Sunday, March 29, 2015

Shopping Budget Update and Assorted Thoughts

The best teapots ever at Sunrise Mart in the East Village. 

First things first, I'm revisiting my earlier decision not to set a firm number on my shopping budget. Although I still have trouble predicting my needs (and reasonable wants), and have some trepidation about my ability to stick to a concrete budget, I now realize that it makes sense to have a maximum amount in mind each month. After all, there are real limits on how much I could and should spend each year. 

To that end, a maximum budget of $250/month ($3000/year) for clothes and accessories should be right for me. The amount should stay the same after I start work. When I go over, like I did in February, I will try to make up for it in future months. I will probably roll over any extra to future months. If I make any money from selling old items, I generally won't add that income back into my shopping budget. In practice, I hope that I spend significantly under that amount in the next few months. After my purchases last month, I don't need much for spring or summer. I'll be spending most of my time at home, studying, which means that I don't need anything new.

Cha-An is one of my favorite places. They don't take reservations and it is likely quite difficult to get a table for more than two.

The weather is finally starting to warm up in NYC, though it has yet to really feel like Spring. There was even a sprinkling of snow yesterday, which displeased me greatly. I've actually been to the tailor and had the Anthropologie Baikal dress hemmed. I was slightly shocked by the price ($110 with a coupon), though I believe it was a fair one for hemming a formal dress with a full lining, at least in NYC. Next time, I will admittedly shop around a bit more.

Most of my recent NYC food adventures were in the East Village, as usual. Cha-An is a lovely tea shop, with a good tea selection and a good selection of desserts. They also serve some light savory dishes, but I've never had any of those. Portions of food are dainty, though.

Dinner at Hakata Hot Pot. Most of the volume under the layer of thinly sliced pork belly comes from cabbage. Once the whole thing cooks, liquid is released from the cabbage and the pork, and then it looks a bit more like the hot pots that I'm used to.

Hakata Hot Pot seems to be a fairly new restaurant. The space is tiny, and they actually serve the same menu at the adjacent Sushi Lounge. (K and I made our reservation for Hakata, but were seated in the Sushi Lounge space.) We tried the okonomiyaki and one of their signature hot pots, and both dishes were great and moderately priced by NYC standards.

I decided to get myself a domain name, so the blog is now at I'm hoping that the transition to the new domain name does not result in problems with Feedly and Bloglovin subscriptions, though it remains to be seen. I had to fiddle a bit with Disqus too, to get it working.  

Friday, March 27, 2015

March Shopping Reflections

Most of the items I bought this month were for my upcoming trip to Asia. After my trip last year, I had many thoughts on what an ideal summer vacation wardrobe would be, and most of my shopping this month was in keeping with those ideas. As it turns out, I might not be going to any beach resort destinations at all this year in favor of more urban locations, which makes some of my items less useful. I will use these items eventually. Among other things, a friend is having a wedding in the Caribbean in March 2016 (I've already started setting aside money for travel and bridesmaid expenses), so it is no great loss.

I also committed to potentially buying a pair of Bean Boots whenever they have my size in stock again, but I won't put that in a budget until they charge me, or perhaps when I decide to keep the item in question. I probably won't need to list them until July at the earliest. 

Outside of that, I think I've already covered almost everything I need for summer, and  I've skipped over more spring-like clothes almost entirely. My closet is already amply stocked with things that are suitable for spring weather in NYC. In terms of shopping for the rest of the season, I will be looking for a maxi dress and perhaps a pair of new jeans to replace my very worn ones from Uniqlo. 

