Friday, March 16, 2018

Friday Link List: Dress Codes and Other Things

K and I recently tried out Cote, a hip new Korean BBQ place that has been difficult to get a reservation at since they received a Michelin star. We booked four weekends ahead to get something that wasn't 11:00 PM or later!

The concept is part fancy steakhouse, with dry-aged beef cooked and served Korean BBQ-style. We enjoyed it, though we may prefer the experience of more traditional Korean BBQ instead (in Manhattan, I recommend Kang Ho Dong, though they don't take reservations and waits can be long). Pictured above is the "egg souffle", a steamed egg dish that comes free with the "Butcher's Feast" set menu. It's hardly the star of the show, but I'm very fond of steamed eggs, which are also a Chinese comfort food.

1. // I'll bet I'm preaching to the choir, but relatively few things simultaneously confuse and horrify me more than people who disrespect and completely dismiss the contributions of their stay at home partner, particularly after there are children. This is one of those things that I have, luckily, never encountered in real life, just in online spaces, but I've seen so many different flavors of it. I detest this behavior equally whether it is directed at a woman (discussion referenced here or the idea of "Jeff" here and anyone who defends him, though they may all be trolls) or a man (Corporette readers were being hyper-weird, and I was floored). I can't even begin to wrap my head around how people get into these mindsets. Anyone who seriously holds that view is being remarkably blind about some things. Granted, if the "Jeff" or Corporette situations are real, the actual problems are probably much deeper than whether the other partner has a job. 

2. // I don't always agree with everything Racked publishes about workplace dress codes, but they recently posted two interesting pieces. First was one about the complicated and sometimes arbitrary-seeming rules for Capitol Hill staffers. Second, and this made me very sad, there was a piece about the dramatically awful dress code double standards that face some women of color in conservative workplaces, when compared with what other women face (which is already not great). I really would hope that lawyers would know better

P.S. the author of the second piece also wrote something I've often wanted to share, but never manage to because I disagree so much with her ultimate thesis. Her description of the bits of snide competitiveness among her law school classmates during on-campus recruiting was so spot-on, except that it's a gender-neutral behavior. I've seen it so often, throughout all stages of law school, from men and women alike. 

3. // I totally just shared something from Bitches get Riches, but they posted something else I found awesome and important. Essentially, it's about the process of getting "woke", accepting and even embracing the rage one might rightly and reasonably feel about the injustice and indignities that one personally faces, which also realizing the importance of fighting for people who are even more vulnerable. It's very real to me, and describes something that is an uncomfortable process and long, winding road. (Pro bono work, generally of the most mundane "civil Gideon" kinds has been a big part of my life at every stage of my legal education and career except when it was not allowed, see Canon 4(D), as well as contributions to various pipeline initiatives, but it never feels like enough. There's more work to be done.)

Congratulations to Sophie on her first blogiversary! Like her, I also feel so lucky to be able to connect and engage with so many smart, interesting people through blogs, and I'm so thankful and appreciative to everyone who reads here. My personal tea-making set-up is a bit different from Archana's, and I enjoyed reading about her approach. More tea for everyone! JENKR has a lovely home, and I've also been reading along about Talia's shower renovation. K and I will be perpetual renters for quite some time yet, so it's always interesting to see what other people do with their living spaces.

4. // I'm repeating myself, but I'm still shocked at how limited the work-appropriate dress selection at Loft has become. It used to be an office-wear mainstay for me, back in 2014 when I built the backbone of my work wardrobe, mostly with a few shift dresses with flared out skirts (like these, though it's a silhouette I now find a bit juvenile in theory, though I'll keep wearing mine until they wear out) that were easy to find in their "extra 40% off sale" section. In my head, I used to refer to them as a "Forever 21 for working women" at business casual offices, and I actually meant that as a high compliment, in the sense that the ability to build a full work wardrobe quickly at an entry-level or intern price was ultimately a good and necessary thing for me back then and well, even Forever 21 items never actually wore out that quickly for me when I took good care of them.

