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20 ways to upgrade your style
Find the right color palette for you and stick to it.
In a time of reduced resources, we all need a strategy for looking great. Don't go into the mall or your closet blind; find out if the blue for you is teal, sky, sapphire or ice using style consultants Jesse Garza and Joe Lupo's new "Life in Color" book (see accompanying story).
Ditch those jeans and step it up.
We all need to dress for success these days. The easiest way to do that is by opting for more tailored looks. And no, that doesn't have to mean a poly-blend business suit. Several premium denim brands now have trouser styles, including Paige and Seven, but two of our favorites for great-fitting, cool-looking dress pants are Bishop of Seventh and Babakul.
Babakul features pants in menswear plaids and solids, with denim-like details such as slashed pockets and rivets, topstitching and eyelet or floral fabric peeking out of the pockets. Our favorite style is the Lily in gray plaid (on sale for $86 at revolveclothing.com).
Bishop of Seventh offers trousers in several fits from classic to high-waisted, mid-waisted to boot-cut, in solid or pinstripe gabardine, even lemon and fuchsia linen. All are engineered with the same kind of twisting seams that make premium denim so butt-slimming. Check out the Varick pinstripe style ($270) at Fred Segal Fun in Santa Monica.
For tighter budgets, there's always Banana Republic (bananarepublic.com), which sells dress pants in three fits (Martin, Jackson and Ryan), sizes 00 to 16. The Martin sailor wide-leg style ($89) will carry you straight through to spring.
Think of it as your personal style statement. More apparel companies than ever are committing to community-based production, fair trade and animal-free, recycled and/or organic products. EcoSkin (ecoskincollections.com) is an L.A.-based line that features lots of versatile yet sexy-looking knit jersey tunic tops and dresses made from bamboo and spandex; Ecoist (ecoist.com) offers colorful purses made out of recycled newspapers, magazines and candy wrappers from fair-trade suppliers; Toms (tomsshoes.com), started right here in Venice, gives away one pair of canvas slip-ons for every pair sold to benefit children in need.
The big boys are getting in on the action too. Levi's and Gap have been offering organic jeans since 2007. Nike's Trash Talk shoe is made from recycled material. And Rogan Gregory's certified organic cotton Loomstate for Target line launches April 19.
For more ideas, EcoStiletto (ecostiletto.com), created in June by Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff, is one of our favorite guides to being chic and green.
Invest in an evening bag.
Oversized totes and hobos are for daytime. When you go out at night, downsize to something smaller that's more appropriate. Clutches are available just about everywhere now, but two of our favorite sources for evening bags are Lauren Merkin (laurenmerkin.com) and Fiona Kotur Marin (koturltd.com).
Merkin's Louise clutches are big enough to hold a wallet, phone and car keys. They come in dozens of color combinations, in smooth, woven or patent leather ($200 to $395), or they can be customized. Kotur clutches come in vintage brocades originally woven for couture houses in the '60s and '70s ($308 to $375). But it's her J.B. Renna cracked-mirror minaudière ($899) that we can't get enough of. In silver or gold, it's timeless and seasonless.
Keep it clean.
Expect 2009 to be a year of streamlining, cutting back and simplifying. That should apply to your clothes too. Forget things that are embroidered, embellished, tattoo-printed, foil-screened and Gothic fleur-de-lis-flourished. Think of the classics: the little black dress, the cashmere cardigan and capri pants. Nobody does them better than J.Crew (jcrew.com).
Be on time.
If New York is known as the city that never sleeps, L.A. could be called the city that overslept. Stop blaming the traffic for being tardy for meetings or lunch. In her book "Never Be Late Again," author Diana DeLonzor estimates that most people underestimate how long it takes to do a task by 30% -- that includes how long it takes to drive from Hollywood to Los Feliz. And there's always that person who texts "I'm three blocks away," which usually means that he hasn't left yet.
To change your ways, try Get Friday (getfriday.com), a virtual assistant who will not only send you reminders like "Leave right now for lunch date!" but also handle those other tasks (scheduling and canceling appointments) that make you late. Get Friday's fees start at about $15 per hour (a variety of monthly plans reduce the hourly fee for heavy users); it also sends texts to your cellphone. (Old-fashioned watches and computer alarms work too.)
R.S.V.P. or R.I.P.
