Monday, August 20, 2018

Shopping Thought Experiment: Professional Backpacks

Recently, there was a brief moment of a few days when I thought I may have reached a season of my life where I could no longer endure regularly commuting to work with a shoulder bag, rather than a backpack. (I'm already at that point when my daily commute involves carrying a fair quantity of papers or binders, lunch, and a laptop, but because my current workplace doesn't issue laptops, I've been using a tote.) It was a false alarm, though I've now noticed that my Coach Rogue (~3.5 lbs by itself) is just a bit too heavy for regular use if I carry even just a tiny bit more than what I used to, a few months ago. All I've added to that mix was my Kindle Paperwhite, a light office sweater, a small folding umbrella and (in the evenings) the empty thermos from my daily homemade cold brew coffee that morning. Though the weight of each new item by itself is negligible, when combined they've pushed the Coach Rogue into being too heavy to comfortably carry every day.

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I'd gone and done another weird thing to my lower back while doing some super-light chores, like that time I alluded to when I talked about K and I's somewhat lax approach to house cleaning. (Like last time, I wasn't even scrubbing or doing anything intensive, I simply bent down to get something out of the dishwasher. Last time around, I was crouching down to get something from the bottom shelf of the fridge.) Thankfully, it wasn't too bad this time, far less painful and for only a day though I stopped working out for about a week until all signs of any discomfort were gone. Since then, I've become a bit more conscious of the slight, occasional discomfort one sometimes feels in the shoulders when carrying an overstuffed tote. 

At this point, I'm not ready to give up on totes for my commute yet. I have my Cuyana Classic Totes, both the classic and the discontinued tall, and those are extremely light and still fine with what I'm regularly carrying to the office. (I wouldn't describe them as a "perfect" work tote, as I find they don't distribute heavier weight very well. They tend to feel heavier on the shoulder than a nylon tote like a Longchamp would feel when carrying the exact same items, especially on the days when I need to carry documents and/or a laptop.) I have the Longchamp Le Pliage Neo for days when I need to carry more than usual. Those things, plus my trusty old Everlane Petra Market tote (sadly discontinued) for more formal occasions are all that I need for my commutes, for now. 

If I did need to switch to a backpack, however, I don't think I'd want to use my old North Face Recon (current edition, but it looks very different and a bit sleeker now) from law school anymore, like I did while I was clerking. I think it looks just a bit too sporty to match my work outfits, and I wouldn't feel quite as professional carrying it. Even when one is an attorney who ends up in a lot of more formal settings, including court, I don't think anyone actually cares or notices, but it's something I care about for the overall look of my own outfits!

The "professional backpack" is actually a genre that's somewhat well-represented in the work wardrobes of my women colleagues and other women attorneys in my larger social and professional  circles. The most common choices are from Knomo (also in leather), State (also in leather), or Tumi. I think the Everlane Street Nylon backpack (though they don't stock it in black, my preferred color for this purpose) or their Nylon Commuter backpack also have the right look. I've put some thought into what my criteria would be if I ended up needing to shop for something in this category. Given that my current job almost never requires a laptop, there'd be a big question of whether to get something that fits a 14'' laptop or not. I'm not sure which way I'd come out on that question, as I definitely wouldn't need something that big right now, but I'd always worry about the "just in case" or if my needs would change in the next job. Material-wise, I'd probably stick to something in nylon because I'd want it to be close to waterproof. (One occasionally gets caught in a torrential downpour in NYC, and laptops and work papers do not like water!) I really like the look of leather backpacks (Cuyana also does one that looks pretty cool), but because of my experience with leather totes not carrying heavy items quite as well as nylon totes like the Longchamp, I'd be a bit worried that leather backpacks would feel too heavy.

Oh and in terms of other nice, sleek, and more professional-looking (rather than sporty) backpacks that I've noticed,  but which aren't really on my radar if I decide to make the switch for my daily commute: The Lo & Sons Hanover also has the right general look, but is too big for my needs, and because of the large size, is not quite as sleek. Many of the Everlane twill backpacks have the right look too, such as the Modern Snap Backpack or the Modern Zip Backback, though I'm leery of the material not being waterproof enough. The Everlane twill backpacks were also a perennial favorite among many of my law school classmates, and we carry tons of heavy books around all the darn time, which suggests they're well made and durable. 

Do you carry a backpack, tote, or something else on your daily commute? Does anyone else know what I mean about heavier items feeling "different" and heavier in leather bags than ones made of nylon or fabric, even when the leather bag is similarly light? (I swear, it's a real thing I've noticed!)

Monday, August 13, 2018

Link List: Go Watch Crazy Rich Asians!

Pictured above is sisig, tocino, grilled pork belly, and garlic rice from Grill 21. It was only after I decided on this photo for this post that I realized I had already posted another photo of most of the same dishes little more than a month ago! Grill 21, BCD Tofu House, Sushi Yasaka, and Congee Village are some of K and I's more moderately-priced restaurant mainstays in the city. 

1. // By now, I think everyone has read the Hollywood Reporter long-form about Crazy Rich Asians, and how Kevin Kwan, John Chu, and others involved in making the film passed on big paydays to ensure that the movie could come to the big screen with an all Asian and Asian-American cast. It's impossible to understate how important the success of this movie is to Asian-American representation in entertainment (if it doesn't succeed, I have no doubt it'd be years before we have another chance at a big-screen film where we're this well-represented in the cast). I was glad to hear from Lea (who saw an early screening) that it's a fun and enjoyable movie.  

I've mentioned before that my outspokenness on diversity and representation, which extends broader than just representation in media and entertainment, was first ignited by the whitewashing of the Avatar: The Last Airbender movie. I truly believe that more representation of this kind helps with diversity and implicit bias-related problems in other contexts. I'll be seeing the movie shortly after its wide release this Wednesday, and I hope many others will do the same, and that it'll be a raging success.

2. // This is random, but I've suddenly become interested in learning more about the issue of access to dental care and economic inequality in the US. I ordered myself a copy of Mary Otto's Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America (affiliate link), which is probably where this interest begins and ends, as it's a little-researched topic. I was somewhat inspired by this discussion at r/personalfinance, where someone pointed to this photographer's account of accompanying a close friend to get extensive dental work (which would have cost ~$30,000 here) done in Croatia.

