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Sarah Leonetti
Category Curator

born: 1984
born in: Scottsdale
As a curator for the site I will be writing about fashion. In particular, how one can still be fashionable in a recession and on a budget. I will be interviewing fashion professionals and highlighting stores and products I think are... [more]

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Design Arts
Fashion Design



So I recently moved back to the Chicago, and with the coming (too fast) cold I needed to invest in a new coat.  Keeping in mind my promise to buy more "green" or eco friendly fashion, I tried to concentrate on companies that specialized in coats that emphasize great design using sustainable materials.  I was blown away by how many choices there are now a days.  No longer is there a need to don a puffy parka and walk around in a sleeping bag all day.   There are so many companies that have gone above and beyond outdoors wear and really tried to give shape back to your body.  Here are a few of my top choices of the season that combine great design with great materials!


Nau's Urbane Jacket for women. $265 

(courtesy of NAU website)


Made from %100 recycled polyester, this jacket is not only warm but eco friendly as well.  And the curved front lined with buttons, makes for an aesthetically appealing cut.  Here is what they have to say about the sustanability of the coat:

"The recycled polyester fabric was developed in partnership with Teijin, the fabric supplier behind ECOCIRCLE® technology, which weaves stretch fabric from post-consumer and post-industrial polyester waste. Closing the loop, at the end of its long life the Urbane can be recycled once again into polyester fibers for reuse."


Holden's Agnes Coat, 

(Courtesy of Holden's website)

With eco friendlier lining, and PFOA free DWR, it isn't full blown green, however it is striving for it.  The two button front inspired by military cuts makes it a favorite of all the coats I tried on.  


Nau, Modus Trench $425

(Courtesy of Connect Chicago website)

This carbon colored trench comes with a high color and big slouchy front pockets, perfect for everyday wear.  The recycled polyester fabric was developed in partnership with teijin, the fabric supplier behind ecocircle® technology, which weaves stretch fabric from post-consumer and post-industrial polyester waste. closing the loop, at the end of its long life the modus can be recycled once again into polyester fibers for reuse.


Vaute Couture, Luxe Coat, $562

(Courtesy of Vaute Couture Website)

This super cute coat is perfect for wearing out at night to a party or event.  The materials are all cutting edge eco friendly and the buttons are even vegan.  This is a product that is not only adorable but progressive, so you can feel really good about supporting it.

Luxe*: A new and advanced super soft + pretty fabric from Polartec® Wind Pro ® Series. Wind Resistant. Snow Resistant. Heat Retaining. Super soft for sensitive skin. Slim. (in Black, Cobalt Blue, Gray, and Ivory). 

Liner: This windproof layer adds a whole extra level of protection against blustery days. A 100% Recycled, Closed Loop, Zero Waste Satin Ripstop from Tejin® EcoCircle®. 

ButtonsTagua Nut

Called “vegetable ivory” a lovely elegant alternative to the elephant kind. From a natural, organic, renewable resource that promotes planting palm trees, not logging them.


JAX says:
“It looks like you found a good match between functionality, fashion, and f-greeen! So what coat did you end up buying? And how is it working out for you...seems a little early in the season to determine an appropriate one for a heavy duty coat to get you through the Chi-Winter...Keep use postd'!”
Posted over 5 years ago
Max says:
“You don't need a coat, you need a cudling partner.......”
Posted over 5 years ago
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Design Arts
Fashion Design



I was recently reading an article that stated that Lululemon's last quarter was its best yet, in light of the economy it seemed like an anomaly.  However, the article pointed out that because the company was all about investing in yourself and the betterment of our society, people felt no guilt on spending their hard earned money there.  I am curious, do you feel more comfortable spending your money if it is a green company, socially progressive, or its products are self improving?  The green movement has certainly picked up steam and I wonder if the recent boom in eco conscious design will be helped by the recession.  Sure, the movement started long before, however now more than ever people are very conscious of where there money is going and are more likely to spend their money if the product is not only good for them, but good for a cause as well.  In the coming weeks I will be spotlighting green design, and socially progressive companies that are building their companies with "out of the box" structures.  These companies are about great design but embrace the concept of conscious capitalism.  Take Toms shoes for example, with the simple premise of "one for one" they give a pair of shoes away to a child in need for every one that a person buys.  The business structure is set up to make the customer feel good about purchasing, so they aren't just getting a new pair of shoes, they are helping people.   I am curious whether you think this is a trend, also when you see a business with a mission like Toms, does it make you want to buy it?

