Tuesday, September 27, 2016

September Shopping Reflections

Although this isn't too apparent from this month's shopping, my new commute really brings out the urge to online shop. My train ride is an hour and a half each way, and while I am able to get online and work on the train, my brain is often a bit tuckered out and it's so much easier to browse online shops for entertainment instead. We'll see whether it results in more actual shopping, as I am also more aggressive about returning things that don't work, given my reduced salary.

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I have a few things on my radar for the upcoming fall/winter period. I've had my knee-high riding boots (the Madewell Archive boot in black, not yet available this year) for almost five years now, and I'm in the market for something similar, but with a zipper and a sleeker look. With my frequent trips to the cobbler for resoling and, last trip around, weatherproofing, my old boots are actually in fine condition, but I just don't wear them much because of the extra minute it takes to pull them on. I'm trying out the Tory Burch Jolie boots (thanks to a recently ended 30% off promotion), and we'll see if I like them. Although I bought plenty of new coats last season, I also find myself tempted to add another, in a design similar to the frequently recommended blogger favorite J.Crew Lady Day Coat, but I don't like the colors on offer this year. My ideal color is probably a bright cobalt blue or a hunter green, and we'll see if this idea pans out. This Kristen Blake coat in cobalt is a possibility. 

No beauty or skincare purchases for this month, though a few were made in July and August. Quite a few are upcoming as I think about whether to switch from the Paula's Choice 2% BHA liquid to CosRx's BHA and AHA offerings. The Paula's Choice was and is a game-changer for my resistant-to-prescriptions hormonal acne, but the CosRx is cheaper and a lot of people in r/AsianBeauty insist its better, so maybe it's worth a try. I can always go back to the Paula's Choice BHA if this experiment doesn't pan out.

Fashion - (TOTAL: $104.92)
  • Ann Taylor High-Low Cotton Cardigan - $14.99 - I needed more summer-weight cardigans, in colors that were not black or navy. This one is a little cropped, and it can look a little odd if worn with an untucked top, though that's not an issue with wearing it to work, with dresses or tucked-in tops.
  • Ann Taylor Linen-Blend Cardigan - $11.93 - This one is now fully sold out. This was another summer-weight cardigan, one with a more relaxed look and fit, which I like. 
  • Brass Clothing A-Line Dress - $78.00 - Brass is a fairly new woman-owned company with a commitment to ethical manufacturing (with factories based in China). I was mainly interested in trying out Brass's ponte pants, as I've vaguely been in the market for super-skinny-fit work-appropriate pants in black, but the dress ended up being the keeper. (The pants were, unfortunately, too much like leggings on me to fit the bill, even in my fairly permissive business casual workplaces.) This dress is also made of a ponte material, which feels nice on, but is a bit too heavy for NYC summers. I won't be able to wear this out until the weather cools down a bit more. I'll likely post a review with photos of this soon. Note that only the white color is lined. 

Beauty - (TOTAL: $0.00)

As always, I'm linking up with Franish and the Budgeting Bloggers this month. I'll be back soon with my very belated shopping reflections post for July and August!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Recommendation: J.Crew Factory Wool-Blend Suit

Long time no blog! The transition to my new job and my rather substantial new commute ended up being more intense than expected, and I’m only gradually starting to feel more settled in. The job itself is fantastic, though, and my first few weeks only confirm my previous sense that a judicial clerkship is basically one of the best legal jobs ever, at least for those with an interest in litigation and in law as an academic subject.

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One incidental effect of my new job is that I have far more business formal days than I used to. To that end, I recently purchased two wool-blend suits from J.Crew Factory, one in gray and one in navy blue. In terms of my super-conservative preferences for interview suits, these are the perfect design (two-buttons jackets, classic, the right colors, no trendy details). The material and quality are, as expected from the price, not perfect. Mine had a bit of loose thread in the stitching of one jacket pocket of and a tiny flaw in the fabric near the waistband of one skirt. I do, however, think the material is “good enough," as it feels similar to Ann Taylor’s wool-blend fabrics and the fabric is certainly more substantial than that of the paper-thin Super 120s J.Crew wool pants I tried last winter. I paid roughly $95 for each jacket and $50 for each skirt, for a total price of roughly $145 for each suit, making this an excellent value