Because of my own recent experience with needing expensive (though nowhere near as expensive as it could be, as I ultimately didn't need any crowns) emergency dental care, it's natural for me to be interested in this. I also still have a lingering minor cosmetic issue left over from the accident, one affected tooth is still a tiny bit out of position, and I'll need to think about whether to pursue further treatment for that at some point.

3. // In other things I've been reading online lately, I enjoyed this take on Netflix's Queer Eye and emotional labor, which Revanche first shared.

There was also this article in The Atlantic about some of the really terrible, sexist experiences many women litigators have. Because most of my work has been been in federal court (it's generally far more orderly and genteel, everyone is better behaved, and attorneys who mostly practice in federal court often consider most state court systems to be a relatively lawless and chaotic Wild West in comparison), I haven't encountered much of this kind of open and shameless sexism yet. I'm grateful to have been insulated from it so far. 

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4. // I made my way to a Uniqlo store recently because there were a few items I was interested in  trying, including a double-face wool-blend collarless coat, pictured below, and a cotton ruffle-sleeve dress. The dress, had it worked on me, would have been an excellent summer dress for the office, as it doesn't look too obviously like a casual tee dress, though it's made of that kind of material. Sadly, both items would only have looked good on me if I was taller, and in the case of the coat, a bit less curvy. (Many waist-tie coats don't look quite right on me, it's difficult to get the self-tie belt to stay in the right place, and if it slips even a bit, it makes my waist look bigger than it is.)

They also currently have many blouses and tops in the rayon-poly blend I like for wearing under by suits, including a sleeveless one, but with a different neckline from the ones I got last year (long sold out) that I really liked. I tried on the three-quarter sleeve "skipper" blouse, but alas, as with most of Uniqlo's longer-sleeved blouses in this general type of material, whether polyester or this rayon-poly blend, it didn't fit right over my chest and shoulders. 

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Reading Life Lately

I've had a touch of writer's block lately when it comes to my ideas for more serious posts. Things may also slow down more here in the coming weeks because soon, for the first time since spring 2016, K and I will be taking off for a long vacation! In large part because of the scheduling needs and pay cut associated with the clerkship, I've only taken shorter, smaller trips for fun in the last two years. We'll be traveling to Japan, and we've basically done zero planning up to now because it took so long for us to confirm dates that we'd both be able to take off from work. We're looking forward to getting our travel plans in order in the next few weeks! 

Today's post is about a few books I recommend. Lately, I've been trying to read more for fun, something I go through on-again, off-again phases with. My taste in books can be oddly fickle, so there are times when I pick too many dud books in a row, and then I lose momentum and fall out of the habit for a while.

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Bad Blood, John Carreyrou's book about the rise and fall of Theranos, is excellent. It had been years since I read a popular nonfiction book I enjoyed quite so much. (I've stalled on and dropped quite a few other bestselling ones in the meantime.) I found this to be a quick read because Carreyrou is such an good storyteller, and the facts themselves are just so wild. David Boies, super-prominent litigator and a big player in Ronan Farrow's account of Harvey Weinstein's Army of Spies, is also a part of the Theranos story, in another arguable example of what may be questionable judgment when it comes to trying to get people to keep quiet about one of his clients. 

I'm also enjoying Sarah Waters's The Little Stranger. It's rather slow-moving, but her writing style is engaging and immersive. One unfortunate thing that keeps me from enjoying this book as much as I think I otherwise would is that I was only inspired to pick it up after seeing the trailer for the upcoming movie adaptation starring Domhnall Gleeson and Ruth Wilson, and it turns out that the trailer gave away the entire plot (which is fairly simple, admittedly). Although I'm still enjoying the experience of reading this, it's a fairly long book and a very slow burn. Part of my brain is definitely wondering if it's still worth keeping at it if I already know exactly where it's going. So be forewarned, avoid the movie trailer if one has any interest in the book. 

This is a book I read years ago that I don't think I've ever mentioned here, but Andrew Solomon's wonderful Far From the Tree has been made into a documentary, which I hope to see at some point. It's a difficult book to describe, with sometimes heavy subject matter and it takes some work to fully get into (it's a giant volume), but it's well worth it. To try and put it simply, the book is about how parents grapple with having children who are different from themselves, but it's really about much more than that. It touches on themes of love, identity, and the incredible resilience of the human spirit, among many other things. Andrew Solomon writes with such extraordinary empathy and compassion. I can't recommend Far From the Tree enough. 

Have you read any of these books? If so, what did you think? Have you read anything else that was particularly excellent recently? I've also tried and failed to get into some other popular books in recent memory. Particularly disappointing were Ruth Ware's The Woman in Cabin 10 and Shari Lapena's The Couple Next Door, both of which I thought were boring, tedious, and had annoying, poorly-drawn lead characters. I keep trying to recapture the magic of reading Gillian Flynn's novels, all of which I loved and devoured in about a day and a half total, one right after the other, but I've never found any other bestselling thrillers quite like those. Oh, and if anyone has any must-see, must-do, or must-eat travel recommendations for Japan, particularly Tokyo and Kyoto (we're maybe thinking about a third location, but I really haven't done my research yet), those would also be much appreciated! 

Monday, August 6, 2018

Money Life Lately: Medical Insurance Woes

Dagne Dover Accordion Card Case (affiliate link)

It seems that most of my "money life lately" posts are inspired by at least one complaint. What can I say, I'm inclined to raising a fuss about inconveniences and perceived indignities! Today's complaint is about the illogic of American medical insurance, which I think we can all agree justly deserves the criticism. I suppose it's a milestone of American adulthood, navigating one's first serious point of disagreement with one's medical insurer. 

First Ever Spin Class

But first, something more cheerful. One spending category in which K and I are relatively frugal is physical fitness. Our building (for which we pay a lot of rent, thanks in part to that most indulgent of NYC luxuries, in-unit laundry) has a small, and more importantly, free in-building gym that meets most of our needs, which we supplement with a folding stationary bike (affiliate link) K got us when the gym was closed for renovations a while back. (The bike makes a guest appearance in the background of many of my outfit photos.) 

That particular lifestyle choice, at least for me, isn't actually motivated primarily by frugality. I've occasionally been inspired to buy boutique fitness classes, only to remember that, though I've long been able to stick to my habit of regularly working out 4-5x/week in the comfort of my apartment building, the extra effort of getting out the door to attend a class is almost always too much for me to regularly do, even with a partially unused and kind of expensive multi-class package burning a hole in my pocket and nearing its expiration date. (Shamefully, this has happened more than once, albeit usually only for $12/class with three to four classes left.) 