JAX says:
“Yes, I have no contest that many advances in the green movement with materials are quite fabulous and quite indiscernible, but what are they doing with the design? My argument is that the green movement has taken over design such that *unnamed companies* are pushing outside of their boundaries. Don't get me wrong; I am all for sustainable materials. I have yet to see a "green" material that has a substantial impact on the fashion industry. Again, I look forward to your research on this topic. I think it is something that needs to be discussed if not implemented further.”
Posted over 5 years ago
Unknown User says:
“I disagree with calling organic fashion "granola" looking, recent advances in the bamboo industry have allowed for great leaps, have you felt bamboo or tencel jersey? That shit is like cashmere. But anyway, check out something like Thieves. on the flipside, Greenwashing is also huge, so beware of that and the whole sustainability bandwagon. Also Lululemon is not sustainable or a green company”
Posted over 5 years ago
JAX says:
“I'll be looking forward to reading more about your take on the green movement within the fashion industry. I have found that sustainable materials don't lend themselves well to apparel needs and often look, for lack of a better word, granola. I'd prefer to by organic and green fashion, but not if you can tell by looking at it. As for Toms shoes, it is a good, responsible concept, but I still do not like the styling of the shoes. Bottom line, I still base my purchases on design over altruism when it comes to fashion.”
Posted over 5 years ago
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Design Arts
Fashion Design



Guys are a little easier to shop for than girls are, only because casual clothes are more acceptable in formal situations.  Also, a lot of formal clothes can be mixed with casual pieces in order to make great cocktail party attire.  While a guys wardrobe might be more casual, they are not cheaper.  Unfortunately, with how tailored menswear is, cheap options really stand out.  The good thing is if you buy non trendy pieces you won't have to change your wardrobe for about ten years.  Cuts for suits and breaks in hem lines will change, but if you buy classic cuts you will be safe for years (unless eighties baggy box cuts come back and hopefully they never will!)  I think if you are under forty a longer hem line and bigger break is appropriate, the older you get the smaller the break should be.  If you don't know what I am talking about, your tailor will, so let them know.  That is also a very important tip, all men should have a tailor.  Make sure it's one that you trust, who does good, fast work and doesn't overcharge.  When a cut is outdated or you fluctuate in weight, go there first before you buy new clothes.  They may be able to reshape the piece or take it in and it will be more affordable than buying a new piece.

I am going to go out on a limb and say guys need two different types of jeans, which are a great staple and can be dressed up or down for basically any occasion.

1. Dark Wash Straight Leg or Slim Cut Jeans

This is perfect when paired with a crisp white button up shirt, a nice belt and a blazer.  It can be worn to a lunch, casual business meeting, nice dinner or cocktail party.  It is very important that the wash on the denim be dark though.  Also, the jeans  should be hemmed with a medium break so that the back hits a few centimeters up from the ground, this way it looks more like a tailored pair of pants.  There shouldn't be too much adornment or embellishment on the pockets (no True Religion) or decorative torn knees.  Think crisp and clean.

2. Lighter Wash Casual "Weekend Jeans" (can be any cut that is comfortable) 

This is more of a day look.  It can also be worn dressed up with a blazer, but maybe instead of a button up pair it with a nice clean tee.  No graphic tees, it will make you look like a teenager.  Instead, just get really nice cotton tees in solid colors.  No crazy embellishments because it just ends up looking effeminate.

