Thursday, April 28, 2016

April Shopping Reflections

This month, I shopped a fair bit. Much of it was inspired by my upcoming trip, and I was also struck by another one of my sudden impulses. Altogether, I'm almost fully caught up on spending most of my $170/month budget for each month of the year so far, so any plans of making a larger jewelry purchase are on pause now. Next month will likely be similar. I've made a pre-order of a few silk tees from Grana (referral link: if you sign up and make a purchase, I'll earn $20 in store credit, and you'll get 10% off). I have a similar silk tee from Uniqlo from a few years back, and it's one of my favorites for both casual and business casual wear, though the quality is not very high and the shape and print are somewhat reminiscent of hospital scrubs. 

Note: the below text contains affiliate links that will result in a few cents commission for me if you click. Thank you for your support!

My beauty and skincare spending was also higher than normal this month. I still have trouble resisting those Sephora VIB 15% off sales, though I know that it's silly of me given how I buy almost all of my skincare products elsewhere (except for the Josie Maran Argan Oil Light, which I somehow prefer over all other argan oils) and how I almost never wear makeup to work anymore (I might have developed an allergy to eye makeup). I'm very unlikely to hit the minimum spend for retaining VIB status for next year, so that temptation will eventually disappear.

Also, Ann Taylor brought back the lace shift dress I reviewed last summer, which also happened to be one of my favorite buys of 2015. The cotton and nylon lace is lightweight and summer-appropriate, but the lining is polyester, so the dress might not be good for the most hot and humid days. With tights, I'm also able to wear it throughout the cooler seasons. I'd wait for a sale, of course. 

Fashion - (TOTAL: $252.99)
  • Everlane Ryan Tank - $20.00 - I purchased two last year after trying out the Cotton Tanks and the Ryan ones. I prefer the Ryan because I like how the rayon drapes. I've accidentally put these through both the washing machine and dryer and mine came out fine, with no shrinkage. 
  • Everlane Short Sleeve Silk Dress - $98.00 - I haven't actually received this yet because I ordered it after exchanging the Updated Silk Tank, which just didn't look good on me. Although the Silk Tank has a relaxed fit and flared out hem, it ends up being more fitted at the chest than the silk button down blouses. Like with the Silk Camisole, even if the chest measurement for the piece in my usual Everlane size was big enough that it could have worked, the design of it just wasn't flattering on my rather busty self due to being too snug at the chest. 
  • Skagen Anita Watch - $134.99 - (Link to Macy's, where you can get a better price than I got from Skagen's website with the Macy's Friends and Family sale, using the promo code "FRIEND.") I was struck by a sudden longing for a larger watch than my trusty Skagen Freja (also on sale), and I ended up with this one, which I discussed here

Beauty - (TOTAL: $71.94)
  • Sephora VIB 15% off Sale - $46.28
  • Neem Oil - $6.67 - I use this as an acne treatment, typically applying it as a spot treatment as the last step of my nighttime routine. It's my only acne-oriented product that is gentle on the skin. Beware, though, as neem oil has a strong and distinctive odor: I'd describe the scent as being that of a pungent sauce for Thai or possibly Chinese food, with a savory peanut oil with a dash of sesame oil smell. the color is a sometimes cloudy dark brown, and the substance solidifies slightly in cold temperatures. It doesn't do much for my acne by itself, but I like using it to supplement my Paula's Choice 2% BHA and prescription Retin-A Micro tretinoin 0.1%. A bottle this size lasts for ages. 
  • Innisfree It's Real Squeeze Mask, Pack of 15 - $18.99 - I bought this to get free shipping for the neem oil. This is my third time buying these masks on Amazon, and I enjoy using them. (They fit my price and other criteria for buying sheet masks.)  I still have a fairly robust stock of sheet masks from my trip to Korea last year, so this wasn't really a "need." I'll use it up eventually, but it might take a while.

I'll be linking up with Franish and the Budgeting Bloggers this month, as usual. Please do go check out what everyone else bought this month!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Weekly Reading 4/24/16: The Money and Lifestyle Edition

Today I'm experimenting with putting together a roundup post for all those scattered thoughts I have throughout the week about things I'd like to share, but that don't quite warrant their own post. I won't be on an actual weekly schedule until after my upcoming trip though, so the next post in this series might not appear until mid-May.

