Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Updated "Wish List"

Although it's far from the only way, or even the most common way, my purchases come about, my ideal approach to shopping, the one most likely to result in well-loved favorites, and that cuts down significantly on the likelihood of ending up with a rarely or never-worn mistake, is to start from a running "wish list" of specific things I think about for quite some time. I'll carefully search for what I think is the exact right item to fill each niche, and after identifying it, I'll often also wait even longer for the right sale, or for an eBay listing to come up at the right price. Now that it's been nearly six months since I last wrote about my wish list, I thought it'd make sense to write an update.

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As is typical for me, not everything on my list made it into my closet, and some dropped off my list entirely. I bought skinny jeans (the Gap Mid-Rise True Skinny Jeans in 360 Stretch) and opted against the Mansur Gavriel large tote in favor of the very different-looking Coach Rogue (similar). I never really ended up shopping for a formal dress because I have extremely exacting, almost impossible criteria for that. Among other things, I wanted something colorful (not black or navy) and in the right print (not ugly, of course, and not too much white as it's main purpose was for attending weddings as a guest). It also needed to be more interesting than what I already had, good for petites, and be something I could be wear with a bra. All those criteria are surprisingly difficult to accommodate all at once, in one dress, plus I'm also very picky about how things fit. I literally tried on one Ted Baker dress that, in hindsight, may not have actually fit most of my criteria at all. It definitely did not work, and that was that. I've since lost interest in shopping for a formal dress, in large part because K and I don't actually have any more weddings to attend in the near future. 

There are also other items I've mentioned being in the market for in recent months, but that never quite made it on to my actual list. I was totally supposed to be shopping for more tees for summer, and received some great recommendations, but alas, I think it may be something that will fit me very differently a year from now, so now's not the right time. I get so much wear out of my summer dresses that it could make sense to buy more (at the moment I like the simple "Monaco" tunic-style dress from NotPerfectLinen), but for the most part, summer dresses are weekend-only items for me. They generally skew too casual for my office. Even though my summer dresses generally show their wear far quicker than my other items, I still have an adequate backlog of ones still in fairly good shape. At the moment, I'm really loving my original Grana v-neck silk slip dress (sadly sold out in most colors, and I can't tell if they lowered the neckline on the new one, which would be bad for me) even though it's not a design one would expect to work well on a bustier figure. I love the Grana dress enough that I'd wear it all weekend, every weekend if I could, so I really don't need another summer dress. 

My current "wish list" is as follows:
  • Dainty Opal Ring: This has been on my list for years, and honestly, it's looking like it will never happen because I just can't bring myself to spend "fine jewelry" prices, even when some of the possible choices are quite modestly priced and less expensive than shoes or clothes I'm willing to buy more impulsively. (This small bezel-set opal ring from Polamai on Etsy that I keep flagging as an option, for instance.) Plus, as some of you were kind enough to point out, opal might not be a great choice for a daily wear ring, as it's a more fragile stone. Like last time, I still like the look of the ultra-dainty Wwake multi-stone opal rings, particularly the ones in the organic triangle shapes, but I think in actual practice, if I could convince myself to take the plunge, I'm still more likely to end up wanting one of the Jennie Kwon "Reese" ones. (P.S. did you know Kwon used to be a corporate lawyer? And a professional violinist? I didn't know that last time. What a diverse set of talents!) 
  • Leather Cover for Bullet Journal: So this totally isn't fashion, but it would, in practice, accessorize something that I use almost every day. As I mentioned in April, the cover of my Leuchtturm notebook has gotten a bit worn, and I'm tempted to buy a leather cover for it now that I'm pretty sure my bullet journal habit is here to stay. If I take the plunge, I've decided on the one from Uncommon Elephant on Etsy (a woman-owned business based in the US). The one pictured above is from Olkeysn Prannyk, also on Etsy
  • Heavy Turtleneck or Mock Neck Sweater: This is a totally unseasonable item , but between the sweater I bought on Taobao in January (and that I loved wearing the rest of winter), this week of outfits post on Cup of Jo (Nicole pulls off her sweaters so well!), and Mansur Gavriel's long since sold-out, luxe-looking turtlenecks, I'm still really loving the idea of relaxed-fit, thick and cozy sweaters, particularly with a turtleneck, mock neck, or funnel neck. I originally thought that, as a bustier person, I couldn't pull off such necklines, but I actually found that I like them, so long as the body of the sweater has a more relaxed fit. Anyways, from window-shopping extensively for this type of sweater, I realize this is a category that I should be prepared to get spend-y on. Practically every time I see something that has the right general look, it turns out to be significantly more pricey than any other sweater I've ever bought. The one illustrated above is from Cuyana