If you are like the guys I know and hate jean shopping and just wish you could find one pair you love and have them for the rest of your life then Stronghold are the jeans for you. Stonghold offers off-the-rack denim for $285, as well as made-to-measure trousers which start at $485. The company develops a pattern specifically fit to your body and allows you to choose all of the components (fabric, hardware etc.) that go into your jeans. All Stronghold garments come with lifetime alterations and repairs free of charge, so although you may pass out at the price, they are lifetime garunteed - so basically if you gain weight or rip them (which probably wont happen because it is really heavy duty denim) they replace or fix it.  Obviously, this isn't for everyone but if you can afford it and you hate to shop then this is your company.  And when paying think of all the jeans you would pay for in the next decade if you bought a cheaper pair, it actually works out to be quite a savings.

3. 3 Solid Color Cotton Tees

Black, gray and one color - this can be worn with basically anything.  Remember, the more basic it is the more situations it will be appropriate for.  However, when I say basic I do not mean cheap, always buy nice quality - it will pay off I promise! 

When shopping I like to try and find organic green materials that aren't hurting our environment too much.  Also, it is an investment in our future; shopping is like voting, when you buy something you are saying "I support this."  So always make sure you agree with the practices of the company you buy.  As the old saying goes, "buyer beware,"  always be an informed customer.  I like the tees from Alternative Apparel, no it is not American apparel, it actually runs a little cheaper and is made with organic cotton.


4. Black Blazer

This is great with either a pair of jeans or a nice black pair of slacks and it is definitely a must have.  Just make sure it is really tailored to your body, if you can't find one that fits perfectly buy the closest fit on the big side and then go to a tailor and have him fit it for you.  They run expensive so make sure you get what you want.

 Theory 'Xylo P. Edison' Two Button Blazer is a great timeless classic cut that is nice quality and still afordable, however if you can spare a few more dollars Acne has amazing menswear, like the Wall Street Mohair Jacket, that really will impress.

5.  Black Slacks

Even if you can wear casual clothes to your job, these are important. Black slacks are the perfect article of clothing for weddings, funerals, business meetings, etc..  Basically, any time you have to dress up you can put these on with a button up and tie.  If you don't want to be too formal skip the blazer and sometimes even the tie.

6.  5 Nice Button Up Shirts

Styles vary, but I have always been a fan of the french cuff.  Is it formal? Yes, but I think it really makes the outfit.  Style is in the details!!   Make at least 3 of these shirts white, another blue, another (if you are daring) pink, which I think looks amazing on most guys who have the balls to pull it off, and then another in whatever color makes you look great.  Make sure to wear under shirts with these because sweat stains on a button up is never attractive.  As I said before, these can be worn with jeans as long as you pair it with a belt, or with a suit.

7.  Black Leather Belt and Brown Leather Belt

Make sure these are nice quality leather.  Also, no huge belt buckles guys.  Think Cary Grant.  Simple and refined.  Between the two of these you will be set with any color top.  Just remember that black is worn with cold tones and brown with warm tones.  Since guys don't have accessories like girls do, it is your watch, belt and shoes that will define your outfit, so make sure they are nice.  People do judge, and these are the things they are going to look to first. 

8. Nice Leather Shoes, Black and Brown

Obviously on weekends you can throw on your flip flops or tennis shoes but you should have a very nice pair of shoes for every weekday.  Studies say your shoes are the first thing people look at when assessing your outfit so don't skimp.  Also, usually the pricier, the more comfortable.  These are going to last you for a long time so out of everything on the list spend the most on these (or the blazer).  They shouldn't be too drastic or trendy because they have to last for years.  Oh! And don't forget to take good care of them, when they start wearing take them to get resoled and polished, if you go in before they get bad a good pair of shoes will last you years.  I like a slight (and I mean slight) pointed toe.  I don't mean elf shoes here, just a slight angle.  Again, make sure too much isn't going on with the leather.  And try a bunch on, some might be really uncomfortable, don't get those because you will be wearing these a lot.  Inversely, don't get orthopedic shoes (you don't want to look like a grandpa.)  This is a good one to bring a girl along for the shopping trip, just make sure she has good taste!

The brown pair should be a little more casual, I like the  Mephisto's 'Baduard' Loafers or the  Donald J Pliner 'Dugo' Slip-Ons

And for the black I like the Cole Haan's Air Gallant Wingtip Lace-Ups, they have Nike Air technology so the will be both comfortable and stylish.

