Rae: Thank you for hanging out with me. First, if we were meeting at a coffee shop I’d be drinking a Mocha Latte with Coconut Milk. What would you order?
Alison: A vanilla latte with oat milk, yours sounds delicious I may order that next time!
Rae: First, congratulations on your recent appearance on the Today Show. You shared on your blog how that segment came to be, I love they reached out to you. What was that like to read the e-mail in your inbox?
Alison: I didn’t believe it at first! I Googled the producer who contacted me to be sure it was legit! I’ve been blogging for almost 15 years but am still relatively unknown. It was thrilling to be recognized for my work!
Rae: What would you say to the bloggers, writers, and dreamers out there who want to be recognized for their blog, book, or idea on a national level? Was there something you wished you’d said or did during your experience?
Alison: There is so much temptation to share everything. The likes, the followers, and the paid opportunities. But the internet lasts forever. Do you really want to monetize every family moment, your children growing up and their growing pains, your relationships, every inch of your home? If you have talent, you can succeed without having to turn your life into a reality show. Make some ground rules of what you will and will not share and stick to them. Spend the time you would featuring your everyday on growing your business or honing your craft and you’ll have a stronger platform five years from now.
Rae: How did your blog begin?
Alison: I started a new job. I was hired specifically for a government contract that the company knew they’d win but hadn’t yet received. They brought me on early so all onboarding and training would happen before the contract so I could hit the ground running. I had a few weeks where I was told to “look busy.” I had seen a news show segment about blogging and thought that would be a great way to look busy. I worked a decade in apparel and retail and would type my thoughts on fashion in Microwoft Word, email them to myself and then once home in the evening put them into a blog post. Once the contract started, I began traveling regularly to visit clients. I began journaling what I wore so I wouldn’t wear the same thing twice to a client site (one client made a snide comment about my repeating outfits and I swore never again). In 2010 I merged the writing blog with the outfit blog and it became what Wardrobe Oxygen is today!
Rae: Did you have help with the technical part of the blog or did you build it yourself?
Alison: I started on the Blogger platform, which is HTML-based. I learned basic HTML thanks to Google and would play with colors and fonts. In 2014 I had a friend who is a WordPress guru transfer my blog to WordPress and set up my first theme/template. I don’t really know CSS, and relied on that friend and another friend to help me when I was in technical jams. A few years ago I signed up for ChloeDigital, a WordPress support company that focuses on fashion and lifestyle blogs. It’s the best money I’ve spent on my business, they understand my goals, get my audience and niche, and have helped my site become better looking, faster, easier to search and find, and they also help me with brand strategy.
Rae: I discovered you on Instagram as I browsed for fashion and real women. I love that you are honest, candid, and put it all out there. Not many bloggers would post pictures of themselves trying on bras, but your honesty helps so many women. The way we look at ourselves impacts our wardrobe choices. You have proven post after post, and IG after IG story, it doesn’t matter what size you are. By being comfortable and understanding body type, you encourage women to select the right clothes.
How often do you receive clothes to sample and of the ones you receive, how many of your wardrobe pieces fit out of the box?
Alison: Years ago, I was psyched to get anything free in the mail and would say yes to any brand that offered gifted product. Now I have become more discerning. I don’t want to sacrifice the trust of my audience for an eye cream or sweater.
When a new brand reaches out to me and they look like a good fit for my audience and my personal style, I do a deep dive into their site and social. I look at other people in their clothes, check out their size chart measurements, read any customer reviews, find other bloggers who may have written about it. Then if they still seem like a great fit, I will ask for only one or two things and let them know a gifted item is not a guarantee that it will be featured. If it fits and I like it, I may feature it. If it doesn’t, I’ll reach out and return it.
Most clothing, from any retailer, won’t fit perfectly off the rack. No body is alike, you can’t expect to have the same shape as a brand’s fit model, especially if they use one fit model for a broad range of sizes. I will share if I tailor an item or if it’s worn right off the rack or box. But when you look at people with really great style, it’s not the cost of their clothes it’s the fit.
Rae: What is your opinion of tailoring vs. taking a pass if it doesn’t fit off the rack?
Alison: I don’t believe in recreating a garment. Sure, I’ll nip here, shorten here, and adjust a piece for my unique curves but I won’t try to make a too big or too small piece work. I recently donated a suit I got on clearance. It was the coolest fabric, it fit great in the arms and bust and thighs. But it was too long for my body. It would have required extensive tailoring to get the jacket to hang just right and it’s not like my life will change by owning or not owning the suit. So I let it go. I should have returned it as soon as I got it, I knew even then it would be a lot of work but I was blinded by the cool fabric and low price.
Rae: What posts can we expect to find during the holiday season?
