listener completely distracted by its profound randomness.  Yup, it’s time for the best line in the book:

”Okay, take the Teapot Dome Scandal. Remember it?”

What to do when you are stuck in the dressing room stuck in a dress

by Mary Sheehan Warren on 05/16/11

I knew I shouldn't have done it. I only went in there for a vintage clutch bag and I should have stuck with my in-and-out-in-no-more-than-five-minutes instinct.

But this was Rethreads on Humboldt and I love the place.

It took me exactly four minutes to find this sweet off-white embroidered clutch with bow tie clasp and chain strap. It seemed reasonable to look around for a few minutes longer. After all, shouldn't one ride upon the coat tails of success? (Or is it "leave on a high note?”)

And then there it was: A really fabulous silk multi-hued-print shift that began at Banana Republic for probably around $160 and ended here for a mere twenty-one. It was size SP. Well, I was an S last summer (or was that another summer?) and since it had long sleeves, I theorized that the P would come in handy for short arms like mine.

So, with heart rate slightly raised, I went into the dressing room, pulled off all my winter apparel (sweater, scarf, thermals, and winter coat - yes May 16 in Milwaukee) and pulled the dress over my head. I had to sort of stretch my neck and collapse my shoulders to get it over me, so I mused (a bit smugly, I might add) that Yoga has helped me in yet another unexpected way.

I did get it around my body. Eventually.

It was so pretty. Okay, tight through the shoulders - but pretty. But wait: A side zipper? Perhaps that obligatory-decoration-zipper-thing that you see on the sides of bags?  I zipped, or attempted to zip, and strained and sighed (without exhaling) as my dream of a bargain dress receded into my mental vault of “what could have been.”

It was time to slip the thing back over my head and onto the rack of rejects.

This is when things went seriously wrong. I could see my in-and-out-in-five-minutes errand turning into an “I’ll be lucky if I make it out of here in fifteen.” I yanked it from several points along the hem. I pulled the cuffs. I inched and ached my way into an embarrassingly vulnerable posture.

Now remember: I do this for a living. No, not trying on ill-fitting dresses, but helping others to try on ill-fitting dresses - er, fitting dresses. As I preach all the time: “It’s not your size that’s wrong; It’s the size of the dress.”

But I panicked. “Holy taco! I better lose some weight!” followed by the recurring “What if there were a fire at this very minute?” I thought about that in Macy’s just the other day. I pictured what it might be like to run from the dressing room half clothed. I imagined the laughter and the pointing from the upstanding shoppers of Mayfair Mall as they paused from running for their lives.

At least here on Humboldt, no one would probably notice. This is Riverwest, and Riverwest is very open-minded about what it means to be clothed. I could see myself running out in the street with a dress halfway up my face, arms flaying vertically, bare legged, and without my new clutch bag.  Someone might say to me, “Nice look; but you need a clutch bag or perhaps a pair of stilettos.”

That thought calmed me down. Actually, it made me laugh. I did and pulled a muscle in my neck. This was getting serious so I had to come up with a plan.

Should I just pull and rip and pay the twenty-one dollars? Maybe I could mend it, do more Yoga, lose some weight, and wear it to my brother’s wedding at the end of June.

No, I’m really bad at getting things mended.

So, I pulled the dress back down into position and checked myself in the mirror. That’s when the next plan took form. I could walk up to the cashier and explain that I love the dress so much that I just have to wear it out of the store. Let me pay and go.

But I didn’t have the right shoes for the dress. And what would I do with the thermals?

Finally, I decided to come clean with the dressing room attendant. I walked out, told her I was stuck and needed help, and lead her back to my stall.

She didn’t bat an eyelash. She exclaimed, “That happens to me all the time!” She began by positioning my head forward, arms extended, and shoulders squeezed.

“I might hurt you,” she warned, and so I made a joke about Yoga.

It did hurt, but she was effective; a real pro. She slid it off after about 90 seconds of stretching muscles I didn’t know I had, and she again assured me that this sort of thing happens all the time.

I wish I knew her name. I feel like I should know it since she saw so much of me. Whoever she is, she was such a great salesperson, she almost convinced me to buy it anyway.

