Two summers ago, as a geared up for a presentation at a major conference and for the beginning of a college-level teaching position, I decided I needed to revamp my look. I had to go from slouchy-backstage-person-slash-academic-slash-bookworm to Credible Scholar (and not the absent-minded kind, that only works when you are older and/or a man).
Thing is, grad students don’t have much money–and I had only three months to upgrade my look (including having enough sharp outfits for a five-day conference, without repeats). This might not seem like much, but I didn’t even have stylish shoes. Because of my scoliosis, I wore clunky Danskos or Birkenstocks–and the former made me twist my ankles so often that I was beginning to despair of being able to wear them.*
Paige’s book is my favorite style handbook out of the three that I’ve read. Although I find her diction overly colloquial (full of “Can we have an Amen?” and “Woo-hoo!” asides) to be grating when I re-read it (and I could go a life-time without hearing my bottom referred to as a “bow-chicka-wow-wow,” or whatever it was, again), her content is excellent.
Paige focuses on two points: what you need to look for when examining ready-to-wear clothes to ensure a flattering fit, and how to work the retail and thrift-shop systems get the most bang for your buck. She starts simply, with five basic rules to elevate your look right away (ranging from the simple “always wear lipstick” to the very-unhelpful-to-me “you must wear cute shoes”). She explains how fit in the fashion industry works. She even spends a whole chapter on foundation garments, including bras and shapewear, and how spending a bit extra to make certain the former fits properly (and most of us wear bras that do not fit right) will make all of your clothes look and lay better (it’s true, I can attest).
Other topics covered by the book are how to find a pair of pants that fits properly and hit the waist at the most flattering position, how to operate in discount stores and outlets, insider information about why garments end up on sales racks or in T.J. Maxx and Marshall’s (often fit issues, it seems, which means that you shouldn’t trust the size label, but always bring a measuring tape and try various sizes on).
She also stresses the importance of shaping and encourages the reader to elevate her wardrobe by having her clothes tailored or hemmed to the proper length, because (so Paige claims) the small expense of fitting a garment just right can elevate it’s perceived cost by a great deal.
The author also covers color–like which colors look richer and more expensive–and gives tips on how to get a unified wardrobe going quickly (pick your poison: turquoise or coral as your core color, then add contrasting accessories, and build from there).
The downside to this book is (for me) a heavy focus on sale-stalking–something I have no patience for–and that irritating girl-talk diction. Also, since this book is intended for a general audience, she focuses on what styles are most likely to be flattering to the majority of body types, and though she addresses some figure variations, her bugaboo really is showing the reader how to get a flattering, body-skimming fit that falls from one’s curves at just the right places.
Fortunately, her advice is applicable to many body types and most budgets.**
In summary, I found Style on a Shoestring immensely helpful. During the time when I was following her suggestions and challenges, I definitely elevated my personal style, got more compliments, and felt more attractive. I am still grateful to her for helping me find out that Lucky Brand jeans fit me better than the tried-and-true brands I had been wearing for years before (which sat too low on my hips).
Just last week, I re-read Paige’s book from kindle-cover-to-cover, and though I wish I could strikethrough every single “Yippie!” I once again feel inspired to do a closet-cleanse, to narrow down my stock to what really looks good, and to systematically build my wardrobe stocked with versatile, dark, neutral basics and eye-catching tops and accent pieces.
* Finally, a year and a half later, my ankle twisted as I walked down a NYC block and I fell–twisting my back because of the heavy bag of research books I was carrying–and hit my head on a metal trash can. The Danskos immediately went into a bag to Goodwill, despite how I loved them, and I am still looking for a mildly attractive, flat, non-wedge or platform-style replacement shoe.
** Paige suggests a fun game/challenge of putting aside $20 of “mad money” each week to spend on whatever item you fall in love with, or if you don’t spend it, save it for a more expensive purchase later. Unfortunately, not everyone can afford $80 per month for basics or accessories that you really, really want. Fortunately, I think this game can be scaled back a bit–and one should remember to buy only what you really, really love.