This wasn’t how I planned to allocate the funds I’ve been setting aside for an “off-budget” suit purchase this year: I was supposed to buy one nicer one instead. A few factors went into this. First and foremost is the big pay cut associated with my new position. While I have a few month’s expenses saved, and likely will dip into those savings for not-strictly-emergency reasons at least a few times this year, doing so for any clothing purchase, even one as “necessary” as a suit, just doesn’t feel right. I had been saving separately for planned off-budget purchases, but didn’t have enough for, say, a Brooks Brothers suit. Second, I'm picky about suit design. Only the most conservative and “boring” of skirt suits will do, with two buttons on the jacket, no more, no less. This excludes offerings from a surprisingly large number of brands at the moment, including Theory and J.Crew. Third, given that I may well have needed more than one new suit, the price was right at J.Crew Factory. Ann Taylor’s suits fit me well, for instance, but their newer wool-blend offerings were not being included in some of the more recent rounds of additional percent off non-sale merchandise discounts, so those were off the table. (Note, however, that Ann Taylor is now having a 30% off full-price suit promotion.)

No photos for these, as they fit exactly as expected and are, therefore, boring. Fit-wise, I’m 5’3’’ and roughly 36’’-26’’-37’’ with shorter legs (petite pants necessary, but I prefer regular skirts so they hit at my knee) and shoulders and torso that generally fit regular tops and dresses better (but petite blazers are often a better fit because of sleeve length). I generally find J.Crew Factory sizing similar to Ann Taylor and regular J.Crew for tops, but a noticeable margin bigger for skirts. With fitted work dresses, I’ve been finding that J.Crew Factory runs consistently smaller than Ann Taylor in the bust, though that’s not especially relevant here. I took a petite 8 for the jacket and a regular 4 for the skirt, which is still a little big, but I find “just-right” pencil skirt fits a little uncomfortable sometimes if I eat a larger lunch or drink a lot of water. The stock photos for the skirt are misleading and make the skirt look longer than it is. It looks like they may have pinned the skirts in the back to make the waist seem smaller in the photos. 

As the J.Crew Factory suits are one of the better classic and conservative suit designs at a graduate student and new graduate price point that seen in years of being in that market, I really wanted to share. (Single button jackets have been standard for too long, in my view.) Be cautious of the pricing and wait for the right sale, though! Has anyone else noticed how often and dramatically the J.Crew Factory base prices change? When I ordered my suits weeks ago, they were $150 total at the J.Crew Factory price with no additional discount code needed, but two days ago, the base prices was $259 total, and $181 with a 30% off flash sale code. Such fluctuations!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Life Lately

I've recently been afflicted by a serious bout of writer's block and lack of fashion-related inspiration. I blame the summer heat, as it makes dressing up much less fun. Although things have been winding down for me at the office, I've been busy with other work-related things, including finally being admitted to the bar, almost a year after the exam! In most states, one files bar admission paperwork when registering for the exam, and formal admission to the bar follows shortly after exam results are released. In New York, one generally only starts filing the paperwork after finding out about passing, and it took me ages to compile everything that was required. Notarized affidavits from former employers in the legal field were particularly difficult to get. 

I, like so many others, have fully bought into the Pokemon Go fad. I've been around both NYC and the suburbs since the game was released, and I've noticed that people who live in the city enjoy a significant advantage. I pass by multiple Pokestops on my daily commute without much trouble. There are also multiple Pokestops in the immediate vicinity of my office building, and someone generally puts down a lure, which makes the office a  good place to catch Pokemon. I've even convinced K to play, though it took a few days. 

Electronics are generally a nonexistent spending category for me, outside of what few occasions where I need to replace either a phone (two years ago, next time is likely a year from now) or computer (also two years ago, and I hopefully won't need to again for at least another two years). Outside of said phone or computer and maybe an e-reader, there aren't many gadgets that would add much to my life, certainly none that are worth the price to me. This month, though,  I ended up making a few purchases. Because of the lengthy commute and relatively early start to my workday during my clerkship, I needed a silent alarm so that I wouldn't wake K up nearly two hours before the usual start of his day. I chose a Fitbit Flex rather than one of the other gimmicky and not especially well-reviewed silent alarm clock options out there. I also managed to carelessly lose my Kindle, and I decided to take the opportunity to upgrade to a Kindle Paperwhite for the built-in backlight. E-readers are indispensable to me when I have a longer commute. One thing I've noticed, unfortunately, is that the current software does not save one's place in non-Amazon ebook files when switches between ebooks, which is a huge usability flaw for me.

Finally, K and I have added a few new restaurants to our rotation. Papparich is a Malaysian chain that recently opened in Flushing. It gets quite busy, but the setting is nice and the food is good, just like it is in Malaysia. The fish curry is pictured above. We've also been going to Caracas Arepa Bar in the East Village, which can also get extremely busy, though we've never had trouble getting a seat during  weekend brunch hours.

I went to Grill 21 with friends, so K hasn't been able to try the food there yet, but they serve a good range of home-style filipino dishes with generous portions. I also tried halo halo for the first time, and it was very colorful and tasty.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Nordstrom Anniversary Sale Window Shopping

I'm of two minds about the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale. I've only ever made two purchases, that Gorjana Taner small bar necklace last year (not in this year's sale) and a pair of Louise et Cie flats two years ago (seen here, similar sale style has a prominent tassel detail I like less), but I'm happy with both items. I'd like to think it's a good opportunity to look for rare discounts on items that I was already in the market for prior. At the same time, it's more important than usual to keep the principle of "buyer beware" in mind. There is some anecdotal evidence that some Nordstrom Anniversary Sale items are different from the full-price stuff and made specifically for the sale price point, in the same way that many items at outlet stores are. Still, as long as one is cautious about buying things that will be put to good use and that feel "worth it," even assuming the sale price was the full price, it can't be too bad to shop the sale. With that general mindset and sense of caution, here are a few items that I am considering or would consider, though actually keeping anything depends on what they looked like in person as well as the limits of my month-to-month shopping budget. I'm also not a Nordstrom cardholder, so I won't have access to the sale until it officially opens at the end of the week.

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There are a ton of work-appropriate dresses available through this year's sale, though I suspect that many designs were produced specifically for the sale, so I'd be careful of examining the quality of any of the ones I ordered before making a final decision on whether to keep anything. I like the somewhat unusual v-neck detailing of this Tahari stretch sheath dress (pictured) as well as the striking colorblock design of this Ellen Tracy ponte stretch sheath dress (also pictured). 

These Cole Haan Tali Luxe wedges are visibly different from the full price designs (the wedge heels on the nude color are darker-colored on the full price ones and the stitching and materials look different) though the Nordstrom sale version has a sleeker look. That being said, regardless of any differences, I'm intrigued by the tortoise shell patent leather color (pictured). I've seen colleagues wearing similar subdued animal-print patent leather shoes, often with outfits closer to the business-formal end of the spectrum, and it's a good way to add some interest to an otherwise fairly conservative work outfit. I'd keep those away from formal courtroom appearances though!

If I was still in the market for a down coat this year, I would have thought that this North Face Arctic parka was a decent rare opportunity to get that staple item at a modest discount, though I notice that the design and materials may be different from the full price version (notice the different color of the faux fur trim on the full price black one), and, either way, 6pm has a better price for almost all sizes in the olive green and heather gray colors. 

The Nordstrom Anniversary Sale's bra selection is generally good. As far as I can tell, many if not all of the Chantelle and Natori designs are identical to full-price offerings other times of year. I can vouch for both brands making some high quality bras. I've worn this Natori design before and liked it and I think both of these Chantelle designs are very similar to ones I currently wear. This Panache sports bra is different in color scheme from the one I bought at full price, though if the sizing is the same, I'd consider it a good value at the sale price, given how challenging it is to find a sports bra that fits well and is comfortable. 

Will you be shopping the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale this year? Have you noticed differences between the sale merchandise and similar full price items?