It has, therefore, taken me a long time to try out a spin class. While visiting my sister recently, she introduced me to a studio she likes. The 45-minute lunchtime class we tried typically costs $18/session (with some multi-class packages available to reduce the cost), though I got my session for free as a new customer. I thought it was quite fun! I'm always suspicious of any trendy and expensive new thing (and after finally attending a class myself, I still think the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Soulcycle parody was totally on point), but it was fun, time flew by, and I felt accomplished and like I got a good "burn". I certainly liked it better than the barre classes I tried ages ago, though they're very different workouts, of course. 

On Birth Control and Insurance Coverage

Since I was a teen, I've been lucky with my health insurance coverage on the contraceptive front (not always a given, unfortunately, because America). Even before the Affordable Care Act ("ACA"). I'd always gotten my brand name birth control for $10/month copay on my mom's insurance. Before law school, when I worked in Hong Kong, the same brand name pill was available over the counter for $15/month, which was even better in some ways (and another reason to be annoyed about drug pricing here in the US). 

Post-ACA, my pill (still the same one, though pharmacies started giving me the generic a few years back) was generally free, whether on my law school insurance or some workplace plans. With my first firm's health insurance, it was an unpleasant surprise to be charged $10/month again because I'd assumed it'd all be fully covered under the ACA. In practice, it seems that some plans only offer full coverage for a limited list of options, like in the above illustration. It might even be a long list, but well, none of my women colleagues at my first firm actually used anything that was fully covered. I had previously assumed the $10/month would be the highest price I'd ever be subjected to while the ACA remained in place, but alas, I was recently proven wrong.

Fast forward to last month, when a new insurance plan kicked in at my current workplace, I pick up the exact same prescription that was free under the previous plan. I've been receiving the generic for years now, and I receive it again, except that now, the copay is a whopping $49/month! I was shocked, and the pharmacist explained it was an insurance issue.

I actually got two different explanations of what was going on from the insurer's customer service hotline on two different calls, so their customer service people are... not terribly competent. The first person stated that the prescription was written for the brand name, so they charged me for the brand name, even if I actually received the generic. (In the course of that conversation, they confirmed that they thought the generic was covered for a $10/month copay.) They suggested I call the doctor and ask them to rewrite the prescription. Then, between calling my doctor and the pharmacy again, both places confirmed the prescription was, in fact, written and filled for the generic, so that first customer service rep was totally wrong.

The second person at the insurer then claimed that the actual issue was that this plan covers only the brand name and not the generic at all, which is a thing that happens, because America, so the only way I'm getting this prescription is by paying the brand name copay. Even though they give me the generic, because that's what the pharmacy has. What a misadventure! And by the way, when I log in to the insurer's website, there are about a dozen different lists of which prescription drugs are covered at which tier of pricing for the many plans they offer, and each of their representatives pointed me to a different list that allegedly applied to my plan, each of which actually listed the generic as a $10/month copay drug. (There exist other lists that don't, however, and it's likely that one of those governs my plan instead. Oye.)

It goes without saying that there generally are ample reasons why a woman and her doctor select a particular contraceptive over the many others available. One generally cannot just easily pick one of the cheaper alternatives and switch just like that without running risks of potentially gnarly side effects (hormones have big and sometimes scary effects) and other problems. My specific pill has been a big part of my acne control regimen since it was first prescribed, so it's not something I'm willing to play around with. And I'm lucky, both to be insured and that the added expense is ultimately not a significant financial problem, and maybe also lucky that my first big problem with any insurance company is ultimately a small one, only costing ~$40/month. My doctor and I could try some kind of written appeal to get lower-tier pricing or full coverage on the grounds of medical necessity (or something), but unsurprisingly, when I wrote by email to the insurer to inquire about this process, they couldn't give me a clear explanation of how it works. 

What's the most you've ever had to pay for contraception, whether before or after the ACA? If you're US-based, have you had any issues with coverage since the ACA was passed? I really hope nobody else has had the issue I'm having, where their insurer covers only the brand name, and therefore charges more, even if the patient in fact receives the generic!

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Style Inspiration: Elizabeth McCord from Madam Secretary

Madam Secretary is, more often than not, an extremely silly show, with some outlandish storylines involving secret agents and the wackiest foreign policy situations (including one where Mongolia was voting on a referendum to become part of China, which is... wild), sometimes involving fictional countries, but I actually kind of love the show nonetheless. The actors all do a great job with the not necessarily high quality material, and generally are likable and funny, especially Tea Leoni as Elizabeth McCord, the titular Secretary of State. It also shares some of the traits I loved from The West Wing, presenting this idealized vision of government and the people in it as these larger than life, smarter, and just all-around better than real life people (even when they've made mistakes) which, well, was fun back in the day, and makes me sad now, given the officials we've got.

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It's hard to find enough screenshots to fully illustrate this, one may need to watch the show, but one strength of Madam Secretary is the costume design. It may not be realistic for its setting (I've not spent any time working in DC myself), but I think it's an accurate take on how these particular characters would approach mostly business formal and sometimes business casual if they had a bit of freedom and well, infinite money, to do so. In particular, I find a lot of workplace style inspiration, and even some general personal style inspiration, in how they dress Elizabeth McCord. 

Some of it may just be that I'm totally jealous of Elizabeth McCord's fictional life. She's written to be  an impossibly perfect person, incredibly intelligent and capable and simultaneously warm, personable, down-to-earth, and good-humored. (And because Tea Leoni does a good job, it's not annoying.) She has - literally - been able to "have it all", spending much of her life in a high-intensity career until shifting gears to be a professor before getting appointed Secretary of State out of the blue, with a professor-slash-secret-agent husband, and they've somehow still managed to raise a happy family with three kids and spend a lot of time with them. Oh and she's independently wealthy too, so lived comfortably and looked fabulous through it all. My own secret, outlandish, impossible dream is to be an independently wealthy academic with a lot of free time on her hands, dressed in nice, expensive things, who also gets to do other cool things on the side, so basically Elizabeth McCord, and similarly fictional!

