Friday, February 23, 2018

Friday Link List: Mostly Money Talk

K and I recently had dosas at Pongal, which we enjoyed! Eva Chen recently went to the same restaurant in one of her Instagram stories, which made me feel cool

I'm a bit taken aback by how quickly this month is rushing by, as January felt so slow! It's been a productive month. I got that last root canal done, filed my taxes, and have kept up my workout routine. I also shopped a lot this month, ack, most of it in the form of a new bag. I'm not too worried yet because my budget is ultimately rather flexible at this stage of my life (fear not, all my financial goals are well taken care of), though I may start feeling like I'm overdoing it soon if I keep it up.

One thing I've been having fun with recently is watching K play Persona 5. We're homebodies on weekday evenings, and usually for part of each weekend. All those long hours at work really catch up with us! Although he's a bit more extroverted than I am, we enjoy hanging out quietly together at home, often with him on the PS4 and me on my laptop, browsing blogs or writing. It's quite different in style from the "open world" games he typically plays, and it's a little easier to follow the plot while half paying attention. It's a quirky, stylish game. 

1. // I was happy that my post about the first designer handbag I ever fell in love with, the Miu Miu Coffer (not one of the enduring classics), generated a lot of interesting discussion. On a related note, I also wanted to link to some of the online discussions regarding that recent Harper's Bazaar piece about how women generally get shamed far more than men for anything they spend money on, whether big or small. 

It's a topic that's long been near and dear to my heart, though it's complicated. On the one hand, I'm always upset by sexist double standards. On the other hand, I feel like many types of marketing, particularly social media "influencer" marketing, is geared towards encouraging women in particular towards excessive consumption and materialism (points made by others here and here). Then I think about the latter issue some more, and get depressed about all the expectations placed on women in terms of maintaining physical appearance, and how it's essentially "necessary" to spend a lot on those things every year... Ugh. 

2. // Racked does some really interesting articles. I really related to this article that was essentially about guilt and a touch of "imposter syndrome" regarding expensive designer purchases, though as I mentioned over at Michelle's blog, I come at the topic from a slightly different place. There was also this interesting historical article about one of the women from "murderesses row" in 1920s Chicago.

Speaking of financial anxiety and guilt over expensive purchases, whether large or small, Bitches get Riches has done several great entries about how to deal with those feelings, including here and here.  

3. // Legal industry gossip time! In recent weeks, there was a set of extremely high-profile partner departures from a prominent biglaw firm (one that solely practices litigation, which is unusual). This by itself isn't too surprising, as individual partners, and sometimes entire practice groups, move between firms often. It's maybe a bit more atypical for a whole slate of high-profile partners to leave together to start their own small firm. At any rate, this caused some serious "reply all" email drama.

4. // Almost everything I'm talking about this week is to do with money. Luxe did a great post about how to pick funds to invest in through a workplace retirement plan. She does a good job covering all the things I keep an eye out for. Alas, I don't get to do this with my current 401(k) plan. 

In terms of other, not as directly money-related, recent blog entries that I enjoyed recently: Style Dtour did a good roundup of some recent internet discussions about skincare, which was ignited by a rather clickbait-y piece claiming that all skincare is a con. Jess at A Thinking Animal did a fun analysis about the economics of knitting

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

MM. LaFleur: Showroom Experience and Brand Impressions


Several months ago, I visited a MM. LaFleur showroom. I'd been intrigued by their marketing for ages (and no wonder, as I'm their target customer), despite my general skepticism about startup brands offering a subscription box-type service as a way to shop. During a showroom visit, they assign a stylist/salesperson to help you out one-on-one. I stayed there for an hour, and tried on several styles: At least seven dresses, two pants, two skirts, five tops, and two "jardigans".

First, before I get to photos and reviews of the two items I bought, I have some general thoughts about MM. LaFleur as a brand. Ethical production practices are not a focus, but some of their items (including the Toi dress) are made in New York. My Didion top was made in Vietnam. Pricing is, by almost any imaginable standard, extremely expensive, even with my robust and flexible budget as a private-sector attorney. Most dresses are well over $200 and tops are well over $100.