And that's it! I guess one takeaway here is that I really don't feel inspired by summer clothing. What's on your current shopping list, fashion or otherwise? Do you have any go-to brands for sweaters? I guess part of me really wants it to be winter again, so I can wrap myself up in warm and cozy clothes. 

Monday, June 18, 2018

Outfit Post: Pajama-Like

Pants: Grana Silk Ankle Pants, black, M short
Shoes: M.Gemi Felize, gold shimmer (sold out at M.Gemi, similar, but in limited sizes or weird colors)

I thought this outfit was fun, which isn't something I say too often because I tend to stick to the same outfit formulas over and over. For work, it's almost always a dress and sweater, whether a typical cardigan or something trying to be a blazer. The dresses and sweaters aren't all similar to each other, I have a variety of colors and shapes for each, and for the dresses, there are prints too, but the formula is always the same. I go through more or less the exact same weekly rotation of dresses all year round, switching up coats, sweaters, shoes, and tights or bare legs based off the needs of the season. Each of the work dresses in my "core" rotation gets worn at least once every two weeks. Even when I pick out one of the colorful or printed dresses, it's not something I think about much when I put them on in the morning. For weekends, my clothing is often even more subdued. In the cooler seasons, it's almost always jeans and a neutral-looking sweater or top (the Uniqlo ones from early 2015 remain some of my favorites) or in high summer, it's one of my summer dresses (all black or navy) and my trusty Fit Flops. I tend to stick to my wardrobe comfort zones, and it's difficult to drag me out. I may never get used to wearing a-line midi skirts, for instance! 

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This casual Friday work outfit was a significant departure from my usual work formula in a few ways, and one I liked. It was very comfortable, basically like a pair of pajamas. I love those Grana silk pants (also seen on Jane and Elaine) and wear them to work maybe once every three weeks in warmer months, but pretty much always with an untucked top. I generally find that my proportions look a bit awkward when I tuck tops into relaxed-fit pants with an elastic waist. I like color, but the teal of this Grana silk top is a bit louder and brighter than I'm used too, especially when paired with a more attention-grabbing shoe and accessory. It's also been a long time since I wore a more statement-sized necklace to work. 

And yes, I know I was just fussing about the decline of J.Crew, but Engineer L's recent shopping roundup reminded me that I missed having a longer, less dainty necklace in my collection. I still have quite a collection of colorful, short statement necklaces tucked away in my dresser, the vast majority of which predate this blog and haven't generally been worn since, but my long necklaces from back then were generally Forever 21, and had long since been decluttered away. I did quite a bit of online window shopping, including on Etsy, and was fairly certain that this J.Crew tassel necklace was the best choice. Baublebar was just about the only other brand that had a larger gold tassel necklace I liked the look of, but I know from past experience that their costume jewelry is worse quality than J.Crew - flimsier materials, more obviously plastic-looking stones for designs that have them, less weight, uglier designs, and more likely to cause contact dermatitis on my sometimes-sensitive skin. 

Between the size of the necklace and the contrasting texture panels on the top, which aren't as visible in this photo, but are fairly noticeable in real life, I find that this outfit has a slightly dated? retro? vibe. The matchy-matchy shoes and necklace might contribute. I can't quite put my finger on it, but the rather assertive size of the necklace certainly feels a bit "off trend" to me, like it's something you generally wouldn't see in stores right now. If you go to say, Nordstrom, and look at their entire selection of tassel necklaces at the moment, you'll barely see anything similar, most are either significantly more delicate or, alternately, far more colorful and loud, not much in between.

