Sunday, June 28, 2015

June Shopping Reflections

Most of my time these days is spent on studying, which at least allows for some procrastination (and online shopping). I'll be done by this time next month, which is good, but there is also some trepidation about passing the exam.

The biggest "purchase" this month was that pair of L.L. Bean boots I ordered in March. With that factored in, I'm well over my $250 fashion budget for June. Once I put everything together, though, I'm also under the $1500 budget for the first six months of the year. In a few days, I'll post a separate "progress report" with the calculations and some thoughts about my larger approach to budgeting and shopping, which I'm excited about.

Because I don't intend to worry too much about the month to month budget as long as I'm under the numbers for the year, I'm pretty happy with the amount of shopping I'm doing. I cannot, in good faith, say that I have adhered to the "shopping fast" rules that I set for myself in January, which was probably foreshadowed by my budget post that very first month. Still, I am a much more thoughtful shopper now than I was this time last year, which is a good thing.

It seems that I like pretty things (mostly dresses) too much to be particularly minimalist in how I approach shopping for clothes. I promise that I haven't fully lost touch with the minimalist-ish notions that initially inspired me to start blogging here. I just have to retool my approach, and think a little bit more about "wants" versus "needs." More on that in a few days!

Fashion - (TOTAL: $373.86)
  • Madewell Silk Overlay Cami Dress - $54.36* - It was final sale, which was a risk. The shape looks like something that wouldn't for a more busty figure because of the overlay detail at the chest, but I actually like this. Because the skirt also hangs fairly loose, my figure still looks balanced. It mimics a shift dress shape with surprisingly little of the awkward boob-tent effect that can happen with those. The lining is polyester though, which is not ideal for summer.
  • Ann Taylor Floral Eyelet Dress - $56.55* - I posted about this dress a while ago and snagged it during a particularly good additional percent off sale promotion this month. The regular 6 ended up being the best size for me as the 4 was a bit snug and the fabric doesn't really stretch. 
  • Panache Underwire Sports Bra - $73.95* - I ordered similar items from Wacoal and DKNY and liked this best. It is very expensive for activewear, I know, but I don't think it'd be possible to go that much cheaper and still get something that is both available in my size and prevents unwanted movement during high-impact type cardio. 
  • L.L. Bean Boots with Thinsulate and Goretex - $189.00 - I've been waiting for these for a while, and I'm excited to finally have them even if winter is still months away. They don't run as large as expected, though that might just be my wide feet. 

Beauty - (TOTAL: $11.00)
  • Biore Aqua Rich Sunscreen - $11.00* - Although I quite like the Elta MD one I reviewed recently,  I've also been interested in trying this one because of recommendations that I've seen online. 
*Indicates that price includes estimated California state sales tax. I normally do my shopping in New York, where I'm generally not charged a sales tax because many items are exempt

Linking up with Franish and the other budgeting bloggers again this month! I always have fun seeing how everyone else approached their shopping. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Closet First

I've been working out, mostly by running, on again and off again (mostly off again) for a few years now. In all that time, I've never had a particularly good sports bra, always relying on random ones without underwires or band and cup-denominated sizes from Nordstrom Rack. For me, those are fine for yoga, pilates, and the like, but for movement-heavy cardio like running or even the elliptical, there is always more than a bit of... undesired movement. The bouncy-ness, if you will, has never been enough of a problem to be a real factor in whether I work out or not. It was also never enough to actually get me to invest in something more substantial. I don't know if I'm an outlier, but I've generally found that all that undesired movement is much less uncomfortable than it looks. I barely notice it while working out except when I catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror. 

This month is definitely not another no-shopping month for me, and one of the things I've obtained is a better sports bra to go with my renewed interest in keeping to a fitness routine. I ordered a few designs and sizes to try out, and I must say, sports bras that use bra sizing are not an easy thing to shop for. I'm pretty confident that I've been correctly sized for bras, and I read the reviews for each design closely to know whether to size up. One thing that I wasn't used to was the more complicated designs (adjustable straps with clips and/or bands with hooks and eyes where I've only worn sports bras that slipped over the head with elastic). I didn't end up being that close with ordering the right sizes, for the most part. If I had to generalize, these designs seem to run smaller, sometimes much smaller, than expected in the band.