Fashion - (TOTAL: $233.40)
  • Kate Spade Saturday Card and Coin Pouch - $21.00 - I wanted a small leather wallet that could hold some cards and a little cash to use with a purse that struggled to fit my usual wallet. This one fit the bill. I had never shopped at Kate Spade Saturday before and it recently closed. The quality of the leather and lining is only so-so, it would not have been worth full price. 
  • J. Crew Beach Tunic - $40.99* - I spent some time looking on Ebay, but ultimately opted to get this one during a sale. 
  • Freya Spirit Lace Underwire Bikini - $47.75* - A bit expensive for swimwear, but I do need a fairly specialized size (and an underwire) to feel comfortable. Bikinis in my size aren't common, and having one I like go on sale is truly rare.  
  • Everlane Ryan Tank in Gray - $20.00 - These are nice. I agree with Les Anti Modernes's favorable review
  • Everlane Ryan Tank in White - $20.00 - See above. 
  • Keds Crashback Slip-on in Pop Stripe - $24.95 - I wanted to test out the slip-on sneaker trend. I like these and now I wonder if I should have spent a little more on a more versatile solid-color one, but these should serve me well through the summer.
  • Loft Drop Shoulder Open Cardigan - $29.99 - I needed a black cardigan, and after trying a few others over the last several months, this one was the best fit for me. 
  • Loft Floral Peasant Blouse - $28.72 - I mentioned that I don't generally like most business-casual blouses with sleeves, but the print made this one a good choice for me. I only really look good in this one if I tuck it into a skirt, however. 
* indicates that shipping is included in the price

Beauty - (TOTAL: $43.00)
  • Nars Pure Radiant Tinted Moisturizer - $43.00 - I had to replace this (my staple foundation) a few weeks earlier than planned. On weekends, I generally stay with K, and my other tube disappeared sometime while I was going back and forth one weekend. We cannot figure out how I lost it. 

Linking up with Franish and other Budgeting Bloggers this month. Be sure to head over and check them out!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Thinking About... Maxi Dresses

Maxi dresses are one of those things that I've shopped for several times over the years without any success. I really like the idea of having one for summer, though, and I am adding it to my shopping list for the coming spring/summer season. 

My proportions (busty, top-heavy figure) make dress shopping generally difficult. With maxi dresses, my lack of height (5'3'', but shorter of leg and a touch longer of torso than average) adds another complicating factor. I've had so little luck so far that I'm not sure I actually expect to be successful in finding one this year either. I could potentially settle on a midi-length dress instead, perhaps. 

I feel extraordinarily picky, but over time and with considerable experience trying things on, there are a lot of common design details that are almost guaranteed not to work for me. My criteria are as follows:
  • No drop-waist. Because of both my height and general body shape, they generally don't look good on me, particularly with a floor-length skirt.
  • I'm also cautious about smocked or elasticized waists, even those meant to hit at the natural waist. The resulting blouse-y effect can lend to a slightly preposterous boob-tent look on me.
  • Generally no ruffle details or other embellishments at the hem because that could make hemming (likely a necessity) more difficult. This doesn't seem like a big common issue with current-season items. 
  • Because I would like to wear any maxi dress that I buy on trips to hot, humid places I'd prefer summer-friendly fabrics like cotton and maybe viscose or modal rather than polyester
  • However, super-unstructured tee-shirt dress designs often don't work well on me either, which might make my fabric preferences more difficult to accommodate. 
  • Strapless, halter top, and even some spaghetti straps and other necklines are not suitable because they won't work with my bras. Very open backs or overly deep v necks would have the same problem. 

I've actually spent a lot of time browsing the Loft, Gap, Old Navy, and J.Crew online stores and only the pictured dress seemed to have potential. The neckline is a bit open, but from reading reviews and because its Loft, I suspect that it wouldn't be too bad. I'll be waiting on the next flash sale. In the meantime, I might look to Ebay instead, and I am certainly fully prepared for the possibility of not finding anything suitable this year. Any recommendations that you might have would, of course, be welcome!

In other blog news, I recently installed Disqus because I noticed that Blogger's anti-spam mechanisms for comments didn't seem to cooperate with some browsers. I haven't quite figured out how to place the comment count text where it used to be, but am otherwise happy with Disqus so far. I also enabled the feature that allows non-Disqus registered users to comment by leaving a name/URL/email.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Things I Didn't Buy

In the last few weeks, I've been thinking less about shopping. It's something that some minimalist bloggers describe as a welcome and natural side effect of their approaches (The Nife en L'air alludes to it in this post and has described it in other posts), though I never imagined that anything resembling it could happen to me. Yes, I try to apply  minimalist principles, but my primary motivations are decidedly "un-minimalist": (1) managing my finances and (2) a desire to buy fewer but nicer things while still respecting my budget constraints. My motivations are, in short, still about acquiring stuff. 