Alison: Lots of holiday dressing, but looks that will work beyond New Year’s Eve. Some gift guides, but I am really picky with my gift guides, I want to share things that are unique and a reasonable pricepoint. Reminders to care for yourself during the holiday season. Like the oxygen mask policy on planes – you need to take care of yourself before you can properly care for anyone else!
Rae: Will you be sharing any of your non-dairy recipes for sweets and treats?
I don’t share recipes because I don’t cook! My husband took over cooking when our daughter was born and he’s AMAZING at it and essentially kicked me out of the kitchen! We don’t do a lot of sweets, he does bake cookies every Sunday for warm cookies after Sunday dinner and to have them for packed lunches all week. But at the holidays, we may host but we do a bit of a pot luck and look forward to our friends and family bringing their favorite desserts!
Rae: I love how you connect with your readers on social media through Instagram stories and posts. I always enjoyed your outings to your garden and the unexpected fashion wardrobe pieces.
Many of my readers are authors who are constantly traveling for conferences and book signings, what advice can you give so they look fashion forward, comfortable and able to pack in a carry-on? I always find packing for trips in a weekender to be tricky and stressful.
Alison: I also find packing in a weekender tricky and stressful! They look so chic but they’re hard to lug through the airport and they don’t seem to hold enough in them! I believe in a hard-shell spinner suitcase. No need to drag it behind you, it can roll next to you all gracefully. My personal bag is always a backpack, not a handbag (I’ll tuck a small one in there for once I reach my destination). A backpack usually has more organization, can hold your laptop and such, and many have travel sleeves to slide onto your spinner handle. I use packing cubes and small pouches to organize both bags and maximize space. No one is giving out awards for the most minimally packed traveler; as long as you fit the airline’s requirements I say use the full space and weight available.
Rae: While you cater to women, have you thought about having Karl fashion men’s clothes?
Alison: I like having Wardrobe Oxygen a comfortable community for women. Karl has fab fashion sense, but I think if he wishes to share it with the public, he should start his own platform.
Rae: When you sit down to write for your segments, do you have a writing ritual or secret location to get the work done?
Alison: I usually do them where I am right now – in my home office. I can’t have any music or distractions, and I do best with plenty of natural light. Writing comes easy to me, quiet and time alone notsomuch!
Rae: How do you tackle plotting your videos? Is it on a massive board, sheets of paper or just write as you go with a simple outline?
Alison: I rarely do videos because they are so time-consuming and I am not good at editing. I hope to do more in 2020, but with staff to help with all the details.
Rae: I belong to a few Facebook groups for planners and organizing to stay focused and succeed in my personal goals for 2019 and soon 2020. How do you keep it all from spiraling out of orbit? Are you a planner girl or digital calendar queen?
Alison: I’m a bit of both. I used a paper planner for years, but this past year I have needed to share my calendar with family and team members so I’ve become more reliant on my Google calendar. However, I do rely on a moleskine/journal. Each day I start a page with the date and my to-do list. At the end of the day, anything I didn’t accomplish gets added to the next day’s list. I use the same journal to note things like combinations for capsule wardrobe shots, notes on fit when doing a clothing haul, notes when at a workshop or on a training webinar. It’s a cool diary of my business as well as a way to keep myself organized.
Rae: What can we expect in 2020?
Alison: I’ll be bringing back my newsletter, adding some more video, and looking to do in-person meetups. I will be adding staff to ensure consistency and have the ability to grow and do more interesting collaborations. This will be the 15th anniversary of Wardrobe Oxygen, and I think it’s reason to celebrate so I may be throwing a little party too!
Rae: Thank you for hanging out in the cafe today.
Readers, if you haven’t browsed through Wardrobe Oxygen, I encourage you to check it out. I’ve added a ton of fashion tips, cooking tips (thank you Alison’s husband Karl) and a handful of beauty tricks to my list.
1. What is a must read book and why? When I was in 11th grade my English teacher assigned The Handmaid’s Tale and it blew my mind. My mom was a feminist and often participated in protests and brought me and my sister, but I didn’t really “get” it. This book hit me hard. Every guy I dated, I told him to read this book. My husband is the only one who not only finished it, but we had the most amazing all-night discussion about it. Especially with what has been going on the past couple of years, I think it’s an important read to see how a book written in 1985, before the internet and ATM machines and such, can tell a terrifying yet possible future.
2. What is one place that I should see if I visit your hometown? I’ve lived in Greenbelt for 20 years and consider it my hometown. To visit here you have to have a delicious vegan meal at the New Deal Café and stay for the free live music, or else catch a film across the Center at the movie theater, which is the original Art Deco theater from when the city was built. They have the most wonderful taste in which films to show!
3. Do you take-in or cook? If so, what is your “go-to” dish? My husband loves to cook and he is plant-based so it makes more sense to eat in to enjoy a good variety of delicious food. I do love splurging on takeout a couple of times a month. My favorite go-to is sushi!