This week, I encountered quite a few articles about personal finance, with a particular focus on lifestyle choices and the meaning of living within one's means. I'm mainly talking about Neil Gabler's article in The Atlantic about "The Secret Shame of Middle Class Americans" that still live paycheck to paycheck. The long story short is this: most Americans would not be able to readily scrape together $400 in the event of an emergency, author included. The author is, frankly, not sympathetic due to the sheer lack of wisdom behind many of his choices: paying for both daughters' weddings (once by draining a 401k), owning a property in Brooklyn at one point and private school for the kids back then, and wanting to pay for both daughters' undergraduate and graduate educations (possibly in full) including for one daughter at Stanford and then Harvard Medical, though the grandparents ultimately stepped in and drained their savings. All this while being unable to, at times, pay his taxes or even cover the cost of heating oil without a loan from said daughters. 

Besides noting that the article is a major cautionary tale about not living beyond one's means, I don't have too much else to say. That is, outside of the sobering thought that even a financially responsible average American is maybe only ever one hospital stay away from seriously dire straits, even with health insurance. 

I also encountered a few pieces this week about spending and financial lifestyle choices for people who are rather more on top of things: Esquire did an interesting piece where four men at four different income levels described their general financial picture and goals. The millionaire tech startup CEO is very down to earth: his next goal, in a context where he is already set in terms of college savings for the kids and other goals, is to help his parents retire. My college's alumni Facebook group was discussing this piece and was wondering how one about women would look. The closest thing I know of is Refinery 29's Money Diary series, inspired by a New York Magazine piece from 2007, but the Refinery 29 ones are significantly less educational because they only provide a snapshot of a week's spending and don't provide sufficient other detail's about the subject's financial state. At times, the numbers Refinery 29 does provide don't seem to fully add up. Another alum also recommended this piece discussing financial anxiety from The Toast, but that didn't interest me as much because I like thinking about the numbers more than anything else.

Did you encounter that Atlantic piece this week? What did you think? 

Friday, April 22, 2016

Review: J.Crew Factory Wool Sheath Dress

Wearing the Size 6 regular. apologies for the blurry side photo but I couldn't figure out how to best angle myself to show the gapping at the armhole and in back. You can click on each photo to get to the full size image.

This is a review of the J.Crew Factory Tailored Shift Dress in Lightweight Wool, which I will return. I wanted it to work so badly! I actually put in my order in mid-March, but it was back-ordered auntil now. I ordered more sizes (6, 8, 8P and 10P) than I usually would because I wanted to guarantee that I found the best size for me. While I'm fairly certain that my "best size" for this dress was included in my order, the design itself just isn't right for me. For fit reference, I'm 5'3'' and 36''-26''-37'' with "regular" torso and shoulders but "petite" short legs.

Note: the above and below text contains affiliate links that will result in a few cents commission for me if you click. Thank you for your support!

For those who find that the design and fit suits them, this dress could be a good addition to an intern or entry-level professional's office wardrobe. The price point for an all-wool dress (the full lining is polyester) makes it a good value: typically around $75, though I got mine for ~$65 during an additional percent off promotion. The style is right: It's a quintessential sheath dress that could be business formal with the right blazer or business casual otherwise. Unsurprisingly for the price point, the wool is not especially high quality. The texture is visibly rougher than that of the J.Crew Super 120s Paley wool pants I tried on a while back (discussed here), though the material is also not as paper-thin. Overall, if it fits you well, it's good for someone shopping at the summer intern or young professional <$100/dress via sale or promotion price point. That is, by the way, the price point I shopped at to build most of my current work wardrobe.

Wearing the Size 8 petite. I angled myself differently for the side photo here, so you can't see the gapping as badly, but you can see that my bra is peeking out at the armhole if you click through.

Sadly, there are so many details that don't work for me: Round necklines can emphasize my chest in an awkward way, which is happening here, and those little darts sewn in at the collar might exacerbate that. This design runs a bit small in the chest relative to other sheath dresses (both the 6 and 8P are just-right at the widest part of my chest while I'm often a 4 regular for the J.Crew and Ann Taylor sheath dresses I've tried on in recent years). Yet, mysteriously enough, there was also substantial gapping and wrinkling from extra fabric in the back and right underneath my chest for both the regular and petite sizes. Also, even my lower-coverage bras show at the armhole despite the armholes themselves being average-sized, which is odd. I like the thicker waistband and think its flattering, whether at the natural waist (with the regular sizing) or slightly higher (with the petite version). Either way, this dress just isn't good for my body shape.