Online window-shopping is one of my tried and true ways of whiling away free time or time spent in boring classes (not a good habit, I know). I like clothes and pretty things, so I derive enjoyment from browsing, even when I had no interest in buying. In the past few weeks, I've found myself window-shopping less and less. It's become a bit boring. Because I don't generally go shopping in person, despite being a New Yorker with easy public transit access to most shops, it means that I haven't been shopping much at all. 

Of course, I would be speaking too soon if I actually claimed to have fully entered a state of mind where I don't shop. So far this year, I've been less productive than I hoped with working out (I blame the harsh winter), cooking, and reading, which, when combined with my graduate student senioritis, results in a lot of underutilized time. In the past, I sometimes use dshopping (especially at Sephora online) to deal with stress or boredom. This time, after a two-week or so period of not window-shopping, I found myself getting antsy, which resulted in my filling shopping carts at both Uniqlo and Loft's online shops. 

Most of these items were things that I could enjoy and use, provided they fit well, but none of them complied with my shopping fast rules. You'll notice that I generally do some ex post facto rationalizing about my purchases, but that would have required more stretching than usual. The vast majority of the items didn't work, and the whole experience of shopping again just for the sake of browsing and buying wasn't much fun.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Review: On My Own Two Feet

I've been thinking about personal finances recently as I plan out my monthly student loan payments for my first few months in the working world. Also, that position I received through all those interviews is fellowship-like and will result in a pay-cut for the year, which makes getting my finances together more crucial. On the recommendation of my college alum Facebook group, I recently read On My Own Two Feet by Manisha Thakor and Sharon Kedar. It is a personal finance book geared towards young women, though the advice is gender-neutral. I enjoyed it (its concise and is an incredibly fast read) and recommend it for other young adults. I wish I had read it when I was still in college or shortly after graduation. There are, however a few caveats to my recommendation. 

First, the book is definitely geared towards beginners. Current college students and very recent graduates have the most to gain from it. Although my personal finance knowledge has some gaping holes, I am probably someone who was moderately sophisticated when it came to personal finance even before reading the book. I knew a bit about US personal income tax already (i.e. the difference between a tax credit and a deduction and a bit about itemized deductions versus the standard deduction). I haven't done any investment or saving for retirement, but was aware of many of the basics. In that light, many chapters of the book were not too useful. The updated student loan chapter is not that helpful from the perspective of someone who keeps up to date on the relevant information (interest rate, when deferment ends, etc.) regarding their loans.

Second, the book is geared towards readers in the United States. This might go without saying when it comes to any book in this genre. Some of the parts that were new to me concerned insurance, the potential calculations when buying a home or a car, and how to approach investing. While I lack specific knowledge of what those things look like outside the US, these details are likely very country-specific.

Third, the book does include some good investment tips that are probably still relevant to more sophisticated investors. Their main tip with regards to investments is to look primarily to passively managed index funds because on average and over time the returns on those are often better than those from more actively managed funds while charging lower fees. (Playing with individual stocks is, of course, risky for those without specialized knowledge.) While these tips might sound very basic, a lot of the more experienced investors in those alum Facebook groups generally stick to the same tips when people ask for investment advice, so there must be something to it.

I was at least gratified to see that I have already taken some of the first steps they recommend: I have started tracking my budget carefully, setting aside an "emergency fund," and plan to save the maximum for retirement that I can under US tax law in my first year of work, though things get more complicated (and I will have to save less) during my fellowship. As an aside, I suspect (and hope) that I'll be doing a lot less shopping in the next few months.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Minor Mistake

When I first reviewed Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I mentioned that I was already an old hand at cleaning out my closet. I had already been accustomed to going through my closet every few months and following tips like those found on Into Mind to identify what could be donated or thrown away. I never made a single "mistake" in terms of accidentally getting rid of something and eventually regretting it. After reading Kondo's book, I've become a bit more aggressive with my tidying-up, and that has recently resulted in my first real mistake while getting a bit overzealous with putting together my next Thredup bag last week.