The costume designers dress her like someone who likes fashion and is open to some experimentation  on that front (as seen in the occasional more adventurous work outfit, or when she dresses up for galas and state dinners), but generally needs to suit up in business formal and thus sticks to more of a uniform (sharply tailored suits, generally with a subtle detail or two that suggests they're designer) most of the time. She mostly still manages to put a bit of her own spin on that uniform, in particular with many fabulous silk blouses with feminine details rather than more traditional cotton button-downs (rather like Stella Gibson in The Fall). She also re-wears many of the same blouses, and I noticed in the most recent season on Netflix that she has a few suits in multiple colors. As for her casual style, it's laid-back and emphasizes comfort, whether with her law school sweatshirt or the kind of cozy, slouchy knits in neutral colors that I like.

As for how to translate that style to real life? I think it may, honestly, just be too rich for my blood. The thing I'd want to bring into my closet most is those silky blouses with interesting tucks and draping, but after searching on a few occasions, I find it's a genre one is likely not going to find at my typical Ann Taylor or J.Crew on sale price. Out of the mall brands I typically shop from, Ann Taylor is the only one that typically offers something approximately similar, usually with a tie neck or sa ruffled or pleated neck. Except that I know from experience that I rarely wear polyester work blouses of this type anymore because they're not comfortable, I tend to get sweaty. Plus, I think the key part of Elizabeth McCord's look is that it looks really expensive and luxe, both in design and material. Just for fun, I window shopped for a few higher-end silk blouses that had the general look, and of course, they're all too fancy in price for me. For instance, there's a St. John tie-neck shell in white and a Milly tie-neck shell in blue-green. There's also a L'Agence pintucked white blouse with long sleeves and a Rag & Bone faux wrap blouse in pale blue.

In actual practice, this is not a category of item I'd be buying anytime soon, both because of the price point and because my sizing for blouses might change in the near future. Oh, and I do have a lot of other silk blouses that are similar to some of Elizabeth McCord's more standard silk blouses, but they are somewhat impractical for frequent wear, as they're very delicate, need to be hand-washed gently, and I've found it very difficult to get stains out of silk without causing weird darkened spots to appear on the fabric. Certain silks also don't retain their texture well after being hand-washed and air-dried. It's very likely that Elizabeth McCord goes to the dry-cleaner frequently! Both the Ann Taylor and more high end options I've linked are also in the below widget, along with some other pretty, high end options to look at.

Anyone else watch Madam Secretary? Are there any television or movie characters that you get personal style inspiration from? The last character I posted about like this was Amy Dunne from the Gone Girl movie (Rosamund Pike is gorgeous), so I clearly have, er, diverse and sometimes strange interests when it comes to personal style inspiration from the screen. 

Monday, July 30, 2018

July 2018 Shopping Reflections

Given that I'm expecting a significant change to my proportions within a year, I'm starting to steer myself away from shopping for new clothes, at least for things for which my sizing needs and the fit are likely to change the most dramatically. I may not stop shopping for clothes entirely, and it's still possible that I could come across a coat or dress or something that's somewhat fitted at the bust, but that I still want desperately and buy anyway. (Though if it happens, I hope I thought about it carefully and factored in the risk of it not fitting properly after!)

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I've been completely in love with Alighieri jewelry, and their "Jaja" necklace was my big purchase of the month. And I may be planning an additional purchase next month, though I hope it'll be out of my system after that. It's extravagant of me, but because I spent two to three weeks constantly stalking the brand and the specific pieces I was thinking about the most before making my choice, I knew it wouldn't be a mistake in terms of the risk of the item going unworn. I bought the necklace from Farfetch, and horror of horrors - forgot to use Ebates, only later discovering it would have been eligible for a whopping 14% cash back! I have the Ebates button on my browser, but sometimes it doesn't alert me when I'm shopping from an eligible site. Still kicking myself for that!

When it comes to my minimalist-ish journey towards more conscious (and thus, frugal) shopping, the biggest and most dramatic transformation has always been in my beauty and skincare shopping. As a law student, I used to get to Sephora VIB status every year even though most of my substantial skincare routine wasn't even purchased there. That was just... wacky, and I still don't know how it happened when I look back on it now. I may have been sucked in by magazine ads back when I was a teen (from YM, Seventeen, and Teen Vogue back in the day) and then by the first wave of popular makeup tutorials on Youtube, all of which implied that it was "normal" to have an ample makeup and skincare collection. (Even though I didn't enjoy makeup that much, there are obvious physical limits on how much skincare product one could possibly use, and products expire.)

Regardless, I'm now completely reformed, never have a chance of getting to VIB, buy approximately one refill a year for most of my makeup products, and have a significantly pared-down skincare routine. I don't track my beauty and skincare spending closely anymore, but it's only things like an extra bottle of cleanser (Cerave Foaming from the drugstore, which K and I both use) or other drugstore-priced item here or there that are missing from these posts.

Fashion - (TOTAL: $296.57)
  • Uniqlo Linen Blend Long Cardigan - $29.90 - I bought this cardigan in gray (sold out) at the start of summer, and absolutely loved it. The linen blend material is light and thin (no issues with it snagging, though), making this sweater easy to throw on over my summer outfits, mainly while I'm indoors in air conditioning. It looks great over skirts and dresses, and the blue (a shade lighter and a touch brighter than navy) works well with my mostly navy and black work wardrobe and summer wardrobe. (Practically all my casual summer dresses are also black or navy, even though I've tried, in the past, to look for other colors.)
  • Alighieri "Jaja" Necklace - $266.67 - I totally love this, though it's a bit hard to describe how it looks. All of Alighieri's work is very different from any other jewelry I've been interested in before, more irregular in shape, intentionally "imperfect", time-worn, and organic-feeling. The necklace is reversible, and is open and hollow when you look at it from the back. I found that, in person, it was a tiny bit smaller (and thus a touch more wearable) than I thought it looked in most online photos. (I had otherwise been worried that the pendant might look a little too large for such a delicate chain, and for the length of the necklace, which is around ~19'' and hangs just past my collarbones.) 