I did get the sizing right with the Panache Underwire Sports Bra (it runs true to size, but the band starts out quite snug) and it was my favorite design out of the ones I tried, with no clips for the straps, just a hook and eye closure in back for the band. The band is still a bit tighter than I'm used to, which I think is supposed to be the case with a sports bra. It is quite expensive, almost shockingly so relative to what little I normally spend on activewear, but it feels worth it so far. I wore it out to today's workout and it did its job well. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Big (Distant Future) Splurge


One of the things that I've started to do with my budget is put aside bits of what's "extra" into a "shopping fund." Whenever I receive an infusion of funds (whether my last student loan disbursement this past spring or actual income), I first allocate it into my living expenses for the relevant time period and then into some of my other savings goals. There's usually just a bit left after that ($50-ish, maybe), and after I look over my work one more time to make sure I haven't forgotten anything, I put what remains into my shopping fund. It is small as of yet, only around $250 because so many other things take precedence, but it's likely to grow at a steadier rate once I start work.

It is completely premature to actually think about how I intend to use my shopping fund. I have quite a few other things to address in the next few years: taking a significant pay cut for a year while I hit pause on my corporate career to do an academic fellowship-thing, expenses associated with friends' weddings, the need to accumulate a more substantial emergency fund, and aggressive student loan repayment throughout. If I'm running a little short in one of the other categories, the shopping fund will certainly be the first thing I raid.

Still, a girl can dream, and when it comes to spending on my wardrobe, handbags remain one of my relative priorities. I think it's generally reasonable for a young professional to put aside money and eventually splurge a bit on a nice handbag if they're so inclined. I won't personally be comfortable with making the splurge I'm vaguely thinking of for a good four years or so, barring some unexpected windfalls. The upside is that I have ample time to reflect on what I want. Presently, my hypothetical tastes lean towards the practical and versatile. This is seen in my relative inability to break out of my medium-large work-appropriate black or navy purse rut (the Pinterest link is my entire actual bag collection except for one brown Lockheart hobo that I can't find a picture of online). Maybe my tastes will change, but for now, the top candidates for my eventual big splurge are the Mulberry Bayswater, a Givenchy Antigona, or a Givenchy Lucrezia.

Do you set aside a shopping fund for yourself? What big splurge do you eventually hope to make? 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Books That Have Stayed With Me


This particular post is inspired by a meme I saw going around on Tumblr and Facebook a while back. It involves listing, and I quote from the prompt, "ten books that have stayed with you in some way. Don't take more than a few minutes, and don't think too hard. They do not have to be the 'right' books or great works of literature, just ones that have affected you." I've had my list for a while, though I never quite got around to putting it up on Tumblr as I initially planned.

These are the ten books that have truly stayed with me, in rough chronological order based on when I first encountered them. Many would not normally stand out as candidates for the best books ever, whether for their genre, from their author, or otherwise, and some of them are not fun to read, but each was valuable to me in some way. Ones that I would recommend to friends are marked with an asterisk:
  1. Rebels of the Heavenly Kingdom by Katherine Patterson
  2. A Problem from Hell by Samantha Power
  3. The Plague by Albert Camus
  4. Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay*
  5. Please Look After Mom by Shin Kyung-Sook
  6. Quiet by Susan Cain*
  7. The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua
  8. My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor
  9. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides*
  10. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie*

I'm totally likely to write more detailed posts on a few of these at some point (certainly about Susan Cain's Quiet), even if it gets to being a bit off topic relative to what I normally like to write about. As such, I don't have detailed thoughts to write on every one of these in this entry. There are few things I like more than rambling about books I enjoy. I have a few jumbled thoughts for now.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

A Tangential Thought Regarding J. Crew

via Wall Street Journal

Is it just me, or have people already been talking about the decline of J. Crew for years? I first started shopping there (by which I mean mostly window-shopping) in college, around 2008, and I think I remember people starting to complain about reduced quality and strange styling choices not too long after that. This post isn't really about the decline of J. Crew though, but more about the notion of being emotionally attached to a retail brand. It is a feeling I know well, and one that I even had for J. Crew back in the day. 