I bought the pictured Ann Taylor top about a year ago and wore it a few times, mostly to work during the summer. It isn't a very summery color or style, but it was light enough in texture. It definitely didn't pass muster under Kondo's "does it spark joy" criteria. Practically every time I wore it, I noticed how the satiny-textured polyester of the front panel (the back panel was a different more viscose-textured material) seemed to attract stains from antiperspirant and who knows what else at a remarkable rate. The embellished neck didn't work that well with many of my necklaces. I wear many black skirts to work, and I found that I didn't like the navy and blue combination much. Into the Thredup bag it went.

Now, however, I find myself thinking (for several days in a row) about whether I made a mistake. I didn't love the top, but I suspect that it is normal enough for one's work wardrobe to be stocked with quite a few items one doesn't love, for necessity's sake. I would still have worn it to work with reasonable frequency and I can't guarantee that the next Ann Taylor or Loft work top I buy (at an average price of $25 or so each) would be better than this one. 

Given how long I've been editing my closet and how many pieces I've gotten rid of, this isn't exactly a cautionary tale. I still have close to a 99% success rate, most likely. (I never counted how many pieces I sent away, so I can't be scientific about the numbers!) Have you ever regretted throwing away, donating, or selling anything while editing your closet? 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Review: The Laundress Products


Earlier this year, I mentioned that one of my personal style resolutions was to start taking better care of my clothing and to use alternatives to dry-cleaning whenever possible. I still dry-clean my suit separates and some of my nicer dresses (and am still a bit leery of putting "dry-clean only" labeled viscose items through the wash). Otherwise, I now machine-wash many a polyester or cotton business-casual dress that I previously thought was dry-clean only and hand-wash all of my sweaters and silk tops. I've been using products from The Laundress for about two months now, and I thought it'd be a good time for a review.

I picked up the Stain Solution and the All-Purpose Bleach Alternative to use in combination to try and freshen up some well-loved white clothes that had gotten progressively dingier over the last few years of normal machine-washing. I confess that I'm not always the biggest stickler for separating most of my lights and darks, outside of keeping red items and white items separate.

The instructions recommend making a paste of the Stain Solution and Bleach Alternative and applying it to stains before soaking the item in hot water. I've used the mixture on antiperspirant stains and other marks on silk tops, cotton tees, and polyester-blend dresses, and it has done a good job with everything, with a few small exceptions. I had one cotton skirt with some mysterious stains of unknown age and origin (a previous dry-cleaning didn't get rid of the stains either), and the Stain Solution-Bleach Alternative blend wasn't able to get it out either. When I purchase from The Laundress again, I might want to buy the Wash and Stain Bar to see if it makes a difference on particularly set-in stains.

For whites clothes, I then rinse out the stain-removal mixture and soak the item again in hot water and the Bleach Alternative before eventually throwing the item into the washing machine with my next load of laundry. Combining the two steps was enough to brighten up the white clothes that had gone dingy. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

On Finances and Aspirational Shopping


My friends and I sometimes chat about wealth in the context of our classmates at graduate school. I'll be the first to confess that I think about these things a lot more than is entirely polite or sensible: what people are wearing, what people are buying, and what I might like to buy in order to "keep up" (usually in terms of things I might wear to work). The costs of tuition and costs of living in NYC are both substantial. It is probably natural enough that I am insatiably curious about how people can afford certain things such as living in a more desirable neighborhood far away from student housing, an Equinox membership supplemented by a generous dose of SoulCyle classes, a Celine bag here, a pair of Charlotte Olympia shoes there, and a few Theory dresses just because it was a bad day (each of these things refers to a different person). It is probably not at all classy of me to wonder about these things, but I confess that I can't help it. 