Beauty and Skincare - (TOTAL: $93.49)
  • Olaplex Hair Perfector No. 3 - $28.00 - I bought this for my ongoing struggles with a straight perm gone bad. I've been using it weekly for nearly five weeks. It's a small bottle, so I might only have another five to six weeks left in it. It has some benefit, makes my hair feel smoother, healthier, and less tangled for the first few days after each use, but the benefit doesn't last long, and seems to fade by the next time I use it a week later. The best way to tell if it's been making a lasting difference is probably to go without for a few weeks after I run out. 
  • Tarte Amazonian Clay Waterproof 12-Hour Concealer - $25.00 - This is a longtime holy grail item for me. I don't have particularly good makeup skills, and find most concealers difficult to blend and apply. This is the only one I've tried that I can work with effectively. Because it's a stick, it's easy to apply straight to my face with no brush, and I tap with my finger to blend.
  • NARS Pro-Prime Smudge Proof Eyeshadow Base - $26.00 - I wish this came in different packaging that made it easier to get out of the tube, and the amount of product it contains is tiny, but this is by far the best eyeshadow primer I've tried. (I'm allergic to Urban Decay primer portion and Too-Faced Shadow Insurance primer can separate in the tube, resulting in an oily mess.) I only wear eyeliner (Bobbi Brown gel), no eyeshadow, but my eyelids get oily, and eyeliner absolutely won't stay put for even a few hours without primer. 
  • CosRx Aloe Soothing Sun Cream - $14.49 - (cheapest on Amazon) I typically use Biore Watery Essence sunscreen, but wanted to try something different. I've only been using this sunscreen for about two weeks, but it's been good. It has a thicker lotion texture, rather than the gel texture of the Biore, so it doesn't apply quite as easily or smoothly, but there's no white cast and makeup goes on easily over it. If I had to pick, I'd still stick to the Biore, as it blends in to the skin a bit quicker and easier, and is often more cost-effective. (The lowest Amazon prices for Biore are often from sellers based in Japan, so shipping can be slow.) 

What did you shop for this month? Any other reformed former Sephora VIBs out there, or anyone else who has dramatically cut their beauty and skincare spending in recent years? When I look back, I have no idea how I used to spend so much at Sephora (some of it from throwing in extra lip balm or a bottle of nail polish to meet the free shipping threshold), and it makes me slightly nauseous to think of all that wasted money! It's certainly a cautionary tale about getting totally sucked in by advertising and consumer culture without realizing it.

For other takes on beauty spending, Luxe recommends a very sensible one-in, one-out approach. I was also entertained by YAPFB's take on the rather disorienting experience shopping at Sephora can be when one is not a longtime beauty and skincare overspender like I used to be. It does make me feel a little sillier about my past habits!

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Link List: The "Subtle Horror" of Women's Media and KonMari Branded Boxes


Random question, has anyone else ever experienced hours of tingling, stinging fingers from chopping and handling hot chili peppers? It had never happened to me before this week, despite having cooked with fresh chilis on many occasions before. And the pepper in question wasn't anywhere near as spicy as some I've used in the past with no ill effect! I'm very careful about washing my hands immediately and not touching anything else until I've washed the knife, cutting board, and my hands. This time, I got a persistent stinging and slight burning sensation that lasted for hours, through several hand washings and a shower. How very strange! It wasn't actually painful, but was odd and persistent. 

1. // After that Refinery29 money diary about the intern who claimed an income of $25/hour (but was supported by her parents and grandfather paying her rather fancy rent, and a generous monthly allowance on top of that) went viral, I guess someone wanted to capitalize on the resulting buzz with some silly, overblown clickbait about how "women's media is a scam" and Refinery29 presents some unique "subtle horror"? Because it's apparently shocking that they derive advertising revenue? Because most other media isn't also financially supported by advertising and never, ever publishes advertorials? Good golly, I found that New Republic piece and its headline ridiculous. 

Don't get me wrong, there's plenty to criticize about media and advertising, and the often fuzzy line between advertising and journalism in the fashion and women's lifestyle space. See, for example, the fawning "news" coverage of Everlane's underwear launch, when it was rather obvious on its face, that the product was not particularly new or revolutionary, and certainly would not suit all women. I was probably an outlier in actually feeling a bit angry about their faux-feminist ad campaign, but either way, I think it's obvious that most of that "news" was either paid-for editorials or, at the very least, heavily cut and paste straight from their press releases. In terms of Refinery29 specifically, one side effect of that viral money diary was that I've seen whispers here and there alluding to their bad labor practices, which I could totally believe, and that would be something worth criticizing. 

2. // Now for some blog entries I've been reading recently: Leigh wrote about her experiences with discrimination in the tech industry, which sound just awful. I've been working through my own  feelings about discrimination in my own industry, which has been sneaky and pervasive. Both forms take a lot of strength to endure, and I'm one of those people that feels pushed out of biglaw much sooner than expected. Jess wrote about her wedding budget in the Bay Area, and it sounds like a lovely day. Breath of Fresh Wear wrote about the process of trying out pink hair, which sounds very time-intensive, and turned out looking cool! Sophie wrote a helpful review of several items from Vetta Capsule, a brand I only recently learned about and was interested in, though it sounds like many of their items are a bit fussy, and not too practical as a result. If I actually want to try them out, I'll need to think carefully about which items could be useful to me. 

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3. // Wasn't it one of Marie Kondo's "rules" to avoid buying items solely for storage? Both because buying new things to wrangle what you already own won't actually help solve the clutter problem and because she recommends re-purposing things such as cardboard boxes you already have lying around as trays and drawer dividers. The latter tip, in particular, is something I took to heart. Those white "trays" in the bottom left of that photo were the box from an iPad mini, and I still use old candy and cell phone boxes as trays on my dresser and desk now. So the upcoming rather fancy and expensive set of KonMari branded boxes ($89 for 6, purportedly), which appear to be cardboard, is... an odd direction for her brand to go in. I had thought the same thing when she collaborated with Cuyana to make a set of small, color-coordinated leather storage cases (pictured at the top of this post) to nest into Cuyana's larger leather jewelry case. I had also secretly thought the Cuyana x Marie Kondo cases were really cute (though too expensive and impractical for me), so I didn't think about the contradiction with her actual written methods that much.  

Only time will tell if the upcoming set of KonMari boxes will be a successful product, but it did remind that it can be difficult and expensive to find well-designed, functional storage items. I totally overpaid to get some Ikea Skubb Boxes from Amazon  once (because I am so not making the trek to Ikea by subway and ferry for something that small) on the belief that they'd fit perfectly into my dresser and allow me to use all the space in an organized way. Spoiler alert, they did not take up the entirety of the drawer as I imagined, or allow me to use all the space efficiently, so I felt cheated. 