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Right now though, they have absolutely nothing in their dress section that I would wear to the office, and only two things I'd consider possibilities were it not for some flaw. This teal floral lace dress is a bit too bright to be an office staple, though the material seems similar to my navy blue Ann Taylor lace shift dresses (long discontinued), which I like for both the office and for attending weddings. This navy "flippy dress" with a bit of lace might be subdued enough for work, but I don't like drop waists and the lace might be the kind of trendy detail that ends up looking dated too soon. Everything else they have is too casual, and is mostly unstructured, unlined polyester dresses of a type that has never looked good on me. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Shoe Shopping

For the most part, I'm not much of a "shoe person". My taste in shoes leans boring and practical. Often, when I try to experiment with something even a bit more interesting, I end up not wearing them much because of some issue. (Everlane Modern Points that never break in, I'm looking at you!)

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I bought three pairs of shoes in 2017, but two (the Sam Edelman Tristan pumps and the Cole Haan Tali bow flats) were shoes that I generally only wear for more formal court occasions or for interviews, i.e. the most boring shoes ever. The third were a pair of "The Skinny" Fitflops to replace a three year old pair that were peeling at the soles, i.e. another pair of boring (but super comfortable) shoes. I bought more in 2016, but the successful purchases that year also fell squarely into the "boring" category. There was a backup pair of Sam Edelman Petty booties from a sale, which I only belatedly realized were a stiffer, less comfortable new tumbled leather rather than the original softer leather I was used to (the texture difference may be visible just from clicking between the two on Zappos). I've still managed to put the newer pair to use with black tights and my suits, and I still wear my old pair on bad weather days, or when I'll be in thicker socks. There was also a pair of perforated leather Vans, which weren't exciting, but were comfortable and practical. 

More recently though, and this is part of why my efforts to rein in my "joy"-driven shopping of the past few months may not be apparent until April at the earliest, I seem to be craving more interesting, fun shoes. To the extent that I indulge (and I have, a bit), I hope I end up with ones that prove fun and practical, and that I will actually wear. By now, I certainly know my own shoe preferences and needs quite well: ballet flats wear out incredibly quickly because of how I walk ad how much I walk so best not to get too extravagant; most heels prove to be a no-go and 3'' is about my maximum heel height; I'm rarely inclined to endure a painful breaking in period so if it takes more than a day or two, it may never happen (I'm talking about the Everlane Modern Points again); so on, so forth. So I should be capable of making smart shoe shopping decisions for myself. 

I had thought I would try a shoe that's more on the practical side, probably black leather loafers, most likely the Sam Edelman Liors as an attempt to get the general look of the famous Gucci loafers. I've been reluctant, however, because the first pair I tried (a near-identical, partially sold out Sam Edelman style, the Loraine), when I could only get a half size up from my usual, was both a bit too long and a hair too narrow, enough that the shoes might stretch to accommodate my foot, but would be uncomfortable in the process. This didn't bode well for how my actual size would fit. In the meantime, I've been distracted from the black leather loafer idea by two things that are quite different, more fun, but also far less practical.

First, I had mentioned my on-again, off-again interest in the M.Gemi Felize if it ever came back in a solid-color leather. Separately, I also had a long-ago interest in a pair of gold glitter flats, thanks in large part to a pair that my sister owned and that she bought while traveling abroad (so I couldn't copy her). Those interests managed to come together when I saw a recent release of the M.Gemi Felize in a gold shimmer leather. I'd never owned a pair of driving moccasins before with those little rubber stoppers as a sole, so I have no idea if those are generally durable or practical. The gold shimmer effect is also new to me and of unknown durability. I've had the shoes for such a short time that it's hard to say if I've been terribly foolish in getting them, though they've done well on the two days I've worn them out so far, including to walk between home and the office. 

