Tag Archives: Banana Republic

Looking Cool While Staying Warm

Honestly, I thought Polar Vortex was a tenor from Eastern Europe.  Not until I saw the news last night, explaining the frigid temperatures that have gripped the country this week, did I realize it was a weather front visiting us like a late-date Santa, from the North Pole.  Today I’m feeling downright tropical because it’s heated up to a balmy 8.  I mean, I grew up in Schenectady but still!  Until I moved to central Vermont, fleece was a word I uttered once every seventeen years and usually in a nursery rhyme.  Now it’s part of my daily conversation.

But I’m finding after seven years of living here that it’s possible to embrace my inner Eskimo and dress chicly while fighting off frostbite.  And if your warm wardrobe isn’t complete, now is a good time to supplement it as most retailers are offering big after-Christmas discounts.

A few things I’ve discovered, well, actually two: long underwear top and long underwear bottom.  However, unlike the bulky, itchy things my mother made me wear as a kid, there are plenty of very thin but very warm options.  Winter Silks has a great line of lightweight long underwear that can really make a difference and they’re having a 60% off sale right now.  I also really love Hot Chillys, available on Amazon, and I’ve had good luck at Loehmann’s, when I can get to one, with higher-end-for-less-money silk long johns that have lasted me for years.  These garments are critical not only for staying warm once you’ve stepped away from the fire, but for preventing the itching of…

Heavy sweaters.  Now is a great time to buy.  Lots of sales, coupons and good deals from Banana Republic, J.Crew, Nordstrom, Saks, Neiman Marcus, you name it.  Look for the cashmeres that are left over from Christmas.  Some great buys there and if that’s not enough, check out retailmenot.com which offers discount codes for many, many retail sites.

Because I happen to have bad circulation in my fingers and toes I’ve taken to wearing cashmere socks which sounds like a big luxury but is really pretty cost effective.  They’re warm enough for wearing with boots, but thin enough for shoes and they feel divine.  By January, prices have dropped and a couple pairs of these babies will keep your tootsies toasty.  If you wash them on the delicate cycle and hang to dry they’ll last forever.  For the fingers, I’ve found that mittens are the only thing that works for me.  These days many are made with glove linings and a mitten top that you can flip back when you need to use your digits.  The “Thinsulate” ones I got at Farm-Way, a local purveyor that is just what it sounds like, have special stitching on the fingertips so you can use an iPhone or iPad without removing your gloves.  Totally cool.

Outerwear?  Get down.  I don’t mean like “get funky.”  I mean, if you want to be warm, get down.  Not all down is alike, mind you.  If you look on the inside label you’ll see the percentage of down and the percentage of feathers.  More down means more warmth, so look for something like 80% down and 20% feathers.  I recommend a jacket that covers your fanny.  It’ll be warmer and it’ll look chic with a pair of skinny pants and boots.  You don’t have to spend a fortune but if you find a jacket you like and you see little feathers coming through the outer fabric, as Tanta Julia would say, fuhgget it.

Keep your feet warm with some Gortex or other weatherproof boots.  For stylish bootwear I really like Stuart Weitzman.  An investment, no question, but I’ve worn the same ones for nine years and they still look great, are warm and waterproof, so if you amortize the cost over that many years, they’re a bargain.  Aquatalia, same deal.  I store them in the off season stuffed with paper in an old pillowcase.  They are well worth the money to keep those feet cozy while looking cool.  And let’s face it; you can’t be chic if your teeth are chattering.

Don’t want to wear a hat?  I know just what you mean.  Five minutes in a hat and there’s so much static I could start a blender just by rubbing my head.  Get a pair of earmuffs.  Eastern Mountain Sports (EMS) makes some great ones that go “behind the head” so there’s none of that nasty hat hair.  Mine are actually the Men’s version.  Makes no difference as the size is adjustable.   A nice colorful scarf (the rest of my outfit is black of course), a pair of shades and you are ready to brave the elements.

Lookin’ cool!







January 9, 2014 · 8:44 am


I’m going to apologize right up front here for any misspellings, grammatical errors or general goof-ups. I’m writing this on my iPad and being a student of the old-fashioned touch typing that Mrs. Bilecki taught us in high school, this hunt and peck nonsense is a kind of torture. BUT…I’m in Italy and it turns out that the remote little countryside inn in which we are staying is not that remote. It’s right near an Italian cashmere outlet!  Bravisimo!!  Can you believe it?  Not only am I eating great food, drinking fabulous  wine and looking at exquisite scenery, I’m in sweater-heaven!  And cashmere is something I know about.

Gilda Radner, rest her soul, once said that her fashion sense was based on what doesn’t itch. I can totally relate to this because I’m one of those people for whom the word “angora” is a threat.  Mohair, forget it. Even “virgin” wool can mean a day of endless scratching. So I have found that cashmere tends to be the best bet for me when it comes to winter warmth and style. However, not all cashmere is alike and it can be expensive.   Just because the label has the C-word it doesn’t guarantee that it will be itch-free.   The country of origin is often a good clue.  China makes some inexpensive cashmere that can be quite nice. I actually bought a bunch of cardigans that Isaac Mizrahi did for Target a few years back that were lovely and very soft and unbelievably reasonable, but it varies.  Sometimes you get what you pay for. That said, many large department stores, because of their size, are able to supply cashmere sweaters from China under their private labels for less than you’d pay for a regular old Merino from Banana Republic.  Nordstrom’s “Halogen” is just such a brand.  Likewise “C by Bloomingdale’s.”.  They work just fine for a season or two or even three if you store them with mothballs.  But don’t expect the sweater of a lifetime.