Dd you see that New Republic piece about the women's media "scam"? What did you think? (It's probably not an intelligent, novel, or deep enough a take to be dignified with much of a real response, however.) In terms of responses to the original viral money diary, I thought Jia Tolentino's take at the New Yorker was great. (She's such a wonderful, thoughtful writer!) 

Monday, July 23, 2018

Jewelry Collector: Porcelain and Stone, Alighieri

Dress: Grana V-Neck Silk Slip  Dress (old, updated version)
Necklace: Tiffany's Diamonds by the Yard (graduation gift) (similar $$$, similar or similar $$)

I mentioned recently that I've gone through at least two distinct phases in recent memory, when it comes to my taste in jewelry. For quite some time, I was very much a statement necklace kind of gal. And not just any statement necklaces, but those 2011-ish colorful crystal collar or bubble necklaces that are no longer popular, and generally aren't sold anywhere these days, except for Kate Spade and J.Crew sometimes. I regularly wore them to work as recently as summer 2014 while interning, and thought they were a great way to add color to my otherwise sedate business casual outfits. But by spring 2015, even though I had just purchased a very statement-y J.Crew necklace secondhand, I'd stopped wearing those necklaces much. By the time I started working full time that fall, I'd stopped completely. 

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I'm not sure what caused the sudden change in my jewelry tastes, because I still like the statement necklaces I have, and am totally still holding on to a substantial collection, hoping there will come a time when I could wear them again, without feeling like they're hopelessly dated. I suppose I realized, somewhat abruptly, and probably later than most, that they'd become obviously dated very quickly. I must have realized that I never saw anyone wearing those statement necklaces out and about anymore, even in NYC, with all the wide range of styles one sees people wearing, so maybe that's what accounted for the change. 

After my "statement necklace phase" I stuck to dainty jewelry for a long time, most days just the pearl studs I wear daily (from Amazon) and my graduation necklace. I was occasionally inspired by something more interesting (K was kind enough to get me that Alexis Bittar bracelet for Christmas), but was generally not buying or wearing new jewelry much. Anything new I was inspired to look into (including that dainty opal ring I keep mentioning), I'd mull over for a long time, and often never actually bought, except for my Porcelain and Stone Buoy Necklace (my sister W bought me the Porcelain and Stone Navigation earrings as a combined birthday and Christmas gift).

More recently, I seem to be getting into more assertive jewelry again, mainly with that J.Crew Tassel Chain Necklace. I've also gotten into layering my necklaces a bit more, which wasn't really a thing I could do with those statement necklaces of yesteryear, when my collection was solely pieces of approximately the same length, that would definitely not go together.

This post is mostly intended as a way to talk about two very different women artist-led jewelry brands I'm currently loving, and looking to shop from, both of which I've mentioned before. In large part because I expect my proportions and clothing size to change fairly dramatically in the foreseeable, though not immediate, future, it's not a good time to shop for clothes. I seem to have replaced my usual interest in clothing with a suddenly powerful interest in acquiring more jewelry to build my collection.


Porcelain and Stone, designed by Kimberly Huestis in the Boston area, is a longtime favorite. Her jewelry, which is mostly made of porcelain and often glazed to look like marble or natural stone with gold accents, often has a classic, nautical, and somewhat preppy vibe. She does a good mix of larger, more statement-making pieces (like the large Uni sea urchin pendant in progress on the right of the photo) and smaller, more subtle pieces like my buoy necklace (which comes in a few other color combinations and shapes).

She sells a bigger collection on her website, and is also starting to work with turquoise. She also regularly posts an even wider collection of her work on Instagram, and seems to sell at a lot of craft fairs and small shops nationwide. I've been thinking of adding another piece or two of her work to my growing collection of her pieces, probably starting with the small Uni necklace that's in progress in the upper left corner of the photo.

via an interview with the designer

Aligheri, designed by Rosh Mahtani in London, is a new discovery, and one I mentioned a few weeks ago. I'd never heard of the brand before seeing it mentioned on r/femalefashionadvice, and was drawn in immediately by the imperfect, organic, and antique-inspired designs she makes. (She uses the lost-wax casting method, and makes most of her pieces in brass that's gold-plated.)

I rarely fall so hard and fast for items from a brand that's entirely new to me, particularly items that are on the expensive side of my general price range for the category (the prices are understandable and fair, given that the jewelry is made by a small, independent brand and artist). Because it's a smaller brand that's based abroad, specific Alighieri items are a bit difficult to find here. Net-a-Porter is one of very few few larger US-based retailers that stock them. There are also some large international retailers that ship to the US for reasonable prices and stock Alighieri, such as SSense, Matches Fashion, or Luisaviaroma. And one can buy direct from the brand too, but that could take more time for them to make it to order, and does come with higher shipping costs. (It's also important to factor in the exchange rate. With that in mind, some of the retailers, particularly Luisaviaroma, charge more for certain specific items than the brand itself does.)

Spoiler alert for this month's shopping post, I ended up buying an Alighieri necklace after constantly browsing the brand's items online for a few weeks. I'm completely in love with it, enough that I'm still browsing constantly for a possible second purchase, even though it's quite extravagant of me!

Some of my favorite pieces that are available from the online retailers that ship to the US are pictured in the widget below, though I'm much more likely to pick something that's only available on Alighieri's website at the moment. My favorite of these is the ancient amulet-looking Deceptive North Star necklace (it's cheaper to buy direct than from Luisaviaroma), the antique gold coin-looking Other Side of the World necklace, or the Surreal gold hoops that are a Net-a-Porter exclusive.  In actual practice, most of her earrings are probably too heavy and large for me (I'm not used to large, dangly earrings and my earlobes get irritated easily) but her earring designs are also gorgeous.

The brand encourages layering, as seen from the above photos. From browsing their selection online, the length of most of her necklaces is ~16 to 19 inches. The Alighieri necklace I bought (~18 to 19 inches) hangs at around the same height as other necklaces I own (which are adjustable in the range of ~16 to 20 inches), which means that all the pendants hang right in the same narrow zone between my collarbones and the top of my chest, and tend to cover each other up, rather than look good together. I suspect that they customize the necklace lengths for photoshoots sometimes, and even then, it often looks like the pendants are hanging closely together that they might bump into each other frequently during the day, possibly get tangled, and not be entirely practical to wear together. Either way, most of my collection (the buoy necklace and the Mejuri zodiac necklace) is too different in style to look harmonious with my new Alighieri necklace. So I guess layering jewelry properly, particularly necklaces, is a bit difficult for me so far, with the items I have.