Sometimes that thinking and speculation might start to look like judgement and, implicitly, a desire to shame or take the moral high ground. I would never, by the way, actually claim the moral high ground on anything consumption related. I took one long European vacation as a student, knowing full well that I live largely on loans. It wasn't wise. I own at least a few expensive items while my loans render my net worth solidly in the red to the tune of... well I won't get into specifics. What I can say is, it will be at least a half decade before I can conceivably finish paying off my student loans. That is a very ambitious timeline.

So I don't ever mean to imply my own moral superiority when it comes to these questions. I look closely at my budget daily and look even closer before making major spending decisions, some of which are still less wise than others. I am comfortable with the decisions I make for myself. I know that I cannot fully know and don't have the right to know about anyone else's finances.


Relatedly, I am also not immune to the desire to consume in order to aspire to be someone else, to fake it 'til I make it. My own experiences with heart-stopping, "what did I just do" expenditures were not at the Rick Owens leather jacket price point. Sometimes, even a Longchamp tote (purchased at a much cheaper price than the American MSRP in London while the GBP was weak that semester I studied abroad, I'll have you know) can embody something much like the "distillation of everything [one has] ever found seductive about not only living in [insert setting of choice here] but the prospect of belonging there, too." Sometimes a too expensive for you normally item can make you "feel thinner, taller, and infinitely more interesting." That's certainly what the marketers want.

It isn't a good thing to give in to that advertising and image-driven impulse, that much is obvious. What I mean to say, though, is that I understand it all too well, even if my price point and the items I long for are different. Some people I've talked to about this beg to differ, but even if my dream item is something like a Theory sheath dress or suit, that desire to shop to become a newer, better version of yourself still comes from the same place.

Can any of you relate to that article I linked about the Rick Owens leather jacket? Do any of you sometimes find yourselves curious about classmates' shopping? Maybe I am alone in overthinking these things. I do admit that it all comes from a place of relative financial privilege...

All photos via Pinterest. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Shopping Decisions: Winter Boots

via Pinterest

It's finally starting to warm up here in New York City, which might make this post untimely. This winter has thoroughly challenged my previous assumption that a pair of rainboots and some leather boots are a sufficient winter shoe wardrobe. While friends living in places with harsher winters (in both temperature and snowfall terms) might derive amusement from how fussy I get about NYC winters, having warm dry feet for those relatively brief walks to and from the train does have considerable benefits for one's winter-time comfort.  

I'm planning out some of my major fashion purchases for the remainder of the year. One such purchase will likely be a pair of more substantial winter boots. For now, I've tentatively settled on the L.L. Bean duck boots with Goretex and Thinsulate. I actually ordered last week, which seems dramatically premature given that spring will come soon (fingers crossed). It seems premature until one notices that my size is backordered until June 29. I feel as if the Bean boots were already somewhat "trendy" in my college days (Uggs were the dominant winter boot, though). Very recently, they have encountered a new surge of popularity. For those interested in pre-ordering, it looks like they won't charge my credit card until closer to the shipping date. I won't formally list them in one of my monthly budgets until I get charged. 

I have some reservations about my purchase. I've heard a lot about the declining quality of the materials, though the company still manufactures in Maine. That being said, at least one of the alternatives I considered is almost as expensive and seems to have worse quality. I thought about buying a true snow boot from Sorel, but despite all my complaints about slushy sidewalks and cold feet, I don't think NYC conditions require true snow boots. I'd like my boots to also be suitable for less cold, less slushy days. Some reviews suggest that the Sorel boots might be heavy and difficult to walk in. The Sorel boots are cheaper, however, which could be a serious consideration, especially if the Bean boots prove to be of poor quality. If I don't like the Bean boots when they arrive, I can of course, return them.

As an aside regarding rainboots for winter, I recommend both the Tretorn and Lug brands (both go on sale on MyHabit frequently, resulting in a price of roughly $40 or $25/pair respectively). The only other brand I've tried is Target, which I do not recommend because they crack after approximately one season of wear. On the off chance that anyone has winter boot recommendations, I would love to hear them!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Dreaming of Tropical Vacations

Pictured products from J. Crew. The beach tunic, which I purchased recently on additional 40% off, is here. I can't personally vouch for J. Crew bikinis because they don't carry ones in my bra size, but mine is also navy with polka-dots.