“Even still, it is so cute on you! And it’s a bargain!” she insisted. "You should just get it anyway."

“Well,” I answered, “I guess the whole incident is my fault. I shouldn’t have tried on such a small size. I suppose I need to lose some weight.”

“No,” she countered. “You are not the problem.”

I loved her for those words. I guess I needed to hear them, and I can consider her my dressing room guardian angel.

So, my advice for those who are stuck in a dressing room stuck in a dress: I hope you’re at Rethreads.


Above: A clutch kind of like the one I found at Rethreads. Only mine is cuter.

Virtues and Vices

by Mary Sheehan Warren on 05/16/11

Etiquette is really all about our personal virtues and...uh, lack of virtues in our day to day interaction with others. Patience is one many of us try to develop in our professional and personal lives, and I always thought that regular, low-tech living (like the kind we had in, oh about 2002 or so) presented enough temptation to snap and gripe at others. Now, with smart phones (and smart teenagers) and greater band width, our expectations are now completely unreasonable: "I just emailed him 15 minutes ago...he should have answered!" Or, "Why does the Internet take a full 5 seconds longer to load on my phone?"

Here's a tidbit that says it well for me:  It's from a daily mailing called Little Pink Book. I enjoy getting these every week...if only it would load faster on my phone!

Special Occasion Dressing for Spring 2011

by Mary Sheehan Warren on 05/09/11

1. Avoid “panic shopping.” Okay, never mind; too late. Do you know the type of dress needed for the event? If it’s a wedding, you still should avoid white (yes, really), unless, of course, it’s your own wedding or your sister is becoming a princess. Day time weddings call for knee-length/below-knee-length, and evening weddings only require gowns for very formal venues.


2. If a wedding is in a sacred space (church, synagogue, etc.) Wear a wrap, a shawl, or a lace jacket to cover bare shoulders.


3. True, hosiery is about as rare as hen’s teeth, but many women need hosiery. Go for super-super sheer flesh tone hosiery (sandal foot); it hides flaws while still helping your legs appear natural.


4. Go for a dress or top/skirt or top/trouser combination in a spectacular palette of colors for YOU. Accessorize according to the event: Festive events are perfect for “decking out,” but somber events call for a little restraint.


5. Update your shoes. Metallic tones (“pewter” or dull silver) and especially cream/beige are the IT colors for shoes this season. They tend to blend in with the leg so that they can be worn under almost any color outfit. Higher, strappy styles are very elegant with this spring’s silhouettes. Do not choose thongs or flip flops no matter how many flowers or rhinestones they have.

6. Grab a clutch for the occasion. Don’t schlep that big boho into the reception hall! If you are unwilling to spend money on this very occasionally-used item, borrow one or search consignment/thrift shops. They are always around.


7. Hair and makeup is fresh and healthy. Colors are not glow-in-the-dark or garish for especially day time events. Nails might be (not should be) the exception.


8. Smile for the camera! Do you have enough time to whiten your teeth with an over-the-counter tooth whitener? It’s amazing how this makes a smile shine.

 Happy Hunting!

Mom's Style

by Mary Sheehan Warren on 05/05/11

 As it is almost Mother's Day, I figured I should give credit where credit is due.

I have "horse sense" (as my mother would call it) when it comes to choosing fashion. This is not because I was born in the "good old days," or only watched quality TV or played with beautiful toys or was exposed to elegant people. It is because I had a mother with horse sense about fashion. She knew what she was doing and passed it along to me.

So, what did my mother specifically show me in regard to developing my own style? Well, I answer this in my book (dedicated to her) in the following way:

Smile even when it's hard to smile.

Look up-to-date. Clothes are kind of fun after all.

Skirts are one of the benefits of being a woman.

Have a totally cool jewelry box stocked with wonderfully exotic items. Don't yell at your daughter when she rifles through it (or loses a few pieces...)

Wear jewelry even when you scrub the toilet.

Wear lipstick. Brush your hair. Never look like Gravel Gertie. (Who is she, anyway?)

You have to have a few years behind you to wear black.

Always wear a pretty top in your best colors.

Wear heels when you can. Wear high heels when you can get away with it.

And finally...