My biggest issue with MM. LaFleur, especially at the price point, is their predilection for unlined dresses. Only two of seven dress designs I tried were lined (the Toi, which is always lined, and a printed Etsuko, though solid colors are unlined). I get unusually grouchy about unlined dresses, although I have a few that look just fine. I feel strongly that linings serve a useful purpose, helping almost any dress (particularly more fitted sheathes, like MM. LaFleur commonly offers) lie more smoothly over the body. The lack of lining, combined with the fitted designs, generally resulted in those dresses showing the "lumps and bumps" in my figure in an unflattering way. Admittedly, my currently ~37.5''-27''-37'' figure is just too busty for most of their designs regardless. I had obvious fit issues with my closest size in every dress I tried outside of the Toi, Etsuko, and super-flowy Georgia, enough that I'd never consider spending more on a tailor to fix it (think bra lines showing through unlined fabric and every single soft, squishy spot of my back getting emphasized), and the lack of lining really emphasized that.

Another issue is the lack of petite sizing. I may be off base here, because I'm often terrible at choosing between regular and petite sizes for myself, and can't always figure out the line between "intentionally oversized chic" and "this doesn't fit". I generally feel that, when one looks through MM. LaFleur Instagram tags or even some posts on their blog, many looks seem to not be the best fit on shorter women. (I.e. this jacket-dress hybrid on an employee, the first skirt in this post, many looks here, or a few of the customer photos here.) I can't always pinpoint why I feel this, as most of the skirts and dresses look about knee-length, covering part (but not all) of the kneecap, in most of these photos, which happens to be the exact length I usually wear. I suppose I just wonder if, given MM. LaFleur's lofty price point, shorter women have better options that would be a better value.


I also ordered a third item, the Saint Ambroeus Jardigan (a cropped style that suits petite-height people far better than the longer Woolf Jardigan). I returned it because a dry clean-only sweater just isn't for me. While it's supposed to function like a blazer, in which case the dry clean-only restriction might be acceptable, I thought it looked too obviously cardigan-like to fill the jacket/blazer niche in my work wardrobe. Sure, the fabric is more structured than any other cardigan I've seen, but that isn't enough to make it pass for a blazer!

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Please follow the link below for photos and reviews of the two items I bought.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Sunday Reading: The Messy Intersection of Money and Family Law


Given the stage of life I'm in, it's downright silly for me to expound at length about my views of family law and marriage. As someone yet unmarried and childless, if I said anything particularly opinionated, I'd essentially just be asking - nay, demanding - that real life intervene to make an absolute fool of me. That sure doesn't stop me, though. As usual, nothing in this post constitutes legal advice. 

When I read Jamie Seaton's essay on Buzzfeed about the dramatic transformation in her apparent financial status that resulted from her divorce, and how that paralleled her experiences as a child of divorced parents with their own dramatic financial disparity, I was, for no discernible reason, entirely transfixed. Although the topic is quite serious, and the bare facts inherently do not paint her ex-husband in a positive light, I personally thought she was evenhanded and honest, matter-of-fact rather than self-pitying, and far more generous to her ex-husband than he likely deserved. Overall, I liked the piece, and sympathized, though reasonable minds differ greatly on this, and it turns out to have been extremely polarizing

P.S. before formulating an opinion, it's best to read Seaton's other published essays about the end of her marriage, one tabloid-y piece about her immediate post-divorce finances and a more gentle essay about co-parenting with her ex. My opinion changed after reading both pieces. My initial feeling, that he'd nickel and dimed her to an unsavory degree in the settlement, to the detriment of his children, turned out to be wrong. There appears to be a provision that penalizes her on spousal support if her monthly earnings dropped below a certain amount, which seems to me unnecessarily draconian to an ex-spouse that worked throughout the marriage. Even if spousal support serves a different purpose than child support, I don't think it uncontroversial to assume that most economically less powerful ex-spouses with primary custody spend most of their income on things directly affecting their children's quality of life, especially at the cutoff they set.

As it turns out, her ex-husband likely didn't nickel and dime her much at all. Instead, it appears that he controlled their finances, and he was really very bad at it, insisting on a house they could not afford and keeping her in the dark about their credit card debt. He most likely didn't have much money after all, and unless he's dramatically changed the way he handles it, he likely still doesn't. (Her ex's money management reminds me of this dude.) Among other things, she came out of the divorce with $16,000 in marital credit card debt that should, I think, ultimately be considered "his fault" because he controlled the purse strings.