I first "discovered" J. Crew as a college student on the East Coast, very far from home and newly immersed in a campus culture that was just a little bit different from what I knew before. I'm not talking about the type of extreme challenges born of income inequality that are being discussed at many campuses recently. This was just me getting used to the minor detail that not everyone dressed like they did at home. That and the normal growing pains associated with the transition from high school to college and then the prospect of adult life. 

In my northern California suburb, flip-flops, hoodies, and jeans were the constant uniform. As far as I could remember, people generally had very conservative attitudes about consumption. Someone in high school once mentioned shopping for $100 jeans, and I wasn't the only person present who thought it an utterly preposterous notion. Once I got to college, I felt sloppy in my California clothes. 

I've mentioned before that I've long used shopping as a way of trying to fake it 'til I make it, hoping that by buying the right things, my anxieties about not belonging or not being cut out for something would go away. Thus, I wanted the preppy things that some (not even that many) of my peers wore, like a Ralph Lauren crew-neck sweater or a Lacoste polo (or Uggs, a Longchamp tote, or a Northface). I think I've always liked the idea that shopping for new things could help me redefine myself, could help me transform. 

In that context, J. Crew's range of brightly-colored basics (circa 2008) were just the thing. Whatever was challenging about college would, obviously, be easier if I had a closet full of ruffled tops and embellished cardigans to face it with. If only it wasn't so expensive. J. Crew, to me, was always this out of reach aspirational thing. It wasn't priced so high that I'd feel too embarrassed to browse, even as a college student, though even with the sales, the things I liked tended not to get solidly down into my price range. On that rare occasion when I got something nearly full price, with just the student discount (their Stretch Perfect Shirt is the only button-down for me, and I bought one for interviews back then), I felt like a million bucks for that fleeting moment. 

I never bought half the things I thought I wanted then, whether J. Crew or not. Even so, I still spent plenty of money, by college-student standards, before figuring out things such as how something isn't a good value just because its from the right brand or store and heavily discounted. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Hitting the Books (and the Gym)

via Pinterest. Actual study situation is, of course, not at all picturesque.

For the next eight weeks or so, I'll be studying for a licensing-type exam, spending about six to seven hours per weekday on hitting the books. It isn't too bad, though it takes some getting used to! I'm currently at home in California and, I must say, I find the weather patterns here very strange after several summers away. After so much time spent in NYC, and in Hong Kong before that, I'm unaccustomed to dry summer climates. Not that it affects what I wear. I do most of my studying at home, which means pajama pants and those Forever 21 T-shirt nightdresses I like (back when they were made of a cotton-modal blend). 

I've actually managed to spend a fair bit of time at the gym as a form of stress relief. I'm one of those people who really doesn't enjoy working out, which means that I quickly find excuses not to exercise as soon as there's anything remotely complex, scheduling-wise, on my plate. When things are simple, though, and the only other schedule component is studying (on an entirely flexible, self-set schedule), getting to the gym is even a welcome relief. While I don't enjoy the act of working out itself, I'm remembering that I do like having it as part of my larger routine: It helps with stress relief, it feels good to get in shape, and I do like taking that time for myself.

I seem to enjoy the gym much more when I make time for it an average of five times a week, such that it really becomes part of my day-to-day routine. When I'm trying for around three times a week due to other obligations, every attempt to get out of the house for a workout becomes like pulling teeth, if only because I can never stick with it long enough to really make it a habit. I suppose I will need to try to find a happy medium between those two extremes once my office job begins in the fall, if I hope to make the gym a regular part of my routine again. 