Did anyone else really buy into the colorful short statement necklace trend that I think hit peak saturation from 2011 to 2014 or so? Some current examples are illustrated in the above widget, though they're not particularly popular at the moment and not very common. Back then, up until when I started this blog, I basically didn't meet a single example of the trend I didn't like, and generally couldn't resist buying every single one I saw for a sale price, including an extremely plastic H&M knockoff of that J.Crew bubble necklace

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Link List: On Twitter and J.Crew

Pictured above is the cake selection at Laduree on the Upper East Side. Those strawberry-shaped ones are adorable! I ended up just getting macarons, though. 

1. // I've never understood Twitter, no matter how much I try. I've been following a court proceeding that a few journalists cover, but that generally isn't making it into that many full-length articles, so Twitter has been the best platform for keeping an eye on the case. The level of discourse is... low. The journalists themselves are fantastic, with an unusual knack for explaining some rather dense legal concepts in 280 characters or less, but the people who reply to them are... clueless, despite the journalists' best efforts. When I run a more general search, the majority of tweets with the case's keywords are from obvious bots (the case is somewhat political) tweeting a string of the related hashtags and then some gibberish for unknown purposes. 

That's an awkward way of transitioning to this, a 2015 New Yorker article about the power of Twitter to do good, and how, through social media, a member of the ultra-hateful Westboro Baptist Church began to question what the church (comprised mostly of the members of her extended family) had taught her, to the point where she left. It's a great read. 

2. // There was an unusually entertaining r/AskReddit thread about petty dramas currently going on in the world of various smaller, sometimes very niche, communities or hobbies. Among the posts was a description of the Evgenia Medvedeva coaching drama. (Medvedeva has been impeccably professional in her public statements, her former coach not so much.) 

Then there's #cockygate, an instance of possible misuse of the American trademark system and the federal courts in the world of indie romance novel publishing. Speaking of Twitter, Courtney Milan did a good explanation of it and posted the transcript from a recent SDNY hearing in the matter, which has some great moments. 

3. // Blog-wise, Michelle had a great recommendation for where to donate clothes that still have some life in them (given that Goodwill and the like generally receive such a high volume of donations that most won't be resold and reused). Luxe did a great post about childhood and what children may, or may not, take away from growing up with less. Many of her readers shared their experiences and well, one takeaway is that school lunch can be surprisingly treacherous and fraught, and that each school had its own unique culture surrounding it. Breath of Fresh Wear accurately described an experience that many people, including myself, can relate to, of trying hard to resist a new trend for months because it seems silly, but eventually caving in. 

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4. // By now, it's a tedious and overdone thing to bemoan the decline of J.Crew (I last did so in 2015, and was already late to the party then), but I was there last week to try on a smaller size of that camel-colored sweater blazer I mentioned (at Engineer L's recommendation, which was right on the money), and I was confused to see outlet items, from their "Mercantile" line in a prominent section at the front of the store, alongside "main line" J.Crew items, something they're also doing on their website.

I actually love J.Crew Factory, and am in fact far more likely to buy there (especially their wool-blend suiting, I own all three colors of the blazer and pencil skirt) than at main line J.Crew. But I'm completely perplexed by their stated intention to merge Mercantile, originally designed for Factory, with J.Crew as part of a relaunch. Customers who used to love J.Crew in the increasingly-distant past almost uniformly describe how they desperately miss the higher-quality materials and construction of "old J.Crew". In that light, muddling the line between Mercantile and J.Crew will likely not help attract those customers back

As for me, I first fell in love with J.Crew in college (I have particularly fond memories of the April and Holiday 2008 catalogs), when it was a highly aspirational-to-me brand that I could only afford at the tail end of the post-holiday sales. They had this delightfully consistent aesthetic of "classic with a feminine twist", whether in the form of embellishments like a few relatively understated ruffles or vibrant, fun colors. I often hear that the quality of their items had already declined by then, but I still have a silk top I bought that year, and it's noticeably made of nicer materials than anything I've seen them stock in recent memory.

