Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Cost of a Year's Worth of Skincare

I overhauled, by which I mean significantly expanded, my skincare routine this past year after suddenly and rapidly becoming obsessed with learning about the Korean Skincare Routine. I have never had great skin, and had stuck with the same routine for years although it never quite worked for me, leaving me with patches of dry, peeling skin in the winter and with fairly frequent breakouts that would leave dark spots after the acne healed. Now that I have settled on a new routine that works fairly well for me, I have stopped buying new products and revisiting the Asian Beauty subreddit quite as often. Particularly as I am trying to be more thoughtful about my expenditures for the next year, I thought it would be useful to lay out how much my routine actually costs. (Note that this is not what I actually spent this year. I only really started building this routine in March, and ended up buying a good handful of other extra products that did not end up making it into my routine.) 

I am perhaps a bit surprised at how high the ultimate total is ($944.44 with all items at full price, and $807.24 when taking into account Missha's frequent generous promotions). However, I don't think my basic routine requires paring down for financial or budget reasons either. I use drugstore-range products most of the time (the Cerave, Cetaphil, and Vanicream, and the Biore and Hada Labo are drugstore items in Asia). Although many of my other products are fairly expensive, I use them because they work for me. In most instances, I have either done some research and determined that there wasn't a significantly cheaper alternative or personally tried both more and less expensive alternatives that did not work as well.

*indicates a product that goes on sale frequently, which should therefore not be purchased at full price (and in the case of Missha products, the discount is often 40% off or close to it) though I still used the full price for the purposes of this exercise 

Morning and Evening (Total: $420.21)
  • Cerave Foaming Cleanser - 1.5 bottles/year - $11.49/bottle - $17.24/year
  • Missha First Treatment Essence - 3 bottles/year - $49.00/bottle* - $147.00/year
  • Hada Labo Lotion - 3 bottles/year - $19.99/bottle - $59.97/year 
  • Missha Time Revolution Night Repair Ampoule - 4 bottles/year - 49.00/bottle* - $196.00/year

Morning Only (Total: $254.95) 
  • Paula's Choice 2% BHA Liquid - 2 bottles/year - $26.00/bottle - $52.00/year 
  • Paula's Choice Resist C15 Super Booster - 2.5 bottles/year - $48.00/bottle - $120.00/year
  • (Prescription) Clindamycin in Cetaphil Moisturizer - 4 bottles /year - $5.00/bottle - $20.00/year
  • Biore UV Perfect Face Milk Suncreen - 5 bottles a year - ~$12.59/bottle - $62.95/year 

Evening Only (Total: $269.28)
  • Cleansing Oil - 1 bottle/year - ~18.00/bottle* - $18.00/year
  • (Prescription) Trentinoin - 2 tubes/year - $15.00/tube - $30.00/year
  • Antioxidant Serum - 2 tubes/year - $34.00/tube - $68.00/year
  • Boscia Tsubaki Beauty Oil - 1 bottle/year - $46.00/bottle - $46.00/year 
  • Vanicream Moisturizer - 2 bottles/year - $13.49/bottle - $26.98/year 
  • Neem Oil - 0.5 bottle/year - $7.09/bottle - $3.55/year
  • Mario Badescu Buffering Lotion - 0.5 bottle/year - $19.00/bottle - $9.50/year
  • Sheet Masks - 5 boxes or 50 sheets/year - $13.45/box - $67.25/year

Total: $944.44
Total (with 40% off sale price on Missha Items): $807.24

I will likely write about my morning and evening skincare routines in quite some detail at a later date. Suffice to say, not everyone believes in or benefits from having such an extensive skincare routine. In terms of learning about skincare, I highly recommend Kerry's blog, Skin and Tonics. Most of the products that I have ever tried on Kerry's recommendation have been fantastic.

I am a particular fan of Paula's Choice, especially the 2% BHA liquid, which I think has done the lion's share of the work in significantly reducing my acne. Should anyone happen to be inspired to try Paula's Choice, I have a referral link which would net you a $10.00 discount on your order if you are a new customer (as well as net me a $10.00 credit). 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Personal Style Evolution (Part 1 of Many)

Early this year, a friend and I were talking about fashion and style and she mentioned that she was especially fond of a more "effortless," but still feminine and polished personal style like that of Sofia Coppola. That was a little bit difficult for me to wrap my head around. Of course, Sofia Coppola is both fabulous and fabulously dressed, but I couldn't imagine it being a look that one could easily pull off in real life. As my friend pointed out, while the look appears "effortless," like any polished look, it probably is far from it. For a look like that, clothes have to fit perfectly (no small feat for those of us on a graduate student's budget) and good hair and the right makeup are a must (neither of which is easy for me, at least, even with the wealth of tutorials that are available on Youtube). 

via Elements of Style
For me, there are also some body image issues wrapped up in the whole mess whenever I start thinking about personal style. I had, at times, wanted to adopt a simpler, less frilly and fussy aesthetic over the ruffles and bows-inclined mid-2000s J. Crew look that I had wholeheartedly embraced from 2008 until very recently, but a lot of the elements of a more aesthetically minimalist look are not necessarily flattering for my body shape. I am short, though just tall enough (almost 5'3'') and with a long enough torso and wide enough shoulders that petite clothing is not always the best fit. I am also quite curvy, with a chest measurement that is, strictly speaking, three sizes bigger than the rest of me  on most American mall-brand sizing charts. It isn't necessarily as disproportionate as it sounds, given how arbitrary sizing is in general, but certain popular cuts and styles are still completely off the table for me (including but not limited to backless dresses, anything that's overly slouchy, dresses that aren't structured, etc. etc.). The button-downs and looser-fitting tops that accompany the "minimalist" look are, therefore, something that I must approach with caution. 