New York City continued its snowy, slushy, and bitterly cold winter last week, but I've consoled myself by starting to plan my trip to Asia, which will take place in August after I take my licensing exams. I'll have almost two months free before starting my full-time job, and I'm spending half of that abroad before I come back to look for an apartment and prepare to enter the working world. It won't be as spendy as my last vacation because I've learned to better manage my finances. At the same time, I do balance the budgeting against how it will probably be my last opportunity to take a major trip for quite some time. 

I'm far from the first person to have learned a few lessons about the possible applicability of minimalism to one's closet during international travel. When I went to Europe last summer, I packed a US-sized carryon (which I belatedly learned might be larger than an international-sized carryon) quite lightly, with a good amount of room to spare, and found that I'd actually brought too much. I kept cycling back to half of the items I packed: a quarter were unsuitable because I underestimated the heat, and I just didn't feel like wearing the rest. It is premature to start planning my packing list for my next trip, but I did learn a few lessons last summer about how to pack for hot-weather vacations. 

Some of these tips might be commonsense, but I was a fairly experienced traveler (having spent several long stints in very hot, very humid  East Asian summers) before my trip last year and some of these were a surprise to me. Another recent post on the topic from another blog can be found here

Packing Tips for Travel in Hot and Humid Climates (in rough order of importance):
  • You need fewer clothes than you think. I haven't quite figured out a perfect formula for how much to bring, but if I had realized how many times I could comfortably re-wear the breezier, swim cover-up type pieces, I would have packed less. 
  • Bring enough sunscreen. I'm always slightly shocked at how marked-up sunscreen can be in resort-y destinations. Also, if you have a preference for higher SPFs, those can be more difficult to find in some parts of the world. For instance, products with SPFs of 8 were rather common in Europe and the highest SPFs were generally in the 30s. (It might not be scientifically necessary, but I personally prefer SPFs in the 50s. I'm also very particular about facial sunscreen.) 
  • Avoid polyester. I learned this the hard way when even skimpy polyester dresses and tank tops proved to be highly uncomfortable. Pack mainly natural fibers like cotton and silk if possible. I also find that viscose and modal seem fine in very hot weather. 
  • Avoid clothing made with too much material and be careful of linings (even cotton ones). I have a lovely heavily pleated and pin-tucked J. Crew skirt made entirely of light cotton fabric. However, I found it to be too heavy last summer despite the lining also being made of cotton. Maybe this is obvious, but sometimes lighter clothes are better.
  • Light summer-weight cotton sweaters and shawls might, however, still be useful. Some vacation destinations might involve sightseeing at temples that require covering up the shoulders. Urban destinations (Hong Kong especially) might involve long periods spent in heavily air-conditioned interiors.
  • Will you need a beach towel? In Europe and a past trip to Puerto Rico, where I stayed in a cheap hostel, packing a beach towel would have been extremely helpful, as they were heavily marked up. In Southeast Asia, many moderately priced hotels in beach areas happily provide beach towels. 

Friday, March 6, 2015

On Quality

via Pinterest

Many people have discussed the trend of the declining quality of clothing. I even personally know it to be true: J. Crew is a frequently-cited example, and that's consistent with my experience, where things that I bought five years ago are still going strong while new silk tops and sweaters at the store are of noticeably worse quality. 

Yet I've never found that clothes, even those from the most fast fashion of retailers (like Forever 21) are particularly low quality. I can probably count on one hand the number of items that I have discarded solely because low quality led to them getting prematurely destroyed by normal washing or wear and tear: There was a pencil skirt from Banana Republic that, in hindsight, felt lower-quality than their usual at the time of purchase (like an outlet item that they accidentally put on the racks at a "normal" store, if that happens). Then there was a pair of red skinny jeans from Forever 21 that stretched out dramatically on the first wash. Furthermore, I've only ever had one item actually shrink in the wash: a J. Crew wool cardigan that would have been fine if I hand-washed it instead. Considering that I've been shopping for almost a decade (and primarily at the likes of Target and Forever 21), it isn't too bad. It certainly isn't enough evidence to substantiate an epidemic of profoundly noticeable declining quality.

