A Dress I Wasn't Going to Find Looking in the Same Old Places

The process of starting Well Layered has been the catalyst for introspection.  For getting clear on what my greatest style inspirations have been and why I dress the way I do.

This is the story of how I’ve come to LOVE consignment and second-hand shopping, what it has done for my wardrobe and what I think it can do for yours.  

Let’s roll back the clocks a bit.  Eight years to be exact.

I graduated from college in 2009 (Go Wisconsin Badgers!) with a business degree focused in commercial real estate and land economics.  Unless you’ve been living under a rock you may remember 2009 being the apex of the worst recession since the Great Depression, driven primarily by subprime lending. To say that the job market was slim pickings at that time (specifically for someone with my educational background) would be highly generous. 


Style Journey Update: (I was dirt poor and my wardrobe was far from being a priority.  I existed almost exclusively in a ripped pink hooded sweatshirt and jeans.  I had a sufficient collection of “going out tops” which got me through the weekends at any one of the lovely dive bars Madison, Wisconsin has to offer.  Honestly though, looking back at this point in my life, it was totally perfect.) 

I was one of the “lucky” ones, though.  Want to know how lucky? I had a job after graduation!  Woo hoo!

It wasn’t the dream job, though.  Not even a little bit.  I spent the first year and a half of my career working in a job I despised for which I was paid far too little and in a position where I felt I added no real value. My career was unfulfilling and going nowhere fast.

Around the same time I started dating this super cute guy (who is now my wonderful husband and is still super cute) and about eight months into our dating adventure he decided to apply to grad school.  In Washington, DC.

Wait, am I going to be that girl?  Am I going to follow this guy across the country?


I needed to get out of the Midwest. So to DC I went.

He moved out in the fall and four months later I had landed myself a job in our beautiful Capitol working for a heavyweight brokerage firm as an analyst.  Things were looking up for this midwestern girl with big city commercial real estate career dreams.

Let’s get real for a second: moving to the east coast was no easy task.  I was just shy of 24, I had a decent amount of student loans, no savings account (courtesy of said student loans and shitty first job) and had to take out a small personal loan to cover the moving costs, security deposit and first month’s rent on my new apartment.

Style Journey Update: (About a year and a half after graduation I was still dirt poor, but things were surely looking up.  I had stocked up on some clearance items during my few weeks prior to departing Madison and was feeling more prepared than ever for my new big girl job.)

My first day I wanted to stand out…to show everyone how fun and nice the new girl from Wisconsin is!  I was eager to learn and to prove myself.  To finally use the degree I had worked so hard (and paid so much) for.

I walked in on my first day and there they were…all the men.  All the power brokers, all wearing navy suits.  (Ok, to be fair, there were some women there but I could probably name them all on one hand, including myself.  Also to be fair, some of the men were probably wearing gray suits...so...diversity.)  Standing out in a bright red dress now seemed like a bad idea. I was freaked out and totally insecure.

Adding insult to injury, I had a quick realization that my low-budget wardrobe at the time just wasn’t going to cut it.  Everywhere I looked there were Louis Vuitton briefcases, Ferragamo loafers and Burberry scarves.  People here had money.  How was I ever going to prove to these people that I had the chops to help close multi-million dollar deals if I dressed like the low budget girl from the Midwest?

(Looking back, there were people in my office who did not dress this way, and I’m sure those people gave zero shits about what I was wearing to work.  As an early-20s female trying to break into the “old boys club” of DC real estate, I felt a level of pressure and desire to compete with the best of them and in my mind this meant dressing for the job I wanted.)

I knew I had to up my wardrobe game and FAST.

Over the course of the next few weeks I started to explore some of the cute shops on my way home from work.  I had been in consignment shops before in Madison but most were small or didn’t have the highest quality items, so when I passed by Secondi in Dupont Circle for the first time, I wrote it off as the one of the same. 

A few days later as I was walking by on my way home from work a beautiful dress caught my eye…I’m pretty sure there was a giant sign hanging above it that said “Jess, pick me!  I’m yours!”  I was obviously intrigued by the personal touch…so I walked inside.

I think I spent close to two hours in this quaint boutique, playfully digging through all the racks of designer pieces.  My favorite though, being the dress from the window. It is a beautiful silk wrap dress from designer Issa London (as you may recall, Kate Middleton’s iconic blue engagement dress is from the same designer).  I paid around $75 for it and it’s still a piece I wear and cherish today.  

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That shopping experience at Secondi led to me finding some other amazing shops around DC from classic vintage to the highest-end consignment.  It’s one of the things I surely miss most about living there. 

The beautiful thing that I realize now, is what started as a simple shopping experience to feel more confident in my career has led to finding a beautiful tool in discovering my own personal style.  A journey to find pieces to help me blend in helped me to do the exact opposite. 

It’s funny how life works sometimes.

Shopping in these boutiques over the years has allowed me to try on pieces I never would have imagined myself in had I stuck to my safe-haven of mall retailers.  I still love my tried and true go-to stores, but when I need a special, confidence-boosting piece, you can surely bet I’m heading to one of my favorite consignment stores.

So this young girl didn't have to blend in to be accepted at her new big girl job...not in the least.  I wasn't just in search of the most expensive, neutral-colored, designer dress out there, but rather one that fit my body, my personality, my budget and ultimately, my life.  A dress I wasn't going to find by looking in the same old places.

Can you relate to this story?  I’d love to hear how consignment shopping has changed your life too!