Second, and much more suddenly and impractically, Soludos makes a pair of llama-decorated slip-on sneakers (recently restocked in a full size range). It's even made of velvet (a fabric I normally have no interest in). It's completely inconsistent with my usual taste in shoes, especially the ones that I actually wear. And yet, I confess... I really kind of want them. I'm going to wait at least a week or two before making an order, to see if my sudden passionate desire for them passes, because wow, they're quite a departure from my usual when it comes to shoes!

Are you a shoe person? Are driving moccasins actually very fragile shoes? (Hopefully not, because I've worn the M.Gemi shoes out already, and there's no returning them.) 

Friday, March 9, 2018

Friday Link List: Raspberry Tea and Other Things

Brewing Trader Joe's tea in a David's Tea perfect mug and infuser, first recommended by Cassie. This mug has about double the capacity of a standard mug.  

Around the holidays, Trader Joe's sells a tea sampler gift set. (They used to put it in glass test tubes, but switched to small tins last year, which is more practical.) Most of the varieties aren't too special, except for the raspberry flavored black tea, which I think is great. It smells delicious, has a strong raspberry scent that doesn't feel artificial, and brews a good mellow black tea with just the right amount of raspberry flavor.

In shopping for a replacement, I scoped out some of the bigger online tea shops. Out of all the ones offering some kind of raspberry black tea, I thought the Adagio raspberry tea sounded like the best fit. I was pleased to find that it was a good, though not exact substitute. The flavor's not quite the same, but it's similar enough to tide me over. 

1. // Somewhat related to my recommendation last week for Netflix's Dirty Money series, which included an episode about Scott Tucker's payday lending empire, one of his brothers was also involved in a related business, hounding people over phantom debts. One enterprising individual fought back. I generally have an easier time identifying with defense attorneys than prosecutors (there's a lot of jumping back and forth in the field, at least in NYC), but when I hear about payday lending practices, it really makes me want to take down bad guys. Our new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (the "CFPB", oft-hailed as the agency you want to threaten a report to when one runs into a bank customer service problem) director may not be as gung-ho about consumer protection as I am, though.

2. // Speaking of MM. LaFleur, it came up on Corporette recently, and some of their readers had a similar view, that the materials didn't always feel worth the price and that there are fit issues. That discussion also directed me to a MM. LaFleur buy/sell/trade group on Facebook, where a lot of people share outfit photos. 

Alas, I'm realizing that Corporette is, more often than not, a rather mean place. The person who brought up the Facebook group wanted to make fun of the women there for not fitting some kind of model ideal, or for looking as good as official website photos. Yikes! As someone who has scrolled through a fewposts in the Facebook group, the unpleasant commenter is totally off base. Women of various shapes and sizes pull off MM. LaFleur better than I do.

3. // Some more fun things from around the web. Someone on reddit made some cool-looking fake "Criterion edition" covers for the best picture Oscar nominees. There's a cool daily outfit Instagram by @yellowgelato. Bitches get Riches did a post that tied a favorite classic movie from my childhood, The Little Princess, to a helpful explanation of privilege. I've been slowly exploring more personal finance-oriented blogs. It's a slow process, but recently, I'm enjoying the discussions at Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured). Oh and I recently made Half-Baked Harvest's creamy caprese quinoa bake, which Work From Home Wardrobe recommended, and it was easy and tasty, definitely the kind of thing I could make ahead and eat for a few days.

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4. // I recently shopped online at Brooks Brothers for the first time. It's a natural thing to try, as a woman in a conservative profession who is ready to move up from the Ann Taylor price point. I must say, Brooks Brothers e-commerce really lags behind that of any other "mall brand". Over the years, I've online window-shopped for suits, and they seem unable to keep a range of those in stock online in a full size range. With one item I ordered in a petite size, they only notified me it was out of stock a week later, except that exact size still shows up as available on their site (as one of three petite sizes allegedly in stock). How strange! Shopping in person is not much better, as the one time I went to a brick and mortar store there were barely any women's items, and no suits.