Outside of those examples, I've found that those fast fashion clothes all seem to be of fine enough quality. Things that I wear very frequently (sometimes more than once a week throughout most seasons of the year) generally last for nearly three years at least. Things that I wear less frequently seem to last almost indefinitely: I get rid of them because I get tired of the styles, not because of signs of wear.  Maybe it helps that I machine wash all my clothes with cold water and line-dry most items? Beyond that, isn't it natural that clothes start showing their wear with a few years of semi-frequent use? 

I guess what I'm getting at is that I really don't know what the "quality" of earlier days actually looks like. I agree that true quality, whether of materials or construction, likely requires higher retail prices, as explained in books like Deluxe and Overdressed. Yet, if most fast fashion survives three, four, even five plus years of wear without showing dramatic damage, on what basis is that kind of "quality"meaningfully different from more elevated types? I imagine that the average fashion-conscious consumer could conceivably get tired of an item long before it wears out. Essentially, I'm wondering if the concept of truly timeless "quality" I read about and sometimes aspire to might be a bit of an elusive concept. (It is also not easily accessible without significant disposable income.)

Make no mistake, I still feel considerable responsibility to cut down on my consumption of fast fashion, though I also talk often about the budget constraints that could get in the way. Additionally, in the contemporary retail environment where expensive brands also try to cut costs, price is certainly no guarantor of quality (the comments on both posts I linked earlier include many examples). It can be frustrating to be a consumer that values quality and more ethical production because even when one is willing and able to pay, it seems to be very difficult to identify truly high-quality brands and collect information about how items are produced. 

In closing, I have a few questions that might present some food for thought: How long do you expect your clothes to last? How often do you throw away clothes because of quality issues? How old are the items you throw away? Have you noticed problems with declining quality at the retailers that you frequently go to? 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Wear to Work: Expressing Identity

This post about workplace dress is partially inspired by posts from Out of the BagBlue Collar Red Lipstick, and on The Cut.

I rambled quite a bit about how I approach dressing for work in my comment on Out of the Bag's post. In sum: I make what I consider visibly different-from-average fashion choices at work (I dress more colorfully and in slightly more casual silhouettes) and I do so to express something about myself (that my personality is a little more good-humored and less stern than possible stereotypes about my field might suggest). That set of choices could possibly conflict with other aspects of my personality at work, namely with how I take work extremely seriously and want to be judged solely on the merits of my work.

All those considerations need to be taken in context of how I am actually fairly certain that it is entirely unnecessary to expend that much thought on how I dress, at least at this particular office. Because my office has a fairly permissive business casual dress code, I am entirely free to indulge in my desire to dress in "casual business casual," often with bring colors and/or loud prints except on days where there is an important meeting. Although I pulled out the business casual sooner than any other intern, I was never, by any stretch of the imagination, the most colorfully or the most casually dressed woman at the workplace. Because I still lean towards fairly conventional cuts and silhouettes, I will never be the most fashionable woman at work either.  

Carrie Mathison from Homeland also dresses very professionally, though in a much less deliberate and feminine way than Claire Underwood from House of Cards. Carrie's style is probably consistent with The Cut's characterization of Samantha Power's wardrobe: dresses professionally and appropriately, but not in a way that suggests being "way too busy to give a crap."

Despite any possible thoughts I might have on the obstacles to equality for women at work in general and in my industry in particular, I am fully confident that, at my large company, no women is ever held back or at all negatively affected by what she chooses to wear to work. No person, male or female, ever commented on any woman's manner of dress in a negative way. Women sometimes chat amongst themselves to compliment this or that item of clothing (a no strings attached, no underlying implications compliment) or to express a wish to buy something similar.

If left completely to my own devices and entirely without other people's opinions to consider, I would probably dress like Emma Pillsbury from Glee.