What style of jewelry do you favor? Do you have any favorite jewelry brands or designers? Do you have any favorite combinations of necklaces or other jewelry to layer together? 

Monday, July 16, 2018

Link List: Judicial Financial Disclosures and Nordstrom Sale

Pictured above is a birthday card I sent to my sister recently. It's from Trader Joe's, of all places! Things are quite hectic at work at the moment, which should last through at least another week, though I've still found some time to write here, because it's a good way to take a break from the very different kind of writing I do for work.

1. // I've made my second donation to the fight against family separation, this time to Kids in Need of Defense ("KIND"), one of the bigger groups people may already be aware of. They coordinate pro bono volunteer attorneys from firms, and match them up with unaccompanied minor clients going through immigration proceedings. (This sort of coordinating and organizing function is important. It's how most of my colleagues and I get our pro bono cases.) I almost worked on a KIND project while in law school, when there was a large wave of unaccompanied minors under the last administration, but they ended up not needing that many law student volunteers. 

I'd normally prefer to allocate my (extremely modest) donations to groups that focus more on direct services (just a personal preference, no larger reason for that), but the stories of children, including babies, appearing in court without their parents (and sometimes, without lawyers) was just a bridge too far for me to not do something right away, even if it's very little. 

2. // Judge Kavanaugh's financial disclosures as a circuit judge are weird. There's quite a few pieces (significant credit card debt at times and the very low total disclosable assets, though purportedly, his ~$500k retirement account is exempt) that just don't make sense to me, even for a judge who was a career public servant. (Judge Kavanaugh spent very little time in the private sector.) As someone from the Bay Area, $1.2 million for a fairly modest house is not a foreign concept and is not, by itself, unreasonable. The total picture, though, is strange. Two more facts to give color: as a circuit court judge, he's entitled to collect his judicial salary of ~$220k/year for life, even after full retirement. Also, the ~$25k/year teaching compensation is a product of legal caps on how much outside income judges may earn from a second job (a cap that may be lifted when non-SCOTUS judges retire), but their teaching services are certainly worth more than that. (I of course, loathe his and Justice Gorsuch's  politics and will never be over the theft of Judge Garland's seat.) 

There was a great r/blogsnark thread about readers' personal experiences with changes in their socio-economic class over time, which yielded a lot of respectful and thoughtful discussion. There was also an interesting discussion about The Cut's interview with Hey Natalie Jean, whom I was glad to see return to blogging. 

3. // Lin's recent post about how her style inspiration from nearly a decade ago is still relevant to her today gave me some interesting food for thought. My own hypothetical "ten years ago" board, if I had kept one, would be different from what it looks like now, heavy on the 2008 J.Crew catalog aesthetic. Archana wrote up a great piece about composting. A friend of mine has started a blog based on her interest and experience with the clothing production industry, both as a shopper and as someone whose family is involved in the industry. It's pretty cool!

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4. // It's hard to avoid that it's Nordstrom Anniversary Sale time. Keeping in mind that many items are made specially for the sale, i.e. basically the equivalent of "outlet only" items that are likely not the same quality or designs as each brand's regular items, it can still be a good time to get certain specific things, if your expectations are guarded. I really wanted that black dress with the cool neckline in 2016's post, but it was sold out, so my order was cancelled. I never saw that pair of Cole Haan tortoiseshell wedges anywhere else, which strongly suggests it was an "Anniversary Sale only" item, plus the texture of the patent leather was more plastic than on my other Cole Haan patent leather wedges. Even so, I love the look of those shoes (which are an "in the office only" shoe for me that I still wear). I've also tried a Natori Feathers bra from the sale that was noticeably different from a full price Feathers bra I'd previously tried, with less delicate, less pretty lace details.

With all that in mind, there are a few things I'd consider buying if they were still in stock once early access ends: The Panache Underwire Sports Bra is great for larger busts, enough that I'm relatively confident that the Anniversary Sale-only version could still be a good choice, particularly because it's in a more fun colorway. Cole Haan has these pointed toe "Tali" flats and shorter block heel pumps with a leather bow that look pretty and business formal-appropriate. I don't really use candles anymore because I don't often get the chance to relax at home (or settle in to study) for long enough to properly burn a candle for several hours to avoid tunneling, but I used to get the Voluspa Maison Blanc candle set each year while I was in law school. They last a long time and have nice, strong scents.

Do you shop during the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale, and have you also experienced the items being different from regular, full price items? What do you think of Kavanaugh's financial disclosures? 

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Outfit Post: Very Casual Friday

Sweater: Madewell Striped Cotton Sweater (old, similar, similar,  similar)
Dress: Grana V-neck Silk Slip Dress, size M (old, current)
Shoes: Soludos Llama Slip-on Sneakers, size 7 (runs big, size down a half size!)

I've gotten totally swamped at work for the next two or three weeks, so I'll be slow on posting new entries and commenting and replying! I am, however, glad to see that I've already posted more this year than I did in either 2017 or 2016, and it's only July, which makes me feel quite accomplished. I guess I've finally sort of figured out a balance between working adulthood and blogging!

Strictly speaking, this outfit may lean a little too casual for many attorney workplaces that have a dress code. In actual practice, my current office's dress code is a bit all over the place, with the fairly recently-imposed no-jeans restriction for casual Friday and a written policy that suggests a mostly business-formal rule is in place for the rest of the week. Despite that, we're actually mostly business casual outside of client meeting and court days, with a casual-ish Friday, so long as there are no jeans.

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The Madewell sweater is very old, and it's a very light pointelle-knit cotton (this H&M cotton sweater is the most similar thing I could find that's currently available, though with dropped shoulders and without the pointelle details). It's quite boxy-looking, especially from the side, and kind of has that effect of hanging straight down from my chest that's not always great on me, but I like it anyway. On the day I wore this outfit, it was in the mid 60s and low 70s Fahrenheit, otherwise I'd have avoided long sleeves! 