The length of the petite size is a little more flattering than the regular for me, and I don't mind that the waistband sits slightly above my natural waist. The regular sizing is ultimately the better fit, though, as the neck and sleeves on the petite version are cut a little too narrow, when viewed from the front, such that my bra strap inevitably shows if I move around.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Another Impulse Buy

via Skagen's twitter feed

Well, I recently had another one of those sudden impulses that fuel maybe half of my purchases. This time, it was for a watch, and I ended up picking out this Skagen Anita (non-affiliate link, on sale) with a mother of pearl and crystal face. I certainly didn't need it. That Skagen Freja I bought last year is still in perfect condition and as versatile as ever. Even so, I thought it reasonable to want to mix things up by adding another more substantial watch to my wardrobe. 

Note: the above and below text contains affiliate links that will result in a few cents commission for me if you click. Thank you for your support!

My "personal style" for jewelry has changed substantially in the last year. As recently as last March, I wore statement necklaces to my internships almost every day of the week. Nowadays, I mainly stick to one barely-there bezel-set pendant (similar fashion jewelry, similar fine jewelry), that Skagen Freja, and the same pearl stud earrings (actual, similar price and specifications). Unexpectedly, this decisive shift towards preferring subtler jewelry was still accompanied by this recent impulse to find a larger watch, maybe one with a more unisex design. Now that all the jewelry I regularly wear is extremely dainty, why not contrast that with at least one substantial and more noticeable accessory?Also, one of my colleagues, who has excellent taste, rocks one of those unisex Shinola watches, so I got some inspiration there. I went in a different direction, though, and my pick has overtly feminine details: the thin 14mm band, the rose gold tone metal, and a constellation-like design on the face with mother of pearl chips and tiny crystals.

I had to really think about what size watch I wanted: I wanted something larger than the Freja, but I often don't like the look of very large watch faces. When I compare the 40 mm Skagen Holst (actual colorway) that I purchased for K's Christmas present on my wrist, I find it awkwardly large, which suggested that some of the larger bracelet watches that were recently popular (i.e. from MICHAEL Michael Kors) would be wrong for me. I don't think it's the size of my wrist so much as it is my own idiosyncratic opinion: Many women that are more petite than me look very nice in large watches, i.e. Extra Petite (wearing 38 mm). The 34 mm face of my new Skagen Anita feels like just the right size, compare it to the 26 mm Freja above.

Of course, I don't plan to retire my old watch anytime soon: if I have an occasion that demands business formal, the Freja would fit the outfit better. Also, I actually find that I like the smaller watch with my casual outfits, even if my recent "must find larger watch" impulse led to my thinking the Freja was a bit boring when paired with my usual business casual.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Life Lately: Wedding Festivities

March and April were busy, but fun. I spent two long weekends traveling to celebrate a college friend's wedding, once for her bachelorette and then for the wedding itself. It was my first time attending a wedding for someone in my immediate age group, and it was lovely. I even got a little teary during their first dance and during some of the speeches.

For the bachelorette, we had a low-key weekend in Newport, Rhode Island. It's an extremely cute town right by the water, though a little on the quiet side in winter. Some of the more well-known attractions in the area are a number of luxurious Gilded Age summer homes. We toured Marble House, which was originally owned by members of the Vanderbilt family. 

The wedding was in Grand Cayman, at the Westin. The beach was gorgeous. As someone born and raised in Northern California, where the ocean is far too cold to swim in without a wetsuit, I still get excited when I go to beaches where one can actually swim. Sadly, I wasn't really able to get any photos from the day of the big event: it takes a surprisingly long time to get the bride and the bridesmaids ready!  The wedding was outdoors at a gazebo, and that beach was the backdrop for the ceremony and many of the photos. 

Note: the below text contains affiliate links that will result in a few cents commission for me if you click. Thank you for your support!