That we don't have to worry about what we wear to work probably makes us quite lucky. Women in the public eye get arguably sexist scrutiny about their clothes all the time. There are industries that exert stronger pressure on women employees than men when it comes to what is and isn't an acceptable manner of dress. While that particular article argues that women in tech are becoming more free to dress fashionably, friends in the tech industry comment that if they were to adopt my "pencil skirts and ruffled printed tops" wardrobe in their office, they could well be seen as one of the "girls in marketing" rather than as serious computer scientist types.

Although I hope that few women in contemporary times could attribute any career setbacks or other problems to what they wore at work, dressing for the office is something that naturally causes some anxiety. Even if career problems don't arise directly from what one wears, it is very normal to feel some pressure to conform or to dress a certain way.

Friends in my field who work at smaller, male-dominated offices also report feeling more scrutinized. I can only speculate on why that would be the case, but the office must be more difficult to navigate when most co-workers are men. In some instances, it feels like a more cautious course would be to dress more formally, in jackets and suits, and to stick to more conventional colors like gray and navy. That style of dress might have some parallels to Claire Underwood's wardrobe in House of Cards, which the costume designer describes as being "about looking good but not standing out." 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Review: Selling Clothes on Thredup

I sent more items to Thredup than I did to Twice. With all of these items, the bag was only half full.

Edited 3/11 - I didn't realize that they charge a 2% fee to cash out to Paypal until today.

Edited 3/25 - You can see the payout for my second bag here. I am a little less pleased with the payout here, though it is, of course, understandable because I sent lower-value and fewer items. The only thing they rejected was a pair of like-new shoes from Nordstrom that might, admittedly, not be on their approved brands list. This time around, Thredup was also much faster, and processed my bag in about a week.

Edited 5/19 - It looks like Thredup is changing their payout structure, which will likely result in lower payouts for sellers.

Edit 2016 - Twice is now defunct, so the comparison between them and Thredup is no longer useful. I've also found over time, with more recent Thredup bags, that they are pickier now (which is understandable, given all the items that they're sent) and payouts do indeed tend to be lower.

Thredup finally got back to me with their offer late last week, which means that I can actually compare my Thredup and Twice experiences with fuller knowledge of both. There are definite pros and cons selling on either site. My post on the Twice selling experience can be found here. I can't say for sure that I would strongly prefer one resale place over the other, but because Thredup accepts more types of items and brands overall, I am much more likely to try Thredup again in the near future. 

$54.58, with a 2% fee if you choose Paypal rather than store credit. You can check out my bag here.

I was initially very concerned that Thredup would have extremely strict quality guidelines (both from their stated policy and anecdotes from some classmates) that would result in many of my items being rejected. I was pleasantly surprised, however, by how many things they took. Everything I sent was in very good, like new, or new condition, but given my experience with Twice, I expected at least a bit of arbitrariness to the quality control process. Thredup rejected an Ann Taylor pencil skirt (worn more often than the other items), the faux-fur H&M scarf/collar (kind of dated), and a polka dot Forever 21 top (kind of old). 

The things I liked about Thredup:
  • The accept more brands. I have many H&M items that I never got around to wearing and it feels like a pity to just donate everything when there might be a little bit of resale value left. Twice doesn't accept H&M or Forever 21.
  • They accept more accessories. Twice accepts handbags (and shoes), but not scarves or belts. 
  • Their quality control might well be less arbitrary than Twice. This is surprising because it is the opposite from what one expects when reading their respective policies. I was shocked by some of the items Twice rejected, while I can see where Thredup is coming from with each of their rejections. 
  • Anecdotally, though I can't verify this personally because I sent more expensive items to Twice than Thredup, payouts might also be a little higher on Thredup
The things I liked less about Thredup: 
  • They're so much slower. I understand that Thredup is the much bigger website and that it handles a much wider selection. However, I initiated the process with Twice almost a week after I initiated the process with Thredup. It might take another 10 days before my Paypal payout goes through, while I got my payout from Twice last week.
  • Relatedly, Paypal is the only option for a money payout on Thredup, which adds to the processing time. 
  • They charge a 2% fee to cash out to Paypal