No one should ever spot your underwear under your clothing.


Prom Angst

by Mary Sheehan Warren on 04/05/11

You thought that maybe it would pass you over. Indeed, you were counting on that wacky off-chance that your daughter would be booked with other things on the night of the prom (like homework or the flu) and so you wouldn't have to worry about Lady Ga Ga shoes and shiny polyester tubes of fabric (often called dresses).

But here she is. She's come to you with her demands: "A decent dress that's nothing like your ugly 80s outfit you tried to pass off as fashion at a thing you tried to pass off as a prom," she says.

Then, your demands: "Yes, a decent dress for sure. And it has to be at a price that won't risk our grocery fund. And 80s... what?" (You weren't even thinking about the 80s when she started, but now that she's mentioned it...)

If you don't have any angst as a parent about prom night, then you are missing out on some of the most colorful kind of angst there is (colorful and shiny). 

Think of it: We spend the whole year telling our daughters to "study hard," "use your brain," "reject those sexualized marketing messages" "don't worry about what your peers think," and "beware of those creeps out there," only to parade them (our girls, not creeps -hopefully) out to the stretch limo in a type of fashion which serves poetically as metaphor for what we don't want our girls to be.

And we pay for it.

It's kind of twisted.

Of course, we don't like it. ("Oh that's just teen'll pass; Why make a fuss?) We laugh nervously as our daughters get compliments from people we think should never have noticed.

Well,  it's okay to just say no. Go back to the basics and explain simply that she's just too good for polyester tubes and Lady Ga Ga shoes. Tell her why she's important. Tell her why with love rather than anger.

Ensure her that she can be hip, elegant, and at the same time...dare I say it? Modest.

There is such a thing as modesty (it's not meekness or shyness about one's accomplishments...more like an I-value-myself/self-preservation- kind-of-thing), and one remembers that it is indeed a virtue, especially at times like this. (Remember those things called virtues? Some basics are honesty, industriousness, charity, etc.)

So, establish your rules and offer some alternative fashion. Use the word "tasteful," "sophisticated," "understated" and such. The dress you find might be from T.J. Maxx or Macy's or the Salvation Army. It might even be from the Misses department of your favorite boutique. Just don't pull out your puffy sleeved 80s polyester tube thing.

Some on-line finds: (This year it's long, short, full skirts, or simple sheaths; Color is key.)




J.C. Penny










A Revolution in Color?

by Mary Sheehan Warren on 03/08/11

Look at retail right now and you'll see coral (a little darker than what we used to call "peach" in the 90s), every shade of a pretty little pink, beige, "dove," cobalt, aqua, red (especially trousers and Capris), and, of course, white.

Sure, there's gray, brown, and all sorts of green too.

But what's missing? I mean, think of that one color which has dominated fashion for generations; the "it" fashion color. (The one I wear all the time.)

That's right: Black is missing. Well, maybe not missing, but absent in ways it never has been before. Could it be that the the oft-quoted fashion color forecaster, David Wolfe, was right when he suggested that retail will one day meet the demands of Boomers who see black as an unflattering color for them as they age?

I'll never forget that day in '03 when I heard on NPR that black will no longer rule the runways. It was shocking news to my fashion sensibilities, and I figured that the guy was just overstating the case to make his name stand out among the gaunt of the fashion world.

Well, here it is! Look at all the pretty colors! (But choose your most flattering to wear around your face - even if black is sometimes one of them.)


Accessories Add Individuality

by Mary Sheehan Warren on 02/17/11

One really expensive way to cheat yourself out of creating your own distinctive brand of personal style, is to either buy the "it" pieces "as seen on" so and so, or to just lump on colorless bling - kind of that Proletariat fashion thing.

So, when I find jewelry makers who offer truly unique peices at reasonable prices, I love to sing their praises. (See my newsletter for "homegrown talent" for some of them.)

Two have been brought to my attention just recently, and I'm happy to encourage the world to check them out:

Here in Milwaukee, see the work of Tina's "Take-Out" Jewelry. I just attended her Open House and was impressed to see high quality peices of simple, yet distinctive style; So wearable, those of you with "relaxed" fashion personalities could feel comfortable sporting just about any of them. And, for those of you who are a bit hard on the pretty stuff, pieces are durable and 100% guaranteed to last.