And yes, some might say not to believe everything someone writes, though I feel like Seaton admits to enough that isn't flattering about herself - her extreme youthful fixation on designer clothes to buy the appearance of status - that I'm not skeptical. I certainly trust her perception, writing, and understanding of money far more than that of the writer behind that uncomfortable New York Times "Modern Love" piece on prenuptial agreements, for instance. (That person sounded really bad at money, her then-fiancee was reasonable in his demand for a prenuptial agreement, but callous in his handling of it and may, to my non-expert eyes, have created unnecessary risks to the contract's enforceability.) 

When it comes to stories like this, whether just about money or about the messy intersection of family matters and money, I often find people's varying reactions more interesting than the pieces themselves. Because most of my friends are not into talking about these things every time I have a link to share, I end up relying on internet comments sections to get my discussion fix. I know, I know, internet comments sections are often pointless and toxic, but still! There was a lot to unpack here, plenty more fuel for strong, visceral reactions than in most money-related personal essays, and that's really saying something. (Among other things, from my experiences living in Hong Kong, I'm always ready to raise my eyebrows about expat lifestyles in Asia.) I was actually pleasantly surprised by the relatively evenhanded and calm comments on Buzzfeed, given that the money subreddits I follow, though well-moderated and generally reasonable, have left me with a sense that everyone's ready to accuse a woman, particularly one who generally earned less than her husband, of being a freeloading, gold-digging mooch, even when it's absolutely not true. 

That's not to say all the reactions were reasonable. One top-appearing comment excoriated her for failing to open her own secret savings account "just in case", which seems iffy. While I would never personally agree to a marital money arrangement that left me without a checking and savings accounts solely in my name, even if the amounts retained in it are relatively nominal, plenty of people out there maintain fully joint accounts and shared finances. Another follow-up comment to that "secret savings account" comment, rather a non-sequitur, was eager to declare how their own single mother did it so much better than Seaton by "working full time and sacrificing to provide for her family", which it's clear that Seaton actually is doing, so that was super weird. One other top comment was about how all of Seaton's wealthy friends (I suppose from earlier days in that wealthy Connecticut suburb or the high-flying expat community) should have given her financial help, which seemed to me an extremely strange thing to take away from the article. Normal people generally don't ask non-family members for money, right? 

Anyway, I'm a total weirdo with my strangely intense interest in these topics. I suppose I just really enjoy financial voyeurism. Seaton's essay was part of a Buzzfeed collaboration with the Death, Sex, and Money podcast, and they came up with some really interesting essays that are worth a read. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

What's In My Bag: Work Edition


Consider this post an early preview of my monthly shopping post, because that there is definitely a new bag, and not the Mansur Gavriel large tote (similar) I was planning on, nor one that fits the associated criteria. This "What's In My Bag" post was inspired by Michelle's recent post.

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This may be a rather boring "What's In My Bag" post, because I really don't need much during my average work day. I keep things like hand cream, lip balm, or an extra hairbrush at my desk because I never need them while out and about. I don't wear makeup except on court or client meeting days, so no need for a makeup bag. Even when I do, I generally don't touch up during the day, so the only item I need is blotting paper, currently the Too Cool for School brand with handy case and applicator. Because I generally never carry around a laptop for work any more, I could make do with a much smaller bag, though I typically still prefer large totes like the Longchamp Neo or Everlane Petra Market

My current bag is a slight break in tradition, as it's a hair too small for letter-sized folders and notebooks. It's the Coach Rogue, in last season's "dark denim" color, no longer available new online, though they had several in stock and on sale at the Soho store as of two weeks ago. I'll save the waxing poetic over it for a future date. Even though a lot of Coach's updated styles under Stuart Vevers are distinctly not my thing (though they can be quite snazzy), I love this bag. There's something about the shape, when worn as a tote with the top handles tucked away, that I find magical. The color works well with all of my coats, even the harder to match oxblood or bright orange. The Rogue is noticeably heavier than my usual work bags, though not enough to dissuade me from carrying it every weekday since I got it. I even admire it out of the corner of my eye every time I pass a reflective surface while carrying it. 

1. Wallet - This Kate Spade Saturday (R.I.P.) card case is great. With two card slots (each holding two to three cards) and one large button-flap compartment to hold cash and some coins (but not many), it's roomier than most card cases out there, and just the right size for me. I always carry three credit cards, each for different purposes and rewards, as well as my driver's license and primary debit card. I only rarely see similar card cases, and believe me, I'm constantly on the lookout. The Dagne Dover Card Case, Dagne Dover Accordion Card Case and Coach Card Pouch are some of the only visually similar ones I've seen, but none of them seem to have quite the same capacity as my trusty card case. 