The Grana v-neck silk slip dress would definitely not be work-appropriate without being completely covered up by a top like in this outfit. The neckline of the dress is definitely too low for work if it isn't fully covered up like this. I've been really loving this dress, and would totally wear it all the time this summer if I could, though it's not the easiest look for a very busty person to pull off, and the straps and side of my bra usually peek out a little when I wear the dress by itself (which is totally fine in NYC in the summer). 

I really love the Soludos slip-on sneakers with the llama detail. They're just so fun! The pale pink is probably going to be hard to keep clean though, but I liked this color better than the navy velvet version. I've found mine to be very comfortable. They run big, so definitely size down a half size from your usual if you're interested. 

Monday, July 9, 2018

Ideal Wardrobe Outcomes


Recently, quite a few of my favorite bloggers wrote about their approaches to building their wardrobe and, through that, some described what their ideal wardrobe looks like, what qualities it has and, possibly, what ideal quantity of clothes it would contain. These are themes that almost all of my favorite blogs talk about sometimes, actually, everyone who writes about clothing and shopping with some regularity, at least! 

More broadly, I also enjoy when people discuss the limits of minimalism for themselves and their lives, and either feeling like or being told "you spent too much" or "you consumed too much", whether to be a "proper" minimalist, or a "proper" frugal person. Those are definitely thoughts I relate to.

One of the recurrent themes to my writing here is anxiety about not being a good enough minimalist because (a) many things I buy (especially for work) are from mid-range mall brands with fast fashion production practices, and (b) I shop a lot, by both minimalist and frugal-person standards. One could very reasonably argue that I have plenty of money to make better consumption choices than I do, from an ethics perspective, but well, that may not be fully compatible with some of my personal finance-related values, which I'm increasingly finding might not easily allow for the big distant future designer splurges I used to dream of saving my way to earning, because those values put a ceiling on the price points I'm willing to consider in many shopping categories. Also, the biggest factors in all my spending decisions are my still gigantic and scary student loans ($2,500+ a month!), for at least the next four to five years or so, most likely, which can be expected to take me right up to when financial obligations to family, especially to the kids I hope to have, really "get real".

Then there's the anxiety about not fitting in to my particular segment of my profession, which sometimes feels dominated by people from wealthy backgrounds, because of those same more affordable mid-range mall brand clothes I stick to, even if I'm pretty sure I'm not actually being judged for that.

What would my own ideal wardrobe look like? 

First things first, I definitely don't have an ideal total number of items in mind. I got into minimalism blogs back when capsule wardrobes just started gaining traction (Un-Fancy was still a fairly new blog back then, for instance), and most of my biggest influences were bloggers who had done most of their fashion and shopping-related posts quite some time ago, and who were winding down their interest in fashion and shopping, or even their blogs entirely (think Assembled Hazardly and La Nife en L'air) by the time I started reading. So capsule wardrobes were never really something they discussed, and I wasn't primed to look in that direction as the idea got more popular.

I find the capsule wardrobe idea appealing as a theoretical matter, how clean uncluttered a closet would be if it contained only a small, discrete number of well-loved pieces, every one of them comfortable and that one is thrilled to wear. I also agree there probably exists an optimal, "perfect" number somewhere, at which one doesn't "need" anything more (and that it's a surprisingly small number, relative to what advertisements say or imply). I'd feel a genuine sense of "everything as it should be" accomplishment if I could find that number, but realistically, I just didn't think it was practical for my needs or my habits. I feel like capsule wardrobes generally have their biggest shortcomings for people with a lot of different wardrobe "needs", whether that's from a job with a restrictive dress code, extreme weather patterns (who really ever derives KonMari-esque joy from a puffy down coat and snow boots? not me, at least, but they're definitely necessary in some parts of the country), or for sports, things like that.

For me, the primary sticking point that ensures a numerical limit-based approach would never work for me is my business casual, sometimes business-formal office dress code. I like to joke that it's "casual business casual" because, in most NYC biglaw offices, there's room for women who enjoy fashion to try and wear some trendy things that aren't traditionally seen as conservative enough for work, but make no mistake, there are also tons of unspoken rules and expectations still. Lots of people out there are secretly mean and judgmental about these things, there exist judges at prominent federal courts who think black skirt suits are the only appropriate courtroom attire for women, court staff definitely are snarking about inappropriate shoe or other attire once they're in private, etc. etc.

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I don't enjoy conservative business formal attire at all, neither the heels nor the suits, but understand that it's absolutely necessary for court and interviews, so that's several pieces of my work wardrobe I dislike, but that need to be in there. I also don't particularly enjoy most business casual either, but it's necessary and gets the job done.

I've sometimes commented, over at JENKR's, who also discusses this theme, that it can be really wonderful to find something that's good for both work and weekend, to start making that work wardrobe feel more "me" and create some overlap between it and my "for fun" wardrobe, but that's an extremely rare thing (seen most vividly in the J.Crew Open Sweater Blazer and the J.Crew Factory version). (That's an idea I think fellow law-person A at Posts Factum also touches on.) Because so much of my total wardrobe is necessarily taken up by all these work clothes I just don't enjoy, the idea of trying to refine the numbers (either of my whole wardrobe, or even just the work portion) just doesn't appeal, even if it is probably possible to create a streamlined "work capsule" and a separate very small "weekend capsule" for each of the seasons.

Having so much of my week taken up by dressing for work probably leaves me free to come up with a remarkably slimmed down and super minimalist-seeming tiny wardrobe for casual wear, actually. If I did laundry for my light-colored clothing often enough, I'd be perfectly happy with just the above set of clothing, two tops (both from Uniqlo ages ago, they've only stocked more traditional-looking breton-striped tops since) and a single standard pair of dark skinny jeans (mine are from Gap now), for all my spring and fall weekends. For summer, two or three short-sleeved or sleeveless summer dresses in some combination of linen, cotton, silk, or rayon (currently the older design of the Grana v-neck silk slip dress, an Old Navy tie-neck rayon shift dress, and a Madewell silk-cotton blend dress I bought secondhand) and a pair of FitFlops is all I really need and actually wear. Because temperatures have been all over the place sometimes, that long Uniqlo linen-blend open cardigan I bought mainly for work has also been seeing tons of weekend wear (it looks great over dresses).

Please follow the link below for some additional thoughts about ideal outcomes for new purchases!