By now, especially with my recent visit, it was painfully clear that J.Crew no longer has a consistent aesthetic and most things are iffy quality, as everyone has been complaining about for years. That cap-sleeve detail dress that looks just like the sold-out except for one size Ann Taylor one I'm so fond of is just... sad looking on the rack. I've generally found recent iterations of J.Crew's wool suiting material to be thin and flimsy-looking, and that dress is no exception. The designs in their new "Point Sur" resort-looking collection are... generally weird. (What is with the ruffles under the armpit on this top and this dress?) That being said I kept that sweater blazer in the smaller size.

Do you understand Twitter? Any suggestions for how to better understand it? Do you remember the culture of school lunch from when you were small? I went to a predominantly Asian-American public school in California, almost all of us children of recent immigrants. A good half of kids who brought lunch often brought in their parents' home cooking, and nobody would ever think to make fun of any ethnic cuisine unfamiliar to them as being "stinky" or "gross". Outside of that, we probably had about equal numbers of kids bringing lunch versus buying "hot lunch", and I don't think there was any different treatment or "lunch shaming" if anyone's account fell into arrears. 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Student Loan Chatter


Today's post is about two recent articles regarding student loans that left a bit of an impression. Naturally, student loans are a topic on which I have many thoughts, though neither piece was about a situation remotely similar to mine. Please note that I'm not an expert on student loan policies and the intricacies thereof. I only have the working knowledge that comes from handling my own. I may not be completely correct in my understanding of how some of these policies work. 

Knowing What You're In For

First up, Refinery29 published a piece by a NYU student who'd already accumulated $182,000 in student loans for her undergraduate degree, and who was considering journalism school. Oh lordy! For context, that's about how much my law school student loan balance was upon graduation. After roughly 2.5 years, ~$65,500 in payments, refinancing to a 2.6% interest rate with First Republic (an option I believe is only available to high-earning individuals located in cities where First Republic operates), down from ~7%, the standard federal rates available to graduate students while I was in school, I still have about 6 years of $2,500/month payments to go, or three years at $4,500/month. (The real numbers will be somewhere in between.) 

Given how noxious the Money Diaries commentariat is, the comments here were fairly reasonable. There's really not a lot to say, now that it's too late to go back and change it, except to advise the person not to go to graduate school at this time. This scenario is tragic, not least of all because, to my knowledge, undergraduates can't take out the full cost of attendance in federal loans, so the protections of income-based repayment and possible eventual forgiveness (like in the next story) may not be available. 

Is any 18 year old (or heck, even a 21 year old considering grad school before they've started making real progress on their undergrad loans) ever fully capable of understanding what they take on when they sign for student loans even a quarter of this size? Heck, I committed to law school at 23, with some adult life experience under my belt, and I don't think I made a fully educated decision. By that stage of life, of course, that's my fault and responsibility. Intellectually, I knew I'd owe ~$2,000/month on a standard 10-year repayment plan, mostly thanks to the University of Michigan's law school "debt wizard" calculator. Even then, I still found myself a bit surprised once I graduated. Among other things, whenever I calculated my expected total balance, I never processed that I should factor in the interest that accrued while I was in school, even though I knew it was happening. (Silly of me, I know.) I also never really figured out my post-tax income. Every year (post-raise and/or after new tax laws), my paycheck is always a surprise. So I never actually knew what I'd be working with.

Obviously, nobody should feel sorry for me because everything turned out a-okay, but if I, as an adult, could find myself taken aback by some aspects of my student loan situation even after doing tons of research, I'm not sure high school students can ever truly know what they're getting into. Regardless, I can't begin to imagine how the system could be reformed to take this into account. 