Even so, as the months went by, my style seemed to be evolving organically towards that more minimalist aesthetic. I started buying simpler, daintier jewelry. I decided to get a simply designed Everlane Petra tote for work in the summer. I bought a slouchy but not too slouchy sweater in the fall and wore that more than the cardigans I used to pair with ruffled or printed tops (though I still like bright colors and prints). 

via Pinterest
All this is not to say that these changes came from conscious choices. There is clearly a trend towards a more minimalist look and I certainly acquired a lot of my new preferences from reading blogs and looking at retailers' websites. The way that I am currently embracing or trying to embrace a more minimalist look might be entirely at odds with trying to live a more minimalist life if I do not think carefully about my consumption habits. Spending as much time as I do on figuring out my new style preferences and shopping for the items to make it happen might be inherently incompatible with my larger goals of living a less cluttered life.

I don't have any answers yet, not about my personal style nor about how I should approach shopping and fashion in the coming months or years. All this is a work in progress. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Reading List: Overdressed and Deluxe

I have spent much of the last four days or so reading two books that touch on fashion and how its produced. Overdressed by Elizabeth Cline focuses primarily on fast fashion and spends more time discussing factories abroad while Deluxe by Dana Thomas mainly discusses luxury brands. One major takeaway is that, in most instances, not much separates fast fashion from many higher-end branded items when it comes to how products are made. For the most part, the differences all come down to marketing and how big the markups are.


Both books are enjoyable, quick reads that give a lot of food for thought to those of us who enjoy fashion and shopping. Because of its focus on how fast fashion is produced, Overdressed provides far more in the way of cautionary tales about conditions in factories, particularly those in Bangladesh. However, because the scale of the problem is such that there is not much the individual average consumer can do, it leaves one with a feeling of powerlessness.The main cautionary tale in Deluxe is about counterfeiting and  how counterfeit goods are made. That chapter in Deluxe is fairly brief, and I would have been interested in learning more. The lesson there is mainly not to buy counterfeit items.

I will be reflecting more on my consumption habits in the coming weeks as I try to lay out my plan for the year when it comes to clothing, accessory, and shoe purchases.  I plan to be a much more careful consumer and limit my patronage of places like H&M and Forever 21, but the exact contours of that are yet to be determined.

One other main takeaway from these books is that, as companies constantly look for new ways to cut costs, they end up sourcing their product from many different factories across the world, which naturally leads to highly inconsistent quality. I will certainly be paying more attention to the quality of what I'm getting when I go to the store, as best as I can within the constraints of my budget.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The (Slow) Process of Learning to Buy Less

I am still in the very early stages of my journey towards being a more thoughtful, possibly minimalist, consumer. At this point, I am still far from anything resembling a minimalist though I think I've come a decently long way in terms of being more thoughtful about my purchases in just the last three months or so. I am starting to think about the ethical and other problems surrounding fast fashion, though because of my budget and other considerations, it is likely that some of my shopping will continue to involve fast fashion retailers and products or companies with problematic practices. If nothing else, I generally intend to use my clothes for several years even if they come from Forever 21 or H&M and for the most part, I succeed. 

Still, I thought I would write about my thought process now when I ponder a new purchase, particularly as this is the season for sales and discounts, when I find temptation to be particularly acute. I have a long, long way to go, but I think the journey is worth talking about.

I have mixed experiences with Joe Fresh. I like a lot of the designs there and the brand's general propensity for the use of bright colors and prints. I have a lot of favorite pieces from there, including a marled open cardigan from around two-years ago that is still in great condition and would be very on trend if it were sold this year. I had a lovely printed sleeveless top which was suitable for both business casual and casual wear and I was devastated when I accidentally left it in a hotel somewhere at some point on my summer travels. I have also made some mistakes while shopping there, including buying a tweed-texture miniskirt I never wore before I donated it months later. 


I find a few of their sale items very tempting right now, not least because they happen to be on very deep discount. These are not really items that would fill holes I have already identified in my current wardrobe, but they would add to my work wardrobe in a way that could probably justify the price ($9.94 each).