Party hosts shouldn't have to follow up on invites. But thanks to no-shows and those who arrive unexpectedly, R.S.V.P. has become a four-letter word for event planners and luncheon hostesses alike. "I overbook events by 20% because people R.S.V.P. and just don't show up," says Chris Benarroch, whose eponymous firm oversees major film premieres like the recent chic after-party for "The Spirit." The aftermath is even worse for the small-time hostess stuck with three leftover wheels of brie and a pile of prosciutto. If someone invites you to a shindig, be sure to R.S.V.P. ASAP and follow through on your commitment.
Chat like a pro.
Don't despair if your inner wit is feeling wan at the next cocktail party. "A lot of people think that being a good conversationalist means being able to perform," says Catherine Blyth, author of a smart new guide to being chatty called "The Art of Conversation." "It's more about listening." The best confabulators don't avoid small talk either. Those innocuous pleasantries often lead to the swap of grandiose ideas and hot-blooded debates that leave you flushed like a teen lover. Blyth recommends that you read the headlines before you head to a social event and even have a prepared anecdote to toss into the talk soup.
Teach the kids to be polite.
See Dick howl. Watch Jane stomp. Ill-mannered children grow up to be boorish adults. At local etiquette school Beverly Hills Manners (beverlyhillsmanners.com;  276-9078), programs include a "Museum Manners" class ($100) that features an art-appreciation tour at LACMA and a dining-etiquette primer over a five-course lunch for kids ages 7 to 12. There are also tutorials for teens and series like "The Art of Civility: 21st Century for Adults."
Wearing a lampshade? Don't drive.
This last year saw a slew of celebrities collared for driving under the influence -- so many that Sean "Diddy" Combs claimed to be launching a car service for tipsy A-listers back in March. It goes without saying that drunk driving well surpasses a breach of etiquette. And no friend should ever be put in the awkward position of having to hide someone's keys after last call. If you plan to imbibe, call a cab or a car service at the end of the night. A taxi from the Sunset Strip to Santa Monica will run you about $35. In Long Beach, a not-for-profit organization called Scooter Patrol ( 577-7365) will come and ferry you home for free after stowing the scooter in your trunk. Oh, and be sure to slur, "Thank you."
'Grow' back your eyebrows.
A lot of people thinned their brows in the grunge days of the mid-'90s, but not everyone's grew back. If you've been compensating for the lack of eyebrow hair by filling them in with a pencil or powder, it's time to try a more "natural" look. Trish McEvoy Brow Builder actually has little nylon fibers that act like hairs, filling in all those unsightly, overplucked bare spots. The result is natural-looking, fuller brows without the hard line of a pencil; $32 at Saks Fifth Avenue.
Stop the 'homeless or Hollywood' hair.
Sure, the paparazzi pics of the Olsen twins with stringy, unwashed tresses make them look glamorous -- because they're wearing Balenciaga boots and carrying Fendi totes along with Starbucks cups bigger than they are. But the greasy-hair trend is not really becoming on anyone. Avoid the "strung-out" look, starting with the hair. Rene Furterer Naturia Dry Shampoo, $24 at Sephora (sephora.com), cleans without water, soaking up excess oil while adding volume and texture.
Condition those cuticles.
Craggy cuticles and hangnails are all too common in this cold weather. Sure, weekly manicures will keep your hands nice and smooth, but you can prolong the manicure and save some money by applying cuticle cream to your nails. "You wouldn't shampoo your hair and not use conditioner would you?" asks Spa at the Sunset Marquis manicurist Michelle Saunders. "It's the same thing for your cuticles. Every time you wash your hands with soap is like shampooing them, so condition them with cuticle cream or lotion afterward."A simple choice: Burt's Bees Lemon Butter Cuticle Creme, $6 (burtsbees.com).
Switch things up.
Adding a little glamour and fantasy to your nighttime style doesn't have to come with the high price tag of Christian Louboutin stilettos or a metallic python clutch. It can happen with your makeup. Start with some unexpected color on your eyes. Too Faced Starry-Eyed Liquid Eyeliner, $25 for a set of four at Sephora, has mini-tubes of dark, sparkly liners that are easy to apply and add just a hint of edginess to your nighttime beauty look. Or go for a subtly dramatic shift by choosing or changing your signature perfume (see accompanying story).