I ordered two dresses, a ponte shift dress (only one size/color remaining) from the more affordable "Red Fleece" line for younger customers, and a cotton jacquard dress (availability may be overstated) from their main line. Sizing runs roomier and taller than J.Crew and Ann Taylor, with longer skirts and wider shoulders. The designs accommodate curves pretty well. The Red Fleece ponte shift dress may have been an outlet item, as it started at $78 and was on sale for $58. I shouldn't have been surprised that it seemed flimsy, with no lining and thin fabric.

Do you have any favorite recipes for making ahead on the weekends to eat for the rest of the week? Are you also a fan of any seasonal Trader Joe's items that you miss during the rest of the year? 

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

"Pretend" Blazers

Last week, I received unhappy news. Our dress code had changed. Casual Fridays were no more, and jeans no longer had a place at the office. Alas, my brief taste of wearing jeans to work was over too soon. The newly codified rules also contained a textual ambiguity. They arguably required business formal the rest of the week and allowed business casual only on Fridays. (I don't think that's what they actually mean, though.) 

My personal interpretation of business formal for women is that it requires some kind of blazer or jacket, though it doesn't necessarily require the ultraconservative look I adhere to for entry-level attorney job interviews. This creates a slight problem, as I loathe jackets. I find them restrictive and uncomfortable, and they're so not my style. With a chest measurement that's three, as much as four, standard mall brand number-based size chart increments up from the rest of me, they never fit off the rack in a way that feels awesome. (Of course, standard size chart measurements rarely match reality, so it's not as difficult for me to shop as it sounds, though jackets are reliably more difficult than other items.) Tailoring is so expensive here that, for something I dislike wearing, it's unlikely I'll put money down for anything more complicated than hemming a sleeve, especially when I have suits that are "close enough." And most jackets need dry cleaning, which I hate needing to go do.

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I'm still pretty sure that business formal in the sense of requiring a blazer or jacket isn't the rule, but in the meantime, I was thinking about how I'd work around the jacket requirement, which does apply at some firms. I'd probably opt for "pretend" or "almost" jackets that have the look, but not the restrictiveness of actual blazers, nor the dry-cleaning requirements. Essentially, I'm thinking of jackets in less traditional materials.

  • J.Crew Factory Sweater Blazer - I had high hopes for this machine-washable cotton sweater blazer, but the sizing doesn't work on me. It's too long in the body, which isn't surprising, as I need petite sizing in their other blazers, and this is only available in regular. The lapels don't lay flat well, which is an issue I sometimes have in regular blazers too, maybe because my shoulders and chest are a little too wide. Outside of the length, this item generally runs a little large. (I often do better with size medium for more fitted sweaters, but small is the closest size for me here.) 
  • J.Crew Factory Open Sweater Blazer - Another machine-washable cotton sweater blazer, which has a J.Crew equivalent that is dry clean-only because it's made of merino wool. (I wouldn't experiment with machine washing J.Crew merino wool, as I've experienced shrinking even when washing with cold water and laying flat to dry.) Sizing is similar to the other sweater blazer, but because of the open, more cardigan-like design, I like this much better and may keep it in two colors. (I'm in the market for cardigans because my older ones, mostly from Loft and Ann Taylor, are showing a lot of wear.) 
  • MM. LaFleur Saint Ambroeus Jardigan - This is the last item I've personally tried. My main objection, after I ordered it following my showroom appointment, was to the price and the dry clean-only guidelines. From trying it on and seeing it on a friend, it's probably the most jacket-like cardigan I've seen. It holds it shape fairly well, and generally has a somewhat structured look because of the material. I don't think it holds that shape as well if one is very busty, unfortunately, so that was another strike for me. I tend to get sweaty and wash my sweaters and jackets often, so the dry-clean only restriction was a problem. I've seen some internet commenters say they machine wash this and lay flat to air dry, though it's so expensive that I'd get nervous about not following instructions. 
  • Betabrand Collarless Yoga Blazer - This one comes highly recommended by a law school classmate, i.e. someone to whom business formal also means a more traditional, structured-looking blazer or jacket is strongly preferred. I'm intrigued, and likely to put in an order when the black color comes back in stock. 
  • Banana Republic Long and Lean Fit Inverted Collar Ponte Blazer - I generally can't wear Banana Republic as their styles don't fit me well, but judging by the reviews, this seems like a solid machine-washable blazer.  
  • Boden Elizabeth Ponte Blazer - This one is often recommended on Corporette comment threads. 