On Loan Forgiveness

The next piece is from the Wall Street Journal, about the orthodontist with a million in student loans and counting, but only because they're counting on income-based repayment for eventual forgiveness, and have no intention of repaying in full, so it's not exactly what it sounds like. Most reactions I've seen are a bit ambivalent, I think because most people found the headline misleading, and were expecting to read about someone working hard and living an extremely bare-bones lifestyle in order to pay their million dollar balance in full, rather than someone making the practical and understandable decision to pay the minimum for eventual forgiveness (and living a pretty sweet life in the meantime). 

I'll be the first to admit that I don't understand loan forgiveness options particularly well. I applied for and was on income-based repayment for most of my first two years since graduation, but solely as a way of getting flexibility with my monthly cash flow (I almost always paid at least my ten-year standard repayment amount while in biglaw) and then because of the pay cut I took for my clerkship. I didn't need it because, so long as I stayed mostly in the private sector, I didn't anticipate PAYE-type forgiveness being cheaper in the long run. As seen from the math above, I'd almost certainly end up paying more on PAYE. That's often the case for other biglaw types as well, unless someone took out the entire cost of attendance in student loans (there's a lot of smaller scholarships available), as seen in the hypothetical below. Both calculations were done using this calculator.

Even if PAYE or REPAYE was likely to work out for me, I'd be terrified to have such a large and ever-growing balance hanging over my head, even if it's supposed to go away at the end. I would also live in constant fear that Congress could retract the policy without grandfathering in people who took out their loans back when those policies were in place (something that I believe is generally seen as unlikely, from following discussions of it online, but who even knows). Also, there's the "tax bomb", because the total amount forgiven is likely to be deemed taxable income. 

Did you notice either of these articles? What did you think? Do you know anyone relying on PAYE,  REPAYE, or the other non public service-linked loan forgiveness programs? I know of law school classmates with much larger student loan balances than mine, maybe veering into the territory where going for forgiveness makes sense, but everyone seems to be repaying their balances in full. I have a vague sense that the financial picture is very different for medical professionals, and that they're more likely to rely on loan forgiveness plans, as they're in school or training for far longer than would-be attorneys. 

Friday, June 8, 2018

On Anthony Bourdain


I was devastated to hear about Anthony Bourdain. From all his work, his writing and his shows, he seemed like the most wonderful and fun person, with such spirit, such empathy and compassion, an always open mind, a complete lack of pretension, and a willingness to speak up sharply for what is right. I devoured his work eagerly, was always delighted by every piece of it I encountered. And because he always seemed so genuine, so vibrant, and so unabashedly true to himself, I feel almost as if I knew him. I still can't fully process what has happened. I feel such great sadness for his family and for his daughter. 

He had so much to teach us, in particular about the importance of doing our sincere best to understand other people, to meet them on their own terms. I couldn't possibly do justice to him in my own words, so I thought I'd share a few things that best captured what I knew of him. 

  • I only got to know his work a decade after Kitchen Confidential was published. I know that people sometimes find his depiction of super-macho restaurant culture and his past participation in it off-putting. Regardless, I truly believe that his body of work since then has shown his growth as a person, how his perspective has changed, and that he is absolutely one of the good people. Because I only read his book so long after it was published, I didn't necessarily see or understand that he had anything to apologize for from his Kitchen Confidential days, but what matters is that he did
  • The original New Yorker essay that predated Kitchen Confidential and gives a good sense of what's in the book is a must-read, of course. 
  • Last year, the New Yorker published a take on Bourdain and how he'd changed as a public figure over time. Parts Unknown, his current show, is still on Netflix, and I highly recommend it.
  • He did two Reddit "Ask me Anything" sessions, or AMAs, one around 2013 and one last year. They're both good, but I thought the one from last year was particularly great. You can practically hear his voice reading out his responses. 
  • I really appreciated how Bourdain was decidedly not a snob, was totally against anything pretentious. Beyond that, he was capable of great kindness and empathy. This is seen in so many of his shows, the foods and restaurants he featured, and the way he interacted with the people he met on those shows, and it was also seen here in his reaction to the hullabaloo when a small town newspaper's review of a local Olive Garden went viral quite a few years back.