Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.
From her style profile to her career aspirations, Jena Gambaccini is someone who prefers the uncommon choice. Her blog, Chi City Fashion, wasn't the product of meticulous planning, but when Gambaccini decided that a corporate job — and the corporate wardrobe that would come with it — weren't for her, she took matters into her own accessory-adorned hands.
We sat down with the full-time blogger, who discussed her likes (Chicago, Schutz shoes, Wicker Park shopping, to name a few) and dislikes (not surprisingly, ever-polarizing wedge sneakers appear on the list.) Where does Jena Gambaccini find the confidence to pull off the brightly-colored, boldly-patterned looks that have become her trademark? Read on for the answer.
What sparked your interest in fashion?
My favorite thing in the world was to dress my Barbies, but I never thought about it as liking fashion when I was five. I actually used to hate shopping when I was a kid. I remember my mom would get so mad at me because in first grade I would wear the low ponytail, I would wear a sweatshirt or a t-shirt and jeans. Now I actually wear [those things] all the time; it's just a little more modified.
I came out of my shell after that. I'd say around second or third grade I became experimental with fashion, wanting to wear something other than a white t-shirt and elastic waist jeans.
Then when I came out of college I thought I had to go for a corporate job because that's what everybody else did. I started interviewing at places and then I realized I don't have the clothes to work at these jobs and I don't want to buy them. Then I realized maybe I should try and focus on something a little more in fashion and not something so corporate.
What draws you to Chicago as opposed to moving somewhere like New York or LA?
Well I'm from the suburbs here, so I've always loved Chicago. I think it's because ever since I expressed an interest in working in fashion professionally, everyone has told me I need to go to New York or LA, but the more someone tells me to do something, the more I don't want to do it. I want to make something happen here. I'd rather be a part of a movement or be responsible for making something new happen instead of just doing what everyone else is doing in some other city.
Say you have a friend visiting from out of town, someone who really wants to shop locally. What neighborhood would you tell him or her to hit?
I always tell them to go to Bucktown or Wicker Park. I think it's just a cool vibe. Whenever people come here from out of town they go to Michigan Avenue. They stay in a hotel that's in Gold Coast/River North/The Loop. I just don't think people from out of town realize the awesome neighborhoods we have here. I think some of the most unique stores are on Damen, North and Milwaukee. You could spend days shopping there.
Do you have favorite stores in that area?
The store I've been shopping at the longest is Tangerine. My best friend and I used to sop there in high school when there was nothing else on Damen, and p45 too. I love Edith Hart. They have some really cool Australian brands. I like their laid-back, edgy vibe.
I really like von Z; my friend just opened that store. I just think it's cool that she finds these really awesome clothes and accessories. I think all the clothes are under $150 and she carries Schutz shoes, which I love. Having that price point and those unique items is awesome.
Speaking of price points, what are some items that women should really invest in, in your opinion?
Definitely outerwear, especially in Chicago. Everyone always wears black and gray and really drab things in fall and winter, which I get. It's easy to find a lot of variety in those colors. But I actually just wrote a story for someone I'm contributing to about fall trends this season, and there are a lot of great gray plaid coats because plaid is really in for fall '13. You can still be neutral but have a cool print or texture. I think investing in statement outerwear is important because sometimes in the winter you get to the point where you don't even take off your coat. You might as well have that be a part of your outfit.
I would also say some cool black heels, whether it's a low heel, a wedge, a peep-toe ankle boot. Something with a leather trim or some studs, just something to make it a little more unique. You can make a statement without wearing a colored heel or a lot of accessories. The shoe's still black so it goes with everything, but it's a little bit more than a black pump. Those are the shoes I wear the most. I don't like cheap shoes. I have some and I always feel like they're the most uncomfortable. Under $100, really uncomfortable; Louboutins, super uncomfortable. You've got to find something in the $250-$500 range.
Your style is kind of quirky and you have definitely have your own thing going. Where do you get the confidence to wear outfits that are so unusual?
I started my blog for two reasons: One, to promote an understanding of fashion in Chicago. I talk about things other than Chicago fashion to draw a wider audience, so people outside of Chicago can read it and say "Oh, that's a Chicago designer" or "That's a Chicago store."
The other reason is to get people in Chicago interested in fashion. There's this idea that fashion is this exclusive world that's so materialistic. I don't see it that way. When you're wearing something you like and something you look good in, it just changes the way you go about your day. If I wear sweatpants and a t-shirt or just a really plain outfit, I don't feel like myself.
However I don't like anything too showy. I'm not going to wear a glitter top with blue pants, pink lipstick and a green necklace. That's too much. I like finding that balance. That's when I feel most myself.
Do you have a process for getting dressed every day?
I never pick out outfits ahead of time. I actually hate doing that. If I pick my outfit the day before I'm just going to think about it too much and end up hating it by the time I have to wear it. I would say my go-to is maybe light silk pants, maybe they're printed, maybe black, for spring/summer and then leather pants if it's cooler and some kind of t-shirt or tank top. It's just easy for me to wear loose pants and some sort of top. Maybe I'll add a leather jacket.
How would you describe style in Chicago?
It's kind of hard because it's not like New York, which is minimalist and edgy or LA, which is bohemian and trendy. Here it's a big mix of everything, but the one thing people do have in common here is that we do dress very practically.
What are some of your favorite trends right now?
I'm not a huge trend person. I'll follow trends that are very general, like leather. You can wear leather ten years from now. I like grays and greens, which are really on trend for Fall. I'm not really into what I call 'micro trends.' I don't really like peplum, wedge sneakers or camo. A lot of people wear those things and they look great, but I won't wear them even if they last a little bit longer than I think they will.
Do you think there are certain places in Chicago that draw especially fashionable crowds?
There are a lot of places that throw a lot of fashion events, so they draw that crowd. Like Public, Nellcote and RM, but I feel like you have to venture out a little bit. It's a different style but I like going to Wicker Park and Logan Square. I feel like people there are more willing to take a risk as opposed to River North, where you see everyone in a bandage dress and guys in shirts that are too tight. Even if I hate the outfit, I'd rather see someone in something that is different. I appreciate diversity and when people dress to their own likings.
· Chi City Fashion [Official Site]
· All Chicago Chats [Racked Chicago]