9. Man Accessories (i.e. Nice Tie and Watch)

These are your version of accessories, so go all out because you don't have a lot.  I like ties on the skinnier side, (not ridiculous though).  When picking them out think Mad Men.  And no I don't think mad men is a trend, I think that style of dressing is classic and will never go out of style.  As far as watches go, I know they are ridiculously overpriced but they really are a must for men.  Just buy in your budget but don't get to flashy (no diamonds, they are too effeminate.)  Really shop around and find one that feels right for all occasions, both night and day.

10. Tuxedo

This is optional and pricey.  However, I strongly feel that every man should own their own tuxedo, simply because it makes every man look like Cary Grant.  Save it for a year your doing well financially and then invest in one.  When you show up to a party or wedding in one you will wow the crowd.  Again, this has to last years and possibly decades so think simple and classic.


JAX says:
“I think that the key component missing here is that versatility does not equate to black/brown/white/or any other neutral. Fit is really what will make any garment effective in any wardrobe. "Dude, but something that fits." Don't get me wrong this is a great crash-course on fundamentals, but I don't see how these pieces effectively can create a good wardrobe base. Suggesting that any jean (in any wash, in any cut) is comfortable for weekends just seems futile. I think that if you don't already have the knowledge to shop for good-fitting jeans that will work in your wardrobe, you should make friends with those that do and not rely on a generic guidance of "lighter" v. "darker" because that vagueness has a lot of room for error. However, I completely agree that a well-fit tuxedo is a staple in every guy's wardrobe. It is appropriate for all of the formal events that come to mind (weddings, funerals), but also to break out to pair the jacket with a t-shirt and jeans on a date and the pants with a t-shirt to go out on the town....and if you really invested and got a waistcoat, it can be paired with both. Bottom line, I think this is a great direction to getting guys to dress more appropriately and fashionable on a day-to-day basis. Please pass this on as any step in this direction is the right one!”
Posted over 5 years ago
“I'm in need of assistance. This is great advice. ”
Posted over 5 years ago
“Nice post - Sounds like you've seen my closet/wardrobe before. I recently got a great pair of light brown/tan lace-up shoes that are amazing. They look great with jeans but also can be worn with a suit as well. Versatility is key.”
Posted over 5 years ago
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Design Arts
Fashion Design



1.  When You Buy, Buy Basics

Basics are great, and when they are layered can look like a completely different outfit.  A girl really needs only a few key pieces and then, by mixing and matching can make it seem like her closet is endless.  The great thing about basics is they are like a chameleon, when you dress them up with accessories, it completely changes the look.  But the number one amazing thing about basics is that they are seasonless!  And since buying trendy pieces that will go out of style in one season is just not an option anymore, this is really important.

2. Quality over Quantity

Since you are buying basics that are going to last years and be worn year round it is really important that you buy high quality so it will last.  The better the quality the better your outfit is going to look, just view the expense as an investment!

3.  Evaluate and Organize Your Closet

Evaluate what you already have.  If you go through your closet and find that you have a lot of clothes but they are all trendy pieces of o.k. quality and you don't have money to spend on quality basics, then I say sell it!  Purge everything that is out of style, e-bay is a great way of doing this.  Or you could take your clothes into a place like buffalo exchange and sell them to a second hand store.  With your newfound influx of cash you can go out and buy a few quality basics.  Then organize your closet according to type of clothing and color, this way it is easier to think of combinations and layering options.

4. Accessories, Accessories, Accessories

If I can stress anything, it is to buy tons of accessories!  They completely change an outfit and are a lot cheaper than buying new outfits.  And since they are so cheap, you can afford to get your trend fix!   This way you won't be wasting as much as you would on clothes but you still get to feel stylish.

5.  Change that Hem!

Tailors are amazing and can change the entire look of an outfit by simply shortening a hemline and taking in a garment.  It is less expensive than buying but will feel new enough to stem your shopping cravings!