Scotland is a good bet for cashmere (think of all those sheep on the heathered hillsides) but you’ll pay for hip style.  Pringle, the best known Scottish knitwear vendor, tends to be fairly conservative style-wise, but the quality of the knit is indisputable.  It’s always best to let your fingers do the walking. And your neck. I hold a garment up to my neck for several minutes to judge the itch factor.  I’ve had very good luck with a British company called Pure Collection. They frequently have sales through their catalogue and the quality is very nice.  The same with Boden, which may even be the same company.  Again, watch their website as they always have promotions.  I like to stock up on bright colors. With a white tee and black pants, it’s basically my winter uniform.

In the meantime, I’m on my way to the Italian cashmere outlet.  Can’t travel without bringing home a souvenir, si?

Ciao bella!





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Twelve Steps


“Hi, my name is Helena and I’m an online shopaholic.”

“Hi Helena.”

“It’s been fourteen hours since my last purchase.  I guess I’m not doing very well.  I’ve tried to quit but a catalogue or coupon will come in the mail and my hands start to shake.  I find I have to rush right to my iPad and before I even know what’s happening I’ve ordered a pair of shoes…”

This is my recurring nightmare.  That I’m up in front of a group of haggard looking people clutching Saks and Neiman Marcus bags and Zappos’ boxes, describing my need to find the next retail fix.  The thing is, I’m actually doing REALLY well.  I don’t want to quit!  I cannot believe some of the fabulous bargains I’ve snagged recently just by spending some time and energy trolling the internet.  I will have a complete and, dare I say, snappy look for fall without ever leaving the second floor of my house.  The world of online shopping has expanded to such an extent, there are few retailers you can’t access from the comfort of your lounge chair.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  This cannot ever replace the sheer pleasure of walking through a beautifully merchandised store.  Of seeing the new collections displayed on mannequins and in groupings while smelling the heady air of perfume samples and cosmetic counters.  My gosh, Nordstrom’s used to employ a pianist to play their Steinway in the middle of the selling floor just in case the fine merchandise and lovely restrooms weren’t enough to entice you to take a stroll around.  No, there is absolutely nothing like the experience of walking into a store, of touching the garments and seeing the array up close and in person.

BUT.  If you are like me and do not have ready access to good retail or are just too busy (who isn’t?) to devote several hours to shopping for great looks, then online is for you.  Plus, it allows you to take advantage of sale incentives that might not be available in a given store on a given day.

Here’s an example of how I work it:  There was a particular bracelet I had seen on the Banana Republic web site.  But I did not want to pay $45 plus $7 shipping for a fashion jewelry item.  Each day I checked in with the BR site, which, with an iPad or iPhone takes two seconds, and eventually there was an offer for 30% off all full price items.  Woo-hoo!  Here’s my big chance.  Now if you have a BR “Luxe” card you’re entitled to free shipping all the time and you earn back “rewards” points every time you shop, which in my case is regularly.  So let’s see; the bracelet was $45 plus $7 shipping, or $52.  With my Luxe card I get free shipping and with the 30% off that made it $31.50.   I had earned enough rewards points for a $30 rewards coupon.  That made the total for my order $1.50.  I paid a buck fifty for the bracelet!  HOW CAN YOU BEAT THAT??!

Sometimes it’s just a matter of paying attention.  Shopping on line for a dress for the opening of a new production, I scrolled through Saks.com until I found the perfect one.  Saks Fifth Avenue often offers free shipping so there was no harm in ordering it and trying it on at home where it fit perfectly!  It was a Pink Tartan (that’s the designer, not the fabric) on sale for 40% off because they only had one and it was a size 2.  But after a few days I started thinking that the sale price was still kind of high so I sent it back.  No sooner had I dropped the box off at my local post office when I was seized with remorse.  It was so perfect for me, fit so well, so nicely made, blah blah and blah.  So for the next couple of weeks everyday I searched the site for “Pink Tartan” until finally in the sale section it came back—my dress, size 2, now 70% off.  I bought it again, of course.  But for much less!

Okay, I know you’re tired of hearing my shopping exploits.  Let’s just say that with a little sleuthing, coupon saving and catalogue perusing you can put together a wardrobe without spending a fortune.  My main rules are:  1) don’t ever pay for shipping.  2) Don’t be afraid to return an item and try again for another size or color.   Most online retailers make it really easy to return with prepaid labels or labels you can print out.  3) If at all possible, buy from vendors who provide free returns or from those who have a brick and mortar store you can get to if you need to return an item, and 3) always wait until there’s an offer for some percentage off, because there always will be.

Meantime I suppose I can get on the wagon.  Does this one stop at the mall?


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