4. What is one thing readers would be surprised to know about you? That’s a tough one, I’m a pretty open book. I think people are surprised to find I am more of an introvert and recharge by having time alone.
5. Hard Rock or Classical? Favorite Band or Artist? I love it all, but I am a fan of rock. My favorite band is My Morning Jacket, I’ve seen them every time they’ve been in town since 2007, plus have traveled to other states several times to see them in concert or perform at a music festival.
6. What is the one thing you want every traveler to add to their suitcase that they didn’t know they needed? A backup pair of shoes. I love Rothy’s Flats for this because they’re so lightweight and take up little space. But I’ve been on trips where my shoe broke, I stepped into a disgusting NYC puddle, shoes I’ve owned for years caused blisters… a pair of comfy flats that can also dress up are a smart suitcase addition!
7. What is your guilty pleasure? A Frappucinno with a bag of salt and vinegar chips.
8. What are you afraid of? Falling down a flight of stairs (I’ve even done it and survived yet still it freaks me out), slipping on ice (I did it, I broke my arm, it caused the fear), the idea of a bug crawling in my ear (it happened to a friend and terrified me for life)
9. Tats or No Tats? If tats, how many and what did you choose for your first one? I think they’re a great way to express yourself and own your body. I have one, I got it in college. I designed an idea, I thought the tattoo artist would refine it and work with me but he just did the same exact messy design. It’s on my back to the right. For a while I considered getting it cleaned up or expanding it into a more detailed tattoo. But now I just see it as a reminder of that period in time.
10. Organized or Free Floating? I’d love to be more organized but I’m a pretty free-floating kind of person.
11. Binge watcher or weekly viewer? Which show(s)? I rarely binge. Right now my husband and I are watching Schitt’s Creek and for that we will watch two or three episodes in one sitting, but that’s it. I like my TV to be calm and fun and happy, a nice distraction. I am a sucker for any awards show and its red carpet, I DVR This is Us, God Friended Me, Project Runway, Younger, SNL, and CBS Sunday Morning but I don’t always get around to seeing all of them.
12. What’s on your playlist? My Morning Jacket, King Princess, Kacey Musgraves, Cigarettes After Sex, HAIM, The Highwomen, Sylvan Esso, ‘00s country, ‘90s hip-hop, and ‘80s new wave.
13. What play or musical do you want to see next? I haven’t yet seen Hamilton! My Fair Lady is coming to DC and my sister, mom, daughter, and I are thinking of seeing it.
14. Are you a crafter? I can be crafty, but I don’t do it regularly. My blog is my current creative outlet, but I’ve dabbled in jewelry making, stained glass, mosaic, and oils. The best part of being a Girl Scout leader was all the crafty aspects – I made the most beautiful Kaeper chart!
15. What’s your favorite TV show and why? My favorite show is Project Runway. I am not a fan of many competition shows because they focus so much on the personal dynamics. Project Runway focuses on the talent, the craft, the problem solving. I find it so inspiring to watch, and well as a lover of fashion, it really speaks to me!
16. If you could pick a book you’ve read and make it into a movie, which book would it be? Most movies made from books disappoint. The only one that didn’t was the original PBS series for Anne of Green Gables. It’s as though they went into my 5th grade brain and turned my ideas into reality.
17. What’s your favorite movie of all time and why? This is definitely not highbrow but I love love love Talladega Night: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. That movie makes me laugh, and I’ve seen it dozens of times. When I was pregnant I’d come home from work so stressed out and I’d pop in the DVD and it would relax me like a glass of wine and a foot massage!
18. Would you rather see a movie in the theater or at home on DVD and why? I love the theater experience, but I don’t do it often. Neither my husband nor my daughter finds the magic in it that I do. Every Christmas Day, my mom, sister, and daughter go to the movies and I just love that tradition so much. But I do love a family movie night on the couch under the afghan with a bowl of popcorn!
19. What is the one thing you can’t live without? A journal and a pen with a felt tip.
20. If you could invite 5 people to dinner (not friends and family – that’s too easy) who would be at your table? Where would you eat? I’d host dinner at my house with Diane von Furstenberg, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Margaret Atwood, Tina Turner, and Michelle Obama.
21. If you could try any career for a day, what would it be? I’d love to be a DJ, like Delilah chatting about love and loss and playing Richard Marx ballads.
Alison Gary is the woman behind Wardrobe Oxygen, a community for grown-ass women. Since 2005, Wardrobe Oxygen has offered real-life style advice through capsule wardrobes, honest reviews, outfit posts, answering reader questions, and tips to achieve big style with a small closet. Alison Gary has been featured on The Today Show and in The Washington Post, New York Times, and WhoWhatWear. You can find Alison on Instagram and follow Wardrobe Oxygen on Facebook, Pinterest, and at wardrobeoxygen.com.