6.  The Hollywood Factor

When I really want to mix it up I dress in theme.  I imagine my wardrobe like a movie costume - I incorporate hair, makeup, accessories and clothes into my theme in order to form a personality for the day.  It is amazing what hair and make up will do, by utilizing them you can change the entire feel of an outfit.

List of Essential Basics

1.  Black Pencil Skirt - Something that every girl needs, and every girl looks good in!  By changing your top and combing it with a cardigan or jacket you can wear it literally every day to the office and no one will notice it is the same piece.

Club Monaco, Natasha Skirt

2. Black Blazer - A must for any office environment, even if you pair it with jeans.  It really dresses up a casual outfit and if it is high quality and tailored it will really show off your curves!

3.  Straight Leg Jeans - Not too skinny, not too flared.  This way it always stays in style.   Besides, skinny jeans are not very flattering on the body and flared jeans always look a little young, but straight leg or boot cut will look good in any decade and at any age. I would pick a really dark wash that way you can dress it up for night time.

4. Cardigan - Perfect for a more casual professional look.  Wear you pencil skirt with a cute cardy and a t-shirt and you are set!  Or pair it with jeans for a cute weekend look.

J Crew, Merino Cardy, $88.00

5.  3 Solid Color Tee's in high quality cotton - A great fitted (not too tight) Tee is perfect for work and for play.  Pair it with the pencil skirt, a cute necklace and a cardy for work .  Or with flip flops and jeans for the weekend!  And remember no graphics on them, graphic tees will date you, and will surely go out of style, not to mention they are not professional.  With a blank one you have more options and that is what it is all about!

Alternative Apparel, The Karen, V-neck, $24.00

6.  Black Shift Dress - It is a must have for girls!  The little black dress literally never goes out of style and is flattering on every body type.  Remember not to get one with too much going on, you want it to last for years and not be too trendy.  So instead, look for a really well tailored one that fits and compliments your body.  The great thing about black is it matches everything, so if you like color, buy fun accessories like a gold skinny belt or a funky necklace to make it more playful!

7.  Tweed jacket -  This one is a little controversial and maybe wouldn't make a lot of peoples' lists, but I truly believe it is the perfect warm tone fall and winter garment.  It will never go out of style and will add a warm tone to a closet filled with black.  I have found that a plum colored tee will go great with a tweed jacket and jeans!

8.  Black Trousers - Also a great must have for work.  Just one more option for those who don't like skirts.

9. Black Turtleneck - This is a classic, very slimming and easy to throw on in the winter to feel stylish and comfortable.

Tissue Turtle Neck from J.Crew, $39.50

10. White Button Down - Make it a nice quality cotton  This way you can tuck it into the pencil skitrt or wear with a pair of opaque black tights to make a funky downtown outfit (make sure the shirt is long enough to do this).



1. Black pumps - Make these nice ones girls, your feet are your friends and need to be pampered!  Since you will be wearing these almost everyday pay for something great.  Also, make sure they have no embellishment, just plain black pumps.

2.  Brown or Nude pumps - In order to pair with those warm tone outfits!  Nude pumps will also elongate the leg and make you look slimmer.

3. Great pair of Flats - In any color, I like to get really funky flats that maybe don't match but make an outfit


Great Accesories to Make an Outfit

1. Long Funky Necklaces - Color and size variations will change up any outfit!

2. Tights - I love my solid opaque black and charcoal grey ones the best, but if you can afford it get them in tons of colors and really experiment with how they change an outfit!

3. Hats - Some people can't do them, but for those of you who can, they will always make an outfit.


Fashion isn't about trends its about feeling great, feeling sexy, and feeling like a lady; so when you get dressed I find it is always nice to spray on a light perfume so that you walk around feeling sexy and confident all day!  And remember that you can always make a new outfit by combining what you already have!