Email Tina Rojahn Elsafy at And visit her photos at

Further away, in Singapore to be exact, there are some precious treasures taking shape through the creative energy of my friend Stephanie Wong. All that fashion talent she has is embodied in her use of high quality materials in breath-taking forms. (The necklace I have from her really turns heads!) See her work on Etsy.

But what if you've never left? (Age - Appropriate Fashion Part II)

by Mary Sheehan Warren on 02/03/11

I love to discuss Christopher Hopkin's Staging Your Comeback with other women. It seems to come up whenever we discuss books:

Friend #1: "I'm reading Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, how about you?"

Friend #2: "Funny you should mention it, but I am reading another fabulous Russian named Leo Tolstoy. How about you Mary?"

Me: "Oh I'm on to the heady and esoteric: Staging Your Comeback, by Christopher Hopkins!"

But what if - as I considered after a while- one never left? Suppose your style mostly worked for you through the years and you're not really staging a comeback, but trying to just stay on the stage?

You're perhaps the very same woman who reads More magazine and never missed an Oprah. Yet, even within the landslide of fashion information, you've lost track of one vital  fact about yourself:

You have earned the right to appear as if you are at the top of your game... even if you aren't. (And anyway, if you dress the part, you'll rise to the top!)

So what follows is what I advise clients to key into when arriving at the reading demographic for Mr. Hopkin's book:

1. Be picky about fit. Demand that a garment up for consideration is just right. If it's not, get it altered or don't buy it.

2. Good fit also means that any item doesn't exaggerate a certain area of your body or sabotage correct proportion. For example, if on you the current skinny jean/chunky top look calls to mind an apple on tooth picks (perhaps because your legs have become thinner through the years or your breast size has increased) then ignore the trend. Consciously seek vertical, proportioned looks in your wardrobe.

3. Less skin; More great fabrics. Wrinkled cleavage is best replaced with cashmere or silk. A beautiful drape which flatters the chin line will do wonders at keeping the focal point on your face, and a good wool gaberdine pencil skirt with hosiery will clean up the poly-wrinkled-mini-freezing-leg look that the youngsters are sporting.

4. Older style? No, just more tasteful. Tasteful doesn't have to bring to mind "old" and remember it's okay if it does indeed bring to mind "mature." You are more mature. You may also be someone's mother or grandmother or aunt or great aunt. That's okay. Allow yourself to look the part: You worked darn hard at it.

5. Wear your best colors around your face, soften the makeup to your currently softer facial tones, but maintain your playfulness with color by layering and/or accessorizing.

6. So how exactly do you accessorize in a world where "matchy-matchy" is treated like the moral equivalent of a crime against humanity? Well, avoid buying things in sets. The nice thing about the current trend is that there is a bit more room for individuality. So, for example, use the brown croc-embossed satchel you love so much and wear it with the black boots you chose with so much consideration. Don the pearl earrings, but opt for a pink scarf instead of the corresponding pearl necklace. Embrace blue and black or even brown and black in single ensembles and attempt to vary texture when inspired.

7. Pare down the "standby classics" as you call them. Keep the pointed toe pumps, but move along the long structured equestrian blazer. Show off the gorgeous silk scarf from Rome, but send away the circa 1990 handmade leather vest. In other words, hold on to the classics that truly stand the current test of time. If it makes you feel better, create a time capsule for your "vintage" peices and leave them to a youngster in your will.

8. Update your hair style, but ensure that it flatters your face shape. Long hair gets tougher to pull off as you age, but you can opt for a graduated style which frames your face in front, and is longer toward the back and sides. Generally, too far below the shoulders is just too far.

9. Coloring gray hair does indeed maintain a fresh and ready appearance. Your natural hair color with highlights or a slightly lighter hue (for those with naturally very dark hair) is generally the most flattering.

10. Smile. There might be a lot more stress than when you were thirty, but you probably recall to yourself that you finally know which "battles to pick." Smile at that thought. Often.