Even as I write this post, I know not to get too attached to the goal of finding a perfect "pretend" blazer that is sufficiently structured and formal looking, but is machine-washable and doesn't feel as restrictive. Out of the items I've tried so far, both recently and in the past (I once bought a more casual, machine-washable red twill jacket from Loft, but it didn't hold its shape well), the closest thing was the MM. LaFleur Saint Ambroeus jardigan, and it was still pretty far from what I wanted. I like the J.Crew Factory Open Sweater Blazer more as a standard cardigan with an interesting collar, rather than a true jacket substitute.

What is your interpretation of what business formal requires for women? Is it ever needed at your office? Do you have any nontraditional jackets or blazers that you like?  

Monday, March 5, 2018

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

via NPR

I highly recommend the Oscar-nominated documentary Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, currently available free to Amazon Prime Instant Video subscribers (affiliate link). It's about the family that runs Abacus Federal Savings Bank ("Abacus"), a small local bank primarily serving the Chinese immigrant community in New York City, and about a prosecution, indictment, and trial arising from the 2008 recession and mortgage crisis. Abacus appears to have been the only bank that was indicted in connection with the mortgage crisis, though only 0.3% of the mortgage loans they sold to Fannie Mae defaulted. Following the 2012 indictment, the bank and the individual defendants that proceeded to trial were acquitted in 2015, found not guilty by a jury on all 184 counts.

I didn't know anything about this story before I watched the documentary. I'll not attempt to assess the merits of the prosecution, except to say that the Manhattan DA's office, under Cyrus Vance (who remains in office) spent at least three years prosecuting this case although there was no monetary loss to Fannie Mae (and in fact some financial gain), given the extremely low default rate on the mortgages at issue. There were some other arguable irregularities in the DA's handling of the case, which you'll see in the documentary. 

Despite the serious subject matter, it was a bittersweet story in the end because the family that founded the bank (a father and several adult daughters, most of whom participated in the defense of the case) was vindicated. I thought the family's interactions were sweet and loving, though everyone certainly had very strong opinions about the handling of the case and sometimes they got annoyed at each other. They were grappling with a period of considerable stress. The legal fees to defend this case case totaled over $10 million

With regards to some of the themes in this documentary, I'm a bit of an outsider. The various Chinese-American and Taiwanese-American communities across the nation are all quite different, so I don't have any special insight into the NYC-area community. I'm not from here, and I'd never presume to speak for them. Yet some of the cultural understandings the documentary touches on, which may not always interact terribly well with bank procedure and regulatory requirements, are familiar. 

One issue that arose was that of certain "gift letters" included with the mortgage applications, often from family members, which are supposed to represent unencumbered gifts. A New Yorker correspondent interviewed in the documentary, who also wrote about this case, explained how the line between gifts and loans can be blurry in this and other immigrant communities. There may not be a real distinction when it's from close family. Say one's mother gives a significant contribution towards a down payment, perhaps the $23,500 shown in a redacted letter. It's very likely the adult child will be taking care of them in the future and paying it back that way. The adult child acknowledges a responsibility to repay, but if it turns out that they can't, well, everyone's family. The correspondent reported that witnesses in the case had trouble articulating this in a way that didn't sound suspicious. An attorney from the DA expresses disgust, that people's family members provided them with money "from who knows where," as if implying something illegal and terrible.

Anyway, it's all a little more complicated than it sounds. I attempted to write a bit more about what is shown in the documentary, but I think it's best for people to watch it for themselves, and also keep an open mind, and recall that the jury did acquit, and that the default rate, whatever the defects in the mortgage applications documents, was 0.3% or less.