2. Cough Drops - This isn't something I normally carry around, but we had a brutal cold snap in January that left my immune system more vulnerable than normal. I woke up most mornings with a scratchy throat that never quite developed into a full-blown cold. 

3. Notebook - This is a Leuchtturm1917 medium dotted journal, which is roughly A5 size. I use a variant of the bullet journal system to keep track of my daily to-do lists, for both work and personal matters. It's a fairly new system for me, and it's been a helpful one that I've stuck to consistently for a few months now. 

Please follow the link below to keep reading!

Monday, February 12, 2018

The "It Bags" of Yesteryear

Three celebrities with their Miu Miu Coffers, a pre-2010 "it bag" that has not held its value. I adored this bag when I was in college. 

The first unattainably expensive designer bag I coveted, back in college and not long after The Devil Wears Prada movie ignited my interest in fashion, was the Miu Miu Coffer. I didn't have much reason for it, certainly didn't have a sense of my "personal style", nor did I yet have a good understanding of my handbag preferences (I now favor large, unfussy totes). I just knew that it was beautiful, and that the whole combination: ruched leather, braided handle, and oddly placed front pockets, just seemed perfect, even if it all looks rather fussy to me now. I looked eagerly at celebrity street style photos of it, was familiar with all of the few that popped up online. Every time I saw it in real life, I stared at it wistfully from a distance.

Had I saved my work-study and summer earnings for it, I'd have been disappointed in my investment. Certain designer bags maintain their resale value well, as we all know, but Miu Miu isn't one of those brands. If I still wanted it, there are several to be had on The Real Real* (affiliate link) for $300 or less, though generally not in good condition, as it's ancient and long-discontinued. It originally retailed for over $1400, so that's a loss in value of more than 60% in the last decade, more if one considers consignment fees. 

I suppose there's not much point to looking back on it, except to emphasize that my teenage self was sometimes silly, didn't have great or particularly consistent taste, and would definitely have wasted tons of money if she had it. I admire people who, at a similarly young age, had a far more thought-out and defined sense of their own style, or aesthetics they were interested in, say Twelve: of Ourwho I sang the praises of when I last reflected on my own early experiences with fashion, desire, and aspirational consuming. 

It's also interesting to see how some "it bags" stand the test of time, and some don't. To me, there doesn't seem to be much rhyme or reason to it. Way back when I started this blog, I looked forward to the day, years after I graduated law school, when I could finally indulge in a big designer splurge after having truly earned it. Except even then, I actually wasn't sure of what the bag would be, because I wanted something timeless. It had been a long time since I had been as attracted to any bag as much as that Miu Miu Coffer. So I was ambivalent even then, and that ambivalence only increased after I graduated, as the few "maybe" bags I picked generally weren't cool anymore, even just one year on. 

These days, that hypothetical "distant future splurge" keeps getting pushed back because my career has involved a few voluntary pay cuts, and I've only recently started paying my student loans in earnest. I'm actually pretty sure it won't happen, which isn't sad because, as you've seen, I indulge frequently in shopping and want for nothing. It's simply that my preferences have changed. Furthermore, looking forward, my plans to aggressively finish off my student loans (I could hit "net worth zero" a year from now, and it'll take at least another year and a half after) might not mesh well with goals like buying property, wedding planning, or getting ready to start a family, much less the, er, (still hypothetical) possibility of all of those things coinciding in a fairly short time. All of which is a long way of saying that, now that I've finally settled in to a job with no short-term expiration date, I'm a bit overwhelmed by how long it takes to make financial progress, and how slow the numbers tick in the right direction, especially now that the long-awaited market correction is upon us. 

Have you ever fallen completely in love with a designer item that was unattainably expensive? What was it? Would you still want to buy or wear those items now, if you had been able to buy it? Have those items retained their resale value? 

*Note that many people have raised concerns about The Real Real lacking quality control when it comes to verifying the authenticity of their products. I probably wouldn't worry as much about a really old and relatively low-value handbag that I'd only be interested in as a collector's item (which I'm not actually interested in, but hypothetically speaking). Handbag counterfeiters were extremely sophisticated, even back then, though, so buyer beware.