Over 45 Fashion

by Mary Sheehan Warren on 01/14/11

In a few days, I will hit the target market for Christopher Hopkin's Staging Your Comeback: A Complete Beauty Revival for Women Over 45.  (If you get my drift.)

I originally began reading it to help my clients, but now, I must admit that not only has this book become the single most helpful resource I've used for the past year, but it has also helped me personally.

Christopher Hopkins, the "Makeover Guy" is extremely talented and seems like a delightful person. You can't help but love him as you read him say "I believe that as women mature, the more beautiful they become but the less attractive they feel," and "You have the power to express yourself not as expected but as amazing."

So, does he really deliver? Or is he just another pretty boy with pretty words?

Oh, he delivers. The book is in a highly readable and engaging format with quotes, biographical sketches of clients, graphics, and fantastic photos. The makeover photos are what influenced me to buy the book, and I still smile whenever I survey these faces of happy, confident women, all experiencing their greatest physical potential.

This is very powerful stuff.

So, what's his secret? A lot of what he does has to do with the key concept of moderation. In fact, I was happy to see that he says many of the same things I say in any one of my services, including the discussion of body type and fashion personality, and his information on hair and makeup is based on his years of experience in the salon.

Some pearls of wisdom:

"One must learn to use discernment and good taste to conceal more than reveal," he insists, and offers the practical advice, "[ a hemline] shorter than fingertips is too short for most women, but particularly for the second-act woman of taste."

"In the workplace, hosiery provides a professional business boundry for women who prefer to wear dresses rather than pants," he says as the basis of his view toward hosiery and career wear and reminds us that although we hear "from fashionistas everywhere that wearing hose with open-toed shoes is wrong," that "fortunately, [the] sentiment is so 2003. Sandal-foot hosiery is made for no other reason than to be worn with sandals."

And, "The thong has ended but the melody lingers on" is his take on thong undies, and he quips that a bottom "without shapewear is like Jell-O without a mold."

Oh don't worry. He never gives you the feeling that he's rolling his eyes or laughing at the ladies. This guy is genuine and loves women. I highly recommend this book as an additon to your self improvement library if you are over 45... or under it as well.

Check out his site: the makeover guy

The Definitive Book of Body Language

by Mary Sheehan Warren on 12/31/10

I just finished reading The Definitive Book of Body Language by Allan and Barbara Pease. If you could see my body language right now -actually watch my face and shoulders and palms and feet - you'd pick up that I'm rather enthused about the  topic these days.

After about the first chapter I began to wonder how it is I got through life this far without knowing all these things the authors insist are true. Sure, I instinctively know, for example, that crossed arms imply a defensive attitude and that a lack of eye contact usually means a lack of interest in a speaker. But there were many things I didn't know, and the Pease Team managed to weave each bit of information into an organic whole which made sense to me as a regular observer and user of body language. (Regular user because I'm human not because of what I do for a living!)

The book was a quick read because it has diagrams, cartoons, and photos (of some very famous people) to provide examples of many of the astounding claims made in the book.

Do I sound doubtful? Perhaps maybe more than I actually am, but, as my husband reminded me, some of these phenomena can be overstated by the experts.

Overstated perhaps, but eerily true in so many situations.

You decide: (Check out these randomly chosen claims.)

"Being 'perceptive' means being able to spot the contradictions between someone's words and their body language."

"When a person's words and body language are in conflict, women ignore what is said."

"When men lie, their body language can be obvious. Women prefer to look busy as they lie."

"Turning your palm from facing upward to facing downward completely alters how others perceive you."

"Only 15 percent of our laughter has to do with jokes. Laughter has more to do with bonding."

"If you're not sure whether you're being lied to or not, look under their desk."

"Jiggling the feet is like the brain's attempt to run away from what is being experienced."

I could go on! The book is packed with tips, stories, cautions, and exceptions. Fortunately, it's also packed with studies which back up some (but not all) of the claims. It also provides some wiggle room for the obvious conscious control of body language.

All I know is that I'm going to...

  • Hold my head up high.
  • Smile more.
  • Make eye contact.
  • Wear a large watch.

You'll just have to read the book to see what I mean.



ISYFashion no longer accepts clients for personal wardrobe design services. For information on what Mary's been up to, visit