The bridesmaids wore the J. Crew Pamela dress in dusty shale. I went with a regular rather than a petite size for the dress, which in hindsight, was not ideal for a festive occasion. Regular dresses and skirts are typically a good fit for me, especially when it comes to my work wardrobe, where I prefer my skirts on the long side, hitting at the knee or close to it. That fit preference wasn't as well-suited for a cocktail-length bridesmaid dress, however, and the fabric part of the bodice also sat a little low. (For fit context, I'm 5'3'', but typically prefer regular sizing for tops and jackets because of the width of my shoulders and length of my torso. Being busty also makes petite tops and jackets difficult.) I would go with the petite sizing next time.

The dress has some boning and support in the bodice, though not enough for me to go without a bra. I was concerned about the difficulty of finding a strapless bra as I'd never previously owned one that actually fit. I tried a few designs, including one from Panache that was just really off in the sizing and one from Fantasie that was super uncomfortable because of the shape of the wires and how high they go. I ultimately went with the Wacoal Red Carpet bra, which proved to be a good fit in my usual size and quite comfortable for an all-day affair. The coverage was a little full and it peeked out a bit over the bodice of the dress, but because of the lace illusion neckline, it was still covered up.

I had a fun and relaxing time traveling for my dear friend's wedding, and I'm also looking forward to my next trip in a few weeks to see my and K's family. I felt a little awkward, work scheduling-wise, about taking so many trips in fairly quick succession, though early May was the best time for me to travel to Taiwan and there wasn't much I could do to move that travel date and I also kept it on the short side for an international trip that far away: just two weeks! I'm hoping to get back to a more regular posting schedule once I get back.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

March Shopping Reflections

It's been a while, to say the least! I was quite busy this month between work, being part of a dear friend's destination wedding, and planning for a trip in early May to visit my and K's families abroad. I'd like to get back into the habit of blogging regularly, though that might have to wait until after my upcoming trip. We'll be going to Taipei, Taichung, Manila, Boracay, and Singapore, some of it for family, and some of it for just us two.

Note: the below text contains affiliate links that will result in a few cents commission for me if you click. Thank you for your support!

This month, I stuck to the "buy one fashion item a month" trend that I've kept up so far this year. I bought these perforated leather Vans to wear on the weekends and during my daily commute, though I'm still breaking them in. I haven't had a chance to get a grippy sole added to the Everlane Modern Point shoes from last month, and that's on my to-do list before I can really wear them outdoors. I ordered several other items, but nothing worked. This Uniqlo long tunic was much longer and more voluminous than I expected, longer than a midi dress on me, and it just wasn't what I was expecting. Although I like my bright orange-red coat from January, the same color just didn't work for me with this J. Crew Factory sleeveless henley shell (bright red-orange color sold out, only available in a different style). 

I'll likely buy more next month: I have this gray J. Crew Factory wool dress in every possible size for me on order and I'm picking up another Everlane Ryan tank for my trip. Because I was so under budget this month, I'm also thinking of making a jewelry purchase for myself sometime soon, perhaps in April. It might end up being this dainty trinity ring from Envero Jewelry. 

Fashion - (TOTAL: $65.27)
  • Perforated Leather Vans - These are a bit less feminine than ballet flats, naturally, so the look took a little getting used to, but I really enjoy wearing these with my casual outfits. I'll likely wear them during my commutes later this Spring, once I've broken them in a bit more. I sized down a half size, from a woman's 7.5 to a 7. That was the right move, but I find it a little harder to get in and out of these shoes because they cover up so much of the foot.

Beauty - (TOTAL: $31.76)
  • Hada Labo Hyaluronic Milky Lotion - $11.74  This was once part of my rather extensive skincare routine, though I had stopped using it by December 2014 because my other products were enough. I purchased it again because my skin was getting a little dry during the tail end of winter. Now that it's starting to warm up and we've switched off our central heat at home, this product is a bit too heavy for me when incorporated into my current routine. This product has a similar texture to my Cerave facial lotion, and might even be a little heavier (while also being more liquid and more runny, strangely enough). 
  • CosRx Galactomyces 95 Whitening Power Essence - $18.98 - I purchased this as a possible replacement for the Missha First Treatment Essence. My skin's been acting up, so I haven't had a chance to fully test it out. Both this and the Missha product are intended to be dupes for the super-pricey SK-II Facial Treatment Essence, though the CosRx has a runny gel-like texture rather than a liquid one. 

Linking up with Franish and the Budgeting Bloggers as usual this month. Be sure to check out what everyone else bought!