They're both in the general genre of things that I enjoy wearing and that I put to good use. I like printed tops and silk tops like the one on the left, even ones from affordable brands like Uniqlo, and it looks like something I could tuck in a pencil skirt at work or wear casually, including on my upcoming summer trip to Asia. It isn't my favorite print, but is one that I could wear with a lot of things I own. The one on the right is polyester, but that has not historically been a problem for me, and I really do love the print. It would primarily be for work, and would require a camisole underneath, but I already own those for wearing with other clothes. The wrap top silhouette might not, however, be as flattering on me, particularly as it seems quite blouse-y and not at all fitted on the model. In the end, I think the one on the right could be eliminated. Shipping would also cost $8.00 and I really don't need more tops... For now, I've decided to stick to my goals of only buying things I planned rather than giving in to impulse.

Full disclosure, I cannot absolutely guarantee that I won't still make a purchase. Having gone through this thought process and given that they don't seem to do free shipping, I do think that this is very unlikely, and that it would just be the silk shirt if I change my mind. 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Thinking About What's Important: Travel

This past summer, I went on a rather indulgent two and a half week European vacation with some dear college friends of mine. It was incredible and I deeply enjoyed the trip, but I was wracked by guilt about how much it cost. I went to the south of France, Capri, Rome, Santorini, Mykonos, and Dubrovnik. Neither my friends nor I thought too much about what a more efficient route would be and because summer is naturally high season in most of these destinations, it was more expensive than any other trip I had ever taken or any trip that I can expect to take anytime soon.

I could afford it, technically. I had worked at a fairly lucrative paid internship this summer and earned enough both to cover the somewhat extravagant trip, a new work wardrobe (bought almost entirely at additional 40% off sale at Loft and Ann Taylor, so not the biggest expense, but an expense nonetheless), replacing my computer earlier than I thought I would need to (on the even of a final exam that had to be taken on a computer, no less), and the financial shortfall at the end of the previous school year because I had taken an unpaid internship the summer before. Even so, I felt guilty about not saving more or about trying to reduce my student loans for the next year. That I technically could afford it did not make it a good idea given that I am still a student who will have taken on six figures in student loans when I graduate this coming spring. All this is to say, this was not a financial decision that I would recommend anyone else in my position make, ever. If I could go back and do it again, I wouldn't, even knowing how much I truly did enjoy it, how once in a lifetime it all was.

The whole experience, both the trip itself and the guilt I felt leading up to it and afterwards, makes me think about what is important to me what is worth it to me. I am privileged enough to be in a position to make choices to splurge on some things even if I have to pick and choose a bit. I am grateful for that, appreciative. I also often find myself motivated by wanting to buy more expensive clothes and accessories (not everything, but just a few things) so there was at least a question of whether I could have not taken the trip and bought a nice handbag or some other fashion thing for myself instead. I would ultimately have saved money that way (though neither approach would have been particularly wise). 

As much as I really, really like and am really, really tempted by shiny things, mostly handbags but sometimes clothes and jewelry, the trip was worth more to me than those things. Capri, Santorini, and Mykonos especially were all lovely places, very unlike anywhere I had ever been before. I had more than my fill of swimming in clear, calm ocean water (one of the top things on the list of things I seek out when traveling) and beautiful scenery. I ate well, including pasta that was one of the best things I have ever had in my life (and I really, really do not like pasta normally) even while we were definitely not trying to splurge overly much on dining during this trip. I even got a bit of shopping in and bought some items that filled holes I had consciously identified in my wardrobe, but never filled until then. 

I cannot say for sure if I will have that many more opportunities to take such a long trip in the forseeable future. I will have one opportunity after graduating and before I start work, but after that it will be hard to take even two weeks of vacation at a time. I have always considered travel-related expenses more "worth it" than many people my age (cabs rather than public transportation, etc.). While my decisions on that count are not always wise, the value they bring to my life is worth the cost to me. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The "Zara" Blanket Scarf

One of my main goals going forward is to be more conscious and intentional about my purchases. For the last few months, I have done my best to think about what the gaps in my current wardrobe are and to only buy things that might fill those gaps. I recently gave in to impulse, arguably, and bought an imitation of a Zara tartan blanket scarf from last year (you know the one). I could, of course, also argue that I had been seeing it around on various blogs for quite a while, so I was technically thinking about it for a few weeks before I pulled the trigger... but that is perhaps besides the point.

I am actually really happy with the purchase. The price was right, of course, and I do not feel bad about buying an imitation of an item that is well and truly discontinued. I am petite in terms of height and have a top-heavy build that often doesn't do well with chunkier scarves, yet I feel like this blanket scarf works for me. It is bulky, but not too bulky. I found the color scheme a bit odd and worried that it wouldn't match well with the colors I usually wear, but it has done well with the vast majority of my winter outfits. I should mention that I have tried on the real thing in a different color at Zara and while I don't think there are any differences to the look of the scarf (the size or the general appearance of the fabric), I think the Zara one might be made of slightly heavier material.

I like my new scarf enough that I'm thinking of pulling the trigger again, on another color that should be more versatile and match even better with my wardrobe. I am a bit leery of purchasing from Aliexpress, a site I have no experience with. This particular red and navy color made much less of a splash online than last year's camel-colored one, so I haven't found many alternative sources. (As with the other scarf, the Zara version appears to be sold out.)