Spend less time on your morning routine.
Make it a more restful new year. Catch some extra Zs and look fresher overall by streamlining your grooming. Love the look of eyeliner, but can't find the time to carefully apply it every morning? Try sormeh powder eyeliner, a kohl liner used in the Middle East for hundreds of years. It goes on in an intense hue and stays on for two to three days even after washing. One place to start: MKA Sormeh eyeliner, $48 (moshakatani.com).
Less exotic, but just as practical: drying first with a microfiber towel that zaps up excess water, leaving hair just damp enough for an extra-quick blowout. Sephora microfiber towels are $20 at Sephora.
JUST FOR MEN
Add a new knot.
Remember the feeling of accomplishment you had when you mastered the bowline, the sheepshank and the clove hitch knots as a Boy Scout? So why are you still tying that neck knot with the same old four-in-hand your dad taught you 20 years ago? Since so much of a man's look is in the details, changing the style is a subtle way to speak volumes. Add a chunky Windsor knot to your repertoire and then move on to the half-Windsor or something obscure like the Shelby/Pratt.
The best part is, the only investment is time, and numerous diagrams, tutorials and videos are merely a mouse click away at sites like TieGuide.com, Neckties.com or AskAndyAboutClothes.com. On a related note, vow not to ring out another year without learning how to tie a bow tie (see accompanying story).
Adopt a signature look.
Karl Lagerfeld and his high collars. Larry King and his suspenders. Robert Evans and Bono and their signature eyewear. A trademark flourish can be a sort of sartorial calling card and a memorable way to stand out from the masses. It doesn't even need to be a piece of clothing; it can be hair (Albert Einstein used his head, and for Salvador Dali, the answer was right under his nose) or even a color -- Johnny Cash made a career out of being "the Man in Black."
Stumped on where to start? Speed-skim a year's worth of Esquire, GQ and Details magazines and sift out the celebrity style constants, then pick up Esquire's new hard-bound "The Handbook of Style" (due out this month) and make your call.
Stop for a shoeshine.
Have you ever paused to get a shoeshine in the lobby of a soaring high-rise office building or in an airport between connections? Neither have I, but every time I pass a shoeshine stand, with the fellow in the three-piece suit getting his brogues buffed, I think about it -- and wonder how much longer I'll have a chance before that whole profession disappears. Freshly shined shoes are one of those details that tend to make a difference (it's been said the first thing women notice is men's shoes), and getting the job done by a pro is an affordable indulgence -- shelling out just a few bucks for something you could do yourself (and if you don't know how to shine a leather dress shoe, pencil in one more resolution).
In LAX terminals 1, 4, 5, 6 and 7, budget in a few extra minutes for a polish at Marvin's Complimentary Shoe Shine stand (they work for tips). The going rate is $5 to $10.
Learn how to be a true gentleman.
Being a true gentleman doesn't mean slavishly opening every door for every woman, or popping up like a jack-in-the-box every time one enters the room. But is there really a downside to being the go-to guy who can tackle any crisis large or small? Or to being prepared to produce cab fare for a tipsy friend, a clean handkerchief for a child's skinned knee, a kind word for the cashier or a light for the lady who smokes?
It shows you're engaged in the world around you -- and it's a comforting measure of manliness in a world that's increasingly full of cutthroats and self-centeredness. John Bridges' primer "How to Be a Gentleman" is a good place to start -- and it's only as far away as your neighborhood Brooks Brothers store.
Cultivate a bit of wardrobe wisdom.
Make it a point to learn a little something about the history and people behind the clothes you wear. This doesn't mean you have to memorize the life story and career arc of Ralph Lauren, but if you're sporting his polo pony on your chest, shouldn't you at least know how to pronounce his name? (It's LOHR-en, not lawr-EN.) Knowing, say, that the tuxedo takes its name from Tuxedo Park, N.Y., where it was famously worn by tobacco scion Griswold Lorillard in 1886, shows you care about what you wear. It can also help jump-start a flagging cocktail party conversation.
Most designers and brands have biography or history pages online; others merit book-length treatises (see "Genuine Authentic: The Real Life of Ralph Lauren" by Michael Gross, for example). A good, reliable, general reference book for all the rest is the Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion by Charlotte Mankey Calasibetta and Phyllis Tortora.