JAX says:
“Although I'm not sold on your allegiance to basics in black and white, I think that your denim guidelines are spot on! Variance in body type leaves the vast majority on the worst dressed list. A mid-rise straight leg in most any wash will compliment any figure: male/female, young/old, forward/traditional. Bee Tee Dub: you approach of individuality is not only empowering and effective, but also true. Good design is all about capturing the essence and showing it in the most fabulous way!”
Posted over 5 years ago
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I recently chatted with up and coming fashion designer, Michelle Barone about her ideas on style, the economy and her city of choice - Chicago.  Ms. Barone has been making waves within Chicago’s local art scene recently with her cutting edge fashion designs.  Her work strives to reinvent the tired idea of ready to wear, instead bridging the gap between art and fashion by forming sculptural armatures for the body.  What results, is an amalgamation of art, architecture and stye.  This practice is something that The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, her alma mater, has been embracing since the inception of its fashion curriculum over 75 years ago. 

After graduating and working for designers Catherine Malandrino and Blake Standard, Ms. Barone decided to start her business slowly, learning from others before starting a ready to wear line.  She now makes only custom orders, working directly with the client in order to discover exactly what her customer wants when they look in the mirror. 

Her tailored pieces have begun to garner quite a bit of attention within the local scene.  So when The Modern Wing of The Art Institute of Chicago opened up this May, it seemed only natural that they asked Ms. Barone to design a line for the opening night party.  The line, String Quintet, was inspired by the architecture of the new wing designed by Renzo Piano and the Frank Gehry Pavilion that stands behind it in Millennium Park.

Knowing all of this, I decided that Ms. Barone would be the perfect expert on style and could not only talk about her work, but her ideas on fashion in general, and how to look great in a recession!

S: Who is your favorite fashion designer?

M: The ones that do it for the art... not the fame.
S: Why did you get into fashion design?

M: I was always creating, inventing, and imagining.  I would walk around the house wrapped in tablecloths and drapery tassels from my mothers fabric closet; it wasn’t till I was 17 that I realized that my playtime could actually be a profession. I wanted to be an artist.  I wanted… I want people to be able to interact with my art.
S: What is it that interests you in fashion?

M: When you see someone in an incredible garment, that’s you seeing art in motion without having to pay the price of a museum ticket.  You have an emotion, an idea you want to express without words... giving people the ability to wear what they feel.
S: When designing your line what do you look to for inspiration?

M: Always looking up... constant attention to my surroundings, travel, music, dance, architecture, peoples energy... how people exude their inner personality... not what people wear but how they wear it.

S: For your personal style do you follow classic fashion rules or do you break the mold? (i.e. matching, no black with brown, no white after Labor Day, etc.)

M: I was never one for rules... people have a hard enough time getting by day to day within the confines of family life, work, and social etiquette. Why put more pressure on something that is supposed to be fun. I think people take fashion too seriously... its really just like playing dress up when you were a kid. I don’t remember there being rules back then.
S: Are you planning your new line around the current economic climate?

M: I’m not starting a line just yet.  I still have much to experience before I want to start a full-blown company.  However, I am still working one on one with my clients, which cuts down on overhead.  It is the perfect recession friendly business plan.

S: What is the one piece of advice you would give to shopping on a budget?

M: Quality over quantity...
S: What would you say is one must have fashion piece/accessory that is budget friendly for this season?

M: From my collection?  I’d say one of the collar pieces or interchangeable garments... its one of those things that you can put over anything in your closet and change the look completely.
S: What would you say defines Chicago style?

M: The weather...Some Chicagoans seem to be about comfort first... I also think people focus on the classics the defining staples of the times...(side note: there are ways to stay warm and comfortable while not looking like a shapeless down comforter)
S: What is your favorite fashion store in Chicago?

M: Robin Richmond, Hedjfina, Gamma Player, Ikram, Apartment Number 9
S: What would you tell a budding fashion designer to do in order to break into the local fashion scene?

M: Internships, hands on experience is crucial for EVERYTHING! Keeping your surroundings fresh...



You can find out more about Michelle Barone's work at her website:

String Quintet, Spring/Summer 2009


String Quintet, Spring/Summer 2009


Urban Royalty, Fall/Winter 2007


Urban Royalty, Fall/Winter 2007

“Very interesting. I was at the Modern Wing opening and remember the models wearing her outfits but did not know it was Michelle Barone at the time. Thanks for bringing light to this.”
Posted over 6 years ago
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