By Giselle Dominguez
Jena Gambaccini focuses all things style with Chicago’s original fashion blog, Chi City Fashion. Gambaccini launched her blog in 2009 after earning a following on Twitter based off her fashion-savvy tweets. With no tech or blogging experience, Gambaccini says she was hesitant to start her own website, but after three months, she found herself heading to New York’s fashion week.
These days, Gambaccini owns a reputable voice in Chicago’s growing fashion industry, and when not working on Chi City Fashion, she’s dabbling in other creative projects, like joining forces with Giuliana Rancic for her clothing line, G by Giuliana, for HSN.
We had a chance to sit down with Gambaccini to discuss her blog’s popularity, favorite Chicago shopping spots, and fashion trends to get you through the summer.
Q: What has kept you in Chicago all these years? Why not move to a more fashion-forward city like New York?
A: I had people tell me for so long that I have to move to New York or L.A. if I want to make it in fashion. So I created Chi City Fashion to really embrace the fashion presence that’s in Chicago (as there wasn’t much when I started). I’ve now expanded into several other categories, but always with a Chicagoan’s point of view. I wanted to prove to people that you could have a career in fashion in Chicago — we’re the third largest city in the US… you should be able to make anything happen here! Not saying it’s easy, as there’s of course much more opportunity in New York and L.A., but it just makes me, and other Chicago fashion people, work that much harder.
Q: How has the fashion scene changed in Chicago from when you first started your blog?
A: It’s interesting, as the retail scene has significantly decreased. It seems like for every five stores that close, maybe one opens, which is really sad. We used to have some amazing stores here. We still do, but it’s sad to see them go. However, anyone can blog, and there have been a ton more bloggers — fashion and not — over the years, so that definitely helps with our fashion presence here.
“For women, simple things like a leather jacket and a great pair of black ankle boots are always in style, and if you go for the investment pieces, you’ll have them forever. This season I’m really into the long duster cardigans, especially paired with shorts to transition to fall.”
Q: Do you have any favorite Chicago-based clothing boutiques?
A: Ikram. Space519. Felt. They’re just super unique and well curated. I love feeling like I’m getting something I can’t find anywhere else, as well as ones with a story. I always like to shop at places that have brands I like but that also offer the discovery for new brands as well. Those stores do just that.
Q: What are some fall essentials women should have in their closet? And men.
A: For women, simple things like a leather jacket and a great pair of black ankle boots are always in style, and if you go for the investment pieces, you’ll have them forever. This season I’m really into the long duster cardigans (especially paired with shorts to transition to fall).
For men, I’m really loving the military-inspired jackets right now (especially the lightweight cotton canvas variety). They’re just an easy way to add an effortless, casual element to your look. Plus it’s great for layering!
A: I love a cool pair of flat sandals that can dress up your day look but that you can still wear at night without feeling frumpy. I wear a lot of easy t-shirt/tank dresses for day, sometimes with sandals or sneakers. I just like summer clothes that don’t require too much fuss, especially when it’s super hot out. I wear a lot of shorts too, mostly silk and printed. Not a ton of denim shorts, as they’re still making them way too short for my liking, but I do have a few longer pairs I wear often.
As for the men, I’m not super into men’s fashion to be honest (sorry guys!), but I would find the coolest t-shirts out there and wear those pretty much every day.
Q: Name three fashion life hacks that got you through the summer.
A: Hats — great for style and sun protection. I typically wear small bags, as I don’t carry a lot of stuff, but when I know I’m going to be out all day at a festival (especially a music festival), I usually bring a cool backpack. Not anything practical or sporty… it’s usually my vintage Chanel backpack. That way I can carry more things like a portable fan, sunscreen, hand sanitizer, etc. Or if I’m in a situation where I know I’ll need to be hands free but don’t need a ton of extra stuff, I’ll wear my 84Rockwell belt bag. They’re really cute and made in Chicago!
“(Chicago’s fashion scene) is pretty inclusive. When I’ve gone to New York, it seems very pretentious and stuffy. We’re not like that at all here… and I appreciate that.”
A: It’s always the same sort of stuff — cut-off denim, crop tops, bodysuits, long kimono jackets, fringe, etc. I don’t mind taking one of those elements and making it your own. I think festival fashion is such an opportunity to push the limit with your style, but at the same time, you don’t want to look like everyone else. I like to change it up every year. I’ve worn everything from coordinating an outfit with a matching top and bottom and a romper to a dress with sneakers and a vintage Alaia bra top with high-waisted shorts.
Q: Sunglasses are a quick way to spice up an outfit. Where can people find chic but inexpensive sunglasses?
A: I’ve gotten some cute cheap sunglasses from ASOS and Express. Although not cheap, I’m loving State Optical right now — and even better that they’re made in Chicago. They’re super high-quality, so definitely worth the price!
Q: What do you love about Chicago’s fashion scene?
A: I feel like it’s pretty inclusive. When I’ve gone to stuff in New York, it seems very pretentious and stuffy. We’re not like that at all here… and I appreciate that.
Q: How does Chi City Fashion represent Chicago’s fashion?
A: Chi City Fashion was the first Chicago fashion blog, so being around for six-plus years gives me a reputable voice where readers listen, and I can share with everyone (as my readers expand beyond Chicago) the cool brands, stores and events happening here in Chicago.
Q: Lastly, how do you survive a Chicago winter and stay fashionable? Is it possible?
A: It is possible. And it is all about outerwear and winter accessories (scarves, hats, gloves, etc.). I used to dread winters here, but when you get a new coat you’re really excited about, it makes going into winter a little more bearable. Whether it’s high-end designers, fast fashion stores or everything in between — everyone has stepped up their outerwear game, so there’s no excuse to be wearing that old North Face!