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Review: Elta MD UV Shield SPF 45

I bought the Elta MD UV Shield sunscreen quite a while ago, but I've only recently started wearing it often enough, daily for the last week and a half, to give a review. (It seems like I also neglected to include it in my monthly shopping budgets, oops! I ordered it right at the tail end of April after putting together my budget post for the month and forgot about it.) At $21.50 for the 3 oz size, it is a little pricier than a drugstore sunscreen would typically be, but is a fair bit cheaper per oz than the sunscreens I typically use from Shiseido and Biore's product line for Japan and Taiwan. 

Because the Shiseido one left a heavy white cast on the face after application and seems to have been reformulated without solving that problem, I've been looking for something new that is easy to buy in the United States. I've seen Elta MD mentioned on r/Skincare Addiction, and a friend also uses it and recommended it.

So far the Elta MD is working for me! As promised, it is invisible when rubbed in, and it absorbs very quickly. Although I typically prefer a lighter, liquid texture to my sunscreen (common with Asian products) and the Elta MD UV Shield is a lotion, the Elta MD feels light on the skin, though maybe just a touch heavier than the Biore one I like best. Either way, the Elta MD sunscreen is absorbed well enough that it doesn't cause any problems when I apply makeup. It also doesn't cause breakouts, which is the biggest thing I worry about when trying a new product. 

I generally don't like most American drugstore-brand sunscreens because they tend to sting on contact or when it gets in the eyes a while after application, often without my having gone out or done anything to cause the sunscreen to get in my eyes. I also dislike that heavier, lotion texture in sunscreens when they don't absorb well into the face. (I've tried an Oil of Olay moisturizer with sunscreen, the Neutrogena Ultra Sheer lotion sunscreen, and also Neutrogena's liquid formulation, all of which had various combinations of those problems.)

Pros: Absorbs well, doesn't cause problems with makeup application. No white cast on the skin after application. It doesn't cause breakouts for me. It is a good value compared to my other preferred sunscreens, especially in the 7 oz size.

Cons: More expensive than most drugstore sunscreens. It does feel a hair's-breadth heavier on the skin than the liquid-type Asian formulations I usually prefer. Some of the ingredients might exacerbate acne in others. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Wear to Work: The Context

An earlier version of this entry briefly popped up on Feedly when I accidentally published it before I was ready. I've been mulling over whether I want to post this one for a while, because it isn't strictly on topic when it comes to the fashion and spending type things I usually talk about. As an aside, when it comes to writing about women's experiences and social equality generally, I confess to feeling a bit of trepidationeven if I've never personally experienced any backlash from anything I put online.

As a woman on the cusp of entering the professional workforce for the first time in my life, I am always looking to read more about women and work. Whether its about leaning in, letting go of having it all, women's confidence and career advancement (and how a "confidence gap" might exist for reasons beyond any individual woman's control) or about dressing for the workplace, I devour almost everything on the subject. Because I enjoy fashion, shopping, and thinking about what to wear, I have copious thoughts on the subject of workplace dress for women. Separately from that, however, I think that it is useful to think about why women might feel more pressure and receive more scrutiny regarding workplace sartorial choices than men. 

While sexism (whether direct, structural, or internalized) is hardly an ugly word that must not be spoken, in my brief working life thus far I often feel... disempowered when it comes to discussing it with classmates and colleagues. All this while working in a field that, in recent years, has dramatically fewer examples of problems with gender discrimination than most (it's no Silicon Valley tech industry, at least). I might be "outing" my field by going into even this much detail, but I will work in an industry where the largest companies pay all junior employees on an extremely standardized and ultra-transparent salary scale, at least until they're promoted into the upper echelons. Bonuses are generally standardized as well, both between and within companies, with very few upward or downward departures for "merit" or "performance"-related reasons. Five decades ago, women were generally not welcome, but the industry has come a long way. It isn't there yet, but I can safely assume that my salary and advancement will be equal for the first few years.

I have almost never experienced explicit and direct sexism in any form, though racism-"lite" (being treated differently based on what people assume about my background and because of the specific combination of my race and sex) is possibly another issue entirely. There is, however, a subtler questions which I present without having any real thought on whether it speaks to larger problems with society or the profession: