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.

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. 

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.

Dresses

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).



Cardigans

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!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Pretty Things: Handmade Jewelry from Porcelain and Stone

all photos via Porcelain and Stone Etsy shop

I've been thinking of making a jewelry purchase for myself for almost a year now, on and off, and I've finally decided what I would like. I was originally thinking of a dainty ring, something more on the fine jewelry end of the spectrum, though the price on that was always going to be a little high to fit comfortably in my month to month shopping budget. Also, I haven't worn rings since a brief period before law school when I was obsessed with bright cocktail rings, before I decided that they weren't practical for me. Long story short, I think a necklace is the way to go. In the past year, I've transitioned rather decisively to being no-frills with my accessorizing: Just a teeny-tiny necklace, barely visible over the neckline of most of my clothes, and a subdued watch most days. It's a big change for someone who used to get heavy use out of a rather sizable collection of brightly colored statement necklaces, and it sometimes feels too somber. I'd like to dip back in to wearing more substantial jewelry, and I think a necklace from Boston-based company Porcelain and Stone is the way to go, most likely the bar necklace below. (I might be ordering mine from Moorea Seal.)


I first heard of Porcelain and Stone through my undergraduate school's alum Facebook group, from someone who had purchased one of he necklaces. I went to college on the East Coast, so the tie to the Boston area has a bit of a geographical connection to us alums. Kimberly Huestis, the artist behind the business who also hand-makes each piece, specializes in ceramic or porcelain jewelry, often with really beautiful marble or natural stone-looking colors and textures. (She also makes more colorful pieces than the ones pictured, and you can see the process on her Instagram.)

Anyway, I've mentioned that I struggle with fully taking the leap into shopping more ethically for clothing, which I think requires relying on shopping secondhand. Figuring out a way of balancing my budget-consciousness with the minimalist ethics that I really want to embody is tough. It all feels even more complicated because work leaves so little extra time and energy for shopping from anywhere other than my usual mall retailers online. With this one purchase, I'm glad that the decision is simple: I'm supporting a small business, one that also happens to be woman-owned, and I'm buying something handmade in the US. The pieces I thought about are also more comfortably within my month to month budget than the other possible jewelry purchases I thought about these past few months, which is another big plus. I wanted to treat myself to something that felt a little indulgent, partially to sort-of celebrate a recent industry-wide raise even if I'll only benefit for a few weeks on this end, while still operating within the constraints of my monthly budget.

Whichever necklace I end up buying, it'll pop up in July's shopping budget. Kimberly's work really is beautiful and unique, and I highly recommend checking out her shop, whether on Etsy or her website, and her Instagram is lovely too. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

June Shopping Reflections



This was another shopping-heavy month for me, though I'm still a bit under my $170/month budget for the year so far. Because of the pay cut I'll be taking when I start my clerkship, I'm actually hoping to stay solidly under budget in future months, but we'll see what happens. 

I wasn't expecting to make another purchase at Grana (referral link: you get 10% off your first order and I get $20 in store credit if you make a purchase) quite this soon, but I ended up received some store credit when readers signed up (thank you so much!) and I thought the navy silk tops would be a nice addition to my work wardrobe. As I mention in my review of the silk raglan tee, the product measurements on Grana's website are generally accurate. I prefer the look of my "true size" raglan tee over the sized up ones I bought last month.  My other purchases were mostly summer clothing. I also made that off-budget work shoe purchase I mentioned last month.

I don't have much shopping planned for July, outside of picking up a black slip (maybe this one from Free People or this one) to wear under that Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress (similar, but I purchased mine on consignment from TheRealReal) I bought last year. I might do a review of that classic item sometime in the next few weeks, but my general impression is this: I might be a bit too busty for the DvF silk jersey wrap dresses despite sizing way up, so I always need at least a black camisole under mine. I also recently found that there was more than a moderate danger of wardrobe malfunction with the dress's skirt as well, hence my current search for a full slip. I might also be contemplating a jewelry purchase that I'll share later this week. It isn't that ring from Envero Jewelry on Etsy, but another "made in the USA" piece from a woman-owned business. The next post in my "Transitioning to the Workplace" series will go live next Tuesday. 

Fashion - (TOTAL: $109.37)
  • Grana: $39.00 + $49.00 = $88.00 - $40.00 (referral credit) = $48.00 
    • Grana Silk Raglan Tee, navy, S - I love this cropped, more casual design, see my review. Note, however, that this top is a bit boxy and doesn't tuck in that well, so one of Grana's new silk tees might be better for many work wardrobes. 
    • Grana Silk Classic Shirt, navy, S - While the product measurements for this are accurate, I find that the design of this one runs a slightly higher risk of gapping at the chest than the silk collarless shirt, despite somewhat similar measurements for size S. 
  • J. Crew Factory Striped Flounce Skirt - $25.67 - I reviewed this here. This is a nice and light all-cotton skirt with a cotton lining and it was a good way for me to experiment with the a-line midi skirt look. Do note that it's actually navy and white, not black and white, which makes J. Crew Factory's description misleading!
  • Lou & Grey Summer Kimono Cardigan - $35.70 - I purchased this linen and cotton blend cardigan because I needed another summer-weight cardigan for work. I also tried a cotton-viscose-silk blended Loft open cardigan, and while that was light enough for summer, I preferred the flowy look of this. One annoying detail: the allegedly removable waist tie is actually sewn in and not adjustable, so it dangles awkwardly when this cardigan is worn open. I'd think about cutting it off, but I also like wearing this cardigan closed.
  • Cole Haan Catalina Wedge - off budget - These are on sale most places, I ordered them for around $119 on Amazon only to realize that Nordstrom Rack still had my size for a fair bit cheaper after I already started wearing them. They run a half-size large, i.e. I'm a size 7.5 for almost every shoe, but I'm a 7 here. I find these extremely comfortable and they took no time to break in, unlike some of the comfier-looking Cole Haan flats I owned in the past. I actually have a heinous time breaking in Cole Haan round toe shoes, and I can't figure out why because they aren't especially narrow.

Beauty - (TOTAL: $32.66)
  • Hada Labo Gokyujun Hyaluronic Acid Lotion - $12.62 - I've lost track of how many times I've refilled this product because its been a staple in my skincare routine for ages. It isn't a miracle product, but it's a very reliable moisturizing toner that is good for adding an extra moisture boost to almost any skincare routine. 
  • Timeless 20% C + E + Ferulic Acid Serum - $15.04 - I typically use the Paula's Choice C15 Vitamin C serum, which has been good for my skin and helps with fading dark spots left over after acne heals up, but it sure is expensive! That $48 bottle only lasts me about five months of daily use in the morning. I've tried the Korean O.S.T. C20, which is cheaper, but broke me out. This Timeless C + E + Ferulic Acid Serum is a dupe for the ultra-ultra-pricey Skinceuticals C + E Ferulic Serum. Because the Timeless serum is quite concentrated, both the friend who recommended this product to me and I found that our skin had a hard time adjusting. My friend started out using this daily and had a huge breakout that disappeared as soon as she stopped, though she's no longer getting any adverse effects when using it every other day. I've been having some bad skin days due to work stress and I can't tell if testing out this Timeless serum every morning is a contributing factor. 
  • CosRx Acne Pimple Master Patch - $5.00 - I reviewed this product and explained how I use hydrocolloid bandages as part of my acne-fighting routine here. It's a staple product for me, and I find that it sticks better and is thus more useful than the Nexcare version that is more commonly found. Note, however, that both kinds only stick well on clean, dry skin with no other products applied. It might also be more cost-effective to purchase standard hydrocolloid "blister bandages" and cut them to size, but I need these pretty rarely so I'm fine with buying the CosRx or Nexcare ones once every few months. 

Linking up with Franish and the Budgeting Bloggers this month, as usual. Please do go and check out what everyone else bought!