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Transitioning to the Workplace: Dresses, Jackets, and Cardigans

Today's post is the second in my "Transitioning to the Workplace" series (the third if you count my post on business formal interview clothes on a student budget) discussing how to build a business casual work wardrobe on a fairly tight budget. Although I am almost a year into my career now, most of my work wardrobe was purchased at this general price point when I was a summer associate two years ago, and most of my items are still going strong. 

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Shopping-wise, I'm finding that we're in a bit of a strange in-between season: Fall/winter items are not yet available, but summer items are also starting to sell out at many of my go-to retailers. As a result, I'm not able to offer many specific item suggestions, though I link to a few examples. I might also write a supplemental post with more cold weather-friendly choices in these categories later this year. 

Note: My approach here is not minimalist and is rather inconsistent with helping someone build a pared down (and high-quality) personal wardrobe that they love. The primary goal here (1) is to accumulate an adequate work wardrobe quickly on a tight budget, that of a graduate student summer intern or recently graduated entry-level professional. Also, (2) my item suggestions lean towards the formal side of business casual, which for many white collar NYC workplaces means no jeans, but slim pants and somewhat causal skirts and dresses are okay. Both goals mean that the resulting work wardrobe may exist quite separately from what one enjoys wearing outside the office. The goal is to blend in and pick things that will not raise eyebrows while one is still getting used to the applicable wardrobe rules. Workplace norms in different industries and different regions of the US can differ dramatically. It's somewhat unlikely for many of these items to see much use outside of the work week. For today, I'm focusing on dresses and cardigans, and I include a very brief discussion of jackets.


The right dress is almost a one-piece outfit, and it takes little work to look relatively polished and put together when wearing one. My women colleagues and I commonly joke amongst ourselves about how deceptive dresses are in that way: they look relatively formal, but they're sometimes we reach for when we're exhausted and don't want to put mental energy into what we're wearing. 

Plenty of retailers regularly offer suitable dresses at new graduate-friendly price points: Loft is where I got most of mine, and a good sale at Ann Taylor works too. Many of my colleagues also like Madewell and J. Crew Factory. With a "~30%-40% off everything" or one of the fairly constant "additional ~40% off all sale items" promotions, both of which are frequently available, it's fairly easy to quickly accumulate several suitable dresses somewhere in the ~$35-$65/piece price point at Loft and J. Crew Factory or closer to ~$65-$80/piece at Ann Taylor or Madewell. (The type of sweeping discount I recommend looking for is less frequent at Madewell though.) If you have the time to hunt and are fairly confident of what you're looking for in terms of sizing and brands, I might also recommend regularly checking TheRealReal, Ebay, and even Thredup for suitable choices, as new options appears frequently and often at a good price point, though shipping costs may be high and returns difficult or nonexistent.

For maximum versatility and utility, i.e. the ability to rotate the same dresses week after week with only minor changes in shoes or accessories, I like sticking with solid colors. One can't go wrong with neutrals such as black, navy, or gray, but brighter colors can also see regular wear. Although I love prints and own several printed dresses, I get significantly better cost per wear from the solid colors. A dress being machine-washable is a massive plus. Loft is particularly great with offering machine-washable dresses. I find that there's considerable flexibility when it comes to which classic dress shapes or silhouettes are most suitable for work: fitted sheaths and sheaths with a fuller skirt all work well, as do fit and flare dresses, shifts, and others. It really depends on what fits best or what one likes wearing. The general hope is to find something that fits fairly well off the rack, which could take some trial and error before one figures out which  brands work best. Many casual dresses from one's weekend wardrobe can be suitable for the workplace too, sometimes alone or dressed up with a cardigan or jacket, though the items I suggest below are on the more formal side, as far as designs go.

  • Loft Pleated Flare Dress - ~$25 sale (limited size and color combinations, final sale) - When I was a summer associate, I picked up three similar fuller-skirted sheath dresses from Loft, two black and one navy, on deep additional percent off sale discount (~$25-$35 each), and they're still in heavy rotation in my work wardrobe today. Those dresses are all of decent quality when it comes to construction and materials, and all are in fairly good shape now, after being in heavy rotation for about three months that summer and almost a year after graduation. 
  • Loft Paneled Sheath Dress - no current sale, $89.50 - Loft also offers a few fitted sheath dresses from time to time, though I haven't tried these. My fitted dresses tend to come from Ann Taylor because their stuff fits me well off the rack, but I suspect Loft would be similar.
  • Madewell Afternoon Dress - no current sale, $98.00 - Now is not the best time to buy a work dress from Madewell as their summer dress materials and designs skew casual, but I wanted to illustrate that they often have a few work appropriate dresses in stock. They also currently offer this design with a fringed hem. I think that trendy details, like a peplum, don't necessarily make work dresses less versatile if the item fits well, but the fringed hem is maybe a bit too casual-trendy for work for my personal taste. 
  • J.Crew Factory Tailored Shift Dress in Lightweight Wool - ~$35 with code (limited size and color combinations, final sale) - I reviewed this and found that while it didn't fit me, it could be a good choice for someone else. J.Crew Factory currently has a few colorful work dresses in stock, including this fuller-skirted daybreak dress and ladder stitch fitted sheath dress
  • Tahari Seamed A-Line Dress - $85.67 sale in select colors - Nordstrom's sale section might also be a good place to check out. For instance, they also have this Adrianna Papell pleated sheath dress ($65.66).


It's no secret that office air-conditioning often runs a bit cold to be comfortable from the perspective of many women employees. Almost all of my work outfits include some kind of cardigan or sweater. (I don't like jackets as much because they rarely fit me well.) In summer, I mainly wear linen or linen-cotton blend cardigans, though various combinations of cotton, silk, and rayon or viscose would probably be fine if the fabric was light and thin. In fall or winter, when my firm's building gets quite cold, I don't have particularly specific material preferences for my cardigans: merino wool is nice, but I often find that it shrinks easily, sometimes even when hand-washed; cashmere is good for the coldest days and holds up to machine washing, though it's not easy to find at this price point without a super sale; I've ultimately found that I actually have the best luck with wool and synthetic (often nylon or polyester) blend sweaters, especially if they're machine-washable (Loft is a good source for machine-washable sweaters at the new graduate price point). Those synthetic blend sweaters hold their shape better. I end up needing to wash my cardigans somewhat frequently, so machine-washability is a major plus. 

As with dresses, I find that a wide variety of colors and general styles or shapes are all potentially useful in one's work wardrobe. For my cold-weather work wardrobe, I have a mix of neutral and bright cardigans, but I've ended up with only navy and black ones for summer. I tend to favor fairly loose-fitting cardigans, often open cardigans rather than ones with buttons, but this is another one of those things that's entirely down to personal preference. Because the main purpose of my cardigans is more practicality and keeping warm than formality, I'd even say that the fleece Bobeau wrap is suitable for days at the office where I don't have meetings.

  • Uniqlo Extra Fine Merino Crewneck Cardigan - $39.90 - Also available in v-neck. Being wool, these are definitely for cooler seasons. I'd expect Uniqlo to have more color and style options and frequent sales throughout fall and winter. I have some qualms about recommending these: Uniqlo is fast fashion and while many other items have held up well for me, my last two Uniqlo merino wool cardigans developed small holes after about two years of only moderately frequent wear for each. That being said, their cardigans hold up so much better to washing and wear than, say, J. Crew's merino wool cardigans (which shrank heinously upon a first wash, even done by hand). I would at least recommend these over 100% merino wool sweaters from J. Crew and other mall brands that could drop to a similar price point during sales. 
  • Ann Taylor Linen Blend Open Cardigan - $41.70 sale - Most of my favorite machine-washable cardigans for both winter and summer come from Loft, but their stock is a bitlimited right now. This linen and rayon blend cardigan from Ann Taylor is fairly similar to summer cardigans I own from Loft. 
  • Loft Pointelle Stripe Open Cardigan - no current sale, $49.50 - I tried this on, but found that I didn't like the design on me as I prefer my cardigans a bit longer. The fabric (50% cotton, 40% viscose, 10% silk) is suitable for a summer cardigan. 

Read on for my brief thoughts about finding jackets!